Ten year old Mark gets more than he bargained for when the Matron of his orphanage asks for a special favor to the orphanage's biggest benefactor, Duchess Oakfield.
“Ah, Mark, come in dear boy,” the elderly nun glanced up from her desk with a stern, but gentle smile as I nervously peeked around the door. Ordinarily when one of us was called to her office like this, it meant we’d done something, but I tried my best to stay OUT of trouble - saving for that one time Susan Brown pushed me and I tried to push her back.
“Sister Olivia said you wanted a word with me, Mrs. Stewart?” I asked. I couldn’t think of anything I could possibly have done. “If this is about the food fight, I swear I didn’t start it. I was trying to get out of the line of fire-”
“At ease, soldier,” she teased, smiling. “I know your father raised you well. You’re not in trouble. I have a problem, and I need your assistance. The orphanage needs your assistance, in fact.”
No pressure. I nodded as I approached, slowly easing myself down. She smiled cordially as she leaned back in her chair. “How much do you know about Mrs. Oakfield, Mark?”
“I know she’s a rich old lady,” I answered honestly. “I know she’s the whole reason for this silly ‘Rent a kid’ nonsense.”
“She’s also the reason we’re able to provide for you kids so well,” she admonished. I hung my head.
“Sorry Matron. I’ve been hanging around Susan too long.”
She sighed softly and nodded. “Yes, Susan is precisely why I’m in this predicament. This is the weekend before Easter, five years to the day after Mrs. Oakfield’s husband passed away. This is going to be an especially trying weekend for her. We have an arrangement that once a year, on the anniversary of his death, she ‘adopt’ a daughter to spend time with.”
“So what’s the problem? Susan’s available,” I started to say, but she shook her head.
“Susan is far too... Susan, I’m afraid. And all of our other girls are unavailable. This puts me in a difficult position. You’re a very well-mannered young lad, with fair features.”
I could see where this was going already. “No way! Didn’t you plan for this?”
“We had, but the girl we had planned to ask was adopted, and as per the agreement her adopted parents signed, she’s excluded from further participation in the program. Further, she’s chosen to live at her new parents’ home until the adoption is finalized.” She exhaled softly, clearly frustrated at the situation as well.
“Hear me out,” she asked gently. “Sarah is a close personal friend of mine, and she’s painfully lonely in that big house. The only reason she still lives at the estate is to keep up appearances, her royal duty and all that. If you’d be willing to pose as a girl for this weekend, I’d be considering it a personal favor, and I’m willing to make it worth your while: anything you want.”
“Anything?” I asked. I had been saving my allowance for six months now, but if they would pay the rest, I could finally get the bike of my dreams!
She stood, leaning forward with her hands on her desk to look me in the eye. “Anything, Mister Lewis.”
My heart skipped a beat. I should have at least found out what I was expected to wear first, but the prospect of a custom touring bike won over my better judgment. “Yes ma’am,” I said excitedly. “Um, no one will find out about this will they?” I asked as we shook hands on the deal. She smiled.
“My dear, no one will even recognize you. Now, come along. Sister Olivia has a lovely formal dress picked out for you.”
“So, you’re the, ahem, ‘young miss’ we were expecting, then?” the dapper butler asked innocently as I slowly trudged up the walkway. I felt as though I were going to a school dance or something. They had picked out a wine colored dress that reached past my knees, white tights and black patent Mary Janes, and taken my shoulder length hair and put it in tight ringlets with a bow on the side.
I sighed and hung my head. “Yes sir, my name is Martha, and it is a pleasure to be staying with Mrs. Oakfield.”
“Now young master, just two days and the ‘torture’ will be over, eh?” He winked at me. “My sister Olivia rang ahead. If you should have any trouble that Ms. Sarah can’t assist you with due to that little complication, you’re free to come find me.”
I sighed, “But I’m not a girl. This is never going to work. She’ll see right through me, and then it will be the end of the program.” I was venting my fears to this relative stranger, but he had a kind smile, and a genuine tone.
“I know that, and you know that, but Ms. Sarah does get so dreadfully lonely since Master William passed. You needn’t worry about being seen as anything but a pretty young miss, though I am a little surprised not to see Susan again. She was a … spirited one.”
I sighed again, mostly to keep from laughing at his ‘spirited’ comment. “They think that Susan is too much of a boy for Mrs. Oakfield,” I said, and my heart felt a little bit lighter.
The butler clearly tried to contain his laughter at that. “But a boy isn’t? I sometimes wonder if the old bat’s truly gone ‘round the bend, but for my dear sister’s insistence that she does care about you kids. Ah, let’s try and keep that ‘old bat’ comment just between us, aye?” He winked again. I couldn’t help but to crack a small smile this time.
At that moment Mrs. Oakfield made an appearance in the lobby of the house. She was neither old nor ugly as Susan had led me to believe. In fact she was very pretty, and couldn’t have been more than in her late 20s.
“Oh good you both are here. Erick, could you be a dear and have our dear Martha change for tea?” she smiled a sweet smile at me. I had a dreadful knot in the pit of my stomach. This thing I had already been coerced into was bad enough. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.
Erick bowed slightly and turned to lead me up the broad central staircase. On the first landing, a pretty young blonde dressed in black with a simple white apron - perhaps in her early 20s, was busy dusting. She turned to watch us, clearing her throat.
“Err, if you’re taking the young miss to change for tea, perhaps I should assist instead?” she asked, apparently not in on the cosmic joke at my expense.
The butler smiled and nodded to the woman, “That would be wonderful Miss Heather. You can take her to the lavender room. I suspect there should be some dresses in there that will do for tea.”
“This isn’t worth a new bike,” I mumbled, sighing as I followed the maid. I spoke up a little louder a moment later to cover my previous comment. “What exactly do you mean by ‘assist’?” I asked. It was bad enough to be wearing girls’ knickers. I didn’t want her seeing me dressed in them!
Heather smiled at me as she answered in an honest tone, “Well some of the dresses can be right tough to get on without assistance.”
“No bloody wonder Susan didn’t want to come back here,” I grumbled, trying not to swear. That was, after all, part of the arrangement. I had to be on my best behavior.
“Now Martha that is no way for a young Lady such as yourself to speak.” the butler chided me as he turned to leave me in Heather’s hands. I stuck out my tongue, and Heather laughed to herself.
“My mother used to make me drink cod liver oil for doing that. Mercifully I’m out of the house and in college now,” she added as she turned to lead me up the stairs from the landing, off to the left. It was truly a massive house. The east wing, where I found myself being led, must have been as big as the orphanage in and of itself.
“So what was that about a bike, young miss?” Heather asked, probably just making small talk to pass the time. It was a very large estate.
I was sure my eyes lit up, by the look on Heather’s face, though. I couldn’t help it. This was no ordinary bike we were talking about. It was to be a custom-order, titanium frame touring bike, like they used in the big competitions. Susan would be so jealous! She’d have put up with a month at Oakfield for a bike like mine would be.
“Oh, um, I’ve um, been saving my allowance? After this weekend I’m going to cash it in on a new bike,” I lied. No one need know about the deal Matron had offered me, least of all these people. Erick already knew I wasn’t really a Martha.
It sucked that most of the boys my age at the orphanage had already started puberty, but not me. I was still stuck with a sing song like voice and somewhat curvy figure: the trials of being ten years old, and the youngest boy there unless you counted Susan as a boy, as much as she acted the part.
“Oh, I see. You didn’t strike me as the bike riding type,” she answered warmly as she opened a seemingly random door. “Here we are young miss. You know I would have killed for a bedroom like this when I was your age,” she added, as she led me inside.
I could see why, too. The room was, quite literally, a lavender one. The walls and curtains were done in shades of lavender, and I could feel the thick carpet beneath the patent Mary Janes I endured wearing.
My jaw must have hung open in surprise because she giggled and patted my head lightly. “If you like it, I’ll ask Ms. Sarah to let you sleep here.” She pointed, and I turned to find an extra large bed with four big posts under a canopy, done in lavender bedcovers it was made for a Princess. I’d never slept in a bed this large, even before my father had died. How could I possibly refuse?!
“The lou is just through there if you need to relieve yourself. Whenever you’re ready, just come this way, and we’ll find something appropriate for tea. You can worry about what you’ll wear to town after you’ve made plans with Ms. Sarah,” she added. Did she say ‘to town’?
I decided that I had to use the U-bend really badly. “I’ll just be in there for a moment,” I said, and I quickly rushed into the lou to have my breath taken away once more.
There was a large claw bathtub with golden trim. and the sinks - yes there were two of them, and a toilet as well that were made of fine porcelain. The bathroom was also done in shades of lavender; no wonder they called this the Lavender room. I had also noticed there was a bench with a chair and a mirror which looked like the makeup station in Linda and Marsha’s room at the orphanage, only much fancier.
There was a window, with white curtains adorning it, but it was much higher off the ground, and didn’t look like it could even open. At least it afforded privacy while letting in some natural light. I sighed as I shifted the loose fabric, sitting down on the padded lavender seat to take care of business. It wasn’t until after I’d finished that I realized - I had just sat down to pee.
I didn’t have long to reflect on that realization. “Ms. Martha?” Heather called as she knocked on the door to the bathroom.
I quickly raced to the sink, turning on the water to wash my hands. “One second!” I called back. I hadn’t actually seen myself in a mirror yet, but as I washed my hands, I realized a pretty young girl in an even prettier formal red dress stared back at me. What’s more, she had a beautiful, cheerful smile that startled me.
She wore no makeup, but her shoulder length hair was done up in curls. I flinched at the thought of the curling iron singing my scalp. Marsha would have died of laughter to see me like this. And the boys would have beaten me six ways to Sunday I was sure. But there was something about it all.
I sighed and shook myself from my thoughts. “Remember your bike,” I muttered, and plodded out of the room.
“Stand up straight, young Miss. It doesn’t do for a young lady to slouch,” Heather instructed, but gently. She smiled as she cupped my face in her hands. “You look upset. What’s wrong dear?”
“Thinking about the orphanage,” I sighed. It was the truth, at least.
“Aww, now don’t you worry none about the others. I understand most every other girl was away this weekend. And who knows, if you like it here you might just be a permanent fixture some day, aye?”
That knot in the pit of my stomach faded for a moment. The thought of living in this palace sharply outweighed the realization that I was presently dressed like a posh young girl; or perhaps, the fear of being beaten up for it. My father would have no doubt rolled over in his grave if he knew, but I was helping out Duchess Oakfield and the orphanage! The new bike didn’t hurt.
“You know, if you’re the adventurous type, looking for a new bike and what, I think you might be interested in something a bit more challenging? It would certainly take your mind off the orphanage at least.”
I looked up at Heather, once more shaken from my thoughts. “And what might that be?”
She grinned, almost a mischievous expression, as she wiggled one finger in a ‘come hither’ motion, and entered the walk-in closet. To my shock, and not a little bit of dread, the closet had rows upon rows of different cuts and styles of dresses, from ultra-modern to ultra-formal, in several sizes.
The only sets of trousers I could see were back at the back, where Heather was leading me. This was riding gear! She held up a pair of white trousers and a pink coat, inspecting them before returning them to the rack to retrieve another.
“You know what these are for, aye?” she asked. Of course I knew!
“This is riding gear, innit?” I asked, feigning ignorance. I hadn’t been on horseback since I was little. My mother loved riding, but after she passed, father sold her horses. I supposed he couldn’t bear to be reminded of her.
“That’s right. Ms. Sarah raises horses here at the Estate. If you ask nicely I’m sure she’d take you out riding.”
“I can’t believe Susan didn’t ask,” I answered with a laugh. “Suppose she was too busy pouting though.”
“Well, let’s get you something nice to wear.”
“I suppose trousers are out of the question?” I asked, hopeful. Heather nodded, almost, but not quite, laughing out loud.
“For tea? It may just be yourself and Ms. Sarah today, but it’s not unheard of for other members of the royal family to drop in for tea on occasion. You must look your best.”
“R-royal family?!” I stammered. I knew Mrs. Oakfield had a title to go with her land, but I didn’t know she rubbed elbows with the highest of the high society snobs. I had finally begun to relax, but that dread knot in the pit of my stomach returned with a vengeance.
Much to my dismay, the dress Heather picked out for me to wear to tea was easily twice as formal as the one the Matron had me wearing, and five times as gaudy. The bright aqua sash, tied in a bow at my back, the pearl buttons that ran up the length of my spine, and the poofed shoulder material wasn’t enough. She had me wearing wrist-length white gloves with white Mary Jane shoes, and a string of pearls around my neck to complete the ensemble.
“I’ll let you discuss with Ms. Sarah whether you’re appropriate in age for makeup, but for now you look positively adorable. Oh! Wait, there is one more thing!” she said as she raced into the bathroom - which I had by now surmised to easily be as large as the room I shared with Kelly - another boy at the orphanage.
She re-emerged a few seconds later carrying a small, silver hair clip. When she moved her hand, I could see a little ceramic dove attached to it. She gathered some of my recently curled hair and clipped it together.
“There. Now you’re ready.” She smiled proudly as she took my hand, leading me out of the room. As we walked, I quietly listened as she gave me what she called a “refresher course” in proper tea etiquette. Of course I knew how to behave from a young gentleman’s perspective thanks to my father, God rest his soul, but couldn’t help feeling information overload at Heather’s instructions.
In some ways I was relieved to be rid of Heather’s “help” when she left at the glass doors, instructing me first on how to reach the garden, but to my great dismay, when I came within sight of the garden gazebo, I saw not one, but two women seated there! Frozen in place I looked between the two.
One of the women, wearing her long, light brown hair in loose curls at the tips, and dressed slightly less formally - though with no less an extravagant hat as the other woman, turned slightly and smiled at me. It took me a moment to recognize Mrs. Oakfield, mostly because of the hat. “Oh, Martha, dear, come over and let me look at you!” she said cheerfully as she stood to motion me closer.
“She really is a doll,” the other woman commented casually. I suddenly felt like a piece of meat on a hook at a slaughterhouse, being graded on quality and cut, as I nervously approached. Remembering what Heather had told me - or at least part of it, I tried to curtsey.
“I apologize for being late, Duchess Oakfield.” My voice cracked. She giggled and gave me a light hug.
“Call me Sarah, dear. And I had only just sat down for tea,” she added, motioning to her guest after. “Martha, this is Princess Madeleine, of Sweden.”
“P-Princess?!” I stammered, frozen stiff where I stood. The woman giggled under her breath.
“When Sarah told me about this … unique adoption system, I was skeptical at first. How is life at your orphanage?” She spoke with a refined accent, not at all what I expected, but then, I had never met anyone from Sweden before, let alone a Princess!
I waited for Sarah to sit before I sat down at the third chair. My first instinct was to just let my feet dangle, but Heather’s voice harped in my mind, and I delicately crossed my ankles, not wanting to offend Sarah’s guest. Both women smiled approvingly.
“It’s um, it’s nice I guess. The Matron and the sisters are like family. Matron is like a grandmother to a lot of us, and the sisters tend to our lessons.” After a moment, I finally managed to work up the courage to smile. Dressed as a girl or not, I’d never have another opportunity like this. I had to ask.
“Your Highness, what’s it like being a Princess?” Both women chuckled politely.
“You needn’t address me so formally, dear. Sarah and I are longtime friends. But as to your question, it carries much responsibility with the title. It’s a lot of hard work as you have to deal with the public often and constantly smile. I’m glad i'm the second in the family so I don’t have to worry so much, and I can get away for things like today.” she added with a thoughtful smile.
Normally at this point, I would have made a crude ‘mingling with the commoners’ joke, but I just couldn’t push it past my lips. She just seemed so nice, not at all what I expected royalty to be like, and I couldn’t bring myself to offend her. So instead I just smiled and allowed Sarah to pour my tea.
“How many lumps?”
“Oh, um... Three?” I asked, hesitantly. Madeleine giggled.
“She has a sweet tooth like you, Sarah!”
I blushed, but Sarah laughed as she dropped three sugar cubes into my tea cup. I picked up the spoon, but something caught my attention before I began to stir. It wasn’t at all like the stainless steel utensils I was used to. I didn’t say anything though, quietly stirring my tea. Apparently Sarah had caught me staring.
“This tea set has been in my family for generations. I had hoped to pass it on to my own daughter some day, but then my William contracted that dreadful disease.” She sighed, but smiled.
“That’s why I support the orphanage so strongly, Mad. I’m not just taking these children for a ‘test drive’,” she teased, causing Madeline to giggle politely. “It gets them out of the orphanage for a time, and lets me indulge my whimsical side for a day or two.”
She then turned to smile at me. “Speaking of which, I have errands around London proper to run today. I could put them off until Monday if you’d rather, though so that we can spend some quality time together here.”
“Oh, I would love to!” I answered, intending to say ‘see the stables’, but she cut me off.
“Excellent! I thought we might do a little bit of light shopping, help you find your best colors. That dress looks lovely on you though. But next weekend is Easter, and if you’re this well-behaved the rest of the weekend, I should like to arrange for you to join me.”
“That would be fine Mrs. Oakfield. We don’t do much around the orphanage around the holidays.” I sighed. Despite the Catholic nature - or perhaps because of it - our holidays consisted of a solemn mass presided over by Father Morris, a simple, elderly man who presided over every Sunday’s services at our little chapel.
“We can drive past Windsor Castle while we’re out today so you can see it for yourself. That way you won’t feel too overwhelmed next weekend.”
Madeline giggled a little. “I remember my first Windsor Easter. It’s such an incredible experience. Even though I was just a little thing, I can remember staring up at Her Majesty and feeling a little awestruck.”
I blushed a bit before I spoke, “Forgive me for being rude Ms. Madeline, but your english is really good for being a Princess of Sweden.”
Madeleine and Sarah both giggled at that. “Well thank you. I was taught English as a second language growing up, and I’ve had a great deal of practice over the years. And may I say you are perhaps the most well-mannered young lady that I’ve met in awhile, as well,” she added, smiling warmly. “I wish I could stay and go riding with you two later.”
She paused. “Oops. That was supposed to be a secret,” she added, winking at Sarah.
“That’s quite all right,” Sarah replied. “I wasn’t even sure if she’d be interested in such a thing.”
“No, I’d love to,” I answered. Not only would it let me wear trousers for a bit, but I genuinely loved the idea of being near horses again. “My mother rode when I was very little, but she passed away, and my father sold them right after.”
Sarah seemed thoughtful for a moment, before replying, “I remember purchasing a pair of prized thoroughbreds from a man named Lewis a few years ago.”
“That was probably my father. Mum loved horses so, and I think it reminded him too much of her to keep them.”
“Well, at any rate dear, why don’t you walk with me whilst we escort our guest, and then if you want, I’ll help you pick out something to wear into the city?”
“Err, um, yes ma’am,” I answered quietly. I was not at all thrilled at the idea of going out in public dressed like this, but the orphanage did take very good care of us, thanks in part to Mrs. Oakfield’s generous donations. The least I could do was to play along a little while longer. Next week I could pretend to be ill, and let someone else go along to the Windsor celebration.
Surprisingly, I had a great weekend with Mrs Oakfield. We went to town, and she bought more dresses and things that fit me for the Lavender room, which I reasoned would fit the next girl too. There were things in different sizes after all. We also dined at a very posh restaurant in London called Le Gavroche. The waiter treated me nicely, and the maitre d even stopped by several times to ask me how I was enjoying my “ham burger”.
It was pleasant. She even bought me some stuffed animals for the weekend. We went horseback riding when we got home, and in all I think I enjoyed my weekend with Mrs. Oakfield. She was not as bad as Susan makes her out to be, even if I had to dress as a girl. Still, it would have been nice to have my bloody trousers back again. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as the cab pulled up to pick me up.
“Take care, sweetheart,” Mrs. Oakfield said with some apprehension in her voice. I couldn’t just leave without saying goodbye - not after such a wonderful weekend, so I turned around and threw my arms around her. She leaned down to kiss my forehead. “Now, don’t you worry. I’ll see you again next weekend.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, forcing a smile. I cried as I climbed into the back seat of the cab though I couldn’t figure out why. The driver, a middle-aged man with a kind of jovial, round face, leaned over the back seat with a box of tissues and smiled.
“Thanks,” I murmured, drying my eyes and blowing my nose.
“No worries, love,” he answered. “You’re not the first girl I’ve picked up from ‘ere. Why, one young lady even `ad the pleasure of meeting a Princess, I hear tell.”
“Two now,” I answered as we pulled away from the curb. “I had tea with Ms. Madeleine, Princess of Sweden Saturday morning.”
“I can see why you’d not want to leave,” he replied cheerfully. “But she said she’d see you again next weekend, aye?” I couldn’t help being reminded of Burt, the jack-of-all-trades from that awful Disney movie, Mary Poppins, but it did make me giggle a little.
“Yes sir.” I settled back into the seat and sighed. I at least got to dress more like a girl from this era the rest of the weekend, and wearing a dress wasn’t SO bad. I’d gotten quite a few compliments about how pretty I looked over the weekend, and Susan didn’t even recognize me when we passed each other in the park.
Before long, I was whisked away back to Sister Olivia’s mate’s flat to change back into my boy clothes again, and then back to the orphanage, by way of her car. I spent the ride in silence, thinking about the weekend, wondering what I was going to tell Matron.
Susan caught up with me as I walked to Matron’s office. She had a huge grin on her face. I’d never seen her smile this much.
“I looked for you this weekend,” she said, brushing her shoulder against mine playfully. It wasn’t like when she tried to knock me down at all. It was almost friendly.
“Oh, um, yeah, I was adopted at the last minute,” I mumbled. She took my hand, and pulled me into an empty broom closet. “Hey, what are you doing?” I tried to ask, but she leaned closer and kissed me. I froze, and she giggled.
“I knew that’d shut you up for a minute.” She smiled as she trailed her finger down to my chest before continuing. “I just wanted to tell you that you make a really pretty girl. I’m a wee bit jealous, actually.”
“What? Why?” I asked. There’s no way she knew about the deal I’d made, did she?
“Because I can’t be this fru-fru girly girl. I would love to be able to pull off what you did this weekend, to live in a palace like Oakfield Estate. I bet you even cried when you left.”
“H-how did you-” I started to ask. She laughed.
“Because I did too. I didn’t want to leave either. But now I’ll probably never go back. So, do me a favor and enjoy it if you go back. Promise me.”
“Promise!” she insisted.
“Okay, I promise!”
“Good. Come find me after you check in with the Matron, okay? I want to know how it went and compare notes. And if you’re a good girl I might kiss you again,” she teased, giggling as she left me alone in the room. I sighed and shook my head, turning to leave and check in with Matron Stewart.
“Enter,” came the response as soon as I knocked on the office door. I stepped inside, and Matron smiled up at me. She motioned to the chair across from me, and as soon as I sat, she asked, “So, how was your weekend?”
“Honestly? I really enjoyed it. She took me to the park and the zoo, and, um, we went shopping for a new Easter dress.” I blushed deeply. “She wants me to attend the Royal Easter celebration next week.”
“Really?” Matron asked, clearly stunned. “Well I certainly was not expecting you to make quite such an impression on her. But if she wishes to see you again next week, then I’ll have to think about this. I lied to her once. I’m not sure that I can lie to her again.”
“Oh,” I answered, sounding a little more crestfallen than I had intended. The dress she had bought for me was going to be tailored to my exact measurements. She had gone to so much trouble for me. It might fit Susan, but she’d never wear it.
“You’re dismissed, Mark,” she said. I wanted to ask her about my bike, but decided that now wouldn’t be the best time. After all, a promise was a promise, and I could always hold her to it after we sorted out Easter.
Susan and I actually started to really get along after that, which caught me completely by surprise, to be honest. I expected her to be the one person who would’ve been worse than the boys about ridiculing me, but we must have talked two or three hours that day. I actually had found myself wishing we could be roommates instead, though at least I no longer had to worry about the older boys giving me a hard time for my size.
Kelly was at least a decent fellow, not spectacular, but he left me be. And after Susan bloodied a couple of noses on Monday, the rest fell right into line. I was her trophy boyfriend, apparently. We spent more and more time together, and I really saw a new side to her. Despite her claims of not being a “fru-fru girly girl”, she did have a sensitive side. I thought about it often, and sometimes caught myself staring when I did.
“There’s something I have to ask you,” she said abruptly, as we were walking through the very same park where I bumped into her as Martha the previous weekend. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along to a small duck pond, where we sat on a bench. I nodded slowly.
“Sure, Sue. I mean, we’re mates now, right? So what’s on your mind?”
“You asked me if I’d be willing to go in your place next weekend. … If I said no, and if I had a really, really good reason to say no, would you hate me?” She looked up at me, and I’d swear, she almost looked ready to cry. Susan Brown never cried about anything.
“Of course I wouldn’t!” I replied quickly. “I mean, I’m still not sure how I feel about the fact that I’ll probably have to go for sure now, or that I’ll have to face Mrs. Oakfield and tell her the truth-” I suddenly stopped as Mrs. Oakfield passed. We had our backs to her, so she didn’t seem to notice us. She didn’t have anyone with her. Apparently she just liked to stroll through this park.
“I can’t be the kind of girl she wants. I knew that from the moment I set foot in that dreadful Lavender room, and I told her as much. I also told her she dresses like a withered hag. But come on, you saw what she wears. A woman her age? She should be dressing like a thirty year old, not an eighty year old.” She sighed. “But I suppose I should be dressing like a girl, too.”
“So you had fun too, aye?” I asked, cracking a smile. She gave me a playful shove and laughed.
“Yes. I loved it. I would have sold my soul to live in a palace like that, but it wouldn’t have been fair to her because I could never be the daughter she obviously wants.”
I heaved a sigh as I hung my head. “Me either. I think Martha’s going to catch cold or sommat. She’ll just have to take someone else - a real girl.”
“Martha looked real enough to me,” Susan shrugged. “She seemed to be rather enjoying herself when I saw her.”
I could feel my cheeks burning brightly, which caused her to laugh.
“So um... Why can’t you go?” I asked, trying to change the subject. She stopped laughing and glanced away again, staring at the ground.
“Oh, that. I was adopted.”
“Oh,” I answered softly.
“Yeah. Nice family, amazing house, and best of all they accept me. They’re even willing to put up with my Mother’s Scottish temper.” She cracked a smile, causing me to laugh.
“Hey, don’t knock it. I’m going to be lost without your temper to protect me.”
She smiled, kissing my cheek. “I’m sorry. I hope the fact that I was willing to wear that hideous dress for you counts for something. I mean once in awhile’s not so bad. Not like wearing something like that every day.”
“Every day’s not so bad either,” I said, without really thinking. She giggled.
“You do make a much better girl than me, Martha,” she whispered, squeezing my shoulder as she stood. “C’mon. I’ll beat your arse at pinball before the old battleaxe expects us back at the orphanage.”
She stuck out her hand, and I felt a light squeeze as I took it to let her help me up, and she didn’t let go afterwards, instead pulling me along.
“Would I be wrong to go back to her as Martha?” I asked, as we walked along. She gave a small shrug.
“It depends on why, I guess. Do you like being Martha?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never thought about things like this before. I like feeling loved, and being out of that damned Orphanage, but you said it yourself. You couldn’t be the daughter Mrs. Oakfield wants. So how could I be?”
“You were doing a pretty good job of it before. So I have to ask again, do you like being Martha? Do you like wearing fru-” she cut herself off and sighed. “Do you like wearing pretty dresses, and being called young miss, having your chair pulled out for you and having tea with royalty?”
I didn’t answer her. At least, I didn’t answer right away. To tell the truth though, I hadn’t had as much fun in a very long time as I’d had over those two days. She seemed to be giving me time to gather my thoughts, though. She had really changed a lot in the last few days. Or maybe I was the one changing?
“I... I do.”
“You do what?” she asked, glancing back at me with a smug grin. I sighed.
“I think I want to be a girl.”
About a block from the arcade, she stopped abruptly and turned around to face me. “I told you already, you make a cute girl. I hope we can still be friends though ‘coz, well, you’re my first...”
“Your first friend?” I asked, blinking at her. She quietly nodded.
“I know I can be a right bitch sometimes, but the only reason I harass you is ‘coz I …” She blushed a little. “I like ya. Anyhow, pinball awaits!” she announced, grabbing my hand again. I couldn’t help but let her pull me along. I didn’t know how to respond to that.
True to her word the Matron ordered my custom touring bike for me, it was beautiful, I didn’t think she was a liar, but having to wait and unable to ask her about our deal was making me wonder. Oh yeah, and if you were wondering I did win one game of Pinball. Susan won five.
I had a lot of time to think, with Susan gone. I was almost afraid to leave my room at first, but I needed to talk to someone. Matron wasn’t in her office, but as I turned to leave, Sister Olivia cleared her throat, causing me to jump.
“Oh, Sister, hello,” I said quietly.
She smiled. “Hello Mark. Looking for the Matron are you?”
“Yes Ma’am,” I answered. “I needed to talk to her about... last weekend.”
Sister Olivia nodded thoughtfully. She opened her arm to wrap me in a light hug, leading me into her office. “I know young Susan’s adoption put a halt to your plans. The Matron’s to meet with Ms. Sarah this afternoon to discuss your situation.”
Sister Olivia’s office looked much like the Matron’s, only smaller. She sat down at her desk, and I sat across from her.
“Unless you’d prefer to tell her the truth yourself, of course. But you’d be permitted to speak if you wanted as well.”
“It’s not just that we deceived her that’s bothering me,” I sighed. “It’s that... I had a lot of fun this weekend. I cried when I left. I didn’t want to come back here. It’s not that you or the Matron have done wrong by me, but I felt more at home in her arms, as Martha, than I have in the six years since my mother died.
“Even my nanny treated me more like a soldier than a child. But with Mrs. Oakfield, everyone treated me gently, tenderly. And the pretty dresses were nice too,” I concluded, blushing brightly. I felt my head sink as my heart did. I had laid it all out on the table.
Sister Olivia smiled thoughtfully after several agonizing seconds of silence. “Let me ask you this. Imagine you were adopted by Mrs. Oakfield, and she suddenly lost everything - her wealth, her home, and you were forced to live in poverty.”
“As long as it didn’t change how she treated me,” I answered honestly. She nodded.
“Now take that image, and push it further. You had to then choose to live as Mark, or as Martha. In both cases you would have to accept charitable donations of clothing wherever you could get them. The only difference is, Martha would be treated as a young lady.”
“Martha,” I answered, without thinking. I covered my mouth. The colour had only just begun to leave my cheeks, and now it surged forth again stronger.
“Out of the mouths of babes,” she chuckled. “Father Morris once told me that the initial response, the ‘gut’ answer, before our minds have time to mull over that answer, is representative of our souls.
“Similarly, when a man hits his thumb with a hammer, what he shouts is a representation of that as well. That is what he taught me, at least. What I’m trying to say is, if spending time as Martha awakened something inside of you, then perhaps you should explore it? Mrs. Oakfield-”
She paused, “Sarah... My brother’s told me that she’s been floating on a cloud since you left, all a-twitter about showing off Martha at the Easter celebration next weekend. She cares about you - Mark or Martha. She cares about Susan as well.”
“But Susan said she wanted an over-girlish daughter,” I replied, frowning. Olivia shook her head softly.
“No, child. She provides that kind of a nurturing environment as an option. Had Susan not been adopted, she was going to give her another chance this next weekend, along with Martha, to see how the two of you got on together.” She smiled softly at me.
I sighed. “Well that idea went out the window.”
She grinned back at me. “The lord does work in mysterious ways, child. If you want my advice though, I strongly urge you to tell Mrs. Oakfield the whole truth, including what you’ve just told me.”
“You seem surprisingly okay with all this,” I answered quietly. “I thought the Church was against things like this?”
“Oh, I hold very strict beliefs to the Catholic Church, but nowhere in my Bible did it say ‘Hate thy children for being different’.” She stood, stepping around to lift me out of the chair and into a gentle hug. “And don’t ever let anyone tell you differently, sweet child. Mark, Martha, God loves you, and so too do we.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, as she held me close, but one thing was for sure: as Martha, I was happy, and I couldn’t stop thinking about all those people at the Queen’s Easter celebration seeing me in a pretty Easter dress. I sighed softly and nodded. “Okay, I’ll tell her.”
“Tell me what?” Mrs. Oakfield asked from behind, causing me to jump. She giggled softly. “Hello Martha sweetie.”
“M-M-Mrs. Oakfield!” I squeaked out. “H-how much did you hear?”
“Oh, only every word,” she answered, as she took my hands gently, and pulled me into a hug as she kissed my forehead. “There’s just one important question I need to ask you, before I take you home, honey.”
I looked up at her, a little scared, as I asked, “What’s that?”
She grinned. “Would you like to go and pick up your new Easter dress now, or wait until Friday?”
My heart skipped a beat. I looked between Olivia and Mrs. Oakfield before answering. “Now, ma’am, if I can change first?”
“Of course you can, sweetheart. And if you like, you can call me Mum.”
“Yes Mummy,” shot past my lips before I could stop myself. I had tears in my eyes as I hugged her. Until now, being Martha was something I thought I could do just to have a better life than the orphanage here, but in that instant, I realized, I wanted to be Martha, now and forever.
“I’ll bring you a copy of the paperwork this afternoon ma’am,” Sister Olivia said with a soft smile to Mrs. Oakfield, and as she squeezed my shoulder, she added, “Have a wonderful afternoon Martha.”
I spent the rest of the week living on Cloud Nine. Mummy as I had now taken to calling her at every possible opportunity, went out of her way to spoil me bloody rotten, but she also made great efforts to ensure I learned proper etiquette. She was never harsh or cross, though, and I found between herself and Heather, that I greatly enjoyed the lessons. I missed Susan terribly though.
Easter Sunday had come at long last, and I was so nervous I could barely eat breakfast. I had never set foot inside a proper chapel, let alone being in the presence of so many royals - lords and ladies, dukes, duchesses, and I even found myself having my hand kissed by one of the Princes! Though embarrassingly, I had to ask Mum which one, after I’d regained my senses and my cheeks stopped burning.
It was not long into the outdoor part of the whole affair, the more informal point where the adults would mingle and the children were allowed to be children - not that I wasn’t enjoying being the center of attention, either. There were even a few who admitted ashamedly to having scoffed at Mum’s ‘rent a kid’ project, who now were considering it themselves after meeting me, but at length, one of the girls my age came up to me.
She had a quaint smile that, taken with the Easter bonnet and her pretty white dress, left me a little spellbound. “I absolutely love your dress,” she said in a voice that seemed somehow familiar, but it couldn’t have been... Could it? I stared for a moment, and she giggled softly and grabbed my hand. “Come on then, Martha, I’ve some new friends I’d like you to meet.”
“Susan?” I finally managed to get out. I could scarcely believe it was really her, especially in that dress!
She stopped and spun around, sending the hem flying outward for a moment before it settled down again. She giggled softly. “Didn’t recognize me, aye?” she asked.
“I thought you hated... I mean I never thought I’d see you in such an outfit - not that you don’t look absolutely stunning!” I said, and hugged her tight, excited to talk to her again. She giggled as she put her arms around me, and then she kissed me on the cheek.
“I never said I hate wearing a dress, Martha. I just could never wear the wretched things all the time. I like dressing up and looking pretty once in awhile, but if I dressed like this every day, then I’d have them in tatters after my third tree!”
At that, a couple of adults, along with Mum, approached us, and Susan smiled excitedly.
“Mum! Daddy! This is my best friend Martha! Can we please have her and her Mum over for tea this afternoon?” she asked politely.
The couple seemed a bit shocked, glancing at each other, and then at Mum, who laughed softly.
“You see, I told you Susan was a good girl, just like my Martha.”
Susan stuck out her tongue, but giggled as she approached Mum, wrapping her arms around her waist. “I’m sorry for the nasty things I said to you before. I didn’t mean any of them.”
“I know you didn’t, sweetheart,” Mum answered, and even bent down to kiss Susan’s forehead. “But I also knew you’d be happier with my dear friends the Lancasters. Besides, now that you and Martha know where the other live, we shall have to arrange for you two to see each other more often. Perhaps sharing private tutors?” she said thoughtfully.
Martha squealed with delight, drawing a few odd stares as she hugged Mum, and then spun around, nearly knocking me over as she hugged me afterwards, and kissed me, leaving me blushing more profusely than when Prince Harry had taken my hand earlier.
“I’d like that,” was all I could get to come out, and as Susan giggled again, she took my hand, and we walked away together to meet her other friends.
And though it’s cliche to say it, it’s quite true; we really did live happily ever after.
The End? Yeah this is the end of Susan and Martha’s tale...
Ashleigh and I originally concocted the idea for this story out of a joke a dear friend of ours had made, and as we wrote it, we fell in love with the story. That was two years ago, and we've been glancing at it off and on since, trying to do the ending justice.
The first three quarters of this were finished long ago, but we've only now been able to write a proper ending. We decided to toss this "story universe" itself to the four winds and make it Public Domain, if anyone feels inspired. :-)
~Zoe and Ashly
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.