"Let me have everyone's attention," Ernie says, flapping his arms around.
The small crowd of teenagers finally becomes silent.
"Let me start by thanking each of you for volunteering your time and talent for this special program," Ernie begins. "'Project Impact' will really make a difference in these children's lives. It gives underprivileged kids a chance to learn activities that their parents otherwise wouldn't be able to afford."
No one notices a petite girl with long black hair passing by. She carries a duffel bag almost as big as she is.
"As it's the beginning of a new school year, I'm afraid that things may be a little crowded at first," Ernie continues. "I'll play around with the schedule after we establish how many classes are needed. The kids will be here at 4:00. Thanks again, everybody."
"I'm so glad you guys decided to do this with me," Kat says, swinging an arm around Tommy's and Adam's shoulders.
"We had a choice?" Tommy says.
Kat makes a face. She had pulled a guilt trip on the pair when Ernie found out that he was two martial arts instructors short.
"I'm sure we can make time in our busy social calendars to help Ernie out," Adam says facetiously.
"It's only once a week," Kat says, retying her pink ballet skirt.
"You sure are pink today," Tommy notices.
Kat has on a traditional ballet wardrobe: pink sleeveless leotard, pink tights, pink ballet skirt and pink ballet shoes. Her hair is neatly piled up in a bun.
"Good thing she isn't the Orange Ranger," Adam whispers smugly. "She'd be blinding."
"Excuse me," a voice says from behind. "Are you Katherine Hillard?"
The group turns and sees an unfamiliar face.
"I'm Katherine...Kat. Are you here for the dance class?" Kat wonders, though the girl looks a little too old for her class.
"Yeah," the girl chuckles. "I'm supposed to be teaching it. I'm Alexandra Jamison."
"Oh, class is supposed to begin in about 10 minutes," Kat says, looking Alexandra up and down. "You might want to go get ready."
Alex looks at herself. "Right, don't want to set a bad example."
Kat sighs as Alex begins to walk away. Alex walks to the nearest trash can, spits out her chewing gum, and comes back.
"Okay, ready to go."
"Don't you want to go change?" Kat tries to ask tactfully.
The pair are dressed completely opposite. Alex has on a black, biker short-style unitard, black jazz oxford boots, and a purple sweatshirt tied around her waist. Her black, wavy hair hangs freely down. She shrugs, not knowing what Kat is getting at.
"I was told that this was to be a ballet class," Kat informs her.
"I was informed that it's a dance class," Alex responds. "Tell you what, Pinky. You do the warm-up and barre fundamentals, and I'll do the fun stuff."
The air is thick with tension as the two dance teachers stare at one another.
"Look, the kids are here," Adam says to break the awkward silence.
Alex abruptly turns on her heel and walks toward the back of the Youth Center where the ballet barres are set up. Kat grumbles under her breath.
"She's a wild one," Tommy comments.
"Coming, Pinky?" Alex yells from across the room.
"That is going to have to stop," Kat grumbles.
"It's only once a week," Adam reminds her, wearing a wicked grin.
Adam peeks across the room periodically to see what is going on in the dance class. It is almost comical to see the two teachers. Though they look like they are on opposite sides of the spectrum, they surprisingly dance almost identically. Kat's voice counts softly over the classical piano piece.
"And grand plie...2...3...4...and up...." Kat smiles when she catches Adam's eye. "Good job, girls. Let's put the barre away and go across the floor."
The piano piece abruptly stops as Alex yanks the cassette out of the jam box.
"Now, for the fun part," Alex says loudly to gain the girls' attention. She slips in one of her own tapes and cranks up the volume. "I want to see grand jetes--leaps--as high as you can get 'em."
Adam looks over Tommy's shoulder as the pair instruct their class on take down moves. Adam sees the petite girl flying through the air in a series of impressive leaps.
"Whoa!" Adam says, suddenly catching some wicked air and landing unceremoniously on his back.
"And that's the best way to defeat your opponent," Tommy says, giving Adam a hand off the ground and then returning his focus to his students. "One moment of distraction is all it takes."
Adam flushes in embarrassment and resolves not to look at the other class again.
"One very large glass of water please, Ernie," Adam says, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"Make that two, please," Alex says, coming up behind Adam.
"You guys both did a great job today," Ernie says, setting two large glasses of water on the counter.
"Thanks," Alex says. "Glad I could help out."
"The girls looked like they had a good time," Adam says, wondering why he feels so flustered all of the sudden.
"We did." Alex takes a big swig of water and says, "You're Pinky's friend, right?"
"Yeah. I'm Adam Park."
"Well, Adam Park, maybe you could tell Pinky to lighten up some. She's so uptight and proper that she's cramping my style. Tell her that if we are going to work together that she is going to have to get that bug out of her butt."
Adam chokes on his water. Alex takes one last gulp of her water, grabs her over-sized dance bag, and abruptly leaves without even a "good-bye."
"Class, we have a few new students joining us today," Miss Appleby announces the next day in English class.
The Rangers, as well as the rest of the class, all turn to look over their shoulders. A rag-tag group of colorful teens huddle in the doorway. Miss Appleby gestures for them to come in and take a seat. The foursome fall heavily into the last row of desks. Kat can't help staring at the new guy with the black spiky hair and the chain running from his nose ring to his earring.
"Let's count off into fours and work in small groups," Miss Appleby announces. "I will give each group a separate topic."
"They are definitely not your average Angel Grove High School students," Adam whispers to Rocky as the class breaks up into its prescribed groups.
Adam finds himself in the same group as the girl with the backwards baseball cap. He tries not to stare at her knowing that he's seen her somewhere before. A flash of panic goes through him. Was she one of Mondo's monsters in disguise? He fingers his Zeo morpher through the fabric of his bookbag to reassure himself. He would be ready.
"Miss....," Miss Appleby reads down her roster and continues, "Jamison. That is not proper school attire. The hat must be removed immediately."
With a grumble, Alex pulls the baseball hat off her head. A pile of jet black hair cascades down around her shoulders. Adam sits back suddenly remembering who she is.
That rude girl from the Youth Center.
An hour later, the Rangers gather at their favorite lunch table to compare notes on the new students.
"What is with those guys?" Tommy says through a mouthful of hamburger. "They all looked like they had black clouds over their heads."
"No, Roxanne seemed kind of personable," Tanya says and then clarifies, "The girl with the fourteen earrings--I counted."
"Rash--yes, he calls himself 'Rash'--said that they were from the School of the Performing Arts," Kat says. Seeing Rocky's confused expression she adds, "The guy with the nose ring."
"Didn't the Angel Grove School Board just recently vote to close the School of the Performing Arts because of funding problems?" Tanya asks.
"Yeah, I think so," Adam says. "I heard that their students were being sent to schools all over this area."
"No wonder they're ticked. They've probably never been to a real school," Rocky says.
"Mr. Heavymetal from my group didn't seem overly intelligent," Tommy says. "He wasn't too helpful with our part of the problem today."
"I don't think he said more than 10 words the entire class," Rocky adds.
"Well, that's about 9 more than Alex said not counting introductions," Adam says and adds, shaking his head, "Very strange girl."
"C'mon, guys. It must be hard to be the new kids at school," Tanya says. "I remember how out of place I felt when I first got here. We should try to be nice to them. Maybe they'll warm up a little."
"I don't know," Adam says skeptically.
"Admit it, Adam," Rocky teases his friend. "Alex is kinda cute--in a rough sort of way. She could add a little excitement to your life."
"Thank you, but my life doesn't need anymore excitement." Adam taps his bookbag and all his friends nod at their shared secret. "Besides, she's not my type."
"And what exactly is your type?" Tanya asks sweetly, though the look she gives Adam slices him to the bone.
All the Rangers suddenly become very interested in their own lunches. Adam bites his lip. The last few weeks had been very awkward for all the Rangers. "Are they or aren't they" was the big question that everyone was dying to ask, but nobody did.
Kat had seen it coming. Adam and Tanya had been spending a lot of time together--alone. Adam was helping Tanya with her martial arts. Then he helped Tanya with her music video. Then Tanya cheered Adam on at the martial arts contest. Kat could have sworn she overheard Tanya refer to Adam as "sweetie" that day. There seemed to be a romance blossoming, and then suddenly it all died. The two were back to being totally platonic. The other Rangers never knew exactly what had happened to change things, and Adam and Tanya never shared their feelings with the others. So now, everybody just tiptoed awkwardly around the whole situation.
"I..uh..I like an intelligent, funny, kind of shy girl," Adam says uncomfortably.
"Who's pretty and has a nice body," Rocky adds. Tanya whacks him in the back of the head. "What?! It's true. Appearance does count."
"Okay, and someone who is athletic," Adam says a little more P.C. "I don't think Alex fits into any of the above categories."
"I don't know. She looked pretty good yesterday," Tommy says with a shrug.
"Yeah, I saw you checking us out yesterday, Adam," Kat teases light-heartedly, though she is slightly annoyed that Tommy even made the observation in the first place.
"Uh...I was impressed with her dance steps. She has incredible flexibility and strength. She would be great at martial arts," Adam stammers out, flushing slightly.
"Whatever you say, Adam." Kat can't resist teasing her teammate.
"I ran into Billy in the hall," Tanya interrupts the conversation. "He said to meet him at the Youth Center at 5 instead of 4. Something about he had a new science project partner to meet with first."
Adam nods, finishing off his carton of milk as the bell rings.
"Hey, Adam!" Billy says from the Juice Bar where he is picking up an order.
Adam walks through the door already dressed in his gi. He slap-handshakes Billy.
"Give me about 10 more minutes, and then we'll be done," Billy says, balancing two drinks and a basket of fries.
"No problem. I'll be over here warming up," Adam says, placing his bag on the side of the mat.
"Come get me if I go past 5 o'clock. You know how I get when I'm talking to a fellow science enthusiast."
"Sounds like the perfect lab partner. Want to trade? The frog we're dissecting in Biology has more brains than my lab partner, Bruce."
Billy laughs, causing the basket of fries to wobble precariously. Adam grabs the basket before it dumps onto the floor.
"Let me help you," Adam says.
"Come meet her. I think you'll really like her. Don't let her looks belie her. Behind the exterior is a powerful brain and a razor-like wit. She cracks me up," Billy says, leading Adam to his table.
"Sounds like the perfect match for you," Adam says, expecting to see a feminine version of Billy in Nerd Mode.
"Alex?" Adam says when they arrive at Billy's table.
Alex looks up from her Advanced Principles in Applied Chemistry textbook. Adam looks impressed but confused.
"What?" Alex asks, folding her arms across her chest.
"I didn't think that you'd be interested in advanced Chemistry," Adam says.
"Why? Because I'm a dancer?" Alex snaps.
"No, no, of course not," Adam frantically backpedals. "You were just so quiet in English class. I didn't think you were interested in school."
"Not all Performing Arts students are like 'Rash', okay? We aren't all stupid."
"I never said you were," Adam says beginning to get defensive.
Alex continues her tirade anyway. "You can thank your lovely school board for sending us here. No, they don't have enough money to keep our school open, but somehow they can find the money to build Angel Grove High School a new football field. I hate this school. This all really sucks."
Alex slams her textbook closed and stuffs it roughly into her bookbag. She storms off.
"Whoa," Billy says, cringing after Alex leaves.
A week passes without another word exchanged between Alex and Adam. King Mondo keeps the Rangers occupied with several sneak attacks. If only Alex knew that her nerdy lab partner and his shy friend were actually living double lives. Instead, Alex and Adam kept their distant circles.
Just let me get through this one class, Adam prays silently. He was still aching from their last battle with Mondo. All he wanted to do was to go home and sleep. I just can't handle a bunch of little kids today.
As Adam rounds the corner of the Youth Center, he hears sobbing. A chubby little tutued girl sits crouched up against the wall crying her eyes out. Adam stops in his tracks when he sees Alex standing in front of the little girl. Alex looks stern. Adam braces himself for the confrontation.
She's just a little kid, Adam thinks angrily to himself. I'm not going to let Alex bring her down any farther.
Surprisingly, the frown on Alex's face melts, and she sits down next to the little girl.
"There you are, Lina," Alex says softly. "We can't start class without you."
"I don't want to dance anymore. I hate dancing," the 8-year-old sobs.
"Since when? Last week you loved it. You kept showing me how you do your pirouettes, remember?"
"Did something happen?" Alex asks.
"Erika and Carrie said I was fat. And that they don't let cows dance in the ballet." The waterworks begin again.
"Don't cry, Lina." Alex throws her arms around the little girl. "I think they're just jealous because you do beautiful pirouettes."
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," Lina sniffs.
"No, I'm not. I mean it," Alex says.
"You bet." Alex gives Lina a squeeze.
"I want to be like you when I grow up." Lina looks up at Alex. "I want to be pretty and smart and a good dancer. I wish I could be you."
"Uh, no you don't. Besides, I'll let you in on a little secret...." Alex looks around in an exaggerated fashion, prompting giggles from Lina and whispers loudly, "I'm really a klutz."
Lina looks skeptical.
"No, really," Alex continues. "See this bruise on my shin? I got it walking into the coffee table this morning. And this scar? Where I fell off the swing at the park and crashed face first into the dirt when I was about your age. No lie. That's why my dad enrolled me in ballet class--so maybe I'd stop being such a klutz. The bad news: I'm still a klutz. But I dance real nice."
Lina snorts and wipes her eyes with the back of her hand.
"So, don't tell anybody my little secret, okay? It'll be just between you and me?" Alex asks.
"I pinky promise," Lina says, shaking pinkies with Alex.
"Then let's go get 'em! How about you demonstrate pirouettes for the class today?" Alex says, helping Lina off the ground.
The little girl beams as the pair walk back into class.
Adam slumps back against the wall, looking at the ceiling.
So, it's really all an act? Adam thinks, sliding to the floor. Underneath that coarse exterior lies a soft, caring, gentle person.
Tommy looks out the door and recognizes the trademark, size 10, slightly scuffed, pair of white and green Nikes sticking out from around the corner.
"Adam! Are you coming, man? Class started five minutes ago," Tommy yells around the corner.
That evening, Adam falls heavily into bed. Though he is exhausted, he can't seem to close his mind down. All of his encounters with Alex replay one by one in his head.
She's possibly the most complex and contradictory person that I have ever met, Adam thinks. He beats his pillow trying to get comfortable. But those icy blue eyes. The way they seem to flash when she's angry. They show how much passion she has. I bet nothing dissuades Alex when she's set her sights on something.
But then the scene between Lina and Alex replays. Adam remembers how Alex's rough exterior melted away when she saw Lina's tears.
I wonder what the real Alex is like?
A gentle rain beats a lulling cadence on Adam's window pane. Soon Adam feels himself drifting somewhere between consciousness and sleep....
"We'd better hurry or the equipment is going to get wet," Tanya said the day they had gone to shoot her second video.
A summer storm seemed to appear out of nowhere and sent the two packing quickly. Adam was drenched and out of breath by the time they had arrived under the covered picnic area out by Stone Canyon Lake. They sat on the picnic table waiting for the rain to abate. Instead, it started raining harder, and the wind picked up.
"Ahhhh!" Tanya cried as the driving rain started falling on a slant. The howling wind caused water to whoosh up underneath the roof. She backed up on the picnic table to escape the rain. Her hand slid on the damp equipment, causing Tanya to lose her balance. Adam grabbed Tanya to keep her from falling off the table. When the two righted themselves, Adam didn't release her. He looked at Tanya closely for the first time.
Water droplets from the spray decorated Tanya's hair like tiny diamonds, Adam's poetic mind reminded him.
Adam closed his eyes and leaned over to kiss Tanya. But this time it was different. The proverbial rockets went off around him, and Adam felt light. As he opened his eyes, a new face replaced Tanya's...Alex.
Adam bolts straight up in his bed. His heart pounds loudly in his chest and the light, ethereal feeling is slow to abate.
It felt so real, Adam thinks, his mind still registering the phantom kiss.
Adam slides back down into his bed and tucks his hands behind his head. He stares at the ceiling for what seems like hours trying to make sense out of his confusing life. It's not long before the late summer sun begins to rise. With an exhausted sigh, Adam stumbles out of bed and heads for the shower.
"Nobody in their right mind goes to the Youth Center so early on a non-school day," Adam tells himself as he arrives at the open, but empty, Youth Center. Adam is glad to see that he has the whole place to himself.
"Focus. Concentrate. Release the conscious mind," Adam says quietly after placing his gear to the side of the mats and retying his obi.
Adam begins a complex kata that his last sensei had taught him. Only a few moves into it, Adam's mind begins to wander. His mind drifts back to the dream that he had the night before.
"Stop it!" Adam chastises himself, shaking his arms and starting the whole kata over again. Again, he doesn't get too far before his overactive imagination kicks in.
What if she really is one of Mondo's decoys? Sabrina was Zedd's creation--Scorpina in disguise. And I fell for her hook, line, and sinker. I was such a dope! Let's face it, Adam, your track record is horrendous.
Adam looks up to catch his own reflection in one of the many mirrors.
Until high school, no girl, besides Aisha, would even acknowledge your presence. Thank God for puberty.
Adam flexes a recently much more defined bicep. He smiles, pleased. He was beginning to worry that he would be small and scrawny forever.
Now, you only seem to fall for girls you can't have or ones that you don't want. Adam silently counts on his fingers. One, that terribly embarrassing situation with Sabrina-Scorpina. Two, Sara Dias--who really was just using you to get to Tommy. Three, Marissa--it figures that you'd fall for a girl 200 years in Angel Grove's past. That definitely wasn't meant to be. Four, Marissa's great-great-granddaughter, Marina--her family moved to New Zealand a week after you met. Five--that incredibly stupid crush you had on Kat when she first arrived on the scene. We aren't even going to go there. And six, Tanya--gee, could you have ruined a good friendship faster? No, you had to kiss her.
Adam stares at the floor shaking his head in disbelief.
I should just give up and become a monk. I don't know how Tommy does it. He just looks at girls, and they seem to fall all over themselves. Wish I could do that.
Adam growls, irritated at his lack of discipline. He shakes his arms out again and begins the kata for a third time. This time Adam stays focused. So focused that he doesn't see Alex walk in. She stands patiently watching Adam go through the elaborate kata with strength and grace. By the time Adam is finished, he has worked up quite a sweat. Applause punctuates the silence after Adam bows. He turns abruptly around to see Alex standing on the side of the mats.
"Uh...Hi. I didn't see you come in," Adam stammers, afraid that she will read his mind and find out about the dream.
"You didn't tell me that you danced," Alex says.
"I don't. That was a kata."
"Hmmmm. Do it again," Alex orders.
"Nah. Tell you what, just let me run this one section through and then I'll leave. You can have the whole place to yourself. I won't bother you," Adam says.
"You don't have to leave just because I'm here. I don't bite, you know," Alex says and then walks up to Adam. "Really, show me the dance...kata...again."
Adam's stomach ties itself in knots, and he looks around the room--anywhere but at Alex.
"It was really beautiful," Alex encourages.
With a deep breath, Adam goes to the middle of the mat and prepares to repeat the kata. He tries to do it the best that he has ever done it. Higher kicks, stronger punches.
Not that she'd know the difference if I ad-libbed, Adam reminds himself.
Half-way into the kata, Alex leaves the mat. Adam is startled and somewhat annoyed at her rudeness, but keeps going anyway. A moment later a synthesized, instrumental piece of music echoes through the room at about the same tempo as his kata. Alex clicks off the music as soon as Adam bows.
"Wow, that really makes the piece," Alex says excitedly, her eyes lighting up. "Do you think that you could show me the kata? I would want to take the middle part out--the punches aren't too exciting--but the ending is wonderful with all those spinning kicks. How do you do that? Teach me."
"Sure," Adam stammers, still not believing that this is the same person who told him to tell Kat to get the bug out of her butt only a week ago.
The rest of the morning flies by as Adam instructs his newest pupil. Adam can't believe the transformation. Alex's gruff facade quickly melts away.
"And slide...2..3..4 and tornado kick...6...7...8!" Alex says as she performs the moves. "My kicks are really wimpy compared to yours. How do you get them so high and so fast?"
"You have to channel your natural passion," Adam says.
"Passion?" Alex says, raising an eyebrow.
Adam kicks himself for such an obvious Freudian slip.
"Natural talent," he tries to laugh it off. "You have a lot of natural talent--good coordination, balance, flexibility, speed--and you are a very fast learner. You could improve your power and aim by learning how to channel you thoughts, focusing your power. Wait here a second."
Adam races over to his bag and pulls out a square training pad.
"Okay, focus your natural energy--your ki--and then hit the pad with your foot as you do a spinning kick." Adam slips the square pad over his right hand and holds it at chest level.
Alex tries one of the spinning kicks. She misses the pad by a mile.
"Come a little closer." Adam gestures and then adds with a smirk, "I don't bite either."
Alex tries the kick again. Adam has to jump quickly to his right to avoid being nailed in his side. Alex flushes in embarrassment over her lack of control.
"Stop, breathe, channel your thoughts and hit me right here." Adam points to the middle of the pad.
Alex follows his instructions to the letter, but still only gently grazes the pad with her foot.
"Getting better," Adam encourages, flashing one of his heart-melting smiles. "You've got the aim, now put a little power behind it. You're pulling up short because you're afraid of hurting your foot or me. Imagine punching through the target instead."
Alex glares at the pad and then with a loud "kiyah" swirls around. This time she hits her mark. The power of the kick takes both parties off guard. Adam stumbles backward a few steps. Alex loses her balance upon landing and crashes onto the mat.
"Are you okay?" Adam says, quickly squatting down next to Alex on the mat.
"Yeah. Just my pride is hurting...and my butt." Alex gingerly rubs her behind.
"Do you want to quit now?" Adam says, giving Alex a hand up.
"No, I'm fine. If you have something else you need to do though...," Alex says.
"No. No. Nothing. I was planning on hanging out here for a while. Want to keep working on the kata? You're really coming along," Adam says knowing that he is going to be in a heap of trouble when he gets home. He had promised his dad he'd cut the lawn that morning.
Dad is going to be ticked, but he'll get over it, Adam thinks. This is just too good of an opportunity to miss.
"Great! Then let's go back to the beginning and try it with the music," Alex suggests.
The pair continue to work on their dance/kata for the next hour until it is almost perfected. By noon, the Youth Center is bustling. Billy and Rocky enter the Youth Center carrying their karate bags.
"Well, look at that!" Rocky interrupts Billy, pointing at the middle of the mat.
The newcomers take a seat at their favorite table and place their karate bags on the floor. They watch the end of the kata/dance silently enthralled. Alex and Adam perform the spinning kick combination in perfect synchronization. At the end of the piece they calmly bow to each other. Then Alex's face lights up into a huge grin.
"Yes, yes, YES! That was great!" Alex grabs Adam's arm and jumps up and down excitedly.
"Wow! Nice job!" Rocky yells from the side of the mat.
Adam and Alex look up and then walk over to join Adam's friends.
"Hey, Billy," Alex says to her lab partner.
"I knew you were smart, but I didn't know that you were talented too," Billy says with a shy smile.
"Adam is a great teacher," Alex replies, wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. "Whew. I need a Cherry Pepsi."
Alex walks off to take her place in the long line by the counter.
"I don't know what you did, Adam, but what an improvement!" Rocky teases.
"I guess not everything sucks in Angel Grove," Billy adds.
Adam shrugs, not understanding the transformation either. He flops down in the chair next to Billy, exhausted from the morning workout.
"I think I hear a cheeseburger calling my name," Rocky says. "Back in a minute."
"Seriously, I'm glad that Alex seems to be warming up to someone," Billy says without looking Adam in the eye. "I know how hard it is to make friends when you are different from the norm."
"Can I ask you a question?" Adam says in a low voice. "What do you really think of Alex?"
"As a person or as potential date material?" Billy asks.
Adam winces at being so transparent.
"You like her, don't you?" Billy says.
"Well...I...Uh. Okay, maybe a little."
"What about you and Tanya?"
"There's nothing to tell."
"C'mon, we're not stupid." Billy rolls his eyes. "We all know that you and Tanya were a couple of some sort for a while. What happened?"
Adam looks over his shoulder to see Rocky and Alex still standing in line.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That's the problem. I kissed her and felt nothing. Maybe it's just the poet in me, but I kept waiting for the proverbial rockets to go off and a Sousa march to blare through my brain," Adam admits and then flushes at his romanticized confession. "I'm sorry, Billy. I know I'm babbling on like a total idiot."
"No, you're not. You're just a hopeless romantic like me. It's a side I don't let come out too often. It gets too easily bruised," Billy admits quietly.
"But girls eat that stuff up," Adam says and then shakes his head in defeat. "It's probably just me. I'm defective romantically. I have the worst dating record at Angel Grove. Forget it, I'm not even going to attempt to pursue Alex."
"Really?" Billy tries to hide his enthusiasm.
"Yeah," Adam answers, missing his friend's hopeful expression. "I'd probably just end up making a bigger fool out of myself than I already have."
Alex appears a minute later with a Cherry Pepsi and basket of french fries. She sits down next to Adam.
Adam begins to melt. Billy stares down at the floor knowing the battle is already lost.
"Ernie said that they were having a dance here next Saturday night. Are you going, Adam?" Alex asks, chomping on a french fry.
"You bet," Adam replies, glad that Kat isn't there to remind them that he answered "No" when she asked him.
"What about you, Billy? Are you a dancer? I bet you have all the girls lining up to be your partner," Alex says.
Billy looks over at his cow-eyed friend, and then at Alex. "Nah, I'm busy...experiments and things."
"C'mon, it'll be fun." Alex leans over and grabs Billy's forearm. "Of course, you'll have to save a dance for me. Lab partners have certain privileges, you know."
Billy nods and manages a small smile though he is crestfallen inside.
The week flies by, and before Adam knows it, Saturday arrives. For the first time in his life, Adam stands staring into his closet with a blank expression.
I don't know why I'm making such a big deal out of this, Adam thinks. He wipes a trickle of water from his freshly shaven cheek and runs a hand through his still wet cropped hair.
Pine green, lime green, frog green, hunter green...surely something in here is appropriate for Alex's and my first....date? Can I truly call it that? I'm not picking her up. I'm not her date. There's no guarantee that she'll even dance with me. Maybe I shouldn't get my hopes up.
"C'mon, Billy, we're late!" Adam rushes Billy from the parking lot after jumping out of Billy's Radbug.
"Adam, it's 8:05. I'm sure we didn't miss too much," Billy says, reluctantly heading for the door.
"Billy, Adam, over here!" Kat yells from a table near the door.
The pair join the rest of the Rangers, minus Tanya. Adam scans the crowd after they sit down.
"Looking for Tanya?" Kat yells over the booming music.
Adam nods, though Tanya wasn't the person he was looking for.
"Hi guys," Tanya says a moment later arriving at their table. "You all remember Shawn, right?"
They exchange greetings as Tanya sits down across from Adam. Shawn pulls up a chair from a neighboring table and sits extremely close to Tanya. He leans over and whispers something in Tanya's ear. Tanya laughs at their private joke and clings warmly to Shawn's biceps. A bitterness builds in Adam.
Who does he think he is? Adam scowls to himself. I mean, could he sit any closer to her? He's practically on her lap!
The DJ plays a popular song and soon the table is empty except for Adam. Even a studious looking girl from Adam's math class cajoles Billy into a dance. Adam sighs and drums his fingers on the table.
I've got to be the biggest loser in the world. Adam sighs again, staring at the floor.
"Adam!" the voice barely cuts through the deafening music.
Adam looks up to see Alex standing in front of him. Adam remains speechless as he sees yet another side of the complex girl. Gone are the dance clothes and baggy jean overalls. Gone are the tight French braids and loose ponytails. Alex looks behind her thinking that Adam is looking at something else. She smoothes down the front of her short, purple-flowered tank dress, suddenly self-conscious.
"Can I sit down?" Alex asks meekly.
Adam nods, still not being able to form any coherent words.
The scent of Lily of the Valley wafts over Adam as Alex sits down. The ends of her onyx-black hair gently brush Adam's arm as Alex pushes her free-flowing locks over her shoulder. A tingling sensation races up Adam's arm, straight to his spine.
"Can't believe we are so late," Alex says to break the awkward silence. "We ran out of gas on the way here. How dumb is that? Anyway, I'm glad to see that someone is having a good time."
Alex nods over at Billy, who is smiling despite himself. Adam steadies his nerves and clears his throat.
"Would you like to dance?" Adam asks timidly.>
"Sure! I never turn down an opportunity to dance."
Adam gasps at the energy he feels surging up his arm as he reluctantly takes Alex's hand and leads her out to the dance floor.
God, please don't let her be one of Mondo's monsters, Adam silently prays, though the doubt creeps into his mind. Could humans cause such electricity?
The popular fast song ends just as they make it into the crowd. A slow, sappy love song begins. Alex releases Adam's hand. Adam grimaces in defeat and prepares to head back to the table. Instead Alex steps closer to him when Adam turns around. Adam stands dumbfounded. The energy is so intense that it is like a force field in front of him.
"You still want to dance, right?" Alex says, confused by Adam's pause.
"Yeah...sure." Adam silently kicks himself for being so socially inept.
He steps closer to Alex and stiffly wraps his arms around her waist. Alex reaches up to drape her arms over Adam's broad shoulders. The tingling spreads quickly up and down Adam's spine to every neuron in his body.
Please, please don't let her be a monster!
Alex closes her eyes and hums softly with the music. She sways gently to the beat, her long, black hair stroking Adam's bare forearm every time she steps to the left. Adam catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He has a look of pure terror on his face. A smile forms on Adam's face as Alex gazes up at him with her icy blue eyes. Adam finally begins to relax, but the current of electricity running between the two never abates.
Suddenly Roxanne, the heavily earringed girl from English class, comes up to the couple and taps Alex on the shoulder. Roxanne whispers something into Alex's ear. Alex's face immediately hardens.
"He's here!? Now!?" Alex says loudly.
Adam's high spirits go into a death spiral and come crashing back down to Earth.
"Uh, Adam, I've got to go," Alex says, quickly pulling away from Adam's grasp. "I'll see you around, okay?"
Adam nods mutely.
"Add one more to your Hall of Shame, Adam," Adam mumbles to himself.
Adam notices the weird stares people are giving him and quickly vacates the dance floor.
"Where are you going, Adam?" Billy asks as Adam returns to their table to grab his coat.
"Home, where I should have just stayed tonight," Adam answers.
"But you and Alex looked like you were really hitting it off out there."
"Yeah, but that was before her boyfriend, or maybe ex-boyfriend, arrived on the scene."
"So that's why she rushed out of here."
"I guess," Adam says with a sigh. "I'm heading home. I'll see you tomorrow, unless Mondo is up for some Moonlight Madness tonight."
"Let's hope not. I know you guys are beat and honestly, I'm tired of having to fix all your darn Zords," Billy says with a smirk.
Adam laughs and grabs his coat. He heads out into the parking lot.
"Stop it, Russ!" Adam thinks he hears Alex's voice yell.
Adam looks over at the far corner of the parking lot, next to the dumpsters. A small crowd has formed. Adam thinks he sees Alex in the middle of all the hub bub.
"It's okay, Alex. I'll just go with him," Roxanne says.
"Roxanne, he's drunk. Don't put yourself in danger riding with this jerk." Alex grabs Roxanne's arm.
"See, Alex. She wants to come with me." Russ grabs Roxanne's other arm. "So get lost!"
With that, Russ violently shoves Alex backwards into his cronies. The other two guys grab her and shove her around while Russ drags Roxanne away with him. With a growl, Alex grinds her heel into one of her captor's feet and backhands the other one. Their grips broken, Alex sprints for Russ and Roxanne. She jumps onto Russ's back, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.
Though it is a valiant effort, Alex is hopelessly out matched. Russ takes great joy in whipping Alex's petite body around as he spins in dizzying circles. Alex finally loses her grip and ricochets off of Russ. She gasps as the rocks of the parking lot rake into her knees. Russ and his cronies laugh. Alex slowly stands up, blood dripping down her legs.
Three against one. I've had worse odds, Adam thinks. He drops his coat and rushes towards the fight.
"Alex, please. You're just making him mad," Roxanne pleads. "Go home before you get hurt."
"Russ is the one who's going to be hurting," Alex growls.
Russ and his cronies laugh harder. Then Russ grabs Roxanne's arm again and begins to walk off. Alex slips off one of her shoes and hurls it at Russ. It smacks him in the back of the head with an audible clunk. Russ turns back around and glares at Alex. Alex gulps as Russ charges her. He draws back his arm to strike her. Alex closes her eyes and turns her head, waiting for the impending impact. Alex hears the smack but doesn't feel the pain. She looks up to see Adam standing in front of her, still in a defensive stance.
"Didn't your mother teach you any manners?" Adam goads a still stunned Russ.
Russ takes several more swings at Adam, who easily deflects them all.
"Don't just stand there, help me!" Russ yells to his friends.
The trio gang up on Adam, but they are still no match for him. Russ's friends grab Adam's arms. With an upward kick, Adam uses his momentum to do a backward flip over his captors and nails them both in the back. The duo crash into the pavement.
Meanwhile Alex, still wearing a single shoe, confronts Russ again. Alex barely ducks in time to miss Russ's swings at her. Alex stands up and punches Russ squarely in the jaw. Russ actually laughs at the wimpy punch. Alex growls and then remembers her lesson with Adam.
Focus your ki, Adam's voice reverberates in her brain.
"KIYAH!" Alex swirls around into the powerful tornado kick from Adam's kata.
Russ falls to the pavement, doubled over in pain. Russ's friends hobble over to him and help him up.
"This isn't over, Alex!" Russ snarls, struggling to stand up. "You'd better watch your back!"
Alex growls and looks unfazed. Adam notices Alex' quivering hands though and resolves to talk her into private self-defense lessons.
"Alex, are you okay?" Roxanne gushes. "I'm so sorry I dragged you into this."
"No, it's okay," Alex says, surveying her own damage. "I couldn't just stand around and watch one of my friends get hurt. I had to do something."
"Are you okay?" Adam asks, still trying to catch his breath.
"Yes, thanks to you...." Roxanne says.
"Adam," Alex informs her.
"Thanks to you, Adam," Roxanne corrects herself.
"No problem," Adam says humbly.
"I think I've had enough excitement for one night. Let's go home," Roxanne says to Alex.
"But the party is just getting started," Adam says. "I'll make sure you get home safely, if you want to stay a little longer, Alex."
"I'd like that. See you Monday, Roxanne," Alex says and then cringes from the pain in her knees.
"We better go get that cleaned up," Adam suggests. "I'll see if Ernie has a first aid kit."
"Good idea." Alex hobbles back towards the Youth Center door.
"By the way, who was Cro-Magnon Man?"
"That big loser used to go to school with us. Roxanne dated Russ until he became overly jealous and controlling. He just couldn't understand why she wanted to break up with him."
"What a jerk."
"You said it."
"I think you might have some tiny scars there, but I don't think you need stitches," Adam says taking one last peek at Alex's knees.
"I want to thank you again for helping me out," Alex says, continuing to press the wad of napkins against her bleeding knees.
"No problem. I'm sure anybody else would have done the same," Adam says humbly, placing the first aid kit away under the counter in the kitchen..
"No, you're wrong. You're definitely one of a kind, Adam Park. A knight in shining armor."
Adam flushes in embarrassment, unaccustomed to such praise.
"Um...do you have plans for next Saturday?" Alex asks shyly.
"Yeah," Adam answers, remembering the big martial arts tournament coming up. "Why?"
"Oh, never mind. It's nothing." Alex jumps off the counter and begins gathering together her belongings.
"Okay," Adam says in a defeated voice.
"Guess I'll have to take a number."
"Take a number?" Adam asks quizzically.
Without looking up at him, Alex says, "Yeah, I'm sure you're a hot commodity at AGHS."
"ME?!?" Adam snorts at the preposterous thought. "Not hardly."
"Stop being so modest," Alex looks up at him. Her blue eyes twinkle. "Don't tell me you don't have a girlfriend. I'm sure you've been breakin' hearts right and left."
Adam can't help laughing. Alex obviously didn't know him at all.
"No, I don't, presently. What about you? I'm sure you were the heart breaker at The School of the Performing Arts."
"Not exactly," Alex answers, turning her back on Adam.
Adam realizes that he has just hit a nerve. He crosses his fingers and asks, "Do you have a boyfriend now?"
"Nah. Guys aren't interested in me. What did Jake--my last crush--say? Oh yeah. 'Intelligent girls are intimidating.'"
"What an idiot," Adam says matter-of-factly. "I happen to like girls who I can carry on intelligent conversations with."
Alex can't help smiling. There seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. She had feared that she'd graduate from high school without ever going out on a date.
"Saturday is the All-Regional Martial Arts tournament. I'm competing in several events--including the kata one. Have you ever been to a martial arts tournament?" Adam asks.
"No," Alex answers and adds quickly, "but it sounds like fun."
"The higher levels don't compete until late afternoon. I could pick you up at noon, if you'd like," Adam asks, his stomach tying itself into elaborate knots.
"Great, then it's a date," Alex says.
"A date," Adam confirms, more for himself than Alex.
"You know, I'm really sorry about how we started off," Alex says sheepishly. "I probably came off a little harsh."
"A little. I was the new kid recently too, so I can sympathize. It's hard adjusting to a new school."
"The kids at AGHS are so different. I felt threatened."
"By us? You guys are much scarier than we are, especially Rash," Adam jokes. "And I was worried that you were going to bite my head off the first day at the Youth Center."
"Hey!" Alex lightly punches Adam in the arm and continues seriously, "Sorry about that. I have a tendency to put on my armor when threatened. I'll try to lighten up a little."
"C'mon, let's go join the party," Adam says. "I think you'll like my friends, and you already know Billy."
"Sure. And Adam...." Alex stands on her tiptoes and kisses Adam's cheek. "Thanks."
Adam floats out into the Youth Center. It's like the Fourth of July. The proverbial rockets are exploding, and Stars and Stripes Forever booms through his brain.
Now this is love, Adam thinks.