The girls decide that they need to earn extra money, and not exactly in a way that their foster parents or Neal would approve.
by Lenore and Breanna
“Peter? What does Daddy like?” Allie asked one evening as she sat on the living room floor playing with Satchmo.
Her foster dad peered over his laptop at her. “Why do you want to know?”
“I wanna get him a present. He brings me presents and I wanna bring him one, too.”
Peter smiled. “That’s good logic, but we could never afford what Neal likes,” he responded, going back to his work.
“We can’t?” Allie questioned. “Why not?”
“Neal likes expensive things… He has very fine taste.” He paused realizing the six-year-old probably didn’t understand him. “But, you know, if you want to get him a gift we can try and find something small.”
Allie frowned. Something small wouldn’t do if her daddy wouldn’t like it; she’d prefer to get him something he’d like a lot! But if Peter didn’t have enough money, how would she ever have enough? Maybe Natty could help her out… Her big sister always knew the answers!
As if on cue, Natalie swung the front door open and shrieked, “I need new art supplies!” Elizabeth was trailing behind with Chinese take-out, a look on her face as if warning the others of the preteen’s near-meltdown. “Everyone has a cool set except me… it’s not fair!”
Peter cleared his throat and set aside the laptop — there was no use trying to get anything accomplished in this house. It would have to wait until tomorrow. “Well, hello to you, too,” he said, then met his wife at the door with a kiss.
“I told Natty that she can help Mrs. Weatherby clean out her basement,” El said. “I’m sure she’d pay enough to afford the nice set.”
Natalie scrunched up her nose in disgust. The last thing she wanted to do was clean out some old lady’s basement! Manual labor was not her thing; she preferred to use her creativity to trick people into giving her money. It was so much easier!
“We can’t afford everything you girls want… money doesn’t grow on trees, ya know,” Peter said. “If you want new art supplies, you’ll have to earn it the old fashioned way: working for it.”
Natalie groaned as Allie piped, “I wanna make money, too! I can walk Satchmo!” If her sister could make money, why couldn’t she? She needed money to buy her daddy a present!
Peter hesitated, but El interjected before he could speak, “Peter and I will discuss what chores you can do to earn an allowance.”
“Just not too many,” Allie insisted innocently, “I need to play, too.”
In theory, having the girls earn money by doing work around the house was a great idea. The reality, though, was that Peter and El were kind of cheap, which meant it would take *forever* to earn enough for an art set or a present for Neal, and neither Natalie nor Allie was particularly patient. They even decided to go together to help the neighbor, Mrs. Weatherby, clean up her creepy basement, but the mixture of mold and dust made the air nearly unbreathable, and they ended up bailing on the job after a mere fifteen minutes.
Both girls spent the next couple of days racking their brains to think of new ways to earn the cash. Natalie’s brilliant idea came while she was on the subway with Neal, heading home from art class. As usual, they weren’t talking to each other, and Natalie still didn’t have a cell phone with music on it, so she was stuck people-watching.
Basically, everyone spent the commute staring down at their electronic devices (including Neal), only looking up occasionally to check their location. It wasn’t until a trio of Mexican men with instruments came inside the cart that people finally pried their eyes away long enough to smile and put dollar bills in the cowboy hat one of them passed around. Then a few minutes later, a homeless woman strolled down the aisle with a little boy, asking for spare change. Again, people dug into their pockets to toss coins into her cup.
Natalie was amazed — how was this any different than her usual ways to get money? And these people did it right here on the subway, in plain sight, right in front of Neal, and he even gave them money! So that meant it was a totally legal and legit way for her to earn money, right?
That night she begged and pleaded with her foster parents to let her ride the subway to and from art class on her own, and she didn’t give up until they finally agreed. So the next day Natalie snagged a ukulele from the music room at her school (they wouldn’t miss it), and carried it with her on the subway, eventually mustering up the courage to strum a few songs she’d learned from one of her mom’s friends a few months ago. It made her feel weird, playing his songs like her mom was still there with her. Alex would be super proud of my smart idea to earn money without getting in trouble by the fed, Natalie thought. Does she even know where I am? I haven’t spoken to her in ages. She might as well be dead.
All of this was on Natalie’s mind and she didn’t even realize that tears were streaming down her face. The emotional intensity made some passengers uncomfortable enough to shove a $5 or $10 bill into the hat she held out after finishing. It was a super successful adventure, and by the time she got back home, she’d earned almost enough to get her art set!
Allie, on the other hand, had been unsuccessful in brainstorming new money-making ideas and had resorted to what worked in the past — playing “find the wallet.” Each afternoon she went to the park with Neal, paying close attention to her surroundings as she snuck wallets out of the grown-ups’ pockets, grabbing whatever bill was easiest, then stuffing the wallet back where it belonged. Nearly a week had passed when she was almost caught.
Like always, Allie scanned the area to make sure no one was watching before easing the wallet out of a man’s jacket pocket. But an uncomfortable feeling washed over her when she had the wallet in her hands, and she peeked up to notice her father watching. With an innocent look, she casually snuck the wallet back and scampered to her father who’d just beckoned her over.
“What were you doing??” Neal demanded as he crouched down to her level.
“He dropped his wallet and I was putting it back for him,” Allie lied easily.
Neal narrowed his eyes a little. “You weren’t taking his money were you?”
Allie shook her head. “No Daddy. I was helping him.”
“Let’s see your pockets,” Neal ordered, unsure of trusting the little one before him.
Allie emptied her pockets, a ball falling from one. “See Daddy? I only got my bouncy ball.”
Neal nodded. “I see. Why didn’t you just tell the man he dropped his wallet?”
“You can do that?” Allie asked as she retrieved her ball.
Neal couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yes, you can do that. If you don’t, he’ll think you stole something.”
“Oh, okay!” Allie chirped before hurrying off to run around some more.
She didn’t play “find the wallet” the rest of the afternoon, instead busying herself with the monkey bars and jungle gym. She was happy she’d hidden the money in her panties where no one would find it, but she did feel a little funny about lying. When she got home later that day, after hiding her stash, she barged into her sister’s room. “Natty, I need to make more money! Can you help me? Please?”
Natalie had been counting her own money, and defensively tried to hide it all. Admittedly, she was glad it was just her sister. “Why do you need money?” She eased some of the bills under her leg so Allie wouldn’t see how much she had.
“I wanna buy Daddy a present and Peter said we can’t afford what Daddy likes,” Allie replied. “If I make more money maybe I can afford a present.”
“Why would you want to get him a present?” she asked, unaware of the cold hatred in her tone. Natalie still wasn’t able to forgive her father for leaving, so she couldn’t possibly think of any reason someone would want to give him a present.
Allie shrunk a little. “He’s always bringing me presents and I wanna surprise him.” It was hard for Allie to understand why Natty didn’t like their daddy, but she didn’t realize how much more attention she got than her big sister.
“Can’t you just make him a picture?”
“No,” Allie answered. “I did that already. I want something special.”
Natalie pondered whether or not it’d be worth it to take her sister along for a subway ride to make money. An uneasy feeling crept into her stomach telling her it was a bad idea, but she wondered how much more money she’d make with her kid sis along. After all, people loved little kids much more than bigger kids… that’s why Allie got so many presents. But then Natty would have to share her profits… but then it was her idea, and she was the boss, so it’s not like Allie would know how much money she should be making anyway.
“I have a new game we can play, but it’s risky.”
“I like games!” Allie insisted. “I like adventures! Long as it’s not scary…”
“I mean, it’s kind of a game, but you could get in trouble if Peter or El or Neal find out.” Then, peering around the room to make sure no one was listening, she leaned in and whispered the money making scheme to her sister.
Allie was excited about the adventure and it sounded a lot easier to do than find the wallet. “I’m in!”
“But you have to promise you won’t tell anyone,” Natalie said, holding out her pinky finger.
Allie hooked her pinky with her sister’s. “I can keep a secret!”
Little did Natalie know, Allie already had a big one.
The next few afternoons, the girls snuck out with the excuse that they were going to the park around the corner, but in reality, they were on the subways, strumming the ukulele, tapping the tambourine, singing, and crying. They could both win an award for their theatrics! They brought home so much money Natalie knew she’d be able to afford anything she wanted before too long.
Allie had fun on the subway with her sister but was still feeling bad about lying to Neal. Her tummy was bothering her and she couldn’t make the feeling go away. She tried everything from snuggling with Elizabeth and Satchmo to avoiding her father as much as possible.
One evening when her father came to visit, she spent most of the time lying on her bed curled up in a ball and hugging her stuffed dog, trying not to cry. It made everyone suspicious that Allie wasn’t all over Neal like normal, but most of them brushed it off as her being sick to her stomach — Elizabeth even gave her medicine. It was Natalie who didn’t buy it.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked, not harshly, but with a firm voice. Natalie had a hunch that she knew exactly what was wrong with her sister. Even without the details, she could suspect it had something to do with guilty feelings.
“Nothing,” Allie answered softly. “Go away Natty. I don’t wanna talk.” She had hoped no one other than Satchmo would bother her.
But Natty didn’t go away, instead closing the door and plopping down on the bed next to the six-year-old. “What’d you do? You’re acting weird.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Allie whimpered. “My tummy just don’t feel well.” She was close to cracking but was trying so hard not to.
Natalie kept staring at her sister, so much that Allie covered her face so she wouldn’t have to deal with Natalie’s fierce blue eyes. “Allie, c’mon, stop hiding and just tell me. I won’t tell anyone.”
“I can’t,” Allie replied softly, her voice a little shaky. “I can’t tell anybody….”
“‘Cause Daddy will find out and be mad at me,” Allie sniffled as her tears started to fall.
“What did you do?!” She pulled Allie’s hands away from her face and stared at her again. “Tell me.”
“I… I…” Allie tried but she choked on a sob. “Daddy saw me… saw me playing… find the wallet… and I told him I wasn’t and he… he believed me ’cause my pockets were empty…” She cried more as she continued. “But the money wasn’t in my pockets… and now my tummy hurts and I can’t get it to feel better…”
Natalie softened and patted her sister on the back. “Hey, okay… I get it… relax.” She was usually pretty good at calming Allie down but had started feeling butterflies in her own tummy thinking about what would happen when Allie came clean about the stealing. She’d definitely crack and tell how they’d been earning money lately, which means then they’d both be in trouble. That meant Natalie had to think of a plan to keep her own butt out of trouble!
A scratching at the door jolted Natalie out of her thoughts and she went to let Satchmo in, then snuggled with both he and Allie as the little girl sobbed. “I didn’t wanna lie… but I didn’t want him to be mad at me… I just wanted to buy him a present! And now my tummy hurts….”
“Your tummy hurts ‘cause you feel guilty,” Natalie explained. “You just gotta find something to make you feel… not-guilty.”
“But how? Snuggling doesn’t work! And I tried not going near Daddy and that’s not working!” Allie cried. “My tummy’s hurt for a long time Natty! I miss snuggling with Daddy!”
“You probably have to tell him what you did,” Natalie said, reciting what Peter would want her to say. “Or you can keep trying to ignore the bad feelings, but they’ll never go away.”
“But I’ll get a spanking if I tell Daddy!” Allie wailed. “’Member he said if we lied and stole again it would be worse! I don’t wanna find out what worse is! It hurt enough last time! And he would find out about the surprise!”
“So take the surprise to him and then tell him after. Maybe the surprise would make him too happy to spank you,” Natty mused.
Allie whimpered then said, “I didn’t get the surprise yet ’cause I dunno if I got enough money. I can’t count so high.”
Natalie sighed and asked her little sister to bring what was she’d stashed away, and Allie obeyed, retrieving it from a box underneath her bed. She dumped the contents onto the bed and Natty sifted through, counting out the bills, which totaled almost $200. Wow! That was kind of impressive, especially since Natalie hadn’t exactly been fair when distributing their subway money. “You probably have enough to buy something nice for him. What do you want to get?” she asked, but Allie shrugged. Natalie already had an idea though: “How about… you give me your money, and I’ll put it with my money to buy Neal… Dad… a cool present when I get my new art stuff tomorrow. Then we can stop playing the subway game, and you never steal again and never lie to him again and then it’s a win, win.”
“Okay,” Allie agreed easily. “And my tummy will feel better?” That’s what she wanted most after surprising Neal.
Natalie didn’t answer, just gathered the cash. “It’s probably best to just go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
The little girl nodded, happy that her big sister was helping her take care of this. Then she changed into her pajamas and went downstairs to say goodnight to everyone, including Neal. “Night Daddy…I love you.”
He carried the six-year-old to bed and tucked her in with a kiss on the forehead. “Night monkey,” he said with a smile.
Allie snuggled up with Satchmo and kept trying to ignore the bad feeling in her tummy. She really hoped her sister was able to get a good gift for their daddy as she had risked a lot for this!
The next day, Allie didn’t feel any better. The grown-ups were getting a bit concerned and wondered if they should take her to the doctor, but instead allowed her to stay home from school at Neal’s house with Mozzie, the unofficial babysitter on short notice.
Natalie was starting to get a tummy ache herself, but had a little more practice with avoiding guilty feelings. She was able to ignore the rumbling almost all morning, but around lunchtime started worrying about her kid sis. She was glad the people in her school’s office were nice enough to let her call Mozzie and check on Allie.
“How ya feeling?” she asked after begging her father’s best friend to pass the phone to Allie.
“My tummy is still unhappy Natty,” Allie whined tearfully. “It’s making me want to be sick…” She was so stressed out she wasn’t sure if her stomach was going to settle or cause her to throw up.
Natalie tried to help her sister forget about the guilty feelings, but there wasn’t enough time — she was rushed off the phone by the secretary, so had to cut the conversation short.
Mozzie was starting to get suspicious, and when Allie handed him the phone, he began to question her. “What did middle suit want? What’s she worried about?”
“She wanted to know how my tummy was,” Allie answered as she headed back for the couch and her cartoons.
“There’s something you’re not telling me, baby suit,” Mozzie said, sitting next to her. “Are you faking sick?”
“No, my tummy really hurts,” Allie answered softly. “It’s hurt for a long time.” She stared down at her lap.
“Did you eat something you weren’t supposed to?”
“No….” Allie trailed off. “If it were that Lizbeth could make it better.”
Mozzie sat facing the girl and looking her in the eyes. “So what did you do?”
“I can’t tell you….” Allie replied softly, her eyes filling with tears. “I told Natty and don’t feel better and if I told you then you’d just tell Daddy and if you tell Daddy he’ll be mad at me….”
“I think I’ll tell him anyway. If you don’t tell me you have to tell someone.”
“But I already told Natty!” Allie replied feeling angry. “I can’t tell anyone else… Daddy can’t know that I lied…”
“Lied about what?” He already had his phone out, ready to make the call.
Allie looked startled at first but then she realized she had slipped, and then it was like the floodgates opened and everything came pouring out… playing find the wallet, her father catching her, lying to him… everything except the game they played on the train.
“You’re right, we do have to tell Neal,” he said. “That’s why you don’t feel better… you haven’t told him yet.” Mozzie wasn’t that great with little kids but knew she needed a hug, so gave an awkward squeeze and said, “There, there. It’ll be okay.”
Allie leaned into him. “But he’s gonna be mad at me!” she wailed as more tears fell.
“Maybe, but he’ll get over it.” As he held the small child, Mozzie typed out a text message to his pal: Monkey needs you, come home asap. Don’t tell the suit.
It didn’t take longer than ten minutes for Neal push the front door open and ask, “What couldn’t wait until this evening?”
Mozzie nodded down to the little girl crying in his lap. “I found out what’s wrong with someone’s stomach.”
Allie buried herself into Mozzie, not wanting to face her father. She did want her tummy to feel better, but she didn’t trust that telling him would actually help. So far telling people hadn’t helped at all.
Mozzie passed the little girl to her father, a bit uncomfortable with the attachment, then whispered to Neal what she’d told him. “I’ll let you two work it out,” he finished, exiting the apartment without indication of whether or not he’d return.
Neal sat down on a dining room chair with Allie in his lap. “Is it true what Mozzie said, monkey?”
Allie squirmed wanting to get away but at the same time wanting to snuggle in. She finally settled for leaning against him a little as she nodded while wiping some tears away.
“Why did you lie to me, Allie?”
“I didn’t want you to be mad at me….” Allie sniffled. “And I didn’t wanna tell you why I was getting the money…”
“Well, now you have to tell me,” Neal explained. “How much did you steal?”
“Natty said I had almost $200… but I didn’t steal all of it. Just a bunch of it…” She rubbed her eyes a little.
Neal cocked an eyebrow. “Natty knew about this and didn’t say anything? And if you didn’t steal it all, where’d you get the rest?”
“I can’t tell you,” Allie sighed heavily. “It’s a secret… I pinky swore.”
He wasn’t sure he wanted to know anyway, so dropped the subject.
“I’m sorry….” Allie told him softly as she leaned into him a little more.
“I know,” he said solemnly. Neal felt bad that Allie didn’t trust him enough to be honest, that he had to find out from Mozzie. And what if Moz hadn’t said anything? How long would this have gone on? And where was she getting the rest of the money? He had a feeling it wasn’t exactly through legal means, especially if she had almost $200.
“I didn’t wanna lie, but I didn’t want you to be mad at me….” Allie added. “My bum likes being able to sit….”
“But sounds like now your tummy hurts instead.”
Allie nodded. “Natty and Mozzie said if I told you that I would feel better… but it still feels bad Daddy….”
“Why do you think that is?”
Allie frowned. “They said something about feeling guilty but I don’t know what that means. I never felt like this after playing find the wallet before…”
“Feeling guilty means that you feel bad because you know you did something wrong. Usually, the bad feelings will go away once you’ve paid the consequences and you know nobody’s mad at you anymore.” He paused to look into her eyes. “Do you understand?”
“So I gotta get in trouble to feel better?” Allie double-checked, not liking the sound of this.
“Usually, yes,” Neal said, though he must admit, he felt relieved to know she was able to feel guilty — it was something that had been a challenge for both he and apparently Natalie, too. At least Allie would be able to learn how to make better decisions in the future.
“But you said if we did it again the spanking would be worse than last time!” Allie wailed. “And last time hurt plenty!”
“Guess you have a tough choice then — either keep feeling sick to your stomach or accept the consequences for what you did.”
Allie started to cry a little. “But I don’t want my tummy to hurt anymore!”
Neal started feeling the emotions getting to him, too, and wished there was something more he could do for her. But she was just now learning the rules and if he didn’t follow through with the consequences, she’d learn that sometimes you can bury that guilty feeling so deep that it takes years to resurface if it even does at all. He wished Peter could just take care of this, but knew that it was time for him to be a responsible father. The only way to do that was to do what neither of them wanted.
“So that means you’ve got a good spanking coming, little monkey,” he said gently.
“You promise my tummy will feel better?” Allie whimpered holding her pinky up. “Pinky swear and all?” She didn’t want a spanking but she wanted more than anything for her tummy to stop hurting. She couldn’t take it anymore.
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” Allie replied without any hesitation. She trusted him as much as she trusted her sister.
“Then you have to trust that I’m right that the bad feeling in your tummy will go away once you’ve paid the consequences. C’mon, Alliecat, let’s get this over with. I don’t wanna do it any more than you.”
Allie took a shaky breath as she slid from his lap so she could stand. He eased her over his knee, rubbing her back a bit to help calm her trembling body. “Allie, you know that you’re not supposed to play ‘find the wallet’ anymore. I’d like for you to tell me now what was so important that you couldn’t ask me or Peter for the money, but instead decided to take it from strangers.”
“I wanted to buy you a present,” Allie whimpered. “But Peter said we can’t afford what you like so I decided to get the money myself.”
Neal felt a pang in his chest. “Oh Allie,” he said, wanting to lift her back up. “You don’t have to worry about getting me anything expensive at all. The best present I’ve ever gotten was the day that you came back into my life. Don’t ever forget that, Alliecat.”
“I won’t,” Allie sniffled, as she squirmed a little. She had just wanted to surprise him like he always surprised her. She loved presents!
Neal cleared his throat and straightened in his chair, bracing himself for administering the punishment. He wasn’t much on scolding, but felt it necessary to remind her: “Allie, no more stealing, for any reason.”
“I won’t, Daddy,” Allie answered softly.
He tugged down her shorts and panties, circling an arm around her waist. “Do you want me to hold your hand?”
Allie nodded, reaching her hand back. She was nervous and hoped he was right about her tummy feeling better after this; if it wasn’t she was going to be pretty upset with him.
Neal grabbed her little hand and landed the first flurry of mild swats to her backside. Allie yelped with each one, crying almost immediately as she felt so bad.
“I love you, monkey, and I want you to trust that you can tell me anything, no matter what,” he said, alternating between her bottom and sit spots to ensure the lesson would be effective. “If I’ve caught you doing something you’re not supposed to, it’s better to be honest and accept the consequences, because what happens otherwise?”
“My tummy will hurt!” Allie answered through tears. “I’m sorry!” She wished she had told him, but she had been so sure everything would be okay if she lied just once more.
“That’s right — you’ll feel guilty, and you’ll make me and Peter and Lizbeth very unhappy.” He stopped spanking for a moment and said, “What did I tell you last time would happen if you lied again?”
“That this time would be worse,” Allie wailed, squirming a little. “I don’t want it to be worse!”
“I’m sorry, Allie, but you were warned.” Neal lifted his daughter up from his lap, shorts and panties still bunched at her knees. He didn’t mind when she began rubbing her bottom furiously and took her distraction as an opportunity to fetch his wooden ruler. Then he sat back down and took her hands in his, looking her in the eyes. “Allie, this spanking is going to hurt a lot, but when it’s over you won’t have to feel guilty anymore.”
“But I don’t want it to hurt lots,” Allie whimpered as she rubbed her bottom. “It hurts lots now….”
“You just have to learn your lesson and remember how much this hurts the next time you feel tempted to steal something or lie to me — because believe me, you’ll be tempted a lot.”
She hiccupped. “I won’t steal again Daddy. It makes my tummy feel icky.”
“I hope not,” he said, helping her back over his lap.
Allie tensed up, unsure of what to expect when her father re-positioned her. But then she felt the cool wooden ruler resting against her warm bottom and shivered slightly, whimpering, “I won’t lie to you again, Daddy! I’ll be super, super good! I swear!”
“I know you will, monkey,” Neal replied, holding her hand away and lifting the ruler, landing it with a loud SMACK right in the middle of her bottom.
Allie screeched, her legs kicking wildly. “OWWWWWW!”
The next swat landed directly below, and then a third on her sit spots. Neal held onto her tight to make sure she didn’t squirm away.
“No mooooore!” Allie pleaded.
He gave her a few more light, fast swats with the ruler, covering her entire bottom and sit spots, even the occasional TWACK to the thighs. Peter would’ve probably been a little tougher on Allie, but as the little girl lay there sobbing, he could tell that she’d learned her lesson. Pausing the spanking for a moment, Neal asked, “Where is the money, anyway?”
“Natty’s got it,” Allie sobbed.
“And where did you get the rest of the $200?”
“We played music on the subway!”
His heart skipped a beat as he imagined the two children on the subway by themselves, begging for money. He’d waited too long to ask for details, and had the feeling someone else was behind this, so decided not to interrogate her. “You really have to start getting permission from an adult before going along with one of Natty’s schemes,” he scolded lightly. “Six more, Allie, then I’ll be all finished. But these are going to hurt much more than the others.”
“Nooooo!” Allie wailed and started squirming again. “I’m already sorry!!!!”
“I’m sorry, too. Hopefully, this won’t happen again anytime soon.” He tightened his grip, throwing a leg over hers to make sure she didn’t squirm too much. There was no need to make this last any longer than necessary, so he gave her two hard smacks, directly in the center of her small bottom, then gave her a second to regain her breath.
The little girl shrieked loudly, and her crying increased tenfold. “Noooo! I’m sorry Daddy! I’m sorry!”
“Almost finished,” he promised, and landed two more solid, stinging swats to her sit spots, then finished off with a couple of light ones. He dropped the ruler on the ground and scooped his monkey up, squeezing her tight.
Allie buried herself into her dad, body shaking with her sobs. “I’m sorryyyyy! I’m sorryyyy!”
Neal rocked her, rubbing her back gently. Now he felt an uneasy feeling in his own stomach — had such a severe spanking really been necessary?
But his concern faded when Allie’s cries died down, and she exclaimed tearfully in surprise, “My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore!”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Neal replied, smiling and kissing the top of her head. Glancing at his watch he noticed that it was later than expected — he’d hoped to catch Natalie before she spent the money, but she’d been out of school an hour already, so it may be too late. He really wanted to figure out a way to get the stolen money back to the rightful owners… and the subway money… well, at least they’d earned it.
Peter circled the playground looking for his oldest child — that’s where she’d told him she would be after school. From the beginning, he’d felt that something was off… Natalie rarely went to the park unless Allie was with her, so when Neal called, Peter wasn’t surprised to hear what the two troublemakers had been up to. What am I going to do with these girls? he wondered, heading towards the train station as he brainstormed where she might be.
Natalie, of course, was already rushing up the subway stairs towards her house, moving as fast as possible because of the anxious butterflies in her tummy. She had successfully bought the art supplies but now had to make it home before getting caught. She was certain that Allie had cracked by now and given away their secret, and Peter was probably minutes away from figuring out that she wasn’t actually at the playground. “Get outta my way!” she shouted to a slow old lady, only to squeeze in front of her at the top of the staircase and plow into a tall, muscular body.
“And just where have you been?” the man bellowed. It was Peter.
“I, uh, got out of school late,” Natalie stammered. “I was working on an art project.”
“Really? Because I’ve heard a different story,” Peter replied. “And didn’t you say you’d be at the park after school?”
“I know but I got held up and since I don’t have a phone yet I couldn’t call to tell you…”
Peter shook his head, nostrils flaring in anger. “Now is not the time to mention a phone or lie to me.” He took her by the upper arm and said firmly, “Let’s go.”
The preteen didn’t quite feel defeated yet, staying hopeful that there was no real evidence against her, and walked confidently with her foster dad towards their townhouse. No one was home when they arrived so Natalie took the opportunity to try and escape to her room. “I have a lotta homework…” she said.
Peter pointed to the couch. “Sit.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong,” Natalie whined, obeying anyway.
Peter paced in front of her, trying to find the words to elicit a confession. He knew Natalie well enough to guess that asking her wouldn’t provide him with the truth, so instead, he opted for a statement: “So all those times you and Allie were supposedly at the park, you were really panhandling on the subway.”
“Not all of the times,” Natalie said. The look on Peter’s face told her that she’d let too much slip. “I mean, do you have any proof? I know how this police thing works: innocent until proven guilty!”
“You’re not in a court of law, and as far as I’m concerned, you’ve just confirmed my suspicions.” Peter paused. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
Natalie chewed on her lower lip — how was she going to get out of this one? “Okay so maybe we made some extra cash but it was only ’cause I needed the new art set and I didn’t do anything bad… you said I could get a job so I did!”
“I said you could do jobs around the house or for the neighbors!” Peter nearly shouted. “And what about lying to us and taking your sister on the subway alone!?”
Natalie sank down in her seat, not liking his tone at all. “Sorry,” she muttered.
“And just how do I know you weren’t out there pickpocketing too?” Peter demanded.
Natalie’s mouth dropped, offended. “Because I don’t do that anymore! Allie’s the one who was stealing — I was actually doing the right thing for a change!” She felt her adrenaline start to get the best of her, activating her fight or flight sensation — she felt the need to run out of the room or punch somebody in the face. How could he accuse her of that! She hadn’t stolen anything since her last spanking, and was really trying to stop, but was it even worth it if they weren’t going to believe her anyway?
Peter eyed her for a long moment, finally letting out a heavy sigh. “I believe you,” he replied. “I appreciate you were trying to make money without stealing, but I will not have the two of you hanging out in the subway, especially without us knowing where you are. We trusted you to ride to and from art class alone, not to take Allie gallivanting around the city, begging people for money in God only knows what areas of town. If you want extra money, you can talk to El or me about it and we can figure something out together. Maybe you could have a lemonade stand or something.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Lemonade stand? No one does that anymore,” she claimed but breathed a little easier knowing he believed her.
“Why don’t you make bracelets or something and sell that?” Peter suggested. “Or sell some of your art? I’m sure people would invest in your work.”
Natalie smiled. “That’s a great idea! I’ll do that for sure.” She edged off the couch. “Well, thanks for the chat… see ya later!”
“Freeze,” Peter ordered. “We still have to have a ‘discussion’ about your lying… again.”
“I thought we just discussed it?” she said innocently. “I understand and won’t do it again.” Natalie knew, though, that she was pushing her luck.
“If you think you’re getting off without a spanking you’re sadly mistaken,” Peter told her simply.
She slumped her shoulders. “C’mon Peter, I’m not a little kid. I need more independence! You don’t understand.”
“Uh huh, and when we gave you more independence, you took advantage,” Peter replied. “If you want more freedom you need to show us you can follow the rules, and then maybe we will consider being more flexible. What I won’t tolerate, though, is you lying about your whereabouts and taking your sister on the subway alone.”
“But we used to do it all the time! It’s not such a big deal,” she grumbled.
Peter crouched to look in her eyes. “It is a big deal Natalie,” he stated. “What if there was an emergency and I needed to find you? Or what if something happened to you? I nearly had a heart attack earlier wondering how I’d ever find you… if I’d ever find you… I had no idea where to even start looking.”
“If I had a phone you could just call me,” she mumbled, but not wanting to upset him more, said in a louder voice, “Okay, fine, I’ll tell you where I am all the time.” Like a criminal or something. But she didn’t say that last part.
Peter could sense her annoyance and sat down next to her. “Listen, if you show us that you can be responsible, you’ll get your phone.” He reminded her of the deal they’d made, hoping it’d motivate her to stay out of trouble the next few days. “Remember that all of this is for your own safety. I’m not trying to be mean or control you. I just want you safe.”
Natalie shrugged, looking at her toes.
“Shall we get this over with?”
“I guess,” she grumbled then trudged upstairs, an uneasy feeling growing in her stomach.
Natalie was picking at her chipped black fingernail polish when she heard Peter’s heavy footsteps coming closer and closer. A knot formed in her throat and she looked up as he entered, shrinking into the blankets when she saw the wooden spoon in his hands. Maybe he’d been cooking and had forgotten to leave it downstairs? (Hah, wishful thinking!) “Peter…” she said in a weak voice. “You really don’t hafta do this.”
“Yes I do,” he replied and pulled out the chair to her desk. He didn’t particularly want to spank her, but he could not condone this type of behavior. Sitting down he said, “I will never let you get away with lying to us.”
“Does that mean you won’t lie to me, too?” Natalie wanted to know, trying to avert her gaze from the spoon he was now placing on her desk.
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“That’s not answering my question,” she demanded. “I know Neal and Alex lied to me a lot, so why would I tell them or anybody else the truth? And, no offense, but how do I know the same thing won’t happen with you and El?”
“I understand your concerns, but you’ll have to figure out a way to trust me, Natty.” When she didn’t look convinced, he added, “I do take honesty very seriously, and can promise that I will be as honest with you as I can. But regardless, I want to make sure that it’s clear: if I catch you in a lie, you will be spanked.”
“Fine. But what if I catch you in a lie? Do I spank you, too?” she teased.
Peter chuckled. “How about you get Elizabeth to give me hell for it?”
It was nice that they were getting along so well, and Peter hated to ruin the moment but knew they couldn’t prolong this forever. So he motioned for Natalie to come to him, and she obeyed, biting her lower lip. “I’m sorry for lying to you,” she said. “For real. ‘Cause you’re right… you haven’t lied to me… I don’t think.”
“I haven’t,” Peter assured her. “I’m a man of my word.” He tugged her pants down so that she was standing there in her panties, then helped her over his lap and bared her bottom. “I don’t want to have this discussion again, Natalie,” he told her as he landed a swift smack to her upturned backside.
Natalie winced and said, “Me either.”
He landed a few more swats, covering the top of her bottom with stinging smacks, working his way down to her sit spots and the tops of her thighs.
Natalie tried to take her punishment like a champ, kicking slightly as she clenched her eyes shut. “Owwww,” she whined at the stingy swats.
Her foster dad kept up the spanking, alternating between her cheeks and sit spots, watching as the light pink darkened and the 12-year-old began kicking slightly. Peter didn’t spank her as severely as he’d initially felt necessary, feeling a little bad for her. After all, she’d been through a lot these last few weeks. But he also wanted to make sure that he lived by his word that she would be punished adequately, and that it was painful enough for her to remember it next time she thought about lying to him.
“Please no moreeee,” Natalie whined, “I’m sorryyyy!” She grasped onto the chair leg to keep herself from reaching back. At the moment she didn’t realize the spanking wasn’t quite as hard as normal; it was still painful and humiliating!
Peter stopped for a moment, figuring her cherry red bottom had received nearly enough. But to really drive the message home, he knew he’d have to make an impression. “Almost finished, Natty,” he said. “But this isn’t the first time we’ve had a discussion about your lying, so twelve more… and with the spoon.”
“Noooo,” she begged. “Please, not that!”
Peter ignored her pleas as he punctuated each word with a swat of the wooden spoon. “Do.” SMACK! “Not.” SMACK! “Lie.” SMACK! “To.” SMACK! “Me.” SMACK! “Again.” SMACK!
“Owwww, okay I won’t!” Natalie squealed.
“Next time.” SMACK! “I won’t be.” SMACK SMACK! “So lenient.” SMACK SMACK SMACK! “Do you understand?” SMACK!
“Yesssss,” she howled, hand now flying back to cover her bottom as she subconsciously knew the spanking was over despite her lack of counting.
Peter set the spoon aside and rubbed Natalie’s back as a few tears slipped down the preteen’s cheeks. It wasn’t necessarily because the spanking really hurt her that much – honestly, it just stung a little. The real reason she was crying was that she felt emotional that Peter was so concerned about her safety. No one had ever really cared that much before.
When it felt appropriate, Natalie pushed herself off Peter’s lap and wiggled back into her pants. She wiped the last of her tears away and fell into a hug, deciding to allow herself to be a little vulnerable and enjoy the snuggles. Peter was really the only person she’d ever let see her that way… well, Allie, too, but not even her that often. “Thank you for caring,” Natalie whispered so softly that she was uncertain if her foster dad had even heard. She wasn’t sure she really wanted him to hear, but somewhere inside of her, she felt at ease and knew it was thanks to Peter.
Suddenly they heard a loud slamming of the front door and Allie shouting “We’re hooooome!”
Natalie was a bit irritated that her little sister was interrupting her bonding time with Peter and taking center stage again, but the annoyance quickly evaporated as she remembered that she was about to make everyone in the house very happy.
“I see someone’s feeling better,” Peter commented when he climbed down the stairs with Natalie.
“Much better!” Allie agreed. “My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore.” She didn’t even get the chance to greet Satchmo when El came in, giving her a big hug and happy to see the little one was animated once again.
“Good, I’m glad everyone’s here,” Peter said. “We need to talk about what happened today.”
Everyone groaned — even Elizabeth, who didn’t even know the story yet. No one liked family meetings anymore! But Peter assured them it was necessary, and they all sat around, telling and retelling the same stories, and listening to the same lecture from all three of the parents. But then it was finally time for a little good news.
“So Natalie, are you ready to tell us what you did with all the money?” Peter demanded.
The preteen looked at each of them with a smile, then hopped off the couch and ran upstairs to her room. First, she dug through her backpack to find and hide a wad of cash in the loose floorboard with her other valuables, only putting a few twenties in her pocket to give to and appease the adults. Then she dug around down there for the cardboard tube with Neal’s present and shoved it in her backpack with the new art supplies.
A few minutes later, she jogged downstairs and dumped everything on the coffee table, spreading it out for all to see. She’d first gotten the art set she’d wanted — 150 soft-core colored pencils complete with a sharpener and eraser. But the surprise was that she’d also gotten one for Allie, as well as sketchbooks for them both, and a few coloring books.
The little girl’s eyes went wide. “You got me a set too Natty?!?! Wow!” Allie lurched toward her new toys, thanking her big sister a million times.
Then, Natalie took the cardboard tube in hand, feeling her heart thumping against her ribcage. She was most excited about this present because she knew Neal would love it. It was something that he’d fought her mom over — something that, in Natalie’s mind, had caused him to leave 6 years ago. She’d swiped it from her mom’s safe when she was a kid… her first big steal!… because she wanted to give it to her dad to come back. And now he was back. Now it could be a present from his little monkey, Allie.
Nudging the six-year-old, Natalie slyly handed her the tube with the painting rolled up inside. She was a little curious as she’d never actually seen what the painting looked like, nor did she know why it was so important. Just that Neal would definitely like it.
Allie grinned at her sister and grabbed the present. “Here Daddy!”
“I don’t feel right about you girls keeping the items you bought with stolen money,” Peter admonished as Neal grabbed the tube from the little girl.
“Oh, here’s the stolen part of the money,” Natalie said, handing Peter a few bills totaling a little over $50, then looking back to Neal.
“What’s this?” he asked Allie.
“Your present, silly! Open it!”
Neal was grinning as he popped out the end of the tube, expecting a picture that one or both of the girls had created. Instead, what he found was something he’d never expected to see again: the Degas painting that he and Alex had stolen together nearly seven years ago, right before breaking up and…
He looked up at Natalie. “Where did you get this?”
“Don’t get too excited. It’s a knock-off… I… Allie found it.”
“Do you like it?” Allie asked, watching him carefully. She wasn’t sure what was so great about the painting — she could make one that looked just like it, or even better! — but if he liked it that’s all that mattered.
Neal scanned the painting carefully, only looking up at Allie momentarily to say, “yes, I love it. Thank you, Allie, this is a great gift.” He may have sounded a bit insincere, but that was because he was running his fingers over the original Degas. No way this was a copy.
“Do your thing,” Peter said, smiling. It was the part of working with Neal that he’d always loved.
Neal eyed him and sighed, holding up the painting for all to see. “Whoever copied this did a really good job – here you can see the brush strokes angle slightly to the right, which is consistent with Degas’ usual paintings. But if you look really closely,” he began, pointing for Allie to see, “you can tell the microcracks are a little immature for this time period. A little more time in the oven and this would’ve had me fooled.” He looked up at everyone, thankful they didn’t really understand what he was talking about. “But it is an excellent forgery, very high-quality.”
Allie beamed proudly. “Good! I worked hard for it!”
As the family meeting wrapped up, Natalie scampered off to the kitchen to help El with dinner, doing her best to avoid being stuck alone with her dad because she wasn’t ready to answer any questions. And Neal definitely wanted to approach the topic with his oldest daughter, curious as to how and why she had acquired the painting. He’d always assumed that his ex had fenced the piece, so he was still in shock about finally having it again. He was only worried that the wrong person would find out about it…
Neal was so deep in thought as he played with Allie and Satchmo that it was starting to really irritate his youngest. “Daddy! You showed me that trick three times already!” Allie exclaimed. “Quit staring at Natty and play with me!”
“Sorry… I’m just… tired.” He smiled at Allie. “I don’t really feel like doing magic right now.”
Allie gave a dramatic sigh. “Or you could just pay attention and show me another trick.”
“Right now I just have too much on my mind,” he said, saved when Elizabeth called out that the food was ready.
Dinner was opposite than normal. For the first time since moving in with Peter, Natalie took control of the conversation, showing her social, happy side a little more than normal. The Neal was coming out in her! She charismatically told them a story about something that happened at school, leaving them all laughing and asking questions.
There was only one person who wasn’t happy with the shift in the spotlight, and she sat at the end of the table next to her dad, glaring at her big sister. Allie’s frown deepened when she tried to get her dad to listen to her, but she had no interesting stories to tell since she’d only watched TV all day. It was getting frustrating that everyone was paying more attention to Natalie… Everyone was supposed to be doting on her!
Allie finally got fed up and slipped away from the table. The chair was hurting her bottom and being ignored was hurting her heart. She went to Neal and tugged on his arm. “Daddy… Daddy… Daddy!”
“Not now, Allie,” Neal said as he was asking Natalie a question about art.
Allie’s blue eyes blazed with jealousy and a little anger. “Daddy!” she exclaimed as she hit his arm and stomped her right foot. “Pay attention to me!”
The entire conversation stopped and everyone looked at Allie.
“I want to show you something!” Allie insisted. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to show him, she just knew she wanted his attention back on her.
“Allie,” Peter exclaimed. “That was very rude to interrupt your sister like that. If you can’t be polite, then you can go to your room.”
Allie turned to glare at him. “I’ve been trying to talk and Natty won’t shut up so people can hear me!”
Natalie felt a tingling sensation in her nose that told her tears were about to fall. But instead of crying in front of everyone, she excused herself and ran up to her room, tears pouring as soon as she hit the bed. She didn’t even know why she’d gotten so upset – it wasn’t a surprise that Allie couldn’t tolerate the lack of attention.
Allie didn’t care that her sister fled the room, but did become bothered when her father went to follow. “Dad-dy! Play with me!” She latched onto him, trying to keep him from following her sister.
“Monkey, you’re being really mean to your sister right now and I don’t like it,” he said in a firm tone that he rarely took with his youngest. “She bought you those art supplies and helped you get this present for me, and this is how you thank her?” Neal shook his head in disappointment, turning away and stalking up the stairs for Natalie.
Allie stared after him in surprise as she started to cry. “I GOT YOU A PRESENT AND YOU WON’T PLAY WITH ME!!!!!” She stomped her foot for emphasis.
Peter immediately stood and said, “Let’s go for a walk.” He held out his hand and, without giving her much choice, dragged her outside.
Natalie heard the front door slam shut and then a soft knock on her own door. She hurriedly wiped her eyes, not wanting whoever it was to see she’d been crying, before saying, “come in.”
“You alright?” Neal asked as he entered.
“Yeah, I dunno what came over me. Just hormones or something…”
Her father chuckled softly. “Well, your sister wasn’t being very nice. Words get to us sometimes.”
She shrugged, though she was starting to realize that Allie’s words were only half of it. The other half had to do with that painting and all of the memories it brought up. And the sudden reappearance of this nagging feeling of emptiness.
“So…. the painting,” Neal said after a moment. “Where did you find it?”
“I’m not ready to talk about it yet,” Natalie said honestly. “But one day I’ll tell you.”
“I’ll be ready to listen whenever you’re ready to tell,” Neal assured her.
Meanwhile, Allie and Peter were strolling outside, the little girl trying to control her emotions, but failing. Peter hadn’t said much to her, besides reminding her to breathe and that it was okay to cry. They’d walked about four blocks when they found a bench and Peter sat, pulling her onto his lap. “What’s going on, kiddo?” he asked.
“Daddy’s not paying attention to me,” Allie whimpered. “I got him a present and he keeps paying attention to Natty.”
Peter thought about his words carefully before speaking, remembering all of the coaching he’d gotten from his family. “Alliecat, I understand it’s hard to share your father’s attention. But he’s Natty’s father, too, and she usually lets you take all of his attention.”
“But I worked hard to get his present!” Allie insisted tearfully. “Natty used my money to get it! He’s s’posed to love me most today, not her!”
“Why not love you both the same?”
“Natty don’t even like him, so why should he love her as much as me?” Allie snapped bitterly. “I’m the cute one.”
Peter stifled a grin and just hugged her tighter. “Life is hard sometimes,” he empathized.
“I don’t want to share him with anybody,” Allie sniffled. “I love him most. He’s mine. She had her turn already.” The little girl let more tears fall as she rubbed at her eyes. “Peter? Do you love Natty more ’cause she’s never scared of you?”
“What? Of course not, silly! I love you both the same, no matter what.”
“But how can you love us the same when I don’t always like you?” Allie asked, rubbing her eyes more. “And how can Daddy love Natty when she hates him?”
“Those are big questions, kiddo,” he admitted, pondering it for a moment. He babbled something about unconditional love and reminded her that when he and El took them in, he agreed to love them the same, regardless of how they acted. “I can’t speak for your father, but I’d like to think he feels the same.”
“Oh,” Allie said softly. “Kinda like how I don’t always like you, but I love you too?”
“Yeah, kinda like that,” he said, smiling.
Allie maneuvered a little so that she was on her knees. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “Do you think Daddy’s still mad at me? Did I make Natty mad too?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“I don’t like finding out,” Allie admitted. “My bum hurts plenty already…. but my tummy feels a little bad. Natty helped me…”
“We can go back when you’re ready.”
Allie stayed there hugging him for a few moments more. “My tummy needs to know,” she told him finally, though she stayed latched onto him. “Don’t let Daddy spank me anymore, ‘kay? My bum couldn’t take it.”
“I can’t promise anything,” he admitted.
Allie sighed heavily as she laid her head on his shoulder. “I didn’t think you could….”
“But I don’t think he should have any reason to spank you again… especially if you apologize for that little outburst earlier.”
Allie nodded, snuggling into Peter just a little more before yawning and mumbling, “I’m tired….”
Peter took this as a sign that she was ready to go and hoisted Allie on his shoulders — Neal-style — carrying her back to the house like that. Neal was in the living room, waiting for them, and Allie ran to him soon as Peter set her down. She tackled his legs and held on. “I’m sorryyyyy!”
Neal rubbed her back and said, “I’m not mad, monkey, but I think you should go talk to your sister.” He pointed upstairs, then gave her a kiss on the forehead as El told Allie it was almost bedtime. “See you tomorrow, Alliecat,” Neal said.
“Night Daddy!” Allie chirped as she hurried upstairs. She barged into her sister’s room and tackled her. “I’m sorry Natty! I forgot he’s your daddy too!”
“It’s okay… I was a little emotional, too. But I wanted to show you something.” She crept the door shut and tiptoed to her panty drawer, beckoning her sister forth. “I saved this for you – it’s half the money we earned from our gigs… almost $100. Peter said we can’t do ‘sing on the train’ anymore… but we’ll find other ways to keep making money, k? You’ll never have to worry about not having enough to buy Daddy a present.”
Allie grinned up at her sister as she hugged her tight. “Thanks, Natty! I was scared Peter took all the money I had left.”
“This is private, okay? No one knows except us.” She covered Allie’s cash back up, knowing that it was risky to tell the little girl, but at least Allie didn’t know about the rest of the cash Natty had hidden in the floor… or the other valuables she’d found in her mom’s safe. No one needed to know about that.
Allie made like she was zipping her mouth shut. “I won’t let them spank this one outta me.”
Peter stood outside with Neal, taking advantage of the moment they had alone. “What’s the story about the painting?” he wanted to know.
“What about it?”
“What’s the significance? Why that painting?”
Neal, master of half-truths, figured out a way to tell the story without revealing the illegal means by which it’d been acquired.
“Are you sure it’s not stolen? It’s really a forgery?”
Neal looked his boss in the eyes and said, “I can assure you that Natalie did not steal this painting,” and smiled, clapping Peter on the shoulder. “Goodnight, Peter.”
At home, he rolled the painting out onto the table and stood there admiring it.
“Alex probably has someone looking for that painting, Neal. You better put it somewhere safe,” Mozzie warned.
Neal nodded. “And we can’t tell anyone about this.”