“Rachel,” Mrs. Bennett said entering the living room. Rachel stood beside the fireplace pretending not to be watching as Jennifer sat on her stool writing away on the lines Miles had assigned. “Come along, it’s time for you to do some more work.”
Telling Rachel twice wasn’t necessary. She lowered her tired arms from their station keeping at her head and quickly joined her mother on the other side of the living room. Chores weren’t on the top of her list of fun activities, but nearly anything beat standing beside the fireplace with her arms raised. “What fun do I get to have now?” she asked.
Mrs. Bennett led the way out of the living room to the foot of the stairs. A bucket filled with soap and water rested on the bottom step against the wall. On the rim, a cleaning cloth was draped and floating inside, a yellow sponge peeked in and out of the water. Mrs. Bennett stopped next to the rail and gestured upward at the staircase. “Since you and Richard scuffed my stairs with your antics this morning, it seems only fair that you clean off the marks.”
Rachel looked up the stairs. There were a few scuffs, black and white marks visible on the steps, but none of them were large nor were they even on every step. As far as chores went, she expected it would be easy enough. “Sounds fair,” she said.
“You’re being awfully amicable,” Mrs. Bennett said. “Perhaps we’re finally getting through to you.”
Rachel shrugged and picked up the bucket. There was nothing she could say to her mother that wouldn’t come off as either facetious or patronizing. She climbed the first step and paused, glancing back at her mother. “I’ll start at the top and work my way down, okay?”
Mrs. Bennett nodded. “Just make certain those steps shine when you’re finished.”
“Yes, Mother,” Rachel said and climbed the stairs until she was only a few steps short of the top landing. She laid the bucket to rest and sat next to it. Though she would have liked to rest there a while she figured her mother would be keeping track of her progress and making issues if it wasn’t up to her expectations. Rachel reached into the bucket and rang out the sponge.
She had only finished scrubbing the third step when she heard the sounds of footsteps rising up from below. Her father climbed past her without a word. She was relieved at first, but as he went by she noticed the slim battery held in his hand. It was the one he had taken earlier from her phone. It was too much to hope he was simply returning it to her bedroom. Her thoughts ran wild toward his intentions and a panic quickened her heartbeat at the possible things he might discover if he invaded her phone.
A click, echoing out from her bedroom, propelled her into action. She dropped the sponge on the step and ran to her bedroom. Inside the doorway she stopped face to face with her father. He held her phone in his hands, the battery snapped back into place and the screen lit with life. For a moment she forgot herself and her situation allowing anger to boil over and control her actions.
“What are you doing?” she asked. Her voice echoed loud and trembled with the ghost of confidence she had thought lost for the weekend along with most of her clothes.
Mr. Bennett looked up from the lit screen. “Who were you talking to earlier?”
“That’s none of your business,” Rachel said. The back of her head pounded with the possibility he already knew the answer to his question.
“If you paid your own phone bill, I’d agree,” Mr. Bennett said, “but you don’t. Now are you going to tell me or should I press redial?”
“Why do you even care?” she asked. Anything to slow him down and give her time to think.
His thumb hovered over the button. “Because it’s quite clear you’ve been up to something and if it’s what I suspect, the sooner you tell me, the better it’s going to be for both of us.”
“It was just a friend,” Rachel said. She knew he didn’t believe her.
He pressed the button. Rachel gasped and grabbed at the phone trying to take it away from him. He put the phone to his ear and warned her to stay back with a wag of his free hand’s index finger. Her lips trembled with Julian’s name on them as she listened to the muffled ringing.
The ringing stopped and Julian answered. “Hello.”
Mr. Bennett nodded at Rachel as if he had expected Julian to answer. “Julian?” he said into the phone.
Rachel tried to control herself and remain calm while listening to Julian’s disembodied voice whispering from her phone. “Yes,” Julian said. “Mr. Bennett is that you?”
Julian sounded confused. “Why are you calling me from Rachel’s phone. Is she alright?”
Mr. Bennett stared into Rachel’s eyes. “I wasn’t sure who I was calling. I had thought you and Rachel were no longer a couple.”
“We’re not,” Julian said, “but we’re still friends. I hope that’s okay with you.”
“Of course,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.” He ended the call before Julian could respond. Focused on Rachel, he asked, “Would you care to explain?”
“My personal life is none of your business,” Rachel said. A mixture of relief and anger emboldened her in the conflict. He didn’t know anything that really mattered and if she kept him focused on her relationship with Julian, he never would.
Mr. Bennett sat the phone aside on her dresser. “When it interferes with my professional life, it is entirely my business. Now what’s going on?”
Rachel said, “My relationship with the son of someone you do business with is not interfering with your professional life. How dare you accuse me of more crap like this when it ought to be obvious your real professional problem is the girl downstairs.”
“This isn’t about Jennifer,” Mr. Bennett said.
Rachel shook her head. “No, it’s not. It’s about Miles being led around by his dick and not seeing what’s right in front of him and about you trusting a stranger before you trust me.”
Mr. Bennett said, “I can understand why you’re angry, but that’s not an excuse for getting yourself mixed up with Julian again.”
“Mixed up?” Rachel crossed her arms in front of her and glared at her father. “What the hell are you accusing me of now?”
“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Mr. Bennett said. “I think you’ve been angry, with me, with Miles, with Jennifer, maybe with the whole family. And I would understand if you’ve been lashing out at us because you feel like we’re not on your side.”
Rachel shook her head. “The skank on the stool downstairs tells you I’m in some sort of cahoots with Julian and you believe her just because I still talk to him. Never mind that I dated him for four years and we parted amicably. If I’m talking to him, I must be up to whatever nefarious plot she accuses me of, isn’t that what’s really going on here?”
Mr. Bennett asked, “Why did you call him this morning?”
“You’ve already decided why,” Rachel said.
“I’m giving you a chance to defend yourself,” Mr. Bennett said.
Rachel rolled her eyes. “You’ve got nothing but suspicions generated from a lying whore and I’m supposed to defend myself?”
“Why don’t you just answer my question and save the drama?” Mr. Bennett said.
Rachel huffed. “It’s not like you’d believe anything I tell you.”
Mr. Bennett said, “If you don’t tell me anything, I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“You could choose to trust me,” Rachel said.
“When you won’t answer a simple question?” Mr. Bennett asked. “Give me a reason why I should.”
Rachel’s lips puckered into a sour expression of frustration. “I’m your daughter and she’s a fifteen dollar an hour whore that keeps your son happy.”
Mr. Bennett took a deep breath and asked, “Why did you call Julian this morning?”
Rachel groaned and glanced out the window. The rain was falling slanted and she could see the trees leaning hard toward the ground across the street. It wouldn’t take much for them to topple, but they would resist to the very last so that if they did splinter and fall what remained would be best and strongest of the tree.
“To piss you off,” she said. It was her resistance to his storm.
“I want the truth,” Mr. Bennett said.
Rachel turned back to him. “Oh. In that case, I was plotting out Jennifer’s next accident. You know I was really hoping she’d drown with her car, but you know what they say about plans.”
“I’m not laughing,” Mr. Bennett said.
“Neither am I,” Rachel said.
“I want a straight answer out of you,” Mr. Bennett said. “Why did you call Julian?”
“Straight? Hmm,” Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m into guys not girls. Is that straight enough?”
“You’re asking for a spanking,” Mr. Bennett said.
“Strange,” Rachel said, “I don’t recall doing that. Of course, I don’t recall not doing my job either before you fired me for that. I guess I just get all mixed up and don’t know my head from my ass sometimes.”
Mr. Bennett grabbed hold of her arm and dragged her to the side of the bed. He sat down and tossed her over his lap, planting her head into her pillows. Rachel kicked her legs and tried to squirm free, but he wrapped an arm around her mid-section, effectively pinning her to him. He raised his hand and cracked down on her panty-clad bottom.
“I’ve— had— enough— of— your— bad— attitude,” he said, swatting her bottom to emphasize every word.
Rachel pounded the mattress in frustration. “And you think spanking me is going to help? You’re an idiot!”
Mr. Bennett stopped spanking and slipped his fingers into the waistband of her panties. With a side-to-side wriggling motion, he pulled them down off her bottom, until they slid down her legs to her ankles. He returned to spanking her with his hand, employing enough force to bounce her bottom into a fiery red.
He said, “I’ve given you chance after chance today and you’ve done nothing but throw them back in my face.”
“Yeah you’ve been real generous,” Rachel said. “Give me a one percent chance to stay out of trouble and then wonder why I don’t.”
Mr. Bennett said, “Not only have you lost all your clothes for the weekend, but I’m going to make sure you don’t sit comfortably for the next week. If you’d like to go for two, just keep smarting off.”
Rachel almost responded, but self-preservation kicked in at the last moment. Her bottom was starting to really burn for third time of the day and making her father angrier while he was spanking seemed like a bad idea. Still, the frustration of her situation burned inside her because she felt certain between the two of them she had the greater right to anger. Of course if he knew the full truth of the things she’d been up to with Julian, he would disagree more than he already did. She endured the wrath of his hardened hand in silence.
Mr. Bennett stopped spanking when he noticed he was having no effect on her. She had even stopped kicking her legs and grunting with the fall of his hand. He rolled her off his lap onto the bed and stood up, shaking his head.
“One way or another I’m going to find out what you’ve been doing,” he said. “In the meantime you can stand in front of the window, facing out, with your hands on your head.”
Rachel stared at him in anger. She wanted to tell him off some more, but it was a battle she knew she would lose. It was better to wait for everything to come together and then rub his face in how much he had underestimated her. She climbed up from the bed and stood in front of the window. The light reflected in the window and she found herself staring at her reflection. It seemed strange seeing the raindrops running down the cheeks of the girl in the window while her own remained dry.
Behind her, Mr. Bennett began pulling open drawers and ruffling through her belongings. She would have laughed if her circumstances had been different. How could he think her capable of such masterful planning against Jennifer and yet think she would be dumb enough to leave evidence laying around for him to find? The real evidence, the evidence he didn’t even know to look for, was on her phone and if she could get her hands on it for just a few seconds, it would be gone. She just hoped he wouldn’t think to go back to it before she got the opportunity.