It was harder than I had thought, meeting another man without Hansie suspecting.
Not just hard in terms of the mechanics – thank God for my mobile, which at least allowed me to make relatively discreet phone calls without incriminating phone numbers being left on the phone at home, or even more to the point, without the risk of him answering a phone call from a stranger asking for me, and forcing me into embarrassing attempts to find a believable explanation. Look, we've already established I'm not the world's most successful liar, so I wasn't ready to go there.
No, when I say it was hard, I mean it was hard in terms of my feelings. I was torn in two. On one level, I love Hansie. I'm not just saying that, he means an enormous amount to me, and I wouldn't willingly hurt him. On the other hand – well, I had certain needs that he couldn't meet. I wanted Hansie to be happy, but I'm entitled to be happy too, aren't I? And the fact that our relationship with Phil and Piet had come to such a sticky end had forced me think about a lot of things, re-evaluate a lot of things I had come to take for granted – about me, about how I related to others. About what I wanted from my life.
I guess that's what happens when you start stirring up the past – a lot of silt gets raised, and things that you had seemed to see clearly, suddenly get a lot murkier. I wasn't exactly happy about it – yes, of course it would have been lovely if everything had gone on all sweetness and light, until the four of us pedalled off into the sunset, but it hadn't happened that way. Perhaps it never could have, given the personalities involved. Phil and I had reached – well, a sort of accommodation. It was thin pickings, after what we'd had, but I hoped it would be enough to provide Hansie with a lifeline, when he needed one. To free him to go to them. That was my hope, if – when - the crisis came.
“The way you say that – I'm hearing that you think he'll leave you?”
“They all leave you in the end.”
“Is that what you really think?”
“I was joking.”
No, don't imagine it was just a shallow, easy thing for me, meeting Aidan. It was hard. I wanted it, but it was one of the hardest things I've done.
I came across his ad in the back of the local paper, of all places. You know the sort of thing, column upon column, all segregated by type: garages, cars, bric a brac for sale, builders, plumbers, astrologers, therapists, pets, some astonishingly frank lonely hearts. . . It sounded like the sort of thing I had been looking for, secretly, for a while.
I brooded about it for a couple of days. Several times I found myself punching the numbers into my mobile, only to hesitate and hit delete. Then I'd swear at myself, ask myself what the hell I thought I was playing at, promise myself that I'd forget all this nonsense and concentrate on making things work, just me and Hansie. Only the scrap of paper with the details on it burned in my wallet. In the end I found myself saying, bitterly: oh fuck it, and hitting the dial key before I could change my mind. My heart was pounding so much and my mouth was so dry that I could hardly speak coherently when he answered. Still, we managed to set a time for an initial meeting, just for a chat, just to see what my expectations were, and his.
When I closed the phone up, I felt downright strange. I hadn't yet done something irreversible – after all, I could still just not turn up, or turn up and say it was all a mistake, but somehow I knew I wasn't going to do that. I was on the brink.
I hoped it was going to be worth it.
I had rocked up to Jim and Mary's place to take over some papers that evening, and I found Mary on her own, Jim still not being back from a trip to Birmingham.
“Hansie, darling, it's grand to see you. You'll have some tea?”
“Ja, thank you Mary, that would be good.” She motioned me to sit at the kitchen table, busied herself with the teapot, and presently put a large and steaming mug in front of me. We have had many fine conversations just so – I find her easy to talk to, and we have become friends, as well as – well, whatever the boyfriend of a man is to the woman who brought him up. If I say mother-in-law and son-in-law you will not shoot me, hey?
“There now.” She settled herself with her own tea, gave me a bright smile.
“So, how are things with you both?”
“Good, good,” I said hastily. “Ja, real good.”
“I'm pleased to hear it.” She toyed with her mug for a while, sighed, put it down. “I promised myself I wasn't going to do this,” she said, “but Hansie, tell me the truth: is everything all right between you? Why is Tim so unhappy?”
I spluttered into my tea. I know I went red, too, I could feel the flush as I wondered what the hell to say to her.
“I – maybe you should ask Tim that,” I said, carefully.
“I'm asking you,” she returned tartly. “Look, darling, I'm sorry to put you on the spot but I know perfectly well that Tim's unhappy, and I also know that if I ask him he'll deny it flat.”
A lot of totally inadmissible sentences went through my head as I struggled to find something to say. I thought, in fact, that Mary did deserve an answer, I just wasn't sure that I was the one who should be providing it.
I shook my head. “Mary, I don't know how much I should say, hey? Tim is my – I can't betray his confidence. Even to you. Yes, he has been unhappy. He had – an argument with a friend, and it upset both of them. But they've talked now, and he says everything is all right between them.”
She looked at me. “But you don't think so?”
I chose my words carefully. “I don't have a reason to think different.” Other than the fact that, no, you are right Mary, he is still unhappy. I think he is not admitting that even to himself, and he is trying – too hard – to be bright and cheery with me, but he is sad. Not bitterly so, as he was when he and Phil first quarrelled, but more like someone who has lost a dream and is trying to forget it and let it go.
She gave me a look that said as clearly as words that she didn't believe me, but she took pity on me.
“Oh, all right, I'll not press you further.”
“No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked it of you, Hansie, it wasn't very nice of me. Only – I still worry about him, even now he's grown.”
I thought of Nick. I thought I understood a little better now how he felt when I had asked him to spy on Tim's past. But I also understood, very well, the love that motivated the question. I took her hand, which vanished in my big paw, squeezed it. “Mary, he is lucky to have you. He thinks the world of you too, you know.”
She smiled weakly. “Oh, I know. Though getting him to say it. . .”
“He has said it to me. How much he owes you, owes you both.” I chanced a question I had sometimes wondered about. “What was he like, as a child? When he first came to you?”
She looked a little surprised, pondered a moment. “I think the word that comes to my mind is 'watchful'. I can remember him sitting in the kitchen of the old house in his overcoat, all buttoned up to the top collar, refusing to take it off. And I remember how white his face was, with those big, guarded eyes, and I thought. . .” She paused.
“I remember thinking what a terrified, untrusting wee boy he was. With good cause, from his point of view – everything he believed in had turned out to be false. He thought his parents loved him, that he had a safe place to be, and it was all taken away from him. And he thought it might be because he had done something wrong. It took a lot of care to make him realise, really realise, that wasn't so.”
“It must have been hard.”
“For all of us. But David was gone, and Jenny just fell apart without him. There was no question but that Tim had to stay with us, for as long as he needed us.” She fell silent, looking into a past I could only imagine with difficulty. I could think of my father taking on the child of a relative from cold Christian duty, but not from love. And my mother – no, she would not have contemplated it, except on her husband's command. And even then. . .
“You didn't – resent it?”
“Resent? Goodness me, no. No, I was pleased to have him. I'll admit there were times I could cheerfully have strangled him. He was so quiet and biddable at first – scared to be anything else, do you see – and then when he started to believe that perhaps we wouldn't throw him out onto the street if he was naughty, he tested us. Heavens, how he tested us! We were at our wits’ end with him, I can tell you, until Jim just said 'I'm no’ having this, my dad would have skelped my arse for me long before this' and put him across his knee.”
She smiled reminiscently.
“And then he was good?”
“Actually, he screamed his head off at the time. But, well, I don't think Jenny had ever raised a hand to him, but David certainly did when he was naughty, so it wasn't totally unfamiliar to him. And I know they don't approve of smacking children now, but having limits established calmed him down a lot. At least until he reached his teens. I was the one who seriously thought about leaving home then, but resent him? No, it's never been a burden. Not really. Having him – well, it made us a family, do you see?”
I know I am not good at such things, but I thought I did see. Though I think she had her own purposes in speaking to me so openly, and so frankly, I thought perhaps I saw more than she had intended, a quiet love that served and never spoke of its own pain, and my own heart twinged in sympathy. I think she knew it too, for she turned the conversation skilfully in other directions. But it made me wonder if every family, every group that seems so warm and secure to the waifs outside looking in, has maybe some secret sadness that is not spoken of. Perhaps they are the building blocks of the lives we try to make, as we struggle to avoid the mistakes and griefs of the past. Or perhaps that is just Hansie being foolish again. I don't know enough to know.
“Soooooo, Aidan. Sorry. Sorry. I shouldn’t giggle. I'm nervous. I know that's silly, but I haven't done anything quite like this before. Lots of other things, but not this.”
“That's all right. It's all right to be nervous, lots of people are. It's a very intimate thing we're about to do, and there are all sorts of issues of power and responsibility involved. We can take it as slowly as you need, whatever you're comfortable with, really.”
“Should I lie down?”
“Only if you really want to. I prefer to start like this. Are you ready?”
“Y-yes. Yes, let's begin.”
It was a stupid little thing to begin with, really, but it – what is the damned word? – it niggled, ja, that is it. Tim had told me he was going to be working a little late, until about 6:30, and I had asked him to drop into the corner shop in Castle Storley on the way home and get some coffee. When he came home, he gave me a hug and a kiss as usual, and put the coffee down on the kitchen table before going upstairs to shower and change.
“There you are,” he said. “Coffee, as promised.”
Only when he had gone upstairs, I picked up the coffee, intending to make myself one, and I saw it was a supermarket own brand. And I could not understand how he could have got to the supermarket, which is on the other side of town, heading towards Barchester, and not on the way home, without being later than he was. Nor why he would have gone there.
When he came down, his hair damp and tousled, I asked him if he wanted a coffee.
“Love one, thanks.”
“I'm sorry I didn't think to ask you to get some of those farm eggs while you were in there,” I said. “An egg would be good for breakfast. I suppose you didn't see if they had any?”
“Ah – um, no, no, I didn't notice,” he said hurriedly. “I can get some tomorrow, if you like, or we could ring Jenny and ask if she has any spare.”
“Probably she does not – the fox took another of her hens yesterday.”
“Poor Jenny, she does love those silly chickens. I suppose she's heartbroken.”
“Ach, it is only a chicken.”
“There speaks the Boer farm boy.” And we laughed, and the moment passed, the moment in which I could easily have asked why he had gone to the supermarket and not to the shop, and pretended otherwise. But the question remained in my mind, together with other, harder questions, like why he had told me he was working late when clearly he was not. And they gnawed at me like rats, left me uneasy and sore. That night, when he clearly wished for sex, I was a little unwelcoming, and he retreated, with just a kiss and a hug, to his own side of the bed.
It put bad ideas in my head. I know he had told me, repeatedly, that he loved me. I know he had promised me that I would never be rid of him, not unless I chose to leave him. I did believe him, I did, and yet. . . I knew that before me, there were very many men. And then there had been us and Phil and Piet, and that was a thing it seemed we did not have any more: for all that Tim claimed things were now fine between them, neither he nor Phil seemed in any hurry to resurrect our Friday nights together. I cannot say I blamed them, I was uneasy about the idea myself, the echoes of that vicious quarrel still ringing in my mind. And so: Tim liked sex, and liked variety in sex, I knew this. And I could not keep from wondering if perhaps, thrown back on just Hansie, he felt the need for something more.
It was stupid, it was unjust, and it made me miserable. But once I had thought it, I could not unthink it. I told myself that I must not think so, but then I caught him out a second time. This time it was because he told me he was in a meeting all afternoon, but I deliberately made an excuse to stop by the office in Production – I know, I should not have done it, and it gave me no ease in the end – to ask if I could leave a message for him when he got back from his meeting, and they looked at me blankly and told me he had taken the afternoon off.
I felt sick and cold. I could think of only one reason for such a deceit.
I could not work after that. I had to tell my own people that I felt unwell, and go home. I sat in the armchair in the living room, and looked at the picture of the two of us on the coffee table. It was a gift from Fran – the two of us side by side, me with my arm around him, heads turned to look into each others' eyes. His expression was so tender that I could not bear to see it. It was in me for a moment to smash the damned thing, but I found I could not bear to do that, either. Instead I clutched it to me and howled.
I tried to tell myself that there was a perfectly logical explanation but I could not make myself believe it. I reminded myself that I had thought before that he had left me, and he had reassured me and chided me for jumping to conclusions, but instead my suspicious mind asked if I were really sure he had not been up to something then, too.
I remembered Nick asking me – a theoretical question, ha! - about what I would do if Tim had an affair with someone, and thinking, saying, that I could not stay. Look, I have been no angel in my life, and if I found that he had slept with someone once, fallen into temptation, a one-off when we were apart, I would pretend not to know about it, though it would cost me. That much, perhaps, I would owe him. But an affair, that would be different. There would be too many lies, too much space and silence growing between us for the gulf to be bridged again. So I had thought. But now it came to it, the inner Hansie wailed like a child: but where will I go? Who will hold me, comfort me when I hurt, as I am hurting now?
“I’ve hurt myself, and I’ve hurt so many others. People I love. I suppose – I suppose because they did love me, and they were there.”
“Is that a consequence of loving, do you think?”
“Well I suppose – I suppose part of loving is that we make ourselves vulnerable to being hurt. And the people closest to us – they’re usually the ones in range when we explode, I guess. But I don’t want to hurt them.”
“How can you avoid it? Tell me about the people you love, and how you think you’ve hurt them.”
“Well, there’s Hansie for starters, my partner. I mean, here I am with you and he doesn’t even know. . .”
I heard his key. He came in slowly, looking thoughtful, and a little tired, smiled at me, a quick flash of light like the kingfishers that streak down the river here. I did not return the smile.
“Where have you been?” I was proud of myself for keeping my voice level, for not raging at him, even though part of me wanted to break every bone in that delicious little body, and part of me wanted to cling to him and sob and beg him to be true to me.
“I. . .” he paused. “I've been meaning to talk to you about that.”
“What is his name?”
“You knew?” Complete surprise – and could that actually be relief I heard in his voice?
“I found out.”
“Aidan, his name is Aidan Caulfield. I've been seeing him for several weeks now.”
I could not help the choked sound – well, let us say the sob – that burst from me at this matter-of-fact confession.
“I’m curious as to who you feel was to blame for what happened to you. No, in your own time, that's all right.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking about that one. I don’t know, really. I did blame Phil, and I know that wasn’t right, but. . .”
“It isn’t a question of right or wrong, but of what you felt. That isn’t a judgement, it’s a fact. If you felt Phil was to blame, you felt that. What perhaps you might want to think about is why you felt it.”
“I – I don’t know. Maybe – maybe he was a convenient scapegoat.”
“That’s an interesting thought. A scapegoat implies a transfer of blame. So what did you feel about Hallam in comparison?”
“He – I don't know. I really don't know.”
“OK, go back a bit. Before this happened, would you say you respected Doctor Hallam?”
“Not respected, exactly, I thought he was sort of creepy. But he was – he had a lot of influence in the college. And he was very clever, no doubt about that.”
“Indeed. A strong man?”
“Hmm – well, in a way, I suppose. Intellectually strong, you soon got skewered in his tutorials if you hadn't thought things through.”
“So, I'm supposing from what you say that he was a person one didn't argue with unless one was very sure of oneself? And you respected his opinions, even if not the man himself? Took them on board, as it were?”
“I suppose – God, I suppose I did.”
“Because what I heard from your earlier account was that when he implied that you had got yourself into the situation you found yourself in, part of you took that on board too. That you deserved it?”
“Yes. Yes. Oh God. I – I – I – when he as good as told me I was nothing but a cock tease I. . . maybe I – and I didn’t want him to think of me like that, so I, perhaps that’s part of why I– Phil – and then after. . . why did I want that man’s respect, even after? Why did I even care what he said, it’s – how low must I be to want that? I don’t – sorry, sorry. . .”
“It's all right. Here, hankies. Cry if it helps, you're quite entitled to your grief.”
“I'm such a baby.”
“No-one here is judging you. Except perhaps Tim.”
“Hansie?” He looked alarmed. “What's the matter?” He reached out towards me and I flung him off.
“Don't, do not touch me!”
“Hansie, you're scaring me. I think you're the one who should be seeing Aidan, not me.”
I gaped at him. “What. . . what?”
He stared back at me. “Hansie, what do you think we're talking about?”
“Do you torture me as well? Am I to jump through hoops to please you and your lover?”
“Lover? I don’t. . . wait a minute. Lover?! You fucker, do you actually – did you think I was confessing to having an affair?”
“Well aren't you?”
“Of course not! Aidan is my therapist, not my lover. Apart from anything else, he's in his sixties and happily married with three children and five grandchildren, not, admittedly, that that necessarily proves anything. Damn you, how could you think that?” His voice rose on the last to a shout.
“Well what was I supposed to think, when you lie to me, go to town and pretend you are in a meeting or working late?” Therapist? I was – so relieved, and yet I was still angry, we both were. That was strange, wasn't it, to be angry and happy at the same time?
Abruptly, I saw his anger leave him as quickly as it had come, replaced by something – regret? Guilt?
“I’m sorry,” he said. “God, I’m tired of saying that, and I seem to keep being forced to say it anyway. I said it to Aidan - hurting the people I love.” He looked at me. “I didn’t feel able to mention it, not at first. It seemed like such a confession of failure, having to go to a counsellor. But Simon – well, Simon’s pretty smart. And he suggested it when I talked to him, and I thought: no, no way, but it preyed on my mind, you know? And I know there are – well, hundreds of kinds of talking therapies, and I thought maybe if I could find someone who would just help me get my thoughts straight, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.” His voice trailed off. “Did you really think, after everything I said to you last time, that I would have an affair? Didn’t you believe a word I said when I said I was crazy about you? How many times must I . . . no, scratch that. As many times as it takes.”
Then it was my turn to feel my anger turn to guilt.
“I – Tim, I believed two things at the same time. I believed that you loved me, yes. But I also believed, led myself to believe, that you had needs I could not fulfil, and that you would look to someone else for them, now that. . .”
“Now that the foursomes are over? It keeps coming back to that, doesn’t it? God, Hansie, I miss all that, of course I do, but not as much as other things. The, the closeness. But that's the past. It's gone. So why would I risk what we have too, on top of it?”
“When – men do not think clearly when we think with our cocks.”
“No, I suppose that’s true. Oh, Hansie, Hansie, I’ve messed you up again.”
“No, this was my foolishness.”
“I gave you cause. I should have told you. It was just – I found it hard, you know? Not that I wanted to keep secrets from you, but I wanted – want – you to think well of me.”
Ach, Timmy. “And I would think less because you went to see a therapist? Would I think less of you for going to see the doctor because you had a pain in your body? So why would I think less of you for seeking treatment for a pain in your soul?”
He looked sheepish. “Well, maybe the truth is that I would think less of me, and I expected you to feel the same. I’m working on it, Hansie, I’m working on a lot of things.”
“What do you want to achieve from these sessions, Tim?”
“I don’t know. To feel – not to feel so bad about things. To be able to accept myself for who I am, not to be haunted by things that happened in the past that I have no control over. To be able to give more of myself. To be a better person.”
“A better person? I think perhaps that’s out of my league. You understand that I can't tell you that such a thing is right or such a thing is wrong? If it will help, I can certainly tell you that there is nothing in what you've told me so far that's in any way pathological, but only you have the authority to decide what, for you, is the best way to live, what makes you happy. Can you help me to understand what you mean by better?”
“Not morally better. Well, yes, a bit. No, I mean to be better able to make the most of who I am, what I have. Better balanced.”
“It's interesting that you feel that, because you give the impression of a rather well balanced young man, despite everything. So let me tell you what I think I can do for you. . .”
“So then. Is it helping?”
“I think it has. I shan’t be going any more. Tonight was the last session I had booked, and we’ve agreed that I probably needn’t come back, unless something else comes up to trouble me.”
“You are cured?”
“It isn’t about being cured, it’s, well, about getting on with things. Changing the things I can, if I don’t like them, but realising that that sort of change doesn’t happen overnight. Accepting the things I can’t change with good grace, and not fretting at them. Living my life as fully as I can. And I will.” He cocked his head on one side, looked at me. “With you. If you’ll have me.”
I smiled, a little shakily, opened my arms to him.
“Can there be any doubt?”
“Good.” He snuggled tightly to me. “And part of who I am, part of who we both are, is the spanking.”
“How much do you actually remember of your father’s death?”
“It’s difficult to say – it’s all sort of blurred up with things that I may have been told afterwards, so I’m not sure how much is my memory, and how much is other people’s interpretations. But I remember bits of the day the men in the long coats came to tell Mummy that Daddy wasn’t coming home any more. I don’t remember it as connected narrative, but I remember as clearly as anything the funny little hiccuping gasps she was making, ‘ah, ah’ as if she couldn’t get her breath, and that I ran to her, upset, partly to comfort her and partly to be comforted, and that she pushed me away.”
“She pushed me away. That, I’ve never forgotten. Oh afterwards, when she realised, she pulled me to her and hugged me, kissing my hair and saying, over and over: ‘we’ll be all right, darling. Don’t worry, we’ll be all right’. But it wasn’t her first impulse. And of course, we weren’t all right. We weren’t all right at all.”
“Hmm. And then?”
“Well – I think there was an argument about whether I should go to the funeral or not – I’m told I did, but I don’t remember much about it at all. That’s odd, isn’t it?”
“Not necessarily. What else from that time?”
“I remember quite clearly being in Jim and Mary’s house, being asked if I’d like to stay with them for a while, because Mummy wasn’t very well, and thinking: you’re lying to me, she’s going away to be with Daddy and they’re leaving me behind.”
“You felt you were being deceived?”
“Oh, yes, I remember that. And I’d always adored Jim, since before I could walk, so the irony is that under other circumstances the prospect of staying with them both would have been a real treat.”
“So how did you feel about it? Staying there?”
“I felt – I was waiting for them to leave me, like Mummy and Daddy had. And when it didn’t happen straight away I started trying to force them into it, just to be relieved of waiting.”
“When you say force them, can you explain to me how you did that?”
“Oh, I was vile. I was probably the most horrible little brat you can imagine. I sulked, I did things I wasn’t supposed to, I wouldn’t eat, I demanded things I knew I couldn’t have. I drew on the wallpaper. I smashed Mary’s favourite vase. . . that was my undoing, actually.”
“In what way?”
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think Mary would probably have just swept it up and said no more about it, but Jim could see how upset she was, and he lost it. It had been quite deliberate, and all concerned knew it. Down came my shorts, and over his knee I went, and I got a short but very sharp reminder of the consequences of bad behaviour.”
“And how did you feel about that? What happened afterwards?”
“I cried my eyes out, and clung to Jim, and said I was sorry. And he told me I should say sorry to my aunt, so I ran to her, and she folded me up in her arms and hugged me and told me she forgave me and I should have something nice for my tea. And I felt safe. For the first time since my father died. I finally began to believe that here was somewhere I could stay, and people who cared about me.”
“So you would say for you that corporal punishment, though it might be unpleasant at the time, was very much tied up with those feelings? Safety? Acceptance?”
“Yes. I suppose that’s why I’m – why it’s part of my sexual life?”
“I can't say. But I can tell you that it's one of the commoner forms of sexual play, and plenty of people are attracted to it who never had a hand raised to them throughout their childhood. Did your aunt punish you?”
“Physically you mean? Rarely. I might have got the odd slap when I was particularly provoking, but it was really seen as Jim’s job. Mary had other ways of dealing with me. She could make you wish the ground would open up and swallow you if you got on the wrong side of her tongue. Not that she ever shouted – she just asked questions, until you heard how thoughtless, stupid, and unpleasant your answers really were. That hurt for a lot longer than a good spanking and a hug afterwards.”
“So would it be fair to say that a good spanking is a man’s job, and it gains you forgiveness, but talking things through is women’s work?”
“I don’t really think. . . Lord, I’ve put my foot in it again, haven’t I? Sorry, Aidan.”
“Not at all. But I’d like to talk about what you’ve just said in the context of your argument with Phil. Because I’m wondering how you saw yourself, when you strapped Phil. And how you saw him. Then, and perhaps at other times.”
“Ah. Umm, yes, I see. I think I see. Yes.”
“Spanking, my liefie?”
“Spanking. I’ve earned a good one for lying and making you worry like this. And you, you deserve one for taking my assurances that I loved you and ignoring them as if I’d never made them.”
“Ah. Are you sure about this?”
“Yes, I think I am. If you are. I mean, given our history, who should know better than us that spanking isn’t a substitute for talking, for other sorts of communication? But it's an acknowledgement of the mistakes and the hurt, and sometimes a way of drawing some of the poison out of them. It puts them in a box, where they can be handled more safely, I guess, but we still have to do that handling. And we have to be certain what the mistakes are, what the damage is, before we start. And I think – I think, here and now, between us, we do.”
I nodded. “Very well then. Yes, perhaps it is time that we recalled our agreement.”
“Bully.” He smiled at me with more than a little of the old Tim as he said it, and I felt my heart lighten.
“Brat. Come here. No, better, we will go to the bedroom, where the implements have been lonely for you.” I ran a hand lightly over the nape of his neck, felt him shiver.
“Ooh, sir,” he said with mock dread. “Not the implements? Not the slipper? The tawse? The paddle?” His voice lowered. “Not the strap?”
I bit my lip. “Ah. No, not the strap. I no longer have it.”
“No longer have it?” That was back to his normal voice. “Why?”
“Nick took it. He said we could not be trusted with it.”
“Oh. Oh. Well, perhaps he’s right.” He sounded a little crestfallen.
“Do not worry, I can light a fire in your bum without it.”
He smiled ruefully. “I know. Come on, then, let’s get it over with.”
“Over with? I intend to take my time.”
“Brute. Just remember that what goes around, comes around.”
I grinned at him. “I’m counting on it,” I said.
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