Title: Tommy and Jason's European Adventure
Original Posting Date: June 28, 2009
The clock on the classroom wall ticked away slowly as Tommy Oliver sat behind his desk, frantically grading final exams while his last class of the year put the finishing touches on their own tests. Sparing a brief moment to look up at his students, he could not help but to sigh after gazing out on the sea of young people. There was no Conner or Kira, nor Ethan or Trent, just thirty or so kids of whom most he would probably never even see again after today.
Truth be told, a very large part of him missed those four pupils, perhaps more so than was healthy for any normal teacher-student relationship. Then again, normal had only defined their relationship for all of about five hours, right up until three of the four had unintentionally stumbled into Tommy's basement and discovered the glowing gems; gems that had never been intended for them, but that would inevitably give them the necessary power to become Earth's next team of defenders, the Dino Thunder Power Rangers.
It had only been a year since they had all graduated and gone off to college, but for Tommy it seemed like a decade. Not coincidentally, that was about how long it had been since he had first been forced to retire from the Rangers; neither time had it been his choice, and both times it had left him with a deep sense of emptiness, as though an intricate part of who he was as a person had just been ripped away from him without cause or concern.
While that may have been part of it, the real sense of emptiness came from the disappearing camaraderie that each Ranger team shared with one another. Both times that he had retired his teammates had gone on without him, leaving him behind while they went on to bigger and better things. They had left him behind in Angel Grove and ten years later they had done the exact same thing in Reefside. Thankfully he still had Hayley, his old friend from college who had also served as something of a technical advisor to the Dino Thunder Rangers.
It was that missed sense of camaraderie and close friendships that had him longing to be done with this, the last day of school before summer vacation. No one would have known by looking at him, but Tommy was more excited than he had been since before his teenaged teammates had gone off to college. There was another adventure waiting for him just around the corner; one that, in the years to come, Tommy would eventually look back on as undoubtedly one of the best experiences of his entire life.
As he continued to grade exams, one by one his students brought their tests up to him, returning to their seats in silent anticipation for the final bell to ring. When it eventually did ring nearly twenty minutes later, Tommy barely had enough time to look up and see his students sprinting towards the door before they were gone, wanting to get their summer vacation started as quickly as was humanly possible.
He had to chuckle at that, firmly understanding their sense of urgency as he felt very much the same way that they did. At precisely twelve forty-six on the afternoon of June the ninth, Reefside High School was the absolute last place in the world that Tommy wanted to be. Unfortunately, he had many tests that still needed to be graded before he could enter final grades for his students; then, and only then, would he finally be free.
For nearly three more hours he sat behind his desk: grading exams; entering them into the school's computer systems; and somehow finding the time to eat lunch without even bothering to take a break. When at last he had finished, he rose to his feet and stretched his arms high above his head, wearing a smile that was as triumphant as it was relieved.
"Now I know how Rita felt," he mused aloud, with a laugh.
Quickly gathering his belongings, he made haste to exit his classroom, heading down the stairs and elongated hallway until at long last he stepped out into the mild warmth of a Southern California summer. With his briefcase in one hand and a small stack of books tucked beneath his other arm, Tommy gave a quick look around and then started across the cement path that lead to the teacher's parking lot. As soon as he had reached his black Jeep he haphazardly dumped his things into the back seat; moments later, he was off.
Though he only lived a few miles away from the school it still took nearly twenty minutes for Tommy to get home. This was due solely to the fact that he had chosen to build his home away from Reefside proper, in the woods that all but surrounded the outskirts of the town so much like the one he had grown up in.
Upon pulling into the driveway he retrieved his belongings from the back seat and made a beeline to the front door, depositing his burden on the first piece of furniture he saw that could hold it. It was a small, elegant looking table that his brother, David, had carved and whittled by hand as a youth on the Navajo reservation outside of Angel Grove.
After that it was straight to the kitchen, Tommy pouring himself a glass of iced tea while ignoring the blinking red light on the nearby answering machine. Drinking his tea as he continued on to the master bedroom at the back of the house, he entered the room and found himself immediately grinning the second he had set his sights on what lay atop his bed.
It was nothing special aesthetically, just a simple camping backpack that he had packed some months ago, but from an emotional standpoint it meant so much more. In a day's time, his entire life was going to be contained in that backpack; and though he hated asking for help, the man with a self-admitted memory problem had caved in and asked Hayley to come by last night just to make sure that he had not forgotten anything. She had given him her seal of approval, but not before the same round of teasing she gave him nearly every time she visited his house.
He had unintentionally inherited a few traits from a certain someone who had an undeniable fashion sense and a certain affinity for the color pink. While he had not inherited the love of pink, the fashion sense had been all but unavoidable. As a result, his house was a direct reflection of this. Each room looked like it could be on the cover of a housekeeping magazine—something all of his friends teased him relentlessly about—and his own room was no exception.
The walls were split diagonally, black to the upper-left corner and white to the bottom-right corner; and, of course, all of his furniture matched the color scheme perfectly. This was done for two reasons, one being the obvious comparison to the yin-and-yang ideology that Tommy had studied through two decades worth of practicing the martial arts. The other reason was as simple as it was complex.
Though he had worn four different colors as a Power Ranger, only two carried a weight strong enough for Tommy to design his room around them. Black was the simple part, as it represented something of a full circle in Tommy's Ranger career. He had not just been a part of the Dino Thunder team, but a mentor as well, something no other Ranger could say that they had done. White was where things started to get a bit more complex.
White represented so many different things to Tommy. After dealing with his schizophrenic Green Ranger powers for such a long time, becoming the White Ranger had given him his first reliable power source. It was also when Zordon had first named him team leader, a title he carried as proudly today as he had ten years ago. But perhaps white's most profound place in Tommy's life lied with the fact that it had also brought him his first real relationship. His years in white were, without a doubt, the best years of his life.
Blinking away his thoughts of yesteryear, he flopped down on his bed next to the backpack and retrieved the television remote control from the adjacent nightstand. He was on the verge of turning on the flat-screen mounted on the opposite wall when he felt his cell phone start to vibrate against his leg. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the BlackBerry and rolled his eyes upon seeing the name on the caller ID screen.
"Why am I not surprised?" muttered Tommy. Bringing the phone to his ear, he eliminated all remnants of irritation from his voice and said, "Hey Mom, what's up?"
"Nothing much," said Janet Oliver. "I just wanted to make sure you're not forgetting anything before your big trip."
Tommy groaned loudly. "Mom, I'm not sixteen anymore. You don't have to call me for stuff like this."
"Oh, is that so?" replied Janet, with a no-nonsense tone of voice. "I seem to remember you saying the same thing before you came home for Christmas last year. I also seem to remember you having to borrow boxer shorts and socks from your father because you forgot to pack them. Trust me, Tommy; this isn't one of those trips where you want to forget your underwear."
"I didn't know there was any trip where someone would actually want to forget their underwear," said Tommy, with a laugh. "Unless, of course, I was going to a nudist colony, which would be pretty weird considering I'm taking this trip with another guy."
"Don't you get fresh with me, young man," said Janet.
She was about to argue further when a masculine voice in the background cut her off by yelling, "Dammit, Janet, leave the poor kid alone! He's twenty-five years old for crying out loud! Unless someone has a goddamned sniper rifle trained on him, he and Jason are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves!"
"Don't joke about that, Thomas!" snapped Janet, back at her husband. "I know what happens to tourists in Europe! I've seen Hostel, too, you know!"
Tommy had to laugh at that. "Mom, I'm going to major cities in Western Europe, not seedy little towns in the Eastern Block. Plus, between me and Jason we know, like, seven different forms of martial arts. Like Dad said, unless someone we can't see has a gun trained on us, we're perfectly capable of defending ourselves."
Janet did not immediately reply, carrying on a brief argument with her husband in the background before returning to the phone. "Just…just promise me you'll both be careful, okay?" she said, apparently realizing that she was in the midst of fighting a losing battle.
"We will, Mom, I promise."
Once that was taken care of they were able to carry on a relatively normal conversation; the only problem was that it lasted nearly thirty minutes, which was about twenty minutes more than Tommy wanted to spend on the phone. In the end it was his father who finally came to his rescue by yanking the phone away from his wife, who had just started to remind her son about something else that she thought he may have forgotten.
As soon as he was able to hang up he immediately turned off his phone and tossed it aside. Turning on the television to ESPN, he laid back with his hands behind his head to watch what was most certainly going to be his last baseball game for a long time.
"It's all soccer from here," he chuckled, closing his eyes for a moment.
Having to wait was never something that Tommy enjoyed, nor was he very good at it, either. It made him feel helpless, out of control; while most would have been scared at the mere thought of the things that Tommy had done in his short time on Earth, his biggest fear in life was not being in control.
He did not intend to drift off, but in a matter of minutes he was fast asleep. A few hours later he woke up, but it was only for long enough to eat a quick dinner and then he was back in bed. It was just seven-thirty in the evening, but their flight was leaving at six-thirty the next morning and he needed a decent night's sleep; plus, Jason would never forgive him if oversleeping caused them to miss their flight.
It was well past midnight, Tommy in the midst of a very peaceful sleep, when everything started to change. The darkness that had occupied his dreamless mind a moment before was now developing into a blurry scene that seemed to take hours to come into focus. When it finally did, Tommy found himself standing in the middle of a place he had never even seen before now.
He was in what appeared to be an outdoor market, dozens of stands filling a long cobblestone street; only the various product signs were not written in English. At first glance they appeared to be German, though by no means could he be certain.
His feet started acting of their own accord at that point, carrying him down the cobblestone path filled to capacity with shopping pedestrians. At the center of it all was the rear view of a woman standing some twenty feet in front of him. Though he could not see her face, Tommy was instantly captivated by her presence.
Soon—and for reasons he could not explain—he was following her through the market. When she started to pull away he moved faster, but no matter how quickly he moved she always stayed beyond his reach. Then, at the end of the cobbled path, she stopped and turned her head ever so slightly, as if trying to see something behind her from the corner of her eye.
It was at that point that Tommy caught up to her, but as soon as he reached out she was gone and the scene was changing. This continued repeatedly as Tommy chased the seemingly faceless beauty through various European cities: Amsterdam and Zurich; Berlin and Bern; Munich and Paris; always changing right when he was on the verge of catching her for good.
When he was suddenly in the middle of Leicester Square in England he expected nothing to be different. He would chase around the faceless beauty only to lose her at the last possible moment, and then he would do it again in another city. This time, however, it was different.
She had stopped once more, and was now standing just beyond the outskirts of the square. Tommy ran as hard as he could to catch up to her, half-expecting her to disappear at any given second, but she never did. Standing just a few feet behind her, he reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, surprised when she did not immediately fade away.
Instead, the woman slowly turned around to face Tommy, but what he saw was the last thing he had been expecting. It was not the face of a gorgeous woman, but his own face, somehow twisted and molded with the face of another. The other half of the face was vaguely familiar; however Tommy could not place where he had seen it before.
It didn't really matter, though. Within moments of seeing the face his eyes had snapped wide open, Tommy bolting upright in bed, breathing heavily with droplets of sweat dotting his brow. The dream had not seemed like a nightmare while it had been happening, but now, as he ran his hand through his matted-down hair, it felt like the worst dream that he had ever had.
Closing his eyes, he brought his hands to his face and rubbed his forehead softly, trying desperately to re-imagine the twisted face. He was sure that if he could just see it for a few more seconds that he would be able to identify who the other face belonged to; but alas, that opportunity never came.
Convincing himself that it had been nothing more than a random dream with no real significance at all, he let out a deep sigh, laid back down and went right back to sleep without sparing so much as another thought to the dream.
Unlike his best friend, sleep for Jason Scott was not plagued by nightmares. When his alarm clock started buzzing at three-fifteen the following morning, Jason rose from bed without so much as a grumble of irritation. As the owner of four gyms and two karate studios in the greater Los Angeles area, waking up anytime after two-thirty was considered sleeping in.
Rubbing his eyes as he padded towards the connected bathroom, Jason reached out into the dark and found the light switch, giving it a flick that brought immediate illumination to the room behind him. Nearly everything in the room was either red or black, with hints of gold mixed in here and there as well.
Quickly splashing some cold water onto his face and brushing his teeth, he then proceeded to take a long shower, which he intentionally extended with the knowledge that a nice long shower like this was probably something that he would not get to have for a very long time. Nearly twenty minutes later he made his way back into his room with a towel wrapped around his waist, where a camping backpack much like Tommy's laid next to his bed.
"This is going to be so awesome," said Jason, grinning as he continued towards the walk-in closet on the opposite end of the room. In five minutes time he was dressed, wearing a pair of loose-fitting black workout shorts and a red Under Armour tee shirt that clung to his chiseled physique like a second skin.
Grabbing the camping backpack, he tossed it onto his bed and made one last thorough inspection just to be sure that he had remembered everything. Satisfied, he slung the backpack over his shoulder and stepped into the hallway of his one-story Valencia home, giving his room a fleeting look goodbye before continuing on towards the kitchen for a quick breakfast.
After ten minutes and a protein shake, Jason made his way out into cool morning air with a content expression. It was just past four o'clock, the sun had not yet started to rise, and it was much colder than was typical for this time of year, but Jason could not have cared if he tried. At that moment there was very little that could have made him even slightly upset.
He locked the front door behind him and crossed the front lawn, sparing a quick glance to the lifted Dodge Ram painted red with black trim that sat in the driveway. At the sidewalk, he dropped his backpack and took a seat, folding his arms across his knees as he looked up and down the suburban street, obviously in search of something.
It was nearly four-fifteen when a pair of headlights became visible from a few hundred feet away. Knowing that it was highly unlikely to be anyone else, Jason scrambled onto his feet and retrieved his backpack as a yellow Ford Focus slowly rolled to a stop at the curb.
The trunk of the car popped open as soon as it had stopped, Jason loading his backpack inside before making his way back to the passenger-side door. He slid into his seat and turned to face the Vietnamese beauty beside him with a bright smile and a quick kiss to the cheek.
"Thanks again for coming to get me, Tri," said Jason, buckling his seat belt as the car pulled away.
"No problem," replied Trini Kwan, with a smile of her own. She wore pajama bottoms and an oversized tee shirt, the latter of which was not nearly big enough to hide what appeared to be a beach ball where her normally flat stomach would have been.
"How are you feeling?" questioned Jason, "Ready for it to finally be over?"
Trini half-laughed half-sighed. "I've never been more ready for anything," she answered, Jason chuckling and nodding. "You know me, I'm not the moody type, but this pregnancy has my hormones all out of whack. Poor Billy…sometimes it seems like he doesn't even know which way is left and which way is right anymore; still, he's performed better than I ever could have hoped for. It's just a couple of more months now," she added, almost distantly, gently rubbing her stomach.
"Have you decided what you're going to name it?"
"It?" said Trini, shooting a sideways glance at Jason.
"Him, her, it…whatever," said Jason, laughing. "I just said 'it' because you're keeping the gender a surprise."
"Sorry," said Trini, smiling softly. "Hormones, you know?"
Jason laughed again and said, "So, have you decided on a name or what?"
Trini shook her head. "No, but we've decided on godparents. Obviously I want Kim to be godmother and Billy agrees," she replied, watching and smiling as the look of anticipation on Jason's face grew with each silent moment that followed, until finally she could take it no longer. "Will you be godfather, Jason?"
Although he had been hoping for this moment ever since Trini had announced to her former teammates that she was pregnant, that did not stop his mouth from falling agape when he heard her question. "You-you're serious?" he sputtered, all that he could manage.
Smiling brightly, Trini nodded and said, "Of course I'm serious. Why would I joke about something like that?" Jason just shrugged helplessly as Trini continued, "So, you'll do it? You'll be godfather?"
Jason swallowed hard. "Yeah," he breathed. "Yeah, of course I'll do it," he added, much firmer this time. "The first baby from our team…I'd be honored."
"Thank you, Jase," said Trini, patting his arm.
Jason could only nod as they merged onto the freeway en route to Los Angeles International Airport, more famously known around the world as LAX. For close to fifteen minutes they rode in near silence, exchanging only a few words here and there when something struck them.
Their primary topic of conversation was potential baby names. Trini admitted that she and Billy had entered something of a stalemate when it came to what they were going to name their first-born child. Trini wanted Jennifer Mai if it was a girl and Jeremy for a boy; Billy was stuck on Rebecca—his late mother's name—or David if they had a boy.
After that, it was not until they had merged onto Interstate-405 that another more serious discussion began.
"So Billy's taking it okay then?" asked Jason.
"Yeah," said Trini. "I mean, as well as can be expected anyway. Honestly, though, I think he's just as ready for it to be over as I am, if not more. Like I said, I haven't been the easiest person in the world to live with these past few months. Speaking of babies, is Mama Scott still hassling you to settle down?"
Jason rolled his eyes exaggeratedly and nodded. "You have no idea how sick I am of hearing it from her. It's freaking constant…like she thinks I'm thirty-five instead of twenty-five. Of everyone in our circle, only four of us are married: you and Billy, and Adam and Tanya. I'm not in any hurry to get married and I see no reason why I should be, you know?"
"Are you saying you wouldn't ask if you thought she'd say yes?" questioned Trini, grinning impishly at the bewildered look on Jason's face.
"I…that's not what I meant," replied Jason, shaking his head. "I don't want to talk about this," he continued, looking away, staring with narrowed eyes at the painted white lines on the asphalt as the vehicle whizzed past them.
Trini just chuckled softly and said, "So, are you still going to do the 'youknowwhat' that we talked about last week?"
Jason shrugged and straightened his focus. "I don't know," he answered. "It's going to take damn near perfect timing to pull it off. Hopefully Tommy doesn't find anything too interesting in Austria, and I think I'm going to try as hard as I can to steer him away from most of the cool stuff in Switzerland, too, but at the same time I don't want to cheat him out of his trip for what could be no reason, you know?"
"Trust me," said Trini, firmly. "It's not going to be for no reason."
Jason raised an inquisitive eyebrow at that. "What makes you so sure?"
Trini laughed. "Oh no," she replied, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Jase, but there is no way in Hell that you're sucking me into this one. You of all people should know that I never reveal my sources when it comes to stuff like this. All you need to know is that he is going to name his first-born child after you if you pull it off."
Jason laughed as well and said, "I don't know about all that." When Trini shot her most venomous glare at him, though, he quickly amended his statement. "Alright, alright, I believe you," he continued, waving his hands defensively. "I'm not making any promises or anything, but I'll see what I can do."
"That's all I'm asking," said Trini, definitively. "Just remember, if you and Zack hadn't done what you did for me a few years ago, everything in my life would have more than likely ended up completely different. Now that I think about it, I don't think I ever really thanked you for that did I?"
"No, I guess not," said Jason, with a shrug. "But you really don't have to. It really wasn't that big of a big deal at all; honestly."
"Maybe not for you, but it was for me," replied Trini. "Now accept my thanks and deal with it."
"Don't you actually have to give the thanks before I can accept them?" questioned Jason, with a grin that made Trini's jaw visibly tighten.
"You're such a smartass," said Trini, rolling her eyes playfully. "Seriously, though, thank you. I owe a lot to you and Zack."
"You don't owe us anything, Tri, but you're welcome," said Jason, as LAX became visible in the distance.
All serious conversation ended at that point. They chatted casually for a few more minutes, but it was not long after that when the yellow Focus came to a stop in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the morning sun only just now starting to peek through.
"Well, this is it," said Trini, smiling.
"Yep," said Jason, nodding. "Thanks again for the ride, Tri."
"Sure thing," replied Trini, turning as much as her belly would allow so that she could hug Jason goodbye. "Have fun and be safe out there, okay?"
Jason laughed. "Don't worry, Mom, I will be."
"Hey, not yet!" said Trini, smacking Jason's arm. Giggling, she waved her hand dismissively and said, "Get out of here before I go sabertooth tiger on your ass."
With his backpack strapped around his shoulders, Jason was outside the car and well out of Trini's reach when he leaned towards the open passenger-side window and said, "You do realize the T-Rex would kick the shit out of the sabertooth tiger, right?"
Flaring her nostrils confrontationally, Trini, with her middle finger extended towards Jason, replied, "You're lucky I'm fat and can't catch you. Just wait until the baby is born and I'm going to kick your ass like its kindergarten all over again."
"Hey, that was a lucky shot and you know it," argued Jason, adamantly. "I was too busy pouring sand all over Kimberly's head to see you sneak up behind me."
"That was the first punch, Jason," Trini reminded him. "What's your excuse for the four punches and three kicks after that? Not to mention you going and crying to your mom until she called mine and made me apologize."
Folding his arms across his chest, laughing as though she had just told him the most hilarious of jokes imaginable, Jason started to reply and then realized that he had no comeback. "I hate you," he deadpanned, through gritted teeth.
"Love you, too, Jase," said Trini, smiling and waving.
"Take care, Tri," said Jason, waving as well. "And make sure you don't pop that thing out before Tommy and I are back, okay?"
Trini rolled her eyes, but nodded nonetheless. "Have fun!" she called out, pulling away before Jason could say anything more.
Luckily, he was not left alone for very much longer. As cars came and went with people walking all around him, Jason noticed a silver Toyota Camry pulling into the line of vehicles at the curb, just a few cars away from where he was currently standing. He immediately started towards the Camry, but remained unnoticed until after Tommy had exited the car and retrieved his own backpack from the trunk.
"Hey bro, what's up?" said Tommy, grinning from ear to ear. His outfit was exactly like Jason's, the only difference being that Tommy's skin-tight tee shirt was white instead of red.
"Not much, man, you?" said Jason, exchanging a half-hug with the man who was the closest thing to a brother that he had.
"Same old, same old," replied Tommy, with a laugh. "I'm ready to get the hell out of here, that's for damn sure."
"Yeah, I hear that one," chuckled Jason, looking towards the car once more. Seeing the driver, he smiled and made his way towards the passenger-side door. Leaning his head into the window, he said, "Hey, Hayley, how are you?"
The redhead from New Zealand smiled back and answered, "I'm good, Jason. How are you?"
"I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was," said Jason, sharing a laugh with Hayley. "Nice job keeping the ass-clown out of trouble, by the way. I mean, out of all the colors, couldn't you have at least made sure he got something besides one of my old ones? The guy already took red for crying out loud! I've got nothing now!"
Hayley giggled. "Sorry, Jase, but you know how it is; you don't choose them, they choose you."
"Yeah, yeah, that's pretty damn convenient if you ask me," replied Jason, shaking his head. From behind her sunglasses, Hayley gave him a very discreet look and quietly slipped something to him, mumbling a few quiet words just as Tommy stepped to his side. "Oh, hey bro," said Jason, nonchalantly. "Are you all set to go, or what?"
"I've been ready to go since freaking February," said Tommy, Jason laughing as he turned around and tucked something into his back pocket. Tommy then looked to Hayley and added, "Thanks for the ride, Hayley. I'll see you when we get back."
Hayley nodded and waved farewell to the two friends, driving away as they turned and started towards the entrance. As the electric doors opened automatically for them, Tommy said, "What time is it, man?"
Jason checked the digital watch on his wrist and said, "It's almost five. The plane leaves at six-thirty, right?"
"Yep," said Tommy, nodding as they began to navigate the terminal. "Man, this is going to be like Euro Trip except not lame."
"Yeah, for sure," said Jason, nodding. "Its way cool that we're finally taking this trip, 've talked about doing this every summer we were juniors in high school."
"And we would have done it the summer after we had graduated if you hadn't bailed on me," laughed Tommy, as they stepped into the security line.
Wide eyed, Jason just shook his head. Setting his backpack on the conveyor belt, he started towards the metal detector and passed through without problem. It was only when Tommy followed after him that he turned around and replied, "See, that right there is proof that your memory has only gotten worse since high school. You bailed on me that summer. I bailed on you the summer after the summer after we had graduated, remember? You were racing stock cars for your uncle in 1997 and in '98 I was dating Julia, A.K.A the bitch that wouldn't ever let me do anything even remotely fun."
"Oh yeah," said Tommy, suddenly remembering. "I guess you're right."
"Of course I'm right," replied Jason, grabbing his backpack from the moving conveyor belt as Tommy did the same. "That's why I'll always be the better leader," he added, continuing through the terminal.
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Five years, the same number of power changes, and four different colors have something to say about that."
"Hey, man, there's no shame in second-best," said Jason, laughing. "All I'm saying is that I was the first, therefore the best. You saw the way Cole went all fanboy on me at the spaceport."
"Yeah, that's true, but T.J. called me a legend. Plus, who were all the one-liners directed towards at the end of it all?" said Tommy. "What was it that Wes said? 'Why does he have a fan club and I don't?' Oh, that's right, it's because I'm the best."
Jason scoffed. "Do you want anything from Starbucks?" he asked, as they approached a nearby stand.
"Grande mocha," answered Tommy, and just like that the debate over who was the better leader had ended.
Every so often they would do that, take a few jabs at each other just for the hell of it, but it always ended before it ever got too serious. No one but Tommy and Jason understood why they did it; truthfully, neither had ever admitted out loud why they did it, either, but there was definitely an unspoken understanding between them that had come the very first time that they had had one of these little arguments.
Once they had gotten their coffees they continued towards their gate of departure, reaching it in roughly five minutes time. Most of the seats were already filled, but they were somehow able to find three open spots near the tunnel that would eventually lead to the plane; the middle seat was used to hold their backpacks.
"This is going to be a long ass flight, dude," said Tommy, taking a sip of his coffee.
Jason laughed. "Trust me, I know. It's like fifteen hours to Vienna. I don't even know if my iPod is going to last that long."
"You brought your iPod?" questioned Tommy, furrowing his brow.
"Of course I brought my iPod," answered Jason. "It's a fifteen hour flight, bro. At some point during that time we're going to run out of shit to talk about."
Tommy breathed a sigh of relief. "I know; I just wanted to make sure I wasn't the only one. Did you bring your phone, too?"
Jason shrugged. "Maybe," he said, trying unsuccessfully not to smile.
"Sweet," said Tommy, grinning. "I'd go nuts if I didn't have my BlackBerry. There's no way I could go a month without checking the Dodgers' scores."
"I fucking hate the Dodgers so much," muttered Jason, with a chuckle.
Tommy just laughed.
It was nearly thirty minutes later when the call came for the handicapped and those with children to board the plane. Not long after that was the announcement for those flying first class, which caused Jason and Tommy to share guilty glances with one another.
"Am I the only one that feels bad about flying first class?" asked Jason, as they gathered their backpacks and started towards the attendant waiting to check their boarding passes.
"Yeah, I think so," answered Tommy, laughing briefly. "Face it, bro, it's a good thing we waited this long to take the trip. We actually have money now and can afford to do shit we couldn't do when we were eighteen."
"True," said Jason, nodding, "Very true."
"May I see your boarding pass, please?" said the blonde woman.
"Absolutely," said Jason, smiling at her as he retrieved the pass from his left rear pocket.
She handed it back to him a moment later and Jason walked by without another word. Just short of the tunnel, he stopped and looked back to find exactly what he had been expecting to see. The attendant was standing there with one hand out and the other on her hip, looking none too impressed as Tommy frantically rifled through his backpack in search of his boarding pass.
Rolling his eyes, Jason reached into his other rear pocket as he walked back to the attendant. He remained silent, signaling towards Tommy as he handed her Tommy's boarding pass. By the time Tommy had looked up to tell Jason that he must have forgotten his ticket at home, the first Red Ranger was already gone.
In the first class section, halfway back and on the aisle, Jason was already seated with his earphones plugged in when Tommy stepped onto the plane a few minutes later. As soon as he saw Tommy, a huge grin crossed his face.
"You're a dick," muttered Tommy, stepping past Jason and flopping into his seat.
Jason laughed. "If I was a dick I wouldn't have given you the ticket at all."
"How did you even get it in the first place?"
"Hayley," answered Jason. "She gave it to me when she dropped you off; said you left it on the kitchen counter and to at least make you earn it."
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Yep, this is definitely going to be a long ass flight."
"We will be landing in Vienna, Austria in approximately fifteen minutes time, at seven-thirty in the morning Central European Time. Please have your seatbelts fastened, trays and seats in their upright and locked positions, and thank you for flying with Lufthansa."
The flight attendant who spoke with a heavy German accent repeated this message in three more European languages, though for Tommy and Jason it fell on deaf ears. Both had fallen asleep long ago, about twelve hours into their fifteen hour flight, and then again after their layover in Frankfurt, Germany. They had not intended to end up this way, but Jason was lying with his head on Tommy's shoulder, his own head being used as Tommy's pillow.
With his eyes squeezed shut, Tommy was once again chasing the woman with the twisted face through Europe. Knowing what would eventually happen did not make the dream any easier to deal with; in fact, it only made it that much worse, so much so that Tommy forced himself back into reality the second that his dream-self had arrived in Leicester Square. There was no way in Hell that he was going to allow himself to see that face once more.
Blinking the sleep away from his eyes, Tommy looked to his right and realized that his shoulder had now become Jason's personal headrest. On top of that, Jason was snoring rather loudly. Tommy rolled his eyes and started to push Jason away, but it was at that moment that the plane's wheels hit the runway, the aircraft giving a slight jerk that was just enough to startle Jason from his slumber.
"Wazzgoingon?" asked Jason, looking around wildly.
"We're here," answered Tommy, with a yawn.
"Fuck yes!" whispered Jason, grinning at Tommy as they bumped fists.
Not long after that they had exited the plane and were now making their way through the Vienna International Airport. Neither had any idea as to where they were going, but there were enough map terminals throughout the airport to guide them on their way.
"Dude, I thought we'd stick out like sore thumbs here," said Tommy, looking around at the bustle of people around them, "But it seems like everyone here is a tourist."
Jason laughed. "That's because we're in an airport, bro. Wait until we're out in the open. Even then, though, we're two white guys in the middle of civilized Europe, not some third-world country in Africa or something. We shouldn't have any trouble blending in."
"McDonald's!" exclaimed Tommy, as the fast food stand became visible up ahead.
"Or not," muttered Jason, watching Tommy take off running towards the restaurant like an excited child. Shaking his head, Jason started after him. A few minutes later, Tommy had paid for and received his food, and they were moving once more.
"Tastes just like home, bro," said Tommy, with a full mouth.
Jason rolled his eyes. "You flew all the way here to eat McDonald's? You could have just stayed home and saved yourself thousands of dollars."
Tommy chuckled and shrugged. "I don't even eat this stuff when I'm at home, man, but I'm not about to just walk up to some random food stand and order something when I don't even know what the hell it is."
"Tommy," said Jason, slowly. "I spent two years in Europe, remember? I speak German and French damn near fluently, and can read them well enough that I can translate a menu for you. Trust me, though, you're going to go home disappointed if all you eat while we're here is American food."
Tommy just took another bite of his breakfast sandwich as they continued through the airport. Though it was called the Vienna International Airport, the airport was actually located in a town called Schwechat, which sat about nineteen kilometers—approximately twelve miles—southeast of Vienna proper.
After some ten minutes of walking they finally stepped outside, Tommy looking around with a shocked expression on his face. Aside from the obvious differences in road signs and the fact that almost all of the automobiles were German-made, he noticed nothing that separated this town from any other that he had ever visited.
When he mentioned this to Jason, Jason laughed and said, "That'll change once we get to Vienna." Motioning for Tommy to follow, he turned down a long stretch of sidewalk and added, "Like I said earlier, though, we're traveling through the heart of Europe. I don't think it's going to be some huge culture shock like it would be if we went to Thailand or something. Sure, the cities are older here and a lot of the architecture reflects that, but everything is modernized and most of the people we'll be dealing with speak English better than I speak German.
"Look," he added, pointing to what appeared to be a traffic sign. "The train station is just a couple hundred meters up ahead. That'll take us to Vienna; then we can check into a hostel and do some exploring."
"Cool," said Tommy, nodding. "So what exactly is there to do in Vienna, anyway?"
Jason shrugged. "I've never been, so I don't really know. I know some cool spots in Germany and Switzerland, but I'm as clueless on the rest as you are. Stop worrying so much, bro," he continued, with a laugh. "The whole point of backpacking is to just go. We don't need a plan; if there's cool stuff to do then we'll stay, if not we'll just move onto the next city."
Tommy said nothing; he merely nodded his head and kept on walking. Shortly thereafter they reached the train station; there were only two platforms, each with a set of tracks on either side. Nearby was a display with train times and destinations, so that was where they went first.
"Pretty much everything from here is going into Vienna," commented Jason. Slinging his backpack around, he dropped to his knees and quickly shuffled through his burden until he had found a fold-out map, which he then compared with the much larger display. "There's a pretty cool hostel a few minutes away from St. Josef Hospital. If I'm reading this right, the S7 train should get us pretty damn close."
"What's the train usually cost?" asked Tommy, having very little luck with the map display.
"It shouldn't be more than a Euro or two," answered Jason, stuffing the smaller map back into his bag. "Watch my backpack," he added, walking away. When he returned a few minutes later, he had two train tickets in hand. "The train that we need should be here in about ten minutes or so. We'll have to switch over to the underground at Landstraße and take the U-Bahn the rest of the way."
In German, the letter ß that appeared in writing to be a capital B, was actually pronounced as a hard—or double—S. The U-Bahn was an underground rail system akin to the subway in New York or the Bay Area's Rapid Transit in California.
Tommy took the offered ticket, and was just about to reply when someone caught his attention in his peripheral vision. She was standing at a distance of thirty feet away, waiting for a train on the opposite side of the platform, and was easily the most beautiful in the group of four other women that surrounded her; just a few inches shorter than himself, with long blonde locks and an hourglass figure that left him staring with his mouth agape.
"She's pretty hot, huh?" said Jason, who had noticed the look in Tommy's eyes.
"I don't usually go for smokers," muttered Tommy, maintaining his focus as the young woman took a long drag from a cigarette, "But I might make an exception for someone that hot."
Jason laughed. "Go talk to her, bro."
Tommy shook his head. "No way, man; she doesn't look like a tourist and I barely know enough German to order a beer and ask where the bathroom is."
Jason rolled his eyes. "Again, even more proof that I am a better leader," he teased, heading over to the group of young women without another word to Tommy. He walked right up to the one that Tommy had been ogling and politely introduced himself by saying, "Hallo, ich heiße Jason." He then pointed to Tommy and added,"Mein Freund ist scheut, aber er denkt dass Sie sehr schön sind."
Watching from afar, Tommy immediately looked away and pretended he that had not noticed when the blonde woman suddenly shifted her attention his way. Moments later he heard a fit of high-pitched giggles break out that made him wince visibly, Tommy silently wondering just how badly Jason was trying to screw him over.
From the corner of his eye he continued to watch Jason chatting with the group of young women, until at long last he started walking back with a shit-eating grin on his face and a scrap of paper in his hand.
"You owe me big time for this one, Tommy," announced Jason definitively, handing over the piece of paper.
Tommy took the paper, quietly scanned its scribbled contents and said, "Cat-juh? Is that her name?"
"God, you're so uncultured," replied Jason, with a laugh. "It's pronounced KAT-yah. She thinks you're cute; wants us to meet her and some of her friends tonight at a club in the city. I think she wrote the name of it on the paper."
"Seriously?" asked Tommy, Jason giving his confirmation as Tommy looked towards the woman once more. They locked eyes for just a moment and she gave him a quick smile and wave right as her train arrived. Two minutes later, she was gone; Tommy then turned to Jason and said, "I love you so much, bro."
Jason chuckled. "I know," he said, clasping Tommy's shoulder.
"You're still not a better leader, though," said Tommy, firmly.
"Whatever you say, bro," said Jason, rolling his eyes, "Whatever you say."
It was not long after that that their train came into view as well, slowing down rapidly as it approached the platform. They boarded the train and rode it to the Landstraße stop, switched to the U-Bahn and took that the rest of the way. Tommy had only been given a brief glimpse of Vienna during the train-switch, but once they had re-surfaced from underground he was immediately taken by what he was greeted with.
Jason had been absolutely right; the architectural style was unlike anything that Tommy was used to seeing back in the States. The buildings all seemed to be multiple centuries old, but in no way was that a knock on their sheer, undeniable beauty; a copper bell tower that had long since rusted green loomed powerfully in the distance.
"Wow," breathed Tommy, rotating in a slow circle as he really and truly took in Europe for the first time.
"We're just getting started, pal," said Jason, grinning. "Come on," he continued. "Let's go find us a room before all the good ones are taken."
"Lead the way," said Tommy. Jason shot a look Tommy's way that made him immediately regret what he had said. "Not because you're better than me," he quickly amended. "You just have a better idea of where we're going that's all."
"Apparently denial is more than just a river in Egypt, eh?" said Jason, Tommy rolling his eyes as the pair started down another long stretch of sidewalk.
"You realize that we've been gone for something like twenty hours, but it's only, like, three hours later than it was when our plane left L.A.?" said Tommy, a few minutes later.
"Just wait until the jet lag kicks in, bro," replied Jason, reading a nearby sign that said Hostel — 300 m. "You'll start to feel it in the next few hours."
"Wonderful," grumbled Tommy, typing away on his phone.
"It's really not that bad—" started Jason.
"Not the jet lag," said Tommy, with a flippant wave. "The Dodgers got creamed by the Diamondbacks last night."
Jason rolled his eyes. "I'm sure you'll get over it when you see Katja tonight. As I was walking away I heard her tell her friends in German that they were going to, quote, 'Show the sexy Americans what Austrian women are all about.'"
Tommy grinned. "I definitely like the sound of that, bro."
"There's the hostel," said Jason, a short while later, pointing towards a large white building with seven levels that was lined with many small square windows.
"Are we going to have to share rooms with fifty other people?" asked Tommy.
"I doubt it," answered Jason. "Hopefully we're getting here early enough that we'll be able to get a two-bed room, but we might end up having to share with a couple more people. It's cool, though. Unless you make friends with your roommates, you're really only in the same room when you're sleeping. Come on," he added. "We'll check in, grab a couple of lockers for our bags, and then we can go walk around the city for awhile."
Tommy just nodded his head slowly; his mind was focused far less on exploring the city and much more on the gorgeous blonde woman called Katja. She was captivating in ways that he could not readily explain; not in a decade had he been as struck by a woman's beauty as he was right now, walking into the hostel.
The foyer of the hostel contained only a few people, who were scattered about randomly, and the receptionist, a uniformed man in his late thirties who stood behind an oak desk with a wall of empty wooden mail cubicles positioned behind him.
"Morgen," said Jason, to the receptionist, as he and Tommy approached the desk. "Haben Sie ein Zimmer für zwei?"
"Ein Moment, bitte," replied the receptionist, whose nametag read Lukas. He then proceeded to type away at his computer for a few seconds before returning to Jason and saying, "Ja, haben wir das. Der Zimmer kosten fünfundzwanzig Euros jemand und Frühstück ist enthalten."
"Klar," said Jason. As he rummaged through his backpack for his wallet, he turned to Tommy and said, "Twenty-five Euros for the night and breakfast is included. You did remember to get foreign cash, right, bro?"
Tommy rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. "Yes, Dad," he said, following suit until he had found his own wallet.
"Oh, you are American!" said the receptionist, in heavily accented English. "Very nice! The girls here love it when Americans come that speak German!"
"I know," said Jason, grinning towards Tommy.
They paid for their room with two twenty- and two five-notes and were each handed a key with a small map that laid out the floor plan for the entire building. After taking what they needed from their backpacks, they sealed them in lockers with padlocks that they had brought from home and then headed up the three flights of stairs to their room on the fourth floor.
Their room was what was considered a first-class room; it slept two people and had an adjoining private bathroom. Its walls were painted red and one single-sized bed with white sheets and pillowcases sat on either side of the room, roughly twenty or so feet between them.
"This doesn't seem so bad," commented Tommy, as he walked into the bathroom. In no means was it a five-star hotel room, but one would have been hard pressed to find better accommodations for such a small price.
"Yep," said Jason, flopping onto one of the beds. "This is pretty much what it's going to be like for the next month. Sometimes it might be a little nicer than this, sometimes a little less, but I guess you could call this the standard. I'm sure most of the other rooms here are probably the same, just more beds and without the private bathroom."
Tommy nodded. "So what's the first order of business, pal? It's only quarter to twelve. What time are we supposed to meet Katja and her friends?"
"Not until nine or so," answered Jason, his hands folded behind his head. "We could go to the Hofburg, or check out some of the cathedrals. Like I said before, we don't really have to have a plan, either. We can just walk around or grab the train somewhere…whatever."
"The Hofburg is that big ass castle, right?" asked Tommy.
"Kind of," said Jason, shrugging. "It's more like a really, really big house; kind of like a mix between a castle and a mansion, I guess. If I remember right, the Hapsburgs lived there for something like five or six hundred years."
Taking a seat on the edge of his bed, Tommy replied, "Yeah, we could do that. Whatever…I'm not too worried about it."
Jason sat up at that point as well and said, "Alright, well let's just head out and we'll see where we end up."
"I'm cool with that," said Tommy, nodding.
With that settled they both rose to their feet and turned for the door, each of them more than ready to see what Vienna had to offer them. Of course, even if the city did not turn out to be all that interesting, there was still an evening with tons of gorgeous women to look forward to.