Chapter 23

Cate Fox and the Case of the Fading Magic by Emily


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When everyone opened their eyes, the fire was gone. Brandon stood there unharmed with a now-glowing ring on their finger. Jackie’s pendant was inert. Well, actually it had a faint glow, but was cool to the touch. Smoke rising from the ground combined with the sunset shrouded the cornfield in an eerie red fog.


Over the next hour, there was a lot of activity. Shootings are messy affairs. Lots of questions and blame and paperwork. More police arrived to question everyone. I tried to stay out of sight, since Cate Fox didn’t legally exist, but that was hard seeing as I was in the middle of this. My clothes were ripped, covered in dirt, and soaked in Jackie’s blood. Even if my friends denied seeing me there, Sheriff Dearing wouldn’t. I just hoped nobody ran a background check on me.


After I was questioned by cops under Dearing, who seemed a tad bit more sympathetic, I took a seat on the curb outside the cornfield near the campus entrance.


Their questions were the ones I would’ve asked. Who is the dead girl? Who shot first? Whose gun did the dead girl have? Was Sheriff Dearing reckless? Actually, they didn’t ask that last one, but I made sure they knew my opinion.


The officers often rolled their eyes and didn’t believe the truth. They judged me as one of those ‘lying brats’ from the ‘weird-girl’ academy down the street. I didn’t care if they believed me or not. I’ve come a long way from that moment a month ago in my precinct with Officer Joey Towson where he didn’t believe I was Jack Baker. Now I didn’t care if Normies believed me. I believed me, and the people that mattered believed me.


Ambulances came. Jackie’s body was taken away. My morbid curiosity led me to wonder if the corpse would change back into the 80-year-old man that she was imprisoned in. I bet the Normies would love that. I wondered if the Order was going to do anything - legal or supernatural - to cover up the truth about Jackie. Just how much power and influence did they wield in the outside world? Everyone investigating the crime scene appeared to be Normies. But for all I knew several cops and paramedics could be Order of the Dawn agents in disguise.


It was dark now, and the only lights came from shops down the street and the cop car’s flashers parked alongside the cornfield. Slowly my friends joined me after they were questioned. Mostly everyone was quiet and let this afternoon’s events sink in.


With the sun gone down there was a definite chill in the air. The tattered sweater and leggings outfit I was wearing wasn’t really keeping me warm anymore. I sat there, fidgeting with a broken cornstalk.


“Cate, how are you holding up?” Brett asked, breaking the silence.


“I couldn’t save her,” I lamented.


“But you figured it out. You stopped her from harming anyone else.”


“I’m sorry we didn’t get there in time,” Kayla apologized.


“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” I replied in resignation, throwing a piece of corn in the street. “I couldn’t get through to her.”


“Cate, I know you’re not going to want to hear this,” she added, “but Jackie was an adult. She made her own decisions. You can’t blame yourself for this outcome.”


“You’re right, I don’t wanna hear that.”


Another minute of silence.


“Cate, did you get your gun back?” Sophia asked.


“Nope. They bagged and tagged that as evidence. I’m definitely not getting it back. When they run a check on the serial number, it’s going to come up as registered to a certain missing police detective.” I suppose it’s fortunate the person in possession of the gun can’t be questioned about where they got it.


Another minute of silence went by. Brett broke the silence again, “Julia, you’ve been quiet.”


“I’m just processing everything,” she replied.


“What do you remember, Julia?” Sophia asked.


“Everything,” she replied. “Even the stuff I didn’t remember before. It’s like the wall was torn down. I remember my life as George now. I remember Allister. Before and after he erased George. I remember Mr. Sanders bringing me back. I remember him fueling my anger at Allister. Channeling that into hatred of Julia. He made me do those things to you. Today it felt like I was a passenger in my own body. Julia fought George for control. When George had realized, he - gave up and let her have control. Now that I have both sets of memories…I… I don’t even know who I am anymore. I’m George. But I’m also Julia.”


Sophia hugged Julia. “You’re my friend. That’s all that matters.”


“I guess we’re all going to be making appointments with Virginia on Monday,” I remarked, looking around the group. “I wonder if she has group rates,” I joked. 


Another minute of silence. Sam looked at me and exhaled. “I’m just glad that’s over with.”


I looked at Sam sitting there. I looked at Sam’s face. Despite it being dark, through the flashing lights I could tell something was different. “Sam, your eyes aren’t orange.”


She didn’t have a mirror, so instead held out her hands, and in a panic said, “I can’t shift.” She stood up then looked at me in shock. “I’m a real girl.” She looked down at the glowing bracelet. “It’s this.”


“I suppose it works again,” I commented.


“But it doesn’t belong to me.”


I smiled. “Well, let’s give it back to its rightful owner.”


At that point Sam smiled and hugged me. Then Sophia joined in. Hey now. Personal space.


After the hug, Sam looked at me with a hint of concern. “Cate? What Jackie said back there. About us pressuring you to conform.”


I shrugged.


“Wait, do you think we’re pressuring you to conform?” Sophia asked. “We just want you to enjoy your time here. We want you to be happy.”


“Be yourself,” Sam added.


“Even if I don’t wear a skirt?” I proposed.


“Skirt or no skirt you’re still my bestie and my roommate,” Sophia replied. “I just want you to find the same self-confidence in your body that I found.”


“It’s going to take time,” I replied. “Probably longer than most TGs. This isn’t my body. So, acceptance of it also means I’ve accepted that I’m not giving it back to its rightful owner.”


“I understand,” Sophia said, nodding. “Hey, you didn't deny you're my bestie!” she squealed.


I shook my head. If only there was a way to siphon off some of her exuberance and store it in a magic orb. 


“You did save my life,” she reminded me.


“Don’t make me regret it,” I replied, unable to keep a straight face. I turned to Sam. “I hope you weren’t disappointed with the real Jack,” I said to her.


“What?” Sam replied in disagreement. “I never saw Jack. I only ever saw Cate.”


I wasn’t sure whether she meant that literally or metaphorically. Before I could ask, she winked at me.


“Cate, I had fun playing Clue with you,” Sam announced. “So was it Mr. Green, in the study, with a candlestick?”


I chuckled at the throwback to mine and Sam’s first conversation. I slowly nodded. “More like Mr. Sanders, in the secret basement science lab, with stolen technology.”


“Cate, is your life always like this?” Julia asked. “Every case?”


“Mine? Well, kinda. Minus the magic, of course. My job was to find missing girls. It was often a race against the clock. When it wasn’t, it was a lot of downtime searching and waiting.”


“I don’t think I could do your job,” she replied with a knowing nod, then a smile.


Was that her apology for judging me as a cop?


“Brandon,” Sophia asked, “how are you holding up?”


“I’m great,” Brandon replied. Or was it Brandi now? 


After their ring absorbed the magic, they shrunk down to a feminine form - which I guess meant they were really masculine, right?


“I mean it’s actually working now. I actually feel like Brandi. My ring finally works right. I’m not cursed anymore!”


Well, I’m glad someone made out OK from today’s drama. “That’s great,” I said. “Did you know your curse would be reversed when you took the magic back?


“I had a hunch,” she admitted. “At the last minute I recalled what the woman who gave me the ring said. It comes with a price. A sacrifice. Did I know that would work? No, but I took that leap of faith.”


Ms. Hathaway came out of the cornfield and stood next to us. She was trying to get the dirt off her shoes.


“You solved the case, detective,” she said. “I had no idea it was Sanders. I knew he was a Displaced. I just didn’t know how disgruntled he was. He mostly kept to himself.”


“She,” I corrected her. “You offer a therapist to students. Have you ever offered one to faculty?”


She didn’t answer.


“Jackie was a very troubled individual and hid her pain from everyone,” I added. 


“I’m going to need to submit a report to give to the Order,” she announced. “I’m going to need to know the full details.”


I looked at her for a moment. I had totally forgotten about the Order. The reason all of this happened in the first place. Because of them, a teacher is dead. “Can I get you my report maybe…Tuesday?” I asked with a tired sigh.


“As long as it's the same quality as you would give your Chief Hamilton.”


“10-4,” I promised. I actually hate paperwork. It's the worst part of the job. And I have a bad feeling Headmistress Hathaway is more of a stickler for grammar than Chief Hamilton.


“And that science lab will have to be confiscated.”


“Of course.” No doubt going to scrub it of any device that utilizes magic.


“However, I won’t notify the Order about that until Monday. I couldn’t help but notice a glowing object in your hand and in Miss Blake’s purse. Do resolve those issues before then.”


“We will,” Sophia promised.


“Good work, Detective Baker,” Hathaway said with real sincerity in her voice.


“I actually prefer Cate,” I replied. I looked at my friends. “That’s who I am here.”


“Very well then,” she said. “Good work… Detective Fox.”


As I watched the Headmistress drive off in her golf cart, Sophia turned to me. “Detective Fox? I hope that doesn’t mean she intends to have you do more cases. You’re a student! Haven’t we had enough excitement?”


I chuckled. “While I do like a good mystery, I’m not working for the Order of the Dawn again. She’s going to need to find someone else.”


There’s so much I wanted to tell Hathaway before she left. But maybe now wasn’t the time. We just scored a victory. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was a victory for the good guys or the bad guys? The Order of the Dawn had just as much blood on their hands as Sheriff Dearing. I almost felt bad for the bigoted sheriff. He was pulled into this and scapegoated. And despite my insistence that I wasn’t a pawn, I felt like one. I felt like I was used to find Jackie. And then the sheriff was used to silence her. Permanently. That didn’t sit right with me, especially since Jackie was right about the Order. I just wished she would’ve listened to reason before it cost her her life.


Sophia broke my train of thought when she held up the glowing lacrosse ball. “How exactly do I use this?”


“I can help with that,” Brandi replied. “We just have to go back to the lab real quick.”


“How about this?” I asked, holding up the faintly glowing pendant. “The remainder of this magic belongs to a certain girl who needs it.”


* * *


Our first stop that evening was back at the Science Building to retrieve my cell phone. It was right where I left it. Predictably, some missed calls from friends looking for me this afternoon. 


Since we were there, we visited the Technology Club’s basement lab. Brandi, the only one who knew how that stuff worked, managed to transfer the magic from the lacrosse ball back into Sophia.


When Sophia was herself again she was even more bubbly than normal. Maybe she was making up for lost time.


We then took what was needed and paid Sunshine Homes a visit. Not everyone was allowed in the room, but I accompanied Brandi and Sophia.


Ashley Tart was lying in bed motionless and barely breathing when we arrived at her room. Were we too late?


Brandi sat beside her and placed a disk on her hand. I held Jackie’s pendant by the silver necklace. After a few presses on the controller, the pendant and the disk on Ashley’s hand started to glow.


Slowly, Ashley became younger and younger.


When both the pendant and disk stopped glowing, Ashley looked like a 15 year old girl again. The pendant in my hand no longer had a glow and looked lifeless. I wondered how to safely dispose of it.


She was starting to wake up. “Ashley?” Sophia asked, holding her hand.


Ashley slowly opened her eyes and looked at her guests. “What happened?”


“It’s a long story,” Sophia said, hugging her. “You’ve been in this home for a month.”


She looked around then immediately sat up. “But Magic Club,” she panicked. “I made a mistake!”


“You mean Technology Club?” she corrected.


She looked at Sophia in surprise. “You know?”


Sophia nodded.


Ashley looked at Brandi.


“You told them?”


“They figured it out.”


She looked down at her hands then at Brandi. “But how? The experiments? I was getting old. I just wanted to help.”


“Help who?” Sophia asked.


Ashley looked at Brandi and placed her hand on hers. “Brandi. And Mr. Sanders. And anyone else who was not happy at PAA. But Mr. Sanders changed after that first experiment. It’s like the magic changed him. He got angry. And greedy. More obsessed. I tried to stop him.”


“The experiments are over,” Brandi informed her. “Mr. Sanders is gone.”


“Gone?”


We all solemnly nodded and she got the hint.


“It was a nightmare.” Ashley put her hands over her eyes. ”I thought I was going to die.”


“The nightmare is over,” Sophia assured her. “You’re 15 again.”


“Thank you. All of you.”


I took this opportunity to leave the room. This was a reunion of friends, and I was only meeting the real Ashley for the first time. This is kinda my MO anyway. I bring home the missing girls, and as their families are excited and welcoming them home, I fade away into the shadows and move onto the next case.


* * *


Just when I thought I could sleep in, I felt my bed shake. “C’mon Soph, I want to sleep in!” I grumbled.


“Nope. Not Sophia,” Sam laughed. “Let’s go Cate!” she said, shaking my bed even harder.


“What time is it?” I groaned.


“7 a.m.,” she bubbled.


“Why so early?” I wished I had my gun back. 


Sophia was sitting up in her bed giggling.


“We need to change the locks,” I moaned.


“I want to go see Lulu,” she reminded me. “You promised.”


She’s right. I did promise. I arranged with Kayla to loan us her car for another road trip. One that would take us to Lulu’s hometown. I just didn’t expect Sam to be so eager to leave that she’d wake me up so early on a Sunday. “Fine,” I conceded. “But I need a few minutes to get ready. And you’re buying breakfast.”


“‘K,” Sam squealed, grabbing the car keys off my desk and bouncing to the door. “I’ll be in the car.”


I don’t think I’ve ever heard Sam squeal, but then again, since the first time I met her, we’ve been in investigation mode and she’s been concerned, then depressed, about Lulu. Maybe this is the real Sam.


So it was just me and Sam today. Everyone on campus had already heard about what went down yesterday. While everyone else was eager to tell and retell the details of it, I was not. Students had started calling me a hero. Sure, I appreciated that, and it did inflate my ego just a little bit, but I wasn’t happy how that all went down. Promising to drive Sam to visit Lulu felt like the best way to avoid talking about what happened. 


I naturally drove to start because I’m the one with 30-some-odd years of driving experience. Sam actually does have her learners permit, so I let her drive the second leg of our journey. Five hours later we reached Lulu’s house. Sam hadn’t talked to Lulu since Friday night, as she wanted to keep the events of Saturday, and our visit, a surprise.


We arrived at her house, and Sam quickly got out of the car and ran straight up to the door to knock on it. 


She composed herself when Lulu’s dad answered the door.


“Hi,” Sam announced. “We’re here to see Lulu-, er, Louis.”


Lulu’s dad looked at Sam, then me, then smiled. “Are you Samantha?”


Sam smiled back. “I am.” She was practically hopping from foot to foot with excitement.


Louise has been talking about you nonstop since she’s been back.”


Sam beamed with joy hearing Lulu’s dad use her feminine name.


“She’s at the park with a friend.”


Sam quickly got directions to the park and we both jumped in the car. I drove because Sam was shaking with anticipation.


We arrived at the park, where we found Lulu and another girl sitting on a swing.


Lulu saw Sam, and her expression changed to excitement and she and Sam ran at each other quickly embracing in a long, passionate kiss.


While the couple were… getting reacquainted I said hi to Lulu’s friend. “Hi, I’m Cate.”


“So you’re the infamous Cate?” she said. “I’m Lulu’s friend Suzy.”


“I’m not sure why my reputation gets around,” I chuckled.


“She’s been talking you and Sam up. That you both are going to get her magic back.” She looked at me and whispered, “Is that why you’re here?”


I smiled and silently nodded.


Suzy smiled then pantomimed a zipper closing her lips.


Sam and Lulu finally came back up for air. 


“Sam, what are you doing here?” Lulu asked, the reality of the long drive sinking in.


“I had to see you,” Sam replied. “I missed you!”


“Wait - Sam - your eyes!”


“Yes, I’m a real girl at the moment. I can’t shift with this on.” She held up her arm. “We fixed something that belongs to you.”


Lulu’s eyes opened wide and Sam slid the bracelet off her arm.


Sam’s form rippled for a moment as her eyes changed from blue back to orange, and her hair a more vibrant shade of pink. She gingerly held Lulu’s arm up and slowly slid the bracelet on her.


Lulu beamed like a bride having a wedding band slid on. The bracelet glowed and Lulu slowly shrunk down into her feminine self. I had never met the real Lulu, as she was already androgynous the first time we met, but she was certainly cute. The bracelet shrunk and locked into place, finally home on Lulu’s wrist.


When the transformation was done, Lulu and Sam embraced again. And made out again.


“So how long are you in town?” Suzy asked me.


“Just the afternoon,” I replied. “Me and Sam have to get back for class tomorrow.”


“Is Lulu going with you?”


“I think that’s Sam’s plan.”


“I’ll miss her then. She’s changed since she went away. She’s more confident in her skin - even if that skin was wrong. She never lost faith you would find a way to get it back. But I suppose It just means I’ll have to come visit. She speaks highly of PAA - and her friends.”


When we returned to Lulu’s house, we all sat in the living room and Lulu explained to her surprised parents that her bracelet was back, and working again. Her parents proclaimed their acceptance of their daughter and confessed how wrong they were to send her away the first time. They missed having their child in their life, and accepted that Lulu was transgender even without the magic bracelet. They offered to handle all of the legal name changes and such so she could attend school at home.


That’s when Lulu admitted she wanted to go back to PAA. A lot of tears were shed, but Lulu explained how she was happy and accepted at PAA and she had a lot of friends. And of course explaining how a trans girl became a cis girl over the weekend would be a non-issue at PAA.


Lulu and Suzy had their own tearful goodbye. Suzy promised to visit. Sam and I loaded up the car with Lulu and her things. When she was done we then made the long drive back to PAA.


On the trip back Sam and I told Lulu the story about our past two days. About our sting operation at the nursing home. About Julia’s alter ego, Mr. Sanders and Jackie.


Even though I was driving and Lulu was in the backseat, she hugged me from behind. “Thank you Cate,” she said. “I never lost faith in you.”


I simply replied, “You’re welcome” because that’s all I really could say. Jackie’s death still weighs on me, so my excitement has been muted. Besides, I’m not sure why I deserved to have any faith put into me. It’s not like I’m some mythical figure. It’s not like I’m a… what did Brett call me? A kitsune?


By the time we arrived at PAA, Lulu’s parents had already re-enrolled her.


* * *


When we got back it was already dinner time, and I was exhausted from the long road trip. Sophia made sure to bring me back food from the dining hall. She was making her rounds, and being seen in public after weeks of hiding. Apparently, she talked me up every chance she got. Everyone wanted to know where Cate Fox was.


I laid down in my bed, still fully clothed. I felt a nap coming on but there was a knock at the door. 


Sophia opened it up. “Cate, it's for you.”


“I’m sleeping,” I said with my eyes closed.


“Cate?” Amanda said timidly.


I opened my eyes and saw Amanda, Jessica, and Sally standing there. I sat up.


“How we treated you the past weeks wasn’t cool,” Amanda confessed.


“I’m sorry,” Jessica added. “I judged you based on what I thought you were, not who you are.”


“But I am a cop… or at least I was,” I replied.


“You could’ve just blown us off,” Sally said. “But you came back.”


“We saw how you took care of your roommate,” Amanda added. “How determined you were to help her and protect people like her.”


“Well, I couldn't protect Jackie Sanders.”


“That’s actually why I have more respect for you now than before,” Jessica said. “You could’ve treated her like a villain. But you saw that she wasn’t.”


“It’s been a long weekend,” I confessed.


“Cate, wanna join us for a movie tomorrow night?” Amanda asked.


“Sure, which movie?


“A scary movie for Halloween?”


“Sure.” As long as it's not Children of the Corn.


When the girls were gone, I laid back down.


“What would your buddies back home say about that?” Sophia giggled. “Jack Baker’s going to a girls’ sleepover tomorrow.”


I ignored that. There was time for proper reflection. Maybe I could suggest that to Virginia. “Speaking of sleeping…”


And another knock at the door. What does it take for a little peace and quiet?


Sophia opened the door.


“Hi,” Jamie greeted her. “You asked to see me?”


Wait - Sophia invited a guest over? Now? I rolled over to give them the stink-eye.


“Jamie, I’ve been thinking,” Sophia started, with no care that I was trying to nap. “I learned this week that life is short. I love James. But I’m straight.” 


“Sophia, dating a Were can be complicated,” Jamie cautioned.


“Especially when they show up while you’re trying to sleep,” I muttered, hoping they’d get the hint.


Sophia reached out and held Jamie’s hand. “I know, and I want to give it a try, if you will too.”


“Really?” Jamie asked with a grin. “Even though I'm a girl 25 days a month?”


“Really,” Sophia giggled, as she pulled Jamie in and gave her a soft kiss.


When the kiss was over, Jamie was smiling from ear to ear. 


Honestly, so was I. There’s something about two girls kissing that really warms me up. “Get a room, you two,” I grumbled. “Preferably not this one.”


The two girls giggled as I put my pillow over my head. Of course there was that part of me that lifted the pillow a little bit to watch the two girls making out and questioning my own lack of a love life. I know why Jack is single and divorced. How much longer am I going to be Cate? Should I take advantage of my predicament? Or should I remain single and live vicariously through them?


* * *


Monday morning, it appeared school was back to normal again. Except the part where everyone who knew me stopped me to tell me thank you for stopping the fading magic. Like Amanda, Jessica, and Sally, they seem to have forgotten that I was formerly a cop. Maybe that was for the best.


At femme class, Mrs. Barnes was back. Apparently Ashley had set the record straight with the Barneses and the school. There was never an affair. But she did confide in Josh Barnes as a mentor. And any emotional connection Mr. Barnes mistakenly thought was there was not reciprocated. Fortunately, in the eyes of the academy, that was enough to reinstate him. As for the eyes of Mrs. Barnes, well, that’s best handled behind closed doors.


“Alright class. We last left off during our makeup unit,” Mrs Barnes announced.


I rolled my eyes and took out the bag of cosmetics I hadn’t even thought about since Mrs. Barnes left.


Mrs. Barnes led us through a simple foundation and concealer tutorial, then she let us do it ourselves. I took a deep breath, and let my muscle memory do it. Was that cheating? Sure, but I’m a Displaced and I have these skills. She stopped by my desk while I was applying concealer. “Fox.”


“Yes, Mrs. Barnes?”


“I hear you’ve been practicing with the Lacrosse team.”


“It was Kayla’s idea,” I said defensively.


“No, that's fine. You earned a spot on the team. I’m returning to the team today as well. I look forward to seeing all of the skills you’ve learned and remember.”


“Thanks, Coach,” I responded.


I looked in the mirror at my artwork. Not bad.


“Cate, that’s so cute!” Melissa said as she walked by.


I took the compliment and smiled in the mirror, admiring my reflection. I’d like to thank Emma and her years of practice.


Of course, the class I least wanted to go to was next. Science, without Mr. Sanders. 


When I arrived at the Science Building, I had a moment of curiosity. I made a quick detour to the stairwell. When I opened the basement door, I found a maintenance closet instead. No stairs. Just brooms and trash cans. I guess someone did some… cleaning up.


I admit I wasn’t surprised. I expected the Order of the Dawn to clean up this mess. I also expected them to make it look like it never happened. I didn't expect them to change the floorplan of a building. I wonder if there was still a basement under this floor.


I continued to science class.


Apparently Mrs. Barnes’s substitute is now Mr. Sander’s substitute. I suppose permanently this time. Although I can’t imagine the academy letting them show videos for the rest of the school year.


When I got there, my classmates applauded. Honestly, it made me sick to my stomach. I almost turned around and left. The substitute unsuccessfully tried to get control of the class. Instead I motioned to her that I got it. I put my hands up to silence the class. I then sat down in my usual seat.


The substitute handed back papers that Mr. Sanders had graded before… well… before. I got back some homework and a test.


On top of one paper was an A, with a note that read, “Good Job, Cate!” I sighed. At the bottom of the stack of papers was another paper that was not in my handwriting, but instead had my name on top.


“Jack, if you’re reading this, that means I am gone. Either my experiments did me in, or the Order of the Dawn. I want to let you know I was really enjoying working with you. With your background as a detective we could’ve really found the people who did this to us, plus expose the Order of the Dawn for their inhuman cruelties. Since I am no longer around, I want you to continue what I started. I have hidden proof, that in the face of TG-induced dysphoria, the Order either simply turned a blind eye, or dismissed those students. They had the power to help, but did not. Thank you, Jack, you were one of my better students as you kept an open mind and made this old teacher’s day with your wit and sincerity. -Jackie Sanders” 


I folded that paper up. I didn’t know what to make of it. Continue where she left off? Is she nuts? She obviously wrote that before shit went down on Saturday.


As expected, the substitute put on a video.


Multiple times, during class, Amanda struck up a conversation as if nothing had happened over the past two weeks. The substitute didn’t care, as long as she was getting paid. I really hope it wasn’t going to be like this for the rest of the year. It’s only October!


* * *


I stopped by the mailroom after my last class. They had texted me that there was a perishable package waiting. Who would be sending me a package? Maybe it’s Max sending me that case of beer he owes me.


They give every student a mailbox. I haven’t checked mine since I got my credit card.


I showed the clerk my student ID. He handed me a stack of letters and a styrofoam box, taped shut with packing tape, labeled “Keep Refrigerated.”


The letters were from the Kincades and the per diem checks I asked for. Sweet. I’m going to need to make a stop at a bank.


I eyed the styrofoam box cautiously. I ripped the tape off and opened the lid. There was a note on top of several circular objects wrapped in foil and covered again with clear freezer bags. 


The note read: “Miss Emma, Enjoy, Chica. -Sra. Carmen.”


I put the letter down and unwrapped one of the foil objects to find… a pastrami sandwich.


Shit, this might be the best gift I’ve gotten in a long time. Now I know what I’m eating for dinner. Good thing Sophia has a microwave. 


Are these tears? Fucking hormones.


* * *


When I was done with lacrosse practice, I noticed my phone had a text message from Max. “I’m here on campus.” Followed by, “I’m watching you play,” a few minutes later.


I looked up to see Chief Maxwell Hamilton sitting in the bleachers.


I collected my things and walked up the bleachers towards him.


“You’re looking really good out there,” Max said. “I don’t know much about Lacrosse, but you were all over the field. Do you think you’re going to make States?”


I laughed. “Unlikely. We’re not actually allowed to compete with Normies.”


“Normies?”


“Normies - It’s what the TGs here call normal people.”


“Ah,” Max replied. “That sucks, they don’t let you play with them.”


“Yeah.”


“So I heard you solved the case.”


“Yeah, I did. Apparently it was the science teacher. She was a Displaced like me. She got impatient and started taking matters into her own hands.”


“That sounds like someone I know,” Max chuckled.


“Don’t remind me. It’s a sore subject.”


“Is that why you didn’t text me? I found out from your headmistress. I expected you to be joyful and bragging that you solved the case the moment you did.”


“Yes and no.”


Max frowned. “Talk to me, Cate.”


“Jackie Sanders was a Displaced. A college-bound girl with a boyfriend, trapped in the body of an 80-year-old man for four years. She couldn’t adapt and went slowly mad.” I paused and looked at my old friend. “Is that eventually going to happen to me?”


Max looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Are you serious?”


“Yeah, Max, I’m really worried.”


“Cate. Look at you. You’ve already adapted! Whether you see it or not. I hear you’ve made friends.” He pointed at the field. “You’re out there playing lacrosse.” Then he gestured back at me. “You look like you care about your appearance now. And is that makeup you’re wearing?”


“Shit, I forgot to take this off,” I said, rubbing my cheeks.


“Hey,” Max said. “If you’re ready to come home, I’ve got an idea for you.”


“Oh?”


“While I can’t let you live at your old house, I can let you back into the department - as a high school work study. You’d be doing filing and stuff, but that would give you access to your Emma and Slider investigations. And if we don’t find your body before you graduate, we can fast-track you through the academy, and you can eventually have your job back. But…”


“But?”


“Well, you’d have to at least pretend to be the Kincades’s daughter.”


I cringed. “I dunno, Max.”


Max was silent for a moment, then looked me in the eyes. “You want to stay here, don’t you?”


“What? No.”


“Don’t lie. I can see it in your face. Even when you were Jack, you were a terrible liar.”


“Sorry, Max.”


“Don’t apologize. I’m the one who told you to live it up here. Be a teenager again. The department will be there when you’re ready.”


“Thanks, buddy. I own you one.”


Max laughed. “What happened to you? I thought I’m the one in your debt.”


“That’s right. You owe me beer for solving the case.”


“Not yet. I said when you solve the case and you’re legally able to drink.”


I laughed. “Fuck you, too.”


“There he is!” Max laughed. “But you know a police chief shouldn’t be buying minors alcohol.”


“I know, I’m just busting your chops.”


“Hey Cate - before I go. About the Pittsburgh thing. Have you been following the news?”


“Not really. I’ve been preoccupied.”


“Well, the client of those guys you busted. He was well-connected politically. They found him murdered last week.”


“Fuck. Was he the one behind it all?” 


“I don’t think so. Get this - he was killed by a teenage girl.”


“It wasn’t Chloe was it?”


“No. Someone completely unrelated.”


“What do we do with that information?”


“I don't know, Cate. Pennsylvania is putting your two friends away, so our access to intel has been limited. We haven’t been able to find out who’s in charge. We’re at a dead end. The perps don't have any other contacts. They met the client through a service. But now, even that service has completely disappeared. Someone’s covering their tracks.”


I took that in. The wheels in my head were turning. Were the assholes who tried to traffick me the same ones who did that to Jackie’s body four years ago? So far there’s no connection, but my gut told me they were related. Two trafficked girls. Two Displaceds. Was it just a coincidence?


“I’m telling you this because I think you should watch your back. If you were back at the Kincade’s and working for us, I’d make sure you were protected. I can’t protect you here.”


“I understand. So far they don't know I was involved.”


“But that could change. Alright, I should get going.”


“Hey Max,” I had a thought. “Any chance I could get my gun back - or any gun, for that matter?”


It was Max’s turn to cringe. “Hard no to your old gun - that’s out of my jurisdiction. I’ll think about what could be done to get you another, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. In the meantime, just play it safe.” 


We both stood up and he gave me a manly hug and slapped my back. “Take care of yourself, Cate. I suppose I’ll see you when you come home for the holidays.”


“Take it easy, Max.”


My mind was churning with all sorts of ideas on the Pittsburgh case. When I got back to my dorm, I opened my case book and started a new section.


* * *


On Tuesday morning, I walked into the Administration Building with the report in my hand. I walked up to her office, and knocked on the door frame. I was a little anxious. After all, I had procrastinated writing up this report until after the movie night with the girls. I don't even know what time I got to bed.


“Come in,” Ms. Hathaway said, looking up.


I walked in, and laid the report on her desk.


“Thank you, Miss Fox,” she said in her usual robotic monotone.


I nodded and turned around to walk to the door when I paused. I could just let this go, or I can confront her. I turned back around to face the headmistress.


“Is there something else?”


“Yes,” I replied, flatly.


“Let me guess. You saw the power of magic and are concerned more people will get a hold of that technology. We can deny what happened this weekend.”


“Other students saw it. Not just those involved.”


“We have to do this very delicately or else we risk the safety of the students at the school. You and your friends can help with that narrative.”


“Wait, do you want me to drop this? Forget it happened? Or even lie?”


“No, I didn’t say that, Miss Fox.”


“I can’t ignore what Jackie said, what she did, or why.”


“As you no doubt noticed, Mr. Sanders was not well.”


I exhaled and looked her in the eyes. “She was driven to insanity because she was denied the reversal she asked for. That she needed.”


“You’re upset,” she said. “It’s understandable. You got to know Mr. Sanders on a personal level. But remember, she’s the one who ratted you out about drinking on school property. She was trying to get you expelled.”


That revelation didn't surprise me since I assumed that was the case. “I don’t care about that. She also wanted my help.” My voice was rising and my fists were clenched. “You pride yourself on providing TG affirming care here, but when that affirming care involves magic, you lie. You tell them it’s out of your hands.” I pointed right at the headmistress and yelled, “An innocent TG is dead because of you and the Order of the Dawn!”


“How dare you!” She said, standing up to look me in the eyes. “You come into my office and accuse me of putting the lives of these students at risk. I’m not your Chief. I’m not your bro. I am not afraid to put you in your place, young lady. I’m the headmistress of this proud institution and nobody cares more about these students than I do.”


“Then you must know that some of them don’t want to be here. You’re holding them against their will.”


“Once the students are here, the situation is out of our-”


“Stop the lies!” I interrupted. “You and the Order are hypocrites, and Jackie Sanders showed me the proof.”


“Proof?”


“The proof that you have students and or faculty who haven’t adapted and have dysphoria, and you turn a blind eye because of some misguided moral high ground about the dangers of magic.”


Hathaway was silent for a moment. “You’re bluffing.”


“Am I? I could walk out of this building and tell everyone.” I moved closer to her for effect. “The Order of the Dawn can fix anyone that wants to be fixed.”


She looked at me. Her anger disappeared and she smiled at me and slowly clapped. Her change of temperament surprised me.


“You put on a good show, detective.”


I stood my ground. I knew she was playing a game with me. She was calling my bluff.


“You’re not going to tell anyone,” she said confidently.


“I’m not?”


“No. You have it good here at Puellae Aurora. You’ve made friends. You’ve made progress. As much as you think we’re the villain, you must realize we are doing some good for the students here. Including yourself. We’re not the villains here, Cate.”


“Jackie wasn’t a villain.”


“Not all stories need a villain. You may disagree with our methods, but deep down you know we care about these students. You know that we are doing good things here.”


I was silent. I gritted my teeth. Once again I questioned which side was right and which side was wrong. Or maybe she was right and it wasn’t that simple.


“You’ve made your opinions quite clear, Miss Fox. Your actions this weekend and in Pittsburgh have not gone unnoticed by the Order. Against my protestations, they actually like having you here. They see you as an asset. I, on the other hand, believe you're a loose cannon. And your actions just now prove that.”


“I will not be their pawn. Or yours.”


“You don’t have to be. But you now know more about how things work than the rest of the student body. You can use that to your advantage.”


My advantage? “I have nothing more to say.”


“Just remember, Cate, There’s a lot at risk here. If you go against the Order of the Dawn, if you shut down this institution, the students at this school would have nowhere to go. They are the ones who will be punished. Not me. Not the Order.”


I turned around and left the headmistress’s office. 


She was right. My hands were tied. I cursed at myself. What did I expect to happen here? I desperately didn’t want Jackie to die in vain. But how do I do that? I thought maybe it was to rattle the Order’s cage, but clearly, they hold all of the power. 


I walked outside and stood at the steps of the Administration Building and looked at the quad of students going about their daily business, blissfully unaware some magical shadow organization is conspiring to keep them here.


Sophia was walking by, noticed me, and came over. “How'd it go?”


“Terrible. She thinks she's helping everyone.”


“I suppose in a way she is.”


“But she also thinks her hands are clean in all of this. What am I supposed to do? There's students who need help.“


“I know. You could do what I do and just help them one-on-one. Let Headmistress help from her ivory tower while we handle the trenches.''


“But what can we do?


“What Julia did for me. What I did for you. Listen - the difference between you and Jackie is that you have friends to get you through the tough transition. Be that.”


“Me? I don't know how to help.”


“They'll let you know.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “Sometimes all it takes is helping them put on a bra,” she giggled. “Hey, I need to get to class.”


“Yeah, me too.”


“Then let's go.”


I followed Sophia towards the academic buildings while I pondered what she said. Me? A Mentor? Nah! Though crazier things have happened, I suppose.


* * *


It had bugged me to no end that the school did nothing for Jackie. They had lost a teacher and then plugged in a substitute teacher and moved on. I couldn’t move on. Not without some closure. Some recognition that a teacher and TG had passed.


That night I was complaining about this to Sophia when she gave me an excellent idea.


“What about a candlelight vigil?” She suggested.


“That’s a great idea!” I said, leaping to my feet. “Now how do I organize it?”


“Choose the time and place. You’re going to need candles. Then you’re going to need someone to get the word out.”


We planned it for Wednesday night.



* * *


Wednesday evening, shortly after sunset, I walked out to the quad with Sophia. It was empty. Much emptier than I would’ve expected for a normal weeknight. Maybe the students were sending me a message that nobody wanted to remember Mr. Sanders.


Sophia placed the box of candles on a table.


“So it’s just us?” I asked rhetorically.


That’s when Lulu and Sam came out.


“Hi, Cate. Hi Sophia,” Lulu said. “I hope we’re not late.”


Lulu was on my mental list of people I didn’t actually expect to show up, considering the pain Jackie put her through. “Thanks Lulu,” I said. “I think it’s only us.”


“More will show,” Sam confidently said. “Everyone here had Mr. Sanders as a teacher. She wasn’t the nicest teacher. But I think she garnered enough respect for people to remember her.”


Slowly I saw students timidly coming out of their buildings. First it was my friends. Then acquaintances, then strangers. 


Lulu started handing out candles. Sam walked around with a lighter.


“Cate, it’s your show,” Sophia said.


I took my candle and stood upon one of the picnic tables and looked over the students who were still filling the quad.


“Thank you for coming out tonight,” I began. 


I looked at the crowd around me. So many familiar faces. Friends and classmates. Faculty. Some faces I didn’t know. In the far distance, I saw Ms. Hathaway standing outside the Administration Building watching us.


“I organized this candlelight vigil in the memory of Jackie Sanders. Many of you know her as Mr. Sanders, the freshman science teacher. Many of you had her in your first year at PAA.” I paused. “Also, many of you know she was behind the fading magic that plagued our school the past few weeks. I’m not here to condone her actions, but I wanted to set the record straight, and to remember her. She wasn’t just a teacher at PAA, Jackie Sanders was a Displaced. A TG. A young woman trapped in the body of an 80-year-old man. She was also my friend. She was also a victim. She had demons she could not control, which resulted in her death.”


I could feel Ms. Hathaway’s gaze from across the quad. I took a deep breath and looked at my friends around me. “Anyone else?”


Lulu raised her hand and climbed up on the table with me. She addressed the crowd. “I first met Jackie like many of you. I had her for freshman science last year. We didn’t know she was a TG. Hell, we didn’t even know her first name. She insisted we call her ‘Mr. Sanders.’ She was quick to dismiss magic. We thought she hated all of us. Maybe she did.” She paused. “But I forgive her for what she did to me personally. I didn’t know why she chose me, but I understand her motivations. It’s the same motivation many of us have. Just to be happy in our own bodies. I wish she had reached out to someone and asked for help.”


I traded glances with Ms. Hathaway again.


“Jackie Sanders,” Lulu continued. “May you find the peace you were denied in life, in the afterlife.”


Lulu, got down from the table. There was a long few seconds as I waited for the next speaker. Just when I thought nobody else was going to speak, when Ashley Tart came up and joined me.


“Hi everyone,” Ashley said. “I’m Ashley. I was pretty close with Mr. Sanders towards the end. Like, Lulu, she hurt me too, but I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on her love for science. I, too, had her as a teacher last year. I was the one who suggested a science club. There was a chemistry experiment we did in class one day, and I showed curiosity and the desire to do more. I wasn’t that interested in science during my run through high school, but I found it fascinating here. Mr. Sanders saw that and formed the club. All last year we would do every experiment in the book. Mr. Sanders was so excited to share those with me, and equally excited when I learned new concepts. Even though something changed in her over the summer, I don’t want to remember her like that, and would rather remember her in those amazing moments we spent as teacher and student.”


After Ashley got down, another student got up. And another, and another. Many stories were about small moments where Jackie showed concern for her students. Moments where people were able to see beyond that coarse exterior. Moments when she let her guard down and showed people her true self.


When it was over and we blew out our candles, I felt the closure I needed. I hope Jackie, wherever she is, is at peace.


The students slowly walked back into their dorms. I saw Hathaway turn around and walk into her office.


As I walked into my dorm, I was stopped by Julia. “Cate, thanks for doing this,” she said.


“You’re welcome.”


“Sorry, I wasn’t out there with you. I just couldn’t. Not yet. It’s too soon. She turned my anger at Allister against me and redirected it to my friends. I just…” She looked like she was on the verge of tears.


I hugged her. “I understand.”


When I went to let go of the hug, she squeezed me harder, and couldn’t hide her tears. I remembered Sophia suggesting that sometimes you just have to be there for others. I got my closure, so it was time for Julia to get hers. So I stood there in the lobby of Cooper Hall offering Julia a shoulder to cry on.


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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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marter

That was touching. The petty side is me says to use magic to turn Hathaway into a man and see how she lijes but for all I know she is a TG already
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Emily

She's a TG too. But we don't know what kind or her backstory. I figured we could always tell that in another book.
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J R G

Is this the end of the book, or is there more to come?
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Emily

There's 1 more chapter and an Epilogue. I'm planning on publishing those on Christmas.
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criticalsmoke

Wait so the magic made Jackie mad? Ugh please don't make magic a thing that corrupt the mind like the Order says. That would justify their fascism, for that is what the Order stinks of, Fascism.
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Emily

Magic didn't make her mad. Her situation external situation did. I just never touched on what life was like for her the past four years and left it to the readers imagination. The Order's draconian overreach is evident. Cate realizes that this chapter.
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