Gracie dragged her duffel bag lazily through the wisps of snow still gently layering the cracked sidewalk. She stared up in disdain at the beautiful gothic-style house in front of her. It was three stories tall with with dark windows and adorned with gas lamps. By all accounts, it was beautiful. Gracie, however, did not want to be here. She had been signed up for a programme against her will in which young girls and boys went to live with a strict same-gender caretaker for the week in order to (ostensibly) learn discipline and respect. Gracie used to watch the World’s Strictest Parents t.v. show and make fun of all of the loser teens on the show and the nerdy families who took them in. This was different. Brat Boot Camp was for older brats– those in college and even beyond. Anyone could nominate you for Brat Boot Camp, including a parent, a boss, a lover, a friend, or even yourself. Gracie was 27 and still living with her older sister, who had nominated her for the program given that Gracie still spent most of her time drinking and mouthing off when she wasn’t working on her journalism degree.
Gracie wrapped her thin cardigan more tightly around her shoulders. It wasn’t quite so cold in her hometown, and she had left in a torrent of curse words when her sister tried to force her to pack a warmer jacket. With a hesitant sigh, Gracie raised her fist and knocked. She listened intently for sound on the other side of the massive door. Eventually, she heard a calm voice announce “coming,” followed by the door opening with a soft swoosh. Standing in front of Gracie was a woman who looked to be about 40 years old. She was only slightly taller than Gracie, but had a wider build with curvy hips and ample breasts. She had long curly hair and deep green eyes. Gracie could’t be more opposite with her stick straight figure, long black hair, and dark almond-shaped eyes.
“You must be Gracie. I’m Sharon,” the woman announced, her tone polite and pleasant.
“Nice to meet you,” Gracie replied, letting her heavy duffel bag fall to the ground and kicking the snow off of her black army-style boots.
“Why don’t you come in and get settled, and then we can talk about the house rules,” Sharon suggested, sizing Gracie up silently as she slipped off her cardigan.
“Uhm. Ok. Guess you don’t waste any time,” Gracie said, suddenly annoyed and uneasy. “I haven’t fucking taken my shoes off but sure, let’s talk about everything I’m not allowed to do this week. Awesome.”
Sharon knew better than to take the bait. She raised her eyes and crossed her arms, casually leaning against the wall in front of Gracie.
“Well first of all,” said Sharon firmly, “You won’t be talking to me like that at all this week. It’s completely unacceptable. You’re a grown woman. I don’t actually care if you curse. But you aren’t going to curse at me, and you aren’t going to give me that sort of attitude again. You can apologize and then express yourself more maturely if you have a concern about what I’m telling you to do.”
Gracie couldn’t argue with the logic. She had sort of gone off for no reason. But, on the other hand, how goddamn annoying that this woman was already talking about rules before Gracie had taken more than one step into the house. Like she already thought Gracie was going to be a fuckup before she had even opened her mouth. Gracie’s stubborn side prevailed again.
“Sorry you’re annoying,” Gracie said dryly.
Sharon’s expression remained unchanged.
“Ok,” Sharon said casually, shrugging her shoulders and giving a slight smirk. “When you’re ready to come into the house, you can apologize. Until then, we can stand here all night. I ate a late lunch. I’ll be fine.” With that, Sharon settled into her comfortable position against the wall.
Gracie bit her lip, unsure of what her next move should be. She crossed her arms as well and simply stared back at Sharon in silence. It felt like they had been staring at each other for 10 minutes, but it had probably barely been one. It was already uncomfortable. Gracie rolled her eyes and tried to find something on the ceiling to stare at. She focused on breathing in and out slowly. Tick, tock, tick tock. Seconds felt like minutes. Time dragged on. Sharon didn’t budge.
“Pick up your duffel bag,” Sharon finally said softly.
Relieved that she had won the standoff, Gracie scooped her duffel bag up and looked at Sharon expectantly, waiting to be shown to her room for the week.
“Oh, you can keep standing there,” Sharon clarified. “I just don’t want your crap all over my floor. Your bag is wet from the snow. You’ll hold it until you apologize, and then we can go to your room and put it down.”
Gracie stared at her incredulously. This was not going to happen. Gracie put the bag on the floor defiantly.
“Oh no,” said Gracie, “I’m not standing here holding my fucking bag. It’s heavy!”
“Two choices,” Sharon stated, still calm as ever. “Hold your bag, or I’ll take it and lock it in my room and you won’t see your belongings for the rest of the week.”
“So I’ll walk around naked all week?” Gracie asked sarcastically.
“We’ll manage,” said Sharon, again refusing to take the brat bait.
Not knowing what else to do, Gracie shifted her bag into a more comfortable position on her shoulder and resumed her silent staring routine. She had spent all day walking around an airport. Her feet were tired and her shoulder was already aching from the strap of her bag. Setting her jaw in a firm line, Gracie vowed to persevere. This lady would have to give up eventually. Several more minutes ticked by. Gracie was too embarrassed to shift the bag around– she didn’t want to show that she was struggling. But damn, her shoulder was really starting to ache. Another few minutes went by before Gracie felt herself slowly going crazy from the silence and the pain in her shoulder.
Gracie dramatically let the bag fall to the floor and then sat her body on top of it and buried her head in her hands.
“You’re crazy,” Gracie announced, looking up at a somewhat amused Sharon. “You’re literally insane. You can’t have my bag and I’m not fucking standing here holding it all day either.”
Without saying anything, Sharon crouched down next to Gracie. Carefully, she reached around and pinched the skin on Gracie’s side directly under her left ribcage. She didn’t pinch hard, but it was enough to make Gracie yelp in pain and fall backwards off the duffel bag. Sharon then yanked the duffel bag off the ground and retreated silently into the house.
“STOP, WHAT THE FUCK,” Gracie shouted, wondering if she should follow Sharon, but being suddenly unsure of whether she dared to push the boundaries further. It wasn’t going well. Sharon was gone for a few minutes. Gracie could hear footsteps going up the stairs and coming back.
“Now,” said Sharon with a tired sigh as she appeared back in the entryway of the house, “Are you ready to apologize and come sit down inside, or are we going to keep digging a deeper hole?”
“You took my bag,” Gracie stated with a slight pout.
“Like I said I would, yes” Sharon nodded. “You’ll get your things back when you show me that you can behave. Right now, I just want an apology for how you spoke to me almost 45 minutes ago. We can waste all evening with us just standing here for all I care, but I will get an apology.”
Gracie desperately wanted to break, but Sharon’s cockiness was grating on her. She thought she was going to dominate Gracie that easily. She thought wrong.
“Can we compromise and I apologize after dinner?” Gracie asked, hoping to gain any ground she could.
“Uhm… no,” said Sharon with the pretense of thoughtfulness. “You can apologize in the next two minutes or you can go stand on the porch in the cold until you change your mind. I’m counting.”
“You can’t make me stand outside,” Gracie whined, “I’ll get sick. I have no jacket!”
“Not if you apologize you won’t,” Sharon suggested. “You control how long you’ll be out there. Or you can apologize now and stay inside here.”
“Ok, ok,” Gracie relented finally, remembering how the bitter cold felt against her skin through the thin cardigan. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. It won’t happen again.”
Gracie still felt annoyed but hoped that her apology was genuine enough. In response, Sharon gave her a smile and stepped aside to let her in.
“It’s going to be a long week if everything is that difficult,” Sharon said simply, retreating into her spacious living room and settling on the couch.
Gracie didn’t reply. She just followed Sharon silently and settled into a recliner across from her.
“I’d like to know a little more about you,” Sharon said softly after a long, silent pause. “The email that I got didn’t say much. Where are you from. What’s going on?” Gracie crossed her arms and looked down at the soft cream-colored carpet. “Uh..,” she mumbled, “I live in Alexandria, Virginia. I live with my older sister, Charity. She’s a veteran and she works for the government doing drug enforcement. I’m going to school to be a journalist. I don’t go to campus that much though. I do fine in school, I guess, but I don’t do very well working within a hierarchy. I want to freelance so that I can be my own boss. But right now I don’t necessarily make money so that’s why I live in my sister’s condo. That’s pretty much it.”
“And why did your sister think you needed to fly halfway across the country and spend a week with me?”
“As you can see, I can be a little stubborn. I don’t do well with authority. I don’t disagree that I’m a bit of a brat. And I supposed I’m old enough to start taking responsibility,” Gracie offered, her voice barely audible on the last few words.
Sharon and Gracie spent time talking and getting to know one another. Gracie actually found Sharon to be pleasant and funny when she wasn’t making her stand in a doorway holding a heavy object. The house rules were simple enough: clean up after yourself, tell the truth, do what you’re told, respond with “yes, ma’am” or “no, ma’am,” don’t talk back, no electronics after midnight, no sleeping in past 10am, and no drugs or cigarettes. This was all doable for Gracie. She wasn’t a smoker, and she wasn’t one to sleep in too late anyway. Maybe the week wouldn’t be as terrible as she thought.
“There’s one more thing,” Sharon added slowly. Gracie’s enthusiastic nodding ceased on a dime.
“Ok… shoot,” Gracie said with suspicious narrowed eyes.
“If you break a rule or you are acting like a disrespectful brat, you’re going to be treated like one,” Sharon explained. “I’m not going to make you stand in the doorway again, but there will be a consequence and you won’t like it. Namely, you’re going to be spanked. You might also be sent to the corner, or made to write lines, or I might soap your mouth out for backtalk. I could take away privileges like your phone or even your right to pick your own clothes. We can have earlier bedtimes. The possibilities are endless, but I do believe in corporal punishment and you should basically know that if you act like a child, you’ll be treated like one.”
Gracie went pale. “Spanking?” she repeated simply, ignoring everything that had come after that dreaded word.
“Yes, spanking,” Sharon echoed calmly. “I’m not going to beat you, but a spanking is going to hurt. We’ll talk about what happened, and then you’ll bend over and I’ll spank your bare bottom with my hand, or possibly something like a hairbrush or belt if that’s necessary to get the point across.”
“Ohmygosh that’s so embarrassing,” Gracie whined with her mouth agape.
“I imagine so, yes.”
Gracie nodded feebly and chose to keep her other questions to herself. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.
After having some time to settle in, Gracie met Sharon in the dining room. Sharon had made a vegetarian lasagna and a salad for dinner. Gracie thanked her host for cooking and dug in happily, the two women talking about travel, journalism, pets, and everything in between. They were talking like two old friends and Gracie felt perfectly at ease. As dinner wrapped up, Sharon begin to gather up the plates.
“You are going to help with the dishes,” Sharon announced.
“Ok!” Gracie replied enthusiastically, hoping that she could build goodwill to protect her from the humiliation of a spanking if she slipped up later. “But I’ve never done them before so I don’t know how,” she announced with wide eyes.
Sharon dropped her chin and fixed Gracie with a serious stare.
“So you have never helped your sister clean up at home?” Sharon demanded.
“No,” Gracie mumbled, losing confidence in her newfound chore enthusiasm.
“Ok,” Sharon replied firmly, “We are going to have a lot to learn this week! I’ll help get you started and you can finish the rest. You just have to prewash them before putting them in the dishwasher. Tomorrow maybe we can work on laundry and dusting.”
“What fun Saturday,” Gracie moaned miserably.
With one sudden, sharp swat to Gracie’s behind, Sharon pointed toward the kitchen and Gracie ran off to do her job.
The rest of the evening proceeded normally. Gracie helped with cleanup, and then she and Sharon shared a glass of wine and a bowl of chocolate ice cream over a documentary. The two women did have a lot in common (their love for documentaries, the obsession with sweets at the end of the day, passion for protecting the environment, and they both loved going to hatha yoga). If Sharon wasn’t so bossy, Gracie thought, they could be best friends. It was nearly 11:30pm when Sharon finally turned the t.v. off.
“You have 30 minutes to get all of the texting and web surfing out of your system,” Sharon stated with a yawn, “Then you can either read in your room or get some sleep. But we’re getting up and doing chores tomorrow, so I don’t recommend being up all night. I’m going to my room to read, but bring me your phone by midnight, ok?”
“Why can’t my phone stay in my room overnight. I won’t use it,” Gracie pouted pathetically.
Sharon grabbed Gracie’s chin and looked her directly in the eyes.
“Little girl,” she said firmly, “When I tell you something, it’s an order, not an argument. I think you need to try a “yes, ma’am” and an apology for pouting.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry,” Gracie relented quickly, “But can I please have pajamas and my tooth brush out of my bag?”
“Hmm,” Sharon smiled playfully, “Well hygiene is important so you can definitely have your toothbrush. But it’s pretty warm in here, so I don’t think you need pajamas. Maybe you can earn your pajamas and a couple of outfits back tomorrow by behaving all day.”
“YOU CANNOT MAKE ME WALK AROUND NAKED,” Gracie shrieked. “Oh my gosh, please, at least just a sleep shirt,” she begged.
Sharon raised her eyebrows and said nothing. Gracie bit her lip and stared back in terror. This woman was a brick wall. She was getting nowhere with her.
“Grab your brush and get your phone to me by midnight,” Sharon instructed, patting Gracie’s knee affectionately.
Frowning, Gracie disappeared to Sharon’s bedroom and found her bag in the corner. She whipped out her toothbrush and toothpaste, and then silently listened to see where Sharon was. She could hear her washing the wine glasses and bowls in the kitchen. Slowly unzipping the main compartment of her bag, Gracie snuck out a clean t shirt and tucked it under the shirt she was wearing. She would put it on to sleep in and take it off before heading down to breakfast in the morning. Smiling at how easy it was to sneak one past Sharon, she brushed her teeth and took a long, hot shower. Wrapping herself in a towel, Gracie combed out her long, dark hair and applied some lotion to her face and arms. When it was 11:58, Gracie scooped up her cell phone and padded toward Sharon’s room. She was still wrapped in a towel.
Sharon was sitting on her bed, thin reading glasses balanced gently on her nose. She looked up at Gracie and gave her a small smile. Gracie handed over her cell phone with one hand, the other hand clutching the towel for dear life.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Sharon responded, setting Gracie’s phone on her nightstand. “Do you have everything you need? Is there anything that you want to discuss before bed?”
“No, everything is fine, ma’am” Gracie replied.
“Great. Well then I’ll see you in the morning. Since you don’t have an alarm, I’ll knock on your door at 10 sharp if you aren’t awake before then.”
“Ok, goodnight,” Gracie whispered, backing out of Sharon’s room and retreating down the hall.
She felt a weird emotion creeping up. Was it… guilt? For breaking a rule? Or, perhaps, fear of a consequence? Gracie hated rules and she didn’t know the first thing about guilt or consequences. What was happening? In the safety of her room, Gracie fondled the stolen shirt in her hands. With a shrug, she let the shirt fall to the floor and climbed under the covers stark naked. Before she could even think about what had gotten into her, she was fast asleep…
End of Chapter 1.