But that was before I met Ashley Hammond.
Now, the old rules don't make sense anymore. The former logic offers little comfort. The difference is simple: this isn't just some schoolboy crush. Believe me, I tried to pass it off as just that. I tried to tell myself that there are other fish in the sea, and that I'd get over her. What's one crush among a dozen?
Well, in this case, it's the only one that matters.
I can say, without the slightest hint of uncertainty, that I love Ashley. I mean, I really love her. It's more than a queasy feeling when I'm alone with her. It's. like I can't picture my life without her in it. I've only known her for a year or so, but that's all it takes. I can't imagine not seeing her sweet, slightly mischievous smile, huge, expressive brown eyes, or full, golden-brown hair. The ring of her laughter gives me a warm feeling, and it's enough to make a shy guy like me make a fool of himself trying to be a clown, just to hear it. Her love of life in infectious. I don't know how many times she's literally dragged me around Angel Grove to see a new movie, go to a carnival, or something like that. Her willpower is admirable too. She refuses to give up on anything. When she took shop in school, she was determined to master auto-mechanics, despite the fact that she was the only girl in the class. She wouldn't accept failure. and she never has failed yet. She always gets what she wants.
But I guess there's one thing she got that she didn't want. My heart.
A few weeks ago, I felt brave enough to confront her about our relationship. It wasn't long after her grandmother came to town, and Ashley pretended that I was her boyfriend. To put it mildly, I was stunned and excited at the same time that she'd pick me to play the part. I couldn't get it off my mind in the days that followed. I kept wondering. was this some kind of hint she was trying to give me? Did she really love me like that? Why'd she pick me, instead of TJ or Andros? Why'd she pretend at all that she had a boyfriend? After all, if Ashley didn't already have someone in mind, what would be so wrong with having a blind date?
So, I built up the courage to ask her out. It was just her and me on the Megaship, while TJ and Cassie dragged Andros to a baseball game, to introduce him to America's favorite pastime. Ashley couldn't stand baseball, and politely refused to go. I saw my opportunity, and declined as well.
Finally, we were alone.
So, I knocked on her door.
"Come in, Carlos," she called. I realized I was the only other person on the ship, so I shouldn't have been surprised that she knew it was me. But for some reason, it still unsettled me a bit. like she could read my mind or something.
Anyway, I opened the door, and walked into her bedroom. She was lying on her bed on her stomach, reading some romance novel she picked up from the mall last time she went. She smiled up at me when I came in, and I could feel my knees buckle.
"What's up?" she asked, laying a glittery yellow bookmark on the page she ended on.
"I. uh. I was wondering."
Great. I was stammering! It was Ashley, the person I know on this team better than anyone else, and I couldn't feel my arms, my knees were weak, and I couldn't utter a complete sentence! I prayed I didn't sound as pathetic as I felt.
Ashley watched me patiently, an amused grin on her face. She wasn't laughing at me, though. That was a good sign. "Try this," she recommended, sitting up on her bed, "take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and then spit it out. It works for me when I can't find the right words."
I nodded, and took a deep breath. My God, I felt like the biggest idiot to ever breathe oxygen. But no matter what, I couldn't turn back. I just couldn't.
"I was wondering that since it's just you and me tonight if you'd like to go get something to eat on Earth," I spat out in one breath. That's when the tension set in. Typically, that would be a perfectly harmless question. Ashley and I go to the Surf Spot, or some place similar, all the time. She wouldn't have suspected a thing. if only I didn't show such nervousness. That made my true question as clear as crystal. She could tell what I really wanted to know, just by the flushed expression on my face.
I really didn't like the quiet that followed. Each passing second felt like an hour. I realized the longer it took for Ashley to answer me, the worse off it looked for the two of us as a couple. It felt like I could have destroyed an army of Quantrons single-handedly in half the time it took Ashley to open her mouth!
"Sit down, Carlos," she said quietly, patting her bed beside her. I felt stiff, but somehow I managed to get to the bed and sit down without stumbling.
I had to wait a bit more before she finally found the right words to say to me.
"Carlos," she started, trying her best not to make eye contact, "we're friends, right?"
Uh oh. That didn't sound promising.
"I'd like to think so," I answered.
"Well, we are. We're really close friends. You've been with me through some hard times, and I think that we're as close as friends can be. I. I love you--"
She took a deep breath, and locked her sympathetic eyes with my expectant ones. "--as a friend."
It felt like I had a wad of bubble gum stuck in my throat. No air came into my mouth, no words came out. I blinked a couple times, and I almost pinched myself. This had to be a dream. It couldn't have been real!
"A. Ashley," I managed, "you'll always be my close friend. And I love you too. but we could be more--"
Ashley shook her head solemnly, pursing her lips. "No, we can't. I'm really sorry, but I just don't love you like that."
I wanted to crawl into some dark hole and die. She wouldn't even give me a chance! She was so startled that I even asked her, I assumed she never thought about the two of us getting together. She never realized how much I loved her? I couldn't believe it.
"We. we're still friends, right?" she asked timidly. I did my best to smile at her.
"Of course," was all I could get out, before I felt my throat close up again. I stood up, waved at her lightly, and left. I couldn't even say goodbye. It took all the willpower I had not to cry in her presence. I managed to wait until I was in my room, where I could shed a tear without shame.
I couldn't understand what went wrong. She shot me down before I even got the words out! It didn't make sense to me. Why wouldn't she give me a chance? How did she know so certainly that she didn't love me?
Those questions plagued me for quite a while. It just didn't make sense. Or at least, it didn't until I found out the reason why Ashley knew she didn't want to be with me. She had someone else in mind.
Frankly, I don't know why I didn't see it. I guess twenty-twenty hindsight gives you special insight on earlier events. I mean, once I knew the truth, it was easy for me to see evidence to that fact dating back months. I just was too caught up in my own feelings to really notice.
The reason Ashley didn't give me a chance is because she was in love with Andros, native of KO-35 and leader of the Astro Rangers.
It took months of Ashley's indomitable charm and honest interest to finally break down some of the barriers Andros constructed to protect himself from more emotional pain. But like I said, Ashley isn't one to give up. Despite Andros' apparent coldness and even his initial dislike of us, she was persistent. And eventually, the mighty Red Ranger became a victim to her natural allure. Can't blame him, really.
Well, Andros and Ashley finally got up the nerve to talk about their feelings, and now they're pretty much a couple. On the surface, it's nothing serious. I mean, they've only been on a couple dates, and they don't spend too much time together. But, that's just the surface. It's quite clear, just by their body language, that they really feel strongly for one another. Dare I say, it's real love there. Or at least the foundation of real love. That's something that was lacking between Ashley and me. They, at least, are on a two-way street. Ashley and I were on a dead-end path, right from the beginning.
It took me a while to accept this. Actually, I think I came around easier than most guys in my situation would have. I could have been angry at Andros, thinking along the lines of "I saw her first" or something. It hurts when the woman you love winds up with a close friend, but I'm not that surprised. When I take a step back, and try and view the situation from a more objective point of view, I see how good a couple they make. Andros is still pretty cold and stoic, but slowly Ashley's passion is warming him from the inside. He's becoming a more well-rounded person. And now Ashley, who has finally found someone to really love, has someone to balance her out. Now, her inner fire has something to melt.
They make a nice couple. really, they do. And I'm happy for them. Really. I'm glad Ashley found someone to make her happy. Well, maybe not happy. Perhaps. satisfied?
No, I'm not sure what I feel for them. But I do know one thing. this matter has kept me up more than a few nights.
Sometimes, I reflect back on when I first met Ashley. It was ages ago. even before we became Turbo Rangers. I was the soccer star, she was the head cheerleader. I walked her home from a game. I was instantly interested then, but I didn't really act on it. When I think about our first encounter, I can't help but ask myself, could things have been different? After all, I knew Ashley waaay before Andros even came to our solar system. If I had made my move earlier, would I have had a chance?
Sadly, the answer is probably no. If Ashley really loves Andros like I think she does, then it would have happened regardless. At least this way, she wasn't forced into the situation of deciding between the boyfriend she has lukewarm feelings for, and the mysterious warrior who has suddenly become the object of her passion. She would have to choose between being true to her heart, and trying not to hurt me. In the end, all of us would have suffered. She'd be guilty, Andros would be too, and I'd be the dumped boyfriend, wondering what on Earth happened.
It's better this way. Now the only one hurting. is me.
I wonder how long this hurt will last. How many more nights will I say up, pondering about what could have been? Asking myself a hundred questions, like What if we never became Power Rangers? Or, What if Divatox never destroyed the Power Chamber? Would we even have met Andros?
Wondering about what could have been certainly isn't the way to live one's life. It'll end eventually. It has to.
Like I said at the beginning, this isn't the first time I've experienced heartbreak. I'll get over it.