On Wednesday night, sneaking out proved easier for Erica than she’d imagined. With bedtime for the kids being nine o’clock, she only had to wait an hour or so before the house was completely quiet. She’d removed the screen from her bedroom window after dinner, and was already dressed in the darkest clothes she had to wear. After opening the window, she stepped carefully onto the rooftop and quietly closed it behind her. From that height, she could see Brad’s car waiting down the street. Smiling a little, she ignored the bit of fear she felt at breaking the rules like this. The only punishments she’d known Mama Patricia to enforce were kitchen duty and privilege loss. She could deal with that for a week or two. It would be worth it.
Maneuvering off the rooftop seemed to take forever because of how carefully Erica went, but she made it down and dropped safely onto the grass. For a minute, she stayed crouched down and listened for any sounds from inside indicating her absence. Then, her heart pounding with excitement, she crept beneath the living room and kitchen windows and stepped toward the street. She made herself move slowly towards Brad’s car in case any of the neighbors on the street happened to be out, but other than a couple stray cats, Erica didn’t notice anyone. She was beaming by the time she got into the car, and as Brad smiled at her, she couldn’t help but kiss him.
“Good job, baby.” He told her after they separated. “Now, we enjoy the night.”
Each teen was lost in their own thoughts as they drove. Brad reveled in his victory of getting Erica out the house while she enjoyed the freedom of riding in his car to have some real fun with people who weren’t her foster siblings. Neither of them noticed the brown car following them. Its windows were heavily tinted, and it kept its lights off for the entire drive. When Brad reached his destination and turned off the car, the brown one followed suit from further down the street. The driver watched Brad open the passenger door and escort Erica out the car and into a house where a party was in full swing.
As the driver of the brown car watched the front door of the house close, he pulled out his cellphone and made a call. Even at eleven thirty at night, the recipient answered after two rings.
“Yes?” A female asked.
“They’re at a house party,” The driver told her. “I just watched them go in.”
The female yawned before replying. “Okay. Just keep watch.”
Sitting at the kitchen table, Patricia took a deep breath as she hung up the house phone and finished her glass of orange juice. Sitting across from her was one of the other staff members, Rebecca Nash. She had spotted Erica sneaking away from the house as she came back from her nighttime walk with her dog, Kane, and immediately woken and informed Ms. Davis. Now that another party had confirmed what both women had already guessed, it was time to consider their next move.
"House party, huh?" Rebecca asked.
Patricia just nodded.
"Well," Rebecca continued "it's not the worst infraction Erica could commit."
"We'll see if it's the only one she commits tonight." Patricia replied. "This is how it starts, though. And she didn't wait for my no to sink in before letting him encourage her to do this."
"But if you already had his info before-hand," Rebecca asked "why insist on Erica bringing it to you?"
"I'd rather her confirm the truth than find out she lied at the worst time. She could've asked him for his parents's info the night I said no, and the days following that. Instead, she bypassed that option. Now, I have to use it in less favorable circumstances."
And with that, Patricia picked up the house phone and called Bradley's home.
There was no one at the party that Erica recognized, but everyone seemed to know Bradley. The guys bumped fists with him, and the girls all waved in his direction. Erica lost track of names and faces as she was introduced to seemingly everyone, and as she sipped the drink Brad gave her, she couldn’t help feeling under dressed. She’d hoped to have him all to herself, but after a half hour, she figured it was better this way. After all, what would she know about how to hang out alone with a guy?
Erica quickly lost sight of Brad and decided to hang out in the living room. The television was on, but couldn’t be heard over the loud music blaring through the sound system. Everyone else looked like they were having fun. Some were drinking, some were dancing around, and others were smoking or making out. She didn’t feel comfortable approaching anyone to strike up a conversation, and no one approached her, so it didn’t take long for her to grow bored.
When the smoke became too much for her, Erica stepped outside for some fresh air. By then, she was feeling tired. When she looked at her watch, she realized that it was nearly midnight. It had taken Brad almost thirty minutes to drive out here, and Erica knew she’d need to be back home and in bed before anyone started to wake up. It was as she was turning to go back inside that something suddenly felt wrong. Turning away from the door, she looked around carefully. She couldn’t see anything. There were cars parked up and down the street. Tree branches and leaves swayed in the wind. Nothing looked out of the ordinary…and yet…
“What are you doing out here?”
Erica jumped and turned around. Brad was standing in the doorway looking confused.
“You’re supposed to be inside having a good time.” He told her. “What’s so great out here?”
“Nothing,” Erica said nervously. “I needed some air, that’s all. But look, it’s getting late. I’ve got school tomorrow.”
“So what?” Brad asked as he closed the front door and joined her on the porch. He stepped toward her and wrapped his arms around her, the first moment he’d spent with her since they got here. Erica couldn’t help smiling as she leaned into him, smelling his cologne and feeling the warmth of his jacket. Nothing felt wrong about this.
“This is nice,” she said “but I’ve done enough for tonight. There’ll be hell to pay if I get caught.”
Brad let out a small sigh as he pulled away from her, then smiled.
“I hate it when you’re right.”
Even though Brad parked his car down the street from the house, Erica could see Mama Patricia sitting in a rocking chair on the porch.
“Shit,” she said softly. “What are we going to do?”
“We?” Brad replied with a chuckle. “Baby, if you’re going to get any good at this, you gotta learn to have an alibi already established. As far as my parents know, I’m spending the night with friends.”
Erica let out a soft groan. “I can’t go in there.” She said.
“You’re not staying in my car.” Brad told her. “You’re the one who said it was late. Go handle your business, girl.”
With another soft groan, Erica got out of the car and started walking down the street. When she got to the house, Mama Patricia stood up from the chair and walked inside. Erica followed her into the kitchen where the light was already on.
Turning around to stand in front of the refrigerator, Mama began questioning Erica.
“Where’ve you been?”
Erica tried to sound nonchalant.
“Do not play games with me, Erica. Who were you out with, and where did you go?”
“I went to a party with Brad.”
“And what made you think that was a smart idea?”
Erica didn’t have an answer, so she stayed quiet and put her head down. Mama took a step towards her.
“Look at me.” She ordered.
Erica raised her head.
“You’re grounded until further notice.” Mama said. “Now go to bed and get some sleep. You have school.”
Bradley felt himself grow annoyed as he pulled his car into the family's driveway. The light was on in Dad's study, and that usually meant a lecture from him.
"Fuck it." He muttered as he got out and made his way inside.
Dad was leaning against the desk, his face mirroring his son's annoyance. Mom was sitting in one of the green armchairs, but she stood up as Bradley walked in. As usual, Dad got the first word in.
"You took a sixteen-year-old to an unsupervised house party?!"
"Anthony, please," Mom said irritably. "At least give him a chance to explain."
"Explain what?!" Dad snapped. "Explain why he lied to us? Explain why he decided to jeopardize his future again?"
"So he made a mistake," Mom countered. "It happens to everyone."
Anthony turned to his wife with a knowing look. "When it's the same mistake being made, Rita, it stops being a mistake and becomes a choice."
There was a moment of silence before the husband addressed his son again, but this time, the anger was replaced with disgust.
"I shouldn't have to find out from anyone's mother except yours that you're somewhere you're not supposed to be at all hours of the night. What if some do-gooder had decided to call the cops or complain about the noise? What then, hotshot?"
Bradley kept his eyes on his father, but didn't respond. He knew better than to disagree with his dad on this point.
Anthony Wilson took a deep breath as he tried to calm down.
"I'm not going through this again with you." He said, speaking to both his son and his wife. "The mother of this girl wants you to leave her alone, and stay away from her house. Now I think that would be best for you, but it's your choice. Just don't call me for help if you make the wrong one."
Erica spent the rest of Thursday morning struggling to stay awake during her classes. By lunch time, all she wanted was a nap, and when Mama Patricia came to pick her up with the rest of the kids, she slept the whole ride home. Her punishment began immediately. When she got upstairs to the room she shared with Abigail, both the television and the radio were gone. She got through her homework, then rested until dinnertime.
That evening, Mama added to Erica’s punishment.
“You’re solo on kitchen duty,” she told her, “and banned from any upcoming family outings.”
“What?” Erica almost yelled. “But Jessie and I were supposed to go to the movies this Saturday.”
“Now she gets to go with Abigail. You’re going to stay here and get some work done.”
Even though the kitchen was small, the dining room had to be cleaned up too. Erica spent the next forty-five minutes washing the dishes, wiping down the counter tops, cleaning out the microwave, cleaning off the dining room table, and sweeping the floor. When she finished, she went back to her room and collapsed on her bed.
“This stinks,” she muttered.
“It’s your own fault.” Abigail said.
“What do you know?” Erica snapped in annoyance.
“I know the rules of the household, just like you do.” Abigail replied. “When you disobey rules, there are consequences. You shouldn’t complain about getting caught doing something you knew was wrong.”
“Then next time, I just won’t get caught.” Erica said defiantly.
“Don’t you get it?” Abigail asked. “There’s not supposed to be a next time.”
For the next two weeks, Erica’s lock down felt like torture. At home, when she wasn’t cleaning up in the kitchen, she was confined to her room doing homework from school, or work packets Mama Patricia had made herself. She could hear the other kids playing outside in the backyard or in the game room playing video games, but she couldn’t join in. When she finished one packet, Mama had a new one for her to work on while she looked over the previous one. With no t.v. to watch, she missed out on several episodes of her favorite shows and had to hear about them second-hand from some of her friends at school. Meanwhile, Bradley had no problem sweet-talking Erica and feigning concern for her being on punishment. Playing the role of the supportive boyfriend came naturally to him, having practiced on many other girls his age and younger. Erica found it hard to think about Abigail’s words when Brad was bringing roses every day and asking how much longer they’d have to be like Romeo and Juliet. The thought of him out somewhere thinking of her helped her cope with being on punishment, and she counted down the days until she could hang out freely with him again.