Years afterward, they both traced the beginning of all the extraordinary things that would happen to them—his becoming a senator, her becoming a famous author, his almost single-handedly saving millions of children from poverty, her shaping the lives of countless teenagers for the better with her books—to that moment. At the time, on their second date, Sally Lanchester just thought that Mark Weaver had said the strangest, most embarrassing thing anyone had ever said to her.
Out for a burger with him, Sally said, about her professor in a class on the eighteenth-century novel, “Oh, fuck him.”
Really, when Sally used that sort of language, she used it experimentally, to try to make herself feel mature. She didn’t actually think it fit her rather anachronistic views about the way people—especially women—should talk. Now she was at college, though, free from her parents’ supervision, eighteen and ready to start figuring out what kind of life she wanted. That freedom had its challenges, though: Sally sometimes seemed helpless to stop herself from adopting personae that, though they went against her old-fashioned grain, at least made her feel like she had something grownup to say. Her roommates Rachel and Cassandra were much more up-to-date that way: they were always swearing, always talking about sex.
To be precise, Sally had found that she very often felt like she didn’t really know how to act in this new collegiate world she had entered a little more than two months before. When she felt that way, sometimes without even meaning to, she would try to pretend to be like her roommates and say things like ‘fuck him.’
That phase of Sally’s life ended that very instant, however.
Mark said, “I won’t tolerate language like that from my girlfriend. If we’re going to keep dating, Sally, you’re going to have to show respect to your professors, and to me. I know you well enough already to tell that you’re a well-mannered, ladylike girl—it’s something that drew me to you. I think I need to show you how serious I am about that. I’m going to spank you after dinner, in my room.”
They were having dinner at the nicest of the three burger joints that ringed the campus of Mendon College, a medium-sized, excellent liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts. Founded in 1693 by a branch of Congregationalists escaping from the growing orthodoxy of the Boston preachers, Mendon had grown wealthy and aristocratic over the centuries, and now turned out men and women destined for success that would be achieved in large part through Mendon’s alumni network, which ran a statistically significant portion of the world, and, even more emphatically, the country. The average earning power of a Mendon diploma had been recently estimated at more than a hundred million dollars over the course of an alum’s career.
Sally came from money—so much money that earning much more was almost frowned upon in her liberal family, as if to do so deprived people who really needed it. Her parents had encouraged her to think about where her talents lay, and to follow her dreams. The fact that her dreams ran along strangely traditional lines sometimes, even after she knew she should probably, at least in the eyes of her lawyer-mother, have outgrown visions of weddings and homemaking, was something Sally tried to conceal. She loved writing, and she didn’t have to worry about making money doing it. Men, those strange creatures who seemed to dot her fantasy landscape like lovely, affectionate pieces of furniture, could sort themselves out, perhaps?
Sally didn’t know very much about Mark Weaver yet, except that she wanted to know more. Her first date with Mark was the third date she had ever gone on, unless you counted going to the movies with her next-door neighbor who had a crush on her when she was fourteen, and sitting awkwardly in the theater wondering what she was supposed to be doing until the terrible action movie ended and it was time to walk home.
She did know that Mark didn’t come from money. He didn’t make a big deal about it, the way some scholarship students did, whether to preen about their abilities or to rage against the ways of the rich Mendon students like Sally who talked like it was normal to have ancestors who went back to Cotton Mather and to sail in the Bermuda Race every summer. But Mark worked in the library, as part of work study, and so Sally knew that he couldn’t take her to either of the really nice restaurants in Mendon. Still less likely, unless Sally found a way to breach decorum gracefully, would there be weekends in Nantucket or New York anytime soon.
Of course Sally blushed even to think about that, but weekends like that didn’t have to mean sharing a bed, really, though it seemed like all her friends who went on them did do that, though some of the girls professed embarrassment even as they described what happened in those beds in terms that made Sally’s cheeks burn. In the old days, you had a chaperone and separate rooms.
Sally missed the old days sometimes, even though she was much too young even to have been alive when there were chaperones to go on lovely weekends. It must, she thought, have been so much easier to find a man who wanted to take care of you and come home to you, and guide you to make the world a better place for everyone, and especially for him and you.
“What?” she asked, absolutely positive she had misheard.
“I think you heard me, Sally. I’m going to spank you when we get back to my room.”
Sally stared at him across the table. The thought He can’t be serious went through her head, but that thought was so entirely inconsistent with his demeanor, and with what she knew about him thus far, that her mind rejected it. The alternative that Mark had spoken seriously, though, presented cognitive difficulties so much greater that her mind skipped from it to I heard wrong back to He can’t be serious.
But Mark looked back at her steadily as he calmly chewed a French fry. So handsome, she thought. Cheekbones; chocolate eyes; lustrous brown hair with the slightest of waves. He could be a movie star—or a president.
In the face, literally, of those incredible good looks—in the face of a handsome senior taking out a freshman—her mind finally found a stop-gap solution. She said, “I don’t understand. You mean, like, with your hand?”
“This first time,” he said. “But on your bare bottom. I’ll always spank you on your bare bottom.”
Sally felt her mouth drop open. Now her brain couldn’t figure out which of the questions flooding in to ask first.
“Now I know you’re kidding.”
“I’m not kidding, Sally. I’ll only use my hand tonight—unless you make it worse for yourself and disrespect me or disobey me. But you should know that I believe it’s important for a man to be ready to discipline the woman he loves with his belt or with a cane, if he has to, to help her mend her faults and live up to her responsibilities.”
What was she supposed to do, confronted by this apparent reality? Was he crazy? No—Mark clearly wasn’t crazy. Should she just get up and leave, thank him for the date, and tell him sarcastically that she hoped he found a girl he could spank?
“I’m not going back to your room,” she said experimentally. “It’s a little early for that, don’t you think? Our second date?” She took a sip of her milkshake, noticing to her distress that her hand shook as she held the tall plastic glass.
“Don’t try to get out of your spanking that way, Sally,” Mark said. He pushed away his plate a bit and folded his hands on the table. “I promise I won’t try to take advantage of you. I think you know already, just having known me for a few weeks, that I’m an honest person—I’m not a guy who would ever force himself on a girl.”
Sally couldn’t figure out what was going on now. How could he say he wouldn’t take advantage of her, when he was telling her he planned to lift her skirt, take down her panties, and spank her?
“But you’d force a spanking on me?” She tried to make herself sound angry, but something about anger in this situation seemed utterly wrong. Mark hadn’t raised his voice; he hadn’t actually made what Sally could describe truthfully as a threat. He had just said that he planned to spank her on her bare bottom—with his hand tonight, but someday soon (unless she respected him and obeyed him) with his belt and even with… had he said a cane? Like in Dickens and things?
Did he have a cane in his dorm room? Why was she even thinking about it?
“No,” he said. “But I am giving you a choice. If you want us to keep seeing one another, you’ll accept a spanking for your bad language. You’ll also accept that I’m going to punish you when I feel I have to.”
“Look, Sally. I’m already really fond of you. I could see us having a future together, as forward as that sounds. But I need to be completely honest about what that future would mean. I believe in maintaining loving discipline the traditional way. I believe a man should keep order in his household with a firm hand, and apply that firm hand to his wife’s backside, when necessary, to make sure she understands her own need to obey him, and to look up to him.”
“But we’re not married!”
“Of course we’re not. If we were married, you’d have a belt-whipping for saying what you said. Because it’s your first time, and because we’re dating, I’m just going to spank you with my hand.”
“But… that’s not what I was saying! I was saying that even if… even if I said that if we get married someday it might be okay for you… for you to do that to me…” This was horrible. Sally was losing track of her thoughts entirely. Visions of wedding gowns, honeymoons, and babies filled her head and drove her far afield from the mental road she had wanted to follow. She struggled to remember what she had wanted to say, and with an effort that felt truly valiant she did, at last. “We’re not married, and it can’t be right.”
“Well, I suppose technically,” Mark said calmly. “I should call your dad and have him come spank you.”
“What?” Sally felt her face turn crimson.
“But I can tell, if you have a mouth like that, that you haven’t been spanked before. So even though I agree that it’s irregular, and a sort of modern adaptation of the traditional way of doing things, I’m going to accept the responsibility, and if we do go on with our courtship I’ll be the one to keep you in line.”
“In line?” Something about those words, or maybe about them coming out casually at this late point in the strangest conversation ever, struck Sally as the most extreme thing Mark had said yet.
“I think that’s a fair way to put it.”
“Fair?” Why wouldn’t her brain work? Sally knew herself to be a very intelligent woman, but Mark Weaver’s determined expression of this antique doctrine of loving discipline, as adapted by him to the necessities of his modern life, left her feeling completely bewildered. Not that it didn’t make sense. It just made too much sense for her to comprehend it, since it seemed so distant from anything she had ever known.
He wasn’t saying that he thought he had the right to spank any woman, just because women need spanking. He was saying that the woman with whom he chose to spend his life, whom he asked, in turn, to choose him to spend her life with, needed to understand that bare-bottom spankings would be part of that life henceforth, at her boyfriend’s discretion.
Sally definitely didn’t want a bare-bottom spanking, or any kind of spanking—with Mark’s hand, with Mark’s belt, or with anything else. So why did the thought that this guy who had expressed an interest in being her boyfriend planned to spank her regularly make that guy seem so attractive? Was she the crazy one here? Were they both crazy?
“Yes. Fair. To keep you in line with the way I want our lives to go.”
“Because you’re a guy and I’m a girl?”
“No—because I’m the guy I am, and, if you accept this spanking like a good girl, you’ll be my good girl.”
Good girl. When he said that, Sally knew that she would go back to his room and have a spanking.
Silently, he paid the check in cash, fixing Sally with his eyes through the whole process. Sally looked back as steadily as she could, her lips compressed into a tight line. Mark didn’t ask if she was coming, and she didn’t say she would, but when he put his arm around her waist as they left the burger joint, she snuggled into his chest and said softly, “Will it hurt a lot?”
Mark stopped walking, on a sidewalk slick from a chilly autumn fog, and turned Sally to face him. “When I punish you, Sally, it will hurt. Sometimes it will hurt a lot. But I promise that I will never harm you, or let anyone else harm you. Your bottom’s going to be sore tonight, but you’ll think twice before you use foul language again, won’t you?”
Sally felt her eyes grow wide. “Yes,” she whispered. Then a thought she couldn’t stop came to her, and she blurted out, “How many girls have you spanked before?”
“Well,” he replied, putting his arms around her waist. “That’s rather a long story.”
“Really?” Sally said in amazement. “Like, more than two?”
Mark laughed, hugged her for a moment, and then turned her around and began their progress toward his dorm again.
“No, you’re the first.”
“Oh. Then… um, how is it a long story?”