Despite the neighborhood’s relative affluence, the houses in Yerba Linda were very close together, and it wasn’t the first time Cathy and John had had to turn a blind ear, as it were, to the conduct of their next-door neighbors. The Smiths, who had lived in the house now occupied by Mindy and Doug Landis, had been fond of loud sex and loud fights. On the other side, the younger Garcias played video games every afternoon at a volume that seemed to shake Cathy and John’s foundation.
But what Cathy heard that Saturday morning seemed so outlandish and disturbing that she had decided even if the police didn’t do anything about it, it was best to let the proper authorities sort it out. She had the phone in her hand when John walked into the kitchen, looking for a beer.
“Who’re you calling?” he asked. He had his shirt off, and the rippling muscles of his still-Marine-Corps-toned chest distracted her the way they always did. He had been out of the corps for two years, working hard and very successfully in construction, but she thought he could probably still keep up with the Navy SEALs he always boasted of having beaten in endurance runs and marksmanship.
Cathy held the phone receiver in her hand. She hadn’t started to dial. “Listen,” she said.
Very distinctly, Mindy Landis wailed from next door—maybe Mindy and Doug’s glass slider had been left open—“I’m sorry, sir!”
Just as distinctly, a sharp slap followed it, then another, and another.
“Ow!” Mindy cried. “Please, sir! No more!”
Cathy had turned her eyes in the direction of the Landises’ house, though she was now looking at the corner of the breakfast room, next to their own open glass doors onto the patio; the sound must be coming from Mindy and Doug’s breakfast room, in fact. The houses in Yerba Linda had practically identical layouts.
“What the hell?” John asked quietly, forgetting about his beer and walking across the room to Cathy, as if to get a better listen. To Cathy’s surprise and slight dismay, he had a little smile on his face. He lowered his voice even further. “Is he spanking her?”
They heard Doug’s rumbling voice, not as loud as Mindy’s and thus harder to make out. The tone seemed unmistakable though: scolding, almost in a paternal way. Though she couldn’t hear individual words, Cathy thought she could supply ones that came close enough: I’m very disappointed in you, babe. You know we talked about… What? If Doug was saying that, or something like it, what had they talked about? What rule had Mindy broken?
Then Mindy’s voice came again, but much lower this time, so that Cathy couldn’t hear her words either. She felt her face go hot as she realized just how much she wanted to know what their neighbors were saying. Mindy’s tone rose and fell in a sobbing way, and now Cathy couldn’t help wondering whether she was over her husband’s lap as he sat in one of the straight-backed wooden chairs she and John had seen when they had gone over to welcome their new neighbors just the previous Saturday.
Doug Landis was also ex-military. Spec ops, in fact, John felt sure; not the SEALs, which actually served as a recommendation as far as John was concerned, Cathy knew. After their visit John had told her he thought Doug had been with the Air Force’s spec ops unit, but since that unit wasn’t supposed to exist, Doug couldn’t talk about it. All they knew was that the tall, fit, sandy-haired Doug, almost as muscular as John, had flown helicopters somewhere in the Middle East.
Mindy’s voice, pleading. A little louder, so Cathy thought she could make out, “Please, sir, no,” as if Doug had just told her the spanking had to go on. Then, sure enough, more slaps, and more little yelps.
Cathy knew she would have to look at John, who now stood behind her where she had turned her full attention to the spot on the wall that she thought probably represented a direct line of sight to the scene in the Landises’ breakfast room. It wasn’t that she felt riveted—really, she wanted at this moment to run away and pretend she hadn’t heard anything. She just didn’t want to see that smile on John’s face, because the smile seemed to mean something Cathy didn’t want to consider.
“What do you think she did?” John asked in her ear. He had inched closer, it seemed, as they listened. Her husband’s voice sounded confiding and amused. She had to look at him now, didn’t she? If she didn’t turn to him, enjoy this strange little moment, it would mean something. Cathy didn’t know what, but she did know she couldn’t let it happen that way.
So she turned an expression on him that she hoped would tell him she felt troubled, though she knew as usual he would read her face as angry. He gave a start, frowned, took a little step back. He didn’t say “What?”, but Cathy knew her husband had thought it.
“I was going to call the police,” she whispered.
Well, really, I guess I hissed that, rather than whispered it, didn’t I?
Now John shook his head, his startled frown becoming puzzled. “Because Doug’s spanking his wife?”
Another slap, and another little cry, but now Mindy’s responses to her punishment had grown softer. Cathy pictured her sobbing over Doug’s lap like a penitent little girl.
Oh, my God, she suddenly thought, completely involuntarily, is her bottom bare? Is she…?
But she couldn’t even think the word that had almost inserted itself into her thoughts: naked. Sure, she could take her clothes off to take a shower, and once in a while when she and John made love he would take her nightgown off completely even though she always protested and only left it off until they were done. But she definitely didn’t like to think about other people being naked—even John. She liked to think about him in his uniform, at their wedding. That image, and the memory of the way he had stood, still in that Navy blue uniform, in their hotel room before they made love for the first time on their wedding night, gave her the swoony feeling that—when she was honest with herself—made the naked part endurable.
“You’re saying you think it’s abuse?” John said, his voice a little louder, though by no means angry—just incredulous that Cathy could have such a different opinion.
“You’re saying you fucking think it’s not?” she replied, and now she knew she was hissing. She looked at the receiver in her hand.
John plucked it from her grasp. “Nope.”
Cathy glared up at her husband. “I wasn’t going to call fucking 911,” she protested. “I just… I don’t know, I thought someone at the station should know.”
He shook his head. “Come on, Cath. We met them. Do you really think Mindy would get her butt whipped unless she had agreed to it?”
“What?! Agreed to it? What the…” She stopped herself this time, very conscious now of the two previous fuckings she had just uttered. John didn’t like it when she used foul language, and most of the time, she told herself, she liked to respect his wishes just to keep the peace. Not always—but definitely most of the time. “What the heck are you even talking about?”
She had avoided the fuck or even the hell she had been about to put in, but she hadn’t avoided a tone she knew he would find disrespectful. Frankly, she didn’t care, but John’s face had definitely darkened. His eyes narrowed and Cathy suddenly realized that he had started to count to ten, which he had told her early on in their dating was the way he prevented himself from losing a temper he admitted could be truly terrible.
During his clear mental counting, another sound emerged from the Landises’ breakfast room. “Oh, my God,” Cathy whispered, her eyes going wide. She couldn’t help it. Mindy had started to cry out in the unmistakable throes of passion.
Cathy felt her face go bright pink, the way her fair complexion, with the blond hair and blue eyes that her mother loved to say perfectly complemented John’s tallness, darkness, and handsomeness, showed off so clearly. Knowing that everyone knew when she felt embarrassed always added a little heat to her blushes all on its own. Mindy’s apparently uninhibited erotic responses to whatever Doug had begun to do to her now, after punishing her, didn’t sound terribly different from her cries of shame and discomfort when he spanked her, but Cathy didn’t have the slightest doubt that the Landises were making love.
“See?” John said, his anger seeming to subside a little at what Cathy couldn’t at first find a way to deny confirmed that the disciplinary event they had heard must have had something consensual involved.
They heard Doug growl something, and then Mindy cried out, “Thank you, sir!”
That made Cathy’s face get even hotter, but she also realized she hadn’t even thought about the fact that Mindy was calling her husband sir: she had called him that during the spanking and now she called him that while they… Cathy tried to call it making love to herself for a second time, but she failed. No, the Landises didn’t seem to be making love—they were having sex.
So disturbing did she find the idea that her new next-door neighbor had to call her husband sir—otherwise, what? Doug would spank her, of course, and maybe that was why he had spanked her this afternoon!—that she grasped at a straw in the growing argument with John when she knew in her heart she should just admit defeat.
“How do you know that Mindy wants to have sex?” she demanded of John.
He drew his head back, giving her the familiar look that said that in her husband’s judgment she had failed to exercise the plentiful common sense God had given her. It irritated her no end that every time she got that look, she later had to admit that John had been right. It wasn’t that he was a brain surgeon—Cathy sometimes suspected she had a higher IQ than her husband—but John definitely had a knack for not thinking himself into the kind of stupid knots Cathy did.
“You can hear them, right?” he asked simply. His anger seemed to have dissipated entirely.
She’d only ever seen him lose his temper once—not at her, thank goodness, but at a used-car salesman who had flat-out lied to them about what they had agreed to just fifteen minutes before. She had never been on a battlefield, the way John had, of course, but if people on a battlefield looked any more frightened than the salesman had looked when John started speaking in that quiet, angry voice, she never, ever wanted to be anywhere near combat.
All the rest of their lives together, which now extended over three mostly wonderful years, he had done his count-to-ten thing, and then acted laid back about whatever scrape Cathy had gotten herself, or the two of them, into. He had almost lost his temper, she felt fairly sure, when she had forgotten to pay her parking tickets and they had had to go to court to keep a warrant from being issued for her arrest. She had been almost scared as she’d watched his jaw set and his face turn just the slightest bit red when he had found the letter she hadn’t wanted to show him, from the court.
But then, as now, it had passed, and he had become his affable self again. And of course Cathy hadn’t stopped getting parking tickets despite getting to the should-know-better age of twenty-two, which she knew drove him crazy. And… Damn, I didn’t pay that last ticket, did I? she suddenly thought, and swallowed hard.
Mindy screamed—there was no other way to describe it—at that point, pulling Cathy’s attention away from the ups and downs of being married to a man who kept his temper in check. The heat that had abated in Cathy’s face came back full force. She couldn’t look John in the eye, but turned her gaze again to the same spot on the wall.
John chuckled. “She’s a screamer, isn’t she? Why don’t you scream like that, Cath?”
He didn’t mean it unkindly, but it hurt all the same, despite the fact that she didn’t really like the naked stuff very much, and therefore shouldn’t care about it.
Because I’ve faked every climax you thought you gave me.