Seasons of Change - Book 7 - Part 1 of 2 - Caitlyn's Story

Caitlyn, Jane's latest student, is about to be sent back to the system.
So far, the Season's Program has not worked as the student is just too clumsy to successfully pass.
The question is WHY?

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Seasons of Change
Book 7 - Part 1 of 2
Tales of The Season
Caitlyn's Story

by Tigger

Copyright © 1999,2001,2012 Tigger
All Rights Reserved.

 


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

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


 
 
Part 1: Demons in the Night
 
Clichéd as it might sound, it *was* a dark and stormy night. A much-anticipated Canadian cold front had pushed down into southeastern New England only to collide with the sweltering humidity of a July-Bermuda high. The resulting thunderstorm had been an awesome explosion of sound and light, and for a time, had distracted the woman seated in the elegantly furnished home office from her dark thoughts and even darker feelings.

Jane Thompson was an austerely handsome woman, not quite pretty, but her classic features were the type that did not change significantly with the passing years. When she admitted her age she was nearly fifty, but she looked at least fifteen years younger than that. This night, the still dark auburn hair that she ordinarily wore in a severe bun or a perfect chignon was unusually mussed and hanging down loose about her elegant face. The finely etched wrinkles lining her normally smooth forehead gave mute evidence of the steadily building headache behind the icy blue of her eyes.

The room suddenly seemed to close in about her, becoming stifling, almost airless. Jane stood and walked over to the door that opened onto her beloved English garden and flung it wide open. For several minutes, she simply stood behind the screen door, letting the still mist-dampened breezes cool her. "If only all my problems were so easily solved," Jane sighed aloud.

How many times, Jane reflected as she returned to her seat, had she found herself sitting up alone in the darkness like this? How often had she been the only person awake in her huge old Victorian mansion planning the next trial or excursion for one of her students? How many nights had she lain awake, unable to sleep because she had been worrying if she had pushed some boy too hard or too quickly, or if she had not pressed another one far enough? Probably at least a dozen times for each and every one of the nearly sixty young men she'd taken into this very house as her students.

Her students, Jane thought with a slight ghost of a smile, only *left* her home as "young men". With rare exception, they had all been little more than obstreperous boys when they'd arrived at her house as prospective students. Boys she'd subsequently forced into learning to behave like proper young ladies so that she could then help them learn to become fine young men.

*The Jane Thompson Winsome Girls Home for Wayward Boys,* she thought to herself, *the name Marie and I have jokingly given my little program over the almost twenty five years I've been doing this.* She remembered yet again that the big FIVE-OH was looming very large on her personal horizon - only a little more than two years in the future. *Where have the years gone?*

"Spent making money and building young character," she told herself. The financial games helped to assuage Jane Thompson's not insignificant competitive drives. Profit and loss statements were the scorecards that clearly showed who won and who lost in that type of sport, and Jane *liked* winning - a *LOT*. In fact, Jane won quite regularly at the game of high finance - so much so that only the most reckless of the financial high rollers dared crossing entrepreneurial swords with her anymore.

However, those pleasures paled into insignificance when compared to her other avocation. She had become a teacher so that she could be close to and work with children. Eventually she had focused on a very specialized curriculum - petticoating wayward boys. Jane's unique program had a long history of success with her students, helping them to turn their lives around and to grow into productive, caring human beings - *men* in the finest sense of that overused and often misused word.

The truth was that her boys filled a basic, deeply seated need within the complex woman who was Jane Thompson - a need for family. Jane's be-skirted young men, along with Marie and a few carefully chosen and completely trusted co-conspirators, were Jane's family, and she had come to love each and every one of them. *Even if some of them never quite believe that I do until after they've left me.* she thought wryly.

Jane Thompson's love was often a very tough brand of love, but collectively, her little circle of friends and students filled a ragged bleeding hole that had been torn into Jane's life that day over twenty-five years ago, when a viral infection had attacked her ovaries and fallopian tubes. The resulting fever had left Jane delirious for more than four days, and she had very nearly died. Jane had survived, thanks in large part to the heroic efforts of some superb doctors, but her dreams of ever holding in her arms a child of her body had not.

And Jane had come to view the words "sterile" and "barren" as being the foulest words in the English language.

She'd only lost two young men back to the system - spectacular failures to be sure - one to a life of violent crime as a drug runner and the other to a life of "legal crime" as an unscrupulous corporate robber baron.

Those failures haunted Jane, particularly on this dark, airless night, because tonight Jane had finally forced herself to confront the growing likelihood of a third failure. Carlton Everett Jeffries the Fourth, known for the past five months as Caitlyn, seemed no closer to "graduation" now than he had at the end of his first month in her program.

"DAMN!" Jane exploded. Everything about this boy should have been a perfect fit for her regimen. Deprived of parental attention. . . getting in with the wrong crowd . . acting out to fit in. Eventually, he'd gone too far, had found himself in Ruth's courtroom and under Jane's special tyranny shortly thereafter. She'd been almost gleeful at the thought of working and playing with this boy. But as Robert Burns said, the best laid plans of mice, men and petticoat disciplinarians oft times go a' glee. Or something like that. Suffice to say that things began to go awry.

Several unanticipated problems cropped up once Caitlyn had begun to settle into what passed for Jane's routine. The worst of these problems was Caitlyn's lack of coordination. Simply stated, the girl was an absolute *klutz*!

Putting the girl into a pair of high heels was an invitation to disaster. No amount of reluctance or recalcitrance could fake the badly swollen ankle that had laid Caitlyn up for over a week. *Twice!* Even Jane's trick of forcing a student to study ballet to improve her grace and poise had been a complete flop. Jane did not even like *thinking* about her charge's performance at dance school.

For the first time in Jane's long experience, and despite her large and continuing financial contributions to the dance studio, the ballet instructor had actually asked Jane not to bring Caitlyn to class anymore.

"She tries hard, Ms. Thompson, really hard, but with our spring performance coming up, it just wouldn't be fair to the other girls. I promise all of my ladies that if they work for me, I will find a place for each of them on the stage, but . . ," she shrugged sadly at Jane.

The instructor had been right, of course. Even aside from the risk of additional injury to her charge, Jane couldn't have Caitlyn falling in the middle of performances the other girls had worked so hard to make beautiful. Unfortunately, Jane also saw Caitlyn's effort and wanted to see that continue, too. Ultimately, the two women had compromised. Caitlyn's recent ankle injuries were used as reasons to keep her out of the shows, but she would continue to take class with the dance mistress, working on her floor-work, basic positions and at the barre.

Then there was the not-so-small problem of make-up. If Caitlyn's gross physical coordination was abysmal, her fine motor skills were even *worse*. Her hands shook visibly whenever she tried to execute the delicate movements of brush and pad needed to apply cosmetics properly and subtly. When she attempted anything but the lightest, simplest "at-home" look, the girl came out looking like a circus clown at best and a five-dollar-an-hour streetwalker at the worst.

Unfortunately, both problems were far more serious than they might sound at first blush. Jane's program required a certain degree of "near-exposure" to work. Fear of being discovered as a boy in girl's clothing served as "incentive to succeed" for her students. Once that fear of discovery effectively diverted the boy's attention, the other, more important elements of Jane's program demolished his false, angry pride so that a sounder, more positive self-esteem could grow in its place. Only after they'd made that leap forward could they begin to see themselves and their surroundings in a new light.

For the first time in her memory, Jane couldn't take any pleasure in her excursions with one of her students. With the all the others before her, Jane's carefully orchestrated dances on the edge of exposure had terrified them but given Jane a delicious thrill of power. With Caitlyn, though, the risk of exposure was just too real. Her garish makeup (when Jane forced the issue of having the girl do her own) drew unwanted attention.

Worse yet, there was always the very real possibility that her clumsiness might cause her to fall and hurt herself badly enough to require treatment at an emergency room. Jane had gone to the hospital with an injured boy-girl once before and had just barely managed to get away without revealing her student's masquerade. Jane knew she could not count on being that fortunate again. The moment some orderly or nurse discovered the secret currently hidden in Caitlyn's delicate lace panties, all of Jane's previous students would be compromised as well.

Jane felt cornered by this decision. Caitlyn was obviously trying as diligently as than any student she'd very had in her program. Yet Jane knew she would shortly have no other legal option but to send her back to Ruth and a more traditional juvenile correction program, however ineffective that might be.

She snorted derisively to herself, *Yeah, like my program is any better. At least in this case.* It seemed . . . no, it WAS patently unfair, but Jane was caught up in a horrible moral and ethical dilemma - with serious legal overtones.

The court order required Jane to provide training that would rehabilitate Carlton into a polite, law-abiding citizen, but as yet she'd been unable to do that. Lord knew she'd tried, but so much of Jane's program had been stymied by Caitlyn's inability to master the skills of passing unread as a girl in public.

If she couldn't help the child to learn to behave properly, she was legally bound to return Carlton to state custody. Unfortunately, to date, Jane could provide no hard evidence of the sort of radical, extremely obvious transformation in attitudes her methods required. Jane had to be able to certify that the improvements were *real*, and that the student wasn't putting up a very convincing act during the relatively short time frame she had him under observation.

*God, what a coil* Jane fumed. *If only he wasn't one of the court order-referred cases. If he'd been sent here by his family, then I could just keep him with me until I found *something* that worked for him. Only he *is* a court case and soon I will have to answer to Ruth for his progress. What do I do then? Lie to her? DAMN!*

Tomorrow, she told herself. She'd look at the whole situation again tomorrow before she made any permanent decisions. "Playing Scarlet O'Hara now, are you, Ms. Jane?" she chided herself aloud, "And besides. It already *IS* tomorrow." In her heart, she knew she was only postponing the inevitable and that soon, all *too* soon, she would be legally required to start the process of making Caitlyn back over into Carlton so that she could then send Carlton back to Judge Ruth and the boys' home.

But not tonight - she wouldn't . . . couldn't do it tonight.

Jane's beloved antique grandfather clock chimed twice for two AM. Wearily, she pushed out of her chair to go to bed, not that she expected to sleep, but she had to try - no matter how badly she felt about failing Caitlyn.

"Face it, Jane Thompson, that boy is part of *your* *family* now - one of your boys to help and to protect - and you cannot stand facing that you have failed him," she told herself sternly.

Rationally, she knew the situation wasn't entirely her fault. There was more than enough fault to go around to all the key players, but knowing that did not do much to lighten Jane's own guilt and feelings of inadequacy. Jane *knew* that Carlton would not rehabilitate at that juvenile detention facility. Certainly her other two failures had not been improved by that experience, unless you believed in negative improvement. Still, she couldn't think of anything else she could do with the child at this point. She tried every sneaky trick and humiliating stratagem she'd accumulated in over twenty-five years, but all to no real effect.

With a heavy heart, Jane made her way silently up the stairs to her room. Only force of long habit made her glance down the hall towards the student rooms. Instinct told her that there was something wrong an instant before she could put her finger on what that something was.

There was a faint halo of light arcing onto the hall rug from beneath Caitlyn's door. *Why is she up at this unholy hour?* Jane wondered before her icy fear clutched at her heart. *Is she planning to run away? Or maybe she already has run off, but left the light on?*

Jane turned and ran down the hall to her upstairs study. Inside, she slipped in behind her desk and turned on the surveillance monitors and selected Caitlyn's room. These new devices had seemed a prudent way of keeping watch over her students in their early days, especially after her experiences with Michael and Kendra. She could set tasks for her boys and then watch to see how they reacted in what they presumed was the privacy of their room or bath, so that she could intervene in time if something went seriously wrong.

The gray image coalesced into the color picture of a figure moving about in the intensely feminine room. For several long moments, Jane could only stare, unable to credit the evidence of her eyes. It was not possible. There was simply no way that figure on her monitor could be Caitlyn.

But it was. Amazingly - almost unbelievably - it was Caitlyn, but it was a Caitlyn Jane had never seen before.

Caitlyn was dancing. There, in her oppressively feminine room, in the middle of the night, Caitlyn was dancing.

Jane took a few moments to absorb the scene. Her student's appearance was like nothing Jane would have believed without seeing for herself. Caitlyn had outfitted herself in one of the dance leotards, completing her outfit with the classic ruffled skirt of the ballerina's tutu. Her hair was up in a perfect dancer's knot and her face, Jane thought in amazement, her face was beautiful. The student who could not seem to create anything but the most garish cosmetic presentation, even after months of makeup instruction, had achieved just the right effect for the role she was dancing.

Even without the music, Jane recognized the choreography - Caitlyn was practicing one of the lead dancer's solos from "Sleeping Beauty", the ballet that Caitlyn's dance school was currently planning for their spring performance later that month.

Only then did Jane realize that Caitlyn was not only dancing, she was dancing en pointe. *None* of her boy-girls had ever achieved that level of proficiency before - mostly because it wasn't necessary. Jane's purpose in having them practice dance had always been twofold. First, the exaggerated arm and hand movements, along with the steps improved her students feminine presentation and grace, and of course, her other reason for such a girlish activity was that it gave her plenty of opportunity to tease and humiliate the little darlings. *Still, I have never before had a student stay in dance class long enough to develop beyond that goal. Klutzy-Caitlyn,* she thought using Darla's disgusted nickname for her little sister, *has been in that dance class far longer than any of my other students.*

Perhaps it was Jane's fatigue-fogged mind, but it took several moments for her to realize precisely how well Caitlyn was dancing. Her steps and positions were precise, her spins balanced and flowing, her leaps powerful yet graceful. Moreover, she was obviously working to perfect her interpretation of the dance routine. Every once in a while, she would stop, go back and then repeat a sequence of movements over and over again until Jane saw her nod her satisfaction and then proceed to the next steps.

*This does not make sense,* Jane thought over and over again. *Kicked out of the upcoming performance - almost kicked out of the dance class entirely and NOW the girl was dancing like THAT!?!? How is this even possible?!?* Jane fumed as she watched the screen. *This is not the clumsy, stumble-prone child I see falling all over the dance floor three times a week at dance class. This is a talented, proficient young dancer. Maybe even a prodigy.*

Jane sat glued to her monitor, watching her student move confidently through the entire dance solo one last time. Just as she finished, her alarm clock buzzed. Caitlyn turned off the alarm and than sat down to undo her hair and clean off her makeup. *Does that efficiently and well, too.* Jane noted.

Caitlyn carefully gathered up the disposable items she'd used to clean up and hid them in the pocket of her bathrobe. She folded her leotard and slipped it into her dance bag along with the toe-shoes, then she shrugged into her nightgown and got back into bed.

Jane continued to sit and stare at the monitor long after the room had gone dark.

A student who still cannot put her hair up without tangling it or put on makeup or dress herself without looking like a clown - an ungainly, uncoordinated accident waiting to happen on the dance floor or on the sidewalk.

A lost cause.

A *Failure*!

That is what everyone had concluded about Caitlyn over the past few weeks, and yet, Jane had just seen how well her student had really absorbed her teachings.

A key question in all of this was why was she hiding her light under a bushel? A student who could make herself look as pretty as Caitlyn just had done, who could move as beautifully as Caitlyn had been dancing, had certainly mastered everything that Jane wanted her to learn about the masquerade. Surely, the girl knew that life around the Thompson household became much easier once Jane saw both effort *and* progress on the part of her girls. Darla had become so exasperated with her seeming intransigence that she'd come out and told the girl that, but to no apparent effect.

The other question that begged an answer was where and how had Caitlyn learned to dance like that. Jane was not an expert, but there was little doubt in her mind that what she had just witnessed far outstripped anything the current soloist was capable of doing in both skill and maturity of presentation. *Maybe her male ego is still so rigidly inflexible that it won't let her do something so femme as be even considered for the part of the prima donna dancer in a ballet.*

Perhaps that was what she was dealing with here. Was Caitlyn sufficiently motivated to passively resist Jane's program and, just as importantly, skilled enough as an actor to simulate effort to comply with the program? Well enough to fool even her, with all of her experience with boys pretending to get the message?

Then again, perhaps that was not the case with Caitlyn. Again the grim question assailed her - was Caitlyn intentionally tripping over her own feet just to defy her? Would even the most rigid, gender-phobic male ego be able to justify practically crippling herself with clumsy falls whenever she was made to wear heels?

She still did not have an answer. Perhaps, more honestly, she did not really want to *know* the answer.

Who was she really dealing with at this point? An implacable, bad actor in Carlton, or a very unusual Caitlyn? And if it was Carlton resisting her method so much more effectively than any student Jane had ever taught, why in god's name would he get out of bed at two o'clock in the morning to dress and make himself up so beautifully and then dance? Why would he chance his deception being discovered?

Ejecting the tape cassette from the recorder, Jane pondered her next course of action. *What to do, what to do? Should I go in there and confront her with the proof of this tape?* Shaking her head, she put the tape into her desk. *No, that might change her behavior if she knew about the hidden surveillance cameras. There is more to this than meets the eye. Obviously, there are things about Carlton Everett Jeffries IV that his parents have not told me.* Jane considered that line of thought for a moment. *Perhaps because they don't know themselves?* That made as much or more sense as anything she had just witnessed over the past hour.

Jane evaluated that theory for a moment and then pulled out her planner. She found the number she wanted and dialed it. The office was closed, of course, but Jane left a voice mail message asking for an immediate phone conference.

Once that was completed, Jane made her way back downstairs to her office. She had plans to make and she would not be able to sleep after that performance anyway. Her mind was too full to relax, so she might as well try to figure out what to do next.
 
 
Part 2: Confrontation and Disaster and Unexpected Strength
 
The morning breakfast table found Jane exhausted - mentally, physically and emotionally. Only her own superb cosmetic artistry gave her any semblance of a decent night's rest. Darla, with her own skills honed over the past two years as Jane's ward and assistant, could tell that Jane had used a much heavier hand with her makeup than was her normal preference for breakfast at home. Marie saw the same thing, but with her longer experience with Jane also took in all the signs of a sleepless night and moreover, she thought she knew why.

Caitlyn only knew that Jane seemed more irritable and sharper-tongued towards her than she had been for quite a while - since her first few weeks under Jane's supervision. *I wonder what she has in store for me, today* she thought morosely. *God, I am so tired of feeling helpless.*

"Girls," Jane's firm tone broke through Caitlyn's thoughts, and she looked up from her plate to the older woman. "We will be doing some more walking practice today, Caitlyn. I am determined that you will attend Edith White's ball next month wearing those lovely white sling-backs we purchased for you last week."

Darla groaned inwardly, wishing Jane would just give up. Walking practice meant yet another morning wasted trying to keep Klutzy Caitlyn from breaking a leg or worse. Still, she had promised Jane that she would help. "All right, Aunt Jane. What time do you want us and where do you want to do it?" she asked, pasting a forced smile on her lightly colored lips.

Jane gave her ward an approving smile, but shook her head. "Not you today, Darla. You have that appointment with Caroline this morning. You may use the car. Marie will be assisting us. Perhaps you would clear the table and take care of the dishes before you leave?"

While post-meal KP was definitely *not* Darla's favorite chore, it was infinitely better than yet another session of fighting to keep Caitlyn from killing herself in high heels. "I'd forgotten, Aunt Jane. I'll be happy to take care of the clean up." She rose and began to collect the dishes.

"Thank you, Darla," Jane approved before turning to Caitlyn and Marie. "Marie will oversee you putting on make up suitable for evening wear, and then you will come down to my office. We will practice in the main hall today."

Caitlyn nodded, a weary look on her face. "May I be excused, please, Ms. Thompson?"

"You may," Jane responded. The girl rose from the table and prepared to leave the room when Jane lifted a hand to halt her. "I expect you to give me your *very* best effort today, Caitlyn," she said in a tightly controlled voice. "Your future depends, in large part, on how you handle yourself today. Now is the time to put your best foot forward. Do I make myself clear, young lady?"

Caitlyn felt her heart start pounding and had to fight to keep from squirming under Jane's stare. "Yes, ma'am. I understand," she replied with only a slight tremor in her voice before curtsying and leaving Jane's presence as quickly as she could.

Jane watched in silence as the girl walked out of the room. Then, with a sigh, she reached for the coffee pot to refill her cup. She desperately needed the caffeine.

"Is this in the way of a last chance, Aunt Jane?" Darla's soft question made Jane jump. "I mean, didn't you say just the other night that there was no way you could let her go to a deserted park in heels let alone to something with as much visibility as one of Edith's debutante monstrosities? Do you really think you can get her up to that level in the few weeks you have left when you've already spent months working her with nothing to show for it?"

"I can't tell *her* this is her last chance, Darla. She just might give up on me and I can't have that. However, I suspect you are right on that score. Ruth's probation officer will be meeting with me soon to review the girl's progress, and I just don't have much of anything to report that's positive. She hasn't done anything bad while here, but neither has she successfully made any of the usual transitions that demonstrate changed attitudes and outlooks. She's no more ready to be a big sister now than she was when we first met her on the train, and as you well know, *that* is when her real training occurs. My time with her is running out, Darla."

"I'm sorry, Aunt Jane. I know how badly you feel about this."

"Thank you, dear. By the way, I put Darryl's boy clothes into the trunk of the car earlier. You can change down at the gatehouse and go up to Providence for the day. I understand the Paw-Sox are playing this afternoon," she said with a teasing grin. One thing Darla had never quite managed to control was Darryl's love of baseball. Jane had never quite broken him of going for the sports page instead of the fashion or business page first. Except when Darla was playing big sister, of course. Then she would smuggle the sports page to her room.

"Thanks, Aunt Jane. I need to meet with the Registrar folks up at the university anyway. I want to make sure that everything is all set for the fall term. I can still be at the ballpark in time for the game. It will mean I'll be getting home later than I would if I was going to Caro's, though."

"Don't worry about it. I don't think Caitlyn will notice or remark upon your arrival time. Have a good time, dear. See you at supper." Jane finished her coffee and stood. She was starting to leave the room when Darla intercepted her and hugged her close.

"You've done your best, Aunt Jane," she whispered in Darryl's voice. "It is not your fault that you have run out of time with this one."

Suddenly weary beyond words, Jane let herself cling to her ward's strong young body for several moments, fighting the tears of frustration, anger and sadness burning behind her eyelids. "I know, but it still hurts." Jane broke the embrace and strode out of the dining room, leaving a worried Darla staring at her retreating back.

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

Jane was furious - with herself more than with Caitlyn and she was becoming steadily more incensed with each passing moment. In truth, for all her acting out for her students, Jane rarely lost her temper with or around one of her boy-girls, but she certainly had lost it in the face of Caitlyn's continued clumsiness. For the past hour, Jane and Marie had walked the main hall, flanking the struggling student as she made her painfully slow, awkward way on yet another lap up and down the long, central hallway. And Jane still couldn't tell for certain precisely what was happening with this student - which further stoked her already burning temper.

The exercise could scarcely have gone more poorly. Since the moment a very sheepish-looking Marie had escorted their latest project into Jane's office, they had been served up one failure after another.

The child's make up was as bad as Jane had ever seen it. Except for the foundation, nothing else had been properly applied. Lipstick and eyeliner applications were uneven and jagged, distorting the shape of the mouth and eyes. Mascara seemed to clump at one end of the eye, making her lashes seem to travel only half of the eyelid. Her rouge application wasn't quite two red dots on Caitlyn's cheekbones, but it was close. *Well, at least her hair looks adequate,* Jane consoled herself, *but that is probably Sandy's last permanent that doesn't require anything more by Caitlyn than a good brushing out.*

The walking exercise in the dainty, nearly three-inch heeled shoes had been a series of near disasters. Jane and Marie had each caught a falling Caitlyn at least a half dozen times, and that was before Jane had given up counting in disgust and disappointment.

*DAMN the boy!* Jane's mind shouted. *What do I have to do? Tell him that if he doesn't start moving like we BOTH know that he can, he is out of here within the month? Where is the grace, the elegance of movement I saw last night? Those heels are as nothing compared to what he was doing last night in ballet shoes.*

As her temper became ever more volatile, Jane did not realize she had not kept her position next to her charge until the disaster she'd always feared struck.

Catching Marie in the crossfire.

Caitlyn came down awkwardly on the heel on Jane's side, and it began to roll under her. Marie immediately saw that Jane was not going to be able to catch Caitlyn in time and leapt to the rescue. She caught the toppling boy-girl and tried to brace her own feet to stop the fall. Unfortunately, she had planted her right foot on one of the small, colorful accent rugs that decorated the ceramic tiled hallway. Marie got a first-hand insight why those scraps of color as sometimes called slip rugs. Her right foot slid forward, out from under her and under the body of the still falling Caitlyn.

Marie's scream of pain as she took Caitlyn's full weight on her extended knee tore Jane from her ruminations and sent her scrambling toward her friend. Caitlyn was there first, having spun on her knees to get off Marie and help her to lie down on the floor.

"What happened!" Jane yelled as she fell to her own knees beside Marie.

"My. . my knee," Marie rasped through gritted teeth. "I couldn't catch Caitlyn in time and she fell onto my knee. Oh, God, Jane, it hurts."

Jane made a quick examination of the injured leg. "Call 911, Caitlyn. I don't think it is broken, but she may have ligament damage. We need to get her to the emergency room."

Caitlyn nodded and raced off to the parlor, only to return moments later. "There's been some kind of massive accident up towards Providence, Ms. Thompson, and the remaining rescue units are on other calls. They asked what the problem was and told me that since this isn't life threatening, we may have to wait a while before they can get to us."

"Like hell we will," Jane snarled, shocking Caitlyn with her curse. She stood and stalked into her office. On returning she tossed a ring of keys to Caitlyn. "I am going to immobilize that leg. You go to the garage and bring around the estate wagon, then come back here. I will need your help getting Marie down to the car."

"Right," Caitlyn answered as she hurried to the garage.

Getting Marie down the long walk to the driveway was not easy, but Jane and Caitlyn managed it. Jane drove while Caitlyn sat in the back with Marie, trying to give what comfort she could, even if it was only providing one hand for Marie to squeeze and another to hold an ice pack against the rapidly swelling knee.

Fortunately, there was more than enough help available when Jane squealed to a stop at the emergency room entrance. Once inside, Jane noticed how perspiration and tears had ravaged Caitlyn's face. She handed the small necessities make up kit she carried for her students to her. "Go clean your face, Caitlyn. They will think you are a potential patient. I will wait here for the doctors to finish with Marie."

She watched the boy-girl walk off in search of a lady's room and then turned back to stand vigil on her best friend.

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

Several hours later, the good news was that Marie would not require surgery. She would, however, be required to stay off her feet for up to a week before she could even begin to think about moving around, and then only with crutches for perhaps another few weeks.

Caitlyn had been very quiet during Jane's long vigil, as the doctors had worked on Marie. Nor had she said very much during the drive back to the house, not wanting to disturb Marie as she dozed in the back.

When Caitlyn did finally speak, her voice gave Jane a jolt. "Ms. Thompson?" Jane fought to calm her heart and nodded to the girl who then continued. "Marie sleeps upstairs, doesn't she?"

"Actually, she sleeps on the third floor," Jane responded, wondering what was going on in that bleached blond head now.

"Well, that might be a problem. First, it will be very difficult for her to get up there, even with us helping her, but more than that, if there was some type of emergency, like a fire, we might not be able to get her downstairs safely."

"Oh, lord," Jane sighed. She was so bloody tired. The adrenalin that had sustained her throughout this crisis had waned long ago, and nearly thirty-six stress-filled hours without sleep was catching up with her. "You're right, of course, but there aren't any bedrooms on the ground floor," she said with a defeated tone.

Caitlyn looked at her for several moments and then decided to chance it. "Ummm. . . isn't that sofa in your office a pullout bed? I know you like your privacy, but maybe we could move that into the parlor? The downstairs powder room is close by, too."

Relief rolled through Jane as she acknowledged the intelligence of the solution. "My privacy compared to Marie's comfort and safety? Nonsense," she said, before quickly adding when she saw Caitlyn's face fall. "Your idea is perfect, dear, but we won't move the bed. We will install her in my office. Once we get her inside, you run up and get some linen and then make up the bed. Good thinking, Caitlyn."

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

Marie was soon settled in relative luxury in Jane's office. "I can't be laid up for as long as the doctor said, Jane. Who will take care of you, the girls and the house?"

"I will take care of the house for you, Marie," Caitlyn firmly cut in before Jane could come up with an answer. "*YOU* will stay put and get well. You took care of me when I fell, and now I will see that you take care of yourself." At Marie's mutinous glare, Caitlyn smiled. "If you don't stay put like a good girl, I will sic Ms. Thompson on you."

That earned Caitlyn a chuckle. "Jane does make a good threat, doesn't she, chicka?" Marie said.

"Works for me," Caitlyn said pertly. "Now, I am going to go make you a nice cup of tea and see if we still have any of those cookies that you watched me bake the other day. I'll be right back."

Jane stared in fatigued bemusement at her hopeless student taking charge of Marie.

"What has gotten into *her*?" an amazed Marie asked her friend.

"I have no idea," Jane said with a weary smile. "But since I am too tired to do you much good right now, and since Darla is still not back from her excursion, I am glad whatever it is has gotten into her right now."

Caitlyn came bustling back into the room with a loaded tea tray filled with cookies, pastries and some fruit. She efficiently moved a coffee table over near Marie's makeshift bed and set the tray upon it. "Shall I serve, Ms. Thompson?" She asked.

"Yes, please pour, Caitlyn," Jane replied knowing she would probably spill the hot liquid if she tried to serve.

Soon, Jane and Caitlyn had taken seats near Marie's couch, and each of them had steaming cup of tea and a small plate of food. The food and tea were greedily, albeit daintily consumed. Jane noted with a hidden smile that the tea was not her preferred Earl Grey, but rather a soothing herbal blend. Obviously Caitlyn intended that Marie would not be kept awake by too much caffeine.

Soon, the medication caught up with Marie and she was once again sleeping deeply. The sounds of her friend's gentle, rhythmic snoring combined with exhaustion to lull Jane to sleep as well.

A gentle hand taking the empty cup from Jane's lap startled her back to wakefulness. Caitlyn put a finger to her lips to stifle a cry of alarm. "Ms. Thompson," she whispered. "You are dead on your feet. Why don't you go up and take a nap yourself. I will sit with Ms. Marie if that will ease your mind."

For long moments, Jane only stared at her student, eventually causing her to squirm under the hard scrutiny. "I won't run away," she told the older woman disgustedly.

"No," Jane agreed thoughtfully. "I didn't think you would. You've had ample opportunity today and did not take it. Heavens, I even gave you the keys to the wagon twice - once to bring it around to pick up Marie and once at the hospital to take it to the parking lot. As focused on Marie as I was, you could have been hundreds of miles away before I realized you'd run."

"Ms. Marie needed both of us, Ms. Thompson," Caitlyn said simply. "Besides, I figured out a long time ago that I really have nowhere to run to if I did manage to get away from here."

The two sat quietly for several minutes after that, each regarding the other with cautious, yet curious eyes. Finally Jane nodded and rose from her seat. "Darla should be back in two or three more hours. She can relieve you if Marie and I are both still asleep. Call me if you think there is anything wrong." She pointed to the small speakerphone on her desk. "Intercom 2 rings in my bedroom."

"Rest well, Ms. Thompson," Caitlyn offered quietly.

"I will, now," Jane replied as she headed for the door. Just before she crossed the threshold, Jane turned back to face her charge. "Caitlyn?"

"Yes, Ms. Thompson?"

"Thank you for your help today. Marie is very special to me and when she was hurt, well, I was not at my best."

"She is a very special lady, Ms. Thompson. She tries to be tough, but she cares too much for it not to show through some times. I like her a lot and I really do want to help you take care of her."

Jane nodded. "Then, I must thank you again. I will see you later." And then Jane left the room and went up to her own bed, her mind a-whirl with the day's happenings and surprises.

She'd worried that she might still be too keyed up to sleep, but that fear lasted only until the moment her head touched the pillow.

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

The house was dark and quiet once again. Darla and Caitlyn had both long since gone up to their respective beds. Jane, however, was savoring the relative peace of her office. A fire burned cheerily in the fireplace, and soft classical music played in the background.

Seated behind her desk, Jane kept a silent vigil - watching over Marie as she slept, her injured leg cushioned 'just so' by Caitlyn. The sleep was the student's work as well. She'd seen Marie trying to fight the pain and had demanded to know if Marie had taken her latest dose of pain pills yet. Jane had known the answer even before Marie's negative response - Marie hated taking drugs of any kind as much as Jane did. This time, she hadn't been allowed any choice in that matter. Caitlyn had gently and sweetly browbeaten Jane's longtime friend until Marie had swallowed the pills out of self-defense. The strong muscle relaxer and painkiller soon knocked Marie out. Only then had Caitlyn been willing to go up to her room and rest after their hectic day.

Who would have ever believed that Jane's awkward little chick could be so ferociously determined to take care of Marie? She'd been a clucking broody hen one minute and a growling tigress the next. Just another amazing bit that did not seem to fit anywhere in the increasingly complex and confusing mosaic that was her Caitlyn.

One thing was certain, however. As long as Marie was laid up, and Caitlyn was taking such excellent care of her, Caitlyn had a home with Jane Thompson. They would see what happened after that, but for now, any thought of returning Carlton to the juvenile justice system was put firmly aside. One way or another, Jane would keep the probation officer at bay for at least another month. There were simply too many unanswered questions about Miss Caitlyn Jeffries, and Jane was not about to give up on this child until she had answers to all of them. She now *owed* this child, and Jane Thompson always paid her debts - in full.

Marie gave a little moan of pain as she tried, unsuccessfully, to turn over in her sleep. Only now could Jane let herself look backward and honestly admit to the terror that had gripped her in those first few moments following Marie's injury. Marie was such a big part of her life - her family - that to have her hurt was hard for Jane to bear.

In the dark silence of her sleeping home, Jane felt so very alone and so very inadequate. At times like this she yearned for someone to hug her, to hold her and pet her, and to tell her she was doing fine - that everything would be all right. Someone to guard *her* during the long, cold night when the dark dreams and the darker fears came calling as she was guarding her best friend.

But there was nobody like that for Jane Thompson.

Jane knew that many of her young men suspected that her relationship with the vivacious Marie was of a far more intimate and physical nature than it truly was. Some of her circle of co-conspirators had, at one time or another, hinted that they thought that, too, but nothing like that had ever come of Jane and Marie's friendship. It wasn't that Jane was any more adverse to a sexual relationship with another woman than she was to having one with a man. In fact, she had experimented with lesbian lovemaking in college and had found it a beautiful experience when it was done well.

She smiled at those old memories. *Another of what passed for a 'radical act' back twenty-odd years ago. Naturally, that just made it all the more exciting for a finely bred young debutante from *the* Hamptons like Miss Jane Anne Thompson.* She'd been so naively fearless in those days.

However, she had never even considered such a relationship with Marie. Marie was, in every way that counted, Jane's sister. They were family, but they were not lovers. They cared for each other, supported each other, *loved* each other, but not in the physical sense beyond the normal affectionate hugs and gestures of one sister to another.

Perhaps it would have been easier for them both if they had been lovers, Jane mused. Lord knew that both of them wished for someone special in their lives. Jane had had affairs in the past, and she was fairly certain that Marie had as well, but each of her own relationships had sputtered out and died after a few months. In her youth, Jane's innate honesty about her inability to conceive a child had ended at least two promising romances cold. More recently, at an age where her role as the progenitor of the next generation was no longer a significant issue, other problems, such as who came first in her life, had cropped up.

None of the men recently in her life had been willing to accept the short notice cancellations when one of her boys needed her immediate personal attentions, or her sudden departures (once just before the "consummation of the act") when a girl-boy had a crisis experience. Simply stated, her lovers had been unable to accept not being number one in Jane Thompson's life, and Jane had not yet met the man who could become more important to her than her boys. So, Jane Thompson slept alone, contented herself with what she had with Marie and her boys, and faced the demons of the night on her own.
 
 
Part 3: Investigations, and a Cry for Help
 
The next afternoon, Jane and Marie were chatting together while Jane changed Marie's bed linens and the two girls prepared lunch. Jane was recounting the full story of their mad rush to the Emergency Room and Caitlyn's major role in that adventure. Marie shook her head in disbelief, and then began giggling as the image painted by her friend struck her funny bone. "Lord, Jane, but she must have gotten some very strange and pointed stares, wandering around the waiting room and hospital halls in her bare feet and her face looking like a four-year-old's finger-painting project."

"She wasn't barefoot," Jane said off-handedly.

"Oh? I guess she had time to change into flats before we left?"

Distracted by stuffing Marie's pillow into a fresh pillow case, Jane responded off-handedly, "She didn't cha . . . " then Jane's eyes went wide and her mouth formed a disbelieving 'O'. "My god, Marie, I just now realized. Caitlyn spent the entire day moving effortlessly in those heels once she focused on you."

"She didn't," Marie asserted staunchly until she took a good look at Jane's face. "Did she?"

"She did," Jane replied thoughtfully. "And now that you mention it, her face was completely passable, too. Once she came back from redoing her face in the hospital's lady's room, that is."

The two friends said nothing for several minutes before Marie asked in a slightly nervous tone. "Jane? Just what is going on here with that child?"

Jane only shook her head. "I don't know, Marie. I really don't know, but now I wonder what will happen tomorrow morning when we try the walking practice again."

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

The next morning after breakfast, Jane and Darla found Caitlyn happily spoiling Marie with the patient's very favorite breakfast.

"Caitlyn?" Jane called as she came into the room.

"Yes, Ms. Thompson?" The girl answered, looking at Jane more than a little warily.

"Put these on, please," she said tersely as she handed the girl a white shoebox. Jane saw Caitlyn's face go white, and the easy manner that had been so evident with Marie dissolve. *It is as if she is turning into a flesh-toned statue or life-sized mannequin right before my very eyes,* Jane thought.

They worked on Caitlyn for the next hour, nearly getting her killed twice. The three inch heeled ankle boots helped a little. The extra ankle support from the stiff leather uppers kept Caitlyn's ankle from rolling, but she still fell regularly. Jane even had to modify the "course" to keep Caitlyn away from Jane's antique desk and its sharp corners that could easily crack a skull.

At the end of the hour, Jane let Caitlyn slip back into her flats and sent her off to see about lunch preparations. Darla stayed behind with Jane and Marie.

Closing and latching the door, Jane turned back to face the woman and the boy dressed as a girl. "Well, that was certainly as inept as I have ever seen her."

Darla snorted indelicately. "Did you expect anything else, Aunt Jane?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact. Yesterday, when Marie was injured, there was suddenly no sign of our Klutzy Caitlyn," Jane answered, staring directly at Darla who had the grace to blush.

At Darla's disbelief, Jane laughed softly. "It's the truth, dear."

"She just walked? In heels? Without falling?"

"Yes, yes and yes," Jane replied in the tones used by Mothers of adolescents for thousands of years.

"The question is," Marie interjected, "Why is she faking like we just saw? Doesn't she believe that you will send her back to Judge Ruth if she doesn't shape up?"

Jane came over and took the seat next to Marie's makeshift bed. "I am not sure of much of anything right now. Yesterday, I would have been positive that the child knows what will happen. Today? As I said, I am just not sure."

"Then, there are a couple of possibilities. A - he really *doesn't* believe you when you say he could get shipped back so he is simply finding a way to make life around here difficult," Darla said ticking off her points on the fingers of her right hand. "B - he thinks he is going back regardless and is trying to make you think he isn't learning so you'll keep him as long as possible."

"Or C," Jane said, "None of the above. Marie, did you notice the change in Caitlyn when she realized what was in the box?

"Now that you mention it, I did. It was like the life drained out of her. One moment she is fussing over me with this huge smile on her face, and the next, she was literally shaking. I could feel the change in her because she had one of her hands on my brow."

"Interesting. I saw her entire demeanor change when she realized what I intended for her to do," Jane added thoughtfully. "It was as if every muscle in her body became rigid. Small wonder that she could not move about in them in that condition."

"But, Aunt Jane," Darla cut in. "You said she did just fine yesterday, and those sling-backs don't give near the support that those ankle boots do. How come she could walk yesterday and not today?"

"Marie's injury, Darla," Jane replied. "The moment Marie was down and screaming, something changed in Caitlyn - physically and mentally. She's the one who settled Marie and then went for the station wagon when the local ambulance wasn't available."

"Weird," Darla said, "And just a bit scary."

"Scary?" Marie asked. "How so, chicka? Our Caitlyn evidently has a cool head in an emergency."

"Scary in that, no matter how cool you are under pressure, if you are clumsy for real, you are clumsy in an emergency. I could see her kicking off the shoes if she was cool and collected, but suddenly being able to walk in heels? It doesn't work that way. What that has to mean is that she *can* walk in heels. So what is scary is why has she been falling all over herself whenever Jane tries to get her into a pair?"

"Oh." was all Marie could say.

Jane considered the videotape still hidden in the drawer of her upstairs study. "So, we are back to the question of why would she fail intentionally, and why did she break character?"

Marie looked smug. "She broke because she cares for me."

"True," Jane said. "That much is obvious given how hard she has worked at looking after you, but that is not the entire answer. As Darla points out, given the emergency, she could have slipped off the heels without me noticing. Goodness, I did not even realize until this morning that she *had* worn them all day yesterday."

"Then she forgot," Darla said with some finality. "But that still leaves the nasty fact that she has been faking it ever since she arrived."

"Do you think, Darla, that even the most determined boy would intentionally injure himself to thwart me? Maybe the first time was an accident - he didn't realize that it would hurt that much, but then to turn around and do it again, injuring his other ankle even more severely than the first? Before Nurse Nora arrived, I was certain he'd broken his ankle that time and I don't ever want to go through *that* again. If he *is* that determined, then I agree, the boy is frightening and moreover, he needs help that I cannot give him."

"Why not, Aunt Jane?"

"Because to a certain extent, my program relies on a student's basic self interest and instinct for self protection to work. At least in the early stages it does. For the most part, that means that my little precious is afraid of being caught out in his petticoats and skirts, but if a student is not afraid of that, it ruins everything. A student who would willingly accept public discovery would leave me completely impotent because I could not take him out in public. There'd be too many repercussions to my other boys."

"But that is not the same thing here, Aunt Jane. Caitlyn is just as terrified as any other student when you drag us down to the Chalet or to the mall."

Jane smiled ruefully. "But it *is* much the same thing, dear, if Caitlyn is a student who willingly accepts serious injury to resist me. Such a child has issues that need to be dealt with by an therapist experienced in dealing with such self destructive behaviors. Neither my program nor I are equipped to deal with that."

"You've had boys with destructive pasts before, Aunt Jane."

"Ah, but their destructive urges were always aimed outward, away from themselves. Part of the benefit of putting them into skirts is that they cannot freely vent that destructive fury without giving themselves away, which is the one thing they find worse than swallowing their anger and obeying me. If Caitlyn has inwardly directed destructive inclinations, then my program is worthless to her."

"But she's been such a good child here, Jane," Marie protested. "I know she hasn't learned very much about some things, but she has always been ready to help in the kitchen or to clean up the house. And now, she is taking care of me."

"I know, Marie. That is why I am baffled. Those behaviors don't ring true with a boy who is willing to break his leg to avoid doing what is expected or desired from him. I just wish I could confront him on it. Catch him in the act, so to speak."

The threesome sat quietly for a few moments considering that idea, and then Darla's finely featured face broke out in a mischievous grin. "How about this idea, Aunt Jane?"

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

Jane and Darla watched Caitlyn again fuss over Marie. Darla's plan had worked perfectly. Now all Jane had to do was figure out how to deal with the results.

Following a superb lunch - the kitchen truly was one aspect of her masquerade that Caitlyn had mastered - Jane had again ordered her student into the ankle boots. This time, in accordance with Darla's scheme, Jane had Caitlyn walking around the room such that one leg of each lap was close to Marie's bed.

It had only been a matter of time until Caitlyn had lost her balance near Marie. Acting her part to perfection, Marie had made a seemingly instinctual lunge to catch the falling girl-boy.

And had screamed!

In the passage of a heartbeat, Caitlyn had been at the bedside, cursing herself for being responsible for Marie's renewed pain while trying to resettle Marie comfortably. She'd moved about efficiently - puffing a pillow, repositioning and immobilizing the injured knee, finding Marie's pills and getting a glass of water.

All while still wearing the three inch heels.

Caitlyn finally satisfied herself with her patient's condition, and only then remembered Jane. Shyly, she turned to face her teacher and tormenter and became instantly aware of Jane's focused scrutiny.

For several moments, she simply stood there, waiting for Jane to say something. When she didn't, Caitlyn felt like fidgeting, but knew that would only earn her a scold for unladylike behavior. Finally, she could stand it no more. "I. . . I am sorry, Ms. Thompson, but when Marie hurt like that, I forgot the exercise," she offered hesitantly.

The half mocking smile that curled only one side of Jane's mouth did little to reassure the young man in feminine dress. Jane gave a half snort, half laugh and replied. "That is evidently not all you forgot, Caitlyn."

The sardonic tones confused Caitlyn as much as the words. "I. . . I am afraid I don't understand, ma'am."

Jane did not immediately answer, choosing instead to simply watch the girl. At long last, however, not even Jane could stand the quiet any longer. "Your shoes, Caitlyn," she said in a dangerously gentle voice. "You have forgotten you are wearing that pair of high heels. Sufficiently to move quite gracefully in them."

Shock rippled through the girl as she stared down at her own feet in mute disbelief. When she looked back up, Jane was again smiling that awful half smile. "Just as you did yesterday when we took Marie to the hospital."

"Oh. . . my . . . god. . . " Caitlyn said, recalling the previous day.

Jane lifted a single brow in high challenge. "Indeed," Jane's voice was coldly curt and commanding. "Why don't we go up to my study and discuss this. . . .miracle in private, Caitlyn. Darla, see to Marie, please."

Spinning on her heel, Jane headed for the door, only to spin back at the sound of Darla's inarticulate scream, just in time to see Caitlyn's headlong fall to the floor. A sickening thud resounded as her temple hit hard against the ceramic floor tiles.

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

With Marie on Jane's sofa, the best that Darla and Jane could do for Caitlyn was to stretch her out on the floor. For long minutes, the threesome kept a grim watch on the teenaged figure. Once again, Jane found herself caught between the jaws of a dilemma. She was, by this point, more than half way convinced that Caitlyn was putting on an act - with the shoes, with the makeup and now with this fall. What the girl hoped to gain by this charade was beyond Jane's comprehension, but she must have some goal in mind.

Unfortunately, Jane was not *completely* sure that her charge was pretending to be unconscious. She had certainly felt like dead weight when Darla had assisted Jane in moving Caitlyn. If she *was* unconscious from that fall, then Jane had to get her to medical attention.

In the end, there was really no dilemma at all, Jane realized, if Caitlyn wasn't acting and was actually hurt, she'd been out too long. *And so my life of helping young men ends today, because I stupidly failed to use that tape as reason to ship him back to Ruth two days ago when I first found out,* she thought as she picked up her phone to dial 911.

Jane had pressed the "nine" key and was shifting her finger toward the "one" when Caitlyn moaned and began to lift a hand toward her head. Setting the phone down, Jane moved back to her student and knelt beside her. "Easy, Caitlyn," Jane said softly.

"Oh. . my head," the girl whined as she tried to rub at her temple.

Jane caught Caitlyn's wrist and pulled it away. "Let me see, Caitlyn." Jane ran gentle fingers along the smooth forehead towards the golden hairline. . . . and froze.

A lump, already large, had formed where Caitlyn's head had impacted the floor. "Darla, get some ice, please," Jane ordered.

Caitlyn opened her eyes and looked up into Jane's dark green orbs. "What happened, Ms. Thompson?"

"You fell when you tried to follow me," Jane said neutrally.

"The heels," Caitlyn said softly as she squeezed her eyes shut against the pain. "I am so confused about all this, Ms. Thompson."

"You are not the only one, Caitlyn. Once we make sure you are not badly hurt, we are going to have to talk. I think we have a great deal to say to each other."

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

Nora Bedford walked into the Jane's downstairs office bristling with barely contained emotion. She'd been called on when Caitlyn kept slipping in and out of consciousness after going back to her room.

"What would you do if I told you he has a slight skull fracture and needs to be in the hospital?" The nurse asked quietly.

"Does he?" Jane asked as she reached for the phone.

Nora regarded Jane for several moments before shaking her head. "No, it's just a bad bump. I am just angry with this whole shtick just now, Jane. That *boy* hurt himself trying to obey you when you have evidence that he cannot walk knowing he is in heels."

"He'd walked just fine when he thought I was hurt, Nora," Marie interjected.

"So what, Marie? There is a large body of incidental evidence about people who do many things in a crisis that they cannot do when they are thinking about what they are doing. You were a psych major, Jane - you told me that when I agreed to be part of your little team. How do you know that he's faking? What have you done to find out if his problem is real or something he is putting on? What just happened here is NOT a test! This makes. . .what? Three times he has injured himself?"

Jane had said nothing during Nora's quiet tirade, but nodded when she finished. "It is the third time, Nora, and you are right. I made the simple assumption that it was an act. Maybe his injuries have been an accident, or maybe he has willingly sacrificed his body in fighting me."

Nora shook her head. "You know what concerned him the most? It wasn't his own condition, I'll tell you that much."

Jane could only shake her head. "Who was going to bully Marie into taking her medication, since I told him he was on bed rest for the next day or two," Nora said tartly. "I had to promise him that I would see to his "Ms. Marie" before he'd relax and rest."

"Doesn't sound like a real hard-nut case, does he?" Jane mused sadly.

"No, he doesn't, Jane. And there is no doubt in my mind that his concern for Marie is very real."

"I don't doubt it either, Nora. So, what do you think I should do next?"

"You're the expert, Jane, but if it were me, I'd figure out whether she is fighting you and taking the risk to her body, or if there is something else at work here."

"You're right, of course," Jane answered. "What about Caitlyn? What does she need tonight?"

"Like I said earlier. It is just bad bump. Except for a headache, she'll be fine by tomorrow. She'll sleep the night away, but you may want to keep an eye on her. If she wakes up and needs to go to the bathroom, she may be dizzy or disoriented. She might fall again. Whatever it is with her problem, Jane, I don't think it is intentional or something she does consciously."

"I don't know, Nora. I really don't, but at this point, even subconsciously it poses a significant danger - both to Caitlyn and to everyone else who has ever been associated with my program. I am going to call Eric and ask him what to do next."

"The early student of yours who became a psychologist? The one who came when Michael tried to kill himself?"

"The same. I'll call him in the morning after I sit up with Caitlyn tonight."

"I'll sleep in her room tonight, Aunt Jane," Darla offered immediately. "So you could try to get through to the doctor right away and then get some rest yourself. You look really shagged out."

Shaking her head, Jane smiled at her ward. "No, dear. She is my responsibility. She was hurt because I made the assumption that she was acting out. I will watch over her tonight, but if you would stay with her while I make the phone call?"

Darla returned the smile, and walked over to Jane. "Sure 'nuff, Aunt Jane," she whispered and then kissed her on the cheek. "We'll take care of this one, too."

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

The phone buzzed in Jane's ear. She felt, rather than saw, Marie's concerned gaze. On the fourth ring, someone picked up. A feminine voice offered, "Davis residence."

"Sylvia? Is that you? This is Jane Thompson."

"Jane," the other woman's voice warmed, "And how is Eric Junior's favorite Godmother?"

"Troubled, I am afraid, dear. I have a boy-girl problem and really need some help. Is Eric home?"

"Sure. . .just a minute, Jane. I will get him for you."

Jane closed her eyes as she waited for her former student to come on the line.

"Jane? What's up? Syl said you had a problem with one of your boys? What can I do for you?" A familiar voice came on.

"Oh, god, Eric. It is such an abysmal mess."

For the next fifteen minutes, Jane briefed Eric on Caitlyn and her antics. "I have never had a situation like this before, Eric. I mean, she danced beautifully, and then when Marie was hurt, she went from a walking disaster to completely competent even carrying extra weight in an instant. She's either faking, and has intentionally injured herself no less than three times, or there is something else happening. *Is* there another explanation?"

Eric was silent for several moments. "Well, I would say it is something to do with the program. . . ."

"Tell me something I don't already know, dear."

"As I was saying," Eric interrupted in exaggeratedly pompous tones, "regardless of which of your two broad options it is, it is something to do with how she is reacting to the program, and apparently, something to do with how she reacts to being public in the program."

Jane considered this before replying. "But *what* is it?"

"I don't really know, Jane," was the equable reply. "But then, my specialty is crisis intervention."

"This *IS* a crisis, Eric," Jane almost yelled into the phone.

"To you, yes, but not in the sense that I mean, Jane. She hasn't attempted suicide or something as drastic as that. Even if she is allowing herself to be injured, that is not an act of desperation so much as an act of defiance. No, something about this whole thing is tied up in your student's self image. I think you need to go to a specialist on this one."

"But I can't do that, and you know it. It was one thing for Michael - he was no longer in skirts unwillingly when we took him to the psychologist in Providence. Caitlyn is, and she might very well expose the whole program if I took her to that therapist."

"How about Doctor Art?" Eric asked quietly. "He knows about the program because he is the one you sent me to see when I wanted to go into psychology. He works with people dealing with gender and identity issues as the main part of his practice and I know for a fact that he thinks very highly of you and what you do with your boys. We talked about that when he was feeling me out for my motivations in studying psychology."

Momentarily, Jane's mind seemed to stop and then flew back to those days at school, more than twenty-five years ago. Art Philips had been very special to Jane back then. So special, that Jane herself had broken off with him when it became clear that she could never hope to give him a family. "I. . .I don't have his number," Jane almost stuttered.

"Got something to write with? I have it right here on my desk. It's his office number, but you might try information and see if his home number is listed."

Moments later, the number was indelibly inked into Jane's address book. "Good luck, Aunt Jane. If you think I can help, give me a call. Any time. Gotta run. Eric Junior needs a story. Love you!"

"I love you too, dear. Thank you for the help."

Jane hung up the phone, only to sit staring at it. Art Philips, she mused, after all these years. *You are procrastinating, Jane Thompson. You have a child who needs help and if Art can provide that, then that is who you need.*

Grimly, she reached for the phone and dialed the number. Art was not at his office, but he did have an answering service. The operator on the other end dutifully took Jane's name and number, and that it was vitally important that she speak with the Doctor at the earliest possible time.
 
 
Part 4: A Voice and Face from the Past
 
All too quickly for Jane's peace of mind, the phone shrilled its electronic summons. "Hello? Thompson residence."

"Jane? Jane Thompson? Lord, it is good to hear your voice. This is Art Philips. I just got your message and returned your call immediately. What can I do for you?"

Grimly, Jane again recapped the Caitlyn experience, up until the most recent injury, and then summarized Eric's reading on the situation. "I should have packed him off to the juvenile lock up facility ages ago, Art. He's just not getting any of the benefits of the program since he can't go out in public, and I could never trust him as a big sister. The new student would likely read him in the first week or so."

"So why haven't you done that, Jane?"

"Because it feels wrong," she sighed. "Every instinct tells me she is trying her best, and then, there is the way she took on caring for Marie. She's quite the little nurse."

"But you're concerned about the dancing and the sudden ability to walk in heels?"

"Shouldn't I be?" Jane retorted, getting tired of Art's Socratic style of conversation.

A low, pleasant chuckle sounded over the phone. "Sorry about that," Art said, not sounding at all sorry. "Answering questions with questions is one of the little occupational hazards of my trade. For what it is worth, however, I agree with Eric. You say he suddenly went completely stiff when you pointed out he was still in heels? Interesting."

"But what do I do, Art?"

"Get him together with a good therapist, Jane." Jane started to argue but was cut off by her old friend. "I *know* that would ordinarily endanger your program, but there won't be any problem with the therapist I have in mind. Completely trustworthy and discreet, I assure you, and a very big fan of yours, too."

"Oh really? And who have you been talking to about my program, Art?"

The chuckle was back. "Aren't you lucky I don't have anything planned for my two weeks vacation that starts tomorrow? I will be on the first plane to Providence. I should be there by tomorrow evening."

"You? You're the therapist you were talking about? You'd come here? Just like that?"

"Of course. You have always been special to me, Jane," was the soft reply. "Now," the voice firmed and became business like. "Who should I show up as? Art or Diana?"

"Diana is still with us?" Jane asked, surprised.

"Yes indeed, and quite often, actually. I can be my own best example of overcoming emotional/physical obstacles for my patients, and frankly, Diana helps some of my gender-dysphoric patients be more at ease with me since they see me as someone who understands their feelings better. Besides, I enjoy being Diana."

"I see. Then I think, at least for the beginning, it might be better for you to arrive as Diana. With few and intentionally uncomfortable-for-her exceptions, she's been without obviously male contact since she arrived. Artemis would be a new variable, perhaps causing her to react unpredictably," Jane snorted. "As if she had been at all predictable to this point in time."

"All right. Diana it is, but the guy name is now just plain 'Art'. I legally ditched Artemis years ago," he paused. "Okay, I will be there when I get there. I will rent a car, so don't worry about having anyone meet me."

Jane closed her eyes, the relief of no longer feeling quite so alone in her battle almost orgasmic in its intensity. "Thank you, Art. I really, really do appreciate this."

"No problem. I am already looking forward to it. Get some rest, Jane. It sounds like you have had a hellish couple of days." The line disconnected, and Jane gently returned the phone to its cradle.

"Okay, Jane. I am dying of curiosity," Marie broke into Jane's reveries, "Just who is this Artemis who is evidently also a Diana? I don't remember any boy named Artemis and I would have. I always loved that show "Wild, Wild West" and Artemis Gordon in particular."

"Someone I knew a lifetime ago, Marie."

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

"You remember I told you that the first guy I ever helped put in skirts was Sheila's boyfriend? Yes, well, that wasn't all that great an experience once it was done. Not that anything particularly bad happened to the boy, but there was just this feeling that I did not want to be around them. At the time, I decided it was that I did not want to appear to be poaching on a sorority sister's guy. Now, after what we learned from Kendra's sojourn with us, maybe it was something else that was bothering me about Sheila even then."

"But it had been great fun. Not just the dress-up and make up games, but the dominance aspects of it. I found that I really enjoyed the one giving the orders and having them obeyed, no matter how silly they might actually be, or watching the darling blush bright red at a teasing comment or observation. Anyway, after I separated myself from Sheila, I decided I wanted a boy like that of my very own. I found Artemis Philips, or perhaps, Artemis Philips found me. I was never quite sure."

"Maybe it was a little of both, Jane?" Marie asked gently.

A smile softened Jane's worried face. "Perhaps it was. We just sort of kept bumping into each other. At first, he was just a nice guy who took a few of the same classes I did. The first thing that caught my attention beyond that was his slender build since I was thinking about the games I had played with Sheila's boyfriend. I started gathering information about him. Where he lived, who he'd dated, what his old girlfriends thought of him. I was planning my campaign when he suddenly started showing up at the oddest places. The club I went to for dancing, my favorite corner of the library, the park where I went running in the mornings before school. The more I saw him, the more I liked him. I ended up liking him a very, very great deal."

"Sounds like you weren't the only one gathering data and planning something, Jane."

"No, it doesn't, does it? Suddenly, we were quite the item - dating, going out walking together, studying together. When I started teasing him with the dominance games, he just played with me as though they were nothing out of the ordinary. Shortly after that, I had him fully rigged out in one of my most feminine outfits from the skin out and he was marvelous. Took a bit of doing to tease him into going out in public with me, but even he saw he looked so good that he'd pass on even the third of fourth look. Besides, " and here Jane's smile became quite feline, "I rewarded him very well for those little outings."

"I'll just bet you did, Jane Thompson," Marie said haughtily before breaking into giggles. "Lucky guy."

"Lucky me, you mean. He never made me feel odd for liking that type of play and always seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, yet I always knew that he was a man in every finest sense of that word. I think the biggest surprise was that I could dominate a guy and still respect him *as* a guy. Sheila never respected her boyfriend, and I think that may have been one of the reasons I backed off from them. I think in many ways, I have tried to teach my boys the special characteristics I found in Art, both as Artemis and as Diana."

"I guess you chose the Diana name as a play on Artemis, both of them being Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt?"

"Sort of. This all happened before I learned the value of having similar sounding names for my boys when they are en femme. I had an awful time getting Art to answer to Diana without hesitation. Of course, I think part of that was pure pique on his part. He has always hated being stuck with name Artemis in the first place. The name was one of those Old Boston "first son gets named after some distant ancestor" family traditions. Art always contended that it was a girl's name, so I chose to name his feminine alter ego Diana as a tease." Jane sighed. "Those were some very special times."

"Whatever happened to that relationship, Jane?"

*A hospital happened,* Jane thought as a wet warmth prickled behind her eyes. "Life happened, Marie," Jane answered softly. "We both needed to move on." *He needed and deserved the family I couldn't give him after my illness.*

"Well, it's nice to know he still cares enough to come to your rescue like that."

Feeling very grateful, Jane could only nod her agreement. "I need to go up and relieve Darla. I will send her down to help you get ready for bed. I'll leave Caitlyn's door open. Yell if you need anything. I don't expect I'll get much sleep in any case. The chair I put in her room is the most uncomfortable antique monstrosity I have ever found. Hoist by my own petard."

"Good night, Jane," Marie said softly. "Try to rest."

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

Contrary to her expectations, Jane managed to fall asleep while watching over Caitlyn, but her fears about the comfort of the chair proved painfully true. Jane awoke with a start and a groan of pain when Caitlyn began to stir. She'd managed to put a severe crick in her neck and shoulders in the course of her long night's vigil.

Her groan finished waking Caitlyn, who sat up in surprise when she found that she was not alone in the dawn-gilt room. "Ms. Thompson?!? What are you doing here?"

Jane tried to arch her neck and shoulders, but the pain stopped her short. Grimacing, she looked at her student, her head cocked to one side. "You had a mild concussion, Caitlyn. Nurse Nora said you should not be left alone until your head cleared. How are you feeling this morning?"

The sleep rumpled boy-girl considered that for a moment, taking a quick mental inventory. "Okay, I guess. I only see one of you," she said with a gamine little grin, "But my head does ache where I banged it. No dizziness, and I am too hungry to be nauseous."

"Teenagers and their stomachs," Jane said softly.

"I'd say, Ms. Thompson, that I feel a lot better than you look right now. What is wrong? Why are you holding your head that way?"

"This chair," Jane answered ruefully. "is not designed for overnight sleeping. My neck and shoulders are painfully stiff."

"I can fix that," Caitlyn perked, getting out of her bed with a decidedly unladylike bound. Before Jane could chastise the girl for it, however, Caitlyn was helping Jane gently out of the chair and onto her bed. She arranged Jane on her stomach and used pillows to prop Jane's head so as to take the strain off her neck and shoulders. "This might hurt a bit at first, so let me know and I will go a little easier until you loosen up."

To Jane's utter surprise, Caitlyn began a very careful, and apparently very knowledgeable massage of the distressed muscles. Momentarily taken off guard, Jane stiffened. Feeling that, the girl-boy stepped back. "Am I hurting you, Ms. Thompson?" she asked solicitously.

"N. . no. . .you just surprised me is all. I am not sure this is a very good idea, Caitlyn," she said. Jane moved to rise, but a stab of pain to the back of her neck stopped her the instant she tried to lift her head off the pillow.

"Let me try, Ms. Thompson," the girl entreated softly. "If it doesn't help, you won't be any worse off than you are right now, and it should help. I will be ever so gentle with you."

Jane wanted to argue, but couldn't. Her neck and shoulders were becoming stiffer every moment. "All right. But be very careful where you put your hands, young lady," Jane warned darkly.

"Like I said, you just tell me if it hurts too much and I will back off." And with that complete misunderstanding of Jane's warning against trying to cop a quick feel, Caitlyn resumed her massage. "This silk is great for this type of work, Ms. Thompson. It makes my hands slide on you without massage oil and it holds the heat, too."

Almost miraculously, Jane could feel her muscles warm, and become pliant under Caitlyn's touch. *I can't believe I am letting her do this,* Jane thought. *I can't believe she is doing this without prompting and is actually working to make me feel better. Why would she do that??*

"Why?" Jane asked in a drowsy tone.

"Why what, Ms. Thompson?" Caitlyn asked as she began kneading at a particularly tight knot of muscle.

"Why are you helping me? After yesterday? One way or another, a great deal of the blame for your own injury yesterday is my fault, and I have given you little cause to like me in the past months. Why would you even think of helping me?" The last sentence was slurred on a moan of near bliss as the knot relaxed under Caitlyn's fingers.

"Because you hurt," she responded indifferently. "I hate seeing anyone hurt - and I knew I could help you."

*That makes no sense either. If Carlton felt that way, why is Caitlyn here with me?* "But your offense involves assault. You fought with other students regularly. And you hate seeing anyone hurt??"

Caitlyn's fingers stopped momentarily. In the vanity mirror, Jane saw her student's eyes close, almost in pain, before she shook herself and continued her massage. "I hate hurting most of all, Ms. Thompson, but sometimes there just doesn't seem to be any other choices. My father has this Kenny Rogers' tune he always used to play called "Coward of the County?"

*Kenny Rogers,* Jane thought smiling, *Doesn't that bring memories.* A very young Jane Thompson had loved listening to "Kenny Rogers and the First Edition" - so much that she had even forgiven Kenny for moving into the Country and Western world. "I know the song, Caitlyn," Jane told her student.

"One of the last lines in the song is . . "Sometimes you've got to fight when you're a man. . " - Dad sure did play that song a lot - especially when he thought I wasn't spending enough time with the guys."

"You fought because your father wanted you to fight?" Jane asked, her drowsy somnambulance broken by the bitterness she heard in Caitlyn's voice.

"He never said so, Ms. Thompson," Caitlyn said briskly and then stood back up. She offered Jane a hand. "I think that about fixes you up, Ms. Thompson."

Jane took the proffered hand and stood. "My, that is much better," she said, meaning it. "Thank you very much, Caitlyn."

"It was my pleasure, Ms. Thompson," the boy-girl answered formally.

*Why is it that I believe you mean that?* Jane wondered thoughtfully. "Where ever did you learn to do that?"

Normally, the diffident shrug that answered Jane would have earned a student a scolding, but she held her tongue this time, hoping for a real answer. She got one.

"My mom used to be a dancer - ballet - good enough to have danced lead in some smaller companies if she hadn't met and married Dad. She still works out at a dance studio and sometimes she comes home with a sprain or a stiff back. I learned helping her."

"I see," Jane replied, although she wasn't sure she really did. "Well, I must go dress for the day. Are you feeling well enough to help with Marie today?"

A bright smile lit Caitlyn's face, making her as beautiful as any student Jane had ever taught, even without a trace of make up on her face. "Oh, yes. I will be fine, Ms. Thompson."

"Very well, then. I will see you at breakfast, then," Jane moved across the room and slipped out the door. Once outside Caitlyn's room, Jane came to a complete stop and simply stared off into space. *I think I actually believe everything she just told me, even though it makes absolutely NO sense at all.*

Well, she certainly had something else to tell Art when he arrived later that day. Maybe *he* could make some sense of all this.

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

The day passed quietly into mid-afternoon. Jane had tried to keep up her usual banter on manners and decorum, but that had been the extent of her efforts with Caitlyn. Jane was still tired after her night in that abominable chair, and she knew her judgment was not at its best when she was this tired. Besides, there did not seem to be much point in the game until Art arrived. Maybe he'd be able to help Jane figure out how the rules had been changed with this student.

The sound of a vacuum cleaner starting in the parlor caught Jane's attention. Except for taking time out to prepare lunch, Caitlyn had been caught up in a massive cleaning frenzy all day - ever since Jane had announced at breakfast that she was expecting a visit from a dear school chum of hers. The main public rooms - the entry foyer, front parlor, living room and dining room - literally gleamed, and Jane was positive that Caitlyn was carrying over that same dirt search-and-destroy attitude over into readying the best guest room.

Jane had not ordered the girl to clean like that. In fact, what cleaning Jane demanded of the girls was more to emphasize their feminine condition by having them work at stereotypically female "maid-ish" tasks. Dusting with a feather duster, plumping pillows, setting out flowers, doing dishes and other such dainty tasks were part and parcel of their indoctrination, but heavy cleaning was done by a service Jane brought in every two weeks or so.

When Jane had cornered Caitlyn to find out why she was doing this, her answer had been direct. "Because I promised Ms. Marie, Ms. Thompson. I don't want her fretting over the house and trying to do too much too quickly." Jane was trying to find something to say about that, when the girl-boy had continued. "You will tell her I am doing a good enough job at it, won't you, Ms. Thompson? Even if there are places you think I need to go back and fix? Otherwise, she's going to think she needs to get back into it."

"Of. . of course," Jane had stuttered. "I. . . I will come back later to inspect your work to show you what you need to correct." *After I find a pair of white gloves to inspect with since that is the only way I am going to find anything to criticize in this room. What has gotten into the boy?? Is his word *really* that important to him?!?*

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

Art called Jane a little after 3:00 P.M., telling her he'd landed at Providence and would arrive within the hour. When Jane had told this to Caitlyn and Darla, intending to have them go clean up to receive visitors, Caitlyn had gone pale. "Dinner, Ms. Thompson, I forgot all about dinner."

"I've already arranged for dinner to be delivered," Jane said with her fingers crossed. "I did not want Marie to be fretted either. We will dine at eight tonight, but if you could have a low tea prepared, Darla, for when our guest arrives?"

"Yes, Aunt Jane," Darla had replied. "That won't be any problem at all."

Nodding her approval, Jane had shoo-ed them both up to change while she made a semi-frantic phone call to a local restaurant. That little white lie, told to preserve Caitlyn's feelings, ended up costing Jane a great deal.

But the girl had worked so hard today, Jane told herself by way of rationalization. Even Marie at her best would have been hard pressed to deal with such an unexpected arrival of company.
 
 
Part 5: Jane's Old Boyfriend - Diana.
 
Darla answered the doorbell's summons. "Hello, young lady. I am Diana Philips. I believe Jane is expecting me?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Darla answered with a curtsy. "I am Darla, Jane's ward. Won't you please come in?"

The woman barely got in the door before Jane swept out of her office and gathered the other woman up into a warm affectionate hug. "Diana! How wonderful to see you again!" she cried, as much from relief as from pleasure.

They held each other just a moment longer than might have been proper, but Jane felt somehow buoyed up by the presence and support of her old friend. When they finally pulled apart, Jane caught the glimmer of a smile and a wink before she turned to introduce her little band. "Diana, I believe you have met Darla? Darla, this is my old school friend, D. . . Ms. Diana Philips." Jane had only at the last minute remembered not to use Diana's professional title of "doctor". At least, not until after Diana had formed an impression of the girl.

Jane gave her old friend a thorough once over as her foster child made a "Miss Manners"-perfect greeting to Diana. Diana made a very attractive woman. She was still quite slender, with a nicely shaped, subtle figure. The skirt of her dark blue travel suit went to knee level and showed off a very nice pair of legs. Her skin was smooth, and except for laugh wrinkles about her eyes and mouth, unlined. Only her hair gave away anything of her age. Done up in a complex French braid, her hair was a shimmering silver. A touch of color, and it would have looked like that almost white tone of Nordic blond. Still, the impression was one of a younger woman in her late thirties, early forties, who had gone prematurely gray.

Diana finished her pleasantries with Darla and then turned her head expectantly towards Caitlyn. Picking up her introductions, Jane continued, "And this is my newest student, Caitlyn Jeffries. Caitlyn, this is my dear friend, Ms. Diana Philips."

"Pleased to meet you, Ma'am," Caitlyn said softly as she, too, curtsyed. Not as well as Darla, but a good effort nonetheless, Jane mused.

Caitlyn had obviously dressed carefully, keeping well within her limitations in the arts of dress up and make up. She wore a casual, but nice sweater and skirt combination, with white stockings and a pair of smart flats. Her cosmetics were very light, in one of the few styles she had managed to master and her hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail. All in all, she looked like a very young teenage girl who had just recently been given permission to wear a *little* bit of make up by her mother.

Diana smiled at Caitlyn. "My, aren't you lovely. Let me get a closer look at you, girl." An elegant, finely fingered hand reached up to cup Caitlyn's chin. The girl went very still, her whole body taking on that nearly frightened, "doe-in-the-headlights" tension that Jane recognized from the previous day's second "walking practice".

Diana tilted Caitlyn's face this way and that, cooing happily at her, and complimenting her looks. Caitlyn, for her part, could do nothing but stand there and take it, seemingly unable to move even her lips enough to make a suitably pleased or grateful sound.

She only relaxed after Diana released her and had turned back to face Jane. "Well, I must say I am happy to be here, Jane. I am sure we'll have a great time."

Forcing a smile, Jane nodded. "I do hope so, dear. Why don't I show you to your rooms? Darla? Caitlyn? Would you have tea ready when we come back down? Say, about twenty minutes?" Jane then led her friend toward the stairs. "I will get Tom and his boy to bring in the rest of your luggage, Diana, but let's at least give you a chance to freshen up after your trip."

Darla and Caitlyn watched the two older women leave. "Let's go finish making the tea, Caitlyn," Darla ordered. "I've got the sandwiches and pastries already finished."

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

"Does she *always* freeze up like that when someone touches her?" Diana asked as soon as the door closed behind them.

Jane shook her head. "Not that I've ever noticed, Diana, but then I don't let people other than my immediate little circle just touch my girls with such familiarity. Actually, the only other time I have seen her freeze up like that was yesterday when I surprised her with that second exercise in heels."

"The same exercise that you called her attention to her walking in them without difficulty when she responded to Marie's apparent re-injury?"

"Yes. However, Marie tells me she often freezes like that when she oversees Caitlyn's cosmetics training."

"Neither of which she does very well," Diana said thoughtfully, "except when she was fully focused on an emergency?"

"Yes, and also at two o'clock in the morning, when she thought everyone else was asleep."

"When you saw her dancing?" Diana asked. At Jane's emphatic nod, she frowned. "I'd like to see that tape, Jane. Later tonight. In the meantime, what do you know about her home life?"

"Only what is in the files provided to me by her parents and Ruth. Her mother doesn't work, but is involved in many charities and committees. Dad is a fast-track business type who doesn't have as much time to spend with Carlton as he might wish. Nothing all that unusual. Certainly nothing that would explain the problems he has had with me," Jane admitted. "However, I have dispatched an investigator to check things out a little more deeply. He was scheduled to arrive in her hometown around noon today, in fact."

"Excellent. Well, that about covers everything for now. I am starved. Wearing this infernal corset limits how much I can eat, but I still get hungry. Anyone who believes that "I'm never hungry in a corset" garbage hasn't worn one. I still get hungry - I just get hungry a lot more often because I can't stoke up the fire as well as I can when I am in my corset-less male skin."

She caught the worried look on Jane's face. "Don't worry so much, dear. My first reading of your problem child is that Caitlyn is essentially a pretty nice kid. There is something else at work here. We just have to figure out what it is."

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

Diana watched, her eyes glued intently to the small TV screen, as Caitlyn's screen image completed one last graceful spin, held her final position for a full ten count and then dropped into an incredibly low curtsy.

"Remarkable," she repeated for what had to be the hundredth time since she'd joined Jane in the upstairs study after everyone else had gone to their beds. "No wonder you thought she was defying you, Janie. Lord, but that was incredible."

"Yes, it was, and you know that I *loathe* being called Janie, Artemis," Jane said in her most intimidating "teacher-to-student" voice.

"Sure I know it, Janie," Diana answered unfazed, her amber eyes twinkling with mirth. "Why do you think I use it? For the same reason you call me Artemis."

Choosing not to pursue the argument, Jane waved a tired hand toward the now-blank screen. "What do you think?"

The laughing eyes immediately became serious. "I am not ready to make a diagnosis, if that is what you are asking, Jane. However, I am beginning to see a pattern. She's completely alone in that video, and because of the hour, she expects to stay that way. After the way she reacted to me giving her the "grandmotherly" going over and complimenting when I arrived, I decided to try other, similar types of contact - which I did, numerous times over the course of the evening."

"And you learned?" Jane asked with great patience.

"She doesn't react like that simply from being touched or addressed. I don't know what makes the difference, but it is very obvious when it does happen. I have seen dress shop mannequins with more flexibility."

"You think that is significant?"

"Have any of your other students reacted that way? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that for almost all of your boys that kind of contact - a friendly touch, an honest compliment, a hug - would be like a manna from heaven to a starving man."

"No, now that you mention it. At worst, they might be very suspicious of any contact or attention of that nature, worried that it is something I have instigated to cause them more humiliation, but for the most part you are right, Diana," Jane admitted wryly. "They don't get much in the way of simple affection in my keeping, especially in the early days, and they relish whatever they get."

Diana reached over to pat Jane's hand. "Understandable. Such life changing experiences are almost never easy rites of passage. Yours is far kinder and gentler, and much more effective than others I have seen."

"Thanks, Diana," Jane said softly. "So, what do we do now?"

"Well, I'd like to stay in here after everyone goes off to bed and see if she dances again tonight. I want to observe the entire affair from start of finish."

"She may not dance tonight," Jane cautioned. "I only saw her do it that once."

"Then I will keep coming back each night." A teasing smile lit Diana's face. "I *am* a woman of leisure for the next two weeks. No one will notice if I sleep past breakfast."

"All right, darling, but why don't you do your waiting in my private rooms? I assure you that you will be far more comfortable there than you will be in here, and I do have the same monitoring systems in there as you see here."

"Offering to show me your etchings, Janie?"

"Maybe at some point, smartie, but for now I am just offering you a place to sit that will be far more comfortable than anything in here."

Grinning widely, Diana rose and offered Jane her hand. "Comfort is good - very good, in fact. I really was not looking forward to sitting on . . . " her nose wrinkled delicately in disgust as she looked down at the settee she'd been occupying, "*that* antique monstrosity for any longer than absolutely and unavoidably necessary."

Jane laughed softly at her friend's obvious discomfort. "Antiques of that era were built to *look* pretty, Diana, not to be comfortable. Not only that, but they were designed in an age when women wore bustles and ungodly corsets. So, of course, no normal human being could sit comfortably or naturally on any of them. Besides, why do you think I bought them? They are an acid test for my girls. When one of my laddie-ladies can sit down gracefully on one of these instruments of gluteal torture and still look sweet and winsome, I know I have made real progress with that student."

"But on the downside, *you* have to sit on them, too, and get sore, stiff necks in the bargain," Diana said slyly.

"True, dear. I believe the appropriate slogan is 'No pain, no gain'. But there are advantages to everything. Sitting in one of those abominations puts me in the perfect mood to terrorize my little darlings."

"Every silver lining has a cloud. I am sure that those things must qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, Jane," Diana giggled softly as they made their way into the hallway leading to Jane's apartment.

"Well, if you don't tell Ruth, darling, I won't. Besides, I am not technically a penal institution. It's true that many of my boys come here as an alternative to incarceration, but they are not actually under a sentence. At least, not formally under sentence."

"Only because you don't really exist as far as anyone knows, except for Ruth and a few other trusted officials like her."

Jane opened the door into her rooms and motioned Diana to enter first. "God willing, it will stay that way, too. Now, do you still drink brandy, or would you like something stronger?"

"Brandy is a fine idea, Jane. Something aromatic to the nose, smooth going down, with just a touch of a bite would be just right for talking the whole night, remembering the good times we shared together."

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

Surprising both of them, Jane and Diana managed to wake up in time for the normal Thompson breakfast hour of 8:30 A.M. The meal itself was plain - just coffee, fresh fruit and pastries, but tasty and nicely presented.

"Thank you for seeing to this, Darla," Jane said as she refilled her coffee cup.

"Oh, it wasn't me, Aunt Jane," Darla replied. "I was going to do it, but Caitlyn already had everything just about ready when I came down. All I did was make the coffee."

"I see," Jane murmured. *That girl was up for almost two hours last night doing the equivalent of a high impact aerobics class and she still gets up in time to fix breakfast? Not just fix breakfast, but in time to make up individual plates and flower arrangements? Why isn't she drooping from pure exhaustion?* "Thank you, Caitlyn. Everything was lovely."

"I'm sorry we didn't have a hot breakfast, Ms. Thompson, but yesterday was market day, and with Ms. Marie laid up and Ms. Philips coming to visit, I forgot to remind you we needed to go shopping."

"Don't worry, dear," Jane said with a touch of warmth for the girl's evident - and to Jane's mind, quite real - concern. "We'll get Marie to help us with a shopping list and take care of it today."

A momentary frown clouded Caitlyn's face. "Umm. . Ms. Thompson, today is class day. If it is all right, and you don't think Ms. Marie will need me, I would like to go."

Diana watched the interplay between the two with keen interest. *So, she likes going to dance class, but Jane says that she performs as badly there as she did beautifully last night. One would think, at first blush, that her intent at failing there was a ploy to get out of the class. If one had not seen her dance in the privacy of her room, that is."

"I would like to see the dance studio, Jane," Diana interjected. "I just love watching young people move so freely and elegantly. Are you preparing for a show soon, Caitlyn?"

Caitlyn's head drooped and she broke eye contact with the older women. "Yes, Ma'am. Sleeping Beauty, only I won't be performing." *Was that the merest sigh of regret I heard in her voice,* Diana wondered. "I am not yet able to dance in public."

*What a clanker,* Jane thought. *Yet, if she wants to go, then there is hope we can find out what is really going on here. "All right, Caitlyn. I will drop you and Diana off at the studio while I go to market. Darla will remain here in the case that Marie needs any assistance."

The smile that lit Caitlyn's face momentarily stunned everyone else around the table. "Oh, thank you, Ms. Thompson. I will go change as soon as I clear away and clean up from breakfast."

"No, you go get ready now, Caitlyn," Darla broke in. "You got up and did all the hard work. I will take care of the clean up."

Caitlyn rounded on her "big sister". "You're sure? I mean, it won't take but a minute. I could help," She offered quickly.

"Caitlyn!" Darla all but growled.

"Yes, Darla?"

"Go . . . Get . . . Ready!" Darla ordered. When Caitlyn still hesitated. "NOW!"

Another of those blinding smiles lit Caitlyn's face as she stood to leave. "Thank you, Darla," she said, and then leaned over to kiss her shocked mentor on the cheek before hurrying from the room.

No one said anything for several long moments. Darla simply held her cheek and stared at Caitlyn's exit door, her eyes wide and her mouth round. "She's never done *that* before," Darla finally managed to rasp out.

"Another puzzle piece, Jane," Diana said with admirable reserve as she took another sip of her coffee.

"Yes, it is," Jane agreed, her own expression mirroring Darla's. "But she seems to be getting each new piece from a different box. Just when you think you're putting together a landscape puzzle, the dratted girl hands you a piece from an abstract art rendering." She shook her head. "Now what?"

"She wants to go to dance class. I will try and observe her behavior there without her realizing it."

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

Diana watched the class warming up at the barre. It was a mixed class - if you could call a grouping of twenty teenagers, only three of which were boys, mixed. At least one of the boys seemed quite talented. Probably why the dance mistress was willing to take on a ballet quite so advanced as Sleeping Beauty for their performance.

Something of a ballet buff, Diana watched the class unfold with growing respect for the dance mistress. She drilled her students hard, but always with encouragement, always finding something positive to balance each correction. She showed extraordinary patience with Caitlyn, who seemed ready to fall on her bottom anytime she had less than both feet planted flatly on the floor.

Caitlyn stayed in the warm-up room while the rest of the class went onto the studio's mocked up stage to practice the actual choreography of the ballet they would be dancing. Most of the girls seemed to have something encouraging to say to Caitlyn as they passed by her. *Evidently she is at least liked here. Is that the reason she wants to attend, even though she seems determined to be inept? Is it friendship and acceptance she finds so seductive about this place?*

Diana took a position in the main studio that afforded her a covert view of Caitlyn in the warm-up room while still giving the appearance of watching the performers on the stage. Soon, the wonderful music of Tchaikovsky filled the small theater and everyone was caught up in the master composer's magic.

Including, Diana suddenly realized, Caitlyn. Obviously oblivious to anything except the rapture of the music, Caitlyn's exercises at the barre suddenly became fluid, graceful and to Diana's eye at least, highly proficient. A quick glance at the soloist on the stage showed that Caitlyn was following each movement and step. Lost in the music's spell, Caitlyn had again 'forgotten' to be clumsy.

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

"So," Jane said reflectively, "Once again she is distracted, this time by the music, and forgets herself. Did the dance mistress see any of this?"

"No," Diana replied, taking a sip of her tea. "And I didn't call her attention to it. Something is happening there that I don't think we can afford to lose at this point. For one thing, she is accepted and apparently well liked there."

"She is? Even as poorly as she dances there?"

"She isn't a threat to any of them now that it is known she won't be in the performance, and she goes out of her way to make herself useful. She gets drinks, or she'll play the piano to accompany someone who wants to work a little extra on a part. I even saw her partner one of the soloists as she warmed up before going on stage. Nothing very elaborate, Jane. She just held the girl's hand and balance points while the girl did her extended movements."

"So, as yet another puzzle box opened and its contents scattered onto our already full table. Is this making *any* sense to you, Diana? If she hates the feminine touches here, she should hate them - period. If she is really uncoordinated, she should be uncoordinated all the time."

"I think it is fairly clear after this afternoon, and after watching her both on tape and live last night, that she neither hates the feminine touches nor is she uncoordinated - quite the opposite in both cases, in fact. Having established that fairly firmly in my mind, I am at a loss to explain the other things I have observed about her."

"Be sure to let me know when you figure it out, then," Jane said in mild disgust. She started to say something else, but was cut off by the phone.

Sighing, Jane picked up the phone. "Thompson residence."

"Jane? Hi, this is Reggie Walters." Jane smiled as she recognized the name and voice of her former student who had gone on to become a security specialist. Reginald (Gina) had been sent to Jane because the combination of his very inquisitive mind and his skill with computers had gotten him in trouble. Several very large companies objected to fourteen year olds hacking their computer systems and helping themselves to free samples of whatever the company happens to be selling. Now, Reggie used his skills as a private investigator/security systems expert - often fighting the same type of kid he used to be. Two of Jane's more recent students had been "caught" by Reggie who had then referred the distraught parents to Ms. Jane Thompson.

"Reggie, so good to hear from you. What have you found out?"

"Well, don't ask me how you knew, but you were right. I talked with Carlton's mother and he has had formal ballet training. She used to dance professionally herself at one time - quite well, in fact - and continued taking classes when she retired to get married. She used to take him to class with her all the time. It was a regular thing with them from the time he was old enough to walk, right up until about a year and a half ago."

"Why did it cease to be a regular thing?" Jane asked as she put the phone on speaker.

"His mother doesn't know. He just refused to go with her anymore. She is still a little upset about it because evidently, the boy was talented, if perhaps not quite in the way Mom might have liked."

"How so, Reggie?"

"Evidently, he was really graceful and very dedicated to improving his skills. Unfortunately, even by the time he was almost fourteen years old, he wasn't developing much in the way of upper body strength. He could dance the child parts, but he wasn't strong enough physically to partner a ballerina, even as just one of the chorus."

"They don't call it a chorus in a ballet, dear, but I understand your meaning. So he stopped taking lessons well over a year ago?" Jane wanted to reaffirm.

"As far as his Mom knows, Jane. Is there a reason you are concerned about that?"

Jane looked over at Diana who nodded her assent. "Yes, there is, Reggie. He's been dancing here, and far too well for there to have been a long layoff before coming to my home. At least, I think that he is too adept not to have been taking lessons. Could you check around, maybe go to the studio or any other local studios and see if they have any information about that?"

"Sure, Jane. No problem." Reggie paused. "Jane?"

"Yes, dear?"

"I think you should expect a call from the boy's mom. She was very concerned that her son hasn't made more progress in the time you've had him there."

"She's not the only one, Reggie, but thanks for the warning. I will expect the call. Bye now."

Jane hung up the phone and looked at her old friend. "Well, at least we know that he *used* to study dance. That's something."

"We know a good deal more than that, Janie," Diana said softly. At Jane's raised brow, Diana gave her a wan smile. "We know that something happened in his life - something sufficiently important to change the habit of a young lifetime rather abruptly. A habit, I might add, that we have graphic proof that the young man still enjoys, albeit in private."

"Traumatic?" Jane asked warily.

"Perhaps yes, perhaps no. We will have to wait and see. Right now, we just know that something made him feel he had to quit."

"I take your point." Jane rose from her seat and stretched. "I need to take a walk before I settle down to fixing dinner. With Marie still on bed rest, someone needs to cook. The girls have done their part so tonight is my turn."

"Need some help, Janie?"

An evil grin that more than one hundred boys and young men would have instantly recognized and feared lit Jane's face. "Certainly, Artemis. How are you at chopping onions?"

"Makes my mascara run, and I told you, my name is Art, now. If you *must* call my by a masculine name. I do prefer Diana when I am dressed, dear."

"Well, come along. We have plenty of cotton balls and cold cream for fixing your face later. I buy the stuff by the caseload since my boys need to fix or change their faces so very often. Surely *you* remember that, even if you weren't really in my program."

"Bitch," Diana retorted affectionately.

"Just so you keep *that* firmly in mind, darling," Jane gave back sweetly. "I think salads and French Onion soup will make just a perfect dinner, don't you?"

mansion3.GIF

Aunt Jane's main house, circa early 1930's.


 
 
To Be Continued...
 



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