Danny and Emma were at Ben and Oliver’s for a game night and in the middle of their second round when Danny’s phone began to buzz loudly. Twice he ignored the cal and the third time he put it on silent. He put it away and picked up the dice. Ben’s phone began to ring.
He pulled it out of his pocket and gave Danny a suspicious look. They were sitting on the floor around the rectangular coffee table that held their game board. Emma and Oliver watched, confused, as Danny’s eyes went a little wide. “Wait—” he said, just as his little brother answered the phone.
“Well hello there, Aunt Maggie. How’s my favorite lady?” Ben said in his most charming voice. Danny gave him a murderous look, but Ben was unfazed.
“What’s the matter?” Emma whispered, intensely curious. She’d never met Maggie in person, but she knew a good deal about her because of the close relationship she shared with her nephews. Danny sat up a little straighter, taking a deep breath as he pulled his legs in from where they had been stretched out under the table while they leaned against the couch..
“I’m gonna have to skip the rest of the game,” he said quietly under Ben’s conversation, sounding resigned.
“Why?” Emma asked, but before Danny could answer her second question, Ben said loudly:
“He’s right here, actually. No, he’s not busy. Here, I’ll hand him the phone.”
Emma thought flowers might whither under the look Danny gave Ben as he accepted the device, but Ben met his gaze with wide-eyed innocence and the hint of an impish grin.
“Hey, Aunt Maggie,” Danny said as he stood, excusing himself to Ben and Oliver’s bedroom.
Oliver and Emma’s eyes flew to Ben the moment they heard the door close behind Danny. “What was that about?” Oliver asked.
“Not sure,” Ben said with a shrug. “But she didn’t sound super happy with him.”
Emma didn’t understand why she was blushing but was somewhat comforted by the fact that Oliver seemed to be similarly affected by the thought of Danny being scolded by anyone. She was torn between wanting to demand every single detail and wanting to disappear under the rug. She was saved from having to make a decision by the buzzing of the doorbell. They’d ordered take-out and it was here just in time to change the subject.
~ ~ ~
They were halfway through a mountain of Thai food when Danny returned, seeming completely at ease. For Oliver and Emma, though, it didn’t matter how long ago the subject had changed. They both clammed up awkwardly as he took his seat on the floor next to his girlfriend. Ben seemed to choke on his bite of pad see ew as he tried to contain a laugh at their expressions, and Danny rolled his eyes and let out a small puff of air that wasn’t quite a laugh. He leaned over and casually kissed the side of Emma’s head, and then his eyes began to scan the table’s offerings of folded white boxes and black plastic containers. “Has Ben been telling stories?” he asked, reaching for the spring rolls.
“No,” Oliver answered, quicker than he intended.
Danny glanced at Ben with a raised eyebrow, but Ben held up his fingers in a quick scout salute and said, “No stories from me.”
“Good,” Danny replied, taking a bite of his food.
“Did she yell at you?” Ben added unabashedly.
Danny glared at his brother as he chewed. Then he said, “She does not yell at me any more than I yell at you. Doesn’t make her less terrifying, but she doesn’t yell.”
There was enough of a wink in his voice that Oliver and Emma found themselves both grinning. He hadn’t actually told them anything, but he’d still managed to put them a bit at ease. It was Ben’s turn to roll his eyes, and he said, “Well what did she call to not yell at you about?”
“She called because she has too much time on her hands,” Danny said wryly.
Ben didn’t think Danny would be saying that if Aunt Maggie was within earshot, but he decided to keep that to himself for the moment. For his part, Danny was glad the apartment was lamp lit and dim. He was sure Emma would feel the heat from his face if she leaned in close enough, and he didn’t want to relive the call he’d just had by explaining it.
And though the rest of the night passed with ease, it took much of it for Danny’s chest to loosen up again. It had a very long time since he’d been in any sort of trouble, and not just because he lived far away. He was especially responsible, plus the wrath of Aunt Maggie was to be avoided at all costs. Even just a telling-off like he’d gotten was worth staying away from. For the moment, though, he was glad to be living on the opposite coast from her. He thought he was likely safe from a physical reprimand, but he’d thought that before and found himself very wrong. The memory of the last time he’d been at odds with his aunt floated to the front of his mind.
~ ~ ~
Danny was tired. It was the summer after his freshman year of college, and he was back east working at his aunt’s apple orchard as he had every summer since he’d turned fifteen. He sat on the edge of the bed in the guest room that he thought of as his own. Even before then he had spent the warmer months with her, her wife, and his two cousins; he had been thrilled at the opportunity not to give up that time and still earn money when it had been offered to him. The work was hard, though, and this year he had decided to take summer classes online as well.
And now he had just gotten off the phone with the director of the summer camp where his little brother was halfway through his two week session. Several campers had been caught sneaking out of their cabins late at night– a fairly serious infraction, Danny was learning— and Ben was one of them. He was listed as a guardian since their parents were in Portugal for the month of July, so he had gotten the call. He’d spent the first half apologizing to the camp director for his brother’s behavior and the second explaining to Benjamin that he needed to get his act together and there wasn’t a second option.
He was barely free before he remembered that he had to cook dinner this evening. His aunts had begun rotating the dinner planning since their two daughters were teens, and it was usually one of his favorite things about being with this part of his family. It was a lifestyle for them, and anyone visiting was simply added to the weekly roster. They’d had some pretty strange meals in the early days, but now all three– Danny included– were fairly decent in the kitchen and enjoyed cooking. It could be a chore sometimes, but the atmosphere was generally more one of collaboration and support.
Tonight it was a chore. It crossed his mind that he could ask one of his cousins to trade days, maybe, or even just do it for him, but Danny batted that idea away. It would be fine. He would just do something simple. Not all meals were supposed to be grand events. Maybe spaghetti.
His laptop dinged across the room at the rickety old desk in the corner, a small thing scavenged at a junk sale that had likely been in a classroom for twenty years before it was retired. He sighed and walked over to it, tapping the space bar and watching the screen flick on to reveal a new message from one of his professors. It was a reminder that they had a midnight deadline for a writing assignment. Danny shut the computer, not wanting to think about it right now. His paper was mostly complete, but for some reason the professor’s prompt rubbed him the wrong way and added to his deteriorating mood. He had the syllabus and knew the due dates. He didn’t need to be bothered like a small child to get it handed in on time.
He glanced at his watch, noticing the tan line forming around the band, sighing again. Almost all of his days were spent outside working; at this point in the season there was constant pruning to be done. He started early, too, usually doing at least an hour of school work before heading out to the orchard. His bed was looking awfully inviting. If he kept dinner simple, he could rest for half an hour. He hesitated, then decided to go for it. He set the alarm that resided on his bedside table, then turned the brown rectangle so the big red numbers were facing away. Just half an hour. Then dinner. Just half an hour…
~ ~ ~
Danny woke up covered in raisins. One bounced off of his forehead as he slowly blinked his eyes at his cousin Vanessa, who was leaning against the window ledge and looked ready to toss another. When she realized he was awake, she popped it into her mouth instead. She was a year his junior; he’d actually come out early this summer for her high school graduation last month. “Wakey wakey,” she said. “Dinner’s ready.”
At this Danny popped up onto his elbow. Raisins fell off of his shirt and onto the blanket. “I have to make dinner,” he said abruptly.
“Mom made it,” Vanessa said, eating another raisin and then shrugging. “She said you could use the rest.”
Danny rolled his eyes and sat all the way up, shaking his head to wake himself fully. Then he stood, glancing at the bed that was now between them, and gave Vanessa a look. “Pick those up, please,” he said, straightening the blanket with a tug at the corner, indicating the raisins scattered there.
Vanessa made a face at him, then took the few steps forward to reach down and swipe a handful up. She ate them, too, without hesitation, and Danny wrinkled his nose at her. “What?” she said around her mouthful.
Danny just shook his head. He didn’t feel like arguing, and he was irritated that he’d apparently slept through his alarm. The vaguest memory of batting at the OFF button emerged in his brain. He felt his jaw tightening and tried to relax. “I’m going to the kitchen,” he said as he walked out of the room. Vanessa finished her raisin gathering and followed, shoving her hands into the pockets of her overalls and loping behind her cousin, still chewing.
~ ~ ~
The dinner table was a large and rough wooden rectangle with benches on either side. Danny’s other cousin, Marcy, sat on one side next to his Aunt Robin. The head of the table was set for his Aunt Maggie, who was bringing a platter of hot dogs and portobellos in from the grill. She set them alongside the condiments already on the table, between a bowl of red potato salad and one of green beans. She smiled at Danny, who returned it with a small one of his own as he waited for Vanessa to scoot over on their bench so he could sit down.
“Did you have a nice rest?” Aunt Robin asked as she used tongs to move a mushroom to her plate and then passed them to Marcy.
“I wish someone had woken me up,” Danny said somewhat curtly as he spread his napkin across his lap.
Aunt Maggie frowned at him, her expression mostly curious, as she grabbed a bun and hot dog. “The grill’s easy and I was home a little early. I thought you could use the sleep,” she said.
“I was going to make spaghetti,” he said, voice still tight. “With garlic and basil,” he added. He didn’t know why it was important to him that they know he’d had a plan for dinner, even though he really hadn’t.
“Okay, well, make it tomorrow when it’s Mom’s night to cook,” Marcy said, stabbing a green bean with her fork and then bringing it to her mouth. She quirked an eyebrow at him, then put the tip of the bean to her lips and sucked the bite in.
Danny took the potatoes Vanessa was handing him and added a spoonful to his plate as he said, “I can’t tomorrow, I have to meet the crew in town at five. Which is why you should have just woken me up.”
Now Aunt Maggie’s look became more stern and her brow furrowed as she looked at her nephew. “It’s no one’s job to wake you up,” she said firmly. “I also didn’t mind making dinner, and I’m happy to take tomorrow night. I’ve heard you up almost as early as me most mornings. A nap was good for you.”
Marcy and her Mia, as the girls called Robin, exchanged glances. Things were becoming strangely tense as Danny’s mood colored his every response. Maggie wasn’t the sort of person who cared what mood you were in: you brought your good manners to the supper table. They could almost see the planes of her face sharpening. Vanessa reached over to grab another hot dog, oblivious to the rising tension.
“I don’t need to be told when to nap,” Danny said tightly, and now Maggie’s eyebrows shot up and she put her fork down, several beans still skewered on the tines.
“Maybe your nap wasn’t long enough,” she said coolly, making intense eye contact.
Danny felt heat rising in his cheeks and he looked away first, gaze falling to his plate. He couldn’t explain the feeling of injustice that was swirling around in his belly as he thought about how much work he had done that day and how much he had left tomorrow. Then aloud, as if the last exchange hadn’t happened, he said, “I’ll just cancel on drinks. I can catch them next week.”
“Literally no one is telling you to do that,” said Marcy. She was a year older than Danny and home for summer from her own school.
“Literally no one asked what you thought,” Danny shot back at her without thinking, then looked at the ceiling and puffed his cheeks up as he expelled a frustrated breath. He did not mean to be pulled into bickering with his cousin. He just needed them to understand that he was perfectly capable of handling his responsibilities, that this was a fluke!
Marcy choked back a laugh, and Vanessa sat up a little bit straighter as she realized something was going on. “Danny,” Robin chided softly, but it was Maggie whose patience had disappeared.
“You may excuse yourself,” she said to him, her forearms resting on the table on either side of her plate.
Danny stared at her, mouth slightly open. He looked at Marcy, expecting her to share his incredulity. They weren’t kids any more! Aunt Maggie couldn’t just excuse him from the table. But Marcy only gave him a little serves-you-right half shrug and took another bite of her dinner. “Fine,” he said, sliding off the bench.
He did his best to ignore the burning in his cheek. His feet took him to his bedroom, only pausing as he crossed the threshold. She hadn’t explicitly sent him here, but he knew it was where she expected him to be. Or where she would have expected him to be, when he was a kid. But he wasn’t a kid, so…
He turned and looked out into the hallway, contemplating leaving again, maybe going outside for a walk. He stomach lurched at the idea of not being here when Aunt Maggie came to see him. If Aunt Maggie came to see him! Still, he decided it was best to say put, telling himself that he was here of his own accord. He had that paper to turn in, so honestly he could use the extra few minutes. He closed the bedroom door.
~ ~ ~
It was more than a few minutes. It took him almost no time to look through his assignment and get it turned in; he expected he would do well on it. He sat at his desk for a minute, hands on the keys of his laptop, trying to direct them to any mindless website that might occupy his time. After a minute, though, he shut the laptop back down, leaving the desk to flop across his bed. There was a stray raisin, which he flicked away in annoyance, then regretted. He dragged himself out of bed to find it. He dropped it in the small waste bin and toppled down again on the mattress. He reached for the book on his bedside table, taking a minute to find his place and then reading the same two paragraphs several times before giving up and tossing it back on the nightstand.
He flipped over to his back and folded his hands across his stomach and stared at the ceiling. His feet dangled over the edge of the bed, and he absentmindedly kicked his shoes off. Many emotions swirled inside of him, each in their turn making a bid for attention. Danny ignored them, though they found ways to be known. Embarrassment came in the rush of heat that occasionally flew up his neck and across his face, causing his ears to burn. Indignation settled into his jaw, making his teeth clench until he would notice and force his face to relax. A nervousness he hadn’t felt in many years demanded the constant cracking of his knuckles, long after the last loud pop had been rung from them.
Down the hall, he heard the sounds of dinner finishing up. They seemed to have recovered from his abrupt exit; there was laughter among the clanking of dishes and running of water. Danny pulled both lips together, resting them between his front teeth and trying not to listen for the quiet that would follow their finishing. When the silence came though, it was loud, and he couldn’t ignore it. He sat up and stayed that way, feet on the floor and hands on either side of him, trying to decide what to do.
He didn’t have to wait long after that. His head jerked toward the door when there was a sudden polite knock, and then Aunt Maggie was slowly opening it. She entered, closing it behind her. Danny looked up at her for a moment, and then back down at his hands.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?” she asked, her tone concerned but also firm.
Danny pulled in a deep exasperated breath, and said, “Nothing is going on! I just slept through my alarm.”
She took her turn leaning against the window ledge as she cast him a skeptical look. “Something is going on. It’s not like you to be rude.”
A fresh wave of embarrassment washed over him. Aunt Maggie believed very strongly in good manners, to the point where Danny himself had begun to value them the same way in his own life. He still generally believed himself to be in the right here, but he had to admit he was a little sharp at dinner. “I’m sorry,” he said stiffly. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“There’s an awful lot of ground between intention and action,” Maggie said. Danny glanced up at her then immediately back down, abashed. “The more overworked you are, the harder it becomes to link one to the other. You can’t stubborn yourself out of being tired, and I don’t just mean physically. I mean mentally. Emotionally.”
“I’m not overworked,” Danny said stubbornly, now looking up and making eye contact. It was more difficult than he thought it would be, but he drew on his well of injured pride and maintained it as he continued. “I have a lot of work, but I’m fine. I just had an off night. I said I was sorry.”
“You’re not fine,” Aunt Maggie said firmly and without room for argument. Her arms were crossed as she looked down at him, and he shifted a bit– it was too familiar. He stood, intending to pace around the room, not wanting to rest under her gaze any longer, but she said sharply, “Sit.”
Danny sat, his knees bending immediately at the command and the mattress squeaking at his hasty return. He pressed his lips together, vaguely understanding that there would never be an age where direct disobedience was an option with Maggie Kendrick.
“You’re not fine,” she repeated, her tone still uncompromising. “You’re working all the time. You’re short with me and everyone else. Even things that are supposed to be fun sound like chores when you talk about them.”
“I just have a lot going on–” he began defensively, but she held up a silencing hand.
“You have too much going on, Danny. This is just a second round of the same thing you just said, and I don’t think I’d like to give it a third run.”
“It was one dinner–” he began again, and even he could hear the whisper of a whine in his voice.
“We’re not just talking about dinner,” Aunt Maggie said firmly, not allowing Danny to hone in on this event. “We’re talking about what your summer has looked like so far and how it’s going to go for the next six weeks.”
“Aunt Maggie,” Danny said, exasperated, “I don’t need monitoring! I just need… I need Ben to behave himself, and maybe my parents to check in a little more, and for my professor to stop emailing me, and for work to… to… work is fine I just have a lot of it, I just…”
Danny struggled to regain his train of thought, and Maggie did nothing to help her nephew find it. When he finally abandoned his attempt at gathering an end to his sentence, she said, “You’re off dinner rotation.” Before he could argue, she held up her hand again and continued, “This isn’t a punishment. This is an easy thing to take off your plate.”
“I can pull my weight,” Danny answered stubbornly.
“It’s not about that, and it’s not up for debate. This isn’t a one-man show, Danny.”
He clenched his jaw, his pride taking the hit, and replied, “I didn’t say it was.”
Maggie didn’t say anything for a minute, instead crossing her arms again and looking at him steadily. The more he sat with the sting of her comment, the more painful it became. He was just trying his best. How was that a bad thing? Before the thought could quiet in his mind, he thought about how much of his identity was wrapped around the burdens he was carrying. His hands were on the edge of the mattress, gripping it occasionally, and he stared at them until Aunt Maggie spoke again.
“I’d like you to go get my hairbrush, please.”
Danny’s head popped up, his eyes round and mouth agape. Maggie met his gaze steadily, but he couldn’t find words. He closed his mouth and swallowed, then tried again. “Aunt Maggie… I’m… I’m not… I’m in college! I’m responsible!” He didn’t say you can’t, although he wanted to. The truth was, he had known in his gut that she could and she might ever since he was excused from dinner.
“Which is why there is no excuse for why you’re acting so childishly,” she said. “You know where it’s kept.”
He swallowed again, took count of several beats of his heart, and stood. He couldn’t look at Aunt Maggie as he walked out of the door and down the hall to her room, terrified Aunt Robin might be there. He allowed himself the smallest breath of relief when she wasn’t, but still crossed the room quickly to his Aunt Maggie’s dresser. In the top drawer, on the left side, her hairbrush rested, just as it always had. He paused before reaching for it, glancing for a moment at his reflection in the attached mirror. He watched himself swallow hard, and then he reached down and grabbed the handle. He shut the drawer slowly.
He was still looking at the floor when he returned to the room and handed her the brush, though when she said, “Look at me, please,” he did so with little hesitation. His jaw was set tightly and his resistance to the punishment was palpable, but she didn’t appear to have any doubts about her decision. She took the brush and sat on the bed just inches over from where Danny had been, but he knew better than to go to her side. Slowly he turned toward the free corner by the door and got into a position that still felt surprisingly familiar.
Danny’s sense of injustice was still deeply rankled, but he felt bound to Aunt Maggie’s authority in his life. She was wrong this time, of course. He could see her point of view, maybe, but she refused to understand his. Still, it was her home and her rules, so he would respect them. Resigned to his fate, his mind turned to his imminent spanking. His memories of the wicked antique were enough to make him shudder, but he was an adult and he didn’t think it would be quite so bad now. Unpleasant, but not unbearable. Doubts about this gnawed at him, but he did his best to ignore them.
He was enough lost in thought to be surprised when he heard Aunt Maggie’s voice again. “Come here, please.” His stomach dropped and his throat seemed to tighten.
He turned, hands going to the buckle of his belt and undoing it quickly along with the button and zipper on his jeans. Then he walked over to her waiting lap and laid himself belly down across it. He squeezed his eyes shut as he felt her hands on either side of his waist, tugging the band down, forcing him to wiggle a bit to accommodate her wishes. Then he felt the warmth of her hand settle on his backside and the first real pang of fear swept over him. As her other arm wrapped itself securely around his middle, he wondered if he had made a miscalculation, but he didn’t have to wonder long before the first smack of Aunt Maggie’s hand landed on his bottom.
He didn’t have much energy for speculation after that. The spanking held all of his attention. Even over his underwear, his aunt’s palm connected with a fierce impact. Danny focused on his breathing, being very careful not to move his legs or make any noises. When thoughts outside of the pain did enter his mind, they were mainly of the house acoustics, and the elemental knowledge that anyone home right now would be able to hear what was going on. Before he could become too wrapped up in this agonizing fact, Maggie paused to deliver a more tangible horror: she lowered his underwear to join his jeans, then resumed his spanking. Danny was still able to bite back the urge to kick or shift, but it was much more difficult with his bare skin exposed to her weathered palm. In the fleeting silence, he heard a television click on loudly in another room.
It became more difficult still to maintain control when she began to speak, her rhythm never wavering under her lecture. “There’s nothing noble about falling beneath the weight of a load no one needs you to carry,” she began. Almost immediately this made Danny’s teeth clench. Before he could mentally list the many responsibilities he had, Aunt Maggie cut into his thoughts as she continued. “You have enough.”
Oh. That made Danny pause, and in the skip of his heartbeat his left leg wiggled under a direct hit to his sit-spot. Her hand was still falling steadily and the pain across his bottom and the tops of his thighs was building rapidly. He stared at his fingers, taking note of the shape of each nail and the wrinkles of every knuckle, trying to force all of his concentration on these useless details instead of the piercing words of Aunt Maggie and her relentless hand. It was an ineffective strategy.
“When you overburden yourself, you overburden everyone. We lose the kind, fun young man we know so well and are rewarded with a sullen and rude boy. I think that is exactly the opposite of the impression you want to give, isn’t it?”
Since arriving for the summer, Danny had wanted nothing more than to prove that he was full grown and capable, to his aunt and everyone else. The image of what it meant to have yourself fully together in his mind left little room for error, and so every responsibility was given the same level of priority. It was, as it turned out, exhausting.
There was a brief pause, during which Aunt Maggie said, “That wasn’t a rhetorical question, Daniel. Is that the impression you want to give? That you are a boy who hasn’t learned how to ask for help when he needs it? Who can’t say thank you when someone offers a hand?”
Then the hairbrush smacked down on Danny’s already sore bottom, and his hand dropped from the bed next to his head down to the metal frame in a quick and jerky motion. He clutched it desperately, regaining his will to be still. He hadn’t heard her pick the brush up and wasn’t prepared for the shift to wood. The pain was deep and agonizing, but he wanted to just take it and be done with it. “No, ma’am,” he ground out.
“I didn’t think so.”
For several minutes there was only the smack of the brush against Danny’s bare and aching bottom, and he wondered how much more he could take before he began thrashing around. His left leg was twitching again, just barely, but there was no stopping it as long as the spanking was still happening. The space between swats was filled with the deep soreness already spreading across his entire hindquarters. On top of that, the creep of shame was slowly wrapping around his heart, making it hard to be in control of anything. When Aunt Maggie began to speak again, it was only a matter of time before the dam burst.
“I think you’ll find it in your best interest to look at your schedule and see what you can change, Danny. Because if I continue to see you being rude, short-tempered, and forever tired, I won’t think twice about spanking you again. There is no age at which you will suddenly become free of my attention, or of my hairbrush.”
A squirm of embarrassment ran through Danny’s body at this, but she kept scolding and spanking. He was entirely sure already that it would be painful to sit for several days at least.
“I need you to really understand this. I need you to really listen. One doesn’t find themselves disciplined based on status or rank. You’re here because you made choices that led to this moment. It’ll sort you out, sleeping on a sore bottom, I think. Let it remind you to make better ones from here on out. Kinder to yourself. Better for everyone.”
“Okay,” Danny said, his voice wavering, “Okay!”
The desperation of his tone only encouraged Maggie to wrap her right arm more firmly around his waist and bring the brush down in ferocious arcs, lambasting his poor bottom. There was a choked breath from the boy over her lap, which turned out to be the only precursor to the sudden and uncontrollable flailing of his body. There was no escaping Aunt Maggie– he knew that– but he’d endured as much as he was physically able with feigned apathy, and now there was nothing left but to give in to his urges to avoid the terrible pain being inflicted on his bottom.
“Aunt Maggie, please,” he got out between gasps as he came up on his elbows, hands grabbing at the blanket in front of him. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sure you are,” she said almost conversationally, still spanking him with rigorous precision. “It’d be hard to be feeling much of anything else, in your position.”
Danny let out another agonizing cry, but she carried on.
“I want to make sure that when sorry passes, change is coming. So sometime tomorrow, you will come into my study and we’re going to talk about what things need your focus, what we can change, and what we can let go.”
“Please,” Danny said, tears imminent and his voice quaking. The final crumbling of his pride under her scolding left him overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, shame, and sorrow. Even now he felt a new weight tugging him down, the tax of himself on Aunt Maggie, a woman he knew was busy, who had better things to do than to hold his hand all summer. “You don’t have to–”
He was unable to finish the thought as the brush wedged itself deftly under the curve of his swollen bottom to find his sit-spots with unmatched severity. She facilitated this with a lifting of one knee, exposing his bottom even further to her attention and making him feel especially vulnerable. Tears overflowed the banks of his eyelids, and he reached down, grabbing at anything, finding her ankle.
“Stop thinking your problems are bigger than they are,” she said sternly, her voice as full of determination as her hairbrush seemed to be. “You are healthy, smart, and educated. You have help if you need it, and sometimes you do. I’m not offering you more than I have time for. Is that understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Danny said miserably as he crooked his elbow and buried his face there. It was the last of Aunt Maggie’s scolding, though the spanking didn’t end for some time after that. Finally satisfied that her nephew understood why he was being punished, she set her task to ensuring that he remembered it in the days to come, when unwelcome thoughts might try to force their way back in. She wanted the pain in his bottom to carry the memory of her words, a reminder of his spanking, and the willpower to do better. It was a much harsher spanking than she might have given one of her daughters for a similar offense, but her daughters would have understood why they were being punished long before this point. It was her nephew’s own self-importance that had earned him such a painful lesson.
When she did stop the spanking, Danny’s legs had returned to merely twitching with the swats and he was quietly sobbing into his shirt sleeve. She put the brush aside, and spent several minutes gently rubbing his back as she surveyed the painful colors of his punished bottom. When his muffled cries had calmed, she pulled his underwear back up and he slid almost immediately to the floor next to her. He rested on his knees, folding his arms up underneath his head on the mattress, still sniffling quietly as he rested there next to the lap that had just supported him. The hushed sound of a laugh track penetrated the bedroom walls in the new quiet.
Maggie reached over and ran her fingers through his hair gently, waiting for him to calm down. Eventually he did, and she smiled when she heard a faint thank you from the pile of arms and elbows next to her. “Sit up, please,” she said gently and firmly.
Danny obeyed with no hesitation, sitting back on his heels with a wince and looking up at her, hands still resting on the bed. His eyes were red-rimmed and still watery, but he had regained most of his composure. “Thank you,” he said again more clearly.
Aunt Maggie only nodded, again reaching over to brush out his hair with her hand and then giving him a surprisingly tender smile. “Thank you,” she said. “You’re a good kid and you work hard, and I’m very proud of you.” Then almost as an afterthought, she added, “You’re allowed to ask for that, too, you know. Everyone deserves praise, even for the boring stuff, from someone who loves them. And I’m going to remember to tell you more often myself. ”
Danny, his cheeks still damp and bottom throbbing, almost found it in himself to contradict her. He’d been sent away from the supper table, put in time out, and thoroughly punished in the most childish way he could think of. Still, nothing embarrassed him like this last bit. Aunt Maggie’s eyes dared him argue, though. So instead, he tried to absorb her praise and aloud only said quietly, “Thank you.”
She nodded approvingly, then said, “I bet you’re hungry. You didn’t get to each much at dinner.” Danny was surprised to find that she was correct. “You take a few minutes to get yourself together, then put my hairbrush back where it belongs and meet me in the kitchen.”
Danny nodded, reconciled to the fact that at this point, little else was going to embarrass him more than what had just happened, and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good,” Aunt Maggie said. She stood, then leaned down and kissed the top of Danny’s head where he still knelt by the bed, underwear up and pants around his knees. “I will see you again in a few minutes.”
When the door closed behind her and he was alone again, Danny leaned forward, letting the bed take his weight as he pressed his head into the mattress and reached back cautiously to touch his swollen bottom. He rested his palms along the edges of his underwear, feeling the heat emanating from beneath them. He stayed like this for some time, gently exploring, before finally standing carefully and not without a scathing look at the brush still on the bed. Curiosity got the better of him, and he found himself slipping his underwear back down so he could look over his shoulder and into the mirror at his punished behind. He released a heavy breath, finding himself oddly impressed with what he saw. Then he reached for the waist of his jeans and carefully began to put himself together.
~ ~ ~
Danny put the car in reverse, then his hand on the back of Emma’s headrest in the passenger seat as he looked through the back window and eased out of their parking spot. Then he shifted gears again and reached automatically to rest his hand on his girlfriend’s thigh. She slipped her palm under his and wrapped their fingers together as they exited Ben and Oliver’s apartment complex. The headlights reflected off dark puddles on pavement from rain earlier in the day.
“What did your aunt call about?” Emma asked. Though the topic hadn’t come up again during their games, she had been biding her time for this question. Danny turned, raising an eyebrow at her and smiling.
“She misses me, I think,” he said.
“Danny!” Emma said, rolling her eyes. “Are you in trouble?”
It was her turn to be glad for the dark as her face exploded with heat as soon as she blurted out the question. Her intuitive partner sensed what her reaction would be, though, and lifted their clasped hands together so he could feel the blush on her cheek with the back of his hand. His eyes never left the road, but she could see his smile widen in his profile.
“It’s been a very long time since I was over Aunt Maggie’s lap,” he said with an ease that bewildered his girlfriend. She could hardly think about getting a spanking, much less speak of them so casually. He continued, “And I do my best to walk the straight and narrow, because I’d like to keep it that way.”
He gave her hand a squeeze, and Emma tried to decide if he had answered her question. She wasn’t entirely sure, but decided to let it go for now. Danny concentrated on the road, his mind still trying to let loose his memory from before. There was no amount of time that seemed to let any detail of his last spanking to fade, for even the edges to soften a bit. He supposed she had intended it that way. He smiled fondly, if reluctantly, and pulled into their driveway.