Always a Ranger - Part 10
Underneath it All
Tommy bristled as Kira mentioned jokingly what a good match Principal Randall and Dr. O were. He knew it was a joke – the rangers had already met Kim and knew what their relationship had been, and was again. But it still made him uncomfortable.
It was the same as it had been when he and Kat had been just thinking about possibly being together. While the relationship never had been like his with Kim had been, everyone around them had supported and even pushed them together. Sometimes he wondered if anyone cared that he still wanted Kim than anything else… his new powers, leadership of the team, Kat, anything.
And in college, people had assumed he and Hayley had something, even though he’d never made a single move in her direction. Something about him made people assume that whatever woman that was near him, and interested in him he guessed, was whom he should care about.
Even if the truth was his heart lay with a petite brunette that now taught gymnastics to the Olympic women’s team, and always had.
“Kira, that’s not really funny,” Tommy rebuked the yellow ranger. “You know that I was only concerned about her.”
“It’s a good thing that we all know that you’re already spoken for Dr. O,” Ethan commented as they walked out, after asking for a note for their assignments, “or I might side with Kira on this one.”
“Please, even Dr. O doesn’t have that bad a taste in women as to be interested in Randall,” Conner said, slapping his teacher on the shoulder in the friendly way he saw Jason do it a few weeks earlier.
“You’d better not be saying that Kim is…” Tommy started to get out before Conner raised his hands in surrender.
“Hey, no Dr. O, that’s totally not what I meant. Kim is great, even if she’s old enough to be, well, your age. You guys make a good pair.”
“Still, you can’t tell me that Randall wasn’t hitting on Dr. O at the dig site,” Kira rebutted, bringing the conversation back to the issue at hand – Dr. O’s newest admirer.
“Okay, well maybe, but that seemed like a total reversal just then on the stairs,” Ethan admitted grudgingly, not liking the way Dr. O was looking at them. “But still, Dr. O wouldn’t cheat on Kim.”
“Long distance relationships suck. Things happen…” Kira suggested, and then shut her mouth tightly when Tommy glared at her.
“I love Kim Kira, just for the record. And no matter what Principal Randall threw at me, I’d only care about her as a friend and our principal. Are we clear?” he stated in his leader voice.
Nodding her head, Kira let the subject drop. Still, it concerned her. She’d seen how Randall had cozied up to Dr. O, and the last thing she wanted was for Kimberly to get hurt. When the former pink ranger had been here with Dr. O a few weekends back, she’d established a bond with the other pterodactyl wearing ranger. She was like the big sister she’d never had, and even though she and Dr. O seemed beyond happy when they’d been together, she could see how Principal Randall might get in the way of that.
That decided, Kira knew that someone had to keep Randall out of Dr. O’s path.
“Hey, so I have a gig at the café. Anyone coming?”
“Sure, as long as you don’t complain about my working to get to level 13 this time,” Ethan joked as he nudged Kira’s shoulder with his.
“I’m up for it. Dr. O?” Conner asked, glancing at their mentor with some concern.
“Sorry guys. I’m really not in the mood. Besides, I have Monday’s quizzes to grade. You would like your results sometime this week, right?”
“Okay, well, see you tomorrow.”
With that, Kira watched as Dr. O headed for his jeep, and the rangers turned to Conner’s car. After piling in, Conner drove across town to the café and found a parking place around the back. Climbing out, Kira and Ethan followed Conner to the door and found the place busy. Kira wondered if she was getting a following, or if there was some other reason for the full house.
“Hey guys,” called Hayley from behind the counter. “Kira, the rest of the band is running a bit late. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” Kira replied, glancing at the computers lining the back wall. “I have to send an e-mail anyway...”
As Kimberly returned to her apartment in Boston, she angrily slid her key in the door, slammed it open, then slammed it closed behind her, and then threw her jacket across the room. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this furious.
She knew what the hell she was doing. It wasn’t like she hadn’t trained herself for global games, but it seemed like her boss had forgotten that was one of the reasons he’d hired her. The routines that the girls were working on had been approved by him, the head coach, and the lead coach on the bar as well as herself before the girls had started them. Now, there was some argument that the routines weren’t hard enough for the Olympics if they wanted to win, and now Kim, Terri Mitchell (the head coach for the beam) and Anton Gregor (the team’s head coach) were fighting over what they could get the girls to learn in the shortened period of time before August.
Sure, the girls could learn new routines, but to make sure they were polished enough to win was another matter. That Kim knew from experience.
With a stifled growl of frustration, she walked and turned on her computer, thinking of e-mailing Aisha Campbell in Chicago to vent, knowing that she’d understand. The veterinarian practice she was a partner in ended up putting her in conflict with her fellow doctor, who preferred to take only ‘money’ cases in favor of helping people who’s animals really need help, but couldn’t always pay.
Sitting down, she opened her e-mail and before she could start a message to Aisha, she found she had mail, and it wasn’t from Tommy. It was a message from Kira. While the two had really connected, and along with Ethan and Conner, they’d sent her messages since they’d met a few weeks before, the subject heading was what got Kim’s attention.
‘Urgent – read me first!’ screamed out from her computer screen at her. Surprised, she opened it and read the short message. Shaking her head, she read it again.
Okay, I must be misreading this, she thought. Or maybe there’s been some kind of misunderstanding. He wouldn’t…
Then Kim quickly reached for the phone.
It took a total of five seconds for Kim to dial the number to the man who held her heart, and as the phone rang she sat there, her foot tapping and her already out of patience temper with her workplace mess was quickly getting out of her control.
This couldn’t be right she thought again. He would never… But again, she’d seen this time and again to the girls she coached – their boyfriends were at another school or back home, and they ended up cheating on them.
Hell, she’d been afraid of it when she’d left Angel Grove to train with Coach Schmidt back in the day, and with Kat there… and then she’d written him that damned letter.
But now, they were older, much wiser and knew what they wanted and what it was going to take to keep what they had. He’d promised her he could wait, and they’d spent such a wonderful weekend. She couldn’t believe that he’d actually cheat on her…
Three rings into the call, the phone picked up and Kim heard the voice that made her life worthwhile. Except right now all it did was make her terrified and irate.
“Hey, it’s me,” Kim said into the mouthpiece of the phone.
“Kim, hey… I didn’t expect you to call, not that I’m complaining. So how are you Beautiful?” Tommy asked as he took off his glasses and sat down in the kitchen chair he’d been grading papers at.
She paused for a beat, and decided to be blunt.
“Kira e-mailed me about the last adventure,” she started, her voice edges with anger.
“You’re not interested in Principal Randall, are you?” Kim partially accused, partially questioned him suddenly.
“No!” Tommy shouted across the line, making Kim pull the phone away from her ear. “Kim, Kira and the other rangers got it wrong. If you’ll let me, I’ll explain.”
“Do I really want an explanation?” Kim asked, fire in her tone of voice.
“What? At the first sign of potential infidelity, I get raked over the coals? How do I deserve that?” Tommy lashed out, not thinking of the consequences, just angry now that Kim would question his loyalty to her. “If anyone here has a history of cheating, it’s you.”
The silence that encompassed the line was deafening. As soon as the words had left Tommy’s mouth, he realized his mistake.
“Kim, I didn’t mean that.”
“Sure you did,” she replied tightly. “I did meet someone else. I did break up with you. I did end our long-term relationship because I thought I had met the right guy. But I also had been told that you’d already started to warm up to Kat’s advances. That you were comfortable not thinking about me because you had my replacement. So why should now be any different? Except that this time I promised to give up my life to be with you. What Tommy, once your girlfriend was back on the other side of the country you figured it was time to find a replacement again?” Kim nearly yelled, the tears held back only by her anger.
“Stop it!” Tommy yelled through the phone. “Damn it Kim, I have *never* cheated on you, and you know it. And I never would. We talked about this after the funeral…”
The mention of Trini’s death was like a slap in the face, and it brought Kim back to some semblance of her senses. Still, she was upset and frightened. Could she keep him long enough for her to end her commitment with the team before someone would steal him away?
“I… I’m sorry,” Kim stammered apologetically. “I just, I got the message about Principal Randall hitting on you, and how you weren’t making any moves to tell her you were involved and that you were actually letting her get close, I just…”
Tommy sighed at the other end of the line. He should have called Kim the moment he got in and told her about Randall’s attention. Instead, he’d blown it off as nothing and ended up having Kim have all the anxiety of their previous parting come back in spades.
“I know what you thought Kim. I remember Kat, and the messages you were getting from the team saying how well she was fitting in, and how I was letting her take your place so easily. But it’s not like that. I don’t really think that Principal Randall was trying to hit on me, not like I would have noticed or cared even if she had been,” Tommy explained honestly, “and as for my not saying anything, it was just because I didn’t think I needed to tell her about us, it wasn’t any of her business. Besides, come on, you know me… you had to literally tell me to my face that you missed me before I got the hint that you were interested in me back in high school.”
Kim giggled, and Tommy let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. They’d both realized in that moment that everything was going to be all right. That it really had been just a misunderstanding, and nothing was getting between them this time. Even themselves.
“So, let me guess, you were being nice…”
“I was trying to rescue this dino egg and Principal Randall at this dig site when the Tyrano-drones showed up…”
“So you were all concentrating on saving the dino egg?”
“Which we did, thank you for asking. It’s made a great addition to the zord lineup. And I was concerned that the students would get hurt, as well as Randall. So I was too busy with all of that to even think that she was coming on to me.”
“And you didn’t notice how she was snuggling up to you and fluttering her eyelashes, huh?” Kim asked, her anger trickling away as fast as a waterfall.
“Hey, I’m thick that way. Besides, how was I supposed to notice her trying to get my attention when I was busy thinking about you?” Tommy replied, a leer in his voice that had Kim questioning whether or not she could get another three-day weekend from the coach.
“Thinking about me how?” Kim retorted with a sexy tone of voice that had Tommy closing his eyes and fighting to control his body’s automatic response to the love of his life.
“Well, I was thinking about you and me, out on a picnic, making use of the blanket for something other than sitting on.”
Tommy let the suggestion hang, and heard Kim groan on the other end.
“Damn it, why do you have to do that?” she whined pathetically. “Now I’m going to be imagining making love to you in Olmstead Park, along the high grasses near the lake when the girls go for their weekly jog out there. How am I supposed to get through the next months with you out there and me here when you do this?”
“No you’re not.”
“Yes, actually I am. Because I’m in the same predicament you’re in. It’s all I can do sometimes to not just up and resign from the high school and fly to Boston to be with you. You’re all I care about Kim. Even being a ranger isn’t as important to me as you,” he stated seriously. He’d had eight long years to realize this truth, and it was time he shared it.
“Look, eight years ago, yes, it would have been hard to choose. But I learned since then that you were what mattered, really mattered. In those years without you, and without my powers, the things that were truly important became crystal clear. And now that I’m a ranger and have you back, I know where my priorities are.”
“You’re not saying…” Kim gasped out, suddenly worried that her frustration at thinking he’d cheated on her was going to lead him into making what she knew was a mistake she couldn’t live with.
“No, I’m not giving up and letting Mesogog win,” Tommy quietly said, and heard Kim’s sigh of relief across the phone. “I just know that in the scheme of things, you and me are more important than my need to be a ranger. But right now, just like you, I have a commitment that I can’t place on someone else.”
“Which I’m glad for Tommy. I couldn’t live with myself if I thought you were going to throw everything you’ve worked for away just to be with me.”
“You know I wish that I didn’t have to be here, right Beautiful?” he asked suddenly, the tone in his voice almost pleading.
“You have a responsibility handsome,” she replied, using her nickname for him to assure him that everything really was fine, “and you wouldn’t be the man I love if you didn’t need to see it through.”
“I knew you’d understand. You’re in such a similar situation there, with the team…”
At the mention of it, Kim’s frustration at the earlier mess that had put her on the path to get angry with Tommy in the first place came back to her, and she took in a deep breath, filled with repressed aggravation.
“Beautiful, Kimberly, is everything okay?”
“Just the root for my irrational anger,” she replied sullenly. “Work problems.”
“Tell me. That’s what I’m here for, remember? Besides, once you move in with me, you’re going to be coming home at night and telling me about your day.”
“Anton Gregor, the head coach for the team, well he decided to drop a bombshell on the beam coaching team,” Kim started off, and then took a deep breath before continuing. “He decided that the girls can’t win with the routines that we’re teaching them. So he wants to change them.”
“That’s fairly common, isn’t it?” Tommy asked trying to wrack his brain for the buried knowledge he had from the years of watching Kim training in Angel Grove.
“Sure, if you’re not working on the International level. We have three routines per girl, one of which is their primary routine. What we’re talking about is scrapping at least two of them, and having them learn something much more involved and potentially difficult before Athens that they can do to perfection.”
“But you still have four months, right?”
“Sure, but a primary routine is something an athlete works and refines for up to a year for the Olympic games,” Kim replied angrily. “And he wants us to get them picture perfect in four months with new routines. He’s going to ruin their chances!”
Tommy stopped and thought for a moment. Was her frustration really about the change in training, or her own personal failures in the field? He only knew what little Kim had told him in the years they’d been in contact since reuniting after Trini’s funeral. But he knew she’d ended up as an alternate, never competing. The reasons why that had happened she’d never fully revealed, but he could guess that something like what was happening to the girls now could have happened to her during her training for the Pan Globals. Which would make her concern more personal that she might even realize.
“Are you sure that you’re not giving the girls and Gregor less credit than they deserve? Maybe your experiences are coloring your judgment?” Tommy asked carefully, not wanting to seem like he was questioning her conclusions.
“No! I wouldn’t do that…” Kim began, and then trailed off. She knew that Coach Schmidt had done something similar to the team before choosing the final participants for the Pan Globals. It was one of the reasons she’d been put on the alternates list. She’d missed her chance because she hadn’t been able to nail the new routine fast enough.
Oh God, she thought suddenly, she *was* letting her own past get in the way.
“Tommy,” she nearly cried out bitterly, “I didn’t realize I was…”
“Hey! Stop it Kim, it’s not your fault. You didn’t know. But I know that you were just trying to keep from happening to them what happened to you. I know that, and down deep, underneath it all, so do you. You *were* good enough. It just wasn’t to be for you. If it had, who knows what would have happened to us?”
Kim sat there on her end of the line and though hard about that. If she had competed in the Pan Globals, she might have won. And then her life would have been totally different. And she might not have found her way back to Tommy.
And that was a life she didn’t even want to imagine.
“No, you’re right,” Kim replied finally, her voice sounding sure and strong, like Tommy was used to it sounding. “I’m almost where I’m supposed to be. I just need to do what I can to help the girls and get myself to Reefside to be with you.”
“Good. I’m looking forward to that. I even thought about buying some *black* satin sheets,” Tommy hinted, and imagined the blush creeping across his love’s face.
“What, and have you slide across the bed like in that beer commercial. No thanks. I like my bed like I like you – strong, down-to-earth and smelling like your aftershave.”
“That I can do Beautiful. You just have to get here.”
“Five months handsome, and then you’re going to have to clear out any copies of Maxim and Playboy you might have picked up in my absence.”
“Hey! Maxim has good articles,” he weakly protested.
“Sure they do Tommy. Anyway, I’m going to write Kira back and inform her that she doesn’t have to worry, that you’re all mine and Principal Randall can wear a g-string and bikini top to school and you still wouldn’t care…” Kim said.
“A g-string? Well I might look a little…” Tommy said teasingly and heard Kim groan on the other end and hastened to add, “hey, just kidding. I love you, remember? I’m waiting for the day when you’ll be getting your ass off that plane from Athens. Memories of our weekend together are just barely going to keep me until then.”
“Me too. So how about I give you something to hold onto?”
“I love you Tommy,” Kim said with as much emotion as she could convey through the phone, “so very much, and I always will.”
In Reefside, the black ranger couldn’t stop the wide smile that crossed his face. Disasters averted, everything was back to the way it was supposed to be.
“I love you too Beautiful. But I’m still gonna give Kira hell for worrying you.”
With a sigh, Kim rolled her eyes in her apartment. Some things never changed.
“Fine. I’ll warn her that you’re a bit pissed you. But I should warn you that she might be able to kick your old ranger ass. She’s a yellow ranger, after all.”
“She can try. Anyway Kim, I’ll let you go. I know the phone bill isn’t something either of us look forward to.”
With that, Kim looked down at her watch and groaned again. It was really late.
“Shit, I didn’t realize how late it was. I have to go. Love you…”
Tommy hung up the phone, staring at it as he decided how he could get Kira back properly. Maybe an oral presentation on dinosaur genomes… hmm, maybe. But whatever he ended up doing, he had made sure he still had what was important – Kim.
tbc next week….
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