The house had been buzzing with an air of anticipation for the past three days. Becky had observed that
was making herself scarce, and every time she'd checked, the ten year-old was in he room curled up with a book. The child had an easy, if anxious, smile for Becky whenever they met, and the conversation was finally beginning to flow easily at mealtimes. Becky knew that she was going to need to work out some chores for Elizabeth during the summer vacation from school. There was a lot to be done and she couldn't allow the little girl to idle. Wasn't that, after all, part of her purpose in building her home? Elizabeth
She'd had a bite. Not an application for a child, of course -- she had suspected that word would get out about
's problems in school and that it might take quite some time before social workers were really comfortable sending more children to her. Instead she had received a very interesting application to assist from a very wealthy local man. Elizabeth
If it wasn't for his money, she would have been interested. If it was only for his money, she would have been interested. But he was not only talking about making a sizeable donation to her organization, he was talking about joining her staff.
She knew his story. Indeed, he was quite famous in the area. He'd come up from a working class family to become one of the most well-known artists in the modern time. Already Becky had an early-edition print of one of his paintings over the fireplace in the great room. And that had happened long before she had even imagined that he might be interested in coming to work for her.
Beside that, he was a work of art himself. Although Peter Grisson tended to be somewhat on the slender side, it was leanness, rather than thinness. His shaggy blonde hair always seemed to look unkempt, but in a pretty way, and his brown eyes seemed to look right at her even from the photographs of him that she'd seen in the glossy magazines she'd picked up at the grocery store.
As a closet art lover, Becky Thomas was in love with Peter Grisson.
It was just an interview. She had to keep reminding herself that he might decide that he didn't want to work at the home, or that he didn't like her mission enough to even donate any of his money. Worse yet, he might not like her. She had to be prepared for the worst, even as she hoped for the very best.
Becky had tidied up the small apartment that she'd been occupying in the home for the past three months. Everything was there, from the small and tidy kitchen to two bedrooms. It was a proper little apartment where anyone who believed in her mission (and who had passed her tests) could stay overnight with the children who resided in the home. She would show it to Mr. Grisson, and if he liked it, she might show him one or two of the other cabins in the community. He could purchase any one of those at below market value and always be close to his work.
"You know that this isn't a paid position, Mr. Grisson," Becky practiced as she set the table for breakfast that morning.
stood nearby in a pair of blue jeans and a chambray shirt, and she rolled her eyes at her guardian as she went into the kitchen to grab the napkins and help. She didn't know what Becky was talking about, but it sounded silly enough. Elizabeth
The feeling was mutual. Although
didn't know it, and probably would have been embarrassed if she had, Becky crept to her room every night to watch her sleep. The woman, in spite of her youth, would never have a child of her own, and though she'd promised herself that she wouldn't get too attached to any of the children who came through her doors, she was beginning to realize how difficult that would be. Elizabeth
As the food was placed on the table for breakfast, Becky reached out and gave
's shoulder a squeeze. She felt guilty about not telling the child that she had an interview today. Because the hiring of a new adult to the staff would change the dynamic of the home so profoundly, she didn't want to get Elizabeth 's hopes up as far as her own were already. It was on the tip of her tongue to say something, and the ten year-old looked up at her expectantly, but Becky just sighed and shook her head, gesturing toward the plates of food, served family style. This morning Becky had served scrambled eggs with ham steaks and home fries. She preferred a good amount of protein at breakfast. They both had to keep their strength up, particularly on a big day like today. Elizabeth
Conversation over breakfast was quieter than usual.
could sense the tension that Becky felt, and her guardian seemed thoughtful. It seemed more respectful for her to leave the woman to her thoughts, and she shifted slightly in her seat, momentarily wishing that she'd brought a book to the table. On days like this, Becky hardly seemed to notice the breach of the rules, and even when she did she only asked that Lizzie take the book off the table and put it away. Elizabeth
In spite of the silence, breakfast wasn't uncomfortable. Becky's cooking skills were improving, even if she didn't enjoy the task, and
was glad not to be eating cold cereal every morning for breakfast. Elizabeth
When she was done, the ten year-old gathered her plates, and Becky's, and took them out to the kitchen to be washed. Her guardian seemed to be somewhere in dream land, and she figured that it was better if she just went head and did the chore. If she didn't, there was a chance that Becky would get distracted and wouldn't get the job done. It was better to do the chore while it was still small instead of letting things pile up.
When the chore was done,
wandered out of the kitchen. Becky was nowhere in sight, but that wasn't particularly unusual. There were chores to be done around the grounds, including caring for the horses and tending to the small garden that she kept for fresh vegetables, preventing the need to go to the store quite so often. There'd been some talk about chickens as well, and Elizabeth had tried to shy away from that. She wanted nothing to do with cleaning up after the mess. Elizabeth
She didn't care for the outdoor jobs, herself, and was grateful that Becky always had them done before she felt as though she was obligated to ask if there was anything she could do. Once the dishes were done most mornings she could just kick back with a book. Or if she wanted, she could watch some T.V. for a little bit. Becky never seemed to mind (or, for that matter, to notice).
This morning was no different for
. Whatever was bothering Becky wasn't her concern. The woman had proven that time and time again. She headed into the small room that housed the library (two shelves, but Becky had promised more!). The area was cluttered, books strewn about the floor where Elizabeth had devoured some of the mid-grade books in an afternoon and discarded them. This was her area of the cabin, the place where she went to be alone, and she didn't always think to clear up the mess. After all, Becky didn't seem to mind, and since she didn't do a lot of reading, she was rarely in this room. Elizabeth
scooped up the next book on the list she'd kept running in her head. This time it was another Nancy Drew Mystery. The Secret of Shadow Ranch. She tucked the book under her arm, silently wishing that Becky would bring in some more of the young adult novels that she loved, and headed out toward the porch. It was much too nice a day to sit inside and read. The sunlight would feel good as it filtered through the trees, not too hot, but comfortable, especially in the morning. Elizabeth
reached the door, she caught sight of Becky on the porch, pacing back and forth and speaking into her cell phone. The girl stopped dead in her tracks. There was a hint of agitation about her guardian, and she knew better than to get in Becky's way when the young woman was already upset. Elizabeth
The child hung back toward the reception desk, shifting anxiously from one foot to the other and struggling not to listen to what her guardian was saying into the phone. A couple of times she heard the woman refer to someone as "Da" and she could only figure that Becky was speaking to her father.
Still trying not to hear what was being said,
set her book down and began to shuffle through the papers on the reception desk. Nothing sensitive was ever left here, since sometimes UPS or the postman let himself in and dropped off mail or an occasional package. Usually the junk mail got dropped here along with Becky's keys once she'd picked up the mail at the end of the very long drive. Elizabeth
would have just shuffled the papers around until Becky was off the phone and she could go out onto the porch without feeling as though she was invading her guardian's privacy. But today her school's logo on one of the envelopes caught her eye, and Elizabeth frowned, picking it up in her hands. Before she knew what she was doing, the ten year-old was ripping the envelope open, tearing the paper out of it, and scanning the contents in quick alarm. Elizabeth
"I can't go back to school?"
cried, storming through the front door and walking boldly up to her guardian, who was still talking animatedly into her phone. Elizabeth
Becky's eyes went wide, then her brow furrowed into a deep frown. Her mouth hung open for a moment, and
could hear the sound of a male voice with a rich accent saying "Rebecca? Rebecca Thomas, answer me! What's going on?" Elizabeth
"Da, I'll call ya back," Becky said, her own voice more accented than usual when she was talking to her father. "I've got something to deal with, and then the interview.
She snapped her phone off before she had an opportunity to hear her father's wish of good luck, her green eyes glaring at
deeply. Shaking her head, Becky reached out for the piece of paper that the ten year-old still held, and then quickly scanned it once it had been handed over. Her eyes darted to the top right hand corner of the page, noting that the letter was addressed to her and not directly to Elizabeth , and she frowned more deeply. "Where did you get this Elizabeth Marie?" Elizabeth
Scowling, angry herself,
gestured back toward the big desk. "It was on the desk. I saw the school thing and I wanted to know what it says. It says I can't come back next fall! They aren't giving me my scholarship because of what those stupid boys did to me. You said it wasn't my fault!" Elizabeth
Becky's face was red, and she had to take several deep, calming breaths before she could trust herself to speak. "You opened mail that was addressed to me, Elizabeth? You were going through my papers?"
's anger turned to apprehension. She couldn't remember a time that Becky had looked quite this furious. Perhaps part of it was nerves -- she knew that her guardian was nervous that day -- and maybe part of the problem was the fact that she'd interrupted what was obviously a very heated conversation with Becky's father. The situation was the perfect storm of disciplinary necessity. Elizabeth
"I... Umm... I was waiting, cuz you were on the phone on the porch and I wanted... You know, to sit out there and read my book."
"Go to your room and bring me the hairbrush. I want you to bring it right down to the great room. Go." Becky's voice was a deadly calm, the type of calm that always came before a storm. She had her anger barely in check as she glanced down at the note again. There was no need to see whether or not
had obeyed her. Her tone of voice had left no room at all for disobedience. Elizabeth
The young woman scanned the letter for the third time, then shook her head with a sigh.
had read the letter correctly -- she wasn't receiving a renewal of her scholarship because of what had happened on the playground at the end of the school year. Of course the other incidents of misbehavior had also been quoted, but it was clear that the reason was her "disagreement" with the sixth grade boys. Elizabeth
Disgusted, Becky strode into the home and added the letter back into its envelope, gathered up the stack of other mail, and slipped it into a drawer. She locked the drawer and pocketed the key, shaking her head at the thought that this had become necessary. She'd trusted
, but that was about to change dramatically. Elizabeth
The ten year-old was still nowhere to be seen, and Becky was about to head toward the stairs to track her down when
rushed down the last few steps, stumbling at the bottom and then righting herself. Her face was a mess of tears as she observed Becky's presence and thrust the hairbrush at her. "Here!" the girl cried. Elizabeth
On a better day Becky might have recognized that the child was confused and upset, not disrespectful, but today the "attitude" the young woman perceived earned Elizabeth a hard smack to the seat of her jeans with the palm of Becky's hand.
Not waiting another moment, Becky wordlessly took
by the arm and pulled her over toward the couch that sat in front of the large stone fireplace. She sat down on the couch and tossed the hairbrush beside her, long fingers going to her charge's jeans and unbuttoning them, then tugging them down without bothering to unzip. The jeans were slightly too large anyway. Elizabeth
She knew that the action would be humiliating to the little girl. She didn't need to look up to see the flush that spread across
's cheeks as she tugged the panties down after the jeans. The child was completely exposed, her bottom cool for the moment in the breeze coming in through the open windows. It was about to become very, very hot. Elizabeth
"I am..." Becky gritted her teeth and shook her head. She was disgusted with the school, disappointed in
, and angry with herself for believing that she could trust her charge not to go through the mail if she left it out. For the moment, the pending interview was out of her mind, and she was entirely focused on making the ten year-old a very sorry little girl indeed. Elizabeth
Becky wasted no time in pulling
sharply over her lap. She shifted slightly so that the child's bottom was high enough to make a good target, but Elizabeth was still struggling into a better position, just beginning the process of whining in the hopes of escaping the upcoming spanking. Becky, however, wasn't listening, and the hairbrush began its hard, fast descent on Elizabeth 's bottom. She wasn't tempering her swats, and she wasn't taking her time. This wasn't an effort to get the spanking over with any quicker -- instead, she was taking out her fury on her charge's young bottom, which was turning hotter by the moment. Elizabeth
"You may not be aware, young lady," Becky said, punctuating her statements with half a dozen spanks before she paused to catch her breath and ensure that she was being well heard. "But tampering with the mail is a federal crime. That means that when you opened my mail, you committed a federal crime. Do you know what that means?"
She didn't wait for an answer, though she mentally committed herself to assigning a punishment essay regarding mail laws.
might just learn something in the long run. Instead, she went right back to spanking, raising the brush high and bringing it down with a burning fury on the fullest part of Elizabeth 's squirming buttocks. Elizabeth
And the child did squirm fiercely as she struggled to get away from the burning pain the heavy hairbrush was inflicting on her backside. "Uh! Nuh-no! Becky uh-I didn't muh-mean to! I uh-duh-didn't thuh-think!"
"Darn straight you didn't think!" Becky cried, beginning to apply the hairbrush with increased vigor to the little girl's "sit spots" right in that tender crease where the bottom and thighs meet.
would have trouble sitting down for the next few days, and Becky wasn't even considering the possibility that she might be bruising her charge's flesh. If she had done something like that when she was a child, why her father would have.... She didn't want to even think about what her father would have done, but she would have gotten off light with a hair brushing, that was for sure! Elizabeth
It had been nearly five minutes of non-stop spanking when Becky finally tossed the hairbrush aside and shifted her weight, indicating that
should stand up. The girl's backside was blazing and she could feel the heat rising off of it. The spanking was finished, but Becky was in no way done with her young charge. There would be an essay to write, and sitting on a hot and sore bottom would make the process even more uncomfortable. Elizabeth
Instead her guardian just waved her hand toward the wall next to the fireplace. "Stand there. Hands on your head. Face the wall." Becky gave the child a moment and then scooped up her jeans and panties from where they had been kicked during the girl's struggle. She folded them and placed them on the end of the couch and sighed. Fifteen minutes in the corner should still leave her with a nice hot bottom for writing her essay, Becky decided.
She was just about to go into the kitchen and get herself a glass of water (thirsty after so much work) when she heard someone clearing their voice. Startled, Becky glanced up to meet the brown eyed gaze of a man not much older than she was herself. She would know him anywhere.
Startled, Becky pressed her hand to her chest and took a deep breath. She blew it out between her pursed lips, her cheeks puffing out as she shook her head and moved slowly toward him.
"I'm sorry," he said with a boyish grin that made Becky blush. "I didn't want to interrupt what you were doing.
Becky couldn't help but smile back at him as she extended her hand. "Becky Thomas," she said, still a bit flushed. She nodded over her shoulder toward
. "She's Elizabeth Moore, and I'm sorry that you had to see us under these circumstances. It turns out that someone didn't know that tampering with the mail is a federal crime. She's going to be going into the kitchen for me to write an essay on the subject in a few moments." Elizabeth
The man nodded a little bit. "I'm sorry that I arrived at an inconvenient time. I tend to be early for all of my appointments," he said apologetically.
Becky nodded, though she was gentle. She glanced at the clock on the wall. "
, I want you to head into the kitchen and pick up a notebook and pen from the usual place. You are to give me five pages about what "federal crime" means and why you should think the next time you open an envelope. Use any of the government texts you need that are in the library." Elizabeth
Becky didn't turn her head to observe whether or not the little girl complied with her wishes. If nothing else she knew that Peter would be able to see behind her.
"Eh! Miss Moore, I don't believe Ms. Thomas gave you permission to put your clothing back on."
Now Becky turned, her eyebrows raising at
. "Go get the text book that you need and take your things to the kitchen. As you are, Elizabeth ," Becky corrected. Peter was right. Part of the punishment was the humiliation of being bared, and while it was purely by chance that Peter had arrived while the child was still bare from the waist down, Becky would stick to her guns. Elizabeth
She watched as the little girl blushed all the way down to her blouse, glaring at Peter and her guardian, and then trudged off toward the library to get her books. Becky's ears were pricked to hear
come back through to the kitchen. Once she'd heard the scrape of the chair, she relaxed a bit and looked back to Peter. "I'm dreadfully sorry about this, Mr. Grisson. I can assure you that things aren't usually like this around here. In fact, normally things are a bit too quiet. I wish I could find a way to draw her out more, but Lizzie mostly just reads." Elizabeth
Peter grinned. "My parents know what that's like. When I was her age, all I did was paint. Couldn't keep me indoors much though. I always had a sketch pad outside. My mother told me I'd never make it as a painter. Now... Well," he said, gesturing toward the painting over the fireplace. "You can see where it's taken me."
There was a moment of silence, a pause between them as their eyes met. Becky smiled slightly, an awkward smile. It was difficult not to feel a bit dizzy in his presence, she thought.
Peter took a deep breath and glanced around the building. He'd been looking for some time, studiously trying to ignore the spanking in progress when he had entered. Having been early, he'd checked out the grounds. He liked what he saw, and he needed something to pour himself into. At thirty-three years old he was becoming too old to simply live the life of a bachelor. He wanted to make a real difference in the world, and it was through his search that he was referred to the
"What do you need, Ms. Thomas?" he asked, turning her head back toward her, his brown eyes suddenly serious. "Money? I can give you that. Time? I've got more of that than I care to think about. Someone to help love and guide the kids? I think it's time for me to give something back. Whatever you need, I am willing to give. What do you need?"
Flabbergasted, Becky took a deep breath. Confronted thusly, she wasn't exactly sure what she was supposed to say to him. She needed his money, yes. She had quite a bit of her own, but eventually it would run out and she'd be working entirely on private donations, since the state gave her nothing to help these lost souls.
"I... You know about... It would be difficult for you to go from town to come here for work every day. The houses here, in the
Forest... They're for sale. At cost. I'm not making a profit on them. If you are going to... If you're willing to..."
"I like number 7. And I can start the process tomorrow with my realtor and my lawyer. Does that suit you?"
Still stunned, Becky shook her head in surprise as she struggled to gather her wits. "Yes," she said after a moment, still trying to get her brain to function correctly. "Yes, of course Mr. Grisson."
The man took Becky's hand and bent to kiss it. She knew his reputation as a playboy and yet still couldn't avoid blushing again. She had expected a possible donation, but his time... His employment... He would be so close, all the time. The thought no doubt excited her, and a tingle went down her spine. "I will speak to you tomorrow then, Mr. Grisson," she said.
He nodded and smiled. "I'll let you get back to little Miss Moore. She seemed quite upset," he added, his face going grave. "It might be best if you had a talk with her."
Becky nodded and sighed, glancing toward the kitchen. "Yes. Of course. I will speak to you tomorrow."
Peter headed for the door, and Becky made her way slowly into the kitchen.
was seated at the kitchen table, her weight shifted to one side so that only one of her bottom cheeks came into contact with the hard, cold wood of the chair. She was still sniffling, and there was a small puddle of tears on the table near her book. Elizabeth
"Lizzie," Becky pronounced, compassion in her voice.
The little girl glanced up in alarm, her free hand instinctively going to her hip as though to cover her buttocks. But she could quickly see that the heat of anger had gone out of Becky's face, and in an instant she was up on her feet, throwing her skinny arms around Becky's waist and hugging tightly. "I'm sorry I opened the envelope, Becky!" she cried. "Please forgive me! Who was that man?"
The words came quickly, and Becky chuckled softly as she picked up
's things and guided the girl toward the stairs so that she could finish her job in her room. "We'll talk about it in your room, and then you can finish your assignment," she said, giving the child a gentle pat on the rear, and then hugging her quickly before they headed up the stairs together. Elizabeth