John and Richard ~ Chapter 4: Remember, Remember

Dr Richard Evans walked quickly across Waterloo Bridge hardly aware of the pedestrians who had to step smartly out of his way on the crowded pavement. His mind was obsessively rerunning the details of his latest case and the physical exertion was helping to relieve his agitation. No matter how often he had to impart bad news to relatives, he never found it any easier. And when his patient was a little girl who was likely to be scarred for life, the heartbroken cries of the parents still rang in his ears. He knew his clinical judgements had been sound but he was less certain that he'd handled the family with appropriate understanding and care.

Richard’s formidable intellect had made medicine an obvious career choice from an early age. He was a talented doctor whose empathy for his patients made him a well respected member of the hospital staff. His colleagues never suspected that Richard, who was always ready to engage in witty repartee, was much less confident in intimate and painful situations. Patients responded to his lively and amusing manner but this often masked a very English discomfort when faced with raw emotion and heartache. Only Richard’s partner, John Hamilton-Smythe, knew how much he agonised over his patients and worried about the best way to explain a diagnosis or describe treatment options.

It had helped that Richard had been able to telephone John at lunchtime that day. He had not, of course, discussed the details of his latest case but John had immediately sensed his distress, his anger and frustration. True, those emotions had manifested themselves in aggression directed towards his lover but John had become adept at interpreting Richard’s emotional state and had responded with the calm but firm assurance which Richard had been seeking when he picked up the phone. Steadied by a stern warning to moderate his language and adopt a more respectful manner, Richard found he was able to put aside his worry about the child and her family and focus for the rest of the day on the needs of his other patients.

However, once he was off duty, the image of the child’s frightened eyes staring out of her bloody and blackened face returned to the forefront of his mind. He tried to calm himself by recalling how much better she looked once the anaesthetic had taken effect and her face had been cleaned up. However, nothing could erase from his memory the terrified pleading of the child’s mother who'd been unable to take in what he was saying about the need for plastic surgery; she only wanted to hear that her child would make a full recovery. Now he was wondering whether it would've been kinder to concentrate on providing the parents with reassurance and save the sobering facts for later.

As Richard approached the station all his worries about the long term effects of a fireworks injury were rekindled as he spotted two young lads guarding a feeble approximation of a Guy. The effigy was propped against the wall with a collection plate placed prominently on the pavement. The traditional request, A Penny for the Guy, was scrawled on a torn piece of cardboard. Commuters were rushing past without giving it a second glance and Richard thought the boys would be lucky to garner even a few pennies, given how little effort they had put into making their version of Guy Fawkes. This Guy was little more than a heap of old clothing supporting a face made with a cheap plastic mask under a Chelsea FC hat.

Richard remembered how he and his brother used to labour to make a Guy, begging their mother for an old shirt and trousers which they would stuff with newspaper. The head was crafted out of fabric and the face drawn on with felt tip pens. One of their father’s discarded trilby hats completed the ensemble. They would push the effigy round in an old pram and neighbours could be relied upon to give money which was spent on fireworks for Bonfire Night. Of course, their father actually bought the fireworks which he let off in strictly controlled conditions. The boys were allowed nowhere near the fireworks and their duties were restricted to helping their mother prepare the sausages and baked potatoes which they ate in front of the bonfire watching the Guy burn.

Richard reflected that these family parties were rapidly becoming a thing of the past as more people attended the big public displays on 5 November. Perhaps that was no bad thing, he thought, given that it minimised the risk of accident and Bonfire Night casualties were reduced. Despite major public information campaigns, however, the hospital still dealt with some horrific injuries at this time of year. It was still only 4 November and he had already had to witness the tragic result of one moment of carelessness. He couldn’t bear having to treat a similar or, God forbid, an even worse injury the following day. The words of the old rhyme sprang unbidden to his mind as he ran to catch the early train:

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
For I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.’

It provided an unwelcome reminder of the evils of gunpowder which made it difficult to banish intrusive thoughts about the events of the morning and Richard worried about his firework casualty and her family throughout the journey home.

Having caught the early train, he expected to be first home but as soon as he opened the front door he had that indefinable sense that the house was occupied. He shouted a greeting and John replied from the kitchen so he headed in that direction with the intention of making himself a cup of tea.

John looked up as his lover walked into the kitchen and he immediately registered the distress which dulled Richard’s bright blue eyes and the dejection which caused his shoulders to droop. John said nothing but pulled him into a warm embrace which acted as an immediate restorative, the strength of John’s arms imparting renewed courage and confidence. He then seated Richard at the kitchen table, switched on the kettle and chose his words carefully before speaking.

“You’ve had a dreadful day haven’t you, darling. I’ll make you a cup of tea. You sit down here and relax for a bit.” He wanted to acknowledge Richard’s emotional state and yet give him permission to leave it behind for the evening.

Richard slumped gratefully in the kitchen chair and ran his hands over his face, pressing his fingers firmly into his eye sockets. John noted the tension in his body and revised his opinion, thinking that perhaps Richard might need the release of talking through his worries rather than trying to put them aside.

“If you want to talk about it, love, you know I’ll listen… as long as there aren’t any graphic details.” John was rather squeamish when it came to medical procedures.

“No. I don’t want to go over it any more. I know I did my best with a horrible injury and I just wish I could stop thinking about it. I need something to take my mind off what happened today. I wonder if there’s anything good on telly tonight.”

As the kettle boiled John busied himself with making a pot of tea and extracting a carton of milk from the fridge, while a plan began to take shape in his mind. Richard picked up the newspaper and began flicking through the pages in search of the television listings which he scanned whilst drinking his tea.

“I’ve more or less finished preparing dinner and we can eat later,” John said. “Why don’t you go and take a good long bath and relax? It’ll make you feel better for the evening.”

“It’s okay. I’ll just take a quick shower later, before bed. Thanks for making dinner though.”

“I’ll rephrase that, love. It wasn’t meant to be a question. I want you to take a long, deep relaxing bath… now. Am I making myself clear?”

Richard glanced up and encountered a look with which he was becoming increasingly familiar. It was a look which said more clearly than words that John was not going to brook any argument. But he was smiling and his eyes radiated warmth, affection and a certain restrained amusement. That was enough to give Richard the courage, if not to engage in outright argument, at least to make clear that he wasn’t offering craven surrender.

“It’s no use looking at me like I’m a hostile witness. You’re not in the courtroom now and I’m not going to crack just because you’ve come over all domineering!”

John didn’t reply; his expression didn’t change and the laughter still danced in his eyes. He just continued looking at Richard with total confidence that his lover would do as he’d been told. Richard held John’s gaze and considered his options but it was slowly borne in upon him that he really did not want to consider the alternative to taking a bath as instructed. He folded the newspaper so he had an excuse to drop his eyes without appearing to lose ground. Then he casually got to his feet, hoping to give the impression that he'd always intended to comply.

John wasn’t fooled. “Very wise,” he remarked. But he accompanied Richard upstairs, pulled the blinds down in the bathroom, turned on the taps and poured some of the luxury bath oil into the water. Richard could think of no appropriate retort to John’s approving remark so he remained silent, thinking only that it was rather nice to be cared for and waited on as John bent to pick up and fold his discarded clothing. In fact, John was clearly intent on providing a full valet service.

“I’ll lay out fresh clothes for you while you’re in the bath, my love,” he said. “I’ll leave them on our bed.”

Richard thanked him without giving too much thought to what was an unusual gesture, although John’s follow up comment left him feeling very perplexed.

“When you’re dressed in all the items I’ve put out for you, I want you to go to the spare bedroom, knock on the door and wait until you’re told to enter.”

Richard opened his mouth to ask for clarification but John forestalled him.

“No questions. Just do as I say. Take as long as you like in the bath. I want you to relax and unwind.”

With a kind but enigmatic smile John firmly closed the bathroom door and left Richard to luxuriate in the hot water. Sliding down so that his body was fully immersed under the bubbles he began to relax and allow his mind to wander. Unable to fathom John’s intention, he stopped trying to guess what the rest of the evening held in store for him. It was only much later when he entered the bedroom with a towel around his waist and saw the extraordinary assortment of items laid out on the bed that he began to experience some unease.

The underwear was most definitely not his own. In fact, he was certain that John did not possess a pair of black silk boxer shorts either. But there they were on the bed, gossamer light when Richard picked them up and luxuriously smooth on his skin as he pulled them up his legs and positioned the elastic comfortably at his waist. Whatever John was planning it was clearly going to be a formal affair as he'd selected a crisp white shirt and lightweight grey trousers from Richard’s wardrobe along with a matching pair of grey socks and black lace up shoes.

When he'd donned these items as directed, Richard turned his attention to the tie and the jacket, the latter folded on the bed with the lining facing outwards. Only when he picked it up did Richard realise that, in fact, it was the garishly striped rowing blazer which John had occasionally worn to the Henley Regatta. The tie sported a matching blue stripe in a diagonal pattern.

The blazer turned out to be slightly too small for Richard and he looked at himself critically in the mirror, noticing how the cuffs of his shirt protruded below the tight sleeves and how the striped fabric pulled across his shoulders. He looked like… oh, God… he looked like an overgrown schoolboy. And with that recognition came the realisation of what John must be planning for him. He gasped with shock and yet his stomach lurched with excitement. He took a few moments to steady himself and then thought how best he could contribute to the role play.

He picked up a comb and parted his hair down one side, flattening it down with hair gel to imitate a schoolboy look. It immediately made him appear ten years younger and he was reminded of the image of himself in his official school photograph taken when he was in the Upper Fifth. He undid his top button and loosened his tie to mirror youthful rebellion against school uniform. He pulled one side of his shirt out of the waistband of his trousers and, as a final touch of insolence, he searched through the drawers in the bedside cabinet to locate a few badges to pin to the lapels of John’s precious rowing blazer. He then sauntered down the corridor to knock as instructed on the door of the spare bedroom.

He rapped smartly on the closed door, conscious that his heart was pounding. There was no reply. He waited a minute or two and then tapped again, rather more uncertainly. When his second attempt to announce his presence was met with silence he took a couple of agitated turns up and down the corridor before breathing deeply and going to stand with his back to the wall and his hands clasped behind him. This was exactly like being sent to the headmaster’s study. Even as he stood there he could recall how it felt to be in this position as a schoolboy, desperately hoping that none of his friends would walk past while he was waiting to be disciplined. He was getting so far into the fantasy that he almost forgot there was no one to witness his humiliation and it came as a shock when a loud voice from inside the room shouted, “Come in.”

As he stepped across the threshold he gasped at the sight of his partner. John was still wearing his work suit but had also donned his black barrister’s gown. It had a transforming effect and Richard suddenly appreciated why formal academic dress gave members of the legal profession such an air of solemnity in court. John was sitting writing at the small desk which he'd cleared of paperwork and moved into the centre of the room. He did not look up when Richard entered but continued writing steadily, leaving his partner little choice but to stand uncertainly in front of the desk. The only sound was the scratch of pen on paper as John finished his task with maddening deliberation. Richard affected boredom but at one point he ran his fingers nervously inside his collar and swallowed convulsively as the wait added to his apprehension.

Finally John looked up and his eyes lighted appreciatively on his partner’s dishevelled appearance. However, he gave no sign of his pleasure that Richard had entered into the fantasy so wholeheartedly. He just uttered the words which generations of errant schoolboys have learnt to dread, “Do you know why you’ve been sent to see me, Evans?”

Richard was genuinely unable to guess what misconduct John would find to correct so he was able to answer, “No, sir,” in a tone of outraged innocence.

“You mean to tell me that you have no idea why your housemaster has cause for complaint?”

This seemed more of a rhetorical question so Richard just shrugged and looked away. John ignored the show of insolence and continued to stare fixedly at his partner until the silence became oppressive and Richard dragged his eyes back to the stern face of the make-believe headmaster. Only when Richard began shifting his weight a trifle anxiously from one foot to the other did John continue.

“Your housemaster is sick and tired of your antics, Evans. We don’t need a court jester at this school, especially one who always has a smart answer for everything. It’s about time you learnt to do what you’re told, when you’re told, without arguing and without backchat. Do I make myself clear?

“Perfectly clear, sir,” responded Richard a trifle stiffly. He recalled his lack of co-operation earlier in the evening and experienced a sudden fear that John might be playing this for real. The hurt was audible in his voice and John immediately realised that he'd miscalculated and upset Richard in some way. He looked into his lover’s anxious eyes and gave a slight smile which was just enough to signal that this was meant to be fun. He was rewarded with a relieved grin and a visible release of the tension in Richard’s hunched shoulders. Only then did John readopt the stern expression and implacable tone with which he hounded witnesses in the courtroom.

“You seem to find life one big joke, my boy, so let’s see if you find this a laughing matter.”

With that he opened the desk drawer and took out a short, pale cane which Richard recognised immediately. Just the sight of it caused his buttocks to clench convulsively. He'd only once been on the receiving end of that cane and he had carried the marks for over a week. Surely John could not be intending to punish him with such severity this time. The prospect ought to be terrifying but his stomach contracted not with fear but with excitement.

As John stood up, gathering his black academic gown around him before flexing the cane with both hands, he looked every inch the traditional headmaster. Richard experienced a delighted frisson of recognition; this was one of his favourite erotic fantasies. He had dreamt of this since his days as a schoolboy, before he'd even fully understood the nature of his own sexuality. The idea of being ordered to bend over and be caned by a handsome, authoritarian figure left him helplessly aroused. Now the scenario was actually playing out before his eyes. Even better, he was an active participant in the scene which had so often been the focus of his masturbatory fantasy. The intensity of the moment banished all other thoughts and worries. It was as though he existed only in the present and all his effort was directed at absorbing every detail of the scene and committing it to memory.

John stepped around to Richard’s side of the table and uttered the time honoured command, “Bend over.”

Richard took a deep breath to steady himself, then flipped the blazer up his back as he bent and grasped the edge of the desk, laying his upper body across its polished surface. Realising that his rising excitement made it uncomfortable to press his groin too firmly against the desk, he shifted back slightly and spread his legs to establish a firmer stance. John seemed in no hurry to begin. He swished the cane through the air a couple of times and the wicked hiss made Richard flinch. He then ran his hands firmly across Richard’s taut buttocks, smoothing out the thin fabric of the trousers which were already stretched tightly around the perfect curve of his arse. Richard had time to reflect wryly on the reason for John’s choice of prescribed underwear; the black silk boxers were not going to add in any significant way to the minimal protection provided by the lightweight trousers.

“Six of the best, my boy.” John growled and Richard was appreciative of the dialogue which came straight out of countless public school stories and always figured in his favourite fantasy. He had time to wonder briefly if he’d been talking in his sleep before the gentle tap of the cane against his bottom alerted him to the fact that John was about to begin.

As the cane whistled through the air Richard tensed before it made contact with his clenched buttocks. His previous encounter with the dreaded implement had taught him that there was a short delay before the burning, searing agony kicked in. He held his breath and waited for the pain to register but as the seconds passed he experienced only a slight sting. His breath escaped as a sigh of relief and he visibly relaxed across the desk. John noted his response and put a little more swing into the second cut which elicited a short hiss from his victim. He didn’t want to spoil the fun by making this too easy for his lover, knowing that Richard would be aroused by a smarting backside. He also paused between each stroke, to add to the anticipation and make the experience last longer.

John worked his way down Richard’s buttocks, taking care not to overlay any of the stripes. Richard’s muted exclamations and occasional squirming reassured him that he was exercising adequate but not excessive force. He was enjoying the opportunity to enact a long held fantasy, with his handsome lover giving an Oscar winning performance as the naughty schoolboy. The knowledge that in doing so he could take Richard’s mind off the reality of his workplace situation and allow him to forget the distress and worry of the day made the experience even more pleasurable.

As he contemplated the sixth and final stroke, John decided that he could afford to deliver a little extra to make the role play memorable. He lined up the cane diagonally across Richard’s buttocks, crossing the previous five stripes, and brought it down with enough force to make the rattan whistle through the air. This would hurt and it would mark but John knew that Richard would appreciate this final cut, however much he might pretend to be affronted. As the cane imparted its fiery sting Richard reacted with an outraged yelp and his hands flew to his backside. John allowed him to squeeze his buttocks until the immediate burn began to die down. Then he helped him to stand upright and pulled him into a warm embrace.

After a couple of minutes he asked solicitously, “How are you feeling, my love?”

“I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable,” Richard responded with a distinct whine in his tone.

John reached round to gently rub his bottom.

Deliberate insolence was tempered with laughter as Richard complained, “Not at the back, stupid!”

Richard pushed his body up against John’s and understanding dawned as he felt a hardness press against his thigh. He transferred his gentle rubbing to Richard’s trapped erection, causing his lover to moan with frustration. Then, as a first step to relieving his discomfort, John began to undress his willing partner. When the black silk boxers finally slipped across Richard’s engorged penis he gasped with pleasure as the fine fabric caressed his sensitive skin. His last coherent thought was that he must buy some silk underwear for himself.

At breakfast the next morning, John watched his partner carefully but surreptitiously. He noticed the wince when Richard sat down at the kitchen table but he rejoiced to see Richard relaxed and carefree once again. He hesitated to spoil the mood by mentioning the invitation they had accepted to attend a Fireworks Party that evening, fearing it would reawaken unpleasant memories of the previous day. Then he reminded himself that fireworks would be everywhere on 5 November so there was no need to hesitate.

“I’ll come straight round to the hospital after work this evening,” he announced. “You’ve remembered that we’re going to Geoff and Martin’s tonight?”

“It’s the village Bonfire Night celebration, isn’t it? What time will you pick me up?”

“Could you be ready for 6.00? We don’t want to be late. Geoff is cooking and, knowing him he’ll have prepared something special. We won’t have to rely on roast chestnuts and burnt sausages by the bonfire!”

“That should be fine. I’ll ring or text if I have a last minute emergency but I’m not on call this evening and I’m hoping to finish early.”

Nothing interfered with their plans and they got away promptly at the end of the day. When John parked his Porsche outside Geoff and Martin’s beautiful cottage beside the village green they could see the enormous bonfire which the villagers had been building for the last couple of months. It would be lit later in the evening once the Guy had been brought onto the village green in procession and placed on top of the bonfire. The firework display would then commence to the accompaniment of amplified music, usually an incongruous medley of Music for the Royal Fireworks, themes from Star Wars and the 1812 Overture.

Martin had told John that they'd get a good view of the fireworks from their sitting room window which faced directly onto the village green. If they wanted to stay in the warm they could enjoy the show from the comfort of their hosts’ front room or they could join the revellers outside. After dinner Geoff courteously insisted that the decision was entirely up to his guests. John looked questioningly at Richard who indicated his desire to go outside, so John went to the car to collect the bag in which they'd packed warm jackets, boots, hats, scarves, torches and a box of sparklers: all the paraphernalia which from childhood they associated with Bonfire Night.

Although the village party lacked the commercialism of the big public displays, Richard was drawn to the gathering crowd of happy families with the noise and the laughter, the music and the fairground atmosphere. He was still not entirely comfortable in Geoff and Martin’s company and he welcomed the opportunity to leave the house. After all, Martin was John’s colleague from work and every so often the two of them would start talking about someone Richard had never met. This left him to make conversation with Geoff whom he found somewhat alarming. Geoff and Martin could not be faulted for the warmth of their welcome or their generosity as hosts but there was something indefinable about Geoff which made Richard very wary.

When they got outside it became difficult for the four of them to remain together as the crowds walked across the village green in the dark to form a solid phalanx around the bonfire. Richard gravitated towards Martin, leaving John engrossed in conversation with Geoff. By the time John and Geoff realised that they'd lost sight of their partners it was too late to do anything about it as everyone was craning forward to watch the procession. The Guy was borne aloft above the heads of the crowd, tied to an old chair which kept him upright when he was placed on top of the bonfire. As the fire took hold beneath him the crowd began to move back to distance themselves from the intense heat. Once the Guy was engulfed in flames the fireworks began and families moved to open ground to get a better view of the display overhead.

When the crowd thinned out Richard and Martin were suddenly to be found at their partners’ sides, making light of their period of absence and oohing and aahing along with everyone else as the firework display built to a climactic finale. John then opened the packet of sparklers which they lit in the glowing embers of the bonfire before making huge figures of eight in the dark with the crackling wands, to the delight of watching children.

It was only as the celebration began to wind down that an announcement came over the loudspeakers warning people to avoid the wet paint which was to be found on the grass, the trees and the road. It appeared that hooligans had taken whitewash from the pavilion and used it to create artwork around the village green. There was an appeal for anyone with information about the perpetrators to contact the organisers or any member of the parish council.

John had a sudden dreadful suspicion but it was too dark to direct the enquiring gaze at his partner which invariably produced a guilty expression if Richard had been involved in any wrong doing. Instead John grasped his lover’s gloved hand under cover of darkness and he could tell immediately from the way Richard pulled away that he was anxious to avoid the close contact which might reveal more than he wished to disclose.

As the four men crossed the green in the dark, ghostly white figures took shape on the ground in front of them and on tree trunks beside them. The children in the crowd exclaimed with delight as they caught sight of the images and there was much speculation in the crowd about how and when the painting had been done. Geoff stopped at one point and tentatively touched one of the skilfully executed pictures only to withdraw his finger quickly as it made contact with the sticky white paint.

It took them only a few minutes to reach the garden gate and walk up the path into the warmth of the cottage where they shed their outdoor clothing whilst Geoff turned on the lights in the sitting room and pulled the curtains. When they were all seated John looked searchingly at his partner and just asked warningly, “Richard?”

The tone was enough to alert Geoff who turned questioning eyes on his guest and then appalled eyes on his own partner, Martin.

“Martin, you didn’t? Tell me you didn’t,” Geoff implored. “It’s years since you’ve done anything so outrageous. You can’t have been responsible for this!”

Martin looked unabashed and unapologetic but he was clearly not in the habit of prevaricating, let alone lying.

“I’m afraid I did, Geoff… and it was such fun! You’d be amazed what effects can be achieved with a big brush and a few swirls of white paint.”

“I’m so sorry, Geoff,” John said at once. “I can only offer an apology on Richard’s behalf and assure you that he will be properly punished. This is his fault, I know… be quiet, Richard… Martin would never have thought of such a plan, let alone carried it out on his own. What a dreadful way to repay your hospitality this evening!”

“Let’s allow Richard to speak for himself, shall we?” suggested Geoff calmly. He turned solemn and enquiring eyes towards Richard who was transfixed by the intensity of the look and all temptation to avoid implicating himself immediately evaporated.

“I… I…didn’t think it would matter much,” he offered lamely. “It seemed like a fun idea… liven things up a bit… you know.”

“No, I don’t think I do know,” Geoff replied coldly. “And I don’t think the parish council will know either.” He turned his steely gaze on his own partner. “As Martin very well knows, I’m a member of the parish council so I’m going to have to deal with this officially. The two of you have put me in a very difficult position.”

Martin visibly wilted in response to his partner’s censure. “I’m so sorry, Geoff,” he faltered, “I really didn’t think this would have serious repercussions. I suppose I just got caught up with the idea of having a bit of fun with the paint we found in the pavilion and I didn’t think of the consequences. I never thought it would make things difficult for you.”

He looked so chastened that Richard began to regret dragging Martin into his impulsive exploit.

“I just don’t want to become too staid and proper in my old age,” Martin finished lamely.

John got up and pulled Martin to his feet so he could wrap his arms right around him in a loving embrace.

“You: staid and proper?” he growled. “That’s just an image you project when you work in those fusty old Chambers. To me you’re still the enchanting, unpredictable, mischievous lover I met all those years ago. And I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

As Martin laid his head on Geoff’s shoulder and the two men leant against one another in a silent moment of mutual comfort, Richard averted his eyes from a scene which seemed too intimate for witnesses.

“Don’t worry about it, love,” Geoff added quietly. “We’ll sort this out and then it will be over and done with. Why don’t you go and get ready for bed? Take a bath; it’ll warm you up. I’ll be up a bit later on.”

It was obvious that Geoff needed time alone with Martin, and John was quick to take a hint. He began thanking Geoff for his hospitality and repeating apologies for his partner’s misbehaviour as he repacked their outdoor clothing ready for departure. But Geoff interrupted him.

“There’s no need to leave just yet. We’ll have a cup of coffee first. Come into the kitchen and help me make it.”

This was clearly an instruction rather than an invitation. It never occurred to John to refuse. Richard could see that Geoff wanted a private word with his partner so he remained sitting silently in the armchair, looking very dejected and rapidly coming to regret his childish antics which had caused trouble for both their friends.

Once in the kitchen Geoff sought to reassure his guest.

“Don’t worry about us, John. I’m inclined to think that Martin deserves a bit of a fling from time to time, although don’t tell him I said that! He’ll be fine once I’ve dealt with it.”

John hesitated before he asked the question he was anxious to have answered, “How are you going to deal with it?”

John countered with a question of his own, “How are you going to deal with Richard?”

“I don’t know, really I don’t. I suppose you’re going to spank Martin but I don’t want to do that to Richard, not today.”

“I take it you have some special reason for not wanting to turn him over your knee. I must say that this ranks in my book as sheer thoughtless high jinks which is best dealt with by means of a short, sharp spanking. I don’t intend to be too hard on Martin and I’m sure he’ll feel much better once he has a smarting backside to remind him that he’s atoned for this evening’s misjudgement.”

“Yeah, it usually works like that for Richard too. But he’s had a hard time at the hospital these last few days with a case which particularly upset him. I tried to take his mind of it… We played… I think it worked. He seemed happier and more relaxed but perhaps I miscalculated. I expect that’s why he went off the rails a bit this evening. Doing something outrageous seems to give him a way to cope with tension and worry… Anyway, I don’t want to spank him again.”

John’s eyebrows lifted just enough to signal a question and John realised he had thoughtlessly divulged more than he intended.

“Oh hell! I didn’t mean to get into this but I caned him yesterday, in play. It was a scene we both enjoyed. Richard had as much fun as I did, I promise you. Judging from his enthusiastic participation, he must share one of my favourite fantasies. And yes, before you ask, I did use your cane but I was very careful, I really was. However, Richard will still be feeling some after effects and I just don’t want to get punishment mixed up with play.”

“Well done!”

John’s blank look signalled his incomprehension.

“You’re learning,” Geoff continued. “You’re thinking of your partner’s needs, judging what will be right for him, responding to his moods and emotions. Learn to trust your own judgement, John. If you feel this isn’t the right time for a spanking, don’t feel obliged to punish Richard in that way just because Martin is going to get his backside warmed before the evening is out.”

“What am I going to do with him though? You can see how dejected he is now. He’ll be upset that he got Martin into trouble and he’ll start beating himself up because he’s let himself down in front of our friends. I need to get this right and I’m not sure how.”

“How about setting him a writing task?”

“Lines? That’s a bit infantile isn’t it? I don’t think he’ll respond very well.”

“Given that his behaviour this evening can only be described as childish, I don’t think he would have grounds for complaint. But lines would be too easy. He’s an intelligent man. Make him think as well as write; make him accountable. Make him write what he did, why he did it, and how he feels about it now. If he does it properly that should take a fair bit of time so it would be a task for tomorrow night after work. You could tell him what the penalty is tonight which would give him a day to think about what he’s going to write. It should prove an instructive exercise for both of you and it will deliver sufficient punishment for Richard to feel he’s paid the penalty for his misconduct.”

The kettle boiled and Geoff busied himself making four cups of coffee, leaving John leaning against the kitchen counter considering the suggestion. Geoff then took one cup of coffee upstairs to Martin leaving John to find a tray for the other three cups, the milk jug and the plate of homemade biscuits which Geoff had produced.

Richard looked up guiltily when Geoff and John entered the sitting room but Geoff slipped back easily into his role as the perfect host, conversing on unexceptional topics and drawing Richard into the conversation. Nothing further was said about the impromptu decoration of the village green and shortly John put down his empty cup and announced that they really ought to be leaving as they both had work in the morning. This time Geoff made no objection but accompanied them to the car and wished them a safe journey home.

Richard sat quietly for the first part of the journey and John spent the time thinking through Geoff’s suggestion. By the time Richard raised the question of his punishment John had reached a decision, which was just as well because Richard’s anger at his own stupidity emerged as aggression directed towards his lover.

“I suppose you’re going to spank me for tonight’s fuck up,” he suddenly announced in a surly tone.

John remained calm and replied neutrally, “No, I wasn’t planning to spank you. And please don’t use language like that, it doesn’t become you.”

“Doesn’t become me? What do you mean by that? I’m not some bleeding Jane Austen heroine! I’ll say fuck as often as I want to.”

“I’ll be counting,” John commented without elaborating. Richard was quick to pick up on the subtle threat and lapsed into silence. He didn’t know what counting might lead to and he decided he would rather not find out.

After a further lengthy period of silence which gave Richard time to calm down, John felt the time was right to make known the penalty for the evening’s misbehaviour. Richard listened in disgust as John outlined the nature of his punishment but he had the good sense to frame his objection in less offensive, but nonetheless forthright, terms.

“I’m not writing an account of what I did tonight, like some naughty schoolboy. It’s a ridiculous punishment. It’ll serve no useful purpose. I’m not doing it.”

John at least had the satisfaction of knowing he had accurately predicted Richard’s reaction to Geoff’s suggested punishment but he replied with studied calm.

“If you engage in schoolboy pranks, you can expect to be punished in a manner suited to such conduct. And I think it will be a very useful exercise for you to reflect on your behaviour and produce a written account of your reasons for behaving so thoughtlessly. You’ve got all tomorrow to think about it, which should give you plenty of time to get things clear in your head before putting pen to paper.”

John’s calm but implacable manner convinced Richard of the futility of outright refusal so he switched tactics in an attempt to persuade John to administer a punishment which would be over more quickly. His earlier outburst, although appearing angry and hostile, had in fact sprung from remorse and a desire for reassurance that John would make him pay his dues as soon as they got home. He did not want to spend another twenty four hours consumed by guilt and he most certainly did not want to have to reveal in writing how he felt about his misconduct.

“Can’t you just spank me and get this over with?” he asked in a tone verging on the disrespectful.

“I’ve told you what the punishment will be and now I’m even more certain that I’ve made the right decision,” responded John firmly. “A spanking would be too easy for you. You just want to forget all about what you did tonight; forget that you got someone else into trouble as well as yourself. A bit of soul searching will do you good, my lad. Look at it positively. This is an opportunity to be honest with yourself as well as with me.”

Richard groaned as he absorbed the full implication of John’s statement: he was going to have to face up to some unpleasant truths and then set them out in black and white for John to read. With no other arguments to advance against the prescribed penalty Richard swallowed his pride and resorted to outright pleading.

“Please don’t make me write. I’ll take a spanking instead. You can use the paddle on me if you like. Please. I don’t want to write. I’ll take anything else you want to hand out.”

John didn't reply immediately and when he did speak Richard realised at once that he'd overstepped the mark.

“I don’t recall asking you to offer any suggestions as to how you’re to be punished,” John stated in glacial tones. “Who makes the decisions about punishment in this partnership anyway?”

Richard sighed and gave what he knew to be the only acceptable response, “You do, sir.”

And as he said the words he was conscious of the tension draining out of his body. The matter was in John’s hands, he had taken the decision about Richard’s punishment and he would make things right for his partner. Richard knew he wasn’t going to like the task he'd been set, but then when did he ever like being punished? On the other hand, John did seem to know what he needed and he wasn’t intending to let his partner off lightly. Once Richard accepted the inevitable he began to relax until he gradually slipped down in his seat and fell asleep for the rest of the journey.

Whenever there was a lull at work the next day Richard’s thoughts strayed to the task ahead of him that evening. His emotions swung between anger at a chore he resented and acceptance of a punishment he knew he deserved. He tried to give some thought to what he was going to write. The description of what Martin and he had done would be straightforward enough. Richard was even beginning to think he could inject some humour into his account although he was unsure about how well that would be received by his partner.

In attempting to analyse his feelings about what he'd done he was conscious of embarrassment at behaving in such a childish way, distress at getting Martin into trouble and shame that he'd caused problems for Geoff in the village. As for why he'd behaved in such a way in the first place, here Richard shied away from the truth, unwilling to admit even to himself that he'd been seeking a distraction, a diversion, anything to take his mind off the worry about his young patient.

By the time he got home Richard had allowed anger at the forthcoming task to overturn the state of acceptance he'd reached the previous evening. John recognised his mood as soon as he entered the house but he made no comment and instead got Richard seated at the kitchen table as soon as possible with a pen and paper in front of him.

“Remember what we discussed last night. I want you to describe what you and Martin did, why you did it and how you feel about it now. You’ve had plenty of time to think about this and I’m expecting a full and thoughtful response. Off you go.”

Richard picked up the pen but made no move to begin writing. John didn't want to give the impression of standing over his partner so he concentrated on preparing the evening meal. He nonetheless noticed that Richard had not written a word and after half an hour he felt he could not allow the situation to continue. He was determined not to enter into any sort of confrontation with Richard over this punishment and he was conscious that he could not force compliance either. He washed his hands and sat down next to Richard addressing him very kindly.

“Come on, love, the sooner you get started the sooner you’ll be finished and we can enjoy the rest of the evening.”

Richard seemed to be less angry and agitated than when he entered the house but he still seemed in no mood to co-operate or even to explain his difficulties. John rapidly decided that a firm approach was needed, but one which offered a let out if Richard was genuinely unable to perform the prescribed task.

“We’re neither of us doing anything else until you’ve covered at least four sides of paper with fluent, legible text. You know what you’re meant to be writing about and I’m going to be very disappointed in you if you fail to complete the assignment. But if you really cannot perform the prescribed task I still want you to write. You can write whatever you like. Just remember I’ll be reading it when you’ve finished.”

That seemed to strike some chord with Richard and he gave a tiny nod of acceptance. John remained seated just long enough to see Richard’s head bend over the paper as he focused on the task. John then got up to finish the cooking, put the prepared dish in the oven and wash the utensils he'd been using. As he walked behind Richard to put the clean bowls away he read over his shoulder, ‘Fuck you, John Hamilton-Smythe’, written in a bold hand on the top line of the paper. It said a lot for John’s concern about his partner, as well as his own self control, that he said nothing about the unacceptable language. Instead he started to worry about how he was going to handle this when Richard came to the end of his allotted task.

The more he thought about it the more uncertain he was of the best way to deal with what appeared to be studied insolence and finally he thought to ring Geoff Robinson for advice. Without interrupting Richard, who now appeared to be totally engrossed in the task with his hand flying across the paper in an urgent scrawl, John went quietly upstairs to ring Geoff from the phone in the bedroom. Geoff listened intently to John’s description of Richard’s reaction to the task and his behaviour since returning home that evening and then he set about reassuring John that he'd handled the situation well.

“You’ve remained calm,” he said approvingly. “You’ve insisted that Richard perform the writing task, despite how hard he tried to dissuade you, and you’ve avoided any confrontation. I think you were wise to give him a let out clause in case he was experiencing real difficulties but in every way that matters you’ve achieved compliance. He’s sitting there writing, isn’t he?”

“Yes. He’s writing Fuck you, John Hamilton-Smythe."

“Don’t be too quick to judge. You haven’t read the rest yet. And you said he could write what he wanted so if he’s written obscenities on every line then don’t react, do nothing, don’t let him think you mind in the least. Just tear up the sheets without comment and count it as a punishment completed. But I don’t think it’ll come to that. Tell me again what you said about the prescribed task.”

“I just said that I would be very disappointed if he didn’t complete the set task which was to write what he’d done, why he did it and how he feels about it.”

“All I can say is, I don’t think Richard will disappoint you. In fact, I think that one of the motivating forces in his life is to gain your approval. I’m pretty sure that your boy will come up trumps. Ring and let me know how you get on.”

“I will. Thank you, Geoff. I’m sorry for taking up your time. It’s bad enough that Richard caused so much trouble at your house last night without you having to help me sort him out.”

“Never apologise for asking for my help,” Geoff responded promptly and very firmly. “I wouldn’t be pleased if I ever found out you needed help with your relationship and hadn’t contacted me.”

John had a healthy respect for Geoff and he had no desire to displease him so he hastily moved on to ask after Geoff’s partner.

“How’s Martin? I hope you weren’t too hard on him.”

“Martin’s feeling a lot better today and I can assure you he’s suffering no ill effects from the punishment he received last night. That’s more than I can say for the labour of cleaning the cricket pavilion. He’s been working on it all day and he still hasn’t shifted all the paint!”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you see? They painted pictures of caped and booted men on the outside of the cricket pavilion. The white paint stands out a mile. I can see a huge mural of the Gunpowder Plotters from my sitting room window.”

“Oh that’s dreadful, Geoff. Martin shouldn’t have to clean that all on his own. I’ll send Richard down on Saturday morning and he can just keep scrubbing until all the paint comes off.”

“That will be much appreciated, John. Martin isn’t a young man anymore. He’s worked hard today and the effort has taken its toll. We’ll be glad of another pair of willing hands.”

When John got back downstairs Richard was still engrossed in his writing and John moved around quietly so as not to disturb him. It was clear, however, that he had covered more than the prescribed minimum of four sides and he continued to write for a further half hour before stopping and reading through his work. He made a few minor corrections and then firmly crossed through one whole page before he turned rather self consciously to his partner and announced that he'd finished.

John walked over to the kitchen table and held his hand out for the sheaf of papers which Richard was holding. Richard didn’t hand them over; instead he clutched them to his body and looked up with mute appeal before muttering an urgent request.

“Please, John, can I say something first?”

John didn’t respond but continued to hold out his hand. Richard very unwillingly passed over the sheets and blushed as once again he sought permission to defend himself.

“Don’t read it yet, John, please. I need to explain something before you do.”

John still avoided entering into any discussion. Instead he put the papers down very deliberately on the kitchen table, seated himself in front of Richard and invited him to say what he had to.

Faced with John’s uncompromising stare, Richard faltered but then pulled himself together and in a rather formal tone confessed that the first page of writing was a furious diatribe directed at his partner.

“I’m really sorry, John,” he pleaded. “I was so angry about the whole business when I got home. I just got it all out of my system when you said I could write whatever I liked. It’s horrible, disgusting stuff and I’ve crossed it all out. But I’d hate you to see even a small bit of what I’ve written. Will you let me tear it up and throw it away?”

“Why didn’t you tear it up and throw it away while I was upstairs?” asked John astutely.

“I thought of it,” was Richard’s shamefaced reply, “but it seemed like cheating and I wanted to be honest with you.”

“Quite apart from the fact that I’d already read the first line so I would be expecting to read the rest of the page.”

Richard winced but acknowledged the truth of John’s pointed observation. “Yeah, that too,” he admitted.

“Okay,” said John decisively, “I’ll cut you a deal. You can remove from this pile anything you don’t want me to read and in return you will write a formal apology to John and Martin and deliver it in person tomorrow morning when you go to help Martin scrub the rest of the paint off the pavilion.”

“What? That paint should come off in the first rainstorm. It was only whitewash!”

“It seems it was paint for marking out the pitch,” John remarked dryly, “and it's reacted with the wood stain on the pavilion. Martin has been scrubbing all day.”

“Oh shit! That’s terrible. He shouldn’t have had to do that. Of course, I’ll go and help.”

Richard took a few more moments to consider the terms of John’s offer before making one further request.

“Will you come with me?” he asked in a small voice. “I don’t want to face Geoff on my own.”

“You should have thought of that before you persuaded Martin to help you decorate the village green,” John stated firmly but then added more kindly, “Geoff will think the better of you for going on your own to put things right. Trust me; Geoff is a very kind man… under that ruthless exterior.”

With that John pushed the papers back across the table to his partner who extracted the incriminating page and tore it into tiny pieces. He got up and dropped the fragments into the kitchen bin and then stood uneasily as John settled to read through the closely written sheets. It was a relief when John glanced up and suggested that Richard go and take a shower before dinner. He didn’t want to be present while John read an account which revealed more than he was comfortable about sharing with his lover. John didn’t notice him walk quietly out of the room, he was so intensely focused on the text before him.

‘I was so angry when I got home,’ it read. ‘I was angry with myself for being getting involved in another stupid prank and dragging someone else into it as well. Somehow all that anger got directed at you, my love, and I wrote the most awful stuff. I hope to God you’ll let me destroy it. I couldn’t bear you to read what I never meant to say.

‘You’ve been so good to me these last couple of days. I think you’ve known what I’ve been going through and you’ve done your best to take my mind off it. You certainly gave me the hottest, sexiest, most exciting night of my life when you caned me. It was the epitome of all my erotic fantasies: a wet dream played out in real life. Did I say thank you? If I did, it wasn’t enough to express my thanks and appreciation. I can’t imagine how you managed to plan it all and prepare everything after work. And as for the sex afterwards, it was just awesome! I never gave the hospital or my patients a thought all evening. In fact, I think you wiped my brain cells and I was just functioning on sensory overload.

‘Perhaps that was the trouble. That whole evening was so intense; it banished all other thoughts from my mind. As a result, when I got back to work the next day all my worries hit me full force and I didn’t cope very well. By the evening I think I was looking for another high, something to take my mind off the reality of work. I don’t know if you realise, although I suspect you do: my crazy exploits are an attempt to distract myself from issues I don’t want to face. I’m only just beginning to realise that myself and it sure as hell isn’t easy to write it down for you to read. For an intelligent man who’s taken courses in psychotherapy, I’m not very good at analysing my own motivation, am I?

‘That’s why I can’t imagine life without you, John, my love. You understand me and my needs as no one else has ever done. You provide a steadying influence and you’re able to handle me when my behaviour gets out of hand. You give me a way of coping with my worry and my guilt; with you I feel safe, secure and loved. And I love you, John. I even love you for making me sit here and write this! And I’m doing my very best now to write what you told me to. I just pray that you won’t make me read it out loud because I’d die of embarrassment. But I mean every word, John. You’re the love of my life.’

John turned over the page and saw that Richard had moved on to describe in precise detail what he and Martin had done the previous evening. As he read the elegant script he noted that Richard offered no excuses for his conduct but his ready wit could not be repressed for long. John was glad that Richard was upstairs taking a shower because he laughed out loud at the description of the two men sneaking round the pavilion in the dark and bumping into the grass roller.

The tone changed again on the last page where Richard completed the final part of the task. John had felt it would be a salutary experience for Richard to write down after the event how he felt about his misbehaviour. He wasn’t prepared, however, to encounter the depth of Richard’s self recrimination. He suddenly remembered that Geoff had suggested this exercise would prove instructive for them both and he was certainly gaining an insight into Richard’s capacity to feel guilt. John made a mental note to ensure that his lover understood that the matter was now closed and he was forgiven. He regretted that he'd insisted on a formal apology and he determined that it would be brief and quickly written. The rest of the evening was going to be enjoyable for Richard.

When Richard tentatively walked into the kitchen, his hair still damp from the shower, John swept him into an embrace and kissed him tenderly.

“Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me so honestly, my love. It was a privilege to read your account.”

Richard blushed with pleasure at the compliment and John realised how rarely he gave Richard credit for his achievements. He attempted to reinforce the positive message and make clear that the incident was forgiven and forgotten.

“I know how difficult that was for you,” he said. “It was tougher than a spanking and you coped well.” He held up his hand as Richard began to protest. “Forget about the bad temper. You’re allowed to be angry and you showed great insight into the cause of your anger. A few obscenities directed at John Hamilton-Smythe are just par for the course. I don’t have a problem with it if you managed to get the anger out of your system.”

Richard rested his head on John’s shoulder and relaxed. John put his arms around Richard’s waist and the two men stood leaning against one another for a few minutes, enjoying the deeper trust and understanding which this exercise had engendered. Then John broke the mood with a brisk instruction.

“Come on, we need to get the best writing paper and we’ll work on this apology together. You can’t afford to offend Geoff Robinson. The consequences can be very painful, I can tell you.”

“He wouldn’t spank me, would he?” asked Richard in some trepidation.

“Oh, no; he’d never do that, at least not without my permission…”

Richard didn’t look noticeably reassured so John laughingly added, “…which I’d never give!”

Then, judging that Richard deserved some fun, John dropped a bombshell, “Geoff hasn’t been above teaching me a hard lesson before now, though.”

Richard was so amazed his expression was almost comical. He pressed his partner for clarification but John refused to provide any further details. However, he did give Richard permission to ask Geoff all about it, knowing that the tale of his humiliation would prove highly entertaining to his partner. It would make up for having to spend a morning scrubbing the cricket pavilion and it would no doubt provide a rich source of merriment over lunch with Geoff and Martin. All things considered, the injury to his pride was a small sacrifice to make if it gave Richard something to laugh about.