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The turbulence made reading impossible. I’ve always hated flying, especially on small planes. The propellers on the wings add just enough noise and vibration to make the aircraft feel out of control. If that is not enough, the change in elevation plugging my ears and muffling sound typically provides annoyance a good half day beyond the flight. And then there is inevitably some other passenger sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. Those tight little overhead air jets do nothing more than spread the germs, quickly and irrevocably. There should be a law against traveling while sick.
Take the young lady, and I use the term very loosely, sitting two rows in front of me. She came aboard sniffling and has yet to cease. I’ve noticed her shivering as well. Traveling attire is not a tube top and jean cutoff shorts that cover less butt cleavage than a pair of panties. A teenager, obviously somewhere between 16 and 19, clearly the product of poor parenting. No daughter of mine would so much as leave the house in such scant attire, not to mention boarding an airplane. I imagine the girl would benefit from a liberal application of wood to her bare butt, though I doubt she’s in any danger of it.
Fortunately, the flight was short, a mere 65 minutes over the desert. I exited the plane first. The girl apparently needed assistance in unbuckling her seatbelt, one can only imagine the lack of education. The tarmac’s dry hot air was a welcome change. I descended the metal stairs and found my contact awaiting me in a proper business suit. At least I didn’t feel overdressed in my skirt suit. With a little luck, my appropriate traveling attire would combine with the hot climate and leave me sniffle free despite the hour long exposure in the plane.
The man stepped forward, extending his hand while a gentle breeze tossed about the thin strands of salt and pepper hair. “Scarlet Watts?”
I nodded and took his hand. “Mr. Rosecliff, I presume?”
He smiled and guided me farther from the plane toward a four seater golf cart with red and blue sirens on its roof. A man in a sheriff’s uniform climbed the stairs into the plane and returned a moment later, escorting the sniffling girl. Mr. Rosecliff offered me the passenger side seat in the back of the cart, which I took as expected.
“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, “riding with our newest student.”
The sniffling girl sat beside me at the direction of the sheriff. It was then I realized the girls sniffling had nothing to do with sickness and everything to do with her situation. Poor parenting led to poor life choices which led to her and I heading in the very same direction for very different reasons. Her life was on hold, probably for several years, while mine was finally moving forward. My Uncle, always full of advice, once told me that I should dress for the life I want. Looking over the sniffling girl, I wondered if such plain advice might have altered the course of her life had it been offered.
The sheriff drove the golf cart through the main gates and parked in front of the entrance to the main building of The Rosecliff Institute. I remained seated in the back until told I could stand. The sheriff didn’t come with us. He drove away while Mr. Rosecliff escorted me and Ms. Watts inside. I was directed into his office where he joined me after leaving Ms. Watts in the care of a secretary with a clipboard full of paperwork. He closed the door. Sat behind his oak desk. I stood facing him, hands clasped behind my back. It was better than fidgeting.
He opened a manila file on his desk. Inside, a picture of me was paperclipped to the top edge of the opened folder. His eyes scanned the documents and he hummed. Satisfied, he slapped the folder closed and fixed his gaze upon me. “Margaret Lange, 21 years old, accessory to armed robbery.”
I swallowed my rage and blinked away a fresh storm of tears. Hope of waking up from the nightmare still flickered in the back of my thoughts, but mostly reality was sinking through. It felt a bit like suffocating. In a single night, my entire life disappeared.
“Five years,” he said. “That’s a hefty sentence for the charge, although I understand there would have been additional charges if you hadn’t taken the deal.”
It was true enough. My lawyer told me I should feel lucky. I nodded.
He sprang to his feet. The chair clattered against the back wall. His hands pressed on the edge of his desk while he leaned over it, staring at me. “Verbal responses, girl.”
In my old life I would have stared the man down. I would have told him what he could do with his curt words and angry tone. My body trembled with the effort of suppressing the old instincts. I lowered my gaze, kept my silence.
He straightened his stance. “Afraid are you?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Then why are you shaking?” he asked.
I looked him in the eye. “I’m angry.”
He smiled and nodded. “I like honesty. You think this is all a bit unfair?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“You pled guilty and signed the deal,” he said. “It doesn’t get more fair than that.”
“I didn’t really have a choice.”
He scoffed. “You had one. You just didn’t like it.”
The point was inarguable.
He walked past me and opened the closet near the door. His hands retrieved a clear plastic box. He returned to his desk, wrote my name on the narrow end of the box in black permanent marker and laid the open box on the front edge of his desktop. His gaze returned to me. “I need you to put all your personal possessions in the box as neatly as you are able.”
It seemed like a joke. I wanted to laugh. The concept of personal possessions abandoned me months ago when I was first locked in a cell. “It looks to be filled up with them already.”
Mr. Rosecliff was not amused. “Top, shorts, socks, shoes, undergarments and anything else on your body. Now young lady or you’ll soon be finding out what happens to girls that don’t do as their told.”
A few months in the past I would have objected. That was before being locked up. The only privacy a person truly has is the thoughts in their own head and it takes effort keeping those things private. I stripped myself naked, folding my clothes the way my mother taught me for putting away laundry. Everything fit neatly into the box with ample room for more. I returned to my standing spot, hands clasped behind my back once more.
He closed the box, set it aside. “Hands on top your head, fingers interlaced, elbows straight.”
I complied. Nothing to be gained from antagonizing the man.
He said, “That’s how you stand in this office. Understood?”
“Yes,” I said. It took considerable effort not to roll my eyes while speaking.
He stood from the desk and moved to a cabinet on the adjacent wall. It opened with the turn of a key. Inside, he lifted a clear paddle and turned it toward me. He held it by the grip and stepped closer. The paddle appeared shorter than another one easily seen hanging in the cabinet, but it was by no means small, undoubtedly measuring an easy three inches wide and fourteen inches long.
“Stand in front of the desk, bend over and grasp the far edge,” Mr. Rosecliff said.
The spanking clause in the deal had given me pause from the moment I read it. My parents hadn’t given me a spanking since my pre-teen years and even then it had only been a few swats of their open hand over clothes. Taking an implement on my bare ass was something I had hoped to avoid. That hope shriveled and died as I assumed the described position.
He wasted no time. The paddle slapped my butt, jarring my entire body. The wobbles of my flesh and the ripples of force passing through me, masked the sting at first. It came washing over me a moment later along with another swat from the paddle. Sparkles of pain and heat jolted through my nerves, stinging tears in my eyes. The paddle came again and again. My butt burned like standing too close to an open fire.
He delivered twenty-five swats in all. The burning pain throbbed in my buttocks, coursed through my body. It was unlike anything I had previously experienced. Tears slipped down my cheeks and dripped onto the oak desktop. Instinct demanded I nurse the hot flesh in my hands. A strange hybrid of anger and intellect kept my hands with a white-knuckled grip on the desk’s edge.
Mr. Rosecliff returned the paddle to the cabinet and locked the doors closed. He opened the top drawer of his desk and withdrew a ring. A silver band, thick with a round setting of an ice-blue gemstone and raised numerals marking the year. He slipped it on my left ring finger and gently patted the top of my hand.
“There,” he said, “you’ll reside in Tanzanite House. Wear the ring at all times or you’ll be punished severely for its absence.” He sat in his chair, his eyes unabashedly stared at my hanging breasts. “Stand up, hands on head.”
I complied. The office door shuddered under the force of knock from the outside. Mr. Rosecliff pressed a button on the underside of his desk and the door buzzed. A woman entered. She wore professional attire, khaki skirt and blazer with a pink blouse. I guessed her age as mid-thirties though she could have been as much as a decade older or half of one younger. Her dark hair lacked any strands of gray or white.
Mr. Rosecliff stood. “Ms. Chambers, meet Margaret Lange.”
Ms. Chambers gave a polite nod of her head in my direction.
Mr. Rosecliff picked up a thick white book from his desk and proffered it toward me. “The rules of Rosecliff Institute,” he said. “Read them, learn them, follow them.”
Ms. Chambers said, “Come with me, Margaret. We’ll get you set up with a room, allowance and then you can see about purchasing a uniform.”