I like to ask before he starts, like to know what I’m in for so that I can mentally prepare. For the same reasons, he doesn’t like to tell me.
“Until you cry.”
His answer throws me off guard, though I shouldn’t be surprised. He loves my tears. In defense, I respond to his sentence teasingly. All bluster and bravado, a stark contrast to the bundle of nerves quietly taking up residence in my quivering stomach.
“So… if I cry right away, you’ll stop?”
I don’t want to admit how likely it is that I will. He may like my tears, but I don’t. Given a choice I’ll always struggle to hold them back, to be brave and strong. These days I rarely win.
“I’ll stop when you’re really crying. I’ll know.”
And then he starts. I can’t remember what he uses; the bath brush probably because I do cry almost immediately. It’s really a pitifully short time between the first stinging stroke and the moment he notices the tears sliding down my face, my shoulders shaking with the soft gasps and cries I’m still struggling to hold in.
True to his word, he stops, gathers me to him and holds me quietly against his chest. We’re still laying like that a few moments later when I pull myself together enough to speak.
“I told you I could cry right away.”
The words are out of my mouth before my mind can send up warning bells. I don’t even mean them; the words may be true, but the inference is not. There’s no time to backtrack, though you can bet I try, as his face darkens into a menacing frown and he stalks off, reappearing a moment later holding the frat paddle.
There’s something dangerous looking about him right now, and it thrills me, but my sense of self-preservation has finally kicked in and I shake my head. He doesn’t wait for me to comply. His hand is rough as he grabs my arm and tugs me after him, placing me into my least favorite position.
This time the tears start before the first stroke falls. This time there is no mercy. This time, when he wraps me in his arms, I am quiet. This time we both win, because I lost.