He looked in the mirror and an attractive girl looked back out at him.|
The Deception of Choice
Some light is cast on the general background, but not enough to provide real illumination. And, alas, none appears at the end of the tunnel for David.
Indeed it is generally a rather dark episode; with nothing in it to provide comfort for those who enjoy a happy ending. Although I suppose such depends on your point of view and where your sympathies lie. With the Foundation or with David?
“Quick bath first. No long soak today Sophie. We just haven’t the time.”
She fished around in the wardrobe.
“So much to do. Big day today.”
David looked at her, very much aware of his own nakedness under the bedclothes. Increasingly aware that the tumescence briefly felt yesterday had now blossomed into something more urgent.
Laura was busy examining, rejecting, selecting garments of a threateningly frilly nature. “Here,” she said. “These will do. Nice and simple for your first day.” She turned and gave David bra and panties. Hesitantly David took them and, seeing in them escape from his immediate problem, used them as a shield as he swung his body out of the bed and scurried to the bathroom.
His embarrassment was not helped by Laura’s delighted giggle and the words that followed him. “See darling, nice girls always wear their nighties to bed! One never knows when they may be needed. Let that be a lesson for you.”
In the bathroom the water was already running into a highly scented bath. He dropped the undies in a corner and rested his forehead against the mirror. His cock jutted out and bobbed before him. God the need was so great, so great! Before, in the cell, for months, nothing. He must have been... they must have... but whatever it was... Whatever they had given him... Now, now, oh God. His fingers felt for it and slid over the head already slippery, slimy with pre-cum. His cock twitched and strained at his touch. He could not help it... There were other priorities but they slid into insignificance as his fingers, his palm, his hand, fondled and stroked. He sank back onto the edge of the bath and all his strength, all his attention centred on the rod that protruded from his groin; all strength, all attention flowing to it, engorging it until it and the sensation of it filled his consciousness. His hand moved faster, half grasping, half slippery sliding over its length as his body began to twist and move so that he had to hold onto the bath with his free hand to keep his balance.
It was over so quickly. He came in a great gushing, trembling spasm. His penis jerked, bucked in his hand, escaped his hand in its own new found independence. White uneven strings of semen hit his hand and deflected onto his stomach and lower groin, sliding down, thick and viscous to pool and curl in white blobs matting his pubic hair. He heard himself give a strangled cry, felt blood pound in his temples. Felt the loss and sadness.
It took him a good minute to recover. The sperm trickling lumpily down between his thighs, onto the bath, down the bath sides. He reached for the toilet paper and tried to clean himself, scooping it all up. He saw a skein had curled like white seaweed into the bath water itself where it was swirled and tormented into a long string.
As his breathing returned to normal he turned off the taps, stepped into the bath and slid deeply into the scented water. He felt drained. If they had given him something before to inhibit him, perhaps this time they had given him something to... There were just too many imponderables.
Imponderables that were now immediate. There was today. There was the now waiting for him outside. The now of which the small pile of panties and bra in the corner were the foretaste. There was Laura. Attractive sympathetic Laura with the laughing hazel eyes. And beyond her, Anne and the other girls. All of whom were going to be great friends of, and a support to, another girl called Sophie. Laura’s laughing hazel eyes saw him as Sophie, not as David.
For David there was nothing. In spite of the hot water swirling round him, David shuddered.
The bathroom door opened. “Sophie. Good God girl what have you been doing?”
David wondered if she had heard his stifled cry, tried to hear in her voice if she already knew.
“Quickly Sophie! Have you not shaved yet? Please hurry. Just your face will do. But please hurry we are late, late, late.”
The door shut as he levered himself out of the bath, roughly towelled himself and lathering the badger brush with a sweetly scented soap bowl shaved himself with a pink razor. Just his face? Surely they didn’t expect...?”
He picked up the panties. They were rather similar to the ones he had been given yesterday. The front panel felt firmer if anything though, and was of a white shiny satin material covered in raised flower sprigs and with slightly more lace at waist and leg. Happily the red flower on the hip was missing.
He had to wear something. He stepped into them and pulled them up over his calves, his thighs and squirmed them over his hips. Ooooooohh. He flinched as his testicles were trapped. The material was stronger, springier. He slid a hand down and tucked himself in.
He picked up the bra carefully by a strap. It also was white, embroidered knit with stretch lace top cups. Quite simple. It was however a bra and David had no need of one.
Holding the bra as if it were a dangerous snake, David went back into the main room.
“OK then. Thanks a lot darling. I am ssssooo grateful. A toute à l’heure” As he entered Laura put down her mobile ‘phone.
“Come on Sophie. Please!” David saw that she had laid various garments out on the bed ready for him.
“Trouble with the bra?” She smiled. “Sorry my fault, I wasn’t thinking. Best to put the forms in first until you are used to it. Otherwise the little pockets are hard to find.”
“ Laura. No. I just... well I don’t need a bra Laura. I don’t want a bra Laura. There has to be a limit. I... I haven’t got breasts...”
Laura cut across him. “Of course you need a bra sweetie. All girls here wear bras. Remember the Rules. Last night remember. Not wearing a bra comes under attention seeking, flaunting yourself. Strictly forbidden. And of course you have breasts. Their state of development may not be all that could be desired but that is not the issue here!”
“But I cannot... I won’t.”
The door opened after an introductory tap and in came a dark, petite, bubbly girl in her mid-twenties.
“Hi Laura honey! And you must be Sophie!” She flashed David a sparkling smile. “Delighted to meet you, hon.”
“My, but she is going to be some looker” This to Laura. “Can I help at all darling? I know how first days can be and when it started to get a little late I thought perhaps you could do with a hand...”
“I would be terribly grateful Janet. It is a little hectic. No time last night to get an outfit organised. We had a little meal and a drink and then poor Sophie was quite exhausted! She has had such a rough time; poor darling! So I got her straight to bed.”
Laura turned to David. “This is Janet Saggren Sophie. She comes from the States originally and is one of the nicest girls you could ever wish to meet on either side of the pond. As I told you last night, she looks after Christine, Mona and Alice.”
“Please Janet, if you could just help Sophie on with her bra, there’s a sweetie. She is having a little trouble and I am not sure if it is best to do it with the forms in or slip them in afterwards.”
David stood there, suddenly conscious of the bra held in his hand. “But...“
But Janet was already at his side and he felt the unheld strap slid over his free hand and up his arm.
“Honey, slide the other arm here, there’s a dear. That’s right. You will soon get the hang of it. Have you the forms there Laura?”
Laura appeared in front of him and as Janet smoothed the straps together he felt Laura lean close. Her hands slid down over his chest and first one soft hemisphere and then another were slipped into the bra pockets. The bra tightened as Janet slipped the hooks into the eyes.
“It’s just a knack darling. Don’t worry it will soon come naturally and you will wonder what you ever worried about. Practice makes perfect!”
David felt the front of the bra heavy and cold against his chest. He looked down and was shocked at the two soft mounds that sat sexily encased where once there had been a flat nothingness.
“They’ll warm up soon sweetie. In twenty minutes I bet you won’t even be aware of them. They will just feel part of you.”
David felt out manoeuvred. He felt he had no real option. Beyond violence. Beyond tearing the bra and the breasts off. And the situation did not call for violence. Violence would seem petty, trivial in the circumstances. It was difficult to be violent with attractive girls who seemed to want to help.
The moment passed. “Thank you” He was surprised to hear himself saying.
“Aaaaaawww think nothing of it hon,” Janet sparkled at him. Then she turned to Laura and fleetingly David read complicity in their glance. Triumph or relief?
And David knew it had been an important moment. That he had suffered a defeat. That he had been manipulated. That the scenario had been prepared. Perhaps rehearsed...
He was aware of Laura holding a slip out to him. “You will need this Sophie. I thought the dress you wore last night would do well but it will look be better, and feel heaps better, over a slip.”
“No point in complicating things now. And it suits you, looks pretty on you.”
She smiled at Janet. “What do you think.”
Janet stood back a step. “Yes it’s ideal. Simple and quietly smart.”
“I was in two minds about it last night. But the bust being filled out transforms it. The line comes alive.”
“Give the Foundation it’s due. The breast forms are superb quality. No expense spared. Such a natural feel and they look good.”
“Darling! Don’t look so downcast!” This directly to David. “Honestly you look so much better. You can’t go around with a saggy front indefinitely, irrespective of the Rules.”
“You can always try using an adhesive like Mona does. Much more practical in some ways.”
“Anne is thinking along those lines too,” said Laura. “But hasn’t Mona’s implant request been approved yet?”
“No they would like more natural development first... God look at the time!!!”
The two voices washed over David.. The clear home counties voice and the soft American lilt blending together to form a background commentary, the sense of which he tried desperately to shut out.
“Sophie! Pay attention!” One of the voices penetrated. “Stockings girl. Better hold ups for today. You should have put them on before the dress but in all the confusion... anyway it will be quicker! Sit on the bed darling. Roll them up. Ease them over. For God’s sake don’t snag them! Look at your nails!”
“Calm down Laura!” Janet grinned. “You will only fluster the poor dear.”
Laura passed Sophie a pair of brown round toed shoes with a little brogue decoration. “Here Sophie, just two-inch heels to give you the feel without it being difficult for you.”
“That will have to do.” David felt the scrutiny of the two women as they stood back and eyed him critically. “Just a quick brush of your hair. It really is a bird’s nest. Must be very uncomfortable.”
His hair was brushed back and he felt her hands gather it up and pull it, high at the back of his head, through a black velvet elasticated ring into a sort of pony tail.
“Sophie has this thing about not wanting to look too feminine,” Laura explained to Janet. “If left to herself she would be an out and out tomboy!”
Janet winked at David. “She is a terrible tease isn’t she!” And to Laura, “Made it with five minutes to spare. I will just go and gather up my brood, yours too if you like, so that you and Sophie can wander down looking as if you have all the time in the world.”
As Janet slipped out of the door Laura seized David’s hands in hers.
“Sophie, I know you feel that we have ganged up on you, that we have rushed you over hurdles you would have preferred to avoid. But believe me I had to get you presentable this morning. And I have done the minimum within the Rules, chosen nothing for you that is not restrained.. Kept you as androgynous as circumstances permit to allow you to find acceptance easier.”
David turning felt the weight of the breasts as they shifted balance inside his bra. He felt the silken feel of the dress sliding over his slip, the warm cold sensation on his legs, the indescribable feel of stocking against stocking, stocking against satin slip, of air that swept up and around, betwixt and between. He felt unbalanced, weight thrown forward onto the balls of his feet, breasts accentuating the forward thrust.
“I don’t feel very androgynous,” he complained.
“It is all comparative darling. Now, already this morning you have taken a step which is important. And yet you are still the same person that you were six months ago. Differently clad, that is all. Forget what you have endured. Think positively. Think of the now.”
“Think of the many who were as you six months ago and who now are gone, who are dead or dying. Who have lost family and their loved ones, lost their all.”
“That is unfair,” David protested. “No It is fair,” Laura said. “I could see it in your eyes. Before Janet came in, you were prepared to be possibly violent, certainly unpleasant, to one who has done her utmost to help you, who has tried to be a friend, over a scrap of polyamide and elastane, containing a bit of silicone.”
She shook her head, held up her hands to cut of any protest, any denial. “No not a word! And now you are wearing a bra and you have to ask yourself of what were you so frightened. Has the world ended?”
Her words hung heavy between them. David did not know what he could say. The moment passed.
“Come now,” she said. “Come and join Janet and Anne and meet the others...”
Her severity dropped away. “Best forget it. I know how tense you’ve been. Let’s make a new start. Relax and be positive. Count your blessings.” She smiled at him, that warm, heart turning, smile he had first encountered in the corridor so long ago. Yesterday so long ago.
“It’s eight twenty five. Time for breakfast.”
She took his elbow, swinging him round in the direction of the door.
“Always remember...” She placed the heel of her slender hand on her forehead in a theatrical gesture. “Sophie, you were supposed to remind me! I promised you a watch. Here...” She turned towards the low table, where David could see a bag and a small oblong box.
Returning with the bag hooked over her arm, she drew out from the box a small oval ladies watch with a pinkish face and a black cord strap with a small clasp that glittered. “Here Sophie this will do fine. I should have got you one earlier. Punctuality is insisted upon here.” With that, she took David’s hand and clicked it over his wrist. ”There sweetie... hope you like it.”
David looked down. The watch oozed femininity. Little brilliants indicated the hours and the hands equally had brilliants set in their outer points. “A bit dressy for everyday wear perhaps, but so pretty I couldn’t resist it! Courtesy of the Foundation.”
“And of course you will need a bag. I brought you one with a shoulder strap as you are bound to collect things during your first day.” With practised skill Laura swung the bag from her shoulder on to David’s. David looked down with a sinking heart at the plain, rather smart black leather bag with bright gilt fasteners.
Laura raised a finger to check any protest. “No fuss darling. You will need a bag and half the men in continental Europe carry something like this as a matter of course.”
David struggled to find words as Laura again seized his arm and swung him round to face a cheval glass that stood by the door. “Another thing Sophie. Do always check your appearance in the mirror before leaving. Standards are strict. It doesn’t matter today of course when you are still being kitted out. But later if one of the Board members should see you! And if you are not immaculate! God save us all. You especially!”
So saying Laura ushered him out into the corridor and, taking his elbow, hurried him down towards the far end where a light could be seem bright through the glass panelled double door.
David stumbled awkwardly alongside her. He was off balance in the shoes which threw him forward and agonisingly aware of his new breasts which although had now warmed almost to blood heat still had a heft and substance that repelled him. He could not resist looking down and was disturbed by the sight of the two mounds that gently moved with each stride he took.
They entered through the double doors into a larger well lit room which seemed to be a central sitting room, off which several doors opened. Laura guided him towards one on the right which was already half open and through which came the sound of voices and the smell of food.
It was a small dining room with two, four chaired, tables and, at the far end, a long sideboard covered with a heavy white tablecloth on which could be seen a selection of juices, croissants, toast, brioches and a selection of cereals.
At the nearest of the tables Anne was sitting with another girl. Janet Saggren sat at the far one facing the door together with three other girls.
Janet waved. Anne rose and came across to David, taking both his hands in hers and laying her cheek against his. “Come and meet Emma.”
Emma too rose and embraced David as he came up to the table. “Anne has been telling me all about you,” she said. “And I just know we are going to be great friends!”
She dimpled at him” Anne and I have already piled the table up with a selection so there is no need even to leave us to collect breakfast. More time for gossip.”
“Christine, Mona and Alice over there can wait till later. This is an our table affair!” She giggled.
“Tea? Coffee?” Anne waved a coffee pot at him as Laura sat down opposite.
David had kept his eyes down. He was very aware of his appearance and embarrassed by it. A man in drag, an object of ridicule, of scorn. And more, even worse. At first he could not place the source of his additional unease. But something else there was, something that nagged at the back of his mind. And then with dawning self disgust he realised that a distant hidden part of him was uncomfortably aware that he was also inadequate, badly turned out, gauche, as a girl. He felt a sinking sickness.
“Coffee?” He was aware that Anne was repeating the question. “Yes,” he said. “Please.”
Emma offered him a plate containing croissants, with an elegantly lifted eyebrow of inquiry.
“Thank you.” He saw that she, Emma, was all girl. Had always been all girl. No room for doubt. She had an elfin face that no man could be born with, She was delicate to the point of being fragile. Thin-boned, graceful but with a figure that curved sinuously with pert breasts and a hands’ span waist. Her blue grey eyes were huge in her face and, under high arched brows, dominated her features. She exuded interest and friendliness.
David nibbled at the croissant. He seemed to have been up for hours but had no hunger. He was conscious of the breast forms each time his eyes looked down towards his plate, each time his body shifted, each time he raised an arm to eat or drink. His dress moved slightly over his body lubricated by the silken feel of his slip.
“Well girls...” He realised Laura was talking. “Wednesday today, and so much still to do before Friday. Anne, Emma I shall rely on you both to help Sophie get ready.”
She turned her hazel eyes on David. “Sophie, darling, we do really count on you. Janet’s team are already so well schooled, and I know some allowances will be made but you need to be seen to have made real progress!”
“Of course we will Laura!” This from Anne, whilst Emma leant over and squeezed his upper arm. “It won’t even be a contest. We three are sooooo much prettier Laura”. She turned again towards David with a conspiratorial wink. “And Sophie will be the belle of the ball, you’ll see.”
Laura laughed. “What a vain minx you are Emma!” She lowered her voice “But just between ourselves I do agree, so very much prettier!”
“You will help won’t you Sophie?” Laura looked at him earnestly as did Anne and Emma. “It really is important. For all of us. For me because I am responsible. For you girls because, because otherwise, otherwise, the consequences...” Laura left it in the air.
David was bemused. “I am sorry. What happens on Friday?" Puzzlement was etched on his face.
“Laura! You haven’t told him!” shrieked Emma.
“Didn’t I? I thought I had last night... Oooooh so sorry. What an idiot I am!”
“Sophie, you must think we are talking in riddles! Friday is the day of the inspection. We have them every fortnight.”
“The Board comes arrives to assess each group’s progress. Well our individual progress as well but we are judged overall as a group, as a team. Laura’s versus Janet’s.”
“Much hangs on it Sophie,” said Anne. It is very important. Especially if Grace de Messembry turns up. And she probably will with you being new. And she didn’t last time. So it is a near certainty she will this time.”
There was silence. The name Grace de Messembry seemed to hang over them.
“She is President of the Board.” Laura looked at David. “You do not want to get on the wrong side of her. Nobody does.” Laura wasn’t smiling now. “I think you have already met her Sophie. At your first interview.”
“Here she is life or death . Nobody wants to get on the wrong side of her.”
“Please darling Sophie. You must help us.” Anne spoke for them all. David saw all three regarding him intently, real apprehension in their eyes.
“Laura told us.” Emma had lost some of her earlier sparkle. “Laura told us...” She hesitated. “Laura told us that you had reservations, were reluctant... felt inhibited about realising your potential, about being, about being overly girlie. But we need you to... to support us.” Emma’s fear was palpable.
David was conscious of Laura watching him closely, nodding slightly, willing him to listen.
“So please, please Sophie.” Anne joined in, equally intent, equally concentrated in her plea. “For yourself please listen, and if not for yourself, please for us. We need you to co-operate. To co-operate for Friday. For the inspection.” Anne drew a deep breath. “Whatever your reservations, please help us.”
David found himself nodding, found himself agreeing. Agreeing to what he did not know. But he found himself nodding, agreeing. He felt lost, in a deep pit with no options. How could he refuse and yet, and yet, he felt that agreeing was a mistake. But a mistake he could not avoid.
“Yes,” he said.
The atmosphere lightened. The tension that had become oppressive eased. David was conscious of a general exhalation of breath, of a relaxing of body postures.
“Thanks Sophie,” Laura said. “We are all very grateful.”
David saw her eyes glance across at the other table. Heard the scraping of chairs as their occupants rose. Turning in his chair, saw Janet and her girls approaching. “Some of us have things to do.” She said. “Still I think it unfair of you all to monopolise Sophie when my girls are dying to meet her!”
She placed her hand on David’s shoulder, “Never mind honey, there’ll be plenty of time later.”
The hand briefly caressed the back of his neck. “Come on girls... leave them at the trough. God knows what it will do to their figures though!” She left, trailing her three charges behind her.
Laura leaned forward. “Sophie nothing is needed of you today but to go with the flow. Anne and Emma will show you the ropes and take you where you need to be when you need to be.”
She glanced at her watch. “Sophie, You need first to a visit to the beauticians for a make-over and then later this afternoon to the hairdresser. We have visiting specialists in both today and they will help to make you presentable. Anne and Emma will explain and show you around the rest of the complex.”
She smiled at the other two. “Perhaps we can all meet up later on the roof garden? Sorry to desert you Sophie, but the Friday thing does mean I have to prepare too." She turned to David. “Anne and Emma know their way around the beauticians’ blindfold darling. It is their speciality. Janet’s girls seem to gravitate to hairdressing, whilst mine just love cosmetics!”
David sat back, his new breasts heavy on his chest, his heart heavy within him.
Laura stood up and in doing so moved over and spoke gently into his ear. “I am truly grateful darling. Trust Anne and Emma. They will look after you. You have nothing to worry about. Just sit back and try to enjoy.”
Anne and Emma rose after her. David to his surprise felt Emma take his hand in her’s. It both worried and comforted him.
David faced the two girls as Laura’s heels clicked their way out to the main concourse. Anne smiled at him. “All mod. cons. here” she said. “We have both a beauty parlour and a hairdressers, with visiting specialists twice a week. We all have a grounding in the skills required of course and professional qualifications can be obtained. Emma and I study cosmetology whilst Janet’s girls have majored on hairdressing.”
Emma led him towards the door. “All mod. cons. indeed. Including an aerobics/ballet dance area, a library, a language lab, and classes in all sorts of subjects!” Oh and the roof garden! Just coming into its own now that May is here.”
They went back into the main communal room, and down to the right into a heavily scented room, of which one wall was a mirror. Behind one of the two chairs stood a middle aged lady in a white coat. To David, apart from the mirror, and the smell, it was rather like a dentist’s. And it aroused in him the same apprehension.
The woman turned towards them with a bright professional smile. She was immaculately made-up. “Anne! Emma! Lovely to see you both! And I see you have brought me a new client!” She looked at David appraisingly and smiled.. “And a student as well I hope? Well if she learns half as quickly as you two have she will be a joy to teach!”
She looked at him closely and led him to the nearest chair. “Well let’s get started, sit down...?”
“Sophie,” said Anne, “She is called Sophie. Sophie, meet Mrs. Townsend.”
“Sophie indeed. Sophie, what a lovely name. Sophie.” Mrs Townsend savoured the name in her mouth as if it were a particularly enticing chocolate. “What a lovely name! A lovely name for a lovely girl.” She looked closely at Sophie.” Those eyebrows! Darling what a jungle! When did you last have those done?”
Emma came to David’s rescue. “Consider her a fresh canvas Mrs Townsend dear. It’s so long ago the poor dear can’t remember. You just work your normal miracles.” Emma was by now also slipping into a white coat. “Miss Laura said we were to help, and specially asked if you could explain things to Sophie as you went along. The poor dear does so woefully need guidance.”
David sank back in the chair. It was all too much. He felt lost, disorientated, outmanoeuvred.
Mrs. Townsend bustled round, talking half to herself. “Hmmmm... bone structure surprisingly good, chin within acceptable norms; hands, feet hmmm... yes we can do something here.”
David knew that he had been expected. That it was routine. The feeling of being an inanimate object swept over him.
The chair tilted back. “Hold still Sophie dear.” He felt soft hands on each side of his head, and then a gave an involuntary start as the first hair went from his eyebrow.
He knew he should stop them, should resist. He could not summon the will though. He had agreed. And if he went back on his promise what would it mean for the others who had pleaded with him to help? Where would he go? What could he do? How would he do it? Could he leap out of the chair? Be violent? Tell them all to go to Hell?
And yet doing nothing condoned it. Condoned what they were doing to him. Put him alongside Anne who had been once as he was. Made him closer to what Anne now was. Further from what David had been. Made him more Sophie.
He struggled against the overwhelming torpor of indecisiveness. His eyebrows stung. Someone was rubbing something soothing on and around them.
The hands turned his head to one side. He was conscious of something on his right ear lobe and then a sting and as the hands twisted his head the other way, the sensation was repeated on his left.
He knew. Tried not to know. Fought the knowledge. Banished it to that part of his mind where lurked the constant awareness of his bra and his new breasts. Another rubicon crossed.
Time passed. David sat up on demand, turned his head this way and that on demand, leant forward, leant back on demand. he felt things rubbed on his face, smoothed on his cheeks. He felt his skin pampered, brushed, wiped. He pursed his lips on request and felt the smoothness of pencil, stick and gloss. He smelt the powder; he breathed in the scent. His hands were caressed, cuticles tut-tutted over, nails filed, shaped, painted.
He listened without hearing. He said ‘yes’ when a response was insisted on and when ‘yes’ seemed appropriate. Sometimes he said ‘no’ when ‘no’ seemed the reply expected.
It seemed to go on for ever.
“What do you think darling? Sophie? Sophie what do you think?”
He was aware that neither a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ would be deemed adequate.
Something more was expected. He looked at the mirror in front of him and saw an attractive girl looking blankly back at him. An attractive girl with pearl studs in her ears, a flawless complexion, inviting, kissable lips, albeit a trifle thin, eyebrows arched over shadowed lids, eyes large in a face that was but a memory of a face that he had once known.
He could not find any words. He saw the kissable, enticing, lips move as in sympathy, but no sound came.
He felt sick, ashamed.
Anne’s voice came from close behind him. “The poor darling is lost for words Mrs. Townsend!”
And Emma’s “I think Sophie’s silence says it all Mrs. Townsend! She looks lovely! You really are an ace!”
“Nonsense girls! Sophie has such enormous potential. Her lips would benefit from being slightly fuller perhaps, but otherwise she was just suffering from a little neglect.”
Mrs. Townsend busied herself around Sophie, removing coverings, towels, tidying the bottles and jars. “Now Sophie I have made up a little selection of the make up I have used for you to take with you. I’ll just slip them in your bag. I don’t suppose you will have taken in all I have said today but Emma and Anne will help you I am sure. And of course you will want to choose your own colours and scents, but these will do to get you started. And anytime you need advice I am always only to delighted to chat.”
“I think Sophie will be joining your classes Mrs. Townsend so you will have lots of opportunity to instill in her all the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s.”
“Yes. Thank you Mrs Townsend.” David felt inadequate even in his thanks. He hated himself for not being able to, not wanting to, spoil the moment for the others. He felt churlish in his own lack of appreciation to add to all his other emotions.
“I will take Sophie to have her hair done Mrs. Townsend. I have an appointment there too, whereas I think Emma is helping you all afternoon. And has a make-over scheduled herself, I think?”
Anne held Sophie’s elbow, propelling her gently but firmly towards the door. “Mine I think is tomorrow to get us up to scratch for the visit? You are coming in specially to help us prepare for that, aren’t you?”
“See you later darlings!” This last from Emma directed at both of them. “Roof garden at 5 o’clock.”
There was an exchange of ‘byes’ and David and Anne were out in the corridor again.
“The good thing about the hairdressers’ is that one can scrounge a cup of tea, both before and after.”
There was sympathy in Anne’s voice. Remnants of a fellow feeling perhaps.
“Thanks again,” she said. She hesitated. “Look if it helps...“ Again a pause. “If it helps, after our hair appointments we can talk. I mean I can perhaps answer some things. I don’t know much but what I do know I can share.”
Again Anne hesitated. “I think you deserve some honesty after your help today. I mean you could have made it much more difficult. And we have no time. And it really is important for us all.”
“Just the hair appointments now,” she said. “We will be free before the others so if we went to the roof garden then, we would have a short time by ourselves.”
Anne paused before another door. Her hand was still on David’s elbow as she guided him through it into the hair dressing salon.
“Not that I know much” she repeated. “But it may help.”
The roof garden was warm in the late afternoon. There was a couple of small lawns, divided by walkways with broader patio spaces for a half dozen cast iron tables each with four chairs. Three or four flower beds bright with cottage garden flowers broke up the space which was surrounded on three sides by a four foot wall brick wall, on top of which was a metal framework supporting large plate glass panels that effectively raised the wall height by another 6 feet at least. On a fourth side there was a blank wall which presumably was the back of another storey to the building. Against this there was a raised bed which even supported a couple a shrubs or small trees. A crab apple on which were still remnants of blossom and a superb dark blue ceanothus in full bloom. In the corner was a windowed wooden structure, resembling a large summerhouse, half covered by wisteria.
David and Anne sat with coffees at one of tables in the far corner. Apart from them the garden was empty.
David saw his hands by his cup. Manicured and elegant. Long, even, oval shaped nails in... what had they called it? Flaming... no... flamboyant coral! His wrist sat prettily on his wrist which seemed slimmed by its presence.
His hair, newly coiffed and bodied, swept the length of his neck turning inwards slightly to brush just above his shoulders.
He looked across at Anne. She too was silent. waiting for him to speak. Waiting for him to ask...
She was pretty. He realised that any neutral observer seeing the two sitting together would not easily differentiate between them. Would see only two pretty girls sitting in the late afternoon sun together.
“Sophie. The others will arrive soon. If you have any questions?” He saw Anne smiling gravely at him.
The questions tumbled and churned in his mind. He tried to forget the physical reminders that touched him whenever he as much as breathed. He tried to concentrate.
Anne spoke again. “You must know that whatever we say may well be overheard. They listen. One can never be sure. Even here.
She looked at him intently, wondering if she should go further. She sighed. “And also you should know that here... that here you will not always hear the truth. People have different motives, different agendas, different priorities, different reasons for telling you... whatever it is. People themselves may not always be as they seem even.”
“Some things cannot be said. Some topics not broached. What can be said you must presume they do not mind you knowing.”
Anne reached out to him. Two slender hands side by side, her nails a counterpoint to his own.
A question struggled out. “Who are you?” He asked. “Why are you here?”
“Ahhh! Already skirting the forbidden zone! The past is largely out of bounds as I am sure has already been pointed out. But before I was the Anne you see before you now I had severe drug and related social problems. I wasn’t going anywhere. And sliding there fast.”
David saw the darkness in her eyes.
“It is not an unusual story. The same roughly applies to Emma, Christine and Alice, although in Emma’s case it was circumstances, loss of parents, false friends, rather than drugs. I do not know the details. We do not talk about the past.”
“Mona is different” Anne’s voice was almost a whisper. “She was sponsored.”
Anne moved her hand so that one of them rested slightly on one of David’s. “The Foundation took her in because her parents, her relatives, someone with influence or money, who knows, asked them to. They sponsored her.”
Anne sighed. “She is beautiful. We all envy her. Quite gorgeous. An object lesson to us all, particularly to you and I, showing what can be achieved.”
David recalled that Laura had said two of the girls had faced the same soul searching as he.
“Not her,” he said. “Not Mona, the Indian looking girl?” David remembered her sitting at the adjoining table this morning. She was truly, startlingly, beautiful. Full of grace, composure and dignity. A slight, beautifully proportioned figure, an oval face with huge eyes and delicate even features framed in raven black hair that cascaded down her back. It had not even occurred to him that she could be the third male, the third once-upon-a-time male.
David fought the thought. No, the two once-upon-a-time males, and himself, David. He must hold on to the fact that he was still David.
“Yes. Her. Perhaps she was sponsored because she already had such natural advantages. If so they, however they are, chose well.”
David closed his eyes, imagined he could feel the new weight of the mascara upon his lashes.
“Who are the Foundation” He asked. He recalled Laura had mentioned them, or it, earlier this morning. But other things had seemed more important then.
Anne placed her other hand on David’s.
“The Foundation, The Venumar Foundation may be behind it all. It is behind most things.”
“I do not myself know, But Olive told me before she... before she fell. Olive was in financial services in the City before... before she was recruited.”
“Recruited. Recruited to what?”
“Just recruited, Just as you were.” Anne shook her head as if weary of it all. “Mona was sponsored, the rest of us saved. But Olive, and I suspect you, were recruited. It all comes to the same thing in the end.”
“No” Anne shook her head. “Try to follow one thread at a time. Otherwise we will never finish.” She glanced at her watch.
“Imagine a Russian doll but magnified so that one is never sure were the final doll is. A doll so complex that it contains an almost infinite number of possibilities, a multitude of skins, of other dolls. And imagine that all dolls dance to the tune of the final doll, the hidden secret doll, that no one ever actually sees. That final, ultimate doll is the Venumar Foundation.”
Anne visibly struggled to collect, to arrange her thoughts, into a cogent order.
“All I know is what Olive told me, allied to my own recollection of a BBC radio programme a couple of years back Apparently the Venumar Foundation started out purely as a small private research body. Whether it did the research itself, or just commissioned it, is not known, but probably the latter. It first came to the public eye a few years ago following the controversy surrounding Dr. John Money’s teaching about the Neutral Zone which allegedly exists in small children, and which is a period when sexuality can be changed by nurture. Apparently this met with some success with children born as hermaphrodites, the so called intersex children, and became accepted practice.”
David looked up. “I remember something about this. Wasn’t the whole precept later questioned?”
“Yes,” Anne said. “Then you probably know as much as, or more than I. I have tried to check it on the Internet. but they only allow us limited, very limited, access here.”
“I am no scientist but as I understand it in the 1960s Professor Money and his team at the John Hopkins Medical Institution treated a boy, whose penis was destroyed in a circumcision that went drastically wrong, using this method. Until then gender assignment surgery, had only been performed on intersex children.”
“The child was carefully monitored and in the mid 1970s, Professor Money, to considerable acclaim, announced the success of his treatment and vindication of his theories. The case was published in medical text books and even written up in Time magazine.”
“To simplify a long and disputed story however it appears that it wasn’t so straightforward. In the meantime other research on rats had identified differences in the brain between male and females; subsequently in the Netherlands research on transsexuals had identified differences in human brains. Then finally in the mid 1990s it was found that the little boy who had lost his penis had had a miserable life growing up as a girl and had finally reversed the surgery and was living as a man, a married man.”
“But what has this got to do with the Venumar Foundation?” David felt lost. It seemed all quite irrelevant.
“Only that the controversy still is very much alive today. The fact is that really there isn’t enough evidence either way as to the benefits or otherwise of gender reassignments surgery for intersex children.”
“And Venumar came up with another spanner to throw into the works. They produced a theory that nurture itself was not enough when only passive. That just treating the boy as a girl, or vice versa, was insufficient. One had to actively persuade him, or her, that life as a girl, or boy, was ultimately desirable. They introduced the concept of ‘Active Nurture’ and even ‘Ultra-Active Nurture’. And they received considerable funding from all over, public and private monies, to pursue this line of investigation.”
“But what as this to do with me, with us? We are not children, not hermaphrodites, not intersex.”
Anne smiled sadly at him as David realised the possible interpretation of this last word.
“No.” She said. “But this is about Venumar, and the Foundation has moved on.”
David felt chill, he shifted in his seat and felt one thigh slide silkenly against the other; felt the dress shift over his slip; was aware of the tingle in his ear lobes and the brush of his hair against his neck.
“Money poured in but still in modest amounts, or so Olive claimed.” Anne continued. “There were other schemes too. Related of course. There was research into the mental conditioning of cloned animals. To what extent can nurture be made to apply to clones? What degree of difference can be induced amongst starting from identical bases?”
Anne paused. “And then,” she said, “And then there was the big one. Not just big, but massive. So big it changed the whole equation. After that nothing was the same. Venumar started to expand its interests at an unprecedented rate. Not that people noticed at first. It was only clear in retrospect. It acquired companies, many companies, respectable household name companies. Not openly, but through by nominees or through other companies that it controlled. It itself is registered in Belize and remains outwardly small and insignificant.”
“I still don’t see wha...” Anne shook her head. “None of us sees,” she said. “But if ever we are to, we must start somewhere. Anyway, I have nearly finished.”
“I told you it was like a manic Russian doll. All the companies acquired were useful to it. Animal Research, Pharmaceutical, Medical Research, Private Hospital facilities, IT.”
She gestured at the surrounding walls. “Security companies, even prison facilities. Some Charitable organisations even, helping the young and vulnerable who are otherwise rejected by society.”
“The beauty of it is that they are all profitable in their own right. The Foundation takes advantage of their facilities, of what they can offer for nominal fees. It milks their expertise and at minimal cost to itself. So all the funding Venumar receives is practically all profit. And it receives millions of pounds. Not to mention, dollars, euros, yen etc. No-one knows quite how much nor what are the full extent of its operations.”
David tried to come to terms with what Anne was telling him. Tried to grapple with the enormity, the scale of the operation. Tried to relate it to himself.
Bereft of questions a few minutes ago, they now jostled in his mind, demanding answers.
“What was, is, the big one, the project that made the difference? And why does it relate to us, to me?"
“I don’t know.” Anne shrugged. “Only something that Mona told me... and that doesn’t make sense, no sense at all. But there was a phrase her sponsors used...”
She frowned. “Maybe you might, together we might...”
A bell sounded on the floor below. Anne leant forward urgently. “We haven’t much time. The others will be here soon. What you should know is that Grace de Messembry is the Venumar Foundation to all intents and purposes.
Anne spoke quickly. “David do not cross her. Agree to whatever she asks of you. If you do give offence, justifiably or not, apologise, grovel, jump through whatever hoops she asks.”
Anne was shivering now. Her hands tight on David’s. “Above all David do not give her cause to send you for rehabilitation!”
“Rehabilitation?” David could feel her nails digging into the back and sides of his hands.
“If you do not conform, if you do not make progress, or if you kick against the traces in any way, or just annoy her. You get sent for training to improve your attitude. Olive had just come back when she fell.”
The shivering had turned to trembling now.
“I once protested to her, quite politely really, about, about, how I did not want to be here. She called me an ingrate, and I was foolish enough not to apologise, refused to admit my fault. Too stubborn, perhaps too desperate to grovel.”
“I was sent there, to Rehabilitation, just for a weekend. What she called an introduction.”
David saw tears were streaming down her face as she silently cried.
“I saw things there... I cannot forget... And they started the programme on me, just to give me a taste, an inkling, they said.”
David saw the strain in Anne’s face as she tried to control herself, felt through her hands the stresses that racked her body.
"They tortured you? Forced you. What... dear Anne. I am so sorry! Please” David babbled at her, distressed beyond useful words by her obvious terror.
She looked at him, her voice strained, hoarse. “If only it had been torture, I would have preferred the pain. Pain passes. What they did will never pass.”
Anne made a little choking noise, deep down in the back of her throat.
“They took me there. To this building. And it was all warm and welcoming and civilised. And I was surprised because they gave me my old clothes to wear, but washed and pressed, my old male clothes. And a meal. And they seemed kind.”
She looked at David, her make up streaked by her tears.
“They seemed so kind. and I thought perhaps, with my old clothes... that it was going to be different. Going to be as it was before.”
She shook herself. “It is a highly developed form of aversion therapy, a mutant version. They make you hate what you are. Afterwards you will do anything to be someone different. As far different as possible. Anything but what you were. Anything. Just so long as it bears no resemblance to the old you.”
“I saw the videos of the treatment of others. Before they did it to me. An exquisite refinement. Of grown men pleading, sobbing, offering to do anything, everything if only they could be women. Then being laughed at mocked, refused, told they were not worthy, that they had not offered enough, that they had to endure what they were.”
“I saw men begging to have their manhood removed. Then they were laughed at. One was given a plastic knife and fork, an ordinary plastic knife and fork.” Anne’s body shook convulsively. “And told that if he wanted to lose his balls so badly then he could do it himself.”
“And he tried! Dear God he tried!”
There was a pause that seem to stretch to infinity. The sound of the bees in the ceanothus was very loud.
Anne dredged her deepest resources for strength to continue.
“I only had a couple of sessions. Two days instead of three weeks. I left being so thankful that I was allowed to be Anne. I still am. And grateful also that my memory of what, of who I was, is not quite ruined. That I can still meet the old me in my mind sometimes without feeling too great a revulsion. I do not seek him out but I can still bear the thought of him, if not quite meet his eye, if a chance meeting occurs.”
“Sophie.” Anne wiped her tears, smudging her mascara, gripping both his hands again firmly in both of hers. “If you do not accept, indeed welcome Sophie, you will lose what you want to retain the most. You will lose yourself, the you that you value the most.”
“If you get sent for rehabilitation, you will never again be able to bear the sound of your old name, to meet your old self in your innermost being. You will feel only loathing, revulsion, disgust at what you were. You will lose him completely, for ever! Sophie is your one chance. You must embrace her as a friend.”
There was the sound of a door opening and of high heels clicking onto the patio. “Laura, and Emma” Anne gave a little cry. “I must repair the ravages in the Ladies. But remember, remember. what I said.”
Anne sprang up and, with a wave in the direction of the approaching Laura and Emma, half ran directly across one of the lawns in the direction of the summer house.
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