The truth was that if Thomas Attwood had not been a particular favourite amongst the students of Grey House then his housemistress, Miss Sternwood, would have been unlikely to have proposed such an unorthodox ultimatum. It is often said that we hurt the ones we love the most, and it works both ways, but despite what the old headmaster's cliché might suggest, in reality it always hurts most in exactly the place we would expect.
As the first and currently the only housemisstress to have been appointed at St Nicolas RC Grammar, Sophie Sternwood had quickly established her reputation amongst both students and colleagues. Firm? Undoubtedly. Fair? Always.
That very success was a creditable rebuttal to several detractors who had initially criticised her appointment. One or two long serving staff members had yet to recover from the shock of seeing the former "Masters' Common Room" re-Christened as the more inclusive "Teachers' Common Room". There was no denying that in a conservative private school, old attitudes are wont to linger, but the naysayers who questioned the ability of Miss Sternwood, a petite and attractive brunette, to maintain discipline amongst the boys, found that her first term in post had laid all doubts to rest.
This despite the fact that she was inclined to be far less liberal in her use of corporal punishment than her predecessor, Bill Crowe, or "Beaky Crowe" as he was more commonly referred to when out of earshot. Feedback from the first few boys who had foolishly misjudged femininity for weakness had spread in awed whispers, not just within Grey House itself, but throughout the entire school.
That is no ordinary school-cane several had insisted, with some boys speculating it must have been treated with exotic and forbidden oils to imbue it with additional stinginess. Others took the view she had been coached by a tennis pro until her forehand swing was capable of delivering strokes of hitherto unprecedented power.
Whatever the true explanation, the old adage of "cross me and you won't sit down for a week" had never felt closer to the truth.
Inevitably the implement soon earned itself a nickname that reflected its ferocious bite and also played on a perceived contrast with the pale straw colour of Old Beaky's cane. Miss Sternwood's instrument of correction was said to bear the satin hue of a medium roast coffee bean, yet mottled and streaked with subtle orange highlights. Some wag had Christened it "The Scorpion" and the name stuck.
Like its lethal namesake, one encounter was usually enough, and the occasional sight of a subdued senior fleeing Miss Sternwood's office, red faced and clutching their flaming backside, had been sufficient to provoke a remarkable improvement in Grey House discipline. For others it lent a powerful mystique to a woman, beautiful, charming and personable, yet whose deft disciplinary skills had proved sufficient to swiftly quell any defiance.
Of course, she was not naive to the fact that many of the senior boys and prefects were harbouring a lustful crush. In the hormonal maelstrom of the Grey House senior common room, it was pretty much inevitable that a young, beautiful housemistress would provoke exactly this reaction.
But she found that Thomas Attwood, whether or not he was equally lovestruck as his peers, had always approached her with an overt courtesy and reverence that seemed charmingly old fashioned. He was also able to engage in an intelligent conversation without gazing longingly at her cleavage, a feat that even some of her male teaching colleagues had so far been unable to accomplish.
As she gazed vaguely from the office window a sharp rap at the door interrupted her reverie and she seated herself back at the desk, adopting a suitably stern expression. She had never believed it would be necessary to carry through a promise she had laid down so many weeks previously and she was determined to ensure the message was delivered with absolute clarity.
At long last they had arrived at the final afternoon of spring term, Easter weekend only seven days away, falling as it did precisely in the middle of the two week holiday. There had been the usual frantic dash to gather up books, bags and PE kit and now, in the calm aftermath of that storm, this late afternoon appointment was to be the final act in a performance upon which the curtain had risen twelve weeks previously in a January house tutorial meeting.
"Come in," she called, pitching her voice to carry through the old oak door of her office and eying Thomas curiously as he entered. She sensed nerves, which was to be expected, but there was no hesitancy. When the door opened she was also relieved to hear complete silence from the corridor and the common rooms beyond. At 4:30pm on the last day of term, this was exactly as she had expected.
Hands clasped before him, Thomas waited, the almost clear surface of the desk maintaining the temporary illusion of a safe distance between them. He found himself flanked by a pair of high backed wooden chairs, but knew better than to sit without being invited, and waited obediently. It could have been any ordinary meeting with his Housemistress were it not for the presence of her cane, its tip and handle extending for several inches either side of the wide, leather trimmed blotter-pad. It was the only visible indication to show this particular appointment was destined to be brought to a memorable and sorely felt conclusion.
"Good afternoon Thomas. I might as well be perfectly blunt right from the start and tell you that this is going to be a most uncomfortable meeting for you. As a senior boy you are likely to find the situation embarrassing, it will not be pleasant, and in the immediate aftermath I very much doubt that you will thank me for it. But, I do promise you this: by hook or by crook I'm going to see to it that you put every possible effort into your studies, and so, right now, we will be seeing this matter through to its conclusion."
Sophie was known to introduce these appointments with a short and pointed exposition. Appeals and protests were ill advised since she was not a lady who had ever been known to back down. In three years as head of Grey House, "no false promises, no empty threats", had become an oft cited mantra.
"There is a famous cliché, of which I can't say I've ever been particularly fond, but which inevitably comes to mind at times like these. It goes along the lines of my claiming this somehow hurts me more than it hurts you. Well, it might feel like eons since my own schooldays, back at Saint Frances College only a few miles from here, but I suppose I can confess there were one or two occasions in my youth where I learned that old idiom for the lie that it's always been. However, such recollections aside, with a clear conscience I can assure you it's not without a genuine sense of regret that I find you reporting to me today under these particular circumstances."
At thirty-five years of age she could still clearly remember the corridors of Saint Frances and the dark wood paneling outside the headmistress's study. It stretched from the dull parquet floor to around shoulder height, whereupon it gave way to insipid magnolia paint and windows that were set high in the walls, requiring the use of a hooked wooden pole to open and close their spring loaded catches.
On several occasions she had found herself facing that wall with hands on head, awaiting the dreaded summons. Entering the office, girls were always greeted by the stern, habit-clad figure of the headmistress, Sister Prudence, the cane already in her hand and pointing meaningfully to the back of an overstuffed arm chair. Completely out of place among the other furniture in her office, it's only purpose seemed to be lending its rounded back as a support for the girls to bend over, gripping tightly to the edge of its arm rests, their toes often barely touching the floor.
Discipline at Saint Frances College had been fickle and inconsistent in her day. Six strokes applied across various girls' knickers was as much a part of the daily school routine as morning chapel and it was a surprise if anyone was able to go more than a term without at least one visit to Sister, and those inevitable half-dozen scalding welts across their bottom.
"As I stressed at our last meeting", Miss Sternwood continued, her mind returning to the present, "at St Nick's we never punish for poor academic results. What we aim for is to encourage concerted effort, and through hard work we expect boys to acquit themselves in the best possible manner. Fundamentally that was the basis upon which we made our arrangement."
Almost as though it were a favourite pet, Miss Sternwood lightly and affectionately patted her cane, but for the time being left it lying on the desktop.
"Yes Miss," Thomas replied solemnly. "I've thought about what you said. I know there's no excuse, and really all I can say is-", and for the first time he hesitated, "well, only to say I'm sorry. I know that a lack of effort let me down this term, and I really will work harder next term."
In a formal sense it was difficult to find fault with either the behaviour or the academic record of Thomas Attwood. Miss Sternwood's frustrations stemmed from a curious dip in his predicted grades since entering the Upper-Sixth. In their meeting back in January he told her it was all down to the more relaxed, tolerant attitude towards boys in their final sixth form year.
It was true that additional privileges and freedoms were granted to senior boys, but it was firmly on the basis they should be mature enough to work hard without such close supervision, and the suggestion this was to blame for poor test results had infuriated Sophie during that previous tutorial meeting. January, and the beginning of spring term, now seemed a long time ago, but she remembered their conversation clearly and recalled how she struggled to remain calm.
"For goodness sake Attwood," she had exclaimed, as much in exasperation as annoyance. "You're a month past your eighteenth birthday, you'll be starting University in less than a year, probably living away from home. If you haven't developed a sense of motivation and self discipline by now, something is seriously wrong! Maybe you could at least try to show a little maturity? I don't suggest for one minute that academic success should be your only objective in life, but your exam results in a few months time will be a critical step for you. How much more motivation can you possibly need?"
She remembered how he had looked downcast by her uncharacteristic outburst, his cheeks blushing pink, and she had relented, trying to be more encouraging.
"Look, I know it's not always an easy transition from the rules and hand-holding of the junior years. All I want is to see you really focus on your grades for a few months. I've tried encouragement, I've tried cajoling, I've discussed your work with your parents, and I seem to remember we even resorted to a couple of Saturday morning homework detentions. Quite frankly there are very few options remaining."
Genuinely sorry to have disappointed her, Thomas had seemed eager to reassure, but before he could reply, Miss Sternwood had risen from her seat and retrieved something long and slender from a hand-sized gap that was conveniently, but quite discreetly, left open between two of her bookcases.
"If, as you seem to be claiming, the leeway granted to senior boys is really to blame, I'm going to make a suggestion. Perhaps it's a little unconventional. Some might argue that it bends the rules of our usual approaches to school discipline. But, if you believe an ultimatum with tangible and specific consequences is what you require, perhaps there is a way for me to oblige. In fact, I'm suddenly feeling quite optimistic that we can come to an arrangement."
As she made this speech, coy at first but quickly warming to her theme, she had slowly turned, revealing the dreaded cane in her hands and giving it a gentle flex. He looked gobsmacked, staring back in disbelief.
Sophie had come to be rather fond of Thomas over the last few terms acting as his designated house tutor. There was a natural, easy rapport and she had begun this ploy as a tease to try and shake him out of his academic complacency. She had intended that her traditional crook handled school cane would act merely as a prop to give emphasis to her words. Perhaps an older or more experienced housemistress might have sensed a curious infatuation in his eyes, perhaps could have understood the allure of her authority, and might even have guessed just how much he longed to submissively bend to her every whim.
"Of course," she had continued contemplatively, "I won't deny it's rare that a boy in his final year would find himself subject to the threat of corporal punishment, but I assure you there's nothing in the rulebook that says I cannot discipline a member of my tutor group in whatever manner I deem to be the most appropriate."
Had he not been something of a pet favourite she would never have made such an unorthodox proposal. But as it was, with a glint in her eye she had concluded, "So, I take it that's settled then?"
Thomas's eyes were locked onto the fearsome implement held so casually in Sophie's hands. He saw that her arms were beautifully pale and slender, but the lace embroidered cuffs of her short sleeved blouse had risen up as she bent her arms to flex the cane and now sat snuggly around defined and well toned biceps, hinting at an athleticism that belied her small physique.
It would have been hard for him to explain, but there was something beguiling in the incongruity between her relaxed, friendly manner and his memories of seeing supposedly hardened bullies scurry off to the toilets to hide their tears at the end of yet another painfully unequal confrontation in Miss Sternwood's office. It was precisely this conflation of fear and desire that had occupied so many of his erotic dreams over the last couple of years.
Observing her from afar, her beauty and understated power, the calm authority that Miss Sternwood exuded so effortlessly, had frequently given him butterflies in his tummy. But here and now, in such close proximity, the scent of her hair, a delicate hint of her perfume as she moved, and an inexplicable intimacy of seeing her casual handling of the terrible cane, suddenly provoked a discernable twitch below his waistline. He shifted awkwardly, self-consciously adjusting his blazer and opening his mouth to speak, but found himself at a loss for words.
"Indeed? And so you should look apprehensive," she responded, in her innocence misreading the causes of his fidgeting. "But, as unconventional as this approach might seem, something tells me this could be exactly what's needed to provide the focus and motivation you need. I can't say I entirely approve, of course. Senior boys in the upper sixth ought to be able to motivate themselves without threats of disciplinary measures, but if this is what it takes..."
Her sentence had hung in the air and there was simply no need for her to continue. He knew her policy well. No false promises, no empty threats.
"Here's how this will work-" and in just a few moments she had patiently explained a plan of gathering regular feedback from his teachers throughout the rest of the school term. Once they reached the Easter break, she had warned him, she expected to be fully satisfied he was studying to the absolute best of his ability.
"You know how I despise empty threats Thomas, so please make sure this turns out to be one that I never have to carry out. But, don't doubt that I will, if that's what it takes."
Sitting in Miss Sternwood's office back in January, the end of spring term had felt like a distant and almost abstract checkpoint and Thomas had nervously agreed. "You won't have to, Miss," he assured her, "and I completely understand what you're telling me. No compromises, and this time I promise that I won't let you down."
The weeks had flown. Rather encouraging at first, Miss Sternwood received excellent feedback on Thomas's work between January through to the mid-February half term. A small blip then, with questions over a missing homework assignment, followed in short order by poor results in a couple of surprise tests. Nothing was black and white, and she found herself facing exactly the sort of borderline call that she had hoped to avoid.
Unfortunately for Thomas, one further lacklustre assignment in early March had tipped the scales, and Sophie found herself committed to an ultimatum that she had sincerely hoped to avoid.
Taking pains to ensure they were able to schedule a private appointment, she had informed Thomas of her decision just a few days ago, instructing him to arrive half an hour after final lessons on the final day of the term. The House admin corridor would be empty and she felt certain none of the other boys would still be lingering in the common rooms.
"Yes, Thomas. That's the basis on which we both agreed this unconventional ultimatum back in January," Miss Sternwood repeated, this time with greater emphasis. "No compromises, as I believe you said yourself. Well, I warned you not to doubt my resolve in this matter, and now the time has come."
Taking up her cane by the inside of its perfectly rounded crook handle, she stood, gently flexing it before running her fingers along its smooth length. Cool to her fingertips, it was carefully sanded at each joint and slightly rounded at the tip.
"In the circumstances I will have to insist we treat this as an informal and discretionary punishment. It will not be officially recorded in the House register, which means it will stay between these four walls, and you will be pleased to note that it will not appear on your permanent academic record."
Seeing her behind her desk, hands apart and holding the cane horizontal at the level of her slender waist, he began to truly feel the magnitude of his predicament. Grateful that at least the knowledge of their meeting would go no further, he replied promptly. "Thank you, Miss."
She doubted he would be be feeling quite so thankful in a few minutes time, or indeed for the next few days, but she was glad to have addressed the formalities.
"Be warned that I do not intend to make this easy for you. Our purpose today is motivation. By your own admission, your efforts have been sadly lacking and, barely two months from your A-Levels, this cannot be allowed to continue."
She could feel that her words were hitting the mark. As soon as she has risen from her chair, and in the near silence of the late afternoon, a palpable tension had descended in the room.
"It's going to be six for you Thomas, this time. Make no mistake, even for a senior, six strokes of the cane will be a very salutary lesson and, you can take it from me, it's going to be a lesson that you will not forget in a hurry."
"Yes Miss," Thomas replied, and now she was really beginning to detect the nervousness in his voice.
"And one more thing. Were this to be a single, never too be repeated punishment, it would hardly serve as an adequate ongoing deterrent, and therefore-", with a pause she retrieved a blue exercise book from her drawer and slid it across the desk. He noted she had already printed the words 'revision diary' in capital letters upon its cover.
"-over the Easter break you will record your exam revision work in this notebook. I trust that you are a young man of honour and integrity, and after the holiday I will ask you to look me in the eye and give me a honest appraisal of your efforts. If I am not fully satisfied, be warned that I will take a very dim view. We're setting a precedent this afternoon and I will not hesitate to administer further discipline if I believe efforts in your studies have slipped. Sorry to drop another cliché on you, but- this is for your own good."
Sophie had now moved around to his side of the desk and was eyeing his profile.
"Move those two chairs against the far wall, and remove your blazer."
The old furniture was far heavier than it looked and she patiently waited as he half lifted and half slid them up to the wall. His fingers trembled against his blazer buttons before he folded it neatly across the chair seats and turned to face Miss Sternwood.
"Since we're already bending the rules with this unorthodox punishment, I suggest you also loosen your belt and drop your trousers to your ankles!"
"Oh- but please, Miss," he implored, his fear now manifest in a far more discernable tremor in his voice. He found he was shaking his head, although without consciously being aware of it, he dared not actually speak a refusal out loud.
"Attwood," she warned, veiled menace both in her tone of voice and in the sudden switch to his surname. "You're not a junior now and I intend to make this a punishment that you will never forget. You will do exactly as I tell you, and you will do it right now."
As the charcoal grey trousers fell into a bunch around his black shoes she added, "In fact, remove them altogether. Trousers wrapped around your ankles looks like an accident waiting to happen. Fold them neatly onto the chair."
He found he had to perch on the edge of the chair to unlace his shoes, balancing rather awkwardly in an effort to avoid crushing his blazer. He promptly tucked the shoes under the chair, his socks automatically stuffed into each, and finally he laid his trousers over the blazer.
Red faced before such a beautiful and impeccably attired young woman whom he had secretly admired for so long, and barely knowing how to present himself, he found his fingers nervously playing with the hem of his white cotton shirt and his bare feet fidgeted on the well worn and slightly scratchy wool carpet.
Sophie had not consciously planned to push his embarrassment any further than this. It had never been her prime objective for the lesson, but observing the shame and discomfort this was obviously causing for him, and still feeling irritated by his moment of defiance, however fleeting it might have been, she was determined to make things even more uncomfortable for him.
"I suggest you stand up straight, and if you can't keep your hands from pulling at your shirt tails, you'd better take it off altogether."
Once again there was the pleading look in his eyes, and the silent, nervous shake of the head.
"I don't like being forced to repeat myself Attwood," she warned with an imperious stare. "Do as you are told."
She half expected continued appeals for leniency, but in the face of her unyielding determination he finally appeared subdued. With eyes lowered and cheeks blushing, he fumbled first with his tie knot and then with each shirt button. She saw that he wore blue, jersey style boxer shorts, close fitting to his firm thighs and with a red trimmed waistband that hugged his flat belly. His body was toned and athletic, a build Sophie suspected would fill out rather nicely over the next few years if he kept up his interests in sport.
From either side of her study they faced each other in silence. Miss Sternwood looking every part the businesslike figure in a navy knee length skirt-suit and dark, slightly glossy stockings. The scooped neckline of her white chiffon blouse revealed a black bead necklace whose centre was embellished with an elongated silver charm that hung just an inch or two above a tantalising glimpse of cleavage. A matching navy jacket, cinched at the waist and flared at the hip, was fastened with a pair of elaborate and oversized silver buttons.
The cane, a single, inescapably dominant theme of this formal ensemble, lay relaxed but ready against her side, following the line of her thigh down towards the right toe of her patent leather kitten heels.
In contrast, Thomas had been reduced to a humble figure, abjectly resigned to his fate and standing meekly before her. Almost naked, save for the brief navy boxer shorts, in Sophie's eyes he looked abashed and yet somehow not wishing to draw out the wait any longer. Perhaps it was a desire to conclude their appointment as soon as possible she thought, but she was finding his demeanour hard to read.
Well aware of the fact this off-the-record punishment had already pushed the boundaries of appropriateness to breaking point, she hesitated once again before making up her mind. "You're not done yet. Pants too! Put them over there with the rest of your clothes."
After another long silence, shifting awkwardly under her gaze, he finally slipped the thumbs of each hand into the elastic waistband of his boxer shorts and began to slowly ease them down. In a manoeuvre that might have appeared feintly comical in different circumstances, he inched the waistband lower, exposing just the first few dark strands of hair at the upper edge of his pubes.
Then, stooping forward in a bid to protect what little modesty was remaining, he used his right hand to cradle his privates, bending forward still further until his left hand could drop and collect his boxer shorts from his ankles. He backed in tiny shuffling footsteps towards the chair that already held the rest of his clothes, and dropped the boxers on top, finally bringing his left hand forward to assist in covering himself.
"Turn that way," she used the her cane to indicate towards the desk, "both hands on the desktop."
"Yes Miss," he replied breathlessly, taking the same small footsteps and only moving his hands once he was up against the edge of the desk and beginning to bend forward. Despite facing away from her, he could feel her eyes appraising his young, naked body, and sensed the frisson of a forbidden, shameful thrill, blending inextricably with what was rapidly becoming a very real anxiety.
Slipping off her own jacket, Sophie directed him verbally, maintaining the distance between them until he had adopted her preferred posture. Feet six inches apart, elbows close to the leading edge of the desktop, palms and forearms laid flat across its surface.
Her own stance, familiar and well practiced, took her to the corner of the wide old school desk. The big toe of her leading left foot lightly touched the corner, knee comfortably bent, left hand braced against upon her upper thigh. With her right shoulder relaxed she rehearsed a single stroke in slow motion, very, very lightly bringing the cool, hard rattan into its first contact with Thomas's bare bottom.
Her posture, leaning into what those familiar with fencing or other swordsmanship might have described as a slight forward lunge, kept the cane dead horizontal across the lower curve of his cheeks. In their slightly offset positions he mostly felt its pressure on his left side, but the whippy flex of the cane in full, high-speed motion would not spare his right cheek when the six strokes fell evenly across the width of his firm behind.
"Just a half step to your right please," Sophie directed, keeping the cane in contact as he shuffled sideways. With light pressure applied, the cane seemed to glide along a narrow indentation pressed into his smooth, pale skin. "And... stop right there. Now, your feet back just a little further."
She watched his feet as he wriggled them awkwardly back, stopping him the moment his legs were leaning sufficiently to lift his heels the merest fraction off the ground.
"Now, strictly maintain that position," she warned.
Without being aware that he was doing it, Thomas's face instinctively winced in expectation. Perversely he knew that he was simultaneously both longing for and dreading the terrible impact that could now only be a few seconds away.
"First one," Miss Sternwood announced in a level, matter of fact tone.
Hearing her draw a single deep breath, slowly in and slowly out, Thomas felt the cane lift. The contact was broken for less than a second and then came the rushing whoosh of pliant rattan as it sang through the small office to be followed by the splitting crack of impact across his bare bottom. He cried out, a breathy, pained gasp and arched his back as he fought to urge to stand and grab at the streak of fire that seemed to have been lit across his bottom.
As suddenly as it arrived, the immediate burning slice across his cheeks seemed to subside for a fraction of a second before erupting into a deep, smarting sting that swelled and throbbed, not just at the point of impact, but it felt to him as though it filled his entire bottom.
"Maintain the position Attwood. It won't be getting any easier," Sophie warned, the whippy cane lightly moving and tapping as she spoke, a familiar dread ritual to ensure her next stroke would land precisely on target. "This will be two."
Again the whoosh and crack, and this time as 'The Scorpion' seared across his bottom, he found himself unable to resist the reflex to spring to his feet. With a howl he gingerly grasped his bottom where the rawness of a burning sting throbbed all the way across his cheeks. He expected a reprimand, but to his momentary surprise he found that none came.
Only when his eyes turned to meet Miss Sternwood's implacable gaze did he experience an unforgettable moment of sheer horror. Instinctively glancing down at his fully exposed nakedness, he promptly apologised, leaning forward once again into the prescribed posture.
"I suggest," Miss Sternwood announced in the same controlled tone, "that you remember every last detail of this punishment," the light tap-tap of her cane punctuating the rhythm of her words, "especially if you ever begin to feel your mind wander from your studies... now for number three."
Again there was a whoosh and the pistol crack of impact, accompanied by the blistering, burning sting that filled his backside. Closing his eyes tight shut, he felt a warm tear squeezed onto his cheek alongside the edge of his nose. From Miss Sternwood's higher vantage point, three horizontal stripes, raised welts, red and angry, lay in stark contrast to the surrounding skin of his bottom. A pair of them merged almost into one, so closely had the first two strokes fallen. The third was isolated, having made its contact an inch higher.
"Now for number four," Miss Sternwood stated, cold and impersonal, filling Thomas with dread even before he felt her cane raised back. With stunning force and a the sound of a thwack that blended seamlessly into his pained whimper, her stroke fell into the small gap below the third, slightly higher stripe.
"Two more to go. Do not move from your position. This will be number five."
Miss Sternwood's aim was always unerring, her power never diminishing, her strength fully gathered in the ten to fifteen seconds that she habitually allowed between strokes. Once the fifth red stripe had been added to the melee, a horizontal two inch band of densely grouped red tramlines positively glowed, cheek to cheek, all the way across Thomas's bottom.
"And now, six," she calmly announced. This time the delay was longer while she observed him tense his bottom and then momentarily flinch away. She simply waited until he regained his composure and then delivered a final almighty thwack across the centre of the red band that felt as though it had been forever and permanently branded across his buttocks.
Breathless and a little light headed, he knew with absolute certainty that the tales of his Housemisstress's disciplinary prowess had not been exaggerated. Still looking down at the desktop, he was aware of movement somewhere behind him and heard a light rattle of cane against furniture as she replaced it on its discreet hook between her two bookcases.
The embarrassment of being naked in her study had soon been overwhelmed by the relentless throbbing from his behind and he barely registered that she had returned to her desk. She seemed to take her time replacing her jacket and fastening its buttons. Although he kept his head down, once again he could feel her eyes upon him.
"Stand up Attwood, and cover yourself as best you can. It's time for us to review our next steps."
Awkwardly he rose, his knees feeling shaky as he clutched both hands before his crotch. Standing upright he could now feel tears on both sides of his nose, tickling his cheeks as they made their laborious progress down towards his upper lip.
He would never know whether it was deliberate or not, but this delay in allowing him to dress felt like a final wicked twist. He could think of nothing but the intense, overwhelming desire to massage his burning rear end and to wipe away the tears from his eyes. But, standing naked before his housemistress, his hands were compelled to cup around his privates, his legs squeezed together tightly so that his opposing big toes almost overlapped. He dared not move, and could only drink in the unfamiliar sensations from his backside; burning, throbbing, prickling.
Miss Sternwood, herself a little flushed by the exertion, sat down and leaned back easily in her chair. Interlocking her fingers and regarding him thoughtfully she kept him waiting for what felt like an eternity.
Yet in spite of the intense smarting pain that tormented his burning bottom, and he guiltily wondered if it might be precisely because of it, he was finding her even more achingly desirable. Not once did her eyes leave him and she seemed intent on prolonging his vulnerability and exposure for as long as possible.
"Not so funny, is it? A young man in his upper sixth year finding himself in this humiliating position."
With a shake of his head, and in a wavery voice, he conceded that indeed it was not.
"The Easter holiday begins tomorrow and I suggest you first take a couple of days break to evaluate, and then I expect you to continue your A-level revision in earnest. Remember to log your schedule in the workbook I gave you, and when we return in a fortnight's time, report back here, 4:30pm sharp on Monday afternoon. We'll review and I will have some questions for you. Do I even need to tell you that I expect honest answers?"
Turning in her swivel chair to face the window, she finally relented and instructed him to dress.
The sports field she overlooked was almost deserted, just a couple of late stragglers taking a shortcut from Mainschool towards the school driveway. To her left a tall beech tree partly obstructed one corner of her window and in that shaded area of glass she saw a ghostlike reflection of her room.
She watched the glass as Thomas, finally free to rub his bottom, struggled to simultaneously turn his boxer shorts the correct way around using only his left hand while his right hand frantically massaged at his burning cheeks. With a wry smile she reflected he would not be rubbing away that sting for quite a while. Even by her own superlative standards she knew those had been six very smartly delivered and powerful strokes.
"Are you decent?" she asked a couple of minutes later, already knowing from her reflected view that he was busy with his tie. She turned her chair as soon as he replied and watched until he had pulled on his blazer and straightened the collar.
From his polished black shoes, the pleated charcoal trousers, the white shirt with red and gold tie, to the well fitted black blazer, it was hard to reconcile the mature appearance of this young man with the tearful boy who had presented his bare bottom to her cane just moments earlier. Only his hands, clutching gratefully at the seat of his trousers, would have given any clue as to what had just gone before.
"I'm sorry it had to come to this Thomas, but to your credit you took your discipline in good grace, and I suggest you return from the holidays with a much better focus, and a determination to excel yourself in the exams this summer."
"I will Miss. Thank you, Miss."
"You may go now, and remember I will be taking a particular interest in your studies next term."
With a brief detour via the washrooms to splash cold water on his face, Thomas collected his bag from the locker room and headed for the school driveway. A short walk would take him into town and his bus stop that stood just a few yards from the market cross.
As he walked, a little awkwardly at first, he had the sense of his bottom still smouldering, pulsating with a hot sting, but the fiercest intensity was already beginning to ebb. True, the sensation was amplified yet again when he sat down on the bus, a needling sting that seemed to prickle deep into his backside in a slow, relentless rhythm. But however sore he felt, it was not enough to prevent him daydreaming of the truly magnificent Miss Sophie Sternwood.
A couple of stops from home, he relinquished his seat to a silver haired old lady, walking stick in one hand and a bag with bread, milk and cereal in the other. As she gratefully took the offered seat, she seemed to glance up at him in surprise.
"Thank you, young man. And you've certainly kept this seat warm for me!"
It was a perfectly innocent remark, but nevertheless he felt his cheeks blush as he shyly acknowledged her thanks, privately wondering if anyone could possibly suspect the roasted condition of his backside. Thankfully, in his heart, he knew that it was exceedingly unlikely.
Those amorous daydreams of his strict Housemistress stayed with him long into the evening. Lying awake in bed that night, he pictured Sophie flexing her cane and ordering him to strip. He imagined her dark, chestnut hair flying wildly as she threw her shoulder and arm into each and every stroke. He imagined the burning intensity and the sting swelling to fill his bottom, and finally he thought of the prickly smarting that he would carry for days, a painful souvenir to be cherished and reignited whenever he sat down.
Sensing himself beginning to stiffen in his loose pyjama shorts, he wondered whether he would actually dare to strategically leave an unexplained gap in his Easter revision diary, calling down Miss Sternwood's terrible wrath once more?
But, on second thoughts, he reconsidered. He decided to leave two gaps - just to be sure...