Andrew lay motionless in bed, the first weak light of dawn shining through the blinds, illuminating the solid form of the slumbering man beside him. Trying to gauge how deeply asleep his partner was, he stole a quick sideways glance at him, holding his breath as if Rick would awaken at the sound of his exhaling. When he was certain that Rick was soundly asleep, he carefully eased himself out of bed, making sure he didn’t make any noise whatsoever. Gathering up his jeans and shirt from the chair where he’d discarded them the night before, he crept towards the door.
“Morning, Andy,” the deep voice rumbled. “Where are you off to this early?”
Damn. His shoulders slumped, Andrew turned to face his partner. “I’m just going for a ride,” he said casually, his feet continuing an optimistic shuffle closer to the door.
Keeping his own tone light, Rick said, “You must have forgotten, Andy. We’re doing the books this morning. Remember?”
Remember? thought Andrew dejectedly. As if that wasn’t the reason he was going riding at the crack of dawn. “Later, okay?” he coaxed. “I don’t want to waste such a nice morning inside.”
“Tell you what,” Rick offered, sitting up in bed to run a hand sleepily through his dark hair. “After we finish, we can take a ride together.”
Normally Andrew would have jumped at the chance to go riding with his partner but since it involved hours of boredom first, he couldn’t help but grimace. “Aw, shit, Rick,” he gave up any sign of pretense and moaned openly. “I hate paperwork.”
“I know,” said Rick with genuine sympathy. “But it has to be done.”
“Well, you could do it by yourself,” Andrew suggested, scowling. “I’m useless at it.”
“You’re ‘useless’ because that’s the way you want it, Andy. I’m not buying it anymore. And you need to know what’s going on. You’re going to do your share of the accounts, starting today,” Rick said firmly, sitting up at the side of their bed.
Throwing his clothes down on the chair, Andrew swore angrily.
“You can have the shower first, sunshine,” Rick offered wryly. “Give that mouth of yours a scrub while you’ve got the soap out.”
Andrew glowered at his partner who remained unmoved by his show of bad temper.
“Shower, Andy,” ordered Rick. “And lose the attitude.” Andrew stood motionless, caught between surrender and continuing the argument, until Rick stood up, crossing his arms over his imposing bare chest and fixed him with a meaningful look. Having played this game a few times before, Andrew acknowledged that Rick had the patience of a rock while his own nerves quickly frayed, dooming him to lose any stand off. He sighed plaintively in defeat and trudged towards the bathroom, giving his partner a wide berth in case he deemed his small rebellion worthy of a swat. When he was drying himself off after his shower, Rick came into the room. “Can you start the chores while I shower, Andy? We’ll get straight to the books after breakfast.”
“Sure,” agreed Andy, happy that he at least would be outside for a while and a bit embarrassed at his earlier belligerence. “Sorry for being miserable,” he added quietly.
“Okay,” said Rick, hugging Andrew in passing and giving his bare backside a playful smack. “It won’t be so bad, Andy. It’s nothing to get so worked up about.”
Not convinced, Andrew gave a dubious nod and hastened to dress, wanting as much time outside as he could. Dragging out the chores as long as possible, he wasn’t surprised when Rick eventually came out to the barn to find him.
“Breakfast’s ready,” Rick said cheerfully, ignoring the fact Andrew should have finished the chores a good while ago.
“I’m almost done,” hedged Andrew, fiddling with a saddle that needed repairs.
“Breakfast is ready,” Rick repeated, more firmly this time. “That saddle can wait until later.”
Grudgingly, Andrew placed the saddle on the rack and wiped his dirty hands on a rag. He trailed his partner to the house, stopping to play with the dogs that bounded up to greet him, before resuming his leisurely walk.
Too hungry to drag out eating, Andrew finished his breakfast but lingered over his cup of coffee. Finally, Rick said, “Bring that with you if you’re not done, Andrew.” Out of excuses and ideas, he followed his partner to their office.
Pulling up an extra chair in front of the computer, Rick nodded to Andrew to take a seat. His strong fingers moved nimbly over the keyboard, typing in passwords to access the accounts. “The password is Angus for the cattle spreadsheets,” explained Rick, as a grid popped onto the screen in front of them. “For the wheat, it’s Durum.”
Andrew tried half-heartedly to focus on what Rick was saying but he let his mind wander after a few minutes. While he was a more than adequate student at school, he was always restless in the confines of the classroom and only attended the bare minimum of classes he needed to graduate. His parents, when notified of his absences, had simply shrugged and left their head-strong son to sort it out to his own satisfaction. The rodeo circuit had suited him well, there were little of the demands he disliked and plenty of the physical work he enjoyed. The ranch was a totally different proposition. Their operation was complex and Andrew mentally shied away from learning more about it, much preferring Rick to handle everything that involved major decisions.
Noticing Andrew’s distant expression, Rick cleared his throat and waited until he had his partner’s grudging attention before continuing again. He held it for a few scant minutes before Andrew got to his feet, yawning, “I need more coffee,” he stated bluntly, grabbing his empty cup. “Do you want some too?”
Frowning at the interruption, Rick said, “No, thanks, Andy. And don’t be long; this will take us all day, at this rate.”
“Okay,” he agreed. He went to the kitchen and filled his mug with the still-warm coffee, stopping at the window to gaze longingly out at the sunny yard. The insistent sound of his name being called drew him back to reality and reluctantly he returned to the office.
Rick tapped the screen with a pencil, showing him where the expenses were recorded. He sighed when his fidgety partner got to his feet again a few minutes later, “I have to pee. All that coffee,” Andrew shrugged as he headed for the door.
When he didn’t return, Rick went looking for him. He knocked on the bathroom door, demanding, “Andy, are you all right?”
The door opened to reveal Andrew in the middle of rearranging the medicine cabinet. “This really needed to be straightened out,” he explained lamely, holding up an empty aspirin bottle.
His exasperation evident, Rick nearly growled, “Andrew.”
“I just…” started Andrew, self-righteously.
“You’re just trying to get me to give up, that’s what you’re doing. But let me tell you something, Andy, that’s not going to happen,” Rick said grimly. “This is far too important for me to let you off. You need some help settling down? Fine. I’ll spank you and then we’ll do the books.”
Andrew was startled by Rick’s determination; this wasn’t the way this was supposed to go at all. He had a vague idea that if he was as obstructive as possible, Rick would get discouraged enough to give up and release him from the unwanted responsibility. His failure to manipulate Rick stirred his own anger. “Okay. I’ll do the damn books with you,” he barked, slamming the cabinet doors with such force they reopened and spilled the contents onto the vanity.
Rick took his angry partner’s hand and held it for a moment, making a conscious effort to quiet his own anger and not react to Andrew’s provocation. “Calm down,” ordered Rick, waiting until he saw the other man take an unsteady breath and nod. “Clean up this mess and then come to the living room.”
A bit shaken at Rick’s words, Andrew picked up the scattered items, not daring to be deliberately slow in his work now. As actively as he seemed to be courting Rick’s displeasure this morning, it was still a shock to find he’d landed himself in real trouble.
He hesitated at the door of the living room, his eyes starting to prickle when he saw his partner sitting on the couch, the paddle already on the low table in front of him. Andrew waited until he was summoned with an outstretched hand and a soft, “Come here.”
“I’m sorry,” he said as soon as he sat down beside Rick. “I didn’t mean….”
“What did you mean, Andy?” Reaching out, he took his partner’s hand again. “Do you think it’s fair that I have to do all the accounts? That you don’t share in that responsibility?” he asked reasonably
“No,” Andrew admitted, his conscience pricking him uncomfortably. “But I’m just not good at it.”
“Because you don’t give yourself a chance, Andrew. Can you honestly tell me you were trying this morning?”
He’d only wanted to escape from a chore he didn’t enjoy but now he had painted himself into a corner and he was damned if he knew how to get out of it. “No,” he answered shakily. “But I don’t like it.”
“Well, that’s too bad, Andy because you’re going to do it,” Rick said resolutely. “We’re going to be doing the books together from now on. That’s the way it’s going to be. If you’re miserable and don’t even try to understand, like this morning, I’m going to spank you and we’ll still do the books. Whether I need to spank you, that’s up to you, but I’m holding you to doing your share.” He paused for a moment and then continued, “What if something happened to me, Andy? You wouldn’t be able to run the place.”
That was a thought too horrible to consider and Andrew withdrew his hand from Rick’s and crossed his arms over his stomach. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he said stiffly.
Softening his voice a little, Rick said, “I know you don’t Andy but that’s something we need to talk about. And we need to think about making out a will for both of us. It’s been worrying me.”
Realizing how unfair he’d been, leaving Rick to carry all the worries and responsibilities of both of their lives, Andrew flushed with shame. He wasn’t a child to be indulged; only doing the tasks that he liked and skirting the ones that he found difficult. “I’m sorry, Rick,” he said sincerely. “I’ll try.”
“Okay,” said Rick, pointing to the floor in front of him. “Let’s get this over with and we’ll get back to work.”
Andrew stood up unsteadily and stepped over to his partner, unbuckling his belt with trembling fingers. As much as he knew he deserved this, a spanking from Rick was not something to be taken lightly and he could already feel the skin of his bottom tingling in anticipation. Unable to continue he stopped with his hands gripping the waistband of his shorts, “I’ll try now. I will,” he begged, his eyes wide and pleading. “Please don’t spank me.”
“I’m not going to be manipulated, Andrew,” Rick said quietly. “It’s dishonest and unfair. When you have a problem, you discuss it with me and we can find a solution. You don’t try to control me by being stubborn and throwing tantrums.”
“Yes, sir,” Andrew said softly, his own guilt prompting him to push down his underwear and lower himself over Rick’s lap, where he tried, without much success, to make himself comfortable. He flinched reflexively when he felt Rick’s rough hand rest on his bottom. The warm hand lifted and returned a second later in a sharp slap across his left cheek, Andrew gasping at the pain. Many more of the hard swats joined the first, leaving his bottom hot and sore. He whined pitifully in protest when Rick stopped and Andrew knew he was picking up the paddle. The first stroke on the underside of his bottom caused him to struggle instinctively, attempting to escape from the burning sensation. “Ow, Rick!” he panted. “Ow!”
Holding Andrew tightly, Rick quickly laid down ten swats, leaving his partner sobbing his apologies. “Okay, we’re done,” he said, placing the paddle down on the table. His rough hand returned to gently rub the reddened bottom across his lap, while he spoke soft words of comfort to the crying man he held. When the desperate sobs had calmed somewhat, Rick lifted him and lying down on the couch, he arranged Andrew beside him.
Twisting his hands in his partner’s shirt, Andrew begged, “Please.”
“Please what, sweetheart?” Rick murmured, tightening his hold on him reassuringly.
“Please don’t go.”
“I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere,” Rick soothed but Andrew only cried harder. Realizing that their conversation had likely stirred unpleasant thoughts for his partner, and that the spanking had provided an outlet to express his worry, he said gently, “I’m a healthy, young guy, Andy. It’s not likely something’s going to happen but it’s important to plan for it.” It was a disturbing subject and Andrew’s fears ran too deep to be calmed so easily but it was something that couldn’t be avoided forever. Both men needed to get their legal house in order; they were too vulnerable without the protection of a will.
Andrew just pressed closer, crying himself out on Rick’s chest. When he was finally quiet, Rick kissed the top of his head and said, “Go and wash your face. I’ll meet you back in the office.”
It was a very subdued Andrew that joined him a short time later, sitting gingerly down on the chair in front of the computer. He listened attentively while Rick explained the bare essentials of their accounting system. A patient teacher, Rick made sure that Andrew understood fully before moving onto the next idea. It was a relief when he saw the spark in his partner’s eye when he grasped the concept. Slowly Andrew returned to his more animated self and when Rick saw him squirming, trying to relieve the pressure on his sore bottom, he suggested, “Let’s take a break.”
Looking uncertain, Andrew shook his head, “No, we need to finish this.”
“Hey,” teased Rick. “I’m the boss and I say it’s time for a break.” He stood up and grasped Andrew elbow, lifting him onto his feet too. Unconsciously, Andrew rubbed the seat of his jeans and then realizing what he was doing; he gave Rick a rueful grin. “Shit, that hurt.”
“It wasn’t worth it, was it?” asked Rick, reaching out to rub his own hand over Andrew’s smarting bottom.
“No,” agreed Andrew sheepishly. “Doing the accounts isn’t really that bad at all.” A look of regret passed over his face, knowing he’d be too sore to ride far and he said sadly, “I guess we won’t be going riding today.”
“Tomorrow,” Rick assured him. “We’ll take a lunch and ride as far as the river.” Wiggling his eyebrows suggestively he said, “I’ll pack a blanket too.”
Laughing at his partner’s uncharacteristic playfulness, Andrew said, “Well it is past May first.”
“What?” asked Rick, puzzled by Andrew’s reference.
“That stupid saying,” explained Andrew, rolling his eyes. “Hooray, Hooray. The first of May. Outdoor screwing starts today.”
“Hmm,” said Rick thoughtfully. “Here’s its June already. We’ve been wasting time, Andy!” He ducked when Andrew threw a pen at him and he wondered aloud, “When does outdoor screwing season end?”
Andrew didn’t bother to answer, just shook his head and went to start lunch.