The remainder of the school day flew. Michelle entered the library with her school bag packed for the weekend’s homework assignments. She laid the bag on an empty study table and looked around for Mr. Purdue. Nick waved to her from a reference aisle pausing in his task of putting away books that had been left out throughout the day. Michelle, seeing no one else, walked over to join him.
When she was close enough to hear without shouting, Nick said, “Mr. Purdue is waiting for you in his office.”
“Oh.” Michelle stopped after another step. Her intentions wavered in the face of uncertainty. She had thought he wanted to talk to her, but clearly he was only doing his duty as a library aide. He still deserved an apology from her, even with the explanation she wanted to give him, her behavior toward him hadn’t been justified.
Nick turned more fully toward her with a book in his hand. He seemed to sense her hesitation and the reason for it. “We can talk later. You don’t want to keep Mr. Purdue waiting.”
“Alright.” Michelle nodded, relieved he wasn’t too angry with her. She turned away from him and walked toward Mr. Purdue’s office behind the information counter. The door to his office was open and she could see him sitting behind his desk, shuffling through a mess of papers. On His right, a school paddle rested on top of a dictionary. She stopped in the doorway and knocked on the frame. “You wanted to see me?”
Mid-shuffle, Mr. Purdue looked up and nodded. “Good, you’re early. Come in.”
Michelle took two steps inside his office, but remained a safe distance away from his desk and the paddle. Her gaze kept drifting toward the prominent wooden implement though she tried to remain focused on Mr. Purdue. “Did you call my father?”
“I did,” Mr. Purdue said. He stood, pushing his padded chair back against the wall. “As I suspected he was very interested in your discovery. I suspect he is rather proud of you, though he and I are in agreement that your actions have been risky.”
“I’ve taken precautions,” Michelle said. She chewed on her lower lip looking at his disbelieving face. “It’s not like I didn’t try to get someone to listen to me first.”
Mr. Purdue’s lowered chin and narrowed eyes disagreed. “You should have gone straight to your father.”
Michelle breathed out her disappointment while her gaze flicked to the paddle again. Mr. Purdue stepped around his desk and blocked her view. He sat on the front edge recapturing her attention. He shook his head at her, offering support in the form of a sympathetic smile. She considered the possibility she had misread the paddle’s placement— That it could have been meant for someone else or even no one at all.
Mr. Purdue said, “I understand why you would go to Miles first. He’s your older brother and you look up to him. That’s not wrong, but contrary to what you might think, he’s not infallible. He was wrong to dismiss your concerns and even more so to suggest going to your father would be improper and you should have realized that. He made an incorrect assumption about your intentions and knowing that as you did, you should have gone to your father without any fear of reprisal.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Michelle said.
“Has your father ever given you reason to think you would be treated unfairly?” Mr. Purdue asked.
Michelle’s gaze dropped to the floor. Her father was strict, but try as she may, she could not recall a single time he had ever punished her or even one of her siblings for something they hadn’t done. In truth, he’d often allowed her to get away things he’d never have allowed from the others. Unfair to her siblings perhaps, but certainly not to her. “No,” she said.
“You made a mistake,” Mr. Purdue said. The bluntness made Michelle blink. “It’s alright, you’re young and it’s just part of growing up.”
Emboldened by his casual, semi-supportive tone, she raised her head to meet his eyes. It sounded as if her mistake only deserved a mild lecture. She didn’t feel the need to object. “I guess I should have handled it differently.”
“I would say there isn’t much ‘guessing’ about it,” he said. “Allowing a boy, any boy, but especially a boy like Cody to grope you in exchange for anything is beyond poor judgment. Fortunately, the damage is mostly limited to your reputation.”
Michelle said, “I’ve never been too concerned with what my classmates think of me. Their opinions change more often that the weather anyway. By this time next week, they’ll have completely forgotten I ever even talked to Cody.”
“I hope you’re right,” Mr. Purdue said, watching her with an intense gaze, “but the question remains; How will this effect your decisions in the future?”
Confused, Michelle bit at her lip and raised her eyebrows. Cody would soon be a thing of her past, not her future. “Sir?”
Mr. Purdue sighed and glanced out the interior window to the main room of the library. Nick was settling the rest of the afternoon detention attendees to their assigned spaces and giving them their work assignment. Most would be writing lines or doing some written work correlated to the offense that landed them in detention, but a few of the more trust-worthy would be helping Nick straighten shelves and put away books.
He turned back to Michelle and said, “You’ve started down a dangerous path with Cody, using sex to get what you wanted.”
Her jaw dropped and she inhaled sharply. It was the only immense respect she had for Mr. Purdue which kept her from lashing out at him. The very thought of sex with Cody rattled her to her core and that Mr. Purdue would even think such a thing despite her earlier assurances to the contrary, felt nothing short of betrayal. The hurt moistened her eyes with tears.
She said, “I would never— How could you even think—
The tears burst from her eyes. She wiped angrily at her cheeks, sniffling back the outburst threatening to overwhelm her. Mr. Purdue lifted a pair of tissues from the box on his desk and crossed the few feet between them. She snatched them from his fingers and turned her head away as she wiped at her face.
“I did not mean to imply you engaged in intercourse with Cody,” Mr. Purdue said. He stepped back, giving her room to breathe. “Sex is more than the act of coupling. It can be provocative actions, as simple as a tone of voice and as complex as the excretion of pheromones.”
“Oh,” Michelle said. She dabbed at the slowing flow of tears from her eyes. Her cheeks turned pink, embarrassed about the misunderstanding and her reaction to it. Still, her chest remained panged by the possibility those closest to her might think less of her for her interactions with Cody. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”
Mr. Purdue waited until Michelle stopped sponging tears and turned back to him. “What I mean is you used Cody’s sexual desires to manipulate him into doing what you wanted. It might not seem like much to you now, but now that you’ve ventured into this arena and seen how easily it can get you what you want, you might find it tempting to continue.”
Michelle shook her head. “After Cody sends me those pictures, I have no intention of even looking in his direction again.”
A smile graced Mr. Purdue’s lips and he chuckled. “I wasn’t referring to Cody so much as future situations where you find getting what you want out of some other man is difficult. It could be a college professor you feel is grading you too hard or an employer who isn’t rewarding your hard work as well as you feel is deserved. Whatever the situation, using your sex appeal to get what you want from men works and it’s easy. The problem is that it comes with a heavy price; Your self-respect and the respect of those who care about you.”
“What you’re saying is men are pigs,” Michelle said, “but if I use the fact against them, I’ll be the one branded immoral.”
“Not all men are the same,” Mr. Purdue said, “but yes, when you exploit your sexuality, you’re going to pay a much heavier price for it than the men who take advantage of it. It’s unfair, but that’s life.”
“Do you really think,” Michelle said, “after Cody and his brother are exposed, anyone will give a second thought to how I got the pictures?”
Mr. Purdue shook his head. “The point is not about what others think, it’s about what you think of yourself and whether or not you will repeat this sort of behavior in the future.”
The paddle on his desk re-entered Michelle’s thoughts. She’d felt certain it was for her from the moment she saw it, but in the ensuing conversation she had began to doubt her instinct. “You’re going to spank me for this?”
He twisted to look behind him at the paddle and turned back to Michelle. “No,” he said, “I felt a discussion was warranted, but I believe punishment is unwarranted over this matter. I only hope you’ve learned from the experience and will take my words into consideration should you be tempted to do such a thing again in the future.”
She smiled, almost giddy with relief. “I think that’s very fair of you.”
“I’m pleased you approve,” Mr. Purdue said. “However, there remains the matter of your earlier language.”
The smile faded along with her hopes of escaping his office without feeling the paddle’s burn. “It won’t happen again,” she said, hoping to encourage some leniency.
Mr. Purdue adopted a firm stance. “It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
Michelle remained quiet. He was right of course and agreeing with him wasn’t going to do anything except possibly make him think she was trying to manipulate him. And silence agreement had advantages too, because it wasn’t an argument and it wasn’t an excuse.
He twisted behind him to retrieve the paddle and then, using it like a pointer, he indicated a spot in the middle of the open space before his desk. “Stand here and remove your blazer.”
Her knees went weak as she took the necessary two steps to comply. The breath in her lungs felt thin and hot, washing her entire body in a tingling numbness. She shrugged out of her blazer and he took it from her unsteady hand, laying it to rest on his desktop. Her eyes wandered to the interior window overlooking the larger library and the handful of detention attendees busy with their assignments. She knew they would see nothing, the glass of the window was tinted black on the other side making it a virtual one-way looking glass, but she also knew they would hear every pop and any noise she might make in response.
“Four swats for four-letter vulgarity sounds appropriate,” Mr. Purdue said, “don’t you agree?”
Michelle nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Touch your toes,” Mr. Purdue said.
She adjusted her legs slightly farther apart and leaned down stretching her arms toward the tops of her shoes. Her school skirt rode up until it barely cover her thighs. The heated air blowing in from the vent in the ceiling felt cold on her legs. She closed her eyes.
He tapped the paddle against her skirt and raised his arm as far back as he could before swinging it down hard. The crack of impact echoed like thunder in the small room. Michelle imagined her peers jolted from their work and staring blankly at the tinted window for a moment. Then their faces broke into amused, knowing smiles. They could see nothing, but still they knew. She breathed through the sharp tingles left behind in the wake of the swat.
Michelle’s eyes popped open on the paddle’s return visit. Her skirt fluttered against her legs. The tingles grew more pronounced and the temperature began to rise. She took a deep breath and squeezed her hands into fists, resisting the urge to leap up and grab at her bottom. The instinct faded, even as the warmth and prickling grew. She relaxed her hands and her fingertips resumed their place on the tops of her shoes.
Mr. Purdue waited until the tension in her stretched body reduced from the weathering of pain. Her muscles tightened even more than before upon the third impact of the paddle. She cried out softly, unable to remain quiet, but still painfully aware of the listening audience just on the other side of the window. Her butt screamed its discomfort through her nerves and she endured it with ragged breath and tears stinging in her eyes.
The fourth swat followed before she had fully assimilated the third. She yelped louder and surrendered to reflex, leaping upward and grabbing at her buttocks. Her hands dived beneath her skirt and rubbed directly against her panties, desperate to assuage the fiery skin beneath. She hopped in place all too aware of how ridiculous she looked and thankful it was only Mr. Purdue witnessing her humiliation and not her peers.
“Settle down,” Mr. Purdue said. He laid the paddle to rest on his desk and handed her another tissue.
After another few seconds of hopping she took the tissue and dabbed the tears from the corners of her eyes. Her bottom continued to sting and burn hotter with every passing moment. She looked out the window, expecting to see everyone staring back in her direction, but the other students remained seemingly focused on the assignments. Swallowing her embarrassment, she turned back to face Mr. Purdue.
He lifted the dictionary from his desk and proffered it in her direction. “For the rest of your detention, I want you to come up with 20 alternative words you could have used instead of ‘shit’ and write them down along with their full definition from the dictionary. Hopefully, you’ll think to use one of them in the future.”
Michelle bit on her lip and took the dictionary, nodding. “Yes, sir.” She hesitated a moment before turning toward the door.
When she reached the doorway, Mr. Purdue said, “Oh, your father asked me to take you home this afternoon on account of the rain and your detention.”
Michelle nodded and left his office. She settled in the vacant table where she had left her bag and started her assignment. A buzzing noise emanated from her bag and she glanced around to make sure no one was watching before reaching into it and pulling out her phone. Despite the uncomfortable sting pulsing in her bottom, she smiled looking at the screen. Cody had finally come through and she had the proof she needed for her father and Miles.