Earth culture, thought Andros. He rubbed his forehead and sighed. 'To learn more about Earth culture' was the other rangers' excuse for dragging him down to the Surf Spot that evening. As usual, it was against his will. He told them he had work to do. They told him he could get it done in the morning and wasn't allowed to mope around alone anymore. Besides which he needed to learn about Earth culture. Before he knew it, he was back on Earth sitting at a table in the crowded Surf Spot while a party raged around him.
He gazed down at his drink, brown and bubbling in a clear plastic cup. Bubbles? What kind of people would put gas in their drinks? He picked it up, looking it over carefully before he took a sip. He almost sneezed as the bubbles reached his nose. Sweet! Much too sweet, but at least the sweetness of the sugar and the sharpness of the bubbles blocked the real taste which vaguely reminded him of something he'd use to clean out the Megaship's engines.
Cassie and Ashley were off somewhere gossiping with friends. He craned his neck searching for them, but it was impossible with the amount of people there that night. TJ and Carlos were on the other side of the round table, talking. Andros could barely hear their conversation over the noisy background of loud music and shouted conversations.
"I swear!" said TJ, smiling.
Carlos laughed. "No way!"
"It's true! I knocked that baseball right across the field and over the school."
Grinning, Carlos leaned forward. "That's impossible."
"You don't believe me?" asked TJ, pretending to be hurt. "Back me up here, Andros."
Andros gave him a blank look.
"Never mind," said TJ, in sudden remembrance, and returned to his friendly argument with Carlos.
Andros stopped listening. It was only straining his ears. Most of their conversations ended up like this. The rangers would try to include him, but he frequently got lost and would simply give up when he could no longer understand what they were talking about. It's a whole different world, he thought. Not that he wasn't used to different worlds. He just wasn't used to being forced to meld into such a sheltered culture as Earth's. He took another sip of his bubbly drink and grimaced. I suppose I could get used to it, he thought.
Someone slammed into his chair from behind. He turned around glaring angrily, but the person had already disappeared, not apologizing, not even noticing that he was there. He turned back to see Carlos and TJ hadn't even seen what had happened. Sighing again, he pulled his chair closer to the table. There wasn't much room at the Surf Spot that night. It was as if the whole of Angel Grove had turned out for the party. Most of the crowd was concentrated on the floor Adelle had cleared for dancing. The others were surrounding the few remaining tables.
The music was loud, very loud. The base beat pounded in his brain and vibrated his bones. The singer's yelling was so piercing Andros couldn't understand the lyrics. He'd been exposed to all types of foreign and alien music, but he had never understood why they always tried to deafen him with it.
Andros took another sip of his drink. There wasn't much else he could do. He didn't know anyone besides the rangers and they were busy with their own things. He didn't know enough about Earth to not sound like an idiot to anyone he talked to. And he was definitely not dancing.
"Hey guys!" Ashley came bouncing up, grinning, Cassie at her side. "Why aren't you guys dancing?"
TJ and Carlos groaned, but got up to join the girls.
"Come on, Andros," insisted Ashley.
Andros shook his head. He couldn't dance and the embarrassment he would receive from trying to mimic the movements of the other dancers, especially in front of Ashley, would just be too much.
She grabbed his arm. "It's fun. Trust me!"
Andros dug his feet into the ground as Ashley pulled.
"Andros!" she protested.
"No thanks. I'd rather not," replied Andros refusing to look up.
Ashley frowned and was about to pull again, harder, but Cassie stopped her.
"Leave him alone," she whispered.
They left: Cassie and TJ, Ashley and Carlos. A sudden wash of guilt and regret filled Andros and he considered joining them, but then he saw the swarm swallow them. The shifting mass of people moving to the explosive rhythm hid his friends from view. It slowly expanded until the multitude of stamping feet encroached on the table where Andros was sitting. He moved his chair to the other side of the table, as far away from the mob as he could.
The people surrounding him shouted at each other, trying to have a conversation that could be heard over the music, creating a raging din to add to the blare. Andros clenched his fists as his head began to hurt, his fingernails cutting into his palms. He shifted in his seat. The room was getting hot. He took another gulp of his drink. The music grew louder and people's voices rose accordingly. He began tearing apart a paper napkin in boredom and frustration.
He squinted across the dim room at the people sitting close to him. Flashes of light from some strange globe above the dance floor wouldn't let his eyes adjust to the gloom. A couple of people stared back at him and he self-consciously tucked his striped hair behind his ears. The napkin was soon reduced to shreds. He shifted his position again.
A group of people squeezed passed him and he flinched away. He didn't understand why all these people made him uncomfortable. He'd never liked crowds and the two years he had spent on his own had made him much less tolerant of them, but it had been easier crashing Dark Specter's party. At least there and at other places he had infiltrated, he'd been hidden by his cloak and usually managed to be at the edge of the crowd. Earth was different from other places he had visited. He was used to spaceports. Places that were visited by so many different aliens that strange cultures and people were expected. It made Angel Grove feel like such a closed society, especially closed to him: the alien.
He grabbed his drink again. The heat was making the room stuffy. He wiped his sweaty hands against his jeans. They'd bought him the jeans a few days ago insisting they were the thing to wear on Earth. He thought they were uncomfortable. They seemed even worse now.
While he fidgeted trying to get comfortable, more people entered the Surf Spot joining the already overly large group. Andros clenched his teeth and ran a hand through his hair. He yanked out several strands before picking up his drink to finish it off.
Suddenly, he was slammed right up against the table as someone once again knocked against his chair. The remains of his drink spilled across the table and the cup rolled off the edge. He stood up. The crash of his chair as he knocked it over couldn't even be heard.
His heart pounded.
He couldn't breath.
All he felt was the heat and pressure of everyone around him and he felt them closing in. Pushing his way through the crowd, he ran and escaped out the door.
Outside, it was cool. It was quiet. Andros shakily took a deep breath of fresh air and walked away until the Surf Spot couldn't be seen or heard. He collapsed on a patch of grass and laid there his arms wrapped around his chest staring at the stars as his heart calmed down.
Alone with the stars. That's how he had spent the past two years, avoiding people unless necessary. Now he had teammates. Friends? They were forcing him back into regular life while he was still trying to get used to having them on his ship. He couldn't stop his heart jumping when they entered a room and every little noise they made woke him up at night. Maybe he made a mistake. He couldn't deal with…friends anymore, not after being alone for so long, not with the chance that he could lose them too. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
Nearby footsteps startled him. His eyes snapped open thinking himself stupid for leaving himself vulnerable to an attack by Astronema. Before he could stand up, he saw the other rangers hovering over him. Andros opened his mouth but couldn't find anything to say. The Earth rangers didn't say anything either as they lay down on the grass beside him. Placing their heads together, they formed a little circle where they spent the next hour silently looking at the stars.