Roquelle was happy to take her rescue band off. It was hot wearing it like that, to cover as much of her face stripe as possible. And it still didn’t cover all of it. It went all the way between her eyes!

There were a lot of apples on the table. A whole pile! Way more than what everyone usually ate.

“We got company coming over,” Muddy said. “They’re just dropping off some silver powder.”

Roquelle didn’t care how hot it was or how sweaty her rescue band was anymore. She put it back on.

“And why didn’t you talk about this with us first?” Sophia ground out, growling around her apple.

“They saved our asses in Heatmor Hills,” Muddy said. “The least we could do is give them dinner.”

Roquelle sunk in her seat.

Sophia said, “Did it have to be today?”

“Today’s the perfect day, trust me!” said Muddy.

Sophia was unamused. “Muddy, what have you ever done to be trustworthy?”

Normally, that kind of thing would be a joke, even if Roquelle didn’t really get that kind of humor. Sophia and Muddy were very different than Sophia and Roquelle. But even Roquelle knew Sophia wasn’t joking this time. They were really upset about this.

Without missing a beat, Muddy said, “Today’s the perfect day, trust J!”

J looked conflicted. She looked like she wanted to say “don’t drag me into this” but also “oh wait, this was my idea”.

As if this whole evening couldn’t get any worse, their guests were Pachirisu! Roquelle couldn’t stop thinking about the part of her stripe she couldn’t hide.

“Hello! I’m Suzy!” said one. “I’m the leader of Team EleSquirrel. These are my teammates Pachi and Chi-Chi.”

“Hiya!” said Pachi. He was happily flapping his paws.

“Hey there,” said Chi-Chi. Shey headed right over to the food and took a huge bite. Sophia, Muddy, and J were surprised it fit in sheir mouth; but Roquelle and the other Pachirisu knew better.

“Thank you for having us over!” Suzy said.

“Thank you for rescuing Muddy and J,” Sophia said while glaring at them over Suzy’s shoulder.

Of all the mons that could’ve rescued them, it had to be a bunch of Pachirisu!

Roquelle finally noticed something as she was tugging her rescue band down again.

“You’re a girl Pachirisu. With a long face stripe. Like me…”

“That’s right!” Suzy said with a smile.

“And I’m a boy Pachirisu with a short stripe!” said Pachi, voice bouncing all the way over from the table.

“And I’m nonbinary! My stripe’s extra handsome just like me!” Chi-Chi grinned around sheir latest bite of apple.

“Are…?” Roquelle hesitated to ask. “Are you trans too?”

“Nope!” Suzy shook her head. “We’re all intersex.”

“Basic biology is just that: basic!” said Chi-Chi.

“We’re advanced biology!” Pachi.

“And so are you!” Suzy said. She handed Roquelle a vial. “This is some dye if you’d like to cover it, but you’re a girl no matter how long your stripe is. My bio family forced me to dye mine for years, but my real family loves me just how I want to be. And your real family will, too.”

Roquelle looked at the vial when Team EleSquirrel left. She thought about how Sophia stayed home to take care of her even though they really wanted to get gold rank. How they’d been the one to teach her that gender was allowed to change, and that Roquelle was allowed to change hers. How they checked out books written by mons of genders Roquelle had never heard of before. None of them had been Pachirisus. The library didn’t have any books by cisn’t Pachirisus.

But there was one book by Lord Luke: a trans butch Luxray who loved his long mane, masculine name, and he/him pronouns. None of these things made him a man.

“I’m in charge of my genders,” he’d written, “and there’s nothing transphobes, including sad little binary gays, can do about it!”

When Roquelle decided she wanted to read all of Lord Luke’s books after that, Sophia ordered them on inter… intra.. whatever one it was! on a library loan!

When Roquelle wasn’t getting out of bed, Sophia made sure she ate. Sophia read the one book they had by Lord Luke over and over again.

Sophia wasn’t always able to stay, but they always came back to her.

And Sophia had never called Roquelle a boy for having a long face stripe. Muddy and J hadn’t either.

Roquelle liked her long face stripe. It added lots of color to her face. It pointed right at her cute little nose. It didn’t make her a boy.

Roquelle took off her rescue band. She padded over to J with the vial.

“Can you draw a heart inside my stripe?” she asked. “I love it a lot. I want it to know that.”

Roquelle knew stripes couldn’t know whether they were loved or not, but Roquelle would know. And other mons would know.

And maybe Lord Luke would know too. Roquelle would love to meet him some day.

“Sure! I can do a heart!” J said. “Why don’t we do it tomorrow so you don’t have to wait for the dye to dry?” She glanced out the window. It’d be dark soon. “And I can see better.”

“Oh, right!” said Roquelle. “Thank you.”

“No problem!” J smiled.

The heart J drew the next morning looked great! Roquelle loved it on her stripe.

When they saw Team EleSquirrel in the market that morning, they all loved it too!

They started sporting stars on their stripes.

Then other Pachirisu started sporting shapes and designs on theirs.

Roquelle started a trend!

Roquelle started wearing her rescue band like a bow tie again.

She was happy again and skipping again.

“I am a girl with a long face stripe,” Roquelle said to the river. Her reflection was bright with love and determination. J had painted a sun on her stripe today. “And there’s nothing my dad can do about it!”

Roquelle smiling excitedly at the viewer. She is wearing a pink bow tie. She also has a white outline of a heart in her stripe.

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