Notes and Timeline: Before and After series, specifically part of the 'After' portion.
May 13, 2029-Angel Grove, California
The old man considered the yellow caution tape stretched around the site, and the temporary plastic chain link fence, and smiled slightly to himself. Those meager precautions would not keep out anyone truly determined to get inside. But, really, who would want to? These barriers cordoned off an abandoned building, scheduled to be razed the next day. A huge bulldozer stood near the entrance to the building in silent affirmation of that impending event.
He slipped silently through the gate and past the 'dozer, entering the building where he had spent some of the best years of his life. Standing in the middle of the large, empty area, he closed his eyes and remembered what it used to be like, over forty years ago.
He had come to Angel Grove with a plan to create a safe, friendly hangout for the city's youth. In his own hometown there had been such a place, where the teenagers could hang out after school and visit, make plans, bring dates, and meet new friends. He had not been particularly popular in his youth, but even he'd hung around there, soaking up the friendly atmosphere. Now as an adult he'd wanted to recreate that for another generation of kids.
He had his reasons for wanting this, and for wanting a new start in a new town. Only the year before his wife had died in childbirth, an unexpected tragedy that had rocked him to the core. Then he found out their tiny daughter would follow her mother in a matter of months, a birth defect that could not be corrected. After Sharla died, her father packed up the remnants of his life and moved to California, to begin again.
He bought the building at a surprisingly reasonable price, and set to work renovating it. He did most of the work himself, laboring ten or more hours every day, working out some of his grief through the physical labor. When he wasn't working on the remodel, he was talking to people, visiting other popular gathering places for the local teens, and trying to learn the idiosyncrasies of California teenagers. It was a different world than he had grown up in, and he found he had a lot to learn. But he was a quick study, and when it came time to actually start figuring out the floor plan for his business, and just what sort of services he would offer, he knew exactly what it was he wanted. A combination gym and juice bar seemed to be the perfect sort of establishment to have for the health conscious teens in this city.
And to encourage the type of clientele he desired, he would call it "The Youth Center".
From the day he first opened the doors for business, it was a booming success. The kids came in droves, to work out on his equipment, to enjoy his fresh squeezed fruit juice, the meet and greet each other. Ernie did his part to promote their patronage, hosting dances, gymnastic and karate tournaments, contests, and supporting the various causes the teens got involved in. Soon Ernie started to recognize the kids, got to know them a little, or a lot, depending on the kid and the situation.
Ernie smiled a little, remembering those early years. Fresh faced kids, for the most part polite and well behaved. Good kids. But, the faces all seemed to dim in his memory, melding into one visage, pleasant enough, but without much personality.
Not like the teens that started coming around about four years before he sold the business. Those kids he could remember as clearly as if it were yesterday. He supposed it had to do with the fact that the prior teens had not turned out to be Power Rangers.
He had known from the first the identity of the young people who risked their lives to save Angel Grove more times than he could count. The day the odd earthquake hit, and all his patrons ran out of The Youth Center in a panic. Ernie had doubled back to ensure all the kids were safe, and he arrived just in time to see five of them disappear in colorful streaks of light. At first he'd thought it had been an optical illusion, his worried mind playing tricks on him. It was only later that he realized the significance of what he'd seen.
After that he watched those specific teenagers with increased interest, and couldn't fault the choice of those five as the city's defenders. Not long thereafter, they added a sixth Ranger, then after a time they started to leave, in small groups or singly, to be replaced by others. They were all exceptional kids, among the best he'd ever known.
Jason, with his incredible strength, his calm manner, and his strangely gentle temperament. Calm Trini, intelligent and serene. Cheerful Zack, the graceful dancer, full of the joy of life. Fiery little Kimberly, with her passionate nature and compassionate heart. Quiet Billy, so shyly curious, his nerdish appearance inviting the wrath of bullies. Tommy's barely hidden insecurities, his determination to do right, and gentle kindness. Happy-go-lucky Rocky's humor and way with children. Adam's shy demeanor, fierce fighting skills, and quick wit. Lively Aisha's spirit and enthusiasm. Katherine's cool beauty, grace, and desire to help others. Independent thinking Tanya, with her mysterious, sad past.
They were all his children; each and every one of them. In the good times and in the bad, he watched out for them as much as he could, watching them grow and change as teenagers always do. And unbeknownst to them, he'd continued to watch them from afar, long after he'd sold The Youth Center and moved away. He'd lied to Detective Stone about why he'd moved, but his reasons had not been any business of the new owner's.
He wandered around the deserted building, hearing the echoes of teenagers, now grown into middle-aged men and women. Running his hands lightly over the built-in counter, he could still see them sitting here, sipping smoothies and joking. Specific memories came, and Ernie gave in to them, letting them wash over him with the gentle caress of nostalgia.
...Jason teaching a karate class that included Billy, who was without a doubt the most inept student there. The larger teen's gentle attempts to assist his friend, who was still in the awkward, clumsy stage of adolescence.
...The times without number when Zack asked the beautiful Angela out, only to be shot down again.
...The teens arranging a surprise birthday party for Zack, hiding behind the counter when the black clad teen came looking for them. The laughter when Billy's cake-o-matic spewed a sweet, sticky mess over everything. And ultimately the party, which took Zack from the despair of thinking we was forgotten to the joy of being the guest of honor at his party.
...Jason attempting to beat Bulk's bench-pressing record.
...Tommy sitting at a table with the rest of the group, shooting quick longing looks at Kimberly, who was pretending not to notice.
...Trini, lost in a world of her own, going through the graceful katas her chosen martial art utilized.
...Zack demonstrating dance moves to his bemused friends.
...Tommy asking him for private football lessons, and giving his all to learn what Ernie could teach him. Ernie had felt a particularly fierce sense of accomplishment when Tommy made quarterback.
...Bulk and Skull attempting to harass Kimberly and Trini, only to find out the two petite girls were more than able to defend themselves.
...The gang sitting around the TV on the counter and finding out Jason, Trini, and Zack had been chosen for the Youth Conference in Switzerland.
...Aisha, caught up in her official duties, giving him the what for regarding fire safety.
...Rocky getting hooked on the Pachinko game he had installed.
...Bulk and Skull's endless attempts to determine the identity of the Power Rangers. If only they'd thought to ask the right person.
...Kimberly getting hurt, after hours, on the balance beam when practicing alone. After that accident, Ernie never let anyone practice alone again.
...Katherine teaching a class of beginning ballet, her young students striving for the grace their untrained muscles could not quite provide.
...Tommy sitting on the weights bench, reading the letter Kimberly sent to break up with him, his shock and grief showing despite his efforts to hide it.
...The party the teens hastily pulled together when Billy graduated early.
...Tanya sitting at the counter with her first boyfriend, Shawn. Ernie never really did like that boy much.
The memories started to come faster, becoming a kaleidoscope of color and texture, almost dizzying in their intensity. Finally, Ernie opened his eyes and looked down at the counter he was clutching. They'd all been so young then, so full of promise.
And much...most...of that promise had been realized.
Despite moving far away, Ernie kept his eye on his kids. He subscribed to the local paper, and still corresponded with a couple of friends who had stayed in the area. Those friends often provided the details the newspaper articles didn't.
He knew Jason had married Emily, and produced two daughters. He had a particular interest in Jason's activities since the former Ranger had bought The Youth Center from Jerome Stone shortly after his marriage, and had run it until last year when it closed due to lack of profitability. Ernie knew that closing the Center had been hard on Jason, but he really had not had a choice. Ernie planned to stop by and see Jason, who'd lost his beloved Emily to cancer less than a year ago, before he went home.
Zack was in Hollywood, married to Angela, who had at long last given in to his persistent charms. The talented youth had turned his energies to the entertainment business, and was now a successful producer.
Aisha was in Africa, as far as Ernie knew. He'd heard she'd gotten married, finally, and had a family. His memories of her were oddly disjointed, though he had no idea why.
Rocky had married Trini, a match-up the former proprietor of the Youth Center found hard to fathom. But, then again, Rocky had turned out to be full of surprises, becoming a successful orthopedic surgeon, much to Ernie's delight. However, he was concerned that Trini had never pursued her career, as he had always expected her to.
Tanya had married a fine man named Paul Simpson. She had ended up with a very successful radio career, her celebrity almost rivaling Zack's. Ernie kept a stash of recordings of her show that he could listen to whenever he became homesick for Angel Grove.
Tommy and Kimberly had rekindled their relationship a couple of years after they graduated from high school. Kimberly had done well in the Pan Globals, and had come home looking for a career in the clothing industry, while Tommy had moved from racecar driving to racecar repairs. Theirs had been a true love after all, they married two years after a chance encounter reunited them.
And Kat was still single, last Ernie had heard, with a healthy psychotherapy practice. He considered her a partial success at best. She had a successful career, but had never been able to establish a lasting relationship.
Bulk had been another surprise; he was now the Chief of Police in Angel Grove. It had turned out he had a true talent for law enforcement, and the former bully was now the terror of miscreants throughout the city.
Those were the success stories. The ones Ernie looked at with pride and happiness, delighted that life had, for the most part, worked out for them.
Then there were the others.
Ernie had returned to Angel Grove only once before this day. He had come back to attend the funeral of Adam Park and Billy Cranston, who'd died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver when both young men were twenty-two. Remembering the two quiet teens still brought a lump to Ernie's throat, no one deserved the fate that had befallen the two of them. In his memory he could still see them here in The Youth Center, sitting back, watching the more outgoing teens' antics, indulgent smiles on their faces.
Then there was Skull. Like Bulk, Skull had turned to law enforcement, but unlike Bulk, he had no talent for the internal politics. He'd been happy working in the field, so that's where he remained, until a bank robbery twelve years before. Skull was one of the responding officers, and when things went sour in the negotiations, and the bullets started to fly, Skull left the protection of his squad car to help a couple of the hostages to safety. They made it-he did not. Eugene Skullovich, who'd spent his youth terrorizing nerds as Bulk's shadow, died a hero.
Ernie wiped an errant tear from his cheek as he contemplated the three boys he'd lost, then turned with some surprise when he heard a soft sound behind him.
"What're you doing here?" asked a familiar voice.
"Just wanted to see it once more, for old times' sake."
"Yeah, Jason, it's me. What're you doing here?" the older man asked.
"I was driving by and thought I saw someone. Guess I was right. Just didn't expect it to be you. It's good to see you again," the former Red Ranger approached to first owner of The Youth Center, and enveloped him in a warm embrace.
"I tried to call you, when I had to sell the place, just to let you know," Jason explained quietly.
"I've moved. I'm living in a retirement community that's not too bad. It's good to have someone near if I need help, you know? But I heard about the sale. Then that it was going to be torn down. I just had to see it once more. I'd planned to look you up, too. I heard about Emily."
"I got your card. Thanks," Jason replied, his expression sobering at the mention of his late wife.
"How're you doing, Jason?" Ernie had moved around so he was standing behind the counter, Jason in front, positioning that seemed the more natural to them both, despite the fact Jason had spent more years on the other side of the partition.
"I'm okay. I'm dating Kat, we're thinking of getting married near the end of the year. It's different than it was with Emily, but it's still good, you know? I'm working part time at the sports shop downtown, mostly to have something to do. Emily had planned our retirements very carefully, I don't really have to work, but I want to."
"That's a good idea, Jason. Nothing makes you old faster than inactivity."
"Ernie, why did you leave? The story Jerome told us made no sense whatsoever."
"Jason, I got sick. Very, very sick. Cancer. They didn't expect me to live, and I didn't want my friends to watch me die. So I left, went back east, had experimental treatments. To everyone's surprise, they worked. But, I found I just couldn't bear the thought of returning to Angel Grove. Everything would be different, and I wanted to preserve the memories of how it was before. So I moved to Seattle, opened a small breakfast café and made a good life for myself there. I subscribe to the Angel Grove Gazette, and have a couple of friends here who kept me abreast of local happenings. I knew what went on with you kids. What happened in your lives."
Jason gave Ernie a puzzled look, causing the older man to chuckle a little.
"You were all my children. All of you. All the kids who passed through these doors during the years I owned this place. But some of you were closer than others, but I don't think any were as close as you and your friends were. It might have had to do with your being Power Rangers," the old man said calmly.
"Right from the very first."
"And you never said anything?"
"It appeared that you needed to keep it a secret. I know how to keep a secret. I used to worry so much about you kids. But I was darn proud of you all."
"Thank you," Jason said softly.
They stood in companionable silence for a moment, looking around the large, empty building, each reliving their memories of it.
"It's been a good run for a small business," Jason said at last.
"Yeah, it served it purpose, but now it's no longer necessary. Times and things have changed as the old cliché goes. Now it's time to say goodbye to the past, and hello to the future. We both still have futures, you know."
"Yep, that we do. Come on, let's blow this joint, and I'll take you downtown and buy you a drink. Your choice."
"Anything but a smoothie. I never could stand those things."
Jason gave his old friend a startled look, then burst into laughter as they strode out of the condemned building and into the sunshine.
Author's notes: This story was inspired by a post on the
message board from ZeoViolet which listed the lyrics from the song
"Empty Chairs at Empty Tables",from the album Les Miserables.