"What's Jase up to this morning?" the pink bikini-clad girl asked, applying suntan lotion to her arm.
"He was already up and gone for a run when I woke up. He left a note saying that he'd page me and meet up with us later. We were thinking about going to a club or something tonight," Trini answered from her towel.
Setting the lotion bottle in the sand between them, Kim laid back and inquired curiously, "How exactly did the two of you hook up anyway?"
"I got a chance to see a side of him that I never knew existed, until the Peace Conference. Even with being Rangers together, I had always thought of him as the jock- type," Trini divulged quietly.
Hesitantly, Kim asked, "So, what about Billy?"
"What about Billy? I mean I still want him in my life as a friend. But as far as ever being more between us than friendship? I waited for him as long as I could. Kim, over the past few years, he's had a thousand chances to ask me on a date or to do something other than study, but he never did. I have known all long that Billy liked me. I didn't want to scare him off, so I just sat back and let him take the lead. I even thought that maybe when I told him about Geneva, he might feel like 'it's now or never'. Even when he saw us off at the airport, all he did was hug me and say 'good luck'. I wish him all the best on Aquitar. Maybe he'll find what he needs to open up there." Kim reached over to touch Trini's arm as she concluded, "Jason has been really sweet and supportive of the whole situation."
"So tell me about you two!" Kim pleaded.
Trini reached for her lemonade, taking a long sip before answering her anxious friend. "One night when we were at the conference, Jase knew something was wrong. I had gotten the letter from Billy that day, saying he was leaving for Aquitar and probably not to return anytime soon. I must have read the letter over and over again at least ten times, insisting that I had missed something. I mean there was absolutely no 'technobabble' in the letter whatsoever. Even after he lost his Powers, there was always at least some of it in his letters."
A slightly worried look crossed the gymnast's face. "Billy without 'technobabble?' Something must have been wrong!"
"I know. Well, after dinner, I went for a walk up to this one hilltop that I consider my thinking spot because it reminded me of the park back home. Anyhow, Jase followed me that night...." ****** Settling down on a boulder, Trini pulled the letter from its envelope, re-reading it for the hundredth time, hoping that somehow the words had magically re-arranged themselves. With a heavy heart, she knew she couldn't deny the truth. He was gone. From the corner of her eye, she picked up movement --someone approaching. Lifting her head, she focused on Jason. Carefully re-folding the letter, she placed it back in the gray envelope.
"Hey, Jason, what are you doing up here?" she chimed in her usually friendly tone.
Approaching her side, he replied, "I was just about to ask you the same thing."
"I've come up here a few times when I just needed to think," Trini explained. "I think this is one of the few things I'll miss when the conference is over."
Leaning against the side of her rock, Jason studied his friend's confused expression for a moment before taking in the view of the mountains that lay before them. "Great view, too!"
A glance sideways told him that she hadn't heard the comment. "You've been acting distant since lunch. I was wondering if there was anything wrong."
Her train of thought now broken, Trini looked down at the envelope still in her hand, frowning. "Well, I got this letter from Billy earlier." She held it up for Jason to see.
"Did he have some bad news?"
Trini shrugged. "I really don't know what to make of it, to tell you the truth."
Tentatively, he reached out. "Would you mind if I read it?"
For a moment, Trini hesitated before handing it to him.
Hope all is going well with the conference. We have had a lot of precipitation here in Angel Grove the last week --as Kim always called it, 'Duck Weather.' I guess I should get used to it, considering my upcoming extended trip. Since I feel I have outlived my usefulness in the Power Chamber, I have decided to take Cestria up on her offer and go to Aquitar. They require help with their transportation systems, and I believe that I could be of great assistance. I have told my parents that I have been accepted at a university in Beijing, China on a full scholarship and will be starting as soon as possible. I haven't made a decision on how long I am going to stay on Aquitar --I'm just going to wait and see. I may try to come home for a few 'vacations' so as not to get my parents' suspicions up, although I have not decided. Until then, I will miss you all. -- Billy
"I never thought I'd see the day when I'd understand Billy without a translator," Jason wisecracked quietly, handing the letter back to its owner.
Shaking her head, the once-Yellow Ranger murmured, "It doesn't sound like Billy in the least. Not the Billy I knew."
"Have you tried to call him?"
"Yeah, his father said that he left for China this morning." Her gaze returned to the snow-covered mountaintops as the sun set gracefully behind them.
"If you don't mind my asking, what were you hoping he'd say?" Jason asked with quiet emphasis.
"I like you?" Trini supplied hesitantly. "Maybe something along those lines at least."
Stepping a little closer to the beauty before him, Jason studied her quizzically for a moment. "Are you sure he felt that way?" His fingers brushed her delicate hand accidentally. "Trini, I don't mean to burst your bubble, but William Cranston has never been the type to admit to anyone, let alone a female, his private feelings. If it doesn't involve circuitry, wires, or long Latin names, then he doesn't feel comfortable about being open with it. He holds everyone and everything at an arm's length!"
Jason had hit the nail on the head, and she knew it. "I just thought that he would have gotten comfortable enough around me over the last five years to let me get a little closer."
"We all hoped that. Just like I had always hoped that I might get a chance sometime." As the words escaped his lips, Jason was immediately ashamed of himself for uttering them. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have said that!"
The bluntness of the words had nearly knocked her over. Straightening, he turned to flee, only to be stopped after three steps. "Jason, wait!" she called after him, abandoning her perch. "Please, what did you mean? About getting a chance?"
He was unable to face her, for fear of rejection. The slight tinkling sound of her dangle earrings warned him of her approach. "I have a confession to make to you, Trini. Ever since we were lab partners in biology freshman year, I've had a crush on you. I couldn't believe the luck when both of us were picked for the conference... but with Billy in the picture, I knew nothing other than friendship would ever be able to come of it. I didn't want anything that I did to cause problems for the two of you, so I decided it was best to stay in the shadows and not push my luck."
After what seemed like an eternity, Jason turned to find the girl of his dreams standing directly before him. Intense astonishment touched her pale face. In a fragile voice, she responded, "Jason, I'm not sure what to say. I never knew."
Breathing deeply, now that his secret was out in the open, Jason added, "I didn't want you to know --that's why I never let on. I knew you had feelings for Billy, and I didn't want to cause you any hardships."
Inwardly, Trini began to realize that he was not what she had always thought. "So, that's why when I would be working with Kim on gymnastics, you would watch me."
"I didn't think I was that obvious."
"You weren't --at least not to me; Kim pointed it out." As her cheeks continued to burn, a new and unexpected warmth surged through her body. "Why didn't you ever give me a hint?"
"I didn't want you to know. I was afraid that something like this would ruin my friendship with either you or Billy," he admitted freely. "Trini, I don't want to lose you as a friend because of what I just said."
"You're nowhere close to losing me."
Slowly, Jason's arms enveloped Trini in a hug. After a moment, she slipped her arms under his and up around his shoulders.
"Thanks for understanding," she murmured.
"Anytime. You know I'd do anything for you...."
Kim thoughtfully sipped from her water bottle, as she listened intently to her friend's story.
"From then on, Jason was always by my side. He didn't try to push or rush me into anything. We'd go for long walks and talk about everything and anything. He was just there whenever I needed him. What can I say? I guess I fell in love with him!"
Quickly getting to her knees, the spunky gymnast reached over and hugged her glowing friend. "I'm so happy for you two! I had a feeling that someone would find their soulmate overseas!" Kim gushed.
"My mom wouldn't stop hugging us when we returned to Angel Grove and told her!" Trini beamed "Wanna go take a dip in the water?"
Stopping only momentarily to brush a patch of sand from her pink suit, Kim challenged, "Sure, I'll race ya! Ready? Set? Go!" She took a bit of a head start before calling 'go'. Trini immediately gave chase, leaving their towels to get a suntan of their own.
Turning into the motel parking lot, he immediately spotted the racing team's trailer with a white 4x4 parked next to it. Pulling the rental car into the open spot next to the pickup, Jason stepped out and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. *Room 216,* he read to himself. Glancing at the double row of rooms, he found it and headed for the second floor, taking two steps at a time. Within seconds, he was knocking on the door. After a mumble and the sound of stumbling, the door swung open.
"Jase! Good to see ya man!" Tommy squealed like a kid at Christmas, his wet hair still plastered to his forehead. He grabbed his best friend in a massive bear hug, nearly lifting him off of his feet.
"Good to see ya, too, bro! Down, boy!" Jason coughed out. "When did you get in?" the darker haired boy asked as he stepped into his friend's room.
"Yesterday morning. Practiced all day on the track, and had time trials this morning. I ended up falling asleep after I called you earlier and didn't wake up until about 15 minutes ago. I'll be ready in a sec." Grabbing a shirt from the closet, Tommy headed back into the bathroom.
As Jason sat down in the only empty chair, he couldn't help but smile *Same ol' Tommy!* he thought as his eyes scanned the room. Suitcase in the middle of the floor, clothes everywhere, the bed covers lying on the floor.. . . *I bet he's been jumping on it!* Jason chuckled to himself, remembering a time when the two of them had been yelled at for the doing the exact thing on his bed and ended up breaking part of the frame. *Who says sixteen is too old to jump on your bed!*
A few minutes later, Tommy emerged dressed and his wet hair pulled back in a ponytail. After picking up most of the clothing on the floor, he threw them and the empty suitcase into the closet. He retrieved his shoes and socks from another duffle bag and plopped down on the bed to dress his feet. "I hope this movie is better than that one with all those famous people that got turned into aliens. That was so stupid!"
"What did you expect? Rocky picked that one!" Jason groaned. "So, how's the race track treatin' ya?"
Shoving his foot into a shoe, Tommy replied, "Can't complain. No first place wins, but I've never come in last place either. At least it's college money!"
"It'll be so great to have you at A.G.U.!"
"How are things with Trini? What exactly happened to get you guys together?" Tommy asked, holding his other shoe in his hand.
"I guess we kinda realized we had a lot in common at the peace conference. I mean, spending so much time around each other, we got to see a side of each other we couldn't have before --with Zordon calling us every other second and stuff."
"Yeah, that was the only pain.... The monsters seemed to know just when we didn't need their attack! So, where is Trini?"
"She's with Kim. I think they went to the beach or the mall or something. You know how they are!" Jason grinned playing with the collar of his open jean shirt.
In an attempt to hide the hurt at the mention of his former girlfriend's name, Tommy began adjusting the laces of the shoe that he still held. "...How's she doing?" the grief-stricken boy asked hesitantly.
"Trini's good; she keeps talking about...."
"No, actually, I meant Kimberly," Tommy interjected.
Slightly surprised by the question, Jason looked up at his friend and just now noticed how serious his friend's face had become. "Uh... well, I guess she's doing okay. Trini talks to her a lot more than I do. Last time I really got a chance to talk to her at any length was just after she came down here. I figured you'd have talked to her more than I have!"
"I haven't talked or heard from her since she sent me that letter."
"You never even called to ask her about it?"
Hanging his head, Tommy shrugged. "I guess I figured that if she wanted to hear from me so badly, she'd call me."
"Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.... I think you need to understand something about Kim. I've known her since third grade. Heck, ever since her brother went off to military school, I've considered her my little sister! And if there's one thing I know about Kimberly Harte is that she is a very strong person; she's doesn't give up easily on anything. Besides, her mom won't allow her give up when it comes to gymnastics. But if Kim thinks that she's done something to hurt or make someone she really cares about upset with her, she'll avoid them like the plague."
"What are you talking about? Kim wouldn't run from anything!" Tommy stated loudly, which did not go unnoticed by his best friend.
"Maybe not when it comes to Ranger business, but when it comes to love and getting hurt... she gets scared easily. Her self defense mechanism is to run. I'm sure there must have been one or two times when the two of you were alone and she seemed skittish," Jason alluded, recalling a few late night conversations with his current girlfriend and their female best friend. The pair had tried numerous times to help bolster the girls confidence in the male species.
A slight nod from Tommy confirmed his suspicions. "In the beginning, she was. I asked Trini once if I was doing something to make her jumpy. She warned me to steer clear of asking Kim anything about her father, brother, or her eating habits, and to give her some time. She wouldn't tell me what was going on though. After a little while, Kim seemed to be more comfortable with our relationship than in the beginning and things were fine." Tommy hesitated, as he mulled the memories over. "A couple of weeks before she left for Florida, she began acting real jumpy again - but I just assumed it was because of the whole Kat stealing her coin for Rita and Zedd ordeal," he finished.
"Yeah, well, that's not the half of it. I should've told you this a long time ago. But we all promised not to talk about it with anyone. For as long as I can remember, Kim's parents were either constantly fighting or giving each other the silent treatment. It was only after the divorce was filed and Mr. Harte moved to Washington state that her mom found out for sure that he had been having a multitude of affairs. For years I might add. The year and a half before Kim's father left, things around the Harte house were pretty vicious. From the things I witnessed between her parents, the fighting became somewhat physical, too," Jason sighed, as he pushed those memories from his mind.
"You mean like hitting? They never laid a hand on Kim, did they?" Tommy demanded, as if his ears must have been playing an evil trick on him. He never imagined anything like that happening to someone he knew, especially someone so close to him.
"Not that I know of," Jason answered, running his hand through his short, dark locks. "Kim was a basket case, though. She was sure they were splitting because of something she had or hadn't done. In her words, 'if I was maybe a better gymnast or a better daughter, they wouldn't be getting a divorce.' She began spending more and more time at the gym that her mother had enrolled her at. When she wasn't at school, that's the only place you could find her; nearly killing herself to achieve absolute perfection on every piece of apparatus. Her grades took a nose-dive. If it wasn't for Billy and Trini, she would have never passed. Her brother broke off all contact from the family. We all took turns having her stay at our houses on the weekends, though it became a regular occurrence for Kim to show up at someone's window at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Her parents wouldn't even realize or didn't care that she was gone!" Jason declared, watching the restraint in Tommy's face, though the boy's eyes screamed anger and sadness as he continued to listen.
"Mrs. Harte lectured her at every opportunity about how men like her father were bad, that they would just use a woman for what they wanted, then throw them away like spoiled leftovers. Even though she always kept a smile plastered on her face, Kim became so afraid of being alone... I think it still scares the shit out of her sometimes. She stopped eating lunch at school. And the times she stayed at my house, she only ate as little as she could get away with. I really don't think she ate at home. You think she's skinny now? At one point, Kim was like a china doll. Over a period of about 2-3 months, her weight went from about 110 down to 65 pounds! She looked like the kids in the famine countries, like you see on those commercials asking for financial help. Billy could pick her up with one arm. I couldn't believe that her mom didn't even notice her sudden weight loss." Jason couldn't help but shake his head at the memory of his friend's bad times.
"We tried everything to keep Kim eating at least something. But short of strapping her down and shoving it down her throat, it seemed hopeless. Billy and I approached Mrs. Harte about the situation, but she was too caught up in her own life to even listen. In the end, the only thing that saved Kim from herself was when she passed out in the Command Center. Afterwards, she admitted that it wasn't the first time she had blacked out. Zordon helped us get her signed into the hospital and into a rehabilitation program. The hospital released her about three weeks before we met you at the karate tournament. Without Zordon's help, I really think we would've lost her, Tommy," Jason admitted softly.
Tommy's face turned ghostly white as the last words hit his ears. "I don't believe it! What are you saying, Jase? Kim somehow thought that I might hurt her the same way her father did her mom?" he demanded suddenly.
"Maybe," came the boy's quiet reply.
"I've gotta talk to her, Jase," insisted Tommy, clearly ready to beg his best friend for help if it came to it.
"I'm supposed to join Trini and Kim later on; I just have to page Trini to find out where they want to meet up. Maybe you could surprise her?" Jason suggested.
Tommy stood up to retrieve his room key, pager, and truck keys before the two boys headed for the door. "Yeah, I guess I could," he murmured softly, before letting out a long sigh, as he let the information sink in.
"We should probably get going if we want to make the show. I just have to go leave a message for Uncle Jon at the main desk, then we can take off."
Minutes later, in the front office, Tommy was writing a message for his uncle.
"Mr. Oliver," the lady behind the desk called out as she approached him before continuing, "This message was taken for you very early this morning." She handed him a pink slip of paper.
"Oh, thanks," Tommy said, taking it from her without looking at it, as he finished the note he was writing.
As the two boys headed for the truck, Tommy glanced down at the message.
Jason heard his friend mumble, then watched with faint concern as Tommy wadded up the paper and shoved it deep into his pocket. "Bad news?"
Tommy shook his head. "Just a message from Kat. She wanted me to call her in England as soon as I got in."
"We've got a few minutes to spare if you want to call her back now," Jason offered, peeking at his watch.
"Nah, I'll do it later; it's no big deal," Tommy replied as he opened the door and slid in behind the wheel.
"It's your call, Bro," Jason jibed from the passenger seat, "I still think it's cool how the timing of your race and our vacation turned out!"
As the 4X4 roared to life, Tommy beamed, "I just hope I run good
for you guys tomorrow!"