Dad stood on the edge of the patio watching us. Becky walked beside me holding the cleaned switch limp in her sweaty palm and staring down at it as if nothing else existed. I kept hold of Becky’s arm guiding her back toward Dad, not that she really had any where else to go. The pool party continued to bustle with summer activity with no one overtly gawking at us, but I could hear the whispers carried on the morning breeze. They all knew what was about to happen and it had the backyard buzzing with an undercurrent of apprehensive excitement.
We stopped, standing on the grass just in front of Dad. He towered over us, looking down upon Becky with a sadness filling his eyes. His disappointment washed over Becky and I in waves that left us boiling in embarrassment and guilt. Or maybe it was the summer sun blazing down on us from a cloudless blue sky. I wanted to hide from both just to be sure and I wasn’t even holding the switch. Becky was probably hoping to go inside at least and if it’d been me, I would’ve been praying for a miracle like a sudden gift of leniency that would have me sent to my room for the remainder of the day.
The switch transferred from Becky’s hand to Dad’s without any fuss. Becky glanced sideways at me and mouthed an apology that was probably the most real thing she had communicated to me since the day we met. I felt bad for her and I knew I was being watched, not just by the neighbors and my high school friends, but by Diana. The question rattling in my head went beyond caring what all of them thought of me and yet that was part of it too. Was it more right to let my cousin suffer the consequences of her actions or did I have a responsibility to protect her? And in protecting her, was it more protection for her to learn a harsh lesson in the moment so that she would never do something so foolish again or would the lesson still be learned from mercy?
I looked to my Dad and said, “Look, I know this probably isn’t my place to say, but I think Becky might already have learned enough of a lesson.”
Dad nodded. “You’re right, it’s not your place.”
Becky’s hand touched mine for a moment and she said, “I have learned my lesson and I’m sorry and it won’t ever, ever, ever happen again. I swear.”
Dad shook his head. “The only lesson you’ve learned so far today is that there are consequences to your bad behavior that you’d rather not face. You may well decide to hate me for this and that’s your right, but you’re getting the switching you’ve earned and that’s that.”
Becky’s eyes started to fill with tears. They glistened in the sunlight and I had to turn away before the empathy in my heart demanded I make another attempt to persuade Dad to alter his course. She had tried to drown me. She had threatened to hide my body. She had thrown attitude befitting a princess at my parents, at Diana, and at me. She deserved the switch and even if I didn’t wish it upon her, I could understand why my Dad stood firm.
Dad pointed the switch at Becky’s chest, the tip of it brushing the yellow stretch of fabric between her breasts. “Switchings are done on the bare bottom, young lady.”
Becky blinked at Dad like he was speaking a foreign language.
“Bare your bottom,” Dad said, punctuating each word with a tap of the switch’s tip on Becky’s swimsuit.
Becky said, “I’m wearing a one-piece bathing suit.”
“I didn’t ask what you were wearing,” Dad said, “I told you to bare your bottom.”
“There are people around,” Becky said, gesturing at the whole of the backyard.
Dad nodded. “Another excellent observation and yet your bottom is still not bare. If I have to tell you again, you’ll not only be spending the rest of today with your bottom bare, but tomorrow as well.”
Becky made the mistake of looking around. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was staring at her. It wasn’t every day a girl her age got a switching and even more rare that it was semi-public. She was going to be the talk of the neighborhood for the rest of the summer. The only part Becky had any control over was whether or not she was remembered as a defiant brat resisting just punishment or compliant young lady accepting her just desserts. I considered mentioning it to her, but the tear rolling down her cheek as she shrugged her first shoulder out of the swimsuit told me she understood enough.
Less than a minute later, the yellow swimsuit slipped down Becky’s legs to a pile around her ankles. A low sob escaped her throat as more tears spilled from her eyes and she wrapped her arms in front of her naked breasts. She stepped out of the swimsuit and kicked it aside, probably a physical incarnation of the hate swelling inside her toward the garment and the situation that forced it on her in the first place.
Dad pointed toward a nearby support post for the patio cover and said, “Bend over, hands on the post.”
Becky looked around at the watching eyes. She took a step closer to the post and bit her lip. I could tell she was thinking about what everyone was going to see when she bent and grabbed the post. There was no place for her to hide. Her cheeks turned scarlet and shined with a wet gleam of tears. Becky reached out and bent downward taking hold of the wood post. Her breasts swung free, pointing down at the patio. I looked away, embarrassed for my cousin and I found myself looking at Diana and to my surprise, Diana was looking at me.