Author's Note: I'm sorry for the wait between chapters. I'm doing a correspondence course at the moment and it has eaten into my free time considerably. I hope to be able to update sooner next time, and hope that you enjoy the following chapter!!
I am well aware that I am a drama queen. It's both a blessing and a curse. I can use my hyperactivity to get me into a lot of trouble in this respect. If I get an idea in my head, I normally run with it. And then run a little more, and then more until it's the end of the line and there's nowhere else to go.
Which makes what I just read a very, very bad thing.
This is the month where you will get what you want - but only with a little coercing, a lot of persuasion, and your last hope.
Now, that could mean anything. It could mean that I get the last top in the sale at Barney's. It could mean that I get a seat on the bus for the first time in forever.
But surely this is something more than mere coincidence? The week that I decide to make an all-encompassing, extremely daunting and incredibly stupid list, I pick up my monthly copy of Glamour magazine, which tells me that this will be the month which changes my life.
Not in so many words, but still...
I'm getting ready for dinner at Trini and Jason's, only three days after Trini and I made the first draft of my list. And it only took me thirty minutes after leaving the coffee shop to realise that the list is probably a very bad idea.
Sure, my life isn't perfect. And I'd like to be a more rounded individual. Wouldn't everyone? I coasted through college, only took classes I thought would be interesting and consequently left school with very little idea of what I actually wanted to do with my life.
I moved back to California when I was 23, following Trini back to Angel Grove, and that's when I met Stephen. I was working in an architect's office at the time, and he was working at one of the banks downtown. I always stopped off at the nearby Starbucks before work to get my morning caffeine fix, and I saw him practically everyday, waiting in line before me for his tall cappucino.
It only took a few conversations at the table where they keep the sugar before he asked me out on a date. Originally I'd only admired him for purely aesthetic purposes - tall, dark blond hair, swimmer's physique and a gorgeous smile - but he was actually a really nice person, and we shared the same, sarcastic sense of humour. One date turned to two, and two turned to five, and before I knew it we'd been dating for two years and he asked me to marry him.
And then... well. Let's just say that the baseball through the windshield was very well deserved, and leave it there, shall we? Water under the bridge, and all that.
I rush through my cramped apartment, trying to find something clean and crease-free to wear. In my haste to find somewhere close to the centre of town to live, I ended up compromising on space, and have never gathered up the energy to find somewhere with more than ten feet of space around me in any one room. I moved more times than I wanted to when I was younger, and I quite like the feeling of having put down roots.
I find a purple top in the bathroom, which is both clean and wrinkle-free, and has the added bonus of co-ordinating with my jeans I planned on wearing. We've had the Sunday dinners for a few years now, and although I'd love an excuse to wear some of the more fancy clothes gathering dust in my wardrobe, there's very little point in breaking out a dress only to have Charlie spill milk on it.
I almost make it to the bathroom to get changed when I hear the cordless phone ringing. Unfortunately, my apartment is less than tidy, and by the time I find the phone nestling in the fruit bowl the caller has hung up.
"If you want me, call my cell," I mumble, hoping the missed call only means I have escaped the focus of the telemarketers, and not someone I could actually need to speak to. Still, I'm late, and I need to look pretty, which takes a little effort.
My purse starts buzzing, and the caller has taken my instructions by calling my mobile phone. Still, at least I know my purse is on my sofa, and I root around various tubes of lipgloss before finding my phone and walking back towards the bathroom while pushing the talk button. "Hello?"
"Have you left yet?" Tommy asks, sounding slightly rushed.
I pause outside the bathroom door, and lean against the wall of my living room, staring in despair at the amount of junk that litters the floor and every available surface. One day, I really have to start spring cleaning. Focus on that, instead of acting on a stupid crush that will really go away soon. Honestly. The fact that my knees are starting to turn to jelly is actually immaterial.
"No, I'm still at home. Are you worrying that you're going to be the last one there again?"
Trini, evil genius that she is, has devised a rule that the last one of us to arrive has to do the dishes. Tommy was late the last time we had a dinner, two weeks ago, and complained about the unfairness of her rules the whole evening.
"I am not going to be the last one there this time, because I have a cunning plan. Do you want a ride there? If we're there after Zack, I'll wash and you can dry."
"You're only doing this because you know I'll say yes," I complain, even though I know full well that I will agree. Who could resist him anything? "And let me guess. You only just got home from the gym, and you're not going to be ready for hours."
"Maybe. But at least this way you can have a glass of wine with dinner..." he says, dropping a hint of pleading into his voice. "Come on, Kim. This way, I've got an ally against Jason giving me Trini's washing up gloves and telling me to make sure I wash the outside of the pans as well as the inside. You've always been better at the quick retorts than I have."
Sold. "And flattery gets you everywhere," I say.
"Who said it was a good thing?" Tommy says, and laughs. "Kidding. Pick you up in twenty minutes?"
"I'll meet you outside," I say, and hang up the phone before throwing it back in the direction of my sofa and running back into the bathroom. Is the purple top too dressy? Too obvious? Not obvious enough?
Sometimes (and this part is ashaming) I really wish I was Cher in Clueless, who had the computer in her dressing room that told her which items of clothing went well together.
And yes, I am nearly thirty years old.
I rush around, barely stopping to catch my breath, to be ready in twenty minutes time. In reality, if Tommy hadn't offered me a lift I would probably have arrived at Trini's after him, and therefore taken full responsibility for cleanup duties. But the time limit makes me speedy, and I shower, change and apply makeup in less than the twenty minutes allowed.
It must be some kind of record. I decide that I should make the most of being a speedy dresser, and leave my apartment to wait outside. It's a nice evening, and the January air is mild. Even if Tommy is twenty minutes late I won't get cold, and it will give me a good opportunity to read my new, 'Introduction to Spanish' phrasebook.
Ten minutes later, Tommy's jeep pulls up outside my apartment block, and I peel myself away from the front stoop to walk down to meet him. He leans across the passenger seat to open the door for me, and I smile to see him.
But only because he's a good friend. Not because he's wearing a very attractive black polo shirt, smells of an aftershave I don't recognise but is gorgeous, and looks good enough to steal for my very own.
"Hola. Que tal?" I ask innocently, slipping my phrasebook into my bag and getting into the car. Tommy looks confused for a while, and then spies the book, in tell-tale red and yellow, peeping out of my oversized silver purse, and groans audibly.
"Why Spanish?" He asks, making sure I've secured my seatbelt before pulling away.
"Because it was the first book I saw," I admitted honestly. I went to the bookstore on Friday, visited the languages section, and the bright colours caught my eye straight away. "Don't you want to know why I'm learning a language?"
"Jason mentioned that you were going on a self-improvement crusade," Tommy says dryly as he drives through the quiet streets of Angel Grove, and I want to scream. Loudly. What else has Trini let slip? Oh no. Must be subtle.
"I thought it would be a nice way to mark turning thirty," I say non-committally, staring at my hands in my lap so that I don't give the game away by blushing, or simpering, or other typical I've-got-a-crush-on-you behaviour. "Besides, it's embarrassing being friends with three people who spent time in Europe, learning thousands of languages, and knowing that I can only ask how to get to the post office. That's as well as may be, but it's no help whatsoever when I want to know how much it would cost to get to Rome. Or Madrid, or wherever. So, a language it is."
"And when do you plan on putting your knowledge into practice? I'm expecting a free trip to Barcelona this summer," he says, and I look over at him, noticing that he's grinning. "Although with your language skills, we might end up in Copenhagen. Or Turkey."
If he wasn't driving, I'd hit him with my purse. Yes, he may be the best looking guy that I've met in real life, but that doesn't stop him from being insufferable sometimes. Besides, I remember from high school that he wasn't exactly bilingual either. "Like you'd get us there any quicker? I seem to remember in junior year that it took you two weeks to realise you'd gone to French class instead of Spanish. I don't think I'll be asking you to tutor me any time soon."
"I was distracted," Tommy says, but doesn't elaborate. Come to think of it, I seem to remember his sudden appearance in my French class coincided with when I spent a few enjoyable hours in the Wild West. And we were pretty much inseperable for the two weeks after that, before we realised that I wasn't going to fall into another time hole and was actually back for good.
We drive along in silence for a couple of minutes, before Tommy starts the conversation up again. "So, is learning Spanish the extent of your mid-life crisis?"
I look up in outrage, but the smile is back and he's actually looking at me again. Good. "It's hardly a mid-life crisis. It's not a crisis, and I'm not middle-aged!" I say, in mock outrage.
"I want to go skydiving again. You interested?" I ask. And yes, I would value the company, but I'm also hoping that a return to activities we enjoyed as a couple might provoke some favourable feelings from him. My scintillating conversation isn't exactly doing the trick tonight.
"Maybe..." he says thoughtfully. "Last time was fun. We should see if Jason and Zack want to do it, they missed out last time."
So much for the romantic scenario I'd started to plan in my head, with us holding hands as we jump out of the plane, and landing side by side in a meadow...
So I have incredibly corny fantasies. Doesn't everyone? But Tommy's right, Jason in particular was disappointed that he missed out, and Zack's mentioned wanting to be more adventurous recently. "That's a good idea. We could maybe make a day trip out of it, and Trini could wait on the ground with the food. She may be better with heights than she used to be, but I'm not sure she'd want to jump out of a plane from a great height."
"Fair point," Tommy concedes as he pulls into Jason and Trini's street, just two blocks away from where I grew up. It's a quiet neighbourhood, with big houses and large back gardens. Lots of trees and greenery which look gorgeous in summer, and only marginally less so in the winter. "Do you want to go before your birthday or afterwards?"
I think for a moment. "Summer," I decide on. "Or late spring. Not yet... I want guaranteed good weather."
"Fair enough," Tommy says, and pulls the car into the driveway. "You'll have to tell me all about your list some other time," he says as he cuts the ignition and hops out of the car straight away, leaving me no time to respond, and next to no time to glimpse what I think is a wicked smile on his face.
All right. What the hell has Trini told him?
Thirty minutes later, the five of us are gathered around the family kitchen table. Charlie has gone to bed, too tired to stay up and eat with the adults, and Trini's excelled herself with the food. There are quantities of chilli that even Rocky would have trouble finishing, and I hope that they are prepared to live off leftovers for the rest of the week.
"What do you want to do on your birthday, Kim?" Jason asks, and I know from the look in his eyes that he doesn't know anything about Trini's potential meddling. I can rule one friend out of the equation, at least... Jason and I have been friends for so long that I can almost instantly tell when he's lying or hiding something from me, and I've learned the hard way that the same applies to me.
Let's just say that his 27th birthday surprise party wasn't exactly a surprise, thanks to me being employed to distract him while Trini decorated the house. I can normally pull off the distraction technique, but Jase can see straight through me.
"It's on a Friday, right? Do you want to go dancing?" Zack asks, gesticulating with his spoon as he talks. Zack and I are incredible dancing partners, even if I do say so myself. It's not often that we go out together, but when we do I'm always exhausted the next morning, and my shoes are usually ruined thanks to energetic dancing.
"If you're free on the next day we could take Charlie to the zoo, or the playground," Trini suggests.
"The last time we took Charlie out all together he ate too much icecream and was sick on my shoe," Tommy shudders, remembering the eventful day the five of us took Charlie to the funfair. Zack, Tommy and I have an unfortunate tendency to spoil the only Ranger kid within easy distance, and he repaid us in spades that day. "Veto."
"Agreed," Jason nods, and turns to placate Trini. "He was so overexcited he didn't sleep for four nights. What about a celebratory dinner? We could go to a restaurant to save you cooking for all of us."
"How about driving up to LA to see Adam and Tanya?" Zack suggests. "We could make a weekend of it, pitch our movie scripts to some unknown hotshot, take the advance and run."
I roll my eyes, but don't make a move to stop the birthday plotting. It's frankly easier to let it all wash over me until an idea strikes, and I suddenly know what I want to do. I have all the time in the world to let my friends come up with every idea under the sun, and some more that no-one else has ever even thought of.
"What do you want, Kim?" Tommy asks suddenly, cutting off a frankly bizarre conversation between Trini and Zack about the ethics of selling intellectual property. "It's your birthday, you should be the one to dictate the birthday events."
I turn to him, sitting on my left side with Jason on his left hand, and smile thankfully. Normally I would have shouted at them all to stop, and told them that I knew what I wanted to do, but I'm far too wary of Trini and her information-wielding powers to rile her at the moment. I've been her friend for far too long, and know exactly what she's capable of, so am thankful to Tommy for stepping in and leaving the way clear for me to make my views heard.
"I think we should have a fun day," I say thoughtfully, picking up my fork and toying unseeingly with grains of rice in the bowl in front of me.
"Okay. Define fun," Trini, ever analytical, shoots back at me. I roll my eyes at her, but she just smirks and raises one eyebrow. I try and convey through the power of facial contortions that I am definitely not amused, with little to no effect.
"Joining a chain gang would be preferable to an interrogation," I mumble cryptically, and busy myself with the chilli.
"Uh oh, it looks like someone's not ready for the big 3-0," Zack says in a sing-song tone, and I kick him under the table. "Ow! What did I do to deserve that?"
"It looks like you've already forgotten your birthday," I say meaningfully. He looks blank, but everyone else has cottoned on and begins to laugh.
Zack was the first of us to turn thirty, and celebrated it in true style by becoming progressively more morose, depressed, and eventually tearful. I don't think any of us have been back to Santa Maria's since. I know we had to give an overly generous tip to compensate them for the amount of napkins Zack used to mop up his tears...
"Fine. But word to the wise, stay at home, lock your door and don't answer your phone. Because I will get you back for your birthday card which told me I was over the hill and life was all downhill from here."
"It was a good idea at the time!" I moan, but now the joke's on me. Still, the heat seems to have moved away from 'What to do on the Date of Death', and I can cope with a little payback. I hope...
Trini is as good as her principles, and Tommy and I are forced into kitchen duty after the meal is over. She, Jason and Zack retire to the den to watch sports, and I fill the sink with soapy water. "Do you want to wash or dry?"
"Dry. I really wish they would just bite the bullet and buy a dishwasher," Tommy grumbles as he leans against the draining board, placing him in uncomfortable proximity to me. I swear the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, and I have to busy myself by moving the piles of cutlery into the water.
"It'll never happen. Trini enjoys enforcing slavery on her friends far too much for her to give in," I point out, and start washing the forks and spoons, before rinsing and dumping them on the draining board for Tommy to dry. "At least you're not on your own as usual."
"For which I can only thank you," he says feelingly, and turns round to face the draining board and start drying. "I think this time was a record. I'm sure I've pulled kitchen duty for six straight weeks."
"It wouldn't surprise me," I say, and then cannot think of a single thing to say. At all.
What is wrong with me? Only a month ago, we were having in-depth conversations about life, the universe, and everything. Now, all because of a stupid, pathetic, little crush, I can't string a sentence together.
Except, it isn't a little crush, and life isn't as simple as that. What's that saying, something about you can never go back? Does that count when the person you want to go back to is now a completely different person?
I would never have placed him as a science teacher. And I bet he would never have predicted I'd be a court reporter. I know that some things about him are still the same, but which things?
Luckily, he breaks me out of my reverie before I start babbling incoherently and throw myself into the dirty water. "Do you have any plans for your birthday at all? You managed to avoid answering the question before the topic was hijacked."
"Throw myself off a cliff?" I say, only half-joking, and continue to wash, moving from the cutlery to the plates. After a couple of seconds, I sense that Tommy's stopped moving, and I turn to look at him after setting the now-clean plate onto the draining board. He's looking at me with a concerned expression, as if he actually expects me to dive into the bubbles there and then. "Relax! I was joking. I may not be impressed about turning thirty, but I'm hardly suicidal."
"You don't seem to be taking it that well," he retorts, refusing to dry the plate and locks onto my gaze. "What's wrong?"
And with that, something in me deflates, and I'm back to where I was when making the list in the company of a bottle of good wine. I grab a dishcloth and dry my hands before going to sit down at the table, not caring that I've abandoned the dishes. Tommy follows, and pulls out the chair next to mine to sit down.
"It sounds pathetic. But... it's like I've spent the past decade in some sort of time warp," I say haltingly, trying to articulate what I can barely understand about myself.
"It's possible, but unlikely," Tommy says quietly, trying to bring some humour to the situation. "In what way?"
I shake my head and stare at the table without taking anything in front of my eyes in. "I don't know. It's like... before I was twenty, I did so much. We saved the world on a weekly basis, for god's sake! And the whole medal thing.. And now, I'm starting to realise that in the past decade, I may have got a degree and a job, but nothing makes me as happy. It might not be the case technically, but it feels as though I've stood still. And I've achieved nothing I wanted to by the time I was thirty. Not that I had any specific goals in mind, but I still wanted to try..."
Oh no. I'm very close to tears, and this was not the plan. I don't know where all the negativity in me has sprung from but I know that I need it to go away now. I sniff, far too loudly, and push my chair back to stand up, but Tommy has caught my hand and is holding it too tightly for me to break away. "If we don't finish the dishes before Trini gets suspicious we'll be on kitchen duty for the rest of our lives, no matter how many times you're late," I joke half-heartedly, wanting to sweep this under the carpet and only examine it at my leisure. Preferably when a large bar of chocolate is to hand.
"I have a suggestion," Tommy says calmly, and still holding onto my hand. At least I have the presence of mind to realise that it's nice holding his hand, and I sit back down again, defeated.
"Trini mentioned your insane list of age-defying stunts, or whatever you're calling it."
"The List. But it has to be said as though both words are capitalised," I instruct. "Continue."
"Is she some sort of keeper of the list? Excuse me, The List," he says, putting greater emphasis on the first syllable of the two words, and injecting suitable gravitas to the occasion.
"Nothing's been made official," I confirm, not entirely sure where this is going.
"I have the feeling that she may make this worse for you. Not because she has bad intentions, but because she likes to make things a competition these days. Or she might convince you to join a cult just to observe the psychological effects," Tommy says.
"I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but I can see how you might think so," I concede. Trini has embraced self-assertion over the years, and although this is undoubtedly a good thing when she's asserting her own rights, it can be downright scary when she's trying to assert someone else's. Namely, mine, when I like my rights the way they are. And I think I see where this is going. "Do you have any proposals to make?" I ask, feeling happy enough to break out a smile.
He smiles sheepishly. "I propose that I take over as keeper. It makes more sense - you and I are both free at weekends, and Trini and Jason should spend their free time with Charlie. This way, you have someone there to stop you from throwing yourself into dishwater, but persistent enough to make you do things when you're about to talk yourself out of them."
This is very true. Tommy doesn't often use his powers of persuasion on me these days, but I remember them being very effective in the past... I'm still worried about what ideas Trini has put into his head, but to be brutally honest the worry is far overshadowed by the exciting prospect of many weekends ahead learning Spanish with Tommy. Going skydiving with Tommy. I'll have to think up some other improvement-relating things pretty soon, but that won't be a problem. "As long as you don't force me into going potholing, it's a deal."
"Deal," he says, and shakes my hand, which is still happily entwined with his. "Saturday, around eleven, for the first installment of The List?"
"Saturday," I say, and smile at him before tugging his hand and finally managing to stand up without letting go.
This should be interesting...