The Cedar Chests, Chapter 7

| Apr 6, 2020
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[Chapter 1][Chapter 2][Chapter 3][Chapter 4][Chapter 5][Chapter 6][Chapter 7]

“How in the heck am I supposed to breathe, move, sit and bend over in this damn corset. Is it really necessary?” I bitched, moaned, and complained for days on end — something I rarely do. Mary Jo never laughed at me and always supported me.

“These aren’t modern corsets that they now have for sexy underwear with garter straps to attach stockings, Claire. These most likely have real whalebone stays in them. Now exhale again.” Knowing that didn’t make me breathe any better. She got a cloth tape measure and measured my waist. “Oh my gosh, you have a 20 ½ inch waistline. I’m jealous.”

‘You are welcome to wear it, dear. If I have a heart attack, they won’t be able to give me CPR. My ribcage is already completely compressed.”

“They didn’t perform CPR in the 1800s.” Mary Jo said logically. Not only did I have to wear the corset at home, I also had to wear the four-inch heels at home for hours on end and practice going up and down the three flights of stairs in them. Each time I walked in the house, I had to put them on. Mary Jo kindly reminded me if I wasn’t wearing them.

The following weekend we went back to pick up my cocktail dress and gown. MJ had packed seven more gowns to show the lady at Stella’s alterations. We started at Macy’s to have the waist on the cocktail dress taken in because of the corset. MJ said she’d pick it up for me. “My dear ladies, these gowns belong in a historical collection. Do you wish these hemmed as well?” Stella was also extremely enthralled with the original whalebone corsets.

Mary Jo, “Not yet. We’ll consider donating some of them. We have a lot more and will bring some the next time we are in town.” I still knew they’d never be donated. I just finished my last painful electrolysis on my face. I was happy it was over. Mary Jo was too because she no longer had to put a beard color-corrector on my stubble to reapply my makeup.

Saturday morning, three weeks later, we drove to Lexington for the gala. Mary Jo made me wear a jacket and skirt-suit with a camisole under it. We arrived at about 2:45 and checked in. “You’ll be the hit of the evening in your gown, Claire.”

“I don’t wish to be the center of attention. What is my story to tell your friends at the table about me? Do I have a last name and history?” We sat down on the bed and discussed and practiced what I should tell people.

The event started at 7 p.m. with cocktails at 6:30. I had to find something I could securely hold onto while MJ pulled and tightened the strings of my corset. “Exhale, exhale, exhale.” It was the tightest the corset has ever been.

“Do you enjoy doing this to me?” Gasping for air.

“As a matter of fact, I do. Your waist is smaller than mine! I’m still jealous and getting back at you for it!” And she tugged once more enthusiastically. I reminded her again that there were several other corsets in the cedar windowsill chest she could wear. She cinched the corset even tighter after saying that. Mary Jo did her magic with my makeup, hair, and painted my nails. MJ said we were ready. I zipped up the back of her powder blue gown and hooked the safety clasp. She spritzed a different perfume on me than what she wore and handed me my clutch. We were ready to leave for the elevator. Before we left the room, I’ve always made a habit of stopping, even if we were running late, to tell her how beautiful she looks.

“Mary Jo. You look breathtaking. You are the most beautiful and loving lady in the entire world. I’ll never get tired of loving you.”

“Thank you. You are always so sweet to me. You look marvelous in your gown too, Claire.”

At the registration desk, like at many Kentucky formal events, they had a few young ladies dressed in early plantation replica dresses, and they handed us the program for the evening. I was not as scared as I thought I’d be until we walked into the ballroom and saw an endless mass of people standing in small groups and others mingling around in the bright lights. MJ introduced me to many people I already knew. I pulled Mary Jo aside,

“There are a lot of men here. I thought this event was only for women.”

“I’m sorry, Claire. The invitation was for lady’s associations. Do you wish to go back to the room and wait?”

“No, I’ll stay. I know how much this means to you.” We wiggled our way up to the bar to get a glass for wine. Many couples came to talk to us. The Governor and his wife, Martha, saw Mary Jo and flagged her down.

“Governor, Martha, I’d like to introduce a long-time friend of mine from college, Claire Jennings. She’s visiting Tom and me for a while.” We both curtsied to the Governor and he kissed both of our hands. No one has ever kissed my hand before. Well MJ does sometimes to show affection.

The Governor’s press photographer wanted a picture. I stood on his right side and Mary Jo on the other side while his wife was answering someone’s questions. It was a very strange sensation having a man’s arm around my waist.

The Governor asked, “Where’s Tom. I haven’t seen him or his father in ages? And how are your parents, Mary Jo?” The photographer took four pictures of us.

Mary Jo answered, “They’re both tied up on a construction project and couldn’t make it. I’ll gladly say you send them your best.” The Governor excused himself to talk with other guests and his constituents.

Martha said when she returned, “It is my pleasure to meet you, Miss Jennings. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. What a beautiful gown. Is this vintage?”

“Yes, Ma’am. It belonged to my great or great-great-grandmother. It is from the 19th century, I believe.”

Martha continued. “Well, it looks spectacular on you, dear. Please see me before you two leave tomorrow. Nice meeting you, Miss Jennings. It’s always nice seeing you, Mary Jo. Please give my best to Tom and your parents for me.” She smiled and turned and vanished into to crowd with her husband.

Mary Jo looked at me. “You handled that well.” She said with a smile. “Come, let’s look over the private auctions, then find our table,” I told Mary Jo I particularly didn’t care about the placement of Governor’s hands on my back. She said I’d have to get used to it. “The way you look in that gown, Claire, I surprised any man could keep his hands off you. You know boys will be boys.”

“Mary Jo, stop it. I’ve told you I’m not interested in men.” We walked and viewed the silent auctions and placed a few bids on four or five of the items, then headed to our table. MJ introduced to the eight other ladies at her table. Six of them I’ve known since childhood. I had to explain my dress and its history to practically each one of them.

Dinner was the traditional hotel Cornish hen that never has enough meat on it to satisfy anyone’s appetite. Still, hopefully, some of it would find a way to fill my compressed corseted stomach. Desert was a pecan ball (Ice cream with broken pecans around it). I seemed to fair well on my chit-chat, talking over dinner. I was glad we made a cover story for my identity. The live auction was a lot of fun. The live auctioneer made everyone laugh when he told the ladies they didn’t have to consult with their husbands for permission to bid. Mary Jo and I both made offers on a few items. She got outbid on the private auction for a trip to Hawaii. She whispered to me. “Darn, I wanted that trip. You’d look fantastic in a two-piece on a Maui beach.” She squeezed my hand. I prayed she was joking.

Music started, and many people left. One gentleman asked Mary Jo to dance. That was not uncommon since we both danced with various partners at balls. When she returned, a young gentleman came over to me and asked for a dance. MJ lightly kicked my shin under the table to imply I should go. He kissed my hand, offered me his arm, and escorted me to the center of the dance floor.

I was more petrified than terrified. Mary Jo and I took ballroom lessons, and I certainly didn’t know the lady’s part. I usually lead and not follow. When my dance partner simply did a slow swaying back and forth dance, I eased up. We chatted small talk during the dance. When the dance ended, I curtsied and thanked him. He offered me his arm and escorted me back to our table. “Ladies room, Claire?” I asked MJ, and I nodded.

On the way, I said, “I was frightened to death. I glad it wasn’t a waltz or foxtrot. It’s even hard to hyperventilate wearing this corset. If I don’t get more oxygen to my brain, I may pass out soon.”

“Oh my. Are you experiencing Southern vapors, my dear?” Mary Jo said with a smile as she looked me in my eyes as she blinked hers. “He only saw you like a girl, didn’t he?”

“Yes. I think so. I hope so.”

“Then you have absolutely nothing to worry. If it is a waltz or something else, simply tell him that you don’t know how to dance. Okay?” I nodded. I thought all Southern ladies took dance classes. We both danced several more dances with various partners then headed back to our room.

I kicked off my shoes, “Wow. I can’t believe I pulled this night off?”

“Claire, with your waistline, you turned ever male head tonight, and some ladies as well.”

“You’re joking.”

“Not at all. You were the hit of the evening. Thank you so much for coming with me, Tom, I mean, Claire.” The only thing wanted now is this corset loosened and taken off me, and the sooner, the better.

“Can you help me out of this dress. And loosen my corset?” I can’t believe I said, ‘my corset.’ I had to talk in short sentences all night since I couldn’t inhale deep enough breaths to articulate longer ones fully. When my corset was loosened, it took a massive breath like someone that was just resuscitated.

We had an early breakfast in our room the next morning. I asked, what time is the luncheon?”

“11:30. We should start getting ready.”

Mary Jo put her makeup and did her hair first. She went over and picked up the corset.”

“Do I have too?” I sounded like a little kid begging for mercy not to be punished.

“Remember, we had the dress re-altered for the smaller waist?” I grudgingly conceded.

The cocktail dress was much freer to move in than the long fitted straight gown. It was still hard to take a full deep breath. Before going back into the ballroom, MJ asked me to stop the front desk and asked for a late checkout. She headed someplace else to check on something or the other, and we met back at the elevators.

We headed to our table for the luncheon/fashion show. I told Mary Jo, the clerk behind the desk, gave me his phone number. Mary Jo whispered. “Was he cute? Are you going to go out with him?” She asked with a smile.

I gave her a stern, “No!”

Lunch was the usual hotel chicken breast. The models in the fashion show were beautiful, and Mary Jo purchased two outfits. Not that she needed any more. “See anything you like, Claire.”

“Yes. You!” I knew she meant a dress or outfit. She smiled and squeezed my hand. I was now noticing more about ladies’ clothing — styles, cuts, and colors, and patterns. After the luncheon, we went to pay for MJ outfits and give them her size and where to send it. We chatted with more ladies before heading to our room to change and pack.

Mary Jo went down to pay for the room, and I waited for the bellman to get our bags. In the lobby store, I picked up a copy of the Frankfort Journal and Lexington Herald since I seldom get to read them at home. I know dad reads them and looks for new projects to bid on. The valet brought our car around, and we headed back to Covington.

On the way home, Mary Jo did most of the talking. Mainly about the gala. And then how happy she was for me going as her girlfriend. “Thank you so much. Did you have a good time?”

“I did. Thanks to you, Mary Jo. However, I don’t care about the idea of deceiving people.”

“Claire, no one was hurt, and everyone loved you, and you looked so beautiful in your gown. I’m sure your dance partners thought of you were a girl too.” Mary Jo turned to the social page in the Herald. “Look. Look at this. Look, Claire.” I glanced over, and there was a photograph of us with Governor. The caption under the photo read, ‘Governor Sullivan with Mrs. Mary Jo Taylor and Miss Claire Jennings.’

“Wow,” I said.

“You’re famous now, Claire.”

When we turned onto I-75N we were home in just over an hour.

To be continued. . . .

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Category: Fiction


About the Author ()

This story is not like other stories that I’ve read saying that the author has always know they were a girl — I think I discovered being one.

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