“Eyes down, Grace.”
Grace sighed at the latest admonishment. This wasn’t working. She stole one last wistful look out the window at the bright autumn afternoon she was missing and returned her attention to her revision. She sighed again. What was the point anyway? She had already failed once, and, though she knew she should have put forth more effort over the last year, couldn’t bring herself to reign in her mind and confine it to the classroom. She struggled through two more exercises before gazing out the window again. Mr. Brown would scold, he always did, but she’d heard that often enough before.
“Back to your study, Grace,” Mr. Brown gently scolded. “I won’t tell you again.”
Grace frowned, glancing back down at her book again briefly before returning her attention to the softly waving tree branches that cast shifting shadows over the grass. She focused on the patterns, the repetition, far more soothing than the repetition of maths exercises. Time passed quickly this way, far more quickly than it would have if she were to study, and before long Mr. Brown called out to dismiss the group for the evening.
“Just a minute, Grace, I’d like a word with you.” Grace felt a familiar squeezing sensation inside as she looked up at Mr. Brown. This was it, she had disappointed him as well, as she knew she would. It was the same with all the teachers and tutors, there was no point in trying otherwise. Grace took a steadying breath. She’d had plenty of practice with this. She put on her stoic face and went to face the tutor, clearing her mind to endure whatever it was he would say.
“I don’t know what to do with you, Grace,” he began, “you should be able to pass your exams with flying colours, should have been able to pass them last year as well. You must understand the importance of your marks.”
Grace studied her shoes, counting silently in her mind, her old stand-by when waiting for the disappointment being thrown at her to finish. She had reached a full 100 before she realised that the silence wouldn’t end until she did something. She raised her gaze to Mr. Brown’s folded hands, not daring to look any further; she knew what she would find in his eyes. She had seen enough of it all through school, from teachers and parents and anyone else who had taken interest in her long enough to express dissatisfaction.
“Do you want to be here?” he asked softly.
“This was your parents’ idea, wasn’t it?” he asked.
Grace nodded, remembering the arguments about how she would spend her final year in school- her second final year in school. She hadn’t seen the point of being kept late every evening to study, she’d spent more than ten years in that school that didn’t seem to have done any good. Why would a few more hours make any sort of difference?
Her parents had tried private tutoring before, but none of the tutors had lasted very long. Grace couldn’t see how simply sitting in a quiet classroom with a bunch of other students would be of any more help, but her parents had been firm on the issue. They had stressed that this was her last chance, this was the last thing left that might help, and as long as she would be living with them she would need to try.
It wasn’t so bad, she had realised. She could let her mind wander much as she did in class, and all she risked was a brief scolding. They couldn’t keep her late anymore, she already was kept late. Nor would lines be appropriate, as she would need to use the time she should be using for study.
“You do understand that there is nothing else the school can do to help you take your work seriously, at least not officially.”
Grace paused in her counting, confused. “What do you mean, ‘not officially?’”
Mr. Brown paused until Grace cautiously raised her gaze to meet his. He was looking at her oddly.
“You are an adult, make your own decision. Starting tomorrow, if I need to scold you I will then spank you after the session is over. You can either accept this, or you can leave the program. Do you understand?”
Grace nodded, trying not to think about the implications. What would her parents do when they found out she had left the study program? She brushed such thoughts aside, instead scuffling to collect her books and hurry home.
“Eyes down, Grace.”
It hadn’t taken very long today at all. She’d barely studied for five minutes before incurring her first pseudo-sanction. Except this was different, it would be the last.
“See me after dismissal,” Mr Brown continued, and Grace felt chilled. She risked a quick glance up at him, but was surprised at what she saw. The disapproval was there, as always, but so was something else, similar to what she had seen the previous evening. An acceptance of sorts, nearly an admiration. She studied his expression for a moment more, trying to place what she saw before he gestured with a quick flick of a finger that she had best return her attention to her work.
She tried to focus, and found to her surprise that when Mr. Brown called for dismissal that she had completed nearly ten pages of her exercise book.
“Grace, a word please,” he called to remind her, shaking her from her stunned stupor at the realisation of her progress. She remained at her desk as Mr Brown rose to shut the door and came back to sit at the desk across from her.
“You remember our deal from last night?” he asked evenly. Grace nodded, how could she have forgotten something as significant as the promise to end her future?
“What’s it to be then?” he asked.
Grace opened her mouth to reply. She’d known as soon as the offer had been made what her answer would be. No way would she submit to anything as invasive as a spanking. But her attention was caught by her exercise book, in which she had just completed more in one evening than she had in any previous week. Perhaps it was worth a try.
“I’ll take the spanking,” she replied quietly, shakily and quickly, lest she change her mind.
“Very well,” Mr. Brown acknowledged. “For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you. Your decision shows maturity and commitment, and gives me hope that you might yet be able to turn your work ethic around. You can pass your exams if you focus. Surely your progress this evening has started to convince you of that,” he said with a tap of her exercise book.
Grace glanced up at him in surprise. He had noticed? She had never thought teachers noticed anything but failure. He gave her a small smile before continuing.
“I am proud of you, but don’t think that will make me go easy on you. If anything, our experience this evening tells me that this is perhaps more necessary than I had thought before. Come.” He abruptly turned to the front of the classroom, sweeping Grace in his wake.
“Bend over the desk.” He instructed, pointing to the large teacher’s desk that dominated the front of the room. Grace obeyed, more from shock than compliance. She felt a hand press into her back, gently encouraging her into a deeper bow.
A sharp swat made her gasp, though did little to convince her that this wasn’t some sort of dream. She squeezed her eyes shut, opening them at the next, harder spank that forced her to admit she was indeed conscious. She began counting again, but found her routine useless, jarred as she was every few seconds by a new stinging handprint on her seat. She gave up the counts, and instead focused on her breathing, trying to control herself, lest her tutor see the impression he was making.
She was squirming energetically by the time she felt the hand lift from her back, and sank down over the desk panting, relieved that she hadn’t truly cried.
“We’re not finished yet,” came a stern voice that froze her in place. She heard footsteps, a drawer, and more steps before she felt a cool tap on her bottom. “We will start with five today. If we need to repeat this tomorrow, it will be ten. Then fifteen. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” replied Grace in a voice that might have sounded defiant if not for the quiver.
“You will count them.”
Grace allowed a small smile at the irony, a smile that was banished by the first stroke of the ruler.
“One!” she called out, a bit more high-pitched than intended. The second stroke came as soon as her count had finished, as intense and stinging as the first. “Two,” she counted, feeling herself choke on a sob just as the syllable had finished. Her luck ended there, “three” came out mid-sob and barely comprehensible. Mr. Brown appeared to deem the count acceptable, however, as he delivered just two more crisp strokes before setting the ruler down on the desk next to her.
“Let me make one thing clear,” Mr. Brown said firmly, keeping her pinned to the desk with his left hand. “I am not giving up on you. We will do this every day if we have to, but you will learn focus. You can do this, and I will do what I have to to keep you motivated. Do you understand.
“Yes,” Grace gasped, and felt the pressure on her back lift, allowing her to stand. She did, keeping her gaze lowered, but Mr. Brown gently lifted her chin to meet his gaze. She did not see disappointment anymore, only respect and a vague threat, just enough to chill her and remind her of why this had happened.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said softly, squeezing her shoulders briefly before dismissing her.
As Grace gathered her books, she found she was looking forward to the next day’s study session. She shivered at the thought. She shouldn’t be looking forward to this. She should quit, this was demeaning. Before her emotions ran out of control she took a deep breath and brushed them aside, as she had so much practice in doing. This time, however, rather than being left with a vague feeling of defeat, she felt only hope.