TG Universes & Series:
Seasons of Change
Book 11 - Part 1 of 3
A Time to Every Season
Copyright © 2002,2013 Tigger
All Rights Reserved.
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Based on the characters and situations presented in "Seasons of Change" by Joel Lawrence, Copyright 1989. ~Tigger
Introduction I: Jane's Family at Home
Jane took a deep breath of the soft, morning air, the uniquely New England autumn scents that always made her think 'home'. A rogue breeze rustled her shirt and made Jane smile at the image she displayed. Few if any of her students would have recognized this Jane Thompson-Philips unless they were close enough to see the startlingly vivid eyes and even then, her attire would have elicited at least one double take.
Jane's height-of-fashion ensemble was designed around the sheer inelegance of a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet t-shirt beneath an unbuttoned plaid woolen work-shirt. Jeans, heavy work boots, a Boston Red Sox ball cap and a pair of heavy work gloves completed her regalia. Of course, Jane had a purpose (she refused to call it an excuse) for this stark departure from her normal strictly proper, but thoroughly feminine, uniforms. The man who normally ran her stables and cared for her mounts was away on vacation. Jane had been mucking out the stalls of her horses and seeing to their other needs this morning, and the outfit suited the needs. She smiled mischievously at the thought of what one of her boys would think of her in this outfit. *Maybe I will have Art take a picture of me and include copies in our holiday cards this year. Well, at least the jeans are new,* she thought, *As is the hat.*
The cap was a gift from her adopted son, Darryl. In fact, the jeans were also a gift, but FOR her husband. Art Philips had shown a rather marked and lascivious interest in Jane's bottom and long legs encased in tight (VERY tight) denim. *Any damned tighter and I am going to have to hang from the corseting trapeze just to get them zipped,* she thought before sighing dreamily. *Which won't bother you a bit, Jane Thompson, so long as Art has no trouble getting you out of them quickly when the occasion calls for it.*
Her happily aimless wanderings soon found Jane in her morning garden, enjoying summer's last blooms. The trees would be putting on their fall colors soon. Autumn had always been one of her favorite seasons, as much for the weather and color as anything. New England really was at her best in the fall. It was also the one time of year when history indicated that Jane was most likely to have a few weeks to herself.
One of Jane's goals for her students that she usually managed to achieve was getting the little darlings through her program in time to start school on time in September. And she usually didn't pick up anyone new until sometime in October. It usually took that long for teachers to throw up their hands at the antics of the type of wayward boy who would benefit from Jane's petticoated prison.
Ah, but this September was different. This September she would have more than Marie and the horses to occupy her. This year she had a husband, and soon, she would also have her son home as well. Art had finished his contractual obligation to teach summer school at the university and had arrived home a few days ago. Originally, Darryl was to have accompanied Art home from the university, but there had been a last minute glitch with his registration for the fall semester.
Darryl's agile and voracious young mind had become thoroughly spoiled by the challenge and excitement of Jane's home schooling program, and thus had found his undergraduate studies a grave disappointment by comparison. He wanted out of that stifling and dogmatic Ivy League School program as quickly as was humanly possible. With his typical determination, Darryl had set out to complete his degree early so that he could follow Michael to medical school in the spring term.
His solution had been to take nearly twice as many credits as the school recommended and to use the university's new 'distance learning' program to get them. The university was giving him some grief about residency requirements and course overloads, clearly trying to get him to return in the spring for another semester. He had stayed behind in Providence to resolve the problems with his advisor and the university registrar. Jane hoped that all went well on that front. She was looking forward to having her son AND her husband both home for the next few months.
The question was what was she going to do with this embarrassment of familial riches?
From her perch, she saw a tall slim figure jogging around the stables and turning toward the house. Silver tresses escaping from a ponytail flashed in the cool morning sunlight as the man began a kicking sprint. *Art,* Jane thought her heart swelling, *back from his morning run.*
Darryl and Art both loved badgering her into joining them when they ran, which was one reason Jane had not minded when her horse groom had left on his holiday. Given the choice between running and even the most unpleasant of horse chores, running lost hands down every time in Jane's book. She watched as her husband slowed to a walk after his end of run sprint, and recognized the behavior from watching Art run with Darryl. Every one of their jogs turned into some silly proof of manhood race when they should have been tired and cooling out. Those races matched Darryl's youth versus Art's much longer stride. Darryl usually won, but never by much and never by enough to feel that confident of winning the next race when Art's stride might easily prove decisive.
Sadly, her adopted son's physical size had never grown to match his heart. By whatever metric human intangibles might be measured, Darryl's heart and spirit set new standards in Jane's view. Whether gently tending to a tearful little sister after one of Jane's exercises or courageously facing down a past fraught with torments and monsters few could survive, Darryl was matchless. He was, in all the best senses of the term, a man - a very gentle man to be sure, but a man through and through.
Jane simply wished he could have been a *larger* gentleman - for all his diminutive size had allowed him to help her time and again with her program. *If only he had been a late bloomer like Kenneth,* she thought. Life in America was so much easier for young men who attained what society viewed as manly height and weight, but the devoutly wished-for growth spurt had never come. Darryl had topped out at a bare five feet five inches tall (slightly on tip-toe, but Jane would never call him on that) and a scant one hundred twenty pounds.
Oddly enough, Darla, the femme alter ego Darryl had assumed as both her student and as resident 'big sister' with several of Jane's most difficult students, was as imposing as she was lovely. Michael/Michelle might have been the most adept student Jane had ever taught and Tyrone/Tyra might have had the cutest face, but Darla was the most striking and the most powerful personality of any of her students.
*Art says that is because Darryl has, over time, modeled Darla after me. 'Like Mother, like daughter' I suppose,* Jane mused, finding herself rather pleased with that observation.
Jane stood and headed for the house. She needed a shower and a clean change of clothes, then she'd check with Marie to see if any help was needed with breakfast preparations. Maybe that tight tube shirt she'd purchased in Boston - the one that showed her bosom to such advantage, and of course, another pair of the painted-on jeans. One very pleasant aspect of having only family in residence at Seasons House was that maintaining her "Jane Thompson-the-Model-of-Unachievable-Feminine-Perfection" was not required every minute of every day. She could even go down to breakfast without makeup and wearing blue jeans. A sensual glint lit Jane's dark eyes. She'd dispense with the boots, though. Leg man that he was, Art would appreciate the sight of her strutting to the breakfast table wearing these tight jeans and a pair of spike heeled sling backs. Her grin took a decidedly wicked turn. Just because Jane Thompson was the epitome of all things ladylike did not mean she did not know how to be a proper tease when the occasion or her mood called for it. Some of the best teases in history were grand ladies and Jane always subscribed to being the best she could be at anything she decided was worth doing.
And if her darling hubby played his cards right, she'd let him express his approval in the time honored way of appreciative lovers - after breakfast, of course. Working in the stables always left Jane famished and she planned on needing the energy a good meal provided.
Introduction II: Art and Jane Together
Without alerting Jane to his presence, Art watched his wife of less than a year smile softly as she scanned the large scrapbook on her desk. He immediately recognized the tome as her 'rogues gallery' of boys who had passed through her program. Every one of them had been on their way to trouble when someone had cared enough to send them to Jane Thompson and her not-so-gentle brand of tough love. Art had seen, first hand, the love those young men still held for their 'Aunt Jane' last Christmas when the cards had arrived - most of them accompanied by recent family photos and little notes about how this god child was doing or what mischief that honorary niece had gotten herself into. All but two of the young men who had been sent to her had graduated from Jane's program, and all those who had graduated had gone on to become very good men. So what if they'd needed to be turned into very proper, very demure little girls first?
Jane sighed and began to close the book. Art moved into the room and said "If this was a western, I might say 'It's awful quiet around these-here parts, pilgrim. Almost TOO quiet.'" The drawling attempt at a John Wayne impersonation was terrible and earned the desired smile.
"Our son once informed me that the Duke, assuming that is who you were trying so unsuccessfully to imitate, never used the term 'pilgrim' in any of his movies," she retorted, "But, letting that little error in trivia slide, I will reluctantly agree. It is indeed very quiet."
"Much as I love and respect our son, in this case he's wrong. I know for a fact that he used it because I saw the movie on the late show the other night," Art replied smugly, and then became more serious. "You miss having the students, don't you?" He asked as he slipped behind her and began massaging her shoulders. "As much as you enjoy having some quiet time, that restless energy of yours needs an outlet."
Jane nearly purred and hugged her chin against his hand with a smile. "I suppose I do, but I don't have any boys here right now nor any possibilities looming on the horizon." She sighed somewhat sadly. "Perhaps that is just as well."
"What do you mean, love?" Art asked as he found and began working on one of the 'muck-shoveling' muscle knots that Jane's walk had not eased.
"Just that I need time to think about the whole program. I've been working with boys, using my method for a very long time. Maybe it is time to do something else. The last few have been so unusual, Art," she said, spinning her desk chair about so she could look up at him.
"So?" Art asked, trying to draw her out.
"You're playing Socratic psychologist with me, dear," Jane cautioned, but then smiled to ease the rebuke. "And you KNOW how little I like dealing with your so-very-gently-pointed questions- with-no-right-answers. To answer that LAST question, however, I don't really know. Perhaps something fundamental has changed - with the boys or with me. . .maybe both - and the things that I do are no longer as effective. More importantly, my lessons and activities no longer seem to be as SAFE as they once were. I mean, look at. . . "
"I *know* what you mean, but Mina was a unique episode which will NOT be repeated."
"I know," Jane sighed. "But there is also the issue that I am not as young as I once was," she offered.
"Not even fifty yet, and how was it your doctor put it? In better shape than most of her thirty-five year old patients? No, Jane, I am not letting you use that tired and worn-out excuse. If you decide to close the Seasons House School, then let it be for real and meaningful reasons. You've had a rough patch the past five years or so. Kenneth's Mother, Darryl's brother, Caitlyn, but in each of those cases, good has come of their experiences with you. You STILL helped those boys, and in Kenneth's, Darryl's and Caitlyn's cases, I truly believe that your intervention saved their lives. Consider your alternatives and while you are at it, consider their alternatives, but when you make your decision, make it for the right reasons." Jane gazed up into her lover's face, an enigmatic half smile forming on her lips. "How do I know what the right reasons are?"
Art crouched down to eye level and planted a little kiss on Jane's nose. "You will know, my dear, you'll know," then he stood and offered her his hand. "C'mon now. You look *really* uncomfortable in those jeans. Let's go up to our room and see if we can find you something more. . . .comfortable to slip into and I will finish this massage without such. . . lovely impediments."
A mischievous grin lit Jane's face as she let her husband pull her to her feet. Once there, she leaned over and returned the nose kiss. "What the heck took you so long to ask, Philips?"
Much later, Art cuddled his drowsing wife close. "Any word from Darryl?"
"He's taking the afternoon train here on the day after tomorrow. I offered to go pick him up in the Lincoln, but he seems to think I should have . . .other things to occupy my time now that you're home."
Art grinned as he shifted Jane in his arms and rolled her on top of him. "I *do* like the way that boy thinks." he said planting a teasing kiss on Jane's pursed lips.
"I suppose, but I wish he had more in his life than studies just now. It really is too bad he broke up with his young lady before he came home."
"No it isn't," Art said firmly. "She was good for his ego but she wasn't the type for long term commitment. She made him feel like a real stud in the physical sense, but she always bored him silly outside of the bedroom. That one went back for seconds in the boob 'n' butt line when she should have been in the queue where they handed out brains. Your Darryl is going to need a woman whose mind challenges him at least as much as her body turns him on."
"ART!" Jane spluttered, trying to stifle a giggle. "A man does not discuss a lady's son with her in those terms! It simply isn't done!"
"Really," Jane said, this time with the giggle getting out. "It is too bad. I keep hoping he'll find someone like Michael's Janice or Eric's Sylvia." "Someone he can share both sides of his personality with, like I share Diana with you?"
Jane nodded. "But girls like that aren't just lying about to be scooped up, are they?" At Art's negative shake, Jane sighed. "By the way," she added suddenly, "Speaking of Diana? She has been missing from my bed too long, buster. I want silk and perfume, romance and glamour tonight!" she growled, beginning to playfully tussle with her mate. "And seduction."
"Fair's fair, woman," Art growled right back. "Silk for silk, glamour for glamour, and I will take care of the romance and seduction. Deal?"
"Deal!" Jane almost squealed as she leaned over top of Art and began to kiss him senseless.
Introduction III: Judge Ruth Calls
The sun was moving lower in the western skies when the pair had finally risen from Jane's bed. Seated at her vanity, Jane gazed dreamily into her mirror, raptly watching as her spouse went about his. . .her transformation into the very attractive Diana. Then she sighed - half in appreciation, half in resignation as Diana began doing up the front fastenings of the black satin corset she used on special occasions.
The appreciation was easily understood. The corset made Diana's figure mouth watering. Jane's resignation was equally heartfelt. . . or was that 'waist-felt'?. She knew that Diana only wore that corset because Jane found it sexy and Jane had agreed to 'silk for silk, glamour for glamour'. That meant that JANE also had to wear one of those sexy Iron Matrons tonight, too. Jane was not the only member of this marriage-partnership who liked seeing his or her partner tightly laced into gleaming feminine perfection. *Of course, she will lace me as tightly as I lace her and since I don't want to faint from lack of oxygen in the middle of our lovemaking, I will have to be sadly restrained in my . . .assistance.*
Art, almost Diana, grinned mischievously as he sat down on an overstuffed ottoman and began to carefully and slowly slide full- fashion stockings up over each fully extended leg. Standing, he slipped his feet into a pair of dark blue heels and began fastening the garters. *She's still watching,* he thought. "Umm, Jane, darling," he called out, his voice now Diana's soft, husky alto rather than Art's light baritone, "I'm almost ready for the vanity and you haven't even begun putting on your makeup. Not that I mind putting on a reverse strip tease for your entertainment, but unlike that pushover Art, *I* am not going to give you any relief until after you have treated me to a night of dancing, wining and dining on the town. So get dressed, wench!" as she disappeared into the walk-in closet.
Jane jumped as if she'd been shocked and hurriedly reached for her foundation. She'd just gotten the top off the pot when the phone's rude electronic signal whined loudly. Grumbling, Jane reached over to pick up the modern appliance, regretting yet again the relegation of her beloved antique continental-style phone to the downstairs foyer. "Hello?" she asked and then brightened. "Ruth! How are you? What is up?"
Diana reemerged from the closet, gave up on waiting for Jane to finish and began gathering tubes and pots to one side of the vanity. Jane's breath caught at the sight of her lover's chosen outfit - the jewel-bright blue satin, knee-length evening dress that matched the silver haired vision's eyes. "Oh yes, Art's here, only," and here Jane glanced up at her lover's eyes in the mirrors and made an air kiss, "Only it's more Diana than Art right now." Jane listened some more. "All right . . .let me see, how do I turn on this bloody speaker phone Darryl and Kenneth insisted I should have. . ." She was about to guess when Diana's slender finger reached down and pressed a button. She suppressed a sigh when it worked because it wasn't the one she would have pressed.
With a mock snarl, Jane turned to face Diana who was calmly smoothing on her foundation. "I would have gotten it right," she mouthed not quite honestly before turning back to the phone. "Can you hear me, Ruth?"
"Sure can." came the somewhat tinny voice from the small speaker. "How are you, Art/Diana?"
"Just fine, Ruth," Diana replied. "What can we do for you since I suspect that unless you are calling to tell us our marriage license is invalid, you have other reasons for wanting us both in on this conversation."
"Oh, there's no problem with your somewhat hasty civil wedding ceremony except that *he's* still upset that you forgot to invite him and his friends. I suspect you are going to have to do something special there, but that is not why I am calling. Jane? Art? I need some help. Janie? Do you remember Pru Taylor? From our sorority?"
Jane thought for a minute and then nodded. "She was an athlete, wasn't she? Ran track and field, if I recall correctly? Attended school on an athletic scholarship? Is that who you mean?"
"Yes, that is her, only her name is Rockwell now. She's a widow now - lost her husband in one of those screw-ups in Somalia - he was a military advisor there and got caught in an ambush."
"So, what is it, Ruth?" Jane asked, wondering why Ruth wasn't getting to the point.
"She's got a child. . .well, a teenager actually, who is headed for trouble. Temper bordering on terminal rage, very anti-social - the whole works. Pru's really worried, Jane."
"Are you referring the case to me formally, Your Honor?" Jane asked.
"No, not quite, but only because it hasn't gotten that far yet. So far, things have been kept out of the courts which is part of the problem, Jane. At age seventeen, there is every possibility when things do finally go that far, she will be tried as an adult instead of coming to me in juvie. I told her Mother about you and what you do, and she asked me to talk to you about taking on the child."
"I don't have a big sister in residence right now, Ruth," Jane temporized, "Not only that, but I have been sort of reevaluating of late. The last few have been, well, almost all exceptions to the old rules. I am not sure my methods have the same applicability as they once had."
"Now don't go losing confidence on me now, Jane Thompson," Ruth snapped across the miles. "You are the best chance those kids had and the best thing that happened to all of them."
"And seventeen is a little old for what I do," Jane temporized further, the memories of Shelley/Trip and Carl/Carol, each of whom had only just barely made the 'big step' before reaching their legal majorities - which would have taken them out of her control -flashing across her mind. "Are you sure my program is the way to go? Why not one of those 'Outward Bound' programs with lots of exercise, fresh air and positive male role models?"
"Bear with me here, Jane, and let me explain this special situation."
Introduction IV: Darryl's Train Trip Home
Darryl boarded the train with a considerable sense of deja vu. How many years had it been? Almost five since a frightened and abused, fourteen year old boy had boarded this very train?
So much had changed for the better in those intervening years. Back then, his name had been Darryl Smith. Now it was Darryl Thompson-Philips . . . usually. . . .well, at least lately it had been. . . except when it was Darla Thompson-Philips.
Memories of that second christening elicited a smile across his smooth young features. He'd been given the name 'Darla' by his own big sister, Stephanie, towards the end of those first hellish two days under Jane Thompson's regimen. Initially, Darryl had reacted as he'd later learned that most boys reacted - complete confusion, then anger, then terror and embarrassment - before ultimately falling in line with Jane's plans with only the most minor of complaints. He'd gone through the make-up sessions, the multiple dressings and modeling exercises, the shopping and beauty parlor trips, the soirees - had been the target of every arrow in Jane's male-ego-killing quiver - and had reacted predictably to them all.
Until, that is, the afternoon after his first trip to the Marisha Chalet when he'd taken a really close look at 'Darla' in the mirror and realized that she might be the means for his escape from hell. While many of Jane's other students would have defined that as an escape from Jane Thompson's feminine prison, not so young Darryl Smith. No, Darryl's own private and fiery hell had worn the face of his own brother - a brutal, sadistic bastard who had considered Darryl to be his personal slave and who had abused and raped the young boy repeatedly.
And who would never have stopped searching for Darryl so that he could do all those vile things over and over again. At least, not until Darryl had either died or killed himself.
Darryl had, in that moment of mirrored epiphany, developed a plan to become Darla and to use that new identity to escape his brother once and for all. Even if that meant living the rest of his life as a woman. However, he realized that if his plan was to have any hope of success, his disguise had to be flawless. He began studying Jane's lessons 'how to be a girl' with a will and a commitment to perfection that Jane had never seen before. Only his brother's very timely death had prevented Darryl from following through on that plan.
So much had changed, Darryl thought again as he took his seat. Now he had a family and a future.
His reminiscences were distracted by the shoving and bustling of other passengers boarding the car. Across the way, a guy in a loose jacket and bulky bib-style overalls was struggling to get an evidently very heavy bag into the overhead. It was unwieldy enough to be awkward, even aside from weight, so Darryl figured he'd lend a hand. "Hey, man, let me help you with that," he offered, smiling.
The other passenger spun on his heel and faced him, furious. "Get away from me," the passenger snarled before adding "I can handle this just fine on my own." and then proved that by slamming the obviously heavy bag up into the rack.
*Adrenaline,* Darryl mused. "Okay, fine. Just trying to help."
"Next time," the fellow hissed, "Don't bother!"
Shrugging philosophically, Darryl slipped back into his own seat. *Well, I tried. Wonder what put the burr under his saddle?*
Strangely, he then elected to take the backward facing seat, a decision that allowed Darryl to continue to observe him. On closer inspection, the guy was not really out of the ordinary. His nearly black hair was closely cropped, but not into some sort of punk cut. It was more like an old-fashioned crew cut, Darryl mused to himself. The unstylish haircut and sloppy clothes defined a persona, almost a stereotype, and Darryl was almost ready to categorize this guy in his mind.
And yet, there was something wrong - something about him that just didn't fit. Darryl was still pondering that when the guy looked up, feeling Darryl's eyes on him perhaps, and frowned.
*Damn, what I wouldn't give for eyes that blue,* Darryl sighed. *Too bad about the broken nose,* he thought, continuing his inventory of his unwitting subject's features. *Nice eyebrows, too . Darla still gets hers uneven every now and then. Man-oh-man, except for that nose, imagine what Jane and Marie could do with that face. The 'she' those two would make of that fellow would be a heartbreaker and based on his response to a friendly offer of help, he could definitely benefit from a little Thompsonly tutelage in polite manners.*
Darryl sat there, thinking back to the days of those first makeup lessons, and catalogued the features of the rude young man against what techniques would be necessary to change this rude 'him' into one of Aunt Jane's sweetly submissive 'hers. *Let's see, the nose is hopeless, that would need surgery. Those eyebrows need to be plucked, of course, but the brow ridge is not prominent at all - quite delicate in fact, and it leaves his eyes looking nicely large. And the line of the jaw seems almost fragile, as though . . . oh, my God! All those things I have to compensate for with Marie's cosmetic tricks are already . . . right. Good grief, he's a. . .I mean. . that's a girl! I . . . think.*
Trying for subtlety, Darryl gave the suddenly female-appearing creature a more thorough examination. Fine boned fingers fidgeted nervously with a thin golden chain or fob that had come from one of the bib-overalls' many pockets. She (he?) was long- legged, and appeared quite fit although that was difficult to tell, dressed as he or she was in those baggy, unflattering garments.
Then, the girl became aware of Darryl's intense interest. Her skin flushed again and her hands went very still. Fixing her eyes on his, she raised her chin in a movement that while challenging, was also undeniably female.
She really was a girl, albeit not a very feminine one.
*Small wonder I did not realize she was a girl. Between that haircut and those clothes. Big girl, too,* he thought. *Taller than me by a few inches for sure, and bloody strong, too, based on how she slung that case into the overhead rack. Wonder how she broke her nose? Except for that, she's got really nice bones which makes her attitude and taste in clothes even sadder. Wonder how Momma-Jane would react to her?* A mischievous grin lit Darryl's face. *Oh lord, I have GOT to see Jane's face when she sees this one. Now, how do I arrange to get her off the train in Kingston?*
Chapter 1: Another Train, Another Student
As she watched the train roll to a stop, Jane squeezed Diana's gloved hand for what must have been the tenth time since they had arrived at the train station. Timing was always critical on these first contacts, but this one exceeded all bounds. When Ruth had called with the new student's travel arrangements, Jane had immediately tried to reach Darryl and ask him to take a different train. She'd missed him by mere minutes.
Now, they were stuck with a less than desirable 'Plan B'. Diana had to intercept Darryl before he greeted Jane in boy-garb while Jane corralled the new student. If all went well, there would be time for a family conference after the new student was sleeping off Jane's sleeping potion-laced after dinner wine. Otherwise, having Darla play the big sister, at least for the first few critical days, might well cease to be an option.
Jane started when Diana suddenly released her grip on her spouse's hand and strode off toward one of the train cars. There, at the door, was a widely smiling Darryl, waving happily to his family. Jane winced as her son jumped to the platform before the train had completely stopped. He would have made a beeline towards his beloved "Momma-Jane" had not Diana caught him by the arm and all but frog-marched him into the terminal.
*Phase One complete,* Jane thought relieved. She still did not know precisely how she was going to handle this one, but at least all her conceivable options remained viable. *How in heavens name did I get myself INTO this mess?*
As she hustled their son away from Jane, Diana looked back over her shoulder at her beloved wife. Though it would have been invisible to anyone else, Diana could see signs of the anxiety she remembered in Jane the night before, right after Ruth's call.
It had been nearly forty minutes after a still-disbelieving Jane had told Ruth that she needed more time to consider her long-time friend's request. Comfortably situated in one of the plush overstuffed chairs Jane kept only in her private suite, Diana had watched as her wife furiously paced the room. She'd already tried to calm the Mistress of Seasons House down twice and had failed miserably both times. This was apparently one of those times when all a caring husband could do was let her wife work through things on her own.
*Well, almost on her own,* the cross-dressed psychologist had laughed quietly to himself. Diana had pretty much already decided what Jane would do - would NEED to do. After that had been decided in Diana's mind, it had simply been a matter of carefully (VERY carefully) letting her agitated spouse reach that very same conclusion with as little prodding as possible. After all, Jane had not gotten very far with her dressing and that peignoir she was almost not wearing was calling to her. *Best laid plans of mice and men and whatevers, Philips,* she'd told herself. *You have to get her to take you out on your date before you can have any of that, and by your own words, too, DUMMY!*
"How can you just SIT there," Jane had suddenly spun about, raging at her spouse.
"If I stood you'd run me over," Diana had replied equably, which only served to further fuel the emotions that were driving Jane Thompson.
Diana had only barely caught the pillow Jane had then hurled at her before it connected with her face. "You know what I mean," the teacher had growled as she looked about for more ammunition. At that point, Diana had decided to come out of the chair, catching her hand as she reached for a piece of sculpture.
"Ah, ah, ah," she'd said as she had disengaged her lover's fingers and then carried Jane bodily to the couch. "Sit!" Jane had sat, just barely catching herself crossing her arms over her breasts in a pout. Diana had merely grinned and then tipped the angry redhead's chin up so the two lovers could lock eyes. "You know what you are going to have to do, love. You would not be you if you did not at least try."
"But this is all wrong!" Jane had nearly wailed.
"No, it is not wrong, but it is very different than your usual situation. Are you afraid?"
THAT had done it! Fury had sparkled in her dark eyes, but only for a moment, and then her shoulders had again slumped. "Of course I am afraid," she sighed, the emotion bleeding out of her. "As we discussed just this morning, I have begun to doubt certain parts of my program. Still, as soon as I heard Ruth's voice, I was like a fire horse hearing the bell ring, but DiANNNAA, what she wants me to do is. . .is. . "
"Very different," Diana had agreed. "But I think you can still help. You care, and you have the time, the resources and the will to do what needs be done." Jane only grimaced and Diana chuckled. *What a WOMAN,* Diana's mind had crowed, *and she's MINE!* "Not only that," she'd continued, "but you have me. And/or Art, that is."
Jane had simply sat there silently for a several moments. "You think I should do this." It had not been a question.
Diana had shaken her head at that, sending silver wisps of hair dancing about her face. "Jane, my life's true love, it doesn't matter what I think. YOU'VE already decided to do it, dear, in your heart, at least. You are just trying to convince that more rational part of you to quit bitching about the decision."
"I know," Jane said in a very small voice. "I know."
"So, when Marie and Darryl get back we have a council of war?"
Sighing, Jane had then risen and walked into Diana's open arms. "I think we're going to need one, don't you? After all, wasn't it you who told me that the reason I wasn't reaching Caitlyn was it is damned difficult to convey a credible threat of terrifying humiliation to a girl, if all you can do is expose her publicly as a girl? Oh lord, Art, whatever am I going to do with a REAL girl?!"
"I don't know, love," Diana had replied with a chuckle, "Not YET, but I think the first thing you need to do?"
"What?" Jane had asked, almost meekly, her face still buried in Diana's Obsession-scented shoulder.
"Get dressed. That peignoir is gorgeous but you promised to take me out to kick up our heels on the town tonight. We aren't likely to get another chance for a while - not with a student in the house - so go get dressed." With that, the smiling psychologist had planted a sharp swat to Jane's shapely backside. At her outraged glare, Diana had smiled. "And don't forget to call me to do up your lacings."
The train was nearly empty and passengers were beginning to board and still Jane had not seen her new student. Fear clutched at her as she contemplated the possibility of a runner with icy dread. Then, a tall figure, garbed in thoroughly disreputable clothing, pushed through the boarding crowd lugging an obviously heavy duffel bag. Jane felt the beginnings of a migraine burn behind her eyelids.
With a deep breath to calm her nerves, Jane stepped forward. "Miss Chastity Rockwell?" Jane saw the girl start at hearing her name and knew that this. . .this. . .child had to be her new student. She held out an elegantly gloved hand in greeting. "I am Jane Thompson, Chastity, your Mother's friend." Jane winced as the girl wiped her hand on jeans before taking Jane's and vigorously shaking it.
"Rocky, I only answer to Rocky," the girl replied with unexpected heat in her voice, "If you're my mother's friend, Jane Thompson, we need to get that understood right now. I make it a point of personal pride NEVER to answer to Chastity."
"But . . .but that is your name," Jane replied, too surprised by a student taking HER to task to scold the girl for her lack of manners.
"Only on my birth certificate and it is only there until I am eighteen. It is a traditional family name, but I hate it. I already have the necessary paperwork filled out to change it when I turn eighteen. Kind of a birthday present, you know?"
"And what will you change your name to?" Jane asked, trying to regain her equilibrium.
"I just told you," the girl scoffed. "The name I answer to is Rocky. That is the name that will be on the papers, too."
Chapter 2: Darryl Joins the Plan
Darryl kept his questions to himself until they were in Marie's estate wagon and on the road to Seasons House. "Okay, Daddy- Diana, what's up? Why are we here and Momma-Jane still at the train station?" Then a thought occurred to him. "Oh, I get it. There was a new student on the train." he said with certainty.
"You got it. Ruth called day before yesterday. Jane and the Mom are sorority sisters. . ."
"Not like Ken's mother?" Darryl demanded, suddenly worried.
"Not hardly," Diana chuckled. "Janey remembers this one as being as sweet as Sheila turned out to be poisonous."
"So, I am being kept out of sight so that I can jump into the nearest phone booth, don my costume and become Super-Sister?"
"Well, that is one option, son," Diana said with Art's voice. "This one is going to be different, particularly for your Mother who is not real comfortable with the scenario. I think you, that is, Darla, could be a real asset at some point in this student's program."
"At some point? Jane's changed the plan? She's not going to put the screws to this guy in the first two days and have big sister around to feel him out and help set him up? What is this guy? A really bad troublemaker? If Jane's that worried about him, why did YOU let her take him on?!?"
"Well, it isn't so much that the new student is a bad actor or that the program being different as the fact that this student is very different from any Jane has ever taken on."
"THAT different?" Darryl asked, his tone dubious.
Diana turned amused, twinkling eyes on her adopted son. "Yup. Janey has never taken on a real girl before."
It was very satisfying, Diana thought, to see the boy's jaw drop that far. She didn't often get the better of her all-too-bright adopted son. Then her own chin dropped in a graceless expression Jane would never tolerate when that son said, "Oh, no, it can't be. Not HER!!"
Almost disgusted with himself, Darryl fell to wandering aimlessly about his temporary hideaway. Diana had dropped him off at Jane's horse barn where Marie had prepared the old stable manager's apartment for him. Long vacant - but well maintained, as was everything that belonged to Jane Thompson - the rooms were located in the back of the barn, on the side away from the main house on the second floor. Part of the apartment had been, in recent times, converted into a small private gym/workout space for Art who needed regular rigorous exercise to maintain Diana's fine womanly figure - particularly now that Marie was feeding him on a daily basis.
The plan Diana had laid out for him during the drive home from the train station was that Darryl would stay out of sight while she and Jane dined with the girl. Darryl had told Diana that Jane might need another way of putting her new student to sleep because he wasn't at all sure this one would drink Jane's gently doctored wine. He thought he'd finally figured out what was in that heavy duffel and what that said about the girl with the broken nose. She was an athlete, and from what little he'd observed, she was probably a good one. She might refuse the wine because it broke her training. Well, Jane's experience with Ken, when he had refused the wine should have forced her to come up with a contingency plan or two.
In any case, Diana had left a cellular phone with him and promised to call him when the girl was asleep and the coast was clear.
It couldn't be too soon for him because he really missed that wonderful old Victorian monstrosity of a house, especially the views from the windows of his room. Heavens above, he even missed all the pastel frou-frou that was part and parcel of his Darla persona, hard-put-upon senior student in Jane Thompson's Girl's School for Wayward Boys. When he was away from home, he was even haunted by the remembered scents of the perfumes, powders and other cosmetics that flavored every facet of Seasons House. Heck, truth to tell, it would be nice to be able to get back into silks and satins again for a while. The soft, smooth fabrics really were more comfortable, at least when Momma-Jane wasn't forcing corsets and stiff petticoats on him. And heels made him taller, which was always desirable.
Other young males would likely cringe at that bit of self recognition, but those young men had not had the good fortune to be raised to manhood by Momma-Jane. Darryl no longer concerned himself about how his time as Darla might have affected his masculinity because nothing of what he did or wore in Seasons House changed anything that really counted in his life. Darla was simply an integral part of who he was, just as his diminutive size and height were integral parts of Darryl Thompson-Philips. There was no doubt in his mind that he was a man in every sense of the word. He was ALSO a man who could and regularly did flawlessly impersonate a beautiful girl. Moreover, he was a man who thoroughly enjoyed his ability to carry off that impersonation and who enjoyed the society of other women during those impersonations.
*And even when I am Darryl,* he caught himself with a half snort, half laugh, *I think of 'society of other women' when I think about Darla, as if she truly is a woman.*
Well, Darryl-the-man liked the 'society of women' as well, although he had other reasons to enjoy their company that was beyond Darla's own. In point of actual fact, Darla had been a great help in that regard. To a woman, each of his lovers had remarked upon Darryl's attentiveness and unusual sensitivity and insight about women. He'd even managed to remain friends with each of them after their time as lovers had run its course.
Now, Jane had taken on a real girl as a student. That had to be a first - at least since she'd left her position as Headmistress of Eastmore Girl's School. Where would he fit into that situation? *Heavens,* he thought, *Where would Darla fit into that situation?* Darryl wasn't sure.
In the past, the big sister's job was part spirit-guide, part role model and part instigator/snitch. His own observations, close up and personal, proved that girl needed the role-model most of all, but that role was also the one fraught with the most danger. Oh, Darla would still be able to keep an eye on her little sister, help her over the rough spots, and perhaps even tease away some of the tears and the tensions. Unlike Michael/Michelle, Darryl had no compunction about helping Jane set up the new student for the traps that were critical to the program, or keeping the teacher abreast of where the student's head really was, but what would happen if - when the girl found out that her feminine role model was male?
And what would Jane's controlling threat be with this one? Expose her to the world as a girl dressed in girl's clothes? That did not sound like much of a threat to Darryl. So what would be the tool or tools that gave the girl pause when she started to react in a negative or unacceptable manner? Somehow, Darryl did not think calling her a 'sissy' would do much more than really piss her off, and after seeing her display of strength and temper on the train today, that did not seem like such a good idea.
He thought a while longer about the situation and what his role in the coming drama might be, then laughed. "Might as well admit that you are intrigued by this, Darryl," he finally said to himself. "A real girl in Jane's boy's school. Won't it be interesting to see what she looks like in some nice clothes?"
Just then, the electronic signal of the cell phone sounded. Darryl picked it up, opened the connection and listened. "Okay, Daddy-Di. . . I will be there in a few minutes."
Chapter 3: First Council Strategies
"Wait, dear," Jane said quietly when Darryl made noises about going up to his room to clean up, "We need to talk with you and Marie now. Since you missed our luncheon, I asked Marie to put together a light tea for you. You can eat while we all meet in my office."
Darryl looked at the Mother of his heart and saw emotion Jane Thompson rarely permitted to show. There was uncertainty in those dark green eyes, and something else - perhaps even fear. *I guess that isn't too surprising. This is not just another student for her to tear down and rebuild the same old way, now is it? After all the last few students have put her through, now she is stepping into completely new territory where the experiences of a lifetime have little application.* "Okay, Momma- Jane," he said softly and then moved gracefully down the hall toward the downstairs office.
"Was it my imagination?" Diana asked after Darryl had disappeared from view, "Or was that Darla who just answered you?"
There was something innately, intrinsically feminine about the young person who skillfully poured the tea and served the light snacks to the other three women, Diana reflected as she fell into the familiar dual roles of both participant and observer. It certainly wasn't their child's state of dress that accounted for that perception of femininity, for the combination of running shoes, jeans and pullover was at best androgynous. And yet, a casual or inexperienced observer would never have thought this young person was a male.
*It isn't just the small stature and size, either,* Diana thought as she concentrated on watching her son as she. . .he proffered the plate of dainty pastries to Jane and Marie. *It is also manners and mannerisms; presentation and presence. Every non- verbal cue just screams 'female', and yet, when Darryl is Darryl, he is just the opposite - all man in spite of the supposed limitations of his physical size. When I think of how hard I have to work and what I have to do to carry off the masquerade he seems to pull off without apparent effort? I just want to scream.*
"Very nicely done, dear," Jane complimented as she settled her teacup in the delicately painted saucer. "You have surmised, Darryl, that I would like you to help me with this new student? At least for the first crucial couple of weeks?"
"Darla, Momma-Jane," she was instantly corrected by the familiar and soft tones of her 'daughter', "although what good I can be to you when you are dealing with a real girl, I don't know," Darla shrugged that off and continued, "But you know I am willing to try. And for longer than just a couple of weeks if that will help you. I was able to resolve most of the university's concerns about my distance learning classes. I will be able to do most of the work here at home and only go into the city perhaps one day a week, at most three days every two weeks."
"Excellent, dear. As to what you will do, well, Diana and I have been discussing that ever since we first agreed to try to help this child."
"Somehow, Momma-Jane, I don't think your usual threat of telling the student to play by your rules or leave as they are dressed is going to work with this one. Being a real girl, she might decide to take you up on the offer." Darla said pertly, trying to relieve the somber tone of the discussions. "I believe, my dear, as old and set-in-my-ways as you no doubt think I am, that I have reached the conclusion all by myself."
"So what do we do?"
Jane sighed, wishing she felt more confident. "Diana and I have come up with a strategy we think will work. The girl has a main goal in her life. I can, given that she must live under my authority until she graduates or reaches her eighteenth birthday, be of significant assistance to her towards achieving that goal. On the other hand, I can also do a great deal to make it impossible for her to pursue that goal while she is living here, and while that time frame is limited by her majority to a maximum of eight months, the end result will set her back by more than a year."
"So, she plays by your rules and is a good little girl, or you will take away her dream? You sure you want to take the chance that she won't force you to follow through on that threat?" Darla asked, concerned. While Aunt Jane often enjoyed her little games and tricks, Darla knew that imposing real penalties that had far-reaching potential deeply distressed the truly caring inner-woman.
"Diana and I believe we have worked out a scheme that will preclude me having to impose that forfeit on her. We will know better tomorrow morning when I give her what Kenneth called the Scylla or Charybdis choice. Diana believes she will take the path of least resistance to her own over-arching goal, which will be to follow my orders and hope to curry the favor of my assistance.
"So, assuming it goes as you and Diana have planned, Momma-Jane, what happens next?"
"The usual first day exercises except at a slightly slower pace. I think we will have to take things slowly with this one, carefully considering each step as we go along. It may take longer for her to see the benefits, but I would rather do that than make an irreparable error early in the program. For right now, I think we will still try the makeup lessons and fashion shows. Marie has already acquired and inventoried her personal belongings," Jane shook her head sadly. "I was hoping there was something in there we could use."
Marie snorted. "You would not believe this, Darla, but those abominable things she was wearing are the most presentable clothes she brought with her. And she does not own so much as a tube of lipstick or pot of moisturizer. The closest thing she has to cosmetics is Mennen after-shower powder, deodorant and athlete's foot spray. We will not even discuss what she brought in lieu of lingerie, for it does not even deserve to be called underwear."
*I should have expected that,* Darla thought. *Jane as much as confirmed my theory that she is a jock. Wonder how Aunt Jane is going to deal with that?*
"Just so, Marie," Jane interjected, reasserting her control of the small meeting. "In any event, those deficiencies ensure that she will benefit by the same lessons we always set for the boys that first day. Cosmetology, hair care, dictionary walking, fashion changes - the whole make over routine. Whatever she is anticipating on her arrival here, I don't think she expects to be turned into a Victorian dress-up doll, so that will have the desired effect of putting her off balance."
Darla began nodding and then suddenly remembered her role in those activities. "But, Momma-Jane, won't that put me into situations where. . .well, I mean, the big sister helps the little sister dress. . ," a bright red blush colored Darla's cheeks. "And she's a minor, assuming Aunt Ruth is the referring court official. I. . that is, we could get into real trouble with this. . "
"Well, that is one of the key problems Diana and I still must resolve, dear. We're not precisely sure that a long term 'big sister' is what this one needs. Certainly, a good, solid feminine role model should be a help, but that is one of the areas where we will be playing this by ear. And just so you know, Ruth did not officially refer the girl here, Darla. Miss Rockwell is here at her Mother's instigation based on Ruth's recommendation. Both the Mother and Ruth have said that they trust me not to put the girl in danger of her virtue, but. . ." Jane turned suddenly pleading eyes to Diana.
With a laugh, Diana moved over to put a comforting hand on Jane's shoulder. "They both understand that you might be involved and what the ramifications of your participation are. What Jane is trying to say, Darla, is seeing your new little sister en dishabille from time to time, is not really going to be all that big an issue unless you are going to lose your manly control and try to have your wicked way with her." Diana's tone was suddenly lightly playful and teasing.
"Not bloody likely with that one," their child replied in tones that were clearly more Darryl than Darla. "She might hurt me."
"Just so," Diana continued, hiding a half smile behind her hand. "What Jane is really concerned about is how that . . . hmmmmm. . shared sisterly intimacy might affect Rocky's willingness to continue learning if she ever finds out you are not also a GG."
"A what? And who is Rocky?" Darla asked, suddenly confused.
"In the common parlance among some transgendered folks," the onetime practicing psychologist/counselor explained, "GG is a generally understood term for a person who is physically, that is genetically, female. Stands for 'Genetic Girl' and Rocky is how our new student prefers to be addressed. It is short for her last name of Rockwell."
"Jane?" Marie asked. "Just what has she done and why is she being sent to us?"
"That part is at least business as usual for us, Marie," Jane said after taking a sip of her tea. "She has a history of stubborn intractability, and temper losses to the point of rage and violence. So far, she has only attacked males, and from what Ruth tells me, only males who were bigger than her."
"So that is the reason that I am still Diana," Diana interjected. "We think, based on everything we've been able to find out about her incidents, that she has no history of behaving violently towards other females."
"Based on her initial reactions to me," Jane added, "I think she is somewhat intimidated by strong female authority figures."
"Don't count on that too much," and this time it was definitely husband-Art speaking to wife-Jane, "Because we don't have any evidence and she might decide that authority is authority and react unpredictably. Be very careful when and precisely how hard you press her. And make damn certain that either Darla or I are there when you do decide to play 'mean old Aunt Jane' with her."
"Very well. As I was saying, Point 1 is to keep the household as feminine as ever. Hopefully, once we have a handle on her, we can carefully introduce males to her in controlled situations to get her past that violent reaction."
"Point 2 goes hand in hand with that. I do not want her coming into contact with anyone who might push her buttons in an uncontrolled manner until we have her more in hand."
"That means no Sandy," Darla commented. "No matter how you ask her to behave, she just cannot help herself. She is your biggest gun with the boys, but that is because the boys don't dare retaliate against her trash-talk for fear she will keep her promise to expose them." "Excellent observation," Jane agreed. "I wasn't planning on her leaving the estate for at least a week, and certainly not before we have her agreement to the program and have something to hang over her head, but I agree with you, Dear. When we go to the salon the first time, Caro does the full treatment on this one."
"Point 3, Darla-dear, is that you must find ways to convince this student that being a girl is not only rewarding, but fun. Think teenaged girl, and when you come up with any ideas, run them past me. As I said, we are playing this one more reactively than I would with a boy, but that is as it must be. We need to find things she likes as well as things she does not. We cannot rely only upon negative reinforcement. We need both the carrot AND the stick."
"Teenage girl? That means boys, doesn't it?"
Jane's eyes went closed, her normally smooth brow wrinkling. "Oh god. Boys. I had not thought of that, but you are right. Oh well, at least with her I don't have to worry about those outsiders finding there's another boy beneath the petticoats."
"Point 4," Diane added, picking up the conversation, "is that we will have to decide whether to keep Darla around based on how Rocky. .,"
"PLEASE," Jane cut in, wincing, "Do NOT call her that."
"Very well," Diana said, her eyes twinkling, "Depending on how GiGi reacts to Darla. As we've noted, our new student does not have a great deal of feminine artifice and she may react in any number of ways to our oh-so-very-sweet-and-lovely Darla. Hopefully, she will come to see Darla as a role model to be emulated, but she might just as easily conclude that she is a threat or that she represents an unattainably high standard of feminine perfection. In either case, she may do everything she can to distance herself from Darla."
"I suppose," Jane muttered in frustration, "that we will have to do the naming ceremony with Old Tom, too. I had planned on foregoing that little ritual and simply employing the girl's real name, but she has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that name and *I* refuse to call her 'Miss Rockwell' or 'Gigi'. We'll pick a day when his son is not with him. I don't think she will feel aggressive against Old Tom."
"What is her real first name?" Darla wanted to know, and then burst out laughing with a sour-faced Jane told her. "Well, I can see how that name would be a trial for a girl in today's world. Okay, let me know when you think she will be willing to play along and I will christen her for you."
"Does that about cover it?" Jane asked, looking once more to her mate.
"I think so. As you said, we will have to play this one close and step softly. Make sure she doesn't feel so threatened that she breaks pattern and lashes out at one of us."
"That how she broke her nose? Someone gave better than he got?" Darla asked.
"No, Darla. She is a competitive modern pentathlete - a very good one according to her mother. In one of her early competitions, she drew a horse who was having a bad day and it refused a jump, unseating Miss Rockwell face first into the jump."
"Why hasn't she had surgery?"
"Her mother told me that she refused surgery because there was a slight chance that removing the damaged cartilage might degrade her breathing when she exercises. However, that nose is something else we will need to address with this child. Marie? See what you can do with stage makeup tomorrow during one of the dress up exercises. As to the original question of someone getting the better of her? That apparently has yet to happen. When this girl decides to fight, then she fights viciously and has, to this point, incapacitated each of her opponents before they could retaliate effectively against her."
"Momma Jane? You know I saw her on the train as Darryl, right? I know it is only a first impression based on very little data, but I am not sure that the threat of humiliation will work with this one. I can't really put in words why I feel that way, but I do."
Jane nodded. "As Diana has told me, it is difficult to use the potential humiliation of being exposed as a girl to threaten a girl. Oh, I hope we can jab at her ego when she does not perform to standard, maybe awaken and pinch her feminine pride, but that is all. For this student, I intend to be the stern but fair Victorian governess. Someone who not only disciplines, but rewards as well. The goal here is to help her get in touch with and begin to enjoy the gentler aspects of her femininity. That being the case, then we can't have expressing those feminine behaviors used as or perceived as a punishment with her as it often must be with my boys. That is how I hope to use Darla, dear, as a tool to show her that being feminine is a pleasant thing."
"I see. Well, when do we start the lessons?"
"Tomorrow is soon enough, dear. You can go up to your room and reacquaint yourself with your buttons and bows, then we'll have a nice quiet family evening." Jane started to stand and then thought of something. "Darla, if she saw you on the train, perhaps you should make yourself more of a brunette for this session. The fussy little blond debutante look is not going to have the impact on her that it does on the boys. Besides, if your coloring seemed closer to hers, it might make you more effective as a role model."
"Jane?" Diana interjected. "I think that is a good idea, but it might also be smart, at least initially, to have Darla play down her looks. That way, she might avoid appearing 'too perfect'. Then, at an opportune moment, have Darla shine. That might make Gigi think that there is something to this cosmetic witchery of Marie's."
"Tante Marie? Do you still have that selection of wigs brushed out? And appropriately tinted cosmetics? I will need some help picking one out and setting my look." When Marie nodded, Darla pouted extravagantly. "All this effort to make myself beautiful and NOW she wants me to hide my light under a silo."
"That's bushel, Darla," Diana said with a cheeky grin. "You hide your light under a 'bushel'."
"Won't work," Darla retorted, tongue firmly in cheek. "It would be like trying to hide Pamela Anderson in a training bra. Hiding looks like mine would require MUCH more than a mere bushel."
Darla was pleased to see Jane begin to really laugh for the first time since Darryl had stepped off the train. Perhaps things would go well after all.
Chapter 4: A New Day for a New Student
The alarm that rang in Jane and Art's bedroom was all the more effective for its unfamiliar tones. Still, Art growled when repeated poundings of the bedside clock did not still the electronic bleating.
Groaning, Jane rolled out of bed and went to her vanity. "I armed the alarmed motion-sensors in Chastity's room before we went to bed last night," she explained as she removed the sleeping turban she'd used to keep her hair relatively neat through the night. She fumbled blindly about her vanity, found her brush and then continued. "I didn't know when she would awaken and I needed to get to her first thing."
Art peered blearily at the clock. "Early yes, but bright? I don't think so. Getting up before six a.m. is barbaric.
"It's the regimen her mother told us to expect, darling," Jane said shrugging into her robe. She came back to bed and planted a kiss on her husband's mouth. "Don't show yourself until after I have finished with her."
Art rolled back over and pulled the covers back up to his chin. "Won't," he mumbled. "'sides, unlike you, Diana needs time to become beautiful."
"Flatterer," Jane said with a smile, and then strode from the room. She had to catch the girl before she was involved in her morning program.
Jane stood outside the door to her new student's room, her hand resting on the doorknob. She took one last deep, cleansing breath and then opened the door.
The scene that greeted her was almost familiar. Her student was looking through the array of clothing that filled the huge, carved antique armoire. Even the look of mixed dismay, disgust and anger reminded Jane of the almost sixty other students who had come to Seasons House over the past twenty or so years. The only difference was that this student was already a girl.
Rocky heard the door open and close, but ignored it. She needed something to wear so she could get on with her morning workout. From what her mother and that judge had told her, she'd have little enough time to see to her body's needs once the day's 'classes' began in earnest.
Unused to being so completely ignored, Jane's ire rose a notch. "Chastity!" she said sharply. Jane could tell the girl heard her because she momentarily went still, but with a shrug then continued her search. Jane tried again and got even less response. That was when she remembered their first encounter at the train station. "MISS ROCKWELL!"
Sighing, Rocky stopped what she was doing and turned to face her mother's supposed friend. "Yes, ma'am?" she replied with hardly any inflection or interest.
"What are you doing?" Jane asked.
"Looking for something I can wear while I do my morning exercises. My stuff seems to have disappeared. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
The challenge was clear, but delivered quietly and in a controlled manner. Jane accepted that response as she would have accepted accusations and anger. "I have had your things put into storage. They will be returned to you only when I say so and only when I think you have earned them. Until then, those garments in that armoire have been provided for your use."
Rocky considered that, then shrugged. She'd exercised without proper clothes before. A decently fitting brassiere was all she really needed. The rest was purely for modesty's sake and that was an emotion that had meant very little to her. She began to turn back to the armoire only to be stopped by a snapped out order from the older woman.
"You and I need to talk. Immediately. I want you to shower, dress - that lovely robe hanging from the door of the armoire will do nicely - and then come to my study. Take a right when leaving your room and it is the second door on your left. I will expect you in no more than ten minutes." *Since you no doubt have a very masculine attitude towards lingering in a bath.*
"I will see you when I have had my workout, Ms. Thompson," the girl replied softly.
Jane turned back to face her new student. "Miss Rockwell, you have been sent to me because someone who loves you is very afraid that you may come to a bad end, causing harm to others and to yourself. You agreed to come here and agreed to participate in my program. So far, you have refused to answer a polite and civil greeting because you do not like your given name, ignored me when I attempted conversation with you and now you ignore my directions. I cannot help you if you do not do as I ask, Miss Rockwell. I will expect you in my study, showered and dressed in ten minutes or I will wash my hands of you and put you on the next train home. It is your choice, Miss."
Rocky watched the door slam behind the tall, striking woman. *Damn! Why did she have to be an early riser?* Looking down at the bra she'd pulled from one of the drawers of the armoire, Rocky gave a few moments thought to simply giving up and going home. Except that her mother had sworn not to support Rocky's training until she had graduated from this woman's school. It was not an insignificant threat. Pentathlon, with its equestrian and fencing competitions, was an expensive sport. Proper training was not cheap and although Rocky was good - very good for a junior - she was not good enough to gain outside sponsorship that would support her while she trained.
Sighing, she snatched down the robe and grimaced. It was satin - as feminine as the rest of this room and just as unwelcome. A glance at the clock told her she'd already wasted a minute of the ten that woman had allotted to her. Good thing she wasn't one to waste time on such things.
Jane sat in her chair, one eye on the clock, and one eye on monitor connected to the surveillance camera in Chastity's room. *How could I have been so stupid? I haven't even presented the choice and already I have given her an ultimatum that could have her leaving before we've even begun. At least she went into the bathroom, so there's a chance, but what do I do if she doesn't come out? If I give in, every threat or promise I make for the rest of her stay will be open to question. Oh, god, please let her give in this time. . *
Jane's clock had ticked away all but the last sixty critical seconds when the bathroom door in Chastity's room slammed open and a determined-looking girl strode out, heading for the door. Fifteen seconds later a firm knock sounded on Jane's door. The Mistress of Seasons House gave herself five more seconds to regain her composure, and then called out in her firm schoolteacher's voice. "Enter."
This chair cannot have been built properly,* Rocky thought as she exerted her will to keep from squirming on its seat, *Unless its designer was a sadist.*
Jane allowed her student to stew as she forced her relief into a dark, hidden corner of her mind. She would savor it later, perhaps with Art, but now she had to be the schoolmistress. She flipped through the dossier she'd developed as she waited, noting a violent episode here and a refusal to comply with a school policy there.
"Well, young woman, you have certainly led an interesting life these past few years. Tell me, Miss Rockwell, is arrest and prison time something you aspire to in life? If they are, then let me congratulate you on your planning. I would say you are, but for the good graces of your mother and a few other people who see a positive potential in you, well on your way to achieving that apparent desire."
*Another do-gooder,* Rocky thought sullenly, *determined to save me from myself.* "I have no wish to do either of those things, Ms. Thompson." she replied quietly, her voice monotone.
"Well, everything in this record says precisely the opposite, young lady!" Jane held up a piece of paper. "A disciplinary action for fighting on school grounds and putting the boy you were fighting into the hospital for three days with a concussion. Only the fact that no one could prove that you instigated the fight kept you from receiving more than an in-school suspension." Jane found another form. "Here is a letter to your mother indicating that you had refused to follow a school regulation and therefore would not be permitted to participate in the formal graduation. My discussions with your mother indicate that she was particularly hurt by that since your grades were excellent and you might have been valedictorian. What have you to say to that?"
"What I told her. I am not sorry that slug was in the hospital because he deserved what he got. I am sorry about the graduation, but there was nothing I could do about that, either."
"Oh?" Jane challenged. "It says here that the reason you were denied the privilege of graduating with your class is that you refused to comply with the dress code for the pre-graduation honors assembly, even after you had been specifically informed by the school's headmistress of both the requirement and the penalty for willful noncompliance."
"It is a free country," Rocky replied, more heat in her voice. "I do not have to wear a dress if I do not wish to wear one. The pants suit that I wore was elegant and tasteful. It is not like I showed up in rip-kneed jeans and a WWF t-shirt."
"It is indeed a free country, but that was a private school and the registration agreement your mother signed stated that you would comply with their rules and regulations as long as you were enrolled. Were you aware of that?"
Rocky hesitated, then nodded. "The Head showed me the document when she called me into her office to tell me I had to wear a dress. I told her that was unfair. She said that I was entitled to my opinion, but that if I wished to attend graduation, I would follow their stupid, sexist rules. I didn't think the ceremony was all that big a deal and did what I felt was right." At that point, her voice cracked and a single tear ran down her cheek. "I did not realize it was that big a deal to my Mom. If I had known how she felt, I would have worn the damn dress."
"Don't curse in my home, please," Jane rebuked, but the tear and evident emotion pleased her nonetheless. It boded well for it meant the girl did care about her mother in spite of her action to send Rocky to Jane. "Life is like that, Miss Rockwell, full of choices; full of consequences. Right now, you have another choice to make, but we will get to that in a moment. First, let me ask you another question. Why are you here?"
That brought a look of surprise to girl's face. "Because my mother sent me here." she finally replied. "It isn't like she gave me any alternative."
"So, you are here solely because your mother asked you to come?"
"More or less."
"I see," the stern-faced schoolmistress replied quietly. "Do you know what will be expected of you here, should I decide to let you stay on at my home?"
A look of unadulterated distaste bordering on disgust flashed in the girl's dark eyes. "From the way my mother described this, you are the Emily Post from Hell on female steroids. You are supposedly going to make me into a lady, whatever that means, whatever the cost."
"I asked you earlier not to curse in my home. I will not ask again. If you curse again before we have come to an understanding, we will terminate this interview and I will decide whether I should simply send you home or not. You are a nationally ranked athlete. Don't tell me you do not have the discipline to control your tongue because I know otherwise. Is that clear?"
The woman had not raised her voice, but Rocky had never felt so well chewed out in her life. Swallowing hard to clear the sudden lump in her throat, she nodded and said, "Yes, Ma'am."
"Very well. As to your description of me, aside from your flippancy, it is essentially correct. Basically, Miss Rockwell, what I run here in my home is a school in manners, deportment and feminine skills. As with any school, there are subjects to study and master, and there are tests to demonstrate that mastery. Let me tell you right now that you will be wearing dresses as well as feminine lingerie, shoes and cosmetics in my home - almost exclusively in fact. If you cannot accept that requirement THIS time, then we have nothing more to discuss."
Now Rocky did squirm. Lord, but she hated this, but she had given her word. "I knew that when I agreed to come here, Ms. Thompson. I will do as you ask and as you direct."
"Why are you here, Miss Rockwell?"
"You just asked me that, and I told you. My mother told me to come."
"Let's be frank with each other, shall we? Woman to woman? There is more to it than that. You are nearly eighteen. You could have waited her out. Actually, you can wait me out. In a mere eight months, your mother, and therefore I as her proxy, lose all authority over you. Why are you here?"
Rocky studied the tall regal woman for several moments and then realized, "You know, don't you? She PROMISED! She told me she wouldn't tell you . . . "
Jane held up her hand to stem the building eruption and was surprised when the girl responded. "She only told me that she was withholding something you wanted very badly until you came to me and passed my course. Having read your file, however, I have reached some conclusions on my own. They might be wrong, and if they are, my acting upon them could do both of us harm. Tell me the whole story, Miss Rockwell. Be honest with me. Begin as you mean to go in this joint endeavor of ours."
*I don't want to do this,* Rocky thought grimly. *Never give an opponent knowledge of your weaknesses. Oh hell, what does it matter anyway.* "I want to be the first woman to compete against the men in the World Pentathlon Championships a year and a half from now. Pentathlon is expensive, Ms. Thompson, and I cannot train without financial support. My mother has stopped supporting my training until I pass your course."
"So, assuming you complete my program, she will again shoulder the burden of paying for your training? I would say that you have a great deal to accomplish in the next eight months then."
"I know that I am not the most feminine person on this earth, Ms. Thompson, but I said I would come and I said I would try. I had hoped, however, that I could finish in less than the eight months because I don't want to be out of training that long."
"I see. Well, as to that, you will graduate when I feel you have accomplished what I want you to accomplish. That could take eight months, it could take four months and it could take a year or more. Typically, students graduate in nine to fifteen months."
"I can't be out of training that long!" Rocky exclaimed in dismay. "I will lose what edge I have and I will never be able to prepare for the trials."
"I will make you an offer, Miss Rockwell. Today is the only time you will hear it and today is the only time you can accept the terms. There are facilities on this estate - a stable of several mounts, all jumper trained, a small jump arena, miles of trails and a small exercise and weight room. Work with me instead of against me, Miss Rockwell. Give me your very best efforts to learn the lessons I am determined to teach you and in return, I will make arrangements for you to continue your training while you are here. Learn to wear cosmetics properly, and I will give you tuition in riding. Attain skill in preparing and serving a proper tea and I will arrange for a fencing master to give you regular lessons in my home. You have already given your mother your word, Miss Rockwell, and that is the stick. I offer you a carrot."
"Can I work-out in the morning each day? To keep my cardiovascular fitness?"
"It is "may I" not "Can I" and that is as much subject to your behavior and application to lessons as are everything else we are discussing today. Give me an honest effort each day, and the next morning you will be permitted to use the facilities. Consider it being like school, Miss Rockwell. You must maintain your academic standing to be permitted extracurricular activities."
Rocky thought about it, tried to find where the hook was, and then decided it did not matter. This was her only real chance at her goal. She was good at the pentathlon, very good in fact, but for a girl, a junior. Eight months of no exercise more challenging than lifting a china teacup with her pinkie crooked just so would put paid to her ever achieving the level of performance necessary to compete with the men on equal terms. She had no other choice. "All right, Ms. Thompson, I agree. I guess I will just have to trust you to be fair in your tests and evaluations, and agree to your bargain."
"Then I have your word of honor that you will unhesitatingly obey every command I give you, no matter how unpleasant or disagreeable you may find that activity to be?" The girl's eyes went wide for a moment as the full import of those words struck her, but then she shrugged and stated her agreement. "Then I give you my word that I will be fair and also that, assuming you perform to my expectations, I will pay for your training while you are here under my tuition. However, let me warn you that if at any time I sense that you are reneging on our agreement, or find that you have been dishonest with me in any way, I will wash my hands of you completely and advise your Mother accordingly. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Ms. Thompson. I understand."
"Then we have a bargain. We will start your program of studies this morning with some lessons in clothing and cosmetology. Your hair is too short for any training in hair care, so we will be forced to make do with wigs until we can get you to town where a woven hair replacement can be set upon your scalp."
Rocky grimaced. Long hair on an athlete was a nuisance, but she wasn't going to fight over it. She'd find a way to deal with it. Other female athletes managed didn't they? Well, so could Rocky Rockwell.
Jane saw the reaction, but was pleased that the girl did not take issue. It showed she was ready to make an honest attempt at Jane's program, which was all the older woman had wanted from this interview. "Chasti. . " Jane began and then stopped at the fury she saw suddenly rise in the girl's eyes. "I mean, Miss Rockwell. You really do despise that name, don't you? It is not an affectation."
"I hate it." was the flat reply.
"Well, I need a name to call you by other than Miss Rockwell and I refuse to use your preferred nickname. Do you have a name you would prefer to be called? A feminine name?"
"None that I can think of off hand, Ma'am."
"Do think on it, my dear, or I shall have to find one for you. In polite company, it is sometimes necessary to give others the privilege of one's Christian name. Since you will from time to time find yourself in polite company, you will need a name."
"I . . ." *Blast, if I don't come up with one, she'll choose one for me and that might be as bad.* "I will think about it, Ma'am."
Jane smiled slightly and rose. Recognizing the interview was over, Rocky also stood. "Miss Rockwell? One last thing before we conclude our talk. Please don't fight me in this endeavor. You have much to gain by working with me and a great deal more to lose by resisting me. Please remember that your mother loves you and at the same time, she trusts me. Think about both of those facts as we start with the first exercises. Now, come along. It is time for breakfast and I want you to meet my niece, Darla."
In truth, Jane was pleasantly surprised at Miss Rockwell's table manners and behavior. The table setting was intentionally elaborate and included several unnecessary utensils for courses that would not be served. In each case, the girl elected to watch Diana and then emulated the psychologist's selection. She handled her napkin deftly and ate with a mannerly if focused skill. At no time was she more than three polite chews from swallowing so that she could reply to one of Jane's many questions or comments. *At least this is one area where we will not require much effort. So much the better all around, particularly for the digestion,* Jane mused as she finished her melon course.
Marie then came bustling out of the kitchen with the hot course - bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh home-fried potatoes and toast. As the 'guest', the new student was served first. She politely took surprisingly small servings of eggs and potatoes, passing on the bacon and the already buttered toast.
Jane took that in and began to wonder if the child was feeling ill. A certain degree of anxiety was normal, particularly after the first interview, but the child was an athlete and Jane expected her to have an athlete's appetite. Her worry increased when Chastity took only the barest bites of the food and then began pushing the food about the plate, but not eating.
"Are you feeling unwell, Miss Rockwell, or is the food not to your liking?" Jane asked, her voice neither challenging nor (she hoped) overly concerned.
"I am fine, Ms. Thompson, and the food tastes very good. It is just that my training diet does not allow for so much fat."
"I see," Jane replied, and in truth, she did see. *Well, perhaps I can be the first one to compromise this time, and will be able to use that as a lever later today when I need one, as I am sure I will with this one. She almost reminds me of Kenneth in some ways. I know she enjoyed the taste of those potatoes and eggs, because her eyes became momentarily dreamy as she savored that one mouthful she permitted herself. Yet, she is sufficiently self-disciplined to limit herself to just that taste. A bit of a paradox, that. Oh well.* "Perhaps, while you are with Marie this morning, you could give her a quick description of your dietary needs, and then a more detailed written one when you have the time?" The surprise in the girl's eyes pleased Jane. *One for my side,* she thought and then sternly reminded herself that was also Chastity's side. "Is there anything you would like right now that is not too difficult to prepare?" Jane asked solicitously.
"If I may, Ms. Thompson, I would like some more of the fresh fruit and perhaps two slices of dry wheat toast?" Rocky asked hopefully.
Jane pressed the call button on her side of the table and passed the request on to Marie. "Right away," she said cheerfully. "Next time, cherie, you will tell me if you need special food, eh?"
"Yes, Ma'am." Rocky said, again surprised at the pleasant response to her request.
"You are here to learn, dear," Jane said firmly, "Not to degrade your health. What you have to learn here will be demanding enough with you at your full strength. If you truly need something, you have but to tell me and if it is possible, we shall see to your needs."
Marie came out of the kitchen at that moment with a huge bowl of the fresh fruit, the slices of toast and a crystal container filled with red preserves. "Homemade, dear," she said as she lifted the cut-glass lid, "No preservatives or processed sugars. Made it myself with only fruit and honey." And then she was gone before the stunned girl could thank her.
"You rate, girl," Darla piped in for the first time as Rocky put a miserly dab of the red fruit spread on one of the toast points. "Marie doesn't break out her special preserves for just anyone. She must figure you'll really appreciate them."
Rocky bit into the toast and flavor exploded in her mouth. "Oh, but that is wonderful," she sighed, before applying herself to the fruit bowl.
Jane allowed the two teens to talk quietly for the remainder of the meal, content to allow the seeds of a relationship to be planted. If the current plan was to work, Darla had to become Chastity's friend in ways that had never been necessary with her other students. Darla would have to walk a very fine line between being the feminine role model against which the new student would be judged and initially found wanting, and being the girl's friend and mentor behind the scenes.
Rocky finished the fruit and toast, allowing herself another spoon-tip of the wonderful preserves on the last toast point. She rationalized that indulgence by telling herself that she would probably need the energy before the day was out. She dabbed her mouth with her napkin and then folded it and set it aside as she had seen the silver-blond lady, Ms. Philips, do with her napkin.
Jane smiled regally. "Well, if you are finished with your meal, we have a great deal to accomplish this morning. First, you will take a bath using the scented oils provided for you in your bathroom. I expect that you will linger for at least thirty minutes and no longer than forty-five minutes. During that time you will shave your legs and underarms and shampoo and condition your hair. When you are finished, Marie will be there to assist you in the first of four complete dressings and make up sessions. You will observe and listen to Marie so that you can learn these techniques yourself. The last session you will do your own makeup and dress yourself. If you meet my expectations, I will permit you to exercise tomorrow morning before breakfast. I assume you have a schedule you follow?" At the girl's nod, Jane continued. "Then when you write up your dietary requirements for Marie, you will do the same for me with respect to your program of training. If you meet my minimum standards at the end of each day, you will be permitted to exercise the next. As per our agreement."
"Yes, Ma'am," Rocky said, a bit of a quaver in her voice.
Jane picked up on the reaction and pounced. "Is there some problem, Miss Rockwell? Have I in some way misrepresented how you understand our agreement?"
"No . . no. . .but. . ." Rocky steeled herself. "A HALF hour? in a bathtub?"
It was all Jane could do not to laugh at the girl's dismay. "Why yes," and then intentionally misunderstanding, "Ah, I see. You are concerned about being able to do a proper job on your shavings. Very well, at least forty-five minutes, but you must absolutely be out of the tub, ready to begin in one hour. We will do the final dressing after lunch."
Rocky wanted to scream. Almost an hour WASTED in a bathtub? Even if she shaved her legs twice and shampooed her hair four times she could easily be ready in twenty minutes tops. However, she suspected that any further conversation with this woman would have her stuck in that tub until it was cold. "Yes, Ma'am. Thank you." *For nothing!* her mind snarled. "May I please be excused?"
"Yes, dear. I will see you after Marie has finished your first dressing. Run along now. That's a good girl."
The three co-conspirators watched as Rocky's spine went ramrod straight and her eyes flashed at Jane's last comment, but once again, the discipline won out and she simply rose, and marched from the room.
Jane reached over and flipped another hidden switch. Moments later, they heard an angrily muttering Rocky storm into her bedroom. Jane breathed a sigh of relief. She had been momentarily afraid she might have pressed too hard with that last bit.
"Why the longer times, Aunt Jane?" Darla asked. "What happened to the bath from hell and the impossible thirty minute change/make-overs?"
Jane refilled her coffee cup from the silver carafe Marie had left. "I have revised the program a bit, dear," she replied carefully. "As you well know, my early purpose with you boys has always been to confound you, keep you off balance and get you into a pure reaction frame of mind. That way, the student is still somewhat numb when he goes out to Old Tom for his naming. Once he's been "named", the thought of having another man, more importantly an ADULT man know that the student has been dressing like a girl locks him into the program.
"And your purpose with Rocky, I mean, Miss Rockwell, is different?"
"Yes, especially after watching her behavior at table today and yesterday. She is already sufficiently unfeminine, heavens, ANTI-feminine, in her chosen mode of dress. I don't want her to develop a disgust of the feminine condition or worse, reinforce what she already evidently feels. I think, and Diana agrees, that if she can begin to enjoy her fripperies, we may be more than halfway there with her."
"So, no church bell petticoats or Alice in Wonderland outfits?"
"Nor will we force a change of hair color on her, although she might eventually wish to experiment on her own later - something which we will, of course, encourage. No, I want her to learn to wear the clothing, learn to apply the cosmetics, not to hate them. Unlike my boys, who can and do leave such feminine things behind when they finally leave me, Miss Rockwell is a female. If she chooses to turn her back on that fundamental aspect of herself it will not be as a result of something we forced upon her while she was under my care."
"Well," Darla pronounced with great feminine disgust, "I cannot say I think much of MY fripperies right now. Is it really necessary for me to be such a. . . such a dowd?"
The two older women burst into laughter and Darla's devastating imitation of the current teen female sitcom queen. "Yes, dear," Diana managed finally to reply. "Because while you must be completely feminine, we don't want our new student to take one look at you and give up in despair. Janey? Can we have someone do something about her nose? It cannot be that difficult a surgery."
"The surgery would be purely cosmetic, Diana, so I cannot really order her to have it done. Although she is a minor, she is old enough to express an informed opinion on the subject and any reputable surgeon would want her agreement first. It is too bad, though, because she might actually be rather attractive with out that unfortunate injury."
Nodding, Darla pulled a piece of computer paper from the pocket of her robe. "Last night I played with that computer you folks bought for me. I scanned in one of the pictures of Rocky. . .sorry, Aunt Jane, Miss Rockwell, and tried copying noses from. .. ummm. . .some pictures from the Internet," she finished with a bit of a blush that had Jane wondering how well clothed the owners of the noses might have been. "Anyway, this was the best of the lot."
Jane took the picture and placed it between herself and Diana. *Too bad she isn't smiling in the picture,* Jane thought as she examined the composite photo. *Once you no longer have that bent and broken nose to fixate upon, she is really quite striking. Full lips, huge eyes, high cheekbones. Even that ridiculous haircut gives her a gamine, elfin look. Quite pretty in fact,* she finally concluded and began racking her brain for a strategy to get that picture and the girl willingly to a reputable cosmetic surgeon.
"Odd, but that picture looks familiar somehow," Diana murmured, half to herself.
"I thought so, too, Daddy-Di, but I can't place the memory."
Jane shrugged, realizing that time was getting away from them. "She looks like Miss Rockwell. Darla, I will call you in during the third change. She will be in heels then. I think we can expect that she will be, at best, inept in them. I will want you to demonstrate for her that my exercises are not impossible. The plan is that she will fail on her own and thus be in danger of losing her workout unless she does much better for the final session after the midday meal. Then, assuming all goes well during the final session, you will take her out to meet Old Tom and give her a properly feminine name we can use here and when we are in society."
"She's not going to kill me when I do that, is she? The guys are usually too surprised and afraid of exposure to consider any retaliation. She won't be afraid."
"No, she will not threaten you," Jane said with quiet confidence. "She has, by the way, agreed to anything that is not one of her family's traditional names."
"I know that Chastity is one of the names on the 'don't go there' list," Darla asked, a mischievous glint in her blue eyes, "What are the others? Just so I won't make that mistake."
"You aren't likely to do so," Jane said with heavy irony, "As they are not names that would be popular in the modern world. However, they are - in addition to Chastity, of course - Prudence, Virginia, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy."
"You're kidding," Darla retorted.
Jane rose to her feet. "Darling, you know that I *never* kid."
Chapter 5: First Lessons Are the Toughest
Two-and-one-half hours later, Jane sat at her study desk, her fingers massaging throbbing temples. Her headache was in part due to the stress of resisting the sniping, caustic comments that were by now second nature to her during this particular exercise. To this point, at least, she had managed to be demanding but fair in her evaluations of her student's efforts and presentations.
Using an instant camera, she had photographed Chastity during the first presentation. She had been beautifully made up using subtle colors that made those incredible violet eyes even more dramatic while the softly tailored skirt and matching sweater in soft earth tones had shown off her strong young figure.
The second presentation, for which Marie had been more a consultant and helper had not gone nearly so well. Clearly, the girl had little experience with any kind of a makeup brush and her color preferences tended to the dull grays that did nothing for her looks at all. And then she had strode about the room like a man late for dinner. While Jane did not intend to impose the exaggerated mincing gait that she taught her boys on the girl, there were still LIMITS! *Just as well the next session requires her to move in heels,* Jane thought as she dug a knuckle into one particularly painful knot.
She was on the point of searching her desk for an aspirin when her study door opened to admit Marie. Jane looked up, instantly wary. "What is it?"
Jane barely resisted the urge to wince when she saw her longtime friend and confidante actually bite her lip and wring her hands. Sighing, Marie caught herself and started "I am sorry to say this, Jane, but what is going on in there right now isn't working. I understand where you are going with this child - how and why this program is different from what we usually do, but her reactions are still, at best, little more than what we get from the more compliant boys. Oh, she does what I ask when I ask, and she really works at it, too, but she has yet to show the slightest sign of enjoying any of it! Not ANY of it, and that's such a shame, considering the pretty clothes and lovely faces you have specified for her. All this one is doing is putting on a disguise - like some Halloween mask she will take off as soon as she is given permission to undo it all."
Cursing under her breath, Jane nodded. She should have seen it herself had she not been so preoccupied with not verbally lashing the girl. "So, what should I do?"
"It's like you told Darla, cherie. We've got to find some way to make this fun for her, instead of work," Marie said quietly. "The boys are motivated by fear. I think she is also motivated by fear, and right now, only fear."
"Fear of WHAT?!?" Jane demanded, her headache back in full force. "She's already a girl!"
"Fear that you will withhold her exercise privileges," Marie said quietly. "As important as you said those privileges are to her, I think we have still underestimated the potency of that threat. If we don't want her to hate the dressing up, and the makeup, and all the other wonderful feminine things both of us really love and that we want to share with her, you are going to have to tread very lightly. If she decides that her inability to meet your expectations costs her those privileges, she will never learn to enjoy being a girl."
"What you're saying is that you don't believe the original plan, as we laid it out last night, will have those desired outcomes?"
Marie shook her head solemnly. "I believe that if you use Darla to show this girl up just now? In the mood she is in?" Marie sighed unhappily. "She will take the criticism and then she'll do her best, but she will never enjoy it. She'll just press on harder and work at whatever you tell her to correct, and I do mean "work" in the worst sense of the word."
"I see. . . ." Jane thought, her eyes becoming vague as she contemplated Marie's observations. "And if I do withhold privileges, just as an attention getter?"
"I can't say for sure, Jane, but I think she will decide that if she works so hard and still fails, that there will be no point in working."
*Lord, but I wish Diana was here and not out taking care of the shopping. Still, I don't doubt that Marie is correct in her assessment. How in heaven's name do I teach a girl to have fun being a girl? Whatever could have happened to that poor child that she can't even enjoy the most basic feminine pleasures? Maybe. . .* "Lord, but I hate improvising like this. . .and yet. . . Marie? Have Darla come see me, please. Keep . . .oh hell, keep *Rocky* busy for another fifteen minutes. Show her how to fix a mistake with her mascara or how to blend her blusher."
Moments later, Jane opened her door to a knock. "You wanted to see me, Momma-Jane?" asked the primly dressed teenager. Darla had done exactly what Jane had asked for. She would have easily won the role of Marian the Librarian in the musical "The Music Man". Her wig was set in a neat bun that matched the real one Jane normally wore when she went off on a business trip. Black-framed glasses gave her a bookish air that made Jane want to shake her head. She was dressed in dark, conservative colors that did nothing for her, fashion-wise and did, in fact, make the girl look sallow. *Oh, but this is the very last thing I want that girl next door emulating. What have I done?*
"Thank you for coming so quickly, dear," Jane said as she lead her child to the settee. "Things have changed since this morning. On the bright side, I think I better understand what is missing in our program and we need to change the plan for you before we make what I am sure would be a very serious error. I still need you to perform the functions of role model and helpmate, but from a different characterization, I think. It will be difficult for you, but I honestly believe that it is as important to teach your new sister to enjoy her femininity as it is to teach her to be feminine." "Okay, Momma-Jane," Darla replied, her curiosity aroused. "You know I will do anything I can to help. What's the new plan?"
"So, this is what I want you to do. . . ."
"'Play down your looks, Darla,'" Darla fumed in a singsong voice as she dug through years of collected clothing in the normally locked Seasons House attic. "'Don't appear too threatening to her fragile feminine ego, Darla' and so I go and dress like this for her? Cripes, but a crow has more color than this outfit. And then what happens? And only forty minutes before show-time, no less?" She held up yet another overly frilly frock in one hand and an umbrella-like multi-layered petticoat in the other. "Like where am I going to find clothes like that in THIS house?!?! Blast!"
*She's walking like she's holding that book clinched between the muscled cheeks of her derriere instead of balanced precariously on her head,* Jane thought as Webster made a third trip from Chastity's head to the floor. In truth, if one of her boys had done as well at this point in her program, he would have been quite above average. Rocky was wearing taller heels than Jane usually sprung on a first day student and that was ONLY the third drop of the dictionary. Even Darla had dropped it twice that number in the same time frame. *But she's already a girl!* Jane's mind complained yet again. "Again, please," she ordered her student.
Assuming the girl had never worn makeup before today, her efforts in this session had been. . . adequate. Assuming she had never attempted to walk in three-inch heels before today, then her movements had been . . . satisfactory. Her clothing was tastefully selected and suited her own natural coloring well enough, but then, wearing navy blue and white did not press the envelope very much.
*But she is a girl! And she's seventeen years old. What girl does not experiment with cosmetics as soon as she can get her mother's permission, or play in mother's high heels until she can talk her mother into buying her own spiked shoes?* Jane winced as the book went down a fourth time. "Miss Rockwell, if you please. You must learn to do this in a fluid, graceful manner. You can no more walk like a lady when you're as stiff as a board than you could fence competently with that same rigidity. These exercises will make you better at your own goals, if you allow them."
"Yes, ma'am," the tall girl replied dutifully, but she was obviously no more convinced of that possible benefit than of any other potentially positive outcome of the feminine skills she was required to learn.
"Oh, bother," Jane said with perhaps just a bit too much theater in her accompanying sigh. "Wait here."
Rocky stood quietly holding the dictionary, watching the Thompson woman warily. *Now, what?* she thought with a mixture of resignation and curiosity.
A knock sounded at the door.
It was a tossup who was more surprised when the door opened - Jane or Rocky.
Darla almost pranced over to Jane, a huge smile on her face. "You wanted to see me, Aunt Jane?" she asked sweetly after pressing a smacking kiss to Jane's suddenly frozen cheek. "Like my outfit?" she cooed as she moved back to pirouette for her aunt.
It had taken real effort and imagination to put together her current outfit, and Darla was rather proud of it considering how little warning Jane had given her. She'd started by combining white spiked heels with one of the knee-length snow-white, dirt- magnet dresses Jane kept on hand for her students. For accent, she'd found a supply of brightly patterned satin scarves that she'd used to accessorize the dress. A predominantly burnt orange scarf adorned her slender waist, twisted into a rope-like belt. Unfortunately, her other choices, a bright canary yellow scarf held at her throat by a cameo pin and a pair of electric pink ones that held and blended with her two side ponytails, made the entire ensemble rather. . . visually discordant. With a much more vivid application of cosmetics than she would normally use in Jane's presence, Darla was certainly eye-catching.
"That. . .that is quite a display, young lady," Jane said, her voice heavy with censure. "Another of your fashion experiments?"
Darla twirled again, causing the loose ends of the scarves at her neck and in her hair to flutter. "Yes. What do you think?"
"I think that you might want to attempt to find hues and shades that suit your own coloration better," Jane replied before adding with heavy emphasis, "That you could have remembered we have a student in residence and picked a better time to indulge yourself this way." "Oh, ease up a bit, Aunt Jane," the girl pouted prettily. "I just wanted to have some fun and was already dressed up when you called. I rather like the concept," she said looking at herself in a nearby mirror, "but you may be right about the colors. Maybe something in greens and reds." Before Jane could respond, Darla spun on her heels and turned a happy smile to Rocky. "What do YOU think," she said, directing her question to Jane's student. "Don't you think this looks like a fun outfit?"
Rocky could only gape. *Fun? Dressing up like that to call that kind of attention to yourself? Maybe for someone like her . . * "I . .I. . I" she stuttered before taking a calming breath. "You look very. . . ummm. . .striking and . .. and. . ." Words failed her as she just kept staring at the young vision in white.
"Perfect!" Darla said with a huge grin. "Just the effect I wanted." She turned her back to Rocky so that only Jane saw the minx wink at her. "So, Aunt Jane, why did you call me away from my fashion design session?"
Jane managed a believable harrumph and said low in her throat. "I want you to demonstrate walking in heels to Miss Rockwell. She has not yet been able to manage two complete circuits of the study without dropping the dictionary from her head."
"Of course, Aunt Jane. Sounds like fun. Here, Miss Rockwell, give me that book. The main thing," Darla said in a conspiratorial semi-whisper as she carefully positioned the dictionary on her head, "is to develop a lower body movement that rolls you along while keeping the upper body, and therefore your head, steady. Like this."
It was all Jane could do not to giggle and all Rocky could do not to gape as, hands on hips, Darla dance-stepped up and down the carpeted room.
And the damn book never fell once!
The mid-day meal that followed Darla's singular demonstration was equally unique in Jane Thompson-Philips' long experience with her special students. After that first morning's dress-up session, Jane would make several pointed 'compliments' to a boy student on his lovely dress, tease him about his pretty face, or call attention to his head full of by-now very curly hair. She did none of that with this student.
There were, she thought later in the privacy of her study, at least three reasons for that omission on her part. The first was the most important if the plan Jane and Diana had developed had any possibility of success. She did not want to do anything to make the girl more ambivalent about the femininity Jane hoped to help her experience more fully.
The second reason was more troubling and something Jane realized she had to address if she was to achieve her goals with Chastity Rockwell. Simply put, Jane hadn't been able to bring herself to comment positively upon anything about the girl. In point of actual fact, Chastity looked much nicer than any of her boys ever had at this point, even with the nose, so why hadn't Jane found anything encouraging to say to Chastity? *Because she is a girl, Jane Thompson, and you are subconsciously, instinctively, UNFAIRLY holding her to a higher standard than you do your boys!*
That was an ego-lowering thought, and one Jane would have to discuss at length with Diana, perhaps tonight after the girls were safely tucked into their beds. Sometimes, particularly with one of her very troublesome boys, Jane had to do something 'unfair' to get that boy's attention, like long-lasting cosmetics followed by an public outing in effeminate clothing. Or like the trick she had played on one student who had been initially cast in a boy role in the children's theater production of Alice in Wonderland, only to later force him to volunteer for the girl lead when Jane's senior student had 'graduated'.
However, those acts, "unfair" as they truly had been, had always been done intentionally as part of a carefully developed and considered plan of action, and most importantly, with a full understanding that she WAS being unfair. *But always in a good cause,* she told herself encouragingly. This time was different, and Jane did not like finding this prejudice in herself.
So, it was probably for the best that there was a third reason she had not had much to say during lunch. That reason had a name - Darla. *Lord-oh-lord, but where in heavens name did she come up with that . . . that costume? When I told her to try to find something youthful, playful and flashy, I never envisioned anything like. . . like THAT!*
During lunch, Darla had thoroughly dominated the conversation, or had it been more like a monologue? - with her almost constant chatter. *Where in heaven's name did my child learn the lyrics to the latest N'sync single? I don't know if Miss Rockwell was amused or appalled, but she was definitely enthralled.*
*And that 'Vaudevillian walking exposition' of hers - the only thing she did not do was a set of Rockette-style high kicks. I hope she did not overdo it, but she definitely got her little sister's attention, which was the goal.* Jane stopped to reflect on that for a moment when a revelation began to take form. *Darla isn't the big sister in this dynamic, is she?
Particularly after that show she just put on in my study. She's much more suited to being the prototypical little sister full of bubbly emotion, laughter and mischief with this student. I hope that will work because I am positive that Chastity won't be able to accept her in my program's more customary 'big sister' role again after this.* Jane sighed. Yet another thing to add to her "Talk with my husband-the-shrink" list.
A knock on her door pulled Jane from her reveries. When she bid the person to enter, she smiled to see her child walk through the door. Darla had dispensed with the clashing pink and yellow scarves before dinner, replacing them with a tasteful amber pendant that nicely complimented the orange belt, while using a set of antique combs, also carved from amber, to hold her wig's hair back from her face. She still looked very young, but certainly more sophisticated as one would expect of a girl tutored by Jane Thompson.
"Hi, Aunt Jane," Darla said, staying in role, "Roc. . I mean, Chastity just went up to her room after helping Marie with the clean up."
Jane nodded and flipped on the monitoring equipment. Darla moved around the desk to look on as the hidden camera revealed a very dejected looking young woman sitting on the edge of the bed. "Maybe I overdid things when I demonstrated with the dictionary, Momma-Jane?"
Thinking about the possibilities, Jane wondered, too. "Maybe, maybe not. I see potential in this situation, so let's try to take advantage of that. I won't send Marie up to her to supervise her dressing for another forty-five minutes. This is what I want you to do. . ."
Darla listened to Jane's directions, nodded once or twice, asked a few very incisive and pointed questions, and finally agreed. "You're still going to let her work out, aren't you, Momma Jane?" Darla asked as she rose. "I mean, she's been trying very hard - even I can see that - and I would hate it. . .REALLY hate it if something this spur-of-the-moment messed up her Olympic dreams."
"I promise that I will find enough effort and progress in whatever she does, so long as she continues to put forth the effort she did this morning, to reward her efforts, dear. That was always my intention." *And one I shall keep foremost in my mind for the remainder of the day,* she told herself sternly. *There is a difference between saying something positive and not saying anything too negative.* "Now, go see what you can accomplish."
Jane watched as the calm, mature features metamorphosed back into the creature that had so recently honored her table at luncheon. With a spritely peck on her Aunt's cheek, Darla chirped out a "Laters, Auntie J," and strutted toward the door of her study where she stopped before opening the door. "Oh, Aunt Jane? If this idea of yours works out and becomes the plan? Well, you know, we're going to have to do some serious shopping. I mean, the stuff you have here is just so. . . so. . " she stumbled trying to find the right epithet and then grinned broadly, "so late Twentieth Century - at best. Ya know?"
And then she was gone. *And here I have always thought I was trying for late Nineteenth Century. Victorian Petticoat Domination isn't what it used to be. Auntie J!?!?* Jane thought with a grin, and then settled herself to observe the coming tableau on her security monitor.
Alone with her thoughts, Rocky seriously considered the likelihood she would never be allowed to continue her training. If this morning was any indication, the Thompson woman's standards might very well make it impossible for Rocky to earn her workouts. Truthfully, she'd never for a moment considered that she wouldn't make the grade in the older woman's estimation. After all, it was only silly girl stuff. At least, she had thought that it wouldn't be difficult until Darla had come in and shown Rocky just how high that bar was set. She could feel the first muscle quivers of stress begin to circle about her stomach. *Oh, I need to work out!* her overly stressed mind cried.
Chapter 6: New Friends and Little Successes
A knock sounded at her door shook Rocky from her mental ruminations. When she opened it, she was surprised to see Darla standing out there looking hopeful. "Hi!" she said. "May I come in?"
*What for?* Rocky wanted to ask, but didn't. *No sense in aggravating anyone else in the house.* "Sure. What can I do for you?"
The girl nearly skipped into the room! "Well, actually, I was hoping you'd let me help you," Darla said, somewhat shyly all of a sudden. "I mean, you did a really great job for your first try with Aunt Jane, but I thought I might be able to give you a couple of quick pointers so that this afternoon's session will go off all right. I mean, if you don't mind, that is."
"Somehow, I don't think that you can teach me to move like you did in . . " Rocky checked the clock, "the half an hour before Miss Marie comes to dress me for my final presentation to Ms. Thompson."
"Oh, that," Darla said dismissively and then gave a little giggle. "I just did that to jerk Aunt Jane's chain a little. I mean, I really love her and all that, but she can get really stuffy sometimes. So, can we try a couple of tricks?"
"Why would you want to do that? Wouldn't that get you into trouble with your aunt?"
"Why wouldn't I want to help you?" Darla managed to sound completely surprised by the question. "I figure you could use a friend just now, and I can always use another girlfriend. Girlfriends help each other, right? And as for Aunt Jane, you just let me worry about her, okay, girlfriend?"
Rocky thought about the session she still had to get through and shrugged. *Girlfriends? How would I know what girlfriends do when I haven't had one since elementary school? Still, what have I got to lose?* "Sure. I would appreciate any help I can get."
"Great! Okay, what I want you to do is just walk across the room - the way you usually do. Try not to think about what you are doing, okay?"
"All right," Rocky replied, reaching down to pick up her discarded shoes.
"No!" Darla protested. "Not with those things. Just your bare feet - do what is natural." Surprised, but willing to play along, Rocky did what she was told. "Okay. Now, put your hands on your hips like I did - hold them right in the same place and don't let them move - and do the same thing again."
When Chastity stopped, she had to roll her shoulders to get the tension out of them. "What did you feel?" Darla asked.
"My shoulders really got tight. And my balance felt funny." "Exactly!" Darla cheered. "That's the point. Watch me walk." She ordered as she stepped out her own heels. "See what I am doing with my shoulders? See how they're swinging?" At Rocky's affirmative, Darla continued. "That's how you walk naturally. Watch my head - see how it bobs? So does yours. It's no wonder the book won't stay. Now watch me move. Pay particular attention to my arms." Darla did a classic model-on-the-runway walk, her arms and shoulders steady, but her hips swinging rhythmically.
"You should have back-trouble from walking like that," Rocky said, "But your head was steady as a rock."
"That's the point! And that's why I put my hands on my hips earlier, so I would remember not to move my shoulders and keep my head steady. Now, you try it with this book on your head."
It took a few minutes and several tries, but soon, barefoot at least, Rocky could make three full circuits of the room without dropping the book. Actually, the posture did remind her something of fencing - at least the defensive stances. "But this isn't in heels," she said to Darla as she dropped the book on to the nearby bed.
"True enough. Tell me - who picked your heels? You or Marie?"
"I did. I thought they went with the outfit."
"And so they did, but they are also just about the most challenging shoes in your closet if I know my Aunt Jane. Let's see what we can find that might be a little easier to wear and then see if we can find you an outfit to match them."
"Not like what you wore!" Rocky retorted, almost afraid.
"No, of course not. You are still a student and I DO know how to dress to please Aunt Jane - I just don't sometimes."
"Why?" Rocky asked as she watched the other girl rummage in the big armoire.
"Because it is fun sometimes to tease her." Rocky's estimation of this girl's personal courage went up another notch. "Here we go. These will do just fine. Now, let's see if there is a pretty dress in here that will suit your coloring and work with these shoes. Then, I will teach you a couple of makeup tricks. Knowing Marie, she gave you the full beauty parlor, major make over, glamour treatment. That's great and it can be really neat to look like that, but being able to do that all by yourself is, as Aunt Jane would say, an acquired skill. You have great eyes and a nice shapely mouth. We can make you look almost that good with just a bit of eye magic, some lipstick and a just a hint of color on those pale cheeks of yours."
Rocky felt like she was being carried off by a flash flood. *Well, Hurricane Darla has definitely made landfall,* she thought with a bit of a smile. *So I guess that is an apt analogy.* "Sounds good to me," she managed to say. "What do we do first?"
Watching from her study, Jane had notified Marie to give Darla a few extra minutes to finish her tutoring of Chastity. From what she could see and hear, it was going very well. Darla even had the somewhat taciturn older girl almost giggling by the end of the lessons. Jane let them 'hide' the selected dress and shoes back in the armoire and cream off Chastity's second successful practice of Darla's 'tricks' before buzzing Marie to come up and get started.
Diana entered the room just then, back from her shopping trip. "How is it going?" she asked, immediately after nearly short- circuiting Jane's gray cells with one of her marvelous kisses.
Coughing first to clear her suddenly tight throat, Jane managed "Better, now, I think. I had to change the plan on the fly, but I think this new idea might be working."
"Does that change how you want to play this session?" Diana asked.
"No. I still need to be the stern, demanding teacher with extremely high standards so that she will stay on her toes and do what I ask."
"Got it. So what are the changes?"
"One of them is Darla, so don't act surprised when you see her. I will explain everything later, all right?"
"All right," Diana replied just as a knock signaled Chastity's arrival at the door.
Jane kept her face expressionless as she watched her student complete her sixth successful stroll about the study. So far, the dictionary had only fallen once, and that had been within the first five steps the girl had taken. *Probably wasn't settled quite squarely on her head,* Jane mused. Chastity was actually holding her arms a bit too rigidly to be truly attractive, somewhat like a runway model with casts on both arms, but learning what movements she could make and which ones she could not would come over time. All in all, however, Jane was well pleased with this afternoon's work. Chastity had tried hard and done well. *Darla did well with her, too, and in more ways than just her walking.*
As was her habit, Jane had thoroughly inspected her student before the walking exercise had begun. The total picture was good - better than good, actually. The lighter hand with the cosmetics and the use of more subtle tones that Darla had taught Chastity worked well with the girl's darker coloring. In all honesty, Jane's new student did not need much in the way of artificial highlighting. *If only that nose was not quite so crooked,* Jane mourned yet again. *She would be quite attractive, if one was given to liking women with the strong, well-muscled look.* The wig was in a charming ponytail with just a fringe of bangs across her smooth forehead. The light, flower-patterned sundress Darla had selected showed off Chastity's tall, young body to perfection.
"She does have lovely shoulders,* Jane thought as Chastity swung into yet another cycle about the room, the off the shoulder design of the dress hugging her torso lovingly. *And such wonderful skin. Not much in the way of a bosom, a bit more than a B-cup I should think, but then endurance athletes tend to burn what fat they allow themselves to consume during their training. Still, her musculature is of the long and sleek type and not the unfemininely bulky type. She'll do nicely. Very nicely indeed.*
Of course, Jane had not been quite so complimentary when she spoke to her student as that was not part of the plan. She had pointed out minor imperfections in the application of the cosmetics - a bit too little lipstick here, a clump of eyelash with too much mascara there and a not-quite-properly shaded bit of rouge on one cheek. She saved her strongest criticism for the shoes. "Those sandals are hardly the best shoes you might have chosen," she complained about the strappy-white sandals with the wide, two-inch-tall heels, but then she softened the comment with "But I suppose they do suit the rest of your ensemble well enough. You will need to work up to . . . more feminine shoes as we continue the program, however."
Rocky had only swallowed and politely replied that she understood that. Jane had then handed her the dictionary and begun the rest of the exercise. The session had gone very well and it was time to call a halt so that there would still be time for the final act of today's little drama. Jane covertly pressed a small button beneath her desktop and then rose. She walked over to meet her student and deftly removed the book from her head.
"Brava!" Diana cheered, also rising to come over to the girl. "Very nicely done! I thought you got better and better at it as you went, too!"
"Thank you, Ms. Philips," Rocky said quietly. "I managed to relax a bit as the exercise continued and it did seem to help."
Jane shot her partner a visibly annoyed look that she made sure Rocky saw, and then shrugged. "I suppose you did . . . well enough. . . .for now, that is. However, I will concede that you have earned your right to exercise in the morning. Since I haven't yet received the report I asked you for, what is it you plan for tomorrow?"
Just then, the door opened to admit Darla. "Sorry I am late, Aunt Jane, . . OH, You're done! How did it go, girlfriend?"
"Well enough," Jane answered sternly, "And how many times have I told you to knock?"
Darla looked instantly contrite. "I am sorry, Aunt Jane, but I had promised Roc. . I mean, Miss Rockwell that I would be here for her session. Will she be able to do her thing in the morning?"
"I have just told her that I will permit some form of exercise tomorrow," Jane replied.
Darla squealed in delight and instantly was hugging the shocked student. "Way-to-go!" she cheered as she took Chastity's hands and began to dance her about the room.
"DARLA!" Jane snapped, secretly amused to see the wide-eyed look of disbelief on Chastity's face. "You are interrupting. If you cannot be a lady, I will be forced to discipline you. A weekend as Shirley might do you a world of good!"
As suddenly as she had pounced, Darla backed off and became instantly demure. "My apologies, Aunt Jane. I was just so happy for my new friend."
"As that may be, young miss, watch yourself. You are on borrowed time." Then Jane turned back to her student. "You were going to tell me what you wished to do tomorrow?"
"I would like to go for a distance run, Ms. Thompson. I feel the need to work out some kinks and running helps."
Jane considered this and frowned. "I had hoped that you had something else in mind. While there are many lovely trails around here that you might follow, I would not want you getting lost or hurt out there alone. Perhaps. . "
"Aunt Jane?" Darla piped up. "There is that fellow who lives down the road? The one that I went to school with? Darryl Smith? He runs long distance races and trains most mornings. I am SURE that he would be willing to help Miss Rockwell. I could call and ask him."
"A boy?" Rocky asked, suddenly on guard.
Diana saw the wariness and stepped in. "Nice young man, my dear. A little on the short side, but very polite and courteous."
"Actually," Darla put in as she stretched a bit in her three inch heels, "he's a bit shorter, maybe by as much as an inch or two, than me. And he is a nice guy."
"Got your eye on him, Miss?" Jane challenged.
"Good heavens NO, Aunt Jane!" Darla retorted, her voice ringing with alarm. "Forgetting for the moment that he's shorter than I am, he's much too physical for me. Why, the boy simply LOVES to sweat!" The final word was said with such trenchant condemnation that Jane could not hold back the chuckle.
"That would put YOU off, wouldn't it, Miss Priss," Jane teased, "But I do not think our Miss Rockwell would find that particular characteristic all that daunting."
Rocky felt her spine go rigid at the implied challenge and simply could not stop herself from replying. "No, that would be fine."
"Excellent. I will call this fellow myself and ask him to oblige you. Please have your schedule to me by tomorrow breakfast, and, by the way, don't plan any equestrian activities for the next two weeks. My stable manager is on vacation so most of my stock is being boarded elsewhere. Only my two favorite horses are still here, and while they are fine for gentle riding, they are well past the age of being jumpers. Once my other mounts are back, I will personally undertake coaching you in the jumping ring."
Surprised yet again, Rocky was barely able to manage a polite thank you. Jane waved it away. "It is my part of the bargain we made, girl. Keep your end of it and I will keep mine. Now, why don't you and Darla take a walk around the grounds before dressing for dinner? You can see the stables and look over some of the trails."
"Great!" Darla enthused. "C'mon, Roc. . I mean, Miss Rockwell. Let's go use the bathroom first and then get some fresh air and sunshine."
Darla waited until the girl had left for her own room before turning to Jane. "That went well," Jane said with a pleased smile. "Both of you played your parts to perfection so that I can be seen as fair but picky. Darla? I think I will have to punish you, though, and soon. You are doing what needs be done, I think, at least based on our student's responses, but you are going to have to walk a tight edge. You can make the best of it, but I think you will be in your Shirley Temple rompers by Saturday."
"No problem, Momma-Jane. Truth to tell, I can't wait to see Rocky's face when I do come down in that outfit with that ridiculous wig on."
"PLEASE - do NOT call her Rocky!"
Diana chuckled. "Well, hopefully, we will have an alternative to that once Darla introduces Chastity to Old Tom," she said before turning to Darla. "So. Got any ideas of what to name our little GG?"
Darla was about to shrug her shoulders when something clicked in her mind. *So THAT'S who I was remembering. I wonder. . . * A wide grin split Darla's face. "You know? I think I do!" She walked over and kissed her two adoptive parents. "See you in an hour or so. I plan to get to Tom last."
"But what are you. . ." Jane called, only to have the door shut between her and the departing boy-girl. "Well!" she said frustrated.
Diana only laughed. "You know, darling . . ."
"What?" Jane shot back, still fuming at not knowing Darla's plan.
"We have about an hour with no responsibilities," Diana said in a darkly sultry voice as she closed on her wife. "And I know just how to make the best possible use of it."
A tingle of desire curled in Jane's middle, but it warred with her sense of responsibility. "But I should watch them from the win-mrrmmphh. . ." her words were cut off by one of Diana's devastating lipstick-flavored kisses. "On the other hand," she gulped out when her lips were reluctantly freed, "Darla knows the program about as well as I do . . . ."
Chapter 7: The Naming
The late afternoon sun was pleasantly warm as the two young women strolled down the flagstone path that led to Jane's stable. Darla was half-tempted to keep up a stream of chatter in order to try to put a smile on the taller girl's face, but decided to let the silence stand. *For a while longer, anyway,* she thought to herself. *Time enough to draw her out once we get to the stables. I have yet to see the heart that Jane's Garters and Teddi can't soften.*
As for Rocky, she was trying to sort her way through the deluge of strange new experiences Jane Thompson had unleashed upon her. So many strange feelings and if she were honest with herself, not all of them were unpleasant. Uncomfortable, perhaps, because she had all but convinced herself that feminine fripperies like silky undies were not for Rocky Rockwell, future Olympic Open Pentathlon Champion, but not unpleasant.
And then there was this Darla who said she wanted the two of them to be girlfriends. *What the hell am I going to do about that?* Rocky asked herself, but could find no answer. Not yet, anyway.
"Has your aunt really disciplined you before?" Rocky asked, her curiosity on that score finally getting the better of her.
Hiding a smile at the question, Darla shrugged. "She's a tough lady, and she believes in a certain code of behavior. So, she tries to make any failures to comply with that code. . . memorable. I try not to slip up too badly or too often."
Something in Darla's tone caught Rocky's attention. "She doesn't hurt you or anything, does she?"
Darla laughed. "Oh, nothing so crude. She simply makes you do something you do not like to do, all the while knowing that you wouldn't be doing it if you had followed the rules."
"Aren't you old enough to tell her to forget it?" "I wish," Darla said ruefully, "But she has me by the same hook that she sank into you."
"Oh? What is that?"
"My word of honor," Darla said simply. "When I first came here, I said I would comply with her program and her rules. Besides, I love her and I know she loves me."
"I'm sorry, but I am finding her rather unlovable right now."
Darla shrugged. "That's okay. She's an acquired taste. She's tough and she demands your best," and then her voice became very serious, "but she also saved my life, and I mean that quite literally. Maybe one day I will tell you that story, but not now."
"I see. If you knew that you might be punished for not knocking at her door, why did you just come in like you did? Knocking first seems a simple enough thing to do to avoid something you don't want."
A mischievous grin crossed Darla's face. "I had promised to be there for you, but she had already started testing you and might very well have told me to come back later. I couldn't take the chance and keep my promise to you."
"You don't like her punishments?"
An honest shudder ran down Darla's spine. "She has the most amazing ability to hit you with precisely what will make you shrivel up and want to hide from yourself."
"And you still came?" Rocky asked again, disbelief in every syllable.
"I promised," Darla said again. "Besides, I have been a particularly good little girl lately, so I figured she would cut me a little slack. I will have to be careful for the next week or so, though. Aunt Jane has a pretty long memory."
"I can believe that. Anyway. . Thanks - for the help and for trying to be there during the test."
"No problem. Like I said, that is what friends do for each other."
Rocky was silent again, and then shrugged. "Guess you'd know more about that than I would, but I am grateful, nonetheless."
"Glad to do it," Darla said and then began twirling about, letting her skirts dance in the breeze. "Isn't it just a wonderful afternoon? Smell the fall leaves?"
"Is that what that scent is?"
"Well, since that building ahead is the stable, it might have more than a bit of horse manure added to the aroma. C'mon, I will introduce you to Garters and Teddi - Aunt Jane's favorite horses."
*Amazing,* Darla thought for the third time in as many minutes, *I never would have expected this!* She just stood there, staring as Rocky stroked the face of Jane's favorite mare while making cooing baby-talk to the big saddle-bred. *She loves them, and this is the first time I have seen her let go like that since I laid eyes on her on the train.*
"What's this big love's name, Darla?" Rocky asked, her eyes still fixed on the horse's own.
"Ummm. . . .Garters," Darla managed. "Her name is really Jane's Stars and Garters, but we just call her Garters."
"What a strange name," Rocky replied, pressing her face to the horse's silky neck.
*If only you knew,* Darla thought. "Well, if you look at her legs, she has socks like many horses do, but there are two stripes moving up from them, that sort of look like. . .well, garters."
Rocky hunkered down to take a look and came up with a huge grin. "You're right! How neat. Where's the other horse?"
"Over here," Darla told her as she led the way down the aisle. She stopped in front of a big chestnut thoroughbred that imperiously butted Darla in the chest with her nose. Darla chuckled with evident pleasure and reached up to stroke the strong neck. "This is Teddi. She is technically my horse, but as you can no doubt see, she believes that our relationship is reversed and I am, in fact, HER human."
"Oh, aren't you GORgeous," Rocky purred in a voice that almost gave Darla whiplash from the double take. "Of course she knows she's the boss. Just LOOK at her! Queen of all she surveys."
"That's Teddi, all right," Darla managed to agree. "Why do I suspect that 'Teddi' is not short for Theodora?"
"'Cause you are smart. Well, we better get going. I want to show you the gardens before we head in to get cleaned up for dinner. The gardens are really lovely this time of year and a good place to go to . . .well. . . to get away for a few moments of solitude when Aunt Jane gets to be a bit more than you can handle."
"She will get that way, will she?"
"Guaranteed, but you have to understand that beneath it all, she does it because she cares so much. It's just that. . . well, . . sometimes, it can be a real bitch to remember that 'tough love' is still really love."
"I hear that, Darla," Rocky agreed and then began rummaging in the purse Jane had given her to carry. "Almost forgot. . ."
Later, Darla and Rocky were walking back toward the main house. Darla could report to Jane that Rocky was good with horses and more, that the girl loved the animals. *Imagine, Rocky slipping those apples to the horses before we left. She must have taken them from Marie's fruit bowl after she heard Jane mention the stable.*
"So, do you think your Aunt is serious about helping me train?" Rocky asked, as off-handedly as she could manage which wasn't much. The answer was just too important for such games.
"She said she would if you give her your best. Jane's word is gold and she expects the same from us. If you don't feel the same, you'd better tell her now. She only gives you one chance when it comes to giving her your word."
"I keep my word," Rocky said with quiet forcefulness.
"Fair enough, but I would have negotiated something a lot more fun than beating myself to bits exercising."
Rocky gave the petite girl a dark look. "Well, all I can say is one of three things: you have been blessed with a totally unfair genetic advantage, or you are suffering some sort of eating disorder or you are a closet exerciser. Since I don't want to believe in the first, and I have seen enough of your Aunt to know the second wouldn't get past her, I think your aversion to sweating is just one of those "See, I really am a girly-girl" affectations." "Oh, I didn't say I wouldn't sweat, I just said I don't LIKE to do it. Just like I don't like to submit to Aunt Jane's little punishments."
"So, what do you do for exercise?"
"Aerobic dance mostly, with a day or two of weight-work each week."
"Aerobic DANCE? Hopping about in tights to bad music? Oh come on now, can't you find a more efficient and effective exercise than that?"
The utter distaste in Rocky's voice made Darla want to laugh out loud. "Oh, I can see right now that I am going to have to get Aunt Jane to send you to my health club. We'll have your tongue hanging out and your butt dragging before we get ten minutes past the warm-up."
"We'll see, girlfriend, we'll see," Darla said, a teasing threat in her voice.
Rocky stopped short and fixed Darla with a hard look. "Why are you so determined to call me 'girlfriend' when we aren't?" she asked, her voice suddenly cold and suspicious. "Because your Aunt told you to make friends with me? Maybe you are supposed to report to her on when I do my lessons and when I slip up."
"Goodness no! I promise you, that I am NOT trying to get on your good side to betray you and get you into trouble with Aunt Jane." Darla gave a sour smile. "Trust me, just like me, you will make enough errors around her for her to know when you are trying and when you are dogging it."
"So why the girlfriend thing? Why not just call me by name. Even your aunt calls me 'Miss Rockwell'."
Darla sighed. "It's just that YOU don't like Chastity and SHE doesn't like Rocky, and *I* don't like calling people I DO want to be friends with by their last names. It sounds so. . .well, unfriendly, you know?"
"Really. And just to prove it to you, I promise that until you agree with me that we ARE friends, I'll try to find something else to call you that won't offend anyone's sensibilities," then Darla gave that little giggle of hers, "least of all Jane's because I really DON'T care for her little disciplinary reminders."
"Wimp," Rocky said without too much heat.
"ooooOOOOO. . Feeling feisty, are you? Well, you can call me a wimp after YOU'VE gone through one of Aunt Jane's punishments."
"Count on it, wimp." Rocky growled, feeling suddenly carefree and not a little mischievous, which was an odd experience for her with another girl.
"Oh, watch your step, or I might just go back on my better nature and see if I CAN trip you up and get us both onto her dark lists," Darla teased, "JUST to give you the opportunity to see if you still feel like calling ME a wimp - after you've been through one of Aunt Jane's learning experiences."
"Just remember that payback is a bitch, babe," Rocky retorted, still grinning.
"Just like me, girl, just like me," Darla laughed. Then she became alert. "Oh look! There is Old Tom over in the rose garden. C'mon! You'll like Tom. He is a great old guy."
Jane watched from her window as the two girls headed back to the house from their short conversation with Tom. Chastity was striding out again, although not quite so much as before. The heels she still wore and the grass were enough to restrict her stride to some extent, but it was clear that she was upset. *Guess the naming did not go as well as Darla had hoped.*
"I'm sorry, okay? I forgot we hadn't resolved the name thing we talked about and didn't have anyway to ask what name to use once we were with Tom." Jane heard Darla cajole as she came down from her room to the foyer to meet the two girls.
"I guess," the older student fumed, "but why did you pick THAT name?"
"Well, gee, I guess it is because you remind me of someone by that name."
*Chastity does not sound too upset. More baffled, I think. Darla's rationalization has defused much of the anger I saw as they approached the house.* "What is the problem, Darla?" Jane said sternly. "If you have been teasing Miss Rockwell, you will find yourself regretting it in very short order!"
Rocky spun to look up the stairs at the descending Jane. "Oh no, Ms Thompson, she just caught me by surprise. We met your groundskeeper and Darla introduced me as Audrey. I have never thought of myself as an 'Audrey' before this."
*AUDREY?!? I would have expected a Roxanne or a Raquel - something that would have permitted the girl to react to a name that sounds like one she is used to applying to herself. Where does Darla come up with these names?* "I see. Well, that does pose a bit of a problem since Tom is around here a great deal. If we were to start calling you by a different name, it might call unwanted attention to you. Since you refuse to answer to your given name, and since you DID agree to allow me to use a feminine name for you socially, would you mind very much if we continued to use Audrey?"
Rocky thought about that for a few moments. Actually, Audrey wasn't all that bad. She couldn't think of any reason not to accept it. Well, she could live with it - until she left here, anyway. "All right. That would be all right, ma'am."
"Very well, Audrey. Welcome to my home."
"Thank you, Ms. Thompson."
"And I managed to reach Mr. Smith while you were out. He will meet you down by the stable at six a.m. tomorrow."
"SIX A.M.?!?" Darla squeaked, thinking that she would have to be up before five a.m. to change to Darryl and be at the meeting place before Roc. . . . errr. . . .Audrey left the house. She swallowed hard. "Well, girlfriend, better you than me." she managed weakly. *And Jane is up there on the steps, grinning down at me like a Cheshire Cat. Well, that puts her one up on me, but I will get mine back, just you wait, Momma-Jane!*
"Of course. I need . . AUDREY back here, showered and properly dressed and made up for our normal 8:30 breakfast.
Audrey felt an urge to hug her teacher, but repressed it. "Thank you," she said, and then added, "May I go lay down before dinner, please? I am afraid I did not sleep very well last night."
"Of course, Audrey. I will have Marie call you half an hour before dinnertime."
"So, where did 'Audrey' come from?" Art asked as he creamed away the last remnants of 'Diana' from his face.
"Apparently, our son has decided that the composite picture of Chast. . I mean, Audrey looks like Audrey Hepburn in the movie "Gigi". When you asked Darla if she had come up with a name for our GG, by which you meant, 'genetic girl', the image of the film character flashed into her mind."
Art thought about that for a moment and then nodded. "Huge eyes, short, shiny black hair and a lovely smile when she forgets and accidentally uses it. Yeah, I can see that."
"Well, I couldn't," Jane huffed as she sat down at the foot of their bed. "At least, not until Darla showed me that composite picture again."
"Well, at least Audrey seems to like the name," Art offered.
"True enough. All in all, after a rough start, it was a rather productive day. Her response to the horses was unexpected, but something we can definitely use to help her, I think."
"That girl wants for love, Jane. . .and she seems almost afraid to give or accept it right now." At Jane's stern look, Art raised his hands in surrender. "That is just a snap judgement, I know, and based on less than one day of observation. Still. . "
"Well, you are too professional to let that 'snap judgment' to color your other observations," Jane yawned and stretched. "Lord, but I am tired. Stress, I think."
"Perhaps, and perhaps not, my love." Art rose and went over to stand in front of his seated wife. "You have been naughty again, haven't you, Jane? You confessed that you were thoughtlessly unfair to your student today. Do you still think so?" Art asked, his voice level but stern.
Jane had to look up to see into Art's eyes, but she nodded. "She is no better prepared to behave and dress like a young woman than my boys were, which I should have known from my conversations with her Mother. However, I still had unreasonably high expectations and dealt with her accordingly by which I mean, too harshly."
"Have you forgiven yourself by now?" Art asked, his tones gentler.
"Not really, but I will get over it."
Art brought his hands up in front of Jane's face and flexed them slowly. *Now why does he still have Diana's long nails on?*
"Then I will have to punish you!" Like a striking snake, Art had Jane on her back and his long nails questing for those secret places where his love's single great weakness lay hidden.
Jane Thompson-Philips was terribly (hideously) ticklish.
"ART," she squealed as those agile fingers with their sharp, delicate tips unerringly found those treacherous nerve endings, "NOOOOOOOooooo. . ." only to lose control of her voice as a bubble of giggling laughter burst from her mouth.
"I think, my love, that you should be able to forgive yourself for your human frailty after, oh. . . let's see, fifteen minutes of enforced loss of self control. Don't you?"
Jane was too out of control to answer just then and Art was too busy holding her down and avoiding her flailing knees to ask again, but then again, she wasn't thinking clearly enough to retaliate effectively. Satisfied with that, Art applied tongue and lips to the task of supporting the work his fingers were doing in driving his wife insane.
"Bastard," Jane said lovingly much, much later. "I never should have told you about that damned sorority initiation."
"Well, it does come in handy when my Type Super A, control freak wife is beating herself up needlessly. NO, don't start again," Art ordered when he felt her stiffen, "or I will be forced to assume that you have not yet forgiven yourself. You made a mistake, saw it yourself, fixed it yourself and now you won't make it again. That's enough."
Jane thought about that for a few moments and then realized Art was right. With a wicked glint in her dark green eyes, said, "Yes, dear." in so absurdly submissive a tone it might as well have been "Yes, Master."
"Yeah, right. Pull the other one, Jane." and both of them dissolved into more laughter.
It was a very nice way to fall asleep.
Chapter 8: When Darryl Met Audrey
Darryl groaned when his alarm went off at 4:45, but he managed to drag himself out of bed and into the shower. Ten minutes later he was sitting in front of Darla's vanity applying the false eyebrows that Jane had acquired for him using an adhesive guaranteed not to loosen until the solvent was applied.
With the wig off, the brows on and his face scrubbed ruthlessly clean of Darla's cosmetic artistry, Darryl again looked like a relatively short and slender young man, but a young man none the less.
He began pulling on his running outfit. He'd selected these 'garments' with an eye towards looking just a bit grungy. Darryl thought that looking sloppy and unkempt would further assist his disguise. No one who did not know Darryl AND Darla very well would ever connect the scruffy-haired boy with the cutoff shorts, ripped muscle shirt and ragged running shoes with the prissy, fashion-conscious Darla.
As he laced up the running shoes, he thought again about his biggest worry - his, or rather, Darla's nails. Knowing he might be called on to play both roles, Darla was wearing her nails much shorter and more blunt than she had for other students. If asked why so fashion-crazy a girl as Darla did not wear her nails longer or have sculptured tips, Darla would use the excuse of needing them short for the piano. *Have to remember to practice a few times over the next couple of days when Roc. . I mean, Audrey is around.*
He took one last quick look in his mirror and cursed. His hands shot to his ears to remove Darla's sparkling earrings and then covered the hole with a dab of makeup that he blended into his lobes. "Guys may wear earrings, but not the dangling, sparkling kind," he growled to his reflection. "Okay, one last check - anything else?"
Nothing that he could see, and then he slipped out his door and down the stairs. As he went to the back door, he thought it might be smart to move a few things to the apartment next to Diana's workout room above the stable where he had hidden the first day Audrey had arrived. Then, he could slip in and out of the house as Darla. Having Audrey see Darryl in the house would have serious repercussions.
At precisely 5:45, Audrey came power walking down the trail. *She WOULD be early,* Darryl thought. *Just as well that I forced myself to get an early start.*
He was able to watch her for some distance before stepping out of the shadows to greet her. She was wearing tight gray cotton stretch shorts that fit her powerfully built thighs down to just above her knees. She had white, terry cloth sweat bands about her forehead and wrists, but it was the t-shirt that almost had him howling with laughter.
It was a beige colored shirt, with a series of pictures relating to each of the events of the modern pentathlon. The shirt's caption declared that "Pentathletes do it Five Ways!"
*Jane will have a cow if she sees that. Just hope I am around to see her reaction!* Then he stepped forward. "Hi, I am Darryl. Are you Ms. Thompson's new student, Chastity?"
The hated name brought Rocky up short, and she was about to lay into the fellow when she remembered that Ms. Thompson hadn't known her 'new' name when she'd called this guy. *So, do I ask him to call me Rocky or give him my new name?* She thought for a moment, and then decided she did not want to find out the hard way that the Thompson woman might feel that continuing to use Rocky outside of her home was a violation of their agreement. She held out her hand to the boy. "I prefer to be called Audrey, if you don't mind."
"No, not at all," Darryl chirped. "In fact, you look more like an Audrey than a Chastity, anyway. Hey, haven't we met?" Darryl had thought hard and long about asking that. For one thing, his hair was much shorter now because he'd been forced to cut it when the decision that Darla would be brunette was made. All that hair under a wig was a pain, but it also made Darryl look less like Darla, so that was to their advantage.
Nonplused by what most girls would consider to be a poor pickup line, Audrey stared at the boy for a moment. "I'm not sure," she finally said. "You almost look familiar, but. . "
"I know! You were on the train to Kingston. I asked if you needed help with your bag!"
Audrey blushed as she too remembered that encounter. "I'm sorry about that, but strangers who just approach me make me edgy. And I am sorry I didn't recognize you."
"Oh, no problem. I understand that women have to be careful in this day and age, particularly ones like you. As for me, well, I was in my college student grunge-mode then. Had to get a haircut and clean up my act again once I got home and my mom got an eyeful of me," he gave her his best 'male browbeaten by alpha female' war-weary grin and then continued. "So, you want to go for a run? How far, how fast? The terrain's not all that challenging around here - a little too flat for real cross-country work, but we have enough trails that we won't get bored running laps."
Audrey thought about it for a moment. She had promised to be back and dressed in time for breakfast at 8:30. That meant she needed to be back at the house no later than eight, which meant her cool-down had to be finished by 7:45. "Can we try for 12 miles in ninety minutes?"
"That's a pretty fast pace," Darryl demurred, thinking that he hadn't been on that long a run in couple of weeks. That's sub-8- minute miles. Let's start out a bit slower and if after a half an hour or so, we're both okay, we can pick up the pace."
"That's reasonable," Audrey replied. "Are you warmed up?" At Darryl's nod, she smiled broadly. "Then let's DO it! I am dying to burn off some of this adrenaline."
Running with Audrey, Darryl decided, was a lot like running with Diana. Both had longer legs than he did and both tended to want to burn the first mile or so and then settle into a loping stride that just ate up mileage. *I have to take five strides for every four of hers,* he fumed to himself. It had been a real effort to keep up with her and he had been forced to come from behind twice. *Of course, that isn't all bad. The lady has a really great pair of legs and a super butt!*
Running with Darryl, Audrey decided, was a bit of surprise. She had thought, particularly when she had first seen him, that there was NO WAY that short fellow would keep up with her. She had decided to try to discourage him quickly when he'd suggested a slower run than she had, especially when she had already given him a break by suggesting a whole ninety minutes for the run. He had needed to struggle those first couple of miles to match the pace she'd set, but then he'd settled in and kept up, right at her shoulder. *Just as well, Roc. . .no, have to think of myself as Audrey here. . .Anyway, how would you have known where to run if you'd left him figuratively and literally in your dust?* A touch on her shoulder broke through her endorphin-hazed thoughts and she saw Darryl pointing to the right trail at an upcoming fork. She nodded, wondering why his smile made her feel like smiling.
At 8:15 A.M., Jane buzzed Darla's room and was told her son/daughter was decent. She slipped in just in time to see Darryl/Darla (both were actually present somehow in this transitional moment) muttering dark imprecations to himself as he slowly peeled one of the false eyebrows from his face. "Damned solvent is only about half as good as the stickum," she heard and had to laugh.
"It is NOT funny!" He growled, spinning on Darla's makeup stool to face his mother.
"Oh god, but it is, sweetheart. Heavens, but if you did not pull off that second brow, and only made up half your face you could easily get work in a circus as the half man/half woman." She managed to stifle her laughter when she saw the frown on Darryl's face deepen.
"What do you WANT, Momma-Jane," he asked in a soft, controlled voice that told her just how close he was to losing his temper.
"Did things go badly on the run?" she asked, all solicitude now as she moved over to sit on the edge of Darla's bed.
"Besides the fact that she nearly ran me into the ground? It was all I could do not to beg for mercy. And worst of all? I think she took it easy on me the last two miles!"
His indignance was trenchant and Jane choked back another chuckle. "She is a nationally ranked athlete, dear."
"I know, but I did finish in the top ten in the Ivy League Cross Country Championships that one year, and I *thought* I was still in pretty good shape. Guess I will have to work to keep up with her."
"Well, are you in too bad a mood to help me today? If you are, I need to know right now so I can delay the exercise I have planned until later. I cannot take the chance that you might lose your temper in the middle of this little drama. That could set us back weeks."
Darryl turned back to the vanity and began brushing the solvent onto the remaining brow. "Tell me what you want to do and I will tell you how I feel." Then he stopped and flexed his aching muscles. "I am afraid, however, that whatever it is you have planned, it better not be too active."
"Oh, trust me, what I have planned for you will definitely not be active."
Chapter 9: Audrey Meets Shirley Temple
Audrey stood behind her chair, her eyes glancing back and forth between her teacher and the mantle clock behind Ms. Thompson. The grandfather clock in the foyer Westminster chime sounded 8:45. *Where is Darla?* she wondered as her nose twitched at the lovely smells escaping from Marie's kitchen.
"Audrey, I do not wish to wait any longer. Would you please go up and see what is keeping Darla?"
"Yes, Ma'am." Audrey replied and quickly left the room.
*If she were one of my boys, I would have stopped her and ordered to her to curtsy,* Jane thought as she waited for the next act in this little drama to be played out. *But she isn't. In many ways, I am trying to teach her much as I tried to teach Michelle after Michael's attempted suicide. I want her to leave my keeping a real lady, and I want her to be happy about being a real lady. Nothing like giving yourself a challenge, Jane,* she thought with a sigh.
A few minutes later, a frazzled looking Darla rushed into the dining room ahead of a bemused Audrey. "Sorry, Aunt Jane, but my alarm did not go off or something. . ."
"Or something. If I went upstairs right now, miss, I wonder if I would even find your clock set for the correct time?"
"Aunt Jane. . "
"Never mind. . for now. I am quite famished." Jane pressed the call button and smiled when Marie opened the door to the kitchen. "Please serve, Marie."
Breakfast was fresh fruit, egg-white omelets and fresh bran muffins. Shortly after they had all been served, Marie slipped back into the dining room and handed something to Jane. She nodded and then smiled at her newest charge. "You will find, Audrey, that there are several things I expect of my students. First, I expect you to be conversant in the news of the day - national, world and fashion - so it will behoove you to get into the habit of reading the newspapers and periodicals I have delivered here for that purpose. Second, you will always present yourself in the public rooms of my home wearing cosmetics suitable to the occasion. For example, the light color you are currently wearing is completely acceptable for the breakfast table, although you might wish to find a nice complimentary lipstick to go with it. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Ms. Thompson."
"Excellent. Perhaps you will be a more diligent and satisfying student than THIS scamp!" Jane said piercing stare at Darla. "How many times must I tell you, Darla, that such . . . vivid colors are not suited to a breakfast en famille?"
Darla managed to swallow her bite of muffin. "Sorry, Aunt Jane."
"So you shall be, Miss." Jane held up a key for Darla's inspection. Audrey was surprised to see the other girl's face crumple.
"Please, Aunt Jane, I will do better. You don't have to. ."
Jane held up a silencing hand. "Your armoire is already locked and your outfit for the day laid out upon your bed. Marie will complete your makeup and your hair. Since you cannot seem to find it in yourself to behave as the young lady I have endeavored to make of you, I shall allow you to dress and act as the silly child you seem to prefer. Do I make myself clear, Miss?"
"But Aunt Jane. ."
"Do I make myself clear? Or would you prefer to increase your disciplinary time?"
"You have made yourself clear, Aunt Jane. Ummm. . How long?"
Jane set down her fork and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. "I really don't know, Darla. Until you show me you are ready to grow up and behave like a lady. Audrey, I shall ask you to watch over this scamp's activities." She rose from her chair. "We shall all meet in the downstairs sitting room in thirty minutes. I shall explain more fully at that time."
Audrey started to ask Darla what was going on, but watched in stunned silence as the other girl rushed from the room, obviously upset. She looked at Diana who simply smiled. "Darla knows the rules and she knows better than to flaunt them when there is another student in the house. Don't worry too much. Jane is simply getting her attention again. Finish your breakfast. I suspect you will have a long day and need the fuel."
*Precisely* thirty minutes later, the five members of the household, including the housekeeper Audrey noted, had gathered in Ms. Thompson's downstairs office. Audrey was sure that the room was the height of interior design, and could without doubt be a showplace in one of those house interior design magazines, but it was also without doubt the most bloody uncomfortable room she had ever laid eyes or buttocks upon. Audrey had, in fact, tried each apparently available seating surface in the room only to find each more unforgiving than the previous one. Before Jane herself had arrived, of course. Ultimately, she had not been offered any choice in the matter because she was immediately directed to one of the two particularly un-sit-able chairs stationed across from the huge antique desk that dominated the room.
The woman called Diana and the housekeeper Marie had followed Jane into the room. Each had also immediately seated themselves - Diana and Marie upon the settee that Audrey recalled was the best of a bad lot - and Ms. Thompson in the huge leather throne behind her desk. She thoughtfully fingered the desk accessories for a moment and then called out, "You may enter, Darla-Anne."
Audrey nearly fell out of her seat when she first beheld the vision that skipped - literally SKIPPED - just like in the old Shirley Temple movies she remembered from her very young childhood - into the room.
Darla knew she made quite the picture, and had a very difficult time not giggling at Audrey's stunned gawking. *Just a walking, talking Raggedy Annie doll,* she thought with some amusement. *But Aunt Jane did want to bring out the big guns early with this one. I think Momma-Jane thoroughly understood the concepts of strategic deterrence during the bad old days of the Cold War.*
For herself, Darla was not at all bothered by her outfit. She had become quite enured to its supposedly humiliating effects early on - well before her graduation from Jane's program, in fact. It was simply another disguise that served a purpose.
Oh, but what a disguise. The dress was an overly ornate white- lace-on-white dress that would have gone about to mid-calf length were it not for the many-layered petticoat that lifted the skirt up like a huge parody of a ballerina's tutu. *May have overdone this just a bit, Momma-Jane,* Darla thought as she approached her seat. *I sort of had to scrunch the skirt to get through the bloody door!*
The hem and the many flounces were trimmed in bright pink piping as were the high collar and the cuffs at Darla's wrists. She wore a white tights and bright pink Mary jane flats that matched the piping. Her hair had been done up in what Darla privately thought of as "Wednesday Addams" braided pigtails with HUGE pink satin bows at the tips of each tail. Marie had applied a heavy rouge to her cheeks ("To give you color suited to being embarrassed, you silly hussy.") and then had used an eyebrow pencil to splash pseudo-freckles all over her cheeks and nose. The final touch had been to use a lipstick brush to paint on the silly angel-bowed lips often seen on china dolls.
*My God,* Audrey thought, *She looks awful, and so embarrassed. She can't even lift her head! THIS is what this woman does for PUNISHMENT?*
"You may be seated, Darla-Anne," Jane said after the girl had stood in front of the desk for several moments.
Audrey watched as Darla carefully gathered the many petticoats and sat very gingerly on the very edge-tip of the seat. *Doesn't want to wrinkle the monstrous dress, I suppose,* Audrey mused as Darla carefully folded her hands in her lap.
"You have been walking a fine line towards this for a while now, Darla-Anne. Tell us why you are being punished," Jane demanded.
"I wath impolite and immature, Auntie Jane," Darla said in a singsong, lisping voice that had Audrey's head snapping about in surprise. "I forgot to knock on your door, overthlept and missed breakfast and did not thet a good ladylike example for your new thtudent."
"And while that is enough to warrant discipline, that is only in the past two days, is it not?" Jane asked sternly.
"Yeth, Auntie Jane," was the barely audible reply.
Jane now turned to Audrey. "My niece knows that she has a responsibility to help you, as my new student, acclimate to this new environment. Since she has demonstrated that she cannot or perhaps will not carry out these responsibilities, I have reduced her to a situation where she has no such onerous duties. If she wishes to behave like a stereotypical spoiled brat, then we show her precisely what that is like. While this punishment is invoked, she will behave, speak and interact like a preschooler. In the interests of modesty, she is allowed to use the facilities on her own, but she must ask first. Any adult behaviors will be cause to extend her punishment so she must be observed constantly, except in the bathroom, by someone seeing that she behaves. I have decided that you are to be her babysitter until she has completed her punishment."
"There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is that I have other business that I must attend to today. However, there are other benefits to assigning you this task."
Jane stopped and waited for the question she knew was burning in Audrey's mind, but the girl again showed remarkable discipline and waited for Jane to continue. "The benefits to you, Audrey, are at least three fold. First, this responsibility integrates you into the family. You are now responsible for your little sister, an experience you likely never had since you were, I believe, an only child. Is that not correct?"
The woman's tone of voice clearly told Audrey that there was no doubt in Jane Thompson's mind, but that she still expected an answer. "Yes, Ma'am."
"Excellent. The second benefit is that you will see first-hand the means by which I mete out corrections in my household. I hope you will come to see that you need never fear any type of abuse, but equally as important, that I will make the punishment fit the crime. Do you understand how this discipline is appropriate to her misbehavior?" *Please say yes,* Jane thought. *If you fight me on this point we are in for a great deal of difficulty in the coming days.*
Audrey looked at the girl sitting rigidly next to her. Her head was down and her eyes were shut tightly. Audrey thought she could see just a touch of moisture at those absurdly long lashes as if Darla was barely controlling her tears. *I don't think she will do whatever set Ms. Thompson off again, and while she is obviously embarrassed given the way she is blushing, her punishment is only in the family and not really hurtful.*
"Do you or do you not agree?" Jane asked again, her tone becoming impatient.
"If she stays within the house and only with people who know her and like her," Audrey said carefully, "I can see where the punishment is not abusive."
*Interesting caveats,* Jane thought. "Why the qualifications, Miss Rockwell?" Jane demanded sternly. "And why did you leave out 'inappropriate'?"
"Darla has told me she loves you, and that she knows you love her, Ms. Thompson," Audrey said quietly. "Other people who do not love her, or for whom she does not hold that same degree of confidence and trust might use knowledge of this punishment to tease her or really humiliate her. In that case, the punishment would continue for much longer than was appropriate, and in my view, might constitute abuse."
Jane glanced at Diana and saw that her mate had become suddenly very alert. Nodding her understanding, Jane turned back to Audrey. "Just so. That is why she is grounded for the duration of her punishment and will not be permitted any guests or visitors. Which will be over the weekend. If she is a good little girl, she may grow up again Monday morning. AFTER breakfast. In the meantime, I think it is sufficient that WE see her reduced to this state and that she knows WE are disappointed that she made this necessary."
"Thank you, Auntie Jane," Darla said in her little girl's voice and lisp.
"You are welcome, Darla Anne. Now, Audrey, as to whether or not you think the punishment is appropriate to the crime?"
"I don't know about that, Ms. Thompson. It is outside of my experience, and I don't think I would find it. . . helpful."
"I see," Jane said quietly disappointed. *I suppose it was too much to hope that she'd see the punishment as just. And yet, the time will come when I will have to enforce similar fates upon her.* "Then you must endeavor not to need such correction, because if I decide it is warranted, I will impose such disciplines on you."
Audrey thought about that, and something occurred to her. Jane saw the smooth forehead suddenly wrinkle. "Yes, Audrey? What is bothering you?"
"You said, Ms. Thompson, that you saw three benefits to having me be the babysitter. I only recall you telling me two of them."
"Ah, just so. Well, ordinarily, Darla-Anne would be restricted to her preschooler behaviors until I determined that she had served her full penance. However, I will permit her to speak with you in an adult fashion for up to half an hour today to discuss this facet of my program so that any questions you have might be addressed. I feel that is necessary since, by giving me your word yesterday, you made yourself subject to such disciplines and punishments. The time and place for this discussion will be at your discretion, Audrey. Merely tell our little girl "Time out, Darla" and she will be permitted to speak as an adult, although none of the other restrictions on adult behaviors or dress will be vacated. Is that understood? Audrey?"
"Yeth, Auntie Jane."
"Very well. Audrey, you may have our baby address you as you wish. Simply tell her by what title you wish to be called. Now, I think Darla-Anne will take you to the nursery. If she is a particularly good girl, you may read her a bedtime story before her afternoon nap. A suitable selection of books are in the nursery." Then Jane rose from her desk. "Now, you must excuse me as I have an overseas conference call with some executives from Siemens International in an hour and must prepare for it."
Audrey and Darla both rose. Audrey turned to the door, but stopped when her hand was grabbed. Spinning she turned to see Darla looking up at her with mischievous pseudo-innocence in her light blue eyes. "You're th'POTHED to hold my hand, Mith Audwey." She said with childlike reprimand.
The older girl glanced back at Jane who merely nodded. Shrugging, the somewhat off-balance teen allowed her 'charge' to lead her from the room and up the main stairs. Three adults smiled behind the departing pair.
Chapter 10 - Interlude - Jane and Diana
An hour later, her business concerns finally dealt with, Jane stuck her head into the kitchen and smiled at Marie. "Anything much going on up there?" she asked, nodding to the monitor speaker Marie was listening to.
"Not much. I don't think Audrey is at all sure what she is supposed to be doing with our little girl, and is therefore doing as little as absolutely necessary. Most of what has happened up there so far has been at Darla's instigation."
"Diana thought that it might go that way," Jane said with a sigh. "I really want to know how she feels and reacts to this sort of game before I order her to do anything even remotely similar. With the boys, their stunned disbelief that anyone would DARE do such a thing to them, combined with the intentionally sharp stabs to their overblown masculine egos was usually enough to keep even the worst of them from reacting too violently. Besides, I have enough experience with boys that I could see an emotional eruption coming in time to squelch such outbursts before anyone could be hurt. With this one. . . I just don't know. . ."
Marie listened as Darla kept up a steady monologue of almost nonsensical chatter, obviously playing with one of the many dolls that lived in Jane's special nursery. "On the positive side, Darla has managed to inveigle Audrey into having a tea party for lunch. I'll be taking a tray up to the nursery so don't expect the children at table."
"Good. But other than that concession, Audrey hasn't gotten into the spirit of this thing at all? No baby-talking to dollies or teasing Darla?" Jane asked.
"No, not really. Like I said, she's being very careful. Darla even asked her if she wanted to "be my Auntie Audwey," and here Marie fell into a deadly imitation of Darla's baby-talk voice, "but all Audrey did was tell her that wasn't necessary and to just keep calling her Audrey. Darla acted very distressed, but Audrey held firm and even our hardheaded child finally had to give in. As for your other question, well, I don't think that this one is much for teasing. Why I feel that way I don't precisely know, but even when Darla gave her unwilling babysitter several obvious openings for some of that nonsense, Audrey did not react at all. It is like she has no idea how to play."
"That's one possibility," Jane noted. "But I have seen students who could not bear to tease one another because they'd had very bad experiences as the butt of others teasing them. Well, if they will not be at table, bring me a tray in my upstairs study. I will monitor them from there and you can have a few hours off."
"Lunch is soup and sandwiches with fruit for dessert," Marie added, her eyes laughing, "Said sandwiches to be cut into finger- sized quarters WITH the crust cut off, thankyouverymuch, as ordered by little Miss Darla-Anne."
"Suitable for a tea-party, eh? Sounds like our daughter is having fun, anyway."
Jane and Diana took their lunch in Jane's upstairs study where they could both watch the goings-on in the nursery over the closed-circuit television. Darla had created as nearly perfect a Norman Rockwell-type children's tea party as Jane had ever seen outside the pages of the Saturday Evening Post. The small table was set to perfection with numerous dolls, from full fashion mini-mannequins to diapered wetting dolls to multicolored stuffed animals, crowding about. There was barely room for the two human guests to seat themselves in the undersized chairs.
"Well, there's another of those benefits to your little exercise, dearheart," Diana said as Darla poured tea for her guests. "Audrey is learning how to serve tea and behave at one of your brutally-correct society high teas. That is the second time Darla has gently corrected some aspect of her manners."
Jane sighed. "I saw that, too, but I am not sure it is going to be entirely beneficial. I hope Audrey doesn't come to the conclusion such social niceties are punishment or merely the silly play of children."
"Well, simply have a high tea some time after Darla is restored to full maturity and serve the tea yourself. That one misses nothing and if you do exactly as our child is doing now, Audrey will see the connection and assume, rightly, that Darla was trying to help her with that game," Diana turned back to the screen. "You say she hasn't yet done that 'time out' you told her she could have?"
"No, she hasn't, and that both surprises and worries me. What if she doesn't care enough to want to know the answers? She has to care, Diana. We cannot help her unless we get her interest. This is why I hate taking on students who know that I am under a hard deadline. If she can convince herself that nothing I do really matters in the long run because she will leave it all behind her, then nothing I do WILL really matter."
Diana nodded. "I don't think that will be a problem, dear. She cares about her training, and that gives you a wedge."
"One I don't want to use in a negative sense. Denying her training is not the punishment I want to use with her, for a variety of reasons."
"Wait and see, my love. Wait and see."
Chapter 11: Babysitting
Audrey watched as Darla served the final course - fresh strawberries with a light cream topping. Each doll and stuffed toy was given a small portion of the treat although the bulk of it was carefully reserved and then shared by the two girls. *I just don't get this. Is she really into this silliness? I mean, I have already all but told her directly that I am not going to press the issue. What do I have to do? Tell her I am not going to go telling on her to Ms. Thompson?*
"Darla? Time out."
"Yeth, Mith Audwey."
"Could you please cut that out? At least for the next half-hour? Your Aunt said you could talk like a real person and that stupid Elmer Fudd imitation of yours is really getting on my nerves."
"Well, don't blow your cool over it," Darla said seriously. "Or you might join me in pantaloons, petticoats and pinafores talking baby-talk. If it really begins to bother you, go talk to Aunt Jane."
"Like that will help," Audrey said sarcastically.
"Oh, but it would," Darla said, spooning up a particularly luscious-looking berry. She savored the bite, looking like a woman in ecstasy before turning back to Audrey. "She wants you to learn to deal civilly with issues that upset you, so discussing things that bother you that much and seeking a solution ahead of time will impress her."
"Why are you telling me that?" Audrey demanded, suspicion dripping from every word.
Darla shrugged. "Because I like you, and because you gave fair warning that something was beginning to get to you. That's unusual in one of Aunt Jane's students. They usually have to do something wrong along those lines and be punished for it before they figure out there might be another, better way to deal with such things. Like talking them out first."
Audrey thought that she would have to mull that insight over for a while. "Why are you putting up with this crap? You're old enough, big enough that you could tell her to go pack sand instead of acting the fool like this just because she tells you to do it."
"You yourself said it. . how did you put it? Oh yes, wasn't inappropriate and wasn't abusive," Darla pointed out.
"I said it MIGHT not be abusive and I wasn't sure about inappropriate, but I may be changing my mind," Audrey muttered. "Your inane chatter is starting to make ME feel abused. And I'm the only one here. Why are you putting on a show for me when I don't care?"
A grin lit Darla's doll-like features. "Partly because you're SUPPOSED to care, but mostly because I never know when Jane is going to stick her head in here. When she does, I had better be doing something appropriate to my designated age or she will assume I have not kept my promise and extend my punishment accordingly. Though there are a few other reasons, as well."
"And they are?" Audrey asked.
"Because, like I told you before, I said I would. Aunt Jane took me in and cared for me, taught me a lot of important things. Like you, I told her I would accept her directions."
"I still don't get it."
"Would you go back on your word?" Darla challenged sharply.
"NO!" Audrey reacted before she could catch herself.
"Neither would I. Neither will I, in fact." Darla replied, more gently this time.
"You said there were other reasons."
"Yep," the gamine grin was back. "'Cause it annoyed the heck out of you and it was fun watching you try to keep from snarling."
"Bitch," Audrey replied without heat before a matching grin formed on her own lips.
"Aren't we all?" Darla asked rhetorically. "And I guess the final reason is that it gives me an excuse to play with the dolls and the stuffies again," she said, giving a nearby pink and purple teddy bear a fond caress. "When I am Darla, Lady- Daughter-of-the-House, I am supposed to be too mature for such play, but as Darla-Anne, such behavior is acceptable, even required. I have an excuse to do something I might feel really embarrassed about if I were caught doing it as Princess Darla."
"And you aren't embarrassed now?"
"Not really," was Darla's unexpected answer. At Audrey's look of disbelief, she simply smiled. "Oh, the clothes are a pain to get into and out of, but as you pointed out earlier to Jane, the only people who see me are those who love me. Jane will send a few verbal barbs my way over the weekend and a couple will likely strike home because she is good at finding the chinks in your armor and she knows me very well, but really, Audrey, what do I truly have to be embarrassed about?"
"Yeah," Audrey said thoughtfully, "I can see that, but you acted so. . .I don't know, humiliated and repentant in Ms. Thompson's office earlier."
In Jane's office, Diana turned up the volume on the speaker and both women crowded a bit closer to the tiny monitor screen.
The increase in volume was in time to catch clearly the giggle that bubbled up from Darla's throat. "Hey, I keep my word, babe, but I'm not stupid, either! If my dear aunt didn't think there were certain negative aspects to this experience for me, she'd soon find another way to punish me and that would, in all likelihood, be something I really wouldn't like doing. Like mucking out Teddi's stalls in boy's work clothes. Yuck."
"Tell you what. If she ever does that, I will take your punishment if you will take any of mine that end up here," Audrey's voice sounded over the speaker.
Jane looked at Diana. "I think I should make an appearance now," she said quietly, and rose to leave the room.
"Oh, don't think we'd get that choice," Darla said. "She's too clever by half, that sneaky, devious aunt of mine. She'd know you prefer the physical effort of clearing the stalls. Besides, now that you know what this is all about, wouldn't you like a few hours of playing with these lovely dollies? Just to remember the 'good old times'?"
"What good old times? I never played with dolls," Audrey said flatly. "Never had any to play with."
The door opened just as Darla's shocked voice sputtered out "No Dolls? None? Didn't you like dolls?" Jane hung outside the cracked open door.
"Never had any, least ways, any I can remember. Might have had some early on, but none that I recall."
"Not even a stuffed animal? A teddy bear or calico bunny rabbit? Even a velvety boa constrictor like Max here?" Darla held up a long green snake with a ridiculous face and a forked tongue made of felt. "Something to cuddle when the dark got scary?" Jane knew by her child's tone that Darla was truly upset.
Audrey shrugged, trying to appear unconcerned. "I just had to grow up faster than most kids, I guess." Then she saw the real distress in her almost-friend's eyes and added very softly. "You don't miss what you never had, Darla. Don't worry about it."
Jane's entry broke the eye contact between the two teens. "I assume this is the time out I authorized, Audrey? Since Miss Darla-Anne was just speaking in adult language?"
"Yes, Ms. Thompson," Audrey replied after a visible attempt to collect herself. "We have a few minutes left, but we are mostly done."
"Your questions have been addressed to your satisfaction?" Jane asked, her eyes watching the girl's face very closely.
*I wish you had answered my question more fully or that I had asked it more carefully. Well, nothing to it but to be direct.* "And if, Miss Rockwell, I determined that your behavior would improve should I place you into this or some similar situation, would you comply with my program?"
Audrey thought about Darla's justifications for accepting this woman's direction and how she felt or might feel. *At worst, I feel silly for a few days, but then, I often feel that way when I am not among other athletes.* She gave a barely perceptible lift of her shoulders. "I promised you that I would comply with your directions, Ms. Thompson. For that reason alone, I will keep my word to you," and then thought of something else. "Particularly if you keep your word to me."
*Diana had warned me not to expect more from her so early in the program.* "All right. Then there is no reason for the time out to continue?" At Audrey's headshake, "Then, Darla-Anne will resume her full punishment."
"Ms. Thompson," Audrey cut in. "Could we please dispense with the Looney Toons voice-overs? If I have to spend the day translating f's back to th's and th's back to s's, I will be Looney Toons by the end of the day and Miss Darla Anne may be gagged with one of my sweat socks by the end of the weekend."
"You consider that threat an appropriate way to deal with this?" Jane demanded, suddenly rounding on the girl.
"No, but it's really starting to irritate me and if it keeps up, at some point I'll probably do something that we will both regret," Jane's brows rose sharply and Audrey evidently realized what her last statement must have sounded like to the older woman because she rushed to continue. "I don't mean that as a threat at all, but that's part of why I'm here, right? I mean. . . because I do that sometimes - lose my cool? Maybe this game of yours shouldn't bother me that much, but it does, and I don't think it's fair to set me up for something that, well, that I guess I'm just not ready to deal with yet. Can't we work something else out? Maybe go in shifts with you, the others, and me each taking turns - or maybe just say that Elvira Fudd here can talk like a real person, but act like a child."
*Now there's a reaction that would never have occurred to one of the boys, but she's right. If it really is bothering her - and her snapping at Darla when my daughter forgot to slip out of role at the beginning of the time out indicates that it is - then asking me for help in dealing with her irritation is the adult thing to do on her part. But blast it all, I was planning on using precisely the outburst she has just forced me to help deflect as justification for her first disciplinary punishment. Oh, well.*
"Very well," Jane said heavily. "Darla? Speak adult when Miss Rockwell is with you, but don't let me catch you slipping up anywhere else or I will keep you in the nursery for an extra day for each offense!"
"Yes, Aunt Jane," Darla said with exaggerated meekness, her eyes twinkling in amusement.
"I will see you both at dinner," Jane said. "I have had Marie get out the high chair for our toddler here. In the meantime, it is time for her nap. You may read her a story, Audrey and then clear away the remnants of this small party."
"Yes, Ms. Thompson," Audrey replied.
Chapter 12: "Once upon a time. . ."
A thoughtful Jane Thompson sat back into her study, her eyes fixated on the room monitor. "She is doing an absolutely horrible job of reading that story," Jane said with some disgust.
"Nooooo . . . that's not the problem," the psychologist replied, her tones thoughtful. "What she is doing is not reading it like a children's story. Listen more carefully, Jane."
Jane did listen, her brow furrowing in concentration. "Yes, I think I understand what you mean. You can hear the formal punctuation, the rising tone on questions, the pauses for every comma, but she's not infusing any emotion into the story - none at all. It's as though . . . hmmm . . . the best example I can give is when someone reads from the Bible in church. They want to convey to the congregation the written words as correctly as possible, with nothing of themselves in the reading."
"Exactly!" Diana approved. "She's not giving voice to the characters so they all sound like her. We need to find a way to make her put her own heart into the story."
"Either she is simply doing as she was told," Jane said, "and only what she was told, or . . . "
"Or she really doesn't know how to read to a child?"
"Just as she claims she doesn't know how to play with toys and dolls?"
"Then that would say some pretty harsh things about that sorority sister of yours, sweetheart," Diana told her. "No dolls in her memory? Not knowing how to tell a story would imply none were ever read to her as a child."
Jane thought she saw Darla start to say something to Audrey during the story, but nothing came out. *Maybe she is afraid to find out that Audrey isn't playing and knows I am likely listening in. What a strange child this one is. And yet, Darla said she fell in love with the horses.*
Once Darla was 'asleep', Audrey saw to the chore of cleaning up. Once the dishes were collected and back on the tray, she began to put up the many dolls and stuffed toys Darla had invited to her party.
Sighing, Jane stood up and stretched. Then she stopped short, her eyes fixed on the monitor. "Damn this small screen!" she cursed. *Did I see that, or was it wishful thinking?* "Did you see that?" She asked Diana.
"See what?" asked Jane's startled mate.
Audrey had already moved out of the field of view of the camera, evidently intent on bringing the tray down to Marie in the kitchen. "Never mind," Jane sighed. "Probably just wishful thinking."
A bare silvery thread of moonlight sneaking through the heavily draped curtains was all that lit the way from door to bed. Long experience with the vagaries of the old Victorian mansion's floors had the shadowy figure carefully setting each foot, avoiding creaking floorboards in favor of the more solidly affixed ones. The young woman in the bed never so much as moved throughout the entire episode, not even when the uninvited guest completed her mission.
The sleeping girl looked so peaceful, laying there at rest. If only she could be helped to find that same peace during the daytime hours.
With that thought, the intruder slipped back out the way she'd come, silently closing the heavy oak door behind her.
Darla crawled out from under the heavy silk comforter and eyed the shrieking alarm clock balefully. *It simply can NOT be 4:45 already.* Unfortunately, it not only could be, but was. Growling to herself, Darla stomped off to her bathroom for a wake-up shower before she began transforming herself into Darryl for another dawn appointment down by the stable.
*We'll have to finish earlier, today,* she thought. *My Shirley Temple makeover will require the extra time if I am not to be late for breakfast and give Jane a reason to extend Darla's punishment.*
Still feeling very 'rocky', Audrey brought her hand down hard upon the snooze button of her clock radio. She was still tired, and sleep weighed heavy on her eyelids, but discipline and a long-held goal won out. Forcing her eyes open, she started to move when the sight of something strange caught her eye. She blinked several times to focus, and then she shook her head to clear it.
"Where did you come from?" she asked even as she reached out a tentative finger.
The gaudily colored purple and pink teddy bear simply stared back at her from its perch on her night stand, its eyes huge, its nose round and black, and its sewn-on grin a vivid red that clashed violently with both principal colors.
The snooze-button-delayed alarm sounded again, interrupting her sleep-fogged mind's attempt to answer to her question. If Audrey didn't hurry, she'd be late which meant she would not be able to complete her workout. If Darla's experience had taught her anything, being late for breakfast was currently very high on Audrey's list of things to avoid.
"Wind sprints?" Darryl asked Audrey. "You want to do wind sprints this morning?"
"Well, it is the day for my speed and cardio-work," Audrey said. "Normally, I will do half an hour or so on a stair climber, too, but since that isn't available, I need to do something like sprints and intervals."
*Diana's gym is a possibility. I will bring it up with Jane and see what she says.* "Well, if you want to climb stairs . . "
"Not real stairs, Dare," Audrey said, tolerant amusement in her voice. "Going down stairs is rough on the knees, particularly when I need to go as fast as I can."
"Oh, I think I can arrange that, too. Here," and he tossed her a pair of heavy gloves. "Put those on and follow me." he directed as he slipped an identical pair onto his own hands.
He led her into the stable to a stone stair that lead up to the high loft. "Wait here." he ordered and then ran up the stairs.
Audrey was about to follow him anyway when a heavy ::thud:: behind her had her spinning about. A thick manila hemp rope now hung down from the loft into one of the open stalls, a couple of coils haphazardly into a tall pile of straw. Moments later, Darryl climbed down the rope, jumping the last few feet and letting the straw absorb some of the shock of his fall. "Up the stairs and down the rope," he said with a challenging air. "Forty minutes and then ten sprints up and down the driveway. How's that?"
Audrey's only answer was a huge smile, just before she tore off up the stairs. Darryl waited for her to complete the first rope climb, wanting to assure himself that she could safely handle that, before following her on the second 'lap.'
"By the way," he called from the loft as she again landed on the ground floor. "Where did you get the neon-pink shoelaces and the fuzzy pompoms on your sneaks?"
Chapter 13: Connecting the Dots
"You did WHAT?!?" Jane squealed as she helped Darla arrange her wig at 8:15 that morning.
"We ran steps in the stable and used a rope to get down - to protect our knees, you know." Darla said as she brushed on the brightly colored blusher.
"What about protecting your bloody necks?!?!"
"I made sure she was okay with it, Momma-Jane. I was going to just take her up to Diana's gym, and let her use the equipment up there, but I couldn't think of a good reason why a mere boy acquaintance would know about that, let alone have a key to the place."
"I could give her the key," Jane mused, "but how to have the subject come up without it seeming too. . .convenient. We don't want her thinking that Darryl is TOO familiar with this place."
"Maybe you could have Diana mention she needs a workout during breakfast?" Darla asked.
Jane shook her head. "Too obvious, I think. How about if you ask her about her workout at breakfast? Maybe tease her a little about Darryl - you know. . .second date, getting serious? And then ask her what they did?"
"Suppose she doesn't tell you, or doesn't tell you the truth? It is not like you could call her on it because there is no reason you should know what we did," Darla pointed out as she checked her 'freckles' closely in the mirror.
"I rather suspect she'll simply tell us what happened. Thus far, she has been very cautious and I don't think she would want to get caught in anything I might conclude was a lie and therefore, deserving of discipline."
"True enough," Darla giggled. "I don't think getting her into little girl clothes is going to be an easy task. She was rather appalled by me yesterday."
"Yes, I saw that. I also think we can take it as given that if we ask her why she did it, she'll probably say because she didn't have a stair climber. She's very matter of fact that way. Then I can act worried about her safety, which in fact I am, and tell her I will let her have the key to the gym in the future."
"Hah!" Darla snorted. "Not like you need to be all that worried. She's strong, fast, agile and highly coordinated. And I *DID* make sure there was plenty of loose hay in the stalls."
Darla thought for a few moments and then looked up at her mother. "You could still use the rope thing as an opportunity to punish her," she pointed out. "Might be better to get that first one out of the way early on with her like you do with the boys. While she is still trying to figure you out."
"I could," Jane mused as Darla stood up and went to get her 'Alice in Wonderland' little girl's robe. "But I don't think I want to do that, just yet."
"Why not?" Darla asked, curiosity in her voice.
"Because, at the moment, she really is trying, and since I am still groping in the dark as to how to deal with a real girl, I have to ensure that anything I do is scrupulously fair. My gut reaction is that this is one of those times when a quietly worded reprimand, heavy on concern for her safety might be more useful."
Darla thought about it. "I suppose you're right. She is attentive. Very different from any boy I have ever seen here. Maybe if you indicate that you might discipline her and then decide not to do that THIS time?"
After considering that for a few seconds, Jane shook her head. "No, I think the reprimand will be enough. When I do discipline her, I want the reason to be some unfeminine behavior or action when she knows better. After all, I did say she could exercise, didn't I?"
"Yes, Momma-Jane," Darla said, going up on tiptoe to kiss the taller woman's cheek. "Lord, but I do miss my heels when I am forced to play little girl. I feel so . . .little - particularly around her since you have HER in heels."
"You are only little where it really doesn't count, my love," Jane said with a warm smile and a hug for her child. "Now, let's go down stairs and play our part in this little scheme. It ought to work nicely, and after breakfast I will have Diana walk her down and show her the facilities. I have been trying to figure out a way to give Diana some time alone with Audrey away from the strictures of the house, anyway. That should work."
Jane tugged teasingly at the huge bows on the end of Darla's ponytails and smiled. "And now you, young miss, had better hurry down to breakfast, unless you want to stay in Shirley-mode for a few more days."
The alacrity with which Darla scampered out of the room made Jane smile and nearly laugh. *Doesn't get to her anymore, indeed,* she told herself. *SUUURRRE it doesn't, Darla. Sure it doesn't.*
Audrey let herself into the nursery immediately following her post-midday meal walk with Diana. Darla looked up from the doll display she had set up in preparation for Audrey's return. *Good thing Jane buzzed me when Audrey and Diana got back. It would not have done for Audrey to find me reading that biochemistry textbook!*
"So, what did you think of Diana's little gym?" Darla asked.
Jane and Diana were again seated at the desk in her study, eyes glued to the small security monitor. They could see Darla sitting in the nursery rocking chair, bottle feeding a diaper- wetting baby-doll, but could not see Audrey.
"She must be sitting directly beneath the camera," Diana said, "otherwise that wide-angle lens would pick her up. "Wonder if she's spotted the surveillance camera?"
"That's all we need," Jane said disgustedly.
"It is very nice," Audrey replied, stepping out into the room and taking a seat on the small settee next to the rocker. "Top- drawer equipment. I don't think I have ever seen that model of Nautilus rig outside of a commercial gym. And Diana says that Darryl has all the same equipment at his school, so he knows how to operate all of it and will be able to spot me when I use it." Darla grinned and shifted the doll to her shoulder and began to burp it. "Good. That should keep you on schedule."
Audrey frowned. "Why are you doing that?"
"What?" Darla asked, her forehead wrinkling into a frown. "Oh, playing with the doll? Because Jane told me to, and that's a bone I have to pick with you, babe!"
"With me? What for?"
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to remember to act like a four year old when you are using adult language? I live in fear that Aunt Jane will slip in here unannounced and condemn me to another day or two of this pinafore-prison."
"That's JUST what I mean!" Audrey cut in. "Based on what you told me the other day, I figure you have to be at least eighteen, for all you look two or three years younger. . "
*Oops,* Jane thought, *I missed that connection when they talked about Darla's history, but Audrey evidently remembered and did the addition. Now what?*
Darla considered trying to misdirect her way out of this but concluded that would only put Audrey hotter on her trail. *Better a little truth now than the whole truth too soon,* she thought. "True enough. I look younger than I am and Aunt Jane felt that you'd be more comfortable with me if you thought I was younger."
"So this punishment is a game?"
"Oh, it's quite real. I live here and so I am subject to Aunt Jane's rules, even as you are."
"But you are eighteen. You could leave and dispense with this crap!"
"And go where?" Darla asked as she rose to put her 'baby' to bed. "This is home. This is my family. I love them and they love me."
"But couldn't you use that to pressure her to dispense with this. . this foolishness?"
Darla frowned thoughtfully, and was secretly glad she'd anticipated this question. It was not one she'd ever had to answer with one of Aunt Jane's terrorized boys.
"It's not really foolishness, you know. Oh, it's silly all right," Darla said quickly as Audrey prepared to argue, "but it's not foolish. The whole point is that I was not behaving as a young woman should, so I am being 'indulged' in my own refusal to grow up. That. . . I mean, growing up. . . takes more than clothes. After a while everyone just sort of forgets what they're wearing, unless it gets in the way or something hurts. It isn't punishment if it doesn't have certain penalties that constantly remind me of the downside of refusing to act appropriately for my age."
"And this works? For you, I mean?" Audrey's tone was dubious.
Darla sighed and said, "And it works. For me and for any number of other stuck up, immature brats Aunt Jane has taken in over the years. Truth to tell, Audrey, I'm really tired of all this, but I know the lesson will stick with me a lot more effectively than a nagging lecture, or, well, whatever other parents do."
Then a very impish grin lit up the childishly made up face. "Besides, it's a small price to pay for keeping her . . AND me. . .on our toes. Heck, girl, without me, Aunt Jane would go all prim and proper - Lord, she might even become an old maid!"
"OLD MAID?!?!" Jane spluttered before leveling a fulminating glance on her spouse as Diana tried manfully to keep from guffawing in a MOST unladylike manner. "Just wait until I get that little minx alone!"
"That little minx knows you're listening and if you react, dear-heart, she'll have won. Besides, she's trying to distract Audrey, and it seems to be working."
"She is just so sly," Jane grumbled. "Lucky for her I love her."
"Lucky for us that she loves us, too." Diana replied.
"Well, it's almost time for my nap," Darla said.
"Oops," Diana said with a grin as she rose and headed for the door. "That's my cue! Later, darling."
Chapter 14: SETUP!!
Diana entered the room as Audrey supervised Darla's pre-nap toilette. "I have been asked to read the story," she said by way of explanation, when Audrey gave her a quizzical look. "Seems you don't do it very well and little Miss Priss here has decided you need to learn."
"This one, Auntie Diana," Darla ordered, carrying over a large, brightly colored book with a very strange creature holding an even stranger platter of food.
Audrey started to slip out of the room only to be stopped by Darla's call from the oversized trundle bed. "NO! You have to STAY so you can learn how to read stories, too!"
"Jane's orders, dear," Diana said as she tucked Darla in.
Audrey shrugged and returned to her seat on the settee as Diana settled herself into the antique rocker. She opened the book, and in a very oddly pitched and squeaky voice read, "Sam I am!"
"I am NOT going to make up silly voices and make funny sounds when I read you a story!" Audrey growled at the stony-faced girl seated across from her at the second stuffed toy and doll tea party she had ever attended.
"Oh yes you are!" Darla growled right back. "You have to read stories to me and you are going to read them right!"
"Or else what?" Audrey said, standing over the table and putting her face nose to nose with Darla's.
Darla couldn't help herself. Her eyes were drawn to the sharp kink in Audrey's nose, now so close before her, and she just knew they crossed as she looked at it. It embarrassed Audrey - and unfortunately since that problem couldn't be fixed with ladylike manners - it was not supposed to be part of the program. The last thing Audrey needed was to be reminded of things that couldn't be 'fixed' by Jane's program.
The pretend-child was trying to think of some way to apologize, without making Audrey's broken nose even more of an issue, when the taller girl blew past her embarrassment and returned to the issue at hand. "Or else what?" Audrey demanded again, but moving back a few centimeters from the other girl's space. "You'll tell your Aunty Jane?" she asked with sneer in her voice.
"Oh, lighten up!" Darla said, feeling relief she couldn't express as she sat heavily back into her chair. "Of course I won't tell Aunt Jane, but then, I won't have to tell her because she'll find out on her own. But I will staht tahking babytahk again, Auntie Audwey, until you tell da stowies wight or I dwive you cwazy!"
Audrey's mouth fell open in disbelief. *the moment of truth,* Jane told herself, her fisted hands digging her nails into tightly clenched palms.
*Lord,* Darla thought, *but she reminds me of Kenneth when he first got here. All that control and discipline, but where he never really lost his cool nor hurt anyone, this one has. I have got to get her to unwind!*
"I am NOT a child!" Audrey reiterated. "And blast it, neither are you!"
"So pretend one of the dollies is your own daughter and read to her." Darla saw the still mutinous look on the other girl's face and felt her own control begin to slip. "Okay! Fine!" she spat out, throwing her arms into the air. "Read the damned story as if you were giving a dedication speech to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Read War and bloody Peace for all I care. Jane will find out and be it on your own stupid head when she decides to discipline you. YOU'RE the one who made an agreement with her!"
"Nothing in my agreement," Audrey snarled back through clenched teeth, "says anything about this. . . this. . .stupid, senseless indignity!"
"So," a new voice said sternly from the doorway, "This lacks dignity, does it? It is beneath your station?" Jane entered the room, lightning flashing in her dark eyes. "So, you refuse to sacrifice your precious self-image just a small amount in order to help a little girl?"
"She's NOT a little girl!" Audrey shot back, whirling to face Jane, fury etched on every feature.
"In this case, she is," Jane retorted, her face inches from Audrey's. Worried, Darla moved to put herself in grabbing range of the older student in case she lost control of her temper. "Part of her punishment was to have you treat her as such while part of YOUR training - to which you HAVE agreed - was to learn some nurturing skills. Against my better judgment, I relaxed her punishment so that she was allowed to converse in adult language and usages at YOUR request. And yet, you balk at your end of the bargain at every turn! What have you to say for yourself, Miss Rockwell?"
The tension between the two grew, and Darla grew more anxious until, just before she would have physically separated the pair, Audrey retreated. "Well?" Jane demanded again, her tone belying the relief she herself was feeling.
"It is stupid and needlessly humiliating," she said, her eyes down.
"Very well, if your precious self image and dignity are so important to you," Jane hissed, her voice becoming soft and dark, "then I shall see that you get a belly-full of it, girl. You will remain here with Darla until Marie or I summon you to your room." With that, Jane spun on her heel and swept out of the room."
"Oh, Audrey, I'm so sorry."
"If I'd have known Jane was going to go into her 'quiet' voice, I wouldn't have pushed so hard on reading the book correctly, at least not right away."
"Yeah. When she gets like that, she is really, truly pissed. Look, you can do what you think is best, but I'm telling you this for your own good. You're treading on really thin ice right now. Whatever punishment she has in mind, I suggest you just nod and accept it. It will be 'fair' in terms of whatever point she's trying to make, and if you argue any further, you'll probably end up on the next train out of here. I don't know exactly why you've been sent here, but for most of Jane's students, the alternative is a lot worse than any of her punishments."
Darla sighed and plucked at the hem of her own petticoat, "Even if it doesn't always seem like that at the time."
"It's the principle of the thing," Audrey replied, wishing she felt as certain of that as she might have ten minutes earlier.
"Right," Darla said with a smirk before becoming serious again. "Just consider your alternatives carefully is all I'm suggesting."
Audrey considered that for a few moments before sighing gustily. If Jane Thompson gave up on her that meant that she could write off her still minimal chance of competing in the men's open pentathlon. "Oh, all right."
Chapter 15: SNAP Goes the Trap
"You look. . . look. . .ummm. . very nice," Darla managed to get out, two hours later, when a rather chastened Audrey carefully made her way back into the nursery.
She moved like an automaton - her body incredibly stiff and each step short and carefully placed before any weight was applied to that foot. *Lord, but where in the world did Aunt Jane come up with THAT relic from an Edith White soiree-from-hell?*
Just then, Audrey missed her step and would have fallen had it not been for Darla's reflexes. "Here," she offered to the taller girl, "let me help you to the settee."
"No!" Was the almost panicked reply. "Ms. Thompson says that I must not wrinkle the outfit before tea or that will be a demerit. Ten demerits and my sentence increases by a WHOLE day!"
Darla heard the familiar 'fear-of-Jane' in her 'big-little sister's' voice, and knew that a hurdle had been crossed. For whatever reason, Audrey now accepted, at least in part, Jane's authority over her. "Well, then stand still and let me get a look at you!"
The outfit was stunning and actually looked good on her, Darla mused. *So few modern women looked good in period-Victorian dress, but then, very few modern women have Jane's resources in dresses, wigs and, if I am not very mistaken, corsets and bustles.*
From the perky little yellow box hat, complete with feather and flirty veil, to the tips of her high heeled, shoe-hook-booted toes, Audrey was the image of the Victorian debutante going out for tea. The sunshine-yellow gown was high-necked and long sleeved, with white lace accenting the throat, wrists and hem. It fit well, but not perfectly as it was a bit loose about the waist, and a bit tight about the bosom. Two rows of at least thirty buttons each, curled around the outside of the bodice from the neckline to the waist seam. White shoes and white gloves completed the ensemble. Her hair, or rather, her wig, had been done in black ringlets and sausage curls while her face had been done up in the pastels typically used by debutantes of that period.
The look really suited her, Darla thought, and then made the mistake of saying so.
"If I could move or breathe, I would kill you for that," Audrey rasped out. "But this damned corset is asphyxiating me and I don't dare move in these killer heels."
"Well, don't expect sympathy from me. I tried to warn you."
"No one likes being told 'I told you so!'"
Darla giggled. "But I did tell you so. So, how long are you in for, cell mate?"
"Three days, except it won't be that long. I am going break my neck first, I am sure."
"Oh pooh. Quit whining. When I was put in that rig, *I* had to carry a reticule AND a parasol."
"In my HANDS?!? I WILL break my fool neck. I can barely keep my balance in this monstrosity of a dress with my hands free." The injudicious exclamation had the unfortunate effect of expelling too much of her precious oxygen supply and Audrey began to feel faint. Again, Darla caught her and this time did help her to sit down, albeit protecting the long skirts from wrinkling.
"Here, stand back up - SLOWLY - and I will loosen those stays for you. I don't think Aunt Jane meant for you to be that short of breath. I can't do much, because the dress is so tightly fitted, but there is some room around your middle which will ease the stress on your diaphragm."
"So, what's next?" Darla asked as she saw to her task.
"We are invited to tea in the main parlor in . . " and Audrey looked up at the large children's clock on the wall, "fifteen minutes. The remainder of my sentence will be pronounced there."
"Well, stand still. If I mess this up we'll be late and then there will really be hell to pay."
"So," Jane pronounced as she accepted a cup of tea from Darla, "for the next three days, you will live the life of the very dignified Victorian woman. That means you will present yourself at breakfast in a morning gown, change into a receiving gown for the morning, change into a traveling gown suitable for afternoon calls after lunch and into an evening gown for dinner." "Four changes?" Audrey actually squeaked and blushed hotly because of it. "Every day? And how will I get my work out in if I have to dress so formally for breakfast?"
"I am afraid," Jane said sternly, "that Victorian ladies do not take part in such . . .undignified undertakings as physical exercise, nor would they be allowed to be unchaperoned with a young man. No, I am afraid that, for the duration of your punishment, that your early morning workouts are forfeit. The price of dignity, I am afraid. I do, however, intend that you get some appropriate exercise."
"Oh?" Hope shown in Audrey's eyes.
"Yes. I have decided that you will participate in the Harvest Parade with a riding group with which I am affiliated. They ride in Victorian costume, and the women ride side-saddle."
"But. . but. . I don't know how to ride side saddle."
"Oh, but you will, my dear," Jane said, her smile broadening. "I myself shall undertake your instruction each afternoon after tea and before the evening meal. It will mean another gown change, but that cannot be helped."
"Another gown change?" Audrey was beginning to feel like a parrot, but could not seem to keep herself from repeating Jane's little jabs.
"Of course. You cannot ride in formal dress - you must have a riding habit so that your lovely limbs don't show as you wrap your right leg about the pommel - that would be undignified. And you must have riding boots, since those lovely heels are unsuited for riding. Why, you might break an ankle dismounting."
"When. . . when do we start?" Asked a thoroughly rattled Audrey.
"Oh, tomorrow will be soon enough," Jane said airily. "Oh, and do observe Darla closely as she serves the tea. You'll be expected to act as hostess tomorrow, Miss. Oh, dear, look at your lovely gloves - you spilled tea on one of the fingers." Jane clucked sadly. "Two demerits already, and you are not even the one serving the tea."
"I nearly messed up badly earlier," Darla told the two women seated in Jane's study. Marie was acting as Lady's Maid for Audrey and helping the penitent change for the evening meal. "I obviously stared at her nose and she caught me at it." "How did she react?" Diana asked. "I was working out down at the gym and missed it."
"She didn't, at least not overtly, but I could see the embarrassment in her eyes, and there was a momentary though audible break in her tirade. Then she backed off before continuing her rant."
"I caught the break, but couldn't see any reason for it," Jane put in."
"It was the nose," Darla reiterated. "Definitely."
"It does seem to shape her self image," Diana mused. "Marie says she adamantly refuses to let her try any of her stage makeup tricks on it. Almost as if it hurts for anyone to touch it."
"I think it does," Darla said. "She almost never looks you in the face, eye-to-eye, unless you practically force her or unless she has lost her temper. You're sure we can't pressure her into getting a cosmetic surgeon to have a go at fixing it for her, Momma-Jane?"
"Something that life changing and permanent has to be her choice, darling, just like choosing to accept what I am trying to help her learn here."
"Don't give her any choice!" Darla rebutted. "She obeys your edicts or else - just like any of your other students!"
"No, this is different, dear. I don't normally give her or any student much choice so long as the student is here, under my roof, and at least semi-willingly, under my control. However, you know as well as I do that the final choice is always theirs once they leave me - accept or reject what they've learned here and live their lives as they choose. I will not impose a permanent, nonconsensual change upon a student no matter how much I think it will help her."
"She needs it," Darla said again.
"Then we will need to find a way to help her decide that, dear."
Chapter 16: A Victorian Lady in Lady Jane's Court
Audrey looked at her still half-full plate of eggs, potatoes, fruit and toast and barely restrained a sigh of disgust. *Thanks to this corset, I can't eat another bloody bite and I even took small portions knowing it was there!"
Darla, who was dressed in more normal clothing (at least, what passed for normal in Jane Thompson's School) caught the unhappy look and shot a quick glance at Aunt Jane. *She saw it, too,* Darla thought. *Well, at least Audrey has kept her mouth shut and done as she was told. Guess that Olympic dream of hers is as important to her as staying out of prison was to me.*
Jane daintily dabbed at her mouth and turned her stare directly upon wayward student. "That is a bit too much to leave for Miss Manners, Audrey," she said.
Confused, the young woman looked up to meet her tormentor's eyes. "I. . .I beg your pardon, ma'am?" she asked.
"In Victorian times, it was considered good manners for one to leave a bit on the plate after each course of a meal, it being thought to be crude to clean one's plate," Jane said in her best schoolmistress voice. "Children were taught from an early age to 'leave a bite for Miss Manners'. However, I believe your eyes were too big for your belly this morning."
An emotion - probably anger, Jane thought - flashed in the girl's dark eyes, but only for a moment. "My belly is somewhat smaller today than I am used to, ma'am," Audrey replied carefully. "I did try to account for that in serving myself, but evidently not enough."
"A lesson for you, then," Jane said, inwardly pleased at both the show of emotion and at the quick control of it. "Very well. I think, Darla, that you should take Miss Rockwell on a bracing walk about the grounds. Then, about ten, Marie shall serve Morning Consomm”š in the garden before it is time for Audrey to change for her appointment with Mr. Webster and me in the library."
"Consomm”š?" Audrey asked, confused. She'd never heard of that custom before.
"Yes," Jane said. "It is like afternoon tea, but it is served in the morning. Like the young women of Victorian times, you are unable to consume sufficient bulk to get the calories and other nutrients you need to be healthy from only three meals a day. Corsettry does that to a woman. In their case, they often became weak and unhealthy. You will not. That is not part of our bargain. I will see that you are served several extra meals a day so that you can take in the nutrition your athletic body requires. Besides the three regular meals, you will have consomm”š, tea and a bed time snack."
"I see," was the surprised response.
"You will find, I hope, Audrey, that I keep my bargains, particularly with those who also show the good faith to keep up their ends, too. Now, run along. Marie has a pelisse and a parasol for you. Stay to the pathways on your walk. Grass strains on the hem would ruin that lovely pink morning gown."
Darla hung back as Audrey made her cautious way out of the room. "It is going to be a very slow walk," she observed.
"All the more reason for her next lesson with our good friend Webster," Jane said equably as she stirred her second cup of coffee.
"Should I go do the Scarlet O'Hara thing, too, Aunt Jane? So that I can show her how to handle herself?"
Jane's shake of her head was emphatic. "No. In fact, I want you to do just the opposite. Dress in attractive, modern clothing. Things that a girl your age would find comfortable and even fun. I want her to WANT to emulate your mode of dress, to begin to see it as desirable."
"Ooooooo, sneaky, Momma-Jane. And I suppose that I will be disciplined at the end of this for being too outr”š again?"
"No. That isn't the point, so don't go so far that she will wonder why you aren't being punished."
"Got you," Darla started to leave the dining room and then stopped. "That corset may become a problem. If it is too tight, her abdominal muscles will weaken, and then you will be in default on your part of the deal."
"Diana thought of that. We've only taken a bare three inches off her waist this morning. Yesterday was to get her attention, but the night corset was loose enough that she didn't notice the difference in how tightly we laced her today. Besides, while I suspect I will be able to keep her *close* to the critical ten demerits, provided she plays fairly, I won't give her that last demerit. She'll only be in the corset two more days."
"Looks good on her," Darryl's voice observed. "Looks VERY good!" "Rogue!" Jane laughed. "Now, hurry up and go make yourself pretty for your walk in the gardens!"
"You look very nice today," Darla observed as the pair made their way over the hill towards the stable.
"Hah! YOU look nice. I look like an uncoordinated idiot," Audrey replied. "These boots are almost as bad as the corset. I can't flex my ankle in them so I can't stride."
"You're not doing very well with the parasol either. Here, let me show you how to do it," Darla offered as she snatched the very long handled, frilled and flounced confection from her walking partner. "You rest it on your shoulder so that you can hold your hands up like this," she demonstrated with a coy placement of her hands near her chin, "and then you stroll. Ladies do not stride. Like this."
Darla had nearly had the lead role in a local production of Mary Poppins once. Nearly, that is, until a 'very unfortunate ankle injury' had forced her understudy, and one of Jane's skirted boys, to take the role. In any case, she had learned to flirt with a parasol rather well, if she did say so herself.
The reaction she got from her audience, however, was not at all what she expected. Audrey was laughing as loud as her corseted diaphragm would permit. "Oh lord, but you look so funny. Now, show me what I am REALLY supposed to do with that thing."
*NOW what the hell do I do???* was all Darla could think.
Jane watched in silent amusement as the two girls made their way toward the rose garden gate. They were laughing together, actually laughing and sharing whatever joke it was that had set them off. "What on earth. . . ?"
Then, Darla stopped, corrected something about the way Audrey was holding the parasol and where she had her hands, and then stepped back. With a flourish, the taller girl began slowly pin-wheeling the parasol behind her head and stepped out into a bit of relatively complex, if slightly unbalanced footwork. Darla instantly moved to steady Audrey and instantly, they broke out into another gale of laughter.
It took a moment, but then Jane realized what Audrey had been doing. "Why, that little minx has been teaching her the choreography from the sidewalk painting scene of that Mary Poppins production the children's theater put on two years ago."
"What did you say?" Diana asked as she walked into the study.
"Look at that," Jane ordered indicating the scene below them.
Diana watched silently for several moments and then smiled. "Well, that bit of bonding won't hurt our plans. Companionship, according to the research, is much more important to girls than to guys. And honest laughter cures many an ill. I think this will work to our advantage."
Two hours later, a foot-sore and weary Audrey was looking out the window of her bedroom at Jane's small swimming pool. She had just finished her latest one-hour session with "Mr. Webster." The tall girl decided she'd have to find some suitable way to repay Darla for not warning her about that before she'd teased her into trying those dance steps in the garden. Walking around Jane Thompson's parlor with that damned dictionary on her head was NOT on the Victoria-ized teen's list of fun things to do.
At that particular minute, Audrey's ankles, calves, knees, and most particularly her neck and shoulders, regretted their acquaintance with that thrice accursed book. She'd lost count of the number of laps she had been ordered to make up and down Ms. Thompson's library, but she knew precisely how many times the thing had fallen off her head. Eighteen times at one demerit for every three falls. With her little faux pas of using the wrong spoon for her grapefruit at breakfast, that left her with only two to play with before she was looking at another day in this hellish costumed time warp!
She watched, envious, as Darla pulled herself up out of the pool after a fairly vigorous fifty or so laps of the small pool. She was wearing a "USA"-emblazoned women's Speedo swimming suit that fit her slender frame like a second skin. *The color suits her, too,* Audrey thought, *and where the heck did THAT thought come from?* She shook her head at that, but then looked again. *Except for that silly bathing cap which looks like a relic from those black and white shows on Nickelodeon, it does look attractive. And she probably needs the cap with that long hair of hers. Wonder if Jane would let me go swimming?* She thought about that for another moment and then sighed. *Best not to ask until I have served my sentence. She might decide to let me swim, but only in a Victorian bathing costume. Those things covered a girl from head to toe and included more skirts than a dress shop. Probably get weighed down and sink to the bottom of the pool like a stone. No, safer to wait, I think, although I do wonder. . . . maybe Darla has one of those suits that would fit me?*
Later that night, Darla and Audrey were in the nursery, nibbling on the promised bedtime snack. "You were really great on Garters today," Darla enthused. "And you say you never rode side saddle before this?"
Audrey snorted, grateful that she was able to breathe more easily in the lightly stayed sleeping corset. "Are you sure I rode all that well? I only fell off five times."
"But only once in the last half hour," Darla reminded her. "And Aunt Jane said we could go out on a trail ride tomorrow if you do as well, and TRUST me on this. Aunt Jane would NEVER trust her beloved Garters to someone she did not believe would take proper care of the old girl. Not without her there to watch, anyway."
A flush of pleasure at the implied compliment warmed the taller girl. "She really is a very patient horse."
"She has to be, what with all the ham-fisted students Jane drills in the basic elements of dressage," Darla shrugged. "Wait till you see the trails around here from horseback. We're really close to a small lake, well, they call it a pond around here - Port Judith Pond, and not all that far from Narragansett Bay, too. Some of the views are just breathtaking."
"It would be nice to get away from. . .I mean, out of here for a while. . . "
"Away from Aunt Jane?" Darla asked, her smile growing wider. "I understand completely. So does she, actually. That is why she made the offer, provided you don't have too many demerits."
Audrey made an exaggerated swipe of her brow and sighed lustily. "Don't remind me. I was sweating bullets the whole afternoon after that ninth demerit for not remembering how she takes her tea."
"But you won't ever forget a dollop of honey and the juice from one sixth of a lemon again, will you?"
"Not in this lifetime, Darla," Audrey said, but she, too, was smiling.
"Bedtime, ladies," Jane called from the door. "We have a great deal to accomplish tomorrow, and Audrey will need her rest if she is to be sufficiently alert tomorrow afternoon to ride Garters on your little adventure."
The two girls bid Jane good night, and slipped off to their respective rooms. Surprisingly, to Audrey at least, both were asleep mere moments after their heads hit the pillows.
Chapter 17: Falling for Darla
It was a glorious fall afternoon as the two young women guided their mounts down the sun dappled path. Trees, just starting to show a hint of autumn color stood on both sides of the trail, throwing interesting shadows and playing games with the light of the lowering sun.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Darla gushed astride the big thoroughbred. "I do miss this whenever I have to be away for any reason."
Audrey, riding Garters side saddle, was also enjoying the day, but the fancy forest green velvet Victorian riding habit Jane had chosen for her to wear on this outing was heavy . . .too heavy for the mid-afternoon heat of an Indian Summer day. *At least the corset isn't cutting me in two,* she thought, and then let herself smile at Darla's enthusiasms. "It is very pretty," she agreed. "It's too bad we have to cut our ride short in time for me to change for the next installment of those art lessons your Aunt has set up for us."
"I know what you mean," Darla grimaced in heartfelt agreement. "I swear, if I have to draw one more bloody apple, I am going to steal it, feed it to Teddi and do a still life of what comes out the other end so realistic it will draw flies!"
Audrey could only stare at the smaller girl, and then threw her head back and howled with laughter. "How. . how . .however would you explain THAT to your aunt?"
Darla grinned. "Oh, I don't know. Think she'd believe me if I told her it was abstract art?"
"No way! And I am sure I DON'T want to know what she'd come up with as correction for THAT prank." Audrey was still chuckling over the images that danced in her head as they rounded a bend. "Oh my goodness," she breathed as the panoramic vista of the large lake came into view.
"Great, isn't it?" Darla asked, as she trotted Teddi up beside Audrey. She had purposely let her friend take the lead so that she would be surprised by the view.
Audrey could only nod as they cantered down to the water's edge. "It is lovely."
Just then, Teddi knickered and tossed her head. "She wants to run," Darla said. "I always give her a gallop when we come down here, but Jane told you to keep yourself to a canter."
Audrey heard the regret in her companion's voice and saw the excitement in her mount's attitude. "She told me to take it easy because I don't know how to gallop in a side saddle. I assume you know how to gallop astride?" she asked with a touch of challenge her voice.
"Well, yes, but. . "
"Go ahead. Enjoy your run. Garters and I will take advantage of this lovely open patch of beach and practice my lead changes. This old dear is much more forgiving than your aunt," Audrey added, still smarting from the two demerits she'd earned, her sixth and seventh of the day, for sloppy reining during her riding lesson with Jane Thompson.
"You're sure?" Darla was torn between wanting the gallop as badly as Teddi wanted it, and not rubbing in the fact that Audrey couldn't enjoy the adventure.
"Shoo! Scoot! Gidyap!" Audrey said, a smile on her face. "I will enjoy watching the two of you!"
"OKAY!" Darla squealed happily.
And it was almost the truth, Audrey thought as she watched horse and rider arrow down the beach. *She is as good as her aunt indicated,* she thought as Darla brought Teddi around and began thundering back up the beach.
Then, it happened - so quickly, Audrey was never really certain of the cause, only of the effect. One instant, the pair was in smooth unison, moving effortlessly over the rocky beach, and the next the horse was skidding to a stop, and Darla was flying through the air.
Audrey was already moving toward them when Darla hit the ground, her helmeted head seeming to bounce as the rest of her landed flat on the hard surface. Audrey was off her horse and running toward her friend, nearly tripping on the absurdly long skirts designed not for moving afoot, but for gracefully draping over a horse.
Darla was unconscious on her back when Audrey fell to her knees beside the fallen girl. A quick check with her cheek near her friend's lips told her that Darla was breathing. What to do next was the question. Audrey knew it wasn't safe to move her friend. There might have been a back injury. A quick check for immediate help on the scene was fruitless. She'd have to go for help.
Audrey's first thought was to use Teddi since the thoroughbred was fitted out with standard English tack and not that damned sidesaddle, but the horse was limping. *Probably why she balked and threw Darla,* Audrey thought. *I hope it is only a sprain.* Unfortunately, she did not have time to worry about that now. The horse did not seem to be in agony, so she tethered her to a nearby bush and went over to Garters.
It was a very good thing the saddle-bred was so forgiving, Audrey thought as she urged the horse back up the trail. Any other mount would have shied and probably thrown her as she had awkwardly scrambled back into the sidesaddle. Fear for her friend had Audrey pushing the big horse first into a trot and finally into a full gallop. She gripped the huge saddle pommel with her leg, doing her best to move with the horse's gait so that she was not unbalanced.
Garters stride ate up the distance quickly and soon Audrey had the big mansion in view. She cut across the surrounding meadows, trying to reach help as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, she found the gate at the end of the meadow shut and locked. She thought about it for all of about five seconds. She couldn't climb the fence. . .not in this outfit, and stripping out of the skirt would take time - all those cursed buttons and that assumed she could reach enough of them to get the job done. She had only one choice. The fence was not all that tall - four feet or so, and she jumped taller ones in practice, didn't she? Grimly, she wheeled Garters and moved back far enough to give the mare a running start. With a whisper of a prayer, Audrey dug her heels into Garters' ribs and headed for the fence.
From her bedroom, a flash of movement in the meadow caught Jane's eye. She watched in shock and then horror as Audrey urged Garters to jump the meadow fence.
It would have worked, Jane thought as she flew down the stairs yelling for her husband (did she call for Diana or did she call for Art?) and Marie. If Garters had been used to jumping or if Audrey had been astride, the pair would have easily cleared the fence. But side-saddled, Audrey lacked the control of the animal she would have had astride and Garters had always hated jumping.
Jane had only been able to watch as Garters had refused at the last instant and launched her velvet-garbed rider into the hard wooden fence post.
Jane had reached the reeling girl just seconds before Diana. Audrey had evidently fallen over the fence and into the yard for she'd been struggling on toward the house when Jane had raced up to her. Blood was streaming from both nostrils and her broken nose seemed squashed. "What the hell are you DOING?!?" Jane had screamed when her breath had allowed.
The yell broke through Audrey's barely conscious mind. "Jane. . " she breathed as she felt the other woman support her. "Darla. . . fell. . .hurt. . .won't wake up. . . help."
"Where!?!" Jane begged, fear clutching at her heart. "Where is she, Audrey?"
"Lake. . . by beach." And that was all she could get out before the darkness finally claimed her.
Diana pulled out the cell phone she'd grabbed before heading out the door. "I'll call the EMT's and go get the four-wheeler, Jane," She said as she started moving back toward the house.
Just then Marie arrived. She saw in a glance the two loyalties tearing at her friend. "How is she?" Marie asked, kneeling beside Audrey.
"Breathing but out cold. I think we need to keep her upright so she can breathe through her mouth. Diana's going to see to Darla." At Marie's look, Jane explained about Darla.
Marie nodded. "Look, she seems okay and there is nothing you can do here that I cannot. Diana called the ambulances. If you run, you can catch Diana at the main gate. Go! You need to be with Darla. Vite! Vite! I will take care of this one."
The EMT's arrived at the lake a few minutes after Jane and Diana. They found the girl on her knees, tending her horse.
"Oh, my head." she complained as the paramedic checked her vitals. "What happened?"
Jane explained what little she knew as the EMT's finished up their on-scene evaluation.
"I think you should see your family physician, ma'am, but the way she's been moving," the older of the two paramedics said to Jane. "There doesn't seem to be anything more than a bump on her head and a mild concussion. That riding helmet may have saved her life."
"Ma'am?" the younger paramedic cut in. "We just got word that our other unit just picked up your other girl. They're en route to the Emergency Room. She's still unconscious and bleeding from the nose. My friend's not a doctor, but he's pretty good and he thinks she needs surgery. If you want, we can give you a ride to the hospital with us."
"Go with them, Jane," Diana ordered. "Darla and I will get Teddi to the stable, call the vet and then join you at the hospital."
Her hands shaking, Jane hugged her spouse fiercely, unmindful of the strange looks the younger paramedic was giving them, and then scrambled into the back of the ambulance.
They found Jane sitting in the waiting room outside of general surgery. It had taken longer than Diana had liked to get the veterinarian to come and check out Teddi and Garters. Both horses were all right, although riding activities would have to be curtailed for a couple of weeks. Teddi had a large insect sting on her right foreleg which was the likely cause of her sudden stop while Garters had bruised herself when she'd run into the fence trying to refuse the jump. The vet had called in a college student to stay with the horses so that Darla and Diana could join Jane at the hospital with Audrey.
*At least I will have good news for her on that account. Hope she has good news for me.*
Jane saw them as they rounded the corner into the small, antiseptic-perfumed waiting room, and shot out of her 1950's styled plastic armchair to meet them. "Oh, Art," she sobbed. "It's all my fault!"
"Diana, sweetheart," her spouse corrected softly as she pulling Jane into a tight embrace before continuing is sterner tones. "That's crap and you are a smart enough woman to know that without me having to say it!"
"But I'm the one who made her use that damned side saddle. She would have made the jump, even mounted on Garters, if I hadn't been trying to play mind games with her that way."
"Bullshit!" The unusually and unexpectedly crude word broke through Jane's misery and Diana smiled as her spouse's back went ramrod straight.
"I beg your pardon?" The icy tones were pure Victorian Governess at her most offended. Jane did NOT like being spoken to in such a fashion.
"That's better. The girl is hurt because she took a calculated risk. She was trying to get help for Darla. You don't know if she would have made it over that fence or not. All right, you had already determined she was a good enough rider, but because she was not yet completely comfortable with the sidesaddle, you warned her not to gallop. It is the situation that is at fault, if anything can be said to be, but it is most definitely NOT your fault. Got that?"
The fury drained out of Jane almost as quickly as it had flashed and she dropped her forehead into the crook of Diana's neck. "My head knows," she finally answered softly. "My heart and my conscience will take a bit of convincing yet."
Diana chuckled and after hugging her wife one last time, stepped aside to let Darla get at her mother. "How is she?" the young woman asked when at last they broke their embrace.
"Her nose is broken again. . . rather badly this time. They've got one surgeon in there working on clearing her breathing passages and stopping the bleeding and another one who is looking at reconstruction possibilities," and then Jane seemed to break again, "Oh, god, Diana, the EMT's said she bled the whole way to the hospital."
"What did the doctor say?" Diana asked firmly.
"That she'll be all right. . . at least physically. He wasn't sure about her looks, though."
Just then, a young woman in surgical greens approached them. "Mrs. Thompson-Philips?" She asked in a firm, yet oddly husky voice. Jane nodded. "I am Doctor Bannerman. I am a reconstructive surgeon and was called in on Miss Rockwell's case."
"How is she?" Jane asked.
"The bleeding is stopped and the trauma to her breathing passages has been repaired. There shouldn't be any lasting problems from that front. However, her nose has been . . .well, rather badly damaged from a cosmetic point of view. I am afraid if we do not take steps right now, she may well be facially scarred for the rest of her life. We need to shape the remaining tissue now. . provide it some structure to replace the cartilage that has been all but lost so that she can have a normal looking face. I think if we don't go in and do something now, her skin will pull back and any future repairs will involve stretching and/or grafts that will leave deep facial lines as a minimum, and perhaps even scars."
"What can you do now, Doctor," Diana said stepping forward to support Jane, "That you cannot do later?"
"Her own facial skin is still there and still pliable. Fortunately, cartilage is particularly easy to replace with plastics, much more so than bone or tendons and ligaments. We build and shape a replacement for what the nose and throat specialist had to remove and then will graft it on to her nasal opening and reattach her skin to the new structure."
"Are there any dangers with the procedure," Diana asked.
"Not really - it is a fairly common reconstructive technique, particularly for injuries such as Miss Rockwell has sustained. Oh, it is possible that it might not work in her specific case for some unanticipated reason, but I think that is unlikely. Ms Thompson-Philips, I am very good at what I do. I think we have an excellent chance of minimal or no visible scarring if we go now."
"What do you need from us," Diana asked, still supporting Jane both physically and emotionally.
"Miss Rockwell is still a minor and Ms. Thompson-Philips is listed as her guardian of record.
Jane pushed away from Diana, standing on her own. *Lord, but I wish I understood Audrey's antipathy towards such a repair. Darla thought it might be a fear that such repairs might accidentally impair her breathing in favor of appearance and thus hurt her chances as a pentathlete. Well, if that is the problem, it is no longer an issue. Some type of repair must be done.*
"Ms. Thompson-Philips," the doctor said in a firmer tone of voice, trying to get Jane's attention. "You are the child's legal guardian. You have to give the official consent before I can start."
"I know that!" Jane snapped and then immediately regretted letting her nerves and anxiety get the better of her. "Pardon me. I apologize for that outburst. Yes," Jane said, her eyes closed against the sharp pain at the center of her forehead. "I will authorize the surgery."
"All right, I need a picture of her before the accident so that I can shape her nose as close to the original as possible."
"She. . .I mean . . Her nose was already broken when she came to us. I don't have any picture of what she looked like with an unbroken nose."
"Wonderful. Well, I guess that explains the extent of the trauma the nose and throat specialist found. The nose was already in bad shape when she smashed it this time." the surgeon mused. "So I guess I will have to wing it a bit. Okay, Ma'am, with no previous shape to recreate, do you want me to use my best judgment, or do you have some specific shape you think she'd prefer? I need to get started right now so we won't be able to wait until she is conscious and ask her."
Darla suddenly remembered something and reached into her purse. *Odd that I kept this, and odder still that I have it in my purse. Oh well.* "Momma-Jane? How about this? Can you work with something like this, Dr. Bannerman?"
Jane looked and was surprised to see the morphed picture of Chastity Rockwell with Audrey Hepburn's nose. The other three women crowded around the picture. "That would work nicely," Dr. Bannerman said. "I thought you said her nose was already broken?" Darla quickly explained what she'd done in hopes of convincing the girl to eventually get her nose fixed. The doctor turned to Jane. "That seems like a good option to me, but it is your call, Ms. Thompson-Philips."
Once again Jane wished she knew what was Audrey's reason for avoiding having her nose fixed, but it no longer really mattered, did it? At least Darla's solution was attractive. Hopefully, Dr. Bannerman was as good as she thought she was. *I will just have to deal with Audrey's reaction later.* "Proceed, doctor."
"Excellent. The nurse at the main desk will have the papers you need to sign." She took the picture from Darla. "I have to go make some preparations. You may want to go home and get cleaned up," she added in a kinder voice. "This is going to take several hours to do correctly."
"But I don't WANT to go home," Jane fumed for what Diana was certain was the hundredth time since they'd left the hospital. "I should BE there for her!"
"And so you will be," Diana gritted out. "AFTER you've cleaned up so you won't scare the hell out of the poor kid and AFTER you've gotten some hot food in your belly so you don't become any crabbier than you already are and AFTER you've gotten an hour or two of downtime."
"I won't sleep," Jane promised, crossing her arms beneath her bosom and pouting worse than the most outraged student she'd ever instructed. Diana did not think Jane would appreciate the observation and with the wisdom of most loving husbands, kept the thought to herself. Some things never changed - not even for a husband who also wore the skirts in the family.
"How could you DO that to me?" Jane demanded of Diana as the big four-wheeler turned onto the main road almost four hours later. "It is bad enough you put me to sleep with that sneaky. . ." Jane coughed and ignored the heat that flared in her cheeks.
"Massage?" Diana interrupted, a wicked smile on her face. "Well *I* don't feel the least bit guilty for that! I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing you that way."
"That is not the point," Jane replied primly. "You took advantage of my baser nature and the fact that I always doze after. . .ummm"
"Darlin', you did more than doze. And both our little afternoon delight and that nap did you a world of good, so quit whining."
"I should have BEEN there, Diana!"
"Why? So you could fidget and worry? First, Darla was there with orders to call me if anything came up or if they took Audrey to recovery. ."
"Darla knew what you planned to do?!?"
"Specifically that I had wicked designs on seducing you and having my wicked way with your gorgeous self? Of course I didn't tell her, but I am sure she figured it out."
"Great. Just wonderful." Exasperated, Jane blew a wayward lock out of her eyes and sat back in the car seat. "Now my child knows that I am a slave to my physical appetites."
"Like she didn't know already and isn't jealous as hell of my great good luck?" It took all Jane's considerable willpower not to smile at that, but somehow she managed. She'd had a great deal of practice in her years of dealing with recalcitrant adolescents.
"So, if I might continue?" Diana asked rhetorically. "Second, you are, as I said, much better for the release of tension and the rest, so you will not frighten Audrey when she comes out of the anesthesia as you well might have done had I not taken such callous advantage of your sensual nature. Now, you can REALLY be there for her when she'll REALLY need you."
"Need me?" That question caused Jane's feelings of guilt over Audrey's injuries to flare anew. "She tolerates me, Diana. I don't think she sees any real need for me beyond complying with her Mother's ultimatum."
"She's going to need a lot of encouragement. That nose was something she was using as a shield for some reason, and now, that shield is gone. Or it will be gone soon assuming that little blond doctor's skills are as good as her confidence would tend to indicate. Audrey's going to need to be motivated to face the world without that crutch and motivation comes in many forms. From you, she'll need that stern, no-nonsense, just-do-it kind of push that you are so good at."
"After this mess, who's to say she will accept that from me?"
"She's an athlete, Janie - a jock. She is used to having a coach tell her what she is to do, tell her what she is doing right and tell her what she isn't. More importantly, she is used to that coach telling her how to fix what she is doing wrong. You are ideally suited to fill that role because she was sent here to learn from you."
"Where's my whistle and striped shirt?" Jane said with just a bit of a catch in her voice as she tried to make a joke.
"Wrong outfit, dear. Refereeing is still my job, I think. You have to be the one who won't accept less than her best effort - the one person who won't let her give up until she realizes *she* doesn't want to let herself give up." "Well, Prudence is coming to see her, and it is just possible that all of this may come to nothing anyway. Pru may decide to give up on the project all together and take the girl home with her.
"Not much chance of that, I think," Diana replied. "Rough and tumble girl like Audrey? This won't be the first time she's come a cropper physically, but I am glad that your friend is coming. Odd about that, though. . ."
"What do you mean?"
"Doesn't sound like a mother who would deny her little girl dolls and stuffed toys, does it? To just drop everything and catch the next plane?"
"Not really, but we've only Audrey's word for that. If it were Darla, I would want to see her securely wrapped in cotton wool and where I could see for myself that she was getting proper care. And even though I still don't know precisely what to do with her, I would like to keep Audrey with us so that I can see to her, too."
"Another baby chick, Mother Hen?" Diana asked with a gentle and loving smile. "You've taken her into that big soft heart you try so hard to keep hidden just like you always do with your boys. Audrey was already one of yours before Old Tom heard her new name for the first time."
Jane ignored that aspersion on her 'tough-lady' reputation, especially because it was true. "In any case, she will need something to focus on - something to distract her from whatever it is she feared enough to put up those shields. So far, that has been working out and exercising."
Diana Philips was too good a psychologist and knew her wife too well not to notice the deliberate change of subject and recognize it for what it was - pure 'I'll worry about it tomorrow' evasion - but she only smiled more broadly and let it pass. For the moment, in any case. "As to her resumption of training, we will need to talk to the docs about a schedule for that," Diana said, "Not only has she suffered a moderately severe concussion, but we don't know how delicate those repairs inside her nasal passages are. Still, I can't see why she wouldn't be able to practice her fencing. The mask fencers wear would protect her from both the epee and from any inadvertent bumps. And we treat the pool's water pretty religiously so once the post-surgical swelling in her airways goes down, I am fairly certain that the doctors will let her go swimming."
"That leaves running, shooting and horseback riding," Jane observed.
"Gentle jogging is more like it," Diana said thoughtfully, "but I don't think she's going to be jumping anything very soon - either on her own legs or on a horse. Too jarring."
"True, but she does need to get back up as soon as possible, even if only for a gentle walk. But I do think we will dispense with the sidesaddle from now on. Perhaps astride, she won't have to deal with any post-fall fears."
"We'll see, but right now I think you need to get her back up on that side saddle, as much for you as for her," Diana said firmly. "First, you don't know that she WILL be afraid. Knowing the hardheaded Rocky as I have come to know her, I think that extremely unlikely. She might be a bit anxious, but fear would offend her to the point she'll probably insist on climbing back aboard herself. Besides, that fall was nothing more than bad judgment in a time of crisis. Again, remember that she's a jock. Coach Jane told her she'd be riding that horse sidesaddle for a show. If she is capable of riding, she will expect her coach to tell her to perform."
As she so often had to do, Jane found herself forced to concede that Diana was, once again, probably in the right of it. But that did not mean she had to admit to it just yet.
Chapter 18: Painful Recuperation
Dr. Bannerman greeted Jane and Diana when they arrived. She was still in her greens, and there was smile on her face. "Just in time. Glad to see some folks have the sense to do what their doctor tells them."
"How is Audrey?" Jane asked.
"Audrey? I thought her name was Chastity?"
"She prefers Audrey," Darla put in.
"Oh. Well, I can see why. Anyway, she's fine. Everything seems connected up right and tight. She'll sound funny for a while - like she has a bad headcold - at least until the swelling in her nasal passages goes down. And she'll look like a refugee from a barfight until the bruising around her eyes goes away. Figure that will take a couple of weeks, but I anticipate no real problems. I think she's going to be lovely with that nose, too." The doctor turned to Darla. "That nose will look just perfect on her once her face finishes healing."
"What are the restrictions on her in the meantime? She's a nationally ranked athlete and she'll be champing at the bit to restart her training."
"I'll work something up for you on that. What kind of sport? I could tell she was in superb physical condition."
"Pentathlon," Jane answered.
"Oh, running and jumping and throwing things? That type of stuff?"
"Not quite, Doctor," Diana said with a smile. "I will tell you about the sport after we've had a chance to see our girl. When CAN we see her?"
"Oh, she'll be out of it for another hour or so, and groggy after that. You can look in on her now, but she should be up to visitors by this evening's visiting hours."
"Diana?" Darla interjected. "Can I have the keys to the truck? It is almost time to go pick up Audrey's mom at the airport."
"May I have the keys," Jane corrected without thinking, earning an exaggerated sigh of long suffering from her child. It made them all laugh which was, after all, the best medicine for what still ailed them.
"What a deee-VINE nightgown," Darla said with a cheeky grin as she walked into Audrey's room. "Wonder where you got it in this joint?"
"Where do you think?" was Audrey's disgusted reply. Where her voice had been low and oddly husky before, it sounded as if she had a major stuffed up head now. The swelling in her nasal passages had practically shut off those air ways and the results were sounds that were almost cartoonish in nature. Audrey's "Your Aunt Jane has struck again." sounded more like "Ur an ja ha druck agin."
"Well it looks MAHVelous on you, dahlink," Darla said, her eyes wide with false admiration, "Simply MAHVelous!"
The nightgown would have been the height of bridal-night chic in the middle Victorian Period. It was made of a heavily embroidered white muslin broadcloth, and it covered the girl from the base of her chin to her wrists to below her toes. The bodice was empire cut, tight beneath the lower swell of her bosom. Every hem was finished with fine lace in a variety of pale pastels and topped off by a tall, stiff imperial collar that forced Audrey to hold her head at a very regal angle. All in all, Darla decided, it was perfectly designed to make a man work very hard for his marital rights - very hard indeed - and maybe even give up the attempt altogether.
In a word, it looked positively dreadful on Audrey.
"Hah!" Audrey replied. "Only good thing about it is the nurses HATE it. Makes getting at me with a thermometer or other such device darned difficult. The darned gown is STARCHED, Darla," the shorthaired girl complained. "And it has bunches of those skirt-things - what did you call them? Flounces? Yeah, it's got flounces all the way down to my toes! Every time I move, one of those starched flounces stabs me, usually in the butt!"
"Really? I would have thought that there would be a six-inch or so thick wad of period undies between you and the starch. Aunt Jane must be getting mellow in her old age."
"Don't you believe it!" Audrey retorted. "The nurses finally gave in on this blasted gown, put they put their foot down hard on the undies. Seems that especially this time of the month they cannot be bothered with. . .how did you put it? Oh yeah. . .six inches of padding that I DO wish I had down there."
"I hear that. Guess Aunt Jane figured your punishment wasn't over, eh?"
"So she said. You should have seen the look on my Mother's face when she saw me in this thing. She almost dropped the doll she brought me."
"Doll?" Darla asked, scanning the room.
Audrey pointed to the top of her headboard. "Him." She said. Straddling the headboard, looking for all the world like a show jumper who hadn't made it over the fence, was a stuffed horse, wearing an equestrian's helmet, and as shocked an expression as Darla had ever seen.
"Hope he wasn't a stallion," she murmured, "before the accident that is."
Audrey stared at Darla in disbelief for a second and then started to laugh only to stop again abruptly. "Can't laugh," she rasped. "Well, I can, but it hurts those bruised muscles in my cheeks and around the bottoms of my eyes."
"Awww. . poor baby. . " Darla replied, strolling over to take a closer look at the doll. "Your Mom brought this?"
"Yes. Surprised the hell. . I mean, heck out of me." Audrey's eyes went wide and then she glared at Darla. "YOU didn't tell her to buy it, did you?"
"Nope," Darla shrugged. "Not me. She wouldn't listen to me anyway. Too busy asking me if you were really all right and begging me to go just a little faster. I am surprised she didn't faint when she saw you, though. Hope you feel better than you look, girlfriend. You look like you went ten rounds with Lennox Lewis."
Bandages covered Audrey's face, making her look like the lead actor in a 1950's 'return of the mummies' horror film. Something that looked like it had once been part of a catcher's mask protected her nose from inadvertent contact and held the still fragile bits all in place while the adhesives set up. Covered with a screen like material, it would also prevent Audrey from accidentally trying to scratch it. What skin showed about the heavy gauze bandaging was all bruised - a combination of purples, blues, reds and blacks that only a mad scientist (or a Parisian dress designer) could love. *She took a real whack trying to get over that fence,* Darla told herself, and felt somewhat humbled by that realization.
"I'm not sure I feel much better than I would after ten rounds, although the pain pills do help. They just wear off too soon and I have to wait until I can safely have some more. It really isn't fair, you know. You take a flying header that should have broken your fool neck and I'm the one in the hospital."
*Good thing it isn't me,* Darla thought. *I couldn't count on having Nurse Nora protect me in the emergency room. Jane's whole program and my reputation would have gone up in smoke if I had needed more than a couple of aspirin.* "Well, don't expect me to feel so sorry for you that I wish it was me instead of you. I am grateful, not stupid. So, what else did Aunt Jane say when she gave you that . . . .stunning confection?"
"I'm to get back up on Garters as soon as the doctor says I can ride again - side saddle." "You'd do that anyway." Darla said with thoughtless conviction.
"And just WHY do you think that?" Audrey asked, surprised.
"Cause if you don't, I will just have to think you are afraid and that you are a wimp." she shrugged artlessly.
Darla was well pleased to see anger flash in the other girl's eyes at the carefully aimed taunt. "Afraid? ME? Why you. . you. . . " but then realization came and Audrey's fury cooled as quickly as it had blazed to life. "You sneaky, conniving little bitch. You're as bad as that aunt of yours. Now I can't NOT get back up on that bloody animal in that bloody damned sidesaddle. You twerp!"
Darla only grinned, but it was a very smug grin indeed. Pleased to have won that round, she decided it was time to be a bit more generous. "By the way, Marie's making beef stroganoff tonight since your Mom's staying with us. How's the food in here?"
"Twerp isn't bad enough for you! How do you THINK it is, you nasty, shameless little tease!?! It is hospital food!" the shorthaired girl replied testily. "Healthy as all get out and even more tasteless."
Her grin broadening, Darla dipped into the shopping bag she'd brought in and pulled out a long thin plastic bag. "Turkey or Tuna Sub?" she asked holding up two paper wrapped tubular parcels, "And you get to choose if you want the Diet Pepsi or the Doctor Pepper."
"I take back all the otherwise well-deserved nasty things I have been thinking about you, Darla! Gimme!" Audrey crowed reaching out with both hands. "Either. Both!"
End Part I
To Be Continued...
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