Note: Takes place shortly after To Trust, Cherish, and Honor.
Well I thought it was a brilliant idea. Still do, actually, though I have a feeling that’s going to be changing as soon as Quint calls me out of the corner. I spin my ring around my finger, something I can’t seem to stop doing since I began wearing it a couple of weeks ago.
“Theodore, put your hands by your sides,” Quint says from somewhere behind me—sounds like the stove, maybe. “You’re meant to be thinking about what you did.”
I drop my arms and bite my tongue so I don’t tell him I am thinking about it, and about what a good idea it was. My silence must be acceptable, because he doesn’t prompt me to answer, just softly calls the dog back when he starts sniffing around my feet. Jagger’s very puzzled as to why one of his new humans seems to like standing facing the wall so much. Can you blame him?
Not that I harbor any ill will, but Jagger is also part of the reason I’m here now. See, normally we only do laundry on Sundays—designated Cleaning Days by Quint—but this week, there was a pile of dog laundry in addition to our clothes, because the poor pooch tried a new food and barfed all over his crate blanket in the middle of the night.
Quint found the mess when he came out to get Jagger for his run this morning. Doctors have very strong stomachs, thankfully. He got everything cleaned up and started the washer with a load of the blanket, the dust rags, and the towel used to wipe down Jagger himself. Yet he put me in charge of running them through a second cycle and transferring them to the dryer.
And since I was going to be doing that anyway, I might as well get a head start on the clothes, too. So said Quint.
“It’ll be one less thing to do Sunday,” he’d reasoned on his way out the door. “If you get it done while I’m at work, we’ll have more time together for other things.” And he put his hand on my hip and kissed my neck. He’s been very lovey-dovey since the commitment ceremony. Even in public, which is so unlike him. Not that I’m complaining at all.
Okay, I might’ve complained a little. “Stop trying to distract me from the fact you’re giving me extra chores,” I said, while tilting my head and going on tip-toe so he had better access.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I had such an effect on you,” he murmured against my skin. I snorted, and then moaned a little when he nipped. My head felt cloudy as he drew back to smile down at me. “It’s not an extra chore, angel. This is your week for laundry; you’re just doing it a few days earlier. Make sure the washer is clean before you put the clothes in, understood?”
I sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
Normally I’d’ve gotten at least a raised eyebrow for that tone, but I guess the newlywed effect was also making him feel lenient, because he just dropped another kiss on my lips and said, “Thank you. I’ll pick up groceries on my way home. Have a good day.”
I didn’t even grumble my “You, too.” I think the newlywed thing was getting to me as well.
Anyway, after he left was when I came up with my brilliant (brilliant, I tell you!) idea. They say restrictions breed creativity, and that’s certainly true in my case. Restriction: Having to stay close to the apartment so I could run the washer again as soon as it stopped—because heaven forbid it ever sit with wet stuff in it for a few minutes; Quint’s nose can sniff out a single spore of mildew, I swear—and then having to fold it all. Which I absolutely hate doing. It’s so boring.
Creative solution? Using a wash-and-fold service!
Okay, not all that creative, I’ll grant you. How many millions of people use them every day? A lot, I bet. The point is, it hadn’t ever occurred to me as a way to get out of my least-favorite chore, probably because I usually did laundry on Sundays, with Quint around making it impossible to consider alternatives.
Now, before you go thinking I’m terrible, no, I would not hoist barfy dog stuff off on some poor, hapless laundromat worker. I still planned to take care of that myself. But our clothes? Outsourcing them would cut my work down by two-thirds. And they’d probably come back folded neater than I’d ever get them!
(Are you beginning to see the problem here because I didn’t.)
I googled and found a place near us with what seemed to me very reasonable rates, laid out in a table of dollars per pound. The only little hiccup, at first, was how to transport it all down there. We didn’t own a laundry bag. Being very lucky New Yorkers with an in-unit washer/dryer, we only needed a few hampers for lights, darks, and dry-clean, plus a basket. I figured a garbage bag would work just as well, though. It wasn’t like it had to be durable.
So I got one from the box in the pantry and took it into our closet, where I stuffed it full of the contents of the light and dark hampers. (Quint handles the dry-clean for his work clothes.) Jagger watched from the bedroom, cocking his head from side to side while I whistled.
“Alright, boy,” I said, giving him a scratch behind the ear with my free hand as I carried the bag out. “I’ll be back in just a few minutes. Try not to vomit again while I’m gone, yeah?”
He wanted to come with me, of course, but he still pulls on the leash sometimes and the slippery bag was hard enough to handle. I used both arms to carry it down the street, panting by the time I reached the laundromat. That was the hardest part of the whole thing. Once there, I just went up to the counter, gave them my phone number, let them weigh the bag, and got a ticket with a price to be paid and a pick-up time. The time was kind of late in the evening. Quint was also going to be delayed, though, from grocery shopping, so no issues there.
The washer was finished with the first cycle when I got back to the apartment. I started it on the second and watched TV until it buzzed again, then moved that load into the dryer.
After that, I had the entire day free. Jagger and I spent most of it at the park. He loves to watch while I busk, and he helps draw a crowd just through sheer cuteness. I’ve been thinking I should train him to do some tricks so he can join in the performance.
I made sure to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to take him home and go pick up the laundry at the right time. They returned it to me in a different bag—also plastic, and squarish with the stacks of neatly-folded clothes inside. I discovered when I tore it open back in our bedroom that they’d even sorted my clothes out from Quint’s based on the sizes, and grouped each set by type: shirts, pants, underwear, and socks. Which meant I only had to grab a stack, drop it in the right dresser drawer, and shut it. Magic!
You see, it was brilliant.
Quint came in with the groceries a few minutes after I finished. He set them on the counter, kissed me, put them away, kissed me again, and went to change out of his work clothes. I sat at my synth feeling quite smug and expecting him to comment on what a good job I’d done.
Instead, he appeared while sniffing the collar of the polo shirt he’d put on. “Did you buy a different laundry detergent?” he asked. “We had plenty when I used it this morning.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking fast. “I just felt like making a change.”
Well, it was true, I did make a change from how I’d usually do it!
Quint frowned. It was a Suspicious Brat Activity Detected frown. My stomach tightened as he turned and went into the bedroom again. I heard drawers opening and closing, and then he came back out with another shirt. One of mine this time, still folded.
“You also made a change in how you fold them, I noticed,” he said. “Did you remember to put in the lights and darks separately?”
I mean, I figured the laundromat would’ve separated them, right? They’re a laundromat. Expert laundry-doers.
Only Quint raised both eyebrows and let the shirt unfold as he held it up, so I could see what I’d failed to before: the lower half of it was streaked with blue across the white fabric. “I am guessing,” he said, “that’s from your new dark wash jeans.”
I swallowed and bit my lip.
Quint lowered the shirt. “Theodore, who did the laundry today?”
“Well, I didn’t get their names,” I mumbled.
He gave me a Look. “You know very well what I mean, young man. You’re one more obfuscation away from a mouthsoaping, so I would suggest answering my question.”
I looked down at my ring as I spun it around my finger. “I took it to a wash-and-fold place. The clothes, not the dog stuff. And I’m sorry I didn’t separate it, but I thought they would.” Meeting his eyes again with a bit of a plea, I said, “Anyway, your only whites are dress shirts that get dry-cleaned and some underwear and socks, right? Basically just my stuff was ruined.”
Sighing, he laid the shirt over the back of the couch. “I’m not upset about the things being stained, I’m upset that you would do this in the first place, and that you’d lie about it.”
“Why?” I asked, baffled. “I mean, okay, I shouldn’t have lied, and I’m sorry, but what does it matter if I took it to a laundromat?”
He shook his head. “The fact that you lied to hide it tells me you’re already well aware of why it matters, at least on some level. It was a task I asked you to complete–”
“It got done!” I pointed out.
“Do not interrupt me, young man,” he said. “I asked you, and there was absolutely no excuse for your not doing it.”
“Except that I didn’t want to,” I muttered, crossing my arms.
“Exactly,” he said. “I’d like you to go to the corner and think about that until I call you.”
So that’s how I wound up here, staring at paint and listening to Quint cooking. My stomach starts to growl from the smell, which is way spicier than he likes food usually. He must’ve picked the recipe with me in mind. For some reason, that makes me feel guiltier than I have all day.
I still don’t really have an answer, though, when he summons me to the table and asks, “Can you explain why it matters now?”
Picking up my fork, I push a piece of chicken across my plate. “Because I disobeyed you?”
“Yes, that’s part of it, though not all,” he says. “Look at me, please.”
I do. His blue-gray eyes are very serious.
“Angel, do you know why I’ve never hired a maid service, which we could easily afford to do?”
“Because you’re a freak who enjoys cleaning?” I risk, going for teasing instead of snark.
He shakes his head—not in a disapproving way—and says, “I enjoy taking care of our home, making it a place we can feel comfortable. I grew up with maids, in a house that was always very clean and very impersonal. Boarding school was much the same. It felt like living in a hotel, though it took me years to understand that, and to discover the difference being responsible for your belongings with your own hands makes.
“Creating that feeling of welcome for each other is part of this commitment we’ve vowed to uphold. I will not allow us to slip, even on something as small as laundry. That doesn’t mean you’re never allowed an occasional break, but it needs to be decided on together. Not done unilaterally, simply because you’d rather spend time on something else. Understand?”
Do I ever. And the worst part is, he was right, I did kinda know why he wouldn’t like it before I did it. I’d wanted him to think it was my work, to think look how well my partner takes care of me, even when that was a complete and utter lie. My eyes water as I nod, and it’s not because of the spiciness of the chicken—at least, not in the obvious way.
“I’m really sorry.”
“Thank you for apologizing,” he says. “Finish dinner, please. At least half.”
He usually wouldn’t have to qualify that. Knowing what’s coming as soon as I’m done, though, makes me lose my appetite, and I have to force myself to chew and swallow each mouthful. I’ll feel even less like eating afterward.
I set my fork down when exactly half the plate is empty. Quint gets up and holds out his hand to me, and my stomach jerks. Reluctantly, I take it. He leads me first to our bedroom door, where he says, “Jagger, here,” and shuts the dog inside. Then we go to the couch. I stand meekly, letting him take down my jeans and underwear and pull me across his lap.
Resting his palm on my lower back, he asks, “Why am I spanking you, Theo?”
I can give the correct and complete answer now. “Because I took the laundry to wash-and-fold when it was supposed to be something I did for us, and then I lied about it.”
“Yes,” he says. A second later, his hand departs my back and returns lower down with a lot more force. His voice is just loud enough to be audible over the spanks as he continues. “We do not take shortcuts without discussing it. When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it, not to pay someone else, and certainly not to then lead me to believe you’ve done it yourself. This is our home, and we will care for it together.”
“Yes, sir,” I choke, my fingers clutching the couch cushion to keep from reaching back as I squirm. My gaze catches the ring on my left hand. Suddenly, I realize this is the first time I’ve been in this position since he slipped it on me, and that’s when the real crying begins.
I’m not even aware I’m apologizing again until he stops a few minutes later and I make out, “I know, you’re forgiven, it’s okay, it’s okay,” in his most soothing tone.
After I calm down some, he takes me to the bathroom and wipes away the residue of my tears. Jagger is whining loudly behind the bedroom door. Quint opens it, and I kneel to let him see I’m alright. I don’t think he’ll ever get used to me being spanked.
Standing again, I grab Quint’s hand. “Come with me?”
He does, looking puzzled, as I go into the bedroom, open the dresser, and start taking out all the clothes I put away earlier.
“What on earth are you doing?”
“I want to re-fold it all,” I explain, shutting that drawer to open another.
“Angel,” he says, sounding touched, “you don’t need to do that.”
“No, but I want to.” It’ll bug me otherwise, every time I go to take something out.
“Alright. Give me those. I’ll help you carry them.”
With his assistance, it only takes one trip to bring it all to the coffee table. He leaves me there just long enough to put away the leftovers and load the dishwasher, and then he’s back, reading beside me and rubbing my shoulders with his free hand. The soreness in my butt fades to the background as I fold. This, I decide, was a much better idea than the laundromat.