Maragana Girl Ch. 18

bycaligula97236©

With a great effort Jennifer managed to stop crying after a few minutes. The school principal declared the punishment over and ordered the students to return to their classes. Jennifer had to remain standing with her backside facing her classmates until the last of them was out of the room. The students filed out of the bleachers row by row, walking past Jennifer's exposed backside as they proceeded towards the door to the main hallway. All of Jennifer's classmates, hundreds of them, got a good look at her punished bottom as they slowly filed past her.

Counselor Tolkiv then took her teary student to the school infirmary where there was a bed she could lie down on to recover.

"Jennifer, if you need to cry, now is the time to do so. You may stay here as long as you wish, but once you recover enough to put on your uniform, I expect you to come to my office."

She left Jennifer's school uniform on a chair next to the bed, and closed the door to the small room. Jennifer cried for an hour, but finally got dressed and reluctantly went to the woman's office. The American endured a rather long lecture about responsibility and needing to set an example for proper behavior. The teacher finally released the girl for the day, but made it very clear to Jennifer that she expected her back in class the next day, on time, ready to study, and with her uniform presentable.

That night Jennifer sullenly returned to her host family, her bottom still quite sore from the welts. The two parents were incensed. They pulled a hard wooden chair out of the kitchen and ordered the American to sit down in the living room. Jennifer winced as the uncompromising wood from the chair pressed into her tender backside. For the next hour her host parents, using terrible heavily-accented English, lectured their guest about personal responsibility and the need to safeguard her honor as Jennifer shifted in her uncomfortable seat and tears rolled down her cheeks.

Once the lecture was finished and Jennifer was allowed to go to her room, she finally had time to give her situation some thought, without having any Danubians yelling at her. At first she wanted to call her parents in the US and have them extricate her from her year abroad. But as she picked up the phone, she reconsidered. How on earth could she explain this to them?

Jennifer then realized she was mostly to blame for her own situation. She had chosen to come here as an exchange student. She had chosen to ignore Counselor Tolkiv and the school rules. She had no one but herself to blame for not bothering to do any research before signing the papers that finalized her exchange student arrangements. She now was stuck here in Danube City, facing the awful realization she had to make the best out of her life in this restricted country.

Returning to school the next day was one of the hardest things Jennifer ever did in her life. At first she was mortified at the thought of having been switched in the nude in front of nearly 400 classmates. After a lot of nagging and threats from her host parents, she went to school almost in tears, expecting to be ridiculed by her peers.

Jennifer quickly found out ridicule was not how Danubian teenagers usually treated a fellow student who had been punished. Such punishments were common enough in Upper Danubia and were the logical outcome of rebellious behavior in school. Instead, Jennifer's classmates somewhat sympathized with the American. Several girls calmly sat down with the exchange student and explained why she had been switched. Anyia reminded her they had tried to warn her and then added a detail that made Jennifer cringe.

"Counselor Tolkiv switched you because she had to. I don't think you realize that cop was going to arrest you for lying to him, because in our country that's a crime. They would have put you on trial and made you wear a criminal's collar for a year for telling him you had your school's permission to be out of class, and then refusing to say what school you came from. Counselor Tolkiv got you out of it; she jeopardized her own honor to prevent you from being arrested. You need to be grateful to her."

That afternoon Jennifer, nervously twisting her hands in front of her, apologized to her counselor and thanked her for preventing her from being arrested. The teacher responded:

"Jennifer, you shall thank me by applying yourself in your studies. If I see you improving in your ability to study and to speak our language, then you shall have shown me you are truly grateful. As for yesterday's punishment, the unpleasantness between us has passed, and I consider the matter ended."

Jennifer sadly nodded. "I'll try, Counselor Tolkiv."

Jennifer then went to the school library, where Anyia and her other friends were sitting and reviewing textbooks for an upcoming test. Jennifer pulled some books out of her backpack and surprised them by asking in her terrible Danubian:

"I'm a bit behind, I guess, with the classes. Could you help me get caught up?"

The other girls nodded and with that Jennifer became part of their study group.

----------

Jennifer spent much of the rest of her year in Upper Danubia hanging out with Anyia. The two girls quickly became close because of their very similar personalities. Anyia was a bit rebellious herself, but she knew where the limits were and how to avoid crossing them. That information was something that Jennifer very much needed to avoid going nuts in her new host country. Over time Jennifer began going over to Dukov's house, but it would be several weeks before she met Kim, given Kim's hectic schedule and late night music sessions.

One Sunday afternoon Jennifer went over to Vladim Dukov's house when Kim happened to be there. It was a bit of a shock seeing a fellow-American naked and wearing a metal collar, but at the same time seeing an American, any American, was a real treat for the high school student. Jennifer and Kim quickly struck up a conversation, both relishing the opportunity to speak in English. Kim told Jennifer her story and how she had been sentenced the previous year for marijuana possession. Jennifer was shocked.

"So...you've been like this for more than a year? For smoking a joint? I mean...they never let you wear any clothes...at all?"

Kim smiled and shook her head. "No clothes. They're very strict about that. I mean, I go to work everyday, I've been on TV, I've stood singing outdoors in front of thousands of fans, always like I am now. It's part of my sentence, but it's not so bad. After a while you kind of enjoy it, at least when the weather's warm."

The sight of Kimberly Lee made Jennifer able to put her own situation into perspective. It was obvious that what had happened to her at school was nothing in comparison with what had happened to Kim.

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Kim's 20th birthday passed in celebration, first at her job at the music store, then with the Dukovs, and finally at the Socrates Club. Sergekt was very affectionate and courteous to Kim, but at the same time she could tell he was very nervous. Finally, when the night was over and they left to return to Dukov's house, she found out why. Instead of simply leaving her at the door, he asked to come in and talk to her in Dukov's living room. Once inside he opened up a small cloth bag he had carried with him and pulled out a small carved wooden box. He swallowed and handed it to Kim. He then stood silent, according to Danubian protocol.

A bit bewildered, Kim opened the box. There were three items inside, a gold ring, a silver necklace with a pendant showing two griffins standing side-by-side, and a silver hairpiece with gold in-lays. Sergekt's birthday present was an engagement box.

Kim's heart raced. She knew there had to be protocol for accepting these items, but she was not sure what it was. She took a deep breath.

"How...do we do this? I mean, what do people usually do in this country...when they get engaged?"

"You hand me the items, one at a time, starting with the hair-piece, then the necklace, finally the ring. You tell me you accept each one and I will put it on you."

Kim picked up the hairpiece and handed it to Sergekt.

"Sergekt, I accept this hairpiece with all my love."

Sergekt took the hairpiece and gently pushed it into Kim's hair.

"Sergekt, I accept this necklace with all my love."

Sergekt wrapped the necklace around Kim's neck and clipped the clasp shut.

"Sergekt, I accept this ring, with all my love."

Sergekt put the ring on Kim's finger. It fit perfectly, leaving Kim wondering how Sergekt knew her ring-size.

Sergekt then knelt, kissed Kim's right hand and then her left. He stood up, took both of her hands in his own, and looked into her eyes.

"You are the love of my present, and the wife of my future. You have my heart and in your hands you hold my happiness."

For a long time Kim and Sergekt hugged each other in the silent living room of Dukov's house. So it was done, now it was official. Kim was Sergekt's fiancé.

It was painful, but finally Sergekt had to leave to go home. Kim felt bad for him because already it was well past mid-night and her partner had to be up early the next morning for classes. She watched Sergekt's bare figure as he quickly walked up the chilly street to the trolley stop. Kim was immensely happy, but also rather scared. She had thought about marrying Sergekt, but now to be formally engaged to him made her realize how seriously she had to take her life in Danube City. So this was it. There really would be no going back to the US, except perhaps to visit. Kimberly Annette Lee would give up her US passport and take a Danubian one, and return to her parents' house and her hometown as a foreigner. She was destined to finish her life in Upper Danubia, married to Sergekt Dolkiv.

The following morning Kim proudly wore her engagement items to the breakfast table and excitedly told the Dukovs about Sergekt's marriage proposal.

Kim's Spokesman had known about Sergekt's plans to marry her. Sergekt had asked his permission to propose, which he relayed to her parents in the US. It took some arguing and convincing, but finally the Lees reluctantly agreed to allow the proposal to go ahead. The decision was difficult for Kim's parents, because finally they had to formally accept the fact their daughter was not coming home at the end of her sentence. Following the conversation with her parents, Dukov went to the police warehouse and dug into his client's confiscated backpack to find a couple of rings to lend to her boyfriend to measure for a ring-size.

Dukov told his client that Sergekt's proposal was timed to allow him to marry her sometime shortly after the end of their sentences in July. He had followed Danubian protocol, first by dating Kim a year before proposing, then waiting another year before getting married. It was normal for Danubians to get married about two years after they first started dating. It was a common-sense approach, which allowed a couple to gradually build up a relationship over a two-year period before fully committing to each other.

In spite of her excitement over being engaged, there was one huge disappointment. Unfortunately for Kim, the prohibition against criminals wearing jewelry applied to her engagement items. She could not wear them on the street or at work. However, at any family, social or religious function, she would be expected to wear the hairpiece, necklace, and ring to show her commitment to Sergekt. She wondered about the contradiction, but this was Upper Danubia after all, with its strange rules and customs.

----------

Whenever Kim turned on the radio station, she had to deal with the weird feeling of listening to herself, along with Eloisa and the back-up singers, featured in the collection of music currently popular. The group's song "The Wall that Divides my Soul" was well received throughout Upper Danubia, and had been featured on the radios since the beginning of the summer. Several other songs from the group received frequent play, including the still somewhat popular "Nemat mi biciklet", the title of which, when translated to English, loosely meant "The loss of my bicycle has left an emptiness in my life".

During October, Eloisa was more upbeat than Kim had ever seen her. Increasingly she was able to allow physical contact with other people to become part of her life. She had broken the barrier of being able to hold Dima's hand earlier in the year, but now she was able to hug both him and some of her closest friends. During conversations, if she wanted to make a point, she could lightly touch a friend's hand or shoulder. Eloisa and Dima knew that sex still was way beyond her psychological capabilities, but slowly she was moving in that direction. As the fall progressed and Danube City was pelted with cold rain, the change became evident in the music Eloisa was choosing for her band's rehearsals.

Eloisa increasingly was willing to experiment with the group's music. When Sergekt and three other musicians in the group proposed trying out more modern instruments such as electric guitars and synthesizers, they received the lead singer's full blessing. "I'm willing to try anything, as long as you know how to play it and can make it work with what we have already. The only thing I ask is that you have a clear idea of how you would want to use any new instrument, and that you practice on your own before you bring it here."

Eloisa proposed something truly visionary for her group, something that completely surprised the others. She decided to re-record "The wall that divides my soul" in English. Eloisa was smart enough to realize the group had to have at least some of its music sung in English if they were to have any hope of breaking into the popular music scene outside Upper Danubia. That meant Kim would become the group's lead singer for a portion of the group's music and Eloisa would sing with the back-up singers.

Kim was dumbfounded by Eloisa's willingness to drop into the background. However, Eloisa's proposal reflected her mentality and her desire to place the needs of the group's music in front of her own notoriety. Eloisa wanted her music to succeed, period. If that meant putting someone else instead of herself at the lead microphone, so be it. As she explained it to Kim, "It's not just about the 15 of us on stage. I have to think about everyone who ever gave us a song to sing, and everyone who gave us themes speaking at the Club. This is about all of us."

Reluctantly Kim translated several songs based on themes she had brought to the Socrates Club back to English. To help Kim, Eloisa ordered her musicians to record instrumental versions of the group's music. Kim spent hours in the middle of the night quietly singing to herself, trying to see how different combinations of words worked with the group's music. By the middle of October she felt ready to present the English lyrics of four songs, "My bicycle", "The wall that divides my soul", "A question I cannot answer", and "That's all I'll ever be".

The first evening the group had to rehearse the English version of the four songs, Kim stood at the microphone alone, feeling horribly guilty. Before she cued the musicians to start playing, she looked over her shoulder at Eloisa, who was quietly waiting with the other back-up singers. Finally Kim sighed, tapped her microphone, and signaled the musicians to start playing.

Once she started singing Kim's closed her eyes and shut out everything other than her task at the moment. Eloisa, on the other hand, was very attentive to what was going on around her. Her sharp ears listened for anything that needed improvement, the tone of a singer's voice, the timing of an instrument, a misplaced note. After the first session Kim realized how much Eloisa remained in charge when she went over a long list of changes she wanted from her musicians and singers. Maybe Eloisa did not know English, but she did know how the sounds coming from Kim's mouth should interact with the sounds coming from the rest of the band. Eloisa ordered her group to re-sing the music over and over until they got it right. Finally, one by one, the group mastered the four songs in English to Eloisa's satisfaction and recorded them.

Eloisa and Kim presented the English recordings to the music store manager to review. He was extremely impressed and could suggest no changes. Later, when Kim was alone with her boss, she expressed her feelings of guilt by displacing Eloisa as the lead singer.

"Kimberly, let me explain something about Eloisa. You did not displace her as lead singer. She knows what she's doing. She made you record these songs in English because she had to. The English versions are what will be played on radio stations in the EU. However, people will listen to you, and they'll want to hear more of your group's songs. They'll buy the CD. Then...they'll hear Eloisa's singing. That's the real music. They'll hear the real power of her voice, and our language, in your group's songs."

----------

Several music companies showed increasing interest in the group's music, especially now that the group had four songs recorded in English. Eloisa had become the most popular singer in Upper Danubia by that time, to the point there were real prospects of marketing the group's music outside of the country. However, there were a couple of hurdles the group had to get past before they truly could go international. One problem was their forced nudity. Obviously a group of naked singers could not produce videos for markets such as the United States and expect to be taken seriously or played on commercial television. The other problem was the simple fact the group did not even have a name.

Kim addressed the name problem first. She thought long and hard for a name that would have some meaning for the lives of the band's 15 members. Finally she settled on "Socrates' Mistresses". She ran her suggestion past the entire group, but there were no objections. Everyone simply looked at her quietly with trusting expressions, assuming that Kim, because she was from the US, knew everything there was to know about the music business.

Once the group officially had a name, events unfolded very quickly for the members of "Socrates' Mistresses". There were several televised concerts during the end of October. The group's shows began selling out, requiring them to schedule more performances. The group's reputation began to extend beyond Upper Danubia's borders, as foreign fans and tourists started crossing the border to listen to the group in Danube City's concert halls. At the end of the concerts the crowds started chanting:

"DOC-DOC ELOISA!...DOC-DOC ELOISA!...DOC-DOC ELOISA!"

Finally, at the beginning of November, an international recording company approached the group with a serious and attractive offer about the possibility of an international concert and shooting some videos. The offer presented the band's 15 members with a huge dilemma. The restrictions of their sentences remained in effect until the following July: the prohibition against travel and the prohibition against clothing. Since fans could come to Danube City, the travel restriction was not as big a problem as was the group's forced nudity. Obviously any video taken of the band would be unacceptable in most foreign markets if the band members could not perform dressed.

Spokesman Dukov, Spokesman Havlakt, and the owner of Kim's music store had to formally petition the Danubian Supreme Court to request a temporary lifting of the clothing restriction to allow the band to wear clothes during their video shoots. The court was reluctant to grant the request for a very legitimate reason; if this request were granted it would be unfair to other criminals who continued to make personal sacrifices because of the restrictions of their sentences. In the end however, the judicial panel decided to grant the request, since it was important for the band's future to shoot a video acceptable to markets outside Upper Danubia. The ruling stipulated, however, that the band could only put on their clothing during the actual videotaping. At all other times they had to remain naked.

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