“Kat, hurry up!” Natalie stands at the foot of the stairs. She’ll have the Ping Pong paddle in hand, maybe tapping it as she waits.
I haven’t packed my shoes, or put my toothbrush in its holder, or gathered something to keep me busy on the plane.
“Stop stalling, and let’s get this over with.” Natalie taps the paddle against the wall in a hollow thump signaling her impatience.
“Wait!” Should I bring a book? One of my classmates recommended an Anatomy and Physiology study guide, and goodness knows I need all the help I can get. On the other hand, I can’t concentrate while calculating how high we fly above ground and the likelihood of surviving a crash.
“C’mon, Kat!” Ever since Natalie went through counseling, she’s alternated between ultra-patient and ultra-strict. I guess I don’t help matters by taking advantage of her patient days. “The sooner you come down, the sooner we get it over with. You know you’ll get upset otherwise.”
“I’m not upset!” I yell back, shoving a long-sleeved shirt into my suitcase and pushing down on the cover. “Why would I be?” Do I have enough skirts? Mama Jane prefers to cook for us, but we’ll take her out to brunch on–
Step. Step. “If I get to your room before you come out…” Natalie doesn’t finish her sentence, but the warning is clear.
Mama Jane. I’ve tried so hard not to think of her, and I almost succeeded. Classes have been awful, even harder than first semester. Natalie won’t stop pressuring me to quit my job at Tracy’s, and cutting back on my schedule isn’t good enough. But Mama Jane…
A glimpse of leather catches my eye, and I stare at the braided leather belt hanging on the wall. Natalie hung it ages ago when she promised never to use it again.
“Last chance, Kat.” Natalie’s voice comes from the top of the stairs.
But when it’s the last chance, she doesn’t say it. I have at least one more warning, considering her good mood, before she’ll take action. I try for a diversion. “Is my new blue shirt good enough for brunch?”
She’ll tell me to choose the pink instead, the one she bought for me. I’ll say I look good in other colors, too, and she’ll say how she loves me in pink. If she’s feeling playful, I’ll ask whether she doesn’t love me in other colors.
It’s still not “Katherine” or, worse, “Katherine Elizabeth,” so I’m safe. Where are my tissues? I hate sniffling while trapped in a window seat, and she won’t let me sit in the aisle.
Smack! A crack of the paddle makes me yelp, and I turn around to glare at Natalie who glares right back. “What was that for?”
“Do you want a punishment instead of a reminder?” She surveys the half-empty toiletry bag, pile of unpacked books and papers next to my carry-on bag, and a suitcase that’s popped open and spewed contents on the floor. “That may be a rhetorical question.” She takes my arm and pulls me toward the bed.
“No! We’ll be late!” I duck away and stuff clothes back into my suitcase, zipping halfway before getting the teeth stuck on my new blouse.
“That’s what I said!”
“I don’t want these anymore!” I yank at the zipper and delicate fabric, but with no luck. Whenever we go on a trip, Natalie insists on what she calls “reminders,” or a spanking to make me settle down. She got tired of my nerves and worries about traveling. Now that school and new friends have made me more confident, I shouldn’t need an outdated ritual. At least that’s what I say, but she won’t listen. “Why can’t we skip this and get on the plane like two normal adults?”
Natalie takes the blouse away and eases it out of the zipper grip. She sets the paddle on the bed before re-folding my clothes, arranging them with maximum speed and efficiency, and zipping the case shut. “Why can’t you accept that this is what you need?”
“Pain? Tears? Don’t you think we’ve had enough of both already?” It never gets easier, no matter how many years we’ve been together. In my heart, I know Natalie is right…but I wish she could give me a kiss or a hug instead. She will take me places I don’t want to go, and she’ll make me say and think things I’d rather leave alone. Sometimes I rail at her for being too strict, and other times I wish she’d take over so I wouldn’t have to think. It’s an impossible mess of contradictions, giving my life to something I hate.
Someone I love, but something I hate.
“C’mon,” she says, standing the suitcase on end and clearing off my bed. “You’ll feel better afterward.”
That’s the worst part. I will. If I could convince myself otherwise, I would. Instead, I stand in helpless confusion, shaking my head. “I don’t want to.”
“And that’s exactly why you need to.” She pulls me across her lap, picks up the paddle, and spanks hard and fast.
No warm-up, no coaxing, and no tender sweet words to ease the pain. I push against her, but she holds me close. The spanks build up into a hot, hot mass of agony even though my jeans, and I struggle to get away. “No!”
“Yes, Kat.” Natalie’s spanks are relentless, and she times each new one with perfection.
I can’t catch my breath, I can’t zone out, and I can’t get traction to resist her. It’s not fair, but I know better than to say so. She never spanks this hard for a reminder, and last year she let me off with a gentle hand spanking before we boarded the plane. Last year, I visited my mother’s grave and saw my brother and sister-in-law for the first time in almost ten years. Last year, Natalie stroked my back and let me cry, swatting just hard enough to help me feel centered and relaxed.
“Natty! Stop it!” Since she’s gone through counseling, she’s become much more distinct about rules and punishments. I get more warnings, more discussions about what I think would work, and more chances to solve disagreements without spankings. On the travel issue, though, she won’t budge. I’ve tried to persuade her in every way I know how, but even going two whole months without a punishment hasn’t been enough. At the end of the day, Natalie decides–and I love and hate her for it.
When she stops, I gasp in relief. That is, until she lifts me up to unzip my jeans and tug them down to my knees. Panties are next, and it’s my sore, bare bottom exposed for more pain.
“If you get stubborn, I’ll make sure you can’t sit down the whole weekend. I’m tired of the power struggles, Kat.” Natalie holds me down and ignores my derisive snort. If I could breathe, I’d ask her what power she thinks I have. Who’s going to arrive red-eyed at the airport scanners, Natty or I? At least I’m holding out in that department today.
And then, as suddenly as she began, she stops. Instead of rubber-coated wood against skin, her soft hand rests against the throbbing, burning ache. She squeezes, pats my back with her other hand when I yelp, and rubs some more. “Let it out.”
“Let what out?” I’m careful to make my tone as respectful as possible, rather than the belligerence I wish I could use. I might know better than to provoke more spanking, but she hasn’t changed me on the inside. I didn’t do anything wrong to deserve such a harsh punishment, even if she won’t admit it.
“You tell me. And if it takes too long, I might decide you need more encouragement.”
She was the one rushing me to get to the plane, and now she’s taking more time. I squirm in an attempt to slide off her lap, but a quick slap changes my mind. She always asks me questions I don’t want to answer. But when I remember how hard we’ve fought to stay together, I swallow my resentment and offer a suggestion. “You think I’m going to go off the rails because it’s Mother’s Day weekend and I’ll get upset about missing my mom and jealous because you have a mom who wants to spend time with you and I don’t?”
I meant to sound calm and politely incredulous, but my voice breaks on the last word. Stupid Natalie. Stupid, stupid, Natalie.
“Yes.” She pats again before spanking with her hand this time. It’s unusual, mostly because Natalie doesn’t believe in doing what I wish she would…at least as far as discipline goes. “Last year was a big year for you. For both of us, really, and you’re pushing yourself too hard. Katya,” she says, and her voice grows so soft I have to strain to hear. “I’m sorry your mom isn’t still alive, and I’m sorry she didn’t love you more when she was. I’m sorry I get jealous sometimes because you have a special connection with my mom that I don’t. I’m sorry, because I had a whole childhood of a mom loving me and you didn’t.”
She stops spanking, and I crawl off her lap. Too stunned to put thoughts into words, I put my arms around her neck. She’s good at words, not me. She’s good at reading people and responding to them.
“I love you,” I say, because for my selfless and amazing Natalie I have no other words. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”
She holds me tight, and she lets me brush the tears out of her eyes before giving her a kiss. “She’s yours,” she says. “She’s your mother-in-love.”
Natalie always wanted a little sister. Kat didn’t know she was allowed to want anything…or anyone.
Kat, a shy farmgirl, arrives at her freshman dorm with a backpack, a suitcase, and her mother’s wish for Kat to attend college “at least until you get married”. Her roommate Natalie, a confident and fun-loving social butterfly, decides sight unseen that Kat will become her best friend for life. Natalie teaches Kat about college life, academics, and friendship by taking Kat under her wing…and over her knee.
Then their lives fall apart one fateful night on campus, and for the rest of the decade Kat and Natalie struggle to find their way back to each other. Their way home.
College roommates, best friends, and family. Can Kat and Natalie find a way to stay together…without killing each other?
Kat Astra knows one thing: everything is her fault. A dead-end job. A fear of confrontation. An inability to speak up when necessary. Desertion of her best friend in her time of need.
Natalie Mestecom knows one thing too: everything Kat does is Natalie’s fault. The relationship rule is simple; Kat has problems, and Natalie fixes them. But what worked in adolescence becomes more complicated with adulthood, and new developments in their relationship challenge these roles. Kat is no longer sure whether she is willing to be disciplined according to Natalie’s rules, and Natalie is no longer sure whether she is worthy of Kat’s trust.
Can Natalie allow herself to be vulnerable? Can Kat believe in her own strength? Can Natalie believe in Kat’s strength? How will they, each in their own way, learn to move beyond guilt and blame in order to forge a new relationship together? In order to make peace with themselves and each other, Kat and Natalie reconnect with family, re-visit memories of their past, and make plans for taking steps forward in the future. To light their way home.
Lighting the Way is the sequel to The Way Home and second in the Kat & Natalie series.