James swallowed in an attempt to alleviate the rising nerves choking him as he looked out of a gap in the curtains and discovering with utmost horror the auditorium was full. So much so that a large portion of the student body resorted to sitting on the steps in the aisles to guarantee they could see the production. The annual play usually raked in at most sixty spectators to the performance, with actors and crew inclusive. He took up a piece of chalk in his hand and desired an escape route now more than ever as he knew his time was up, and when he'd been so chivalrous to give Jessie the underwear, he seemed to have forgotten the producers wanted to start the game with 'her' playing hopscotch. His unease increased as whereas the dress had made Jessie look spectacular when her full bust had filled it out, he felt dismal as he was naturally taller than her anyway and risked exposing himself far more than she did. Things could turn very ugly if he slipped up, as his parents were bound to find out about it at some point or another if his secret became common knowledge. Jessie touched his hips and whispered she loved him back before turning backstage and hiding behind the props in case anyone went to ask for advice from the supposed world champion. He was on his own now and knew it, feeling like this performance was life or death for him, knowing it very well could be. If he turned men on when they thought he was a girl, and then turned out to have something he shouldn't. Well, if it was him he'd personally want to vomit everything out of his system before beating the hell out of the impostor.

      The curtain rose steadily, signalling the beginning of the end for him. He squeezed the chalk in fear so hard that it snapped loudly as the credit for the production took place. One piece shot off into a corner but fortunately a piece remained in his hand so he wouldn't delay the introduction. With infinite disgust he eyed a skipping rope idly left by the side of the stage, obviously left in the hope Jessie would feel like giving them a treat. He immediately vowed to certify he'd lie and say he'd never laid eyes on it should anyone pose him questions about its lack of usage. He swallowed again and took shaky steps towards to the centre of the stage, ignoring the leering cheers from all the males and a few of the girls. A lot of females looked as bitter and as sour as the girl called Cassidy had the night before. Whether it was to do with the producers failing to cast them as the lead or if they were jealous their partners were eying up other women he could not tell, but the fury was nearly as off-putting as the male attention he received. Although he'd never really been one, after this occasion he mentally swore to become homophobic in case he became tempted from prancing about in a dress. To polish off the final insult, he was wearing make-up as well as dressing as a woman. He ground his teeth as he skipped merrily to the area he was supposed to play in onstage, wishing to grind the chalk too, as he couldn't play hopscotch when he'd only powder to draw the frame with. He didn't do this as he knew the skipping rope would be his only option, and that would be foul for all involved in his eyes.

      He selected the option of drawing the layout for his game tediously slow in the hope his 'mother' would come out and tell him to leave quickly without any need for him to even toss the smooth pebble once. Unfortunately for him, the producers were staring at him as he squatted; making him feel even more uneasy but glad he could feel the material covering enough of him up before fear sank in. They were probably admiring the ribbons on his suspenders and nothing else, he hoped. He hated them more than ever, not because they stared at him but because he heard a hushed whispered order for Stephanie to stay back until they said it was time for her to go on. He sped up his work as he felt he might as well get the whole thing over and done with as soon as possible as the quicker he started the hell, the quicker it would be over. At least the first row was a few feet back from the stage, and there was even a barrier erected to protect this space in case the attention was too much for the actors and caused them to quit mid-act, as they'd done in past productions. Beauty And The Beast had been an absolute nightmare, mainly because they'd cast a boy with a hair growth disorder that made him run off in tears when people shouted the hairy face looked terrible and they should have done a better job. The boy ran offstage wailing and transferred the next day, nobody in the school ever hearing from him again. He made the frame as big as he could without going nearer the crowd or exits at the sides of the stage, his aim deadly accurate each time as he didn't want to bend down more than was necessary. Much to his disgust Stephanie only appeared onstage when he was bending down to pick up the pebble from number twelve, his balance perfect even though he was standing on one leg. He sped through his return back to his starting place to talk to her straight away, eager to move on to the next scene even though it probably wouldn't be much more dignifying. He really wished they'd stayed for more of the rehearsal now.

      Disaster struck. She opened her arms to hug her daughter as the producers had told her to do, as they were evidently looking for a nice girl-on-girl still for their collection. A good few people in the audience had similar thoughts judging by the large quantity of camera flashes that went off. Stephanie pulled back from the embrace and caressed her cheek with a loving gaze, but then it suddenly turned to one of shock when she moved 'her' head back into the light. James gave her a pleading look and covered for her stalling when the lines were due to commence.

      "What is it mama? Are you ill? Why do you look at me like that?"

      He sounded so much like Jessie he scared himself.

      "Er, I am a little under the weather, but I promised your grandmother I'd deliver her some cooked goods and I cannot travel in this weather due to how I feel. Your father is busy working otherwise I'd send him, but…"

      "It's ok mama, I'll go for you if you give me what you wish to deliver. I love you and could not bear the thought of you wandering in this heat with a fever. You should lie down, maybe that feeling you have will pass when you try not to think about it"

      He deliberately used a different phrasing than the one he'd learnt as it was to hint at her to lose the expression she still bore, in case the audience twigged what was really going on. Or the cast either for that matter, so he prayed she wouldn't voice the truth to anyone just yet. She shook away the feeling and tried to resume a loving expression on her face, but it would be more appropriate if she were to use it on a baby that she loved, but had just thrown up on her.

      "Why how right you are my dear, just remember two things: don't go into the forest because there's a hungry umbreon in there, and you don't want it to attack you do you? And secondly, don't stop to pick any flowers, in case it's not yours for the taking. Do you remember the last incident?"

      James nodded furiously, almost haphazardly as he tried to recall a terrible memory that wasn't his.

      "Yes, I had Beedrill stings for days! It was as if I'd been eating a lot of cakes because the swelling made me look so fat mama!"

      "Good, now take this basket of food and go as quickly as you can, otherwise the Beedrills could come after you upon recognising the sweet taste of sugar in the air. Hurry my darling!"

      James nervously skipped offstage as a blue curtain sank down, the narrator reading out a passage telling the audience what was in the basket and other things to stall as the background prop was swapped by the producers and a green carpet rolled out onstage to act as grass. He tried his hardest not to vomit as he was still near enough to the crowd to hear the leering comments about 'Jessie's' superb body and how they hoped she'd get her kit off in fear in the next act or something. He shuddered violently as he heard one comment in particular that was referring to something 'she' should do which is completely unfit for this rating as well as most adult films. Stephanie tapped him roughly on the shoulder and asked him what sort of sick freak he was, to which he told her to keep her voice down and that Jessie had suddenly gotten a period when they were rehearsing privately, and with nothing to protect herself with he'd learnt the lines as a particular favour in case the play was ruined by blood running down her thighs. Stephanie gave him a look of disgust tinted with admiration, as she knew the thing would be cancelled if she'd bled onstage, and she promised not to say it to anyone in case they stormed off and left everyone in the lurch where the truth would come out anyway. He thanked her profusely and bit his lip as the curtain rose again.

      Jessie owed him big time for this, even though he knew she'd already given her end of it. Maybe she'd allow him a chance to redeem himself, when his bits were less prone to bleeding and she wasn't as sore, and preferably where he wouldn't wear a dress after it. He was so worried at his secret becoming known to all he'd almost asked his co-star for her underwear, but knew it would make it look like it was a fetish of his or something. This was going to be the longest two remaining acts of his life, especially if Jessie couldn't get his voice right as it would denote if nobody realised what it intended, they'd ridicule him for his voice breaking mid-production. On the only positive note involved, he was no longer bleeding and could walk with a little more ease than when he'd left the changing room. With an eager approach to finishing it as soon as possible, he reluctantly left his hiding place to face the crowd as a woman again.

      Words cannot begin to describe how much worse it was for the male when he returned to his unflattering occupation. The crowd seemed to have forgotten they were raised with manners and their crude, explicit comments made him think for a moment what his next line was. He nearly wet himself in terror when he looked at the extreme back of the hall, seeing his parents watching with their critical eyes. He wanted to run right now, as if they knew what was going on he'd either become emancipated or transferred to the school Jessie Belle attended as punishment. He tore his eyes away from the audience and determinedly placed the basket in front of the tender spot on his body and walked around between the trees and grass, wandering aimlessly as he was supposed to; looking for flowers to pick like his mother had forbidden him. He was glad it wasn't his real mother's instructions he was disobeying, very glad indeed. He suddenly noticed his chest wasn't quite as symmetrical as it could be and much to the majority of the spectators' delight, he put the basket down and moved the inflated airbags around until they looked alright to him, heralding more calls from the crowd, this time a whoop of delight shooting up from a producer that was near the self-fondling 'actress'. They thought that the time spent rehearsing with James must have done her good if she decided to act like that when there'd been no written instructions in the script for that. There was initially, until his partner decided some women may object and they'd have to hire a first year to do it, which would be so flat-chested it'd be as gratifying as hiring a man to wear the dress. But why would anyone be so desperate as to do that? He didn't realise he was a shining example of his own question.

      James nearly screamed in denial when he saw the pot of flowers where he was meant to extract his bunch from; it was a small collection of pansies. He began wondering if this was some type of symbolism his mind was creating, and that he really should turn his life to the ways of homosexuality. It would remove the threat of marrying Jessie Belle anyway, or else he could at least have an excuse for him not wanting to kiss her…no, he couldn't think like this, it's not his sexuality so he mustn't think like it was, just because he was in a dress and make-up. His enthusiasm in telling himself not to be affected by it wasn't quite working as well as it should with all facts considered but bent down carefully to pick them, praying the material covered him properly again. The crowd let another cheer out and he felt Jessie's hands on his hips. He jumped and turned around as he was unnerved, making for very good acting on his part even though it was unintentional. She whispered he was half an inch away from flashing the audience just then before reading her premier line, her voice indeed sounding too girly to imitate him correctly. His pallor made for an excellent portrayal of fear of an evil pokémon even though it was again unintentional, but he shook himself from the shock and resumed reciting his lines, despising speaking like a little girl, and looking like one too for that matter.

      "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers you mean pokémon you!"

      "That's not a polite response to a polite question"

      "I know, but I want you to leave me alone, go disturb someone else who isn't busy and maybe they'll be polite to you"

      "Why are you busy child?"

      "I'm on an errand for my mother, I've to visit my grandmama and give her this"

      Jessie suppressed giggles rather well, still thinking he sounded gay as he said it. She thought he may have heard her and glared heavily, knowing she was close enough to see through the shadows. The bleeding was still bothering her and she could barely breathe from the bandages, but at least the pain in her loins gave a lupine slope to her walk.

      "What's in the basket?"

      "Just some cookies and doughnuts and a few flowers I've picked for her"

      "Can I've one?"

      "No, they're for my grandmama and I can't take any out in case the Beedrills come"

      "You can trust me; I can use dragon rage to scare them off if they do appear"

      "Honestly? Oh that would be brilliant! Here, have a…hang on, umbreons don't know how to use dragon rage, you liar you!"

      "I'm a special one, as you should know by now. Can regular umbreons talk?"

      "No…but they aren't dragon-types…"

      "Hand the basket over, I want a doughnut!"

      "Waaaaagh, Ursaring!"

      The umbreon looked behind it to the spot where the little girl roughly pointed and James ran offstage while his 'opponent' was distracted by the oldest trick in the book. The narrator read out a passage as the pokémon shook with rage, telling the audience that it was so annoyed and hungry it would kill two fearows with one stone by heading to the only cottage in the woods to eat the sole occupant out of spite, then if it was still hungry it could eat the child and the baked goods for dessert. It sloped offstage and there was another scenery change, leaving James a chance to get a drink of water as his throat hurt from the continuous falsetto. He guzzled it down and wished it was something stronger even though he didn't drink anything alcoholic other than wine fairly regularly. He nearly started laughing when he heard the voice-only interlude conversation between Butch and Stephanie, as the parents of the girl realised they'd sent their daughter off with her special cannabiscuits instead of brownies et al, as they'd found out on the woodcutter's lunch break. Stephanie told him to get to the place first and make sure that the woman didn't take a single bite of them in case it set her off like it had when they'd sent hash yoghurt in the regular dairy produce's place. He hadn't heard that part before, so they must have altered the scene when he wasn't there.

      During the interlude, James' mother told her husband that it had been a waste of their time and money sending him to the acting academy when the girl was clearly better at acting than he was. She made a mental note to deny him any extra cash he requested, regardless of the fact she possessed more money than she did specks of dust. When he returned to the stage, he forgot that it would involve Jessie being in bed, even though hideous grandmother-style clothing was over her skin-tight outfit. His pain became less apparent to him as he approached her, noting with interest she'd removed, or at least cut her bandages to make 'his' appearance in 'drag' was more believable. She noticed him staring and asked her granddaughter to approach the bed, as her failing vision stopped her from taking in her radiance as well as she should be able to. He glowered heavily at her for saying that but sat beside her anyway. He blushed fervently when he noticed where her line of vision was headed, realising she was admiring his well-endowed body from the angle his dress was in from that position, though she could have been focusing her attention on the marks adorning his skin.

      "What is it that you've brought me, dear child?"

      "Mama sent these for you, she wasn't well enough to deliver them herself. I picked these wonderful flowers for you though"

      "Pansies, are they? Why, they suit your persona perfectly"

      "Yes, they are bright and attractive aren't they?"

      James spat his last sentence out, hating her slight goading with her symbolism.

      "Yes, of course. That's exactly what I meant. Place them in this glass of water please child, I'll get a new container for my teeth later"

      "My, Grandmama, what big eyes you have"

      "It's all the better to see you with my dear. In case you hadn't noticed my vision's failing; it's not like what it used to be I'm afraid"

      "I know, but Grandmama your ears look a lot pointier than usual too"

      "I got cosmetic surgery to buck up my hearing; I hate not being able to hear your angelic voice properly"

      "But Grandmama, if your teeth are nothing more than dentures, why is there drying blood on them when you've never been able to bite into a piece of Tauros steak before unless someone liquidised it first? What have you been doing, and why have you got fang-like teeth in?"

      "Because they're not dentures, they're real. And they're all the better to eat you with!"

      James shrieked for two reasons. One was to make his acting more authentic as the umbreon tore off its clothing to make its true identity known. The other was in horror as the thoughts of Jessie being naked in a skin-tight outfit in bed a foot away from him culminated to the point he forgot his pain completely and his problem recurred. He leapt away from her and placed the basket strategically, cowering as he did to make it look like 'she' was hiding behind it to save her own life from the scary looking monster in front of her. The audience cheered as it made the material ride up his legs all the more, making so much of his skin appear on show that he was suddenly grateful for his problem; otherwise something else would be on show for the crowd. As the evil umbreon towered over the frightened girl, snarling ferociously, Butch broke the door down and slashed out with his axe a little too enthusiastically, as the scene hadn't been rehearsed at all. The flimsy spandex split right open and Jessie fell, deliberately with her back to the crowd as she feigned death. Butch's eyes goggled in disbelief, as only her co-stars had the beauty of seeing her flash them but he was still able to see her body from the angle at which he stood. She wanted to stretch and fold the material over her breasts but she couldn't because she was supposed to be dead, and dead things tended not to be very active. He forgot all about his lines and removing the biscuits from the child's possession, too engrossed in watching a supposedly uninteresting dead pokémon instead.

      Suddenly Butch thought this through; if only Jessie and James had been rehearsing together, and they'd gotten changed together…he looked at James with a look that showed his resentment, heightened more when he saw what the basket was hiding from the audience. The moment was made even worse when Cassidy appeared onstage, the umbreon having just regurgitated her. She looked terrible in her grandmother's outfit, worse than in practice as the crew had covered her in a clear slime to resemble saliva and stomach-acid. It was sticking to her blonde hair and caused it to stick out in two parts like a pair of asteroids complete with tails and she had a sneaking suspicion it would prove harder for her to remove than stubborn hairspray. She took one look at James and a cruel smirk played across her thin lips. She wasn't going to blow their secret yet, not when she could make them suffer more.

      "Why my res-ERECTION was quite miraculous don't you think dear son-in-law? I'm sure Little Red must be finding the whole scenario rather HARD to deal with"

      "Uh…yeah, umbreon, terrible"

      Butch lost sight of the whole school watching his dire acting, and instead stood on Jessie's other side and pretended to study the monster's face when really he was examining another part of her altogether. He said something about checking its pulse but felt the cartilage in his throat crack with the force from the kick the pokémon delivered as he touched her exposed skin, thinking he'd get away with it as the audience would never know if it was her neck he'd touched. She did though, and scampered offstage after she'd knocked the breath from him, unaware she'd caused permanent damage to his voice. James wanted to run but he couldn't, as he knew punishment was about to come his way. He tried to distract the other two by releasing 'Daddy go after her and kill the evil monster, don't let it come back and attack Grandmama again!' at the height his falsetto was capable of reaching, and he willingly ran offstage after her, ignoring his axe. Cassidy became more sullen with each moment and the narrator didn't know what to say to cover the unexpected ending, unaware of the swap. Cassidy was furious at losing the leading role not only to a girl with bigger breasts than she possessed, but then losing it again to a man in a dress. She kicked the basket out of his hands but by this stage his problem had long disappeared and she pulled his hood back…

      After all their effort, their plot was nothing more than tattered ribbons and it had come asunder just when the curtain was due to fall as well. Because of the clips, his face hadn't been revealed to anyone, but he'd released an exclamation of 'Ow!' a good few octaves lower than Jessie would have done. He cried out 'You're a mean old woman!' before stomping offstage, hoping nobody noticed the change too much as the latter had been spoken in his falsetto again. The school, bar the five that knew, had no idea they were lusting after a man, but his parents knew his voice, perpetually linked with failure, immediately and vowed to remove him from the school before he could invoke more shame upon them. Cassidy bowed then stormed off with a face liable to kill someone with the amount of anger bestowed upon it. Jessie was in the dressing room, with James banging on the door for her to let him in, knowing if his parents found him like this he'd be dead quicker than he could scream in fright at the crack of Jessie Belle's whip as it broke the sound barrier, on his skin. She opened the door a fraction and he was inside in an instant, seeing a golden opportunity to hide from Cassidy for a minute as he knew he'd probably suffer more than Jessie, as he'd 'stolen' the part she wanted and wasn't even the right sex. Jessie was still half-naked, this time she'd strapped herself down as she knew Butch would be staring at her and couldn't resist anything being visible through her clothing.

      Before taking the make-up or drag off, James took her into his arms and kissed her with undeniable passion, using it as a form of non-alcoholic Dutch courage. She melted in his arms even though the pain in her nether regions was stinging more than in the play from her sudden sprint away from the stage. She never once thought in her lifetime her face would ever be covered in smeared lipstick whose orientation wasn't her own lips as she bore no interest in homosexuals of either sex. He accepted her help in removing the make-up and stripped from the undeniably effeminate clothing as soon as he could, feeling like he'd let himself down as a person by doing it. Especially when he considered he'd never truly get his end of the bargain again, and he heartily wished he hadn't already taken her side of the deal. He felt worse when he was dressed in his regular clothes as the seat of his pants chafed his burning irritation even when he wasn't walking, which threw at least one advantage to dressing up as a woman. When he left the room, his parents' chief butler, Hopkins, carried him off under his arm telling him he was acting a total disgrace. Cassidy screamed he was a fag at the top of her voice, warranting her strange glares from the now-deaf people in her vicinity as they were still under the impression they'd watched Jessie in a skimpy outfit. James didn't know what was more humiliating, the ordeal, his graceless removal from the school or hearing the comments the male students made regarding their desires of what they'd like to do to the lead.

◘ James' parents told the school to write away his retraction from their institute lest they suffered the consequences. They gave the official reason as he'd failed an important exam, infinitely less degrading all round when put with the true version of events.

◘ Jessie stayed in school for the remainder of the week then took off without any consideration for the aftermath as she tired of the work and comments involved without a dorm-mate. She also 'failed her exams' as an official excuse, so as not to blemish the record of successful students too badly. The pair unofficially received the lowest in the school.

◘ In the same month, they lost Butch as despite extensive expensive surgery, his voice sounded like a frog-type after a thousand Marlboros in the span of five minutes.

◘ The producers discovered they'd leered after a man and quit from the world of show-business forever more lest they made the same mistake.

◘ Because of this, they lost another student, the sour blonde with the ridiculous hairstyle who sought revenge and needed to locate the woodsman so they could do it together. She couldn't forgive the 'fag' for making her nearly come out of the closet for a man.

◘ James left home and remembering where Jessie lived, he headed there and they joined a bicycle gang to pass the time and to gain a reputation to put on their CV for Team Rocket. To get Jessie back for his eternal humiliation, he deliberately dressed in drag as frequently as he could without affecting his sexuality too much and put on a falsetto whilst he pranced about effeminately, merely to annoy her for donating those traits to his system in the first place. The rest, as they say, is history.

                                         ~*~*~***Red Curtain***~*~*~