As she strode briskly across campus, Alex Tao was frustrated that the pressures of the morning did not slide off of her as easily as she would have liked. Even in the tennis shoes she had changed into, she really wasn’t getting a workout-which is what she really needed to clear her head.
Plus, a walk like this wasn’t meant to be a single-minded workout; it was a mixer of sorts. She did not shy from greeting students crossing her path which slowed her down on the one hand but helped to tighten the bonds she felt with the campus community. She sometimes imagined herself as the Dragon Lady in this small upstate institution. When she sat at her desk in the third floor office suite literally overseeing the school she had been a part of for twenty years, she felt that she was holding it all together by force of will. She was responsible for setting academic standards, setting admission guidelines, making tenure decisions, approving curricula, all issues of testing, ensuring that the professors all had what they needed, setting and enforcing the standards of student behavior, fighting off the incursions of The Chancellor…on and on.
Until recently, the stress of her day had been released by an almost daily regimen of tennis on the courts out back or on the varsity courts up campus. Until recently, that is. Too much tennis wore on aging tendons. Now she was relegated to brisk walks across campus to try to blow off steam. She still carried a version of the discipline and self-control that she exhibited behind her desk when she walked the quad but she was much looser-able to relax and let her personality shine through; get a feel for the campus-overhear what the students might be saying.
“Good morning Ms. Tao”, a fresh faced little blonde called out as she hurried through a cross path.
“Hi Cindy!” Ms. Tao called back with a smile.
“Hope you’re feeling better, Ms. Tao”, said a young boy passing her on the way to Chemistry lab.
“Getting there”, she smiled, sort of shrugging with her right arm immobilized in a sling.
“Looking forward to seeing you back on the courts!”
The kids loved to watch her play tennis. She wasn’t much good anymore-at least by her own strict standards-but she didn’t mind having the reputation as an athlete gone slightly to seed; as long as “athlete” was in the thought. Alex Tao had been a competitive player when she was a student at Mt. Ashby-once winning a conference title and always placing in tournaments with her counter-punching heady style of play. Opponents who didn’t know her mistook the sweet, smiling little girl across the net for a defensive player, happy to absorb attacks at the net and volley, until she spotted the tiniest opening and BAM! It was her style that made her an excellent coach for a few years after graduation.
Now she was a hacker who used the court to blow off steam and fend off the extra fifteen pounds that comes with sitting behind a desk or in meetings most of the day. Some evenings she would play practice matches with the current team or beat, or lose to, any ex-high school hot shot who came to campus and wanted to take on this woman that could have been their mother. Well, mathematically just barely, but to the kids, everyone who wasn’t in class was their parent’s age.
“Hey, Ms. T!”
She slowed her pace to greet Bobby Black. “Hello, young Robert-you’re off to…..Antebellum America, right?” He smiled in the affirmative a little flattered that she knew his schedule that well. “Work is going well?”
“Yes, very well-I’m in for a B at this point.”
“Great!” she enthused. “Professor Baxter is tough-but smart. Knows his stuff.”
“What’s with the…” he nodded toward her sling.
“Tendinitis. The elbow…Have to immobilize it for a couple of weeks.”
He cocked his head to one side so that she could almost see the twinkle in his eye behind the Ray Bans. “Would’ve been nice a couple of months ago.”
She laughed and turned away, continuing her walk. “Get to class, Robert. And keep the work up!”
These kind of exchanges were why she walked the campus. Two months before Bobby Black was in her office having been busted for under-age drinking. The rules were clearly defined and enforced by her. Lose a letter grade, which could mean a failure of a term, a range of academic strictures…or a caning. Robert Black wasn’t the first freshman, nor would he be the last, to hear these rules, sign off on them, then forget them until being called on the carpet.
Bobby had blushed fiercely when it became clear that the only way to rescue his term after only a month on campus was to accept a caning from the Dean of Studies, a woman no less, but it was worse when she had told him it would have to be on the bare. He had asked for an exception of course-didn’t beg, didn’t want to appear weak-that it had been his first offence. He’d never been caned before…could he please keep his underwear on…all the usual.
Alex’s heart went out to him-it really did. She had been in his spot years before and remembered the fear, the embarrassment the….trapped feeling. But she also remembered the feeling of closure-the relief she felt-after being rightly punished for something she had done. The code of Alex Tao was to stay with a system that worked. This had worked for her and for the students of Mt. Ashby for years and she just couldn’t see changing it on her watch.
She offered him a chance to call a friend-a witness. Some kids liked to have somebody with them. Girls brought roommates or sorority sisters, some came alone but asked for Colleen, her secretary, to sit in…boys were always solo. As it was with Bobby.
His eyes had filled with tears and she looked away as he fumbled clumsily with the button of his khakis. She stood behind him and coached soothingly-just push your pants down, now your underwear, don’t step out of them-that’s OK…He had stood there facing her desk with his clothes in a puddle at his feet. “Just bend over”, she said gently. “Put your hands on the desk and we’ll get this over with.”
His soft white bottom was boyishly slender and tensed when Alex tapped it with the cane. She took the disciplinary responsibility seriously and wanted to do it right-but within guidelines. “Don’t tense,” she said. “Just relax. I’ll do the work”.
His cheeks softened and she stroked him hard across the center of his butt. He gasped loudly. She knew the pain would have been a surprise, a deep burn searing through the skin. The second stroke fell expertly below the first, eliciting a grunt then a moan when the third dug into the soft flesh at the bottom of his right cheek. She stepped back as he rose on his toes and pushed back trying to dissipate the pain. By the end she had given him eight strokes-four less than the usual and two more than the minimum.
Finishing up she knew that he would be careful about wearing a towel in the showers for a few days because the purple welts that she left him with would-like autumn leave-change hues but colorfully stain his bottom for a week. While he had unashamedly stood and rubbed his burning butt Alex had reached over his shoulder with a wad of tissue knowing that he would rather take another caning than let her see him cry.
After he pulled up his pants she had him sit down-albeit gingerly-on the couch while she sat in the chair opposite to give him a few moments to calm down and let the flush leave his cheeks. He ended up staying almost an hour-It had been an informal chat-really how formal could it have been? Walls usually come down when pants do. He talked about himself, what he was hoping to get out of school, his overall plans…by the time she got up, effectively ending their conversation, she knew as much about Bobby Black as she knew about anyone on campus. He had even given her a quick surprising hug as he left.
Admittedly, this kind of open sharing was rare but Alex was convinced that the cane, a superb corrective and deterrent, could, when applied correctly, open avenues of intimate conversation and interaction like nothing else. She had seen it happen over and over and was why she was so committed to what she saw as the Mt. Ashby way.
On the other hand, Mr. Wallace Foster, the Chancellor and her only superior at Mt. Ashby was a bit of a martinet. Before he came to campus five years before all discipline unquestionably fell to the Dean of Studies. The Chancellor, handling the money side of Mr. Ashby from the top floor of the Administration Center across campus stayed out of it. Lately though, over the last few months, he had wanted to spread his wings a bit and had called some students to his office over paperwork issues-incomplete financial forms, things like that. Technically he was in his right to mete out whatever discipline he felt fit to but Alex thought it was a little much to flip up a freshman’s skirt and stroke her across the panties for a paperwork error. Seemed to her a bit capricious and…recreational on his part. Definitely not the Mt. Ashby way.
Which is why this tendinitis had come at such and inopportune time. She knew that Mr. Wallace would happily take on more of the disciplinary responsibilities from a Dean of Studies who could not swing a cane. Her left arm was embarrassingly useless-she might be able to work on it, but doubted it. Damn! She was back at her building already. She took the steps two at a time trying to pump her heart rate for than even her brisk walking pace did. This was the kind of thing that she needed the tennis court for; to blow out the cobwebs and clear her mind.
She moved quickly through the open door of her outer office. “Hi Alex”, Colleen, her secretary, a willowy, ruddy blonde, greeted her. She had hired Colleen a year before knowing that she wanted to be on a career path similar to her own. An ex-tennis player (who consistently beat Alex on the strength of her stride alone) she was taking classes at night to fill out her Master’s and saw herself-in her dreams- as a Mt. Ashby lifer.
“Any calls, disasters or catastrophes happen when I was out?” She lingered at the desk.
“All quiet…You do remember your four o’clock with Professor Barren, right?”
“Yes, yes”, then seeing another chance to move, “….Call her will you? Tell her I’ll come over to her office instead of her hauling herself up here.”
“And make me a cup of tea would you? Green, decaf”.
When Colleen came in with the tea-finished off with a squeeze of lemon-she found her boss swiveled round in her chair looking out over the campus or more precisely, the trees on the quad. She set the cup and saucer on the corner of her desk and stood by a moment. Alex was lost in her thoughts rubbing the thumb of her left hand along her jawline. “Anything else?” she asked.
“You’ve never been caned, have you?” asked Alex without looking away from the window.
“Ah-no. No, never.” Her voice got a high breathless sound to it. “Why? Have I done something?…I…I”
“Relax”, Alex reassured her turning back to the room. “Nothing like that…”
“Jesus! Don’t scare me like that-I feel like I have to pee now.”
“You’re such a baby-I was just curious. I mean you’ve heard enough punishments through the door…came in and witnessed a few; but never had one yourself.” With a smile, “Are you really that good?”
“I’m really that petrified!”
“I was paddled once. In seventh grade by my gym teacher: Mrs. Silvers. She caught me handing a note to my boyfriend out the window when he was at recess. That was a big no-no back then. As soon as I saw her see me, my knees almost buckled. I had to go to her office behind the gym after school. I had to wait all day! In and out of the bathroom all afternoon. I almost had a heart attack.”
“What was it like finally?”
“Horrible. Because it was her, really. We all had the idea-we all knew-that she liked doing it. I was bent over, hands on my knees, straight legs…the worst was hearing her shuffling around behind me-picking up the paddle, stepping from one side to the other, staring at my backside, measuring me-all that.”
“Nope-silent. Four swats-one right after the other. Bam-bam-bam-bam! Hurt like hell!”
“Did you cry?”
“Wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. Later though, yeah. And my butt was still red when I got home. And bruised the next day.”
“I can’t believe you never told me about this.”
“I didn’t want to talk about it…From that day on I did everything I could to avoid the paddle or the cane here. Some kids at school they take a caning as ‘the cost of doing business’-if they get caught, they’ll take it. Not me. I became Miss Color Inside the Lines, Goody-Two Shoes.”
“And she liked doing it-this gym teacher.”
“Oh yeah…She’d try to catch people at something so she could bend them over”.
“Not like we do here.”
“Night and day. You care about us…about the students, I mean. This is a safe place, even for those being punished.”
Alex smiled and nodded slightly. “That’s good to hear. Thank you.”
“It’s the truth.”
“You know what Chancellor Foster has been doing in admin, right?”
“Yes, I’ve heard. Reminds me of Mrs. Silvers.”
“I believe that it’s important for me to control the discipline and punishments at Mt. Ashley here. Out of this office. Do you agree?”
A thick silence fell over the room and the tableau remained. Colleen followed Alex’s gaze back to the trees outside where it remained entwined with the branches as her boss formulated a plan. Actually, as she formulated a couple of plans. After a few moments, Alex told the tree, “You’ll have to become my good right arm.”
“How?” Colleen asked.
To Be Continued