Seasons of Change - Book 4 - Tales of the Season - Darla's Story

Jane has a student taken from her at a critical time for both that student, and for the new 'little sister'.
Just what she doesn't need, because the new student is behaving in a manner unlike any Jane has ever seen before.

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Seasons of Change
Book 4
Tales of The Season
Darla's Story

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?
 


 
 
Part 1:
 
A frustrated frown on her normally smooth features, the woman ran to the phone while drying her hands on her dishtowel. Who on earth would be calling at this ungodly hour of the evening? "Bonjour, Ms. Thompson's."

"Bonjour to you, too, Madamoiselle Maria, Comment allez vous?"

"Michael?? Is that you, dear?" Maria asked delightedly. "Where are you? What are you doing? Why have you called?"

"Yes. Still at St. Andrews. Talking to you. And since when did I need a reason?" was the immediate response. One thing living with Jane Thompson taught a fellow was the value of quick repartee.

"Oh you," was the affectionately exasperated reply. "Of course you don't need a reason. So you are still at school? I thought you were done several days ago."

"Plans changed, Maria. I had to finish up a couple of things before I go to Southhampton. How are you doing?"

There was a momentary pause before. "Oh, fine. You know how it is." she said airily.

"No, I don't. Why don't you tell me? And start with why you had to catch yourself before you told me how fine it was." Michael's voice was filled with the warmth and determination of a concerned friend or fond nephew which was precisely how Maria thought of this particular former student of Jane's.

She sighed. "It's been a little difficult around here of late, love." she said in a more subdued voice. "We lost Stephanie earlier this month just when Darla needed her the most."

"Steve graduated?" Michael asked.

"No, not quite. He was doing very well and would have graduated as soon as Darla was ready to proceed with her training on her own, but he . . . . left early."

"C'mon, Maria. Don't make me play twenty questions. What happened? Steve didn't make a break for it, did he?"

"Oh, no! Nothing like that. It's just that. . ." Maria paused, not used to discussing Jane's business over the phone. Security be damned, she fumed. This was Michelle. "You know that Stephanie was not under any other legal obligation to be here?"

"Yeah, I remember. Her Mom, like my Mom was an sorority chum of Jane's. So?"

"Stephanie's father surprised his ex-wife by showing up to take the boy for his annual two week co-custodial period - first time he's done that in the four years they've been divorced."

"And Steve wasn't home." Michael finished.

"Yes. Well, to make a long story short, the court custody decision did not give Jane any authority to hold the boy."

"Why do I think it is worse than that?" Michael probed, anger beginning to tinge his voice.

"The father threatened Jane with exposure and legal action if she tried to keep the boy. He also has threatened the Mother with reopening the custody case if she sends him back after the two weeks with the father are up. He will claim abuse of a minor at the Mother's behest."

"Shit." Michael said disgustedly. "How long had Darla been with you?"

"A little more than a week."

"Barely enough time to be terrorized by Mrs. Franson, Caro and Sandy for the first time and now, no big sister. Poor kid."

"It is even worse than that, dear, but I cannot talk about that."

"Okay, I know it's late, but is Jane still up?"

"She's in her office. I can transfer you into her, dear. She will love hearing from you. Just a second."

"Maria?!?" the boy's voice cut in before Maria could put him on hold.

"Yes, Michael?"

"Do you think she'd rather hear from Michael or Michelle?"

Maria considered that for a long time, her teeth worrying at her lower lip. "Michelle, I think, dear, but play it gently and be ready to slip back into Michael if it sounds like you should."

"Got it. Love you, Maria. I have missed you a lot."

"Same goes, dear. Now let me transfer you. I think Jane needs you this time."

Jane looked at the ringing phone and curled her lip in disgust. Working with Darla under the very unique conditions imposed on her by the manner of Stephan's removal was physically and emotionally demanding. She was completely exhausted and did not want to talk to anyone. Unfortunately, Maria knew that so if she was putting the call through, it was probably important. "Jane Thompson." she growled into the handset.

"Hi there, Momma-Jane, can't you at least talk nice to your nephew/niece-almost-daughter/son? When I specifically broke into the Dean's office after lights out just so I could call you?"

"Michelle? I mean, Michael?"

"Michelle, I think, Momma-Jane."

"You broke into the Dean's office?" her head was spinning from the unexpected call from one of her boys calling under his femme name. "I thought you were going to your Mother's place last week when exams were over. Didn't you and that little motor mouth, Janice, have some plans for the summer?"

"We did, and we still do. It is just that the Dean wanted me to stay another semester, supposedly to make up for the one I lost staying with you. The real reason is that I have been such an exemplary, trustworthy fellow since I returned that he wanted me to come back next year as a Dormitory Trustee. His rationalization is that I'd be an embarrassment to my oh-so- beloved alma mater if I did not do well my first year at university because of that. He was going to try to withhold my diploma until I made up the work."

"Why that sanctimonious old fool!" Jane was now furious. "You are so far beyond their curriculum after your time with me you could *teach* their damned teachers in most of your courses." she all but sputtered.

"Exactly. So my extra time up here after finals was to take "special exams" designed to prove my mastery of the material I "missed"." a thoroughly male chuckle, at odds with the very feminine tones, sounded in Jane's ear. "Blew their socks off for the past four days. One more exam tomorrow afternoon and then the Dean can take a hike."

"I am so proud of you, dear."

"So, should I change my reservation to Kingston, Momma-Jane? I understand you need a big sister for a few weeks."

"How did you . . . " Jane *was* sputtering now. "Maria has a big mouth."

"I can be there by noon day after tomorrow, Jane, and I am still going to go to university there, too. I could be around all summer and most evenings once school starts - at least until Darla is ready to be a big sister herself."

"Now I know I am dreaming. Michelle, offering to be a big sister and assist me in my nasty little games?" There was a real smile in her voice for the first time. *Nasty little games* had been Michael's evaluation of Jane's humiliation- based training exercises. "My, how things have changed."

"I've changed, dear, and that is not the point. I've decided. I *will* see you day after tomorrow."

"Michael. It is *not* necessary. Yes, it has been rough, but that is because Darla is a special case. We'll be fine. You go camping and hiking with Janice like you planned. You can't very well do your courting if you are here, dressed in skirts."

"Courting? Who the heck said anything about courting?" Michael accused hotly.

"I did." Jane answered equably. "And don't tell me you have not already decided that she is going to be your wife just as soon as you can manage it. I saw the way you looked at her after your Mother's wedding to her brother."

"Have I no secrets from any of you women? Mother has twigged to it, too. So has Janice because her letters have started talking about things like where we will live, how many kids we'll have and division of household labor. Good grief, I am barely seventeen."

"Going on thirty, dear. I appreciate your offer, but after tonight, I believe that neither Darla nor I will require your sacrifice."

"You're sure? I mean, I understand that you lost Steve right after the Marisha Initiation."

"Well, I can see you won't let go of this and leave me alone until I tell you the whole of it. Make sure the Dean's lights are off, dear. No sense getting caught in there and this will take a while. As you said, we were just getting home from the mall when. . . "

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

Jane pulled the Lincoln around the circle and stopped at the sidewalk up to her front door. Maria would park the car later. Right now she wanted to get her charges inside and finish what had been a highly successful first trip to the Mall for Darla. So far, anyway.

Things got off to a rousing start when the girl was practically bowled over by a daydreaming young man. Jane had seen panic in her student's eyes for the first time as the apologetic fellow offered her his hand to help her back to her feet. For a moment, Jane had been worried that the girl would not accept his chivalrous offer, but finally she did. Jane had intervened at that point, not wanting the outsider to get too close to her still very-new-to-his-skirts student, and had hustled both Stephanie and Darla to Caro's and Sandy's.

Darla had been even more reserved than most of her boys on their first beauty shop experience, but in the end, everything seemed to go well. She looked over at the slender, femininely turned out boy. Sandy had turned his chestnut locks into Irish Red to match the boy's relatively light complexion and green eyes. He'd shown remarkable composure under Caro's and Sandy's pointed attempts to put him on a fine edge of terror. Jane wondered how the boy had managed that.

Was it that he had already gotten as much of a fright as his system could handle when he'd been forced to cope with that male bulldozer out on the mall? Certainly, Sandra had toned down her first trip-to-the-beauty-shop teasing routine, thank goodness. They had all learned their hard lessons with Michael - and none of them ever wanted to taste that terror again. Her students' buttons were still getting pushed very hard, Jane mused, but now she and her band of confederates took a little longer to made sure they knew how those buttons were wired.

Which was why Jane was going to escort Darla up to her room and "help" her put away her new clothes and dainties before bringing her ward back down stairs to the music room for a restoring cup of Maria's tea. Jane was concerned about this one, because not unlike Michael before his near tragic episode, she did not yet have a good read on her newest student.

None of Jane's "first-week-in-petticoat-hell-tricks" had seemed to phase the boy. Not when Stephanie had renamed Darryl as Darla, nor when Maria and Jane had double teamed the boy through the day of rapid outfit and make up changes. He had simply done what he was told without comment or hesitation, regardless of how humiliating the lesson should have been for his young, fragile male ego. Unlike almost every other young man in her experience, Darryl had neither fought her nor resisted her direction during the week he'd been with her. Not *once*!

"Stephanie?" she called as she opened her own door. "Help Darla with her packages, dear. I will be up as soon as I let Maria know we are home."

Stephen's height made for an unusually tall girl, but he'd learned to carry himself with a certain style and grace that made Stephanie look like a runway model. While Jane had had prettier students, none of her other girls had possessed the presence and impact of this ebony-tressed laddie. And he'd come a very long way in his months with Jane. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that she was so unsure of Darla, she would have begun thinking seriously about transitioning this student back into his trousers in a few more weeks. She had a few more lessons to teach Stephanie, and a couple of those would be hard ones, but after all her years of petticoating young men, she had an instinct about some things. This one would do fine. She would soon be entering him into her rogues' gallery as a complete success.

Jane watched the pair move up the walk, one gracefully, the other still awkwardly fighting the moderately high heeled shoes. Satisfied, she reached back into the car to get her own purse, when she saw the other car parked in her drive for the first time. Cars were not a major interest of hers - so long as they were comfortable, started when she turned the key and ran properly, Jane did not give them much mind. She did, however, recognize a very expensive Jaguar when she saw one. She also could not think of any of her acquaintances who owned a car like that one.

"OH MY GOD! DAD?!?!?" The scream of distress had Jane moving up the walk at a dead run before she had consciously put a name to screamer. Stephanie. All she knew was that one of her boys was in distress, and that *Jane* had not been the one to put him in that condition.

Four people were huddled about her front door. Darla was standing away from the door, trying to look small. A tall, well dressed man Jane did not recognize was shouting at a cowering Stephanie while a furious Maria was trying to push the man away.

Then it hit her what she'd heard Stephanie scream - Dad. As she got closer, the resemblance was obvious, although the elder seemed much harder than her ward. And he was furious.

Jane stepped between the father and Stephanie and attempted to take control. "Mr. Evans, my name is Jane Thompson. We did not know you were coming." Jane greeted in a gracious if breathless voice all the while thinking of what an understatement that was. "Maria, help the girls get their parcels inside, please." she said trying to get her students out of the line of fire.

"Yes, Jane." her long time friend replied as she motioned the two youngsters to follow her.

"Not so damned fast, Stephen." the elder Evans said sharply as he latched onto the boy's arm causing him to squeak in pained surprise. "You are going nowhere except with me."

Moving to the defense of her chick, Jane got into the man's face. "Now you see here, sir. That child is here by her mother's consent. I have a legal contract to provide boarding school education and training to her, and to act in loco parentis. You have no authority to remove Stephanie from my home. If you try, I will have you arrested for kidnaping."

Without relinquishing his grip on Stephanie, her uninvited guest pulled a legal document from his suit pocket and tossed it at Jane. "Your agreement with my ex-wife is meaningless. That is our divorce decree awarding me co-custody of my *son* which obviously predates any contract she signed with you. Simply stated, I get him for two weeks a quarter and *today* is the first day of my two week custody period. Deirdre has *no* authority to send him anywhere during my custody time without my express permission. Which she sure as hell does not have."

Evans turned his attention back to his cross dressed son. "Get out of that. . . that *outfit* and wash that shit off your face. Get some real clothes on and get back here. We are leaving." Stephanie did not move, instead looking to Jane imploringly. "Now, Stephan, or else."

"I don't have any other clothes." Stephanie finally said.

"You *came* here dressed like a wimp ass sissy? What the hell was your mother thinking of!?!" Evans screamed.

"I have his clothing." Jane calmly deflected the man's angry attention. "Please follow me." and then led the way into house and then to her office.

Jane pressed a button on her desk. Maria arrived almost immediately. "Get Stephanie's suitcases and put them in her room, please. She may be leaving today."

Evan smashed a fist down on Jane's desk. "*STEPHEN* is a *HIM*, not a fucking *HER*, woman, and *HE* is DAMN-SURE leaving this . . . . this. . . this *place* today. IMMEDIATELY!"

"Yell at me again in that tone of voice, sir, using that type of language and I will see you in our local jail within the hour. Trust me, I have the contacts to do it."

A malevolent grin lit the features that seemed to be a negative of her student's own. "You just go ahead and try it, *Ms* Thompson. I will be free within that very same hour, I will have papers charging you with abuse of a minor served on you within two hours and I will have every tabloid reporter within five hundred miles of here on your doorstep within three hours. Try me, bitch. Go ahead, try me - please."

Knowing when a strategic retreat was called for, Jane moved back to her desk and dialed a number from her organizer. Stephan's mother answered on the second ring. "Ms. Thompson?!?" the woman said as soon as Jane had identified herself. "I have a terrible problem. Stephan's father has decided to claim his custody rights for the first time in four years. I called my lawyer, but we can't do anything about it. If I don't surrender Stephan to him, he can reopen the entire divorce settlement, including the custody agreement."

Jane spoke with the mother for several more minutes, and finally hung up. She looked at Evans, smirking at her in smug triumph. "I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you that this is a very successful program that has helped many young men who, like your son, were headed for big trouble, turn their lives around? And that this is a very bad time to pull him out of the program? That when he comes back after you return him to his Mother a great deal of the good we've accomplished will be undone?"

Evans sauntered back over to Jane's desk, and leaned over to get down into her face. "First, my son is going to grow up to be a *man*, not some damned skirt wearing wimp. Two, your definition of success and mine are obviously *light-years* apart, and any *damage* I do to what you call "good" is just *fine* with me. And third, there is no way in *hell* that boy is coming anywhere *near* this place ever again. If he does, I will take his mother and you to court, claiming abuse of a minor, and I guarantee, I will win. I own several judges, lady. Even if you should overturn any judgement against you on appeal, you will still be finished."

"What is to stop you now?" Jane asked quietly.

"Because I don't want the world to know how my son has been forced to live with you, bitch. However, if he comes back, I won't have any choice. There are places I can send him once I have full custody where all this sissy shit can be burned out of him. He'll just have to become all the harder to overcome what you and his damned mother have done to him."

"I see." And she did. Not that Jane had any real choice. The last thing Stephan's mother had done was order her to release the boy into his father's custody. "Very well, Mr. Evans. His Mother has directed me to release Stephan into your custody and to permit him to leave with you. Unlike many of my other students who are here at the direction of the court, your wife is the one has the ultimate say in all my contractual dealings relative to Stephanie. Therefore, I will acquiesce." Jane left the office in search of Maria.

Twenty minutes later, a very downcast Stephen came into the office. Maria had tried to undo most of the physical aspects of his Stephanie persona. Unfortunately, they *had* just returned from the Chalet where Stephanie's color and set had been refreshed, her eyebrows reshaped, and her nails sculpted.

Evans took one look at his curly headed son and cursed. "I hope you like the Michael Jordan look, Stephen, because you are going to be shaved until your natural hair grows back. Come on, let's get out of this castrating bitch's house."

Stephen, however, did not immediately follow his father's orders and instead threw himself into a shocked Jane's arms. "Please, Jane, I don't want to leave with *him*!!"

Tears were flowing. "I can't keep you, dear. I have no legal standing, only moral ones. You'd only be hurt worse if he carries out his threats."

Evans reached over to grab the boy and drag him away from Jane's embrace and toward the door. Maria had already brought Stephen's bags down and put them in the foyer. Evans grabbed one case and ordered Stephen to get the other since he refused to relinquish his grip on the boy's arm.

Jane moved to the doorway to watch the pair move to the Jaguar. "Mr. Evans." she called. He turned to face her. "Hurt that boy, and no power on earth, no threat of yours, no hazard to myself will protect you. I, too, have powerful friends, sir, and if I cannot destroy you, I can make myself very annoying."

Evans just laughed, a very nasty and cold laugh, and then shoved the still struggling Stephen into the car. Jane watched in helpless rage as the car raced away from her home at a dangerously high speed.
 
 
Part 2:
 
Maria came into Jane's office with a pot of tea and some finger foods. "I put Darla to bed for a short nap." she said quietly. "She is very upset by all this. I gave her a gentle tranquilizer."

"Thank you, Maria. With everything else, I had not even considered Darla." Jane said in a dull voice as she stirred her tea.

"Bad day, Jane. One of the worst that I can remember. We've never lost a boy like that before."

"Worse than you might think, dear. We may have lost two boys from this fiasco. Darryl now knows that Stephanie was actually Stephan, and it is much too early in his progression for him to have learned that. At least, if we are to continue following our regular program."

Maria helped herself to a sandwich. "True, but we've had single students before, Jane. We've gotten them through." she replied confidently.

"With the exception of Michael, we've never before had one of our boys understand *our* vulnerability early enough to fight back effectively. Darryl is an exceptionally bright young man, and as a former city gang member, he is also very street smart. He is going to put this all together and start thinking instead of just reacting. Off hand, I can see two outcomes. Because of the jail sentence hanging over his head, he will complacently follow our orders, and do everything we ask. Except now that he knows that he is perfectly safe from being exposed publicly as a crossdressed sissy, and we won't be accomplish anything."

"And the other possible outcome?"

"He just refuses to go along with anything we tell him to do and we send a perfectly good, redeemable kid to jail for six months to three years. Damn! What a mess."

Maria sighed, and stared into her teacup, as if looking wisdom. "Which one do you think is more likely?"

Jane took a thoughtful sip from her teacup. "I don't really know." she admitted softly. "I can't seem to get a feel for him. He is simply not reacting - not to me, not to *any*thing. He just keeps on doing exactly what he's told, no matter how humiliating, no matter how seemingly pointless. I don't think he has complained or taken issue with a single order since he stepped off the train."

"Could it be that he doesn't want to give you any excuse to send him to jail, Jane?"

"No." Jane sighed, shaking her head. "We've had other boys who had a jail sentence hanging over their heads as you well know. Even the most even tempered of them eventually reacted to the very arbitrary nature of my orders and decrees. Darla is days overdue for a hissy fit over our little feminizing tyrannies and she has not shown the slightest inclination towards throwing one yet. I don't know what is motivating that child to work as hard as he obviously is on his feminine behaviors, and until I do, we have to watch him very carefully, Maria."

"You're frightened." Maria said finally.

"After Michael? I am terrified." Jane rasped, just above a whisper.

"I've never known you to be so uncertain of yourself or your abilities, my dear. You made a mistake with Michael, but even that came out well in the end. Darla is *not* Michael."

"I just wish I could figure out why he is so . . . so damned agreeable!" Jane caught Maria's look and had to laugh at herself. "Hell of a thing to be upset about, isn't it. My little girl is working too hard to do what I tell her to do." She took another sip of tea and shook her head at her own foolishness. "Well, I am going to have to call Judge Ruth, I guess. The boy is a ward of the state since the only family he has is his criminal older brother. She may want to pull him out of here and put him into another program. Or into jail."

"Like *hell* we will let him go to jail." the normally soft- spoken Maria snarled. "We have to try, Jane. I like this one. He is sweet, really, underneath that shell of his. Do you know that he helped me with the dishes the other day when I cut my hand? Didn't even have to ask him. He just walked into the kitchen, told me I shouldn't be putting my hand in the dishwater, handed me the dishtowel and dug in."

"Judge Ruth thought he was worth the effort and she hasn't been wrong yet, has she? Are Darla's new things put away, Maria?"

"Yes. I did it after she fell asleep."

Jane nodded and then looked at her watch. Lord, she mused, it wasn't even noon yet. "Let her sleep until about three and then get her up and dressed in time for tea. We will postpone, at least for today, her fashion show. I don't think I can find the will to be disdainfully picky about her dress and such. In the meantime, I am going to try and see if I can come up with some way to salvage this mess." Jane looked out the window in the direction of her driveway, and a tear trickled down her cheek.

Maria instantly understood. "Stephan will be fine, Jane. He is a very intelligent young man, and under your tutelage, he has matured a great deal. He understood what you'd actually done for him. He told me so. He'll be able to see his father and his lifestyle for what they are."

"He deserved so much better than that, Maria. I hope you are right. I wouldn't put it past that animal to send him to some military style boot camp/prison camp to beat some of *his* kind of manhood back into the boy."

"If he does, then you can help his mother bring Evans up on abuse charges against *him*."

"Everything we do would still come out in the courts, Maria." Jane cautioned. "We'd be finished afterwards. Something of a pyrrhic victory, don't you think?"

"Since when do we worry about anything other than the kids, Jane?" Maria asked with a good deal of asperity.

A watery chuckle answered her friend's challenge. "Since never, dear. Thank you." Jane took Maria's hand in her own, and squeezed it gratefully. "Why don't you go take a nap, too? I need to do some hard thinking."

Understanding her friend's need for privacy to fight these demons, Maria picked up the tray and left the room. But she wouldn't nap, she told herself. Jane was not as tough as she made out, and she must might need a shoulder before this day was out.

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

Darla awoke slowly, and happily burrowed back down into the soft, clean sweet-smelling bedding, but he was about slept out. Consciousness wormed its unwelcome way into the young person's head, and with that, came the memories.

Why hadn't he had not realized before the confrontation with Stephanie's father that the "senior girl" was also a guy? It all made so much more sense now, having discovered that one key fact. Why the "girl" was also so much under Jane's thumb, and why the "girl" was not more snotty about Darryl's own surrender of his masculinity. Originally, Darla had thought that Jane took in guys *and* girls, and shoe-horned both genders into the very exaggerated feminine lifestyle he'd experienced since his arrival. Certainly, the "Raggedy Ann" little girl-clothes punishment of Stephanie had seemed real enough, and humiliating enough to have been actual discipline. Steph had truly seemed to hate having to go through it.

So, Darla mused, this whole setup was something that Jane did regularly. It was just too well planned, too smooth an operation to be something that she only did now and then. Which raised another question. How many folks knew the truth about "Jane's girls." The two females at that beauty shop and the woman who owned the lingerie and dress shop obviously were in on the secret. Did anyone else in town know?

Darla tried to remember the reactions of the people who had seen Jane, Stephanie and herself moving through the mall. Try as he might, Darla could not remember anyone reacting to the trio in anything other than a natural, if standoffish manner. Even the high school age guys. No, Darla corrected herself, make that *especially* the high school age guys. Like the guy who nearly knocked her block off while they were walking towards the Marisha Chalet. He'd certainly been tongue-tied and fumble-fingered as he'd stumbled all over himself trying to help her to her feet. Just like he thought she was a real girl.

That had to be it, Darla thought with complete certainty. If it was generally known around town that Jane's girls were actually "sissified" boys undergoing "punishment". . . . Well, teenage males being teenage males, it would have gotten nasty there in the mall. Therefore, the knowledge *had* to be pretty much a secret except for a select few, probably all women, who helped Jane with her games.

It now became clear why Judge what's-her-name, the lady with the name that ended in "ciez" but sounded like "check", sent him here. Jane obviously had a reputation for working with young males who were, in some way or another, social problems.

So, that meant when Steph's father showed up here and started making threats about revealing Jane's activities to the press, Jane had reason to be concerned. She needed her games to remain a secret from the world at large. For example, just like at the mall earlier, *if* the teenage males *knew* about the things Jane did and that any girl she had with her was likely to be a guy in drag. . . . Well, as he thought before, that would be pretty ugly.

The "girl" would be immediately unmasked and would be hounded mercilessly whenever she came to town. Darla wasn't entirely sure what Jane sought to accomplish with her little games, but it was pretty clear that the threat of exposure was a big part of her hold over her students. Particularly after her experiences that morning at the mall, the Chalet and the dress shop.

But that threat was really a bite without teeth. Real exposure would remove that threat for good.

How would he react if he'd really been exposed today? Probably would have been really pissed, and anger generally displaces fear. Jane stood to lose a great deal of her power and stood to gain an intractable, very angry male who felt he had absolutely nothing left to lose. Jane would, in all likelihood, be unable to continue her program.

What would that mean to him? What would happen if Steph's father *did* attack Jane by turning the press loose on her? Her program would go down in flames is what, Darla told herself. No program, and I am headed back to Illinois and the Department of Corrections.

Or worse.

Quietly, the femininely turned out young man slipped out of the warm, comfortable bed and onto the vanity stool. With increasingly practiced hands, he took up the brush and comb and tried to restore some semblance of order to his new coiffure. It wasn't perfect when he finished, but it wasn't too bad. He cleaned off the remnants of Carolyn's make up lesson and tried to reproduce the effect himself. Again, his efforts were not up to Caro's standards, of even Maria's for that matter, but they were improving steadily. Soon, they'd be good enough for Darla to do what had to be done.

Satisfied, Darla rose and went over to the armoire and removed a simple skirt and sweater set. At least he was beyond the super frilly, electric pink, Little Lady Fauntleroy "fashions" of his first few days here.

A last check in the mirror and she was ready to go downstairs. Darla hoped that he would be here long enough to learn what he needed to know, but sooner or later, he was going to have to leave this place.

He'd really hate leaving here. For all of Jane's efforts to be nasty, she gave him a warm bed, a full belly and clean, nice smelling clothes. So what if they were girl clothes. And Maria, when she wasn't doing Jane's dirty work, was a really nice lady. And deep down, she figured that Jane was pretty nice, too. Actually, Darla was certain of that because she had a great deal of experience with people who acted nice but weren't.

Yes, this was a good place, a *safe* place, all things considered, but he wouldn't be able to stay. When he did have to leave, he wanted to be able to disappear. What better way to do that than by being Darla when everyone was looking for a Darryl?

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

Afternoon tea was a strained experience. Maria joined teacher and student for the light meal, but even the normally buoyant housekeeper was quiet and restrained. Jane almost canceled the meal, but then she recalled that Darla had not eaten since the very light breakfast Maria traditionally served on a salon day.

Finally, Maria cleared the dishes, leaving Jane and Darla sitting silently in the music room.

Jane watched her student, and realized the girl was watching her closely. Several times, Jane thought Darla was going to say something, only to reconsider. Something was on her mind. Jane thought she knew what it was.

"Out with it, Darla." Jane ordered gently, trying to smile. "You've had time to think about what you saw today, and you have something you obviously want to talk about."

Darla did not respond immediately, only worried her teeth on her lower lip as she regarded the older woman warily.

"Well!" Jane said with a rush, slapping her hands on her lap. "Why don't I start by stating what you have probably already surmised. Stephanie was just like you. His name was Stephan and he was also here to learn some manners and some self control."

"But he left, without your permission."

Jane grimaced. "I don't know how much of this I should really discuss with you, Darla." This was precisely what Jane had been afraid of, and even after thinking for the entire afternoon, she had not come up with any other answer than the truth. And she still could not predict this student well enough to know how he'd react. "Not all of my students are sent to me by the courts, Darla. Stephanie was sent to me by her Mother who is an old friend of mine. He was running wild after his parents' divorce and was heading for a bad end."

"And his father knew nothing about what you two had planned for his son, at least, until he surprised the Mother by showing up wanting to exercise his paternal responsibilities and privileges."

Jane did a double take at the boy's language. She'd never heard him use anything but relatively simple words and phrases. "Yes. . . well. . ." she sighed. "He had the law on his side and he, well, was not best pleased at having his darling boy learning the types of lessons I teach."

"And he certainly doesn't want the world knowing that his son was in skirts?"

"I think so." Jane smiled wanly. "At least it gives me some hope that he won't expose my little enterprise. A number of very good people, including all of my old students, stand to lose a great deal if I suddenly become a tabloid celebrity."

"So, you don't think he will really turn you over to the reporters?" Darla asked, barely able to breathe.

"Basically. Oh, he can make life difficult for me in other ways, but he won't do anything that might result in his cronies finding out how his son lived while he was with me."

"And I can stay here, with you?"

She heard the almost prayerful hope in Darla's question. Was that it, she wondered? Had she really been wrong and the girl was that afraid of being sent to jail? Could she use that fear to her advantage with her student? Fear was a powerful tool, if tempered by hope. "Are you that afraid of going to prison, Darla?" Jane asked softly.

The girl's finely etched brows rose in surprise before she recovered herself. "Jail? . . . Oh, yes, Jail." Darla cleared her throat. "Of course I am afraid of that, Aunt Jane."

Are you really, Jane thought. Then why did you have to think about your answer. I *wish* I could read your mind, child. Jane steeled her features into her stern, Victorian Governess mask. "You *may* stay, Darla, so long as you do as I ask. You stay until I decide you are rehabilitated and certify that to Judge Ruth, or until I decide I cannot do anything with you and send you back to her. In that case, you will immediately begin serving your term in prison."

Darla let herself breathe again. Jane did not think Steph's father would let the cat out of the bag, and she was going to let him stay with her. She was still safe. At least for a little while, and so were Jane and Maria. "Thank you, Aunt Jane." the feminine boy replied with deep feeling. "I will be the best student you've ever had."

Nonplused by the evident emotion in her student's voice, Jane did not respond immediately. Finally, she was able to engage her brain. "Yes, well, see that you do, dear." I am not in any mental or emotional condition to play games with a male ego tonight, Jane told herself. "Maria will bring you a dinner tray in your room tonight, dear. We will resume your training tomorrow after we have all had a good sleep."

Recognizing a dismissal, Darla rose and gave a quick curtsey, and quietly left the room.

She has nearly mastered that uniquely feminine gesture, Jane realized, and so early. None of her boys had ever managed a graceful curtsey until they had started to give in to her, usually after several months under her thumb. Jane used it as one of the key indicators that a boy had begun to turn himself around because perfecting that skill required them to practice on their own in front of their mirrors.

That brought up another question. When had Maria had time to do the girl's hair and make up after her nap? She'd been cooking when the girl got up and the work was very well done - too well for it to have been a touch up of Caro's work from the morning's outing. Which was all Darla should have been able to do that well at this point in her training.

Wasn't it?

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

"You didn't make him up?"

"Darla was already downstairs when I started out from the kitchen to wake her up. I thought you'd gotten her up and supervised her toilette."

"No." Jane said amazed. Another skill nearly mastered. Obviously, he was practicing *everything* she demanded of him. That was not unusual. All her boys did - eventually, *but* they always had to be broken down first.

What in heavens was motivating this child?

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

"So, you couldn't read Darla any better than you could read me, Momma-Jane?" Michelle asked gently.

A grumbling sound answered that impertinent question and was followed by a sigh. "No. I have never had a child so determined to do everything *perfectly*. Even when I set her up to fail so I could discipline her, she just nodded, accepted the rebuke and the punishment, and kept on trying."

"Poor Momma-Jane." amusement rippled across the lines. "Must be hell for you, having to punish someone who was really was trying to do her best at whatever you told her to do."

"You don't know that half of it, Michelle. I hated it, and Maria even told me I was being to mean to this one."

"I guess one thing your program never accounted for was a student who didn't give you any trouble and was committed to being perfect for you."

"Forgive me for repeating myself, darling, but once again, you don't know the half of it. Let me tell you. . ."

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

"Jane?" Maria asked as she entered her friend's den. "Have you been reprimanding Darla about her make up and presentation? I thought we agreed to ease off her for a few days while we all got our equilibrium back after Stephanie was taken from us. She has given us no real trouble and I don't like picking on her any more than absolutely necessary."

Jane looked up from her desk planner. She'd been trying to set out a new program from Darla to accommodate the loss of the big sister factor in her student's life. "Darla's cosmetics? Why no, Maria. I think I even complimented her on how she looked at breakfast this morning. Why?"

"Because she cornered me after breakfast when I went up to change her bedding. Wanted me to give her some pointers on different styles of make up, and on how to do it differently if her coloring was different. I thought you might have told her you were going to change her hair color or something like that."

Frustration with this unpredictable student blossomed anew. "You know we never tell the girls if we are planning to do that to them. This makes no sense. Why would she want to know that?"

"Stephanie's father had different colored hair than she did when he came for her. Maybe Darla thinks we changed her color and wants to be ready for it?"

"And we did, which is one of the reasons why her father threatened to shave her head, but we've already changed Darla's hair color. That red color almost glows in the dark. Did she ask you about any specific colors?"

"The usual since you had Sandy turn her into a carrot-top - blond and brunette."

Jane wanted to pull her own hair out. "What *is* motivating the girl? Why is she trying to anticipate us? It makes no bloody sense."

Maria shrugged. "I still think she is afraid, Jane. You don't frighten this one nearly as much as what waits for her outside your walls.

"You are convinced that was is behind all of this is her fear of being sent to jail?"

"A sweet, gentle-natured child like that would be eaten alive in a place like that."

"And while I am forced to agree with your evaluation of the girl, *that* makes no bloody sense, either. He was convicted of charges involving the possession of a deadly weapon during a crime. He has admitted, in court, to having been a member of one of the most vicious street gangs in Ruth's city. Does *that* sound like someone sweet or gentle, for goodness sake?"

"You are not normally one to question yourself, Jane. Why can't you trust what you have in front of you?" Maria asked softly.

"But he was sent to us to be rehabilitated, Maria. And right now, I don't know what to do with him." Jane admitted softly.

"We have time, Jane. He's not leaving for several months at the earliest. Let's find out what is really going down inside that curly head before we press too hard and go down the wrong path with this one. Because we very easily could go wrong. I do agree that there is something that does not fit about Darla."

"I take your point, dear." Jane replied. "I will plan a slower than usual program until we find something that the child reacts to."

"What about her requests for make up lessons?"

"I can't see that it hurts anything, unless. . . you don't think he is a transvestite, do you?"

"There aren't any stains on Darla's sheets or undies, Jane. He hasn't reacted to the sensuality of the experience yet. Not that finding them proves anything along those lines, in any case."

"Yes. As we both know, all that proves is that we've started to reach into his head, which by all accounts, we haven't. Sandy even remarked that he did not seem to be at all aroused during any of her games at the Chalet, either. I just don't understand him. All right. Do the make up lessons, and I will try to tease him about it gently. Maybe being caught doing something so swishy as *asking* for lessons will open him up to me. Oh, and use some of the wigs to change his hair color when you change his face. Drill him on color matching. And please, Maria, no matter how hard you find do it, at least *try* to act a little condescending about his efforts. I don't want this one becoming too confident of his skills."

"For goodness sake, why, Jane?" Maria asked, once again exasperated.

"Because he is smart enough to recognize that escape from here *is* possible, and a boy who can change into several different and believable female identities would have an excellent chance to do just that." Jane said solemnly.

"You really think that is a possibility? We've never had a boy take off before."

"Michael did, and in his own way, this one is just as different and just as intelligent as Michael."

Maria considered that and nodded. "All right. I'll teach him, but I'll try to make him think he's not making as much progress as I am sure that actually will make."
 
 
Part 3:
 
Darla sat demurely in the "hot seat" in front of Jane's massive antique desk. The child had to be a natural mimic and actress, Jane thought. *No* one would ever think that the person seated there had been, no more than three weeks ago, a rough and tumble young male. Even his most subtle gestures were becoming noticeably more feminine.

In the days since Maria had begun the girl's requested cosmetics training, Jane had done her level best to get a rise out of the child, but not even her best, most pointed, male- ego-deflating jibes elicited any real reaction. When compared to a blond bimbo, the girl merely became more calm. When teased about her sudden "interest" in girlish activities such as make up and hair care, she brushed it aside as just one or two more things she needed to do in order to satisfy Jane.

Which it didn't. Satisfy Jane, that is. How could she rebuild him into a decent, mature man if she couldn't find the key to taking apart his obviously overblown adolescent male self image? Darla had been in her care for almost three weeks and Jane had yet to get a single reaction from the boy consistent with her plans or her experience. It was maddening.

It was also frightening.

"I asked you in here, Darla, to discuss your future with you." Jane said somewhat sternly. "Frankly I am not sure I am going to be able to help you. A great deal of my program has always involved the assistance of my senior student while the junior student did not know that the senior was also a petticoated boy. You are now under two distinct disadvantages, so far as my program helping you. First, you know that Stephanie was a boy and two, you no longer have an older sister to help me guide you along."

Darla repressed an urge to swallow and schooled her features not to let her inner fear show. "Surely, Aunt Jane, you have had single student situations before. There had to be a first student, after all."

"Hmmmm, yes, just so, and we've been trying those strategies since Stephanie left us so precipitously. However, over the past few days Maria and I have been trying that particular program variation with you with little or no effect."

Darla thought about the last week and wanted to scream. There had been the tea party with that society matron who all but rapped his knuckles with her cane whenever she saw the slightest departure from feminine gentility. God only knew what the old lady would have done if he'd slipped up and shown himself as a male. Then there was that guy who had come over for dinner with all his snide little innuendos and nasty teasing "compliments". As much as Darla had longed to retaliate, at least in kind, he hadn't dared because he might be forced to leave, and it had still been too soon.

Here Darla had spent the past week using every ounce of will power and control to do precisely as he was told and to be the best girl he could be, and now after all that effort, here she was telling him it somehow wasn't good enough for her?!?

"Does that mean you are going to send me back to jail?" he finally managed to get out in a shaky voice.

Interesting, Jane thought. *That* was a reaction. Is Maria correct? Is she *that* afraid of jail? "We need to talk about that, dear."

"I've been doing my very best, Aunt Jane. Really I have. If you could just tell me where I am falling short, I will work ever so hard to correct that." Darla said in a very feminine rush. "I *really* do want to stay here."

Jane pinched the bridge of her nose against the tension headache that was building behind her eyes. "I *know* that, Darla. Still, I must tell you that I am not sure that you are going to benefit from my methods."

Real tears cut black mascara swathes though the carefully applied foundation and rouge. "If you could just tell me what I am doing wrong, Aunt Jane, I would do anything to correct myself for you."

What a coil, Jane thought dejectedly. How do you tell someone that what she is doing wrong is that she is doing everything much too well? What am I going to say to her? Start screwing up a bit more, and oh by the way, if you could just manage a bit of male boorishness so that I could correct and embarrass you? Oh, and don't forget to be properly humiliated when I try to humiliate you.

And yet, none of that was Darla's fault. There was no question that she was doing everything she could to follow Jane's many rules. Goodness, during their latest trip to the Marisha Chalet, the girl had all but badgered poor Caro into showing her more of her cosmetic tricks to improve the skills she had already learned from Maria.

She closed her eyes hard against the steadily worsening headache. The failure was hers, not Darla's, and sending her back to Judge Ruth was, just as Maria kept haranguing her, patently unfair. But how could she convince herself the child was reformed if none of her tried and true methods and indicators worked with this student?

"Darla, I truly want to help you growing into the kind of person you have shown every potential of becoming. And I know that sending you to jail won't do that, but thus far into the program, you are unique in my experience. I just don't know if I *can* help you."

"So what will you do, Aunt Jane?" Darla asked in a quiet, breathless voice.

"Keep you. For now, anyway. We will continue with your lessons in deportment, manners and presentation." Even though you could practically teach each of those disciplines, Jane mused. "And we will see what we will see." She began to dismiss the girl, and then halted herself. "Darla? Why are you trying so hard?"

Surprise flickered on the feminine young face. "Don't all of your students? Try hard, I mean?"

Usually, Jane thought, but only after they have been through the hellish first weeks and are more in touch with the gentler, more feminine side of their personalities. "You are particularly determined, dear. I'd like to know why. Is it really the fear of jail?"

Another look of surprise slipped past Darla's guard, and she hesitated momentarily. "Well, yes, Aunt Jane, of course I am." she said with overly dramatic emphasis. Then, as if realizing that had been an error, she rushed on to add. "Remember, I was in a gang, and several of the older members had spent time in prison. I have heard all the horror stories. They really do scare me."

Of course they do, Jane repeated mentally, except if that is the problem, why did you have to think about it? "All right, dear. Please go change into your ballet shoes and tutu. Maria will be overseeing your practice at the barre today. I want you to work particularly hard on the basic positions. Hopefully, we will have you en pointe in a couple of weeks.

Darla rose. "Thank you, Aunt Jane." she said emotionally, gave a quick curtsey and hurried from the room.

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

Darla made an expansive movement with her free hand as she steadied herself by gripping the long railing that went the length of Jane's dance parlor. She looked for all the world like a young girl fully into the intricate steps and presentation of ballet, but her mind was a million miles away.

Jane was thinking of sending her away - back to where . . to where he came from. To jail. Or worse.

At a sharp command from Maria, Darla slid gracefully into a deep plie, and held it for a five count before rising slowly and shifting into the first position.

It was time to begin preparing for that eventuality, Darla decided. Whatever else might happen, he could not face what would be in store for him if Jane gave up on him.

DAMN Jane, Darla fumed. Wasn't she trying hard? She was staying *up* late every damned night practicing her cosmetics, her movements, her mannerisms, her voice inflections. Why couldn't Jane simply come out and tell her what it was that she wanted from Darla that she wasn't getting. He could do it. He *would* do it because he *had* to do it.

If it could be done at all.

Why couldn't things stay as they were? Jane and Maria made him feel safe. If only they knew what a rare and wondrous gift that really was. Darla would do almost *anything* not to jeopardize that.

Which was exactly the danger Stephanie's father posed for them all - he threatened the anonymity Jane required for her program to function. Which was doubly a problem for Darla. If Jane was exposed, and he was still here, he'd be exposed, too. And a story like this would go national, very quickly. It would be just too juicy, to easy for TV reporters or guys like Leno to make snide little one-liner jokes about. Within days, everyone in the country would know about Ms. Jane Thompson and her girls' school for wayward boys.

Another reason to get ready to leave, he told himself. It wasn't just his skin anymore.

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

"Wow, Momma-Jane. And that was just a few days ago? You really were in a pickle. She is really that good, that quickly? And she really doesn't react to your games at all?"

"No, Michelle, not at all. The only things she's reacted to was the threat of going to jail and being run over by the clod at the mall, and the result of that was she gained an unusually high degree of confidence in her disguise and in her ability to carry it off. She *knows* she can pass under very close scrutiny now. You are the only student I have ever had who was better at the masquerade than she is, and it took you months to get where she has gotten in just a few weeks."

"Maybe she really *wants* to be a girl." Michael offered.

"You mean as in SRS? I had not considered that, but it might explain a great deal. How do you embarrass someone with their chosen self image and sexuality?" Jane pondered it for a moment. "Still, I don't think that is it - at least not quite. Some part of the puzzle is still missing."

"And the only time she reacts at all negatively is when you discuss her leaving?" A soft teasing chuckle caressed Jane's ear and warmed her tired soul. "Maybe she has decided she loves you and wants to be with you. That is why she's working so hard."

"Right," was Jane's sardonic response. Keep on believing such winsome thoughts, love. Well, I guess I have to keep her. If she is playing a game, trying to convince me she is already reformed, she is doing an excellent job of it."

"Maybe Judge Ruth made a mistake and she does not really need to be reformed at all."

That drew a chuckle from Jane. "Right. Well, darling, I have to go. You are leaving St. Andrews tomorrow morning?"

"Day after tomorrow, actually. A little after ten in the morning. You sure you don't want me to stop by? Janice's and my schedules are pretty flexible. I could easily spare a few days for my favorite Evil Stepmother."

"Oh, you!" Jane laughed. "Just be here in time for college to start in the fall, okay? And have some *fun* with that delightful chatterbox you fell in love with."

"MOMMA JANE!!!" Michael complained loudly.

"Yes, darling? Don't worry, Michael. Have a wonderful time with your Janice. Ta, love. I have to run. Thank you for calling and for caring."

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

"Jane?" Maria's voice cut through Jane's fatigue-fogged mind as she tried to think of yet some other new way to deal with Darla. Since her talk with the girl three days ago, Darla had, if anything, become even *more* determined to be perfect in her role as one of Jane's girl students. It was getting to the point where *Jane* had to remind *herself* that Darla was actually a boy. "Jane?" Maria said again, louder as she tried to get her friend's attention.

"What is it, Maria?" she finally asked.

"Have you done something with a couple of the wigs? The long, blond one you use when you want them to play Heidi in braids and the short black pageboy? I was going to brush them out and put them back in storage but now I can't find them anywhere."

"I don't have them." Jane replied, still distracted. "When did you see them last?"

"A few days ago, when I was giving Darla lessons in hair care and makeup."

"Did you check Darla's room?"

"Of course. They aren't there."

Jane shrugged. "Well, they are around somewhere." What Jane was going to say was interrupted by the ringing of her phone.

"Hello? Oh, hello, Mrs. Evans, how are you? Good. What can I do for you?"

"Ms. Thompson, I should have called you sooner. I am sorry I did not warn you that my ex-husband was coming after you. I do apologize for that. I was actually hoping that he'd understand that what you were doing with Stephan was something our son needed."

"He didn't." Jane said flatly. "More than that, he threatened me and everyone who has ever been a part of my program."

"I know." The woman paused audibly, and then pressed on. "And that is why I am calling you. Stephan called me last night, Jane, and he thinks his father has decided to expose you publicly regardless of the consequences to Stephan."

"For god's sake, why??? I thought he understood the potential damage to his son's reputation? Didn't he say he wanted Stephanie to succeed him?"

"*Stephan* told me that his father is so disgusted with his gentle and caring behavior - my words, not his - that he has about decided his son is a lost cause. He can't go after me because I still control a significant piece of the voting stock in his company, but there is very little I can do to stop him from going after you. You evidently did your job very well, Jane. Stephan is exactly the gentle man you promised he'd be. Unfortunately, his father wanted a shark."

"So he is going to sacrifice his son to get to me." Jane said with evident disgust.

"That is Stephan's belief. For what it is worth, Jane? He told me he did not care about himself because he doesn't want what his father has. He *did* want me to warn you so that you could be prepared for what is likely to happen."

"Thank you for that, Deirdre. Anything else?" Ice literally hung from each word.

"N. . . no, Jane. That is all, except. . . I am sorry for this. I never even considered he'd want his custody rights this year. In truth, I had actually forgotten he even had those rights from the decree."

"Guess we both know he does now, don't we." Jane replied acidly. "Deirdre, I have to go and do what I can do to protect my friends and students. Thank you for calling. . . . . . . .This time." and she slammed the phone down onto the cradle. "Bitch!" Jane growled.

"I guess that means it is all over and I go back to start my jail sentence." came a soft, not-femininely inflected voice.

Jane's head snapped up and saw Darla standing in the doorway to the office. One look at the chalk white face told Jane that her student had heard more than enough to know what was going down.

Everything inside Jane rebelled against this young man facing prison. Regardless of what the evidence presented against him in court *proved*, there was now absolutely no doubt in her mind that the conviction was a miscarriage of justice. And Jane was going to see justice was done. "No, you're not." Jane said emphatically. "Maria, call Caro and Sandy. Tell them I want them here tomorrow to do a tear down on Darla."

Maria nodded and left the office. "Tear down?" Darla asked.

Smiling sadly, Jane gestured Darla over to the cozy conversation grouping next to the fireplace. "It sounds worse than it is, dear. That is our little phrase for undoing all the little feminizing touches that made Darryl into Darla. Sandy and Caro are almost as good at undoing as they are at doing."

"What happens next?"

"I tell Judge Ruth that I consider you completely rehabilitated and then I find someone, probably one of my former students, to take you in and see to your education for me while I deal with the fallout from Mr. Evans' attack."

"I don't understand. You told me that you didn't think you could help me just a few days ago. And today you are setting me free?"

"Sounds strange, doesn't it? You just didn't fit my preconceptions, Darla. . . I mean Darryl. You were here because you had been convicted of felony with a deadly weapon, but your behavior didn't fit. Instead of being argumentative, you were reasonable. Instead of being combative, you were cooperative. You listened and you always tried your best. Your composure is almost inhuman. None of which matches with the aggressive, violence-prone personality that your conviction indicated. When you did not respond to my humiliation ploys, and in fact, seemed to thrive, I was afraid you were immune to my program. I have just now reached the conclusion that you are actually immune - not because you are beyond my help, but because you don't need my help. Not that way in any case."

Jane stood and went over to the small wet bar and poured two snifters of brandy. She handed one to Darla. "I know you are under age, but I think we both need a medicinal draft. Sip it, dear. It is a little strong if you aren't used to it."

They sat in silence as they sipped the strong amber liquid. "Darla?" Jane asked. "Could you tell me the real story? What happened? Why were you there at the bank with a weapon?"

Shock registered on the girlish face. "You know, that is the first time anyone has asked that question that way. Thank you, Aunt Jane." Darla took a fortifying sip of the brandy and then looked at Jane. "You know that my brother is my only living kin, right?" Jane nodded. "You also know that he is a thorough-going son of a bitch. He has killed at least three people that he has admitted to me, and has injured a dozen others. He's raped members of both sexes. He never went down for any of those, although he did some time early in his career on a B&E conviction."

"And that's really where you got your fear of jail?"

Darla had the grace to blush as she recalled her earlier, hasty answer to that question. "Mostly. Several of his rapes occurred inside and he delighted in telling me all the grisly details, all the while making comparisons between his victims and me. Anyway, as to how I ended up at the bank, he was short of money and decided to knock over the bank. He needed a helper and I made the mistake of being available. It was either do as he said or get killed." Jane's heart stopped at the matter of fact way Darla stated that belief. "The robbery went sour. Someone got out a silent alarm and the place was lousy with guards and cops before we could get away. My brother used me as a diversion and made his own escape."

"I see." Jane rose and took the two empty snifters. "Maria will get your bags and boy things out of storage later today. I suggest you go and get some rest. Tomorrow will be a rough day for all of us."

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

The house was very still and quiet as Darryl crept from his room. One of the few semi-useful skills bequeathed to him by his brother was the ability to pick just about any lock with only the most minimal of tools. In this case, he had used the materials at hand - hair pins.

The return of his male clothing by Maria the previous evening made his plan much simpler. Trousers, shirt, a ball cap to hide his still curly locks and soft soled shoes were much better for what he had to do than a dress and heels. He also now had a carry-all for the things he would need in order to disappear.

Reaching the decision to leave had been the hardest thing Darryl had ever done because he really did not want to leave. There was a lot to be said for good hot food, a warm clean bed and people who cared about you and for you. Darryl believed that Jane cared, even when she was doing her level best to humiliate him to the depths of his masculine soul. She'd been pretty good at it, too, he admitted to himself wryly. If he'd been a normal guy, he'd have long ago been reduced to a quivering mass of jelly by her tricks.

But, thanks to his brother, he'd long ago ceased to be a normal guy.

No, Jane's bite was pretty good and her bark even better, but it was tough love from a soft heart. Which was why he had to leave. Tomorrow could be too late. If Stephan's father loosed the dogs of the media on Jane and he was still here, even as Darla, there was a near certainty risk that he would be seen. That would pose an unacceptably high risk that he might be recognized as Darryl, even if he was rigged out as Darla. If that happened, Jane and Maria would be in danger of their lives.

That could *not* be allowed to happen. They had taken him in, cared for him and had protected him. Now it was his turn to do the same for them. Since he couldn't stop what Evans planned to do, this was the only other way he could think of that would ensure their safety.

Silently, he crept down into Maria's pantry where he knew the petty cash was kept. That had not been his reason for helping her in the kitchen, but it was now a side benefit. He was going to need enough money to get away. He hated this most of all, but he had to have money if he was to get *far* enough away, quickly enough that they could not find him and bring him back. There was two hundred dollars in the till, and Darryl put in an IOU back into the box along with a promise to repay them as soon as he could. They wouldn't believe it, not after his apparent betrayal, but he would pay them back. He could do that much at least.

There were tears in his eyes as he made his way out of the kitchen towards the front door. He stopped at the door and made one last sweeping look of the first real home he'd had since his Mother died, and then reached for the door.

Bright light flooded the hall foyer, momentarily blinding Darryl. Stunned, he spun around and saw two ghostly figures standing behind him among the exploding starbursts of his dazzled vision.

"I am very disappointed in you, Darryl." Jane said softly. "Didn't you believe me when I promised to send you to safety? Do you doubt my word so much that you feel you have to escape like a thief in the night?"

His vision cleared enough to see the pain on both Jane's and Maria's faces and it broke him. Wrenching sobs burst forth from him, and he fell to his knees his head buried in his hands.

And then both Jane and Maria were there, pulling him to his feet, leading him into Jane's study.

Holding him as he cried. Holding him until he'd cried himself out.

"I have to leave." he finally got out. "I can't be here when the reporters come, Jane. You've got to let me go for *your* sake."

Jane tried to understand, but couldn't. Maria came back into the study with a glass of juice. "Here, cheri." she soothed. "Drink this. After all those tears, you need the fluids."

Obedience to her orders was almost second nature by now and Darryl drained the glass before continuing to plead his case. "You have to let me go, dammit. I am a danger to you if I . . if I . . " Darryl's voice was getting steadily weaker and his movements more languid. "If I stay." he finally whispered before his eyes closed and his body went limp.

Maria and Jane worked with practiced efficiency to get him onto the couch and covered with an afghan. "Good work, Maria." Jane congratulated.

"He'll be out at least until mid morning. Why don't you get some sleep. I will stay with him until seven or so, and then you can sit with him until he wakes up."

"All right." Jane turned to go back to her bed and then stopped. "What do you think he meant when he said he was a danger to us?"

"I don't know, but he also said he had to be gone before the reporters come. They haven't shown up yet so perhaps whatever he is afraid of hasn't either. Still. . . . ." Maria walked over to Jane's desk, opened a drawer and withdrew a nine millimeter automatic pistol. She competently ejected the magazine, worked the action to ensure there wasn't a round chambered and then reloaded the magazine. Looking Jane squarely in the eye, she chambered a round and set the safety.

Nodding, Jane left the room.

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

Four hours later, Jane came back into the study. Maria greeted her and smiled. "Well, one mystery is solved." she said tiredly. "Look in the suitcase."

Curious, Jane padded over to the open case and looked inside. Her head immediately snapped back up in surprise. "I don't understand." she whispered. Inside the case were both missing wigs, an assortment of dresses, skirts, blouses and shoes, and almost all the cosmetics from Darla's vanity. "He was escaping, but he was going to switch back into a female identity once he'd made his getaway?"

"Looks like it, Jane. I don't understand either and it is going to a few more hours before we can get any answers from him."

"Go to bed, Maria. I'll watch him. I am going to have to call Judge Ruth anyway to tell her that Darryl has passed and is a free man. There will still be some paperwork to clean up on her end before we can send Darryl off to Wyoming."

Solemnly, Maria handed the weapon over to Jane. "Round chambered, safety on, Jane." she said parroting the police officer who had taught them both to shoot the weapon.

Jane took the gun, checked the safety, and then went over to the chair next to Darryl's makeshift bed, and took up her vigil. It was still a couple of hours before she could call the Judge. Hopefully, the reporters would not be on her doorstep before she could get her latest child out of harm's way.
 
 
Part 4:
 
Interlude:

>>One Oscar Romeo, LoJak detection. Suspect stolen vehicle has stopped at corner of First and Church. Has not moved in almost five minutes. All night liquor store in that area.<<

The fifteen year veteran of the Danville PD picked up the microphone. "One Oscar Romeo, Roger. We are approaching that location. Sirens and Lights off. Request backup do the same. Over."

"Roger One Oscar Romeo. Two Oscar Romeo and duty sergeant en route your location. Will advise them of covert approach. Over."

"One Oscar Romeo - Out." The cop looked over at his partner, a rookie fresh out of the academy and sighed. This would be her first liquor store. "Okay, Watson." he still had to smile over that name - as if he was Sherlock Holmes. "Let's talk about how we are going to handle this."

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

Second Interlude:

Harold Smith was feeling pretty good about himself. Better than good - he felt terrific. What more could a man need out of life he thought to himself as he took another healthy swallow of Johnny Walker Black. Good booze, money in his pocket and someone who was afraid of you.

Harold looked at the shuddering shop keeper whose own eyes were fixed on the large black handgun in Harold's meaty fist. He could see the man's terror, could smell his fear and that was power! What more did a man need, indeed?

Then Harold recalled the reason for this cross country jaunt. He didn't have his bitch. Somehow, that little pipsqueak had beaten the rap. He didn't get his scrawny ass sent to prison and there hadn't been any report of the trial in the papers. That had bothered Harold because the kid was supposedly going to be tried as an adult which meant that the jury trial proceedings would not be sealed.

A midnight trip to the public defender's office hadn't been very helpful. The little punk lawyer he'd caught in there hadn't been able to tell him what happened, except that things like that happened from time to time, particularly when that cunt judge was handling cases.

Too bad about the lawyer, but he'd seen Harold's face. He'd had a right cute fuckable little ass on him before Harold had blown it away for him. Well, soon enough he'd have his own private piece back in his possession. The court reporter hadn't seen his face, but she'd seen Maggie, his bad assed gun well enough. She'd told him about this Thompson bitch and her mini-reform school.

Harold hadn't killed her, but they'd be a long time finding her in that boarded up shack he'd left her tied up in. Maybe she'd live, he mused, but that made no never mind to Harold Smith. In a couple of hours, he'd be in that Kingston burg and he'd just take back what was rightfully his.

Or else the little bitch was going to die right along side anyone else who got in his way.

"Come on, mac." he said silkily as he fanned the handful of bills under the store ownner's nose. "I know there's more money than this around here. If I don't have at least five hundred in my hands in thirty seconds, you won't ever have to worry about being robbed again." Harold waved the forty four magnum in front of the man's face. "Understand?"

"Yes sir!" the man all but squealed. I'll get it, just don't shoot me."

The man went down on his knees behind the counter and Harold took another pull on the open whiskey bottle. Once he saw the cash, he'd take this sucker out and be on his way in style. Stupid of people to have such nice cars and not put alarms in them - not that it would have stopped him. Harold had been disabling car alarms since he'd been eleven years old.

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

Third Interlude:

One Oscar Romeo was parked just down the darkened street from the liquor store. "I am going to approach, Watson. I want you to cover me. He's been in there too long. We can't wait for the backup any longer. We have to make sure he doesn't hurt anyone. And Watson?"

"Yes sir?" the young voice cracked from the tension.

"Don't shoot unless it is to protect the civilian or me, and then be damned sure of your target. Got that?" She swallowed hard and nodded. This one was going to be a good cop, he thought again. Nodding his approval, the veteran cop drew out his service weapon and began making his way toward the storefront, keeping in the shadows, all the while praying that this time he wouldn't be too late.

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

Fourth and Final Interlude:

<<BOOM!>> <<BOOM!>> <<CRACK>>

Even before the large body crashed through the storefront window, the cop had recognized the sound. A double barrel shotgun had unloaded both barrels and a heavy caliber weapon had returned fire.

He was running now. His streetwise eye told him that the bleeding mess on the street was no longer alive so he raced into the shop to find the clerk on his back unconscious, bleeding from a three inch long gouge in his scalp, right above the temple. The sawed off double barrel shotgun was still clutched in his hands.

Sirens sounded nearby and soon, two other cruisers were outside, blocking off the street. Watson had done the right thing, he thought, calling in shots fired and requesting immediate backup. She'd kept her head when the bullets started flying which meant she just might make a good cop.

The sergeant was first on the scene. "I've called for an ambulance, Allyn." he said in a tight voice. "But whoever that is outside is not going to need it."

Officer Allyn stood. "This one does although I think it probably looks worse than it is."

"Thank god for those auto tracking systems." the sergeant said quietly. "You would never have been here without it."

"I did nothing, Sarge."

"That one may live because you were here and you know it."

"If you say so, Sarge. Hey, where's Watson?"

The sergeant smirked. "In the alley losing her last three meals. Your bad guy is about cut in half. She took one look and turned green."

"Hey, don't pick on my partner, Sarge. She did good tonight and I seem to recall you telling me that you puked your guts out the first time you saw a shotgun victim. You told me that when I had done it myself."

"Forensics will be here in a few minutes. Looks pretty cut and dried to me. Must be someone new. I don't recall ever seeing that guy working around here before."

"The lab boys will know soon enough. I just hope homicide gets here and takes over soon. I need to get Watson out of here." The older man nodded his agreement and Allyn made his way out of the story in search of his partner. She'd be in need of a little praise just now and she'd definitely earned it.
 
 
Part 5:
 
"Hello, this is Judge Ruth." came the firmly in command voice on the phone.

"Don't you know staid old officers of the court are supposed to use their last names? More dignified that way."

"And listen to everyone who calls me mutilate my family name? Not likely, dear. How are you, Jane? And how is young . . . what did you decide to call her? Darla?"

"I'm okay for now, Ruth. Darla is why I am calling you. He's okay, too."

"Well, it's just as well that you called because I was going to call you. I don't know whether this is bad or good news. I'll have to rely on you for that. Darryl's brother Harold, who is his only living relative that we know of, attempted to rob a liquor store last night and was shot and killed in the attempt. He was in Danville Connecticut which is pretty strange since he has never operated outside this city before."

"He's really dead, Ruth?" Jane asked quietly.

"Confirmed by the Coroner this morning. They called our police department for confirmation of the FBI fingerprint data. The officer who took the call is one of us. In fact, she was the one who arrested Darryl. My own opinion is that the world is a better place without that rabid animal on two legs prowling about."

"He was shot in Danville? In Connecticut? Not in your town?"

"No. He must have been on his way to find Darla. Apparently he'd found out your address by kidnaping and threatening my court clerk - she escaped from the broken down shack where he'd left her and turned up here half-hysterical only an hour or so ago. Right now she's sleeping off whatever the doctors gave her to calm her down. We also have reason believe he's behind the murder of one of our public defenders last night, too.

Jane put two and two together and went cold. "He was coming here, Ruth? After Darryl?"

"It fits the data, Jane. The Public Defender who was murdered didn't know anything about your connection to my office, but the clerk had to know since she wrote up the plea bargains.

"God, Ruth, I hope she is going to be all right."

"Looks that way. She'll get counseling to help her deal with the aftereffects.

"I think it is likely that Harold is also the one who got young Darryl into the situation that led to his conviction." Judge Ruth continued, "I personally believe Darryl did it under extreme duress, but the DA, who is up for reelection, wanted to believe otherwise. Easy conviction. It took some fancy footwork to get him to release Darryl to you, let me tell you."

Jane recalled Darryl's confession the previous day and decided that it *was* good news. She just wasn't sure how her young charge would take it. "I have some things I need to talk to you about, Ruth, in regards to Darryl."

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

The smells of breakfast were the first thing that pierced the veil of Darryl's sleep. A soft smile played at his lips as he thought of Maria puttering about her kingdom. Darryl came awake and upright with a start. Maria! Jane! He had to get away. Had to protect them from his brother. Harold *couldn't* be allowed to find out where he was and who he was with.

A strong hand gripped Darryl's arm to stop his flight. "Not yet, young man." Jane said sternly. "You will eat your breakfast and then, if you still must go, I will help you. Now, come along before I drag you by your ear, boy."

Undone by his hunger and by his need to spend just a few more minutes with Maria and Jane, Darryl let himself be led by his arm to the table. Maria set a steaming plate filled with all Darryl's favorite foods in front of him. "Eat." she ordered.

Jane took her place at the head of the table and Maria, unexpectedly, took the seat next to Darryl. "I have some news for you, Darryl, while you eat. First, I spoke with Judge Ruth while you slept."

"While I slept off that drug you fed me in that glass of juice." he accused around a mouthful of waffles.

"Don't speak with your mouth full, young man. Just because you are no longer in skirts does not mean you may dispense with good manners at my table." Jane snapped. "And don't interrupt. It was for your own good. Now that Judge Ruth has expunged your conviction from the court records upon my recommendation, your slate is clean and you are free to go. . . that is, as free as any underage ward of the state."

The tears started again. "I can't stay, Aunt Jane. I can't be seen here or worse, photographed here."

Maria put one arm about his shoulders and used his napkin to dab away his tears.

"I don't know for sure, but I think the other thing that Judge Ruth told me may have a bearing on that decision, Darryl. Your brother was killed last night. He tried to rob a liquor store and the owner took exception. He had a shotgun at hand and used it on your brother."

Darryl stilled, becoming completely motionless, his face devoid of any feeling. Jane reached across to take his free hand. With haunted eyes, Darryl looked up at Jane. "He's really dead? Truly?" His voice was barely a whisper, but the emotion in his words yelled.

"My word of honor, dear. He cannot hurt you anymore."

The young man's resolve shattered "Oh God." the boy wept. "Oh God, its over. Thank you, God." And then both women were there, holding him again as they had the night before.

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

"So when I figured out what you did here, I realized that knowing how to disguise myself effectively as a girl might be my ticket to freedom. My brother would be looking for Darryl, not Darla. Harold thought he owned me - *really* owned me. He was crazy and I knew that one day he was going to kill me. Then I got sent here. The first time Maria decked me out in full girl clothes . . . well, I looked so real, so believable even to me. I thought I might be able to pull it off well enough to live a fairly quiet life, finish school and go to college. I hadn't figured out how I'd do that - getting accepted to a college as a female - but I thought there was time to solve that problem. Anyway, I figured that if I could drop out of sight for a few years, my problems with Harold would take care of themselves because he'd be dead. Someone would decide he needed killing." Darryl said quietly.

"So when Mr. Evans threatened me with exposure, you decided you had to escape to protect us from your brother?" Jane still couldn't get over that part of the plan. He wanted to stay with her, and yet, he had been willing to leave her to keep her safe from a danger he himself posed for her.

"If Harold ever saw a picture of Darla and recognized Darryl, he would have come after me. Like I said, he believed that he owned me." the boy said quickly, hiding his face. "You would have tried to protect me and he would have killed you. I couldn't let that happen. Not when you have been so good to me."

Jane threw her hands up in mock despair. "Good to you?? Lord, every boy I have ever had in my little charm school believes I am the female personification of the Devil Incarnate, at least for the first few months, and *you* tell me I was good to you? I knew my little humiliations and such were not reaching you, but *Good to you*???"

"I've been in and out of the foster care system for five years now, Aunt Jane. Most of the folks who take in kids for social services are okay. They see to your basic needs, but a lot of them can't let themselves really care anymore. I saw you were different right from the start and Maria is an open book. She wants to mother me and had to stop herself several times a day. And besides. . ."

Darryl drew a deep breath. He owed her this, and maybe, she could help with that, too. "Once someone has been . . .raped, over and over again, it takes a great deal to humiliate that person any more than he already has been."

Fire flashed in Jane's eyes. "That . . .*scum* . . . *raped* YOU?!?!?" Jane had to stop herself when she realized she was screaming. Furious, she swung away and stormed about the room cursing like a longshoreman as a wide eyed Darryl could only stare at the vengeful Valkyrie. This was for him, he thought in wonder. She looked ready to kill and it was for him.

With obvious effort, Jane finally managed to compose herself and went behind her desk. "One of my students," she said with great deliberation, "is a highly respected psychologist. I am going to ask him to talk to you. He recommended a therapist for another of my boys once, but his issues were different than yours. However, whatever you need, whatever will help you, I will see that you get it."

"I don't want anybody digging around in my head!" Darryl shot back.

"Tough." Jane said as she returned to his side. "You wanted to take care of me? Wanted to protect me? Same goes. Live with it. Until Ruth orders otherwise, you are still legally my ward and in this case, young man, you *will* do what I say."

Darryl looked like he wanted to say something more, but was interrupted by the doorbell. "Now who could that be?" Maria asked worriedly.

Jane rose and walked towards the foyer. "If it is the first of the reporters, I will deal with it." and she disappeared around the corner.

"MICHELLE??!?!" Maria and Darryl heard Jane's exultant shout of delight followed by "What in heavens name are YOU doing here?"

Darryl watched as Jane was escorted back into the study by a young, very pretty blond. His now experienced eye recognized the sweater and skirt ensemble as deceptively casual, very expensive Laura Ashley fashions.

"I heard you might need a big sister, Momma-Jane." the girl said before Maria all but tackled her for her own greeting.

Jane began to recover and looked back and forth between once and current students as they gave each other a thorough going over. "Well, I believe introductions are in order. Darryl, this blond scamp is my honorary daughter, son and former student. Michelle when she is rigged out like this, and Michael most other times. Michelle, this is Darryl, formally Darla."

This is a guy? Darryl thought in amazement. No way! Jane has to be pulling my leg on this one. Stephanie was good and she fooled me when I first started here, but this one beats her all to hell. No way.

"Pleased to meet you." the blond vision said as she offered her hand, wrist bent just so.

"Same here." Darryl responded, wondering for a moment if he was supposed to kiss the girl's hand like someone out of an oldtime movie.

"Now." Michelle said, his voice dropped almost an octave, becoming decidedly masculine, shocking the other boy, "Could someone please tell me just what the hell is going on here?!?!?"

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

Michelle was okay, Darryl thought to himself as he rested in his room. And it was obvious that Jane adored her. . . errr him.

Oddly enough, Michelle found herself thinking much the same things about Darryl, and then grinned at her use of the feminine pronoun. When rigged out as Michelle, Michael often slipped into referring to himself in the feminine tense. Sort of like learning to think in a second language.

What a mess, Michelle thought. What to do? Maybe Janice would have an idea. She'd managed to get him and his Mother past their little rough patches with her enthusiasm, wit and ready mouth. She'd just give her a call.

Besides, it was an excellent excuse to make the call, and he missed her terribly.

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

A very surprised Jane watched her two girls descend the stairs an hour later for afternoon tea. She'd rather expected to see Michelle change into Michael, now that he understood she did not need a big sister for Darla, but she obviously hadn't. So why was Darryl back to Darla instead?

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

"So Janice figured that the best way to nip through this is not to admit anything, and since everyone in town knows Darla and not Darryl. . ."

"Michelle and I figured it was best that Darla make a comeback since I don't plan on leaving here anytime soon. You made the mistake of telling me I could stay, Aunt Jane."

Her head spinning, Jane looked from blond head to red head and back, trying to make sense of this. "And Janice figures this is the best way to muddle through all this?"

"Well." Michelle said with a twinkle, "I have to admit it made a great deal more sense when she was telling me to do it, but then, many things tend to sound much more reasonable while Janice is talking than after she stops."

"I have got to meet this woman." Darla put in.

"Back off, little sister." Michelle growled. "She's spoken for."

The pair of them shared a giggle and then turned their attention back to Jane. "I'm not sure it will protect you and Maria, Momma Jane," Michelle continued. "But we may be able to insulate the other members of your group, and certainly the other students. After all, we're just two silly sissies who like wearing skirts. All of your other students were real girls, weren't they?" Michelle said equably.

Jane felt like someone had just put her world into a food processor and turned on the motor. It *definitely* had all the markings of a "Janice Plan". "And you would do that? Let the world think of you as sissy-boys, just to help me and my friends?"

"Your friends, mostly, Momma-Jane. In all honesty, we tried, but we just can't think of a way to save you and Maria, but if we become the focus of the reporters' interest, that might keep them off Caro and Sandy and Mrs. Franson. They might even be able to deny knowing we were boys since you had brought so many other real girls to them over the past years."

"That might work," Jane mused. "But no, its out of the question. You two are blameless, and I don't want your lives getting messed up by this."

The two faces opposite her became ludicrously male under their cosmetic masks. "We'll be here, Momma-Jane." Michelle said in a low growl.

"Count on it." added Darla in Darryl's hardest tones.

"I don't want you hurt, dammit!" Jane screamed. "I love you two idiots!"

"Same goes." said the two boy-girls in unison. "And if we can help at all, we are going to stay and do just that." Michelle added.

"We've decided." Darla added flatly.

Jane could hardly believe this was happening. Two of her boys just sitting there, prepared to accept public exposure and humiliation? Moreover, determined to do so? "I see."

"I just wish," Michelle said thoughtfully, "That we could save Stephanie while we were at it."

"Too bad dear old daddy Evans doesn't have a sissy-boy girlfriend of his own squirreled away in some love pit. We could sneak in and get some nice blackmail pictures to hold over his head." Darla offered with an evil smile.

"Darla!" Jane said with trenchant disapproval.

"That only happens in stories on the Internet, Darla. I can't see that being very likely from everything I've heard about Stef's father. Man sounds like my father. A pathologically homophobic, excessively macho, manipulative son of a bitch."

"Your father." Jane said, her eyes going unfocused in thought. "I had not thought of that, Michelle, but you are correct." A glimmer of an idea began to spark inside Jane's head. Would something like that work? What had Deirdre said? About why her husband could not afford to hurt her?

"Michael?" Jane said, so absently she did not even realize she'd used the masculine name. "Do you know anything about Evans? About his business affairs?" Then her wicked smile flickered. "Since I seem to recall you had a detective agency check Stephanie out when I told you he would be here alone without a big sister."

Michelle went white. "How did you . . .? When did you . . ?"

Now the smile became brilliant. "When your Mother called to ask me about it when the bill showed up on your credit card bill. Sloppy, Michelle," Jane teased. "Very sweet, but sloppy."

"It's not like you gave me a heck of a lot of time for subtlety when you took Stephanie on after I went back to St. A's." he grumbled at her reproach. "Okay, I have the file packed away somewhere, but what I recall about the father is that he is a hard nosed business type who made his bundle as a corporate raider during the hostile takeover days of the early eighties. Currently, he is president and CEO of a nice, profitable multinational company specializing in high quality electronic components. That's all I remember. Is that what you had in mind?"

"It's a start. I wish we had more information about his company. Damn, there is just not enough time to collect it."

"Mom might know, or she might know someone who knows. Want me to call her?"

Jane brightened. "Excellent idea, Michelle. Do call her and then come back. We have some brainstorming to do."

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

"Well, I will say one thing for those lawyers my father hired. They are quick and they are thorough." Michelle mused in grudging admiration. He was riffling through a small stack of papers that had been faxed to Jane's home just a few moments earlier.

"So what did they say?" Darla asked. "And more to the point, is there anything we can use?"

"Well, it seems the company went public right after he bought it. At the time, he kept a voting majority of the stock and sold off the other forty nine percent. Unfortunately for him, Stef's Mom caught him with his pants down, literally, and took him to the cleaners at the divorce proceedings. She now has a total of seventeen percent of the voting stocks. Most of the rest is held by the members of the four man board of directors. What they don't own, they vote by proxy."

"May I see that?" Jane asked holding out her hand. Michelle handed it to her and watched Jane go through each page carefully. "Oh my God!" Disbelief rang in Jane's voice. "This is just too much of a coincidence. It cannot be the same person."

Michelle and Darla were up on their feet in an instant. "What?!?!?" they both asked.

Jane did not answer, instead reached over and pulled out the heavy scrap book that Michelle recognized as her Rogue's Gallery of Graduates from her infamous charm school. She flipped through its pages quickly until she found what she was looking for. "Goodness," she murmured before lifting her eyes back to her rapt audience. "Darla? Go find Maria, please. Michelle? Please get your Mother on the line for me while I make a couple of phone calls on the other line. If we are going to do anything, we need to move quickly."
 
 
Part 6:
 
Samuel Evans was not a happy man. One reason for this was that one of the most powerful board members had summoned him to a meeting. Summoned *him* like some damned lackey when *he* was the power in this company. He'd have to break that pompous ass during the next major board meeting. That pompous old fool might own almost twenty percent of the stock in this company, but so long as Samuel still voted his ex-wife's stock shares, he could overturn any board action and oust any member.

The second reason for his bad mood was that there appeared to be a major move on the publicly available stock in his company. Someone or some organization had recently acquired nearly four percent of his stock, and while that had pushed the value of his company's stock steadily upward, not knowing who was doing it and why they were doing it were cause for concern. There wasn't enough stock available to threaten him, but it was disturbing that he did not know where the move was coming from.

The biggest reason for his current fury, however was once again his damned son. After all the trouble he'd taken to rescue him from that bitch, he had turned on him - his own father! The pansy-ass wimp told him, just the other day, that since he was now over 16 years of age, he was old enough petition the court to change the custody agreement to suit his own wishes. Further, the ungrateful little bastard was going to do just that as soon as he got home to his bitch of a mother. How the hell was he going to undo the damage done to his son's masculinity if the damn kid wasn't ever around? The answer was that he couldn't and given the kid's current attitude towards his *father*, it was probably already too late anyway.

Samuel Evans was not going to let them get away with ruining his son, his *heir*, . . .his *SUCCESSOR*! He'd stop them, he swore, and he knew just how to do it, too. If she was out of business, *Ms. Jane Thompson* wouldn't be able to do any more harm to Stephan.

Tomorrow, he'd start fixing that Thompson bitch's wagon, and he was going to enjoy every damned minute of it. Just thinking about her picture plastered across every newspaper and tabloid, or about her being dogged by TV cameramen and reporters with microphones to jam in her face improved his outlook on life. And if his brat of a son got splattered with the same muddy brush in the media, well, that was just too damned bad. It was Deirdre's fault, after all, not *his*. She could be the one who had to live with it just like that Thompson woman was going to have to live with the hell Samuel Evans was going to make of her life.

A knock sounded at the door to Evans' office. "Enter." he called out.

His executive assistant stuck his head in the door. "Mr. Evans, you have that one o'clock meeting in the boardroom with Mr. Johnson and his party."

"Thank you." Evans answered curtly. "I will be there straight away."

After making sure that his unwelcome guests had cooled their collective heels for almost fifteen minutes, Evans breezed into the boardroom, a patently false smile of welcome on his lips. "David, good to see you. I am sorry to be late, but I was on the phone with the Tokyo office and you know how early they have to get up to talk to me."

The two men shook hands, giving Evans a chance to survey the rest of the room. Surprise momentarily brought him up short when he recognized his ex-wife sitting beside another very attractive woman of middle years. Additionally, there were three young women who might be anywhere from teenaged to early twenties. And then he saw a third older woman, standing at the window, her back to the main room.

"Glad you could make it, Evans." the older man said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Just a minute while I get the last member of our little meeting."

Samuel took his seat at the head of the table while Johnson left the room. Moments later, he returned escorting *Stephan* into the room.

"What is the meaning of this?" Evans growled. "What is he doing here?"

"He is here at my request." Deirdre said softly "Since in two years *he* will be voting my shares and since this meeting affects him."

"We'll just see about that, Deirdre, darling." Evans said with exaggerated solicitude before his face hardened. "All right. Let's get this over with. What the hell is this all about, Johnson. You were bloody secretive about this and I am much too busy to play kids' games."

Johnson smiled. "Very well. First let me introduce the other members of our little party. The lady seated by your wife is Mrs. Barbara Davis whose late husband was the president of Nash Enterprises. Next to her is her daughter, Michelle Nash and her companion, Darla Smith. And I believe you already know this lady," he said softly as he offered his hand to the woman still standing at the window.

Jane Thompson turned and Evans felt his mouth drop. "YOU!!!" he yelled, completely out of control.

"Hello, Mr. Evans, we meet again."

Evans was out of his seat, advancing on Jane, raw fury in his eyes. "I am going to destroy you, woman, as you destroyed my son. You won't be able to show your face anywhere in the world when I finish with you."

Johnson interposed himself between Jane and the other man. "Sit down, Evans, and shut your mouth." he ordered coldly. "I am not finished with the introductions yet."

"You can't talk to me that way!"

"Yes, I can. Now sit down and listen, or hear it tomorrow at an extraordinary board meeting I will call to review your removal as president of this company. Even if I cannot pull it off, the attempt will make the papers and wire services. You know what that will mean to your precious company."

For long moments, the two men stood toe-to-toe, staring at one another, until Evans smirked, shrugged and strutted back to his throne. With a regal wave of his hand at the older man he said "Please, do continue, honored sir."

Jane took a seat at the table next to the as yet unnamed female at the table before Johnson continued. "It has come to my attention, Evans, that you intend to retaliate against Ms. Thompson by slandering her in the press. You do not want to do that."

"It is not slander if it is the truth, old man. What the various. . .supermarket newspapers make of that is their concern, not mine. And I most certainly *do* want to do precisely that."

A slow smile lit the older man's face. "Do it, and you will be out of this office and on the street in twenty four hours. Mrs. Davis has had the executor of her husband's will buy up all the shares of the company that could be had. You currently control how much, Mrs. Davis?

"About six percent, Mr. Johnson, perhaps a little more."

"I control twenty three percent, Evans. Twenty of my own and three percent by proxy."

Evans stood. "Why don't you just stop while you are ahead, Johnson. As long as I vote fifty one percent of the stock, you can't do anything to me and you know it. So, if you will excuse me?"

"But you *don't* vote fifty one percent anymore, Samuel." Deirdre Evans said in a very quiet voice. She slid an envelope over to her ex-husband. "In there you will find a legal document revoking your authority to vote my seventeen percent of the company by proxy."

Johnson smiled ferally at the stunned company president. "With Deirdre's and Mrs. Davis' stock, I now vote forty six percent of the stock. I figure you have pissed off enough of the other shareholders to give me that last four percent I need to toss you out on your ear."

For a long moment, Evans could only stand there, at the end of the table, his mouth open in utter bewilderment. "What do you want?" he finally asked, already knowing the answer.

"You will leave Ms. Thompson and her school alone. If any word of her activities, and I mean *any* word leaks to the press, I will have you removed within twenty four hours. I don't particularly care if *you* are really behind the leak or not. So long as you keep your mouth shut and forget your petty little vengeance, you can keep your position as president."

Nothing was said as every eye in the room fixed on Evans. Slowly, he lowered himself back into his seat. "No one can run this company better than I can."

"True enough. But we'll get by."

"And as long as I don't go after *her*" his finger pointed at Jane accusingly, "You leave me alone?"

"As alone as we have left you up until now. You will be the president, and as you said, no one can run this company as well as you. We will still be the board of directors, responsible to our shareholders to ensure that the company remains profitable. Nothing changes."

"Ha. Except that I no longer have the power to tell you all to go to hell and you now have the power to tell that to me. You win, Johnson. You have my word that I will take no retaliatory action against Ms. Thompson." Evans said in a subdued voice.

"As someone said, trust but verify, Evans. By noon tomorrow, I will have proxy authority in hand for Deirdre's and Mrs. Davis's shares. Be very careful."

A spark of the old anger flared in the man's eyes, only to be quickly tamped down. He nodded and watched as everyone else rose from their seats to leave. "Johnson? One moment. Why? What does that. . .that *woman* mean to you? Why are you doing this?"

Johnson looked at Evans, and then to the young woman who still had not been introduced to Evans. She nodded slightly, and the old man smiled proudly before turning back to face the defeated man at the end of the long table.

"Let me tell you a little bit of family history, Mr. Evans. Without going into any of the dirty details, I can tell you that my only grandson got himself mixed up in some deep, deep trouble. He was involved with some bad people and was heading for a very bad end. His parents and I were at our wits end - we'd tried everything - or thought we had. It was only a matter of time until he ended up in jail or in the morgue."

The old man smiled over at Deirdre who returned it. "Then your ex-wife saw me at a board meeting, looking particularly low. She teased the entire story out of me, and told me of an old friend of hers who might be able to help us help my grandson. Simply stated, Mr. Evans, Jane Thompson saved my grandson's life. My daughter sent him to Jane. He was a tough nut, and it took her the better part of a year to finally get through to him. Eventually she broke him of all that macho stupidity and built him back into a man I am proud to call my grandson. More than that, a man I am pleased to call my friend."

The old man held out his hand to lithe, young brunette. With easy grace, she rose and glided across the room to stand beside Johnson.

Smiling up at the old man, she reached up and pulled off her hair.

The short haircut beneath the wig looked ridiculously incongruous atop the perfectly made up face. "May I present to you my grandson, Mr. Evans?" Johnson said with steel in his voice, and was pleased at the look of disbelieving shock on the other man's face.

"If you attack Jane Thompson," Johnson continued in a softer yet intensely threatening tone, "You attack *my* grandson because it may well come out that he lived as a young girl for that year he was supposedly abroad at a European military boarding school. Attacking my grandson, Mr. Evans, makes you my blood enemy. Do you understand now, sir? More importantly, do we understand each other now?"

Evans could only nod, his eyes wide.

"I thought you would." He turned back to his femininely turned out grandson who was patting the wig back into place under Jane's watchful eye. "I think we are through here. Good day, Mr. Evans. See you at the next regularly scheduled board meeting. Unless you do something to force me to call one before that."

With that threat still hanging in the now silent boardroom, Johnson shepherded the women, Stephan and his grandson out the door.

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

Maria was waiting at the door when Jane's beloved Lincoln pulled into the driveway. She smiled happily as she ushered Michelle, Darla and Jane into the house. There was a high tea already laid on the sideboard of the breakfast nook and the two young ones fell on the food with ravenous appetite.

"Ladies!" Jane admonished with a happy grin. "Manners, please, unless you would both like some remediative training? You'd think they haven't seen food in days, Maria."

Smiling sheepishly, Darla swallowed hard and put down her plate with an obvious effort. "Well, I've sort of been off my feed the past few days, even after we fixed things out at Stef's place, I was always just a little nervous at playing Darla in front of quite so large an audience."

"You did great." Michelle offered, barely remembering to swallow first. "It gets easier and you have a great look anyway."

"Well, I would rather have switched to male stuff after the confrontation with Evans."

"I told you when you asked to be involved, dear, that I couldn't leave with a girl and return with a boy without raising a lot of questions we'd rather not answer." Jane gently reproved. "You knew from the very start that you'd have to stay Darla for the duration of the trip. And I agree with Michelle. You did very well. You stood up to some very tight scrutiny, particularly at the airport, and passed easily."

Darla flushed bright crimson as she recalled the incident. They'd been waiting in the lounge for their flight when Jane and Michelle had needed to use the Ladies Room. Darla wasn't quite up to that and had told them she'd wait for them. By the time Jane and Michelle had returned, Darla had been trying to fend off the attentions of three young lotharios, all determined to talk her into a short walk about the terminal. And Jane, the dirty sneak, had just stood there in the shadows and let Darla sweat until it looked like one of her suitors was going to get a little physical. Well, at least Jane had come to her rescue when Darla had *really* needed it.

Calling upon the control that had so frustrated Jane for the past four weeks, Darla forced a smile onto her lips. "Yes, I guess that's so. They never knew they were hitting on a guy, did they?"

Jane chuckled. "No, they didn't." Jane took a sip from her tea and let herself relax. "So, Darla, what do we do with you now?"

The girl stopped in mid-bite and looked up at Jane in surprise. "I don't understand, Aunt Jane."

Thoroughly amused, Jane savored the picture before her. "My goodness, child, have you gotten that comfortable with the masquerade? What I meant, dear, how are you going to live - as Darryl or as Darla?" At her student's still blank look, Jane relented a bit. "I have already formally reported to Judge Ruth that you were rehabilitated, dear. There is no longer any reason for *me* to keep you in skirts."

Darla put down the fork and thought about that. "I could go back to being Darryl now, couldn't I?"

Jane smiled. "Yes, you could, and in fact, you probably should. It will greatly simplify getting you into school and then later into college. There's only one small problem with that idea. As you pointed out once, Darla *has* been seen around these parts. Not very often, but you have been out and about as Darla and you *do* make a very striking, memorable girl. I don't think anyone outside of my little cadre has seen enough of you in skirts to look at Darryl and see Darla."

"But it is a possibility, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is possible, but not likely. You haven't been in the masquerade so long that your mannerisms are truly entrenched."

Darla's eyes dropped to the hands she had demurely put into her lap and consciously moved them to rest on the arms of her chair.

"Hard, isn't it?" Michelle asked gently in his normal masculine voice. "Don't let Jane fool you, Darryl. You are going to have those little gestures for a very long time. They'll just slip in. Maybe you'll be the only one who notices them, maybe you won't, but they are a part of you now. Same with Darryl in Darla. You're gonna do something masculine if you continue to dress and you'll be absolutely *positive* that everyone in the room will have seen it and *know* you're a guy. Trust me, I've been there. Most of the guys at St. Andrews are convinced I'm gay now. But it doesn't matter to me anymore - what *they* think just doesn't matter any more. I am beyond that now."

Michelle stopped for a moment, as he pinned Darla with a hard stare, then nodded to himself. "I think you are, too, Darryl- Darla, so why don't you just make the decision that works best for you?"

Darla thought about that, and had to agree the Michael was in the right of it. Numerous times while they'd been out of town, he'd caught himself forgetting some little feminine gesture or movement or intonation. It had been terrifying when it happened, but nothing had come of it. And just now, he'd instinctively done a very feminine movement of his hands and it had nothing to do with being dressed as a girl. It had just seemed. . . . natural somehow.

"I guess so, Michael." Darryl said in his own voice. Then he turned to Jane. "So, who is better for Aunt Jane?"

"Oh no, dear. Don't put that decision on to my poor old head. I don't want you regretting your choice and blaming me for it later."

Darla shook her head. "Okay, then, how would I go to school as Darla? More importantly, how could Darryl go away to college if *his* records from high school say "f" in the gender box?"

Jane considered that for a moment. "I have a friend at the local high school. I think it could be arranged for you to go as Darla, but have your private records, the ones that get sent to whatever college Darryl applies for, indicate your real name and sex. Failing that, I know I can arrange that at the local girls' boarding school, except you'd live with me as a day student."

"And I could still go to college as a male?"

Jane nodded. "I don't see why not."

"And I would stay with you, regardless of my decision?"

"Yes." Jane said simply.

A thought occurred to Darryl. "Could you take on more students if I was here as Darryl?"

"I don't know. I've never tried before. Maybe, but it would be difficult in many ways, and I don't know how it would work out for the boys. Part of the program is to immerse them in an unrelenting feminine environment. Your presence here as a male would likely have one of two impacts. Either you will be seen as a male lifeline, as something to help them center themselves around their male self image, or being seen *by* you will drive them over the edge more quickly."

"You sound hesitant, Aunt Jane." Darla noted.

She smiled wanly. "Because I am, dear. I hate to admit this, but I am something of a creature of habit - particularly habits built on a foundation of success. I don't like deviating from what I know works. Most boys walk a very fine line in their first few weeks under my tuition. I have a very good idea how most of them will react to my little tyrannies *in the environment I usually work with*. Your presence here as Darryl changes that environment in unpredictable and potentially dangerous ways. I do not know if I could bring a new student into such an uncertain situation."

Darla considered that. He thought about where he'd be right now if Jane had not taken him on and made his decision.

A loud knock ended what the feminine young man was about to say. A disgruntled Jane started for the door only to be headed off by Michelle. "I've been practicing my Janice-talk, Aunt Jane. I'll get rid of whoever it is."

Only he didn't, and returned to the breakfast nook with a huge smile on his face. "Look what the cat dragged in."

Stephan walked into the room, a brightly smiling Michelle hanging on his arm. Moments later, Jane and Maria had the boy in their arms, hugging him tightly. "When did you get in?"

"An hour ago, Aunt Jane. I missed the flight you were on and caught the next one."

"But why? You were free, dear, and by the way, I am very proud of the way you handled yourself with your father."

The tall boy blushed, and grinned. "Thanks. Having you there for me helped a lot. I came back because I wasn't done. *You* hadn't released me and when my Mom sent me to you, I promised to stay the course until *you* said I could leave. Besides," he grinned looking at Darla. "I thought you still might need a big sister for Miss Priss over there. I figured that was only fair trade for all you've done for me. Each-one-teach-one, right?"

"And you came back." Jane said softly.

"And I came back."

Jane felt like heart was going to burst, she was so happy and so proud. "Thank you, dear." she said softly. "Except, Darla graduated, too. She doesn't really need a big sister. In fact, we were trying to decide whether she was going to go to school as Darla or Darryl."

Stephan grinned widely and offered Darla a hand to high five. "Way to go, little sis!" he cheered.

"So." Darla spoke up for the first time in a while. "How am I going to go to school, Aunt Jane? I've got plans for my life." She preened in a caricature of the movie femme fatale sexpot. "After all, I am not going to be beautiful forever."

And was immediately buried under a barrage of pillows wielded by screaming, giggling friends.

Jane let the giggling pillow fight go for a few minutes before laughingly breaking it up. "Enough, you lot!" All three young faces had a lovely red flush and bright, mischievous grins. Jane turned her attention to Darla. "So, do I take that as your decision to finish school in skirts, young man?"

She watched as her ward composed himself, and could literally see him becoming increasingly feminine with each passing second. Finally, Darla nodded. "If there is any chance my living here as Darryl might cause you not to take on another student like me, or might keep you from helping someone else in your care. . . well, I just cannot be responsible for someone else not getting the opportunity for a new life that you gave me. Besides," and here the grin became gamine, "I want to be the big sister."

Jane sniffled once and by force of will, stemmed the tears burning behind her eyelids. She was just so very proud of these three youngsters. "You'll be a great one, love." she assured him softly. "One of the best. Thank you."

Before Jane could say another word, Darla was in her arms hugging the breath out of Jane. "Thank you, too, Aunt Jane, for everything."
 
 
End of Tales of The Season - Darla's Story



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