DISCLAIMER: None of these characters belong to me; I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
DEDICATED: The genius of Evan Rachel Wood and Mischa Barton who had managed to create such beautiful and layered characters, that absolutely sizzle on screen whenever they are together. Cheers, girls!
SERIES/SEQUEL: This is the third story of the series, following In The Bedroom and Breaking Up The Girl.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

About A Girl
By Janine


Part 1

Manning Manor

"What's going on?" Grace asked wandering into the kitchen. Everyone was gathered around the counter not saying anything, simply starring at the table where Jessie alone seemed to be seated.

"Lily's trying to figure out if that was really cold medication she bought for Jessie yesterday," Eli whispered, his eyes never leaving his sister's back for a second.

"Jessie thinks eggs is a funny word," Zoë added from somewhere beneath Grace's right elbow. "She said so, but she's still eating them." Grace looked down at her little sister sighing internally to see that the child had that blasted placemat on her head again, only this time neither her mom or Rick seemed notoriously concerned about it.

"You don't think we should call someone do you?" Rick asked scrunching up his brow in concern.

"Oh my god," Grace laughed looking at all of them like they were insane. "Can't she just be in a good mood?" she asked shaking her head before heading for the fridge. "Hey," she greeted looking at Jessie briefly before reaching for the orange juice container.

"Hey," Jessie responding shooting her a grin before turning back around and bringing her fork down to her plate, seemingly surprised to find it empty. Now intrigued, Grace watched as her stepsister shook her head and smiled with a 'stupid me' expression, then got up, dumping her plate in the sink and headed out of the kitchen. But not before looking at everyone like they were pod people when they moved out of her way collectively. Grace smiled again and turned her attention back to the fridge. It wasn't the medication Lily had bought that was making Jessie act that way, she was sure of it. She doubted that Jessie was actually ever feeling sick to begin with, and if she had been, she'd certainly been fine when she'd gone up to the attic yesterday to deliver the medication, only to find Jessie and Katie standing around self-consciously but happily looking at her like they'd never seen her before. Then later, as she'd gone to leave the attic she'd looked back to find Jessie sprawled out on her bed looking up at the ceiling with a blissed out expression on her face, and she knew instinctively what must have happened between her and Katie.

"What did the warning label say?" Rick asked turning to look at Lily once Jessie had left the room.

"Oh my god," Grace grumbled again rolling her eyes as she sat down at the table. She didn't know if she could take a whole day of this.

Hospital Parking Lot

Karen looked back at Eli sharing a brief smile with him as they watched Jessie bound off into the distance in search of the car. As Eli wheeled her out of the hospital, Jessie had run off saying she was going to prepare the car, because while Eli hadn't actually been raised in a barn, he lived like he had been.

"At least you didn't have to sit through her monologue on the beauty of butterflies," Eli grumbled good naturedly before tipping his mother's wheelchair back and running with it momentarily, stopping only when Karen begged him to stop. The action had earned him a slap on the arm, but also a smile, so he figured it all evened out in the end. "I swear it was like she'd never been outdoors before," he continued watching as Jessie's head disappeared behind a van a couple yards ahead of them. "And at breakfast, she actually let that little Hobbit cut her food into the shape of a bunny rabbit!"

"Hobbit?" Karen asked turning in her chair slightly. "Who's a Hobbit?"

"Zoë," Eli responded adjusting their course a bit as he spotted the car. "And before you get mad, Jessie's the one that called her that first."

"Why?" Karen asked bewildered.

"The kid used her favorite pair of socks to make a puppet," Eli responded grinning. "To this day … well maybe not today," he amended, "She stomps out of the room whenever Mr. Buckley Buttonpants of Zoë's third drawer makes an appearance."

Karen smiled, soaking up this relaxing moment with her son, like it was the first day you could go outside without a jacket after a long winter. Things had been so strained between them for the past little while, that it was nice to just be able to talk to him, and have him talk to her.

"She's in a good mood," Karen said softly a moment later, watching as Jessie threw some article of clothing out of the backseat and into the trunk.

"HEY! BE CAREFUL WITH THOSE!" Eli bellowed at the top of his lungs as Jessie began to fling some music sheets carelessly into the trunk. "Hey!" he yelled again, when she looked up at him then went back to what she had been doing.

"Eli, please," Karen said wincing as his voice reverberated in her ears.

"Sorry," he said realizing what he had been doing. "It's just that we need those for practice tomorrow," he continued glaring at Jessie as he quickened his step.

"Did anything happen last night?" Karen asked sending him a reproachful look that caused him to slow down once again. He sighed; he was never going to be able to find the sheets he needed tomorrow.

"What do you mean?" he asked absently.

"Jessie, she seemed really upset the other day when she came by to see me," Karen responded. "But…she seems better now. Better than for a long while now," she continued softly.

"Hmmm," Eli said thinking back. "I don't know … that hot chick she's been hanging out with came by…that's about it."

"Eli," Karen said stretching out her son's name with distaste. "Katie's 16," she continued looking back at him. Eli shrugged. "You're sure that's it?" Karen asked a moment later.

"Yeah," Eli responded. "After that she pretty much spent the whole night in her room listening to that CD she's got from prohibition times, or whatever," he continued making a face.

"Billie Holiday," Karen corrected gently. Prohibition times, Karen thought to herself, good grief.

"Yeah, that's what I said," Eli responded finally bringing them to a stop beside the car.

"Said about what?" Jessie asked her head popping up to look at them from across the car.

"Your boyfriend Taaaaaaaad," Eli responded mockingly, making kiss-y faces before pretending to swoon.

"He's not my boyfriend," Jessie responded glaring at her brother, before ducking her head back into the car to toss the last of his crap into the trunk.

"'Oh Tad, I love you and you're gay porn sounding name'," Eli said in response, his voice rising in a crude attempt to mimic Jessie's voice. He was bitter about the treatment she had just given his 'Sex Machine' t- shirt.

"Eli," Karen started, really not wanting to listen to two of them argue the whole way home, but before she could get anything else out, Jessie's head popped up again interrupting her.

"How would you know?" she asked, her eyebrow rising challengingly.

"Know what?" Eli asked not really liking the expression on her face. Jessie may have been younger than him, but when she wanted to she could rip anyone a new asshole. He clenched beginning to think that he should have listened to his mother.

"What his name sounds like," Jessie explained. "Been watching a lot of gay porn lately?" she asked grinning at him.

"Alright," Karen said holding up her hands, cutting Eli off before he could respond. "That's enough. Both of you behave." Both of them stared at her for a moment, looking like they wanted to object, then muttered that they would, and set about preparing the car for her. Karen smiled; it was good to be back.


"No, they sucked," Katie, stated emphatically. "No. No they sucked."

"You're just bitter because Acoustic Soul got shot down like a cougar at the Playboy mansion," Tad responded happily as Russell slapped him on the back.

"Just because you inherited your dad's taste from like the 70s it doesn't mean all of us have light candles at the Shrine of Bono," Katie responded shooting Tad a nasty sideways look. The truth was she was bitter that Acoustic Soul got shut out. "Besides, it was soooo long. I mean what time did it end, like 2 am? In corrupt prisons across the world they're torturing people with Jon Stewart's striptease."

"I thought that was funny man," Russell starting to laugh. "He was all…and then it was like…" he went on almost doubling over from the effort it was taking for him to hold in his girlish giggles.

Katie rolled her eyes, and turned away from the two guys letting her eyes scan the hallways. Catching sight of a familiar face, she broke out into a huge grin, which she then rather conspicuous covered.

"I'll catch up with you later," she called out already heading down the hall.

"Hey," Tad called out. "Are you coming tonight," he asked.

"Maybe," Katie called back almost out of earshot. Then she held up her hand making the 'I'll call you' hand motion and disappeared down the next hallway.

"Alright, meet me outside of the gym after school and I'll give you a lift," Grace said with a long-suffering sigh as she checked her watch.

"Thanks," Jessie responded choosing to ignore Grace's tone. Sometimes with Grace it was best to do that.

"Looks like you've got a visitor," Grace commented a moment later, her previous sulky tone now gone.

"What?" Jessie asked looking up. "Oh," she continued seeing Katie propped up against a wall near her locker, seemingly reading a nearby poster. "Right. Okay, I'll see you later," Jessie responded trying to subtly shoo Grace away.

"Riiiight," Grace responded. "Later," and with that she continued on down the hallway smiling. Jessie was sooo busted.

"Hey," Jessie said coming up behind Katie. "What cha looking at?"

"Intramural floor hockey," Katie responded cocking her head towards the poster and sign up sheet.

"You thinking of joining?" Jessie asked, smiling.

"No. I like my teeth in my mouth," Katie responded, her hands brushing down over her skirt shakily before she finally turned to look at Jessie. "So, the world of academia is glad to have you back," she continued as they headed towards Jessie's locker.

"The feelings mutual," Jessie responded turning her lock slowly. She seemed to be having trouble remembering her combination. "Oh, and tell academia's mom thanks. The cookies she baked were breakfast this morning," Jessie continued knowingly.

"Busted, huh?" Katie asked, leaning against a nearby locker.

"Yes, but it was a valiant effort," Jessie responded smiling. "It's good to see you," she continued, her voice dropping a little as she raised her eyes to meet Katie's.

"It's good to be seen," the girl responded, smiling softly, before turning her head to watch the passing students. "So … you wanna do something later? I have extensive ideas about how to waste time. There may even be a flow chart but I can't remember if I got around to it," she continued glancing at Jessie. They had talked on the phone over the weekend, but hadn't actually seen each other since that afternoon in the attic. And as ecstatic as she was over what had happened in Jessie's bedroom that day, she wasn't sure where they stood exactly. She knew where she wanted to be standing, but it was up to Jessie.

"I told my mom I'd come straight home," Jessie replied closing her locker door. "There's still a lot of stuff to get back in order, I mean the mail pile alone was like a week's worth of work," she continued turning to face Katie.

"Yeah, of course," Katie responded. "Totally. I completely understand," she responded, her shoes suddenly seeming very interesting.

"You should come," Jessie said seeing Katie's expression and knowing what was probably going through her head. "She keeps asking about you anyway. Katie this and Katie that … I swear it's like she wants to marry you or something," she continued smiling at the memory of her mother incessantly questioning her about Katie.

"Really?" Katie asked looking over at Jessie.

"Yeah, apparently I talk about you a lot," Jessie, responded shaking her head self-consciously. "You don't have to, I mean it's probably not going to be a lot of fun. She'll probably have us stocking cupboards or dusting something, but…"

"I'll come," Katie said interrupting her. "I mean, I'd like to go with you. We can do the whole underage illegal worker thing together."

"Cool," Jessie responded smiling, as she adopted a position similar to Katie's against the locker.

"Yeah," Katie agreed a wide grin spreading across her face. "So, you tired of lounging yet?"

"Yeah," Jessie said pushing off of the lockers. "How do the jocks do it?"

"Nobody knows," Katie responded heading down the hall. "But I suspect it has something to do with the numerous blows to the head. That just can't be healthy. Also, it's not very pretty."

"The real reason floor hockey is out?" Jessie asked gamely.

"I stand by my decision," Katie responded grasping Jessie's hand momentarily, letting go as they turned the corner. "My stop," she said glancing at the classroom door.

"Lunch?" Jessie asked.

"Well, that's right around the time I get hungry so you're in luck," Katie replied smiling. "I…" she started to say, looking at Jessie seriously. "Yeah," she continued shaking her head, "I'll see you then."

"Yeah," Jessie said holding her eyes for a second longer. Then she continued down the hall, smiling once she was out of sight. Lunch never seemed so far away.

Part 2

Karen's House

"Oh my god," Katie exclaimed flinging herself on Jessie's bed as Jessie closed the door to her room. "I thought you were joking about the packing and dusting and stuff! I haven't worked that hard since dad made us help build crazy uncle Cory's cottage slash whacked out bomb shelter!"

"Bomb shelter?" Jessie asked raising an eyebrow.

"That's why we call him 'crazy' uncle Cory," Katie responded flipping around onto her back so that she could see Jessie. "He once ate nothing but baked beans for like eight months. He wasn't allowed to come over for holiday dinners during that period," she continued sitting up as Jessie walked over to the bed.

"That's a lovely story," Jessie said making a face coming to stop just in front of Katie. "I'm surprised that it isn't told every Christmas with people gathered around the fireplace holding hands and stuff."

"Mock him if you will," Katie responded with a pseudo sigh. "Really. Everyone else does," she continued grinning up at Jessie cheekily, her smile slowly fading away to be replaced by questioning head tilt as she realized just how close to her Jessie was standing. "Hey," she continued a moment later, swallowing heavily as her eyes traveled up Jessie's torso, settling on her lips for a moment before moving up further to her eyes, which were watching her closely.

"I want…" Jessie began slowly, clearly annunciating every syllable.

"I know," Katie responded holding her gaze. "It's okay," she continued. "It's always okay."

And before she could say anything else, she felt Jessie's lips on hers, brushing against her own gently, then with an increasing firmness as she got swept up in the tide, pulling away only when the need for oxygen became too great to ignore.

"It's different when I'm taller than you," Jessie commented softly as she looked down at Katie's seated figure. A wickedly delicious smile creeping across her features as the euphoria hit her. "I like being tall."

"Certainly it has its advantages," Katie responded hers lips turning upwards as well, her reply both teasing and relieved. "But there's something to be said for the view from Midget Town too."

"Midget Town?" Jessie asked, her eyes narrowing menacingly. So she was going to start with the short jokes was she? Not a good move.

"Is Dopey coming by today, he's got my copy of 'It's a small world after all'," Katie answered immediately, her smile growing wider at Jessie's expression. God, she was so cute, like when she did anything. All Jessie had to do was make an expression and it was like the best thing she'd ever seen.

"You are in so much trouble," Jessie ground out staring a Katie for a moment, before laughing as she flung herself at Katie, causing the other girl to fall back against the bed, as Jessie landed on top of her, rolling them over, causing her laugh even harder as Katie began to tickle her.

"What are you doing?" Jessie asked looking down as Katie picked up her hand in hers. They were sitting across from each other cross-legged on the floor. At first they had been talking, about stupid things, about anything, but then they'd just kind of stopped and started looking at each other. For a long time. Then Katie had reached out her hand and picked up Jessie's.

"I'm not sure," Katie responded as she cradled Jessie's hand in her left one, and then began tracing the lines of Jessie's hand with one of the fingers of her right hand slowly. "Wait," Katie continued a moment later. "I know now."

"What?" Jessie asked, her breath coming out surprisingly short. She had stopped concentrating for a moment, and now it seemed as if she'd forgotten how to breathe.

"Learning," Katie said softly, her head tilting up momentarily to gaze at Jessie. "Your hands are so soft…delicate," she whispered softly, almost as if she were in a trance. "Beautiful," she continued her eyes dropping back down to Jessie's palm. "Like you."

"You…you think I'm beautiful?" Jessie asked a moment later, her voice halting with uncertainty as her eyes dropped down to their joined hands.

"No," Katie responded gazing over at her without a moment's hesitation. Jessie looked up at her questioningly, confused, but Katie continued going before she could say anything. "I know it. I'm pretty sure that it's written in stone somewhere," she continued seriously. "Like Gospel. You're name's in italics."

Jessie was quiet for a second, then half exhaled, half laughed, bowing her head down self-consciously as Katie's words washed over her like cool fresh water over pebbles on a summer day. It made her feel tingly inside, like when they kissed; only it was different at the same time. Her mother had told her that she was beautiful before, her dad too. Even Eli had acquiesced that she'd 'probably be a looker' when she grew up. But it had never really fazed her, when she heard it with them, it had just rolled off of the surface and she had never truly believed it. But coming from Katie, it was different; it began to sink into her. And she believed it for second, even if it was only in Katie's eyes.

"Hey, are you okay?" Katie asked concern filling her voice as she looked at Jessie's still bowed head. "I didn't mean to embarrass you," she continued ducking her head down to try and get a better look at Jessie's face. "Sometimes I just talk to much. I won't be planning on saying anything, and then words just come tumbling out of my mouth, and I suddenly wish that my mom would actually buy that muzzle she's always threatening me with."

"You don't talk to much," Jessie said softly finally looking up, her eyes still shimmering as she gazed at Katie. "I mean, I like listening to you talk," she said smirking at her own lameness.

"That works out well then, I think," Katie responded smiling self- depreciatingly seeming not to mind her lameness if there had been any. "You know, I meant it. But I won't say it again if it makes you uncomfortable," she continued, her finger still unconsciously stroking Jessie's hand.

"It's not that, it's just…" Jessie started; momentarily distracted by the feeling Katie's finger was producing in her hand, which then promptly shot through the rest of her body like electricity. "I just, you know never heard that from anyone who's not related to me," she continued a moment later, her head dropping down once more.

"Not even from Tad?" Katie asked, a small smile etching its way across her features.

Jessie looked up at her then contemplatively. Tad had told her something like that. And she had gotten it from strangers too she supposed, she just hadn't believed them. She hadn't believed anyone who had told her before Katie, not even a little bit. She still wasn't sure, not really, she only knew that she believed Katie meant it, and that was enough for her.

"I guess it just didn't mean anything coming from him," she said softly, her brows drawing together thoughtfully.

"But it does…from me?" Katie asked studying Jessie's face.

Jessie merely nodded, and then turned her eyes up to look into Katie's smiling face.

"We were going to …" Karen began opening Jessie's bedroom, pausing momentarily as she got her first good look inside. They were just sitting on the floor, Katie giving Jessie what looked like a palm reading while grinning at each other, but she felt like she was interrupting something the moment she opened the door and couldn't quite explain why. "Order a pizza, when I realized that I didn't know what Katie likes," she continued as Jessie scrambled to her feet, walking over to the door to help steady her. Eli had carried her up the stairs, and she'd be fine with the walker for the next few minutes, but Jessie always worried.

"Oh, don't worry about me," Katie said getting to her feet as well, rubbing her hands together uncertainly. "Whatever's fine." Man, she thought to herself, did like every parent in the world have the absolute worst timing ever? Was there like a course that they got to take or something?

Karen smiled at her before looking back over at Jessie. "Pepperoni and cheese it is," she said then, turning her head slightly as Eli's voice wafted down to her from further down the hall. "Yeah, yeah, you'll get yours," she muttered under her breath, but loud enough for Jessie to hear as she was standing beside her.

"I thought we were all suppose to behave," Jessie murmured as she helped her mother maneuver out the door.

"You've got your father's sense of humor," Karen responded shaking her head, causing Jessie to laugh a little.

"I think dad's funny," she responded as Karen started down the hallway to her room.

"You would," she heard faintly followed by the soft sounds of laughter, before she lost sight of her mother as she entered her room.

"I think he's funny," Jessie said again turning around to face Katie, feeling somewhat unsteady – in a good way — now that she wasn't holding her mother anymore and therefore able to use her as a distraction from the emotions that had been coursing through her before the interruption.

"I think you're funny," Katie offered conciliatorily before flopping back down on her bed.

"Yes, I'm highly amusing," Jessie, agreed walking over to sit on the bed beside Katie.

"And beautiful," Katie added.

"Well, that goes without saying," Jessie responded seriously looking over at Katie, who watched her for a moment before they both broke out laughing, falling back down on the bed.

Jessie carefully opened the door to Karen's bedroom, scrunching up her face with intensity as she tried not to make a sound. Then, having successfully opened the door she crept inside carefully closing it behind her before walking over to her mother's bed as stealthily as humanly possible. She was like a cat, she was sure of it.

"Hello," Karen said into the dark, having sensed her daughter as soon as she opened the door.

"AH!" Jessie yelled jumping back a bit. "How…" she began, starting to replay her entrance in her head and knowing with absolute certainty that she hadn't made a sound.

"A mother always knows," Karen responded cryptically looking in the direction of Jessie's voice.

"Wasn't that a TV show back in the day," Jessie asked lifting up the edge of the blanket and slipping into the bed, plastering herself to her mother's side and resting her head on her shoulder.

"That was 'Father Knows Best'," Karen responded with a touch of amusement before kissing Jessie on the top of her head.

"Ah," Jessie said softly, almost knowledgably, before asking, "I wasn't alive then was I?"

"No," Karen responded laughing softly. "I only saw reruns."

"Must have been a long time ago," Jessie mumbled her response, her fingers running along the hard outer shell of the cast on her mother's arm.

"I suppose it would seem like that to you," Karen replied looking down at the top of Jessie's head. "Are you settling down?" she asked a moment later feeling her daughter's breaths coming less and less frequently.

"Uh huh," Jessie replied, not seeming notoriously concerned.

"So I guess you figured out what you wanted then," Karen commented taking in Jessie's relaxed bearing. It wasn't often that she saw her like that, totally calm. She realized that she herself had a tendency to worry, and fret over things, and to her chagrin she had noticed the same tendency in Jessie. It caused them both to be rather high strung most of the time, so it was rare and very pleasant to see Jessie this way, and to feel similarly herself.

"What?" Jessie asked looking up at her mother even though she could barely make out her features in the dark. Had she fallen asleep or something?

"What we were talking about the other day at the hospital," Karen answered, feeling Jessie's head drop back down onto her shoulder a moment later.

"Yeah," Jessie replied, fully awake again. "Kind of," she continued not really sure that she wanted to talk about at the moment, or ever.

"What did you decide?" Karen asked bringing her hand up to brush some hair off of Jessie's face, but then stopping. She actually liked how it looked, it was as if Jessie had her own personal halo or something.

Her question was followed by a deep sigh, and Jessie wriggling about like she had ants in her pants for a few seconds, before she finally began to speak. "I guess I didn't really decide anything," she started slowly. "I just knew … I guess. Already," she finished awkwardly.

"So?" Karen prompted leadingly, "What did you realize?" She continued earning another deep sigh and more shifting from Jessie.

"Mom," the girl whined, stretching the words out for as long as humanly possible, before burying her head in the crook of Karen's shoulder as if she was trying hide or find buried treasure.

"I badger because I care," Karen said with a sigh of her own, knowing that she wasn't going to get anything else out of Jessie for the moment. She'd used that exact same tone with her mother more than once and she knew what it meant. Quit embarrassing me and leave me alone. It was a very adaptable whine.

"I know," Jessie replied softly. "Can we go to sleep now, or do you want to keep me up even later on a school night, so that I can't concentrate in class, flunk out and end up selling pencils on street corners for a living?"

"Goodnight, honey," was Karen's simple response.

"Night," Jessie mumbled.

"I love you," Karen added dragging the blanket up so that it covered Jessie's shoulders.

"Mom," Jessie said again, the pitch of her voice even higher than before.

"Alright, alright," Karen replied smiling but trying not to sound like she was.

Part 3

A week later – School

Jessie flung her math text into the locker, dragging out an even bigger biology text shoving it into her backpack. Then, dropping the now obscenely heavy bag to the floor she reached back and closed her locker, bending down to pick up her bag when she caught sight of a familiar figure in the distance. Leaving the backpack where it was she leaned back against her locker and stared down the hallway.

She could just make out Katie's face in between the bodies of the people who were surrounding her. Katie was shaking her head emphatically about something and poking at one of the people standing in front of her rhythmically. Jessie smiled as she watched the scene, thinking that she wouldn't have wanted to be the person Katie was jabbing at. But mostly, she just watched her friend and let the feelings that she had now come to associate with Katie wash over her. She knew that she was attracted to Katie; there was no denying that after what happened in her room. In fact, after what happened in her room she hadn't wanted to deny it anymore because it had just felt so good, so right. It was like as soon as their lips had touched this huge weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. It was like coming home after a really long drive.

And as she stood there, she let her eyes wander around the hall, looking at the various students as they passed her. She'd been doing that a lot since the day at the attic, looking at other people, trying to figure it out. What she was? What wanting to be with Katie made her? But she couldn't, because while she looked, while she thought some people were more attractive than others, and that some guys were attractive and some girls were attractive, it didn't really mean anything. She didn't really feel anything. Because whether she meant to or not, her mind always compared them to Katie and that meant that there was no comparison. Because nobody came close, nobody stood a chance next to Katie.

"You know, the law has a word for what you're doing," Grace whispered sidling up behind Jessie. "It's called stalking."

"What?" Jessie asked turning around to face her stepsister, her head almost knocking into her still open locker door as she turned around. Where had she come from? Jessie wondered carefully shutting the door before she could hurt herself.

"You know with the intensity you do that it could be an Olympic sport," Grace continued remembering the concentrated look Jessie had had on her face as she stared down the hall at Katie. "Barring that it could at least make it onto ESPN."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Jessie responded turning her head away as she felt herself start to blush.

Grace leaned toward Jessie after that comment, her voice lowering secretively. "I'm talking about your love connection with Claire Standish over there," knowing that Jessie knew that she knew what was going on between her and Katie. After that afternoon in the attic, when she had turned to see Jessie staring up at the ceiling all 'sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everything', there hadn't been doubt in her mind as to what had happened.

"What?" Jessie asked turning around to face Grace again. "With who?"

"God, you are so young," Grace responded shaking her head at Jessie's ignorance of everything John Hughes. "You and Katie," Grace clarified smiling lecherously.

"Right, well. I gotta get to class," Jessie responded shooting Grace one last glare before heading off down the hall.

"If it's any consolation, I thought it was cute," Grace called after her still smiling. This was going to be great, she'd have material for months.

A few weeks later – Karen's House

Katie drew her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on top of her knees and tilted her head slightly to watch Jessie as the other girl read off a sheet of paper. She was suppose to be listening so that she could give Jessie her opinion on it, but the truth was she was having trouble concentrating. Her mind kept drifting, shifting to contemplate the girl sitting in front of her and what exactly their relationship was. She knew how she felt about Jessie, she'd known for a while that she was seriously falling for the girl, and if she hadn't already fallen, then she was sure she was only like days from it. The problem was she didn't know where Jessie was with them, with anything. She knew that Jessie liked her, was attracted to her, but she didn't know what that meant to Jessie or how it changed their relationship to her, beyond the obvious advantage of getting to make out. Which was a considerable advantage, but still not conclusive.

She wanted to ask, to say something, to have a conversation. She'd practiced how to start things off a million times pacing around her room, or talking in the shower. She even worked out a whole system of contingency conversations and branch patterns of inquisition. But every time she went to say something, she just couldn't do it. She'd look at Jessie, and the girl would smile at her, or say something, and then she just couldn't get the words past her lips. She was afraid, afraid that if she pushed she'd end up pushing Jessie away and she just couldn't risk that. But she wanted to know. She wanted to know so badly. It was like trying to scratch an itch through a snowsuit.

"It sounds great," Katie said softly lifting her head up. "Of course I didn't understand half of it," she continued smiling.

"You had this class last year," Jessie responded smiling at her teasingly.

"Yes, but I had Mrs. Franklin. Mrs. Franklin," Katie responded emphasizing the teacher's name. She was notorious around the school for being the absolute worst teacher ever in the history of man. "And if that isn't bad enough, Maureen Adams sat next to me and we used to spend the whole class discussing Frankie's latest fashion disaster," she continued shaking her head. "We were such bitches."

"I'm sure you weren't," Jessie replied gently, swiveling in her chair to get a better look at Katie whose head was back resting on her knees.

"That's sweet," Katie responded cocking an eyebrow up at her. "But we were. However," she continued some life returning to her voice. "I did learn enough to know that your essay is great. There are fourth years that can't use existentialist in a sentence. Hell, Mrs. Peters probably doesn't know how to use it in a sentence. You're so going to kill," she finished smiling at Jessie proudly.

Jessie held Katie's gaze for a moment then looked down at her paper, and back at Katie again, a tentative smile working its way across her face as she let out a relieved sigh. Turning her head to the side she followed Katie as the girl crawled across the floor until she was kneeling in front of Jessie's chair. Jessie looked down at her as Katie gazed up at her, noting Katie's serious expression with a touch of concern.

"You know I…" Katie began slowly before trailing off, her eyes losing focus as her attention turned inside for a moment. Jessie watched as a myriad of expressions flowed across her fine features, her eyes crinkling at the sides as she frowned momentarily before focusing on Jessie again with a deflated sigh. "It's just … my mom always says that when we feel something strongly we should share it," she said starting up again though her eyes still seemed to be looking at something beyond Jessie. "Which is ironic since sharing my strong feeling on how she looked like a brothel worker the night of her Christmas party got me grounded for a week," she continued her lips curving up momentarily before thinning out again. "But, I mean, what I really wanted to say, is just that … just how much you, our friendship means to me. Cause you're like the best thing that's happened to me since walking, and that's only cause I needed walking to be able to get over to you," she went on dropping her head down as she felt tears begin to well up in her eyes. For some reason she just didn't want Jessie to see her cry tonight.

"Katie?" Jessie asked softly her hand reaching out to touch the other girl's cheek. She was amazingly touched by the words Katie had just spoken to her, and surprised yet happy by the intensity with which they were spoken, but at the same time Katie's demeanor was beginning to worry her.

"It's nothing," Katie said looking up at Jessie, flashing her a quick smile. "Really. I just wanted you to know," she continued her eyes drifting off to the side.

Jessie continued to watch her for a moment after that, thinking about what she could do since there was obviously something bothering Katie, but before she could open her mouth to begin, Katie's eyes had returned to her, and she was leaning up bringing their lips together.

The kiss was slow, and tender and beautiful, and Jessie leaned forward prolonging the contact between them, absorbing the emotions pouring into her through Katie's lips. And then it was gone; Katie had pulled back and was standing up.

"I've gotta go," Katie said softly when Jessie's eyes finally opened and turned to look up at her. "It's late."

Jessie turned her head to the side to glance at the clock beside her bed, and noticed somewhat sadly that it was late. She didn't want Katie to leave, especially now that she was sure that something was bothering her, but Katie was right, she had to be going home.

"Yeah," Jessie replied, not quite able to keep the disappointment out of her voice. "I'll walk you out," she continued grasping Katie's hand. Katie glanced down at their joined hands and smiled at her, and then they headed for the door.

Part 4

Manning House

Grace walked into the living room hurriedly looking behind to make sure that she had successfully ditched Zoë. She loved her little sister, she really did, but she was tired of hearing out the damn holes in the ozone. Satisfied that she was safe in a Zoë free zone, she looked around the room spotting Jessie lying on the couch starring at the TV.

"Don't tell me you speak fluent French too," Grace began crossing the room to sit on the free couch. "Because I would literally have to throw myself off a bridge."

"What?" Jessie asked blinking at Grace in confusion. She hadn't even seen her come into the room, just heard a kind of far off rumbling and turned to see Grace sitting there with her mouth flapping. "What are you talking about?"

Grace studied for a moment only then realizing how out of it Jessie had to have been. She nodded towards the TV.

"Oh, no," Jessie responded, her mind finally putting together what it was Grace had said. "I … no," she continued picking up the remote and flipping the channel. "I can't."

"Are you alright?" Grace asked staring at Jessie. She was the one that was forever complaining about how everyone fawned over Jessie like she was a newborn puppy or something, and had sworn that she would never join the 'protection of precious widdle Jessie' fan club, but seeing the girl sitting there obviously out of it, she just couldn't help herself.

"Oh. Yeah. Fine," Jessie responded, her reply coming a second to late to be even remotely believable.

"You want to talk about it?" Grace asked a moment later contemplating whether she really cared enough to try dragging information out of Jessie, then realizing she had nothing better to do.

Jessie hesitated for a moment, debating internally whether or not she should talk about what was bothering her with Grace. "I don't really know that there's anything to talk about," she said finally. The truth was that she kind of wanted some advice and Grace was the only person who knew what was really happening between her and Katie to any degree, so she didn't really have a choice in the matter.

"What do you mean?" Grace asked.

"It's just," Jessie began shaking her head. "I don't know. Katie was acting kind of strange last night. Upset I guess. But I don't … I can' t figure out why," she finished with a sigh looking over at her stepsister.

"That's easy," Grace replied immediately. "It's because women are insane. That'll be five hundred dollars."

Jessie looked over at Grace once she finished talking, holding her gaze for a moment before muttering, "thanks so much for your help."

Grace grinned at her, and she smiled back, silence covering the room once more before Grace finally broke it.

"What were you talking about before she got all weird?"

"It's private," Jessie muttered in response, her head dropping down to stare at her lap as she felt her cheeks start to colour, a sensation that only increased when she heard Grace snicker in the background.

"I don't need a blow by blow account," Grace said finally even though she kind of would liked one after seeing Jessie's expression. "Just sum it up or something."

Jessie took a deep breath, readying herself as if she were about to face a firing squad, and then began to speak. "We were just talking, and then she … she just told me that I was like important to her and stuff," she continued her voice dropping as she remembered the conversation they had had.

"Well, how did you respond?" Grace asked impatiently wondering if conversation was truly a lost art. Nobody she knew seemed to be able to carry on a halfway decent narrative. It was extremely vexing.

"I don't know," Jessie responded shooting Grace a rather biting look. "I mean I guess I didn't."

Grace's face fell and her eyes narrowed upon hearing this, her head turning to look at Jessie with an expression that clearly showed that she thought Jessie was dumber than a chimp.

"What?" Jessie asked a bit self-consciously.

"Well, that's obviously it," Grace replied as if what she was saying were common knowledge. "Have you ever told her? How you feel?" Grace asked looking around to make sure no one was around before she continued. "She's probably all insecure about whatever is going on between you two. I mean how could she not be after the way you acted?"

"What do you mean 'after the way I acted'?" Jessie asked grumpily. "I didn't do anything."

"Nothing except stop talking to her, fake sick to avoid her, and then turn it all around on her like 180 degrees in a five minute period of time," Grace replied giving Jessie a hostile little look as she remembered Katie coming up to her in class, all big watery eyes and shaky concern over how Jessie had responded to her letter. "Basically you fed her a horse sized anxiety pill and now she's foaming."

Jessie was silent for a moment after that, looking almost contemplative, and then she looked back over at Grace with a look of utter confusion on her face. She obviously had no clue what Grace was talking about.

Grace sighed deeply. "She doesn't know how you feel about her and what's happening between you two. For all she knows you're using her to practice until Tad asks you out again," she explained slowly.

"I'm not…" Jessie protested emphatically, shooting Grace an offended look.

"That's not the point," Grace explained. "I'm talking about what she knows, and she doesn't know that that's not what you're doing because you've never talked to her about it," she went on. "Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe she just had a headache, or indigestion or something. But either way you should probably talk to her. It never hurt anyone to hear that the person they like likes them back."

"But…" Jessie started, but she was interrupted before she could finish.

"But what?" Grace asked her. "You make-out with her so she should be able to tell?" she continued, smiling as Jessie shot her a look of pure venom. "Trust me Jess, it doesn't work that way."

Jessie sighed as she thought over what it was Grace had told her. "What if I don't know what to tell her?"

"You obviously know something," Grace responded certain that Jessie had to have some idea what she was feeling if she had been semi-dating Katie for almost a month now. "So tell her what you do know."

"I don't know," Jessie responded uncertainly, leaning back against the couch wearily.

"Then maybe she's right to be concerned," Grace responded frankly leaning back as well.

Jessie turned to look at Grace upon hearing that, a denial already upon her tongue when she heard the front door open and heard Lily and Judy's voice's as they trudged into the house. Hearing the noise get closer and realizing they were coming into the room Jessie turned away from Grace and started flipping through the channels once again.

"Hey girls," Lily said walking into the room smiling at them. "How were your days?"

"Ok," they replied simultaneously before slumping even further down into the cushions.

Lily glanced over at Judy upon seeing this watching as her sister smirked at her, shrugging her shoulders as if to say 'teenagers, can't live with them are legally contracted to take care of them'. Lily frowned, it was hard being mother, it really was.

Part 5

Manning House - Dinner

"What's that you're working on?" Lily asked looking over at Grace who was vigorously scratching something onto a piece of paper. Almost from the moment they had sat down for dinner Grace had been scribbling on that sheet of paper.

"Just some paper work for the GSA dance," Grace responded barely looking up from her sheet of paper, and as such missing the look her mother sent her husband. "It's coming up in a couple of weeks," Grace continued looking up, her attention focused on Jessie who was sitting opposite her. "It'll be a great opportunity for people to freely express how they feel about each other in a healthy, positive way."

"Ouch!" Rick gasped a moment later reaching down under the table to rub his leg.

"Sorry," Jessie said wincing as she realized she'd kicked the wrong person. "Muscle cramp."

Rick looked up at her upon hearing this, his expression both surprised and proud. "That's quite a leg you've got there." But Jessie had ceased paying attention to him so that she could concentrate on giving Grace the stink eye.

"Will you be attending the dance?" Lily asked trying to keep her voice nonchalant.

"Well, I did plan it. It's kind of my duty," Grace responded as if that was the stupidest question she'd ever heard.

"Do you know who'll be attending yet?" Lily asked trying to calm her breathing.

"No, but there's a couple people I'd like to see there," Grace replied pointedly.

"Oh," Lily responded not quite sure what to make of that.

"Is Jessie gonna go?" Zoë asked feeling as though it was time that she contribute to the conversation. Lily looked over at Jessie after hearing Zoë's question never having considered whether Jessie would be attending or not.

"What?!" Zoë screeched a moment later. Jessie had muttered something under her breath but she hadn't been able to make it out.

"I said 'maybe'," Jessie ground out glancing at Zoë before returning her attention to playing with her mashed potatoes.

"It's nice of you to think about supporting Grace like that," Lily responded with a smile upon hearing Jessie's answer, causing her to miss the peevish look Grace sent her.

Jessie considered Lily's comment, and Grace's answering look for a moment, then gave a small smile and nodded before quickly shoving some food in her mouth so that she wouldn't have to talk anymore.

"What?" Lily asked finally sensing Grace staring at her. Grace simply turned away from her and began to write on her piece of paper some more. "What?" she asked again, but it was futile.

"Are girls allowed to play football now?" Rick asked looking at Jessie appraisingly having finally stopped rubbing at his leg.

"I'm not playing football," Jessie responded around a mouthful of potato.

"I'm just saying, that with a leg like that you should be kicking something regularly," Rick responded diplomatically. Jessie stared at him then turned away back to her food covering the room in an oppressive silence.

"So, how was your day?" Lily asked turning to look at her youngest daughter. Grace and Jessie sighed, they just knew they were going to have to listen to a speech about bacon and global warming until Zoë got bored and decided to go watch cartoons. It was going to be a fun meal.

Karen's House

Jessie paused outside of her brother's room, debating the wisdom of talking to him about something that was even mildly important to her before finally knocking.

Entering the room, she headed straight for his bed and plopped down. "What cha doing?"

Eli looked down at the guitar in his hands, then over at the sheet music in front of him and then back at his sister. "Playing soccer," he responded dryly.

Jessie sighed heavily and rolled over on her side not at all impressed by his attempt at humor. "What's wrong with you?" he asked taking in her rather petulant expression.

"Nothing," Jessie responded glumly thinking that she shouldn't have bothered with him.

"Something's wrong, you never come in here and lie down with the pouty face unless something's wrong," Eli replied really paying attention for the first time. This wasn't like one of Jessie's (or any girl for that matter) normal mood swings. Something was really getting to her.

"Nothing's wrong," Jessie repeated picking at his comforter militantly.

"Fine" Eli responded starting to strum again. He wasn't going to argue with her when she got like this. If she came to his room, she obviously wanted to talk and would get around to it sooner or later. In the meantime he was perfectly happy to go on about his business.

Jessie glanced over at him a minute later seeing him happily plucking away and frowned. "There's this person," she started interrupting him.

"Yeah," Eli prompted putting his pick down and turning to face her.

"Well, what if there's this person that likes you, and you like them only they know that you like them but they don't know that you like them as much as they like you, and you want to tell them how much you like them but you're also not sure what it means that you like them as much as you do," Jessie asked sitting up slowly as she began to talk before looking at him expectantly.

"I'm not even sure whether that was a question or not," Eli finally responded his brows coming together in confusion.

Jessie sighed at his ignorance and flopped back down on the bed, clearly finding him to be no help at all.

"But I did understand about a third of it," he continued ignoring his sisters melodramatics, "and if this person likes you and you like them, you should just tell them. Carpe diem Scout, you gotta hold on to the important stuff when you still have it."

"Carpe diem," Jessie responded thoughtfully, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling contemplatively. Carpe diem.

Part 6

Two days later - Bonfire. Night.

Sensing a break in the conversation Jessie quickly excused herself ducking away from the assembled group of ex-play people and made her way across the field approaching a group of people, among whom Katie was entrenched. Catching Katie's eye and tilting her head to the side Jessie watched as some life entered her eyes and she quickly, very quickly, pushed her way past the people standing around her.

"My hero," Katie gushed as they entered the woods to escape the mass of people occupying the field. "I don't know if I could've taken another second of that," she continued smiling over at Jessie. "Did you know that there are people out that actually like Carson Daily?" she asked with a horrified expression. "I was so scared. I felt like asking for my Mommy."

"Just returning the favor," Jessie responded through a laugh as she watched Katie mock shiver in fright.

"What favor?" Katie asked absently bending down to pick up a stick, and fencing with an imaginary enemy for a moment before turning her full attention back to Jessie.

"For saving me from Tad and his tarantula impression, all those many months ago," Jessie responded smiling over at Katie.

"Oh," Katie replied with a grin. "Well, Tad's moves are an act against humanity. I was morally bound to rescue you, before he got around to asking if your daddy was a thief," she continued rolling her eyes at Tad's lameness.

"I'm glad you did," Jessie responded reaching over and grasping Katie's hand in hers as they made their way further into the forest. "Of course if anything like that happened now, more strenuous measures would need to be taken," Jessie continued conversationally.

"Really?" Katie asked intrigued enough to stop obsessing about how good it felt to be holding Jessie's hand long enough to listen to her.

"Well, you would clearly have to declare a feud with his house, or at the least insult his immediate family," Jessie responded trying to keep her voice breezy although she was actually concentrating with all her might to keep her voice from cracking. "Now that I'm your girl, you could do no less," she finished.

Katie was silent for a moment after she finished speaking, the sound of their feet on the ground the only noise around them. "My girl?" she asked finally, a wide grin spreading across her face that was clearly heard through her tone.

"Yeah," Jessie responded. "If you want," she continued softly, looking down at the ground.

As the words reached her ears Katie stopped walking dragging Jessie to a stop too seeing as how their hands were still held together. "My girl," she breathed out softly, as if testing out the phrase. "Yeah," she continued smiling again, tugging Jessie's hand gently to bring them closer together before leaning forward and pressing her lips against Jessie's happily.

Pulling back she watched as Jessie smiled up at her then moved forward resting her head on her shoulder contently, a soft sigh escaping her lips. Katie drew her arms around Jessie, holding her firmly against her as she carelessly drew tiny shapes on Jessie's back with her fingers.

"Katie! Jessie!" they heard from somewhere nearby. It was Tad.

Reluctantly they pulled apart just before he burst out in front of them.

"What're you doing out here?" he asked looking between them.

"Trying to figure out the fastest way to Mexico," Katie responded glibly. "What're you doing out here?"

"Had to clean out the pipe," Tad responded with a grin.

"Ewww, gross," Katie replied making a face. "You didn't go on the pathway did you?" she asked looking back the way they had entered.

Tad just smiled and said, "come on, the kegs here," then took off.

Katie shook her head then looked over at Jessie with a smile. "Come on, we're going to need to tap in to survive the rest of the night."

Part 7

A week later

Katie pressed herself against Jessie in a dark corner of the porch and leaned down, brushing her lips against Jessie's softly, before smiling and pressing her lips to Jessie's forehead affectionately.

"I should go," she sighed a moment later not needing to look at her watch to know that it was late. They had just gotten back from some god awful movie that she couldn't even remember anymore – sometimes she loved the damage MTV had done to her long term, hell her short term memory – and she didn't quite want to separate from Jessie yet. The movie had been fun, the backs of theatres where simply divine.

"Come inside," Jessie whispered soaking up the feeling the Katie's body so close to hers. "If you don't at least pop in to say hi, they're going to question me incessantly about everything we did tonight."

"That could be fun," Katie replied. "But not for you," she amended catching the look Jessie sent her. "Alright then, let's go."

"Hey," Jessie called out as they entered the living room. Everyone, but Zoë who was probably in bed, was gathered around the TV watching a loud movie. Upon the sound of her voice the others looked up, her dad smiled, Eli barely blinked, Grace smirked and Lily asked how the movie was.

"Stupid," was Jessie's response to Lily's question as she plunked herself on the floor by her dad's feet not wanting to get on the couch with him and Lily. Some things were better left undisturbed. Katie took a step forward and followed Jessie's led plopping herself down onto the floor on the other side of Rick's legs.

"I like your hair," Lily said by way of conversation fingering Katie's follicles for a second before Katie looked over at her with a smile thanking her and quoting some hair commercial.

"What movie?" Jessie asked after smiling stupidly at Katie's response to Lily's caressing.

"Not sure," Rick responded. "But you see that guy that's covered in blood? His hand just tried to kill him," he continued. "Things are only going to get worse for him now."

"Neat. Family entertainment," Katie whispered looking over at Jessie across Rick's knees. Jessie met her eyes and they grinned at each other.

"Looks like you've got a fan club," Eli commented standing up as the credits rolled and turning to face his dad. Lily and Grace followed his gaze looking over to Rick, who now had two sleeping girls using his legs as pillows.

"Aw," Lily said her hand rising to her mouth, clearly finding the display to cute for words. Grace looked over at her mother and rolled her eyes.

"Wakey, wakey," Rick said placing her hands on their shoulders and shaking slightly, his legs were starting to go numb. Gratuitous blinking followed this, and quick shifting in an attempt to make it seem like they weren't really sleeping at all, but they soon stopped realizing that nobody was buying their act.

"I better go," Katie mumbled still half asleep as she stood up and nearly fell back over, much to Jessie's amusement until she nearly did the same thing.

"Nonsense," Lily replied dismissively. "Why don't you just call your mom and tell her you're spending the night. We'll drop by your house in the morning and you can get your things for school."

"Then it's a sleepover," Jessie responded looking over at Katie who shrugged. Jessie smiled and turned her attention back to Lily who was handing the phone to Katie accidentally catching a look at Grace, who was glaring at her like she'd just killed her cat or something. Jessie sighed, what now?

"It's so unfair," Grace grumbled at Jessie as they stood outside the bathroom door. Jessie was waiting of Katie who was in there changing into some clothes she'd given her, but Grace was apparently just hanging around to bug the shit out of her.

"What?" Jessie asked tiredly.

"She never would have let Spencer sleepover," Grace complained. "In MY BED," she continued. Oh, someone's grapes were sour. Jessie merely shrugged at first, before then shooting Grace a smile that left no doubt it was her who ate the canary.

"So?" Grace asked suggestively a moment later, leaning towards Jessie as if they were sharing a top-secret message.

"So what?" Jessie asked tilting her head back surprised to find Grace's face so close to her own.

"So have you …" Grace began. "Are you going to…" she continued looking at Jessie expectantly.

"What?" Jessie asked her voice squeaking slightly, Grace's tone and demeanor setting her on guard.

"You know," Grace said grinning, her eyebrows rising salaciously.

"No!" Jessie responded jumping back slightly, clearly surprised and a bit agitated by Grace's suggestion. "And no," she continued staring at Grace like she'd suddenly grown a second head.

Grace smiled, a low chuckle coming out of her throat as she watched Jessie's eyes suddenly grow as wide as saucers as the reality of her situation and what Grace was implying settled in with her.

"What's so funny?" Katie asked coming out of the washroom. Seeing Grace so clearly amused and Jessie ashen-faced and nearly shaking she was almost afraid to find out. "Are you okay?" she asked Jessie reaching out to touch her shoulder, slightly surprised to feel Jessie twitch underneath her hand.

"Uh huh," Jessie responded but she seemed to still be shaking faintly and Katie didn't believe a word that was coming out of her mouth. She turned a questioning and accusing look at Grace but before she could say anything Jessie had grabbed her hand and was dragging her up the attic, yelling 'night' to Grace.

Katie finally let her eyes drift open of sighed. This was ridiculous. She was actually tired but there was absolutely no way she was going to be able to go to sleep like this.

"Maybe I should sleep on the floor," she commented into the darkness knowing that Jessie was still awake. Almost as soon as they entered the room they became hyper aware of each other, and once they got on the bed, every breath the other took was like as loud as thunder.

"No," Jessie exclaimed, "why?" she continued still clutching at her blanket.

"If you were any stiffer I think you'd have to be legally declared dead," Katie replied with a sigh, noting that Jessie hadn't moved, except for taking an occasional breath, for like fifteen minutes. "Besides, I'm gonna cramp up if I keep trying not to move."

"You can move," Jessie replied glancing over at her.

"Physically yes, I am capable of it," Katie responded meeting Jessie's eyes before turning her gaze away again.

"What does that mean?" Jessie asked.

"Maybe I should sleep on the floor," Katie said again reaching for the edge of the blanket.

"No," Jessie replied reaching over and slapping her hand away.

"You're obviously not going to be able to fall asleep with me beside you," Katie responded trying to use reason to get her way. The fact that Jessie was pressed up against her back not making accessing her reasoning center the easiest thing for her.

"I'm not the only one that's awake," Jessie pointed out slowly removing herself from Katie's back and lying back down.

"Touché," Katie conceded with a sigh. "It's just…I don't wanna do anything."

"I wasn't saying that we should," Jessie replied a touch to quickly, her conversation with Grace making her a bit jumpy about the subject. The thought of them doing stuff hadn't even entered her mind when Lily suggested that Katie sleep over, but after Grace had started talking about it, she had started thinking about, and now she couldn't stop clutching her blanket.

"No, I mean like by accident," Katie responded sighing again, choosing to ignore how quickly Jessie confirmed that she didn't want to do anything. "When I'm asleep I don't… I mean I sometimes, I have dreams … as people are known to from time to time," she continued shifting uncomfortably. "Sometimes you're in them," she went on her eyes plastered on the ceiling. "And, sometimes I toss and turn," she explained trying to keep her breathing even. "I just don't want to end up dreaming and toss and turn on you," she finished closing her eyes with a dejected exhalation. Well that was thoroughly mortifying.

"Oh," Jessie breathed out, trying not to think about how pleased she was to hear that Katie dreamed about her sometimes.

"Yeah. So I'll just…" Katie began trying to move again.

"You're not sleeping on the floor," Jessie said reaching out to stop her again. "I forbid it."

"But…" Katie started again, not quite able to make her whine inaudible, once again incredibly aware of the heat emanating from Jessie's body as she leaned over her trying to stop her from moving

"I'll take the chance," Jessie replied softly. "Besides," she continued. "If you did toss and turn, and ended up somewhere near the vicinity of me … it'd hardly be the worse thing that could happen," she continued, trying not to let on how much the idea of sleeping in Katie's arms actually appealed to her. It wasn't like she wanted to do stuff, yet, but the lying together part didn't seem so bad, in fact it seemed kind of perfect in theory.

"Really?" Katie asked, trying not to let on how pleased she was by the idea that Jessie wasn't totally opposed to the concept of long term snuggling, show in her voice.

"Yeah," Jessie responded simply.

"Alright, I'll stay," Katie acquiesced, sighing grandly.

"I'll know if you're actually asleep," Jessie added, once she felt Katie shift and settle down again.

Katie laughed softly in response. Then deciding to just go with the flow asked, "would it really make a difference?"

"Probably not," Jessie admitted softly, and then she flipped around with her back to Katie drawing the blanket around her before muttering 'goodnight'.

"Night," Katie replied a smile spreading across her face. It was a night that couldn't help but be good.

Part 8

Karen's House – A Week Later

"You didn't have to do this," Karen said stepping back out of Judy's way as her friend moved across the kitchen to reach for the plates. After a conversation they'd had earlier that week, Judy had declared that she was going to come over and cook some real food, after all of the take-out they'd been living off of since Karen returned home. Karen had protested at first, but eventually Judy's promises of food that didn't come out of anything Styrofoam won her over.

"I know," Judy replied turning around to face her with a little smile. "I wanted to. Now gracefully accept, and call your brats for dinner," she continued moving into the dining room to set the table.

"Thank you," Karen said her voice teasing as she headed for the stairs. "Really," she continued more seriously.

"You're very welcome," Judy replied, and then turned back to her task as Karen set off up the stairs. It was still difficult for her to move around, and just moving around the house tired her out to a degree that she never would have imagined possible before, but she was getting better. And she was able to walk with only a cane now, so she had gotten back some of that independence she had sorely missed during the apex of her injury.

"Dinner ready?" Eli asked popping his head out of his door, his nose twitching as the smells from downstairs wafted up to him.

"Uh huh," Karen responded. "Is Jessie in her room?"

"Yeah, she got a phone call twenty-minutes so she's probably still squealing away," he answered pushing out of his room and heading for the stairs. "You'll be okay?" he asked wondering if she'd need his help down.

"Yeah," Karen nodded smiling at him. "Go ahead," and with that he disappeared down the stairs.

"No, you shut up," Jessie said laughing into the receiver. "No. No. No you shut up," she repeated again giggling as her mother approached her partially open door. Knowing that she probably shouldn't but unable to help herself, Karen propped herself up against the wall outside Jessie's room, listening to the happy sounds that drifted into the hallway, a smile working it's way across her face at hearing her daughter so obviously happy.

"You do more," Jessie went on, her voice teasing. "Hmmm," she continued thoughtfully. "Maybe. I said maybe," she went on drawing out the last word wickedly. Karen placed her hand over her mouth, overcome by the sheer preciousness of the scene. She remembered what it was like to be in High School, and how she had had similar conversations with boys from school just like the one Jessie was having now. "Hey," she heard Jessie exclaim, jarring her back to the present. "Yeah, I guess I do," she continued oblivious to her mother's presence.

Beginning to fell bad about her eavesdropping, Karen silently repositioned herself to make it seem as if she was just coming down the hall, and called out Jessie's name, pushing her door open as she did.

Jessie flipped over looking at her doorway to see her mother standing there. "I gotta go," Jessie said. "Dinner. Judy. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Stop it," she said, pausing every few second's apparently answering questions from the person on the other end. "I gotta go. I mean it, she's standing right here. Okay. Bye," Jessie finished clicking off the phone and standing up. "I'll be right down, I just gotta wash my hands," she said looking over her mother.

"Okay, everything's set up so just come down when you're done," Karen responded backing out of the doorway to let her by. Then smiling as Jessie bounded down the hallway she made her way down the stairs.

"She was still on the phone?" Judy asked raising an eyebrow as Karen took her seat. "Who was she talking to?"

"Tad," Karen responded smiling as she reached for her silverware.

"I don't think so," Eli mumbled derisively around a mouth full of food.

"What do you mean?" Karen asked looking up at him curiously. She had been certain that with the way Jessie had been acting it had to have been Tad she was taking to. "Is she seeing someone else?"

"I don't think so, but that's not what I meant," Eli replied looking up for a second before turning back to food. "It was a girl on the other end. Probably Katie," he continued. "All I ever hear or see anymore is the two of them laughing and flitting around," he went on rolling his eyes as he reached for his drink. "Is there anything more annoying than teenage girls?"

"You didn't seem to mind them two years ago," Judy, commented grinning at Eli, who had the good graces to nod, conceding her point.

"She's been over there a lot too?" Karen asked looking over at Eli, her mind still wrestling with her earlier interpretation of Jessie's tone and the information that she had been talking to Katie, not Tad.

"Yeah," Eli muttered as he chewed. "I swear to god, Dad's going to have to convert the storage closet into a room for her or something, she's over there more than I am," he continued.

"She's so cool though," Judy said piping up. "I was talking to her about the new Victoria's Secret line, and she was so right about like everything. I went back, and pg. 56 really was probably the most unappealing thing I'd ever seen. The convent page," Judy continued chuckling to herself as she thought about it.

"Yeah, fabulous," Karen replied, forcing a smile onto her face. She was distracted, there was something nagging at her, scratching at the back of her mind trying to dig through, but she couldn't put her finger on it. She just knew that there was something that she should be getting but that just kept eluding her. However, before she ponder the situation anymore Jessie came tumbling down the stairs throwing herself into the free seat, drawing Karen's attention outwards once more.

Part 9

Jessie rested her head against the car door watching the houses and trees streak by absently, her mind pleasantly blank as they drove quietly to school. At least it was quiet for a while.

"Well?" Grace asked expectantly looking over at Jessie's oblivious form.

"Did I miss something?" Jessie asked tiredly, turning her head to look at Grace. "We weren't talking, so what could you possibly be 'welling'?"

"The dance is on Friday," Grace replied reaching out to play with the radio for a second. "So?" she continued when Jessie didn't reply.

"So what?" Jessie asked sighing deeply as she turned to look at Grace once more.

"Are you going?" Grace asked slowly, carefully pronouncing each word as if she thought that Jessie needed to get hooked on phonics.

"No," Jessie responded drawing her word out as painfully slowly as Grace had.

"Why not?" Grace asked scowling at her as she rounded a corner.

"Why do you care?" Jessie asked irritably turning her attention back the passing scenes outside the window. Just cause she had asked Grace for advice like once in her whole life it didn't mean that she wanted to talk about everything that had ever happened to her in excruciating detail with the girl.

"I don't," Grace replied in a similarly cranky tone. "Do whatever you want," she continued her tone clearly conveying that she thought that whatever it was Jessie had decided was plainly wrong.

"Fine," Jessie replied standoffishly. "I will."

"Fine," Grace muttered back, leaving the only the low sounds of radio to fill the car. "Why aren't you going?"

"Dances are stupid," Jessie responded. "All everyone ever does is stand around in corners with their friends and make stupid requests to the DJ so that they can go back to the corners with their friends and laugh about it like idiots," she continued huffily.

"You don't want anyone to know that you're dating her do you?" Grace accused glancing over at Jessie. "That's why you let everyone go on thinking that it's Tad who's calling you in the middle of the night, and why you always shut up whenever mom brings up the dance," she continued gaining steam now. "You don't want to soil you're perfect little image."

"You don't have any idea what you're talking about," Jessie said softly, her tone all serious and vaguely hostile. "You're always going on about how I think I'm so perfect and blah, blah, sour grapes, but you're the one who thinks you're gods gift or something. All knowing, all seeing Grace Manning," she continued softly, her tone bitterly sarcastic. "Sell it to someone else," she went on brushing some hair out of her face. "You're no better at this than I am."

Grace opened her mouth to respond, but then clamped down stopping herself – for once – from saying the first thing that popped into her head. The last thing that she wanted was a repeat of what had happened between them in the bathroom weeks ago. Not only did she not want to see that look on Jessie's face again, she didn't really think that she could sit through another one of Jessie's verbal lashings either.

"You do whatever you want," Grace said quietly as she parked the car and popped the keys out of the ignition. "But she wants to go," she continued getting out of the car and turning on the automatic locks. "*She's* proud of you," she finished closing the door on Jessie who remained seated inside, her eyes following Grace's rapidly retreating figure.

Dr. Rosenfeld's (a.k.a. Therapy)

"So I guess she's sort of right," Jessie admitted reluctantly. "But she's not right for the reason she thinks she's right for. She just kind of stumbled across apart of right by accident," Jessie mumbled looking over at Dr. Rosenfeld grouchily as if admitting that Grace could be even a little right about anything was on par with being kicked in the crotch.

"So you are a little ashamed of your relationship with Katie?" Dr. Rosenfeld asked, taking off his glasses and wiping them slowly.

"No!" Jessie responded quickly. "It's not … I mean it's more complicated than that. It's just that if they know, about us, they're going to start asking questions and I don't think I have the answers to those questions. I mean, I'm with Katie, and that's great, and I really, really like her. I know that. But I don't know what that means, you know? And they'll want to know, and if I can't tell them then …"

"They'll send you to therapy?" Dr. Rosenfeld asked with a gentle smile, which Jessie returned.

"Do you know what I mean?" she continued a moment later though. "It's like I'm confused about the big picture, the big picture's like a fuzzy dot to me."

"Why do you think you have to worry about the big picture now?" Dr. Rosenfeld asked glasses back on now.

"Because they'll be concerned with the big picture," Jessie responded with a sigh. "And I don't know what to tell them. I like Katie so I'm obviously a little gay. But how gay? Can you measure gay? Am I completely gay, or like gay lite? Just one calorie," she continued slumping in her chair. "I mean, I've heard all of that sexuality is fluid, it's like a colour scale or a pie chart and stuff, but…" she began trailing off, her eyes drifting around the room.

"But what?" Dr. Rosenfeld asked trying to coax her attention back to him.

"I don't think that *they* know that stuff," Jessie replied her eyes crinkling at the corners as her features drew together worriedly.

"You feel like they want something from you that you can't give them?" Dr. Rosenfeld questioned though it was really more of a statement.

"I guess that pretty much sums it up," Jessie replied glumly. "All of it maybe," she continued thinking about that 'perfect' wedding dress her mother had shown her when she was six and had told her she was saving for her 'perfect' wedding.

"Nobody has all the answers Jessie," Dr. Rosenfeld replied watching her carefully. With Jessie you could almost learn more about her from the expressions that flowed across her features than from her words. "No matter what they tell you, or how old or young they are. Except for me," he went on earning a tiny smile for his last crack. "If you wait until you're absolutely a hundred percent certain about something, to talk to your parents about it, then you're all just going to have to get very comfortable playing charades together, because no matter what, no matter when there's always going to be doubts. Nothing is ever one hundred percent. All we can hope for is a sincere belief, and certainty in our hearts if not our heads."

Jessie looked up and over at him upon hearing that, her features relaxing and her eyes clouding over, getting a distant look in them as she considered what he said.

Part 10

School – Monday Afternoon

Jessie jerked backwards suddenly finding a foreign object being thrust her face. Regaining her composure once she had separated herself from the object she turned around to see Katie standing slightly behind her smiling. She was holding out something in front of Jessie's face. Turning back to look at what Katie was holding she saw a flower in front of her.

"You can take it Billie, it's for you," Katie said speaking for the first time since sneaking up on her.

"What is it?" Jessie responded taking the object from Katie's hands.

"It's a paper flower," Katie replied thinking that was pretty obvious. "I made it in art class. I almost had a bouquet, but there was an … incident, shall we say, and I was only able to save this," she continued. "Do you like it?"

"I love it," Jessie said smiling over at her.

"Then those were tax dollars well spent," Katie replied sounding just as delighted as she felt. "Don't forget to put it in water," she went on receiving a slap on her shoulder for her trouble. "I was just trying to be helpful," Katie laughed spinning away from Jessie coming at a stop at a nearby locker.

"Trying to be an idiot is more like it," Jessie replied smiling as she fastened the arts and craft flower to one of the pockets on her backpack. "What do you think?" she asked looking over at Katie once she was done.

"I think you're dating a cheapskate," the girl replied grinning as Jessie rolled her eyes at her. "You want a ride home?" Kate continued a second later. "My parents finally let me take the car, so how about I impress you with how responsible and adult like my driving is?"

"Responsible and adult like?" Jessie asked skeptically, thinking that whenever someone gratuitously tooted their own horn there was usually nothing to toot at.

"Fine. Competent," Katie replied rolling her eyes. "But I promise, I'll take good care of you."

"Alright," Jessie agreed smiling. She was actually pleased by the offer; it meant that they'd have some time alone together.

"Then it's a car pool," Katie responded as the bell rang. "I'll meet you at your locker after 8th," and with that she was off down the hall.

Jessie looked down at the flower attached to her bag, giving one last smile before turning and heading into her own classroom.

"So," Jessie began tugging at her seatbelt self-consciously. "It's almost Friday, huh?" she continued wincing at her own stupidity.

"Yeah, it's coming up," Katie responded glancing over at her before returning her eyes to the road. Jessie had already freaked out once on the drive for her 'look, no hands' trick, so she was trying to redeem herself. "Right after Thursday I think."

Jessie looked over at her, but chose to ignore that last comment. She kind of deserved it. "So, the dance is on Friday," she began, picking imaginary lint off of her pants.

"Yeah," Katie replied carefully, wondering where Jessie was going with this. "I was talking to Russell during 5th, and he said that Grace has gone like nuts with it. Apparently she's got Jamie K. to DJ," she continued conversationally. "He said it sounds lush."

"Yeah, she's been like totally obsessing over planning it," Jessie replied. "It's been like she forgot to take her medication … or started taking medication, I'm not sure which, for like the last week," she went on shaking her head at the memories of Grace totally losing her shit and running around the house like a chicken with her head cut off. "So … youwannago?"

"What was that?" Katie asked her eyebrows drawing together as she tried to decipher Jessie's word jam.

"Do you wanna go?" Jessie asked again calming herself. "To the dance?"

"Do you want to?" Katie asked sensing Jessie's anxiety, but not really knowing which of the million possibilities was causing it. "Cause if you're just asking cause you think I wanna go, but you don't really want to go, then we don't have to go. Cause you know, I've got Jenga Plus, and that's always a good time."

"I wanna go," Jessie responded sincerely. "I wanna go with you."

"And I wanna go with you," Katie replied a huge smile spreading across her face, relief flushing happily through her body.

"Okay then," Jessie replied smiling herself. That wasn't so hard.

"What's that?" Karen asked staring at the back of Jessie's bag as her daughter tossed it on the counter and went to the fridge. Jessie turned around to see what her mother was taking about and shook her head.

"It's a paper flower mom," she responded.

"It's beautiful," Karen said tracing the edges of it with her finger. "Did you make it?"

"Katie did," Jessie responded absently unscrewing a water bottle. "It's nice, huh?" she continued smiling. "Apparently there was a whole bouquet, but there was an incident and the rest of them met a horrible fate. Mine is only survivor," she continued almost blissfully, completely oblivious to the keen expression on her mothers face as she regarded her. "I think I'll call it Rainbow."

"That was nice of her," Karen murmured watching Jessie closely. "To give it to you."

"Can we go shopping?" Jessie asked bored with the previous conversation thread her mind flashing forward to the dance on Friday. "Pacing ourselves of course," Jessie added remembering that while Karen was moving freely now, she still didn't have the stamina she had before the accident.

"Sure," Karen responded thrown off a bit by the abrupt subject change. "Did you have something special in mind?"

"I don't know," Jessie said thoughtfully twirling to lean against the counter. "What do you think I should wear?" she asked curiously.

"Wear for what?" Karen asked wondering if she had blanked out for part of the conversation, and wondering when Jessie suddenly got concerned about what she would wear for anything. She'd seemed completely ambivalent towards getting dressed up for her first date with Tad, almost pissed off that people kept bringing it up – 'If I was going to kill myself, people would ask me what I was going to wear' – so this sudden interest in what she was going to wear somewhere peaked Karen's interest.

"The dance," Jessie responded straightening up, trying to act as if she hadn't pulled that answer out of her ass. She suddenly became aware of how she was behaving, the euphoria from the car ride finally fading, and she decided that it would be prudent to stop acting like a twelve year old at an Nsync concert. Even though Katie was way dreamy.

"What dance?" Karen asked with a touch of exasperation in her voice.

"The one on Friday," Jessie replied breezily. "You know, the one Grace planned. I told her I'd go," she continued playing with the water bottle as half-truth tumbled out past her lips.

"Oh," Karen said not really knowing anything about the dance that Grace had planned. "That's nice. It's good that the two of you are getting along better," she continued remembering that she hadn't heard Jessie complaining about the other girl quite as bitterly lately. "Do you have a date?" she inquired nonchalantly.

"I'm just going to go with Katie," Jessie responded missing the sharp breath Karen took and the look Karen shot in her direction upon hearing that. "It's kind of an informal thing," she continued realizing how that must have sounded, even without seeing her mothers look. "You know, just kind of show up. Everyone's probably going to stay on their own side of the room anyway … but the DJ is suppose to be good."

"Well that sounds like fun," Karen responded feeling a bit faint. "Why don't you go finish you're homework and then we can head out to the mall," she continued desperate for some alone time to stop her head from spinning.

"Cool," Jessie responded brightly, and with that grabbed her backpack and made her way up the stairs, failing to note how Karen's eyes followed her until she was out of sight.

Propping her elbows down on the kitchen counter Karen let out a sigh she'd been holding in almost since Jessie entered the kitchen and closed her eyes breathing in deeply. Everything could have been perfectly innocent, it could be nothing, but there was something inside of her that was telling her that it was something. Her mind drifted back now that she had acknowledged the seed that had been growing in the back of her mind since dinner with Judy. She recalled the conversation she'd had with Jessie about how she hadn't felt an attraction towards Tad, and how Jessie had seemed to come to life once she had become friends with Katie. And she recalled the conversation they'd had in the hospital about how Jessie had learned a certain 'person' had liked her more than she thought and she hadn't known how she felt about it. And that time she had walked into Jessie's room to find the two of them holding hands, and million and two other looks and glances and incidents that she hadn't taken the time to consider.

She sighed again, her head tilting to the side as she considered the phone hanging on the wall.

"Karen," Rick said surprised, tossing his pencil down onto his desk as he leaned back in his chair, wondering what he had done this time.

"I ah, was just calling to let you know that I'm going to take Jessie shopping for the dance, so you don't need to worry about that," Karen responded, her mind shooting off in a hundred different directions as she tried to consider the best way to go about getting the answers she desperately needed.

"Dance?" Rick asked sounding confused.

"Yeah," Karen replied wondering how he could not know when his stepdaughter had planned it. "Jessie said Grace was in charge of it."

"Oh," Rick replied. "That dance. I didn't know Jessie was going, she'd said that maybe she was, but that was weeks ago, and she sounded like she was just saying that to get the conversation off her, and she hadn't mentioned anything about it since then, so I didn't know that she was actually going."

"Well, she is," Karen, replied, not really caring to hear his inner monologue on the subject. "So Grace planned it, huh? Is she the head of some committee or something?"

"I guess maybe on the board of directors or something," Rick replied. "It's for the Gay/Straight Alliance, she joined a while back. That crazy drama teacher is in charge of it though."

"Gay/Straight Alliance?" Karen asked weakly. "How progressive," she continued biting her lip. "So girls will be going with each other …and so on," Karen continued Jessie's words ringing through her head 'I'm just going to go with Katie. I'm just going to go with Katie. I'm just going to go with Katie' over and over again like it wanted to go to the bathroom on a long car trip. "Sorry, what was that?"

"I said I guess so," Rick replied wondering if Karen had recently taken any medication. "I don't really know, but I would think so. Grace just keeps on asking us what it matters and saying that people should be able to date whoever they want or there's no point to living whenever we ask, so it's been a dead subject lately."

"Okay," Karen said her voice alarming chipper, now frantic to get off the phone with Rick. "Well, bye."

"Bye," Rick responded staring ahead completely befuddled.

Part 11

Karen's House – Thursday Night

Karen stood at the doorway to the living room, looking at the TV from her position just outside the door. Jessie was in there watching TV, and when she had passed by the image of a shimming half dressed woman on the screen had sucked her in. Hearing a sound behind her in the kitchen she quickly turned around.

"What's she watching?" Karen asked flicking her head towards the living room. Stepping to the side slightly so that he could see inside the other room Eli turned back around to face her.

"Shakira," he replied unconcerned as he pulled on his shoes.

"What's she doing?" Karen asked oddly captivated by the blonde woman's pelvic gyrations.

"Rain dance?" Eli suggested straightening up. "Be back later." And with that he was gone, leaving Karen back to her contemplation of Jessie's contemplation of shaking half naked women who were apparently ready whenever, wherever.

"Hey honey," Karen said finally deciding to actually enter the room instead of merely peeping.

"Hey," Jessie replied lifting her feet up so that Karen could sit down and then lowering them back down onto her lap.

"What are you up to?" Karen asked trying to keep her tone nice and light.

"Nothing," Jessie responded. "You can tell by the part where I don't do anything." Karen didn't reply, her expression still focused on something in front of her. "That was a joke, you can laugh," Jessie continued staring at her mother. "Or you can ignore me completely and stare at the wall. Mom!" Jessie said rising up her foot and wiggling it in front of Karen's face. "Hello!"

Karen caught Jessie's wiggling foot and carefully lowered it back down to her lap, apologizing, saying that the TV just distracted her for a moment.

"Could you turn that off for a minute, honey?" Karen continued a second later. "I'd like to talk to you about something."

Jessie hesitated for a moment, looking between the television and her mother, truly torn about what she could do. While it was true that there was nothing good on at the moment, the television also 'didn't want to talk to her for a moment'. Jessie had a thing with the 'I just want to talk to you for moment' cause it never ended up well. Finally, realizing that she didn't really have a choice in the matter she picked up the remote and turned the television off, turning to face her mother with a look of trepidation on her face.

"What?" she asked suspiciously.

"I just wanted to tell you, that you can tell me anything," Karen started, her tone serious but full of tenderness. "No matter what it is. If there's anything on your mind, or anything that's happening with you that's important to you, you can always come and talk to me about it. You're my daughter and nothing, absolutely nothing in this world could ever make me stop loving you. You'll always be my baby," Karen continued staring at Jessie's confused little angelic face trying to remain somewhat composed.

"I love you too," Jessie said slowly, eyeing her mother uncertainly. She didn't know where that had come from, and frankly it kind of creeped her out. It was like someone was dying or something.

"Is there anything you want to tell me?" Karen asked realizing that she was going to have to lead Jessie if she wanted to actually have a conversation.

"About what?" Jessie asked. She was starting to feel suspicious again.

"About anything," Karen replied, noting the slightly defensive tone in Jessie's voice.

"I don't know," Jessie responded wondering what her mother was getting at. "I guess inflation kind of sucks."

"Does Katie think inflation sucks," Karen responded.

"I don't know," Jessie said slowly, kind of thrown by her mother bringing Katie up. "I would think so. I mean doesn't everyone?"

Karen nodded her head, letting the room fall into silence for a moment as she thought about how things were going so far. Or not going as the case was. Sighing she realized that there could be no beating around the bush with this, if they were going to talk about what was happening, then she was going to have to be direct with Jessie. She was the adult after all.

"So," Karen began a moment later, one of her hands tickling Jessie's feet and making her squirm. "Is she your girlfriend?"

She felt Jessie's body go rigid the moment the question came out of her mouth, and Jessie pulled her feet away, digging them into the couch cushions away from Karen's touch.

"What do you mean?" Jessie asked now sitting with her knees tucked up against her body.

"Is she your girlfriend?" Karen asked again.

"What do you mean by girlfriend?" Jessie asked. "It's a versatile term with many and various implications from use to use."

"Is she who you were talking about?" Karen clarified. "In the hospital?"

Jessie eyes dropped from her mothers face down into a deep study of her partially covered feet. She truly hadn't anticipated being thrust into a situation like this. She'd figured if, when, they talked about her and Katie it'd be because she brought it up, or someone walked in on them doing something. Never in a million years had she figured that her mother would actually figure it out for herself. Or that if she did, she would actually want to talk about it.

"Um," was what she managed to choke out a few seconds later.

Karen took a deep breath at this response from Jessie and reached out her hand placing her hand on her daughter's knee. It was true then, in some way or another they were involved romantically.

"It's okay," Karen, said softly, her thumb moving in what she hoped was a soothing pattern on her knee, her mind racing in thought about the implications. Even though she thought that she had seen signs, even though over the past few days she had read books and felt that she was suitably prepared to deal with any eventuality, a little part of her had always assumed that it wasn't true. That she was just being paranoid as usual and Jessie would glare at her for a moment before shaking her head and telling her she was so stupid.

"Is it?" Jessie asked, her voice small as she tentatively glanced up at her mother a few seconds after Karen's gentle words. "Or are you just saying that, and really inside you want to cry, and think you did something wrong?" she continued staring at her mother intently.

"It is," Karen replied meeting Jessie's gaze and holding it for a moment before continuing. She was lying of course, the tight feeling in the pit of her stomach and the burning in her eyes as she struggled to hold back tears, indicated to her strongly that she was in fact not okay with anything. But that was her problem to struggle with, not Jessie's, and she truly believed that given more time to adjust, she would be okay with it, and it was this belief that allowed her to continue. "I'm not going to give you the speech where I tell you that it's going to be a harder road, or that it's not what I would've chosen for you," she continued, "because I think that you probably have a better idea about all of that than I do."

Jessie merely made some sound in the back of her throat that vaguely sounded like an affirmative, and then rested her head down on her knees.

"And I'm not going to ask if you're happy," Karen continued. "Because I can see that you are … maybe not at this moment," she admitted, "but that you have been. And I'm not going to give you my blessing, because you have it. You always have it," she finished her voice choked but full of love.

"But," Jessie mumbled around the material of her pants blinking rapidly. She knew that there was a 'but' coming.

"We have to talk about some things," Karen responded stealing herself for what was about to come. After the talk they'd had about Jessie's lack of feelings for Tad she had assumed that her daughter was just a late bloomer, and that she would be spared having to have this conversation for a few years. She was wrong. "Especially with this dance coming up," she continued knowing very well what generally went on after dances in backseats and motel rooms.

Jessie was silent for a moment, then her head shot up as she realized where this conversation was most likely going. "Oh god, we're not going to have the sex talk are we?" she asked clearly horrified by the prospect of having to discuss anything like this with her mother. "Cause we had it already in gym class. Like three years in a row."

"You had the generic sex talk, the manual in the seat pocket talk," Karen told her blithely. "Now, now the captain is speaking."

"I don't…" Jessie started shaking her head as if that would ward off what was to come.

"Have a choice? That's right," Karen responded wishing that she could just leave it at that, but the good parent inside of her knowing that they had to talk and set down some ground rules. "Now," she said taking a deep cleansing breath. "Your father mentioned a sleepover a few weeks ago," she started really wishing that there were a paper bag around her somewhere. "Have you and…"

"No!" Jessie exclaimed in a mortified half sob. "Can we PLEASE not talk about this?" she went on her voice rising with distress, before she buried her face down behind her knees.

"Oh, thank god," Karen breathed out clearly relieved to a degree that she didn't have words to express, that her baby hadn't yet been deflowered. Quite frankly she wasn't certain she would have been able to handle learning that Jessie had … with her nerves already so frazzled. "And no."

Jessie sighed again, but at which statement Karen wasn't sure.

"First, no more sleepovers," she continued, her face an authoritative mask when Jessie's head snapped up ready to protest. However, seeing the look on her mother's face she glumly nodded waiting for Karen to continue. "At either house," Karen added as an after thought realizing the loophole she may have lain open.

"Are you going to tell dad?" Jessie asked ignoring Karen's addition to rule one.

"I won't tell him, no," Karen responded slowly. "If he doesn't figure it out on his own, then that's something you should tell him," she continued struggling to get the words out as it went against every fiber of her being. She wanted to tell Rick, she wanted to point and poke at him, and ask him how he couldn't know what was happening, and many other things that she could feel but not articulate. She wanted someone to share her confusion. But the books had said that this was the best way to go about handling things, and Karen figured that they knew what they were talking about. And it had to be about Jessie, it always had to be about Jessie. "However, I would suggest that you tell him, but I'm not going to force you too until you're ready," she went on. "That being said, if you don't tell him, do not expect to be able to get away with anything over there that you can't here. Because despite what the after school specials tell you, divorced parents still DO talk to each other."

Jessie merely nodded, relieved at least to know that she wouldn't be forced into talking to her dad about it yet. "What's second?" she asked finally resigning herself to Karen's rules.

"Um," Karen responded not quite sure where to go from here. Even though she had planned to have this conversation with Jessie, she realized at that moment for the first time how much she had truly believed that nothing would come of her questions. She hadn't even considered what she would want to do about the situation if it was true, hadn't been able to force herself to consider it. But here it was, and she was feeling quite lost, which pretty much fit the pattern of her life as of late. "I guess that thing about your dad can be second," she continued stalling for time.

"Oh," Jessie replied, chancing a glance at her mother. Karen was sitting with her back ramrod straight and her eyes facing downwards to her lap. She was playing with the fingers of her left hand, and Jessie swore that she could see her shaking faintly. "Okay then," she continued with a sigh. Despite her words, Jessie could tell that Karen wasn't really fine with anything but was merely doing her best to make her think that she was.

She tried to curl her body tighter around itself, but she had no more room left to maneuver on that front.

"Three," Karen continued feeling a desperate need to lighten the mood in the room a bit, for her sake and for Jessie's. "Don't do anything your brother would do," she dictated with a smile even though her words were a bit shaky. Jessie lifted up her head at this, staring a Karen for a moment before tentatively grinning, then smiling full-blown she recalled all of Eli's girl problems.

"Can she still come over?" Jessie asked softly, the worry in her voice that she may not be able to spend time with Katie anymore painfully evident to Karen. She realized that Jessie must have been picking up on some of her anxiety and had to struggle to suppress the urge to sigh. She was doing a wonderful job of this.

"Of course," Karen responded trying to keep her voice light to alleviate some of her daughters concern. "But not when I'm not home."

"But Eli…" Jessie started to protest forgetting the supposed delicacy of her situation for a moment, the clear injustice of the statement catching the ire of her teenage indignation.

"Rule number three," Karen retorted interrupting Jessie's objection.

"Fine," Jessie mumbled shooting Karen a disgruntled look nonetheless, before continuing. "So you're really okay with this?" she asked still not sounding at all convinced. "I mean what about…" she started say trailing off gradually lost in thought.

"What about what?" Karen asked gently.

"Your plans and stuff?" Jessie replied almost inaudibly. That fear that she would disappoint her parents somehow, that she wouldn't be good enough for them, now raring it's monstrous head once again, as every conversation she'd ever had with her mother about weddings, and boys, and children played loudly in her head, mocking her with her failure.

"The plans haven't changed," Karen, responded softly, though her heart was heavy, desperately waiting for the day that she could truly believe that, "just the generic figure in them with you. It's more shapely now," she went on trying not to think of how much it actually hurt her that the figure had changed, and getting mad at herself for being hurt about it.

Jessie looked over at her and smiled. "Shapely?" she asked highly amused, Karen's antiquated choice of words momentarily breaking through the dark cloud that had been hanging over her head since they had started talking.

"Shapely," Karen confirmed, realizing that she must have emitted some kind of uncool mom sound into the world, thereby causing Jessie to internally mock her. If that was the case, so be it, she had made peace with the idea.

"Can we go down to the speakeasy later to hang with all the cool cats?" Jessie asked grinning madly through the occasional sniffle.

"That's going to cost you," Karen said turning around to face Jessie an evil smile working it's way across her face, her cloud momentarily parting as well.

"How much?" Jessie asked with some trepidation, the tension that had been running through her body from the beginning of the conversation slowly beginning to ease now. She was glad, she hadn't realized how tense she was, she had certainly been only moments away from rupturing something.

"A tickle and three kisses," Karen said solemnly, willing to let the stress of their conversation slide away for the moment.

"Oh come on," Jessie whined as Karen reached out for her with outstretched wiggling fingers. "This is like cruel and usual punishment," she cried out as her mother tickled her.

"Where did you get your law degree?" Karen asked laughing as Jessie squealed under her fingers.

"Bought it off the internet," Jessie replied trying to roll herself off the couch so that she could make a getaway, but she soon found herself trapped and just gave into the inevitable. Sometimes it sucked being the baby of the family, but these were just the sacrifices she was destined to make.

Part 12

Katie took Jessie's hand into hers; drawing it upwards against her face, placing a soft kiss on Jessie's palm before looking down into her big, blue, terrified eyes. "We don't have to go in," Katie said softly, her voice nonetheless carrying in the empty hallways making it almost painfully loud. "Seriously," she continued. "It's like an Oscar, being asked is enough."

"But everyone wants to win," Jessie responded stepping closer to Katie, pressing their bodies together sighing gently as she felt Katie's arm wrap around her. "I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't want to go."

"Okay," Katie whispered, her hands moving across Jessie's back slowly. It was one of those times where she just needed to give Jessie a moment. To sort out or accept whatever it was she was feeling at the moment. She had learned, as they spent more time together how deeply everything affected Jessie, how sensitive she was to everything around her. She herself was deeply affected by things as well, her mother's depression and the stress it was causing within her family, hadn't left her as unaffected as she tried to project. But she had learned somewhere down the road how to push it aside, how to put on a brave face and march like a good little soldier. But Jessie lived in a glass house where everything visible, every wound, and every scar there for the world to see if they cared to look. She sometimes felt about as deep as a puddle around Jessie, but she loved that about her. She had learned that it sometimes meant that it took Jessie longer to settle things, that sometimes you just needed to give her time and quiet. So she held her, and waited for her to move.

"Ready?" Katie asked feeling Jessie shift in her arms and begin to move out of them, stepping back.

"Yeah," Jessie said reaching out for Katie's hand, grasping it in hers.

"Can I borrow her for a minute or twenty?" Katie asked coming up behind Jessie, though her gaze was focused on Grace whom her girlfriend had been talking to. "They're about to play our song," she continued turning her head to face Jessie.

"We have a song?" Jessie asked smiling as Katie stepped into view.

"You'll see," Katie responded cryptically. "I had to promise the DJ my first born, so we've got to get out there and enjoy it."

"Sounds serious, you better go," Grace responded smiling at the display as she heard a few soft cords start up in the background. Jessie smiled back at her and then Katie took her by the hand, leading her out to the dance floor.

"Billie Holiday?" Jessie asked smiling as Katie wrapped her arms around her waist pulling her closer.

"God Bless the Child," Katie responded resting her forehead against Jessie's as a smile etched it's way across her features. "That's got her own, that's got her own," Katie whispered brushing her lips across Jessie's.

Jessie smiled as they pulled apart burying her head in the crook of Katie's neck as they swayed to the soulful sounds of Billie Holiday. The room faded, the voices of the others in the room faded, the lights and everything else except the voice and the feel of Katie against her faded into the background. And Jessie took a deep breath, inhaling Katie's scent letting the sensations wash over her and carry her away to a magical place covered in gardenias where the sun shone on your face all day long. So this was love, she thought to herself as she felt Katie's cheek press against her own, so this is love.

"Billie?" Katie whispered softly into her air as they moved together. "Sing for me?"

Jessie pulled back her hand shaking her head slightly as she tried to get her hand to stop trembling. She didn't know why but she just couldn't stop tingling, it was as if every nerve ending in her body was on fire, and to her consternation she learned that that led to a loss of fine motor control. She'd been standing in front of the punch bowl trying to get a drink for over a minute now.

"That was quite a show," Jessie turned her head at the sound of the unfamiliar voice beside her. Her eyes focusing on the figure she soon recognized as Sarah Grasser. "You're a big woman on campus now aren't you?" Sarah continued when Jessie merely stared at her. "The newest thing. Katie's new hoola hoop."

"Excuse me," Jessie said moving to take a step back. The last thing she wanted to do was talk to Sarah and her lemon juice thereby blighting her otherwise perfect night.

"You don't get it do you?" Sarah asked stepping in front of her effectively blocking her path.

"Move," Jessie said softly, her eyes meeting Sarah's. "Now."

"She's like a three year old. Always looking for some new, shiny toy … that she'll forget about three months later," Sarah continued holding Jessie's gaze and not moving so much as a centimeter. "She's like the sun, shining down on you, warming you until you think she'll always be there. But she won't, she'll go away and leave you shivering in the dark. It's her nature," she finished her head turning to the side, drawing Jessie's eyes with her to where a group of people who were gathered around Katie. Orbiting her.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Jessie said looking away and back over at Sarah. "She's not like that."

"Let me guess," Sarah started mockingly. "What you have together is special," she continued smiling coldly. "How did she do Sammler, huh? Poetry? Love letters?" Sarah went on, seeing Jessie's eyes flicker at the mention of love letters and smiling to herself. "Katouschka," she went on noting the look of jealously that flashed in Jessie's eyes at her use of her old nickname for Katie, "is a player. She only loves one thing, Katouschka. And if you don't think that you're going to end up being cast away into the land of misfit toys then you're not nearly as smart as everyone says you are."

"T...that's not…" Jessie started, her words catching in her mouth before she could push them out. She could feel tears beginning to well in her eyes, and fought down the sick feeling in her stomach.

"Hey, what's going on?" Katie asked coming up behind the two, resting her hand on Jessie's shoulder as she looked between the two of them, not liking what she saw at all.

"Just chatting," Sarah responded smiling callously at Katie, her smile only growing when she saw Katie's eyes narrow with displeasure.

"Why don't you go find somebody else to talk to," Katie suggested, her voice a low grumble. She couldn't believe that this was the same girl she had been friend's with only months ago, she hardly recognized Sarah anymore, like the other girl had suddenly changed personalities one night leaving this imposter in place of her friend. It killed her that they had to fight like this, but she wasn't going to let Sarah abuse Jessie because of a mistake that she had made.

"What are you? Viceroy of Sammlerland?" Sarah asked arching an eyebrow at Katie. "She can't chose who she wants to talk to," she continued her eyes flittering over to Jessie. "Do you have to ask her permission to go tinkle too?"

"Shouldn't you be off to see the Wizard? You know about that heart problem?" Katie asked her gaze practically causing Sarah's dress to start smoking. Sarah huffed in response, giving Katie and Jessie one last contemptuous look over before raising her head and walking away.

"Are you okay?" Katie asked as soon as Sarah was out of air shot, adjusting her position so that she could see Jessie's face.

"Yeah. Fine," Jessie replied straightening her shoulders, but Katie had spent enough time around her, watching her, to know that her response was utter crap.

"Alright," she responded carefully. "Then why don't we go get some fresh air?"

Part 13

"What did she say?" Katie asked worriedly looking over at Jessie. The other girl had hardly said a word to her after they left the gym, and they had already lapped the field once now in complete silence.

"Were you in love with her?" Jessie said careful to keep her tone neutral. Between the way Sarah had been acting towards her from when they first met on the play and today, and Grace's statement about how she and Katie had been madly in love with each other, Jessie was beginning to wonder if there was some truth to it. She just couldn't fathom Sarah acting the way that she was if they hadn't been together, she couldn't conceive of any other reason for the pain and anger that laced the girls every word.

"With Sarah?" Katie asked, her tone indecipherable.

"Yeah," Jessie responded quietly.

"No," Katie replied a moment later, her eyes drifting around the open field before them before she continued. "But she was. With me. At least that's what she said afterwards," she continued sighing softly. "We'd always kinda talked, but last summer … I don't know, I guess we just started hanging out more…common bond or something," she went on playing with her index finger nervously. "One night, we were down in her basement listening to music or something and she kissed me, and it felt better than any kiss I'd had before so I let her do it again. It didn't really change anything … as far as I was concerned. I liked her, but no more than my luggage," she said recalling a line from one of her favorite movies. "I guess it changed things for her though. She got attached, way attached. Way more than me. I guess I led her on, cause I'd kiss her too sometimes … but I was just playing around. I didn't realize how serious she was until after the play started. Until after I met you.

"She knew, you know, that I liked you. And that's when she started getting all pissy. I'm sure you remember," Katie continued sighing at the memory of Sarah harassing Jessie about anything she could think of whenever they were in the same room. "After one of the fittings, I took her outside to ask her what the hell she thought she was doing. I was pretty upset, I'd wanted to make a good impression," she went on shaking her head. "She started crying and yelling at me, asking if I thought she was stupid. I had no idea what she was talking about, and just asked her why she had to try and ruin things, you know, any chance I had to get to know you. She looked like I'd slapped her across the face or something, and that's when I knew that she'd been in totally different place to me on whatever it was we were doing. She walked away, and that was that," Katie finished finally gathering up the nerve to look over at Jessie.

"So you didn't get bored of her?" Jessie asked her eyes focused on the ground as it depressed under her feet.

"No," Katie said surprised. "Is that what she told you? That I used her or something?"

"She said you were a player," Jessie admitted softly. "That I was just the newest thing."

"Player?" Katie repeated incredulously, as if she didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the description. Shaking her head, she turned to glance at Jessie who was still staring at her feet as they walked along, looking no happier than when they first exited the gym. "You believed her?" Katie said softly, her stomach suddenly feeling queasy. "You're still wondering if it's true, if you're just … convenient."

"I didn't," Jessie replied immediately hearing Katie's tone. "I don't," she continued, but her denial lacked a certain conviction and Katie picked up on it, on the hesitation, on the lack of feeling behind the words.

"Do you…" Katie started coming to a stop. "How could you think that this is game for me?" she asked her voice rising, the pain she was feeling at the attack on her character, her motivations, and her feelings hitting Jessie like an arrow to the heart.

"I don't," Jessie said, her voice vehement this time as she stepped towards Katie.

Katie flinched away from Jessie taking another step back, her eyes accusing as she spoke. "But you did, you did believe her," she responded.

"It wasn't that I thought you were using me," Jessie replied stepping towards Katie again only to have the other girl take another step back. "I was just scared."

"That I was using you," Katie supplied somewhat bitterly.

"Yeah," Jessie responded matter of factly. "But it didn't really have anything to do with you. I hadn't thought about rationally or decided anything. And I didn't think that Sarah was such an upstanding citizen or something, I just," Jessie said her voice cracking with emotion. "I just got really scared, like crazy scared, that I would wake up one day … and not be your girl," she went on struggling to hold back tears. "I didn't believe it, but it freaked me anyway, cause being with you is like the best thing that's ever happened to me. And the thought … the idea of not being with you terrifies me. I mean, you're the first thing I think about when I wake up, if I wasn't already thinking about you, and when you're around like even silence is like good, and …"

"Jessie," Katie said gently taking a step forward and placing her hand on Jessie's shoulder. "Stop," she continued biting her bottom lip. "I get it. I do," she went on softly. "I…I feel the same way. About you. You're like my sun. And it's like if you ever stopped shining on me I would … I don't know, but it'd really really, really, suck."

"Really?" Jessie asked smiling through the tears that had started to run down her face as she spoke.

"Yeah," Katie responded. "Totally," and then Jessie's lips were on hers and they were kissing. Messily, hungrily, desperately bringing their lips together as they clung to one another like life preservers.

"I don't want to go back in there," Jessie said softly when they broke apart.

"Then we won't," Katie replied smiling as she took Jessie's hand into hers. "Come on."

Jessie tipped her head back, pressing her lips against the soft skin of Katie's neck and keeping them there for a minute as she felt her girlfriends low moan reverberate through her. Smiling, she turned slightly in Katie's arms and rested her head on her shoulder contentedly. After leaving the school they'd driven out to a place Katie liked to call 'her own little piece of nowhere' and gotten out of the car. Katie had left the radio on and they'd settled down on the ground, somehow coming to be in the position they were currently occupying. Katie sitting with her back leaned up against a tree, and Jessie curled up warmly in her arms. And there they sat quietly together, in their own little garden.

"Hmmm," Jessie mumbled into Katie's shoulder minutes or maybe hours after they arrived.

"What?" Katie asked, her voice sounding dreamlike and far away.

"I love this song," Jessie replied happily taking Katie's hand into her own as the music swept over her.

"Some say a heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it, you can't mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is like that ship out in mid ocean
They say that death is a tragedy
It comes once and it's over
But my only wish is for that deep dark abyss
'Cause what's the use of living with no true lover
And it's only love, and it's only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out"

A gentle evening breeze. Rustling leaves. "I think I'm in love with you."

A smile with closed eyes, pressing closer. "I was just thinking the same thing."

Part 14

School – Monday

"Hey," Jessie called back smiling before turning her attention back to Grace with a somewhat uncertain expression. That was like the tenth person that she didn't know to greet her since she'd walked into the school building that morning. "I didn't start spitting gold or something did I?" Jessie asked stepping closer to Grace unconsciously. She didn't like this newfound visibility. It was jarring.

"In a way," Grace replied watching Jessie with a touch of amusement. "It's what you get for dating the most popular girl in school, instant celebrity and a new and lower class of poser, user friends. Congratulations."

"Shouldn't it be more like the cause a major social backspace?" Jessie asked not quite able to wrap her mind around how on the planet earth dating a girl could increase her popularity. It boggled the mind. "Shouldn't I be spray painting over slurs on my locker or something?" she asked, having truly anticipated a less than enthusiastic response upon returning to school after the dance. She didn't think that there was going to be like major violence or something, but she'd expected snide comments and sideways look at least.

"Inevitably, there's going to be some asshole that's going to think it's funny or something to bother you about, but I wouldn't expect much of that. Everybody's already thought that Katie was gay for like a year and nobody gave or is likely to give a shit. It's 2002 and queer or not someone like Katie …"

"What do you mean someone like Katie?" Jessie asked not quite sure what to make of Grace's statement or tone.

"Someone beautiful and personable, with just the right touch of mystery to make everyone go 'oooh ahhhh'," Grace replied shortly. "Adoration is like in her DNA or something, when the doctor let her mother hold her for the first time he probably told her to start preparing for house party's, and when she got dumped in the room with the other babies she got like invited to a kegger like as soon as the nurse left," she continued. "Plus, it's a universally known fact that dating cool makes you cool. So as long as the golden girl, is your girl you better get used to the celebrity," Grace finished wishing that she had to adjust to problems like Jessie's. Oh, my significant other is breathtakingly beautiful and popular, and would crawl fifty miles over broken glass to sweat in my shadow, and everybody loves me and I just won a million dollars and discovered a cure for cancer. Woe is me, Grace thought to herself sullenly.

"But I haven't changed," Jessie pointed out in what could be argued to be a whine if one cared to argue about such things.

"But you have. Over the weekend you became like ninety percent more interesting. Because as far as everyone's concerned if Katie sees something in you, then there must be something worth seeing," Grace replied running out of steam to pep talk Jessie into liking popularity. "You're in. Enjoy it," she finished trying not to sound as bitter as she was starting to feel. "Later," and with that she took off down the hall to find her class, or a big hole, whichever she came across first.

"How could you do this to me?" Tad whispered harshly flinging Katie's hand off of his shoulder and backing them up underneath the stairs away from prying eyes. "Everyone knows," he continued whispering. "I'm a fucking joke!"

"I didn't DO anything," Katie responded defensively, taken back by his response. "You had your chance, she didn't like you," she went on in a like tone. "You had every opportunity. Hell, I helped set you up!"

Tad sighed in acknowledgement of the fact that Katie really couldn't be blamed for Jessie not wanting to date him, after all it wasn't like he was going to consider major surgery for her or anything. But that didn't mean she was off the hook. "You could have told me at least," he said running an agitated hand through his hair. "I still thought I had a chance…I… Russell's been harassing me ever since the dance. I mean do you have any idea what it's like for the entire school to know some chick stole your girlfriend?" he said getting worked up again.

"Oh my god," Katie exclaimed. "I didn't steal anything. She's not a fucking VCR!"

"You don't even get it do you?" Tad asked pissed off by Katie's attempt at comedy. "I'm on the football team!"

"What?" Katie whispered back at him totally confused. "The football team? Oh, hi left field nice to see you too. What are you talking about?" she continued peevishly.

"I'm …" Tad started agitatedly, he's eyes scanning the hallways. "I…" he said, stopping abruptly, his eyes focused behind Katie.

"You're what?" Katie asked turning around to see what had distracted him and spotting Jessie moving towards them.

"I'm going," he muttered shooting her one last contemptible look before pushing past both girls.

"Hey," Jessie said softly, resting her hand on Katie's waist as she studied her girlfriends clouded features. "Is everything alright?" she asked leaning into her slightly.

Katie sighed as she felt Jessie's body against her, the tension flowing out of her body like the tide as Jessie's voice reached her ears. "Yeah," she breathed out a moment later, wondering at the effect Jessie was able to have on her. "But only because I have like the best girlfriend in the history of the universe."

"That's a lot of history," Jessie commented pulling back slightly to observe Katie's face.

"I'm aware of that," Katie responded with a small smile making no attempt to alter her statement any.

"You sure everything's okay?" Jessie asked, still clearly able to see worry etched over Katie's features.

"Yeah. I mean, Tad's just pissed off because I didn't tell him about us, and his friends are harassing him cause you ditched him for a chick," Katie replied sounding rather lost. She really hadn't anticipated him getting upset, though thinking about she realized she probably should have. She was just too busy thinking about Jessie all the time to realize that he had still been thinking about her too.

"I didn't ditch him for you," Jessie responded truthfully. "I ditched him cause he's a lunk," she continued causing Katie to laugh momentarily before quieting down again.

"He doesn't see it that way," Katie replied. "What is with the people at this school?" she asked tiredly. "Everyone like seriously over-estimates the power of my charms."

"I don't know about that," Jessie replied thinking that she liked Katie's charms over-estimated or not. "You did get the girl," she continued with a smile. "Don't worry, I'm sure he'll be over it by lunch."

"You think?" Katie asked hopefully. While it was true that Tad was nothing to write home about, he was *her* nothing to write home about – in a manner of speaking. They'd been friends since Power Rangers was cool, and she'd kind of gotten used to having him around, annoying as he may be.

"Yeah," Jessie responded though she seriously had no idea. Tad didn't strike her as the sort with a long enough attention span to hold a grudge for too long, but the truth was there was no way she could know how long he'd be angry. The only thing she knew was that there was no sense worrying about it cause there was nothing they could do to change it.

"Yeah," Katie repeated more for her own benefit than any other reason. She knew what Jessie was trying to do, and she was willing to accept it. "So," she continued deciding to move on to greener pastures. "How about I officially walk you to class?"

"I officially like that idea," Jessie agreed smiling as Katie reached down for her hand.

"Hey," Katie said stopping Jill Mason as they passed her in the hallway. "Don't forget about 'Sebastian's' tonight."

"Yeah, yeah your worship, I know," Jill replied grinning as her gaze shifted over to Jessie and then down to their loosely joined hands. "Hey," she said addressing Jessie who merely nodded not quite sure what etiquette demanded out of her. She would make a horrible trophy wife, she was certain of that now. "Anyway," Jill continued her attention back on Katie, "you should make sure to remind Phil. He lost his pad of post-its and now he's completely hopeless."

"Alright, I'll track him down," Katie responded frowning slightly at the mention of Phil and his stupid post-it notes. He was such a jackass.

"Sweet. Later," Jill called glancing at Jessie once more before whacking Katie on the back playfully and taking off down the hall, Jessie's eyes following her as she went.

"What's wrong?" Katie asked noticing Jessie staring off down the hall after Jill.

"She talked to me," Jessie replied as if it was comparable to finding a bar of solid gold up her ass.

"So?" Katie responded. "I talk to you all the time, and you only occasionally look at me like that," she continued receiving a slap on the arm for her trouble.

"I mean, I've been getting that all day. Strange people that I've never even seen before, are like waving and saying hi to me and stuff," Jessie responded. "Grace says it's because I'm your girlfriend."

"Is that what Grace says?" Katie asked not quite sure were Jessie was going with this.

"Yeah," Jessie replied with a small frown. "Which is weird, people being all nice because of something so periphery."

"First you stare at someone else's ass and now I'm periphery," Katie grumbled teasingly. "I'm beginning to wonder if this official class walking thing was such a good idea."

"Will focus for like five seconds?" Jessie asked smiling to show she was only kidding. "I'm waxing philosophy here."

"Sorry," Katie replied properly whipped, wondering if the garbage needed to be taken out. "How do you feel about it?"

"Weird," Jessie replied smiling a bit.

"Yeah, I caught that," Katie responded rolling her eyes.

"How do you do it?" Jessie asked. "How do you deal with not knowing whether someone's talking to you because they really like you, or if they're just doing it to get close to who you are or who you're with?"

"You just get used to it," Katie replied seriously. "Most times I don't even think the people that are doing it know whether they like you or just the image of you. Which makes it a real bitch for anyone else to figure out. After a while you just kind of learn to sense the really fake ones … if you're lucky, and everyone else gets the surface material."

"That sucks," Jessie replied softly a moment later, wondering how Katie managed to deal with it day in and out.

"Sometimes," Katie admitted remembering how alone she had felt, keeping everything that she was feeling to herself because she didn't know which of her 'friends' actually cared enough for her to tell them anything. "And sometimes not so much," she continued smiling down at Jessie adoringly, also remembering what a revelation it had been to be really able to talk to Jessie, to find someone who was interested in more than the surface material.

"Stop it," Jessie said laughing as Katie continued to stare at her, her expression now humorously doting.

"Stop what?" Katie asked batting her eyes and sighing dreamily.

"Stop that!" Jessie exclaimed still smiling as they continued through the halls.

Part 15

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