Chapter 17

Cate Fox and the Case of the Fading Magic by Emily


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Content Warning: Discussion of sexual assault


“I thought you were going to teach her proper shooting form,” Sam said to me when we got into Kayla’s car.


“You were never going to shoot me,” I explained. “She was definitely going to shoot him.”


“Don’t be so sure of that,” Sam laughed. “I had you in my sights.”


“It almost would have been worth it to see the recoil knock you on your ass,” I snickered. 


“You did good, Cate,” she said, then smiled. “It goes to show you, your greatest weapon isn’t your gun - it’s your mouth.”


I cocked my head at her. “Is that innuendo?”


Sam shrugged and we both chuckled.


“I would’ve shot that piece of shit, Cate,” Brett announced. “That was disgusting.”


“You’ve obviously never killed a person with your own hand,” I replied. “Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks in the movies.” 


“Where to?” Kayla asked as she sped through the parking lot.


“I have a motel room with my stuff in it,” I said. “What are you all doing here anyway?”


“We came to bring you back to school.”


“How did you even find me?” I asked. “I don’t even know where I am.”


Sam held up her phone. “Thank Google location tracking. Sophia thought you might be in trouble.”


“Why would she think that?”


“Because you’re always in trouble,” Sam laughed. “She wasn’t wrong.”


“Let me guess,” Kayla said. “You had it under control.”


I paused for a moment. That was sobering. I never had it under control until they showed up. “Thank you. All of you," I said quietly"Anyway, why would I go back? Everybody hates me.”


“Not everybody,” Sam corrected. “They’re upset you lied. But you still have friends there.”


“Well, I was expelled.”


“Yeah, about that,” Sam continued. “Sophia texted me to tell you that in order to get re-enrolled, you have to get your parents to re-enroll you.”


“Them? The Kincades?”


“Yes.”


“I don't want to go there.”


“Neither do we,” Kayla complained. “That's adding another 300 miles to this trip!”


“We’re going right now?”


“We can go in the morning, since you have a room,” Kayla said. “It’d be nice not to have to drive through the night.”


Hopefully I still have a room, I wasn’t around this afternoon to extend my stay. And I make no promises I can get re-enrolled. Besides, I’m not sure I even want to go back after what happened Monday night.”


“Lulu said she regrets not standing up for you,” Sam said. “So did Sophia.”


I nodded. My mind wasn’t made up yet. Either way, I still needed a ride out of Pittsburgh, so I gave Kayla the name of my no-tell motel, and her mapping app directed us there. Turns out Jacob had taken me a half hour from the coffee shop. 


I was about to walk into the motel’s office to extend my stay when Sam held me back.  “You can’t go in there looking like that, Cate. You’re a bloody mess.  What room number?”


“214.”


She shifted into me and walked into the office. Damn, it sure is handy having a Shifter around.


Thankfully my room was still available and they didn’t throw my suitcase to the curb. Sam quickly added another night to my stay. Then Sam was met with a blank stare when she asked for extra bedding. “I guess not,” Sam mumbled as she left the desk.


“Ugh! This place reeks!” Kayla complained as we entered my room.


“I could go out for food,” Sam offered.


“This is not a safe place for a 15-year-old girl to be walking around,” I said. “I should know.”


“I’ll drive, then.”


“You don’t have a license,” Kayla pointed out. “Or a car, for that matter.”


Sam then shifted into Kayla and smirked. “Now I do.”


“Do you even know how to drive?”


“I’ve shifted into adults and driven before.”


“I’m going to take a shower,” I said. “I just feel…” I couldn’t finish the sentence, but Kayla, Sam and Brett gave empathetic looks.


“Go get cleaned up Cate,” Sam said, getting Kayla’s keys.


“Careful with my car!” Kayla cautioned as Sam walked out the door.


Brett turned on the TV and the first thing we heard was, “Breaking News.”


We all turned to watch the story unfold.


“The alleged perpetrators of a Sex Trafficking Ring were apprehended only moments ago,” the anchor announced. “Our correspondent is live at the scene. Dawn, what can you tell us?”


“That’s right, Tom. A horrifying story ended heroically this evening at a local hotel. A sex trafficking ring was broken up by its victim. A 13-year-old girl from Ohio managed to evade and subdue her captors and then call 9-1-1.”


The TV then showed pictures of Jacob and Darryl. “In custody are two local men. Roger Synder, 31 and Darryl Anderson, 45. Both men are facing charges of solicitation of minors, rape, kidnapping, and human trafficking. Local police have said the suspects have a long client list and this investigation may lead to additional arrests.”


“The fucker's name wasn’t even Jacob,” I commented.


Brett turned off the TV. “Should’ve killed them. How’d you run across them anyway?”


I was quiet, lost in my own thoughts.

“Cate?”


“I’m going to shower now.”


I walked to the sink and mirror. I was reminded my face had dried blood smeared all over it. I ran some water onto my hands and attempted to wash the blood off again. I wasn’t successful.  I felt another round of nausea coming.  This time I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it back.  I ran into the bathroom, quickly shut the door, collapsed in front of the toilet, and threw up.


I sat there on the floor for a good 10 minutes in a daze. When I was ready, I shed my clothes and climbed into the shower. I stood there as the hot water tried to rinse away the horrors of the day.


I had been able to hold my composure since leaving the crime scene, but as I stood there under the water, letting it cascade down my shoulders, I could feel the emotions welling up. I couldn’t hold back anymore and cried.


“Cate,” Brett said from the other side of the door, “are you OK?”


“Go away!” I sobbed.


“Brett, I'll handle it,” I heard Kayla tell him. 


I was such a wreck, my legs were shaking, so I sat down on the shower floor and curled up in the corner.


I heard the bathroom door open. 


“Fox, it’s me,” Kayla said.


“Go away. I’m fine.”


“You’re not fine. It’s not fine.”


I opened the shower curtain a smidge and saw Kayla sitting down on the floor next to me.


“I was scared shitless,” I confessed. “He drugged me. Kidnapped me. I kept telling myself I had everything under control. Truth is, I didn’t. I knew it. I thought I was going to die. Or worse. Get raped. I felt helpless. I was so angry. The only thing that kept me going was the desire to save Chloe, but even then, I didn’t know how. My years of training didn’t prepare me for that situation. I was scared, but I had to put on a tough façade for her.”


“You feel powerless. You wonder ‘why me?’” Kayla now had watery eyes. “Welcome to the club, girl.”


“Wait, you, too?”


“Many of us, Cate. Whether you’re a girl or TG girl, nothing is easy. In fact, people you used to trust, sometimes they can become monsters.” She stared at the wall and her own tears started flowing. “Like- when you become a girl, but your best friend who is socially awkward with girls decides just because he’s your best friend he can have his way with you. That you owe something to him. That’s why I’m at PAA.”


“I thought your mom sent you away.”


“That’s partially true. I told everyone my best friend raped me. He denied it and told everyone I was asking for it. That I was flaunting my new femininity. Who do you think they believed? The TG or the shy, perfect, boy-next-door Normie. That’s why my mom sent me away.”


I swallowed hard. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”


“It’s not just me. There are hundreds of stories at PAA about TGs who were sexually assaulted by their former friends, sometimes family members. It’s wrong. Many Normies who know of our situation treat us like fetishes. Like sex dolls. But we’re fucking human beings with emotions. We didn’t ask for this. We’re just trying to survive.”


I wasn’t sure what to say. 


“Cate, you survived this. You did an awesome thing today. That girl, Chloe, is going to go home tonight. Those monsters were caught. You did that.”


“I had help. I couldn’t have done that without you three.”


“TGs stick together.” 


Kayla shut off the shower and held up a towel. “Come here.”


I stood up and she wrapped me with the towel and embraced me in a hug. 


 “TGs have to stick together,” she repeated. “Come back to PAA with us.”


“I’m not sure they'll accept me.”


“I don’t care who you were. I know everyone else was giving you crap about being a cop, but it’s not about that. They are scared. Get them to know the real you.”


I didn’t know how to respond. Who is the real me? Jack? Emma? Cate? All of the above? I had some real soul-searching to do.


“Kayla, why are you doing this? You hated my guts back at PAA.”


“Fox, when you showed up at school, I didn’t trust you. I just told you about my background. I don’t trust many people until that trust is earned. After all, if I couldn't trust my mother or my best friend, how could I trust a stranger? You were just some freshman who didn’t understand what it’s like to really be a TG. In fact, you were openly resisting it. Telling everyone you’re really a 42 year-old guy. That’s very off-putting.” She took a deep breath and continued, 

“Today, I saw the real Cate. Vulnerable and scared, just like the rest of us. And then you put your own life on the line for a total stranger. No asshole does that.”


“Well, I had-” I wanted to say I felt a professional obligation to save Chloe, but Kayla cut me off.


“It doesn’t matter anymore, Cate,” she said, squeezing me tighter. “You’re one of us now. And us TGs, we stick together.”


“Thank you,” I whispered.


“I’ll leave you to get dressed, Fox. But hurry up - there are four of us and only one bathroom,” she said playfully.


I guess Kayla the Bit-, no, Kayla the boss was back. Better get moving.


I eventually dried off, and put back on my T-shirt and jeans. I crawled into bed and tried to close my eyes. The problem was I couldn’t fall asleep. I was an emotional wreck. And it wasn’t just the hormones. My mind replayed the demons of this evening and the judgemental looks of my PAA classmates, earlier in the week.


I was worried about Chloe too. What would happen to her? Would she have to face Jacob in a courtroom and relive that time in the hotel? Would that POS be leering at her the whole time? What about when she got back home? Would her parents accept her? Would they get her the help she needs? Maybe I can reach out to her sometime through Max to see how she is doing.


Eventually Sam came back with food. I could hear the rustling of paper and smell pizza. Any other time I’d get out of bed for pizza. But I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to socialize. I didn’t want to pretend this evening didn’t happen to me.


“How is she doing?” Sam asked.


“She needs her rest,” Kayla said. “Brett, if you make a Sleeping Beauty comment, you’re walking back to PAA,” Kayla warned.


“What do you want sleeping arrangements to be?” Sam asked.


“There might be blankets in the closet,” Kayla suggested.


“Hey,” Sam spoke up, grabbing everyone’s attention. “Um, have any of you ever spent the night with a Shifter?” There was a silent pause, presumably Kayla and Brett with either shaking their head or nodding. “Well, if we go to sleep in a shifted form, and not our default form, we kinda - degrade. So when we wake up I might look-”


“Sam, we all look like shit in the morning,” Kayla interrupted. “Don’t worry about it.”


Even though I was pretending to sleep, that gave me a small smile. I had forgotten how accepting PAA students were.


Anyway, I stayed like that for hours. Not quite sleeping. In and out of consciousness. I felt Kayla climb under the covers next to me. I saw Sam on the couch. I can only assume Brett was on the floor.


Eventually I fell into a deep sleep.


* * *


In the morning, we got our things and piled into Kayla’s car. I tried to keep to myself and everyone gave me space. I got a few hugs from Sam and Kayla. And of course Brett - though I wished he hadn’t.


On the road back to the Kincades, I texted Max. “I’m heading home. I found Jacob in Pittsburgh. That was a dead end. Will be at the Kincade’s in a few hours.”


Hours later Kayla pulled into the circular driveway of the McMansion. We all got out of the car, but I was the only one to walk up to the house. They all wished me luck.


I walked in the door and swallowed hard. I needed to play the part of a remorseful 14-year-old. “Mom. Dad. I’m home.”


Seconds later, Mr. and Mrs. Kincade appeared in the living room. The same spot I sat in three weeks ago, as Detective Jack Baker, interviewing them about their missing daughter.


“Expelled, Emma?” Mr. Kincade yelled. “Really?”


I remained quiet. 


“What do you have to say for yourself?” Mrs. Kincade asked.


“I’m so sorry," I said softly. "I wasn’t trying to get expelled.” Hey, this would be a great time for those damn crying hormones to kick in.


Mr. Kincade continued, “Disrespecting authority? Alcohol? A gun? Constant running away. What the hell, Emma? What’s gotten into you?”


I guess they spoke with Hathaway. But how’d she know about the booze and my gun? I decided I needed to turn up the teenage theatrics. I stared at my feet. “I-I’m sorry. I’m under a lot of pressure.”


“But, a gun?” Mrs. Kincade asked with utter disdain.


“It wasn’t mine. I found it.  When I ran away.  The first time. It was scary out there.”


“Do you realize how serious this is?” Mr. Kincaid continued. “That gun might have been used in a crime. You could get in a lot of trouble just for having it in your possession. Not to mention you’re a minor.”


“Well, I wasn’t-”


“Emma, give me that gun so we can turn it in to the police.”


“I can’t,” I lied. “I left it with a friend at school when I was expelled.”


Mr. Kincaid rolled his eyes and swore at this complication.


“And alcohol?” Mrs. Kincaid cut in. “Emma, you’re only 14!”


“It was just one time,” I lied again. “I said I was under a lot of pressure!”


“From what?” Mrs. Kincade begged. “Where is my little girl? The one who is joyous and lacrosse was her life and respected us?”


I knew she meant that figuratively. But in the literal sense, I wondered the same thing. “I did make the lacrosse team.” I forced a smile.


“What are we going to do with you?” Mr. Kincade sighed.


I looked up at them with the best puppy dog eyes I could muster. “Give me a second chance,” I begged. “I promise to behave. I'll make you proud of me. I swear.”


“This was your second chance, Emma! And where have you been all week? You were expelled Monday night. It’s Friday! No phone calls. No texts.”


I didn’t want to tell them about Pittsburgh. No doubt that would freak them out and I’d never be allowed out of the house again. “I needed to clear my mind. I was with some friends from school. I’m here now.”


Both parents shook their heads.


“What is going to happen to me now?” I asked, fearing the worst - sending me away from all of my investigations. The fading magic at PAA, Emma, and the Slider. “Another school?”


“I talked to Ms. Hathaway,” Mr. Kincade said. “I chewed her out after she promised you wouldn't run away. You did.”

“In fairness, I didn’t run away, I got expelled.”


“But you didn’t come home after getting expelled.”


“Well it’s not like there’s a nightly bus from PAA for expelled students.”


“You’re only 14, Emma. You’re supposed to call your parents to pick you up!”


“I know, I know.” I was getting crazy flashbacks from conversations with my own parents.


“I was surprised when she called back to offer you a second chance at her academy.”


“She did?”


“Apparently your friends vouched for you.”


"They did?" I didn't expect that. “My friends?”


Mrs. Kincade pulled out a piece of paper. “I wrote some down. Apparently your roommate Sophia said you were her best friend and have helped her through a difficult time.”


“That was nice of her.”


“One girl… a… Lulu… said you sacrificed yourself for your friends and took the fall for them.”


“So, I’m going back?” I asked hopefully.


Mr. Kincade sighed. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Emma. We think you should stay local. Maybe get you back in your old school where we can keep an eye on you.”


“How’d you get home?” Mrs. Kincade asked.


I opened the front door. “I have friends at PAA. They drove me home.”


Both the Kincades looked out the front door to see Sam, Kayla, and Brett leaning up against the car. Sam waved and smiled at us. Kayla and Brett appeared to be discussing something about her car.


“You never tell us how you’re doing at school,” Mrs. Kincade said. “How are you doing?”


“I’m… academically I’m fine. But those friends who said that about me. Those friends outside. They might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m a better person because I went to PAA.” That line sounded like bullshit, but there was some truth to that.


“Then I’ll call them and tell them you’re coming back,” he said with trepidation. “But make no mistake, this is your last chance, Emma. Run away or get expelled again and I will find a strict military academy to send you to.”

“Thank you, Dad,” I said, giving him a hug. Then the same with Mrs. Kincade. I hate calling them “Mom and Dad,” but at this moment, I’m grateful they’re giving me another chance. Maybe they’re not so bad. Or maybe… just maybe, my friends are that convincing.


“And as soon as you get back to school I want you to turn that gun over to the local authorities,” Mr. Kincaid insisted.


“I will, dad,” I lied. Well, technically, I am the police, right?.


“Well then,” Mr. Kincaid finalized. “I guess this matter is closed.”


Wow, such warm and loving parents. I’m surprised they didn’t make me sign a contract to behave.


“Emma, honey,” Mrs. Kincade finally asked. “What are you wearing?”


“The latest in thrift store fashion,” I bragged, posing like the supermodels I’ve seen on TV.


“You? You went to a thrift store?”


“Well, I was running kinda low on money.”


"Emma Jane Kincade, I want you to go upstairs and put on something more presentable," Mrs. Kincade instructed. "And then invite your friends in for lunch. I'm sure you're all hungry after the long drive. I'll have Carmen prepare something for you all."


I didn't know if she was being sincere, or if she was showing off, but they just gave me a reprieve, and I was hungry. "Thanks, Mom."


I motioned for everyone to come inside.


“Introduce us to your friends, Emma,” Mrs. Kincade directed.


“Well, this is Sam.” I began.


“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Kincade,” Sam said.


“Kayla.”


“Hi, I’m on Lacrosse with… Emma,” Kayla said, smiling at me


“Oh, I’m so glad you’re still playing lacrosse honey,” Mrs. Kincade gushed.


“And this is Brett,” I said.


“Boyfriend?” Mr. Kincade cautiously asked.


No!” I quickly replied.


Mrs. Kincade leaned into my ear. “He’s cute.”


“Mom, please,” I flatly said.


“I thought you went to an all-girls’ school.”


“Oh. Well - um…”


“Brett is my brother,” Kayla spoke up for the save. “He came along for the ride.”


“Oh,” Mrs. Kincade acknowledged. “Now hurry upstairs and change.”


I looked at my friends and smirked. “Yes, Mom.”


* * *


We sat down at the dining room table and Carmen asked us what we wanted. Apparently Lord and Lady Kincade weren’t joining us. Which is fine. I'd much rather hang out with my friends - even Brett - than Emma’s parents. It's crazy the difference a few days makes. A week ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead dining with either Kayla or Brett. 


Hell, a week ago I was kinda dating Brett’s lunar girl-form, Brittany. I caught him sneaking glances at me. Part of me felt bad. The other part of me was still angry at his deception. I deceived everyone too. But I felt his was worse. I lied about my occupation and the reason for my enrollment. He lied about his entire identity and gender, then proceeded to date me. We got to second base and he even saw me topless. The fact that Brittany and Brett were the same person was an invasion of privacy.


I took that opportunity to ask Carmen something important. “Carmen, you wouldn't by any chance have pastrami in there would you?”


“No pastrami, Miss Emma,” she replied, shaking her head.


“Emma. It’s just Emma.”


She smiled.


“Any sandwich would do.”


When Carmen left, Sam turned to me. “Are you going to tell them you’re not Emma?”


“I thought about it. I can’t. I was the detective assigned to her case. I never brought her home. I don’t even know where she is. What am I supposed to tell them? That their daughter has been missing for three weeks? That she’s no longer their little girl? They'd call me crazy. Most likely if they don’t lock me up in the insane asylum, they will interfere with my efforts to find the real Emma or return to PAA. One day I’ll tell them. But I want that day to be one where she can be there by my side to tell her parents she’s OK.”


“Cate, you’ll be glad to know you didn’t miss anything in class,” Brett stated. “Sanders did some stuff on electrical currents and tried recruiting people for his Technology Club. Meanwhile, in Algebra we did some linear equations. There was no homework. At least as of Wednesday night.”


“That’s good to know,” I said. “I spent all of last night worried about my algebra homework,” I replied sarcastically.


“I did get in trouble and had to stay after class.”


“Oh?” I asked.


“I didn’t enjoy the after-math,” Brett chuckled.


“That was awful,” Kayla groaned.


“I know, right?” added Sam. “I don’t trust freshman algebra students. They’re always plotting something.”


I looked at Sam. “Not you, too.”


“Why are algebra textbooks so sad?” Brett asked. “They have a lot of problems.”


“Guys, stop,” I interjected, shaking my head. “It’s been a traumatic week for me.”


“This is why you need to laugh,” Kayla stated. “I’m in Pre-Calc. It’s got a steep learning curve.”


I groaned. “That’s it. I’m at my limit!”


That did elicit chuckles from the others at the table.


“That joke is so derivative,” Kayla replied. “Hey Sam, what’s the funniest thing you’ve ever shifted into?”


“The funniest thing?” Sam asked. “Well, I don’t shift into things. I shift into other people. And the occasional domesticated mammal. OK, OK. I did a fictional…thing…once.”


“What was it?” I asked.


“A unicorn.”


“A unicorn?” the rest of us repeated incredulously.


“Yes, I was really into unicorns when I was 10.”


“I suppose you could shift into Bigfoot and screw with people,” I chuckled.


Sam looked at me. “Um, Cate, most of those stories are Shifters screwing with Normies.”


“Elvis sightings too?”


Sam gave a mischievous smile.


“Cate, if you could pick one type of TG to be, which would you pick?” Kayla asked.


“Well, obviously I’d rather just go back to being a Normie.”


“Obviously,” she replied. “But if you had to pick.”


“I suppose I’d like to be a Shifter like Sam. I can go back to being Jack. And maybe morph into a unicorn occasionally.”


Everyone laughed.


“Sam?” Kayla asked.


“Everyone wants to be a Shifter except Shifters,” Sam replied. “Honestly I’d rather be just like Kayla. No orange eyes. Just a girl. No powers.”


“Maybe we should all share embarrassing stories,” Kayla said. “Brett?”


“Oh, I don’t know. There was this one time that I thought everyone changed during the full moon. I went to a Normie friend and asked what dress he was going to wear for the full moon. Naturally he was confused.”


“Emma,” Mr. Kincade called from the doorway. “The police chief is here to see you.”


I got up and followed him to the foyer where Max was waiting.


“What is this about, Chief Hamilton?” Mr. Kincade asked. 


“I wanted to follow up with Emma on how she’s doing and see if she has any more information about the events of three weeks ago.”


I walked by Mr. Kincade and followed Max outside. We walked down the street so nobody could hear us.


“What’s new, Cate? You got expelled.”


“Yes, but apparently my friends got me re-enrolled.”


“It’s still Cate, right?”


“Yeah, I guess so. Cate was only supposed to be my cover name. But I don’t want to go by Emma.”


“You could go by Jack since everyone knows the truth.”


“I… think I’m going to stick with Cate. For now at least. As long as I’m in this body.”


“Is that what your friends call you?” he asked with a smile.


“Yes. What’s with that smile?”


“I’m happy you’re doing well at school, Cate.”


“Well, up until I got expelled. But yeah. Before that. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”


“Tell me about Pittsburgh. I had a hunch you’d do that.”


“You know me so well, Chief. I found Jacob.”


“You did? We weren’t able to trace that number.”


“Apparently he was an online predator with ties to a sex trafficking ring in Pittsburgh.”


“Wait a sec - was that you?” Max stared at me wide-eyed.


“Yeah.”


“Holy shit, Jack. I mean - Cate.”


“Yeah. That was an experience I would like to forget.”


“I should get the transcripts we took from your phone and send them to Pitt as evidence.”


“Good idea, but make sure it doesn’t tie back to me or Emma.”


“I’ll do my best, but since last night, that story has gained a lot of media attention. One of the clients was a high up political donor. You - or rather ‘Emma Kincade’ - might have to testify as a witness.”


“Figures.” I got shivers just thinking about reliving last night. “I did not, however, find Emma. and the predator had no idea what I was talking about. How is your search for Emma, my body, and the Slider going?”


“We still got nothing. I’m sorry Cate.”


“I get the Slider not turning up. They’re smart. But why hasn’t Emma turned up?”


Max didn't say anything.


“I have this feeling she’s sticking around here. If she didn’t go to Pittsburgh, she must be feeling regretful about how she treated her parents. I bet she’s somewhere around here keeping a low profile. Maybe stalking her family and friends.”


“At some point you’d think she’d come out.”


“She might be afraid. She’s in a male body much older than she was.”


“We’ll keep an eye out for a suspicious male, But it’s unofficial because the Kincades never pressed charges against him. I’m sorry Cate, I know how much you want to be a part of this case.”


“Hey Chief. Why was Emma’s case closed?”


Max sighed. “Because we found Emma Kincade - or at least her body. You. We’re looking for your body - Jack Baker. So the case looking for our missing detective is ongoing.”


“Just… find Emma.”


“We’ll try, Cate.”


We started walking back to the house. When we got to his car, we shook hands


“Stay safe, Cate.”


“Thanks, Chief.”


I returned to the house and to the dining room, where lunch was already served. There was a smorgasbord on the table. Various macaroni and potato salads, a spread of lunch meat, cheeses, and bread. Assorted condiments and spreads. Carmen really worked fast.


As I was assembling my sandwich I was reminded of that muffaletta Brittany made me. It was excellent. 


I looked up and Brett was silently chewing.


“Brett, those muffalettas were excellent.”


Sam and Kayla stared at me. That nicety came out of nowhere.


“What?” I questioned. “They were.”


“Was this from your date?” Sam asked with an inquisitive look.


“Yeah,” Brett answered for me.


“My date with Brittany,” I corrected them.


“You know they’re the same person right?” Kayla teased.


“I do now,” I said as I glared at Brett.


“I overstepped my bounds,” Brett confessed. “Cate has every right to be upset. If she’s not ready to forgive me, that’s her prerogative.”


Everyone nodded. He’s right. I wasn’t ready. 


When I was done eating, I stood up. “Hey, so I've only spent one night here before being shipped off to PAA. Who else wants a tour of Kincade Manor?”


“Cate, I would like to get back to campus before nightfall,” Kayla protested.


“I’ll take a tour,” Brett said. “It’s already Friday afternoon, and we won’t make it back for any classes. There’s no rush.”


“Some of us would like to get back because we left our girlfriends hanging,” Sam said.


“We’ll make it quick, then head out,” I said. “There are a lot of parts of this house I haven’t seen, either.”


I did a quick ten minute tour of Kincade Castle. The various entertainment rooms, a library, office, and poolhouse. We skipped the dungeon. Last stop, Emma’s bedroom. While I was here, I might as well get some warmer clothes. You know, just in case I needed to wear something more fashionable than the thrift store ensemble I was wearing when I arrived.


Kayla picked up a framed picture on the dresser. It was a picture of Emma in a uniform holding a lacrosse stick. Next to that was a trophy. Kayla put the frame down and picked the trophy up and examined it. “Middle School Regional Champions. Hey Fox, I didn’t know you were a lacrosse champion. You’re gonna need to bring your A-game whenever we practice again.” 


“Correction,” I said. “Emma was a lacrosse champion. Not me.”


“But you have her body and her muscle memory.”


“You have a nice room,” Brett commented.


“This is not my room,” I again corrected. “This is Emma’s room. It’s bad enough I’m stealing her life, but here I am in her house, in her bedroom. She should be here. Not me.”


“Sorry, Cate. I forgot how you felt about Emma.”


“What’s worse is last night - I almost got… in her body…”


Everyone got quiet. Our light-hearted lunch was over and we were reminded of what we had just been through.


“I saw your reaction when I shifted into you yesterday,” Sam said. “You feel guilt. I get it. I feel guilty when I shift into someone else.”


“But it’s permanent for me. Fuck. I can’t even tell her that I’m sorry.”


There was silence in the room. Sam stood up. “Kayla, Brett, can you give us a couple minutes?”


“Sure,” Brett said as they both left the room. Sam walked over and shut the door.


“Sit down on your bed and close your eyes,” Sam commanded.


“Why?” I said, doing as I was told.


“What’s your dead name again?”


“Jack Baker.”


“Detective, is it?”


“Yes. Detective Jack Baker.”


I heard the rustle of drawers. The screeching of hangers.


“What are you doing? This isn’t my stuff.”


“Keep your eyes closed,” Sam reminded me.


Minutes went by. “Sam? Can I open my eyes yet?”


“Almost.”


Another minute and I felt Sam sit next to me. I then felt her hand on my shoulder. She squeezed it. I opened my eyes and turned around to see Emma sitting right there. She was wearing the same uniform from that picture Kayla was looking at. I gasped.


“It’s OK, Detective,” she said gently.


I saw the orange eyes. I knew it was Sam. But I couldn’t not see Emma. “Emma.”


“That’s right, Jack. I want to know - why? Why are you in my body?”


“It was a mistake. The Slider. He had you at gunpoint. I wasn’t able to react in time.” 


“It wasn’t your fault, Jack. I put myself in that situation. What would’ve happened if you weren’t there?”


“You would’ve boarded that train to Pittsburgh.”


“Then none of us would be sitting here right now.”


“But I was there to protect you. Instead I’m here stealing your life.”


“You didn’t steal my life. The slider did. You’re continuing my life.”


“How do you figure?”


Emma reached over and placed a hand on my arm. “You’re keeping my memory alive. You’re making friends. You’re helping them.”


“I should be helping you.”


“Don’t fret what you can’t control. Worry about what you can. Those friends of yours. They’re looking up to you. They risked getting in trouble just so they can bring you back to PAA.”


“I can’t help but think that by being in you, I’m erasing you. I couldn’t even take off your nail polish. How can I be Jack and Emma at the same time?”


“Cate.”


I looked up at her. I wasn’t sure if Sam was breaking character or she wanted to emphasize my chosen name.


"Don’t be Emma. Don’t be Jack. Just be Cate. This is your body now. Use it for good.” She moved over and hugged me. 


“Thank you Emma. I needed to hear that. I’m sorry this happened to you.”


The last step was to say goodbye. I didn’t want to stay here any longer than I needed to, but I figured I'd at least offer my gratitude for the re-enrollment. If I'm nice enough maybe my allowance won't dry up. While everyone else was getting in the car, I went to the kitchen where Carmen was cleaning up. We shared a big hug and she wished me well at school. Then I found Mr. Kincade in his office, on the phone. He paused long enough to give me a wave and a stern look. Mrs. Kincade was waiting in the foyer so I couldn’t avoid her. She gave me a worried look and a hug, then asked me to call more often and let her know how I was doing. I agreed. Now let’s get the fuck out of here and back to school.


* * *


As we rode back to PAA, I was silent as Brett tried to unsuccessfully get us all to play the license plate game. An hour into the journey, Sam and Brett were sleeping. Suddenly, the car veered onto the shoulder’s rumble strips. 


I turned to Kayla. “Are you OK?”


“I’m tired,” she admitted. “I’ve been driving a lot these past two days.”


“Want me to take over?”


“Yeah.”


She pulled over and we swapped seats.


I fiddled with the seat, trying to move it closer to the wheel and pedals.


“Are you OK?” Kayla asked.


“Yeah, this is the first time I’ve attempted to drive in this body. I’m considerably shorter than I used to be.” I got my feet to reach the pedals. I adjusted the mirrors, then resumed our journey.


“Don’t get pulled over,” she cautioned. “A state trooper isn’t going to take kindly to a 14-year-old driving.”


“I get it. I did traffic stops early in my career. It’s no fun for anyone.”


Kayla yawned and I could see her closing her eyes.


As I drove, I reminisced about this journey very much like I did weeks ago. I watched the scenery change from suburbia to rural farmland. I was less sure of myself back then. Now I had people depending on me. 


Unlike when I first made this trip, I was no longer naive. I thought this school was a school of boys turned girls learning makeup and playing dress-up. No more. This school has a sinister undercurrent. Each person has their own story. They’ve been hurt and burned. Some, like Sophia, put on a mask of sunshine to hide that pain. Some put on a facade of strength like Kayla. Some pretend it's not there, like Headmistress Hathaway. But it’s there. I saw the hurt and fear in their eyes when they learned I was a cop. Kayla’s story of monsters among us reinforced that point. 


I had changed also. I came here initially overconfident. I thought this was some simple missing persons case and I would be back home in a few days as Jack. No. I was dealing with something out of my league and I was going to need to be careful and precise with this. These students need my help. Something, or someone, was preying on these victims. And I couldn’t let that happen.


No pressure, Cate.


This time I had friends. I needed them if I was going to solve this. TGs stick together.


We arrived at PAA just after dinner time, Friday night. As we walked from the parking to the quad, many students stopped what they were doing to stare at me.


Included was Headmistress Hathaway who stood there with folded arms. “Welcome back, Miss Fox,” she said with all the enthusiasm of a funeral sermon.


“Headmistress,” I nodded. I’m sure there was more she wanted to say. There was certainly more I wanted to say. I doubt either of us trusted each other at the moment. But now was not the time.


Sophia came out of the crowd and ran up to me and gave me a hug. “Cate, I missed you.”


“I missed you too, but don’t tell them,” I whispered. “I have a reputation to uphold.”


She giggled. It took weeks, but she finally appreciates my wit. 


I looked back at the students who were looking at us. At me. More spectators came out of the dorms. I recognized Amanda and Jessica. Brandon and Julia. I wanted to say something. I know they’re scared of me. Of what my previous life as Detective Jack Baker represented. But as Kayla told me last night, and Sam this afternoon, I needed to show them that they have nothing to fear from Cate Fox.


Instead, Kayla held me back. “I got this,” she said to me. Then she faced the onlookers in the quad. “Listen up everyone,” she announced. “This is Cate Fox. Who cares what she was in her previous life. She’s one of us now. If you have a problem with that, you have to come through me.”


“Thank you,” I said, as we embraced in a sisterly hug.


“I did my part,” she said to me. “Now do yours. Find out who or what is stealing the magic.”


I nodded to her and turned to face Cooper Hall. Sophia held my hand. It's time to return home and fix this shit.


Sam looked around the crowd then turned to Sophia. “Where’s Lulu?”



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Emily

Hi, I'm Emily and I'm writing Gender Transformation Fiction! This site is a place for me to keep all of my stories in one place. I'm also a software developer in the daytime, so this site will also be a proving ground of cool new features that pop into my head. Feel free to message me on Twitter or at my Discord Server! You can also find me on TGStorytime.com and FictionMania.tv.

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Elron

Great chapter.
You really covered a lot of sensitive ground here.
Cate finally realized she is not invincible, and she learned she can count on her friends to have her back.  Even girls like Kayla, who opened up to Cate about her own tragedy.  She is right - TGs stick together.

I had mixed feelings about Emma's parents.  Dad was his usual stern, single emotion (anger) self.  Mom was more colorful, admonishing Cate for wearing used clothing, and at the same time showing signs of worry and concern.  Maybe there is hope for them after all.  Cate also needs to remember not to burn any bridges - these could be her new parents if they can't find the real Emma.

I really liked the scene with Sam as Emma and Cate in the bedroom.  I think Cate got to unload a lot of the baggage she has ben carrying around since becoming Emma.  Like Cate said, it sure is handy having a Shifter around.

I also liked the scene at the dining room table.  The story needed a bit of a pick-me-up after the scene in the hotel with Jacob.  Hopefully, Jacob has already gotten his first how-to lesson in sex trafficking.  There is a special place in hell, and prison, for guys like him.  And hopefully, somewhere the perfect pastrami sandwich awaits Cate.  I would say she's earned it.

Finally, I could easily picture the scene where the kids are being introduced.  Is Brett the boyfriend, and Cates microsecond responding squeal NO!  Had to be just like any other 14-year-old girl's reaction to the BF question from her parents.  Then mom pouring gas on the flames with the 'Brett is cute' comment.  I'm sure a ripe tomato could not have been redder than Cate's face at that point.

So overall a perfect chapter to lift the reader back up from the pits of the previous one in the hotel with Jacob and Chloe.  Added some backstory for the other characters.  Now back to school to see what new kind of trouble Cate can get into.

Thank you.
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J R G

Sam was wise beyond her years.
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marter

I really thought that the Chief was going to have found Emma or something since she started to accept her friends.
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Emily

There's still that possibility
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marter

Ominous
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