After police come for their mother, sisters Allie and Natalie feel they have no choice but to steal money from strangers and plot an adventure to find their father in California. The problem is that Allie tries to steal from the wrong person, and both girls end up in an uncomfortable position…
by Lenore and Breanna
When the police pounded on the door of her apartment, 12-year-old Natalie Morgan did what she’d been taught to do: she grabbed her barefoot little sister and shoved her out of the window onto the fire escape, climbing their way down to the street. Allie was almost crying until Natalie shushed her. “Hey, calm down, we’re gonna be fine.”
“I want Mommy!” Allie insisted tearfully as she followed her sister. “And my shoes! I want my shoes!” She was scared and didn’t fully understand what was going on, just knew that the ground was hurting her feet and that the cops who had been banging on the door were super scary.
People on the street turned to look at the girls now, but Natalie knew how to deal with nosey neighbors. Putting on her best sad little girl face, she gave a dramatic sigh as she squatted down to her sister’s level, tears in her eyes. “Don’t worry. We won’t let that bad man get away with stealing your shoes.” Gasps could be heard amongst the crowd. Natalie hoisted her sister onto her side even though she was getting a bit big for it now. The 6-year-old’s legs were almost as long as Natalie’s, so it looked really funny to be carrying her like that.
But it worked — within 10 minutes, a nice gentleman bought them a fresh pair of shoes and 2 ice cream cones.
“Thank you!” Allie told the man once the shoes were on her feet and ice cream in her hands. She liked when people gave them things as it made her feel special. She also liked to put on her cute act and get attention for it.
But then the man went to call the police to report the crime, so Natalie grabbed Allie’s hand and they ran off; she had a plan, and that involved no cops. The plan was to find their dad — he’d disappeared when Allie was a baby, but Natalie could remember him clearly: the way he smiled at her when he was proud, and hugged her when she was scared, and the glare from his blue eyes when she was in trouble. She wanted to find him mostly for Allie. But also, she had a thing or two she wanted to let him know, including how pissed she was that he’d left, and how she was doing just fine without him. But maybe since their mom was going to jail now, they could live with their dad. Natalie had always wondered what it’d be like to live with her dad.
“Where are we going?” Allie demanded. “I want to go home!”
“We’re goin’ on an adventure to find Dad,” Natalie said.
Allie liked adventures except when they frightened her, and at the moment she felt kind of scared. There had been the loud noises, then hurrying out of the apartment, now the mention of a father whom she’d never met? Something seemed fishy. “Why can’t we stay with Mommy?”
Instead of answering one of Allie’s millions of questions, Natalie decided a distraction would help: “C’mon, let’s play ‘find the wallet’.” That was their favorite game to play together — the little one would stand someplace by herself and start crying, then as strangers approached her to help, the pre-teen would eventually turn up, and they would take turns snatching wallets. Natalie was quicker than her little sister, so usually ended up with more items. But Allie was much better at distracting their prey and following Natalie’s lead. They were great at teamwork.
As suspected, Allie’s frown turned upside down. “Okay! I’m good at that game!”
She excitedly found a crowd and started crying as if on cue. It was mostly because she was still a little freaked out about the cops, but also because she knew how to cry on command. People started gathering around her to see what was wrong. She just cried and blubbered jibberish.
Natalie darted through the crowd, grabbing wallets and cash as she ran towards her sister. “Allie, thank goodness! I thought I’d lost you!” She embraced the little girl tightly, shedding a few tears herself for dramatic effect, though she had to admit that the tears were also kind of genuine as she was scared, too… especially because the address she had for her dad was all the way in California. That meant that she and Allie would have to find enough money and figure out how to get all the way across the country!
The crowd started thinning, and Natalie shot a slight grin at her sister. “Thank you for your help, sir,” she said to the nearest passerby, then took her sister’s hand and walked in the opposite direction of their apartment.
A few blocks down, they hopped onto a crowded bus without paying, riding only a few blocks before playing the game again. They’d played about 4 times and collected over $200 when Natalie started feeling uneasy. She sensed that Allie wanted to play again — this was the most animated she’d seen her all day.
She was right.
“Let’s play some more!” Allie insisted. “I love this game!”
Yes, Allie was definitely feeling much happier and animated now… Nothing like their favorite game to cheer her up! She ran a few feet from her sister and waited until it was crowded, then started fake crying again and doing her thing.
And as predicted, people hurried over to offer help and consolation.
The uneasy feeling in Natalie’s stomach grew even stronger when she saw a familiar-looking man approach her sister. He was wearing a suit with a fancy hat and squatted down to her level to see what was wrong. Natalie could just sense that something was going to happen, and she wanted to warn Allie to abort her plan — don’t try to steal from this man! But Allie wouldn’t look in her direction.
“Hey, kid, what’s wrong?” the man asked the little girl.
“I can’t find my sister,” Allie told him as she attempted to distract his attention while slyly eyeing the wallet in his pocket. “She told me to meet her here if I got lost.” She reached towards his pocket and began to lift the wallet.
The man was expecting it, though. Just as Allie’s finger’s gripped the leather, the man took her wrist. “What’s this?” he asked, holding her hand with the wallet in the air.
Natalie muttered bad words under her breath then ran out to her sister. “Hey! There you are, Allie.” And when she locked eyes with the man, she realized why he’d looked so familiar…
But Allie was panicking and trying to yank away, yelling, “Let me go! Let me go!” She wasn’t used to being caught so was going a little crazy. “I found my sister! Let me go!” She had no idea why this man was staring pointedly at her sister, and she didn’t like that he wasn’t letting go of her wrist. “Let me go before I bite you, Mister!”
“Let her go,” Natalie commanded, eyes narrowed at the man. He complied with the girls’ wishes, snatching his wallet and putting it back in his pocket, not taking his eyes from the two troublemakers. Natalie held her little sister close, petting her hair to calm her down, then when the guy broke eye contact, whispered to Allie: “That’s our dad.”
Allie leaned into her sister for protection, eyeing the man (her father??) carefully as an older and taller guy approached. “Is that why he wouldn’t let me go?” she asked in a low voice. “And who’s that and why’s he look angry?” she asked nodding towards the tall man.
“Neal, what’s going on?” The tall man asked their dad, then looked down at the girls. “Where’s your mother?”
Natalie squeezed her sister’s hand — their code for ‘get ready to run!’
“She’s over there,” Natalie said, pointing behind them. As soon as the men turned their heads to look, Natalie darted away, dragging her sister along.
Allie stumbled a little at first but managed to keep up with her sister as best she could. Her legs were shorter though so sometimes it was hard.
It didn’t take long for Neal to notice they had taken off, and he shouted: “Peter! They’re running!” The two men gave chase, not wanting to lose the girls. Peter was with the FBI and knew these little criminals needed to be caught; Neal, on the other hand, just wanted to know what was going on with his daughters and why they were stealing from people.
“They’re gaining on us Natty!” Allie exclaimed fearfully. “My legs aren’t fast enough!”
“Quick! Over here!” Natalie said, making a sharp turn left into an alley, then grabbing her sister to hide behind the dumpster. They were both panting loudly, adrenaline at full force. Natalie tried to think of what to do as they heard the men running past the alley. “I think we got rid of ’em,” she said.
“I hope so!” Allie replied softly as she tried to catch her breath.
“Let’s ditch the wallets we took… just in case.” Natalie dug through her backpack for the items they’d collected, putting all of the cash into a couple of different hiding spots. Then she gathered any evidence that could be used against them and tossed it into the dumpster.
But what were they going to do now? The plan had been for them to go find their dad… but apparently, he wasn’t in California… he was here, right here in New York City!
This gave Natalie an idea. “Hey Allie, what if we just go back to our dad?”
Allie chewed on her lower lip a little. “Do you think he would want us Natty? I don’t know him like you do… But he didn’t look scary and mad like the other guy…”
Natalie held onto her sister’s hand tightly. She could feel the cold ice cream in her stomach, rumbling around as if telling her something bad would happen. But she couldn’t help it… She’d run out of other ideas. There was nothing else they could do, right? They were both nervous about leaving their hiding spot, but Allie was right: at least their dad didn’t look as frightening as the other guy.
When the girls finally mustered up the courage to emerge, neither was paying much attention to their surroundings and Natalie smacked right into the tall guy, stopping her dead in her tracks. She hadn’t realized they’d already been found. “Ummm…” was all she could say.
“Just where do you two think you’re going?” Peter demanded.
Allie saw the confrontation and immediately turned to run the other way, only to see the Neal… her dad. She tried to dive between his legs as a last ditch effort to get away.
“Whoa, hold it there, kid.” His hands latched onto Allie’s shoulders, blocking any means of escape. “No running away.”
A flash of panic swept over Allie and she glanced at her big sister, who just gave a slight shake of her head. “Where else can we go?” Natty said, defeated.
Heart thudding inside her chest and on the brink of tears, Allie turned to her dad who now squatted to the little girl’s level, hoping to ease her fears some. Neal couldn’t help but stare at her in awe — he’d never expected to see her again. “Where’s your mom?”
“I dunno….. scary people came banging at our door and Natty and me ran off….”
Without waiting for a further explanation from the 6-year-old, Peter turned to Natty. “Do you know who was at your door? Why are you on the run? What did you do with those wallets you two stole?”
“None of your business!” Natty sneered with an eye-roll. Then looking back at Neal, she said, “who is this old fart anyway?”
“Oh, that’s Peter… and he works for the FBI.”
Natalie’s eyes darted back to the tall man. His brows were furrowed, hands on his hips revealing a badge and pair of handcuffs. Coming from a family of criminals, the preteen didn’t have the best impression of law enforcement, and her immediate reaction was distrust and disgust. “What are you doing hanging out with the feds?”
“I could arrest you two for stealing, you know,” said Peter in a firm voice. “Unless you tell us what is going on.”
Cue Allie’s meltdown. “I don’t wanna go to jail!” She latched onto Neal feeling he was her safest choice right then. “I want my Mommy!!!!”
Peter ignored the cries of the youngest as best he could. “I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”
Natalie looked from Allie to Peter to Neal, then back to Peter again. “The wallets are in there,” she finally admitted, pointing to the dumpster. Telling them about their mom was harder because she’d already seen an ankle monitor on her dad, which meant that he probably wouldn’t be able to take care of them. The idea of having to live with strangers scared her even more than the FBI guy…
“How thoughtful of you,” Peter grunted, cutting a glare at Neal. Then, looking back at Natalie, he said, “And what about your mother? Where is she exactly? So we can let her know just what you two were up to.”
“She’s gone… the cops came…” Natalie swallowed down the lump in her throat, begging herself not to cry. She couldn’t show any vulnerability in front of these men.
A chuckle came from Peter as he shook his head. “So the whole family are criminals. Lovely.”
“Better than being a fed!”
Before Peter could respond, Neal butted in, voice slightly trembling with worry. “We can’t let them stay with just anyone.” It was one of the few times he deeply regretted his past. All those forgeries, thefts, cons… none of it was worth having lost his daughters. If only he could go back…
“Then who do you suggest they stay with?” Peter demanded. “Your criminal buddies? Mozzie? Is that what you want for them, to continue the same path and end up in prison?”
Natalie piped up. “We weren’t going to stay with just anyone… we were looking for our dad… Neal…” She looked towards him now and scowled, “But you were here this whole time and didn’t have the decency to even visit us.”
“Natty said we could stay with you!” Allie whimpered glancing up at Neal tearfully. “Don’t you want us?”
Neal sighed. “It’s not that easy. Look, let’s just take them to get cleaned up then we can talk about this calmly…”
“AFTER they return the wallets,” Peter grumbled.
The preteen folded her arms. “I’m NOT going in that dumpster. If you want the wallets, get ’em yourself.”
Peter stepped forward, towering over her and folding his arms as well. As an FBI Agent, Peter’s demeanor was naturally domineering and scary, so he wasn’t used to bratty adolescents challenging his orders. Of course, being Neal Caffrey’s daughter, she was going to need an extra push to behave. “You will get the wallets and return them to their rightful owners, even if I have to throw you in the dumpster myself, and drag you by the ear to each person individually.”
They stood toe-to-toe and Natalie used every ounce of self-control to keep herself from shoving the old man out of her face (not that it would’ve been physically possible for her to do that). Their eyes were locked on each other, creating tension so thick you could probably cut it with a knife.
Allie was the first to break the silence. “I’m not going in there! It’s scary and there’s spiders and monsters!” she shrieked, fresh tears streaming down her freckled cheeks as she latched on to her father.
“I’ll get it,” Neal offered.
And that was the moment that Allie’s admiration for her father began. Anyone who would save her from scary dumpsters was definitely a superhero!
Natalie, on the other hand, scoffed, “It’s the least you could do, considering all the shit you put us through these last six years…”
A pang ripped through his chest, but Neal ignored it and just took off his suit jacket, folding it neatly and placing it in Allie’s arms. He also placed his hat on top of her curly brown hair, but it was so big on her that it fell over her eyes causing her to giggle. As she pushed the hat back up, Allie saw her father jump inside the bin, then hop back out seconds later, stolen wallets in tow. He handed them to Peter with a smirk.
“It’s not funny, Neal. These girls need discipline. A firm hand.”
Neal reached for his jacket and glanced over Peter’s shoulder to see Agent Jones waiting for them, which meant Peter had probably planned to take the girls back to the office. Before that happened, he needed to take care of some unfinished business. Looking back at his boss, Neal said, “Hey, let me talk to them for a minute.”
Peter wanted to object, but Neal’s pleading look was convincing enough. “One minute.”
When they were free of the feds, Neal and his two daughters stood in a huddle. “I know you took money from the wallets. You’re smart kids, but I can’t let you get away with this… I don’t want you to go down the same road I did…”
“Natty always holds the money ’cause I would prolly lose it and then we’d have played our game for nothing.”
Despite being a pro at lying, Allie could sometimes be overly honest, which was one of Natalie’s biggest pet peeves. She gave her little sister an aggressive nudge to shut her up, then reached for the wad of money she’d stashed away, leaving a few bucks behind in case of emergency. When she put the bills in Neal’s hands, he said nothing, just motioned for her to give up the rest.
“You were out of my life for 6 years and now you think you can come around playing dad, acting like you know me? Acting like you care?”
“I have my reasons for not being around,” Neal stated firmly. “And I regret that I wasn’t there for you, but we will talk about that later. But right now I need you to hand over the rest of the money, Natalie. You have no idea what you’re getting yourselves into if this stealing doesn’t stop…”
Glaring at her father, Natty pulled out a few more dollars and shoved it into his hands.
“I wanna go home,” Allie insisted, though she felt like no one was really listening to her.
“C’mon, we returned the money, now we should be allowed to go,” Natalie said, trying to snatch her sister from her dad.
She didn’t get very far before Peter noticed the commotion and walked towards them. “What’s going on?”
As Neal explained everything, fat tears began streaming down Allie’s face again. She was feeling so confused and ignored and scared. And the memories of the day’s events wouldn’t stop swirling around in her head, causing her to feel even more confused and ignored and scared. “Nattyyyy… you said we’d have a daddy… I don’t understand what’s going on…” She tugged at her big sister’s shirt, whining louder. “Let’s just gooooo….” As her feelings strengthened, so did Allie’s cries, and before too long she was sobbing and hiccupping until the conversation stopped and Neal scooped her into his arms for a hug.
Natalie had tears in her eyes, too, suddenly feeling a little scared herself, too.
“I’ll let Jones sort this,” Peter said waving around the wallets. “Let’s go figure out what to do with you girls.”
“Pack your things… Don’t worry if you can’t get everything at once, we’ll come back for more another time. I’ll be in there in a few minutes. First, Peter and I need to have a talk.”
Natalie had sulked the whole car ride back to her apartment, not sure what her father was planning, but certain that she wouldn’t like it! Anything having to do with the feds and the foster care system was NOT going to go over well with her.
While her big sister pondered possible escape plans, Allie stuffed her favorite belongings into a backpack: a few stuffed animals, her fuzzy blanket, some small toys. And then she tried to add in her clothes but only managed to shove in two pairs of shoes (she’d never be left barefoot again!) before running out of space. No matter how much she tried to squeeze more things in, nothing else would fit, so she groaned in frustration and peered over at her big sister. The plan had been to ask for help, but then she noticed that Natalie wasn’t packing. “Natty? Where are we going? What’s gonna happen to us?”
“We’re gonna escape again. Are you ready?” She glanced out of the door, noticing that her dad was staring straight at her as if expecting that she was going to bolt again.
Allie looked upset once more. “I thought we were going with our daddy? You said that was the plan…” She liked the man who was supposedly their daddy; he seemed nice and not scary.
“But we’ll get in trouble for playing our game,” Natalie said, shivering slightly. “And didn’t you hear him? It’s complicated. I saw that thing on his ankle. They’re gonna end up putting us with strangers! And maybe in different homes!”
Allie looked terrified. “I don’t wanna go away from you! You’re all I got!” She ran up and tackled her sister in a hug. “Don’t let them take me, Natty… I’m scared.”
“So we have to go then… C’mon… before they catch us…”
It was too late though — Allie’s squeal had gotten Neal’s attention, so he’d excused himself from the front room to go check on her. “Everything okay?”
Matching blue eyes peered towards the doorway, a little startled by their father’s sudden arrival. As soon as Natty realized who it was, she scowled in his direction, “No, we’re not okay. You want to put us in the system, give us away to strangers!” Adrenaline had kicked in by then and the preteen wasn’t thinking clearly. She saw running as the only option, and as Neal crept into their space, she bolted towards the window, expecting Allie to follow.
“Wait… let me explain…” Neal pleaded, reaching for her arm and catching the annoyed preteen just in time.
“No! Leave. Me. Alone!” She broke free from his grip and ran in the opposite direction, towards the front door. She almost made it out, too, except she ran right into Peter… again!
“Natty! Natty! You forgot me!” Allie wailed as she toddled after her big sister in tears.
But before the little imp could escape, Neal snatched her up and squeezed her in a hug, attempting to offer some comfort. “Don’t worry, she’s not going to leave you,” he promised, knowing Peter would take care of Natalie. “C’mere.” He sat down on what appeared to be Allie’s bed — it was messy and had her ratty, faded Barney blanket kicked to the end. A forgotten stuffed teddy lay face down next to her pillow; it looked like the same one he’d given Natalie 6 years ago. “Your sister is going to be fine, she’s just going to talk to Peter while I talk to you.” Sensing that Allie was still feeling a little scared, he did the famous “quarter behind the ear” magic trick. Knowing that a quarter wasn’t much, he even turned the quarter into a $1 bill, just for her.
It worked. Allie was easily distracted by the magic trick, staring up at her daddy in awe. “Again! Again!”
As requested, Neal made a few different dollar bills appear from behind her ear (until he ran out of cash), then showed her some other tricks. Once she was calm enough, he pushed the door shut and took off his suit jacket. “Allie, we need to talk about what happened earlier.”
Her head cocked to the side like a puppy. “What about earlier?”
“The game you were playing with Natalie. What was that about?”
A smile spread across her face, innocence in her blue eyes. “It was to see who could trick them people the best and get the most wallets! It’s my favorite game! I’m good at tricking people! It’s fun!”
“Listen, I hate to burst your bubble, but you can’t do that. It’s illegal.”
Allie blinked in confusion and shook her head. “No, it’s not. It’s just a game. It’s like a big joke. I like jokes.”
“Kid, you took their money… you stole it,” Neal said, pulling her closer towards him. “It’s okay to play jokes on people…. sometimes,” he said, hoping she didn’t take what he said too literally. “But you can’t take people’s things, or hurt them.” He showed the little girl his ankle bracelet. “Do you know what that is?”
“No. Is it jewelry?”
“It’s from the government. It means I was caught doing bad things, so now they watch everything I do. And I don’t want that to happen to you.”
Allie looked at him confused. “Are they like a babysitter?”
“Something like that, but worse.”
“That doesn’t sound fun,” she said with a frown.
“It’s not. And Peter would think you need to be punished for this… so since we don’t want you to go to jail, I think it’s time you learned what a spanking is. It’s what going to happen when you or Natalie break the rules.”
Allie looked at him quite alarmed. “But I don’t think I wanna know what a spanking is! It sounds scary and not fun! I don’t like scary un-fun things!” Her eyes filled with crocodile tears.
“It will be over before ya know it,” Neal said.
In the living room, Natalie was now sitting next to Peter, arms folded though she was a bit intrigued by the news he’d just given her. As she eyed him she asked, “What do you mean we’re gonna move in with you? Why would you do something like that?”
“My wife and I are foster parents. So you can stay with your sister and still have contact with your father… Neal.”
Her eyes rolled. “Ugh! As if I want to have contact with that asshole. He just up and left us one day and then didn’t even care enough to call.”
Well, what could he say? She wasn’t wrong. “You have the right to feel however you want.”
The fact that Peter wasn’t arguing and displayed a calm demeanor helped Natalie relax a little, though she still sat on the edge of her seat, ready to bolt at any moment. Her eyes suspiciously scanned the FBI agent. He was sitting erect, hands resting on his legs, palms up as if he were meditating. His freshly pressed suit and tie were half as fancy as Neal’s, giving Natty the indication that he wasn’t superficial enough to leave her for an expensive art piece like her father had.
“But if you’re staying with me there are going to be rules and consequences.”
Ugh, there always had to be a catch. “I don’t do well with rules.”
“I’ve noticed that you’re not a fan, but if you want to stay with your sister, you’re going to have to give it a go.”
“Sounds like we don’t have much of a choice,” Natty muttered, finally allowing a tear to slide down her cheeks.
“You always have a choice. You can stay with your sister and come live with me, or you can be turned over to the state and they’ll decide where you’ll stay.”
Natalie shot him a glare. As if that was really a choice! “Fine, I guess I’d rather stay with you.”
“I think that’s a wise choice.” He allowed her a moment for it to sink in before he continued. “Now we have to talk about earlier… What in the world did you think you were doing stealing all that money? You could be charged with a felony for pulling a stunt like that.”
“We needed money to get to California,” Natalie replied with a shrug, convinced that her actions were justified.
Peter shook his head as he spoke in a firm tone. “What you did was wrong. Do you realize how lucky you are that we caught you and no one else? You could end up in juvie, or worse.” He paused for effect, causing her to look away until he lifted her chin to peer into her watery blue eyes. “That type of behavior needs consequences, and in this case, it will be a spanking.”
It felt like her heart literally stopped. That hadn’t been the punishment she’d expected! Not that she’d even ever been punished before. “I dunno about that…”
In the girls’ room, Neal tried to keep Allie calm while beckoning her forth. “Would you feel more comfortable with Natty here?”
Crocodile tears still falling, the 6-year-old shook her head. “The only thing that would m-make me feel b-better is to not get a s-spanking,” she whimpered. Her instinct was to squirm away from Neal, but after a couple seconds, she latched onto him tightly, not wanting to let go.
Neal just sighed and smothered her in a hug. Poor kid, he felt so sorry for her and probably would end up considering her his favorite since he felt guilty for never having been a part of her life. “Everything’s gonna be alright,” he promised as he lifted her up onto his lap and let her nuzzle in, then showed another magic trick while pondering that it may not be possible to bring himself to actually spank her.
“I wanna learn how to do the tricks! I wanna trick Natty.” Sitting on her daddy’s lap made Allie feel safe finally, and she was thoroughly enjoying being the center of attention — something she hadn’t felt often with her mom. She was also hopeful that the magic would provide a good distraction so that Neal wouldn’t follow through on his spanking threat.
Clapping sounds rang through the apartment and Neal looked down at Allie. “I’ll teach you a magic trick after the spanking,” he said. Not wanting to take the chance of her getting away, in a swift moment he placed her over his lap and planted a few light swats onto her backside.
Allie shrieked as she squirmed to try and get away. “NO MISTER!” She was not happy her distraction plan had failed. “NO! NO! NO!”
“No more stealing, Allie, okay?” Neal lectured between swats, holding onto her tightly. “I’m going easy on you this time. Peter won’t be so easy next time.”
Angry legs pounded against the bed. “Owwww! Don’t make me bite you, Mister!”
“Hey! No biting!” he scolded then gave her a final pop on the bottom and let her up. “I wasn’t tough on you this time, kid, but next time you may not be so lucky.”
Allie whimpered as she sat up in his lap and gave him a pouty glare. “That was mean!” She folded her arms with a “hmph!” and turned away, disgruntled with him for having administered the punishment. Even when he tried to wrap his arms around her tiny frame, the little girl stayed contrary, uninterested in his affection (though she didn’t move from his lap). It wasn’t until he started doing magic again that her face brightened and she became animated, ready for her dad to make good on his promise to teach her some tricks of her own.
In the living room, Natalie was getting the scolding of her life. She was staring at the hardwood floor through her dark bangs, clenching her fists to brace for the pain. Being over Peter’s lap made her feel so small, like a little girl of Allie’s age, especially knowing that Peter was in a position of strong authority and could fight much better than she (though the boxing classes with her mom had helped develop Natty’s skills). There was no escaping the spanking.
“I won’t have you stealing and being dishonest. If it happens again your pants will be coming down and you’ll get it on your bare bottom.” He rained his hand down on her jean-clad bottom, hard enough that she’d feel it, but not even close to as severe as she probably deserved. But seeing as it was her first punishment he, like Neal, decided to go a little easier on her.
The preteen kicked and squirmed but tried to keep her cries to a minimum to maintain some ounce of dignity. “Owww! That hurts!” she squealed, reaching her hand back to block. “Ok ok ok! I learned my lessonnn!”
Peter easily grabbed hold of her hand and said, “I will decide when you have learned your lesson.” He increased the intensity of the spanks a bit. “You are old enough to know that stealing is wrong, and you shouldn’t be encouraging your sister to steal as well.”
“We didn’t have a chooooice,” Natalie whined, kicking her legs more and beginning to feel the tears threatening to fall from her eyes.
“As I told you before, you always have a choice,” Peter told her. “There will be no more stealing, understood?”
He kept spanking.
“Y-yessss,” she said, wiggling over his lap and kicking a little.
“You’re a good kid and don’t need to get mixed up in bad things,” Peter added as he landed five hearty smacks to her backside. He stopped then and rubbed her back giving her a moment to catch her breath before easing her back up.
Being called a good kid rang in the preteen’s ears. She’d never been told that and hadn’t realized how nice it’d be to hear. Just as Natalie opened her mouth to tell Peter this information, Neal and Allie came into the room and she lost her train of thought, running straight to her lil sis and tackling her in a hug.
“You forgot me!” Allie accused, then added, “I learned a magic trick!”
“Sorry, I was just scared and my legs just started running… I’ll never leave you like that again, AllieCat.” She ruffled the kid’s hair and said, “Let’s see that magic trick,” then looking at her dad asked, “do you live with Peter, too?”
“He doesn’t,” Peter answered. “But I’m sure you will see him plenty.”
Allie bounced as showed her sister the quarter trick, “Neal knows lots of tricks, Natty!”
“Cool! You’ll have to show me how you do it,” Natalie said, grabbing her little sister’s hand and stooping down a little to her level. “Hey Allie, we’re gonna stay with Peter for a bit until we can live with Neal again, okay?” She knew that her little sis was scared, so gave her another hug. “He’s okay, he’s not as scary as he looks.”
Allie eyed the tall man warily as she hugged her sister. “But I wanna stay with Neal now. He’s not scary.” She pouted and clung to her sister a little tighter.
“He would just leave you again,” Natty began, only to be overpowered by Peter.
“Your father can’t right now, but I’m sure as soon as he finishes his sentence…”
Ignoring Natalie’s piercing words, Neal looked down at his girls. “And Peter has a bigger house anyway… you’ll get a big room, just for you!”
Peter nodded. “You can each have your own room and my wife will be more than happy to help you decorate them.”
“But I don’t like you,” Allie spat, frown deepening. “You’re scary and not my daddy! I won’t go with you!”
“Alliecat, let’s just look at the place first and then later you can decide if you wanna stay or not,” Natty interjected. Clearly, these adults didn’t know how to handle the six-year-old.
She wasn’t happy, but Allie agreed anyway, reaching up for her dad to hold her. Neal took Allie’s bag and then placed her on his shoulders, letting her feel taller than everyone. The oldest child, of course, looked on jealously, wishing her dad would show her a little more love instead of being so attached to Allie. But whatever. She just went to her room to pack a few more things, then came out minutes later, a negative attitude like a typical pre-teen. “Let’s go,” she said, leading the group out of the apartment.
After what felt like hours in traffic, Peter finally pulled into the driveway of his Brooklyn home. He was happy to arrive but suddenly felt a little uneasy… Hopefully, his wife would approve of their new little house guests.
“I’m hungry!” Allie announced as she got out of the car.
Peter’s wife, Elizabeth, met them outside. “Hi Hon, hey Neal,” she said with a smile on her face. “And who do we have here?”
“Elizabeth, I’d like you to meet my daughters, Allie and Natalie,” Neal said.
She bent down to shake Allie’s hand, and then to shake Natalie’s. “Neal, I didn’t know you had kids?”
“Neither did I,” Peter told her. “He’s just full of surprises.”
Allie tugged on Neal’s hand. “Are we gonna eat and do more magic?”
Elizabeth smiled. “You’re in luck… I just made dinner. Come on in.” She held open the front door for the guests then took Peter aside. “What’s going on?”
“I told Neal we would take the girls in.” His wife’s questioning look prompted Peter to fill her in on the story, handling with care the way he told details, especially the pickpocketing.
“Pickpocketing?!” El nearly shrieked when they were interrupted by the loud clamor of a cell phone. It was Jones.
“We’re short some of the money… you sure neither of the girls stole any?”
Peter groaned. “I’ll check and get back to you.” He hung up and shook his head.
“Is everything okay?” Neal asked, now walking towards them and distracting the two from their conversation. When Peter explained the phone call, Neal muttered something under his breath and shot a disapproving glare at Natalie. “I have a feeling I know who has it.”
Elizabeth took this as her cue to take the little one to the kitchen. “C’mon Allie, you must be starving!”
“Boy am I ever, lady!” Allie said, hurrying after El who pushed the door open, introducing the kid to the family dog, Satchmo, who greeted them happily, tail wagging. “Doggy!” Allie exclaimed, practically tackling him in a hug, then they all disappeared.
Left alone with her dad and Peter, Natty raised her eyebrows in suspicion, scared to be in trouble again. As they stared her down she felt smaller and smaller.
“I want full honesty,” Peter said, inching closer towards her. He was slightly annoyed but understood Natalie’s reluctance to come forward. “Jones called to say some money was missing. Did you return everything you stole?”
Natalie blushed profusely. “Oh, sorry, I forgot about it…” she half-lied, digging into her sock and taking out the last of what she’d stashed away. So much for keeping some in case of emergency. “Here ya go,” she said, putting the bundle of cash in his hand and running off to join her sister and Elizabeth. Leaving quickly would help avoid the possibility of getting spanked again.
Little did she know that Peter actually felt a rush of relief at her honesty and happy she’d handed the money over without argument.
When Natalie entered the kitchen, Elizabeth was putting down the plates while Allie attempted to set the silverware. “Do you girls like pot roast?”
“What’s pot roast?” Allie asked. “Did you roast a pot?”
“No, silly,” Elizabeth said.
Natalie piped up, “it’s just roast beef, right?” she asked. She could get used to this family thing, especially because the food smelled so good. Her stomach had started growling… she couldn’t wait to eat!
“Natty? Do I like roast beef?” Allie asked.
“Sure, you’ll try anything at least once,” Natalie said.
Peter popped inside the kitchen. “Hon, I have to run to the office for a bit but I’ll be back later.”
“Come sit and eat with us first…” Elizabeth begged. “We already set your place.”
Peter weighed his options. It was important that he return the money and sort out the girls’ legal status, but he couldn’t do it on an empty stomach. So he smiled and said, “okay, but I can’t stay long.”
Allie nodded. “Yeahh!! Let’s eat!”
After dinner, Peter left Neal showing Allie more magic tricks, and Natalie surprisingly helping Elizabeth do the dishes. Finally, Elizabeth said, “do you girls want to see your rooms?” Neither was used to having her own room before since they shared a room in their old apartment.
“I do! I do!” Allie agreed easily. She was very excited about having her own room, hoping that she could finally get My Little Pony bedding like she wanted instead of having to use her ratty old Barney one.
Elizabeth motioned for them to follow her upstairs and they eagerly did. Neal followed close behind, stopping Natalie before she went in with Allie. “What do you want?” she snapped.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for leaving… your mom and I couldn’t live together anymore and…”
“It doesn’t matter, okay? It’s over.” She walked into Allie’s room and smiled. “It’s bigger than our old room!”
Allie was twirling about in excitement trying to take it all in. “It will be pink and blue and sparkly and full of ponies!”
Elizabeth then showed Natalie to her room, which was equally big, and Natalie felt as excited as Allie. “Thanks for this,” she told Elizabeth and gave her a hug. She was almost looking forward to having this new family. Almost.
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