Every family has their traditions, whether it’s rooting for a particular team or saddling children with horrible names of long-dead relatives. In the Labraun household, they believe that family who spanks together…well, they believe in spanking and discipline. It’s their 21-year-old daughter, Claire, who isn’t quite sure. She knows that her parents love each other deeply despite the “horrible” spanking, but she can’t imagine allowing her future husband to do that to her.
And even though Minelle counsels Claire on the wisdom of a traditional domestic discipline marriage, in private she struggles with her husband Matthew’s rules. Why can’t he be head of their household only when it comes to sexy fun? Why does he actually expect her to obey?
Minelle, Bas, and other familiar characters from The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus offer support and advice to Claire, but it comes down to choice. Claire will soon embark on her own adult life, and now she must decide – is this a tradition that will end with her, or will she embrace her family’s values?
Claire took a deep breath and knocked on the door to the family computer room where her mother pounded on the keyboard. Every so often Minelle would chortle, and her head would bend over the keyboard as she searched for each key. Minelle, as everyone knew, was a people person. Not a technology or machine person.
“Mom?” Claire asked, knocking again on the open door. She’d learned it was best to give her mom warning before approaching her on the computer. Any time someone moved toward Minelle while she was reading or typing on the computer, she would shriek as if scalded. Claire had a feeling that it was in her own best interest to allow her mom time to finish whatever fascinating computer tasks she might be enjoying before getting closer.
Minelle jumped and tried to minimize her browser window. Unfortunately, she accidentally pushed some buttons that made the font microscopic.
“What’s wrong? What did I do?” she asked in a panic.
“Mom, how am I supposed to know? You’re the one who did it!” Claire rolled her eyes. Minelle had a habit of expecting people to read her mind and know the answers to her questions.
“Yes, but I can’t read it now,” Minelle gasped, whacking at the “delete” button several times in a row. As hard as Claire tried to teach her that “delete” did not include “undo my last mistake,” Minelle refused to listen. She also held firm in her belief that if pushing a button once didn’t work, the answer was to push again?and harder. “Did I ruin it?”
“Let me fix it for you,” Claire offered. She had rescued her mother’s Power Point presentations, lesson plans, and any number of electronic files. It was easier for her to find the problem right away, but Minelle insisted on muddling through on her own. “I can do it in a few minutes, but if you mess it up it will take me forever to undo whatever you’ve done.’
“Don’t talk to your mother that way,” Minelle scolded without taking her eyes off the screen. “I can do plenty of things you’ve never even heard of.” She jabbed at the computer keys a few more times. Before Claire could move closer, Minelle switched the computer off. The whir of the machine ground to a halt.
“Mom!” Claire protested. “You’re not supposed to just shut it off! You have to close your applications and then?”
Ring, ring. Minelle made a shushing motion and picked up the receiver.
“Hello, Labrauns,” she said cheerfully.
Claire moved to turn the computer back on, but Minelle’s frantic lunge to throw her body over the keyboard caused Claire to shrug in exasperation. She didn’t know what was wrong with her mother today?or most days, to be honest. Weren’t adolescents supposed to be the moody ones?
“No,” Minelle said into the phone, her firm words contradicted by her gentle tone. “I said I am not available to decorate for the birthday party for the sixth graders. Or paint the scenery for their play. Why can’t Henry do it? Doesn’t he realize that we have our hands full submitting all of the lesson plans and student evaluation forms that he’s now requiring from all of us? You’d think he’d remember I’ve been teaching for more than twenty years and he’s a fresh grad with a master’s in ed admin?mmhm, I know! What? Your sitter cancelled? Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll do it.”
Claire stepped into the hallway. Sometimes it was better for her not to be in the same room as her mom. As she left the room, her phone buzzed. Her best friend, Elis, had appointed herself as the social coordinator for their group.
Horseback riding tomorrow @ 3. You in?
Claire rubbed her finger around the neon blue rubber protector around her pride and joy, her iPhone. It had cost her a great deal, if not in dollars and cents. She tapped the touch screen to respond.
“Claire, honey, what did you want?”
Claire turned back to the computer room and saw Minelle in the doorway. Claire hadn’t heard the end of the phone conversation or noticed Minelle getting up, but now her mom wanted conversation.
“Mom,” she began.
Minelle interrupted. “Did you order your cap and gown?”
“Mom,” Claire protested. Her mom complained Claire wouldn’t talk to her, but she wouldn’t let Claire get in a full sentence. Was it something mothers learned in mothering school, along with the same silly warnings not to jump off cliffs because other people did it first?
“Nana and Granddad are coming in the day before the ceremony, and maybe Aunt Cheryl too.” Minelle tugged at the ends of her short, curly hair. “Where are we going to put them all? You’ll have to clean up your room for Aunt Cheryl, and you can sleep on the living room couch. If your brother would ever leave his room decent before he left for school, we could have his room for Nana and Granddad. Not to mention all of the junk you two left in the basement after the last time you ‘cleaned’ your rooms.” Minelle’s hair, a natural dark brown, had lightened to a gray in some spots over the past few months. She swore it was due to worrying about her children, but Claire knew better. Minelle could worry about a caterpillar if she set her mind to it. Her mom always said that everyone had a special talent. Too bad her mom’s talent was for worrying.
“That’s months away!” Claire checked her phone. Elis’ social events were far more interesting than guest sleeping arrangements in the distant future. As for college graduation in the spring, Claire didn’t see why it was such a big deal.
Elis took horseback riding for granted, the way she took everything else for granted. She never had to worry about money. Her parents weren’t rich, but as an only child she received the best of everything.
“It’s not even two months away, and you know how?”
Don’t like horses anyway.
“Claire, it’s rude to text when you’re talking to someone.”
Claire sighed and shoved the phone into her pocket. “Mom?” she asked. “Is it still okay if I go to Vegas with Elis for spring break?”
Minelle frowned. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Don’t you want to go?” Minelle asked.
“Of course I do! Why wouldn’t I? Anyone would want to go, right?”
Minelle ducked back into the computer room and sank into the chair, nodding at the beanbag. Claire settled herself into the shifting beany fabric.
“Why don’t you want to go?”
Claire picked up the stapler from the computer desk and mashed a staple together before dumping it into her hand.
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to go.”
Patiently, Minelle changed her question. “Why do you think it might not be okay?”? She wanted to say, “Isn’t it obvious that you don’t want to go?” but the force with which Claire continued to mash staples worried her.
“Well. You don’t like Elis.”? Claire raised her eyes accusingly at Minelle.
“That’s not true. I don’t dislike anyone. I think that you tend not to make your best decisions in her company.”
“And you always complain about how much gas I use.”
“It’s expensive, Claire!”
“And Elis wants to bring Jethro.”
“You know. Jethro her new boyfriend.”
“The one who didn’t go to college because he was sure he’d win the next talent search game show?”
Minelle thought through her next question carefully. Ever since Claire’s visit to Mrs. Claus, Claire had allowed Minelle unprecedented access to her thoughts and feelings. Giving advice, however, was still strictly off-limits. It was as if Claire were sure that nothing in Minelle’s life could ever compare to her own, wholly unique and incomparable set of life events.
“So have you decided?”
Claire set the stapler back on the desk. “No.”
Minelle moved to switch the computer back on. Before she could push the power button, Claire spoke quietly.
Minelle was sure she had heard wrong, but the softness in Claire’s expression told her otherwise. She leaned back in her chair.
“Do you want my opinion? Are you sure?”
A barely perceptible nod.
Minelle breathed deeply and offered a rapid silent prayer that she wouldn’t say the wrong thing. “I think you’ve saved your money for a long time to go on the trip for your birthday, and Elis should respect that.”
Claire sat motionless in the beanbag.
“And if Elis doesn’t respect that, it’s okay to find something else to do instead.”
“What about sticking closer to home? Or even some family time? I’m going to miss you when you leave, Claire-bear.”
Claire gazed at Minelle for a long minute. “Isn’t it kind of lame to spend spring break with my family?”?
Minelle laughed. “Probably. But isn’t it kind of lame to spend it as the fifth wheel with some guy you don’t like?”
“Fifth?but there would only be three of us.”?
“It’s a saying.”? Claire looked puzzled. “Four wheels on a car and?oh, never mind. I?oh, my gosh! It’s almost six! Your dad’s going to?”
Minelle clapped a hand to her mouth as she jumped out of the chair, but Claire gave her a knowing smile.
“Freak that dinner isn’t ready? And then he’ll?”
“Claire! He will not freak! I’m the one who said family dinner should be at six!”? Minelle blushed as bright red as her turtleneck sweater as she ran for the kitchen. “Set the table!” she yelled over her shoulder.
“Dad’s going to know that you’re not eating again,” Claire put in slyly as she got out the plaid placemats and napkins.
“It’s not cottage cheese this time. Aunt Cheryl sent me this recipe for healthy and nutritious vegetable shakes. I looked huge in our Christmas pictures this year. I just need to lose ten pounds. Poor man, what is he going to eat? Why didn’t I set some chicken to thaw earlier? Put out some bowls and spoons. We’ll have soup and sandwiches.”
Claire opened the silverware drawer but backed directly into Minelle who was flying full-tilt with a can of tomato soup in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. The can clunked to the floor, and Claire rubbed her side.
“Calm down. Sheesh.”
“That’s him! The garage door just went up! Oh, no!”
Claire set the placemats and napkins on the table as the door swung open.
“What’s cooking?”? Matthew crossed the kitchen in two large strides and swung Minelle around by the waist.
“Matthew! Put me down!”? Minelle giggled, and Claire rolled her eyes.
“I thought I was supposed to be the lovesick one,” she groaned.
“Glad to see you too.”? Matthew gave her a wink. “You don’t seem to be making any progress in that department. We haven’t seen Daniel in ages.”
“Dad!” Claire protested. “He’s so bossy!”
“Sounds about right for you,” Matthew grinned. He gave Minelle another kiss and fell into a chair. “What’s for dinner? I’m starved.”
“Mom was busy doing stuff on her computer and forgot to cook.”
“Claire!”? Minelle ducked to pick up the can of soup and hold it behind her back. “I thought maybe I could run out and pick something up?you know you like Chinese.”
Matthew cocked his head. “What’s behind your back?”?
Sheepishly, Minelle held out the soup can. “Sorry, honey. If you give me just a minute?”
“I bet Mom didn’t bring a lunch to school, either.”?
“Claire Labraun, you are such a?”
“The soup’s fine, Min. I’m so hungry I could probably eat the can, too.”
“Let me go and get you something more substantial?” Minelle ran her fingers through her hair.
“It’s okay, I want something fast.” Matthew plunked himself into a chair with a sigh. Minelle picked up a spatula and waved it at Claire.
“Claire, stop being a stinker and start making cheese sandwiches to grill.”
As Minelle and Claire bustled in the kitchen, Matthew rumbled to the bathroom to wash up.
“Claire, I did too bring a lunch to school and you had no need to tell your father?”
Claire smugly flipped a cheese sandwich to cook on the other side. “Didn’t you and Dad always say that not telling the whole truth is the same as lying?”
Minelle flexed her fingers. “If I were Mrs. Claus, I’d?”
Claire gave a nervous giggle. “Luckily you’re not.”
Minelle swatted Claire on the bottom, making her squeal.
Matthew came back into the kitchen and gave a laugh.
“I’m not saying that either of my girls don’t need a smack or two, but could a guy get something to eat first?”
Minelle piled a plate with two grilled cheese sandwiches and a bowl of steaming soup. “Give this to Dad,” she directed Claire. Then she put another sandwich and bowl of soup onto a plate and carried it to Claire’s place.
“You two go ahead,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”
“Just grab your own soup and?”
Minelle pretended not to hear as she tossed a handful of beets and carrots into the juicer she’d ordered from the home shopping channel. It had promised to make “detoxifying, weight-loss inducing, and delicious” vegetable shakes. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to cook the beets first or not, but with Matthew huffing at her to hurry she had no choice. She held the lid of the juicer firmly as she created a frothy shake of red-orange liquid vegetables. Pouring it into a tall glass, she carried it to the table where both Claire and Matthew stared at her.
“It looks like you’re eating a glass of lipstick,” Claire said with disgust and fascination.
“It’s delicious,” Minelle defended herself, even though the blood red of the beets did indeed resemble a lipstick color.
Matthew stared at Minelle. “Really, Min? Do we have to go there tonight?”
Minelle took a big gulp of the bubbly, garish juice. “Mm,” she said brightly. “Delicious. Too bad you can’t have any because I only made enough for me?”
Claire and Matthew wrinkled their noses in unison. Two gulps later, Matthew set down his empty plate and bowl before holding his hand out to Minelle.
“It’s time you and I had a little talk.”
Minelle held onto her nearly full glass. “But Claire isn’t finished eating yet, and this juice is fantastic?”
“Claire, you don’t mind finishing on your own and then cleaning up, right?”? Matthew laid a large hand at the small of Minelle’s back, lifting her up and out of the chair.
“Okay, Dad,” Claire agreed after a questioning pause.
Minelle tried to sit down again, but Matthew reached over with his other hand and plucked her glass out of her hand. Without hesitation, he set the glass on the table and led Minelle out of the kitchen.
“I don’t need to?” Minelle began, tugging her arm out of his grasp. Matthew held her firmly and leaned in close.
“Do you want to be spanked in the privacy of our bedroom, or should I do it right here in front of our first-born child?”?
As the seriousness of both his tone and words sank in, Minelle fell silent. Her eyes flickered to the kitchen where Claire dipped the end of her grilled cheese sandwich in her bowl of soup. Then Minelle looked up at Matthew.
“Those are your choices, Min. I can add a third one, but I don’t think you’ll like it.”
“If you’d just have given me a minute I would have gotten you some take-out and then you wouldn’t be cranky because you were hungry.”? Minelle kept her voice down but couldn’t keep the irritation out of her voice.
Matthew slid a hand to the underside of her bottom and gave a squeeze that made Minelle gasp.
“This has nothing to do with dinner, and you know it. Would you like me to spank you right here?” he asked. Minelle shook her head rapidly, wide-eyed. “Do you think it’s in your own best interest to allow me to escort you to our room?”?
At Minelle’s nod, Matthew helped her walk up the stairs and into their room. As he shut the door, Minelle wrenched herself from his grasp.
“I won’t get spanked for choosing what I eat,” she accused.
Matthew unbuttoned the cuff of his blue-and-white work shirt and rolled up his sleeve. “No, Min, you won’t,” he answered as he slid open the drawer of their nightstand. His hand brushed across the little leather flogger and instead closed around a small black walnut paddle. Oval-shaped, polished to a perfect shine, and both thin enough to wield easily and thick enough to pack a wallop, it was Minelle’s least favorite implement. As he held it up, Minelle shook her head furiously and backed away.
“N-n-no,” she stammered. “I don’t even know what I did, so you can’t use that.”? She put her hands behind her back, rubbing her bottom without thinking.
“Maybe,” Matthew said carefully, “I can help you remember.”? He sat on the bed and held out his hand.
“Honey, please. Claire’s downstairs and she can hear, and?”
Matthew continued to hold his hand out. “Are you telling me no?”
Minelle’s shoulders sagged as she gave a sigh. “No.”
“Are you feeling scared enough that I need to give you time to think things over before we can talk?”? Matthew’s hand remained steady. Minelle had used her “emergency exit” only twice in their twenty-two years of marriage, but he still liked to offer it. Slowly, she shook her head.
“I just don’t understand why,” she whimpered, a tear trickling down her cheek. “I’m sorry I didn’t have a nice dinner ready for you.”
“I don’t care about the dinner,” Matthew corrected her.
“But then why?”
“Am I head of this household or not?”
Another tear trickled down Minelle’s cheek. “Yes.”
“Then take my hand and come here, please.”
Slowly, agonizingly, Minelle took a tiny step forward. She held out her small hand, and Matthew set down the paddle next to him in order to take Minelle’s hand in both of his. He brought her in for a fierce hug.
“You are mine,” he whispered in her ear. “And I want you to take good care of what is mine.”? He kissed her on the neck before helping her lie across his lap. Minelle whimpered again.
“Please, honey, I’ll go and do what you say?”
Strong hands unfastened the clasp on her denim skirt and wriggled it under her hips and down to her ankles. Then the thick denim-blue tights rolled and bunched their way to join her skirt. Minelle twisted like a frustrated eel as she murmured her discomfort.
Matthew picked up the dark-wood paddle and let loose with a volley of powerful swats that left Minelle gasping for air. Each one hit so fast that Minelle was unable to even cry out.
“Uh-uh-uh!”? Her breathless protests verged on the furious until Matthew set the paddle down. His hand rubbed her back in gentle circles.
“Why?” Minelle managed to ask through her clenched teeth. “Why?”
“Keep thinking,” Matthew said as he applied the paddle again. Swift but measured, each stroke calculated for impact but without using his full strength. At well over six feet, however, even Matthew’s restrained strength made an indelible impression. This time, Minelle’s gasps of anger slowly morphed into gasps of distress.
“Ow!” she howled indignantly. The flogger, that was her favorite. Matthew flicking the sensuous silky strands and teasing her to delight was one thing. Even his hands or belt could be pleasurable if he wanted it to be. The paddle, however, was never used for anything but pain.
“You’re supposed to tell me what I did wrong!” she hissed at the next interval. “You aren’t supposed to just make it hurt without a reason!”
Matthew sighed and picked up the paddle again. “I was hoping not to use the third option, but if this one doesn’t work?”
“Just tell me what I did wrong!” Minelle demanded, digging her toes into the carpet. “That’s your job!”
“Last chance, Min,” Matthew said as he measured the paddle against her bottom.
“Fine!” Minelle snapped. “Spank me then. But you’re nothing but a bully.”
Matthew carefully, soundlessly lowered the paddle and let it drop to the floor. The clatter followed by the eerie silence deafened the room.
“Get up, Minelle,” Matthew commanded.
“Matthew, I’m sorry. I?”
Gently but firmly, Matthew set Minelle on her feet and unrolled the cuff of his shirt. Deliberately, he re-fastened the button and stood up in front of his wife. Minelle looked away, but Matthew spoke to her as if she had not broken eye contact.
“That was going too far.”
Minelle bit her lip. “I know.”
“We’ve talked about this.”
Minelle squirmed, biting the insides of her cheeks to keep herself from crying. They had talked about the name-calling, many times. He was being firm, responsible, and enforcing their agreed-upon discipline. Calling him a bully was childish and mean, and in ordinary circumstances she would never have said that. “Bully” was a taunt for kindergarten playgrounds, not for adult conversation. Yet when that awful paddle inflicted pain, she couldn’t control her mouth. “I didn’t think,” she mumbled.
“I know.”? Matthew put a hand on Minelle’s shoulder. “So I’ll give you time to think.”
Minelle flushed. “But?”
“I’ll have Claire bring up a sandwich that you will eat, and you can have some quiet time while you eat your dinner and then get ready for bed.”?
“If you can’t sleep, you can get up and sit quietly in your chair. But no computer. No books. Thinking time only.”
“Are you crazy?”? Minelle’s head jerked backward, her eyes snapping furiously.
Matthew walked toward the door, only to duck as something large and heavy flew past his head to bounce harmlessly off the door and onto the floor. He reached down to pick it up. “Thanks for giving me your book. I’ll take it with me to make sure you’re not reading it.”
“If you think I’m going to?” Minelle barreled toward Matthew, but he held out a hand to her chest. She slapped at his hand, crying with anger. “Stop being such a jerk!”
Matthew tucked the paperback under his left arm and let Minelle’s blows rain onto his body. Slowly, deliberately, he raised a hand and spanked her bottom with such force that it nearly lifted her off her feet. Minelle’s hands flew to her backside as she hopped up and down, muttering curses and threats through her tears.
“If you took one-hundredth of the stubbornness and temper you throw at me, and if you used that at school to stop letting people take advantage of you, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. When you understand that and are ready to talk rationally, you can come out.”
Matthew closed the door behind him, ignoring Minelle’s indignant sputters.