Todd knocked at the door to room 201 and pondered how he came to be here, suited and booted on a Sunday morning to meet a woman he didn’t know and had no great interest in knowing when he could be at home in bed still or playing computer games with his friends.
He was here only because his mother had caught him in a moment of weakness – otherwise known as a hangover – and had elicited a promise that he would come here today, in her name, and pay his respects to this distant cousin.
Distant more in miles than relationship he acknowledged. The woman was his mother’s first cousin, a remembered childhood friend from when his mother had still lived in her native country, England, before moving abroad at the age of 9 with her parents and her younger brother, Gordon. She had never been back and until now, they had received no visitors from her land of birth. She’d told him that her cousin was older than her and she remembered her as being somewhat bossy, that she’d tormented his uncle Gordon relentlessly during their play-dates and joint holidays.
Todd wouldn’t hold that against her; he’d done much the same to the poor man when he’d visited their home during his own infancy if he remembered rightly.
While he waited for the door to open, he remembered more of the conversation with his mother the previous week when he’d tried to renege on the deal he’d made and back out of the arrangement. Once he’d sobered up properly and realised just how early in the day he was meant to present himself, his willingness to keep his word had drained drastically. But his mother had been smart. She wasn’t above reminding him that she paid for his lifestyle when she wanted him to do something he didn’t particularly want to and this was one such occasion.
The fact that his parents still supported him while he lived away at college had its good points and its bad points. The good one was obvious; he didn’t have to look for a part time job like many of his school friends did, which in turn gave him more free time. The bad ones were slightly more complicated and harder to make sense of.
Although he told himself that it was what they wanted and had obviously saved for, he didn’t really like being beholden to them somehow. It’s not as though a college education was an essential and they weren’t morally or ethically obliged to provide one for him in the way that they had been with food and clothing and a roof over his head when younger, and he sometimes surprised himself by feeling awkward about still living off them. He told himself that he should stand on his own two feet a bit more but then thought about the need to get a job and be more financially responsible and rejected the idea. Basically he was lazy. He did study hard and he put his good school record down to the fact that he wasn’t permanently tired from having to hold down a job. Not working allowed him to dedicate himself to his coursework and it was an excuse he used to soothe his conscience.
He’d chosen his particular college because of its reputation; the fact that it was a private one, and an expensive one, was unfortunate. Some of his new friends held down one or even two part time jobs to help towards their living costs but Todd relied on a monthly cheque from his parents and the occasional bonus when he wanted something special. He wasn’t alone in that, some other students came from wealthy backgrounds and did the same – the problem was that Todd didn’t come from a well-to-do family. They weren’t poor by any means but they weren’t rich either and Todd knew his excesses sometimes put them under pressure.
His father had wanted him to work his way through college, said it would be a good experience for him, give him proper values and an understanding of the cost of living. His mother wouldn’t hear of it and Todd had partially agreed with her. He convinced himself that some things didn’t need to be experienced to be understood, thank you very much.
He was brought back to the present by the sound of a door being opened and he plastered a smile on his face in preparation for a charm fest. He might not want to be here but his mother’s cousin would never know it.
His plan went awry immediately by not being faced with the older woman he’d anticipated. He’d expected a white haired old woman. Maybe a walking stick and a crocheted shawl. Okay, that was silly, he was letting his imagination get the better of him and was dressing everyone in England according to old films watched and reruns of Murder She Wrote.
Before him was not an aged hag, but a woman at least ten years older than himself. An attractive woman at that with a presence that screamed confidence even when confronted with an unknown but obviously confused man on her doorstep. She most certainly wasn’t his mother’s older cousin unless she had a fountain of youth at the bottom of her garden.
She was a little bit taller than him although that might have been due to the high heels she was wearing. She wore a flowy dress in dark grey with some kind of piping in turquoise around the neck and down the buttoned front. Women’s fashion wasn’t his forte but he knew enough to know that it clung where it was meant to.
An eyebrow rose fractionally in his direction as he took his time in taking it all in.
He was about to apologise for the intrusion when she spoke in the English accent he had been expecting.
“Are you Todd?”
The question brought him up short.
“Yes, I am but I was looking for, um. . .” He looked down at the scrap of paper he’d written the name on.
“Dorothy Hamilton? That would be my mother . . . your mother’s cousin? I’m her daughter, Vanessa. That makes us second cousins, I believe. Or possibly first cousins, once removed. It’s confusing. Well, don't just stand there, come in.”
Todd stepped inside the room uneasily. His mother had told him that her cousin had been a bossy child and it seemed her daughter may have inherited the same trait.
He'd assumed he was going to be meeting an elderly woman and now he felt caught out and at a disadvantage.
He’d been told this Dorothy woman was on some kind of visit from England, visiting private schools across the country giving talks on some new age behavioural crap they had invented. Bunch of dried up old spinsters trying to tell everyone else what to do had been Todd’s opinion. He'd had enough of them when he was younger and was sent before head teachers and counsellors all trying to talk him into better behaviour. He'd been a kid for Christ’s sake, it was normal to behave badly. He wasn’t inclined to look favourably on anyone doing something similar. What he didn’t know was if this woman, Vanessa, was also involved. She didn’t look like a do-gooder or someone trying to ‘spread the word’.
“I take it you didn’t know about me?” Vanessa asked.
“No. No, sorry, I didn’t. What I mean is that I was expecting your Mother to be here, not you.”
“My Mother is here, she’s in the room next door. The weather here tires her so she won’t be up yet. You may meet her later although she’s returning to the UK tomorrow. I know she’d like to meet you as your mother has sung your praises so much.”
“Oh. Is she going back alone then . . . are you not going with her?”
“No, I shall be staying on here for a while setting up a new business venture. She came with me just for a week’s holiday and is aching to return to more inclement weather.”
“Okay. Well, that’s good then. I suppose. Um, what is it exactly that you do?”
“Oh, we’ll come to that later on. I’ll explain all the gory details after our talk.”
Talk? What talk? He was here just to say ‘hello’ and pass on regards from his Mother, not stop for cucumber sandwiches, afternoon tea and a ‘chat’.
Vanessa moved to the phone and put in a call for Room Service, ordering breakfast for two to be brought up as soon as possible, after asking him a silent question and getting a bemused nod of agreement in response.
Well, he hadn’t eaten much this morning, it wouldn’t hurt to have a snack with her. At least he’d have got something out of this waste of a morning.
“Did you have far to come?” she asked as she put the phone down.
“From across the river, it’s not too bad if you come in by car. Forget the train on a weekend, the service is cra... er, rubbish.”
“I find driving over here terrifying, I simply can’t get used to the wrong side of the road. So, you have a car then?”
“Yes, not much of one, but it gets me about. I might change it soon, get something bigger, better.”
He didn’t know why he said that, he wasn’t in any position to buy a new car but this woman was so obviously poised, was staying at an expensive hotel and ordering room service as though the cost didn’t matter that he felt he had to keep up somehow.
“How nice,” Was all she responded.
They made small talk until Room Service arrived and the waiter set up a table and two chairs for them to use. The spread was generous and Todd tried not to act as though this was something he wasn’t used to.
Vanessa told him something about the village she came from in an area she called the Home Counties although she confessed that she spent most of her time in London these days. By her descriptions, he guessed that she had a big house in the country so he assumed her educational technique was going well. Maybe it was her success but she was a bit intimidating.
It was surely his own devils that made him think she was being condescending towards him. The more she talked, the more he convinced himself and the more he talked nonsense back at her to boost his own sense of worth. Basically he told her a pack of lies but as there was next to no contact between the two families – and he hadn’t even known she existed to be honest – he didn’t see that he could be caught out.
She asked him question after question about his life as though this was some in-depth interview and Todd was getting more annoyed and his answers were getting shorter and sharper by the minute until eventually they bordered on downright rude. It was, unfortunately, his go to mode when he felt he was being criticised in any way.
Todd felt wrong footed talking to her. He had the oddest feeling that she was taking him to task even though she’d done nothing more than ask him things that anybody would when trying to get to know someone. Her questions were slightly more intrusive than polite conversation, but maybe that was an English habit that he knew nothing of. He’d thought they were all reserved and repressed but he must have got it wrong. What he did know was that her questions were leading him to truly think about things he hadn’t done for a long time.
The truth was that he knew he'd been an unruly brat as a child, and he knew that he had gotten away with a lot of bad behaviour that he perhaps shouldn't have done. He was older now; no longer a child but hardly a fully-fledged man and he knew enough to know what he should no longer be doing even if he wasn't old enough to have the self-will to not do it occasionally. Oh, he no longer stole candy from the local shop or threw stones at next doors cat but he still behaved badly. He drank way too much, he’d had a couple of fights. He’d tried some drugs but thankfully wasn’t that impressed so he didn’t take them again. His school records were good but he could be sarcastic in class and on one occasion he’d been invited to leave the room.
It was hard though, being independent. Being away from home and the security and protection that home provided. His parents were no longer in the next room or down the hall and he was loathe to phone them and say he was having a hard time, that he’d found out too late that he still needed them. He'd left declaring himself an adult and rejecting their attempts to guide him. He’d wanted their assistance in the form of a monthly payment to cover his living expenses and not in the form of advice over what he should or shouldn't be doing and had resisted all their attempts to help him.
He knew he was selfish but he didn’t know how not to be. He also knew he wouldn’t be able to go and apologise to his parents. Not now, not yet. For a start his mother wouldn’t want to hear it because she would take it as a slight towards her, would interpret it is a criticism of her parenting. And he knew that he wasn’t . . . definite enough in his self-awareness to insist. He needed . . . what he needed, he realised, was to mature first.
He was here in this hotel right now only because his mother had asked him to come as a special favour to her and a moment of hazy goodwill had him agreeing – she was almost as surprised as he himself had been. It was a small step in making amends and he had at first felt good in giving in to her request that he visit with her cousin for a few hours, be pleasant, be polite and prove to her that his mother hadn't been making false claims all these years about what a blessing he was. He remembered that he’d laughed ironically when she’d told him that.
He realised that Vanessa had asked him another question and had had to repeat it while he was day-dreaming.
“What are you studying?”
“Drama. Film making.”
“Really? And those are genuine classes?”
“Yes.” Her tone was making it harder and harder for him to feign politeness.
“And you will be able to make a living from that? What exactly are you thinking of doing afterwards?”
“I'm not sure yet. Something in film, probably.”
“Something in film. Probably.” To Todd, the disdain was more than evident. “It doesn’t sound like a solid plan for the future, if I may say so.”
There really was nothing Todd could say in response.
“Is that all, I thought there was something else . . . ?”
Todd mumbled his response while wondering exactly how much information his mother had unwittingly passed on. He wouldn’t be surprised if she knew his shoe size as well.
“Yes, I’m doing Business Studies as well.”
“Ah, well that’s a very good thing to have under your belt. That will certainly be an advantage.”
“I know. It’s why I chose it.”
Todd was on the point of making his excuses and leaving. His mother could have no idea how annoying her side of the family would be and he had surely done his duty by now, but was stopped in his tracks.
“I imagine it's hard to get into the film business without backing or a heavy purse behind you. Are you expecting your parents to fund you?”
“No. Of course not.” He replied acerbically.
An awkward silence grew between them. Vanessa looked at him as though trying to work something out and Todd just wanted to leave as soon as possible.
“Todd, I was in two minds whether or not to tell you this, it’s really none of my business, but I like you and I think you deserve to know.”
Todd looked at her in puzzlement, part in that she would have anything that he needed to know and part in finding out that she liked him. Nothing so far had given him that impression.
“You do know that your parents don't have the fees for your next year’s course, don't you?”
He was astounded at her words, which apart from being out of the blue, were said with a touch of . . . kindness?
“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry but your mother confessed as much to mine at the beginning of the year. They write to each other regularly by all accounts. And your mother, in a moment of late developed common sense told her about the lack of funds. She coupled it with a long list of your attributes; in her eyes, you can do no wrong and she spent a lot of time telling my mother how clever you were and how you only need a helping hand – ironically we may agree on that point.”
“I don’t believe you. My mother would have told me if they were . . . if there was a problem.”
“I’m sorry you’ve had to find out this way, Todd. My understanding is that your father doesn’t yet know the bad news either. According to my mother who spoke to yours on the phone a few weeks ago, she’s considering cashing in some of the shares or investments that were left to her by your grandmother as part of her inheritance. Apparently they have been doing well and would pay out a large enough sum to cover all your college fees and your living expenses for some time to come. Of course, if they were left in for the full term of the contract, they would pay double that, if not more.”
Todd could tell from her tone that she didn’t approve of what his mother was planning to do or of what she intended to use the money for.
“No! She can’t do that, I won’t let her.”
He was horrified by what he heard. There was no way he could allow his parents to sacrifice their own security just to pay for his studies and his comfort. His mother had told him once of the money put away for their retirement and of their plans to either travel or buy a small holiday home on a Caribbean island if it ran to such. It was what his father dreamed of and Todd was determined that he wasn’t going to be the reason that his father couldn’t live that dream. He’d have to drop out, maybe even immediately if it meant he could get a refund on the last trimester.
“Why would she do that? That's their nest egg, I don't want them to spend that on me.”
He said it out loud but it was a question aimed at himself in trying to understand rather than looking for an answer from Vanessa.
“Your mother obviously thinks you deserve it. That your studies are more important than their financial security. That your needs are more important than theirs. And unless you do something to convince her that a) no, you don't deserve it, or b) you do, but you'll do it under your own steam, she will cash in the stocks and it will be too late. For all I know, she's already done it and this conversation is a moot point.”
Todd sat at the breakfast table feeling lost and not a little alarmed about his future. He tuned out what Vanessa was now saying to him and thought rather fruitlessly about what to do next.
He was determined that his parents would not have to give up their future to provide for his own. How he would manage it, he wasn’t sure yet but he needed to find a way to convince his mother that he was capable of supporting himself.
While he tried to think of a solution all he knew was that Vanessa was still talking and was not letting him think in peace.
Damn this woman!
And damn her for telling him!
He knew his anger towards her was illogical – she had done nothing other than let him know something that his own mother hadn’t had the nerve to do, but she was here and his mother wasn’t and he needed a target to take his frustration out on. He came out of his reverie and looked at his cousin in mounting irritation.
“. . . now normally, I'd agree to an extent. Any parent would and will make sacrifices for their child but there comes a time for the child to stand on his, or her, own two feet. This may be your turning point Todd. This could be when you decide what sort of man you want to be and what you're prepared to do to become him.”
Todd looked at her coldly. He was still trying to take on board what she'd said about his parents’ money problems and what that would mean to him personally. It wasn't just a case of not having his college fund topped up, it was his day to day expenses as well. His food. His materials. His rent. His car. The thought was overwhelming and did nothing to calm him. And still she taunted him.
“What sort of job can you do while studying? Bar work? A shop? Will you be able to earn enough money with that sort of work? With the amount of hours you'd have to do to earn near enough to half of what you'd need, will you then have enough time and energy to study properly?”
“As I said earlier, I like you, Todd. I think you are bright, intelligent, courageous, capable and you have more ethics than you think you do. Unfortunately, I also think you're rather spoilt and self-absorbed. You're also a tad lazy. You drink too much – and I gather you shouldn’t be drinking at all at your age - you lie, and you show a bad attitude in class. You also aren’t very courteous when under pressure.”
“And that’s you liking me, is it?” The sarcasm dripped from his voice even as his face burned with humiliation as she listed his faults. Faults that he knew about and even acknowledged at the back of his mind in a very small voice, so small so that if he tried hard enough, he could hardly hear it.
He should have stormed out in anger, doing so would have backed up his denial of the charges. What he did do was stand up abruptly, rocking the breakfast table and overturning some of the tableware. He leant forward with his arms braced on the table and raised his voice. . .
“And I don't see what business it is of yours what I'm like. What do you care whether I drink, or lie or any of the other things you said? If you've brought me here just to attack me and have a laugh at my expense for being the poor relation, then you can stick your family connection where the sun don't shi . . .”
A slap to the face stopped Todd instantly.
It was short, it was sharp and it was most certainly a shock.
He was so surprised by it that he did nothing in protest other than cup his hand to the reddening mark on his cheek with his mouth open.
Vanessa had also stood up during his rant and faced him down. She wasn’t going to be intimidated by his juvenile attempt at dominance.
“Do not speak to me in that manner, young man.”
Young man? Was she kidding? There wasn’t that much of an age difference between them, hardly a big enough difference for her to act like an old maiden aunt. Were all women like this back in England? If they were, it was true that they were well and truly stuck in the past.
“I realise you’re upset and it’s not nice hearing someone list your faults but there is no need for crudeness. I won’t be spoken to with such language, is that clear?”
Without knowing quite why, Todd nodded his understanding.
“Good, then let me continue. You listened only to the negative. I listed your positive qualities as well and I am sure there are many more, even if there aren’t quite as many as your mother would have us think. I know these things about you by various means. First, I doubt anyone could be the paragon of virtue your mother described and my Mother remembers enough of her to know that she was prone to exaggerate if it meant getting her own way.”
Todd recognised his mother in that description as well as himself.
“Second, I already had an inkling but you yourself have told me I’m right during our chat this morning. I don’t think you realise how much of yourself you gave away with your answers, but don’t worry about that, you’ll learn to be more guarded in future. It doesn’t help you that I’m quite good at reading people and I know what it is they aren’t saying as much as what they are.”
“Is that it then? Old memories and guesswork?” Todd’s belligerence returned.
“No. My business is not without influence and resources in certain areas and I have contacts in this state. I checked. I know about the marks on your record for backchat in your classes. I know about the fight you had – and you were lucky to not have charges brought against you, you and the other boy. I also know about that time years ago when your father’s car was stolen and crashed? You were only what . . . fifteen, at the time? No-one suggested you were involved but I bet you were.”
She said no more, just looked at him in expectation and he rewarded her with a blush that told her that she was right.
“But these are behavioural faults; things of childhood and immaturity. I don’t believe they are ingrained. I do believe that you aren’t a bad person but you have lost your way somewhat and you won’t let the people who love you show you how to mature safely.”
“I'm hardly a child. I left home months ago. I'm an adult now.” His words sounded untrue even to himself.
“Ah, but are you a responsible adult? Or are you still the spoilt brat your mother used to try and hide? She was always a pushover for a handsome face, even as a child apparently. Her first husband is the perfect example, he charmed his way into her good books and from there into her bank account. Did you know that your mother comes from money back home? Did she not tell you that?”
“No, I didn’t know. Well, I knew there had once been money but I thought it had all been lost a long time ago.”
His mother had always implied that it was her own parents responsible for the loss of status in her family. Was it possible that she’d lied to him about that? He’d known she’d had an unhappy first marriage but didn’t know anything more than that.
“Well, it's true. Your grandmother, Margaret, came from a wealthy family, my own in fact. Unfortunately she lost a lot of it before emigrating and some say that she and her husband fled before debts caught up with them. I don't think it was ever that bad, but people do like to gossip, don’t they? Did your mother never tell you any of this? No? Well, not that odd I suppose, she may not have known a lot of it or she wanted to keep it quiet.”
“Luckily, for us, my grandmother and mother had a better head for finances and ours increased. Your mother knows this. I’ll tell you now that my mother did harbour a suspicion that you were told to come and be nice to us to get in our good books?”
“What? No, of course not.”
He was horrified by her suggestion but he wasn’t convinced that this wasn’t what his mother intended. Was that why she had been so keen for him to come here today? He didn’t want to believe she would do that. He would never have agreed but he needed to convince his cousin of his innocence. Living off his parents was one thing but living off the benevolence of strangers, or even distant family, was not something he was prepared to do.
“What you're saying is news to me, honestly. My mother asked me to come and say hello to her cousin only because she happened to be visiting the city I live in. That's all. I didn't even know you were travelling with your mother and I certainly haven't got any ulterior motive in coming here today.”
He wasn’t going to admit to this woman that his mother may have planned things as she implied. Was it too much to be offended? No.
“Frankly, I'm insulted on my own behalf and especially that of my mother, that you should think we could do something like that.”
“Okay, calm down, please. Your outrage is very commendable. Frankly, I didn’t believe that you were involved in any scheme so, please, forgive me for implying it.”
She hadn’t said that she didn’t believe it of his mother but he still felt mollified at her belief in him.
“I have a proposal for you. A proposal that would be very much to your advantage. Are you interested in hearing it, Todd?
Todd hesitated for a split second only. Listening could do no harm he decided.
Again he nodded. Vanessa moved away from the table they were both still standing at and crossed to the armchair placed near the foot of the bed in the centre of the far wall. She sat and swivelled her body to face him, crossing one leg over the other and laying her hands on the brocade arms of the chair, drumming the fingers of one hand casually. Todd stayed where he was, beside the table and unsure of what to do. She hadn’t invited him to sit with her and he wasn’t confident enough now to take the initiative. He felt very much like an errant child standing in front of an exasperated adult.
“Do you know anything about the business I run, Todd?”
“Err, a school or something? My mother said something about education but I didn't get all the details.”
He hadn't listened really; he hadn't been much interested. He didn't say so but the wry look on Vanessa's face told him that she knew.
“Yes. Almost. My grandmother started a small private school in London some sixty-five years ago. A school of deportment for Young Ladies of Means, if you can believe such a thing. It did very well by all accounts. Then my mother took over and she also was very successful.”
“Unfortunately young ladies of means seeking deportment were becoming fewer and further between and the business dwindled somewhat until my Mother finally retired about ten years ago and I took over. Since then we've done better than we expected when I introduced different methods for different markets. And I expanded our horizons and spread our . . . pupil base to an international level with the aid of the Internet. However. There is still a need for, shall we say, hands on teaching, and I've a mind to expand our business here and open a new Academy.”
“It will take some doing; money and time to build up a regular client base, as well as effort. I need to recruit new staff and have them trained to my standards before I can return to England but I was willing to give it several months to make sure I found the right premises and get things up and running. This is where you come in.”
“How . . . I know nothing about teaching?”
“You wouldn't need to but I assure you, at the end of that time, you'd know more than enough to be a useful asset. And you would have earned enough to pay for your own school fees for the remaining term and have put away a nest egg if you didn't go mad and buy souped up cars.” Her tone took on a teasing element aimed at his previous bragging.
“I don't understand how. I have no talent that you can use in your school. And I don't even like children very much.”
Vanessa laughed. “Oh, our pupils aren't children, Todd. They are young men, very much like yourself, many of them older. Some are even parents themselves with the occasional grandfather. At least, they are in London, I don't see why it shouldn't be the same here. Our internet data base indicates it will be so.”
“So, what is it you teach them?”
“Discipline. Self control. Focus.”
Todd’s face was a picture of confusion.
“We run a school of correction.”
She watched his face and saw that he still didn't get it.
“We offer adult services to consenting, and more importantly, paying adults who wish, for one reason or another to be on the receiving end of chastisement. Punishment.”
She saw the penny, thankfully, drop.
“You mean a bit of hanky spanky?”
“I would forget the comic belittling associations, Todd. We do neither Hanky Spanky nor Slap & Tickle. These phrases demean what the acts mean to our clients. On top of which, spanking and other such physical consequences is big business. In this day and age of entitlement, there are still people who rebel against the modern belief that the world owes them something, that nothing is their fault, that all is fair in personal advancement. Oh, they still act as they don't want to, as social pressure demands from them, but then afterwards, they feel the guilt. Their conscience will not let them be until they have paid the price it demands. Once they have paid, they can return to sin again and will eventually be driven to seek our services again. And so it goes on, round and round and we help them achieve self-forgiveness and they pay us handsomely for that help.”
“So, there's no . . . funny business? Ever?” His tone was incredulous and implied that he didn't believe her.
“Okay, I'm not saying that there isn't sexual desire involved but we have to be very careful about such things. We abide by the laws of the country regarding legal ages for sex and we don't encourage the act between our teachers and their pupils. If such things arise . . .”
Vanessa smiled amusingly at her own choice of words,
“ . . . it happens off premises and off the Academy accounting system and we have no knowledge of any details involved.”
“Sometimes, during a punishment, a spontaneous reaction occurs and we accept that and we don't make a big deal about it unless the client wishes us to remonstrate with him over it. My ladies have to be trained in the art of reading a situation correctly and changing the dialogue accordingly in order to make the experience as fulfilling as possible for our clients."
"There is as much mental stimulation in spanking as there is physical and it wouldn't be appropriate to stop a scene half way through to ask for instruction on how they would like us to proceed. It would break the spell.”
“So, where do I fit in? Because I’m telling you now, I don’t think I could spank anyone without giggling.”
“Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be required to spank anyone, it would go against the natural order of things apart from anything else.”
He’d said it as a joke, something to relieve the tension that hung in the air because he hadn’t thought for one minute that she would want him involved in whatever went on in this world she was describing.
“As I mentioned, I will be recruiting staff. There are already dozens of professionals over here available for online and personal work but they aren't people I am interested in employing. I will be recruiting novices who are interested in the subject but have not yet practised the art.”
“Why don't you want the professionals? Surely it would be quicker with them and your start up time would be shorter, which would have to mean more profit?” Despite himself he was interested in her ideas of how to set up a new business in what, in his still youthful mind, he considered a slightly murky area.
“A good question, you're showing some aptitude for the family business.”
Todd felt ridiculously pleased at the dubious praise.
“The current professionals probably wouldn't want to restrict themselves to the rules I impose in the Academy. A lot of them may offer sexual favours or combine the two things together and as I just said, I don't allow that, so that would be a big change for them. They would earn more money doing their own thing so it would make no sense for them to work for me.”
“Also, I find the attitude of many of them towards their clients to not be in line with ours . . . no doubt, their own clients find the treatment pleasing but insults and humiliation is not something I approve of. I have different tolerances and expectations. Talking down to someone in an aggressive manner is in keeping with the level of society many people live in today and I find it distasteful. Thankfully so do most of my clients. The fact that they look to an earlier way of correction indicates that they also look to the niceties that went with it. Which means no swearing, no tattoos, no visible body piercings, politeness and manners even when delivering a scolding or a dressing down. I assure you that I can bring a man to tears with a hairbrush and a telling off faster than a leather bound dominatrix spitting in his face and calling him names is able to.”
The talk of her abilities made him squirm for some reason. To hear someone talk so casually of something so intimate and personal was odd and disconcerting.
“But don't you humiliate them by hitting them?”
His tone was confrontational and meant to irritate but Vanessa was a veteran and didn't rise to the natural urge to bite back. She smiled at him.
“No. First, we don't 'hit' them. That word implies violence and we don't use violence with our clients. They have no desire to be hit or punched or beat. They do however wish to be spanked or smacked or slippered.”
Todd gulped at her words. They caused in him a strange feeling that he wasn't comfortable with.
“Well, you can't deny that it would be humiliating being treated as a child,” he blurted out.
“No, not at all. Yes, there is a certain amount of humiliation involved but we concentrate it on what he has done wrong, not who he is. We let him enjoy the embarrassment if that is what he wants. We don't humiliate him for wanting or needing to be spanked, we praise him and reward him for having the courage to seek out what he needs. And we don't treat our clients as children. Some of them will choose scenes that imply childhood, such as a schoolroom, but it could just as easily be a work or home scenario. The underlying common denomination is that they are controlled and chastised by a woman in a position of power over them. That will be, for them, the important aspect. It's what motivates a lot of them.”
“But . . . why? Why do they want it?”
“That’s a complicated issue. For many, it harks back to an easier stage of their lives. When things were simpler, when all they had to do was obey the authority figure in their life, which was generally always the mother, and everything was perfect. They were cared for, loved, safe, fed, nurtured. They knew where they stood and what was expected of them and they knew with certainty what the consequences were for disobeying that authority figure. She would smack them or scold them or even just show her displeasure with a look. It's normally enough and most people grow out of needing that prop in their lives. But it's a fact that we live in a complicated society these days. There is a lot of pressure to do, to be, to prove, to succeed, to advance. All stressful things. It's not that odd when you think about it that some people find comfort in reliving those cared for moments to escape the pressure. We offer them one way of doing it, even if it involves a sore bottom.”
“But surely that doesn't fit with what you were saying about feeling guilty about having done something?”
“No, but there are many reasons why people turn to spanking Todd. I'm not a doctor nor a psychologist. I don't pretend to know all the precise reasons behind why people want what they want. Suffice to say that they do and it's something that I can provide for them. You could argue that there are adults who weren't given that authoritative support as a child and so would have no reason to seek it out as an adult and my answer to that would be that person on some deeper level may acknowledge what they missed out on. Or they still feel the guilt of their own bad behaviour that wasn't corrected at the time. Does that sound plausible to you Todd? Could you see how a man, one such as yourself maybe, might feel the need to offer restitution to make up for his past deeds?”
Todd didn't at all like where this conversation was going. He didn't want to answer her but he didn't quite dare to ignore her. Instead he lowered his eyes from hers to avoid the unanswered question still hanging in the air.
Silence filled the room until Vanessa took pity and continued to speak.
“The motivation of others will be purely sexual. The sensation of having one's bottom spanked and reddened is intoxicating. For those, the pain is the thing. The sting radiates outwards and is stimulating. We understand that and allow them to . . . enjoy the moment, shall we say.”
She watched his face as he realised what it was that she was describing and found his embarrassment endearing. No doubt he was used to what they called locker-room talk with his friends but she doubted that he had ever talked about such things with a woman.
“Regarding my ladies, the other thing to take into account is that many of the online dommes offering their services are little more than children themselves, in my eyes at least. Some are hardly old enough to impose self-control let alone control over others so I find I do better with older women, mid-twenties upwards as a minimum. It can be single ladies or even bored housewives wanting to find a means to earn some extra money. Mothers are particularly good. Generally.”
This last word was said with a lift of the eyebrows at Todd that told him clearly that she didn't think his own mother to be very good at exerting control over anyone, himself included.
He could not work out how he was meant to feel at this slur against his mother's lack at applying discipline.
“Anyway, these new ladies won't know the intricacies of how to deliver a punishment or a scolding to our standard so they need to be shown and to practice. Much like artists need a model to paint to perfect their art, so would our teachers. You would be their model.”
“So, they'd have to tell me off to practice how to do it?”
That just sounded plain silly to Todd. Who didn't know how to tell someone off and if that was all it was, he could easily cope with that if it meant being paid to do it. He was practically an expert at ignoring and tuning out reproaches.
“Yes. And spank you of course.”
“What?” Did she really just say that?
“There would be other types of punishments, not just spankings. There would be a paddle, a belt, a slipper, a hairbrush etc. All manner of implements would need to be practiced with until perfected just in case someone asked for that particular tool.”
“I doubt very much that anyone would request a cane as it’s more known in English society than here but it would have to be included on the off chance.”
She wasn't reacting at all to his screeched demand earlier, she just calmly laid out her proposal.
She explained that a house had already been leased, not far from the hotel they were currently in. A townhouse with a multitude of rooms that could be adapted to different themes. It had a private walled garden for outdoor scenes. It also had a basement apartment that Vanessa intended to keep as a private residence that consisted of two small bedrooms with a separate entrance. She was prepared to offer him one of the rooms rent free. She offered to cover his college fees and costs for the following six months if he would move in and make himself available for teaching sessions to her new staff whenever he was not in college or studying. If he stayed after she returned to England, he would have the apartment to himself, but she hoped that his college work were of a high enough standard at that point that he could assist in expanding their services in the future.
She told him that many clients wanted custom scenes and would be interested in having a session filmed for their personal use. Others would willingly be in a film that was then distributed publicly for sale if they were on the receiving end of a fee as well as a good hiding. She suggested that such experience might be good for him if he went on to have a career in film as he wanted.
When she came to a pause in her speech, he interrupted.
“Why me? Why on earth would you think I would be interested in something like that? I'm not a pervert.”
“Oh, everyone has a little bit of pervert in them, it just depends on how much is allowed to develop. And there's nothing wrong with that at all so please don't try to purposely offend me and my clients in that manner. To answer your question seriously. . . Why not you? You are family, it would be customary to extend the family business to include you. The model needs to be male, preferably young and attractive . . .”
“I get the male bit but why young if you said some of your clients were older.”
“Yes, but my ladies would be better off starting with a striking young man with a good body to help make the experience pleasurable for them. I know many women who would enjoy very much stripping you of your trousers and pants and taking you across their knees and spanking you. I'm positive it would – will - be very rewarding.”
Todd could feel his face turning red at her bluntness.
“How quaint. They will enjoy your blushes as well.”
“I think that as a novice yourself in the discipline sense, your reactions would be authentic and that is something that interests me. I want them to know what real distress and pain looks like. I think you would wriggle deliciously and we could get a charming hue of scarlet on your complexion. You're the right height to fit across someone's lap and tipped at the right angle, your feet would barely touch the ground. That would put you more at your spanker’s mercy and they will appreciate the feeling of power.”
“My proposal is that I teach you all you need to know about being spanked and punished and that you in turn teach it to my ladies. I would expect you to learn all you can and pass on your feelings and thoughts to my ladies. You would need to guide them in how to make you feel more dominated. Tell them what positions affect you the most and why. Teach them how to punish you effectively.”
“Why can't you just tell them?”
“Because they need to experience it first-hand. They need to know how a man’s body feels when it's being punished. And I need it to be a man who isn't doing it for pleasure. Who isn't doing it for a bit of 'hanky- spanky' as you put it. I need a man who knows that deep down he deserves it for all the things he's done wrong and is still doing and doesn't feel that it's right. And that's you, Todd, isn't it? Would you disagree that there's some small part of you that admits to needing to be punished?”
He didn't deny it, which he thought with hindsight was the same as admitting it.
“I think you want to atone for your sins, for all that bad behaviour in the past. If you accept, I can help you with that. And if you submit to me I’ll help you to step up and take control of your own life and stop relying on your parents to support you and be financially independent. I’ll give you the freedom you want.”
“That's ironic, isn't it? What you're proposing is me giving up control and giving it to you.”
“Not at all. By doing this you would be liberated from your parents as far as money goes. You’d be the one to decide if you prosper or not. You’d be the one to call a halt to it if you decide you don’t want to proceed. But it would have to be an informed decision and you’d have to be aware of the consequences in both manners. Your future would depend on you, no one else. Wouldn't you like that?”
“Yes, but . . . I don’t know. Do I have to decide here and now?”
“No, of course not. But I do need an answer fairly soon if I’m to look for someone else if you wish not to be involved. And I suppose you would need to give notice at your rented accommodation if you decide to go ahead. Today is 20th, I imagine you would have to give a month’s notice? That would give us all of the next month for you and me to work together and get you ready for passing on your classes before my ladies start the month after that.”
Todd sat down on the end of the bed and stared at the wall opposite without really seeing anything. He was thinking and was in turmoil. Making a decision right now was too hard, he needed to think of something else.
“But surely, if what you're saying is true, these . . . clients, would eventually learn not to do whatever it is that earns them their punishment. Even if it's only out of fear of the pain and not a genuine wish to be good. And then they wouldn't be clients anymore.”
“Not necessarily. It's true that for those of my clients who genuinely come to my Academy to look for a means to be able to forgive themselves for something will, eventually, stop coming. Some of them.”
“Others will find other reasons to come back whether they admit to themselves the reason or not. Some will find that they enjoy the experience, that they come to appreciate the pain and be turned on by it so will keep finding reasons to return. And of course, we never question their reasons other than the initial request for information.”
“And for all those that don't return for whatever reason, there are always more to take their place. The world will never be free or empty of wrong doing and thankfully it will never be free of people who feel the need to pay the price for it.”
“Can a spanking really do all that? I find it hard to believe.” Todd still had problems understanding the appeal.
“Oh yes. That and more. You get the idea of stress relief don’t you? Have you ever seen that old film with Liza Minelli and Michael York about Berlin?”
“Do you mean Cabaret?” Of course Todd had heard of it, it was on the study lists in his school and was considered a classic and currently very relevant.
“Yes, that’s it. You remember the scene where Liza Minelli stands under a bridge and screams when a train passes over? Yes? Good. Can you imagine how it must feel to do something like that? To let go of all that emotion inside and feel cleansed; that would be a powerful feeling and something that not many people get to experience. Doesn’t everyone wish for a chance, once in a while, to scream out their frustrations or rage at the world without having to resort to kicking doors or smashing things or hitting out at a loved one? Don’t you ever feel like screaming or crying because you don’t understand or the pressure is too much or you’re unhappy and don’t know how to stop it? That’s a big appeal for a lot of my clients. I give them an opportunity to cry with reason and release all of that tension. I give them a sense of peace for a while.”
Todd was frozen as he listened to her words. ‘God, she knew him.’ Everything she had described here this morning was him. The stress, the guilt, the feeling of lack of control in his life, the need to manage his life, pay his dues. It was all there. Everything.
“We aren't here to judge people for seeking what they need. Nor do we, ever, take advantage of the knowledge we hold. Privacy and discretion is paramount in our business, both for our clients and our teachers. And anyone else involved in any capacity.”
“I would expect you to adhere to that rule and know that you're included in it as well. We do our best to provide anonymity for those who want it as very often we have clients who are well known or in the public eye, locally if not nationally.”
Todd nodded at her words and understood what she was saying to him. Primarily the message was about whoever might attend her Academy for her services but she was also telling him that if he agreed, he would be safe. That whatever happened between them, she was offering him her care. A type of care that might be considered odd by some but it was still care.
A different sense of nurture and support.
“If my proposal interests you and you think you could do it, I suggest we do a trial run so you’re not making a decision based on theory.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s all very well standing here in the cold light of day with your trousers still buttoned telling yourself that you could cope with it. But I need to know - and so do you - if you can cope with it. As much as I want it to be effective and for you to feel it, I don’t need you getting hysterical or jumping up and punching me on the nose if it gets too much for you. I need to know if you can control your temper in extreme circumstances. And I’m willing to bet that the first one will be extreme for you as much in the physical as in the emotional.”
“I would suggest that prior to any learning sessions we do together, you allow me to spank you so you get an idea of what to expect.”
Todd thought that it was the most ridiculous thing anyone had ever said to him while still sober and in such a matter of fact tone.
“Here and now seems a good idea. Best strike while the iron is hot, so to speak. I’ll still allow you some time afterwards to decide if you want to go ahead and work in the Academy but this could serve two purposes. One, it will give you a true idea of what to expect and two, even if you did decide later on that you don’t want to go ahead, I think you want to do it, at least once.”
Todd looked at her in disbelief.
“Why would I want to do it? What makes you think that?”
“I can tell by several things. The change in your breathing, the way your eyes are dilated, the tension in your body, the blush rising up from your throat, the way you bite your lip in an unconscious attempt to stop yourself saying something you don't want me to know.”
“If you need an excuse to receive a spanking we can say it’s for your rudeness and attitude this morning if that makes it easier for you. Not everyone can just say yes, some people have to justify it and that’s not a problem.”
Todd felt his breathing deepen even more and a brand new future hovered in front of him, slightly out of reach but visible none the less.
All he had to do now was decide if it was something he wanted . . .
Tbc . . .