Seasons of Change - Book 3 - Part 3 of 3 - A Losing Season

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Seasons of Change
Book 3 - Part 3 of 3
A Losing Season
An Alternative Ending to Seasons of Change

by Tigger

Copyright © 1998,2012 Tigger
All Rights Reserved.

 


 
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction intended for the entertainment of adults in localities where it is legal for them to enjoy this type of work. If you are not a legal adult, you should not be reading this and moreover, you are abusing the trust someone put in you when they gave you access to the Internet. If it is illegal to read this, then you already know that you are violating the terms of your Internet access. Please leave. If you don't enjoy adult or erotic stories, why are you here?

Archiving and reposting of this story *unchanged* is permitted provided that no fee be charged, either directly or indirectly (this includes so-called "adult checks") *and* provided that this disclaimer and attribution to the original author are maintained.

Based on the characters and situations presented in "Seasons of Change" by Joel Lawrence, Copyright 1989.

Author's Note: This story represents an alternative ending to Mr. Lawrence's story. It is essentially a parallel universe story where things start out the same, but follow a much different path than the one portrayed in the original story.

This is my second inspiration from this story. My first derivative story, "A Second Season" starts where the original author's work stopped. This story takes place following the day described in Chapters VI and VII of Joel Lawrence's Seasons of Change. Essentially, it is a darker vision than the one I wrote of in "A Second Season".

Setting: The lead male character, Michael Nash, has been suspended from his very elite private school, St. Andrews Academy. With the concurrence of the school dean, he has been sent by his mother to live with her old friend, Jane Thompson who will attempt to teach the young man (late teens) control and self discipline.

"Aunt" Jane employs a "Victorian" type training program to tame undisciplined boys. She does this training by means of a delicately balanced regimen of humiliation and enforced feminine deportment. She is assisted in this program by her housekeeper (Maria) and several business women including the owners of a beauty salon (Carolyn and Sandra) and the proprietor of a combination dress and lingerie shop (Mrs. Franson). The other key player is David/Beth, one of Jane's feminized boys who is still living with her and who is required by Jane to "guide" (and setup) the new student.

Michael knows nothing about this, and is slowly "trapped" into Jane's program of petticoat dominance. Jane forces him to accept her program or lose his chance to return to St. Andrews because the dean will only readmit him after Jane certifies that he has been reformed.

As we begin our account, Aunt Jane, David/Beth and Michael/Michelle have returned to Jane's house from Michelle's initial public outing disguised as a girl. They have visited Carolyn and Sandra at the Marisha Chalet where he was humiliated by their taunting and terrorized during a make-up session as Carolyn's training subject, and at Mrs. Franson's "The Style Shoppe/MiLady's Closet" where he had to maintain his tenuous disguise in the presence of the young female shop clerks while dressed only in lingerie.

Each member of this unlikely trio is flushed with different emotions at the end of their long day of shopping for dresses and lingerie, and of feminine primping at the beauty salon. Michelle has been ordered to go up to her room and put away her new dainties, cosmetics and clothing while Jane and Beth retire to her study.

This story departs from the original tale at this point in time. ~Tigger
 


 
 
Chapter 28. A Coming of Age
 
About one in the afternoon, they took a break when Michael needed to satisfy a more basic hunger. He had not eaten since a very light breakfast over five hours before and was positively ravenous. As with every other need he'd experienced that day, the lovely Karen had anticipated this need, too. She left for a few moments before returning with a tray piled high with tiny sandwiches, sliced fruit and other snack type foods.

So this is what they mean by afterglow, Michael thought to himself. And it really was a thoroughly unique experience, feeling so mellow, eating finger foods while laying naked in bed cuddled up next to a living Goddess. He felt great - never better, except. . .

Except what, he asked himself, aware for the first time that something did not feel quite right. Somehow, something niggled at him at the back of his mind. There was something wrong. No, not wrong, rather there was something missing, but he couldn't seem to pinpoint what it could possibly be. Hadn't they just spent hours making love to each other, giving pleasure to each other. . . .

He looked at the woman nibbling delicately at the hors d'oerves beside him. She did not look like he felt - there wasn't any glow about her.

That was IT! *He'd* received pleasure. He had reached orgasm, but he could not recall anything like that happening to Karen. Didn't women have orgasms, too? Surely, they must or else the human race would not be overpopulating the planet. So why hadn't she reached her pleasure with him? Was he really *that* inept? She hadn't said so, but then again, would she say so? She might be concerned about the reputation of the house if he did not go away feeling like *the* man.

Dammit, that pleasure had been too wonderful not to share with the person who had given it so selflessly to him. Michael wanted, *needed* her to enjoy being with him, not endure being with him. Step one, he thought, was to find out why. "So, Karen . . " he started off handedly, "What do I have to do to give *you* pleasure."

The bite of food stopped midway between her plate and her open mouth. She slid him a look beneath her lashes, before setting the tidbit back down. "What makes you think you didn't?" she asked with a bit of a tremor in her voice.

Gotcha, he thought. "Oh, the fact that you didn't immediately deny it." Michael said in what he hoped was a reasonable semblance of Jane's equanimity. "That and the fact that I don't recall any reactions from you that remotely approached what you produced in me. So, Karen, what did I do wrong?"

Karen's face fell, and she bounded off the bed. Michael was after her immediately and had caught up to her before she could make it out the door. He was shocked to see tears streaming down her face. Gently, he pried her fingers from door knob and pulled her back to the bed.

"Okay, Karen. what is the matter?"

She just shook her head. "You did nothing wrong, Michael. Its just that. . . well, this is your first time, and it is supposed to be wonderful. . .*perfect*," she said just before the tears came harder. "And if you are one of those special guys who needs to give as well as take, you won't find that with me. Please, let me call Jean. She'll get you another girl and you'll see. You are easily one of the most considerate young men I have ever been with, and you will see how well you do once she is here instead of me."

"And if I want to be with you? If it is you I want to pleasure?" Michael asked quietly.

He watched as her beautiful strong body was racked by sobs. He wanted to comfort her, but needed to know the facts. Finally, she regained control and looked him in the eyes. "Look, Michael. You've learned very quickly and you're really quite a cute guy - but. . ."

When she hesitated to go further, Michael pressed. "But, what?" Karen shook her head, her lips compressed tightly, like she was trying to prevent the words from escaping her mouth. "Please, Karen - tell me - so I will at least know the truth."

Her shoulders slumped. "All right. You are really cute for a guy, Michael, but that is the problem. You *are* a guy. I enjoy making love with guys. I find pleasure in giving them pleasure, but I can't seem to reach orgasm with a guy."

It was not the strangest thing Michael had ever heard. It surely did not even come close to a house where boys became girls so they'd become better men. Or where a boy became a girl to wreak retribution on his Mother. "So, tell me. What does get you off, darlin'?"

She gave him a very disgusted "what do you think" look. "Girls, Michael. Pretty, petite girls in frilly, slinky lingerie. I guess it is because I am so gigantic,. ."

Michael interrupted her. "Tall, stacked, gorgeous. I don't want to hear you put yourself down like that!"

Surprised by his outburst, she gave him a momentary, shy smile before continuing, ". .since I am so *tall*, I like the little ones. They make me very hot."

Michael could see her bracing herself for a putdown. He only smiled. "So, tell me, Karen. Any of your girlfriends got some stuff that would fit me?"

Her stunned, unbelieving stare was just about as satisfying as anything else he'd experienced yet today. "You mean. . . girl things? You want to dress up and see if that would help get me really aroused?" Michael nodded, and then watched the emotions flit across her face as she considered that.

"Have you ever tried it like that with a guy? Dressed as a girl, I mean."

"N. . n...no." she said, a considering look in her suddenly intensely dark eyes. "And you would qualify as petite next to me." She thought about it some more. "But I don't think any of the girls would like it very much if I let you borrow any of their dainties, but there is the stuff down in the dungeon." There was just a touch of "put up or shut up" challenge in her demeanor now as she stood to her full height and fixed her eyes on Michael.

Not quite sure he had heard her correctly, Michael swallowed hard. "What did you say? The dungeon?" Michael was a little less certain, now.

Karen laughed for the first time since they'd started lunch. "We have a couple of girls on staff here at the Ranch who sexually dominate guys. You know, tying them up, spanking their bare butts and generally teasing the hell out of them before they finally let the guy get his rocks off. It has gotten pretty popular, particularly with the one time trade, so Jean converted a big part of the cellar into a dungeon. One of the games a lot of guys really like is to be forced to wear girl clothes and being then to be treated like a sissy- slave, so there is a big closet full of man-sized female clothing down there. Jean said that for what your Aunt is shelling out for today, we could have the run of the place. You ready to put her money where your mouth is, Michael?" she challenged.

He just grinned. She hadn't said that *she* was one of those dominating women, so he figured he'd be safe down there. Hopefully.

Standing up, Michael offered his hands to her. "Lead me away, Ma'am. I am ready."

Fifteen minutes later (Michael'd had no interest in staying in the aptly named dungeon *any* longer than necessary), they were back in Karen's room, loaded down with everything from a gaff to a corset to breast inserts to fine hosiery to press on fingernails. One small problem was the selection of shoes stocked in the dungeon closet. Unfortunately, the only shoes they'd had that fit him had spiked heels at least five inches high. Michael wasn't all that sure just how much walking he could manage in those stilts, but decided that he'd at least give them a try. If this worked, he did not expect to be on his feet all that much anyway.

Karen helped him into the corset and gaff, lacing both up tight, and was getting ready to help him with the rest of his transformation when Michael shoo-ed her into a chair. "Just watch." he grinned at her.

And Karen *did* watch - stared at him, in fact, in open- mouthed amazement as he went over to her vanity and began his practiced transformation into Michelle. In very short order, he had teased his still short hair into a sassy, close cropped arrangement of curls. He put on a show for her when he slipped on the smokey stockings, trying his best to imitate the teasing pose he'd remembered from some lingerie shoot in a magazine. Extending his leg to the fullest and pointing his toes, he slowly unrolled and then smoothed the silk hose over each of his legs in turn. As he stood to attach the corset's garters, he stole a peek at his soon-to-be lover's reflection in the vanity's mirror and understood for the first time the phrase "Smoke coming out of her ears".

The look on her face was . . . interesting - very interesting. Her wide open eyes were fixated on his most subtle movement, and a light sheen of perspiration made her face seem to glow in the sun dappled light. She couldn't keep her hands still, and was ringing them in an effort to keep them in her lap. Every little bit, her nose would flare and the tip of her pink tongue would slip out to moisten lips dried by her deep, almost panting breathing.

Michael smiled, very pleased with himself as he sat down again, and began expertly applying Karen's cosmetics to his face. The colors weren't quite right for him, but they'd do in a pinch. Michael wasn't after a particularly classy look in any case.

When he stood and stepped into those incredible heels, Karen's eyes looked glazed as she took in the entire picture. "My god, Michael. . " she breathed. He was surprised her breath did not singe him with the fire he saw in her eyes.

The need in her voice and on her face made Michael shiver in delight. "No, Karen." Michelle's voice answered softly as she sauntered over to where Karen sat, transfixed on the bed and offered her lover her red nailed hand. "My name is Michelle, and I think you still have a great deal to teach me, lover."

With an almost anguished moan of desire, Karen pulled Michelle down onto the bed beside her and ravaged her young lover's mouth with a hungry kiss.

~----------~

It was well after six in the evening when the two lovers made their weary way back down to the main reception area. There were more people there now. . .men as well as the women mingling, getting to know each other a bit before going up (or down, Michael mused thinking of that dungeon) to the rooms. Michael noticed one relatively short, very voluptuous redhead decked out from head to toe in a electric purple latex body suit that seemed to have been sprayed onto her all over her body. Handcuffs, a paddle and a multi-stranded whip swung loosely from a belt around her waist, obviously ready for immediate use.

Michael wondered idly if he should thank her for the loan of the lingerie, but decided against it. She might get the wrong idea and while he found her to be. . . . unexpectedly sexy and very intriguing, he knew that he was NOT ready for that. Maybe someday, though, he thought taking one last sideways look at the domination specialist. Maybe someday.

They found Jane reading in parlor room of the house's private living quarters. Both of the older women took in the looks of absolute satiation on the faces of both young people. "I take it you both had a good time?" Jane asked.

"Mmmmm. . ..Oh yes." Karen purred. "This man is very, very good," and she almost leered at Michael who was blushing profusely. "Very, *very* special." Jane almost laughed at the stunned look on Jean's face because there was absolutely no doubt that Karen meant every word.

"Ready to head back to the cabin, Michael?" Jane asked with a smile. He nodded. They exchanged farewells, but not before Karen swept Michael almost off his feet with her good bye hug and kiss. Jean could only stare at him, a mixture of disbelief and awe on her attractive features.

"Michael? Sweetie?" he looked up into Karen's sparkling eyes. "Let me know when you are in town next, and I will take a day off to show you around some. Among *other* things."

"You bet, Karen. It's a date." Michael called as he hurried to catch up with Jane.

As they walked out the door, Jane handed him a packaged, pre- moistened towelette. "You missed a bit of your eye shadow, dear." she teased. "Wouldn't do for it to be there when we stop at that truck stop for dinner, now would it."

Michael was in complete agreement on that score.

~----------~

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary October 9 - Day 85

Dear Diary

Curiouser and curiouser. On the way home, Jane told me what was behind all this. Since I had decided to stay Michelle, she wanted me to know the male side of the equation before I go back to skirts. She wanted me to have something to compare against if I ever slip up and get hot and heavy with a guy.

She has *got* to be kidding.

Strangely, Jane was not surprised at all when I told her about Karen's orientation and how I had switched to Michelle halfway through the day. I know she saw the traces of my cosmetics, but somehow, I don't think that is the whole of it. It is the same kind of feeling I got when I intuited that Karen was not getting the same pleasure out of our lovemaking before Michelle arrived on the scene. There is something here, some little tidbit of information that I don't quite know and that Jane does. So what else is new?

Oh man, the *look* of on Karen's face as I started putting on Caro's special heavy "stalking makeup" like I knew what I was doing was absolutely priceless. Wish I'd had a camera. I will have to tell Carolyn that I used that cosmetics lesson after all. She'll be so pleased to be able to tell me "I told you so." Of course, I don't think she meant for me to use it to stalk a woman.

Okay. . . so how do I feel about losing my virginity and then having to shift to Michelle before my partner got any satisfaction out of my lovemaking? How do I feel about being the submissive partner during Karen's and my afternoon of lovemaking? It is really strange. If I had thought about this situation in advance, I would have thought I'd be upset that I wasn't "good" enough for her, and maybe even a little ashamed that I couldn't get her off "like a man".

Well, as that Jim Croce song that Jane is always playing goes "But that's not the way it feels."

It feels pretty damned good. I was right that something was missing - the pleasure wasn't mutual - it was all one sided. Once I became Michelle and surrendered to her (admittedly, dammit) greater strength, Karen became very excited. The loving was infinitely better. The feeling that I held her total pleasure, her entire being on the tip of my tongue or in my fingers is . . . empowering.

And if I truly gave her that kind of pleasure, how can I be not be a "man"? I wasn't diminished by giving her Michelle. I think I would have been diminished if I had continued only taking and not giving in return as Michael.

It felt good. How can anything that feels that good between two people, that harms no one, be anything but good? Answer: It can only be good. Better than good.

I don't think I would ever hesitate again, to do what it took to pleasure my lover.

Umm. . . well, thinking of that gal with the cuffs and whips, decked out in that latex thing? I might have to think once or twice or even thrice about that one. I think there would need to be a foundation of serious trust there before I could let someone take that kind of power over me. I wonder if that is a leftover reaction to my first experiences with Jane when she was so domineering and so intent on my humiliation? Maybe.

Maybe with Karen - that would be different. Wouldn't that gorgeous, leggy woman look dangerously sexy in one of those shiny latex full body suit things? I wonder if she does that stuff from time to time?

In any case, it is time for Michael/Michelle to go to bed. I am *beat*. But it is a very nice kind of beat.

Michael Nash

~----------~

Jane sat in front of the fire, a very self satisfied smile lighting her lips. Her boy/girl had taken a big step towards being a real man this day. He had opened himself to ridicule and embarrassment in order to help meet the special needs of another person, putting that person's needs and desires ahead of his own. And in doing so, had received even more in return. A very good day, indeed. She was very proud of her boy. Very proud, indeed.
 
 
A Losing Season: Chapter 29.
 
 
Excerpt: Michelle's Diary October 14 - Day 90

Dear Diary

Well, we got home late last night, and Michael's clothes were back in the attic closet before bedtime. That's okay, I guess. I missed my bubble bath in that rustic cabin. Showers are all right for Michael, but Michelle likes lounging in a hot froth of water and bubbles.

I have decided I am going to go to that dance with Dennis on Saturday. First of all, because I cannot think of anyway to avoid it, and not call real attention to myself. This one of those times that it would have been nice if David was going to school somewhere closer to New England than Illinois.

Secondly, because I have decided that, just as Jane and Caro have said, I need to learn how to function in these situations as a female.

And finally, because after Michael's *and* Michelle's time with Karen, I am no longer as confused about who I am and what I want. I want what Eric has and what Caro's husband has - a loving relationship with a woman who knows Michael and Michelle, and who enjoys both sides of me. I want children who I will ensure grow up certain of their parents' love. And that leaves out Dennis or any other guy, even if I do find being with them erotically exciting (which I have to admit to myself that I have), because they cannot give me kids.

I am going to wear everything I can think of that will make it difficult for me to get groped. Don't know what Dennis will think of if and when he tries to get cute, but that's his problem. Mine is getting through that shindig without being discovered.

Michelle Nash

~----------~

Jane hung up the phone and sighed sadly. She'd hated not being able to commit to her friend, a judge in a midwestern city. Unfortunately, the case in question would require her to take charge of the boy early in the New Year which posed two problems. First, if Michelle was still with her at that point, which was still a definite possibility, it was highly unlikely that the girl would tolerate, much less assist Jane's program of petticoat-humiliation discipline.

"Jane?" came a soft voice at her open door. "Are you all right? Is there something wrong?"

She looked up and saw a concerned Michelle peering in at her from the front foyer. Jane shook her head. "Not really, Michelle. Just a call from a friend asking for help I cannot give her."

Michelle walked across the room and sat down in the hated chair on the other side of the desk. Oddly, it did not seem to have any power over her any more. "What kind of help?"

You really don't want to know, dear, Jane thought wryly. "Oh, she just wanted me to take on a project for her, and I could not commit to anything more as long as your training is in progress." she said, attempting to sound positive about the situation.

However, Jane had not counted on the almost empathic intuition her charge seemed to have developed over the past few weeks. She simply looked at Jane for several moments, and then she understood. "That was one of the people who sends you boys." Michelle said flatly. "She wanted you to take on another rehabilitation project."

Nodding wearily, Jane affirmed what Michelle had already divined. "Yes. Judge Ruth is another of my sorority sisters who now sits the bench of a juvenile court in a small city in Ohio. She has a boy she thinks would be ideal for the type of retraining I have specialized in for many years. But the boy needs to be here sometime between mid January and the first of February, and I just don't see how I can do it then."

"I see." Michelle said stonily. "And this woman thinks you can help him? Has she worked with you before?"

Jane smiled. "Of course. In fact, she is the one who sent David to me. He originally was supposed to go to her court, but the local DA was on a law and order kick, and wanted to try David as an adult. Ruth intervened, and with the help of another judge, got David sent to me. He either came to me by way of Ruth's order, or the DA would have him in regular court. They had enough evidence to convict - mostly because David had confessed."

"Is this the same type of thing?" Michelle asked tonelessly.

"You mean jail or here?" Jane raised her hands to her eyes and tried to massage the tension away. "Appears so. Ruth thinks he could be salvaged, but not if he ends up in the state prison."

"So why didn't you take him on? I mean, it is what you do, isn't it?" Michelle's tones were aggressively accusatory.

"What I used to do, Michelle. You are here, and even if you were not my first priority - which you are - I could not bring a young man in here for my usual program with you living here. At best, you'd be sullenly neutral, and at worst, you could undermine everything I was trying to do with him. I know you don't think much of what I do, Michelle, but having you here trying to thwart me at every turn would do the boy far more harm than good." Jane shrugged, trying to consign the feeling of failure away. "Now, that is enough on that subject since it is not going to happen. Were you looking for me?"

Pensively, Michelle replied. "Mmmmm yes. I wanted to tell you I had decided to accept Dennis' invitation to the Harvest Festival Dance at his school, and wondered if you and Maria would like to help me go through my closet and pick an outfit."

"Of course, dear. How about after dinner?" Michelle nodded her agreement and quietly left the room. Jane wished that the girl had not walked in on the end of that conversation or had not figured out just what the "project" had entailed. In any case, her initial response seemed to support Jane's worst fears. Too bad for the boy, she thought sadly, but her commitment to Michael had to come first.
 
 
Excerpt: Michelle's Diary October 15 - Day 91

Dear Diary

Jane's going to refuse to take on this student because of me. I guess I should have expected that she'd be asked to accept new soon-to-be-sissies while I am in residence, but it never even occurred to me. Jane's assessment of my reaction, I am afraid, was dead on the mark. I probably would have tried to thwart her - especially now that I know just how hard she worked to make those terrorizing outings of hers safe for us. And if the boy knew that there really was *no* danger, Jane's power to accomplish anything, bad *or* good, would be severely limited.

Only now, I am not so sure what I think or what I would do. Heck, I wasn't sure when I walked out of the study. Jane was too depressed, and it did not seem to be the "oh darn, I won't have this boy to humiliate for my pleasure" type of disappointment. I think she is honestly sad that she won't be able to "help" this guy turn his life around. One thing I have come to believe without question is that Jane *believes* what she does with "her boys" really does help these guys.

The question I have had to ask myself is "Am I the only one who, having been through her treatment, feels the way I do about Jane's little program?" I turned to the only three sources I know - Bill, Caro's husband, Eric and David.

Evidently, I am. David, who knows this judge, said she was a square dealing lady who really tries to help the kids she has to deal with to the limits of her power. And he's already told me that he is grateful to Jane for taking a chance on him and helping him get past his problems. Bill, of course, is one of Jane's biggest fans. He'd have to be, or he couldn't live with what Caro does to help Jane.

By the time I got through to Eric, I was more confused than ever. He just said, "Michael. Jane's program did not work for you. You had issues she did not expect and very firm plans for your future that were completely incompatible with the person Jane wanted to make of you. Not only that, but because of your attempt to take your own life, you never completed the program. So, even if you had completed her training and it still did not work for you, all that says is that you are the exception among us who proves the rule. She *has* helped the rest of us. Just as she is helping you now that she better understands what you need. She may come on like a stone cold bitch, but that is necessary for what she does, and covers, as I believe you are beginning to discover, a very concerned and caring spirit."

Yes, Eric, I have figured that all out.

Okay. . .so what do I do? I am obviously a problem. This judge, who thought enough of David to send him to Jane, thinks the same about this guy. If she can't send him to Jane, it is almost one hundred percent certain that he will go to jail, which statistics say is not going to help him. Everyone _else_ who knows about Jane thinks her evil games are useful and beneficial, at least they think that after the fact.

If I do nothing, the guy goes to jail. I just don't know if I can do to another person what Jane made David do to me!

I do _not_ need this in my life.

Michelle Nash

~----------~

When the evening meal was complete, Michelle spoke up. "Jane, could I please speak with you and Maria both? Not quite a time out, but almost?"

A hint of a smile shadowed Jane's drawn features. "Well, that certainly is clear. What does that mean? You don't shift into Michael-mode?"

Michelle nodded. "That's about it."

"All right. Maria, get the coffee and join us in the sitting room."

They sat on opposite sides of the coffee table, Jane and Maria on one side, Michelle on the other. Well, Jane mused, at least I can tell the players on each team. Us against her by all indications. Oh well. "All right, Michelle. This is your conference. What is on your mind?"

"How important to your program is the senior student?"

Whatever Jane had thought might be bothering her ward, that question had been completely unexpected. "Well. . . I am not really sure. I have only had two or three boys, including my very first, of course, who were here for their entire stay without an experienced girl to help guide them and to play good cop to my bad cop."

"But Maria could do that "good cop" thing if it was necessary, couldn't she?"

"As I have done in the past, I'll have you know, Ms. Nash" Maria answered pertly.

"Jane. . . I don't really know if I can help you like. . . like Beth helped you with me, but I am willing to try. I figure I will be going back to school during the day while he's, . . . . or rather while *she's* being indoctrinated," Michelle decided not to say what she was really thinking, "So I wouldn't be here to hinder your efforts. If you plan it carefully, you could schedule the harshest of your little games so that my "good cop/guide" would be available afterwards. I could help him with his petti's and with his other girl things, like Beth did for me, too. I just don't think I could set him up the way you made Beth set me up."

Jane had been completely unprepared for this type of compromise offer from her one failure, from the one she had almost driven to suicide. "You think you can do that, Michelle?" she asked softly. "Because if we accept this boy, he cannot have foreknowledge or nothing good will come of it."

"I don't know, Jane, and that's the God's honest truth. If I don't see the really . . . nasty stuff," Michelle saw Jane wince at that, but had to give her the unvarnished truth, "I think I can help without hindering in the type of limited role I just proposed."

Considering the possibilities, Jane nodded. It just might work. She could schedule most everything that really tore down the male ego and shattered his overblown sense of pride for times when Michelle was in school. There was only one thing.

"It seems like it might be workable, Michelle. Except one of my most effective exercises that helps the new student realize I am serious is to punish the senior student. Recall Beth going into her Raggedy Anne little girl clothes, and being forced to play with little girl toys. Normally, I don't have to tell the senior about that - I just do it to them and both students get the object lesson. Could you, or maybe it is closer to *would* you let me do that to you? For some manufactured failure on your part, in order to guide my new student? I won't be able to tone it down. It will be as real as if I were really intent on punishing you, and you will have to take it like that for the lesson to be effective."

Maria piped up. "It wouldn't be so bad, chicka. I promise to sneak you a snack after the junior goes to sleep when Jane orders you into your little girl jammies and sends you to bed without your supper."

Michelle smiled at that. "I can handle it, Jane, just like I can handle going to a dance with a guy, or any of the other things I have done in the past months. I guess I have trusted you this far, I need to trust you again." And then a glimmer of a mischievous smile tilted her lips. "But I will be watching you, Jane. *Don't* enjoy it *too* much."

Everyone laughed at that. "All right, I promise to try and hate every minute of it. Don't think I will succeed, but I promise that I will try." she took a breath. "And now, I think we should go up and go through your closet. We may need to go to Mrs. Franson's if you don't have a suitable outfit for the dance."
 
 
Excerpt: Michelle's Diary October 15 - Day 91

Dear Diary

I agreed to do my best to help her, and not to hinder her. Best I can do on this. Maybe, as an observer, I can be more objective about the process. Who knows?

Jane told me that the harvest festival dance is actually sort of a "barn dance". Most of the girls go in jeans and plaid work shirts. That suits me just fine. My one concession to fashion will be a low pair of heels, since I do not have any feminine boots. The jeans will work just fine, since they will make it much harder for Dennis to take liberties.

Michelle Nash.
 
 
"Michelle?" Jane called to her from the front parlor. "Please sit down. I have a question for you. From our conversation last night, you have evidently decided to go back to school here as Michelle and not to return to St. Andrews?"

"Yes, Aunt Jane. I will never again fit in at St. Andrews" and here she swept a hand down her very feminine presence, "now. And if I stay here, we've agreed I need to stay as Michelle."

"Very well. I will arrange for appropriate physician's orders for you not to participate in gym class or have to go to their school nurse for medical examinations. Other than those two situations, I believe you are up to the task. Do you know what you will study?"

"College prep - I am mostly done. One thing I did not do at St. A's was mess up academically. I could probably pass the equivalency tests right now, taking them cold." and then a bright smile lit Michelle's face. "And it seems to me, I was told I needed to take Home Ec."

"Smartie. All right, I will arrange everything right after Christmas. In the meantime, I will do what I can to fix your records so that no one will question why you are showing up as a female."

"Thanks, Aunt Jane. I really appreciate all your help."

Jane watched her young charge sail out of the room with just a touch of melancholy. She never would have believed that Michael would be willing to meet her halfway on the subject of another student, and he had come more than halfway. Now he was blithely planning a life with her into the future. It sounded surprisingly nice to Jane. It had been a very long time since she'd had a family. Oh, she had Maria, but Maria did not *need* Jane. Michelle did. Jane hoped that in the fullness of time, she still would.
 
 
Excerpt: Michelle's Diary October 20 - Day 96

Dear Diary

I survived the dance, and Dennis survived his attempt to neck with me after the dance. But it was a near thing. Oh, the kissing was okay, and yes, it did make me hard again. However, when he got a little too cute, like trying to pull down the zipper of my jeans and then pulling my hand over onto his own hard-on, well, that ticked me off.

I put my hand on his crotch all right - right where it would do the most good and squeezed rather hard. Then I just smiled, and asked him very sweetly to take his bloody hands off me, and to take me home. Which he did, lucky for him.

He failed in his obligations as a gentleman to see me safely to my front door, too. Could not get the hell out of dodge fast enough once I was out the door and out of range of his family jewels.

Jane would probably call this an "object lesson". Michael would probably have tried much the same stunt half a year ago. Would have tried to make the girl feel guilty that she had "teased him" and then not "followed through on her promises"

Well, I did neither. Any "promises" were *only* in his fevered little brain.

I cannot say I like the comparison between Dennis and Michael being quite so close.

And I am NOT going out with that jerk again. I noticed tonight that there were several of the other girls from Wednesday's classes who arrived unescorted. They danced to their hearts' content, but when it came time to leave, they did not have to deal with any overactive male libidos. Hopefully, they will let me tag along with them next time. I think there is another dance a couple of weeks from now, and I really enjoyed the partying with the other kids.

Live and learn. Being Michelle does have its little pitfalls.

Michelle Nash.
 
 
A Losing Season: Chapter 30. The Future and Decisions
 
 
Excerpt: Michelle's Diary November 14/15 - Day 120/121

Dear Diary

God, what a mess. I don't even know what to do or who I can turn to. Jane would just go ballistic, but there isn't anything she can do without exposing me. And nothing *really* happened, it was just the intent. That was more than enough.

It just pisses me off that those two slugs are going to get away with it.

Just the facts.

I went to the Saturday dance with a bunch of the other girls from Caro's Wednesday class. Everything was fine - I was getting a few dances in and having fun. At about 10 pm I went to the ladies room. When I came out, I was ambushed and dragged off into an empty classroom by two guys in ski masks.

I am 99 and 44 hundredths percent sure that one of them was Dennis. The other one held my wrists and forced me to my knees, while "Dennis" undid his jeans and pulled out his cock.

They told me I was going to suck them both off, or they were going to have to hurt me. The one behind be was very strong, and I could not free my wrists from his grip, and the one I think was Dennis just started shaking himself in my face.

I tried to turn away, and so the one behind leaned down so that he could make his threats in my ear without having to speak loudly enough to be heard outside the room. That was his big mistake.

I snapped my head back so that the crown of my skull smashed right into his chin. He grip relaxed enough for me to free my wrists. Then I brought both of my forearms up into each of their groins as hard as I could. "Dennis" got the worst of it because his testicles were out hanging free where I could see them well enough to aim. The other one was wearing tight jeans that I think shielded him a little, but he still went down like a rock.

I was out of there, running as fast as I could go, only to be met by Anna and the other girls who had come looking for me. They saw the state I was in, and took me back into the ladies room to clean me up and fix my face.

I didn't tell them the truth. Only that two guys had shanghaied me, and pulled me away to steal kisses and to cop a few feels. One of them told a chaperone, but by the time he got there, the boys were long gone. Just as well, I guess. As I said before. What could we possibly do.

Anyway, I managed to convince everyone that it was not really a problem - just one of those stupid adolescent things guys do. There was no harm really done, so could we just forget it?

No harm. Right. Bullshit. I'm not bleeding and I did not *actually* get raped. It just *feels* that way.

This *does* however constitute another of Jane's object lessons. At least, that is what I keep trying to tell myself. As Michelle, I am perceived to be weak and vulnerable in ways that I never would have been as Michael. Never mind that Michael and Michelle are just the same size, and just the same strength, Michael would *never* have been attacked this way.

And Michelle *is* vulnerable. I have to deal with that, somehow. I can't sleep because every time I close my eyes, I see that boy waving his penis at my face. I wish I had marked the sons of bitches somehow, so that I could find them later on. I can't even be sure it *was* Dennis, and I have no idea who the accomplice was.

So I cannot get even on my own. I seem to be spending a lot of my time worrying about getting even. If this was Dennis, that may have been his motivation, too. Getting even for my threatening and humiliating him after the Harvest Festival Dance. Guess that is an object lesson, too. Being on the receiving end of an "I'll show you" ploy is not very nice.

Michelle Nash
 
 
Jane watched Michelle covertly from the entrance to the sitting room. Something was bothering the girl and had been bothering her for several days, now. A spark had died in her, and Jane did not know why.

"Michelle?" she asked, moving into the room. "Are you all right?"

A sad smile answered her. "I am okay, Aunt Jane. Just feeling a little under the weather."

"Do you want me to call Nurse Nora, Michelle?"

Shaking her head, "No, thank you, Aunt Jane. I will be fine."

"Do you want to talk about whatever is bothering you?"

"Nothing's bothering me!" Michelle snapped with far too much vehemence.

Brows lifted, Jane looked at her charge. "I see. Well, if you change your mind, let me know."

The girl moved so quickly, Jane was not ready to find herself locked in a fierce embrace. "Thanks for caring, Aunt Jane." she whispered, and then ran from the room.

Whatever was bothering her, Jane mused, it was definitely something she wanted to try to deal with alone. Jane had to respect that, but she hoped that the girl would be able to do so on her own.

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary November 19 - Day 125

Dear Diary

Jane is worried about me. I don't know what to tell her. Last night, I slept without nightmares, although Michelle does sometimes get lost in thought thinking about it. Even that has happened fewer times today. I don't know why I am coming out of it so quickly. That is not the way my books on psychology say women recover from this type of experience. So, maybe it is the part of me that is mostly Michael that is responsible, but I think I am coming to grips with this incident, and starting to put it behind me.

Or is it just that Michael is able to ignore how he feels and that is, to some extent, shielding Michelle who is feeling very used, dirty and frightened? Maybe both. Of course, if Michael ever slips and is forced to confront these feelings, it could really get ugly.

God, I was *so* scared!

Still, Michael was able to protect himself, and in the process was able to protect Michelle. That means a lot to me, when I allow myself to take a "male" view of the incident. That was pretty hard to do for a couple of days when the memories were so overwhelmingly fresh. But Michael "helps".

Maybe this is part of becoming Jane's better balanced personality - in some situations the male side of me is better able to cope, and in others, the female is the stronger one. It is a matter of being both, and relying on both to see me over the rough spots.

Each to his or her own strengths and abilities? Makes sense to me, but I still think this is going to bother me for a very long time. Hell, I even bought a can of pepper spray yesterday, not that it would have been of any benefit the way those two assholes got to me. Still, as long as I can let Michael deal with the worst of it, I can move on and I can function as Michelle.

Wonder what Eric or Dr. Spinelli would have to say about all this? Probably say I am rationalizing and internalizing and that it is going to bite me in the butt eventually. Well, it is my butt, and one thing Jane has taught me. I have to try to do things as best that I can.

In any event, I am not going to any more of those damned dance classes. Good ole Denny's mom might object to seeing her little darling writhing in the fetal position on her nice pretty dance floor trying to find his balls.

Michelle Nash

~----------~

Jane kept casting looks across the breakfast table where *Michael* was sitting, calmly eating his preferred morning meal of yogurt and cereal. She did not mean to be rude, it was just that every time she glimpsed the young man out of the corner of her eye, it surprised her. She simply wasn't used to having Michael at her table instead of Michelle.

The day was Thanksgiving, and Jane had planned a huge holiday feast with all of her local friends attending. After reviewing the guest list, Jane had realized that everyone of her invited guests was someone who was already in on her and Michelle's secret. That being the case, and since no one else was likely to visit on a family holiday, Jane had offered to let her ward attend as Michael.

Michael pretended to be unaware of the looks he was getting from both Jane and Maria, just as he pretended not to notice the lack of their normal breakfast banter. Maria, who usually found something to tease Michelle about, had only set Michael's breakfast in front of him. She hadn't even asked him if he wanted anything different for a change. As for Jane, she kept her nose buried in the paper when she wasn't trying to avoid staring at him. She did not read him a single amusing line or share any of the comics with him as she always did with Michelle.

It was a bloody uncomfortable experience. It had not felt like this in Tahoe, but then, Tahoe was neutral ground. This house was Jane's private world, and while Michelle was a part of that world, Michael was not. After finishing his breakfast, Michael excused himself, received only a nod from Jane, and went into the sitting room to read.

Unfortunately, the entire morning went that way, with everyone who showed up. The only exception was Bill, Caro's husband. Sandy and Brenda Franson had stared at him in open mouthed disbelief when Michael had met them at the door. Caro had wrinkled her brow questioningly, but at least she had broken down and given him a greeting hug.

However, the absolute worst part of the morning had been in the kitchen when he'd offered to help with something. He had been very graciously and very firmly rebuffed and told to go watch football with Bill. Michael had not felt so alone since David had left for college.

A very moody Michael sat stolidly in the recreation room, staring at the television and seeing nothing.

"It's not you, you know." an amused Bill said gently. "It's them."

Michael snapped out of his fugue to look up at the older man. "I don't know what you mean."

"I saw the look on your face when Caro did not immediately hug you as she does when she greets Michelle. And I saw your dejection when they chased you out of the kitchen just now." Michael turned his head away, afraid he would lose control and begin to cry. "Like I said, it's their problem, not yours. While they have all become very fond of Michelle, they just don't know how to relate to Michael. I don't want to hurt your feelings by saying this, but they've forgotten that *Michael* is no longer the insensitive clod who originally arrived here. They don't realize that their unthinking rejection of you has hurt your feelings."

"How do you see that so clearly?" Michael asked, unnerved by Bill's perception.

"Been there, done that, got the bra and the pantyhose to prove it." he quipped, drawing a laugh from Michael.

"*They'd* be hurt if I pointed it out, or told them how I was feeling. And I don't want to do that to them."

"So don't. It is their problem. Don't let it ruin your holiday."

Michael became silent at that point, as he ran through what Bill had said, over and over in his mind. He did not want to hurt any of them, but this *was* going to ruin his holiday. And probably theirs as well, he conceded.

"Excuse me, Bill. I need to go get something."

Bill gave him a wave, and then smiled broadly at the retreating back of Michael Nash.

~----------~

"I think I am going to have to leave before dinner, Jane." Brenda Franson was saying as the women sat around Maria's table, finishing up the hors d'oerves for today's feast. "I really need to go to the shop and finish the last minute details for my After Thanksgiving rush crowd."

Jane was about to protest, when another voice spoke up first. "Please don't, Mrs. Franson. At least stay for dinner, and then, if you really need to go work at your shop, I will go with you to help you make up for the lost time."

The women all turned to the kitchen door to see Michelle standing there wearing a green and red dress that Jane had bought her for the holidays. "Michael?" she asked, "but what are you doing in . . "

"Michelle, Jane." her ward corrected. "Do you see any Michaels around here? How about it, Sandy? Do you?"

Sandra burst into laughter, and was soon joined by the other women. "Hell no, girlfriend. Not a sign of one."

Michelle then entered the kitchen from which Michael had so recently been banished, rubbing her hands together theatrically. "*Now*, is there any way I can help?" she asked plaintively. Five sets of hands reached out to drag her to the table.

It was a great holiday, the best Michelle *or* Michael could ever remember.

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary November 28 - Day 134

Dear Diary

What a wonderful day. After I made the switch back to Michelle, anyway. Bill was right. They weren't prepared to deal with Michael's presence. Brenda almost left, but she stayed the whole day once I was Michelle again.

Just another thing I would never have believed back in July, but today it was important to me that all of Jane's friends relax and have a good time. And for that to happen, I needed to be who they expected me to be. Actually, I gained far more than I lost on the deal. Michael could have watched *every* football game, but he would never have been accepted into Maria's kitchen domain. That was special. Besides, Brenda is one of those people who puts the word "fan" in "fanatic". I got to watch all the football I wanted once we'd eaten and finished the cleanup.

So I guess I am a different person than I was. Even as Michael, because the BJT (Before Jane Thompson) Michael would not have cared a fig for the comfort of others. Most especially, he would not have given a damn for the comfort of Jane's little cadre and *certainly* would never have willingly become Michelle to ease their tension.

And, I also guess that, strange and impossible as that may have seemed in July, these women have become Michelle's friends, too. Which was the primary reason that I changed.

The only real down-check on my day is that Michelle still wears that darned body shaper and *that* tool of torture most *definitely* makes Michael's eyes bigger than Michelle's belly. Oh well, everything tasted wonderful - what little I could get down. And, I am not as likely to get assigned extra crunches and extra minutes on the StairMaster by Sonja after my weekly Monday weigh-in. Every silver lining has a cloud. Or something like that.

It was a grand day!

Michelle Nash
 
 
Jane sat in her den, sipping a brandy and watching as the flames in her fireplace danced and flickered. She was so incredibly proud of that boy. She'd realized far too late that it had been a mistake to allow Michael attend the party instead of Michelle. However, once she'd given her okay, it would have been churlish to order him back into skirts just because her circle of friends did not know what to do around the boy they'd all had a hand in making over into a girl.

But the young man (not a boy any longer, Jane reminded herself sternly) had sensed what was wrong and had cared enough to do something about it. He had come so far in the past months; had learned so much more than he'd ever known, had matured so far beyond the juvenile delinquent who had been suspended from his school and then deposited on her doorstep by his Mother.

She just wished he had come far enough to turn away from his stated goals as Michelle. But it was probably too late for that now, anyway.
 
 
Chapter 31. Attack Imminent
 
Jane stood outside the door of her front parlor, knowing that this had to be done, but wishing she could just forget the whole thing. She sighed unhappily. She *had* given her word, she thought. At least twice, and it all came down to this. Steeling herself, Jane moved into the room where Michelle sat reading yet another book. Probably psychology again, she thought.

Michelle looked up from her book, a blank expression on her perfectly made up face. She looked so completely feminine, Jane mused not for the first time. In all of her years of training young men to look and behave like young women, not one of them had approached the level attained by this one. Which made it all the sadder that her motive for achieving all this perfection was the accomplishment of so base a goal.

The Laura Ashley sweater and skirt combination were set off by opaque white stockings and low heeled black pumps. Her jewelry was tastefully selected and was completely appropriate to her age and her apparel. Her manner was refined and gentle. She looked like a young lady who had just returned home from Sunday services. Which, with the exception of truly being a lady, was exactly what she was. It had amazed Jane when Michelle asked if they could go to church to celebrate the start of the Christmas season, but she had given her assent. They'd both had a lovely time.

Indeed, she *was* perfect.

"Yes, Aunt Jane?" Michelle finally asked, breaking the odd silence between them.

Jane shrugged inwardly, and pressed forward. "Michelle. I know it is still very early in your training, but I have what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here that you should consider." She handed Michelle a piece of gold-gilt parchment and then stood by in silence as the girl read it.

"This is an invitation to my Mother's engagement party next month. So, she has finally managed to get one of her boyfriends to come up to scratch." Jane watched her pupil, and was surprised to see that, although her words had been harsh, her face had reflected no such emotion. Either Michelle had become very good at masking her feelings, or the girl did not actually find the concept of her Mother remarrying as distasteful as she let on. "What has this to do with me, Aunt Jane?"

Jane took a seat on the chair next to Michelle. "I should think that it would be obvious, pet. We could both attend that party together and you would have your chance to get even with her Mother. Many very powerful and influential people will attend this event. Her fiance will be there. What better time could there be for you to face down your Mother and force her to acknowledge what you've become and what she's lost." Jane had spoken in very calm, very reasoned tones, as if she had absolutely no doubt that Michelle could accomplish such an end.

Michelle stared at the mentor she had recently found herself caring about deeply. Could she really mean that? Could they really do something that . . . that total? Michelle shook her head, trying to clear her thinking, and failed. It was all too much, too soon. "Too soon." she repeated those words aloud, hoping to convince Jane and herself. "I am not ready for that type of event, Jane." Her voice held a touch of panic. "Maybe a year from now. . .Maybe. I mean, really Aunt Jane, I have only been doing this for a few months. I could never hold up under such demanding scrutiny as I'd have to face at that party. No, I need to learn much more."

Jane chuckled at her young friend's panic and prevarication. "Now, Michelle," she soothed, "You've held up just fine at any number of dances and parties with the local teenage crowd. I assure you that none of the people who are at that party will be quite so forward as a seventeen year old male in heat." Michelle blushed at that reminder of a recent party where she'd been forced to threaten to knee one suitor in the groin before he finally backed off.

"Wish I'd never told you about that one." Michelle muttered under her breath.

"Well, you did, but that is beside the point. What is to the point is that, with the exception of a few of the young men at the party, no one is going to look at you twice. The women are going to ignore you because you are far more beautiful than they, and the men will ignore you because their women will be watching them. You can mingle or dance or even play wallflower, as you choose, but you will be there and your Mother will see you. You could tell her that her son is dead to her when we make our final good byes to her."

Michelle wasn't sure how she felt about that idea just now. It was one thing to think about, to fantasize about, but to actually go out and intentionally hurt someone? Even if his Mother surely deserved everything he could do to her? But isn't that what you want??, her mind screamed, only to be answered by another part of her brain - I *don't* know! She needed time. Time to think. Time to get her priorities back in order. "I don't know, Aunt Jane. I just don't think I am ready."

Jane simply shook her head. "You are never going to be any better than perfection, Michelle. You *are* ready. If we are going to go through with this, it would be best to do it as soon as possible. Furthermore, your Mother will never be more vulnerable than she will be on the day of her engagement party, particularly if she really does love that man."

Michelle considered that. "Do you think she really does? Love him, I mean."

"I don't know, Michelle. I do know that your Mother has had any number of affairs over the years since your father died with men who would have been more than delighted to wed her. If she is marrying this one, then either she does truly love him, or she is broke and needs the money that marrying a wealthy man will bring her."

"No." Michelle responded firmly. "She is still wealthy beyond anyone's needs. The annual income on her share of the stock from my father's company alone is in the seven figure range."

"Then I think she must have genuine feelings for the man." Jane said with great finality. "So. Do I RSVP accepting, or tendering our regrets?"

"Aunt Jane? Speaking of finances, I won't come into my trust fund for another three years. What if she cuts me off after this? I won't have any income and likely no place to live."

Jane squelched that argument quickly. "I told you, Michelle, that I would take care of you until you reach your majority and can take charge of your trust. That promise has not changed - will not change. Please trust me on this. I won't let anything bad happen to you because I care about you. Okay?"

Wonder shown in Michelle's eyes as she absorbed Jane's last words. The girl/boy was so hungry for simple affection that it made Jane hurt. Dammit, she thought, regardless of what Barbara wanted or had to do, this child needed love. Well, she'd just have to see that he got it in the future, wouldn't she?

A tear cut a path down Michelle's cheek, and she flew into Jane's arms. "And .. .and I care about you, too, Aunt Jane."

Before the shocked older woman could react, Michelle jumped to her feet. "Aunt Jane, please excuse me, but I need to go somewhere and think." She was out the door before Jane could reply.

Once she was certain the girl was not returning, Jane allowed herself to relax for the first time since the engraved invitation had arrived. And remembering the surprise hug, she also allowed herself to smile.

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary November 30- Day 136

Dear Diary

Well, my chickens have come home to roost. My Mother is engaged to be married and is holding a gala society ball at the South Hampton house as an engagement party. Jane was invited, which I guess means that I have been invited, too.

This wasn't supposed to happen for months, years even. I mean, it's always been the back of my mind, but I never thought it would be so soon. I thought I would have much more time to prepare myself for this, and now, it is almost upon me.

I cannot understand how I feel right now. I should be excited about this, gleefully anticipating the scene I would make as I told her of her son's demise. I mean, it is the perfect opportunity for the maximum possible effect, to really show her just what she condemned me to suffer when she sent me to Jane last spring.

But am I ready for this?

God, I don't even know why I am so confused!

And as for passing at the party, Jane was right about that as well. Actually, Jane does not know the _real_ story. How could I tell her that I was not merely groped by two Neanderthals instead of one, and I was nearly raped. Since that Dennis, that son of a female dog, is a homophobic idiot, I have a damned good notion just how well I am passing as a female these days.

So fear of not passing is just an excuse, exactly as Jane said.

Well, I guess all this means I have to go. There may never be another chance like this, and I have to open the door when opportunity's knocking this loudly. Because if I don't do this, then everything I've done for the past five months, everything I've endured from that damned gaff to the actual abdication of my masculinity, would have been for nothing.

So, it appears I must go to my Mother's engagement party.

Shit. I bet this means another shopping trip.

Michelle Nash.
 
 
Chapter 32. Battle Planning and Logistics
 
Actually, it was several shopping trips. Mrs. Franson's store, The Style Shoppe, carried a nice selection of very smart dresses and gowns, but she had nothing really suitable for a New York society débutante attending her first ball. At least, not in Jane's or Mrs. Franson's estimation. Oh, no. *This* gown had to be perfect - one of a kind. It had to be hideously expensive and a designer original.

Jane swept her unhappy student off to Boston where a well known fashion designer fitted her a ball gown. Fortunately, the glued on prosthetic breasts and Caro's special cosmetic blending compound held up through that ordeal; Michelle looked completely passable, even in her lingerie. The strapless bra gave her support and the special gaff designed to look like a g-string panty kept Michael in check, as well.

The designer was a little miffed that both Jane and Michelle steadfastly vetoed every one of her attempts to tease them into a lower neckline that would "properly show off your lovely bosoms, dear."

Which, of course, was one of the few things that the dress could *not* show off. Caro's body paint worked just fine in the relative sedentary, cool world of the fitting room, but it would not be so effective over several hours in the body temperature heat at Michelle's Mother's ball. At some point during that long evening, whether it was in the middle of a crush of other guests, or when pulled tight against some male's body, pretending to waltz, the stuff would probably melt and get rubbed off onto her dance partner's tux or some woman's bodice. Jane and Michelle had too much respect for the whimsies of Mr. Murphy to permit the designer to have her way.

Finally the designer surrendered, and instead proposed a dress with a high neckline designed to show off Michelle's lovely long throat. That worked very nicely. Michelle even modeled the five stranded pearl choker with antique cameo she intended to wear with the dress during that initial fitting.

The initial fitting went off without incident, and even better than Jane had dared hope. However, the long period of standing absolutely still, while under the close scrutiny of the modiste, had been a nerve racking experience for Michelle. Thus it was a very relieved Michelle who finally scurried away from that shop as quickly as Jane would let her.

Amused, Jane permitted the headlong flight for about a block before she reined in the girl. "Stop worrying, Michelle." Jane chided gently. "The worst is over. She'll even be coming to the house for the other fittings, and you will be able to change into the gown in the privacy of your own room. Now, Betty Franson can handle the lingerie and hosiery for us, and you already have your jewelry, so we don't have to worry about those. Let's see. . . ah yes, the shoes." she all but sighed with pleasure at the thought of their next stop.

~----------~

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary December 2 - Day 138

Dear Diary

I wonder if I need a tetanus shot? After the fifth or sixth time we told that bitch that I was not going to be showing off "my lovely bosoms", those damned pins of hers started sticking me more than they did the darn dress.

As for the dress - well, I just don't know. I still can't tell what the thing is going to look like at this point - but Jane can and she is positively rhapsodic over it.

I just hope it works for me.

I need sleep. Jane has had us both on the move since before seven this morning, and we finally finished what we could at about six tonight. Another thing I don't want to think about is what is it that we couldn't get done. How could there possibly be any more?

Michelle Nash
 
 
Jane smiled happily to herself in her room of the large suite she had rented in Boston. Michelle was sound asleep in her own room, exhausted from her ordeals. Still, she'd held up well, and had only come close to panic once - when she'd had to strip down for the modiste. Even then, she had only behaved like a shy, well bred, if somewhat sheltered young woman asked to undress in front of a stranger.

Jane had thoroughly enjoyed their day of shopping. She'd almost forgotten the simple pleasure of just shopping for pretty things with another female. Oh, she went on innumerable "shopping" expeditions with her sissy boys, but those excursions were intended to scare the panties off the little darlings. The problem was, Jane could never relax her vigilance during those jaunts, because although she only frequented the establishments of women who were in on her secret, there were usually other people in those popular stores who were not. Jane had to be constantly on the lookout for *real* danger while Betty or Caro or Sandy worked on and worked over her little sweeties.

Not so today. Michelle was so close to actually *being* a woman, that sometimes Jane found herself forgetting that her ward was physically a male. Today had been just such a time, and although Michael would deny it with his dying breath, Jane and Michelle had had a wonderful time. The little minx had even teased the hell out of that poor shoe salesman with her lovely legs as he fitted her for a pair of hand made pumps to match her gown. Yes, today had been great fun, and Jane had almost been able to forget the disaster that was looming in her future.

Almost.

~----------~

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary December 5 - Day 141

Dear Diary

I had my first home fitting of the new gown, today. I have to admit that Jane had it right. My dress is going to be gorgeous. The only downside is that the darn thing has to be white, since this is my "coming out" and débutantes are always arrayed in white purity when they are first presented as "virgins in society". Some stupid tradition left over from Regency England, I'm told. *I* wanted something festive and bright, maybe jewel tones selected to match my eyes, and to knock the eyes out of whoever sees me in it.

My god. . . .what did I just write?

Oh hell. Honesty time again. Yes, I *love* the dress. It makes me look and feel pretty, and that makes me feel good. Certainly better than I ever felt about myself back when I was a male.

*When I _was_ a male?* What the hell do I think I am *now*?

Interesting question, and one I am not entirely certain I want to or even *can* answer. However it is abundantly clear that Michelle is no longer just a disguise or an means to an end. I really do not know where Michael ends and Michelle starts. I guess that is what Eric and David meant by saying they were both themselves and their feminine alter egos.

Which begs another question. If next month at my Mother's party, I do finish what I started so many months ago, what happens then? In particular, what happens to all the planning Jane and I have done so Michelle can go to school? What about my little "sister"?

Or do I go back to being Michael? Or even *mostly* Michael? I don't really know anymore. I really have never given any thought to anytime or anything beyond my giving my Mother what she seemed to want of me. Jane has said I will always have a home with her, but it goes beyond that.

I've said I want to go to college, and Jane has said that she could arrange that for me as Michelle. But that was when we thought the masquerade would go on much longer than a mere five or six months.

Well, the first thing I will do once this is over is take charge of my life and figure out what *I* want to do with it.

The strangest part of all this is that I am more excited about the dress than I am about achieving my six month goal.

And I don't even want to think any more about that little concept.

Michelle Nash.

~----------~

Excerpt: Michelle's Diary December 18 - Day 154

Dear Diary

Well, tomorrow is the point of no return. The party is the day after so tomorrow we will take a ferry from somewhere in Connecticut down to Long Island's Montauk Point where a car will pick us up. We will be spending the night with one of Jane's friends (not Mother) because Jane does not want to take the chance I will slip up and expose myself to my Mother before the party. "If you are going to do it at all, dear, then do it where and when it will have the greatest effect."

Jane would have made a hell of an army general.

The dress is done, and is packed away lovingly by Maria, ready for transport to our destination. Maria cried when I modeled the full outfit for her, and wasted an entire roll of film. She had me parading up and down the stairs, doing the "Scarlet O'Hara gliding down the front hall grand staircase at Tara" thing, or slinking down the runway like some kind of high fashion model showing off the latest Bill Blass creation. Well, at least I learned how during my part time job as a model for Mrs. Franson.

Well, maybe it's not entirely a waste - the dress is absolutely gorgeous.

I wonder if she will let me have some copies of the better shots? Just for souvenirs.

As to what I will do the night of the party, my mind is no clearer than it has been since Jane first told me we were going to face my Mother.

In my darkest heart, I have to say that I really am looking forward to seeing the look on her face when I unveil myself as the person who *used* to be her son, and when I tell her precisely what I mean to do in the future.

And yet...

God. And yet, in my less evil moments, I have to ask - does she really deserve this? Well, for neglecting me, yes, maybe somewhat. But on the other hand, her "abandonment" of me to Jane - in the final analysis, was that really such a bad thing? Haven't I ultimately gained Maria and Jane from that?

My stomach is really churning. I don't think I am going to sleep a wink between now and the party. I don't even know why it is still bothering me this way.

Wait, that is not quite right. I do know something of the reason. I am frightened. The thing I don't know is precisely what it is that frightens me.

Sometimes I think it is the confrontation with my Mother, and its subsequent fallout, assuming that there is one. Other times, I think it is the uncertainty of my future beyond that confrontation.

And some times, during those really dark, lonely times when I don't seem to know quite who or what I am anymore, I am pretty sure it is *me* that I fear the most.

What I am planning is not a very nice thing to do to anyone. Isn't that a gross understatement? Some might say my plans are the complete opposite of the Golden Rule. In "killing" Michael to give her Michelle, I have, in a very real sense, abandoned her as she abandoned Michael. I will do unto her as she has done unto me.

I read something the other day that described revenge as a blade that cuts both ways. As I approach the culmination of my plan, I have come to understand that concept only too well. My little "I will show *her*" plan is starting to sound a great deal like revenge, and I am not happy about that. After a great deal of reflection on all the possible outcomes of this enterprise, I have concluded that I will not come out of it unscathed. Will the outcome be worth what I have already endured, and what I will have to endure after the fact? I just don't know.

Six months ago, heck, three months ago, I would have simply gone off and done this thing without a qualm or a second thought. Now, I have many of each, and yet, do I really have any choice? I mean, if I don't do this thing, will I ever be free of this. . .this hurting inside me?

I wish I knew.

I seem to be saying that a lot, lately.

Michelle Nash
 
 
Chapter 33. Storming the Castle
 
The extended body limousine pulled around the long circular driveway and rolled to a stop directly in front of the red carpeted entrance to his Mother's house. Michael Nash had not been inside that house since his Father's funeral; since he'd begun his gypsy life of going from one boarding school to another, from one more camp to the next. Michelle was certain that Jane must be able to hear the pounding of her heart as she stared at the familiar stone pillars of what should have been home.

Oh God, Michelle thought bleakly. I am *not* ready for this.

Jane sensed rather than saw the hesitancy in her charge's demeanor, and rested a single gloved hand on Michelle's wrist. The lovely vision spun to lock eyes with her Aunt. A strange sad little smile played across Jane's lips before she nodded toward the doorman stepping up to open the car door for them.

Months of training snapped into control and Michelle acted on what was now pure instinct. Offering her gloved fingers up to the gaudily uniformed man, she permitted him to hand her up and out of the car. Michelle bestowed a blinding smile on him and watched with quiet amusement as he almost stumbled getting back to help Jane.

"Ready, my dear?" Jane asked softly as she took her place beside Michelle.

Hell no, Michelle thought before answering "As ready as I will ever be. Lets do this and get it over with, Jane, before I do something stupidly female - like faint."

The entrance foyer was just as Michelle remembered it - rich with red velvet, polished hardwoods and gilt edged trim. As she turned to give her wrap to the butler, she saw the huge, curving grand staircase with its brightly polished banister. An old memory tugged at her just then, of a young boy caught sliding down that banister by an angry father who turned him over to his Mother for punishment.

Only, she hadn't punished him. Instead, she'd swatted a sofa pillow and told him to scream loudly. Then the pair of them had snuck into the kitchen to filch cookies from the cook. Her only admonition had been to tell him to make sure his Father was not around the next time he felt like sliding.

Odd how he'd managed to forget things like that - his father always finding fault with him, always finding reasons to "discipline the boy and make a man out of him." And it had always been his Mother who had taken his side, or softened the punishment. What had changed, Michelle's mind cried. When had things changed between Michael and his Mother? Wasn't that the memory of a loving Mother protecting her child from an unjustly harsh punishment?

"Michelle?" Jane's voice broke in on the flood of unanswered questions in Michelle's mind. "Are you all right?" was the solicitous question.

Taking a deep breath, Michelle fought off the memories and nodded to Jane. "I'm all right. I was just remembering. . remembering something."

"A happy or a sad something?" Jane asked gently.

"Both." was the curt answer. "And neither. Let's go in."

The ballroom of the mansion was filled with people engaged in the fine arts of flirtation and small talk. The orchestra was not scheduled to start for another couple of hours, and so the guests made free with the light buffet of savory gourmet finger foods and the open bars laid out in the small rooms about the periphery of the ball room.

Neither Jane nor Michelle had eaten that day, but both were so nervous that the mere thought of eating made their stomachs roil. Jane went to one of the bars and returned with two wine flutes filled with a clear, sparkling liquid. Michelle's brows went up in query as Jane handed her one of the chilled glasses.

"Perrier, darling. I think we will both need our wits about us before this night is over. Now lets go mingle."

Somehow, they managed to avoid Barbara in their wanderings. Whether that was intentional on Jane's part, or simple serendipity, Michelle did not know. She was, however, grateful for whatever brought that to pass. Her ambivalence about confronting her Mother seemed to be growing with each passing minute.

At some point in the evening, the orchestra began to play a rousing little ditty to get everyone's attention. Barbara and her fiance walked hand in hand to the makeshift podium and greeted their guests.

It was the first time that Michelle had ever gotten a good look at Michael's soon-to-be stepfather. He was a very slender fellow of medium height - actually shorter than his Mother since she was wearing fairly tall spiked heels - who moved with unusual grace for a man. He was handsome, in an almost pretty sort of way - much like an older Leo DeCaprio - with his light blonde, somewhat long hair and eyes that were probably blue. He was also, if Michelle was any judge of it, more than a decade younger than Michael's forty two year old mother.

As Michelle watched the pair, her Mother's true feelings came through to her with crystalline clarity. Michelle's mother was deeply in love with that man. The sheer emotion that lit up her Mother's entire face made Michelle blush and want to turn away.

After the remarks and the many toasts to the happy pair, the orchestra began to play a waltz, and the betrothed couple led off the dancing to the applause of all the guests.

Much of what happened thereafter was mostly a blur to Michelle. She had been offered and had accepted dance invitations from several men. A couple of them were old enough to be her grandfather, and they had enjoyed the opportunity to take a turn around the dance floor with such a lovely young woman. She had glowed under their genuine compliments and had dutifully giggled at their gentle, fatherly teasing. Her other dance partners, with the notable exception of two boors, were pleasant young men who danced well and who made an effort to put her at ease.

She even managed to fit in with the other women guests as well. The grand dames wanted to introduce their sons to her, and the younger girls seemed to want to emulate her. On one occasion she heard one woman point her out to another matron. "That one has been well trained by someone. She'd have been acceptable in our time, dear, unlike so many of these hoydens." It had made her smile.

One of her few real smiles that night.

The only difficulties she'd had to face, with the exception of her Mother, were two young preppie males in the St. Andrews Academy mold, who obviously thought they were God's gift to women. Michelle had vainly tried to ignore the wandering hands of the first one, but he would not be deterred. As the dance thankfully ended, the hand he rested behind her tugged at her zipper. Fed up at last, Michelle stopped, and with a dazzling smile on her face, went up on tiptoe to whisper something to the young fool.

Jane wondered if anyone else saw the look of surprise followed by stark terror on the man's face as Michelle got her message through to him. Or if anyone saw the hand taking a fistful of something down around his groin and start squeezing. Jane did not think so, since Michelle had been very careful to keep her skirts between her quarry and the rest of the assembly.

The second incident occurred an hour or so later. This young buck managed to muscle Michelle out onto the terrace during their dance. Although the air was unseasonably mild for December in New York, it was still quite chilly for a young lady in a silk gown and not very much else. Having seen what the churlish young man had done, Jane had immediately hurried over to the terrace door just in time to see Michelle's dance partner trying to force his mouth onto hers.

Suddenly, the man jumped back, his hand flying to his mouth. Jane could not hear what was said, but she recognized the stern, down-the-nose glare Michelle fixed on her erstwhile suitor as the one she herself employed with her more recalcitrant sissy boys. And with much the same effect, too, she was pleased to note. Then Jane only barely missed being knocked over by a furiously blushing man holding a bleeding lower lip as he all but ran from the scene. Jane watched as her ward took a few moments to compose herself before walking with sedate poise back to the ball room.

The girl had learned far more than Jane had realized in the past months. God, but she was proud of this student. If only things were different, she thought yet one more time.

For her own part, Michelle had had just about enough "society" to last her a lifetime. She was heartily weary of the entire thing and wanted nothing more than to leave this place with its painful memories and its myriad ghosts. She started scanning the room for Jane, only to have her gaze fall on her Mother, still dancing with her husband-to-be. The pure unadulterated joy on Barbara's face took Michelle's breath away, and she simply stood there spellbound, watching them dance as one.

The spell broke when the song completed and the orchestra leader announced an intermission. Michelle again looked about for Jane, this time locating her off to one side of the ballroom, over near the door to the terrace that lout had pulled her off to. Purposefully, she moved through the throng of milling guests and upon reaching Jane, took her elbow and led her to a quiet corner.

"Jane, I have had enough. I want to leave. Could we please go home? *Now*?"

Jane lifted one thin, finely lined brow. "Now? Before we complete the mission to which you have dedicated the last six months? What about your Mother?"

There were tears in her ward's eyes, now. Whether from frustration, anger or sadness, Jane did not know. She wished she did.

"No, Aunt Jane. This is her night. She is happy and in love. No matter how much I hurt, no matter how much I think she deserves to hurt, I just can't do it."

"Does this mean we will be coming back at some later date to finish the job?" Jane probed gently.

"No." Michelle shook her head in defeat. "Not now. Not ever. It is over. I am going to move past this. Somehow. Try to figure out where I fit into the world. I guess I will need to take you up on your offer to stay with you, at least for a while." and here she sighed deeply. "Which means I will be staying Michelle for the foreseeable future. Too many people around your house know Michelle and would probably recognize me if I suddenly showed up as Michael." She looked at her reflection in the glass terrace doors and gave Jane a wan smile. "That's okay, I guess I kinda like being Michelle. Heck, I don't think I'd know how to be Michael around you, Aunt Jane."

"You could learn, dear, if that is what you truly want."

"That's okay. Right now, I probably don't know how to be Michael - period. Can we go, now?" she asked again, plaintively. "*Please*?"

"All right. Look, you go into that little sitting room off the foyer while I go to the powder room and then call for our car."

Michelle nodded and let herself be led away by her aunt.
 
 
Chapter 34. The Final Confrontation
 
The little room had a small love seat and several chairs clustered into a cozy little grouping in the center of the room, with a small antique writing desk off to one corner. Wearily, Michelle settled onto the love seat to wait for Jane. Her mind drifted until she noticed her reflection again, this time in the glass fireplace screen. With detached interest, she studied the picture she made. Hands resting demurely on her lap, her knees together and her ankles crossed. "God, I look like one of those Regency Misses from the novels Jane is always making me read." she muttered to herself.

"Yes, you do at that." came a soft voice behind her.

Michelle's head slewed around to a door she had not noticed when she'd first entered the room, and her blood froze. There, backlighting emphasizing her proud stance and tall, slender frame, was his mother! And at her side was Aunt Jane.

With a grace Michelle now knew had once been learned over hours of long practice in her youth, Barbara Nash moved over to the chair directly opposite Michelle and sat down.

"Jane told me you were leaving." she said with a smile. "And before we had the receiving line. Since I did so want to meet you, I thought I would come here to keep you company while your car is brought around."

Stunned by the sudden arrival of the woman he had decided not to face down, Michael was momentarily speechless, and could only nod. At least, he thought, she hasn't recognized me. Thank god for that much.

"Jane said there was something you wanted to tell me?"

Waves of shock rolled over Michelle. What had Jane done? Hadn't she just told Jane that Michael no longer wanted to carry through with his ill-meant plan of confronting his Mother with the "death" of her son? That he wanted nothing more than to put this all behind him and get on with whatever life he'd have in the future? Why in the name of God had Jane said *anything* to Barbara? Swallowing his roiling emotions, Michael tried to brazen through as Michelle. "No, nothing really, Mrs. Nash. But I would like to thank you for having me to your party."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm positive. Shall we go, Aunt Jane? Please?" All three of them heard the thread of growing panic in that plea. Yet, Michelle managed to rise from her seat gracefully, her nervous tension noticeable only in the stiffness with which she pinched her skirt to rearrange it for walking away.

Then his Mother said, "Don't go just yet, please." Her eyes were soft with entreaty. Astonishingly, she added, ". . .Michael."

Bile started to churn in Michelle's stomach, and he searched for an escape route, but there were none available. With a calm she was far from feeling, she answered. "My name is Michelle, Mrs. Nash. Michael is a man's name."

The smile returned, a bit brighter and strangely, a bit darker this time. "Oh, I think I know precisely who you are." she said firmly. "You are my son."

Michael's heart and breathing stopped as he stared in horror at his Mother. This could NOT be happening. There was NO way she could see Michelle and recognize Michael. Grimly, she tried again to brazen it out. "I really don't think I am anybody's son, Ma'am."

Barbara's smile did not waiver in the slightest. This is what a deer feels like, Michael thought, as it stares into the lights of an onrushing car. She knew. Somehow, she knew.

And then, that "somehow" became clear to her. Jane had said nothing throughout this entire exchange. She *should* have come to Michelle's aid, should have helped her parry this unexpected attack. She should have, that is, unless *she* was her Mother's source of information.

The pain of this betrayal, after she had told Jane she cared for her, was almost too much to bear. Furiously, the femininely disguised young man blinked against the tears that burned at his eyes, trying to salvage at least some small scrap of his pride.

"Yes. You are Michael." she finally said with equanimity. "You've turned out even better than I'd dared to hope."

Michael felt his world tilt crazily on its axis, but still forced himself to remain steady, erect and dry-eyed before this woman.

The game was well and truly up, he realized. The pair of them had played him for a fool.

Again.

"Why?" he finally asked, looking from one woman to the other before fixing his burning eyes squarely on Jane. "Why this . . . this game? Is this just another of your damnable "little ploys", Jane? The biggest, most humiliating of them all? DAMN YOU, I'd started to care for you, and now you do THIS to me?"

Jane quailed visibly at Michael's thrust. She started to answer but was restrained by Barbara's hand on hers. "I am the one responsible for every decision concerning you and your welfare since the day you were all but expelled from your precious St. Andrews, Michael. Therefore, your answers should come from me. You've earned that much with your efforts to get here tonight." With a quiet dignity, Barbara composed herself.

"Michael, you don't really remember your father. The reason for that is, in part, because you were very young for your age when he died. But another, more significant factor is that he never allowed you to know him. I know that you've always admired your father as tough, strong, manly - a paragon of all those qualities that *real* men are supposed to admire in other men. Because of that, you've wanted to be like him and in a way, he was making you like him, even from his grave."

She paused for a moment, steeling herself for what she had to say next. "But Michael, he wasn't tough, strong, or manly. Instead, he was a heavy-handed, imperious bully, a vicious and mean spirited, small-souled man; an immoral coward who enjoyed kicking the weak when they were down because that made him feel more powerful. I don't have words foul enough to describe or name him."

Barbara cast a speculative look at her child. "Did you know that he'd left special instructions with the Head Master and Dean at St. Andrews regarding your upbringing? They were to see that you grew up emulating your father in every way. They'd have done almost anything for the endowment your father promised them. Ever wonder why you weren't punished when you played all those dirty tricks on boys smaller and more vulnerable than you? That's why. You were becoming his vision of a man, and they were being well rewarded for it."

"Then why did that damned Dean suspend me? If he was getting rich from satisfying my father's wishes, why am I not still there?"

Sighing, Barbara acknowledged the question. "You simply left them with no other choice. They suspended you only after you'd gone too far with your unruly undisciplined ways. Several wealthy families with long histories of sending their young scions to that school were going to pull their boys out to protect them from you."

"Unfortunately, your suspension precipitated other actions about which you were and remain unaware. Most specifically and seriously, that suspension put you in serious danger of losing your inheritance.

She paused. "When. . . when your father died, he left you, upon you reaching your majority at twenty one years old, controlling interest in his companies."

Confusion showed in Michael's tearful eyes. "So what? That is nothing new. How does that explain why I have not seen you for barely more than five minutes at a time in over six years?!?"

For the first time, indignant anger flashed in the eyes so much like Michael's own. "Michael, your father, that egocentric, manipulative, miserable excuse for a human being, had a secret codicil written into his will. Basically, he directed that you be made over in his image if you were to inherit. Why was St. Andrews the only acceptable school for you? Your father decreed that in his will. Why didn't I visit you, and try to be a part of your life after his death? Your father decreed that, too. *I* was a bad influence on you; *I* made you weak. And *any* failure on either your or my part to comply with that codicil would cost you your inheritance."

"And then you were all but expelled from St. Andrews, after everything you and I had already sacrificed to get you this far, this close to attaining your patrimony. I couldn't just stand there and watch as you lost everything. I had to at least attempt to turn your life around."

"So, I turned to Jane. My fiancé is one of her graduates. He's the one who reminded me of how well all of her students turned out. Jane and I conceived a plan. We would attempt to restore your other self, that decent, gentle self that your father wanted exorcised from your soul. Then, and only then, could you decide the kind of person you were, and then make an informed about who you would become."

"How, Mother?" Michael rasped over the emotion churning in his guts. "What possible choice could I make? I was a prisoner in Jane's house, and if you think my father was vicious, well, Jane could give him lessons. My father never taught me to love him, and then turned away from me. He never promised me honesty and then betrayed me. Not ever. No, it was *Jane* who did that. And you!"

A sob from Jane made Barbara's eyes flash in controlled fury. "Jane is *nothing* like that bastard. As to what choices she gave you? You can be anyone you choose. Our fondest hope was that you would choose to become strong, but gentle; ruthless when necessary, but merciful when possible - a *real* man, Michael, the kind of man others can count upon when times are difficult."

No longer able to restrain the tears, Michael was openly crying now. "How was I supposed to achieve this miracle, Mother? By being stripped of my identity and my dignity? By being forced to live as a girl? Ashamed because I wasn't strong enough to stand up for myself and leave Jane as I should have done that very first week, regardless of her threats? Afraid that, sooner or later, I would be discovered and have to live with that public humiliation for the rest of my life?"

Barbara shook her head frantically. "By giving those finer qualities inside you a chance to emerge as Michelle's traits. Jane had experience bringing out that part of troubled and troublesome boys, helping them to find far fuller and richer lives than that narrow, twisted man I married could have ever dreamed possible. It was never my intention for you to become a girl, ashamed that you're a boy. But neither did I want you to grow into a man who felt somehow diminished or shamed by anything soft, caring or tender in yourself; a man who would be afraid that such feelings made him girlish and unmanly."

"Well, trust me," Michael snarled petulantly. "I was totally ashamed and completely alone."

Barbara's demeanor changed, becoming fierce. "I didn't want you ashamed or afraid of *anything*, my son! If I abandoned you *this* time in turning your over to Jane, it was to take that shame and fear away from you *forever*!"

"But you fooled us and yourself. You had even more sensitivity, refinement and gentleness still locked up inside you than we'd imagined possible. When Jane thought she was humiliating Michael the bully, she was also tormenting Michelle the compassionate and caring. The internal conflict between your father's Michael and our Michelle grew until it became intolerable for you, and you tried to end that pain by destroying yourself."

Suddenly Jane spoke up. "When you . . ." Jane choked, then continued, "When you attempted suicide, I was devastated. Not because I was afraid for me, but because I had somehow failed you. I had not recognized what was happening to you. I did not know who to call, or where to turn, and so, I called your Mother."

"*Why* should I believe *anything* you have to say *now*? You said she couldn't be reached." he accused again before turning his hot burning eyes on his Mother. "Besides - you CALLED me and told me you were too busy."

Barbara sat stone still, then resumed speaking. "Michael, you have no idea how terrified and desperate I was when Jane phoned to tell me what had happened to you. At that moment, I wanted to rush to your side more than almost anything else in this life. I yearned to protect you and to help you get well, but for several reasons, I knew that I couldn't, that I didn't dare! Above all, knowing how you felt about me, I was deeply afraid that my presence would only make a bad situation even worse."

"That is only *one* reason, Mother." Michael growled. "You said there were several."

"Remember what I said about that cursed codicil, Michael. Staying away from you was an unbreakable condition of that damnable will."

She paused and then swallowed hard. "Unless I wanted to deprive you of your patrimony, I could *never* see you, or at least, not see you any more than absolute propriety dictated. And never alone - always in the presence of one of his trusted cronies who would "judge" my compliance with your Father's wishes. And then, when Jane told me she had called in one of her students who was a psychologist. At that point, we decided to wait until we were sure I would be a help and not a hindrance to your recovery."

"Why was I never told about this codicil thing?" he demanded roughly.

"Because telling you about it is also on your Father's forbidden list and is grounds for you being disinherited. I am telling you now because you are old enough to understand your own best interests. You need never admit that you are aware of those provisions of your father's will."

Michael's sneer clearly registered his disbelief. "I have a copy of the codicil. I will give it to Jane and you will be able to see for yourself."

"Why are you telling me all this now?? Are you trying to tell me that you *cared*? That you were only trying to protect me by staying away from me? Why bother at this point? Because I tried to kill myself?" He demanded, his voice choking on his pain wracked sobs.

Barbara wilted a moment under that charge, but then drew herself up. "I have always loved you, Michael. I wasn't heartless when I sent you to Jane. I was desperate. Jane called me every night with a progress report, and much of the time she found me frightened and inconsolable. I love you, Michael. I adore you, Michelle. There is nothing in this world that would have made me happier than to tell your father's lawyer to go to hell and come for you. But I could not cheat you of your inheritance. You could, yourself, choose to turn away from your father's past, and accept that loss, but I could not make that choice for you. And you could only make such a choice as a mature, rational and caring person. The question was, how could we help you become that person?"

"You unwittingly showed us how to help you. In your resentment at my seeming aloofness, in your desire to hurt me for hurting you, you decided to become a complete, fully accomplished and yes, even sweet Michelle. A person who epitomized everything your father wasn't and hated."

"So our plan worked! Now, if you choose to be Michael, any kind of Michael, it will be based on a profound understanding of everything you are or can become. But you had to become a complete Michelle if you were ever to become a complete Michael. Michael without Michelle could only be only half a person. And that half would be as flawed as your Father.

Michael's face twisted. He was confused, and bitter, and fighting to hold back his tears. "How can you just sit there and justify what you've done? The pair of you? You've tricked me time and again, lied to me time and again, and manipulated me. How can I ever trust either of you ever again?"

Barbara's composure finally broke. "We had to trick you; you had to keep working at being Michelle so that Michael could continue learning from her. And you would not have worked at that so diligently without the motivation you yourself provided."

"And yes, Michael, I did not abide by my promise to you." Jane added, holding her friend close, keeping her back straight and her eyes steady, "Because we knew what was best for you. I cannot, will not deny that I kept some of the truth from you. I did attempt to be completely honest with you about everything else, but you were beyond reach, convinced that your Mother had completely and willfully abandoned you. What we did, we did because we wanted you to live. More than that, we wanted you to live well." She said soberly. "And I know you can't believe this now, but it's true nonetheless. Because we both. . . love you."

Now Barbara was crying openly. "But, Michael" Barbara pleaded softly, "Can't you see, *won't* you see? There was no other way, at least none that we could think of. I know you must feel that this was all a base betrayal. Perhaps it was. Only time will tell if I was right or wrong in what I did. But at least now, you have *real* choices about who Michael Nash is and how he will live his life."

"I refuse to believe that forcing me into skirts, and turning me into one of Jane's wimpish sissies is an approved alternative to my father's grand plan, Mother."

Barbara sighed. "No, it wasn't, and as long as you were successfully following his program, there was nothing I could do for you that would not have cost you your legacy. But when you got yourself suspended from Saint Andrews, I decided that I *had* to take this terrible risk in order to give you back choices about your life - to try to save you."

"Save me? SAVE ME???" Michael's voice broke. "Whatever did I need saving from? Other than from the two of you, of course."

"From yourself, Michael. I've already told you what your father had done to you. When you were sent down from St. Andrews, the lawyer was ready to cancel your inheritance! After I conferred with Jane, I went to the lawyer and told him that I knew of a program that would improve your self discipline so that you could return to St. Andrews and complete your father's educational program. I am afraid I was not very honest about what the program really entailed." she said with just a faint smile on her sad face.

"So you've known since the very beginning what I intended to do, why I let myself be pulled back into this damnable masquerade." The full scope of his Mother's and Jane's duplicity was now clear to him and his guts seemed to burn. Oddly enough however, in some small, still barely rational part of his mind, he wondered why he wasn't angry. The old Michael would have been - would have gone nearly insane with rage at having been toyed with in this manner. All this Michael felt was hurt, sorrow and bewilderment.

"Yes, Michael, she did know." Jane took up the tale. "Your Mother and I spoke almost hourly during those first few days after your . . . your incident. Eric and I agreed that you *needed* to be back in skirts, as much for the training we had yet to finish as for the facing down your inner conflicts about dressing. That was necessary, Michael, for your mental health."

"Moreover, you yourself said, less than an hour ago, that you liked being Michelle. Which is understandable. Michelle is a lovely person, but more importantly, Michael, *you* are Michelle. Everything good in her is also an intrinsic part of you."

Michael could not take it all in. He was becoming numb, and he couldn't seem to think clearly anymore. He just stared at the two women.

"Michael?" Jane's voice was softly entreating. "As Michelle, you are like Liza Doolittle in Pygmalion, or My Fair Lady. You've grown beyond the limitations that others would have imposed on you. Now *you* can choose to live as a woman, full time or part time, or as a man. If you do choose to live as a man, then your Mother and I both hope that you will do so as a sensitive, self-aware and *strong* person who's more man than that insufferable clod from St. Andrews could ever have become."

Barbara sighed sadly and stood up. She turned one more time to face her son. "I'm sorry I had to seem uncaring and cruel, that I felt I *had* to leave you with Jane. I believed it was necessary for your own good. I don't know if you can ever forgive me for manipulating you this way. Or if you can ever forgive Jane. I hope you can, and will. . . someday. We did the best we could. For you! And you have to know that regardless of what choice you make, there will be a price extracted which only you can pay."

"What price?" he asked, but in an exhausted tone that had lost all of its earlier emotion.

"There is always a price, Michael. One choice is, to turn your back on everything Jane has taught you these past months, to become once again the person you were when you left St. Andrews. Haven't your found contentment, even happiness as Michelle, Michael? Would that old Michael ever find those gifts at St. Andrews? I don't think so.

"Or you might choose to go back to St. Andrews as the person you've become, an infinitely more worthy individual than the one who left that damnable place, but one who won't fit in anymore. You'd become the outcast you expected to become the night you attempted to take your own life. But you'd also keep your patrimony.

"Or you can decide to reject your father's path completely, and thus lose your inheritance from his side of the family. You would still have your trust fund from my Mother's family, but that is a mere pittance beside your father's vast wealth."

Michael's tired, red rimmed eyes slid significantly down his body, taking in the sleekly feminine figure gowned in a designer's masterpiece. Then his gaze returned to his Mother, a look of sardonic disbelief on his face. "I don't think the first choice has much chance, Mother, so I think you have effectively forced my hand there."

Refusing to take the bait, Barbara shrugged. "How you look and behave at this moment is irrelevant. If you want to return to St. Andrews, Jane will certify your behavior and self discipline to that idiot Dean. You've amply demonstrated those attributes tonight. Even now, your grace and self-restraint are being tested to the fullest extent. As to your ability to fit in there if that is what you really want."

Barbara paused, and went over to the small desk on the other side of the room, returning moments later with a glossy piece of folded paper which she negligently tossed at the rigidly contained figure of her son.

"If that *is* what you want, the place described here will assure you aren't too nice or too feminine for dear old St. Andrews." She indicated the brochure with a tired wave of her hand. "It's a sort of "boot camp for rich wimps" run by a couple of former Marine Drill Instructors. They specialize in toughening up the sons of rich fools who are afraid that their sons don't have the right stuff to swim with the corporate sharks. Just six weeks of hell and your father's Michael is back again."

"Why are you giving me this?" Michael asked quietly, holding the brochure in his hand. "Why are you making it possible for me to undo everything you and Jane have worked, lied and schemed to accomplish over the past months?

"Because now that you know there is another, better way, I will see that you get whichever life *you* freely choose. They'll teach you to swing your shoulders again instead of your hips. And to glare menacingly at anyone you don't like instead of just smiling down your nose and then turning away in disdain. If that is truly your choice, that is what you'll be - all boy, but never a *man* in the finest sense of that word; all swagger, but with no true substance to you at all. Just like your father."

Her voice changed again, dropping the sarcastic inflections. "I have always believed you were more than that. But now it becomes your choice, and yours alone. And it's a real choice. You can be a vulgar delinquent or a delicate feminine spirit shamed into learning feminine ways."

"But the simple fact of the matter is, Michael-Michelle, this Ball has been your true coming of age. Jane and I will make no more decisions *for* you after tonight because we won't need to. Tonight you have become your own person. Whoever and whatever *you* want to be! Whenever you want to be that person! Whatever school you may wish to attend."

She paused, and then continued in an almost defeated tone. "I want you to know this, however. I love you. I have always loved you, and I will continue to love you as long as there is breath in my body. Regardless of which path you choose or how you decide to live your life. I may not like you or your choice very much, but you are my son and I will always love you."

She turned to leave.

Suddenly the door crashed open behind them. A tall, lithe, beautiful young woman stood there. "Barb," she snapped impatiently. "Jamie has been looking all over for you so that we can set the reception line and get the pictures taken."

Then she saw Michael and gaped. "I don't know you, but you are the very image of Barbara. I'm the sister of Barb's fiance, Janice. And you are?"

Now came the moment of truth. In that moment, Michael saw clearly one last opportunity to turn the tables on the Mother who had so basely manipulated him. He had denied himself earlier because he had chosen *not* to hurt her as she and Jane had hurt him.

Just a few words and his Mother's perfidy would be all over the ballroom in moments. She'd become an outcast from the society she loved. It was all there for him. All he had to do was tell this girl who he really was and why he was here dressed as he was.

But then, he just sighed softly. He felt, rather than saw, both Jane's and Barbara's eyes on him. What was the point anymore? He had needed the rage and now, there simply wasn't any rage left inside him.

"You'll have to forgive me." Michael's Michelle voice replied, as he brushed at the tears still tracking his mascara down his cheeks. "But Aunt Jane and Aunt Barbara were just breaking a little bad news to me. Someone very close to me died earlier tonight."

A part of me certainly had, he thought, but which part? Then he held out his hand to the girl, his wrist limp and supple, just as he had been taught by Jane. "My name is Michelle, and Barbara is my Aunt." A soft sighing breath was the Michelle's only indication that his Mother understood that he had, once again, turned away from the old mean-spirited Michael.

"Pleased to meet you, Michelle." the dark haired, dark eyed beauty replied. "Say, if you are family to Barb, we should get you into the receiving line, too."

"No. . ." Michael let his voice hitch. "I have to leave. I must get home as soon as possible. You understand, don't you?" Janice reluctantly nodded and he turned back to Jane. "Aunt Jane, could we please leave *now*?"

Nodding solemnly, Jane took her ward's arm and led the her out the door and into the waiting limousine.
 
 
Chapter 35. Flashback
 
The days immediately following Jane's and Michael's return from Barbara's party were hell for Jane. She had hoped, apparently in vain, that her young ward had developed enough maturity, enough perspective to understand that they had only done what they thought was best for him. She had also dared to hope that there was now sufficient "Michelle" in Michael for him ultimately to forgive them both. Maybe there was, but it was just barely enough, because there was still no obvious victor in the internal battle her ward was fighting with himself.

Her charge had completely withdrawn from Jane since their return, refusing to do more than respond monosyllabically to any question that he could not pretend to ignore. Rather, he isolated himself, sitting alone in Jane's garden, hiding in his room or taking long walks along through the woods that were near Jane's house where he pretended not to notice that either Maria or Jane was always nearby during these outings. Jane had nearly lost him once, and regardless of the final outcome of the debacle at Barbara's, she would not let him. . . harm himself.

Christmas had been a disaster - the tree remaining undecorated, the presents unopened. In the past, Christmas had always been one of the few respites Jane had given her girls, letting them, for one day at least, simply enjoy themselves without fear of Jane springing one of her games on them. For that reason, the holiday had always been a remarkably pleasant day in the old Victorian manor house.

But not this year.

The phone beckoned to Jane. She'd nearly called Eric a hundred times in the past days, but each and every time she'd stopped herself - hoping that Michael would see past the hurt she'd inflicted on what remained of the "old Michael's" ego, past his resentment of being tricked and manipulated, and begin to soften towards them, again - at least a little.

Maria burst in to Jane's office. "Jane! Have you seen Michael?"

"No." was the uncertain reply. "Maybe he slipped out early to wander the woods alone. We have not been very subtle about shadowing him." God, please don't let him hurt himself the moment my vigilance slipped.

Maria looked uncertain. "Jane. . .one of his wigs is missing. I mean, he hasn't tried to dress up since you two returned." her voice dropped off. "Why would he take a wig on a walk?"

Was that the first break, Jane wondered, was he accepting Michelle again? Then her guts froze. Michelle was a perfect disguise. She could not go to the police and describe her without explaining what had been happening over the past months. "Check his wardrobe, Maria, and where his luggage is stored."

Michael's large shoulder bag was missing. They could not be sure, but it also looked like some of his male casual clothes were missing. A quick check of his bedroom revealed that his body shaper, a couple of dresses and the basic cosmetics were also missing.

"But where could he go? He doesn't have any money to speak of." Maria's eyes went wide and Jane's heart fell. "Or does he?" she asked in a small voice.

"He knows where I keep the petty cash funds now. I mean, Michelle was just always around, and being so good. I never even thought about that."

"How much was in there, Maria." Jane asked as the two women moved as one toward the stairs.

"I just replenished it from the housekeeping account, Jane. There is a little over 500 dollars now."

Only there wasn't. The hidden envelope in Maria's desk was gone.

"Come on. The only places he could go would be the train station and the bus station. Without a car, there's no way he could get to the airport from here."

Twenty minutes later, they had their answer. A boy answering Michael's description had boarded the early-bird train for New York City at five a.m. that morning - a train that had subsequently arrived at New York's Grand Central Station over an hour ago. Their hopes of finding him plummeted. In one hour at the busiest train station in the United States, Michael would be able to lose himself completely.

They rode home in dismal silence. "We have to call Barbara." Jane said finally. "He may be going back to the house in South Hampton, and in the state he is right now, I don't know what he'd do."

"Michael would never hurt a woman!" Maria defended immediately.

"What do you think he was planning to do all these months, Maria? Oh, I agree he wasn't planning to harm her physically, but he was trying to do her emotional injury. And right now, I don't know the person he's become, and I will not take the chance that he might attack her in another of his old rages." Jane sighed. "Even if he is not planning that, she has to know that we've. . . that *I*'ve lost her son."

"Shouldn't we call the police?"

"They won't do anything for the first twenty four hours anyway, Maria. But if we have to, we will go to them withholding nothing, and devil take the consequences."

"He has Michelle with him, doesn't he?" Maria asked quietly.

"Yes, he does, which means that he can board a train as Michael, and exit it as Michelle. We can provide the authorities a description of him as Michael, but when we do that, we will also have to tell them to be on the lookout for a young woman with short, close cropped blonde hair . . . Well, let's just say that will hurt *everyone*, including Michael. If they ever find him."

"Do you think he might go to David?"

"We'll call him, Maria, but no, I don't think so. David was here when Barbara and I began this scheme. Even though Beth knew nothing about it, Michael will not trust easily again. Beth set him up for me on several occasions before Michael tried to kill himself and Michael will remember that."

~----------~

"Doctor Davis' office." the perky young voice piped. "May I help you?"

"Yes, please." was the pleasingly soft feminine response. "Is Doctor Davis available?"

"May I ask who is calling, please?"

"One of his patients, and I want to talk to him now!" the voice changed radically, no longer soft or pleasing. The receptionist had been warned that things like this might occur, and did as she had been taught. "One moment, please."

"This is Doctor Davis speaking." was the quick response. "Who is calling, please?"

"Hello, Eric." Michael answered in his own voice. "Tell me, *Doctor*. Am I still your patient?"

"Michael! Where the hell are you, man? Everyone is frantic looking for you!"

"Never mind that!" Michael snapped. "Am. . .I . . .still. . . your. . . patient?"

Uncertainly, Eric decided this was somehow important to the boy. "Well, I'd say so, Michael. May I ask why?"

"Because you once chewed me out for not respecting your professional ethics, Eric. As your patient, I am entitled to the benefit of those ethics, including confidentiality."

"I see. And that is important to you?"

"Eric, unless I have your word, right now, that you will call no one, that you will talk to no one, that you will tell no one that I have been in contact with you, I am gone. I don't know where I will go, or what I will do, but I will not stay where people keep lying to me."

"All right, Michael. You have my solemn word. I promise I won't contact or inform anyone that you are here until you give the go ahead. What's next?"

Eric heard what might have been a sob quickly choked back. "I need to talk with someone. I need a place to crash. I haven't slept in almost forty eight hours."

"Where are you? I will come get you and take you home."

"Oh, no!" there was panic in the young man's amplified voice. "Not to your wife who is a fan of Jane's. She probably won't feel bound by your word."

"Michael, Sylvia is out of town, visiting her Mother. My house is empty. If, after she returns, you still insist on allowing no contact with Jane or your Mother, we can deal with that then. But I hope you'd feel a bit of compassion and at least let them know you are all right."

"Why the hell should I?" was the sharp retort. Before Eric could try to answer that question, Michael was giving him his location.

"I will be there in fifteen minutes." Eric promised.

It took several minutes to get his secretary to cancel the rest of his day's appointments and to reschedule the next day as well. The downtown Chicago traffic was even worse that usual, so Eric's fifteen minutes was closer to half an hour when he pulled up in front of the Greyhound terminal. But the boy was no where to be seen.

Fearful that the boy had decided not to wait, Eric got out of his car to search for Michael, but without luck. Eric got back into the still running car, and pounded the steering wheel, cursing fluently.

"I am surprised that Jane didn't wash such language right out of your mouth, Dr. Davis." came an amused voice from the back seat. Eric had been so furious with himself that he hadn't even looked in the backseat when he'd reentered the car. A startled glance in his rearview mirror revealed the smirking face of Michelle, dressed like a typical college coed on holiday in jeans and a wool sweater against the cold.

"We need to talk, Eric." was the flat, male voiced statement.

"Yes, Michael, we do. But first, lets get you something to eat. I know a private little place nearby, and you look like you could use some hot food in your belly."

The food took the edge of the boy's temper, and he began to talk - becoming freer as the meal went on. Jane had been right. Michael had been changing identities each time he boarded a train so that the person buying the ticket was not the one who detrained at his next stop. He'd even gone beyond Chicago and then doubled back on the bus to throw off any hunters Jane might have sent out.

"You realize, Michelle." Eric asked, using the feminine name since they were in public, "That Jane has professionals searching for you? They are sure to notice that you have contacted me, and they will get the word back to your Aunt."

The slender shoulders shrugged at that. "Figured as much. I just needed to get away. Even for a short time." A look crossed his femininely made up face, and he gave Eric a considering stare. "I have to ask you a question, Eric, and I really need an honest answer. I am sick to death of being lied to."

Eric raised his right hand, putting his left hand across his heart. "I promise."

The girl said nothing for several minutes after that. Eric let the silence go, knowing that Michelle would not say anything until she was sure. Psychologists had to be patient, particularly with patients. Eric had learned to do this - it was unnatural for him and he hated it, but he could wait for Michael.

"Did you know? About what my Mother and Jane had planned? How they tricked me? AGAIN?" Michael was starting to get upset again and Eric reached across to put a soothing hand on the girlish shoulder.

Catching her eyes, Eric answered. "No, Michelle, I did not. Not until Jane called me after she'd discovered you were missing. I only knew what we all agreed to do - to let you go on a trial run, and decide if you were going to go after your Mother as Michelle. It never crossed my mind that Jane was not being completely honest with the either of us."

"If you'd known, would you have told me? Let me know the *whole* truth? The *real* truth? Without leaving anything out?"

Eric looked at the miserable boy/girl for several moments, feeling his pain and trying to form a response. Shaking his head, "I don't honestly know, Michelle. Right now, I wish I could look you in the eye and tell you, hell yes, I'd have spilled the beans, but the truth is that I just don't know what I would have done back in July. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and right now, I'd say their plan was an unmitigated disaster. Back then? Remember what I said, Michelle. I would never do anything or support anything that was detrimental to my patient. I don't know how I would have reacted if Jane had come to me with this plan back then."

"She does have a way of making things sound so very reasonable." was Michael's teary laughing reply. "Hell, look what I let her talk me into."

The emotions and the lack of sleep suddenly caught up with Michael, and he reeled in his chair. Eric steadied him and then helped him to stand. "C'mon, kid. Let's get you into bed."

On the way to his house, Eric managed to talk Michael into letting Jane know he was all right. "She'll find out sooner or later, and wouldn't you rather be the one to tell her?"

Whether it was some stubborn part of Michael that still refused to hate Jane, or just a chance at one-ups-manship, no matter how small a one, he finally agreed. Of course, Eric had been silently hoping for something more than he got. Michael's terse, "Jane? I am all right. I am at Eric's for the time being. Leave me alone or I will go where you will never find me.", left something to be desired, but it was consistent with the way the young man must feel.

Eric put Michael into his guest bedroom, and he was asleep within moments of his head touching the pillow. Anyone but Eric might have thought it a bit odd that an almost eighteen year old male put on an old fashioned granny nightgown to go to bed, but then, Eric had a couple of those of his own.

~----------~

Excerpt: Nash's Diary December 29 - Day 165

Dear Diary

God, I don't know what possessed me to pack this thing during those last few frantic moments before I took off from Jane's house. It was just suddenly there in my hand and I put it back down. Imagine my surprise to find it in my suitcase. Guess I put it down there.

I almost threw it away when I saw it onboard the train when I went into the bathroom to take off Michael and put on Michelle. The reason I gave myself for not pitching the damn thing was because I did not want it found. Now, I am just glad I have it. Putting things down on paper seems to have a way of helping put things back in perspective.

Eric took off from work yesterday and today to talk to me. . .with me. He isn't so much asking me questions or demanding answers as much as he is just listening. Well, he does try to keep me talking. He probably doesn't think I notice that, but I have read a whole lot of psychology books in the past few months, so I recognize the tactic. Only it doesn't seem like one when Eric does it. Maybe he really is interested in how I feel about things.

The thing that keeps burning in my gut is that I had started really caring for Aunt Jane. Hell, Nash, be honest for a change - at least with yourself - I had started loving her. And I *thought* she loved me back. How can *love* be expressed by manipulation and deceit?

As for my Mother, how am I supposed to feel about her? She tells me she loves me? Has always loved me? And she did everything - abandoning me first to my Father's world, then to Jane's petticoat prison and finally manipulating me into that abysmal scene in her front parlor room?

I've tried to pin Eric down, trying to have him tell me why they did what they did? Trying to get him to explain to me what possible justification could they have for what they did? Of course, he doesn't give answers except in the form of more questions. Damned frustrating.

Okay, so I'll concede that I was a nasty little son of a bitch at St. Andrews, and becoming nastier everyday. And maybe, my time with Jane, *particularly* after my suicide attempt has made me feel differently about myself. Couldn't they just have left it like that? Why did they find it necessary to force the issue of a confrontation I was not even sure I really wanted anymore. I could have happily gone on as Michelle until my twenty first birthday, and I am all but positive that I would never have gone to confront my Mother.

Hell, Jane practically had to push me to go through with that stupid plan this time, and I was a helluva lot closer to the nasty son of a bitch at that point in time than I would have been in the future.

I know that I have changed. Twice during that damned evening, I passed up taking my shot at my Mother. The first time because I did not want to ruin her happiness, but it is the second time that is really the proof of the change. Michael of St. Andrews Academy would have destroyed her had he been in control when the full measure of their infamy became clear.

And I, whoever the hell *I* am anymore, couldn't or wouldn't do that.

M. Nash

~----------~

Michael wasn't exactly sure how he'd done it, but Eric had him outside in a park near his home, playing catch with a football.

And freezing his ass off.

Well, Michael thought to himself as he launched a perfect spiral at Eric, at least I don't throw like a girl. Of course, this little outing had precipitated as switching back to Michael-mode. He did not want to run with his inserts bouncing.

After they had run each other out, they began the walk back to Eric's house. "Michael?" Eric opened. "You know that tomorrow is New Year's Eve?" Michael nodded, wondering what that had to do with anything. "Well, my wife Sylvia is coming home tomorrow. Which I think means that we need to make some decisions."

"Such as?"

"Whether you want to stay here. I told you that you were welcome. That still stands. Sylvia knows you are here and she knows why, and its cool with her."

"It is okay if I stay here as Michael?"

Eric laughed. "Yes, of course it is. She'd still like to see you togged up as Michelle once, but if you can't do that, she will understand."

"You said there was a choice, Eric."

"Yes, there is, my fine young psychiatrist-to-be. The other choice is that you go back and work through your feelings for Jane."

"WHAT???!??"

"Hey, calm down. As I said, it is your choice and you are not going to hear another word about it once we get back to my house. But I do think it is something you need to consider."

"But. . . but why?"

"Michael, one reason I wanted you to stay at Jane's as Michelle, at least for that trial period, was so that you could confront your true feelings about dressing. I think you've done that. You are as comfortable being Michelle as you are being Michael. And I think that self acceptance has brought you some peace. Without your sensitive, or feminine side, your focused, aggressive or male side would have been incomplete. Unstable. Particularly after you had been given a taste, no matter how bitter that first taste was, of expressing your feminine side."

The younger man became silent as they walked down the snow edged walks. Finally, he nodded, but then looked up at Eric. "Okay. I guess I accept that. But how does that relate to Jane and my Mother?"

"I should think you have figured that out. You have *always* had very strong feelings about Jane. You hated her, then you tolerated her and then, you loved her. She's hurt you - quite badly, and the fact that you loved her made that all the worse for you. Now you are confused and at odds with yourself again, this time about your feelings for her. You are angry with yourself for opening yourself up that way and letting her hurt you like that. And of course, you are angry with her."

"Don't you think I have the right to be angry and hurt? Wouldn't you be, too, if they had done it to you?" was Michael's ragged reply.

"Probably so, Michael. The ones we love are the ones who can hurt us the most. Jane and your Mother could never have hurt you this way if you did not love them. You need to deal with that, Michael. Either now or some time later, you will have to face them and your feelings for them. It might get easier if you wait, and then again, it might get harder."

"I don't know if I can do it, Eric."

"I can understand that, Michael. Only you can decide when and how you will deal with this. Only you can decide if it simply hurts too much to face it now. But you need to think about it, and then make the best decision you can for yourself. And another thing you should think about, Michael."

"What's that, Eric?"

"That plan you had of getting even with your Mother? Of showing her just what she'd lost when she had first given you up to St. Andrews to protect you inheritance, and later when she gave you over to Jane in hopes of saving your soul?"

"Is that what they were doing? Could have fooled me." Michael snorted derisively.

"You *know* that is what they were doing, Michael. You just don't want to accept it because it makes you feel foolish that you were taken in by them, but that is beside the point. What is to the point is that your plan was born of sheer, malicious spite and it would have been a pretty small thing to do to someone else. You didn't do it. You could have, by all accounts, without too much trouble."

"I still got my bloody confrontation, Eric, only it was on my Mother's and Jane's terms."

"I understand that, too, but *you* didn't do it. I want you to know that *I* think that was a helluva fine thing you tried to do. Okay, so Jane and Barbara felt that they had to force the issue to the very end. But you took it like a *real* man, and not like the spiteful boy who had originally wanted to cause as much pain as he could in retaliation for his own pain."

"Are you trying to suck up to me, Eric?" Michael asked suspiciously, his eyes fixed on the older man.

"Nope. I have no reason to suck up to you. I am just telling you square and to your face that it took great courage and greater compassion to turn away like you did. I really like the person you've become, Michael. You should like that person, too."

They walked the rest of the way in silence until they reached the door. "Michael, one last thing. You did not like hearing what I had to say just now, about how you need to confront Jane and your true feelings toward her. However, I said it anyway because as your friend and as your therapist, I thought it was the best thing I could do for you. It did not feel good, and I would rather have let the entire thing slide, but because I care about you, I did the hard thing that I felt was the right thing. I hope you will take it in that vein."

~----------~

Excerpt: Nash's Diary January 1 - Day 168

Dear Diary

Happy New Year.

Sylvia's home, and dammit, Eric should have warned me. I thought Eric had put on his femme identity when this auburn haired lady walked in the door. Only, then Eric entered in right behind her.

They could have been twins, and they thoroughly enjoyed my dumbfounded reaction to them.

After they finished enjoying their little joke, they told me a little more about themselves. Turns out Sylvia met Erica first, and was so taken by their resemblance, that she introduced herself. Erica and Sylvia became good friends and then, Eric fell in love with Sylvia. It was hilariously funny the way they explained it, but evidently the courtship was a little bit like an old style slapstick comedy. Eric taking Sylvia out; Sylvia confiding in her friend Erica how she feels about this guy; Erica pumping Sylvia for information that Eric could use to his advantage while plighting his troth.

Evidently, Eric managed to carry it off, because she had not yet caught on when he finally let her in on the masquerade. When she didn't kill him, he asked her to marry him. Since then, she has changed her hair color slightly to increase the resemblance since they both get a kick out of it. Besides, when the neighbors see a redheaded female leave the house, they assume it is Sylvia.

She was very nice and very understanding. She even said she thought the thing that Mother and Jane did was a little cold and underhanded.

I won't say that admission was the only reason why, but I finally introduced her to Michelle. Erica showed up for the party, too. I actually had fun. Sylvia - or was it Erica(?) - made me laugh.

But that was last night, and this is now, and I have been thinking about what Eric said about confronting Jane. He's probably right.

The reason I *know* he's right is that I cannot bring myself to work up even a moderately good hate for her. As I think back to the night of the confrontation, she was upset, too. Was that because she did not want to hurt me again, either? I wish.

One thing I know is that I need closure. One way or another, I need to move on past all this. I need to get on with whatever my life is going to become. I need to finish school so I can apply to a pre-med program.

It is odd, that Mother was right. I really could go back to St. Andrews now, without going to her boot camp program. So what if I won't fit in with my old gang - fitting in with that crowd is no longer important to me.

One thing I am sure of right now - maybe in part because of what Eric said about being proud of me - I have decided that *I* am proud of the new me, too. He was also right about the spitefulness thing. Regardless of how this all turns out, I am still glad that I did not strike out when I had the chance. I am *not* my father's son, and moreover, I am *not* going to become my father's image. I can expect to take quite of bit of harassment over that decision, to become an outcast but one thing about living in skirts - you tend to think you can handle almost anything. Maybe I can, at that.

No, if I go back to that school, it is going to be to *my* purposes, not my father's. St. Andrews still has, deservedly or not, an excellent academic reputation which will stand me in good stead in going to a good medical school.

Of course, my decision to go pre-med instead of Harvard Business School will kill off my chances of inheriting from my father. And I am *not* going to business school, so keeping my inheritance no longer has any bearing on my decision of whether or not to return to St. Andrews. That is, of course, assuming my Mother was telling the truth. And I have no reason to believe that she was lying about that.

As I said, I can't do anything else until I put this past year behind me, and that means dealing with Aunt Jane. Guess that means I am going home.

Isn't that strange. I wrote "home", and after thinking about that, I meant it. For all that has happened, and despite what has been done to me, Jane Thompson's house has become "home". Like I said. Isn't that strange.

M. Nash
 
 
Chapter 36. The Future and Decisions, Again.
 
Jane looked at the woefully lonely figure sitting alone outside in her cold, desolate, January garden. Somehow, the man and the setting fit together, she thought sadly.

Michael had been like this since his return from Eric's home earlier in the month. He had not said more than six uninterrupted words to her at one time since he stepped off the plane in Providence.

Well, except for that late night confrontation the day after his return. Jane had been sitting in the music room, pretending to read a book, when Michael had entered the room, obviously upset. In very short order, both their short fuses had flashed and a shouting match had ensued.

Michael had demanded to know why they had kept the provisions of his father's will from him. Jane had responded that she had been concerned that, after his near death, he was not ready to know the real reasons his Mother had put him under her care. When he'd started down the path he chose in retaliation, it became even more clear that he was not ready to hear the truth that his Mother *did* in fact love him, and regretted what she had done in trying to preserve his inheritance.

"And just who gave you the right to make that decision for me?? How on earth can you *ever* rationalize the fact that you promised me honesty and gave me lies?"

Jane's tenuous grip on her composure had cracked and then broken on that one. "The fact that I *LOVED* you gave me that right. You were not ready to know the truth, mentally or emotionally, and I was afraid *that* particular truth might tip you over the edge again. So, I kept the truth from you. When you decided to get even with your Mother, I had to keep more from you, because I was afraid of what you might do if you found out she was still involved in your rehabilitation."

Jane had sprung from her seat and stormed over to get nose to nose with Michael. "Rationalize?" she'd all but screamed. "I don't have to rationalize. I love you, Michael-Michelle Nash, and I felt that, as your guardian, I had to try and find a way to help you past the remnants of your rage against me and against your Mother. All right, I meant well, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, Michael, when I took you to South Hampton, and then walked into that parlor with you Mother, I went into that fiery pit by way of a four lane super highway of my own making."

"I don't understand that kind of love." Michael had screamed back, making the word 'love' into a four letter curse.

After her tirade, Jane had regained control. "I am sure that you don't, Michael, but it was love nonetheless. And I still *do* love you, young man. I just pray that one day, you will be able to say that to me and to your Mother."

Michael had then stormed out of the room and up to his bed chamber. Except for sporadic meals, he had not come back out for almost five days.

When he had finally left his bedroom, he had been then as he was now. Quiet, taciturn and moody; a man locked within himself, or perhaps a man locked in a fight with himself.

~----------~

Michael sat in the cold January sunlight, once again reviewing his only extended conversation, well, screaming match, with Aunt Jane. Telling him that she had done it for his own good. Garbage, he thought, pure and simple garbage. He asked himself again for what had to be the thousandth time, how could lying to someone *ever* be for the good of the one not being told the truth. Oh, he could understand how a lie might be to the advantage of the person telling the untruth. He'd done more than a bit of that in his time.

Well, when he had kids, and he was determined he was going to have them, if only so he could prove to his Mother, to his Father's ghost and to himself that he could do correctly what they had not, *he'd* never lie to his kids. Not ever. He would never convince himself that less than the truth was "in their best interests".

Wouldn't he?

~----------~

The phone rang, breaking her line of thought. Jane sighed, picked up the receiver and spoke into the phone.

"Oh. Hi Barb. No, nothing has really changed. He just sits out there and stares at my garden wall.

"What's that? Of *course* we're keeping a close eye on him. *We* love him, too, you know. I *won't* lose him again, Barbara.

"Oh, yes, he is eating all right, as long as Maria or I drag him to the table and threaten to hand stuff him.

"No, his dress hasn't changed either. He is still wearing whatever he pulls out of the closet first, whether that is jeans, a running suit or a dress. He doesn't wear any lingerie or inserts now, so he looks pretty androgynous. Eric thinks that is precisely how he feels, neither male nor female, but some kludged together, imperfect combination of both.

"No, he hasn't said anything more about what his plans for the future are, but I did find that boot camp brochure torn into confetti in his room, thank god. Nor has he mentioned St. Andrews Academy at all.

"Yes, he did read the codicil, but he hasn't talked about that, either.

"What? No, he hasn't written in Michelle's diary, either.

"How do I know? I peek, of course - regularly - but he has not touched it since he returned from Eric's place in Chicago. I'm at my wit's end, Barb. I think it is time to ship him off back to Eric in the hopes that he can help Michael where you or I cannot. I am feeling pretty damned useless right now.

"Okay. I'll try to stay more positive, but it is so bloody difficult when I see him so . . . empty day after day. Okay, talk to you then."

Jane put the phone back in its cradle and returned to her desk. It was such a god-awful bloody mess. She turned back to her window and saw that Michael was no longer in her garden. Worried at this unexpected and radical change in his recent behavior, she started for the door of her office intent on finding him and assuring herself he was safe. "Not *again*. Please, please, let him be all right," she begged under her breath as she hurried off to find him.

She never made it out the door.

The two of them arrived at the door of Jane's office at precisely the same moment. Unfortunately for Michael, Jane was nearly at a full run. Their collision knocked him sprawling to the foyer floor. "Are you all right?" she cried, kneeling down to check him over and then help him back to his feet.

"I'm okay." he said before repeating the reassurance as much to convince himself as to answer her. "I'm okay. What the heck were you doing, Aunt Jane?"

She started at his use of 'Aunt Jane' . . . he had not called her that since asking her if they could leave Barbara's house that last time. Perhaps that was why she gave him the unvarnished truth without thinking about it. "I lost sight of you. I was worried that you might . . " she stopped and then recovered, "Well, that you might be hurt."

"You thought I might have tried to kill myself again." Michael retorted sourly. "I told you I am not going to do that again. Besides, why should you care?"

A ringing slap to the side of his head had him seeing stars, and holding a hand to his smarting cheek. "Because I love you, you damned thickheaded male. You are my masterpiece - the one I molded into the perfect daughter in hopes of finding a more perfect son. Don't you *ever* insult my feelings like that. You may not be able to love me after what I felt I had to do to you - hell, you may even hate me - but I'll be damned if I will let you doubt my feelings for you. You hear me??"

"I'm sure Maria heard you and she's off in town buying groceries." he responded, a smile lighting his face for the first time in more than a month.

Before Jane could react to the smile, she found herself wrapped in a hug, being held tightly against him. "God, Jane, I have been so lonely. I love you, too."

Suddenly weak kneed, Jane carefully led him into her office and let him sit in one of the chairs of the conversation group. "What's happened, Michael? What has changed?" she asked softly.

He gave a watery chuckle. "That is the stupid part of it, Aunt Jane. Nothing *really* has. I just had to get some distance. Far enough beyond the hurt, humiliation and resentment caused by you and Mom turning the tables on me before I could begin to remember some other, more important things."

"Such as?"

"You fighting to save me from myself when I would have hurt myself badly, maybe even killed myself. Mom caning the couch instead of my butt and telling me to scream so that my father would think I was being "properly" punished. You taking me to the Mustang Ranch when we were in Nevada."

"You *would* remember that." Jane growled, averting her face to hide her blush.

"Yup. First times are special. Anyway, it all sort of came together for me today when I asked myself what I would do with my own children if I knew something that might harm them if they knew it. I wanted my answer to be that, of course, I'd always be perfectly honest with *my* kids. Only, as I very quickly figured out, that was a pure and simple lie. My honest answer, after a great deal of reflection, was that I would lie through my teeth to protect what was mine. *And* it would be my responsibility to decide if and when they needed that kind of protection." He looked up at Jane through eyes that no longer held the pain she'd seen for the past month. "Am I yours to protect, Aunt Jane?"

There were tears in her eyes as her hand slipped across the small coffee table to squeeze his tightly. "Damned right." she said huskily.

"Am I going to have to get out that green book for you, Aunt Jane?" he teased.

"Why the hell not?" she said in the same tone. Then she became serious. "Michael, what about Barbara? She loves you, too. She has been calling me at least twice a day ever since the night of the party."

"She's next, Jane. Maybe we can go down there, or perhaps it would be better if she came here?"

"Either way, although it will be easier for you to be Michael there than it would be here. Everyone up here in this area still knows you as Michelle."

"That's not a problem, Aunt Jane. Another thing I have figured out is who *I* am. I am both Michael and Michelle. I have a masculine drive and ambition that has been tempered by a very feminine sensitivity and caring. Mom was wrong. It's *not* a choice. It's not either/or. I can and will have both in my life because both are part of what and who I am. When I visit Mom down south, I can be Michael. When I visit my other Mom up here, I will be your Gallatea - your Michelle."

Jane's heart filled. "Your *other* Mom?"

"It's what you are, you know." he replied as Michelle's gentle smile softened Michael's male features. "Barbara gave birth to Michael, but it was you who brought Michelle into the world. I would say that gives you a claim to motherhood, wouldn't you? And all without having to go through labor. Such a deal, right?"

"More like going through a seven month labor, smartie." she growled.

The peeling of the front door bell interrupted their interlude before Jane could take that thought any further. "Who ever could that be?" Jane asked disgustedly.

Michael gave her a 'how would I know?' shrug and went to the front door. He was astonished to find a happily grinning Janice standing on the other side of the threshold. She was every bit as lovely as he remembered her, but different, too. Instead of the society sophisticate, this was a country girl with her long black hair floating freely down to the small of her back and decked out in jeans, a sweater and western boots.

"I thought I would *never* find this place. It sure is out of the way, but I guess Jane would need that kind of privacy, wouldn't she. May I come in?" she asked after Michael had stared at her for several heartbeats.

"Oh, of course." he said apologetically. He got out of her way, and then looked at Jane who looked as perplexed as he felt.

The girl took one look at the older woman and offered her hand. "You must be Jane. Jamie has told me so much about you and the good things you did for him here. He was such an *jerk* before Mom shipped him off to you. I liked him a whole lot better when he came home." Jane's mouth fell open as she realized what the girl had said, but before she could say or do anything, Janice had swung back to face Michael.

"Hmmmmm. . . I think you make a better girl, but you're still pretty cute. Maybe it's the way you are dressed - makes it hard to tell. Don't you have any real male clothing? Or is Jane still keeping them locked away?"

It took quite awhile for things to calm down after Hurricane Janice made landfall on Jane's doorstep. The girl was a force of nature, moving from one topic to another without seeming to breathe, but eventually she slowed down enough for the other two to give her monologues at least a pretense of being actual conversations. She really was a very sweet young woman who had an unswerving sense of purpose, as Jane and Michael discovered when the three of them were sitting around Maria's kitchen table enjoying a light tea.

"So, anyway, I finally wormed the whole story out of Jamie - he can't keep anything from me that I really want to know. You trained him very well, Jane. So, then I figured out why everyone had been moping around since the party and weren't happily anticipating the wedding. Your Mom is a lovely lady, Michael, you are so lucky to have her. But anyway, I figured something had to be done, so here I am."

Dizzy from trying to keep up with her rapid-fire changes of subject, Michael managed to lock onto the last thing she said. "So here you are. . .why?"

Janice looked at him as if he were somehow mentally deficient before tossing a commiserating look at Jane. Jane did not have any better idea what the girl was getting at, but nodded sagely at her anyway. "Silly. To get you to come to her wedding, of course. So she will know you've forgiven her and that you aren't going to anything so stupid as go to that hell hole boot camp thing she told you about."

"When is the wedding?" he asked.

"Saturday after next, Michael, on Valentine's Day."

"Are we going to the wedding, Aunt Jane?" Michael asked with a twinkle in his eye.

"I suspect we are, Michael."

"There's just one more little thing." Janice said with the air of someone who is about to solve a huge problem.

"Okay, give, but just remember I have been manipulated by experts in the past months."

"As if I would try." Janice's nose went into the air and she gave a very unladylike snort. "It's just that one of your Mother's attendants broke her leg - she insists on going to Aspen every Christmas even though she is the worst klutz - and since everyone at the party has already *met* Michelle. Why, that means you might be discovered if you tried to attend as Michael, so I was just thinking that it might be a wonderful surprise if you were to take my place as her substitute attendant. As Michelle, of course." she added quickly.

Michael wondered how she could say so much, so quickly and not run her words together. He found her. . . fascinating. "Oh, of course." Michael agreed laconically. "But she strongly implied that she would prefer me to live full time as a guy." he teased, winking at Jane since he'd already told her how he planned to live his life.

"Oh pooh. She had to say that because she had you as a son. I don't think she'd mind in the least. Besides. . ." she trailed off.

"Besides. .? " Michael prompted, thoroughly enchanted and already half in love with this vivacious girl.

"Then she'd know you have really, really forgiven her for what she had to do to you . . . to help you become a better person." she looked at him entreatingly. Then she got a mischievous grin on her face. "And, I am almost positive that Michelle would fit perfectly into my bridesmaid dress - I really regret that part of this because it is really a great dress, but hey, I really like your Mom and this will make her very happy."

"Welllllll. . ." Michael drawled before slipping into Michelle's voice. "I really have to see the dress first, darling. I was not very impressed by that *shroud* you were wearing at the party. Didn't do a *thing* for you."

Both women simply stared at him, and then burst out laughing with him. Janice recovered first. "Meeee-ooowww, you nasty cat. I will have you know that *shroud* was chosen by my Mother who wants me to be eternally thirteen years old. Something about she can't grow old if I don't grow up, I guess." she said disgustedly. "*YOUR* Mom picked this one out and she has much better taste." Then she jumped up from the table. "It's in the car. I'll get it while you . . .do whatever it is you do to become Michelle."

Michael and Jane just shook their heads as she rushed off. "So, my son and daughter," Jane asked, "Are you going to do it?"

Michael frowned as he considered the possible benefits along with the potential dangers of Janice's plan. "You don't think it will hurt her? Mom, I mean?"

It really had worked, Jane thought. He is thinking of others now as well as himself. Even *before* he thinks of himself. "I think Janice is right. She'll love it. She might cry a bit, but those tears will be the happy kind."

Nodding his understanding, Michael grinned broadly before saying airily. "Then I guess I better go do whatever it is that I do, eh?"

~----------~

"Where is that girl?" a silver haired woman asked to the room. "She knows the procession is supposed to start in five minutes."

"She said she'd had too much to drink and needed to go to the bathroom or she'd never make it down the aisle." Barbara said with a grin on her face. "She'll be back. It just takes awhile to get through all this frou-frou when nature calls."

The matron harrumphed at that. "Silly girl should have seen to it before she got dressed. And *you* were the one who insisted on real period lingerie to go with these dresses."

Just then, there was a commotion as a someone entered the room wearing Janice's dress, only it wasn't Janice. "I hope I haven't held you up." came a strangely familiar voice.

Barbara turned and saw first the blonde locks done up in a set of old style ringlets that went beautifully with the Victorian style gowns Barbara had chosen for her second wedding. "And just who might you be, young lady?" furiously demanded the same silver haired woman.

And then Barbara knew. "Michelle?" she whispered, not quite willing to believe her eyes. And then she found her child in her arms, hugging her close.

"Hi, Mom. Just couldn't wait to get me back into petticoats, could you?" Michael teasingly whispered for her ears alone before pulling back and saying in Michelle's voice. "Hi, Aunt Barbara. Janice and I thought we'd surprise you since I was able to get away for your wedding after all. And don't worry, Janice has been drilling me on my part in all this. I'll do just fine."

Barbara pulled her son/daughter close again and whispered. "Thank you. Now my day is perfect." before also adding aloud. "I think you'll do more that just fine, darling . . . I think you'll be just perfect."
 
 
End of Seasons of Change - Book 3 - A Losing Season



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