Jessica and Kaori

Chapter 3

Two Lesbians Walk into a Frat-House

Kaori felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. The latest issue of The Weekly Eagle, UW-Phileas's student paper, lay open in her hands.

It was open to what had was still called the comics page, even though it was only one full page strip. (Once the editors realized there was someone on the staff who would draw a strip for free, they stopped paying to run syndicated ones. No one seemed to mind since that one strip, Latitude Forty-Six, was well loved among the few people who read the paper.)

Latitude Forty-Six was about Lyle: an art student who was a bit of a loser, whose life was constantly disrupted by all kinds of weird things. It was drawn by Ben Kraft, who Kaori had reluctantly ditched two weeks ago at Stoney's.

Lyle had spent the last three issues of the Eagle on a quest to find the Cave of Exposition, with his only clue being a Plot-Device that an organ-grinder gave him as he was dying. (These were the actual terms that were used in the strip.) His only companion was the organ-grinder's monkey.

Things had taken an unexpected turn in the last week's strip as Lyle was captured by animated suits of armor in the last panel. This week it was revealed that these walking tin-cans called themselves the Knights of Ennui. They had tortured Lyle by tying him to a chair and bombarding him with harsh truths. Kaori's blood ran cold when one of the Knights said: "No one had ever loved you. That's why none of them ever stayed."

Kaori jumped as someone knocked at the door. She cursed her guilty conscience as she got up to answer it. Jessica was standing out in the hallway; she was wearing a jogging suit and had her hair in a ponytail, her eyes lit up as she saw Kaori.

"Hey, I'm finished with classes for the day, and thought I'd see if you wanted to hang out," Jessica said.

"Sure," Kaori said, motioning her in with the folded newspaper.

"Am I interrupting something?" Jessica said.

"No, why do you ask?" Kaori said, with genuine confusion.

"It's just you don't seem all that enthusiastic," Jessica said.

Kaori waved her hands to dispel the notion. "No, no, come on in and I'll explain it."

Kaori went back to her desk chair, Jessica tossed her backpack onto the bed and flopped down besides it.

"Do you remember when you saved me from Polly's little version of The Love Connection at Stoney's two weeks ago?"

"Yep, of course," Jessica replied.

"Well the guy I was talking to when I left, who I actually sorta liked, writes a comic strip in the student paper. Here is this week's strip," Kaori handed Jessica the paper.

The room was swallowed in silence as Jessica read the full-page strip. After a moment she started to laugh.

Kaori scowled. "What do you find so funny?"

"The wandering minstrel has roadies!" Jessica said, laughing.

"Oh," Kaori said, embarrassed. "I didn't read that far."

Jessica laughed again. "This is great, the monkey is yelling at the minstrel 'Stop fooling around, you're holding up the plot!', and the minstrel says: 'there's nothing holding up this plot!'."

Kaori gave a sad half-smile. She wished she could have been friends with the person that had written that joke.

"So I bet you think the Knights of ee-new-ee are only in there because you ditched him?"

"It's on-we, and yes. I've run into him a couple of times since then, and he's given me this death-glare…"

Jessica folded the paper and tossed it onto the desk. "So why don't you apologize to him?"

"It wasn't my fault!" Kaori said. "Polly was the one who set up that stupid speed-dating thing, because she couldn't accept that I was a lesbian!"

"Well yeah, it's her fault you were there in the first place, but you chose to ditch him, which is what hurt him," Jessica said.

Kaori let out a groan and rubbed her eyes. "Well, you're not entirely innocent, you drove the getaway car."

They both exchanged serious glances, and then broke out in laughter.

"All right then, I'll go with you, so you don't have to face his death-glare alone," Jessica said.

Kaori felt warm with gratitude, and was speechless for a moment. "Th-Thank you," she said.

"So what dorm does he live in?" Jessica said, and leapt to her feet.

"I don't know… In fact I don't even know if he lives on campus," Kaori said. "Maybe I can just send him an e-mail…"

"Oh no, you're not backing out of this now," Jessica said. "Well... Do you have friends in common? They might know."

Kaori felt her stomach plummet into her feet. "I know someone who might."

Polly left her door open as usual. She was sitting on her bed and watching a Steven Seagal movie on her TV. Polly looked up as they came into her room.

"Yamazaki, what an unexpected… surprise this is," Polly said.

"You can stow the attitude, Polly," Kaori said. "I need to make peace with Ben Kraft, and you're going to tell me where he lives."

Polly's eyes widened. After a moment she frowned.

"You were always so polite and demure, Kaori, dating this muscle-head has brought out the worst in you," Polly said.

"Do you know where we can find him?" Jessica calmly said.

"Are you trying to set up a threesome or something? I bet it was blondie's idea," Polly said.

"What the hell is your problem?" Kaori seethed.

"Look, if you prefer women, fine, so what, big deal. You can do a lot better than her, though," Polly said.

"Why the hell do you care?" Kaori said.

"Because you're my friend!" Polly shouted; her words echoed off the narrow walls of her dorm room.

Kaori's mouth fell open, she tried to come up with a reply, but failed.

The silence was eventually broken by Jessica. "Polly, we need to know how to find him. There's been a terrible misunderstanding, and we need to clear it up."

"All right," Polly said, still as snotty as possible. "He lives in the Delta Tau house. That's on the west side of campus, past that big blue building."

"A fraternity house?" Kaori said dubiously. "Ben Kraft's not a frat-boy!"

"I'm just telling you what I know; that's where he lives," Polly said, then turned back to the TV.

Taking the hint, Kaori mumbled a thanks and strode out of Polly's dorm room.

"You should watch On Deadly Ground instead; it's on Netflix, and it's a lot better than this one," Jessica said.

Polly gave her a confused look as she left.

If you had told Jessica half-an-hour ago that she would now be making the long trek across campus to fraternity row, she would have said you were crazy. But that was one of the greatest things about making new friends (would they end up being only friends?), if they were different enough from you, you ended up doing all sorts of new things, and life becomes unpredictable and exciting… for a while.

They reached the start of fraternity row. Rising above them on a hill was the Delta Tau Phi fraternity house.

"I swore I would never set foot in one of these places," Kaori said.

"You will never again find such a wretched hive of scum and villainy," Jessica said with a smirk.

Kaori gave her a blank look.

"Star Wars? Ben Kenobi says that," Jessica said.

Kaori shrugged.

"You've never seen Star Wars?"

"I was raised by Jehovah's Witnesses; I haven't seen a lot of things," Kaori said.

"You've seen a woman naked though, I assume? I mean, aside from yourself," Jessica said.

"Yes, on both sides of the Pacific," Kaori said, then gave a smirk of her own.

There was a sign on the front door indicating that it was unlocked before 6 P.M. every day, so they let themselves in. The walked out of the entryway into a large carpeted room. There were leather armchairs and sofas everywhere, as well as a large fireplace set in the wall. Several frat-boys were sitting in the chairs, studying quietly. Kaori didn't know what she expected, but it was not this.

"Can I help you ladies with something?" a voice said.

Jessica turned towards it, and saw an older blond man wearing a Delta Tau Phi sweater.

"We're looking for Ben Kraft," Kaori said. "We heard he lives here."

"Yes, he does. He's in room 22, with his brother," the man said, then corrected himself. "His birth-brother, not his fraternity brother, though I suppose they're both."

He seems rather awkward for a frat-boy, Jessica noted to herself. Probably not the person you wanted on front door duty; he's probably be the guy they had ensure that there was a ready supply of roofies before every party.

"Room 22 is upstairs, way at the end of the hall," the man said, motioning with an extended palm in a chopping motion.

They thanked him and walked up the stairwell. At the end of the second floor hallway they found room 22, the door was open. Jessica peeked in; on the far wall of the room were two desks set against opposite walls. Someone was sitting at the left desk, with his back towards him. He had a bottle of beer in one hand, and what looked like a high school yearbook in the other.

Jessica knocked on the door frame; he jumped, and turned around after wiping his eyes with his sleeve. They were all red and puffy; Jessica realized that he had been crying. She also recognized him, he was one of the people who had been with Polly's group at Stoney's the night she had rescued Kaori.

"I don't believe it," Kaori said. "You're Ben's brother?"

"Hey baby, nice to see you again," the boy said, with obviously false bravado. "When I got back with our drinks you'd disappeared."

"Jessica, this is Adam… Kraft, I guess," Kaori said.

Jessica made a faint wave with her hand. "Nice to meet ya."

"Are you looking for Ben? He told me you ditched him," Adam said.

Kaori looked like she'd been stabbed. "I… suppose that's true," she choked out.

"She's actually here to apologize. Do you know where he is?" Jessica said.

"He's with some of his loser friends in the basement, playing that stupid D&D game," Adam said.

"Somebody's playing Dungeons and Dragons in the basement of a frat house?" Kaori said dubiously.

"I know what you mean, he just doesn't get the whole college experience, right?" Adam said, and then took a swig from his beer.

They walked back to the stairwell and continued on into the basement. As they entered the dark and damp, though furnished, basement Jessica heard a familiar voice.

"All right, I talk to the Wererat," the voice said. "I say: 'I want you to reconsider what you're doing. They say that all Wererats are inherently evil, but my god says that all intelligent beings have a choice in their destiny. You can choose whether you are good or evil; don't let others make that choice for you.'"

"So, uh, what are you doing?" Ben's voice said. "Is this a spell or something?"

"No, I'm simply trying to persuade him to change his ways," Morrie's voice replied.

"Oh for Christ's sake," an unfamiliar voice said.

"Morrie, you can't force an alignment change by talking to someone!" another unfamiliar voice said.

"Especially with your charisma score!" a third unfamiliar voice said.

At that moment Jessica and Kaori reached the bottom of the stairs. Sitting around a table were Morrie, Ben, and three other boys Jessica had never seen before. They all turned to look at the pair as they entered the room. Ben looked surprised, but not angry, which Jessica supposed was a good thing.

"Hey, let's break for a while, I need to reread the section on alignment in the Handbook anyway," Ben said.

The three strangers murmured assent, Ben rose from the table.

"Ben, I was wondering if I could talk to you," Kaori said.

"Sure, let's go into the laundry room, we'll have some privacy," Ben said, and motioned for Kaori to follow him.

Kaori gave Jessica a grimace and followed him.

The other three players had tromped up the stairs, leaving Morrie alone at the table. Jessica sat on one of the plush chairs in the TV area.

"So, Morrie… What's going on here? What are you doing on Fraternity Row?" Jessica said.

Morrie shrugged. "They said they needed a cleric."

The laundry room smelled like cinder blocks and fabric softener. There was no ceiling, just bare rafters supporting the floor of the room above.

"Listen, I want to apologize for giving you the cold shoulder," Ben said.

"And the death stare," Kaori said.

Ben looked away, ashamed. "Yeah… Look, if you have no interest in me, then that's just a simple fact of life, and it's not something I should hold against you."

"It isn't like that," Kaori said. "I like you a lot."

"Do you often ditch people you like?" Ben said with a glare.

Kaori let out a long sigh; she wasn't good at dealing with people. She supposed the best way to deal with this situation was to just cut to the truth. "I'm a lesbian."

Kaori saw a mix of confusion and anger on Ben's face. "But Polly said you were looking for a boyfriend."

Kaori sighed again. "I told her I wasn't interested in guys, but she said I just hadn't met the right one yet."

After a moment, Ben started laughing uncontrollably. It was almost a full minute before he could collect himself enough to speak.

"If this was anyone other that Polly we were talking about, I might not believe you, but that sounds exactly like something she'd say," Ben said.

"I'm so sorry I ditched you, I know from experience how horrible that feels," Kaori said.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Ben said.

"Because I liked you, a lot, and I didn't know how to explain it in a way that would spare your feeling," Kaori said.

Ben shook his head. "I suppose it isn't entirely your fault, it was Polly who put you in that situation."

"I need to learn to be more assertive," Kaori said. "I shouldn't have let myself get talked into these things." She left unsaid what she'd told Jessica that night; that she had come along mostly because she was lonely.

"Damn Polly," she mumbled.

"I think she means well," Ben said. "She just doesn't understand how people work."

"Are you sure about that?" Kaori said, remembering the unexpected declaration of friendship from earlier.

"Yeah, she helped get this DnD group together; actually, it was her idea. Of course, she did it in the most insulting way possible. She said she knew 'people like me' who didn't like the whole bar scene, so she suggested we get together and play DnD, because 'isn't that what losers like?'"

Kaori shook her head sadly.

"I hadn't played since junior high, but we're really enjoying it. It's nice to have friends outside the fraternity."

"Yeah, about that…" Kaori said. "I can't understand why you belong to a fraternity. I mean, you seem so nice."

"Thanks," Ben said with a sly smile. "I actually joined because of my brother. He doesn't get along with many of the brothers, so my mom made me promise to be his roommate so he wouldn't be so lonely."

"If the frat-boys don't like him, how'd he get in to being with?"

"My uncle and cousins are alumni, so he got through initiation before they realized he was… well, a bit of a jerkass," Ben said. "Truth is, he probably would've been kicked out if he wasn't such a good cook."

"He cooks? He seems like the type who would say that it's women's work," Kaori said.

Ben grimaced. "Well yeah, but he says if you want something done right, you have a man do it. I always wondered if that meant he was gay… oh, I'm sorry,"

"For what?" Kaori said.

"Well, isn't that offensive?" Ben said.

Kaori shrugged. "Well, not to me, and I'm the only one here, so I guess it's not."

Ben smiled wearily.

"So, can we be friends?" Kaori said. "I really like you, and your comic."

"Yes, of course we can. Do you want to join our game?" Ben asked.

"Uh… I don't know how to play," Kaori said.

"Come on, I'll teach you, it'll be fun!"

Ten minutes later, after Ben had helped Jessica and Kaori create their characters, Ben took his position behind the Dungeon Master screen and restarted the session.

"All right," Ben said, snapping shut the Dungeon Master's Manual. "You can't just talk someone into changing their alignment; you would have to use a spell or some sort of power. If you had a higher charisma than 6, I might consider it, but alas… So the Wererat responds to your attempts at religious conversion by biting you,"

Ben rolled a die behind the DM screen.

"He succeeds in biting you, roll for damage," Ben said.

Morrie rolled a three.

"Six percent chance of gathering lycanthropy," He started rolling a twenty sided die. "One. One. One. One. One…. Jesus Christ.

"Wow, snake eyes," Jessica said, impressed.

"What snake has five eyes, though?" Morrie asked.

"I'm sorry Morrie, you've contracted lycanthropy," Ben said.

"Would it be lycanthropy if he gets it from a rat? Doesn't the 'lycan' part come from the Latin word for wolf?" Kaori said.

Jessica gave her a weird look, as if she were impressed and disturbed at the same time.

Ben sighed. "We've had this discussion before."

"It's Greek, actually, not Latin," Morrie said. "Lycanthropy… damn it! Excuse the blasphemy."

"That's no big deal," said one of the other players; a kid with a faded Pac-Man t-shirt and a mullet. "Just cast Remove Curse."

"I don't have it memorized, and I can't memorize it before nightfall! One of you is going to have to kill me!" Morrie said.

"Why can't you just kill yourself?" Mullet-kid said.

"The goddess forbids suicide," Morrie said.

"No, wait," Morrie said. "This is interesting… Is the sanctity of my soul worth the carnage that I would cause if I allowed myself to change at sunset? That's a problem almost as old as religion, isn't it? Is my salvation worth the lives of those my wererat form would kill? What profit it a man if he saves his soul but the world is lost, hmm?"

"I attack him to shut him up," another of the players, this one with a World War I-era aviator hat and goggles said.

Ben rolled. "A natural twenty, Freelik succeeds. Roll for damage, but if you get anything more than a five ,you'll decapitate him."

"Oooh, seventeen," Goggles said after he rolled.

"So it's done," Morrie said, crumpling up his character sheet. He reached into his leather portfolio and took out a blank one and started rolling a new character.

"Do I need to remind anyone that you're still facing a wererat, who is now annoyed because you've been ignoring him?" Ben said.

Ben started rolling. "Everyone except Jessica is affected with Fear; everyone do a morale check. If you fail, your character runs away. If you stay, from now on all of your rolls have a penalty of two."

"Wait," Jessica said. "Why was I spared?"

"You're a bard, they have better resistance to attacks on morale."

"Oh!" Jessica said, snapping her fingers, she grabbed the Player's Handbook from the stack. "I remember there was something I could do to stop attacks like this," she flipped through the book. "Right! Inspire Courage!"

"All right, roll for your Performance skill check," Ben said. "Then sing something."

Jessica's gleaming face fell. "What?"

"House rule," Goggles said. "Whatever you do something with a verbal or gesture component, you have to actually do it."

"You're kidding me," Jessica said, looking nervous.

"No, you can't believe the crap I have to do to cast Magic Missile," Mullet said.

"You can recite a poem instead," Goggles said. "My old group had this goth girl who used to recite Emily Dickinson poems."

"I don't have any poems memorized!" Jessica said.

"Well unless you can think of something to sing, you lose your turn because of a failed Performance check," Ben said.

Jessica let out a sigh. "All right then." She then began a brassy rendition of the first verse of Taylor Swift's You Belong With Me.

Kaori felt like she was falling; that song…. That had been her and Anna's song. Anna always had this theory that the song was really about the Taylor Swift character secretly being in love with the cheerleader, but wasn't able to admit it to herself.

It had been their song because Anna was the head of the cheerleading squad, and Kaori was supposedly like the Taylor Swift character (which Kaori never got, since she was short and hated country music).

"Kaori, are you all right?" Ben said after a moment.

"Yeah, of course," she said.

"It's your turn," Ben said.

"All right," Kaori said, nodding.

The battle wrapped up soon after that, and their group of adventurers continued to explore the ancient ruin. They soon came across a cache of silver weapons, along with a strange robed figure who asked to join them. This was Morrie's new character, again a priest, but of a goddess who apparently wasn't anywhere near as nice as his previous character's patron.

They also found a skeleton clutching a flute, and Ben went into a lot a of detail explaining what the skeleton's tattered clothing looked like. Jessica took the hint, and the flute; but Ben looked frustrated and Kaori suspected there was something they had missed.

At last they came to the major enemy of the campaign; a giant wererat that stood thirty-feet tall and wore a mocking rat-shaped mask. After Kaori shot the monstrosity in the eye with her ranger's bow, the mask fell and revealed the horrifying truth: it wasn't one giant wererat, it was twenty wererats, fixed together at the tail, beahving as if they were one body. This was the Wereratking!

"Oh come on," Goggles said. "There's no way we can defeat twenty wererats!"

The battle continued for an hour, with severe damage to both sides. Then it was six o'clock, the time of their dinner break.

Kaori and Ben went upstairs to get good cellphone reception so they could call the pizza place. When they were alone, Ben turned to Kaori.

"So is Jessica your girlfriend?" he asked.

"Uh… Well, we're dating, but we aren't exclusive yet, or anything," she replied.

She wasn't sure how she felt; she liked Jessica a lot. She certainly found her attractive, especially when she dressed to go jogging. Yoga pants were probably humanity's greatest invention, Kaori thought. When she saw Jessica in them, she just wanted to pull them down, and…

"She's really something," Ben said. "She really brightens up the room; I haven't seen the guys enjoy a campaign this much since we've started playing!"

Kaori patted Ben on the shoulder. "Oh, you poor boy, are all the girls you get crushes on lesbians?"

Ben frowned. "I'm serious, she's a great catch."

"That may well be true," Kaori said. "But things are kind of complicated."

"Oh?" Ben said.

Kaori hadn't talked about her breakup with Anna to anyone, except the small amount of details she'd given to Jessica. Even though they'd spoken of many intimate things, there were some things you couldn't talk to someone you were dating about.

She hadn't seen anyone from her high school since they breakup, and she certainly wasn't going to tell Polly about this. However… maybe it was time to break-in her friendship with Ben.

"Back in high school, I had a girlfriend. Her name was Anna, and we were as serious as you can get. I loved her more than anything in the world… I guess I still do."

"Ahh," Ben said, understanding.

"We were both going to go to UW in Madison, but my grades weren't good enough. I was planning to go to junior college for a year and then transfer over; but my grandmother offered me a chance to spend six months in Japan. I chose to do that, and Anna broke up with me."

"A difficult decision to make," Ben said.

"More than you know," Kaori said. "I've always wanted to see Japan, and I love my grandmother. She took me in when my parents disowned me."

Ben's eyes widened.

"Yeah, long story there. I made friends with a bully, thought she was a lesbian, kissed her, got beaten up, got beaten up later by her and a group of her friends, she blabbed and the entire school found out I was a lesbian. When my brother started going there the next year, he found out and he told our parents. I refused to change, they kicked me out of the house, and I started living with my grandmother."

Ben stared at her, his mouth hanging open.

"I suppose your high school years weren't as momentous," Kaori said, with a grim smile.

Ben shook his head. "No."

"I still love Anna, and I think about her every day. So whenever I start to have feelings for Jessica, it feels like I'm betraying Anna," Kaori said.

"You have a real chance of having something special with Jessica; you can't jeopardize it over some… ghost of a dead relationship," Ben said.

Kaori sighed. "I know that."

"Maybe you just need to say goodbye to her. Maybe that would make it feel real," Ben said.

"I did, the week after I got back from Japan. We had lunch, and she told me that she'd moved on. It's just that… I can't. I can't, and I don't know why."

After a long moment of silence, Ben shrugged. "Humans are imperfect beings; sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, what we feel doesn't make any sense. I suppose the best you can do is to counter the emotion with logic: you aren't betraying Anna, no matter how much it feels like you are."

"I guess," Kaori said, but she still felt uncertain.

When they returned to the game table, the players were in the midst of a bitch session.

"I did the figures, there's no way we can survive another five rounds with the wereratking," Mullet said.

"You're usually a better DM than that," Goggles said to Ben.

"Hey, no metagaming!" Ben said.

"Of course, it's still possible Ben is still a good DM, and we've just missed something," Morrie said.

"I said no metagaming!" Ben seethed.

"That ship sailed a long time ago, Ben," Morrie replied.

With a sigh of resignation, Ben flopped onto one of the couches.

The pizza came shortly after, and discussion turned to other topics. But when Ben took his seat behind the DM screen, the bellyaching recommenced.

"What could we have missed? Was there a magic weapon in a passageway we didn't check?" Goggles said.

Mullet, who was the team's cartographer, flipped through the pages of his quadrille pad. "No, we searched every corridor, and opened every door… unless the door was hidden."

"Well, there was that bizarrely detailed description of the dead body's clothes," Morrie said. "Maybe we missed something there?"

"I know the clothes pattern he was talking about," Jessica said. "The random polka dot thing. It's called piebald."

"So a piebald bard, what's that supposed to mean?" Mullet said.

Suddenly all the pieces fit together, and Kaori got it. "Wait, he played a flute, remember? What some people call a pipe. And he was in a dungeon that was full of rats, wererats and their kind… and the bard was wearing piebald clothing…"

Morrie and Goggles got it at the same time. "The Pied Piper!"

"The flute I picked up," Jessica said excitedly to Ben. "Can I play it?"

"Well, of course you can, you're a bard," Ben said.

"So bards can play all instruments?" Kaori said. "That's unrealistic."

"Need I remind you that you're fighting a wereratking?" Ben said, aghast.

"I play the flute," Jessica said.

"Roll a performance check," Ben said, and after she did he said. "All right, the haunting music of the pipe fills the chamber, the wererats become mesmerized and stop attacking you."

"Whew," Mullet said. "That was close."

"So, uh, what do we do now?" Kaori asked.

"We loot the place!" Goggles said.

"Not when Jessica has to a performance check every round," Mullet said.

"Yeah, right… We should probably find a way out of here," Goggles said.

"Screw that, tell the wererats to show us the way out," Morrie said.

Ben rolled. "Success, they walk down the north passageway, and motion for you to follow."

Five rounds later they emerged from a cave entrance high in the mountains.

"So, what do we do with the wererats?" Mullet asked.

"We could just run away," Goggles suggested.

"I'm not sure we could outrun them," Mullet said.

"How about we order them to go back to their lair?" Kaori suggested.

"Won't work," Mullet replied. "The hypnosis will wear off once they're far enough away to not hear the pipe."

"I chuck two flasks of flaming oil at them," Morrie said flatly.

"What?" Goggles said.

"You can't do that! You're a priest, you can't attack defenseless creatures!" Mullet said.

"My goddess is a vengeful goddess. She also consider lycanthropes an abomination; I cannot allow them to live," Morrie replied.

Ben threw up his hands. "It's in character, so I have to allow it."

"Julius holds up one bony finger and points it at the bard," Morrie said. "'Taylor the Swift, do not stop playing,' he commands."

Jessica gulped. "I continue playing the flute."

Three rounds passed as they watched the Wererats burn to death.

"Jesus Christ," Mullet said when it was over.

Ben slid a grey poker chip to Morrie.

"What's that for?" Jessica asked.

"A merit award, we give them out for exceptional playing, including staying in character, even when it's better not to," Ben explained.

"You should give him an entire stack," Goggles said.

Morrie shrugged. "You came across a lone priest wandering around a dungeon filled with wererats; didn't you ever bother to wonder why he was there?"

The game broke up shortly before midnight. Jessica, Kaori and Morrie emerged from the Fraternity House's front door to discover the world covered with fog. The sky was a uniform sheet of white, the air was cool and wet, but not unpleasantly so; the haze created haloes around every street lamp within sight.

"Oooh," Morrie said, pleasantly. "Jack The Ripper weather."

Kaori gave Jessica a worried look; but Jessica patted her reassuringly on the shoulder.

"I didn't expect to have that much fun in the basement of a frat house," Jessica said. "Or playing Dungeons and Dragons."

"We'd be happy to have you, if you'd like to play again," Morrie said.

"I dunno, maybe… It's also really tedious. It takes so long to get through one of those battles," Kaori said.

"For many people, that's half the fun," Morrie said.

"My sister would love that," Kaori said. "She likes to stay that tedium is her medium."

"She sounds like a programmer," Morrie said.

"No, she just really likes to sew," Kaori said.

"Ah," Morrie said. He looked at a loss for words. "Well, good night," he said awkwardly and walked away.

The two of them walked away in the opposite direction. Kaori was almost mesmerized by the regular pattern of the falling rain in the pools of lamplight they passed. She heard a light chuckle and looked through her rain-speckled glasses at Jessica.

"What?" she asked.

"Whenever I come over to see you, I have no idea where we'll end up. I like that," Jessica said. "It makes life more exciting."

Kaori smiled. "I can't take credit for that, you're the outgoing one; if it wasn't for you, I'd still be back in my dorm room moping."

"I guess we make a good team," Jessica said with a pleased sigh.

They reached the bottom of the long hill, and Kaori's dorm room. Jessica's was less than a quarter-mile away; even closer if she cross through the woods.

Kaori's heart began to pound as she realized how close together they stood. The personal distance between them had been ebbing incrementally over the past weeks; first as strangers, then to that of friends, and now even beyond that. They stood so close that Kaori was able to smell Jessica's rain-dampened hair; it was a lovely scent.

Even in the dim light of that autumn evening Jessica's eyes shined a cobalt hue. Kaori brushed aside a rain-darkened bang from where it stuck to Jessica's forehead.

Jessica's lips quivered. Kaori wondered if it was from the cold, or if Jessica was nervous… or perhaps they were quivering in anticipation.

Should she kiss Jessica? It went without saying that she wanted to; but should she? If Jessica was expecting her to, and she didn't, it would make her feel rejected. But is she did, and Jessica wasn't expecting-and didn't want-it; Kaori suspected Jessica would forgive her.

And their lips touched; Kaori tingled all over, and felt warm inside. A cool thrill ran through her as she began to be kissed back.

Rain pooled on the ground, slick with iridescent oil, flowing towards the grate.

She closed her eyes. The world of smell now more vibrant; the earthy smell of fresh rain; the musk of Jessica's wet skin; the berry scent of her flaxen hair.

Their lips parted, and they both drew away. Kaori opened her eyes to see Jessica's hungry ones looking back at her. So she, too, wanted more, Kaori thought. There was no need to rush things, though. In fact it would be better for the relationship if they didn't, she bet.

"Have a good night," Kaori said, unfortunately it came out sounding sultry.

Jessica looked disappointed, but not hurt. "Good night."

It was only an hour later, as Kaori was drifting off to sleep safe in her bed, that she even thought of Anna.