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The Deception of Choice Part 4.
Date: Wednesday, August 18 @ 23:35:36
Topic Big Closet TG Serials


"It will look so good on you. Please? It's only a dress like you're already wearing."

The Deception of Choice
Part 4


by fleurie


Chapter 9.

David looked up. He realised his own immaculately manicured fingers were trembling. Towards him came a smiling Laura, followed by Emma carrying a tray on which sat two bottles, and four glasses winking in the late sunshine.

"Sophie darling! What a transformation! You look absolutely devastating! Doesn't she Emma?"

Laura beamed down on him, her hazel eyes twinkling in what could very well be sheer pleasure. David no longer knew.

"Sweetie!" This from Emma who putting the tray on the table, leant over and air brushed his cheek in a fragrant kiss. You really are quite stunning!

Laura busied herself with opening the first of the bottles. "Anne gone for a pee? Must have been urgent the way she galloped across the lawn! You two been drinking already?"

David tried to recover. Edged back into the warmth of the late afternoon; into the artificial normality of the drinks round the table, all girls together, ambience.

'All girls together?' The feeling chilled the air, stilled the sound of bee and bird.

"No," he said.. "Anne and I had a coffee, that's all." He was oppressed at how lame it sounded. A coffee. What was that thing by Eliot about measuring out one's life by coffee spoons?

"You poor darlings!" Laura passed him a glass, opaque, misted by chill condensation. "A girl needs more than coffee after visits to both Mrs. Townsend and the hairdressers!"

David sipped the wine. Felt his lips sticky against the rim; dared not look to see if it were lipstick marked by the contact.

Laura leaned towards him, placed her hand on his upper thigh. David felt the lightness of her touch through the slithering slip, as his tunic dress slid slightly over it.

"Thanks again Sophie", she said. "Truly thanks again. And you do look gorgeous." This last as she turned her head towards Emma. "Doesn't she Emma?" Emma giggled. "Good enough to eat", she replied.

"Talking of eating ......... Laura paused as Anne rejoined them. David noticed the slight redness around the eyes although her face was again immaculate, fresh and lovely as if the world was there just for her to enjoy. Laura must see it too, he thought, maybe knew full well what Anne had said. Phrases came back. "They listen .... here you will not always hear the truth .... People themselves may not always be as they seem even."

"Here Anne darling, drink this!" Laura smiled at her, passing her a glass. " I was telling the others", she said. "Ssssooo much to do tomorrow. Let us eat together in about .......", she looked at her watch. "Two hours time, say eight thirty, and go over the programme for tomorrow then. We do need a big team effort! Sophie has been such a brick! But although she will fetch all the ducks off the water, she still needs all our help if she is to pass muster on Friday!"

David felt her hand tighten on his thigh. Felt her hair brush his own as she leant closer. Her perfume wafted and mingled with his. "Just one more effort today poppet. I will be there to help you, and Emma can help refresh your make up."

David was aware of his glass being filled again. He looked down, saw the lipstick smear. He drank and felt the cool, fresh, fruity wine slide down his throat as he tried to concentrate on it rather than the world around him.

Questions, impressions, thoughts, and desperation, jostled, whirled, conflicted in his mind. He drank deep again. He saw that Anne was looking at him. Her eyes wide with .... with what? Fear, compassion, complicity, understanding? Fear certainly.

He looked into Laura's eyes. Read the question there.

"Yes ," he said. "Whatever you say."

Laura's voice softened. "Good girl" She said, "Thanks"

They sat there and sipped wine for another half hour. Laura and Emma kept up a bright, all embracing, conversation to which Anne bravely contributed in a brittle distracted way. They were all kind to David, feigning not to notice his silences, bringing him into the circle, drawing him back into their world.

David tried to respond to the appeal in Anne's eyes, tried to join in, tried to brush aside the maelstrom of thoughts that tumbled through his mind,. All the snippets of their conversation. What did Venumar, Grace de Messembry, want with him, plan for him, for all of them. And what did Mona know? And what had happened to Olive? Anne kept saying she had fallen after her rehabilitation. Rehabilitation. Oh God! Rehabilitation. What horrors did that summon up? Surely it couldn't be true? Yet surely Anne could not simulate that terror?

He nodded, smiled, talked with the others in a broken spasmodic way. Conscious of fear. Conscious also that he was conforming. That his perfume mingled with that of the others, drowning out the scent of the garden. Conscious that his hair brushed his neck, that his glass, held in his red tipped hands had red traces round its rim. Conscious that each movement of his body shifted the weight on his chest, made silk slide against silk.. What was Herrick's phrase? '...then me thinks how sweetly flows that liquefaction of her clothes.' A magical, evocative, sensual line! But they were his clothes, her clothes were his clothes. The liquefaction washed over, washed around, his body. Washed over Sophie's body.

He shook his head in despair. Felt his hair swirl against his neck, felt his earings brush his face, smelt the stirred fragrance of his perfume.

He was conscious also of Laura's gaze that continuously shifted fleetingly back to him, brushed over him. As if she were monitoring him, concerned about him. A special smile for him, as if to reassure him.

Laura rose. "See you all at eight thirty." She took David's arm as he rose too. " I'll come back with you Sophie." Turning to smile at Emma, she said. "If you could drop in to Sophie's room about eight? Just to help her repair the ravages?"

The little group broke up.

David was escorted back to his room, Laura at his side, her hand returning to touch his elbow, to guide, perhaps to reassure him.

"A busy eventful day," she smiled. "Just this evening to get through now. But no demons lurking there. Just friends."

"I asked Emma to drop by because she is a real genius with make up. Because you need to shave and then .... well your face will need a little help.. And to change into something less work-a-day of course, even if it is only us girls together. Nice to relax."

Laura swung open the door and ushered David back in.

"And to brief you on tomorrow in case I haven't time this evening. You know how you girls chatter!"

Laura turned and went to open the wardrobe doors. "Now .... what have we here ....?"

David went to the window and stared unseeing down into the garden; his eyes unfocussed but aware of a world beyond its confines. A world that seemed so distant, so other!

"This is just perfect darling! Simple, and being linen, nice and cool! Just above the knee. With a little embroidery at the hem and picot edging on the straps. Nothing too fancy!"

She smiled at him, urging approval. "A V neck, but quite high so no secrets will be revealed! And such a pretty understated cream shade."

She moved across to where he stood at the window. The dress held up against her to show it off. As if to convince him of its desirability. "Please Sophie do unwind a little. This is your world now. And we all need you to join us in it. Don't just think of yourself. We all have our own problems, our own worries. The girls need desperately to draw strength from each other. They need your support quite desperately. They all need to look pretty. They all need to smile, sparkle, to succeed in what is required of them. Do not make it more difficult for them. Do not be selfish"

Laura drew closer, standing just in front of David now. The dress held equidistant between them.

She looked into his eyes, serious now, earnest. "Sophie, I know, can guess, what Anne was talking to you about .... there on the roof garden. Some of it anyway." She paused, the silence heavy between them. "Anne has suffered greatly, The others perhaps less, although God knows Mona's tale, she is so quiet, so uncomplaining. And as for poor dear Olive ........."

Laura shook her head as if to clear it, to banish the thoughts therein.

"Sophie, you have helped immeasurably today, far more than you realise perhaps. Friday is so close. Do not spoil it now. Give us your help for a little longer."

Again that shake of her head as she moved away, just far enough for her reverse her hold on the dress and stepping back to hold it up again, this time against David.

"It will look so good on you. Please? It is only a dress. As you are already wearing."

David knew defeat. Knew it as it washed over him, as it filtered down into his being.

His hands came up, one on each side of hers as he took the dress from her.

"There is one little thing," Laura said. "The straps, they are adjustable, but they are straps and, well you will need .... your armpits will need sorting."

David looked at her numbly.

"We should have done it this morning," she continued, "but no time, all that fuss about ...." Her voice tapered off. "You are really rather too hairy generally. It needs to be rectified. Better now than later"

She reached out and took the dress back from him. "Not that we have time for a later darling. In the bathroom cupboard you will find a jar marked 'Depilatory Cream'. No fancy bottle as it is a new formula by one of the Foundation's Pharmaceutical companies given to us for testing. It is supposed to be a breakthrough. Just rub it well in, all over, and wait for five minutes then shower."

"You will need to shave your beard though. It may work there but it is not intended for it and the result may be patchy. And keep it away from head and eyebrows! Apart from that Sophie, All over, I mean all over, everywhere, every crack and crevice. I can trust you, I want to trust you."

Again the earnest gaze seeking assurance. "It is my responsibility Sophie to ensure that you use it correctly, and use it all over, apart from on your head. I should supervise. If it goes wrong ...." She faltered. "If it is not applied correctly, if bits are missed, I shall be held accountable."

"I should supervise personally. But I know you would not want that. I know you would find it demeaning. So I offer my trust. Promise me you will, that is all I ask."

David felt empty. The day's events pressed in on him, weighed him down. He tried to come to terms with this further nail in the coffin of his masculinity. It seemed of little importance in the scheme of things. Hair grew all the time. Too fast normally. It would be back before he knew it. To be removed again he supposed. More testing, another depilatory statistic.

He looked at Laura. "Yes", he said, "I promise."

She took a step towards him and rather to his surprise gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "You really are such a sweetie"

"Remember", she said "Rub all over, wait five minutes, and wash off in the shower. You can shave whilst waiting if you like."

Laura laid the dress down carefully on the bed, and turning to the wardrobe drew out further garments.

"Here are some clean undies. Just like this morning only you may as well have fresh ones. Do you think you will be able to manage the breast forms by yourself this time?"

Laura looked into his eyes and saw the despair; knew that that particular battle was won. Sophie did not know it yet but she would.

David took the small pile of garments, soft and sensuous in his hands.

"Yes"

"When you have finished come back and I will help you with your dress and .... and Emma will be here in twenty minutes to help put your face back on. So don't spend too long day dreaming."

Again her smile lit up her face. "Oh and use the soap liberally afterwards darling. That hair stuff does pong rather"

"One last thing Sophie." Laura smiled.. "Do sit whilst having a pee dear. Such a little detail but so much importance is attached to it here. I know it's silly but ........." Her voice tailed off, taking acceptance for granted.

In the bathroom David placed the small pile of bra, panties, and slip on the small side table and turned towards the bathroom cupboard adjacent to the mirror. Inside there were an array of bottles. A few were in ornate feminine bottles or jars with names of cosmetic, perfumery manufacturers he recognised. The majority however were in plain white containers bearing a logo resembling an coronation orb with a bent arrow pointing inwards, and with a plain descriptive text thereon. Nothing pharmaceutical, or mock-pharmaceutical. Just plain descriptions. 'Skin Improver', 'Hair Conditioner', 'Foundation', etc. And also one which said 'Depilatory Cream',

As if in a dream he took the latter in his hands. He opened it and smelled it. Laura was right. It did pong rather. More than rather. It reminded him of petrol but with an overlay of .....? He sniffed again, deeper, and choked as it caught the back of his throat. He saw on the back of the tub in large purple letters. 'For external use only. Do not inhale. Keep away from eyes and mouth. Seek immediate medical advice if swallowed.'

David leant back. Seized by a sudden resolution born of despair, he rubbed the cream on his legs, calves, thighs. all over, rubbed deep, frantically. If he had to do it then it were best done quickly. Like Lady MacBeth he thought wildly. More of it went on his hands as he rubbed down starting at his shoulders and down over his chest, his arms crossing as he tried to cover his back. Down, down over his stomach and down, down into his groin, smearing his penis and balls. Reaching back over his buttocks and fingering deep into the cleft behind. More and more of the cream. Finally smearing it over his arms and under his arms.

He found himself breathing hard with the exertion, or with something deeper. Breathing hard with his breath rasping. It must be the fumes. It must be the fumes that were causing his breath to rasp, his eyes to water.

He went to the basin, turned on the hot water and began lathering his shaving brush. It was nothing. Hair grew. Hair grew quickly. He was becoming hysterical. He was playing into their hands. He must think.

He shaved. Brushed his teeth. Tried to think.

His body, first cooled by the cream, had grown warm, began to tingle and then to itch.

It must be five minutes now. He began to count slowly. "One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four ......." He reached eighty before the itching became unbearable and he sought the sanctuary of the shower, turning the water full on, rubbing his body frantically to cleanse it of the cream. He saw his hair, run down over his body, collecting more hair as it went, swirling down, blocking the rivulets of water then being washed away as they themselves were reinforced by, consumed by, other rivulets.

David stood there dripping as the last of the water sluiced off him. His body felt different. Very different. He watched the hair disappear down the outlet of the shower. He looked quite different, felt quite different. Had never imagined the difference it would make. More naked. More exposed.

He dried himself slowly. That felt different too. His skin was more sensitive, more sensuous even.

He felt alien in his own body. A body he had had for 24 years. A body he had grown with, become comfortable in. He looked down at his crotch. even his cock looked different. Longer without its base of hair. Longer but seeming pinker, more vulnerable as it nestled on the bare nest of his ball sack. He raised the loo seat and stood and urinated. One small act of defiance. One thing he could still do. One thing that no-one could stop. One thing where he had the right of decision for all Laura's strictures.

He shook the limp penis and watched the last drops splash down. One thing, he thought as he turned away, leaving the loo seat up. He remembered Laura's words. 'I know it's silly but .....'

David reached for the clothes on the side table. Stepped into his panties and eased them up his legs, over his calves and thighs, swivelling with new found agility as they slid tight up over his hips and nestled snug there as he adjusted his genitals to their tight caress. He reversed the bra about his chest as he fumbled with hooks and eyes, and then, sliding it round him, twisted his hands and arms through the straps, adjusting them on his shoulders and running his fingers along the straps to ease out the kinks.

David looked down at the empty cups lying crumpled against his hairless, baby-smooth chest.

He looked at the two silicone mounds lying there on the side table still encased in his old bra.

This time it was different. He picked one up sliding it out of the cup wherein it nestled, still warm from his body. Examined it. Turned it in his hands trying to work out if it were for the left or right side; checking with the old bra to determine the cup he had taken it from.

This time it was different because it was his own hands about to arrange the feminisation. He could not mentally put this down to coercion. No-one else, no other's hands were doing it. No-one else was there to oversee him, to persuade, threaten, cajole.

He, David, was bringing Sophie to life.

Shaking his head to drive away the nagging thoughts of self destruction he slipped the soft, yielding, mounds into the delicate, lace trimmed cups. First the left and then the right. Adjusting them so that they sat easy in the bra, comfortable, covered. Saw that they were not just mounds but had sculptured nipples and coloured aureoles that showed through the bra, adding a little outward indentation to each cup, dark through the soft lacy fabric.

He pulled the slip over his head and wriggled his body as he pulled it down. His hands smoothed down the material, straightening the garment in a caress that Laura would have recognised as quintessentially feminine.

He opened the door and stepped out.

Emma was already there. She and Laura were looking at the door sensing his arrival; standing framing the dressing table and the swivel stool in front of it. "Hurry Sophie." Laura indicated the stool. "Let Emma work her magic and we can go to join the others." She grinned. "Otherwise there will be little food and certainly no drink left!"

She winked at Emma "Such pigs! No thought of their figures at all!"

David sat on the stool and tried to relax as Emma fussed and cooed round him. He turned his head this way and that, up and down, as instructed;. he pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows, closed and opened his eyes, looked up and down, pulled his face into each and every contortion demanded of it, until Laura and Emma were satisfied with their work, both agreeing that she was the quite the prettiest thing imaginable and that all who saw her would be madly jealous.

Then stockings, hold-ups, with much chiding as to his clumsiness, and urgings to be careful lest he snag them. The dress over his head, adjusted, and fastened by the two girls who clucked over the details. His own hands, small and delicate for a male as they were, seemed incapable of dealing with hooks and eyes and press studs. The fact that they were now distinctly long and coral coloured did not make it easier.

"Try these," said Laura proffering a pair of shoes to him. " You will need to be able to walk in high heels sooner or later and these will be a good start. Only 3" and quite simple." She knelt and slipped them on to his feet. "See! So elegant! Do they fit O.K.? Size 7 in UK women's. They are just like your others but with high heels one can never be sure"

David nodded dumbly. In truth they were not O.K. They pinched his toes. He had a shrewd idea though that shoes were destined to pinch from now on. It didn't seem worth while objecting. It would make no difference. There would be reasons he could not gainsay.

He stood up, tottered a moment and then emulated the high stepping action of Laura and Emma for a few trial steps..

"Perfect darling," Laura smiled at him."To the manner born!"

"One last thing ..... Perfume.!" A scent spray appeared in her hands. "I know you will like this!. Discrete and fresh."

David felt the cool burst of spray against his neck. "But do remember Sophie! It's called 'Blue' by La Perla. It is the sort of question Grace de Messembry might well ask just to check your sincerity, your commitment."

'Commitment?' David breathed in the scent, fresh and feminine. 'Commitment to this?'

Laura handed him a small clutch bag in a soft suede compatible with his shoes. "Fully charged darling!" Again the hand on his elbow, guiding, controlling him as they moved towards the door.

They paused in front of the cheval glass as Laura's grip tightened imperceptibly. "Always check dear. Make it a habit." He saw her hazel behind him, scanning him. Emma too, blue grey eyes huge in her faun face. Between them he saw a rather gawky girl. Ill at ease. Awkward, her posture all awry. But a girl nonetheless. A rather pretty girl, perhaps around twenty. Shy, timid, uncertain. New to womanhood, her figure still boyish in the hips. But pretty, indubitably pretty, with a perfect complexion, immaculate make up giving her a maturity beyond her years. Knowing beyond her years perhaps, with all the sexiness that such implied.

He felt Laura's breath in his ear. "Thank You." He saw Emma smiling, acceptance mingled with gratitude.

David felt sick. The perfume wreathed around him. Fresh, girlish, fragrant. Ultimately cloying in his nostrils.

Chapter 10.

The meal was relaxed, quiet. Laura, as always, bubbled, as did Emma. A man could loose his heart to either David thought, or more probably both. Anne was quieter, more serious. More than once David felt her gaze upon him, reflective. He wished the talk on the roof garden had been just that little longer. That he had time to ask what Mona knew. It made no sense Anne had said. But then a single jigsaw piece made no sense. But one had to start somewhere. The luxury of working inwards from the edges wasn't open to him. And what did Anne herself think, guess? And then there was Olive, Ann's friend, and the source of information about the Venumar Foundation

Laura had mentioned Olive too. With sadness, with regret. All David knew was that she had been sent for training, rehabilitated, and then had fallen. Fallen? An odd choice of words. Was she dead? From where had she fallen? Or was it just a figure of speech? Fallen from grace? David grimaced at the bitterness of the unlooked for pun.


He felt Laura's hand on his arm. "A penny for them Sophie?"

He came back to actuality with a start.

"I am sorry," he said. "It has been a long day. A lot to take in ... I ....." His voice tailed off.

"Poor darling!" Anne's voice broke in as she reached over and in sympathy rested her immaculately lacquered finger tips on his arm. David looked down at them. Five slender fingers, resting on his equally small and delicate wrist. Looking at them it would not even cross one's mind that they belonged to anyone but a female.

He saw Emma smiling at him too and, quite ridiculously, he felt their friendship, warm and comforting, in spite of all. It gave him some sort of strength.

He looked down at his empty plate. He had eaten without tasting, without really being aware.

"I just wanted to run through tomorrow," Laura said. "D Day minus one "

David sensed the others leaning forward in their chairs. She had their attention.

"You have all done wonders today," she said. "Sophie particularly of course, but I think she will be the first to agree that she could not have done half so well without the unstinting support of Anne and Emma."

Anne and Emma made demurring noises. David heard himself saying. "Yes, they were wonderful. Thank you both so much .... and .... You too of course Laura. You have been all just marvellous."

And of course, he thought, it was true. They had been. Had been supportive and kind. It was just that he wished they hadn't. Or rather that the need had never arisen.

"Tomorrow much the same then." Laura was speaking again. "We need to concentrate on Sophie. You two others are a credit to us and although I am sure Grace de Messembry will find some small things to cavil at, so no slacking girls and fingers crossed, they should be only token criticisms"

"Sophie has made unbelievable strides but she is only at the beginning of her path and Grace de Messembry will, we know, be paying her special attention."

David flinched as the icy cold words "only at the beginning of her path" hit him.

Laura smiled at him. "So lots more support called for girls. I have arranged last minute sessions with Mrs Townsend for all of you to make sure that you are absolutely immaculate and quite stunningly beautiful for Friday. Otherwise you will be ladies of leisure and can laze around to your hearts content as far as your own preparations are concerned.."

She turned to David. "Sophie, Mrs Townsend will spend some time with you also. And do try to understand what she is doing and try to remember, please try to remember, some of the principles, a smattering of names etc. Apart from that I want you to concentrate on deportment and voice."

Again he felt her hand on his arm. "They are the evident weaknesses Sophie. Perfection may be months away but we need to show at least an awareness, both in how you move and how you speak. With the latter not only the timbre of the voice but how and what you say."

"This is where you two others can help her." She turned earnestly to Emma and Anne. "Don't let politeness stop you from criticising. Tell Sophie what faults you see, and how to correct them. Spend time with her in correcting her faults. It is important. You will be doing her an immense favour if you criticise objectively."

"I have arranged tuition. One hour of voice and one hour of deportment in the morning and the same again in the afternoon. More would be counter productive. One can only absorb so much at a time.

Again her voice was urgent, insistent. "Grace de Messembry will be looking for effort Sophie, for willingness, for .........." Laura shook her head as she searched for words that would instruct, would convey the urgency, but would still be palatable to David. "She needs to be convinced that you are trying Sophie, that is all, trying. But wholeheartedly, wanting to conform to her wishes in this respect."

"She is not totally unrealistic. She knows that Rome cannot be built in a day. But she will need from you evidence that you accept her will in this matter. Dissembling will not be enough."

Laura sat back. Her voice matched her sombre expression. "Dissembling is in her eyes akin to disobedience. Worse perhaps. Disobedience has the virtue, dubious enough indeed, but the virtue nonetheless, of honesty."

"You have done so well Sophie. Just tomorrow and Friday morning to get through and you can relax. One more effort and we can all relax."

She pushed her chair away from the table. "Let's have our coffee on the roof garden. It's a lovely evening and Sophie has yet to meet Janet's girls properly. And then perhaps an early night for us all." A statement more than a question.

Janet was already there surrounded by her protges. They formed a loose group standing around a table on which rested two cafetires with neat piles of cups and saucers. The group parted and widened as they approached, absorbing them, reforming around them. David found himself the centre of attention as the other girls crowded round him. Christine and Alice chattering like starlings, Mona shyer, more reserved, but equally warm and welcoming.

He thought wryly that, when Emma had said that Laura's group was prettier, she had been right if it were to be a contest between her and Anne compared to Christine and Alice. The former was rather thin and lanky and even her makeup could not altogether mask her rather too large nose and rather too small chin. Whereas Alice was on the dumpy side with a snub nose and, if one wanted to be unkind, a lumpen face.

Mona of course redeemed the three as a team. She was exquisite. Slight, boyish even. David winced as he realised that was in reality what she was. But it took a jump of the imagination to realise it. Her hips, though slender, swayed seductively as she moved. Her waist was sinuously elegant. Her small bust perked in near perfect harmony to her overall figure. Near perfect only because a purist might have thought it a mite too large. Over compensation perhaps? Her heather honey complexion was the perfect background to her large dark eyes, under thin arched eyebrows, petite features, and the inviting crimson of her lips. She moved with a liquid grace and when she smiled the world brightened.

Janet brandished a cafetire. "Black everyone?"

She poured coffee and handed cups to the three new arrivals. They murmured their thanks.

David was submerged in the attention given to him. Christine, Alice, even Mona bombarding him with questions. What was the perfume? Exact shade of lipstick, blush and eye shadow? Had Laura found the dress and wasn't it just too divine? All quite trivial and interlaced with compliments as to how pretty he was, but asked with an earnest interest that demanded a response. A response that sadly he could not often give. Anne and Emma did a sterling job answering inconspicuously on his behalf when he faltered. Or fending off questions when needed.

David saw Laura and Janet smiling one to the other. At one stage Laura whispered in his ear. "Pay attention! These things you should know! Grace de Messembry may spring them on you on Friday and Anne and Emma will have to be a little more subtle then!"

Eventually the questioning died back and the conversation became more general. Still trivial. Or what David considered trivial, but more widespread, embracing all the assembled girls.

David, remembering Anne had spoken of Mona's knowing something, tried to isolate her. In vain. Mona was the centre of attention after David had been quizzed. Usually in the middle of an impromptu circle, smiling gently, seldom speaking but forming the nucleus. Perhaps she half suspected. Perhaps she wished to avoid any giving of confidences.

Anne meanwhile however had drifted away from the main group and was standing close to the wall and glass screen overlooking the grounds below. David sidled over and joined her.

She was quietly crying. Gently, quietly, unobtrusively. No sobbing, and one would not really have known but for the glint of tears on her cheek.

"Anne!" David came up behind her, and unthinking, placed an arm gently round her waist in a natural gesture of sympathy and affection. " What is the matter?" For the first time that day, for the first time in a long time, he was moved by a sorrow other than his own.

She turned to him, his hand sliding round her waist, adjusting, but not losing the human contact.

She shook her head and David saw a tear on her cheek slew across her face.

"I was thinking of Olive." Her voice choked. "We were friends, before her .... before her rehabilitation .... even if she was never the same after .... and .... we were friends. She was like me."

Again with all the naturalness in the world David leant forward and kissed her forehead, standing on tiptoe to do it. Straining in his heels.

"I am sorry", he said. "I don't know... what happened ....only that you said she fell."

Anne looked up. "From here", she said. "She fell from here. In this corner."

David looked at the solid glass barrier. "But how ...? Surely one cannot .... I mean .... ?"

Anne wiped the back of her hand to clear an errant tear. "They erected it afterwards. To stop any more accidents .... Before there was just the wall. It was easy"

"Easy?" "

"Yes. Easy. An easy way out."

There was a long pause. David looked back at the others who still seemed pre-occupied in the coffee conversation.

"Before you said .... people just told me .... she had fallen"

"So she did", Anne said. "Five storeys, on to a concrete path."

"They closed the roof garden for three days. When we were allowed up again they had erected this. Armoured glass eight feet high. For our own safely. They even apologised. For any apparent negligence in matters of Health and Safety."

Anne turned away and looked out into the purple dark evening sky, David's hand still on her waist.

The sound of the others' voices drifted across to them.

"You don't think that they ...? That they did it?"

Anne shook her head. "No. At first I thought .... perhaps .... " Anne continued to look straight ahead. "But then I could see no reason. Why should they? They had spent money on her. She represented a considerable investment on their part. As we all do."

David watched her face in profile as she stared unseeing into the darkness.

"They said it was an accident. That she slipped and fell. Very tragic. Much to be regretted."

Her hands crept up to rest on the top of the ledge formed by the wall. Her slender fingers still on the rough brickwork.

"It, the wall, is four feet high. Not something one trips or stumbles over. No. It needs a decision. I am sure she made that conscious decision. Rehabilitation pushed her over the edge."

David saw her lips twist at the bitterness, the bad taste, of the involuntary pun.

"She had had enough."

There was silence between them.

David looked back at the little group around the table. Laura was looking towards them. She caught his eye and smiled with a small gesture of acknowledgement.

"It is probably the wrong time." David was tentative. "But I wanted to ask Mona what she told you. You said that she knew something?"

Anne finally half turned towards him. "Nothing that made sense. A figure or a number, one hundred and eleven million I think she said. And a country, China. That's all apart from the phrase that she said cropped up repeatedly. Something to do with broken branches. No not broken, that's not right. Mona said broken at first and then changed. it" Anne hesitated. "I can't ...."

There was the sound of footsteps behind them. They turned to see Laura smiling at them.

"Shame on you Anne, you are monopolising Sophie," She winked at David. "The poor girl needs to mingle."

She seemed to sense the sombre mood. "What's the matter?" She looked from one to the other.

"I was asking Anne about Olive" David said and saw the sparkle dim in Laura's eyes too.

"I should have guessed", she said in a low voice. She moved to Anne and put a hand comfortingly on her shoulder. " It was so very tragic and I know it hit you hardest Anne darling."

Anne nodded, and then, as if not trusting herself to speak, broke away from the touch, and started to walk towards the group round the table. David turned and followed her with Laura alongside him.

The little group loosely parted and reformed around them. General conversation resumed; bright and at odds with the death that had seemed so close.

Another ten minutes and, as if at a prearranged signal, Janet and Laura began to shepherd their charges towards the stairs, with comments about the need for an early night and how they all needed all the beauty sleep they could get.

They dispersed towards their rooms with exchanges of wishes for a good night's sleep and protestations of looking forward to seeing each other in the morning.

Laura accompanied David to his room. "Tomorrow Sophie", she said. "Tomorrow I think you could perhaps get yourself ready as far as possible. I will drop in about eight and if you could have got to the undies, stockings and slip stage that would be a great help. Perhaps just a half slip for tomorrow. And see how you get on with the application of foundation and lipstick. I will help with the rest."

She held him by both hands on his upper arms. "Don't brood too much about Olive. It is in the past. Not for Anne perhaps. It hit her hard." She looked at him intently. "But for you the importance lies in the next couple of days. And we need you to succeed. Your success is important to all of us"

She opened the door and steered David through it. "Goodnight", she said. "Sweet dreams and I will see you in the morrow"

The door closed behind her as she stepped back into the corridor.

David walked to the window, opened it and looked out. He had arrived here when? Yesterday afternoon? Christ was that all? Thirty odd hours ago he had been awkward, embarrassed, wearing panties for the first time. Now he had a wardrobe of panties and all the other female garments that he could imagine. His face was beautifully, convincingly, made up as a woman's face. His nails manicured, his hair soft at the nape of his neck. His body was shorn of hair. He had breasts and his perfume hung heavy about him. Tomorrow he would be starting to walk like a girl, speak like a girl.

He'd been bloody supine, bloody gutless. It had been a helter skelter manipulation. Still was, with no apparent way of getting off. Stop the world I want to get off! And yet how did you? No time to think. Dropped into a situation where others were involved. Where others desperately needed his acquiescence, his conformity.

Perhaps that was part of it? An artificial cascade of urgency had been created especially lead him to slaughter? David shook his head. No. It could not be like that. This inspection had not been cynically arranged for his benefit. It was obviously genuine. You only had to look at the real concern of the others.

It was just chance, coincidence. It had to be. No use inventing plots. There were real problems enough without adding to them. The timing was unfortunate that was all. It had worked for them, against him.

David turned away from the window and walked towards the wardrobe. He sat on the bed and removed his shoes, massaging his toes. His fingers, awkward with his long nails, searched for and
ineffectively picked at the hooks and eyes of the dress, fumbled at the zip. Why the devil couldn't they locate fastenings where one could at least see them? So that one did not have to be a blind contortionist to have the skills to undo them? He wished he had paid more attention earlier when Laura and Emma had made it seem so easy.

At last he stood up, the dress loose around him, and began to lift it over his head, the slip sliding with it, more than ever conscious of his breasts as the material rode up over them. Then onto a hanger in the wardrobe, followed by his slip. Arms twisted behind him he sought, found, picked at the bra back. Felt the release and the weight of the hated breast forms in his hands. The sudden lightness at the front of his chest.

David stood there looking at them. His chest was marked with a thin red line where the underwire of the bra had pressed into his flesh. Bloody supine, bloody gutless, he thought. Bloody ....
Jesus! Realisation hit him! Bloody stupid!!!! Of course they had arranged it! If he couldn't think more clearly than this then he would have no chance whatsoever!

He sat back on the bed, his breasts still in his hands. He put them down, one on each side of him on the bed. He had been in that hell hole of a cell for upwards of six months and then he had been delivered here late Tuesday afternoon before a Friday crisis. Nothing needed to be changed, arranged, manipulated, to fit in with him. All they had to do was to move him at the right time.

As they had done. It couldn't be coincidence. The timing was too perfect.

David carefully rolled down his stockings and stood up. He replaced the breast forms in the wardrobe, writhed out of his knickers, and walked slowly to the bathroom.

He lifted the lavatory seat and, standing, looked down at his hairless, strangely pale looking, penis still looking squashed from the confines of his control panties. His long nails, flamboyantly coral, looked obscenely sexy as they held it, directing the flow of urine. He remembered an old cockney acquaintance telling him that to gallop one's maggot was an old slang phrase meaning to fuck. He had thought it funny at the time. Not now. This maggot looked all too hairless, naked, pathetic. A maggot with no chance of a gallop. A maggot whose future looked bleak.

Knowing of the manipulation didn't seem to help. Knowledge may well be power but in this case it seemed not to alter things. He was trapped in his obligations, his promise to help.

He brushed his teeth. It was more complicated with long styled hair because a lock of it fell across his mouth as he leant forward. When all this was over he would grow a beard and a moustache; he would never shave again he decided.

Perhaps it would not make all that difference, whether he had obligations to respect or not, he thought with a sudden insight of honesty; perhaps they were just something for him to hide behind?

He thought of Anne and her account of the rehabilitation procedure. He thought of Olive who had sought death after just such a procedure. Anne herself who, after just an introduction to it, was reconciled to being Anne. Not reconciled but actively thankful to be Anne.

David washed. his face and hands. Again more difficult as a girl. So much stuff on his face. He scrubbed at it with a flannel and the heavily scented soap. His hair in the way again. Shouldn't there be some special make-up remover? He would have to ask Laura in the morning. Probably only some expensive gunge sold to gullible females anyway.

So perhaps, faced with that threat he would just have toed the line anyway? In fact he was faced with that threat although it had never been explicitly formulated for him. It was just an assumed threat. In his mind the threat of a threat.

David retraced his steps into the main room towards the bed.

The realisation that so far no-one had really forced him to do anything hit him. Not here. Not in the Holding Wing. The Venumar Foundation, for all its seeming power and ruthlessness, had remained silent.

His seeming friends here had just asked him nicely, and he had sat up, begged and wagged his tail.

His mind searched for other possibilities, other courses of action. Nothing came.

David eyed with distaste the nightgown that someone, Laura doubtless, had laid carefully at the bottom of the bed. Ignoring it he slipped naked between the sheets. Again that feeling of futility. The Empire Strikes Back, he thought bitterly .... by refusing to wear a nightie and by peeing standing up!

He lay awake a long time, his mind turning over and over, examining and rejecting possibilities, courses of action, passive resistance, escape, consequences, what compliance could have in store.

And always lurking there, the insistent voice asking 'Why'?

At last he slipped into a surprisingly deep sleep. The last conscious image, before the dark closed in, was of the slight, feminine figure of Anne, and the heart rending, silent, tears running down her cheeks as she stared sightless into the gathering night.

Chapter 11.

The alarm woke him. Laura had evidently pre-set it. It was 7 o'clock. An hour to prepare. An hour to start the process that would result in a Sophie ready for approval. He swung out of bed and went to the window, looking out on the perfect May morning. Idyllic in the early sunshine.

He looked back to the bed and saw the nightdress, now half slipped from its position the night before, dangling half off the bed, a lace trimmed strap and empty breast cup leering at him.

His reality a world away from the morning outside.
For a moment he wondered if he should scrumble the nightdress up as if he had worn it during the night. Then self disgust at the thought. Paltry enough as a gesture it may be, but to hide it, pretend it hadn't happened was pathetic.

He went to the bathroom and lifted the seat to pee. His penis was hard again, urgently claiming his attention. He regarded its white hairless length, adorned by the red polished, carefully shaped nails, and desire ebbed. To distract his mind by masturbation in these conditions, to pander to a betrayed masculinity, just seemed cheap, inappropriate. Seemed obscurely a form of surrender.

He ran the bath. Turned back to the washbasin clean his teeth and to shave. Saw his face in the mirror and noticed that, in spite of his efforts last night, there were still traces of make up there.

In the bathroom cabinet he found one of the standard, Venumar logoed containers labelled 'Skin Cleanser', and another 'Make-Up Remover'. The difference in function did not seem apparent but the latter seemed more explicit so he dabbed and rubbed at his face with a dollop of it. It seemed to work

He lowered himself into the bath and sat there, reflectively soaping his body with the perfumed soap. Notwithstanding all his inner self disgust, all the desperation of his mental gymnastics the night before, there seemed no other practical option but conform. To become Sophie again, at least outwardly.

Only, he determined, he must try to maintain his awareness of what was happening. Must not become mentally dull and accepting. Search for weak points to exploit. Seek out answers to the whys. Laura had said that his door was not locked because there was nowhere to go. But surely there had to be? The Germans had said Colditz was impregnable but it had leaked escapees. He was young, athletic and deceptively strong; there should be opportunities, but he must stay awake to them.

He climbed out, dried himself, and went back to the main room to face his day.

Clean panties to insinuate his hips into. Clean bra to contort himself into, to hook up and to swivel round. The breast forms, newly sweet talcum powdered, to insert and carefully adjust. Silken hose to doughnut and unroll up his legs, soft, silken smooth, over his hairless calves and thighs. The tops, lacy and sexually inviting in their elasticity, to be adjusted, flattened. His skin satiny and luxuriating in the sensation. His skin perfumed from his bath, sensual to the touch.

The chuckling gap, he recalled, was what it was called. The satiny female skin in the inside of the thighs between stocking top and pussy. The final argument that must surely one day spell the death of tights.

He applied foundation, smoothing it down over his face, rubbing it into his cheeks, jaw line and brow; then finger tip application round his eyes smoothing out the wrinkles that the future might bring. Then the lipstick. Soft and creamy, sliding flat faced over his lips. The lips themselves deforming, adjusting to the contours of the lipstick, accepting, welcoming the perfumed waxy coating. He stretched his lips, air kissed with them, folded a tissue and pressed them against it. God knows why. What was the point apart from that Laura had shown him. Laura had told him to do it.

David rose and went to the wardrobe. A half slip she had said. He found one, silky with a couple of inches of lace as a hem. He stood into it and pulled it up. Over his stockings and panties, holding tight round his waist. Why only a half slip he wondered. And what had happened to the shirt dresses, oh so close to a shirt, he had been lured into on arrival?

Don't go back down there, David thought. It is a dead end. All the past is. Deal with the present.

There was a tap on the door, A formality only as the door simultaneously swung open. It was Laura.

"'Morning Sophie darling. Sleep well? Mmmm you are looking delicious." Her face lit up and her greeting embraced him, swept away some of his cobwebbed doubts about her. Made him feel a little disloyal, ungrateful. It was not her fault. Without her it would be so much worse.

She was carrying a covered hanger over her left arm.

"I see you have started as I asked." She smiled her appreciation. "Good girl! And such a clever one too!"

She glanced round the room and, if she saw the unworn, discarded, nightie, it was ignored.

"I thought that a skirt and blouse might be best today," she said. "I know you might think it a little formal, but this one is so pretty that I do hope you will agree and forgive me."

She sparkled at him. "What really swayed me Sophie, was that yesterday I did notice that sometimes, just sometimes darling, your stride was a little long. Just a teenie-weenie bit mannish.
Even with heels."

Laura busied herself with divesting the skirt and blouse from its hanger and extracting it from its casing.

"And I thought it would be a help if you had a skirt that hugged the thighs a little so you just couldn't forget yourself. And because your hips are so ridiculously boyish still, I thought a waisted blouse with just a touch of flare might just compensate for the skirt's slimness, darling. Just give you a little bit of, well, wiggle."

David listened, half uncomprehending. The word 'still' registered though

"Specially for today", Laura continued. "With the deportment classes. So much easier if one's stride is contained."

Laura busied herself with David's make up. Not that much needed to be done, she assured him, as he was due for another session in the beauty parlour first thing after breakfast. "After so much neglect there is still much too do to even catch up." she explained.

The blouse was of a clinging material that draped softly over his breasts. Draped over them and accentuated them. David saw all too clearly that his bra was visible, showing as a deeper white beneath. The skirt restricted his movements as Laura had claimed it would, pulling taut against his thighs as he moved, sliding over the hose on his legs, emphasising with each stride he took, that femininity had him in thrall.

"I think 2" heels would be good to start your day in. The deportment people already have a selection of high heels to use as the occasion demands, but at your stage sweetie you don't want to totter around in them all day. Something more classic in style though, don't you think?"

David found that to sit down in the tighter skirt required him to think first. To swivel and then sink down from a prepared position with knees demurely together.

Laura continued. "We do want you brimming over with girlish vitality on Friday, not hobbling around like an old crone!" Laura proffered him a pair of shoes.

David slipped on the plain court shoes and, after being reminded to check his appearance in the cheval glass, accompanied Laura to breakfast.

Everyone greeted him with an easy informality. Sophie was now one of them. One of the girls. All reassured her about her attractiveness, complimented her on her appearance, her new skirt and blouse. If they noticed any delay, any awkwardness, in his responses it was not evident.

Anne went with him to the beauty parlour. Mrs Townsend was waiting for him. She also greeted him as an intimate, sharing female secrets of the boudoir. With Anne's help she reworked his face, his nails. This time he was not allowed to sink back into a protective shell. Anne saw to that. She and Mrs Townsend gave him no peace. He was made aware of what was being done to him. The processes involved, the skills required. The creams, foundations, powders, lotions, shadows, blushes, perfumes, named and memorised as each was lovingly applied.

"You need to know", Anne insisted. "She may ask you, just to test your commitment". There was no need to ask who the 'She' was.

The Voice Training Lab was unexpected. Not a row of sound insulated cubicles and computers but a cosy room with a few comfy armchairs. An attractive lady in her thirties introduced herself as Sally and motioned David towards one of the chairs, herself taking one opposite him.

She smiled sympathetically and was refreshingly blunt. "Sophie, As I understand it you have a masculine voice that is at odds with your current feminine identity."

David nodded. "Yes, but I don't want.... "

She looked at him almost pityingly. "Sophie. What you do or don't want is neither here nor there. You are here to learn to speak in a female voice? Correct?

"Yes"

"Good. Now we understand each other and I can start to help you."

Sally looked at him over steepled fingers. "First I should tell you that it is impossible in a day, which I gather is the first deadline. In six months we might get somewhere. In six months we indeed will get somewhere, just as Mona has got somewhere. Just as Anne is getting somewhere.

"In nine months you will be the proud owner of a sexy, seductive, voice that will have men crawling on all fours to you on the off chance that you might deign to drop a word in their direction."

"So think long term Sophie dear. You and I are going to be spending many happy hours together."

Sally smiled at him. "Where you pitch your voice from, how you use the resonance available to you is the key sweetie. But that will take months. Equally important is how you use your voice. Learning how to inflect is also long term of course; women are far more skilled than men in the use of the voice, and you will have to learn those skills. All these things I can teach you."

"Short term we can cheat. I can give you a throat spray, rather like asthma sufferers use, which will restrict your voice box options and give you a husky Marlene Dietrich voice for several hours. It will also give you a sore throat the next day but that is a small price to pay."

David sat there, silent. Inhibited about even opening his mouth.

"What is far more important is what women say and the way they say it. This we can start on now. Give you a few ground rules."

Sally stood up. "After your session here you have a lesson on deportment I believe. I like to work in tandem with them. Indeed later on in your training we will do just that. We are both in the business of creating an illusion. The illusion that you are an unobtainable goddess offering unimaginable delights of sexual ecstasy, with just the whiff of a suggestion that you might just be vulnerable to the charms of .... well, a special someone who is foolish enough to risk straying into your path."

She grinned. "If your posture, your words, your smile, your very being, ooze sex darling, then the fact that you sound like an old crow will fade into insignificance."

Sally held out both hands to David and, he taking them, brought him to his feet.

"So let us begin. First you must yourself believe that you are such a goddess. Well no." She shook her head wistfully. "Perhaps for the present that is asking too much. But you must believe that you can act like such a goddess. That will be a start."

"Go out of the room. Close the door behind you. Knock. And re-enter when I say 'Enter'. Only this time Sophie speak gently, and remember who you are. Helen of Troy re-incarnated ....."

It was a long hour. At the end David felt exhausted. At the back of his mind was the thought, nagging away like toothache, that he was sleeping with the enemy. Sally's final words of the morning were to assure him that progress had been made; that with the afternoon's session they would together achieve a sufficient standard to please Grace de Messembry. With that and the throat spray.

But David knew that he should not be emulating Helen of Troy. He should be cast as the virile manly Paris. Acting him in panties, bra, slip, tight skirt and blouse, with immaculate make-up, was even more difficult to imagine though. Again he smelt defeat.

The morning's deportment class followed on similar lines. Veronica was slightly older that Sally, but if anything even more elegant. The message was the same though. The female body, dispassionately considered, was not as strong as the male one. But it had the potential for far greater power than the male one could ever have, by its ability to seduce the male body into servitude. Like all tools though, its owner need acquire the necessary skill to fully exploit its infinite possibilities. And to acquire that skill needed practice, imagination, and awareness. All that could be done in the immediate future was to give David an awareness, just an inkling, of the power that lay in the female body and, through that, to give him enough confidence to project it, to reflect it in his bearing and movements.

Not that Veronica said it exactly like that of course. There was the small matter of being addressed as Sophie, the use of feminine pronouns and the complicity in the way that the male of the species was gently mocked as a child out of its collective depth.

And the 4" heels that Veronica produced for him to wear didn't help. Murder on his calves and his toes felt as if they had been through a mangle after ten minutes. So good for the posture Veronica said. Made a girl more aware. As, she approvingly noted, did the tight skirt which restricted his leg movement.

"Hips and boobs," Veronica exulted. "Such a delight! Where would we girls be without them?"

She made David do a twirl, pivoting on his toes as his calf muscles screamed a protest and his toes whimpered their pain to each other.

"Such soft, yielding, weapons. Murderously invincible when used properly!" She shook her head sadly. "So many girls just waste them. They think blatant sexiness works. Such a mistake!" Veronica effected a dismissive shudder. "Elegance and intrigue wield the ultimate power. And those are attributes that must be learnt!"

Veronica held David's right hand high in her own left as she stood back to examine him critically. "First, and most important, Sophie darling! Do not let your boyish hips give you an inferiority complex! So much better than a fat arse that wobbles! All that terrible, terrible cellulite! Elegance never, ever wobbles!

David was struck by the stream of exclamation marks. They drove him further into the world of femininity.

"The sinuosity of slim hips can be such a potent factor. Used with skill they can give the promise of such unnamable delights! And with the right clothes, awareness, and body control, the illusion of discrete voluptuousness is easy to obtain."

"Any physical modification to ameliorate the effect is anyway a simple matter to arrange later."

"But for now svelte must be our keyword. And such a sexy word too! We can do wonders with what you've got." She smiled winningly at him. "And so to work! Go out of the room, and come in again, aware of your body and the power that it has. Try and impress me with your femininity!"

David felt he had been here before.

The hour was exhausting. Veronica was like an exclamation mark herself; penetrating, urgent, demanding attention and compliance. And always at the back of his mind he wrestled with her remark about later physical modifications. And the thought that all this was merely a prelude.

A light lunch eaten in a hurry with Emma. No time for any real conversation although Emma was her usual vivacious, kindly self. Full of encouragement and compliments that David could have well done without. The last think he wanted was to be told what progress towards femininity he was making.

In the afternoon further sessions with Sally and Veronica. Much as before. Reiterating the need to create an illusion. Underlining the months of work that lay ahead before perfection could be reached. Trying to instil into him the confidence necessary for the looming initial test.

At about 4.30 David hobbled from the deportment class. His 2" heels, which had seemed so foreign to him, now very welcome old friends after the 4" ones in which Veronica had had him performing.

No-one was about. He took the stairs to the roof garden but it was deserted. Rain fell heavily and the tables and chairs had been cleared away.

Returning to the main concourse he found a door titled 'Library'. He opened it. No-one there either. But he entered seeking a haven; seeking some form of normality.

David browsed the shelves. There was an extensive range of novels. From the Brontes to shelves of Mills and Boone. There was distinct feminine slant when one looked at the list of authors. But the novels were only a small part of the books on offer. There were books on female hygiene and care of the body, beauty hints and techniques, care of the hair, complexion, nails. Enhancement of the breasts and hips; the abolition of cellulite, wrinkles, and body hair. Books on sexual techniques, on how to get and hold your man, Illustrated tomes on conception, child bearing, child birth and the raising of children.

All the feminine wisdom of the ages.

What every girl should know.

Apart from how not to be a girl.

There were also racks containing present and past volumes of 'Elle', Marie Claire', Cosmopolitan',
'Vogue' and many, many, others of that ilk.

David picked up the latest copies and sank back in one of the chairs, slipping off his shoes to ease his still aching feet. Feeling the silky slide of hose against hose. Aware again of the liquifaction of his clothes. Dispirited he started to flick through the magazines. Trying to understand this alien world. Trying to disparage what he found there so not to be of this alien world.

He must have dozed. He was suddenly aware of someone standing at his shoulder. It was Mona.

"Anne guessed you might be here", she said.

David looked at her, momentarily lost for words. Still drowsy.

Mona smiled shyly at him. She was indeed beautiful he realised. Slight, girlish, ethereally beautiful. Impossible to believe that she was essentially male.

David recovered, half rose. "Please sit down he said .So .... so pleased to see you" It sounded, was, lame.

"I am sorry. I was dozing. Lost in my own thoughts .... Did not expect ...."

Mona sat down with supple grace opposite him and placed a hand on his.

"I know", she said. "I have been there too."

"Anne told me", she started. "That you wanted to know.... wanted to understand."

David nodded. "Yes", he said. "I need to know why. Why me? Why all of us? Why are we here?"

Mona's damson dark eyes looked back at him wistfully. "'Why you' I do not know", she said.
"I was brought here, subjected to this, by others .... who .... decided .... chose me. You came a different route .... perhaps for the same reason ....but that I cannot tell."

She sighed. "The other questions too .... neither can I answer those. But perhaps there we share a communality. Perhaps what I know about the 'Why are we here', little though it be, is relevant to you and Anne."

"Perhaps if I know, if I understand", David said. "I can do something about it."

Mona shook her head slowly, her dark tresses swirling around her shoulders, her eyes cast down.

A slight movement of her head side to side, hardly discernable, a negative movement. "Perhaps", she said, her voice flat.

Silence fell between them.

"But you do know something ...." David began.

"Something yes", she said.. "I was kept by people, before being brought here. One of them, my parents said, was a distant uncle. Who would look after me. Educate me. Give me a good start in life. Our family is numerous and poor. It was a golden opportunity."

Mona stared into the middle distance. "Perhaps it is."

Again a pause for memories of the parents, family, Mona had left.

"Well I was with him, my uncle, for about ten days. He treated me well in a dispassionate sort of way. Distant was perhaps the best word for him. But there were others with him. Friends, business colleagues .... and sometimes I overheard them talking late at night. When perhaps they had eaten and dined well."

"I would not have noticed perhaps, not remembered, not thought it significant, but when a certain phrase cropped up, as it did from time to time, they would look in my direction, shush each other, change the subject. A sort of 'pas devant les domestiques' sort of reaction. So they drew my attention to it."

"Anne said something about 'broken branches'". said David.

Mona nodded. "Yes initially when they first used the phrase they were talking Hindi. I was brought up in the U.K.. English is my first language. Anyway my family were originally Gujarati speakers. Broken branches seemed a reasonable translation. Or possibly barren branches."

"Seemed?"

"Yes, seemed", Mona continued. "Later, on a couple of occasions, they used the phrase in English. The use of English also planted the words in my mind. Why use English unless it had some significance? Unless the phrase had some importance, some currency?"

"And the phrase was?"

"Branches all right, but not broken, not barren. Bare".

"Bare?"

"Yes. Bare. Bare branches"

David looked at her. She was deadly serious.

"That is all? Just 'bare branches'? It doesn't make any sort of sense."

Mona shook her head. "No", she said. "I can't make sense of it either. Though God knows I have tried.".

"But I am sure, certain sure, that those two words, however nonsensical they appear to be, are the key to all this."

Mona gestured in a vague, all embracing, way, encompassing not only the library, but all that lay beyond.

She looked into David's eyes and held his gaze steadily. "Find out what is meant by the 'bare branches' Sophie, and you will know why you are here. Why Anne, you, and I, are all here."

She paused. "And why Olive was too."
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