Previous: Chapter 3 – Violet’s Defeat
A loud pounding on the wall woke me up, followed by Izaak’s booming voice. “Peterson! Rise and shine!” The fancy down-feather comforter was ripped away, leaving me exposed in my pajama shorts and tank top. I poked my butt out slightly, hoping the lovely view would entice him to play with me instead of forcing me out of bed. “Remember, today we start doing things my way for a month.”
I groaned and rolled over to my stomach, ignoring his perkiness.
“You won’t like what happens if you don’t get up on your own,” Izaak warned, heavy footsteps fading as he walked away.
My lips curved up in a smile, thinking I’d won and Izaak had left. Instead, the room suddenly brightened, and I realized that he had opened the curtains, flooding the space with sunlight. The cure for that? Pillow over the head. “It’s too early to get up! No one needs a resume at…” I pried an eye open to glance at my phone. “5:52 in the morning! Are you joking?”
“You’re lucky I didn’t wake you up twenty-two minutes ago. C’mon, time for our workout.”
“HA HA HA that’s funny Izaak.”
He snatched the pillow off my head. “I’m serious.”
I grumbled and peeled my eyes back enough to glare at him. He towered over me, my pillow and blanket tucked under his left arm, while his right hand rested on his hip like an annoyed babysitter. Rays of sunshine outlined his muscular frame, blinding me from being able to see his facial expression, but I could tell by his silhouette that his jaw was tense. “Damn, you really are serious.”
Perhaps his military speak worked with other girls, but it wouldn’t work with me. Instead, I gave an exaggerated eye-roll and turned over away from him.
It was impossible to return to sleep, though. My heart was pounding too hard as I wondered what Izaak would do.
Time paused while he processed my behavior. He wasn’t used to insubordination — Izaak’s firm bark was enough to get most people to cooperate. Few rebels dared test his patience. I was already starting to regret it as I waited for him to respond.
He didn’t move for a moment, but then threw the bedding at my feet and clomped to the kitchen, opened a drawer, took something out, and pounded back towards me.
“Owwwwwww!” The wooden spoon caught me by surprise. I bucked up and reached to rub out the sting.
“I warned you,” he said, reaching for my wrist and pushing me onto the futon. Without letting me argue, he swatted the implement down again.
“Ooowwwww Izaak, c’mon it’s too early!” I squealed, hating myself for not wearing thicker pajamas. This spoon was no joke!
“You have a busy day and we’re starting it with cardio, whether it’s going for a run or giving you an hour-long spanking, your choice.” Then the wood peppered against my bare sit spots and I yelped.
“Noooooo I don’t like those options!”
Izaak’s only response was another flurry of swats to my sit spots, and then a few more to the seat of my pjs. I squirmed and tried to break free, water filling my eyes in anger that he wouldn’t just let me sleep. He would win this fight, and I didn’t want him to. Why did I agree with his stupid idea?
“Well? What’s the verdict?”
My hesitation earned me an especially hard swat, and I finally allowed the tears to spill out. “Fine! I’ll go on the run!”
I ignored the satisfaction in his eyes as he backed away and granted me the space to get up. “Be ready in ten, or you know what will happen,” he said, tapping the wooden spoon against his palm.
“Whatever,” I grumbled, digging in the only duffle bag I hadn’t unpacked. It’d been ages since I’d considered exercising… and as much as I probably needed someone to make me do it, I was definitely not feeling it at the moment. It made me second guess (again) my decision to move in with him.
Shit, I already need a cigarette. Will he notice if I sneak a smoke in the bathroom while getting ready?
As if reading my mind he said, “no cigarettes. Part of the purpose of running is to sweat out the toxins and addictive chemicals.”
I rolled my eyes again, finally settling on something to wear. When I turned around, Izaak was closer to me than I’d expected and had a much more compassionate demeanor. “Don’t tell me this is for my own good,” I sneered.
He smiled and stepped out of my way. At least I could read his mind, too.
Chirping birds echoed between the red brick buildings as yellow sun rays beamed in my barely-opened eyes. While I ran, I tried to stay focused on Izaak who was slightly ahead, mindful not to lose me but also encouraging that I not lag behind like we were on a leisurely stroll.
We stopped at a redlight, sweat beading on my forehead. I hunched over with my hands on my knees, butt sticking out as if I was waiting to get paddled, trying to catch my breath. “How long… are we… doing this?” I panted, glaring at my roommate who continued jogging in place.
“We’ve just started!” The light changed and he bolted forward, glancing back. “C’mon! Sweat those toxins out!”
I grumbled at Izaak’s giddiness but followed the next few blocks until we reached Astoria Park. I’d assumed the torture was over and we were there to enjoy the view, but much to my displeasure, my roommate led me to a handful of runners stretching in a circle. As we approached they smiled, a few of them stopping to give a fist bump or high five.
Most of the group appeared closer to Izaak’s age than mine, a mixture of men and women, mostly middle-class boring-looking white people. Only one stood out to me — He wore a backward baseball cap with a sticker that said, Hello, my name is: TOBY. In all caps and underlined, like he expects you to remember it, and he’s too unconventional or conceited to write like a normal person. He wore dark shorts and a blue zipped-up off-brand hoodie, equipped with nearly-white running shoes. His gaze was mildly curious, somewhat judgmental and scrutinizing.
Probably a doctor.
“I’d like to introduce you to my flatmate.” Izaak stepped aside and presented me to everyone.
My cheeks reddened with embarrassment. What a horrible moment to meet a half dozen strangers! My hair was a frizzy wet mess and I smelled like garlic-y onions. All I wanted was a cigarette, shower, and nap, in that order. But I shyly waved back at the enthusiastic crowd.
“Chloe moved to the area last month, and today I finally convinced her to join us.” Izaak’s large hand clapped on my shoulder and he chuckled, eyeing Toby who appeared to guess that I didn’t consent to exercising.
Also probably a spanko.
I was thrust into the circle next to a young blond who introduced herself as Vanessa, while Izaak went to the head of the group, leading us in stretches. It took all of my concentration to mirror his poses, but I was exhausted from being awake so early and having run already, so mostly failed miserably. When I was ready to cry and give up, Izaak barked an order and everyone took off running on the track except Toby.
“If you can make it to the street, there’s a bench to hide out,” he said with a wink, scampering to catch up with the others.
A growl vibrated my teeth but I followed on jelly legs. Izaak led the group, long legs giving him a huge advantage. A trio of post-grads was a few yards behind, then a pair of women, and Toby at the back, only a few feet ahead of me. My jog died down to a saunter when I rounded the corner, eyes landing on the narrow street. A bench was tucked behind a few newspaper machines, shaded by a large oak tree. With a relieved sigh, I plopped down, catching my breath.
This month will be torture, I told myself, glancing at two pigeons fighting over breadcrumbs. Izaak seemed determined to make my life a living hell, probably so I’d run away instead of him feeling guilty about kicking me out. How does he expect me to exercise, get up early, and quit smoking all at once? A lump formed in my throat as I considered that maybe I’d never live up to his expectations and end up losing his support and friendship anyway. Like always happened with my dad.
Tears pooling in my eyes, I breathed in the sticky air, trying to focus on the scenery. A massive bridge stretched across the East River, leading my vision to the Manhattan skyline. Buildings scattered around the island reached for the puffy white clouds. Cars sped down the parkway, reminding me that life moves on, even if my own world stops momentarily.
I’m not my parents. And I’m great at faking it til I make it and not getting caught. I can do this.
I repeated the words to myself hundreds of times as I waited for my pulse to return to normal and the sweat to evaporate. Eventually, a stillness spread through my body, causing me to forget my thoughts and the pain in my calves. The only thing missing was a good cigarette…
My heart jumped remembering that I was supposed to be jogging laps! I peeked above the newspaper stand to see that some of the group had finished and were sitting in the grass, stretching and drinking bottled water. Toby was jogging towards me drenched in sweat, eyes locking with mine. I made sure Izaak wasn’t paying attention and bolted back to the track, falling into rhythm with Toby for the final meters, finally smiling. My inner pep talk and the sprint had lifted my spirits, and when I joined the huddle with a giggle, falling into the dewy green grass next to my roommate, I almost felt like part of the club.
After small talk and cooling off, everyone stood and dispersed. We walked with Toby and Vanessa since they lived in the same direction as us. Sensing that a scolding would be coming, I lagged behind Izaak, letting him suffer with the chatty co-ed while I fraternized with the guy who helped me hide.
“I’m Toby, by the way,” he breathed, lips slightly curved up.
Pointing to his cap, I said, “I noticed.” My chest tingled and belly felt hungry with attraction to the shaggy, beta male.
Toby’s brown eyes twinkled as he strolled beside me, enthralled by my natural beauty (though I wasn’t looking my best). “So you’re Izaak’s new roomie? I have to admit, I imagined someone less… feminine.”
My eyebrows raised. “I guess he didn’t share many details about me?”
“You know how he is, very cut and dry, giving info on a need-to-know basis. Work hazard. Molly’s the only one who has the patience to crack open his shell. I suppose that’s the difference between going to medical school versus social work school.”
“So you’re a doctor.”
He nodded. “M.D. and Doctor of Psychology But I employ people like Molly to deal with the more sensitive cases — growing up in Brooklyn gave me a blunt disposition that doesn’t work for all. I’m guessing you have tougher skin than appears since you and Izaak are friendly. He doesn’t exactly ooze with loving-kindness. You look like an artist.”
I turned to study him and figure out how he read me so easily. My whole life I’d fooled everyone, and now there was a second person who saw right through me… Wtf? “So you’re in private practice?”
“Ohh, turning the conversation back to me. I see you didn’t enjoy that I made assumptions about you. My apologies. But yes, I run a mental health clinic and consult for a ‘trial science’ company — they help defendants by profiling and helping sway jury members. I’m also a consultant for the FBI, Izaak brings me to work cases with him sometimes.”
“You’re a busy guy.”
“If I don’t stay occupied, I fall into bad habits. Easier to prevent than save myself afterward.”
“Sounds like you’ve been down that road a lot in life.”
He smirked. “Yes, several times. And if Izaak has you joining the running group against your will, I’m assuming the same for you.”
This wasn’t where I wanted our conversation to go, so I steered clear. Toby seemed trustworthy, and though my gut is good at detecting bullshit, the snarky psychiatrist gave me a sensation I didn’t recognize. “What’s your area of expertise? In college I was really into developmental psych, I worked in a preschool for a little while and could see everything in the kids that I learned in class.”
Toby’s eyebrow cocked. “Behavioral and criminal psychology. Understanding extreme cases and working to prevent or rehabilitate unhelpful behaviors.”
“Sounds like a TV show.”
“It’s part of my interest in the spanking lifestyle as well.”
I almost froze in shock, but consciously reminded myself to keep moving. Though I’d suspected his interest, I hadn’t thought he’d admit it aloud so soon. “How so?” I replied, not wanting him to see the effect he’d had on me. But I wondered what he’d be like as a spanker. He didn’t seem as serious as Izaak, but more serious than most guys I’d met with over the years, who really just wanted a sexual experience.
“Think about it like life coaching with real consequences. My current spankee, Vanessa,” he said, pointing ahead as she threw her head back with an obnoxious cackle. “She’s a criminal justice student but also has a full-time job at a corporation that requires her time management skills to be impeccable. When we started working together in January, she was struggling to juggle all of her duties at once. Now she’s an intern at the trial science company and hasn’t missed a deadline since winter. She suffered from punishments several times, but they were effective. She also receives rewards. There’s a formula I use…”
“What’s in it for you?”
His lips pressed together as he thought for a moment, not having expected that question. “It’s likely a burst of oxytocin and serotonin, and a dab of testosterone at having power/authority over someone.”
Now he’d surprised me — I’d predicted a less scientific answer. I wanted to know more, but we’d reached home and approached Izaak and Vanessa.
Toby turned to me and smiled. “It was lovely to meet and chat with you, Chloe. See you tomorrow!”
I groaned that I may not make it, but Izaak cut me off with slapping Toby a handshake and bidding him goodbye. A smile spread across my face as I watched them disappear down the sidewalk. Good vibes from Toby the psychiatrist. We’re going to be friends.
As we did our final exercise of the day (walking up the four flights of stairs to his apartment), Izaak looked at me. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“It was awful! I can’t work out every day!”
“Five mornings a week for one month, kiddo. That’s all I ask.” Now putting on a serious face, he said, “And next time I expect you to actually do the running with us, or I’ll have to bring the wooden spoon along.”
I gasped. “No way!”
“Don’t test me.”
When I emerged from the shower in a robe, freshly clean after our torturous run, Izaak was already dressed in his suit and tie, light cologne, and now taking his badge and gun out of the safe. If I trusted anyone with a weapon, it was him — he was never clumsy and all decisions were logic-fueled. But even so, the sight of a pistol near the place I laid my head made me shiver a bit.
“The plan for today,” Izaak began, putting his pistol in the holster and ignoring my cringe at the word plan. “We’re going to meet Molly Collins — she’s taking you shopping. I’ll give you a credit card to use, just be reasonable, please.”
I laughed. “You’re very trusting.”
“She also has a job for you. It’s a receptionist at a law office — I’m acquainted with the guy. He’s a hardass, smart as a whip, very respectable in his career. The pay will be above average and he’ll be a good reference for future jobs.”
My stomach grumbled with anxiety, not liking the description of my potential new boss. “A job already?… I dunno…”
“It can’t hurt to try.” He placed a hand on my shoulder, smiling with encouragement. Then, glancing at his watch, said, “come on, let’s get a move on. We have to leave soon.”
“If you hadn’t made me exercise this morning, I’d be ready,” I pouted.
He playfully reached again for the wooden spoon and I shrieked, scampering to my half of the living room and barely dodging the swat. I pushed the dividers shut as he called out, “be ready in ten.”
My head poked back out. “What?! I need more time than that.”
Before he could argue, his phone sounded, and he groaned in exasperation. “Fifteen minutes and not a second more.” Then he slammed the device on and turned away from me, stalking into his room as he answered.
I didn’t stress over what to wear, settling quickly on jean shorts with a comfy sky blue top. After dressing I sat on the futon, pulling the towel out of my hair to dry it. As I brushed through the tangles, Izaak’s voice boomed over my dryer, shouting in a way I’d never witnessed before. My mind wandered to how awful it’d be if his anger were directed at me like that. If he knew the truth… If my past came to the surface…
The door slamming shut caught my attention, and I heard my roommate muttering obscenities under his breath. “Um, everything okay?” I turned off the dryer and emerged from my half of the room, folding the divider to the wall to see him as I straightened my hair.
Izaak stood with hands on his hips, eyebrow cocked, wanting to share with me but shook his head. “Work stuff, confidential.” He softened up finally and gave a half-smile. “It’s nice seeing you up and moving… you look happier.”
“Believe me, I’m not,” I said with a glare.
“Oh, come on, life feels better when you wake up early. Your circadian rhythm is getting back on track, you’re not inhaling that cancer. Have you smoked at all since our chat?”
I shook my head, hiding a blush as I ran the iron through my hair.
“I’m proud of you, kiddo. Quitting is hard.”
“What do you know about quitting?”
He sat on the couch across from me and looked me dead in the eyes. “Don’t tell anyone this.”
My eyebrows raised. “What did you do? Heroin? Crack?”
“I smoked cigarettes in high school and until Parker was born…”
“When you went into the military?”
“Yeah. But I stopped for Parker. I thought about how much I missed with my biological parents and didn’t want him to experience the same.” He swallowed the lump in his throat thinking of the past, and I sensed he was going into a dark place.
“So if your crazy ex-girlfriend hadn’t lied to you about him being your kid, we could go have a smoke on the fire escape together right now?”
He let out a bitter laugh. “Ha… if she hadn’t lied, I’d have never gone to the military, would’ve graduated earlier, never met you, and the FBI wouldn’t have wanted me. Everything happens for a reason.”
If everything happens for a reason, what was the purpose of Granny dying? Or my family abandoning me? I wanted to ask, but finished straightening the last lock of hair, unplugged the iron and stood, glancing at the clock. “And I’m right within my 15-minute time limit!” I gulped down my sadness and raised my hand for a high five which Izaak indulged, leading me out of the apartment.
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Chapter 5 – Violet’s Defeat