The shop was a godsend, no doubt about it. Well, maybe the “shop” part wasn’t quite accurate; the establishment was hardly some cute little mom and pop crafty place, it very much resembled the warehouse for which it was named. Either way, it had what she needed. Everything she needed. For quite possibly forever.
Tina had stopped in on her way home for what she thought would be a brief pass through. She hadn’t planned on buying anything, but was rather curious about what exactly an army surplus store entailed. It entailed quite a bit, she discovered to her delight, though just how the army had found itself with a surplus of wine glasses was a mystery to her. The selection of hand tools and DIY items was more understandable, and more tempting.
She wasn’t even half-way through her tour when she decided that not buying anything would be silly. It started simply enough: a tube of epoxy putty to repair the doorknob that had somehow cracked down the middle in the flurry of her morning ritual the previous week. It was a bargain, and something that she had been planning to pick up over the weekend anyway. Hardly a splurge.
But her pile of purchases grew exponentially from there. A shiny and compact emergency blanket to add to her first aid kit. A hex wrench set that had enough different attachments that she should be set for all future bicycle repair needs, and quite a bit besides. A fluffy jacket to replace her worn coat that had seen more than its fair share of harsh winters and the slipping tumbles that sort of weather inevitably caused.
The pile in her basket had grown to such an extent that she didn’t think twice before adding a plain, sturdy black leather belt to the top of the pile. She usually couldn’t help feeling a bit embarrassed when buying such things, knowing what she and her former boyfriend used the items for. Now, however, Jim was in the past, and the belt was simply to be used for holding trousers up. Tina sighed as memories of the loss rushed back to her. She was better off without him, she knew, but there were things she missed.
With a quick glance to each side, she added another belt to her pile. One for wearing, one for spanking, she told herself. Not that she would use it herself; she had enough trouble with just a hair brush. No, this was an investment, she thought with a giggle that she quickly muffled into a silent smirk as heads began to turn her way, bringing the ever-ready blush to her cheeks.
As she ambled up to the cashier’s desk, careful not to spill any of her treasure, she took deep breaths to control her embarrassment. It’s just a spare belt she scolded herself. A completely normal, vanilla item. Besides, even someone looking for pervertables could hardly notice it in this load. Tina shifted her precarious stack as she wished the old woman in front of her would get on with it. Why did people insist on trying to pay with exact coins these days? It only just held up the queue, as they plodded through the count of five-and-ten-cent pieces.
When the woman finally dug her last few pennies from the bottom of her oversized bag, intricately folded her receipt,and began to shuffle off, Tina lunged up to the counter and dropped her odd collection of items with much clanging and a heavy sigh of relief.
“Find everything you needed?” the clerk asked with a broad, charming grin as he began to sift through the pile in search of bar codes.
Tina busied herself in helping him locate the tags as she replied, “Yes, of course, and quite a bit more as well.”
Thanks to a commitment to efficiency from the both of them, Tina’s purchases were quickly totaled and repacked in a much more portable configuration. If anyone else had been in the queue, they would undoubtedly be grateful, but even without anyone to appreciate the effort Tina still prided herself in taking no more time at the till than was strictly necessary. With another smile and a quick “Thanks,” Tina made her way to the exit, casually examining the items within the glass cabinet near the door as she passed.
“Oooh! Calipers! Sorry, I lied- I’m not quite finished- could I have a set of those please?” she asked, too caught up in excitement to notice the sly smile spreading on the cashier’s face.
“What do you need calipers for?” he asked cordially as he retrieved a neat black box for her, showing her the gleaming metal tool inside before adding it to her bag.
Tina blushed, embarrassed by her excitement, and felt a bit like a schoolgirl looking up to meet his indulgent smile as she forked over her last tenner hurriedly. “Erm. . . for measuring stuff,” she mumbled, hoping he wouldn’t press the subject. She had no idea what she might use them for, had no idea when she had even last needed a set of calipers. They just seemed like a handy thing to have around.
“Well, yes, I suppose,” the cashier replied, completing the transaction with the same blessed speed as before and allowing Tina to shuffle off once again.
She made it almost all the way to the door this time, before her attention was caught again by a display of wooden cooking utensils. “Jam making” was what the sign proclaimed them to be designed for, though the long, sturdy handles and broad bases of the spoons and spatulas seemed ideal for other purposes. Smirking to herself, Tina selected one of the larger spoons and turned it over in her hand. It felt as solid as it looked, and had a decent weight to it. Plus with the long handle. . .well, she had been experimenting with quite a bit of DIY since Jim had left, though with only marginal success.
Tina glanced over her shoulder, almost hoping that a crowd would have gathered around the checkout and give her an excuse to set the implement down and continue on her way home, but the front of the store remained deserted apart from herself and the cashier.
Before she could lose her courage, she briskly walked back to the counter with the spoon, setting it down without meeting his eyes.
“Back again so soon? What urgent project requires this little beauty?” he asked, hefting the solid instrument in his hands.
“Um. . .jam making,” she mumbled again, nearly forgetting the vanilla purpose advertised by the display sign, distracted as she was by other thoughts as she watched him weigh the spoon in his hands.
“Really?” he asked, still holding the spoon. “You didn’t seem the culinary type- not many folks out there who’d be just as excited by the joys of jam as by a delux drill bit set.”
“Eh. . .just a new hobby, maybe.” Tina said hurriedly as she offered him a handful of coins. “Besides, it seems like a useful thing to have around.”
“You seem to have a good appreciation for useful things to have around. No offence, but it’s not often I see that in a girl.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Tina said as she reached for the spoon. Tucking it into one of her bags, she turned to the door but had hardly gone two steps before she heard him call after her.
“I’m pretty useful to have around too, if you’d like to see.”
Tina spun around to glance back at him, and couldn’t help but giggle a little, having never heard a pickup line quite so oddly phrased. He took it in good stride, chuckling a bit himself, though his eyes held a glimmer of hope as he continued to study her.
“Sure,” she said, deciding that his nerve deserved some amount of reward. Besides, as he said, he might actually be a very helpful friend.
His face lit up instantly. “So. . how about lunch on Saturday? Dino’s?”
“Works for me,” she replied, and the date was set.
“Sorry I’m late- I had to fix my bed,” she offered by way of greeting as she panted her way to her seat at the cafe.
“I hate to break it to you so early, though I really thought this was just lunch. I didn’t expect to be spending time in your bed today, and, even if that’s where we were to end up, I’d hardly be put off by rumpled covers.”
Tina blinked at him in confusion before she realised how he must have misconstrued her opening line. “Oh- no,” Tina stammered. “Not fix- repair. The slats cracked this morning, cheap rental furniture, you know. Rather than bother the landlord I just picked up a boards to fix it myself. Probably better than what he’d manage to do anyway, judging by what he’s done, or rather not done, with the roof.”
“Ah,” he replied, visibly relaxing. “I’m glad we’re on the same page there, I was just thinking on my way here that it felt a bit odd meeting you for lunch without even knowing your name.
Tina couldn’t help herself from gaping a bit. What with the combination of her shopping-frenzy elation, embarrassment at her last-minute purchases, and cautious excitement of the date, the minor but significant detail of names hadn’t crossed her mind.
“Tina,” she said, offering a hand. And you are?
Tina couldn’t help but giggle yet again.
“Sorry,” she said in response to his quizzical look, “it just seems like such a stereotypical name for the handyman you claim to be.”
Rex joined her laughter good-naturedly, and, the ice sufficiently broken, time flew by as they got to know one another.
“So, how are the culinary pursuits coming?” Rex asked once they had more or less exhausted the topic of his ideas for the store.
“Culinary pursuits?” Tina asked. “I really not much of a cook. The last time I tried, the cookies wouldn’t come off the sheet and I had to throw the whole lot away- baking sheet and all. I’m afraid the most I do is chop myself a salad or microwave a can of soup. I don’t even think I own a pot at this point.”
“Really?” Rex asked, incredulously. “Then why take up jam making? And doesn’t that require pots?”
Tina’s confusion turned to panic as she suddenly remembered the excuse she had given for her purchase of the spoon.
“Oh, um. . .that was just a bit of spur-of-the-moment insanity.” Tina explained while pushing the last few noodles around her plate. It was an honest answer, and with any luck a bland enough one to induce a change in the topic of conversation.
“Tell you what,” Rex started enthusiastically, “why don’t you swing by my place next weekend and we can make lunch? Hopefully you’ll learn something that will let you put that nice new spoon to good use.”
“Sure,” Tina accepted, carefully keeping her gaze on her plate as her imagination treated her to mental images of Rex and her original intended purpose for the spoon abated. Once they had sufficiently abated and were replaced with more realistic images of delicious somethings bubbling away in shiny pots as savoury aromas filled a bright kitchen, she finally met his eye and smiled with genuine gratitude. “Thanks, I’d really appreciate it. I’ve always wished I knew more about cooking.” As they parted that evening, she smiled imagining their next date,.
TIna coughed as she crawled toward the door of the kitchen, trying to keep her head below the billowing smoke. She collapsed onto the front lawn, gasping for breath as she heard the roar of a fire extinguisher behind her. Moments later, Rex flopped down next to her, leaving a faint streak of yellow powder on the grass behind him.
“Hasn’t anyone told you not to put water on an oil fire?” he asked incredulously after he caught his breath.
“Well. . .I guess I remember something like that now. I’d always wondered why.”
“That’s why.” Rex replied, jerking a thumb back at the clouds of black smoke billowing from the door.
“Sorry,” Tina offered feebly.
“It’s alright,” Rex said with a sigh. “I should have been watching you more carefully. After the close call with the bread knife, I should have known better. Anyway, there was no damage other than the smoke, and that should clear out in a few hours or so, and of course the dust from the extinguisher which is easy enough to clean, though it gets everywhere.”
“Sorry,” Tina offered again. “I’ll clean it up for you, it’s my fault after all.”
“Like hell you will,” Rex snorted. “I’m rather fond of my vacuum cleaner, and I’d rather not take the chance that your other domestic skills may be on par with your cooking. Let’s go,” he announced as he stood.
“Let’s go where?” Tina asked.
“Your place. Well, we’ll swing by Subway first to pick up food- I think we’ve had enough educational experiences for one day.”
Relieved at her apparent forgiveness, Tina beamed sheepishly as she allowed Rex to help her to her feet and followed him to his car.
As they got away from the smoking house, Rex’s former jovial mood returned infectiously and the two passed a pleasant afternoon munching on pre-prepared sandwiches. The incident didn’t come up until the meal had been reduced to a rubble of wrappers and bags.
“You would be able to cook just fine if you took a bit of time to follow directions, and to think about what you’re doing. If you can work a miter saw, you can work an oven. I’d even dare say you’re less likely to hurt yourself with the latter if you put your mind to it,” Rex said over Tina’s protests of incompetence, an uncharacteristically serious note in his voice.
“I’m trying, it’s just. .difficult.” Tina said with a slight pout.
“I don’t think it’s the cooking that’s being difficult. I’m trying to help, though if you don’t show a bit more willingness to cooperate I may need to demonstrate another use for that spoon, and it’s not one your backside will enjoy.”
Tina stared at him, unable to believe what he had just said. Did he know? Had he guessed? Had she said something that gave her away, or had he merely gotten lucky? Or was it just a coincidence and meant nothing?
“You wouldn’t dare!” Tina protested, half hoping that he did indeed.
“We’ll see about that,” Rex responded as he reached for her arm. Without further ado, he dragged Tina, offering only token resistance, over his knee.
“As you said, I’m rather handy, so we’ll forgo the spoon this time,” he continued, punctuating the statement with a sharp swat to the seat of her jeans.
Tina shrieked, though neither she nor Rex was sure if it was from indignation or surprise. Either way, she made no move to escape his lap, and Rex soon followed the first spank with another. Tina squealed much the same, and though she also gave a slight kick, she remained in place and made no move to interfere.
Rex continued, enjoying the subtle but steady escalation of Tina’s reactions. As his swats became more confident, Tina’s shrieks in turn became a bit more sharp and sincere. As her voice took on a lightly moist quality heralding the approach of tears, he brought the spanking to a close with a final hard swat and helped Tina back up.
“I think I’ve found a way to help you with your focus.” Rex said with a smile that was quickly, if shyly, shared by Tina. “Perhaps the prospect of a repeat of this experience might keep your mind on the cooking next time?”
“Next time? You mean, you’re willing to try again after. . .” Tina waved her hands vaguely.
“Of course,” Rex replied, “if anything, I’d say that this afternoon’s incident indicates you have lot to learn. If you’re willing to try, we can meet again for another lesson next week.”
“I’d like that,” Tina admitted quietly, not sure what type of lesson she was admitting to needing.
“Excellent. We’ll meet at your place, though. I’d rather haul over a few pots and pans than risk any more damage. Well, damage to my kitchen, that is,” Rex said with a wink.