2021

His hot breath formed steam against the cold air as he subconsciously reached up and tightened the green and white striped scarf around his neck. After being in Minnesota for almost ten years, you'd think that he would have gotten used to the extremely cold winters. But alas, no such luck. He could have been in a sweatshirt and jeans with a parka and snow pants on top and long underwear underneath, wrapped in three blankets and he still would have been cold.

In a small suburb just outside of Minneapolis, in the frigid December cold, Tommy Oliver sat on the bench he had built two years ago and watched his three kids playing hockey on the frozen pond behind their house. He tried desperately to make it to all their games but work didn't always allow that to happen. It was moments like these where he could just sit and watch them that he truly appreciated everything that his life had blessed him with.

Alexander Jason, the youngest of the three, was passing the puck from side-to-side, making sure to keep it as close to himself and as far away from his younger brother as possible. Standing in front of him and skating backwards in defense was Tommy's middle child, Jeffrey Adam, trying to find an opening to steal the puck from his older brother.

At the end of the pond sat a regulation sized goal that Tommy had bought the kids for Christmas two years ago. The oldest of the three stood between the red metal pipes, slapping a stick against them and defending the goal in full goalie gear. Tommy's youngest child glided back and forth on the skate's heels, tapping the blade of the stick against the ice and squeezing the pocket on the glove. As Alex faked to go left and Jeffrey moved with the fake, the goalie knew it was only a matter of seconds before younger brother Alex got embarrassed again.

Like Alex had been expecting, his deke to the left got his older brother moving and, as Jeffrey moved to his right to defend the maneuver, Alex took the puck in the other direction. Jeffrey tried to change directions and stay in front of the puck but his skate slipped and he fell to the ice. With Jeffrey on the ice and his target twenty feet in front of him, Alex came to a stop.

"Just you and me, Mike!" he shouted. "Let's see if you can stop me!"

"Haha!" Mike laughed loudly, lowering down into a squat. "Bring it on, little bro!"

From his seat on the bench, Tommy smiled as Alex softly kicked the puck towards Mike with the side of his skate and it began to almost glide across the ice. The competition between his kids was what he loved more than anything. He loved the way they always tried to one-up each other but were closer than close at the end of the day. It reminded him of the way that he had once been with Jason, Adam, Zack and Rocky; his brothers.

Alex unexpectedly flipped the puck into the air and started to use the curved blade to bounce it up and down. That's a new move Tommy mused He must be practicing. Indeed he had and, as Alex let the puck fall to the ice, Tommy felt a presence next to him but he didn't move to acknowledge it. Even when a hand slipped under his beanie and started to gently scratch the back of his head, he kept his focus on his kids.

"How are they doing out there?" she asked, scooting closer to him and resting her head on his shoulders.

That got his attention. Tommy put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her in even closer as Alex made his final move towards the goal.

"Great," he replied, letting out a breath that immediately turned to steam. "They're really getting the hang of it. Jeff's still a little slow but he's coming around. Alex and Mike are naturals but you knew that. I heard some of the coaches around the rink talking about bumping them both up an age level."

"Really?" she asked and he nodded his head slowly.

That was as far as that conversation got because as soon as Tommy saw Alex lift his stick off the ice to shoot out of the corner of his eye, his attention immediately went back to the frozen pond. He watched with standard parental anticipation as Alex's stick came cutting down through the air towards the puck. It took less than a second from the time his stick connected with the puck until it reached the goal.

Mike fell to padded knees and, with an outstretched arm, somehow managed to snag the puck right out of the air. With a dumbfounded look on his face, unable to believe that his brother's shot had been so easily stopped, Jeff pushed himself off the ice and started to skate towards the goal.

"Nice stop, Mike!" Jeff said with a smile, playfully tapping the thick goalie pads with his stick. "I don't think Alex will ever get by you!"

"Thanks, little man," Mike replied, ruffling the hair on Jeff's head a bit before turning to face Alex. "Sorry, Alex. "Maybe next time?"

"Whatever," Alex grumbled.

The shoulder pads on Mike's shoulders went up and down in a shrug. Alex got like this every time Mike stopped him which was every time Alex took a shot at a goal Mike was defending. Pulling the bulky gloves off and tossing them on the ice, Mike reached up and unclipped the goalie mask.

Long brown hair fell from underneath the helmet, flowing in the wind. All that did was agitate Alex even further. He hated when Mike did this.

"Woo! Nice stop Michaela!" Tommy yelled from the bench. His daughter turned around and smiled proudly back at her parents.

Michaela Trini was Tommy's oldest child and only daughter out of the bunch. She was also the only one he never had to worry about though he got the feeling that was going to change soon as Michaela's fourteenth birthday in February and adolescence started to rear its ugly head.

The young girl shared everything with her father and almost nothing with her mother. They had the same facial features, the same mannerisms, the same personality traits. Heck, they even shared the same goofy smile. The only real similarity she shared with her mother was the love they both held for one Dr. Tommy Oliver.

Playfully, Michaela threw her arms around the shoulders of her younger brothers and led them over to their parents, their skates gliding across the ice. Skating towards Tommy, she stood proudly in front of her dad as the boys immediately flocked towards their mom. They were definitely momma's boys and she was definitely a daddy's girl.

Tommy reached up and untied the scarf, throwing it around Michaela's shoulders and tying it tightly around her neck. Next to him, his wife was tightening the scarves both boys already wore. He looked down on his wife and smiled at her, their lips meeting momentarily in a quick kiss.

"Eww. That's gross!" Jeffrey groaned disgustingly.

Alex nodded his head in agreement with his younger brother. At eleven and nine years-old, neither of Tommy's sons had fully come around to liking girls just yet. He wasn't concerned, though. It had taken him until he was sixteen before he really got into girls, right around the time he had moved to Angel Grove, California and met Kimberly Hart, the woman he would eventually marry.

He could remember with vivid detail every piece of his first real relationship. Every kiss, every hug, every touch. They were all parts of his teenaged life that he cherished every day. Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad as well.

He remembered getting the breakup letter from her at the Youth Center in as much detail as he remembered their first kiss by the lake. That, and the next couple years that followed the breakup, had been a dark time in his life. He held it together for the sake of his friends and teammates but inside he wanted to completely breakdown.

Still, for all the sadness and hurt he had experience, life had still turned out pretty well for the good doctor of paleontology. After graduating high school he had moved as far away from Angel Grove as he could get while still being close enough to visit his parents. He settled on a coastal town called Reefside that was all too similar of his old hometown.

Initially, he had only gone to Reefside because of the paleontology program at Reefside Tech but the more he was there, the more the town endeared itself to him. From the time he enrolled at Reefside Tech as an undergrad until the time he had transferred to Stanford with his best friend, Hayley, life had been relatively normal for him.

It wasn't until he got a call from Andros, the Red Space Ranger, that things started to get exciting in his life again. The remains of the evil Machine Empire had been working on the moon to dig up the remains of Serpentera, Lord Zedd's old personal Zord. He jumped at the opportunity to fight with nine other Red Rangers, especially considering that one of them was Jason Scott, his best friend.

In 2003, Tommy received his doctorate from Stanford and went to work on an island with Dr. Anton Mercer, a world renowned scientist. While experimenting with dinosaur DNA and modern technology, a horrible accident occurred on the island and Tommy had barely escaped with his life.

With three special stones in hand, Tommy returned to Reefside and got a job as a science teacher at the local high school. It was his attempt at getting away from the action but somehow the action always seemed to find him anyway.

When he, along with his students Conner, Ethan, Trent and Kira, had managed to defeat Mesogog as the Dino Rangers, Tommy was ready for a break from it all. Unfortunately, that break never came.

Their summer break and the end of Mesogog's evil reign were supposed to be happy times but the dinosaur-like creature's defeat brought with it some terrible news as well. Tommy had come home from an intense, early afternoon, workout one day in the middle of July to find five missed calls from his parents on his cell phone. He immediately called his mother who, while fighting her own emotions, told him that her mother, his grandmother, had died.

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Flashback, Summer 2004

By sundown, just ten eight hours after hearing his grandmother had passed away, Tommy was pulling up into the driveway of his parents home in Angel Grove with a duffel bag in hand for the flight to St. Paul, Minnesota, where his grandparents lived. They had already left for Minnesota and had left Tommy a plane ticket, directions to a hotel and a twenty dollar bill for cab fare.

He took the ticket and directions but left the money on the kitchen counter. There was no way in hell that he was going to take money from his parents at 28 years old, even if it was only twenty dollars.

It took fifteen minutes for the taxi to get there after he had phoned the cab company. They got to Angel Grove Airport a couple hours before his flight which gave him plenty of time to read newspapers from three different major metropolitan areas and contribute almost twenty bucks to the airport Starbuck's. After ordering the fourth latte of the afternoon, he was starting to wish he had taken the twenty dollars from his mom.

When the overhead speaker had finally announced that his flight was boarding, Tommy was too concerned with having to pee and digging through his bag to find his ticket to notice the woman standing at the back of the line to get on the plane. His eyes were on his bag when he crashed into her and sent her to the floor, spilling his drink all over her at the same time.

Thank god I ordered it iced. That was the first thought running through his head even before he moved to check on the woman on the floor wearing a flabbergasted look on her face. When he actually saw her flabbergasted face though, his nonchalant thought process immediately changed into one of panic.

Three-hundred million people in the world and he bumped into, and spilled his drink all over, the last person he wanted to see that wasn't named Zedd, Rita, Goldar, Mondo, Divatox or Mesogog. Actually, he probably would have settled for any of them but Zedd and Mesogog at that point for him not to have ran into Kimberly Hart.

The next twenty minutes that transpired did so in an extremely awkward and uncomfortable fashion. Tommy had gone to wipe her down with a napkin and accidentally touched her breast. That got him an icy glare. Kim had moved to stand up and ended up slipping in the puddle of coffee, grabbing Tommy by the shirt collar to steady herself and pulling him down on top of her in the process. That got her a seductive smile and a wink.

As all this was going on, the people around them couldn't seem to care less about it and, by the time they had gotten Kim semi-clean, or at least in a clean shirt, they were the only ones that hadn't boarded the flight. Kim groaned, knowing that that meant she was most likely going to have to sit next to Tommy on the plane.

I'll sit next to a hundred screaming babies, crushed between sweaty guys that need more than one seat with a creepy old guy telling me how much I remind him of a girl he met in Nam. Just don't make me sit next to Tommy.

She sat down in the aisle seat without offering it to Tommy, who was much taller and could have used the extra leg room, with an angry look on her face. Tommy's face, quite surprisingly, displayed a sly grin as if he was enjoying this whole exchange between the two ex-lovers. For whatever reason that he couldn't even begin to try to explain, he wasn't mad at her like he thought he would be, like he was supposed to be.

He was determined to break her walls down by the time they landed in St. Paul. It only took two minutes once the plane was in the air. They were still flying low enough to where some of the buildings below them could be made out if one knew what they were looking for. Tommy knew what he was looking for.

"Hey, Kim. Look," Tommy said with a smile, pointing out the window. "You can see the Youth Center down there."

Kim was a sucker for two things and two things only. Good looking men and nostalgia. Both of them were calling her name so it was only natural when she practically jumped across his lap just in time to see their old hangout before it completely fell out of sight.

With the Youth Center no longer visible, Tommy had expected her to return to her seat and for the rest of their flight to be awkward again. Whether Kim realized what she was doing or not, he wasn't sure but she had her hands on his legs to balance herself. He didn't mind but her hands were awfully close to something other than his legs.

"Uhh, Kim," he muttered, trying to motion with his eyebrows towards his special place.

"What?" she asked, trying not to laugh at his eyebrows. "Tommy, are you're eyes okay? They, uh, look a little weird."

Sighing, he decided to do it the less discreet way and pointed directly at the crotch of his jeans. She looked down, saw where her hands were, quickly yanked them back, and pushed herself back into her seat with flushed cheeks.

"I'm sorry," she stammered, heat rising to her face.

She looked like she wanted to find the nearest hole, crawl into it and never come out again. Tommy just kept his eyes focused on her, smiling the whole time. The way he smiled at her made her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her guard was not something that she let down easily. At least, not since she found her ex-husband cheating on her with his secretary six months prior. Tommy would later find out that part of the divorce settlement was a winter home that Kim got in Robbinsdale, a suburb of Minneapolis. She hadn't decided whether to move in or sell it so she was going to spend a month there in the summer to see if it was a place worth living in all year round.

Along with the house came a near new BMW convertible, a GMC Denali, a boat and quite a bit of cash as well, enough to where she'd only have to work if she wanted to until the say she died. She was a proud woman though, and if the divorce had occurred under different circumstances, she probably wouldn't have even taken anything from him.

That's what happens to men who own high profile law firms that decide to fuck their secretary behind their wife's back! Thank God I stayed on the pill even though he wanted to have kids. I never want to see that jackass again and kids would have made that one pretty damn unavoidable.

And it wasn't that she didn't want kids, either. She loved kids and wanted at least two of her own. Twenty-five just seemed a little young for her considering she had only graduated from college with her dual degrees in Business and Fashion Marketing the year before. Kids were something she wanted to wait on for at least a couple of years.

She didn't want to be one of those moms that left their kids with a nanny all day and rarely saw them because she was too busy working. That's what would have happened if she and her ex-husband had had kids.

Tommy found the whole story quite amusing, mostly because he hadn't expected her to open up to him like that. They had only been flying for an hour and he already knew almost everything about the last seven years of her life since the last time he had seen her after the Murianthis incident.

Fate and irony had sure picked a good time in both their lives to intervene. Both were single, both headed to Minnesota and both with no plans for the immediate future.

The more she and Tommy spoke, the more Kim found herself missing having him in her life. It was clear that there was no grudge coming from Tommy's front. He was still as kind and as sweet to her as he was the day she left for Florida.

Part of that was his grandmother's influence on him. He could practically see the lightning bolts striking him from the heaven's if his grandmother knew he had treated any woman with anything less than absolute respect.

And when their plane had touched down in Minnesota, Kim had surprised herself and Tommy by offering to share a cab with him. They chatted a little bit more on the way and she was actually a little bit sad when they pulled up to Tommy's hotel.

"It was good seeing you, Tiger," Kim said with a smile. She gave Tommy a tight squeeze around his waist which he eagerly reciprocated. "Thanks for the company."

"Anytime, Beautiful. Anytime," he replied, bending down to pick his duffel bag up off the sidewalk. "Give me a call sometime."

He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and then turned for the hotel entrance before she could say anything else. Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, she started to climb back into the cab. Halfway in, something made her stop.

"Tommy!" she yelled to him, climbing out of the cab. He stopped and turned around with a shit eating grin on his face like he knew what she was going to say. "I don't have your number!"

"I know!" he shot back, leaving her looking confused. "If you want to talk to me bad enough, you'll find a way to get it!" She stuck her tongue out at him and he smiled at her, going for the door once more. He paused momentarily and, without turning back to face her, pointed to the awning he was standing under. "Look around, you Kim! The answer is right above my head!"

With that, he left her for good. She looked up at the awning he had just pointed to and rolled her eyes. Under the name of the hotel was the hotel's phone number. Hastily, she entered it into her cell phone as she climbed into the cab, making a mental note to call Tommy in a few days, once everything had settled down with his family.

A few days turned into a week and some change before Kimberly finally worked up the courage to actually call him at the hotel. Unfortunately, in a stroke of nothing more than bad timing, she called right as he and his parents were leaving for his grandmother's funeral.

Though she was technically on a vacation, Kim never actually stopped working. As the owner of, and designer for, her own fashion company, she was either glued to her cell phone, laptop or both unless she was sleeping. Even then she slept with her phone on and under her pillow so she never missed a potentially important call.

With the hectic nature of her work and all the commotion with Tommy's family, they ended up playing quite a bit of phone tag before they had finally gotten to each other over two weeks after arriving in Minnesota. They agreed on pizza and movies at Kim's house for the next night, so long as Tommy supplied the beverages.

"Corona for me, please!" Kim had said to him over the phone in her best Veruca Salt impersonation.

Tommy stepped out of the cab in front of Kimberly's house two nights later at 7:43, thirteen minutes later than they had agreed on and knew he probably wouldn't hear the end of it for a long while. Armed with a six-pack of Corona in one hand and a twelve-pack of Heineken in the other, Tommy made his way up the driveway and used his elbow to hit the doorbell. Kim answered the door in a denim skirt and black halter top that made Tommy's chin drop.

"You're late," she said, hands on her hips.

"I know. Sorry," he muttered in reply. "The cab driver got lost and it took forever to find the main road again. But at least I remembered the Corona."

"That you did," she replied with a smile, taking the six-pack of beer from him and stepping back to let him in. "Welcome to my humble abode."

"Wow," Tommy said in a barely audible, dumbfounded murmur. His eyes marveled at the sheer size of Kimberly's house and he was only in the living room. "I thought you said this was like a vacation home."

"It is," she replied, shrugging her shoulders as she looked around with him. "I guess it is a little big for a vacation home, huh?"

"A little?" he asked sarcastically, getting her to stick out her tongue in return. "Kim, you could raise, like, three whole families in a house like this."

"I don't know about three whole families," she returned, leading him on a tour of the house. "But one family, yes. Five bedrooms is a lot for one person but not one family, Tommy."

Tommy had to shake his head and laugh when Kim showed him the master bedroom that was easily bigger than half of his whole house in Reefside. After the grand tour had ended, Kim led him into the kitchen where a giant cardboard pizza box was waiting for them. They each took a couple slices of Hawaiian-style pizza and, with a beer bottle in their free hands, made their way into the family room.

"What movies did you get?" Tommy asked, settling onto the smaller couch and setting his paper plate down on the coffee table.

He had chosen the smaller of the two couches because he thought it would make Kim less likely to sit next to him. Boy, was he wrong. Kim plopped down right next to him and picked up the remote, turning on the DVD player.

Ladies, ladies, ladies. Jay and Silent Bob are in the hiz-house!

There was no escaping the laugh he wanted so desperately to suppress as the main menu for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back appeared on the television screen. Seeing two of America's favorite stoners took him back to college and a few weird experiences after eating some brownies that may or may not have been laced with illegal narcotics. But that's another story for another time.

They were only midway through the movie when Kim got up from the couch for what seemed like the tenth time that evening. He had tears in his eyes from laughing so hard when she came back in with a bottle of Heineken in hand.

"Hey! That's my beer!" Tommy exclaimed in mock defense.

"Should have gotten me a twelve-pack, then," Kim replied, pointing to the six empty Corona bottles on the coffee table. "It's not my fault you thought I was a lightweight."

She sat back down and took a long drink from the bottle, letting out a loud belch once she had swallowed the cold liquid.

"Very sexy, Kim," Tommy muttered, shaking his head.

"Glad you think so," she smiled, winking at him. "I aim to please."

Kim may not have been a lightweight but she wasn't exactly a heavyweight, either. By the time the credits started to roll at the end of the movie, she was definitely drunk and Tommy was on his way there, too.

It was close to ten o'clock when the movie ended and, when Kim didn't make a move to put on something different, Tommy looked over in her direction and noticed the somber look that was now on her face, replacing the smile she had been wearing all night. Throughout the whole movie, she and Tommy had laughed at the exploits of Jay and Silent Bob hitchhiking across America to get their "motha fuckin' movie check!" Eight beers later told a different story, however.

The truth of the matter was that, after only spending a few hours with him and a few short phone calls, she found herself being drawn to Tommy again. She had been absolutely positive that they would never be compatible again. Sure, they were close in high school but they had had a lot in common back then.

Having an iced latte spilled on her in the middle of Angel Grove Airport had not been on her day's itinerary on that fateful day. Tommy being the one to do it was even further down on her list of things she wanted to happen, somewhere in between death and getting old. But fate had intervened and now she was sitting on her couch with Tommy right by her side and tears in her eyes. This was not supposed to happen.

"I'm sorry!" she blurted out. She didn't know where that had come from, just that she needed to say it and that it seemed like the right thing to say at the time. It should have ended there but she kept going, even when Tommy tried to stop her. "You didn't deserve the letter. I just didn't have the guts to say it to your face or on the phone. You have no idea how sorry I am for doing that to you."

Tommy closed his eyes and tried to push the painful memories to the back of his brain. Part of the reason they had been getting along so well was because there had been no mention of their breakup but now it was like the flood gates had opened up and every ounce of hurt he had felt came pouring back at him.

She had expected this, had mentally prepared herself for this conversation the moment they had been forced to sit next to each other on the plane. But no amount of pep talks and practice could have prepared her for the look on Tommy's face. He was clenching his beer bottle tightly in his hand, struggling with the urge to throw it against the wall and blow up in her face.

Don't do it, Tommy. She said she was sorry. What more do you want?

What more do I want? I want her to have never broken up with me, that's what I want.

Stop it, Tommy! You can't control what happened in the past. She apologized. You need to accept that apology and move on.

What if I don't want to move on!? Is that so wrong of me? She tore my heart out and stomped it into the ground. Don't I have a right to be at least a little pissed off about that?

Do what you want then, Tommy. Throw that bottle against the wall and make a complete jackass out of yourself. But when you do it, be prepared for what happens afterwards. You throw that bottle and you may never see Kim again. You'll never get the chance to tell her-

"I forgive you, Kim," Tommy said softly, setting the bottle on the table and exhaling deeply. "I forgive you."

"Wh-what? Just like that you forgive me? Even after everything that I did to hurt you?"she asked hesitantly, wiping at her eyes as Tommy slowly nodded his head. "I-I didn't…I didn't think…I thought you would be mad at me."

Tommy stopped and rubbed his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. There were so many things that he wanted to say to her, he just didn't know what he should say. No matter their history or how much he thought he had a right to be mad, there were still lines, just like there had always been, that he didn't want to cross.

"Part of me is, Kim. Part of me is still really hurt and part of me is still really mad," he answered honestly. She flinched, but didn't pull away, when Tommy reached out and took her hands in his own. "But I'm not mad or hurt enough to let you walk out of my life again. I miss having you in it too much to leave Minnesota without your friendship."

Friendship? Was that all he wanted? His mouth told one story but his eyes told a completely different one. So did his heart. But before Kimberly could form a reply, he had picked up two handfuls of empty beer bottles and carried them into the kitchen to throw them away. He also just needed a moment to think without Kim right there hovering over him. In the kitchen, he took a few deep breaths in an attempt to compose himself.

What am I doing here? Way to go and get yourself into another mess, Oliver. You don't even know what you want. This is ridiculous. Do you really think Kim would want another relationship with you? Even if that's what you want deep down, she clearly moved on. I mean, she got married, didn't she?

Sighing, he took one final deep breath and made his way back into the living room where Kim was now standing as if she was waiting only for him. He came to a stop in front of her and pulled the petite woman into a tight hug against his chest. They stayed like that for a few minutes until Kim pushed back a little. Their eyes met and, just for a brief moment, he thought about kissing her.

"Kim," he started, pushing that thought into the back of his head. "Can we be friends?"

"Yeah. We can be friends. If that's all you want," she whispered, leaving only a few seconds for him to ponder what she had said before she pressed her lips against his. It caught him off guard and, as soon as he was ready to reciprocate the kiss, she pulled back, leaving him looking disappointed. "Sleep on that one, Tiger. You can take any of the bedrooms upstairs. I expect an answer in the morning."

With that, she turned around and left the room, leaving Tommy to his own devices. His brain was going a mile a minute as he fell back on the couch to think about what had just transpired between them.

An hour later he had made up his mind and climbed under the sheets in one of the upstairs beds in the guest bedroom knowing exactly what he was going to tell her in the morning. A small smile formed on his lips as his head hit the pillow and he began to drift off to sleep only to be woken up no more than fifteen minutes later by the feeling of someone, or something, slobbering all over his face.

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Tommy was somewhere between asleep and awake, in that subconscious purgatory most people find themselves in prior to waking up in the morning. He could feel wetness on his face and something rough and slimy running all over his cheeks. Letting out a loud groan, he rolled over and started to smile, remembering the night before.

"Is that you, Beautiful?" he murmured, his eyes struggling to open. No verbal response came, just more moisture on his face. His eyes fluttered for a few moments before they finally opened. "Ugh! Get off my bed, Meat!"

Meat was Tommy's English Bulldog, a birthday gift from Hayley for defeating Mesogog and for making it through his first school year with his head still screwed on. As he pushed his dog away, he sat up and slowly began to realize that it had all been one very long and detailed dream. All of it.

He didn't have three kids that liked to play hockey on the frozen pond in their backyard. His grandmother had never died and he and Kimberly were definitely not married no matter how real the dream seemed. In fact, they hadn't even spoken to each other since the karate tournament right after the events on Murianthis.

"Guess we're not in Kansas anymore, huh Toto?" Tommy asked sarcastically, scratching Meat behind his ears. The bulldog, sensing his owners sadness, moved closer and snuggled up against Tommy's side. He couldn't be upset with a dog like that. "At least I still have you, pal. Just promise me you won't run off to Florida and write me any letters, okay?"

Meat gave him a few loud barks just like he had expected the dog to do and then he literally rolled out of bed, stopping himself in a pushup position before he hit the floor. From there, Tommy proceeded to pushups until his arms started to burn and when the burning sensation got to the point where he couldn't take it anymore, he did another twenty. Hopping onto his feet, he shook some of the soreness out of his arms and headed for the bathroom, the ever faithful Meat right on his tail.

Staring at his reflection in the mirror, Tommy splashed some cold water on his face, trying to flush the sleep out of his eyes and the dream out of his mind. He managed the first part but the second one was a little bit tougher. The dream had just seemed so real to him, like he could actually feel Kimberly's lips on his or the pride he felt towards his daughter when Michaela blocked Alex's shot.

"Get over it, Oliver," he mumbled, pushing some toothpaste onto his brush. "It was just a dream. Nothing more, nothing less."

After brushing his teeth and a quick shower, Tommy pulled on a pair of basketball shorts, a white tee shirt and his running shoes before attaching the leash hanging by his front door to Meat's collar. Stepping out into the morning air of July, it was still cool enough to where he could go for a run and not feel totally depleted at the end of it.

Starting down the driveway, he jogged slowly to allow both himself and Meat a chance to warm their muscles up. They continued their slow pace through the woods behind Tommy's house for a half mile, passing by nothing but tree after tree, when Tommy cranked the speed up to a steady jog.

Looking down at Meat, Tommy shook his head at the bulldog. He was pudgy with those big droopy jowls that made him look terribly out of shape but somehow he always managed to keep up with his owner. Another mile later and they reached a fork in the path. At this point, Tommy would usually take Meat down the right side until the woods ended a block away from Hayley's café and he'd stop in for a cup of coffee but something made him decide to turn back.

They came to a stop at the fork to allow the both of them to catch their breath for a moment. Two minutes later they were heading back the way they came, this time in a full on sprint to end the morning run. They continued at that pace for another mile then Tommy dropped it down to the slow jog they had started with so their bodies could cool down.

Stopping for good in his backyard, Tommy looked down at his digital watch and saw that their run had taken just under thirty minutes, a lot less than both Tommy and Meat were used to. Something was nagging in the back of his mind, he just couldn't figure out what it was but decided a quick kata wouldn't hurt anyone.

Tommy found one of Conner's old miniature sized soccer balls and tossed it onto the lawn for Meat to play with while he went through his kata. Every strike, every block, every kick and every turn of his body occurred with absolute perfect form. The most proficient of karate masters would have been hard pressed to find any flaw in his technique. With no competitions or training in the last six years outside of his most recent fights as a Ranger, he prided himself on the fact that his skills in the martial arts hadn't diminished.

His kata took the better part of twenty minutes before he launched himself into a Butterfly Twist, completing two full revolutions and half of another. He landed perfectly straight and bowed to Meat who looked unimpressed, pushing the red soccer ball with his nose towards Tommy. Exhaling deeply, Tommy wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm and started towards the sliding glass door that led into his living room.

Opening the door, Meat jumped in front of him before he could get his feet in the house and took off running towards his empty food and water bowls in the kitchen. Meat started to bark loudly in an attempt to get Tommy's attention.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," he grumbled, walking into the kitchen. Standing in front of Meat, he folded his arms across his chest and looked down at the dog. "You know, I heard you the first time. Yelling isn't going to get you anywhere."

Meat simply barked up at him and Tommy rolled his eyes, pulling two cold water bottles from his fridge and the bag of dog food from the floor in his pantry. He poured most of the water from one of the bottles into Meat's bowl and killed the rest in one gulp before scooping some of the dog food into Meat's other dish.

"Happy?" Tommy asked rhetorically, chuckling at the dog diving headfirst into his food bowl. "Well, at least one of us is."

It's understood, I said it many ways
Too scared to run, I'm too scared to stay
I said I'd leave, I could never leave her
And if I did, you know I'd never cheat her

But this I ask, it's what I want to know
How would you feel, if I should choose to go
Another guy, you think it'd be unlikely
Another guy, you think he'd wanna fight me

She's a dove, she's a fucking nightmare
Unpredictable, it was my mistake to stay here
On the go and it's way too late to play
I need a girl that I can train

"It never quits, does it buddy?" Tommy asked at the sound of his cell phone and the Blink-182 ring tone Hayley had picked for him, again knowing that he'd get no more than a bark in reply. "You really need to learn a few more words, pal."

Grumbling the whole way, Tommy trudged through the hallway and into his bedroom, tossing aside a pile of clothes on the floor and finding his cell phone at the bottom of them. He opened the phone just in time to miss the call and saw that he hadn't missed just one, but five of them. All were from either his mother or his father.

Immediately, he dialed his mother's cell number. It only took one ring before her voice answered frantically on the other end of the line.

"Tommy where the hell are you?" Janet Oliver asked, her voice cracking. "Your father and I have been trying to reach you for almost an hour."

"I'm sorry, mom. I took Meat for a run and then I worked out a little bit but I'm home now," Tommy replied, wondering why is mom sounded so upset. "What's going on? You don't sound good."

"It's grandma, Tommy. She-" Janet tried, the sounds of her crying leaking into her son's ear. "She had a heart attack in her sleep last night. She didn't make it."

"Oh man," Tommy muttered, rubbing his forehead. "This is too weird."

"What?"

"Nothing. I-," Tommy started, remembering his dream from the night before. "I had a dream last night where grandma died. You guys are on your way to Minnesota right now and there's a plane ticket, directions and a twenty for cab fare on the kitchen counter at the house for me, right?"

"Wh-How do you know that?" she asked, not giving him a chance to reply. "It doesn't matter. Just get to the airport as fast as you can, Tommy and we'll meet you at the hotel."

"I will, mom. Just hang tight and I'll be there as soon as possible," Tommy promised, wincing at his mother's sobs. "I love you, mom."

"I love you too, sweetheart. I'll see you when you get here."

Tommy said goodbye, hung up his phone and frantically began to raid his dresser and closet for clean clothes, tossing whatever he could find into a black duffel bag. He put some dog food into a container for Meat along with a few toys, took another quick shower and was out the door with Meat by his side. Tossing his duffel bag and Meat's bag into the back of his Jeep, Tommy opened the passenger door so his dog could jump in and shut the door behind him, running around to the driver's side and jumping behind the wheel.

He put his foot on the gas and cursed loudly when the car didn't go anywhere. Looking frustrated, Meat let out a yelp and he stared at his dog holding his key ring in his mouth for Tommy.

"Thanks, buddy," Tommy said quickly, giving Meat a short scratch behind the ears.

They pulled into the parking lot of the Cyberspace Café ten minutes later and, with Meat tucked under one arm and the paper grocery bag in his other hand, he made a mad dash for the entrance. When he came bursting through the door, Hayley was already standing there with outstretched arms, ready to take Meat from him.

"I already know. You're mom called here looking for you," Hayley said softly as Tommy passed his dog off to her. "I'm sorry about your grandma, Tommy."

"Thanks, Hayley," Tommy replied, pecking a quick kiss on her cheek. "You're a lifesaver."

Turning on his heels, he bolted towards the door before Hayley could say anything else to him. He wasn't trying to be rude but he didn't have time to stay and chat. Hayley understood that and yelled for him to call her when he got to Minnesota. She saw Tommy nod his head in understanding just as the glass door closed shut behind him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Another Grande Iced Vanilla Latte for you, sir?" the young woman behind the cash register asked.

Tommy nodded his head and pulled out a five dollar bill, wishing he had taken the twenty from the kitchen counter at his parent's house as he handed it off to the woman. She smiled at him and passed him a dollar bill with a few coins, telling him his drink would be ready in just a minute. Nodding his head, he found a seat at a nearby table and pulled out his cell phone to see if he had missed any calls from his parents. There was one from Jason and another from Anton Mercer but calling them back would have to wait for the time being.

Flight 179, nonstop to Minneapolis, Minnesota is now boarding at Gate 19. Flight 179, nonstop to Minneapolis, Minnesota in now boarding at Gate 19.

The monotone female voice reached his ears just as another young woman set his drink on the counter and called out his order. Hastily, Tommy threw the strap of his duffle bag over his shoulder and snatched the drink off the counter. Heading for the boarding area, he reached into his pants pocket to grab his ticket but came up empty.

"Son of a bitch," Tommy muttered, reaching into his other pocket only to get the same result. "This is so not good, Oliver. Mom and Dad are gonna be pissed."

Frantically, he started to search through his bag, continuing to walk towards the line of people waiting to get on the plane. He breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled his ticket out from under a pile of underwear only to find himself smacking into something, his drink flying from his hand at the same time.

It was as if time had slowed down as he watched the plastic cup with the tan colored liquid flying through the air. He looked down just in time to see the drink explode all over a woman, presumably the "something" he had just run into, laid out on the floor. There was no need to look at her face. He knew who it was the moment he hit her.

Pulling a handful of napkins from his pocket, Tommy bent down and immediately tried to clean up the mess he had made. His body went into autopilot, almost as if he was simply reliving his dream from the previous night. Everything from his morning workout to hearing from his mom that his grandmother had passed away was happening to him just like it had happened in the dream.

It came as no surprise to him when his hand accidentally brushed across the top of Kimberly's breast but, having not gotten over the initial surprise of seeing Tommy again, she still looked rather shocked at the whole situation. With a combination of surprise, shock and anger on her face, Kimberly tried to push herself up from the floor. Tommy didn't even try to fight it when the heel of her shoe slipped on a small puddle of coffee and she reached out, grabbing his shirt to steady herself. He wore a smile on his face the whole time as he fell to the floor and landed right on top of her, his face just inches away from her own.

Kimberly still hadn't said a word to him, just like he was expecting. He saw the near empty line of people waiting to board the plane, just like he was expecting. At the realization that she was going to have to sit next to Tommy, Kimberly looked furious, just like he was expecting. And, as the plane started its' ascension and Tommy pointed out the image of the Youth Center to Kim, she crawled across his lap to see it for herself, just like he was expecting.

Pointing towards the crotch on his jeans, Kimberly noticed where her hands were and immediately pulled back, sitting in her own chair with red cheeks. Everything was happening just like he was expecting and he was okay with that. In fact, he was ecstatic because of what that meant for him.

With a smile on his face, Tommy closed his eyes and saw an image of himself and Kimberly seventeen years in the future, sitting on a bench in Minnesota watching their kids playing hockey on a frozen pond behind their house. Turning his attention to Kimberly, he winked at her and she gave him a soft smile in return. All was right with the world.