Project Children

Introduction - Misguided

Sasha Fairchild never liked his name. As with everything else about him, it was too girlish by far. Sometimes he thought that if only he had another, better name, the rest of his effeminacy might not be so glaringly obvious. Maybe then people would not have noticed the blush of his soft, round face, or the shape of his innocent, doll-like eyes? But they always did. And it always went downhill from there.

The stout, pinch-faced guidance counselor at the large oak desk probably didn’t have much in common with his elementary school bullies. But their company would have been far more preferable, at the moment. He would have gladly surrendered his lunch money for a week if it meant avoiding another clerical error.

“Can you fix it?” he asked.

She studied her fingernails with a faraway look in her eyes. When she finally chose to regard him, it was with a derisively upturned chin.

“Please, Miss Fitzgerald?” he continued, hoping to sound obsequious.

“I can’t possibly see what’s broken,” she said curtly. “Why, most boys your age would kill to have a sponsor like Valentina Cosenza.”

“I just think I’d be more comfortable with a man.”

“Well, my dear, your comfort is hardly our foremost concern,” Fitzgerald quipped, removing a pair of trendy glasses from a nearby drawer and settling them over her hawkish nose.

“But isn’t it a violation of policy?”

“It’s a little unorthodox, certainly, but I’d hardly call it a violation.”

“Oh.”

He was temporarily at a loss for words. When he opened his mouth to continue, Miss Fitzgerald interrupted.

“Sasha – may I call you Sasha?” she asked, in a tone that made it clear she did not require his permission. “Let me be frank. I’ve read your file. I know all about the little ‘incident’ that put you here. If you think I’m going to pair you up with another man after that, you must be out of your mind.”

His face flushed red with anger and his eyes went wide as saucers, but Miss Fitzgerald was unfazed by his incredulity.

“What if I need to visit her after hours for a personal matter?” he pressed. “Are you honestly going to let me into the Women’s Gallery because of a suspicion?

“Suspicion?” she scoffed. “Who do you think you’re fooling? And anyway, it’s the Men’s Gallery that concerns me. Now, if you must know, I have direct orders from the Headmistress regarding this matter. We all agree that you’re a perfect candidate for a rather special form of rehabilitative therapy.”

“You’re making me into one of your project children?” he balked.

“So far as I’m concerned,” Fitzgerald said flatly, “every child is a project.”

“So what, you’re just going to keep me in transience?”

“Don’t be silly, dear. I’m sure there’s a room for you in the Women’s Gallery.”

Sasha’s knuckles went pale as they squeezed the grips of his armrest. His eyes must have gone narrow, too, because Fitzgerald soon crossed her arms under her breasts and gave him her most disdainful expression yet.

“Would you prefer Administrative Confinement?” she asked.

The threat of confinement forced the blood from his face, as well. If even half of the rumors were true, a slow death by flesh-eating ants would have been preferable to a cell in MacBride’s Basement, such as it was called. Slowly, carefully, he forced his fingers to relax and folded them neatly in his lap, swallowing in a desperate attempt to work moisture into a suddenly dry throat.

“Miss Fitzgerald…” he began, “I’m not gay. I’d like for you to take me at my word, but wouldn’t it just be easier for everyone if you paired me with a straight man?”

The large woman harrumphed melodramatically.

“Why, what a novel idea!” she snapped, her voice thick with sarcasm. “Shall I make sure he’s tall, dark and handsome, as well? Have a king-sized bed shipped to your room? Order you both a pack of condoms, perhaps?”

The confusion on his face must have been readily apparent, because the other woman rolled her eyes as if to note his stupidity.

“Sasha, I’m afraid I just can’t have you twisting another boy’s head around,” she chided. “This is precisely the sort of disgraceful behavior that put you here in the first place!”

“Okay, even if I was gay…”

“Let’s assume you are.”

“…homosexuality isn’t a disease that you can cure. Or…or catch, for that matter!”

“No, it’s a choice that you make. And every choice has a consequence.”

“Consequences? I’ll show you consequences! How about I file a lawsuit against you for violating my civil rights?”

She roared with churlish laughter and clutched her bloated belly. For a moment, Sasha thought he saw her jowls begin to quiver.

“Oh, the things children say!” she cried. “Sasha, once we release you from our custody, you can hire an army of lawyers. Until then, you don’t any have civil rights.”

“We’ll see about that,” he said menacingly.

“The only thing that remains to be seen is how much more you’re going to have to suffer before you learn to start making correct decisions.”

He sat mutely for a moment, unwilling or perhaps unable to reconcile his understanding of humanity with the person in front of him. He couldn’t say how long the silence lasted, but it was long enough for the boy to close his eyes, open them, and take several deep, relaxing breaths. Even after his heart rate had slowed, he still found himself wanting to leap across the desk in a frenzied rage and strangle his counselor to death.

“Can you at least change my elective?” he asked, far more calmly than he felt.

“Let’s see…” Fitzgerald’s chubby fingers danced prissily across the keyboard.

“Domestic Provisions and Caregiving…?”

“Ah, yes.” She said. “There we are. One moment, please.”

Miss Fitzgerald continued to type, humming annoyingly to herself. Sasha held his breath. After what seemed like eternity, the woman shook her head.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” she declared. “It’s very important that we keep your schedule as close to your sponsor’s as possible. Perhaps you could persuade Miss Cosenza to choose another elective?”

“Miss Fitzgerald,” Sasha said testily, “with all due respect, I’m a young man. Is it really necessary to force me into a…a girl’s course?”

“What a chauvinistic thing to say! Why, you of all people should know—”

“How many other boys are in the class?” he interrupted.

“That’s not the point!” she protested irritably. “Young man, I do believe you’re long overdue for a serious attitude adjustment.”

“Well, I guess I’m in the right place, aren’t I?”

“You certainly are,” she said, immune to his sarcasm. “But I’m afraid your sponsor will have deal with that little outburst. Such is the price we pay, hm? Until then, I suggest you rein in that smart mouth.”

“Miss Fitzgerald,” he said testily. “The course is Domestic Provisions and Caregiving! It’s an entire elective about…about babysitting! If you don’t think that’s inappropriate for me, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Why don’t you try an optimistic approach?”

“Why don’t you cut to the chase and teach me to be a Seamstress?”

For just a moment, he saw her nostrils flare and her lips turn down.

“What’s the matter?” she teased. “Don’t you want to be a good housewife some day?”

“You know what?” he snapped, “To hell with you!”

Sasha stood up from his chair, glaring daggers at the counselor. She stood up just as quickly.

“Mister Fairchild!” she cried. “Sit back down this instant!”

He turned his back on her and stormed away, toppling his chair on his way to the office door. Unfortunately, a rough hand seized him by the scruff of his neck before he was halfway across the room, swinging him full around. Wide eyed and gasping in shock, he looked up to see Fitzgerald looming above him, one hand firmly clutching the collar of his blouse.

“I don’t know where you think you are, young man,” she growled, spewing spittle and thrusting her sausage-finger into the tip of his nose with every syllable, “but if you ever disrespect me again, so help me God, I’ll strap you myself!”

“You can’t…!”

The words died in his mouth as a fat hand caught him smartly across his chin, prompting him to struggle against her as best he could. But he was a very small slip of a boy, and Fitzgerald was a hulking cow of a woman.

“I can!” she cried, driving him audibly into the wooden door and swatting the other side of his face for good measure.

Come on, come on! Where is everyone? He thought frantically. In every other school he’d attended, the rest of the administration would have fallen ontop of this woman like a pack of hungry wolves. But try as he might, Sasha could not hear beyond the office door. The fear really gripped him, then. Unsupervised, Fitzgerald could deal with him however she pleased.

“Let me be very clear with you, Sasha,” she said, already breathing laboriously. This close, he could smell the pudding on her breath. “You’re here because your family thinks of you as a problem child. Discipline here is progressive. Do you want to learn just how far it can progress?”

“No ma’am,” he said meekly.

“Good,” she said. “Now, pick up this chair and get to your homeroom class while I decide what to do with you.”

Project Children

Chapter One - The Trappings of Sponsorship

Professor White’s homeroom building was typical in that it smelled like pencil shavings and potpourri, but the ordinarily common sound of loquacious teenagers did not exist here. Silence reigned in this place, and the professor sat in his rolling chair with the not-so-handsome poise of a king on high. Or perhaps a petty tyrant, adorned with a metric ruler in place of a scepter and a receding hairline for a crown.

The professor didn’t look up or introduce himself as Sasha filed in, and after this morning’s fiasco, the boy had no desire to make new friends among the faculty. He started wordlessly toward one of the nearby tables, stopping in his tracks when he was called.

“Your name?” The professor demanded.

“Uh. Sasha.” He stammered, “Sasha Fairchild.”

“Seven.” The professor replied.

“Excuse me?”

“Seven!” The professor snapped.

Sasha had come to expect that the change of venue wouldn’t be completely painless, but as he took a nearby seat and pretended to fervently review the syllabus on the desktop, he began to wonder how he’d ever survive this place. It wasn’t until his eyes drifted away from it that he noticed an index card marked with a black sharpie.

Naturally, he wasn’t seated at Table Seven.

“Do you have some kind of disability?” Asked the professor.

“I’m sorry.” He said, standing up hastily. “I’m really sorry. I’m new here—”

“—and you obviously can’t count. Table seven. Now.

His palms were sweating by the time he’d finally situated himself, but the professor didn’t appear to push the issue, and for that Sasha was grateful. He struggled to contain his nervous energy as the sound of raindrops began to pitter and patter against the far window, casting a couple of sweeping glances around the room. The rest of the students were dressed - and seated – in perfect uniform, each with perfect posture, in absolute silence.

After a few minutes, his eyes returned to their resting place on the syllabus, and he straightened his own posture to fit in. He couldn’t say how long he sat like that, but he didn’t look up until the scent of floral essences and baby oil began to tease his nostrils, temporarily offering him a blissful reprieve from the pungent pencil shavings.

That was when he looked up to find one of the most beautiful women he’d ever laid eyes on.

Valentina Cosenza had cinnamon brown hair with the straightness that only a flatiron could provide, but without the characteristic flatness. It cascaded over her shoulders in a perfect princess-cut, framing a soft, benevolent countenance with cherry lips and soulful blue eyes. Her oxford-cloth blouse fit snugly over her bosom, hugging her slender midriff until it vanished behind her pleated, bell-curved skirt.

She shot him with a quizzical glance before she claimed the adjacent seat.

That was about the time he realized he was staring. His face went flush as he turned away, but she must have observed it all with perfect nonchalance. Before he knew it, she was stealing his syllabus and scribbling something on the back with a ballpoint pen. It wasn’t until she was halfway done that it dawned on him: she was writing him a note!

When her lips curled up into a soft smile and she returned his syllabus, his heart skipped a beat.

The note read: you’re sitting at the wrong table.

“I look around, I see a lot of new faces!” The professor bellowed, shattering the silence with such force that many of the students became startled. As he walked from behind his desk, he twirled his ruler about like a baton.

Valentina held up an index finger as if to suggest that he wait for an explanation.

“That’s too bad.” The professor continued. “I’m not sure what you did to piss off your rich parents, but I want to make one thing clear: I won’t tolerate it.”

The balding man slapped the edge of his ruler against the flat of a nearby table, and the two occupying students went stiff in the shoulders.

“Do you know how we operate?” He asked.

One of the boys shook his head.

“What about you, Brian?” He pressed, looking to the table’s other occupant. Brian was a tall young man with a brawny physique and a bored facial expression. “Any insightful comments?”

“They like to smack us around.” Said Brian, matter-of-factly. “That’s how they operate.”

The professor gave the boy a cool glance, as if daring him to continue.

“What, did you think I was going to compliment our SAT’s or something?” He quipped. “You screw around here, the only question is what implement you’re getting struck with. That’s not the worst part, though.”

“Oh?” Asked the professor, a sardonic smile on his face. “And what’s the worst part, Brian?”

“Your first year, you probably won’t even meet the headmistress.” He said, looking to the student beside him. “Your sponsor gives you the beatings for her.”

“Insightful as always, Brian.” Professor White declared, almost fondly. “But crass. When you see the headmistress, ask her to wash your mouth out with soap, won’t you?”

“Aw, come on!” He exclaimed. “What did I say?”

“As you can see, you’re all sharing a table with one person.” The professor continued, ignoring Brian’s comment. “If you’re new here, that one person is your sponsor. Think of that person as a you would think of a loving parent.”

The younger boy sitting beside Brian shot his hand up. Brian snatched it down, and instead of taking a hint, the boy attempted to wriggle free. Sasha couldn’t believe what a spectacle the student was making out of himself, but he just kept at it, sticking his free hand up ramrod straight and flailing uselessly in his chair.

“Take your freakin’ hand down!” Brian whispered. Despite this, his voice was audible even above the pouring rain.

“Yes.” Said the professor. “Please. Pretty please, you stupid, stupid boy. Take your ‘freakin’ hand down.”

“Let go of me!” The younger boy screamed. “Let go! Professor! I want someone else!”

“Brian?” The professor asked, his gaze level with the older boy. “Handle this, or I’ll have it handled it for the both of you.”

Brian growled, yoking the younger boy up by his wrist with one hand and grabbing the scruff of his neck with the other. The smaller boy – only marginally taller than Sasha, and easily just as thin – began to thrash about as if taken by seizure. He screamed bloody murder as he swung his free hand at Brian in a closed fist. Brian grunted, taking the first two punches in stride. When the sponsee reared back a third time, he got his arm bent behind his back about almost as far as it would go, making him squeal like a dying pig.

Everyone spoke up at once. One girl threatened to call her lawyer, another boy dared anyone to try him like that, a few more boys and girls shouted indecipherably – some jeering, some cheering, still more expressing various forms of monosyllabic outrage and sympathy.

The door slammed behind the pair, and the murmuring crowd continued to comment and speculate. Outside, the screaming died as abruptly as it began.

“We do make it a point not to send freshmen to the headmistress.” The professor continued. “It happens, of course, but only under the most extreme circumstances. Understand?”

The classroom offered quiet acknowledgment.

“What about you?” He asked, looking to another, younger girl as he traversed the room.

“I think so.” She said.

“What’s your name?”

“J-jenn-nifer.” She stammered.

“Why don’t you explain it to us, Jennifer?” He asked. “Who would I punish, if not you?”

“M-my sp-sponsor?”

“Give the girl a door prize!” He laughed. Outside, a series of short-burst yelps were barely audible above the downpour. “Any questions?”

A blonde girl raised her hand, and her sponsor didn’t stop her.

“You.” Said Professor White. “What’s your name, girl?”

“Aren’t you going to do something?” She exclaimed. “He’s hitting him!”

“Tell him your name.” Said her sponsor – another woman, Sasha noticed. He was the only person here with a male-female pairing.

“Stacy.” She said, giving her sponsor a dirty look.

“Well, Stacy, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The professor replied, looking around the room. “I don’t see anything.”

“But…but!”

“Nobody likes a snitch, girl.” He said sharply. Then, with false benevolence, “Anyone else see something?”

Stacy opened her mouth to speak, but her sponsor took her hand and whispered something into her ear. Whatever she said, it must have worked. Stacy gave the other girl a mortified expression, and the older girl answered with a level stare. Neither one spoke up.

Nobody else touched the subject.

“Your sponsor is your sponsor.” The professor continued. “Nobody’s going to change that. You can disobey and complain and whine all you like, but the only thing you’ll cause is suffering – and here at the Boardwalk Reception Center, suffering rolls downhill.”

As if in an afterthought, the professor pivoted on his heel and canted his head at Sasha, studying him like a cobra rearing to strike.

“I understand I have to call the headmistress about you.” He declared. “Is there something I should know?”

“Um. Er, well, I kind of got stupid with a guidance counselor.” He stammered. “Sir.”

“What, you weren’t stupid enough by yourself?”

When he didn’t answer, the professor waved his hand dismissively at the rest of the room, permitting them to speak.

“You poor boy!” Said the woman beside him, reaching out to gently pat his back. “Didn’t you get a table-number? Are you even in the right class?”

“I’m in the right spot.” Said Sasha, his voice solemn. “Professor White. Room one-oh-one. Table Seven.”

“That’s odd.” She replied, fishing for her itinerary. “I know I’m not in the wrong seat…”

“Erm, are you my Valentina?”

He winced at the clumsily worded question, but Valentina seemed to take to his stammering affectionately.

“I am Valentina.” She said kindly. “Not your Valentina, I hope. They have me paired with some girl named Sasha.”

He blushed.

“Why don’t you show me your itinerary?” She asked. “I’ll help you find your guy.”

Sasha looked nervously at the front door, which opened noisily to admit a cute, terrified mouse of a boy who was trembling as hard as he’d previously screamed. The boy’s face was puffy and red from tears, but relatively unblemished. His oxford-cloth blouse was rumpled and tarnished by dirt and wet with rainwater. Brian fell in behind him, apparently fussing with his own belt buckle. This time, there no protests; the small boy simply took his seat and sniveled quietly to himself.

“Look at me.” Said Valentina, collecting one of Sasha’s hands as if to capture his attention. “What’s your name?”

“Sasha.” He blurted out, timidly withdrawing his still-sweating palm. Valentina furrowed her delicately plucked eyebrows, suddenly staring at him as if he’d grown a third eye.

“I’m really sorry about what happened!” He went on, cutting her off before she could ask him if this was some kind of joke. “They aren’t going to punish you, are they? I was new, and I was just trying to explain myself, and this whole thing with the guidance counselor—”

“Whoa, whoa…” Said Valentina, wiping her hand off on her skirt. “Hold the phone. You’re Sasha?”

“…yes.” He replied. “Sasha isn’t just a woman’s name, you know?”

“Then it’s probably a clerical error.” She said. “What’s all this about you and a one of the guidance counselors?”

“Well, I sort of pitched a fit.” Sasha admitted. “It’s not a clerical error. She insisted that I be paired with another woman. I think I’m some kind of Project Child.”

“What?” Asked Valentina, a look of confusion crossing over her face. “No. Sasha, there’s no such thing as a ‘Project Child.’ It’s a rumor that the faculty uses to scare people.”

“I guess.” He replied. “But I’m scheduled to move out of transient housing and into the Women’s Gallery today or tomorrow.”

“Why would they do that?” She asked.

“I…err, well…” He stammered, unsure of how to answer. “The faculty thinks I’m gay.”

She sighed, looking at him with something between sympathy and exasperation.

“Sasha, you sound like a really sweet boy.” Said Valentina. “But even if all this was true – even if you were gay – I couldn’t be your mother. It would be completely inappropriate.”

“I’m not gay!” He protested, more harshly than he would have liked. “You think I wanted this? Wait – what do you mean, ‘be my mother?’”

“Never mind.” She said, waving her hand in dismissal. “What counselor did you speak with?”

“Miss Fitzgerald.”

“Oh, just great.” She said, her voice filled with frustration. “Fat Fitzie. This just gets better and better.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” She said, reaching up to tuck one of her loose bangs behind her ears. “But you just keep your fingers crossed, sweetheart. Fat Fitzie likes to think she’s high and mighty, but she doesn’t have as much power as she thinks she does.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked.

“It means I might be able to talk to the headmistress and make this go away.” She answered. “Even if she knew you were gay, the headmistress would never chance a boy in the Women’s Gallery.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“I’ll bet.” Said Valentina. “But with or without me, you need to watch yourself from here on out, okay?”

“Okay.” He said, nodding. “Sure. Yeah. Absolutely.”

“Now, why don’t you tell me what kind of trouble I’m in?”

“That’s enough!” Bellowed the professor. “You’ve all had some time to introduce yourselves; you can make nice later.”

The professor’s eyes rolled darkly across the room, fixing firmly on Sasha. For his part, Sasha met the other man’s stare and lowered his head in short order, doing his best to look appropriately pensive. Professor White rounded on him like a snake, brandishing his ruler as if to strike.

“You.” Professor White said, pushing Sasha’s chest with the edge of the ruler. “Why don’t you tell us your name?”

“Sasha.” He replied, his face flushing a little with embarrassment.

Sasha.” The professor repeated, tapping his metric ruler across Sasha’s cheek.

“That’s such a pretty name.” He continued. “Is that why they gave you such a pretty sponsor, Sasha?”

“I…I don’t know, sir.”

“Yes you do.” He replied, prodding his chest with the meter stick. To Sasha’s credit, he didn’t twitch or jerk about.

“Don’t you have something you’d like to share with the class?”

“What?” He asked. “No!”

The man smacked the stick across the table, and Sasha scooted backward in a fit, startled enough that he let out a girlish shriek. Some of the other students laughed.

“Class, I want you all to take a good look at Sasha.” The professor announced. “Sasha’s a young man with very special needs. He’s still trying to find his way out of the closet. Until you find it, Sasha, do you think you can keep your hands off of the other boys?”
Timid laughter erupted from some of the students in the room; many others just looked offended.

“Oh, now come on!” Shouted the professor. “Surely this is no laughing matter. Sexual re-orientation is an ongoing process. But just to be safe, until Sasha can act like a man, why don’t we make him feel like one of the girls?”

To his credit, Sasha didn’t flush red with anger or pale with fear. He couldn’t escape anyone’s judgment, and he certainly couldn’t explain himself, but he didn’t owe anyone an explanation, either. He tried to look coldly at the rest of the room, but it just came off as sullen and pouty.

“Valentina,” Professor White said, looking at his sponsor. “I want you to go down to the headmistress and ask her to give you a sound spanking. Tell her it’s for the way your sponsee behaved in Miss Fitzgerald’s Office.”

“Sir!” Sasha cried, “With all due respect—!”

Sasha’s words stopped short as someone slapped him for the third time that morning. His face was buzzing with pain, and when he reached up to touch his lip, he found that he’d cut it against one of his front teeth. Gasps and barely stifled laughter filled the room, along with about a dozen lilting variations of the words ‘damn,’ ‘shit,’ and ‘wow.’

It wasn’t until he saw Valentina staring coldly at him that he realized who his attacker had been.

“I’m sorry, Sasha!” Exclaimed the professor. “Was I too hard on her?”

The boy flinched, and the smarting pain on his face flared up ever so slightly.

“I take it all back.” Said Professor White, turning to Valentina with a smile. “My dear Valentina, don’t you dare ask the headmistress to spank you. Ask her to switch you bloody, instead. When you’re done, you can draw up a suitable punishment for your disruptive little daughter, here. A punishment, mind you – not a penance. Nothing private.”

“Yes, professor.” Said Valentina, her voice teeming with rage.

“That’s my girl.”

[hr][/hr]

“Your first day and already I’m going to see the headmistress?”

“But it was my fault!” He exclaimed. “Why do they—?”

“You’re damn right it was your fault!” She exclaimed. “Damn it, Sasha! He wants me bloody? Do you know what that means? It’s not a figure of speech! And that’s on you!

She snarled furiously and pelted him in the arm with a closed fist for all she was worth. He whimpered and shied away, immediately lifting his hand to cover his aching bicep.

“I’m sorry.” He cried. “I’m really sorry! I didn’t know, I swear!”

“You knew!” She snapped. “Professor White made it abundantly clear that your actions would cause me to suffer. Or did you miss that part of the lecture?”

“But that happened beforehand…”

She sighed, shaking her head in dismay and walking briskly down the hall. Sasha was unencumbered, but he struggled to keep up all the same. Between the crowd of bodies and the seemingly innavigable maze, he was terrified that his sponsor would lose him.

“If you had just kept your mouth shut,” said Valentina, “I would have gotten off easy!”

She stepped in front of him, poking him hard in the chest with her index finger.

“—but you just had to go and say something, didn’t you? You knew that I was going to take a hit for you, so you figured the best thing to do argue with the faculty? Explain that to me, Sasha. In what world could you have persuaded him not to call a penance?”

“Well, I just thought—”

“Why am I getting a taste of the switch?” She demanded.

“…because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.” He said sadly.

“There it is!” She exclaimed. “So, tell me, Sasha. What am I supposed to do with you now?”

She turned on her heel and stormed off, and once again he struggled to keep the pace. This time, though, he deliberately remained a few paces behind.

Eventually they reached a row of purple lockers, and she pointed to a silver pad lock. He recognized the hallway almost immediately, because his locker was right beside hers.

“The combination is six, twenty-three nineteen.” She said. “Open it.”

He quickly began to work on the combination, but his hands were trembling with stress. It took him several attempts before the lock finally popped.

“As soon as we finish class, I want you to come straight to this locker.” She declared. “You’ll carry all my books, take all of my notes, and say absolutely nothing unless I address you directly. Do we have an understanding?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He replied, looking at his own schedule and checking it against her books. Just as he suspected, her books matched his list of classes exactly.

"Not ma’am. " She snapped. “If I’m going to be your mother, you’ll need to learn how to address me properly.”

He shot her a confused glance, then hastily looked away.

“You have a question?” Asked Valentina.

“Do you still think you’ll be able to clear this up?” He asked, his voice hopeful. “Maybe if you just explain to the headmistress that this is all a big misunderstanding…?”

“How far away is your locker?” She asked.

“Uh…” He winced, pointing at the locker beside hers. “It’s right there.”

“Go figure.” She replied. “Open it up.”

He tentatively worked his way across the combination locker, though his hands fumbled with the padlock several times. Nearly two minutes had passed by the time he’d managed to open it. Just as he’d surmised earlier, the contents of the two lockers were absolutely identical.

“Yeah. That’s bad.” Said Valentine. “Honestly, I was pretty optimistic that this was all a misunderstanding. But if they’re sending me to Madeline on my first day, it means that it’s not happening under her nose. She knows about it.”

“Madeline…?” He asked.

“The headmistress.” She explained.

“Oh.” He said, looking down. “What’s all this talk about you being my ‘mother,’ then? Is that some kind of figure of speech?”

“Yes and no.” She shrugged. “Professor White wasn’t far off when he told you to think of me as a parent. Every group is different, but in my Household, we trace our sponsorships into a family-tree. We have mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts – even cousins.”

“How many nephews?” He asked. “How many sons, or brothers…?”

“You’d be the first.” She answered.

“Wonderful.” He said glumly. “I don’t take it you’re thrilled to have me?”

“No.” She admitted. “Not at all.”

It wasn’t a kind thing to say. Sasha nodded, then began to cross-reference his schedule with her books.

“You’ve got it backwards.” She said, her voice softening just a little. She plucked a folded paper from her blouse and handed it over. “Here.”

“Thanks.” He said. “But Val—”

“Don’t call me Val.” She interrupted. “Call me mother.”

He gave her an incredulous look.

“Say it.” She snapped.

“Uh. Er. Tha-thank you…” He stammered over the words, and his face flushed with embarrassment. When he finally said what he needed to say, it was barely audible. “…mother.”

“Why are you mumbling?” She asked, reviewing his schedule and blinking, only to look back at the top-left corner and back again to the printed classes.

“Never mind.” She said. “I have a much more important question: why did you sign up for Domestic Provisions and Caregiving?”

“Miss Fitzgerald signed me up!” He protested. “I tried to get out of it.”

“Ouch.” Said Valentina, suddenly looking at the schedule again. “Yeah. We’re stuck. She even gave you a free-period.”

“Can I ask you something?” Asked Sasha.

She gave him a reproachful stare, then waved her hand in dismissal.

“Why, ‘mother?’” He pressed, gathering up her English Compositions text book and divided binder. “Why not, ‘Big Sister’ or, I don’t know, your name? Anything would be less embarrassing.”

“Why is it embarrassing?” She replied. “Get that out of your head. There is no ‘embarrassing’ between you and me.”

He didn’t appear to understand, but he nodded as he sorted out her things.

“I’m serious, Sasha.” She continued. “You can’t think of me like a peer. I’m the one person whose sole responsibility is to look out for you, but I’m also one of the people who can tell you what to do – and discipline you – no questions asked. Even if you think you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I get it.” Said Sasha. “You could send me to the headmistress in a heartbeat. I don’t want to put you in that position.”

“No.” She replied. “You don’t get it. I don’t have to send you to the headmistress. If I wanted, I could haul you into the cafeteria by your ear and spank you in front of god and everybody.”

He went pale at her words, and his tension showed in the way he fussed over the lockers. He fumbled with his pad-lock, accidentally resetting it and making it impossible to lock back up. The warning bell rang.

Now you ‘get it’.” She teased, nudging him out of the way. “What’s your combination?”

He told her.

Valentina opened the lock with relative ease, collecting Sasha’s books and placing her hand on his shoulder. Gently, she turned him around until he was facing her. Something about the sight of him like that – riddled with guilt and despondent over her plight – stilled some of the tempestuousness inside of her. She was still angry, but it showed less as she delicately arranged his hands around the textbooks, crossing his arms around his chest until he had a firm grip on the materials.

“There.” She said gently. “That’s better.”

“You wouldn’t…”

“Wouldn’t what?” She replied levelly.

“You wouldn’t really put me over your knee, would you?” He asked timidly.

“I probably wouldn’t take you into the cafeteria.” She said, not entirely playfully. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t push my luck.”

Re: Project Children: Introduction - The Misguided Counselor

that was a great start, looking foward to more!

Re: Project Children: Introduction - The Misguided Counselor

I’m intrigued. Can’t wait to see what happens.

Project Children

Chapter Two - Domestic Provisions

Valentina had to give the boy credit for something: he was trying. Over the next three courses, Sasha did everything she said, when she said it, in exactly the way she asked him to do it. She was having a hard time staying mad at him by the time free period rolled around, but by no means had she forgiven him. He was a stupid young man whose chivalrous little outbursts and previous tantrums had landed her in hot water, and she had resolved to make him pay for that.

But he was also a small, pensive boy, still on the cusp of adolescence, trying desperately to overcome a bad start. She could remember what it was to be terrified of this place, and of the lifestyle that was promised to those who could not or would not bend. The fact that she’d acclimated at all was disturbing.

The rain had left behind a thick fog that covered the ground like dry ice and made the already convoluted halls into a veritable labyrinth. She held his hand all the way to their lockers, doing her best to ignore the dampness of the sweat on his palms. When she opened her own locker and allowed Sasha to do the same, he looked at her as if wondering whether or not he’d done something wrong.

“Feeling better?” She probed.

“Not really.” He replied glumly.

“Come here.” She said with a vexed sigh, wrapping one of her arms under his. It was better than holding hands.

“What…?” He asked.

“Shut up.” She said flippantly, as if to add, before I change my mind. “Have you packed your supplies for our sixth period class?”

“Oh god.” He said, clearly confused by her sudden closeness. “That stupid class about babies and old people and how to take care of them?”

“I chose that stupid class, thank you!” She chided, walking him out of the vaulted brick hallway and into an open courtyard cobbled with black stones.

“I know.” He replied saucily. “I wish you hadn’t.”

“Thin ice, remember?” She asked. “Paper thin.”

“Okay, okay.” He said. “I’m sorry. What’s it about?”

“Babies, old people…” Valentina said, pausing to look at him with as straight a face as she could manage. “…how to take care of them.”

Sasha rolled his eyes and almost chuckled.

“What?” She balked. “It’s an easy class! Seriously, if you can fold a diaper and have even a shred of maternal instinct, you’re good to go.”

“But I can’t—”

“Sucks to be you then, don’t it?” She interrupted.

The fog made it almost impossible to see the way the cobblestone pathways circled out around a marble fountain, though the silhouette of the fountain was visible. It was all very spacious and well-kept, with rose gardens and elm trees in the full fever of the autumn season. Dead leaves crunched noisily underfoot.

Sasha’s eyes went wide as he out beyond several stone pillars to see a grassy courtyard, boxed in by a square verandah. Her own eyes followed the stone staircase along the far colonnade, tracing it up to see a second story gallery, and a third, and a fourth…

Of course, Sasha’s eyes would be settled on the center of the courtyard, where an emaciated young man was tethered to a post. His hands were cuffed, and his neck arched as he struggled to lap water from a tin bowl, seemingly unaware of his own nakedness.

“That,” she declared, “Is one of the many reasons you never want to wind up in Administrative Confinement.”

“Is he naked?” Sasha asked, suddenly looking away. “How do they get away with this?”

“Parents don’t send their kids here because they want them to go to Stanford.” Said Valentina. “They send us here because they want us out of the picture. Social workers are paid not to see these things; consent forms give them the right to administer corporal punishment. The list goes on…”

“But hasn’t anyone ever filed a lawsuit?”

“Oh, I’m sure.” Valentina replied. “There’s a rumor about a young man who tried to file against them. Supposedly his parents disowned him and they countersued for slander. He wound up waiting tables, and they garnished his wages for years before he finally hanged himself.”

Sasha shook his head in disbelief. Valentina walked with him in silence, leading him directly away from the spectacle.

“So, you haven’t packed?”

“I thought everything was provided?”

“What, because somebody packed your locker for you?” Valentina laughed. “Most parents pre-pay for your books and binders, but don’t expect much more. You get the rest from the store.”

“With what money?” He asked.

“Just show them your student ID.” Valentina explained. “There’s an account set up for you with money for supplies. Trust me; your parents put money in it. But just walk in with me?”

The campus shop was a squat, wide brick building with a round, vaulted roof and a plain black sign. An extended canopy led into the storefront, making it accessible even during the nastiest weather conditions – and affording no one an excuse to be unprepared.

“Wait, so I don’t need supplies?” He asked, breaking away from Valentina to pull open one of the glass doors and hold it for her. “I thought I’d been drafted into your sixth period? Am I off the hook?”

“Don’t get your hopes up too high.” She chided. “You’re still taking the course. I just figured I’d spare you the humiliation of actually buying anything.”

“Oh.” He said, biting his lip again. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I’m doing it anyway.” She replied. “Don’t you have enough to worry about for the day? I still haven’t exactly decided how to handle your penance.”

“About that.” He began. “Can I just say—?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, right now.” She interrupted. “We have a lot to do before lunch.”

The inside of the shop was extremely spacious. Everything from backpacks, satchels and tote-bags to trendy little journals and five-star binders were on display in the surrounding shelves and bookcases, and that was just in the lobby. Valentina collected a small plastic cart from a stack, strolling down the center and into an adjoining room labeled ‘Domestic Provisions.’

“Did you pack a suitcase?” She asked, picking out various amenities from the healthcare aisle as they talked: a loofah, a pack of tampons, body wash, baby shampoo…

“I did.” He said, “But I’m still in Transient Housing.”

“Then we should move you into my room sometime tonight.”

Your room?” He balked. “But I thought…”

“That you’d get your own?” She teased. “That’s not how it works. You live with your mother for your first year. Why should your bullshit therapy – excuse me, your ‘sexual re-orientation’ – make it any different? Every girl I know has had to sleep on a bunk bed her first year.”

“I’m not a girl.” He said flatly. “And anyway, what if something happened…?”

“Like what?” She asked. “Like we decided to start acting our age and having wild, crazy sex every night?”

“Not so loud.” He whispered. “But…yes? I mean, you know, just hypothetically…”

“Then, ‘hypothetically,’ you’d be rehabilitated, wouldn’t you?”

He blushed.

“The faculty doesn’t make a sponsor out of just anyone.” Valentina explained. “They select people that they trust. If I were to betray that trust….”

“You’d get tethered to a pole and forced to sit naked in a courtyard?” He said dubiously.

“Would you want to find out?” She asked.

The topic of their discussion died as Valentina emitted a wild, girlish squeal.

“Oh my god!” She cried, twirling around at random. She flourished one of the tote bags in both hands and smiled like a little girl on Christmas morning, then hugged the bag to her chest. Personally, Sasha thought the bag was hideous – who would decorate anything in purple and green – but it did have an iconic character from Invader Zim depicted on the front.

“Gir!” She said. “Oh, Gir, they finally have you in stock!”

Sasha tried to smile too, but it didn’t last. Soon he was sticking his hands in his pockets and looking pensively at the floor.

“What’s wrong?” She asked, strolling into another aisle of bath and beauty products and tossing a plastic shaker of baby powder into the cart. “You’re not embarrassed for me, are you?”

“Just in general.” He replied.

“Yeah.” She said consolingly. “Today’s going to suck for both of us. Try not to dwell on it so much.”

He followed her mutely around as she continued to select her course material from an aisle labeled ‘Provisions: Elderly,’ though ‘Incontinence’ would probably have been a more apt description. Instead of unwieldy plastic packages with assorted brand names, the Boardwalk marketed their incontinence products toward students who needed the materials for nursing courses. They were marked with stickers and shrink-wrapped in packs of two and five. She gave them only a cursory examination before making a selection.

They stopped again farther down the aisle, where Valentina deftly began plumbing through primly stacked piles of organic birdseye cotton. From the corner of her eye, she could see that Sasha was dumbfounded, probably by the vast array of sizes, shapes and colors. Behind him, flat cardboard packs in violet print were strung up on gondola shelving, advertising a product called ‘Sani-Pants.’ She made a mental note to back and look at them.

“What’s your waist size?” She asked, picking out the smallest swathe of pre-folded birdseye cotton she could find and opening it open up like a hand-towel. If she wanted anything smaller, she’d have to cut the cloth and stitch it up herself. Or go to the baby aisle.

“Twenty-four.” Said Sasha, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Dear god!” She exclaimed, counting out a stack of night weight and day weight cuts. “That can’t be healthy, you know?”

“I’m, like, five-three!” He exclaimed, shuffling around. “I’ll fill out.”

“I was thinking I’d buy you something leisurely to wear.” She explained. “Do you have anything other than your uniform?”

“Oh!” Exclaimed Sasha, looking visibly relieved. “Don’t worry about me.”

“It’s my job to worry about you.” She replied, crouching down on her haunches and picking through some plastic snap-open boxes of wet wipes along the bottom row. “And frankly, if we’re going to share a room, you should at least have some pajamas.”

“If you say so.” Said Sasha, scratching the back of his head.

“Oh, and I do.” She declared, examining a bright green box with a baby on the cover before placing it in her newfound tote. “Do you know how to find the Girl’s Lounge?”

He nodded.

“Then get your suitcase, find yourself a snack, and meet me there.” She replied. “Unless you really want a say in my next mind-blowing decision?”

“What’s that?” He asked, giving her a nervous laugh. “Scented or unscented?”

“Something like that.” She smiled. “Plus I still have to place an order and talk to a seamstress, so it may take me a while.”

“One more thing?” He asked timidly.

“What’s that?”

“When do you have that…other thing?” He probed. “With the headmistress, I mean?”

“As soon as I’m done here.” She replied.

Valentina couldn’t say how long she spent trying to decide between petroleum jelly and diaper cream, but when she looked back, Sasha was red-faced and biting his lower lip. She probably should have reprimanded him for being so damnably pitiable, but she couldn’t find it in her heart to do that. Instead, she turned around and reached out to take his chin in her hand, gently stroking the side of his face with the tips of her fingers.

“Don’t look so glum.” She said chidingly. “I’m a big girl. I can handle it,”

“Val…?” He volunteered. “I’m really, really sorry.”

“I know you are.” She said softly, leaning in to plant a kiss on his forehead. “But stop calling me ‘Val,’ or you’ll really, really have a reason to cry.”

Re: Project Children

I know it’s kind of a slow-start, and unfortunately, I’m afraid it’ll probably stay slow-going for a while. I need time to build the character dynamics, set the tension, and pave the way for an erotic undercurrent (okay, I consider the undercurrent erotic - ‘infantilism-oriented’ is probably a better word) without sacrificing the story. This is the first story that I’ve actually managed to sit down with and sketch out a complete outline. It’s not perfect, but I should be able to follow it all the way to the end.

A couple of amendments to this post. I didn’t feel like tacking on another reply:

First and foremost, I welcome any all comments and criticism. I have help when I need it, and I’m very grateful for it, but I’d like to make sure that all suggestions are welcome. Second, to keep the story from falling out in fits and starts, I think I’m going to slow down from here on out. I have the foundation for the story in place, so I was thinking I’d put out a new chapter once a week. Given the small size and the lack of forward movement, I may be inclined to update twice a week, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. That said, if you’d like to share your thoughts, please let me know?

Re: Project Children

Now don’t take this wrong, but I am not into stories that have physical abuse and punishment. That being said, I am currently still reading. Depending on how you handle the issues in this story, I may continue reading to the end. But, you are walking a fine line at the moment and that concerns me.

You have a good writing style and no overly obvious grammar problems. The story is going at slow pace, but that is what you need to do for certain types of psychological character development. She has dropped a ton of clues, and he still hasn’t picked up on what is coming. Yet, you make it believable. I look forward to seeing more. Don’t rush it, just work on developing your story and characters.

Re: Project Children

Now don’t take this wrong, but I am not into stories that have physical abuse and punishment. That being said, I am currently still reading. Depending on how you handle the issues in this story, I may continue reading to the end. But, you are walking a fine line at the moment and that concerns me.

I wish I could assuage your concerns, but I can’t promise you that you won’t see punishment or physical abuse. I don’t write punishment for punishment’s sake, though, and I don’t romanticize abuse. I’m also trying very hard to uphold everyone’s suspension of disbelief, and I take it as a fine compliment that nothing thus far has broken it. I wouldn’t be offended if you stopped reading because you were uncomfortable, but I really hope I can keep you interested.

Re: Project Children

Okay, so a quick update before this next post.

Currently, I’ve managed to stay ahead of my work. Initially I was posting everything as soon as it was written and thoroughly revised, but some wise counsel encouraged me to try and keep my updates as regular as possible. To that effect, I’ve decided to shoot for weekly updates every Friday. Today I’m making an exception.

This chapter would have been much more adequately paired with the last one, but at the time I was just posting everything as it was churned out. Now that I’ve decided to update weekly, the prospect of posting this on Friday and waiting a full week just seems miserly. This chapter is necessary for the advancement of the plot, but I’ll be the first to admit that, much like the last ‘chapter,’ it doesn’t have a whole lot of substance. Standing alone, it’s little more than a teaser.

So, in the event that I have more material like this, I think I’ll set Wednesday aside to share it. Generally, though, regular updates will occur on Fridays – and for my part, I’ll try to ensure that they stay as regular as possible.

Comments, suggestions and criticism are, as always, highly encouraged. I’m very receptive to my readers, so if you’d like to share something with me, by all means, don’t be shy!

Re: Project Children

Interlude: The Girl’s Lounge

It was not his finest hour.

Now that he was running around without an escort, a part of him felt as if a security blanket had been taken away. He knew it was foolish. He hadn’t put a foot wrong before this morning, but now that he realized how easy it was to slip up – and who would be punished if he did – the Boardwalk Reception Center became a truly frightening place.

The Girl’s Lounge was a separate structure unto itself; a tall, boxy stone building about the size of a small residential estate, with a round façade, a slightly steepled roof and an open portico supported by a series of off-white stone columns. Like most of the structures here, it was predominately brick, but the portico itself appeared to be constructed from solid stone. When he reached the front door, he had to pass his student identification across a scanner and wait for a green light before he could make his way in.

The inside of the lounge wasn’t exactly gender-neutral, but neither was it overbearingly feminine. The plush carpets were vermilion red, and the living room was furnished almost entirely with dated black leather. He lugged his suitcase around several couches and ignored the flat-screen television as he passed it by, but he couldn’t ignore the way the girls stared at him when he walked by. Nobody wanted to talk to him, it seemed, but everyone wanted to look.

He finally claimed a love-seat at the edge of the far wall between a nightstand and a reading lamp. It was a little torn, and it stood out against the pink drywall, but it close enough to the corner to be considered out-of-the-way – and at the moment, there was no other place he’d rather be. The fragrance of fresh brewed coffee permeated the room, but after taking one glimpse at the adjoining kitchen and its sole occupant, he decided it best to keep quiet and stay put.

“Who let you in?” Asked the girl from the kitchen.

The first thing he noticed about her was her hair. It was an obscene shade of red, so vivacious that the only other place he’d ever seen it was on a fluorescent crayon in his childhood. It had to be against regulation! She wrapped it in a chignon that was messily pinned above her ear; the rest of it swirled across her head to end in an array of side-swept bangs. Her condescending stare looked practiced, but her pouty lips and cherubic face made her no older than him.

“I let myself in.” He replied. “Faculty doesn’t trust me in the Boy’s Lounge, so they stuck me here.”

“Uh, oh-kay,” Said the woman, leaning forward to set a styrofoam tray atop the nightstand. “So you’re some kind of Project Child?”

“I thought every child here was a project?” He quipped.

“Whatever!” She laughed. “You get that off a sticker or something?”

“Nah.” He replied. “I thought of it all by myself.” In fact, he’d stolen it from Fat Fitzie, but she didn’t need to know that.

“Aw, look at you.” She said. “Gay and charming. You plan on getting a bite to eat? There’s food in the oven.”

He thought about telling her he wasn’t gay. Somehow, he didn’t think she’d believe him. Nobody ever did.

“I don’t think so.” He said flatly. “I’ve…had a rough day.”

“Haven’t we all?” She said, stifling a laugh. “I’m Aisling.”

“Ashley?” He asked, extending my hand. “I’m—”

“Ling.” She corrected. “Like, ‘esh-LING.’ It’s Gaelic, actually.”

“What’s taking so long, love?” Called a woman from the other room. “The coffee’s behind you, now isn’t it?”

“I’m coming already!” She exclaimed. The frustration returned almost immediately, souring her face with pouty lips and angry eyes. “Sorry, kid. You know the deal.”

“You left your tray…” He called after her.

“Take it!” She called back, carefully collecting a cappuccino mug from atop the kitchen counter and scampering off into the dinette.

He crossed his legs underneath him and leaned on his suitcase, sitting as patiently as he could. He probably waited for ten or fifteen minutes before he finally caved in and reached for the take-out box, setting it in his lap and opening it up to find something that vaguely resembled a soft taco. It was on pita bread, however, and the contents fell apart when he tried to pick it up with his hands.

He found a plastic fork tucked in the back of the tray, and he wasted no time in tearing it open and giving it another go. It wasn’t until he shoveled in the first bite that he realized how famished he was.

The Girl’s Lounge cleared out while he was eating, but for once he suspected that this had very little to do with him. Across the room, on the flatscreen television, the credits were rolling. From what he could tell, they had been watching a remake of the old Doctor Who.

He looked up again as the door opened to admit a tall, slender Spanish woman with a pair of perfect, hourglass hips. Her cherubic face was vaguely heart-shaped, with a narrow chin, smooth cheeks, and slightly exaggerated features. Her hair was black and glossy, stylishly textured so that it flowed all the way down to the basque-line of her pleated skirt. She noticed him almost immediately, and she paused in the middle of the lobby just long enough to curl her mocha-colored lips into a dissatisfied frown.

“Sasha!” She exclaimed, staring at him in disbelief. “For real?”

“I’m sorry?” He asked. “How did you—?”

“Don’t worry about that.” She interrupted. “Now, tell me what’s wrong with this picture.”

“I’m allowed to be here.” He said.

She planted her hands on her hips and continued to stare at him as if he’d stolen a pie and didn’t want to admit it.

“I swear!” Said Sasha. “I really don’t know what else to tell you.”

Hay Dios Mio!” She exclaimed, holding a finger out as if to silence him. “You know what? Let me stop.”

He looked up at her in confusion.

“Okay.” She said, her voice lilting as if she was speaking to a child who couldn’t find an Easter Egg. “Now, look over there…

That was when he saw the sign. It was a large black board that should have been impossible to miss. On it, printed in bright, white, capital letters, was the following message:

NO FOOD OR DRINK IN THE LOBBY.

When he finally managed to make himself move, it was with a spastic start. He hurriedly unfolded his legs and leaned forward to stand up, but he lost his balance at the last minute. This caused him to launch his tray into the air by accident, only to catch it just before it fell. Unfortunately, the contents were not so lucky. Just that quick, the ground was littered with shredded lettuce, ground beef and Pico de Gallo.

The girl groaned audibly, but she scrambled to pick up after him as if she’d spilled it all herself.

“Sorry!” He exclaimed, setting the soft tray atop the nightstand in a rush. “Shit! I’m really sorry. I’ll clean this up, I promise!”

He scooted forward and fell out of the love seat, but he landed on all fours. By the time he began gathering up what little he could, however, the slender woman was almost done. For a moment, he swore he could feel her eyes drilling into him as she stood.

“Don’t bother cleaning up after yourself or anything.” She said sarcastically, dumping the taco pieces into the container.

“I’m trying!” He stammered, cupping the last of the diced chunks. “Oh, god. Okay, I know. I’m sorry. It was stupid. I’m very sorry – is my sponsor in trouble?”

“Your sponsor?” She asked, stressing the word as if somehow the question offended her personally. “Oh, no. This is all you.”

He didn’t realize his legs had fallen asleep until he tried to stand on them, and he probably would have toppled back over if the taller woman hadn’t reached out and caught him. Her slender hands wrapped easily around his hips, and she continued to hold him upright as he struggled for balance.

“Easy.” She said, wrapping one arm around his hip so that she could reach for the tray with the other. He dumped the scattered chunks into the near-empty container when she offered it to him, nodding abashedly.

“Can you walk?” She asked, something in her voice making it unclear as to whether or not she was serious.

“Would you just let me get the stupid tray?” He exclaimed, his face flushing with embarrassment. He flexed his toes, desperately trying to dull the sensation of pins and needles rushing through his calves and thighs. She held him up all the while, but gave him a sharp look.

“Please?” He asked.

She held out the tray and stepped back, letting go him and watching with owlish amusement.

“Erm.” He stammered over his words, steadying himself on the arm of the love seat and dumping the scavenged food into the open container. “How do you know my name?”

“Your mother sent me in to watch you.” She replied. “And you know what? Right now I don’t like what I see.”

“Great.” He said, collecting the tray and lifting up one of his feet. “Do you have a name?”

“Of course.” She replied. “Why don’t you worry about finding your way to the sitting room? You and I are gonna have a little chat.”

Sasha took two steps toward the break room before his legs wobbled awkwardly out from underneath him once again. And once again he went stumbling forward. The older woman was twice as quick to catch him this time around, but not half as patient. She snatched the dinner tray from with the alacrity of a mother snatching her lipstick from a snooping child, and then tossed it easily into the nearest trash can.

“Alright!” She exclaimed. “I’ve seen enough. Up we go!”

Sasha let out a girlish squeal as the taller, stronger woman lifted him up by the crook of his knees, causing him to fall backward into the crook of her elbow. He writhed about uselessly as she carried him against her breast, briskly traversing the kitchen. His feet swung about in short scissor kicks, flailing against the empty air.

"You’ve made your point! Cried Sasha. “Put me down!”

The only other two occupants exchanged awkward glances at him as he squirmed about, writhing uselessly in her arms.

Aisling giggled fiercely at the sight of him being carried around by her Amazonian friend. Beside her, another woman was nursing a cappuccino and picking away at a muffin. She watched everything with quiet fascination, staring at him with an unnerving pair of glassy, hazel eyes.

“Have you got your biological clocking ticking at you or something?” Asked the coffee-drinker. It was clear now that she had a strong, English accent.

“His legs fell asleep.” She replied, shifting him about in her arms to keep him from falling.

“I can still walk!” He cried, writhing uselessly in her arms. “Would you put me down!?”

“Oh, stop being such a baby.” She said.

“Tell me you didn’t eat that in the lobby?” Asked Aisling.

The Spanish woman carried him all the way across the kitchen, through the dinette, and into a smaller sitting room adjoined by a lavatory. For a moment, he feared that she was going to take him out into the back porch.

“He sure was.” She declared, answering for him. “Right in front of the door!”

“I said I was sorry!” He exclaimed.

“Does she do this all the time?” Asked Aisling.

“Only when she wants to show off.” Said the hazel-eyed woman. “Isn’t that right, love?”

The embarrassment finally ended as the Amazon dumped him unceremoniously into a heavily cushioned papasan chair. When he looked up, the she was smirking wryly.

“Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in?” She asked.

“Wait…” Said Aisling. “Is he like, a part of our House or something?”

“Mhm.” Said the hazel-eyed woman. “That would make Mercy here into his overbearing auntie. Or a wicked stepmother, I suppose.”

“Overbearing!” Exclaimed the Spanish woman. “Seriously? You think I’m overbearing?”

Everyone gave her a flat stare.

“…don’t answer that.” She said.

“I’m right here.” Sasha protested, scooting forward and trying sitting up.

“We hadn’t noticed.” Said Mercy. “Say hi to Sasha, everyone.”

“Hi Sacha.” Said Aisling, waving at him. As an after thought, she asked. “Wait, did you say Sacha? Like, Baron Cohen?”

“Sasha, this is my mother, Makayla.” Said Aisling, gesturing to the hazel-eyed woman. Makayla nodded from the rim of her cappuccino, and Aisling looked up to Mercy with a wry smile. “We’ve met.”

Makayla had a milky complexion, and her face was framed by wavy strands of honey blonde hair that had been gently tousled around straight, flatironed bangs. Her glossy pink lips were pursed in thought, and she pushed away the small plate she’d been picking away at. Needless to say, she wasn’t old enough to be anyone’s mother – much less Aisling’s.

“Hey.” He said meekly, attempting to stretch his legs out once more, just to be safe. “Am I really in that much trouble?”

“Come now, love.” Said Makayla. “You have to know the answer to that already, don’t you?”

“But I’m already in enough trouble as it is!” He cried. “I feel terrible about what happened to Val, but I didn’t do it on purpose!”

“That’s all your worried about?” Asked Mercy, looking at him with the angry stare of an overprotective friend. “My best friend is getting bent over a desk and beaten with a stick because of what you did! You think I give a shit about your feelings right now?”

“I probably should have told him not to eat it out there…”

“Don’t make excuses for him!” Cried Mercy.

“While we’re on that,” said Makayla, looking to Aisling, “Be a dear and make a plate for Valentina, won’t you?”

“Yes, mother.” Said Aisling. She sounded a little resigned as she started off into the kitchen, but she worked quickly. Sasha couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t skimp on the tortillas for his sponsor.

“Is Val gonna be okay to walk?” He asked.

“Walking isn’t so hard.” Said Makayla. “Sitting down, now that’s the hard part. Isn’t that right?”

“Didn’t she tell you not to call her Val?” Asked Mercy, just as the door opened from the entertainment room.

“Pretty sure I did.” Valentina said hoarsely.

Sasha’s heart sank into the pit of his stomach at the sight of her. Though she smiled warmly, her face was red and puffy, and her hair was pitifully disheveled. Mercy met her halfway into the kitchen, and the two women wrapped their arms around each other in a sisterly embrace.

“Hey, you,” said Val, nuzzling up against Mercedes’ neck and pecking her on the cheek. “How’ve you been?”

Sasha started toward his sponsor for a moment, but judging from Mercy’s flat stare, approaching her was not a good idea. He sat down glumly, and suddenly the weight of his situation began to sink in. Despite all of the suffering he’d endured, he had somehow become part of a group. And already, he was the social pariah.

This day couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Re: Project Children

>>This day couldn’t possibly get any worse.<<

This is a way overused line in stories. It usually tells the reader things are about to get a LOT worse for the person who said it.

Re: Project Children

If it ain’t broke…

Re: Project Children

Chapter Three - Word, Deed and Consequence

Sasha watched as Aisling fixed a plate for Valentina, and did his best to sit still as she set it atop the dining room table and drew near him unexpectedly. She offered a conciliatory smile as she reached behind him, and he shuffled over without complaint so that she could steal a pair of feather pillows from his newfound perch. When she began to line the pillows atop a chair for his sponsor, he thought it might come off as a nice gesture if he stood and helped her. As soon as he looked as if he was about to hop off of his papasan, however, a flat stare from the other three girls forced him back down.

He was studying the floor when Valentina’s fingers brushed his chin without warning, lifting his eyes up to meet her. It was probably a testament to his failure to pay attention that he never saw or heard her approach.

“What happened to you today?” She asked.

He half expected to hear Mercedes answer for him, but the room was silent as Valentina waited for his response. He couldn’t say why, but feeling her tender hands on his face and hearing the softness in her voice just made his shame that much worse. His face flushed almost immediately, but Valentina did not allow him to break eye contact. Her fingers remained firmly tucked beneath his chin, and she studied him despite his embarrassment.

“I asked you a question.” She warned. “Let’s try something else. Were you a good boy while I was gone?”

“I…” He stammered over the words. “No.”

“Why not?” She asked. Her other hand reached up to brush the back of her nails through several thin strands of his stark brown hair, but that just stifled him even further. Her compassion sent a tingling up his spine, and his breathing went a little shallow as she traced her fingertips around the edge of his ear.

“Please, Val…” He stuttered. “Please don’t be angry with me?”

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?” She asked. The tone should have been demanding, but it wasn’t. If anything, her voice was deceptively calm. “Would you call your own mother by her first name?”

“Sorry.” Sasha said flatly.

“No you’re not.” Said Valentina. “I’ve known you for less than six hours, and already I can tell when you’re truly sorry and when you’re trying to placate me.”

“It was just a slip of the tongue.” He said. “It won’t happen again.”

“Tell me, Sasha.” Said Valentina. “At what point do your accidents stop becoming accidents and start becoming bad behavior?”

“What kind of a question is that?” He balked. “I’ve never…well, okay, I spoke up out of turn this morning, but I already have a punishment lined up for that! Are you really that angry about this thing with the chair?”

“It’s not just that.” Said Valentina. “It’s about your attitude. I think you’re trying to behave, but only when it doesn’t involve something inconvenient or embarrassing. Tell me, Sasha, what do I have to do to get you to take this seriously? Do I have to become a mother who strikes her child anytime he does something wrong?”

“I didn’t see the sign, okay?” He cried, perhaps more loudly than he meant.

“No, it’s not okay!” She snapped. “Do you think that excuse would fly with the faculty?”

“But it’s not like I got you in trouble or anything!” He exclaimed. “Why are you making this such a big deal?”

“Are you serious?” She quipped. “Do you not remember our talk about thin-ice, or are you really just not getting it?”

“Oh, come on, Val—!”

She gently traced her finger down his jawline and set it gently over his lips, though she looked as if she had to force down the urge to strike him. He whimpered remorsefully, and she let out a solemn sigh. Sasha felt as if he could actually hear the frustration and sadness welling up in that one breath.

“Unbelievable.” She declared. “That, right there. You don’t think that’s a big deal?”

He opened his mouth to apologize, and she slid her palm over his mouth to stifle his words.

“Enough.” Said Valentina. “Not another word! When I take my hand off of your mouth, you stand up, and you park your ass in that corner. I’ll call for you when I’ve decided how I’m going to handle this.”

He felt absolutely appalled. Did she think he was some kind of child that she could just boss around at her leisure? He was nearly a grown man! He almost opened his mouth to tell her as much, but as soon as his jaw opened, her already stormy expression narrowed into an open challenge, and he shrunk back like a dog.

“Test me.” Said Valentina. “I dare you.”

An uncomfortable silence overtook them as Valentina lifted her hand from his mouth. She didn’t even pay attention to him as he hung his head and started for the corner – she just unbuttoned the top of her blouse and began to roll up her sleeves. He glanced back to see her smiling warmly at Aisling, but he kept walking away before he set her off with his dilly-dallying. He could hear the girls kissing each other’s cheeks as he fixed his eyes on the pink drywall, and his face went red with anger and embarrassment.

“Did you make this?” Valentina asked.

“I tried…” Aisling hedged. “I mean, like, I sort of don’t really cook much.”

“No.” Said Valentina. “That was really sweet of you.”

He couldn’t see Valentina as she picked at her food, but he could hear the scraping of her plastic fork against the styrofoam plate, and a part of him could feel the weight of her eyes on his back. Nevertheless, the girls just went on talking to each other, acting for all the world as if he didn’t exist.

“What’s your name, honey?” Asked Valentina.

“Oh, have I forgotten, then?” Asked Makayla. “How rude of me! Aisling, meet Valentina. Val here’s one of my best mates, isn’t that right?”

“Are you, like, an aunt or something?” Asked Aisling.

“An older cousin, I think?” Said Valentina. “I’d rather we had a casual relationship. Tell you what, why don’t you come and sit with me for a minute?”

“Uh, eh, sure.” Said Aisling. “Let me just get the drinks.”

He listened as Aisling shuffled about, cleaning up everyone’s table like a housemaid. Sasha could hear the girl rummaging through the cabinets and turning on the faucet, but apart from the sound of clattering ice, running water and pouring liquid, nothing eventful occurred. Aisling served the rest of the girls with an enviable degree of efficiency. She never once verbally asked anyone if they wanted anything – she just fetched. He could probably take a lesson from that.

“Do you mind if I get something for Sasha?” Asked Aisling.

“Let him wait, baby.” Said Valentina. “Sasha’s in time-out.”

He clenched his hands into fists at that remark, and his back went ramrod straight, but he never once turned away from the corner.

“Sorry.” Said Aisling.

“Why?” Asked Valentina. “You were just being thoughtful.”

Mira, she’s such a sweetheart!” Exclaimed Mercy, switching flawlessly from Spanish to English, with only the subtlest hint of a Puerto Rican accent. “Come here and take a seat, girl.”

None of the girls ever brought up the lives they had led prior to their booking date. Even the questions they asked hedged any topic that so much as hinted at a life before this place. Instead, they probed for simpler matters. How long had Aisling been stuck in the transient dormitories? How was she? What sort of music did she listen to? At first it sounded something like an interview, but the answers she provided opened up opportunities for the other girls to share, and just that quick, the interview became an exchange. Not even five minutes had passed before any hint of awkwardness brought upon by his punishment had vanished from their conversation. He might as well have been a part of the furniture.

He should have been happy that no one was actively trying to shame him, but it was just the opposite: listening to the way they treated Aisling made him sick with jealousy.

“Where you going?” Asked Mercedes, in playful a tone that she’d never taken with him. “Relax, girl. I got this.”

From what he could tell, Mercy had pushed her chair out from under the table and decided to wait on Aisling, for a change. The rest of the girls went on talking as the dishes were scrubbed out and loaded into the washing machine, and soon enough a quiet settled over the room. He heard Valentina let out an exasperated sigh, and then the rest of the girls began to speak in hushed tones. The fact that he could mostly hear them made it that much more agonizing.

“I know.” Valentina whispered, replying to something he couldn’t hear. “I hate this part.”

“You want me to take care of it for you?” Mercy asked softly.

“No.” Valentina replied. “I’m his mother.”

“Should I, like, clear out of here or something?” Aisling asked, not quite whispering, but speaking softly enough that the question didn’t seem like a blatant interruption.

“Don’t be silly, dear.” Said Makayla. “You’ve got every right to stay, now haven’t you?”

“I guess.” Said Aisling, looking away.

“You wanna stand outside for us and make sure nobody comes in?” Asked Mercy. Judging from the sound of her voice, she was really asking.

“Who’d listen to me?” Aisling asked, laughing nervously. “I mean, like, I can try…

“Just tell them the room is in use.” Said Mercy. “Ask if you could get them something, you know what I’m saying? They’ll understand. If not, I’ll deal with it.”

“You don’t have to.” Said Makayla. “If you’d want, you can just kick back and watch the Tele. You’ve earned that much, at least.”

“It’s cool.” Said Aisling, pushing her chair in as she left. “I’d rather go make myself useful, anyway.”

Hay bandito.” Mercy exclaimed, just after the door shut. “You should be grateful.”

“Sasha.” Said Valentina. “Come here.”

When he turned around, Makayla was loaning one of her arms to Valentina and smiling at Mercy. His sponsor took the proffered hand graciously, but she couldn’t keep from flinching as she straightened herself out. Even with the cushions, she was clearly in a great deal of pain.

Seeing her like that made him feel nauseous. And at that moment, he realized what a mess he was. His heart was beating against his chest in high tempo, and his palms remained slick with sweat no matter how many times he tried to wipe them off on his slacks. His stomach was tight, this throat was dry, and it was all he could do to keep his hands from shaking. He watched the three girls warily as he approached.

Makayla took the pillows from Valentina’s seat and fluffed them, setting them on the tabletop one at a time. Valentina stood beside her, arms crossed just beneath her breasts. He was flush-faced and hot with anger, but he wasn’t quite ready to pitch a fit or start a fight. When Mercedes approached him, he instinctively shrunk away. Surprisingly, her face actually softened up a little.

“Are we done?” He asked, somewhat more acerbically than he initially intended. "Or do you have some other punishment lined up for me?

“You tell us.” Said Mercy. “Did you learn your lesson, or do we need to work on your behavior a little more?”

“Seriously?” He balked. “I’m not a child! So how about you try speaking to me like an adult?”

“How about you try acting like one?” Valentina shot back.

“You know what?” Said Sasha. “I’m sorry that I didn’t address you by your proper title, and I’m sorry I didn’t see the sign in the lobby. There - that’s twice I’ve apologized.”

“Save it.” Said Valentina. “I’m not accepting any apologies from you until I feel like you’ve learned some personal accountability.”

“But they were mistakes!”

“Were they?” She asked. “Can you take them back? Can you do them over again?”

He gave her a flustered glance, as if expecting her to clarify, but his sponsor said nothing. Instead, she began to unbutton her blouse, starting from her lapel and working all the way down her midriff. Sasha’s face went beet red as she untucked her oxford cloth blouse from her pleated skirt and peeled it down from around her shoulders. Her breasts weren’t exactly bare, but the nonchalance with which she exposed her white cotton brassier was unsettling, and he was helpless to admire the curves of her bust as much as he appreciated her flat midriff.

When her hands continued adroitly down to her waistband and began to unbutton the inseam of her pleated skirt, he began to feel perverse. He looked away, but he could still hear her drawing the zipper down across her thigh, and he could still feel her soulful eyes as they bore down upon him. He purposefully studied the floor, unsure of what to do or say as her footing shifted ever so slightly.

“Look at me.” She demanded.

When Sasha looked back up at her, she had pivoted so that her hips were turned against him at an angle, giving him a near-view of her perfect rear, hidden though it was behind the fabric of her skirt. He continued to watch her dumbfoundedly as she slipped that same fabric down her hips, showing him first the red rash that had welted all along the back of her thighs. Once she peeled her matching cotton panties down across her shapely round cheeks, he found himself forgetting all about the lines of her curves. Instead, he was forced to confront the full extent of the headmistress’ switching - a direct result of his actions in Professor White’s homeroom class.

“Does this look fair to you?” She demanded.

Professor White had told her to make sure that she requested that the headmistress switch her bloody, but Sasha had never once imagined that she’d actually oblige the girl. Every inch of flesh along Valentina’s backside had flared up into a bright shade of pink, and many places were closer to cherry red. The rash of welts was not limited in any way to the flesh of her exposed cheeks, either – it was everywhere the skirt might conceal, from the base of her thighs to the edges of her waistline. Some of the welts had even wrapped across her hips.

The welts weren’t the worst of it, though. That was reserved for a series of slender lacerations laced along the bright red rashes; places where the switch had ‘bitten’ her and broken the skin. Individually, the bright red stripes looked exquisitely uncomfortable. Combined, they crisscrossed her backside from top to bottom to form a pattern that looked absolutely excruciating. It was a wonder she wasn’t laying in a bed somewhere begging to die.

“Well?” She pressed.

“…god, no.” Said Sasha, his voice sullen and hurt.

“I don’t want to drag this out anymore.” Said Valentina, flinching as she carefully drew her skirt and panties back up above her hips. “Lay down on the table, Sasha.”

“Whuh—” He stammered, looking up at her with eyes as wide as saucers. “What are you going to do to me?”

“Nothing that my own mother wouldn’t do.” Valentina said soothingly, trying to regain some modicum of presentably. “Certainly nothing that would rival what was done to me.”

Makayla quietly collected Valentina’s blouse and held it open for her, staring at Sasha with an almost-sympathetic expression on her face. Valentina slipped her arms into her sleeves one at a time, keeping an eye on him as he approached the table and doubled himself reluctantly over the edge, desperately trying to still his trembling hands. The pillows set out for him were easy to rest upon – one of them even buffered his hips against the edge – but that was a very small consolation compared to the manner in which he was being punished to begin with.

None of the girls were completely pitiless. Even Mercy, who had thus far treated him like a second-class citizen, tried to make sure he wasn’t in an awkward position. She shifted one of the goose-down pillows beneath his head until it no longer sat askew, and then she held it still, waiting for him to fuss with it until he could find a way to comfortably rest his chin. He didn’t fight her as she guided his wrists beneath the pillow, stretching them gently toward the center of the tabletop. Once she pinned his hands down, however, he found that he could barely move at all.

He wriggled around a little as Valentina wrapped her arms across his hips and gently spread his legs apart, but there wasn’t much room to shift in any direction. He could hear the sound of his heart galloping against his breastbone as Valentina threaded his belt out from underneath him. Mercedes was unyielding, forcing him to stay fixed in place despite the way his feet skidded along the carpet in an effort to find some position that didn’t have him standing on Valentina’s toes.

“Easy.” Said Valentina, drawing her hands back out from around his hips and gently running them across his outer thighs; the gesture was soothing, and it stilled him for a moment. “Just set your feet down.”

Once Valentina began to unbutton his pants, he found it very difficult to keep from squirming again. She worked quickly, though, and it wasn’t too long before his slacks were sitting loosely around his hips. One of Valentina’s hands continued to probe around his pelvis, however, and he whimpered as she slid her fingers invasively down his crotch. She shushed him with a susurrus whisper as her hand interposed itself between his briefs and the front of his slacks; the others couldn’t see it, but she was actually cupping him to make sure nothing got pinched by the zipper while she worked it down his inseam.

“You’ve been a bad boy, Sasha.” Said Valentina, slipping her hands delicately away from his crotch and shimmying his slacks across his outer thighs until they bunched up around his knees. “Do you know what happens to bad boys?”

In that moment, the room was gripped by a perfect silence.

In the next moment, Valentina’s first stroke caused an eruption of pain to blossom along his bottom, and the second stroke gave him absolutely no time to recover. Her hand swung across his backside at an arc, cupping her hand and issuing a resounding smack as it collided against his cheek. She didn’t pause unnecessarily between each stroke, but she didn’t exactly give him time a chance to acclimate to the newfound sensations, either. As soon as he felt his left cheek beginning to grow warm and deaden itself to the sting of the spanking, she struck the opposite cheek and rained hell down upon him anew.

He tried to keep still, but his natural response was to tug at Mercedes’ hands and jerk his hips into the edge of the table. Fortunately, the pillow and the taut nature in which he was spread across the table prevented him from hurting himself. Eventually the pain became so great that he started swiveling left and right. He never managed to get very far. The pillow shifted with his hips, sliding easily atop the table a few inches at a time, and Valentina’s hand thrashed his hindquarters again and again.

Once the he could feel his cheeks began to redden, he struggled vehemently against his own pinioned hands and twisted his hips wildly from side to side while his feet drummed against the floor. No matter how far to the left or right his hips managed to wriggle, however, Valentina’s hand always seemed to find him. His grunting and whimpering continued at a steady whine as the woman’s hands stopped thrashing his bottom just long enough to grip the back of his briefs and peel them unceremoniously down under his thighs, but the brief reprieve came to an end in under three heartbeats.

Valentina’s cupped hand landed unabated against Sasha’s completely exposed bottom, and he yelped as loud as he could. That yelping continued with every successive stroke. Finally his knees began to wobble out from underneath him, and his yelping began to turn into a mewling that climbed progressively in volume. He swung his hips as hard as he could to one side, bucking right, then right, then left, and then left again, but Valentina only smacked him harder for his efforts. When he tried to swivel away from the next blow in a similar fashion, the girls reached out and gently caught him – first with one hand, then with another.

After that, he couldn’t even squirm.

The floodgates opened all at once, beginning with an ululating howl that soon choked apart into a series of loud, shuddering sobs. His entire body was wracked by them, and almost immediately Valentina’s hand began to ease up, though she still came down hard enough to make an impact. He screamed into his pillow as her hand swatted him yet again, and he soon became lost in his tears.

“And. Don’t. You. Ever. Call. Me. Val. Again!

Valentina’s hand punctuated every word, steadily maintaining her forward momentum and causing his terrible howling to build steadily against the sound of his shuddering sobs. When the last word of admonition left her lips, she rested her hand gently on his freshly spanked rump, and his crying began in earnest. She didn’t quite continue the spanking after that – when her hand came down again, it was very gentle. A few obligatory love-taps came down over the two of his cheeks, but at that moment the very thought of punishment caused him to gush with tears.

He’d never been more ashamed of anything in his life, but there was no stopping his body from shuddering, nor his throat from mewling like a hungry infant. He couldn’t even begin to say how long he continued to lie flat on the tabletop, weeping whole-heartedly into his pillow. Mercedes had held his arms so firmly that when she finally let him go, he feared he might slip off. The way his body had slackened up, it wasn’t entirely out of the question. Fortunately for him, Valentina cared enough that she would never have let that happen.

“Do you want to start being a good boy?” Asked Valentina. “Or am I going to have to do this again?”

He tried to respond, but the only thing that came out was a remorseful, pleading whimper. When he realized he couldn’t reply coherently, he nearly panicked, thinking that she might spank him again right on the spot. He was babbling vehemently when he felt Valentina’s hands settled against his shoulders, and soon thereafter he became aware of her soft brown hair against the nape of his neck. Her hands delicately squeezed his shoulders, working their way down his biceps, forearms and wrists before sliding back up again.

“Shh.” She whispered, placing her chin delicately against the crook of his neck and hushing him with another quiet susurration. “Shh-shh-shh. Okay, baby. It’s okay. No more, I promise.”

He was shaking uncontrollably when Valentina delicately drew his undies back over his rear-end, causing him to gasp in pain. She went on to slide her hands beneath his underarms, gently hauling him off of the table in an effort to hold him against her. He had to admit, it wasn’t exactly his crowning moment. His hands flailed around in a panic, knocking over the pillow in an attempt to grab it and then wildly scrambling to cover his face from the rest of the girls. He felt his feet land on the ground, but they would have crumpled out from beneath him if Valentina hadn’t held him up. She kept her arms wrapped snugly around his tummy, and there was a tenderness to her that he’d never felt before as she nuzzled up against the back of his cheek, raining soft kisses along the line of his neck and lavishing him with maternal affection.

He tried to keep his face buried behind his hands, but there was a more comfortable place for it on Valentina’s shoulder when she turned him against her. Her arms continued to cradle him, running up and down his neck and spine with more fondness than she’d ever shown him before. His body was wracked with shuddering and bawling, and the harder he tried to fight it, the harder it came. He couldn’t recall a moment in his life in which he’d ever been more embarrassed, but as disconcerting as it was, he’d also never been more comfortable then he was in that moment.

“I know.” Said Valentina, rocking them both from left to right and back again. “Let it out. I’ve got you.”

His legs wobbled about and struggled weakly to follow her as she gently inched toward the couch, until finally she wrapped an arm around the backs of his knees and hoisted him easily into the air. The sudden sensation of the world lurching out from under him caused him to groan in protest, but he didn’t have the strength or the inclination to fight her.

“Can one of you put him down for a nap?” She asked.

“I got him.” Said Mercedes, closing in around Valentina and slipping her arms around him. “Let someone take care of you for a change.”
He issued a startled squeal as the taller, more athletic woman slipped her arms beneath the crook of his knees and the nape of his neck, struggling weakly as she pressed him against her breasts. He was still trembling, but his bawling had quieted into a soft sniveling that probably made him a little more manageable. Once again, he was reminded of how frail and weak he was by comparison to the others; Valentina wasn’t even that much taller than him, and she could have set him on her hip. Mercy rocked him in her arms as easily as if she were rocking a baby, heedless of his mewling and whining.

“How much time do we have?” Asked Valentina.

“About thirty minutes.” Replied Makayla. “Do you want to go down for a spell?”

“I still need to go back to my room.” She replied. “We were supposed to unpack.”

“Rubbish.” Said Makayla. “I’ll have it taken care of.”

“Could you bring me back something comfortable to wear?” She asked.

“Only if you let me put something on those welts of yours, love.” Replied Makayla. “Do you have any idea how easy that could get infected?”

“They hit me with some kind of spray.” She volunteered. “It burned like hell…”

His eyes were still blurry with tears as he watched Makayla begin to pull out the frame of a nearby couch, lifting up one of the bars and then heaving it out and downward until it unfolded into a futon. He tried to ask Mercedes to put him down on his feet, but the words came out as a soft, incomprehensible murmur. She fawned over him for a moment, cooing at him as she delicately settled him into the cushions of the papasan chair. His head was nestled against a large, fluffy cushion, and the rest of his body was draped into the bowl in a similar fashion – with pillows lining his back and bottom – not at all unlike the way he imagined she’d place a baby into a bassinet.

He craned his neck to get a look at Valentina, but Mercedes gently adjusted the wooden frame of the papasan until he was no longer sitting remotely upright, but staring straight at the ceiling. When he tried to struggle upright, his body refused to comply. That was when he realized how hopelessly lethargic he had become.

“Could you keep an eye on him for a minute?” Asked Mercedes.

He fussed with the underlying pillows and tried to sit up again, but the moment his tingling backside rubbed up against the frame of the papasan chair – even through the cushions – he winced and gasped. He tried to scrub his tears out of his face, but he was still breathing too sharply and quickly to look composed. An inexplicable fear welled up inside of him as Mercy stepped away from his bedding, and he groaned in frustration at his own helplessness, covering his face in shame. When she came back, it was with a fleece blanket draped over her arm and a damp washcloth in her hand. She dropped the folded fleece into his lap and bent over the chair, gently dabbing the cold cloth over his runny nose, blurry eyes and wet mouth.

Que lindo.” She said fondly, folding the cloth over itself and wiping his face off. “I like you better this way, you know that?”

“Were you here when I said her biological clock was ticking?” Asked Makayla.

“Shut up.” Said Mercy, folding the rag and setting it down on a nearby coffee table.

He hadn’t any strength to fight her as her hands crept down his blouse and gripped his slacks, but he did cry out in protest. She ignored him, wrestling his pants carefully out from under his thighs and working them down his calves. Before he knew it, his slacks were scrunched all the way around his ankles, and the taller woman was collecting plucking away at his shoelaces. His hands fumbled with the fleece blanket, drawing it over his sex so as to conceal his sudden, inexplicable excitement.

“What’s better about him?” Asked Valentina. “He can’t move, he can’t walk – I don’t even think he can speak coherently!”

Mercy slipped his shoes off of him one at a time, and he relished the feeling of the cold air against his breathing socks. Mercy shuffled the blanket around in his lap, and for a moment he had to close his legs to keep her from seeing the tent he’d begun to pitch in his briefs. She didn’t seem to take any notice as her fingers gripped his pants and slipped them away from his legs one ankle at a time.

“I don’t know.” Said Mercy, returning to the papasan with a fleece blanket. “He’s all quiet and helpless, and he’s just chillin’ there not bothering anybody. It’s adorable.”

“Yeah…” Valentina said playfully. “You should really just get it over with and make a baby.”

“Can’t I just have him?” She japed, collecting the fleece blanket and spreading it out until it draped across the whole chair. “I could put a pamper, give him a binkie; he’ll be good to go. Won’t you?”

“Have fun with that.” Said Valentina. “I have a baby bag in the lobby.”

Sasha groaned, once more attempting to note his protests and, predictably, failing. He could probably have spoken a little more vociferously, but his throat was still tight from all the crying, and like it or not, he was still trying to get the sniveling under control. When the blanket covered his face, he scrambled to try and poke his head out.

Mercy drew the blanket out from over his face, then, but he soon found himself squealing again as she began to tuck the fleece behind his back, under his hips, and around his legs. She couldn’t swaddle him completely, but she managed to wrap enough of the fleece blanket around him that squirming away would be difficult. The material tightened around his arms as he fussed with it, making it nearly impossible for him to move without shifting his weight off of the covers. All the same, it was warm, soft and surprisingly comfortable. When he tried to sit upright, Mercedes laughed delightfully and pushed him back into the pillow.

“Let me stop.” She said, reaching down to rub his belly. “Where do you think you’re going, anyway?”

He felt as if he were so light and airy that a strong wind would blow him away, but he also felt as if he were resting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean. The world around him was slippery and surreal, and decidedly less important. He couldn’t say if it was because of he sudden influx of affectionate teasing or the sudden endorphin rush, but whatever it was, it certainly made life easier.

“Are you guys done in here?” Asked Aisling, slinking back into the sitting room. When she looked toward Valentina and Makayla, her hand covered her mouth. “Holy shit, Val. What did they do to you?”

He couldn’t see what had become of Valentina and Makayla, but he could imagine what was going on. The thought soured his stomach.

“Nothing I won’t survive.” Valentina groaned. “Could we finish this up? I’d rather not have my ass hanging out.”

“I’m almost done.” Said Makayla. “Could you lift yourself up, love?”

“What about him?” Asked Aisling, looking to Valentina. “He looks like he has a fever or something.”

“Would you get us a bottle of water?” Asked Mercy, pulling up a chair and sitting beside him. “I’d do it, but I don’t want to step away from him.”

“Okay.” Said Aisling, slinking into the kitchen and pulling open the refrigerator. There were so many groceries, leftovers and glass pitchers that it actually took her a few moments to retrieve a bottle of Evian. “Why does that worry me? Does he need to see a doctor?”

“It’s just a rule.” Said Makayla, who looked to be fussing over some bandages. “You don’t leave someone alone when they’ve got loads of endorphins buzzing around in their brain.”

“He’ll be fine.” Said Mercy. “He’s just high on life.”

“Technically he’s high on pain.” Said Valentina.

“Right, then.” Said Makayla. “Can we stop freaking the poor girl out?”

Aisling smiled nervously at him, handing the bottle of water to Mercedes with only a hint of reluctance. Mercy took the bottle with a smile as if nothing was wrong, and the younger girl didn’t appear to have any desire to press her luck. He didn’t blame her – she was very clearly the favorite, and if he were her, he’d want to stay that way. Given the way they were all talking about him, he knew he should have been completely uncomfortable – or at least remotely concerned. Instead, he was just thirsty.

“You just spanked him though, right?” Asked Aisling, desperately trying to mask her discomfort at the sudden shift in the energy of the room. If it was glaringly obvious to Sasha, the others were sure to see it, too. “Nothing outrageous?”

“No, nothing bad.” Replied Mercy, reaching into the papasan to stroke his hair. “She did a number on him, for real, but nothing like what they did to her.”

“What can I say?” Asked Valentina, snuggling up against her pillow and stifling a moan. “I have a knack for making people cry.”

Re: Project Children

For some reason, I struggled with that last chapter for two weeks. I’m honestly surprised that I managed to get it in by Friday, given the circumstances. Hopefully I can maintain the integrity of my writing as I continue – the first chapters felt so promising, and for some reason this last chapter feels sloppy by comparison. I hope I’m the only person who reads it that way; it could be that I’m just too close to it.

I don’t know yet whether or not I’m going to introduce diapers by the next chapter. For some reason, my gut is telling me not to – that there’s a more fulfilling, more believable conclusion up ahead about three or four chapters up the road, but there is such a thing as dragging a story out too far.

As always, questions, comments and criticism is not only welcome, but strongly encouraged. Teekabell, I’m curious to see whether or not you’re still hanging around by the end of this chapter. If you’re comfortable reading this, you should be able to make it through the rest of the story without too much trouble (although I may need to reserve that statement until after I’ve written the next chapter.)

Re: Project Children

To be honest, I was not comfortable reading this, but I do give you credit for balancing the care and affection with the ‘discipline’. Your character development has me continuing to read, not the story. As an author who focuses on character development and emotional journeys in my own stories, it is fascinating to see other authors do an emotional journey story more than just telling a tale. Your characters have my attention, I just hope the story doesn’t cause me to look the other way.

Re: Project Children

To be honest, I was not comfortable reading this, but I do give you credit for balancing the care and affection with the ‘discipline’. Your character development has me continuing to read, not the story. As an author who focuses on character development and emotional journeys in my own stories, it is fascinating to see other authors do an emotional journey story more than just telling a tale. Your characters have my attention, I just hope the story doesn’t cause me to look the other way.

I thought it might make you uncomfortable, but I’ve been upfront with you ever since the beginning. Personally, I feel like discipline and affection play a very important element in an ABDL story, and on the rare occasions when I write them, I try to make sure that they’re always balanced against each other. The fact that you’re still reading – and that you’d like to continue reading – is highly encouraging.

You say that you’re reading for the emotional development rather than the story; I say that (at this moment in the writing) the emotional development is the story. I haven’t yet begun to really introduce any external sources of conflict. I mean, sure the faculty exists as the central antagonist, but what are they except a tool that I can use to prompt the development of my characters?

Over the course of the next few chapters, I’m going to try and give everyone a sense of forward momentum. I hope you enjoy it. As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.

Re: Project Children

I have really enjoyed reading this story thus far, and I look forward to reading more. Keep up the good work!

Re: Project Children

Thank you! Unfortunately, the next installment is running behind schedule. With luck, I should have it up and running by this Wednesday – next Friday at the latest. For some reason, the scene appears to have taken a long time to cement in my mind, and even as it stands now I feel like it’s in need of some heavy revision. Fortunately, considering the pace of the next chapters progression, I’d say that the transition to diapers is coming along nice and smoothly. I don’t think the next chapters will disappoint.

Re: Project Children

Are you still releasing new chapters on Fridays? If not that’s cool, I’m just aching for more.

Re: Project Children

That was the initial idea – unfortunately, the rate at which I was releasing my chapters exceeded the rate at which I was writing them. I’ll try to have the next chapter out as soon as possible, after which point I’ll try and bring it back to a regular schedule (most likely Fridays, as that’s usually a good day for me.) This chapter’s almost done. I just need to finish it, clean it up and post it. Unfortunately I’m at work all weekend, so any work I get done is going to be pretty slow going until Monday-Tuesday (which is why I said Wednesday for the projected release of the next chapter.)

Whatever I decide to do after I post the next chapter, I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated. I have to say, though, this is all really quite flattering.

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