Continuing Tales

All I Want for Christmas

A Power Rangers Story
by Cheryl Reynolds

Part 2 of 7

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All I Want for Christmas

"There, I think that's the last of it," Tommy said as he placed another box in the back of his pickup. Actually, there was surprisingly little in the way of boxes. Kim and Olivia didn't seem to own much more than their clothes. Tommy felt a lump in his throat.

As he secured the box and closed the tailgate, Tommy wondered what had prompted Kim's impassioned phone call less than a week ago. It had been one o'clock; he'd been sound asleep when the phone rang. Although barely coherent, the sound of Kim's voice had snapped him to instant wakefulness: "Tommy, if the offer still stands, I want to come home!" It had sounded as if she had been crying, but Kim hadn't elaborated, and he hadn't wanted to press her. After spending the morning making arrangements with his assistants Leslie and Kurt to cover classes for him, he was on the road to Florida by lunchtime.

"It is really good of you to do this for Kimberly," Coach Schmidt said. "Olivia needs to know there is more to this world than the walls of the gymnasium. At times, it seemed that Kim's home here was more of a refuge--a place where she could hide from all that had happened to her, and yet I would have thought that living here would have been a constant reminder . . . ."

While Tommy couldn't begin to imagine the full extent of Kim's trauma, he knew enough to realize that there'd be no way she'd ever be able to forget. Every time she saw Olivia's face she'd be reminded.

"However, I know she has been wanting to go home for some time now," Coach continued.

"I've been wondering why you let Kim stay," Tommy said as he leaned back against the side of the truck bed, waiting for Kim and Olivia to finish saying their good-byes. "You didn't have to do that."

"When I was a young man, I knew a girl who experienced a similar trouble as Kimberly," Gunthar explained, his expression distant. "She had nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to. She would not have made it but for the kindness of an elderly neighbor. It is something I have never forgotten. In her memory, I extended the same kindness to Kimberly, and while she accepted my hospitality, she also made herself quite useful to the center. She can relate to the gymnasts in ways none of the other coaches can. I wish I could have done more, but without her license ...."

Just then, Kimberly and Olivia headed down the steps towards them.

"I guess that's it," Kim said quietly.

To Tommy, she looked pale and scared, and Olivia seemed to be on the verge of tears.

"What's the matter, Princess?" Tommy wondered, scooping the tot into his arms.

"I don't want to move," she whimpered. "I don't want to live in a strange place. I want to stay at home."

They were feelings Tommy understood all too well, having moved around more than his fair share as a kid.

"I know, Sweetheart, but you're not going to some place strange. You'll be living in my home; you don't have to be afraid there. You'll see. Pretty soon, it'll feel like your home, too," he assured her. As he gave Olivia a hug, Tommy looked to Kim and Coach Schmidt. No one else had come out to see them off. The gymnasts all had practice to attend to.

"Coach, I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done for us," Kim murmured, trying not to get weepy. Tommy could tell she was failing in her efforts and Coach looked a little misty himself.

"I did but little. You more than earned all that you had here," Gunthar informed her. "I wish you and your daughter well." Then, he handed her a folder of papers. "I have written letters of recommendation, and do not hesitate to call if you need anything else. You are a wonderful coach; the sport needs more like you. I hope you shall continue working with the girls."

"I'll do my best," Kim replied.

"Promise me that at the first opportunity you will get your license."

"I'll have to if I want to coach."

In the heavy silence that followed, Tommy said, "We'd better hit the road. We've got a long drive ahead of us."

Gunthar offered Kim a handshake, then headed back to the gym. The trio watched him go; he waved once then disappeared inside. Kim stared after him for a long while. Tommy placed a hand on her shoulder, which seemed to snap her out of her reverie. She took her daughter from his arms and hugged her tightly. Then, she set Olivia into the truck.

"I'm still scared, Mommy," Olivia sniffled.

"I know, Honey; me too," Kim murmured.

"Why?" Tommy asked as he helped fasten Olivia in. "I thought going home to Angel Grove is something you always wanted."

"It is. It's just that . . . well . . . they say you can't go back."

"You're not going back; you're moving ahead at last." Tommy flashed her a confident smile, which she tried to return.

Tommy noticed that as he pulled out of the training center's parking lot onto Main Street neither mother nor daughter looked back.

Tommy padded into the kitchen, barely awake. He didn't even consider himself a real human being in the morning until he had his first cup of coffee. Fortunately, he could operate the coffee maker in his sleep. At the moment, even the shower was beyond his capabilities.

What time is it anyway? he wondered as he blearily peered at the clock. Five? What the hell am I doing up? Some tiny portion of his sleep-fogged brain realized that he was still on their travel schedule. He had never been so happy to pull into the parking lot; it had been a long three days (not including the time it took to drive to Florida!). Man, if I never have to get in that truck again, it'll be too soon!

With a yawn, Tommy wished the coffee maker would hurry up.

Kim yawned as she ambled out of her room. Her first morning at Tommy's . . . for a moment, she hadn't known where she was when she'd woken up. She glanced back into the room and smiled warmly; Olivia was sound asleep in the trundle bed. She was glad her daughter was still asleep. The last few days had been pretty momentous, and they had arrived in Angel Grove pretty late last night. Kim had half expected to find Olivia in bed with her.

As she shuffled down the hallway, Kim wondered how Tommy had gotten a hold of the furniture so quickly. She had only called a week ago, and he said he'd left that same day. She noted in passing that Tommy's door was closed. No doubt he was still asleep. The warmth stayed in her expression, and for a change, the anxiety that fluttered in her stomach had less to do with fear than excitement. It was hard to believe she was here--home in Angel Grove and with Tommy. Well, not quite the way that either of them had ever imagined, but . . . .

Poor Tommy, she mused, making her way to the kitchen. He had driven nearly the entire way, and after their late arrival, he had unloaded the truck and helped her start unpacking. Then, Olivia had been a handful and refused to go down to sleep . . . he must be exhausted.

Kim was normally an early riser, but it was rare that she woke before her five-year-old "alarm." Since she had the apartment to herself, she figured the least she could do was get breakfast started. Of course, it had been forever since she had actually cooked--she and Olivia always ate at the cafeteria in the dorm. Well, it can't be any worse than Tommy's . . . unless he had taken cooking lessons in the last five years.

However, when Kim hit the kitchen doorway, she stopped dead. A hand flew to her mouth. There was Tommy sleepily leaning against the counter. Kim had never seen him quite like this before: dressed in nothing but a pair of well worn boxers, unshaven, hair in a knotted mess and sticking up every which-a-way, eyes barely opened . . . . It was an . . . educational sight. Kim fought hard to stifle a giggle.

"Huh?" Tommy muttered, having heard Kim's gasp. He spied Kim in the doorway doing her best not to laugh. Self-consciously, he ran his hand through his hair in a vain effort to tame it.

Kim wasn't exactly at her best either: wildly tangled morning-hair, make-up less, rumpled oversized tee . . . still, she looked better than he did --especially the way her eyes shone with her mirth.

"Good morning," she murmured, biting back a giggle.

"It will be soon," he harumphed as he meaningfully eyed the coffee maker.

"So --um-- this is the real you, huh?"

"You were bound to discover the Mr. Hyde under my Dr. Jekyll sooner or later."

"Definitely not a morning person."

Tommy sort of grunted, and this time, Kim really did laugh.

"Wanna cup?" he asked around a yawn, trying to hide his embarrassment.


Kim took a seat as Tommy found a second mug and poured the brew out. He joined her at the table. She took a sip and started coughing.

"You okay?" Tommy asked.

"Y-you actually drink this stuff?" Kim sputtered.

"It tastes fine to me," he replied. He took another sip. "Well, it might be a little strong. Sorry."

"Don't be. I'm just not much of a coffee drinker," Kim apologized hastily, catching a glimmer of his wounded puppy look. She really didn't want to hurt his feelings. After all, he was doing her an enormous favor by letting her and Olivia live with him. The least she could do was drink his coffee --even if it had the consistency of motor oil.

"Well, we can mess around with it and see if we can find a mix we can both drink," Tommy offered, the caffeine kicking in at last, making him a bit more reasonable.

"Tommy, I don't want to disrupt your life too much," Kim demurred.

"Changing the way I make coffee isn't disrupting my life. Mom's been after me to tone down the sludge for forever. She refuses to drink it when she and Dad come over."

Before Kim could reply, the two heard a plaintive "Mommy!"

Kim sighed. "I had really hoped she'd sleep in today!" As Kim rose from her chair to see to her daughter, Tommy got up also. Kim eyed him questioningly.

"I'm gonna hit the shower," he said. "Don't want to scare the poor kid half to death."

The hot water finished what the coffee started, and Tommy felt a little more able to deal with the reality of having two new roommates.

At least Kim didn't running screaming when she saw me!

This was going to take some getting used to. He didn't mind having a roommate again; he and David had gotten along just fine. His brother had moved out to attend graduate school. Tommy was pretty sure he could handle a female roommate --he just wasn't sure he could handle it being Kim. He was going to be hyper-conscious about his lifestyle--and his feelings . . . . Then, there was Olivia to consider. He didn't think he did anything about the house that wouldn't be acceptable for a five-year-old to be exposed to, but then, what did he know about five-year-olds?

There were still quite a few details he and Kim needed to iron out in their living arrangements. Tommy lathered up his hair as he tried to recall which ones had already been discussed; however, his thoughts were interrupted by a frantic pounding on the bathroom door.

What the . . . ?


Olivia? Couldn't Kim get her back to sleep? "I think she's in the kitchen, Princess!" Tommy hollered out.

"But I gotta go potty NOW!"

What do you expect with only one bathroom and a kid? Tommy peered out from behind the shower curtain --suddenly very grateful that it wasn't one of those glass doors. He saw that he hadn't locked the door.

"You can come in, hon!"

As Tommy recalled from the few times he'd stayed over at the De Santos household, such had been standard operating procedure. When Rocky first got his own place, he said the thing that he enjoyed most was privacy in the bathroom!

"I'll hurry, Tommy," Olivia assured him.

The girl didn't sound at all phased about having to share the bathroom, but then she was used to the community facilities on her floor in the dormitory.

I'm going to have to remember not to lock the door when I'm in the shower --in case of an emergency. So much for privacy and long showers . . . !

She wants pancakes, Kim sighed as she hunted about Tommy's cabinets in search of pancake mix. She had tried everything --including laying down with her-- to get Olivia to go back to bed. She was just too excited to sleep, and she was hungry.

Looks like Tommy hasn't been shopping in awhile. She wasn't sure what his routine was, but there was no doubt his unscheduled trip had messed it up. Thus far, all she managed to find were the basics: flour, sugar, eggs . . . . At least he owns a cookbook.

Collecting a bowl, measuring spoons and cups, and a large mixing spoon, Kim paused to call down the hallway, "Olivia? How's it coming, sweetie?" She had left Olivia to dress herself so that she could get started on the pancakes, which hadn't sat well with her daughter until Kim recommended surprising Tommy. The notion completely enchanted the tot.

She thinks the world of him, Kim mused. In a way, it was a little unsettling; she'd never seen Olivia warm up to anyone the way she did Tommy. However, in spite of her own fears and misgivings, Kim knew that she felt the same way.

Noticing that she hadn't received an answer, Kim poked her head out into the hallway. About that time, she heard Tommy's shout and some familiar sobs. Both came from the bathroom.

"Olivia? Tommy?" Kim hurried down and tried the door; it wasn't locked, but she couldn't open it. What was Olivia doing in there while Tommy was in the shower?

"Easy does it, Princess; I didn't mean to scare you," Kim heard Tommy say. Her daughter's cries sounded loudly from the other side of the door.

"What's going on?" Kim demanded, pounding on the door.

"Hang on, Kim," Tommy called back. "It's okay; you didn't do anything wrong. I didn't even know that would happen. Come on, now, sshh . . . ."

"Tommy . . . !"

"That's it, hon; step away from the door. Your mommy's out there, and she doesn't want you to get hit when she opens the door . . . ."

Kim finally got the door open and found Olivia standing about an arm's length from a crouching Tommy. The girl was sniffling and quivering, her tears ebbing, and Tommy . . . . Kim felt the breath catch in her throat. If the sight of his first-thing-in-the-morning self had been educational, the sight of him in the bathroom . . . . He was dripping wet, hair plastered to his shoulders and water beading on his tanned skin. He clutched a towel about his waist, but it gapped open on one side revealing a very long line of leg --all the way to the curve of his . . . . Kim gave herself a mental shake as Olivia dashed to her side, wrapped her arms around her so tightly she nearly fell over, and buried her face in the side of Kim's legs.

"What happened?" Kim queried, trying to keep her voice steadier than she felt at the moment. Why seeing Tommy in nothing but a towel should so unsettle her was beyond her grasp at the moment.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to . . . ." Olivia whimpered. Kim looked to Tommy for an explanation. He was standing now, and she was finding it difficult to keep her eyes above shoulder level --a fact she found more than a little disturbing.

"Olivia needed to use the facilities, and since I was still in the shower, I figured it'd be okay --she sounded pretty desperate. I just didn't think to tell her not to flush . . . ."

"Oh no," Kim murmured, wincing sympathetically as she buried her face in her hands to hide her amusement. "Were you badly burned?"

"No, more surprised than anything else. It scared her when I yelled, though." Tommy ran his hand through his wet locks the way he always did when he was embarrassed.

Kim sighed and shook her head. "Next time, honey, try to wait until Tommy's out of the bathroom."

"I tried, but I couldn't," Olivia protested.

"It's no big deal. Three people, one bathroom . . . it was bound to happen sooner or later," Tommy said. He flashed Olivia a smile. "Am I forgiven for upsetting you?" The girl nodded. "May I have a hug?"

Olivia detached herself from Kim's leg to grant his request. "You're all wet!" she complained.

"Why don't we let Tommy finish his shower and get you dressed," Kim suggested, finding it unusually warm in the small bathroom.

Tommy finished his shower and decided that before he shaved he'd better get his robe; Kim had seemed rather agitated at finding him in a towel. He checked the hall to see if it was clear before stepping out. Just as he did, he heard crying coming from the room across from the bathroom.

"Get over here!" Kim commanded exasperatedly.

"But it hurts!" Olivia protested.

Tommy couldn't believe that Kim would punish Olivia for the bathroom incident, but even if she was, it wasn't his place to interfere. He had promised that he wouldn't. Still, he couldn't help but be concerned, and he paused by the bedroom door, which was slightly ajar.

"I know it hurts, but you've got a lot of knots."

"Stop pulling!"

"Tommi Olivia, unless you want me to get your hair all chopped off . . . ." Kim threatened, and it was a tone Tommy well remembered. It was exactly the same one she used on him whenever she had been angry or frustrated with him.

"I like my hair long."

"Then stand still and let me brush it."

Tommy smiled to himself and left mother and daughter to (what he would come to know as) their morning battle.

"Here we are," Tommy announced, interrupting Olivia's lively --if somewhat off-key-- song as he pulled the truck into the parking lot.

"Where's here?" Olivia asked excitedly, pressing her nose to the window to peer out at the building in the strip mall.

Tommy and Kim traded grins at the child's eagerness. Angel Grove was so new and she had gotten out at the training center so seldom that even a trip to the market was a great adventure.

"This is the laundromat."

"What's that?"

"A place where you go to wash clothes."

"Like the laundry room back in the dorm," Kim elaborated.

"Oh." Olivia sat back and pouted. It was plain that she didn't think much of visiting the laundry room. However, the mercurial mood passed. "How come you don't have a laundry room at your apartment?"

"That's just the way it came," Tommy answered. As they climbed out of the front seat, he shot Kim a long-suffering look. "Do the questions ever stop?"

"They haven't yet."

Tommy shook his head; how had Kim managed to put up with the endless barrage for so long? He collected the laundry baskets from the truck bed, and Kim grabbled the duffel bag. They had been on the road for his usual laundry day, and Kim's decision to come home was so spur of the moment that she hadn't had time to wash things before packing to leave.

"I'll get the door!" Olivia chirped and darted off.

"Olivia! This is a parking lot; don't go running off like that!" Kim scolded as she gave chase, and Tommy bit back a laugh. The three of them looked and sounded very much like any other family that frequented the laundromat. While he knew that they weren't quite a family, the thought filled Tommy with an unusual warmth.

"Tommy?" Kim queried, noting the soft smile he wore.

"Just a thought," he murmured, uncertain if he could --or should-- explain it to her.

As Tommy walked in the door, he nearly fell over Olivia who stood perfectly still --eyes saucer-wide and mouth agape.

"What's the matter, Princess?" he queried as he managed to dance around her without upending the baskets.

"This doesn't look like the laundry room," Olivia replied in a hushed whisper.

"There you are, Thomas. We missed you on Monday," a matronly woman, whose grey hair was piled atop her head in a nebulous bun, greeted Tommy.

He returned her toothy smile. "Hello, Mrs. Bilinsky."

"Oh, who is this little sweetie?" the elderly woman cooed, smiling down at Olivia.

"I'd like you to meet my new neighbors Olivia Hart and her mother Kimberly," he introduced. Tommy caught Kim's raised eyebrows and mouthed, I'll explain in a minute.

"Welcome!" Mrs. Bilinsky said with abundant enthusiasm. "So nice to have new neighbors. Would you like a cookie, Sweetie? Mama Bilinsky has some in the back."

Olivia's eyes lit up at the thought, but before answering, she looked to Kim for permission.

"What kind do you have today?" Tommy wondered.

"My double chocolate with raspberry swirls."

"Oh man! I wish I was young enough to rate a cookie," Tommy said with a mock pout. To Kim, he explained, " Mrs. Bilinsky always bakes cookies for the kids."

"Can I, Mommy?" Olivia asked eagerly.

Noting Kim's indecision, Tommy nodded his encouragement.

"I suppose it's all right," Kim agreed, still rather dubious.

"Hey, Princess, do you think you can snitch one for me?" Tommy asked in a stage whisper. "Chocolate raspberry is my favorite."

"Shame on you, Thomas," Mrs. Bilinsky scolded as she led Olivia off.

"The Bilinskys have owned this laundromat for forever," Tommy related as he set a basket down on a washer. When he realized that it was full of little tiny dresses, he passed it over to Kim and took the duffel bag from her instead. "Mrs. Bilinsky has been a widow for ten years, and all her children live far away. She loves to bake, so she's the neighborhood cookie supplier. Everyone around here thinks the world of her --except the Girl Scouts during cookie time."

"I didn't mean to imply that I didn't trust her or anything . . . ." Kim began defensively, turning the last of Olivia's socks right side out as she loaded the washer.

"I know. She's a stranger to you and Olivia, and you want Olivia to be cautious about accepting things from strangers. If I hadn't known Mrs. Bilinsky so well, I wouldn't have butted in."

"It'll take some getting used to living in a neighborhood where you can actually trust your neighbors," Kim sighed. With the first washer loaded, she started on the second one. She closed her eyes and frowned when she realized Tommy was not separating his clothes at all, merely dumping everything into a washer until it was full. "With all those red t-shirts, it's a wonder all your underwear isn't pink," she snorted.

"Huh? Oh, well . . . usually I sort stuff down," he mumbled. His mind really wasn't on the laundry at the moment.

"By the way, what did you mean by 'neighbors?'"

Tommy shrugged sheepishly. "Mrs. Bilinsky can be a little old fashioned --you know?"

Kim glanced to the table at the back of the facility where Olivia was chattering away, and the widow was seemingly hanging on her every word. "I don't think you'll have to worry about awkward explanations," she said with a laugh. "No doubt Olivia has explained the whole thing to her already. Your taking us in is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to her."

"Oh, I forgot about that," he murmured.

"Tommy, you're not . . . ." Kim began hesitantly.

". . . not what?"

"Embarrassed to have us living with you, are you?"

"Of course not!" Tommy assured her. "I just didn't think you'd care for one of Mrs. Bilinsky's lectures. Man, I thought my mom could deliver a tongue-lashing! You don't want to be on the receiving end of one of Mrs. Bilinsky's."

"What did she chew you out for?"

Tommy blushed faintly. "It was back when I first opened the school. I came in to take care of some towels, rags, and things for the school, and apparently someone had already told Mrs. Bilinsky about me. Only, she mistook martial for marital, and she thought I was teaching kids all sorts of 'improper behaviors.'"

Kim burst out laughing. "Oh, Tommy . . . !"

"Poor Mrs. Bilinsky was so embarrassed when Maggie finally set her straight about me that she kept me in cookies for nearly two months," he concluded with a chuckle. Tommy felt a tug on his shirt and looked down to see Olivia beaming up at him and holding out a cookie.

"Mrs. Bi-lin-sky said to give you this," Olivia reported, taking care to say the name just right.

"Looks like you've done good," Kim murmured with amusement.

"Mommy, you gotta come see!" Olivia insisted, pulling on Kim's arm. "If you look through the little windows, you can see the clothes go 'round-an'-round. In the big ones you can even see the bubbles!"

"The laundry room wasn't nearly so exciting," Kim sighed as she allowed herself to be dragged off to witness this latest wonder.

While Kim was distracted, Tommy did a quick redistribution of his laundry then went in search of a seat. However, as he turned, the door to the laundromat flew open, and two figures burst inside.

"Give that back, Slimeball!"

"Gotta catch me first, Karate-Geek!"

The boys continued their rough housing, unaware of Tommy's presence --that is, until they ran into him.

"You're lucky I'm not Mrs. Bilinsky," Tommy chided glibly. "Hello, Chris. Alex."

"Oh man, Chris," the redhead designated 'Slimeball' groaned. "Busted by your sensei."

"Tommy! When'd you get back?" the sandy-haired 'Karate-Geek' queried.

"A few days ago. Shouldn't you two be helping your mother, Chris, instead of tearing through here like a pair of maniacs?" Tommy inquired as he hurried over to get the door for the basket-laden woman who followed the boys. Tommy took one of the baskets from her. "Need a hand, Maggie?"

"I thought that's why I brought the boys," Maggie Donovan muttered, grateful for the assistance. She brushed a shock of brown hair well streaked with grey out of her eyes. "I should have sent Alex home."

"Sorry, mom," Chris murmured. "Me an' Alex will get the rest."

"That's Alex and I," Maggie corrected; however, both boys had already darted out the door to fetch the next load. "I'm not sure which I'm looking forward to more: having my washing machine repaired or school starting." She pulled up to a washer next to Tommy's. "So, how was your trip, Tom? Chris didn't tell me you were back."

"I'll resume teaching on Tuesday. We're still trying to get things settled."

Maggie raised an inquiring eyebrow as she headed for the change machine. She nodded at Kim in passing.

"That kid," Kim sighed exasperatedly as she leaned against Tommy's washer. "She thinks it'd be neat to go for a ride in one of the dryers."

"I see you conned Mrs. Bilinsky out of a cookie," Tommy observed. Kim frowned as if to say, "how'd you guess?" Tommy started to reach out to brush the chocolate stain from her upper lip --a gesture both innocent and intimate-- but he stopped himself. "Smudge marks," he said instead. Kim hurriedly wiped her face.

"The kids will be glad to have you back at the school, Tom," Maggie said, resuming the conversation as she returned to start unloading her clothes. "Leslie and Kurt just don't relate to them the way you do."

"It'll be good to be back," Tommy assured her. Turning to Kim, he said, "I'd like you to meet Maggie Donovan. Maggie, this is Kim Hart."

The two women shook hands, each eyeing the other with interest.

"Nice to meet you," Kim said.

"Hart . . . Kim Hart . . . the name sounds familiar." Tommy noted that Kim had gone pale. Maggie's frown of concentration swiftly turned into a smile. "I'll remember eventually. Anyway, it's good to meet you, too; I . . . Chris, where's the basket with your sister's clothes?"

"I dunno," the boy called back, shrugging.

"Did you get all the stuff out of the trunk?"

"You didn't unlock it."

"I really can't wait to have my washer back," Maggie muttered as she left to retrieve the rest of her wash.

"You know," Kim began as she checked on her load of clothes. "I'm not used to people calling you Tom."

"It took me a while to get used to it, too," Tommy admitted. "Everyone has always called me Tommy --even when I raced for my uncle." He shrugged. "Mostly, it's my students' parents who call me Tom, and Mrs. Bilinsky is the only one who calls me Thomas."

"I take it Maggie has a child in one of your classes."

"Yes --Chris, the blond terror. He's the youngest of her three kids."

"You seem to know her fairly well."

"Maggie was one of the first people I met when I opened the school." Tommy wondered about Kim's comment; she couldn't possibly be jealous, could she?

"It's just weird," Kim sighed. "We've always had the same friends, and now you're friends with a whole bunch of people I don't know."

"Not really. As far as people I hang out with, there's Kurt and Leslie --my assistants, and my brother. I see Rocky and Adam every now and again, and Jason when he's on leave."

"Jason's in the Army?" Kim gasped.

"Navy, actually. Maggie sort of falls somewhere between acquaintance and friend. I think you'll like her."


"She's very easy to talk to. She has a way of putting you at ease. She's the counselor at the Junior High. She used to teach English, I think."

"I don't think I remember her," Kim remarked, trying to recall her teachers.

"I'm not sure how long she's been there; she moved to Angel Grove right after her divorce."

"A single mom with three kids," Kim murmured sympathetically. "There are days when I can barely manage one!"

"She also volunteers at the Carmichael Center," Tommy continued. He wondered if Kim remembered that Carmichael used to be called the Women's Crisis Center --a haven for women escaping domestic violence, teen runaways, and rape survivors. However, Kim did not react to the name.

"By the way," Maggie called out as she hauled in another large sack of clothes. "Matt tells me Carmen is back in the neighborhood."

Tommy cringed.

"Who's Carmen?" Kim wondered, obviously amused by his reaction.

"The ex-girlfriend of a former tenant that David and I helped out of a tight spot," Tommy answered tersely. Carmen Vega was enough to make him regret being a Good Samaritan. He sighed. He had really hoped she had moved on to bigger places and better things. "What color should I be on the look out for this time?"

"Color?" Kim queried.

"Her hair. Never has the same color whenever you see her."

"Fire engine red," Maggie supplied helpfully.

Tommy sighed again. He could tell Kim was curious, but before she could pursue the matter, a squeal from Olivia distracted her.

"Excuse me a moment," she said hastily as she hurried off to see what her daughter had gotten into.

"Ah, I remember those days," Maggie said with a laugh. She had that look about her, and Tommy waited for the inevitable. "Another damsel in distress? Mrs. Bilinsky told me you offered your spare bedroom to Kim and her daughter."

"News sure travels fast," he muttered. "Kim's not a damsel in distress; she's one of the strongest people I know." Tommy's voice trailed off. He was uncomfortable with the image of Kim as a helpless female.

"Even strong people need help occasionally," Maggie said kindly.

"She's an old friend from high school . . . ."

"One who meant a great deal to you --and still does, eh?"


"Olivia, please! Give it a rest; mommy has a headache," Kim snapped as her daughter launched into the umpteenth chorus of a song of her own making. She stomped into the kitchen in search of some relief. Doesn't he have any Tylenol in this place! She fumed as she slammed the cabinet doors after each successive failure. In the living room, the racket continued. "Olivia, that's enough!"

Kim hated feeling like this: achy, irritable, impatient . . . and she hated having nothing to do. She was used to being busy from the time she woke up until she went to bed. It was so frustrating being unable to find a job . . . . She felt utterly miserable, so of course her daughter would pick today to be clingy, whiny, and temperamental.

"Mommy, you promised to take me to the park," Olivia complained.

"It's raining outside; I've told you that a dozen times already."

"I'm bored."

Kim winced. She loathed those two words.

"Isn't there anything on TV?"

"No, and I've played with all my toys."

Which were admittedly few. "What about your crayons?"

"I don't want to color!"

"Then use your imagination."

"If we were at the gym, I'd have something to do," Olivia pouted. "I wish we never moved to this boring place!"

"Don't even go there," Kim warned, her tone strident, bordering on furious. "You were just as bored at the training center. We're not going back there, so you'll just have to deal with it."

"You don't love me anymore . . . ."

"You have until the count of five to get your little behind on your bed," Kim snapped, her threadbare patience stretched to the limit. "One . . . two . . . ."

Olivia beat a hasty retreat, and Kim let out a long, slow breath, grateful that the counting still worked. As she headed back to the bathroom for another look for the Tylenol, she could hear Olivia sniffling in the bedroom. So much for round one.

Round two commenced a few hours later. Kim felt infinitely worse than she had. If the headache wasn't wretched enough, now she had cramps. She had laid down for what was supposed to have been five minutes but wound up being almost an hour. It hadn't done anything to improve her mood.

The first thing Kim noticed was that it was entirely too quiet. A glance at the clock showed that it was too early for Tommy to be home, so what was Olivia up to? Kim was generally a light sleeper, so if any thing had happened, she would have heard the noise and woken up. Not liking the silence, and braced for a discovery she just knew she wasn't going to like, Kim headed out to the living room.

There sat Olivia amid a pile of books, trading cards, photos, and binders, contentedly thumbing through a photo album. Then Kim spied a shelf that had fallen out of the bookcase. She shut her eyes and counted to ten before speaking. "What happened here?"

The tot gave a startled squeak. "You scared me, Mommy."

"Olivia . . . ."

"I didn't mean to, Mommy," she began, getting weepy. "Tommy said it was all right for me to look at his picture books . . . ."

"I'm sure he didn't say you could pull the pictures out."

"Some weren't in the book."

"What happened to the shelf?"

"I don't want to tell you."

Which was Olivia's favorite phrase when she knew she had done something she shouldn't have. Kim gritted her teeth, trying to remain calm. "What have I told you about getting into Tommy's things?"

"I didn't! He said I could . . . ."

"He said you could throw his card collection all over the floor . . . ?"

"They fell when the shelf fell, Mommy."

"I don't care. They aren't yours to mess with. I want this picked up before Tommy gets home."

"Will you help me, Mommy?"

"What's the rule?"

"Whoever makes the mess picks it up," Olivia muttered. "But it's so big! I can't do it all by myself!" Then, the tears began to fall.

"Tommi Olivia, you are almost five years old . . . ." Kim whirled and marched back to the bedroom for another countdown. She was yea-close to spanking Olivia . . . .

"Hey, Princess, what's wrong?" she heard Tommy cheerfully query as he walked in. "Hey, don't cry. You didn't break anything; that shelf falls out all the time. See? The shelf slides right back in, and I'll help you pick this stuff up . . . ."

"Thomas James, don't you dare!" Kim threatened, storming back out to the living room. "Olivia has to learn how to pick up after herself." Tommy's look of complete astonishment was just too much for Kim to handle, and she fled to her room to have a good --if ridiculously useless-- cry.

A short while later, after the flood waters had subsided, Kim heard a knock at her door.

"Hey, are you okay?" Tommy asked.

"No. Go away," Kim answered curtly. She didn't think she could handle his solicitude after she had just behaved worse than her own child. Tommy, however, hadn't taken no for an answer.

"Olivia says you aren't feeling well," he continued. "You should have said something earlier; I would have taken her downstairs with me."

"Did she pick everything up?" Kim asked, evading the issue.

"Everything but the trading cards. Those I wanted to take care of. They used to be Uncle John's; he gave them to me as a sort of 'retirement' present when I left his team."

"If you don't want Olivia getting into them, you'll have to put them up higher or something."

"Olivia didn't get into them on purpose. She knows those are off limits. When the shelf fell, so did they. That's all."

Kim felt bad enough as it was; Tommy didn't need to make it worse by being so damn reasonable.

"Tell you what. I only have one class left. I'll take Olivia with me, and then she can go with me on a supply run. That'll give you a couple of hours to yourself. All right?"

Why did he have to be so nice when she was being so bitchy? She felt herself getting weepy again.

"That's fine. Thanks, Tommy."

"You just take it easy and get some rest," he said soothingly. "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"Industrial strength Midol," she muttered sarcastically. "Failing that, some Tylenol would be nice. You're all out."

"Sorry. It's on my list of things to pick up. I'll do a quick look around and see if there's anything else we need."

Kim just rolled over and buried her face in the pillow.

Tommy was as good as his word; he and Olivia had already been gone a good two hours; however, Kimberly had been unable to rest. She always felt horrible after fighting with her daughter. After all, Olivia was all she had. She knew she wouldn't be able to relax until she was able to hug her and tell her that she loved her. Since rest was out of the question and she was already in a crappy mood, Kim pulled out her bills, figuring they couldn't depress her anymore than she already was.

However, after only a few minutes, Kim shoved the papers away from her and buried her face in her hands, fighting tears. Everything is such a mess! Doctor bills, the credit cards . . . . Coach Schmidt had generously given her her full check for August before she left; she had stretched it as far as it could go, but it just wasn't enough. It was never enough to allow her to get ahead. Kim's eyes fell on a sheaf of papers that seemed to mock her: her application for her coaching license. How was she ever going to be able to get the damn thing? There was never enough left over to put towards the fee . . . .

A key in the door snapped Kim out of her moment of despair. She got up as Tommy entered, Olivia all but asleep in his arms.

"It's way past somebody's bedtime," Tommy murmured.

"I'll take her," Kim said, holding her arms out for her child.

"Here you go, Princess."

Tommy transferred Olivia to Kim, and Kim quickly wrapped her daughter in a tight hug.

"Mommy, are you all better now?" Olivia asked sleepily.

"Yes, Sweetie, I feel better. Thank you."

"I'm sorry I was so bad . . . ."

". . . and I'm sorry I was so impatient. Think we can do better tomorrow?"

"Uh huh. Is it too late for me to have a story?"

"Of course not."

"Can Tommi Bear pick the story this time?"

"Yes, Tommi Bear can pick the story . . . ."

Once Olivia was fast asleep and Kim was more in control of herself, she ventured out to the kitchen. Tommy was still putting the groceries away. Kim started cleaning up her paperwork.

"You guys never go to bed angry, huh," Tommy remarked.

"We try not to. When all you have is each other, you can't afford to stay angry," Kim sighed. "I just wish I wouldn't lose patience with her like that."

"We all have days like that. Olivia understands better than you think. She explained it to me while we were at the store."

"Sometimes I wonder just which one of us is the more mature," Kim murmured wryly, brushing at her watering eyes.

"Still feeling miserable?"

"Yeah. Did you remember the Tylenol?" she sighed.

"Sure did. I also picked up this. I couldn't find industrial strength, so I hope regular will do."

Kim barely had time to look up as Tommy tossed her a small box. Kim's eyes went wide when she saw the label. "You bought me Midol?" She felt herself blushing.

"You said you wanted some," he replied with a shrug. "You also looked a little low in the supply department, so . . . ." He tossed her a pink box, and the heat really flared in Kim's cheeks.

"Oh God," she moaned. She couldn't believe it; he had picked up a box of tampons! He had even gotten the right brand. "You mean you really . . . how could you . . . weren't you embarrassed to be buying . . . ?"

"What's the bid deal? Mom was forever sending Dad to the store for stuff like that."

"That's different. They're married!"

"Well, when Dad wasn't around, she'd send me. It's not like this was the first time I've ever bought feminine hygiene products. Who do you think keeps the emergency supplies stocked in the restroom downstairs?" Tommy asked with a shrug. "My female students would probably die of embarrassment if they knew it was me and not Leslie stocking the dispenser. Besides, it helped this time around that I had Olivia with me."

Kim was too flabbergasted and embarrassed to say anything further.

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to embarrass you," Tommy said softly, picking up on her discomfort. "I know I probably shouldn't have been going through the things on your shelf in the bathroom . . . it's just force of habit. When David lived here, I always had to go through the shelves, otherwise we'd completely run out of stuff. He'd never tell me when he used something up."

"No, Tommy, it's all right; I just . . . . Thank you," Kim fumbled.

"No problem. Say, do you feel up to a cup of cocoa? I remembered to pick some up," he offered.

"S-sure. Just let me go take something for this headache," Kim mumbled and made a hasty retreat to the bathroom.

By the time Kim returned to the kitchen, the groceries were all put away, and two cups of steaming cocoa sat on the table. Tommy was at the computer in the living room checking his e-mail, so Kim sat down and grabbed a cup. Her papers were still all over the place, and she eyed the pile bleakly. In spite of the Midol, she was still feeling weepy.

"Did I do the right thing?" she murmured, staring absently into the chocolate depths of her mug.

"What do you mean?" Tommy queried as he joined her.

"Picking up and leaving like that. I mean, I should have at least attempted to line up a job here first or something before giving up my old one."

'Don't get discouraged, Kim; it's only been a week. Something will come along."

"But I can't just take the first thing that comes along! I know what I need to make; at the bare minimum, I need to bring home what I made at the gym --and that's without daycare expenses. If I got a job at McDonald's or a store at the mall, I'd barely make enough to cover the child care...."

"I told you I'd help out with watching Olivia," Tommy interjected. "After all, I'm the boss. I can have her at the school if I want to."

"I don't want her living in a gym! It's one of the reasons I wanted to get out of the training center. I want her to be with kids her own age. I want her to go outside and play . . . ."

"Okay, so fast food and retail are out. There are plenty of other jobs . . . ."

"I don't have any secretarial or technical skills or a college education. I barely have my G.E.D!" Realizing how that must sound to Tommy made Kim blush. She hadn't even been able to finish with the tutor. Maybe he hadn't gone to college either, but at least he earned his high school diploma properly. When Tommy made no comment, Kim went on, "The only thing I'm qualified to do is teach gymnastics."

"So? Isn't there a major gymnastics center in Angel Grove?"

"You're thinking of Olga's," Kim sighed. "I went there for a while but quit. I couldn't handle working for Hitler's sister."

"What about the smaller schools or something in Stone Canyon?"

"Teaching gymnastics isn't as easy as it once was. It used to be that anyone who was a successful athlete in the sport could coach, but now there's testing, and you have to have a license."

"Wouldn't your time with Coach Schmidt be like an apprenticeship and take the place of the exams?"

"Yes, but there's still the license fee." Kim stared bleakly at the application form. "Money I don't have to spare right now."

"May I?" Tommy queried, indicating the paper in front of her.

"Why not," she sighed as she passed the form to him. As he scanned the bottom line, Tommy let out a low whistle.

"About as bad as my certification costs," he sympathized.

"Coach really bent the rules by keeping me on, but no one else will want to take the chance." Kim took a sip of her cocoa and found it already cold. "Maybe . . . maybe I should have stayed and not let . . . ." She couldn't finish the thought.

"Why did you decide to leave when you did?" Tommy asked softly. "You sounded pretty upset when you called; what happened?"

Kim didn't want to respond, but she knew Tommy deserved an honest answer. After everything he had already done, the least she could do was give him that. However, her voice didn't seem to want to work. Her hands tightened around her cup, and she couldn't look at him at all. "I-I was scared," she admitted when she could finally speak. Then, her self-ire flared. That sounded so stupid . . . so pathetic . . . even if it was the truth, and when she spoke again, her tone was bitter. "I didn't come because I wanted to; I came because I had to. I had to get out of there. I . . . ran away." Not once had she looked at him. Tommy said nothing for a long while, and the silence was starting to make her uneasy.

"What were you running away from? What scared you?" he asked gently, and Kim could find no trace of condemnation in his words.

"Earlier that day when we were coming back from town, Olivia and I passed by the park, and I saw . . . I saw . . . ." Her nerve failed her; she just couldn't . . . .

She didn't have to. "Was it one of the guys who attacked you?"

Kim wanted to curl up in a tight ball and hide. "I'm not real sure, but I think so. I all but ran back to the gym, dragging poor Olivia along behind me. By the time I reached the room, I was hysterical. I couldn't stop shaking or crying . . . . All I could think of was that we weren't safe anymore --I wasn't safe anymore. I didn't know what else to do, so I called." Kim felt so ashamed of herself; she felt as if she had lied to Tommy somehow --abused his offer of friendship. She had been afraid that if he knew the truth, he wouldn't have let them come; even now she feared that he might ask her to leave . . . .

"Does being here --in Angel Grove-- make you feel safer?" Tommy asked after a lengthy pause.

She risked a glance up at him. There was nothing in his expression but kindness and understanding. "Y-yes," she confessed.

"Then the reason why you came doesn't matter, and it was definitely the right thing for you to do," he assured her. "But you'd feel better if things were a little more financially secure, eh?"

"Things have never been financially secure, but I'd feel better if I at least had a job," she agreed. She flashed him a timid but grateful smile.

"Then let's see what we can do to get you that job." Tommy abandoned his seat and headed into the living room again, the USGF form still in his hands.

"What are you . . . ?" she began, following him. Tommy pulled up a seat on his computer and called up his bookkeeping program. Kim didn't feel right reading over his shoulder, so she went to sit down on the couch. She watched Tommy consider the figures on the screen, then he typed something up and turned on the printer.

"What are you doing?" she asked at last.

"Is this application filled out?" Tommy asked in return.

"Yes . . . ."

"Where's Coach's letter?"

"On the table . . . ."

Kim scrambled up to follow him back to the kitchen. This time, she did glance at the screen and noted the check form in the printer. "Tommy, no! You're not . . . I can't take your money for this."

"Sure you can," he answered, folding the form and letter and slipping them into the envelope provided. "We agreed that you wouldn't take any money from me unless it was absolutely necessary for Olivia. I believe this falls into that clause."

"How do you figure?"

"You can't cover Olivia's expenses without a job, and you can't get a job you're qualified for without this license, so . . . ."

"Tommy . . . ." Kim murmured helplessly, not sure whether to argue the point or thank him.

"Kim, it's not going to break me or make me short for this month."

"What about next month?"

"Next month either. I wouldn't have offered if I couldn't swing it."

"I will pay it back," she assured him.

"I know you will; I'm not worried about that. You all but wrote that in blood when we hashed out the details of our arrangement," he replied with a laugh. "If it'll make you feel any better, I'll set up a billing file for you. However, there is no rush. I want you to take care of your other obligations first; I don't charge eighteen percent interest."

"Thanks, Tommy," Kim murmured gratefully. Her diffident smile faltered as Tommy grabbed his truck keys. "Where are you going?"

"To mail this now."

"Why? I'll mail it in the morning."

"Will you? Or will you reconsider half way to the post office?"

Kim wanted to deny it, but she wasn't sure she could. She hung her head, unable to meet

Tommy's inquiring gaze.

"I'll be back in ten minutes," was all he said.

"Tommy, wake up! Please wake up, Tommy!"

Consciousness slowly returned, and Tommy opened his eyes to find Olivia, her beloved Tommi Bear clutched to her chest, perched atop his stomach and bouncing on him insistently.

"Wazzup, Princess?" he yawned. He glanced over at the clock; it was 3 a.m.; what was the girl doing up at this hour? At first, he thought it might have been a prank or something, but as his vision cleared, it became obvious that Olivia was worried about something.

"It's Mommy, Tommy," Olivia murmured. "She's having The Dream again, only this time I can't wake her up!"

Tommy scooped Olivia into his arms and bounded out of bed. He could hear the capital letters in Olivia's voice as she referred to the dream. Her face was so pale and she looked so scared that Tommy knew that whatever it was, it wasn't something pleasant. The two hurried down the hall to the bedroom the Hart women shared.

Kim had been rather disturbed when she had gone to bed four hours ago. The two of them had been watching the evening news. It was pretty much the typical fare: national events, sports, weather, Power Rangers and the latest monster attack . . . however, there was one local story that had unsettled Kim. There had been a report about a woman who had been attacked in a southside mall parking lot. The man had tried to rape her, but the fortuitous arrival of a mall security van frightened the would-be rapist off. Kim had gone pale upon hearing that; she seemed to withdraw into herself, and as she excused herself to go to bed, her parting comment had been, "Nowhere is safe, is it? Not even Angel Grove."

Tommy paused in the doorway, setting Olivia down. From the way Olivia was reacting, he fully expected to find Kim thrashing around, screaming and moaning. She wasn't. She was making sounds, but they were through clenched teeth. Her body was as rigid as a board, and she lay absolutely still, her whole attitude was like . . . . Like she's being held down. Tommy felt sick as he realized what The Dream was about: the rape. Olivia hurried forward and scrambled onto Kim's bed.

"Mommy, wake up!" she implored piteously, futilely trying to shake her mother awake.

"Sit back, honey, and let me try," Tommy recommended, finally coming forward. "Does your mommy have this dream a lot?"

"Uh huh. Most times I can wake her up before she gets really bad, but I couldn't . . . . Make it stop, Tommy!" Olivia begged, tears coming to her eyes.

"Don't cry, Sweetie. It'll be okay," Tommy promised, giving the frightened child a reassuring hug. As bad as the nightmare was for Kimberly, how much worse was it for Olivia who couldn't possibly understand what was going on?

" . . . please . . . no more . . . no more . . . ." Kim pleaded in a strained voice.

"Come on, Beautiful; snap out of it," Tommy began, shaking her firmly by the shoulder. The only thing to happen was that Kim's distress seemed to grow.

" . . . NO! . . . d-don't . . . not that . . . no . . . .!" She began to move --began to fight, her body bucking forward and her arms flailing about.

"I don't like this part," Olivia whimpered, hugging her bear more tightly.

"Kim . . . ." Tommy commanded more firmly, catching her hands to try and keep her from hurting herself. The restraint only seemed to make Kim more desperate, and she fought harder.

"Stop it, Mommy!" Olivia shouted, utterly panicked.

"Kim, that's enough! Wake up. It's just a dream," Tommy insisted, giving her a good shake. He was beginning to think he was going to have to slap her.

"Mommy, please . . . !"

Suddenly, Kim's eyes snapped open, and she lurched forward with a gasp. Tommy wasn't sure if she was awake or not; the look in her eyes was wildly terrified. Then, her vision seemed to clear.

"T-Tommy?" she stammered, leaning into his embrace as the tears began streaming down her cheeks. However, she suddenly pulled away from him, looking as frightened as her daughter. Her eyes never left him, her wild-eyed gaze unsettling him.

"You were having a nightmare," Tommy explained gently. She was trembling so much; he ached with wanting to pull her into his arms to comfort her.

"Mommy, why wouldn't you wake up?" Olivia sniffled, inching forward uncertainly.

"I don't . . . ." She looked lost.

"Don't cry, Mommy; it's okay now," the girl crooned. Bear in tow, she scrambled onto Kim's pillows. "Here, Mommy, you can have Tommi Bear; she'll make it all better," Olivia offered, pressing her toy into Kim's hands, then she threw her tiny arms around Kim's quaking shoulders.

"Oh, Baby . . . !" Kim gulped and wrapped her arms around her daughter, trying to stifle her tears as she soothed the little girl.

Tommy wisely sat back and didn't interfere. Still, he hurt for Kim as he watched her ease Olivia's fears while trying to master her own. He kept his silent vigil, waiting until Kim had petted and rocked her daughter back to sleep. He made no move until it was obvious that Olivia was out and Kim had no strength to even move.

"Here, let me," he whispered as he reached to take the tot from Kim's tired arms. Numbly, she surrendered her daughter to him, and Tommy tucked Olivia back into her own bed. By the time he had Olivia settled in, Kim had made a retreat of sorts, scuttling back until she was pressed against the headboard, her knees pulled up to her chest, and staring straight ahead blankly. She clung to Olivia's teddy as if her life depended on it. She wouldn't be lulled back to sleep so easily.

"Come with me," he instructed, reaching out for her hand. Her face had gone grey all of a sudden, and he was sure that didn't bode well. She cowered back warily. "I'm just going to help you over to the bathroom, all right? Tommi Bear can come, too; I'm sure Olivia won't mind." Tentatively, she extended her hand and allowed Tommy to help her up.

Zombie-like, Kim followed him across the hall; he guided her to the toilet and had her sit down. Next, he put a cool wet cloth on the back of her neck; she looked as if she would faint. She still hadn't said a word, and her quivering hadn't subsided. When he place a hand on her shoulder, he noticed that her nightgown was drenched with sweat.

"Kim, I'm going to get you a clean nightgown; will you be okay by yourself for a couple of minutes?" She looked up at him vacantly and nodded.

Tommy dashed across the hall, but he didn't know where Kim kept her nightwear, nor did he feel comfortable rummaging through her things. He didn't want to give her any reason to feel violated again. Instead, he hurried to his room and grabbed something out of his drawer- -the top half of the only "proper" pair of pajamas he owned (which he hadn't worn in forever). By the time he returned to the bathroom, Kim was on the floor and bent over the stool. Tommy knelt beside her and pulled her hair out of the way while she finished heaving.

Kim finally sat back, hugging her knees to her.

"Why don't you put this on, and I'll go get you something to drink," Tommy instructed. Kim merely nodded, but it was with a little more vigor than before. He found that encouraging. He gave her hand a squeeze and shut the door behind him as he headed for the kitchen.

Is it always this bad? he wondered as he tried to make up his mind what to get for her. Sludge/coffee was out, and with an unsettled stomach so was milk. He opted for Sprite. Right now, he was very scared for her. He didn't know what to do or say . . . . He didn't know if he was doing Kim any good or if he was just making things worse by being there. All he could go by was the overwhelming feeling that she shouldn't be alone right now. She had faced this nightmare by herself far too many times.

When Tommy returned to the bathroom, Kim wasn't there. He peeked into her room; she wasn't there either. He backtracked to the living room and found her huddled in the corner of the couch. A sad smile tugged at his lips. Wearing his pajama top that hung huge on her tiny frame and clutching the teddy bear . . . . He remembered winning that bear for her at a carnival shortly after they started dating. The bow, now faded, had been pink and green; she had laughingly called it Tommy-bear because of the large dark eyes. She said it was her favorite because it was the first thing he had ever given her. When he had seen Olivia with it, Kim explained that she had given Olivia the bear so that she'd always have a special friend; the tot had thought it was so cool that her mommy's teddy bear had the same name as her. Now, Kim sat hugging the bear to her . . . she looked so small and waif-like . . . . It would have been a precious sight had Kim not looked so broken, vulnerable, and desperately afraid.

"How are you doing?" he queried as he sat on the ground before her. He handed her the glass, but her hands were shaking so badly she nearly dropped it. He helped steady the cup so she wouldn't spill the soda on herself.

"G-getting better," she stammered. "Thanks." She refused to look at him.

"Is it always like this?" he ventured cautiously. Again, he had this sense that he needed to keep Kim talking.

"At first, but not for a while."

"Because of the news report?"

"Maybe. A-after it first happened, I had to stop watching the news . . . ."

She had opened up for a moment, but Tommy could feel her retreating. "Kim, don't!" he urged. She flinched at his sharp command. "Talk to me. Please," he implored. She was on the verge of fleeing into herself; he couldn't let that happen. "You've never really told anyone what happened that night, have you? Sure, you told the police the details, but you've never talked about what it was like for you --how you felt . . . . You've never gotten any help, have you?"

"N-no . . . ."

"Will you tell me?"

Kim's eyes went wide, and she recoiled slightly. Tommy felt like swearing, but he kept his voice soft and soothing. "Are you afraid to tell me?"

She bit her lower lip and offered him a tiny nod.

"Why? I already know what happened. What are you afraid of?"

"I don't know," she whispered tearfully.

He gave her an encouraging smile. "Kim, you have to confide in someone; you can't just lock everything up inside . . . . Remember what you told me when I first lost my Green Ranger Powers? You told me not to hold everything inside; the pain would keep growing and would gnaw at me until nothing was left . . . that the hole in my soul would never heal until I took the thorn out. You asked me to give you my pain so that you could make it go away."

Tommy could see that she did remember; he knew he'd never forget. It was the first time he had ever opened up and truly let Kim into his heart, creating a bond of love and friendship that he felt would withstand any test.

"Kim, you shut me out and wouldn't let me help you before; let me help now. Give me your pain so I can make it go away." Tommy knew that it was naive to think that he could really make things better just by having her talk to him about what happened, but if she would open up to him, perhaps he could help her find the strength to reach out to someone else who could.

"I don't want to . . . I don't want to remember," Kim mumbled, suddenly defiant.

"I think you do, Kim. I think that's why you're still having the nightmares after all this time."

"Don't make me go through this again," she pleaded. Her desperate tone was almost enough to make Tommy give in.

"If you don't, the dreams won't go away."

"If--if I tell you, you'll . . . you'll leave me, too," she choked out, and Tommy understood her reluctance. It was an echo of the fear that had caused her to send him that letter five years ago.

"Like your mom did," he said softly. She nodded. Tommy knelt up and clasped his hands around hers, gazing up at her with what he hoped was his most open, most guile-less expression. "Kim, I give you my word of honor, there is nothing that you can tell me that would make me leave you. I'll be here for you --I promise."

He saw her panic and her indecision. As much as he wanted to, he wouldn't press her anymore. He waited. All at once, her shoulders sagged, and she looked exhausted. It was as if she was tired of fighting and had surrendered.

"A-all right," she agreed in a timid voice.

Tommy let out a sigh of relief.

"It'll be okay," he promised and waited for her to begin. However, Kim seemed at a loss as if she didn't know where to begin. "You had gone out with your teammates to see a movie, and you and one of the guys were walking home afterward . . . ." he prompted.

"That was Jim; he was from a small town in Ohio. Great on the highbar. My age . . . the youngest guy on the team," Kim began in a monotone, her dull gaze focused on a point across the room from Tommy. "Spent most of his life in the gym."

Pretty sheltered, Tommy realized.

"It seemed safe enough to walk. There were two of us. The street was well lighted, and Jim looks really strong. It was pretty quiet --no one on the street, and then out of nowhere the four of them popped up.

"There were gangs of every nationality in the area, but these guys were Hispanic --Puerto Rican, I guess. One had on a tank top, and I could see some strange marking --kind of like a brand or something. Two were about your height but not as muscular; they looked alike --maybe brothers. The skinny one couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen. The third was so dark he was almost black --literally, and the fourth . . . ."

Kim's breath caught in her throat, and she closed her eyes as a shudder of fear and revulsion raced through her.

". . . the fourth was shorter than the others but was as solidly built as Jason. He's the one with the mark on his shoulder, and he had a scar on his left cheek. His eyes were black and cold --so very, very cold . . . . He was the leader.

"I didn't even think --just reacted, automatically dropping into a defensive stance. I knew I wasn't a Ranger anymore, but Zordon always said the Power would protect us, and you guys taught me how to fight. I felt pretty sure I could handle them as long as Jim could . . . but he wasn't one of you guys. He was strong but he had no idea how to fight. I told him to run for help, thinking maybe at least one of the guys would follow him. He stayed. Tried to be a hero, I guess."

Kim paused to take a sip of her Sprite, trying to collect herself. Tommy forced himself to be patient.

"While I was fighting, I remember thinking that you'd be proud of me," Kim murmured after a while. "I beat the two who were trying to take me, and I broke and ran . . . . Then, the leader called after me . . . .

"Go ahead and run, chica, but aren't you forgetting something?"

"I stopped. He and one of the others had Jim. He was out cold, and they had a knife against his throat . . . .

"Go on, but for every step you take, the knife goes in deeper."

"He was bluffing; he had to be! I took a step back, and the knife bit into Jim's neck. I could see the blood oozing from the cut. He was serious. I stood there trying to think. There was no one around . . . and even though we'd made a lot of noise while we were fighting, no one had come to see what was going on. We were alone. All alone. I c-couldn't think . . . I knew I wasn't fast enough without my powers to get to Jim before the knife cut him more."

Tommy pictured the scene with unnerving clarity: Kim facing the four thugs, frantically trying to come up with something, trying to master her fear without letting the others know that she was afraid. Her hands at her sides, clenching and unclenching. He could hear her voice --her tone flat, betraying nothing . . . .

"What do you want?"

"Cooperate, chica, and we let him live. Maybe you, too."

"They didn't even drag me into that alley; I walked on my own," she continued after a lengthy pause. "I had to play along. I figured if I was patient, someone would come along or one of the guys would give me an opening or Jim would wake up . . . but none of that happened. 'Shorty' kept the knife on Jim at all times."

Kim massaged her arms as if trying to ward off a chill.

"Now what?"

"Now, we have some fun . . . ."

"T-they made me take off my shirt," Kim stammered, her tears starting again, and Tommy could see the flush in her cheeks and hear the shame in her tone. "They never touched me. I had to take off my shirt and my bra . . . m-my panties . . . all they did was watch --leering at me . . . ." She closed her eyes, salty rivers trickling down her cheeks. Tommy clenched his fists; he almost couldn't listen to this, couldn't bear seeing Kim's humiliation afresh. He wished he'd never asked this of her, but in spite of how difficult it was to speak of it, Kim continued with her story.

"I-I stood there in nothing but my skirt while they talked . . . in Spanish. I couldn't understand them. Then Shorty turned Jim over to the tall one and the dark one. H-he bent me over the trash cans and lifted my skirt . . . his hands were on my . . . my . . . ."

Tommy's heart was in his throat, and he fought back the rising tide of bile.

"Be a good girl or your friend gets a new smile."

"Then, he stopped and had the skinny one --the kid-- come over. He wanted him to go first --I guess 'cause it was his first time or something. They traded places . . . I was still over the cans. I was glad. I wouldn't have to see . . . I closed my eyes and braced myself . . . . Shorty stopped The Kid again. When he looked at me, I wanted to throw up. H-he told The Kid to turn me over . . . ."

"I want you to look at your lover."

"Shorty took over holding Jim hostage, and Tall and Dark came over to hold me down. Tall held my head and smiled at me . . . 'be good for mi hermano.' The Kid was down between my legs . . . . I would have sworn he looked nervous, but I guess I was imagining things. H-he bunched my skirt up . . . spread m-my legs . . . oh, God . . . he . . . he . . . !"

Kim drew into a tight ball, going unnaturally still and quiet. Tommy realized that that's what she must have done at the time. She couldn't fight, so she retreated from the horror by hiding within herself. It was too much for him. He couldn't just sit there and let Kim crawl back into her lonely shell. He scrambled onto the couch and pulled her unyielding body into his arms.

"No, Kim, don't go away. Cry. Scream. Let it all out now like you couldn't then."

There was a moment of utter quiet, then came the sobs and the pounding of fists against his chest and the flood of bitter, anguished questions.

"Why?" Kim raged hoarsely. "Why me? What did I do to deserve that? H-he said the Power would always protect us, but it didn't! Zordon lied! He lied to me!

"I wanted to fight, but I couldn't! I had to let him do that to me . . . oh, God, it hurt! It was like Goldar stabbing me over and over . . . I could feel the blood . . . .

Tommy held her more firmly as she sobbed and gasped for air. Violent tremors shook her whole body as she grieved for all she had lost that night.

"I tried not to feel anything. I made myself go cold inside . . . found a place to hide in my mind," she continued with a hiccup. "They could have my body, but I'd be damned if I was going to give them anything else --not my tears, not my fears, my screams or anything! When Dark's turn was over, he said it was like fucking a corpse. I remember thinking, three down, one to go. They hadn't gotten anything from me but an orgasm that they could've enjoyed more if they'd have jerked off. Then, it was Shorty's turn."

Suddenly, Kim went still. It was so abrupt that it took Tommy by surprise. He glanced down to see what was in Kim's face. She was sheet white; if he thought she had looked scared before . . . the terror naked in her eyes now was enough to unnerve him.

"I'll show you guys how to make her scream like a woman should."

"H-he didn't just take me," she whispered numbly. "He started touching me again . . . all over . . . none of the others had . . . . Oh, God, he was making me . . . feel things . . . .

"I panicked. Jim didn't matter anymore. Shorty couldn't . . . I wouldn't let him do that to me! I started struggling . . . I begged him not to . . . . He just laughed. He tried kissing me --a French kiss-- and I lost it. When his tongue was in my mouth, I bit it --hard."

A smile slowly spread across Kim's face, but it was cold and hard, sending chills shooting up Tommy's spine --a death's head smile. "That made him mad. He hit me. Hard. He kept hitting me . . . I was never so happy to be hit in my whole life . . . ."

"Stupid bitch, what are you smiling for?"

"Things started getting fuzzy then. There was blood in my mouth; the last thing I clearly remember was spitting it at him before he threw me across the trashcans. After that . . . nothing until I woke up in the E.R."

Tommy struggled to keep his emotions under control. He felt anger rising in him --a darkness he hadn't known since his evil Green Ranger days. He knew that if he had known about the attack at the time, the only way Zordon --or anyone else-- could have kept him from hunting the bastards down and ripping their hearts out would have been to kill him.

"I hope the cops caught those . . . ." Tommy rumbled darkly, but was interrupted by Kim's harsh laugh.

"I doubt the cops ever looked for them," she spat.


"God, Tommy, it was like something you'd see in the movies!" Kim's tears flowed afresh. "The police didn't seem to give a damn. They didn't believe us. They thought I was a prostitute! If Coach hadn't called the station and reported us missing . . . .

"After I was released from the hospital, Jim and I were called to the Prosecutor's Office; Coach went with us. We wanted to know what had been done . . . what would be done to catch those guys . . . . The prosecutor told us it was very unlikely that the guys would be caught. I thought my descriptions of the them had been pretty good, but the prosecutor said that those descriptions could have fit any number of kids in the area, and in spite of them being in a gang it was highly unlikely that any of them had records. They would investigate, but . . . I could tell that nothing was going to happen. Jim had been beaten; I had been raped, and you know what the prosecutor was most worried about? Bad press! The only reason he had called us in was because he was worried about what we'd tell the media. With all the Olympic class athletes training in the area and the Games coming up, they didn't want it getting out that two gymnasts had been assaulted!"

Tommy held her tighter, desperately wishing there was something more he could do.

For the first time since waking up, Kim looked directly at him. "Now do you understand?" she asked bleakly. "Now do you see why I was so afraid to tell you --why I was afraid that you and the others would turn your backs on me, too?"


"Zordon . . . the police . . . my mother . . . even Jim let me down!"

"Jim? How did he . . . ?"

"After the attack, he wouldn't look at me or talk to me . . . . He was so cold . . . it was like I no longer existed. For a while, I thought he blamed me for what happened to him. I just couldn't handle it. I sacrificed everything to keep him alive --everything! He never even said thank you.

"I tried not to be angry. Stuff like this didn't happen where he was from. The attack wasn't his fault, and it wasn't his fault he wasn't a fighter like I was. I could see him being scared; I mean, he almost got his throat slit. I tried to be patient and understand --even after I found out about the baby and lost my mother. I guess after I knew I couldn't compete anymore, I put all my medal hopes on him. I thought, maybe, if he could make the team and have a shot at a medal that I wouldn't feel so bad. That it wouldn't have been for nothing --you know?"

Tommy knew what was coming. He didn't need to see her brimming eyes or quivering lip.

"Jim didn't even go to the trials. He withdrew --never even tried. He just packed up and went home. I couldn't believe it. I did it all for nothing . . . nothing!"

Kim's rage and bitterness overwhelmed her again, and all Tommy could do was hold her until she cried herself out. She sobbed for a long, long time.

Dawn's first light was peeking through the curtains when Kim finally exhausted herself and fell asleep. Only then did Tommy allow himself to vent his emotions until he, too, fell into an exhausted, uneasy sleep.

All I Want for Christmas

A Power Rangers Story
by Cheryl Reynolds

Part 2 of 7

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