Seasons of Change
Book 14 - Part 1 of 4
Tales of the Season
Copyright© 2002,2013 Tigger
All Rights Reserved.
Image Credit: Ornate Antique Divider purchased and licensed for use - 20073018. ~Sephrena.
Acknowledgments: My sincere thanks to Brandy Dewinter for the gifts of her creativity, her vision, her eye for 'just the right word' (and wrong one of mine) and her, ummm, persistence. Special thanks to the 'Blue Pen of Sonora', Denise Em, for the many hours she put into proofing this. At some point, it becomes impossible for me to read what I wrote, because I 'see' what I thought I wrote. Any remaining errors are mine, probably because I wrongly thought my way was better than Deni's. ~Tigger
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Based on the characters and situations presented in "Seasons of Change" by Joel Lawrence, Copyright 1989. ~Tigger
Introduction: A Frantic Plea
"Annie?" a harshly whispered voice hissed from the earpiece, "It's me - Adrian."
"Adrian?! What is this? You know you're not supposed to call me."
"Anne, listen, I don't have much time. You gotta get me out of here!"
"I can't do that. We signed that order putting you in that rehabilitative Outward Bound-type boot camp program."
"Outward Bound?! Boot camp?!? Bullshit!! Only boots here have Cuban heels! Dammit, Annie, I'm in some place called Kingston, Rhode Island, and this crazy woman is trying to turn me into a girl!"
"Yeah. You gotta come get me."
"I don't believe it."
"Look, Anne, I wouldn't lie about this. Right now I'm a freakin' blonde, wearin' a skirt and heels! Did you know I wear a 36A bra? I didn't either. I don't want to know it now. It could have been 36B, because she showed me the silicone boobs in that size, too - and Annie? They had fuckin' nipples! And I wear size 6 panties. Panties, dammit! And a size 8 dress. How the fuck would I know those sizes if I weren't telling the truth?"
"I don't know, but this just doesn't make sense."
"Believe me, Anne! Not only that, I'm calling from this damned beauty shop we go to every Wednesday morning, and this blond bitch of a beautician just said she was going to drag me to New York so I could *entertain* some of her kinky friends down there!. Goddamn it, Barbie, you gotta get me out of here!"
"Don't call me that!"
"Sorry, Anne, really, but . . oh shit, someone's coming - I gotta go. Come get me. Jane Thompson, Seasons House, Kingston, Rhode Island. Hurry!"
The phone connection clicked off. For a moment, Barbara Anne Braithwaite could only stare blankly at the now-buzzing instrument. Then she pressed the star key code for Caller ID. Since the originating phone had been in a commercial establishment, both it's name and phone number flashed on the small LCD display. Anne wrote both on her desktop blotter and then with a single phone call, turned several people's lives, including her own, upside down.
Chapter 1: You Can Go Home Again
Kenneth Roberts spun about in his almost-new office chair with child-like glee. He had made it! Stopping his spin, he looked up at three impressively framed documents that hung from the wall behind his almost-new, not-really-impressive desk. The first, awarded by a major mid-western university, conferred upon Kenneth Allen Roberts the degree of Master of Law in International Business and Trade. The second, awarded by a prestigious institution in the greater Boston area, conferred upon Kenneth Allen Roberts, the degree of Juris Doctor. The third framed document, granted to Kenneth Allen Roberts the privileges and rights of the Bar Association of the State of Rhode Island.
*Not bad for an almost-twenty-four year old,* he thought with pride. Maybe the J.D. had been overkill on his part, but when one had two such forceful, brilliant, determined women as Jane Thompson and Her Honor, Judge Ruth Walinkiewicz vying for the position of Kenneth Robert's 'first mother', one tended to grow up as something of an over-achiever.
And when one considered the self-discipline and control Kenneth had been forced to learn to deal with and counter the sadistic machinations of his birth-mother, it became easier to understand how somebody so young could have already achieved so much in his life.
Today marked his first day on the job as junior associate in the law firm of Ellis, Ellis, and Carter. Life would be challenging for the next couple of years while he made his name in the field and paid his dues. There'd be long nights and a good deal of grunt work on someone else's cases, but he was looking forward to the challenge. *By the time I'm thirty,* he promised himself, *It will be Ellis, Ellis, Carter and Roberts - and WE will be THE agency to retain to close a sticky international business deal.*
"Admiring your new office, such as it is, son,?" Richard Ellis said from the door. He was a fit man of fifty-five or so, with the energy and vigor of a man fifteen years his junior. His silver hair was still thick and he had the easy manner of the old time country lawyer which hid the razor sharp mind and killer instinct of the top corporate tax lawyer in the Northeast. Kenneth liked and respected him. More importantly, Jane Thompson liked and respected him, which said a great deal good about this man and his ethics.
"Just got the sheepskins up," Kenneth grinned as he stood to greet the older man. "I'd offer you a chair, but I don't have one yet."
"Already ordered, but if you need one, borrow one from the conference room. I'll clear it with Mrs. Stone."
Mrs. Stone was Ellis' executive administrator, and it was understood that she ran the office. The partners might be nominally in charge, but even they listened VERY carefully when Mrs. Stone spoke. Kenneth liked her as well, and couldn't wait to introduce her to Momma Jane and Judge Ruth. The thought of those three formidable women in one room was daunting, but some impish streak he normally kept well under wraps could not let go of the idea.
"Thanks, I'll take you up on that, but only if you are there to protect me when I walk past her desk carrying the chair."
"I knew you were smart," Ellis said, grinning. "Anyway, the reason I came looking for you is that I just got off the phone with your Aunt, Jane Thompson. She'd like to speak to you as soon as possible."
Kenneth smiled fondly. "Probably wants to remind me about the wedding, again," he told the older man. "My foster brother is getting married in a couple of weeks. Aunt Jane is hosting the festivities out at Seasons House. I'm to be one of the ushers."
That was true and not true, Kenneth thought. There would indeed be a wedding, joining in holy matrimony his foster brother, Michael Nash, to his beloved Janice Davis. This was going to be a full-up, very formal, society event joining two very prominent families, the Nashes and the Davises. The actual wedding would take place at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City with two Archbishops officiating and celebrating the marital Mass. Gossip columnists in the greater New York and Boston areas had been following the wedding preparations for months and invitations were highly prized by the members of the social upper crust.
There would also be another ceremony, celebrated the night before, in Jane's private English Garden. That would be a very private affair, attended only by a very few family members and selected friends. In that ceremony, officiated by Judge Ruth, Michael and Janice would affirm the commitment to one another. Only, it would be Michelle and "Janson" affirming their commitment.
As with most Janice-plans, this one had made a whole lot more sense while Janice was talking (Kenneth thought about selling ice to Eskimos and decided that Janice would consider that too easy) than later when one had time to reflect upon it, but now it was too late. Also, as with most Janice-plans, this one had taken on a life of its own. Michael was fond of pointing out that stopping a Category 5 hurricane was simple, compared to deflecting Janice from her chosen path.
In this case, Janice had decided that she wanted to show her husband that she loved, lusted for and treasured both sides of the complex yin and yang equation that yielded Michael/Michelle Nash. Her solution to this little problem was to hold this second, rather unique wedding ceremony.
In true Seasons House tradition, participating boys would be dressed in girl clothing, while the girls would be dressed in boy clothing - at least for the most part. Michelle had been fitted with her own wedding gown ("I'm not having any possibility of bad luck coming from you seeing MY gown before the wedding, and besides, it would really tick me off if you looked better in it that I do!" Janice had told her mate-to-be.) The brides-maids would be former students of Jane's resuming their old roles - Darla (Darryl) as 'matron of honor' with Beth (David) and Jessica (Jesse) completing the "bride's" party. Diana (Art) would admirably fill the role of "Mother of the Bride" while "Uncle Jack Thompson" and "Father Barton Davis" would jointly give away the "bride".
The 'groom' and her 'grooms-persons' would be wearing very sexily cut feminine tuxedos and would consist of "Audie" (Audrey) Thompson as best 'man' with Carroll (Carolyn) Beale and Sander (Sandra) Madden completing the party.
*Ought to be a hoot,* Kenneth thought with just a trace of sadness. It wasn't often he regretted the growth spurt that had put seven inches and fifty pounds on his tall, lithe frame, but this was one of those times. At six feet three inches tall and 185 lbs, he just couldn't 'do' Kendra very well anymore.
At least, not to HIS expectations in any case.
Actually, only a few years earlier, any such feelings of regret would have surprised the boy he'd been. After he'd gone to live with Judge Ruth following his final showdown with his birth-mother, Kenneth had taken up bodybuilding in a big way. After a while, he'd recognized that to be an over-reaction to what his mother had planned to do to him. It would be hard to feminize Mr. Universe, after all. In the end, he hadn't liked the look, and with the help of a very good personal trainer, had instead opted for his current build - much less bulked up, more fitness-oriented. That regimen, combined with the aforementioned growth spurt, had endowed him with the lean-muscled frame of the endurance swimmer.
Which made the ability to transform himself into the cute, petite Kendra a thing of Kenneth's past.
"No," Ellis said thoughtfully, his words interrupting his young colleague's mental ruminations, "I don't think that was her reason for calling. She asked me if there would be a problem with her hiring your professional services, either from a company policy or from an ethical perspective. I told her no - lawyers do work for their families all the time and having a junior member of the firm representing Jane Thompson in any capacity is a coup to us. That's one hell of a lady."
"She is that. Okay, I'll call her. Thanks, Mr. Ellis."
"I believe that if I've told you once, I've told you thrice, that anyone with a Harvard J.D. can call me Richard, son. Try to remember that in the future, if you don't mind. See you later, okay?"
Kenneth waited for Richard to leave before picking up the phone. He dialed a number from memory and settled back down into his almost-new chair. The phone was picked up halfway through the second ring. A familiar voice said, "This is Jane Thompson."
"Hi Momma-Jane," he replied. "This is your son-the-lawyer. What do you need?"
"A great deal, Kenneth. I'm sorry to intrude upon your privacy, but are you free for dinner tonight? Semi-formal, I'm afraid - suit and tie at the least - as I have junior student in residence, but we'll be able to talk after the meal. I need your help."
"Usual time?" he asked, his willingness to serve already clear to them both.
"We'll sit down to table at seven sharp, dear."
"Tell Marie to set an extra plate and put another cup of water in her spaghetti sauce. I'm on my way."
"Thank you, dear."
Chapter 2: The Other Side of the Table
Kenneth had never been a participant in a student's rehabilitation at Seasons House in either the junior or senior sister role. He did not count the few hellish days he spent under Jane's program, when his birth-mother had forged court sentencing papers in an attempt to trick Jane into feminizing her son. Fortunately for Kenneth, it had only taken Jane about two days to figure out that something about this unusually controlled and composed young man was not consistent with the barely civilized animal described in the records provided by the "court". Two days later, Kenneth had been out of skirts and restored to his masculine state while a furious Jane Thompson and Judge Ruth had plotted the downfall of Sheila Roberts.
So he had never been at table when Jane was working on another student's manners and deportment. It was an uncomfortable experience, as it brought back memories of the meals he'd eaten and later thrown up during his own blessedly-short time in the Seasons House hot seat.
He'd expected to be asked to play the 'flirting male who's not in on the gag' role during the meal, much as Michael and Darryl had described others doing. Jane had quickly disabused him of that notion immediately upon his arrival at Seasons House. Basically, she had wanted him to act like a casual business acquaintance of hers, and to interact only very formally with either of the young people. At first, he'd been a little disappointed, having spent the better part of the afternoon after his phone-call with Jane thinking about what he'd do and say with the junior boy-girl student. Halfway through the fish course, however, any residual disappointment had long-since evaporated to be replaced by a growing sense of relief.
He'd met the senior student/big sister before and liked her immediately. Jessica (Jesse) was now Jane's foster child, an orphan who was now as much Jane Thompson's son as Kenneth, Darryl or Michael. *She sure is cute,* Kenneth thought as he considered the petite brunette in the robin's egg blue and cream dress. *Hard to believe that Kendra was ever in her class, the pictures in Aunt Jane's Rogues Gallery to the contrary.*
The junior student, however, was an unknown quantity to the young attorney. Adrienne, formerly Adrian, Braithwaite was seated directly opposite Jane so that she could watch every move and correct every small error in manners or deportment. Unfortunately, this student didn't bother to make small errors - she seemed to delight in making colossal ones.
*In fact,* Kenneth mused as he savored Marie's marvelous maple-glazed baked ham, *It's as if she is doing her level best to infuriate Jane. That's the third time she's been corrected for the same screw-up. How many times do you have to be told to how to use a napkin properly? How long has this kid been here? Long enough to look pretty good as a girl . . . so why hasn't she picked up on how to get through a meal without this kind of heartburn. Is Jane being particularly demanding? I don't think so. What the hell is going on here?*
As the meal progressed, tension around the table increased with each passing dish until, just before the dessert course, Jane set down her napkin with very great care and glared at her junior student. "Adrienne, if you cannot dine in a civilized manner, then you will not dine at all. In case it has escaped your notice, we have a guest tonight and your boorish behavior is beyond anything I can accept." Jane pressed a small button beneath the table, summoning Marie.
"Yes, Ms. Thompson?" Marie said as she entered the dining room.
"Please serve Mr. Roberts and Jessica their dessert. Adrienne and I will retire to her room, as we have some pressing issues to discuss. Please have coffee served in my apartment in half an hour. Mr. Roberts, I would be gratified if you would join me for coffee, assuming you are not so offended by this one's behavior that you wish to call off our business together."
"I would be honored to take coffee with you, Ms. Thompson," Kenneth replied, keeping to the role Jane had assigned him in this little drama. "I will await your pleasure."
Jane gave him a regal nod of her head and then rose from her chair. "Come with me, Miss," she ordered her wayward pupil sternly, "NOW!"
Kenneth was shocked when, making no effort to disguise her distaste for the order or the woman giving it, Adrienne actually seemed to consider whether she was going to obey. Finally, she shrugged and rose gracelessly from her chair. "After you, Mizz Thompson, Ma'am," she said in a voice that in no way sounded feminine - not in tone, not in pitch and certainly not in inflection.
Stunned by Adrienne's utter disinterest in protecting her identity, Kenneth could only stare as Jane took the erring student by her elbow and actually frog-walked her out of the room. For several moments, he struggled to make sense of what he had just seen. Then he looked over to where Marie stood behind Jessica. "What the HELL was that all about?"
"If we knew that for certain, cher-Kenneth," Marie sighed, "We might be able to fix it."
"Adrienne's been here for almost two months, Mr. Roberts," Jessica said softly. "She was doing very well - Jane was starting to think about fishing around for a new little sister and I was getting ready to move in with Michael and Janice so that Adrienne could become the big sister. Then, all of a sudden, instant throw-back."
"Throw-back?" Marie snorted. "That child was never THAT bad here before, petite," she said before turning back to Kenneth, "One morning, barely a week ago, she comes down to breakfast, all sweetness and light - a lovely young person. I quite liked her," she added, and Kenneth could see how that upset the softhearted little Frenchwoman. "Jane took her to the Chalet for her weekly hair coloring, set and make up lessons - everything seemed fine there, from what we can gather."
"Jane was afraid Sandy had stepped over the line again, and that might have been the cause of her turnaround," Jessica put in, "But Caro was the one who worked her that day - almost exclusively, in fact, since Sandy was indisposed and, ah, a little nauseous," she added, blushing just a little.
"Oui," Marie continued. "Anyway, the girl came home acting the little bitch, eh? And she has gotten worse every day since."
"No idea why? None at all?" Kenneth was surprised.
"I did not say that," Marie said emphatically. "We have no proof, but we think Adrienne's guardian may be part of the problem. She has begun pestering Jane in the past few days. Demanding progress reports, calling at odd hours, insisting that she be allowed to speak with her brother."
"Adrienne is an orphan, like me," Jessica put in softly. "Unlike me, she had an adult sister who took her in. Unfortunately, sister has to work to support them both and she was too lenient with her brother; couldn't supervise him closely enough. He got in with a bad crowd and got into trouble with the law. Selling pot, running numbers, shoplifting."
"I see," Kenneth replied.
"Getting him out of that permissive, unsupervised environment seemed to help a great deal," Marie said, "as did the forced petticoating. Jane is not lenient, nor is Adrienne unsupervised any longer."
"No kidding," Kenneth smiled. "Any idea why I'm here?"
Marie shrugged. "Ideas, yes. Knowledge? No. I will let Jane tell you what she wants you to know."
"All right, Tante Marie. One last question?"
Kenneth tried his best to look pitiful. "Didn't Momma-Jane say *I* could have dessert?"
"Oh, you," Marie said with smiling, maternal exasperation. "Be right out with it. I made your favorite."
"Strawberry Pie with homemade vanilla ice cream?!?"
"Of course. What else would I make when one of my boys comes home to visit?"
"Could we have it in the kitchen? Like old times? This place is just a little, well, daunting - especially after what we just went through."
"But of course, cheri. Join us, Jessica?"
Forty-five minutes later, Jane walked into to her private parlor to find Kenneth waiting for her in the semi-darkened room. She flicked on the rest of the lights and headed over to a hidden panel above the hearth. A few quick, deft manipulations had the panel sliding away to reveal a large, closed circuit television monitor. Jane turned it on and the scene of a bedroom, an obviously nude young person, laying atop a very frilly bed.
"Letting the boys sleep in the buff these days because of the heat, Momma-Jane?" Kenneth asked as he handed her a cup of the strong black coffee she preferred to the tea she drank as part of her role.
"Of course not," Jane said with trenchant disgust. "It's just another way the child is defying me. You can see she's tossed her lingerie and the nightgown on the floor in a heap."
"What's going on? I spoke with Marie and Jessica, so I know the kid has had a major turn for the worse recently. What, if anything, can I do to help?"
"I need you to put the fear of God into his sister," Jane said intensely.
"The boy's guardian?"
"By court edict, *I* am that child's legal guardian until such time as I deem him rehabilitated, or until the court or I determine him to be incorrigible. His sister signed the court order temporarily relinquishing guardianship to me. If she rescinds that agreement, he goes to juvenile detention until he turns eighteen."
"So he's a court-appointed case. I thought that gave you a good deal more control and latitude than with a contract agreement between just you and the student's parents?"
"And so it normally does. However, this one's sister has somehow reached the conclusion that I am engaging in child abuse and has begun systematically harassing me - by phone, by letter, even confronting me in town the other day."
"Wow. What is she saying? What does she have to back up that contention?"
"A fairly accurate, if skewed description of what I do here in my program, and a couple of photographs taken from a distance using a powerful zoom lens." Jane handed him a large manila envelope. "Look at that," she ordered quietly.
Inside the envelope were the two aforementioned black and white photographs and a typed letter. The first of the two pictures showed a full-face closeup of young teenaged girl with very curly hair, huge eyes and a rather heavily made-up face. *Must have been taken right after Caro and Sandy got done with her,* Kenneth thought as he flipped to the second picture. This one showed a full-length shot of the same girl, garbed in a skirt, blouse, and fairly tall heels, looking up with what might be taken for a fearful expression at a very stern-looking Jane Thompson. "These do not show you to advantage, Momma-Jane."
"I know. She looks terrified, doesn't she? While I seem to be the wicked witch of the east, west, north AND south."
"You can be rather formidable, you know. Is she uncertain of her ability to carry off the masquerade? Is that why she has become, well, difficult to deal with?"
"Nothing of the kind. In fact, she is good at it. She's more agile in heels than Jessica. What she has been doing of late, is to be very careful to ensure that she does nothing to break her own masquerade publicly. However, once we are alone together, or if there is a single visitor? Kenneth, the girl positively BAITS me. It's as if she is trying to make me lose my temper with her. It is all so, well, the only term I can come up with is premeditated."
"So you think she wants you to step over the line in some manner she can use in a court case?"
"At least threaten me with that. My best guess, based on how careful she's been to protect her own identity in very public situations, is that she is hoping either to blackmail me or settle out of court with sealed records."
"That sounds. . . well, Machiavellian, Mom."
"Nothing else fits the fact, Kenneth. Read the letter."
HELP? HAH! What utter garbage.
"Strong words," Kenneth said after finishing the letter, "And these are just damning enough to support her case in the absence of other evidence to the contrary. Didn't she know what you do here?"
Jane sat down on the plushly cushioned Victorian 'Fainting Couch', kicked off her heels and laid back against the rich velvet upholstery. "Ruth handles that end of the arrangements when it is a court settlement. Normally, she is very up-front about what the parents can expect, especially after that one mother took to showing up on my doorstep unannounced two or three times a month," Jane said as she began to massage her temples with the knuckles of her index fingers. "However, in this case, she decided to deviate from that policy."
"Oh? And why did she do that? Aunt Ruth rarely flies in the face of a working precedent."
"From what I gathered, Miss Braithwaite is very young - barely twenty-two. She had only just come of age when her parents died and she took responsibility for his upbringing. Ruth felt she might not go along with the deal if she had the full disclosure and made the decision to withhold a good deal of detail."
"Define a good deal of detail, please," Lawyer Roberts ordered quietly.
"Don't badger the witness, dear," Jane admonished with a tired smile. "Miss Braithwaite, after discussions with your Aunt-the-Judge, concluded that my program was one of those "Spirit Quest" things, a sort of Boys Town where young men in trouble are sent to discover themselves and the true Dao to peace and enlightenment. Ruth did not attempt to correct that impression."
"You've got to be kidding me. Ruth Walinkiewicz KNOWS better than to pull something like that."
"You can talk to her yourself, but that's precisely what she did do. As I said, Ruth felt that the sister would not have signed the plea bargain if she fully understood what I was doing, and the last thing she wanted to do was send him to a juvenile detention facility. Besides, she had decided that the boy was going to be relatively easy anyway. All he really needed was some shock therapy to get his attention, some structure and discipline in his life, and time to reflect on what he'd been doing to himself and his sister."
"Except she was wrong about the kid."
Jane sighed. "Hindsight is 20/20, Kenneth. However, up until a week ago, Ruth's assessment of Adrienne was right on the mark. Then, bang. Since the moment we left the beauty salon, I don't think I have ever had a less responsive student in all my time here at Seasons House."
"Okay, you said you wanted my help. Put the fear of God in her, I think you said. How do I do that? And to what end?"
"Go to her. Use your lawyerly skills to intimidate her. Convince her that public exposure is not a good idea for her or her brother. I don't know, threaten to countersue."
"Why even bother with that, Mom? Ruth has the full power of her office behind that order. Why not just go after her that way? Ruth can threaten to vacate the suspension if she doesn't go away."
"Two reasons," Jane said. "First, taking that course of action could well mean the boy ends up out of my hands and in the juvenile justice detention system, and I'm not ready to give up on him!" Kenneth smiled, knowing full well that 'give up' were only two words stuck together for Jane Thompson and not a concept she either embraced or really understood.
"You said there were two reasons," Kenneth prompted the quietly fuming woman.
"The sister, Barbara, signed the court order. There is a gag order associated with any referrals to my program. If she does what she threatens, she is in contempt and will join her brother behind bars. Unfortunately, Ruth leaving her in ignorance about what she signed really muddies that issue. Still, the possibility of her facing jail time does not please me anymore than sending that boy to juvie for the next four years of his life pleases me."
"Mr. Ellis is a lot better lawyer than I am, Momma Jane, with a lot more experience. I think he'd be better at this than I would be."
"Richard is a delightful man, and as you say, one of the finest lawyers in the country, but he's not the right man for this task. After all, he is not among the 'in the know' about my activities here at Seasons House. You are and you fully understand the need to protect the rest of my boys."
"What does Art think? By the way, where is Art? I thought he was coming back for the wedding?"
"He got in last night from Bosnia. Poor dear hasn't come out of the bedroom except to use the bathroom and eat for almost twenty-four hours. What he saw there . . .isn't pleasant."
"So you and Diana will be at the weddings?"
"Diana will be," Jane said quietly. "Right now, I don't think I will be able to trust Adrienne sufficiently to allow her to attend which means someone will have to watch her. I'm the School Mistress here. That makes it my responsibility."
"But Michelle is counting on you," Kenneth blurted and instantly regretted it when he saw the sheen of tears glitter in Jane Thompson's tired eyes.
"I made a commitment," she said very softly. "Michelle. . . Michael will simply have to understand. If you cannot get Barbara Braithwaite to back off so that I can turn her brother around, I simply won't be able to attend either ceremony."
"I quite agree."
Chapter 3: Calling in the Sisters. . . Brothers
Kenneth sat staring at the telephone, willing it to ring. He'd spent the hour it had taken him to reach his apartment in Warwick from Seasons House to conclude that he might need reinforcements available when he went to face Ms. Barbara A. Braithwaite.
When it came to covering a fellow's back, no one did it quite as well as family.
The phone rang, and Kenneth had the receiver off the cradle before the first echo ended. "Roberts, here," he said.
"Hey, bro'," a familiar voice answered him. "I've got D' here on the extension. What's up?"
"Trouble, brothers, big trouble," Kenneth said by way of reply. "Momma-Jane has a problem, and she needs us to help solve it."
"Lord, Ken," Darryl said after listening quietly, "I have more experience with Jane's students than anyone except Jane, and I've never seen anyone act like. . . like. . "
"Like they were trying to force her to be abusive," Michael finished, anger rippling in his tones. "As if she would!"
"One thing I've learned about the legal system, Mike?" Kenneth put in, "Is that it isn't always the fact or the intent, but the appearances that matter, and how those appearances are presented to the judge and the jury."
"That's a pretty cynical viewpoint for a newly ordained lawyer-man, Ken," Michael noted.
"I know, Mike, but look, they don't have to win to hurt Mom, okay? We've always known that she is out there on the windy corner with this program. If the gossip-sheets get wind of this, the program dies. Not only that, but Mom will be hounded for the rest of her life."
"Point taken," Darryl said. "So, what do we do?"
"First things first, I think," Kenneth said. "I need a reading on the sister, and the only way to get that is to meet with her."
"You could always ask Aunt Ruth," Darryl argued. "I mean, she must have thought well of the woman to recommend Momma-Jane to her."
"Aunt Ruth is a court-judge. If I ask her, she will ask me why. as an attorney, I can't lie to her. Once she knows, she'll be in the position of having to decide whether or not to vacate the suspension and whether to hold the sister in contempt. Neither of those will do Mom or her program a lick of good."
"What do you hope to accomplish?"
"Figure out where she's coming from. Find a way to convince her that her little brother just might be manipulating her a bit. And, most importantly, that what Jane Thompson does is a GOOD thing."
"You know, Ken, when I . . ., well, when I went off the deep end, one of the things that really caught my attention? Was when Eric showed up in my suicide-proofed room as Erica. Then he transformed into Eric before my eyes. First male I'd ever seen in Seasons House, you know? I was more inclined to listen to him because, well, because he obviously knew what I was going through. He had the t-shirt - or is it the teddy? - to prove he'd been there, too."
"It's not like I can show up on her doorstep as Kendra, Mike. I don't fit in those clothes anymore," Ken said disgustedly, "But that was one reason I called you two. Presenting Darla and Michelle to her, along with your exemplary bone fides, might be a useful tactic, depending on how the initial interview goes."
"Might work," Darryl said. "Wish we had something to hold over her head like we did with Steve's father, though."
"The file on her Jane showed me is squeaky clean, Bro'. By all accounts, she's just a nice girl who loves her brother, works too hard, and doesn't have the experience to deal with a boy going through what her brother got caught in."
"Well, you know we'll do whatever we can, Ken," Mike put in. "I will be on her doorstep in petti's and pinafores, with my sheepskins in hand if that's what it takes."
"And I'll be with him, big brother, and I figure I can get another dozen at least without even trying hard."
"If we need more than you two, I don't think a dozen will be better."
"When do you go see her?"
"Tomorrow. Unofficially, at first. I don't want to announce my presence as Jane's representative until I know what's going on in her head."
"Be careful with those secret agendas, Kenneth," Darryl told him. "I nearly lost Audrey that way."
"I'm going to negotiate with her, Darryl, not marry her!"
"All the same, nice girls don't like feeling that they've been duped. Lawyers, in my experience, sometimes forget such social niceties."
"Not lawyers trained by Aunt Ruth and Momma-Jane. We're gentlemen - or else. See you later, guys."
Chapter 4: Ms. B. Anne Braithwaite
The small conference and meeting room he'd reserved at the Marriott hotel was both simple and luxurious. *Nothing but the best when you represent Jane Thompson,* he told himself with a grin. *Besides, I am going to need all the ammunition I can get. A little conspicuous display of Momma-Jane's considerable wealth and power might help these negotiations in the long run.*
Kenneth set his attache case down behind the large desk. He opened the case, removed his briefs and set them out where he could get at them easily. He was as ready as he was going to be for this encounter. There were several ways this could go down, and most of them were not good in some manner. *Just keep thinking those positive thoughts, Kenneth, my boy.*
He took off his suit coat and did some stretching exercises. He felt stiff and tired, for he hadn't slept well the night before. Part of that was stress, but another, equally significant aspect of his restlessness had been guilt. He'd spent the previous night with his 'other' foster mother, Judge Ruth, but had not told her the nature of his business in her fine city. Kenneth had never before hidden anything from either of the two women who had saved him from Sheila, but telling Ruth would put her in the position of having to ignore what was a violation of the court agreement or putting the boy juvie while bringing his sister up on charges. *You are caught,* he thought ruefully, *Between Jane's program and Ruth's career. Talk about ye olde Rock and ye olde hard place. They don't get any more comfortable with time.*
The phone on the desk rang and he answered it. It was the concierge. "Yes, this is Mr. Roberts. Oh, she is? Please ask one of the bellmen to escort her up to the conference room. Yes, thank you."
Kenneth set the phone down and reached for his suit coat.
He answered the door on the first knock and was brought up short by his first look at Ms. Barbara Anne Braithwaite. *Adrienne's prettier,* was Kenneth's first reaction on meeting Jane's adversary, and then his 'Marie-trained eye' caused him to reconsider that statement. *She's not trying to be attractive. Intentionally? Is she coming here garbed for combat and doesn't want me to get any ideas?*
B. Anne Braithwaite - for that was the way she had signed her letter - wore minimal makeup, just a bit of pale lipstick and mascara as though she wanted to avoid the statement absolutely no cosmetics would make without making an actual statement of her own. The grey suit she wore in no way showed her figure to any advantage - which should not have been too difficult, Kenneth realized, for the woman was slender and elegantly tall. She was easily taller than her brother, in fact - perhaps five feet ten or eleven inches in the unflattering flat-heeled loafers she wore. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back in the kind of unattractive, ruthless chignon that would look the same if her hair were shoulder length or bun-length.
And yet, there was something about her that appealed, nonetheless. Her intelligently-alert brown eyes were her best feature - large and filled with mysterious depths. Moreover, she had a mouth, Kenneth thought, that was meant to smile.
Only it wasn't smiling now. Kenneth forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand. *No wondering what Marie could do with those eyes, Roberts, at least not until the business is taken care of. Something tells me dealing with this one will take every ounce of smarts you've got.*
"Ms. Braithwaite," he said quickly, "Won't you come in and sit down, please."
Wordlessly, she strode into the room and sat down in the chair he'd indicated.
Kenneth moved to his own seat and tried to look 'lawyerly'. "Thank you for coming to see me, Ms. Braithwaite."
She gave an unladylike snort. "As if I had a choice. The wording in that summons your messenger brought to my apartment was rather blunt. 'Show up or face charges' sums it up quite accurately."
"I apologize for that," he said, "It isn't my intent to threaten you, only to impress upon you the gravity of our mutual situation and the need for you to participate in the solution."
"Oh, I don't feel threatened, Mister, I feel pissed! And the only one who is facing anything grave is that woman you claim to represent!"
"I see. Just so that we both understand where we stand in this situation, you did sign the court order remanding your brother to Ms. Jane Thompson for rehabilitative training in exchange for the judge agreeing to suspend his sentence to juvenile detention?" Those incredible brown eyes narrowed momentarily, and then she nodded once sharply. "And would this document be a signed copy of that court order? I know it has the seal of the state court on it, but I would like to confirm that this is the form and that is, in fact, your signature."
She glanced at the proffered form for only a moment before locking eyes with Kenneth again. "It's the form and that is my signature."
"Thank you. Ms. Braithwaite. Now, you understand that by communicating with Ms. Thompson as you did, by interposing yourself into her program for your brother as you have, you stand in violation, perhaps even in criminal violation of your agreement with the court as described in that document?"
Raw fury flashed in the woman's eyes, making them almost black. "And what she's doing to my brother is not a violation?!?" she demanded in a low, husky voice that seemed to vibrate the very air.
"No, it is not."
"THAT'S what's CRIMINAL, Mr. Roberts! My brother is clearly being abused, and whether that has the blessing of that woman's COURT or NOT is absolutely beside the point. My brother was threatened with unspeakable acts by the women at that chalet-place and he's being forced to act like a female and wear women's clothes in PUBLIC! And you say that *I* am criminal? I think you need to review your textbooks on child abuse law, Mr. Roberts!"
*Sandy and her stupid threats,* Kenneth thought. "Ms. Braithwaite, the real problem here, as I understand it, is that you were not fully apprised of Ms. Thompson's method when you signed that agreement . ."
"Fully apprised? Fully apPRISED? Mister, that woman LIED to me! I was told that my brother would be out of the city - in the country and fresh air - eating fresh food, learning new skills, developing problem-solving skills. That is NOT what he's doing."
*Actually, that's precisely what he is doing,* Kenneth thought as he recalled some of Jane's more challenging lessons, *but you are no mood to hear that. Besides, simply saying that to you would end up leading to just one more evasion because I'm not going to tell you the specifics - yet.*
"I see. Did the Judge tell you this was an Outward-Bound type experience?"
"She didn't correct me when I asked her if that is what this was all about! She deceived me!"
*Ruth, whether you intended to be vague but truthful or not, you screwed this up, big time. And the only way any of us are coming out this cleanly is to put the whole mess on the table. God, I wish I had more experience at this!*
"I'm sure that it was not Judge Walinkiewicz's intent to deceive or mislead you," *Like hell it wasn't!* "but all the same, the explanations were obviously not well done. Look, Ms. Braithwaite, I am going to level with you and explain Ms. Thompson's program to you in detail. Perhaps if you better understand what she is really doing you can better see what she is trying to accomplish with your brother."
"And why should I believe you anymore than I believed that Judge Ruth Whatevertheheckhernamewas? YOU represent the woman who is really doing the abuse."
"Because, after I have finished briefing you on Ms. Thompson's program and its history, you will have all the ammunition you need to hurt her badly, and at the same time, the nearly one hundred young men who have completed her program and who have gone on to live productive, happy lives."
"As what? Women?"
Kenneth allowed that question to hang in the air between them for several tense moments, his own dark eyes never leaving hers. When he spoke, the quiet intensity of his voice surprised even him. "Do I look like a woman to you, Ms. Braithwaite?"
"My name was Kendra when I was a student at Jane Thompson's school," Kenneth told her with quiet dignity.
"I don't believe you. Why would you admit something like that to me? A stranger? What man would EVER admit something like that?"
"It's the truth, and as to why I would admit it to you? I was hoping my revelation might help establish my credentials, if you will. I know from first hand experience what Jane Thompson and her program are really all about. What I went through with her did not hurt me in any way, and in the long run, did me a great deal of good, as it has all her boys. My experiences there were tough and at times unpleasant, but sometimes love has to be tougher than the problems you are trying to solve."
"What possible good could come of forcing such a thing on a young man? What POSSIBLE justification could there be?"
"Success is one justification," Kenneth said soberly. "As to the good? Let me explain what Jane does and why she does it. Then perhaps you'll understand better what is really happening to your brother."
Chapter 5: Point-Counterpoint/Offer-Counter Offer
"So, the basic goal of all this is to put the boys in highly stressful situations, situations where they would previously resort to whatever inappropriate behaviors got them sent to Jane in the first place, while dressed as girls. However, the very fact that they ARE dressed as girls forces them to stop and think before react inappropriately. At the same time, the concentration on manners and deportment help socialize the student."
"It sounds like hogwash, Mr. Roberts. Your Ms. Thompson is abusing my brother, and I will see her and you in court!"
"You're going to lose, Ms Braithwaite," Kenneth said quietly, "Or at best, win a Pyrrhic victory."
"Oh, you really think so? This isn't San Francisco, Mr. Roberts, nor is it Boston or New York. This is MidWestern America, and here, folks think that making boys into girls against their will is a sin and a crime. I can guarantee that any jury in this part of the country will convict her."
"Perhaps, but in a criminal case, I'll easily win on appeal, if it goes that far. I think it far more likely, however, that I will be able to get the case thrown out before it even gets that far. Look, Ms. Braithwaite, the fact is that what Ms. Thompson does has been highly successful. I can call social workers, judges, parents of her students, law enforcement officers - all of whom have direct knowledge of what she does and how she goes about it, and everyone of them will support her claim that she is in no way abusive. And that is before I bring in the students themselves to testify on her behalf."
"You simply can NOT believe any of that," the woman said, her eyes wide with incredulity.
"Oh, but I do believe ALL of that. Ms. Braithwaite, suppose your brother, instead of having been sent to Ms. Thompson, had been sent to one of those boot-camp-styled youth rehabilitation programs. At the boot camp, he'd have been immersed in the type of macho oriented, group situation he's already shown he cannot handle. In my view, all that one of the bootcamps entails is a gang-like mindset and dynamic, but with better leadership.
On the other hand, Ms. Thompson isolates him from that type of situation while forcing him to reexamine the unfortunate social choices that have led him to this point. The rest, in other words, the externals, are merely tools to effect that reexamination. What's the real difference between curls, skirts and heels, compared to skinheads, fatigues and army boondockers? Both are artificial; both have a point. The real question we need to address here should be - Which situation presents the solution most likely to solve the problem that got Adrian sent to Jane in the first place?"
"And you said that all with a straight face," Anne Braithwaite said wonderingly. "No one in THIS part of the country is going to believe that putting a boy in skirts is more likely to make a man of him than going to bootcamp."
"As I said, Ms. Braithwaite, I have an overwhelming preponderance of historical evidence and testimony to the contrary."
"All right, so you might win a criminal case. As O.J. Simpson has discovered, that is not the only path to justice in this country."
"You're referring to a civil lawsuit? Claiming what? Infringement of Constitutional rights? Something along those lines?" When the woman did not say anything, Kenneth nodded. "I'd say your chances of winning any significant settlement there are, at best, 50/50. Some of the people who are willing to act as testimonials to Ms. Thompson's methods are rather important men and I believe that their statements would carry great weight, even with the most hidebound of juries. And then, there'd be appeals. I think it is safe to say, Ms. Braithwaite, that when whatever lawyer has offered to represent you pending the award sees my case, you might find he wants to be paid up front with no guarantees."
"My brother will still be free of her."
"Your brother will still be in jail, Ms. Braithwaite. And without a criminal case against my client, you will likely be facing contempt of court charges yourself."
"So, why don't you just bring me up on those charges? The letter I sent to that woman is all the proof you need!"
"Three reasons. First, my client doesn't want to hurt your brother. She feels, quite strongly, that sending him to juvie for the next four years might well do irreparable harm to him. Second, she doesn't want to hurt you."
"I find that very difficult to believe," she interrupted snappishly.
Kenneth shrugged. "As you will. And yet, your brother has not been physically abused or disciplined in any way. He's been well fed and his physical needs seen to at all times, and he's been challenged physically, emotionally and mentally in ways that force him to learn things about himself he'd never otherwise."
"Everything's wonderful except he's being turned into a girl!"
"He's being made to act like a girl. In three months to a year, he'd be back in trousers, living as masculine an existence as I am - except that he'll be doing it as a much nicer male to be around."
"So YOU say. You'll forgive me if I feel you have failed to prove your case to MY satisfaction. And what was the third reason, Mr. Roberts? For this Thompson woman to want to keep this out of court?"
"Although her students are more than willing to come forward for her, to testify publicly in her behalf about their experiences in her keeping, she does not want them to do so. As you have indirectly pointed out, there are prejudices in this country that affect how others perceive people. She'd rather that . . . appearances in open court by her former students not be necessary."
"So, what's the alternative, Mr. Roberts. Are you going to offer me a deal? Some type of settlement?"
"Ms. Thompson regrets that you were not fully apprised of, and in agreement with her proposed program for Adrian when you signed the commitment papers. Therefore, provided that you meet certain specific conditions, she is willing to release your brother to your recognizance."
"Without the vacation of the suspended sentence?"
"If you agree to her conditions, and then, if you meet her conditions, she will sign his release papers and return full guardianship to you as if your brother had successfully completed her program of studies."
"Sounds too good to be true."
"I don't believe you will think so. First, you and your brother must sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements promising not to reveal any part of Ms. Thompson's program until after her death. As guardian, you will, of course, be responsible for your brother's compliance with those agreements until such time as he reaches his majority. Failure on either of your parts to comply with those agreements not only opens you to legal action, but voids the second, financial portion of the settlement."
"Financial? I don't understand. All I want is to get my brother out of that hellhole!"
"As you will, but you should hear me out nonetheless, Ms. Braithwaite. My client, Ms. Thompson, feels that you were overwhelmed by your responsibilities as care-giver and provider. You will agree to become an 'at-home' mother to Adrian so that he will be adequately supervised until such time as he reaches his eighteenth birthday."
"That's ridiculous! I need to work so that I can pay bills, buy clothing . . food. . "
"That is the financial aspect we were just discussing. So long as both you and your brother comply with the provisions of the non-disclosure agreements, and you are an 'at-home' guardian, Ms. Thompson agrees to underwrite your full living expenses, up to and including five years of university for Adrian, which should see him through an undergraduate degree. At that time, she will entertain providing funds for graduate work, should his grades and commitment warrant her continued support. Additionally, should you wish to attend graduate school while you hold guardianship, my client will also agree to pay those associated costs so long as it does not distract from your supervision of your brother."
"You have got to be kidding. That would be a great deal of money - almost forty thousand dollars a year."
"That's probably a low number, given the cost of college these days. However, Ms. Thompson has already established and fully capitalized the necessary trust fund in your and your brother's names, Ms. Braithwaite," Kenneth said, handing her a document. "The final condition is the one you may find disagreeable, but it is one about which Ms. Thompson is most emphatic."
"Yes. You will agree to come to Kingston for a period of three weeks and observe, covertly, your brother's training at Seasons House. If, at the end of that period, you still feel that she is abusing him, she will release him immediately to your care and the other conditions of the agreement will take effect. If you decide to allow her to continue the program, then she will still turn the proceeds of the trust fund over to you. Either way, you and your brother will have no financial worries for at least the next seven years. This settlement contract," Kenneth passed a thick document over to the stunned young woman, "details in legalese what I just told you in plain language. You might wish to have your own lawyer review it before you consider signing it."
Anne Braithwaite could only stare at the stack of paper now in front of her. She had never expected anything like this settlement proposal to come of this meeting. *Now what do I do?*
She looked at the calm young attorney who was watching her with strangely gentle eyes and then back down at the settlement agreement. A question occurred to her. "Why?"
"Why is she making this offer? I already told you - because she doesn't want anyone to be hurt by this."
"No, why are you doing this? You're defending her and it's more than just your profession involved. Is it because you were her student? Because you don't want it known that you were like my brother and put into girls' clothing?"
"I am defending her because I believe in her and in what she does for her boys," Kenneth said softly. "because I KNOW she helps them."
Anne considered that as she scanned the document. "Your office? It's in Providence?" Kenneth nodded, his eyes suddenly wary. "And you say that you believe in her methods? That there is no particular harm in a man or boy going out in public dressed as a woman?" Again, Kenneth nodded.
"All right. Then prove it. Meet me in Providence in three days, publicly dressed as a woman. Put your reputation where your mouth is."
"Wha. a. . at?!?" Kenneth stuttered.
A wickedly self-satisfied smile curled Anne Braithwaite's mouth. "I'll agree to your settlement, Mr. Lawyer-man, but, " she said standing up and stuffing papers into her own briefcase. "You will meet me at my hotel, in your feminine persona, and escort me to your Ms. Thompson's house for my three week observation period."
"But, Ms. Braithwaite, I've. . . grown. . .I mean, I'm not . ."
"That's my deal, Mr. Roberts!" she cut him off. "You will meet me and escort me in your feminine role. Fail in that, sir, and we will meet again. In court. Good day, Mr. Roberts, or perhaps, I should say, Good day, Miss Roberts."
The door closed behind her well before Kenneth could manage to close the mouth that had gaped in shock.
Chapter 6 - Family Conference
He needed nearly half the trip to the airport just to get his emotions under control. She wanted him to show up at her hotel, en femme? As Kendra? *But I haven't been able to be Kendra since I hit that growth spurt,* his mind railed. *Cripes, I'm six feet three inches tall - even without heels I will stand out like a sore thumb! And I don't want to look like a freak - don't want Kendra to look like a freak - that's why I wouldn't agree to be a 'male-of-honor' at Janice's little reversed wedding ceremony.*
*But Momma-Jane's program, and more importantly, her entire lifestyle might be at stake in all this,* he reminded himself sternly.
It was just too much. "DAMN!" he exploded.
"Yo, somethin' wrong, Mister?" the cabbie asked, looking into his rearview mirror and nearly rear-ending the Postal Service truck he'd been tailgating.
Kenneth realized that he'd spoken aloud and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry - bad meetings. Still a bit. . . annoyed."
"No prob, Mac. We'll be at the airport in a few minutes. You want me to go to departures?"
"No, I'm on a charter flight." Kenneth gave him the name and location of the private operator's facility and then pulled out his satellite cell-phone. He punched the speed dial and listened as the connection was made.
"Mike? Ken. Look, I'm on my way to the airport for the flight back to Providence. I need to meet with you, Darryl, Jane, Marie and Art as soon as I get back. Can you call around and set that up?"
"No problem. When will you be back?"
"A few hours - no later than supper time."
"Okay. How do we get the word to you?"
"I'll call Momma Jane as soon as I'm on the ground in Providence."
"Good enough. Anything else?"
"Yeah, I learned something that might be important, but I need to check it out. Do you have the number for the Chalet handy?"
"Somewhere. . . " Michael's voice trailed away and Kenneth could hear the sounds of papers rustling and drawers opening and closing. "Here it is. Ready to copy?"
Kenneth entered the number into his digital pocket organizer, thanked his 'Thompson-brother' and then broke the connection. With practiced ease, he programmed the phone number of the Marisa Chalet into his cell-phone's speed dial memory and then made the call.
"Marisha Chalet, this is Caro."
"Carolyn, Hi! It's Kenneth. I need you to check something for me and pass what you find to Jane, okay? And then I need to talk to Sandy. Great. Here's what I need you to do. . ."
They met in the old groom's apartment over the stables - the one that Jane had converted into a combination exercise room for Art/Diana and as a "home away from Seasons House" for members of her family when a junior student's presence precluded them being accommodated at the manor house. Jessica was at the house watching over Adrienne's walking excursion with Mr. Webster.
"So, she's agreed to the visit?" Jane asked, after Kenneth had given his slightly edited report. "She'll be here?"
"In three days, or so she tells me. She's still not convinced, Jane," he warned her. "We're not out of the woods yet, and I think we are, at best, 50/50 for staying out of court with this. She strikes me as the 'do the right thing because it is the right thing to do' type."
"Oh, god, not another idealist," Diana groaned, turning to stare at her wife with comical disgust.
"Just like Momma-Jane, Daddy-Di," Kenneth assured her. "Two peas out of the same pod."
"If we could PLEASE get back to the issue at hand," Jane said sternly, and then watched as Darryl, Kenneth, Michael and Marie dissolved into giggles. "Well, I'm glad that still works with the new ones, anyway."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Kenneth replied, just a bit sheepishly. "Look, I think she's smart enough and open enough that she'll see what you do and come to appreciate the value in that. However, she loves her brother and there seems to be some guilt there that she couldn't keep him out of trouble, so she's inclined to come charging to his rescue."
"What you are saying, son," Diana said in Art's voice, "Is that if she doesn't see the good in what Jane does, she won't take the rest of the deal?"
"I don't think so, Dad. If she thinks we're in the wrong here, my guess is she will not accept the settlement and go to court. Not to take us for more money, but to stop Momma Jane, once and for all."
The room became very quiet, only to be broken by Darryl's soft, "Damn!"
"Just so," Jane said with a sigh. She stood up and walked over to the room's large picture window and looked at the late-evening shadowed silhouette of Seasons House. "It is just possible that is the correct solution, you know. Maybe it is time I retired as the School Mistress of Seasons House. Lord knows that I have so much else I could be doing with my time these days. I have a husband now, children who are my own in everything except genetically which hardly counts. It might be nice to pack up and head off with Art and Marie the next time he's sent off to someplace like Bosnia."
"Over my dead and bleeding body," Art snapped.
"Then don't go yourself, husband," Jane said steadily, still staring out into the twilight-softened landscape. "Whither thou goest, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."
Michael stood up and came over to Jane. "Mom? If you really want to retire, then that's what we want for you. If you're doing it before you are ready, and if you think you've failed because there are still kids you should be helping, then screw that noise!"
"Michael!" Jane sputtered.
"Like you've never heard words like that?" Darryl replied. "I agree with Mike. You really want to retire, great. Better than great, in fact."
"Oh?" The famous "Thompson-brow" cocked up at her grinning, adopted son. "And just WHY, pray-tell, would that be 'better than great'?"
"Because Audrey could use some Motherly support and help just now." Darryl paused to make sure he had everyone's full attention. "We're expecting."
"Expecting what?" Kenneth asked without thinking and then gaped at his brother. "As in. . ex-PECTING? Like in, BABIES?"
"Well, we hope it's just one right now, but yeah, that's what I mean. So what do you think, Mom? Ready to be the prettiest, doting-est, spoiling-est grandmother in Rhode Island?" Darryl asked, grinning up at his Mother mischievously.
His answer was swirl of silk, a waft of Obsession, and a fiercely loving hug that bid fair to rob him of his breath.
"I guess that's a yes?" Darryl squeaked.
There were joyful tears in Jane's eyes when she finally let go. "Oh, god, yes, that's a yes! When?"
Darryl blushed. "Oh, about 6 and a half months from now. We started trying on our first anniversary. Guess we needed the practice."
The next several minutes were spent in the happy chatter of a loving family discussing the impending birth of first of a new generation, until Jane, being Jane, pulled herself back to the issue that had brought them together. "So, you think she may still go to court. What does that mean?"
"I think that any criminal case she tries can't win. Your supporters are too well placed and if necessary, I will subpoena them to prove our case. The civil case is chancier, but even there, I think it's a given that we'd win on appeal. However, your school would be dead - the media and the scandal sheets would bury it."
"I've always known that was a possibility."
"I think," Kenneth went on, "That the real threat is to Judge Ruth. Impeachment is done by politicians, and the trial subsequent to a bill of impeachment is also done by politicians. I don't know, but my guess is that the legislature is likely to impeach and convict, regardless of the legal validity of our arguments. It would become a media circus and there is no way she could come out of it with anything like justice."
"You believe she'd be the real loser in all this?"
"Her, Adrienne and of course, the boys you won't be able to help in the future."
"Hey, bro," Darryl put in, "Don't forget others like Gigi."
"There will never be another Audrey, dear," Jane said smiling, "but I take your point. I suppose I should warn Ruth?"
Kenneth looked uncomfortable. "That may be a lose-lose idea, Mom. If you did that, she might decide she had to vacate Adrienne's suspended sentence. If that happens, I guarantee that Ms. Braithwaite will take us to court."
Jane nodded. "I understand. I will talk to Ruth. If she decides to press the issue, I will threaten to release him outright, as is my right under the court order."
"How will that help, Mom?" Darryl asked. "I thought the whole point was to get this woman to sign the non-disclosure agreements and then watch you in action. If you release him, how does that happen?"
"I don't tell him he's released, of course, nor will I tell Ms. Braithwaite."
"That might make this a criminal case, Mom," Kenneth warned her. "Without that court order, your authority to hold him against his sister's will, and your guardianship of him both go away."
"Then I will simply have to bluff Ruth into thinking I will do it, won't I?" Jane looked at her watch and frowned. "I really should be getting back to the house, dear. Is there anything more?"
"Yes. Where will she stay?"
"Here," Jane replied. "Since Jessica is living with me on and off, I have had this apartment wired to receive the CCTV, much as my own rooms are. That way, Jessica is able to help with the observations while living here when she is not officially in residence at Seasons House as big sister. I can also give her an electronic 'all clear' signal when she wants to come 'visit'."
"Okay. Did Caro or Sandy call you? I asked them to check on something for me."
"Oh, that's right. Yes, Caro did call. It is just as you thought. Someone at the salon made a call to one of the numbers you gave Caro. The week before our young miss started acting out and before I started receiving letters from Ms. Braithwaite. Evidently, Adrienne managed to sneak into the office and make the call. How did you know?"
"A guess. The sister paraphrased some of their conversation, and mentioned the Chalet specifically. Evidently Adrienne was getting a highlight job and was very unhappy about it. That made the Chalet a good possibility for how they made subsequent contact, especially since you keep to a fairly regular salon schedule with the boys early in their time with you."
"You think he saw her in the vicinity the following week?"
"And started acting up? Yes. That's my best guess. It also explains the photos she sent you. She had to have some idea where you would be, with Adrienne, and when the two of you would be there. The most predictable thing you do, Mom, is go to the beauty parlor."
"I see," Jane murmured. "Well, please excuse me, but I have to get back to the house and check on Adrienne and Jessica. Then, I will call Ruth."
"I'll go with you, dear," Diana said rising to her feet and following her wife who was hurrying out the door.
"Tante Marie?" Kenneth put in. "Could I talk to you for a minute before you go? Please?"
"Mais oui, mon petit brave," Marie replied, her eyes twinkling as they always did when she used her pet name for her 'little boy' who was no longer quite so 'petit'.
"I need some help from you on a . . .little project."
Chapter 7: Interludes - Jane and Diana
A furious "Would you PLEASE ACT YOUR AGE!?!?" greeted Jane and Diana as they reentered Seasons House.
"Jessica?" Diana asked. Jane nodded, even as she sped toward the front parlor.
The tableau that greeted Jane would have been comical except for the seriousness of her mission. Jessica, barely five feet six in her three inch heels was standing bare centimeters away from the taller Adrienne, her fists on her slim hips and her eyes blazing. "You aren't even trying!" the smaller girl accused furiously.
"What is going on here?" Jane demanded from the doorway.
"SHE THREATENED TO STRIKE ME!!" Adrienne shouted.
For the barest of moments, Jane felt a chill run down her spine as she recalled the reason her foster child had come to Seasons House. He tended to react violently to provocation - real or imagined. *However, he never threatened,* she reminded herself, *he simply struck without warning.*
"Did she indeed?" Jane asked, her tone indicating her disbelief.
Total disgust showed on Jessica's lovely face. "I told her that if she was going to keep whining, I wished I could give her something whine about. I never raised a hand in her direction."
"SHE MADE FISTS!" Adrienne screeched piteously.
"And you have four inches and some twenty five pounds on her, and we both know that you're a boy. I am sure you would be gravely threatened by my niece's physical prowess," Jane replied, sarcasm dripping from each syllable. "Go to your room, Adrienne. If this is how you keep your word of honor, then I must conclude that you either do not understand the meaning of the word, or that you have no personal honor. I will deal with you no more this night. Jessica? Go the kitchen and prepare a pot of tea, please. I need a cup. Bring it to my office." Jane then returned her stern stare to the gaping Adrienne. "I told YOU to go to your room! I meant NOW, not LATER!"
Jane felt a guilty flutter of satisfaction at seeing her student scurry from the room. Unfortunately, that satisfaction only lasted until she remembered the phone call she had to place.
"Damn, Jane, I am sorry about this mess. I should not have kept the girl in the dark and I knew it even when I was doing it," Ruth Walinkiewicz said after Jane had given her all the particulars. As Kenneth had predicted, her first inclination had been to send the boy off to the juvenile authorities, and it had taken all of Jane's considerable persuasive skills to convince her otherwise.
"May I know why you didn't tell her? I thought that Diana, or rather Art, had convinced you as he did me that full disclosure is the safest way to go, even with court-referred cases."
"I suppose it doesn't matter now, but to tell you the truth, I wasn't going to refer this one to you. I had planned one of those 'scared-straight' weeks in a jail-situation, with the threat of one of those boot camps if he didn't square away after that."
"What changed your mind?"
"An Amicus Curia brief - you know, a 'Friend of the Court' briefing, from someone who knew the family, but wished to remain anonymous. It strongly recommended that the boy be referred to your program."
"To MY program? Someone anonymous knows about MY program? Oh my God, Ruth, this just gets worse and worse!"
"Easy, Jane. The reason this person knows about you is because he was one of your students. He wanted to be anonymous because he didn't want to influence the girl or you, and because, well," Ruth's voice drifted off.
"He didn't want to admit to his own participation in my program?" Jane finished sweetly. "Who was it, Ruth?"
"Pretty much, Jane," Ruth sighed. "As to who it was? Jane, it was Donald Madden."
"Donald? DON-ald? How? WHY? I mean, heavens, Ruth, he was a failure here. I mean, he was here a year or so ago, when Carl was my student, but I haven't heard from him since. Why ever would he recommend a student to my program?"
"He's the girl's employer, Jane. She's an assistant accounts manager at his offices here in town - pretty good at it, too, according to Donald - and he wanted her to have every chance to get ahead. Which meant, in Donald's mind, taking care of the distractions her brother was causing with his bad acting. He had his lawyer file the Amicus Curia and then met with me privately. I have to tell you, Jane, that having one of the ones that got away come back and recommend the program, admitting that he was in the wrong, went a long way towards convincing me to send Adrian to you. The only glitch was that, in the interests of protecting Donald, I didn't fully disclose the program to the sister."
"Well, in the clarity of hindsight, I wish you had, but I can understand your motives. Look, Ruth, I need to speak with Donald. Do you have his phone number?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Let me see. . . ah, here it is!"
Jane copied the number down and then signed off. For a long time, she stared at the phone, wondering. Then, she picked up the phone, and began to dial.
"Madden residence," a voice answered on the first ring.
"This is Jane Thompson of Kingston, Rhode Island. I'd like to speak with Mr. Madden.
"Is he expecting your call?"
"No, but this is urgent. Please inform him of my call."
Jane listened to the thankfully muzak-less line and tried to organize her thoughts more cogently.
"Madden here. Is that you, Ms. Jane?"
"Donna," Jane said and then caught herself, "I mean, Donald. I need to speak with you about. . about a student you may have been involved in referring to me."
"Oh, I see. Anne Braithwaite's brother?"
"All right. What can I do? What's the problem?"
"I need some information, Donald. There are some things I desperately need to understand."
Kenneth slid into his office chair, leaned back and closed his eyes. Ellis had been damned understanding - more than he'd had any right to expect or even hope for. "Whatever Jane Thompson wants and needs, she gets from this partnership, Kenneth. If that's your undivided attention for three weeks, than that's what she gets. I've been after a piece of her business for years, but she's always been very careful not to mix business and friendship. Guess she's not so hesitant to mix business and family."
"It's a . . . unique situation, Mr. Ellis," Kenneth had told the senior partner, "And one she feels, rightly or wrongly, that I am uniquely qualified to handle for her." *and she doesn't even know the half of it,* he thought. *I just hope I am up to the challenge.*
"Well," Ellis had said, "See that you are, and if there is anything that the rest of the firm can do to assist you in this - anything from research to filing a brief - you call me directly. Like I said, I want Jane's name on a retainer contract."
Kenneth spun in his seat as he remembered. It probably wouldn't be all that difficult. Jane would see that he was well taken care of in her own way, and if that meant funneling her international business deals through Kenneth to get him in good with the partners, Jane Thompson would do just that. *All the while expecting me to be letter perfect at all times. After all, I am one of HER boys.*
He hoped he was ready for tonight. Marie had called the night before to tell him she was finished with her part, and Sandy had called him this morning to confirm she'd be there tonight. Lord, but he was nervous about this - hadn't been able to eat in two days.
His intercom buzzed and Kenneth picked up the handset. "Mr. Roberts?" the receptionist asked. "You have a visitor. A Ms. Braithwaite. She's on her way up to your office. " Then the woman's voice became very low. "She seems, well, rather upset - almost angry about something."
"Thanks, Becky," he replied before replacing the handset.
He had just gotten up to go greet her when his door slammed open to admit an obviously furious B. Anne Braithwaite followed by a shocked secretary. "You BASTARD!" she snarled.
"Mr. Roberts," the secretary quavered.
"It's all right, Mrs. McCarthy. I'll help Ms. Braithwaite," Kenneth said easing the door shut.
"Help me? HELP me? By threatening my JOB? You call that HELP?!?"
*My god, she's crying!* he realized. *She's not just angry.*
"Your job, Ms. Braithwaite? I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, you don't, do you? Well, your client called my boss, and he called ME. It seems that he questions whether someone who doesn't understand when their well off is suitable for his organization."
"Look, Ms. Braithwaite, please sit down. I don't know what you are talking about, but I assure you, I had nothing to do with going to your boss. Let me make a quick call and then see what I can do to straighten this out."
"Right," she said sarcastically. Ken offered her his handkerchief and she accepted it after examining it closely.
He punched the speed dial on his cell-phone, waited and then spoke. "Jane? Kenneth. Did you call Ms. Braithwaite's boss? You did? For god's sake why? Oh. He's one of the two, eh? I see. Well, I've got a real problem here and I need to speak with him. Yeah, as your attorney, I *really* need to speak with him. You have a number? Okay, give it to me."
Kenneth broke the connection and immediately dialed the new number. "This is Kenneth Roberts of the Providence, Rhode Island law firm of Ellis, Ellis and Carter. I am representing Ms. Jane Thompson and I need to speak with Mr. Madden immediately please. Yes, it is that urgent. Thank you." Kenneth looked over at the woman and found her regarding him intently. The tears had stopped flowing, but her makeup was a mess. *Wonder if I should offer to help her fix that?* he thought just as a gruff voice came on the line. "Mr. Madden? Kenneth Roberts here, representing Jane Thompson. Thank you for taking my call. Look, I have a situation here. No, not about the boy, it's about the sister. She thinks you intend to terminate her if she proceeds with her action against Jane. No, sir, that is NOT what Jane wants. Ms. Braithwaite is innocent in this. What I want you to do, sir, is tell her that won't happen, and I want you to make her believe it. All right, just a moment."
Kenneth proffered the phone to the woman in his office and watched as she put the phone to her ear. "This is Anne Braithwaite. Yes, sir. I see. That's very good of you, Mr. Madden. Thank you. No, I'll tell him. Thank you for clarifying that. Good bye, sir."
With slow, deliberate movements, B. Anne Braithwaite broke the connection and folded the phone before handing it back to Kenneth. "Well," she said quietly. "That was a surprise."
"He is no longer threatening you with termination?"
"He claims I misunderstood him, and assures me that it was not his intention to ever fire me."
"Do you believe him?"
"I believed I was going to be fired, Mr. Roberts, or I wouldn't have come here as I did. Why did he back off?"
"It's entirely possible he never did mean to fire you. Men like him tend to be, well, forceful in their language and sometimes forget how others interpret that. In any event, I think we can go on the assumption that your job is safe now."
"I. . I don't know what to say."
"How about some lunch? I'm suddenly very hungry and you look like you could do with a bite yourself, or perhaps at least a cup of hot tea."
"That would be very nice, Mr. Roberts."
"Um, since I'm going to be escorting you to Jane's tomorrow, could we lose the 'Mr.'? It's going to be hard enough to pull this off without you slipping up and letting the world know I'm a Mister, when I show up to pick you up."
"You really are going to do that?" she sounded incredulous.
"As I said, Ms. Braithwaite, I believe in Jane Thompson and what she does. If becoming a six-foot three inch incarnation of Kendra is what it takes to get you to at least listen, then that's what I'm going to do."
"I see. So, what should I call you? Kendra?" she asked with just a hint of a smile.
"I think Ken will do for now, and I'll trust you to recall the 'dra' tomorrow. May I call you, what is your name? The settlement says 'Barbara' but Madden called you 'Anne'."
"I prefer Anne and refuse to answer to Barbara or any derivative of that name."
"Okay, Anne. How about lunch?"
"All right, Ken. I would enjoy something light."
Chapter 8: Interludes - Kenneth and Barbara
"So Mr. Madden is why that judge sent Adrian to this Thompson woman? And he was one of her. . . her. . "
"Students?" Kenneth finished for Anne Braithwaite as they walked though Roger Williams Park on the way to her hotel.
"I guess. It's just so hard to imagine Donald Madden. . .well, in a dress. He's rather forceful, you know."
"So's Jane," Kenneth replied. "Anyway, Madden is one of the two who did not graduate from Jane's program. One got sent back to jail - really was incorrigible - and later died trying to evade capture by the police. Madden didn't get to Jane soon enough. He reached his eighteenth birthday, and unfortunately, came into an inheritance, before Jane could reach him. She always mentions him when someone tries to compliment her on her program."
"Well, he certainly speaks highly of her now. I felt like I had to choose between my brother and my job, and without my job, I won't be able to support him or pay for the lawsuit."
"Well, that's fixed now. Jane wouldn't have tolerated that anyway."
"Why? It would have solved her problem. Surely any law firm I could have afforded or that would have taken the case wouldn't have been up to the task. Not against someone like your Ms. Thompson, or like your firm. I don't know much about the law, but from what I have learned, Ellis, Ellis and Carter are very good at what they do."
"Why? Because Jane has never abused anyone. In the end, you won't win even the civil suit because we can prove that."
"You really believe that, don't you?" Anne asked softly.
"I might lose to a jury, depending on how it's constituted, but I really do believe that, on appeal, you will lose. Your evidence is not substantiated by the history Jane's built with her program. Unfortunately, Jane will lose, too. Not in the real courts, but in the kangaroo court of the media. Once the case goes public, she'll be out of business, and worse, she'll be harassed the rest of her life, but she won't lose the court case."
"Then why did you go to bat for me with Mr. Madden?"
"Jane again," Kenneth told her. "She wouldn't want you to suffer for doing what you think is right and for caring about your brother. In fact, she'd be furious that you were in any way threatened."
"This doesn't make any sense."
"Hey, I tried to explain to you. Jane Thompson is one of the world's good guys. . gals."
"You're still saying that. Are you going to show up at my hotel tomorrow? As. . what did you call yourself? Kendra?"
"Unless you tell me you've changed your mind," Kenneth replied, just a little grimly. "I don't mind telling you that I'm not looking forward to it."
"Why? Because you'll be hurt by it? Because you'll be humiliated to appear in women's clothing?"
"No, that's not it."
"Well, then, what is it?"
"You'll laugh," he told her, "And that will upset me."
"Ken, I am trying to understand, and I will do my best not to laugh at you. Why aren't you looking forward to it?"
Ken sighed deeply, and stopped walking. He stared off into the distance in silence for a time, and then shrugged. "I'm some six inches taller and forty pounds heavier than the boy who could pass as Kendra," he told her. "Kendra was actually rather attractive. I guess what really bothers me is that I want to remember her that way. I haven't tried to be her since the day I realized I was taller in my bare feet than Kendra had been in four inch heels."
"Four INCH heels?" Anne sputtered. "You could manage four inch heels at what, five feet five?"
"Five-seven," Kenneth corrected, "or at least, the last time I was Kendra."
"And what you're afraid of is that you'll remember her as something less because of what I've asked you to do tomorrow?"
"Strange, isn't it?" Kenneth asked. "When boys first show up at Jane's, the worst thing they are told is how 'cute' they are, once she gets them into those first frillies. It is the first attack on their overblown masculine hubris. Now, the thing that bothers me is that I can no longer live up to what Kendra once was."
Barbara Anne Braithwaite didn't know quite what to say to that and so, said nothing. Ken gave her a lopsided grin that did funny things to her insides. "C'mon, Anne, it's getting chilly out here. Let me walk you to your hotel. I've got an appointment this evening and I don't want to be late."
Chapter 9: A Difficult (Re)Birth
"Darnit, Tante Marie!" Kenneth's complaint came out on the end of a wheeze, "I don't have to be at her hotel until tomorrow morning. Why do I have to wear this. . this THING now!"
"Because, petit," Marie grunted, "I cannot finish fitting the dress unless you are the. . right shape. If I cannot finish - Sandy, pull that lace for me, oui, that's it - fitting the dress, you will look like the clown tomorrow, eh? Now, quit whining. You're breathing too much!"
"I always wondered why you did the corseting, Marie," Kenneth gasped by way of a retort. "In my ignorance, I thought it was because Jane didn't want to appear to sweat and strain. Now I know better. YOU do it because you LIKE doing it."
"Aw, does mon pouvre petit chou not like his pretty satin undies?" Marie cooed in baby-talk just before she started working down the laces yet again.
"It's a good thing I love you, or I might think you were a bit of a sadist, Tante Marie." There was a loud smack and Kenneth yelped as loudly as his diminished lung capacity permitted. Fire burned on his satin clad fanny and he spun to see a grinning Sandy rubbing the palm of her right hand with her left.
"*I'm* the sadist, Kenny," she smirked, "And you'd do well to remember that. So, quit your bitching and take it like a man. Got it?" she asked as she reached up to pat his other cheeks - the blushing ones on his face.
"Got it, Sandy."
"Look here, Kenneth," Sandy said more seriously. "I know you're worried about this, but you've got the two best in the business here. Let us do what we have to do, and it will be all right. Start thinking girlie, okay? That's your part of this deal, and girls don't bitch about being made pretty."
"Okay, Sandy," he replied meekly, and then grabbed both women and pulled them close for a hug and cheek kiss. "Thanks."
"Remember that when I finish putting on your face with Jane's special long-lasting cosmetics. You don't have enough practice recently to maintain the look on your own anymore, so Marie and I figured the best bet would be to make it so you didn't have to worry about that."
"But that stuff takes days to wear off!"
"So?" Marie shrugged. "You have three weeks, right?"
"Bon matin!" Marie chirped as she opened the blinds in Kenneth's room to admit the light of a New England dawn. "Vite, vite, ma petite, levez! We have much to do this morning."
"Tante Marie, it's . . what. . " one bleary eye opened and focused on the digital alarm clock, "5:bloody-45 in the morning. I don't have to meet her until 9:30."
"And you must be beautiful, ma grande fille jolie, and that will take time, eh?"
"As if I ever have to worry about that," was the sour reply, "And don't you mean 'gross' instead of 'grande', Mademoiselle Marie?"
"Oh ye of little faith. You will be. . parfait, ma cherie. Trust me. Now into the shower with you."
Kenneth struggled up out of bed - not an easy accomplishment since the two women had insisted that he wear the corset all night to... acclimatize him to its iron-busked grip. "Can't shower or I'll get the corset wet."
"Well, scrub where you can and I will have la petite dejeuner sur la table when you come down."
Kenneth went to his bathroom to begin cleaning up. *It will have to be a very petite breakfast with this damned corset compressing my gut and other internal organs. Odd that Tante Marie's French always pops up when she's having a really good time. What does that say about what she's doing now, Ken m'boy?*
Kenneth held onto the top of the bedroom door with both hands and let his body hang. "Excellent, Kendra," Sandy crowed as she and Marie worked in unison to take up any slack that had developed overnight in the corset strings.
"It won't do anyone any good if I faint from lack of oxygen behind the wheel of my car," he protested - not that his opinion counted for anything.
"You gonna cry and moan when I do your 'brows, Kendra?" Sandy asked. "If you are I need to know so that I hold off on finishing your eyes until last. Don't want that long-lasting mascara running before it's dry, you know."
"You're all heart, Sandy."
"Blonde, brunette or redhead?" Marie asked, carrying in three wig boxes from her little compact.
"Brunette, I think," Sandy said. "That way, I don't have to bleach his eyebrows. Although I could thin them out more than I planned and then they'd just look like a really dark eyebrow penciling. I always did favor Kendra as a blonde - especially after that haircut you gave yourself, sweetie."
"That was because Jane and Marie had slipped me that peroxide-laced shampoo of theirs and it pissed me off. My mother always wanted me to be a bleached blonde."
"Well, I don't want to piss you off - at least - not any more than I have to," Sandy quipped. "Marie? You want to bring in the clothes while I start on his face?"
"*Her* face, Sandy. Jane's first rule is that you can't think boy and survive as a girl. Be right back!"
"She is enjoying herself too much," Ken muttered.
"You don't think she'd be in this with Jane all these years if she didn't enjoy it, do you?" Sandy observed. "Just because she's a sweetie doesn't mean she can't have fun turning a guy into a girl."
"She never acted like yo. . I mean. . "
"Like I act? Don't cringe, Kendra, you'll make me smear. Okay, I admit a certain kinky pleasure in what I do with Jane's boys and I get off on having them terrified of me. Not as much as I used to before Michael and before Benny, but it's still there. Marie enjoys it, too, she just feels guilty about making them so miserable, which tends to blunt her pleasure. Anyway, when she gets to play with a guy who's even halfway willing - like you are right now or like the guys who are coming for Michelle's secret wedding - she has a ball."
Sandy stepped back to look at the brows she'd just finished shaping and thinning and then moved in for a few more minute adjustments. "You aren't going to keep sniveling and ruin this for her, because if you are, let's quit right now."
"I have no choice in this."
"Sure you do, but if you are really hating this all that much, you're sure to screw it up with Adrienne's sister anyway, so we might as well quit before I do something really long-term to you."
Kenneth thought about that for a few moments and was surprised when Sandy let the issue stand in silence. She just stood there, watching him; waiting for him to come to a decision. Honesty, he thought, was called for. "I guess I'm just really afraid of being a freak. It didn't matter the first time - when you're fighting for your life nothing much else matters, you know?"
Sandy nodded. "And this time, it does matter? Being a guy, that is?"
Kenneth looked at her and shook his head. "Being a girl matters. Truth to tell, that time when we went after my mother? With me as Kendra?" Sandy nodded. "I was pretty hot."
The blonde woman almost choked on her guffaw. "And now you're afraid that you won't be? Is that really what this is all about?"
"A good deal of it," Kenneth admitted softly. "It's kind of hard being the ugly duckling in Jane's brood. First Michelle, then Darla and now even Jessica."
"All of whom would give thanks for just half the inches you have on them."
"It makes me feel like the odd man out, Sandy. It's part of their lives - hell, my life - that I can't share with them anymore."
"Well, hell, boy, if that's all that's bothering you. Watch and learn, kiddo!"
"I thought I told you to use girl pronouns and names," Marie called as she hustled past them, her arms laden with a suitcase, hanging case and a jewelry case. "I will be back down to do her nails momentarily."
"You sure we have to use Jane's magic face paint, Sandy," Kendra's voice wheedled as Marie disappeared up the stairs.
"Of course I'm sure, sweetie. Otherwise, you'll chew off your lipstick in the first ten minutes. Now shut up and let me work."
"Ah, ah, ah," Marie chided as she slipped two adhesive-backed prosthetic breast forms into the cups of the strapless bra she had fit over Kendra's chest. "No peeking until we're done. Now, hold your bosom in place until the glue sets, please."
Feeling very much the fool, Kendra put her hands on the round protuberances and pressed hard against them. They felt HUGE! "Aren't those just a little, well, big?"
"You are a big girl, my sweet, yet a beautiful one. That is what we must achieve, the image of a beautiful young woman. With nothing to give scale, it must appear that you are perfectly formed. In fact, when someone or something adds scale, it must appear that other person is small, not that you are large. Or at least, that is our goal. To do that, you must be proportional."
"Proportional? With these boobs I'll be a spectacle!"
"You'll be spectacular," Sandy corrected with a laugh from behind Kendra. She was standing on a stool so she could reach her only-slightly-whining client's coiffure. "Now, I'm weaving your own hair through the wig's backing so that it won't come loose accidentally. In fact, if you try to pull this hairpiece off, your barber won't need to thin your hair for at LEAST a month."
"How long is this glue good for?" he asked suspiciously as he tested the adherence of his new bosom.
"About as long as that face paint," Sandy said breezily, "although there is a solvent for that stuff, if not for the cosmetics."
"Wonderful," he grumbled as Marie started to roll fine, nude-colored stockings up his legs towards the garters hanging from the corset.
"Don't put the shoes on her until I'm done here, Marie," Sandy cautioned. "There's nothing taller for me to stand on."
"All right, Sandy."
"Why is that a problem?" Kenneth asked before the implications of Sandy's warning hit him. "Heels! You brought me HEELS?"
"What else?" Marie asked as she presented a pair of red pumps with at least three inch heels for his inspection.
"My god, Marie, I'm already six three. In those things I'll be six and a half feet. . "
"Six feet, six and a half inches, dear," Sandy corrected with a grin.
"Over six and a half feet tall. Everyone in the world is going to stare! They'll see. . .see. .
Sandy gave his hair a sharp tug and he subsided, although with ill grace. "Kendra?" she said warningly.
"Sit down, cheri," Marie ordered gently. He did, and she saw the uncertainty in his dark eyes. Sighing, she sat down opposite him. "What do you think they will see, Kenneth?" she asked gently.
"A freak," he said quietly. "Something to gawk at, and the harder they gawk, the more they will see, until . . ."
"Say it, mon chou," she ordered, her voice still very gentle.
"Until they see me as what I really am - a guy. I figured that was going to happen anyway, and for Momma-Jane, I can handle that. I *will* handle that, but I sort of hoped you two, being the best, could somehow at least give me half a chance."
Marie looked at the distraught young man for several moments, her eyes very thoughtful. Then, without warning, her smile blossomed bright and true. "You love Jane very much, don't you, my boy? You agreed to this challenge by Adrienne's sister, fully expecting to fail in your masquerade, but you agreed to it anyway."
"It's Mom's only chance, Marie. If she can't turn that girl around, it'll all come down around her ears. I wasn't kidding about the court stuff - I'm sure I can win there, but she'll still lose when the media gets wind of things. I had to try. . . have to try."
Still smiling, Marie leaned over to kiss his forehead. "Trust us, mon gallant. Sandy, are you done with her coiffure?"
"Sure am! Ready for dressing, I'd say!"
"Bien," Marie said as she pulled a white dress from the garment bag. The dress was boldly patterned with red flowers. "Slip this on, dear," she ordered as she set the other item aside. She knelt down to help her charge slide the shoes onto his feet. "Excellent. Good thing Jane bought that last set of outfits for Jasmine before she left. That one - grew six inches in the four months she was with us."
"No sleeves, Tante Marie?" Kendra asked, as Sandy zipped up the closure in the back of the dress.
"It was a sundress, cherie. I removed the extra material from the skirt, since I knew you would not be wearing petti's with it, eh? Now, the jacket," she ordered, handing Kendra a woman's suit jacket in matching red. "Ah, perfect. See? It hides most of your bared shoulders. The pendant, si vous plait, Sandy, so that the eye catches the tiniest hint of cleavage, oui? Ah, lovely. All right, come with me to the mirror. Close your eyes. On three, you may look. Une, deux, . . . "
"TANTE MARIE, I'M GOING CRAZY HERE!"
"TROIS" Marie shouted in unison with Sandy's "THREE!"
Then, there was silence. Kendra stared at the full length mirror, unable to speak. A single hand, tipped in long, finely done red nails snaked out to touch the mirror, as if testing the reflection. "That's. . . that's me?"
"Who else would it be, Kendra?" Sandy asked sarcastically.
"My goodness, but I'm, well, umm, I sure am tall."
At that, all three women burst out laughing. "You most assuredly are that, love," Marie told her creation, "You are also strikingly lovely."
"Shoot, you turned out even better than I thought you would. Put you in a gold satin bra and star-spangled panties and you're Wonder Woman, kid."
"I never thought about trying to do anything like this," Kendra murmured, still stunned by what she saw in the silvered depths of her mirror. "I figured you'd sort of try to hide me."
"Love, Jane's second rule is that if people are going to look, make sure they see what they expect," Marie told her. "No matter what we did with you, a woman over six feet tall is going to draw attention. It's what happens AFTER you have their attention that will make or break your masquerade."
"I'm not sure I understand, Tante Marie," Kendra said as she did a slow pirouette, her eyes never leaving the mirror.
"Kenny, the first time with Jane, when you went after that thrice-damned bitch who was your mother?" Sandy interjected. "You had all the advantages. You could take a second or a third look, and be subtle enough to carry off the deception."
"Boy, has THAT ever changed," Kendra said with an almost hysterical giggle.
"True, so we took a different path - we're hiding you in plain sight, okay? Look at yourself - SEE for yourself. No one is going to see you as anything but a very striking, if very tall, woman. However, if you tried to hide your light under a bushel, all you'll do is flash a red light at them."
"I'd need something bigger than a bushel, Sandy."
"Oh, stop. All anyone will see when they look at you is obvious, blatant femininity, albeit, a LOT of it. They may look again, too, cause, hell, girl, you're worth looking at, but trust me, they sure as HELL ain't gonna see a man."
"Aw hell," Kendra muttered and then swept the two smaller women up into a hug, one in each arm. "Thank you for helping, and. . and. . .for giving me back Kendra."
They stood like that for several moments before Sandy began to squirm. Kendra released her grip, and they stepped away, still shaking with shared emotion.
"Good thing we used that special makeup," Sandy quipped in a quavery voice, "Your face would be a mess now."
Marie handed a woman's leather attaché to Kendra. "One of Jane's, but she has so many, she'll never miss it. There's a small clutch purse inside with your money, license and credit cards inside."
"Just remember, keep your head up and look everyone right in their damned eyes," Sandy ordered. "After all, they'd put THEIR skirt on the same way you did and wouldn't look nearly as good."
"Yes, Ma'am," Kendra smiled. "Now, I've got to hurry or I will be late."
"OH, and take it easy on the road! After our hard work, buster, DON'T get caught by some US Route 1 speed-trap on your way back to Seasons House, okay? It would really piss Jane off. Me, too."
"Me three," Marie piped in.
"Wouldn't do a helluva lot for my good temper, either," Kendra finished before kissing each of the two women on the cheek. "Thanks again. Now, if I can just manage to get around in these ridiculous heels without killing myself or breaking something important. See you in Kingston, ladies."
Chapter 10: (Boy)Girl Meets Girl
*So far, so good,* Kendra thought as she stepped carefully out of the elevator onto the ceramic-tiled floor of the hotel's fourth floor. *If I can just navigate this slippery floor in these spikes without ending up on my corset-broadened butt.*
On arriving, she'd called Anne Braithwaite on one of the house-phones in the main lobby to announce her presence and to get the woman's room number. *Should have asked for it yesterday, but I was too spun up by Madden's interference. Was that why she didn't remember to tell me, or was she consciously making it harder for me - forcing me to go where there was a house-phone, and by extension, other people - to find her? Interesting question, Roberts. Maybe you've been living with devious women like Ruth and Jane too long.*
So far, Sandy's advice on how to deal with the staring masses had been right on the money. Every passerby who had gawked at her had gotten Kendra's best imitation of Jane Thompson's infamous 'The Look'. And the question 'Wonder what HE'D look like in four inch heels, two inch nails and corset?' had given 'The Look' enough punch to make even the most persistent gawker look away in embarrassment.
She checked the note she'd written at the phone and then knocked on the door. "Just a minute," came the muffled reply from inside the door.
The door opened. "Oh, you're here. . . "
There was something very satisfying, Kendra reflected, about watching Anne Braithwaite's face go from polite greeting to stunned disbelief in the course of three seconds. However, after ten seconds of being stared at, Kendra decided that was more than enough. "May I come in, Ms. Braithwaite?" she asked in the husky alto Sandy had helped her develop the previous night.
"um. . .of course, come in, please," the shorter blonde said as she stepped back to hold the door open. "You're, um, well, rather tall."
"Is that all?" Kendra challenged softly, one brow quirked up in a challenge that any Jane Thompson student would have recognized. Then, some imp a younger Kendra would never have acknowledged had her doing another pirouette, her arms held above her head like a skater.
"That. . you. . .I mean, wow. I mean, I can tell you're you, that is, Mr. Roberts, from your face, but the rest of you."
"Would it surprise you to know that the only person who challenged me on my way here was some clown who wanted to buy me breakfast?"
Kendra covertly gave her host a quick once-over. Once again, her smooth, high-cheek-boned face was virtually clean of any artificial enhancement, and her clothes must have been unaltered 'off the rack' because their fit and color were all wrong for her. *Wonder what she'd look like in a decently fitting dress, a touch of Marie's cosmetic witchery, and for god's sake, a pair of HEELS!* Kendra mused. *She's like a canvas prepared for the artist - no blemishes, but that's all you can say. Well, at least her hair is down today. A lighter, brighter blonde than I thought, and full of body. Looks good falling down her back to her shoulder blades.*
"I don't think that's all he wanted to do," Anne breathed softly, and then blushed furiously. "My God, you look like a supermodel. Or a superhero. What was that TV show? Wonder Woman? You look like her, or the actress who played her anyway."
"You mean Linda Carter?"
"Right, that's it! You look just like her, only even taller, and more, um, . . . shapely. I'm . . . impressed."
"Why, thank you, Anne. A girl tries to look her best, you know." *You should try it,* Kendra thought.
Anne blushed again, then looked away guiltily. "I'm, um, sorry if I insulted you. I mean, making such a big deal of it an all."
"No insult taken," Kendra replied easily, noting the very real anxiety in Anne's face. "In fact, I'll take that as a compliment. Are you ready to leave? Need any help with your luggage?"
"I just have an overnight bag," she replied, watching the taller woman very warily, as if trying to decide why Kendra wasn't reacting somehow. "I, ah, wasn't really expecting on staying."
"Figured I would wimp out, eh? That I wasn't man enough to be a woman when necessary?"
"Man enough to be a woman?" Anne choked out a shocked giggle. "I've never heard THAT before!"
Kendra shrugged and picked up the overnight bag in her free hand. "You've never met Jane Thompson before, either. Let's go. I want to get you to Seasons House around lunch time so that we can slip you into your apartment without Adrienne seeing you."
"Adrienne? Don't you mean Adrian?" the woman challenged with a dark frown on her face.
"Sorry," Kendra replied, not meaning it. "But we use the girl names while a student is in residence with Jane. That's part of the program. Heck, we graduates tend to use our jane-name's amongst ourselves whenever we get together. Kind of a 'lipstick-red badge of courage' type of thing."
For several moments, Anne Braithwaite only stared, and then shook herself. "Why," she asked rhetorically, as she led the way back to the elevators, "Do I almost believe you?"
"Maybe because I am a very honest fellow. . .err, lady?"
"Yeah, right," was the sarcastic retort. "C'mon, let's go. Where's your car?"
"In the parking garage. Do you have to check out first?" At her nod, Kendra pressed the 'L' for Lobby button.
Anne was more than a little surprised when the very tall, very striking brunette followed her into the main lobby and waited while she finished her checking out. She had actually expected her companion to offer to go fetch the car and thus avoid contact with any crowds.
When she turned from the cashier, she scanned the lobby, but did not immediately find the tall, feminine person. She started toward the entrance when a small voice caught her ear.
"I was really sad when you stopped wrestling on Monday nights. You were my favorite. Could I please have your autograph?"
Anne turned to see a small girl, perhaps 9 years old, staring adoringly at Kendra who was hunkered down in a perfect 'stewardess-crouch' so that the two of them could make eye-contact. *Manages that short skirt pretty darn well,* she thought with a grin. *Wonder how many times she showed her panties before she learned that trick?*
THEN Anne realized she had mentally used the feminine pronoun for Kendra.
"I'm not that person, sweetheart," Kendra said with a gentle smile. "But I'm glad you think I'm that pretty."
"You sure you aren't? My mommy said you might be in. .inco. . umm, wearing a disguise. I mean, you're so tall and everything."
"I'm just a girl who grew up tall, sweetie. I really can't sign your book as someone I'm not. That wouldn't be honest of me or fair to you."
A woman, obviously the child's mother walked up to take the little girl's hand. Kendra stood back up and offered her hand to the woman. *She even has the hand-gestures down. That was the way a woman offers her hand to be shaken,* Anne realized. Kendra and the mother exchanged a few words before Kendra reached down to swoop the child up in her arms, eliciting a pleased squeal. She planted a smacking kiss on the little one's cheek before setting her back down.
Kendra caught sight of Anne as she picked her attaché back up and smiled. "All done?" At Anne's bemused smile, Kendra beckoned her back to the elevators for the ride down to the garage. "I normally take the stairs," she admitted as they departed the elevator car, but in these heels, I'm not taking any chances I don't have to take. It's been a while since I tried to move in anything like these."
Chapter 11: Chicks and Ducks and Geese Better Scurry
Anne was thoughtfully silent as Kendra skillfully maneuvered the sporty BMW through downtown Providence and onto Interstate 95. She watched the person beside her do the simple, mundane acts associated with driving and saw, for the first time, the anomalies. His shifting, braking and acceleration wasn't always smooth, primarily because with the heels on, he (she?) was tentative on the clutch, brake and throttle pedals. Long fingernails got jammed painfully into the automobile's console when reaching to insert a CD into the car stereo. And while Kendra had entered the car in a manner suited to both her modesty and the hemline of her skirt, once she'd begun to relax and enjoy the drive, her legs sprawled into a decidedly unladylike position.
Clearly, while Kenneth Roberts was willing to assume a feminine guise, and was able to carry it off when he was consciously thinking about it, he wasn't so at home in the role that the mannerisms were second nature. That meant, she realized, that he'd dressed himself this way only in answer to her challenge. If he'd ever been that deeply into the feminine role, it had been a very long time ago.
By the time he took the car around a New England turning circle that took them from US Route 1 to Route 138, Anne's curiosity was near overwhelming.
"How much longer?" she asked by way of an opening.
"Not long," Kenneth's voice answered. "Another half hour or so."
"That's the first time you've really slipped up," she said conversationally. "Only another woman, and one who was observing you closely would have noticed your other slips." At his neck snapping double-take, she grinned triumphantly. "Your voice, silly."
"oh. . OH," and then Kendra was back - in all aspects. Anne watched in fascination as that simple reminder straightened a slouching back, brought sprawled knees together, put two hands daintily on the steering wheel and loosened wrists.
*It's like I just threw the sex-switch back to the 'girl' position.* "Well done, Kendra," she said, unable to resist the tease.
"It's been a while," the driver admitted.
"Six years." and there was a finality in the tone that told Anne not to pursue that, but she had questions that needed answers.
"Is that when you graduated?"
Kendra shot her passenger a dark look under her thickened lashes, then sighed as she recalled the purpose of this entire outing. "No. Jane asked me to help her with another project, and I dressed for that," Kendra said, not wanting to tell Anne that the project had involved trapping Sheila Roberts, Kenneth's mother, in an actual case of child abuse. For some reason, he rebelled at admitting to this woman that young Kenneth had been an abuse victim.
"I'm surprised you carry it off as well as you do, then. Surely, being a woman isn't THAT easy?"
"Easy? Are you kidding? This is the hardest thing I've had to do in years. I was. . hell, I am . . . scared to death. I'm out here, dressed in female clothes, alone with a woman who has threatened to sue my mother, with a driver's license that identifies me as a man."
"I did notice that you are being very careful to obey the speed limit."
"Last warning from the two women who helped me get ready this morning."
"They did well. You look, well, spectacular."
"Thanks. I wouldn't have tried this on my own and probably would have gotten read, because I would have tried to hide instead of stand out."
"Why did you do it?"
"Do what? Dress? Because you said that was the only way you'd go see what Jane does."
"Your client is THAT important to you? That you'd, how did you put it? dress in female clothes with a man's driver's license?"
"I also said she was my Mom," Kendra said quietly. "What I didn't say before is that she saved my life. So, yes, my client, as you put it, is THAT important to me."
"So, what happens to you when we get there? You jump into a nearby phone booth and change back into Macho-man?"
"Is that how you see Kenneth?" Kendra asked, and was pleased to see the blonde blush. "No, actually, I'm going to remain at Seasons House as Kendra - for a while, anyway."
"Why ever would you do that? To keep an eye on me? Surely, MISTER Roberts could do that."
"You won't need me to keep watch on you," Kendra said confidently, "As to the other, well, Jane is planning on giving you the full briefing on her program which you should have received before signing the court order after we get you settled. However, your brother doesn't know that there are other males in residence in Seasons House - part of the pressure she applies is that of an entirely female environment."
"Other males, but an entirely female environment. That doesn't make sense, does it?"
Kendra slowed to turn onto a paved, two-lane country road before answering. "I'm male," she replied. "And so is the 'girl' who is fulfilling the role of big sister/spirit guide for Adrienne. His Jane-name is Jessica, but he was born Jesse. Good kid - hardworking and incredibly smart - and he makes a helluva gorgeous girl. Probably could make a mint in Las Vegas as an entertainer, but he wants to be a lawyer."
"That's . . . that's unbelievable."
"What, that there's another boy there besides Adrienne? Well, I'll let Jane explain the whole thing to you. It'll still sound like bad fiction from the Internet the first time you hear it, but if you keep an open mind and really try to see what's going on, I think it will start to make sense."
"Okay, I guess. So if you're not hanging around to keep an eye on me, why are you staying?"
"You want the truth?" At her nod, Kendra sighed. "Your brother's turnaround, after Jane thought he was on his way to rehabilitation, has messed up a couple of really important events for Momma-Jane. The main reason is that my foster brother is getting married in a couple of weeks, and Jane was supposed to give him away."
"Give HIM away?"
"Hey, Jane's boys are all liberated, okay? Anyway, she isn't going to be able to attend now unless either your brother turns around and flies right, or someone else takes the watch. I want to be there myself, but I want Jane to be there more."
"So, Kendra relieves Jane for the wedding?"
"That's my plan. Now all I have to do is convince that damned stubborn redhead." At Anne's confused look, Kendra laughed. "Jane Thompson is the damned stubborn redhead. My brother thinks it's because someone tore the word 'quit' out of her dictionary before she learned to talk so she's never acknowledged the word exists, let alone understood it."
"Sounds like a formidable woman."
"Oh, yeah," Kendra said as she turned into the driveway. "Ms. Braithwaite? Welcome to Seasons House."
Jane saw the familiar BMW slip in behind the stable and smiled. Kenneth had succeeded. Barbara Anne Braithwaite had at least been interested enough to take the challenge and come here. That meant that Jane would at least have the opportunity to talk to the young woman, not to mention the opportunity to work with Adrienne a little longer at least.
*I'll just check on the girls, make sure that everything is under control, and then slip down to the stable and introduce myself. Too bad I can't invite her to luncheon, but the last thing I need just now is for Adrienne to know that her sister is here at Seasons House.*
Chapter 12: The Return of the Not-Quite Prodigal Daughter
*One advantage to having Jessica around is that there is no way that Adrienne is EVER going to put anything over on that sly-puss of a big sister. Lord, but that child is sneaky-smart,* Jane mused as she mounted the steps to the apartment above the stables. Jessica had been drilling her little sister on the finer points of English grammar and rhetoric when she'd left them in the school room. *Adrienne won't be able to get into too much trouble with her eyes crossing from Jessica's detailed critique's of her writing.*
She caught herself just before walking into the apartment unannounced and without knocking. *Maybe it is time to retire, if you are prone to forget such basic courtesies,* she chided herself.
"I'll get it," Kendra called when someone knocked, requesting entry into the snug little apartment. She opened the door and was, for the second time that day, treated to the sight of a woman staring at her in abject shock.
The recovered reaction, however, was somewhat different in this case than it had been just that very morning.
"KENDRA?!?!" Jane Thompson exclaimed, "Just what in the name of heaven are YOU doing here?"
Momentarily taken aback by the censure in Jane's voice, Kendra replied, "You knew I was bringing Adrienne's sister down here, today, Mom," she said. "That was one of your settlement-condition, if you recall."
"As KENNETH," Jane enunciated very carefully, "NOT as KEN-DRA. There is a difference."
"I, ah, noticed," Kendra replied, smiling sheepishly.
"Don't even try to make this a joke! Tell me, PLEASE, that you didn't pick her up dressed this way, or worse, that you didn't drive down here as Kendra."
"Can't do that, Momma-Jane," her foster child said quietly. "That was her condition to get her to follow your condition."
Jane lost it completely and stormed into the room, her eyes never leaving her foster child. "HAVE YOU TAKEN LEAVE OF YOUR BLOODY SENSES!?!?" she shouted. "What were you THINKING? Hell, you weren't thinking. What would have happened if you'd been stopped? What if you'd been in an accident?"
"Nothing happened, Mom," Kendra soothed.
"Well, lucky you! God protects fools and drunks, I'm told. You're the fool and you may just drive ME to drink! Didn't it occur to you that something could have happened? And you would have been up that well known creek without a paddle?"
"Mom, it was the only way to get her here and that was the most important thing."
"NO IT WAS NOT! NO-THING is more important to me than YOU and YOUR brothers! Don't you know you could be, for all intents and purposes, BLACKBALLED over something like this? Your career is what's important, Kenneth! Of all the stupid, irrational, idiotic, macho things to do. . "
"Macho?" Kendra spluttered, dissolving into a fit of giggles. "ME? Rigged out like this?"
Jane stared at her foster son for several moments, obviously fighting the urge to join in his giggle fit, and then lost. With a half-laugh of her own, she sat down. "Macho is as macho does, young laddie. Aren't you playing at being my knight in shining satin?" she asked. "Braving the dangers of the corporate dragons to come to my rescue?"
"This is all very interesting, but I'm afraid I don't understand what is going on here," a new voice said from the kitchen door.
Jane turned to see a tall, shapely blonde looking at her. She immediately saw the strong, family resemblance to Adrienne, particularly now that her student's darker hair had been bleached blonde. "Ms. Braithwaite, I presume?"
Kendra stepped in to make the necessary formal introductions, and then Jane continued. "Don't understand what?"
"You're clearly upset by Mr. Roberts doing what you, from what I've personally observed, insist that my brother do in your program. Why are you so angry at this one, and yet, you blithely endanger my brother in the same manner?"
"From your perspective, I can see how you might think that. Ms. Braithwaite. . .may I call you Barbara?"
"I prefer Anne, Ms Thompson," was the instant and very cold reply.
"As you wish. Please call me Jane. Anne, I go to extraordinary lengths in my program to ensure that the chances of your brother being found out as a boy in skirts are as close to zero as makes no real difference. When he is out in public, I have selected both the locations and the scenarios very carefully, and I have trained him even more carefully. The owners of the shops and salons I favor with his presence are part of my little conspiracy. When a student is not yet skilled at the masquerade, we go only to those selected shops at times when those not in on the secret won't be around. Gradually, as his skills improve, we up the ante, but always with someone watching to protect him and to pull him out if something goes wrong."
"Really?" Anne asked, obvious skepticism in her voice.
"Really. Which is why I am so upset with Kenneth. . Kendra. He had no one to protect him today. Obviously, he picked you up so he must have gone to the hotel." Jane turned a gimlet eye on the tall brunette. "I don't suppose you took the precaution of having her meet you in the car garage, did you?"
Kendra shook her head. "No, Ma'am. Even as a lady, I've been taught to be a gentleman, and a gentleman always calls for a lady at her door, and gives her escort through dark and dangerous places."
"Smartass," Jane snorted, but there was both humor and affection in her voice now. Then she looked back to Anne. "Anne, you will, I hope, over the next few weeks, see how I operate. I intend to share with you both the planning and the objectives for each activity I set for your brother. If it can be arranged without revealing your presence, I will try to have you in position to observe any public appearances I foist on her. . him. Hopefully, you will see the safeguards that Kenneth lacked today."
"But you do admit that there is danger - to reputation at least - with this absurd concept of yours?" the younger woman challenged.
Jane considered the question and decided not to rise to the baiting. Instead, she chose to address only the direct question. "If you are asking me if there is danger to someone caught cross-dressing?" she reposited. "Of course there is danger - nothing of value is completely without some risk. In the case of my program, well, a large percentage of the general population, perhaps even a majority, would consider that a perversion, and believe that it somehow diminishes the individual. We can thank our Anglo-American forebears for that bit of bias and bigotry."
"You don't consider forced cross-dressing perverse or diminishing?"
"Are you perverse? Are you in some way diminished?" Jane asked, her voice quietly stern. "After all, you're standing there dressed in a man-tailored pants-suit, Ms. Braithwaite."
"It's hardly the same thing, Ms. Thompson. Rightly or otherwise, our culture accepts my wearing such clothes and does not accept a man wearing skirts and dresses. There are no negative connotations to what I wear, and you cannot say that for what you have my brother doing."
"Just so, unfortunately," Jane answered coldly. "However, in the context of my program and of what I do with my young men, the answer to your question is no, what I do is not a perversity. My goals for the boys have nothing to do with their sexuality or their sexual orientation. I merely use the unspeakably terrible threat of discovery to force them to stop and think before they act inappropriately or misbehave. In some cases, that means finding something other than violence, or bad language as outlets for their repressed anger and emotion. When they've learned those lessons in skirts, then I try to have them impart those same lessons to another student to reinforce what they've learned. After that, they are ready to go back into their trousers, a better man for having had to live as a girl."
Totally bemused, Anne stared at Jane. "You really believe that?"
Jane gave a single regal nod in response. "I have the historical evidence of almost one hundred fine young men to back up what I say and what I do, Anne."
"So why was it so bad for Miss Tall Shanks here to strut her stuff at the hotel and drive me here today?"
"Because of those biases and bigotries, Anne," Jane said, her eyes intense. "As I said, my boys truly have very little to lose, because I won't let them be caught out. They're never put in a situation I don't think I can control in the event that something doesn't go strictly according to plan. In short, I protect them, even though it seems I am constantly pushing them into the limelight. Who would have protected Kenneth if some drunk had sideswiped him at the round-a-bout off Route 1? Suppose some local cop had been cheating on the speed limit because he was behind for his quota this month? Suppose Kenneth had been asked for his license? Kenneth is not a boy anymore, he's a man trying to build a career in one of the professions. I hope you can understand just how great a risk he took today."
At that, the tall blonde cast a quizzical look at the very tall brunette. "I was frankly surprised that he took me up on the challenge."
"That," Kendra interrupted, "was because I do believe in Jane, Anne. And because I believe, it was imperative that I get you here to see what she really does to her students, and more importantly, what she really does FOR her students."
"Kenneth," Jane said. "I think you should go change now. However ill-advised I consider your decision with regards to dressing, Ms. Braithwaite is now here so there's no longer any requirement for Kendra."
"Umm, I, ah, can't, Mom. Not for a few days, anyway."
One fine brow lifted in imperious command. "And why not?!"
End Part I
To Be Continued...
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