Stephanie left the house through the back door. She had stayed in her room dreading the trip to see her father so long that morning was giving way to afternoon. The air remained cool despite the brilliantly blue sky over head and the bright sun shining down. Pink, peach and golden brown leaves rustled on the grass of the backyard in the light breeze as she walked along the stepping stone path leading from the porch to the shed.
The shed stood at the edge of the property line on the northwest side of the house. Her father had built it shortly after they had moved into the house to store tools, a workbench, and firewood. Stephanie remembered it well though she’d only been about five at the time. In those days, she’d always been eager to lend her father a helping hand. She almost smiled at the memory, particularly at the realization her help had probably made the project take twice as long as it should have. She had insisted that the shed needed to be painted in bright red with white trim just like a traditional barn and rather than argue, her father had bought the paint and handed her a brush. It hadn’t been painted in all the years since, but the colors were still there, just faded.
Dad stood outside the shed, swinging his old axe, splitting wood for the fireplace. Seeing her approach, he rested the axe against the side of the shed and picked up the wood on the ground, adding to the neat stack he’d built adjacent to the shed. Finished, he pulled off the worn leather gloves from his hands and wiped the sweat off his forehead with sleeve of his brown, black and cream flannel shirt.
“It seems you’ve managed to upset your mother,” he said, turning to give Stephanie his full attention, “again.”
Stephanie’s lips curled upward in a half smile. “What can I say?” she said with a shrug. “I’m just a bee in her bonnet.”
Dad said, “Your sister warned you about the towel.”
“I know,” Stephanie said, nodding her head.
“And yet you dropped it on the floor anyway,” he said, shaking his head.
“I didn’t think Mom would come barging into my room,” Stephanie said.
“Is that what they teach in your criminology classes?” Dad asked. “It’s okay to break the law just as long as you don’t get caught?”
“I didn’t break a law.” Stephanie kicked at the leaves on the ground. “I just broke one of Mom’s stupid rules.”
“That attitude isn’t doing you any favors,” Dad said.
Stephanie stopped kicking and looked up into her father’s face. “Sorry.”
“Laws and rules aren’t so different,” he said. “If you break them there are consequences and it doesn’t really matter whether you agree with them or not.”
She rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t even on the floor fifteen minutes.”
“It shouldn’t have been on the floor at all,” he said.
“What was I supposed to do with it?” she asked. “It’s not like I’ve got a towel bar in my bedroom.”
“There is one in the bathroom last time I checked,” he said.
She shook her head and shrugged. “So now I’m supposed to walk back to my room naked after a shower.”
“Have you ever heard of a bathrobe?” he asked.
“I left it at school. It’s too bulky to take back and forth,” Stephanie said.
Dad shook his head. “Sounds like you’ve got an answer for everything except why you can’t just follow a few simple rules while you’re at home.”
Stephanie said, “I didn’t go on a crime spree, I dropped a wet towel on the floor while I was getting dressed.”
“Exactly,” Dad said, “you did the one thing you knew would irritate your mother more than anything else if she found out. Your only excuse seems to be that you thought she’d never know.”
“It’s a stupid rule,” Stephanie said. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Let’s see,” Dad said, holding his chin in his hand, “you could have draped the towel over the foot board on your bed or over the back of your desk chair, you could have folded it up and laid it on top of your clothes hamper. Heck, you could have used one of the empty hangers in your closet to hang it up or hang it on your doorknob. Any one of those solutions would have avoided breaking your mother’s rule and kept you out of trouble.”
“I’ll remember that for tomorrow,” Stephanie said, shaking her head at the sky.
Dad took a step closer to his daughter. “What’s going on with you?”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Other than being home less than 24 hours and about to get a spanking, nothing.”
“That’s just it,” Dad said. “Every time you’ve come home from school in the last year, you’ve managed to find some way to get yourself a spanking within three days at the most. It’s almost like you’re bending over backward to give us a reason.”
Stephanie blushed and kicked at the leaves again. “Trust me,” she said, “I’m not.”
“I’m just trying to understand,” Dad said. “You were warned, you knew Amanda had just gotten in trouble over the very same thing yesterday, and yet this morning your very first impulse is to drop your wet towel on your bedroom floor.”
Stephanie shrugged. “I made a mistake.”
“And it was either deliberate or careless,” Dad said. “You’re a lot of things Stephanie, but careless is not a word I usually associate with you.”
“I’m not denying that I did it,” Stephanie said.
Dad said, “I want to know why you did it.”
Stephanie tilted her head back to stare at the sky before looking into her father’s face. “Because it’s a stupid rule. Because I thought I could get a little bit of revenge on Mom for always making such a big deal out of nothing and she would never even know about it. It would have been perfect too, except Mom can’t mind her own business and had to come barging into my bedroom.”
Dad said, “I know you and your mother have your differences, but you sound downright angry with her. Why?”
Stephanie shook her head at the sky. “Why shouldn’t I be? She’s grounded me for the whole first week of my winter break and as if that wasn’t enough she’s sent me out here to get a spanking today, on Thanksgiving no less and all of this over a stupid wet towel that didn’t harm anything or anyone.”
Dad said, “That’s the consequences of breaking your mother’s rule, but you were obviously angry with her before any of that. You said you did it to get revenge. Revenge for what?”
Stephanie sighed. “I already told you. Can we just get this over with? I’d really prefer it if things could be more or less back to normal by the time Nicole and Todd arrive not to mention this Jason.”
Dad said, “I’m sure you would and if you tell me the reason your so angry with your mother, I’ll do what I can to make your preference a reality. However, if you’d rather keep that information to yourself, I see no reason why I should do you any favors.”
“Why isn’t the fact that it’s a stupid, anal retentive rule enough of a reason to be mad?” Stephanie asked.
“Maybe because it’s been a rule for as long as you’ve been taking showers and for you all of the sudden to get brazenly angry over it smells more like an excuse than reality,” Dad said.
Stephanie said, “I’m mad because the only person Mom shows any respect to is herself. It’s like none of the rest of us matter. Everything is always her way or no way and I’m sick of it. You want to pin it on one specific thing but you can’t. It’s my whole life and she’s always the thundercloud hanging over my head and ruining every fucking day.”
Dad’s hand sailed through the air between them impacting her cheek like thunder. “I don’t care how angry you are, you don’t ever use language like that to me or your mother.” He wagged his finger in front of her bulging eyes even as the white of her cheek turned red with his hand print. “Do you understand me?”
Her hand grasped at her stinging cheek and tears watered her eyes as she took a step back from her father. “I’m sorry.”
He said, “You want respect? You have to earn it and that means working hard and following rules, even the rules you don’t like or don’t agree with. If you think disciplining you and your sisters when you fall short of expectations is disrespecting you then you better be just as angry at me as you are at your mother. This our home and you’re our daughter and that means we’re going to raise you the way we think is best and if you don’t like our methods, you’re certainly old enough to take on the world without our help.”
Stephanie wiped the tears from her eyes before they had a chance to fall. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“It’s like this Stephanie,” Dad said, “your mother sent you out here to be punished. You’ve admitted to deliberately throwing your towel on the floor despite knowing the consequences if you got caught. You clearly think it’s unfair that you got caught and somewhere in your head you’ve developed a twisted strand of logic that has convinced you that this act of rebellion was justified. Whatever it is that is truly bothering you is either as much a mystery to you as it is to me or you just don’t want to share it with me. Either way, I think we’ve wasted enough time talking because we’re clearly getting nowhere. So you’ve got a choice, you can go on into the shed, undress and bend over the sawhorse for your spanking or you can go back to the house and find a friend or a hotel room to take you in until you go back to school.”
Stephanie looked at her father. Nothing was going the way she had expected and instead of making things better she had only achieved upsetting her father which was the last thing she wanted. It wasn’t the first time she’d pushed him into offering her a way out that meant leaving home and just like before it was a choice she was not prepared to make. She lowered her gaze to the leaves on the ground and took the first step toward the shed. The rest came of habit and much more easily than the first until it seemed she had made her choice without a word and only the slightest of hesitation.