All Other Things Being Equal … No. 4
By Princess Anastasia
Rob looked exactly the same, she thought as he came toward her down the long airport arrival artery. The blue eyes, brown hair, and trim physique with broad shoulders Kendall had been dreaming of for the past year were just as she remembered them. The smile that lit his face as he caught sight of her, standing a little apart from those waiting to claim their friends and relatives, business associates and employers, warmed her heart and made her eyes mist with love, just as it always did.
It was so hard, so unfair, that they had to compact a year’s worth of need into 10 days of touching each other whenever and wherever they wanted, sharing hugs and kisses that ranged from patently teasing to passionately torrid, curling up spoon-fashion to watch old movies, walking hand in hand on the beach, exchanging back rubs, consuming meals from a single plate and sips of intoxicating beverages from the same glass. And that other thing they did. That other thing he threatened long distance multiple times over the course of the year and the very same thing she could hardly bring herself to whisper, much less say out loud, even after all this time, although it colored every fantasy she entertained of him, whether they were separated by a thousand miles or connected skin-to-skin.
Rob was just the same, no matter how long and hard the separations were.
This time, though, she was different. No real changes in her sun-streaked dark blonde hair, except that the pony tail she favored might be an inch or two shorter than last October’s style. Her brown eyes were still tilted upward at the outer corners and fringed with lashes so lush and dark she never had to bother with mascara. Her skin tones were still peaches and cream, despite the fact that she moved in and out of the sun’s unforgiving glare every day and should have been a toasty brown.
All those externals were the same ones she had hoped and prayed would not disappoint him the first time they met face-to-face, five years before. He had told her repeatedly she was more beautiful than he imagined, even from the photographs they had exchanged after meeting online two years before they actually made physical contact. She believed him, because he made her feel beautiful with every look, every touch, every word he breathed in his masterful baritone voice. She believed him for 10 days out of every year when the whole world was beautiful, so she must be, as well.
It was when the miles pulled them apart that the familiar doubts crept in.
She had allowed them to crowd the positives almost completely out of her emotional reservoir over the past twelve months, despite his best efforts to pull her out of the doldrums anytime he picked up on negative vibes across their internet connection and weekly phone calls.
Everyday challenges had kept her on the verge of self-pitying tears far too often, though, challenges like the promotion that never materialized, despite her best efforts, but went, instead, to the boss’s flighty niece; the trio of car repair events and the hefty rent increase that conspired to keep her living from pay check to slim pay check; the health scare that had only been quieted after months of tests that were hurtful both to her body and her peace of mind; and the drama of her parents’ divorce after 40 years of marriage.
She had realized she was falling more deeply in love with him than she had ever imagined could be the case, but she could see no way for them to blend their lives without one or both of them making huge sacrifices. She was fearful of even discussing the future with him, afraid his commitment could not match hers in intensity and she might frighten him away all together.
Instead, she had tried to put a light and airy touch on their relationship and had refused to let him see the depth of the challenges she had been facing. Instead, she had insisted, whenever he let her know he was aware something was wrong, that the mountains she was being forced to climb were nothing more than annoying mole hills that she was conquering with ease.
She denied herself the comfort she longed for in him and found solace, instead, in temporary fixes. Those momentary solutions, unfortunately, were the cause of a distress more unsettling than any she had already faced.
She had hinted to him that she was slipping into territory they had “discussed” once or twice before, and he had strictly instructed her not to place even one foot on what was clearly a slippery slope for her. Now, taking her in with eyesight and touch, he would know exactly how far she had slid.
She snuggled hopefully into his welcoming arms, grateful that she still fit and his arms were just as tight around her as ever, his chuckle of pleasure just as warm as she remembered it, his kiss, when he edged her face up and bent his head, just as sweet.
If only she could taste that sweetness more often.
Whenever the world was too hard.
Then, she was certain, she would not crave the other sweetness, the one that always failed her, in the end.
She felt his hand slide down her back and sweep quickly over her denim-encased bottom. It was a move so perfectly executed she doubted anyone in the crowded terminal noticed, yet it left her tingling all over. Her breath caught. Her head dipped in a blend of exquisite shame and fierce longing.
Then they were normal people again, turning toward the corridor that would lead them to his luggage, rescuing it from the crowded conveyor belt, pulling up handles and tugging the molded plastic pieces with their free hands — the hands whose fingers were not securely entwined by that need to assure themselves they really were together again.
“I’ve missed you, beautiful girl,” he whispered for her ears alone as they moved across the heated asphalt of the passenger drop-off lane and into the cool concrete parking deck.
Her heart hammered a bit as she squeezed his hand. Bless him, she thought, maybe he hadn’t even noticed. Maybe the new jeans and billowy long shirt were proving to be as flattering as they had looked on the store mannequin just the day before, even though the pants she purchased were two sizes larger than she had ever considered even trying on before.
She handed him her keys and watched him lift and slide in his suitcase, his wheeled laptop carrier, and a third case whose contents must have caused a collection of raised eyebrows in that section of the airport where luggage was examined.
“You’re the only person who has ever come to see me and brought along his very own bag of toys,” she said with a smile as she reached in to stroke the oblong case he had photographed and forwarded to her weeks ago, packed with the implements of his trade.
“I should hope so, little girl.”
Another tingle spread from her heart down to her girly parts. She loved his pet name for her, loved the wink and slow smile he gave her as he spoke.
She swallowed and moistened her lips with tongue tip while he closed the hatch and nudged her gently toward the passenger door of her own car. He opened it for her — a gallantry no other man had ever treated her to and one she adored — and stood patiently until she remembered to draw the seat belt across her chest in this unaccustomed position as passenger instead of driver. Then he closed her door before rounding the car to take on the role of chauffeur she had asked him to assume midway through his first visit years before.
They chatted easily as he maneuvered through the exit lane and paid the parking fee before merging into traffic and heading for her small bungalow a dozen miles away. It was almost noon, but she knew he would pass by every restaurant on their route. They had business to attend to, and his approach never varied, no matter what time of day or season of the year or other pressing business might surround his arrival.
His hand found hers again and she lifted their entwined fingers to her lips and brushed his with feather-light kisses. She loved his hands, loved them no matter what task they took on, loved them even when she protested the work they mastered so skillfully.
And then they were home, and she was suddenly a little awkward, because she knew what always came next, and even if she had successfully hidden her sins to the present moment, it was clear it would not be long before he knew just how great her transgressions had been.
The thought slowed down her reaction time, so that he had already opened her door before she had released the seat belt. She angled her body and stepped out next to him, lifting her face for the reassuring kiss she needed, and he obliged her.
They wrestled bags through her front door and deposited them in “his” spot in the bedroom, with the new toy bag taking up a bit more space than he normally required for his belongings.
“Need some water?” she asked prettily, turning toward the door.
“Yes, please,” he said with a nod.
She disappeared into her tiny kitchen and retrieved two cold bottles from the fridge, then stood for a moment, trying to decide if she should also get out glasses and pour for them both or opt for the informal approach.
While she dithered, he suddenly appeared and solved the dilemma for her by reaching for the bottle, untwisting the cap, and treating himself to a long, satisfying drink. She watched his throat work, fascinated by the play of muscle and the efficient way he drained the bottle with hardly a break for breath.
“My goodness. You must have really needed that,” she said when he had swallowed the last drop and set the empty container back on her counter.
“I did. Airplane cabins are so dry and, then, too, I’ve got thirsty work ahead of me.”
He lowered his chin a bit and cocked an eyebrow as he gave her a meaningful look.
The first one was always the hardest to give in to, she thought, even though it was also the one she longed for the most through their months apart.
Her own mouth was suddenly dry. He waited patiently while she lowered the water level by half in her own container and refused to meet his eyes. After a few minutes, though, he reached for the bottle and placed it next to his own, taking her hand in his at the same time and moving them out of the kitchen and back to her bedroom.
She moaned a bit and startled herself. But it was the sight of the wooden paddle she hated and feared in equal measure, already laid out just below her pillow, and the impossible-to-misinterpret sound of his leather belt leaving the loops around his waist that made her pull back as he led her toward the bed where she had dreamed of this moment for 354 lonely nights.
It was a reaction she told herself was foolish, year after year, and yet she had never conquered that instinctive recoil from what she longed for. He called it her approach-avoidance reaction and said he was delighted to be the cause of it, since it meant he did his job so well.
He doubled the belt, laid it carefully at the foot of the bed, and turned toward her.
“Want to tell me the whole truth now, or shall I just look at the evidence and draw my own conclusions?”
Tears sprang to her eyes. That had never happened before. Oh, she had protested in the past, had tried to make excuses for the list of sins she had committed while they were apart, had pleaded for mercy, even as she entertained the certain knowledge that she deserved whatever he chose to give her during this very necessary step to clearing the air between them at the first opportunity. It was an interaction he had explained was essential, the first time they met, and she had to admit the sense of that. Without it, she had come to realize, they would be too awkward with each other, always wondering when a past indiscretion might suddenly occur to one of them and mar an otherwise beautiful moment. Best to deal with the past immediately and move on, free of guilt, he had said that first time and had reminded her of, again and again, by simply refusing to engage with her in any other way until he had undertaken the necessary task.
Still, she had never cried before, and certainly not before anything even happened. She knew the cause, though, knew her shame was deeper over this transgression than any of the others she had had to own up to in the past. She knew she had defied him, this time, more thoughtlessly and with more disregard for what was right, than over any other issue in their relationship. He would know it too, very soon, she thought with fear and trembling.
The worst part was, she had begged him to help her fight the very demons she had then nurtured with such devotion. She deserved the dreaded paddle and the belt that bit even deeper. She deserved every implement in his bag. And she would accept whatever he said was justified, if only he didn’t give up on her, if only he was not disgusted by what she had done to herself.
She drew a deep breath. “I didn’t — I couldn’t — I mean, I wasn’t as good as I let you think. I’m sorry. I messed up so many times. And the worst part is, I wanted to tell you, but I knew I would just turn around and do it all again, and I thought it was — I don’t know — not quite so bad to just not mention it instead of confessing and promising to do better when I knew I’d just go right back to it.”
“I see. So, are you telling me you’ve changed your mind about wanting me to hold you accountable, wanting me to help you fight this?”
She shook her head miserably. “No, I need you more than ever. I can’t do this by myself. Look at me. No, don’t look at me. I hate the way I look. I hate what I’ve done to myself. I hate what you must see –”
His fingers stopped her lips from moving.
“No more. I’m going to spank you. I’m going to spank you very hard. Remember the time you got four speeding tickets and we had a discussion?”
She drew a shaky breath. Oh, yes, she remembered that introductory disciplinary session very well from his third visit. She had not had another ticket since.
“Yes, sir,” she whispered, and a tear trickled down her face.
“Do you deserve less this time?” he asked.
“I didn’t put anyone else in danger this time,” she said with a small note of hope in her voice as the enormity of what she faced closed in.
“Really. That’s what you think?”
She frowned up at him in confusion.
“Did you ever think of the danger you put me in when you treat your body so badly?” he continued. “Did you consider for a moment how I would feel if you got sick, if you became a diabetic like your mom, if you poisoned your digestive system? Did you really think this was just about you?”
She risked a quick look at his face, the one set in formidable lines of displeasure, and then ducked her head and stared hard at the carpet.
“I guess I didn’t think much about any of that stuff. I just worried about –”
He waited patiently while she twisted the hem of her shirt in her fists.
“Worried about what?” he asked finally. “Tell me, please, because it’s clear this has been bothering you, even while you went on doing it with such determination. And don’t think for a minute you were fooling me about what you were doing and how much of it you were doing. I know you very well, missy, and even from a distance, I know when you’re in trouble.”
She gulped and brushed away another tear.
“I worried what you would think about – you know — the way I look now.”
“I think you look beautiful. Every inch of you. I thought it from the first image I saw of you and I think it more every day, because I understand, more and more all the time, that your beauty is more than skin deep, as pleasing as that exterior is to me and always will be. ”
She began to cry in earnest now. He put his arms around her and hugged her close.
“I’ve never had a more beautiful girl, and I never will, so you can dispose of all those fears. But you can’t hide from the fact that you are trying very hard to harm my gorgeous little girl with all this crazy food-centered self-medicating you are doing. And I won’t stand for that. Oh, no, sweetheart, there is a very high price to be paid for risking my little girl’s health and well-being, just because something’s not right in your world at the moment. And you’re about to pay it, in spades. Then after you’ve had some corner time, we’ll discuss just how naughty you have been to focus all your concern on whether or not I would still love a little bit more of you.”
The four-letter word embedded itself in her heart and made her tremble with the sheer joy of hearing it, as it always did.
There was too little time to savor it, however, because his hands were already busy unbuttoning and unzipping and pushing down denim over cheeks that were a bit fuller than the last time he had bared them.
She set her jaw and squinched her eyes tight as he completed the preliminaries, waiting with bated breath for him to seat himself midway between the paddle and the belt and then ease her down and over his lap.
He fixed her securely, with her nose mere inches from the implement he intended to employ as soon as he had properly prepared her for discipline. Then he reached for her right hand, clasping it firmly and settling it in the small of her back so that he not only removed the temptation to thwart his efforts but also reminded her he was her anchor, no matter what. That simple connection made it impossible for her to misinterpret his next action as anything but love calling her to account.
He began slowly, but with a determined firmness in each smack, as he always did, giving her a few moments to adjust to the first round of the assault before he began to lecture.
How many times had she imagined herself in this very situation, she wondered briefly between spanks that alternated from cheek to cheek and from pink crest to the crease of bottom and thigh. How many times had she longed for what she could not have at the very moment she needed it and turned to something else instead — something that only made her feel worse in the long run?
As the intensity of his discipline increased and the tempo picked up a bit, as did the power behind each contact, she began to bitterly regret all those short term fixes she had engaged in so stealthily over the months they had been apart.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she protested, bending her knees and bringing her heels up to help her handle the pain.
“Don’t you dare clench those cheeks,” he said sternly and paused a moment, giving her a chance to consciously relax. “Do you think for one moment you should be employing any kind of a defensive move, even if it most likely is completely ineffective? Is that something a little girl who is really sorry would do?”
“No, sir,” she managed to grit out as his hard, wide palm and steely fingers worked their way around her rapidly reddening bottom.
“I think not, so make sure I see plenty of jiggle back here from now on. And get those feet down this minute. The very idea, telling me you’re sorry at the same time you’re trying to get out of fully experiencing everything you so richly deserve.”
She fought through a jumble of emotions and sensations, along with memories she had not called up in months.
As his punishing hand continued to rise and fall, seeking out new territory occasionally, but always coming back to the most sensitive spots, she thought about what was to come, remembering the sound of the hated paddle making crisp, broad contact with skin, already tender, that covered aching muscle, to be followed a split second later by a wide-spread ache through multiple layers of tissue mounding her bottom. It was, she knew all too well, a different sensation than the deep bite of his belt, which she always looked forward to in secret but shivery dread until the third or fourth stripe was laid on. After that, she was prone to begging and wriggling from side to side to coax the leather into less stressed territory.
But if she could just hang on until he was sure she had paid the price, he would return to the warmth of his hand against her tormented flesh, gradually decreasing the intensity and the speed of his discipline, and finally patting her scarlet cheeks reassuringly and then pressing a soft kiss on each throbbing mound.
She knew what to expect, knew how the speed of his smacks always increased as his voice rose while he scolded, knew he would go through two cycles of particularly stingy spanks before backing off a bit and giving her time to get her breathing back on track, knew he would carry her, multiple times, to a level of fiery pain she did not think she could tolerate, knew she was on the blessed receiving end of exactly what she deserved.
The only question was then — all other things being equal — would a spanking on a few more square inches of tender flesh be harder to bear than punishment she had known before her recent abuse of chocolate had broadened her perspective?