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She is in danger of losing her job, she is failing her courses, and she is too chicken to send even a single personal message to any of the men whose profiles she reads on dating sites. Disaster looms on her horizon as she fumbles to meet her obligations.
In despair, she signs up for Mackleworth Motivational Academy, where she meets Calum, her new disciplinarian. He's tall, blond, and handsome, and seems quite capable of providing all the motivation Polly needs to work harder. She agrees to let him spank her again and again, until her job performance improves and she starts to get top grades at school. But while Calum is taking care of her bottom, who is going to take care of her heart?
"Take that cup of coffee off the worktable! How many times do I have to tell you, Polly?"
"Hmm? Oh." Polly looked up from the cookbook she was mending. Alexa was looking sternly at her. Alexandra Henderson sounded cross and Polly Nadel wondered what was wrong with her usually kindly manager "Sorry, I'll move it in a minute."
"How about now, before you have an accident?" Alexa urged. With her long, blond hair swept up on top of her head, and in a smartly styled navy suit over a crisp blue blouse, a pretty cameo brooch at her neck, she looked so commanding that Polly often forgot her petite supervisor was no taller than she. They were both only five feet, yet Polly always felt that the other woman towered over her.
At that moment, Harold, the ancient cataloger, put his head around his office door into the cluttered workroom, his perpetually tousled fringe of grey hair wilder than usual. "Alexa, I need your help immediately. Those imported records just crashed the database again. It was so much easier before we had computers." His gravelly voice trailed off as Alexa nodded and turned towards him.
"Now, Polly," she said, "please do as I told you." She left for Harold's office.
Polly really meant to put the coffee cup in the break room as soon as she finished tapping that patch into place in the cookbook, but her mind was running over her grades. Only a semester into graduate school for her masters in library science, and she was failing two of her four classes. She had done dismally on her midterms because night after night she had put off studying in favor of chat-rooms, board games with her eight year old daughter, World of Warcraft with her son, good books, and trolling over dating sites reading profiles, but never getting up her courage to actually contact anyone or even answer a request to chat. It was ridiculous to be so afraid of dating at forty-one. And yet, her total experience had been limited to one man, her ex-husband, Ben.� And that experience had had many more downs than ups. She felt ugly. She was sure she was too boring. Perhaps she was doomed to spending the rest of her life reading the "good bits" of romance novels.
Polly put the mended book under a brick in bubble wrap.� A patron had cut out a recipe. Polly had borrowed another copy of the book, scanned and printed the page, and now, with a little skill and glue, the book was ready to circulate again. She'd completely forgotten her coffee as she reached for the next volume on the repair cart and her forearm swept her cat-shaped cup off the table and into a cart of new books awaiting processing just as Alexa walked back from Harold's office. The smell of hazelnut coffee filled the room.
"I..." Polly was frozen. What is there to say? I've messed up again.
"Clean up the mess. Make a list of the books you ruined. You can order replacements from Acquisitions later--and pay for them. Then come see me in my office." As always, Alexa's face was calm, but her voice was sharp, and there was a flash of annoyance in her honey-colored eyes.
With trembling hands, Polly got some paper towels and wiped up the mess. Paying for the books would put a major crimp in her budget. There were at least twelve damaged books and at about twenty-five dollars a copy, it was going to add up to real money. Oh, what if I get fired! No job�no school�the library system was paying for her training�no money�no benefits. She would have to move the children back to Denver to live with her parents, and take any job she could find. And it would be all her own fault. She blinked back tears. At least with the child support from Ben she could take care of her children.
When she tapped on Alexa's office door, she was still on the edge of crying. "Come in. Shut the door. Sit down." Alexa's usually warm voice was cold. Despite Polly's black wool slacks and powder blue sweater over a scoop necked white top, she shivered, and suddenly the tears began to fall.
"I'll wait until you compose yourself," Alexa said, handing Polly a box of tissues. It took nearly ten minutes, because every time Polly thought she was done, she'd notice the coffee stain on her sweater, and that would set her off weeping again. Eventually she managed to stop the tears.
"I could pull out your record, Polly�but we both know what it would say. You run late and you don't do what you are told. In fact, your behavior borders on defiant, though I think it is due more to inattention. How are you doing at school? You know if your GPA drops below a B-, the library system no longer reimburses tuition."
"You might as well tell me the truth," Alexa said with a little more warmth. "I might be able to help you."
"I failed the midterms in Human Information Behavior, and Children's Literature. I'm behind in most of my projects..." Suddenly the tears began to flow again. "And I'm getting C's in my other two classes. I don't know what's wrong. I did fine, really fine, in college. I made mostly A's and just a few B's," Polly managed to get words out without sobbing and patted her eyes dry with a soggy tissue.
"You weren't trying to balance a full time work schedule with four graduate level classes, two children and a recent divorce," Alexa pointed out. "Polly, let me be completely honest with you. You are a bright woman, and you have plenty of potential. In fact, I expect a lot more of you than I'm seeing, based on your interview and letters of recommendation. There is a position that will be opening up next fall at the University Library in the Conservation Department that I would love to suggest you apply for. But as of now, I could not, in all honesty, write you a positive letter of recommendation."
"Are you going to fire me?" The question popped out before Polly could help herself. Even as she asked it, she knew she had been too impulsive again. It might not have occurred to Alexa to terminate Polly's employment if she hadn't just suggested it herself.
"I should. As soon as the last month of your three month probationary period is over. Unless you make radical changes. And you have only five weeks in which to pull up your socks and fly right. Oh, dear, that was a mixed metaphor."
"Oh, I will!" Polly almost leapt to her feet at the thought of Alexa giving her a second chance.
"I doubt it."� Alexa's flat negative froze her.� "This morning I told you to move a cup of coffee. You couldn't even motivate yourself to do that."
"I�I. You are right."
"And you were late three times last week."
Polly nodded. "Once I get behind, I can't seem to think, I just hide."
"Are you depressed? Do you need to talk to someone?" Now Alexa's voice was full of genuine concern.
"No. I mean, I'm worried, but I'm not sad all the time or anything like that. I just lack motivation."� And, then, sometimes I wonder if anyone would care if I succeed or not.
"Getting your degree and having an interesting job aren't motivation enough?" Alexa asked.
"No. That all seems so far away. Really, I'm doing it for the kids, so I can offer them more than the base support the judge gave me for them.� But it isn't helping now!� I need something immediate. I used to bribe myself with treats, but lately I've been eating the treats first and then not doing the work."
"I'm going to talk honestly and confidentially with you, Polly. I've seen a lot of women like you. I used to be one in fact. A person who lacked motivation and self-discipline, even though she had plenty of other talents. Sometimes getting work done is a team effort. You've seen that, yes?"
Polly nodded. Was Alexa about to scold her for not being a team player? That was hardly fair. She had not been part of any group project at the library. Or perhaps it was fair. Being late was not exactly showing a one for all and all for one attitude.
"You put someone with good writing skills together with someone with good graphic skills, and in the end you have an excellent brochure--much better than you'd have if either did the work on his or her own."
Polly nodded again, wondering what was so confidential about this rather obvious example.
"You need a partner who can give you external motivation. Twenty years ago, I was in the same position. I was failing out of college simply because I was too lazy to do the work. An understanding woman, the dean of the college, Ms. Mackleworth, took me in hand. We wrote out a contract. I consented to her providing motivation and discipline, and very quickly my work improved. Ms. Mackleworth has since gone on to found a private service, MMA, to help other people, men and women, who find themselves in similar difficulties."
For some reason, Polly felt a shiver go down her spine at the world discipline. "What does MMA stand for?"
"Mackleworth's Motivation Academy."
"A tutoring service? That might help," Polly said eagerly. "If I had to make a commitment to meet someone and have a certain amount of work done each week�"
"No, Polly. Not a tutoring service. And I might point out that you already have a commitment to people to do a certain amount of work each week--and up to a certain standard, I might add. Those people are your professors." She gave Polly an icy stare. "And your supervisors at the library."
"Well, yes� but then what is it?"
"A service that provides corporal punishment."
"What!" Polly shot to her feet.
"If you leave the room before you have heard me out, Polly, you'll have no more chances." Alexa's voice was hard again.
Nervously, Polly sat. Then a thought struck her, and she was on her feet again. "You mean you let this Dean Mackleworth whack you?" She quickly sat down again as warm blushes crept up her lightly freckled cheeks. The curse of being a redhead was that embarrassment showed so easily.
"Well, I think Ms. Mackleworth would use a slightly more elegant term than that. She was an English professor before she became a dean. But yes--we agreed to a certain number of strokes for every less than perfect grade on any assignment, even a quiz. None for an A, two for an A-, as I recall."
"Strokes?" Polly asked, puzzled.� Strokes sounded like a very gentle word under the circumstances.
"Ms. Mackleworth is English, and went to prep school, what we call high school, in Scotland. She used a tawse."
"I don't know what that is," Polly confessed.
"I expect you'll find out." There was a lilt of amusement in Alexa's voice. "Now, you do understand what I am suggesting?"
Polly was silent a moment, looking around the neat office, with its few homey touches--a picture of Alexa's husband, two sons and their Jack Russell terrier, a picture made of dried flowers on the wall over the desk, and a framed print of Fernand Leger's Woman with a Book between the pair of white framed windows.
It was hard to absorb what Alexa had just told her. Firstly, that her own job was in danger. Secondly, that this elegant woman had, however long ago, let someone spank her. Thirdly, that her retaining her own job seemed to depend on letting someone else spank her. Spank her! At her age!
"I've never been spanked," she blurted out.
Alexa smiled at her. "They say there is a first time for everything." Then, more seriously she said, "Most people think of spanking as a punishment for children. In my opinion, there are better ways of guiding a child into good behavior and decision making. Corporal punishment is better suited for adults, young adults, generally, but some older people too who are not likely to be influenced by a timeout or a loss of screen time. Tell me, in all honesty, if I told you that as a consequence for spoiling those books with coffee you were not to go on-line when you got home tonight except to do homework, would you listen to me?"
"Not really. I mean, what I do when I'm off the clock is really up to me. And while I might mean not to go web surfing, once I'm online I don't have all that much self-control." Oh, I've just missed a chance to ask for a lesser punishment and another chance. But considering all that Alexa has said, is there really any chance of escaping this?
"Exactly. But if you sign a contract agreeing that a disciplinarian at the Motivational Academy is to correct you physically for your careless mistakes, and for your poor grades, I assure you that you will take notice."
"Who will know about this?"
"You, me, the discrete staff at the Academy, and anyone you chose to tell."
"Not my professors?" Polly asked.� I really am considering this!
"Then how will the..." Her tongue faltered on the word.
"How will the disciplinarian know about your grades?"
"You will furnish copies of your syllabi, and show every piece of work with the grade and comments."
"And does it cost anything?"
"There is a fee, but since most of your discretionary income will be spent replacing the books you spoiled, I will absorb the cost for your first contract. Consider it a debt paid forward. Polly, I honestly believe that one day you will be in a position to help someone else who is struggling. You have the potential to be a successful woman. Just learn to apply yourself." She chuckled. "By the application of whatever is necessary to your backside."
"I guess I've agreed," Polly said with some amazement.
"I was pretty certain you would. Underneath, you are a very sensible woman." Alexa stood, indicating the meeting was over. "I'll telephone MMA. I'll give you the address and the time of your appointment tonight before you leave work today."
"Of course. You need as much help as you can get as soon as possible."
On wobbly knees Polly left the office. She really wanted another cup of coffee, but with the earlier mishap firmly in mind she went straight to the work table and picked up the next damaged book.
Polly had been too nervous to eat dinner, though she had served the kids tuna casserole and salad before leaving fifteen year old Malcolm in charge of Jenny. It was seven-twenty now, and she felt nauseous, with tingly palms. She was parked in a small strip mall, outside an unobtrusive door marked MMA. She'd never noticed it was there, even though it stood between the studio where she practiced yoga-on the Saturdays she could force herself out of the house before eleven o'clock-and a fancy sandwich place called Between the Slices that she loved. There was just the address and MMA in small gold letters on a glass door, nothing to indicate the nature of the place.
�Well, I've never heard any screams of pain when I'm doing yoga, so they can't hit people that hard. She pulled on the door and found it locked. Polly looked about in a panic. What will happened if I miss the appointment?� Then she saw an intercom next to the door, and pushed the buzzer with a quick sense of relief.
"MMA," a brisk voice said. "How may I help you?"
"It's Polly. I have a seven thirty appointment."
"Please come in." There was a click and the door unlatched.
Polly pulled it open, and walked into a well-lit stairwell painted a warm yellow. Walking up brown carpeted stairs, she came to a landing, and a door, also marked MMA, on her left. The space behind it must be over the yoga studio. She tapped on the door.
"Come in," the same voice called. Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Polly went in. The reception area looked like an upscale living room. Polly let out a breath, realizing she had expected some sort of dungeon with chains on the walls and whipping posts.
A pair of red leather couches made one corner cozy.� The blue knotted-woolen rugs, carelessly angled on the floor, were scattered with a design of white flowers with just one red bloom giving a vivid contrast. There was a low table before the couches, covered with an artful disarray of coffee table books. To her right a pair of large brown leather arm chairs were angled towards a gas fire, and on the other wall a window was shrouded in lush white draperies. The walls were sage green and the lighting was low and intimate.
The far right corner was occupied by an elegant little desk. A woman, who might have been in her late fifties or early sixties with a beautiful complexion and exquisitely cut iron grey hair, sat there. The desk's surface was bare except for a green book, a blotter, and an old fashioned rotary telephone. There was a bookshelf behind the desk with many green bound books on it.
The woman wore a rich, red wool dress and a string of pearls. Polly could see her feet under the desk, ankles neatly crossed with well-polished low, black heels on her feet. Polly was suddenly conscious that her own black pumps were rather scruffy.
"Welcome, Polly. Please close the door behind you and take a seat in front of my desk." She pointed to the single, straight backed chair in front of the desk. Swallowing, Polly seated herself. Not the six foot four Valkyrie my imagination conjured! Nor were the woman's next words what she expected to hear. "I am Ms. Joan Mackleworth. Hang up your coat. Would you like a cup of tea? Earl Grey perhaps, or a strong breakfast tea?" There was a distinctive English clip to her voice.
"Tea?" squeaked Polly.
"I find it calms the nerves."
"Oh!� No! Thank you. Ms. Mackleworth," Polly said jerkily. She hated tea, but it didn't seem the time to ask for coffee, or any other special favors.
"Very well. I expect you would like to get down to business. Newcomers are always so anxious. I was delighted to hear from dear Alexandra Cunningham--Alexandra Henderson as she is now. She was always one of my favorite students, although challenging at times. I understand that you are having some difficulties yourself, my dear. Notably, in listening to instructions and applying yourself to your studies. Is that true?"
"Yes, ma'am." The sheer force of the woman's personality was overwhelming.
"Have you submitted to corporal punishment before?"
"Good. It is never pleasant to try to correct someone else's mistakes. So many people try to make a game of it. Now, this is your punishment book." She indicated the leather bound green book on her desk. "On the spine is a number. If you look behind me, you will see a number of these books on the shelves. They are active cases. Remember your number. From now on you will use it to identify yourself when you press the bell for admittance. And, if you wish, your disciplinarian will use it rather than your name."
"Four fifty one," Polly muttered to herself.
"This is the only record. I do not hold with computers. They lack refinement." Ms. Mackleworth opened the book, and on the first page wrote 'Mary Pauline Nadel' in a neat, clear hand.
"How do you know my real name? Oh, Alexa."
�"Yes. How old are you?"
Ms. Mackleworth added the information. "And you are healthy?"
"Yes. Sometimes I have migraines, but I have pills for them."
"Are you pregnant?"
"I'm divorced. I have two children, Mal is fifteen and Jenny is eight. I told them I had a work related meeting tonight...." She let her voice trail away. She was rambling.
"What are your worst faults?"
This was starting to sound like a cross between a doctor's appointment and a job interview. "Ms. Mackleworth, what does this have to do with...?"
"Your physical chastisement?"
"Please repeat the question using a full sentence. You might as well get used to saying the words."
"What does this have to do with my physical chastisement?" Polly got the words out in a rush.
"I want to choose a disciplinarian who is well suited to you. One who will be most effective. In order to do that, I need to know a little about you."
"It won't be you?"
"I find my rheumatism makes providing correction a little difficult these days. I broke a shoulder badly in a point-to-point many years ago. But, now, Polly, I asked you to list your faults."
"Okay, well, as you know, I don't listen, and I'm often late and I'm lazy. But you knew that," she repeated lamely.
"Yes, and now I know you are honest about yourself." The questions continued, some seemed on point, some seemed irrelevant to Polly. Ms. Mackleworth made notes in Polly's book. After some twenty minutes, just when she was starting to feel relaxed, Ms. Mackleworth asked, in the same tone of polite interest, "Would you prefer to be corrected by man or a woman?"
"Oh, a woman," Polly blurted. A woman won't be as strong as man, and it won't be so embarrassing.
"Yes, I rather thought you would say that." Ms. Mackleworth put down her pen. It was, Polly noticed, the first fountain pen she had ever seen outside of a movie. She pulled a sheaf of papers from a pocket at the back of the book. "Your contract. We make contracts for periods of two months to a year. For your first contract, I suggest two months. That will be long enough to see if our methods work for you."
"How often will I need to visit? And for how long each time?"
"An hour or a little more the first time; fifteen or twenty minutes other nights. I think you will start with daily visits."
"May I read the contract?"
"Of course, and make certain you understand it before you sign it. I will answer any questions you may have, and I urge you to take it your lawyer if you wish."
"Oh, no." Not only did Polly think this rather beyond the expertise of the lawyer who handled her divorce, but she was not about to let anyone else know she was signing up to have her bottom smacked.
To her relief the contract was in plain English, not legalese. And there was a lot, all comforting, about confidentially. She was expected to speak of only her own experiences at the academy outside the walls of MMA, not to discuss anyone else she saw at MMA.� As she started to read the next section, a phrase lower down jumped at her "...implement of the disciplinarian's choosing shall be applied over fully clothed buttocks and thighs, over buttocks clothed in undergarments, or over naked buttocks and thighs at the disciplinarian's discretion. A punishment period may begin with the subject fully clothed and end with the subject having removed or having had removed by the disciplinarian any or all articles of clothing."
Polly pointed to passage. "Does that mean I have to take my clothes off?"
"Only for the most severe punishments. Generally our disciplinarian performs corrections over clothing or underclothing. But each has his or her own approach, based on what will be most effective for the subject. May I suggest that you read from the beginning of the contract?"
Obediently, Polly started over, but soon came up short again. "Maintenance? You mean being spanked for nothing?"
"You might consider it that way at this point in your journey to self-mastery. If your disciplinarian feels it necessary to remind you at regular intervals what awaits you if you are disobedient or refuse to apply yourself to your studies, then you shall receive maintenance spankings."
Polly nodded, swallowed, and kept reading. At the end of the contract she looked up at Ms. Mackleworth in disbelief. "It says the contract can be terminated at any time by either party. What is the point of that? Won't people just walk away instead of being spanked?"
"MMA terminates contracts for a variety of reasons: if we feel that there is the possibility of romantic or sexual feeling developing between the disciplinarian and the subject; if the subject breaks several appointments; if we feel our methods are not having the desired effect. There may be any number of reasons. As for why we let subjects, clients, simply leave�there is no point in undertaking this journey of self-improvement if you are not committed. If you don't feel it is making a difference in your life, there is no point in continuing. We only ask that after the first session you reflect for twenty-four hours. If at that point the contract is terminated, you, or in this case, Alexandra, will receive a pro-rated refund, less ten percent."
"And this will help me keep my job and bring up my grades?"
"It will, if you give it a chance."
Polly squirmed in her straight backed chair. What were her choices, really? Hang on to her job for another five weeks, then be let go at the end of her probationary period? Alexa had made it clear there would be no reference from her. And then either flunk out of or have to drop out of library school when she no longer had tuition reimbursement.
"I'll sign." She reached over the desk to pick up Ms. Mackleworth's fountain pen, but the older woman pointed, covering her fountain pen. "Please, use that ball point. If another person uses a fountain pen, it damages the nib."
With trepidation, Polly signed her full name, and added the date on two copies. Then Ms. Mackleworth signed with a flourish. She blotted the ink, folded one contract and handed it to Polly. The other she also folded, and tucked away in the pocket of Polly's punishment book. "We will keep this book with all the others. When you arrive for each session, turn it to the current page." She opened the book to a blank sheet, ruled with columns.� "Fix the band so your disciplinarian cannot see your name. During each visit the columns will be filled in with date, offense, implement or implements, number of strokes, over clothes or an undergarment or on the bare, your initials and those of your disciplinarian. Occasionally, if your disciplinarian is ill, or if we feel it will benefit you, another person will fill in for him or her. Weekly, your disciplinarian and I will review your book. And now, if you will come with me, I will introduce you to your disciplinarian. You will need to bring your punishment book."