"Mom, I'm heading to the taco stand for a while." Keith said as he came in the back door.
"You'll do no such thing." Shirley said without really thinking. She was still angry about what she'd overhead and it had also become automatic to refuse to let Keith do much of anything.
"Why not?" Keith asked in shock. He'd been good about everything, at least to her knowledge. He knew school had let out a short time ago and he had plans to meet up with his friends. It had been way too long since they'd had some fun.
"If you can't go to school, you can't go to the taco stand." Shirley reasoned.
"Look, I'd go to school if you just let me." Keith reminded her that he'd have gone back to his normal life the day he'd gotten out of the hospital. He felt like everyone was babying him.
"I know, I'm sorry." Shirley looked at her son's sad face. He really had suffered a lot lately. He'd been through so much both physically and emotionally that it was hard to stay mad at him. "I guess if you're not gone too long…..and, if you wear a jacket."
"It's hot outside." Keith complained.
"It's not hot. Wear a jacket or stay home – those are the two choices." Shirley planned to win one of their arguments.
"Fine." Keith quickly accepted her terms.
"Be home by dinner. And have a good time." Shirley yelled to his quickly departing back.
"Partridge, man it's great to see you. You don't look sick." Skizzy said as he saw Keith walk up.
"I'm not." Keith assured him.
"Then why aren't you back at school?" Gordy asked as he turned to see his friend.
"The doctor hasn't released me to go back yet. I see him tomorrow. They'd keep me locked up in my room if they had their choice. What a bummer." Keith plopped down next to his friends.
"Well, you're free now." Gordy pointed out.
"Not for long. I have to be home by dinner." Keith grimaced.
"What are you twelve again?" Skizzy joked.
"Feels like it. Danny has more freedom than I do." Keith admitted.
"Keith!" Carol had just walked up with some of her friends.
"Carol!" Keith got up and pulled her into a kiss. "Man I missed you. Missed this."
"Ditto." Carol agreed quickly and kissed him again. "Who let you out?"
"Haha." Keith laughed at her phrasing. "I'm only here until dinner than I have to be back home."
"Poor baby." Carol crooned and hugged him close.
"That's exactly what I feel like. A baby. But, after tomorrow hopefully I'm a free man once again." Keith led Carol back to the picnic table.
"What's tomorrow?" Carol asked as she smiled at Gordy and Skizzy. "Hi guys."
"Dr. Hayes should release me to go back to my normal life. At least that's what I'm hoping for." Keith straddled the bench and pulled Carol against his body. God she felt good there.
"I'll keep you in my prayers tonight." Carol teased. Like he hadn't been there since they'd been kidnapped together.
"Thanks. So, if I get out of jail would you like to go to the drive-in on Friday?" Keith figured he'd get a really quick 'yes'. Boy was he surprised.
"Well, we have a little problem there." Carol bit her lip.
"What, you have a new boyfriend?" Keith said half jokingly. She better not!
"No, nothing like that. It's just that my dad has a little problem with me dating you." Carol said quietly.
"Why? He didn't before….Oh." Keith couldn't believe he hadn't seen this coming.
It's not like he was exactly surprised to hear that her father was turning overly protective. Hadn't his mother done the same thing?
But things were back to normal. No one had a plan to kidnap him anymore. Didn't her father get that?
"Maybe if you came for dinner and he saw how normal you were." Carol suggested.
"Keith? Normal?" Skizzy pointed out.
"Hey, no one asked you. I'm normal." Keith tried to defend himself.
"In whose world? Keith, you're about as normal as spots on a tiger or stripes on a leopard." Gordy reminded him.
"Whose side are you guys on?" Keith was getting ticked.
"Hey, don't go gettin' all mad Keith. We're just tellin' it like it is." Skizzy tried softening his comments with a weak smile.
"What are you talking about? There is nothing unusual about me or my life." Keith refused to see the obvious.
"Look over there." Skizzy nodded his head to the left.
Keith glanced that way and saw a bunch of girls quickly turn away when he glanced their way. "And over there." Skizzy directed him to the other side. Here the girls were older and didn't turn away when he looked, but flashed him 'come hither' smiles.
"What, it's just a bunch of girls." Keith was being his usual stubborn self and refusing to believe he was anything but normal.
"Who are all looking at you and wanting to kill Carol for being the focus of your attention." Gordy looked at Carol and apologized. "Sorry, but it is true."
"I know. I've gotten the death glare from several girls who used to call me 'friend' before I started dating Keith." Carol admitted.
"What? No way." Keith was really floored by that one.
"Way." Gordy backed up Carol's tale.
"Why does anyone go out with me?" Keith was dumbfounded.
"Several reasons actually." Carol leaned toward him and stole a quick kiss. "Would you like a list?"
"Really? Sure." Keith grinned at Carol and kissed her back not realizing how egotistical his comment might have sounded to people who didn't know him as well as the three he was talking to.
"Well, let's see, there's your cute butt." Carol laughed at Keith's wince. "Your cute hair." That one got an eye roll. "Your cute face." Keith mimed shooting himself in the head. "And, last but not least, your hurt ego that always needs kissing. Kissing that just so happens to be your absolute best quality. You do it better than anyone I've ever known."
"Geez, Connor. You're going to make me sick." Gordy groaned.
"Yeah, I just got done eating a taco and have no desire to see it quite so soon again." Skizzy gagged dramatically.
"You two are just jealous that your ego doesn't reside in your lips." Carol sassed back.
"You fell for that one?" Gordy laughed. "Partridge you sure do come up with some doozies."
"I do believe that you've just hurt my ego. Carol would you do the honors?" Keith leered at Carol who leaned over and proceeded to make it all better.
"Would you two knock it off? This is the taco stand not a motel." Skizzy smacked Keith on the shoulder; his sore shoulder. The shoulder he'd been overworking since he'd been home.
Keith's breath hissed over his gritted teeth as he jerked back from Carol.
"Skizzy! That's his bad shoulder." Carol said as she smacked Skizzy's hand before he could pull it back.
"Oh, man, Keith, I'm sorry." Skizzy said quickly.
"It's alright. It didn't hurt that much." Keith lied while he saw stars. Man, he'd hit it just right.
"Yeah, that's why you have beads of sweat on your forehead. Come on, let me drive you home." Skizzy offered. "Well, let Gordy drive you home. I don't have a car."
"No, really, it's alright." Keith hated to cut his first trip away from prison short.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Carol asked as she ran her fingers through his hair. Her fingers found the spot that had been shaved that was growing back. "Hey, you can't even see where they shaved your head."
"They shaved your head?" Gordy asked as he tried to see what Carol was talking about.
"Just a small spot. It's hidden under the rest." Keith said while he leaned into Carol's hand.
"Aww, here we go again. He's going for sympathy points Carol. Don't fall for it." Skizzy said all the while knowing Carol would be kissing Keith's hurt ego once again. "Geez, that's it. I feel like I'm watching soft porn."
"Jealous?" Carol asked when she pulled back from a grinning Keith.
"Of course I am." Skizzy admitted.
Dr. Hayes released Keith to go back to school with the warning to 'take it easy' for the first few days. Yeah, right, like that was going to happen.
As soon as Reuben had gotten the green light, the family was booked for shows for the next month of weekends.
Shirley had thought long and hard about confronting her kids about their illegal night at the club in L.A. She'd go from planning to ground them until they were officially legal to forgetting the whole thing and never letting on that she knew about it.
She'd watched Keith work hard at his physical therapy so that he could get back to performing and it was that dedication that finally made her decide to let the whole thing go so long as they never did anything like it again. He'd suffered enough lately and the fact that he'd apparently had a whole lot of fun without drinking any alcohol had brought her a little comfort.
While Shirley was deciding on how to handle her two almost adult children's walk on the wild side, Keith had asked for her help in trying to figure out how to get Mr. Connor to let Carol go out on a date with him. So far, they'd just met after school and with other friends. If the two of them disappeared for a couple of hours each time, the friends didn't mention anything. They knew the two of them were in a bind. They'd do anything to help them out including making it seem like Keith and Carol weren't actually dating.
"Carol, my mom suggested the perfect way to get your dad to approve of our seeing each other." Keith said one night when he called her.
"What?" Carol had started to think all of her time with Keith would have to be clandestine.
"We're playing at the San Pueblo Anniversary at the park next weekend. My family will be picnicking right along with everyone else from San Pueblo. Why don't you and your parents join us?" Keith extended the invitation just as his mother had suggested.
"Oh, Keith, that's a great idea. He'll see what a normal family you are and that'll be the end of all his worries." Carol wished she wasn't talking to him on the phone. This suggestion deserved more then a verbal thanks.
"Let's hope so. We'll have to keep him far away from Danny, but otherwise it should work." Keith joked.
Keith had forgotten about the press when he'd extended the invitation. Shirley had also invited Aimee to join them. And, if it had only been Aimee, things would probably have been alright.
Unfortunately for Keith, his stay in the hospital had become public knowledge though the story about what had put him there was not. There was more than the normal number of reporters trying to get the story.
He could barely move without a new reporter taking the place of the previous one asking him questions. So far, Carol and her parents hadn't arrived and Keith was hoping that if he answered all their questions they'd leave him alone sooner rather than later.
Reuben ended up setting up an impromptu press conference. He bargained with them that if they got their stories they were to leave the family alone for the rest of the day. Most agreed to the terms.
Keith and Shirley sat on the edge of the stage while the reporters threw question after question at them. They'd come up with the story that Keith had been out camping with friends when he'd gotten caught in a storm. From there he'd caught pneumonia because he hadn't been fully recovered from the bronchitis he'd had before. They believed them and most of them left to file their stories.
Keith glanced over the heads of the departing reporters to see Carol throwing him a nervous glance with her parents right behind her. Mr. Connor did not look happy.
Shirley took the situation in hand and moved forward to greet them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Connor, I'm so glad you could join us today. We're over here." Shirley waved them toward the two picnic tables the family had claimed as their own. She always put on quite the spread and with the Connors and Aimee they needed the extra space.
"Mrs. Partridge, thank you for inviting us." Mrs. Connor smiled. She had been trying to get her husband to agree to let Carol date Keith now that the threat was over, but so far she hadn't been successful.
"Shirley, please." Shirley invited her to use her first name.
"Amanda." Mrs. Connor did the same.
"Oh, you have the same name as my mother. I've always loved that name." Shirley smiled.
"Thank you." Amanda took Shirley's arm and they moved away to chat.
"Daddy, you remember Keith." Carol said as she pulled her father forward.
"Yes, of course. How are you?" Her father said stiltedly.
"Much better, thanks. Beautiful day for a picnic, don't you think?" Keith picked the weather as a safe topic.
"Yes, yes it is." Mr. Connor agreed and then just blurted it out. "My daughter thinks I should give her my blessing to date you again."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd allow it, sir." Keith said in his most respectful voice.
"How can I know she'll be safe?" Mr. Connor refused to pull his punches.
"Mr. Connor I don't know if you know anything about the people responsible, but let me tell you about why they did what they did." Keith relayed the story about Pete and Joey and what Pete and done to Laurie. He told him about how they'd been fired and that Pete had tried to get back at Keith by setting up the whole kidnapping scheme.
"So, you're telling me you don't plan on ticking off any more radio disc jockeys?" Mr. Connor had listened to Keith's story and finally realized that the circumstances were likely not to be repeated.
"So long as they keep their hands off my kid sister, then, no." Keith sheepishly agreed.
"Well, I guess I can understand why a brother would protect his sister. After all, I have two sisters of my own. Young man, your parents raised you right, didn't they?" Mr. Connor was starting to see some of the reasons why his daughter was attracted to the long haired singer.
"I'd like to think so, sir." Keith tried to keep his smile inside. He didn't want Mr. Connor to think he was gloating at having won him over so quickly.
"Well, let's see how the rest of this day goes and then I'll let you know if you're good enough for my daughter." Mr. Connor heard his wife calling him over and he waved to her before turning back to Keith and Carol. "Don't go where I can't see you."
"No, daddy." Carol watched her father walk away and quickly stole a kiss from Keith while his back was turned. "I never would have guessed that you'd win him over so quickly."
"Don't count your Partridges before they're hatched." Danny said as he walked up beside them.
"You were listening." Keith scowled at him.
"Hey, you're out in the open. I didn't see any 'no trespassing' signs." Danny sniffed.
"I still owe you a pounding from the hospital." Keith moved threateningly toward him.
Danny stayed in place. "Want me to yell? I'll just go running to mom and tell her how you're threatening me and guess who happens to be standing right next to her." Danny gloated when Keith backed off. "Thought that might change your mind."
"Danny!" Shirley had seen Danny by Keith and Carol and had noticed the look on Keith's face. She figured she'd help them out by calling Danny away. "Could you come here a minute?"
Keith and Carol had just started to stroll toward a tree to have a little time alone when Keith was hailed once again.
"Hi Keith." Aimee came up smiling. "Sorry I'm late. The traffic out of Frisco was worse than I'd anticipated. When do you perform your first song?"
"Not for several hours yet. Aimee, this is Carol." Keith pulled Carol forward. "Carol this is Aimee Keller. She's a reporter with Teen Magazine."
"So you're Carol." Aimee said knowingly drawing a confused look from Carol. "I had asked Keith down in L.A. why he hadn't picked up any girls at a party we were both at. He told me about this girl in San Pueblo that he was seeing. You're a lucky girl."
"Thank you, I think so." Carol smiled at Keith while she gripped his hand harder.
"I'm sorry to have interrupted. I'll catch up with you later. After you two have caught up." Aimee winked and walked away to find Laurie. Hopefully she wasn't preoccupied with a date herself or Aimee would be hard pressed to get her stories for the next edition.
Mr. Connor had been strolling not far away and had heard Aimee's comments to his daughter. He was further impressed by the young man who had obviously had the opportunity to cheat on his daughter and had let it pass by. Maybe the boy who he thought was too popular with girls to be a good boyfriend was actually more grounded than he'd have thought possible. Now if he could just be sure that the boy's popularity wouldn't cause his daughter physical harm, he'd be more comfortable with his decision to let them date.
The Connors had been very complimentary of Shirley's cooking and baking skills. They were both stuffed with the delicious food Shirley had served. They'd watched all of the Partridge kids eat less than they'd have expected but had been reminded that they still needed to perform and it was hard to do that when you were too full to move.
"Wish I had followed your example." Mr. Connor ruefully admitted as he felt like waddling over to the band shell to watch the family's performance.
Mr. Connor watched the crowd and his daughter react to Keith while they performed. For the first several songs, he played the guitar and stayed on stage. The next couple of songs, he didn't need to play and Keith wandered the crowd feeling safe in his home town. He flirted with many girls but would just as quickly turn away and charm a girl several feet away.
Mr. Connor frowned as he watched the young man charm the crowd, especially the girls.
"He's very good isn't he?" Aimee leaned toward Mr. Connor.
"At flirting? Yes, he is." Mr. Connor said a little stiffly.
"Mr. Connor it's all an act. Just watch him closely." Aimee pointed out the subtle differences in Keith's performance versus what Mr. Connor had seen between Keith and Carol. She'd learned to read Keith from Laurie who was as close to him as anyone. "It's all an act. A very good act, but an act."
"Yes, I think I see what you mean." Mr. Connor watched the young man taunt and tease - all to get the people, the girls to enjoy the show.
"He's really a very good showman for someone so young. He realizes that he has to give big parts of himself while he's on stage. He has to let people see what he's feeling and thinking while he's singing to them. It's truly a thing of beauty when it's done right." Aimee shook her head. It was her first time seeing him sing from the audience. She'd seen him from backstage a few weeks before and she'd seen him 'perform' at the party, but this was a whole other level. Personally, she preferred the guy she'd gotten to know on a personal level – especially the one in the towel. She sighed in memory and then quickly pushed it away. They would have a professional relationship and that was it.
Carol was a lucky girl.
Keith had just closed the back of the bus after finishing packing up. He turned and his arms were filled with a laughing Carol.
"He's agreed to let us date." She hugged him close.
"Really?" Keith pulled her back to see her face. Yep, it was just as radiantly happy as it had been when she'd first walked up.
Carol nodded and then pulled his head down for a kiss.
"Think you can keep that thought long enough for me to borrow the keys to the station wagon and then we can continue this at Muldoon's Point?" Keith pushed her away as he heard his family approaching around the bus.
"It won't be easy, but I'll wait." Carol grabbed his hand and thought to herself 'I'd wait a lot longer than that.'