The next few days went by, and Alexandra was finally adjusting. She had gotten into a rhythm, she felt, and began to see playing a part as fun and amusing. Best of all, she was finally being able to really be involved in the war. Her entire life she had felt limited by her sex – not to say that she didn't absolutely love being a woman… it was more that she felt that society wasn't quite ready for what they had to offer.
Anyway, if she'd wanted hard work and excitement, she'd gotten it. On the third day of a grueling recruitment process, the officers and the regiment packed up and migrated to their official training grounds.
Alexandra stood on a slight hill, watching the soldiers find their tents. She directed a very young and a middle-aged man to the nearest tent, and then turned around to find her own quarters. Up the hill was the main brick building (which housed the dining hall and a training barn), where she understood the officers would be sleeping. However, just as she was about to stride through the doors, a hasty hand grabbed her arm and pulled her to the left.
"Nope." It was Sergeant Forbes. "I'm afraid you're not listed in these quarters," he said with a chipper briskness.
"I'm – I'm not?"
"No… most of the Lieutenants are in those quarters." He put an arm around her shoulders and pointed matter-of-factly at a large cabin across the muddy courtyard and further up the hill, protected by a few trees. He then turned to her with a large grin of amusement. "Let's go have a look-see, shall we?"
"Um… alright..." He steered her over to the cabin.
"After you," he said, holding open the door. Hesitantly, she walked up the wooden steps and into the dim room, which was pierced with dusty beams of late afternoon sunlight. Alexandra halted in her tracks when she saw that it was a low-ceilinged, open room with about six cots in close proximity. She only just managed to conceal the grimace of panic that flashed across her face.
"Ah, this is… just… charming." She moved to the closest bunk and gingerly placed her rucksack on the edge. "I suppose this bunk is mine…"
"Lieutenant, I wonder if I might have a word?" Forbes closed the door behind him, checked outside the window, and then leaned against the door, eyebrows raised.
"Al- alright…?" There was a long and awkward pause. Forbes just looked at her, almost accusingly, but with an amused flicker dancing around his expression. When she didn't speak, he shifted his weight off of the door and took an inch of a step forward and cleared his throat.
"I don't know exactly how to approach this, Lieutenant, but I feel that there's a matter that perhaps we ought to discuss."
Alexandra's heart dropped like a stone into her stomach and her every muscle went tense - this was it, it was all going to come out.
She cleared her throat and tried to adopt a position of casual curiosity. He paused for a moment, tongue in cheek, waiting to see if she would say anything. She didn't. So, he forged ahead.
"Something tells me that perhaps these quarters will not suit you."
"They… they won't?"
"No," he was trying to be delicate. "No, something tells me that you'll be wanting something a bit more private."
"Oh, that's ridiculous, why would I want – "
"I must say, you did a very impressive job. Even I myself was fooled for a moment, and I consider myself quite an expert!" He was grinning, now.
"An expert on what?" She asked, dreading the answer. He looked at her coolly in the eyes.
Damn. Well, that was it then. But she still felt like she had to put up some form of a fight.
"I don't know what you mean, sir."
"The greasepaint you're using for whiskers is melting off in the heat, Lieutenant."
Alexandra couldn't breathe. She swallowed hard and began to swoon. He saw her sudden frailty and reached out to catch her shoulder.
"Woah, there, easy!" He steadied her and she looked shamefaced at him. "It's alright, it's alright, I won't say anything!"
"You won't? But… why?"
"Well," he shrugged pleasantly, "you've made this valiant of an effort to be taken for a different gender… I can't doubt your conviction. Besides. I like you. You're highly amusing to watch." He winked.
She sat down on the bed, exhausted but strangely relieved to have a confidante. He sat down next to her and smiled down at his clasped hands.
"Look," he said. "I can help you. Now you're lucky that I'm as open-minded, kind-hearted, and, dare I say it, noble as I am, but you'd be hard pressed to find others like that in the regiment. You can't be found out."
"I know. God, if it's that easy to tell…"
"It isn't, it isn't!" He hurriedly reassured her. "I just happen to know women. But you'll need different sleeping arrangements." She looked at him expectantly as he held out this dramatic pause. "…And I've made them for you." He raised his eyebrow.
"Oh… OH! No, no, no," she stood up, angrily and turned on him. "How DARE you suggest that, you slimy, cold-hearted – "
"I'm going to stop you there." He stood up and grabbed her shoulders again, this time in a snap-out-of-it kind of way. "That is not on the cards here." She didn't know whether to be pleased or mildly offended, but she kept her mouth shut. "I happen to be a gentleman and would never suggest such an outrageous act of misogyny. However, I have taken the liberties of arranging for you to sleep in the cabin with myself and Sergeant Jasper. I hope you don't mind, I told him – that is, we had a sort of bet, and now he owes me rather a large sum of money –" he rubbed his hands together, pleased with himself. "—but the point is, we'll give you a room of your own. Let me show you."
She was blown away. As he led her out of the cabin and across the yard to another, smaller building, she couldn't fully let go of her suspicious reticence, but she was silently saying her prayers of thanks that she had an ally.