It was some weeks before I was ready to get on the bike again and then I had to work hard to recover my fitness in time for my next scheduled race. It was a three day event in which I would face stiff competition. I would need to discipline myself to follow the tactical race plan devised by Brandon. He had long since dealt with my bad behaviour in the peloton. I’d learned the hard way that taunting rivals and riding aggressively just isn’t on. To start with I’d done as he said because I had no wish to find myself bending over the desk in his office. He keeps a paddle in the drawer of his filing cabinet and it can do serious damage. Later, I realised that giving an inch when the peloton is bunched up can make a friend who will return the favour when the positions are reversed. We all need a bit of help to get through the stages of a long distance road race. I’d given up shouting ‘pull or get out the way’ to slower riders who were blocking my progress. I’d learned that it didn’t always pay to force the pace.
Brandon had taught me tactical awareness through a combination of lectures and aversion therapy. I hesitated to acknowledge, even to myself, that the aversion therapy which worked for me was spanking. Brandon never went easy on me and I hated being spanked. I was also growing up and with maturity comes wisdom, or so they say. Then I tangled with Paul Marchand, a rider for one of the French teams who got right up my nose, and all Brandon’s carefully instilled wisdom went right out the window. I can’t say I actually forgot what he’d taught. It’s not possible to forget when Brandon makes his point so forcefully. I just decided to put his teaching to one side in this particular case.
Sometimes it just seems worth the risk. It’s what businessmen call the cost/benefit analysis. The more I became accustomed to the very special relationship I had with Brandon, the more confident I felt about weighing up the risks of disobeying him. In the case of Paul Marchand the risk - hell, the certainty - of a spanking was more than outweighed by the benefit of putting one over on that French bastard.
I’d encountered Paul Marchand in competition before. He must have known who I was but he called me by the wrong name every time he needed to speak to me. That pissed me off and simply added to my impression that he thought he owned the road. Just because the Tour de France is the greatest race in the world doesn’t mean that the French have to dominate the sport. I thought it was about time Monsieur Marchand learned that lesson.
The perfect opportunity presented itself in my next race which had attracted a strong international entry. As the peloton surged into the final stages the competitors were closely bunched, jockeying for position, moving across the path of other riders and pushing each other out of the way. I’d been keeping an eye out for Paul Marchand and suddenly I found myself close to him in this melee. I consciously thought about the cost of deliberately flicking him and decided I would pay the price if I had to. I pulled up level with him, barged past making good use of my elbow, and shouted abuse in his face.
“Mange la merde, Marchand.”
I’m no linguist but I could manage that very satisfying obscenity which tripped off the tongue along with his surname. I just caught a glimpse of his outraged expression as I moved up to challenge the breakaway group.
With a mile to the finishing line I knew I wasn’t going to catch the race leader and I glanced over my shoulder to check that I could hold on to second place. Marchand was coming up fast behind me and he seemed to have greater reserves of strength than me. I had taunted him and he was about to beat me into third place. Indeed, his fury may have lent strength to his legs just as mine started to turn to jelly. But with just five yards to go, when we were riding neck and neck, he suddenly slammed on his brakes, locking the wheels of his bike. The crowd gasped in amazement as Marchand allowed the pursuing rider to steal a certain medal from him. His behaviour was baffling but I knew what he had done. He had sacrificed a medal position to avoid standing on the podium with me. It was the ultimate insult and it brought home to me, more effectively than anything Marchand could have said, what he thought of my unsporting conduct.
So it was that I found myself standing stiffly facing the wall in my hotel bedroom while my coach, who had witnessed the conclusion of the race, sat checking his emails on the laptop. After what seemed like an interminable wait Brandon turned off the computer and asked the question which I had declined to answer nearly half an hour earlier.
“Are you going to tell me why Marchand made such a dramatic gesture on the finish line today?”
“I don’t know what goes on in that bastard’s head. Why are you making such a fuss about him?”
“I’m not interested in Paul Marchand. I’m interested in you and what you did to provoke him into such an extreme act. Are you really telling me that me that you really don’t know what prompted him to deliberately jam on his brakes just five yards from the finish line?”
One possible response sprang to mind, ‘I’m telling you nothing, sir’ but at least I had the sense not to utter it. I was playing dumb. Brandon never punished me without clear evidence of my guilt and on this occasion I had no intention of confessing. Unless he went and spoke to Paul Marchand himself, Brandon had no way of knowing what had gone on during the race.
After a decent interval which gave me every opportunity to respond to a reasonable question Brandon spoke with crisp authority. “Right, young man, you can remain standing right there while I go and speak to the manager of Marchand’s team. Luckily all the French cyclists and officials are billeted in the same hotel as us tonight so we should be able to get to the bottom of this affair.”
I heard the bedroom door close behind me and my head and shoulders drooped in defeat. I had hoped to avoid facing up to the consequences of my behaviour by saying nothing. I was sure that Brandon could gather no more information before morning. I hadn’t bargained for the fact that the entire French contingent were staying in the same hotel as us.
It was a good half hour before Brandon returned and I was beginning to stiffen up in my motionless position after a hard day in the saddle. My brain too had ground to a halt with the effort of planning an escape strategy from the hole I'd dug myself into. I didn’t dare turn round as I heard Brandon take a seat on the bed behind me but my whole body tensed as I waited for the axe to fall. Instead there was just silence which had me seriously spooked before Brandon finally told me to turn round and face him. I just glanced at his face before dropping my gaze. He was looking appallingly grim.
“Brandon,” I began in pleading tones, “I’m so sorry.”
“What for?” came the uncompromising reply. “For taunting a rival… again? For engaging in unsporting conduct? For refusing to answer my questions? For attempting to deceive me?”
“I… I didn’t mean to… I’m…”
“Of course you meant to.” Brandon cut in decisively. “You set out to deliberately antagonise Paul Marchand, didn’t you?”
Put in such stark terms it was hard to take responsibility for what I’d done but I could hardly deny Brandon’s accusation. I took a deep breath and owned up.
“Did you give any thought to what I might think about your behaviour?”
That was the crunch question. If I claimed that I’d given way to a sudden impulse then there was no way Brandon could prove any different. I answered immediately before I lost my nerve.
“I knew what you’d think, Brandon. I knew what you’d do if you found out. I thought about it and decided to go ahead anyway. I decided it was worth the risk.”
That was the whole truth and I braced myself for his reaction. He hadn’t raised his voice to me so far but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d given way to anger at that point. In fact his response was as quietly worded as everything else he had said to me that evening but it shook me to the core.
“Do you think that you and I play some childish game of forfeits? Is that how you see a discipline partnership? This is your reputation, your career – and mine – that you’re risking. What price had you expected to pay when I found out about this?”
Of course, I’d been hoping Brandon wouldn’t find out but, to be fair, that was always something of an outside chance. I gulped and pronounced my own sentence, “I expected to get paddled for this.”
“Well, at least you’ve got one thing right. You’ve got the paddle to look forward to when we get home.”
That was said with simple finality and as I was coming to terms with the frightening implications, Brandon continued, “So let’s concentrate now on your deception and persistent refusal to disclose the truth when I asked you.”
It was shaping up to be a very unpleasant evening. Brandon clearly took the view that there were two separate offences here. I thought I’d taken a considered decision to risk a paddling. It hadn’t occurred to me how disrespectful that was towards Brandon. A childish game of forfeits? No, that wasn’t the nature of our relationship at all.
“I didn’t set out to deceive you, Brandon. It all got out of hand. I hate Paul Marchand and I decided to take the risk of flicking him in the peloton in the hope that you wouldn’t find out. I thought I could take a paddling if you did find out. I’m so sorry. I can see that it doesn’t work like that… we don’t work like that.”
“No, it doesn’t work like that, love. I don’t spank you so you can do what you want regardless, and then pay the price to make everything okay. I’ve spanked you for behaving badly in competition so that you’ll think twice about engaging in unsporting conduct in the future. I don’t want to see you making enemies and damaging your career prospects. If you forget that lesson, if you lose your temper, if you succumb to temptation, I can understand. We can deal with it. What I cannot accept is deliberate, intentional misbehaviour with the likely penalty factored into your decision to do what you know is wrong. It devalues our agreement. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it negates our agreement.”
“What do you mean?” I asked in a panic.
“What’s the point of me disciplining you if you don’t take it seriously?”
“I do. I do take it seriously,” I said with sincerity. “I just didn’t think. I’m so sorry. I know it was disrespectful to think I could trade a paddling for the pleasure of insulting the Frenchman.” Brandon frowned as I admitted that I’d enjoyed taunting Marchand so I hurried on. “I can’t bear to think I’ve damaged our relationship, that I’ve abused our agreement and tried to hide what I’ve done. Please help me put things right between us.”
“Will you accept my judgement on this, without reservation?”
“You know I accept your judgement and your discipline. I deserve whatever you want to dish out for this.”
“I’m not going to go easy on you. What you’ve done eats at the very heart of our relationship. It’s a relationship based on trust, trust on both sides, and you’ve undermined that. Come here.”
I’d been standing with my back to the wall, only a step from the corner where I’d been sent over an hour earlier. I walked over to Brandon and without waiting for instructions, I stood at his right hand side. I knew what was coming and I wanted to signal my compliance. However, he took me by surprise by reaching up, slipping his fingers under the elastic of my jogging bottoms and the waistband of my briefs and pulling them both down below my knees in one smooth movement. It was humiliating to be stripped so quickly and so efficiently and I had to resist the temptation to cover my naughty bits with my hands. I’m always comfortable walking around naked in front of Brandon but somehow this felt different; I felt horribly exposed. However, I didn’t have long to suffer the embarrassment of standing with my pants slipping slowly to my ankles. Brandon grasped my wrist and guided me down across his lap, lifting my upper body onto the bed.
The last time I’d been in this position I’d been labouring under the illusion that a hand spanking wouldn’t be too painful. This time I knew what I was in for but even so the force of the initial impact took my breath away. I was physically tired from a hard day in the saddle followed by a lengthy restriction in the corner. I was emotionally exhausted following the discussion I’d just had with Brandon. I was heartbroken by the realisation that I'd betrayed his trust and attempted to deceive him. It didn’t take much to break me.
By the time Brandon had set my whole ass ablaze with his measured and efficient spanking I was crying freely. I don’t deny that the odd tear has occasionally sprung to my eye in the course of a particularly painful punishment but I had never before broken down completely. I was ashamed that Brandon could hear me gasping and sobbing but I was quite unable to control my emotional reaction. It seemed to have no effect on him, however. He continued to cover my buttocks and thighs with blistering blows which caused my body to buck convulsively. His firm hand on my far hip kept me in position across his lap and the sense of being held, of being anchored, provided a strange sort of comfort.
I was so lost in my distress that it didn’t immediately register when Brandon finally let up. It was the feel of his hand gently caressing my back and his soothing words of reassurance which brought me back to an awareness of my surroundings. All the tension drained from my body and I slumped across Brandon’s firm thighs, struggling to regain my composure. The spanking had ended but my bottom was on fire. I was in no hurry to sit up but it was concern about facing Brandon rather than concern about putting weight on my extremely sore backside which made me prolong the period I spent with my head buried in my folded arms. Brandon made no move to hurry me so it was some minutes before I shifted off his knees and bent to recover the clothing which had pooled round my ankles. I was feeling too emotionally drained to talk and, although there was a part of me that craved further comfort, I didn’t feel ready to sit on Brandon’s lap.
“Go and get under the shower and then get ready for bed.” It was said quietly but it was clearly a command. Brandon seemed to understand my mood and he made no other comment.
I was relieved that I didn’t have to engage in conversation and I turned immediately to walk into the bathroom. As I undressed, I heard the bedroom door click shut and I suddenly felt very alone. Brandon had gone back to his own room and I wouldn’t see him again until morning when the team met for breakfast. The team manager always booked separate rooms for us and we would neither of us have wanted it any other way when we were all travelling as a group. I always coped easily with our enforced separation, but not that night.
When I came out of the bathroom with just a towel around my waist I stopped short at the sight of Brandon undressing by my bed. He glanced up and said, “I thought you’d like a bit of company tonight, love, so I just popped back to my room to grab a few essentials.”
His tone was light and he carried on undressing without paying me any further attention. It seemed so natural to see him preparing for bed that I relaxed and stopped worrying about what he was thinking. I dug clean sleepwear out of my suitcase while Brandon took his turn in the bathroom and by the time he rejoined me I was already in bed. He climbed in at the other side and leant over to turn out the lights, flicking the master switch on the wall behind him. In the darkness he pulled me towards him and I went willingly, snuggling into his warm embrace. Better than any word of comfort, more reassuring than any caress, was the solid presence of his body pressed against mine. I buried my face in his chest, breathing in the scent of him and feeling his steady heartbeat under my hand. As his arms tightened around me I knew without a shadow of doubt that I was loved, cherished and forgiven.
The memory of Brandon’s loving care for me, his instinctive understanding of my confused emotions and his ability to comfort and reassure all got me though a very uncomfortable journey home. We had risen at dawn and were out with the guys before breakfast loading the bikes onto the trailer and stowing our kit on the team coach ready for a quick getaway. Everyone was still excited that the team had done so well. We were all placed amongst the first thirty finishers with my silver medal being the outstanding result.
“Where were you last night?” shouted Danny Jackson as we got on the coach. “We missed you. We were having a celebratory drink – or two – at the bar.”
“It was a hard race, mate. I decided to have an early night.” That wasn’t exactly a lie.
Danny took a seat a couple of rows back but continued the conversation by shouting up the aisle. “What was with that guy, Marchand? Did he have a problem with his bike?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could manage. I wanted to discourage Danny from pursuing that line of enquiry.
“It was a shame he missed out on the bronze medal,” observed one of the other guys. “His wife and son were watching at the finish line.”
I winced. I hadn’t known he had brought his family to watch him ride. It made his protest gesture even more powerful and it made me realise for the first time what a sacrifice he'd made to teach me a lesson. What man would not want to collect a medal in front of his wife and son?
“Did you see what happened?” persisted Danny.
“Yeah, it was aimed at me,” I admitted, feeling myself blush to the roots of my hair and acutely conscious of Brandon sitting beside me and listening to this conversation.
“What?” Danny was baffled. “How could it be aimed at you?”
The bus had gone silent. The other guys were curious about what had happened and the news reports on the incident were contradictory.
“I flicked him in the peloton and shouted abuse at him,” I admitted shamefacedly. “He didn’t want to stand on the podium with me.” There was an awkward silence and one or two of the guys glanced at Brandon. Everyone knew the view he took of unsporting conduct. I laughed to cover my embarrassment, “A very elegant Gallic insult, eh?” The laughter was ironic and the underlying anger was all directed at myself, “I didn’t have much to celebrate last night.”
No more was said about the matter although some of the guys gave me sympathetic looks. They all guessed that I’d had been reprimanded by Brandon and none of them liked being on the receiving end of a telling off from the coach. They knew that Brandon cut me no slack but they didn’t know what form his displeasure took in private.
What none of them saw then was Brandon slip his hand into mine and whisper, “Well done.” I could hardly have held out with Danny pressing me for information so publicly and I wouldn’t lie to the guys with Brandon listening. Nevertheless, it was good to know he was proud of me for owning up in front of the team. It helped me get through an otherwise unpleasant journey home. Apart from a few brief rest stops we were travelling all day which was far from comfortable on a sore bottom. As the day wore on the discomfort did begin to wear off but as our home town made its first appearance on the road signs I began to get seriously worried about the prospect of what awaited me when we got back.
Once the coach pulled into the car park at the sports complex everyone lent a hand unloading the bikes which went into secure storage. Then I transferred our bags to Brandon’s car while he said goodbye to the team. Some had left their cars in the car park and others were being picked up by family members. When the last one had departed I turned anxious eyes to Brandon, “Now, please, Brandon. Do it now.”
He knew exactly what I meant and he knew why I wanted him to take me to his office there and then. We had dealt with my disrespect and deceit the previous evening. That was a matter between the two of us and it was over and done with. I had grasped the seriousness of what I’d done wrong, I’d paid the price over his knee, and I knew that Brandon had forgiven me. My offence would never be mentioned again.
What remained was my misconduct and unsporting behaviour during a race. That was a business matter and it would be dealt with in the office. Despite my tender backside I didn’t want to have to wait another day. I wanted us to go home knowing that there was nothing outstanding between us. I wanted to relax knowing that I had a clean slate.
“If you’re sure.” Brandon said. “It doesn’t have to be now.”
Brandon held out his hand for the car keys. The key to his office was on the same key ring. We walked in silence up the stairs and I stood in front of his desk as he went straight to the filing cabinet to retrieve the paddle.
“I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said. You know what you did wrong and even before you did it you knew what the penalty would be. This is where you pay for the dubious pleasure of insulting a rival.” I might have known Brandon wouldn’t forget me saying I’d enjoyed flicking Marchand. Nonetheless, the brisk instruction which followed came as a shock. “Drop your pants.”
I’d been expecting a paddling all along but I wasn’t expecting to get it on my bare bottom. My surprise must have shown on my face because Brandon repeated the instruction.
“Drop your pants and bend over the desk.”
Reluctantly I unfastened my trousers, let them fall to my knees and then pulled down my briefs. I got myself over the desk at once, reaching to lock my fingers around its edge. I wanted to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible although part of my mind was protesting. The last time I had been punished in this office I’d had twelve strokes of the paddle over my jeans and it had hurt like hell. This time Brandon had given no indication of how many strokes he intended to administer and my bottom was still tender from the spanking I’d received the previous evening.
I suppose I was thinking it wasn’t fair although there was no way I was going to voice that thought. I swallowed down my panic and waited, conscious of the cool air on my warm backside, with all my senses attuned to Brandon’s movements behind me. Even so the first blow caught me unawares and I yelped. From that point until the end of the punishment I never stopped yelling. The paddling was delivered so fast that I soon lost count of the strokes, focussing only on the sting as Brandon rapidly covered my bottom and thighs with resounding blows. I must have taken a lot more than twelve before the onslaught finally ceased. When Brandon put a hand under my shoulder and helped me stand upright I put my hands behind and rubbed my bottom vigorously while fixing him with an accusing stare.
“What?” he asked and I could see the laughter in his eyes.
“How many was that?” I asked, trying not to sound angry.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t counting. Does it matter? You got what you deserved.”
“Did I deserve to get in on my bare bottom?” This time I think my resentment must have been apparent.
“I needed to see what I was doing after that spanking last night,” he responded reasonably. “You were pink when I started. You’re red now but I think the marks will have gone by tomorrow.”
Understanding dawned and I flushed at the thought of how rudely I’d just spoken to Brandon. I rubbed my bottom a bit more to cover my confusion and it dawned on me that the sting, though intense, was manageable. The paddle had slapped loudly against my bottom and legs but Brandon hadn’t wielded it with anything like the force I had experienced the last time I’d been bent over his desk. I stooped to retrieve my clothing and, with my head still bowed as I did up the fastenings, I made my apology, “I’m sorry, Brandon. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I probably got less than I deserved so there’s no excuse.”
“I’m not looking for excuses. You got exactly what you deserved. You’ve had a rotten twenty four hours and one spanking on top of another is always hard to take. I know you’ll remember the lesson of both punishments and we’ll speak no more about it.”
“I shouldn’t have queried your judgement though. The punishment is always your decision.”
“No, you shouldn’t have questioned my decision so thank you for your apology. Don’t look so guilty. We’ll count that as a free pass. Come on. I don’t know about you but I want to get home and get my feet up. It’s been a tough few days.”
Brandon picked up a cushion from one of the chairs in his office before locking up and heading out to the car. Without comment he placed the cushion on the passenger seat before giving me a hand into the car and shutting the door. During the short drive home his hand rested comfortingly on my thigh and when he pulled onto the drive he sent me inside and brought all our luggage in himself. We left the bags full of unwashed kit to deal with in the morning and concentrated on finding something we could defrost for dinner. It wasn’t a long evening. By the time we had cleared away the remains of our meal and loaded the dishwasher we were both ready for bed.
There is an unwritten rule as far as punishment goes in our relationship. Once I’ve taken a spanking my offence is never mentioned again. Indeed, we neither of us even refer to the punishment unless I do something which makes Brandon feel I need a gentle reminder of what happened the last time I made a similar mistake. On this occasion, however, Brandon eventually broke his self imposed vow of silence, much to my annoyance.
To give him his due he waited until I was well and truly over the whole Paul Marchand business before he said anything. In fact, we were working in the garden together, never my favourite activity, when he started laughing to himself.
“What is it? What’s funny?” I asked.
“Come on. Something’s making you laugh. What is it?”
“You. After that spanking in the office.” Now he’d admitted the cause of his amusement he was rocking with laughter. I did not find his laughter infectious.
“What about me?” I asked through gritted teeth.
“The expression on your face when you stood up clutching your bare bottom. If looks could kill…”
As chance would have it the garden hose was lying on the grass beside me. I picked it up and casually pointed it towards Brandon, twisting the nozzle into the open position before he realised what I was about. All things considered, he took the soaking very well. I think he knew his behaviour was out of order.
With a number of good performances in long distance road races, my position in the rankings had steadily improved. I never really got the opportunity to celebrate winning a silver medal in the race which got me into so much trouble but the final placing must have made an impact on the national selectors. Brandon kept telling me it was only a matter of time before I was given the opportunity to represent my country and soon the day came when I was selected for the national team.
We had another unwritten rule in our relationship. Brandon never lectured me on my behaviour in advance of an event. There was always the expectation that I would not let myself down, let alone disappoint my coach or fail to support my team mates. I was so grateful for his restraint. He must sometimes have been tempted to remind me of past mistakes and warn me against any repeat behaviour. But when he said that an offence was forgiven and forgotten he really meant it. Therefore, when he gave me a mildly worded reminder before my first international event it made a big impact, precisely because it was so unexpected.
“Remember,” he said, “you’re representing your country, as is Paul Marchand.”
The warning remained unspoken but that made it all the more effective. I felt myself blush with embarrassment that Brandon had thought it necessary to issue a reminder about good behaviour, especially as he made reference to the Frenchman I had insulted. I resolved to do nothing to get myself into trouble because I wanted, above all, to make Brandon proud of me.
It wasn’t until the second day that I actually had the opportunity to put my good resolutions into practice. The peloton was tightly bunched coming into a corner and I was aware that Paul Marchand was on my shoulder as the road narrowed. I eased off allowing Marchand into the space ahead of me. It was no great sacrifice. Casual spectators are not always aware that individual riders in the peloton do not get separate finish times for each stage. It would be unsafe with 150 or more riders jostling for final positions to do anything other than give the entire peloton a single finish time. It is necessary for a rider to make a clear break to be given an individual time. In the final stages of a race it is, of course, important to break away from the following pack of riders but during the long haul it is expected that there will be give and take in the peloton.
It had taken me a long time to understand the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship but it was no hardship to let Paul Marchand get in front of me at that point. I felt I owed him something for the loss of a bronze medal when his family was watching at the finish line. I felt good about doing the right thing and I knew I’d do it again if the situation arose. I had no expectation of any reward so it was a real and unexpected pleasure when Paul Marchand turned back to me as the road widened, flashed a warm Gallic smile and shouted, “Zank you, Alfeee ’ayden.” He did know my name and my spirits lifted as I put my head down to minimise wind resistance on the long pull ahead.
I finished amongst the top twenty riders in that race which was a good performance for my first outing with the national team. I even finished ahead of some of the well established team members so I pretty much guaranteed my future place, so long as I retained my form and my fitness. I was looking forward to competing in the Tour of California, a gruelling eight stage race which is traditionally seen as good preparation for the Tour de France, the most famous cycle race of all.
Brandon prepared my training schedule to bring me to peak fitness in time for the race which presented me with some unique challenges. Competitors have to cope with the wide variations in climate as well as some very demanding terrain. In particular, I had been doing endurance work to improve my performance on the mountain climbs. Everything came together when I got to California. By the end of the fifth stage I had the fastest overall time and was wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey. I was beginning to think I had a chance of being the overall winner.
I hardly dared voice my hopes to Brandon who supported me throughout with quiet confidence. In training, I am the one who is laid back, the one who will take shortcuts if I think I can get away with it. Brandon is the one who pushes, who will not tolerate lack of effort, who punishes my backsliding and attempted cover ups. But during a race I am the one who is keyed up with nervous energy. Left to myself I will push too hard and exhaust myself in the early stages. Then Brandon’s calm, his reassuring presence, his sound advice and, above all, his firm and unyielding discipline give me the focus and drive to achieve success.
Day six was the mountain climb which would take us from the heat of the valley to the snow capped mountaintop. Brandon tried to get me to relax the night before. I needed to conserve my energy. Typically a rider burns 6,000 calories a day and loses 10 to 12 litres of water travelling at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour on the gruelling stages. It is only possible to keep going by gulping water and wolfing high energy bars in the saddle. I needed my sleep and lying awake worrying about maintaining my lead on the mountain would be disastrous.
We lay together in bed. It wasn’t yet completely dark outside and I could see the yellow glow of the leader’s jersey where it lay over the back of a chair. Brandon always insists that I put my clothing away before bed. At home I could count on a sharp smack on the ass if I left stuff littering the bedroom but during a race he would clear up for me without comment. That night I think he knew I wanted to look at the yellow jersey as long as possible; it was a source of such pride. I think he shared my feelings and knew that I wanted to enjoy the symbol of victory while I had it. By the next day it could well be in the possession of someone else.
As that thought crossed my mind, my body tensed and Brandon, who was lying spooned up behind me, tightened his arms around me in response to my slight movement.
“What is it, love?” he asked.
“Nothing. Go to sleep.”
“That’s my line,” he laughed. “What’s worrying you? You’ll never get to sleep if you lie there worrying.”
“I’m not worrying, just thinking that I’m unlikely to be wearing the leader’s jersey after tomorrow.”
“There’s no reason for you to think that.”
“Oh, come on, Brandon. You know that the mountain climb is not my strongest suit.”
“Everyone fears the mountain climb, Alfie, but you don’t need to be King of the Mountain to be the overall winner.”
It was said so calmly and reasonably, I felt myself relax. We had worked on my endurance. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
“I’ll do my best to finish with the leaders,” I said, as much to reassure myself as to silence Brandon.
“Alfie, you always do your best. No one can ask more than that, least of all me. Go easy on yourself. You’ve been looking forward to this race. Enjoy it. You’ve worn the leader’s jersey. If you achieve only that, it’s a triumph. Anything more is the icing on the cake.”
If there was anything likely to take the pressure off it was Brandon’s unforced confidence that all would be well. Knowing what a perfectionist and a slave driver he is during training it never ceased to amaze me that he could be so accepting and uncritical during competitions. He just seems to know how to get the best out of me, when to push and when to back off. He also seemed to know just where to concentrate his attentions in order to get me off to sleep.
His cunning plan was simply designed to get me off first. I wouldn’t have believed my exhausted body was capable of responding to the gentle pressure of his fingers around my flaccid dick. At least his movements dragged my mind off the mountain where I was visualising the challenges I would face the next day. Instead I turned to give Brandon easier access to my nether regions and gave myself up to the pleasant sensations. Gradually I grew firmer as Brandon continued his unhurried stimulation. I felt no sense of urgency and was too tired to thrust into his fist. Brandon seemed content to take things slowly and I was happy to accept his ministrations as no more than loving caresses. I was hardly aware of my body tensing as my breathing became audible and irregular. It actually came as a surprise when waves of pleasure started to run through me and I ejaculated into Brandon’s cupped hand. The effort totally knocked me out which was probably what Brandon planned. I slept without stirring until he woke me the next morning.
The day was overcast which is actually better for cycling than full sun. I had a long ride ahead of me, culminating in the mountain climb, and dehydration is always a risk. What I hadn’t expected was that it would be raining by the time I reached the foot of the mountain. I was drenched when I tackled the first steep incline and I hammered down hard on the pedals, generating a warmth in my body which counteracted the chill of my wet clothes. The mountain climb always splits the field and I could see riders ahead of me as we laboured up the winding course. In the end a mountain climb comes down to sheer strength and dogged endurance. I rose out of my seat, mashed down on the pedals and picked up the pace, determined to catch the leaders.
With my head down I could see the ground as it passed under my wheels, the water spinning off the tyres and the spokes turning round. My breath came in short gasps as I pushed myself to the limit and the bike picked up speed. As I overtook rider after rider the crowd went wild and I heard the shouts ‘Go, Hayden’ and ‘Hayden, Hayden, Hayden’ which seemed to propel me upwards. Security struggled to contain the crowds and in places I passed though a narrow gap of cheering spectators. Eventually there was only one rider ahead of me and I focussed all my effort on catching him in the final stage of the race.
The temperature was dropping noticeably as we neared the summit, 7000 feet above sea level. On the final stretch the incline became less steep and I was able to go all out for the finish line, relying on my superior fitness. I crossed the line just a fraction of a second ahead of the rider I’d chased up the mountain, retaining the yellow race leader’s jersey for a second day. Although I was the stage winner I only clocked the second fastest time of the day on the mountain climb itself. The King of the Mountain jersey went to the local boy who finished behind me. He owned that mountain; he knew every inch of that gruelling route to the top. I didn’t begrudge him his triumph in front of his home crowd. I was the winner of stage six and I went into the following day, the individual time trial, as race leader.
The final winner of a race like the Tour of California is calculated on the basis of performance on all the individual stages. It is possible for the overall winner to be someone who has never worn the yellow jersey awarded at the end of each day to the rider with the best time over the course of the entire race. However, I was in a very strong position. The individual time trial on day seven was my particular forte and I was going into it as race leader. If you’d asked me beforehand which stage I was most likely to win I would have said the individual time trial. Perhaps I was overconfident after my win against the odds the previous day, or maybe the mountain took more out of me than I realised but I only clocked the third fastest time that day. That left the race open for the final day with a number of riders vying for the gold medal.
The climax of the race came on a twenty one mile circuit which the riders had to negotiate four times. It consisted of long straights on the highway and steep hill climbs. Every inch of the course was lined with spectators, with an exciting finish predicted. As I prepared mentally for the high speed contest over eighty plus miles Brandon encouraged and calmed me. We had planned for this day and I was in no doubt about the tactics I needed to follow.
I had to take care in the peloton. That tight pack of cyclists operates like a high speed chess match. One wrong move by a nervous rider who breaks too hard or yanks too sharply on his handlebars can bring others down. I’d caused my share of accidents in the past by pushing the pace and interfering with other competitors. Brandon had taught me better manners in the peloton and I was more than rewarded by the courtesy and consideration I received in return. The big risk was that I would let my excitement and aggression get the better of me and I'd break away too soon, only to be overtaken in the closing stages of the race. It was going to be a high speed chase but tactics were the key to success. As Brandon helped me prepare, his composure steadied my nerves. He quietly repeated my instructions for the race until they were running through my head like a mantra. I wasn’t consciously listening to him, as well he knew, but when I was out on the track it was his voice that I heard in my head. Even the gesture which observers would have interpreted only as a final good luck pat on the bottom served to remind me of the importance of following Brandon’s instructions to the letter.
Once out on the track in the sun my spirits lifted. I felt strong. Hell, I was ready to walk on water. I tried not to let my euphoria lead me into making a mistake but it soon became apparent that I had many supporters round the course. Riding through the barrage of sound, all of it urging me on, I felt ready to take on all comers. Sporting success depends on self confidence and suddenly I was overflowing with self confidence. A little voice in my head, which sounded a lot like Brandon’s, reminded me that there is a fine line between self confidence and over confidence. I reined in my exuberance and focussed on pacing myself to the speed of the peloton.
By the time we were on the fourth circuit a small group had drawn clear of the main body of riders and I was up there with the leaders. They were all experienced riders and I knew that I was unlikely to be able to break them before the final yards. If I staged my race for the line too soon I would exhaust myself and then be overtaken. It took all my will power to hold back when I had my sights set on victory. Actually, I don’t think my will power alone would have been sufficient to stop me from exploding into action too soon. It was the thought of Brandon, not of what he would do or say if I ignored his tactical briefing but of how disappointed he would be if I threw away my chance of standing on the top step of the podium.
I concentrated on not getting boxed in. I sensed that the other riders saw me as the main threat and I needed to be well placed to respond to any challenge. They were expecting me to make a break and when I didn’t accelerate, it put the ball in their court. Gradually the pace of the small breakaway group increased and I kept clear of trouble on the shoulder of the leading rider. In the end he had to make the break and I was poised to respond. He couldn’t shake me and I sailed past him when we were still two hundred yards from the finish. As I crossed the line I could afford to take my hands off the handlebars and raise them above my head in the universal gesture of triumph. I had won the final stage of the Tour of California by a couple of lengths and that made me the overall winner of America’s major cycle race.
That night I bought drinks for everyone in the bar of our hotel which had more or less been taken over by the cycling fraternity. There were fellow competitors, tour officials and members of the sporting press staying in the luxury spa accommodation. At some point during the evening Brandon went up to bed. He would never actually say it was okay to get drunk but I took his calm ‘goodnight’ as permission to carry on celebrating with my mates. Once it got to midnight the numbers in the bar had decreased leaving just a hardcore of competitors enjoying their first opportunity to overindulge in alcohol after months of rigorous preparation for the race.
It isn’t just alcohol which is banned during training. A cyclist’s calorie intake is strictly measured and meals are balanced for their nutritional value. That night we were celebrating a temporary escape from dietary restrictions and when someone mentioned feeling hungry we all suddenly developed a yearning for junk food. At nearly one o’clock in the morning the likelihood of getting burgers and fries in a spa hotel looked decidedly poor. However, we had all seen a small mall with fast food outlets off the freeway not far from our hotel but we'd been travelling by coach to and from the race venue at the time. The distance to the shops was small but no one walks in California when they can take the car. In fact, it looked as though there was no pedestrian access to the mall at all, certainly not from the direction of the hotel.
In my drunken state the lack of motorised transportation proved no obstacle. There were a row of golf carts lined up near the start of the nine hole course attached to the hotel. I jumped on one, inviting a colleague to join me, and we set off with only the vaguest idea of how we were going to get to our destination and what we were going to order when we arrived. At least I had the sense to drive on the shoulder of the freeway and try to steer in a straight line. My companion, Paul Marchand, was in a much more drunken state than me. He kept urging me on with shouts of, “Allez, Alfeee” and once or twice I had to grab him to prevent him falling out the side of the cart.
The irony of inviting Paul Marchand to be my partner in crime did not strike me until much later when, in a chastened state I was trying, and failing, to explain my thought processes to Brandon. At the time, Paul’s enthusiasm for the trip matched my own and I tried to respond to his urging and get the golf cart up to its top speed of twenty miles an hour. However, the cold night air must have had a sobering effect and, as we were buffeted by the wind from passing trucks, I began to think I’d embarked on a rather hazardous journey. Paul’s Gallic animation, which was only enhanced by the amount he’d had to drink, meant he was waving his arms about and swaying in an alarming manner. I couldn’t really cope with driving the cart and holding on to him at the same time.
Some passing driver must have called 911. I can’t blame the person who turned me in. The golf cart must have been a worrying sight, not to mention an illegal one, on the freeway. It was hardly a surprise to see the California Highway Patrol waiting with their lights flashing as we negotiated the off ramp. The squad car was parked at the side of the road and its occupants standing waiting for us in the glare of the car’s spotlights.
Even in my befuddled state, I knew that this was going to be bad. My first thought was to protect Paul Marchand. It hadn’t been his idea and he hadn’t been the driver.
As the golf cart glided to a halt in front of the highway patrol, I said at once, “It wasn’t Paul’s fault. It was my idea. I’m an idiot, I know.”
Professionals might have advised me to keep quiet and call a lawyer. I saw one of the officers take a written note of what I’d said but there seemed no point in pleading the fifth. There was no denying what I’d done and I wasn’t about to try and escape the consequences.
“Your speech is slurred, sir, and your breath smells of liquor,” said the other officer. “I’m going to ask you to take a breathalyzer test.”
He reached into his car for the breathalyzer kit and it was obvious to all present what the outcome would be.
“Driving down the freeway in a golf cart,” I said in tones of despair. “I’ve just won the Tour of California. What was I thinking of?”
When I was woken by the gentle tapping on my door I automatically assumed Alfie had mislaid his key card. Either that or he was too drunk to operate the lock. I switched on the bedside light and was shocked to see that it was nearly two o’clock in the morning. I pulled on the hotel bathrobe and opened the door to see a smartly suited employee looking rather worried. I was immediately concerned for Alfie.
“What’s happened? Where’s Mr Hayden?” I asked anxiously.
“We’ve had a call from the police, sir. He’s been arrested for driving under the influence.”
My instant reaction was one of relief. There had clearly been some mix up. We had no vehicle in California and I’d left Alfie getting merry in the bar of the hotel. There was no way he could have finished up in police custody.
“We didn’t bring a car. How could he have been arrested for drunk driving?”
“He wasn’t driving a car, sir. He took one of the hotel’s golf carts.”
Just as instantly I saw precisely how this catastrophe must have happened. The one time I let Alfie know he could have a bit of leeway, the one time I thought he deserved to have a bit of fun with the lads, he went completely off the rails. This would be a public relations disaster, to say nothing of the draconian DUI penalties in California. My only hope was that the police would take a lenient view of a drunk driver in charge of a golf cart.
“I’m so sorry that Mr Hayden took the hotel’s property.” I was already trying to minimise the damage. “He would never take a golf cart offsite if he’d been sober. I can assure you that Mr Hayden will take responsibility for any loss or damage, and the hotel will be fully compensated.”
I was thinking quickly. I needed to go to Alfie but I wouldn’t be able to handle the matter entirely on my own.
“I would be really grateful if you could go and tell our team manager what’s happened while I get dressed. Would you ask him if he would mind coming to my room so we can discuss what to do for the best?”
“Of course, sir. I’ll be at the reception desk for the rest of the night if you need any help. I can easily call a taxi to take you to the police station when you’re ready.”
“Thank you. May I ask you not to mention this to anyone else?”
“I can assure you that the hotel takes the privacy of its guests very seriously, sir,” he responded stiffly. “I am the night manager. In the morning I will have to report to the general manger that a golf cart was taken off the hotel premises but the information will go no further.”
I offered my sincere thanks to the respectful young man who went off to deliver my message. I hastily got dressed and waited for the team manager to arrive. With black coffee to help clear our minds we put together a plan of action. The team manager would try to find a lawyer who would be prepared to meet Alfie and me at the police station in the early hours of the morning. I thought that the helpful duty manager might have some suggestions. Then my colleague would contact our public relations consultant to get her to handle any enquiries from the media.
When I got to the police station I was shocked to find that Alfie had been detained in a holding cell along with Paul Marchand. I hadn’t realised that the Frenchman had been involved in the joyride but Alfie was anxious to assure me that Paul was in no way to blame and the police were not intending to take any further action against him. The man looked as white as a sheet and appeared to be shivering but he had refused to leave Alfie until I arrived. Apparently he had thrown up a couple of times which explained the rather unpleasant smell in the small cell. I was touched by his loyalty to my partner, especially in view of their previous history, and I called an officer to arrange a taxi ride back to the hotel for Monsieur Marchand.
As the Frenchman left, our newly appointed lawyer arrived, accompanied by someone who turned out to be the bail bondsman. We were all escorted to an interview room to speak with the arresting officer. My hopes that this could all be dealt with in a low key way were dashed when the full circumstances of the offence were revealed. I hadn’t realised before then that Alfie had driven along the shoulder of the freeway, risking his life and that of his drunken companion. Tests showed that his blood alcohol concentration was well over the legal limit, although the realisation of what he had done appeared to have had a very sobering effect. He looked frightened and ashamed.
It was made quite clear at the start of the interview that charges would be brought against Alfie. The offence was that of being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. In the circumstances we were treated with kindness and understanding. The police were aware of the celebrity status of their prisoner; highlights of the race and Alfie’s triumphant finish had been shown throughout the day on TV. They were accommodating when we explained that we were booked on a flight home later the following day. All the paperwork for Alfie’s release was completed as we waited.
We stayed for a brief private word with the lawyer. His advice was uncompromising and I felt so sorry for Alfie that my exasperation was temporarily forgotten.
“You’re definitely looking at a fine here and probably a driving ban,” the lawyer warned. “A first DUI offence in California usually involves some jail time as well. It depends what view the judge takes of you driving a golf cart on the freeway. Some people might find that funny, especially as you were celebrating your win. Unfortunately most judges take a dim view of a high profile sportsman setting a bad example to young people. You’d be well advised to make an apology to the court.”
“Will I have to come back here for a trial, then?” asked Alfie despairingly.
“Well, I suppose arrangements could be made for you to be tried in your absence. You could plead guilty by letter and have your apology read to the court. It doesn’t look good though. And you’d have to come back here to serve your sentence.”
Alfie shuddered at the thought of that.
“Oh, don’t worry. Jail terms start from a period of 96 hours and I think your case will be amongst the least serious. At worst, it will be a short, sharp shock with a Driving Under the Influence Programme thrown in for good measure.”
Alfie didn’t appear to be reassured. Neither was I. By the time his case came to trial I intended to have engaged some hotshot lawyer to get him off with the minimum sentence. But he would be pleading guilty and making public apologies to the court, the hotel, the police, the team management, his fans, the media, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. I would be overseeing that and I didn’t expect to be getting any arguments from Alfie.
By the time we got back to the hotel there wasn’t much of the night left. Alfie went into the bathroom to get ready for bed and I ran in to help him when I heard the sound of vomiting. He was kneeling on the floor in front of the toilet and his whole body was wracked with the force of his retching. He brought up all the alcohol which had not been absorbed into his system but I reckon the vomiting was more a reaction to the shock of his arrest than the effects of overindulgence. I comforted him with one hand rubbing his back and I supported him with the other hand cupping his forehead. When he finally relaxed, struggling to catch his breath and wiping the tears from his face, I reached over to fill a glass with water for him to rinse his mouth. I helped him to his feet, wiped his face with a dampened washcloth and pulled his vomit stained shirt over his head. What a way for a young man to end what should have been the most exciting day of his life!
I got him to drink more water to counteract the effects of the alcohol before I finally got him under the bedcovers. He was so exhausted that he rapidly fell into a restless sleep and I lay awake beside him listening to his moans and trying to prevent him from thrashing about too violently. My heart went out to him in his distress and I began to examine my own responsibility for the evening’s debacle.
What was the point of being Alfie’s self appointed guardian if I abandoned him to his own devices just when he most needed my guiding and steadying hand? I didn’t spend too long beating myself up, though. I had done what I thought best at the time. I thought Alfie deserved to have some fun and a few drinks too many with his mates. I couldn’t have foreseen the outcome. Alfie is an adult and I hope I never treat him like a child. He is capable of making his own decisions and taking responsibility for his own actions. We both made mistakes that night and I resolved to give Alfie every help and support to recover from his mistake and move on.
He was very subdued on the journey home. We both scanned the newspapers at the airport but there was no mention of his joyride, although Alfie’s victory was widely reported. It looked as though the press hadn’t picked up the news of his arrest. It would be more high profile when the case came to trial but, by then, his victory in the Tour of California would be old news and we could only hope that the media might be uninterested in his exploits. Other competitors seemed unaware of what had happened so Paul Marchand must have kept his mouth shut. We decided that those who had put in their order for burger and fries the night before must have got fed up of waiting and just gone to bed.
I was glad when Alfie fell asleep on the long flight and I signalled to the cabin staff for a blanket to cover him and a pillow to support his head. I managed to get him tucked up more comfortably without waking him and then I had time to give some thought to what I would do when we got home. Alfie would be returning as the conquering hero and I didn’t want to do anything to dim his moment of glory. On the other hand, he would be eaten up by guilt and I knew it would be a kindness to address that as soon as possible. I could tell he was expecting me to punish him. I wondered if he knew how little I relished the prospect.
In the event, any decision had to be postponed as Alfie’s parents were waiting to greet him at the airport when we got home. As I saw his mother’s rapturous delight and his father’s more restrained congratulations I was pleased that nothing could spoil the moment of their reunion. His parents had bought him his first bike, encouraged him in his first races and supported him in his ambition to get to the top; Alfie’s father was still his business manager. The night of Alfie’s victory might have been tarnished but the joy of witnessing his parents’ pride and delight more than made up for it. We were both insistent that they join us for a celebratory meal. I saw Alfie’s mum hesitate and wait for her husband to reply but when he gracefully accepted the invitation her face lit up with pleasure.
It was a wonderful evening. It was the first time we had eaten together, just the four of us, and I suggested we went to our favourite restaurant. It was an opportunity for me to get to know Alfie’s parents a bit better and Alfie seemed delighted that I hit it off so well with his father. Of course, Alfie had to give his parents a stage by stage account of the big race and pride in his achievement probably made it easier for him finally to confess his fault. I hadn’t asked him to do so. He must have decided that the truth would have to come out some time and the sooner his parents knew the better. In a quiet voice, and keeping only to the essentials, he told them that he would be facing charges in California for taking a golf cart from the hotel and driving it on the road when drunk.
He didn’t seek to minimise his offence; he told the truth but he was clearly trying not to worry his parents or upset his mother. His father quickly realised that Alfie must have taken an enormous risk and the consequences could be more serious than he was letting on; he said as much to me privately as we were leaving the restaurant. He also said that he trusted me to sort it out and look after his son. I got the impression that he was referring to more than just our immediate problem. Mr Hayden Sr seemed to have made up his mind in my favour and he shook my hand with real warmth and affection when we parted. It was good to know that Alfie’s parents approved of me and were comfortable about my relationship with their son.
Because of our unplanned celebration, it wasn’t until the following day that Alfie and I sat down at home to discuss his crazy exploit and to deal with the consequences as far as it affected the two of us.
I’d been dreading the inevitable discussion with Brandon but when the moment came I welcomed the opportunity to make things right again between us. He’d trusted me to behave sensibly that night, he’d even been ready to turn a blind eye to a bit of riotous celebration in the bar and I’d let him down badly. I felt so guilty and miserable. I couldn’t really explain why I’d behaved so badly. I sat opposite Brandon in the armchair, leaning forward with my elbows resting on my knees, my hands tightly clasped and my head bowed. Mercifully Brandon didn’t continue to push for answers when it became apparent that I had no reasonable explanation for my conduct. In fact, he seemed to have a better understanding of what had happened than I did.
“I can understand how you got in such a state, love. You were on a high and you’re not a regular drinker. I’m sure people bought you drinks and, as the night wore on, you probably lost track of how many you’d had. I blame myself for not staying around to keep an eye on you.”
My head came up at that. “It’s not your fault Brandon. You don’t have to nursemaid me. I appreciated your trust. It’s entirely my fault that I abused that trust.”
“You didn’t abuse my trust, love,” he said quietly. “I thought you’d come back to the bedroom rather the worse for wear. I wouldn’t have minded. You deserved to let your hair down that night and a hangover the next morning would have been all the reminder you needed about the dangers of overindulgence. No, my concern is that you finished up doing something which is not only illegal but potentially life threatening. You were not so far gone that you were incapable of finding the golf cart and driving it onto the freeway. There really is only one question. To what extent were you aware of the seriousness of what you were planning to do?”
Brandon has an unnerving ability to reduce my misdeeds to one very simple issue. In this case my culpability obviously hinged on the extent to which I was aware of the risks I was taking. I gave the matter some thought. If I’d argued that I’d been too drunk for rational thought I think Brandon might have taken a different view of the affair. I think he would have held himself more to blame for allowing me to get into such a state in the first place. I examined my conscience and the truth was staring me in the face.
“Oh, I knew all right,” I said bitterly. “I wasn’t so drunk that I didn’t know that I was stealing a cart. I knew the only access to the mall was via the freeway. I even remembered that golf carts are not licensed for public roads, let alone for the freeway. It just seemed like a great prank and the others egged me on. I was having fun, showing off, being a fucking idiot as per usual. When we actually got on the freeway I realised what a mistake I’d made. I did see how dangerous it was and I was worried about Paul falling onto the road. Actually, it was quite a relief to be pulled up by the police.”
That was quite a long speech for me, given the state I was in, but the words just came pouring out. I was fully aware I was signing my own death warrant but I was so angry with myself. I hadn’t realised just how angry until that moment. I glanced at Brandon expecting to see anger or even revulsion in his face but instead I encountered a look of compassion and understanding.
“And now you’re feeling very angry with yourself for risking your life and that of a colleague for the sake of a stupid stunt.” Brandon wasn’t letting me off the hook but he understood just how I felt.
“Yes,” I agreed, feeling calmer now that the truth was in the open. “And I’m so sorry that I frightened you, disgraced myself and let the team down.”
“Well, you certainly know what you did wrong. You’re angry with yourself and you’re feeling very guilty. How about we deal with all that?”
Brandon was cutting to the chase and, much as I wanted to draw a line under the whole sorry episode, I suddenly felt very apprehensive.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ve only just made up my mind but I think this is a caning offence.”
“What?” I couldn’t get my head round what Brandon had just said.
“You risked your life. I have to ensure that you will think of the consequences if you're ever tempted to do something so dangerous again. I don’t think you’ll forget a caning.”
“I’m never going to steal a golf cart again, Brandon, I promise. I’ve learnt my lesson. God, I could go to prison for this,” I said more loudly in mounting panic. “Not the cane, please.”
“I know you’ll never steal a cart again, Alfie,” he replied calmly. “I don’t see you being tempted to joyride ever again, not even on a skateboard. That’s not the point. We’re talking about right judgement, about behaving sensibly or at least safely. We can neither of us predict when you might be faced again with a decision relating to your own safety. We don’t know what situation you might be facing. I need to be very sure that you’ve learnt the lesson of this…”
“I have learnt the lesson,” I interrupted. “I have.” I could hear the petulance in my voice.
“And who makes the decisions about punishment in our relationship?” The question was posed calmly and I had to take a moment to pull myself together and give the only answer I knew to be acceptable.
“You do, sir.”
“Thank you, Alfie. Remember my promise. I will always punish you proportionately. I’ll never ask you to take more than you can bear.”
“But the cane…” there were no more words of appeal so I could only try the look of pitiful reproach.
“The cane will hurt but you can take it. You’ll remember it and you won’t be anxious for a second dose. And when it’s over then you’re forgiven and I won’t utter another word of blame or criticism for what you did. I’ll fight tooth and nail for you with the court, with the team managers and with the national officials. It’ll be you and me against all comers.”
That sounded good; good enough to take a caning for. I stood up with sudden resolution and looked Brandon in the eye.
“Where do you want me?”
“Good boy.” It was nice to be praised and I stepped unresistingly towards the sofa, guided by Brandon’s firm hand on my shoulder.
“Drop your pants and bend over the back of the sofa. I’m going to give you twelve on your bare bottom.”
That sounded alarming and my hands started to shake slightly as I struggled with the fastening on my jeans. Brandon left the room very briefly, crossing the passageway to his study and returning with a short yellow cane which he could not have acquired since our return from California. Understanding dawned. He'd used the implement on Tony. I just had time to regret that his previous partner had been such a handful. No doubt Brandon had had plenty of practice wielding that cane.
Rather self consciously I pushed my jeans and underwear down below my knees and bent awkwardly over the back of the sofa. It was well padded and supported my hips comfortably but as I bent my head and shoulders onto the seat cushion my body tipped forward until only my toes were touching the floor. I wouldn’t be able to stand up in a hurry which was, perhaps, just as well. I doubted whether I would be able to take twelve stokes of the cane without moving.
I flinched as I felt the rounded rattan touch my trembling backside. Brandon was lining up his first stroke across the very centre of my buttocks. As he lifted the cane I took a deep breath and held it, gripping the seat cushions until my knuckles went white and squeezing my eyes tight shut. I heard the swish just a fraction of a second before the cane cracked across my bottom, painting a line of fire across my naked flesh. There was an explosion of white light behind my tightly closed eyelids, my breath was expelled from my lungs by the force of the impact and Brandon counted ‘one’.
Dear God, there were eleven more of those to come! I gritted my teeth to keep from yelling and prayed that Brandon wouldn’t hit the same spot twice. I felt him line up the next stroke with the tip of the cane which touched my ass hardly an inch above the first welt. He clearly knew what he was doing because the searing cut landed just where he intended and I flung my head back in agony. Brandon counted ‘two’.
The audible numbering suddenly reminded me of a mountain climb with its sense of ascending towards the summit through pain and endurance. A mountain climb is made manageable by focussing on the goal and pushing onwards and upwards when a part of you is saying that your body can take no more. I dropped my head as I do when I want to push myself to the limit on my bike, knowing that I could get through this. I had to take it one step a time and then there would be that sense of exhilaration and achievement when I reached the mountaintop.
I gritted my teeth and settled myself for the long haul. The third stroke was delivered quickly and caught me by surprise. It landed immediately below the site of the first cut and I only just managed to turn my scream into a more restrained and manly grunt. By the time I’d taken the fourth and fifth strokes, my determination to take my punishment in silence had deserted me. The only way I could cope with the burning agony was to yell as each stripe was laid down across my quivering buttocks.
I registered the halfway point when Brandon counted ‘six’ and as the number of strokes increased I was frantically counting down in my head, ‘only four to go’… ‘only three more to go.’ The trouble was that the final strokes were the hardest to take. When the cane caught me in the crease between my buttocks and thighs I really did scream and my legs kicked backwards so violently I was aware of Brandon stepping out of the way.
He took pity on me at that point and gave me a minute or so to recover my breath while he rubbed my back and told me I was doing well. That helped a bit but I couldn’t relax knowing there was more to come. In fact, I was desperate to get the rest of the caning over with and I think he realised it would be no kindness to slow down. He delivered the last two strokes in quick succession across the sensitive skin at the top of my thighs, not even pausing to count, and I thought for a moment or two that I was going to pass out with the sheer pain of it.
When Brandon confirmed that I’d crossed the finish line, I remained slumped across the back of the sofa for some minutes, struggling to breathe evenly and to absorb the wicked, blazing sting. When Brandon finally placed strong arms under my shoulders and helped me to my feet I couldn’t bear to stand still. I bounced up and down with my jeans and underwear bunched round my ankles not caring what I looked like so long as I could do something to lessen the intensity of the burn. When I put my hands behind to rub my blazing backside I was astonished to feel the raised welts forming ridges right across my butt.
“Well done. You took that well.” Brandon’s praise was accompanied by a smile followed by a long hug.
I put my arms around him and leant against his body, luxuriating in the warmth which was coming only in part from my burning ass. My body was glowing, humming and buzzing with the euphoria of having got through the caning with my dignity more or less intact. I experienced something of the high I recognise from the finish of a race. If I’m unplaced I’m aware only of the pain and exhaustion. When I’m on the winner’s podium the pain is dulled by the elation which comes with victory. But it wasn’t victory I was celebrating at that moment, it was love and forgiveness. In Brandon’s arms I felt myself relax in a way I hadn’t done for days. I was totally at peace. I didn’t even try to understand why my aching backside made my heart sing, but it did!
Eventually I bent to pull my pants up, hissing as the stretch put pressure on my sore spots. Brandon steered me to the sofa where he lay down, gently guiding my body to rest partly on top of his own. When we were settled comfortably he began to run his fingers though my hair, slowly brushing the curls back from my sweaty forehead. The repeated motion was calming and I closed my eyes to enjoy the impromptu head massage. He must have tired of the caressing motion after a while and when he stopped I opened my eyes to look accusingly at him.
“You used that cane on Tony, didn’t you?”
Our faces were so close together he could read my expression and know that my challenge wasn’t serious. He must have seen that it was no more than affectionate teasing on my part because I could read the answering laughter in his eyes.
“Once or twice, yes,” he admitted.
“Well, you won’t be using it on me again,” I said with conviction.
“I hope not, no,” came the calm response.
The implication seemed to be that my behaviour would be the deciding factor. I lay still and pondered that thought. Brandon saw me work it out.
“I’m never going to do anything so stupidly dangerous again,” I vowed. “You won’t have any reason to cane me.”
“’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
“Shakespeare,” I responded promptly. I recognised the quotation and Brandon wasn’t going to get the last word.
I wasn’t interested in getting anywhere near a racing saddle for some days but I’d always planned to take a break from riding after California. I needed time to recover my zest and energy before plunging into the training schedule which would get me to peak in time for the Tour de France, the greatest cycle race in the world. It had always been my dream to win this most gruelling chase through the mountains, valleys and plains of France, with occasional forays into neighbouring countries. This year I would be starting as one of the favourites. I could never have got to that point without the support of my coach who organised my training schedules, planned my race tactics and managed all my travel arrangements.
But Brandon was so much more than my coach. He was my lover, my best friend and my life partner. He understood my temperament better than anyone else, better than I did myself. Much as I desired sporting success, I lacked the self discipline, the drive and the dedication to make it to the top unaided. I was too easily distracted, too ready to take shortcuts with my training and too eager to engage in mischief. When I first worked with Brandon I would never have admitted all that, even to myself. But then I never learned from my mistakes either. Oh, I could be as remorseful and repentant as the next man; I could tear myself apart with guilt over my mistakes and failures. And then I went and did the same thing again.
It took time to appreciate and understand that destructive trait in my personality. It took me even longer to appreciate and understand how my lover’s brand of discipline addressed the problem. I was very fearful at first when Brandon spanked me. I found it humiliating to be bared for his hand or the paddle and I dreaded the pain of the punishment. But there was no denying it worked. I began to think more carefully about my behaviour and I learned not to repeat my mistakes. I knew that Brandon punished me only with my consent. I grew to value the fact that I paid for mistakes painfully and speedily but then I was forgiven and the offence forgotten. Brandon never shouted, never nagged and never lost his temper although I must have sorely tried him at times.
I never lost the lively apprehension which made my stomach turn cartwheels whenever I was due a spanking but when it was all over, when I was slumped smarting but forgiven over Brandon’s lap, I had such a sense of connection to him, such an overwhelming sense of dependence and trust that I was overcome with love for this man who is the guiding light of my life. It took me a while to learn to place all my confidence in Brandon but finally I came to realise, beyond any possibility of doubt, that nothing I could do would ever undermine his love for and trust in me. With that knowledge I could go out and conquer the world.