The honorable Judge Harold T. McKenzie, having pronounced sentence, tapped his gavel signifying the end of my courtroom drama. I stood beside my court appointed attorney, tears welling in my eyes, but thankful things had not gone far worse. It was better than jail time which had been my worst fear as the proceedings dragged my personal failures up for near public scrutiny. My attorney held his hand out to me as the courtroom emptied.
He said, "I realize you were hoping for a complete acquittal, but this was the best outcome we could really expect."
I shook his hand and said, "I know. It could have gone much worse and I really appreciate all your effort on my behalf."
He smiled and patted my shoulder in a patronizing fashion. "It's my job to do what I can and besides, I could tell from our first conversation you weren't the malicious sort. You just got in over your head and now you'll get the help you need to get back on your feet and most importantly, to stay on them."
Inwardly, I groaned in utter disagreement with his perspective, but outwardly I continued to smile appreciatively. There was no point in antagonizing the man and regardless of the outcome, I could not fault him in his efforts. "Thank you," I said as we parted ways in the hall outside the court.
I waited in the clerk's office for over an hour before my paperwork was finally processed. The judgment, printed on pink paper, felt heavy in my hand and reading its bold, black print opened a nervous pit in my stomach. The instructions were clear and precise as one might expect and the consequences for not following them were equally clear and precise. I could appeal the decision, but I was under no illusions the results would be any more favorable and in all likelihood things would simply get worse. I tucked the paper, neatly folded, into my purse and left the courthouse behind.
Numb to the world, I walked on autopilot along the streets. I envied the people in their cars, driving along, oblivious to me and my fate, happy in their ignorance, enveloped in their own lives. Step after fateful step brought me closer to the address of my court ordered destination. It was a nice neighborhood, but in my state it felt dark and dangerous. I told myself jail would have been worse, but as I stood on the doorstep poised to knock, I was not completely certain I believed myself. Tapping my hand against the solid door, I shivered as a cool winter breeze swept over me.
The door opened with startling abruptness. On the other side, a stern man sized me up from head to toe. I inhaled sharply, trying to calm my nerves enough to introduce myself and explain why I was at his door. His judging eyes left me feeling small and insignificant. I said, "I'm—
"Nicole Parsons," He said in a brusque tone, "You're late."
I blinked in shock. "I—I came ah straight ah from the ah courthouse," I said.
"Don't just stand there," He said looking aggravated, "Take your shoes off and get in here."
Nervously, I complied with the order nearly tipping over taking my shoes off while standing. Carrying my shoes in my hand, I entered the house and found myself nearly nose to nose with another woman. She was holding her shoes as well and if possible, she looked even less happy. The man closed the door and locked it before turning his attention back to me.
"Paperwork," He said, holding his hand out expectantly.
I fumbled in my purse and pulled the folded page out after a moment, handing it to him. He unfolded the page and read it quietly to himself, making nerve racking noises as he did. The other woman tapped her foot impatiently against the floor and managed to look angry, sad, frustrated, annoyed, and bored all at the same time. Instantly, I took a dislike to her as the kind of person I wanted nothing to do with, but given the situation, it appeared I might have to tolerate her for awhile.
"You've been living quite the extravagant lifestyle," He said in a scolding tone. I stared at the floor and chewed on my lower lip feeling utterly ashamed to have my poor choices highlighted by a total stranger and in front of someone else as well.
"Spending much more than you earn," He said, shaking his head like a disappointed parent, "Paying credit bills with credit, over-drafting your bank account, lying on credit applications, and the list goes on. You're nothing more than a thief."
I continued chewing on my lip, unable to look at anything higher than the rug beneath my feet. It was painful to hear my situation spelled out with such jaded eyes, but there was no longer any point in arguing my circumstances. The steps which had led me down the path of ruin were not the black and white versions of right and wrong the court and its representatives portrayed. One bad choice had led to another until the only way through seemed to stay on the path until the entire thing collapsed around me and left me in the deepest trouble of my life, not to mention the humiliation of being hauled before the court for all my friends, family and acquaintances to see the wreck my life had become.
He said, "As you know, you will remain in my care until your debts have all been repaid. I have secured employment for you and we will engage in weekly lessons, teaching you to manage your funds and live within your means. The house rules are simple; You will do as I tell you, when I tell you, where I tell you and how I tell you. Any deviation will be punished immediately and severely."
There might not be bars on the doors or windows, but beyond that difference I saw nothing different from a long jail sentence. At the wages, the court described, it will take me years to pay off my debts and until they were paid I was required to live with a court appointed chaperon and counselor. Tears spilled out onto my red cheeks as I shuddered at the humiliation of my new life.
"Do you have any questions for me?" He asked and I shook my head. A stern frown rose to his face and he said, "When I ask you a question you will respond with either a yes, sir or a no, sir."
His index finger slipped underneath my chin and firmly lifted my head until he was staring into my nervous eyes. Embarrassed, I looked downward even though my head was raised and I could see he was pleased with my reaction. I wished for the nightmare to end, but I knew it was far from over. Deciding to make the best of things, I said, "Sorry, sir. No, sir I don't have any questions."
"Better," He said and then stepped back to look at me and the other woman beside me. "You were both late in arriving and you shall be punished accordingly. At the end of the hall you will find the room the two of you shall be sharing. Go inside and remove your clothing, all of it, and put it away in the hamper. Then you can return to the main room and face the wall with your hands on your head. You will wait there until I'm ready to administer your spankings. "
I exchanged a frightened and shocked look with the other woman, but neither of us was brave enough to challenge him. He was in utter control of our lives and there was nothing to do but follow his orders. Still, it was unthinkable to have to present myself naked to him for punishment. Perhaps I could have walked faster from the courthouse to his doorstep, but I had made no other stops and for him to call my arrival late seemed unfair in the extreme. Much as I would like to complain though, I knew from reading the court papers, he was perfectly within his rights.
The other woman started down the hallway while I stood still dumbfounded by his instructions. I started to take a step when his hand grasped hold of my arm and bent me into him. With his other hand he delivered a vicious volley of spanks to my bottom. I squealed at the sudden sensations, having been years since I had a spanking, I had completely forgotten what it felt like. He held me tight and kept spanking until my butt was actually starting to feel warm and then he yanked me back upright and pushed my along down the hallway where the other woman was already on her way back out, naked as the day she was born and blushing like a ripe tomato as her hands tried to provide a bit of modesty.
"When I give you an instruction you will obey it immediately, am I understood?" He called to my back as I rushed toward the room. I paused at the doorway and wiped tears from eyes before turning back to him. "Yes, sir," I said.
Less than five minutes later I hurried back into the main room, stark naked and cold. The other woman was already in position against the specified wall, her hands resting on top of her head, elbows out to the sides. He was sitting in an armchair, his back to the wall reading a magazine as if completely oblivious to our presence. I scurried over to the wall and assumed my position next to the other woman. As I stared at the picture hanging on the wall and wondered if I would get used to the position by the time I left his care or if it would always leave me feeling embarrassed and ashamed.