Stephanie exited the upstairs bathroom wrapped in a mocha colored towel. She entered her bedroom a few steps away, closed the door and tossed the towel to the floor with a giggle. Inside her closet she perused the clothes she’d left behind when she left for school at the end of the summer. It felt like a blue jeans and brown sweater day so she tossed the items to her bed and donned the plain white undergarments she reserved for her time at home.
A soft knock on the door proceeded the opening and closing of the door as her little sister entered without waiting for permission. Amanda plopped herself down on the bed next to Stephanie’s outfit and stretched. Her eyes were still half closed and her teeth chattered with the cold of the morning air despite the thick red robe and puppy slippers on her feet.
“One night down, three to go,” Amanda said.
Stephanie raised an eyebrow and joined her sister on the bed. “And a good morning to you too.”
Amanda lifted the waist of her sister’s jeans off the bed. “It’s not like you weren’t thinking it at some point already this morning.”
“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Stephanie said, “sometimes it’s better not to say what you’re thinking.”
“It’s just us,” Amanda said.
Stephanie looked at the door leading to the hallway. “The walls are thin and Mom’s hearing hasn’t faded yet.”
“Right,” Amanda said. “So, how is California? Are you still hanging with that surfer hunk? What was his name?”
“He was a lifeguard,” Stephanie said, looking away from her sister.
“Whatever.” Amanda waved her hand in the air.
Stephanie looked at her dresser. The picture frame laid on its face from where she’d slapped it down the night before. She didn’t want to look at him. She didn’t want to talk about him. “We broke up.”
Amanda rested a supportive hand on her sister’s shoulder. “He dumped you?”
“Stupid bastard,” Amanda said. “You’re better off without him. You’ll do far better than some beach bum, I promise.”
Stephanie grabbed her jeans and started pulling them up. “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”
“The prick may as well be dead,” Amanda said, running a virtual zipper over her lips with her right hand. “I’ll never speak of him again.”
Stephanie hopped to her feet pulling the jeans the final inches over her hips. “What about you? Meet any cute boys at college this year?”
Amanda laughed. “Boys are always cute, but I found myself a real man.”
Stephanie paused from fastening her jeans to cock an eyebrow at her sister. “Please tell me he’s not a professor.”
Amanda pressed both hands to her chest and blinked pretend offense at the mere suggestion. “I would never even think about calling a professor a real man.”
“That’s good,” Stephanie said, “cause I’m pretty sure if Dad caught you kissing a professor someone would get shot.”
Amanda laughed. “And I wouldn’t be able to sit down ever again.”
Stephanie laughed and nodded her agreement. “Speaking of,” she said, “it sure looked like you got a hefty dose of the strap yesterday.”
Amanda nodded and let out a low whistle. “Stung like hell yesterday, but it’s fine this morning, I think.” She stood up, turned her back to Stephanie and lifted her robe to give a clear view of her buttocks. “Tell me it’s not still fire engine red?”
Stephanie looked and smiled. “Wow!” she said. “I think I can see steam coming off that ass.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “Very funny. I’m serious. He is coming over for Thanksgiving today and I was going to wear a skirt, but not if there is any chance he might see something.”
Stephanie laughed. “Does he usually peek up your skirt?”
Amanda dropped her robed back into place and blinked innocence betrayed by the pink coloring of her cheeks. “I’m sure he’d never do anything of the sort,” she said and then in a quieter voice, “unless I wanted him to.”
Stephanie smiled and shook her head. “Well you’re safe enough, the red is all gone, but it won’t stay that way if Mom or Dad catches you letting this guy take a peek.”
Amanda nodded. “I’ll be very, very careful.”
Stephanie grabbed her sweater and pulled it on. “That’s always the plan isn’t it?”
Amanda laughed, walking toward the door. She paused and looked at the jeans on Stephanie. “You know if you wear those jeans, Mom will send you up here to change before dinner and give you the lecture about creating extra laundry for her.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “She’s on that kick again?”
Amanda nodded. “A lady should dress like a lady and look like a lady.”
They laughed together and spoke in unison. “I’m no lady.”
The door sprung open forcing Amanda to take a surprised step backward. Their Mom entered the room wrapped in her own warm robe. Thick curlers bulged from her head, a look that always made Stephanie smirk while thinking they made her Mom look uncannily like the mythological Medusa. The stern eyes did nothing to mitigate the appearance.
Mom said, “Listening to the two of you cackling I’m hard pressed to disagree with you, but as long as you’re under my roof you’ll dress and behave like ladies or suffer the consequences. Is that understood?”
Stephanie and Amanda stood straight, pulled their shoulders back and pursed their lips. “Yes, Mom,” they said in unison.
Mom nodded taking another step into the room. “You,” she pointed at Stephanie, “will change out of those clothes and put on an appropriate Autumn dress before you leave this room.” Mom turned her head to Amanda. “And you will take a reasonable length shower and don a similar dress before you come downstairs. If either of you have a problem with that you can come downstairs in your birthday suit. Is that understood?”
Stephanie and Amanda nodded. “Yes, Mom.”
“Good,” Mom said and took a half step forward, stopping abruptly. She looked down at her feet where Stephanie’s towel laid bunched on the floor. “What is this?”
Amanda inhaled sharply.
Stephanie said, “My bath towel.”
Mom looked at Amanda. “Didn’t we just deal with this same thing yesterday?”
Amanda nodded, not daring to speak.
“I was going to pick it up,” Stephanie said.
Mom turned back to Stephanie. “It should never have gone on the floor in the first place.”
Stephanie nodded. “I know.”
“How many times have we talked about this?” Mom asked.
Stephanie swallowed cold air. “Too many to count.”
Mom shook her head. “At least we can agree on that. What did I tell you would happen the last time we discussed this?”
Stephanie nibbled on her lower lip for a long moment before shrugging. “I don’t know.”
Mom’s expression lacked any hint of amusement. “I suggest you think real hard before I decide to double it.”
Stephanie looked at her bare feet and felt her cheeks blushing hot over the memory of her Mom’s threat. “You said I’d be grounded for a week in my birthday suit and have to do lots of extra chores every day.”
Mom placed her hands on her hips and said, “You’re trying my patience young lady.”
Stephanie sighed and finished spelling out the last part of the punishment her Mom had promised. “You also said I’d get three spankings a day for the whole week. One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one before bed.”
Mom nodded. “And with all that, you still left your towel on the floor. Was this a test to see if I’d follow through or did you just think you could get away with it behind a closed bedroom door?”
Stephanie stared at her toes.
“I expect an answer when I ask a question young lady,” Mom said.
Stephanie mumbled in the direction of her bare toes. “I thought I could get away with it.”
Mom shook her head. “As it’s Thanksgiving and you aren’t going to be home a full week, I’m going to be nice and postpone that punishment until you come back for winter break next month.”
Stephanie blinked at her toes. It was a rare occasion when her Mom gave a reprieve, even a temporary one. “Thank you, Mom.”
Mom said, “However, I will not tolerate this willful insolence. Therefore, you will pick up this towel and hang it up proper in the bathroom where it belongs, after which you will get properly dressed for the day and then you will go and find your father and ask him to give you the spanking you deserve for deliberately challenging my authority in this house. Is that understood?”
Stephanie nodded. “Yes, Mom.”
Stephanie carefully navigated her way down the stairs in two inch strappy heels. She wore the only autumn colored dress in her closet that fit; an off the shoulder form hugger in copper brown. The style felt a little off for a family holiday, but it left no doubt about her femininity and Stephanie did not mind the subtle reinforcement of bold playfulness it gave to her personality. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked around the open living room and nearby dining room.
The rooms were immaculate as usual and the furniture, country style with an abundance of pillows and patterned fabric depicting an old saw mill, still made her wonder how she could possibly share any genes with her mother. No one was in sight between the two rooms, but she could hear ample noise coming from behind the swinging door leading into the kitchen. As she walked toward the door she could not decide if she hoped to find her father in the kitchen or absent from it.
She stopped just inside the kitchen. Her mother was busy with the turkey at the kitchen sink and Amanda sat at the kitchen table mixing up stuffing in a giant blue bowl. They wore matching aprons depicting fall leaves. The image conjured happy memories from younger years when she wasn’t in trouble and could enjoy the simple pleasure of jumping in the piles of freshly raked leaves with her sisters while their father looked on laughing. It was hard not to notice the extra two matching aprons hanging from the hook on the end of the cabinets across from her. If not for her stupid impulse to drop the bath towel on the floor, she’d be putting on one of those aprons instead of searching for her father.
Mom turned from the sink and shut the water off, fixing her attention solidly on Stephanie. Her eyes scanned up and down taking in the outfit Stephanie wore and the cold expression on her face suggested she was not entirely pleased. “Look who finally decided to come downstairs.”
Amanda glanced between Mom and her sister before deciding she was better off to focus on her task. She stirred a little more vigorously and did her best to disappear into the background. The expression on her pale face suggested she felt more than a little responsible for Stephanie’s troubles.
Stephanie nodded. There was no denying she had taken her time getting changed and silently cursing herself for tossing the towel on the floor in her bedroom. She had convinced herself on the plane ride home that this trip would be different. It took all of a night and a morning shower to prove herself wrong. Maybe the beach bum was right. Maybe she wasn’t happy unless she was making trouble.
“I didn’t realize I was being timed,” Stephanie said.
Mom laughed, drying her hands on a dish towel. “Take all the time you want. In a couple more hours, Todd and Jason should be here and I’m sure neither of them will object to a front row seat for the spanking you got coming.”
Stephanie looked quizzically at Mom. “Who is Jason?”
Amanda looked up and then turned her attention back to the stuffing. Speaking more to the bowl than her sister, she said, “My boyfriend.”
Mom took a step closer to Stephanie. She looked over her daughter’s outfit, shaking her head with obvious disapproval. “That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I told you to put a dress on.”
Stephanie took a deep breath before replying. “Most of my more appropriate clothes are at school Mom. I didn’t realize this was going to be a formal Thanksgiving or I’d have brought a dress for today.”
Mom said, “As usual you listen to nothing I tell you.”
Stephanie’s eyes shot open wide and she momentarily forgot she was already in trouble. “You didn’t tell me anything about your plans for today!”
Mom blinked one time very slowly with obvious annoyance washing over her face. “I’m not talking about just today. I’ve told you for as long as I can remember that when you pack to go somewhere you pack for every possibility.”
Stephanie stretched her fingers out at her sides trying to ease the tension threatening to make her dig a deeper hole for herself. “Oh,” she said.
Mom rolled her eyes in disgust. “And you better get that attitude of yours under control soon or I’ve got a bar of soap under this sink that will do it for you. Is that understood?”
Stephanie nodded once. “Yes, Mom.”
“It better be,” Mom said. She pointed toward the back door just past where Amanda was sitting. “Your father is waiting for you at the shed.”