Still angry at her foster parents for unfairly punishing her, Natty decides to accept a meeting with some high school boys about a potential job opportunity and uses Allie to keep the adults distracted.
by Lenore and Breanna
“I arranged the meeting,” Natalie’s best friend, Adriana, said as they sat by the skate park after school, watching Justin show off for them. After Natalie had pointed out the error in Adriana’s fake ID, the high schoolers were allegedly asking about the mysterious mistake-spotter and wanting to see if she was as good as Adriana claimed. “Come to my party on Sunday, and we can skip out to see them.”
“Count me in. I’ll talk to the feds about it today.” She hopped down from the bench and gave her friend a fist bump. “I should get back before they start tracking me.” She went to the playground where Allie was playing tag with her friend, Karen. “C’mon Allie! Let’s go!” She hadn’t exactly asked permission to hang out, just hoped Peter wouldn’t mind.
Allie protested but said goodbye to Karen and went to her sister. “Why do we hafta go now?” she demanded. “We were playing!”
“You know how cranky Peter gets if we’re not home on time,” the preteen responded, taking her little sister in hand and leading her across the street to their bus stop. The man in front of them had a wallet sticking out of his back pocket which tempted Natty to play “find the wallet” again, but she resisted the temptation, instead focusing on the scenery around her.
It was a crisp fall afternoon in Manhattan. School children walked with their parents or nannies down the street, chattering on about their day. The sun was already creeping down lower and lower behind the buildings, a sure sign that daylight savings time was about to end. As the bus came to a screeching halt in front of them, Natalie looked down at her little sister and asked, “You think Neal would take me to a party on Sunday?”
“Sure!” Allie replied, hopping up into the bus. “Can I come, too?”
At first, it didn’t seem like a good idea, but as she sat and thought about it, Natalie began to realize how good of a distraction her little sister could be. “You can come only if you take Karen or somebody…”
“Okay! Karen is lots of fun, so she could come with me. I’ll ask Daddy when he comes over… he’s coming today, right?”
Natty shrugged and messaged him, then glanced out the window as Allie chattered on and on about gym class. She only half-listened to her little sister, finding it hard to keep up as her mind kept wandering to thinking about what would happen in the meeting with the fake ID people. Adriana had said they’d wanted Natty to help make IDs, and that the pay would be really good. But what if her work wasn’t good enough? What if someone ended up getting caught and ratting Natty out? Peter would be furious… maybe even angry enough to get rid of her. But he had suggested she sell her art for money, and technically, this was just selling her art. And why would he have any reason to be suspicious of her?
A pit formed in the bottom of Natty’s stomach as she remembered the last time someone had been suspicious of her, and how she hadn’t even done anything wrong. I’ll show them, she said to herself, fists balled up in anger. If they want to accuse me of always getting into trouble, I’ll show them trouble!
The bus lurched forward in a halt and Allie bolted up, sprinting to the door. Natty had almost been too lost in her thoughts to notice they’d arrived at their stop! She chased after her little sister, the two of them racing home (and Allie winning, of course).
Neal was pleased that his oldest daughter had built up enough trust to request him as a chaperone for the birthday party, but the ease in which she accepted Allie’s plea to join them was enough to pique his suspicions. Lately, the preteen had gotten away with much more, still using the dude ranch fiasco to guilt trip everyone into feeling sorry for her. Surely she intended to get into trouble at this birthday party… but he had no idea what it could be.
Waiting for the party to arrive felt like torture for the two girls, and as soon as they woke up Sunday morning, they were bouncing off the walls. Even more so when Neal pushed the front door open.
“Are you ready?” he asked, ruffling Natty’s hair and scooping Allie into his arms for a hug.
“Yeah!” Allie exclaimed as she hugged him tightly. “Karen’s mommy is gonna meet us there and Karen’s gonna play arcade games, too!”
Natalie held Adriana’s gift up, smiling brightly. “Totally ready. Today is gonna be a blast!” She was a bit nervous, hoping that Neal would stay cool and not embarrass her in front of her friends. There were also butterflies fluttering in her tummy at the idea of meeting the high school kids. She’d subtly encouraged Allie to sneak off and check out the place, which meant that hopefully she and Karen would create enough chaos to keep Neal busy and off her back.
The laser tag arena was a short cab ride away, and the trio reached their destination in no time. Karen and her mother were already outside waiting, which excited Allie so much that she ignored Neal’s instruction to wait, instead running up and tackling her best friend in a hug. “We get to play lots of games!!” the little girl squealed, jumping up and down as Natalie and Neal approached.
“Allie…” Neal began, half-scolding, but Natty interrupted.
“I’m going to go find my friends. You guys go ahead to the arcade… please,” she added, batting her eyelashes.
Neal sighed, understanding but not liking this. “Okay, go ahead, but behave… please.”
“I will!” she promised, giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek. “See ya later, Allie!” Natalie ran off towards the laser tag area, finding her group of friends.
Neal turned back to Allie. “You know better than too run off like that, monkey. Don’t do that again,” he scolded.
The six-year-old was only half listening, unable to contain her excitement. “We get to play in the arcade!!!” she shrieked.
The adults chatted for a moment then Karen’s mom went to run errands, leaving Neal alone with the two six-year-olds. He took each in hand, leading them to the arcade entrance, then gave them a cup of quarters and sent them on their way.
“Let’s play this one!” Allie insisted to her friend as they stopped in front of a brightly lit racing game. Without waiting for an answer, Allie sat down in the car seat, only able to reach the pedals with her tiptoes because she was too little. Karen sat at her side and they shoved the quarters in, picking the prettiest cars and beginning to race. Both were pretty terrible, running into almost everything, which just caused more giggles to erupt.
After racing, they zoomed over to dance, then to basketball, then to skeeball. Each game provided the same genuine excitement and laughter, the girls so absorbed it was almost impossible to pry them away for pizza and rock wall climbing.
“Are you having fun, little monkey?” Neal asked, sitting the pan of pizza in front of the girls.
“Lots of fun!” Allie enthused. “Right Karen?”
“Right!” Karen agreed as she took a bite of her cheesy slice. “We should go climbing next!”
“Okay!” Allie agreed. “I like to climb! I bet I can climb the highest!”
“No, I’m gonna climb higher!” Karen insisted.
Neal chuckled as the two girls chattered away. When they finally finished eating, everyone cleaned up, then they raced to the kid’s rock wall arena. A grin spread across the girls’ faces as they caught sight of the 30-foot blue walls, rocks close together to accommodate their little legs. A dozen or so children waited in line, watching the group of four older kids currently attached to the harnesses, testing their skill. “C’mon!” Allie said, grabbing Neal’s hand and dragging him to the end of the line.
They’d only been there a few seconds when Neal’s phone rang. It was his girlfriend, Sarah, calling about a case they were working on together. Since the conversation would warrant some privacy, he excused himself from the girls and sauntered to the back of the room, watching them from a distance. He had intended to only chat for a minute, but Sarah was in a panic about the stolen piece they were trying to find.
In the middle of trying to calm his girlfriend down, he noticed Allie had already reached the front of the line and was being fitted into the harness. “Daddy! Watch how fast I can go!” she yelled.
Neal smiled and waved, paying attention but a little more focused on his phone call.
“Eat my dust, Karen,” Allie teased, then began soaring up the wall. She reached high in the air, searching for the rocks that stuck out the most or that were a little rougher so she could easily pull herself up. Her feet mostly dangled as she relied almost solely on upper body strength, only standing on a rock as an afterthought. Karen was almost a replica of Allie, holding her own in the race, but of course, losing.
When they reached the top, they clanged their bells, then Karen said, “We should ditch the old man and go exploring!”
“I don’t know,” Allie said hesitating a little. “People don’t like when I run off.”
“But he’s not even paying attention,” Karen replied. “He’s too busy making smoochy faces at somebody on the phone.” She puckered up her lips and made loud smacking sounds.
“Shut up! He’s not smoochin’ anybody ‘cept me!”
Each girl was tossed back over the wall, then lowered to the ground. As she rappelled to the floor, thoughts swirled through Allie’s brain. Was her daddy really making smoochy faces as Karen said? He had seemed a little smitten lately. What if there was some evil lady who wanted to take him away? And what if the witch succeeded and left Allie all alone with grouchy Peter?! She wouldn’t be able to handle that!
When she landed on the floor and noticed Neal grinning into the phone, Karen’s idea to go off on an exploring adventure was starting to look more appealing. So when the workers helped the girls out of their harnesses, Allie asked her friend, “We’ll be back before he knows we’re gone?”
“Sure! Come on!” Karen giggled and skipped away, certain that her best friend would follow.
Allie glanced back at Neal and pushed any thoughts of getting spanked out of her mind, then ran after Karen. “Wait for me!”
The two girls went back through the arcade towards the laser tag. “That’s where your sister went, right?” Karen asked. They inched towards the swinging doors and poked their heads inside, only to see scary zombie-like figures scattered throughout a room. “AHHHHHHH!” they screamed, running out of the room.
“Why would Natty wanna go in there!?!?!” Allie exclaimed. “That’s super scary!”
They continued on, dodging people and giggling.
Somehow they wandered right into an escape room, Alice in Wonderland themed. “Wooooooow!” Karen said. She ran her fingers over the plastic figurines and scanned the room in awe. There were different puzzles scattered around. Drawings adorned the walls, and a checkered black-and-white pattern covered the floor, stopping only at the plastic purple mushrooms.
Suddenly, a loud SLAM! echoed behind them. Both girls gasped and Allie hurried to the door, tugging at it. “We’re stuck!” she declared as she yanked and yanked, yet the door wouldn’t budge. “How do we get out?!?”
Karen noticed a numbered keypad near the door handle. “I think we have to figure out the answer, but I’m not too good at puzzles.”
Meanwhile, Natalie and friends had finished up their games of laser tag, and groups of pre-teens sat scattered in the private party room, awaiting the pizza arrival. A thin finger poked the pre-teen on the arm, and she turned to see Adriana. “Psst, hey, let’s go while everyone’s distracted.”
The aroma of pepperoni drifted into the room as a woman entered with a tray of three pies, instantly prompting a crowd to form around the serving table, conveniently located opposite the exit. Natty had almost considered backing out of the idea to meet with Adriana’s high school friends, but like always, curiosity got the best of her and the two girls slipped outside.
“We have to get back quick, so Neal doesn’t notice I’m gone,” Natty said, not exactly worried but not wanting to deal with the hassle.
“No problem, I got you.” Adriana walked a little faster as they passed by a blue car, then crossed the street.
Hmmm that car looks familiar, Natalie said to herself, but ignored it and followed her best friend down the street.
Leaves crunched under their feet as they walked a couple of blocks, finally arriving at a wall of graffiti. Four young men with flat-billed blue Yankees cap stood huddled on the street corner, one of them smoking a cigarette. They wore puffy jackets with the hoods up, and their jeans sagged underneath their butts, a style Natalie had yet to understand. Adriana greeted them all with “secret” handshakes, then introduced Natty.
“So this is the girl who knows everything about IDs?” the cigarette guy, called Billy, asked.
Adriana nodded. “Yup, ask her anything.
He looked Natty up and down, smirking slightly and blowing a little smoke in her face. Natty wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not but made sure not to flinch as he sized her up. “She sure is a young’un. How old are you, kid?”
“None of your business.”
Natty’s matter-of-fact tone caused laughter among the guys, and Billy shook his head as he took a long drag off his cigarette. “You can’t be older than fifteen,” he said, blowing the smoke right on Natty again then reaching in his pocket to pull out a stack of IDs. “But since you think you’re so smart… Pick out the fake one.”
The preteen snatched the plastic from his hands and flipped through them all, shaking her head at the amateur work. How were counterfeiters so bad at this?
“These are all shit,” she said, handing them back to him. Pointing to the top of the stack, she said, “the birthday is printed wrong, and the guy in that picture does not look like he’s 32.” The guy smirked at her and was about to say something when Natalie interrupted him. “The one from Connecticut is just as bad… the color is too red, it should be more pinkish, and faded a little, not in-your-face-red. And… I don’t even know where to begin with the one from Rhode Island. I really hope you didn’t pay someone to make these for you. I could make IDs better than this in my sleep.”
Natty looked back up at the group of guys, mouths dropped as they stared at her.
“I told you she was good,” Adriana bragged.
One of the guys in the back piped up, “She’s not a narc is she?”
“Of course not! Do you really think I’d set you up?”
Before he could answer, Billy turned towards Natty and said, “I think I could have some work for you if you’re up for it. Hit me up sometime.” He put his number in Natty’s phone then gave her a wink as the girls said goodbye and scurried back to the party.
Neal was so preoccupied with trying to find Allie that it didn’t even occur to him that his oldest daughter could also be missing. He was frantic with worry, checking every corridor and cranny for the little monkey. Half the staff had been forced to help him with the search, but so far, no luck.
Back in the escape room, Allie had managed to figure out almost all the clues (or at least made good guesses) and was finally on the last one. “Gosh darn it!” she swore as she fiddled with the puzzle pieces. “Karen! Can you stop and help me please?”
The impatience to get out of there was beginning to turn into frustration with Karen, who spent more time climbing the plastic mushrooms than actually helping solve the puzzles.
“Sorry!” chirped Karen, then she skipped back to Allie and squinted her eyes at the symbols. “What if you do this?” She then swapped around some of the tiles and POP! The final lock opened.
“We did it!” Allie shrieked and the two girls screamed and jumped, clapping excitedly. Allie opened the lockbox and dug out the final code, then took Karen’s hand and ran over to the door. Allie did the honors of punching in the numbers, then the door swung open like magic.
After a mini-celebration, the girls went to find Neal and the rock wall again. At first, it looked like they’d found it… except this room was deserted, and the walls looked a little different. Allie’s eyes fell on a sign with big bold letters: ADULTS (18+) ONLY. NO CLIMBING WITHOUT SUPERVISION.
She peered up in awe at the adult walls — they had to be twice as tall as the kid walls!
As if reading Allie’s mind, Karen shouted, “Race you to the top!” then bolted to the base and began climbing. She ignored the fact that they didn’t have the helmets or harnesses like earlier. They were both monkeys… they could make it safely to the top!
Only a second behind, Allie scurried after her. “I’m gonna win!” she insisted. “I’m a better monkey!”
Using her arms, she swiftly pulled herself up onto the wall. Carefully maneuvering so that each rock chosen was large enough for her little hands to grip tightly, she made her way towards the top.
Karen squealed in excitement as they climbed, taunting one another on their way up higher and higher. “I’m a better climber than you! I’m winning!”
“Not for long!” the other girl’s voice rang out as she reached up for another grip. “I’m faster!” Which she proved by quickly reaching her friend. They giggled as they continued on their journey to reach the bell.
It’s uncertain who the initial person was to see the little girls’ freebase climbing, but within seconds a huge crowd had formed. Natty and friends were among the first to point and stare in shock, exclaiming, “Wow! Your sis is badass!”
Neal saw the crowd and got a bad feeling that this had something to do with Allie. Racing to the arena, he nearly panicked seeing the two girls almost at the top. You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me…
“I win!” Allie declared. “I told you I was faster!”
Karen giggled. “You won ’cause I got stuck once.”
The adrenaline rush had them both giggling and out of breath, enjoying the last few seconds of ignorance to the fact that they’d been caught.
It wasn’t until Natty shouted, “WAY TO GO ALLIE!!!” that the monkeys started regretting what they’d done.
First was Karen. “Um… How do we get down? We don’t have a rope!”
“Oh no, Daddy saw us!” was all Allie could respond as her blue eyes filled with tears. She could see her dad down there talking to a worker and pointing at them. Of course he would save them — Neal always saved them! But was he going to spank her? Or worse, what if he told Peter? Maybe the better option would be just staying up there!
“Don’t you girls move!” one man who looked like a manager called up. “We’re coming to get you down!”
Eventually a pair of workers reached the girls and held onto them tight as they were dropped back down to the ground. Soon as their feet touched the floor, applause erupted from the onlookers. Allie and Karen went to run off again, only to be stopped by Neal instead, who looked anything but impressed.
“Hi, Daddy….” Allie said innocently.
“What the hell was that? I know you saw the ‘adults only’ sign.”
Allie took a step back, but Neal reached for each girl’s upper arm and began hauling them through the arena, past the group of middle schoolers, through the concession area and arcade, then finally to the building entrance. “Karen, I’ve already called your mom. She’s on her way.” He ignored the gasps and whines, continuing his speech. “And we’re going to have a discussion, monkey. You know not to run off like that!”
“We were just exploring… you didn’t have to call Karen’s mommy!” Allie insisted, folding her arms in a huff. “And I’m not discussing anything.”
There was no use arguing with her, so instead, he escorted them outside where they waited for Karen’s mom. Though the girls were busy whining and saying mean things about Neal, he preoccupied himself with trying to figure out where he’d seen that blue car before. It’d certainly been trailing them today, and he wondered how dangerous it could be. And those thoughts consumed him until Karen’s mom came up, apologizing profusely and scolding the little girl. He was glad to get her gone. Now to deal with his own. “Let’s get your sister and go home.”
“You’re not being fair!” Allie argued. “Natty’s gonna be mad you made her leave!” Her foot stomped the ground for emphasis. In the back of her mind, she knew she was pushing it, but the memory of Neal’s phone smooching was fresh, and the idea of a witch taking him away made her so angry. “I’m not going home! You can’t make me!” Little hands reached out to shove him away.
Neal stooped to the little one’s level and held her arms. “Stop this tantrum,” he warned.
Trying to yank herself free, she yelled at him, “You’re not the boss of me! I wanna play more games!” When he wouldn’t let go, she finally spat at him, blinded by rage.
Blinking, more stunned than angry, Neal wiped his face then took her by the arm back inside. There was a family restroom and he hauled her in, locking the door behind them. Folding his arms he looked down at his youngest daughter.
Without missing a beat, Allie mimicked his angry stance and glare. “Quit being a jerk! We were having fun and you ruined it all!” Forgetting the techniques she had been taught to use when angry, she continued to shout at him. “Karen and I weren’t done playing! You didn’t have to be a meanie-head and call her mom! I hate you!”
Having rarely seen this side of her, Neal felt a bit uneasy in reacting so firmly but knew that Peter expected him to be strict with Allie’s tantrums. So he grabbed her by the upper arm and planted a few hearty swats to her backside. “Remember what I said last time you put yourself in danger?” he asked, still smacking her jean-clad bum.
“Ow! Ow! Owww!” Allie yelped, her eyes suddenly filling with tears as she tried to squirm away. She threw her free hand back to try and block the smacks that were raining down. “No…I don’t remember…”
“I told you that any time you put your life in danger you’re going to get a hard spanking. Now we can either do this at home, or in here and then again at home. Your choice.” Some more swats slapped down onto her backside.
“I don’t want a spanking!” Allie wailed still trying to get away. “I wanna play the games!”
“No more games. I warned you not to run off from me and you did anyway. Those are your choices Allie: spanking at home or spanking here, then later at home.”
“I only ran off ’cause you were smoochin’ on the phone! And I told Karen not to go but she wouldn’t listen!” Allie exclaimed.
Cocking his head to the side, Neal asked, “What are you talking about?”
“She wanted to go exploring, and I told her we shouldn’t.”
“I’m glad you told her, but you still went off and put yourself in danger.” A couple more hearty swats landed upon her bottom.
Allie glared up at him through watery eyes. “I couldn’t just let her go alone! She’s my friend! She never woulda got outta that room without me!”
“I don’t want to hear any more excuses, monkey.” He glanced at his watch to see that Natalie’s party was almost over, so he’d have to do something about Allie soon. “What will it be, kiddo? Are you going to behave?”
Allie stomped her foot starting to feel angry again. Her bottom had already been smacked enough as far as she was concerned. “I was telling you what happened! Quit being a meanie-head! I wanna play more games!”
That answered his question well enough. Neal picked the little girl up and put her over his shoulder, tugging down her pants and panties and landing a flurry of hard swats. “That’s enough of this tantrum, Allie!” he scolded, feeling a lot like Peter. “You ran off from me and put your life in danger. What if you had fallen from the rock wall?”
Allie shrieked as she tried to throw her hands back but this position made it hard to do so. “OWWWWWWWW!” she immediately started to cry. “I wasn’t gonna fall! I’m a good climberrrrr!”
“I don’t care if you’re a professional, you don’t run away from me and practice extreme sports without the protection!” He started spanking her sit spots now, feeling her fists pound into his shoulder blades.
Allie tried to kick but with him holding her legs she couldn’t really do that either. “Stoooooop! It huuuuuurts!” she wailed loudly. “Daddyyyyy! I’ll be good!”
“Are you going to walk out of here like a big girl?” he asked, pausing the spanking for a moment.
Tears streamed down her face and she wanted him to stop but knew her fists would likely swing at him once set down, so she hesitated, unsure if she could be a big girl right then.
Neal took her silence as noncompliance and started spanking again, slapping her already-pink bum until the little girl was squirming like crazy. He held onto her legs tight with his left hand and now spanked the tops of her thighs.
Allie wailed even louder. “I’m sorryyyyyy!” she sobbed. “No more Daddy! No more!” She hiccuped a little, her fists grasping his shirt. “I’ll be a big girrrrrrl!”
He gave her two final hard pops to the thighs and readjusted her pants and panties, then set her on the floor.
Allie stood there sobbing, fat tears streaming down her small face. Her hands immediately went to her backside, rubbing her bottom.
“No more tantrums, Allie,” he told her seriously as he crouched down to look her in the eyes. “Understand?”
A nod was given in mostly silence, the only sound some sniffling.
Neal sighed as he lifted her so she could reach the sink and wash her face, then he escorted her out. Keeping a tight grip on her hand, he found Natalie who waved goodbye to her friends. “Wow Allie that was some climbing you did!” Natalie gushed, unaware of the events that had just transpired.
Allie whimpered a little, her free hand reaching back to rub her bottom some more. “It was dangerous….” she recited, her voice cracking a little.
They waited for a cab and Natalie jabbered about how much fun she’d had. She didn’t notice Allie’s discomfort, only the weird feeling of being the center of the conversation with her little sister around. But that didn’t stop her — she chattered on and on until the green taxi pulled up and a small group of young men walked past them. “Hey, that’s the girl!”
“See ya later, genius!” Billy called out, more flirtatious than taunting.
Natalie blushed and ducked into the car, Neal and Allie following shortly after.
Eyebrows raised in suspicion, Neal asked after closing the door, “Who are they? How do you know them?”
“Just some guys,” Natalie said, wanting this conversation to be over, so plugging her ears with screamy music. The last thing she needed was her dad finding out about the fake IDs.
Neal frowned a little, reciting the address to the taxi driver and stowing away the thought that he’d need to discuss these boys with Peter later. He then focused his attention on his youngest, who sat next to him pouting. Stretching his arm over her shoulder he said, “Monkey, I’m sorry we had to leave but you broke the rules and you know what happens when you break the rules.”
“It’s not fair! And Karen’s not even gonna get a spanking and it was her idea! You shoulda spanked her too!” She turned away huffing, lower lip poked out in a pout.
A slight chuckle escape. “I can’t spank your friend, she’s not my daughter. Her mom is the one responsible for punishing her, not me.”
Allie shot him a vicious glare. That was not the answer she was looking for! “Well her mommy shoulda let you! Then Karen would listen to me next time!” Her angry little legs kicked the seat in front of her, not on purpose, just the result of having to try and sit still with all the rage inside. “And if YOU weren’t on your phone then Karen wouldn’t have even thought of running off!”
The little girl’s shrieking caused the driver to glance in the mirror back at the scene. “Monkey,” in the calmest voice he could muster, “that’s not an excuse for running off. Settle down. We’ll talk about it with Peter when we get home.”
“I DON’T WANNA TALK TO PETER ABOUT IT!!!!”
Taking a deep breath, Neal looked over at Natalie, somewhat jealous of her oblivion to the situation. If anyone could calm the little girl down, it was her, so he plucked one of the earphones out of her ear and said, “My turn to listen… hand it over.”
She glared at him but realized he was serious. One of the rules for having a phone was that it was Peter’s phone since he was paying for it. And since it was Peter’s phone that meant that any time he, El, or Neal wanted it, she had to hand it over. “Fine,” she said and passed it to him, hoping he didn’t find the suggestive message she had been sending her boyfriend on Snapchat. He was old though. He probably didn’t know how to use Snapchat.
Neal cringed when he heard the growling vocals accompanied with distorted stringed instruments but now understood why Natty had been in another world. Knowing she didn’t have any other type of music on her phone, he instead opted to mute her playlist and snoop around a bit — maybe he’d be able to find some evidence of those little gangbangers from earlier.
“What’s his problem?” Natalie asked her little sister when she finally gave up on getting her phone back.
Allie glared at him then glanced at her sister. “I’m mad at him!” she declared, then explained the whole story and calling her father some very colorful names in the process. The anger eventually faded to sadness, big tears streaming down the 6-year-old’s cheeks.
Until then, Neal had done a good job of ignoring the girls’ conversation, too busy skimming through the encrypted teen-speak messages. But once the little one was crying, he softened up and couldn’t help reacting. Arms open, he allowed Allie to fall into his lap and wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m sorry, Daddy…..” came the meek voice. Her head was bowed in shame and she sniffled, realizing how much trouble she was in.
She gave a slight nod, daring to peer up and make brief eye contact. “I shoulda listened and not run off.”
Neal stayed quiet as they pulled up to his house. He paid the driver, then led his girls inside leaving Natalie in the living room with her phone as he dealt with Allie in the guest room.
“We need to talk about what happened today.”
Lower lip trembling, Allie whimpered, “I don’t wanna talk….my bum always hurts after a talk…..”
“And it’s going to hurt this time, too, but we have to talk about it because you did something dangerous.”
“That’s not fair!” Her little voice whined, hands covering her bum. “I’m not the only one who ran off!”
Neal grumbled. “Karen doesn’t sound like a very good friend.”
“She’s fun,” Allie insisted. “I’ll do better to keep her outta trouble.”
“So what are you going to do next time she tries to convince you to do something you’re not supposed to?”
“Tell her not to and get a grown up?” Allie suggested.
Neal nodded. “Exactly. Or figure out another way. But do NOT do something dangerous like climb up the rock wall without equipment.”
“I climb trees with no equipment,” Allie pointed out. “And park stuff too.”
“That’s different — it’s not as high up, and adults are around.”
“Oh,” Allie said softly. “Did I scare you, Daddy? I didn’t mean to.”
“Of course you scared me. What would I do without my little monkey?”
Allie moved to hug him. “I’m not going nowhere.”
“So you better learn to stand up to Karen… be a leader, not a follower.” He wrapped his arms around her.
“I’ll do my bestest,” Allie assured him. “Love you, Daddy. “
“Love you, too, monkey.” He glanced at the ruler he’d left lying on the dresser. “Last time you put your life in danger, I told you that you’ll get it with the ruler any time you do something dangerous, remember?”
Allie frowned. “But Daddy, I don’t like the ruler. It hurts lots and lots….”
“It’s to help you remember to make better choices,” he recited, feeling like he’d heard Peter say the same thing a million times.
“I can remember without the ruler,” Allie insisted. “And I can remember without the spoon, too.”
“Apparently not or you wouldn’t have misbehaved today,” Neal reminded. He reached for the wooden object and nudged his little one. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
“But I don’t wanna!” Allie plopped down onto the floor and sat with her arms crossed, pouting. She didn’t want her tummy to hurt again but she didn’t want the ruler either.
“I’ll give you some time to think about it.” Truthfully, he needed a minute away from Allie to just clear his head, and he also wanted to ask Sarah if she knew anything about the blue car…
Allie’s tearful blue eyes followed her father’s shoes as he stepped out of the room. She sat there for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. A chill went down her spine every time she saw the ugly wooden ruler laying there. She hated how her bottom ached after an encounter with it and wished there was a way to avoid the evil thing at all cost. She briefly wondered if she could hide it, but then remembered the time she’d tried to hide the spoon.
Meanwhile, Neal had gone outside for fresh air (having given Natty strict instructions to keep an eye on Allie) and chatted with Sarah for a bit. When he felt calmer, he hurried back inside. Before going to deal with the youngest, Neal caught sight of Natty punching away at her phone screen, sitting in the exact same spot as when they’d arrived home. “Did you see anything suspicious today?”
The preteen didn’t look up from her device. “Nope.”
“And those guys flirting with you?”
Her cheeks reddened, but she was able to contain her embarrassment so that her voice didn’t crack when she said, “just some high schoolers. A friend’s older brother.”
A smirk spread across Neal’s face. “You know if you need to talk about stuff… about boys… and don’t feel like you can talk to El, you can talk to me.”
For the first time, Natty looked up, eyes wide with embarrassment. “Ewwww! Dad! Gross!” Then giggled.
And that helped calm his concerns about Natalie.
With a deep breath, Neal pushed open the guest room door and looked down at the 6-year-old who was now lying down on the floor but looking a little less defiant.
The door clicking shut prompted Allie to glance up at her daddy. The way he towered over her made it seem like he was a giant, which was all the more intimidating because she knew the stupid ruler was coming next. Just the idea of it made her stomach do somersaults. “My tummy hurts.”
“Does that mean you’re ready to get this over with?”
Allie pushed herself up and hugged his leg, giving a timid nod. Then she felt his hands under her armpits and she was lifted from the ground, now latched onto his side.
“I know Peter’s punished you for running off before,” Neal scolded as he sat down on the bed, pulling her onto his lap. “You know better than this Alliecat.”
They sat like that in silence, Allie’s face buried into his chest, until she gave a muffled, “I’m sorry.”
Neal lifted her chin so she’d look him in the eyes. “This is the last time you run off like that, okay monkey?”
She nodded but then asked, “What if I forget again?”
“Then the spanking will be much worse.”
“I don’t like the sounds of that. What could be worse than the ruler?”
“Hopefully we won’t have to find out.” He then helped the trembling girl over his lap, tugging Allie’s pants and panties to her knees.
Suddenly she didn’t feel so ready to get this over with anymore. “I’m sorry Daddy…..!” came her final plea.
“I know you are.” He then circled around her waist and began the spanking. At first, he delivered a few mild swats with his hand, already causing the little girl to squirm and cry out.
“Owwwwwww…. Daddyyyy…! I’ll be gooooood!”
He tightened his grip, peppering her sit spots a bit. “No more running off, Monkey. And no more letting Karen pressure you into doing something you know is wrong.”
“I won’t!” she promised.
He alternated between her cheeks and sit spots, making sure they were an even shade of pink before pausing for a moment. “And no more putting your life in danger.” Taking the ruler, he thwacked it against her pink bottom, only giving her a second to breathe before crashing it down again and again.
Allie howled as her legs began to kick. “OWWWWWW!” She threw her hand back, a pitiful attempt to block this assault on her backside.
He caught her hand and pinned it to the small of her back, peppering her bottom and sit spots with a few more stingy swats. “You can’t just go wandering off on your arm and going places that are off-limits.”
Kicking more and bucking up a little, Allie squealed, “I’m sorryyyyy! I’m sorryyyy!” Her pink pants flew off her legs as she kicked, her Barbie panties following them shortly after.
“Do you understand why you aren’t supposed to run off?” he asked, giving her a brief break from the barrage of spanks.
“I could get lost or hurt,” Allie sobbed.
Satisfied with that answer, he popped her sit spots and thighs a few more times with the ruler, then moved his way back up to her bottom. Her kicks were becoming too much so he threw a leg over hers. “Almost finished, Alliecat,” he said. “I want you to remember how much this hurts next time you think of running off.”
Her sobs echoed through the room. “No more! No more!”
“Your final six,” he promised. Holding onto her tight, he delivered the first hard SMACK! with the ruler.
Allie screeched loudly, her small body writhing about on his lap as she tried to escape. “OWWWWWW!”
The next two he planted on her red bottom one after the other, without time to breathe between them causing her to howl even louder. Her sobs were heartbreaking and loud enough to wake the dead, as her tiny frame shook with each one.
Her cries were starting to crack Neal’s tough-guy exterior. “Halfway there,” he said aloud, whether more of a pep talk for himself or for Allie, he wasn’t sure.
The fourth and fifth swats were on her sit spots, and then he gave the final loud POP! in the center of her bottom.
Allie let loose a high-pitched shriek with each swat and just lay there sobbing when he finished.
Almost immediately, Neal scooped her up into his arms and in for a hug. He wasn’t good at enforcing consequences for the little girl but wanted to be consistent like Peter and Elizabeth had requested. According to the foster parents, the girls needed rules and discipline, something Neal hadn’t had much of growing up, and something he wasn’t sure he agreed with. But for now, he had to do as the foster parents preferred.
Allie buried herself into him as her body shook with each sob. “I’m sorryyyyyy…” she hiccuped and clung to him.
“I need you to show me that you’re sorry by not running off anymore.”
The little girl nodded, face pressed against his tear-soaked shirt. They sat like that for a few minutes as Allie’s sobs died down to sniffles, and she finally felt okay enough to ask him about what Karen had said earlier.
“Daddy… are you gonna leave someday? Like, run off with some witch?”
“Of course not, monkey. Where is this coming from?”
Allie shrugged and bit on her lower lip. “Karen said you were smoochin’ on the phone earlier.”
Ignoring the pang in his chest at the thought of how Allie would handle his being in a romantic relationship, Neal finally decided to do something about the “best friend” of his little girl. “You know, I think I’ll have a talk with Karen’s mom about giving her a good spanking.”
“Sheesh, finally! It’s only fair!”
It was already dark outside when the trio burst into the living room of the girls’ foster home. Peter was sitting on the sofa, paperwork spread out in front of him as he stared into space, undoubtedly trying to piece together clues. Not even Neal’s joyous greeting or the door slamming could break his concentration.
“You’re later than expected,” El said, sauntering downstairs. “Did you girls have fun?”
“It was AWESOME!” Natty gushed, then babbled for a solid five minutes in an uncharacteristically enthusiastic voice.
That’s what caught Peter’s attention.
But El was more concerned with something that was missing — Allie’s voice! Her motherly instinct told her that the little one had gotten in trouble.
After small talk and story-telling, Natty bolted upstairs to her room, leaving the door cracked in curiosity if Allie was going to get in more trouble. She listened as Neal explained what had happened, rolling her eyes at El’s lecture and Peter’s disapproving grunts. A few minutes of that, then she heard the patter of her sister’s footsteps, and El’s following shortly after. It was bath time, and Allie was eerily compliant.
Natty was about to go back downstairs to turn her phone into Peter for the night when she heard her name.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about Natalie,” Neal was saying.
The preteen inched closer to the door, heart thumping loudly.
Peter spoke next: “Something’s off with her. I’ll keep an eye out but let’s not jump to conclusions.”
“Maybe it’s time to turn the tracker on.”
Natty froze. It felt like a shard of ice had been shoved into her chest. Just as she was starting to get along with them again, they wanted to go and invade her privacy again? Well, two could play at that game.
Fueled by her rage and betrayal, not thinking in the least, the preteen opened Snapchat, clicked on her message with Adriana and typed: tell them im in.