Beca watched the train pull away, taking any chance of freedom she might have had with it. She tried to imbue the moment with a certain romanticism, imagining herself the much put-upon heroine, a damsel in distress or some such.
She may have even succeeded, but trains were not very romantic these days. The last carriage careened past with a startling electric pop, punctuated by a decidedly mechanical warning of “Caution. Train approaching the crossing. Please do not cross the tracks.” As though it were necessary, she sneared. The train had been sitting on the crossing and blocking traffic for the last five minutes. Anyone who somehow managed to not see it would be at worst at risk of an abruptly ended daydream, perhaps coupled with a bruised forehead and battered ego.
As the train disappeared around the bend, Beca turned to the concrete steps leading away from the platform, away from her summer plans and into the waiting arms of the man who greeted her with a warm smile- a smile that Beca gave only the slightest attempt at returning. He was no more her knight in shining armor than she was a fair maiden.
“I’m glad you came,” he said warmly.
“Sure,” Beca replied, just this side of hostile.
“Now, now, no need to get off to a sour start,” he cautioned.
“I thought we already had?”
Her uncle smiled and squeezed her shoulder slightly. “We’ll talk about that tonight. No need to let it sully this gorgeous afternoon.”
Beca sighed. It was a gorgeous afternoon, one of those rare mild sunny days, complete with sparse but fluffy clouds drifting lazily across the sky. A week ago, she would have loved the thought of a day like this to start her summer break, back when she thought she’d pass the season poolside with her old friends, sharing glamourous tales from their freedom at college, not shipped off to Uncle Kevin’s farm as some sort of indentured servant.
Uncle Kevin did not appear bothered in the slightest by this arrangement. He turned toward his car, fishing his keys out of his pocket with a peaceful expression that gave no hint of what he had promised her as a welcome present when they reached his home. Beca cringed at the thought. Uncle Kevin had decidedly traditional ideas about how to run a household, and had promised her parents that she would be a changed person at the end of the season.
Beca had disagreed. Rather forcefully. Uncle Kevin had disapproved, and had calmly explained how he planned to correct this attitude as soon as she had arrived. Beca had protested, as had her mother, much to Beca’s mollification. Uncle Kevin had not been dissuaded, however, and insisted that his methods were part of the deal.
Beca bristled at the thought of his methods, regretting the unfortunate series of events that had landed her here. It all would have been just fine, if it hadn’t been for the party, or at least if the police hadn’t shown up. Beca still didn’t understand what the big deal was. She would be twenty-one in less than a year, what harm was there in a few cans of beer? Even the judge seemed to agree, imposing a token fine that she had been well able to pay from her pocket money. No harm done, she figured. Her parents had disagreed.
“I am glad to have you here, you know,” Uncle Kevin said, breaking into her thoughts.
“Sure, unpaid labour is always a plus,” Beca replied evenly.
“It’s not just that, though I’ll admit I could use a hand, particularly now that James has left. But that’s not what I meant. I’m glad to have a chance to get to know you again. You’re not the five-year-old I remember chasing the chickens with,” he said as he drove on, taking his eyes off the road just long enough to shoot her a quick wink of encouragement.
Beca couldn’t help but smile at the memory of her last summer at Uncle Kevin’s farm. That visit had been her idea.
“You had such joy that summer, I hope that joy is still with you, it will serve you well.” Uncle Kevin squeezed her shoulder, and Beca returned his smile in earnest. Uncle Kevin’s expression became stern. “However, we do have more serious matters to attend to first.”
Beca dropped her gaze to her shoes. Although she had felt warmed by the pleasant memories, she knew from her earlier experience that he was a man of his word, and nothing could change his judgement once handed down. Still, it didn’t hurt to try. “Do we have to?”
“There are consequences for your actions,” Uncle Kevin replied sternly. Beca nodded sadly, she remembered that part all too well. Granted, the consequences for a five year old had been decidedly different from that which she now faced. Missing dessert had seemed terrible at the time, but now Beca longed for such measures.
She tried unsuccessfully to think of something else- anything else- as they drove up to the farmhouse that would be her effective prison for the summer. She hesitated when the truck stopped, taking in the imposingly cheerful building that awaited her. Sunlight shining off the fresh white paint, it stood out shockingly against the deep blue of the sky, a view more suited to a storybook illustration than the beginning of an internment. Beca glared at the house, still resentful for being sent here, but drawn to the place just as she had been as a child. Shaking herself, she shouldered her pack and trudged up to the front porch.
“Not much has changed since your last visit. Even your room is ready for you, just the way you left it,” Uncle Kevin told her as he opened the door and stood aside. Beca nudged past silently and made her way up the comfortably creaking stairs to her cell for the summer. The west-facing window let the afternoon light pour in, setting the floorboards aglow and bringing out the best of what colour was left in the faded quilts piled on the bed.
“Am I going to get the silent treatment all summer?” came Uncle Kevin’s voice from behind her. “I had hoped you would be a bit more lively, that we could head into town for the afternoon to catch up, but if you’d rather we could get the unpleasantness out of the way first.”
“Fine,” Beca shrugged. As far as she was concerned, this whole state of affairs would be unpleasant, at least compared to the fun she could be having with her friends. As Beca turned to set down her bag, she stopped short as she noticed the soft grey fur of the rocking horse in the corner. She couldn’t help herself from kneeling beside the toy of which she had grown quite fond during her last visit.
“You might be a bit big now, but I figured you could use an old friend to keep you company,” Uncle Kevin smiled at her. “I know you and Maisey were close.”
Beca smiled up at him, shocked that he had remembered not only her affection for the old horse, but the name she had given it. He opened his arms and Beca indulged her inner five-year-old’s desire to return his embrace, burrying her face in his chest. “Thanks,” she murmured.
“Anything for you,” she felt his deep voice rumble within him. “However,” he continued, lifting her face. “You still have quite the strapping coming. We can do it now, or we can do it this evening, but it needs done. I love you, but you need to know that irresponsible behaviour will not be tolerated here.”
Beca lowered her gaze. “I guess we should get it over with.”
“Very well,” he replied, giving her one last squeeze before releasing her. “Jeans and panties down, bend over, and rest your elbows on the bed.”
Beca blushed. She had figured this sort of thing was coming, what with the stories she had heard from cousins over the years. Still, it was one thing in the abstract, and quite another to make her fingers obey him as she prepared herself.
After an interminable moment of awkwardness, Beca rested her elbows on the bed, ducking her head between her arms in embarrassment. She tried to shut out the rustle and scrape that must have been Uncle Kevin taking the strap from wherever he had left it, knowing it would be used when she arrived. She tried to ignore the solid footsteps that approached her from behind. She couldn’t help the quiver and goosebumps as she felt the strap tap her behind. She couldn’t help but clench herself in preparation for what she had been assured would be both an awful and highly memorable experience.
The first crack took her breath away. As much as she thought she was ready for the experience, that it wouldn’t shake her, that she could ride it out well assured that it hadn’t gotten to her, that it wasn’t necessary, she hadn’t truly been ready for this.
“It hurts,” Uncle Kevin affirmed as she panted, “but not as much as you could hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. I know you feel the need to challenge the rules.” He punctuated his speech with another sharp swat. “But the rules are in place for your own good, for your own protection. You say it was just a few drinks, but your neighbours felt otherwise. If it had just been a few drinks, there would have been no need for the police to get involved would there?” The strap emphasised the point for him, yet again. “You are an adult now, albeit a young one with a great deal of growing up left to do. All the same, you are expected to conduct yourself respectfully, not to keep the neighbourhood up all night with your antics.”
The strap descended again, and Beca started to shake slightly, trembling from the pain of the strap and the lecture. Two more searing strokes reduced her to tears. Uncle Kevin didn’t lecture anymore, but continued the strapping until she was utterly defeated, sobbing into the quilt.”
Uncle Kevin left her in position for a moment before sitting beside her and pulling her into a hug.
“I’m so sorry,” Beca choked out.
“I know. I know you are better than this,” Uncle Kevin replied encouragingly, stroking her back as she calmed. “It’s nearly suppertime. I’ll leave you for a bit of a nap after your journey; you’ve been through a lot today,” he said. Beca smiled tiredly back at him. It had been quite a journey, and had truly only just begun.
“I’ll be leaving this here,” he continued as he hung the strap from a nail behind the door. “Just in case.”
Beca would have loved to tell him that it wasn’t necessary, that it wouldn’t be needed. She had enough maturity to know what he expected of her. However, she also had enough self awareness to know that she would test his limits. It was a good thing, she decided, that the hugs afterward made it worth it.