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It was a sloshy day. It wasn’t truly raining, but a mist hung in the air that dissolved last week’s snow into cold muddy rivulets that cut mini trenches through the front garden. Christmas was well and truly over, and now it was just grey, cold, and slushy.
A clump of the slush fell onto Kristen’s wrist and trickled up the inside of her sleeve as she tugged the string of lights off of the bush. Dropping the lights in a huff, she shook her arm furiously as she clumsily danced to rid herself of the freezing slop.
Giving her chilled arm a final shake, she returned her attention to the string of lights she had dropped. One of the bulks had been crushed under her feet. “Figures,” she snorted. A problem for Josh to sort out next December, she decided as she re-coiled the loose end of the string and resumed her attempt to free the rest of it from the bush. Why did he have to wind it so tightly around the branches? Sure, the lights had withstood the winter winds, but did they really need to be so firmly secured? He must have done this just to irritate me, she thought, recalling the warm, sunny day when her husband had whistled holiday tunes as he decorated the yard. They had both been filled with holiday spirit that day, he in the yard and she in the kitchen, baking away in preparation for receiving his family for the first time at their new house. She had been so excited. Silly, she thought now as she shivered.
Sure, the holiday had been merry with plenty of relatives filling the house, children cheerily running amok. She had been careful to child-proof the house and had escaped the madness with no damage aside one broken vase and a stubbed two-year-old toe. She had been flustered at the time, though someone- Aunt Rose, was she? there were far too many of them to keep track of, this being the first time she had seen many of them since her wedding- had assured her that it was much better than last year’s do, which had culminated in an overturned Christmas tree and a trip to the hospital to set a broken arm.
Everyone had been very merry indeed, and Kristen should have been relieved, happy even, but she wasn’t. She was exhausted. She also had a house full of post-Christmas mess awaiting her attention. The lights seemed like a great way to procrastinate, an excuse to get out of the house and do something other than clean.
Another tug failed to free any more of the string, so she plunged her hand into the depths of the bush to free the next bulb. The bulb came free, but so did another glop of wintry slop that fell right through the wrist opening of her glove, freezing her fingers and triggering a repeat of her slush dance, this time complete with a storm of very unfestive language.
As she replaced the glove and rubbed her hand to warm it she looked up to the front window just in time to catch a smirk from her husband. How dare he? All warm snug like that in there, while I’m slaving away out in the cold, she thought as she shot him a glare.
In a shower of needles, the end of the first string came free as she tugged again, sending her sprawling backwards into the mud.
Sopping and shivering, she crawled back to her feet and turned her attention ot the next string woven through the small tree by the front door. She had just worked the first end loose when her husband appeared at the door.
“Come in before you freeze,” he asked her as his eyes glittered with suppressed laughter.
“I’m not done,” she huffed. “Either help me or leave me alone.”
“The lights can wait; I’m making hot chocolate. Best drink it while it’s warm.”
“Oh, drink it yourself!” she spat at him. “It will take me ages to undo all your twisting out here! Who taught you to put up lights like this? It’s completely unnecessary and just creates more work for me.”
“I’ll take care of it later, provided you can be a nice girl. Or have you forgotten so soon that Santa is always watching?” he added with a wink that only served to infuriate her. “Come in and at least put on dry clothes; that can’t be comfortable.”
“They’ll only get wet and muddy too, and make more washing.” She pulled the string with all her might, loosing both the end and a few whippy branches as she sprawled backward again as if to prove her point.
“Come here now,” Josh commanded in a much darker voice that demanded obedience.
Kristen shrugged in defeat, lying to herself that it was the lights, not her husband, that had gotten the best of her. She fished the first string out of the mud as Josh picked up the second and the branches that had been ripped from the tree. He turned them over in his hands to examine them before tucking them under his arm as he ushered his wife inside.
She stood dripping on the mat as she glared at him. “Take those off here,” he indicated her muddy jeans. “No sense in getting the whole house dirty again.”
“Again?” she sputtered. “Your family made such a mess of the place, a little mud would hardly make a difference. As long as I’m scrubbing the place I may as well have the pleasure of contributing to the filth.” She brushed past him angrily and emerged into. . .a spotless kitchen.
“What happened?” she gasped.
“The little Christmas elves must have been busy,” Josh suggested, amused at her confusion. “I thought you needed a break, and wanted to surprise you. Besides, I grew up with those people. Their messes might be overwhelming to someone from a smaller family, but they’re nothing new to me.”
“Thank you,” Kristen muttered, “and sorry.”
“Oh, you will be,” Josh replied using his dark tone again. “I’m beginning to think that Santa may have been wrong in giving you all the nice gifts this year, but it looks like nature has provided just what you need.”
Confused again, Kristen turned to see that he was still carrying the branches that she had inadvertently torn from the tree.
“Cheer up, at least this will save you another trip outside in the cold,” Josh smirked as he began to peel the branches. “Now, what did I say about those jeans?”
Kristen blushed, her anger dissipated in face of the evidence of her husband’s thoughtfulness that morning. Slowly,she removed her jeans, wrapping the muddiest portions to the inside before setting them aside and mopping up the muddy trail she had left to the front door.
When she finished, she returned to the kitchen to find Josh flexing the first of the switches he had prepared.
“Where do you want me?” she asked, unable to meet his eye.
Josh pulled out a chair from the table. “Bend over the back, elbows on the seat.”
She truly hated this position, and he knew it. Aside from the discomfort and how it stretched out her behind, it was difficult to get into. She felt that at any moment the chair might topple over. It never had, Josh made sure of that, but it was a fear that prevented her from indulging in any of her usual squirming and kicking. Any other day she might have argued, but she had to admit that on this occasion she definitely deserved whatever he gave.
She squirmed into position as Josh helped her, his hands warm and steady. As embarrassing as it was to need to be assisted in this particular task, she missed their presence when they left her body to pick up a switch. A hand returned to her back, but as much as she wanted to enjoy it’s support, she knew this meant that he was about to begin. She held her breath as she waited for the first blow, releasing it in a hiss as the switch left a line of fire on her nearly frozen behind. It didn’t stay frozen for long, as Josh plied the switch again and again, coaxing blood back to the surface as a red glow spread across her cheeks.
The switching stopped and Kristen was halfway through a sigh of relief that she had survived when she felt another switch tapping against her bottom as Josh lined up the next stroke. She let out a sob as she remembered the multiple switches he had prepared. How many had she pulled from the tree? Surely it was only three. Only three- one had nearly brought her to tears.
“I see you’re warming up nicely, though I don’t think you’re quite done yet,” Josh told her sternly a the switch rested on her behind. Kristen gripped the edge of the seat as she steeled herself for the next part of the switching.
“I think that hot chocolate might do the trick though,” Josh continued as he set the switch aside and pulled his relieved wife into his arms. “Just remember, He’s watching all year round. We’ll hang onto the rest of these, just in case you need them before He visits again,” Josh continued, glancing over at the other switches. “I’ll put on the kettle, you know where to wait,” he finished and sent her to her corner with final swat on the bottom. She was about to protest when she saw that a fire was crackling in the fireplace near her usual corner. He really had been thinking of her this morning, she thought, giving him a small smile over he shoulder as she positioned herself and allowed the fire to finish warming her in a more pleasant way.