It’s time for the family to take a vacation! Allie is excited to ride horses for the first time, and finally has the chance to bond with Peter. Natalie, as always, is enjoying being the best at everything, despite the envious glares she receives from her foster cousins. Will they manage to stay out of trouble?
by Lenore and Breanna
“Allie! It’s my turn for the phone!” Natalie shouted, trying to snatch the electronic device from her sister’s little fingers. The imp was too quick for her, though, addicted to the game. “C’mon give it back!”
“Natalie, you don’t have to yell,” said Peter. They’d taken a few days off and were headed upstate to spend Columbus Day weekend with Elizabeth’s sister on her dude ranch, and though Peter was looking forward to horseback riding and canoeing, he was also a bit worried about the girls. They’d been on their best behavior the last few days, the threat of being left home keeping them in line. But Marcy’s dude ranch was nothing compared to the lavish vacations they’d been on with Alex, so Peter had a nagging suspicion they’d get in trouble from boredom.
“I’m not done yet, Natty!” Allie exclaimed as she kept the phone away from her sister. “I’m still playing my game!”
“Allie, your sister was nice enough to let you use her phone, don’t you think it’s time you gave it back?” Elizabeth tried to reason, wishing she’d packed more activities to keep the youngest occupied.
“No!” Allie replied. “She had a long turn and my turn hasn’t been long enough yet!”
Natalie growled and waved her hand in front of the screen to make her lose the game. “It’s my turn now!”
“Natty! Stop it!” Allie shrieked as she tried to move the phone away. “You’re being a meanie head!”
“Then give it ba-ack!”
“Girls,” Peter warned. “That’s enough fighting. Either you play nicely and compromise, or the phone will be ours.”
“But that’s not fair!! It’s MY phone!”
“That you’re currently sharing,” Elizabeth reminded her. “Arguments get it taken away regardless of who the owner is.”
Allie slapped Natalie’s hands away. “Let me finish my game!”
Natalie punched the door on the car to keep from hitting her sister. “Fine, finish your stupid game but then I want it back,” she grumbled. This trip was already off to a bad start and she was ready to go back home.
When Allie groaned at losing all of the lives on her game, Elizabeth instructed gently, “Give Natty back her phone now.”
“But I wanna play again. I got nothing else to do.”
“How about coloring a picture?”
The little girl sighed dramatically and handed the phone back to her sister. “Don’t take too long. I wanna play again.”
“It’s MY phone,” Natalie reminded. The last couple of weeks she’d been practically glued to the electronic device, especially when Snapchatting with Justin. They’d spent almost every waking minute messaging each other since making their relationship official last week. Allie’s hogging the phone made Natty have withdrawals!
While the preteen listened to music, sent silly pictures, and scrolled through instagram, Allie busied herself with drawing Elizabeth a picture, and it was entertaining enough to keep her occupied for nearly an hour. But then she finally reached for the phone again, tugging at Natalie’s earphones. “My turn, Natty! You had it long ‘nough!” she insisted. “I wanna play my game again!”
“Leave me alone, I’m busy.” Natalie shouted back, pushing her sister away.
“Don’t push me!” Allie screeched as she kept struggling with her sister. “You gotta share Natty!”
“Stop! It’s my phone! Not yours!” She held the phone high away from her sister so she couldn’t reach.
Peter glanced at her in the rear view mirror. “Natalie,” he admonished. “Share with your sister please.”
“But it’s mine! It’s not fair… I don’t try to take away her toys!” When she realized Peter was serious and not budging, she changed the password to her lock screen and threw then phone at Allie. Even though she folded her arms with a huff, she was smirking on the inside as she knew Allie wouldn’t actually be able to use it.
Seconds later, the little girl’s screechy voice filled the car. “I can’t get in! You broke it!” she howled as she repeatedly punched in Natalie’s passcode, face reddening with frustration. “Natty make it work! Or… or… I’ll hit you!” She raised a fist, ready to strike at any moment.
“You’re the one who broke it!”
Before they could yell more, Elizabeth interrupted them. “Okay, that’s it, hand it over. We warned you both twice already and since the fighting continues, the phone is mine until we get to the ranch.”
“I didn’t break it!” Allie argued. “It won’t let me in!” she scowled as she passed the phone to her foster mom.
It only took Elizabeth a few seconds to figure out what the problem was. “That wasn’t very nice, Natalie.”
“Now what am I supposed to play with!?!?” Allie demanded
“Play with your colors and shit,” Natalie sneered. She stared out the window, arms still folded. “Why do you always have to be such a brat.”
Elizabeth turned around to face Natalie. “That’s enough, Young Lady. I’ve warned you not to use that kind of language, especially around your sister.”
“Is she gonna get the spoon and soap?” Allie wanted to know. “That what I get for using bad words.”
“She will if it happens again. This is your warning, Natalie.”
Natalie rolled her eyes and sneered “shut up!” at Allie.
“Quit being mean to me!” Allie exclaimed as she glared at her big sister. “You’re making me angry!”
“Now enough with the fighting, both of you.” Elizabeth turned up the radio a bit and put a hand on Peter’s arm, smiling at him.
“I hope the whole trip isn’t like this,” Peter admitted.
El nodded. “Meee too.”
The girls were silent for a while, glancing out at the scenery as Peter’s car turned down the winding roads through the Catskills Mountains. Tree limbs loomed over them, red and yellow leaves tumbling to the windshield. The smell of burning wood drifted through the crisp morning air, alerting them all that autumn was really here.
When Natalie grew bored of looking out the window, she dug out the paperback novel she had to read for English class and lost herself in the story for a while. Allie busied herself with coloring a new picture, but eventually felt like doing something else, so started poking her sister. “Play a game with me Natty!’
“No,” Natalie said, not looking up from the book she was reading, still angry with the brat.
But Allie kept poking her, determined to get her big sister’s attention. “Yes! You never play with me anymore! It’s time to play!”
Natalie smacked her. “Leave me alone! I said I don’t wanna play!”
Allie’s eyes filled with tears. “OW!” she cried, swatting her sister back angrily. “Don’t hit me Natty!”
Within seconds they were both hitting each other and yelling. Peter and Elizabeth tried to tell them to stop, but of course neither of the girls listened until their foster dad pulled the car over and pried them apart.
Allie was crying. “I just wanted you to play with me!” she shouted. “You didn’t hafta hit me!”
“Well you’re the one who got my phone taken away!” Natalie shouted back.
“You’re the one who wouldn’t share!” Allie retorted angrily. “You’re being a witch!”
“Because it’s MY phone!” She raised a hand to smack Allie again but Peter caught it before she attacked.
“That’s it,” he said. “You’re both getting a spanking.”
“No!” Allie shrieked. “I don’t want a spanking! I’ll be good!” Her eyes filled with tears.
Peter sighed. “We have told you both over and over to stop with the fighting. We have another hour and a half left in the car, I expect you both to behave because if I have to pull this car over again, it will be to bare both of your bottoms for a good spanking. Do you understand?” he asked firmly to Natalie first.
“Yes,” she muttered.
Then to Allie, “Do you understand?”
Allie nodded as she wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. “Yes,” she answered softly.
“Can you please tell Allie to leave me alone? I don’t feel like playing.”
Peter peered at the littlest. “Please give your sister some space for a little while. Why don’t you draw a picture for Neal?”
“Ughhh but I’ve been coloring all day!” Allie sighed, but seeing the look on Peter’s face added, “I’ll try.”
Coloring lasted all of half an hour, then the six year old poked her sister again. “Natty? Will you read to me? Nat-tyyyy! Nat-tyyyy! Read me a story now!”
Natalie put her fingers in her ears to ignore her little sister.
“Natty read to me!” Allie insisted. “I can’t read my book! Please read to me!” She tried to yank her sister’s finger from her ear. “Natty!”
“I’m busy!” Natalie said, pushing Allie’s hand away to continue holding her ears.
But Allie kept tugging on her sister’s hand. “Natty! I wanna read too!”
Elizabeth sighed, deciding to intervene one last time before someone lost her temper. “Alliecat why don’t you finish your picture?”
“I want a story!” Allie insisted tugging harder. “NATTY!!!!!”
“I SAID LEAVE ME ALONE!!!” Natalie bellowed then shoved Allie hard, knocking her into the door.
“That’s it,” Peter said, then took the next exit off the highway to a rest stop.
Allie started to cry, not just because hitting the door had hurt, but also because she wanted her sister’s attention for once. Ever since Natalie had gotten a phone and boyfriend she hadn’t spent much time with her at all. “I hate you!” Allie shrieked, grabbing her book and smacking her sister with it. She’d had enough. “I hope your stupid phone broke!”
“Yeah well I hope your picture for Dad gets ripped up like this!” Natalie answered, shredding one of Allie’s drawings into tiny little pieces. She knew they were in trouble already, but didn’t care.
Peter parked the car at the far end of the parking lot then stepped outside. “Get out, both of you,” he ordered.
“Hon…” Elizabeth said. “Is this really a good idea?”
But Peter was tired of the fighting. This was supposed to be their vacation. Everyone’s supposed to get along on vacation! “We warned both of you what would happen if this behavior continued. Allie, your sister asked nicely for you to leave her alone. I know you want her to play but we can’t make her do something she doesn’t want to.”
Allie frowned. “She used to play with me,” she whimpered. “I just wanted a story….” She looked down at the ground still crying. Her sister’s words and actions hurt.
“Why would I wanna play with you since you got my phone taken away,” Natalie sneered at her little sister. She opened her mouth to say more, but Peter was fed up and instead planted two hard swats to her bottom. “Ow! Peter! We’re in public!” she reminded him.
“And there’s plenty more where that came from. I’m tired of this unnecessary bickering. Your sister is just a kid, and she misses you. You don’t have to play with her, but you have to figure out a better way to deal with her than fighting.”
Natalie poked her lower lip out in a pout, arms folded. She glanced at Elizabeth to see if at least one person would be on her side.
“Don’t look at me — you changed your passcode and ripped up your sister’s picture, so deserve this punishment just as much as she does,” Elizabeth reminded.
“I should’ve known you’d both take her side. Allie’s always everyone’s favorite.”
Peter took a deep breath in to help maintain patience. “We don’t favor either of you, and you know it. There’s nothing wrong with taking responsibility and admitting that you could’ve reacted a different way.” He paused to let the message sink in for a moment, then ordered, “Come on, both of you, pants and panties down.”
The six year old was still crying and upset, but quickly slid her pants and panties to her knees and stood there half naked, too young to feel shy. She was more concerned with getting this over with as quickly as possible, which was the total opposite of her big sister who whined, “This is totally unfair!”
Tired of her attitude, Peter landed two more hard swats to her bottom causing a yelp to escape as her hands flew back to protect her bottom. It was then that it clicked. Peter’s really gonna do this… No way… this can’t be happening… What if someone sees!?!?!?
“Get them down, NOW,” he said firmly.
When she started wiggling them down, he took Allie by the upper arm and gave her a few mild swats to her bare bottom. “You. And. Your. Sister. Will. Stop. Fighting,” he said, punctuating each word with a swat. “No more bugging your sister to play when she doesn’t want to, no more yelling, no more fighting. Am I clear?”
Allie wailed as she tried to squirm away. “Yesssss! I’ll be good!”
He held tight onto her and finished with a few smacks on the sit spots, then let go. Allie was crying hard and stood there with tears streaming down her face until Elizabeth helped her re-adjust her clothing, and scooped her up in a hug.
Peter peered at his oldest who stood there now with jeans and panties mid-thigh, chewing on her fingernail. Thankfully, her fighting had ceased — he wouldn’t want to make a bigger scene than he already was. Taking her upper arm in hand, he turned her around and landed brisk swats to her pale backside.
“Oww, oww, owwww!” Natalie howled with each thunderous blow. She wanted to keep herself as quiet as possible, but Peter wasn’t going easy on her at all. The spanking hurt much more than she’d imagined!
“No. More. Fighting. Yelling. Hitting. Or shoving.” Peter lectured between smacks, Natalie’s pale bottom rapidly fading to pink.
She hopped from foot to foot with each swat, bum wiggling to try and dodge some of the swats. “Okay okay!” she promised, tears starting to stream down her face. “I’ll be good!”
Peter smacked her sit spots a few times to drive the lesson home, causing her to shriek and bounce even more. “I better not need to pull this car over again before we arrive to the ranch,” he warned, finishing off with a hard SWAT! in the center of her bottom.
The crying preteen promised to be good then yanked her pants back up and flew back in the car, too embarrassed to show her face anywhere. In the meantime, the rest of the family went on a bathroom break, Elizabeth coming back with a bag of candy for each of the girls. Peter gave her an incredulous look, but she just smiled sheepishly and shrugged. The girls had taken their spankings without too much complaint and what was a road trip without candy?
Their last hour in the car was peaceful and uneventful. Allie sang Barney songs until she fell asleep, candy bag clutched tightly in her little hand, and Natalie just read her book, squirming every once in awhile because her bottom was still sore. By the time Peter pulled into the dirt parking lot of the ranch, his satisfaction with their change in behavior was such that he had almost convinced himself that the drama was behind them and they’d have a perfect vacation.
“Where are we staying?” Allie asked when they had their luggage in hand, sauntering towards the main building of the ranch. Elizabeth pointed to a group of small log cabins huddled together in a corner by the lake, and the little girl’s eyes widened in awe. “It’s so pretty!” she said.
The ranch was much bigger than the girls had expected, and the aroma of a home-cooked country meal made their tummies growl. In the distance they could see a dock full of canoes, as well as a ropes course, which is what excited Natalie the most. They’d never been any place like this with Alex, who preferred luxurious hotels and room service, not outdoors and adventure. Maybe this vacation wouldn’t be so bad?
The sound of neighing horses echoed to Allie’s ears, and she cast eyes on the brown and white creatures to her left. “Horsies!!!!!” she shrieked and immediately took off in that direction.
Peter stopped her. “Hold on, kiddo. No going to the horses without an adult, okay?” But he took her hand anyway and led her to the stable.
“She’s so pretty! Can I ride her?” Allie asked eagerly, her eyes shining with excitement as Peter lifted her to feed one a sugar cube. “I wanna riiiiiide!”
“Of course we can ride,” Peter answered, eyes lighting up — this was the first time he and Allie shared a passion. “What do you say Natty?”
“I just want my phone back,” Natalie reminded. “And a nap.”
Elizabeth butted in. “Why don’t you two stay with the horses, and Natalie and I will get settled in the cabin.” She knew they’d never be able to pry Allie away, and Peter looked giddy at the prospect of bonding with the youngest.
“Really?!?!?! I can ride the horsey?!?” Allie asked, eyes wide as saucers.
Peter nodded. “But only if I’m with you, got it?” he added, then thanked his wife and ruffled Natalie’s hair. “And you get some rest so you’ll cheer up. I think they’re going to have a campfire and s’mores tonight, you wouldn’t want to miss it!”
“Oh joy!” Natalie said, voice dripping with sarcasm even though she tried to smile for him.
Allie squealed a little which made the horse in front of them snort. She giggled and kissed her on the nose. “We’re gonna be best friends, horsey!”
Elizabeth helped Natalie get their things into the cabin. “Look I know this isn’t like any of the vacations you’ve been on before, but I hope you give it a chance. You could have a lot of fun here if you quit worrying about your phone and the people back home.” She glanced at the preteen who said nothing, just found a bed for herself and curled up.
When Natty thought about it, she realized that she wasn’t upset with Peter or Elizabeth, or even Allie; she really just missed her old life, and her mom, and the autonomy. Living by the rules was so boring. Her mind wandered to dreams of living an extravagant criminal life. No rules, no masters, just money and expensive art. Within minutes she drifted off into a peaceful sleep…
The sisters saw each other again at dinner that night, and each was just as excited as the other. Natalie had waken in a much better mood, and convinced Elizabeth to let her wander off alone with her new cousins. She sat next to Allie with her plate of food and a wide grin. “How was your ride?” the preteen asked.
“It was awesome!” Allie exclaimed, excitement in her voice. “We went on a trail and saw trees and a waterfall! I can’t wait to go again! Peter knows how to have fun!”
Natty glanced up at her foster dad who looked pleased with the little girl’s words. It was the first time anyone had described Peter as fun! “I met all of our cousins,” Natty said, taking a bite of her mashed potatoes.
“Are there any kids my age?” Allie asked.
Natty shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said, looking up at Elizabeth who agreed. “There’s Vicki, she’s ten and follows all the big kids around, so you’d have a lot in common with her. And then Anna’s thirteen and Suzie’s sixteen. And I also met Andi… she’s Anna’s BFF and her brothers work here.” She would’ve continued, but they were interrupted by a plump red haired woman wearing an apron.
“There’s my baby sister! The girls told me they saw you,” the woman chirped, leaning in for a hug and to whisper, “are you sure it’s a good idea to let your little jailbirds wander off on their own?”
Peter didn’t hear his sister-in-law’s exact words, but knew her judgmental nature, and felt Elizabeth wince at his side. “Girls, this is your Aunt Marcy,” he introduced to release the tension. “Marcy, I’d like you to meet Allie, our animal lover — we went out for a ride on Starlight earlier and she’s a natural! And this is Natalie, the artist of the family. She’s about to win the Young Artists’ Competition,” he said, grinning at each of the girls with pride as he shared their accomplishments.
“Well isn’t that lovely,” Aunt Marcy said. “It’s very nice to meet you girls. Call if you need anything — otherwise, I’ll see y’all later!”
When they finished the meal, the sun was setting and everyone went out to the campfire for s’mores and campy songs, some of the older kids sitting off to the side telling ghost stories.
“Allie, you’re too little to listen,” Natalie said when the little girl came over to join them.
“Ohh let her stay,” Andi piped. “She can listen to the scary stories, too, right little one?”
“Scooby-Doo has scary stories,” Allie answered. “I can listen to ghost stories, Natty. I like stories.” She really just wanted to hang out with her sister and feel older. And she’d been around grown ups all day… they were starting to get boring!
Natalie scooted over to give her little sister space, and the little girl leaned in to listen, excited to join in on the fun. She didn’t realize the older girls knew stories that were much scarier than Scooby-Doo, and before the first was even finished, Allie ran back to her foster parents, climbing into Peter’s lap because he would be best at protecting her from monsters. She stayed like that until dozing off, snuggling up when he carried her inside a few minutes later, motioning for Natalie that it was time to come in for the night. The preteen wanted to protest, but then her new friends were going in, too, so it didn’t matter as much.
As Peter was tucking in the little monkey, Natty sat with Elizabeth in the living room, chattering on and on about how much fun she’d had. “Thanks, El, for bringing us here. It’s really cool! And maybe I’ll try riding the horses with you guys in the morning.”
“That would be wonderful!” Elizabeth enthused. “I’m glad you’re having fun.”
Natalie was excited when she was allowed to have her phone back, but then disappointed that there was no reception.
“Maybe we’ll go into town one day,” El promised.
But Natty shrugged. She probably wasn’t missing anything anyway, just a few messages from Justin, and he could wait. Instead of stressing, she played candy crush until her yawns became too frequent and she excused herself to bed. She snuggled next to Allie, half excited, half nervous about their sunrise horse ride.
“Horseys, horseys, horseys!!” Allie shrieked, running through the cabin. “Come onnnn, Natty, wake up!!!”
The twelve year old groaned, regretting already that she’d agreed to this.
Allie jumped on her sister when she didn’t move fast enough. “Natty! The horseys are waiting for us! It’s gonna be lots of fun! Come on! Get up! Get up!”
Dragging herself out of bed, Natalie tried to be as excited as her little sister. She splashed cold water on her face and dressed, noticing for once that she and Elizabeth felt the same way while Peter and Allie were the giddy ones. It was kind of strange, but she took this opportunity to bond with El.
“Is everyone ready?” Peter asked, barely waiting for a response when he grabbed Allie’s hand and they scurried out the door.
Elizabeth smiled softly at Natalie. “Have you ever been on a horse?”
Natalie shook her head, finally admitting, “I’m kinda scared. They won’t bite, right?”
“Come on, slow pokes!” Peter called from ahead. He’d arrived to the stables already and was putting the helmet on Allie, then saddled up Starlight. “Natalie do you prefer to ride alone or with El?”
The preteen really didn’t like the idea of riding alone, but also feared one of her new friends would see her with El and think she was uncool. “I’ll ride alone…”
Elizabeth helped Natalie get a helmet on and whispered to her. “Your horse, Brownie, will only nibble your fingers if you’re feeding her. I’ll stay close to you, so don’t worry so much, okay?”
Allie was standing next to Starlight waiting to be lifted up. “Come on Peter! I need to be on my horsey!”
“Just a minute,” he promised. First, he wanted to get Natalie and El set up, showing the preteen how to steer. “Be careful not to squeeze too tight,” he warned when he noticed her stiff body. “When you squeeze your legs, they think you want to go faster. Just relax.”
Natalie was starting to have second thoughts about this, but she was already on top of the brown mare and didn’t want to look like a wimp, so tried to suck it up.
Much to Allie’s delight, Peter finally hoisted her onto Starlight, then climbed up behind her. “Are you going to steer us this time?”
“Yeah!” Allie enthused, excited to be given such a big job.
Elizabeth smiled at Natalie hoping to reassure her. “The horse will follow the others. Just relax and move with the horse as you ride.”
Natalie nodded and stayed behind Peter and Allie, Elizabeth taking up the back. The horses trotted at a steady pace and Natalie finally felt herself getting the hang of it, even though her horse, Brownie, kept wanting to jog a little faster.
Once they reached the top of the mountain, the sun was peeking up from the horizon.
“Oooh! Pretty!” Allie exclaimed as she tugged on the reins to stop Starlight so they could watch. “Look Peter! It’s all my favorite colours!”
Elizabeth pulled her horse up beside Natalie’s to take in the view.
“She’s not stopping,” Natalie whined, voice becoming high pitched as she was getting a little scared the horse would walk right off the edge of the mountain! El instructed her again how to stop and it was successful enough that Natalie was able to calmly appreciate the view for a moment.
When the sun’s rays lit up the entire forest, they decided it was time to get back to the ranch, as there were plenty of fun-filled activities planned for the day — canoeing, volleyball, indoor swimming, a scavenger hunt, and even another horse ride down a different path!
“I wanna go faster!” Allie insisted as they trotted downhill. “Starlight wants to fly!”
Peter looked behind him to give El the heads up that he was going to go a little faster with Allie, and they ran ahead, which sent Natalie’s horse into a frenzy.
“Wait! Guys! What do I do!” Natalie shrieked. Brownie had started running, too, a little too fast, and the preteen hung on tightly with her legs until the horse was going even faster than Starlight! “Helllllp!” she wailed.
“Hang on, Natty! I’m coming!” El called.
But by the time her foster mom made it, Natalie was already leaning to the side, tears streaming down her face, about to fall off. Elizabeth encouraged her to get back straight on the horse, but Brownie was making her bounce so much that eventually she just let go and jumped to the side, careful that she wouldn’t get run over.
Elizabeth pulled her horse to a stop, hopped down, and ran to Natalie. “Natty! Are you okay? Does anything hurt?”
“Yeah I’m fine but… I hate stupid horses!” she half-shouted. She stood and dusted herself off. “I’ll just walk back.”
“I’ll go with you,” Elizabeth told her. “Or we could ride back on my horse together.”
“I’d rather go alone,” Natty demanded.
Meanwhile, Peter raced to catch up with Brownie, and Allie squealed with delight as they were going faster than she’d expected! When he was finally able to slow both horses down, the little girl yelled, “Again! Again! Let’s go again Peter!”
When he came back to El, Natty was long gone, and they had to figure out how they’d get the spare horse back. It was only a short ride, and Allie was a natural at riding/steering Starlight, so Peter came up with an idea.
“What about riding Starlight by yourself? Are you up for the challenge?” He was a little hesitant since Natty’s experience had ended so badly, but Natalie had also been so scared the fear had seeped into Brownie. Allie was the least scared of them all, and clearly a natural.
Allie’s grin was huge. “I can do it!” she exclaimed excitedly. “I’m a good horsey rider!”
“Okay, but remember, you can only do this when El or I are with you, okay?” He held out a pinky. “Promise?”
Allie giggled a little as she hooked her small pinky with his larger one. “Promise!”
The three of them rode back carefully to the stables, Natalie trudging ahead angrily, as far from her family as possible. When they arrived, she immediately disappeared towards the cabin while the others fed and brushed their horses. Natty wanted nothing to do with those damn horses anymore!
Andi and Anna were the first to see her. “Why’re you so dirty?” they wanted to know.
Natalie huffed, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Guys c’mon, let’s go swimming already!” Vicki said as she approached them.
“Wanna come with? The pool is heated and the lifeguard is dreamy,” Anna said as she giggled.
Natty smiled. “Sure! Let me get changed!” At least there could still be some fun left in the day!
Once she was changed into her red and white striped swimsuit, Natalie rejoined her cousins and they headed to the pool, chatting happily as they walked.
“I want Steve to do mouth-to-mouth on me,” Anna explained. “Have you kissed a boy before?”
“Yeah, I have a boyfriend,” Natalie said.
“Wooooow!” Vicki gushed. “She already has a boyfriend!”
“Shut up,” Anna told her little sister. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Sure it is!” Vicki insisted.
Natalie tried not to blush but smiled at them. “It is nice. We text all the time.”
“Too bad there’s no reception here,” Andi said.
“But there is up past the stables — if you go over the hill by the country store,” Vicki told Natalie.
The girls arrived to the swimming pool, drooling over the shirtless teenager with blonde hair that fell over his eyes.
“Ooh he is cute,” Natty admitted.
“Too bad you already have a boyfriend, right?” Anna said with a giggle.
Natalie laughed along with them as they set their towels on a group of chairs and slipped into the pool. The three of them splashed and swam and giggled for awhile, before they started talking about the lifeguard again.
Vicki was the only one brave enough to talk to him, and that only lasted until Suzie came to the pool to join them. Then the ten year old meekly went back to splashing around with her friends. When they’d been swimming for a while and their fingers were all pruny, they decided to sit on the side, talking and giggling. That’s when the blonde hottie approached the group of girls.
“Hey, I’m Steve… who’re you?” he asked Natalie.
The twelve year old blushed a little and told him her name, showing off her charm and batting her eyelashes to show off her baby blue eyes. It wouldn’t hurt her boyfriend that she was a little flirtatious!
Steve talked with her for a little bit and acknowledged the other girls as well.
Once he had left, Vicki spoke up. “Is that how you get a boyfriend? By batting your eyes at someone?”
Natalie blushed deeper. “What are you talking about?” she asked innocently.
Anna and Andi giggled together. “Are you sure you have a boyfriend back home?”
“Yes I’m sure,” Natalie replied defensively.
“You were batting your eyes at him,” Vicki said
“Shut up,” Andi told Vicki. “She’s allowed to flirt.” The friend-cousin smiled at Natalie. “You’ll have to teach me to flirt like that. You’re a pro!”
Natalie shrugged. “I didn’t really do that much.” She felt a little awkward but at the same time kind of popular with all the questions and praise. It was a strange feeling really. “So are there any other hotties around here?” she asked after a moment. Maybe a distraction would take the spotlight off her.
“Andi’s brother is cute,” Anna giggled.
“Ewwwww Johnny? He’s so ugly!” Vicki squealed.
“No, Dale,” Anna said with a dreamy look on her face.
“Ooh yeah, he is cute.”
“Gross!” Andi said. “He’s so old!”
“You just think that because he’s your brother,” Anna insisted. “Anyway let’s go get food. I’m starving.”
The girls rinsed off in the shower and wrapped up in beach towels, heading to the dining room. Peter, El, and Allie had come back, so Natalie decided to sit with them for a while. “So what’d you guys do?” she asked.
“We went on a scavenger hunt!” Allie told her happily. “An’ we fed the horseys! An’ I won a prize! I got a new jump rope!” she added. “An’ some horsey books!”
“Sounds fun!” Natty said, kind of missing her little sister. She looked at Peter and El. “Some of the girls are going to the ropes course later… can I go, too?”
“Of course,” Elizabeth smiled. “I’m glad you’re getting along with them.”
“I wanna go! I wanna go!” Allie insisted. She had been eyeing the rope course and wondered if she was big enough for it.
“You’re too little,” Natalie insisted then turned to Peter and El for confirmation.
“Sorry, kiddo, she’s right. But I think you and I are going riding again — what do ya think?”
“Yeah!” Allie cheered, easily distracted by the thought of riding Starlight again. “I like that idea lots!”
Elizabeth laughed, glad that crisis had been avoided so easily. “I don’t know who is going to be harder to tear away from here when it’s time to leave.”
Natalie was the youngest at the ropes course, and also the most fearless. She easily climbed up the obstacles, all the way up to the highest level, which even Steve and Suzie didn’t reach. When they finished, Steve was all over Natalie, even after Anna reminded him that she wasn’t even a teenager yet.
They all ate dinner together, and the preteen was starting to feel everyone’s jealousy and admiration. It didn’t stop when they went to the campfire again. This time Natalie told the scariest stories, enough to make even Vicki hang out with the adults.
When the sisters snuggled together in bed that night, Natalie had a lot on her mind. “Hey Allie, is this more fun than the vacations we used to have with mom?” Usually when they’d traveled with Alex they’d have to stay alone most of the time, only sneaking out of their rooms to explore the lavish hotels, usually ending up in trouble for stealing or going places they weren’t allowed. Natalie much preferred this vacation, but felt ashamed to admit it. Would that mean disloyalty towards her mom?
“I liked Mommy’s vacations,” Allie answered softly with a yawn. “But Mommy never let me ride a horsey. And Mommy didn’t take me on a scavenger hunt or to make s’mores. And Lizbeth said we can go to the candy store tomorrow! I like this vacation lots more Natty.”
“I like it more, too,” Natalie said. The two snuggled up together and within seconds dozed off, so exhausted from all the fun they’d been having.
The next morning, Peter shook Allie gently to wake her up to go for their sunrise ride again. He’d decided to take a different trail so they could see a different part of the woods and Allie could practice riding alone. “C’mon, kiddo, let’s go,” he said.
He didn’t have to tell her twice! Allie literally jumped out of bed, dancing with excitement. Riding horses was probably the coolest thing she’d ever done in her life… and she enjoyed the chats with her foster dad, too. Within seconds, she was dressed and bolted to Peter, who stood in the living room waiting for her. “Ready!” she announced.
While they rode around, Natalie and El met up with the family, eventually going their separate ways. Today Natalie was going canoeing with her cousins, and she was excited to once more show off her skills and be the center of attention.
“Oh look here comes the star,” Anna teased when she spotted Natalie. “I bet she’ll win the race today.”
“And she’ll get all the attention again,” Vicki grumbled softly.
“Guys, stop being mean to the flirty girl,” Andi giggled, fluffing Natalie’s pony tail. “Are you going to ride with Steve?”
“I dunno,” Natty answered. “I’m up for whatever.”
“Well let’s get our life jackets and canoes,” Anna said. “We’ll figure it out then.”
They arrived to the docks and met up with the older kids, as well as a few adults, including Andi’s older brother, Dale. Teams had been pre-picked, supposedly according to age and ability, to make the race as fair as possible. Of course, Natty had been paired with Steve. She gave a shy giggle when he handed her a paddle and the two of them hopped inside the canoe.
“Ready… Set… GO!” Dale shouted and the 4 canoes set off. Natalie paddled as quickly as possible, giving instructions to Steve to help her maneuver first in front of Vicki and Johnny, then easily cut off Suzie and Andi. They were neck and neck with Anna and her partner, Thomas, for a few minutes.
“Come on!! Faster!!” Natalie ordered.
Steve paddled as hard and fast as he could and soon he and Natalie had arrived to the island, AKA the finish line, ahead of everyone else. They cheered as they hopped onto the sand, jumping up and down with excitement before collapsing to the ground, exhausted. Anna and Thomas arrived next, then the others came up, muttering obscenities under their breath. How the hell had the city girl learned how to row so well?!?
Going to the island was the perfect excuse for the youngsters to do things that adults wouldn’t let them do at the ranch, so Suzie pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered them to the others, even Vicki. Natalie was a little surprised and unsure what to say when she was offered one. Will Peter smell it on me when we get back? Will he know I’ve done something I shouldn’t? But then her thoughts changed to – will I look uncool if I say no? Will they not be my friend anymore?
When Andi declined, Natalie felt better about saying no herself, and then watched as the sisters and Johnny lit up. She leaned back so that the smokey smell wouldn’t latch onto her shirt, then they played twenty questions.
“Those aren’t your parents, right?” Andi asked Natty when it was her turn, remembering that she’d met Peter and El before. “Who are your real parents?”
Natalie groaned. She didn’t want to get deep into the topic, but seven sets of curious eyes looked at her. So she gave the quick version of her story, hoping it didn’t make them judge her negatively. She didn’t usually get that personal with people, but this was family. Family was supposed to accept you no matter what, right? That’s what Peter said anyway.
They all listened intently and were surprised about who her parents actually were. They hadn’t expected her to be related to thieves and con artists. “So have you carried on the family tradition?” Suzi wanted to know. “Do you trick people and steal things too? Do you get away with it?”
“Hey! Only one question at a time!” Vicki whined.
“I plead the fifth anyway,” Natty said, laughing.
“Your foster dad is a fed though, right?” Andi asked, ignoring Vicki’s groan.
“Yeah, Uncle Peter is fierce,” Anna said. “That must make it harder for you to get away with stuff.”
Natalie shrugged. “Sometimes. It depends on whether or not Allie knows and squeals.”
They kept up with this game for a while, smoking almost the entire pack of cigarettes before deciding that it was time to go back to the ranch. This time, Natalie rode with Andi and they paddled slower, getting lost for a few minutes in the lake and just enjoying the sounds of nature. “You must really miss your boyfriend. Have you talked to him at all?” Andi asked.
Natalie shook her head. “No. Maybe that’s what I’ll do when I get back. El was going to take Allie into town to the candy store, but I probably missed it since I was on the island.”
When they reached land, Andi pointed Natalie in the direction to where she could find cell phone reception and the two girls parted ways, promising to see each other in a few hours.
“Did you get to talk to your boyfriend? What’s his name?” Andi asked as Natalie came in for dinner, sitting next to the group of girls.
“Justin, and yes. We even FaceTimed for a minute. It was nice!”
“Do you have a picture of him?” Vicki asked though she had a mouth full of mashed potatoes that looked disgusting.
Allie, Peter, and El came into the dining area just then, the little girl running up to her sister.
Natalie was opening her photos and passed the phone to Vicki. “That’s him,” she said, scooping Allie up in her lap and asking about her day.
“I rode the horsey by myself again!” Allie enthused. “It was so great! I love Starlight! And we went to the candy store and I got lots of candy!”
“Didja bring me anything?” Natalie asked, glancing up to see Aunt Marcy with Dale, and they were talking to Peter and El with serious looks on their faces. The adults appeared to be talking about her, judging by the way they peeked in her direction yet avoided eye contact.
“Uh-huh!” Allie nodded. “I got you tons of candy too so you won’t take mine. I made Lizbeth and Peter get their own too ’cause Peter kept eating mine!”
“Did you bring us candy, too?” Vicki asked, passing the phone to Anna and Andi, curious to know more about the little kid. Was she as cool and popular as Natalie?
Allie nodded slightly. “Lizbeth said we should to be nice. I got you little bags ’cause I don’t know you well ‘nough to get you big bags.”
Vicki’s eyes widened. “Really!?” She bounced in her seat looking at Anna who glared in annoyance. Was there anything imperfect about this family?
Allie nodded. “Uh-huh. Lizbeth has them so I wouldn’t accidentally eat them and spoil my appetite!”
Andi handed Natalie’s phone back to her just as Peter came up. “Natalie, a word, please,” he said in an even tone. His brows furrowed as if he were upset about something, but Natalie hadn’t done anything wrong so she couldn’t imagine what it was. Maybe Aunt Marcy found out about the cigarettes? But she couldn’t tell on her new friends.
“See you guys later,” she said and followed Peter.
They walked together to where Marcy, Dale, and Elizabeth stood waiting. Peter turned and looked at the preteen. “Where were you this afternoon?”
“We went canoeing this morning then I went to FaceTime with Justin… I had to find reception… why do you ask?”
“Because someone let the horses out earlier and all evidence leads to you,” Peter replied.
Elizabeth butted into the conversation. “Do you have proof you were talking to ‘Justin’?”
“Of course I do!” Natalie said, getting a little defensive now. Someone let out all the horses? How did the evidence lead to her? What were they talking about? She typed in her password and went to her FaceTime history. “What the… it’s been deleted!” She frantically went to her text messages to get the messages she’d sent with Justin, but they, too, had been deleted. She glanced up at her foster dad, speechless.
“Well? We’re waiting,” Peter said.
The preteen looked up from her phone, feeling defeated and confused. “I did but…”
Peter narrowed his eyes. “A piece from one if your shirts was found at the scene of the crime, care to explain?”
“Someone must have framed me!” Natalie shrieked. “I swear I didn’t do anything bad!”
Elizabeth butted in. “Sweetheart, isn’t that what you said about the bomb threat? And we saw you on the security camera tapes. You need to come clean before this escalates.”
Natalie looked up at the two furious faces staring at her, then glanced over at Aunt Marcy and Dale, both also scowling. “I’m innocent, I swear.”
“We saw you on the tape,” Aunt Marcy said, shaking her head. “I knew this was a bad idea, letting her wander alone.”
“You have to believe me,” Natalie pleaded, casting eyes at Peter. “Someone’s trying to get me in trouble!”
“Then please explain all of these clues,” Elizabeth said, getting frustrated.
Peter butted in, “You’re wearing different clothes now than you were earlier, why is that?”
“I was exploring and got dirt and grass on my clothes,” Natalie insisted. “I want to see this mysterious video that supposedly shows me letting the horses out.”
El stayed with Allie in the dining area while Peter took Natalie with him to retrieve the memory stick with video footage and the torn piece of clothing. He sat her down in the cabin in front of the laptop and showed her the video. There she was in black and white, looking behind her as she trekked towards the stable. Then it was just still footage of the property, until finally horses came running out.
“What the…” she began, then looked up at her foster dad. “I know it doesn’t add up but you have to believe me.”
“I want to, but all the evidence points to you and everyone else has an alibi. And your history of being honest isn’t strong.”
Salty tears poured down Natalie’s cheeks. Maybe it was reasonable that he didn’t believe her, but that didn’t help her feel any less angry. “Peter,” she pleaded. “We can figure out who did this. At least let me find proof first!”
Peter mulled it over for a few minutes. “We can investigate further but if no proof is found you’ll have to accept the consequences.”
Natalie nodded, determined to find something to affirm her innocence. They walked together to the stables, checking around for clues. Natalie ran her fingers over the gate where the piece of her shirt had been found. But really, she wasn’t paying too much attention to her surroundings. Instead she was lost deep in thought, trying to figure out who would have framed her.
It had to be one of the cousins — the first suspect on her list was Vicki — would she be creative enough to think about stealing Natty’s shirt? Maybe. She was the one who had her phone last, though. And was mad at Natalie for hogging Steve’s attention.
But what if it was Anna instead? Anna had been pretty mean to Natalie the whole time, teasing her for flirting and always getting angry when Natalie beat her at something. Anna had claimed to have gone fishing with Suzie and Johnny after their time on the island, but they could be in this all together, as three minds are better than one. Were they all plotting against Natalie?
Peter said something to snap Natty out of her thoughts. “Huh?” she asked, blinking at him.
“Do you see anything?” Peter repeated. “There has to be more evidence than what was found.”
“Nothing,” Natalie admitted. “Do you know where everybody was this afternoon?” she asked.
Together they discussed all possible suspects, their motives, and their whereabouts for the afternoon. They went through the list — Vicki, Anna, Suzie, Johnny, Steve, Andi, and Thomas, but most of them had pretty solid alibis. It seemed hopeless.
“Peter, you have to believe me. I haven’t been lying lately. You know I would’ve cracked by now.”
“I know,” Peter sighed. “Which is why I want to believe you… but the evidence is making it hard.” He was torn because he could tell Natalie wasn’t lying to him — she’d lied enough for him to have an idea of her tells. But later that night when he tried to talk to El about it, she didn’t agree.
“Natalie has you fooled. She batted her eyelashes and feigned innocence, and you bought it,” Elizabeth accused.
Peter sighed. “I’m telling you, I don’t think she did it.”
“She’s hated being here since the very beginning, she hated riding the horses, and all of the evidence points to her. And how are we supposed to believe someone who has lied to us so much in the past?”
“She and I have a deal about honesty,” Peter replied. “And she didn’t show any of indication that she was lying.”
“Hon, listen, I know your intuition is rarely wrong, but this time we have too much solid evidence against it. Marcy is really upset. One of the horses was almost hit by a car, and another got into the pool. Dale says he’s sure that Natalie was the culprit. Even his younger sister saw Natty by the stables.”
Peter sighed heavily. “There has to be more evidence somewhere. I don’t want to take someone’s word over Natalie’s unless I’m sure they’re right. “
“Well, she needs to be punished. I know she has you wrapped around her finger, but I’m not that easy. And I’m going to spank her.”
Natalie’s ear was pressed against the door as she listened to her foster parents discussing the incident and it made her blood boil. Why isn’t Peter being more firm with Elizabeth? And how come she’s taking someone else’s word over mine? I have to prove them wrong! Natalie said to herself, still wondering who it was that had set her up.
So far, the only people whose alibis hadn’t added up were Steve and Andi, but of course, those were the two people she most wanted to be innocent. She would have to figure out a way to speak with them both and gage who was being more honest.
A door slamming rattled Natalie out of her thoughts and she realized that Elizabeth was coming towards her room. She scrambled to her bed so it wasn’t obvious she’d been listening, and lay there waiting for her foster mom to enter.
“It’s time you were punished for your crime,” Elizabeth stated firmly when she swung the door open. “You’ve made it clear from the beginning that you don’t want to be here, and I understand that, but what you did with the horses crossed the line. I will not have you putting lives in jeopardy then lying and getting away with it.”
“El, I didn’t let the horses out,” Natalie said, trying to keep her anger from getting out of hand. She should have spoken to her foster mom like she had with Peter, then maybe the entire spanking would’ve been avoided. But instead she lashed out. “But of course you don’t believe me because you don’t even know me… you still think I’m a fuck up, just like everyone else.”
“You watch that tone young lady,” Elizabeth scolded. “How can I get to know you if you won’t let me in?”
Natalie’s mind was racing too quickly for her to process El’s words and come up with a response. “You’re always taking my phone away and getting mad at me, but Allie can do no wrong, right? She’s everyone’s favorite. You and Peter both favor her. I knew I shouldn’t of made that stupid promise with him to be honest. Some good that did.”
“She is not everyone’s favorite and she has nothing to do with this conversation.” Elizabeth retorted. “This is about you and doing something wrong and then lying about it!”
“I’M NOT FUCKING LYING!” Natalie shrieked, standing in anger and stomping her foot. There was this intense feeling in her body and she felt the need to throw something.
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “That’s it. Your language has earned you the hairbrush, Young Lady.”
“Whatever,” Natty sneered. “I’m not scared of you.”
Without another word, Elizabeth sat on the bed and patted her lap for Natty to come forward. But the preteen only folded her arms. She wasn’t going down that easy!
“I’m giving you to the count of three,” Elizabeth warned. “One. “
“Oh brother,” Natalie said, rolling her eyes. “I’m not six anymore!” But she stood firm, staring down her foster mom.
“You can stop counting already. I’m not coming,” Natalie responded.
Something snapped in Elizabeth and she was overtaken by emotions. She stood and pulled Natalie by her arm, swatting her pajama-clad backside firmly as she scolded, “You are going to learn to do as you have been told, Young Lady.”
Even though she tried not to react to the swats, Natalie couldn’t help it — her foster mom spanked much harder than she’d imagined! “Owwwww! El!! Ouch!!!” She tried to move away, but Elizabeth kept a firm grip on her arm, swatting at her thighs now. Natty kicked up her knees as she shrieked, and that’s when she realized, there’s no use fighting… she’ll never believe me.
Taking Natty’s ear, Elizabeth led her back to the bed, then tugged her pants and panties to the floor. “I’ll not have you being so disobedient and rude. It’s unacceptable, Natalie.”
“It’s also unacceptable that you won’t believe me when I’m being honest,” Natalie spat, but felt a little embarrassed, which just made her more angry. Peter had always put her over his lap before lowering her panties, so the fact that El hadn’t was making Natty a bit self conscious.
Elizabeth turned Natalie around and landed a few more hard smacks to her naked backside, noting that it was already glowing pink. “I’m really tired of your smart mouth! Maybe I should soap it out before we begin?”
Natalie’s eyes widened and she quickly decided to shut up. “No, that’s okay.”
Satisfied with that response, but still angry, Elizabeth pulled Natalie over her lap. “Why are you being spanked?”
“Because you think I let the horses out, even though I didn’t.”
“Close enough,” Elizabeth replied as she rained down a flurry of hard swats to Natalie’s bare bum.
The preteen kicked and squirmed, biting her hand to keep from giving El the satisfaction of hearing her cry out. Swats descended one after another, mostly focused on Natty’s sit spots and thighs, the speed and intensity increasing as El remembered Marcy’s comment about the girls being immoral. It was becoming harder and harder for Natalie to keep herself together, each swat sending a searing pain through her body, reminding her that she hadn’t even done anything wrong this time. She could feel water sloshing around in her head, the dam ready to burst in any moment.
They’ll always think of you as a criminal, so you might as well be one, said the voice in her head. Either way, you’ll end up right here staring at the floor while someone beats your ass. Natalie wanted to tell the voice to shut up, but the truth in its words crept into her throat, kicking the ball that’d been lodged there, preventing a breakdown. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. Tears spilled from her blue eyes and she howled ugly cries, sobs racking her body. All of the anger melted away as hurt reached the surface. Hurt because her foster parents didn’t believe her, despite how well-behaved she’d been lately. Hurt because she’d finally trusted Peter and let him in, but he was just like everyone else.
When her bottom was bright red, Elizabeth stood the crying preteen up. “You’re going to wait here while I fetch the hairbrush,” she instructed.
Running wasn’t an option — Natalie had no idea where she was and the nearest town didn’t even have a bus station. It’d have to wait until she was back at Peter and El’s house, then she could get her emergency go-bag and take off. She had plenty of money to last her, along with her mom’s valuables. Everything else could be figured out once on the road.
Elizabeth returned minutes later, heavy plastic hairbrush in hand. She sat back down on the bed and looked up at Natalie. “I’m very disappointed in your behavior.”
On Natalie’s end was an icy silence, only the sound of an occasional sniffle as her tears dried. She was rubbing her bottom furiously, trying to get the sting to go away.
“So you have nothing to say?” Elizabeth shook her head and pulled Natalie back over her lap, resting the cool plastic against her warm backside. “This is for your language and attitude.” Then she cracked the brush down square in the middle of Natty’s bottom, harder than was probably necessary, but not hard enough to bruise.
“Owwww!” Natalie howled, reaching a hand back. “That’s too hard!”
Elizabeth took hold of her hand and pinned it to her back. “It is not too hard,” she countered. “It’s as hard as it need to be.”
Natalie kicked and squirmed as Elizabeth popped her a few more times with the hairbrush, the preteen’s dramatic cries ringing through the cabin. Surely anyone in a 100 yard radius could hear her! And it didn’t take many more swats with the brush for the door to creak open, and Peter to step inside, looking anything but amused.
“She’s had enough, El.”
But Elizabeth ignored him, determined to teach Natalie a good lesson. “She deserves every bit of this.”
Shaking his head, Peter strode over and grabbed the brush from his wife. “I said she’s had enough!”
Natalie took the opportunity to roll off her foster mom’s lap, holding her aching backside. She was crying so hard she couldn’t see what was going on, just focused on the fact that she was in pain and wanted to be alone. She tugged her pjs back up and wiped her eyes for long enough to see Peter and Elizabeth staring at her.
“Are you okay?” Peter asked, genuinely concerned. If he had known Elizabeth was going to be so severe, he would have stopped the spanking before it started.
How am I supposed to answer that? Of course I’m not okay. I was punished unfairly, and you did nothing. That’s what she wanted to say, but instead settled on, “I just wanna be alone.”
Peter took Elizabeth by the hand and half-dragged her out. “What happened just then? That was way too harsh!”
It took looking into her husband’s eyes for Elizabeth to finally realize that he was right. “You know how much I hate her attitude and bad language,” she said, trying to justify her actions. But she still wasn’t fully sure what had happened herself.
“Maybe the attitude and language is because she’s innocent.” Peter gave an exasperated sigh. “And maybe when I find the evidence to prove it, I’ll use this hairbrush on you.”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at him. “You wouldn’t dare!” But the thought made her shudder, because if he was right and Natty was innocent, she probably did deserve a good hairbrushing.
To be continued…