"I cannot believe what an idiot you've made yourself out to be," Lestat lectured as he pulled me down the hallway that led to our New Orleans flat. With his right hand vice-gripped around the collar of my muddy jacket, I had no hope (or energy) to attempt a second escapade. In some oddly disturbing way, I was overwhelmingly happy he was taking me home instead of killing me for betraying him the way I did, but I knew Lestat, and I knew that in just a few seconds I was going to be wishing he'd considered the former option.
He continued to lecture and shout such things in my direction, kicking open the doors to our comfortable apartment. Louis was there, arms folded uncomfortably over his chest, a thumbnail in his mouth before the noise startled him and he rushed over, pulling me into a tight embrace. I flushed, ashamed of both my present condition and what I'd done to get there. My clothes and boots were muddy, my knees skinned and cut, my face dirty and tear-streaked, my hair mussed, and my shirt untucked from my shorts in a fashion Lestat would have considered a punishable offense in itself. He released me long enough for Louis to scold me, pulling off the abominable jacket as he drew back.
That moment of safe bonding was over all too quickly, as Lestat ordered Louis to go draw a bath for me (ugh) and hauled me off once more, dumping me unceremoniously over the low cushion in the fitting room he'd become fond of as a whipping bench. I swallowed, listening to the familiarly dreadful sound of him rooting around in the umbrella stand for a decent switch. Trying not to move too much (not that he could possibly be angrier), I undid the clasp of my khaki shorts and slid them off, my gut contorting painfully as I shifted. Moisture pricked at the rims of my eyes as his footsteps approached and his hand closed around a knot of fabric on my back, pulling me back over the stool in perfect position. The thin cane smacked down hard on my backside, and I cried out.
I wasn't listening, particularly, as he kept on his angry lecture on the issue of my most recent stupidity. I had never run away before, and wasn't planning to again, but he was driving the point home. He continued to rain down licks on my backside until I was whimpering, squirming, crying, and begging him to stop.
"Do you have any inkling of how worried Louis and I were? And Claudia?"
I clenched the underside of the stool harder, my hands sweaty and cramping, sobbing my heart out. The front collar of my shirt steadily chafed at my neck area, which grew hot and uncomfortable, but I couldn't loosen Lestat's grip.
The umpteenth lick landed and I howled. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Stop!"
Again, it smacked down. My backside was burning, and then he hit my thin, dirty legs. Unable to produce any decent scream out of a raspy throat, I threw my right hand back on impulse, causing him to break his fluid whipping motions, a big no-no. Almost as instantly as I had lost control of that arm I drew it back beneath my chest, waiting for another proverbial axe to fall, praying he wouldn't make me do it...
"Hands behind your back," he ordered dangerously. I whimpered, tears streaming from my cheeks.
"No, Lestat,"I moaned helplessly.
"Now," he repeated. Swallowing back bile, I pulled my hands from beneath the warm safety of my gut and put them behind my back, slowly opening them up. They were, I'm grateful, free of injury. He wouldn't have discriminated. I had only a nanosecond to register the cane slicing through the air again before a blazing stripe of pure stinging pain erupted along my soft palms. My jaw seemed to pull itself shut, my teeth clenched.
"You must learn to control your impulses," he scolded harshly, smacking my hands again, a punishment for trying to end my punishment. Where I'd seen a few parents simply warn a child against doing it again, Lestat was never one for warnings. Arguably, this made him a right tyrant, and it was true, he could be my loving father one minute and my worst fear the next, but his methods were key in my learning this lifestyle, and I knew nothing else.
Nevertheless, I yelped loudly as the rattan switch once again smacked my backside, reigniting the fire there that had begun to quell during the assault on my hands, which fell limply over the sides of the stool as I retracted them. My tears seemed spent - they were falling more slowly, now only a trickle out of my green eyes.
"This will not happen again," Lestat issued, slowly enunciating each word with a biting lick from the tip of the cane, eliciting a few final sobs and whimpers from me before I was demanded an answer to show I understood.
"Y'sir," I choked out. Much to my dismay, as soon as that final syllable had crossed my lips and I heard the horrible instrument of my pain clattering to the wooden floorboards, my floodgates opened once more and my vision clouded with a deluge of tears. I sobbed heavily, sorrowfully, deeply, and long. My backside was on fire, and I was in such trouble, but that was over and I was home. I was home. Lestat's threats-of-punishment always, always frightened the life out of me, and he always made good on them, but only because I always gave him reason to. I didn't know what I was thinking when I ran away, just that it would be better to be on my own. Turns out, braving the outside world that way frightened me more than anything he could dish out, and though I'll admit I would rather be sitting in a dark alley eating rats than lying over a stool getting whipped, the former held no promise of life, or love. A caning wasn't worse than that. It was bad, but it wasn't worse. At worst, I wouldn't be sitting for another day or two, comfortably, and I was going to be confined to my room or chaperoned for another month, but what was that in the scheme of forever? 'Course, I'd probably have to endure hundreds more whippings – vampires don't die or age, I'll always be Lestat's child, and I'm a slow learner when it comes to behaving, but running away, that was the worst thing I'd ever done, and I felt scared, alone, and ashamed more than anything. The moment that cane hit the floor, so did all my preconceived ugly notions about my life and my family, all my guilt, and all my shame. It was over.
So I cried, longer and harder than I ever have before. I cried, and the fabric of my tunic softened as Lestat's strong hand found its way up and down my back. I cried, but I have never felt so relieved.