Ashley looked up from her plate and tried to refocus her eyes so that she wasn't seeing doubles. "Me? Yeah, I'm fine." She lied.
"Well you don't look fine. Why don't you go back up to bed and I'll call the school and let them know you're not going to be there, ok?" Her Mom volunteered.
"No, mom. I'm fine", Ashley insisted. She heard her mom sigh, but luckily dropped it. Ashley pushed the food around on her plate a little more to make it look like she ate some of it and then stood up dumping the eggs in the garbage.
Before her mom could protest Ashley grabbed her book bag and headed out the front door.
The sidewalk in front of her blurred. What the heck is wrong with me? She asked herself uncertainly.
She'd found herself sleeping whenever she could, and everything she did tired her greatly. Her eyes were always unfocused so that she saw two of everything. She thought at first when it started a month ago that it was just the flue but now she wasn't sure. She didn't tell anybody for fear of what would happen.
What if Dimitria took away her Turbo Powers? That was something she wasn't going to let happen. She didn't want them to think she was too weak to handle a few monsters every now and then. So she kept it to herself and prayed it would go away.
"Ashley, over here!" Ashley looked up and saw her teammate, Justin, running over to her.
"Hey Justin", She greeted trying to get a focus on the younger boy in front of her. Justin rose his eyelids slightly. "Ashley are you feeling ok? You always look like you can't see or something. Do you need glasses?"
"No. I'm just tired", Ashley said a matter-of-factly. Justin didn't pursue farther, but nodded. "Well, T.J. and Cassie are looking for you over at the Youth Center. They wanted to talk to you before classes started."
"Ok", Ashley replied and took off in the direction of the ever-popular Youth Center. She walked through the double doors and looked around for her two friends.
She spotted them at their regular table; she readjusted her backpack on her shoulder and walked over to them in her usual bounce.
"Hi, guys", She announced her entrance brightly. Cassie and T.J. looked up and smiled. "Hey Ash. Can we talk to you a sec?" T.J. questioned.
"Sure. What about?" She replied casually. Cassie licked her upper lip uncertainly. "Well, we've been noticing how off beat you've been the last couple weeks. We thought maybe you were sick, but since you never volunteer any information we decided to come looking for it. Are you feeling all right? And I want the truth."
Ashley felt her heart skip a beat. They made it sound like there was no way around it. Maybe she should just tell them. Tell them what? That she was seeing doubles and she'd noticed unusual swelling under her arms? No, that was stupid. She was fine. Tired, yes. But fine.
Ashley shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm fine guys. I've been a little tired lately, but that's just from stress I'm sure."
"Ashley. Go to the Doctor. I'm serious. You're sick, and it's slowing you down." T.J. said gently. Ashley looked up at T.J. incredulously. "Is that an order?"
Cassie could sense the tension between the two and slowly leaned back waiting for the impact. "Well, what if it is?" He asked innocently.
"You can't tell me what to do Trevor Jeremiah Johnson!" Ashley yelled slamming her fist down on the table.
T.J. placed his hand over Ashley's arm. "Ashley, don't yell. People are staring. Let's go talk about this somewhere else, ok?"
Ashley tore away from the grip. "So let them stare! It doesn't concern them anyway! This is about you bossing me around. I'm not a child, and you're certainly not my father!"
People, who weren't staring before, were sure staring now. "Ashley, stop it", T.J. hissed.
Ashley took a second to glare at him and then rose from her chair and walked out of the room. T.J. got up and followed her; he grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him.
"Jeez Ashley! Just listen to me!" T.J. begged, his dark eyes full of anger. Ashley brought up her free hand and slapped him hard across his face. "Don't ever tell me what to do. You have no right telling me to go to the Doctor, that's not your place Johnson. Leave your nose out of my business!"
She stalked off then leaving T.J. standing in the hall his eyes wide and his mouth open. Cassie came over seconds later to comfort him.
"She didn't mean it, Teej. You obviously touched a delicate spot. She knows you're right. We just can't tell her to do what we want. We have to go about this another way."
T.J. rubbed the stinging cheek gingerly and nodded. "I guess I shouldn't have ordered her like that. Asked would have been better, eh?"
Cassie grinned. "Probably. Now just let her cool down. We can talk to her after school."
T.J. nodded again and followed Cassie to their first class. It was gonna be a long day.
"And you multiply 'x' by 'a' and then divide that by-" T.J. was almost glad to hear his communicator go off. Geometry, most boring class on earth. He glanced over to the only other ranger in the room, Justin and motioned with his eyes toward the door.
Justin winked, and then bolted for the door fumbling with the doorknob spastically and finally got it open. He tore down the hall leaving their teacher in mid-thought staring after the boy.
T.J. could barely suppress his laughter. The 5 rangers had plans to get out of all their classes if this happened. Justin would run out sick, or supposedly, and T.J. would ask the teacher to follow to see if he was all right. It was dumb, but worked.
"Mrs. Anderson? Could I go check on him? He told me this morning he didn't feel well. I want to make sure he's ok." T.J. said solemnly.
"Of course T.J. hurry back. I don't want you to miss anything." His teacher recommended. T.J. left his books on his desk and exited the room quickly. Justin was waiting a few yards away.
"I feel like such an idiot." Justin mumbled.
T.J. chuckled. "Not now, Justin. Shift into Turbo!"
The two soon found themselves in the park where the pink and green rangers were already engaged in the battle against an army of Piranatrons.
"Hey guys! It's about time! Where's Ashley?" The Green Ranger asked while dodging an armored fist.
"I have no clue, but she better hurry up and get here!" The Red Ranger called as he planted his fist in the abdomen of a Piranatron.
An answer to their prayers, Ashley showed up seconds later and threw her body into the fight. She was weak, and knew it. But this was her life, and she was going to put forth a full effort.
Ashley felt a Piranatron grab her from behind and she flipped the fish like creature over onto his back. His body went through a series of convulsions and disappeared into the ground like a splash of water.
The one attack had drained a lot out of the teen and even with the great power inside her she felt her head swim with a sudden dull throbbing sensation.
"Ash, behind you!" The Blue Ranger screamed. Ashley shook her head and dropped sweeping her leg across the ground catching the Piranatrons off guard.
He to fell to the ground and disappeared and when Ashley got back up on her feet she found only a handful of Piranatrons left.
She helped Justin fight of one that had so keenly tackled him to the ground. When she helped the Blue Ranger up she found all the Piranatrons gone.
The five teens gathered up in a small circle. "C'mon let's get to Power Chamber to see what Divatox is up to."
Ashley avoided eye contact with T.J. after they'd teleported and powered down.
Justin looked back and forth between the two and shrugged turning his attention back to Dimitria.
Ashley tried to concentrate on what their mentor was saying but found it strangely hard to.
Her head was light and she felt oddly feathery.
Oh come on Ashley. Not now. She argued with herself.
She reached out to steady herself on a control panel. She clutched her stomach feeling as she was going to throw up any second. She heard her name. It seemed so far away. The whole world was spinning as Ashley slowly gave in and fell into the dark hole.
"Oh, my gosh." Cassie mumbled watching her friend slip to the ground.
Carlos and T.J. ran over to her side calling her name. They stopped a moment later.
"She's out cold." Carlos observed.
"Alpha, could you do some scans on Ashley?" T.J. asked.
"Certainly T.J. just get her up the examining table and I'll go to it." Alpha replied.
T.J. carefully lifted the limp girl up in his arms and carried her over to the counter laying her down gently.
Justin had long since gone pale. He was young and didn't understand what was going on. Carlos came behind him and placed a hand on each of his shoulders. Justin let out a shaky breath and watched as Alpha waved the scanner over Ashley's yellow clad body.
"Yo, yo, yo! I found something, but my scanner can't tell what it is!" The four teens crowded around the table all trying to see the scanner.
"What does that mean?" Cassie asked quietly.
"Only that it's not something from Divatox. It's earthly and this scanner won't say what. I could do further tests to find out what it is, but that would take time. I think it would be better if you took her to a doctor, and have them exam her. It's better to find out what it is now."
The teens nodded we'll contact her parent's immediately and bring her to their doctor. Alpha nodded and watched the teens teleport out, Ashley again in T.J. 's arms.
Ashley woke up who knows when in unfamiliar surroundings. She looked around uncertainly and pushed the blankets off her tired body and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She realized an IV was hooked up to her arm. "Uh-oh" She mumbled.
She sat there a moment later trying to understand what was going on when the door opened the sudden light blinded Ashley.
"Oh, you're finally awake. We were starting to get worried." The Doctor greeted. "Where am I?" Ashley asked groggily still shading her eyes from the light.
"In the hospital. I'm going to get your parent's. We need to talk. Hang tight." The Doctor ordered and left the room, leaving the door open so Ashley could see out into the hallway. The Hospital? What was she doing in the hospital? She faintly remembered the events of the day. The attack in the park. Then talking in the Power Chamber...and then fainting.
Now she's in the hospital? Things didn't look like they were going very well. She lifted her legs back into the bed and draped the blanket over.
Her parent's and the Doctor appeared seconds later and flicked on the light. Her mom was visibly crying though she was trying to hide it.
The Doctor leaned sat down on the edge of her bed, and Ashley's parent's each took a side of the bed taking one of her hands.
"Ashley" The Doctor looked really upset, " We ran some tests this afternoon, and discovered that you have Acute Myelocytic Leukemia. We have a very good feeling that we'll be able to get you in remission with chemotherapy and Radiation. We need your cooperation, and patience. We'll get you through this."
Ashley heard her mom start crying. She said or did nothing. She was dying. Her healthy 16-year-old body had a disease worse then cancer. And she knew even in remission, the leukemia could come back at any time. She'd be on risk for the rest of her life.
"We'd like to start the first round of treatment as early as tomorrow. Ashley could just stay overnight if you wanted, but she can go home." The Doctor continued.
"I want to go home." Ashley voiced.
Her parents nodded. "Yes, I want to take her home. We'll bring her in tomorrow afternoon." Her dad said.
"Alright, I'll go fill out some paperwork. I'll see you tomorrow, Ashley. Keep the Faith, honey." Her doctor advised, and then left.
Ashley swung her legs over the bed and retreated into the bathroom to put her clothes back on. She felt as is she was in a horrible nightmare and she'd never wake up in time. As she pulled her yellow sweater over head her hands flowed through her golden hair. Would she lose her hair?
Realization of the matter took over and she slumped down to the edge of the bathtub and let her sobs come, full and strong.
She didn't know how long she cried, but her parents came in at one time and helped her up leading her to the car. Once in the car the tired and fatigue took over and she lay across the backseat and slept the whole way home.
"Ashley, we're home." Her mom announced a while later and Ashley struggled to sit up.
Her dad came around and helped her out almost carrying her upstairs to her room.
Her mom came in next and pulled off her sneakers and jacket and then lightly lay a blanket over the teen.
The two adults stood inside the door for a long time watching their once cheery little girl now deathly sick.
It soon became too much for Mrs. Hammond and she had to retreat to her bedroom, with Mr. following.
When Ashley woke up the next morning it was still dark in her room. Her head swam with dizziness and she was still very tired. She pushed her blankets back and sat up.
She blinked a few times bringing the room back into focus and then made her way over to her window seat and sat down. She stared out over the neighbor hood seeing the sun just peaking up over the hills in the park.
There was so much Ashley felt she needed to say, but no one to say it to. No one would know what she was going through. No one knew what she felt.
A few more minutes of staring out the window, and then she found her self, picking up a blank journal from her shelf. She reached for a pen and opened it to the first page.
I was diagnosed with Acute Myelocytic Leukemia yesterday. I don't know what to think, or say, or do. Everything I ever wanted in life. It's gone. Gone with one visit to the doctor. What if I can't even keep the Turbo Powers? Being a Power Ranger is my life! I can't give it up. Maybe I just shouldn't tell anyone I'm sick. I can probably hide it pretty well. I'm so scared, I've never been scared of anything. Now I have to be scared of dying! I don't want to die. What if I never make it to my 17th birthday?
Ashley walked into school her hands trembling. Under her pile of books she held the envelope that informed the school of her sickness, and that she wasn't allowed to do any physical activities.
"Hey Ashley!" Ashley cringed slightly at the name. She had wanted to get the letter to the office before she had seen any of her friends. She turned and put on a smile. " Hi Cassie."
"Are you feeling better?" Cassie asked, "I didn't think you'd be here today."
"Yes, I feel much better, thank you." Ashley responded. I'm only dying, no problem.
"So, what was wrong with you?"
"I was just overly tired from stress and a bit dehydrated." Ashley was surprised with how well the lie rolled off her tongue. She wasn't actually a very good liar.
"You passed out from that?!"
"Yeah, my doctor said it was normal."
"Well, as long as you're better do you want to work on a new Kata that T.J. taught me?"
"No!" She answered quickly, perhaps to quickly. "Sorry, Cass. Can't. My parents are expecting home right after school."
Cassie raised her eyebrow. She knew Ashley's parents didn't get home until at least 7 'o clock every night.
Ashley caught the look and quickly moved to cover it up. " We have some errands to run, and they started taking Thursday's off."
"Ok, that's cool. I'll just ask Justin if he wants to practice it with me. Talk to you tomorrow." Ashley wanted to tell her that she probably wouldn't be there tomorrow, but she didn't want to explain.
She sighed inwardly and made her way to the office.
"Ok, Ashley you can go home now. Stay in bed for the next day, ok? And take these every 2 hours. They'll help with the pain." The Doctor promised placing the bottle of pills in her hand.
Ashley nodded grimly. She hurt all over, and just knew she was going to throw up.
Her dad pulled her gently out of the chair and guided her through her haze to the door.
"See you next week for radiation, Ashley. Feel Better." The doctor called. Ashley didn't hear him. She didn't want to come back and she wasn't going to. She was not going through something like that ever again. And radiation was worse.
As soon as she got home she ran to the bathroom to relieve herself of her breakfast AND lunch. She crawled into bed and tried to shut out the pain, the whole world.
"Does any one know what's going on with Ashley?" Cassie asked as she plopped down into a chair. Her three friends looked up from their homework.
" I have no idea." Carlos said sadly. T.J. shrugged. " I don't know. She won't even talk to me."
"Still?!" Justin asked his eyes wide. The rangers rarely fought with each other.
"Well, I'm going over to her house. You guys wanna come? Maybe we can get some answers." Cassie asked.
"Sure. I will" Carlos answered.
"Me too" Justin volunteered.
All eyes turned to T.J. He looked uncomfortable. "Well, I don't want to make her any madder."
"C'mon. This will be your chance to apologize to her for being rude." Cassie suggested.
T.J. 's eyes sparked with a flash of anger. "It wasn't my fault! But I was right, wasn't I? She's sick."
"She told me she was fine now", said Cassie.
"Then why isn't she here?" T.J. asked casually, leaning back in his chair a little.
Cassie bit her bottom lip, thinking it over.
"Exactly." T.J. concluded. "But yeah, I'll go. It'll give HER a chance to apologize for slapping me."
"Ashley slapped you?" Justin looked obviously amazed. "And I missed it?!"
The group laughed, while T.J. blushed.
As they walked out of the Youth Center Justin asked T.J. how much it hurt.
"None of your concern, blue." T.J. replied giving the younger boy a noogie, messing up his mop of brown hair.
Ashley barely heard the doorbell ring. She'd been running a high fever all day. A moment later her mom peeked her head in. "Ashley. Your friends are here to see you. Don't you think it's time to tell them?"
Ashley bolted up in bed causing her head to swim. "No, you promised you wouldn't tell them! I don't want them to know. I don't need pity. I need friends!"
"Alright sweetie" Her mom obviously did not like the idea, "Are you coming down?"
"Yeah, hold on. Gimme a sec to put on a bathrobe and brush my hair."
The door closed and Ashley cautiously got out of bed. She felt somewhat better. Her fever seemed to be down, and the pain in her stomach had somewhat subsided. And to think she had to go through that the first Thursday of every month! That thought made her stomach jump. The radiation would be bad too. That was every week. And it would probably make her lose her hair. Her eyes blurred with tears at the thought and she wiped them away quickly. She reached for her bathrobe and pulled it on over her nightgown. She ran a brush through her hair and finally went downstairs.
Justin and Carlos were sitting on the floor obviously joking about something, and Cassie and T.J. were on the couch talking quietly.
Their gaze shifted to her as she entered the Family Room and they quickly got to their feet. "Hey Ashley. Are you sick again?" Justin asked.
"Yeah, I don't feel very well, but I'll be ok in a couple of days" She lied. "I hope so. We miss you" Cassie looked her over cautiously.
Ashley felt her face turn a shade of red. "Yeah, I miss you too"
"Hey Ash, can I talk to you a sec?" T.J. questioned. He looked slightly embarrassed.
"Uh...sure. Let's go out on the front porch, ok?" Ashley replied.
They left the remaining 3 to talk about their History assignment, but Ashley knew as soon as they got on the porch they would be scrunched up against the door listening. She smiled at the thought.
Once outside Ashley immediately felt cold and wrapped her bathrobe tighter around her.
T.J. looked at her oddly. He was wearing a pair of jean shorts and a red T-shirt.
She sat down awkwardly on the swing that hung from the porch roof and T.J. followed suit sitting on the opposite side.
He started it into a rock and Ashley shivered at the breeze.
"Ashley..." He started, his face was flushed and he seemed to be searching for the right words, "I just want to apologize for bossing you around the other day. I didn't mean too. I was worried for you, that's all. I wanted to make sure you were all right."
Tears suddenly brimmed at the rims of Ashley's eyes. She had thought he'd dragged her out here to tell her he was right. But no...he was concerned and apologized!
T.J. looked alarmed at the tears.
"Ashley?" He asked nervously. "Are you ok?"
She shook her head blindly through the tears.
Ashley turned to T.J. and tried to wipe the tears away, but they came to fast. "No, I'm not ok, T-Teej. I'm really sick. I-I have leukemia." She stuttered.
The look on T.J. 's face was a look of pure fear. He knew all about leukemia. He'd done a report about it last year. It was a deadly disease of the blood cells and bone marrow.
He didn't hesitate as he scooted across the swing and wrapped his arms around the sobbing girl. He ran his hand up and down her shaking arm, trying to get her to calm down.
He didn't know what to say. He wanted to say 'everything's gonna be all right' but, it wasn't. One of his best friends had cancer.
After a few more minutes, Ashley stopped crying and leaned back.
It was her turn to be slightly embarrassed with the fact that she had just soaked T.J. 's shirt.
"Sorry Teej." She mumbled.
"That's ok, really. Ashley why didn't you tell us earlier?"
"I didn't know what you guys would think. It's not contagious or anything, I promise. I just need friends right now, not sympathy."
T.J. didn't quite understand. "Ashley. We are you friends. No matter what happens. And we'll always be there for you. Always."
He reached with a steady finger and brushed away a tear from Ashley's clammy cheek. Ashley smiled, a real smile, and leaned on T.J. 's warm shoulder.
"Just promise me one thing, T.J. You can't tell the others. I don't want them to know. Not yet."
The statement shocked T.J. Not tell the others? He didn't know if he could keep that from them. He sighed deeply and lay his head over Ashley's. "I promise, Ash. I swear." He whispered.
2 weeks later...
"Ashley are you going to tell them now?" T.J. asked.
Ashley shook her head stubbornly. "No. They'll never understand."
"But, I understood!"
Ashley looked up at T.J. unexpectedly. "Well, yeah. But isn't that sorta different?"
"No! Of course not. We're all friends. They'll understand, just like I do. Besides Ashley...you won't be able to hide it much longer."
T.J. was referring to how Ashley's hair had already thinned after her first treatment of chemo earlier in the month.
Ashley chewed her bottom lip. "T.J. how bout I tell them in two weeks, ok?" Ashley saw the doubt in T.J. 's eyes and she hurried on. "I promise I'll tell them, ok?"
A smile tugged at T.J. 's features. "Ok, Ash. If you don't tell them then, I will."
The pair continued their slow walk through Angel Grove Park, their bodies connected at the hand.
Ashley sat down at a computer and logged on to Internet. The school Library was silent, except for the occasional shuffling of the librarian's papers.
She had planned to work on her current report but found herself surfing the web instead. Before she knew what she was doing she had gone to Yahoo search engine and typed in 'Leukemia'.
She found hundreds of sites concerning it. The first web site she went into caught and held her in a trance.
Acute Myelocytic Leukemia often strikes children under 14. Although it is not unknown for it to affect older teens and adults. Most infected with Acute Myelocytic Leukemia live only 3 months minimum. With the proper treatment they may live a year and there is a small chance they could go into remission.
Ashley stopped reading. 3 months? Her doctor plainly said he could get her through this. Get her through what? The next 3 months?
She quickly shut down the computer and fled from the Library so no one could see her cry.
Elisa Hammond her the front door open and she put down her book waiting for Ashley to enter the room.
Elisa soon heard a sharp sob and a pounding up the stairs. Elisa quickly stood up and made her way up the stairs and down the hallway. She could hear her daughter's cries muffled by what was probably a pillow.
She knocked lightly on the door. "Ashley?" No answer, but the crying stopped for a second. "Sweetie? Is something wrong? Will you let me come in and we can talk about it?"
"You lied to me!" Came the reply. "You told me it was going to be ok, that I'd go into remission! Do you know what the chance of that happening is? Small! Really small! I probably won't even live to see Christmas!"
The cries started again, stronger this time, far more emotion. Elisa Hammond hesitated for a second and then opened the door.
Ashley lifted her head from her pillow to stare at her mother. Her face was streaked with mascara and the tears streamed down soaking the soft yellow comforter.
"Leave me alone! I don't want to talk to you or anybody! That stupid doctor lied to me! And you! My own mother not even thinking about me, about what I thought! I thought I was gonna make it! I'm dying mom! And you didn't even tell me!"
Elisa's own eyes filled with tears. She advanced forward. Ashley's head dropped down into the pillow her heart wrenching sobs cutting through Elisa's very soul.
She sat down gingerly next to her daughter and placed a shaking hand on the thinning brunette hair. Ashley shrugged it away, but her mom persisted rubbing her heaving back lightly the way she used to when she was little and had, had a bad at school.
Ashley didn't push it away this time but let the soothing hand gently rub away her tears. After a minute she pushed herself into a sitting position and faced her mom.
"Mom, why did you lie to me?" Ashley asked wiping away the traces of tears.
"I didn't. Your doctor told us although Acute Myelocytic Leukemia is in most cases a death sentence, your case is rare. It's still classified as such, but the doctor truly believes that you will make into remission. He did tell us he doesn't know how long you'll stay in remission, but he knows you'll get there."
"A rare case? Does that mean it could immediately become something they've never seen before? Could I die in my bed tonight?" She asked bluntly.
"Ashley!" Elisa gasped. "Don't think like that!" She stopped, hesitated and then continued with a shaky sigh, "Yes, the doctor told us there was a chance of anything happening, that would be different from the normal, but that's why we're keeping such a close eye on it."
"I'm still scared, mom! Leukemia is deadly, and I'll never live as long as I thought I would! It's true and you know it!"
A fearful look struck Elisa Hammond's features. "Alright, Ashley. I no more lying. The doctor doesn't know how long you'll live. I guess that's up to God. When it's time for you to go, it's time. We both have to learn to except that, ok?"
Her eyes twinkled with tears. Ashley leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her mother's neck and held her close. "I love you mom." She whispered.
Ashley found herself struggling to stay awake during class the next day. The talk that she and her mom had, had renewed their relationship, and even though Ashley was still terrified of dying, she'd begun to except it as a fact of life. She didn't want to, but did.
"Ashley!" Ashley's head swung upward to find Justin, his features obviously worried, staring down at her.
"What's the matter Justin?" She asked in between a yawn.
"You've been sitting here staring into space for 5 minutes. We've been dismissed from class."
Ashley looked around at the empty classroom. She had been daydreaming! Whoops. "Sorry Justin. I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"
"Aren't you going to the Youth Center this afternoon? We hardly even see you anymore!"
"I can't. Not today. Some other time, ok?"
Justin's usually cheery face was downcast and scared. Ashley stopped her trek to the door. She turned back to him and sat down in a desk motioning for him to sit next to her. He did and looked at her uncertainly.
"Justin..." She started. What was she supposed to say? She'd promised T.J. a week ago that she'd tell the rest of the team about her Leukemia, but she still had a week left. She didn't have anything rehearsed yet!
"What?" Justin asked.
"I've been a little busy lately. I know we haven't done a lot of stuff together this past month."
"Try nothing." Justin mumbled.
Ashley felt a twinge of guilt. He was right. Usually she took the boy out for ice cream on the weekends and took him to the library when it was raining. They'd read to each other from their favorite books. And talking. Justin talked to her about everything. He trusted her just like a big sister.
Ashley leaned forward and wrapped Justin in a big hug. But Justin didn't hug back. He just sat there for a moment allowing her to hug him and then pulled back. "One little hug isn't going change everything, Ashley" He insisted coolly.
Ashley sighed. "It was worth a try. Listen to me buddy. As soon as things calm down at my house, we'll go back to doing everything we used to, ok?"
"Promise?" Justin asked hopefully.
"I promise" Ashley replied, grinning.
This time it was Justin to lean forward and hug Ashley. Then he stood up and left the room leaving Ashley a lot happier. He was only 12, how would he handle the fact that she was dying?
She pushed the thought away and exited, herself.
"Ok, Ashley. You're two weeks are up. You have your second round of chemo tomorrow, and after that your hair will be thin enough for them to know. You have to tell them today," T.J. insisted.
Ashley scrunched up her face and scowled. "I can't wait until after?"
"Oh all right. Will you get them to meet me at the park after school?"
"Yup, you better be there, too."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
T.J. then stood up and exited the library in search of the others. Ashley went through what she was going to tell them in her head. She had printed out all the stuff she could find about Leukemia incase they had more questions then she could answer.
She looked down at the text in front of her and her vision blurred with tears. "I'm not ready...I can't do it. What are they going to think?" Ashley muttered.
"Ok, we're here. Where's Ashley?" Cassie asked.
The four teens were sitting in a circle under a shady tree in one corner of the park.
Justin was lying on his back his hands supporting his head, staring at the rustling leaves above them.
"What's she gonna tell us, Teej?" He asked, looking at the older teen.
T.J. didn't have to answer that question as Ashley appeared and plopped down with them.
They all looked at her expectantly. Ashley opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She bit her lip and lowered her head so no one could see her tears.
"Awww...what's going on here? Is Ashley going to tell you she's dying?"
The five Turbo rangers jumped up at the voice. There stood Divatox, Elgar and a dozen Piranatrons.
Then Carlos, Justin, and Cassie turned to look at Ashley.
"What is she saying, Ash?" Carlos questioned, watching Divatox warily out of the corner of his eye.
Ashley opened her mouth to explain, but two Piranatrons rushed forward and took the weak girl into their hands.
"Hey! Let her go fish face!" Justin shouted.
"Hush, shorty," Divatox hissed, "I suggest you step back, rangers. One false move and I will be forced to have Ashley die a few months early."
"Stop it Divatox!" Ashley screamed struggling against the Piranatrons' iron grip.
Divatox raised a hand to silence her. "Did I give you permission to speak?" She asked.
"I don't need your permission!"
"You are dismissed," Divatox ordered talking to the two Piranatrons holding Ashley. They disappeared, Ashley in tow.
"You bring her back Divatox, now!" T.J. hollered stepping up to the Pirate.
"I will do no such thing. But I will tell you what. You hand over your Turbo Chargers in the next two hours and I won't kill Ashley."
"You witch," Cassie mumbled.
Divatox smiled at the Pink Ranger and disappeared in the same manner as the Piranatrons. Elgar followed.
"Teej, what was she talking about?" Justin asked quietly.
T.J. looked down at his young friend and sighed deeply. Now he would have to tell them. "Come on, I'll tell you in the Power Chamber."
They teleported out in streaks of Red, Green, Yellow, and Blue.
"Lemme go!" Ashley yelled.
"Save your strength," Divatox advised walking up to the Yellow Ranger.
Ashley's eyes were as cold as ice as she stared at the Pirate. "Why do you do this? I'm dying and the only thing you can think about is how you can make me go quicker! You sick pig..."
"Don't talk to me like that, or I'll kill you now."
"Go ahead...might as well," Ashley mumbled. Divatox opened her mouth to say something but was shocked about what the ranger had said in the first place.
"You're giving up?"
Ashley looked up at her and smirked. "You're stupid. I'll never give up. I'll use all my strength to get out of here!"
Divatox scowled. "Take her into the dungeon. Give her this...it will speed up the process." A bottle appeared in her hand and she gave it to a near by Piranatron.
"Divatox, no!" Ashley pleaded as they dragged her off. Divatox chuckled. "Evil is good."
"Leukemia?" Justin squeaked out. T.J. looked really uncomfortable. He almost thought Divatox was doing Ashley favor! Now he had to explain it all.
T.J. shifted from one foot to the other, pondering over what to say to them. Carlos looked really upset. He probably thought he should have been the first to know. After all, Ashley and Carlos were longtime buddies.
"T.J. you better start talking," Cassie whispered. She too, looked upset with the thought that her best friend hadn't come to her.
T.J. took a deep breath. "Ok...about a month ago Ashley was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia that no one has ever seen before. They labeled it as Acute Myelocytic, however, since it was the closest match. She is undergoing Chemotherapy and Radiation. The doctors give her a 65% percent chance of going into remission, which is pretty good right now."
By the time he finished, Cassie was shaking her head in disbelief, Justin was sniffling quietly, and Carlos had his bent down.
T.J. didn't know what else to say. He'd been given a whole month to get used to it, but they had, had the bomb dropped on them unexpectantly, while Ashley was being held captive by a moron of a pirate.
"Well...we better figure out what the heck we're gonna do," Cassie realized out loud. As if answering her, the monster alarm went off, and 4 heads swiveled toward their mentor, Dimetria.
"Do you believe that it is Divatox ready to bargain for Ashley?" She asked. She was always asking and it got annoying sometimes to the rangers, when all they wanted were answers!
T.J. was getting beyond frustrated with their mentor, and didn't even bother to answer her. He glanced at his 3 other teammates, and they followed him by teleporting out.
The scene in the park was not a pretty one. They only found Ashley, lying in a crumpled heap.
T.J. bolted from the group, and reached her in seconds, pulling her up into his arms. Her face was pale and lifeless, and his hand darted to her neck, praying for a pulse.
Once feeling one, his breath escaped his mouth, relieved. By now, the 3 other Turbos were standing behind T.J.
"I don't get it. Did Divatox just let her go?" Cassie whispered.
T.J. shook his head, baffled. "I have no clue, but I'm getting her to the hospital before Divatox changes her mind."
Their leader glanced around quickly, before teleporting to Angel Grove Hospital.
Cassie watched T.J. nervously. She had discovered something between the two a while back, and this must be really killing him inside.
Carlos was trying unsuccessfully to comfort a crying Justin, but Justin refused to be comforted. "Why did she let Ashley go? Did she poison her? Is she going to die?" He asked, between sniffles.
Cassie turned to him, and placed a small hand on the boy's knee. "We don't know why, J. How 'bout we go see Dimitria and Alpha. They might know something, and it'll keep our mind occupied, ok?"
Justin thought for a moment, and then nodded. Cassie gave a tight grin, and led him to a secluded stair well, where they teleported to the Power Chamber.
"Yo, yo, yo! What's going on Rangers? We saw what happened, is Ashley ok?" Alpha asked, concerned.
"We don't know. She's still with Doctors and they won't let us see her. T.J. is a wreck!" Cassie explained to him.
"Dimitria, why did Divatox just let Ashley go?" Justin questioned, walking closer to their mentor.
"Perhaps the transmission she sent, explains that?"
Cassie then turned to Alpha. "What transmission?"
"Divatox sent a transmission shortly after you teleported out. Would like me to play it?"
Justin and Cassie both nodded.
They all turned to the viewing screen, and watched. It opened it to Divatox sitting in her throne, her legs crossed, her fingers delicately applying a lipstick tube to her lips.
You've probably already discovered, that I left Ashley in the park. Doesn't sound like me, eh? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It just didn't seem like much of a challenge. She'll be dead, in what, 4 months? What was the point? So I just sucked a month or two of life from her, and gave her back. I'd rather have fun taking your powers. I was beginning to think, that maybe you wouldn't even give up your Turbo Chargers, for some one who was about to die anyway, isn't that right?
Well, I have better things to do, then sit around talking to you power punks, so ta ta!"
The message ended, and Cassie was boiling with anger. How dare she kidnap Ashley in the first place, but to take away from a life that didn't have much left, that was just sick!
Justin stood speechless, a tear forming in one brown eye. He opened his mouth, but didn't trust his voice, and shut it again.
Cassie looked down to Justin, and he met her eyes. "C'mon," she mumbled, "We have to go tell Carlos and Teej."
Justin wrinkled his nose at the thought, but just the same, teleported out.
"Are you the kids that brought Ashley Hammond in?" The Pink, Blue, Red, and Black Turbo Rangers, looked up to the doctor that had just walked in.
T.J. stood, and nodded anxiously. "Is she all right?"
The doctor looked toward Justin. Carlos noticed, "Oh, he's old for his age, whatever you say, he can handle it." He put one arm around Justin's shoulders casually.
"Well, actually, I'm contemplating telling you at all. It's a rule to tell adults before I discuss it with minors," The Doctor explained.
"Look here," T.J. snapped, "That is my girl friend, and our best friend! You better tell us what's going on, or I'll find out of from her record." Saying that, T.J. stepped forward and snatched the clipboard out of his hand.
Carlos was immediately on his feet, trying to talk some sense into their leader, but T.J. was screaming at him, and the Doctor was calling for security.
The next ten minutes were pure chaos. The security came running and tackled T.J. to the ground, who started sobbing delioursly, and was soon sedated.
Then Mr. and Mrs. Hammond showed up, and then three remaining teens had to explain how they were in the park studying and all the sudden Divatox came and took Ashley. They found her in the park an hour later, after they had wondered what to do. It was a lame story, but it was the best they could come up with at the time.
The Doctor then explained that it was like Ashley had been almost two months without treatment, and she wasn't doing very well.
"I'm afraid, we don't expect her to live much longer," The doctor whispered, painfully. Mrs. Hammond had begun crying, Mr. trying to comfort her, while the teens sat, shocked.
"Hey Ashley, how are you feeling?" Ashley's eyes fluttered open, glazed, staring up at T.J.
She gave a slight smile of recognition, but didn't answer him, she was too tired. "It's ok, you don't have to talk, I can do the talking."
He sat down next to her on the bed and took a limp hand inside his.
"I'm gonna kill Divatox for what she did to you! With my bare my hands, so help me..."
He was still drowsy from the drugs he'd been given, he yawned.
"Listen to me, Ashley. You're going to get better! I'll do everything in my power to help you get better."
Ashley then coughed and shook her head. "It can't happen, Teej. I feel so weak. You don't know what she did to me!"
T.J. leaned closer to her and gave her hand a squeeze. "Tell me Ashley, it's ok."
Tears sprung form her eyes, "She gave me some shot of liquid, and I could see my life pass through my eyes, I really could! I felt whole months of my life being drained from my body. That's all I remember until I woke up here a few hours ago."
"Oh, Ashley, I'm so sorry. I wish it was me in your place! I want to help you..."
"Visiting time is up young man, Ms. Hammond needs to get some sleep. You can come back tomorrow," A nurse announced, coming to the bedside.
T.J. leaned forward, and brushed his lips against Ashley's. "I love you, Ashley." Then he got up, and with not looking back, left the room.
Ashley soon found herself alone, her breathing horse. She wanted to give up, she really did. But she couldn't, not yet. She'd fight a little longer...
"Take it easy Ash! You can't go plowing through door!" Her dad laughed.
Ashley grinned. "I'm so glad to be home! Back to school, seeing my friends, this is going to be great!"
Her father looked at her. "You listen, Ashley. You can't be running around all the time with your friends now, school will be ok, a few times a week, as we discussed, but you have to take it easy, remember?"
Ashley sighed, and scowled. "Yeah, Dad. I know."
Mr. Hammond smiled then, "Ok, that's more like it, now after you," He suggested opening the door wide enough for her to get in with the walker in hand.
She walked slowly, pushing her walker ahead of her being careful not trip over the carpet.
"Don't worry, we're getting all the carpet taken out downstairs, we're gonna get nice wood floors. It'll be much easier to get around, ok?"
Ashley nodded. A month and a half later, she was finally going home. She fought and fought. Against horrible medication, chemo, radiation, she beat it all. Her chestnut hair was all gone, but she replaced it with baseball caps.
Her legs were too weak to move without the help of a walker, but that didn't slow her down. She was living life for all it's worth.
She smiled happily at the den that was turned into her bedroom. She would be down stairs from now on.
She plopped down onto the bed and picked up her phone calling T.J. She explained that she was home, and she chuckled at the happy voice she heard because of it. He had been so worried about her.
He promised to be over at 8 for their date. Since she couldn't get around too well, they were going to watch a movie at her house, and order in Pizza.
She already got past the length her doctor said she would live, but she knew in her heart, there wasn't much time left. She was terrified beyond belief, but she didn't talk about it.
She wrote in her journal nightly, talking about what was going on, T.J. and their close relationship, anything she could think of to write.
"Hey Ashley, what do you want for you Birthday?" asked Justin. He was supposed to be going over his math questions with Ashley, but talking about Birthdays sounded more exciting.
Ashley grinned. "I want you to finish your Math homework, so we can go get ice cream!"
"Ashley! I'm serious. Your Birthday is next week, and I'm not sure what to get."
"Ok, I want all my friend to be at the party, and I want a goodbye kiss from my favorite 12 year old." She didn't realize it came out.
Justin eyes lost their spark, and his mouth drooped. Ashley immediately went to correct her mistake. "Justin, we've talked about this, remember? We can't stop life and death. I'm glad with the life that I lived, and even though that it's only lasted 17 years, it's been wonderful."
Justin's lip quivered. "I know, Ashley. I just...I'm going to miss you so much!"
Ashley was at his side as quickly as she could move, and had her arms around him, letting him cry for a second.
"Hey, you're supposed to be brave, remember? You can't go getting teary on me! You'll make me sad." Justin grinned. "Ok, I'll be brave, for now, at least."
"All right that's good enough, I suppose."
They two stood up and slowly made their way out of the school library.
It had been a whole another 2 months since that date with T.J. at her house. She was moving even slower, and her breaths were shorter. Chemo was just routine, it didn't help anymore. Ashley had long since repaired herself to die, and she was making herself go on a little longer. They were counting on her.
T.J. was counting on her...
"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Dear, Ashley, Happy Birthday to you!"
Ashley basked in the attention of the singing. Her mom lay the cake in front of her, and her face glowed along with the candles. She closed her eyes and made a wish and blew them all out. It took a while, but she did it.
Later when all her gifts were opened, she sat on the couch, admiring the scrapbook of their teen days that the team had given her. Melissa Clark had long since taken her place as Yellow Turbo, and she was a great addition to the team.
"Thanks so much, guys. I love this," Ashley said sincerely.
"You're welcome, Ash. It was Teej's idea," Carlos volunteered.
"I should have known," Ashley joked.
T.J. grinned, and then asked, "Ashley, wanna go sit on the swing for a little while?"
Ashley smiled warmly. "Of course. It's gonna be cold, though. It is the 15th of December."
The couple retreated outside into the cool air, and sat down on the swing.
"I know what you're doing, Ashley," T.J. said suddenly.
Ashley rose an eyebrow and stared at him.
"You're waiting. I can tell more each day, you're trying to be strong, but it's getting hard, I know it is." Ashley sighed. "What do you think about that?"
T.J. shrugged. "I don't know. I want to help, but there's nothing I can do...is there?"
Ashley scooted closer and burrowed under his arm.
"No, you can't help this one, Teej. I know my days are numbered. Every night I have dreams of an angel beckoning me. I always wake up before he can take me away."
T.J. was silent, and Ashley realized into the quiet. Content on taking in the smells of T.J. 's cologne.
"You know I love you, right, Ashley?" T.J. asked after a few minutes.
T.J. 's heart jumped. His eyes darted down to Ashley nestled under the crook of his arm. Her eyes were closed, and no sign of breath was coming.
He choked on a sob, and gathered her up in his arms, letting his tears drop onto her pale, soft skin.
"As we commit this body to the ground, may Ashley rest in peace. Amen."
"Amen," The group echoed.
The 4 regular Turbos stood near the deep whole in the ground.
The boys all wearing black suits, trying hard not to let the tears slip downward, and Cassie wearing a simple black dress and black sweater. She didn't even bother wiping the tears away.
Hours later, after the people were gone, the hole was covered, one lone man stood, next to her headstone, letting his fingers trace the letters in the marble.
"I miss you, Ashley. I love you, and you'll always be the special one in my heart," He sniffled, the tears dripping from his chin.
He stood, and lay the single rose across the top to the stone, turning he walked away, letting memories of Ashley and their time together, peacefully sift through his head.