Quint had been sitting on the couch with a medical journal open in one hand and a pen in the other, underlining and scribbling notes and being generally distracting, since he’d gotten home. He hadn’t even changed out of work clothes yet, just loosened his tie, which made it about ten times worse.
I was curled up in the armchair, trying to write the lyrics to a new song, but every time he shifted — to turn the page or lean forward to consult one of the papers he had spread across the coffee table, stray curls of dark hair falling over his forehead, absentmindedly pushing his glasses up his nose — my attention snapped back to him like a compass finding north.
I always tease Quint about being a nerd, but truthfully, the look he gets when all of his intellect is focused on absorbing and processing information? It’s hot as hell. So maybe I go for the nerdy type. Sue me.
Finally, after an hour of this silent torment, I’d had all I could take. Two could play at the distraction game. I stood and stretched, being sure to make my shirt ride up enough to let a strip of skin show. Quint didn’t so much as glance at me. I dropped my notebook on the table, loudly. Nada. Okay, time for the direct approach.
I took the journal and pen by blitz attack, and was already straddling his lap while he was still blinking in surprise.
“I… was reading that,” he informed me as I twisted to deposit them onto the coffee table alongside my notebook.
“I saw,” I said, smirking at him, “but I’ve got something more interesting for you than-” I turned again and leaned back to look at the title of the article, and his hands went to my hips, holding me steady. “A Comparison of Impulse Os-cillo-metry to Spur-o-metry in the Evaluation of Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction in Children with Asthma,” I read slowly. Whatever the hell that meant in English.
“Spirometry, not spurometry,” he corrected, emphasizing the long i, “and I really do need to read it tonight, angel.”
“Yeah, but right now?” I asked. Moving closer, I went for that one spot on the underside of his jaw that he likes so much, and, for good measure, rocked my hips against his. He inhaled, and his fingers tightened their grip on me, and for half a second, I thought it was working. Then he released the breath in a sigh.
“Unfortunately, yes, right now,” he said, gently lifting me off of him and reclaiming his tie, which was wrapped around my hand. “Why don’t you take Jagger for a walk, hmm?”
I scowled and addressed the ceiling. “I try to be romantic, and he fobs me off on the dog.”
Said dog hadn’t missed the word “walk” in connection to his name, and was sitting by the door expectantly, so of course now someone would have to take him out. Quint had probably done that on purpose, the sneak.
“I’m sorry, angel. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise, but I’m swamped with getting-”
“The new center set up, yeah, I know,” I finished for him, unmoved by the contrition in his voice. I just barely kept myself from stomping to the door and shoved the pantry open to retrieve my sandals and a leash. I was expecting Quint to call me back or tell me to curb the attitude, but there was only silence behind me. “C’mon, Jag,” I said, keeping my eyes firmly fixed ahead as I led him out.
You might think I was overreacting, but what I haven’t mentioned is this had been going on for nearly two weeks now, ever since Quint got promoted to an assistant director of the pediatric pulmonology unit, in charge of their new treatment center for kids with severe asthma.
Look, I’m a doctor’s husband. I’m used to him being on call during the holidays and getting paged at two AM to go see a patient. I accept that, and the occasional times when I don’t set eyes on him for days because he’s sleeping at the hospital or away at a medical conference, with good grace.
Before the promotion, though, working overtime had been rare, and bringing work home with him was even rarer. Now it was a daily occurance, and I was fed up with it. He was constantly preoccupied. Yesterday it was his turn to cook, but he forgot to buy groceries, so we had take-out. On a Thursday. Do you know how many of Quint’s rules about Proper Nutrition And A Balanced Diet that violates? Three. He had also requested, very politely, that I plug in my headphones if I was going to be composing, because I was “making it difficult to concentrate.” Normally, he loves listening to me play. Normally, he would’ve carried me to the bedroom if I crawled into his lap, and I would’ve made him forget all about spirometry.
Also, he never would’ve let me leave in the middle of a fight.
I walked Jagger to the park and back, fuming the whole way, and by the time I returned to the apartment I’d worked myself into a proper sulk.
“Theo, come here a minute, please,” he said as I unclipped Jagger’s leash and rehung it.
Oh, so now he has time for me? I thought. Too bad. Get used to waiting, like I have. I collected my notebook from the coffee table, staying on the far side of it so as to be well out of grabbing and swatting range, and layered as much sweetness as I could into my voice. “Sorry, I have work to do. Maybe later?”
His frown gave me a small bit of satisfaction as I stomped to the bedroom. Slamming and locking the door behind me gave even more. Then I flung myself face-down onto the mattress and glared at the page of unfinished lyrics.
Quint’s footsteps were much quieter than mine had been, and shortly followed by the doorknob rattling as he tried to turn it. When he spoke, his voice was also quiet, and much, much too firm. “Theodore William, unlock this. Now.”
I didn’t move, and after a few seconds I heard him walk away again, and the squeak of the pantry door. Shit.
With chills skittering across my back, I flipped over to watch the lock on the knob. There was a scraping sound and a few more rattles, and then it clicked open and Quint was standing there, holding the tiny screwdriver that goes with the repair kit he keeps for his glasses and looking singularly unimpressed.
In my defense, it’s been years since I’ve locked myself in a room. I’d forgotten how easily he can unlock them.
Okay, so it wasn’t going exactly to plan. He still couldn’t make me talk to him, though. As he came in and shut the door behind him, I held the notebook in front of my face and pretended to be completely absorbed in it. Quint simply sat down on the bed beside me and took it out of my hands in much the same way I’d taken the journal out of his, putting it and the screwdriver down on the nightstand.
“I know you’re upset with me, Theodore-”
I snorted. Y’think?
“-but this is not how we handle that, is it?” he continued, probably with a raised eyebrow. I couldn’t be sure without looking at him, and right then I was too busy glaring at the wall with my arms crossed. He could handle it however he wanted. I wasn’t going to answer, and that was all there was to it. See how he liked being ignored for a change.
He sighed. “You do have every right to be upset, angel. I’ve been neglecting you lately, and I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much work the center was taking. Tomorrow, I’m going to start transferring patients to other doctors, to make more time to get things done before leaving the hospital. Please forgive me?”
My jaw dropped open, and I forgot all about ignoring him. “You can’t stop seeing patients!” I protested, as the most pressing issue in that disconcerting speech. The patients are the whole reason Quint became a doctor. I’ve watched him in action with them, while I’m volunteering as Jagger’s handler for the hospital’s therapy dog program, so I know he’s a natural at calming and comforting both the kids and their parents. More than that, he loves it. I couldn’t imagine him giving it up to read stuffy research articles and fill out paperwork all day.
“Not all of them,” he said. “I just need to cut back a little, which is what doctors usually do when they take on an administrative role. It was only my own pride that kept me from doing it before. You helped me see what a mistake that was, but I’m afraid I hurt you in the process. I’m sorry, angel.”
I swallowed hard around the lump in my throat. If he apologized once more, I was going to start crying. “I was annoyed, not hurt,” I told him. “I’m the one who should be saying sorry. I locked myself in the bedroom and refused to talk to you.”
“We’ll get to that,” he said, mildly. I winced. “First, I want to ask what you would think of me working from home. Not bringing work home after the hospital, but actually staying here some days of the week when I don’t have patients or meetings? Without commuting, we’d have more time together, and we could eat lunch together, too.”
I considered that a moment. “Won’t I distract you, though?”
“And vice versa?” he suggested, lips quirking. “That’s why I’d like to see about moving into the apartment that just became vacant a few floors up. It’s almost the same layout as ours, only with an extra bedroom, which we could turn into an office for me.”
We had lived in this apartment since the start of our relationship. It was Quint’s before I moved in and we put both our names on the lease, although he still paid the rent almost entirely from his own paycheck. The thought of leaving gave me a strange feeling of homesickness. “Can I think about it?” I asked eventually.
“Yes, but we’ll have to act fast if we want to get the other one before someone else does,” Quint said. “What if we go look at it tomorrow and decide afterward?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
“Good,” he said, and then raised an eyebrow at me. “Now, I believe you were saying something about locking yourself in the bedroom and refusing to talk to me?”
Me and my big mouth. I dropped my gaze from his and murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“Look at me, Theodore.” He tapped my knee and waited until I’d obeyed before continuing. “Is that how we handle being upset with each other?”
Full circle. Quint’s like a dog with a bone when he wants an answer, and I knew the only right one to that question.
“Do we stomp and slam doors?”
“No, sir,” I repeated, feeling my ears go hot.
“Is throwing a temper tantrum ever an acceptable way to express your emotions?”
I squirmed. I was horribly conscious of the fact that I had been behaving like a five year old, but did he have to call it that? He went right on waiting, looking at me. “…No, sir.”
Quint shifted so he was sitting square with the side of the bed, both his feet on the floor, and patted his lap. “Come here, please.”
Very slowly, aware my blush was spreading down my neck, I crawled over to him. He stopped me before I could actually position myself across his knees and bury my red face in the comforter, and carefully took my jeans and boxers down to mid-thigh. Then he guided me by the elbow the rest of the way and wrapped his arm around my side, pulling me up snugly against him.
“If you’re annoyed with me, what should you do?” he asked with his right palm resting on my upturned butt.
“Talk to you about it, I know, I’m sorry,” I said, trying to stave off the worst.
“I believe that you’re sorry,” he told me, “but that doesn’t change it. Tantrums are childish, unproductive, and damaging to our relationship, and I will not allow them. Any time you choose to throw one, you will find yourself back in this position. Is that clear, Theodore?”
“Yes, sir.” It was abundantly, exceedingly clear. I couldn’t see how I’d managed to forget.
It wasn’t the only thing I’d forgotten, either. As he started spanking me, I remembered all over again how much it hurts even with just his hand. And then I remembered how endlessly long he can go on swatting steadily, when I know his palm must be stinging at least half as much as my butt.
That’s Quint all over for you: sacrificing his own comfort for my benefit, even when I don’t appreciate it. Whatever he said, I knew he didn’t want to see fewer patients; he was doing it for me. He would do nearly anything for me in an instant, and I only had to ask. Instead, I behaved like a spoiled rotten brat who hadn’t gotten his way, and now here I was getting spanked like one.
It was thoroughly deserved, but I still couldn’t hold back my yelps and pleas and promises to be good, and was drumming my toes against the bed and crying freely into my folded arms when he finally punctuated it with four extra-hard swats, alternating between my upper thighs, and stopped. I lay there, gulping and trying to get my breathing under control, while his hand moved to my lower back and started rubbing in small, comforting circles.
“Shhh, angel, it’s all right,” he soothed. “It’s done now, you’re okay, shhhh.”
“I’m sorry,” I choked out again.
“Come here,” he said, and I found myself on my knees next to him, being hugged tightly. “You’re forgiven, angel. Take a few deep breaths. It’s okay.”
He held me until I was quieter, and then started to stand up.
“Where’re you going?” I asked, catching his arm. I never like being far from him after a spanking.
“To get a washcloth for your face, and my phone,” he said. “I want to call the super and arrange seeing that apartment tomorrow. I’ll be right back, angel.”
“I’ll come too,” I said.
I left my jeans tangled at the end of the bed and went with him in just my t-shirt and boxers to the bathroom, where he ran cold water on a washcloth and wiped my face and neck off. Jagger came too, sniffing at me to make sure I was okay. I gave him a few reassuring ear scritches. He has to be shut out of the room during spankings, or he tries to jump into the middle of it.
We ended up back on the couch in the living room, in our favorite pose of Quint sitting and me laying on my side with my head in his lap, his fingers brushing through my hair while he made the phone call. The super agreed to unlock the place for us at noon the next day. That done, Quint hung up and looked down at me.
“I know I didn’t fulfill my dinner obligations yesterday, so we’ll say tonight’s my night again,” he said. “What do you want?”
“…It is Friday,” I said after a moment, smiling a little.
He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Okay, I suppose letting you eat take-out two nights in a row will be my own punishment. Pizza?”
“You know me so well.”