The girls have finally earned their rewards — the zoo and the phone! Allie’s excitement gets the best of her and she breaks one of the rules, while Natalie wanders off to flirt with a cute high school boy. Needless to say, their foster parents aren’t too thrilled about it…
by Lenore and Breanna
“WE’RE GOING TO THE ZOO! WE’RE GOING TO THE ZOO!!!!” Allie sang at the top of her lungs as she bounced around the living room like a monkey. The day had finally come — she’d earned her zoo trip and couldn’t wait to get there!
Natalie had also been presented with her prize for good behavior: a new-ish iPhone, which she’d been staring at all morning, downloading all of the apps she’d heard about and searching for her friends. So far she’d found her two closest school friends (both 8th graders), and a cute high school boy named Justin that she’d been drooling over for the last week and a half.
Elizabeth and Peter smiled at the two girls. “We need to go over the rules before we leave,” El told Allie, motioning for her to sit next to her sister on the couch. “Natalie, phone down for a minute while we talk.”
Allie leaped onto the couch, squirming in excitement. “Hurry Lizbeth! The animals are waiting for me!” She’d woken early and had been moving non-stop since.
Natalie didn’t budge from her phone until Peter came over and plucked it from her hands. “Heeyyy!” she nearly shouted.
He gave her a scolding look and she glared back, but sighed and straightened up.
“Natty let them talk so we can go!” Allie ordered, starting to bounce on the couch. “I can’t wait much longer!”
Elizabeth started: “What are the rules today?”
“Listen to you an’ Peter,” Allie replied. “An’ no screaming or I’ll scare the animals.”
Elizabeth’s eyes moved from Allie to Natalie, who shrugged. “No running?”
“And keep the phone use to a minimum,” Peter added, then glancing at the youngest, “and staying with us at all times. The zoo will be very busy today since kids get in free, and we don’t want anyone to get lost.”
“I can do that!” Allie replied. “Can we go nooooow?”
Peter smiled at his wife who put her hands on Allie’s knees to calm her a little. “Allie, if you get lost, what do you do?”
Allie thought a moment. “Find a grown-up who works there?”
“That’s right. Natalie?” she asked, “same for you.”
“Yes, I know… C’mon, this meeting is pointless… can we just go already?”
“It may seem pointless to you but it’s important,” Peter told her. “But yes, we can go now.”
The Bronx Zoo was about an hour subway ride for the family, which they preferred to driving since parking was scarce and Sunday traffic was at a standstill. At some point, though, they regretted being in the train rather than the car — it was hard to keep Allie still, and Natalie kept getting irritated at the lack of cell phone reception. Each time they entered a station, her phone blasted the same annoying tone about 30 times until Peter said, “can’t you put it on silent?” and Allie moved around so much that she almost knocked over an elderly gentleman. Both girls muttered apologies and became engaged in conversation with each other to help the time pass.
It felt like days later when they finally arrived at their stop, and Allie shot out of the subway cart, running slightly ahead. Peter called for her to come back and Natalie ran after her. “You’re gonna get in trouble,” she warned.
“You people are being too slow! You got long legs and should move faster!” Allie insisted.
Her foster mom caught up to her and scolded Allie lightly, then grabbed her hand. The little girl tried rushing Elizabeth along, tugging at her while growling “Come on!” Allie couldn’t help that she had so much adrenaline… she’d waited long enough to see all the animals she’d only ever seen on television and in picture books!
They finally made it inside and Allie squealed in delight. She didn’t know which way to look or where to start. “I wanna see tigers an’ bears an’ lions an’ monkeys an’… an’… all the others!”
“Please be patient, Allie,” Peter said as El unfolded the zoo map, looking over it with Natalie.
“The tigers are that way,” Natalie said, pointing.
But Allie wasn’t listening, instead looking around the park in awe. “Ooh! Toys!” she exclaimed as she spotted the gift shop, and then grabbed Peter’s hand. “Come on! I need a new animal first and after we can go see the tigers!”
“Hold it there, kiddo,” he said, tugging her back. “We’ll look at the gift shop on our way out.”
“But… but…” Allie stuttered a little. “I see elephants and tigers in there! They need me to hug them!”
“After. Let’s go see the real tigers first,” he said, heading in the direction that Natalie had pointed. Elizabeth followed shortly after, but Natalie had stopped to check the 20 notifications she had on her phone. She almost got left behind, but Peter happened to look back and shout, “Natty, come on!”
There were plenty of animals to see on their way to the tigers, and Allie bolted from one exhibit to another, dragging her foster parents with her and clapping excitedly with each animal she saw. Her favorite so far had been the red pandas, which she and Natalie took selfies in front of while grinning wildly. Natalie was more excited to test out the camera on her new phone, especially now that she’d set up an Instagram account. She spammed it every few minutes with photos of different things, and was already up to 97 followers in one day!
When they finally reached the tigers, Allie let go of Peter to run ahead and press her face up against the plexiglass keeping them separated. “Hi kitties! Hi!” Natty finally caught up to her sister and instructed her to smile for another selfie.
“This is pretty cool,” Natalie admitted, watching the tigers give a bored yawn, while the babies rolled around in the grass.
“I want one!” Allie stated. “They’re super cute!” Eventually, she got bored with them and glanced around to think of another exhibit. “Let’s find the bears! An’ the lions an’ elephants!”
Natalie had become distracted, though, as she noticed a comment on one of her Instagram photos — it was her crush, Justin. Her heart stopped for a moment, preparing herself for the worst, but she was pleasantly surprised: Hey, I’m there, too. Let’s meet up!
“Natty! C’mon!” Allie called out. “We’re gonna find the teddy bears!” She was holding onto both Peter and Elizabeth and was jumping and swinging between them.
“Coming!” Natalie said but quickly answered Justin’s message: txt me!
The four walked back towards the bears, Peter and Elizabeth swinging Allie between them, occasionally looking back to check on Natalie who was still typing away on her phone. Allie squealed with delight as they walked and only stopped to investigate more animal exhibits on the way. She hadn’t been this excited in her whole life and was having a blast!
They arrived at their destination and Allie cheered. “Baby teddies! I wanna hug them!”
“You can’t touch the animals behind glass or fences, they’re just here to look at,” Elizabeth told her. “But there are some animals here you can hug. We’ll go there next, okay?”
“Yeah!” Allie exclaimed as she resumed watching the bears for a little while. But she eventually grew bored and tugged on El’s hands. “I wanna pet the animals, Lizbeth! Let’s go!”
“We’ll go in just a minute when Natalie finishes taking pictures,” Elizabeth replied, as she dropped Allie’s hand for a second, thinking Peter held her. But Allie’s hand had also slipped from Peter’s as she started walking along the exhibit, farther and farther away from them.
“We should go to the giraffes,” Natalie said to Peter and El when she’d finished taking her selfies. That was where Justin was going to meet her in a few minutes and she really needed to get there!
“We promised Allie the kids’ area first,” Elizabeth answered, “but maybe after.”
“Of course we’re gonna do what Allie wants,” Natalie grumbled. But it was then that Natalie glanced around, noticing how quiet it was, and said, “Where is Allie?”
Peter and Elizabeth looked down in panic, then frantically around the park. “Allie?!” They called out, only no response came.
Meanwhile the six-year-old had wandered into the butterfly garden and was distracted by all the butterflies fluttering around her. She hadn’t really realized she’d wandered off alone… she’d just assumed everyone would follow her. After all, they were always supposed to be paying attention to her.
“Lizbeth! Look at the butterflies!” Allie said with wonderment. When no one answered, she turned around, a little confused, then frowned. Part of her had known she’d strayed from her foster parents, but part of her had been so sure they would come with her.
Near the bears, Elizabeth was beginning to panic. “I thought you had her?!”
“Hon, we’ll find her. You told her we’d go to the kids’ area… maybe that’s where she went.” He tried to imagine himself in her shoes, what she would do, where she would go. “C’mon,” he said.
Natty was messaging Justin and her foster parents almost went off without her, but she raced to catch up with them. “I bet she went in here!” Natalie said, pointing to the butterfly garden. They raced inside calling Allie’s name, unaware she had left just minutes before. She had already discovered the giraffes, laughing at them and moving on to the wild dogs. They looked sorta like Satchmo, but not really.
Natalie and El searched the entire butterfly garden while Peter stood outside, keeping an eye out for the little girl. A couple of times he thought he saw her, but it always ended up someone else. “Come on, Allie… where are you,” he grumbled to himself.
“She’s not in there,” Natalie said, startling him. Seeing the giraffes close by, she pointed. “Let’s look over there!”
El and Peter weren’t sure if Natalie actually knew how to track her sister, but went along anyway because she knew Allie best. As they approached the giraffes, right by the wild dogs, El and Peter went in opposite directions while Natalie looked for Justin. “Hey girl!” he said, noticing her first.
Natalie tucked her hair behind her ear and batted her long black eyelashes. She was aware that her beauty was exceptional, especially for her age, and used that to her advantage when flirting with the high school boy. Sadly, they were only able to make a little small talk as Justin was heading to the sea lion show with his younger siblings. “You should come… you can sit next to me.” He flashed a million dollar smile and Natalie started to answer but was interrupted by Elizabeth.
“Is that why you wanted to come here?” she demanded. “Will you help us look for your sister?”
Natalie blushed profusely and apologized to her friend, but agreed to find him later. Now she was the one grumbling as El complained to Peter that they should have gone to the kids’ area, which had been his first instinct.
Allie was starting to get a little scared and kept glancing behind her, hoping to see her family. But then the animals kept distracting her, and she totally forgot that she was supposed to have told one of the grown-ups that worked there.
She passed giraffe house and finally stumbled upon the zebras, one of her favorite animals ever! “Horsies!” she exclaimed with excitement. She watched them for a few moments then remembered how Elizabeth told her about the petting zoo. Maybe the ‘horsies’ were part of the kids’ area? It didn’t matter that there was a fence — Allie was used to climbing things. For all she knew, that was part of the fun. So she climbed the fence, no one noticing until she was already on the other side. Immediately they began trying to coax her back out. “Hey! You can’t be in there!” one of the zoo workers shouted at Allie.
She ignored him and moved a little closer to the zebras. “Hi, horsies!”
The worker radioed for help, not brave enough to enter the pen himself, and tried to calm the gawking crowd.
Elizabeth was still scolding Natalie with every step, and Natalie was getting angrier by the minute. Somewhere deep inside, both women knew that it was Allie they were really upset with, but they were taking it out on each other.
“Maybe it’s time to get the staff involved,” El finally told Peter when they reached the kids’ area and still no sign of Allie.
Peter agreed and instructed Natalie to go with her. “Why don’t I just stay here in case she stops by? She’s bound to pass by here at some point.”
He agreed and Natalie was finally left alone, sighing with relief. What a crappy day it’d turned out to be! But at least she could go to the sea lion show. She knew Allie well enough to have already imagined her climbing into one of the pens (especially when she saw a couple of men in uniform running towards the back of the park). It would be a while before they required Natalie’s assistance or remembered she exists. Smirking, she stalked off, texting Justin that she was on the way.
Allie kept approaching the zebras, having tuned out all the shouting. Didn’t they know their shouting would frighten the horsies? The zebras gazed at her with wary eyes but could sense the kid meant no harm. And the baby zebra was so tame that she walked right up to Allie as if inviting her to play.
“Hi, little horsey. I like you,” Allie beamed, petting the little zebra.
Meanwhile, Peter and Elizabeth caught wind of the excitement and had a feeling they knew just who the little girl in the zebra pen was. They bolted to the back of the zoo, hoping Allie was unharmed. When they arrived, both of them squeezed through the crowd, wanting to get at the front of the excitement. “Allie!!” Peter called. “Get out of there this instant!” He looked at El. “She can’t hear us. I’m going in.”
“Hey, you can’t…” the zoo worker began, but Peter aggressively flashed his FBI badge and hopped over the fence.
As he approached Allie, he called out again, this time close enough to where she could hear. “Allie, get over here, NOW!”
The little girl looked up, startled to see her foster dad and oblivious to his anger. “I found the horsies! The baby one likes me!” She was still petting him, wishing she could bring him home.
Peter glanced back at the people watching them, including a zookeeper who was standing nearby with a tranquilizer gun. Then he eyed the mom zebra who didn’t look very happy about the intruder. He knew that’s who the tranquilizer gun was for — and he really didn’t want to subject the little girl to having to see that. His concern, though, was coming out as irritation. “Allison Brianne Morgan,” he scolded. “I need you to get over here right now. You are not allowed to be in here.”
Allie’s lower lip trembled when he said her full name; no one had ever called her that before! She slowly removed her hand from the little zebra and inched towards him. As soon as she was within reach, Peter snatched her up into his arms, thankful she was okay. Hugging her tightly, he said, “We were so worried about you… don’t you ever run off like that again!” The baby zebra inched closer and closer, but Peter backed away, carrying Allie towards safety.
“I didn’t mean to,” Allie whimpered. “I was looking for you and found the horsies.”
People cheered as the pair exited the zebra exhibit, but the zookeeper greeted them with a scowl. “Security has questions,” he said in a bored voice, motioning for Peter and Allie to stay put.
Elizabeth came over, smothering Allie in a hug. “We were so scared when you disappeared, Alliecat! Please don’t do that again!” Then, with a worried look, she told Peter, “Natalie’s not answering her phone.”
Peter groaned, blaming himself for demanding she put it on silent. “She’s probably still waiting for us in the kids’ area.” He looked at the security guard in the golf cart as he scribbled notes on the report while chatting to the worker who’d first seen Allie. “This may take a while. Can you just go get her?”
Elizabeth nodded and took off for Natalie. She tried calling her again, groaning in frustration at how this child who begged for a cell phone wouldn’t even answer it when she was called! And then it was even more frustrating when Elizabeth arrived at where Natalie was supposed to be, only to find the preteen also missing. She has a lot of explaining to do! Elizabeth thought to herself as she dialed Natalie’s number once again.
Natalie had forgotten that she’d turned her ringer off, and she was having way too much fun with Justin. They weren’t even paying attention to the show, too busy flirting with each other. Justin had his hand on her knee and they were giggling about one of the gym teachers when Natalie took out her phone to take a selfie of them. That’s when she noticed the seven missed calls and felt her heart sink. “I should probably go,” she said after snapping the photo. The last thing she wanted was Peter or El finding her here. He gave her a goodbye kiss on the cheek, which gave her the adrenaline rush she needed to get back to the kid area.
Almost immediately she saw El searching frantically for her. “Natalie!” the foster mom exclaimed, heading for the preteen.
Having only promised honesty to Peter (after all, she had a better relationship with him anyway), Natalie didn’t feel bad at all when the lie fell out: “I had to pee and then I got lost trying to come back!” She hugged El with false sincerity.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure if she should believe the preteen — Natalie’s eyes were glazed over in something she could only describe as puppy love. She didn’t have proof, but she’d bet that hormones clouded somebody’s judgment, and they’d have to have a discussion about it later. But for now, they needed to get back to Allie. “We found your sister… it’s a long story… let’s get back.”
“Where was she?” Natalie wanted to know.
Elizabeth explained the drama as they walked, saying almost word for word the same story Allie was now telling the security guard.
“And I still don’t understand why people are so angry at me for petting the little horsey… he liked me!” Allie said, completing her statement.
Peter mostly apologized, and half explained the special circumstances the little girl had been through, though didn’t feel it necessary to go in great detail. “I can assure you, this will not happen again.”
The zoo security looked up at Peter, unimpressed, then continued writing the report. Allie was getting bored again and itching to be entertained… he knew his time was limited.
“Sir, if we can just go…”
The security guard held up a finger as if saying, “just a minute,” and continued writing.
Even Peter was getting impatient now.
Allie started to squirm, feeling brave enough to start talking again. “I wanna go see the lions. An’ the elephants and penguins.”
Peter held onto her hand tightly, especially when an older balding man came towards them. He introduced himself as the manager and offered politely to escort them out of the zoo.
Allie’s eyes filled with tears. “But I haven’t seen all the animals!” she wailed. “And you promised we’d go to the gift shop!”
“You broke one of the zoo’s rules, and they have the right to kick us out,” Peter lamented, calling El now to notify her of the news.
“How was I supposed to know?” Allie demanded as tears streamed down her face. “I can’t read anything yet.”
“That’s why you’re not supposed to leave our side,” Peter scolded. He was irritated that the whole day was now ruined and wasn’t exactly gentle with the 6-year-old when he pulled her towards the exit with him. The manager offered to give them a ride in the golf cart, but Peter rejected angrily.
“You’re going too fast!” Allie insisted as she tried to pull back a little. “My legs are short!” She tugged a little more when they passed the lions. “I wanna see the lions! Please!”
Peter stopped and growled, “Allison! That’s enough!”
Allie shrunk some as he was starting to scare her. “I want Lizbeth!” she insisted as more tears filled her eyes. She started trying to pull away from him some more. “Let go!”
Her foster dad heaved a sigh. “We’re going to get her now, but we’ve been kicked out of the zoo, so that means no lions, no tigers, and no bears.” He kept a strong grip on her hand even though she was trying to break free.
Allie didn’t like this version of Peter. He was too angry and firm and it was scary. The only thing she could think was that she needed to get away from him. Through her tears, she finally kicked his shin in desperation. “Let gooooo!”
Instead of entertaining her tantrum, he swiped her kicking, hitting, crying body off the ground and held her close to his body to keep her from hurting him. He found the nearest bench and sat down, arms wrapped around her belly and holding her wrists so she wouldn’t hit him. “Allie, this tantrum is going to stop, now,” he said in a low, serious tone. “If you keep this up, I will spank you right here in front of all these people.”
Allie just kept squirming to get away. “I want my daddy!” she wailed, as she tried everything to break free. “Let me go!”
He wouldn’t mind Neal being there at that moment either — then he could deal with this tantrum! “I’m giving you to the count of three to stop or you’re getting a spanking.” They were in a fairly secluded area, but still, people walked by occasionally and glanced at them, wondering what was going on.
Allie ignored him and everyone else, still twisting and squirming to get away. No way was she going to let him spank her! She could run faster than he could…
“One…” he began, also ignoring to the passersby. When she didn’t let up, he said, “two…”
“No! No! No!” Allie shrieked. “I want Daddy and Lizbeth!” She finally maneuvered enough and leaned down and bit him hard as she could.
“Ow!” he shouted so loudly that a few heads turned. Peter almost lost his grip on Allie, but his quick reflexes caught her and he gently threw her over his lap, then started smacking her bottom at medium force: “You. Do. Not. Bite!” he lectured, punctuating each word with a swat. “When I say it is time to go, you will go!”
Allie shrieked, her hands flying back. “LIZBETH!!!!!” she called out her tears falling faster now.
He gave her a few more swats and said, “are you ready to obey and walk with me to get El?”
Allie responded by slamming her fists against his leg. She just wanted to get away.
He peppered a couple of quick, stingy swats to Allie’s bare thighs, reminding her that it was her choice when the spanking would be over.
“Owwwiie!” Allie wailed her hands flying back. “No more Peter! No more! I want Lizbeth!”
Peter roughly lifted her up, now feeling ashamed that he let his anger get to him. He kept a firm grip on Allie’s hand as he dialed El and asked that she meet them halfway. He couldn’t do this alone.
Allie was sobbing, upset and confused and frightened. She rubbed her sore bottom furiously, wishing that Elizabeth would come already — she needed snuggles!
They both breathed a sigh of relief when they finally saw Allie’s foster mom and big sister walking towards them. Peter gently let go of the little girl’s hand so she could run towards his wife and she did, tackling her in a hug with tears streaming down her small face. She clung to Elizabeth tightly as sobs racked her little body.
Natalie was still texting on her phone, even though the battery was almost dead, so Peter yanked it from her hands. “If you’re not going to answer when we call you, then you can’t handle the responsibility of having a phone.” She opened her mouth to argue but saw that he was not in the mood. Anyway, it was dying so it didn’t matter.
“What happened?” Elizabeth mouthed to Peter, then looked down at Allie. “It’s okay, sweetie, I’m here.” She lifted her in her arms, holding her close to let Allie cry into her neck. She could feel the warmth radiating from the little girl’s bottom and glanced at her husband, who nodded that it was true: Allie had been spanked in the zoo, in public! Poor baby…
“He’s scaring me,” Allie choked out between cries. “And they won’t let me see the lions or elephants or penguins! And Peter promised we’d go to the gift shop and now he says we’re not!”
El didn’t respond, just carried the sobbing child, only putting her down when Allie became too heavy and had stopped crying. Elizabeth held her hand as Natalie and Peter trailed behind. Natalie wanted to ask a lot of questions but kept quiet. At least everyone’s attention was focused on Allie for now.
It was definitely the most awkward train ride ever. Allie sat in Elizabeth’s lap, sucking on her thumb until El pushed her hand away. “Allie, we were really worried about you when you climbed into the zebra pen,” she said, pushing Allie’s bangs out of her eyes.
“I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to go in there,” Allie told her softly. “And they were nice to me… the little one liked me lots.”
“I’d told you earlier that we can’t go into the areas with a fence, didn’t I?” El admonished.
Allie looked down at her feet, not wanting to face her foster mom’s disappointment. “I thought maybe it was the kids’ area.”
“The reason there’s a fence is so that you don’t go in. And also, that’s why we told you to stick with us and not run off on your own. You could’ve gotten badly hurt, Alliecat.”
“I didn’t mean to,” the six-year-old sniffled. “I thought you were following me. I looked for you but the animals distracted me.”
“Next time we go to the zoo, you’ll have to hold either Peter’s or my hand the whole time, okay?”
“Okay,” Allie agreed softly.
“If they let us back in,” Peter muttered, but only Natalie heard.
Everyone was happy to finally arrive home. They sent Allie up to her room, but Natalie hung around downstairs, shadowing Peter and wondering how to ask for her phone back.
“Natalie, will you go upstairs please?” Elizabeth asked.
“But my phone?” she wanted to know, eyes pleading.
“Later,” Peter told her. “You didn’t answer, and Elizabeth and I need to discuss things.”
Natalie groaned and stomped upstairs, finding Allie curled up in her room with Satchmo. “You okay?” she asked. She only heard half of the story and wanted to find out all that’d actually happened.
“No,” Allie answered softly. “Peter got scary and he spanked me at the zoo! And I didn’t get to see all the animals and everybody’s mad at me!”
“I’m not mad at you,” Natalie said, tiptoeing inside and sitting down next to her sister. “Why did he spank you? What’d you do? Did you really sneak over the fence to the zebras… is that true??”
“Yes,” Allie admitted. “The little horsey liked me. I was happy and then everybody started yelling. I don’t like yelling Natty. It scares me lots.” She looked down at her lap and started telling Natty exactly what happened. “And then he used my full name and then he spanked me! So I bit him and he spanked me more!”
Natalie tried not to laugh, but she couldn’t help but think of the look on Peter’s face when Allie bit him. “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t of climbed over the fence, silly,” she said.
“Well I didn’t know,” Allie told her. “It’s not like I read yet.”
“Uh huh, sure ya didn’t know…” Natty said doubtfully but snuggled up with her little sister anyway.
“Do you think Peter’s gonna spank me super bad Natty?”
“I dunno,” Natalie admitted. “Hopefully not. But don’t worry about it now. Just enjoy the snuggles.”
Downstairs, Peter was ruminating over what he’d done wrong. “I just completely lost it, Hon. It was like I was someone else.” He held his head in his hands, rubbing his temples to ease a headache. “I really scared her.”
Elizabeth threw an arm around his shoulder. “I know you didn’t mean to, Hon. The girls can be really infuriating sometimes.”
“I didn’t think it would escalate so quickly… I just lost my patience and…” He took a deep breath and El brought him in for a hug.
“I think you just need to take some time to relax and clear your head,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll talk to Allie about what happened today. She has to learn that she can’t wander off like that.”
Peter looked up at his wife. “Are you sure she hasn’t had enough?”
“She could’ve gotten killed today,” Elizabeth reminded. “We’re very lucky you made it in time to get her out of there before one of the zebras attacked or the zookeeper shot the tranquilizer gun. Things could have ended much worse.”
He sighed and nodded. “You’re right. I didn’t even spank her for that, just because of her tantrum.”
“And later I’ll talk to you about how you can handle her tantrums a little better, Mister,” Elizabeth half-teased, giving him another kiss then climbing the stairs. She paused before reaching the top, remembering her encounter with Natalie. After all of the Allie drama, she’d almost forgotten. “It may be good for you to talk to Natty in a little while… I think she lied to me.”
Peter groaned but agreed and followed Elizabeth upstairs, motioning for Natalie to come to her room. “We need to talk a moment,” he said, closing the door behind them and sitting down on the bed next to her.
Natalie took a deep breath, hoping this was just a lecture and then he’d return her phone. Justin had probably sent her loads of messages by now, and she just had to know what they were!
“El thinks you may have lied to her,” Peter stated, then asked her simply, “did you?”
Natalie felt a pit in her stomach and knew her hesitation had already been enough of an answer. “I might have stepped away from the kid area for a few minutes to see my friend, Justin,” she admitted, looking down at her twiddling thumbs.
Peter was glad that the preteen had chosen to be honest, especially since he’d already skimmed through Natalie’s phone and found plenty of evidence that she’d met up with this Justin boy. But that didn’t change the fact that she’d lied to El. “You know that I expect you to be truthful with both Elizabeth and me. If this dishonesty thing is starting again, maybe we were wrong in thinking you’re responsible enough to have a phone.”
“Noooo… I am responsible enough! I’m sorry… I just didn’t want to add onto all the stress Allie was causing. I really am responsible enough to have my phone.” Big genuine tears welled up in her eyes now at the prospect of losing her cell phone. She’d just gotten it — she couldn’t lose it already!
“Well you’ll have all week to think about it because I’m keeping your phone until next weekend,” Peter told her. “I can’t have you lying about your whereabouts again. We’ve already talked about this.”
“Peter, noooo..! Please don’t take it away for a whole week!” Natalie let a tear slip down her cheek. Was she really that upset about a phone? “Can’t you just spank me instead?!”
He glanced at her and pondered that idea. Now that he was calmer, it was easier for his rational side to come out. “If I spank you, you are still losing it until Monday morning, and that is my final offer.”
“Pleaseeee just one more chance!” She even dropped to her knees, pleading with him. There’s nothing worse than having a new toy taken away!
“Either no phone for a week, or a spanking and no phone for two days. It’s your choice.”
Natalie buried her face in her hands, crying loudly. It wasn’t fair… she’d just gotten the phone and she wasn’t even the one that did something bad!
Peter could feel himself softening a little. “Look if you take the spanking and are extra good tomorrow, you may be able to earn it back by tomorrow evening.”
She eased up on the crying and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry, Peter,” she said.
Peter gave her a soft smile. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your friend for very long.”
Natalie shrugged and blushed a little. “Me too.” She sniffled and wiped her eyes again, not wanting the spanking but also wanting to get it over with and hopefully get her phone back ASAP. So she bravely stood and took a deep breath, then inched towards Peter, submitting to the punishment.
Peter pulled her over his lap, leaving her pants up. It wasn’t totally Natalie’s fault and her trip to the zoo had been ruined, too. And he didn’t have the heart to give a severe spanking, especially after what had happened with Allie. He landed a few half-hearted smacks to her backside. “No more lying Natalie.”
“I’m really trying,” the twelve-year-old promised, squirming a little and holding back tears. The spanking didn’t really hurt at all, but she was sad about her phone and sad about the zoo disaster and sad because Allie was probably also getting spanked.
“I appreciate that you’re trying,” Peter told her as he gave her a few more swats. “And remember to check your phone when it’s on silent.”
“I will,” she promised. “Please give me another chance to show you I can be responsible!”
“Maybe tomorrow,” he replied. “I’m not changing my mind.” He gave about twelve more half-hearted smacks and stopped.
Natalie wiped her eyes and looked back at Peter to see if he was really done. She was kind of shocked, but also very grateful. She eased herself up and fell into Peter’s hug. They both knew he needed the hug more than she did, but neither admitted it out loud. “I know it wasn’t all your fault,” Peter said. “We all made some mistakes today. “
The preteen snuggled into him, not new at giving affection to those in need. It was something she often only reserved for her little sister, but at this moment it didn’t feel weird at all to latch onto her foster dad… she was closer to him than anyone else in her life, and he’d do the same for her.
In Allie’s room, things weren’t going as well. The six-year-old was whining, “Peter spanked me already!” She hadn’t expected to be spanked more once home, hoping that being sent to her room was the last of the punishment.
Elizabeth sat in front of the little girl. “Let’s get things straight about what happened with Peter. What did he tell you before spanking you?” she wanted to know. “He warned you before the spanking, right? He told you he would do it if you didn’t…?”
“If I didn’t keep trying to get away….” Allie finally remembered. “But I was scared and I just wanted to find you. Natty and I run when we’re scared. It keeps us safe.”
“We need to figure out a new plan for you when you’re feeling scared,” Elizabeth reasoned. “How about when you’re starting to get worked up like that, you take a deep breath, like you’re going to blow up a balloon. Can you do that for me?”
“Okay, I can try that,” Allie promised. She was tired of running all the time, but it was really all she knew.
Elizabeth tried again to reason with the child. “Now, why did Peter spank you?”
“‘Cause I bit him?” Allie answered. “And I kicked him too….” She looked down at her lap sheepishly.
El tilted Allie’s chin to lock eyes with her. “That wasn’t very nice, Allie.”
“I was trying to get away,” Allie told her. “You gotta fight when someone won’t let you go.”
“But Allie, it’s just Peter. He’s not going to put you in danger.” She placed a gentle hand on Allie’s shoulder, extending her compassion.
“He’s scary when he yells,” Allie said softly shrinking a little. “I don’t like yelling.”
“We can talk to him about that, and maybe help him learn how to breathe when he’s feeling angry, too.” She steered the conversation back to the matter at hand. “But there’s still something else you did today that we’re not very happy about. Do you know what that is?”
She thought a moment before answering. “I thought you were following me. I tried to find you but the animals kept calling me.”
“What were you supposed to do if you got lost?”
“Find a grown-up,” Allie answered. “But I got distracted.”
“I don’t want to hear excuses, Allie,” Elizabeth said firmly. “You knew that you weren’t supposed to run off, and you knew that if you got lost you were supposed to tell an adult. You chose to disobey two rules that we’d talked about before leaving, didn’t you?”
“I’m telling you what happened Lizbeth,” Allie replied getting frustrated. Adults just didn’t understand why she got distracted sometimes.
“And I’m telling you what needs to happen next time, Alliecat. Do you know why we don’t want you running off on your own?”
“‘Cause I get lost and can’t find my way back,” Allie told her. “Like when I found Daddy when I was trying to get here.”
“And what would happen if we never found you or you never found home?”
“I would be really scared and super sad,” Allie responded. “I don’t like being alone. People can be scary.”
“You could also get hurt, and you’d be hungry because there wouldn’t be any food. So many things could happen to you out there, Allie. It’s important that you follow our rules and stay close when we’re out together.” She paused to give the little girl time to reflect on what she’d said. “And if you do get lost — because mistakes happen — you have to tell a worker or police officer.”
“I’m sorry,” Allie said as she threw her arms around Elizabeth’s neck, squeezing her tight.
“Alliecat, you know the rules — what happens when you run off like that?”
“But I don’t want another spanking!” she wailed. “I’m already sorry!”
“Tell you what. I happen to know that last time you ran off, Peter told you that you’d get a bare bottom spanking if you ever did it again. But since you were already spanked once today, I will spank you over your pajamas instead.” Like her husband, El was a good negotiator.
Allie mulled over it for a minute, realizing that she probably wasn’t going to be able to talk her way out of the spanking. “You’re not gonna use a ruler are you?” The last spanking she’d received from her dad had been extremely painful and she really didn’t want to feel the ruler again anytime soon.
“No Sweetheart, no ruler. Not this time.”
“And Peter won’t be mad at me anymore?” Allie checked. She really hated when people were mad at her.
“Peter’s not mad at you, Allie. He was just upset about your behavior and about the situation.”
“Oh,” Allie said softly. She hugged Elizabeth just a little tighter. “Would a hug make him feel better?”
“After your spanking,” Elizabeth promised. She lifted the little girl and walked her to the dresser, picking out two different PJs for Allie to choose from.
Allie chose her purple Barbie pajamas and let Elizabeth help her into them. She wasn’t looking forward to being spanked again, but she was kind of eager to get to the snuggles.
When Allie was settled in, Elizabeth sat on the bed and pulled the little girl over her lap. “Why are you being spanked?” she asked, wanting to make sure the message would stick.
“‘Cause I ran off at the zoo,” Allie answered with a whimper, squirming some.
El nodded and slapped Allie’s tiny bottom, peppering her cheeks lightly, not nearly as hard as Peter had spanked earlier, but still enough that she would remember this punishment for a long time. “No sneaking off again, Allie, or something much worse than a spanking could happen.”
“Owwwww!” Allie whined as her eyes filled with tears. “I’ll be super, super good!”
“I hope so,” Elizabeth said, focusing now on Allie’s sit spots and increasing the speed and intensity of the swats. “Peter and I would really miss you if you got lost. And your dad and sister would also miss you a lot.”
Allie began to cry as her legs kicked. “I’d miss you most!”
El tried to ignore Allie’s tugging on her heartstrings, and continued the spanking. But she did go a little softer on her than originally intended. Even so, she ended with a barrage of hard swats in the center of her bottom. “I hope we don’t have to have this discussion again anytime soon,” El said.
Allie lay there sobbing. She hoped they didn’t have to discuss it again too! “I’m sorryyyyy…..”
Elizabeth rubbed her back and scooped the little girl into her arms for another hug. “It’s all over sweetie,” she promised. “You’re forgiven. I love you.”
“Love you,” Allie choked out as she snuggled into Elizabeth. She loved the woman quite a bit and enjoyed her snuggles the most.
They stayed like that for a while until Allie’s tummy growled. “Are you hungry, Alliecat?” Since the day had gone so badly, El was sure no one felt like cooking… but maybe they could have a family fun Saturday night!
“Very hungry!” Allie agreed. “We missed lunch!”
Elizabeth gave a small laugh as she carried the little one down to the kitchen. “I’m going to order pizza!” she called out.
Allie peeked into the living room and spotted Peter. She cautiously went towards him, unsure if he was still in scary mode. “C’mere, kiddo,” he said in a nice voice, holding his arms out.
“Are you back to being un-scary now?” she asked.
Peter half-smiled, feeling an ache in his chest. “I’m sorry for getting so angry and impatient with you earlier, Alliecat,” he said.
“Lizbeth said we’ll help you work on that,” Allie told him, inching closer. “I’m sorry for biting you…. and kicking you….”
Allie finally wriggled close enough to Peter that she could place her hands on his knees and peer up at him. She stared at him for a few moments before climbing up onto his lap. She stayed on her knees and threw her arms about his neck.
Peter held onto her tightly, feeling a rush of emotion come over him. He was so happy that she’d forgiven him; he hadn’t realized how worried he was that she’d hate him forever. He’d definitely have to keep working on being more patient with her.
“I thought you might need a hug,” Allie informed him quietly. “You looked sad. I don’t want you to be sad Peter….”
“I’ll be okay,” he assured her.
Allie clung to him a little tighter. “Let’s watch My Little Pony! That always makes me happy!” she said and grabbed up the remote. She was a pro with remotes and easily switched it to her favorite show on Netflix. “Can I sit with you, Peter?” she asked him, pulling back enough to watch his expression.
“Of course!” Peter felt his heart swell with happiness and a little guilt. He knew he was really going to have to work on taming his temper with the little monkey. He always seemed to take two steps forward and one back with her and that needed to change — the sooner the better.