Stacey glanced nervously down at the bulge in her satchel as she hustled down the footpath to Scott’s apartment. Would anyone else notice? If they did, would they know it was a paddle? She jumped as a few leaves skittered across the darkened path. She was being silly, she knew. After all, she hadn’t really done anything wrong.
If questioned, she could always say it wasn’t hers. That much, at least, would be the truth. Taking the thing had seemed like a good bit of fun- no, more than that- a good deed, even. It was clear that Lucy, her roommate, hated the paddle and all that it represented. It was very mean of her new sorority sisters to make her carry it around all the time. Lucy should be glad that she had a roommate who was thoughtful enough to relieve her of that burden. It was her duty, Stacey thought. They had been the best of friends since they both arrived at the university last year, and Lucy should know that Stacey was only looking after her best interests.
Stacey wished she didn’t have to carry the paddle around with her now, though. It couldn’t be helped; she knew that Lucy would turn the room upside-down searching for the thing. Stacy grinned as she thought back to the chaos that had ensued that last time Lucy had “lost” her paddle. Stacey had taken it down from its peg on the wall while Lucy was out. She had been fascinated by it ever since Lucy had brought it back after her pledging night, and was eager to take advantage of an opportunity to examine it more closely without arousing suspicion. How was she supposed to know that Lucy would return a mere three minutes later to retrieve the thing. As Stacy heard the key in the lock, she had hastily shoved it out of sight under her bed and affected a calm pose reading her chemistry book as a panicked Lucy entered the room. The look on her face when she realized the paddle was missing from its peg was nothing short of comical, as was her dive into the pile of clothing that seemed to perpetually live in the corner of their room as she began her frantic search.
Stacey had watched with ill-concealed amusement for several minutes before finally deciding that she should take pity on her roommate.
“What are you looking for?” Stacey asked in what she hoped was an innocent-sounding voice.
Lucy paused for a moment. Although the paddle hung in plain sight whenever Lucy was in the room, the two of them had never discussed it. Stacy, deeply curious about the object and its purpose, had tried to steer their conversations in that direction on occasion, but Lucy had proven quite adept at redirection.
“I seem to have misplaced something. It’s a short piece of wood, about. . .” Lucy blushed deeper as she realized she didn’t have time to dance around the subject. “I’ve lost my sorority paddle, and I have a meeting with Susan, my big sister, in less than fifteen minutes. The sisters are always making vague threats about the consequences of not carrying our paddles throughout our pledgeship. I really really don’t want to have to find out the details.” Lucy began violently digging through her desk drawers, nearly disappearing in a shower of paper.
Stacey began to feel a bit uneasy. She hadn’t meant to get her roommate in trouble. Still, she also felt a bit of a thrill as she wondered what those vague threats might entail. She made a show of looking around Lucy’s bed before producing the paddle while Lucy was dumping clothing out of her closet.
“Is this what you were looking for?” she asked.
“Yes!” Lucy exclaimed. “Thank you so so much!” She glanced at the wall clock briefly before shuffling through the piles of her belongings to the door. “If I hurry I might not be late. See you!” With that, Lucy was gone, leaving Stacey in a room that looked something like the aftermath of a tornado.
To assuage her guilt, Stacey began straightening the room. It took nearly two hours to set everything back to how it had been, or at least as best as she could guess. She was just closing a drawer full of newly-straightened papers when Lucy returned to the room.
“Did you make it?” Stacey asked hopefully.
“Almost.” Lucy said, not quite meeting her eye. Stacey watched as she got into bed and turned her back to the room. “Thanks, though. It would have been much worse if you hadn’t helped,” Lucy offered before she turned out her light.
Stacey had pondered the short conversation long into the night. She knew Lucy was embarrassed by the paddle- it was a rather strange thing to tote around- but could it be more than that? Was it just her imagination, or had Lucy sat down rather gingerly before getting into bed? Surely the sisters didn’t actually use those things on the pledges.
As the next few weeks went on, Stacey had watched her roommate very carefully. At first, Lucy always went straight to bed after meeting at the sorority house. As their coursework got more intense, however, this was no longer an option. Shortly after Lucy began a habit of sitting at her desk to study after her evening meetings, Stacey noticed that she had invested in a cushion for her chair.
As intrigued as Stacey was, she wasn’t about to embarrass her roommate more by asking directly. She might have let the matter drop entirely if it hadn’t been for a passing comment from Lucy that morning. They had both woken late. The night before had been quite fun, though Stacey questioned whether it was worth it as she nursed a headache while rushing through her morning routine. Lucy was nearly out the door before Stacy noticed the paddle still hanging on the wall. “Forgetting something?” she prompted her friend.
“Oh drat,” Lucy cursed in her quaint way. “I hate this thing, I truly do. I can’t wait until I no longer have to carry it around,” she muttered as she hastily stuffed it into her bag.
That afternoon, Stacey saw what she decided was a chance to help her friend. Lucy had disappeared to the room across the hall to get a second opinion on her history essay, leaving her paddle behind. With a quick grin, Stacey took the paddle off the wall and shoved it into her satchel. She felt a fleeting pang of guilt, but told herself she was being a good friend. Lucy would certainly continue to carry the thing around with her as long as her new sisters told her to. However, if the paddle went missing, she couldn’t help it. Surely her sisters would understand.
Stacey briefly considered putting the paddle back, but decided against it. To cement her decision, she decided to head out to visit Scott for the evening. She hadn’t seen her boyfriend in nearly three days, having spent nearly every spare hour preparing for her midterm exams. She surely deserved a break, or at least a change of venue for her studying. As she walked through the brisk October evening, she tried to convince herself that the whole purpose of the trip was to make up for a bit of lost time with Scott, and that it had nothing to do with any uncertainty or guilt from stealing the paddle.
It almost worked, too. At the first smile from Scott, all thought of her petty crime was banished from her mind. It could have been the start of a perfect evening, but when she flopped down on the sofa next to him and opened her bag to drag out a handful of textbooks when the paddle clattered to the floor. Stacey tried to shove it back in the bag before Scott noticed, but it was too late.
“Where did you get that?” Scott asked, with a mischievous glint in his eye that soon faded to a darker expression as Stacey hesitated.
“It’s my roommate’s. . .” Stacey began, unsure of how much of the story she wanted to share with Scott. “I figured I should look after it for her for a while.”
“She’s pledging Kappa, right?” Scott asked. “I heard a few of them whining about the paddles before class yesterday. I thought they were supposed to carry them at all times?”
“Well, yes, but she hates the thing. I decided she deserved the evening off.” Stacey added feebly.
Scott held her gaze sternly. “You decided? I would think that sort of thing would be decided by the sisters. Are you sure you didn’t just decide to cause a bit of trouble for her?”
Stacey tried to deny it, but after a bit of prodding and a decidedly awkward conversation, she had to admit that he was right. A warning to not let her curiosity and sense of mischief get in the way of her friendship with her roommate, as well as few well-placed paddle swats from Scott, helped cement his point. He sent her back to return it with what Stacey though was an ominously satisfied expression.
Stacey slipped back into her room and hung the paddle back on it’s peg, relieved that Lucy was still at her pledge meeting and that any confrontation with her could be postponed. Stacy quickly readied herself for bed and turned out the light, hoping to buy herself until at least the next morning. Lying alone in the dark, however, she had nothing to distract herself from her thoughts of what Lucy might be going through.
Stacey feigned sleep when Lucy returned. She peered out through barely-open eyes as her roommate gasped when noticing that the paddle had appeared back on its hook before very carefully sliding herself onto her bed on her stomach.
After a sleepless night Stacey rose early the next morning, eager to get away before Lucy could ask about the previous evening’s events. She even visited the library after class- for the first time since she had come to the university- to avoid going back to her room right away. Eventually the echoing silence of the place began to wear on her already frayed nerves, and she decided that it was time to face the girl she hoped was still her friend.
Stacey entered the room cautiously, and was both relieved and a little frightened to see that Lucy was there, propped up on her elbows on the bed reading a textbook. “Are you alright?” Stacey asked to open the conversation she had been dreading. “That can’t be comfortable.”
In the brief glance Lucy gave her roommate, Stacey realized that she had been crying. “Oh, it’s nothing,” Lucy replied quickly before turning back to her book.
“It doesn’t look like nothing, what’s wrong?” Stacey prompted.
“Nothing you need to be concerned about. Just a silly prank. Susan. . .addressed it last night, and everything seems to be back as it should be now. All part of pledging, I guess.”
Stacey opened and closed her mouth a few more times, on the verge of confessing. She tried to think of something else she could offer- another question, a sign of support, but nothing came to mind. She had been expecting a fight. Yelling. Something. Not this quiet acceptance.
She silently sat down at her desk instead, trying to distract herself with homework. It didn’t work. Neither did going to bed early, as she tossed and turned for most of the night. In her restless anxiety, she did manage to come up with an idea. It may be a crazy idea, she thought, but at least it didn’t involve a more direct conversation with Lucy. With the first bit of resolve she felt since the debacle began, Stacey finally fell into a deep sleep.
Her resolve lasted until the next afternoon when she found herself on the doorstep of the house. It was an imposing structure- an old stone building that pre-dated the university. It had an actual knocker. Try as she might, Stacey couldn’t find a more conventional way of alerting the occupants to her presence. Lifting the heavy handle, she let it fall with a bang. To an objective observe, it was probably more click than bang, but to her it was the knock of a gavel deciding her fate. Stacey shivered as she looked up and down the street, wondering who else had heard.
“Can I help you?” a voice asked. Stacey jumped as the voice abruptly brought her awareness back to the doorstep and regarded the girl that stood before her. Barely older than herself, it seemed silly to be afraid of her. Although close in age, they were certainly not close in appearance. While Stacey had embraced the casual laid-back tracksuit and pony tail look that only college students could get away with, the girl who had answered the door had a far more refined look about her. Her clothing was simple but flattered her figure and her blonde hair tumbled down to her shoulders in gentle waves. The girl had a calm, confident, almost regal air about her, that contrasted sharply with Stacey’s own jittering uncertainty.
“Yes,” Stacey replied hesitantly, “I’m looking for Susan.”
“You’ve looked very well then; you’ve found her,” the girl replied with a grin, “and you are?”
“Stacey- Lucy’s roommate. I would like to . . .I have a private matter that I would like to discuss”
The look of mild confusion on Susan’s face was soon replaced with one of tentative understanding. “Ah- I see. Would you like to come inside?”
“Er. .. yes,” Stacey answered as she allowed herself to be ushered into the entrance hall. Surrounded by panelling and portraits, Stacey felt as though she had been transported to another time. It felt more like the home of nobility than college students, and it would not have seemed unusual if a Lord something-or-other emerged from one of the ornately carved doors. The entrance remained mercifully empty as Susan lead her up a wide staircase of polished wood to a corridor on the second floor. Pushing open one of the many doors, she ushered Stacey into a plush chair in a cozy, homey room that somehow managed to not seem out of place in the otherwise cold and stately building.
“We don’t usually allow guests in our bedrooms, but since you’re a friend of my little sister I’ll make an exception in your case. What was it that you wanted to tell me?”
Stacey paused, but with a Susan’s gentle encouragement and understanding smile, the story soon came spilling out.
“I see,” Susan said when she had finished. “These sorts of pranks do happen from time to time, though rarely does the offender confess. That you came here to tell me this speaks highly of you. Our sisterhood places a great deal of value on integrity and discipline, and it must have taken a great deal of both to come here. You must be a very good friend to our little Lucy.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Stacey blushed. “I saw what you did to Lucy, or the aftermath, and couldn’t sleep.”
“What I did to Lucy?” Stacey laughed. “Lucy should be well-used to that sort of thing by now. Besides, she was warned. Paddle-theft is common enough among pledges. She should have kept a better eye on it. She certainly will from now on.”
“Well, maybe, but. . . it seemed wrong for her to go through something like that when she didn’t really do anything. I was at least a guilty as she was”
“What do you mean?” Susan asked. The following silence told Stacey that Susan would not be letting her off the hook for this one. If she wanted to do more than confess, she would need to ask.
“I thought that maybe . . . since it was me that started all this. . .that maybe I should have the same as Lucy did. . .” Stacey managed, staring at her shoes all the while.
“That is very brave of you, but I think that would be a bit harsh. Lucy is used to our methods of dealing with deficiencies, while you are not. At least not yet.”
Susan smiled, but did not elaborate. “In the meantime, if you’re determined to atone for your actions which lead to Lucy’s discomfort, I could provide a taste of what she received.”
Stacey nodded slowly.
Susan suddenly became very business-like. “Very well. Stand up and bend over with your elbows on the desk,” she instructed, indicating the desk in the corner.
Stacey complied, wondering what she had gotten herself into. Resting on her elbows on the hard, polished surface, she heard Susan rustling behind her. A moment after the noise stopped, she felt a gentle pressure on her bottom.
“The first paddling each pledge receives is ten swats. I am going to give you the same.” Susan stated. She didn’t wait for a reply before delivering the first stroke.
It hurt. A lot. Stacey gasped as she recovered her senses. Susan gave her a moment to compose herself before delivering the second swat. The sting brought tears to Stacey’s eyes and she balled her fists. The pain intensified again with the next stroke. Stacey let out a wail as she gained a new appreciation for what her roommate was going through. It was an ordeal, but it also felt right. Cleansing, even.
“I hope this is satisfying your curiosity,” Susan said half way through. “Paddlings are not a game for us. We expect the highest standards of behaviour from our pledges, and this is how we enforce those standards. Lucy is learning, though I’m sure she would appreciate it if you showed her support rather than caused more trouble for her.”
Stacey could only nod through her tears. Susan spared her from replying by delivering the next swat, rendering Stacey incapable of speech.
By the time her paddling was complete, Stacey was sobbing. And Susan had said that Lucy had received more? All because of her little prank, and yet Lucy had not complained, had not argued, but merely accepted it. She had a newfound respect for her roommate.
Susan pulled her up into a hug. “You took that very well for your first time. I didn’t hold back, but you needed that, didn’t you?”
Stacey nodded as she sniffed into Susan’s shoulder.
“Are you alright?” Susan asked when Stacey had stopped crying.
“I guess so,” she replied.
“Good. I am glad you came, but more than that, I think you understand more of what Lucy is learning during her pledgeship. The paddle hurts, but it also teaches. It also bonds.”
Stacey nodded again.
“You’ll make an excellent sister,” Susan told her with a parting hug as she showed her out the door.
Stacey slowly, tenderly walked back to her dorm room, pondering Susan’s words.
“I hear you paid a visit to Susan.” Lucy began when she returned to their room after her meeting that evening.
“What? Oh. It was nothing,” Stacey replied, cringing at the resemblance to Lucy’s similarly vague response to questions after her own paddling the previous day.
“Not from what I hear,” Lucy said accusingly. “ She told me you were the one who stole my paddle.”
“Oh. No, I didn’t steal it, just sort of borrowed it for a bit,” Stacey offered, hoping that her friend wouldn’t hold a grudge.
“Right, just like you ‘borrowed’ by big sister for a bit today?” Lucy asked sternly. Stacey could only gape in return. She had known that Lucy may find out- perhaps even hoped she would. She hadn’t expected the embarrassment when confronted with this knowledge though. Lucy’s dark demeanour soon broke into a good-natured laugh as she hugged her friend.
“It’s alright,” Lucy giggled. “I heard the two of you had quite the heart-to-heart, and that you understand a bit more about the values of our order. Don’t worry. When you join us you’ll have a big sister and a paddle of your very own,” she added with a wink.