Part Two: Almost the Middle

After the funeral is over, Kimberly ends up living in L.A. with her dad and brother. She is tired of traveling and heartsick for something she can't define.

She wants and needs and hates everything.

Can't stay in Angel Grove, memories imprinted on every surface. Eyes always searching for a face that isn't there and never will be again.

She can't stay. She can't say goodbye either.

So she does what she does best and just goes.

~I~I~I~I~

Her dad is great, is good...is trying, at least. And he really is trying.

Kenny is still annoying. Bitches about her music and constantly drinks the last of the milk.

It's surprisingly normal being back with them. It's nice.

It's family at least, and she has been without for too long.

She tries not to think of her other family. Avoids the news like the plague- rangers and monsters and a chance to lose someone else.

Pretends like that was some other girl, some other life, and forces herself to forget about it. Forget about them.

It almost works, but not quite.

~I~I~I~I~

The condo is a three bedroom but still a little too small for the three of them. Her dad relocates his home office out of the guest room and into the dining room.

They learn to eat by balancing plates and bowls on their laps.

Kim knows somewhere her mom is having a heart attack at someone eating anywhere but at the table. Even more so about someone eating on that Italian leather sofa she loved so much. The one her dad just had to have as part of the divorce settlement.

More time spent bickering over furniture than her or her brother.

Kim spills ketchup on it and doesn't even feel guilty when she can't wipe the stain away.

~I~I~I~I~

Kim finds herself camping out on that sofa.

Can't sleep, not without dreaming of things she avoids thinking about.

Instead she huddles on the sofa in pjs and a blanket that still doesn't feel like hers. She keeps watching Disney movies and tries to pretend that she is ten again; back when Mary Poppins could make everything a little better.

Thinks it might actually be working, she might actually been digressing when after two weeks her father brings her home a stuffed penguin.

It used to be their thing. Her room a shrine to stuffed animals. The only way he knew to say he was sorry. The only way he dad knew to make her smile until she was fourteen and he discovered a credit card thrust into her hand and ride to the mall could work in equal measure.

"Kimmy, sweetpea..."

No, just no. Hugs the stuffed animal tight to her chest and tunes him out. Focuses on the screen, on Bert and Mr. Banks and a problems that are always solved in two hours and a song.

You've got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone...

She is not ready for the real world.

Not yet anyway. Maybe never without her in it.

~I~I~I~I~

In the end, her dad doesn't give Kim a choice.

He has set up a meeting with a some sort of public relation agent or something. Kim doesn't even have the strength to care. Just knows someone else will have to deal with the constant phone ringing. They can field and sift through all the endorsement deals that were left in limbo when she got that phone call. Her heart isn't strong enough right now to play phone tag and read fine print.

It's also not strong enough to battle her dad. Not when he is trying so damn hard.

He forces her to shower and do her hair and even takes her shopping for a new outfit to wear.

The stores are actually welcoming. Familiar and routine and all the same, even if they are different.

Kim buys three new outfits and actually manages to sleep that night.

~I~I~I~I~

They settle on a woman named Mikayla Jordan, who constantly dresses in black despite the summer heat, to represent her.. "GK Elite is still interested but you need to test first. Your prints are gorgeous but they want to see you on camera."

"Okay. I can do that. No problem."

Kimberly doesn't go straight home after the meeting. Instead, she signs up at a local gym and spend two hours on the equipment.

After all, the camera adds ten pounds.

~I~I~I~I~

The gym is cathartic and it's working. Kimberly wakes up at five a.m. and no longer wants to just roll back over and cry herself to sleep. She has a goal. For the first time since Trini's death she has a reason to get up in the morning.

Sweats until she is too exhausted to think.

~I~I~I~I~

The screen test goes horribly. Kimberly is stiff and uncomfortable the second she starts her first line.

They try coaching her through it. Remind her to relax and take a deep breath and pretend she is talking to her best friend.

Dark glossy hair and a mischievous smile flash in her mind and she can't shake it.

Trini.

It gets worse from there. Kim keeps trying but every word grates. She can't get the tempo down, speaks too fast and then too slow. And if her smile looks forced, that's because it is.

"Okay, okay. Let's just call it a day and we will pick it later." Mikayla doesn't bother to specify when later is.

After, in the hall, an assistant passes Kimberly an envelope with a phone number and a name scribbled in Mrs. Jordan's neat scrawl written across the top.

Alfonso Alveraz. Call him!

~I~I~I~I~

Alfonso Alveraz turns out to be a graying middle aged man with a large nose and kind eyes. He introduces himself as an acting mentor- a coach, if you will.

Kim nods. Coaches she can handle.

"So today, Miss Hart, we begin your training. Tell me about who you are?"

She doesn't give him her name, he already knows it. Doesn't mention the Pan Global Games. Thinks before she speaks and still can't define who she is, not anymore, and the girl she was is long gone.

"Well, who do you want me to be?"

He smiles, his gray-blue eyes crinkling at the corners. "We are going to have some fun here."

He brings out the worst and best in her. Helps her channel those long-lingering childhood fears into art. Trains her to hold tight to pure moments of happiness as inspiration for a line. He opens up a world to her she never knew and she falls in love with it all. Masks can be her best friends. Turns out it's not that different than a lifetime spent pretending the world wasn't crumbling at her feet.

~I~I~I~I~

When she goes back into tape again for the screen test, the difference is striking.

"Kimberly, I don't know what to say. It's like you have been acting your whole life." Mikayla is clearly impressed with the improvement.

Kimberly just smiles. In a way, she has.

~I~I~I~I~

Kimberly lands the GK Elite account. Her hand instinctively dials seven digits before she stops herself and Kim can't believe she almost forgot. First time she has been truly happy since it happened and now guilt laps at her feet.

She contemplates calling him because she knows despite everything he would be so proud of her and he is always who she thinks of next. Really almost goes through with it but then can't, not after how she left it all between them.

Settles on calling Zack because Kim knows he will get it, just having landed a steppingstone job of his own as an assistance teacher at The Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood. Not quiet everything he wanted but something. Something good and possible after a life that revolved around aliens, and the fate of the planet, and all the impossible being all too painfully real.

Calls him because she knows he will be happy for her, knows he will insist on dragging her to a club to celebrate, and knows that this once she will not tell him no.

Honestly she needs it. Needs a break and a chance to be eighteen. She feels too old most of the time.

"I got the account."

"For real?" Zack is legitimately excited for her and it brings a smile to her face.

"Yup," Kimberly even pops her the 'p' and it feels like surfacing, coming up for air.

"You are making the rest of us look bad. You know that, right?"

And she can't help but grin at his words. He is teaching at a convention in San Diego all weekend but they make plans to hang out the following Friday.

"Seriously, Kim, that is awesome. You should be really proud."

She actually is. Raids her brother's stash of Ben and Jerry's to celebrate.

~I~I~I~I~

Kim wakes up at two am to the sinking realization that she still has to actually shoot the campaign. Has to be on camera. Flaws on display. Her stomach feels full and gross.

She can't do this. Doesn't know who she is fooling.

She is going to choke again. It's going to just be like that first test run in Mikayla's office. Her tripping over words, sweaty, and fumbling.

Feels sick and queasy and over her head. Pads on hurried feet to the bathroom and stays there, head hunched over the toilet, until she is empty.

Brushes her teeth and vows never to eat so close to bed again, to never eat that much ice cream in one sitting.

Pretends that is the real problem. Ignores her own reflection in the mirror.

Just a case of too much sugar too close to bed.

That's it. Too much, too soon.

~I~I~I~I~

Kim doesn't know her way around Santa Monica and Wilco playing is enough of a draw to make parking impossible within four blocks of Harvelle's She arrives 40 minutes late and frustrated. Searches for Zack as she enters but the smoke and lack of light isn't helping.

"Hey, Kimberly."

There is a hand on her shoulder and she instinctively stiffens. Turns and stiffens more.

"Tommy? What are you doing here?" Blinks twice but he doesn't vanish.

"Meeting you." He has to yell over the warm up act to be heard, bending close, his breath in her ear.

"What?"

Their conversation dissolves into nothingness, all shouted words and half missed syllables trying to communicate over the din. Finally he switches tactics and tugs on her hand gently once, twice before making his way through the crowd towards the back. And she follows him because she always has.

~I~I~I~I~

Of course, it is all Zack's doing. He grins like a mad man, popping up from behind Rocky and Adam to shout "surprise" at her.

Tommy, for his part, tries not to look overly embarrassed for Kim. "I swear he told me you knew we were coming." Wonders if this is what they have become, permission slips to hang out.

No, it's great." Paints on a smile "It is so good to see you guys." She hugs Rocky's side and offers Adam a wave. Waits for the rush of happiness at their presence but the wave doesn't come, leaving her to wade in shallow waters.

"Zack told Tommy about the ad and then Tommy told us," Adam gestures to himself and Rocky. "We thought we could come celebrate with you."

"Aww! You guys are too sweet." They really are. Doesn't ask about the others. Won't because she knows even this is better than she deserves.

They hang out too long on the patio so that by the time they return all Kim's vantage allows her are glimpses of the stage through the sea of heads in front of her. She loves Wilco but honestly doesn't mind. She is here to listen.

The show is great and long and perfect. By the time they play Say You Miss Me Kim is leaning against Tommy, head resting back on his gray covered chest. No more red, no more white, and green is all but a memory. Wonders if he misses it all or if he is grateful for the break. Not quiet sure if she was or is, so she doesn't asks. Just closes her eyes and listens as they both sing along.

Well I've been mixed up, since the breakup. Why I need you to say, well everything's okay...

...

To Be Continued...

A\N: One part left. Things get better, then worse, and then it all goes to hell. You know the drill. Reviews make my day and immense amounts of happiness. Short or long they mean so much so please let me know your thoughts. Kim is on a slippery slope and she can't even see the hill. Readers are powerful. Reviews are love. ~ Del~

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