Tales of the Season: Charlene's Story - Chapter 15

Synopsis:

Another BigCloset TopShelf story. Sunday arrives. A day of rest?

Story:

Tales of the Season : Charlene's Story

By

Lisa Elizabeth

Chapter Fifteen

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

The alarm woke Charlene. Still tuned to NPR, she reached over to try to find a different station. The tuner wouldn’t change! It was actually glued in place! She went to turn the volume down, that too was fixed in position. "Damn! The only thing I can do is turn it off!" Charlene said as she clicked off the radio and headed for the bathroom. The nightgown from the middle of the night was still in the sink. She was trying to squeeze out the garments when Marie walked in.

Charlene had a bright blush going when she saw Marie in the door with a curious look on her face. "It… It… (sigh) It happened again last night. I… I’m sorry, Marie. I tried to soak it in cold water. My Mom is always soaking things I stain in cold water, so I just thought…" Charlene’s voice kept getting softer with each word.

Marie sensed the tears were just about to come from the embarrassment and reached around Charlene to hold her close. "There, there, Cherie. You did the right thing! Cold water is exactly what is needed to keep the nightgown from staining. Dry your hands and come here." Marie handed Charlene a towel, waited for her to dry her hands and then held her while her newest charge cried into her shoulder.

After a few minutes, Charlene looked up at Marie. "Why? Why is this happening to me? I mean… Why am I having these dreams and why am I so emotional about it? What is happening to me, Marie?"

Marie used the towel to wipe the tears from Charlene’s cheeks. "For that answer you must look here." Marie laid her hand over Charlene’s heart. "If you find it too confusing, then I think you should ask Ms. Jane about it. She is your teacher and is very well schooled in the ways of people." Marie gave a knowing nod.

"Hmph! Ms. Thompson? You have to be kidding! There is no way she is interested in what I dream or why I have these inner problems. Her role is to torment me and make my life miserable until I give in to her! The last two nights make me think she may be winning! I’m not going down without a fight!" Charlene replied.

Marie held the teen close for a couple of more minutes. "Cherie, if you are late for breakfast, Ms. Jane will find something else unpleasant for you, no?"

Charlene looked at Marie and gave a sad laugh. "What ELSE could she do to me? I’m here living as a girl. I just spent two afternoons being treated as a pre-schooler. I’m having VERY embarrassing dreams AND I’m standing here crying on your shoulder about all of it!" That caused Charlene to start sobbing again.

Marie held the girl for a moment and then reached for another tissue. "Alright! It appears Ms. Jane’s methods are having an effect on you, yes? You say you are going to fight her, so far I do not think that plan has been working. Maybe you need to think about that while you get dressed. I have laid out your clothes, now take a quick shower and hurry, or you will be late for breakfast! I’ll be back in twenty minutes to help you finish your makeup." Marie kissed Charlene on the top of the head and closed the bathroom door as she left.

*****

Jane Thompson picked up the telephone by her bed. The number dialed was from memory and answered on the third ring.

"Ullo." Came the groggy greeting.

"Good morning husband of mine! Do you ALWAYS answer the telephone in such a manner?" Jane asked her new husband.

"Janey? Good morning! I mean … No I don’t always answer the phone…. What time is it, anyway?" Art Phillips was stumbling with his words as he fought to wake up and talk coherently to his wife.

Hearing Jane laugh through the phone brought a warm smile to Art’s face. One of those things he really loved about Jane was her laugh. Art let out a big sigh so Jane could hear it through the telephone line. "Goodness, I miss you!"

"I miss you too dear! And, it is seven forty in the morning to answer your question." Jane smiled at the thought of Art lying in bed looking flustered.

"Well, it is Sunday morning! I don’t have any classes so I just slept in for a change. You do not usually call in the morning, is something wrong with your new student?" Art quizzed his wife.

"Always thinking about me and my boys, eh?" Jane kidded. "Actually I could use another person’s viewpoint on her. Charlene is responding almost too quickly to my methods. There is still resentment and fire in her eyes when I command her to do unpleasant tasks, but there is something else happening that shouldn’t really be occurring until after this week. Is there any way for Diana to come for a short visit, say Wednesday night and part of Thursday?"

"Wednesday? Hmm… Isn’t that the day you take the new student to see Sandy, Carolyn and Betty?" Art asked.

"Yes, it is. The way Charlene is acting, I am not sure what will happen when that day out and about is over. I believe it is just a case of the jitters since Michael, but I would appreciate another opinion on what makes this one tick!" Jane replied honestly.

"Let me see what I can schedule. There’s only another three weeks to this semester, I might get a graduate student to teach a couple of classes. They are always looking to make points with their advisor!" Art replied with a laugh.

"So! You have the little darlings propitiating to you too? Here I thought you were the ‘Big Bad Graduate Advisor’ and instead I find out you enjoy having underlings groveling for your attention!" Jane replied with a hint of sarcasm.

"Jane dear, I just have to keep them in their place, until they complete their thesis!" Art came back in his most ‘catty’ Diana voice.

The two of them broke into giggles over that comment. When they composed themselves the rest of the conversation was the typical ‘I Love You’, conversation newlywed couples always have.

Jane looked at the clock by her bed. "Art dear, I must get off the phone, it would not do for ME to be late for breakfast! By my own rules, I would be forced to punish myself by doing the dishes. I do not think Charlene is ready to see that yet! She still needs me to be the ‘Bad Cop’ at this stage."

"You may be right. Since you have a long history in dealing with teens such as Charlene, I’ll defer to your experience." Art replied. "I’ll let you know tomorrow when I can get loose for a couple of days. I love you so much my dear lady!"

"I love you too Artemis!" Jane said with a smile.

*****

Charlene stood behind her chair waiting for Jane Thompson to arrive for breakfast. She was the perfect picture of a demure young lady on a Sunday morning. Her outfit was monochromatic in that the cream colored tights matched her cream-colored tea length skirt. Her blouse was cream colored with small tea roses on it and matching cream colored lace around the neckline. Even the bow in her hair matched the colors of her outfit. What amazed Charlene the most was that her lingerie was the same color as the outfit she had on. When she had checked herself in the mirror she thought she looked like she was ready to go to church! That thought had scared her enough that she had let out an audible gasp, which Marie had heard and asked what was wrong. Charlene had made up some excuse about being surprised at how nice she looked. With a nod from Marie they had left the bedroom and proceeded to the dining room for breakfast.

"Good morning everyone!" Jane said in a cheery voice that startled Charlene from her thoughts. "Shall we dine?"

Breakfast was a bit of a disaster for Charlene. Between the emotional upset and turning off the radio, she was ill prepared for Jane’s questions about current events. There hadn’t been time to look over the papers so even that was foreign to her this morning. The thoughts running through her head were jumbled about possibly leaving the house for church and what had been going through her head the past two nights. To say she was distracted would be an understatement.

Jane noticed the concentration and inward struggle in her newest student. What concerned her most was that this normally occurred after their first trip into town for a day of girlish pleasure. Jane had previously had only one or two boys over the years that did not fight her every step of the way. Recent events with Michael and Kenneth had made someone actually wanting to change a true rarity at Season’s House. As the meal finished Jane spoke to Charlene. "Charlene! You seem a little preoccupied this morning, is something amiss?"

Charlene startled visibly from her thoughts. "Umm… I… Umm.. No Ms. Thompson, everything is fine. I just didn’t sleep well and I didn’t get a chance to read the papers this morning…"

"I see… Perhaps a little time to read after breakfast would allow you to catch up on the news?" Jane queried with her eyebrow raised. "I could quiz you over the topics in say one hour?"

"I guess that would mean we won’t be going to church?" Charlene looked at Jane.

Jane considered the comment for a moment. "I had not planned on attending services today, but if you feel a need to do that, it can be arranged."

Charlene blanched visibly at the thought of going to church dressed as she was. "No… Umm… No ma’am. I just thought since it was Sunday and everyone was dressed so nicely today. I must be mistaken, don’t make any special arrangements for me, okay?"

"Very well! Normally when we have multiple students in residence it is difficult to find a service that everyone can agree on, therefore we dress appropriately for church, but you are expected to talk to God in your own way. I have had students with very different church affiliations, some of which are not found in our local area. If you need something special for your own devotional area, I’m sure Marie can assist you." Jane replied, letting Charlene breathe a sigh of relief.

"Thank you Ms. Thompson. I believe a walk in the gardens will be all the devotional area I’ll need today," replied Charlene, her heart rate slowing from warp factor three. It took most of the remaining meal for Charlene to stop shaking. It had scared her to think she would be going to church dressed as a girl.

"Very well! I believe a half-hour in the garden, followed by an hour to review the day’s current events… Hmm… It is now eight-thirty. Charlene, I expect you in the conservatory at ten o’clock sharp to review the news of the day. If you will excuse me." Jane Thompson patted her lips one last time and rose from the table, leaving a stunned Charlene sitting there with her mouth open.

Joan whispered across the table, "Charlene! Close your mouth, you’ll catch flies!"

Charlene closed her mouth and looked at Joan. "What?" Was all that came out of her mouth.

Joan giggled a little, "Close your mouth! Aunt Jane will lecture you on maintaining ‘poise and grace in the face of adversity’ if you don’t!" She tried hard to sound like Jane.

"Oh! I… Well… I just… Joan? How did I get into trouble this morning?" Charlene sat there very confused.

"It’s just Aunt Jane, pushing your buttons. You really have to look at the papers EVERY night and listen to the news reports EVERY morning, otherwise you get a private session on current events. You had better get started with your walk, would you like some company?" Joan replied

Charlene accepted the offer. It was Joan’s day to help Marie with the dishes. Charlene just helped clear the table to speed things along and soon the two girls were out in the garden enjoying the weather and reveling in nature. The walk didn’t seem long enough, but Charlene had that blasted appointment at ten with Jane, so they returned to the house so she could study the newspapers.

Charlene knocked on the conservatory door at one minute to ten. ‘Maybe a little early will help me here.’ She thought as she heard Jane’s ‘Enter!’

It took less than a minute for Charlene to realize why Jane had chosen the conservatory for her questioning. There sat the encyclopedia! Jane pointed to the book and said nothing. With an audible sigh, Charlene placed the book on her head and started walking her circuit of the conservatory. For the next forty-five minutes, Jane quizzed Charlene on the events of the past week!

At precisely ten-forty-five, Jane dismissed Charlene to go work on her report until dinner. Charlene curtseyed and left the room slowly, closing the door behind her. It was only after she was out of sight of Jane that she took out a deep breath and started limping.

"I know that toe is going to quit hurting one of these days!" Charlene mumbled to herself as she made her way to the student study room. "That book landed right on my big toe! God that hurt!"

Eventually, she made it to the study, said hi to Joan and resumed working on her report.

*****

The clock chimed one time. Charlene was startled, since the clock had never made a sound before.

"I know, it surprised me the first time it chimed too." Joan said as she shut down her computer. "It’s actually an alarm clock so Marie doesn’t have to come get us for dinner. Since we don’t hear it very often you notice it when it does chime. Marie asked that we help set the table. She was cooking something special and didn’t think she would have time to set the table and watch the meal."

"Oh! Okay. Guess I better shut this down. I’m almost done too, just another hour I think and THIS report will be done." Charlene replied as she saved her work and shutdown the computer.

Joan laughed a little. "Been there, done that! Many times in my time here! You might get it done later today, Aunt Jane is pretty laid back on Sundays."

The girls headed for the kitchen to see what Marie wanted them to do. The smells were marvelous! There was a large kettle of sauce bubbling on the stove, the smell of fresh baked bread coming from the double ovens along with the distinct sweetness of fresh baked peach pie cooling on the counter. The girl’s mouths watered just entering the kitchen, knowing Marie had spent so much time making this meal.

"Hi Tante Marie! What do you need us to do?" Joan asked.

"Ah, good! You are both here. After you wash your hands, I need the table set for five people. Use the special setting in the china cabinet, the ones with the gold edges. When that is complete, come back and help me here. Vite! Vite! We must hurry, dinner is at one-thirty!" Marie made shooing motions with her hands.

The girls went and washed up then started to set the table. Joan found another chair and reset all the places around the table while Charlene took out the good plates for dinner. Joan had to remind Charlene that ALL the plates, bowls, saucers and dessert plates had to be set on the table. When Marie sets out this china, it is a very formal dinner. Joan took out gold colored silverware and started setting them in their proper places. She handed two sets to Charlene.

"You may as well learn now! Aunt Jane will make sure you know a proper table set before you leave, trust me!" Jane told Charlene.

Joan went to get the water pitcher while Charlene finished placing the silverware on the table. She was just setting the last spoon in place when Jane walked into the room.

"Ah! Very good! I see you are learning the proper way to set a table. A skill that will serve you well in this house and beyond." Jane told Charlene. At that moment, the front doorbell rang.

"Charlene, would you please answer the door. I need to check with Marie for a moment.", Jane instructed as she headed for the kitchen.

Charlene looked at the table and heard the doorbell ring a second time. "Better get that, Jane will be pissed if I don’t." With that thought, Charlene headed for the front door.

Charlene opened the door and stood there shocked for a moment. There stood a man in a dress military uniform, smiling from ear to ear. After few seconds of staring, she asked, "May I help you?"

"Good afternoon, I’m Brent Hayden. I’m here for lunch with Jane Thompson?" Brent told Charlene.

"Oh! Umm.. Ah! Won’t you come in?" Charlene asked, still unsure if this person was a plant or someone Jane knew. She wasn’t sure, but this was the first male she had seen, other than Tom, since her arrival. She wasn’t sure that her ‘Charlene’ disguise was very good yet.

"Thank you, and you are?" Brent asked as he passed Charlene.

Charlene’s response never made it out of her mouth. There was a squeal of joy behind her. When she turned around Marie was running down the hallway, arms spread wide, shouting something in French! Close on her heels was Jane Thompson.

"Tante Marie!" came from this new person’s mouth as he swept past Charlene and grabbed Marie in a big hug. Marie showered kisses all over him and then stopped to catch her breath. It suddenly struck her that she might be making a spectacle of herself, so she disengaged herself and straightened her dress.

That gave Jane a chance to repeat the warm welcome and big hug. Though more reserved, it surprised Charlene that Jane Thompson could show such warm emotion for another person. She had always been so cool and calm with her, since her arrival.

"Brent, my goodness look at you! A Commander! I am so proud of you! Oh! Where are my manners, come in the parlor, please?" Jane said to the guest. "Have you met my current students yet?"

"I was just about to introduce myself to the young lady that answered the door when Tante Marie came running down the hall, so I guess I haven’t met them yet." Brent replied.

By this time, Joan had arrived and Jane did the introductions. "Commander Brent Hayden, this is Miss Joan Carlson, my senior student and Miss Charlene Hawkins our newest student. Girls, this is Commander Brent Hayden." She nodded at the girls and raised an eyebrow.

Joan knew the signal and performed a perfect curtsey. "Pleased to meet you Commander Hayden." She nudged Charlene with her hip as she curtseyed.

Startled, Charlene realized she was to do the same. When Joan finished Charlene repeated Joan’s curtsey and greeting.

Jane looked at the two girls. "Would the two of you go with Marie to the kitchen, please. I believe she would like to visit with our guest before dinner."

Joan grabbed Charlene, they both curtseyed and left the room to follow Marie to the kitchen. When they entered the kitchen, Marie started making the rounds of all the pots. Every pot was sniffed, stirred and either recovered or another spice added to the mixture, they all smelled wonderful.

"Ah, Mon Petites! I believe that you can finish in here. I have the timer set, all you need to do is stir the pots every few minutes and when the timer rings, turn off everything and come get me. I will serve the meal, this is a special day for me!" Marie gave each girl a hug and removed her cooking apron as she left the kitchen.

"Wow! He must be someone special!" I didn’t know Ms. Jane could be so nice!" Charlene said to Joan.

"Yes, I agree, but I’m glad Aunt Jane asked us to take over for Marie." Joan returned.

"Why do you say that? I mean here we have to work and make sure things don’t burn and listen for the timer…" Charlene stopped as Joan shook her head.

"In here we aren’t under Aunt Jane’s watchful eye! We don’t have to be on our best behavior until dinner is ready. Unless you LIKE Aunt Jane correcting everything you say or do…." Joan returned to stirring a pot of sauce.

"Oh! I mean that does make sense. Sometimes, I think she only picks on me. I never thought of helping in the kitchen as a way out of something else." Charlene replied, thankful she wasn’t in the room with Jane, Marie and their guest.

"Hmph! You’re probably used to either leaving the house or going to your room when company comes to visit. That won’t be tolerated here. You help to entertain the guest or help Marie in here. If I stay with the guest, Jane ALWAYS has me play something on the piano. I don’t know why, I’m not that good, but I think it’s her way of reminding me I need practice." Joan explained. "So, I’m always happy to stay away from guests when they visit."

*****

After the girls left Jane waited a moment to make sure they were in the kitchen. She turned to Brent and said. "Charlene has only been here since Wednesday, I’m sure you remember your first week here."

For the first time in years, Brent Hayden blushed. "It was worse than boot camp!" came the reply.

"That may be true, however, Charlene needs you to treat her as the girl she appears to be. I can tell you now, you were never in danger of being unmasked when you were here. I hold that position steadfast with all my students, so while you are here, she is what she appears and shall be treated accordingly, is that understood?" Jane’s eyebrow rose automatically.

"Aunt Jane, that look still brings on a tinge of fear! You would think I would be over that by now. Anyway, of course I will treat her as the girl she appears. With as much as you helped me turn my life around, I will do whatever you need me to do to help another of your students." Brent considered something for a moment, then spoke to Jane. "Aunt Jane, I was going to wait until after dinner to ask, but now might be a better time."

"Do not fidget Brent! Remember, think carefully about what you want to say and then just say it. You are no longer a student here, just a very welcome guest!" Jane replied with a warm smile.

"Okay! I am the temporary commander of the R.O.T.C. unit in Providence. I discovered that the team is putting a float in the Labor Day parade depicting the unsung heroes of history. They decided that wounded soldiers from each war along with a nurse from that same period would show how important the job of a nurse is to our armed forces." Brent stopped as Jane nodded her understanding.

"The only problem we have is we are two girls short for the nurses portion of the float. I was wondering…" Brent stopped when Jane let out a giggle.

"You would like Joan and Charlene to fill in for the missing girls, right?" Jane had a gleam in her eye.

"Umm… Yes, ma’am!" came the commanders automatic reply

"I believe that is a wonderful idea! Charlene will have about four weeks to perfect her image and Joan will be just fine. I believe we will break the news to the girls over dinner, yes?" Jane told her former student. "What periods of history will they be portraying?"

"We have two outfits, one is for Florence Nightingale and the other is for a WWII nurse. I’ll let you decide who should wear what outfit." Brent replied. "Thank you Aunt Jane." He leaned over and kissed her cheek.

With the question asked and answered, the conversation settled into catching up on what had happened in the nine years since Brent had been a student. After another fifteen minutes, Charlene entered the room.

Brent Hayden automatically rose when she arrived.

She gave a slight curtsey, then proceeded to Marie. "Ms. Marie? The timer has rung, Joan told me to come get you."

"Very good cherie! If you would stay here, in five minutes, please escort our guest to the dining room, yes?" Marie rose and left for the kitchen.

Charlene’s breath caught for a second. ‘Stay here! What do I do?’

Jane watched Charlene for a moment, then spoke. "Charlene, please have a seat. If you do not sit, Commander Hayden will remain standing!"

Charlene blushed from her nose to her toes. "Yes, Ms. Thompson.", she proceeded to sit in the chair Marie had recently vacated.

Charlene was very nervous, sitting there. Especially after what Joan had told her in the kitchen! She perched on the edge of the chair, hands folded in her lap, knees tightly held together. She even tried to put on a smile whenever, Commander Hayden looked at her.

"Miss Hawkins?" Brent asked. He saw the girl/boy jump from the sound of her name.

Charlene just about jumped out of her skin! She had been trying so hard to melt into the chair, or fade into the wallpaper, that when her name was called, she visibly jumped! "Yes? Mr. Hayden?" , came out in almost a squeak.

"How long have you been here at Ms. Thompson’s school?" Brent asked.

A deep breath without a sigh, Charlene replied as calm as she could make her voice. "Since last Wednesday. I have only been here a few days."

"I see! So, you are still getting used to the school and Ms. Thompson’s routine. Where are you from, if I might ask" Brent was only trying to relax the teen but it was only making her more nervous.

‘Deep breath, calm your stomach…’ Charlene tried to focus on the question. "Umm… Southern California, near L.A."

Brent was going to ask another question when Charlene looked at the clock across the room. "Oh! Excuse me, but Marie said that dinner should be ready now, if you will follow me to the dining room." Charlene stood, smoothed her skirt and hurried toward the door, hoping to get out of the room before she was asked another question.

"Charlene." Jane’s voice stopped the teen in her tracks. "Please go ahead and tell Marie we will be there in a moment, I need to talk to the Commander."

"Yes, Ms. Thompson." was the reply. Charlene hurried out of the room.

"Brent! You need to be a little more gentle with Charlene, there will be ample time later to interrogate her. She has a delicate stomach when she is scared and I’m afraid your questions may have activated it." Jane told her former student.

"I’m sorry Aunt Jane, it’s just that she looked like she was trying to shy away from us." Brent explained.

"She was! Think back to your first week here. Now, if a young male in a military uniform showed up for dinner, how would you have reacted?" Jane’s eyebrow raised with the question.

Brent thought for a minute. "You’re right! I would have done everything possible to become invisible! I’m sorry Aunt Jane, I really was only trying to put her at ease."

"I know. A better way for this is to start with Joan, she is much more comfortable around males and let Charlene see how Joan handles your questions, it is a ‘learn by example’ situation. She then has something to base her responses on, as long as you treat her as the girl she appears to be." Jane replied. "Now! We better hurry for dinner or Marie will have the two of us doing the dishes for being late!"

For Charlene, dinner went very smoothly. The conversation was mostly between Marie, Jane and this commander fellow. Jane didn’t do much correcting of Charlene’s manners during the meal, although she was trying very hard to make sure there was as little attention drawn to her as possible.

The main courses were finished and everyone was enjoying a piece of peach pie a' la mode when Jane addressed the girls. "Commander Hayden has a problem that requires our assistance. He has a float in the upcoming Labor Day parade and is short two girls to portray nurses on the float. I told him we would be happy to help in any way we could."

Charlene sat there with a confused look on her face. ‘How can we help?’ Was the thought she had, when she heard Joan sigh.

"Is something wrong, Joan?" Jane questioned.

"No, Aunt Jane. I had thought we would be watching the parade this year, but I think it is a wonderful idea to help the commander with his float. Umm…. Commander Hayden? The boys that will be there, they are all gentleman, are they not?" Joan redirected the conversation away from her obvious faux pas.

"The two young men that will be portraying wounded soldiers are perfect gentlemen. If they are not that way at all times, I want you to tell me! They will be running laps and doing pushups until their arms and legs fall off! The commander replied. "They both know that what you are doing is for the benefit of our unit, they will be on their best behavior."

"I’m certain they will Commander. If you could have the costumes sent here as soon as you get back, it will allow us some time to make certain they fit the girls properly." Jane said.

Charlene sighed, then hoped that Jane hadn’t seen her do it. ‘Wearing a nurse costume to be in a parade. I know she’s gonna make me do it, but God! I’ll have to talk to Joan about making sure…’ she was startled back from her thoughts by someone calling her name.

"Charlene, did you hear me?" Jane Thompson was looking directly at her.

"Umm… I… I didn’t hear what you said. I was… I was thinking about being in a parade. I’ve never been in one before and I’m not sure what to do." Was her reply.

"I see. All you need do is show up in the nursing outfit that is sent for you. I am sure the commander will give you very clear instructions. Now, I was saying, I believe Marie could use some help with cleanup, so that she may visit with our guest also. When that is done, you may either come visit in the parlor or return to the study and work on your report, it is due tomorrow, yes?" Jane was back in control of the house.

"Yes ma’am. It is very close to being completed. I would like to finish it this afternoon, thank you." Charlene tried to be as polite as she could figure out to be.

"Very well. Girls, we will have tea at four. Charlene will serve. If you will excuse me and Commander Hayden." Jane placed her napkin on the table, then rose when Commander Hayden assisted with her chair. The two of them left the room and headed for the parlor.

*****

Jane and Brent Hayden entered the parlor. "Have a seat Brent." Jane pointed to the couch.

"Is there a problem Aunt Jane?" The former student queried.

"Not really. It is just that the last time you were here, you were a student. I do not know how you will act around the current students and I can not take a chance of you letting on that you know what is happening here. It is better that we interact with the girls in a more formal setting right now. If you want to visit again during your stay here, Charlene will be more confidant in the masquerade and you can interact more freely with them. Until you learn the rules for being a former student, I will have to tightly control the situation." Jane explained.

Brent shook his head a couple of times. "I think I understand, Aunt Jane. A slip of the tongue and it ruins everything you try to do. Have you always controlled the situations so tightly?" Brent asked.

Jane let a small laugh. "I ALWAYS control the situation my students are in. You may have felt vulnerable. You may have felt the possibility of exposure as a ‘boy in a dress’. Let me assure you there was and still is very little chance of any student being unmasked to someone who does not already know what happens here. It is part of why my method works. The fear of being discovered and labeled a sissy is usually more than most adolescent males can handle. Therefore they try very hard to make the masquerade as complete as possible. You did it too! You essentially became your vision of a very feminine girl so that no one would even suggest you were male. Am I not correct, Brianna?"

Brent jumped when he heard his former femme name. "You remembered? I figured with all the boys…"

Jane motioned Brent to follow her. She led him into her study and bade him to sit on the love seat by the window.

"This room is identical to when I was here…" Brent said as he looked around the room. "THAT chair is the most God-awful, uncomfortable thing I ever sat in! The wooden benches in boot camp were softer!" He exclaimed pointing to ‘The Chair’ that sat on the student side of Jane’s desk.

Jane laughed a little. "It is not supposed to be comfortable, that is not it’s purpose. But I wanted to show you this." She handed Brent her photo gallery of past students.

Brent smiled as he looked at the picture of Brianna. "I guess I didn’t look too bad that way. Aunt Jane, you have everything I have sent you over the last nine years in here too!" There were announcements of high school and college graduations along with his announcement that he was joining the military. There was also a piece out of ‘Stars and Stripes’ about his advancement to Commander. Brent looked at Jane with wonder on his face. "Why?"

Jane took the book back and replaced it in her desk drawer. She smiled at Brent and said "I told you when you left here, you were now one of my boys! All the children that have attended this school, have endeared themselves to me in some way, even those I have not been able to help hold a place in my heart. That book is like a mother’s scrapbook for me. It chronicles what each child has done from their time here onward."

The silence that pervaded the room was thick enough to cut. Finally Brent rose and walked over to Jane and gave her a big hug. "I truly do love you Aunt Jane." He whispered in her ear.

"As I do you." Was Jane’s reply as she hugged Brent tightly.

*****

Marie had insisted on supervising the cleaning and putting away of her finest china. Even with a brand new dishwasher, she insisted that every dish and utensil be washed and dried by hand. The process took longer, but Marie was in such a good mood that the girls didn’t mind the extra work. It was fascinating to hear Marie sing as she helped to put away the dishes and replace all the silverware to it’s proper place.

When all was completed and Marie was happy with what the girls had done she gave each one a hug and a kiss on the cheek for helping. She then hung her apron and sang on her way out of the kitchen and on toward the parlor.

The two teens looked at each other for a moment. Finally, Charlene said, "Marie seems to be in a good mood!"

"Ya’ think? I have been here for five months and I have never seen her so happy! This commander must be someone very special to her." was Joan’s reply.

The two teens hung up their aprons and headed for the student study.

*****

"Done! Finally! And EXACTLY seventeen pages too!" The smile on Charlene’s face showed pride in this accomplishment.

"Very good! Now just place it in the folder and put it in this tray for Aunt Jane to review." Joan replied pointing to a basket by the door. "We should go and get everything ready for tea, it is almost three-thirty."

The two agreed it would be best to do that and keep Jane and Marie happy for as long as possible today. They shut down everything and headed for the kitchen to assemble an appropriate tea for four o’clock.

The two girls arrived in the kitchen and set about preparing a tea. Now Charlene had served tea but had no idea how to actually prepare one for guests. "Umm… Joan? What do we do?" she asked.

"Well, you have served tea, all we do is set up the tray with everything on it! I’ll show you where Marie keeps everything." Came the reply.

It took about twenty minutes to boil the water, arrange the cookies and small pastries on trays and to set out the cups and saucers on the serving cart. Joan looked it over and placed the creamer and sugar bowl on the tray. "Get a lemon from the refrigerator and slice it into wedges." Joan told Charlene.

Charlene retrieved the lemon and tried very hard to cut little wedges out of the lemon when Joan walked up to her. "Could I show you an easier way to do that?" She asked Charlene.

"I hope so! I didn’t think this could be difficult but I might be wrong." Charlene replied, handing the knife to Joan.

Joan sliced the lemon in half and then deftly cut small wedges from the center outward. It took her less than a minute to complete both lemons. "It just takes practice. You’ll get the hang of it soon."

Joan insisted they clean up the kitchen so Marie wouldn’t be mad at them. When that was complete, it was time for tea.

"Since you are to serve, let me get down the hall and enter the parlor before you wheel the tray down for tea. That way I can be seated when you arrive and it will be easier for you to serve." Joan instructed Charlene.

"O..K… I need to do this alone?" There was a lot of uncertainty in Charlene’s voice.

"Easy! Just like in the play room!" Joan smiled and left for the parlor.

"Hmph! Easy for you to say!" Charlene replied as Joan walked away. ‘How the hell do I get myself into these things?’ Charlene finally shook herself back to reality, took a deep breath and pushed the cart towards the parlor.

"Ah! Tea has arrived!" Jane stated as Charlene entered with the serving cart. "Charlene, please serve."

"Yes, Ms. Thompson." Charlene was surprised that the response was almost automatic.

The serving of tea went much better this time for Charlene. She filled the cups a little lower and didn’t have any problem with spills. She finished serving everyone and then remembered to make her own tea.

The conversation was light and centered on the two students. Commander Hayden mercifully only asked Charlene basic questions. Being she was the new student and had not been at the school long. Joan was quizzed a bit more and Charlene noted she let out a small sigh when Jane suggested she play a piece on the piano as entertainment for their guest.

‘I am so glad I don’t know how to play an instrument!’ Charlene thought as Joan kept her smile and played a sweet piano piece for everyone.

There was polite applause and a general round a compliments on her ability on the piano. When she returned to her seat Jane stated. "I am certain Charlene will be just as accomplished in a few months time."

It took a moment but Charlene finally realized what Jane had said and looked at her with shock on her face. All she saw was Jane’s small smile and raised eyebrow, challenging her to say something to the contrary.

"I believe that learning to play music helps to round out a young lady’s outlook and helps her become a more open individual. That is why I allow all my students to learn to play, at least some piano." Jane continued to explain her thoughts on ‘allowing’ the young ladies she taught to bring culture into their lives through music and the arts.

When everyone had their fill of tea and sweets, Joan and Charlene cleared the dishes and returned to the kitchen with the cart. Marie followed a few seconds behind them.

"Mon Petites! You both did very well in there. Charlene, you served tea much better this time! I am certain Ms. Jane is pleased. Joan, you play the piano, plus parfait! I could listen to you for hours." Marie was just flowing with compliments for the two students while they cleaned up the dishes from tea.

When that was done Marie shooed the girls out of the kitchen and told them that they had free time until dinner at seven.

*****

After the girls and Marie had left the parlor, Brent looked at his former teacher and mentor.

"You know Aunt Jane, I remember sitting in this room and being absolutely terrified when you had me serve tea for guests." Brent confided.

"You were supposed to be terrified, Dear. There would be no point to the exercise if you weren’t!" Jane replied. "Charlene is only here a few days and has actually made great strides toward being able to be reshaped into a good, decent person. There is basically a very good person inside all of us, I believe and my method tries to bring that out as quickly as possible."

Brent chuckled a little. "Well you certainly managed it with me and my big sister! I haven’t had so much as a parking ticket since I left here. I haven’t talked to ‘Winnie’, or rather Bill, in about a year. Have you heard from him lately?"

"William is doing quite well. I received a wedding announcement in the mail just few days ago. He mentioned that you would be receiving one also. Have you not received it yet?" Jane queried.

"Must be in the mail that is forwarded weekly from my last duty point! Probably get it Monday or Tuesday." Brent replied with a smile. "I knew he would marry Jennifer, I just knew it!"

The conversation between the former student and the Mistress of Season’s House continued for another hour. Eventually, it was time for Brent to leave.

"I’ll have those nurse’s uniforms delivered this week, Aunt Jane. I expect you will find some appropriate lingerie for the outfits?" Brent’s smile was as wide as his face.

"Never fear Commander! My girls will be completely believable in their roles as nurses for your float! Now scoot before it gets too dark and you are forced to stay here. I believe we can find a nightdress for you somewhere in the house…" Jane said with a smile.

A look of shock crossed Commander Hayden’s face and then he smiled. "Not this time Aunt Jane. I’m certain I can drive back to Providence in the dark." With that he gave Jane and Marie big hugs and kisses, then climbed into his car and waved as he drove away from the mansion.

*****

"Free Time! This is the first ‘free time’ I’ve had since I got here! Joan? What do you do with free time?" Charlene asked as the two students carefully walked past the parlor, hoping to avoid detection by Jane Thompson.

Joan laughed a little. "It’s not really free time. I guess you could go for a walk outside, or go lay in your room. You could work on your studies, or do your nails. Let me see your hands! Just as I thought! Your nail polish needs to be redone. Aunt Jane is being kind by not commenting on it. Probably because you are still new. Let’s go to your room and do your nails, it will help to keep Aunt Jane off your back, if there is one less thing for her to notice."

The two students went up the stairs away from Jane Thompson and the scrutiny that entailed. They spent the next hour redoing their nails and basically talking to each other about where they lived before coming to Jane’s school.

A walk around the gardens and a little time spent looking over her report one last time and it was time for dinner.

After washing up, redoing makeup and changing into a different Sunday dress, Charlene made her way to the dining room for dinner.

The respite from Jane was welcome, but all came back into focus when Jane continued correcting Charlene at the table for little mistakes. This was really starting to irritate Charlene.

‘I AM trying the best I know how!!!’ Maybe that little bit of ‘free time’ was just her way to get me to let my guard down…. Hmm…’ Charlene fumed to herself, after being told to take smaller bites for the third time. Unconsciously, she let out a big sigh.

"Charlene, is something the matter?" Jane asked.

‘If looks could kill…’, thought Charlene. After thinking a moment, Charlene decided to let it out. "Yea! No matter how hard I try, it isn’t good enough for you! You complain about my behavior, my dress, makeup, walk, use of a fork, the size I cut my food into, the way I eat it and the way I cleanup afterward. I have no idea what you think of my report, but I’m sure you won’t like it either! I don’t know why I’m trying so hard. I don’t seem to be getting anywhere or doing anything to your liking!"

Jane stopped eating and placed her fork down. She considered what Charlene said for a moment and then replied. "I can see where you might think that. You are still new to this school and are not used to my teaching methods yet. I do not tell my students ‘why’ I do what I do, that is for you to learn on your own. Let it suffice that in order for me to accomplish what needs to be done, you need to learn proper manners and etiquette at all times. As I told you, you will behave as a young woman for the time you are here. As such, you need to learn the manners and habits of a young woman in order to gain any benefit from my training. I am afraid, you will have to tolerate my correcting you, until you do well enough to not need further correction. Does that make sense to you?"

"How much longer will that be?" Charlene asked.

"That, depends on YOU!" Was Jane’s reply. "I believe Marie has a wonderful dessert for us tonight, Charlene, would you please help Marie serve?"

"Yes, ma’am." Charlene let out a sigh, stood and went to help Marie in the kitchen.

"Oh, yes! Charlene? ‘Yea’ is not a ladylike expression. Please try to find a more appropriate way to express yourself from now on." Jane told Charlene as she headed for the kitchen to help Marie.

The only reply was an audible sigh…

As usual, the dessert was great and Charlene helped Marie cleanup afterwards. This part of the schooling wasn’t too bad. At least Charlene liked Marie and didn’t mind helping her in the kitchen.

Jane usually let the students relax on Sunday evenings and this Sunday was no exception. Charlene was surprised that she was not required to be somewhere or do any ‘training’ for the evening hours. She did take a walk around the grounds and visit the horses, then decided to look over her report one last time. Finally after dark she looked over the newspaper and decided to get ready for bed. Charlene was just about to head into the bathroom for her bath when there was a knock on the door.

The door didn’t immediately open, so Charlene figured it must be Joan. "Come in!"

Joan entered the room and carrying a tray. "I thought, if you wanted, we would redo our hands and feet so Aunt Jane will have one less thing to reprimand you about tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Didn't we just redo our polish like four hours ago?" Charlene asked.

"We just redid your fingernails so you would be presentable for tea. We should redo your toenails and fingernails unless you really like 'Candy Pink' for your nail color. I thought you might like something a little more 'age appropriate'. Sunday evening is like your only time off here. Tomorrow morning she will continue whatever program she has devised for you. I am certain it will require a few outfit changes and inspections, at least this way your nail polish will look good and there will be one less thing for her to complain about!" Joan replied with a knowing smile.

"Why are you doing this? I mean, why are you trying to help me? I didn’t even know you before I came here." Charlene asked her new friend.

"Why? Because I have already been through it! I know what Aunt Jane is going to look for in the inspection part and I was told about it enough times that I don’t let it happen anymore. Let’s just say I was never a ‘Big Sister’ to anyone and this way I can sort of feel like one by teaching you all the things you need to know while you are here." Was Joan’s reply.

"Big sister, huh? Humph! I was always the ‘Big Brother’ at home. I taught my little brother whatever I could. I guess that is similar to what you are trying to do… " Charlene thought for a minute. "Ok, sis! What do we do first!" A genuine smile came to her face. Probably the first real heartfelt smile since her arrival at Season’s House.

The two new friends chatted about home and school and things they would rather be doing than being at the academy, while they removed filed and redid their toes and fingers in a soft red for the following day. When they were through, Joan collected everything back onto her tray and said goodnight on her way out the door. Charlene looked at her toes and hands, shook her head, let out another big sigh and headed off to the bathroom for her bath.

Notes:

Readers, Please Remember to Leave a Comment

Want to comment but don't want to open an account?

Anyone can log in as Guest Reader -- password topshelf to leave a comment.



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
43 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 8736 words long.