Pau Garcia was having man trouble. And you know when people annoyingly say ‘It’s all your own fault’ … well, this very probably was.
His social life had dwindled practically to nothing, he was driving himself to distraction with his own inability to get a grip on things, and far too often to be acceptable, his work suffered as he would sit for ages staring at the screen of his computer, lost in his dreams and hard put to meet his deadlines. All because of John.
Had they been asked, people would not have understood. They would have said ‘Forget all this, it’s not normal to be so obsessed’ but even though Pau tried to follow the as yet non-existent advice, it was a lot harder to do when He didn’t seem to want to be forgotten. And possibly the most ironic part of it was that John had no idea of the amount of suffering he was causing Pau... nor would he ever find out! That would definitely go against the rules and enough rules had been broken already in this affair, enough to make Pau a little bit nervous about the outcome should it ever become known. No! It never would! Pau would never confess his association with John and although it took him some time to work it out, he correctly surmised that John only dallied with him for his own secret pleasure and wanted that pleasure to continue. He was safe, of that he was sure. But his pleasure still caused him anguish.
It was bad enough that Pau thought of John constantly, fantasized about intimate – although never romantic – evenings spent together. John had transformed himself, without an ounce of effort on his part, into the epitome of what Pau wanted; a caring man, someone who worried about his partner’s peace of mind, their sexual fulfilment. Someone who dared to explore avenues that until now Pau hadn’t realised existed, let alone permitted himself to tread. He was a man who filled Pau’s dreams but he was also a man who tormented Pau to his limits. His words followed Pau everywhere, the scenarios that he painted made Pau flush with desire, the stern words one minute and the pleading not to be abandoned the next had created in Pau a dizziness that threatened to drive him over the edge and risk all that he had strived for.
Pau knew that their relationship was a non-starter; that no way could they ever be together and that was something that Pau didn’t delude himself over. He didn’t actually want John, but John was what he desired. He had no delusions either over whether or not John wanted him, he knew that he didn’t and he knew that he would be horrified if he knew the effect he was having on Pau. Pau really wanted no more to do with John but he wasn’t sure just how he was going to manage to escape the hold he had on him when it was a hold that Pau had allowed, if not masterminded. Pau recognised that while his body could never belong to John, his mind most certainly did and it was that which needed setting free.
Such was Pau’s preoccupation with John and the situation he was in that he didn’t hear the phone that rang shrilly on the desk in his cubby-hole until the seventh or eighth ring managed to make its way through his tormented thoughts. He saw one or two of his colleagues glance his way in puzzlement obviously thinking that he wasn’t at his desk at first and about to come over and take the call. He indicated with a wry smile and a shrug of his shoulders that he had been miles away and picked up the phone cursing himself for his lack of control.
“Hello Pab,” replied Janice. “Mr Armstrong has asked to see you in his office,” she continued, giving no indication that it was almost hometime for the office workers and that several of them had already started to pack up their things in their rush to embrace a Friday night most certainly starting off in the Duck & Down, this being the nearest pub to the office block and where you had to get in quick if you had ambitions of actually getting a seat before it filled to overflowing.
If he was surprised at being called to his boss’s office so late on a Friday evening, Pau didn’t show it. It was unusual to be called in at this hour to go over some issue that had arisen, but it wasn’t unheard of, so Pau received no inner alarm bell warning of what was to come. He wasn’t put out because he wasn’t in the mood to go to the pub tonight and his time was his own with no one waiting for him at home.
Pau had moved to England from the Spanish province of Cataluña with his family when he was 12 years old and although he now spoke English perfectly, he had always refused to change his name to the English version of Paul as he wanted to retain something of his home country. Due to the problem that some people have pronouncing those 3 letters, he also answered to the name of Pablo and since his parents had moved back to Barcelona some 2 years ago in retirement, there were not many people either to call him by his given name nor to wonder why he would be home late or early on any night of the week.
He’d landed this job at the age of 19, straight out of university and his parents had been tremendously proud of their son, el periodista. Pointing out that he’d have to spend years working his way round each department of the newspaper for a couple of years before he could even think about calling himself that hadn’t made much difference to his parents. They’d lived through Franco’s reign in their youth and occasionally spoke of the repression that existed in that time. “You have libertad, Pau. No matter that you are not reporting on the front page, or that what you say does not change the world – you are telling the truth to people who need to hear it. The truth is very important, no matter that it is a big truth or a little one.” That had been then. Now he had to struggle with the idea that he wasn’t living the truth in his own life.
His position within the paper was strange to say the least. He’d often laughed to himself and wagered that he was the only male Agony Aunt in existence. And it was due either to pure luck or some serious miscalculation by a midwife that he ended up where he was. When the paper’s in-situ ‘Aunt’ went into labour 1 month in advance of her due date, the paper has been caught without anybody to take her place and Pau was drafted in to keep the column ticking over until a replacement could be found. That has been 6 years earlier and now at the age of 27 he was firmly ensconced in his column and quite happy to be so.
The column was run under the name of ‘Paula’ and the general public didn’t know that they were pouring their hearts and secrets to a man. He was very conscientious about content; he would often edit a reader’s letter to leave out anything that was too revealing or personal. Sometimes the people writing in didn’t understand that the facts could be told without going into quite so much detail. His column covered every type of advice that could be sought: partner relationships, relationships with in-laws, parents, siblings and friends that had gone wrong, work worries, legal situations, household advice. As long as Pau felt that it would be of interest to the public he would print it.
He enjoyed writing the column, his interest in people was piqued even through the mundane areas of their lives, not just the sensationalism. He wanted his section to flourish and was pleased when, eighteen months previously, he had finally persuaded the administrator of the newspaper group that he should receive the readers’ comments by e-mail instead of by old-fashioned post. He’d argued that the post took too long to arrive and that sometimes he had desperate cries for help that needed to be answered as soon as possible. Also whatever work-experience trainee was free would be assigned to open the letters and classify them and more than once he had caught them sniggering over the contents as they did so. With the requests for advice coming by e-mail Pau was able to screen the letters privately and much more quickly than previously done.
He was pleased with the higher level of privacy that this afforded his column – some letters were not meant to be read by anyone other than the recipient and the sender - and he thought the paper was pleased as well as it allowed a quicker turn over of problems.
He mused over his luck as he made his way to the office in the corner of the building and pushed his way through the half open door giving a perfunctory knock as he did so and receiving the instruction to enter and close the door behind him.
This in itself was rare, Stephen Armstrong hardly ever closed the door to his office; he liked the staff to see him as approachable and available at all times. Pau hadn’t had many dealings with the Editor, the ‘Agony Aunt’ column was normally overseen by the sub-editor and it was hardly the type of reporting that needed the experience of the Senior Editor. As Pau closed the door and turned to take a seat in front of Stephen’s desk, he noticed for the first time the owner of the newspaper string sitting in the corner of the office on the leather sofa that stood there. Nobody had ever remembered seeing anyone sit on the sofa; its sole purpose seemed to be decorative. The owner of the newspaper was a woman of 37; she had inherited the string from her father when he retired from ill health and came to the office perhaps once or twice a year although she lived locally. It seems that the other papers held her interest more than the local regional rags.
“Pau, we have a problem,” said Stephen quietly. Pau dragged his gaze away from Mrs Knight and looked with surprise at his Editor. Had he never noticed that Stephen was the only one in the office that used his given name while everyone else called him Pablo or Pab? On the other hand perhaps it wasn’t so strange, Stephen Armstrong was a keen basketball fan and Pau Gasol was one of his favourite NBA players on the Memphis Grizzlies team.
He continued to look at Stephen with a puzzled expression on his face, he couldn’t see how his column could have created a problem; he was always very careful about the advice he handed out to his readers in case one of them took his word as divine truth. The paper didn’t want any comeback if, on ‘their’ advice, something went wrong and the blame was laid at their door.
“We’ve had a complaint,” said Stephen looking... uncomfortable.
Pau raised his eyebrows in a way that said ‘tell me something more than that, I need more details’ while at the same time he went back over several of the more ‘delicate’ advices he had given out in the last few weeks.
“The parents of a 16 year old boy have discovered that their son has been writing hoax letters to magazines and newspapers all over the place in the hope of getting one of the ‘Aunts’ to respond to him. He’s been passing himself off as a 30 year old married man with... certain sexual desires.”
Pau felt the breath leave his body in one horrified rush. He knew who the boy was; he was ‘John’.
After printing a piece on swinging and sex games being played between consenting adults, he had started to receive letters from a 30 year old man who wanted to spank his wife but she wouldn’t let him. The reader said that she found the thought degrading and humiliating and explained how his inability to put his fantasy into practice was ruining his relationship. He explained how he didn’t want to humiliate her; he just got a thrill out of the thought of turning her over his knee, pulling her knickers down and smacking her backside. Pau felt sorry for the man and broke the first rule of the newspaper, no private correspondence with readers; he wrote back to him and tried to counsel him. That was the start of a long correspondence where the boy thought that he was writing to a women and Pau thought he was writing to a married man. In a misguided effort to save the marriage they had concocted an agreement that the man, John, would write to ‘Paula’ describing what he was going to do to her and why he was going to do it, and then Paula would write back describing how ‘she’ felt when she had been spanked and how repentant she was about the imagined ‘crime’ that John had invented in his opening letter.
Two months later Pau was hooked on receiving his weekly letter. He had come to fantasize about being Paula and about being taken over John’s knee to receive a spanking although he knew this was madness. Pau was gay, had known he was gay since before he really knew what the word meant, certainly not the English word. He had known the word ‘gay’ as being happy and joyful and did not at first understand when he had used it in his school language lessons and had been laughed at. Pau had no misunderstanding over his orientation, which made his fantasy about being Paula all the more strange. He didn’t think that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body, but he didn’t have a clue as to why the image of being Paula in his mind’s eye as he was dealt a spanking turned him on so much. It eventually came to him that it wasn’t being Paula, it was just the idea of being spanked, but the problem came when he tried to imagine it happening to him, Pau, with someone else. He couldn’t. His fantasy faded into Paula & John time and time again as though this was the only option available to him and no matter how he tried, he couldn’t picture himself pinned across some anonymous man’s knees with his trousers down. Pau started to insert different faces into his ‘authority figures’ slot trying to see if this helped but as he concentrated on putting a face to the man, his mind would slip and he would lose the thread of his fantasy. He had built up a fantasy revolving around John and his imaged face was the only one that worked for Pau.
In a nanosecond Pau saw his career implode before his very eyes, quickly followed by alarming thoughts of legal repercussions. Was he going to be arrested?
Stephen went on to explain that ‘John’ had been caught out by his parents mucking about on the Internet sending hoax letters to dozens of magazines and newspapers up and down the country with a variety of problems hoping to get a response from one of them. The Bugle had been the only one, unfortunately, that had seen fit to take up correspondence with him and he had spent the last 6 weeks showing the e-mails round his college laughing his socks off at Paula begging for it.
The parents had forwarded the letters to the owner and that was why she insisted on being present at the confrontation.
Pau apologised over and over again, saying that he knew that he shouldn’t have written to the reader but that he honestly thought that he was a genuine person with a real problem and he had only wanted to help. He had kept up the guise of ‘Paula’ to give the man some solace and had advised him time and time again to talk to his wife or accept her refusal; that surely their marriage was worth more than ‘a spanking’.
“That may have been true at the beginning Mr Garcia,” intervened the owner, “but I’ve seen copies of all the letters that were sent and received and the latter ones don’t mention any sort of counselling or advice, they seem to be letters from a woman explaining how she felt about being punished. Could you perhaps explain why that is?”
Pau shook his head miserably, slowly, knowing that this was the end of the road. Even if he could have justified the first few mails, there was no way of being able to do the same with the rest.
He heard Mrs Knight stand and walk towards him but he didn’t have the strength to look at her.
“To be honest, Mr Garcia, despite that your column is very successful with the readers, I advised Mr Armstrong to insist on you leaving the paper. He has assured me that this is a one-off situation and that he will make sure that it is not repeated. Needless to say, ‘Paula’ will be leaving the paper, and we will take on a new “Aunt” to deal with the letters. Luckily, the family concerned does not want to take it further as they feel that the situation would be embarrassing, something that we can all be thankful for, but they have insisted that ‘Paula’ be dismissed and I think that under the circumstances that is the very least we can do.”
Pau looked up sharply then at her, saw the determination in her face and nodded.
Pau sat in a daze as Stephen and Mrs Knight talked quietly amongst themselves as the Senior Editor opened the door and bade farewell to her. The soft click of the door as it closed behind her seemed to Pau the sound of the end of his future. He had never had much to do with the owner so in a way it was more bearable to be the object of her derision and disgust but, although theirs wasn’t a day-to-day relationship, he respected Stephen Armstrong, and he knew that he would be disappointed at having this situation arise from the stupid actions of one of his staff members. He still wasn’t sure where he stood with regards to his job, much of what Mrs Knight had said had gone over his head... he’d heard that ‘Paula’ was leaving the paper... he automatically assumed that mean that Pau was leaving as well.
Pau’s eyes dropped to his lap as his fiddled with his watch strap, a habit he had developed when nervous, a sure sign for anyone that knew him but slightly more grown up than that of biting his nails. Pau had a tremendous urge to sit on his hands so that they didn’t give him away but on reflection thought that this position would have been more obvious still.
He was aware that Stephen had walked back to his desk and was leaning against it, watching him. He took a deep breath to steel himself and forced his eyes up to look at him. The raised eyebrow and questioning look on the Editor’s face had Pau blushing involuntarily and he looked away knowing that he must be thought of as some sick kind of pervert.
“Soooooo...” began Stephen quietly, “you want to explain to me just exactly what was going on?”
Without being able to control it, Pau shook his head in negation.
“Right...” continued Stephen on a slightly sterner note, “I obviously phrased that wrong... Explain to me, now, exactly what was going on!”
The tone used was so reminiscent of how his father used to call him to order that Pau found himself stuttering “I... I... I... don’t know... not really... it just got out of hand somehow. I didn’t feel that it was the right moment for the story in the column so soon after the one we had on ‘swinging’ but I felt sorry for him. I only wrote to notify him that we wouldn’t be publishing his letter but that he should seek help through Relate.” Pau trailed off, hoping that miraculously Stephen would be satisfied with that. He wasn’t.
“He wrote back saying that his ‘wife’ refused to go to a counsellor as she considered... um... s-spanking and such things to be... ‘perverted and disgusting’... I think was the phrase he used...”
“So you decided to enter into a mythical spanking fantasy with a complete stranger because you felt sorry for him?” asked Stephen incredulously.
“NO! No... it wasn’t like that,” denied Pau as he recognised how he himself had difficulty even saying the word whereas his boss didn’t stumble over it like some overgrown pubescent schoolboy on the verge of discovering something wicked and enticing rolled into one. “He wrote back going on about how he didn’t think that wanting to s-spank someone was wrong... as long as it was consensual... that he didn’t think that he could cope without having some sort of release, even if he couldn’t do it for real.”
“And it didn’t occur to you to advise him to go and look on the Internet for a site? Don’t tell me that you don’t think those sort of places exist?” barked Stephen.
“I... er... didn’t think of that,” confessed Pau in wonder at his own lack of intelligence.
Stephen snorted a response. “That much is bloody obvious! Of all the stupid... idiotic... Good God, Pau... words fail me! How on earth did you manage to get yourself into this situation? Apart from the fact that you know damn well that you aren’t allowed private correspondence with any of the punters who write in, how could you not see that this was a wind-up? You’ve put the reputation of this newspaper in jeopardy, and for what? So a silly 16 year old and an equally silly 27 year old could play silly buggers?”
Each word that Stephen threw at him made Pau sink lower in his chair and his mind started to wander as he thought to himself over and over, ‘This is all just a bad dream’.
Pau was quite an expert on dreams, he’d had enough vivid ones himself to make the subject interesting to him and it was often a subject that came up in his column. People writing in to say things like they had dreamt their dog was giving birth to household furniture and did it mean they were going crazy?
Pau had even had an erotic dream about Stephen Armstrong when the Senior Editor joined The Bugle from one of the other papers under the same group two years ago. He didn’t make much of it: when he was younger he assumed that every man he dreamed of must also be gay, that it was his subconscious sneaking messages to him; now he had learnt that it wasn’t the case. It didn’t mean that he didn’t acknowledge that Stephen was a good looking man but he had no idea of his orientation. Stephen was a private man and Pau couldn’t remember him ever bringing a partner to the paper’s functions over the years although amongst the girls in the typing pool there was speculation that he lived with someone.
Pau was suddenly brought back to the present by Stephen’s voice cutting through his musings.
“...have the decency to listen to me when I’m telling you off!”
Pau muttered a low “Sorry Stephen,” and with his head lowered didn’t see the surprised look at his use of his boss’s first name; he almost always called him Mr Armstrong. It wasn’t something that Stephen insisted on but there were certain members of the staff who always stuck to that form of address as some sort of innate recognition of his position. Pau didn’t realise that Stephen Armstrong was aware of the change in address mode but it had come naturally to him after recalling the personal nature of his dream.
Taking advantage of what Stephen saw as Pau’s slightly more relaxed mental state towards him, he decided to press on.
He picked up a shaft of papers from his deck and rifling through them read out excerpts...
“I am so sorry for my bad behaviour...”
“Thank you for punishing me and showing that you care ...”
“You make me feel safe, fulfilled and loved ...”
“Yes, I’ve been naughty and deserve to be spanked ...”
This last one was said with an incredibility that broke through Pau’s increasing withdrawal and made him hang his head in his hands and groan out loud.
“You really have no idea do you, Pau? God, anyone would think that you got these phrases out of a ‘How to write Mills & Boon’ manual.”
Pau mumbled something in response which Stephen didn’t quite grasp.
“I’m sorry; would you like to repeat that?”
After taking a deep breath Pau raised his head from his hands and sheepishly looked at his boss.
“I said that it’s not something I’ve ever had experience of so I was making it up,” he managed to stutter before he looked away again.
“Yes... I could tell,” answered Stephen wryly. “So, leaving your dubious literary talents to one side for the moment, and hopefully being that you are aware of the blatant unprofessional attitude your actions represent... we can move on.”
“Perhaps it’s fitting that we now discuss your punishment, Pau, instead of that of ‘Paula’.”
Pau’s head shot up and his breath caught in his throat threatening to push him over into an abyss of shame accompanied by an unbidden flush of desire and fear that spread through his body.
Stephen appeared not to notice and carried on speaking.
“Paula will be leaving the paper and will be replaced by another ‘Aunt’. A notification is being written this very minute that will be included in Monday’s edition. Luckily there are enough entries on file that we can run until the change over is completed. None of the other staff know about this affair, Pau, so consider yourself very lucky because you wouldn’t hear the last of it I’m sure. I’ve decided to tell them that we felt that ‘Paula’ had outlived her natural lifespan and that the change is largely cosmetic as you will still work on the column.”
Once more Pau was shocked... he wasn’t going to lose his job after all!
“You are on probation though and you will be assigned a partner in the column, which works out well because we’re going to make it a Mr & Mrs agony column, some queries will be answered by you in your female guise and some will be answered by your male counterpart. Maybe we’ll include two answers for some of the problems with different viewpoints so that we can offer a more varied option when it comes to matters of the... heart, shall we call it.”
“So... w-who will... um...?” was all that Pau managed to voice before Stephen smiled evilly at him. “Me.”
“I shall be overseeing your work from now on and you can take that look of horror off your face because it’s the only way that it was possible for you to keep your job... and I had to give my assurance to Mrs Knight that everything would work out well, so it’s my ass on the line as well now, Pau.”
Perhaps it was an unfortunate use of an everyday phrase but the image it brought to Pau’s mind did not help his blush to recede.
“Also, because I will be taking on some of the burden in the Agony column you will have more time on your hands, so you will be seconded to the local news section and will help out there as well... and no, I don’t care if you don’t like the local news section so don’t even bother protesting, Pau, that is what is on offer... you can take it or leave it. Before you say anything, however, if you decide to stay with The Bugle you are also on a week’s leave, unpaid, as a disciplinary measure. The choice is yours, Pau.”
‘God, did he have to keep mentioning things like discipline?’ thought Pau.
There really was no choice as far as Pau was concerned. He liked his job, he liked his workmates and he admitted to himself that his ‘disciplinary’ measures were more than fair considering the extent of his misconduct.
His shoulders went down in a combination of relief and defeat as he nodded and said “I accept.”
“Good,” replied Stephen; “that’s that over and done with then.”
A silence filled the room as Pau wondered whether he was free to go and lick his wounds in the privacy of his cubby-hole and berate himself for such idiocy. A glance at the Editor showed him to be sitting back comfortably in his chair studying Pau with contemplation as he supported his chin with the fingers of one hand. It was a pose that highlighted his thoughtful state and it was more terrifying to Pau than the harder, sterner facet than he had shown earlier when tearing a strip off him. It showed compassion and interest in what was going on inside Pau’s head which was something that Pau didn’t think he was capable of explaining to himself let alone someone else.
Before he could ask about leaving the room Stephen beat him to it with his own gentle but dangerous question.
Pau had absolutely no intention of answering as he intuitively guessed it was aimed at Pau’s inner feelings rather than the rights and wrongs of what he had done and Stephen had no right to that information.
“I don’t know... I really don’t,” he replied betraying himself.
Picking up the papers from the desk once more and indicating them as support for his views, Stephen continued.
“It seems clear to me by what’s written in here that all this is very mixed up in your mind. You say you wanted to help the man but we’ve had other situations in the past that frankly were more worthy of you breaking the no-communication rule, and you’ve never once done it. So that leads me to think that this subject had some personal interest for you.”
“No, honest... it didn’t!” retorted Pau quickly thinking that Stephen was accusing him of something that reviled him. “I had no idea it was a young boy writing those, there was no ulterior motive there, really!”
“Oh, I know that, Pau. God, if I thought for one minute that you had been trying to inveigle any questionable connection to a underage person, you wouldn’t even have been given entrance into this office today... you would have been dismissed instantly,” scoffed Stephen, in an attitude that disclosed two things. Faith in Pau’s integrity and also awareness of his orientation.
“No, what I mean is that you obviously found the subject, that of spanking, inviting...”
Pau realised that Stephen had no problems saying the word and he took it as an affirmation that the act had no psychological or sexual effect on him. In his innocence he assumed everyone who was turned on by it stumbled and stuttered over saying the word or blushed profusely as he did. He remembered the heat that had suffused his face when he first read the word ‘spanking’. He’d fidgeted in his chair and looked round nervously in the room, afraid one of the other members of staff would be able to see what was written there and somehow correctly guess it was responsible for the flash of desire in his eyes. He remembered how his hands had almost trembled when he’d forced himself to type out the word in his response to John. It had become easier over time to write it, presumably his urge had over-ridden his reticence, on paper at least, and he felt more at ease typing out the variations of that five lettered word that wreaked havoc with his psyche, but before today he had never had occasion to say the word out loud and it had cost him to do so.
Pau didn’t think there was any way he could possibly explain it but something inside him told him that Stephen wasn’t going to judge him, hadn’t judged him in fact, because it had to be patently obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense that he was fascinated by the idea. He already knew more than Pau would have wanted anyone to know anyway so he didn’t see how it could get any worse. He couldn’t sink lower than he had already done, so some part of him decided to spill the beans... if he could.
Whilst arguing with himself briefly and making his decision, he hadn’t noticed that Stephen had risen and poured two glasses of whisky from his cabinet until he found one being waved under his nose enticingly. He grasped the glass as a lifesaver and took a large gulp in preparation while Stephen returned to his chair opposite him and said softly “Talk to me, Pau.”
“I don’t know how to explain it... Christ, I don’t know if I can explain it!” he intoned as he stared into the amber liquid held between his trembling hands.
“When I first got the letter... it was as if it grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I didn’t answer at once… which bothered me. Some of the letters we receive are clearly not on subjects that we can discuss in the paper and I normally just send out a letter saying ‘Thank you but we can’t use your letter at this moment in time’ or something along those lines and they are sent from the The Bugle’s e-mail address, not our personal ones. But I couldn’t with this one. I just couldn’t. I sat on it for over a week before I forced myself to answer and I did advise him to go to Relate with his wife.” Pau almost snorted with derision at his own gullibility.
“I thought that would be the end of it, that we would hear no more from him. But he wrote back, begging me for help, saying that he knew from the column that I was compassionate and that his life was in turmoil because of his desire and please, not to abandon him.”
“I’m not sure how the rest of it started... I think I may eventually have told him to write down his feelings in letters. Which he did, but instead of destroying them or just saving them, he sent them to me. That wasn’t what I had intended... I don’t know what I had intended really, so maybe it was.”
Stephen interrupted at his point with soft questions.
“But then you started to become active, you started to reply in his wife’s place? You started to describe how you felt about the punishments?”
“Yes, madness! Complete madness I know. I couldn’t help myself and I suppose I felt protected a bit behind the guise of ‘Paula’.”
“People think that gays need to take on a female or male role in a relationship, but it’s not true, so it wasn’t that. I’m not confused about who I am or what am I, but I just couldn’t get away from Paula on this one.”
“No, I think it’s just that you’d become too embedded with the Paula personality, especially with the similarity of names, and maybe you came to feel that the letters were being written to you, not to her? I notice that on the later ones you signed yourself just P, so you were distancing yourself from the Paula personality. Also you don’t mention female underwear at all, just underwear. I think, subconsciously, you kept it as gender neutral as you possibly could.”
The reality of what Stephen was saying out loud struck a chord somewhere inside Pau with what his logic had been trying to tell him for weeks but which his confused libido had shouted down. His shoulders slumped as he recognised the truth of what he was hearing.
“I feel so fucking stupid, a total capullo. I’m now stuck with a mental image of being spanked by a man who doesn’t exist. Some fictional face that I can’t even visualise but is the centre of what I fantasize about. I’m not even sure it matters that ‘John’ doesn’t really exist, that knowledge doesn’t help much to be honest. He’s never existed as a real person for me… not as someone I ever thought I would know… but I took his words and … attitude I suppose, and I made him my own personal ideal partner. Everything that he wrote was exactly what I wanted to hear. I can’t wipe it out and I want to... I need to...”
“So, can’t you just impose another face over that of John? Pick some anonymous face or just invent a rough sense of someone else...” suggested Stephen.
“I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work. It’s like I’ve been weaned on John and I can’t get away from him. I’ve converted him into some sort of role-model and the fact that he is totally fictitious means that he can’t or won’t disappoint me. He won’t let me be either.”
“Well, you’ll have to do something, Pau, otherwise I think you’re going to drive yourself nuts. There is also the confusion you have between what were his erotic scenes at the beginning and how the letters turned into punishment scenes at the end. That sort of thing could be explained by role play of course, plenty of people like to do that to give themselves an excuse, but towards the end your answers were written as though you thought you really did deserve to be punished.”
“Well I do, don’t I?” spat Pau as he challenged Stephen to deny it. Eons passed as the two men looked at each other, one deep in thought, the other in anguish as he laid bare his level of guilt.
“Do you think that you’ve been punished enough? Do you think that the restrictions the paper has imposed on you cover the crime?”
The world spun.
“So the problem as I see it is two-fold. One, you want or need to get your mind away from ‘John’ and your fantasies, you need to break the hold that you’ve allowed him to have over you, or over Paula, and two, you really do deserve a bloody good hiding for being so daft. Would you agree with that?” asked Stephen calmly.
“Yes... I suppose that’s about it... but I can’t!” Pau stormed in response as frustration and shame fought for prominence in his mind. “I’ve tried to imagine other people but it doesn’t work, my mind betrays me. And what am I supposed to do? Go out and chat some bloke up and ask him to s-spank me? It’s not exactly your run of the mill chat up line, you know.”
“Don’t you have a boyfriend at the moment? Or someone on the horizon?”
“No. To either of the questions. And I don’t think that I would want to try and explain all this to someone anyway... Christ, it’s bad enough telling you... how could I tell a date all this? He’d think I was nuts.”
“So... it’s me then, isn’t it?” asked Stephen wryly.
“I’m your option. Someone who already knows the details so that cuts out a large portion of potential embarrassment. Someone who understands why it’s being done so there is no fear of confusion over whether it’s erotic or not. And it wouldn’t be erotic, Pau, I can assure you of that. Someone who I hope you can trust enough to know why you need it, and how much you need. Unless you’d rather go to a professional of course?”
Pau was close to entering a state of shock. Had his boss really just offered to spank him? His mind was reeling with permutations of what this must mean even while his head was millimetre by millimetre working its way into a treasonous nod of acceptance.
“No, I need more than a nod, Pau, I need you to give me your consent verbally. But bear in mind this has nothing to do with your work on the paper, your job is not conditional on you accepting this. This is something between us, so I don’t want you feeling pressurised here. If you say no, that’s the end of it and you can sort yourself out as and how you see fit. It would be a punishment, make no mistake about that, but I won’t be acting as Editor so you need to be able to separate the two things in your mind.”
Pau’s mind swirled with Stephen’s words. A small part of him warred with the erotic fantasy that was ever present, trying to gain a foothold on his emotions and wanting to be let free so that it could possess his senses as it always had done in the privacy of his bedroom.
“I understand. I’ll accept a punishment from you Stephen.” Self-condemnation.
“Right. Let’s get on then,” said Stephen as he rose from the chair and went to the door of his office.
“What, now?” squeaked Pau in dismay. “Here?”
Stephen had taken a quick peek outside at the open plan offices and closed the door once more, saying “It’s OK, there’s no one about; everyone has gone. We’ve been here for over an hour now and the office is empty. Anyway, it’s Friday, you’re not in over the weekend and you’re on ‘leave’ next week if you remember, so... no time like the present as they say. Or do you want more time to think about it?”
“Er... no, I suppose it’s OK... it’s just that I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Yes, well, it has been rather a funny day hasn’t it? I hadn’t imagined when I came to work this morning that I was going to finish the day having a young man across my knee either.”
Pau doubted very much if the upcoming event was going to have quite the same effect on Stephen as it would on him.
“So... um... what now then?” asked Pau nervously as the seconds ate away at his fate.
Stephen’s voice took on a brisk tone as he told Pau to stand up, which Pau did with alacrity in response to the tone.
“I think we’d be better off over here on the settee rather than on a chair, so, come on,” urged Stephen leading his lamb slowly but surely to his doom.
“I’m not going to reiterate why this is being done, Pau, suffice to say that it’s going to be a punishment that you deserve, that you admit that you deserve. Don’t for one minute think that I’m offering to place myself in John’s stead as your fantasy man. I know I’m in a position of authority over you, but that is only within the confines of The Bugle and your punishment from The Bugle has already been sorted.”
At Pau’s nod, Stephen sat down in the middle of the settee, pointed to Pau’s trousers and said simply, “Down”.
Pau gulped nervously; his instinct told him not to comply with the order but almost of their own accord his hands fumbled with his trouser button and he listened to the rasp of his zip as it resonated its descent throughout the room. He fought hard to control the feelings that were starting to course through his body. Excitement. Fear. Anticipation. Embarrassment.
Stephen’s voice nudged him back to reality. “Down to the thighs will be fine, we don’t have to go for the round-the-ankles look. Pants as well, Pau.”
Convincing himself that he would feel more humiliated if he sped from the room clutching his disordered clothes, Pau complied with his eyes closed. He did not want to see himself reflected in Stephen’s face; he couldn’t risk seeing scorn there.
A sharp rap to his left thigh made his eyes fly open involuntarily.
“Don’t hide, Pau. It won’t help things. You aren’t a child who thinks that if you can’t see the world, the world can’t see you. I do see you and I’m doing this to help you. There is nothing to be embarrassed at here, not in this situation. By admitting to yourself that you feel the need to be punished, it means that you are facing your problems, not running from them.”
At that, Stephen lent back into the settee and patted his lap in invitation.
Pau eyed Stephen’s lap in horror and fascination. Such nice thighs. Such terrible thighs. Not exactly how he had once dreamt of getting to know them.
He leant forward and stretched himself across Stephen’s knees supporting himself with one arm on the settee and one hand on the floor. His legs were left to find their own position behind him. It was an un-natural position to an adult. He didn’t fit and he was disconcerted. This wasn’t how it was in his fantasy.
Stephen deftly flipped Pau’s shirt up out of the way whilst placing one arm across his back so that his hand held lightly on to the span of ribs. Pau was aware of the heat generating from his touch and at the same time of the coolness that was his uncovered bottom. He didn’t imagine that it would stay cool for long.
“Ready?” queried Stephen
No! thought Pau. How can one ever be ready for this?
A heavy swat started proceedings.
Oh God! I’m not ready for this. Joder! Joder! JODER!
At each slap that landed on his backside, Pau became more and more convinced that this hadn’t been a good idea. Where was the nice tingling sensation that he had expected? Where was the sensual heat? He knew it was meant to be a punishment but he really had expected there to be some element of his fantasy involved that would carry him through. This bloody hurt! As Stephen’s palm landed time and time again, it brought about increased squirming on Pau’s behalf as he tried in vain to out-manoeuvre it, trying to second guess where it was going to land. Not that it would have mattered, it hurt wherever it landed. Pau became more vocal in his protestations at the assault on his bottom. He ow-ed, he ah-ed, but most of all he slipped back into his native language and he ai-ed.
With his eyes closed his mind tried to take over and ‘flashes’ shot against the back of his eyes as images and feelings bombarded him. His brain was on overdrive. He tried to view himself from above to see how he looked but the reality of the pain that was centred in his bottom wouldn’t allow him to fantasise. There was no room for John here; Pau’s mind was too full of pain. Pain from his backside and pain from his stupidity.
He was at war with himself. He desperately wanted to bring up his ‘sense’ of John and immerse himself into his fantasy to help sustain the ordeal but his sense of fair-play combined with the level of guilt he felt demanded that he accept this for the punishment it was and not try to twist it into something that could give him pleasure. In the end it didn’t matter. The punishment won out and eventually even his embarrassment at being bare bottomed over his boss’s knee was pushed to the back of his mind as the pain built in a crescendo that he imagined would never peak. With each smack he was convinced that it couldn’t get any worse... until the next one landed and then it did.
The saying that claims ‘all good things must come to an end’ is just as easily adapted to ‘all horrible and stingingly painful things’ as well. Just as Pau thought he could stand no more, Stephen stopped. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t do anything that told Pau it was over – he just stopped. No hand ghosting over his bottom in a gesture of comfort, no affectionate pats to his burning skin that could be translated as ‘you’re done’. No gentle rubbing of shoulders or back – nothing. He just stopped spanking.
It took Pau a while to assimilate that no further slaps were coming his way and a little while longer to find the necessary courage to make himself move. Courage that he needed to face his returning embarrassment as well as the pain in his bottom as his skin stretched with movement. Whether his embarrassment was over his predicament or the level of yelps and cries he had given was something that he hadn’t worked out yet.
He pushed himself back from Stephen’s knees but could manage no more than that and ended up in a somewhat undignified heap semi-crouched on the floor. He swiped the palm of one hand across each eye in turn to clear the tears that were threatening to spill and tried unsuccessfully to dissimilate the sniffs and gulps that his body demanded of him.
Only then did Stephen touch him again. He placed one hand on Pau’s shoulder and squeezed encouragingly until Pau was able to take a deep breath and release it slowly in a shuddering painful sigh followed by a firm nod of his head as if underlining something in his own mind.
“OK?” asked Stephen.
“No,” replied Pau shakily. “It hurts like hell.”
“I didn’t mean your backside. I meant are you OK,” a finger tapped lightly against Pau’s head “in here? If your rear was ‘OK’ I’d think I’d not done enough and needed to carry on a bit more.”
Pau raised stricken eyes to Stephen and scooted back away from him in panic until he saw that Stephen was smiling gently at him and his words were an attempt to get them over any awkwardness. He relaxed back on his heels and flinched suddenly as his bottom came into contact with the rough material of his trousers that were now pooled round his ankles. Pau quickly shot up again and moved his feet so that he could rest back without putting pressure on his skin. It then occurred to him to check out the rest of himself regarding his clothes but a quick glance down confirmed that, in this position, his shirt covered his body adequately.
“Yes,” he said in surprise, “I think I’m OK.”
“Will it make a difference to you knowing now that John doesn’t exist?”
“I don’t know. I think I was frightened that it wouldn’t because for me he hasn’t ever really existed. He was always somebody else’s partner so I’d never thought of him physically... in that way. Never wanted… anything with him. So there has always been that separation, it’s just that in my mind I’d created someone who gives me what I want. I wasn’t sure I’d ever find someone real who can do that… live up to my expectations.”
“I’m sure you will. Anyway, expectations can change. As I said earlier, there are sites and clubs you can go to. Go. Talk to people, tell them what you want.”
“Yes, I suppose so, but...”
“What if I don’t find someone who coincides with what I want?”
“That depends on what you want. You discuss it with them; everyone has their individual fantasies Pau. You might be lucky and find a man who coincides 100% with your desires.” Stephen shrugged. “If not, you compromise. One day for him, one day for you. That’s how relationships generally work you know... a bit of give and take. Some people want to be punished for real. Some will want erotic spankings only and there will be others who take both.”
“How do you know so much about this?” blundered Pau before he could stop himself. “Sorry, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked that,” apologised Pau.
Stephen responded to the question with a wry smile. “No, I suppose it’s only fair seeing as I’ve just made you squirm.”
Stephen rose from the settee and giving a general wave in the direction of Pau’s lower half, indicated that he might like to dress himself. He busied himself renewing their drinks while he listened to the sound of Pau carefully, and not without an audible wince or two, pull his pants and trousers back into position. Without turning round from the small drinks table, he started to speak.
“I know what a relationship is like that contains elements of CP. It can be very fulfilling if you find a partner who’s on the same wavelength. I think you need to get yourself out and about more and experiment a bit. But safely mind!” warned Stephen as he at last handed the glass over to Pau who was by that time leaning against the back of the chair he’d previously sat in, thoughts of actually sitting in it far from his mind.
“Well I think I might have gone off the idea altogether,” stated Pau.
“Have you?” said Stephen. “Have you really?”
Pau realised that it was a serious question and he turned his head to gaze out of the window and took stock of his feelings while Stephen waited patiently for an answer to his question, if one existed.
After a long while, Pau turned back, crinkled his nose at Stephen and with an almost apologetic smile, confessed, “No.”
“Didn’t think you had somehow.”
“Hurts though,” complained Pau lamely.
Stephen chuckled at Pau’s woeful expression. “I rather think that’s half the point.”
“What’s the other half then?”
Stephen shrugged. “Different for each person. Some people will enjoy the embarrassment aspect, or the giving up of control. Or the connection to childhood. Of having someone tell you what you need. You want someone to tell you you’ve been a naughty boy and he’s going to smack you because of it? Fine, nothing wrong with that. You want to be told how sexy you look over his lap with a glowing red bottom? That’s fine as well. There’s no way of explaining it all, Pau, it’s too diverse and unique to each person and there are as many variations as there are people that practise it. Providing you don’t want to get into the heavier aspect or live it 24/7, it’s all a game in the end - whatever does it for you. You just have to take it slowly until you work out what it is you want. Don’t be pushed into thinking that in order to get scene 1 you have to accept scene 2 or 3. There’s a lot of hyperbole connected to this but you need to find someone who will let you choose the elements that you want, not the ones they want. I imagine that for you, as a ‘virgin’, it all sounds enticing but there will be things that you won’t want to do. You need to have them clear in your mind or find someone you can trust enough to experiment with.”
“I don’t think I want real punishment. I mean, okay, I know that I probably deserved that one, but no, I don’t want that. Not for real.”
“I’m not sure anybody wants it, although some might need it. But they have to recognise that they need it, it can’t be forced upon them.”
Pau nodded in understanding.
“I want... I want... hell, I can’t explain it.”
“And you don’t have to, least of all to me.”
After leaving the office Pau dazedly made his way home on foot rather than catch the bus. He wasn’t in much of a hurry to get home, in fact he was quite sure that he didn’t want to be alone at the moment as he thought that once he was, he’d give in to his normal practice of tormenting himself when he was in the flat where most of his fantasies had been allowed free range. As he neared his neighbourhood, he made a sudden detour and walked quickly to one of his local pubs thinking that a quiet pint might do him good. Plus, he needed the extra time it gave him to be able to think and mull over everything that had happened to him that evening. He could still feel the sting in his backside; it was the only thing that convinced him that he hadn’t imagined what had occurred in his boss’s office. He had the urge to put his hand back to comfort himself by rubbing his sore skin as he had done instinctively in Stephen’s office but fought it down. The pub he had entered was frequently filled with a mixture of gay as well as het customers but he didn’t think that someone with his hands clamped to his backside would go down a treat.
In one of those coincidences that prove that real life is stranger than fiction, there was a small group of men in the corner of the pub that called to Pau as he made his way through the throng towards the bar.
“Pab! Where have you been these last couple of weeks? We’ve missed you!”
“Oh, busy at work, you know how it is.”
“We tried to phone you but couldn’t get through.”
“Ah. Well, that would be because I’ve been having problems with my mobile, the battery runs down immediately after charging and I need to get a new one. Sorry, I should have let you all know.”
“We wanted to invite you out next week. Charlie has finally got his new flat and we’re helping him celebrate. Well, he thinks we’re going to help him move things, but we’re really going just to toast his new home. Don’t split on us whatever you do. Anyway, he’ll be upset if you don’t come, at least pop by in the evening if you can, you know he’s always been keen on you,” squealed Tom, more through the effects of the drinks he’d put away than through any effeminate propensities.
“Has he?” asked Pau in surprise.
“Of course he has, he just hides it well. I think he thought you weren’t at all interested in him and he didn’t want to make a play for you and then ruin a friendship.”
Had he dreamt about Charlie? He cast his mind back. Ooh, yes, that had been a particularly good one. Well, that went to prove his theory on dreams wasn’t that great. Yes, he’d known Charlie was gay, of course he had, most of this crowd was, but he hadn’t understood that in that dream, the sexual attraction just might have some basis.
Before Tom could dish out more gossip on Pau’s fanciability according to Charlie, the man himself ambled over with a big smile on his face. Whether it was down to Pau’s presence or the near empty pint in his hand was debatable. “I suppose Blabbergob Tom has filled you in on my news already?” he laughed. “And here was me hoping to get hold of you and invite you personally. Are you coming then? I know you have to get up early and all that but I insist you drop by for an hour or two in the evening. Just for a drink or something?”
“Hey, how come we get invited to lump furniture about and he gets invited just for a drink?” gasped Tom from behind in dramatic outrage.
“That’s because he’s Pau and you’re not!” replied Charlie as he swung back to Pau thereby missing seeing Tom poke his tongue out at him behind his back and then the wink and the ‘told you so’ expression that he aimed at Pau over Charlie’s shoulder.
“So, you insist do you?” questioned Pau laughingly.
“Yes, I do,” said Charlie sternly and then ruined it by throwing him an engaging smile.
“I’m off work all next week anyway, so it’s not a problem.”
“Ooh, lucky you. Have you been the Golden Boy of the office then, because I remember you taking 3 weeks already this year to go visit your folks. How have you wangled another holiday?”
Sheepishly Pau confessed... “Well, I sort of fucked up a bit, so I’m on disciplinary leave,” he said as he screwed his face up waiting for a reaction.
Charlie immediately turned serious. “Oh. But is everything OK at work? Will there be further repercussions? Are you going to have hassle with the bosses?”
Pau thought of his repercussions and sincerely hoped that there wouldn’t be any further ones along those lines. But Stephen had been right, he did feel better for it, all except his arse of course, and it had helped to clear John from his mind’s eye. Whether that would have happened by itself now that he knew John really didn’t exist, he’d never know. Very probably but he’d taken a short cut tonight to freeing himself from that particular fantasy.
“No, nothing like that. It’s more a formality really to appease the high-ups.”
“Right then, well I’m drafting you into the ‘Help Charlie Move Flat’ brigade in that case and you can tell me all about it, pet, and then we’ll decide whether you need smacking for being bad. If you want, that is?”
“If I want what?” said Pau cocking an eyebrow quizzically.
“If you want to help me move, silly,” replied Charlie as he linked his arm through Pau’s and pulled him towards the bar. “Of course, if you want smacking as well, I’m sure we can arrange something.”
Unseen in the crush, Pau let his free hand creep down to his bottom. There was still enough heat coming through his trousers to remind him of what had happened although the pain had subsided considerably. Stephen hadn’t in fact been brutal with him. He’d been quite thorough; it had smarted tremendously at the time and it was a situation that he had no desire to repeat, not in those circumstances anyway.
With his hand on his bottom he tried to think of John but... nothing, he wasn’t there any more. His mind wandered to Stephen spanking him and rejected that image immediately. No way could he find pleasure in thinking of that; Stephen had been firmly tucked into punishment mode, not pleasure. Pau took this to mean that he was free to slot someone else into the role of Top; whether it was as fantasy or in real life was up to him, but at least the post was now vacant.
“So?” questioned Charlie as Pau stood deciding where he wanted to go with this new experience.
“Vale. I want!” Pau grinned cheekily, leaving it unclear, for the time being, which question had been answered.