Invisibility had been a wonderful thing.
As a child, Helen had often wished she were invisible. Growing up, she had to admit the wish was futile, impossible, and probably not a good idea anyway. She had never thought she would one day achieve it, nor that it would be so easy. All it took was an offer to help with the washing up.
The Daily Grind coffee shop had been her oasis for the last six months, and Helen could hardly believe that it was closing. She couldn’t blame Arthur for moving on. She’d visited his new place in the city and, even half-finished, she could tell that it was the right move for him. The location was bigger, brighter, and busier. He would do well and she would treasure her visits there, infrequent though they may be. Regularly making the hour-plus long drive just wasn’t feasible on a research assistant’s stipend.
She had clung dearly to every last minute in the coffee shop since she’d heard the news of the impending closing, becoming a near-permanent fixture in her favourite corner as she tried to keep up the pretence of going there to write or study all the while knowing that she’d end up chatting with the other regulars or the occasional tourist who somehow found their way in. Or even just listening; everyone there seemed to have so many fascinating stories, she rarely felt she had much to add.
There would be plenty of time to catch up on her work later. That, for one, was certainly not going anywhere.
And so she threw herself wholeheartedly into enjoying the last few days of the coffee shop, right up through the last-hurrah party. Well, almost.
Arthur, bless him, had noted that she was not the type for big noisy gatherings and had kindly asked if she would help in the kitchen so that his staff might enjoy the night off. Helen had immediately agreed, both glad to help out and grateful for the ability to periodically retreat from the gathering that this task would afford.
A steady stream of old-friends and well-wishers had paraded through the kitchen over the course of the evening, each bearing gifts and smiles and generally getting in the way. They had greeted everyone present, of course, except for Helen. Maybe it was because they were only casual acquaintances. Maybe it was because the washing-up station was tucked in the corner and out of view unless one was looking around. Or maybe no one was interested in semi-soapy hugs and handshakes.
Whatever the reason, Helen wasn’t terribly bothered. It was lovely to poke her head out every once in a while, stopping for a brief chat while handing out platters of finger food, though she couldn’t see herself joining any of the conversations for more than a few passing moments.
It was a very artsy crowd, and she was very . . .not. Arthur had tried to convince her otherwise, making introductions and gently prodding her to share her sketches. She had smiled and nodded, listening to their advice for the aspiring artist but keeping her work safely to herself. Her sketches were just that- sketches. Doodles. Something she did to help relax, to work things over in her mind, for simply something to do. It wasn’t an art, she wasn’t doodling for self-expression or trying to create meaning. It was simply a hobby. And one that she would prefer remain private, particularly given the personal nature of her typical subject matter. Still, part of her wished she could have joined more freely in their discussions. Perhaps she could learn something, make contacts, take her hobby more seriously. . .
But now her connection to them would be gone. They wouldn’t quite be strangers, but they were hardly friends. They would exchange warm smiles when they met, maybe a bit of smalltalk, but she wasn’t likely to be meeting them for lunch or catching up over coffee.
She smiled at the few of them she saw now who, like her, were trying rather unsuccessfully to carve out a new niche at the local Starbucks. It just wasn’t the same. Trendy though it may be, the chain-store atmosphere didn’t lend itself to the same types of casual encounters that Arthur’s shop had. Probably for the best, Helen reasoned. This sort of atmosphere lent itself to academic productivity, and had certainly quashed whatever insane desire she’d had to share her art. Just as in Arthur’s kitchen, she could be invisible here, sitting for hours working away without interruption. It was probably for the best, she realised, she would get far more studying done here than she ever had at Arthur’s.
It had worked for the first several hours, at least, before a familiar voice intruded.
“Mind if I join you? Can’t seem to find an empty table.”
Looking up, Helen found herself face to face with Carl, another of the regulars at Arthur’s, one who she had often admired from afar but had never worked up the nerve to meet in person, surrounded as he usually was by a boisterous crowd arguing about buddhism or impressionism or some other suitably sophisticated subject on which she felt completely unqualified to offer anything of value.
“Of course,” Helen replied with a warm smile. Perhaps the change of venue wouldn’t be so bad after all, she thought to herself. “I was about to take a break anyway,” she lied as she slid her textbook back into her bag.
“Good to see so many of the old crowd here today,” Carl said as he sat down across from her. “I was worried that we would all lose touch now that Arthur’s is gone, though I suppose I should have realised that we would just colonise somewhere else.”
“It’s not the same though,” Helen replied wistfully. “No one really talks here, it’s too. . .bland.”
“It’s funny, I’ve sat across from you at Arthur’s so many times, and yet I think this is the first time I feel we’ve never truly talked before. Perhaps a change of scenery isn’t a terrible thing.”
“I didn’t mean to be so withdrawn, it’s just that the crowd at Arthur’s. . .everyone is already so interesting. They’ve all had adventures and careers and commissions. I’m just a student and a doodler, I don’t have much to add.”
Carl raised an eyebrow at her, as if to suggest otherwise. Helen blushed and silently studied the bits of residual foam floating to the edges of her latte, torn between a contrary wish to prove his unspoken assertion incorrect and a desire to rekindle something of the bond she’d felt at Arthur’s. This wasn’t Arthur’s though, and in this new environment of insular tables and one-on-one conversations, remaining largely silent was no longer an option.
“Maybe I could have contributed more,” Helen admitted, “but it was rather intimidating, or perhaps I was just shy.”
“Or maybe a bit of both,” Carl replied supportively. “When Janet and Scott got going, I don’t think anyone would dare get in a word edgewise. Thank goodness their arguments were entertaining, though I have to say I did come to enjoy Sunday mornings specifically because they were never around.”
Conversation flowed freely, and Helen hardly noticed the passing of time until the sunlight faded from the windows as closing time approached. Helen watched the sunset wistfully through the large windows, wishing the day did not have to end. What had started as just another day of solitary study had brought not only a quite pleasant afternoon, but what might become a strong friendship.
Carl followed her gaze towards the sunset, seemingly sharing her feelings that their time together was not at its end.
“I’m very glad I met you here today,” he said quietly. “After all those days we spent only a few tables away, I’m very sorry I didn’t get to know you sooner.”
“Me too,” Helen admitted. “I should have spoken up a bit more, I guess. It was just easier to hide in the crowd.”
“Tell you what,” he said, “I have a bottle of merlot Arthur dropped off the other day as a thank-you for helping him move; one of the benefits of owning a trailer. Care to help me with that? No pressure, of course, but there will be no crowd in which to hide in my apartment,” he said with a wink
Helen quickly agreed and gathered her things, but as she bent to retrieve her bag from under the table, she knocked the stack of notebooks onto the floor scattering them nearly to the next table.
“Sorry about that,” Helen apologised as she quickly regathered her belongings, jamming them into her bag.
“Happens to all of us,” Carl reassured her. “Looks like you missed one though,” he said as he bent to retrieve a slender sketchbook from under the table. Helen’s heart nearly stopped as she reached to take the book from his outstretched hand. How had that gotten there? That particular book was not supposed to leave her room, where it usually was safely tucked under her mattress. She have left it out last night, and in her pre-coffee haze had scooped it up with the rest of the clutter on her floor as she packed her bag.
“Do you draw?” Carl asked, correctly guessing the book’s purpose.
“A bit,” Helen conceded as she tucked the book safely away.
“I had no idea. Could I see?” Carl asked.
“Maybe later, I don’t want to hold up closing time here,” Helen replied, her heart racing at the near-miss.
Carl, either oblivious to her discomfort or else savvy enough to know when she needed space, said no more as he took her hand and led her back to his apartment.
The wine was nearly finished before Carl brought the subject of the sketchbook up again.
“I really would love to see your work sometime, if you would be comfortable with that,” he began, leaving her plenty of room to politely decline.
Helen was about to give one of her well-practised excuses when a fit of reckless openness seized her. “They’re sort of. . . well. . .personal.”
“Isn’t all true art personal?”
Helen could only blush in response.
Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was his open, accepting nature, or perhaps it was sheer foolishness, but Helen passed him the sketchbook. She quickly turned her focus to her lap, weaving her fingers together and apart again as she waited for his inevitable shocked response.
As the moments stretched on, Helen began to fret and then to silently curse herself for her forwardness. Carl had no idea what he had asked to see, and it was hardly fair to thrust it upon him in this way. Just when she was about to apologise and suggest that she leave, she heard his first reply. “These are very powerful,” he said softly as he continued to leaf through the pages. “I can see why you were so hesitant to share these, though I am grateful that you have.”
After steeling herself for what she’d imagined could only be a rejection of some sort, Helen was caught off-guard. She glanced up to see him flipping slowly through the pages, enraptured by her work. Although deeply relieved, she felt her cheeks becoming as red as the bottoms in her sketches as she caught a glimpse of each one as the pages turned, not that she needed much to jog her memory of the book’s contents. Page after page of private fantasies, the sketchbook was a place where she could safely explore the things that captured her imagination, things she could scarcely share openly. Discipline, submission, spanking- one does not talk of such things. Instead she had found solace in her sketching, creating a private library for her own enjoyment. She had never dreamed of sharing them with anyone, never mind a man she had only truly began to befriend.
“This is clearly something that you have deep feelings about,” Carl continued, glancing over the top of the sketchbook at her as he waited for her reply.
She could have laughed, brushed the remark off, changed the subject or even just get up and leave, but Helen found she could do nothing other than gaze at her hands as they lay unmoving in her lap. “I suppose. . .perhaps,” Helen finally replied very softly.
“Perhaps?” Carl asked with a hint of a smile. “I would have thought spanking would be something of an all or nothing, love it or hate it type of thing. Particularly if one spends the time and energy to create such intricate images on the subject. You must have very powerful emotions when you are spanked.”
Helen remained quiet, unsure of how to reply. Carl noticed and closed the sketchbook, looking up squarely at her. “Have you ever been spanked?” he asked, guessing at the reason for her silence.
Again, Helen could think of no suitable reply and could only momentarily meet his gaze before blushing even more deeply and lowering her eyes again.
“Would you like to be?” he asked, searching her face for any hint of her feelings on the matter and worried that he may have pushed too hard. He let the silence stretch on; the offer had been made, and it was now her decision.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Helen nodded. Her breath caught in her throat, making it all but impossible to find words.
Carl took a deep breath, relieved that he had guessed correctly, “I meant it when I said that I was glad you shared these with me,” he said, lightly tapping the sketchbook. “I am honoured It takes a great deal of bravery to share one’s fantasies. It also takes bravery to be willing to try to live them.”
Helen smiled a little, but couldn’t bring herself to look up at him.
“Best not delay,” Carl said almost sharply, jarring Helen into meeting his gaze and the half-grin there, “lest one or the other of us lose our nerve.” He reached for Helen’s hand which she gave to him, as if in a dream where it was the only natural reaction. She allowed him to lead her over to the sofa and guide her over his lap. She gasped when she felt his hand rest on her bottom.
“One last chance,” he told her gently, “just say the word and we can stop. Otherwise I’d best get this out of the way,” he continued, letting his fingers trail down her thighs to trace along the hem of her short skirt
Helen shook her head a bit, but otherwise remained silent and compliantly in place. As Carl slowly lifted her skirt up onto her back, she squirmed at the odd sensation but remained still, settling again as she felt his hand press firmly into the small of her back. It was a comforting sensation in this foreign position, soft and reassuring.
The first swat was anything but. Helen started at the noise of it more than the pain, but waggled her toes inside her shoes as she the sting quickly built and ebbed. Before she had quite processed the sensation, a second, almost identical swat landed on the other side of her bottom. As Carl continued, Helen found it harder and harder to keep still. It hurt, but it felt right. This is what she had dreamed of for so long, and she felt she owed it to herself, and to him, to keep as still as possible and allow him to help her live out this fantasy.
Try as she might, as the spanking intensified Helen couldn’t help her feet from bobbing slightly. The movement that turned into more frenzied kicking as her resolve began to wear, but she managed to refrain from crying out until he began spanking the tops of her thighs. As the tender area reddened, her gasping grew more frantic until she couldn’t help but emit small yelps of pain at each swat.
Sensing that she’d had nearly enough, Carl returned his attention to the fullness of her bottom, where her panties offered some small protection, and brought the spanking to a more gentle close. He rested his hand on her behind, rubbing gently as Helen caught her breath before helping her off his lap.
“Was it worth it?” he asked, draping an arm around her shoulders.
Helen nodded, leaning into him as she shifted her weight off her bottom and reached back to rub.
“I’m glad,” Carl said, giving her a full, genuine smile.
“Thanks,” Helen replied, mirroring his smile.
“No more hiding?” he asked.
“No more hiding,” Helen answered, but quickly buried her face in his shoulder, taking comfort in his embrace. Perhaps just a bit of invisibility could still be a good thing.