"Jason!" Kim exclaimed, bouncing with excitement, "I've missed you! I can't believe you guys are really here!"
"Long time, huh? It's good to see you again, Kim!" He pulled her into a bear hug. "Trini's still getting ready in the bathroom; she should be out shortly," Jason supplied as he ushered his long time friend into the room, shutting the door behind her.
"So, how are things going for the two of you?" Kim queried.
"Couldn't be better! How are you doing?" Jason asked in his normal brotherly fashion.
"I'm fine, just a little tired. Are you coming to dinner with us?"
Jason caught Trini's eye as she emerged from the bathroom, on the far side of the room, and paused momentarily before answering. "Uh no, I'm really tired, but you two go ahead and have fun; tomorrow we can all do something," he replied.
"Ready to go?" Trini picked up her jacket from the bed, and Kim turned her attention towards her friend.
"Whenever you are. Where do you wanna eat?" Kimberly asked, picking up her purse from where she had laid it on the table.
"What are you asking me for? You're the one who lives here!" Trini bantered. To her boyfriend she said, "See ya later, hon." Jason gave her a quick kiss. "Have fun you two!"
In a booth to one side of the restaurant, the surroundings seemed to stand still as two best friends were deep in conversation.
"I signed the lease two weeks ago; Mom and Dad like the apartment, but I think it'll take a while for them to get used to the idea of me having my own place. Anyway, it has two bedrooms, a full bath and a half bath, a big kitchen and living room, a patio --all the main floor apartments have their own patio and separate front doors. And the greatest part is that it's only two blocks from campus!" Trini concluded, sipping her drink.
"WOW! That does sound great!" Kim exclaimed, proud of her friend's housing search success.
"Sometimes I swear the guys will never grow up." Trini scoffed. "Jason, Rocky, Zack and Adam were helping move our stuff from my parents house. The entire time, they kept making bets on how many boxes were mine or yours."
Kim snorted, "They can be so immature! I still can't believe that Rocky and Jase are gonna be roommates! I'd love to be a fly on the wall when they move in together!"
Shaking her head, Trini responded with a bright grin, "I know. I'm just hoping Rocky doesn't get him started with drinking Jolt!"
The gymnast snickered, "Oh, I could just see that --having to pull two of them off the ceiling!" Then, more hesitantly, Kim asked, "So, what has everyone else been up to?"
Taking a sip of her soda, Trini recalled, "Let's see.... Rocky and Adam are still teaching at the Juice Bar part time and going to A.G.U... oh, and you probably know that Ernie's back, right?"
"That's great - the juice bar wasn't even close to being the same without him," Kim agreed, her mouth watering at the thought of his famous smoothies.
Trini continued from where she left off on her imaginary checklist of friends. "A few days after we got back from Switzerland, Zack, Jason and I were at the mall. We ran in to Angela --she was there with her boyfriend."
"Oh, no," sighed Kim. "How did Zack take it?"
"You know Zack, he acted as though everything was fine. Even though he won't admit it, I can tell that he was a little bummed. Actually, he's teaching his hip-hopkido at the Juice Bar three times a week and working over at Sam's Coffee House, so that helps keep him busy. He's doing good though." She paused long enough to take a bite of pasta before continuing. "Adam can't stand his dorm mate --he got stuck with a junior who's a major jock! I mean, you thought that Tommy's room was always a mess? This guy outdoes him by at least three times!"
"I've got to see that one!" Kim forced a chuckle out, shaking her head in amazement. "Rocky actually called me a few weeks ago; he kept jabbering about how he was looking forward to actually being able to have some peace and quiet in the dorm...."
"Yeah, going to college to get away from the rugrats --that's a new solution!" Trini rolled her eyes as she giggled. "Anyway, a few days ago, the guys started discussing the option of maybe trying to pool their resources and rent a house near school. You know about Jason's teaching job at the new Dojo; we're both gonna start classes winter semester with Tommy. Billy's on Aquitar still. Gosh, I can't imagine living on planet covered with water!"
"Has anyone heard from Billy?" Kim piped up, hoping to steer the subject of conversation as far away from her ex-boyfriend as possible.
Shaking her head as she cut her meat, Trini replied, "Not that I know of. The last I heard from him was the letter he sent me when he left Angel Grove." Concerned by Kim's sudden silence, Trini looked up from her plate to find a faraway look in her best friend's eyes as she played with the straw in her soda glass --an old nervous habit the Asian girl had seen many times over the past few years. "Kim, I don't mean to pry." Trini began hesitantly.
"What's up?" Kim responded, making a futile attempt to sound cheerful.
Trini saw right through the girl's masquerade. "I was just wondering when was the last time you spoke to Tommy."
Finally, Kim looked up from the flimsy plastic tube. Judging from the look she was receiving from across the table, she knew there was no dodging the subject any longer. "Christmas...." she admitted remorsefully.
Pure astonishment flashed across Trini's features; she couldn't believe her ears. "You mean to tell me you haven't spoken to him in almost seven months?"
Shifting her eyes away from her best friend, embarrassment flushed Kim's cheeks. For the last few months, she had secretly felt like a complete coward for not actively searching Tommy out and explaining the letter to him. Obviously, Trini had assumed that she had talked to him. Kim knew there was no way to take to words --the truth-- back now; she might as well lay it all out on the table. "Well, the few times I tried to call him, he wasn't home. I left a message or two, but Tommy never returned my calls, so I figured there was probably someone else, and he didn't want to talk to me." Kim shifted uncomfortably under her friend's gaze.
"Kim, what exactly did you say in that letter?" Trini queried with interest.
Twisting a lock of her chestnut hair around her finger, Kim replied, "Basically, I told him that I had found someone else, that I was happy, and I hoped he would find someone else." Kim recalled, shivering at the thought of writing it.
A hopeful smile tugging at her lips, Trini pressed on. "Really? So who's this new guy you're going with? Someone from the team?"
"Actually, there never was anyone else," Kimberly admitted in a whisper.
Trini sat there, stunned, for the second time. "Kim, why did you lie to him?"
"Look, even before I left Angel Grove, Kat was already trying to get his attention all the time. Towards the end, I noticed he was paying attention to her more than before." Her hazel eyes began to well up with all the unshed tears from the past months, but she managed to stay in control. "Besides, I couldn't handle being 5,000 miles away from him and still trying to maintain a relationship. With prom and everything.... Tommy should be happy, and if it's with Kat, then so be it, I guess," Kim confessed, trying not to show her heartache.
Recovering from her shock, Trini pursued, "So, I take it you and Kat aren't on talking terms either then?"
Kim shrugged. "We kind of were when I left, and I figured it would look pretty bad if I didn't let her keep my Power Coin after all that had happened with Rita. It was just kind of left at the 'call me when you get settled in and we can chat' stuff, but I never called her and never heard from her either. When we were all together at Christmas, Kat went to visit her relatives back in Australia. I guess I just felt like she already had everything else of mine, so why not have my boyfriend too." Although she had lost all appetite by now, Kim looked down at the remaining plateful of food in front of her. Reaching for her fork, she half-heartedly stabbed a piece of chicken.
"I see; no one else has told you then?" Trini asked, now realizing how much Kim had been left out of the information loop.
Kim's mind immediately began to race. *Oh God, they got married! If she says that, I'm gonna puke!* she screamed inwardly. After a long pause, she was able to find the inner strength to ask the ten-billion-dollar question, "Told me what?" and braced herself for the proverbial anvil that was about to hit her.
"I'm rather surprised you don't already know," Trini explained, "but Kat's even further away than you are. She started college in England a month ago!"
Halting in mid-bite, Kim asked, "So her and Tommy.... Wait. What happened to cause that?"
"I don't know the whole story, but Jason told me things had always stayed on the cooler side between them. However much of a relationship they had, Tommy ended it just before she got her scholarship to some prestigious fine arts college," Trini summed up. "As far as the prom, Adam, Rocky and their dates doubled. Tommy didn't even go." Kim remained quiet as her friend continued. "Just from what Adam mentioned the other day, I guess no one has heard much from Kat except for the couple of letters that Tommy received." Even though Kim didn't like hearing the truth, Trini knew her friend had to know.
Kim returned to poking at her salad. "Oh, that's polite of Katherine to write," she fumed.
"I'm sure it's nothing, Kim. They're friends, just like you and Jason are." Kim just rolled her eyes at the girl. Before the gymnast could offer a rebuttal, Trini changed the subject. "So, what about after the Games? You're still coming home, aren't you? I've put your stuff in the second bedroom already; It'll be so great to have you as a roomie again!"
After pondering the new question for a moment, Kim replied, "I haven't really given much thought to it; I'm supposed to go to visit my mom for a couple months in France. Of course, she wants me to move there permanently." Kim shook her head negatively at the thought. "I don't know what I want to do. Maybe I'll just stay here and go to school."
Trini studied her friend's face for a moment, considering the saddened look that came over her face since the very first moment that Tommy's name was mentioned. "How can you say that when you're obviously not happy?" she demanded, grabbing Kim's attention from her thoughts.
"Huh? It'd be worse in France --please! French people are so stuck up!" the gymnast retorted in confusion.
"Kimberly, I'm not talking about France, and you know it! Fess up; you still love Tommy, don't you?" Trini added sternly.
"Why do you say that?" Kim challenged, knowing full well it was another losing battle.
"The look on your face, for one. It's the same look you had the day we were in my room and you told me about the invitation to the Pan-Global Games; it's the same expression you had when you realized that meant having to leave Tommy behind." Trini pointed out matter-of-factly, studying Kim's watery eyes for an answer. "Admit it, Kim."
Feeling as though she were a small child being pushed into a corner with nowhere else to turn, Kim erupted, "Fine. I never stopped loving him, but I couldn't risk losing him because I wasn't there. Tommy deserves better than me!"
Trini immediately regretted causing her friend such obvious pain. Quietly, she responded, "No, Tommy just deserves to know the truth. Jason said that he almost gave up being a Ranger when he got that letter. Kim, his life revolved around the Rangers, karate, and you --not necessarily in that order. Your letter almost killed him."
Sitting back in the booth, allowing the hurtful truth to sink in, Kim sniffled, "I'd be surprised if he'd even speak to me after what I did!"
"You don't know that for sure unless you give him a chance, Just be honest with him. All men don't leave Kim - especially not ones like Tommy and Jason." Trini tried to reassure her. She held her hand out to her friend.
Pulling herself back together, Kim answered, "All right, I'll think about it, but I'm not gonna promise anything!" She extended her hand as if to shake on the deal.
"I know," Trini murmured, squeezing Kim's hand in return, "but at least you'll quit beating yourself up over it and have your answer!"
A moment later the waitress approached, picking up their now emptied plates. "I hope you ladies have saved room for dessert!"
Kim and Trini looked at each other, instantly knowing what the other was thinking. Kim turned to the server and said, "Yes, we'd like whatever you offer that has the most chocolate!"
"That would be our famous Killer Chocolate Triple Fudge Cake. Two pieces coming right up!" With a smile, the woman headed towards the kitchen to retrieve the high calorie confections as the two friends began to giggle.
"What food group has a way of solving all of life's problems?" Trini teased.
Kim chimed in, "Chocolate and lots of it!"
Coach Schmidt had been watching from across the room; quietly, he approached Renee, whispered something that she readily agreed to, then walked back over to the uneven bars.
Turning back to her roommate, Renee called, "Kim, come on; let's take a break."
"I just have to get this pass down first," Kim adamantly refused.
Insistently, Renee approached the end of the beam closest to her. "You've been at it for the last hour, it won't hurt to give yourself a breather." Her voice took on a stern tone.
Kim lost her footing once again, almost falling off the beam. "I guess your right," she confessed as she jumped down. The two girls walked over to the bench where their towels and water bottles awaited.
"So, did you ever make a decision about if you were going to go back home for vacation?" Renee asked.
"Home? Where's that?" Kim half teased, taking a swig from her water bottle. "Actually, two of my friends just got into town last night, so I'm just going to hang around here."
Pulling a small gray towel out from her bag, Renee sarcastically retorted, "Oh, I see; that way you can get in all the practice you want so you can beat my ass at the Games!"
Kim smiled, although it faded quickly, "Oh yeah, 'Nea; you found me out!"
Recalling the sounds from the television that had woken her up in the wee hours, Renee ventured, "It didn't sound like you got much sleep last night. Are you all right?"
"No, I didn't. I guess my mind's somewhere else today...." Kim shrugged, rubbing her dark circled eyes with her fingers.
"It must be; last week you could do that pass perfectly in your sleep! What's going on?"
Kim half smiled at her roommate's insistence; she suddenly realized what it was about Renee that she liked so much. Trini would have said that if she were here. *I wonder if these two could have been sisters in a previous life!* she mused. Finally, she asked, "Renee, do you think that apologies can make up for major things --I mean like hurting someone?"
Taking a moment to consider the question, Renee replied, "I'm not sure; communication can do a lot, so I guess it could. Why do you ask?"
"I think I made a huge mistake sending Tommy that letter...." Kim admitted shamefully.
Putting an arm around her roommate's shoulders, Renee sighed, "Somehow I had a feeling that you would regret doing that. Please tell me that you've talked to him since the letter."
"No, I want to, but every time I've tried to call or sit down and start to write an apology letter, I get so scared... I just can't do it," Kim confided to her roommate, taking a sip from her own water bottle.
Shaking her head, Rene advised sternly, "Don't write him another letter, Kim."
Quickly wiping away a stray tear, the torn young woman admitted "I gave up on that anyway. I can't get past the 'Dear Tommy' part."
"What do you think he'd say if you did call?" Renee questioned, sneaking a look at the coach to find him still studying their teammate's routine on the uneven bars.
Kim contemplated the question for a moment. "Probably something like, 'Don't call me again, click'. I really hurt him; I might as well have gone and smacked him myself. I just wish I could take it all back!"
"Well, then I suggest you get your butt to a phone and call him, pronto! Waiting's not gonna make it any better, Kim! What's it gotten you so far?" With that, Renee set down her water bottle and headed over to one of the empty floor mats to practice her routine. Kim stood there for a moment, watching her go. Then with a small boost of confidence, she grabbed her warmup jacket and headed for the door.
A few minutes later, her heart racing with nervous adrenaline, Kim sat down on her bed, holding the phone. Her shaky fingers dialed the familiar numbers. The other end rang once, twice, three times, then it was picked up. Kim's breath caught in her throat, then the words met her ear:
*"Hey, you've reached the Olivers', we can't get to the phone right now, but leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.... BEEP!"*
Re-cradling the handset, Kim rested her face in her cupped hands, as hot, uncontrollable tears began to stream down her cheeks. Pushing the phone away, she curled up on her bed and allowed the emotions to take over as her mind ran a race of it's own. *Trini and Renee are right. I have to talk to him somehow; I just wish I had the courage to. God, what would I have done if he actually answered the phone just now? Hung up on him probably! Damn, why did I even write that letter in the first place? It was selfish of me... here I thought it was for the best, and I end up ruining his life!* Kim mentally reprimanded herself. Suddenly, She could all but hear her mothers voice with it's scolding tone echoing in her head. 'Men will only have their way with you and then leave you for someone better! He'll only try and make you give up your dreams, then where will you be?' With all her might, Kim willed the older women's voice from her thoughts. *Why do I feel like I gave up my life to fulfill someone else's dream then? I hate myself! Why did I throw away the best thing in my life? Tommy was my strength since I met him, and I just abandoned him like yesterday's newspaper. I don't blame him for wanting nothing to do with me... Wish I could have nothing to do with myself!*
Wiping away the tears, Kim slowly rose from the bed and crossed the room. Opening her bottom dresser drawer, she reached under a small stack of folded t-shirts and pulled out a stuffed green dragon. Returning to her curled up position on the bed, Kim clutched the squishy animal to her chest as though it would disappear the moment she let go. *I wish I never came to Florida! What am I going to do Draco?* the puffy-eyed girl asked aloud, stroking the animals tail.
As the tears finally subsided, emptiness and sorrow were all that remained inside. Her eyes burned fiercely from crying. Glancing at the clock, a small alarm went off in Kim's mind. *20 minutes! Crap, Coach has probably noticed I'm not there by now! But I can't go back to practice looking like this or he'll surely ask what's wrong. I'll just close my eyes for a few minutes til the burning goes away, then go get some cold water. What will another 5 minutes matter, really? I mean, what's the worst thing he can do to me - Send me home??* she questioned. Taking a deep breath, Kim allowed her tired eyes to close as she tried to push her swirling emotions and thoughts from her mind and calm herself enough to concentrate on the job ahead - Gymnastics. Slowly, calmness came and took over her consciousness, as her breathing became shallow.
"Kim...Kim, wake up!"
Forcing her eyelids open, She was surprised to see Renee standing next to her. A quick glance at the clock, caused reality to hit the girl like a freight train. *5:30! Practice!!* her mind screamed as she bolted upright. "Oh god Renee, I must have fallen asleep, Coach is gonna kill me!" Kim startled, scrambling to her feet.
"No, just consider yourself lucky, Harte. When Coach asked where you ran off to, I explained to him that you have been getting migraine's lately and went to take some aspirin. I guess he bought it since he told me to come and check on you in an hour and if you weren't feeling better to take you to the clinic for some Midrin and send you to bed for the rest of the day. When I came up before lunch and found you asleep, I figured that it was for the best." Renee paused, a small grin overtook her face. "The odd thing is that Coach Schmidt actually ended practice 10 minutes ago!"
"Wait, Usually we end up saying late. What brought that on do you suppose?" Kim smirked as her roommate took a few steps towards the door.
"I'm not sure - but lets get out of here before he changes his mind!" A moment after the girl disappeared around into the next room, Kim opened her dresser, pulling out a pair of faded blue jeans and a t-shirt. Setting both pieces on the bed before she began undressing. "Any luck with your phone call? I'd assume that's why you left practice." Renee called.
"No, no one was home." Kim reciprocated after a slight hesitation. "Although it was something like 11:30 when you left practice? So that would make it what - 8:30 in California? Maybe he already left for school? Try him again when we get back, He can't be out ALL the time!" Came the girls reassuring advice. Kim could only hope that her roommate was right, however she wasn't quite sure she was up to testing the theory. "So, what are you and your friends doing tonight?" Renee's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Don't know. I haven't talked to Jason or Trini yet today. When are you heading home?"
"The crack of dawn! If you don't think Trini and Jason would mind a forth, why don't you call them and we could all go do something!" Came the overly-spunky girls' reply as she bounced back into her flat mates room. Kim nodded in silent agreement to the idea. Picking up the phone, she dialed the hotel number.
"Kim, you do realize that you don't get to deduct points for putting it into the water hazard, Don't you?" Jason teased his long-time friend as she tried to retrieve her ball before it was washed under the windmills blade. Shaking the cold water from her hand, The caramel-haired girl turned to regard the others. Jason was already placing his ball on the putting green, while Trini and Renee continued talking. To Kim's delight, the two girls had hit it off famously from the first 'hello'. As she watched them from afar for a moment, Kimberly couldn't help but smile at the gabbing pair. Suddenly, Renee's expression changed from one of concern to one of complete surprise. The blonde-haired gymnast glanced in Kim's direction before whispering something to Trini. With matching smiles, both girls nodded as if in agreement as Kim made her way over to them.
"What's going on? Are you two taking bets on how many more times I'm going to put the ball in the water?" the ex-Pink Ranger smiled as she joined the pair. Both girls immediately hugged her, causing Kim to wonder just what they had been talking about.
"Promise me that you'll keep an open mind during vacation" Renee's voice held a certainty that Kim hadn't heard before.
With slight hesitation, she nodded in response to her roommates wishes. Kim was about to requisition the grinning duo as to what they were planning behind her back, when the familiar yell cut through the air. All three turned to see what was the matter, the sight that greeted them caused each female to laugh out of confusion.
"Yes, I did it! I can't believe it went in!" He whooped with joy as he nearly bounced toward the females. Arms outstretched, he tackled the trio in a massive bear hug. Upon releasing his captors, The ecstatic bundle of muscles saw the dumbfounded look that now possessed each face.
"What are you so happy about?" Trini probed, as a smile once again spread across her lips.
Jason couldn't believe his ears, wasn't his feat pretty obvious? This was a par three hole - one of the most difficult ones on the course. She had to be kidding! "I got a hole in one! It went over the water hazard, between the windmill's blades, through the log tunnel, around the rock-bed and into the hole! Didn't you guys see it?"
As he watched Trini shake her head negatively, Jason's bright beaming face dimmed slightly. Turning his eyes toward Kimberly, he watched her echo his girlfriends response. His gaze slid from one roommate to the other, hoping against hope that the answer would change.
"Sorry Jason." Renee replied fragilely. "Sounds like it was a great shot though."
Kim found the deflated expression that beheld the young man's face, combined with the blank wide-eyed stare, to be almost humourous. Unable to stifle a giggle, She took a step toward her long-time friend.
"Well, You could always give us an instant replay!" Just as the comment left her lips, She found herself on the receiving end of a look that yelled 'you've got to be kidding me!'. Shaking his head, Jason turned back towards the golf course to retrieve his ball from it's resting place.
"Women! Go figure!"