“Is the coast clear?” Jessie asked, carefully ducking her head out of the storage room and looking around. She didn’t want to be caught dead by her classmates.
“Yeeees, you’re fine. Jeez this is ridiculous, they should just make this school mixed already,” Ash cried.
Jessie looked both ways before stepping out of the storage room in her light brown skirt and matching blazer, carefully adjusting the white ribbon indicating her grade level. It wasn’t everyday she got to wear the girls’ uniform. With a nod to show she was ready, Jessie joined Ash in running over to the girls’ locker room.
It was gym day once more and after arguing over the uniform situation one last time, Jessie caved to Ash’s guilt trip and agreed to change into the girls’ uniform just to change back out for gym. Ash had argued that it wasn’t very nice to neglect their kindness and show up as in her boy uniform as usual, not after they’d gone out of their way to buy her a proper uniform. The last thing Jessie wanted was for her unwanted gymmates to think she was slighting them somehow.
Once inside the locker room, the girls reached their lockers and grabbed their clothes. Jessie had her gym clothes in her arms and was ready to make her way to the bathroom to change as usual when she was blocked by two girls with their arms crossed. So far Jessie had been able to avoid nearly everyone else there, but being thrown face to face with two angry-looking girls? She gulped, fearing the worst.
“Nuh uh, new kid. We’re glad you’re wearing the uniform but it’s time you changed with the rest of us,” the taller of the two girls said, taking a step towards Jessie. Her short black hair was cut in a fine line that seemed to give her an authoritative, mature feeling that was only emphasized by her English accent; an accent that seemed somewhat familiar, Jessie thought. She was rather intimidating.
Jessie swallowed her nerves and replied, “I-I can’t!” but when the girl asked why, Jessie stuttered over her words and drew a blank.
“It’s not like you have anything we haven’t seen before,” she said with a softer tone. “Come on, there’s no reason to be embarrassed!”
“Rachel’s got a point, Jess,” Ashley said, walking up while pulling her shirt over her head. “Besides, our lockers are next to each other. If anyone looks at ya funny, I’ll clock ’em, k?” She mimed a hard punch in the air and with her imaginary villain vanquished stood in a victory pose, hands on her hips, and let out a hearty victory cry. The girls all laughed together at the gesture and Jessie couldn’t help but breath a sigh of relief. With Ash at her side, she’s got nothing to lose.
Together they walked back to their lockers with a playful wave goodbye from Rachel and her quiet friend. Ash promptly plopped her butt down on the bench while Jessie nervously began unbuttoning her blazer.
“So why are you so scared of changing in front of everyone? What’d you do at your old school?” Ash asked.
“Well… in junior high, things got a bit awkward. Seventh grade was the first time I had to change in front of others and I was so embarrassed that I would wear my shorts under my jeans so I would only ever have to change my shirt. Lots of people did it actually, but I’m the only one anybody messed with…” Jessie began to trail off, her eyes staring into space at nothing in particular as she mechanically went about her business.
“Mess with you how?” Ashley queried. She was almost afraid to hear the answer but her curiosity got the better of her.
“Some of the older guys would try to pants me every now and then. I went to the coach about it after the second time and he just told the boys to stop and they didn’t. So that’s how I got in the habit of changing in the bathroom, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
“You changed with the boys?!” Ash exclaimed, drawing wandering curious eyes to them both. Jessie nervously waved her hands, trying to laugh it off until they turned away.
“Keep your voice down! I was a boy, remember? Of course I’d be changing with the other boys!” Jessie whispered. Ash wasn’t buying it.
“…It’s a good thing you’re such a late bloomer or you wouldn’t have gotten away with changing your top in front of them. When DID you start budding, anyway? You’re fifteen, right?”
“Not for a few more weeks. I’m a very late bloomer, I guess. Very late,” she said, removing her shirt.
“Jeez Jess, why do you wear such a tight sports bra?! You’re a growing girl, you’re gonna hinder your ladies doin’ that!” Ash shouted when she noticed how tightly Jessie’s sports bra was pressed into her skin.
“I-I just like it, ok? I don’t care about my ‘ladies’ getting bigger. Besides, I’m…” she sighed, trying to think of an excuse to take the heat off of her. “I’m ‘pretending’ to be a boy, remember? It helps with the disguise.” It’s not exactly a lie, but it still hurt a bit acknowledging her new lot in life.
“…alright, but you really shouldn’t do that all the time. You’ll hurt yourself somehow, I’m sure. We have the weekend off so why don’t we go shopping? We can get you something cute that fits you right! …and get you some proper underwear, too…” Ash didn’t much like Jessie’s little shorts. “Those don’t get in the way of your gym shorts?”
“Nope, not at all,” she said, pulling the gym shorts up and over the smaller underwear with ease. She plopped down next to Ashley to tie her shoes. “I’m not sure about Saturday, I have to work a long shift that day. Feels like forever since I’ve been there.”
“That’s what happens when you’re underage and extremely part-time. Where was it you worked again?”
“O-over at a small store not too far from here…” Jessie contemplated making something up at first, afraid of what would happen if Ash showed up at her store and outed her, but she decided it probably wouldn’t hurt much. Everyone thought she was a girl there too, afterall. What’s one more person misgendering her going to do? Other than slowly eat away at her inside, that is.
Still, she was glad that with everything that’d happened to her body, she could still keep up the appearance of a guy. Jason’s mockery was one thing, but if she had a classmate come in and call her a girl in front of her co-workers, she’d lose that last shred of male credibility she thought she still had.
“Maybe I’ll stop in and say hi, at least. And hey-” Ash said, patting her friend on the shoulder as they started to walk out of the locker room. “Notice how you didn’t freak out? You got changed in front of everyone like it was nobody’s business.”
Jessie paused for a moment, finally taking in what just happened.
“Wow, you’re right. I guess I was nervous over nothing.” Jessie was surprised at the sudden realization of how casually it happened. Nobody gave her weird looks and nobody tried to mess with her. She didn’t know how she’d react to seeing the other girls change, though. Seeing her own body was one thing but seeing another girl stripped down was something she didn’t think she was prepared for. It all happened so quickly and casually that nobody batted an eye, not even her. She was too focused on her task at hand.
Together the two proceeded out towards the track, where the boys’ class was already running. It was another mixed day and while Jessie was still nervous about everyone seeing her in the girls’ gym uniform, she tried to remember that this wasn’t the first time. Everything went fine before and nobody said a thing about it later. This will be fine too, she hoped. Still, she was nervous about it for some reason. This was the first time they’d see her in the girls’ gym uniform since she was actually turned into a girl, afterall.
After a quick stretch to warm up, they joined all the other girls and boys jogging around the track. They had all day to accomplish several goals: three miles on the track, some long jumping, poll-vaulting, and archery. It wasn’t long before some familiar faces started running by.
Several boys from Jessie’s class said hi as they passed, some with a slight blush on their faces, and Jessie greeted each one with a smile in turn. She was completely unaware of the few that stayed behind her, watching how she ran in those short little shorts.
“You sure are popular with the boys, aren’t you?” Ash teased, jogging alongside her friend.
“Yeah, I guess so. It’s really odd that they made me do P.E. with the girls so everyone’s curious about me.”
“What about you, huh? Going to school with boys, living with the boys… who’s got your interest?” she asked with a grin.
Jessie nearly stumbled at the accusation. “I-I’m not into that! Why would I be interested in them?!”
Ashley’s laughter was interrupted by a scream coming from a blur of black and red rushing past as fast as it could, followed by a yell from a blond blur following in tow.
“Get back here you little shit! I’m not finished with you!” Duncan yelled to the emo boy who was running for dear life.
“Oh, not this again…” Jessie rolled her eyes before screaming, “Duncan, leave him alone already!!”
The unusually loud voice coming from Jessie made Duncan whip around and abandon his chase. Jessie stood in front of him with her hands on her hips and her eyes very angry at the bully. A glare of pure death was being sent his direction.
“Why do you always attack him? He’s done nothing to you! You don’t have to be like this. You’re better than this. Remember when you saved me the other day? Was that a fluke?” Jessie pleaded, going from angry to guilt-pounding disappointed in a matter of seconds.
Duncan, however, was at a loss for words. All he could do was stare at Jessie with wide eyes roaming her up and down. Her bright green eyes and pouty lips stared up at his face and in that moment, he had no idea how to react. He’d never seen her wearing girls’ clothes before, and the unexpected sight put him in a state of shock.
“I– why are you dressed like that…?” Duncan asked, avoiding her eyes.
“Dressed like what? I always dress like this for gym. The teachers make me do gym with the girls.” Jessie retorted, crossing her arms and turning away in embarrassment.
“Seeing you in girls clothes… Um…” he struggled, rubbing the back of his head. “They look good on you,” he finished in a whisper. He was struggling to keep his flushing cheeks at bay, and failing gloriously in front of Jessie, Ash, and the few people who stopped to witness this strange scene. To think, the great infallible bully could be bested by seeing a cute girl in a cute uniform. Perhaps he was human, afterall.
Before Jessie could ask him what he actually said, Ducan suddenly pitched forward with an OOF! and fell face-first into a puddle of mud. The emo boy lowered his leg with a look of satisfaction, savoring the moment that seemed to everyone to last minutes on end.
Duncan looked up to find the emo boy standing there with his smug grin and all of the kids around him starting to burst into laughter. All except Jessie.
“Why you…!” Duncan started, rising to his feet, but he was held back by a gentle hand tugging at his collar and bringing him back down.
“Come on, Duncan. Just let it go,” Jessie said, sitting on her haunches at his eye level. “You really kinda deserved that, y’know.”
Duncan angrily glared into her gentle eyes and quickly tore away, blushing again. He tried to tell himself that he was blushing from embarrassment rather than Jessie. He just couldn’t look at her like that, looking at him with those eyes. She was just… too damn cute.
Jessie rose to her feet and leaned over, holding her hand out to Duncan. “Let’s go get you cleaned up, ok?”
Duncan looked up at her kindly reaching out to him with one hand and the other on her knee, with an even kinder smile across her face and the sun giving her short auburn hair a charming glow as it rustled in the gentle breeze. His heart began to race as he took her hand and got up. With that hand, she guided him over to the water trough, completely unaware of the whispers going on behind her back.
“What happened here?” Eric asked, jogging up to Ash’s side just in time to see Jessie walk off with Duncan in her hand. A sight that immediately set him on edge.
“Looks like Jessie managed to tame the beast,” Ash replied. “She never told me she had a boyfriend, though. I didn’t see that coming. Did you?” she asked.
“No. No, I didn’t.” Eric said through grit teeth, fuming with rage.
Moments later, Jessie and Duncan arrived at the trough and after washing his face, Duncan took a seat on the nearby bench. Jessie grabbed a towel from atop the trough and ran it under the water for a moment, ringing it out before joining Duncan and proceeding to dab the mud from his shirt.
“Why do you keep going after that poor boy? There has to be a history there for you two to hate each other so much,” Jessie pried. “And stop fidgeting.”
Duncan didn’t know how to react to a cute girl helping him like this. Alarms were sounding off in his head full of questions about why Jessie was going to school on the boys’ side and how in the world did she think she passed for a boy when dressed like she was. He was so overcome by his confusion that he nearly didn’t hear her question.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, that emo kid…” he began, turning away from Jessie’s inquiring face. “He uh… he was just rubbed me the wrong way in elementary school. I don’t really wanna get into it.”
“That long ago? Do you honestly think it’s ok to hold a grudge that long? You harass him constantly and yet he usually just takes it. He doesn’t fight back. Or at least, not until today…”
“It’s because deep down he knows he deserves it for what he did.” Jessie scowled at the response and took Duncan’s chin in her hand, forcing him to look her in the eyes once more.
“Alright, spill it. You can’t say something like that and not tell me what happened. You have to address it so you can move on with this already. I’ve seen your good side; you don’t have to be a bully all the time. You can be better than this.”
Duncan stared into those unflinching green eyes and caved to his pounding heart. He couldn’t help it, he had to tell her. He broke free from her grip and took a deep breath before starting.
“W-we had a class hamster, you see, and the kids all took turns taking it home on weekends to keep it fed.
“One weekend, after waiting forever, I finally got to take it home. I had a packet of sunflower seeds that my mom got me and everything. I was so excited to have the hamster for the weekend, and so was Roger. He had to come over and play with it too.”
“Roger?” Jessie asked, pausing from the cleaning job she’d gone back to while listening.
“Yeah, that’s his name. We were friends then. He came over and we played with the hamster. We gave it sunflower seeds and watched as it stuffed them into its chubby little cheeks. After a bit, we took it out of its cage and put it in the plastic ball we bought so it could roll around the house, and that’s when Roger decided to do something ‘fun’.”
“I think I see where this is going…”
“He took the hamster ball and started spinning it, laughing as the poor thing got caught up in the centripetal force and swung around. Naturally, the hamster got dizzy and after a few minutes of wandering aimlessly, it just stopped moving. We thought maybe it needed a rest, but it was dead. Must have choked on a seed.
“When Monday came around, I knew I had to tell the teacher. I was dreading it. When class started and he asked where the hamster was, I froze. I was afraid to tell everyone that it died on my watch. Before I could finish my story, Roger butted in and said that I was spinning the hamster ball. I said it was him but the teacher and the class took his side. I got detention for a week and everyone in class called me a hamster killer.
“Roger avoided me like the plague and eventually, I caught up to him and beat him up. My rage spilled out and I hurt him pretty badly. I got expelled for that. I had to go to a new school, where I could start fresh, but I was hurt and jaded and lashed out easily. I was eventually sent here to discipline my behavior and that’s when I met Roger again. I hate him so much for what he did. His lie ruined three years of my life.”
Duncan’s fist was shaking in rage at the memories that were flooding out and the hatred that consumed him, but it seemed to vanish in an instant when Jessie gently placed her hand on his fist, bringing it back down to the bench with hers.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that. He probably feels guilty about it every time he sees you. That’s probably why he got into emo to begin with… he hated himself for what he did and found the emo fad as his escape. I think you need to confront him.”
“Yeah, and beat him to a bloody pulp.”
“No, to apologize to each other! You’re both young men now and it’s time you grew up and acted like it. You need to talk this out with him calmly. I’m sure he’s just waiting for a chance to apologize to you and you haven’t given him one. You don’t want to be angry like this forever, do you?”
Duncan looked into her eyes again to search for a reason, any reason, to say yes but he just couldn’t. If being angry meant he was hurting this beautiful soul, he couldn’t do it anymore.
“…No, I guess not.”
“Good. That right there is already progress. Come on…” she said, taking the towel and gently wiping some mud from his cheek that he’d missed. “Let’s go find him together and work this out, ok?”
Duncan’s heart panicked at the gesture. Her cute smile wasn’t helping, either.
“W-why are you helping me like this?” he asked, turning away from her face again.
“Because you helped me. We live together now and I want us to be friends. I see good in you and I want to help you let it out. Being a bully all the time must take a toll on you. Don’t you want friends?”
“I have friends! Remember? The two guys at the carnival, where we met?”
“…when you were trying to bully me?” she asked, arching a brow and crossing her arms.
“Y-yeah…” he trailed off, hit with the guilt of having harassed a girl who, given that incident, was still so gentle to him.
“Let’s go back to the track and when I come across Roger, I’ll stop him for you, ok? It’ll work out, I promise.”
“I-if you say so…”
Together they went back to the track and got right back into pace. Duncan trailed behind Jessie a bit to keep Roger from running off when they caught him, but he didn’t mind one bit given his view. He had to stop himself from staring at her hips as they swayed in the rhythm of her jog. Several times.
Finally, Jessie called out, “Roger, hey Roger, wait up!” when she came into view of the emo kid who was nervously watching his surroundings to keep an eye out for Duncan.
“Hey Princess, what’s up?”
Jessie’s eye twitched at the nickname but she tried to focus. She had a mission here. “Listen, I want to talk to you about something. Do you have a minute?” Roger nodded and together they slowed to a stop. “Duncan… told me about what happened in elementary school.”
Roger sighed, his bright red bangs falling in front of his well-shadowed eyes. “I knew this day would come. Does he want me to apologize? ‘Cause that won’t change anything, y’know.”
“That’d be a nice start, but really, I just want you two to talk it over. Duncan, can you come over here?”
The emo boy jumped, ready to run when he saw Duncan come out of the crowd.
“Now listen, what’s done is done and can’t be taken back, but you two have to get over this and move forward. I’m not going to force you to be friends or anything, I just want to get past this so we can all have a nice high school career together, ok?”
Jessie turned back and forth to their faces, Duncan looking away with a scowl and Roger nervously looking back and forth between him and Jessie. Eventually they both nodded and said ok.
“Good. Please talk it out together and reach an understanding. Duncan, aren’t you sick of being a bully?”
He had to think on the question for a moment before finally admitting to himself, and to the others, “…yes.” He was tired of being angry all the time and decided he was going to use this moment to do something right for a change. Become a better person, if not for himself, then for the optimistic girl at his side.
“And Roger, aren’t you guilty for lying all those years ago? That really hurt Duncan.”
He sighed his trademark sigh and lowered his head in shame.
“Alright, that’s a good starting point. I’ll let you two work this out in private, but please be civil, ok? I trust you both to be mature about this.”
They both nodded apprehensively and Jessie left to watch from afar. Duncan and Roger started calmly enough, but soon their voices rose to shouts and Jessie was worried she’d have to step in again, but a moment later, they opened their arms wide and had a brief but meaningful bro-hug. Jessie couldn’t help but clasp her hands in front of her heart and smile at the sweet gesture. She did it. She actually helped them make amends.
Roger waved at her, which she returned with a small wave of her own. She couldn’t stop smiling, she was so moved by the moment. Roger took off back down the track and Duncan turned back to meet Jessie where she stood, a grin of accomplishment tugging at his lips. The dark burden that had haunted him all these years was finally gone and he only had one person to thank for it.
“Jessie, I…” Duncan blushed. “I–thank you. No really, thank you.”
“Any time, Duncan. What are friends for?” she replied with a slight laugh.
Duncan couldn’t believe she’d go out of her way for him like that. She really helped him change his life for the better, all in under an hour. He had no idea why this kind and beautiful girl was pretending to be a boy but he was grateful to have met her. He couldn’t help but want to repay her kindness and apologize for bullying her before, but he wasn’t sure how. All he knew was that he was quickly falling for the curious girl.
“Jessie, I want to pay you back somehow,” he started but Jessie waved him off.
“Oh, no, it was nothing, really. You don’t have to. Just seeing you happy and not beating people up is good enough for me.”
“I’m serious. Jessie, I…” he said trying to drum up his courage. He took her hand in his, causing her cheeks to tinge and eyes to lock with his, heart beating in anticipation for what he might say next.
“Jessie Oliver, would you go ou-”
“HEY Jessie, whatchya doin’ over here?” Eric interrupted, pulling up behind her and placing his arm around her shoulder like her oldest friend in the world.
Duncan scowled and released her hand in a panic.
“What brings you here, Carter?” Duncan glared at the boy who interrupted his special moment.
“Oh, y’know, just catching up with my best friend here. What’s it to you, Duncan?” Eric said, returning the scowl.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I was going to ask my roommate if he’d like to hang out with me this weekend.”
“Funny that, so was I.” Daggers silently flung from eye to eye as they tried to stare each other down, neither one daring to flinch.
Jessie didn’t understand the quickly rising tension between the boys but wanted to defuse the situation as fast as she could. ‘If I can repair things between Duncan and Roger, maybe I can patch things up here, too?‘ she thought to herself.
Jessie brushed Eric’s hand off her shoulder, causing Eric to break his death glare with Duncan for a moment.
“Listen, you two are both my friends. Why don’t we go somewhere together this weekend? Wait, no, I have to work this weekend…” she trailed off before catching herself. “Alright, the weekend after! We can all go to the amusement park together. The more the merrier!” Jessie looked back and forth at their faces but didn’t find any approval. “…I can invite Ash along too, if you want. The four of us can go together!”
“NO.” Eric and Duncan said in unison without so much as looking at Jessie.
“Ooooh kay, no Ash then. Just us. How’s about we meet up Saturday after next? We can meet in the common room. Sound good? Good. Aaaaand BREAK!” With that, Jessie took off, wanting to get out of that tense situation as quick as she could. She could sense the danger and was afraid that she might have accidentally triggered it somehow.
Duncan and Eric waited in silence for a moment until Jessie caught up with Ash and they were sure she was out of hearing range.
“I won’t let you have her, asshole. She’s mine.” Eric said under his breath.
“I already do have her. We sleep together every. Single. Night.” Duncan dared with a grin.
“You bastard… Just watch, at the park, I’m going to make her mine once and for all.”
“Just go ahead and try. She still has to come home to me.”
Eric tried to stare him down but it was no good. He couldn’t think of a counter. With a huff through his nose, Eric took off down the track leaving Duncan alone with his thoughts.
‘So he knows she’s really a girl too, huh? This is going to get interesting…‘ Duncan thought.
“Achoo!!” Jessie sneezed.
“Ah, I think someone’s talking about you behind your back!” Ash teased. Jessie wasn’t amused.
“Yeah and I know exactly who.” She exuded an unamused look that’d put Queen Victoria’s to shame.
“Your boyfriend from earlier? Why didn’t you tell me you were going out with Duncan?”
Ash’s question caused Jessie to stumble again before responding in a fit, “H-he’s not my boyfriend! He’s just a friend!!”
“A friend you looked absolutely adorable with. I saw you over there, helping him clean up. You two are WAY closer than friends. And the way he held your hand just now…”
“He’s my ROOMMATE, we have to look out for each other! He helped me out the other day, too.”
“You get to sleep in the same room with that guy?! Wow, lucky! He’s kind of an ass, but it’d be hard to resist in that sort of situation….” Ash let her imagination wander with a stupid grin forming on her face.
“Resist what?” Jessie asked, completely lost by Ash’s implication, but then it hit her right across the face leaving a blush in its wake. “I–That isn’t– CAN WE JUST GO DO ARCHERY NOW?!”
Ash couldn’t help but laugh at her adorably flustered little friend. Together they moved on to the makeshift archery range, something Jessie found she had a natural talent for. Bows bent and arrows flew and by the time the bells rang, the two girls had finished all of their physical tasks for the day and returned to the locker rooms once more.
“Are you sure you don’t want to hop in the shower, Jess? We’ve been running around all day, I feel gross. Don’t you?” Ash asked, stripping herself down and pulling a towel out of her locker.
Jessie blushed and tried to squeak out, “N-no thanks, I’ll just shower when I get back to the dorms.”
‘The dorms? But she’s not staying in the dorms… I’d know if she were…‘ Rachel thought to herself, accidentally hearing Jessie from the opposite side of the locker row. ‘Where could she be staying?‘
“Suit yourself, then. Wait for me, ok? We’ll head out together so I can keep guard again.”
“Yeah, of course,” Jessie said, finishing dressing in her girls’ uniform again. She pulled a book out of her bag and got comfortable on the bench while she began waiting for Ashley.
‘Guard for what? Something fishy’s going on here and as dorm head, I need to find out what it is…‘ Rachel thought.
Rachel hid out of view behind the lockers for several minutes, keeping her ears perked for Jessie and Ash through the ever-quieting din of girls leaving for the day.
“Whatchya reading there, Jess?” Ash asked as she finished tying her shoes.
“Oh, it’s something a friend online recommended to me years ago. It’s called Arcana of Atlantis,” Jessie said, gathering her things in her messenger bag.
“Oooh, sounds neat! What’s it about?”
“It’s about this archaeologist who travels the world with her sister to find ancient relics and stop an evil plot. Think of the adventure and excitement of Indiana Jones paired with all of the sisterly love of Frozen.”
Jessie excitedly went on about her story as the two left the gym, unaware that Rachel was sneaking her way behind, following all the way until they stopped in front of the equipment storage shed.
“Aww, you didn’t have to spoil the ending for me, I would have read it eventually… or just waited for the movie,” Ash whined.
“You should still read it though. It’s all about the journey. You don’t get that kind of detail and emotional attachment in films like you do in books. Besides, the movie would probably cut out all of the parts that take place in the Yucatan and stuff.” Jessie was practically out of breath after speaking for so long. This was the most she’d talked in weeks, if not months.
“Heh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so excited over something before. This Arcana story must really turn your crank, huh?” Ash smiled at her little friend, happy to see her finally coming out of her shell.
Jessie shied away rubbing the back of her head.
“I-it’s just a fun story is all. That and I think I want to study history eventually. There’s something about learning what ancient civilizations were capable of that really excites me. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll discover the real Atlantis. I’d owe it all to stories like this that really push my imagination and passions to the limit, y’know?”
“Alright alright, settle down. I get it, and I’m glad you have something like that to strive for when you get older.” Ash was oddly proud of Jessie and had to fulfill the urge to rustle her hair like the little sister she wished she had, an action that gained a laugh from them both. “Don’t you have something to do?” she gently reminded her.
Jessie was ecstatic at the possibility of getting her friend into her favorite story, but she was right. She had to change before it got too late.
“Hold on, I’ll be out in a minute. Here…” Jessie reached down into her bag and pulled the book out again. “I’ll let you borrow it. Let me know what you think about it!”
“Are you sure? Aren’t you in the middle of it?”
“Nah, this is the third time I’ve read it. I’m just keeping it fresh in my mind for when the sequel comes out.”
“Arcana of Atlantis, huh…” Ash said aloud to herself, scanning the cover as Jessie ran inside. She noted the dozens of cracks in the paperback’s spine and the countless dogear creases that marked the pages. “She’s really put a lot of love into this thing.”
A few minutes later, Jessie poked her head out of the shed and finding nobody but Ash around, she emerged wearing the boys’ school uniform.
“Alright, I’m heading back to the dorms now. You were right about the shower, I could use one too. See ya later!” Jessie waved, taking off, but Ash was already sucked into the book.
“Hmm? Yeah, see ya,” she mumbled. Without so much as looking up to see where she was going, Ashley started to slowly shuffle her way towards the girls’ dorms. “Liz Darren… treasured sword… drone copters…” she mumbled under her breath as she went.
‘Jessie’s a boy?!‘ Rachel damn near shouted aloud as she climbed out from her bushy hiding place. ‘Why would a boy be taking gym class with the girls? Because he’s so androgynous?‘ she thought.
“That’s insane! The teachers would never approve of such an idiotic idea!!” She shouted before storming her way back to the dorms herself.
Meanwhile, in a board meeting somewhere in the administrative building, Mr. Schroeder and Mrs. Stable sneezed simultaneously.
Rachel kept muttering to herself on her way back to her room.
“No wonder she, er, he wanted to change in the bathroom all the time… he must be some kind of crossdressing pervert! I can’t let this go on…”
She was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.
But not as determined as Eric was to keep Duncan from getting fresh with Jessie.
A week and a half had finally rolled by with Eric being sure to keep Jessie away from Duncan best he could. So far it hadn’t been too hard, considering that Duncan was in a different class. His only regret was that every night, Jessie returned to her dorm room where Duncan waited to do god knows what with her.
His clenched fists were shaking hard in frustration, imagining what might be happening behind closed doors, but the minute he saw Jessie’s smile as she descended the stairwell with Duncan in tow, his worry left. He was enamored by the sight of her in casual clothes for the first time, wearing a simple white short-sleeved hoody and khaki shorts. It may have been a simple casual outfit to her, but to him, she looked like an angel descending from heaven. All he could do was greet the soft, smiling face with an awkwardly sheepish wave of his own, a wave Duncan was quick to mock with a snort.
“Good morning, Jessie! Sleep well?” Eric asked, trying his best to ignore Duncan, but Duncan wasn’t having it.
“I sle–” she started but was quickly cut off.
“He slept well. Like a baby, even.” Eric finally met Duncan’s grin with a glare.
“At least I don’t snore like you. Can you two stop fighting, just for today? We’re going to have fun together. As friends.” Jessie was already starting to get in a bad mood. Trying to mother the stubborn boys so early in the morning was not easy on her.
Sighing, Jessie pulled three tickets out of her pocket. “We’re going to Zany Heights today. My treat. I’ve been busting my butt at work all week to get the money for this and we’re going to have a good time. Promise me you two won’t fight, ok?”
Both boys looked at each other in shame before thanking Jessie for her hospitality. They may not be able to fight in front of her, but Eric was still determined to win Jessie’s heart away from Duncan, a feat Duncan was never going to allow.
A while later they arrived by bus at the entrance to the wackiest amusement park in the whole county, Zany Heights. Known for its looping roller coasters and impressive dark rides, Zany Heights had something for everyone. Something Jessie was glad to know since the first suggestion Duncan made was to ride the zaniest coaster there.
“U-uhh… how ’bout we wait a while for that? It’s got all those loops and such a long line…” Jessie stumbled over her own words, turning away from the boys with a tinge of embarrassment written across her face. Something Eric was quick to catch.
“Something wrong? Wait… are you afraid of roller coasters, Jessie?” Eric was afraid his tone sounded mocking but instead it came out genuinely sympathetic, as evidenced by Jessie’s sigh and sheepish nod.
“A little, I guess. I just… something really freaks me out about big coasters like that and I start to have panic attacks in the line.” She couldn’t help the shame she felt for being such a scaredy cat.
“It’s ok, we don’t have to go on the coaster. At least not right away. We’ll work our way up to it or something, alright?” Eric offered with a smile.
Jessie looked up at him, the soft comfort in his eyes forcing her to meet his smile with one of her own.
A short silence spawned between them that seemed to last hours until Duncan cleared his throat and both of them jump back into reality with a start.
“So where to first then? Your choice.” Duncan didn’t like the way they were looking at each other. He wasn’t going to let Eric have all the attention.
“Why don’t we walk around and just do whatever we see on the way?”
The idea seemed good enough for the boys and together they started walking through the crowds, Duncan and Eric on either side of Jessie, until they came across a strip of game stalls. Kids and couples of all ages tried their luck at BB rifle shooting, water balloon popping, ring tosses, basketball shots and more.
Duncan noticed Jessie eyeing the plush toys the boys were winning for their girlfriends and decided to use the opportunity to win some points with her.
“Why don’t we try this one? I’ll getchya a prize, guaranteed.” He grinned down at her, trying to act the confident and skilled manly-man, but it went right over her head.
“Sure, sounds fun! But you don’t need to get me anything. Just show me your skills!”
Without another word, Duncan nodded and handed the man running the booth two dollars in exchange for a baseball.
“Knock ’em all down in one hit to win a giant bear!” the man encouraged. Duncan smirked.
Carefully lining up his shot and taking aim, he let loose his best fastball. It flew into the booth as a blur but sadly only managed to knock the top few bottles from the stack.
“Aww, too bad kid. You still won a prize, though! Here ya go.” The man handed Duncan a tiny stuffed bear that he was quick to hand off to Jessie. “Anyone else wanna try?”
“Sure, I’ll take a shot,” Eric said, stepping up to the plate and stretching his arm with a swing.
Eric was determined to win the giant bear for Jessie to show up Duncan. There was no way he was going to lose to that jerk.
Arching his shot, he let the ball rip and managed to knock the entire stack of bottles down save for the two outliers on the bottom row.
“Ooooh, too bad. The ol’ 7-10 split! Aaaand here is your prize!” the man said, handing Eric a bear three times the size of Duncan’s.
“Here you go, Jessie.” Eric shot a cocky look of victory at Duncan’s annoyed face without so much as glancing at Jessie. She was just confused as to why they’d give her the bears instead of keeping them for themselves.
Oblivious to her suitors’ competition, she responded, “Hold onto it for a second. I want to give it a try.”
She handed the man two more dollars and with determination in her eyes she let out a deep breath and threw her best curve-ball, sure that was the trick to getting all the bottles. However, just as the ball left her grip, she was startled by the cry of a small girl standing next to her.
“No no, let the girl go first,” the little girl’s mother said in a thick accent, trying to calm her daughter down.
“Huh?” It was too late for Jessie, though. She couldn’t stop herself in time and in the matter of two seconds, her perfect plan was ruined. The ball loosed from her fingers at a weird angle, sweeping the bottom row of bottles clean from her stack and the ones next to her, knocking them all down.
“Well I’ll be! I think that deserves the top prize! We haaaaaave a winner~!” The man running the game used a hook to take the biggest bear down off the wall and carefully handed it to Jessie amidst the applause of several nearby people, including her astonished friends. Everyone was ecstatic at the display. All but one.
The little girl next to her was on the verge of tears, having her row of bottles knocked down by Jessie’s curve-ball. Jessie had no idea the girl was trying to go at the same time as her. Feeling a bit guilty, and not wanting to carry around a bear twice her size all day, Jessie came to a decision.
“Here, don’t cry. You can have this. Afterall, you helped!” Jessie smiled as she set the giant bear down next to the girl, whose face slowly warped from teary-eyed to amazement as she realized what was happening. She dived at the bear, giving it her best bear hug with a smile beaming across her face.
“You didn’t have to do that, but thank you. Thank you very much,” the girl’s mother said to her daughter’s savior, giving a slight bow.
“It’s really no bother. I’m glad she enjoys it.” Jessie replied.
“What do you say?” the mother asked her girl.
The girl turned to face Jessie, never letting go of the bear, and shyly stuttered out, “a-arigatou, ‘nee-san”.
“Huh?” Jessie turned her head in confusion, and looked at the mother.
“Eigo, Kasumi! Say it in English!” she chided.
“T-thank… you…” the girl struggled to sound out. Jessie smiled in return.
“You’re quite welcome.”
The boys watched on as the scene unfolded and when Jessie returned to them, they felt embarrassed by their inferior bears.
“Guess I’ve done my good deed for the day! What a shot, eh guys? Kicked YOUR butts, that’s for sure!” Jessie was beside herself with glee.
“Yeah, it was pretty amazing!” Eric cheered.
Duncan, to avoid being left out, chimed in with “Y-yeah, great shot! Who knew you had it in you!”
“Let’s get going! Lots more to see! What’s next, the arcade? Or bumper cars? Or how about that new Liz Darren dark ride that just opened? I’ve been looking forward to that one for ages!” Jessie kept blurting out ideas to her comrades as she began walking ahead of them.
Eric and Duncan looked down at their bears and then back to each other sheepishly before deciding to give their bears to some nearby kids as well. After a moment, they caught up to Jessie who had no idea they were gone.
“…and then we can go on the train ride! Hey, are either of you guys hungry by the way? It should be getting close to lunch by now.”
“Yeah sure, I could eat,” Duncan replied. Eric nodded in agreement.
Together they decided to stop at a nearby cart. Its sweet honey aroma made their stomachs growl as they inched closer in line until finally they each had an oversized corndog of their very own, fried before their eyes and placed in their hands.
“A~ahm!” Jessie nommed aloud as she wrapped her lips around the sweet warm cocoon of meat; its oil seeping into her lips and causing them to shine. A shine that didn’t go unnoticed by the boys who couldn’t help looking surprised and intoxicated by the cute way Jessie ate. Both turned away when she opened her eyes and sent them a questioning look.
“What’s wrong, is there something on my face?” she asked, trying in vain to find the phantom object that’d cause her friends’ embarrassment.
“Uh… n-no, it’s nothing…” Duncan said, his eyes darting from Jessie to Eric to find a look of confusion and a look of sympathy from each in turn.
“Well you guys should hurry up and eat, then. We have tons more to see!” Jessie chimed, as chipper and oblivious as ever.
“Yeah, it’s just that… um… it’s so good I want to savor it! Yeah! I’m going to take my time eating. How ’bout you, Duncan?” Eric acted nervous knowing that Duncan had gotten the same sort of ‘natural reaction’ he had at seeing Jessie eat. A reaction they both had to wait patiently to end.
“Right! Yeah, you know how corndogs are at places like this. They’re a lot greasier but they taste so much better. Totally worth being overpriced, right?” Duncan tried his best to go along with the unspoken plan, realizing that Eric was in the same position he was.
“Absolutely. Totally worth it. Every second of it…” Eric trailed off, his eyes glazing over in imagination, wondering what it’d be like to kiss those full shiny lips…
“Well ok then, but don’t take too long. It’s good but it’s not that good.” As impatient as Jessie was, she was happy to stay. For the first time, the boys had found something to agree on and weren’t fighting. The whole trip was worth it for this brief moment of solace. ‘I guess the way to a guy’s heart really is through his stomach,’ Jessie thought.
Minutes passed and with a begrudging nod of approval between the boys, the group finally stood up and went on their way.
First they went to the arcade. It started out innocently enough with the trio taking their turns at racing games, but after the third time Eric was beaten by Duncan in a row, Jessie insisted they move on to fighters. It was a bad choice as it happened all over again. Fifteen minutes in and Jessie was pushed out of the way so Eric and Duncan could wail on each other with virtual fists, screaming taunts and cussing loudly as they went. Parents covered their kids’ ears as they walked away and Jessie just stood there, arms crossed, shaking her head in disappointment.
When they finally left the arcade Duncan was smiling at his victory, proud to have defeated his adversary in every challenge he threw at him. Eric wasn’t going to let him win the ultimate challenge, though.
“Hey Jessie, we should head off and go on some of those dark rides you wanted to go on. We didn’t come here to play video games, afterall.”
Jessie’s frown was turned upside down at the suggestion. “Yeah, absolutely! Let’s go!”
Eric put his arm around Jessie’s shoulders, a gesture she met with a confused blush. ‘Eh?! Why would he do that? Isn’t this something guys only do with their girlfriends?!‘, she thought. There had to be some explanation. ‘Must just be a guy thing. Yeah, male bonding. That’s it. Eric would never do something that would reveal my secret in front of someone like Duncan, right? Better roll with it to keep my cover.’ She tried her best to shake the blush from her face and calm her pounding heart, but she couldn’t seem to look up from the ground. ‘Why is it beating so fast?!‘
Eric looked back with a sly grin to meet Duncan’s scowl, taunting him.
“You may have won that battle, but I’m winning the war,” he called out.
“War? What war? The way you guys fight, it’s a wonder you’re not best friends,” Jessie said with a forced laugh, slowly calming down.
“Why don’t we go on something a bit more extreme, like the Rocket Cars or the roller coaster?” Duncan pitched, but sadly his idea was quickly struck down.
“Sorry Duncan, I’m actually not feeling too well right now. I have a bit of a stomach cramp coming on. Either of you feeling that?” They both shook their heads. “Guess it wasn’t the corndogs then…” she trailed off, trying to think of what caused it. ‘Had to be something I ate,’ she thought to herself.
“It’s alright Jessie, we’ll take it easy and go on the slow paced stuff, ok?” Eric kindly offered.
“Yeah and we can work our way up to the bigger stuff when you’re feeling better. And don’t worry about the coaster, I’ll be next to you the whole time,” Duncan added, stealing a look from Eric.
“Thanks you guys, I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll be fine in a minute.”
The trio took off, weaving through the park and going on a few of the dark rides they happened across. Most of the rides had a limit of two people per row on the ride vehicle so naturally, the boys fought over who would get to sit with Jessie. Nearly every queue was a race between them to get there first, and nearly every time, Eric won with a grin.
Eric sat next to her from the slow-moving boat ride through Rogues of the Bahamas to the brand new rough and tumble ride through the Temple of the Atlantis in Liz Darren Adventures. Duncan had finally won a seat next to her for Mr. Rabbit’s Wild Flight but Eric was sure to steal it back on Car Paradise.
“What haven’t we been on yet?” Eric asked as they left Space Cruises. Jessie looked down at her map.
“Let’s see… there’s the Little Storm Traintrack, Rocket Cars, and the Spook Plantation… and then the roller coaster, Star Hill. What do you guys want to do next?”
“Are you feeling better? You’re not scared of a small coaster like Little Storm Traintrack, are you?” Duncan asked.
Jessie shied away at the accusation, but couldn’t blame him after how she reacted earlier to his suggestion about Star Hill. “I’m feeling better, I guess. We can do Storm if you want. Eric, what about you?”
“I’m game. Why don’t we just do them in order?” he suggested with a smile.
“Yeah, we can build up to Star Hill. If you really don’t want to do it by the time we get to it, you don’t have to go,” Duncan added.
Jessie sighed. She really didn’t want to go on the big indoor coaster, but she didn’t want to disappoint her friends. She thought about how helpless she’s always been, with Eric coming to her side when Duncan was bullying her and Duncan saving her in that back alley. She steeled her resolve and gave Duncan a glare of determination.
“I guess so. I need to man up a bit and just face my fears. That’s why you’ve been teaching me self defense tricks all week, right? We’ll work our way up to it and I’ll get on that coaster even if it kills me.” She pumped her tiny little bicep with a victorious grin that hid her fear well, or so she thought.
“Great to hear! Let’s go!” Duncan returned, smile and all.
“Wait, what was that? You’ve been teaching he-him self defense? When was this happening?! Haven’t you been working all week?” Eric wasn’t too pleased to discover that Duncan had had some private time with Jessie behind his back after he went to so much effort to prevent it.
“Oh, yeah, I have, but we do share a room afterall and he’s been teaching me stuff all week. Something happened a few weeks back that Duncan… uh… helped me with, and I don’t want to be put in that situation again so I asked him to teach me how to protect myself.” Jessie didn’t want to admit exactly what went down. She was ashamed enough as it was.
“What happened? C’mon, tell me!” Eric pleaded. He hated being left out like this.
“I don’t really wanna talk about it. Let’s just get on Storm already, k?” Jessie asked, a sweet tone to her plea. Eric was helpless against that soft pout.
“A-alright…” he said, turning away from her gaze and rubbing the back of his neck. ‘She could end a war with a pout like that… she is just too damn cute,’ he thought to himself, fighting back the red tinge he felt creeping to his cheeks.