Her thoughts weren’t toiled or roiling, nothing as violent as that. Just gently lapping waves, unrelenting in their movement and somehow completely incapacitating. Her laptop screen remained blank before her, finally giving into the black darkness of electronic hibernation as her mind floated along with the music, each track dredging up new old memories from the watery depths of the past. Ceaselessly, tirelessly swirling.
And yet she was exhausted. She had came here to find peace, a small slice of public tranquillity in the early morning hours of a cafe recovering from the pre-work rush before the impending bustle that the lunch hour brought. She shared the open space with few other patrons, a pair of elderly women chirping happily in the corner, a businessman immersed in a paperback on his day off. The rest of them seemed to have found the peace that she sought so desperately.
It had to be here somewhere. This was home now. This was where she belonged. She knew it as she walked through the drizzling rain, the wetness that made private puddles in her shoes and soaked through her water-resistant but not quite waterproof coat, sending chills to her core. She knew it when she looked up at the rolling hills beyond the town, covered in patchwork fields dotted with sheep. She knew it when she sat at the pub, coming and going alone but never lacking companionship.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked. She almost laughed at him. The cafe was all but empty, and yet he had chosen to set his tray on the adjacent table. Something in his expression stopped her laugh before it formed. She recognised something there- the personal security that let him get on with his life and continue to function, and yet a yearning for companionship. A look that conveyed so much, emotions that were so familiar. So much emotion packed into a casual introductory comment.
“Of course, sit down,” she replied as the stranger joined her, cutting through her own loneliness as they slowly inched their way from small talk to genuine conversation.
And so it began.
Bent over the back of her chair, she tried to remember the sequence of events that had gotten her into this position. It seemed to have gone so quickly, and yet months had passed. Months over which she had developed a routine in her new home. She started each day with a quiet coffee in what was becoming her favourite cafe, though that preference had little to do with the decidedly average beverage. Nor did it have anything to do with the amount of work she was able to accomplish as she sat there.
He had made a routine of joining her. Every day, without fail, he would ask to accompany her on the stationary journey that is morning coffee. She found this daily question ridiculous and yet comforting; he made no assumptions about invading her space, always asking to be allowed into her corner, into her morning routine.
One can only make small talk with strangers for so long. Eventually, the talk becomes something deeper, the stranger becomes a friend.
She remembered the day of her first confession, how she found herself pouring her fears about the direction her life was heading to the man who was still more part of the cafe than a well-rounded person. The town intrigued her, though now that she was starting to settle there, she could hardly believe she had decided so abruptly to uproot move there. It felt like the right decision, but she missed the support she had before the move.
She couldn’t remember his exact reply- not the words- but she remembered the look in his eyes as he had spoken them. He would be her support. He would help, if she could accept it. It was an intense moment, broken by the squeal of a child from across the cafe that made them both laugh and return to their coffee. They discussed lighter things for the rest of the morning, though he reminded her before leaving that his offer still stood.
The first stroke of his belt took her breath away, reminding her that his offer still stood. He was supporting her, just as he had promised, though she had hardly imagined that first morning that his support would be quite so painful or so profound. She had never imagined that she might receive and indeed crave this sort of support.
He had prompted her for little bits of confession each day. Nothing too much at any time, but taken as a whole she was impressed at what he had been able to wring out of her. She had told him that she was falling behind on her work, that her to-do list at home was growing, and that her boxes were still largely unpacked. She had moved, but was struggling to make life work for her here.
He had listened, he was supportive, even as the little bits added up to a clear picture of the mess she had created for herself.
He had let her confess, listening with support, a smile, and a hug when she needed it. And he made suggestions- nothing overbearing, but little hints and tips that helped more than they should have. She remembered the promise he had extracted from her the day she had confessed to her failure to unpack. “When you get home today, you will unpack one box. Just one. Can you do that?” he had asked. It was a simple promise, a simple task, something that she should have been able to do for herself. Somehow, knowing that he had asked gave her the motivation to do so and gave her more satisfaction than she anticipated when she completed the assignment that evening. He never asked if she had obeyed, and yet she got the impression that he knew. Just as she got the impression that he knew she had tackled another box each day that week, each day the next week, until no boxes remained.
She remembered laughing when he had invited her to come to church with him. She was hardly a religious person, and the idea seemed ludicrous. And yet he was waiting for her when her laughter abated, the same look of expectation on his face.
She found herself joining him the next morning, standing shoulder to shoulder with him and the rest of the congregation. It was not the endless preaching she remembered, but a simple celebration of song. As she added her voice to those around her, she felt she belonged. She didn’t quite believe in the words she sang, but that did nothing to dampen her participation, did nothing to dampen their acceptance of her.
She felt his hands around her waist, lowering her jeans and panties. She had laughed at him yet again when he had first told her that he would do so, and he had given her the same look he had given when he had invited her to church. Just as she had then, she knew that she would do as he had asked. She knew that it would be good for her. She would never tell him that thought. She didn’t have to; he already knew.
She remembered the confession that had prompted that exchange. He had asked after her deadlines again. He had extracted a promise from her a few weeks previously that she would catch up. She had, but, unlike with her unpacking efforts, this was not something she could simply tackle once and be done. She had slowly fallen behind again. Her blush when she asked told him this with more clarity than any words she could have strung together.
He had asked if she needed help. She had nodded, knowing that the help he offered would be of an indirect sort in this case.
He had explained, gently but with excruciating detail, how he planned to help her, to motivate her. None of the other mid-morning patrons were close enough to hear his words, but they must have guessed what was being discussed from her blushes and squirms.
As the belt seared into her bare behind, she wondered again why she had thought this would be a good idea. Her thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as the pain intensified with the next stroke. She rode the waves of agony, swearing that she would never give him cause to repeat this experience and yet knowing that this would become a part of her routine in her new home.
She had welcomed him into her life, and this was part of what he offered. This was part of what she needed to build a life here, whether she wished to admit it aloud or not.
And when he finished, when he pulled her into his arms to soothe her pain, she knew that she had found her home.