Keith is quiet on the drive back home - and yes, silence is always bad. He parks the car and gets out, eyeing what to him is a massive scratch in his car that should not be there. It would not be there, either, if Ben had been listening to him. But, then, Ben never listens to him. Keith notices his wife's car is gone, so that means they have some time to...settle things. "In the house, Ben," he says sternly.
Ben gets out of the passenger seat, still resentful of Keith taking over driving. He barely touched the pillar, and what the hell is a brick pillar doing right in the parking lot anyway? He slams the car door and follows Keith inside. He needs three more practice sessions signed for so he can pass driver's ed, and now that Keith's making such a big deal out of a little bump, he's going to have to wait for Mom to have enough time to take him out. She never has enough time anymore.
Keith walks into the house and closes the door after Ben. He can tell by the sulking that Ben does not see he did anything wrong. That means, absolutely, this must be addressed. "Upstairs Ben. Go into my closet and get a belt. Then go into my office."
"Wait, what?" Ben protests. "I'm sorry about your car, but it was an accident. What did I do that was so bad?" He should know better after almost two years of living with Keith, but he can't believe the man is serious. Ben's gotten whippings for breaking rules, sure, but this wasn't intentional. It just... happened.
"I told you to cut back on your speed, you didn't. I told you to watch your blind spots, you didn't. In fact, you didn't seem to listen to anything I said while I was taking time out of my day to teach my wife's son how to drive." It's petty, yes, but he always calls Ben "his wife's son" when he is this annoyed.
"I was, though. Just... not enough, I guess." Why is Keith so mad? It's a mystery to Ben what he does that sets Keith off sometimes. "I'm sorry. I'll pay for it to be fixed, and I'll be more careful next time."
"Did I say this was open for debate?" Keith asks Ben dangerously. He won't have the boy disrespecting him by first not listening to him and then trying to weasel out of punishment.
"But I..." Ben trails off at the look in Keith's eye. "Fine." He stomps toward the stairs, anger radiating from every line of his body. It's not fair, he didn't mean to, and Keith won't listen, and everyone hates him and someday he'll be dead and then Keith will be sorry.
Keith goes to his office and calmly rolls up his sleeves. He is starting to wonder if he will ever get through to Ben. Keith is not a quitter by nature, but he is starting to think private school or even military school is the only way Ben is every going to learn discipline.
Ben's anger dissipates by the time he gets to the top of the stairs. He's uncomfortable as he enters the room his mom and Keith share, and downright nervous when he opens the closet door. Keith's belts are hanging neatly on a belt hanger, ordered by width and color. Ben rubs the back of his neck and casts a glance over to the bathrobes hanging on the door. He could get a belt off one of those... but he's not really a smart-ass by nature, and he knows that would just piss Keith off even worse. The unfairness of it all makes his stomach hurt. He doesn't need a whupping, does he? He's afraid of Keith, of his anger and of the pain and humiliation these discipline sessions always leave Ben with. Ben presses his lips together and makes a selection. He wraps his arms around himself as, belt in hand, he descends the stairs to meet his stepfather for his punishment.
Keith takes the belt from Ben and doubles it up. He is of the polar opposite opinion - he firmly believes Ben needs this. "Over the desk," he orders crisply. "Pants and underwear around your ankles. You know the drill." Or, at least, the boy certainly fucking should by now.
There's a momentary flash of rebellion in Ben's eyes, but he nods stiffly and walks forward to the desk. It's hyper-neat, everything arranged with precision around the desk blotter, which has not a mark on it. His fingers nervously fumble at the waistband of his jeans, then he slides everything down to somewhere around his knees and puts his hands on the desk. The less he bends over, the less exposed he feels.
The set of the shoulders, the look in the eyes...it all speaks of defiance. That sets Keith's teeth on edge, and the scratch on his car has already put him in a foul mood. He brings the belt down across Ben's thighs - the boy will have trouble sitting and walking by the time Keith is through.
OW that hurt. Keith's not the only one who's angry, but Ben sets his teeth, determined not to give Keith the satisfaction of crying. Ben's almost sixteen, for God's sake. He's old enough to stand up to a little whupping without turning into a baby.
Keith measures his whuppings by those tears, though. How else is he to know to stop? He brings the belt down again and again, the sharp crack filling the silent room.
He won't cry. He won't cry. This is not his fault, and he's not going to let Keith get the better of him this time. Ben grunts at each blow as they blaze across his ass. Just finish it. God, just finish.
Keith pauses to switch hands and to eye his handiwork to be sure he hasn't left too deep a bruise or caused any bleeding. Satisfied, he starts up again, harder this time.
"Gah!" Ben shouts. "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry, stop, stop, it's enough!" His ass and thighs burn; he clenches his fist and pounds on the desk, jarring a letter opener to the floor.
"You're sorry because you are being punished, Ben." Keith does not let up. "You're apologizing because you want me to stop, not because you think you did anything wrong. Don't lie to me."
"I didn't!" Ben's howl is anguished. "It was an accident, Keith, I'm sorry, I said I'd fix it. I didn't mean to do it."
Keith sees red and for a moment, he loses track of things. The belt comes down the hardest yet. Then he comes back to himself and, at last, stops.
That moment is one of the longest of Ben's life, and at the end of it, he's sobbing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I screwed up, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, please, please, please..."
Keith shakes his head, feeling certain the lesson has not been learned. "Take the belt back and return it to where you found it. Then go to your room and stay there. No dinner for you tonight."
Ben straightens up, swipes at his face with his arm, and eases his briefs and jeans back up over his butt. He reaches out blindly for the belt and heads toward the door. He's ashamed of himself for breaking down, ashamed that he apologized for something he still doesn't think is his fault. And he's hungry, and mom doesn't bring him dinner anymore when he's been sent to his room. He won't even get to see her to tell her his side, not that she ever takes his side anymore.