The Taken: Nathan's Story, Chapter 2

Synopsis:

"And boomps-a-daisy!"

(French text is shown 'dubbed' like this which on this site shows as italicised.)

Story:

Nathan's Story 2

***

Nathan felt warm and immensely comfortable. He didn’t want to open his eyes yet. The room was bright with sunlight, but it wasn’t shining directly on him. He was lying curled up on his side, which wasn’t how he normally slept, but he didn’t mind. There was a cool breeze from somewhere, and the distinctive sound of someone typing on a laptop keyboard. It was a comforting sound, like home. He opened his eyes.

Miss Valerie was sitting in the window-seat, her legs stretched out along its cushions, her attention on a small notebook computer on her lap. She’d tipped her head forwards a little to get her eyes out of the direct sunlight, but where the sun coming through the window struck her black hair he could see beautiful, iridescent glints of colour; green, blue, purple. She seemed so quiet and self-absorbed and romantic. “Cool,” he whispered. It hardly did justice to what he was seeing, and he immediately regretted it because her intense blue eyes were on him, instantly suspicious and alert.

“What?”

“Your hair,” he said. He didn’t want to move, he felt so nice and cosy.

Miss Valerie looked momentarily irritated by something, but she just swung her legs off the window seat and sat up, moving her head fully into the shade. It just looked like ordinary black hair again, which was a shame. Not that it wasn’t still nice, with the way it was rolled back from her face and the pretty butterfly-clasp. He smiled. He wanted to touch it, especially where it was braided over her ears. He imagined the feel of it beneath his fingertips. The sheets were smooth and cool, not ordinary cotton or linen. He stretched, and his legs slipped sensuously between them.

“See? Nothing happened,” she said.

He frowned, then remembered. “Oh, God. That was so embarrassing.” He felt ashamed; getting drunk at the table like that. “I’m really sorry.” He was fuzzy on the details, but he thought he remembered having to be helped up the stairs.

Miss Valerie smiled, after a moment’s hesitation. “Don’t worry about it.”

He rolled over onto his back for a few moments, then sat up and looked around himself, back at Miss Valerie, and inevitably at her notebook computer. It looked like a Libretto. “That a Model 50?” he hazarded. She gave him a look and closed the lid.

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Cool. I saw the Powerbook downstairs. I guess she gets all the fancy new kit, right?” Comfortable ground.

“This suits me fine,” she said.

“Place is floodwired,” he said approvingly, which got him another suspicious glance from Miss Valerie. “Sockets everywhere,” he explained, pointing to where the ethernet patch cable ran from her Libretto down to the double-RJ45 skirting-board socket. He’d seen sockets like that everywhere he’d been so far, although that wasn’t far. “Did they hide all the computers ’cause they knew I was coming?” He grinned and stretched his arms over his head, and immediately dropped them again, deciding his T-shirt was a little the worse for having slept in it during a warm afternoon. He wanted to change, but he couldn’t see his holdall anywhere. He thought he’d put it down by the bed…

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Miss Valerie said. No, well, that figured.

Maybe someone had unpacked for him. It seemed that sort of place. He couldn’t see the clothes he had been wearing earlier either. He couldn’t remember taking them off. Nervously, he quickly dipped a hand back under the sheets to double-check he still had his boxers on. He did. He spotted his glasses resting on the bedside table, so whoever must have put his jacket away took the time to find and remove them.

“Where’s my stuff?” he asked aloud.

Miss Valerie didn’t answer him. Instead she busied herself with detaching her Libretto from the wall sockets. Odd, he thought, the easy familiary with which she did so, quickly looping the patch cable up into a neat ring with a tucked-through length to keep it stable so it could be hung up and wouldn’t tangle in storage.

“Jane will be coming to talk to you again soon,” Miss Valerie said, finishing with the cable. “I’d better go.” She gathered everything up, including a first aid kit he hadn’t realised she’d had, and started to leave. He worried suddenly, seeing the first aid. Had something happened while he was asleep?

“Wait–” he called. She stopped at the door. “Um,” he hesitated, now he had her attention. The simple truth was he didn’t want her to go and leave him alone, especially if Mrs. Thompson was coming back. “She’s coming back? Where are my clothes?” Valerie’s eyes darted to an article of clothing draped on the bed near his feet. It looked like a girl’s sheer dressing gown. He hadn’t noticed it before, but he’d hardly been in a state to. “Oh funny.”

She gave him a funny kind of half smile and then, to his surprise, executed a perfect Prisoner salute before turning from the doorway and pulling it closed behind her.

He leaned forwards and picked up the gown so he could look at it. It was pink, inevitably, and made of some satiny material. It slid over the back of his hand, making the small hairs stand up. ‘You see, it’s just totally frictionless,’ he imagined Zaphod saying. He got out of bed, deciding he had more urgent business, and hoping that second door led into a bathroom.

***

“Settling in, I see?”

“Ah!”

Mrs. Thompson’s voice had startled him, coming from behind. He hadn’t heard her come in. He backed quickly away from the wardrobe, feeling a little guilty.

“Sorry, I…” It hadn’t taken long to figure out that his own things weren’t in any of the wardrobes. Presumably whoever had taken them had put them in the room where he was supposed to be. Which meant he had no business looking in some unknown girl’s things. “I didn’t mean to look,” he said inadequately. He noticed some of the drawers in the large chest were still open, seemingly bursting with frills and lace. He gulped and looked back at Mrs. Thompson sheepishly. “Um…” He pulled the dressing gown closer around his waist, and not knowing where else to put his hands, hooked his thumbs over the belt.

“Don’t say ‘Um,’” Mrs. Thompson corrected him. “I won’t abide such sloppy habits of speech. And whatever do you mean you didn’t mean to look? Of course you meant to look. Why should you deny it.” He felt his face heat up with embarrassment. “Did you like them?” The tone of her voice had turned, becoming gentle and inquisitive.

“Wh-What?”

“Come now, Jonathan, don’t be shy.” She crossed quickly to where he was standing in front of the large, old-fashioned double-doored wardrobe. “They are beautiful, don’t you think?” She used the back of her hand to gently brush along the row of hanging dresses. She pushed open a gap and gently eased one forward so he could see it properly. She was smiling at him strangely. “I think this one is especially lovely, don’t you?” The dress she was showing him was midnight blue, and had a bodice top and a full, long skirt and no sleeves. “So feminine, so graceful.”

“It’s okay, I guess,” he muttered, not really caring. He felt flustered and confused. There was something odd about all the clothes in the wardrobes, he realised. There wasn’t anything ordinary. It all seemed to be posh frocks and costumes and lingerie and petticoats, and no jeans or T-shirts or shorts or trainers, or anything casual or plain at all. And Mrs. Thompson was looking at him curiously.

“Did Valerie tell you to wear that gown?” she asked casually.

“Gow–” He looked quickly down at it. “No, er…” His hair was still damp. “I had a shower,” he explained quickly. “Guess I nee– I mean, I needed it. Got kind of manky sleeping in the day like that–” He broke off as she approached him. “Only, I couldn’t find my own things, so–” He backed off. He didn’t like the way she was looking at him.

“Do you like wearing it? Does it feel nice?”

He took another step back, even though she hadn’t advanced further. “Um, it’s okay.” He hadn’t even thought about it. She was still looking at him, making him feel selfconscious. “It’s a bit cold, if you must know. Like I said, I couldn’t find my own things, so unless you wanted me to wear a dress this was all there wa–” He stopped, frozen by the look on Mrs. Thompson’s face. He wished he hadn’t said that. He had an instant, irrational fantasy that if he hadn’t said it, if he could unsay it, everything would be all right again and this would really be a school and not what he suddenly thought it might be. “I th-th– I think Va– I-I think Miss Valerie b-brought me to the wrong room by mistake,” he stammered hopefully. ~Let me be wrong, let me be wrong, he wished.~

“She did not.” The words were enough to confirm his fears. He felt physically sick. “This is your room, Jonathan, for as long as you are to stay with us.”

“But…” He had to be sure. “It’s a girl’s room,” he pointed out redundantly.

“Why, indeed it is,” Mrs. Thompson agreed, with all the appearance of congratulating him on a difficult observation. She smiled; again, that horrible, knowing smile. Nathan’s heart sank.

“It is for me, isn’t it?” he said, his voice shaking badly. He took another couple of steps back. “Oh God, you want me to…” He couldn’t say it. The backs of his legs bumped against something and he fled. Distance–

***

She was a rich and powerful woman, and rich and powerful people like their games, don’t they? The ones where people are the pieces.

It made perfect sense, in a way. No-one would miss him. He didn’t have any real friends at school, and the teachers, some of whom he got on with, all thought he was being transferred or something, so they wouldn’t ask questions. He didn’t have any family to miss him; not any real family anyway. He’d thought Lindsey and David were his family, but they’d sent him here, to this place, and Lindsey… He didn’t have words for how Lindsey had betrayed him.

It made perfect sense. No-one would miss him. No-one would ask what happened to him. He would be erased.

Even if he escaped, he couldn’t go back home. Even if he thought for a moment Lindsey and David wanted him back, Mrs. Thompson would get the spooks down on him, just because she could; and they’d bring him straight back here, or somewhere worse. So if he ran away he’d have to disappear. Never be found. He shuddered at the thought, but he was older now, and smarter, and he wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.

***

Nathan was having difficulty breathing. He staggered as Marie — Miss Marie, as he’d lately been corrected to say by Mrs. Thompson, tightened the laces of the corset a little further, and that was it for taking any more deep breaths in the near future. “That’s better now,” Miss Marie said, sounding satisfied. She turned him around to face her, so she could hitch the petticoat over the corset to his waist and tighten it there with a drawstring. “If you wear it too loosely it will slip and chafe, and believe me that will become painful.”

“What about,” he ran out of air and had to inhale, “my ribs?” Another inhale. “Won’t they,” breath, “get deformed?”

“Certainly not,” Mrs. Thompson’s voice came from behind him. Miss Marie’s light touch at his hip directed him to turn around, away from her, to face Mrs. Thompson. He discovered an odd rigidity in his lower vertebrae and pelvis, so when he turned, he had to actually step around, rather than just twisting his torso.

“I remember — seeing something — about it — on telly.” This was getting tiring. “They used to — have their bottom ribs — removed. You’re not going to–”

“I should think not,” Mrs. Thompson replied severely.

“Nathan, breathe up here,” Miss Marie told him, her hands illustrating her upper chest. “Don’t try to breathe down into your stomach. Bring it up into your shoulders.” She demonstrated with a breath of her own, showing him how it lifted her chest. Nathan tried to emulate her. It seemed to work. He still couldn’t take a really deep breath, but some of the lightheadedness went away. He had to keep remembering to do it though. Breathing became a conscious effort, and he was already feeling an aching in his lower back as he fought to keep it in a position of least discomfort. “Come along, I haven’t laced this nearly tightly enough to give you real breathing difficulties; you just need to learn to do it differently.”

She went aside and picked up the next petticoat from the others draped on the bed; while she did so, Mrs. Thompson continued, “Corsets are like many other things in life, Jonathan; perfectly safe in moderation. In your case I’m using it as a training aid, to correct your frankly execrable posture habits. Have you noticed how much taller you are?” He nodded. He seemed to have gained an extra couple of inches of height, which was interesting. He hadn’t been aware that he slouched.

The two women worked together to raise the second petticoat and lower it over his head so it could settle over the one already there.

Nathan shivered slightly. He wasn’t cold. It was just intense. The attentions of the two older women as they dressed him was confusing him. He tried to remember to be scared and angry, but after all they weren’t actually touching him anywhere bad, were they? Throughout the evening they had been completely assured and discreet about where they put their hands as they directed and turned him, and did things to his hair and face, and dressed him.

They were so gentle, and it occurred to him that he couldn’t even remember the last time he had been touched, save by a stray punch or kick at school. Lindsey would insist on a hug, sometimes, but he’d usually wriggle out of it. He couldn’t remember what his mother or father felt like at all. In a way it was nice being the centre of attention for once. He was so used to being unregarded; so used to using that to his advantage. He didn’t understand what he was feeling; he couldn’t properly connect to a feeling that wasn’t entirely his, but it was there all the same; stirring and dangerous and oddly frustrating, like he was about to start crying again.

The process was repeated with the third and fourth petticoats in an almost reverential silence. He found himself at once fascinated and repelled by the look on Mrs. Thompson’s face. Not saying anything; her face in perfect repose; he detected a little extra colour in her cheeks; her eyes wide and dark; she seemed visibly to both relax and become invigorated as each petticoat settled down over the one before. There was a growing, tense energy underneath her movements, and in the flicker and focus of her eyes, that stood in contrast to Miss Marie’s steady efficiency. He held his breath for a few moments, and the only sound was the susurrus of chiffon and lace, and the softly-whispered answer of Mrs. Thompson’s own silk skirts as she circled him, and the two women breathing.

The last petticoat went on, and the silence continued for a few more moments while Mrs. Thompson surveyed her handiwork and, finally, sighed in evident satisfaction.

“Marie, I have some other business to attend to downstairs, which I can’t put off any longer. Could you finish dressing him and send him down to me when he’s ready? I shall be in the parlour.”

Yes, ma’am,” Miss Marie said. She was coming out with more such occasional French phrases as the evening wore on.

“Now then, Jonathan, you are to do exactly as Miss Marie directs you, do you understand? In my absence you are to obey her precisely as you would me.”

He nodded, but her look told him she expected more. “Yes, Mrs. Thompson,” he said meekly.

“Good child. In that case I’ll leave you in her capable hands. I shall hear of it if you give her any trouble,” she warned. Then she departed, and he was left alone with Miss Marie.

“Let’s finish getting you dressed, dear, shall we?” Miss Marie said, all efficiency and professionalism, and moved aside to a wardrobe. Nathan sighed with relief that Mrs. Thompson had gone and took the opportunity to look down and see what had happened already. His first impression was that he seemed to rise at waist-level from a wide white undulating cone — practically a disc — of chiffon. It was almost as if he was sitting on a small, private cloud, except he could feel he was standing. He could also feel a constriction around his legs, which he put down to the stockings. He couldn’t actually see them past the rim of the petticoat-cloud.

The corset was worn over a sheer peach-coloured camisole. It hooked together down the front — the ‘busk,’ he’d heard Miss Marie say. There was no hope of opening it that way, now that the laces at the back had been tensioned. It was white and further embroidered with white and fitted under and accentuated his… bust? That gave him a little start, but he could see the padded bra, looking straight down the front of the camisole. This time he fought the panic distance, and the inevitable headache threatened as it did whenever he fought it, but it subsided again, remaining at a low, manageable level. He’d chosen to remain involved. For the moment. “God,” he only said, quietly to himself, having won that small victory, and watched amazed at how his bosom heaved.

Here’s your dress,” Miss Marie said, returning from the wardrobe bearing another garment. “What do you think? It’s very pretty, isn’t it?” It was a bright green satiny dress with more white lace detailing.

Yes Miss Marie, it’s beautiful, but it does not suit me.”

Miss Marie raised both eyebrows, and looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. He grinned wryly.

Oh, you speak French! Marvellous!” Miss Marie crowed, apparently delighted. “But you’re talking nonsense, dear. You will be so beautiful in this dress.”

“I’m not–” he started to protest.

In French, if you please.”

~Me and my big mouth. I had to show off.~ He sighed. “It doesn’t matter.” If he wasn’t going to win that argument in English, he didn’t fancy his chances in GCSE-standard French.

He let her get on with putting the dress on him, directing his arms through the sleeves. She turned him again so she could lace up the back of the dress, in the process pulling it close in to the corset-borrowed figure he seemed to have acquired. Her hands were nimble and efficient as she finished the lacing and briefly went around arranging the way the skirt lay across the petticoats, straightening the sleeves, and so on.

There,” Miss Marie said brightly when she was finished. “Look at yourself in the mirror. Can you see the pretty little girl who is there?” He gave her a dirty look at that, but went. He had to admit he was curious about what he looked like now anyway, so he didn’t resist her light touch at his waist directing him to stand before the tall free-standing mirror. The petticoats rustled softly against each other and his legs as he moved.

He looked. “Oh my God,” he whispered. The girl in the mirror mouthed the words back as he spoke them. He saw his own eyes widen. The make-up made his eyes look even bigger than normal. Rouge on his cheeks, and pink lipstick. It looked overdone to him, maybe like party make-up for a small child, but it created an unmistakeably feminine impression all the same.

Oh, perfect! You are very beautiful!” Marie exclaimed. “Madam will be delighted.”

~I look like kiddie-trade,~ Nathan thought dispiritedly. It was disturbing. They weren’t even being subtle about it. It was probably just as well he didn’t know the French for what he looked like.

“What happened to my hair?” he cried out loud, perversely upset by that out of all proportion to everything else that had happened to his appearance. It was almost a welcome distraction. His hair had gone from its normal darkish red to a light, sandy red. There must have been dye in the shampoo, he realised. Worse even than that, it seemed to have been curled and dressed back away from his face to fall in ringlets to his shoulders. “Oh bloody hell,” he moaned. The ringlets bobbed. It was nauseating.

“Oh yes, too bad it won’t last,” Miss Marie was saying, toying with one of his ringlets. “Alas, curling tongs are only good for a few hours; we shall have to see about a more, hmm,” she smiled at him via the mirror, “long term solution.” His heart sank further at that. “It’s so nice that your hair’s long though,” she continued. “Although it is shockingly neglected of course. When did you last have it cut?”

He was staring at the mirror still, at the small and frightened-looking figure staring back at him. Ringlets and a dress that looked more suitable for a four or five year old girl going to a birthday party; except that the padded bra and the corset lightly cinching his waist, and the petticoats flaring outwards from that narrow point, combined to give the startling illusion of a feminine figure. He had white stockings, visible to above the knee under the short but voluminous petticoats, and black, shiny, patent-leather shoes with silver buckles.

“Um, couple of years?” he hazarded, the memory of Miss Marie’s question filtering through his stunned reaction to his own reflection. That was about when Lindsey had given up trying to get him to have it cut anyway.

“Yes, I can believe that,” Miss Marie said. “Now, wouldn’t you like to go down and show Jane your nice pretty dress?”

He tore his eyes away from the mirror to give her a look, but he held his tongue. Somehow he couldn’t get rude to Miss Marie. She seemed so nice in comparison to Mrs. Thompson; like she actually cared how he felt about what was going on. “That’s a rhetorical question, isn’t it?” he said.

“I’m afraid it is. Do you remember where it is?” He nodded. It wasn’t hard to find: the door next to the old bench in the entrance hallway. “Always knock before entering,” she added.

***

He felt, curiously, even more exposed, even just out in the landing where someone might see him other than Mrs. Thompson and Miss Marie. Like Miss Valerie, for instance, although he hadn’t seen her since she’d left him after waking up earlier, and he still wasn’t sure he’d accounted for everyone in the house. He didn’t want Miss Valerie to see him like this, that was certain. It was embarrassing enough. Would she laugh? he wondered. She didn’t look like she laughed often. He thought how he’d like to see her laugh. But not at him, unless it was at something devastatingly witty he’d just said.

He was surprised to observe how these particular clothes affected his mobility. They seemed to be constructed in such a way as to physically govern his movements, and he hadn’t anticipated that at all, nor how different and alien he would feel to himself as a result. It was as if he was an interloper in his own body, again. The corset enforced his posture, physically upbraiding him if he started to slouch; the panel under the laces at the back pressing against and shaping his spine. It even made him breathe differently, more shallowly, up in his chest as Miss Marie had shown him.

In contrast to the constraint on his upper body, his legs actually had more freedom of movement than he associated with being clothed, so even though they were covered, and the petticoats and dress hid all — certainly more than a pair of shorts would — he felt exposed. As a result, and also because if he didn’t the petticoats would bunch up and tangle between his thighs, he found his stride shortening as he tried to keep his legs more together. The petticoats stuck out in such a way that he couldn’t just hang his arms by his sides without messing them up. He could at least occupy one of them on the banister rail as he descended the stairs, but the rest of the time he found he had to just hold his hands up above the petticoats, or hold them behind his back, otherwise it was a matter of dangling them in mid-air like an idiot if he couldn’t find some plausible way to occupy them.

He found himself outside the parlour door again and took a breath before knocking. After a few moments it opened and she was there, looking at him again. He could feel his heart beating faster.

“Oh, don’t you look pretty,” she crowed. “I’ll be with you in a minute, my dear.” She actually smiled, and it was a nice smile too, he thought. “So if you’re ready to behave, you sit there on that bench until I’m done.”

He looked at the bench next to the parlour door; the same bench he’d sat on earlier. He shrugged, finding the corset even made that difficult. “Okay.”

The door was already closing. More waiting. He plonked himself down on the bench, then immediately sat up straight as the corset punished him for that.

He sighed and let go. His headache had been becoming more insistent.

“It’s surprising how uncomfortable it is, isn’t it?” Eleanor commented, coming up to join him.

“Not really,” he muttered. “It’s almost exactly as uncomfortable as I imagined.” She laughed lightly at that. He shifted a bit to get more comfortable, so he wasn’t sitting on a bunched-up lump of petticoat-material any more.

“You know, women used to wear these things all the time. I suppose you can get used to anything. Have you noticed how all the chairs are tall and upright? Like the dining-room chairs?”

“No…” He thought about it. “Oh, yeah. I guess they’d actually be more comfortable if you were wearing one of these things. Not too far to lean back.” He leaned back slowly until he felt his shoulders meet the back of the bench. It was a little too far back; it was more comfortable to sit upright and support himself.

“And not too low to get up from,” she agreed. “You know, you were walking all wrong on the way down.” ~Oh, she saw that.~

“I could tell,” he apologised.

“Look, you do it like this.” She stood up and paced a little way across the hall. “See? I put one foot in front of the other, rather than parallel.”

“Oh yeah…”

She turned and walked back to the bench, her petticoats rustling as she walked, but there was an order to it, a rhythm. “It feels a bit strange, but I think you’ll get the hang of it. You try.”

He retraced her steps. “Like this?”

“Move your hips more–”

“What do you mean move them more? I’m moving them how they need to move–”

“No, silly, like this.” And she moved her hips as she walked, her petticoats picking up the movement and amplifying it. Swish, swish. “Try it.”

He tried it, returning to the bench. “Uh…”

“You need to relax. You don’t have to clench your thighs together you know.”

He almost laughed. “Yeah, not like it would help anyway.”

“That’s the spirit. Now, imagine Miss Valerie’s watching you.”

“Oh no, she–”

“She’s pretty, isn’t she?”

He blushed at the thought. “Yes,” he admitted.

“You fancy her,” Eleanor continued, slightly teasing him.

“Oh come on. It’s not like she’d be interested in me, especially dressed like–”

“There you are, you’re doing it,” Eleanor said happily. “You’ve got it.” Yes; distracted like that he’d found the cadence he needed, and he carried on across the hall again, nailing it.

“What am I supposed to do with my hands?” he wondered aloud, and then he nearly had a heart-attack as the front door opened. Miss Valerie stepped in and closed the door before noticing him standing there. She had changed into a smart skirt, blouse and jacket and her hair had been unbraided and unbound and simply brushed back and left. It gave her a powerful, professional look that seemed at odds with the demure image he’d had of her from earlier.

“I see Jane’s running late,” she said, seeing him standing there like an idiot. “Practicing?”

He nodded dumbly. He thought she’d laugh at him, but she seemed unfazed by his appearance. He supposed she must have seen this sort of thing before.

Good evening, Miss Valerie,” Eleanor said solemnly, and curtseyed. Nathan thought she was making fun of him. Valerie stopped in surprise and stared.

“Okay…” Valerie said slowly. “Well, good evening to you too. Have you had dinner yet?” Eleanor shook her head. “Good, I haven’t missed it. Can you tell Jane I’m back and I’m just going upstairs to get ready?”

“Yes, Miss Valerie.”

“Just Valerie will do,” she said, “unless Jane’s around to hear you. See you at dinner.” She smiled and started up the stairs.

“Say something,” Eleanor nudged.

“Uh,” he stammered, “be seeing you.”

Valerie stopped a couple of steps up, looking down at him curiously again for a moment.

“That was pathetic,” Eleanor whispered to him. She seemed to think it was all very funny. He didn’t see the joke.

“You’ve crumpled your pettis,” Valerie said.

“What?”

“Your petticoats. Look behind you.”

He tried to twist to look, but the corset wouldn’t let him; he had to crane his neck around further than was comfortable. “Oh no,” Eleanor said.

“She told you to sit on the bench, right?” Valerie asked. He nodded. She was still looking at him. “She’ll chew you out about that.”

“But she told me to!” he protested.

“That’s right. Be seeing you.” She casually gave him another Prisoner salute and went quickly up the stairs in the direction her index finger had pointed at the end of the salute.

“Oh, God,” he said, sinking to his knees, “She was laughing at me! This is so embarrassing!” The petticoats sighed down around him, falling into an almost perfect circle around where he sat. “Oh,” he said, noticing the effect. He was still getting the hang of the structural dynamics of the things.

“It’s not fair if Mrs. Thompson tells you off,” Eleanor said. “She told you to sit there. You weren’t to know.”

“I know.” He sighed despondently, then belatedly wondered if he was going to have trouble getting back to his feet in the corset, at least without messing up the petticoats and the crumpled up skirt any further. Eleanor sighed too. “And I still don’t know what to do with my hands!”

Eleanor smiled at his attempt at humour, took his hands and laid them simply down in his lap, lightly, so as not to crumple the material of the skirt any further. He just stayed where he was for a while, his eyes closed, trying to calm down again. He felt Eleanor’s presence, close by. Comfortable and warm and content to be quiet with him. He sought stillness inside.

***

“She didn’t lock the front door when she came in,” Eleanor noted quietly. Nathan felt his heart quicken again. His eyes were open.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” She regarded him urgently.

He looked at the door and bit his tongue. “They’ve got electronic locks,” he said. “Whole place is networked. Maybe she didn’t have to. Maybe it’s automatic.”

“Only one way to find out,” Eleanor muttered impatiently. She got to her feet and crossed the few steps to the front door. She put a hand on the door-handle, took a breath, and turned it. It turned easily. She pulled gently and the door opened a few inches. The early evening breeze stirred her ringlets and petticoats. No alarms went off. “I guess not,” she said. She took another breath. Fresh, country air. “What do you think?”

“I think we wouldn’t get as far as the gate,” Nathan opined.

“You think they’re going to send a Rover after us?” She meant the big, white, round, bouncy kind. Nathan caught the meaning clearly enough, with a smile.

“I don’t know. It can’t be this easy.”

“We get to a village, get a bus to a town and get on a coach to London and that’s that. They’ll never find us. Nathe–”

“No money. Can’t get a bus.”

“You can beg some. You done it before.”

“Not in this get-up. It’s too posh.” Still, his breath came a little quicker. “An’ I never did it in a poxy village neither. Um…” He thought about it. “Guess we could say we was collecting for charity or something.”

“Come on then, let’s go…” She wanted to go, right there and then. He held back, his hand on the door-frame. He always held back. Always quick to point out why something couldn’t be done. “What’s the matter with you?”

“We’ll never get away from here.”

“You don’t know that!” Her impulse pulled at him. “You don’t know unless you try, Nathan!” Confusion. Frustration. Heartache.

“If they catch us…” The fear bit into his gut. “If she catches us…” He knew how craven he came across, but his imagination filled with what Mrs. Thompson might do if she didn’t want to play being nice any more; if he made her break out of the parameters of her sick little fantasy. Eleanor capitulated, and her sadness almost overwhelmed him. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He felt wretched now.

“It’s all right.” She closed the door as carefully as she’d opened it.

“There’ll be a better chance,” he promised. “Later.” He hoped it was true. It had to be true.

“Not too late, I hope.”

“’S long as we’re breathing, it in’t too late.”

Eleanor shuddered. She didn’t like the sound of that. Well, he didn’t like it either.

“I’m glad you’ve decided to stay with us, Jonathan,” Mrs. Thompson said, behind him. He gasped and whirled around, finding her standing in the parlour doorway.

“How long was she there?”

“I don’t know…” It could have been the whole time. For all he knew, simply opening the door set off a silent alarm.

“Well? Come here, child. Let me have a good look at you.” She was holding both her hands forward, as if she actually expected him to run joyfully into her arms. He took a breath, feeling like a traitor, and walked towards her the way he’d been practicing. She was pleased by that, he could see. Surprised, he thought, but definitely pleased.

Despite the ache he knew he was right. It didn’t help him to feel any better about it. But he had to stay on Mrs. Thompson’s good side, and there would have been no chance of getting away ever if he’d tried to escape and been caught. He was glad she’d been watching. Maybe after this she’d trust him more, and he’d get that better opportunity.

He stopped in front of her and tried a curtsey, his eyes fixed on a point on the floor of the parlour behind her.

“Well, don’t you look darling,” she said. “And wherever did you learn to walk like that? Anyone would think you’ve been receiving coaching from someone,” she finished, a slight dark note in those last words.

“It — it just seemed the way to do it,” he extemporised.

“Indeed. Well, come into the parlour dear, let me look at you properly.” He managed a wan smile, made like a fly, and went in, as she directed, ahead of her. “Oh, Jonathan, what have you done to your lovely dress?” Jane exclaimed behind him. “You let it get so crumpled. Already!”

“I–” he began.

“No, don’t say anything. Honestly, you’re so clumsy.”

“But you said–”

“Don’t talk back,” she snapped. “How many times do I have to tell you this? It’s so elementary!” She touched her head, seeming to try to bring her temper under control. “I despair every time you open your mouth, I really do. You must learn to speak only when I make it plain I want an answer from you.” She sighed. “Really, Jonathan, there’s no excuse for such oafishness, such,” she hissed inwards in distaste, “male clumsiness. Turn around, turn around,” she ordered, “let me see what other damage you’ve done.” She turned him around, a little brusquely, so she could examine the back of the dress and rearrange things. “If you’ve torn something–”

“I haven’t!” he blurted.

“Shh!” She continued, tutting all the while. “Well, better, I suppose,” she said finally, patting down the back of the dress a final time. Through four petticoats and the dress’s skirt he only felt it distantly, but there was still something intimate enough about the gesture to make him blush. He wasn’t sure if it showed through all the rouge. “There. Turn around and look at me.” He turned. “Smile, dear. It’s unbecoming to go around with a sullen expression like that.” He smiled. He tried to, anyway. It didn’t manage to part his lips, nor, he knew, did it reach his eyes, but it seemed to mollify Mrs. Thompson. “That’s better,” she said. “Now, is there anything you want to ask me before we go on?”

He felt like she was giving him a test. He started to speak, but aborted it before the ‘um’ came out, which he supposed was one test passed. “How do I sit in this, then?” he asked, making a vague gesture downwards.

“In what?” Mrs. Thompson asked, apparently ignoring his gesture. “Your shoes? Be specific, child.”

He swallowed. “How do I sit while wearing petticoats?” he tried again.

Mrs. Thompson actually smiled, then led the way into the centre of the room and pulled out one of the antique, upright chairs, then positioned Nathan in front of it, facing away from it. “Now, what you must do, of course, is not actually sit on the petticoats. As you sit, you do a quick backwards thrust of your pelvis, to tip the skirts up at the back, and sit. You must sit on the edge of the seat, so you don’t still crush the skirts behind you. Understand?”

“I- I think so.”

“And remember to keep your legs together throughout. Don’t be tempted to cross them. Knees and ankles together. Try it.”

He got it wrong first time. “Um,” he said, standing again quickly. “You mean, sort of a bump-and-sit?”

“Yes, exactly. And don’t say ‘um.’” He didn’t think he’d get away with that.

He thought it sounded silly, but he got back into position, took a breath, “– and boomps-a-daisy,” he sang quietly, doing the motion and sitting quickly, feeling the tapestry-like texture of the chair cushion against the backs of his thighs and the parts of his buttocks the knickers didn’t cover. “What?”

Mrs. Thompson was laughing out loud, actually clutching her side where, presumably, the corset she was wearing made her laughter uncomfortable. She found her way back to a seat and sat, still chuckling.

“Wasn’t that right?” He looked around him at the pool the skirts had made around his waist.

“Jonathan–” Mrs. Thompson said, still trying to stop herself laughing. She brought herself under control. “That was exactly right. What was that you sang just then?”

He blinked. “Dunno, just a song.”

“Where did you learn it?”

He thought about it. He couldn’t remember. “I guess when I was little. It sounds like the sort of thing, I don’t know, like a party game or something? Oh, yeah,” he remembered. “It’s kind of a dance. ‘Hands, knees and boomps-a-daisy.’”

Mrs. Thompson produced a hankerchief from somewhere and dried her eyes. “Really? Could you show me?”

“Um–sorry,” he corrected himself before she would. She seemed genuinely interested, amused and, while that was the case, almost pleasant, as if she too had been under tension all day. That was the idea, of course. “Well, it’s supposed to be done in pairs. I mean, the words actually say how you do it–”

He stopped, realising how he could amuse her further, and stood up, side-on to Jane. “Okay, imagine I’ve got a partner, so it’s ‘hands,’ and you slap hands,” he mimed slapping both hands with the invisible dance-partner, “‘knees,’” he bent and slapped his knees, feeling the petticoats bounce up at the back. ~She’ll like that.~ “And then you both turn around ‘and boomps’” bottom-out “‘a-daisy,’” straighten up. “Only you wouldn’t in this ’cause, like, you’d squash the petticoats.” He tried an awkward smile. “That’s all I can remember.” Jane was chuckling quietly again, shaking her head in wonderment. “I think you add more body parts as the song goes on, so it’s like ‘hands and hips and knees and toes,’” he did the movements as he sang them, knowing full well how the last of them would have affected the petticoats. He’d done the routine turned just slightly away from her this time for that very purpose. Only slightly, so it was plausibly done in innocence. Turn, facing away from her, “‘and boomps-a-daisy,’” he finished, straightening again. “And so on.” He staggered slightly, his upper-chest heaving, still short of oxygen after performing those moves in a corset.

~Don’t over-egg it now,~ he told himself. ~That’ll do, unless she asks for more.~

She did not. But motioned him to sit again while she brought her laughter under full control. He felt a kind of warmth from her approval which surprised him despite everything; despite why he’d given her that little performance.

***

Miss Valerie — Just Valerie, he reminded himself — surprised him by joining them for dinner. He almost expected her to serve again. She waited behind a chair as well, but did so with the relaxed air of an old custom long worn-in beyond meaning, and chatted easily with Eleanor about nothing in particular. Nathan was feeling tired and rather overstimulated by the day’s events, and so was happy to drift. He was glad Eleanor seemed to have cheered up a little though.

Mrs. Thompson eventually joined them. “Please sit,” she said, this time as she was sitting herself. Nathan boompsed and perched, winning another approving smile from Mrs. Thompson. Valerie raised a shapely eyebrow but said nothing.

Dinner itself was the expected torture, but in time it passed, with Marie serving and Mrs. Thompson content to chat to Valerie about her schoolwork while he managed to get down a few token pieces of food from each course. There was so much food he wondered if they were trying to fatten him up. On the other hand the corset would have prevented him eating very much, he was sure, even if he had been inclined to do so. Mrs. Thompson mercifully made no comment on how little he was eating, although she did occasionally correct him on some minor-seeming point of manners, some nuance of posture or where he put his hands. Valerie looked at him curiously on several occasions throughout the meal.

But finally, finally the end came. “Jonathan dear,” Mrs. Thompson addressed him, “you’ve had a busy day and it’s past your bedtime.” A new knot of tension formed in his belly. “Now, I want you to say goodnight to Valerie and go up to your room. Marie is waiting for you there and she’ll help you get ready for bed. I’ll be up in a little while to tuck you in. Off you go.” That last part really made the cramp in his stomach grip harder, and he didn’t miss another quick glance from Valerie, but he managed to hide it and stand up.

“Good night Miss Valerie,” he said, just about stopping his voice from quavering.

“Good night, Nathan,” she said. He looked for some kind of signal from her, of what nature he didn’t know, but he saw none, so he smiled awkwardly and went upstairs.

***

Miss Marie had him sit down at the dressing table. “I see your lovely ringlets have faded already,” she said, “so I’m going to put your hair into rollers for tonight, and you’ll keep them a little longer.” Nathan didn’t have the energy to protest, and didn’t think there was much point anyway. There was a machine heating the rollers on the dressing table already. Miss Marie started putting the curlers into his hair, winding his hair around them so tightly it pulled at the roots, then the rollers were bound up against his skull with wide wire clips. They felt hot and knobbly.

Lindsey had something similar back home. It had the same smell when it was switched on. It reminded him sadly of home, and Lindsey and David. He didn’t know if he was ever going to see them again, or if he did, if he was going to be able to look them in the eye. They’d tried to be so good to him, and he’d just thrown it back at them and made them hate him. Driving to the railway station that morning Lindsey had tried to talk to him again about something and he’d just ignored her and sat sullenly the whole way there, looking out of the window at the passing houses. Maybe she was trying to say goodbye, he thought, feeling sick. Did she know what went on here? He couldn’t believe that of her, the betrayal was just too great; but how could she send him off somewhere without wanting to know what she was sending him into?

Because she didn’t care any more. She’d given up on him. Why should she care? It wasn’t as if she was his real mother.

Suddenly he started crying. Silently at first, and it was a minute or so before Miss Marie noticed; then he felt her hands stop, and saw her concerned look via the mirror on the dressing table. He sniffled and pinched his eyes shut with one hand, trying to stop. It wouldn’t stop. Now it had started the pressure just seemed to build. He couldn’t help sobbing audibly. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. The tears just squeezed out through his fingers and wet his cheeks. He knew the make-up must be running horribly, and he was bound to get into trouble for it. He was so scared already. He knew she was going to turn up any minute, and if she saw him crying like this… It was bad enough when he’d cried a little in the parlour earlier, reading that damned report, but now it was just everything piling up and coming out at once.

He could feel Miss Marie’s hand land on his shoulder, perhaps an attempt at a comforting gesture. That was the last thing he wanted from any of them, he thought. He shrugged it off angrily. “Don’t touch me!” he snapped. He thought as soon as he said it that it was probably the worst thing he could say, but he didn’t care any more, and Miss Marie’s hand did lift.

Miss Marie was moving around him, and in another moment he felt a tissue being pushed into his hand. “Thanks,” he mumbled. He wiped his eyes and nose, seeing blearily where the make-up wiped off onto the tissue. It was sodden in a moment, but Miss Marie was ready with another. “Shit,” he said. “Shit shit shit. Fucking crybaby.”

“It’s all right to cry sometimes, Nathan,” Miss Marie said gently. He just looked at her. He wondered how someone could be that stupid. How could she pretend to be nice to him and still carry on being part of it?
He looked back at his reflection in the mirror. It reminded him of Louise. “Fuck, what a mess.” He heard his voice wavering horribly. He looked on the dressing table’s top surface for something that might be some kind of make-up remover. “How do I get this shit off?” He scraped at it roughly with the tissue.

“Jane will want you to still be wearing it when she comes,” Miss Marie said.

“Fuck Jane.” He found he was shaking. “Is this what she wants to see?” He got up to go to the bathroom.

“Where are you going?” Miss Marie asked.

“Wash this stuff off,” he explained, not stopping. There was soap in the bathroom.

“Nathan, wait.”

He ignored her, went in and kicked the door shut. Hard, so it slammed, which had some satisfaction value. He ran the hot tap until he got hot water and put the plug in. He looked at the mirror while the tap ran. The streaky mess of his face under the bright light looked back at him fearfully, eyes made big and watery and red-rimmed by the blotched eyeliner and mascara. He thought of Louise again and started shaking. He couldn’t stop. He couldn’t bear to think of ending up like her, after everything he’d done, after everything she’d given to get him away from that world before it would consume him.

He forced himself into action, to push through the fear. He turned the tap off when there was enough water and worked up a lather from the soap and wiped it all over his face and neck, not caring how much got onto the stupid nightgown. Then he used the facecloth hanging by the sink to scrape the make-up off as best as he could. The facecloth looked new, and started out white. He hoped it would stain permanently. Partway through he used it to smear soapy make-up over the mirror. There wasn’t enough make-up to do it properly, but it was satisfying anyway, and if there was a camera on the other side it would probably be having difficulty focusing now. He kept going, trying to get all the make-up off, but it seemed to be resisting him and his face was getting raw from all the scraping.

There was a sharp triple-knock on the door. “Jonathan, what are you doing in there?” Mrs. Thompson’s voice, as sharp as the knocks it followed. His breath came back in short, panicked pants. He dropped the facecloth into the sink and turned to face the door. He remembered suddenly he hadn’t locked it, so he dove forwards and did so, then he looked around him to see if he could wedge it shut with something. “Open this door at once,” Mrs. Thompson ordered. He backed up until the backs of his legs met the toilet. He quickly lowered the lid and sat.

He had to think. Everything was going too fast; he had to catch up. He’d been upset, thinking about Lindsey, then he’d been angry and he’d come in here… He hadn’t planned for a barricade, he just wanted to get the damn make-up off. Then he saw himself in the mirror and thought of Louise and then he’d started to panic, not without reason, he thought. Louise’s face that night when she’d come back to the squat bruised and crying, and like an idiot he’d said she should go to a hospital, and she’d said they’d only call the police, and she said she wanted someone to hold her, so he did. All morning, while she slept. She used to say she felt safe with his arms around her. It didn’t make any sense. He couldn’t protect her. He was only ten.

This was a bad place for a stand-off, he told himself. About the only thing it had going for it was the fresh running water, but they’d have the door down long before he starved. There was no other way out. In the stillness he realised he was getting cold again, so he yanked the towel off the heated rack and wrapped it around him. He had to think.

He took proper notice of the bathroom for the first time. The wall tiles had delicately-drawn floral borders, and here and there a reproduction of a Sarah Kay painting. Each one was different, but with a common theme: Pretty little girls in pretty dresses, petticoats and pinafores and bonnets and bows, playing with a teddy bear, or a doll, or kittens, picking flowers, carrying a basket of apples, and more, inhabiting some idyllic, innocent world that for all its extreme femininity seemed a long way removed from this place. He fought down the nausea.

“Jonathan, if you don’t come out of there in one minute you may consider our agreement to be at an end,” Mrs. Thompson said, outside the door.

“I’m on the loo!” he lied. Well, it was the literal truth, he supposed. He was going to walk out there again. He knew it already, he just needed a moment to deal with the fear. A moment to remind himself that nothing had actually changed in his situation from when he’d been sitting quietly while Miss Marie was putting in the rollers. He was just panicking, and forgetting that he was trying to get them to like him in the hope that if they liked him, maybe they might make it a little… easier. At least until he could find some way out. After all, he reminded himself, they hadn’t actually used physical force. Not yet.

~That’s because I’m such a fucking coward they don’t need to,~ he thought bitterly, and felt that he was going to start crying again if he just sat there any longer.

He stood up and flushed the toilet, for appearances’ sake, and pulled the plug on the water in the basin. Then he had to dry his hands anyway on the towel he’d wrapped around his shoulders. He kept the towel on, still cold, clutching it around him, and opened the door.

“So there you are,” Mrs. Thompson said dryly. “Have you quite finished your little temper tantrum?”

He bit back on what he wanted to say and just nodded.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Yes, Mrs. Thompson.”

“I’m disappointed in you, Jonathan, I really am. You seemed to be doing so well this evening, but I distinctly remember telling you that you were to obey Miss Marie’s instructions as if they were my own, and instead I hear a report of abusive language and disobedience. This will not do. Will it?” She reached forward quickly and snatched the towel off him, exposing his bare shoulders again. He couldn’t help taking a step back, terrified. “Well?”

“N-No, Mrs. Thompson,” he managed.

“And you’ve tried to take your make-up off, and made a hash of it I see.” She sighed.

“It was a–”

“Did I tell you to speak?”

A new thought occurred to him. That Miss Marie had not told Mrs. Thompson that he had been crying, and had already ruined the make-up. ~Why wouldn’t she tell her?~ he wondered, glancing at Miss Marie past Mrs. Thompson’s shoulder. Was it to spare his embarrassment? ~Why would she do that?~

“Well?”

“No, Mrs. Thompson,” he said quietly.

“Indeed not. Now, I want you to say sorry to Miss Marie and promise that in future you’ll obey her without resistance.”

~Oh, bloody hell,~ he thought. Mrs. Thompson moved aside from between Miss Marie and himself, clearly meaning that he should actually do that. He restrained a sigh. “Sorry I shouted,” he said. “I’ll do what you say.”

“Promise,” Mrs. Thompson prompted from the side.

“I promise.”

“Now, because you took your make-up off without permission, we’re going to put it all on again. Normally, and in future, you will be expected to remove your make-up and do your skincare for bed, but tonight as punishment for your disobedience and bad manners you’re going to keep it on all night as you sleep. Sit down.” She indicated the dressing table again. Defeated, he went. “I still have some business to complete, but when I get back I don’t expect to find Miss Marie has had any problems with you in my absence.”

She left.

He sighed and looked up at Miss Marie as she arrived at his side. She was holding out a silk robe that matched his nightgown, ready for him to put his arm through. He obeyed, and she helped him put it on. “Thank you, Miss,” he said, remembering their exchange from earlier. “I’m sorry.”

She smiled and patted his shoulder. “You’re welcome. You don’t have to speak French to me, dear,” she said. “You’ve already had me speaking more French this evening than I have in a month. Which reminds me, I’m supposed to call my mother.” She sighed feelingly.

It seemed bizarre to Nathan how someone who was involved in what they were doing to him could still feel guilty about not calling her mother. It was surreal. But then, keeping up an ordinary family life would be how such people could operate without drawing attention to themselves.

She did seem to be trying to be nice to him, though, and didn’t give him funny looks like Mrs. Thompson. He didn’t get the feeling she’d try to hurt him. She didn’t seem interested that way.

~No, but she’ll stand by and let it happen,~ he thought darkly. ~She’ll get you ready, and clean you up afterwards in time for it to start all over again.~ He started to get a headache, a pressure behind his eyes like an immanent presence trying to burst through. He started shaking again, and tears burned his eyes. “Shit…” He bent over to hide his face. ~I can’t stop crying!~

Oh dear, it’s hard, isn’t it?” He felt, rather than heard her lower herself to one knee beside him. She took his hand, forcing him to pay attention. “Tell me,” she lightened her tone. “Do you enjoy speaking French?”

He snuffled a little, then shrugged.

Are you learning it at school?”

~I was,~ he thought bitterly, but only nodded. “And, er, on holiday, Miss.”

Very good, and where did you go?”

He sat up straighter and took a clear breath. “We went to Limoux, Miss. Er… My adoptive mother has friends there.”

And did you like it there?

“You’re just trying–”

In French!”

He had to think about it. “You– er… You are distracting me, I think.”

Naturally, dear. You need some distraction, no?” She smiled brightly. It was infectious. He surprised himself by producing a small smile in return. “I see a little smile!” He chuckled. “Let me remove your make-up before Madam returns.” She stood up.

“Maqui–?” Nathan clutched the dressing gown around him. “I don’t, er, I don’t understand ‘maquillage’, Miss.”

It’s ‘make-up,’” Miss Marie explained.

“Oh.”

He sat still while she used a cream on his face. It felt cool and soothing, then as she wiped it away with cotton-wool pads he could see on them how much make-up had still been there after all that scraping he’d done with a face-cloth in the bathroom. She followed it with something she described as ‘toner.’ He didn’t think it would be much good in a laser printer, but it lifted even more gunk off his face, leaving it feeling fresh and more naked than ever. She used something else again to get the last of the make-up away from around his eyes. “There,” she said, finishing. “I’ll let that rest for a moment and finish your hair.” He nodded and let her get on with it. It didn’t seem to need much input from him anyway.

It seemed no time at all before Mrs. Thompson was back. He’d nearly been able to relax and exorcise the way it reminded him of Lindsey. The way the rollers pressed bumpily into his head was almost becoming a welcome distraction in its own right, but as soon as he saw Mrs. Thompson in the mirror he felt his heart rate pick up again.

“Has he been any more trouble?” she asked Miss Marie, coming fully into the room.

“None at all, Jane. He’s been quiet as a mouse.”

Mrs. Thompson came past him and leaned back slightly on the dressing table, regarding him silently. Nathan stared blankly away, at the things on the table, just wishing for it to be over. He was tired of being afraid. Tired of his own imagination.

The touch on his jawline, when it came, was gentle, but he couldn’t help a tiny gasp anyway. Mrs. Thompson was turning his head to face hers. She seemed to be studying him. “You didn’t put the new make-up on him as I directed,” she observed.

“I was about to. His hair took me longer than I expected.”

“No matter. I will do it.” Mrs. Thompson’s voice was quiet, and while she spoke to Miss Marie, her eyes never left his own. “Stay still,” she directed him, then she released his jaw and gazed quickly over the paraphernalia on the dressing table. Within another few moments she was applying swift, deft strokes over his face with a damp-feeling sponge.

He watched her face in return, only vaguely aware of Miss Marie moving about the room finishing several small tasks. His attention was fixed on Mrs. Thompson. She was beautiful. It scared him that he could think something like that, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her face was calm and reposed, like before. Her pupils dilated in quiet pleasure at her task, flicking here and there over his face as she worked. Her lips parted slightly. Nathan tried to hold still. This was worse than before, when they were putting those petticoats on him. She was so close. His cheeks tingled with a new blush. He’d never been this close to a woman, paying him this much attention, this way, and despite everything he was afraid of, and everything about her and what she was doing that repelled him, his traitor body responded. He wanted to shift in his seat, but he was transfixed. And the coward in him wondered how bad it could be to give her everything she would take anyway. She could be tender if he played the part she set out for him. He understood the meaning of her tenderness: It didn’t have to hurt. All he had to do — he swallowed — all he had to do was give himself up to her.

There were worse deals he could make, out on the streets, if he ran away again. ~I’m sorry, Eleanor,~ he wished. It was about survival now.

She was finishing applying something under his eyebrows. Eye-shadow, he thought. “Hold still,” she said, changing tools, then with her left hand at the back of his head to steady it, she put a pencil to his left eye. “Look up.” He tore his eyes away from hers to try to see the ceiling. His eyelids quavered at the cool touch of the pencil, drawing outwards to the corner of his eyes. “Look at me now.” He obeyed, suddenly meeting hers head-on, briefly before she executed a clean line along his top left eyelid. She smiled in anticipation. “Other side.” Her voice was the quietest, the gentlest he’d yet heard her use.

“Um,” he voiced, not at all sure what he’d meant to say.

“Ah-ah,” Mrs. Thompson immediately reprimanded him, but still using that gentle voice.

He swallowed, trying not to move his head while she marked his right eyelids. Then the pencil, and her other hand, was withdrawn. He heard it clatter faintly on the glass top of the dressing table that protected the lace underneath. A hand at his chin again, making him look back up at her, then she was using some kind of miniature brush on his eyelashes. He took a long, deeper breath.

“Nearly done now, Jonathan,” Mrs. Thompson said, putting aside the latest instrument. Mascara, he remembered. His eyelashes felt heavy. There seemed to be a rim around his vision. She was using a very, very soft brush on his cheeks now, under his cheekbones. “There. Now, what have I missed out?”

“Uh,” he began.

“No.”

“Sorry.” He swallowed again and tried to review what she had done, what she missed. He looked aside to the mirror, at the pretty, feminised face there, forcing himself to watch and not go distant. “Li-lipstick?”

“Lip colour,” Mrs. Thompson corrected him. “You’ll carry lipstick in your purse so that you may freshen your make-up when we’re out, but when you are here, and for original application, you will use a lip brush to apply your colour. I should like you to put it on yourself tonight. Here, I’ll make it easier for you.” She hunted for a moment on the dressing table.

“Ou-out?” his voice quavered.

“Oh yes.” She found what she was looking for. “Close your mouth. Normally, don’t purse your lips.” He obeyed, worried, and Mrs. Thompson leaned forward again and drew with lipliner along the outline of his lips. “I simply can’t wait,” she said while she drew, “to show you around. You’re such a pretty boy, it would be a shame to keep you all to myself, cooped up here where no-one can see you, don’t you think? There,” she finished.

“Oh God.”

“Now then, Nathan, this is lip gloss.” She was showing him a small glass bottle. As he looked, she drew out the lid, the underside of which had a long thin paintbrush. “I shall make a few strokes, so you see how to do it, then I want you to finish. You must stay within the lipliner. Open your mouth. That’s a good child.” She touched off the excess pink liquid on the rim of the tiny bottle, then leaned in and painted two down-strokes on his upper lip and two on his lower. Then she handed him the bottle and moved aside so he could get closer to the mirror.

His hands shook. He concentrated hard and breathed until he got them under some kind of control, then he began. He tried to emulate the simple, sure strokes Mrs. Thompson had used. Keeping within the lines Mrs. Thompson had drawn should have been simple, but his hand shook too much. He closed his eyes for a few seconds. He’d made a mess of it anyway, he may as well get it over with, he thought, so he opened them again and finished the rest quickly, not really trying, and was surprised to see that he actually seemed to do better. He dropped the brush back into the bottle and rattled the bottle down onto the dressing table.

“I know it’s a mess,” he muttered. Mrs. Thompson bent to look at it. “I just…” He trailed off. His lips felt unpleasantly sticky.

“Well now,” Mrs. Thompson said, “let’s just say there’s plenty of room for improvement, shall we? But it is an adequate first attempt, and you’re tired, dear, aren’t you.” He nodded. “Well then, stand up, let’s get you into bed where you belong.” His stomach tried to turn again, but it had turned too many times already. He really was just too tired now, too drained from nervous exhaustion. He just stood and let Mrs. Thompson guide him. “Marie, would you?” she asked.

Yes, ma’am,” Miss Marie said. Nathan had almost forgotten she was still there, so quiet she had been, but now she stepped forward and drew down the sheets for him to get in.

“Oh, Marie, hand me that bear, would you?” Miss Marie reached over and picked up the pink-ribboned teddy bear from its place amongst the pillows and handed it to Mrs. Thompson, who in turn passed it into Nathan’s hands.

“What…?” he began, but his hands took over, and almost without his volition hugged the bear to his chest.

“I just want you to see yourself before you get into bed, Jonathan.” She had positioned him deftly in front of the full-length mirror. “This is to be you, for the future. Sweet, feminine, pretty little you.”

He looked. The reflection didn’t really look like Louise, he decided after all. She always tried to look older than she was, so she wore make-up and clothes like an adult, and she smoked, because she said it made her look more grown-up. Whereas Nathan was older now than Louise had been then, but Mrs. Thompson had made him up to look younger, like a child playing with make-up, with a rough, scratchy helmet of rollers binding his hair, and bright, artificially rosy cheeks.

“In time,” Mrs Thompson continued, “you will become proficient at this yourself, but there will always be occasions when you must submit to the gentle governance of a woman’s hand, to tame that coarse, rebellious masculine nature of yours.” She smiled again, via her reflection in the mirror next to his own, and led him aside to the bed. His breathing and pulse quickened again. “Now, in you get, dear.” And he climbed in, into the bed he’d already slept in once, and lay stiffly, clutching the bear close to him, finding comfort in that even knowing it was what she wanted to see. Miss Marie flattened out the bedclothes again and tucked them in. Mrs. Thompson sat on the edge of the bed and regarded him for a while. ~Now it comes, now it comes,~ he thought. He stared at the ceiling and tried to will himself into distance, but felt instead the light touch of the backs of Mrs. Thompson’s fingers brushing his cheek, just once, stopping his breath. “Now, you must get your beauty sleep, my dear. We have a busy day tomorrow. Your lessons will begin in earnest immediately after breakfast. You are to show yourself at the breakfast table at seven thirty precisely, do you understand?” He breathed again and nodded. Miss Marie was drawing the curtains against the deepening blue sky. “You are not to change, or wash, before coming down tomorrow, as part of your punishment for your earlier insubordination. Later in the day you will receive full instruction on your evening and morning ablutions for the rest of your stay, but tomorrow morning you are to come as you are.”

She nodded to herself, satisfied, and stood. Miss Marie was setting the alarm on the small analogue alarm clock on the bedside table.

Miss Marie then silently left the room. Mrs. Thompson followed after her, pausing again in the doorway to look back at Nathan; then she turned the light off and walked out, closing the door. After a few moments, Nathan heard the door lock snap shut.

Notes:



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:
up
46 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 12237 words long.