Sometimes When We Touch
Sitting in my aisle seat in the coach section of the East bound jetliner, I glanced again at my watch and wondered if I was already too late.
It had taken me a week to get both the courage and the money to put my butt on this plane headed for Florida to seek out the reason for the confusion and anguish that suffused my being. As well as the continued reason for my existence, no matter what that damn letter said. The Kimberly I knew, who I had just seen at Christmas couldn't have sent a cold, mechanical letter breaking off our relationship and undermining our past.
It just wasn't in her.
But then, who was I to question how she felt? Over the last seven days, I had stubbornly tried to piece together what the hell had happened. And what I kept coming up with disturbed me more than I would ever tell even Jason, my closest friend.
I wasn't the victim here. I had been an active participant. Actually, to get it right, I had been a non-active non-participant. So had the rest of the team. I had turned to Adam, Kat, Rocky and even Tanya and asked them point blank, admittedly after a day or so when my sulking had ended and my mind began working again, who had talked to Kim last. The answer to that came in blank looks and glances around the group, looking for someone with an answer.
Seems that no one had called, written or visited Kim since she headed back to Coach Schmidt's training facility in Florida after Christmas.
And I have to admit, I was as guilty as everyone else.
My correspondence skills are shitty. I knew that, as did Kim and the rest of the team, so I'd promised Kim I'd call. But saving Angel Grove, the world and the universe on what seemed a daily basis always ended up making me too exhausted to call when I would get home, or too busy when I thought of it. Or, even God help me, I just forgot her altogether.
With a sigh at remembering my complicity at my relationship's demise, I notice I've been staring at the blue fabric and white plastic backing the seat in front of me. Reaching forward, I grab hold of my drink, ginger ale with ice in one of those little plastic tumblers. I take a long swallow and set it back down in the circular indent on the extended tray jutting from the seat before me. Part of me really wished I was of legal drinking age. Some hard liquor would have been more comforting, and helped steel my conviction in seeing her in person. I could have called, but it wasn't the same. I needed to see her.
Truth be told, I really haven't thought twice about this. Once I pulled myself out of the nearly mind-numbing disbelief and hurt the words in her letter had created within me, I immediately started to think like a leader and a man who had spent three years with this woman, whom I still love.
Yes, even now I love her. Why would I be on a plane headed to Florida if I didn't?
Because I know the woman that left Angel Grove after Christmas would never write me out of her life like that. A brother? Not unless her family practiced incest... ugh Tommy, bad image. Let's not go there.
So, after talking with everyone, I convinced my mom and dad that I needed to go out and see her. I had mom help me find a reasonably cheap airfare, and somehow got them to let me raid my college fund. It wasn't easy, since no one, even me, was sure when I could put it back. But now, sitting in my seat, halfway to Florida with a grand in traveler's checks in my wallet, I feel prepared to figure out what the hell is going on.
My return flight is in three days. Mom and dad thought I could be back the following day. Dad had said straight out that if Kim had dumped me, all I needed to do was see her, ask her what happened and turn around and come home. It took a while to explain to them that I had no intention of just looking into her eyes, hearing her voice and just accepting things. I was planning on fighting for Kim. I wasn't going to come back without either truly understanding why she had broken up with me or I had her back.
I've been through more in the last three years of my life than I ever imagined. I've been used and hurt, first by Rita and then by Zedd. Then I dealt with the loss of my powers. And now for nearly two years, I have had to make the tough decisions that being the Ranger's leader requires. For me to just blithely accept this devastating loss without putting up some kind of resistance, some kind of persuasive argument just isn't going to happen. And Kim should know that about me.
Giving up isn't in my nature.
Sure, I sulk, and feel guilty and want to give up. But I never do.
Of course, the phone call to Jase asking his opinion was the best use of thirty bucks I've ever spent. He was as surprised as I was, and he, Trini and Zack all agreed that this wasn't at all like Kim. And even if I didn't know that, for the length of time they had known her, they should.
A clatter and continuous squeak moving towards the back of the plane alert me to the flight attendant pushing the refreshment cart down the aisle. Quickly, I pull my feet out of the way so she can pass.
"Can I get you some more to drink?" the pleasant looking blonde stewardess asked, staring at me a bit too long for my liking.
Sure, I know I'm considered handsome. Even traveling in this cramped metal plane, I figure I still look okay - my long dark brown hair was still in its ponytail, and I'm wearing what I normally do; a tight red short sleeved t-shirt, black jeans and boots. It gets me the attention of women on the ground, so I guess I can't be surprised that it got the attention of the flight attendant.
Except usually I can walk away and ignore it if some woman at the Youth Center or at school tried to come onto me. Trapped like this, there isn't much I can do but smile pleasantly and brush her off in some agreeable manner.
"No, thanks, I think I'm good."
"Let me know if you change your mind."
I nod, and she moves on to my neighbor, who's trying to not noticeably salivate as he stares at her breasts. I'd noticed too, but they're not Kim's, so I don't even linger for more than a second.
She reaches over me and passes the businessman beside me a can of V-8 and then moves on. I let loose a quiet sigh and reach again for the mostly filled ginger ale. It's cold going down my throat, and I close my eyes, willing this damn flight to be over.
As soon as the wheels of the plane had hit the tarmac, I was ready to jump up, grab my one duffel bag and find the taxi stand. I was really hating the fact that being under 25 and without a credit card I couldn't rent a car, but then I had never been to Miami, so I wouldn't have known where I was going anyway.
It was another long fifteen minutes as we pulled up to the gate and slowly disembarked. I hurriedly walked along with the other people on the plane, watching as they met friends and family at the terminal. Passing by a couple oblivious to everyone but each other, I felt my heart ache and my feet sped up.
The airport flew by in a blur of gray walls and multi-colored people as I rushed to the exits. It wasn't until I was outside, breathing the Florida air that I noticed that it was already after dark. I'd forgotten about the time difference. I'd left Angel Grove at 11a.m., and it was a three hour time difference on top of a five hour flight. I thought about finding a cab, not checking into the motel that I'd booked and having him drive me directly to Coach Schmidt's training facility.
Then I reined in my enthusiasm and realized that if I showed up at nearly 8 p.m. in the evening, someone might think I was a stalker and call the police. That wasn't the first impression I wanted to give Kim after two months apart, and the letter. So I walked to the curb and flagged down an unruly looking Hispanic driver in a white and red taxi. Opening the door, I threw my duffel across the back seat and followed it with a slam of the door.
"Holiday Inn," I announced.
"West Miami, South Beach or downtown?" my driver asked, and I looked at him in the rear-view mirror with befuddlement.
Shit. I grabbed my bag and dug through the side pocket for the confirmation my mom made me take. I handed him the page and he nodded as he handed it back.
"Never been to Miami?"
"First time," I replied as I tried unsuccessfully to relax into the vinyl seating.
"Business or pleasure?" he asked, quickly making the turn out of the airport and onto the nearby freeway onramp.
"I'm not sure."
Looking up, I saw him give me a quizzical look in the mirror, and then shrug. We settled into silence as we drove to my motel, and a few more miles closer to my inevitable meeting with Kim.
It was ten in the morning when I woke up in my bed at the motel. I hadn't realized the time difference and the jet lag was going to do me in so much. I'd thought about asking for a wake-up call when I checked in last night, but I forgot. What else is new.
Quickly, I tossed aside the dark blue paisley patterned comforter and headed for the shower. The hot water did its work in waking me up, and I quickly moved through my routine. One of the white fluffy hotel towels did its work on my body, and followed up with doing its best to dry my hair. There were days when I really wanted to follow the crowds and buzz it down with some gelled spikes, but it just wasn't for me at the moment. And Kim would never forgive me for mucking with what she has always considered one of my best features.
Still, there's times like now, standing in front of the mirror using the travel-size hair dryer to dry my hair that I think that maybe she could forgive me. And there's that issue of getting it under my helmet on a daily basis.
Sighing, I finish the job, pulling the dry, straight locks into my trademark ponytail and move onto brushing my teeth. Once I'm minty fresh, I chuck the towel and pad into the main part of my room to dress.
I made a point to bring with me the clothes that always ended up making Kim stare at me a bit longer than she'd like me or anyone else know. Once I realized what made her breathe a little faster, I made sure I wore it on a regular basis. Sure, I know it sounds childish, but then Kim seemed to always wear what I couldn't resist as well, so we're equally guilty of trying to deliberately drive the other insane.
Such is my intention today. Besides, if my luck still holds, maybe Kim will be so stunned by my rugged good looks that she'll just fall in my arms, or at least offer up a good explanation why this all happened, rather than me having to drag it out of her.
Hey, you never know.
I don't wear most of these anymore, not since the team got our Zeo powers, and I'm now no longer the White Ranger. But Kim wouldn't recognize me in red, so I pull on a white tank top and then a white button-up long sleeved shirt with the cuffs rolled up over it. I slip into some jockey shorts and then my *only* concession to my status - red socks, then pull on the black jeans and the heavy boots I wore in on the plane.
Once everything's in place, I head back to the mirror in the bathroom and make sure I look presentable. I turn back to the desk near the bed and pick up my wallet, taking note of the traveler's checks and no ready currency. I need to get the front desk clerk to cash some of them for me, so I don't have to hunt down a travel agency or bank. I used up my last couple of twenties on the cab ride over last night, and I doubt that any cab driver in Miami would want to take these over cold cash.
Of course, next to all those multi-colored checks is my last letter from Kim. I folded it enough times to slide it into my bi-fold. I wanted it with me, so I could set it in front of her and ask her exactly what each sentence meant. Why she wrote these things. Ask for proof.
Along with it is the address for my destination of the day, Coach Schmidt's training facility. With a shove, I pack away my wallet, and get up, snatching the card key for the room on my way out.
The door shuts behind me and I start down the clean white hallway, passing the other wood doors along the corridor. It doesn't take long before I'm standing before the check-in desk, where a stunning Asian woman with short cut hair and bright red lipstick looks over the counter at me. She smiles and the only thing I can think of is that I wish Trini had told me something more useful about her last telephone conversation with Kim right after New Year's.
"Can I help you sir?" the clerk asks, her attention firmly situated on me.
"I need to cash some traveler's checks, and get a cab," I reply, digging into my back pocket for my wallet and about three hundred dollars in checks.
"Certainly. Is there anything else I can do?"
The question is simple enough, but my answer wouldn't be. Can you get my girlfriend back for me? Can you tell me how I screwed up the most important thing in my life so badly? Can you fix my life?
I don't say any of those things, but simply sign the check backs the hand them to her, replying, "no, thanks."
Turning to the cash drawer, she pulls out the cash, conveniently in twenties and hands them to me.
"There are taxis at the door on your way out. Have a nice day sir."
I nod and turn away, slowing as I pass a mostly empty table set up with the hotel's complementary continental breakfast. I snag a glass of juice and an apple Danish and keep moving for the front exit. As I walk into the bright Miami day, I see maybe three yellow cabs parked outside, waiting to take businessmen and tourists alike around the city. Quickly moving forward, I climb into the closest one, still eating. It is helmed by a Rastafarian-type African American man who happily smiles my way.
"Where yah be going this fine day?" he asks in what I guess is a Jamaican accent.
Without replying, I hand him the address for the training facility as I juggle the juice in one hand and leave the pastry in my mouth.
"Sure now, let's be off then."
And we pull away from the motel and onto the city streets headed towards the gym and Kim.
I stood before the cement warehouse structure on the edge of the University of Miami complex for probably ten minutes before I forced one foot in front of the other, propelling me closer to the doors. If I hadn't known any better, I wouldn't have realized that within this simple structure, women were training hard to be better athletes and win gold medals.
I was really starting to wish that we'd never ever heard of Coach Schmidt or thought of the Pan Globals. If we hadn't, things would be like they should be and how I wanted them to be again.
I hadn't spoken to Zordon of this before I left, or anyone else for that matter. But part of me wanted to convince Kim to come back to Angel Grove. Perhaps we could find another power source, bring her back to the team. We'd done it before, when I lost my Green Ranger powers, Zordon found a way to bring me back. Why not Kim?
Since she's been gone I've felt this gaping hole in myself, and not just personally. I never realized just how much I relied on her when I was the White Ranger, newly appointed leader of the Power Rangers. She was there to support me and ground me. Since she left, its as if I'm not the same leader I used to be. Not as sure or strong.
And while I know I don't have control of the future, some small part of me worries that I might very well make a mistake that will cost one of my teammate's lives if I don't get back that missing part of myself. The part that is inside this gym.
Stopping at the door, I held the metal latch tight in my grip as I shook my head to clear my thoughts. The first order of business was to see Kim and talk this whole thing through. Once that was done, then I can start thinking about our future, if I can prove to Kim we really have one.
I yanked the heavy door open and strode into the facility. It looked like a gym, just with a lot more space. I walked along the bare concrete corridor past the locker room, and then further until I hit what I would have to say was the guard station. To my left was an office with wire-reinforced glass. In front of me was the ramp going down to what sounded like the main training area. Before I could get one foot onto that ramp, I heard a sharp voice snap from within the office.
"And where do you think you're going sir?"
Spinning towards the voice, I tentatively move in the direction of the open door of the office. Behind an old steel desk, a heavy-set African American woman sat, leaning forward over stacks of papers, file folders and glossy photos. Behind her, a fairly new computer with a printer and fax sat on a similar desk.
She stares at me, reaching up to adjust a pair of wire rimmed glasses, tilting them down over her nose so she can see me over them. I feel like I've been caught without my homework by Ms. Applebee, and force a lump out of my throat. If there's any possibility of me not seeing Kim, this woman will most likely be it.
"I'm here to see one of the athletes practicing at this facility," I announce with my leader's voice, tinged with a little more apprehension than I would have liked.
Suddenly, her entire demeanor changes, and she smiles at me with a genuinely pleased expression. Turning back to the other desk, she yanks open a desk drawer with a grating sound and hauls out a binder sized book. She swivels back to me and drops the book with a thud on the paper covered surface of her desk.
"I was starting to think I wasn't going to get to use this thing this month," she states brightly, opening the worn blue cover, and flipping in about halfway into the volume. "The coach has such stringent rules, and the girls are always so focused, we rarely get visitors."
For a moment, I feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. Rules about visitors? Families rarely seeing their daughters? I suppressed a shudder at the thought and returned my attention to the woman who seemed more than happy to help me see Kim.
"So, who are you here to see?"
"Kimberly Hart," I replied, her name falling from my lips with the unconscious caress I had always said it with.
"Oh, she's such a nice girl," the woman said, turning ten or so more pages, but in the opposite direction. "She's been here without fail since after Christmas."
I leaned over the desk a bit and saw what seemed to be Kim's attendance chart. I could see the days when she had been in Angel Grove at Christmas marked with large red X's, while the days following up through today had simple green checks. She turned Kim's page over and started looking at it.
"Are you Tommy Oliver?" she asked suddenly, and I straightened up again with a little shock.
"Yes, how did..." I started to ask, then stopped as I tried to figure out why she would ask.
"You're the one visitor listed for visits."
The woman looked at me with surprise, and then her smiling face degenerated to a look of pity and frustration. Sighing, she shook her head and snatched a pen out of an Olympic Team mug.
"All the girls here are only allowed to put one name on their visitor list. Most have their mom or dad listed. Seems that you're the person Kim listed as her visitor."
For the second time in less than ten minutes I felt the floor falling out beneath me. They were only allowed to have one visitor. And Kim had chosen me. Sure, Kim's mom was in Paris, and her dad always seemed remote, but to pick me over one of them was staggering. Yet I had never been here before today, which meant no one outside of this gym had seen Kim since Christmas. The thought made my blood go cold.
"It'll be nice for her to have someone visiting. Maybe it will help cheer her up. She's been sort of depressed for the last week or so. Would you sign here?"
She shoved the book towards me along with the pen. I could see that the back side of Kim's page had an empty visitor registry, where I was to fill in my name and the date of the visit. As well as the time I arrived and left. I was getting a very bad feeling from all this and I knew that this kind woman had my answers, if I could only get them from her. I signed in and decided to make some idle chit-chat before easing into the questions I really wanted the answer to.
"No problem. I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."
"Adelle. Sorry about that, I'm not used to seeing people around here that don't know who I am. All the coaches and the girls know me, and I forget that the visitors have usually only met the coach."
"Adelle, that's a nice name. How long have you been working for Coach Schmidt?" I asked politely, feigning interest as I worked to gain her confidence.
"Oh, about fifteen years. I've seen it all, I swear," she laughed robustly, waving her hand towards the only other chair in the room on my side of the desk in invitation. "Every four years it's a new batch of girls. Of course, there's rarely exceptions like your Miss Hart, coming in during the middle of a cycle of training. But the coach seemed to think she had potential, even though at this point in training it doesn't seem like he thinks that about anyone."
"Really?" I ask with growing curiosity.
"It's tough. I remember my first year with the team. I was so shocked at the visiting policy. Then there was the yelling and punishments. I was just about to resign when the coach sat me down and assured me that the girls were fine, that they knew what they were getting into and that they had to work hard if they wanted to achieve their goals. So I've been here ever since, making sure that they get into practice and get back to their rooms on time."
I hoped that my jaw hadn't physically dropped at Adelle's announcement. I know that I wasn't aware of any of these rules before Kim agreed to join Coach Schmidt's training, and I don't think she was either. Sure, we both knew she was going to have to work hard, but this sounded absolutely boot camp like. And with limited visitor privileges, it had to make the experience even more grueling. I was really not liking this at all.
"But you didn't come to listen to me prattle on," Adelle acknowledged with a smile. "Now just go down that ramp and you'll find your little girl with the rest of the team."
For a moment, I almost wanted to reply that no matter her size, Kimberly could never be called a 'little girl', but I simply waved my thanks and headed out the office door and down to the workout area of the gymnasium. At the bottom of the ramp, I looked around and saw two groups of six gymnasts. Half were on the opposite side of the room working with a few of Coach Schmidt's assistants on the parallel bars, but I could tell that Kim wasn't with them. I walked along the wall to my right to where the second group was working on the balance beam with Coach Schmidt himself. I first scanned the group for her trademark pink, but couldn't find it. Then my eyes settled on that caramel colored hair that I still saw in my dreams and could remember the smell of from every time I had held her to my chest and nestled my face into it.
She was in a folding chair with a white towel wrapped around her neck. Four other women were with her, all watching the performance of a fifth teammate, as the sixth walked back to a chair behind Kim in the second row of seats.
Not wanting to distract the gymnast on the beam, I took a seat in the back row of chairs, five rows back and probably a good six feet from Kim and watched her interact with her teammates. I couldn't see as well as I would have liked, but I watched her head nod or shake from side to side every once in a while. It was strange, her hair was bound in a tight French braid, more strict than I'd ever seen it. But then, if she was working as hard as Adelle seemed to make out, her hair was probably something she, like the others needed to restrain as best as possible.
Unconsciously, I ran a hand over my own ponytail, and thought again of shorter locks. I was glad Kim hadn't gone as far as her nearby neighbor, who sported a blond bob that rivaled Mary Lou Retton's.
Before I realized it, the young woman who had just been performing had vaulted off the beam and was now standing before Coach Schmidt, receiving some pointers. Then a flash of brown brought my attention back to Kim, and I saw her stand and shrug aside the towel.
My breath caught in my throat and I swear my eyes started to tear. My Kim looked like she was starving herself. Gone was her usual cheerful pink, she now wore a black leotard that emphasized her thinness. Sure, Kim had always been petite, but now she was nearly rail thin. Without turning back towards my position, she moved towards the beam and prepared to start her routine.
The first thing that struck me was how slow she seemed to be moving. As she ran to the jump, to launch herself onto the beam, I could see how much her legs seemed to shake from the activity. Thinking back, I had to say that when she had been home at Christmas, I hadn't seen her in anything where I could have noticed her thinness. With the winter weather, we all were pretty well covered, and when we had held each other, there had always seemed to be a jacket or sweater or two between us, so I never got a full gauge as to her weight loss. But it was obvious that it had been going on for quite some time for her to be so lethargic.
Once she was on the beam, I could see extended glimpses of the energy I knew was inside the Kim I had encouraged to come to Florida to chase her dreams. But most of the time, I saw a woman who seemed to be pushed beyond her limits, exhausted by what she could do without fail before. As she made one complicated turn on the four inch wide beam, I felt my heart constrict as her toes slid from their position and the ball of her right foot followed them, slipping off the wooden apparatus. Quickly she fought to save herself, and was able to end up with her ass landing hard on the beam, rather than taking a tumble to the mat below.
I tore my gaze from Kim for a brief second to check the coach's reaction. The dark glare I saw him giving Kim began to solidify my suspicions. He'd been working her to exhaustion, and now that she was making mistakes, he was angry with her.
Finally, Kim vaulted off the beam and landed with a slight bobble. Then she slowly turned towards Coach Schmidt and almost resignedly walked to stand before him. I couldn't stay put any longer, so I stood and was just about to make my move to get closer to the front set of seats where I hoped to hear the coach's comments.
I shouldn't have worried about not being able to hear. As soon as Coach Schmidt's mouth opened, a roar of sound engulfed the surrounding area and I froze.
"Miss Hart, if you continue to consistently fail in improving this routine, you might as well just pack your bags and go home to that nowhere where I plucked you from! You're obviously lacking the desire to be a world class athlete, as well as the skills."
I watched as Kim's head dropped forward to rest on her chest. She would never have taken that kind of verbal abuse without a biting retort, or even a joke. Yet now, she seemed defeated, and she seemed to believe Coach Schmidt's words.
"I understand. I'll do better."
The coach simply nodded his head and turned towards the next gymnast that was warming up in preparation to starting her routine. Kim moved back to her chair, where she draped the towel back around her neck and grabbed a bottle of water from the floor beside it. As she stood back up, she faced the wall I was standing in front of, and I saw her eyes shake off their detachment as she focused on my form. When her gaze finally reached my face, the look that resided on hers was one of shock, fear and almost relief.
For a moment, I thought she was going to drop the water bottle in her hand as her whole body started to tremble noticeably. The other women in her group turned towards her, noting her paralysis, and then all eyes seemed to be on me, including Coach Schmidt's.
This was it, I thought as I forced myself down the row of chairs and then walked up to the front row and strode towards Kim and Coach Schmidt. As I passed in front of the other gymnasts, who all seemed to be following my every move, I felt like the confrontation I'd been expecting with Kim had been shifted to Coach Schmidt.
As soon as I was within a few feet of Kim, I began slowing my pace. I needed to look at her before I went and talked to the coach. Rather than stop right in front of her, I paused beside her, our heads tilted slightly towards one another. When her brown eyes met mine, I felt the spark that I had been so afraid wouldn't be there flare between us. From the moment I had set eyes on her inside this building, she hadn't looked alive until right this second. I was sure I could see some of her strength seep back into her with just my presence.
And the love... well, unless I was reading too much into the look in her eyes, I could swear that it was there too.
Quickly, I brushed her hand with mine as I refocused on the task at hand and approached Coach Schmidt. The kind, grandfatherly man I'd met in Angel Grove seemed buried beneath a tough, unyielding taskmaster. But I'd taken on evil in more forms than I could count. This altercation couldn't even come close to any of my experiences as a Ranger. He'd never know what hit him.
"Coach Schmidt, it's good to see you again. You remember me, Tommy Oliver from Angel Grove?" I started out, holding my hand out to shake his, hopefully catching him off guard. "I came out to see Kim. You don't mind if I borrow her for a bit, seeing as how she just finished her routine?"
Coach Schmidt took my hand and shook it firmly, his face relaxing a bit. I guess he did remember me. I braced myself for the rejection to my plea to get some time with Kim, but I was again surprised at what seemed a resigned look cross his face.
"Perhaps that would be a good idea. Kimberly has been working very hard as of late. Maybe some distraction will help her regain her focus and improve her performance. Please, feel free to visit with her. But be sure to check with Adelle on your way out Mr. Oliver."
Something in what he'd just said set off my internal alarm bells, but I wasn't quite sure if I understood him right. Did he expect me to visit with Kim here, in the building, and then sign out on my way, alone, out of here? If he was suggesting that, then he was insane. As it was, I was fighting the urge to just hoist Kim over my shoulder and run out of the building, not stopping until we were on a plane headed home.
"I'll make sure I see Adelle when I finish my visit," I replied as vaguely as possible.
Without another word, Coach Schmidt turned back to the other gymnasts, who had watched the entire proceedings, and yelled, "Alright, back to work!"
Now that I had the coach's permission, I felt both free and nervous at once. Nothing stood between my talking with Kim, and it scared me to death. If I had been wrong about what I'd seen, then this was going to be more difficult than I thought.
Turning slowly, I found her standing there, watching me with a look of surprise, nervousness and anticipation. It immediately made me want to wrap her in my embrace and never let go, so I started to her. Within a few quick strides, I was standing before her, looking down into those eyes that I loved so much. I put my hand on her shoulder, and waited to see if she was going to flinch or ask me to move it. Instead, I swear to God the temperature of her skin through her leotard seemed to soar where my hand sat.
Another guy my ass.
"How about we get out of here Beautiful?" I asked in my best velvet-toned voice.
Kim didn't reply. She just tentatively nodded her head, reached her hand across herself and placed her hand over mine. As I looked at her with a growing smile on my face, I saw a matching one curve her sweet lips.
Even though I hated to do it, I lifted my hand from her shoulder. Her hand fell from mine and I reached to take it and to walk her off the practice floor, away from the numerous sets of staring eyes. When my fingers curled around her smaller ones, I felt as if I was home again. Then I felt my own hand being squeezed by Kim's with more strength than I would have given her credit for having just 20 minutes earlier.
Once I'd realized that was my cue to move, we both slowly headed for the ramp and up towards Adelle's office. I wasn't sure what was my next step - take Kim out of the building and only sign out when we returned, sign out now and see Kim 'off the books' or what. So I realized we'd have to ask when we stopped in the office.
With a hand to the small of her back, I ushered Kim inside Adelle's office. As we crossed the threshold, Kim looked around before looking to Adelle. I thought it strange, but then assumed that unless you had a visitor, the gymnasts never had a reason to come in here.
"Hi Adelle," Kim said, waving at the woman who turned from the computer screen and smiled.
"Hello Kimberly. I see your young man found you alright."
At that, I wanted to blush, but it was true. At least I hoped it was still true.
"He did, thank you."
Kim glanced up at me now, taking the initiative for the first time since I'd arrived to look me in the eye. What showed in her gaze was just as powerful as it ever was. I was starting to no longer doubt that Kim was still mine, no matter what her letter had said.
"So, what do we do now?" I asked, not breaking away from Kim's eyes, not sure exactly whom I was asking the question of.
Barely polite laughter broke the spell that seemed to be settling in on Kim and I, just like every time that we found time together 'alone'. We both whipped our heads towards Adelle, who was both smiling and laughing at the picture that we must have presented her. I knew Kim must be blushing, because I certainly was.
"I think you two know exactly what to do," she smirked at us.
"I meant regarding my visiting privileges," I remarked dryly, feeling a bit uncomfortable at this woman's outspoken manner.
"No offense meant there young man. I simply think you have a lot of catchin' up to do. So how about you sign out when you and Miss Kimberly come back?"
I turned my head towards Kim and saw a flash of fear. The thought of coming back seemed to scare her as much as leaving her behind did me.
"What if I don't bring her back?" I suggested with an off-hand flippancy that I didn't feel, looking at Adelle to gauge her reaction to my words.
"Then make sure you two stop off at the dorms and get Kim's things," she said with a seriousness that I wouldn't have expected from her. "Don't think that Coach Schmidt is going to be lenient in regards to curfews just because you've got a visitor Kimberly. If you don't come back to the dorm by 7pm,he'll just as soon kick you out of the training program as look at you."
Beside me, I could feel the waves of indecision rolling of Kim. This was a new twist to my plan to get the truth from her about what was going on, and why she'd sent the break up letter. But I never thought my just being here would take the decision of her staying on track with her Pan Global training out of her hands altogether.
"We'll deal with that later," said Kim authoritatively.
Then she turned and left me behind as she walked to the Women's locker room.
It had taken maybe twenty minutes for Kim to shower and change into a pair of blue jean overall shorts, a pair of white tennis shoes and socks and a pink crop top that I think she hadn't worn in a while. As soon as she reappeared in Adelle's office, I had her hand in mine and we were out the door and into the fresh Miami air.
"So, how about some lunch somewhere we can talk?" I asked finally, needing to get out that one unspoken issue of discussing what was going on.
I watched her start to open her mouth to decline the lunch part. She probably was planning on saying something about she couldn't put on any more weight, but I stopped her short of saying it.
"No, you need a decent meal Kim. If the coach throws a fit, we'll deal with it. But for now, just humor me and let me take you to lunch?"
Reluctantly, Kim nodded her head, as if in acceptance that she had to eat, as well as the fact that we had to talk about what was going on sooner or latter. As it was, my being here seemed like it was going to cause her problems with her training, and I had yet to find out whether she wanted me here or at all, and it was starting to weigh on me.
"Where can I find a cab around here?"
Startled, Kim looked up at me with a puzzled expression. I don't think she figured I wasn't going to just walk across the street to the local deli and buy her a salad or sandwich. Once I'd asked about the taxi, she knew something was up.
"About a block down. The University usually gets some traffic
this time of day. I'm sure it won't be that hard. If we need
to, the Student Union could call us one."
"Good, let's go then."
With that, we walked slowly hand in hand along the sidewalk, watching as vehicles and bicycles passed us by in the ever increasing cloudiness of the Miami day. I'd heard that the weather patterns could be a little crazy, but this was starting to make me worry. I was just about to put Kim under an overhang that we'd just passed and make a run for the Student Union when a yellow cab turned the corner and headed our way.
It slowed at the curb and I released Kim's hand to usher her into the back seat. Clambering in beside her, I look at the Middle Eastern man at the helm of the taxi and try to make a split decision on what to do. Slamming the door, I look to Kim and realize that this needs to be light and easy if I want to get the truth out of her without her stalling me.
So lunch first, then tough questions.
"Hard Rock Café please," I tell the driver.
Kim turns a shocked look my way as the cab pulls out onto the road and speeds off to its destination. I think I surprised her. The fact that we've rarely been anywhere like a Hard Rock Café in our entire relationship is more than likely the cause for her astonishment. I want this whole thing to be special. And from what I can see, its been a tough couple of months since we saw each other last, and I think she can use it.
"Tommy, you don't need to do this to impress me," she says as we pass palm trees that are swaying with a recently kicked up breeze.
"Impress you?" I repeated dumbly. "You think I'm trying to impress you?"
"Well, I thought..."
"Kim, look, whatever you're thinking, don't. You've been training really hard the last couple months, and you need some fun. That's all. If you're thinking this is about the letter, don't. We'll deal with that later. For now, let's just have a good time, ok?"
At that, I pulled her into my side and her head found its place against my chest and all was right with my world.
We'd made simple small talk over lunch. I ordered as many things that I could remember which were Kim's favorites, much to her delight and chagrin. Listening to her complain how the fried cheese sticks were going to go straight to her thighs made me laugh, and when the chocolate brownie with ice cream and chocolate syrup appeared after her salad, she shot me a death glare that I had missed more than I had realized.
She asked about the team, and I told her about our new Zeo powers, since no one else had. I explained why Billy and Aisha hadn't been in touch, and our whole childhood regression thing. Watching her silently mourn the passing of our Ninjetti powers in favor of Zeo brought out a similar feeling in me that I didn't realize I felt.
I asked about life in Florida in general, not her training and got a lot of vague answers. When I asked about her mom and dad, I found that Mrs. Dumas called on a fairly regular basis, and was always asking how she was improving and what her chances were of making the team. It was a bit disturbing to think that Kim didn't say that her mom asked how she was and ask if she wanted to visit.
Still, our lunch was pleasant and light. The weight of training, her future with the program, our relationship or even the fate of the world was put on hold for a whole glorious hour and a half as we ate and talked.
When we'd finished, I paid the bill, but I still had no decision on what to do about the more difficult conversation I'd been postponing. We needed to discuss the letter and her training, but I wanted to do it somewhere quiet.
Did I dare...
I moved to her chair and pulled it out as she got up. Then we headed for the exit where I found a nice tropical storm had arrived without my knowledge. There went any chance of a walk in a park somewhere to make her feel as if she could get up and leave if she needed to. Instead, it left me with very few options.
"Kim, we need to talk," I began, trying not to stutter as the one thought I was most afraid of tried to force its way out of my mouth.
"I know," she replied nervously.
"Would you, I mean, would it be okay if we went back to my motel? That way we can talk privately."
I watched as she sucked in a deep breath and held it. It seemed like every emotion flashed for a moment in her eyes before she let her breath out in a slow exhale.
Part of me was stunned, another terrified. I think the next twenty minutes went by in a blur as we got a cab and drove back to the Holiday Inn where I was staying. We were silent the whole time, even up until I opened up the door to my room and ushered Kim in before me. As the door shut and locked behind me, I think both of us realized that there was no going back for either of us, in more ways than one.
Kim sat at the head of my bed, tucking her knees up and to the side as she slipped one of the pillows from the bedspread and hugged it to her. If I was any other man, I would have thought she was afraid of me with that pose. Yet I caught her cease watching me for a moment as she closed her eyes while she took a quick smell of the pillow. It probably didn't smell like I'd been sleeping on it, but it seemed to make her shiver anyway.
I figured I'd give both of us some space, and sat at the end of the bed, my right leg tucked almost under me so I could face her. My fingers ended up drawing circles on he bedspread as I waited to see if she'd start. When she didn't, I though perhaps I could break the ice with just speaking her name.
Her eyes caught mine and held my gaze, unspoken things flashing between us that had never needed to be stated or explained before now. Unfortunately, too many of those things were being questioned by both of us to let us simply assume nothing has changed.
"Do you want some water?" I asked, stalling for more time as I hoped she would offer her own sins before I had to expose mine.
Kim shook her head. "Maybe later."
Unconsciously, my hand went to my hair and my fingers raked through the strands at my temple. After a minute or two, I sighed and realized I would have to begin this discussion with my own faults, and I was terrified at the prospect of it.
"I know I didn't call you like I promised," I began tentatively, hating myself as I began to take my fair share of the blame in the failure of our relationship.
"It's not your fault," Kim suddenly burst out, her fingers tightening on the pillow. "And it's not what you think."
"What do I think?"
"That you neglected me. And because of it that I found someone else."
"Didn't you?" I counter, my heart thudding in my chest as I await her reply.
There's silence for a long while, and I watch Kim fight off the start of tears. She pulls away one of her hands from the pillow and wipes angrily at her eyes. Then she turns those soft brown pools on me and looks me dead in the eyes.
I think my heart just stopped and started again in the span of three seconds. She lied to me. The letter was a lie, and she never found someone else. But it doesn't mean she still wants me. Today, since we've been together, I have been sure that she still loves me, but there's no way to truly know until she confirms it. So I have to ask.
"Do you still love me?"
The nervous look on her face melts into a bright smile that I remember from a long time ago standing by the lake in Angel Grove Park. Without thinking, I reach over and grab the hand that isn't holding the pillow and feel the wave of history sweep through us both.
"Me too," I reply with a smile and yank on her arm, pulling her across the bed until she sits before me. "I miss you."
I glance down at her and see that she's smirking at me, and that she's tossed the pillow to the floor. Her free hand has landed on my left thigh and I'm starting to think that maybe we should have braved the weather outside. It would be a lot less dangerous than being alone with Kimberly in my room.
"I miss you too."
More than anything, all I want to do is just kiss her until we're delirious with oxygen deprivation and to hell with answers. Except this one big question that continues to scream in my head refuses to go away so easily.
"Why did you send the letter then?"
Her head drops so her eyes don't have to meet mine. As much as I want to give her space to reply, I need to see the answer in her eyes as much as I need to hear it. I reach my free hand under her chin and raise her face to mine. Tears now glitter at her lashes, and I know that the truth of what happened is painful for her, so I'll let her take her time. After a little while, she lifts her hand to my cheek and softly caresses my skim before she pulls it away to wipe at the seeping liquid that is starting to escape her lids.
"I didn't have a choice."
"What?" I say, my voice sounding harsher than I meant. Kim cringes and I jump to temper my words. "I mean, why didn't you have a choice?"
"After Christmas, things were fine. But unlike a lot of the other girls, I still had strong ties to you, the team, Angel Grove... the coach thought it would be better for all of the athletes to live, sleep and breathe gymnastics. To the exclusion of our families and friends."
"I don't understand."
"Neither did I until late last month. Coach said we were now at the next phase of training and we were expected to work harder. Our meals were cut and the weigh-ins that had been weekly were now daily. I was probably five pounds under my 'normal' weight, but I was still five pounds over what I was told I had to be to continue. The stress started to get to me, and I tried to call Aisha and Billy and you, and I couldn't reach any of you."
Kim swallowed hard, and I felt an answering knot in my own throat. Maybe if I had called here, none of this ever would have happened. I felt Kim shudder beneath my touch and I knew that the worst was still to come.
"I started to make mistakes in practice. I was so depressed, and with the weight loss, I just wasn't cutting it. So Coach Schmidt took me aside and asked what was going on. Stupidly, I said I was having problems concentrating because I couldn't reach you. So, he convinced me that it was probably best if I let you go, so I could better focus on the training."
I sat there in shock. Kim had broken up with me because Coach Schmidt had suggested it? The look on my face must have conveyed my thoughts as Kim tightened her grasp on our joined hands.
"I wasn't thinking clearly Tommy. There was no one to turn to, no one to support my relationship with you, to make me realize what I would be sacrificing. I was so blinded by Coach Schmidt's promises that I really thought he was trying to help me."
"Now you think he wasn't?"
"Maybe, I'm not sure. But all my sending you that letter did was make me feel worse. The fall you saw me take today on the balance beam... that hasn't been the worst."
My hands flew from their previous positions to take her shoulders as panic started to attack my senses and my protective nature towards her reasserted itself. I'd nearly lost her before she'd come to Florida in an accident far worse than today's had been, but the thought that this one I'd seen had been minor compared to what she was saying she'd been through recently chilled my blood.
"You're okay, right?" I asked with fear lacing my voice.
"Yes," she soothed, her hands coming up to frame my face as she smiled lightly at me. "I'm okay. Nothing too serious, all the parts are working."
I tried not to smile but failed miserably. Seeing that my fear had ebbed, she moved her hands to rest on my thighs again, much to my, ahem, physical discomfort.
"So, if we're back together, and based on what you've said we are, is that going to cause you problems with training? Hell Kim, is my visit here putting you in jeopardy of being removed from the program?" I asked hurriedly, afraid if I didn't get it out in one breath that I'd be reluctant to do so at all.
Watching Kimberly frown is not a pleasant sight. I think in the last three years I've seen her look this determined yet troubled less than a dozen times. Whatever she was considering couldn't be good.
"I don't know."
"It almost seemed like when Adelle mentioned you missing curfew because of my visit you were welcoming the idea that it would get you removed from the training program," I asked gently. "Kim, do you want to quit?"
"If I don't see this through, I'm just not sure what else I have," she said quietly after a moment of silence that was a little too long for my liking.
"What do you mean?"
"I gave up so much to come here, and if I don't make it, I'll have given up everything for nothing. You, the team, Angel Grove..."
"Hey," I start, sliding my hands up to her face as I watch the conflicting emotions swirl in her eyes. "You have me and you'll never lose me. And Angel Grove and the team are still there waiting for you, no matter if you're a World famous gymnast or not."
"You and Angel Grove, yes, but the team... There's no place for me there now."
Sighing, I couldn't help but shake my head. I should have expected this. Hell, I'd been here myself when I'd lost my Green Ranger powers. Sure, I had the team's support and Kim's love at the time, but it still didn't fill that hole I was feeling. It wasn't until Zordon handed me the mantle of the White Ranger that I felt like I fit in again. And her fear of being an outsider with her friends is very understandable to me.
"Kim, what if we could bring you back?"
"Back, to the team. Like Zordon did with me, like we did with the Ninjetti powers. We know that there's other power out there, we could find it for you, bring you back to the team."
Kim sat there and pondered my suggestion. I know that she remembered the many times she herself had asked why I couldn't be given other powers, even the White Ranger powers before I revealed myself to the team. I could see how tempting the thought was, being back in action, in uniform with the team, with me... then a cloud of doubt fell over her, and I watched her start to retreat from the hope I was offering her.
"There's no guarantee that we could do that Tommy. I don't know if I could go back only to not have it work out. And if we did find a power source, how long would it take to do so? A week, a month, longer? What would I do while you looked for it? Tommy, I still don't even know what I would do if I did come back, team or otherwise."
"Come back to Angel Grove high, graduate with the rest of us. Be with me," I stated seriously.
"How? Mom's in Paris, Aisha's not there anymore, and Billy's gone too," she countered stubbornly.
"You could stay with Kat or Tanya," I suggested, then found myself saying what I really wanted, "or with me."
Once the words left my mouth, I felt my heart start hammering in my chest like a drum. Oh shit, what the fuck did I just suggest? That Kim and I live together? From Kim's wide eyes look of shock, I think she had gotten the gist of my unspoken suggestion as well.
"I mean, we... I... my folks have a guestroom. You could stay there until after graduation."
"You think your parents would be okay with that? Or that my mom would be?" Kim remarked with a slightly seductive but skeptical tone to her voice.
"We won't know until we ask," answered honestly. "The truth is I would move heaven and earth to bring you home to me Beautiful. If that means braving my parents and yours to get you a place to live, I'll do that. If it means searching the universe for a new power for you, I will. I'll do whatever I need to if you want to come home to Angel Grove. But it has to be your decision. I don't want to be responsible for making you walk away from this opportunity."
Before I knew what had hit me, Kim had leapt foreword and wrapped her arms around my neck. Automatically, I pulled her closer to me, my arms going around her waist as I reveled in the feel of her this close to me again.
"Who's parents do we call first?" she asked, her voice muffled against my skin.
The next thing I knew we were both laughing and hugging so hard I was afraid I'd break Kim's ribs. My mind was just dazed by this revelation. She was coming home!
"I love you so much Beautiful. It hurt me so badly when I thought you'd found someone else," I mumbled as the laughter began to be replaced with an overwhelming hyper-sense of the serious path that we were undertaking.
"Only you Tommy. It's only ever been you," she replied as she pulled back to look me in the eyes, all the love for me showing there as plain as day.
With that I leaned down and kissed her like I'd been dying to since I'd laid eyes on her in the gym. Her lips were as sweet as I remembered them, and I couldn't help but slant my mouth against hers and drink deeper of her. I'd been starved for her for months and hadn't even known it. Kim answered in kind, twining her fingers in my hair and swiping her tongue at the tip of mine.
I moaned and focused on bringing as much of her body her in contact with mine. Without any effort, I slid my hands under her ass and lifted her onto my lap. Her breasts strained against my chest and I felt the twin hard points scrape through my shirts as if they weren't there.
This was quickly getting out of hand, and I was loathe to stop it as much as Kimberly seemed to be, judging from the way she wiggled her pelvis to adjust her position on my lap and my straining erection.
Luckily before I could be a gentleman and pull away, my communicator went off. The sound was like a bucket of ice, shocking us back to reality.
"I'M SORRY TO INTERUPT YOUR TRIP TOMMY, BUT THE TEAM NEEDS YOU URGENTLY IN ANGEL GROVE. YOU NEED TO TELEPORT BACK IMMEDIATELY."
My eyes caught Kim's, and I was surprised at the glowing smile and sparkling eyes that greeted me. I was going to have to leave her for the moment, and she seemed almost pleased. That threw me.
"You're okay with this Beautiful?"
"Go. While you're gone, I'll catch a cab back to the dorm and pack up. But by the time you get back Mr. Oliver, you better be prepared to take me back with you."
I gave her such a goofy, happy grin, I was worried she was going to think I'd lost my mind.
"I'll be right there Zordon."
With that, I pulled my hand from the communicator and wrapped both of them around Kim's tiny waist. Lowering my head, I kissed her soundly, a promise being made that I intended to keep. Kim answered it in every way.
"I'll be back soon," I said when I finally pulled back from the kiss. "So go take care of settling things here and calling your mom while I'm gone. When I get back, we're outta here."
"I'm counting on it."
With that, I pulled away, and pressed my communicator, teleporting myself back to Angel Grove as my heart or more precisely Hart waited for my return in Miami.
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