Chapter Twenty-Nine

It went steadily uphill from there. Keith and Cheri did a lot of catching up and though it wasn't exactly the way he wanted it, Keith was content just to be able to share at least a friendship with this wonderful girl again.

They went on long walks, played their guitars, and when Cheri got a crazy idea to re-live all their old favorite pastimes, they did that too. Well, except for the old tire-swing, which broke after one try from Keith. It would have been perfect, if only they hadn't roused the suspicion of the parent folk. Gladys seemed wary, and Shirley and Hank both seemed kind of worried. Keith couldn't understand. Shouldn't they all be relieved that he and Cheri had made up and were finally getting along, or did they possibly think that the two teen were spending too much time together?

"Pass the potatoes!" Danny's shrill cry echoed across the table as dinner was served Friday evening. Keith couldn't believe they had less than a week remaining of their vacation. He wanted to make the most of it.

"Danny, finish what's on your plate first," Shirley replied, giving her middle child the mind-your-mother look she often flashed her children whenever they were trying to pull one over on her.

Unfortunately, Danny never seemed to take notice. "But Mom, I can't exactly finish my gravy without having some more potatoes."

"Oh? Why not try using the roast? It works every bit as well as mashed potatoes."

Danny frowned, having finally got the message, "Yes ma'am…"

Yep! Things were definitely getting back to normal.

"I can't believe you've all been here for over a week already," Gladys spoke then. She was smiling, but the smile was somewhat tight as her gaze wandered across the children. "And to think, since the lake, we haven't really done much, all of us, together."

"We eat every meal together," Danny pointed out, "How much more togetherness could you ask for?"

"I don't mean meals, I mean events." Gladys's eyes wandered over to Cheri and Keith; at least Keith thought they did. He figured she was emphasizing an unsaid portion of her reply: '…and besides, not all of us have been together for every meal, like Keith and my daughter…'

Keith felt defiant, 'Well, guess what? Those were the best dang meals I had here.' He'd never say it aloud, but oh how he wished he could…

"I don't mind," Chris shrugged, "I've been having a lot of fun just running around outside."

"I'm sure you have," Mrs. Reyes continued evenly, "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to all get together again. How about a game or charades after dinner?"

Despite the innocent suggestion, Keith couldn't help but wonder if there was a motive behind it. Though if there was, what could she gain by cramming all nine of them into one room?

"Charades?" Danny didn't look interested. "But Keith's terrible at charades. No matter what he acts out, he always seems to look like he's being a chicken with its head chopped off."

Keith tensed in his seat, "Mom? Can I kill him?"

Shirley smiled knowingly, "Of course," She placed a motherly hand on his arm, "but after dinner."

Keith watched as Cheri and Tracy both stifled a giggle as he re-took his seat. Even though he had hated it before, he was growing used to seeing Tracy tag along after his current lover-interest.

"Well, how about it?" Gladys asked again after a few moments had passed.

"I'm willing to give it a go," Hank shrugged.

"Okay," Tracy nodded only after a seconds hesitation, "But just because he's doing it." he pointed to Hank. Cheri's dad smiled amusedly.

Chris also agreed and so did Laurie and Shirley. Gladys turned to the remainder. "Well, Danny? Cheri? Keith?"

Keith looked to Cheri. What he really wanted to do was go out with her again to their new secret meeting spot, but one look at her face told him that their afternoon wouldn't be filled with laughter, long-talks, and the hope of a few stolen kisses, it was going to be spent inside, miming animals and other senseless things with the family.

"Sure… Mom," Cheri said slowly. She met Keith's gaze, and he saw what looked like a mixture between an apology and regret in her eyes. Not only was her tone lacking exuberance, but so was her expression. "Sounds like fun."

"Yeah," Keith added quickly. "Great idea."

"Danny?" Gladys turned to the last Partridge child.

"Give me time," The redhead replied, spearing another piece of roast onto his fork, "I'm not done eating yet." And at the rate he was going, Keith was sure he wouldn't be done any time soon.

"A monkey?"

"A dinosaur?"

"A rooster?"

"No, I know this one. It's a chicken with its head chopped off!"

Cheri grew tired of the game before it even started and from the looks of Keith, strutting across the living room floor, he thought the same.

"Alright, we give up Keith. What are you?"

"A flamingo."

"Ha! Point for our team." Cheri watched as Chris took the paper from her father and made a large tally-mark underneath their team name. It was now official; Team More-Mashed-Potatoes was ahead. Not that Cheri really cared, she hoped for a fast game.

"Alright, our turn," Smiling smugly, Danny rose from the couch and went over to select a card from Gladys. This annoyed Cheri. Her mother had suggested the game, but then also volunteered to hold the cards so that she could be exempt from the festivities. It was a shame, Cheri thought it'd do everyone well to see her mother act ridiculous for once.

She never has any fun. No wonder she's so miserable and always trying to ruin other people's happiness… Cheri stopped suddenly as the thoughts came to mind. Where had that come from? Since when had she started psychoanalyzing people?

"Okay, I think I'm ready. What am I?" Danny got onto the floor and inched along slowly. As his team watched in earnest, the opposing team, Team Because-I-Said-So, roared with laughter.

"Tess?" Tracy guessed innocently.

Danny shook his head.

"Inchworm?" Hank suggested.

Again, Danny's head wagged.

"I've got it! A caterpillar!" Chris's last guess was right on the dot and so the points were added and the next team took their turn.

So on and on went the nighttime events, clear up until eleven. Cheri was sure everyone would have called it quits sooner, but her mother kept suggesting 'just one more round'. Well, over fifty rounds later, Cheri was sure everyone was ready for bed. Well, almost everybody. She glanced over at Keith. As much as her mother tried, they could still hang out for a little while.

Shirley yawned, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I think it's time for bed."

"But we're not even tired," protested Chris.

"Oh? Well why don't you get ready and then we'll see how tired you are. C'mon, upstairs." As Shirley whisked the younger ones upstairs, Hank turned to the older four. "I think I'll head in too. You kids mind yourselves, now. Goodnight."

"'Night, Daddy." Cheri watched him exit the room and then glanced uneasily over at her mother. Gladys was still busy gathering up the homemade charades cards. At the rate she was going, Cheri feared she was going to be there all night.

"So… what should we big kids do?" Danny asked, looking from Laurie to Keith and at last, Cheri.

"We big kids are going to stay up all night watching horror films on the TV," Keith replied evenly. Cheri only hoped he was joking.

"Great!" Danny's face lit up instantly. "Which films first?"

"Oh, not you, brother dear. You're heading to bed." Cheri watched as Laurie took Danny by the shoulder and steered him towards the door.

"Bed? But what about you guys?"

"I'm heading to bed too." As Laurie passed by Cheri, she winked. Good old Laurie. If anyone was good at taking hints, Laurie was.

"We should all head in," Gladys finally spoke. "It's going to be a big day tomorrow, after all."

"Big day? What are we doing?" Laurie and Danny both paused at the door.

"Don't tell me its another 'family-time' activity." Danny groaned.

Gladys smiled at them all. "Actually, it is."

"Which is?" Danny ventured further.

"Going into town for the day. Not all of you have had the chance to do that yet."

As much as Cheri hated to admit it, her mother as right, they hadn't all gotten the opportunity. Not that they all wanted the opportunity. Cheri was sure Chris and Tracy would get bored fast. Even with the farmer's markets and the ice cream shop.

Gladys waited for a response.

Cheri sighed. She knew it would be senseless to argue. "Alright, to bed it is then."

"But-" Keith faltered, "What about the horror films?" Cheri kind of wished he wasn't so obvious.

"I'm sure you can do without. Besides, they can give you nightmares."

Cheri frowned at her mother's retort. She hated letting her win again, but she didn't want to make a scene. Even though it could be hard to believe, Cheri hated conflict. Especially since the ongoing conflict over the last week between she and Keith had really worn her out. "Goodnight, Keith. Laurie, Danny… Mom." Cheri bid them all goodnight, flashing Keith what she hoped was an apologetic smile. So Mom would win tonight, but she wouldn't tomorrow. Cheri would make sure more people were present when she declined the invitation to go into town.

"Goodnight, Cheri." Gladys smiled after her. If Cheri didn't know better, she would have guessed that Gladys was now trying to keep Keith and her apart; but she wouldn't do that… would she?

She would.

"Goodnight, Mrs. Reyes. C'mon, Keith."

Cheri heard Laurie's farewell as she paused at the bottom of the stairs. Well, so much for tonight. She went to her room and closed the door, taking her time as she changed into her pajamas. The whole night she just waited to hear a knock on her door, anticipating that Keith would come anyways, after every one was asleep, and they could head back to the walnut tree and talk the whole night.

But no knock came and when Cheri finally closed her eyes, she slept undisturbed until morning's light.

Author's Note: Again, sorry for the huge delay. Life has been super busy! Hope this chapter suffices and that I'm not drawing out the story too long. Enjoy and have a Happy Father's Day!