It was dark. And cold.
Lucy stared out the window of her car, gazing at the drab grey clinic building and wishing she were still in bed. Six-thirty was far to early to be awake, not that that was a terribly accurate description of her current state, she thought as she yawned. She hadn’t even had her coffee yet, and was in her typical pre-caffeine zombie-like trance, though with an undercurrent of anxiety this morning. It wouldn’t be coffee that would break her trance today.
She had been tempted to sleep in and try to come later in the day, but she knew that if she wanted to get to work on time she would need to get here as soon as the clinic opened to beat the crowd. Of course, she could have scheduled an appointment, but that would have involved planning, something at which she had never really excelled. Although, as she sat shivering in her car she promised herself she would schedule one next time. It would only be colder then. Then again, if she could learn to plan ahead she may not need to come back. Though the chances of that happening were slim, she admitted.
She saw the young woman she recognized as the receptionist stride up to the front doors, unlock them, flick on the lights and disappear inside. Here goes, she thought as she slowly collected her purse and stepped out into the frigid pre-dawn October air. As she trudged to the door, Lucy caught the eye of another early-rising woman and gave her a small shy smile and received one in return. The two of them stood silently along the edge of the corridor just inside the main door as they waited for the reception area to open for business.
The friendly, quiet tension was soon broken when a third woman bounced in. “Hello!” she offered cheerily and incongruously, flashing them both a big grin as she joined their queue.
It took Lucy a moment to find her voice, taken aback my the new arrival’s attitude. “Good morning,” she finally added a few beats later. Her new companion didn’t seem to notice the delay as she slid down the wall and plopped cross-legged onto the floor to wait.
“I guess you could say that, if you were a polar bear,” the new girl laughed. “Winter seems to have come early this year, and I, for one, am not ready. I thought I would freeze my butt off just walking to the door. Now THAT wold cause problems later on!” she winked.
Lucy couldn’t help but be caught up on the girl’s infectious attitude. It made a nice change from the typical anxious wait.
Soon the two of them were engaged in lively conversation about nothing, though their other companion kept her peace, glumly studying the patterns in the carpet. When the door slid open again, they looked up anxiously to see who might next join their little group. The man at the door was dark-skinned, tall, build like a professional football player, and carrying a large mug of coffee that Lucy eyed enviously.
“Good morning!” her new friend exclaimed.
“Hrmph,” he returned, managing to not look at any of them as he schluffed past.
“He’s the grouchiest employee here,” the bubbly girl laughed as he disappeared into the clinic.
“Maybe he’s just not a morning person,” Lucy added. “He always seems so nice once you get back there.”
“I know! Weird, huh? Is it bad that we come here often enough to know them all?” the bubbly girl asked.
Lucy blushed, and was grateful that the inner doors to the clinic opened and the conversation stopped as they all bustled in; she did not want to dwell on that thought. The three of them signed in, Lucy and the quiet woman on the walk-in list, and the talkative one on the list for those with appointments. Of course she would have an appointment, Lucy thought as she settled into one of the chairs in the waiting room. No one talked here. Even if they had been able to pretend out in the hallway, the atmosphere here was. . .different. It was furnished like any other waiting room, with just enough on the walls to keep the place from seeming too barren, though there was little enough to hold anyone’s attention for long. The smell of antiseptic, though typical in any medical office, seemed somehow ominous here.
“Erica!” The receptionist soon called out, and the bubbly girl rose, gave her a small smile, and disappeared around the corner.
Lucy turned her attention back to the carpet, tracing the patterns with her eye in an almost meditative state as she tried to prepare herself for what was to come.
“Lucy!” she heard the receptionist call all too soon. Shaking a little, she grabbed her purse and shuffled around the corner to the reception desk. Sitting down, she handed over her referral slip and ID. The receptionist scanned the form and tsked slightly. “Looks like you’re in for an intense session,” she muttered quietly.
Lucy blushed. This wasn’t news to her. She didn’t know the details of what was in store but had worked out enough of the referral coding to know that this would be a particularly unpleasant visit. The receptionist efficiently entered her information into the computer system, stamped her referral, and handed back the slip. “Room 2, just down the hall to the right. You have five minutes to prepare yourself. The instructions are on the back of the door if you’ve forgotten,” she instructed, and Lucy got up to obey.
Room 2, like all the rooms here, was bright, clean, and spartan. There was a small shelf by the door, on which Lucy placed her purse and coat. Otherwise, the room was furnished only with a small padded bench and an imposing cabinet, painted the same bright white as the walls. Lucy remembered reading somewhere that nurses no longer wore white because other, softer colors put patients more at ease and promoted healing. Whoever designed these rooms must have used the exact opposite logic.
Lucy continued in her preparations, not needing to consult the printed card on the door. She removed her skirt and hung it from the hook on the door, placed her shoes under the shelf, then removed her panties and stockings and stuffed them into her purse. The instructions didn’t specify what she was to do with her clothes, but there were limited options and she certainly didn’t need to leave those lying out for anyone to see.
Once she was undressed, she lowered herself over the bench and waited. Soon enough she heard the door open. She could see just enough of the room behind her to know that it was the man she’d seen arrive earlier. She breathed a small sigh of relief; he really was the nicest one, despite his gruff morning voice, and today of all days she felt fortunate to have him here.
“Lucy Bardwell,” he stated, examining her referral slip, “can you confirm your date of birth?”
For the next few minutes as he completed her paperwork Lucy started to relax a little. It really was getting easier, if still suitably unpleasant, now that she was familiar with the staff. She remembered her first visit clearly. That time she had worked herself into such a state that she was openly weeping before they had even finished filling out the forms. There were always so many forms. Why did they need so many forms, and why did they need to be filled out every time? How much could possibly have changed? The ritual of completing the paperwork did, however, offer her a chance to resign herself to what was about to happen.
Although paperwork seemed to last forever in any other circumstance, it was over too soon here. She heard him walk over to the cabinet and open it. She turned her head and closed her eyes. She did not want to see what he was retrieving.
“You chose not to be restrained, but if you break position or interfere in any way, the stroke will not count and you will receive an extra,” he informed her per procedure as he stood behind her.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, gritting her teeth and squeezing the handles under the bench as hard as she could.
The first stroke landed with a resounding crack louder than she had ever heard. It stung, but she hadn’t even really begun to feel the pain when the next stroke landed. This was a new sensation. She almost wished she had looked at what he was using this time, but as the pain grew exponentially she was glad she didn’t know. Surely she would dissolve into a sobbing mess whenever she saw someone retrieving a whatever-it-was if she could recognize it. Even now her tears were flowing freely, and she couldn’t have taken more than ten strokes.
He didn’t count, which she appreciated. The strokes just continued, and continued. She knew that this would be her worst session yet, but had no idea how much worse, having neither asked for nor been told the number of strokes she was to receive.
She tried her best not to struggle, but as the punishment went on she couldn’t help but to squirm a bit. She felt him place his hand on her back, a warm, calm and steady weight that stilled her even as his other hand continued her punishment.
“Half way,” he announced, and her panting turned into a high-pitched wail. Half way? She’d never hurt quite this much at the end of a session, never mind half way through. “You have two minutes to rest before we continue,” he added in the voice he used when reciting required lines.
This statement, even more than the one proclaiming her ordeal only half way over, made it clear to her that this session would dwarf all those that came before. Never before had she been required to take a break in the middle of a session. She had read about such things when she signed the waivers on her first visit, though, as she had been here many times without being given a break, she had assumed they were used for only the worst sessions. As she laid over the bench and panicked, she felt him softly rub her back, murmuring something about how well she was doing. It almost made the wait pleasant, but the burning throb behind her kept her mind focused on why she was there and what was to come.
He started again, and she could have sworn he was hitting harder now. Her squeals ran together into one continuous plea for it to end. She tried to get up, regretting her decision to remain unrestrained, but he kept a firm pressure on the small of her back that made it nearly impossible to move.
She didn’t realize when it had ended, but knew that it must have when she realized that both of his hands were now on her back, rubbing her shoulders soothingly as she sobbed.
She tried to stand up. She knew the routine, but he gently held her in place. “Take your time, no hurry today. We don’t expect you to recover as quickly from this one and I can tell you’re not ready just yet,” he said softly, sounding completely unlike the grunting man she’d seen earlier that morning. His gentle voice and hands brought out a fresh round of sobbing, proving him quite right that she needed more time. Several minutes later when her sobs abated she tried to stand up again and he let her, looking her in the eye for the first time.
“You did well,” he said simply, and before she knew what she was doing she reached out to hug him. He returned her embrace, and it didn’t even occur to her until much later that this might have been inappropriate. In the security of his arms she began crying yet again, though softer this time.
When she was finally ready, he took her by the hand, lead her to the post-waiting room, and left her in the corner, squeezing her shoulder gently before he departed. The corner was usually peaceful, and was especially so today. Other than the throbbing ache in her bottom, she felt entirely serene. That’s the other advantage to coming early, she thought. At this hour the only other occupant was Erica, who had either had a particularly mild session or had finished early enough that her sniffles had abated before Lucy had arrived. A few fellow sniffling penitents arrived as she stood there, but the room was far from crowded.
Half an hour later, the receptionist tapped her shoulder and handed over her things. “You’re free to go now,” she stated briefly and business-like before returning to her desk to process the next check-in.
Lucy winced as she slipped back into her skirt. She would need to find an excuse to get away from her desk this morning. She didn’t even relish the thought of the brief drive down the street to her office, never mind a day spent typing away on a sore bottom. If she was going to be in for more sessions like this, she might even get a cushion, provided she could come up with a reasonable explanation in the event her coworkers noticed.