Title: Thinking of You
Contact: Notes: It's been a while…
I have to admit first that I've only seen about 10 minutes of Dino Thunder. All the characterisations of those contained in the series are combinations of other authors' interpretations and my own artistic license. There's no specific time period in which this story is set, however, it's after Trent joins the Ranger team. If there are any errors in detail, I apologise in advance! Please read and review
"Everything seems right, we don't have to force it" Reindeer Section – Raindrop
I sat waiting for him for three hours. Some things never change. To be more precise, I sat in a tiny roadside café for three hours and twenty-three minutes, drinking four of their cups of coffee that tasted as though they had been brewed three weeks ago. I rang his cell three times, then gave up, not wanting to be the pushy girl who keeps on ringing even when it slowly becomes obvious that he's just not going to turn up.
I came to that conclusion about an hour into my stay at 'Betty's Roadside Restaurant'. I knew he was never the most punctual person, but he would never have been that late. Why did I stay?
I guess I wanted to be proved wrong. Some tiny part of me had had a sinking feeling ever since we'd agreed to meet that he wouldn't turn up. I contemplated the reasoning behind his no-show for the next two hours.
Revenge for my teenage tantrums? Possibly, but unlikely. As far as I could tell, we'd made peace with that a long time ago. He'd never shown any signs of being embittered, and it would have been a weird time to bring up old hurt, although poetic justice could have been some kind of motivation. Still, it seemed unlikely.
Some kind of work or family emergency? This seemed the most plausible explanation. Maybe that was really why I'd stayed, hoping that he'd see I'd called his cell phone, and he'd return my call with an explanation.
Maybe the real reason I stayed was because I was frozen to my seat, and didn't want to make it screamingly obvious to the clientele that I'd been stood up. So, I read the newspaper, called my mother to catch up, and did everything I could to look as though this was a regular rest stop on my way on a trip out of the state. Just a regular woman stopping off for a break before journeying on to visit her parents, or an old college friend. Anything apart from the desperate woman who spent three hours waiting for someone to show who clearly was never going to turn up.
I thought I'd got away with it, until the ubiquitous Betty called out to me as I left, "Don't worry, hon. Those men are never worth it."
Damn. Am I that transparent?
As I get into my car, ready to drive all the way back home, tracing the steps of what had been an ultimately futile journey, I decide I'm not leaving without letting him know what I think of him. Yes, there may have been a genuine emergency, but he could at least have had the courtesy to let me know. I've just spent the past three hours being leered at and forced to drink burnt coffee, and I'm not the type to suffer quietly.
I dial his number, and go through the now familiar routine of listening to it ring eleven times, before his answering service clicks in. After the beep, I take a deep breath to disguise the fact I'm trying very hard to say something that won't incriminate me later. Then, in a sarcastic tone,
"Thanks so much for letting me know you couldn't attend the meeting we had scheduled today. I had a most enjoyable time getting to know the people who frequent Betty's, and drank some of the finest Italian coffee. Some may say it was a waste of three hours, sitting in a roadside café drinking endless cups of coffee, but I used it as time to decide that if this is the way you're going to play it, then I quit. I'm not going to be messed around."
I click the 'end' button before I get the chance to really let rip. God knows why, as he's the only person who would listen to his messages, and there should be nothing to stop me from telling him what I really think of him at this moment in time.
But is there something inside me that doesn't want to push him too far away, in case he doesn't come back?
God help me. I'm seventeen all over again. This was not supposed to happen.
Despite me knowing it's the worst possible thing to do, as I drive back onto the freeway, I let my mind start to wander back to how this all came about. Who would have thought that a trip to a stationery store would have brought such turmoil?
Two weeks earlier
I thought the whole point of being an advertising executive was that you didn't have to go out and buy your own marker pens. Unfortunately, job descriptions that they give you at the interview, and what you're actually expected to do, very rarely coincide. We've been given an account to pitch for, some sports power drink which I know from experience gives very little advantage apart from giving your skin a tinge of blue. All the blue pens we've found in the building have either run out or are the wrong shade, so I've run down to the store the next block down for reinforcements. The draft of the pitch has to be completed that night, and time's running out fast.
That's my excuse when I trip over a non-existent rip in the carpet and have to grab onto the nearest person for balance. He happens to be unimpressed by the fall, and turns around to stare at me in outrage.
"Watch where you're going, little lady. This is a Gucci jacket," he nearly snarls. I could make a few choice remarks about overreaction – after all, it's not as though I knocked him over, and there are no marks on his jacket. Instead, I play the polite card, and say sweetly,
"I'm terribly sorry. It must be the heat outside… it's making me dizzy." The man in question is fifty if he's a day and is sweating profusely due to the early June heat. There is no-one on this earth I would least like to flirt with, but I need to get back to work, and I have a feeling that "Get over it, it's not as though I ripped your precious jacket," would detain me here for longer than I want. Luckily, he just leers slightly, and then turns back to examining the various types of graph paper the store has to offer. I don't even want to know, but apparently another customer is finding this interchange more amusing than necessary, if the chuckling I can vaguely hear from behind me is anything to go by.
I'm annoyed at people for overreacting, I'm sweltering from the heat, and I'm stressed due to the sudden need for blue marker pens the department has suddenly developed without gaining the corresponding inclination to go down to the store to get them themselves. Can you really blame me for pivoting on my heel and snapping,
"Watch it, or it'll be your jacket next, and this time I don't care if it's a Gucci, it won't be leaving the store intact."
Yes, you probably can blame me for that. If I had only looked up, maybe I wouldn't have been so hasty to speak…
I never venture into the city if I can help it. As I've grown older, something inside me has changed into appreciating the quietness of the country, or if not the country, then something more approaching suburbia than city life. Living on an island for so long changed my outlook somewhat, and when I finally finished my PhD, I knew I'd be better suited to teaching in a smaller school than a big city high school.
Unfortunately, I had to drive up to Surfside that Thursday afternoon to pick up a book I'd ordered on a new theory of the extinction of the dinosaurs. More interesting than it sounds, but the store was small and wanted me to pick it up in person. When they heard I was making the trip up to the city after school, Kira, Ethan, Trent and Conner became very vocal about sudden shopping needs, and begged to be taken along. I eventually got it through to them that their finals were more important, and took down a list of things that all claimed they couldn't live another day without. No promises were made, but I told them if I happened to pass a store that might sell one of the items, I'd go in.
On the way to the bookstore I'd noticed a stationery store that might have sold some of the art supplies Trent had asked me to look out for. Once I'd collected the book, I walked back to the store I'd seen, and paced up and down the aisles looking for a certain style of paper, and some fancy watercolour pencils. I guess he was looking to branch out once finals were over and graduation just around the corner.
The pencils were easy enough to find, and I made my way over to the paper section to track down the exact type that Trent wanted. I had just stepped into the walled aisle, when from somewhere not too far away, I heard the unmistakeable sound of someone falling flat on their face, then raised voices. A guy yelled something about a Gucci jacket and then a woman retaliated.
It was with a mixture of amusement, shock and wariness, that I slowly realised the voice belonged to someone I knew well, and who obviously hadn't lost her talent for being able to get out of a difficult situation. I stepped back out of the aisle, the paper all but forgotten, to witness Kim extricating herself from having to pay for the non-existent damage to the guy's jacket, and couldn't help but chuckle at how so many incidental things change in life, but the fundamentals still stay more or less the same.
I guess the chuckle may not have been such a good idea, as her anger displaced itself, and came to rest on me… She didn't actually look at me until her tirade came to an end, and then her face turned redder than I have ever seen it, including the time Trini spilled girls' secrets at the end of a night out about five years ago.
"…Whoops. It's you," she said, looking extremely confused once the embarrassment had begun to fade. "I'm so sorry, I wasn't looking at who I was yelling at…"
"It's okay," I reassured her. "Although from the sounds of it, the guy you tripped over got off easy, if that anger's anything to go by."
She shook her head, looking down at the floor, and then raised her head back up to meet my eyelevel. "What the hell are you doing in Surfside, anyway? The last I heard, you were on some island that got blown up and had gone back to finish your PhD someplace upstate. I thought it was going to take years to put everything back together."
"The last I heard of you, you were in Boston trying to get a graphic design career off the ground," I retaliated. "I think it's safe to say neither of us expected to bump into the other in a stationery store in Surfside, of all places. I managed to finish my PhD pretty quickly considering the damage done, and I'm teaching up in Reefside. How about you?"
Why didn't I hint to her that there were other things going on in my life? I have no idea. I couldn't blurt out in the middle of the store that I was the leader of the new Ranger team, but I could have dropped pretty broad hints that she'd have been able to pick up easily. It would have saved so much awkwardness later on, but for whichever reason I kept quiet.
"Um, I work just around the corner. In advertising. Boston didn't have many opportunities so I decided to come back to the West Coast, and got a job here pretty quickly," she said quietly, passing five or six blue marker pens from one hand to another. "I came back about four months ago."
Interesting. Surely she'd have mentioned if Jason or one of the others had told her about my latest side-job? I knew she fell off the radar a little at the end of high school and very beginning of college, but when Zack and Trini came back they managed to reunite the group without any major trauma, and we'd all been getting on well. The only reason I hadn't mentioned my new role to everyone was that there was never enough time, and I had assumed Jason would pass on the news for me. "Do you want to get a coffee or something? Catch up?"
She tries to surreptitiously check her watch without me seeing, but I notice straightaway, and once more I embarrass her. "I'd love to, but we're working on a pitch, and it has to be finished by this evening. I only came out to get some marker pens that the others suddenly can't live without." She rolls her eyes, and I grin. The momentary fear that it may have been a hasty excuse to avoid seeing me leaves – but why should there be a fear? There hasn't been anything between us for a long time, and I haven't found myself thinking of her for quite a while. So why should I care if she doesn't want to see me? Why am I so happy when I believe her saying she has to get back to work? "How long are you in town for?"
"I only came to pick a book up I'd ordered," I hold up the parcel that had been tucked under my arm as proof. "I was planning on heading home, but needed to pick something up for… a neighbour." Is there a sign of disappointment in her eyes? I'd be very surprised if there wasn't one in mine, which is ridiculous. Unexplainable. So I don't even try. "How long would you have to stay at work?"
"No, I wouldn't want to make you hang around when I have no way of knowing how long I'm going to be," Kim demurs, and there's a tiny something in her eyes – I don't know if she realises it's there, but it seems to be saying there's nothing more she'd rather do.
"Listen, there's a few other things my neighbour asked me to look out for if I had the time. Why don't I take a walk around and try and track a few of the things down, and if you don't give me a call before I'm done, I'll head on home. If you finish before then, we can go get a drink," I suggest. It seems to make sense – Conner, Kira and Ethan would never let me hear the end of it if I picked up what Trent asked for and not their desired items. And it would be good to catch up with an old friend. Kim and I haven't talked for a long time, and since we've made a stable peace with each other, we've always enjoyed each other's company as friends.
"That seems fair, as long as you're sure you don't mind hanging around. I shouldn't be all that long, but you know how creative types can get when things aren't going their way…" Kim warns, and pulls out her cell to take down my number. I dictate it, and I move back into the paper aisle to track down Trent's paper. She follows, and it only takes a few moments for me to find the required size and type, and we join the payment aisle.
"Oh no," Kim mutters under her breath, and I can't help but chuckle again when I realise who we've ended up standing behind – Kim's adversary with the precious jacket. My laugh seems to have a negative effect on everyone who hears it in the store, as the guy turns around upon hearing it, and leers when he sees who's standing behind him.
"Look who it is, it's the little lady who can't help but swoon when she's around me," he says with a definite hint of flirtation, and it's all I can do to stop myself from punching the guy.
Not that it's because the comment's directed at Kim. I'd do the same for any of my female friends. But yeah, I'll admit it – the fact that it is Kim exacerbates my anger towards him. Luckily for me, Kim hasn't lost her sharp tongue, and smiles sweetly at the guy while saying,
"Of course, it could be your unmistakeable scent that's causing me to lose consciousness very rapidly ever time I'm around you, but I don't really want to meet you a third time to find out."
Jacket Man splutters and snorts a bit, but is prevented from retaliating when the cashier calls him to the checkout, and he is forced to move away. Kim and I giggle, and I swear, it feels like old times. Which is something I never expected to feel again…
We part outside the store, he to try and find some new brand of soccer boots and me to go back to work. I didn't ask about this 'neighbour' and why he was at their (her?) beck and call. I shouldn't even want to know…
Except how the hell am I ever meant to concentrate on work now? If I'm not mistaken, there was a definite hint of chemistry, and that's something that hasn't been there between us for quite some time.
There was still a kind of spark between us when the whole Murianthius scenario took place, but I for one had no inclination to act upon it. I was with Josh and perfectly happy, and he was with Kat, and seemed to be as content as I was. Although I never saw him through his short-lived racing career, once he settled down and started college I heard of him often through Jason, and as soon as all of us were online and back on the continent group emails did the rounds on a regular basis. Occasional meetings took place, which became more frequent once the majority of us were on the West Coast, but then I took a job in Boston and fell out of the loop a little.
I have to shake myself out of this and get whatever needs doing done as quickly as possible, so I can meet an old friend for a coffee. That's all it is…
During the rest of the short walk back to my building, I determinedly think about the weather, what I have in the house that could possibly make an edible dinner, and whether I'll have enough time off in the near future to drive down to Stone Canyon and visit my brother. What point is there in dwelling on something which I'm obviously imagining? It's been ten years since we dated, and although there's no denying it was great while it lasted, neither of us are the same person we once were. We've grown apart, but if my women's intuition isn't failing me, there seems to be some kind of hint there may be common ground still.
No. Think of the new pair of shoes you desperately want but can't afford. Even better, think of this pitch that needs to be finished and just right before you can leave the office tonight. If that doesn't get done, then you'll lose your job before you've been there six months, and will be forced to trawl the country looking for work. That would not be ideal.
One short elevator ride later and I'm back in Alletsons & Dobson advertising offices. This pitch isn't the biggest one the agency has ever gone for, but they're looking for it to reverse a downward trend the company has recently fallen into. And I, as a newbie, am expected to play a big part in this. No time for distractions…
"The cavalry has arrived… how far have you got?" I see pairs of eyes staring back at me mutinously, and I let them. These people are going to work quicker and with more application than I've seen them do yet… I'm not letting Tommy leave this city before we have a chance to catch up. That's all it is. Just a conversation between friends…
The kids had better pay me back the money I've just shelled out for all this junk I've bought them.
Trent's demands were the most reasonable of the four, which seemed typical as he was still the least outgoing of the four… he remained somewhat quiet and reserved, due in no small part to the way in which he had joined the team, I know. As for the three who preceded him; they have contributed to the blisters I'm sure are forming on my feet from pounding Surfside's streets for the past hour and a half.
Ethan wanted some computer game which he would otherwise have had to buy from the Internet, except like every other kid at the high school, when he wanted something, he wanted it now. Buying a computer game isn't beyond me, but standing listening to the sales clerk enthuse about the new version of a completely different game, assuming I'll understand, began to grate on my nerves somewhat. Twenty minutes later (or it may have been two, I was too polite to look at my watch but the time seemed to drag forever) I was out of the shop and on to look for Conner's boots.
Apparently, buying a pair of boots is not as easy as one would have thought. This is all I have to say on this, somewhat traumatic, matter.
And as for buying some rare CD for Kira… the items the guys had asked me to pick up were twenty times easier than attempting to find a CD by some female singer-songwriter that I had never heard of. Sure I enjoy music, but I'd never heard of this person, and was somewhat reluctant to ask for help. So, I ended up spending an hour in three CD stores before I finally found what Kira had asked me to look for.
After the traumatic experience, I decide I deserve something for me. I passed a menswear store on my travels, and I could do with something new to wear for work. I'd forgotten the trials of what to wear each day in high school, and the kids seem to notice what their teachers are wearing, so it'd be useful to have something extra to keep in my rotation of clothing.
Standing in the shirt section, trying to decide between the grey and the blue shirt, the sound of my phone ringing comes as something of a shock. I pull it out of my jacket pocket and see an unfamiliar number on the display screen, which must be Kim's. I flip the phone open, and say "Hello?"
"Hey. I should be done in about thirty minutes, and just wondered if you were still here or on your way back?" She sounds… rushed, maybe? Or nervous? Hard to tell.
"No, I'm still here. The shopping list my neighbour gave me was harder to finish than I thought it would be, so I should still be around in half an hour." Who are you kidding, Oliver? You'd go back to the sports store and endure another half-hour of embarrassment if it meant seeing Kim at the end of it.
Whoa. Where did that thought come from?
"Okay. Did you see a little café place called Gino's once you left the stationery shop?"
My memory's a lot better than it used to be, and I can confidently tell her, "The one between the florists and the bookstore?"
She laughs, and says lightly, "I'm never going to get used to this new and improved memory, you know. Do you want to meet me there in about forty-five minutes? I'll shout you a latte to apologise for yelling insults at you in the middle of a crowded room."
"With an offer like that, how can I resist?" Seriously, why are these words coming out of my mouth before I have time to think them through? Is my mind operated by a completely different system to that of my mouth? I meant to say 'Sure, that'll be fine, see you there', but completely missed the target.
"See you there then. I'll call if I'm held up, but it shouldn't be a problem."
And there the phone call ended, and that's why I'm currently holed up in what looks to be a family-run coffee shop with more soul than any of the many corporate places which line the city's streets, after finally choosing the grey shirt to make me look more distinguished in my role as a teacher. I've disobeyed Kim and already bought myself a coffee, but am concentrating on studying the back of the book I originally came to the city for. Anything to avoid contemplating why someone I hadn't thought of for years has suddenly taken over my mind.
I wouldn't say we were close friends, but that was more to do with the distance between us than any real animosity. Whenever we've seen each other, it's been like old times, except without the whole agenda of high school dating and all the shit that comes with it. We were both in college pretty near each other, and saw each other once or twice a semester. I met her boyfriend, she saw Kat, and once that ended, Megan. After that, I carried on with studying while she left the West Coast once more in search of work. The only real communication we had was through the group emails which circulated from time to time, and whenever either of us had a spare minute, we'd sometimes email the other just to chat, or to make light-hearted digs about the weather in Boston, or whether I'd forgotten all about my thesis. Although I never thought it could happen when I was 17 and got the 'letter', we had become like brother and sister.
Except somehow, somewhen, this has all changed. And I have no idea what's triggered it.
I'm too young to be having a midlife crisis. Hell, I'm in the middle of a never-ending mission to save the planet, in case you hadn't noticed. Megan wasn't happy with the amount of time I was spending with Hayley, but it was necessary once we'd found the Dino Gems, and I couldn't risk anyone else being let in on the secret. There would be no problem at all in mentioning that I was back in the business to Kim. But how would we carry on a relationship when I would have to run off every ten minutes to battle aliens and she'd be left at home?Way ahead of yourself there, Oliver. Stop it, now. Look at the back cover of the book; what attractive font in blue and green, describing the latest theory on why the dinosaurs became extinct…
"Heads up," I hear a voice from behind me say, and I drop the book as Kim comes around to sit at the other side of the booth near the window I'd chosen. She places her latte on the table, and grins at me. "Too impatient to wait for a drink to be bought for you? You must have been desperate."
"If I can put up with your company, I may stay long enough for you to buy me another one," I retort, and smile as she laughs back. This has been the general tone of our correspondence over the past couple of years, but now that we're seeing each other in person, there's definite chemistry there. I can't have been that dense to have missed it in our emails all this time, can I? We told each other about dates, potential partners, and the failings of the opposite sex. Is that what people do when they're subtly trying to decode the other one? This is far too complicated. Move the conversation on to easier subjects, and attempt to work this out when you've got more time. "Did you get the work done on time?"
She rolls her eyes, and takes a swallow of the drink before answering. "Yes, eventually, but I'm beginning to wonder if these people hired me to oversee those who do the design work, or to be at their beck and call. I was brought in to try and turn the department around, but they're just not letting me at the moment, and if it goes on much longer, it's going to be a problem."
"It sounds like you need to have a talk to your superiors about boundary issues," I advise, but something must have shown on my face, because Kim adopts an expression that shows she's waiting for me to elaborate, and it's my turn to take a drink before I answer. "The principal of the high school where I teach is slightly… over-friendly, shall I say, and it's very close to becoming professional misconduct on her part." It sounds serious when I say it, but Kim immediately bursts into a fit of laughter, and I have to wait for the laughs to subside before she can explain.
"It doesn't change, does it? Even in high school you had Miss Appleby eating out of the palm of your hand, and still the legendary Oliver charm can work its magic on your boss." She grins to show she means no offence, and although it embarrasses me to say it, I can kind of see her point.
"Yeah, but… still, there needs to be some kind of line, doesn't there? If it's crossed, things can get extremely messy." Our eyes meet as I say this, and it dawns on me how my comment could be construed. If she's even feeling the same way as I am. It must be the weather, coupled with the fact that I haven't dated anyone since Megan, and that was over a year ago. Those factors, along with the fact that Kim was my first girlfriend, are just making me feel things that I don't really feel. That's all.
She shrugs, and her expression is blank, leaving me unable to tell whether she's even on my wavelength. "If things don't get any better, I'll have to talk to my boss, because I'm not planning on sticking around to be used as a lackey. From the sounds of it, you should probably talk to someone who can help you with your problem as well." She twists round in her seat to stare at the food counter, and makes it clear that the conversation is closed.
After his little 'crossing the lines' monologue, I do my best to keep our conversation strictly entendre-free. We discuss what it was like to live in this general area, whether it was odd for Tommy being on the other side of the teacher/pupil divide, and how long it has been since we'd seen various members of the group.
"Have you spoken to Jason recently?" Tommy asks, as he plays with his second empty cup, the latte that I promised him having been consumed over the past fifteen minutes. I think we've been sitting in Gino's for forty-five minutes, but I can hardly bring myself to care that I'm bone-tired and would like to get back to my place before Desperate Housewives starts.
"No, I haven't really spoken to anyone for quite a while. There were all kinds of complications with the move to back West, and it kept me busy for the longest time. I've been in Surfside for a while I know, but I had to settle in and the job's been a nightmare to settle in to. I've emailed Trini a couple of times to let her know I'm okay, but apart from that, you're the first person I've talked to since I've been here. It seems like since we all became disparate again, it's getting harder and harder to keep in touch with people."
Is there a hint of something more than comprehension of the bare facts in Tommy's eyes? I can't be sure; it may just be a combination of the coffee and my tiredness making me see things that aren't there. But it looks as though he understands more than just the fact that it's hard to stay in contact with people these days. Whatever else he may have thought isn't reflected in his next phrase, which is,
"I sure know that feeling… and I hate to say this, given what we're talking about, but I'm going to have to start heading back. It's an hour's drive back, and I've got a pop quiz that needs marking to give back to my students tomorrow morning."
Was that a sinking feeling you just felt there, Kim? Don't let it happen again. It was only because you haven't seen any of your old friends for so long. Nothing more. "Sure, I understand. I should probably head home as well, they're going to need me at work early to prepare for the presentation."
We stand up and exit the restaurant, Tommy holding the door open for me as always, which is a not unwelcome reminder of the old times. He scratches the back of his neck, and says, "My car's parked that way.." pointing to the opposite direction to my apartment. I can hardly walk that way, then turn around and walk straight back as soon as he's out of sight, just for the sake of spending a few more minutes with him.
"I live that way," I say, reluctantly pointing in the other direction. "I guess this is where we say goodbye."
Tommy shifts awkwardly from foot to foot, then suddenly brightens as he has an idea. "I have your cell number from you calling me earlier today. I have to come up to Surfside pretty regularly to pick up stuff for school I can't get in Reefside. How about next time I come up I give you a call and we go out to lunch?"
Something as small and insignificant as lunch should not excite me as much as it does. But I'm giving up on examining my feelings, for the moment at least. Maybe he'll call, maybe he won't. We'll just have to see.
"Yeah, I'd like that," I say, trying to betray no emotion. He's looking towards the direction his car is parked, and I have an uncomfortable feeling that I may have misread the signals. After all, it's been a hell of a long time since I've been able to read his thoughts like a favourite novel you read every year, and it could very well be that all this has just been politeness.
Oh well. At the beginning of the day I had no hopes of anything happening between us. When I go to sleep, I'll make damn sure I have no hopes of him calling me. So what if there was a little lapse in between?
He turns back towards me, and smiles sadly, for reasons which I do not understand. "I'll talk to you soon, Kim," he says, and bends down to give me a slight hurried kiss on the cheek before turning and walking quickly away.
I refuse to watch him leave. So I walk slowly back home, trying unsuccessfully to think of how I'll approach my problems at work, whether I need to pick up milk at the grocery store, or whether I need to book a hair appointment in the next couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, all I can think of is him…