Subject: "Cynthia's Financial Crisis-I (Oilbuckle)-m/f?, cons
From: oilbuckle@aol.com (Oilbuckle)
Date: 18 May 1998 21:01:16 -0700

Cynthia's Financial Crisis

by Gordon X. Oilbuckle

(This story involves the corporal punishment of pre-teen children. If the subject offends you or you are under 18, don't read it.) (This story takes place between sections of my previous story, "Cynthia and the Family Conference," immediately after the first section of Part 3.)

Even for the children whose parents could afford my school, the bell of the ice-cream truck on the days when it arrived at morning recess was a clarion call. We were permitted to leave the playground to go out to the street, and under normal circumstances Cynthia Benedetto was one of the first in line.

But circumstances weren't exactly normal on this particular day, shortly after my father's unexpected illness had led Cynthia's father, Gino Benedetto, to take me in at his house. It wasn't an easy time for Mr. Benedetto, especially since he was hosting an international Mafia conference at the time that had filled the house with underworld leaders from all over the world... and, even more unfortunate from Cynthia's and my point of view, with Cynthia's dreaded Aunt Joyce, who'd taken it upon herself to give her widowed brother some (in our view) completely unnecessary assistance in child-rearing. Already, on the occasion of Cynthia's accurately but undiplomatically comparing her aunt unfavorably to the hippopotamus at the zoo, I'd watched in horror as Joyce Benedetto had applied her hard wooden hairbrush vigorously to Cynthia's bare bottom, and had followed it up by demanding that her allowance be stopped. Cynthia had taken the former in stride, but was still indignant about the latter.

"I have to save my money until I can talk Dad into starting my allowance again," she explained as I followed her across the sparsely-populated playground. "Where the hell does Aunt Joyce get off, punishing me twice for the same thing?"

"Well, I can treat this time..." I began.

Cynthia shot me a look of horror. "And have half the school think we're going steady or something yucky like that? Not on your life! Besides, this is one of the few times the monkey bars aren't full of little kids." Usually it was the lower grades who congregated around the swings, slides and monkey bars, augmented by an occasional invasion from the upper grades or one of the few kids like Cynthia who made up their own rules. Admitting to myself that I still enjoyed using the sturdy playground swings, slide and monkey bars on occasion, not to mention the fact that my own allowance had been effectively stopped by Dad's illness and my finances were in almost as precarious a state as Cynthia's, I followed her toward them.

"But don't you have anything saved up?" I asked.

Cynthia sighed. "I spent a lot of it on Chairman Mao." Chairman Mao was the dog-a Chow Chow, she told me-she'd spent some large amount to liberate from the junkyard where he was being mistreated. "And most of the rest went to ads to find him a new family, before Dad finally let me keep him." She cast a regretful look at the faster second- and third-graders who had raced back from the ice-cream truck and beaten us to the the monkey bars. Cynthia could do routines on them that I'd seen surpassed only by the gymnasts two years before in the 1956 Olympics, but she wasn't about to elbow the little kids aside as, say, Porky Judson would have. Several of them were in line for the slide as well, but the swings were free, and I raced toward them.

"Wait, Lou!" Cynthia yelled as I was about to sit down. "Remember what happened to Walt Davis yesterday?"

Walt, a first-grader whose reading skills were unfortunately not yet developed enough to read the words WET and PAINT, had rushed to them before the teachers could stop him, and ended up with the seat of his pants dyed a permanent green. "I think it's dried by now," I said, touching the seat of the repainted swing gingerly.

"But it's been drizzling most of the morning," Cynthia pointed out. "Even if it looks dry, do you want to risk getting your butt covered with green paint for the rest of the day?"

I hesitated. "I guess not. Do you?"

Cynthia grinned. "That's one of the few advantages to a dress!" She walked over to one of the swings and flipped up the back of hers before plopping down on the seat. "It's no big deal if I get paint on my undies... I'll have to get some new ones soon, anyway." She began to pump her legs, as I debated with myself whether to join her. "Give me a push, why don't you?"

I got behind her and gave her back a shove, pushing as hard as I could since Cynthia was older and heavier than I was. "At least my dad still pays for my clothes," she went on. "If you got your clothes stained, you won't have anyone to pay for them unless... er, until your dad gets better."

I didn't like the course the conversation was taking at all, and tried to change the subject. "Surely there's some way we can get more money, Cynthia!" I protested. "Your dad can't cut you off forever!"

Cynthia reflected as my pushing and her pumping carried her farther and farther up with each swing. "Then we'll just have to get money the way other kids do, won't we? By earning it."

The actual nuts and bolts of earning a living were foreign to me as they were to most children of my age and economic class. I had a vague notion of what my father did for a living, and, mostly from watching "The Untouchables," a heavily romanticized view of Cynthia's father's business. But a ten-year-old boy running an importing company was almost as much of a stretch of the imagination as an eleven-year-old girl masterminding a crime syndicate, so I realized at once that some other line of business wouls have to be considered. "You know anyone who works, Cynthia? I mean anyone our age?"

Cynthia was swinging so high now that I had to step back so her rear end wouldn't hit me in the face. "No, don't stop pushing, Lou. I want to see if I can swing completely around the bar... No, everyone here gets a pretty big allowance, and except for a couple of eighth-graders... wait a minute! I think Jessica told me she babysits sometimes."

It made sense to me. Even I knew that the state legislature, on which Jessica's father sat, didn't pay its members anything like the kind of money Cynthia's dad or mine brought in. "That might work. But would anyone hire us to babysit?"

"I'll ask Jessica. A bit harder this time, OK?" Her dress was flying up as she began her downswing, and I felt strangely excited each time I reached up to give the seat of Cynthia's panties a firm shove. But I was also becoming increasingly irritated that, although no paint seemed to be coming off on them, she made no move to let me have a turn... and several second- through fourth-graders had quickly claimed the remaining swings before I could.

"Uh, Cynthia?" I began after a few more swings. "Any chance I could have a turn?"

"Just a few more, OK?" She was still pumping as hard as ever when the bell rang that announced we had only two minutes before we had to be back in class. "Oops, too late. Well, you can go this afternoon."

Cynthia would be playing baseball that afternoon and wouldn't be able to use the swings, never mind pushing me. As she reached the apex of her final swing and began to descend, I lifted both my hands and gave her a final hard swat on her panties.

But she only turned back and grinned. "Why couldn't you have pushed me that hard before? If you had, I would've got all the way around!" As she reluctantly braked to a stop, I threw my hands in the air and headed back toward the school building.

At lunch that day, Cynthia and I took our customary table as she relayed the newest development. "Well, I talked to Jessica and she doesn't have any extra customers. BUT... Friday night there were two mothers who wanted her, so she had to turn down one of them. She's going to see if they'll let me sit."

"Who's that?"

Cynthia made a face. "Charity Randolph's mother. But what the hell, we've got to start somewhere!"

I was tempted to quote Tonto's line to The Lone Ranger from a recent issue of MAD magazine; "What do you mean we, paleface?" Charity was a talkative second-grader whom both of us often found, to put it mildly, a royal pain in the posterior when, as she frequently did, she got on a roll. But, as Cynthia had said, we had to start *somewhere."

She called Mrs. Randolph from her room that night to make the arrangements, as I sat nearby and listened. "No, this isn't the first time I've ever babysat," she lied. "Well, there's this one little kid I've looked after for quite awhile," she said. "Yes, I know, but he can be a handful sometimes, too. No, I'm afraid he's only got one parent living, and he's... out tonight."

I suddenly realized who she was talking about. "Who's a little kid?" I said indignantly as soon as she hung up.

Cynthia shrugged. "You're littler than me, right? They never like it if you don't have any experience, and that makes it especially hard when you're the youngest kid even in the extended family. Like me." She cast me a meaningful glance. "Or you. You are coming along Friday night, aren't you? It should be a lot of fun!"

"No thanks, Tom. I wouldn't think of taking your whitewashing fun away from you."

She glared. "Just my luck to get someone who's actually read the year's reading list. Maybe I'll get Porky Judson to go with me."

I spluttered. "Porky? He'd be a disaster at babysitting, even if he and Charity do deserve each other. Besides, won't he have read the reading list too."

"He never does!" scoffed Cynthia. "And I'm sure he'd find Tom Sawyer much too hard going. Come to think of it, he'd find Yertle the Turtle much too hard going."

"Well, if I come, shouldn't I get half the money?"

"A third. Since I arranged this, and I'm older." She wouldn't budge, so, figuring that a third of the money was better than none at all, I finally agreed.

* * *

Since this was the first actual work either of us had ever done in our lives, Cynthia said we should wear our school clothes to look more professional, and that we should be early. So, even though we'd been told to come at six o'clock, it was twenty minutes before six when Feranti, Mr. Benedetto's chauffeur, dropped us off in front of the Randolph home Friday evening.

I hesitantly followed Cynthia toward the door, but she suddenly put her finger to her lips as loud voices began to emerge from the house. I leaned close as she whispered to me, "I don't think this is the best time for us to show up."

"What's going on?"

"You'll see," she whispered. Crouching, she made her way slowly around to the side of the house and, with me following, hung back so we could see inside a first-floor window. Mrs. Randolph was scrubbing vigorously at a suit jacket with an immense stain on the front at the same time she was trying to wipe down an equally stained bedspread on with the other. Mr. Randolph, wearing a white shirt, tie, and pants that matched the jacket, held an empty Coke bottle in one hand and the arm of a sobbing Charity in the other as he glared down at her with a furious expression.

"Charity, WHAT did I tell you about bringing your drinks into OUR bedroom?" demanded Mr. Randolph. "AND about being CAREFUL with them?"

"I didn't mean to, Daddy!" wailed Charity. "I just wanted to see that suit you had all laid out, an' I was just feelin' how soft the jacket was, an' all of a sudden the bottle tipped, an'... She burst into a fresh round of sobs, and both Cynthia and I could see she was in big trouble.

"Now I'll have to find ANOTHER suit that'll fit me!" fumed Mr. Randolph. "The green one isn't nearly as good, but it'll have to do. Can you get it for me, Amanda?" he asked his wife. "I have a naughty little girl to attend to." I gasped, suddenly realizing what he no doubt meant, and Cynthia jabbed me in the ribs to quiet me.

Charity evidently realized it to. "NOOO! Not a spankin', please, Daddy! I'll never bring my drink in your room again!"

"You most certainly won't, young lady!" snapped Mr. Randolph, sitting down in a chair and drawing Charity up and over his knee.

"Mommy..." whined Charity to the departing Mrs. Randolph, but her mother only cast her an indignant look as she swept out. Mr. Randolph lifted the back of his sobbing daughter's party dress, revealing a pair of white panties that, I couldn't help but notice, were a lot cleaner than Cynthia's. Then, to my even greater shock, rather than swatting her, he reached up and began to pull her panties down.

I began to turn away, suddenly embarrassed, but Cynthia nudged me. "What's the matter? This should be good! I don't remember your being so squeamish about watching when I was the one getting her hide tanned!"

"Yeah, but..." Somehow, it felt like more of an invasion of privacy in Charity's case. I didn't know her nearly as well, for one thing. Also, Cynthia had never been a particularly modest girl, especially with her close friends. But even though she was four years younger than Cynthia, Charity got upset every time she thought some boy had so much as seen her panties. The idea that Cynthia and especially I might see her get a spanking, particularly on her bare bottom, would have been devastating to her, so I promised myself I'd never let her know what we'd seen.

Now Charity was protesting, "I'm awful sorry I went in, Daddy! OWW!" she screamed as Mr. Randolph brought his hand down hard on her left cheek.

"Are you ever going to bring your drinks in my room again, Charity?" scolded her father, as he gave her a second swat on her right cheek.

"NOOO!" wailed Charity. "But you do all the time! OW! Stop it, Daddy!"

"I'M a grownup. And I'll stop when I'm good and ready and not before, Charity!" snapped Mr. Randolph, contining to alternate spanks on both sides of his wailing daughter's bare bottom, as she continued to wail and plead with him.

"Interesting technique," whispered Cynthia.

"She's yelling a lot more than you usually do," I agreed. Cynthia usually seemed to consider a spanking an endurance test, trying to keep her mouth shut as long as she could. "But I don't think all that whining's going to do any good, though," I added. "He's too mad about that suit."

It almost seemed to me that Cynthia blushed, but I couldn't tell for sure in the dim light. "Well, the daughter of a Don has some dignity to maintain, even when getting her hide tanned. But I was thinking more of her Dad's technique. He never hits her in the same place twice in a row. Mine just whacks my butt in the same place over and over, 'til I can't sit down."

"Well, his hands are a lot bigger than Mr. Randolph's. You don't think it'd hurt as much the other way?"

"Now that I think of it, it might. It sure as hell hurts a lot more when Aunt Joyce does that with her hairbrush, but it's a lot harder than anyone's hand, and it hurts me a lot more. You'd just better stay away from her."

I shuddered and agreed. Mr. Randolph had stopped spanking Charity, but still held her face down over his lap as he continued to scold her. "Now, you keep your food in the kitchen and living room from now on, you hear?"

"I promise!" sobbed Charity. "I really dooo!"

"Fine!" said Mr. Randolph. He gave Charity a final swat... not too hard, but she still winced... and then pulled her panties up and rubbed them vigorously. "Now that's my good little girl! He lifted her off his lap and give her a kiss and a hug. "Now go out and wait for Cynthia."

Charity eagerly ran out, giving her bottom a final rub. "Time we got out of here!" whispered Cynthia. "Let's go down the block and come back, so they won't know we were here!"

"How can parents do that all the time?" I asked Cynthia as we strolled to the end of the street. "I'd hate mine if they ever hit me!"

"But they punish you in other ways when you need it, right? You told me how you never did get to see that 'Davy Crockett' show several years back, 'cause you'd broken your mom's best china plate. Wouldn't it have been better to get get your butt warmed and have it over with!"

"No!" I protested. "It wouldn't have been worth that!"

Cynthia shrugged. "But you can tell Charity's dad still loves her. He hugged her even though he probably wanted to strangle her, 'cause she probably ruined that suit. What's really bad about Aunt Joyce is that she's never hugged me. Usually she just shoves me in a corner and screams at me, and then she sometimes punishes me in some other way. Like that stopped allowance," she added in a grim tone.

We'd reached the house, and Cynthia rang the doorbell. Mrs. Randolph answered it, and Charity squealed in delight as she saw Cynthia. Mrs. Randolph gave me a puzzled look as I came in. "But who's..."

"I asked if I could bring a friend, remember?" replied Cynthia. "This is Lou Remarra. He's in my class, and we'd agreed we'd study together tonight." She warned me with a glance not to contradict her.

"Well, I guess it's all right..." Mrs. Randolph began. She still seemed a bit uncertain, but the arrival of her husband in his slightly tight-fitting green suit brought that topic to a close. They told us we were welcome to anything in the refrigerator and where everything was, and then departed.

Cynthia rubbed her hands together as soon as the Randolphs' car had disappeared around the bend. "What do you say we have some popcorn?" she said. "And watch Douglas Edwards?" Charity made a face, but Cynthia insisted. "Come on, it'll be fun. You can't believe some of the things on the news..."

Charity only continued to sniffle. "Is there something wrong?"

Suddenly she burst out sobbing. "I got a spankin'! And I didn't mean to do anything wrong! I just took a look at Daddy's suit, and then my Coke was all over it, and then Daddy spanked me! An' I heard Mommy say the suit was prob'ly ruined!"

Cynthia put her arm around her. "It's all right. Your daddy can afford a new suit, and he's forgiven you. And he... I mean, I'll bet you didn't get it nearly as bad as I did when I broke my dad's statue last fall! Now that was something expensive, but he forgave me. But you can bet he tanned my hide good for it!"

Charity looked at her in awe. "But you're a big girl! It prob'ly didn't hurt you as much!"

"Wanna bet? My dad's not so bad, but my Aunt Joyce is terrible! She's got this big hairbrush she uses on me whenever I look at her the wrong way. I'll bet I've still got bruises from when she used it a few days ago!"

"But I'll bet it still didn't hurt as much!"

"Wanna see?" asked Cynthia. Charity squealed in delight, and suddenly looked over at me as her face reddened. "We can go in the bathroom," Cynthia added. I couldn't tell if I was relieved or disappointed as they went into the bathroom and closed the door. I knew Cynthia well enough to realize she was fully capable of displaying her bruises to either of us, but, in some strange way, maybe not both of us at the same time.

"I don't see any bruises!" Charity was giggling from inside the bathroom.

"Well, I've got a tough butt," replied Cynthia. "All girls do... they're really tougher there than boys are."

"Really?" squealed Charity dubiously. "It still hurts..."

"Really! We're a lot tougher around there than boys are, 'cause boys are never going to have babies. And your butt's not nearly as red as it... it must've been when your dad spanked you. In fact, I'll tell you what always helps me. Is there an icebag around your house?"


"You know... a hot water bottle?"

"I don't know," said Charity, as I heard the two girls pulling up their clothes. The door opened.

"See if you can find an icebag, Lou!" Cynthia directed, but looking in the obvious places didn't turn up any.

"We'll have to improvise," said Cynthia. She led the way into the kitchen and got some ice cubes out of the freezer. Then she filled a medium-sized plastic bowl with them and returned to the living room. She looked approvingly at the plastic covering on the couch. "Perfect!" she said. "We wouldn't want to ruin anything else tonight. Now just park your butt in there, and the pain will be gone in no time!"

"But I'll get my..my panties all wet!" protested Charity. She suddenly cast an embarrassed look in my direction.

Cynthia turned to me and rolled her eyes in frustration. "So pull 'em down first. That's what I do. The ice feels even better on your bare butt."

"Not in front of Lou!"

Cynthia sighed. "He's not going to see anything. Lou, just look away for a bit, OK? Now..." I heard her fumbling with Charity's clothes... "we'll just slip the undies down, and put you..there!" I could hear Charity gasp in relief as she sat inside the plastic bowl. "Now," continued Cynthia, "we'll just fix your dress so, and nobody'll see anything. You can turn around now, Lou."

I turned around and moved over to sit on the sofa next to Charity, who was seated with her dress carefully arranged to cover her bare bottom and the plastic bowl she was sitting in completely. Her panties were around her knees, and Charity suddenly stiffened as I caught a glimpse of them.

"But he can still see my panties!" protested Charity.

Cynthia snorted. "So what? They're not even covering anything to speak of now... and what's the big deal about 'em anyway?" She turned away from us, bent over, and flipped up the back of her dress to display her own to both of us. "You tell me... what do my undies show that a bathing suit doesn't?"

Charity gasped. She stammered, "But it's different for you! I'm a girl, too, and Lou's your boyfriend..."

Cynthia straightened up and whirled around in exasperation. "He is not my boyfriend! He's a boy and a friend, that's all! Got that?"

Charity cringed back. "I didn't mean anything, Cynthia! It's just that... Mommy was a bit afraid we'd have the same thing happen that did with Samantha!"

Samantha Elton was a high-school girl who often sat for the younger kids in our neighborhood, myself included. "What happened with Samantha?" asked Cynthia, flopping into the armchair next to the sofa.

Charity leaned forward, delighted to share a confidence, her spanking forgotten. "Well, last time she sat for me, she invited her boyfriend Dave over after Mommy and Daddy were gone. They sat on the couch most of the evening, hugging and kissing." Cynthia grimaced and rolled her eyes at me. "And then they went upstairs and took off their clothes and got into Mommy and Daddy's big waterbed together! They told me to call them when I saw Daddy's car, but I... fell asleep, and the next thing I knew Daddy was screaming at them. Ever since then, I've got much younger girls to sit for me, like Jessica and you. But I thought maybe you'd brought your boyfriend, too..."

Cynthia shuddered. "I am not going to hug and kiss anyone, except maybe my dad!" Lou's my friend, and he's here to study with me! Nothing more!"

Charity looked almost disappointed. "You mean you're not going up to the big bed tonight? Mommy and Daddy never let me on it, but Samantha and Dave did! It's full of water, and it's a lot of fun to bounce on, and..."

Cynthia clenched her fists. "We are not! There's no way Lou and I are ever going to go to bed together!"

I echoed her thoughts. "Especially after Mt. Ackersley..." Cynthia and I had once been crammed into a small bunk bed together at her family's mountain retreat, and she'd seemed to be all elbows and knees. It wasn't an experience I cared to repeat.

Suddenly Cynthia slugged me on the arm, for no reason that I could see. "Not ever!" she hissed, as much at me as at Charity. "Lou, why don't you make yourself useful and make some popcorn in the kitchen, while I get a towel and dry off Charity's butt?"

* * *

The rest of the evening was uneventful. Charity was a perfect angel for once, and let us take her up to bed at eight o'clock without any fussing. I waited outside while Cynthia helped her into her pajamas, then came in to say good-night as Cynthia was tucking her in.

"You'll be a good mother someday, Cynthia," I said as we walked down the stairs.

She glared at me. "Not a chance, Lou! I'd be dreadful at it. Turn the TV back on, OK? There's supposed to be a good movie on tonight."

The Randolphs got home around 11:30, and Mr. Randolph paid Cynthia while his wife went upstairs to check on Charity. The Benedetto house wasn't far, but Mr. Randolph insisted on driving us home since it was so late. "Great job!" he said as he started his car. "It's good to know some kids are still reliable! Say, you wouldn't know anyone who mows lawns, would you?"

I started to reply in the negative, but Cynthia broke in, "It just so happens we do! Is next Monday OK?"

He looked a bit doubtful, but finally agreed to give us a try. As Cynthia unlocked the door to her house, I said, "That was a good idea! But have you ever mowed a lawn before? My dad always hires a landscaper to have it done."

"Scalia does ours." Scalia was the Benedettos' live-in gardner and handyman; his wife was their cook. "But, like I said, there's a first time for everything."

"But why Monday? We'll have to do it right after school! Tomorrow's Saturday, why not then?"

"Because Scalia will be using the mower on our lawn tomorrow." The Benedetto estate covered over twenty acres, so it would be an extensive job. "Besides, that'll give us time to get more customers over the weekend."

It seemed reasonable. I said good-night to Cynthia as we parted at the doors to our bedrooms.

The next day was Saturday, so Cynthia and I canvassed the houses between hers and the Randolphs to try to find other people willing to pay $10 to have their lawns mowed. It went slowly at first, so we split up and covered both sides of the next block separately, and the next. By the time we were halfway to the Randolph house, I'd signed up three customers, but Cynthia had only one.

I picked up another "Yes" on the following block, and suddenly Cynthia pounded her fist into her hand. "Lou, do me a favor. Ask at that house..." she indicated one she'd already visited "...if they want their lawn mowed."

I couldn't see the point, but I did so, and to my amazement they agreed to let me do it. "I thought so!" said Cynthia in an angry but vindicated tone. "A lot of people have imaginations so limited that they can't imagine hiring a girl to mow their lawn. You're younger, but you're a boy, so you have a better chance. So from now on, you'll do the asking, and I'll do the actual mowing." I did so, then turned around and asked at several other houses Cynthia had visited, and by the time we got back home we had eight lawns to mow, including the Randolphs'.

"I think that's enough for one day," said Cynthia. "Especially since we'll have to do it all after school."

"Will we have enough time? Some of those lawns are pretty big!"

"More than enough. It's May, so it doesn't get dark until almost 8:30. And Dad and most of his guests will be in the city until late, so we can just ask Mrs. Scalia for dinner whenever we get home, no questions asked. Piece of cake, if you'll pardon the expression."

"You're sure?"

"The only trouble's the first one. Mrs. Webster's having a garden party at 4:30, so we have less than an hour and a half to get home from school and get her lawn mowed before that. We'd better ride our bikes in for once, to save time.

I'd brought my bike over from my own house after it became clear that I'd be staying with the Benedettos for a while. So I agreed. I just hoped she was right.

Monday after school, Charity Randolph followed Cynthia out, jabbering away about her weekend. "Daddy says you and Lou are going to mow our lawn!" she squealed delightedly. "Mommy's picking me up. Why don't you ride home with us?"

Cynthia sighed. "We have to do the Websters' first, and then the Krumrines' and several others. 'Sides, we need to get our lawnmower first." Charity's face fell; that hadn't occurred to her.

We lost no time in unlocking her bikes and getting on them. Charity watched disapprovingly as Cynthia swung her leg over the bar of the boy's bike she insisted on riding, but, remembering at the last minute what Cynthia had said before about bathing suits, mercifully remained quiet for once as we rode away.

Once home, we lost no time in storing our bikes in the garage, then ran next door to the tool shed in which Scalia kept the lawnmower he used. Cynthia pulled out a keyring and fumbled at the locked door.

"What's the matter?" I said as I looked at my watch. We had only a few minutes to get to the Webster house, so we hadn't had time to have our usual afternoon snack or change our clothes. "Having trouble with the key?"

"No, I tried it out yesterday!" said Cynthia. "It's just that the shed is bolted now!"

"Don't you have a key to the bolt, too?" I took a closer look at Cynthia's keyring, which looked like none I'd ever seen before. She muttered a four-letter word under her breath and continued to fumble at the lock. "Maybe I should ask Scalia for one..."

"NO!" retorted Cynthia. She gave up on the lock and strode around to the side of the toolshed. "That window won't be bolted. If I lift you up, can you wriggle through it and unbolt the door?"

"I guess so," I said as Cynthia crouched down and I climbed on her back. As she stood against the wall, I used it for balance as I raise myself to her shoulders. "Uh... you *did get Scalia's permission to use the mower?" In sudden realization, I added, "Didn't you?"

"Never mind that now, Lou. Can you get the window open?"

I examined it. "No, I think it's locked."

Cynthia sighed so heavily I almost lost my balance, and I hastily scrambled down. "You'd better... no, there's no way you could learn to use a picklock in three minutes. You'll have to lift me up there."

I knew I was getting into increasing hot water every minute, but I found myself bending down as Cynthia climbed onto my back. As she wrapped her legs around my shoulders, her dress fell over my eyes, blinding me completely as I staggered under her greater weight. "Now get over to the wall so I can climb... AAAH!" she said as we ran into it. We both tumbled into a heap on the ground.

"Maybe we'd better give up on the Websters..." I began as Cynthia rubbed the knee she'd skinned on the toolshed wall.

"No way!" retorted Cynthia. "It's just that a dress is the most impractical type of clothing imaginable for anyone who wants to do anything!" As she spoke, she was gathering hers up and shoving it into the front of her panties, then shoving the rest of it inside at the sides and back. Climbing on my shoulders once more, she directed me to the toolshed wall again, and this time, by bracing myself hard against it, I managed to bear Cynthia's weight as she transferred her feet to my shoulders.

She gave a sigh of relief. "Just a simple lock. Damn!" she said as she suddenly reached down and lowered her panties a few inches. Fumbling around with her bunched dress, her hand emerged with the ring of special keys. "Forgot the picklocks!" Pulling up her panties again with a decisive snap of elastic, she set to work on the window lock as I tried to look at my watch again.

After what seemed like hours, she triumphantly pulled the pane open, tossed the picklocks to the ground, and grasped the sill with both hands. Then she jumped upward, which knocked me sprawling to the ground. I looked up to see Cynthia desperately trying to get her shoulders inside the window.

"Quick! Give me a push!" she yelled. I reached up and gave the bulging seat of her panties a shove with both hands, even harder than I'd done on the swings a few days before. Cynthia grunted, but managed to use the momentum to get her chest and waist through the window. She balanced on the sill for a few seconds, her dress beginning to bulge out of her panties as both her legs kicked wildly, then overbalanced and fell inside. There was a crash of garden implements and a yowl of pain as Cynthia landed.

"Are you all right, Cynthia?" I called, genuinely concerned.

"I'm fine!" came the reply from inside. "Don't forget to put those picklocks in your pocket!" I obeyed.

I heard the lawnmower starting up, and the roar increasing as Cynthia brought it over to the door. "Gotcha!" she said triumphantly as the bolt moved back. "Now you can open the door!"

No sooner had I done so than, to my amazement, Cynthia came tearing out as if she were on a motorcycle. "It's a riding mower!" I exclaimed.

"Lou, you have an amazing way of noticing the obvious!" said Cynthia as I closed the door again. She indicated the space right behind the driver's seat, and I hopped on and wrapped my arms around her waist as she roared down the Benedetto driveway and into the street.

"I'll have to allow us a little more time when we do this again!" said Cynthia as she zoomed around a corner. "We could've used a chance to change our clothes. But some people say a dress looks more professional, anyway."

"Maybe," I pointed out, "it'd look a bit more professional if you pulled it out of your panties."

It wasn't the best time to mention it. Cynthia promptly let go of the left handlebar in order to pull the front of her dress out of her underpants, and, to my horror, hiked herself up just as we were rounding the corner to the Websters' street in order to extricate the fabric in the rear. I hung on desperately, but nearly fell off. "Can't we slow down a bit, Cynthia?"

Cynthia snorted as she zipped through a stop sign. "I told her we'd be there five minutes ago!"

We sputtered to a stop in front of our first customers' house. Cynthia hopped off and shook her dress so it fell down reasonably presentably before ringing the bell. "Benedetto & Remarra Lawn Care Service here!" she announced proudly. "Anything we need to know?"

"Cut everything but the flowers over by the back wall," Mrs. Webster told us. "You're sure you can use that thing?"

"We've had plenty of practice!" lied Cynthia as we walked back toward the mower and got on. Cynthia fiddled with the various controls after Mrs. Webster had gone back inside, and then went back over our previous path until everything looked perfect.

The rest of the lawn went quickly, and we finished with eight minutes to spare. Mrs. Webster beamed as she paid Cynthia, adding an extra dollar to the $10 she'd promised us. "I'll let you know when I need it done again!"

"That's $5.50 each!" I said as Cynthia steered the mower toward the Krumrine house.

"Not a chance! I'm doing the work and providing the mower, so you get a quarter of it this time!"

"But I got most of the customers, Cynthia!"

We hashed it out as Cynthia steered the mower across the Krumrine lawn, and eventually settled on the same division of the money as for the babysitting... a third to me and the rest to Cynthia. At the rate we continued to do the next few lawns, I reasoned that even a third of $80 plus tips, which was worth a lot more in 1958 than it is now, would give me spending money for awhile.

It was close to seven in the evening that we reached the home of Charity and her parents. "Just mow as far back as the stone wall," said Mrs. Randolph, and asked if we'd eaten yet. "Would you like to stay for dinner?"

Cynthia cast a glance at Charity, who was eagerly babbling and clutching her new Mr. Moose doll. "Uh, we have to do the O'Flahertys' lawn after yours, and it's almost dark," she said. "But thanks anyway"

Charity looked disappointed. So did Mrs. Randolph. "But can't I at least make you some sandwiches?"

"Yes, that'd be nice. Thanks! But don't put any mayonnaise on Lou's; he can't stand it."

I sat on the stone wall to eat my two sandwiches while Cynthia mowed the front yard. "Want to give it a try?" she asked as she rode up to me "It's a lot of fun once you get the hang of it!"

It was Tom Sawyer's old trick again, but I didn't mind. It did look fun to run that lawnmower. So I hopped on and started across the back yard.

"Maybe," I told Cynthia a bit later as I went by her, "when Dad gets out of the hospital I can talk him into buying a mower like this. And then I could mow our own lawn and save... or keep... what he's paying the landscaper now."

"And make sure the weeds are killed and the trees are pruned?" retorted Cynthia. "But you're doing a good job, except you can go a bit farther out without missing a spot."

She continued to give me directions each time I drove past her. Sitting on the low stone wall as she ate her sandwich, she was giving me a somewhat different glimpse of her panties than I usually got when she was climbing a tree or swinging around the monkey bars, so I was probably looking too much at her and not enough at the lawn ahead of me. So I was totally unprepared when Cynthia suddenly screamed, "Lou, look OUT!!"

I immediately faced forward again in shock. Barely five feet ahead of me was Mr. Moose, the doll Charity had dropped before. And, even as I watched, Charity ran right in front of me, screaming, "Mr. Moose! STOP!"

I promptly swerved to the right, but Charity had looked up and was hysterically screaming and running, still in front of me. Then she tripped, and I looked desperately for the shut-off switch. The mower inexorably carried me within two feet of the little girl, then a foot...

And suddenly Cynthia was there, swooping to gather up Charity and, with wiry muscles developed through years of tree-climbing and football, literally toss her safely out of my path. Charity screamed as she landed... and so did Cynthia as her flying dress was caught in the razor-sharp blades. I forced myself to look at the panel... and Cynthia's finger jabbed down and the mower sputtered to a stop... but too late, as the blades continued to turn, drawing Cynthia inexorably into them. She screamed again.

I didn't faint. At least, I don't think I did, but the next thing I remember was the sound of rending fabric and being slapped in the face. I looked up to see Cynthia standing over me, screaming, "Snap OUT of it!"

I forced myself to look at her, hoping against hope there wouldn't be a bloody stump where Cynthia's fingers had been sliced off. "Are... are you all right?" I croaked.

Cynthia glared at me. "Except for a couple of bruises where my butt hit the safety overhang, yes!"

I looked around in unimaginable relief. "Safety overhang? Then nobody was in danger?"

Cynthia whirled around to face Charity. "Except this little idiot who didn't know how to fall right! As it is, she's OK, and so am I, but this dress'll never be the same again!"

Indeed it wouldn't. The mower had reduced most of the back of Cynthia's dress to rags and scattered them over the lawn, leaving only her grass-stained panties to cover her as she bent to pull Charity, none too gently, to her feet.

"You saved me!" Charity babbled as Cynthia brought her back toward me. "And Mr. Moose, too!"

"Don't remind me!" snapped Cynthia.

Charity shot a worshipful look at her rescuer. "Ooh, but everyone can see your panties now! But you said it wasn't anything more than someone seeing you in a bathing suit!"

Cynthia leaned against the mower and adjusted her dress. From the front, it still looked mostly undamaged. "Never mind what I said! Lou, I think you'd better take her back to the house. And collect the money for the job, too."

Despite the shock of our near-tragedy, Cynthia was practical enough to finish the few remaining square feet of the Randolph lawn while I was restoring Charity to her parents and collecting the money. She insisted on doing the O'Flaherty lawn entirely by herself, though with me riding behind her throughout "to cover my butt, if you'll pardon the expression." Then, the final money collected, Cynthia turned the hard-pressed mower toward home.

We'd roared up the driveway and were approaching the toolshed when Cynthia stopped the mower. "Uh-oh!"


She put her finger to her lips and silently walked into the woods. After a few feet, she pointed through a gap in the trees. "Trouble!"

I looked, and gasped. The door to the toolshed wasn't closed, as we'd left it, but open, and standing before it were Mr. Scalia and Mr. Benedetto, deep in conversation. "He must've come home early!" whispered Cynthia.

"What... what'll we do? Leave the mower where it is and sneak inside?"

Cynthia pondered the situation. Finally she sighed. "I'll just have to face the music, I guess." Slowly she returned to the mower and climbed on again, but gestured me away as I prepared to mount behind her. "No, you go back to the house. No point in both of us taking the rap."

I ran up as she started the motor. It just seemed too much to put her through this alone, after the risk she'd already taken that day. "Cynthia, maybe I should..."

"Don't be stupid! How would you know about the mower? But they know I know. Just meet me up in my room when they're through." She gulped. "And bring my icebag."

I looked at her as she crouched over the handle bars, her panties and most of her back visible from behind. "You... you're going to face them both? Like that?"

Cynthia sighed. "You don't think Scalia's seen my undies before? Every time I climb a tree he's trimmed, he's down there yelling at me. No, I'll be OK."

As I watched her departing figure, I was convinced Cynthia Benedetto was the bravest girl in the world.

I crept back to the place in the woods where we'd seen Cynthia's father and his handyman before. I was too far away to hear the conversation, but I could see that Gino Benedetto was very angry. Cursing myself for my cowardice, I slunk away and tried to find my way through the woods in the fading daylight toward my own room in the Benedetto house.

I waited until Cynthia and her father had walked across the yard and gone inside. Would he turn her over to her Aunt Joyce, who was apt to be far more strict with Cynthia than her father would? But I did see that Mr. Benedetto, to my relief, was now in his shirtsleeves and had loaned his suit jacket to his daughter, giving her a certain amount of cover. Maybe he wouldn't be so very angry, after all, which made me think he'd be more likely to handle her punishment herself, much to my relief... and, no doubt Cynthia's.

Almost without thinking, no sooner was I in my room than I found myself opening up the secret passageway Cynthia had shown me. This passageway, which dated back to the Underground Railroad, led to a room from which one could open a trap door and look down secretly into Mr. Benedetto's study. Cynthia had discovered it independently, and we didn't know yet that Mr. Benedetto had not only known of its existence but had bought the house because of it.

I opened the trap door and tried to hold my breath. Gino Benedetto had reclaimed his jacket and was seated at the chair behind his desk, looking very stern. Cynthia hung her head as she faced him, her hands clasped behind her back so as to provide a limited cover for the seat of her panties. It occurred to me that she'd probably know I'd be watching, but I suspected she'd taken the position less out of her (very limited) modesty than as a subconscious attempt to protect the area of her body she knew would be most likely to suffer in the next few minutes.

Mr. Benedetto was raging. "You knew that lawnmower was off limits! You broke into the shed to get it, and you did it deliberately! I can't tell you how disappointed I am, Cynthia!"

"I... I just needed to earn some money, Dad! You'd stopped my allowance..."

"With good reason! And WHAT happened to your dress?!"

"Just... uh, an accident. But I didn't have any money left, after all I spent on Chairman Mao!" Her father's eyebrows lowered, and Cynthia gulped. He didn't think much of Chairman Mao, nor of dogs in general. Cynthia went on, in a sudden burst of inspiration, "And I really wanted to get you a nice present for Father's Day..."

It was good, but not good enough. "Get over here, Cynthia!" snapped her father. As she walked around his desk, Gino Benedetto reached down and pulled his daughter over his lap.

A part of me knew I should close the trapdoor and walk away. Not only was this an intimate moment between father and daughter, but Cynthia was taking this spanking in part because of me. But I also remembered Cynthia's own willingness to watch Charity receive a similar punishment, and my curiosity made me eager to watch the differing spanking styles of their respective fathers in practice. And besides, though my pre-pubescent sexuality made it hard for me to understand it, there was a strange thrill for me in watching a girl get her bottom bared for a spanking.

As Cynthia had said, Mr. Benedetto wasn't one to mince words or waste time on preparation. He just yanked Cynthia's panties down and adjusted her position on his lap, but seemed to hesitate a bit as he did so. I could see why as I looked down.

From my position almost directly above the two, Cynthia looked nearly naked as her ripped dress settled around her, leaving her covered only by the very top of her dress across her shoulders and upper back (she had no undershirt on in the warm weather, and the notion of a training bra for a girl of her age and nonexistent development was unheard-of at the time) and the thin strip of her lowered panties around her thighs. But aside from the bright red scar acquired from a broken beer bottle some months before, Cynthia's tightened buttocks showed some very definite and recent bruises. I wondered at first if they were the relics of her aunt's hairbrushing as she'd boasted to Charity, then realized that they no doubt had resulted from her mishap with the lawnmower.

But Mr. Benedetto wasn't about to ask questions. After all, I realized, Cynthia's bottom probably got a lot of bruises, since she'd repeatedly explained to me that it was the place she usually tried to land when she fell. Better a bruised bottom than a broken arm or leg. So Cynthia's father just set to work at what she'd described as "whacking my butt in the same place till I can't sit down." But his hand was big and Cynthia's bottom was thin and wiry, and he seemed to be turning almost all of it a bright red. I was glad I'd remembered to prepare Cynthia's icebag. She'd need it.

The phone suddenly rang and broke the near-silence (Cynthia rarely cried while she was being spanked, and almost never tried to talk or plead), and Mr. Benedetto's shoulders shook in rage. But he brought down his right hand once more with a smack that made even Cynthia gasp, then snatched up the receiver. "Giordano, I'm busy... yes, put her on," he said reluctantly. He said very little and seemed to be mostly listening in the ensuing conversation, leaving me with nothing to do but look down and wrestle with my conscience. Much to my relief, Cynthia's bottom didn't seem to have acquired any more bruises from the treatment it had received, though it was a bright red.

And then Mr. Benedetto shifted the receiver to his left hand, loosening his grip on his daughter. He made no attempt to restrain Cynthia as she slid off his lap, so evidently he'd decided her spanking was over. She stiffly got to her feet and began to massage her bare bottom as her father continued, "Yes, I see," and hung up.

He turned to look at Cynthia. "That was Mrs. Randolph," he said. "She told me her daughter Charity has just informed her what happened. When you and Lou were mowing her lawn." I stiffened at that. Now that he knew I'd been involved, I suddenly realized that I'd in all probability be next in line for the same treatment he'd just given Cynthia. "You didn't tell me," he added, "that you tore your dress in the process of risking yourself to save Charity Randolph from grave harm."

Cynthia shrugged and turned away from him as she continued to rub herself.

Gino Benedetto examined the damage both his lawnmower and his hand had done to her, and stroked his chin. "I think it might be possible for you to use the mower again, but only if you allow Scalia to supervise you. And, of course, you must reimburse him for the gasoline you use today."

Cynthia whirled to face him in delight. "Then can I still use it next week? Several people asked me back..."

Mr. Benedetto shrugged. "If you find it necessary. But I fail to see the need for it. I provide you with an adequate allowance."

Cynthia's eyes gleamed. "You mean you're starting it again?"

Her father hugged her. "Of course. Certainly you've been sufficiently punished for your impudence to your aunt." He looked down at her as she turned toward the door. "And for your misbehavior today."

"Oh, boy! Wait'll Aunt Joyce hears..."

Mr. Benedetto held up his hand. "Actually, it would not be diplomatic to tell her at present. Her opinions on the subject of your allowance were very outspoken, and I would prefer not to raise the subject with her."

"So even Don Benedetto's scared of someone!" laughed Cynthia. I could have told her that this observation was a mistake. It was an even bigger mistake to make it while she was bending over to pull up her panties, presenting a perfect target.

"I SAID she is not to know!" roared Mr. Benedetto after his swat had almost knocked his daughter on her face. "Now get out of here before I change my mind!"

Cynthia met me at the door to her room a couple of minutes later. "You saw everything, I suppose?"

I nodded and handed her the icebag as we went inside, which she stuffed into the seat of her panties without trying to hide anything. "Not too bad for a day's work. Almost $100, including the tips, and my allowance back!"

I sat on the bed as Cynthia pulled off the remnants of her dress. "Uh, I still don't have any allowance. I wonder if I could borrow some of that?"

Cynthia whirled around indignantly as she pulled on her T-shirt. "I like that! We'd already agreed on the division! In fact, I've just been thinking that I really deserve at least 75% of the money. It's the least I should have for literally putting my butt on the line for you. Twice."

"Now that's..." I began, but Cynthia put a finger to her lips as she hastily reached for her jeans. She'd barely pulled them on before the door slammed open, and the huge figure of Joyce Benedetto loomed in the doorway.

"Cynthia, I've told you it's not proper for a young lady to have a boy in her room!" snapped her aunt.

"But we were just studying together!" protested Cynthia. Lou's helping me with... my math."

Aunt Joyce sighed. "You certainly need it... very well, but the door stays open!" She turned and headed down the hall.

Cynthia reached back and adjusted her icebag. "Thanks, Aunt Joyce! You can't believe how much I've already picked up about percentages!"

* * *

Several days later, when I got to the Benedetto home after school, Mrs. Scalia beamed at me. "You got a letter, Lou!"

I never got letters! It was addressed to Lou Remarra, c/o Cynthia Benedetto at her address, so I eagerly opened it. It wasn't long:

Dear Lou,

I am sorry I ran in front of the lawn mower. I will never ever do it again in my whole entire life. I been punished don't worry.

Sincerly, Charity Randolph

I showed it to Cynthia, who'd stayed late for an after-school baseball game, after she got home. "But why'd she send it to me?" I wondered aloud. "I'm not the one whose clothes got torn up!"

Cynthia sighed. "Oh, she sent me one, too. Wanna see?"

Dear Cynthia,

My mommy said I hafta pologize for running in front of the lawn mower yesterday. It was like running in front of a car, she said. I shoulda known bettern to do something so foolish, she said. I'm sorry.

I tried to splain to her that Mr. Moose was gonna get run over and I hadta save him on account of he is my special friend, but she dint care.

When my daddy came home from work Mommy told on me and Daddy spanked me but dont tell Lou. Daddy was real mad and I thought he might forget to take my panties down but he dint. Forget that is. I was kinda hoping on account of he dint even sit in a regular spanking chair, just put his foot up on the next-to-the-last stair leading upstairs. Then he picked me up and all of a sudden I was balancing like a seesaw in the air. But he rembered to push my dress up and pull my panties down just the same. I told him I learnt my lesson but he spanked me a hundred million times anyway. So now I really and truly learnt my lesson.

My mommy says we will buy you a new dress. I am gonna pay for some of it. I was gonna use my tooth fairy money but Daddy says I don't have enough teeth to buy a new dress. So I will do chores.

Do you think I could help you and Lou to mow lawns?

Your friend, Charity Randolph

p.s. Can I come with you to pick out the new dress? We will have so much fun!

"Are you going to let her?" I asked.

Cynthia shrugged. "Hey, I'm not even sure we're going to mow any more lawns, but most people seemed to like the way we did 'em. I don't think we need Charity hanging around, though."

"Well, I still haven't got an allowance, so we can try it. But I meant, what about the dress?"

Cynthia pantomimed sticking her finger down her throat. "Hell, I've got enough dresses, but try to tell Charity that. Or Dad, for that matter. Maybe it'd be better if we did, at that... and tell her to keep everything a secret. That'll at least keep her from blabbing the story all over school for the next few weeks, and after that school will be over for the summer. And it'll save Dad some trouble. He hates taking me shopping for clothes."

"My Dad's not wild about it, either. But with my mother dead, there isn't anyone else to do it. What about you?"

"He usually pays Diana to shop with me. But, if I know her, she'll be glad to get out of it. I wonder why?"

"You really want to know, Cynthia?"

I ducked just in time.

* * *

Dedicated with profound gratitude to Hope, who not only let my characters look after her alter ego, but wrote her letters of apology without even the threat of a spanking...

And also to Domino, who helped me recover some lost stories long ago, with apologies for the (entirely unintentional) similarities to her own classic story, "Lawnmower Girl."