Grunt Work

Standard

Jade wiped her hands on the front of her grease-stained coveralls and glanced at the clock. Three hours until that five o’clock whistle… and then another hour before she was actually off work, she thought with a sigh. No use getting worked up about it now. At least they were busy, and busy made the day move. She grabbed her clipboard as her named was hollered across the shop, leaning up a minute later on the driver-side window of a blue Camry for what felt like the hundredth oil change that afternoon. “Hi, welcome to Otto’s Auto, how are you today?” she said in monotone as she reached in to peel the old sticker from the windshield without a glance at the driver.

“Jade?” came the surprised reply, and finally Jade did turn- to find herself looking into the wide green eyes of her favorite teacher from high school. “Miss Harley! Hi!” she grinned. “How are you?” Lisa Harley smiled broadly as she looked up, answering “Wonderful! Just great. Oh it’s so nice to see you, Jade. I have been wondering what you were up to these days. I lost track of you a couple years ago…” her sentence trailed off, but not before a hint of disapproval, and maybe even a little hurt, had crept into her voice. Jade felt her cheeks grow slightly warm, knowing that it was she who had abruptly stopped answering Miss Harley’s calls and emails, and she swiped her short bangs out of her face with the back of her right hand before responding. “Oh, yeah… I’ve just been busy… I kept meaning to…”

Miss Harley smiled and shrugged, apparently willing to let it go, for which Jade was grateful. “Hold on, let me get you in the system,” she said, getting through the routine questions quickly, though perhaps a bit more politely than usual. She kept up the flow of conversation, easily interspersing work with curiosity.

“Turn your brights on for me. Are you still with the juniors and seniors? And back off again.

“Press your break pedal. All good. Shouldn’t your nephew be close to graduating?

“Do you still read The Catcher in the Rye? I loved that one. Okay, Jim’s gonna tell you that you need a new filter, but I looked and it’s fine, so just tell him no. Man, Holden was even more lost at 16 than I was.”

As she paid for the service, Miss Harley raised her eyebrows and said “Well now you know all about my life, Miss Jade, but I don’t know a thing about yours. Last time we talked, you were just getting started in that associate’s program. You should have finished it in May, right?” Jade’s eyes darted around the shop, looking anywhere but at her old teacher as she mumbled “something like that.” She had tried so hard to keep the conversation off of herself, but Miss Harley had gone right for the one question she’d most wished to avoid. Her eyes landed on Miss Harley’s hand, which sat on the steering wheel. Jade would have sworn it twitched. Flashbacks of high school, when she would try to avoid coming clean to Miss Harley about whatever trouble she’d been up to or class she was struggling in, flooded her mind, and just the memory of her old teacher grabbing her chin and forcing her to make eye contact made Jade snap her gaze back to the woman’s face.

Miss Harley’s face was just shifting from confused to stern, and Jade had guessed right– she was barely resisting taking a hold of the young woman’s face right that minute. “Is that why you stopped answering me?” Jade’s mouth opened, shut, opened again. At that moment, another car drove up, and Jade’s boss waved the Camry on so they could fill the spot. “Well,” Miss Harley said, “it looks like you and I have some catching up to do. We will talk later, Jade. Okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” Jade replied, the phrase falling out of her mouth like candy from a quarter machine. As Miss Harley drove off, Jade closed her eyes, mad that she hadn’t just lied, mad that she said yes ma’am, mad that… well mad about a lot of things. She didn’t have time to dwell, though. She looked at the clock as a red Toyota filled the recently vacated spot. Two hours, thirty six minutes until that five o’clock whistle… and then another hour before she was actually off work.

“Hi, welcome to Otto’s Auto, how are you today?”

~~~

Lisa pulled through the garage, but instead of leaving she circled back around to the office. She planned to ask the manager what time Jade got off; no one was at the desk, but she could see the schedule hanging in the backroom. In blue ink on a stained old whiteboard, it read Jade: 10-6. Six o’clock, she thought as she walked back to her car with determined, deliberate steps. It’s a date.

~~~

Jade stuffed her coveralls into her backpack before throwing her arms through the straps. She paused at the bathroom mirror, giving herself a quick once-over before she left for the day. She shook her head, letting her bangs fall in front of her face, and stuck her hands into one of the many pockets of her black cargo pants. She yelled goodbye to the last of her coworkers and headed out the door, only to be brought up short in the parking lot. Next to her car, in the back where the employees kept their vehicles, was Miss Harley’s blue Camry. And leaning against it was the woman herself, leaning back with her arms crossed, one foot on the ground and one on the car, her bent knee pointing forward. She looked almost too comfortable standing there. “Hey, Miss Harley,” Jade said, trying to sound casual. “Hello again,” came the reply. “I wasn’t sure I could count on you to answer the phone, so I thought we’d do some catching up now, before you could get back in the habit of ignoring me again.”

Damn, thought Jade, she is not playing nice! She found her hands playing with the straps of her backpack, and irritably she shoved them back into her pockets. Why did she actually have the backpack on her back today?! Why couldn’t she have brought a tote or a purse or hell, a plastic bag from Target? She felt like a teenager again, one who had just gotten caught smoking in the bathroom, getting ready for an earful from the principal. Except it wasn’t the principal; he had never scared Jade anyway. It was Miss Harley, and scary wasn’t the right word for her. But it was close.

“Stick your bookbag in the back seat,” her old teacher said as she turned and climbed into the driver’s seat. She didn’t give Jade a chance to say anything back before shutting the door. Jade felt her face scrunch up as she said quietly, “well maybe I have plans, uuuuhhhh, ever think of that?” but then she opened the back door and tossed her bag in before climbing into the front seat. “Do you have plans?” Miss Harley asked coolly, and Jade couldn’t stop the surprise from showing up on her face. The other woman’s eyes looked pointedly up at the open sunroof, and Jade slunk down in her seat, buckling her seat belt and crossing her arms. She found herself looking out the window, and getting mad about how nervous she was.

She was an adult, dammit. She didn’t have to feel nervous! And she didn’t have to justify her choices to anyone, especially not a high school teacher. What had Miss Harley ever done for her anyway? Jade actually winced as that question floated up almost sarcastically from her own brain. Oh, nothing. Just made sure she passed all her classes. Kept her from getting expelled that one time. Let her crash at her place when things at home got really rough. Cared about her. With each memory, she found herself sinking lower and lower in her seat. Suddenly the view from the window was the white cape cod house that had been like a second home for her almost a decade ago now. It’s familiarity made her angry all over again. How was she still having to march to the front door, with this feeling of being in-trouble that she couldn’t shake? She unbuckled, jumping out of the car and slamming the door before stomping up the porch stairs and flinging herself into one of the rocking chairs by the front door as she waited for Miss Harley to come up.

~~~

Lisa had to battle her amusement as her little miscreant slammed the door shut. She had a lot of different emotions battling inside of her at the moment, actually, which she took a moment to sort out as she let Jade stew on the front porch. She was happy– so happy to see this young person she had helped raise through a tough adolescence. She was disappointed– disappointed that Jade had slipped back into her old habit of avoidance, cutting Lisa out of her life instead of letting her help. She was worried– worried that after today, nothing would change and Jade would go right back to ignoring her phone calls and wasting away at that minimum wage job when she should be running the place. But the emotion that won was determination– she was determined that, if nothing else, this little girl-turned-young woman was going to leave knowing that at least one person still believed in her just as much now as she had then. She was going to leave knowing that someone knew she was wasting her potential, even if everyone else believed her when she told them she was doing her best. And, Lisa thought grimly as she climbed out of the car, she was going to leave with a very sore, very red backside.

~~~

Jade tried not to look like she was sulking by the time Miss Harley put her key in the front door, with hardly a glance in her direction. She followed her in, forgetting why she was there for a minute as she looked around the house. Not much had changed. New curtains in the living room. New cabinets in the kitchen. New photos in some of the old frames. Guilt shot through her as she saw herself hanging on the wall amid a collage of pictures– graduation day, smiling in her blue robe and throwing her cap up with her arm around Miss Harley’s neck as she beamed with pride. She was pulled out of her head by a voice in the kitchen: “Have you eaten today?”

She came in and plunked herself down on one of the stools at the kitchen island, happy that she had actually packed a lunch so she could answer truthfully, “Around noon; I ate a sandwich and some chips.”

“Chicken and rice okay for dinner?”

“Sounds good to me. I like the new cabinets.”

“Thank you,” Miss Harley smiled, continuing to talk as she gathered things from around the kitchen. “I got tired of half them squeaking and half them refusing to stay shut all the way. Now,” and she turned, setting up her cutting board and a head of broccoli on the lower part of the island so she was facing her old student, “tell me what happened with college.”

Jade let out a long sigh. She was hoping for a reprieve during supper, at least. “I don’t know I just… it was confusing. Everyone else knew where they were going. I didn’t. Everyone else knew what they were doing. I didn’t. It just… I just… it wasn’t for me, okay?!”

She found herself standing as her voice got louder. Miss Harley leaned toward her across the kitchen island and said, deadly quiet, “Sit down. Right now.”

Embarrassed by her outburst, but still feeling worked up, Jade complied. “How about you let me do the talking then, for a minute, and you tell me if I’m right or wrong?” Jade nodded mutely.

“From what I remember– and it has been several years since we last talked, but we will get to that– you were a few days away from your first week. You had a schedule. You had classes, professors, and a part time job lined up over at the auto shop by campus that was willing to work with you on hours. I went by there a few months after you stopped returning my calls, by the way. They told me you’d quit. I hoped it was because you found something else. Which I guess, in a way, you did.” It hurt Jade to hear her old teacher trying to hide the pain with sternness whenever she mentioned how Jade had seemed to fade out of her life, and she didn’t think it was coincidence that she chose this moment to turn to the stove and stir the rice she’d put on earlier. There were tears in Jade’s own eyes just thinking about it, and she rapidly tried to blink them away.

Miss Harley cleared her throat and continued, her face a mask again when she turned back around. “If I know you– and I think I still do– you took one look at all those kids fresh out of high school, younger than you with more money and more breaks, showing up with their parents, and you decided right then and there that you weren’t going to make it. Did you even go to class, Jade? Before you gave up on it all?”

“Two,” Jade almost whispered, and even that was an exaggeration. She had stormed out of the second class halfway through, when she realized she had wasted 200 dollars on the wrong text book.

Miss Harley sighed as she began to set two places at the bar, pulling out place mats and silverware, nothing left to do but wait on the chicken to finish now. She didn’t say anything else for a while. She didn’t need to. She wasn’t hiding the disappointment on her face this time, and Jade found herself suddenly very interested in the glass of ice water that had just been set in front of her.

~~~

They ate dinner in silence. Both women had a lot to think about. Lisa concentrated on her meal as she thought about what she wanted to say to Jade. She knew the girl felt guilty. She felt guilty herself. She had backed off as Jade had grown older, trying to be less strict, especially during those early years after high school when Jade hadn’t been able to go to school, while she had watched her friends start and then finish with their degrees. Lisa regretted that now, though. Jade had always responded to boundaries, had sought them out, and Lisa had failed to give her the one real and specific thing she had needed: consistency. When Jade had tried to wheedle her way out of going back to school, Lisa had done all the paperwork herself, instead of making the them sit down and do it together. The girl had just about thrown a tantrum the week before classes started, and instead of nipping in the bud, Lisa had tried to reason with her, to comfort her, to be a cheerleader instead of a parent. She’d made plenty of threats, but she hadn’t followed through on them. Well, she wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Maybe it’s not too late to make good on some of those promises, she thought, as she began to clear away the dishes.

~~~

Jade found herself sitting on the floral couch in the living room where she had spent more time than she liked to remember getting chewed out in her teens and even her early twenties. She had tried to help clean after dinner, but Miss Harley had ignored her protests, finally sending her out with a hard swat to her backside. Jade had actually yelped! It wasn’t that it even hurt that much, but she hadn’t done that in years! She’d never done more than give her a swat here and there anyway, having been able to reduce Jade to tearful apologies without much more than a lecture most of the time, and grounding her to the guest room that Jade just thought of as her own. But even those had stopped as Jade had gotten older. She wasn’t so sure she liked their sudden reappearance.

Miss Harley walked in a minute later, and Jade’s eyes immediately fixated on the wooden spoon jutting out from the left hand positioned on the woman’s hip. “Welp, that’s my cute to go! Dinner was great, Miss Harley, really nice catching up…” Jade began, standing up, letting her instincts take over. “Natalie Jade, sit right back down on that couch,” came the no-nonsense reply.

“Sitting, sitting, sitting,” Jade said, plopping back down and trying– unsuccessfully– to stop staring at the spoon. Miss Harley sat at the coffee table across from the couch, and this time she did take Jade’s chin in her hand, forcing the girl to look her in the eye as she asked. “What did I tell you  I was going to do if you didn’t attend for at least once semester?” she said, her eyes piercing Jade’s. “I don’t…” Jade began, but she was cut off. “Don’t play with me, little girl. You do remember. Now answer my question.”

Jade closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and finally spit out “yousaidyou’dgivemethespankingI’dbeenaskingforforyears.” Miss Harley released her chin and nodded. “That is exactly right. And did you give me that semester?”

“But that was yea–”

“Did you?”

“No ma’am,” Jade said, defeated. She remembered that conversation well. She wasn’t sure if Miss Harley would follow through on it. She wasn’t even sure which scared her more– that she would or she wouldn’t. And she hadn’t given the herself a chance to find out. It had been really hard to ignore the phone calls… at first.

Jade was literally pulled out of her head a moment later, jerked right off the couch by her arm as Miss Harley took her spot and pulled the girl across her lap. “But Miss Haarrrleeeeeyyy!!!!!” Jade wailed, grabbing a pillow and burying her face in it.

“Too little, too late, young lady,” came the response, and after that, Miss Harley didn’t waste any time. She spanked the seat of the young woman’s pants for a while, long enough that Jade was having a little trouble staying still, even as she was thinking to herself, okay, this isn’t too bad, I can handle this.

She didn’t get to enjoy the thought long. She felt her baggy pants being pulled down unceremoniously and without warning, and she heard herself actually squeak. This was an entirely different ball game! Her legs began to kick, even though she tried to stay still. As the pain in her backside increased, Miss Harley started talking, not even slowing, forcing Jade to answer questions as she spanked. “Do I expect you do be the best at everything you try?” and even with her backside being peppered with swats, Jade couldn’t help but roll her eyes. These were not new questions. “No ma’am!”

“What do I expect?”

“For me to try my best.”

“Is doing grunt work trying your best?”

“I work really hard there!!!”

Mistake! Miss Harley had a really strong arm, which she proved by spanking harder. “I am sure you do. I am sure you work your butt off for that place. I bet you are one of their top employees. I didn’t say that you weren’t working hard. I asked if it was your best.”

“Arg, no, fine, no it’s not my best.”

Her body relaxed as the spanking stopped. Finally, she said something right! Her relief was short-lived, though, as two things happen. First, Miss Harley grabbed a hold of Jade’s underwear and pulled them down with no warning or preamble. “Hey!” she protested loudly, but she didn’t get the response she hoped for. “Hush. You have acted like a self-centered, self-destructive brat. And you are about to be spanked on this bratty bare backside because you have earned it, little girl.” The second thing that happened was that Miss Harley reached over and grabbed with wooden spoon from the coffee table.

“No no no nononono noooo!!!!” wailed Jade, before the spoon had even landed. She knew how much Miss Harley’s hand was already hurting, and she wanted no part of any spoon on her already sore backside. She began to struggle in earnest, but her position didn’t afford her any leverage, and besides, Miss Harley was apparently ready for this. With surprising ease, she tipped the girl over further, so that her hands suddenly had to reach for the floor and support her torso, which had previously been on the couch. She found her legs trapped between her old teacher’s knees, and suddenly everything about this position felt very vulnerable. “Pleeeaaaassseee!!”

~~~

It wasn’t that Lisa didn’t hear the misery in Jade’s voice, and it wasn’t that she didn’t care. She just knew that it had less to do with the pain than it did with how close Jade was to completely losing her composure, and she cared more about the girl’s future than she did about these few minutes of distress. She snapped the spoon down over and over on the girl’s hot bottom, paying equal attention to every spot, including her sensitive sit-spots which were now stretched out and easy to access. She heard Jade’s voice finally crack, and she pulled the girl’s body closer to hers, slowing down, and finally stopping, but not letting her up. Not just yet. She set down the spoon and began to rub Jade’s back as the girl quietly shook over her lap. The spanking she could do. The girl had earned every swat. This part, though. This was going to be hard.

~~~

“It really hurt me when you stopped talking to me. I didn’t have a way of contacting you. I didn’t know if you were okay. You never officially dropped out at the school, so they couldn’t help me, and they don’t have attendance files. It was almost two weeks before I finally saw something online that let me know you were alright. Two. Weeks. Do you know what that felt like?” Jade didn’t answer, she couldn’t. A sob escaped her body, and she grabbed Miss Harley’s ankle with one hand, grasping for whatever comfort she could give or get. She tried to say she was sorry, but she couldn’t get the words out, and the voice above her continued. “But you were okay. And I forgive you for that part. But you also hurt yourself. You took away opportunities that you deserve. And you do deserve them, Natalie Jade. Regardless of what you have been telling yourself for years, you do. And you are going to get those opportunities. You may never sit still in those college courses, but you will be attending. You will be moving up in this world. You understand me?”

Jade nodded, because it was all she could do. She still wasn’t convinced that she deserved those opportunities that Miss Harley was talking about, but she was convinced she owed the woman her best effort. It was all she had ever asked for anyway, and she wasn’t going to disappoint her again. She felt her teacher’s arm wrap around her tightly as she said “Hold on, honey. We are almost finished.”

Her grip tightened around the woman’s ankle, and a second later, fresh pain exploded across her already throbbing backside. The few moments of rest made every swat feel ten times worse, and though she was able to keep her hands from reaching back, she couldn’t stop her body from moving or the loud cries that escaped from her lips. The spanking seemed to go on forever, swat after swat on her poor punished backside. When it finally stopped, she felt her underwear being tugged gently up as her bottom still throbbed in time with the swats. Miss Harley pulled her up, so her torso was once again on the couch, but she still lay there over the woman’s lap as Miss Harley rubbed her back and ran her fingers through her hair, telling her it was going to be okay, reminding her of how proud she was of everything Jade had accomplished, and promising to help her with everything.

Suddenly Jade flung herself up, ignoring for a second the pain of her bottom touching the other woman’s lap, wrapping her arms around her old teacher’s neck and burying her face in her shoulder. Miss Harley sat there, rocking them back and forth and rubbing her back, until she had calmed down and only the occasional sniffle came out. Jade accepted the box of tissues she was offered a moment later, taking a minute to compose herself.

~~~

Lisa reached up and wiped the last of Jade’s tears away with her thumb, looking into the girl’s red rimmed eyes. “You okay, sweetheart?” Jade nodded quietly. “Tired?” Another nod. “Your room is all made up. Do you have work tomorrow?” This time a quiet “not on Sundays.”

“Good,” Lisa replied. We’ll get your car tomorrow, and we can talk about what your future looks like. I’ll give you a hint,” she said as she stood them both up, one arm around her former student’s shoulders as they walked back toward the bedroom. “It is really bright. Really really bright.” Jade smiled, not even bothering to roll her eyes. She sat gingerly on the bed, noting one of her old worn sleep shirts from years ago was laid out. Lisa kissed her on the forehead, gave her one last big hug, and went to look up class schedules for the next semester.

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