check out the links to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27 . part 28 follows the jump.
"So what's the plan for the day?" asked Kyle after his dad left.
Before Max could get a word in edgewise, Isabel spoke up loudly, "Kyle don't you remember? Michael, Liz, you and me were going to go camping." She wanted to ensure that the four of them got some alone time. She was convinced that there was a heck of a lot going on between Michael and Liz. And she wanted more time with them in order to suss out the truth. She had no idea why a camping trip was the first thing that came to mind. But she couldn't take back the words, and was now well and truly stuck in that she would have to go camping, if only to get the information she wanted. But ugh. Camping.
"Camping? You? Isabel are you alright?" exclaimed Maria voicing the shock that everyone else was feeling. Isabel was too much of a princess to go camping, she liked her creature comforts of the non-animal kingdom type.
"What? I went on the father-child camping trip for school, didn't I? I had fun. Besides, Kyle and I found the perfect spot for it. So we made plans for us to go for the next two days." This much was true. They'd been up in the desert on their way to a new mall Isabel had heard about. She needed some new clothes.
Michael and Liz were both equally stunned, but weighing their options, the whole camping thing didn't sound like a terrible idea at all.
Michael wasn't a fan of camping, not being the outdoorsy type, although recent interludes at the lake with Liz had made him change his mind on maybe nature not being only there to brood and sketch. Maybe you could have fun in it as well.
Liz was quickly trying to figure out how she could swing the camping trip what with her parents being gone, when they walked through the door.
"Hey sweetie! I see you got everything up and running. Hi kids!" Jeff Parker said in greeting to his daughter and her friends.
?Lizzie. Hello kids." Nancy was less effusive but still hugged her daughter before saying, "I'm heading upstairs for a quick bath. It's good to see all of you."
"Mom, Dad. I'll be up in a minute to talk to you guys. I'm glad you're back. I hope Jeanie and the kids are all right."
"They'll be fine, sweetheart. I'll give you all the details when you come up."
Liz smiled at Michael. The camping trip was so on. Her parents owed her.
"Isabel, I just can't believe how spending time with Kyle has changed you. It's utterly amazing. You planned a camping trip. For the four of you. Nice how you thought not to invite Max or me." Maria's bitter words cut into Liz's elation. She felt like she'd been drifting apart from her best friend ever since Alex died. She knew that her relationship with Michael would only drive a deeper wedge between them, but at the same time, she wasn't ready to give up on their friendship. They'd already lost so much.
"Maria...it's just with all the things going on with Michael, you haven't been exactly hanging out with any of us." Isabel began to say hesitantly.
Liz looked at both Max and Maria. They were both feeling seriously excluded. But they had excluded themselves. Liz felt bad about it so she decided to help Isabel out. "Maria, it's just that lately whenever we've invited both you and Max you've turned us down. We didn't think camping was up your alley and figured you'd just say no anyway. I'm sorry if it felt like we were excluding you."
"It's all right Liz, you have a point. Besides I was just on that horrible family camping trip with Mom and the Valenti men."
"Hey!" exclaimed Kyle offended.
"No offense. But the whole thing just wasn't my cup of tea."
"Whatever," grumbled Kyle.
Maria just rolled her eyes. "So I've got to get back to work. I'm pulling double shifts today." Maria then stood up from the booth and got back into the swing of things quickly taking orders and handing out soft drinks.
The lunch crowd was starting to filter in. the empty booths slowly filling up. Soon there wouldn;t be a spare seat in the entire restaurant.
"Max...you're awfully quiet. Are you upset too?" Isabel asked her brother quietly.
"No. Not at all. I just realized something thats all." He'd been watching the way everyone interacted on the table. He hadn't realize that in pulling away from everyone, the way he and Maria did, had forced the other four to close ranks. The easy way they teased each other, the way even Michael, relaxed and smiled when around them spoke a lot as to how things had changed from the year before.
"About the message?" Liz asked curious.
"No. It's something else. But I'll tell you guys when I know for sure if I'm right." Max was starting to suspect that Isabel and Kyle might be more than friends. And then there was that weird vibe between Michael and Liz. They acted as if they were hiding something.But there was no way. Was there?
"Okay, Kyle, Liz and Michael both have work to do here, so how about you take me home and help me pack up. And maybe I'll return the favor." Isabel said to Kyle flirtatiously.
Without questioning Isabel, Kyle stood up and waved farewell, pulling a laughing Isabel along with him. Leaving an astonished group behind watching them. After a few more minutes both Michael and Liz got up, Michael to get back to the grill, while Liz went upstairs to talk to her parents.
Max couldn't help notice the looks they gave each other when they parted. It was almost like a caress, and he hoped that the sudden thought flashing through his mind weren't the truth.
The Parkers were glad to be back home. Liz sat down with them as they told her about their trip. Cousin Jeanie had a new baby girl and the other kids were fine, Rick was recuperating slowly but steadily. Aunt Harriet had finally found a flight from Florida, so they had been able to come home earlier than expected because of that. And they were so curious about how everything had gone in their absence.
Liz told them what they wanted to hear, that they had been missed, but things had run smoothly. Then Liz asked about the camping trip. "I know its kind of short notice, but I had thought I wouldn't be able to make it, but now that you're back I was wondering if it would be okay for me to take two days off and go?"
"Oh sweetie, you've been so good about taking care of things. It's the second time in a month we've left you to your own devices; of course you deserve a vacation. Absolutely, go and have fun with your friends." Jeff answered as he smiled at his daughter. Both he and Nancy had felt guilty about leaving Liz by herself, their guilt overriding their usual sense of caution and giving Liz permission without the usual interrogation.
"Thanks Mom. Dad." Liz threw herself into her parents' arms, giving them both a quick hug and kiss. She knew she had manipulated her way through that one, but she really did want to go.