Tales of the Season: Charlene's Story - Chapter 19

Synopsis:

Another BigCloset TopShelf story. The aftermath of Charlene's first trip away from the Thompson Academy!

Story:

Tales of the Season : Charlene's Story

By

Lisa Elizabeth

Chapter Nineteen

"The Remolding Begins..."

There stood Charlene. She was on the stage at ‘The Style Shoppe’ and she could hear muffled laughter. She reached up to shield her eyes from the glare and saw Brenda Franson and Sally giggling like school girls. Joan had a look of shock on her face that she covered with one gloved hand. Diana and Marie were there, talking to each other about how ‘adorable’ everything was and in the middle of them sat Jane. Jane was shaking her head and ‘tsk-tsking’ at Charlene.

Charlene became confused until she looked down and discovered she was standing on the stage in only a bra, panties, garter belt, stockings and heels.

A quick intake of breath and Charlene sat straight up in bed. ‘Another of those damn… uh… darn nightmares!’ she thought. The worst part was the lingerie and the heels all matched in color! Charlene shook her head to clear the cobwebs.

"Well, at least by waking up the nightmare is over." Charlene mumbled to herself as she turned over and tried to go back to sleep. After fifteen minutes of staring at the clock, she finally dozed off.

*****

‘Thursday started dark and dreary’

‘Here I sit sighing and weary!’

Not exactly Edgar Allen Poe, but Charlene knew the words on her computer screen reflected her current feelings. She decided it would be best to highlight and delete that passage in case Jane were to stumble on to it and make some big production about her ability to write poetry.

This Thursday was like any other Thursday, except that Charlene was still in skirts and it really was a cloudy, rainy day. The morning had started out normal for Charlene, alarm, shower, dress, makeup and down to breakfast by eight o’clock. Breakfast was normal with Jane asking her usual questions about current events and fashion along with Ms. Phillips asking a few questions about Wednesday’s outing that seemed to have been forgotten overnight. At the end of the meal, Jane asked both girls to help Marie clean up and then they would have the morning to study. That was where Charlene was now, looking at her computer screen and writing a little fractured Poe!

The assignment was to write poetry. Charlene figured this was not what Jane was looking for, so she started over trying to think of a cheery topic on a dreary day.

Two hours later she had written four poems and was working on a haiku. She was just putting the finishing touches on the haiku and getting ready to print it out for Jane when Marie entered the study room.

"Charlene, Ms. Thompson wishes you to serve tea for her and Ms. Phillips. I believe Ms. Phillips is leaving after tea and Jane wants you to have more practice at serving." Marie smiled and waited for Charlene to respond.

"Ok, Marie! I’ll shut down everything here and be along in a minute." Charlene replied with a sigh. ‘Another test session. I’ll have to break out that plastic smile and try to be proper.’

Joan had shut down her computer and was waiting for Charlene when they both headed for the kitchen.

"I’ll help you set up the serving cart. It will go quicker and that way both of us can make sure it’s right. I don’t think you want another lecture from Jane on how to serve a proper tea!" Joan answered the look on Charlene’s face when they had both entered the kitchen.

"You’re right! I don’t think I could take another hour and a half of ‘proper serving techniques for a lady’s tea’. Charlene replied in her best British snob voice. She even remembered to look down her nose at Joan, which caused Joan to giggle.

"You could always talk to Edith White that way!" Joan stated and then broke into full laughter.

As the two laughing students made their way through the kitchen, Marie smiled. It was good to see Charlene laughing after her first trip into town yesterday. Marie felt that this student would turn out just fine when Jane was through remolding her into a proper young person.

Joan and Charlene made quick work of setting up the serving cart for the morning tea. When Joan left to ‘powder her nose’, Marie came over and gave the serving cart her seal of approval. It wasn’t that Marie really needed to, Joan had done it enough times that she knew the tray would be correct, she just liked to make sure that Charlene knew, she was still the boss of the kitchen! "Ah, Cherie! It looks good! Now, go serve the tea just as you have before and all will be fine!" She nodded toward the door and smiled.

Charlene stopped in the hall next to a mirror and checked her hair and makeup. ‘No sense getting in trouble for ‘improper grooming’’ she thought as she quickly redid her lipstick. That little touch completed, she continued down the hall to the parlor, where she heard Jane and Diana talking.

"I have truly enjoyed my short time here, Jane". Diana said. "Your students are as lovely and well mannered as always. I will make certain I do not stay away as long this next time, dear!"

"Thank you Diana. I have been training young ladies for a long time! I really enjoy seeing their faces light up when they realize they can be strong yet feminine. It makes all this worth my time and effort" Jane replied. "Ah, Charlene! I see it must be tea time! Would you do the honors please?" Jane actually gave Charlene a genuine smile. No hidden meaning behind the smile, just a request of her student.

Charlene was slightly surprised at the cheery tone of Jane’s request. She was so used to the underlying tone of ‘you better do it!’ that the lack of the threat startled her for a moment. After a short pause to compose herself, she replied. "Umm, I’d be happy to serve tea, Ms. Thompson."

Charlene thought for a moment and then asked Diana what she would like in her tea. That started the serving as Charlene served, Diana, Jane, Joan, Marie and finally herself. As the conversation progressed, Charlene was brought into it by Diana.

"Charlene, I know that you are the newest student here at Ms. Thompson’s. How have you found your stay here so far?" Diana asked.

Charlene thought for a moment, decided that being vague was the best choice and answered. "It hasn’t been exactly as I thought it would be. Ms. Thompson is a very strict and demanding teacher. I do believe I have learned a lot in my short stay here." ‘Hopefully, that will keep Jane happy.’ thought Charlene.

Diana and Jane laughed a little at Charlene’s response. "I am fully aware of just how demanding Jane can be. I do so hope that what you learn during your stay here will keep you in good stead for the rest of your life." Diana replied.

"I’m certain it will, Ms. Phillips. I believe Ms. Thompson will make certain that I never forget my lessons." Charlene replied with a smile.

Jane nodded to Charlene with a smile on her face. "Quite so, Charlene. My job is to make certain you never return to your former ways. When you leave here, you will be a well educated, very refined young person, ready to achieve goals in life. I do that for each and every one of my students that I decide should stay for the course of study I offer." Jane replied. "Now, it is time to bid our guest farewell. Diana, it was lovely to have you here again. I do hope your next visit is sooner."

That was Charlene and Joan’s que to leave the two women alone for their farewells. Joan helped Charlene reload the tea cart and then they left the parlor to return to their studies and to return the tea cart to the kitchen.

Before leaving the parlor, Joan whispered to Charlene, "We need to stay just long enough to say good bye to Ms. Phillips."

Charlene nodded and stopped at the parlor door with the serving cart, she and Joan took up the pose that Jane had required of them and waited patiently for the two ladies to notice them.

Jane and Diana broke their embrace and looked at the two students standing by the parlor entrance. "It was lovely to see you again Joan, and a pleasure to meet you Charlene. I look forward to seeing your progress on my next visit." Diana said to the two girls.

"Good bye, Ms. Phillips. It was so nice to see you again. Have a pleasant and safe trip home." Joan stated.

"Bye Ms. Phillips. It was nice to meet you." Charlene replied.

Joan then nudged Charlene and they both curtseyed. They turned and left the parlor with Charlene taking the serving cart back to the kitchen.

Once the two girls were out of earshot, Diana spoke to Jane. "I don’t think you have to worry about Charlene, Jane. I think your methods are working just fine on her."

"I think you are right."

Charlene had helped clean up from tea and was back in the study starting the third re-write of her ‘Clock’ essay when Jane entered the room. "Charlene! This afternoon we shall be going around the grounds and seeing what you have learned about the local flora. Please change before lunch so that we may commence our study right away. Joan, how far along are you on your studies?"

"Yes Ms. Thompson" came from Charlene.

"I am two-thirds of the way through the biology course and a little over half-way through the english literature course, Aunt Jane." Joan replied. "I should be able to finish this chapter in the biology course in a couple of more hours. The next chapter in english is on Shakespeare and it looks like it will take a week or so to complete. There is a lot of reading involved."

Jane nodded her approval. "I would like you to complete the biology section and then stop for the day. Marie has a few things I think you need to review. You can start the chapter on Mr. Shakespeare tomorrow. Now, if you will excuse me, lunch will be served in fifteen minutes!" Jane turned and hurried from the room.

Charlene looked at Joan with a sense of confusion. "I guess things are back to normal." she stated as she shut down her computer and prepared to go change clothes before lunch.

Changing clothes in fifteen minutes and trying to make it look like you were ready for a school lesson, without LOOKING like you were getting ready for a school lesson, was something Charlene was still trying to learn. She thought she had done a good job this time. A sleeveless summer weight sweater with a long flowing floral print skirt. She also changed to suntan hose and modest two-inch chunky heels. Charlene figured the outfit would make walking in the yard easier. She had pulled her extensions back into a pony-tail and tied it off with a matching ribbon. Looking over her makeup, it was appropriate for the outfit, so she just touched up her lipstick and headed for lunch.

On her way to the dining room, she passed a hall mirror and stopped to check herself one last time. "I have got to stop doing that! It’s as if I am actually becoming Charlene!" she mumbled to herself as she stopped primping and headed toward the dining room.

"Shall we dine?" Jane asked as she hurried into the dining room right at noon. As soon as they were seated, she looked at Charlene. "Your choice of outfit for this afternoon is quite appropriate. I believe some of what I am trying to teach you has started to take effect."

Charlene was stunned by the comment. She sat there a moment letting it sink in and mulling over what Jane had said. Had she really changed so much in such a short time? Was this… this ‘petticoat punishment’ as Jane had called it starting to affect who she was? All this and more ran through Charlene’s head in just a matter of seconds. She finally realized no one had said a word since Jane’s comment. Charlene then decided it must have been a compliment and since things had been going a little better the past few days, she felt she better reply. "Thank you Ms. Thompson. I am trying to learn the lessons you are teaching me. I hope I am doing an adequate job." Charlene saw a smile come to Jane’s face and felt she had chosen to do the right thing to make life bearable for a little longer. Charlene gave a little smile back and then proceeded to eat her lunch.

The afternoon flew by for Charlene. Jane actually made the subject of Biology a very interesting thing to learn. By afternoon tea Charlene had learned about the native flora and fauna of New England, and how they related to the plants in southern California. Charlene gained quite a bit of respect for the teaching ability of Jane Thompson during that afternoon field trip. She was definitely a fountain of knowledge on the subject and had a way of imparting that knowledge to her student in a very simple and understandable format. Charlene decided that if all her previous teachers had been this good, her grades would have been a lot better!

Marie served afternoon tea and Charlene was told to change for dinner, since she had been outside and a lady should be ‘fresh’ at all times. Afterwards she should start on her Biology assignments that Jane would have waiting for her in the student study. She was to work on that until dinner.

Charlene had just finished a quick shower and was drying off when she stopped and looked in the mirror. ‘Why does this change in appearance make any difference who I am or what I do in my life?’ she questioned herself. ‘I mean, some people are still going to be dorks even if I’m not! Maybe that’s what Ms. Thompson is trying to show me by all this!’ Charlene examined her blonde hair and hairless skin. If it weren’t for her male appendage, she would have believed there was a fairly attractive teenage girl standing there. ‘Heck! I’d date me! Now there is a scary thought!’ Charlene let out a little laugh and finished her duties in the bathroom. Knowing that she should be ‘fresh’ for dinner, she chose one of the fancier dresses they had bought the day before. All the matching lingerie was there, just as she knew it would be and when she was done, she looked better than when she had tried the outfit on at ‘The Style Shoppe’. Probably because she was in a better mood now than the day before, but she couldn’t be sure of that.

Dinner was a repeat of every dinner since Charlene’s arrival, only there wasn’t near the amount of correcting of table manners anymore. Charlene held up her end of the conversations, even the ones on current summer styles and the upcoming fall previews. She was glad Sandy and Carolyn had forced her to read Cosmo and Allure during her salon trip. She had seen the current and future styles in those magazines. This was more information to put away for future reference.

This was the second evening that Jane decided the girls could have ‘free’ time after dinner. It was Charlene’s turn to help Marie with cleanup so she set about clearing the table after Jane had left. She was still mulling over her earlier thoughts about what difference the clothing she wore made in who she was that she didn’t hear Marie.

"Charlene? Charlene? Mon Cherie!" Marie finally said loud enough to get Charlene’s attention.

Charlene looked up at Marie, startled for a moment. Then replied "What Marie?"

"I was going to tell you that you were excused from finishing the cleanup. I could finish the rest by myself, but you appear lost in thought. Anything you want to talk about?" Marie asked.

"I… I… Well…" Charlene stammered. Stopping for a moment and looking at Marie she tried to formulate what was going through her mind. Finally, she decided she better say something. "Marie… I was just … I was just thinking, what difference does it make what clothing I am wearing as to who I am. I know I am still Charlie under all these frills but I don’t feel like a ‘Charlie’ wearing what I have on now. I think I really feel like a girl named Charlene. I find I react differently to things, I don’t have the same thoughts, I can’t even find the old Charlie in here anywhere. Marie, it scares me that I have lost the only me I ever knew!" That last statement caused tears to flow from Charlene’s eyes.

Ever the concerned caretaker of Jane’s students, Marie went and embraced the crying teen. Just standing there and letting Charlene cry for a few moments was just what was needed. After a few minutes, the crying started to run out and Charlene started to pull away from Marie and wipe the tears from her cheeks.

"Now I look like a raccoon! Jane will be upset and yell at me some more." Charlene tried to wipe the mascara streaks from her cheeks.

Marie stopped her from using her sleeve and handed her a finger towel unused from dinner. "Ms. Thompson may not yell at you for ruining your make up while crying, but I most certainly will scold you for getting mascara all over the sleeves of your new dress!" Marie gently chastised Charlene.

The comment brought a smile to Charlene’s face. Then her face turned to a forced smile and the tears started again. "Oh Marie!" she cried as she buried her head into Marie one more time. After a couple more minutes the tears subsided again and Charlene looked at Marie. "Do you… Umm… Do you think I’ll ever find ‘me’ again?" She looked at Marie as if she expected some great proclamation.

Marie pushed the crying teen to arm’s length and studied her for a moment. "I think you will find who you really are if you have the courage to complete this program. I have seen Ms. Thompson put together programs for many young people and they are always very confident in who they are and what they want out of life when she graduates them back to their families." Marie replied.

"But… All this!" Charlene motioned at her dress. "I feel so lost in here. I have no idea who I am and that frightens me Marie!" The teen started to cry again.

"There, there cherie. Ms. Thompson has helped many more young people than you will ever know. Sometimes her methods are a little… how you say… Unusual, yes? But she has this ability to see where a person’s problem is even when they cannot see it themselves. Give her method a chance, Charlene. I promise that you will be a much better ‘Charlie’ when you learn what you need to learn." Marie hugged Charlene and then shooed her off to fix her makeup and go about her evening of reflection. Having waited until she heard someone going up the stairs, Marie grabbed her polishing cloth and polish and headed for Jane’s study. The old ‘Ms. Jane’s office needs attention’ ploy was sure to cover her going into the study so soon after comforting a student.

***

"Charlie is doing very well, Mrs. Hawkins. (pause) Actually he is a very bright student and learns things very quickly, I think boredom may have been part of his problem. (pause) No, no he hasn’t been a problem at all. We keep our new students rather busy learning all the new skills needed to be successful here. I don’t believe he has really had time to be angry. I assure you, I will watch for that. He is not the first student I have had with anger management issues, Mrs. Hawkins. (pause) Yes, yes, I understand. The change? About as I expected. Some resistance until given a choice of here or juvenile detention. He does make a lovely girl. Her name? I can’t tell you that. I promise all my students complete confidentiality as part of our initial agreement. If you want to know what name we used while he was here ,you will have to find out on your own when he comes home. Please try to stop worrying, I know as a mother it is difficult, I worry about my own child all the time too. Charles is in good hands and is getting used to the program quite quickly. I have high hopes for him, Mrs. Hawkins. I will call every Thursday for the next few weeks to ease your fears, after that we will asses his progress and see how often we need to keep you apprised of his progress. (pause) Have a pleasant evening. Good bye." Jane hung up the phone as Marie came through the door.

Marie put down her rag and sat on the couch farthest from the door. This was the signal that the conversation should be kept low and away from curious ears. After Jane took a seat next to Marie she began. "Jane, Charlene spent the past forty minutes crying over losing her identity as Charlie. She is at a rather important juncture that most students do not get to this early in the program. I felt it necessary to let you know that I think she is moving a little too fast." Marie sat quietly waiting for Jane to respond.

Many thoughts ran through Jane’s head in that few moments between listening to Marie and formulating her answer. "Tears have always been a good sign, Marie, we know that. It means that we have broken through all that macho- bravado garbage and that they are clearing the slate so that we can rewrite it into something more acceptable to society. I agree that this is a little too soon in the program for these types of revelations to be happening. I think we will back off a little to give Charlene a chance to think. I will concentrate on her academics tomorrow and Saturday, then Sunday will be our regular easy day for both students and we shall return to Charlene’s deportment, dressing and makeup lessons on Monday. Do you think that will give her time to come to a few decisions?"

"Jane. We have done this many times over the years and you know how dear every one of these boys become to me. I am here because they trust me, just as we planned them to. As we agreed long ago, I am the safety net that is there to catch them when they stumble and fall as they all eventually do. I am also your eyes and ears for when they are not following the program as we know they should. We will do what you think best! I have never known you to be wrong once you know what is happening. Eventually all the boys know that you have their best interest at heart even when you put on that ‘Head Monstrous’ face and become the strict disciplinarian. I believe that letting her think is probably the best for now. Will you tell her in the morning then?" Marie answered.

"I think we shall let her ponder through the night. Tomorrow morning will be soon enough for her to make a quick clothing change for a little field trip to learn some more about ecology, physiology and biology. I will watch her closely, Marie!" Jane smiled at her friend and co-re-educator. Jane knew that without Marie she would never be able to do the work that she did, she needed someone there to encourage and to comfort the boys, while she maintained the disciplinarian role.

*****

The click of the alarm clock woke Charlene from her sleep. It had been a restless night and she felt just as tired now as she had when she had finally turned the light out at one in the morning.

The scenes of her life and how she had handled previous situations had caused her to stare at the walls for what seemed an eternity. She had made a few decisions before going to sleep. First, she now knew that Charlie was not a very nice person. Second, She definitely needed to change in order to become a nice person. Third, maybe actually becoming the sweet charming debutante that Jane Thompson seemed to envision, would give her a chance to recreate Charlie in a nicer role. The last item had calmed her fears of losing herself and she had decided that maybe the old Charlie needed to become lost. When she decided to try as hard as she could to follow Ms. Thompson’s plan, she fell into a fitful sleep.

Now the new day was upon her. Trying to live up to her decision, she hurried out of bed and hopped in the shower. Making herself think she was going to have a very good day. She decided nothing Jane said or did would bother her. She would look at each coming day as a learning experience. Each day there would be something new to learn so that when she left here, the new Charlie would be a person people wanted to be around. And so it was that a very cheerful Charlene buzzed into the kitchen ten minutes early that morning to help Marie prepare breakfast.

Marie looked at the cheery smile on Charlene’s face and knew what had happened overnight. She had seen that expression many times before, just not this early in the program.

"You seem much better this morning, Charlene! Have you decided anything about yourself?" Marie asked this same question many times in the past of many different boys. She had found the blunt approach was the best. As a ‘Kindly Aunt’ she was able to solicit answers that Jane could never get from her students.

"Yes Marie, I have! It took a long time last night. I looked at what Charlie was and I looked at whether I would like Charlie as a friend. I decided I didn’t much like him! So, I also decided that maybe Ms. Thompson was right. Please don’t tell her I said that! I don’t think she would ever let me live that thought down! But maybe by actually becoming the Charlene that Ms. Thompson envisions I can learn to remake Charlie into a much better person. Maybe even someone I would like to have as a friend. You know, like you or Joan!" Charlene replied. She placed the toast she had buttered on a serving cart.

"Well, I cannot believe that Charlie was all bad. I have seen Ms, Thompson work with many young people and when they leave the academy they are well educated and well liked by the people they meet. I am certain that you and Joan will be too if you follow through as you say and complete Ms. Thompson’s training program. Let’s get this out to the table, I believe I heard Ms. Thompson enter the dining room." Marie replied with a smile. It always did her heart good to see a young man’s brain start to work and think in terms of something other than crime or violence as the answer to all their problems. Yes, she decided, this one will do well in her program and will graduate a fine young man! With a gentle touch of Charlene’s shoulder they left the kitchen and entered the dining room for breakfast.

Charlene had all the answers that Jane expected at the breakfast table. She was able to converse on current events, fashion and the new makeup colors coming out in the next few weeks. To Jane she even sounded enthused about trying some of the new colors if she got the chance.

Breakfast ended and it was Joan’s turn to help Marie cleanup. As they were clearing the table, Jane spoke. "Joan, when you are through helping Marie, please continue your studies today. I also want you to put in two hours of piano practice. You are doing very well and I think you will have the correct feeling by the time you finish." Joan acknowledged Jane and left the room with a tray of dishes. "Charlene! I want you to change into something more appropriate for being outside today, your choice, but we will be out and doing a lot of walking this morning. Be on the rear patio in ten minutes."

"Yes Ms. Thompson" was Charlene’s reply as she excused herself from the table and headed upstairs to find something more suitable for a day outdoors.

The weather forecast had been for ‘sunny skies with a high in the mid eighties’. Charlene looked in her closet and found a yellow sundress with small flowers embroidered on the skirt. It was very light weight and Charlene knew she would have to change from the skin out since her bra would show through the thin material. "I said nothing would bother me and this is just the first of many tests today. I can do this!" With a small sigh, she stripped and found the matching yellow set of lingerie and redressed herself. She even found a low-heeled pair of sandals in the same yellow as the dress. A quick check of her makeup and she raced out of her room. When she arrived at the top of the stairs, she slowed to a more ‘Jane appropriate’ speed and descended the stairs as smoothly as she knew how. Just as she suspected, Jane came out of her study at the time Charlene was halfway down the stairs. ‘If I would have raced down the steps I’d be in deep trouble now.’ Charlene thought as she smiled at Jane and headed for the patio.

"I’m glad to see you are being more punctual, Charlene." Jane said as she ushered her student out the door. "A good choice of outfit for today too, I might add."

Charlene had to think for a minute. A bit of sarcasm mixed with a bit of praise. Typical, but different from the constant harping and correcting that she had been going through since her arrival.

The morning was a blur of activity. Jane led Charlene around for a fast review of the flora and fauna of New England and then headed down a path toward a small pond. Well actually Charlene thought it was a small pond until they emerged from the wooded area to this large expanse of water. She let out a small audible "Oh!" that Jane caught immediately

"The lake is ‘The Lake of the Four Seasons’. It is a two hundred forty five acre lake that is fed by two small streams. It eventually leads to the Atlantic Ocean some seventy miles east of us. I keep it stocked with lake trout which is a favorite sport fish in this part of New England. There are also a variety of pan fish and bottom feeders in order to keep it ecologically correct. To answer your unasked question, it is a completely private lake. It can only be used with my permission." Jane told Charlene.

"It’s beautiful! I didn’t know we were so close to such a wonderful fishing spot. Lake trout? I have only fished for trout in the mountain streams back home, are these similar?" Charlene asked.

"Yes, they are, and that will make a very good introduction to your biology and ecology studies for today." Jane replied. "If you progress well in your studies, I think a little time for fishing may be arranged."

"Do you think so? I haven’t been fishing in a long time, but I really liked going with my Dad." Charlene replied.

"Remember Charlene, if you do well in your studies there are rewards. I do not just discipline, but you must show me that you have earned your reward." Jane replied.

The morning was spent going over how a lake’s ecosystem needs to be balanced in order for it to remain healthy and provide a habitat for all the creatures that live there and depend on it for their survival. When Jane finally looked at her watch, she hurried Charlene back to the house for lunch. A clothing change was required so that Charlene would be ‘fresh’ for the noon time meal.

Another change of clothes after lunch to continue the outdoor lessons. This time the study was of Jane’s two secondary loves of her life. ‘Stars and Garters’ and ‘Teddie’ were the two horses Jane loved to ride. She spent the better part of the afternoon demonstrating proper grooming on Garters, then having Charlene repeat on Teddie. By tea time both horses had been thoroughly groomed until they shone. Charlene was tired but very happy at having spent the afternoon with the horses, even if they were a lot of work.

"Ms. Thompson, is this the only time they get cared for? I mean have they not been brushed since I arrived here?" Charlene asked.

"My goodness no, Charlene. I have a groomsman who comes in daily to care for the horses. I have a small herd on the far side of the lake we were observing this morning. His job is to care for all of them. Today, I asked him not to groom the two in the barn so I could teach you the proper way to care for a horse. They are the gentlest of all and very good at letting a neophyte, such as yourself, brush them without a fuss. I told you when you arrived, I would not let you be injured intentionally while you are in my care. That is why those two horses were chosen for this learning experience." Jane replied as they entered the house. "I believe a shower and fresh clothing is in order, since we most likely smell like horses. Tea will be in twenty minutes. See you in the parlor." Jane quickly climbed the stairs and disappeared into her room at the far end of the hall.

‘Another change of clothes! GOD!!! Well, at least I get to pick the outfits so far today.’ Charlene thought as she entered her room. Charlene heard a noise and noticed Marie coming out of her closet.

"Hi Marie! What ‘cha doin’? Charlene asked.

Startled for a moment Marie jumped and then turned to see Charlene standing there smiling at her. "Oh Cherie, you gave me a start! I was just hanging your clean clothes back in your closet. Oh my! I can smell the horses from here. Hurry into the bathroom and strip, I’ll get you an outfit and leave your fresh lingerie in the bathroom. Hurry, tea is in fifteen minutes."

"Ok Marie, thanks for helping. I’ll make it a quick shower." Charlene smiled and headed for the bathroom.

Things worked just like the first day of clothes changing. Charlene got out of the shower and lying on the counter top were her fresh lingerie. After donning her bra and panty, she left the bathroom to see that Marie had chosen an outfit. It was the cream colored dress that needed two petticoats to hang right. With a sigh Charlene thought, ‘I was doing so well at avoiding those too! Well, if Marie put them out there is a reason AND today has really gone so well, I just can’t get mad at her.’ Charlene dressed, redid her hair and makeup and left her room with two minutes to spare. That gave her just enough time to walk into the parlor and sit before Joan came in with the tea cart.

Tea was a subdued affair, compared to the first few that Charlene had tried to serve. Jane quizzed Joan about her studies and whether she had practiced the piano. Marie had commented that Joan’s piano practice was becoming more of a concert, with sweet music filling the house. Joan blushed a lot and thanked Marie for the compliment. Jane nodded her approval and mentioned it may be time for Joan to take lessons outside the house since as a music teacher she could only teach her so much.

Then Jane turned her attention to Charlene. "You have done a lot of learning today. I would like two papers from you by tomorrow at lunch. One of the papers on the ecosystem of the lake. Another on the proper grooming of horses. Their length will be up to you, just be certain you cover as much as you can remember, Charlene. This will help determine how well you comprehend your studies. I believe that will keep you busy until lunch tomorrow. Joan, I need to see you in my study so we can plan your next set of studies. Ladies, shall we go about our business?" Jane rose and headed for her study.

Charlene was sitting there thinking about what she was going to write in the two papers when Joan came up to her. "Are you finished with your tea? I need to get things cleaned up so I can meet with Aunt Jane."

"Oh! Sure Joan. Umm… wait, I’m still thinking how to write those papers, why don’t you let me cleanup from tea and you can spend a little more time seeing what Ms. Thompson wants. I don’t mind and sometimes bouncing ideas off Marie helps me think clearer." Charlene smiled at the girl she was coming to think of as her ‘big sister’.

"Oh, thank you so much Charlene! I’m kind of nervous about going for piano lessons, I love playing and Aunt Jane is a great teacher, but she must have some reason to want me to take lessons somewhere else! I’ll see you later!" Joan waved as she headed out the door of the parlor and knocked on Jane’s study door.

Charlene felt good about what she had just done for Joan. She stopped just before entering the kitchen and realized she had never offered to do a job for anyone before. This was just so different from anything in her life experience that she had to think about it for awhile. With a shake of her head, she continued into the kitchen with a load of dishes.

After a quick explanation to Marie of why she was helping clean up instead of Joan, the tea cleanup was completed and Charlene was on her way to the student study. The balance of the afternoon and evening flew by for Charlene. By the time she needed to stop and get ready for bed, she had written the paper on proper grooming methods for the horses. She hadn’t even thought about the paper on the lake ecology until a note popped up in her message box. A reminder from Jane about both papers due by lunch tomorrow. Charlene marked the note as ‘unread’ so she would be reminded of it in the morning, shut down her computer and headed for her bedroom. She still had another shower and reading the paper to do before she could go to sleep.

Charlene had finished her shower and was finishing setting her hair when there came a knock on her door. Since it didn’t immediately open she knew it was Joan. "Come in!" she called out and Joan came into the room with the newspapers Charlene needed to read before bed.

"Here you go Charlene, a few articles that I am sure Aunt Jane will ask about. Like the fashion show disaster in Paris and the drop in the stock market because of jittery oil production in the middle east. You know her!" Joan let out a big sigh and sat on the edge of Charlene’s bed.

"So-o-o-o?" Charlene asked.

"So-o what?" Joan looked confused.

"So, where are you taking your piano lessons? You were so excited I figured you’d be walking on air by now!" Charlene replied.

"Oh! That So-o-o." Joan started to giggle. "I will be taking lessons once a week on Tuesday afternoon for two hours with a Miss Krouse in town. It seems she is a retired concert pianist and Aunt Jane recorded one of my practice sessions and played it for her. She was impressed enough that she called to ask if I could be her student! That is just so cool!" Joan’s smile was from ear to ear.

Charlene was so impressed she walked over and gave Joan a big hug. "I’m so happy for you!"

"So, how was your day with Aunt Jane?" Joan asked.

"Far more interesting than I thought it would be." Replied Charlene. "She is a very good teacher! I was surprised by how much she knows. She also has a very understandable way of presenting material that I think I learned more today in one afternoon than I learned in a whole year at my old school."

Joan laughed at Charlene’s comment. "Aunt Jane is an excellent teacher. I finished eighth grade and freshman year of high school in the time I have been here. When I go home, I’ll be one or two years ahead of everyone else! Aunt Jane thought that was part of my problem. I learn very quickly and was always bored in school, so I got into trouble for something to do."

"I know what you mean, the school work was always so easy, I just never saw the point of the homework, since I knew how to do the work. Maybe I’ll get ahead while I’m here too!" Charlene replied.

Joan stood to leave the room. "I wouldn’t be surprised. Aunt Jane really does know how to teach and she pushes the information at you as rapidly as you can take it in. I heard her tell you to write two papers for her, so I know she is pushing you the way she pushed me at the beginning. Just do your best. That’s all she has ever asked of me!" Joan said goodnight and left Charlene to read the papers and get ready for bed.

‘Do your best!’ Charlene pondered that thought, trying to figure out where she had heard it before. It took a while and finally it came to her when she was reading the paper. Cub Scouts! That was something she had learned when she was seven or eight years old as a new Cub Scout. "Hmph…" Charlene looked at her image in the mirror. "I hardly look like a Cub Scout!" She laughed a little more to herself, then finished the paper and went to sleep.

***

Charlene awoke with a smile on her face and something furry against her cheek. She had been dreaming about the horses and had just nuzzled ‘Teddie’ to congratulate her for being such a good horse, when the alarm rang. Opening her eyes she came face-to-face with the small Teddie Bear, Marie always placed on her bed. "Good morning! Glad it was you in bed and not Teddie!" Charlene placed the Teddie Bear on her nightstand and headed for the bathroom. She was coming out of the bathroom when she realized she didn’t have a nightmare last night! Her mood had been good from waking up dreaming about the horses, but now it improved even more realizing she didn’t have a nightmare. She found herself humming as she got dressed and almost missed the local weather report before picking a sun dress for the day. She even put a petticoat under the skirt, since she knew she would be in the student study until lunch.

The morning moved quickly for Charlene. She worked on her paper on the local lake ecology until tea time, it was her day to serve and her mood was so good that Jane’s corrections to her serving couldn’t dent her cheerfulness. This was noted by Marie and Jane, they watched this student float around the room, serving tea and pastries as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She even hummed as she cleaned up and gave Marie a hug before returning to the student study to finish her report.

Ten minutes before lunch, Charlene hit the print button and watched her report emerge from the printer. She placed it in the basket for Jane and shutdown her computer and headed for her room to change for lunch. "No sense screwing things up today!" She thought as she changed into another sundress. This time she left the petticoat off, in case Jane had something planned for the afternoon.

"After lunch we shall continue your music studies, Charlene. A lady should at least know the basics of playing the piano." Jane started out the lunch time conversation.

This comment caused Charlene to raise her eyebrows, but remembered to keep her mouth shut just in time. "That would be wonderful Ms. Thompson." Charlene replied.

"I believe you were doing scales with both hands last time. A little more practice and you may get to enjoy playing as much as Joan does!" Jane replied with a smile.

Charlene looked at Joan but all she saw was the blush in Joan’s cheeks. ‘What in the world is Jane thinking? Me, playing the piano as well as Joan? I'd have to be here for years to get anywhere near that good!’ Charlene thought.

The afternoon actually went very quickly for Charlene. In what seemed like minutes, Marie was wheeling the cart into the parlor for afternoon tea. Charlene couldn’t believe the time had gone so fast. She was finally getting all the scale drills down smoothly AND with the correct fingering!

Tea was a very cheery time for Charlene, she was proud of what she could now do and Jane's praise made her even happier.

The time between tea and dinner was another story…

Exasperated after an hour of trying to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ Charlene slammed her hands down on the piano keys in a frustrated din. The dissonance of the random keys being pressed signaled Jane that there was a problem. Jane walked into the parlor to see Charlene muttering to herself and waving her hands around in frustration.

"Is there a problem, Charlene?" Jane queried.

Charlene continued to mutter and wave her hands, she was so upset by not being able to play such a simple tune, that she didn’t hear Jane when she entered the room.

"Damn! I should be able to play this…this… STUPID song! Why the hell can’t I get it right!" Charlene muttered to herself and banged out another discourse of odd sounding chords.

Jane placing her hand on Charlene’s shoulder brought her attention to the fact she was no longer alone. Before she could stop herself, she muttered, "Damn! I’m in trouble now!"

"Only for your foul language. You do remember I told you I would not tolerate such talk from any student of mine. That is especially true in the case of a young lady. It is very inappropriate and very immature, Charlene. We will talk about your penalty for the language later. What seems to be the problem with the piano?" Jane asked.

The redness finally started to fade from Charlene’s cheeks as she realized Jane was only upset with her ‘un-lady-like use of words’. She took a deep breath, composed her thoughts and replied. "Sorry, Ms. Thompson, but it is just so frustrating to sit here for over an hour and not be able to play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ all the way through without stumbling a million times!"

Jane let out a small laugh. "Learning to play an instrument is hard work, Charlene. If it were easy, there would be no point in having lessons and practice time! I have been listening to you through the monitor, as I told you I would and you have made very good progress for only playing for one hour and eleven minutes. The smoothness of playing will come with time. It appears that not only will you be learning to read music and play the piano, but you will also be learning patience!"

Charlene let out a sigh and nodded her head in agreement. "I think you may be right, Ms. Thompson."

"Of course I am! Now! You have forty-nine more minutes of practice and I expect to hear proper chords being played on this piano! When you have finished it will be time to freshen up for dinner. I’ll see you at dinner, Charlene." Jane stated and left the room.

Charlene looked over the music for a few minutes, imitating the finger positions over the keys. After playing the ‘Air Piano’ a couple times through, she went back to actually tapping the keys, knowing her forty-nine minutes would not have started until she actually made some sort of music.

A chime sounded through the small monitor on the table next to the piano. Jane’s voice came over the intercom, "Practice time is over, Charlene, please change for the evening." The monitor remained silent after that.

"Practice is finally over! Well, at least it now sounds somewhat like a song! Hopefully it will get better tomorrow." Charlene muttered to herself as she put her music away and headed for her room. As she reached the top of the steps she heard Marie humming to herself in her room. This brought a smile to her face, knowing Marie was happy.

"Hi Mar…" Charlene stopped in mid word. There was Marie setting out the frilliest ‘little girl’ dress Charlene had ever seen. Her shoulders visibly dropped as she realized that her outburst during piano practice had brought about this turn of events.

Marie looked up to see Charlene’s demeanor change. "Do not look so sad Mon Cherie! You make an adorable little girl! Whatever you did or said this afternoon is what caused this, so just remember to act the part and all will be well! Now, hurry and take a quick shower, we have to get you ready for dinner!"

"Oh Marie, when will I ever learn to keep my mouth shut!" Charlene sighed. Looking at the ensemble on the bed, she knew delay would only cause more reprimands about ‘time’ so fearing another report about clocks, Charlene hurried into the bathroom.

Charlene looked in the mirror before heading down for dinner. She shook her head at the ridiculous sight she saw. There in front of her sat one very tall six-year-old girl ready for a party. Everything was pink and trimmed in lace. Even her panties had five rows of ruffles! Marie had called them ‘Rumba’ panties. The skirt of the dress flared out at forty-five degrees and she was wearing matching pink ankle socks and pink ‘Mary Jane’ style shoes. Even breathing caused her dress to rustle. This was way-y-y more frilly than the last ‘little girl’ dress she had worn. The makeup was light but the blush was prominent and very circular. Marie made sure that Charlene had done her own makeup with guidance. This was under the guise that she may have to do it herself some day.

Going down the steps and into the dining room, took all the courage Charlene could muster. She was more afraid what Joan would say than anything Jane could do or say to her. Other than a quick look from Joan and a silently mouthed 'sorry', there was nothing said upon entry to the dining room. Once again there was a flat stool without a back at Charlene's place so that she could easily fluff out her skirt and keep from crushing the petticoats.

Jane floated into the room about the time Charlene stopped behind the stool. "Good evening girls! I do hope everyone has a had a good day so far!" She then looked at Charlene. "You fully know why you are dressed as you are. I expect you to act age appropriate until bedtime. If you comply and do so successfully, we shall return you to more age appropriate clothing at that time. If not, then your time will be extended. Shall we dine?" Jane sat and expected the girls to do the same.

Charlene swore Jane had Marie store the stool in the freezer! The sharp intake of breath from the shock was very loud to Charlene's ears.

Charlene wasn't certain she liked eating off a plastic plate with the pictures of Elmo and Big Bird on it, especially when all her food had been cut up very small before Marie had served her dinner. The tiny utensils were a bit much, but Charlene sat there and ate in an exaggerated proper manner. She remembered one of her younger cousins doing this when she was all dressed up for a party and didn't want to get in trouble. After Charlene had finished most of her meal she asked. "May I be excused please? I'm very full and have eaten all I want."

"Charlene, it is impolite to leave the table before everyone else is finished." Jane replied. "What do you have planned for this evening?"

Charlene let out a sigh. "I was going to read a little, but after sitting here I thought I might play with my dolls instead."

"That sounds like a wonderful idea! If you are good and do not disturb Joan, I'm certain someone will read a story to you later this evening, before bed. How does that sound?" Jane replied.

"That would be wonderful, Miss Thompson. I think I would like that!" Charlene tried to sound enthused, but it just wasn't in her tonight.

Charlene sat through the rest of the meal only talking when asked a question. When Marie brought out dessert, Charlene politely refused it stating she needed to watch her figure or her dress would never fit the next time she wanted to wear it. That brought a smile to Marie's face, but she removed the dessert and returned it to the kitchen.

The balance of the evening, Charlene tried her best to remain the prim and prissy six-year-old that Jane's punishment required. She asked Joan if she could use the 'potty' and about seven-thirty asked Miss Marie to read her a bed time story. Marie naturally chose 'Le Petit Prince' and made certain Charlene could recite all the parts in French properly.

Jane entered the room at eight and said. "Charlene! Have you had time to consider your language usage?"

"Yes Ms. Thompson. I will try very hard from now on to keep my language appropriate for a young lady." Charlene said, knowing it was what Jane wanted to hear.

Jane looked at her charge trying to gauge the sincerity of her response. "Very well! You may return to more age appropriate clothing after your bath. Oh, Charlene! You have been warned, so the next time the penalty shall increase in both time and severity. Goodnight everyone, I shall see you all at breakfast." With that last comment, Jane disappeared from the room.

Charlene let out a sigh. "Glad that's over!"

"Next time, I have no idea what Aunt Jane will do, but I can assure you it will be much worse than this." Joan replied as she helped clean up the room.

"You're probably right. I'll have to watch my language much more closely." Charlene said as she headed for her bedroom to undress from the ultra-frilly juvenile outfit.

"Oh, I don't know, you make an absolutely adorable little girl, Charlene. You have even gotten the mannerisms and speech patterns to an acceptable level." stated Marie with a smile.

"Marie! All this! You like me in this?" Charlene said surprised by Marie's comment.

"I must admit, it is nice to have a little one around once in awhile. How else could I get to teach you any French?" Marie waved as she turned toward the kitchen. "Goodnight girls! Joan, you may have to help unbutton, Charlene, there are many small buttons on the back of that dress and I do not believe she can get them all by herself. After all, we do not want the dress damaged, in case we need it again!"

"No problem Tante Marie, I'll take care of it. Good-night!" Joan replied.

"Good-night, Marie" Charlene echoed as they headed up the stairs.

After Joan had unbuttoned the back of Charlene's dress, she prepared to leave. "Night Charlene, if you need me for anything else, just knock on my door."

"Joan? Umm… before you leave. Was Ms. Thompson serious about finding something worse than 'THIS' if I screw up and swear again?" Charlene asked, gesturing at the frilly confection that hung loose off her shoulders.

"I really don't know! After I had to wear something equally as embarrassing, I decided not to ever let her hear me swear again. I didn't want to take a chance on what she could dream up." Joan responded.

Charlene nodded her head in agreement and then said. "Thanks, I just thought I'd ask. You're right though, my imagination is probably worse than what she could think up, but at this point I'm not so sure."

Joan nodded in agreement, as she shut the door on her way out.

Notes:

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