Tara’s eyes were red and dry from lack of sleep. Her travel mug of tea had recently been refilled with hot water, so she cradled it in her tired hands and took a deep breath.
“You haven’t been home since yesterday, have you?” Tara’s lab partner Ryan asked, putting one hand on her hip and tossing her wavy blonde hair over her shoulder with the other. Her frosty pink lips were pursed and her eyes were narrowed in disbelief.
“No,” Tara groaned pitifully, spinning her worn swivel chair around to face Ryan. “But I don’t have a choice. I need to get my work here done before grading the undergraduate finals.” Tara was a graduate student in the chemistry department of a large university. She had been working tirelessly to finish her own work while teaching classes and earning spare income by taking shifts at a local town bookstore. She was doing well with self care if you consider that green tea is quite good for you (even as a full breakfast if you add sugar!) and she showered every other day.
“Are you flying home to see your family at all?” Ryan demanded, looking equal parts incredulous and sympathetic. Ryan, as always, was put together with freshly blown out hair, clean jeans, a pink blouse, and a delicate gold pendant around her neck. Ryan made grad school look easy. She was three years older than Tara but looked five years younger next to Tara’s baggy flannel shirt, beanie, and combat boots. The bags under Tara’s eyes also made her look older than she was.
“No, but not because of this,” Tara promised, gesturing around at their windowless lab-office. “It’s not safe to fly because of COVID.”
“Right,” said Ryan sympathetically, “I get that. I’m actually an in-state student so I’ll be driving home tomorrow. I just came to grab my notebook…” Ryan slid her lab notebook off of their shared shelf and tucked it into her bag, looking very guilty about leaving Tara alone for Christmas.
“Don’t stress about me,” said Tara, pulling on the somewhat greasy hair sticking out from under her black beanie. “I’m okay here. I’m going to order a pizza and wrap up around 11.”
“That’s what you said yesterday,” Ryan sighed. “And it looks like you never went home at all.”
“Well this time I mean it,” Tara assured her, “I could use some sleep.”
“That’s an understatement,” Ryan replied, crossing her arms.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tara drawled sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
“Mhm,” Ryan said icily, her expression distinctly unimpressed. “Hey, actually, before I go, I should give you a gift.”
“Oh. A gift?” Tara asked, feeling caught off guard. “Shoot, Ry, I didn’t get you anything.”
“I didn’t get you anything either,” Ryan laughed mysteriously, “Don’t worry.”
“Then what are you talking about?” Tara snapped, feeling confused and more out of it than ever. “I know I’m low on sleep and human contact, but you’re not making sense.”
Instead of responding verbally, Ryan grabbed both of Tara’s wrists and pulled her to her feet. Tara was about to ask if the “gift” was outside (maybe it was snowing? maybe she was offering her a ride home?) when Ryan spun herself into Tara’s office chair and yanked Tara over her lap. Before Tara could get a word out, Ryan’s hand was around her waist, securing her, and her spare hand was being raised and lowered onto Tara’s bottom.
“I didn’t buy you a gift,” Ryan announced, while continuing to smack Tara’s bottom, “but I got a brilliant idea about something you needed just now.”
“YOU ARE SPANKING ME!” Tara announced shrilly.
“Yes,” Ryan answered, a smile spreading across her face. “Always a smart one, you.”
“YOU CAN’T SPANK ME!” Tara shouted. Clearly, she was being spanked, so she could be spanked, but she felt like maybe she shouldn’t be, given that she was a grown woman and all.
Ryan didn’t respond this time. Instead, she continued to rain her palm down over Tara’s pathetically thin leggings. When Tara reached a hand back to cover her behind, Ryan pinned it swiftly to the small of Tara’s back.
“You could say that I have some experience with this,” Ryan pointed out between swats, “so I’ll advise you that thrashing and reaching back doesn’t end well.” She started spanking harder, which made Tara’s eyes go wide in shock. She never imagined that such a childish punishment could hurt so very badly on an adult behind. Her rear end was already stinging and her eyes were starting to water from the pain. She wanted to ask why Ryan had so much experience with spanking, but she dared not form the words.
“This is not a gift,” she whined instead.
“Ah, but it is,” Ryan countered immediately. “It’s the gift of not being in control. If you accept the position that you’re in, you might find that you rather like it.”
“I hate it!” Tara exclaimed, jerking her hips left and right to avoid the painful swats that were coming with no breaks.
“Well that’s not very grateful behavior,” Ryan teased, keeping up her intense rhythm. “Maybe you want a different gift.” Before Tara could respond, Ryan reached into her purse, which was sitting open on the floor next to the chair. Tara looked up in time to see Ryan’s sparkly pink hairbrush sailing toward her already-sore bottom. She tried to move, but she didn’t have her balance.
“Noooooo,” Tara wailed as the brush came down with a sharp CRACK. The spot where the brush had made contact was almost numb with stingy pain. “Seriously, Ry, it hurts, I’m going to cry.”
“It’s okay to cry,” Ryan assured her in an even tone. “Just like it’s okay to take a break, or ask for an extension, or get seven hours of sleep at night. You need to take care of yourself. If you were looking for a reminder of that fact, consider yourself duly reminded.”
The brush made contact again and again. Tara could practically feel her hot skin forming painful bruises. Just when she thought she couldn’t take any more, Ryan set the brush aside and resumed spanking with her hand. She didn’t seem to be hitting as hard anymore. Tara let her shoulders relax. She was still in pain, but her bottom had achieved some level of numbness. Either that, or her brain had decided to stop processing the pain. She let out a whimper and tears started to fall. Ryan continued to spank, not acknowledging Tara’s embarrassing breakdown.
After what felt like an eternity but was probably three minutes, Ryan’s hand stopped and rested on Tara’s warm backside.
“You’re lucky I left your leggings on,” Ryan said finally. “You’ll still feel this tomorrow though, so I trust that it will remind you to eat food and drink water and take a break, lest we have to do this again next semester.”
“Message received,” Tara mumbled before gingerly climbing off of Ryan’s lap. Her cheeks were as red as her bottom probably was, but she felt oddly calm. Ryan stood up, too, and pulled Tara into a loving bear hug.
“From now on,” Ryan said gently, “Don’t skip meals, and text me if you’re staying in the lab past 9pm so that we can check in.”
“Okay,” Tara agreed immediately. She didn’t have to let Ryan boss her around, but she found that she wanted to; needed to, even.
“Great,” Ryan said, giving Tara one last squeeze and pulling back to look her in the eyes. “Thank you for giving me the gift of control, as well. It’s nice sometimes.”
“Oh,” Tara said, “Yes, I suppose we’re even then. Wow. This was the strangest last-minute gift exchange I’ve ever done.”
“Merry Christmas, rascal,” Ryan laughed, “Go home and shower.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tara said with a smile. “Merry Christmas.”
I think anyone who has been in this situation will understand just how much of a gift NOT being in control can be! I predict a good future for Tara, with Ryan to look out for her. 😃 Thank you for bringing us this heart-warming couple, and for participating in this year’s holiday exchange! 👏 🥳
Nice. I definitely get the appeal. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for what you want and you need someone like Ryan to just take the control from you. Loved it;
I love coming home and seeing a new story. Thank you Shae
From someone whose anxiety resurfaced heavily over the past few days, this hit a few very personal notes. Beautifully paced, too.
This is an excellent story Shae. Thank you very much for sharing it! Happy New Year to you!