TG Universes & Series:
Seasons of Change
Book 14 - Part 2 of 4
Tales of the Season
Copyright © 2002,2013 Tigger
All Rights Reserved.
Image Credit: Ornate Antique Divider purchased and licensed for use - 20073018. ~Sephrena.
Acknowledgments: My sincere thanks to Brandy Dewinter for the gifts of her creativity, her vision, her eye for 'just the right word' (and wrong one of mine) and her, ummm, persistence. Special thanks to the 'Blue Pen of Sonora', Denise Em, for the many hours she put into proofing this. At some point, it becomes impossible for me to read what I wrote, because I 'see' what I thought I wrote. Any remaining errors are mine, probably because I wrongly thought my way was better than Deni's. ~Tigger
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Based on the characters and situations presented in "Seasons of Change" by Joel Lawrence, Copyright 1989. ~Tigger
Chapter 13: Blondes Do Have More. . . Whatever
"What POSSIBLE reason could you have had to put the deep-dye cosmetics on Kendra, Marie?" Jane demanded before she was even through the kitchen door.
"And good day to you, Lady Jane," Marie replied grinning. "Lovely weather we're having."
"Don't pull that with me, Marie! We go back too far. Why ever did you do it? You had to know that will have him looking feminine for at least a week. And he tells me you didn't give him any of the solvent for those prosthetics."
"Looks good as Kendra, doesn't she?" Marie asked smugly.
"That's beside the point, Marie. Answer my question!"
"All right, Jane," Marie said seriously, drying her hands on a towel and taking a seat on one of the kitchen stools. "Sandy and I actually had two reasons, the first being that Kenneth isn't used to wearing and repairing cosmetics anymore. Since he was determined to do this, and was going to be in public, we didn't want Kendra caught out by badly chewed lipstick or poorly applied eyeliner."
"I suppose that makes a certain kind of sense. That boy always was the most determined of my students. You said you had two reasons?"
"You may not like hearing it," the little maid warned.
"He's already here, Marie, and he's determined to remain Kendra until the cosmetics wear off. The danger is mostly over so long as I keep him here. Give me the rest of it, please."
"We wanted him to have to stay as Kendra for a while."
"You know he's always felt left out when Michelle and Darla came to visit. Ever since that growth spurt when he turned sixteen. As much as he never wanted to be Kendra at first, he's missed her since he decided she was lost to him. Sandy and I decided to show him she doesn't have to stay lost."
"And if he'd come to grief because of your little object lesson?" Jane asked tartly.
"He didn't," Marie said with a little Gallic shrug. "We knew he wouldn't."
Jane started to say something, but stopped herself. Marie grinned at her little victory. "Now, tell me truth, Jane. Isn't she lovely?"
"Harrumph," the Mistress of Seasons House responded. "My Kendra was a blonde."
"That IS your Kendra, you ungrateful wretch!"
"Oh, I know, and you're right, she's fabulous. It's just, well, I have a soft spot for boys as blondes."
"Oh HO!" Marie crowed as she saw the normally unflappable Jane Thompson actually blush. "At last it comes out! So, it's not just the stereotype of the 'dumb blonde' and its impact on the young male psyche, eh? Cherchez la jeune fille blonde, eh?"
"All right, so now you know my dirty little secret."
"Tres bien. So, Kendra becomes blonde." Marie said in a matter of fact voice totally belied by the mischievous grin lighting her eyes.
"Huh? You've lost me."
"Then listen, cherie, and learn."
Kendra sighed as he set the phone down.
"Problems?" Anne asked.
"That was Jane. I had dinner with her and Adrienne the night before I flew out to meet with you. She's afraid that if your brother gets a close look at me, he might see too close a resemblance between the Amazon Lady and the Lawyer Laddie so I can't stay up at the House. She doesn't want me just hanging about and has made reservations for me at a small motel down the road."
"Will you be able to come here and meet with me? Keep your bargain to explain things as they go?"
"That's not a problem, I just need to keep a low profile when Adrienne is out and about. Unfortunately, that means no living at home for me."
Kendra was surprised to hear a knock on her motel door and checked through the view-piece. With a pleased exclamation, she unchained the door and pulled it open. "Tante Marie!" she cheered. "Did you bring me anything to eat?"
"Something better, cherie."
"Something better than your food? I have no idea what that could be!"
"Clothes, you silly," Marie chided, reaching into the bag she carried. "You cannot live in that oh-so-lovely dress until the cosmetics fade. I brought you some more of Jasmine's old things including a lovely pair of jeans."
"I hope they're a little bigger than this dress - I'd really like to loosen my stays, if you don't mind."
"Oh, very well. If you insist. I also may have a solution to your problem with living at home."
"I have found another wig for you to try on. You'll have to wear it all the time, but with a little work on your part, you should be able to confuse the issue of your real identity. It is not as if la petite Adrienne is all that observant or caring of those around her. Yet."
"Eh? Another wig? I don't follow you, Marie. I'll still be tall and very noticeable, regardless of how clueless Jane's problem child is or is not."
"That one? Phaugh. Remember another of Jane's rules? People will jump to their own conclusions. If you play your role well, Adrienne will never see you for the so-very-proper male attorney."
"What role are you talking about, Tante Marie?" Kendra asked suspiciously. "As you and Sandy pointed out, I'm not very good at the subtleties anymore."
"That's why this is so perfect, cherie. Remember last Halloween? You, Michelle and Darla were playing in the front parlor between trick or treaters, doing feminine impersonations?"
"I remember. So?"
"So, you did one they both could not match and told you so. Jane and I were most impressed, too."
A feeling of dread ran down Kendra's spine, and she stared in disbelief at the little housekeeper. "Oh, no - not that, Marie," she choked out through a throat suddenly dry and unresponsive. "Besides, Jane would KILL me - AFTER she shredded my guts."
"Pooh. Stuff and nonsense. It might be just what she needs to put some discipline into that little hoyden, Adrienne. Someone so blatant might even prove to be an asset at this point. Perhaps Jane can use such an example to encourage her own improvement."
"You don't really believe that," Kendra growled.
Marie became serious and shook her head. "We may not have much time, dear, whether you are successful with Miss Braithwaite or not. Something radical may be called for with this one. I have," Marie said offhandedly, "Discussed this plan with Jane and she is in agreement - assuming that you intend to remain on the estate until the makeup clears off your face."
"I see." Kenneth went very silent for a few moments and then cast an uncertain eye on his little adopted aunt. "How blatant, Tante Marie?"
"Oh, I think you should have a marvelous time, ma belle. Like the sweet-natured woman who plays la chienne - the bitch on the soaps."
"Uh huh," the tall cross-dressed man replied, "I guess I have to hope that you are right about that. Tell me, Tante Marie, this wig you've found. . ."
"It wouldn't be platinum blonde, would it?"
"Non, ma belle. It is most definitely NOT platinum blonde."
It was a deep honey-blonde, extremely full and fluffy, and nearly butt-length, even on the very tall Kendra, and it was bloody-damned heavy, too boot!
And Kenneth, the man inside the woman, hated it with a deeply felt passion that he could not rationalize, even to himself. Because Jane felt it necessary if Kendra was to remain in the area, he tried to accept it with good grace, but found it difficult, if not impossible.
This was so different, he thought as he gazed at Kendra staring back at him from the mirror, from playing 'dumb blonde' with his brothers after a bit too much of Momma Jane's excellent brandy. Michael and Darryl understood that it was a game - that whatever else happened, that what they saw wasn't him, wasn't Kenneth Roberts. The clothes, the makeup, the frou-frou were just window dressing to them.
*It's like the old kid's jingle, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me'. Jane and Marie don't see this as anything more than just another facet of the disguise. If I've agreed to be Kendra, one Kendra is much the same as another, right? Should be, but somehow, just like words do hurt, something about THIS Kendra bothers me. I just can't seem to put my finger on what or why.*
With conscious effort, Kenneth tried to slip back into Kendra's role and mindset. Smiling sheepishly, she turned darkly-lashed eyes to the expectantly waiting Marie. "I feel like a refugee from a Darryl Hannah movie," she grumbled in tones she hoped sounded at least somewhat good natured.
"More breathiness in your speech, if you please, ma belle," Marie ordered, beaming happily. "And don't forget the grand hand gestures."
Chapter 14: Old Ghosts
Kendra spent the next morning at the motel room practicing at being female again. Marie had given her a list of 'things to remember about being a girl' that included such things as 'walking in heels', sitting and standing properly, accessorizing the outfits Marie had sent over from Seasons House and a myriad of other 'little things'.
Unlike Darryl who had stayed on with Jane, Kenneth Roberts did not have an abundance of experience in the nuances of masquerading as a woman. And it was the little things, Kendra knew, that would make or break her cover - particularly in the company of real women. Women noticed those little things, unlike men who could, at best, be relied upon to see only the 'big picture'.
So she practiced. Offering her hand, wrist bent. Smoothing her skirt as she took a seat, taking care to keep her legs together. Being aware of the hemline of her skirt when she bent or moved her body. Reacquainting herself with Mr. Webster's escort, as she walked about the room in heels. She even practiced when her room service breakfast and lunch were served because a woman even handles cutlery and table services differently than does a man.
*It's as though I am going through Aunt Jane's program, crash study style, but without Aunt Jane or Tante Marie around to help. Lord, I hope I'm doing some of this right.*
In the course of these 'exercises', Kendra took to using the various mirrors in the motel room to evaluate her performance. Soon, she began to find herself simply staring at the image reflected there. A growing sense of some emotion akin to discomfort began to niggle at her each time she caught herself so involved. When she tried to analyze this feeling, she could not precisely put her finger on what it was that bothered her - or why. Certainly, the addition of a blonde hairstyle drastically changed her looks - something that had been the cause of several neck-snapping double-takes that morning, but whatever it was that was bothering her was more than just the golden curls that now framed her face and fell down her back.
*Maybe I'm reacting to Aunt Jane's not-at-all-subtle use of the 'dumb blonde' stereotype. Rationally, I know that she uses that image precisely for the humiliation-factor it offers. Jane can, after all, use her students' own prejudices to dig deeply into their heads. Am I reacting to those stereotypes or to the negative baggage that Sheila saddled me? And yet, Michelle and Darla are both blondes, as is Daddy-Di when she bothers with a hair color other than silver. What the hell does that say about my feelings?* she wondered.
She was about to go just a bit insane when the phone on the bedside table rang, providing her with a very welcome break from her so-far fruitless self-examination and other 'studies.'.
"Kendra Roberts," she said into the receiver, pleased to have remembered to use that name.
"Kendra? You're still en femme, brother-dear?" a familiar, feminine voice responded. "I figured you'd be happily back in grey pinstripes by now. Darla here, by the way."
"Hey, sis. It's a long story, but it's still sis, not brother. The short version is that Sandy and Marie decided I needed the long-lasting makeup as a hedge against being found out, so I'm Kendra for at least another week or so."
"You okay with that, bro?" and this time, it was Darryl's voice that asked.
"Like I said, it's only a week or so, and besides, Sandy and Marie told me what they planned to do with the cosmetics along with the 'why' before they did it to me. I agreed with their logic, so now I have to live with the aftermath. It's not so bad, I guess. What's up with you?"
"Mom wants Audrey and me - that is, Audrey and Darla - to be on call to help with Adrienne. Particularly while Ms Braithwaite's here."
"Okay. I guess that make sense. What do you need?"
"An introduction. After the wedding, Marie moved all my Darla stuff down at the stable apartment for storage - since 'Tall-stuff' and I use it as our place when we come visiting now. Unfortunately, Ms. Braithwaite is staying there right now and she hasn't been properly or even improperly introduced to me or to Tante Marie."
"Oh lord, I can just see it. You and Marie knocking on her door. 'Excuse us, but could we borrow your place to change this one into a girl so she can help Jane pick on your brother?' Wouldn't THAT go over well."
"It's not THAT bad, bro," Darryl responded, disgust evident in his voice.
"You know that, D, and *I* know that. SHE doesn't know it or believe it."
There was a loud sigh from the other end. "All the more reason to play this as straight as possible, then. So, could you meet us there, say about seven thirty or so, so that we can pick up some stuff - maybe help talk her into letting me use the second bedroom to get beautiful?"
"Fine with me, but why doesn't Momma-Jane simply call or introduce you herself?"
"Marie needs to be there with me 'cause she knows where she's put my stuff, so Mom needs to be at the house with Adrienne. Jess had to go off to sit a couple of exams today and isn't available. Besides, now that I've talked with you, I think it's pretty clear that Mom is playing this one very tightly, too. Because of the lawsuit thing. She wants witnesses to every contact, I guess."
"Makes good sense to me. Look, D, I will call Anne. If it's okay with her, I'll meet you there at seven thirty. Where can I reach you if there's a problem."
"Thanks, Kendra. You can reach me at Mike's place. See you tonight."
Kendra started a bit at the easy acceptance and use of her feminine name by her brother, then relaxed. Darla had a lot of experience switching between names and genders for herself and for others. *Just another little benefit - or is it another little downside? Whatever - it's what comes of being raised as Jane's duty 'big sister' at Seasons House. Wonder if Jess will turn out the same way?*
And then another thought occurred to her. "Do I regret not having stayed with Jane and learned those same skills and lessons?"
It was a question to which neither Kendra nor Kenneth could find a wholly satisfactory answer.
"Goodness, but you seem even taller than you did yesterday morning," Anne Braithwaite blurted out when she opened her door to admit Kendra later that day.
"Taller heels," Kendra muttered as she slipped inside the snug apartment. "Jane sent me some additional outfits today - she once had a very tall student - but unfortunately, most of the shoes she had in my size all have at least a three inch heel."
"Those have to be more than three inches," Anne challenged as she closed the door and followed her guest into the living area.
"They are, but unfortunately, they're the only pair that went with this outfit, and the stores in this area are closed on Sundays. Trust me - one way or another, I am getting some less demanding shoes as soon as a I can, including some of those running shoes women wear when they carry their dress shoes to work."
Anne considered that, and nodded. "Sounds like a plan. It's not just the shoes, though. That hair makes you look even taller, I think. Another of those 'hiding in plain sight' things you mentioned?"
Kendra started to explain that it was for Adrienne's 'benefit' and reconsidered. *She may not like hearing that her darling brother may get vamped by a six-three blonde amazon ditz.* "That's certainly part of it. I think Mom is also worried that I might be made as Kenneth if I stayed a brunette."
The natural-blonde shrugged at that. "Maybe. I made you, but I was prepared to expect you to be a guy dressed as a woman, and moreover, you called me just before coming up to my room. I'm not sure someone who didn't already know you would have seen anything to give away your disguise. Well, you look, um, pretty spectacular. That hair. . . "
"I know," Kendra said sourly, the uneasy discomfort she'd dealt with all day coming back on her in full measure under Anne's close scrutiny. "I told Marie to find a wig that wouldn't give Dolly Parton nightmares, and darned quick."
"It's not THAT bad," Anne said, suddenly unable to stifle a giggle.
The unexpected laughter somehow lightened Kendra's mood, and she teased back. "How about YOU wearing it to the grocery store and see what you think then!"
"I don't think so. You're much cuter than I could ever be in it."
Kendra gave Anne a look of utter disbelief. *She REALLY can't believe that,* the taller girl thought.
"Well," Anne continued in a more serious tone, "You don't look in the least bit masculine. You look like a Vegas showgirl."
"Thanks a lot!" Visions of sequins, even taller heels and feathered headdresses filled Kendra's mind, and she cringed.
"Oh, you're quite welcome," Anne teased, only to stop short at the truly unhappy look on taller blonde's face. "Oh, come on, Kendra. What's the big deal? You're not likely to be caught out as either, and if your mother thinks this will better help you maintain your anonymity, well, I suspect she has a good deal of experience with this type of deception. If what you told me yesterday is the truth, that is."
"Oh, it's the truth, all right. Jane's orders - no more lies or even half or hidden truths insofar as you are concerned. It's just that I've felt, well, really uncomfortable today."
"So," Anne pounced, "You're not all that unaffected by the masquerade, eh? Playing at being a girl isn't as harmless as you tried to convince me?"
"It's not that," Kendra said slowly, still struggling with the feeling of general unease that had been her companion most of the day. "I didn't feel this way yesterday. I was nervous, even anxious a couple of times there out in public, but this is different."
Anne was considering that when a sharp rap sounded at the door. "That must be Tante Marie and my brother," Kendra said. "I'll get it and make the introductions."
Mouth agape, Darryl could only stare at the tall expanse of blonde, blatant femininity that held the door open for his and Marie's entry. "Fermez la bouche, m'enfant," Marie ordered. "You will catch flies!"
"Oh. . .Oh, yeah, umm, sure," Darryl mumbled and slipped inside, stepping carefully around the now-glaring Kendra. Darryl had always secretly envied his brother's growth spurt, even as he'd been happy being able to be Darla at his or Jane's whim. Still, he'd always wished he could have had just a few of Kenneth's extra inches. *It would be nice to be able to look my wife eye-to-eye without wearing high heels,* he thought wistfully.
A mischievous imp, one that Darryl/Darla usually managed to keep firmly under control, slipped her leash. Gravely, Darryl walked around his increasingly annoyed sibling, murmuring inarticulate sounds of approval and disapproval.
When he came to a stop in front of Kendra, she growled, "Are you THROUGH yet, smart ass?"
"Lord, sis, but when you go 'girl', you don't do it halfway, do you? I haven't seen you looking this good since we all teamed up with to go after Sheila." Darryl had turned to face his audience of two, so he missed the telltale signs of a break in Kendra's normally resolute self control. When he returned his attention to his brother/sister, the momentary slip had been masked over. "Geez, girl. Did you have to go quite that over-the-top doing the Mattel-thing?"
"Darryl. . " Kendra warned.
"Mattel-thing?" Anne asked, her curiosity irresistibly piqued.
"Well, her guy name is Ken - just like the Mattel doll, right? Well, if there was ever anyone more like a living breathing Barbie-Doll than that GOR-geous specimen of blonde pulchritude over there, I've never seen it. When you go blonde, Kendra, you GO, girl! Heck, Barbie might even be a really useful name for you while Adrienne is here."
"Stop right there!" Anne Braithwaite actually snarled.
"Huh?" Startled, the imp in Darryl found herself face-to-face with a suddenly furious genetic girl who was even taller than his beloved wife. "I beg your pardon?"
"As well you should for that insulting comment about blondes, but it's your BROTHER who you really owe an apology! As I understand it, he is IN this condition in order to help your MOTHER. Your comments about that damned doll, and comparisons of him to her are . . are. . ."
Darryl's temper was even less prominent than the imp, but it flared in the face of the unexpected flanking attack. "BACK OFF," he snarled up into Anne's furious eyes, "It was a joke, o-KAY? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that resemblance, and if she can't take a joke from a friend, what's she gonna do when some dude on the street starts hitting on her, or worse?"
"Easy, bro. . " Kendra warned, moving toward the eye-locked pair.
Marie stepped in between Darryl and Anne as the tall blonde struggled to find words. "Pardon, mademoiselle," the little housekeeper said gently, "But this one plays the fool every so often. It is one reason we both love him and often want to kill him. And while he is correct in his assessment that a new name for Kendra might be a good idea while your brother is in residence at Seasons House, he expressed himself poorly. Darryl truly meant no harm or insult. Is that not so, cheri?"
Darryl carefully kept Marie between himself and the Valkyrie with the green fire in her eyes. "I am very sorry, Ms. Braithwaite," he said before turning to face a brother clearly struggling with his emotions. "God, Ken, I'm really. . .you know I wouldn't. . oh hell. I'm sorry."
Kendra took a deep breath and tried to clear her head. "It's okay, Darryl. Don't worry about it."
But he would, Darryl knew. He'd worry about it a lot until he found out what was bothering his big brother, but that was for another time when there wasn't a stranger around. A stranger, who intended to bring everything Momma-Jane had worked for down around their collective ears. "Tante Marie? My things?"
"I will get them, dear. You stay here with Kendra and Ms. Braitwaite."
"I'm going to be staying at the same motel as you, Kendra."
"Oh?" Kendra replied noncommittally.
"Yeah. You wouldn't have a spare razor, would you? I forgot. ."
Darryl came up short as Kendra's eyes and mouth went open - first in disbelief, then in shock and then in raw angry fury.
"You goddamned well know I don't!" Kenneth's voice bellowed as he ran toward the door as fast as the spiked heels permitted.
Chapter 15: In My Midnight Confessions, When I Tell All the World
Darryl, Marie and Anne stared in stunned silence at the vibrating door. "Shit, I seem to be screwing up by the numbers tonight," the short young man said to Marie. "I can't BELIEVE I SAID that!"
"What set him off?" Anne asked, her eyes still fixed on the now-silent door.
Marie and Darryl looked at each other uncertainly. "Ken. . .dra," the young man said carefully, "has a . . . a problem with shaving, Ms. Braithwaite. We had, that's Jane, Marie and I, had thought - hoped he'd gotten over it, but apparently he hasn't. Marie? What do I do now? Go to him?"
"Let him be alone for a bit, cheri. There is more to this than just. . .shaving."
"Well, he's upset!" Anne fumed. "First that damned blonde Barbie crack and then whatever this is all about. Cripes, but I'm glad you're not MY brother if this is how you treat him. You can stay here if you want. Kendra said you wanted to use the spare bedroom to change? Fine, go ahead. I'm going to find him," and she stormed out, leaving Marie and Darryl once again staring at a slammed shut door in utter confusion.
She found him. . . her down in the stables. The tall, leggy blonde was standing in front of a stall, her arms wrapped tightly around the neck of a patient roan saddle-bred, her forehead pressed tightly against the horse's cheek.
"Kendra?" she called softly. Anne saw the arms wrapped about the horse tense momentarily and then relax. Kendra's entire body seemed to shudder, and then she pushed herself erect and turned to face the other girl.
Kendra's eyelashes were spiky from tears and there were shiny tracks down her cheeks where the harsh incandescent lights glinted off the remnants of recent crying. "Hi," she responded.
"I came down to see if you were all right. Is there something I can do?" Kendra shook her head. "You want to talk about what upset you so? Sometimes it helps to talk to someone, well, someone who isn't involved."
"Didn't Darryl tell you?" Kendra asked snappishly. "Brother was pretty free with his mouth tonight."
Anne walked over to put a comforting hand on Kendra's arm. "All he said was that you have a problem with shaving, but that's all he said. If it is any consolation, he's really upset that he hurt you."
This time, thee shorter girl felt the shudder, and looked up to see the pain on her companion's face. "I guess what upsets me the most is that I was. . . hell, AM . . . upset at all."
"Well, that makes a lot of sense," Anne said with heavy irony.
Kendra gave a half laugh and smiled wearily. "Doesn't it. Look, you want to take a walk? I, uh, need to get some air. . .clear my head a bit."
"Sure. It's safe, isn't it? I mean, it's dark and awfully isolated."
"City girl," Kendra chided. "We'll be perfectly safe. Jane has the place wired with all kinds of surveillance stuff. No one gets on these grounds without her knowing. Let me call upstairs and tell them I'm all right and going out, first."
They met outside the stable and began walking down one of the paved, moonlit trails. "Want to explain that bit about shaving?" Anne asked after they'd walked a few hundred yards in companionable silence.
"It's that I can't. . . or rather, don't have anything to shave. No where on my face or body. Not a single living hair follicle below my eyes."
"I've heard of medical conditions like that. A boy at my high school had some kind of genetic thing."
"I used to have hair," Kendra told her.
"You're not making much sense."
"My mother. . . ," Kendra started, and felt her throat tighten. "I guess you'd have to say she is a sick person. Anyway, she. . .she tried to turn me into a freak - sort of a half male/half female slave - quite literally. One of her favorite tricks was to dye my hair blonde whenever she could. Succeeded more times than I care to admit. Then, when I was about to go through puberty, she took me to this quack. The guy had stolen a developmental laser hair removal technology. She dragged me into that guy's shop every week for almost half a year. By the time he was finished, I had nails, brows, lashes and hair on my head. The rest of me is as hairless as a baby."
"Your MOTHER did that to you?" Anne flared, sudden white-hot fury literally radiating off her in the darkness.
"Huh? Yeah, she did. And would have done a lot more."
"And THAT'S the kind of BITCH you believe should be in charge of my BROTHER?!?!"
Emotional fatigue slowed Kendra's normally sharp mind. "What does Sheila have to do with your brother?"
"Who's Sheila?" Anne demanded. "We're talking about your Mother - Jane Thompson."
"Sheila Roberts is my Mother."
Now it was Anne's turn to be confused. "You said Jane Thompson was your Mom. You've called her that in my presence."
Understanding finally made it through Ken's thickening skull. "Sheila bore me, gave birth to me, but that is all she did. A damned test tube could have done as much with less potential harm. Jane saved my life when Sheila tried to destroy me with her perverted games. Jane IS my Mother - at least in every way that counts. Sheila's part of it was just an accident of birth - quite literally."
"I don't understand."
"It's a long story," Kendra told her, "And one I'm not up to telling right now. Suffice it to say that everything I am or hope to be, I owe to Jane Thompson. I'd do anything for her."
"Including wearing women's clothing in public?"
"That's about the size of it. You know? Something has been bothering me all day, and I just now figured out what it is." Kendra thought aloud. "Going blonde - just like Sheila always wanted - then having Dar' tease me like he did with that lame blonde joke. After all that, the mere mention of shaving," Kendra shook her head as it started to become clear in her mind, "It brought the whole sorry mess back. Sort of like a major dose of Sheila all at once. The thing of it is that I really AM Kendra now, in a way I never was before. Not even when I was first with Aunt Jane."
"What do you mean? You said you hadn't done this in a very long time, but it sounds like you mean something more significant than that."
Kendra's reply was dreamily reflective, her words coming slowly and thoughtfully. "Before, the things I did, the way I looked, that was just . . . external. I looked cute, and I dressed nicely and had good manners, but it . . .*I* was, well, sexless. I, um, that Kendra was cute and she was VERY feminine, but she wasn't a sex object, you know? This Kendra is all of that . . . more than that."
"I'll say, about a foot more, from what you've told me."
"Darryl's not the only cute little blonde around here with a smart mouth."
"Try seeing things from my point of view, girl. But in response to your comment, that's really not what I mean. Take this hair for instance. It's just so. . so . . sensuous. No woman wears her hair this long unless she really likes being a woman, really *enjoys* what it means to be pretty, and sensual, and attractive, as a woman. It's too much of a nuisance, otherwise. That's not, or at least I didn't think it was . . . me."
"That's why I don't like the Barbie reference," Anne replied. "That image is so fake. Only plastic can be that perfect. Real women are more than pretty clothes, impossible hair and pink convertibles."
"Believe me, I know. That's the problem. When I look in the mirror, I see, God, I see something out of a fantasy - something that should have a staple in her navel - and yet, at the same some, something that's very, very real. Only it's Sheila's fantasy, in a way that the young girl Kendra never even approached, much less wanted to approach."
The pair came upon an old-fashioned glider swing and sat on the wooden seats facing each other. "I guess I can understand how things can get blown out of proportion," Anne remarked as she pushed off with her feet. "I suppose I have to apologize to your brother, too. The name Barbie just. . ."
"We noticed," Kendra put in dryly.
"Hard to miss, isn't it?"
"Mind sharing why? I mean, I'm sure you know you're very attractive. Why does it bother you?"
"Me? Attractive? Look, don't you start, okay? I know I shouldn't let it bother me, but it does, okay? It's just hard being so. . .so obvious, and I ALWAYS have been. I was fourteen years old before any boy in my class caught up with me, height-wise. Then, the change hit me and all of the sudden not ONLY am I another four inches taller, but I'm putting on weight in all the strangest places so my balance is all screwed up, AGAIN, spoiling whatever small amount of grace I might once have had."
"It's not easy being special."
"You don't have to pretend, Kendra, I know I'm not desirable to men, not REALLY attractive. That's part of the reason that the whole Barbie-thing bugs me. That damned doll is just so. . .so unattainably perfect, and then there's my brother."
"What? He's unattainably perfect, too?"
"Not hardly," Anne said, almost growling. "It's just that he knows how much the whole 'Barbie' thing bugs me. Calls me 'Barbie' every chance he gets just to get my goat because along with being tall, blonde, and . . umm, buxom, Barbie is alone and isolated, too. I mean, does SHE ever get laid?"
"Laid?" Kendra choked, not quite sure how to respond to that.
Anne snorted disgustedly. "Well, she doesn't and neither do I, but it's more than that. No one touches her in that special way lovers touch no one CAN touch her that way. She's a plastic doll, not a living, sensual woman."
*She really doesn't have any idea,* Kendra realized. *My God! Does that mean she's a . . . whoa, Roberts - stop that thought right there. This is not the time or the place for THAT kind of thinking . . .unless she wants to say more?*
Kendra let the silence continue, but in vain. Anne had evidently said all she intended to say - perhaps more than she'd wanted to say, so the taller woman decided to return to the earlier issue as a means of easing the tension. "He does it to get your goat, you know. It's a power thing. You react and he's won."
"That's one of those stupid guy-things, right?" Anne demanded, her eyes narrowed into slits. "One of those excuses for 'men behaving badly' and getting away with it because 'boys will be boys'?"
"Probably, but I suspect that it may be a gal-thang, too."
"Harrumph," was all she said in response. "You really going to let them call you Barbie?"
"Not if it bothers you that much," Kendra replied. "It doesn't bother me because the name has no negative emotional baggage for me - not like the things I associate with Sheila have for me and I am willing to endure those for Jane and the others. But if hearing me called 'Barbie' will be difficult for you, then I'll find another name to hide my identity. Muffy or something."
A giggle answered him. "Muffy? Why not Poopsie, for god's sake?"
"Hey, I have some standards. Barbie suits the persona Marie has recommended, but I don't think your brother is sharp enough to be aware of the subtlety of a name when faced with the stark reality of six foot seven inches of blonde-amazon-Marilyn-Monroe-wannabe in killer stiletto spikes."
"GOD, what an image," Anne giggled before finishing, "Oh, go ahead and be Barbie if you think that will help your verisimilitude."
"If you say so," Kendra grinned. "I always just called it 'passing-in-public'."
"Well, at least one of us is smiling now. Feel better?" Anne asked. "Ready to go back and deal with your brother?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Anne. I really appreciate your. . .your company, and your caring."
"De nada, chela," she said, stepping off the swing and offering Kendra her hand. "C'mon, Barbie, let's head back. I'm sure your aunt and brother will be worrying about you."
Kendra - now Barbie - followed her back to the trail. "You know? If you're going to be around, we ought to give you an alias, too. That way, if we slip up and talk about you in Adrienne's hearing, she won't put two and two together."
"Well, that DEFINITELY means you have to be the very obvious Barbie, girl. No way little brother will think of me with you running around - probably naked - in his short term memory."
Barbie choked on that image, eliciting another giggle from Anne. "So, since that name is taken, what do you suggest for me?"
"Oh, I've got a great idea for you, shortie," Barbie said, taking her companion's hand. "Darryl's little Ken and Barbie shtick earlier reminded me of something. Riddle me this, Anne Braithwaite. Who was Barbie's little friend?"
"Huh? I have NO idea what you are talking about, Barbie."
"I really am sorry, Sis. I wasn't thinking."
"It's okay, Dar," Barbie-Kendra said with a hug. "I over-reacted. We'll talk about it later, okay? A lot of old baggage came home to roost all of a sudden. I wasn't ready for it, and you got caught in the explosion. Probably a good thing it happened here and not in public or around Adrienne."
Anne couldn't help staring at the . . . person so earnestly talking to Barbie. In the time the two blondes had been gone, Darryl had been working on his own transformation. He'd greeted them at the door squeezed into a white, heavily boned merry widow-style corset that gave him the illusion of girlish curves that looked somehow incomplete thanks to the as-yet empty and bagging bra cups.
*Wonder what he'll use to fill those?* Anne wondered, just as something odd on the kitchen table caught her eye. Strolling over to investigate, she picked up the jiggly little mound, testing the weight of it in her hand. "Cute," she observed aloud as she ran an inquisitive thumb over the tip of one perky nipple. "Adrian told me about these. I thought he was exaggerating."
"He probably was," the small man-woman observed. "Those are grown-up girl-sized boobs. Mom usually starts her girls out in training bras without falsies, just to get their goat by making them not just girls, but LITTLE girls to boot. Good for getting their attention."
"I see," Anne said, her tones still dubious.
Darryl/Darla grinned. "No you don't, but if you keep an open mind, we'll try to fix that." His (her) face was subtly made-up, but the subtlety was lost because of his masculine haircut, still awaiting the donning of a suitable wig. One hand had false, if yet unpolished, feminine nails installed while those of his other hand were as yet still short and blunt; a manicure suited to a man. Anne thought that looking at Darryl/Darla was like looking at a computer morph stopped in mid-transformation.
"You are all right, now, ma gallante?" Marie asked Kendra, with a hug of her own.
"Thanks to Anne. . .I mean, Skipper over there."
"Skipper?" the darkhaired housekeeper asked. "Who is Skipper? Ms. Braithwaite?"
"Yep," Barbie grinned. "We decided that if I am going to be Barbie, we needed a different alias for her - just to keep the confusion to a minimum."
"YOU decided," Anne-Skipper muttered. "I don't think I was given a choice in the matter."
"Ken, Barbie and Skipper," Almost-Darla said in wonder. "Kewl!"
"YOU, little sister, have spent entirely too much of your formative years playing with dolls," Barbie accused.
"Mom's idea, and you know what that means."
"Yeah, I do. More likely to win an argument with an avalanche," the tallest blonde pronounced.
"So it is a good thing she is always right, eh, petite?" Marie put in.
"Oui, Tante Marie," the two cross-dressed males agreed in unision.
"Well trained," Skipper noted approvingly. "Perhaps there is something to Ms. Thompson's training."
The imp reappeared in Darla's eyes and she snatched up the pillows from the couch, tossing one to Barbie. "I think that deserves a suitable response, sis."
The impromptu pillow fight surprised and pleased them all. In five short minutes, a great deal of tension was relieved in the hay-go-mad whirl of chasing each other about the room swinging velvet-cased pillows at any nearby feminine form. The mock battle ended when Barbie had to come to Darla's aid - Skipper had cornered the diminutive blonde in a corner and was peppering her small opponent with pillow-blows.
"Okay, okay, I surrender!" Darla squealed, holding her hands above her head while Barbie playfully pulled away the victorious Ms. Braithwaite. One look in the nearby mirror had Darla wincing. "My mascara is RUINED!" she squealed to everyone else's laughing amusement. "Look, I will finish getting myself beautiful and get out of your way, Ms. Braithwaite. Kendra? I mean, Barbie? Can I ride to the motel with you? We should both go see Sandy, first thing tomorrow, anyway."
"Why do I need to go back to the Chalet tomorrow, Sis?"
"Your makeup. Those colors aren't quite right for a blonde. You need to change your look, or you'll really stand out when you're in public, and frankly, my dear, you aren't really good enough at the masquerade anymore to stand THAT much scrutiny. So, you're going to need Sandy because with that damned deep-dye stuff of Mom's on your face, you'll need her expert help to fix it."
"I'm supposed to be obvious, Dar. Remember, this is Valley Girl Bimbo-Bobbie mode, remember?"
"Nevertheless," Darla retorted, "you're someone Momma-Jane supposedly knows and thinks enough of to have at Seasons House. You can't be that much of a ditz. Right now, that particular makeup job is just too dramatic for the blonde hairdo. I think it could well become troublesome for you here and out in public."
"Unfortunately, sis, my own makeup skills won't be up to the task of keeping up that kind of look, either. Particularly with these other colors still lurking underneath just waiting to peek through."
Darla shrugged her bare shoulders, and grinned mischievously. "Then you'll have to use the deep-dye stuff again, Barbie. Which is another reason why we need Sandy. You need the real experts for this."
Kendra-Barbie considered that, and nodded. "Okay, I agree with that. I assume you've already made appointments for tomorrow?"
"Caro and Sandy both, an hour before normal opening." Darla confirmed.
"Right. Well, put some clothes on that skinny bod before you embarrass my little friend, Skipper, and let's get on the road. You need your beauty sleep."
"Excuse me?" she said, surprising herself as much as the two cross-dressed young men. "But, I was wondering if I might go with you tomorrow? I'd, well, I would like to meet the two women who run that shop. Especially the one who threatened to take Adrienne to New York to entertain her kinky friends."
"I told you that she threatens every boy with that," Kendra-Barbie sighed. "Hasn't happened yet. Won't ever happen. It's Sandy's version of a 'two-by-four in the face' to get the kid's attention."
"All the same, Barbie, I want to meet her, and if the shop is opening early for just the two of you, then there won't be anyone else to hear what I have to say to her, will there? Or, I could go later, say, about lunchtime? But there might be a real rush then. A lot of women with big ears and bigger mouths? That's the way it is at the shop I patronize."
A sudden mischievous grin flitted across Barbie's face. Darla caught it and sucked in a breath, having seen just such a look all too often on her Mother's face, immediately before things became just a little too interesting. "Pick you up at seven thirty?" Kendra offered, smiling oh-so-very-sweetly.
"Make is seven and I'll have fresh coffee waiting for you."
Chapter 16: Caro and Sandy Play with Barbie, Ken and Skipper
"So now you're going be called 'Barbie'?" the zoftig blonde beautician asked as she picked up yet another brush. Carolyn was working on Darla in another cubicle while Anne watched the work on Barbie.
"It, ah, seemed like a good idea at the time, Sandy. It would help keep Anne's presence here a secret in the event someone slipped up and said her name, and it suits the new look."
"Might have known only a damned male could hope to match the looks of that damned doll. Do you know, Kendra, I mean, Barbie, how much I used to DREAM of being built like that?"
"I'm sure Marie would love to lace you into one of Jane's killer corsets, Sandy," Barbie offered in her best imitation of Darla's catty tones.
"Dream on, bitch," Sandy replied grinning.
"Gotta suffer for your beauty, doll!" her client shot back.
"Naw, I think this goose will leave that sauce for you goosed ganders."
"You know?" Skipper-AKA-Anne put in from her perch on a nearby stool, "I suspect every little girl dreams of being Barbie-the-beautiful when she grows up. It's why the dolls have sold so well to so many generations of girls."
"Probably," Sandy muttered, her eyes not five inches from Barbie's as she stroked a fine eyeliner brush just above the tall woman's right eyelash. "At least I have the satisfaction of knowing all this life-sized doll's curves are all fake, too - plastic just like that bloody doll."
"You're not the first woman to mention that characteristic I share with my namesake," Barbie retorted, trying to glare at Skipper over Sandy's shoulder.
"Don't move, dammit, unless you want really exotically slanted eyes for the next week, okay? By the way, Ken, I mean Barbie, remind me to put these special cosmetics of Jane's away when we're through here, all right? Last thing I need is for one of kids from out Wednesday afternoon makeup class getting into this stuff."
Before Barbie could answer, Sandy abruptly drew back and gave her client a considering look. "Never mind - I'll put 'em away now. We're done here, I believe." She spun the salon chair so that Barbie could at least see herself in the mirror. "Whatcha think, kiddo?"
If the woman looking on was surprised, the man behind the masquerade was stunned. "My god," she breathed, and then lifted her right hand up to stroke her cheek.
"Is that a good 'My God' or an 'Oh-no-Mr.-Bill' kind of 'My God'?" Sandy asked petulantly when the silence continued to stretch out.
"I'm not sure," Barbie admitted.
Frustrated and looking for the approbation she felt her effort deserved, Sandy turned her eye to the other woman in the cubicle. "What do you think - what is it you're going by? oh, yeah, Skipper?"
"You're really very good at what you do. I watched you do everything and I really cannot point to a single thing that is really different, except that the whole look has changed."
"But is it GOOD?!" Sandy demanded.
"She's beautiful," Anne replied softly. "Like one of those supposedly clean-faced, all natural types you see in the healthy living magazines - you know, the ones who wear the two thousand dollar blue jeans and the name-designer flannel shirts with five hundred dollar ponytails. If I hadn't seen what she looked like coming in here, I wouldn't have thought she was wearing any make up, but I know what you covered up to make her look like that."
"At last, someone with taste and an eye for art," Sandy breathed. "Might've known it would take a REAL woman to appreciate my skill and subtlety."
"Sandy, you can't even SPELL subtlety," Barbie grinned as she got out of the salon chair, "But you are definitely an artiste with brush and pad, tube and pot. Thanks. At least now, Mom will let me in the house with Adrienne around."
"Remarkable," Anne said again.
"Well, hell, girl, it isn't that hard. Get in the chair and let me show you how it's done," Sandy challenged.
"Huh? Me? But I don't wear much more than a little lipstick, maybe some mascara when I have time, but. ."
"But NOTHING, girl. Looks like yours without makeup? Like Rembrandt buying canvas and not painting on it. Using makeup well doesn't have to take a lot of time."
Before the startled woman quite knew what was happening, Sandy had her in the salon chair with a protective cape over her clothing. "All right, now watch, listen and learn, girl friend," the stylist ordered, reaching for a nearby pot.
"What?" Sandy squawked when Barbie latched onto her wrist with an iron grip.
"Not that stuff, Sandy," the tall blonde said, smiling sweetly. "Unless you intend to use Jane's deep-dye stuff, and then you'd better ask first."
"Oh shit! I almost forgot. Thanks, Kenny, I mean, Barbie."
"And do something that will be easy for her to do herself, okay?"
"Would you two quit talking about me as if I weren't here, or worse, as if I were stupid," Anne snarled, starting to rise out of the chair. Hands from two different women blocked her escape. "What if I DON'T want to learn makeup?" she groused.
"A woman with eyes like yours who doesn't want to know how to use makeup?" Sandy retorted. "Don't even TEASE about such blasphemy!"
"Besides, do you want Adrian to be able to chide you for not knowing as much as he does?" Barbie offered.
Via her CCTV, Jane was watching Marie's not-entirely-successful attempt to teach Adrienne the finer points of cooking crepes when the phone rang. *I'll have to select my crepe from the ones Marie made while making sure that Adrienne eats her mistakes - intentional or otherwise,* she thought as she tossed her head to float her hair around the receiver. "Jane Thompson."
"Jane? It's Ruth. Is Kenneth still around there? At Seasons House, with you? I tried to reach him at his office, but the senior partner told me he was working on a special project for you. I assume that is the Braithwaite issue?"
"Yes, Ruth. He's not here right now, but I expect him to return this afternoon."
"All right. Look, Jane, he needs to come home. . here, as soon as possible. The next plane would be good."
Jane heard a tone of concern bordering on fear in her old friend's voice, and felt her own nerves tighten. "What is it, Ruth? What's wrong?"
"It's Sheila, Jane, Kenneth's . . . Mother. She's dead - murdered."
"Oh no," Jane breathed as her mind began developing a plan - and came up hard against the reality of ". . .Barbie. Oh, DAMN!"
"Barbie? Who the hell is Barbie, Jane?"
Carolyn stepped into Sandy's cubicle to find her partner guiding the woman she'd been told to call 'Skipper' through the process of applying eye makeup. "Ken. . I mean, Barbie?" she said.
"Jane just called for you and Darla. You're to haul it on back to Seasons House as quick as you can. Right now, in fact. She says it's really important. She said she was calling in Michael, too."
"Any word why?"
"She said she'd tell you when you got there, but. . "
"She did ask if Sandy or I knew of something that would clean off those deep-dye cosmetics. Told me that it was serious and this was not the time to hold back anything. As if I would," the brunette sniffed.
"Sounds like she wants Kenneth back in a hurry. Well, I'm not going to find out until I get home. You 'bout ready in there, Skipper?"
"What do you think?" Sandy asked smugly as she spun Anne's chair to face Caro and Barbie.
The techniques Sandy had taught the young woman were relatively simple, but when combined with the proper cosmetics and Anne's natural gifts, the results were lovely. Her incredible eyes were even larger, and at the same time somehow catlike. An almost invisible hint of color defined high cheekbones that focused the viewer's attention on those incredibly vivid eyes. Her mouth seemed somehow larger, more. . . smiling, but without the overt coloration normally associated with lipstick.
"God, that's great," Barbie sighed in a voice that was much more Ken than Kendra.
"And she did it all by herself," Sandy added.
"Put the stuff you used on Jane's tab, Sandy, and pack it up. We have to get out of here. Darrrr-LA? You done YET?" Barbie bellowed.
"Oh, stuff!" sniffed a petite, blonde pixie in a yellow and white cotton sun dress. "I suppose, but my nails aren't quite dry so YOU'LL have to drive, sister-dear."
The tones were so over-the-top prissy that everyone in the room, except Anne, cracked up immediately. She joined in, once she understood the joke. "WELL, it's not MY fault Jane has decided to inflict a junior version of Edith White on Skipper's sister," Darla groused.
"Who's Edith White?" Skipper asked ingenuously.
"YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW!" four voices yelling in unison assured her.
Chapter 17: Sometimes, You HAVE to Go Home Again
There was something ominous about the tall redhead who was literally waiting at the door of the huge mansion, Anne thought as she walked up to the main entrance. Something sad, too but at the same time, almost frightening. Whatever that 'something' was, it instantly dissolved the aura of bonhomie that had pervaded the car since the trio had departed Caro's and Sandy's place. Which was too bad because Anne had, surprisingly to her, thoroughly enjoyed herself during the trip back to Seasons House. The girl-boy Darla had kept them in stitches the entire time, by telling a hilarious improvisational story of "Janey-Locks and the Three Blondes". Naturally, the three of them had starred in the roles of 'Baby blonde', the 'Momma-blonde' and the 'Poppa-blonde' given their relative sizes. Of course, 'Janey-Locks' had been a bit more troublesome to the blondes than Goldilocks had ever been to those hapless bears. Anne hadn't quite gotten that part of the joke, but Barbie certainly had, nearly running off the road twice during fits of laughter.
When they'd arrived at Seasons House, the intercom at the main gate had directed them to go to the main house and not to the stable apartment as planned. Once there, Jane had herded the three of them inside the house and then into an ornately decorated office just off the main foyer.
*Not a very functional space,* Anne had thought immediately, for other than an antique French-styled phone, the room had been devoid of any of the electronic trappings of the modern-day workplace. Not a fax, computer or printer to be seen anywhere.
Waiting for them inside the office had been Marie, a distinguished older man with long silver hair, and a younger man - perhaps a year or so older than Anne. The newcomers immediately saw that everyone there shared Jane Thompson's grim mein.
Jane walked over to stand before the tall blonde and took both of her hands in hers. "There's no easy way to do this, dear," the auburn-tressed woman said with a gentleness that surprised Anne. "Your Mother, Sheila Roberts, is dead."
She felt like a voyeur - like an outsider peeking through an open curtain at something intensely intimate and thoroughly private. This was what family was all about, Barbara Anne Braithwaite thought as she watched two women, two men and one cross-dressed man encircle the stunned Kenneth, AKA Kendra, AKA Barbie, offering unconditional support, sympathy and love. That the leader of that care giving group was the woman Anne had come here to fight was disconcerting to the pretty blonde, to say the least.
*They simply love her. . him, and he loves them just as deeply,* she thought, *It really is that simple and that complicated. Can a woman who is as. . .evil, I guess is the only word, as I believed Jane Thompson love that completely and unselfishly? I don't think so, and yet, what does that say about my entire premise for being here?*
"Darling," Jane Thompson said quietly, but firmly. "You need to come upstairs with us to my apartment study. There are some. . . things you need to take care of before we can begin to take proper care of you."
"What about Adrienne?" Barbie asked quietly.
"Locked in her room," Jane replied, "A time out for childish behavior, otherwise Marie would have taken her shopping or something. Jessica has the safety watch on the closed circuit."
"Okay," the tall blonde replied tonelessly as she allowed herself to be led down the hall and then into one of the side rooms.
"Safety watch?" Anne wondered aloud as she followed Jane and Barbie out the door. *What the heck is THAT all about?*
The younger man, who had been introduced to Anne as Dr. Michael Nash, took her arm to lead her to the main staircase. "Ever since one of her students tried to commit suicide, they are monitored continuously," he told her softly.
Fear flared in Anne's stomach. "Suicide?!?" The question came out as a half shriek, drawing a sharp look from the woman helping her child up the steps. Anne stifled her urge to yell and rounded on the man at her elbow. "Are you telling me that this. . this PROGRAM involves tormenting my brother enough that he might actually kill himself?"
"Well, we don't really think so, but at times the stress can get pretty tough." He paused to collect himself and Anne saw something change in his eyes. "I know. I was the one who tried to kill himself."
"You?!? And you're still here? With HER?"
"Yes," he said simply, and the smiled impishly. In that smile, Anne could see the girl this man had obviously once been in Jane Thompson's keeping. "But I like to think I'm 'a better man' for it. And I'm the only one who ever got quite that far. One thing about Momma-Jane. She learns from her mistakes and she NEVER makes the same one twice. Kind of scary that way."
"In a lot of ways," Anne muttered under her breath.
Jane settled her child in the large desk-chair and put a piece of fax paper in front of her. "I want you to sign that, dear, and then Art and I will sign as witnesses. We'll fax it back to Ruth immediately and then Michael will drive the original into town for overnight mailing."
"What is it?" Barbie asked, obviously forcing herself to focus on the sheet.
"It's a power of attorney granting Judge Ruth Walinkiewicz authority to act in your stead for all matters pertaining to your Mother's internment and estate since it is obvious that you will not be able to attend to those issues yourself."
For the first time since Jane had told her child of Sheila's brutal death at the hands of an abused submissive and of that submissive's subsequent suicide, a spark of life glowed in the dark eyes. "She wasn't much, Momma-Jane, but she was blood of my blood. I have to finish this if I'm ever to have closure with that. . with that part of my life. I will see to her final arrangements."
The Mistress of Seasons House heard the velvety steel in her child's voice, and felt proud even as she recognized the danger of her plan. She shook her head sternly. "Out of the question. Have you looked in the mirror recently? Sheila was not the type to have friends, but even her acquaintances would likely know that she had a son, not a daughter. And those ARE the deep dye cosmetics, are they not? Even if you tried to look masculine right now - simply wearing male clothing and removing the wig won't help. In fact, it will make things worse because you'll look like someone - a MALE someone - who forgot to wash off HIS makeup. That would have serious implications for your career."
"I'm going, Mom," was the quietly determined reply, "Even if it means going as Kendra, or rather Barbie. Aunt Ruth can handle the legal affairs with this," and she held up the power of attorney, "but I'll still be there."
"That is DANGEROUS! How are you going to get there? You can't take the chance of driving - suppose you get stopped for even a random road-check? You don't have a license as Barbie, and in the post-9-11 world, there's no way Barbie could get through airport security. And we haven't begun to address the issues of being alone and having to deal with the reality of living day-to-day as a woman in public."
Barbie looked defiantly at Jane, never forgetting that Jane truly was concerned about her, but determinedly. "I did it before."
Jane smiled sadly, memories of the pride she had in her one time student warring with the also remembered tragic reasons Kendra once had those skills. "That was a long time ago, dear. And you weren't as . . . dramatic then. Your skills, I'm afraid, are rusty at the very time you need them to be even more impeccable. You've slipped up on your behaviors four times since you've returned from Caro's. Before, when you were Kendra, I covered for you, - shielded you - even as I kept you sharp. I'm sorry, but you couldn't manage on your own. I won't have you ruining your career because you tried to help me."
"Mama Jane, isn't that my choice to make?"
"Not if it's my fault, my ineptitude, that has backed you into that corner," Jane insisted.
Jane knew, the moment she ran down, that none of her reasoned if passionate argument had changed the tall lawyer's mind one iota. *It's just like when he first came to me - all determination to do what needs be done - what he THINKS needs be done,* she amended to herself, *and devil take the consequences. Sometimes I wish he wasn't so damned honorable!*
"I have to go, Mom," the femininely turned out young man said. "I'll be okay. I'll drive carefully and slowly so that I don't get pulled over. It's only about a twenty hour drive from here."
"And if an accident happens, despite your best efforts? What then?"
"I'll just have to deal with that if it happens."
"I'm sorry, dear, but that is just not acceptable to me. You leave me no other option but to release Adrienne and go with you myself."
"You can't do that, Mom!" Kenneth's voice roared.
"Of course I can," Jane retorted with calm self assurance. "According to the court order placing Adrian Braithwaite in my keeping, I am the final authority in his case, until or unless I remand him to the juvenile authorities as beyond my ability to rehabilitate. If I say she's done, then she's done."
"Then I won't go. I can't go."
Anne rounded on the taller blonde. "You just said that you were going, regardless of the risk, but now you're not? I don't understand. WHY? Why is keeping my brother here in this. . this frilly prison is more important than seeing to your mother's final arrangements?"
"JANE is my mother," Barbie corrected firmly. "Sheila will have Ruth to take care of her, but who will take care of your brother? As much as I feel I have a duty to her and to myself to finish this, the fact remains that she's dead. When I was the only one placed at risk by my going, that was one thing, and I could handle that. On the other hand, your brother's future is at risk if Jane sets him loose before he's learned what she has to teach him. He needs help, Anne really needs help or he wouldn't have been sent to Jane. Turning him loose before he's ready isn't fair. Not to him, not to you and not to any of us who've been even peripherally involved with Aunt Jane's program through the years."
Anne stared up into Barbie's eyes for several long moments, obviously trying to see the truth behind the words. Finally, she asked "You really believe that?"
"With all my heart," was the simple answer. "Your brother deserves the same chance to turn his life around that Jane's given a hundred other guys. He only gets that chance if both of them are here at Seasons House."
Darla stood up and walked over to stand by Barbie. "I believe that, too, Ms Braithwaite. The only reason I *didn't* commit suicide, or become a runaway who would have died soon after anyway, is because of Mama Jane. I've been a willing participant in her program ever since." Turning to the only mother she had ever really known, Darla said, "And I've learned a lot along the way. I can cover for her, Mom, and if I go as Darryl, there won't be any trouble with cops and things."
"I need you here, Darla, working with Adrienne, or I might as well go myself," Jane declared, "Audrey and Marie as well." She smiled to take any sting out her next words. "And though you are insufferably cute, I'm not sure you have the . . . presence to draw attention away from Kendra , ah, Barbie."
"You're saying I'm not man enough," Darryl's voice said bitterly.
"My son, you are more of a man than 99.9% of the world will ever encounter, but we're not talking about your courage and inner strength, we're talking about visual impact. As Darryl, you've not been blessed with the particular characteristics that would be an appropriate distraction from any faux pas that Barbie might make. I'm sorry."
"Not half as sorry as I am," sighed Darla, but the truth of Jane's observation couldn't be denied.
"I believe Michelle could be fairly distracting," Michael said. "And for reasons I never got around to telling you, I happen to have all the ID Michelle would ever need. I could go."
"You can't do that," Barbie said.
"You think I'm not pretty enough to draw eyes away from you?" Michelle's soft voice challenged.
"Hell, brother mine, when you put your mind to it you're pretty enough to draw attention away from *Jessica*, but that's not the point. You're getting married."
"It can wait, if the only alternatives are abandoning Adrienne or destroying Ken's career."
"I'll go with him," Anne's voice suddenly interjected. Every head in the room swivelled to face her, surprise in every eye. Surprise that was only slightly less than what she herself was feeling at that moment. "I can drive and MY face at least nearly matches the picture on my license."
"That's very. . . kind of you, Ms. Braithwaite," Jane said softly. "May I ask why you're making such an offer?"
The look on the girl's face told Jane very clearly that she wasn't completely clear why she'd done it. "I guess it's because I've come to respect Kenneth. . .um, Barbie. He cares about you and about what you do a great deal. I still don't like what you do, Ms. Thompson, but Kenneth is a good guy, and has been nothing but fair in dealing with me, even after I threatened you with legal action and public exposure. If he's determined to do this, and if you think he needs someone with him, I'll go."
"I see," Jane murmured, considering the option. "Dear?"
Barbie looked at the other tall blonde. "If you're sure. This won't be a pleasant trip."
"I'm sure. It will also give me another opportunity to talk with the Judge. I have some questions for her that I'd like answered before I make up my mind about this . . . program of your Mother's."
"Fair enough. Momma Jane?"
"Marie will pack some things for you, dear," Jane said in quiet surrender. "Why don't you and Ms. Braithwaite go down to the apartment and pack for her. I will bring the car and your luggage down once it's packed."
"Good idea," Anne said. "I really haven't unpacked all that much. I just need to get my own stuff, clean this gunk off my face and we can be off, Barbie."
Jane saw disappointment flash in Barbie's eyes at hearing Anne's intention to cleanse away her makeup. *Oh, my,* she thought as insight flared. "I'm afraid that won't work, Miss Braithwaite," she improvised quickly.
"I beg your pardon? I thought it was decided that I would go. Didn't you just agree not two minutes ago?"
"Not that. The makeup. I think you need to keep wearing it. I think it is crucial to your purpose, in fact."
Anne stared at the older woman for several seconds, disbelief evident in her eyes. "You'll have to explain that," she said finally.
"As we have been discussing, part of your role in all this, besides acting as chauffeur, is as camouflage. You have to draw attention away from Barbie so that her inevitable slip ups won't be as noticeable. Unless you can keep up. . . appearances, I am afraid that some other arrangement will have to be made."
"Mom!" Barbie yelped, giving Jane yet more proof of just how much her child liked the idea of Miss Barbara Anne Braithwaite as escort on this trip. *Even if it means he's in skirts, too. Fascinating.*
"I was completely serious earlier, dear. You forget the masquerade too easily. You will pass the first look, but alone you're too likely to draw that second, third and fourth look. You truly are that striking, but unfortunately, you just are not ready for that level of public scrutiny."
"And you think having me along, made up to, how did you put it, draw attention? You think that will help him pass in public? Would that be YOUR strategy if you were escorting him?"
"I have infinitely more experience shepherding a cross-dressed male about in public than you do, Anne," Jane said gently. "Not only can I correct many errors before they happen, I see and can avoid potentially dangerous situations before they actually have the chance to get out of hand. You don't have that luxury, so you will need to be as striking as Barbie, if not more so."
"You're kidding, right? Make up or no make up, there's no WAY I'm close to being that. . . good looking."
"HAH," Darla snorted, only to receive a sharp slap on the arm from a stern looking Marie. "I only wish I was as good looking. . . or as tall."
Michael chimed in. "Boy howdy," he agreed. "If you only KNEW how hard I have to work to look HALF as good as you look right now." The young doctor suddenly gave a dismayed, feminine sniff and stamped his foot. "It's just *so* not fair!" a disconcertingly feminine voice finished in pure valley girl.
Jane could see that her quarry was starting to reel a bit under the sudden assault by her two former students, and pressed the advantage herself. "You would not need to be so . . . flamboyantly attractive as Michelle would need to be for the same benefit. Subtlety never was her strong point in any case." Jane said lightly, drawing another outraged sniff and a giggle. Pleased with the lightened mood, she then became serious. "Believe me, Anne, I'm an expert in this. If you are willing to take advantage of your natural gifts, you'll be causing traffic pileups from here to Florida."
"You really think so?" the tall girl asked in hesitant, longing wonder.
"I am telling you that I *know* so!" Jane declared, a discreet hand signal keeping the others from adding their own endorsements.
Only Barbie said anything, standing to move close to Anne, "It's not fair to ask this of you, Skipper, but you really could help me a lot here."
*I really must introduce you to Audrey at some point,* Jane thought with a suppressed smile as she looked at the two tall women. "I would truly appreciate it, dear. If you do your best, I won't have to worry nearly so much about the threat to Ken . . . Barbie."
"This isn't just some game you're playing with me, is it?" the girl asked, an audible hesitancy in her voice.
*She wants to be convinced. Well, there's one argument that might work. I hope this isn't a mistake,* Jane thought. "No, it's definitely NOT a game. This whole issue is very serious. Kenneth is as much my son as if I had been the one who gave him birth and this is about his future. Let me repeat, if you insist on going, _Kenneth_," and Jane put heavy emphasis on the intentional use of his male name, "Unless Ms Braithwaite agrees to my conditions, I will have no other option but to release Adrienne and go with you myself."
The look of abject horror on Barbie's face was perfect, Jane realized precisely the reaction she'd hoped for when she'd taken this gamble. *Now, if Anne will just take the bait.*
"All right," Anne said, triggering a sigh of relief from so many people it caused in turn a titter of giggling. "It's only for a few more weeks, and I'll be here to watch over him once we get back."
"Ms. Braithwaite? Just so there is no misunderstanding? I still get my full three weeks after you return. My program and I deserve that much in return for what you've been offered."
A look of surprise flashed across the young woman's face to be replaced by resignation, then she shrugged. "All right. Meet me down at the stables with the car?" she asked Barbie.
Chapter 18: Plans of Mice, Men and Aunts
Jane Thompson sat enjoying a nightcap in her favorite shabby overstuffed love seat; her long legs curled under her, her body cuddled up to Art. Marie sat across from them sipping tea. "You want to tell me what that little scene was all about, Jane?" the petite housekeeper asked.
"Whatever do you mean?" Jane asked innocently.
"You know VERY well what I mean! Pushing Ms. Braithwaite like that. The makeup and insisting that she spend the full three weeks after returning. Suppose she'd told you to go visit the devil in his hothouse and Kenneth still felt he had to go?"
"Our Janey'd have found a way out," Art said equably. "And somehow convinced the girl it had been HER idea and not Jane's."
"I might have wanted to be shed of that one," Jane said saucily. "Adrienne, the little sneak, has become quite the little conniver."
"Pooh," Marie retorted. "That one, as you say, is now yours, just like they all become yours. You'd no more give up on her than you'd sprout wings and fly."
Jane had the grace to blush, then laughed. "You know me so well, darling. However, my little ultimatum worked, and I got what I wanted. It was a bluff, of course," she admitted finally. "One I'd have been forced to eat and swallow whole if Kenneth hadn't fallen in with it so perfectly that the girl truly believed I was serious."
"You don't think that little ploy just a little risky given that the girl is already planning on suing you? And you still haven't explained what you really wanted out of this game you're playing with her. Why force the make-up on her? AND why insist she still be here at Seasons House all three weeks?"
A mischievous grin stole across Jane's features. "Kenneth is smitten with her. He likes her a very great deal - more than he's admitted yet even to himself, I think, and he especially likes her when she's properly made-up," Jane said conspiratorially. "And I think that SHE is more than just a little bit fascinated by him. I think I rather like the idea of the two of them together. They'll make lovely babies for me to spoil as the doting grandmama."
"WHAT??! Is THAT what that was all about? You've decided to play matchmaker?"
Jane sniffed at the implied reprimand. "You've had your chance to play matchmaker, Marie, with Audrey and Darryl. It's my turn to play interfering mater familias. Should be a good deal of fun."
"But there weren't any truly at-risk students involved when I shepherded those two through the romantic rocks and shoals. What about Adrienne? How are you going to handle her needs at the same time you're throwing her big sister at your son, who oh-by-the-way, is also stuck in a femme role right now?"
"Don't worry about her. I'm still here, and I have some new ideas on that score. Besides, you're still here, aren't you? As are Art and Jessica. Not only that, but we've brought in the really big guns - Audrey and Darla. Now that we've rendered Barbara Anne, I mean, Skipper, incommunicado to our dear student, we should have a chance to turn things around here quite nicely."
"I just HATE it when she says things like that - all airy and completely certain of herself," Art intoned, before putting his hand over his eyes and groaning ostentatiously. "This could be ugly," he warned solemnly.
Jane poked him hard in the solar plexis with her elbow and laughed. "It'll be fine - you'll see."
"And do you mind telling this poor, ignorant male just why you think those two are such a good match, Aunt Yenta?" Art asked. "She's upset that her brother is in skirts and unless I missed something, didn't she force the issue of Kenneth becoming Kendra as a counterattack? Thinking he might refuse or that it might in some way hurt our case?"
"Whatever her reasons were, I think she was very surprised by our Kenneth, and in particular, by our Kenneth as Kendra." With a sigh, Jane set down her brandy snifter and turned about to look at her husband and saw the very real worry in his eyes. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the same emotion clouding Marie's visage as well. "Have you noticed how my boys. . .our boys, gravitate to women who love them, respect them for the softer aspects of their personalities as much for their masculine strength and character? Michael has Janice, Darryl has Audrey, Bill has Carolyn. . "
"I have you," Art added, his words warm with love.
"Indeed. Kenneth has, because of that growth spurt, felt forced to put Kendra aside, to leave her as something only from his past, and while he hasn't been unhappy as a result, I've always sensed that he somehow felt, I don't know, incomplete."
"You think that Barbara Anne Braithwaite is the woman who is going to help him find what he's lost and left behind?"
"She got him into a dress again."
"He did that for you, sweetheart. Darla and Michelle do it as much for themselves as for their chosen ones. I was Diana for me before I was ever her for you, at least long term."
"You're the psychologist, dear, but I think Kenneth has mourned the loss of Kendra. Part of his rejection was due to the baggage he carried with him from Sheila, of course, but still he saw the positive aspects in Darla and Michelle, and in our other boys as well. In time, I think he would have come to achieve a balance with both sides of his yin and yang."
"Except for that growth spurt. Lord, Janey, but Kendra . . . "
"Barbie," Jane interrupted. "Like I told them, we've all got to get used to thinking in those terms for the duration."
"Barbie looks like a Vegas showgirl! Lord above, but those heels! All she needs is some spandex, glitter and feathers! And that figure!"
"Good corsetry works miracles," Marie put in smugly.
"Just so," Jane replied. "Anyway, thanks to Skipper, our Barbie is back, and our Kenneth is dealing with that."
"Okay, I can see all that, but to come back to the question -AGAIN - you still haven't explained the matchmaking and the makeup."
"The make-up is easy. Barbie looked disappointed when Skipper said she was going to clean it off, so I stopped her for Barbie. The excuse I gave her is valid enough, but my real reason was to make her pretty for my boy."
"Huh," Marie snorted. "And you call Adrienne a conniver."
"Master strategist, please, I am far beyond mere connivance. As for the match between the two of them? Well, that's a bit more complicated. Have either of you seen Skipper be anything other than, well, supportive of Barbie?" There was a noticeable pause as the other two considered that and then shook their heads. "Given what she thought of me, I would have expected her to have other, far less pleasant reactions to our boy en femme, but she is, as I said, fascinated by what she sees, and I believe that she honestly likes Barbie, too. Now, thanks to Skipper's offering to go to Indianapolis with Barbie, and to her agreement to serve the full three weeks after they return, I have them together - in close, companionable proximity, for almost a whole month."
"There are words for women like you," Art growled.
"Yeah. Sneaky, manipulative, underhanded. . . "
"And your point is?" Jane asked, one finely shaped brow arching high into her still-smooth forehead.
"I think you're great, and I'm going to have a lot of fun watching you maneuver that pair down the aisle behind Michael and Janice."
Jane picked up her brandy snifter and raised it into the air. "A toast - to young love."
Art raised his glass of the Irish. "To old. . umm, middle-aged, no, make that mature love," he offered.
"Nice try, Philips," Marie giggled as she lifted her wineglass, "But let's just say, 'to love' and leave it at that."
"Hear, hear!" the other two chimed in and finished their drinks.
"DON'T YOU DARE THROW THAT WATERFORD GLASS AGAINST THE MANTLE, ART!" Marie shrieked just in time.
"Spoilsport," Art groused, before turning back to his grinning wife. "Now, what are these ideas you have for Adrienne?"
Jane became serious again. "Well, that little concession I wrangled from her sister before they left will hopefully give me back some of the leverage I've lost. As to a strategy, I'm not sure, but I have an idea. I went back and checked her records, particularly the ones written by her school teachers? I think there's something there."
"What?" Art asked, intrigued.
"No, I'd like you to read through what I've marked," and it was the school teacher who answered. "I don't want you prejudiced by my interpretations."
Jane rose and stretched, and then offered her hand to her mate. "Tomorrow is soon enough," she assured him. "Now, I think we all," and her look included Marie, "need to get some rest. The next few weeks are going to be demanding."
"How long a drive is it to Indianapolis?" Anne aka Skipper asked as she accelerated Kenneth's BMW sports car onto the westbound lanes of Interstate 95.
"It's about 900 miles," Barbie replied, leaning back in her seat so that she wouldn't have to watch as someone else drove her beloved little car. "Figure about sixteen, maybe seventeen hours driving time. I told Aunt Ruth we'd arrive by dinnertime tomorrow if we stop for the night someplace, before lunch if we drive straight through."
"I don't think I can drive that far straight through," Skipper replied.
"I can drive," Barbie told her. "Aunt Jane to the contrary, it's hard to speed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike these days - too much traffic, too much construction. Toss in a couple of pit-stops and we're home-free. Besides, we'll just make sure you're driving when we get to the end-of-the-line tollbooth."
"Sounds like a plan." The girl concentrated on her driving for a while and sighed in pure pleasure. "This is a great car."
"Momma-Jane's graduation gift to me," Barbie said with a smile.
"You really love her, don't you," Skipper observed.
"That surprises you," Barbie replied, "And bothers you."
"Yes. I mean, after the way she came to you when you needed her, the way all of you seem to . . .I don't know, trust her, I guess, I was all ready to see her in a different light. . "
"Different than what your brother's report had you expecting?"
"That's it," Skipper said quickly. "And then, she goes off on that 'this time with Kenneth doesn't count' stuff. I just don't understand that at all."
Barbie gave a deep throated chuckle of resignation. "With the possible exception of Art and maybe Marie, I don't think any mere mortal can fully understand the workings of Jane Thompson's mind. Probably easier to understand the weather."
"So you have no idea what that was all about?"
"Oh, I have inklings, and while I am probably at least partially right, I am probably missing the subtleties in her plan." At the 'come on, give' motion of the shorter girl's hand, Barbie grinned. "I'd say that, at the very least, Aunt Jane has a new strategy in mind for little Miss Adrienne, and is looking for every possible moment in time to execute the plan. Thus, but not counting your time with me, she gets upwards of another week to work your brother, and believe me, she will."
"That sounds ominous."
"I guess I can understand why you might feel that way," Barbie said reflectively, "But truly, what she does works. Boys come to her on the road to a variety of bad ends. They leave her as pretty good examples of the human species."
"You offer yourself as proof of that, eh?"
"Not really," Skipper's passenger said in a more serious vein. "Momma-Jane figured out after a couple of days that something was wrong with me, and stopped pressing her program until she figured out what was wrong. I was only her student for about two and a half days."
"And your mother was what was wrong?" Skipper asked more gently.
"She'd forged the court documents that referred me to Jane, hoping she could succeed where Sheila herself had failed - turning me into a girl."
"Looks to me like it worked."
"Not quite," Barbie said with noticeably more heat. "Physically, I am still male under all this. . . camouflage. Had my Mother won, I'd be an 'it' - a caricature of a woman - totally degraded in every sense of the word."
"And Ms. Thompson's program isn't degrading?" she challenged sharply.
"No." The answer was spoken emphatically.
"You sound so sure of that. I wish I could be - for my brother's sake."
Barbie sat quietly for a moment, clearly marshaling her thoughts. Skipper watched her out of the corner of her eye - just as quietly - and was impressed despite herself by the earnestness with which Barbie considered this topic. In part, she realized, the statuesque blonde was justifying herself, and not just Jane Thompson.
After that moment, Barbie asked, "You thought that Adrian was getting into one of those Outward Bound programs, or maybe even one of those boot camp types of thing, right?"
"Yes, more the former than the latter. I wouldn't have agreed to the boot camp thing."
"With Adrian?" Skipper had to resist the urge to snort at that image. Instead, she only said, "That would be, well, worse than Jane Thompson's place."
Barbie raised a hand to hide the grin. She wondered if Skipper even realized she had just casually ranked Jane's program even that high. She knew Skipper would not have done so when she had first considered it so . . perverse. But the new lawyer knew when to let her witness do most of the talking herself, so she just prodded a little.
"Why would it be worse?"
"Adrian is not . . cut out for all that macho sh . . . stuff. If he had to do a bunch of pushups, he'd, well, he wouldn't have done very well. All that military style training is so focused on strength, even the hikes with a pack are easier for bigger, ah, men. It would have broken his heart - and his spirit. I want him to better when he finally comes through this mess, not diminished."
"I think you're right," Barbie agreed quietly. "But you're missing a key point. While the military does use Boot Camp and Basic Training for physical conditioning, there is a more important purpose."
"Yeah, turning them into killers."
"Not exactly, though there is an element of that, in a different way than I think you mean."
"How would you know?" Skipper asked, looking at the gorgeous woman sitting next to her.
Barbie grinned easily and said, "Actually, I don't, not first hand, anyway, but one of Jane's ex students is now a Major in the Marine Corps, and we've, ah, discussed some interesting parallels."
"Parallels to what?" asked Skipper.
Instead of answering the question directly, Barbie asked one of her own. "What's the biggest difference between the young men and women who enter Boot Camp, and those who successfully complete the course?"
"I don't have any idea. Guns, haircuts and uniforms?"
Barbie smiled at the riposte before answering her own question. "Those who go in are individuals. Those who come out are part of a team."
"Nice little robots, you mean?"
"I can see you haven't met many Marines," Barbie snapped, taking insult for her absentee skirt-sib.
Skipper shrugged, but ducked her head at a jab she knew was fair. "No, not really. That swaggering macho thing has never . . . interested me."
Barbie let that go, returning to the key issue. "The Marines have a deliberate, carefully worked out program for new recruits. First, they have to show them that their civilian ways - the self centered, 'I'll do it *my* way for *ME*' attitude won't work. They apply a lot of stress, deliberate stress, tearing away at every detail of the recruits' natural reactions so that they question *every*thing about their own abilities. Then they rebuild them as part of a team, showing them that the disciplined team is stronger, more effective, more worthy of pride than anything they could ever achieve on their own."
The taller girl paused for a moment of reflection, then shrugged. "And you're right, of course. Part of that is military effectiveness, and they do indeed learn to kill. But only under control, as part of a team effort, in compliance with lawful orders. They learn self discipline from the success they achieve through imposed discipline."
"I suppose NOW you're going to tell me that Jane's program does the same thing." There was a world of skepticism in Skipper's acid tones.
"In many ways," Barbie agreed equably. "The team element is less significant of course, but the stress and the discipline are very real. It's a teardown/buildup process that forces the student to question every instinctive reaction on the way to learning conscious control."
Barbie smiled ruefully, and said, "In fact, that's what 'gave me away' to Jane."
"Huh? 'Gave you away'? I don't understand."
"It's how Mom figured out I really didn't belong at Seasons House - as her student, at least. I already had a lot of self control, more than she'd ever seen. Or so she says. That wasn't consistent with the lies my birth mother had placed in the forged records she'd sent Jane."
"I STILL don't see what her program has to do with boot camp or discipline for that matter." Skipper fumed, her frustration with this line of incomprehensible logic growing rapidly.
"The feminine mannerisms Jane demands in he program are as foreign to her typically short and slender students as the rigid discipline of military orders is to the more, ah, 'macho' types who are drawn to the Marines. Yet a smaller boy can do well at Jane's program, even excel something that only very rare individuals of that body type can do in the primarily physical stress of Boot Camp. In the end though, it takes the same sort of self control and discipline to succeed. Once you have that once you *realize* that you have that well, then you're ready to succeed in just about anything you want to do."
"You sound so certain," Skipper observed again, her tones almost wistful.
"I've seen it work, Skipper," Barbie's quiet intensity drew a surprised stare from her companion. "And although Mom admits to two failures, I've never seen one, and I've been watching her for more than five years now."
Lines furrowed the shorter woman's smooth brow as her eyes narrowed in thought. "I'm just not sure I want. . . that I believe being made to excel at being feminine . . " she paused, then shook her head. "I have to think about all this a lot more, I guess."
Barbie nodded, but didn't make any reply. Instead, she let the silence stand for a few minutes, but then saw a sign. "Can we pull off at the rest-stop ahead? Between breakfast and this damned corset squeezing my bladder, I need the little girl's room?"
That drew a surprised giggle from the driver. "You don't think I'm going to go into the little boys room, do you?" she demanded, all outraged dignity.
"Honey," Skipper chortled, "You don't qualify for a 'little' anything! Let's see if we can find you a BIG girl's room."
A sniff that Skipper had not known Jane Thompson long enough to recognize was her only answer.
Chapter 19: On the Road Again.
"God, the look on your face!" Skipper hooted when they were back in safety of the car. "Got any spare change for the Tampex machine, honey?" she growled in creditable mimicry of the woman who'd just cornered the big blonde.
"Skipper," Barbie warned softly.
"Don't you just HATE it when it hits you miles from nowhere without warning. Monthlies ought to BE monthly, right?"
"You're pushing your luck, cutie," an increasingly red-faced Amazon snarled.
"Oh, come on. It's over. Surely you can see how funny it was - at least in hindsight."
"It is NOT the LEAST bit funny and not at all what I had expected."
Skipper was doing her best not to howl with laughter now, and almost succeeding, although she was starting to hiccup. "And what did you expect?"
A trace of a smile softened the taller girl's features now. "Well, according to my skirt-sibs, if you're really lucky, sometimes you see cute girls, shall we say, en dishabille?"
"NOT in roadside bathrooms, girlfriend," Skipper retorted firmly. "I try not to spend any more time in one of those places than necessary." She gave an exaggerated shudder at the thought.
"Gee, I thought it was pretty good. Much better than the guy-side would have been."
Now the other girl's shudder was real. "Yuck! You're kidding, right? No civilized human being would tolerate such conditions."
"Who said men are civilized? Heck, some of us still like trees when nature calls, you know?"
Skipper was still laughing as she started the car and headed back for the open road.
"The instructor hasn't had any of your students before," Art pointed out as he read the flyer. "I agree it's intriguing, particularly after having read Adrienne's school file again, but that's a pretty physical art form. The instructor might pick up on your girl's slip-ups."
"I'd be close by," Jane countered, "for the first few lessons, at least. If only to make sure that Adrienne doesn't try anything dangerous. Besides, she might even like it, once she gets past the initial shock of being in public on her own."
"You sure this is what you want? It's not nearly as . . . blatant as some of the things you've done with the children's theater."
"Wrong kind of play. They're all dressing up in animal costumes, so even if I had Adrienne there in a boy role, putting him in a girl chipmunk outfit wouldn't particularly stress him. As to the degree of femininity, I think our young miss will draw. . .attention. The costumes are typically rather form fitting and Adrienne's will be more so than most."
Art hugged his wife. "I love it when you talk dirty," he whispered.
"Down, boy!" Jane ordered, grinning. "So, what do you think?"
"As long as you think you can deal with the externals, it sounds like a good idea. Should put her on the right road, at least."
"And besides, the kids at the clinic will love having a mime come visiting," the Mistress of Seasons House said smugly.
"So, you had expectations for our little rest-stop? Based on, what was it you called them? Skirt-subs?"
"Skirt-SIBS," Barbie corrected, "As in siblings. Fellow former students of Jane Thompson's Winsome Girls' School for Wayward Boys. It's kind of like being a blood brother, only less messy."
"Right. I take it these . . . persons have invaded a lady's room?"
"Well, maybe I sort of have," Barbie admitted with a bit of a blush before hurrying on with "but Michael and Darryl have, for sure. They both have lived en femme for relatively long periods of time. Darryl as Jane's big sister in residence for about six years; Mike because," the tall blonde hesitated, "well, that's his story to tell."
"He's the one who attempted suicide."
"Yeah. Part of the, well, therapy I guess you'd call it, was to live as Michelle full time for quite a while - to sort of come to grips with the things that had driven him that far."
The pair lapsed into silence as the powerful car ate up the miles down the Connecticut Turnpike. "You want to put the top down after we get through New York?" Barbie asked. "It's a gorgeous day."
"My, but we are becoming comfortable with our girlishness," Skipper observed sweetly.
"Huh? What does that mean?"
"Feel like holding your wig on the whole trip, slick? The wind will have it off you before you can spit. Or is that hairpiece held on by more than a few hair hooked through the mat?"
"Ah-ah-ah-ah," the shorter girl tutted sweetly. "Whatever would your Mother say? Such language from a lady."
"You're really pushing your luck," Barbie observed.
Skipper said nothing in return, but inwardly smiled. He might be miffed at her teasing, but at least he wasn't brooding about what awaited them at their destination.
"Where do you want to stop for lunch?" she asked instead.
"Anywhere EXCEPT one of those Pennsylvania Turnpike rest areas," was the emphatic answer. "I know a nice little family diner just over the New York-Pennsylvania border. Real home cooking - much better than Momma-Jane ever made, but then, Momma-Jane has Marie."
Jane watched the class with practiced eyes, knowing what to look for - knowing what behaviors and situations would be safe for her plans; and those that were simply too dangerous to her student's masquerade.
The instructor was a drama teacher at the local high school, but working here at the youth club as a volunteer. The pre-adolescent boys and girls in this group were learning the 'fine art' of physical comedy. In other words, they were learning to be clowns. Jane had laughed more than once at their exuberant antics, and had even applauded when the teacher had been the practice dummy for the 'pie-in-the-face' act. She wondered what the white foam filling the paper-plates was, but it looked like great fun to her.
*The problem is,* she reminded herself, *that all real acting is at once physical, mental and emotional, and in correcting physical interpretations, acting coaches often 'lay hands' on their students.* Jane could not risk that. An experienced acting teacher might well be all too likely to recognize the 'enhancements' she used with her boys for what they really were - corsets, falsies and other types of padding. Such a recognition might raise questions Jane could not afford to have aired.
So far, the male teacher had been very careful - correcting by means of example and verbal directions only. Still, the only male, other than a former student, Jane had ever involved in her program had been Art, who was unique and special in many ways. Could she take the risk? Certainly, having Adrienne in regular and close contact with a male while in her feminine guise would be very stressful on Jane's current problem-child. *Do I dare risk it?* she asked herself.
The question was still bothering her as the last of the children departed leaving her alone with the instructor. "Ms. Thompson?" the smiling man asked as he walked up to her, vigorously rubbing face and hair with a white towel. "I'm Ted Fredricks. I'd offer you my hand, but I'm not sure I've got all the shaving foam off me yet."
"Is that what that was?" she asked, brow cocked in query.
"Yep. It doesn't cost much, and the little ones aren't tempted to clean the floor with their mouths when we're done. It can smart if it gets in the eye, though, which is why I let them pop me with the 'pie'. Can't be a proper clown without throwing a pie in someone's face, you know. Anyway, you wanted to talk about the class on mime, right? Oh, and could we walk as we talk? I have to leave as soon as we're done."
"Yes, of course," she replied, following him down the hall toward the parking lot door of the club. "I have a young girl living with me, she's thirteen," Jane temporized. Actually, Adrian was fifteen, but was small enough that Adrienne could pass as a fairly tall thirteen year old girl which suited Jane's purposes. "She saw Marcel Marceau on the Biography Channel and was fascinated by the art. I thought she might like to learn something of that first hand."
"I hear a 'but' in that, Ms. Thompson."
*Might as well tell part of the truth,* Jane thought. "I'm concerned about a young girl being taught such a physical art by. . by. . "
"by a MAN?" There was steel-hard ice in Fredricks' voice. "I teach children, Ms. Thompson, I do NOT molest them, and god help anyone I ever catch who does."
"I see," Jane murmured, pleased with the reaction. "I'm sorry for the way that sounded, but one cannot be too careful with a child these days."
He walked up to a late-model van and opened the side door, tossing his duffel inside. "Perhaps, but being male, Ms. Thompson, let me tell you that it gets wearing when everyone expects me to be on the make for little girls. My wife will be helping with the mime class, if that makes you feel any better, and she can work directly with your girl. She usually does coach the girls, in fact."
"Would it be all right if I watched, maybe the first couple or three classes? Just to make sure she's okay with it? *And so I can make sure she's not getting out of hand.*
"No problem, but I may just draft you to help, or make you do the exercises. Ever try mime yourself, Ms. Thompson?"
Jane tried to imagine herself in white-facepaint, a bowler-hat, a long-sleeved white pullover shirt and calf-length pants. Somehow, it just didn't work for the intensely feminine Mistress of Seasons House. She grinned at the thought. "No, can't say that I have." Then something in the van caught her eye. "Those aren't petticoats, are they?" she asked in surprise.
"Yep," Fredricks answered. "The faculty at the school is doing a variety show next week, sort of as a fund raiser. I'm going to do my Milton Burle routine for it. I got those as part of the costuming."
*My goodness,* was all Jane could think.
"Your car sucks gas, Blondie," Skipper said as they approached Stamford, CT. "We should probably fill up before the City. With any luck, we won't be down to fumes before we're safely into Pennsylvania."
"I'd take offence for my trusted steed, except I need the necessary."
"Told you you'd regret going to town on that water bottle," Skipper added with a smirk.
"Sheesh, never give a guy an even break, do you?" Barbie responded cattily, and then stopped short when she felt rather than saw her companion almost withdraw into herself.
"What?" the taller blonde demanded. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't really mean. . "
She watched as the other girl gathered herself, forcing an almost-smile onto her face. "No. . no, I know it wasn't meant as anything other than playfully. It's just. . ." her voice trailed off as her eyes became focused on something distant that only she could see.
"Just what, Anne?" Kenneth's voice asked very gently.
She sighed deeply. "That's precisely what my brother has always accused me of doing. Never giving him a break, I mean, always on him. It's one of his best shots, and he knows it. I shouldn't react to it . . ."
"But you care about him, so you worry that he might be right?" A shaky nod answered the question. "Seems to me that if Adrian was mature enough not to need such . . . oversight? If he didn't need it, he wouldn't have gotten himself in court and wouldn't be at Seasons House in buttons and bows, pettis and pinafores. Sounds to me like little brother has your buttons pretty well figured out, well tuned and tends to push them pretty hard."
Silence filled the car as Skipper considered that. They drove another two miles before she finally spoke. "I guess he does, at that. Most of our 'discussions'," and the word was said with heavy sarcasm, "seem to end on his terms - usually with one of his little parting shots to twist the knife. You know? I'd never quite seen it in that light."
"Guy thing," Barbie observed, back in character. "In truth, one of the things Jane wants the boys to learn is a more, feminine isn't the right word, but a more 'woman's way' of interacting with other folks, particularly folks who have apparent power. Adrian was thinking in terms of winners and losers - his little shots made him the winner, at least to him."
"But I wasn't trying to make him lose anything," Skipper protested.
"I know that. Hopefully, after Jane is through with him, so will he."
"Caro? Hello, Jane here."
"Hi, Jane. What's up?"
Jane smiled flirtatiously at her husband over the curved mouthpiece of the antique-styled phone. "Oh, I was wondering if you had time to do a little job for me this afternoon?"
"How big a job?" Caro asked cautiously, "And on who? Kendra? I thought Sandy and Marie went a little too far with her yesterday. Tear down time?"
"No, no - nothing of the sort. It's Adrienne, and I have some very specific. . . enhancements in mind for her."
"Jane, we've worked together a long time, now, right?"
"Yes we have, dear. So?"
"Well, when you start talking around things, I've learned to start being careful. What do you want and why? What's going on in that devious mind of yours? Tell me that, and then I'll tell you if we can handle what you want this afternoon."
Jane stuck out her tongue and made a face at Art, who dissolved into silent giggles at having won their private bet on Caro's reaction. "Oh, all right. Look, there's a class in which I want to enroll Adrienne - first few sessions have already met, but the instructor has agreed to let her join since she won't be taking the class for credit like the other students in the class."
Sighing, Jane continued. "It's a class on mime, Caro, so Adrienne is going to be dressed, at best, androgynously. The class is mixed - boys and girls, mostly girls - however, I want there to be no question in anyone's mind that this student is female. I want the teacher and the other students reacting to Adrienne as a female without conscious thought."
"Okay, so you want the first, second and at least third impressions to scream 'girl', eh? I see. What have you got in mind?"
"Oh, the parade float setup, only more so. Here's what I had in mind. . . . "
"Just pull up to the full service pump," Barbie said, rummaging in her purse for a credit card.
"Are you NUTS? That's fifteen cents more a gallon than self-serve. Just to have someone stand there holding the gas nozzle?!? I don't THINK so, buster. That's highway robbery - LITERALLY."
"You'll have to go into the ladies room to wash your hands when you're done. Sure you're willing to chance it?" the taller girl teased. "Or is it the principle of the thing?"
"Screw principle, it's fifteen cents a gallon! Maybe that's not a lot to you, but I'm just not used to being so. . .loose with money."
"Well, take the card and do as you like. I need to go - like RIGHT now!"
"Remember to use the ladies," Skipper laughed, "And be sure to sit."
"As if I could forget, wearing this the bloody gaff Marie gave me," Barbie growled as she opened the door and hurried off, leaving behind a Skipper who now had just a bit more understanding of her brother's little barbs.
"Are you really going to shoot that particular bolt? Art asked, his eyes grave as he watched Jane assume her 'businesswoman-in-command' persona for the now-scheduled salon visit. "Once that one is loosed, you don't have much else in the way of heavy artillery with this one."
"You're mixing your metaphors again, dear," the auburn-haired teacher evaded, smiling up at his reflected image in her vanity's mirror.
"Janey," Art warned.
"It's not like I have much more time with her in any case," she admitted on a sigh. "What is that first rule of leadership? A two-by-four in the face followed by 'Now that I have your attention?" Jane rose from her stool and turned into her husband's arms and clung for just a moment. "I haven't had this one's attention since Barbara Anne became involved. Unless I get it back, nothing good can come of any of this."
Art held her close, offering what comfort and support he could. "Desperate times, desperate measures?"
"Close enough," she answered into his shoulder. "I know it's a terrible risk, but at least there's a chance that something good might come of trying it. The key to my program is that the student has to care, has to try."
"And you're afraid that this one might try to wait you out?"
"Even though she doesn't know her time here is now limited, she still is inclined to wait for some word from her sister. Every moment is now precious."
Art considered that for a few more moments, even as he savored the intimacy of their loving, fully clothed embrace. What was it Heinlein said about love? 'Love is what you feel when you aren't horny?' Something like that, anyway. *Well, Art, m'lad, you are DEFINITELY in love with this woman. Too bad you can't think of a better course of action than the one she's already decided to follow with this one.* "Okay," he finally said. "Diana will be here when you return, just in case you or Adrienne needs her."
Jane sighed and after one last cuddle, stepped back from the protective circle of his arms. After checking her makeup one last time, she waved and strode toward the hallway door - the Mistress of Seasons House bravely going once more into the breech.
*Wonder if real girls have that much trouble in those places?* Barbie wondered as she strolled back to the car having finished her business. *That was a near thing, thanks to all the effort needed to get panties, pantie girdle, hose and the gaff out of the line of fire. But then, real girls don't have the gaff, and most modern girls don't wear girdles, either.*
She was just about to call out to Skipper when she realized that the girl was not alone. A young man had come upon the scene while Barbie had been answering Nature's call and was, from what the tall blonde could tell, attempting to chat the shorter girl up. *God, look at that body language, you idiot,* Barbie thought angrily. *Her spine is rigid - she's staring at the fill nozzle and her body is angled away from you. Short of telling you to take a long walk across a crowded highway, she can't be much more obvious.*
Barbie increased her pace to close the distance. Road noise made it difficult to make anything intelligible out of what the man was saying until she'd gotten almost to the car. What she heard made her eyes narrow dangerously.
"C'mon. Let me buy you lunch. There's a nice place just off the Turnpike up ahead."
"No thank you," was the clipped reply as she rose to her full height to replace the nozzle on the pump. "I've already told you I am not staying in the area, nor from the area."
"Hey, I'm in Rhode Island a lot on business. I could call you - get together - have a few laughs."
"I'm not from Rhode Island. This is a friend's car."
"This isn't because you're taller than me, is it? Hey, I LIKE tall chicks, and trust me, darlin', I'm really tall where it counts, you dig?"
Barbie saw the look of confusion give way to what she could only describe as horror as the meaning of the fool's allusion became clear to her. *Time to do something,* she thought and moved in to stand directly behind the three-piece-suited irritant.
"OWWWCH," he yelped and spun about as Barbie very firmly 'tapped' his shoulder with the nail of her right index finger. "What the . . . . o - my - god."
There was something satisfying as well as humorous as the interloper's eyes started at bosom-level and then crept up slowly until they locked with Barbie's own. Had she seen herself in the mirror, she and any of Jane Thompson's boys would have immediately recognized the look on her face - one eyebrow cocked in sardonic amusement, head self confidently erect, her smile both challenging and only mildly curious. *You're the disease, sucker,* Barbie thought, *I'm the cure.*
"You're annoying my girlfriend, shortie," she said in a sultry purr worthy of Darla. "So you like tall girls, eh? Why? So you can prove you're man enough to handle a LOT of woman?" She watched as his eyes went wide at her challenge, before he recovered enough to nod - almost arrogantly. Barbie snorted derisively. "I don't THINK so." She strode over to Skipper and walked her to the passenger door and helped her in before stepping to the driver's door. "Well, then maybe you should go away and grow up some first, little boy, or maybe go and try that crap on girls. Women," and there was heavy emphasis on the word, "just aren't interested in such. . . childish come ons. Ciao, loser."
Barbie got in the car and simply drove off, leaving the gaping man behind her, breathing exhaust. "You okay?" she asked as she headed for the acceleration lane back onto the turnpike.
"He wouldn't go away. He started pestering me right after you left, telling me how great I looked, how tall I am, and he just wouldn't go away!"
"We went away," Barbie replied gently. *She mentioned his tall comments specifically. Curious. She gets hit on by a stranger and yet she's bothered by the fact that he is attracted to her height. Wish Mike or Darryl were here to explain THAT to me.*
"I should be driving," she said, a bit of a quaver in her voice.
"I'm fine. You should relax now anyway, since you'll need to do the driving when we get into Pennsylvania. I'll drive to that diner I mentioned, then you can get us onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I'll spell you for a few hours in the middle, and then give the wheel back to you at the end. Okay?" At her nod, Barbie smiled. "Then why don't you put the seat back and relax - get some rest. It's gonna be a long drive. OH DAMN!"
"What?" Skipper yelped as her head snapped toward the driver's seat.
"I broke a NAIL on that asshole! DAMN! HEY, it's NOT FUNNY! STOP THAT GIGGLING!" Barbie ordered, pleased when her companion could not comply with the order.
Jane pulled the big Lincoln up outside the storefront of the Marisha Chalet and after stopping the car, turned the full force of her stare on her student. "We need to get something very clear between us, Adrienne," she began quietly.
"Yes, Ms. Thompson?" she answered without much interest, Jane thought.
"I am aware that you've been in contact with your sister - without my permission and therefore in violation of the court order," Jane said in stern, measured tones. "I am also aware, since I have been in contact with Ms. Braithwaite, that you have told her you are being abused and that you expect her to take action which will see you removed from my custody and control."
She watched the be-skirted boy's face as that revelation was absorbed, considered and digested. With what Adrienne must have thought a poker face, she looked up at Jane and replied, "So?"
"So, this, young lady. Your sister and I have discussed your charges and her concerns - face to face, in fact. We have reached an agreement on those fronts."
"An agreement? What kind of an agreement?" her student asked, suspicion and concern now evident in her manner.
"Well, you are still here, aren't you? And still in skirts? I would say that speaks volumes, wouldn't you?"
"I don't believe you. Barbie wouldn't do that, not after what I told her about you. . .I mean, your program."
"Just so," Jane nodded. "What you told her about ME is what you meant, young lady. Nothing like lying by almost telling the truth, is there? And as I understand it, Ms. Braithwaite does not like to be called 'Barbie'." The older woman smiled as she saw that dart strike home.
"I DON'T believe you. I WON'T believe you until I hear it from Barb. . I mean, Anne."
Her face expressionless, Jane pulled a sealed envelope from her purse and handed it to her charge. A strong yet feminine hand had addressed the missive 'To Adrienne'.
A suspicious look flitted across the girl-boy's face as she used one long nail to part the adhesive holding the flap shut. Jane knew the instant the full meaning of the short note came through to Adrienne, for her hands fell to her lap and her shocked-wide eyes snapped up to meet Jane's darker ones. "I believe," she said confidently, "That you will recognize the handwriting."
For her part, Jane already knew the contents of the note, for she had dictated it to Barbara Anne. It had taken all her considerable skill and force of will, not to say the uncompromising support of Doctors Philips and Nash, and Lawyer Roberts, to convince the girl to do this, but in the end, she did.
"This is not real," the teen hissed in a voice made harsh by emotion. "This is another of your damned tricks! You've got enough money go get someone to fake Barb. . Anne's handwriting."
"Watch your language!" Jane snapped. "I don't need to commit forgery. Not when your sister did, indeed, write that letter. Since you doubt me, why don't you try calling her?" Jane withdrew a cell phone from her purse and handed it to the girl. She watched her pupil hesitate. "Go ahead, Adrienne. You've already proven you know your sister's work and home phone numbers. However, I'm afraid you'll find that option no longer open to you. Ms. Braithwaite will not answer your calls."
Without a word, the girl-boy punched in number. "Yes, this is Adrian Braithwaite. I need to speak with my sister, Anne Braithwaite. What do you mean she won't take my call? I don't care what instructions you have, this is her brother and I want to talk to her NOW! WAIT! Don't HANG. . . up."
Casting a furious look at Jane, Adrienne cleared the call and punched in another call. For just a moment, the prettily made up face cleared, but ONLY for a moment. *He heard the opening of the answering machine message and thought he had his sister,* Jane mused. *Now, he's hearing the really bad news,* she added silently.
Jane had actually dictated the essence of the message and had listened to it before leaving the house. "This is Anne Braithwaite. If this is anyone other than my brother, I will be away on business for the next few days to a week. Please leave a message as I will check my machine periodically. If this is Adrian, I will not return any call from you that does not originate from Ms. Thompson. ::beeeep::"
"Damn her!" the young teen growled.
"I told you to watch your language! That means no profanity!" Jane snapped, and then made a show of regaining her control. "So, you are still under my program, and your choices remain the same as they were the day you arrived - successfully complete my program or face several years of juvenile detention. At this point, Adrienne, I am inclined to wash my hands of you, since you have already broken your word once. I'm going to be thinking about that over the next few days. If you truly consider yourself abused, then we can dissolve our association right now, and I will return you to the courts for vacation of the suspension on your sentence. IF I decide to let you stay on, then I will expect your BEST efforts from this point forward. You've had your first chance, young lady, and you blew it. If I decide to give you a second one, that will be it for you. I will not be insulted by those I am trying to help. Do we understand one another?"
Jane sat there, her eyes locked on the golden-haired creature whose eyes were staring off into space. She let the silence between them grow for almost a minute and then demanded intensely, "Do. . . We . . .Understand . . .One Another?!"
Adrienne swallowed hard, obviously shaken, but finally nodded. "Yes, ma'am," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Very well. You may consider yourself on probation until such time as I tell you otherwise. One strike and you are out. Now, go inside and find Mrs. Beale. She and Sandy are waiting for you. I've already told them what I want done, in what I assumed would be the very UNLIKELY event you showed up this afternoon. I'll return in two hours. You MIGHT be done by then."
"Yes, Ms. Thompson," Adrienne answered, as she let herself out of the car.
Jane watched the small figure make her way slowly up to the storefront entrance. She waited until Adrienne had let herself inside before restarting the car.
"Lord, but I hope that was right card to play with this one."
Chapter 20: Feeding the Inner Woman
"Skipper?" Barbie said, as she followed the exit down the hill. When there was no response, she looked over to find the other girl dozing. *So much for her being really bothered by that creep coming on to her back in Connecticut.* "Anne?" she said more loudly.
The sleek blonde stirred and then shifted her body into a semi-stretch, moistened her lips and cracked open one eye at the driver. "What?" she demanded, her voice softly menacing.
"Umm, do I take this as fair warning that you do not wake up with a song in your heart and sunshine on your shoulder?"
Something that might have been 'no' but was closer to a feral growl came out of her half-parted lips. She shifted in the car-seat, stretched again and sat up. "Where are we?"
"Pennsylvania. It's about two - and I'm hungry, so - Hello, Rabbit? How about lunch?"
Skipper grinned, "Sure, Pooh - lead me to the honey-jar."
A few minutes later, they were sliding onto the bench-seats of an old-style diner-booth, complete with a push-button jukebox at the head of the table. "Oh, I haven't seen one of those since I was a little girl," Skipper gushed, happily reaching up to turn the knob that flipped the cards containing the available selections.
"And Madame's musical preference is?" Barbie asked in the stiff, starchy tones of a five-star maitre d'hotel all the while digging in her purse for change.
"Old fashioned rock-and-roll," she sighed happily, "Like that one!"
"Can't go wrong with "The Boss", can you?" her companion asked approvingly as she fed coins into the machine. "You get to punch in the buttons."
Seconds later, the whiskey-rough voice of Bruce Springsteen was singing about his high school friend who could 'throw that speedball by you' and then 'make you look like a fool'. By the end of the first chorus, Skipper was tapping her nails to the beat of E-street's hard driving rhythm. By the second run-through, her head was moving in time to the music, making her new curls dance and bounce. By the end of the song, she was singing the chorus in a husky alto that did strange and wonderful things in the pit of Barbie's corsetted gut.
"Oh, that was lovely," she breathed when the last guitar riff signaled the end of the song.
"More where that came from," Barbie told her reaching for her purse again. They were interrupted by the arrival of their server. They ordered salads and tea. "Out of change, darnit!"
"That's okay. Maybe later."
"I've got some CD's in the car. Nice to know I'm riding with someone who appreciates the classics."
"Oh, I do." She became silent for a moment and then looked up into the other girl's eyes. "I wanted to thank you - should have done it sooner - for chasing that guy off back at the gas station. I just don't seem to know how to handle. . . situations like that. Not well, anyway."
"You're so pretty, hell, so beautiful, that it must happen on a fairly regular basis - unless you live in a world without men."
"Not hardly," she said with a half laugh, "But, well, I've just never learned how to deal with. . .well, you know, . . .men."
"You may have men in that world of yours, Skip, but they must be blind or stupid!"
"Easy, girl," Skipper warned. "Let's not slip out of character here."
She watched as her table-mate seemed to visibly become. . .more feminine somehow before asking, "Better?" At Skipper's slow, surprised nod, Barbie continued. "Back to my question, though. You must have a lot of practice with the horny male on the prowl - you are that good looking."
"Hmmphh! Different, you mean, and a bloody challenge, until they find out that I come with. . .responsibilities."
"Adrian, you mean?" At Skipper's nod, she continued. "Surely it wasn't always that way, was it? Before your parents' accident?"
"Guys don't beg dates from girls that are taller than they are, okay? When all my classmates were learning to deal with boys, I was hunching over and wishing I could find Alice's shrinking 'eat me' biscuit."
"You dealt pretty well with me so far - Ken, too."
"You're different," Skipper snorted as she stirred her tea. "And with Kenneth, well, that was business, not personal."
"Felt personal to Kenneth, trust me."
She shrugged. "Maybe it was at that, but it felt like business to begin with, and I'm good at that kind of stuff - the logic, the give and take - and besides. . ."
"Besides that, I was, well, pissed."
Barbie slapped her hands to her ears in exaggerated horror. "Oh, my poor innocent ears - what YOU just said!"
"Your Ms. Thompson would have the soap out by now, eh? But I was angry. Things were out of control and I couldn't figure out how to fix them - with Adrian. Then he goes and gets into real trouble, and there's an out - send him to this school where he'll learn to be a real human being - fix the things I've messed up, and then. . . "
Her voice hitched, and Barbie put a gentling hand onto the shorter girl's arm.
"And then, you get a phone call that tells you he's in worse trouble, being abused, right?" A shaky nod was her only answer. "And given what you found out, you were frightened for him - worried that it might be sexual as well as emotional, right?"
"Because I screwed up," she whispered.
"HE screwed up," Barbie corrected, "And now you know that he's all right, unless you consider wearing skirts damaging to him sexually."
"Is it?" she asked before she could stop herself, and then was horrified at what she'd asked. . .at WHO she'd asked.
"Only if the thong and gaff are too tight," Barbie answered in a hushed whisper. "But that is a problem with jockey-shorts, too."
"Oh?" Skipper asked, the bit of silliness lightening her mood.
"Yeah," Barbie assured her, "if it gets too hot down there, all the sperm die." and was immediately showered in a spray of icy tea.
"WHAT did you SAY?" Skipper squeaked.
"So, did you enjoy your afternoon off, Jessica?" Jane asked from her perch on her older student's bed.
Looking at Aunt Jane's reflection, the petite blonde carefully creamed off the eye-makeup she'd put on for the evening meal. "Right, Aunt Jane. Six hours of research for that paper you assigned yesterday. Five thousand words on the legal standing of women in American Society and its effects on the women's suffrage movement immediately prior to the turn of the Twentieth Century."
"We could make it ten thousand if you feel five thousand doesn't give you sufficient scope for your arguments," Jane offered sweetly.
Knowing better than to rise to Jane's little jibes, Jessica instead smiled angelically at the older woman. "Thank you. I'll keep that in mind as I gather my source data."
"Well done, dear," Jane approved. "Just the right blend of sweet amiability and hidden cattiness. I could do better, but I have years more experience. Now, tell me what you thought of Adrienne tonight."
"Caro and Sandy did a real number on her. Those brows - wow. I mean, something out of a fifties movie they're so fine. And I'd swear her lashes are longer and thicker, but they don't look like falsies. Real Betty Boop-stuff, only real."
"Waxing for the brows; individual hair by hair replacements for the lashes. Very expensive, very time consuming."
"Thought I was seeing things. Then I assume that the subtle color I saw is also their work? Around her eyes and lips, and her cheek bones?"
"Very good, Jessica. Your observational skills are becoming better everyday. Yes, those are Sandy and Caro - the deep-dye cosmetics, too, so the colors are there for a while, and they'll be refreshed each time we go back to the salon, for the time being."
"Because she's going to be in a public situation where she will have to clean off makeup, and I don't want her feminine look to be compromised."
"That means if she does leave in three weeks, she leaves looking girlish," Jessica observed cautiously.
"I know that, but it simply can't be helped. We don't have time to be careful with this one anymore, and she NEEDS help!" When Jessica only nodded understanding, Jane sighed. "Did you find anything else new about her. . .behaviorally, perhaps?"
Jessica considered that as she walked over to her armoire and pulled out her nightgown. "You know? She was . . .I guess the word is subdued at dinner. For the first time in a couple of weeks, she just sort of sat there and took your shots - all of them. I figured you'd found a way to put what Dar calls the "Fear of Jane" back into her."
"Nothing else? Nothing she's said?"
"Not really. We didn't have much time together after you got back from town. Then there was dinner, and she had KP. She say anything to Tante Marie?"
"No. Look, I pushed a button very hard today, Jessica - very, VERY hard. I don't know how she'll react, but then, she's been difficult to read of late. I could have just made a huge mistake, so try to keep an eye on her for me. If it looks even the least out of the ordinary, call for me, all right?"
"You got it, Aunt Jane."
"Good night, dear."
"'night, Aunt Jane. See you in the morning."
Chapter 21: At Home with Judge Ruth
Barbara Anne watched as the short, plump white haired woman reached up to hug the towering blonde in the killer heels. Her Honor, Judge Ruth Walinkiewicz looked very different here, in front of her neat little house with it's prettily gardened lawn than she had the last time the Braithwaites had seen her. Then, she'd looked so large and powerful seated there on her elevated station, especially when she had pronounced sentence on her brother - the vengeful harpy or so Adrian had named her. Now, she looked, well, the only word that seemed to fit was softer - like someone's grandmother - a person to whom you could cuddle up and tell all your troubles. *Lord,* Skipper thought as the two women softly cried together, *All that's missing is tea and homemade cookies.*
At that moment, the pair broke apart, and Skipper could tell the moment Ruth remembered she was there. "Ms. Braithwaite," she said in cool tones that barely hinted at her Eastern European heritage. "Welcome to my home. Won't you come in? I have a light tea prepared. I will fill you both in on the plans while you refresh yourselves."
"If you'll make yourselves comfortable," Ruth said as she ushered them into her parlor, "I'll just be a moment."
Skipper was again surprised as she found the inside of the house was as pretty (there was no other word for it) as the outside - and just as eclectic. Judge Ruth obviously selected her furniture for comfort, but did not feel wedded to any particular style or decorative fad. Overstuffed, almost shabby chairs sat side-by-side with antique tables and modern brass lamps. The latest Apple laptop computer rested on a Chippendale desk, surrounded by an lovely old-style Waterford crystal decanter and Disney character statues. In spite of herself, Skipper smiled at the wonderful chaos of the room.
She strolled over to the large brick hearth that dominated the room to look at the multitude of framed photographs that lined the slate shelf above the fireplace. Skipper smiled as she looked at pictures - obviously family given the judge's strong resemblance to the father in one photo and to the mother in another. There was a graying group picture, of about twenty young women huddled together in front of what appeared to be a college dormitory, or perhaps a sorority house. It took the young blonde a few moments to realize that a very young Ruth Walinkiewicz stood in the front row giving a "Peace Sign" while another woman held the two fingered 'rabbit' sign above her head. *MY GOD, is that JANE THOMPSON?!?!*
Before that near shock of that recognition could quite pass, her eyes locked on the double-framed picture set that held court at the center of the hearth. The two facing photos were teenagers barely into their adolescence - a sober-faced black-haired boy and a blonde girl with laughing, mischievous eyes. *Such a solemn young man,* Skipper thought to herself, *And such a contrast to the girl - talk about a flirt. Brother and sister, perhaps? There is a resemblance - rather pronounced when you look closely. The boy looks, somehow familiar. . . *
And then shock hit her for the second time in moments. "That's YOU!" she yelped, turning accusatory eyes on the quietly watching Barbie. "BOTH of those are you."
"And you're the first to ever recognize that relationship, Miss Braithwaite," Ruth put in, as she walked in carrying a laden tray. "Few have ever met both my boy and his feminine alter-ego - you're the first in over six years, in fact - so we've always been able to pass Kendra off as a lost sister or cousin. It has also helped explain why he lived with me and not his Mother because we'd hint that he was an orphan." Ruth's face went white as she realized what she'd just inferred, and that her boy was now, in fact, an orphan. "Oh, Kenny, I'm sorry."
A sweet sad smile suffused Barbie's face as she hurried over to embrace and comfort the suddenly distraught older woman. "Momma-Ruth," she crooned down into the cap of steel-gray curls, "I haven't been motherless since you and Momma-Jane took me on. Heavens, how many guys OR girls can claim TWO mothers like that? And I'm not even married!"
"But she's dead!" Ruth said on a half sob, half whisper.
"And I will always regret that she was as she was," was the firm reply, "but I know who my Mothers were and are, and she's not in that company."
The soft smile that lit the lovely face made Skipper's heart rhythm syncopate.
"The time has come, the walrus said to speak of many things," Barbie quoted some time later, her dark eyes fixed on the older woman.
Ruth didn't so much as raise an eyebrow, simply stared back at the tall blonde and said, "Which means, in this context, anyway?"
"What happened, Momma Ruth?" Kenneth's voice sounded discordantly on their ears, adding impact to the softly worded question. "You have been conspicuously vague about the facts behind Sheila's death while Momma Jane would, in her oh so subtle way, change the subject whenever I asked her. Thus far, I've let it slide. Now, I need to know so that I don't do something stupid."
"What makes you think there's anything to know?" she evaded.
"Because I know YOU too well not to know when there's something you don't want to tell me."
Ruth gave Skipper a pointed look before facing Barbie. "We'll discuss it later, dear."
"Momma-Ruth, if it's something like that, don't tell me, either because I can't promise you I won't discuss it with her later. I know she's here for me, and I've already trusted her with a great deal."
"And of course, you'll trust her again, won't you?" Ruth sighed.
Skipper saw the Judge's shoulders momentarily slump, but only momentarily. When the older woman faced Barbie this time, something in her eyes, something in her very posture reminded Skipper of the woman who had been on the Bench at Adrian's trial. The 'power', whatever that entailed, was back. "All right, then. What I am about to tell you is not to be discussed anywhere but here with me, or perhaps with Jane. I am technically abusing my judicial privileges by disclosing information from what is technically an open homicide investigation. Do you both agree to those conditions?"
Both blondes agreed, and Ruth took a deep, cleansing breath. "After your Mother completed the terms of our agreement? Following the showdown with you and Jane?" Barbie nodded. "Part of that was transferring trusteeship of the legacy from your father to me. That meant she no longer had access to your money and had to live off the monthly allowance he'd provided for her in his will."
"That was not an insignificant amount of money. You made sure I saw the will. Dad was more than generous."
"It was insufficient to her perceived needs," Ruth refuted. "She decided to . . . go into business."
Skipper saw her tall friend's brows come together in concentration. "You're talking about her dominatrix/dungeon thing, aren't you?"
"You know about that?" Ruth was surprised now. "I thought Jane and I had kept that bit of nastiness from you."
"Sheila made sure I knew. She even sent me copies of the ads she ran in the alternative press."
Surprised recognition nearly had Skipper dropping her teacup. *Oh my God,* she thought, *He's. . she's, I mean, THAT'S Kenneth! He still looks like some dynamite blonde fantasy come to life, but that rigidity - that intense control - that is what I saw that first time we met when he tried to talk me out of my lawsuit against Jane.*
"I should have guessed. . . DAMN that Bitch!" Ruth shook her head sadly. "In any case, she turned the sizable fetish wardrobe and toy collection she'd acquired over the years into a business. Did quite well by all accounts and for the most part, played fair with her clients. She was known for hard edged sessions and for forced feminizations."
The older woman took a bracing sip of her tea and seemed to gather herself. "Unfortunately for her, needing a paycheck . . . cramped her style. Working with men - older men who could afford her exorbitant fees - did little to satisfy her own sick, twisted needs."
"Boys? Or unwilling victims? I can't believe she'd be satisfied with an adult man who actually wanted what she had to offer, especially not enough to be willing to pay for it."
"Both, of course," Ruth sighed. "However, she had learned a thing or two from her . . . confrontation with us all those years ago."
"Us?" Skipper asked, unable to control her curiosity.
"Jane, Kenneth - then as Kendra - and I," Ruth answered.
"Don't forget Darryl. He was manning the recording equipment," Kenneth added, lifting one fine-boned, red-nailed hand to flick errant curls from his face.
Skipper couldn't help herself and simply gaped at Barbie. That simple motion had been so completely and unthinkingly feminine that it jarred her perceptions of the blonde before her. Kenneth's voice and . . . intensity had been so compelling that the visual image of a statuesque woman had become almost irrelevant, but that graceful gesture had resurrected Barbie from Kenneth for a shocking instant. *Of course,* Skipper thought to herself, *Kenneth doesn't have a motion to sweep hair out of his face - his is fashionably short for a male - so when that became necessary, _Barbie_ did it FOR him. Lord, if it weren't for the control he's showing, I'd worry about a split personality or something. But it's clear she, um, he is just calling on skills as needed while his mind wrestles with this problem.*
"Darryl, too, although Sheila never knew of his part in that little drama."
"What did she learn, Mom?" Kenneth demanded softly.
"That she couldn't really play her damned games with minors, dear, at least, she couldn't without unacceptable risk to her own freedom and comfort. She also figured out that she didn't dare go to the extremes that she wanted to go with you. So, she would roam the alternative lifestyle clubs find likely boys, excuse me, not boys - young men barely over the age of consent who LOOKED like boys - and test them. . . test them for what she called 'compatibility'."
"And when one passed?"
"Do you really want to know all of this, Kenneth?" Ruth asked, her eyes beginning to well up with tears. At his single mechanical nod, she blew her nose into a paper napkin and forced herself to continue. "She kept him as her. . .as her slave. She called it 'pro boning' as a slam against our - yours and my - profession, I suppose. In any case, the poor fool lived in a feminized hell for as long as he could stand her sadism or as long as Sheila wanted him - whichever was shorter. From what the police have gathered from her diaries, it was almost always Sheila who broke things off, but only after her slave performed one last little task for her. She had him seduce his replacement. Sheila would take videos of it to use as blackmail leverage if she needed it. In the end, that led to her own death."
"Her killer was one of her victims?"
A cold frisson of dread ran down Anne's spine on hearing the almost physical intensity with which her tall friend imbued the words of that simple question.
"Yes. This particular young man refused to be a party to her ploy to ensnare a new consort. He simply wouldn't be a party to blackmailing another as he himself had been blackmailed. He left her, never intending to go back, calling her bluff of exposure. It should have been a safe bet, but. . ."
"But it wasn't." Kenneth finished for the judge. "I assume that Sheila went into one of her rages?"
"Exactly. She lost it completely - sent copies of very . . . well, nasty photos and videos of him to his family and to the press. His father is a local politician - a state senator who had, up until that point in time, had his eye on a Congressional seat. Unfortunately, one of the photos got into the hands of a . . . less than honorable person who unduly flatters herself to be a journalist. The whole sordid mess made quite a splash in the local tabloids and talk radio circuits. Needless to say, dear old dad's political aspirations are a thing of the past. He blamed his son and disowned him in a rather loud, public and well-publicized confrontation. To make a short story even shorter, twenty-four hours later, the boy used a key he'd stolen from Sheila to sneak into her house. He shot her when she arrived home, then turned the gun on himself."
Skipper watched as the tall blonde simply sat there, eyes closed, brows tightly knitted, her hands slowly clenching and unclenching. Then she took a deep breath before turning, to face the wall opposite from where Ruth sat. "DAMN HER! God DAMN her!" she said with quiet vehemence, the words all the more powerful for the utter lack of volume in her tone. "Sheila never knew when to quit. NEVER knew when to back off. Always - ALWAYS - it was what SHE wanted and if you didn't want the same thing? Well, that was just too damned bad - for you."
Barbie's fist clenched, cocked and lashed out at the wall, only to suddenly stop just short of blasting a hand sized hole in the drywall's surface. A glance at the taller girl's face showed her pensively considering the still fisted hand - almost as if she were trying to understand how it could possibly even consider doing something so rash and uncontrolled.
Gathering herself, Ruth rose and moved to stand beside Barbie, putting a comforting hand on the focused blonde's shoulder. Dry-eyed, Barbie turned and put her arms around the older woman, finally uncoiling sufficiently to rest her chin on the now quietly crying Ruth's gray haired head.
"I should have testified," she finally murmured. "At least then Sheila'd have been out of circulation, locked up in a cage. Who knows, maybe if she'd been forced to get treatment - undergo some type of state-mandated rehabilitation program, none of this would have happened."
"Kenneth," Ruth chided gently, her hand coming up to bat away her own tears. "That's water under the bridge. Besides, it was my decision, not yours, and one to which Jane heartily agreed. You were a minor, but old enough to have been called to the stand which we couldn't afford to risk at that time. Had you given evidence, your testimony would have been subject to a brutal cross examination. There's no telling what would have happened. We, and you, did the best that we could with what we had to work with. Don't forget that we also wanted to protect Jane's other boys at the same time."
"So, another died, Momma Ruth. The woman couldn't even die without it hurting someone else."
"No, she couldn't, but that has nothing to do with you."
Barbie broke the embrace. With a careful precision of movement totally at odds with anything Anne had seen since first 'meeting' Kendra, the statuesque woman reached for the light jacket she'd been wearing when they'd arrived. "I'm going for a walk, Mom," she said over her shoulder. "I need to think - be alone."
Warning alarms went to red alert in Skipper's brain, and she moved quickly to intercept Barbie by interposing her own body between her friend and the door. "Don't even think about going outside, tall socks," she said sternly. "You're in no shape to carry off that masquerade in public right now. You're slipping between Kenneth and Barbie on almost every other word. You need to get yourself under control again - decide which face you're going to show the world before you try to face the world."
"Do I really?" There was an almost amused quality to the question that Skipper didn't understand, but she nodded and stood firm anyway.
"Kenneth?" Ruth said. "Your room downstairs - it's as you left it. In fact, I had the local sporting goods store inspect it just last month."
For a moment, the tall blonde seemed intent on pushing past Skipper and heading outdoors, but finally shrugged. "I'll see you both later," something akin to Barbie's voice said.
The other two women watched as she strode toward the kitchen, only to slip through another door and head down into the cellar. "I think," Ruth said sadly, "That control is going to be the least of our problems, Ms. Braithwaite. Come along with me, please. I will show you to your room. I'm sure you will want to freshen up after your trip."
Jane walked into her private apartment, where she found Art - now Diana - staring intently at the closed circuit television monitor above her desk.
"You could have stayed as Art until tomorrow, darling," Jane said as she bent down to kiss her mate, "since I don't expect to need Diana's help before then."
"Can't be too careful," Diana's husky alto replied. "You're pushing this one hard and into unexplored country. I don't want to be searching for my hair if something goes down tonight."
Jane came instantly alert, her head swiveling to watch the screen. "You think something could go badly wrong tonight? Has she been behaving strangely?"
Diana shook her head. "Pretty much what I'd have expected. She's tried to clean her face, only to find that the stuff won't come off. I think she's peeled about ten layers of skin off in the attempt, too."
"Determined, eh?" the Mistress of Seasons House asked, as she watched her pupil working at her vanity table. "What's she doing now?"
"Trying to cover over the deep-dye makeup with less blatant colors."
"Well, even if she succeeds, that will only suit my purposes better, because that will come clean when she removes the grease paint, making the long-duration cosmetics all the more obvious."
Diana watched Adrienne visibly shrug in defeat before ruthlessly scrubbing her face clean of her own cosmetic efforts. Moments later, she was in bed with the lights out. "You give her the bad news tomorrow?"
"That's the plan, luv. Ready for bed?"
Diana's painted mouth split into an inviting smile. "Well that's a silly question," she purred as she stood to pirouette for Jane's delectation. "Do you think I get dolled up like this without bed in mind?"
"There goes my beauty sleep," Jane pouted as she stepped into her spouses arms.
Chapter 22: Kenneth's Retreat
"It's a bit of a climb," the older woman said by way of an apology as they climbed up into the cottage's loft, "But, the room's comfortable for all it's a bit cramped here under the eaves. I converted it from an attic when Kenneth came to stay with me as he needed some privacy and a place to study - sort of a den if you take my meaning."
Wordlessly, Anne carried her bag into and set it down beside the hide-a-bed sofa. The room was indeed cramped, she thought, especially with that large glass-covered display table taking up most of the center of the room.
Curiosity won out on two fronts. "Will she be all right?" she asked as she made her way over to the table.
"Who? Kenneth? I mean, Kendra?" Ruth asked. At the younger woman's nod, she continued "Nothing to worry about. She just needs to burn off some of the emotion that is clogging her insides just now."
"She was furious," Anne said thoughtfully. "You'd hardly know it by simply looking at her, but somehow it was like I could almost feel pure rage rolling off her like a wave."
"Oh?" was all Ruth said as her guest's eyes took in the sand-table display beneath the glass top. Two armies of small toy-soldiers - one gray within a fortified city, one blue laying siege - faced each other across carefully sculpted terrain, complete with very realistic trees and a river. Odd shapes, almost like 'bumps' prowled the river, their large, turret-mounted guns aimed in the direction of the gray army's positions. Above the table, several large volumes, including several volumes entitled "The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant", shared shelf space with an old-fashioned red-yarn-haired rag-doll.
Anne suddenly realized she was all but snooping about Kenneth's private space and blushingly tore her eyes away from the image of a young girl's doll guarding a president's war reminiscences. "Well," she coughed, clearing her throat with an effort, "Barbie has been, ah, well rather different about things. . . since I met HER, that is. Just now, she was really upset, but instead of dealing with that she stoppered it all up."
"You see a great deal, don't you?" Ruth asked, her voice soft yet intense.
"I saw that," Skipper answered, noticing a cork-board above the student desk on the other side of the room. "Is there anything we can do to help?"
Ruth saw the moment Anne's eyes went wide. "As I said, you notice a great deal, and you've unerringly found the things in this room that most clearly speak to the complex person who is my Kenneth, my Kendra."
Anne looked up sharply, only to find Ruth smiling at her gently. The older woman strolled over to the desk and took down the object that had caught the blonde girl's attention. "The organization and mental discipline to perfectly recreate, right down to using bonsai trees, the strategic and tactical layout of the Battle of Vicksburg in that sand table, and this," she offered Anne the white satin opera glove, "are both critical elements of the person who is even now trying use exercise to exorcize some very private and terrible demons."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Anne asked again.
The older woman shook her head. "No, at least, I've never found anything. She'll work it out on her own - at least, she, or in this case, he always has in the past."
"He? I know why _I_ keep losing track and shifting pronouns - I'm still not used to these multiple identity games, but why aren't you consistently using the feminine tense? I mean, she's here as Barbie, as a female? Why the he - she thing? I mean, it's almost like, oh, I don't know. . .almost like YOU think of Kenneth and Barbie as two different people."
For several long moments, only silence and a cold stare filled the space between the two women. She waved Anne to sit down on the sofa. "I almost told you that it wasn't any of your business, but then I reminded myself that you're here, voluntarily, to help my child. And since you may be alone with him when something like this happens again, perhaps if you understand. . .certain things better, you might be better able to give that help. Look, Jane told me that you know something of Kenneth's youth? About how that bitch who birthed him made his life pure hell?"
Ruth nodded, and reached up to gather Raggeddy Annie down from her perch. "Jane never does things by halves," she observed, almost to herself. "Still, I suspect she simply told you, in direct terms to be sure, what she felt you needed to know. Am I right?"
Anne looked at the older woman with a growing curiosity, but controlled herself. "She was rather passionate . . ."
"Jane is never anything other than passionate where her boys are concerned, but I'm sure she simply stated the facts and left it at that, regardless of how her eyes might have flashed when she did it, right?"
A slight grin crossed Anne's face at the memory. "Ummm, just so," she said, mimicking Jane Thompson's favorite rejoinder, eliciting a matching grin from Ruth.
"I am a lawyer, and more used to letting stories state my case. Perhaps it would help if you understood how Raggedy Annie here," Ruth held the doll up for her guest's inspection, "and this glove came to hold court in this room, alongside Civil War battle fields and hand-carved chessmen."
"If it wouldn't upset Barbie. . .Ken. . . too much," Anne said hesitantly, although she found herself very much wanting to hear those stories.
Now Judge Ruth smiled broadly. "It's a mother's prerogative to tell pretty girls stories that embarrass their sons, just a little. Keeps the little darlings' egos in check and promotes female solidarity. Besides, I don't think Kendra will mind my telling you . . .some of her secrets." The smile became slyly mysterious. "No, I don't think she'll mind at all."
"Emotions were a weakness - or maybe an opening - that bitch would exploit in her campaign to subjugate that boy. So young Ken learned, early in his life, to suppress any outward sign of what he was really feeling. He controlled his reactions, his facial expressions, hell, even his breathing."
"And that somehow saved him?"
"Sheila pounced whenever he gave the slightest indication one of her nasty tricks had reached him, so he taught himself not to ever give her what she wanted from him. Taught himself to always at least appear to be calm and controlled."
"I still don't understand how that would have stopped the woman, not if she was as. . . depraved as Ms. Thompson indicated."
"What she wanted to do to him was so far over the line that she couldn't take the chance that the authorities might take him seriously. She needed him to appear out of control, irrational, an overly emotional adolescent that the police might ignore. He never gave her that, but there was a price. Those behaviors became second nature to Kenneth, and that control carried over into the rest of his life."
"That's not an entirely bad thing, your honor," Skipper said quietly, "As I have good reason to know."
"Adrian?" At the younger woman's nod, Ruth smiled. "I know, and truth to tell, those behaviors went a long way towards making him into the very formidable man he is today. Summa cum laude as an undergraduate, top of his class in law school while finishing each program in half the usual time."
"I suppose," Barbara Anne said speculatively, "But that still doesn't explain that doll."
Ruth chuckled. "You know about the trap Darryl came up with? The one that used Kendra as bait to set up Sheila once and for all?"
"Yes. . ."
"Kenneth fell for Jane and became best friends - brothers, actually, with Darryl, and the feelings were mutual. Only problem was Jane had a steady flow of students through her Winsome Girls' School for Wayward Boys. The only way for Kenneth to visit was as Kendra."
"And he agreed to that?"
"Quite readily. You see, Kendra could let go and have fun . . . could be a kid, albeit a girl-kid."
"At THAT place? With students around?" Barbara Anne asked skeptically.
"Oh, indeed. Trust me, a great deal is possible when one Miss Darla Thompson-Phillips gets on a roll. She decided she wasn't going to stand for the Great Stone Face routine and was constantly on the lookout for ways to tease Kendra out of it. Which leads me to the story of the great dolly tea party."
"Adrienne, one of the causes I support is the local children's hospital. Every year, my students and I participate in a show as part of a festival that not only entertains the children, but raises money for research and to help poorer families with the cost associated with treatment."
Still smarting from Anne refusing to speak on the phone, and unnerved by being 'locked' into a feminine appearance by Mrs. Beale's 'adult cosmetics', Adrienne decided to proceed with a bit more caution than in recent days. "Yes, Ma'am?"
"I've decided that you will participate, and have arranged for you to be trained as a mime. Are you familiar with the art?"
Jane watched her student concentrate, and was pleased. A few days ago, this same student might have simply ignored her question. "I'm not sure," the boy-girl said finally. "Is that the people who wear the funny socks, suspender pants and paint their faces white? Kind of like clowns only they don't talk?"
"A fair description. This book," and Jane handed her student a small biography of Marcel Marceau, "Will give you a more complete description. Now, you will start classes with other children at the local Y tomorrow. It is a mixed class - boys and girls - so you will not be out of place attending."
"I'm to attend as Adrienne?"
"I thought, young lady, that we had agreed that you were Adrienne until I said otherwise," Jane said sternly. She saw the short flare of resentment, but again was pleased as her pupil tamped that back and nodded her agreement. "However, if you wish, you may attend class as a male. You will, however, still be required to fulfill your word to me and present a well groomed and attractive feminine appearance and persona at all other times."
For a moment, Adrienne thought about her experiments with hiding the adult cosmetics with the practice makeup Jane provided. It might work. "Could I have some of the mime makeup? And maybe some pictures of what they look like? That way, I could practice ahead of time. I'll need the extra practice if I'm going to do this for real in a show."
"I will see what can be done. Just don't wear it for too long a period at a time. Your young skin needs to breathe and that greasepaint might clog your pores. Very bad for your complexion. That is why you, and the other children, will be expected to clean off the greasepaint at the end of every session. Can't have you developing terminal acne, can we?"
The disappointed look on Adrienne's face told her precisely what had occurred to her devious little student. *Blocked that one, didn't I, dear?* Jane thought smugly. *You ride to and from class dressed and made up as you decide, but you won't be wearing the whiteface except at class itself. Now, let's see what you do.*
"They just walked into the women's locker room?!?"
"Smug as you please," Ruth smirked, mischievous pride twinkling in her eyes. "Showed up at the place rigged out in headbands, exercise tights and leotards - then convinced the manager that they were considering taking memberships at the club. He assigned one of their female trainers to give the two of them a tour - of ALL the facilities."
Skipper was wide-eyed. "All? As in, um, everywhere?"
"You wouldn't ask that question if you knew Darla better. I do mean EVERYwhere. The locker room, the tanning booths - including those for ladies who do not want tanlines - the sauna and the steam room. Oh, and let us not forget the showers."
"My god. Did they get caught? As boys, I mean? Is that why they were punished?"
"Of course they weren't caught - not in the way you mean, in any case. They were caught, but only by Jane, and only because Darla intended them to be caught."
"I'm sure that makes sense to you, but . . ."
"Again, dear, you have to know our Darla. She wanted Kendra to be on the receiving ends of one of Jane's little disciplines, as she'd concluded that her sister was getting a bit too serious. Darla filled out the membership application and used Jane's name in the 'parent or guardian approval required' block. The club called Jane, she figured out what happened, and confronted the two miscreants. Kendra caved instantly as she's as honest as honest can be."
"And Darla planned it that way? Didn't she get punished, too?"
"Of course she did, but she intended it that way, since she wanted to ensure that Kendra, ah, loosened up properly. The pair of them were sentenced to a week in the nursery, dressed as good little Victorian six-year olds at all times, playing like good little Victorian six-year old girls."
"Oh, my. .. "
"As Darla tells it, her sister simply didn't know how to play with the dollies, so Darla had to teach her."
A vision of the petite, prissy little boy-girl, patiently teaching Kendra how to hold dolly, how to feed dolly and how to change dolly flitted across the mind's eye of the tall blonde.
And she lost what little control she had, laughing out loud. "Oh God, I can just hear her - 'Now, Ken-dwa,'" she said, in a pointed imitation of the Darla she knew, "'you have to support her head pwopawly when you feed Dolly her bottle.'" and Skipper laughed even harder.
"That's about right," a now-smiling Ruth agreed. "In fact, I think Kendra's . . .inability? Yes, inability to get with the program got their sentence extended twice. I think even Darla was getting tired of the game at that point. According to Jane, she finally lost patience with Kendra and told her to 'just have fun, sister! Now, play with the damn dolly!' An action which ALSO led to an extension their sentence. Evidently, Kendra did just that."
There was something here, Skipper thought. "Don't leave me in the dark, for goodness sake!"
Ruth feigned refusing, but then grinned. "It's too good a story not to share. According to Jane, after the second extension for 'non-cooperation' and Darla's outburst, our Kendra became. . .quietly annoyed."
"She does that well," Skipper observed.
"Yes, indeed, and so. . ."
"Now, Kendwa, you have to play NICE, or Auntie Jane isn't going to let us grow up!" It was a measure of just how annoyed the little bleached blonde was, that she forgot to lisp. "You have to feed and diaper Dolly! It's the rules!"
A glint lit in the other blonde's dark eyes, and her lips twitched before her face relaxed. "It's YOUR fault," she retaliated, "You teached me wrong!"
"No I DIDN'T!" Darla yelled back, getting into the spirit of the 'game'. A little venting was just what this situation required, she thought. Maybe then, Kendra would figure out Jane's plan and go with the flow. It was one thing to help her sister unwind, but this was beginning to cut into her study time. "You go fill the bottle and I will show you - just one more time!" she ordered.
"Oh, aw wight!" Kendra pouted dramatically, before flouncing off, bottle in hand, to the bathroom.
Screeches of "THAT'S NOT RIGHT!" and "IS SO!" brought Jane hurrying back to the nursery. She flung open the heavy oak door to see the two petti'ed, pigtailed and pinafored blondes squaring with a doll laying on the floor between them.
"GIRLS! What is the MEANING of this!"
"Dolly needs her diaper," Kendra fumed, "And Darla isn't teaching me right. Dolly's diaper keeps falling off!"
"I am so teaching right! You aren't PINNING her right!"
"QUIET!" Jane bellowed, and was immediately embarrassed. "I will teach you, Kendra, and then we will have no MORE of this unseemly behavior. Is that UNDERSTOOD?!"
"Yes, Auntie Jane," the two now angelic blondes cooed.
Jane quickly and efficiently demonstrated the proper method of diapering, including a couple of hints on how to keep the garment tight. "There. See how it done, dear?"
At the affirmative reply, Jane rose to leave. "But, Auntie Jane," Kendra protested, "you have to hold her. It's the rule. Babies get held after diapering. Isn't that right, Darley?"
"It's the rule," the other imp agreed. "Auntie Marie said so."
"Oh, very well," Jane replied, happy to see the pair of them getting into the spirit of the play for a change. With that, she scooped up the baby-sized bundle, settled it on her shoulder for a burping. . .
And found herself drenched from the waist down.
"What the hell?" Jane spluttered.
"Dolly went number one all over Auntie Jane, and she used a BAD word!" Kendra crowed, giggling.
Before Jane could quite formulate a response to that, she realized something else. "What is that reek?!?" Another sniff told her. "ROSE WATER?"
"Smells nicer than Number One, Auntie Jane," a nearly hysterical Darla put in.
"I'm SO glad you think so, dear, as you will be bathing in it shortly," Jane said darkly, "As will you, Miss Smarty!"
"Hoist with her petard, eh?"
"Yes. Actually, I think what truly annoyed Jane was that they'd gotten a curse word out of her. Anyway, after that particular visit, Kenneth came home with that doll, and it has held court in his room ever since. I think it reminded him of . . . I don't know . . . more relaxed times?"
"So, despite the disciplines, Darla and Jane helped her let go of that control?"
Ruth nodded. "If only for a short time," she admitted with a sigh, "And unfortunately, they only managed it when Kendra was in Jane's girlish masquerade."
"That Darla must be something special, then," Skipper obsserved.
"Oh, our Darla can be quite the minx, and she taught Kendra all she knows. I gather that Jane had her hands full with that pair a time or two, but through it all, they had fun together - Jane most particularly, I think. And yet, whenever he came back here afterwards, he reverted to being the Kenneth I knew. Then, he hit that growth spurt. Sprouted a bunch of inches but didn't put on pounds to match. Skinny as a rail. Being Kenneth, he studied up on strength training and began a program to muscle up. Thought he was going to be a body builder for a while, until he backed off on that to what he is now. However, that put paid to his little trips to Seasons House as Kendra."
"No more outlet?"
"Except for the exercise room," Ruth admitted sadly.
Marie knocked on Adrienne's door, and then entered without waiting for permission. She was surprised to see the student seated at the vanity, the girl's attention fixed on the mirror before her.
"And what are you up to, ma'amselle?" she asked, setting down her laundry basket. She was further surprised when Adrienne jumped at her greeting. "I did knock, petite," Marie pointed out, just a hint of apology in her tone.
Sighing, the girl spun about to face the little housekeeper. "MON Dieu! What have you DONE to your FACE? Has Jane given you some type of experimental face-pack to try out? Your face, it is all white! Tres white!!"
Of course, Marie had been told what to expect by Jane, but she'd been dealing with Jane's girl-boys for nearly twenty years herself, and she knew how to play a role.
"It's grease paint, Miss Marie," was the quiet response. "For the class Miss Thompson has signed me up for."
"I believe, petite, that Miss Jane would prefer for you to say 'the class Miss Thompson has arranged for me to attend.' English is such a strange language, but I seem to recall that the word 'for' is not for ending sentences. So, you are to attend the clown school, eh?"
"Mime, like that French guy, Marcel something or other."
"Marcel Marseau, Adrienne. So, you are practicing with the make up. Jane will, I'm sure, applaud such planning and commitment."
Marie would have sworn she could see the child blushing beneath the white-painted mask. This was followed by a deep breath, a foot shuffle, and a floor-stare before the student met Marie's eyes. "That's not it - not really."
"Oh, and what is it, then?"
"Miss Thompson said I could attend as a boy, only. . . "
"Only what? Miss Jane does not make promises she is unwilling to keep. Do you need clothing suited to a boy? We might have something appropriate in storage."
"No, that's not it. It's these adult cosmetics Mrs. Beale put on me. . .they're always there and I look. . .I look. . " for a moment Marie thought she would have a crying child on her hands, "Like a girl!"
"Ah, I see."
"Well, I thought that, I mean, if cosmetics can make me look like a girl, maybe they can un-make me, you know? I thought I'd put a little foundation over the cheeks to hide the color there and around my eyes. Use a more naturally-colored lip cover to hide the lipstick, maybe thicken my eyebrows with the eyebrow pencils."
"A worthy plan," Marie said while thinking, *albeit hopeless.* "And what have you learned?"
"Well, I haven't really tried it all the way, yet," Adrienne said, choosing her words carefully. "I was afraid that the greasepaint might react with the makeup in some strange way. Give me green lips, or become impossible to get off. Part of the agreement with Miss Thompson was that I'd continue as Adrienne here at Seasons House."
Marie barely managed to contain a burble of laughter. "Ah, yes, I see where you, having been raised a boy, would worry about such things, but put it from you mind. You have nothing to worry about."
"Mais non, ma petite. The base of the modern greasepaint is like cold cream - so that it easy to remove. As for the cosmetics you wish to use beneath the paint, well, you know what other use we have for cold cream, eh?"
"To remove makeup," Adrienne answered, shoulders drooping in defeat.
"Shi. . . ummm, sugar!"
Chapter 23: Buried Emotions
Barbara Anne Braithwaite repressed the urge to shiver as she stood over the rain-muddied grave of a woman she did not even know. Not that she considered that any great loss. If a tenth of what she'd been told about Sheila Roberts was only half-true, knowing that woman could not have added anything positive to her life.
Which probably explained why there were but four people braving the unseasonably cold morning wet to attend her internment. Barbie stood at the center of a black-garbed phalanx; Anne to her left, the Judge to her right while the minister faced them from the other side of the still open grave.
The minister, also dressed in black, was of a Christian Interdenominational Church. He was of a similar age to Judge Ruth, and projected an almost palpable aura of serenity, much as the Judge radiated power. According to Ruth, this man was also a member of the small, select group of men and women who knew of and support the work of one Jane Thompson. *Well, at least there won't be any need to deceive a man of the cloth about Barbie's little secret,* she mused to herself.
How different this ceremony, Skipper thought, to the one she'd attended with her brother Adrian, when Caryn and Martin Braithwaite had been buried. *There'd been people for Momma and Poppa,* she thought, and felt the hot prickle of tears for the first time that morning. *But then, Momma and Poppa had been wonderful people who had friends and who loved their children. God, but I miss them so much!*
The minister began the traditional readings, quickly reciting the passages about ashes and dust and life everlasting. Skipper shot a quick look up at Barbie's face and saw, well, hardly anything. The perfectly made-up face stared fixedly on the plain wooden casket that had already been lowered into place. The heavy mist had saturated the thick blond curls into a sodden mass while rivulets of rain ran down those lovely high cheeks.
*Rain, but no tears,* was all Skipper could think. *How awful not to be able to cry for one's own mother.*
Suddenly, the minister snapped his bible shut, the sharp sound of it making everyone but Barbie jump. He walked around the grave-site, and came to stand beside Ruth who took his hand in hers while reaching around to hug him with her free arm. She whispered something in his ear, whereupon he nodded before moving to Barbie.
"God Bless you, child," he said, putting a comforting hand on Barbie's left arm. "Ruth has my number if you, well, if you need to talk. Anytime, day or night, okay? I will be mightily annoyed if you don't allow me to earn my keep."
The little joke seemed to reach the tall blonde as nothing else had that morning, and the ghost of a half-smile curled her full lips. "I live to roust people out of sound sleeps, padre," she said softly. "Thank you. I appreciate your time, and . . . and your discretion about. . .well, you know."
"Jane is a magnificent woman who, along with the Judge here, has helped many young men. I am ever at her service, and at yours."
"I'll walk you to your car, Brian," Ruth said. "Barbie? You and Anne meet me at my car when you're ready to leave, all right?"
Anne wasn't sure what she should do. Offer condolences? Try to hurry her friend out of here? What? As with most such situations, no answer seemed best so she did none of them, and instead kept close to Barbie in the off-chance the tall blonde needed something from her.
An almost-silence fell upon the little glade, broken only by the rustle of rain upon leaves.
"I suppose," the unexpected sound of Barbie's voice again made Anne jump, "that there's something almost appropriate about me attending your final ceremony dressed this way, Mother. All those years of trying, and here I am - blonde and buxom, perfumed and made-up, wearing buttons, bows and heels. Doubly appropriate, because - although I appear to be everything you in your twisted dreams wanted to make of me - thanks to Ruth and Jane, Marie and Darryl, I am in no way diminished by what I'm wearing, by how I look, or by what you tried to do to me. In the end, it only looks like you won, Mother. In the end, thanks to my friends, I'm the winner. And I suppose, thanks to you, because without you, I'd have never met Jane or Ruth. For that, regardless of what you intended, I owe you. Rest in peace, Mother - the peace you could never find in life."
With that, Barbie crouched down - almost losing her balance on the slippery grass due to the tight skirt and heels - and picked up a clump of the dripping earth. She stared at the sodden mass for a few moments, before finally tossing it upon the top of the casket. Anne wondered if where the dirt landed had any significance, for it would have struck Sheila directly in the face if not for the casket's cover. *A final parting shot?* she wondered, and then had to hurry to catch up with the suddenly departing Barbie.
"Let me be sure we both understand this, Adrienne. You have decided to attend the mime class as a girl. After I offered you the opportunity to attend as a male?"
Adrienne bowed her head, golden curls falling to hide her face as she sat in the very uncomfortable chair Jane kept in her study for just such interviews. "Yes, Ma'am."
"What did you say, child? I couldn't hear you."
"I said, yes, ma'am. I would prefer," and Jane saw her swallow hard, "to attend as Adrienne."
Ever the Mistress of the dramatic moment, Jane let that admission hang in the air between them for several long moments, her eyes hard upon her student. "I am afraid, Miss Braithwaite, that I do not understand. I thought you wanted nothing more than to be immediately restored to your rightful status as a male. Why, you wanted that so badly that you broke your word to me, placed yourself in danger of being sent to a juvenile detention facility for violating your post-trial agreement, and I might add, endangering your sister at the same time. And now, after I make a major concession to you, give you my blessing to do what you've already lied and cheated to attain, NOW you tell me, 'thank you, Miss Thompson, but no thank you'?
"I. . I can't go as a boy, Miss Thompson. No matter what I do, I look like a girl. If I try to be a boy there, I'll get killed. At least as Adrienne, I won't take that chance."
"Nonsense!" Jane snapped. "I told you that you would never be physically harmed or at risk in my keeping, young lady. And I have NEVER broken my word on that score. You almost tempt me to ORDER you to attend as a male, for that insult alone!"
Adrienne's control snapped like a dry twig. "Oh, god, no, please!" she sobbed out begging, "Don't do that to me! Don't order me to do that. I don't think I can. Please, Miss Jane!"
For a moment, Jane feared the child would hyperventilate and that the culmination she'd planned for this interview would have to be held until another, less advantageous time. Then, the girl seemed to recover herself. Still crying, she looked up at Jane. "I.. .I would prefer to go as Adrienne, ma'am. Please?!"
Relief washed through Jane, but she didn't let it show. Instead, she turned her most stern displeased schoolmistress glare on her student. "Very well, you may attend as Adrienne, but I want something in return, young lady. From now on, you will not only go through the motions of feminine deportment and dress as I instruct, you will also give it your best, creative effort. You will be a girl who enjoys being a girl, who laughs and has a good time. You will look forward trying on pretty new clothes, and take too long in the bathroom making your hair look just right. You will be happy, or at least you will seem to be to anyone you meet outside my home. Do you accept that condition? Else you will be introduced as Adrian to the mime class."
Again, silence hung heavily between the two antagonists, until, as had so many young men before her, Adrienne acquiesced. She gave a single, jerky nod of her head, and said, "Yes, Ma'am. I promise. You have my word on it and I'll keep it this time."
Jane managed to contain her smile of triumph until the door shut behind the rapidly retreating Adrienne.
Ruth and Skipper shared a concerned look beneath their umbrellas as they followed Barbie into the Judge's little cottage. The tall blonde had been stonily silent since the trio had departed the lonely, rain-gray cemetery.
The moment they walked through the door, Barbie's sensual sway sagged into a tired slump. "I think I'll go up and work at my computer, if you don't mind, Anne," Ken's voice proposed from that perfectly made up feminine face.
*That's the first time that she, or 'he', has called me 'Anne' in three days,* the other blonde realized. *I've been 'Skipper' ever since he thought up that cute little play on words. He must be really down right now. Should I really leave him alone right now? Or should I make some excuse to be 'Barbie's little friend, Skipper' so I can keep an eye on him?*
But Barbara Anne didn't feel she could force the issue by pushing herself on her troubled friend. "Of. . . of course," she stuttered back, her heart oddly skipping for a moment.
As it turned out, Ruth felt the same undesired distancing. The older woman said, "I had thought he'd learned other, better ways of dealing with emotional upset."
"She's upset? How can you tell?"
Ruth snorted. "Don't give me that, young woman. You can't tell me you don't feel it yourself. Right now, that child is fighting demons, and won't let me in to help. God, but I wish Darla was here."
"Darla could help? How?"
"Darla would find a way to take Barbie's mind off what's upsetting her. The little minx has that pesky little sister routine down pat." She sighed, then suddenly regarded Skipper thoughtfully. "But maybe you. . ."
"Maybe me. . . what?"
"I just had a thought - a way for you to divert Barbie's mind from today's events. Tell me, dear. Do you, perhaps, play chess? Or at least, know the moves?"
"Actually, I do - I was city school champion my senior year in high school. Why?"
"Come on. You need to get out of that black sack - you can use my room while we plan this out. Are you a movie buff? Ever see 'The Thomas Crowne Affair'?"
Baffled, the younger woman followed Ruth's lead. "Sure. Rene Russo was fantastic - carried Pierce Brosnan the whole show."
"Not that one," was the disgusted retort.
"Oh, you mean the one with Steve Mcqueen and that. . what was her name, . .. Bonnie something-woman?"
"Dear, we are going to have to do something about your woeful knowledge of classic film. Faye Dunnaway."
"Okay, okay. I have seen it - on the late show one night I was waiting up for Adrian. Why?"
"Remember the chess game between Steve and Faye?"
"Chess game? What are you talking about?" Skipper asked, and then memory flashed. "Oh, my."
"Ah, yes. I see you do. Well, I don't mean for you to take quite that tack here, but I do think we can use your looks and chess to redirect my boy's. . . girl's thoughts."
*Looks?! What does she mean by that crack??!*
"By the way, dear," Ruth asked, a thoroughly female smile crossing her round face, "In and among all that silk and satin I'm sure Jane foisted off on you, she didn't happen to see her way clear to pack something more, ah, shall we say in the way of being 'girl next door'-chic, did she?"
Chapter 24: Queen's Gambit - Skipper's Variation
A barely audible "Enter!" answered Skipper's tentative knock on the door to the attic apartment.
Hesitantly, she peeked around the door and saw Barbie sitting in front of the computer, staring fixedly at what had to be some type of screen saver while her hair soaked the back of her black mourning dress. *That will get a lot of work done . . . NOT!*
"Umm, I need to get some different clothes which is something you might consider yourself," she offered when Barbie turned a disinterested eye toward the door. "These black things are uncomfortable at the best of times and now they're wet on top of it."
"Oh, sorry," her friend half-mumbled. "Should have thought of that." and then turned back to stare at the wildly shifting lines on the monitor again.
*Somehow, I don't think Judge Ruth's idea has a snowball's chance in hell of accomplishing anything positive just now,* Skipper mused as she opened the small closet to pull out a skirt and blouse set. *Still, it can't be good for her to brood like that. . . *
"What are those lumpy things in the river?" she asked, pointing into the glass-topped sand-table. "They look like some type of mutant broccoli plants." *That should make for a 'safe' intellectual exercise to get her mind off. . .whatever.* "How'd you get all those little bitty trees? They're real, aren't they?"
There was a resigned air about Barbie as she pushed herself to her feet and walked over to join Skipper. "Yes, they're bonsai trees. Nothing mutated in there."
"How utterly perfect for a battle scene," Skipper laughed - and somehow managed not to sound forced while doing it, and then squealed, "Banzai!! Charge that hill!"
"Not banzai," her companion corrected without humor or heat, "Bonsai. It's a Japanese art-form that trains small plants to look like the full sized version."
Something caught Skipper's attention - a stiffness that was unlike the control she'd already encountered dealing with all three incarnations of the unique person before her. There was a brittleness about Barbie that pulled at the shorter girl's heart even as it frightened her. Without quite realizing she was doing it, or even why she was doing it, Anne moved in and wrapped her arms about Barbie, pulling her close.
And felt her friend shatter.
"OH, GOD! What's WRONG with me!?! Why can't I FEEL anything? Why DIDN'T I feel anything, even there, at the ceremony?!?"
Uncertain whether answering or not was right, Anne only held on tighter and felt Barbie's head rest on her shoulder. The tall, powerful frame shook with each sob. "She was my MOTHER, damnit, and I couldn't feel anything. . ." and then her voice cracked, and became low and filled with a pain that brought tears to Skipper's eyes. "Anything. . except. . "
"Say it," Skipper ordered when her friend hesitated. "Say it and have it over and done with!"
"Except relief," came out on a half whisper. And then, they cried together. Cried for the boy who needed love and found none - worse, found warped desire fed by hatred. Cried for a soul lost forever.
Cried for what might have been.
Sometime, during that purging, they ended up on the small sofa-bed, Barbie on the inside, Skipper holding on to both the edge of the cushion and to her friend. Eventually, the wave of emotion crested and subsided, and at last physically spent, Barbie fell deeply asleep.
For a while, Anne merely laid there, holding this strangely appealing person who had become her friend in such a short time, and watched her sleep. Finally, satisfied that she'd stay asleep for a good length of time, Anne slipped out of Barbie's arms, collected her dry clothes, and tiptoed from the room.
It was the clatter of dishes on the tray that started the couch-bound sleeping beauty's slow return to wakefulness. Her eyes resisted opening - *probably dried tears on Sandy's eyelash extensions,* she thought as she reached up to rub at the crusty residues. When her eyelids finally parted, an amazing sight greeted her still barely focused eyes.
It was a skirted bottom.
An extremely shapely and feminine skirted bottom.
A few quick blinks cleared Barbie's vision enough to better appreciate how beautifully presented that bottom was, since its owner was bending over doing something, which in turn, caused the skirt to ride higher and tighter.
Then, Barbie realized that the skirt was soft, stone washed denim, faded to near white where it lovingly hugged every enticing curve of that derriere . . . and she groaned audibly.
Skipper heard the sound behind her and rose from setting out the light tea she'd prepared to face Barbie. "Awake, at last, are we?"
A strange look flitted across the lovely features. "You took a nap, too?" the supine figure growled.
That elicited a giggle from the standing blonde. "Not really, and you're evidently not one to wake up on the right side of the bed. . .err, couch. C'mon and have something to eat. You skipped breakfast and that Amazonian frame of yours needs feeding."
Muttering dark imprecations under her breath, Barbie pushed herself into a sitting position and then indulged in a long, muscle-loosening, joint-cracking stretch that made Skipper nearly moan in sympathy. "So, what's on offer?"
"Tea, sandwiches, some of those killer cookies Judge Ruth has in the cookie jar."
"She buys them at a local bakery. You don't want to try to eat anything she or I bake. Even Aunt Jane and Tante Marie couldn't teach me how to avoid incinerating anything that goes into an oven."
The smile that lit Skipper's face at that moment almost took Barbie's breath away. "Umm. . . nice skirt," she managed to get out through the incipient lump in her throat. "And blouse," she hurriedly added.
"Glad you think so," Skipper said, still smiling. "It's a favorite of mine - comfortable, but still dressy in a laid-back sort of way. Reminds me I'm a girl, you know? Now, come over here and eat." When Barbie didn't immediately obey, Skipper put her fists to her hips. "Well? What do I have to do? Invite that doll up there? Okay, I can do that."
Words became deed as the venerable doll was quickly deposited at a place of honor at the small food-laden coffee table. "Sit!" she ordered, even as she filled a plate.
For a short, almost panicky moment, Skipper thought that the taller girl might refuse, but then Barbie gave a sassy toss of her unkempt, now-dry mane of blond hair and settled down in front of the heaping plate.
"Now, do you feed dolly, or do I have to do that, too?" Skipper asked in her very best 'whiny-brat-talk' voice.
She managed rather well at it, too, even if she did think so herself. After all, Barbie hadn't quite been able to suppress the wince Skipper had hoped for.
"Thanks, I really did need that," Barbie said after the pair of them, with only minimal help from the doll, had demolished the very generous tea Skipper had prepared.
"You're quite welcome. So, what shall we do now?" *In order to keep you from starting to think about your Mother, again,* Skipper thought but did not say.
"Sure. I feel the need to be entertained."
A cautious look came across Barbie's face. "I'm not really the most entertaining person in the world, under the best of circumstances. . "
"Oh, I'm not hard to please. Tell me, can you do anything with those chessmen or are they just for show?"
"Do anything with them?"
"Well, can you play the game, or are you just one of those guys who knows the moves, but couldn't tell an end game from an opening gambit?"
"I do all right," Barbie retorted, all insulted hauteur.
"All right then. Pick a hand, then." Skipper extended her closed fists toward Barbie. "White or black, tough-gal?"
"You're on, smartie," the taller girl tapped her friend's right hand and saw the white pawn. "And you should be afraid - VERY afraid."
"Oh, I'm shaking in my pumps - NOT!"
*Well, one thing is for sure, nobody THAT focused on a game of chess can be thinking about anything other than the next fifteen or twenty moves,* Skipper thought after watching Barbie methodically build a strong, disciplined offensive from that basic first move advantage. She was impressed.
However, she also absolutely hated to lose!
Unfortunately, her mind kept slipping to things more interesting than the mini-war being played out in white and black before her.
Things like that long, tall blonde seated across from her, for instance. *Such a fascinating bundle of contradictions and confusions,* she thought to herself as she again found herself stealing what she HOPED was a surreptitious glance at Barbie. *Lord, look at her,* her mind growled, *just LOOK at her!*
Barbie sat staring with unblinking concentration at the board, her gaze flicking rapidly to various squares, her eyes evidently playing out various moves and strategies, countermoves and counter-strategies. Her elbows were planted on the table, a small, but growing collection of 'prisoner's of war' between them, while her chin rested on her fists. Two long, finely manicured thumbs ran up that elegant jaw-line, pointing their blood-red tips at bejeweled earlobes. The hair, still unbrushed, had been transformed into a shaggy, golden-curled explosion about the perfect, yet expressionless face, thanks to the unconscious finger combing that answered each of Skipper's feints or attacks.
A pink tongue slipped out to moisten crimson lips followed by a momentary biting of the lower. *Here it comes,* Skipper thought with a smile.
"Knight to Bishop Seven, Knight takes Pawn, check." Barbie announced in a firm voice that was otherwise devoid of any inflection, as she moved the selected warrior into place.
Only then did Skipper remember to look at the board again, and what she saw infuriated her. The damned Knight had her castled King in check, and the only way to save him was to move him. Unfortunately, the same Knight had her Rook under attack. Saving the King meant sacrificing one of her three most powerful attacking pieces. She'd get the knight with her Bishop, but she'd lost the exchange and in all likelihood, the game.
*That's what you get for letting yourself be distracted from the task at hand, Barbara Anne Braithwaite. And wasn't Ruth's plan that YOU were going to be the one doing the distracting?*
She moved her King and accepted, with ill grace, the loss of her Rook. When the exchange of pieces was complete, and Barbie settled back into her 'planning the next campaign' mode, Skipper sat back only to have her eyes fall on the satin opera glove thumb tacked to the cork-board. Inspiration flared, and before she could think of reasons not to, she reached up and pulled down the slick garment.
"Judge Ruth never did tell me the story behind this," she cooed, almost fondling the glove. "Care to share the tale?"
Mild annoyance flashed in the taller blonde's eyes as she reluctantly looked up from the board. *A predator denied her prey,* Skipper thought, *Slightly vexed at being momentarily thwarted from her goal, but still confident of dinner. Well, we'll see about that.*
"Nothing much to tell," Barbie mumbled, her eyes dropping back to the board.
Skipper fit her hand into the delicate glove, letting it float above the chessmen toward her opponent as she slowly slid the shiny tube over her elbow and up her arm. "Oh, that's hard to believe," she refuted, letting her voice drop into a husky, teasing tone that had Barbie's brows going up into her bangs. "Surely, such a . . . unique item holding such a place of honor in a young man's room must have a, well, unique story behind it.
"It was, well, a Darla-ism," Barbie said, obviously trying to sound dismissive.
"Oh, you mean your brother had something to do with it? What, he gave you the glove?" Skipper made a show of minutely examining the glove on her hand, and was pleased to see her opponent's eyes on her and not the board.
"Well, not quite, but sort of, I guess," the answer was so uncharacteristic her usually precise friend that Anne almost laughed.
"Come on, give. You can't tease me like that. It's not fair!"
A curious look on her face, Barbie seemed to consider that for a moment, and then shrugged. "If you really want to hear it. . "
"Oh, I do, but it's still your move."
"Huh? Oh, okay." Barbie's reflex move, Skipper was pleased to note, was not the best one available to her, which gave the shorter girl some breathing space. "Umm, you know that Jane has had many students. . . boys, like Adrian, right?" At Skipper's nod, she continued, "Well, one of them, a fellow named Will Decker, Jane-named Wilma, was getting married. He had two problems, though. First, he'd tried to tell his bride about Jane and she hadn't believed him. Pretty hard to believe in his case - Will's a Marine now and to see him, it's not easy to imagine him in corsets, petticoats and pinafores."
Skipper made a quick move on the board to firm her defensive position and pressed on. "And the other problem?"
"His fiancee didn't have any female family of an age to be in the wedding. Didn't have enough friends who could travel, either. Anyway, Will wanted three of his buddies from Quantico to stand up with him."
"Oh my, I think I can see where this is going. Darryl, that is Darla, decides that the perfect way to convince the soon-to-be Mrs. Wilma about her hubby's. . umm. . . silky past is to, ah, fill in the holes in the bridesmaid contingent?"
"Made a lot more sense when Darla presented the idea than it does saying it out loud right now, let me tell you. So, anyway, we met the fiancee for the first time as part of Jane's family at the beginning of the wedding week, as boys," a rueful smile curled at Barbie's mouth. "Lord, Darryl and I were barely fifteen, and it was just before I had my growth spurt. Two days later, Darla and Kendra 'arrived' on the scene, bridesmaid ensembles already in-hand thanks to Aunt Jane's connections."
"Complete with shoulder-length opera gloves?"
"And sexy undies, silk stockings, dyed-to-match killer heels and floppy sun-hats." Barbie made another move that gave Skipper hope she might still pull out a draw at least. "We looked exactly the way Jane wanted us to look - like two fourteen year old girls trying too hard to look all grown up."
"Oh my, that sounds. . . interesting."
The taller girl snorted. "Darla couldn't resist playing the teenie-bopper with over active glands. Teased the living hell out of her Marine, and tried her damnedest to get me to do the same with one escorting me."
"And you resisted that temptation manfully, I'm sure," Skipper all but chortled.
Barbie drew herself up to her full height and looked down at her opponent with an air of outraged aristocratic dignity that would have befit a queen - or a Marx Brothers movie character. "I'll have you know that *I*," she intoned loftily, "was the epitome of mature, feminine grace, manners and breeding. A credit to my teachers in ALL respects."
Skipper lost it and laughed heartily. "Oh sure, right - pull the other leg while you're at it. Is that why there's only one glove here? What happened to the other?"
A bright red blush suffused Barbie's complexion and, for a moment, her eyes fell back to the board. "We don't need to discuss that," she replied too quickly.
"Oh, c'mon, blondie, give. It's not fair to keep me hanging. If you don't tell me, I'll have to imagine something really sexy about it."
Thoroughly vexed, Barbie locked fiery eyes with Skipper. "Okay, he took one, okay? Kind of like a knight taking a lady's favor."
Sighing, Barbie sat back in her chair. "He was going overseas, and evidently, despite Kendra's best efforts, found her attractive. He was only twenty one or twenty two, and thought she might be worth, well, waiting for. At the end of the reception, he cornered me, caught me unawares with a surprise kiss and stole the other glove."
"You think so? Well, to make things even worse, guess who saw us and has NEVER let me live it down? Three guesses and the first two don't count."
Somehow, Skipper managed not to laugh, but the effort cost her and her next words were a squeak, "Not Darla?"
"Yup. She can be quite the little bitch when she puts her mind to it. That's why I kept the glove - to remind me what happens when I let myself get too carried away by one of darling Darla's madcap enthusiasms."
The smile Skipper saw on the other girl's face said something completely different, but she let that ride. It was sweet to see how much her friend loved this Darryl/Darla. "So, you saved the wedding by stepping into the nearest phone-booth and selflessly standing in as Super-Bridesmaid. Did you help with the other problem?"
"Wilma telling Patty about Jane's Winsome Girls' School for Wayward Boys? Well, we did 'unmask' ourselves to her during the preparation of the bride for the big getaway. Had to, you know? Captain William Decker, United States Marine Corps is one dangerous fellow, and he would have killed us if we'd seen his lady in her bridal unmentionables. I'm not sure she still doesn't think we were plants, but we tried."
"And lived to tell the tale, too."
"I don't tell it very often, and don't think I don't know what you were trying to pull here, cutie."
"Why, whatever do you mean?" Skipper asked, her eyes wide with innocense.
A sly grin lit Barbie's face. "I've been conned by Jane Thompson, Darla Thompson-Smith and Her Honor, Judge Ruth Walinkiewicz in my day. In other words, by the best con-artists in the civilized world. I may be, well, male, but I recognize the devious female mind at work as well as anyone, and better than most."
"And your point is?"
"My point, sexy-lady," Barbie cooed as she reached out to move her Queen, "Is that your sneaky gambit didn't work. Queen to Queen eight, Check and Mate."
Stunned, Skipper stared down at the board. It was Checkmate, sure enough. Barbie had attacked with her Queen from the diagonal with her Rook guarding the Queen so that Skipper's King could not attack directly. There was no where to run nor was there any other piece she could interpose to block or defend. "Damn, but I hate to lose," she muttered as she tipped her King in surrender.
"Me, too, babe. Me, too."
"Let me do that," Diana said, as she sauntered up behind her wife and took the silver-handled hairbrush from Jane. She loved the way Jane's still-auburn locks turned to golden-red fire in her hands when she slid the natural-bristled brush through them. She was more than rewarded by the husky purr that answered each long, slow stroke.
"That's mmmmarvelous," Jane sighed, leaning her head back.
"I gather, since you haven't pulled it out by the roots, that your little interview with Adrienne went well?"
"She agreed to the bargain, if that's what you mean. I just hope this idea of yours works. I've never asked a boy to pretend to be happy before. Usually, they sort of have to figure that out for themselves."
"Well," Diana answered in what Jane thought of as her mate's 'professorial mode', "There is a good deal of research and anecdotal evidence to support the strategy. It is an interesting aspect of the human condition that playing a part - simulating a particular set of emotions - often gives rise to those very emotions. Look at all the movie actors and actresses who convince themselves they are in love when they play lovers on the movie set."
"Then fall out of love as soon as they aren't playing lovers anymore."
"True, but you don't want Adrienne to be a girl the rest of Adrian's life, either. That works to your advantage, too. Assuming this gives you the response you need, it just may take a little longer to tear down Adrienne than it does with other students."
"God help us if we end up with another Caitlyn, Philips," Jane warned. "Barbara Anne will have our guts for garters."
"Adrienne is not Caitlyn," Diana said firmly. "Caitlyn was a girl before she ever came to you. Adrian is male - a small male to be sure, and one who is overcompensating for that lack of stature, but male nonetheless."
"Well, it will be different."
"What's on the docket for tomorrow?"
"Shopping. We need some mime-clothes - nice feminine ones - and I also want her to pick out a new dress. I suspect she will need. . . practice enjoying that experience."
"Nasty," Diana laughed huskily, as Jane stood and turned into her lover's arms.
"And you love it! Take me to bed, wench!" the Mistress of Seasons House ordered.
End Part II
To Be Continued...
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