Vesta's Hearth 13 and 14

Vesta’s Hearth Chapters 13 and 14

By

Frances Penwiddy

Copyright© Frances Penwiddy 2012

This is a work of fiction, the characters and the Café are fictitious and any resemblance to places or persons living or dead is coincidental.

Doctor Amy discovers the retro bug is highly infectious and takes Helen on a shopping trip but Helen is identified as being transgendered Later Dr. Amy drops a bombshell that involves Adam. Helen discovers the problems with mini-skirts and stocking tops before she is suddenly taken ill and collapses.

13

Somebody had seen the approach of the limousine for when we entered the reception area of the Café, both duty warders were standing just inside the door with George, the warder in charge, standing slightly in front with an expectant look on his face.

“Miss Finch?”

I turned to Paul, “Can I have one of the bottles.”

I handed it to George; “You’re not allowed to drink on duty but here’s champagne for everyone later.”

He nodded solemnly, “As I expected. Welcome back and you’re a sight for sore eyes if ever I saw one.” He unlocked the door into the corridor and held it open and with Boris and Adam behind me, I went back home.

Paul stopped at the threshold and handed me the bag containing the champagne bottles and shopping, “Here. This moment is for you and the girls, I’ll buzz off.”

At the far end of the corridor stood those girls with Maria and May. “You go ahead, Helen, Adam and I have work to catch up on,” and Boris went with Adam into his office. With a poker face I walked towards my bestest ever friends. Barbara opened her mouth to speak but still with a poker face I went to May; “Madam Producer I must tell you that you still have two contraltos’.”

The penny didn’t drop with the others but it did with May, “Miss Finch I am pleased to hear it and now if you would kindly go to the rehearsal room, you have a dance lesson.”

“If I might beg your indulgence for a moment,” I turned to Maria and despite the heavy bag of champagne bottles I managed a graceful curtsey, “Mother, I am to remain your Two Spirit Daughter.”

Maria stared at me and then the tears fell and she stepped forward, “Oh thanks to God” and her arms went around me and she hugged and I felt a hand take the bottles from me. When I did get free from Maria I looked at Barbara, “And you still have a little sister and then we went mad with hugs and kisses.
Eventually we quietened down and went into the kitchen where Maria immediately had me helping to make tea, “No reason for daughter not to be good hostess,” she said and with a piny over my yellow dress I worked at my own celebration. “You not need help me to prepare dinner,” she smiled a big warm smile, a really big warm smile, “Mother let daughter have dance lesson as reward.”

So rehearsal we had and Allen joined us and May had the two of us jiving to Bill Hayley, and I didn’t stumble or try to stop my skirt and petticoat flying out and Diane called out. “Go for it Helen, rock your socks off.” The others watched and when we tired, it was their turn and we worked until six and dinner was ready.

The girls and May went into the kitchen and I excused myself and went down to Boris’s office, “We are partying after dinner and I would like you to come, please suspend regulations it won’t be the same if you refuse and we have three bottles of champagne so we need your help to finish them.”
I waited, my hands clasped in front of me, “We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Boris we’ll be up in thirty minutes.

I suppose that evening was my Coming-Out Party because we moved the desks to one side and danced, chatted and drank champagne until nine thirty. I definitely had more than two glasses because I developed the giggles and twice Barbara and Diane had to stop me from getting up and doing twirls. Barbara and Maeve had to help me to bed and that night I slept deeply, no subliminal messages no injections or pills, I just slept and let my hormones my very own hormones go to work.

And then it was back to near normal, the near normal of sore, overworked vocal cords, aching calves and bruised lips. Wednesday came and Amy picked me up for our shopping trip, I had a short list from the girls and a longer list from May who needed bits for the concert.

I was wearing an A-line burgundy skirt, a white blouse with, black heels and my large shoulder bag and had borrowed Diana’s jacket again. My jewellery was simple just the cameo pendant, a couple of rings and my watch. If I was going to be trying on clothes I didn’t want fussy bracelets and rings snagging everything. “If we’re shopping straight away, will you use the car park near the High Street?”

“Yes, does it bother you?” She put the car into gear and we moved off.

“It did the first time I went, I was with the others but I think I’ll be okay today.”

“It’s a big world out there, Helen you will need to get used to it.”

“And the people in it.”

“That too, it’s one reason I wanted to come with you,” she smiled, “Well apart from the retro shop.”

“Which look are you going for in the shop?”

“Seventies, early seventies, flowers, tassels calf or ankle length skirts showing a bit of broidery Anglaise.”

“Hippie? I can’t imagine you turning on, tuning in and dropping out with a ‘Pass the pot, man’.”

She laughed, “Not that extreme, a modified hippy perhaps. I was too young in the Flower Power’s heyday but I do remember it, feminine but making a statement about emancipation and freedom.”

“Yes, what was it? The Fifties had the music revolution, the birth of rock, teenagers with their own money, an end to wartime shortages and restrictions. What was it that made the Sixties and Seventies so different?”

“The pill, extending the Fifties freedoms and adding a political awareness, the Viet-Nam war and not wanting 1939 to happen again. I think the underlying statement was protest, the young didn’t want conscription wasting the best years of their lives and they didn’t want to die in foreign countries. They wanted to enjoy what life had to offer, to form their own futures, to choose their own paths, careers and life-styles.”

I sighed, “The Fifties found an oyster and opened it, The Sixties and Seventies found the pearl inside.”

Amy took her eyes off the road and looked across at me, “That’s quite profound, where did it come from?”

I shrugged, “Don’t know, I think I made it up. I’m reading Ovid at the moment, perhaps I’m paraphrasing him.”

She was looking ahead now and shook her head, “That’s not from Ovid. Do you read the Romantics much, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley?”

“Occasionally, I like some of Wordsworth’s stuff but I find I keeping thinking of the poets when I read Byron and Shelley I think of the arrogance of Byron, the dark uncertainty of Shelley and then of course there was Shelley’s wife and Frankenstein.”

“Ever read Rossetti?”

“The poetess?”

She nodded, “One of three gifted children born to an Italian émigré. Gabriel was the painter, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelites, his brother John was an art critic and writer and was chummy with Virginia Wolff and The Bloomsbury Set but the daughter, the one I am referring to, Christina Rossetti was probably one of the finest female poets of the Victorian Era, had it not been for depression she could well have been Britain’s first female Poet Laureate. She died when she was sixty-three, breast cancer but was very popular and again in the Twenties. Came back into fashion after the war but has disappeared for the moment, pity, she deserves to be read by our generations. Read her, Helen, you’ll like her.”

“I will, I think I might have a book of hers in my old flat and some pictures. When I collect the remainder of my stuff, I’ll read her.” We drove on in silence, I had time to think of my current situation, I was out with a genetic woman and totally accepted by her, discussing things that would be unexceptional, normal topics between women. I wondered if Amy was doing it on purpose to put me at ease, make me feel as if I belonged in that women’s club. No, I don’t think she would do that, she seemed to be one of the ‘I’ll guide when I can but you must find your own way,’ type of doctors. No Amy accepted me as a woman, not somebody who needed to be humoured or patronised.

We parked and I got out of the car, I knew she was watching me closely but she needn’t have bothered, I walked round to her side and once she had locked the car and put the keys away, I linked arms and walked without fear and not a moment’s thought about people staring at me.

“Shall we leave the Retro Shop until last in case we run out of time?”

She stopped dead, “Do you want to get back alive?”

“Just a suggestion,” I protested with a smile on my face.

“Then don’t make any more suggestions, you can be scary at times.”

We turned into the High Street. Opposite, an office block was being refurbished and there were a few men on the site and one of them wolf-whistled. Amy laughed, “That was for you, not me.”

“Don’t be silly it was for both of us.”

“First floor scaffolding, in the centre, three of them, turn and give a little wave.” I looked at her puzzled, “Go on, do it.”

She was the street-wise one so I did as she said, looked up and there they were standing on the platform looking at us, I gave a little wave and they cheered.

“Oh My God!”

Amy laughed, “Told you. It can be annoying but sometimes it’s nice to think we are admired. Buy yourself a paste diamond ring or a cheap gold band and wear it on your ring finger, when you want to be left alone, it can help.”

We reached the corner and I stopped and pointed at the Retro Shop, “There it is.”

She looked for a moment and then walked forward again, “Look at that, The New Look.”

It was, short jacket over a calf length full skirt in midnight blue.

“Dior wasn’t it?”

“Yes, 1948, the dressmakers could get their hands on fabrics again. You could even get a pair of nylons without making love to a Yank.”

“How would you know, you weren’t even born.”

“Mother, she had to go through the war. She was just beginning her teens and still wearing a school uniform. She actually wore briefs like the ones they issue when you first go into the Café, hers were bottle green she told me.”

“That must have been awful.”

“They all had to do it but she told me that in nineteen forty seven, she was fifteen then, her mother took her out and bought her a pair of nylons and some silk panties, she swore they were made from ex-army parachutes.”

I had to laugh and quipped, “No trouble in keeping them up then.”

“She never told me. Come on let’s go inside, I have money in my pocket.”

We were about to open the door when a woman came out smiled and said good morning and walked towards the High Street, Amy watched her, her face carrying the suggestion of a frown.

“Do you know her?”

She shook her head and turned back to me, “I hate it when I see a woman come out of a shop I am about to enter.”

“Huh. Why?”

“I worry in case she’s just bought what I was going in for.”

I laughed, “Amy, you’re terrible, I’d better let you have first choice.”

“Yes, you’d better or your next medical will be agonizing.”

So Amy leading the way, we walked into the shop, stopped stared at a rack of dresses and she pointed, “That!” before the owner even had a chance to say good morning. “What size is it?”

“Fourteen,” replied the owner reaching for the dress.

Amy’s face fell, “Leave it, I’m closer to sixteen.”

“Diet,” I suggested but Amy simply glared at me.

“I do have one in sixteen, it’s the same style slightly different colours. You mustn’t buy it if the fit is doubtful it would be difficult, very fussy to alter and it’s genuine nineteen seventy four, not a reproduction.”

The dress was chiffon in a mixture of colours, no pattern, just random swirls and difficult to alter it would be, there must have been two or three layers of material overhanging each other. A man might have mistaken the dress for a selection of chiffon scarves hung haphazardly over the rail but it was a designer dress if there ever was one. This was something no flower power working class girl could have afforded even in the Seventies the dress would have cost a week’s wages.

The shop owner brought the other dress from the back room, it was identical in style and there was a subtle difference in the colours, this second dress was brighter, it had a touch of mischief in it and I would have preferred it to the first. Amy must have agreed because she felt the material and ran her hands over it, “Can I try it on.”

“Of course,” Amy took the dress and disappeared into the changing cubicle.

The woman turned to me, “Hullo, it’s nice to see you again, are the other dresses okay, I thought they suited you so well.”

“They are fine, I haven’t worn the white one yet, I’m saving it for a special occasion.”

“The owner nodded, “Your friend is very forceful she knows exactly what she wants. Is she from the Café as well?”

That stunned me, how did she know I was from the Café? Had she realised I wasn’t what I appeared to be, was I doing something to give myself away?

“I’m sorry, I thought you realised I knew you came from the Café, one of the girls who was with you, she has been in a few times, she’ buys small things, lots of costume jewellery, a few items of clothing. She told me once about herself and what happens at the Café and when I saw you with her, well I was doubtful, you were so assured, so beautiful but the way you all looked after each other, I assumed you were with them and also from the Café,” she was talking quickly, trying to explain, make amends and I realised it wasn’t me that had given myself away but one of the others. I felt better.

“It’s okay,” I said, “I don’t mind your knowing about me.”

“You really are one of the girls then. I find it so difficult, you are so natural, confident and truly beautiful.”

“Beautiful. I’m not just pretty but beautiful?”

“Very.”

“I gave you a false impression when I was in last, I wasn’t confident, I was scared and it was my first time in public.”

“The other lady, is she with you as well?”

“I laughed, “No, she’s my doctor.”

She looked at the curtain, “She’s a very good doctor then if she has helped you to look and act as you do.”

“Very strict with me though,” I whispered.

“My name is Ruth,” and she held out her hand, “I really am pleased to have met you and I am not talking as the owner of this shop to a customer but to somebody that impresses me and is very nice.”

“Helen,” I answered, taking her hand and the strict doctor is Amy.”

At that point Strict Doctor Amy pulled back the curtain and said, “What do you think, Helen.”

I couldn’t see very much she was still just inside the cubicle, “Come out where I can see it.”

As she walked forward, the dress took on a whole new identity, the summer colours, reds, yellows, pale browns, orange, pale greens swirled and the overall effect of the gossamer like material was of a coloured mist swirling around Amy, she was walking surrounded by a bright cloud. It seemed to caress her from neck to calf. She reached the centre and stood in front of a mirror and turned towards me. Even standing still the appearance remained ethereal, the dress concealed her but still allowed the curves of her body to be seen. I watched her, her face had dropped years and she was more early thirties than late, young, optimistic, eagerly anticipating life. She seemed puzzled by my silence. “Well?”

I looked at Ruth; “Doctor Amy will take the dress.” Ruth nodded, “Yes she has awoken the spirits of the fabric, the colours, nobody else can wear that dress.”

“Are you saying I should buy it, it suits me?”

“Look in the mirror, Amy.”

She turned and once again, the mist flowed around her body and I watched the reflection of her face as she twisted a little one way, then the other; surprise, pleasure and then joy. Her reflection looked at me, “Its magic, the dress seems to have a life of its own.”

I walked forward and stood beside her, looking in the mirror, “It has been waiting for you.”

She nodded solemnly, “I have never experienced this before,” she took hold of one of the layers and lifted it to her cheek, “It’s silk.”

I shook my head, “Gossamer. Gossamer woven by those tiny spiders that come alive in the autumn and cover a meadow with their threads until the meadow seems to flow in the breeze, become a part of the air above it.”

Ruth stood beside us, “Yes, yes that’s it, a dress woven by gossamer spiders.”

I delved into my bag and produced one of my cards and gave it to Ruth, but she held up her hand in protest, “I haven’t told you how much it is, it is a little expensive. I had priced it at one hundred and eighty pounds.”

“Ruth, take the card.”

Amy stepped away, “Helen, you can’t pay for the dress, you can’t buy something this beautiful, this expensive for me, you mustn’t…”
I just looked at her, “Ruth go and run the card through the chip and pin.”

Amy must have seen something in my face and made no further protest. Ruth left us and Amy turned back to the mirror again, “Why?”

“Two reasons, you have been more than a doctor, Amy, you discovered me, gave me something beyond price…and Ruth is right, nobody else must wear that dress but you.”

She reached out and touched my cheek and caressed it briefly, “Never since the day I first qualified have I had a patient like you, you have made all the years of slogging in a hospital so worthwhile. What did you tell me about your friend, your new mother, Maria; Two Spirits, yes, you have two spirits.”

I turned away, if I hadn’t we would both have started crying, “You need accessories.”

Ruth came back and gave me the card and watched as I opened the large bag, took out my poodle bag and tucked the card away. She took the bag from my hand and studied the pink poodle, gave it back and said, “And now I have something for you,” and off she went again into the back room to reappear carrying something concealed under a dust cover. She slid the cover off and held up a pink, Fifties poodle skirt complete with a black poodle. “Here,” she thrust it at me, “Your size but try it on, there is a red petticoat under the skirt and a white peasants blouse with small flowers embroidered around the neckline. “I have been saving this in case you came here again. Here, go and try it on and let us see,” and she grabbed my hand and placed the hanger in it, waved at the cubicle and turned away, she was crying. I hurried into the cubicle and started to undress. Outside it was silent and I stood and listened for a moment before taking my skirt and blouse off. I held the red petticoat in my hands, waist pulled out ready for me to step into it and then I heard them speaking. Reassured, I finished dressing. The petticoat and skirt were perfect but the gypsy blouse, even allowing for the style being loose needed an upgrade in bra and padding to a B cup. I put my shoes on and immediately kicked them off, not black not with this ensemble I needed 3” white winkle picker stilettos circa nineteen fifty-five, nothing else would do and they had to be white. I could use my 4” white strappy sandals or courts but it would take the edge off the look I wanted.

I pulled back the curtain and walked out barefoot. They looked and nodded, “It looks good on you, the style is you,” said Amy.
I walked forward a little way and said, I’ll never be able to find the right shoes though.”

“Tra-la-la,” said Ruth and from behind her back she produced the very shoes I had been thinking of, “Probably your size as well.”

I took them of her, slipped them on and went to the mirror. They did it; it was exactly how I had pictured the look. I turned to face them and did a twirl and they both applauded, “Only one thing though,” I said pulling at the front of the blouse, “Too big, I need a size smaller.”

Amy came up and pulled the front out, “36,” she said and looked to Ruth for confirmation and she nodded. Amy then surprised me and cupped my breast, pulled the front down and looked, “You’ll grow into it,” she said with a smile, “At the current rate I think you will be 36B by Christmas.”

“Christmas; so soon?”

“Think so or soon after. When’s the concert?”

I shrugged, “May hasn’t set a date yet, thinks we need another five weeks of rehearsal.”

“Well if you go on developing at the current rate you could be close to an A cup by then. It is fast but I think your body was doing some of the groundwork before you joined the Café, the bricks and mortar where there, they just need putting together, yes, A cup by the end of October. With a derriere to match, that’s shaping up nicely as well or haven’t you noticed your hips recently?”

My expressions made them laugh and I couldn’t stop myself from peering down the front of my new, soon to fit, blouse and that made them laugh the more.

“You’ll have to start sleeping in your gel bra, Helen,” Amy said when they stopped laughing, “You need to get used to sleeping with a bust, they can’t be taken off at bedtime,” and that set Ruth off again.

Amy bought another skirt, ankle length, burnt orange with a built in cotton petticoat with broidery Anglaise trimmings, some long strings of plastic pearls, little flowers and seashells and a headband with soft fabric flowers around it. When I looked at the collection of shopping bags I said, “We’ll have to put these in the car before we do any more shopping.”

“I’ll close the shop for twenty minutes, drop you off at a nice little restaurant, put your things in the car and ask the attendant to keep an eye on it, he’ll do it, his wife is a friend of mine.”

Half an hour later we were sitting in a little restaurant eating light lunches and drinking iced tonic water. “I need to get May’s concert things and a few bits and pieces for the girls. I also need a jacket or something like one, a raincoat and a warm winter coat, how about you.”

“Nothing much,” Amy replied, a new perfume to go with my hippy look, something flowery.”

“When are you going to wear that dress?”

“When I get home, I’m going to doll myself up in all of it, and when my husband Ben gets home I’m going to shock him.”

I smiled, “You won’t shock him, you’ll gob-smack him and he’ll get down on one knee and propose to you all over again.”

“Do you think so, I could take advantage of the situation and make him buy me an eternity ring.” She pushed her plate to one side, took a sip of tonic water and scrutinised me and quite suddenly said; “Helen, have you given Adam any idea of the way you feel about him?”

I spilt some of my drink and hurriedly reached for my napkin to wipe the few drops of my skirt; “Adam? How I feel about him? Amy, what are you talking about?”

“You’re in love with him.”

“No I’m not, he’s my mentor I have only patient doctor feelings for him.”

She shook her head, “Oh no, girl, you won’t get away with it that easily. You love him; your voice softens when you speak his name. I’ve watched your body language, the way you look at him and when we had our meeting last week you looked for his approval when you made your decision, oh yes, you’re in love.”

“No I mustn’t be, he could lose his job, be struck-off, I mustn’t love him.”

Amy smiled and reached across the table and placed her hand over mine, ignoring the damp napkin, “Love isn’t turned off and on to suit the convenience of the moment and strictly speaking, he is not your doctor, I am and Peter is your consultant psychiatrist, Adam’s roll is simply one of mentoring, slightly different and as long as he did not take advantage of his position, he is not likely to get into trouble.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway, I am his patient and that’s how he looks at me. He isn’t in love with me. I don’t even know if he’s married.”

“He is and he isn’t.”

“I looked at her puzzled, “He is and he isn’t?” I repeated.

“He is in love with you though I suspect he hasn’t realised it yet, men can be stupid about things like that and he isn’t married, in a long term relationship or even has a regular girlfriend at the moment.”

“Oh.”

“Oh indeed. You have to do something about it.”

“What can I do?”

“First we have to be certain that your love is not because he has helped you and has been the hand you hold when you cross the street. Do you think about him when he isn’t with you?”

“All the time. When he goes away on business for a few days I feel miserable and it isn’t because there’s no shoulder to cry on, Boris is there and so are Allen and the girls so I am not lonely, just lonely for him. When we had our celebration the other night, Barbara and Maeve had to put me to bed and I remember thinking, just before I fell asleep, that I wished it had been him that had undressed me.”

“Do you dream about him?”

“No,” I hesitated “Well I’m not sure. I’ve had one dream, it is about a man making love to me, physical love, I can see his body and it’s like the way I think Adam’s body would look but I never see his face.”

“It’s always turned away from you?”

“No not turned away, sort of blurred, in shadow.”

“Do you think it is Adam?”

“Well if the emotions we feel in a dream are linked to the way we really feel, then yes, it has to be him.”

“Why, it may be somebody else you have met, Peter, Boris, one of the warders.”

“It can’t be. Every other nice man I’ve met and liked makes me feel totally different to the way I feel about Adam, they are friends, he’s more than a friend, I fantasise about what it would be like waiting at home for him to return from work, cooking his dinner, wearing something I know he would like to see me in.”

“Being his Vesta, guardian of his hearth?”

“And heart.”

Amy took out the money to leave with the bill, “Helen, you are most certainly in love, all that remains now is for us to plan how you can make him realise he’s in love with you. Let’s go and finish the shopping.”

14

My bestest ever friends had a heyday on the following Saturday afternoon. We were having a binge meal and there were no rehearsals, May was giving us a weekend’s rest and April and I were preparing the meal with Maria. The heyday bit was when I walked into the kitchen in a puppy tooth check burgundy mini-skirt with a hemline three inches above the knee. I was wolf-whistled by my bestest-ever-girl-friends. It was Amy’s idea, “You’ve got to have at least two short skirts in your wardrobe, at your age they are compulsory and it gives Adam a chance to see your legs.”

I had glared at her, “That’s hardly subtle is it? I’ve never worn anything above the knees, what’s he going to think when I show up all stocking tops and earrings?”

She laughed, “You don’t flaunt them in front of him, you wear them when you’re working or rehearsing and simply make sure he sees them on you. Which one are you going to wear first?”

“I’ll wear the burgundy pencil skirt on Saturday, I’m working in the kitchen and keep the flirty skirt until rehearsals, at least I’ll have the excuse of saying it’s more comfortable for dance.”

“Well if you’re thinking of doing twirls, you’d better buy some plain panties and a few pairs of tights.

And that of course played straight into the hands of my bestest-ever-girl-friends. I at least had the satisfaction of disappointing them when I lifted the skirt and showed them I was wearing tights. Anyway, when I put my new piny on, light green with lilac hearts all over it, that started them off again until Maria came to my aid and shooed them out.

So April and I got to work, fillet steaks, asparagus, baby boiled potatoes, spinach and carrots and a Diane sauce. Maria watched with some pride, we hardly needed her help and she seemed to approve of the menu until I started preparing the sauce and was generous with the cream. She came over to say something but before she had a chance I faced her, hands on hips and said, “If we don’t sin now and again how are we ever going to learn the difference between right and wrong.”

“Daughter is right but Mother notice that daughter is in love and man will not marry a fat daughter.”

“Who told you that?”

“Not need telling, Mother can see way daughter acts, dresses and sings a lot,” and with that and a smile of satisfaction on her face she left the kitchen to go into the common room. Shortly after that, Adam came up to say goodbye before he left for the rest of the weekend and Maria of course came out of the common room, looked at the suggestion of disappointment that must have shown on my face and stood in the doorway and watched Adam until he let himself out. She came into the kitchen and whispered, “Adam is nice boyfriend, Mother is happy for daughter but you not run after him, he must run after you.” And with another satisfied look on her face she went and started placing kitchen utensils into the dishwasher. I didn’t bother to deny anything.

It got a little worse when April asked me if I had a boyfriend because I was acting a little differently, happier and who was he? I had to get used to it, these people were already close to me and undoubtedly would read signals I didn’t know I was making. I just smiled at her and nodded, “Not telling who he is yet,” and that seemed to satisfy her, well for the moment anyway. Somehow I had to keep it a secret until Adam discovered he was my boyfriend and loved me, as things stood, it would seem he was the only one who didn’t know.

That night I dreamed of my marriage. I was wearing a long ivory wedding gown studded with seed pearls the bodice was low and scooped, showing a tasteful amount of cleavage, which was helped by the Empire line styling. I had a plain, soft veil and a tiara of flowers. Allen was the Best Man, Boris stood at my side and was giving me away to…I searched hard in the dream, really hard and the sun came out and lit my groom’s face, it was Adam, I sighed and must have slept with a smile on my face and I awoke cuddling my pillow.

On Monday morning it was my turn to clean the kitchen with Barbara and then we were to prepare lunch, Maria was having a day off. We did have a chance to rehearse in the afternoon and April and I were practising our duet with Barbara accompanying us on the piano. Maeve and Diane were practising the Elgar Cello Concerto with the violin and cello in the common room but there was a difference now. Four weeks ago there would have been a cacophony of assorted instruments all going their own way, now there was unity in the sounds, we were coming together and as time passed the speed with which we were learning to play beautiful, co-ordinated music was increasing. We finished our practice session and May quite calmly told us the date for the concert was fixed for the first Sunday in November and then we all went into a complete funk with cries of desperation, we hadn’t even finalised the programme. May was quite undisturbed by our stage fright and let us moan and groan for a while then she tapped the table with her conductors baton and said, “I would not have arranged it unless I was totally confident that we were going to be ready. We will be,” she said in a manner that brooked no argument. “Now Allen has arranged for some of the music society members to come along and play background music for us. You will be the centre piece but where extra instrumental help is needed, they will play behind our group,” she looked at me, The Enigma and your clarinet, our cello and violins, they will add extra violins and woodwind. Maeve, they will back you in the Cello Concerto but singers, you will have only our accompaniment. The Music Society will also play during the break so that we can have a half hour’s rest. There are one or two other bits and pieces we will need them for but on the whole we will be doing it on our own.” She smiled at us, “You are better than you think. Most of you have been learning and practising your own pieces but from here on, we are going to have two or three sessions a week when we will play together as we will on the night and ten days before the concert, we will have a full rehearsal and correct any faults and then another and another and the fourth will be a full dress rehearsal in the prison gym. Helen, we need your expertise as a graphic artist, we need posters can you do it?”

“Yes of course, I’ll need to get my hands on the materials and a drawing board.”

“Already arranged and everybody listen. We need a name for both the ensemble and the concert so put your creative thinking hats on.”
If May had wanted to start World War III she had certainly come up with a cracker of a way to do it. First she floors us with the news of the concert’s date and then she tells five New Girls to ‘discuss’ names for ensembles. I was feeling tired, had a rotten headache which was making me irritable and I think I was running a bit of a temperature and started an argument as soon as more than one name was suggested. Barbara offered me her hand and said, “Come on, you’re going to bed.”

“What the hell do you mean, going to bed, we’ve not had dinner yet!”

“Hungry?”

“No I’m not bloody hungry.”

She just stood in front of me with her hand held out and eventually I calmed a little, “Sorry.”

“Not in character for you is it, come on, bed.”

I got up and meekly allowed her to walk me towards my room when suddenly the corridor started to bend, then twist and I felt as if my face was burning and I started to fall. Barbara caught me and lowered me to the floor and yelled for Boris and he was out of the room immediately, took one look at me, picked me up and carried me to my room and laid me on the bed. He felt my forehead, told Barbara to stay with me and went back to his office. Five minutes later he was back, “Barbara, I’m taking Helen to the prison hospital, Amy is there and waiting.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No, you’ll miss dinner.”

“Sod dinner that’s my little sister, I’m, coming.”

Boris used his own car and the guards at the gate had been prepped and waved us straight through. Amy was waiting with Ronnie and as soon as Boris lifted me from the car, she led us straight up to her suite and I was sat in the padded chair. “Outside, please,” she said to Boris and Barbara, “Wait in reception.”

Ronnie swabbed me and started taking blood samples and Amy gave me a couple of pills to swallow and shortly after, my head began to clear, the world stood still and the heat in my face cooled. “What happened?” I asked Amy who was re-buttoning my blouse after checking my heart and lungs and feeling my breast.”

She smiled, “Not a lot but I’ll know for certain tomorrow when I get the blood results back but I’d say your extra bits are working. I didn’t expect this; I thought the little devils had finished all that.”

“Amy, what are you talking about?”

She smiled and took my hand, “It’s a woman’s thing. Those ovaries of yours had produced eggs and now the eggs have come to the end of their tenancy, you are experiencing another sort of period. Not the full thing, there’s no uterus but it appears your brain has decided to go through the motions, so to speak.”

“But it was much worse this time.”

“Having a last fling I hope, the sooner you get up to Charing Cross the better.”

I sighed, “I suppose I should be pleased about it, you know, experiencing some of the physical things, making me more woman.”

Amy shook her head, “Not in your case, you don’t need this. If it continues we may have to go in and do something.”

“Operate?”

“Maybe, we’ll see, let’s wait until Charing Cross have checked you over.”

“But that will leave a scar!”

“Now that is girly, worrying about a scar in a place that’s covered up.”

“Not if I get married.”

She laughed, “Helen, I love the way you plan ahead.” She went to a cupboard, got something from it and came back, “Lift your bum up,” and when I did, she pushed my skirt up, pulled down my tights and panties and started fiddling.

“What’s that?”

“Towel.”

“What do I need a towel for, I don’t have a uterus, there won’t be any bleeding and any way, if I did bleed, there’s no vagina to bleed from.”

She looked up and grinned, “I’ve got plenty of scalpels, I can fix that if you wish. You won’t bleed, but your brain may still be thinking along those lines and it is faintly possible you may have a discharge so the towel will stop it being uncomfortable.”

I laughed then and as she pulled my tights up I asked, “What did Ben think of the dress?”

She pulled my skirt down, “I’ll leave you to fix that, easier when you’re standing. You were right; he very nearly proposed again, he loved it.”

“And?”

For the first time, I saw the hint of a blush on Amy’s face. She turned away to give me room to get up and adjust my clothes and also to hide her blush, “He’s promised me the Eternity ring,” and to get her own back she asked, “How about Adam, has he reacted to the mini?”

It was my turn to blush, “He hasn’t really seen it yet, I was in the kitchen and wearing a piny and he was leaving for the day.” I hesitated, “Amy, I had another dream, this time I was a bride and I saw the face, it was Adam.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, can’t remember the rest but I woke up cuddling the pillow.”

“Yeah, I believe you. I was going to keep you in tonight but I think the symptoms have gone; it certainly seems so if you’re planning a wedding.

“Shut up.”

“Definitely feeling better. I’ll go and tell Boris you can leave in a half hour.”

“Can’t I go now, they’ve missed dinner because of me.”

“No, give it another half hour just to be certain you are okay, I’ll give you some pills to take if the symptoms return and I’ll tell Boris to keep an eye on you. As for dinner, there’s a nice little pub restaurant on the way back, The Orchard, take them there and treat them.”

“I can’t, I didn’t bring my bag and I’ve no money with me.”

She went into her office and came back with two fifty-pound notes, “Take this, you can pay me back when I see you again,” and she went out to speak to Boris.

Ronnie walked over with tea, “I didn’t make coffee, it is too much of a stimulant,” she nodded towards the door, “You’ve made Amy into a new woman. Since you took her shopping she’s been like a young…younger...ten years younger woman. You should think of becoming a marriage councillor I think her marriage to Ben had become a little stale and now it’s as if she were just married. How did you find that dress?

“I didn’t I simply found the shop, she spotted the dress.”

“Amy told me she was in two minds until you spoke.”

“It has magical properties, nothing to do with me.”

“I don’t suppose you’d take me there would you.”

“I’ll be happy to, Ronnie, the trouble is I’ll have to speak to my financial advisor first, every time I go in there I come out with hands full of shopping bags.”

“I can believe it, I saw Amy’s dress, she brought it here to show us and put it on. You were right, it does flow and plays tricks with her body.”

“It’s a retro clothing shop you know.”

“Yes, Amy explained but look at the way you look in their clothes.”

“We’ll go together, but I’m leaving my credit cards at home.”

“Bet you don’t.”

Amy came back and went to that cupboard that seemed to hold everything from surgical instruments to humbugs and brought over a small bottle of pills and a packet. “Here, take two pills if the flushes start or you get any of the other symptoms, I’ll phone the Café tomorrow morning to check on you and Boris says they can let you have a soft bra, put these in the cups, they will stop the material chaffing your nipples and you’ll have to wear it to bed as well.”

“Have you seen the Café bras?”

“Yes, not very sexy but for the next day or two you’ll have to leave your own off until the soreness eases. Oh by the way, you may well put on a bit of a spurt there.”

“I hope so, you promised me A cups by the time the concert came around and we have less than five weeks. I need a spurt.”

“Double up on these cotton wool pads if I’m wrong but I’m sticking to my prognosis.” She smiled, “Phone anytime if you have a need.”

“Thank you and thank you for waiting here for me.”

“Helen? Before you go, are you singing in the concert?”

“Yes of course, Ronnie, did you think I’d let them leave me out.”

“Can we know what you’re going to sing?”

“Well we haven’t finalised the programme yet.”

“Oh Helen!” protested Amy as they took a pace towards me, “You can give us an idea, you must have a short list by now.”

“Well if I tell you, will you promise not to tell anyone else?”

“Yes.”

“I’m singing with April, The Flower Duet from Lakmé, Delibes opera”

Amy nodded, two contraltos’ that should be worth listening to. No solos?”

I hesitated, “Please, Helen,” Ronnie held out a hand as if to catch my words.

I sighed; they were not going to let me go until I told them. The First Time Ever I saw Your Face, the song Roberta Flack made famous in the 60’s.”

Amy and Ronnie turned to each other and high fived and Amy said, “What else?”

“I can’t tell you any more, really, if May knew I was letting secrets out, she’d be upset, especially as she hasn’t finalised anything yet.”

“Tell us just one more and we’ll shut up,” said Ronnie.

“Well this is the last then, “Little Things Mean A Lot, Kitty Kallen’s number one in fifty four, long before your time.”

They low fived and high fived.

“What’s this all about, the high fives I mean?”

Amy was grinning all over her face, “Where’s Adam sitting?”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Where’s he sitting?” insisted Ronnie.

“I don’t know I’m not in charge of tickets.”

“I bet you’ve arranged for him to sit centre, near the front.”

“He has to sit near the front all staff are there.”

“And you’ve made sure he’s dead centre, I bet.”

“Amy, why do you want to know?”

“Because we want to sit in the row in front and four or five seats to the side of him.”

“Why, I can try to get you seats beside him in the same row if you want.”

“No, no, no, the row in front and a few seats to the side so we can watch his face when you’re singing, especially the last song.”

“You’re a pair of bastards.”

“Yes we know and ladies don’t use that sort of language. See you tomorrow,” and they turned, grinning all over their faces and went back to Amy’s office.

Boris and Barbara jumped to their feet when they saw me, “Shouldn’t you be resting?” asked Boris.

“Yes but bloody witch doctors are on the loose back there and I’m scared to stay the night. I’m also famished and want to take you out to dinner because you missed it at the Café.”

I slept like a baby, no problems, no strange dreams and I was awoken when there was a light tap on my door and it opened. Maria’s head popped round, “Good, you are awake.”

I stretched, it was a luxurious feeling, “I’ve had such a deep sleep.”

“Body needed rest, we let you sleep and Boris said not to awaken you.”

I sat up, “What time is it?”

Maria smiled, “Is late, nearly ten.”

“What!”

“Now you stay there, I’ll get breakfast for you, “Orange juice, cornflakes, one toast and coffee.”

“No, I must get up, there’s work and lessons and rehearsals and...”

Maria walked straight in, plonked herself on the bed. “Boris said not to let you work or have lessons until this afternoon. Maria will get your breakfast, you can eat here and then you go back to sleep.”

“Maria I can’t sleep anymore, I’m wide awake. Let me up, I must have a shower.”

“Only if daughter promises to stay in room and wait for breakfast.”

I was famished despite last night’s late dinner so I agreed and anyway by the time Maria had brought my breakfast. I would be showered and dressed and ready for the day, “Okay I’ll have my breakfast in here.”

Maria looked at me suspiciously but nodded her head, “Okay.”

As soon as she left I jumped out of bed, slipped my nightie off and went into the bathroom, turned the shower on and took off the soft bra and dropped it to the floor with my panties and dived straight into the hot water and lifted my face and let is flow over me. I enjoying the feel of the water cascading over my breasts and nearly slipped and fell; breasts!

I looked down and there they were, two perfectly shaped if very small breasts with nipples proudly standing out. I got out of the shower, dried most of the water off my body, wrapped a towel around my hair and hurried over to the mirror on the wardrobe door. I felt like jumping up and cheering, they were definitely breasts, small but oh so lovely. I lifted them, squeezed them gently pinched the nipples and felt little shocks run down my body but they were sore. I went back to the bathroom for the soft bra shook the cotton pads out, went back put two fresh ones in and put the bra on. It was a 36B bra to allow for the pads and to stop the chafing so the cups were loose but they were standing out. I took gels off the bedside cabinet and tucked them down to the bottom of the cups and adjusted my lovely little real ones so they sat on top then looked down again. Wow, there was a real cleavage there. They weren’t exactly bursting over the top of the bra but they were there. I touched the cleavage and run a finger between my breasts, they were warm and soft.

I quickly took a pair of panties out of the chest of drawers, slipped them on, tucked the man bits away, I would check them out later but right now I wanted to look at my curves in profile.

I went back to the mirror, then the door started to open. Maria came in before I had a chance to move, looked at me and said, “Oh!” said “Oh again and hurriedly moved to the dressing table and put the tray down and came straight back to me. She looked for a few seconds and without as much as a ‘by-your-leave’ pulled the centre of the bra out and looked down, “Oh!”

Had it not been for the expression on her face, I would have been embarrassed, “Mother, you sound like a commentator reading out an England batting score at a test match.

She suddenly became flustered, “Oh! Oh, I’m sorry.”

“England’s going to be lucky to score at this rate, it’s okay, do you want me to take my bra off, it’s not all me, the cotton pads and gels are in there but the rest is me.”

She looked up from my brand new cleavage and smiled, “No need, but so sudden. I noticed a week ago you were growing but you have increased by a quarter maybe a third in last four days.”

“Amy said I might put on a spurt yesterday.”

She shook her head, go eat breakfast,” and whilst I did she spoke again, “You started growing four days ago. It normal for girl to put on spurts when they develop but yours was much.” She touched my arm, “I phoned Doctor Amy when I went to make breakfast and she said not to work much today but okay to rehearse a little and she will come later to see you.” She looked thoughtful, “I asked Doctor Amy what is wrong with you and she said I would have to ask you because she is not allowed to say.”

“It was nothing much, Mother.”

“This is not true,” she nodded at by breasts, “Is this illness a woman’s thing, you know, woman only have it.”

I smiled she didn’t know how to say it, “It is in a way. I have ovaries and they have become active and started producing eggs. They must have been doing it again since four days ago; I’m having a sort of period without bleeding, that’s why I am growing suddenly. Amy told me my body is trying to catch up, that’s why it is happening so quickly.”

She nodded and pointed at the breakfast, “Eat all of it and stop talking; hormones making you too chatty, you forget food.”

“But mother, I mustn’t get fat or I won’t find a good husband.”

“You can have a little fat for your boobs. Husbands not like wife with no boobs.”

I finished my breakfast and was drinking my last drop of coffee, Maria gently took the cup out of my hand, “Come back to mirror.”

I stood there looking at my reflection; I think I may have been paying too much attention to my new cleavage, checking perhaps, to see if they had grown any larger since I started breakfast. I felt Maria’s hands at my waist just above my hips, she squeezed the fat between a finger and thumb then ran her hands down the curve of my hips then up to my abdomen and patted it lightly. I was barely taking notice because my own hands cupped the bra under each breast and I was pushing up a little and smiling as the swelling above the top of the cups grew a little. I was startled out of this reverie when I felt Maria’s hands on my buttocks and heard her chuckle quietly. Her eyes caught mine in the mirror, “Nice…” she searched for the words, “Bubble butt.”

I looked at her a little shocked, Maria using expressions like bubble butt and then turned round and looked at my reflection over my shoulder, I had to turn my torso a little but even allowing for the slight distortion, she was right, I had a lovely bum, smooth, perfectly shaped and not a vestige of droop. “Take off bra,” and not waiting for me, she undid the back clasp and started to ease the straps down my shoulders. I lowered my arms and allowed her to remove it completely and obediently allowed her to turn me profile on to the mirror. “Now look,” and I studied the profile in the mirror, apart from a large silly grin on my face and small boobs, it was almost perfect. The muscles in my upper arms were gone my arms were noticeably slimmer. There was a slight curve to my abdomen, a soft, gentle curve. The waist was a little too thick but the hips had swelled to diminish the effect, if I could lose an inch from my waist, the proportions there would be just right. “You like your shape?” she asked.

I turned to face the mirror again and cupped my breasts, “Little bit small, the train is running late but I can wait a little longer.”

“Not long,” she said, “You wait here, not get dressed I will be back soon.” And she slipped out of my room and closed the door. I heard her footsteps then a knock on Barbara’s door. A few minutes later she came into the room carrying a small bag, which she placed on the dressing table. Bending she retrieved my soft bra, removed the cotton pads and started cutting them into a smaller, elliptical shapes then went to my chest of drawers, opened the second drawer and fiddled about and finally pulled out a three-quarter cup bra went back to the dressing table and opened the small bag and took out a pair of chicken fillet gel forms and fitted one into the bra, repeated the process with the other cup and came back to me, “Close eyes,” I did so and then felt her slipping the shoulder straps of the bra up my arms and onto my shoulders. She reached behind me and fastened it and then I felt the cotton protectors being inserted and pushed into place in front of my nipples and then she said, “Open eyes and look now.”

I stared at the reflection, it was an almost perfect figure and boy-oh-boy, was there a cleavage now. She took a pair of tights from the chest of drawers and told me to put them on and whilst I did that she opened the wardrobe, rummaged around and came out holding a T-shirt top with sequins around the low neckline. She rolled it up and help it out and I lowered my head, raised my arms and she slipped it on, pulled it down and made adjustments, with a final tug on the hem to pull the neckline down a little, took my swirly mini skirt out, unzipped it and held it out, lowering herself so that I could step into it and finally she took my black patent 4” courts from the wardrobe and placed them at my feet. I slipped into them and looked in the mirror again, “Oh my goodness, Oh my,” I think that that last Oh just about completed the England batting score, “Maria, I’ve arrived.”

She smiled, “Not quite but train soon come, you go and show girls, they are in common room, I will tidy up, go now, give them a show.”

And show I gave them, as I walked into the common room, they looked and then their eyes widened and they stared, I twirled and I shimmied and then they were around me, touching, caressing peeking down my décolletage, “Blimey,” said Diane, “They’re for real, it’s not fair, it’s taken me nearly two and a half years to get these ‘B’s’ and you’re half way there in a few weeks.”

“Hormones,” I told her, “Mine are having a population explosion and working overtime.”

“I should think they are, you lucky cow.”

The admiration session ended when May came in, stared for a moment and smiled, “Nice to see the breathing exercises are working, now let’s get them working again. I want you and Barbara in the rehearsal studio, Barbara on the piano please. You others,” she held out some sheets of paper, “Lists for you to check, add to and make suggestions on, running order, wardrobe shortages, stuff like that. You have an hour and then everybody into the studio.” And away she went not waiting for us.

“Was it breathing exercises?” April asked a little hopefully. We laughed and then Barbara and I followed May into the studio.

May went straight to business, “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face, ready?” She waited until Barbara and I had prepared ourselves and then nodded at Barbara. I waited for my cue and started to sing. I sang it well, very well and May never stopped me. I finished and turned to her. “Good, very good, now sing it properly, you are in love, slow it slightly, let notes linger a little longer.” She tapped the piano and Barbara started again, “I closed my eyes and pictured Roberta Flack at the piano, I have watched that video a thousand times and knew every move, the length of every note, the places where it was powerful, the places where it was soft, wistful and I plagiarised Roberta, sang it her way because nobody has ever done it better. As I reached the final notes, I opened my eyes and looked at May. She turned the metronome on, set the timing and said, “Again, now picture yourself with your lover, the man who is life to you and sing it again. She tapped the piano with her baton and once again Barbara began the intro. I closed my eyes and pictured a silver birch, I was standing underneath it and Adam was there and holding both my hands. We turned and started walking hand in hand as I started walking slowly across the studio floor and I sang, I sang to Adam, I sang like I had never sung before to the man who I wanted to be all of my life, not just a part of it.

When the song ended I stood with my eyes closed and felt May beside me, the whole Café was quiet, not even the murmur of the girls voices in the common room. “Whoever he is, make sure he is at the concert,” May whispered, “That was superb, that was beautiful, just once more please. She walked back to the piano and there was a short pause then I heard the tap of the baton, the click of the metronome and once more Barbara started the opening bars and a violin joined in playing softly. As I started to sing a choir joined in quietly humming in time with me and I was in the gym, at the front of the stage in my white dress and in the centre of the third row sat Adam, his eyes fixed on me and I sang, all I felt for him came out of my heart and caressed my vocal cords and we were alone, just Adam and I.

When I finished, I stayed still, holding the image in my eyes and then I slowly turned to face May. I noticed the violin in her hands and heard a faint sob come from the door, I looked and there were the other three, they had been the choir I had heard.

“On the night, we’ll do it just like that, it was beautiful, truly beautiful.” May said as she placed her violin on the piano.

“Right. Maeve cello, Diane violin, April, Softly Awakes My heart. Helen, Barbara, take five.”

Vesta’s Hearth is published on the Top Hat Amazon site and coming soon is ‘First Dates are Kissing Dates’

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