Not wanting to be spanked was foremost in my mind as I left the office.
It was not conducive with going home.
The sooner I got home, the sooner we got into the Wait for Damien to get home, to insist I sat and ate dinner and then we'd get to the horrible business in hand. Whatever else happened this evening, I would spending some of it the wrong way up over Damien's lap, thoroughly miserable. And believe me, Damien's spankings HURT.
I really did not want to go home.
I sat in Damien's car and bit my nails, wavering between rebellion and despair. NOTHING was going right at the moment. I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb….and go shopping. Go to the park. Stall as long as I possibly could. But I also- rationally- knew that the best thing to do was to go home and work on getting it over with ASAP.
I was still sitting there debating that fifteen minutes later when my cell phone rang.
I hate the thing.
And only Damien ever calls me on it. I hesitated, considering. Then clicked the 'off' button and flung it over to the back seat. And sat there, scowling. Bad enough I had to go home. At least I could decide when. Boiling with defiance, I started the car and headed into town.
I spent an hour drifting around my favourite shops. The junk shop. The antiques shop. The pottery shop where I deliberately replaced the milk jug I broke on Sunday with a lurid, cow shaped one that Damien would loathe the very sight of. It was dark when I came out. I walked as slowly as I could back to the carpark, aware I couldn't really stay out any longer without it becoming active-
I was out of options here.
I drove slowly through the village, through the three miles of woodland roads and into our street. The lights were on at home and my car was parked reproachfully on the drive. The new windscreen was immaculate.
I slowly retrieved my cell phone from the back seat and locked up Damien's car. And still more slowly headed up the drive and unlocked the door.
Damien appeared in the doorway to the kitchen before I had the front door shut behind me.
"Where have you been?"
I deflated like a pricked balloon faced with that expression and the sternness of his voice. Damien leaned on the doorframe when I didn't find an answer, folding his arms in a very unpromising manner.
"I'm waiting Nicholas."
"I went to buy a milk jug?" I ventured, lifting the bag as evidence. Damien evidenced no interest in milk jugs.
"And you turned your phone off because?"
I flushed darkly and looked at the floor.
I looked up quickly. "I'm sorry."
I trailed off. Damien's eyebrow quirked.
"I see. So I'll presume that was a gesture of temper."
I hate these polite, gentle interrogations. My face was burning. Damien came over and relieved me of my coat, briefcase and milk jug.
"Upstairs, wash and change. You have exactly two minutes."
Or we all turned into pumpkins.
However I was in no position to argue. Miserable, I headed upstairs and changed into jeans. Dinner was on the table when I came down. Fish fingers. From the colour of the chips, Damien had been keeping it warm for some time. Damien glanced up at me and nodded at the sink.
I scrubbed at them until he came over and turned the tap off, then sat quietly, being as small and unobtrusive as I could. Apart from a firm request to stop pushing the fish about and eat it, Damien talked calmly about nothing in particular, accepting my monosyllabic mutters as polite conversation. When we finished, he picked up the plates and nodded at the door.
"Allright young man. Upstairs and find yourself a corner to stand in."
He was standing, waiting for me to move, and the door was open with a clear sign flashing above it marked "Final Exit". I swallowed hard and my nerve failed me completely.
"NO, it's not fair!"
"WHAT is not fair?" Damien inquired. I shut my mouth and my eyes stung. One foot stamped without me actually intending it to.
That word says volumes when he uses it. I ran upstairs and slammed the bathroom door behind me. And promptly stood, mouth drying as I heard Damien run straight upstairs after me. The door opened, my hand was grabbed, and I was towed onto the landing irrespective of my struggling and wails, tears overspilling.
"I'm sorry- I'm sorry-"
Damien pulled me down on the top step beside him, wrapped his arms around me and held me tight.
"I didn't mean to-"
"Shh." Damien pulled my head under his chin. "Stop."
I took a few deeper breaths and let him hold me, gradually relaxing until I turned around and held onto him.
"I'm sorry." I said eventually. "I'm really sorry."
"You have an incredible propensity for digging yourself in as deep as you possibly can." Damien said in my ear. "You don't need to do it. Do you?"
I shook my head mutely. Damien kissed my forehead.
"Corner then please."
Arg arg arg. I got up unsteadily and went to face the paintwork. Why it was supposed to be conducive to thinking, I had no idea.
Beth had glanced at the office clock shortly after four pm and clicked at me.
"Hey. Won't your hunk be wondering where you've got to?"
"Hmph." I said from behind my file. Beth grinned.
"Take it home with you sugarpie."
"I can't work at home, the cat keeps taking my pencil away."
Beth knows me better than to point out that Anastasia is merely a cat and approximately one twentieth of my size.
"I thought HE rang home at 4.30."
She was right. He did. It was one of his conditions of my going back to work. Shorter days, and only three days a week. Which was still embarrassing but was actually helping a lot.
Beth tapped her pencil on the edge of the desk.
"Twenty one minutes and counting…….."
I did NOT want to go home.
On the other hand, I was already in enough trouble.
My windscreen had shattered while I waited for Damien to reverse off the drive. WHY do these things always happen at the worst possible moment? One minute I was sitting there, the next there was a loud crack and the screen was a spider web of opaque, shattered glass. I sat and stared at it, mildly surprised. A few seconds later Damien flung my door open and yanked me out of the way.
"Are you allright? Did any glass fall?"
Damien pushed me back onto the lawn and went to inspect the screen. Three seconds later I got the full Mitchell Look.
"You didn't get that screen repaired, did you?"
I took a breath, considering that question.
"I told you if you left it chipped it would crack on you. You TOLD me you had it fixed!"
"I said I'd made the appointment," I hedged.
"And?" Damien said brutally. I winced.
"I had to cancel it, it clashed with a meeting at the office-"
"Which you realised when?" Damien inquired.
"That morning when Beth said-"
The Look wasn't softening. "And that was when?"
"Monday." I admitted. Damien surveyed the sky for a moment. Then handed me his car keys.
"Take my car, go to work, enjoy your THURSDAY. I will get this sorted out and I'll sort YOU out this evening."
"I didn't mean-" I began. Damien give me a rough kiss and an extremely efficient swat.
"Go to work Nicholas. Now."
You see life had started getting horrendously complicated about a week ago.
It had been early February when Damien had finally- finally- started to discuss the idea of going back to work. It was about damned time. I'd spoken to Beth, negotiated with him, we'd finally come up with the three days he was happy about me working, and I'd gone into the office for the first time on Monday.
I'd actually thrown up twice on Sunday evening.
The first time I'd managed to do it without Damien noticing. I'd hidden in the bath, neck deep in hot water with a book in a last ditch attempt to calm myself down having been determinedly lively and cheerful all day. The second time I'd been curled up in the armchair under a warm and purring Anastasia, arms folded, trying to tie myself up in a knot around the steady churning of my stomach, when it finally rebelled on me and I fled upstairs. Damien came straight after me. I heard him come in through the open bathroom door. I was standing in the middle of the bathroom, arms still tightly folded, doing my best to control things. Nothing is worse than that feeling, knowing what's going to happen and being totally helpless- nothing more than a mind inhabiting a body which is operating on it's own rules. Damien's hands gently rested on my shoulders, massaging.
No. Lips closed, arms clenched, I shut my eyes. And then grabbed for the toilet. I wasn't aware of very much for a moment, except that somewhere in between wrenched muscles and total misery, Damien's warmth was against my back and one arm was around my stomach while his other hand cupped my forehead, giving me some illusion of my body being under some sort of control.
"Allright baby. Let it happen, you're allright."
This was obviously some strange definition of allright that I hadn't previously encountered.
It took a while before I was sure that the spasms had stopped. Damien let go of my head to flush the toilet and lifted me to my feet, filling the tooth mug with water. I rinsed my mouth, trying to get rid of the acid against my throat. My stomach ached with protesting muscles and my eyes were watering. Damien smoothed my hair back and kissed my neck.
"Do you think you're finished?"
I nodded, sure for the moment. Damien waited until I was done with the water, put the mug back and steered me into our room, stripping my t shirt over my head and throwing it across to the laundry basket. I collapsed full length on the bed and rolled over against him as he lay down against me. His hands ran soothingly up and down my back, tracing invisible lines only he knows.
I shouldn't be able to do this. I should NOT be able to make myself ill whenever I got wound up about anything.
"I'm going to KEEP doing this." I said bitterly in the end when Damien didn't speak. "I might as well give up now. I WANTED to go back."
"I know." Damien said softly. "It's hard."
"I WANT to. I'm NOT worried about it, there's NO REASON to be in this state!"
"You stopped working when you were very stressed, and you haven't been back for a long time. And you're still finding any stress hard to handle."
"Maybe I'm not ready." I buried my face in his neck, struggling with some combination of frustration and self loathing. "Maybe I shouldn't go back."
"I think you should try." Damien nudged my face up and kissed my forehead, both eyes, gently. His voice was very soft and the coffee on his breath was familiar, soothing, as much as the roughness of his jaw against my face. "A few days at least. Give yourself time to settle back in."
"What if I can't?"
"Then the first thing we do is go and talk to your GP and see what he suggests."
"You mean drugs!"
"That's a possibility." Damien said calmly, "You might find that having that kind of help for a month to calm you down would give you the time to get back into the habit of working again."
My eyes stung. I already took enough drugs to rattle. Damien's hand moved through my hair, combing out the strands through his fingers.
"That's just one of a lot of possibilities Nick. We've got a lot of things we COULD do, but the first thing we need to do is see if you can work through this."
"How long will that take?"
"I think you ought to try two weeks at least." Damien nuzzled against my face, scratching and comforting. "If you really can't, then you can't. That's not a problem."
"It's a HUGE problem!"
"I know you're very upset, I know you feel awful now. Let's take this one step at a time and see what happens. Hmm? See how the next two weeks go and how we feel at the end of that time."
I was still full of arguments and problems with that, but he was right. Going over and over and over my worries now weren't going to make them any less.
"One thing at a time." Damien said again. "Right now, that thing is you calming down. And then getting some sleep."
I nodded against his chest. Damien smoothed my hair and gave me a crushing hug before he let go.
"You get yourself ready for bed. I'm going to get you some milk and brandy, see if that settles your stomach, and pick a video. Anything you feel like seeing?"
"Shrek." He added in perfect unision with me. I managed a watery smile. Damien lifted my chin and kissed me again.
"I'll be two minutes."
"Nick, stand still and don't pick at the plaster."
I dropped my hands, sighing. If he didn’t leave me here for half of eternity, I wouldn't get bored enough to pick at plaster. That was logic. I surreptitiously glanced at my watch.
Only three minutes.
"Nicholas, stand STILL."
Arg. Okay. YES. Keep breathing Damien.
He'd let me off breakfast on Monday. If I'd even seen a piece of toast, my stomach would have broken bounds. I did later find a packet of biscuits he'd put in my briefcase.
He took me the first day with a promise to collect me at twelve, to take me home and stay for lunch. He refused to discuss what would happen if I didn't survive until twelve, which felt a bit mean, but then on the other hand his certainty was reassuring while I was trying to summon up the nerve to dress, collect my belongings and actually get into his car. The whole two hours from getting up was a mess of nebulisers, Damien finally pulling clothes out of the cupboard and handing them to me, and about twenty minutes worth of tears.
Actually, once I got to the office I was fine. Everyone was nice, Beth was ridiculously protective, my desk was piled high with work and within fifteen minutes my stomach was settled and I was knee deep in wood in the workshop, talking through plans with the carpenters with nothing else on my mind except proportions. It was a really good day, I went home fine.
Tuesday morning was almost as bad.
I was TIRED of waking up at five with a headache and a rocking stomach, of facing breakfast with it being even odds on it staying down, and of clinging to Damien for five minutes on the doorstep.
Actually he was being fantastic, but then what else was new? He hadn't had more than six hours sleep in a week, he was spending every dawn with a neurotic and weepy boyfriend who currently was more interested in cartoons and cocoa than in anything remotely carnal, he was late every morning from trying to prise me off his neck and get me to go to work, and he was ringing so often I was surprised his company weren't complaining. God knows I was responsible for about 99% of all his absences from work.
If he just wasn't so damned obsessive about windscreens.
I turned around, hesitantly. Damien came up the last few stairs and held out a hand to me.
I took his hand without enthusiasm, letting him tow me into our room. It was pitch dark outside: the windows looked out onto the street lamps. Damien snapped the light on and went past me to draw the curtain, twitched his trousers up and took a seat on the bed.
"Want to tell me why you didn't get that windscreen fixed as I asked you to?"
"I forgot." I mumbled. "I made one appointment-"
"Without checking, as you double booked yourself." Damien said mildly. "Where was your diary?"
"It was on the office diary."
"I thought we agreed you were going to write things down into your briefcase diary too, so you didn't double book any more."
I fidgeted, not sure how to explain that.
"I left the diary at home-"
"I thought it wasn't to be taken out of your briefcase?"
There was no answer to that. Damien leaned his elbows on his knees, surveying me.
"So you forgot to make another appointment? Why did you tell me you'd made one?"
"I asked you on Monday evening. When did you cancel the appointment?"
I flushed, twisting one foot on the carpet. "Monday morning? I just meant I WOULD make one in the morning, it was the same thing."
"No, I asked for a statement of fact. You gave one, and it wasn't true. Was it?"
Just shoot me now.
"If you'd told me the truth on Monday night, I would have seen to it you DID remember to make another appointment. Which would have meant the windscreen was fixed that day and that you ran NO risk of glass exploding in your face."
"That was pure luck." Damien said, not impressed. "That could have been nasty."
"I'm sorry." I said apologetically.
Damien's eyes didn't move from mine. "Do I need to check up on you every time I ask you to do something? Particularly something which I expect you, as an adult and a driver, to take very seriously?"
I flushed, shaking my head. Damien nodded.
"Good. If you bluff and confuse the truth often enough, you actually start to forget what's the truth and what's not. It's a BAD habit and I've told you before, I won't give you any encouragement to think it's ok."
And didn't I know it?
Damien leaned over to the drawer by the bed and took out the paddle, putting it down on the quilt beside him. My stomach finally stopped cartwheeling and just tied itself into a reef knot. Damien held out a hand to me, matter of fact as he always is at this stage.
"I think you need a reminder on taking responsibility for yourself, and NOT lying to me about it."
He is SO neurotic about anything from white to pale pink fibs, anything even vaguely disconnected from the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
Unfortunately that's one of the accepted Damien quirks. Somewhat like Europe. Large, immoveable and not something you can just get around.
I can be quite academic about this entire process until this point. Ask me and I'll tell you,
I hate being spanked but it does work. It does make me stop and think, I do pay a LOT of attention to what Damien says and to what we agree, which means we don't- often- get to this point anyway. I no longer do a lot of things that used to bother me before I started getting spanked for them and quickly decided there was good reason NOT to do them again. And nothing ever touches US- no one's angry, there's no sniping, no recriminations, no grudges, and we consistently straighten out the really damaging LITTLE things as well as the very occasional big ones. Sometimes it seems like making mountains out of molehills, but little things seriously bother me.
But when we actually get to this point where there is no more delaying possible and the facts get very explicit- where my pants are going to be pulled down and my bare bottom turned up and smacked, and I know how ever I feel right now, in a few minutes I'm going to be crying hard and incredibly sorry for whatever it was that got me into this position-
That's when pacifism sounds like a seriously sound idea.
Except, I was well aware as I very often am, that I had asked for this and fully deserved it. The windscreen WAS dangerous and I should have got it fixed- and it was knowing I had no excuses that made me lie on Monday when he asked me if I'd made the appointment.
I stepped slowly closer and put my hand into Damien's. Damien drew me in between his knees and unbuckled my belt, unbuttoned my cords and took the waistband of my shorts, pulling them downwards with the briskness that makes me feel about four years old. I was already scarlet when he took my arm and drew me over his lap. I stared at the duvet cover, settling awkwardly into position, folding my arms under my chin to give myself some support. Damien's arm rested heavy and warm across my back and his other hand ran over my backside, making me involuntarily flinch.
"I know life is hard at the moment, I know you've got a lot on your mind. If you'd told me on Monday you'd forgotten, I would have understood. But a week of driving with an unsafe windscreen is not on. And you do NOT lie to me."
Arg. I jumped and grimaced at the duvet as his hand landed, hard. That initial, sharp burn and sting is always shocking. Any illusion that this is going to be manageable goes instantly out of the window. A few more biting slaps in exactly the same place and my body was already reacting quite independently of me and doing it's best to get out of his way.
I swear, his short, sharp ones are a LOT harder to cope with sometimes than the long ones. My eyes were stinging within seconds, and he never paused long enough to let me get my breath or get to grips with the situation. I was overwhelmed and struggling very soon, and it made no difference, he just kept right on swatting my already burning and hotly smarting bottom with steadily increasing vigour. There comes a point where there is no decision left to be made about whether or not to cry. Whatever I did, I was going to stay right where I was, over his lap, getting my already flaming backside thoroughly spanked until he decided he was through. I was sobbing hard, squirming in a futile attempt to evade that extremely accurate hand and trying to breathe when I realised he'd stopped and his hand was rubbing the small of my back. It was a thoughtful gesture, if somewhat like shutting the stable door after the horse. I turned my head sideways on the quilt to breathe and felt the chill of air on my wet face.
"If you'd come straight home tonight," Damien said quietly above me, "That would have been it."
That was NOT good. Tears instantly started to flow again, getting seriously in the way of any blurted apology I could have managed. Except I knew that wouldn't do any good anyway.
"What time are you supposed to be home?" Damien asked, still rubbing my back. I scrubbed my face on my sleeve, trying to sound even vaguely coherent.
"And what happened when I rang you? Hmm?"
"I turned the phone off…" I confessed miserably into the duvet. Damien sounded horrendously stern.
"You do NOT turn the phone off when you don't feel like talking to me." The paddle fell hard and loudly, making me yelp and the tears run still faster.
"You do NOT take off and leave me to worry where you are and what's happened to you. If you don't like the consequences you find yourself facing, then you need to make better choices in the first place. You do NOT add to it by running away for a few hours in a strop. I expect more from you than that, no matter what kind of a week you've had."
Since he was using the paddle to underline about every third word, each sentence had a serious impact on me. I was kicking and crying hard by the time he stopped. I felt him lean over my back and the drawer slid shut, then his hand once more rested on my back, rubbing deeply and slowly back and forth.
I struggled back and he lifted me down to my knees, folding both hands over my head when I buried my face in his lap. It took several minutes before I stopped crying quite so hard and gradually got my breath back. I was radiating fire from hip to thigh, it hurt enough that the tears kept flowing. Damien threaded his fingers through my hair, combing it straight.
"Don't think you're off the hook yet my lad, we've still got that milk jug to discuss."
"I LIKE the milk jug." I said thickly, wiping my eyes on his knee. Damien snorted, bent his head and I felt the firm pressure of his lips on the top of my head.
I swallowed on another sob, breath still hiccuping. Damien's arm hooked around me and pulled me up and into his lap. I curled up, arms wrapped around his neck, and he rocked slowly, one hand rubbing steadily up and down my spine.
"I say we give it to my mother."
"She already thinks I'm mad."
"We donate it or I break it."
I stifled a forlorn laugh. Damien brushed my hair back of my forehead and kissed me.
"Why don't you get yourself ready for bed and come downstairs, hmm?"
I clung to him, really not wanting to be let go. He gave me a strong, bone crushing hug, then firmly lifted me to my feet.
"Come on darling. I'll be downstairs, we can cuddle all you want down there. Get yourself out of those clothes."
I changed, catching sight of myself in the mirror as I passed it. Red, swollen, miserable eyes, wet face, a real mess. Nothing looks more pathetic than watching yourself cry. I pulled pyjamas on, grateful for their softness, and stumbled downstairs the minute I was decent, wanting nothing more than to be held, preferably for several years.
Damien had drawn the curtains and lit the fire downstairs: it was warm and inviting, and the tv was on, chattering softly to itself. Damien himself was lounging comfortably on the sofa, collar open, shirtsleeves still rolled up. He held out his arms when he saw me. I curled up against him, shifting my weight carefully onto my hip, and leaned my head against his chest, continuing to snivel, if fairly quietly. He didn't seem to mind; he never did.
Tightly held, feeling his well practised hand massaging the back of my neck, I came to a decision.
If he really insisted on it, I could live with him breaking the milk jug.