I took this in, astonished, and Chloe met my gaze with embarrassment that was no doubt genuine, though it suited the role she was playing. I knew what role-playing was, but I wasn’t sure I wanted it. We had serious things to talk about, hadn’t we?
Anyway, the closest I’d come to role-playing was as Ostler (one line) in a school production of Henry IV Part I. I was nobody’s actor. And the note was to Mr Mortimer, who seemed a very authoritarian sort of fellow. I wasn’t sure I could do him. I wasn’t authoritarian, back then. I might provide pain, for sexual purposes, but I didn’t give orders.
Where did all this come from? I wondered what would happen if I just said, “Anyway Chloe, so how was your day?” I laughed, briefly, at that thought. Chloe’s face fell.
Christ. I lent down and kissed her forehead and whispered, “No, darling, you’re … I wasn’t laughing at you. Sorry. You’re fine.”
Straightening, I said, “So, Miss Sendak, it seems you’ve been a naughty girl.” I sounded nervous. I might be a fearsome disciplinarian, but I didn’t seem to have the voice for it yet.
Chloe said, “Miss Laforge is mean, and I bet you’re mean too. And I’m not sorry, and I’m not scared of the strap, anyway.”
“Strap?” I forgot to be Mr Mortimer. “What strap?”
“It’s in the drawer.”