Recently, I discovered that old episodes of MMPR were available on YouTube. This program was dear to me as a child, especially the relationship between Tommy and Kimberly. When I heard that Jason David Frank had reprised his role on one of the new generations of Power Rangers, Dino Thunder, I leisurely followed the series development online and discovered that Dr. Oliver had no obvious romantic interests throughout the show, I started toying with ideas of how Dr. Oliver, now presumably in his late 20s would react to Kimberly's return, now that he's hung up the armor for what seems to be the final time. I also discovered that the actress that played Trini, Thuy Trang, met a tragic death in a car accident in 2001. I wondered what would happen if news of Trini's death (moved forward a few years) brought Kim and Tommy together, after Tommy has retired from the Dino Thunder Rangers and they've been out of touch for almost 10 years. This story was born.
The wind was changing in Reefside. Even after the threat was gone and he'd watched with a small smile as his retired team of Dino Thunder Rangers walked the stage and get their diplomas and Hayley followed her own ambitions to another city, Dr. Thomas Oliver remained. He took joy from his teaching and outside of school, he busied himself with research, and the occasional martial arts practice in his living room.
He carried on as he had before the discovery of the stones that started the next era. In the morning, his alarm went off. Ten minutes later, his phone alarm went off. Ten minutes after that his watch alarm went off, and he would get up and face the day. He sat at his table, feet propped up in a chair, sipping coffee for a moment and reading the newspaper. He would shower, go over his notes for class, and head to school. He taught with firmness and a ready smile and encouraged every student, and when he came home, the house was empty. He had dinner, maybe caught an episode of Law and Order, prepared for class, and when he went to bed, he lay on his back staring at his ceiling for hours. In his mind, he always attributed it to insomnia, medical and rational and factual and not at all linked to the loneliness eating him away.
It was in those hours with the lights off and the world around him sleeping and silent that Tommy allowed himself to think back on days in his youth when he'd been the happiest. Now, he wasn't old, even if his 30th birthday loomed on the horizon, but so many years of fighting--he felt aged. He looked back on his high school years, remembered how invincible he felt, how loved and surrounded by amazing friends, and he wished for those days.
Now, those friends were scattered across the country, the globe even. Every now and then, he'd get a call from Jason and they'd reminisce their glory days. Kat sent him a card from London on his birthday every year, and sometimes Billy would contact him from Aquitar. Trini made a point to send a letter his way once in a while, and Zack emailed him sometimes, just to catch up. Adam and Tanya, recently engaged, made contact now and again, mostly to pester Tommy about his marital status. Rocky and Aisha stayed close to each other but denied any romantic intentions on either side, but the pair was devoted to keeping in touch with fellow rangers. Tommy's heart soared every time he could see, talk to, or write back to one of his trusted friends, but he found that the one he missed the most was the most elusive in reality and the most frequent visitor to his dreams.
He often considered trying to find her, bracing himself for a vision of her married, even pregnant. He knew he had the resources to find her, knew that she kept in contact with the original five religiously and often called up Aisha to chat. His bitterness about the letter had faded with the years, leaving only questions. He had a feeling that Jason knew more than he let on, but Jason never did more than drop hints, mention her name sometimes, then let it go.
He wondered why she never tried to contact him again after she and Jason had been rescued from the clutches of Divatox. When Kat left for London and they parted with smiles, it wasn't nearly like his parting with the original Pink Ranger; he likened that moment to someone tearing out his lungs and asking him to keep on breathing.
In those moments at night when sleep escaped him, Tommy thought of Kimberly. His first love, the girl whose scent and smile still lingered in the nooks and crannies of his heart. Even years later, even after being dropped by a Dear John letter then having to fight her when evil claimed her mind then letting her slip through his fingers the final time, he still missed her. He longed to hear her laugh, see her smile, see the look of trust and maybe a wink that she'd always given him, and only him. He wished for the sound of her voice.
Late one evening, when he was pulling his shirt over his shoulders and getting ready to settle into bed with some notes for class and one the free magazines of open real estate he'd picked up at a gas station, his cell phone rang, and he got his wish.
"Tommy-- it's me. It's Kimberly."
He was stunned speechless for a moment, then was stuttering like a nervous teenager again. The shocked numbed him to the grief so starkly evident in her voice.
"Kim! Wow, um, hello! It's been so long, I don't--"
"I know, Tommy, and I'm sorry. But... Tommy--"
He heard her tears now, and his fingers automatically tightened around the receiver, fear and anger and worry immediately fighting for precedence in his mind.
"What's wrong, Kim? What's happened?"
"It's Trini..." She was fighting so hard for her composure, and losing. Images of the top of her head, her wringing hands, and the soft purr of the constant ocean flashed through his mind until her words interrupted them. "She's gone, Tommy. There was a terrible car accident, and... she's gone."
He felt his mouth hanging open, felt the breath stolen from him and the shock of grief starting to bloom. He swallowed with difficulty, and remembered Kim. One of her closest friends... "Oh, no... Kim. This is... awful.. I can't believe... Trini? I just got a letter from her last week..."
Kim was crying openly now, and Tommy couldn't bare it. "Where are you, Kim? What about the others?"
"The Kwans called me, and I'm getting on a plane within the hour. You're the first I called... The Kwans asked me to contact the others... said I knew the ones closest to her. I think they were suspicious, Tommy, but they didn't mention it, just asked me to contact her friends. You're the first I called..."
"Are you alone?"
The question, murmured through his clenched teeth and pushed passed the lump in his throat, caught her off-guard. "Y-yes. I am alone."
Her answer rid Tommy of all bitterness that Kat had tried for years to bring to his surface and sweep away. Rocky had tried to cover it with jokes and karate and fast food; Billy and Adam tried reason, Aisha, companionship; in their sparring matches, Jason had tried to beat his feelings out of him, and Katherine gave herself. All had failed. But Kimberly's soft admission of solitude, her brave struggle to control her emotions for him, her simple apology, and the sincerity and uncertainty in her voice as she confessed that she had called him first brought weakness to his knees and balm to the break in his heard that healed crookedly. He stood up and started to pace the room, forcing strength into his legs.
"Where are you now?"
"I'm in France, visiting my mother and stepfather for the week. I'm actually in a taxi, on the way to the airport. I got the call while I was seeing the sights on my own-- I didn't even go back to my mother to say goodbye. I'm leaving immediately. It's 10 in the morning here." Her voice was stronger, but still soft and trembling with emotion.
A combination of grief and the very intense urge to be with Kimberly muddled his thoughts, and Tommy barely managed to respond as rationally as he did. "Your... your flight. When does it leave and where will it take you?"
She was confused. "I uh... called in a charge to a flight that leaves at 11 am here. I'll switch planes in Atlanta and from there, fly directly to Angel Grove."
"I'll meet you in Atlanta."
"W-what?" she sputtered.
"I said I'll meet you in Atlanta and fly back with you. What's your flight number?"
"Tommy, that's ridiculous! You're already close to Angel Grove! You're going to fly across the country, then fly back?"
Even though they were an ocean apart, Tommy stopped pacing and squared his shoulders, as if bracing himself for her stubborn protests in person. "You shouldn't be alone."
Kimberly started to rattle off reasons for him to stay put but he ignored them. He held the phone between his shoulder and his ear and dressed quickly. While she ranted, he typed a short email to Principal Randall, taking the rest of the week off due to a death in the family. After all, the Rangers were his family. Then, he interrupted Kim's protests. "Kim, I'm coming. I might be a school teacher, but I'm not broke, ok? I'm fine. The two of us can talk on the flight. You shouldn't do this alone."
"Tommy..." Her voice was so soft; he didn't know what conclusions to draw from her tone. Finally, she took a deep breath, but said nothing. He surged on.
"I'll help you call the others. If you can call Jason, Zack, and Aisha, I can call Rocky, Adam, and get word to Billy. Adam will tell Tanya, and Tanya will tell Katherine; Justin never knew Trini. I'll get right on this, Kim, and I'll see you in Atlanta. We'll get through this. Take care."
He had nearly hung up when he heard her whisper. "Tommy?"
Before he could respond, she bit back a shuddering sob and hung up.
Tommy quickly did the math to see how long it would take him and Kimberly respectively to reach Atlanta. For him, it would take about five hours, but she would take almost 8. It was past 1 in the morning now-- he saw that a flight left for Atlanta at 4:08 am, making the arrival times of his and Kim's flights only minutes apart. He booked it, then settled into his couch with his cell phone in his lap. After he took a few moments for his own grief, he rubbed his eyes and went down to his lab to prepare a transmission to Aquitar.
Two hours later, the calls were made. However upset Adam and Rocky were, they had known Trini for a very short time. But Billy's grief was unadulterated, almost bringing Tommy's composure crumbling down.
The intensity of the original Blue Ranger's reaction confirmed a theory that had long ruminated in Tommy's mind, and he ached for his friend. The transmission was fuzzy, but Billy's shocked pallor was clear.
Billy resorted to logic, asking for details about the accident, the extent of her injuries, the circumstances, everything. His reaction woke his wife Cestria, who was frightened by his state. Tommy the reality of the situation seeping in as Billy, stunned and pale, tried to find the presence of mind to embrace his wife and assure her that he was well.
Tommy felt himself starting to stagger under the reality of the situation. He mumbled a promise to contact them again when he had more details, then closed the transmission.
Even as a newcomer to the group, Tommy had seen the bond between Billy and Trini-- she understood him, overcame her fears to save him. He counted on her during a crisis requiring technological ingenuity, allowed her to bring him from his shell. Tommy had often wondered if either party had wanted to be more than friends. Neither had ever acted on it, but it didn't diminish their connection.
And as much as he felt for Billy, he couldn't begin to imagine what Kim's initial reaction had been in comparison. Certainly she would have taken time to attempt control before calling him, and even then, her struggle was obvious. He admired her strength of will, but it hurt him that she felt like she couldn't be open with him. Time and a very infamous letter lay far between them.
As he drove to the airport, the streets of Reefside were deathly still. Billy's face still haunted his mind, and Kim's trembling voice seemed to echo throughout the SUV. The bond between the original five was intense-- he could only imagine the reactions Kim would be receiving from Jason and Zack. Trini's successor, Aisha, couldn't be much less distraught. Though, Rocky might reach Aisha with the news before Kim.
And Kimberly, who had arguably been the closest to Trini, would swallow her own grief to comfort her friends. Every protective instinct he possessed was screaming in protest. And, somewhere, an old desire for answers was awakening. Five hours on a plane together would probably be enough time to scratch the surface.
When Tommy was settled on the plane, he had almost dozed off when his cellphone rang. He snatched it up, hoping to see Kim's name on the caller ID.
Instead, the it reported "Katherine."
"Tommy, I just heard the news. I'm so sorry." Her Australian accented voice sounded soft with grief.
"Thanks, Kat. I'm on a plane, so I might lose you."
"You're flying into Angel Grove now, I guess?"
Tommy opened his mouth, then shut it. The trip made perfect sense to him, but to explain it to the woman who had tried so hard to replace Kimberly was another matter entirely. In the end, he knew one thing: he was a crappy liar.
"Actually, I'm taking a little side trip first."
"Atlanta. To meet Kimberly."
Kat was silent for a moment, digesting what that admission meant. And though she was happily engaged in London, Tommy was willing to bet that the news wasn't particularly welcome.
"Tommy... I know how much you care about her..."
"Trini was Kimberly's best friend; they grew up together, and even after Trini went to Switzerland and Kim went to Florida, they never lost track of each other. And Kim is alone right now; I can't stand it."
"You're trying to rescue her, Tommy. You always have. And even 10 years later, she still counts on you to save her."
He didn't bother denying it. "She protested at first, but right before she hung up, she thanked me."
"I don't want you to get hurt again."
"Kat, one of my closest friends is dead. One of Kim's closest friends. That's the reality. 10 years is a long time. Trust me; I'm an adult, so is Kim. This isn't the time to catch up, reminisce about high school, or see if the spark is still there. It isn't the time to ask questions, wonder what might have been. It's time to mourn. As a family."
Kat felt the soft reprimand in her former leader's voice. She sighed. "You know, I had hoped that the first Ranger Reunion of this magnitude would be Adam and Tanya's wedding. But have no doubt, Tommy-- every ranger that ever knew or knew about Trini will be there. The Power joins us all."
Static warned Tommy that his connection was shaky. "You're right, Kat. I'll be in touch. Take care."
Tommy felt the gravity of his grief hanging heavy over him. He gave into sleep to escape the pain of memories that once brought him incomparable joy.
Though five hours had passed, timezones dictated that it was 6:15am when Tommy landed in Atlanta. He had slept four of the five hours, but he did not feel rested. Kim's plane was due in ten minutes. He found her gate, sat down. He got back up and began to pace.
"Flight 418 from Paris has just been cleared; please await your party in front of Gate 3-A."
Tommy thought he was prepared to see Kimberly again.
He was wrong.
When he caught a flash of her brown hair, Tommy froze. Anger, joy, betrayal, desire, and an intense sense of nostalgia flared in his chest. But when the crowd sifted through the gate, and his view of her was clear, Tommy's heart broke for her.
Kim came through the gate clutching a pink handbag to her chest. Her hair was disheveled, her black blouse was wrinkled. Dark circles and streams of mascara underscored her eyes, stark against the pallor of her skin. Her face held little expression and no light.
She whirled, eyes searching. When their eyes met, she bit her lip as her eyes filled, and started walking towards him. Tommy broke into a jog, hearing Kim's sniffles begin. When he reached her, Tommy wrapped Kim in his arms and crushed her to his chest. Whatever unresolved issues and unanswered questions lay between them, in their grief, they were united.
Kim's composure crumbled. She cried softly into Tommy's chest, shoulders trembling. Tommy's senses were reeling from his embrace with Kim, but he manage to whisper in her ear.
"It's okay, Kim. Shh. We'll all get through this."
Kim pulled away, and Tommy was incredibly tempted to wipe her tears away. "I can't believe she's gone, Tommy," she whispered. "After everything Trini lived through... it isn't right."
"Nothing about this is right, Kim," he murmured, still holding her shoulders. His own lingering sense of responsibility toward his team had taken a guilty blow, however irrational. He felt he had somehow failed to protect Trini from death and the others from this grief. The death of a Power Ranger, even a retired one, seemed like defeat. Tommy swallowed these feelings, refocusing on Kimberly.
"Come on, let's go get your bags."
She didn't move when he tried to lead her towards the baggage claim. In fact, the barest, smallest hint of sheepish mirth danced in her eyes behind the tears. "No need."
"I... uh... I didn't bring any. I came straight to the airport and called Mom and Pierre right after I called you."
Tommy cocked an eyebrow. Kimberly Ann Hart being so impulsive that she forgot her baggage? That had to be a first.
She looked embarrassed so he smiled, took her elbow, and led her to the gate for their flight to Angel Grove. "I'm sure your mom can ship your clothes to you, and we'll make due until then."
When they were seated on the plane and in the air, Tommy turned to Kim. She met his eyes wearily.
"How did the others take the news?" he asked softly, unable to put it into words.
Kim sighed, and looked out the window of the plane. "Aisha was on the phone with Rocky when I called her; she'd already heard the news. We talked for a few minutes, then she got back on with Rocky. She'd been crying. I called Zack next and woke him up. When I told him, Tommy, he didn't believe me-- he said he'd just talked to her yesterday, and just started talking so fast I couldn't understand him. When I finally got through to him, he just stuttered that he would be in Angel Grove as soon as he could find a plane to get him there."
Tommy wanted to ask what Zack was up to, where he was in the world. The time would come.
Kim let her head rest on the chair and closed her tear-stained eyes. "Jason..."
Tommy tensed as her voice trailed off.
"I've known Jason since we were children. Even before Rita came, even as kids, Jason appointed himself as my protector. When I met Trini, we became inseparable. Eventually, Jason just extended his protective nature to her as well. When we met Zordon and had to face real danger, his need to protect us grew. Of course, you know all the guys on the team were always looking out for us, even if we could defend ourselves. But with Jason... it was different."
She took a deep breath, opened her eyes. "Tommy, he was crushed. I was crying, and for the first time, I actually heard Jason cry. He said he felt like a failure for not protecting Trini from the accident and me from the agony of her loss. He was...crushed."
Tommy was stunned; Jason's reaction sounded so close to his own. When he didn't respond immediately, he felt Kim's knowing gaze land on him. After all, no one had ever known him as well as she. He met her eyes, and her gaze was understanding, but she said nothing. Finally, he ventured.
"I understand how Jason feels."
A moment of heavy silence passed before Kimberly asked, "What about the others?"
"Rocky and Adam were both upset, but Kim, Billy—his face went white, he started peppering me with questions. He almost lost it. He barely managed to hug Cestria, he was so stunned. Kim..."
She sensed his question, and nodded. "Billy and Trini were very close; I know they loved each other. Before the Peace Conference, they entertained the idea of being more than just very good friends. But neither of them wanted a long-distance relationship, but they were always the closest of friends."
Kim seemed to realize what she'd said. She bit her lip, and looked away. Tommy's eyes were burning a whole in the back of her head. So much time passed, he thought she'd dozed off, but she surprised him when took in a deep breath.
"Tommy... I owe you an explanation. And an apology."
Despite how his heart began to pound, Tommy whispered. "Kim... we can do this later..." Many passengers from the Paris flight had dozed off.
She shook her head. "No... no. I've been a coward for too long. And we have four more hours," she noted with a small smile. She didn't face him, just stared ahead as she spoke.
"Tommy, leaving you and the others for the Pan-Globals was the second hardest thing I've ever done. When I got to Florida and started training, I hardly had time to think during the day. Everything seemed to stop though, when you called or I got a letter from you. We were both incredibly busy and so far apart; those moments were all we had. Soon, it became not a positive reminder of what I had at home, but a negative reminder of what I was missing. When I talked to you and the others, I missed you even more than when I didn't. I started to get distracted."
Tommy hardly blinked, focusing on Kim and her story.
"Did you or the others watch the Pan-Globals?" she asked suddenly, pausing the narrative.
Tommy winced. "The day of the gymnastics competition, there was an intense battle. We missed them. And... I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch them since I had gotten your letter just a few days before...And no one else ever brought them up."
Kim nodded, accepting it with a grimace. "It's okay that you didn't see the Games. I didn't compete."
Tommy's eyes widened. "But... why? Kim, that was your dream! You gave up your powers to compete in those games!"
Kim touched his arm to remind him to lower his voice, glancing around. Most passengers were asleep or listening to the flight movie through headsets.
"I know. But like I said, I missed home, being a ranger, you, the others... so much, I didn't sleep well. When I didn't sleep well, I didn't train well. Coach started to push me harder, as he should have. But all the stress was messing with my focus. Four weeks before the competition, I was injured. I was practicing a vault-- my hands slipped, and my back hit the horse...hard. I couldn't compete because I was in the hospital, hoping I'd be able to walk again."
Tommy's mouth was hanging open, and his knuckles were white against the armrests. "Oh, God. Kim...Why didn't you tell me? Are you okay now?"
She chose the second question. "Due to swelling around my spine, I was paralyzed for a few days-- the scariest few days of my life. And my injury took me out of the competition... and out of any competition. The risk of paralysis was too great. At first, I didn't call because I was in surgeries. When I woke up, I was too upset. Days passed, and I started to be ashamed of my injury. I'd left the Power Rangers only to be injured doing a vault I'd practiced hundreds of times, replaced by an alternate in the Games, and given a clipboard and USA jacket. I felt like a failure."
Tommy shut his eyes, hating it. "I would have been there for you."
"I know. You all would have been. But I was too ashamed, too afraid. But you were devoted, and kept calling me. Every time we talked, I hated not telling you and hated how ashamed and weak I felt. I got so depressed that one night, crying my eyes out, I wrote you the letter."
Tommy didn't know whether to be furious or overjoyed. "There wasn't another guy?"
"There was no one but myself," Kim whispered, hiding her face. "A few days after I sent you the letter, Coach was so concerned by my drastic depression that he had me see a psychiatrist who immediately put me on antidepressants. They helped me come to myself, deal with the reality. But the letter was done. And when you didn't call or write back, I thought that perhaps, you might have been better off. I tried to pick up the pieces of my life, and go on."
"After the Games, Coach Schmidt offered me a coaching job at his facility. I assisted him every day after school." Kim took another deep breath. "Jason was home from Switzerland for a week and surprised me with a visit. When he asked to see my medals, how the competition went, I couldn't avoid it like I could when he wrote letters. He learned the truth and decided to spend his whole week with me, trying to cheer me up, especially when I told him that I'd broken up with you. Unfortunately, our weekend was interrupted by Divatox." She grimaced at the memory. "You know that story."
Tommy nodded grimly. The Flame of Maligore had brought Jason and Kimberly's smallest resentments and most secret jealousies to light. Jason's old hurt over being replaced as leader was amplified by the flame, causing him to attack Tommy. Kim's envy toward Kat was magnified and she'd lashed out viciously at Katherine. Jason, under the spell, had shouted to Tommy "Now, I'm the one with the muscles and the power!" And Kimberly's utterance to Katherine—a comment that had mystified Tommy for years, now made sense.
"Friends? I don't have any friends."
With this new information, now, he understood. Though it was partially her fault for shutting everyone out, the injury and severe depression had driven Kim—who had always thrived on relationships and contact with others—into intense loneliness and abandonment.
Tommy was quiet as he digested it all, then finally wondered, "After Jason, Adam, and I competed in the martial arts competition, we all went out to dinner, but you didn't come and Jason wouldn't say a word. Where did you go? We... we could have talked."
Kim sniffed. "I was a coward. I saw you and Kat together. When I was ev... under the spell, you protected her from me. When you and the guys won the tournament, I watched the her run right into your arms. You looked so happy; I didn't want to get in the way. I thought that my breaking up with you might somehow have made your life better, and I wanted to hang on to that. I said goodbye to Jason, then I went back to Florida. Back to school, and back to being an assistant coach. You didn't... you didn't come after me. Again."
Tommy laid a hand on her arm. "I didn't think you wanted me to..." He quickly drew his hand away. "Back then, I thought... I thought you and Jase..."
When he couldn't finish, he met Kim's astonished stare. Then, she actually laughed. "Tommy, Jason is like my own blood. You know that."
He gave a small, sheepish smile. "Of course I do. But when the two of you showed up together, and seemed so close... I jumped to conclusions. He set me in my place when you left and I tried to grill him."
Kim smiled at that, then looked out the window for a moment, lost in thought. Tommy's sudden intake of air and tight hand on her arm must have startled her from it, as she jumped just slightly.
"Couldn't you have been seriously injured in those fights with Divatox?"
She sighed. "The risk is always there. Screws in my lower backbone keep the vertebrae in place, but it's not fail-safe. Another serious fall or blow like the one I took in training could paralyze me. I was lucky."
Tommy closed his eyes, willing his heart to stop pounding so desperately. The soft murmur of multiple earphones and the whistle of the air going by the plane filled his ears until he spoke. "I'm sorry you were alone, Kim. I'm sorry you were hurt."
She shook her head vehemently as she toyed with her purse. "It was my own fault." Before he could disagree, she continued. "I learned, though. After Maligore. I tried to track down some friends from Angel Grove. Jason. Zack. Aisha. Kat. Kat told me about Billy and Cestria, and even helped me contact him a few times." When Tommy's eyebrows shot up, she hastened to say, "I asked her not to say anything to you." Her eyes clouded. "Then there was Trini. I told Trini everthing, and she was always there for me."
Tommy was hurt that she hadn't tried to contact him those years ago, but Trini's name closed the subject for the moment. Kim began to cry softly, so Tommy slid a gentle arm around her shoulders. 10 years created distance but also tore down walls. Besides, their grief made them one.
But when Kim turned and cried into his shoulders, that emotion that jumped into his throat was not sorrow. He swallowed hard and whispered. "I know, Kim, I know. I'm here; it's okay," until she dozed off.
She fell sound asleep, head resting on his shoulder. He had so many other questions and the urge to explain more about his own life, particularly as it related to Katherine. He wanted to know what she'd done after high school, how long she'd stayed in Florida, where she'd been before she'd gone to visit her family in Paris. But her rhythmic breathing and lazy hand curled into his shirt lulled him into a comfortable, if distracted, sleep.
When Tommy woke up, he felt disoriented. He shot up in his seat as the memories of the past hours came crashing back. A gentle hand on his arm immediately helped him to relax.
He blinked. Kim was bleary-eyed, as if she too had just woken up. She still hadn't bothered to wash the mascara streaks from her face. He eased himself back into his seat, and Kim withdrew her hand, leaving a small cold area on his arm.
"You get a nap?" he wondered, rubbing his eyes.
"A bit. We're landing in an hour."
Tommy shook himself back into reality. Both were edging away from the shock of grief; dull acceptance was setting in, and Tommy had questions. After a few minutes of silence, he ventured them. "So, what were Zack and Trini up to after the Peace Conference? I know what Jase has been doing; since his stint as the Gold Ranger, we've kept in touch. And what have you been up to these past years besides coaching?"
Kim sighed. "Jason's stuck around California, got a business degree and opened up a dojo, as you know. And he's still talking to Emily actually. Won't get serious no matter how much I bug him about it. Zack graduated high school in Switzerland, then went to NYU to study performing arts. Last time we talked, he told me he was dancing in an off-Broadway show. I was going to try and go see it before it closed." Kim swallowed. "Trini went to Cambridge and studied engineering. After she graduated, she also came back to California and was working in Sacramento before the accident. She was dating a guy named Craig; last time we talked, she said he'd started dropping hints about marriage."
Tommy digested that with shut eyes and tight fists. After a heavy grief-filled pause, Kim continued. "While I assisted Coach Schmidt, I finished high school, then put myself through college at UFA. Before the accident, I was planning to major in Phys Ed and get a job teaching and coaching at high school. I still could have coached cheerleading and taught PE if I wanted to, but I didn't want to be a coach that couldn't demonstrate moves or be reminded of everything. My coaching with Schmidt was a strictly clipboard-carrying and verbal coaching. Coach wouldn't allow me to go against the doctor's recommendations by getting on the bars or beam or vault, even the floor. The day I fell, I lost my career as a gymnast, and my back-up career as a good coach."
He took her hand. "I'm sorry, Kim."
"I've learned to cope. It's just a sport. Wearing the jacket and carrying the clipboard has been enough. In college, I majored in Elementary Education and minored in Music. I was in the process of negotiating a move back to California and searching for a job close to Angel Grove. Coach gave me a week of vacation to visit my mom and stepfather."
Tommy nodded; he'd always predicted that if she didn't stay with gymnastics, that Kim would work with children or go into the music industry.
She gave a weak smile. "I heard you shocked everyone by getting your PhD in paleontology and becoming a high school science teacher. I never would have seen it coming. Although, the other part of your job... I saw that one coming a mile away."
He lifted a brow. "You heard about that?"
She shrugged. "No matter how many different teams there are, we all stick together. News travels."
He returned a tired smile. "Well, I guess I never shook the dinosaurs from our first go. And I missed you guys. So I studied fossils like they were some kind of reminder of the good times we had back then."
The pilot announced that they would be landing in Angel Grove in 15 minutes.
"Is there a special lady in your life? What about Kat?"
Tommy's eyebrows shot up; he turned his gaze upon Kim's face, tenderly noticing that she couldn't meet his eyes. "Kat and I dated off and on back in high school. It was never very serious; when she got the opportunity to study ballet in London, we ended it and decided to stick to being friends. She's still in London and happily engaged.
"In college, I met a girl named Hayley who helped me design the—" he lowered his voice to a whisper, "--morphers for the team I coached. We were good as partners, but never interested in anything more. She moved away recently. So, no... there is no special lady in my life."
He could swear that her posture relaxed. Spurred, he ventured, "What about you?"
She grimaced; obviously, talking about the letter was difficult for her. "Like I said, there never was another guy. But I couldn't take back what I'd done, not when you were happy with Kat at the time. I wanted to explain, but I never worked up the courage. I haven't dated much at all. I spent all my time either studying or coaching until I graduated college. After finishing college, I spent two years working with Coach while I searched for a job and house in my spare time." She smiled a little. "The only men in my life have been Coach, my physical therapist, and Jason."
Tommy opened his mouth to comment, but the pilot's voice interrupted him. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now flying into Angel Grove. Please put on your seat belts and prepare to land."
When they got off the plane, it was almost three in the afternoon. The pair stood in the middle of the airport as crowds of determined people flowed around them. Tommy scuffed his foot on the floor, crossing and uncrossing his arms.
"Should I drop you off at the Kwans? Get you a hotel?" He almost suggested that she stay with him since Reefside wasn't too far from Angel Grove, but he bit his tongue. After all, five hours paled in the face of 10 years.
"I can get a cab, Tommy, really," she mumbled, avoiding his eyes.
He stood a little taller, deciding. "I'll take you straight to the Kwan's house, what do you think?"
She nodded absently, following his lead as she pulled out her cell phone. He listened to her side of the conversation.
"Hi, Mrs. Kwan. Yes, I just landed in Angel Grove. No, that's okay, Tommy's here... Really? I'll ask him. Yes, we're on the way. Sure. I know, Mrs. Kwan, I know...Okay. Goodbye."
Kim slid the phone back into her purse, then met Tommy's eyes. He noted that hers were misting again.
"Mrs. Kwan wants both of us to come to dinner with the family. She said Jason is already there and that Zack should be landing soon. She... she asked if I knew how to get in touch with Billy."
Tommy started walking, leading Kim towards the parking lot. He frowned. "The original team," he noted softly. "Do you think they... do you think they're expecting us to..."
"Probably," Kim sighed. "They suspected, and now that she's gone, they want to know for sure. We'll have to talk to Jason when we get there... that is, if you want to go."
Tommy was quiet for a moment; as much as his heart broke for Trini and her family, if he was honest with himself... he didn't want to let Kimberly out of his sight. For both selfish and unselfish reasons.
"Kim, I want to be there. For the Kwans, Jase and the others... and you. Let's go." Out of habit, he reached for her hand.
END PART ONE
I thought this would be a one-shot, but more needs to be said. I'm thinking either one more part, or two. Though, I could certainly leave it here... Let me know what you think. Please review.