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

Jane is under pressure from both the legal system and Caitlyn's mother to make a decision.
Jane finds help and support from her past as she works to save a very special student.

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Seasons of Change
Book 7 - Part 2 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 6: Caitlyn's Past and Diana's Plans
 
After dinner, Jane retired to her study to finish a business proposal for a consulting contract. Diana had gone to keep an increasingly bored Marie company while Caitlyn and Darla took care of the cleanup duties.

Happily engrossed in the competitive world of business, Jane lost track of time, so she was somewhat surprised to see her desk clock read 10:45 P.M. when a knock on her door jolted her back to reality. "Come in," she called, expecting to see Diana, only to surprised to find a very wary-looking Caitlyn peeking around the barely opened door. "Yes, Caitlyn? What is it?"

"I'm sorry to bother you, Ms. Thompson, but could I please talk to you for a few minutes?"

*Well, this is new,* Jane thought. *First time the girl has ever approached me like this. Wonder what is that important to her?* "Of course, Caitlyn. I am finished with this anyway. Please, come in and have a seat."

She watched as the girl-boy entered and moved to take a seat in *the* chair. After several silent moments, Jane prompted, "What can I do for you, Caitlyn?"

The girl cleared her throat once, and then again before looking up to face Jane directly. "Ms. Thompson? Darla says you work with a lot of big companies - consulting with them and stuff like that. Is that true?"

Intrigued by this line of questioning, Jane decided to answer. "Yes, I do, Caitlyn. At one time or another, I'd say I have worked with or for many of the Fortune 500 in some limited capacity or another."

Caitlyn brightened. "Do you know any of them with foundations? You know, the kind that do good works and things like that?"

"I am not sure where this is going, but I do know several people who head up such organizations. Why do you want to know, Caitlyn?"

Excitement evident in her very posture, Caitlyn shifted subtly closer to Jane as she began to speak. "It's about Tasha - Tasha Pederov - she's the lead dancer at dance school?" Still confused, Jane could only nod and hope that the girl would get to the point. "Well, she is really talented, and very, very smart. She's been invited to try out for this big science camp for high school seniors this summer, and she's just so smart, I just know she'd get accepted. . .only. . . "

"Only what, Caitlyn?"

"Her folks are not very well off, Ms. Thompson. What extra money they have goes to help some of their family who are still in Eastern Europe. She wouldn't even be able to take classes with us except that Dance Mistress gave her a scholarship."

*Ahh. . .wonder what Caitlyn would say if she knew that I was actually the source of Dance Mistress Allison's discretionary funding?*

"So, what do you want me to do, Caitlyn?"

"Could you check with the people you know and see if there is a way to get her a scholarship or a grant or something, so that she can at least try out? Even if she couldn't go, being accepted might help her get a scholarship to college next year and she is a very, very special person."

"She must be for you to beard me in my den this way." A touch of amusement colored Jane's tones.

Caitlyn lowered her head and broke eye contact. "She is the one who stood up for me when everyone else at class was afraid I was going to mess up the ballet. She got the others to accept me after it was agreed that I wouldn't be performing. She made me her friend when I was feeling very alone and very down on myself."

"Oh?"

Jane saw dark spots start to bloom on Caitlyn's blouse. "I know I am not doing well enough here, Ms. Thompson. I have tried, impossible as that may be for you to believe, but it's like those heels. I am just not getting it. I figure I am on borrowed time as it is. Tasha, and the other girls, well, they've helped me forget all that for a few hours every week. They like me and that amazes the heck out of me, but they don't let me feel alone, and they won't let me get down on myself."

"I will see what I can do for her, Caitlyn. I can't make any promises," *at least until I confirm all of this with Allison,* "but I will look into the matter and do my best."

"Thank you, Ms. Thompson." The girl started to stand, but Jane stopped her with a gesture.

Standing, Jane came around her desk and took a seat next to her student. "Caitlyn, you are right about your time here. I don't want to send you back, but I have obligations to the court. Please, can't you help me to help you?"

"How?" Caitlyn sobbed, the tears flowing faster now.

Jane handed the girl a box of tissues from her desk and waited for her to blow her nose. "Can't you at least explain to me what is going on? I mean, there you were - falling with every step in the high heels one moment, and then stepping out in them like a runway model the next? And then when I called you on it, you were like a puppet whose strings were suddenly cut. What is happening?"

"I wish I could explain it, Ms. Thompson. I mean, I truly don't want to go to that juvenile detention place. The day before yesterday, when you told me I was walking in those heels?" Jane nodded encouragingly. "Well, the only thing I can describe what I felt like was Wile E. Coyote."

A shocked burble of laughter escaped Jane. "Whhhhaaaat???"

Caitlyn hung her head. "Stupid comparison, I know, but it was like one second I was walking around just fine, and the next second there was nothing under my feet but air and a yawning chasm. Next thing I remember is waking up with an awful headache."

Even Jane chuckled at that. "I take the analogy, but don't you have any idea *why* it happened?"

There was a moment's hesitation, giving Jane some hope, but then Caitlyn shook her head. "If I knew the why of it, Ms. Thompson, I would fix it. I really don't want to go to that other place."

*And once again, I am inclined to believe you, regardless of the fact that what you said makes very little sense.*

Jane stood and pulled her student to her feet. "Run along to bed, Caitlyn. I will make inquiries about your friend tomorrow. If it is as you say it is, I will try to find the resources she needs to attend that camp." *Even if I have to pay it out of my own pocket.*

"Thank you again, Ms. Thompson." The femininely dressed boy seemed to hesitate again, but then turned toward the door. "Good night, then."

"Good night to you, too, Caitlyn. Rest well."

The door closed behind her, and Jane moved back to her desk. *Well, I wonder just what I am supposed to make of that? Maybe Diana will know. She's supposed to be the specialist in these matters.*

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

The following day, two phone calls profoundly changed Jane Thompson's view of her little world - one that she initiated, and another that she received.

About mid morning, Jane called the dance studio mistress to follow up on her promise to Caitlyn of the night before. Allison confirmed everything that Jane had been told. "Honestly, Jane, it is so sad because the girl is so talented and so sweet. She's been very adult about the summer science camp thing, but its obvious she was very disappointed. Her family is trying to get more of their people away from that awful Serbian situation so there's just not any money to be had for something like that camp."

"Do you know when she has to appear for the tryout in order to be selected?"

"Hmmmm. . . seems to me she said something about having to go to the Boston Science Museum any Monday or Friday before the end of the month."

Jane checked her calendar and did a quick calculation. "That means that there are less than two weeks left, and besides, aren't you performing over that last weekend?"

"We are, but I don't think it is going to be a problem, Jane, not for the play anyway. Although, for her sake, I almost wish that it was going to be a problem. I am just glad you endow us generously enough that I can have her here at all. If this place had to make money to stay open, I would be hard pressed to take her on."

"Well. . . of course, Allison. I am glad to help," Jane said with a grimace. "I have to run, dear. I'll see you when I bring Caitlyn in for her next class."

"I look forward to it, Jane. She's a perfect sweetheart. I just wish she could dance."

*You don't know the half of it, Allison.* Jane thought as she hung up the phone.

"You're frowning, Jane," Diana said softly from her seat on the other side of the desk. "Cait's story doesn't checkout?"

"No, nothing like that," Jane said with a sigh. "In fact, Allison just confirmed everything Caitlyn told me."

"So, why the long face, darling?"

Jane turned tear-bright eyes towards her friend. "She thanked me for my patronage - telling me that it was my support that permitted her to take on students like this friend of Caitlyn's."

Diana was out of her seat and pulling Jane up into her arms. "C'mon. . . I would think that would make you feel good. What's with the tears?"

"Because that's not why I do it, dammit! She is giving me credit for it, and the only reason I do it is for my own little agenda," Jane said around the tears. "Something like that never entered my mind. I just wanted to make sure the place was there as a torment for my boys."

Diana pulled back from Jane, giving her a piercing look. "And of course, your entire purpose is just that, isn't it? You'd never waste your money on something so insignificant as a neighborhood dance school if it did not fit in with your devious, malevolent little schemes," she said with heavy irony. "Torment those little bastards. Make 'em suffer. Terrorize them and break them. Turn them into perfect little wimps any way you can, right?"

"Of course not!" Jane nearly shouted. "Everything I do is to the ultimate purpose of helping the boys, of moving them . . . for . . . ward. . . " her voice started to lose its power and her eyes went wide before narrowing. She stood there in the circle of Diana's embrace, her body unmoving. Then, she relaxed and rested her head on her old lover's shoulder. "Bitch."

"That's better," Diana said as she led Jane over to an antique love seat and settled them both on it. "I think it is wonderful that in having found a way to help these boys, what you do allows other folks to benefit, too."

Jane rested her head on Diana's shoulder and closed her eyes. "Thanks, dear," she said softly. "I guess I am feeling just a little fragile right now."

"Caitlyn matters to you, Jane. You love her, and you are worried that you won't be able to help her. We both know that you aren't the iron-hearted witch you want them to think that you are. And I agree with you about Caitlyn. She's an enigma and you are afraid to give up on her before you've solved that enigma. Well, at least she did not lie to you about that girl."

"You know something, Diana?" Jane asked softly. "Over the years, I have gotten very good at spotting my boys' lies and evasions. I'm almost as good as a lie detector, but I can't remember a time when I felt that Caitlyn was intentionally lying to me. Oh, there have been a few times when I thought she hasn't really known the whole truth, like yesterday when she told me she couldn't explain about the high heel incidents, but I don't believe she has ever really tried to deceive me."

"That says a lot, I think. Either that was an honest kid when he got here or you have turned him around."

"But the only evidence of that is my instinct, dear. Not something I can take to the probation officer."

"Why not? Aren't you a professional consultant? You must be or the court couldn't turn the kids over to you. Do you doubt your own judgment?"

"Yes. . .No. . .I mean, . . .Oh, I don't know. This is a helluva lot easier when they follow the plan."

"Life's like that, dear. Trust me when I say that I understand perfectly, but it's when the therapy doesn't follow the plan that I really earn my pay. Trust your instincts, dear. I think you are right on with this child."

The two femininely turned out friends, only one of whom was really a woman, sat in silence, simply enjoying the close contact of holding the other.

"Diana?" Jane finally said, her head still resting on his shoulder.

"Mmmmmm?"

"How did we end up cuddling on the settee?"

A very male chuckle answered Jane, followed by a hard hug. "I only regret it has taken this long to get here. I've been trying to figure out a way to get my hands on your elegant self since the moment I knew I was coming here."

"You WHAT??" Jane tried to jump away, but found herself held firmly in place. "I thought you came here to help Caitlyn!"

"Oh, I did, I did," Diana answered with a self-deprecating chuckle. "But I can do more than one thing at a time, dear, and helping Caitlyn is not the only item on my personal agenda."

"You came here planning to . . .to . . .what, . . .seduce me?" Jane asked, with a very unwelcome quaver in her usually strong voice.

A gentle finger pressed against Jane's lips silencing her. Diana moved very suddenly and pressed her mouth possessively against Jane's before standing up and offering the stunned woman a hand up. "That's only part of it, Jane, and the seduction will be verrrrry nice, too. *When* I eventually get to that. However, what I really came here to do, my lovely Jane, is to court you."

With that, Diana turned on her heel and sailed from the room, leaving a disbelieving Jane Thompson bobbing in her wake, staring after her retreating friend.

"Court me?? Court ME?? I don't *believe* this. I don't have *time* for this kind of distraction right now," Jane all but moaned. "I *really* don't have time for this."

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

For the better part of the next hour, a thoroughly confused Jane Thompson sat in the sunlit silence of her study. So many things, she railed inwardly, so many things on top of yet so many more, and she still had very little idea what to do about *any* of them. First there was Caitlyn, not to mention her probation officer, then Marie's injury and now, she had to deal with Diana declaring her semi-honorable intentions? Lord help her, but she couldn't think of what to do next.

Jane rose from her seat, intent on finding Marie and asking for her thoughts. She had just reached the door when her private line rang. For the first couple of rings, Jane seriously considered not answering and letting her service take a message, but then she remembered that Caitlyn's mother had said she'd be calling.

Sighing, she returned to her desk and picked up the phone. "Thompson Residence, Jane Thompson speaking."

"Jane!" an excited male voice called. "This is Reggie. I think I have found something important."

"Good news, I hope, Reggie," Jane said quietly.

"I don't know about that, Jane, but I did finally got a lead on what your student's been doing since he stopped going to class with his mother. According to the fine arts and drama teacher at his school, he found a dance club at the local "Y". I went down there and talked to the woman who runs the club. Evidently, he's been attending lessons there for over a year."

"His mother did not say anything about that, did she?"

"She didn't know. According to her, he's been taking martial arts classes that happen to meet at the same time at the same place. My suspicion is that he actually did take the martial arts classes for a few months until he discovered the dance club."

"What did he do at the dance club?"

"Not much outside of attend the class, according to the dancing teacher. He still didn't have much upper body strength, but he worked on the male parts anyway. One odd thing, Jane? The female dancers thought very highly of him, but not as a partner. They liked him because he was so good at helping them perfect their own dancing."

"Odd, but that seems to be the rule with this child. Oh well, thanks, Reggie."

"Oh, but Jane, that is not the only reason I called. I got some information on the incident that put him in court. According to his fine arts teacher, it may not have been quite what came out in the court."

"Oh? The police thought it was fairly cut and dried."

"Well, he went after that guy with a baseball bat, all right. However, the teacher said there were some circumstances that did not come out during the court case. Evidently, this guy he took out and his buddies have been really on your student's case all school year. They decided he was . . . well . . That he was not very masculine and just rode him hard about it. According to that teacher, they really did their level best to make him into a real laughing stock at school. She also said that she saw them corner him on at least three occasions. Since all of them were physically much larger than Carlton, they really intimidated him."

"And the ringleader of this little gang is the one that Carlton supposedly went looking for with a baseball bat?"

"Interesting thing about that, too, Jane. There is some question as to whether he was looking for them with the ball bat, or whether it was handy when he felt he needed it. Oh, and take three guesses who the only eyewitnesses are - but only the first one will count."

"The other members of the gang?"

"Bingo. After talking to that teacher, I talked to the police detective who did the investigation and he is a loser. Got his supposed witnesses, submitted the case and moved on to clear the next case off his quota. Never questioned anything. The DA decided that Carlton's conviction would make for an easy win in his campaign-promised war against school violence and pushed the issue with the case."

"Any idea what their problem is? The gang of jocks, that is."

"Not really. The teacher I spoke with thinks it is just that he is different. She says he always moved very fluidly and had some fairly exaggerated gestures," *Like a dancer*, Jane thought grimly, "That those macho assholes decided was effeminate. Easy meat."

"Find out what else you can about the case and any extenuating circumstances and I will take it to Judge Ruth. It may not be enough to get him off, but it may be enough to get that probation officer to back off for a while longer."

"Another thing, Jane? As nearly as this teacher recalls, almost all the trouble your boy has been in over the past year has been either instigated by or in retaliation against this group. Now, that's an opinion and not really backed up by the records or by the school administrators. All the official record shows is that he's been disciplined a lot in the past eighteen months or so, but she sounds convinced that if those clowns had left him alone, Carlton would have been fine."

"I see. Well, let me know else you find out, Reggie. At least now I have a possible explanation as to why he hasn't shown all that bad an attitude here. Thanks, dear."

"See you, Jane."

Jane set the phone down and rose from her chair. She needed to clear her head. *A walk,* she mused, *that is what I need right now - a little fresh air and exercise.*
 
 
Part 7: The Courtship of Ms Jane Thompson
 
Although Jane herself did not realize it, dinner that night was unusually quiet. There was none of the social banter, manners corrections, or business questions and answers that typically spiced almost every meal at the Thompson house. For her part, Jane could not seem to keep her mind on any subject other than Art/Artemis/Diana Philips.

Several times over the course of the meal, she actually caught herself staring at the silver-tressed vision at the other end of the dining table. Once, Diana had caught her, and quirked an eyebrow at Jane in silently laughing challenge. Jane had torn her eyes from Diana's, but not before she felt the heat of a fiery blush coloring her face.

They'd been good together all those years ago. Jane had forced herself to forget just how good when she'd made the decision to break things off with him. A part of Jane Thompson that she did not want to acknowledge was quietly wondering if they could be that good again. *Surely not,* she growled mentally. "We're both much older now, much more staid. Surely those fires have long since been reduced to embers.* Which momentarily relieved her anxiety, until she remembered just how her guest was dressed, and *that* in turn, reminded her of other games that a young Jane Thompson and Art Philips had played together. Memories which made her blush all the harder.

Jane had excused herself as soon as she possibly could without appearing too rude, and had fled to the privacy of her own apartment. She'd been about to pour herself a stiff brandy when she heard her door open.

"Have I driven you to drink, my love?" an amused voice said from behind Jane.

With great deliberation, Jane removed the stopper from the decanter and poured a perfect inch and a half into the crystal snifter. "May I offer you a drink?" She asked with what she thought was commendable control.

*What IS this??? I am not some green girl to go all fluttery when a man tells me he is pursuing me.* Jane thought as she held up the decanter in offer. *Lord, but I don't even know what -Art- looks like because Diana's the only "one" I've seen.*

"Thank you, Jane. That would be very nice," the lovely, very femininely turned out male replied.

Diana took the proffered snifter and walked over to take a seat on one of Jane's overstuffed chairs. She sighed with obvious pleasure and snuggled into its cushiony depths. "*MUCH* nicer than those stiff backed, rock hard seated things you have in the outer house, Dear. Now, why don't you tell me what's bothering you?"

Jane could not recall when she had last been so physically aware of another person. That alone was enough to make her glare in repressed fury at the smiling source of her distraction. "Damn you, Art," she finally exploded, "Why are you doing this to me? What is it? You want a lover who knows about your little dual identity and you figure I won't freak when you come to bed in makeup and lingerie? Is that why you are supposedly 'courting me'? Because you know what I do here, putting my little boys into frilly undies and skirts? Does that little facet of my persona make me somehow more convenient for you as Art and as Diana?"

The laugh that outburst elicited from Diana oscillated between a feminine giggle and an uncomfortably sexy masculine chuckle. "Ah, Jane," he rasped when he'd finally regained control of himself. "You, my love, are about the most inconvenient woman I have ever met. Nope. I simply intend to correct the single biggest mistake of my entire life, that's all."

"And just *what* may I ask does that mean? What mistake?"

"Lord, woman, but you do the haughty lady of the manor perfectly." Diana set her snifter aside and rose to her feet. Slowly, she began to move towards Jane. "My great mistake, dear heart, is symbolized by the continued nudity of your left ring finger."

To her intense embarrassment, Jane found herself rubbing said nude finger while stepping backward, trying to keep distance between herself and Diana. Diana's grin only widened when Jane's bottom came up hard against the solid, unyielding mass of her desk. Before she could say or do anything else, Jane found herself being thoroughly kissed. Her last rational thought for the next several dizzy minutes was that she'd forgotten how nice lipstick on lipstick felt.

When Diana finally broke the kiss that damnably satisfied male grin made Jane want to slap him - and she would have - if her corn mush brain could have found her hands at that moment.

"Letting you walk out of my life without a fight. Stupidest damned thing I have ever done. Don't expect to escape this time, Darling. I intend to make you Mrs. Philips, or is that make myself Mrs. Thompson? Or maybe Thompson-Philips. Or is that Philips-Thompson perhaps?"

"Would you please STOP that?" Jane *did* scream that time.

"Okay. For now. We can pick it up tonight after the girls are in bed." Diana planted a quick kiss to Jane's cheek and then returned to her seat. So, now that we've dealt with my evil designs on your lovely, delicate and nubile self, I guess that it is Caitlyn that is still bothering you?"

"Not so nubile anymore, Diana, and it's both you and Caitlyn. I don't know what to do to solve the problem posed by either of you."

"Well, since I refuse to work against my own interests, and since I *know* you are going to fight me tooth and nail as long as one of your cubs is in jeopardy, Momma Bear, why don't we sit down and try to catalog what it is we really know about," and here Diana dropped her voice by octaves, "the Caitlyn Enigma."

"You make this sound like Robert Ludlum mystery thriller."

"Just so. You want to write or shall I?"

For a very long time, Jane stood very still. "I am serious about that, Jane," Diana finally said to break the impasse. "I think it is time we tried to put down everything we know that makes her unique. Maybe we can start pulling things together and making connections." When Jane still did not move, Diana sat forward and ordered, "Sit! I promise not to jump your bones tonight, if that is what you're worried about."

Jane seemed to shake herself and then nodded. "Very well. Okay, Doctor," she said, assuming a seat on the opposite side of the coffee table from Diana. "How do we start?"

"At the beginning. We know that he was tried for assault."

"Yes," Jane murmured, "but something I learned today has bearing on that." And Jane reviewed her earlier call from her investigator student.

"So, he quit dancing for no apparent reason, tried to do something else, i.e., the martial arts, but then was back in a dance class within a few months. Covertly. Okay, let's put that together with what else we know about dance."

"He evidently was quite talented in both of his classes before he came here, and obviously, he does very well in his private, late night recitals, but is hopelessly inept at the class he takes here."

"Except when he's lost in the music and alone," Diana added. "Also, we know that he likes going to class, well enough that he would ask you to take him."

"That just may be a result of the fact that he is well-liked as a person by the other students."

"Perhaps. I'll note it down. All right, let's move on to other anomalies."

"Cosmetics and moving about in heels," Jane offered.

They spent a good twenty minutes going over Caitlyn's history in those two areas, carefully revisiting each time that the boy had been able to perform effectively in either.

"So, the only times you've seen him put on relatively complex make up was on those videotapes of him dancing."

"He did a relatively nice job at the hospital, but that wasn't all that difficult. Actually, it was quite subtle."

"Very odd," Diana said. "No other issues with clothing or grooming? I mean, I have watched her and she seems to be quite comfortable in the skirts and dresses she wears. She sits and moves like quite the lady."

"She's been in them for over five months, Diana," Jane said with some disgust. "I would hope she would have learned to wear them correctly by this time."

"She doesn't move in heels or wear cosmetics yet, Jane. It may mean nothing. So, other than the make up she has to put on herself, there was no problem with hair or anything like that?"

"No, not rea . . . ," Jane stopped in mid sentence. "You know, there was an incident, although at the time I simply put it down as the expected, if somewhat more obstinate, reaction of a boy being put into curls. The second month he was here, I took him to the beauty parlor. I was starting to get unhappy with his progress and wanted to do something that would really get his attention."

"Ah, the metaphoric 'two-by-four' in the face rule of leadership?"

"Yes. Well, you see what relatively long hair she has? Well, I was going to have Sandy turn it into a mass of curls - really "Shirley Temple" her. Sandy started to cut her hair and Caitlyn just lost it on me. I arrived there and saw her, still with the white protective sheet about her, standing in the corner facing off with Sandy. Nothing we could do or say would get her back into that chair, and short of restraining her to the chair once we got her there, we couldn't have gone near her safely with a sharp implement. She simply would not agree to cooperate or move from that corner until she had extracted my word that Sandy wouldn't cut her hair."

"Evidently you kept your word." Diana said with approval.

"I learned early that you can never tell a direct lie or fail to keep a promise with these kids. She still got a very "big hair" set, but she looked more like Farrah Fawcett than Shirley Temple. Unfortunately, that did not bother her very much, even when every adolescent male within twenty yards of us at the mall gawked at her."

"So, her hair being long was important to her - Important enough to dare your wrath, again. Interesting. That's it?"

"As far as clothing and grooming goes. Betty Franson reached her at the Dress Shoppe, but then, putting on fifteen or twenty dresses in a semi-public room is daunting even if you don't have something odd hidden in your panties. Other than that, she does most other things passably - quite well, in fact. She cooks and cleans up without a fuss, keeps her room neat and doesn't mind helping Marie keep the place dusted and the like. Oh, and she nurses Marie like a cross between Florence Nightingale and Hypolyta, Queen of the Amazons."

"Quite a conundrum your Caitlyn, Jane. You know, it seems to me that an awful lot of his troubles date back to when he suddenly stopped going to dance class with his Mother. At least if your investigator's source - who was that? The fine arts teacher?" Jane nodded and Diana continued, "If her account is accurate."

"She is only one person, Diana, and she is the only one who mentioned anything of the kind."

"True, true," Diana agreed. "Still, I would sure like to know why she quit dancing as abruptly as she did."

"Well, I can ask. In fact, I am still expecting a call from her Mother."

Diana nodded, and then looked at the clock on Jane's mantle. "My goodness, look how late it's gotten. I must be off to my bed. We'll think more clearly about this tomorrow after a nice hot bath and a good night's sleep." She rose and blew a coy kiss in Jane's direction. "Nightie-night, sweetheart. Dream lovely hot and sexy dreams about me." And with a saucy wink, she was gone.

For the second time that day, a speechless Jane Thompson watched as her former lover sauntered out the door of her rooms. "I really, really don't *believe* this," she said again in great exasperation. "And I *don't* have *time* for this right now."

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

Morpheus refused to visit Jane and grant her repose. Her every nerve was on edge; every muscle was wire-taut. She'd given up laying down and was prowling her quarters like an enraged lioness. "How *dare* he do this to me?" she snarled more than once.

"I refuse to let him get to me this way," she told herself and headed back to her bedroom. On her way to her huge canopied bed, Jane happened to glance and see herself in the mirror, and stopped dead in her tracks.

Jane was not a vain woman, but what she saw in that mirror at that moment was certainly worthy of vanity. A lifetime of horse riding and keeping up with energetic teenagers had kept her body trim and firm. The filmy nightgown and peignoir hugged her tight curves and small waist. Her long auburn hair hung loose and free. Her eyes were wild and her mouth was open. *My god,* she thought, *I am literally panting.*

"DAMN the man!" she spit out as she stormed out of her bedroom toward the hall doorway. "He's not getting away with this. There is simply *no* way he is going to get the better of me!"

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

Diana hadn't been able to sleep either. The supposed remedy for what was currently ailing him, a freezing cold shower, had twice failed to cool his blood. So he'd slipped on a silk robe and had taken a seat by the bed to read. Without much more success.

"That has to be the fifth time I've tried to read that page," he sighed. Just then, the door to his room slammed open. His head snapped up in time to see a wild-haired valkyrie in black satin and silk bearing down on him, raw fire burning in her eyes.

He started to stand. "Janeeeee??" was all he managed to get out before his mouth was being ravished. For her part, Jane never even slowed, all but tackling her prey and carrying him bodily to the bed where she followed him down onto the thick, satin-slippery comforter, her mouth still locked with his, her hands running wild over him.

A long time later, they lay entwined, their bodies damp and replete from their loving. "Next time," Jane murmured, "I want you properly made up. I like the way you taste with lipstick on."

The chuckle that answered her was pure male. "Glad you know that there will be a next time, sweet Jane."

"I am stubborn, Artemis/Diana, but I am not stupid. The only way you are sleeping alone anytime from now until the end of your vacation is if you fall asleep in the sun by the pool."

Jane gave a soft, throaty giggle that would have amazed any of her boys, and then shimmied herself to get a little closer to her lover's body. His instantaneous male response pleased her greatly. "Hey, Janey, be careful, or I won't let you go to sleep for another hour or so," Diana warned.

Jane repeated the movement, more slowly and deliberately this time. "Oh, promises, promises, old man," she teased.

"OLD MAN??" he growled pulling her closer. "I'll show you who's old, missy."

Well over the aforementioned hour later, a sleepy voice sighed. "Tomorrow night, sweetheart. I will make myself up for you tomorrow night."

Only a soft, purringly feminine snore answered.

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

Jane managed to slip back to her own rooms just before dawn so no one in the house knew where and how she'd spent the night. Of course, when she couldn't quite keep the goofy smile off her face at the breakfast table, she figured she'd given the game away.

Actually, all *that* did was terrify Caitlyn and unnerve Darla. Neither be-skirted boy could begin to imagine what newly devised terror of Jane's would make her smile like *that*, and all the time, too.

Jane would have been pleased to know her reputation was still working for her, if she'd been at all concerned such minor matters, but Jane was too caught up in the throes of rediscovered love. As a result, the day, for the most part, passed uneventfully. Marie had to go to the doctor's office for a checkup, and Caitlyn was due at dancing class. Jane took Marie in the station wagon and Diana drove Caitlyn in Jane's Lincoln.

Dance class went much as the last one had with nothing new noted by Diana's keen, if covert, surveillance. The day's best news was that Marie had been given permission to get up and move around on crutches. The only admonition had been to take it easy when her knee started to hurt too much.

It was still too soon for her to be able to resume running the household, but Caitlyn once again had a solution. "You can sit in the kitchen or where ever, and supervise me. I'll be your legs until you are moving around more easily."

"*You* just want to be close by so that you can nag me back into a chair when ever *you* think I am overdoing, cherie. You don't fool me for an instant, Miss," Marie had accused, waggling an admonitory finger at the unrepentant Caitlyn.

"It'll work," was Caitlyn's pert retort.

"And an excellent solution since I know you all too well, Marie," Jane had interjected with a stern look at her best friend. "I think I can count on Caitlyn to keep you on the short leash you need just now."

"HAH! Short leash?!? More like keeping hold of the scruff of my neck." Under the power of Jane's unblinking stare, Marie finally subsided. "Oh, all right, but just you wait, cherie, until I am on my feet again. I have had all this time to study glamour magazines and I have found some make up tricks that will look just *wonderful* on you. I can't *wait* to show you off all fixed up like that."

The threat had been made in a teasing tone with a wide, cheerful smile on Marie's face. No one in the room could possibly have taken her words as a threat of actual retribution. No one except Caitlyn, who again went rigid and lost all the color in her cheeks. "I . . . I'm sorry, Ms. Marie," she managed to choke out. "I . . I didn't mean to impose."

Marie immediately hobbled over to the girl and took her in her arms, crutches dangling. "Ah, cherie, don't worry. I was just fooling with you. I promise, I won't do anything like that, okay?"

Jane watched as her student slowly relaxed under Marie's ministrations and promises. Finally, she nodded roughly. "Okay, then," Marie said more brusquely. Now, into my kitchen with you. You haven't done *too* badly in my absence, but I want to cook my own dinner tonight."

"All right, Ms. Marie," Caitlyn said softly.

Marie nodded as she began moving toward the kitchen. "And Caitlyn?"

"Yes, Ms. Marie?"

"My friends have the privilege of using my given name. I would be pleased and honored if you would call me Marie.

Only Jane saw the look of utter disbelief during the barest instant before an explosion of joy that lit her student's face.

*And another unfitted piece of the puzzle becomes visible.*

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

The house was redolent with wonderful smells and aromas, indicating Marie's return to power in her kitchen-domain when the phone in Jane's office rang.

Jane answered the phone. "Ms. Thompson? This is Eleanora Jeffries."

*Well, I knew this was coming.* "Good afternoon, Mrs. Jeffries. I am glad you called."

"Perhaps you won't be so very glad after I have my say, Ms. Thompson." Jane could hear the suppressed emotion in the other woman's voice. "I want to know what is happening with my son. I was given to understand that most of your students are all but finished with your program after five months. I have been expecting you to get in touch with me regarding travel plans and such for his return home, but I have not heard anything from you in over a month when you told me he was having problems, but trying."

*And there's not much more I can say at this time, either,* Jane thought. "Yes, Mrs. Jeffries. That is true, however, I have had students stay much longer than five months as well."

"Ms. Thompson, I am not talking about other students. I am talking about *my* son who has a sentence to juvenile hall hanging over his head. Now, I have this private investigator saying that he is representing you asking questions about my son. I want to know exactly what is going on, Ms. Thompson."

*Remember to call him Carlton, Jane,* she reminded herself. *The Jeffries only got a very sketchy idea of what it is that I do here because Ruth wanted to make sure they'd accept the bargain.* "Carlton has shown some improvement since last we spoke, Mrs. Jeffries. Not as much as I would like, but I am definitely not displeased with he. . .him."

"Ms. Thompson." and now Mrs. Jeffries voice became icy cold. "What . . . is . . .my . . . son . . .failing . . .to . . do?"

*Damn. How can I tell her that her son doesn't walk well in high heels, can't seem to put on make up properly and oh by the way, seems to be hiding the fact that *he* is a very accomplished and skilled _ballerina_!?!?!* "If you will recall, I told you that my program was aimed at developing grace and manners under pressure."

"My son, except for when he has been forced to protect himself from a vicious attack by those bullies, is a perfect gentleman, Ms. Thompson. As for *grace*, my son has studied dance for almost ten years and he was superb at it. Unless he has had a late growth spurt, I cannot believe that there is *anything* deficient in his grace of movement."

"No growth spurt, Mrs. Jeffries," Jane responded honestly. "But he has not shown any of that grace in public."

"Mrs. Thompson. I am ticketed on the next flight to Providence. I have reservations with the hotel in Kingston. I will expect you to call upon me there tomorrow morning at ten. Unless you do, I will be on your doorstep by eleven."

"That violates your agreement with Ruth, Mrs. Jeffries. I could vacate his suspended sentence and ship him immediately off to that juvenile hall." Jane hoped she'd believe that threat because there was no way Jane would ever do it - at least not until she had solved the Caitlyn Enigma.

"So what? According to that probation officer, my son is mere days away from that happening anyway. This way, I will at least know what was so unacceptable about my son that the woman who Judge Ruth praised to the heavens as the savior of countless boys has been unable to help him."

"I see," Jane said very quietly and then sighed. "Very well. I will see you tomorrow at ten, but for the sake of your son, Mrs. Jeffries, please stay away from my house. Whatever chance I still have to help your son could well go down the drain if he sees you in his current situation."

"Then I will expect you to be there, Ms. Thompson. And I would suggest you explain to me in some detail exactly what this so-called situation of his is all about. Perhaps it just might be better for him to be in juvenile hall. At least there I could keep an eye on his keepers and hold *them* to account for what they were doing for and to my son."

"I will see you tomorrow," Jane repeated stolidly. "Good bye."

Jane set the phone down, her knuckles white under the strain, her eyes stinging and burning from repressed tears. That was how Diana found her. "Jane, what is the matter?" Diana asked as she moved to her lover's side.

"Oh, God, Diana," Jane said, her voice little more than a harsh whisper. "I am going to lose Caitlyn before I even get the chance to figure out how to help her."

"Settle down, dear. Come over to the sofa and tell me all about it," Diana said gently as she moved Jane firmly away from her phone.

"That was Caitlyn's Mother. . ."
 
 
Part 8: Caitlyn Breaks and the Puzzle Fits
 
A knock on his door brought Darryl out of a lovely daydream. He'd been thinking about college, and more importantly, college girls. One problem with being schooled at home and living as Darla in order to help Aunt Jane with her program was the lack of *real* girls in *Darryl's* life. The few times he had been out among girls as a guy, he'd done rather well, even if he did say so himself. Jane's program had given him a very unique view of the feminine outlook and the ladies seemed to sense that about him . . . and to *like* it about him . . . a LOT!

So, he was not in a particularly good mood when, after checking his appearance in the mirror to ensure that Darla looked adequately 'winsome', she opened her door to "Caitlyn?"

"Hi, Darla," Caitlyn said quietly. "I am sorry to bother you, but I need some help and I don't know where else to turn."

"What can I do for you, Caitlyn?"

"I want to work on walking in heels some more. Maybe if I can do that, Ms. Thompson will give me more time to get past the make up thing, but I know I will need help to do it without killing myself."

*Uh oh.* "Ummm, why not ask Jane? She'd be tickled that you were willing to try without being told to do it."

Caitlyn shook her head sadly. "No, because of the two times when Marie was hurt, she thinks I am faking this." Suspiciously glittering eyes looked up into Darla's own. "I'm not, though. HONEST, Darla. I don't want to go to that prison for underage males."

*Lord, why do I want to believe her?* Darla silently lamented. *No, it's more than that - I *do* believe her. The question is, why do I actually believe her?* Sighing at her own gullibility, Darla began to open her door when she remembered the sports pages strewn all across Darla's bed. *Ooops.*

"How about we do it in your room, Caitlyn? Then we can try all your shoes and see if a particular style makes any difference." *Don't know why it would, but hey, try anything in a crisis.*

"Oh, thank you, Darla!" That blinding smile was back. "Can we do it right now?"

Shrugging, Darla smiled in return. "Sure. Let's do it and surprise the heck out of Aunt Jane for a change."

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

"So, you have deceived the parents in all this?" Diana asked in a very flat voice.

"Strictly speaking, I suppose you can say that. We, that is, Ruth and I, just did not explicitly tell them what my program really entailed. We've had problems before with . . . non-voluntary parents in the past. They have a tendency to show up at awkward times in the boy's rehabilitation, interfering in the program, and in general, making a difficult job much harder. In one case, one woman loudly chastised me in front of the child. Such nonsense encourages a child who is already inclined to be rebellious to continue fighting me. The mother who chewed me out in front of her son finally had to be put on a restraining order to keep her away from my home. The next time she contacted her child without my express permission, the boy was to have been dispatched to juvenile lockup until his eighteenth birthday. And at that, her interference literally cost the boy almost half a year. Ultimately, I had to keep him in skirts for over a year before we achieved a turnaround with him."

"So, you don't believe in your own program strongly enough to be able to sell it to parents who are already in a situation where they are willing to accept almost anything to avoid court ordered incarceration?" Diana asked in sardonic tones. "Please, Jane, don't take me for a fool. We both know that's not why you've elected to keep the parents in the dark about the specifics of what it is you do to these boys."

"Well, what is your opinion on why *I* do something *I* know works, Doctor." Every word dripped in ice that belied the angry fire in Jane's eyes.

Diana shrugged. "You just said it, dear. You know it works. It is easier for you to do it this way. Not easier for the parents, especially for caring parents, but you get off more easily."

Stung by those words, and not wanting to admit their validity, Jane struck back. "I can't risk my other students. If those parents don't already have a stake in keeping my secret, how can I entrust my other boys' lives and reputations to them? And what about the boy in question, eh? At least my way, it is his choice to tell his parents what happened here with me and why it happened, but *only* after he has graduated and understands what the experiences did for him as a person."

"Your other boys are safe, Jane. Ruth can easily protect them by forcing a pre-indoctrination agreement on the prospective participants. They simply have to sign a contract never to reveal anything about the program, regardless of whether they accept the deal or not. If they refuse to sign, they aren't told anything substantive about the program and their little darling goes behind the metaphoric cold steel bars of juvy. As for the current boy, your argument is valid *if* the boy graduates, but suppose you fail, as you seem to think you will with Caitlyn. *Then* what do you do? Explain to his parents that your program consists of a very heavy dose of petticoat discipline and all that entails? Or worse, that your best efforts did not work with their boy?" Diana's voice became low, gravelly-rough and stereotypically redneck male in tone, "Well, o'course my *boy* didn't get nothin' outta your stupid program, you idjit woman. My boy is a *man*. Damn fool stupid females."

"Diana!"

Diana resumed her normal light alto voice. "And in that case, you *won't* be able to protect your other boys or Judge Ruth or anyone else who has ever been involved with you because you have no legal or emotional hold on the boy or his parents."

Jane went very still as she digested Diana's words. "I have never thought of it like that before."

"You've never had to deal with court directed psychological therapies. Trust me, we head shrinkers have learned these lessons the hard way."

"So what do I do tomorrow with Mrs. Jeffries?" Jane asked wearily.

"I go with you, as Art, and let my sheepskin and research experience support you. We argue for more time with the boy, and then, we do whatever it takes to get that probation officer off your back for at least another three months."

"Oh, I don't know, Diana. Short of lying, I don't know what I could do to keep him."

"So lie," Diana said with ringing conviction. "Your first responsibility is to the child. Do you believe that the alternative is better for that boy than what you do here?" Jane hesitated, uncertain how to respond, her personal ethics and legal responsibilities warring inside her. "Do you really believe that, Jane?" Diana repeated very gently.

Taking a deep, heaving breath, Jane shook her head. "No," she replied in a barely audible voice. "That sweet child would wither and die in that place."

"So what are you going to do?"

Jane walked back over to Diana and weakly hugged her, resting her head against her lover's shoulder. "I guess I'll lie."

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

Darla was doing her level best not to scream out her frustration at Caitlyn. For the past hour, they had been trying to find a pair of heels the girl could walk in. Now, she was standing by watching Caitlyn lace up a pair of high-heeled calf-length boots that Darla had loaned to her.

*If I hadn't seen her walking - hell - *running* in those heels when Marie acted like she was hurt, there is no way I would believe this person could ever walk in these things.*

"Ready?" She asked, trying to keep the resignation out of her voice.

"I. . .I think so." Caitlyn answered with a quaver. "Here goes." She pushed herself off the bed with her hands and struggled momentarily for balance.

Darla waited for Caitlyn to manage the two steps to where she was standing so that they could try one more time.

Caitlyn never made it. The heel of her right foot went out from under her as she made that crucial second step, sending her toppling over backward. Darla was just a step too far away to catch her and Caitlyn crashed the back of her head against the edge of her mattress.

Momentarily stunned, it took Caitlyn a few moments to clear her head sufficiently to realize that Darla was yelling at her. "I'm o. ..okay," she managed to get out. "Just hit my head on the mattress is all."

Relief washed over Darla like a cold shower. Slowly she stepped back, intending to offer Caitlyn a hand up and saw her position. Caitlyn was sprawled on the floor, her back resting against the bed, her legs spread-eagled on the floor with the pointed toes of the high heeled shoes pointing to the stars. Darla thought she looked for all the world like some character out of a children's cartoon. All that was missing were images of stars and planets spinning about her head. The combination of adrenalin-drop, the situation and her own terror did Darla in. She began to laugh, almost hysterically, in her relief that her friend was actually unhurt.

"What are you laughing at?!?" Caitlyn yelled. Darla couldn't seem to stop and could only gesture helplessly. "ME? You are laughing at ME??" Caitlyn began scrambling to her knees, her face a mask of fury and hurt. "Damn you! Stop laughing at me! I thought *you* at least my friend! Ms. Thompson said other people would laugh at the boy in skirts, but I thought *you* were different. I thought you, at least, cared about me! DAMN YOU!!"

An open hand slap to her cheek rocked Darla back on her haunches. Suddenly, she was being pelted by flying missiles as Caitlyn launched lipsticks, powder pots and bottles of all sizes at her adversary, all the time screaming for her friend to stop laughing at her.

Not knowing what else to do, Darla launched herself at Caitlyn to try and restrain her, grateful for the fact that she, at least, was in flats. She just wished she had paid more attention when Kenneth, or rather Kendra as she was known in Jane's house, had offered to teach her the basics of that martial art thing that Kendra had once used to restrain an enraged Darla.

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

"JANE!! DIANA!! HELP ME!"

Instantly recognizing both the terror and the fact that it was Darryl, not Darla who was calling, Jane was heading for the stairs before the words had finished reverberating about the house. *Oh, God, not another one. Not another Michael* she prayed as she ran.

Diana reached the bedroom door just behind Jane. There was Darla, her arms and legs wrapped around a wildly struggling Caitlyn from behind. "Help me. I can't calm her down and she's damnably strong."

Almost immediately, Diana left the doorway and ran down the hall. Jane moved towards the bed, oblivious to the brass and broken bits of ceramic and crystal that littered the floor. "Easy, Caitlyn," She said, trying to relax the girl. "It's all right now."

Before she could say anything else, Diana returned to the room and pushed in front of Jane. In swift, practiced movements, she daubed Caitlyn's arm with an aromatic pad and then plunged a hypodermic needle into the just sanitized skin.

"What was that?" Jane asked as Caitlyn began relaxing almost instantly.

"Sedative. We use it with some of our more violent penal system patients when they lose it for some reason during therapy. Very fast acting with no side or after effects." Diana told her briskly. "You can let her go now, Darla. Here, let me help you get her up onto the bed."

"What happened?" Jane finally asked. Tearfully, Darla reviewed the events leading up to Caitlyn's break.

"So, it was the laughter that set her off?" Diana asked.

Darla nodded shakily. "It was like an electrical switch got thrown."

"Okay. Jane? One of the effects of that drug in some folks is that they become very suggestible - almost like sodium penothal.

"You mean truth serum?" Darla asked, her eyes wide.

Smiling gently, Diana replied, "Not quite, but she might answer some of the questions that are bothering us if we can phrase them properly for her almost sleeping mind. Now, you two, get out of here. The fewer things to distract her right now, the better."

Darla went, but Jane hesitated, not wanting to leave her boy like this. "I will take very good care of her for you, Janey, I promise. You can watch in your study, but this is something I should do alone."

Finally, Jane nodded, and without another word, left the room.

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

An hour later, Diana came into Jane's study and walked straight to the bar. She poured herself a brandy before turning and silently offering up the decanter to Jane. "I'll take one, too, dear," Jane said softly.

"Well," Diana said after a bracing sip of the fiery liquid. "I would say that our visit with Mrs. Jeffries just became critically important."

"Oh? Why? I could hear you, but I could barely make out what it was that Caitlyn said to you."

"His mother is why he dropped out of ballet the first time."

"WHAT?"

"Evidently he decided that he was hurting her by continuing to go to dance class. It seems that the dance teacher began paying a lot of attention to him at some point in time, and he saw his mother appear to react negatively to that attention a few times. He also has convinced himself that her reaction had to do with dance movements that he was capable of performing that his mother no longer could."

"You think he quit because he believed he was hurting her feelings?"

"That's part of it. Unfortunately, he fell completely asleep before I could get all of it out of him, and what I did get is a little confused. Jane? According to your investigator, what parts did Carlton dance?"

"Hmmm. ..let me see." Jane rummaged around for the faxed copies of Reggie's reports. She ruffled through them until she found what she was looking for. "Well, it doesn't really say for the period when he was dancing with his Mother. When he went to the Y, the report is that he worked at the male parts, but wasn't strong enough physically to partner as a soloist. Oh yes, and it says that he refused to participate in performances anyway."

Diana sat down and closed her eyes in deep thought. "There is something there that I am just not seeing."

"Yes, I know what you mean. It is strange though, that the earlier dance teacher at the dedicated studio thought so highly of him when the second one at a club at the Y said he wasn't strong enough."

Diana's eyes went wide. "Oh. . My. . .God."

"What is it??" Jane demanded.

"He thought his performance was hurting his mother's feelings. Why would he think that? A male dancer is not a threat to a ballerina."

"Oh, Diana, you aren't thinking that he was dancing . ."

"Female roles?" Diana asked, certainty growing by the instant. "Yes, I think that is it. That would explain why the boy is so proficient en pointe when boys are never taught to go on tiptoe."

"Heels?"

"Remind him subconsciously of going on toe point. Vivid cosmetics remind him of stage make up. Short hair can't be styled into a dancer's knot."

"He's protecting his Mother? But what about the fighting? The ball bat and his reaction to laughter?"

"I am not sure about those. They may not be entirely related. I mean, look at the way the boy moves normally."

"Like a dancer," Jane said flatly.

"Like a very good dancer. That's instinctual - it is how his muscles know how to move. It certainly isn't the ponderous tread of the testosterone poisoned adolescent male animal. He'd stand out, be different. He's also small in stature and naturally quiet. He'd be, as your investigator friend put it so succinctly, easy meat for the bullies of the world."

"Sometimes you have to fight when you're a man," Jane quoted.

"Just so," Diana added, then caught the pensive look in her friend's face. "Is that significant?"

"Might be." Jane replied before she related the discussion she'd had with her student during her impromptu massage.

"Parental pressure to defend himself? That fits. He's trying to please them even when it is against his own desires and feelings."

"What was that? I don't understand."

"Look at all the evidence, Jane. Except for the very specific activities that might relate to or remind him of dance, how does he behave?"

"Very well. Caitlyn is quite the perfect lady."

"Exactly. I have watched her. She is happy doing the little feminine rituals you impose on your students. She cooks wonderfully, presents food like a chef, doesn't mind cleaning up and loves mothering Marie. Have you tried her on any feminine crafts?"

Jane nodded. "Water colors and embroidery. She thoroughly enjoyed them. That's why I stopped doing those. They relaxed her and I needed her to feel stressed."

Diana chuckled softly. "Which you will probably never achieve with that one. Girls don't get stressed out doing girl things, Janey."

"But he's *not* really a girl," Jane retorted. Diana said nothing. "Oh, no, Diana. I have had transvestites before and the act of dressing up excited them. Carlton hasn't had a single nocturnal emission since he arrived. Marie checks."

"I did not say transvestite, Jane. I said 'girl'. Except when you've stepped on the dance landmine, every time I have seen that girl she's been happy."

"But . . .but. ."

"But nothing. This is only a working hypothesis, Jane. That's why we need to talk to Mom tomorrow. She can help us reach some conclusions about what to do next. One thing I am sure of, Jane, is that there is *no* way that child belongs in a juvenile detention institution. It must have taken a helluva lot to push him or her over the edge like that. It *had* to be self defense."

"All right. I can accept that. Now, what about Caitlyn for now?"

"Darla is sitting with her. She wants to be there when the sedative wears off so that she can apologize. That's okay - Darla needs the closure, but in reality, the whole incident has been fortuitous. At least now, we have some idea of what is driving that child. Now, we can begin to help her confront and deal with the real problems in her life."

"And if you are right, those problems are huge."

"Depends on how Mom reacts. A loving family can help smooth many a rough road. Based on how she chewed on you yesterday, I am inclined to think this Mom is quite the bulldozer." Diana rose and held out her hand to Jane. "C'mon. Let's go help Marie with dinner. Caitlyn will have all three of our collective asses if we let her beloved Ms. Marie overdo because we were wasting time fretting over Caitlyn and not over Marie."
 
 
Part 9: Caitlyn's Mother
 
A groan and a whimper roused Darla who had been dozing in the same chair that Jane had used only a few nights earlier when she had kept watch on the sleeping Caitlyn. Caitlyn stretched and then started fully awake. "Who's there?" she asked into the darkness.

"It's me . . . Darla."

"Oh, you," and the voice went very dull.

"Caitlyn, I want to apologize to you for laughing like I did. I wasn't laughing at you, really I wasn't. I was just so scared that you had really hurt yourself when you fell, and then you were all right . . .." Darla's voice broke and she took a deep breath to control her own emotion. "Well, when you were all right, I was just so relieved and happy that all I could do was laugh. I am sorry I hurt you."

There was a long, very uncomfortable silence that had Darla squirming before Caitlyn finally responded. "That's the truth? You aren't just saying that because Ms. Thompson told you to apologize?"

"Please trust me, Caitlyn, I would *never* laugh at anyone who came a cropper trying to follow one of Jane's orders," Darla said fervently.

Caitlyn again went silent, and for a moment, Darla wondered if she had fallen back to sleep. "You are very strong, Darla, for your size. You held me down quite easily."

"Not so very easily, girlfriend," Darla replied, just a hint of a laugh in her voice. "You are tough!"

"That's why you really wouldn't laugh at someone like me, even though Ms. Thompson told me anyone who figured out that I really was a boy all this stuff would laugh, because you are like me, aren't you? You are really a boy under that make up and nightgown." There was no question or doubt in Caitlyn's voice, simply quiet certainty.

Darla thought about trying to lie her way out of it, but in the end, decided there was little point. "My real name is Darryl," he said simply. "And everything you've been asked to do, I have been asked to do as well. That's why I was not laughing *at* you this afternoon and why I would never laugh at you - period. I was laughing at the situation and from an overdose of relief."

"Thank you, Darryl. I accept your apology even though I now understand that none was owed."

"Thank you, Caitlyn, and it might just be best if Aunt Jane did not know you know I am a boy. She's under a lot of pressure right now about your progress in the program, and one of the main ideas of her method is an older sister who is really a boy helping the new kid. If she thought you had figured out I am a guy, she might decide there wasn't any point in continuing you in the program. She wouldn't want to, but she might feel legally obligated, you know? In this case, what Aunt Jane doesn't know won't hurt you, okay?"

"Okay," Caitlyn said, a smile in her voice. "*Darla*."

"Great. Are you going to be okay? This chair really stinks and my back is begging me to go find my own bed before I'm crippled by the thing."

"Sure. Sweet dreams, Darla, and thanks again."

Somehow, without either boy-girl being precisely certain what motivated them, the pair shared what could only be described as a sisterly hug. They broke apart with shy smiles, but without really feeling any embarrassment, again surprising both of them.

Darla stepped back and moved to the door. "No problem, little sister, and don't worry about Aunt Jane. I will figure out a way to keep you around until she can honestly tell Judge Ruth that you are all better. Even if I have to break my leg so that *I* need little Miss Nurse Caitie. 'Night, Caitlyn."

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

Jane and Diana stood in the hotel lobby, waiting for the elevator. "Are you really sure that Art wouldn't be a better advocate?" Jane asked for the twentieth time since Diana had appeared for breakfast announcing that *she*, not Art would accompany Jane that morning.

"As sure as I can be, dear. We may still need Art, but in this context, having Art spring forth from Diana may help our position. We will have to play it by ear."

The elevator door swooshed open and took them rapidly to Mrs. Jeffries' floor. Pushing back any uncertainty, Jane strode over to the appropriate door and knocked.

Jane recognized the petite, slender brunette who answered the door. In many ways, she strongly reminded her of Caitlyn, except for Caitlyn's currently blond colored locks. The same facial bones, the same eyes, the same basic body type, and yet, Jane could feel the power burning inside the other woman and knew that Mrs. Jeffries had come ready for battle.

Femma e femma for her son's well being.

"Hello, Mrs. Jeffries. May we come in?"

Without a word, the shorter woman stood aside and let Jane lead Diana into the suite's sitting room. Jane stopped and indicated her escort. "Mrs. Jeffries, may I introduce Dr. Philips who is a practicing psychologist-therapist and my very good friend? And Diana? This is Mrs. Eleanora Jeffries, Carlton's Mother."

Both women mumbled a polite pleasantry and soon all were seated, looking uncomfortably at one another. Finally, at a prod from Diana, Jane spoke up. "I feel, Mrs. Jeffries, that I should begin by telling you more about how I undertake to rehabilitate boys who are put in my keeping. I was intentionally vague when we first met. I had reasons, but I have recently been given to understand that they are not valid, and besides, you need to understand the program so that you can begin to understand the problems I have been having with your child."

Over the next twenty minutes, Jane laid out the history of her program, starting with her experiences at Eastmore through her work with "Caitlyn". Jane concluded with a discussion of the problems she had been having with Caitlyn.

For her part, the steadily rising color of Mrs. Jeffries' face gave grim testament to exactly what she thought of Jane's revelations. Finally, she asked, beginning in a very quiet voice that rose steadily in volume with each spoken syllable, "So, let me see if I have this correctly. I am to understand that my son has been living with you, trying to learn to behave and act like a teenage girl for the past five months?!?"

"That is what I just said, Mrs. Jeffries. Your son Carlton has been living as Caitlyn since within twenty four hours of leaving the train in Kingston," Jane replied steadily.

"And in the course of this . . .this . .*program*, my son has been injured no fewer than four times because *you* in your infinite wisdom decided that he absolutely *had* to walk in high heels? Do I have this right?" Jane started to reply, but was cut off as the outraged mother lurched to her feet and began pacing about the room. "Who the hell made you God, Ms. Thompson? What gives you the right to put my son physically at risk? And I haven't even begun to tell you what I think about your stupid idea of cross dressing my son to - *HA* - rehabilitate him."

Diana chose that moment to stand and put herself between Jane and the furious woman. "Mrs. Jeffries," she said firmly. "First, let me tell you that there is both historical and research based evidence that experiences such as the one that Ms. Thompson provides her boys are effective in helping the young men in trouble to learn self control and good behavior. In general, boys forced to masquerade as girls have to restrain aggressive, obviously macho behaviors or risk being discovered. In societies such as ours and that of the United Kingdom, being a "sissy" is among the worst things one can say about a boy."

"Which is precisely what this . . . this . . . woman has done to my son."

"The boys only become known as "sissies" if they are unmasked publicly during the masquerade, and that has *never* happened. Jane goes to incredible lengths to ensure that, while the threat of exposure seems frighteningly real to her boys, the actual probability of discovery by someone not already aware of the masquerade is all but zero. That is why she was working him so hard on the high heeled walking. Girls your son's age wear heels, and he couldn't be taken out and about for many of those learning experiences until he had mastered them."

"With all due respect," Mrs. Jeffries interjected in a tone that implied very little respect, "I fail to understand how that supposedly helps, Dr. Philips."

"They have to learn new, more socially appropriate ways of expressing themselves, Mrs. Jeffries. They must develop better tools to help them deal with their anger and frustration, while learning more acceptable ways to interact with other people. In Jane's program, once they've learned those lessons, they are given the responsibility for the next student's early indoctrination and see first hand how those experiences improves the new student, and by extension, how the older student himself benefited by them. The young people learn manners, polite speech and basic courtesy because failure in any of those areas draws undue attention to them - something they wish to avoid at all costs."

In spite of herself, Mrs. Jeffries found herself nodding in understanding, if not total agreement with those last points. "You said Ms. Thompson has historical evidence on her side?"

"Jane?" Diana said, resuming her seat.

"Over my career, Mrs. Jeffries, I have worked with nearly one hundred boys. I won't lie and tell you it has been one hundred percent perfect, but all but two of my boys have gone on to happy, productive lives as doctors, police officers, attorneys, social workers and a variety of other occupations - all well above minimum wage, I might add," Jane said with considerable pride.

"What Jane did not say, Mrs. Jeffries, is that a goodly number of those boys were in the same situation as your son, only much worse. Many were living in and perpetuating violence for a variety of reasons, but Jane was able to help them. Most of them now think of her as an honorary aunt. One drawer of her desk if full of cards, letters and notes from her boys."

*Why the little sneak has been snooping around in my desk! Just wait till I get him home!*

"I see," Mrs. Jeffries said in a much calmer and less confrontational tone of voice. "So, why hasn't it worked with my son?"

"Wellllll. . . ."

"Mrs. Jeffries," Diana interrupted Jane, "Your son has issues that directly conflict and interfere with what Jane has been trying to teach him about passing as a female."

"What issues, Doctor?"

"Well, maybe you can explain to us why your son stopped taking ballet lessons with you?"

"WHAT???" she asked in disbelief, "What has ballet to do with anything we've just spoken about?"

"Please, Mrs. Jeffries, just bear with me for a few more moments and answer my questions. Then I will tell you a little story and show you a video that Ms. Thompson has brought with her today."

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

The tape was playing for the third time, and still Eleanora could not move from her seat or take her eyes off the screen. Finally, she sat back and looked at her two guests, "Lord, Diana, Jane, if I did not know that I was *never* videotaped dancing that particular choreography, I would have sworn that was me dancing in a blond wig."

"It is Carlton, Eleanora," Jane told her. "Truly."

"Oh, I believe you, Jane. As hard as it is to take in that my son dances *that* well as a girl, that my son *looks* that good as a girl, her. . . I mean *his* resemblance to me is unmistakable. And you say that he can't dance or walk in heels or appear noticeably made up unless no one is watching or unless he forgets because of a crisis or something?"

"Well," and here Jane allowed herself a sly grin. "He wears make up well enough when someone else puts it on him. When someone is watching him when he tries to put it on himself, his hands shake very badly, and well, the results are rather appalling."

"And you," Eleanora directed her attention back to Diana, "Believe this is due to anxiety brought on when he thought I was jealous of his abilities? Diana, he told me he was quitting because he was taking a lot of heat at school because of the dancing. Since I knew there was no future for him either as a male or female dancer, I agreed and then encouraged him to study the martial arts as a way of building up his self-confidence and his self-esteem. The martial arts teacher at our local Y was very highly recommended to me."

"The Y is where he found the dance club and joined up, this time as a male dancer," Diana told her. "But based on what we just saw, I would say he continued to practice the female roles on his own. His teacher did say he was very good at helping her female students perfect their own routines. Probably because he knew them better than they did."

"So, what must we do to help my son find out who he, or if as you believe, who *she* really is, Dr. Philips?"

"Well, step one is acceptance and love, Eleanora. All issues of gender and self-image aside, your child is currently repressing an essential aspect of his or her personality because it hurt you, or rather, because he *thought* it hurt you. That is a very deep love on your child's part and you must give it back in the comparable measure if you are going to help her or him get past this."

"That is a given, Diana. Girl or boy, my child is my child and *our* child is well and truly loved by both my husband and by me."

"Then it would really help if we could somehow get him past this emotional block about being seen dancing. So far, only things outside of her own self and needs have gotten her past that when in public - like when Jane's housekeeper was injured. It is really too bad that we couldn't create a crisis that would force her to dance instead of walk."

Silence fell over the room as all three brooded over that observation, until a thoroughly wicked and mischievous grin familiar to and feared by almost one hundred boys and young men began to form on Jane Thompson's lips. "Darling?" she cooed over at Diana. "Get that tape out of the VCR for me please. We need to go talk to some people. Eleanora? Would you care to accompany us?"
 
 
Part 10: Confronting Caitlyn's Past
 
Caitlyn fought to keep herself from shaking outside Jane's upstairs studio. Fear had been clutching at her heart ever since Darla had come to tell her that Jane wanted to see her immediately.

Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door and was told to enter. Jane and her friend Ms. Philips were both inside waiting for her. Surprisingly, they weren't sitting at Jane's huge desk, but rather in the small conversation grouping near the hearth. "Come over and sit down, Caitlyn," Jane ordered.

Caitlyn gave a quick curtsy and then took the chair Jane indicated.

"Well, Caitlyn, I have some good news for you, and sadly, some bad news."

*Oh god, it's too late - she is going to send me away.*

"The good news is that I have been able to arrange a full scholarship for your friend Tasha so that she will be able to attend that summer camp. Provided she is accepted for the program, of course."

"Oh Ms. Thompson," Caitlyn burst out, "Thank you so much. That is wonderful news. I am sure Tasha is over the moon."

"I am afraid, dear, that this is where the bad news comes in. To be accepted for the program, she has to go to Boston for three days this weekend for tests and interviews with the organizers."

"But, Ms. Thompson, that is when the troupe is dancing Sleeping Beauty. Won't they give her another time?"

"They can't, Caitlyn. The organizers have to finalize their plans next week in order to have everything ready to go. I am afraid that they are adamant that she has to go this weekend, and therein lies the problem. Your troupe doesn't have anyone else who can dance the lead. The performance can't be delayed because the auditorium won't be available again until after school lets out and several of the troupe have plans with their parents."

"And Tasha wouldn't dream of leaving the others in a lurch, even for this wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity," Caitlyn added, obviously near tears.

"I am afraid that is so, but there is, perhaps one other solution." Jane turned to Diana. "Diana, would you please run that video tape?"

A small television flared to life, first with a test pattern that then coalesced into the picture of a room and a figure. Caitlyn quickly recognized that the figure was dancing, but it took several moments for her to realize who the dancer actually was.

"Oh, no! That's me! You know. . I mean . . ."

"Easy, Caitlyn," Jane said moving over to sit beside her student and offer her support. "Yes, we know it is you dancing there. That is our solution. You must dance the part for Tasha so that she can go to the interviews."

"But I can't dance in public, Ms. Thompson. You know that. You've seen me try and I really was trying. Honest, I really was." The tears were flowing freely.

"I believe you, sweetheart," Jane said quietly. "But that," and her she pointed to the gracefully moving figure on the screen, "Says that you are capable of doing it. Your friend Tasha, and the rest of the dance troupe, needs you, dear. They have worked so hard for this and you are the only one who can step in and save their show."

"Real men, Caitlyn," Diana interjected, "*And* real women stand by the people who stand by them. Your friends need your help, sweetheart. Won't you at least try to help them?"

"How long have you known?" Caitlyn asked, her head hanging.

"Since the night before Marie's injury." Jane replied.

"I am not faking, Ms. Thompson," Caitlyn said again, "Really! I have been trying to figure out for myself why I can't seem stand on two feet if you or someone else is watching when I *know* I could dance like that. I just get so. . . so . . . And what happens if they figure out I am not really a girl?"

"It's called an anxiety attack, Caitlyn. Something about dancing in public upsets you. I think it is why you have trouble with heels and makeup, unless you are alone or distracted," Diana cut in. "Caitlyn, the other night, I sedated you with a drug that acts much like a truth serum. I questioned you about your dancing then. Why do you think that it hurts your mother when you dance?"

"It just does."

"How do you know that, Caitlyn?"

"Because, when the instructor asked me to dance mother's part, she looked sad and hurt."

"What makes you think so - did she tell you she was sad and hurt?"

"No, but I saw it on her face."

"What did her face look like? Was she angry?"

"No, she was sad."

"Is there any other reason she might have been sad?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, yes. Why else would she be sad?"

"Suppose I told you another reason she might have been sad."

"Like what?"

"What if she was sad because she thought you couldn't dance ballet since you don't have the right physical body-type for a male dancer?"

"Well, I don't," she snapped back, almost petulantly.

"So?"

"So I can't dance ballet."

"Caitlyn, that tape says you can dance. The person on that tape dances ballet beautifully, and Caitlyn?" The gentle voice demanded and ultimately was given the boy-girl's full attention. "You *are* that person."

"But it will hurt Mom if I dance as a girl. And hurt Dad, too."

"Do you love them?"

"Of course!"

"I believe you. You love them enough to give up what you want most in the world, to dance the only way you can - as a graceful ballerina. Why don't you believe that they could love you, too? Even enough to want you to have your dream."

"They could? They do??"

"I showed your mother that tape recently, and she was so thrilled at your skill that she cried. Not tears of sadness, or jealousy, but tears of soul deep pride she couldn't contain and the tears of an artist in the presence of true beauty."

"She did?"

"Yes, Caitlyn," Jane reentered the conversation. "She did. You know you can trust me on this."

"My Mother really liked my dancing?

"She *loved* your dancing, silly, and she loves you - without any reservation," Jane said with quiet intensity. "Now, my dear, your friend Tasha needs you. No one else except the two of you could dance that part. As you just pointed out, she won't leave her friends in the lurch."

"But. . .but, I am a boy. It's one thing to do barre exercises or to do single floor exercises. It's a whole different matter to dance real solos, or a pas de deux. There's no way I will be able to hold up the masquerade in such situations."

"*No* one is going to read you as a boy," Diana told him. "Believe me, I know."

"How can you know that for sure?" Caitlyn asked suspiciously.

Diana reached up and pulled off her wig. "Because I don't get read and you are a thousand percent more believable than I am. Carlton?" he said softly using his "boy" name to get his attention. "It is all right to enjoy this if that is who you really are. No one here will think less of you. Especially since you do it so very well."

"You're a *man*?!?" the boy-girl gasped in surprise and shock.

"Yes, I am," Art said quietly, his voice dropping into the deeper ranges he used when appearing as a male. "However, I happen to *enjoy* dressing as and appearing in public as a woman. And Caitlyn? There is *nothing* wrong with that."

"There's not?" Art could here the quaver of uncertainty in the boy's voice, and perhaps a plea for reassurance on this point.

"Why should there be?" he asked reasonably. "My dressing hurts no one. I certainly would never do anything while dressed as Diana to hurt or embarrass anyone else."

"You wouldn't?" Caitlyn asked softly.

"Certainly not. No more than you try to hurt anyone when you dance late at night."

"But that is different," Caitlyn affirmed.

"No, it's not!" Jane and Art said, almost in unison.

"I don't know if I can do this, Ms. Thompson," Caitlyn cried, turning her attention back to Jane. "I don't want to let Tasha down, but I just don't think I can do this."

"Call me Aunt Jane, dear," Jane ordered as she swept the sobbing teen into her arms. "Of course you can do it if you will but give yourself permission to try. The important question is do you want to try? Try to help your friends who have worked so very hard for this? Madame Allison Jarvis has seen the tape, and she was *very* impressed. I assure you that she is *more* than willing to try if you are."

"You mean I can dance?"

Jane said nothing, but rather used the remote control she still held to restart the tape of Caitlyn's midnight dancing one more time. Once again, the three of them stood transfixed, caught up in the beauty of the lithe dancer moving in time to music only she could hear.

Shakily, Caitlyn turned her eyes up to meet Jane's. "The girls there have all been pretty great to me, even when they were afraid that I would bungle their show."

"They'd be very disappointed if the show could not go on, dear." Jane offered quietly.

"I know." Caitlyn sighed. Jane thought that, for the very first time, the girl was almost willing to be convinced, so she pressed home her advantage.

"Are you willing to at least try, Caitlyn? They need you, perhaps not as badly as Marie needed you, but you are their only hope of being able to perform."

Caitlyn said nothing for a very long time, her teeth worrying at her lower lip as she fought the demons of her own mind. Finally, she gave a shaky nod of her head. "Could we go over, now? Just you, Marie, Diana and me, and try with Madame Jarvis? Oh, and Darla, too if she can make it. A sort of closed-door rehearsal? If I fall all over myself, no one else has to know."

"You'll have to rehearse with your partners, Caitlyn," Jane reminded her. "You and your partners will have to learn each other before you can perform together during the actual production."

"I know. .. but. . .but, one step at a time. IF I can do it with just the six of us, then we can bring in the male lead and try the pas de deux. If that works, we go for it all."

"Sounds like a plan. Go get your things. I will call Allison and tell her we are on our way."

"Yes, Ma'am. I'll be right back," Caitlyn said as she rose to leave. "My Mom really did say she was pleased with my dancing?"

"Over and over and over again. And Caitlyn?" Jane said with a smile. "I am very proud of you. We all are. Your Mother would be proud of you if she knew what you were going to try to do. Trust me on that, too."

"I will try my very best, Ms. . I mean, Aunt Jane."

"I know you will do well. Your friend needs you just like Marie needed you."

"Thank you, Ms. Thompson."

"What did you call me?" Jane demanded, a small smile playing on her face.

"I mean, thank you, Aunt Jane."

"Much better. Now scoot. We've got people to surprise today."

As the door closed behind the teen, Jane turned worried eyes to her lover. "Well?"

"We wait and see. I think she wants to believe us, as much because of her burning need to dance as for not wanting to cause her Mother pain."

"Did we make a mistake by having Eleanora stay away from this? She could have been the final nudge that pushed her over the top."

"Or she could have been the shove that pushed Caitlyn over the edge for good. We still have her in reserve, Jane, if this doesn't work. At least Caitlyn is questioning the basis of her fears now. Her nurturing instinct is helping, too. It's not quite as immediate as Marie's injury, but Tasha is very important to her. At the very least, she'll likely do better than you've ever seen her at that studio which is progress."

"Please let this work," Jane said fervently.

"Amen, lover. Amen."
 
 
Part 11: Fearful Dancing; Dancing Free
 
They were met at the studio by Allison, and by Tasha Pederov who immediately went and pulled Caitlyn into an enthusiastic hug. "Thank you, Cait, for going to bat with your Ms. Thompson for me. Even if I can't go, I won't ever forget you for going to bat like that for me with your Aunt Jane."

Jane saw Caitlyn's eyes narrow momentarily, and then harden in determination. *Well, I bet I know what she's decided. If force of will can get her past this block, Caitlyn has all she needs now.*

"I'll do my best, Tash," Jane heard her whisper in the other girl's ear. "I promise, I will do my best so that you can go to those interviews."

"Is it all right if I watch? I mean, Ms. Thompson showed me that tape of you dancing because I didn't believe you could fill in for me."

Caitlyn hesitated noticeably, but in the end nodded her assent.

"Caitlyn? You can change in my office and then use the practice room for your warm-up," Madame Allison Jarvis put in, "Donald will be here in an hour to practice the pas de deux with you if we get that far."

"I'll come with you, dear," Jane said. "To do your face. So you will look as lovely as your dancing."

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

It would be nice to say that everything went perfectly, that Caitlyn danced as well or better than she had when Jane had videotaped her, and that everyone in attendance was awe-struck by her artistry. However, reality is rarely so obliging, and the sad truth of the matter was that Caitlyn fell off her toe point numerous times. In fact, for the first several minutes, she couldn't even seem to move - at least not gracefully. The harder she tried, the less graceful she became, to the point where she ran off the floor and into the warm up room in tears.

"Caitlyn?" Diana said quietly, having followed the distraught dancer into the little room.

"Oh, go away!" she sobbed. "I tried, and I can't. Now, Tasha won't go to those interviews and it will be all my fault."

Diana moved closer, and put her hand on the girl's shuddering back. "Easy. Now, listen to me, Caitlyn Jeffries," she snapped out, drawing Caitlyn up short. "That's better," she said, her voice gentle. "First of all, if Tasha elects not to go to those interviews, that will be her choice. Madame Allison is certainly aware of how important those are and is willing to cancel a performance. I know you feel badly right now, but this is NOT your fault. You are the solution, dear, NOT the problem."

"But I can't dance out there," she sniffled. "Tasha needs me and I can't do it, Diana, not with all those people *watching* me."

"Then close your eyes for me. Close them, I said! Better. Now, listen to the music," Diana's voice slipped into a strangely haunting, dreamlike register that rose and fell with the music itself; a voice unlike any Caitlyn had ever heard before. "The music is all that matters. Let it take you, dear. Now, move to the music - that's it."

Diana watched as the movements which moments before had been so hesitant, so jerky, began to smooth out, began to gain confidence. "Feel it, sweetheart?"

Caitlyn came to a stop, momentarily shocked by what she'd just done. "Y . . yes. . .at least a bit. But no one was in here so it doesn't count," She added, just a bit pugnaciously.

"I was here, wasn't I? But this time you concentrated on the music and not on me. My presence no longer bothered you once it was the music that mattered."

"Oh my." Caitlyn's eyes were wide with surprise and wonder.

"Let's try it out there now? All right?"

"Will you be there to help me - like you just did?" Caitlyn asked timorously.

"Of course, sweetheart. Let's go try."

The second attempt went better. Under Diana's almost hypnotic support, Caitlyn closed her eyes and let herself forget everything but the music. The natural grace showed through more brightly with each passing step, every passing position and movement. Except that even the most accomplished dancer needs to be able to see at certain critical moments - such as when she is airborne and needs to judge where and when she will land. With her eyes closed, Caitlyn couldn't and repeatedly stumbled, often falling.

The turning point came after about twenty minutes of only partial success, when Caitlyn just broke down, sobbing on the floor after falling yet again. Jane and Tasha had each hugged the girl, telling her that they *knew* she could do it.

"I've tried, dammit. I can't dance with my eyes open and I can't dance with them shut, either. The only way I can fill in for Tash is if no one else is in the auditorium. Now that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?" she wailed.

"Stand up!" Tasha snapped with a forcefulness that made Jane start momentarily. "Stand up, I said."

Slowly, Caitlyn stood. "Now, you will dance for me, Caitlyn. You will dance *with* me. Come on, I know you can do it and so do you. Let the music take us both and let us be beautiful together." Tasha let Caitlyn stare at her in confusion for several moments, before she smiled and added. "Please?"

Swallowing hard, Caitlyn gave her own smile, and nodded.

"Great. Let's play follow-the-leader. I lead, you follow, okay?"

With a flourish, Tasha led off the first few steps of the solo they'd been working on. Caitlyn watched her for a couple of moments, then took a deep breath, and stepped out herself.

And then, she did do it - all the way through the main solo - without incident, without a misstep. Midway through the piece, Tasha stepped off the dance floor to watch her friend. Caitlyn was so caught up in the music and in the sheer exhilaration of the dance that she never even noticed that she was performing the solo alone.

By the time the male soloist arrived, Tasha and Allison were working with an ecstatically joyous Caitlyn, fine-tuning her dancing.

There was something intensely satisfying, Caitlyn thought to herself, about that look of stunned disbelief on the male soloist's face when he recognized that it was Caitlyn who was working with Madame Allison.

"Ready for the gruesome twosome?" Tasha asked her friend with a gamine grin.

That was the moment of truth, Jane would think much later, the moment when Caitlyn's block disintegrated in light of her friend's support and regard and in the heat of her own passion for the dance.

The pas de deux itself was anticlimactic. The first time through Caitlyn performed flawlessly - the only missteps caused by the understandable lack of experience of each dancer working with the other. The rest of the time was spent fine tuning Caitlyn's and Donald's timing and stage positions, and went without any real difficulty.

"I think that's enough for today, kids," Allison said, finally calling an end to the practice. "Let's not risk an injury at this point."

Coming down from the emotional high of being able to share dance with others again, Caitlyn turned toward the small gallery with a huge smile on her face.

And stopped cold.

A petite, slender, dark haired woman was striding purposefully across the dance floor, a brilliant smile lighting her face.

"M. . m . MMmomMM???" Caitlyn got out just before she was swept up in her Mother's exuberant embrace.

"God, darling, but that was so lovely. I am *so* very proud of you. I can't believe how well you did that, and I can't believe you'd be brave enough to do something like this for your friend, but I think. . .no, I know that you're wonderful." The hug somehow tightened further. "You make me so proud, baby."

Caitlyn finally broke away, tears streaming down her face. "I am so sorry, Mom. I did not know you would be here. I know Diana said you weren't really sad about my dancing, but you were so upset when the dance mistress started complimenting my dancing, saying that I was doing things better than you. . ."

"No, darling. I was upset because I stupidly thought you would never be able to show off your talents. I know how hard it is to have a gift and have to choose. I thought that you would never even be given the opportunity to make that choice. I am glad that you showed me to be wrong, my love. I was devastated, darling, that's true, but it was *for* you and what I thought you could never have. Never for me."

"Oh, Mom," Caitlyn bawled as she stood sobbing in her mother's shoulder, held tightly within the safety of Eleanora's arms.

"There, there, baby. You were wonderful," Eleanora crooned over and over. "I thought you were so beautiful. You made me cry you were so beautiful."

For several minutes, the pair stood there, locked in their mutual embrace, warmed and healed by the surety of love. Finally, Caitlyn's emotional release ran its course, and her tears gradually slowed. Eleanora pulled a tissue from her purse and handed it to her child. "Blow your nose, sweetheart. Better now?"

"You really mean it, don't you? You really are happy about me dancing?" Caitlyn asked as she wiped tear reddened eyes.

"Of course I am, silly. My only regret is that you won't actually be dancing the lead in the show."

"I won't???" Caitlyn squealed, before spinning to face Tasha who was grinning sheepishly at her friend.

"Your Aunt Jane asked me to pretend that I had to choose between the camp and the dance so that you would have a reason to try. Like when her friend got hurt, you know? Actually, she fixed it so I get to go to the camp without the interview. Just the test and they sent that to me. Isn't she great?"

Caitlyn turned very slowly to face where Jane stood, watching her. Putting a blank look on her face, Caitlyn strode over to face Jane.

"It was all just a trick," Caitlyn stated.

"You needed some help to get past those memories. Dance is important to you and we wanted you to be able to enjoy it fully and freely again."

"I see," Caitlyn said noncommittally. "You know what I think, *Ms* Thompson?" she asked, taking yet another step toward Jane until the pair was bare inches apart.

"No, but I am sure you will tell me," Jane said, steeling herself for an eruption.

Suddenly, Caitlyn was in Jane's arms, hugging her tightly. "I think you're pretty great, too."

Eleanora was standing beside Jane and Caitlyn as they held each other. "Caitlyn, dear?"

"Yes, Mom?"

"You need to go fix your face, sweetheart. All those tears have destroyed your eye makeup."

Cold shock burned down Caitlyn's spine as she remembered for the first time just how she was garbed. "Oh my God! You saw me! Dressed like a g. . ."

"Like a dancer? Of course, dear," Eleanora said lightly as she led Caitlyn into the privacy of Allison's office again, closing the door behind them. "Still, that is no excuse. No daughter of mine is going out in public with tear tracks in her mascara."

"Daughter?"

"Oh, dear Caitlyn, don't you think I want your happiness more than anything in the world? If what makes you happy is being the most beautiful, most graceful, most feminine ballerina in the world, then that is what I want for you!"

"But. . .but, I am a boy, Mom. You *want* me to be a girl? To wear makeup?"

"Dear, I love *you*. If Caitlyn is who you *really* are - inside - then you must maintain your appearance as the lovely girl Caitlyn Jeffries is - the way I expect *my* beautiful daughter to present herself to the world. You need to decide who you are, right now and either repair your makeup or take it all off and dress as Carlton. Or you can defer that decision until you are more certain, in which case you still need to repair your makeup so that you can continue as Caitlyn until you can decide," and a gently teasing grin lit Eleanora's face, "At least until you leave this place where your friends only know you as Caitlyn."

Somehow, choosing to become Carlton right then and there sounded far worse to the boy-girl than anything Caitlyn had endured or been threatened with during her season in Jane Thompson's petticoat prison. Still, it was not only her or her mother who would be affected by this decision. "Daddy will hate me."

"Stuff and nonsense, young lady. Name one time he has ever acted as though he hated you."

"Uh, well, but . . . "

"But nothing. He loves you, too. If this is who you are, who you *need* to be, then this is who he will love. I promise you that."

Jane knocked on the door and stuck her head in to call to the Mother and daughter pair. "Come on, folks. You, too, Eleanora. Let's go home."
 
 
Part 12: Breaking the Chrysalis
 
Eleanora herself escorted her daughter/son to dinner that night. Caitlyn was made up beautifully, with colors that called attention to her natural good looks - and she was in heels. Every one saw and smiled as "Clumsy Caitlyn" sailed into the room with the same confidence and grace in her delicate sling-backs that she had demonstrated on the dance floor earlier that afternoon.

If Diana looked particularly smug when she saw Caitlyn, no one who knew the whole story would have begrudged her the right. She'd taken Caitlyn aside shortly after they'd gotten back to the old Victorian mansion with the specific intent of getting her to confront her problems with high heels. It had been another rapid-fire verbal exchange; similar to the one they'd had earlier dealing with the dance anxiety, if a little less stressful. As she told Jane later on, "The telling argument was that she had just spent three hours on her toes without the benefit of any heel. I swear, Jane, I think I could hear her eyes snap open as she realized what that meant."

Jane had chuckled over that, and mused privately how Caitlyn's movements did have more of the ballet dancer than the runway model to her gait. She still moved beautifully in any case.

Even her makeup was perfect. "And she did it all by herself," Eleanora said to anyone she could corner. The obvious maternal pride in her voice made Caitlyn blush every time, but Jane was sure she saw the girl stand a little more erect, and take on a more maturely elegant bearing, each time her mother gushed. One thing was certain, Caitlyn no longer worried that her accomplishments somehow diminished or hurt her mother. In fact, Jane was amused to note that Caitlyn was unconsciously mimicking her mother's social behaviors and mannerisms. *Lord above,* Jane thought with a mental chuckle, *she is even holding her teacup the same exact way Eleanora does. Talk about 'like Mother, like Daughter'.*

At dinner, Caitlyn finally felt brave enough, now that she knew she had her Mother's approval, to address Jane. "Thank you for today, Aunt Jane. I am glad that I have put all of that anxiety stuff," and here she leveled a grateful smile at Diana, "behind me, but I am also very happy Tasha will get to do both the performance and the summer camp. She has worked so hard and she deserves it."

"Aren't you sorry that you won't be performing, dear?" Jane asked. "Diana felt, evidently quite correctly, that you needed today's experiences, but I simply couldn't deprive your friend of her place in the show. As much as I would have liked to reward your courage that way, she had already worked so hard for that privilege herself."

Caitlyn sighed. "No, I would have enjoyed dancing - Sleeping Beauty is a wonderful ballet - but you are right - she's earned that role and I haven't. It's rightfully Tasha's part and I am very happy for her."

"Couldn't you dance with the Corps de Ballet, dear?" Diana asked. "At least then you could share the experience with your friends."

Shaking her head, Caitlyn smiled sadly at her other savior. "No, Diana, because I have not practiced with them so I don't have the timing down properly, and there just isn't enough time before the show date for me to learn it. It's more important that the corps seem to move as one than for one person to stand out. That is the job of the soloist. No, I will be satisfied to help behind the curtains and cheer them on. Maybe I can dance in their next production," she said wistfully, before her eyes went wide with dismay. "That is, Aunt Jane, if I will still be allowed to stay here and complete your program . . . now that I am past the clumsy part."

Jane saw the touch of fear behind the girl's eyes. "I think, dear, that is up to your Mother. I think you have well and truly learned everything I would have taught you about the masquerade, and you could easily move on to the next part of the program, but you don't really need to stay here any longer. As far as I am concerned, you've graduated. Besides, I think if the police had been half as diligent as my investigator, that you would never have been convicted since I now am certain you were telling the truth about self-defense. So don't worry, all right? I promise you that juvenile lockup is not in your future. As for the rest, we will talk about that later."
 
 
Part 13: Loving Well is the Best Living
 
Later, Jane had Eleanora, Caitlyn and Diana as guests in her rooms. "You look very lovely tonight, Caitlyn."

"Thank you, Ms. . .I mean, Aunt Jane," she responded shyly.

"And tell me, how do you feel? Sitting here among women as a woman? Pretty, winsome, demure? The picture of elegant young womanhood? How do you personally feel, right now, as you think about yourself that way?"

No one spoke for what seemed to be a very long time, as they gave the young teen an opportunity to digest and answer the question. Finally, she looked up, her face worried. "I feel . . comfortable, Aunt Jane. . .Happy."

"At peace with yourself, dear?" Jane prodded gently.

After several moments, the girl nodded slowly.

"Let me ask another question then. Suppose I tell you that tomorrow morning Caro and Sandy will be here to change Caitlyn back to Carlton, so that your Mother can take her son home with her."

"But. . but the performance. . ." she stuttered out in surprise.

Jane smiled. "All right. After the performance. Monday, Caitlyn becomes a memory and Carlton gets on with his life."

The three women watched intently as emotions flew across the girl's expressive face. Finally she nodded. "I guess I have to, don't I?"

At that point, Eleanora moved over to kneel in front of the daughter she thought never to have. "No, you don't," She said quietly.

"But what about Dad?" Caitlyn asked through a sob.

"As I *told* you, sweetheart, your Father will love *you*, Carlton or Caitlyn or both. Your Dad loves you, not some male icon, but you, the person that you are." Caitlyn started to protest, but her Mother put a finger to her lips to stem that. "Let me ask you one question. Is it only the dance? Is that what is so important about Caitlyn to you? If we could find a way for Carlton to dance as Caitlyn, would that be enough for you? Not for me, not for your father, but for you?

Again, the silence grew oppressive. In the end, Caitlyn shook her head. "I don't know, Mother. For all the grief I have caused Aunt Jane, I have been . . .well, happy here. The kids at the dance school have become my friends, and Carlton never had very many friends. I like the clothes and all that, but that isn't what's bothering me. . .not really. I feel good doing the homey things that Aunt Jane and Marie have taught me here, but I also feel good about going to a ball game with Dad and things like that."

"That's fair, dear," Diana interjected. "You've only had Caitlyn for a few months and you've a lifetime of experiences as Carlton."

"I don't want to hurt anyone," Caitlyn said, rubbing mascara-blackened tears from her cheek.

"And we don't want that anyone to include you, dear," her Mother said quietly.

"Suppose, Caitlyn, that Jane and her cronies do come here next week and bring Carlton back for a while. You've lived here, utterly immersed in a deeply feminine experience for five months, and as you just said, you've been happy," Diana offered gently. "Now, you can go back and reacquaint yourself with Carlton. There's no reason Carlton can't cook, or help your Mother with the house or garden, and my goodness, Rosey Greer does needle point. Carlton doesn't have to lose anything that he gained by being Caitlyn."

"Except dance."

"If you want to dance, dear, and still want to live most of your life as Carlton, then we will find a way for that," Eleanora interposed. "Trust me on that. I still have some connections in the world of dance, and I will use them now that I know how important your ballet is to you."

"Excellent," Diana approved. "And Caitlyn, there is no reason that you have to lose those things you like about Carlton's life if you choose to live full time or most of the time as Caitlyn. It may surprise you to know this, but women *do* enjoy sports, too. The very aristocratic, sublimely elegant Ms. Jane Thompson used to be one of those football fans who put the "fan" in the word "fanatic"."

"I *did* not," Jane said in stilted tones that drew forth the intended chuckle from everyone, albeit a watery one from Caitlyn.

"I promise you this, my son and daughter," Eleanora said with quiet authority. "No one. . . . and I mean *NO* one will ever force you to make a choice between Carlton and Caitlyn. That is your business, your *life*, and your father and I, as well as these other folks who *love* you, will support you and continue to love you."

"Oh, Mom," Caitlyn cried as she threw herself into her Mother's arms.

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

Later that night, Jane rested in the embrace of her lover, who had finally kept her promise to come to bed in full make up. Spent, the two feminine creatures were cuddling gently - a touch here, a kiss there, a hug - and talking softly about the evening.

"Do you think she will choose to remain Caitlyn?" Jane asked.

"In my experience, love, it is rarely something so voluntary as a choice. For people like Caitlyn, her gender is simply who she is inside, not how she's built outside. But to answer your question, I think it will not be long before Caitlyn returns. She has a lot going for her - much more than many of my patients."

"Oh?"

"Her mom," Diana said simply. "Her support will not inhibit Carlton/Caitlyn the way most parents and family members do to their children with gender identity issues. If Dad is half as open as Eleanora makes him out to be, then I suspect Caitlyn will be back sooner rather than later. Her father's opinions and feelings matter to her as much as her Mother's feelings do, and we already know what she tried to give up for her Mother."

"No wonder I couldn't do much with that child."

"Like I said, it is hard to humiliate a girl by making her be a girl."

"The one thing I don't understand is how someone as gentle natured as Caitlyn ended up charged with assault with a deadly weapon. That makes no sense to me."

"Oh really? Look at her Mother's defense of her child against your evil, uncaring self, darling. See the daughter in the Mother."

"She didn't come after me with a ball bat."

"If you'd continued to threaten her child, and that is precisely how Eleanora saw things, I suspect she wouldn't have hesitated for a moment and might have found something more dangerous than a bat."

"I guess, but that was for her child, and that's not Caitlyn's situation."

"I suspect, dear heart, that when we know the whole story it will it will turn out to be self defense. Those bastards have been working Carlton over for months. Over time, their ability to get a satisfactory rise out of him with their less malicious tricks waned. They needed that rush they got from his fear, anger, humiliation. .. whatever, so their cruelty gradually escalated. Top that off with his father trying to "help" him by encouraging him to take care of himself. . ."

"Sometimes you've got to fight when you're a man?"

"Precisely. Eventually, they'd have to start ganging up on him. That last time, they made the mistake of letting him get his hands on weapon - and paid for it."

"Unfortunately, Diana, so did Carlton."

"Oh, but he gained far more than he lost, dear. First of all, he got you and your family on his side - a prize of inestimable value, I assure you. He came to understand Caitlyn and in so doing, began to face who he, or rather, who she truly is. And he regained his gift of dance. If you asked her, I think you'd find that Caitlyn is more than happy with both the prize and the price."

"Well, if that's the case, then I can happily move on in my life. I will miss the boys, though," Jane sighed.

"Pardon me?" And the voice that spoke was pure Art.

"Well, I can't very well run this program where you live. I won't have the support of folks like Caro, Sandy and Betty who help me set up those terrifying yet safe be-skirted brushes with the general public. Whither thou go-eth, beloved-man." Jane said softly. "After all, you *are* marrying me, aren't you?"

"Now you listen to *me*, Jane Thompson, there is NO way you are giving up working with your boys." Jane started to speak but was cut off by Art. "I told you I was at loose ends. That was because I was getting ready to retire from active practice. I still have some cases to transfer to another practitioner, but I am all but done with that phase of my life. My house is already up for sale. I told you that I came here to fix the biggest mistake of my life, and YES, we are getting married, but I am not going to let *you* make an even bigger mistake by depriving yourself of the life and children you love."

"But, Art, a vital part of the program is that the boy thinks he is alone in a house of women - a great, unyielding tsunami of femininity without the slightest masculine safe harbor."

"I don't think anyone except you knew of Art before I revealed myself to Darla and Cait."

"But you'd have to live most of your life as Diana!" Jane pointed out.

"Oh Really? Why didn't *I* think of that?" Was that a hint of mockery in Diana's voice? Jane wasn't quite certain.

"You mean wearing skirts and makeup, and having my hair done up? Go to the beauty salon with you? All that kind of thing?"

Diana's perplexed tone had Jane wondering if she'd misread the first response. "Well . . . Yes . . . of course. We can have only *women* here when there are students about the house. At least during those first critical weeks of a student's tenure here."

"Oh. Well, that's different. I'll really have to think about that . . ."

Jane stifled a sigh of disappointment.

"Janie?" Diana returned, bearing an impish countenance, "Is that a promise?"

"But . but. . but. . "

"I can live as either Diana or Art as long as I have you, and I think helping you with your boys would be a wonderful way to spend our life together. So, what else is the matter? Afraid to be known as a lesbian?"

"Oh, you," Jane growled, feeling as exasperated as she was exultant. She made a snatching grab for a pillow, but was too slow.

Diana was on her before she could get a grip on her fluffy weapon, and was kissing the breath out her. When the kiss finally, reluctantly broke, Art/Diana looked into Jane's eyes. "Are you really worried about such things, Jane?"

"No, I guess I am not. All right, we'll try it. All I ask is that when you reach the point where you cannot handle it anymore, you go on a trip until I finish with whatever boys are in the program. I don't know what damage it might do to them to discover that Dr. Philips is a male during some of the more. . .difficult phases of the program.

"I think it's more "if" than "when, darling, but all right, I promise. Now, will you marry me, Jane Thompson?"

"Who gets to wear the wedding dress?" She asked pertly.

"We'll get married twice so we can take turns. Although I think you'll need a corset to fit into my dress, darling."

"WHAT???? Why you. . ." Precisely what Jane would have said will never be known as her unpredictable mate started beating her with the very same down pillow that Jane hadn't quite managed to get to first.

Much later, basking in the warm afterglow of the loving their play had sparked, a voice said drowsily, "Yes, my darling, I will marry you."

Only a soft, purringly feminine snore answered.
 
 
Epilogue
 
Caitlyn was in her normal place off stage, watching enthralled as her best friend in all the world glided about the stage in the final solo of the next to the last act of this, the last performance of Sleeping Beauty. More than once, Caitlyn caught herself mimicking the dance steps or the hand movements and would blushingly look about to see if anyone noticed.

The curtain closed, and Tasha rushed off the stage for her final costume change when disaster struck. She slipped while running at full speed, her right leg going out from under her, but with her left leg pinned under her body.

Everyone clustered around the fallen dancer as she writhed on the floor. Caitlyn rushed up to her friend who saw her. "Madame? Caitlyn must finish the last act. My knee. . "

"Meeee? Screw the dance, Tasha!" Caitlyn yelled, forgetting herself in her concern. "We have to get you to a doctor."

"I will see to Tasha, Caitlyn," Madame Allison said firmly. "She's right. Some of our troupe are only on stage in the last act. If we stop the show, none of them will get to perform for their families and friends. Would you deprive them?"

Her head a whirl, Caitlyn did not know what to do when Tasha's hoarsely whispered, "Please, Cait?" burned through her confusion.

"All right, but you go get that looked at!" Caitlyn ordered as she and the wardrobe mistress ran down the hall to the dressing room. "I just hope I can wear Tasha's outfit."

Moments later, Caitlyn was center stage in position one as the curtain rose.

Later, Caitlyn would not be able to remember much between that first ringing note and the wildly joyous crescendo of the finale. Her first clear memory was of Donald grinning down at her as she held her final position before rising to take her bows.

Three curtain calls later, Caitlyn rushed off stage looking for Tasha. "Better be careful, girlfriend," a very familiar, laugh-filled voice said. "That floor seems to be really slippery."

Caitlyn spun to see a very unhurt Tasha grinning at her. "You were great!" she said as she launched herself into Caitlyn's suddenly very unsteady arms.

"You're all right," Caitlyn said stunned. "You aren't hurt."

"Nope. We all decided that you deserved to dance. So, all of us, including Madame Allison and the wardrobe mistress hatched this little plan. You dance as hard as I do when you watch from backstage anyway, so we knew you'd be all warmed up."

"No wonder your costume fit me so perfectly," Caitlyn mused. "It had been altered to fit me."

"Actually, dear," another voice entered the conversation. "I purchased a new one just for you so that, in the event that you couldn't go on, Tasha would still have her own to wear."

"Aunt Jane?" Caitlyn spun toward the voice only to see Jane was not alone. Jane was flanked by a petite woman and a tall, well built man. "Mom?? and DAAADD???"

"Hi, Caitlyn," her father said, a shy, uncertain smile on his face. "You did great. I am sorry I didn't know that you could dance like that, but I am very proud of you."

Suddenly, Caitlyn was in her father's and Mother's arms. Tears flowed freely from everyone's eyes, bringing glitter to the sunny smiles worn on every face.

"Still the manipulator, eh, Jane Thompson?" Diana whispered into her betrothed's ear.

"Well, once I spoke with her father, it was a relatively simple matter to put just a bit of a bug in Tasha's ear," Jane answered, well pleased with her little machination. If she hadn't gone for it, I would never have pressed the matter. He's a good man, isn't he."

"A worthy match for his wife, I think. I'd say that support we talked about the other night will be there for our Caitlyn in ample supply."

"Well, I guess I know where I am going to get attendants for our wedding, darling. I am sure that Michelle, Kendra, Darla, Beth and Caitlyn will be very happy to stand up for me with Marie as my Maid of Honor. Who are you going to have as best man and ushers?"

"Who says I need 'em in this family, sweetheart? Whoever stands up for me can dress anyway they damn well please. That's not what matters."

"And what does matter then?"

"Love. Commitment. Sharing. Nothing that you don't have in full measure, Ms. Jane Thompson. And getting *my* ring on that still sadly nude left ring finger of yours. Come on, let's go to the cast party. I know one of the stars and she'll get us in."

"Odd, but it happens I know one or two of them myself, darling. I am just a little sad you are here as Diana and not as Art. Suppose there is dancing?" Diana gave her love a very lascivious wink, making Jane blush. "Well, I guess we'll dance, then, won't we?"

"No doubt about it, Jane my love, none at all."
 

A New Beginning

 

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


 
 
End of Tales of The Season - Caitlyn's Story



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