“Six hours may as well be six minutes,” Stephanie said, staring at the stretch of yard between the shed and the chain link fence separating her parents’ property from their neighbors. “I’m never going to get this done.”
A gust of wind brought more leaves falling from the treetops, supporting her pessimistic perspective. She looked to her left toward the house. Her father and Todd were gone from sight. She focused on the glass door near the kitchen. Inside, her sisters and mother were busy making the preparations for the big meal. She couldn’t see them, but she knew, if they were looking out, they could see her.
Her head turned to the right and she stared at the far corner of the yard where an old sycamore marked the meeting of four yards. The chain link fences ended beneath the shade of the tree where the roots were thick and rolling in and out of the dark soil. There were still a pair of swings hanging from the branches. Her father had made them shortly after they’d moved into the house. They were nothing more than 2x4’s and thick rope, but they’d made for hours of childhood fun. And not just for Stephanie and her sisters, it had been the joy of all the kids who’d grown up in the houses that shared the old tree.
She lifted the rake, carrying it so the tines remained above the grass and the leaves as she walked across the yard toward the old tree. A voice from the past echoed in her thoughts, ‘The sooner you start, the sooner you finish.’ Once beneath the tree, she adjusted her grip and stance, holding the rake out in front of her and began the work of collecting the leaves. With the leaves came memories made sharp by the guilt still plaguing her soul. The strap should have washed those feelings clean, but it hadn’t and her past knew why.
Stephanie bumped one of the swings with the rake, sending it into a gentle sway. A decade ago she had been sitting on that swing. Someone else had been in trouble. She hadn’t meant to watch, but once it began she couldn’t bring herself to look away. It had been around the Thanksgiving holiday then too. Veronica Sanders had been home from college.
The Sanders’ lived in the house directly behind the Pickett’s. All the kids in the four homes sharing the sycamore had called her Aunt Vera on account of the fact she was Mitch’s aunt. It had always struck Stephanie as odd that someone as young as Aunt Vera could actually be an aunt. In some ways Aunt Vera had seemed more like just another one of the kids because even though she was the sister of Mitch’s father, she wasn’t really an adult. In fact, Mitch’s parents treated her more or less the same way they treated Mitch. Which is to say, Aunt Vera got scolded, spanked and grounded just as often as any of the rest of the kids did, sometimes more.
Aunt Vera hadn’t always lived with Mitch and his parents. She’d moved in at the not so grown up age of 14. There had been a car accident, Aunt Vera had been in the backseat, and when the car had stopped it had been twisted, bent, and turned upside down. Aunt Vera had crawled out the busted back window with nothing more than few scratches and a bruise on her forehead. Her parents hadn’t been so lucky. Neither of them made it out of the car.
In the eyes of the five year old Stephanie, the teenage Aunt Vera had seemed very grown up. They’d first met beneath the old sycamore, shortly after the accident. Aunt Vera had been sitting on one of the swings and Stephanie had joined her on the other. They sat and swung and talked until the sun drooped low in the sky and Stephanie decided they’d be friends forever.
Stephanie’s attention returned to the present. She stopped raking and a smile spread across her face as she realized what she’d done. Her monotonous efforts had resulted in a large pile of leaves just a few feet from the swing. Aunt Vera had made piles just like it and Stephanie, along with all the other kids, had taken turns jumping off the swings to land atop the piles. Stephanie was tempted to revisit her childhood activity, but her buttocks were still stinging enough to discourage her from sitting on anything hard and wooden. She shook off the temptation and resumed her raking activities.
Aunt Vera would have made a game out of the work. Stephanie had always admired her for that simple ability. No matter what Aunt Vera was doing, no matter how awful the task, she made it look fun and simple. And Aunt Vera had done her share of outdoor chores, probably more than her share cause she let Mitch talk her into doing his too from time to time.
Stephanie stopped raking. She used her off hand to rub at her burning buttocks. Sometimes, Aunt Vera had done her chores with a bare bottom too. That Thanksgiving had been one of those times.
Mr. Sanders had escorted Aunt Vera out of the house to the very back end of their yard. She hadn’t fought him despite his firm grasp on her wrist. They’d stopped walking just on the other side of the chain link fence only a few feet away from the old sycamore where Stephanie had been swinging. Mr. Sanders let go of Aunt Vera and they faced each other completely oblivious to Stephanie’s presence. There’d been tears in Aunt Vera’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Aunt Vera said. “I didn’t think—
“That’s right,” Mr. Sanders said, “you didn’t think at all.”
Even at 12 years old, Stephanie knew she should have left right then, but curiosity kept her butt firmly rooted on the wood swing. She blushed at the memory, thinking just how embarrassed she would be if there were a 12 year old kid sitting on the swing right then, watching her.
Aunt Vera had wiped at the tears in her eyes. “Nobody got hurt.”
The cool November air made it look like steam was pouring out of Mr. Sanders’ nostrils. “Nobody got hurt? You embarrassed the hell out of Lucy and what would have happened if she hadn’t brought a credit card with her?”
Aunt Vera had shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Mr. Sanders had shook his head at the sky. “Do you know what they call it when you go into a store to get things and don’t have any money to pay for them?”
She stood there just staring at him with big watery eyes.
“It’s called shoplifting,” Mr. Sanders said, “and at your age you damn well should know that young lady.”
Aunt Vera stomped her foot on the grass. “You’re not my father!”
Mr. Sanders clenched his hand into a fist and for a moment, Stephanie had thought he was going to hit Aunt Vera, really hit her. Then he took a deep breath and opened his hand. Stephanie had held her breath and kept watching.
He said, “Lucy and I are your guardians, but you’re right, I’m not our father. Dad would have taught you right from wrong. Obviously I failed in that.”
Aunt Vera looked away from Mr. Sanders. Her voice was muffled when she spoke. “I know right and wrong.”
Mr. Sanders reached out, grabbing Aunt Vera by the chin and turning her head back toward him. “If that’s true then you clearly have no respect for me or my family.”
“I do,” she said.
Mr. Sanders shook his head in disagreement. “It’s not respectful to steal money from Lucy’s purse. It’s not respectful to lie about it when Lucy confronted you. And it’s really not respectful to cast suspicion on your nephew for the things you’ve done.”
“It was only 40 bucks,” Aunt Vera said. “I didn’t think she’d even notice.”
Mr. Sanders shook his head. “Stealing isn’t ever right. It’s doesn’t matter whether some one notices you’ve done it or not.”
“I already said I’m sorry.” Aunt Vera looked up into Mr. Sanders’ eyes. “What more do you want me to say?”
Mr. Sanders met her gaze. “I want you to explain to me why you couldn’t just ask me for the money. I want you to explain to me why you tried to blame it on my son. I want you to explain to me what we’ve done to deserve you lying to us.”
Aunt Vera looked away. “Nothing.”
“Actions,” Mr. Sanders said, “have consequences.”
Her stance shifted and her eyes darted to Mr. Sanders’ face and then back to the blades of grass between them. The mixture of tension and apprehension charged the air between them like electricity. Aunt Vera’s lips moved, but the words were barely audible. “I know.”
Mr. Sanders shook his head. “I don’t think you do, but you will.”
She looked up into his eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”
His hands moved to his belt and his fingers slipped beneath the brown leather, unfastening it from the brass buckle. “Turn around and touch your toes.”
Aunt Vera’s hands went to the seat of her skirt as if she could somehow protect herself from his intentions. She shook her head from side to side, disheveling her hair in the process. “It won’t happen again.”
Mr. Sanders pulled the belt free of his pants and doubled it in his hands. “Don’t make me tell you again.”
She looked up into his eyes and took a step back. The silence between them belied the battle of wills taking place in their stare. Her gaze dropped to the grass. She nibbled on her lower lip. Her hands wiped the wetness from her cheeks. She turned her back to him, took a deep breath, and leaned forward until her fingertips brushed the points of her mocha colored pumps.
He walked to her and grabbed the hem of her knee length skirt, tossing it up onto her back. His hand brushed over the waistband of her black lace panties. He hesitated while staring at her jutting bottom. The black lace covered only the top crescents of her buttocks, leaving the white cheeks fully exposed. He stepped back from her and adjusted his grip on the belt, measuring the distance between him and his target.
The belt lashed across the center of her white buttocks leaving behind a stripe of soft red flesh. Aunt Vera blinked, but otherwise failed to react to the beginning of the spanking. The echo of the belt’s impact faded away and all that remained was the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the creak of swaying tree branches. She inhaled deeply, holding the breath in expectation of the next swing of the belt.
Mr. Sanders swung again, striking her buttocks in almost exactly the same place as the first. “These first ten are for stealing,” he said.
Her hair brushed atop the blades of grass while she blinked and breathed. Whatever thoughts swirled around in her head, she gave them no voice. Her face grew redder by the minute, but whether it was from embarrassment, shame or simply the rushing of blood into her low hanging head, was impossible to tell. She kept her fingertips on the tips of her shoes and watched the belt through her slightly parted legs, anticipating its next slice through the autumn air.
“If you had asked,” he said, striping the belt across her buttocks twice more, coloring the lower half of her globes, “I might well have given you the money.”
Aunt Vera’s breaths turned sharp. Her hair bounced up and down on the grass like a dry brush giving texture to a canvas. She bent and straightened her knees.
“But,” he said, bringing the belt crashing down on the tender flesh just above her thighs, “since you decided to just take it,” the belt struck the same spot a second time, “you’re going to learn to appreciate its worth in hard work and sweat.”
Her legs trembled while she blinked back the fresh tears stinging at her eyes. She maintained her shallow, sharp breaths. Her fingertips remained in place and she kept her gaze trained on the dangling belt behind her.
He raised the belt and laid it on four more times, covering her butt evenly from the center down to the top of her thighs. The skin shined red as proof of the heat applied. He rested the belt beside his leg and tilted his head, admiring the view of his handiwork.
Mr. Sanders said, “You’ll do every household chore Lucy asks of you at rate of 50 cents per hour until you’ve earned back every quarter of that forty dollars. Is that understood?”
Aunt Vera breathed through her open mouth, eyes fluttering open and closed. Her knees bent and straightened twice before she decided to answer. “Yes.”
“Good,” he said and raised the belt again. He sliced it across her buttocks three times in quick succession, deepening the red color of the stripes across the center. “These next ten are for attempting to lay the blame for your crime on the shoulders of your twelve year old nephew.”
“Oh,” she gasped. Her legs swayed from side to side waving her butt in the open air.
Mr. Sanders waited until her motion ceased and then swung the belt three times fast at the lower curves of her red butt cheeks. The snap of leather against tight skin rang out in the hollow spaces between the neighborhood homes like a police siren.
“I’m sorry,” Aunt Vera said. The strain of tears and shallow breath gave her apology a sincerity it had lacked in her previous offerings.
“You should be ashamed,” he said and brought the belt down on her proffered buttocks.
She yelped and bent her knees. Her fingertips left their place temporarily as she grappled with an almost overwhelming instinct to cradle her bottom. She forced herself back into position without touching her tender cheeks, but her movements were slow and deliberate.
“You are 19 years old,” he said, “and that’s more than old enough to take responsibility for your own actions. If you ever try to blame him for your behavior again I’ll blister your bare butt right in front of him.”
He lifted the belt high and used it to punctuate his next words. “IS— THAT— UNDERSTOOD?”
Aunt Vera sprang into the air. Her hands grabbed at her burning buttocks. She hopped around in a circle, skirt and hair bouncing while she rubbed furiously at her bottom. Tears ran from her eyes down her cheeks. She sniffled still trying to stem the flow despite the floodgates being wide open.
When her legs tired of jumping, she looked up into Mr. Sanders stoic face. “I’m really, really sorry,” she said.
“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “I just hope you’re also learning the lesson. At your age this sort of behavior could land you a lot worse than spanking. You could find yourself behind iron bars instead of touching your toes next to a chain link fence.”
She wiped her face with the sleeve of her blouse and nodded her head. “I know.”
He pointed at the spot of grass where she had previously been bent over, touching her toes. “Now get back over here and get back in position,” he said. “We’re not finished yet.”
Her hands cradled her butt and she took a single step backward. “But I’m really sorry.”
Mr. Sanders snapped his fingers and pointed at the spot on the grass. His stern eyes and firm stance said everything that needed to be said. She bit her lower lip, let go of her butt and hustled into position. He flipped her skirt up onto her back once more and raised the belt into the air.
“Now,” he said, “we’re going to talk about you lying to me.”
She said, “It won’t ever happen again.” Her eyes fixated on the raised belt and her legs quivered in reluctant expectation.
The belt cut through the air, snapping against the taut skin of her exposed buttocks. She cried out at the fresh sting and her fingertips lifted from the points of her shoes. He ripped the belt backward through the air and brought it down three times hard. Her hands wavered at her knees, uncertain whether to grab at her burning cheeks or to hold herself in position.
“If you told me the truth from the beginning,” he said, “I could have kept my belt on and you could have kept your skirt down.”
He lashed the belt across the center of her buttocks four more times. The skin glowed red. Aunt Vera whimpered and cried, but kept her fingertips on her shoes and her butt up in the air. Her breath turned ragged from gasping for breath in her efforts to manage the burn and suppress her tears.
“Instead,” Mr. Sanders said, “we’re out here warming up your butt when we should be inside warming ourselves by the fire and enjoying some hot cider.”
The belt cut through the air four times more, brightening the lower curves of her buttocks. She yelped after each strike and after the last, she straightened. Her hands rubbed at her bottom while she hopped around in a circle. Tears glistened in the sunlight on her face.
“Settle down,” Mr. Sanders said.
Aunt Vera continued to hop, though she stopped turning in a circle. Her hands massaged the red flesh behind her, keeping her skirt up and the cheeks exposed. She sniffled and blinked in a futile effort to clear away her tears. Her lips trembled with the words of another apology most likely upon them.
He snapped his fingers and pointed at the grass again. “Back over,” he said, “we’re not done.”
She stopped hopping and looked up into his eyes with her own, wide and tearful. He snapped his fingers again. She turned away from him and leaned back down, keeping her skirt raised as she went. He snapped the belt against the low edge of her buttocks as soon as her fingers brushed the tops of her shoes. She yelped, but stayed down.
“Lying is just a delaying tactic,” he said. “The truth always comes out in the end.”
“I know,” she said through tears.
He nodded. “When you got licks coming from something you’ve done, telling the truth is just like doing your chores; The sooner you start, the sooner you finish.”
Aunt Vera nodded her upside down head, raking her hair through the grass. “I understand and I’m really, really sorry.”
“Good,” Mr. Sanders said. He unfolded his belt and began threading it back through the belt loops. “Stand up, give yourself a good rub, fix your skirt and then we can go back in the house. You owe Mitch and Lucy each a sincere apology.”
She stood up straight and wiped her face with her sleeves. Her skirt fell back into place and she smoothed it down with her hands while glancing at Mr. Sanders every few seconds. She looked up into his eyes, ran the few steps between them and buried her face in his shirt. Her arms wrapped tightly around him. “I love you,” she said.
He smiled and held her to him. His lips pressed against the top of her head. “I love you too.”
The sound of the back door to the house opening startled Stephanie out of the memory. She hadn’t thought much about the incident in years. Of course, at twelve she hadn’t really understood everything either. Things were different in the present. Stephanie began to understand she shared more in common with Aunt Vera than she’d ever realized. It was getting to be time to get things done.