Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The Power Ranger characters belong to Saban (used without permission), but Olivia is all mine. While there's no adult content, the topic of rape is discussed, so be warned if you find this objectionable. August 1998
The story takes place five years after the infamous letter.
All I Want for Christmas
by Cheryl Roberts
Part 1: A July Wedding
"Are you sure there isn't anything I can help with?" Tommy queried as Adam and Rocky put the finishing touches on their tuxedos. When Rocky found out that Tommy was going to be at the wedding, he insisted on picking him up: Don't want you showing up late. Tommy sighed to himself. A lot had changed in the years since they had graduated from high school. Racing for his uncle and owning his own dojo had gone a long way to correcting his old habit of being late; besides, he wouldn't have missed Aisha's wedding for the world.
Tommy had been immensely startled to receive the invitation. He hadn't even known she was back in the States. According to Adam, Aisha had come back to Angel Grove to go to school and had met Stephen in her Animal Sciences class. After their wedding, the two were going to return to Kenya. Adam and Rocky had been asked to be ushers, and Tanya was one of the bridesmaids. Somehow, Tommy had always thought that Adam and Tanya would have been the first of their group to get married--once he and Kim had been taken out of the running.
I wonder if Kim's going to be here? The questions startled him somewhat; he hadn't thought of Kim in quite some time, and he was surprised that the old ache was still there. Tommy supposed he could ask the guys; however, he didn't have the nerve.
"Positive," Adam assured him.
"When are the other guests due to arrive?"
"Not for an hour, at least," Rocky replied.
"What am I going to do around here for an hour?" Tommy sighed.
"Hang out in the garden, I guess," Rocky offered.
"We need to go check in with Stephen," Adam said.
"Go ahead, I'll find something to occupy myself."
Tommy wandered back out to the vestibule. The ceremony was being held out in the gardens behind the church. He fingered his shirt collar. What was Aisha thinking? It's too blasted hot to be sitting outside in pants and a sports coat. I mean, it's July! However, she was used to the heat of the African savannah; this probably wasn't anything compared to that.
"Come on, sweetheart."
Tommy turned upon hearing Aisha's voice and bit back a smile. She had emerged from the ladies' dressing room wearing a bright yellow bathrobe, slippers, and her white veil. She had a tot in tow--a petite girl with long, chestnut colored hair, wide brown eyes, and the sweetest little smile; she appeared to be of Hispanic descent. She couldn't have been more than five or so. She gazed up at Aisha with the most earnest expression.
"Am I in trouble, Auntie 'Isha?"
"Of course not, Honey.
"Why did Mommy send me away?"
"She didn't. I just thought it might be a good idea if we could find someone to play with you," Aisha explained patiently. You're just so excited and have so many questions that your mommy can't keep track of you and help me get dressed, too. Plus she has to get dressed, too."
"Hey, I understand. It's all right. I'm just going to see if Rocky or Adam can keep an eye on you for a little while--just 'til we get things a little more settled in there. Okay?"
"Do I know Rocky or Adam? Mommy says I'm not supposed to talk to strange men."
Can't think of anyone stranger than Rocky, Tommy laughed to himself, although, he knew he wasn't being very fair.
"Rocky and Adam are okay; they're two of my best friends. Your mommy knows them, too. Say, I bet you've seen their pictures."
"If Mommy said it's okay, then I guess so."
"Is this the latest in bridal fashions?" Tommy quipped as the two stepped out into the vestibule.
"Wha . . Tommy? Oh my God!" With a delighted squeal, Aisha threw her arms around her old friend. Tommy kissed her on the cheek. "I'd forgotten that you were going to be here."
"I wouldn't have missed it."
"What are you doing here so early? The invitation said noon."
"Rocky wanted to make sure I wasn't late." Aisha just laughed and rolled her eyes. "I couldn't help over hearing that you have a 'small' problem. Could I be of service, since I have nothing else to do?"
"What a great idea! You are a lifesaver." Aisha turned to her diminutive companion. Tommy noted that the girl shyly ducked behind Aisha, but she continued to gaze up at him with wide eyes. He offered her his warmest smile.
"Hi, I'm Tommy." She shrank back from his extended hand and looked up to Aisha questioningly.
"It's okay, sweetheart. Tommy is an old friend, too."
"Just like Rocky and Adam? Have I seen his picture?"
"I'm sure you have."
Tommy didn't know what to make of Aisha's smile.
"Why don't I leave you two to get better acquainted. Thanks again, Tommy. I'll send someone for her when we're ready."
"Don't worry about it. I can keep an eye on her until the ceremony is over if you'd like."
"That'd be great! I gotta get going. You be good for Tommy, okay?'
" 'Kay, Auntie Isha."
Aisha scurried off to finish getting dressed, leaving the two to introduce themselves.
"By the way, I didn't catch your name," Tommy began. He had always been pretty good with kids; working with the kids at the dojo was a joy and had taught him a lot.
"It's Tommi, too!" the girl exclaimed. "Tommi Olivia, but Mommy always calls me Olivia."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Olivia." As he shook her hand, the girl smiled. "So what should we do for the next hour?"
"I don't know. I've never been to a wedding before," Olivia answered, scuffing the toe of her right shoe into the floor. "Auntie 'Isha said that if Unca Stephen hadn't promised his little sister she could be the flower girl, she would have asked me. I'm kinda glad she didn't. I don't know what flower girls do."
"They have very important jobs. They're the very first ones to walk down the aisle," Tommy replied.
"Yes. And they carry flowers. Sometimes they even get to sprinkle flower petals along the way."
"Do you think maybe someday I'll get to be a flower girl? They get to wear really fancy dresses, don't they?" Olivia gushed, her face positively glowing. 'Isha showed me Carla's dress. It was so beautiful--with lots of lace and everything!" Then, her expression fell. "I've never worn a really fancy dress before."
"Well, I think the one you have on is very pretty."
"Really?" Hope lit the girl's round eyes. She spun around, showing off her dress. "It isn't new or anything. It used to be plain, but Mommy bought some lace and ribbons and things and made it look fancy."
Tommy had the feeling that that might have been the case. He could tell by the scuffed shoes and the way the dress was a bit worn and fit slightly large. It was something else he had learned from observing his students: knowing the signs of a family trying to scrape by. It helped to know that sort of thing when it came time to collect for the lessons. On several occasions, Tommy had extended the payment period for one of his students when he saw the signs. The parents were always grateful, and he was glad he could do so with causing anyone any embarrassment.
"I especially like this little pink rosebud," Tommy said, lightly tapping the ribbon rose in the center of the collar.
"I like it, too."
"What say we head outside? We've got lots of time to kill, and I believe there's a swing out there."
"I love swings!" Olivia chirped, practically bouncing in place. Then her face became serious again. "But I can't mess up my dress."
"We'll be very careful. After you, Princess," Tommy announced, getting the door for her. With a giggle, Olivia dashed outside.
"Higher!" Olivia demanded gleefully, feet and hair flying as she swung back to Tommy.
"I can't. This swing isn't made to go that high," Tommy replied. After all, it was only a porch swing. Besides, he was starting to work up a sweat. He was having quite a time keeping up with Olivia; she was a regular little dynamo, and her chatter was constant. She was a bright girl--and very perceptive. Still, her company made the hour fly by quickly, and Tommy noticed that other guests were beginning to arrive.
"Hey, Princess, I think you and I had better get cleaned up," Tommy said as he pulled the swing to a stop.
"Oh, okay," she agreed grudgingly. She hopped off the swing and brushed at her dress and hair as Tommy slipped his jacket back on. She pouted when the strands of hair wouldn't stay where she patted them down. "My hair's all wild!"
"I believe I can fix that."
"You know how to braid hair?"
"Of course I do. My hair is almost as long as yours, you know."
Tommy turned to show off his ponytail.
"I didn't know boys could have long hair."
"Sure they can. Okay, so what kind of braid do you want? Regular or fancy?"
"A fancy one!"
"Let's go sit on the steps and see what I can do."
It had been a while since he had done anyone else's hair . . . not since Kim left. She was forever asking him to help her with her hair--not that she really needed it. She had been the one to teach him the different types of braids and things. He had never minded. Actually, he had really missed sharing that with her; it had been something special between the two of them. Kat had never asked and he had never offered.
Olivia made a valiant effort to sit still as Tommy pulled out the remains of her existing braid and set to work. His fingers seemed to remember how to twist the hair around. As he was working, the pastor's wife passed by several times as she hustled in and out of the parsonage to put the finishing touches on the wedding preparations.
"You are so good with her," she murmured in passing on one of her numerous trips.
"You really have a lovely daughter."
"But . . . ." However, she was gone before Tommy could correct her.
"Why did that lady call me your daughter?" Olivia wondered.
"I don't know. Maybe she thinks we look alike." Tommy could see it. Their hair was almost the same color, Olivia's being a little lighter and a bit more red. They had the same dark eyes and thick lashes. However, Olivia's features were a little sharper, her face more heart shaped.
"But you're not my daddy; I don't have a daddy," Olivia continued.
For a moment, Tommy was too stunned to say anything. He had just assumed that Olivia's father had been unable to attend the wedding. When he glanced down, he noticed that the girl's expression was sad. Maybe her father had died or her parents were divorced or something. His heart went out to the little girl. It was funny, but in the short time that he had known Olivia, she had wrapped herself around his heart. He hadn't had someone get so close so quickly since the first time he laid eyes on Kim.
"I'm sorry," Tommy murmured, offering her a hug. No wonder her mother was fixing up second hand clothing for her; it must be pretty difficult being a single parent.
Single parents made him think of Maggie Donovan; her son Chris was one of his best students. The family lived in his neighborhood; he'd see her or the kids at the laundromat or at the supermarket. A single mom with three kids . . . he didn't know how she did it. Knowing her made him appreciate the difficulties better, and any woman who could raise a child by herself deserved his respect.
"It's okay," Olivia sighed, "but sometimes I wish I had a daddy."
Tommy could relate, somewhat. He knew what it was like to wonder about a parent. As a kid, he had often wondered what his birth parents had been like, and he had always counted himself grateful that his parents had adopted him after his real folks had died.
"I asked my mommy about my daddy once," Olivia prattled on, "but she told me she didn't know who my daddy was."
The child's second bombshell blew Tommy away. How could she not know who the father was? The obvious thing that came to mind was that Olivia was adopted, but from what little he knew of adoption practices, it was highly unlikely that a single parent would have been allowed to adopt a child. Unless Olivia's mother had been married at the time the adoption was put through and then something happened . . . . Well, a woman didn't necessarily have to be married to want a family. Hadn't Laura Wells gone to a sperm bank--at least, that was the scuttlebutt around the coffee shop. Really, it could be any number of reasons. A one night stand? Maybe Olivia's mom just didn't want her daughter knowing her father. From the few conversations he'd had with Maggie, she often wished her boys didn't know their father--something having to do with drugs, if he remembered correctly.
Thinking of Maggie brought to mind another possibility, one Tommy might not ever have considered had it not touched a little close to home: rape. He had a student, Sarah . . . Maggie volunteered at the Rape Crisis Center, and she had brought the girl (she might have been sixteen) to his school thinking the classes would help her rebuild her self-confidence. He shook his head, remembering the skittish, frightened girl. She had barely begun the class when she left; Maggie later told him that she had found out she was pregnant and had to make a decision.
Tommy never knew what happened to her, but he would never forget her either. Could something like that have happened to Olivia's mother? If so, the woman had Tommy's utmost respect. It couldn't have been easy to decide against an abortion. No one would have held it against her. But to carry the baby to term and then decide not to put her up for adoption . . . . Of course, the reason for Olivia's statement was probably something less traumatic. He'd never been one to jump to conclusions; it wouldn't do for him to start now.
"There," Tommy said at last. "I think that does it."
"Do I look pretty?" Olivia asked.
"You are the most beautiful little girl here, and I am so lucky that I get to sit next to you," Tommy answered. Olivia smiled shyly.
"There you are!" Rocky called out as he hurried over.
"Hey, Rocky." Tommy noted that Olivia drew back warily.
"Aisha told me to see where you'd gotten to. Who's your date?" Rocky teased.
"This is Olivia. Olivia, this is Rocky."
"The one Auntie 'Isha told me about?"
"Aisha wants to get things started. I'm supposed to seat you close to her parents."
"We're ready, aren't we?"
Tommy held Olivia's hand as they followed Rocky to the aisle carpet. However, before they started up the white walkway, he bent over one of the flower arrangements.
"Tommy!" Olivia scolded as he pulled a rosebud out of the spray.
"I don't think Aisha will mind. Besides, a pretty girl deserves to have a pretty flower," he said, handing her the pale pink bud.
"For me? Really?"
"This way you'll almost be like a flower girl."
Olivia stood as tall as she could as she accompanied Tommy to their seats.
"A little young, don't you think?" Rocky hissed.
"You're just jealous because I'm with the best looking girl here," Tommy hissed back.
"You have all the luck. Catch you after the ceremony."
Luck? Once maybe, but that was a long time ago, Tommy sighed. Aloud he said, "Just don't leave without me."
Olivia could hardly sit still in her chair. She fidgeted about, looking this way and that. Tommy had to stifle a laugh as she nearly jumped out of her shoes as the music began.
"Is it time to start?" she whispered to Tommy.
"I think so."
The two turned to see the curly-haired flower girl standing frozen at the foot of the aisle. Tommy guessed she was at least a year older than Olivia.
"Why doesn't she move? My mommy can't have her turn if Carla doesn't go," Olivia said impatiently.
Someone finally prompted the frightened child, and she haltingly started up the walk, her little basket clutched tightly in her fists. There were three bridesmaids in all, each escorted by a groomsmen. Olivia oohed and aahed as she saw the women in their breezy, sunshine yellow dresses and the men in their smart tuxes.
"They all look so fancy," she murmured.
Tommy didn't recognized either of the first pair to make their way down the aisle, but Tanya and her escort were next. He caught a glimpse of Adam as Tanya swept past him. As bad as he was in high school, Tommy mused, noting the love-struck look in Adam's eyes. Had he been that bad when he and Kim were together? He tried to ignore the old ache in his heart; he'd tormented himself enough over what could have been. This was Aisha's day, and he wanted to be happy for her.
"There she is!" Olivia squeaked excitedly, clutching Tommy's arm. "There's my mommy! Isn't she the most beautifulest of all the bridesmaids?"
Tommy smiled at Olivia's obvious pride in her mother. It was all he could do to keep her from jumping up and running to meet her mom. Then, Tommy looked up to see for himself, and he felt as if he had been kicked in the stomach. Walking down the aisle as the maid of honor was Kim! He hadn't seen her in five and a half years . . . since their last Christmas together. Tommy's throat went dry; she looked as beautiful as he remembered--even more so. Her caramel colored hair was pinned up in a soft twist--flowers and baby's breath the only ornaments she wore. Her doe brown eyes seemed to shine, and her smile took Tommy's breath away. She looked positively radiant, and she seemed to brighten as she caught sight of Olivia.
"That's your mommy?" Tommy gulped out numbly.
"Uh huh. Hi, Mommy!" Olivia called out, but softly, waving energetically.
Kim grinned and looked away--God, he remembered how she always used to do that! Then, Tommy felt Kim's eyes meet his. The smile faded, replaced by complete astonishment. However, she quickly recovered herself and finished her walk, but Tommy noticed that she still looked shaken.
Tommy never even saw Aisha make her way down the aisle. He never heard the minister's words or the exchange of vows; his whole attention was riveted on Kimberly. From time to time, Tommy noticed Kim nervously glancing his way. Then, he'd see her eyes fall on her daughter, and he couldn't help but smile at the love that shone therein. Her eyes used to shine so for him, once upon a time. Tommy regarded the little girl by his side thoughtfully as one question burned through his mind: Oh man, Kim, what happened?
* * *
Aisha Karan Campbell-Stone, why didn't you tell me!
Kim's hands trembled as she clutched her bouquet, waiting to follow the newlyweds from the altar. The whole wedding had passed by in a blur; she hadn't been able to concentrate on a thing once her eyes met Tommy's.
Why didn't you tell me he was here!
Kim snuck a sideways glance at her daughter and her former boyfriend as she swept past. God, it hurt to see him again. He looked more gorgeous than she remembered. She had to fight the tears. Seeing Tommy again had done more than just startle her; it had brought back all the old memories--good and bad. Her chest and throat felt tight, and she felt a cold lump in her stomach. She had always wondered how she'd react if she ever saw Tommy again; she had prayed that she never would. After what happened . . . she couldn't bear for him to know the truth.
Olivia waved at her again, and she couldn't keep from smiling--even as she couldn't fight back the tears. They could be tears of happiness for all anyone could tell. Only she knew that they weren't. She had kept her eye on Tommy and Olivia all throughout the ceremony. She couldn't believe how well they seemed to get along. She had caught them smiling and whispering and laughing, and Olivia even seemed to mind him. Kim was astounded; she had never seen her daughter take to someone she had just met so well--especially a man. It killed Kim to know that her daughter had picked up on her own reticence. Try fear. You'd think after five years it wouldn't be so bad . . . . However, Kim knew that Tommy had always been great with children. And maybe Olivia can see what I saw in him the first time I met him. She had looked into those soft brown eyes and saw the gentlest, kindest, most caring soul she had ever known. And I sent him away.
Kim took her place in the receiving line, a false smile plastered on her face as she shook hands with the throng of relatives, friends, and other well wishers.
"Aisha," she hissed menacingly under her breath. "Why didn't you tell me about Tommy!"
"It completely slipped my mind that he was going to be here, and then we got so busy with the dresses and stuff . . . ." Aisha whispered back as she disengaged from a hug.
"I thought you said you were going to leave Olivia with Adam and Rocky. How could you let Tommy . . . ?"
"I was, but Tommy was there, and he offered to look after her. What's the big deal? If there was anyone you trusted with Olivia, I would have thought it'd be Tommy."
Kim knew Aisha was right; she couldn't think of anyone she trusted more than Tommy. She had trusted him with her life when they were Rangers, and even more importantly, she had trusted him with her heart. But then, she lost the ability to trust anyone . . . .
"I . . . I didn't want Tommy to know." she mumbled.
"I didn't tell him who she was. If he knows, he learned it from Olivia." Aisha turned to face her. "Kim, you're going to have to face him sooner or later. You've been talking about coming home to Angel Grove ever since Olivia was born; Angel Grove isn't all that big. You were bound to run into him eventually. Besides, you owe him an explanation. The guys told me how bad he took it when he got your letter; he deserved better than that."
"I know," Kim choked out softly. "I just couldn't tell him the truth. I was too afraid to; after the way my mom took it . . . I couldn't have handled it if he'd abandoned me, too."
"So you abandoned him first. Tommy wouldn't have done that. He loved you so much; I can't believe that would have changed the way he felt."
"It changed the way my mother felt," Kim said bitterly. Then, Kim composed herself as 30 lbs. of pure energy came charging at her.
"Mommy!" Olivia cried gleefully, flinging her arms around Kim's legs.
"Hey, Sweetheart," Kim said, stooping down to hug and kiss her daughter. In spite of everything she had endured, she never regretted for an instant keeping her child.
"Oh, Mommy, you look so beautiful!"
"Thank you. So what did you think of the wedding?"
"Well, I was kinda bored, but I still had fun. Hey, where's Tommy . . . Tommy, come say hi to my mommy!" Olivia dashed off to retrieve her companion.
Kim braced herself as her daughter tugged Tommy towards her. She wasn't ready yet. She couldn't bear to see . . . she'd look into those eyes of his and she'd know. She wasn't sure she could face the hurt and anger that he must feel for what she had done to him.
Then, he was standing before her. Kim could only stare; her voice seemed to have taken a coffee break. She felt ridiculous; she hadn't been this nervous the first time she had ever spoken to him! Kim's eyes took in every detail. In spite of herself, his eyes seemed to draw her in, and to her astonishment, she saw no anger or pain. There was sadness, loneliness, and a faint ember of the affection he once had for her. Suddenly, she wondered what he saw in hers.
"Mommy, this is Tommy," Olivia bubbled.
"Hello, Kim," Tommy said, his voice husky. The warmth of his voice washed over Kim like a warm wave.
Just take it easy, she told herself. There's no way he can know the truth . . . Olivia doesn't even know. He probably thinks I'm happily married--with a family--and my husband couldn't make it to the wedding.
"You know my mommy?" Olivia queried, tugging at Tommy's trouser leg.
"We're old friends from school," Tommy answered. He took Kim's hands and leaned forward to give her a gentle peck on the cheek.
His touch on her hands was light; he wasn't even standing that close, and the kiss . . . it wasn't any big deal. He had greeted Tanya the same way: a display of affection for an old friend. Yet, Kim's trembling shot off the charts. She couldn't stop shaking, and the urge to pull away--to run--was crushingly strong. Only the desire not to cause a scene at Aisha's wedding kept her from fleeing. To her embarrassment, Tommy seemed to pick up on her distress. He eyed her wonderingly as he released her hands and took a step back, giving her more room.
Kim couldn't seem to catch her breath.
"Mommy, are you okay?"
"I'm . . . fine, honey," Kim lied, forcing a smile for her daughter. Olivia could be such a worrywart; sometimes it seemed the child spent more time worrying about the mother than the other way around.
"You're looking great, Kim; it's good to see you again."
"Y-you to, Tommy." Kim was grateful he was willing to pretend that nothing was amiss--for the moment, but she could tell he wanted to ask.
"And you have a wonderful daughter; she's very much like you."
Kim blushed. "Thank you. And thanks for keeping an eye on her this morning."
"It's been a pleasure."
"Look at the flower Tommy gave me!" Olivia beamed, proudly holding up her pink rose.
"It's very beautiful, and that was very nice of Tommy." Kim could feel the tears threatening.
"Okay, folks! We have pictures to take!" Stephen called out as the last of the guests left the receiving area.
"This is quite a production," Tommy remarked.
"Aisha had wanted a small wedding, but Stephen's mom was really wanting a big to-do," Kim explained as they started to drift back out to the gazebo. "His parents offered to pay for it all, so they took them up on the offer."
"Mommy, I'm hungry," Olivia complained.
"It's going to be a little while yet, Sweetie," Kim sighed apologetically. "I'm not sure how long the pictures will take, and then there's something going on at the Stone's house...."
"Hey, I can take Olivia and get her some lunch it you'd like," Tommy offered.
"Tommy, that's really sweet, but I wouldn't want to impose . . . ."
"It's not like I have anything else going on until the reception," he pointed out. "I'm sure you have a lot of things to do yet with Aisha and the wedding. I really wouldn't mind."
Kim bit her lip uncertainly. She was tempted to take him up on his offer. They did have a lot to do, and she really wouldn't be able to keep an eye on Olivia as she'd like. However, she had never left Olivia alone with anyone else for more than a half an hour at the most. This morning had been the first time.
"What's keeping you, girl?" Aisha called out.
"I'll be there in a minute!"
Kim looked from Tommy to her daughter; actually, she felt a little guilty even considering his proposal. Still, she hadn't seen Aisha in a while and hadn't been able to spend much time with her this weekend. And it had been so long since she had done a thing without Olivia . . . she didn't know if she could anymore. Kim sighed. Really, she was being a little foolish; she knew she could trust her daughter to Tommy's care. "Would you like to go with Tommy to get some lunch?"
"Yes!" Olivia cheered.
In a way, Kim felt a little hurt that her daughter was so eager to go. "Then I guess it's okay."
"Don't worry about a thing, Kim; we'll be fine," Tommy assured her. "What time would you like me to bring her back? Although, I can keep an eye on her until the reception, if you'd like. I'm sure you could use the time."
"Tommy, no. I couldn't ask . . . ."
"You're not asking; I'm offering," he reminded her with a teasing smile.
"I don't know; Olivia's never spent much time without me around."
"If you'd rather I not . . . ."
"No . . . it's just that . . . ."
"Tell you what, Olivia and I will get some lunch and maybe go by the park or something; the minute she wants to come back, we will. Otherwise, we'll see you at the reception. Sound fair enough?"
"Please, Mommy?" Olivia entreated. She was bouncing up and down with excitement, and Kim couldn't resist her hopeful expression.
"All right. You behave for Tommy."
"Kim . . . !" Aisha called again.
"All right! Can I have a hug?" Kim knelt down and was promptly tackled by her delighted child.
"I'm glad you know Tommy, Mommy," Olivia confided in hushed tones. "He's really nice, and I really like him."
Kim struggled to keep her emotions in check.
So do I, Sweetie, so do I.
She stood in the gateway and watched as Tommy and Olivia walked off. They paused to talk to Rocky for a moment, then the three headed out to the parking lot. With a heavy heart, Kim turned to rejoin the rest of the wedding party. She quietly took a seat behind Aisha and Tanya as they waited for the photographer to finish up with Stephen's family.
" . . . no way," Aisha gasped to something Tanya had told her. "The way she'd been after him, I'd have thought they'd have been married with their own kids by now."
Tanya shook her head. "It didn't last. They both realized there was nothing there pretty early on in the relationship. They stayed together just so no one else would know. When Kat left for London, that was it. Adam says Tommy hasn't dated anyone since."
Kim blinked her eyes in surprise. Not to hear that Tommy and Kat had dated--she had always assumed that's what happened. It was that Tommy wasn't seeing anyone and hadn't for quite a while. Why? He should have had no problem finding someone else.
"Because of Kim?" Aisha asked.
"He's never said, but we think so."
"Because of me--what?" Kim piped up.
"That he's never dated . . . face it, girl. The man is obviously still in love with you," Aisha snorted.
"That's impossible," Kim said in a choked whisper.
"Is it?" Tanya wondered. "Even I could tell there was still something there when I saw him with you in the receiving line, and the way he was with Olivia . . . ."
Kim didn't want to believe it. Tommy couldn't still be in love with her, could he? She knew that she still loved him, but there was no way that they could ever be together again.
"Speaking of the munchkin, where is she?" Aisha interrupted.
"She was hungry, so Tommy offered to take her to lunch," Kim said.
"And you let her go?" Aisha gasped. Kim scowled at her teasing grin.
"Please, Aisha . . . ." Kim sighed; she wasn't in the mood.
"Kim, you have to talk to him," Tanya advised. Kim hadn't known Tanya for very long, just since Aisha had been planning her wedding, but she had clicked with this former Yellow Ranger as easily as she had with Aisha.
"I know . . . I just don't know how."
* * *
"Thanks, Rocky," Tommy said as he helped Olivia out of Rocky's jeep.
"No problem. Now I'd better get back before Aisha skins me alive for running off during the pictures. You two have fun, and I'll see you at dinner," Rocky answered.
"Bye!" Olivia called brightly, waving as Rocky pulled away from the curb. "I like him. He's funny."
"Yeah, Rocky's a great guy. He has lots of brothers and sisters," Tommy replied. Rocky had dropped him off at his parent's house so he could pick up his truck.
"I wish I had a brother or sister," Olivia sighed wistfully. "Sometimes it's lonely with just me and Mommy. She has to teach and stuff and can't play with me. And the other girls at the gym are all older than me, and they don't want to play either. Well, maybe they would if Coach Schmidt would let them."
"Kim teaches at Coach Schmidt's training facility?" Tommy reiterated.
"Uh huh. We live there, too."
"Up you go, Princess," Tommy said, swinging Olivia into the front seat. For a moment, he thought about borrowing his mother's car. After all, he really shouldn't have her in the front seat, but a quick glance showed that his mom wasn't home yet.
As he fastened Olivia in, Tommy mulled over her information. She and Kim were living in the training center's dormitory. Tommy recalled Kim writing to him about it when she first got down to Florida. She had thought about getting an apartment but thought she'd get to know her other teammates better if she stayed in the gym's housing. Why wouldn't she have moved into an apartment when the baby came along?
He was trying to piece together what might have happened to Kim. Olivia was going to be five in September--as she had proudly announced when he had been swinging her--that meant Kim had gotten pregnant the January before she sent him the letter. She had probably missed the games then, too. Tommy hadn't been able to bring himself to watch the Pan Globals, but he had paid attention to the news reports. Since Kim was never mentioned, he had assumed that she hadn't medaled. The scenario could very well have been that Kim had met someone in Florida and gotten pregnant--which would have explained why she had broken up with him. It was plausible . . . .
"So, where do you want to go? McDonald's?" Tommy queried, sliding into his seat. His speculations could wait; a hungry, almost-five-year-old could not.
"McDonald's? Really?" Olivia gasped, reacting as if he'd said he'd seen Santa Claus or something.
"But it's not even my birthday."
"You only go to McDonald's on your birthday?"
"Uh huh. It's something very special."
Kim always was really conscious about eating healthy, Tommy reminded himself. Just because they didn't go to McDonald's very often didn't mean anything. Still, he had a feeling . . . living in a dorm, second hand clothes . . . but Kim couldn't have been too badly off if she could afford the trip to come home. Things could be tight without being desperate. Maybe they just had to cut back here and there to save for the trip.
"Well, isn't today a special occasion?" Tommy asked, trying to cover his surprise.
"I guess so."
"Then McDonald's it is."
Tommy sat back against the cool wall exhaustedly as Olivia clambered into the maze of pipes in the play land. How could Kim keep up with her? The only reason he had gotten out of playing in the plastic jungle was because he was too big to fit! And the chatter . . . ! He thought he dealt with kids just fine, but he had never had to deal with them in such a concentrated form. He was grateful for the peace and quiet. He had a lot to think about.
In a way, he felt a little guilty. He knew quite a bit more about Kim's present situation, thanks to her daughter's volubility. He hadn't needed to ask a single question. He was sure Kim wouldn't have wanted him to know much of it. Olivia hadn't told him anything major, but all the little things added up to a very bleak picture--although, one couldn't have told it from watching Olivia. It was the only life she knew, so she didn't know she was missing anything. Tommy was proud of the job Kim had done with raising her child. Olivia was happy, healthy . . . but what had been the toll on Kim?
"Tommy . . . ." a plaintive cry interrupted him. He looked up to see Olivia standing before him with great big crocodile tears streaming down her cheeks.
"What's wrong? Did you get hurt?" he asked. Kim would kill him if anything happened to her little girl!
"No," Olivia sniffled. "This boy in the tubes . . . he was squishing this little white thing, and it broke and . . . ." She didn't even need to finish. There was ketchup all over the front of her dress. What was that kid doing with a ketchup packet in the play room anyway!
"My beautiful dress is all ruined!"
"No it isn't. Let's get some napkins and see if we can get you cleaned up," Tommy consoled her.
"Is Mommy going to be mad?"
"No, honey. It wasn't your fault. Besides, we'll get this wiped up, and she'll never even know anything happened." However, the condiment proved more difficult to clean up than Tommy anticipated. His wiping only seemed to make matters worse; he had forgotten how hard it was to get a ketchup stain out. Tommy sat back with a huff and brushed a stray strand of hair out of his face. "Okay . . . ."
Olivia was still sniffling and on the verge of tears again. "What are we going to do?"
"We're going to go talk to an expert on ketchup stains," Tommy decided.
Fortunately for Tommy, his mother's car was in the driveway when he pulled up. He led Olivia around to the back door.
"Hey, Mom," he called out.
"Tommy? What are you doing here?" Janice Oliver queried as she shut the refrigerator door. Her hazel eyes widened as she noticed the tot he had in tow. "I thought you were at Aisha's wedding?"
"There are a couple hours between the ceremony and dinner," Tommy explained.
"Who's your little friend?"
"Mom, I'd like you to meet Olivia Hart." Tommy saw the expression of disbelief and noted the question in his mother's eyes. He nodded in confirmation. His mother looked like she wanted to take a seat. He couldn't blame her. If he hadn't been sitting down when he found out . . . . "Olivia, this is my mom, Janice Oliver."
"H-hello," Olivia mumbled.
"It's nice to meet you. What brings the two of you here?"
"We were at McDonald's and had a little accident with a ketchup packet," Tommy explained.
"I didn't have the accident; that boy squirted me!" Olivia snapped in defense of herself. Tommy hid his smile; Olivia sounded so much like her mother.
"Anyway, we have to get the ketchup out before I take her back to Kim."
"Let's head upstairs and see what we can do," Jan said. "It isn't dry clean only, is it?"
"I don't think so."
"Mommy has washed this lots of times," Olivia supplied.
"Good, then we can soak it in the sink with some Woolite. Tommy, go get a t-shirt from my dresser; the poor thing would be hopelessly lost in one of your old ones."
"Tommy, where's the bathroom?" Olivia asked suddenly. "I gotta go potty."
"It's upstairs. I'll show you," he said, thankful that issue hadn't come up at McDonald's as well.
"You get the shirt, I'll show our guest to the bathroom then help her out of her dress," Jan spoke up, and the trio headed for the stairs.
Tommy dug around in his mother's drawer until he located what he imagined was the smallest t-shirt she owned. When he turned, he wasn't surprised to find his mother standing in the doorway.
"That's Kimberly's little girl?" Jan queried.
"Yes. Kim's Aisha's maid of honor, and Olivia was kind of underfoot so I offered to keep an eye on her."
"Beautiful child. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she was yours."
"I know. The minister's wife told me I had a lovely daughter."
"He must have looked an awful lot like you," Jan murmured.
"Kim's husband. Olivia's father. The man she left you for."
Perhaps it was merely wishful thinking, but Tommy felt sure that there hadn't been another man. At the very least, there wasn't now. When he held Kim's hand, he hadn't felt a wedding ring. He knew what his mother was trying to do; she was trying to remind him of what happened so he wouldn't get hurt again. He couldn't blame her for wanting him to be cautious; his rekindled interest was hardly disguised, and he had hurt for so long the first time. However, before he could address her statement, Olivia emerged from the bathroom wearing nothing but her panties. Her beaming face was smeared with red streaks.
"I didn't need any help to get undressed!" she declared proudly. Tommy and his mother exchanged amused smiles.
* * *
"Where are they?" Kim wondered, anxiously glancing towards the door.
"Will you chill out," Aisha instructed exasperatedly. "There's plenty of time before dinner yet. I think you'd have been better off if you'd have kept Olivia with you. You haven't been able to relax for a moment since she left with Tommy."
"I'm sorry. It's just that . . . ."
"I know. You've never been away from her this long before," Aisha sighed. "You shouldn't worry so much; I bet Olivia had the time of her life this afternoon."
It was Kim's turn to sigh. "I'm sure she did."
Aisha just shook her head. "Would it make you feel any better if I put Olivia at the head table with you? I have her at the table with my parents and Tommy, but if you'd rather I didn't, there's still time . . . ."
"There's no reason to rearrange things. I'm just being silly."
"Just talk to him, Kim. You aren't going to be able to enjoy yourself tonight until you do."
Kim wished it was that easy.
"Come on," Aisha harumphed, noting Kim's hesitant expression. "Let's see if we can find you something to do to keep your mind occupied."
Kim's appointed task was to light all the candles in the centerpieces--a job not requiring more than just a modicum of her attention, so her thoughts were still free to wander. She knew she was being overly sensitive, but she couldn't help but be worried about what Tommy thought about Olivia, her situation . . . . Tommy wouldn't interrogate Olivia, but Kim knew her daughter. When Olivia warmed up to someone, she could talk his ear off. She wouldn't think anything of telling Tommy about herself; she wouldn't know that what was just everyday living for her would seem so . . . pathetic to someone else, and Kim couldn't bear the thought that Tommy thought badly about her . . . .
She felt tears gathering in her eyes and brushed them away angrily. Let him think what he wanted! She had done the best she could. Her daughter was happy, healthy--so what if they didn't have a lot of things. She had a job; she wasn't on welfare. She couldn't help it if she had no insurance and the medical bills were taking every cent she had or that she was having to live on her credit card to get by. Lots of people had those problems. Surely Tommy could understand that.
. . . he could if you told him, Kim chided herself, but she wasn't sure if she could deal with Tommy's pity, or worse, his condemnation--his justified 'it serves you right.'
You know Tommy wouldn't do that to you; he's not that sort of person. At least, he hadn't been when they were young and in love. There was no telling what five years had done to him.
Kim tossed aside the lighter and fled to the restroom. For five years, she had been a rock. She had been abandoned to bring her daughter into the world alone, to raise her alone, and she had to be strong for them both. Now, one look at Tommy, and she felt like that scared seventeen year old all over again.
Tommy and Olivia arrived at the hall amid a crush of other guests.
"I can't see Mommy," Olivia piped up as she jumped about, trying to catch a glimpse through the much taller bodies.
"Will this help?" Tommy queried, picking the child up. Olivia squealed with delight. He also scanned the room for Kim but saw no sign of her.
"There you two are," Aisha greeted them cheerfully. "You guys look like old buds."
"I got to go to McDonald's, Auntie Isha. See my toy!" Olivia declared proudly.
"That's real nice, honey."
"Where's Kim?" Tommy wondered.
"Little girl's room," Aisha answered. "You and Olivia are at the table with my folks, Adam, and Rocky. You don't mind the company a little longer, do you?"
"Not at all."
Tommy exchanged greetings with Stephen then went in search of the table. He spied Rocky waving and wandered over.
". . . you guys should have seen the hologram Billy sent," Tanya was saying as she stood behind Adam's chair. "It was almost like he was there."
"I'm just glad Aisha was able to get an invitation to him," Adam remarked.
"How'd she manage that?" Rocky wondered.
"It wasn't easy. There's been so many changes in the team since we left," Tanya continued. "It's a shame he wasn't able to make it, though. She was really hoping . . . whoops, gotta go, Sweetie; I'll catch you later when the dancing starts." Slipping Adam a peck on the cheek, Tanya scurried off with a quick "hi, Tommy," in passing.
"So when are the two of you getting hitched?" Rocky asked Adam, elbowing him knowingly, to Adam's obvious discomfort."
"Hey, Rocky! I see you're still all in one piece; I guess Aisha didn't kill you for running off," Tommy jibed as he arrived at the table and pulled out the chair for Olivia.
"And I see you're still hanging out with younger women," Rocky retorted. "Cradle robber."
"At least I have a date."
Rocky looked wounded, Olivia looked puzzled, and Adam had to stifle a snicker at that.
"Where's Kim?" Adam queried.
"So, Squirt, was Tommy a boring date?" Rocky teased.
"DeSantos . . ." Tommy began warningly.
"Hey, I'm still trying to figure out what the girls see in you."
"We had lots of fun!" Olivia bubbled, then she gave another excited chirp. "There's Mommy!"
"Go for it, Princess," Tommy said, noticing that the girl was practically bouncing out of her chair. "She looks like she missed you." Olivia took off like a shot. The men watched as mother and daughter shared hugs; Kim swept the tot into her arms and listened with a tender, indulgent smile to the animated chatter.
"Olivia sure is something," Adam murmured.
Tommy tore his gaze away from the two women. "She sure is," he agreed, his tone wistful.
"We had no idea Kim had a kid," Rocky remarked. "When we met Olivia at the rehearsal dinner, I about passed out. At first, I thought that she might have been . . . ."
"I know, but she isn't mine," Tommy interrupted. He and Kim had never taken that step in their relationship.
"Do you know what happened? Was it the guy in the letter?" Adam asked.
"I really don't know."
"Kim hasn't said anything yet?" Rocky questioned.
"I think Aisha knows," Adam began, but he fell silent as Kim returned Olivia to the table.
"How are you doing?" Tommy queried, having risen without thinking. He rested a hand on Kim's shoulder. She looked worn out, and he couldn't help but notice that her muscles were tight beneath his hand. "Long afternoon?"
"A little. I really appreciate all your help this afternoon, Tommy. Sorry about the trouble with the ketchup; thank your mom for me."
"It was no big deal; I'm glad we were able to get it cleaned up. Someone was quite upset about it." Tommy favored Olivia with a smile.
"This is my favorite, bestest dress," she asserted.
"I know, Princess." When Tommy turned his attention back to Kim, he noticed that she looked extremely ill at ease.
"You've had Olivia all day; if you'd like to have some time to yourself--you know, to enjoy the party . . . ."
"Kim, I haven't enjoyed myself so much in ages," Tommy assured here. "Olivia will be fine at dinner--I'm more worried about Rocky being a nuisance than her.
"Hey!" Rocky objected.
Olivia giggled, and Kim even managed a small grin.
"You do whatever you need to, and don't worry about a thing." As Kim transferred Olivia to Tommy's arms, he squeezed her hand gently and murmured under her breath. "You know there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you."
"Even after all this time?" Kim whispered back, disbelieving. From the way she blushed, Tommy had the impression she hadn't meant to say the words aloud.
"I don't know . . . thanks, Tommy," she muttered, flustered. With that, she hurried away, leaving her friends looking after her in wonderment.
"Why does Mommy look so sad?" Olivia asked.
"I wish I knew, Princess."
* * *
Kim picked at her dinner, her stomach too tightly knotted up for her to eat. She spent the entire meal either watching Tommy and her daughter or trying to avoid their eyes. At the moment, Olivia was giving Rocky the devil about something, and Tommy was politely listening to one of Stephen's innumerable aunts. Whatever the woman had said had caught Tommy off guard; however, when he tried to respond, she simply dismissed him with a wave and continued chattering away. All Tommy could do was shrug and try not to look bored. Idly, Kim wondered what the comment had been. A moment later, she didn't have to wonder. Here came Stephen's aunt, preceded by a miasma of floral cologne that could have been emitted from the riot of flowers on her dress.
"Honey, I just had to tell you what an adorable little girl you have," Aunt so-n-so gushed.
"You are so lucky," she continued, "your husband is so good with her. Wish mine had been like that."
Kim felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. She cast a panicked glance Tommy's way. How could he have told her that . . . ? Then, she calmed herself. Tommy hadn't been able to get a word in edgewise; he had probably been trying to tell her that he wasn't Olivia's father when she bowled him over with her prattle.
It was an honest mistake; Tommy really was great with Olivia, and as for the uncanny resemblance . . . . Kim had noticed that the day Olivia was born. When the nurse first put her daughter into her arms, she had marveled at the dark hair and thick lashes, and when her baby opened her eyes . . . . They were the same deep pools of brown that she had lost herself in when she first met Tommy. "Oh, Tommy," she had sighed as those soul-windows drew her in, and in that moment, she knew she couldn't give her child up. Later, she had tried to tell herself that the coincidental resemblance was nothing more than wishful thinking, but it had been the reason she had named her daughter after Tommy.
Yes, he could have been Olivia's father . . . he should have been Olivia's father. She had had such hopes and dreams. After high school, there would have been college, and then she and Tommy would have gotten married. Even after gymnastics entered the equation, she had always envisioned a future with Tommy. If things had worked out, this might have been her wedding, and Olivia would have followed a year later. Instead, all her dreams had come crashing to an end.
"Are you finished with this?"
"Huh? Oh, yes. Thank you," Kim murmured as the woman took her plate. They were clearing the tables already? Kim glanced at Tommy and Olivia again. She had put it off as long as she could, but she didn't think Tommy's questions--the answers she owed him--would wait much longer.
Tommy watched as Kim and Olivia spun around the dance floor. He smiled as he noticed the joy in Kim's face. It was the first time all evening she looked like she was enjoying herself. He felt badly that his presence was making Kim so nervous. He wanted to let her go and not press her for answers, but for five years he had wondered what had gone wrong. He needed to know; maybe that's why he had been unable to put things behind him.
A ballad came on. Throughout the early sets, Kim had been monopolized by the wedding party, and he entertained Olivia with his less-than-graceful efforts. Then, once the more up tempo songs started, Olivia occupied her mother completely.
"Rocky, do me a favor."
"Dance with Olivia so I can dance with Kim."
"No problemo," Rocky agreed readily. As he abandoned the table to collect his new partner, he patted Tommy on the shoulder. "Good luck."
Kim's back was to him as he headed onto the dance floor, her attention completely focused on Rocky as he spun Olivia away.
"May I have this dance?" Tommy queried, tapping her on the shoulder. Kim jumped.
"Oh. Um, sure. I guess," she stammered.
For a moment--when Tommy took her hand in his--he felt her tremble and glimpsed what he would have sworn was fear in her eyes, though she locked it down quickly, covering her anxiety with a false smile. In those few seconds, Tommy could see his student Sarah again. He recalled the first time he had tried to correct her arm position on a block--that had been before Maggie confided her story in him, and he had been careful thereafter in how he approached her. Her eyes held that same wild, terrified look as Kimberly's . . . .
No, please, not that . . . !
Tommy danced with Kim as he would have if she had been a stranger and not the woman he had loved since the minute he laid eyes on her. He kept his grip light and left plenty of distance between their bodies. Giving her her space didn't seem to lessen her trembling. His heart ached with the realization that whatever had happened to her was still causing her pain. Seeing Kim's pale, frightened face, Tommy knew he couldn't ask his questions. As much as he longed to know, he couldn't bring himself to hurt her any more.
"Kim, are you feeling all right? You look a little pale; would you like to sit down for a bit?" Tommy asked, trying to find a way to help her out without embarrassing her.
"I think maybe I'd better," Kim murmured. It pained Tommy to hear the faint note of relief and gratitude in her voice.
Tommy guided her through the swaying dancers to his table. "Would you like some water?" he offered.
"Actually, if you'll excuse me, I think I needed to go . . . ."
Tommy nodded his understanding and watched as Kim headed for the restroom. He stared after her for a moment longer, then, collecting his drink, set out in search of a couple of somebodies. Finally finding where Tanya and Adam were melded together on the dance floor, he tapped Tanya on the shoulder.
"Sorry to interrupt, but Kim said she wasn't feeling well and took off for the restroom. Would you mind checking on her for me?"
After Tanya departed, Tommy turned to Adam. "You said Aisha knows what happened to Kim? Where is she?"
Tommy located Aisha talking with some relatives.
"Say, I haven't gotten to dance with the blushing bride yet; would you excuse us for a moment," Tommy said as he steered Aisha away.
"What's gotten into you?" she sputtered.
"What happened to Kim?" he demanded, suddenly serious.
Aisha sighed, lowering her eyes, unable to bear the intensity of his gaze.
"Talk to me," he insisted.
"Kim will kill me if I tell you," she demurred.
"And I'll kill you if you don't,' he snapped. Aisha's eyes went wide upon hearing his vehemence. Tommy immediately regretted his sharp words. "I'm sorry, Aisha. It's just that I need to know the truth. Was it something I did? Did it have to do with Olivia? I've already figured a few things out, but I have to know what it is that has Kim so terrified. I still love her; Aisha--I never stopped. Please?"
"She never stopped loving you either; why do you think she named her daughter after you?" Aisha murmured softly, wincing as Tommy released the hold he had on her arms.
"She did?" Tommy gulped, surprised beyond measure.
"Didn't you get it? Tommi Olivia--where else would she have gotten that?" Seeing the emotions naked in Tommy's face decided her. "Why don't we head outside where we can hear ourselves talk."
"Like I said, Kim never fell out of love with you," Aisha began as she and Tommy took seats on the stone benches just outside the doors. Absently, she twisted her wedding band around her finger. "The letter was bogus; it was just at the time, she was so scared and confused--she didn't know what else to do.
"It happened right after her visit at Christmas that year. She had just gotten back to Florida. Coach canceled Saturday morning's practice, so a bunch of the girls decided to catch a movie. I've been to visit Kim at the training center; it's not in a really good neighborhood. The girls didn't want to walk by themselves, so they asked some of the guys from the men's team to go with them.
"After the movie, everyone else wanted to go out for something to eat, but Kim wasn't feeling up to it--jet lag. The others didn't want her walking back alone, so Jim volunteered to go with her." Here, Aisha paused and looked up into Tommy's expectant face. "Oh God, Tommy, she'd have been better off alone . . . none of this would have happened if Jim hadn't been there to slow her down . . ." Then, she mastered her runaway emotions.
"They were attacked by a bunch of punks. They fought . . . you know what a scrappy fighter Kim is, and after being a Ranger . . . those punks had nothing on putties or tengas. She kicked their butts but good! She could have gotten away; she almost had. She had broken away from the two who attacked her and had started running, but then she remembered Jim. When she turned to look for him . . . .
"The scumbags had gotten him; Jim was unconscious, and one of them had a knife to his throat. T-they told her if she didn't do what they wanted . . . ." Tears stopped Aisha's words and she fell into Tommy's arms.
She didn't need to say it; Tommy knew. They raped her--they forced her to let them do it to her. Blackest anger flooded through Tommy's body; his fists clenched and unclenched, and he trembled with the urge to smash something.
"She had no choice," Aisha rasped.
"I know." He held her tighter as fury gave was to grief--a sorrow deeper than anything he had ever known before. He mourned for what that sacrifice had cost Kim. It was a long while before either of them could speak again. Finally, Aisha wiped her eyes and continued.
"For a while, Kim thought the attack was the end of it--well, except for the nightmares. Then, in February, they had the team physicals. That's when she found out she was pregnant. Kim was beside herself. She didn't know what to think or do. All her teammates and coaches were telling her to get an abortion, not to give up her chance at a medal for a baby she didn't want and couldn't possibly take care of. They told her the baby wasn't worth ruining her life over. However, Kim wasn't so sure; this was a baby--a living being, a part of herself. As a Ranger she had always fought to save lives, not take them. Needing advice, she called her mother.
"I really don't know what all happened, but Mrs. Hart just went nuts. She wouldn't even listen to Kim--she was convinced you had gotten Kim pregnant and left her high and dry," Aisha said wryly.
Tommy could understand that. What mother wants to find out that her daughter had been raped?
"Mrs. Hart told Kim that she had to have an abortion. She told her that if she chose to keep the baby not to bother asking for any help because she wanted no part of it. Then, she told Kim not to call her again until she came to her senses. That was the last time Kim talked to her mother."
"Geez, Aisha, how could Mrs. Hart do that to Kim? How could she turn her back on her daughter when she needed her most?"
"I couldn't believe it either," Aisha sighed. "Kim and her mom were more like best friends than mother and daughter."
"Kim must have been devastated; the one person in the world she counted on being there for her abandons her . . . ." A light seemed to come on in Tommy's mind. "I bet she felt that if her mom could turn on her so would the rest of us."
"That's why she didn't tell any of us, and why she broke up with you. It would have killed her if we'd rejected her, too. That, and I think she was really too embarrassed to say anything."
"Why? It wasn't her fault, and she was doing what she thought was the right thing; I would have stood by her--we all would have."
"I know, but Kim couldn't believe that any longer," Aisha said sadly.
"If Kim wasn't talking, how'd you find all this out?" Tommy asked suddenly.
"By accident. Dad was flying into Miami for business, and I conned him into letting me tag along so I could drive up to see Kim. I just showed up on her doorstep; she was about 7 months at the time. Oh, Tommy, you should have seen her! Little, tiny Kimberly with this huge, round belly--it was so cute! Even then, Kim didn't want to tell me, but I out stubborned her."
"How'd she wind up living and working at the training center? I'd have thought Coach Schmidt would have asked her to leave," Tommy pursued.
"I think Coach had a soft spot for Kim. She was all set to leave--bags packed and everything. He knew she had no place to go, so he offered her room and board if she'd help out in the gym. That eventually evolved into a position as coaching assistant; it was considered part time--she couldn't be a full coach until she got her USGF certification."
"If it's anything like the martial arts certification, that costs a pretty penny," Tommy mused.
"Definitely--money Kim didn't have to spare. Once Olivia was born, she had the doctor and hospital to pay since she had no insurance, and she refused to go on Welfare. I guess her mom really ragged on her about that. It took her nearly two years, but she finally got them paid off.
"After that, she started saving to come home. More than anything, she wanted to get Olivia out of the gym and away from the area. She hoped to save up enough money for them to move to Angel Grove, and she wanted to be settled here before Olivia started kindergarten. However, last November, Olivia got sick--reoccurring ear infections. The doctor said she needed tubes. Since Kim didn't have insurance, the doctor wanted half his fee up front before he operated. Kim wiped out her savings and reluctantly borrowed some from me, but she paid the doctor, and everything was set.
"There were . . . complications. After the operation, Olivia developed some sort of infection--she nearly died. She was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. To the doctor's surprise and Kim's relief, she made a full recovery."
"But the bills piled up again," Tommy concluded, and Aisha nodded.
"She called to tell me that she couldn't be in the wedding; she just couldn't afford it. Kim was so depressed . . . she had so hoped to come out here and find a place . . . . You know what my wedding present from Stephen was? Kim's dress and her and Olivia's plane tickets. I just had to get her out here somehow!"
"I wish she wouldn't have shut me out," Tommy murmured. "I don't know what I would have done, but I wouldn't have let her face all this by herself."
"She needs help, Tommy, but I don't think she knows how to ask for it anymore. Olivia starts school next year, and Kim is just so afraid that if she can't support Olivia, someone will take her away from her, and she's all Kim has left . . . ."
Tommy wanted to do something--desperately. What could he do? If he could, he'd pay off Kim's bills, but he didn't have the resources. His earnings from racing had all gone into buying and refurbishing the dojo. The school was only in its second year. He had barely broke even last year, but he was making a respectable profit now. If he had access to the trust fund his aunt had set up for him . . . but he couldn't touch it for another three years. Besides, from the sounds of it, he doubted Kimberly would accept the money. There had to be a way to help; he just had to find it, and fast.
"Here's where you've gotten to," Aisha's mother called out as she popped her head out of the doorway.
"What's up?" Aisha asked.
"Tanya has been looking all over for you."
"I'll go see what she wants."
Tommy and Aisha collected themselves and headed inside. They found Tanya at the table with Rocky and Adam; Kim was there, too, with Olivia drifting off to sleep in her lap.
"I'm going to take Kim and Olivia back to my place; it's past somebody's bedtime," Tanya explained. Then, more softly, she added, "Kim's had about all she can take."
"Good idea," Aisha whispered back.
"Here, let me get Olivia for you," Tommy offered. Kim was too worn out to object. As they followed Tanya out of the hall and to her car, Tommy finally came up with an idea.
"Olivia was telling me that you guys are flying out tomorrow night," he ventured.
"At six," Kim responded without enthusiasm.
"If you'd like, I can take you to the airport."
"Thanks, but Tanya and Adam already said they would."
"Oh. Well, could I come, too, and see you off?"
"I guess so."
"Actually, I was kind of hoping to spend a little more time with you and Olivia before you leave--that is, if you feel up to it," he pressed on. "What about a trip to the park? I sort of promised Olivia I'd take her today, but we didn't get to because of the ketchup fiasco. I'd sure hate to break a promise."
"Can we, Mommy?" Olivia piped up, rousing herself at Tommy's words.
Tommy felt a twinge of guilt for using Olivia against Kim like this, but he had to find some way to see her tomorrow.
"Well . . . ." Kim sighed. Tommy knew she wouldn't be able to resist those imploring, puppy-dog eyes. "I suppose a trip to the park would be okay. For a little while. What time did you have in mind?"
"I can pick you guys up around eleven."
"I'll see you two tomorrow, then."
" G'night, Tommy," Olivia said with a yawn.
"Good night, Princess. Good night, Kim."
Tommy stood back and watched as Tanya's car pulled out of the parking lot and disappeared from sight. Then, he realized he should get going, too. After all, he only had thirteen hours to come up with a plan to help Kim.
* * *
"Look out below!"
"Tommy, what . . . oh, no! Don't!"
With shrieks of laughter, Kim and Olivia dove out of the way as Tommy came plowing down the slide. They weren't fast enough, and he flattened them both.
"Get off!" Olivia sputtered.
"I thought you were supposed to catch me."
"You're too big!"
"You didn't say that when I was pushing you on the swings."
"I wanna swing again. Race ya!" With that, Olivia sprang to her feet, and with an excited squeal, ran towards the swing set.
"Hey, no fair having a head start!" Tommy protested as he gave chase, leaving Kim to pick herself up out of the sand. She merely shook her head and smiled as she watched the two. Things didn't seem as bleak as they had been yesterday. She had really overreacted; she just hadn't been prepared to see Tommy again. Tanya had set her down this morning and talked to her. Kim had wanted to die when Tanya told her that Aisha had told Tommy everything, but then Tanya pointed out that even though Tommy knew the truth, he had still invited Kim and Olivia to the park--that in spite of everything, Tommy was still her friend. Kim knew that Tanya was right; she just hadn't wanted to believe . . . she hadn't wanted to take the risk. If anyone deserved to be angry with her, it was Tommy. That he could still accept her . . . .
Kim wiped her eyes. Knowing that Tommy had been told--and that he didn't despise her--took a great weight off her shoulders. She was still a little nervous being around him. She was afraid to let herself open up to him completely, and she knew they would have to talk eventually. Even so, it seemed like Tommy wanted to be friends. She hoped so. Watching the two people she loved most in all the world play together made her long for old dreams, but she knew things could never be the way they had been between them. However, just to have Tommy's friendship again would be more than she had let herself hope for in a long time.
"Stop it! Stop it!"
Kim glanced up as Tommy shouted. The pair had abandoned the swings; Olivia was sitting on Tommy's stomach, tickling him. While Kim knew he was slightly ticklish, she also knew he was putting on a heck of a performance to Olivia's delight. Kim made her way over to where the wrestling match was taking place.
"Uncle! Time out!" Tommy called out with a laugh. "I give up; I surrender!" However, Olivia was having none of it, pressing her advantage mercilessly.
"Ease up, honey; I think Tommy needs to catch his breath," Kim chided gently.
"Thank you," Tommy panted as he was finally able to sit up.
"Can we go on the merry-go-round again?" Olivia asked. Then, her face fell.
"What's wrong?" Kim wondered.
"Other kids are playing on it," she pouted.
"So? They'll let you play, too," Tommy said.
"I don't know . . . ." Olivia murmured, feeling suddenly shy. "I don't know them an' they're bigger than me . . . ."
"How are you going to make new friends if you don't go up and say hi?" Tommy asked. "Come on, let's see if they'll let you play."
"Maybe we shouldn't," Kim began, a sheltering caution rising to the fore, and silently she berated herself. When she had been a kid, making new friends never bothered her. She had always felt sorry for those who didn't feel like they could join in, and she had always gone out of her way to welcome them. She had been so open, so trusting . . . it hurt to be reminded that that part of her had been crippled. She didn't want her daughter to be like that--mistrustful, hesitant, scared of new people and experiences--but yet she didn't want her daughter to be hurt by trusting too much.
"Don't worry; it'll be fine. I know a couple of the girls. Candace is in my beginner's class, and Sylvie's brother just got his yellow belt. Sylvie's about Olivia's age. Tell you what, why don't I go introduce you," Tommy said.
Nervously, Olivia slipped her hand into Tommy's and allowed him to lead her to the merry-go-round. Kim took a seat on a nearby bench and felt a grin quirking at the corners of her mouth as she watched the little girls. She shook her head in amazement as she observed some of the star struck gazes the girls were giving Tommy; his charm was not lost on them. It wouldn't surprise Kim if some of the teenagers took an interest in the little girls' play just so that they could be around when Tommy came to collect Olivia. For her daughter's part, after an initial moment of hesitancy, she allowed herself to be pulled into the group, and before Tommy made it half way back to the bench, she was joining right in the fun. That was good to see. She had been so afraid that Olivia had been too isolated to relate to other kids.
"Man, I feel like I've spent the day sparring with students," Tommy gasped as he flopped down next to Kim. She noticed that he left quite a bit of space between them. In her mind, that stretch of green seat became a gulf of five years.
"This has been so wonderful of you. She's going to remember this weekend forever," Kim replied. She flashed him a smile, then shyly looked away. Tommy sat forward, staring intently at his clasped hands. For several minutes, neither of them spoke. Then, Tommy cleared his throat.
"Kim, I . . . I know what happened," he began awkwardly.
"I know. Tanya told me Aisha talked to you."
"Don't be mad at her."
"I'm not. Actually, I'm kind of glad she did. I'm sorry about the way I acted yesterday; I just wasn't ready . . . ."
"It's all right. I think I can understand how you must have felt. It's not an easy thing to talk about."
That was an understatement. "I guess you still have some questions, though," she said, her mouth suddenly dry.
"A few," Tommy admitted, "but there's something I wanted to say first."
"What's that?" Kim went rigid as if to ward off a blow.
"I just wanted you to know how proud I am of you."
Of all the things Kim had ever imagined Tommy saying to her, that had not been one of them.
"You're proud of me?" she gulped.
He fixed her with a look, his eyes so serious, and she could see something beaming in his face as he looked at her.
"Yes. To save a teammate's life, you sacrificed your body. To be true to yourself and preserve another life, you sacrificed everything you held dear--your family, friends, hopes and dreams. That couldn't have been easy; not many people could have done that. You've endured more tragedy than anyone should ever have to, and you've survived. No, you've done more than survived; you've triumphed."
Kim wouldn't exactly call her life that!
"I know you don't believe me, but you have triumphed. Just look at your daughter. Money and possessions aren't the measure of success, she is. She's a wonderful child, and you're responsible for that--you alone."
Kimberly felt her eyes misting up. She didn't know what to say, but Tommy's words were the most beautiful she had heard in a long, long time.
"Thank you," she stammered at last.
"I only wish I would have had the chance to say this to you sooner. I know you were scared and all, Kim; I only wish you'd have been able to tell me at the time. I'd have given anything to have been able to help you," Tommy murmured anguishedly.
It was hard to hold the tears back as she heard his pain--which she had expected, but not like this. He was supposed to be hurt because she had broken his heart, not because he hadn't been allowed to help her.
"There were times when I wanted to tell you," Kim confessed awkwardly. "You don't know how often I wished I could've taken that letter back or called you and told you what happened. I can remember dreaming you'd find a way to make it all better." She gave a rueful chuckle. "There was one . . . when I told you I was pregnant and how it happened, you said it didn't matter, and you told everyone that I was pregnant with your baby. We got married, you gave up your powers, found a job, and we all lived happily ever after."
"I would have, you know," Tommy said quietly. "I loved you more than anything; I would have taken care of you and the baby."
"I know you would have, too. And that scared me as much as the thought of losing you."
"I don't understand."
"As much as I desperately wanted your help, I knew that if I turned to you, it would have destroyed all your hopes and dreams as well. I just couldn't ask you to take responsibility for something that wasn't your fault. The rape had destroyed my life; I couldn't let it destroy yours, too. It wouldn't have been right . . . although, I didn't come to that realization until after Olivia was born. Until then, it was just the fear of you rejecting me that made me stay silent."
"I'm sorry," Tommy sighed, unable to say anything else.
"I know. Me, too."
The heavy moment was suddenly broken as the two heard an excited squeal, and they looked up to see Olivia playing tag with the other girls.
"In your letter," Tommy began after a lengthy pause, "you said we'd always be friends. If that offer still stands, I accept."
Kim glanced over to see that Tommy had reached out a hand into the emptiness between them--reached into the gulf that was five years deep. As her eyes briefly met his, she saw his hopeful expression. Timidly, she reached out and grasped his hand, bridging the gap as well. She couldn't believe how much she was shaking as his fingers closed around hers to give a gentle squeeze. She surprised herself by returning the pressure with much more intensity. She was frightened and excited all at once, and in a way, she felt much like she did when she asked Tommy to the youth center that first time. Once again, she had taken a risk and let him in.
It was several minutes before Kim realized that she was sitting there just holding Tommy's hand--no, clinging to it was more like it. Self-consciously, she released it. Although he tried to hide it, Tommy was trying to shake some feeling back into his hand.
"Sorry," she murmured.
"It's okay; any time you need it, my hand is there for you to crush," he teased gently, and Kim had to smile.
She tried to sit back and just enjoy Tommy's company while she watched Olivia play, but she felt a pressure behind her eyes that she hadn't noticed while they had been talking. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Headache?" Tommy queried solicitously.
"A little one."
"Could it be a hunger headache? It's well past noon."
Now that he mentioned it, she was feeling rather empty. Normally, she ate whenever Olivia complained about being hungry, but at the moment, her daughter was too busy having a good time to notice. "We probably should get back to Tanya's . . . ."
"I was kind of hoping that you guys might do lunch with me," Tommy said, trying not to sound disappointed, but Kim caught it anyway.
"I wanted Olivia to eat at 'home' today; I can't take her out much, and she's been out for meals Friday and yesterday . . . ."
"If you wouldn't mind, we could have lunch at my place," he offered. "The cupboards are pretty bare, but I do make a mean pb and j sandwich."
"Peanut butter and jelly? You?"
Tommy shrugged. "According to Rocky, peanut butter is the staple of the bachelor's diet."
Kim simply snorted.
"Hey, everything I know about bachelor living I learned from Rocky."
"I can only imagine the horror . . . ." she groaned playfully.
"He must be doing something right; he's made it on his own a lot longer than I have. What do you say? My place is right by my school, and I've been wanting you to see the dojo."
Tanya had told her that Tommy had finally set up his own martial arts school; it was one of the things she knew he had always dreamed of doing. She could see it in his eyes even now: the dojo was his pride and joy.
"I'd love to see it, and peanut butter and jelly isn't such a bad lunch. The only thing is will it be enough to pry Olivia away from the party?"
"Let's find out."
"Well, here it is," Tommy announced, unable to keep the pride out of his voice as they stood before the brownstone in the north side neighborhood. Emblazoned on the window were the words White Falcon Martial Arts.
"You didn't go for red or green?" Kim asked, referencing his other power allegiances.
"I was always closest to the falcon," he answered. "It was more a part of me than the others, you know?"
He knew that she did. It was also a part of his heritage, but he hadn't shared that with her yet. His spirit animal was also his totem. With a flourish, Tommy unlocked the door and ushered his guests in.
"Look, Mommy, just like the gym!" Olivia declared as she raced past the two adults to enter first. "Mats and everything."
"This place was pretty run down when I bought it," Tommy explained as he showed Kim around. "Apparently, the studio had been through several owners, and the last hadn't really cared. From what the neighbors told me, he just let things go to pot, which drove away the students--sort of a vicious circle. It took quite a bit to get this place up and running."
"And get the students back," Kim remarked insightfully.
"It's been tough. That first year, I wasn't sure I could make this fly. Keeping the doors open took everything I had; as much as I wanted to be on my own and all, I wound up living with my folks. It was so hard to accept their help at first. I mean, I'd been on my own pretty much while I was racing for Uncle John, but it was the only way I could make a go of it." He hadn't planned on mentioning his hardships to Kim; they were inconsequential when compared to hers, but he hoped she'd pick up on his underlying message. "It turned out to be the best thing I could have done; I couldn't have made this place work without their help."
"You've done a marvelous job, Tommy. I'm so happy for you; I know how much you enjoyed teaching, and now to have a place of your own . . . I was pretty surprised when Tanya told me and Aisha that you'd been a race car driver. I knew you liked to tinker occasionally, but I always thought martial arts was your real love."
"It is. At graduation, I think I was just needing a change, and I have to admit, driving the Turbo Zords was pretty awesome, then came Uncle John's offer to drive for him. However, after a while I realized that I missed my workouts and the kids. I stayed with the team until I saved up enough to buy my own place, and the rest is history," he concluded. "Now I'm a business owner, a sensei, and a landlord."
"Uh huh. There are three apartments in this building: one downstairs and two upstairs. The bottom and top apartments are rented out, and I live in the one right above the dojo. Come on, and we'll get those sandwiches I promised you."
Tommy led the two upstairs, and as he fitted his key into the lock, he began to question whether this was such a good idea. Kim looked a little apprehensive, and he knew thoughts of her own living quarters had to be going through her mind. His place wasn't fancy or anything like that, but it wasn't a room in a ladies' dormitory. However, she needed to see it, to know that he had the space if his idea was to work.
"Welcome to my humble abode," he said subduedly as he ushered the two in with a wave. The living room occupied the entire front half of the apartment which occupied the whole of the second floor. It was divided into an office area and living area. He didn't have much in the way of furniture or decorations--some pictures, a few of his trophies and awards, and a few knick-knacks that were an eclectic mixture of Oriental and Native American. Though spartan, the place still had a homey feel to it
"Wow," Olivia murmured. "You live all by yourself? You don't have to live with your mommy and daddy?"
"Nope, there's just me," Tommy answered. "My brother David lived with me for a while, but then he went off to grad school . . . ."
"Brother?" Kim queried, stunned.
"You mean Tanya didn't tell you about my older brother?"
"Older . . . ? I thought you were adopted."
"It's a really long story involving broken arrow heads, falcons, and a quest for a certain crystal, but I discovered that my natural parents had had another child. David's really cool; he lives on the reservation just outside of Angel Grove. He's into martial arts, too; sometimes he helps out here. He likes to paint, too."
"What a pretty picture!" Olivia gushed as if on cue. She stood gawking at the painting hanging on the wall opposite the door. It was a soaring falcon with mountains and the sunset in the background.
"David did that," Tommy said.
"It's beautiful," Kim murmured.
Tommy smiled. He had always rather liked the way the falcon blended into the pinks of the sunset.
"Why don't you guys have a seat, and I'll get lunch. You can turn on the TV, but I doubt there's much on but baseball--I think I get the Disney Channel, but I'm not sure. You can see what I have in the way of movies, but they're mostly martial arts flicks."
"We don't watch much TV," Kim confessed softly, and Tommy wasn't sure how to respond.
"Do you have any toys?" Olivia piped up, saving him from an awkward moment.
"Probably not," Kim began.
"Actually, I believe I have a certain box of Leggos from Nanna Jan's house. Check the cabinet in the bottom of the bookcase," Tommy recommended.
"Nanna Jan?" Kim asked wonderingly.
Tommy shrugged self-consciously. "It was Mom's idea. Olivia had to call her something, and Mom wasn't too keen about Mrs. Oliver. It sounded too formal, I guess."
Just then, Olivia let out an excited chirp as she discovered the box of building blocks.
"Tommy, will you help me make a castle just like yesterday?" she queried.
"Can't right now, Princess; I have to make lunch."
"Will you help me, Mommy?"
"I'll try, but I suspect Tommy's much better at this than I am . . . ."
Seeing that his guests were occupied, Tommy headed for the kitchen. He paused in the hallway and snuck a peek back at mother and daughter. Kim seemed a little more at ease. He winced as Olivia upended the Leggos; he'd have to be careful when they picked them up, otherwise he'd be stepping on the little bits for weeks!
As he puttered around his kitchen, Tommy wondered just how to present his idea to Kim. He knew she was likely to refuse; how could he make her see that it was an ideal solution to her problem?
"Tommy? Where's the bathroom?" Kim queried, popping her head in the doorway.
"End of the hall and on the right," he answered. He hoped she'd feel comfortable enough to take a look at the rest of the apartment--especially the vacant room right across from the bathroom. Perhaps if Kim wasn't willing to indulge her curiosity, Olivia would. In that, Tommy wasn't disappointed.
"It's soup!" Tommy called as he set the sandwiches and milk on the table.
Olivia came bounding into the kitchen with a questions just bursting to get out. "How come you have nothing in that one room and a bunch of stuff in the other?"
"The bunch of stuff is my room, and the other one was David's. I just haven't had anything to put in it." That wasn't quite true; he'd moved the weight bench out only this morning.
"It's lots bigger than our room at the gym," the tot continued on heedlessly. Tommy caught Kim's embarrassed flinch and pretended not to notice.
"These are sandwiches," Olivia pouted. "I thought you said it was soup."
After lunch and a mishap with the milk was cleaned up, Tommy convinced Olivia to go play in the living room. He wanted to talk to Kim alone.
"It's a good thing I didn't suggest eating in the living room," he murmured as he rinsed the dish rag out.
"Sorry, but those things happen when you've got an excited child at the table."
"Don't worry about it; it's not like she dumped the glass over on purpose, and the tile will dry." Tommy rejoined Kim at the table. For a while, neither spoke. Finally, Tommy screwed up his courage. "Kim, Aisha told me about your mom, too. What happened there? I just can't believe she'd do that to you."
Tommy could see that he'd touched on a very painful subject and almost regretted bringing it up.
"I don't understand it either," Kim responded at last with a heavy sigh. "I expected her to be upset, but not like that. Some of the things she said, the names she called me--I'd never known her to be so unreasonable or say such hurtful and hateful things, and she and Dad got pretty nasty sometimes during their divorce!" She paused a moment to wipe at her eyes. Tommy got up and brought the roll of paper towels over to the table. "You know, she was convinced you got me pregnant."
"That's what Aisha said."
"Then she went on and on about money," Kim continued. "All the money she had put into my training. All the sacrifices she had made for me to chase this dream. It was like it didn't matter that my pregnancy was messing up my dreams; she was more upset that it was messing up hers or something. She was just so cold and selfish. She made it sound like this was all my fault, that I'd gotten pregnant to spite her.
"She told me I had to get an abortion. I couldn't believe it. Mom had never advocated abortion as the answer; she always told me that the baby shouldn't be punished for the parent's mistakes. When I called her, I had already decided I would carry the baby to term; I wasn't sure about whether I'd keep it or put it up for adoption, but I knew that I was going to have the child. I was just looking for some support and reassurance. She wouldn't listen to a thing I was saying. She didn't care how I felt--only how this impacted her.
"I knew the ultimatum was coming; I could see it a mile off. I just couldn't believe it. I wasn't going to ask her to raise my baby; I just wanted her to be there for me." Kim completely broke down at this point, and Tommy reached across the table to hold her hand and waited for the tears to pass.
"She made me chose between her and my baby, Tommy," Kim said at last. "There wasn't any other choice--just like that night . . . . My baby needed me more than I needed my mother."
"What about your father? Or Kenny? Wouldn't they have helped?" Tommy wondered.
"Maybe. I don't know. I couldn't bring myself to call them. I mean, my own mother refused to help me . . . . I guess I could have tried Kenny, but then that would have put him in the middle between me and Mom. As for Dad . . . ." Kim just shook her head. "It would have caused trouble between him and Cindy."
"The woman he was engaged to--he's probably married her by now. Cindy never liked the fact that Dad had to pay support for me. She made no secret of the fact that she resented me; heck, I don't know how many times I'd heard her say that she couldn't wait for me to get out of high school so Dad wouldn't have to keep paying for his mistakes. For some reason she thought that the reason they hadn't gotten married was because of Dad's support payments."
"Forgive me for saying so, but I hope your dad wised up and dumped her," Tommy muttered. Kim smiled wanly, sharing the sentiment. "I can't imagine having to go through what you did without help from anyone. I mean, my folks didn't do all that much when I was having troubles, but still . . . !"
"I did have some help from Coach."
"Thank God for that. Do you know why he took you in like that?"
"He's never said; however, I was determined not to be a charity case for long."
"Aisha told me you've worked your way up to coaching assistant. You've done an amazing job, Kim." He was happy to see her pleased blush. "However, you're still having a few problems--the medical bills."
Kim's face clouded over momentarily. Then, the gloom was replaced by a look of fierce determination. "The only thing that matters is that Olivia pulled through. I'd rather be in debt for the rest of my life than to have lost her."
"I agree totally with you. The other thing Aisha told me is that you've been wanting to come back to Angel Grove."
"I do. A gym is no place to raise a child--even though most of the girls there are just children themselves. I want Olivia to know there's more to life out there, but I don't trust the neighborhood. There's too much violence in the schools--that's all I see in the local papers, even in the elementary schools! I can't even take her to the park for fear of invading some gang's turf."
While Kim didn't specifically say it, Tommy knew other bad memories played a part in her decision, too.
"And you've used up everything you'd saved for the move to cover the bills," he pressed on, getting to what he wanted to say. "Kim, I think I can help you out, if you'll let me."
"I appreciate the offer, Tommy, but I can't take your money . . . ."
"That wasn't what I was suggesting." Kim's puckered brow and frown made him smile. "What if you could come back to Angel Grove without worrying about room and board?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'd like you and Olivia to come live here."
"With you? Tommy, we couldn't!"
"Why not? I have plenty of space. It's a nice neighborhood. I already know that having a roommate isn't going to affect my bills all that much. You guys could have the spare bedroom; you could come and go as you please--find a job, concentrate on paying off your bills, I could help out with watching Olivia . . . it could work."
"I don't know, Tommy . . . ." Kim objected but less strenuously than before.
"It's a way for you to do what you've wanted for so long: to come home. I realize that the thought may be a little overwhelming. You don't have to give me an answer now; just promise me you'll give it some consideration. Okay?"
"I . . . ." Kim stammered; however, she was spared from having to say anything by Olivia's appearance.
"Come look at what I built, Mommy!"
* * *
"United Flight 879 to Miami now boarding at gate C4."
"You guys take it easy," Adam said as he gave Kim a hug.
"Just remember to let me know when the wedding is," Kim shot back, and Adam blushed. She turned then to Tanya. "Thanks for everything."
"Any time, Kim. Remember, call whenever you need a friend," Tanya advised.
Kim then turned to Tommy who was receiving a fierce, tearful hug from Olivia.
"I'm gonna miss you, Tommy."
"Same here, Princess."
"You won't forget me?"
"Of course not. Who could forget you? I'm not the best correspondent, but I'll make sure I drop you and your mommy a line. You better get going, Squirt." He set the tot down and turned to face Kim.
Her mind was still in a whirl over the bombshell he had dropped on her earlier. She still didn't know what to make of it. She knew he wanted to help, but to have them live with him . . .!
"Hey, you okay?" Tommy asked softly.
"Yeah, I just have a lot to think about, you know?" she murmured.
"I know." Tommy took her hands in his. "This offer has no expiration date; you can take me up on it any time and can stay as long as you'd like. Just remember, I meant what I said about the terms. If you do come, I won't take any money towards household expenses. You take care of Olivia first and then your bills. Once those are taken care of . . . well, we'll see."
"I won't lie to you, Tommy; it's a tempting offer. I just don't know if I can accept it."
"Just think it over. That's all I ask."
"All right." Kim tried to pull away, but Tommy held her hands fast. He had a faraway look in his eyes. "Tommy?"
"I'm sorry. For a moment . . . ."
"What?" she wondered as she noticed his blush.
"It's just that the last time I said good-bye to you in this airport, it almost turned out to be forever. I don't want that to happen again."
"Neither do I." Giving him a tearful smile, she squeezed his hands.
"Then let's not say good-bye," he said huskily.
With a lump in her throat, Kim caught Olivia's hand and headed for the ramp.