"Hey, Liz!" Maria ran up to her best friend after school. "Want to go to the mall?"
Liz blinked at her, "The mall?"
"Yeah, you know, the place with all the stores?"
"But we haven't been there since ... since ... since I can't remember when!"
"And my wardrobe shows it!" Maria laughed. "Come on, this is the only day neither one of us has to work."
"Well, okay, but we should invite Isabel."
"Because she needs friends who know and accept her. Besides, we basically took Max and Michael from her. We three girls need to stick together."
"She can have Michael back whenever she wants," Maria mumbled.
"Okay, okay, fine, Isabel can come."
Liz hunted down Isabel and convinced her to come. She was no more excited about the outing than Maria.
The ride to the mall was somewhat quiet, unlike most of the trips Liz and Maria took together.
When they got to there, Liz looked at the other two and sighed. Apparently it was up to her to make conversation. "So, where do you guys want to go?"
Maria and Isabel looked uncertainly at each other. Finally, Maria spoke, "Well, I need some new shoes."
"Me, too," Isabel quickly added.
As the three of them were entering the shoe store, Liz spotted her biology teacher and walked over to talk to him, leaving Isabel and Maria alone.
"I don't hate you, you know," Isabel said.
"What?" Maria asked startled.
"I don't hate you," Isabel repeated.
"I know. All of this is just so strange. I never wanted to be a part of it, and then you seemed so guarded and so protective of Michael and Max..."
"I thought you would take them from me," Isabel whispered. "Michael and Max, they're all I have. If anything happened to them..."
"We're not going to take them from you!" Maria exclaimed. "Nothing could."
"I know that now. You did so much for Michael. He was happy for once. It was like he finally thought of someone other than himself. He let his guard down for the first time I can remember."
"Are you saying you approved of our relationship?" Maria was shocked. She thought Isabel thoroughly disapproved of the alien-human relationships.
"I guess so. I thought you would lead him into danger, leave him vulnerable, but instead you stregthened him. You made him feel like he belonged. And now he's obsessed with finding Nasedo."
"I know." Maria's voice was troubled. "But I can't do anything about that anymore."
Isabel bit her lip. "If Michael needs help, he'll go to you. I don't know why I'm so certain about this, but it's true. Just be there for him."
"I'll always be there for him."
Liz walked up to them, "Are you guys finished?"
"Not quite," Maria answered.
It took Maria and Isabel half an hour to decide on shoes, clog-like slip-ons for Maria, and black leather boots for Isabel.
As they were walking out of the shoe store, Maria noticed a new shop, "Hey, look! A temporary tattoo parlor!"
"A what?" Liz asked.
"A temporary tattoo parlor. I read about them in a magazine. They're supposed to discourage teens from getting real tattoos. Come on, I want one!" Maria ran to the store, Isabel and Liz following close behind.
Maria quickly decided on an anklet tattoo, a ring of flowers. Mr. Washington, the owner of the store put the tattoo on her. He seemed vaguely familiar to Isabel. She figured she had seen him around town and soon forgot about him.
"Remember," Mr. Washington was saying. "The tattoo will last for about three months, unless you use our special cleaning formula."
"Okay, thanks," Maria said, as she paid him. As he took her money, he whispered into her ear.
"Be there for Michael. He needs you."
"What?" Maria asked surprised.
Mr. Washington only smiled.