Continuing Tales

All I Want for Christmas

A Power Rangers Story
by Cheryl Reynolds

Part 4 of 7

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All I Want for Christmas

"Olivia?" Tommy called out, casting about for his pint-sized partner. The two had left Kim at the laundromat while they hit Wal-Mart to do some restocking. Kim was only too glad to let Olivia go since the laundromat was "the most boring place in the world" --cookies notwithstanding-- and Olivia had been particularly energetic today, so Tommy wasn't too surprised to discover that she had wandered off yet again.

"Over here!" came the reply.

Tommy found her down the next aisle over. He should have known . . . . The shelves were stocked with Halloween costumes, masks, make up and other spooky accouterments. Olivia was

eagerly rifling through the colorful collection of costumes.

"What do you want to be for Halloween?" He knew Olivia was excited about the pending holiday; Kim had never felt comfortable taking her out trick-or-treating (not that Tommy blamed her). Also, Olivia's class was having a Halloween party, and there was bound to be something for the kids at the Youth Center.

"The Pink Ranger," Olivia replied; however, as she reached the end of the rack, she stepped back, folded her arms across her chest, pouted, and stomped her foot petulantly. "Darn it; they don't have one."

"Sure they do," Tommy countered. There was a whole row of rainbow-hued power suits. He recalled the first time he had seen his namesake immortalized in polyester and plastic. It had surprised him, but then, he really should have expected it. Kids always wanted to emulate their heroes; still, while it had been very flattering, it had been a little embarrassing, too. Tommy regarded the suits with a bit of puzzlement; he had always tried to keep up with Ranger news, but for the life of him, he couldn't recall which incarnation the present Ranger team was in. Let's see, after Turbo came the Space Rangers and their mega-stuff, but after that . . . . Boy, have I been out of touch!

"I don't want to be the new Pink Ranger," Olivia insisted. "I want to be the first one, like from Mommy's pictures and my birthday cake. She was the best Pink Ranger."

Tommy could not argue with that assertion; however, he knew that it was going to be practically impossible to find an original Ranger costume of any color. The original team was a good six or seven years out of date. The only option he could think of was to make one. The suit part wouldn't be too hard, but the helmet . . . .

"We've been talking about the Power Rangers a lot in school," Olivia rattled on, disrupting his creative process. "Mrs. Blackman brought in some old pictures and videos and stuff. And we have monster drills, too!"

"Monster drills?" That was a new on Tommy.

"Sure. Just like fire drills --so we know what to do if a monster attack happens while we're at school. The teachers don't want any of us to get squished, so if we can't get outside or down in the basement --they had to have the basement fixed special so it doesn't fall down on our heads-- we have to get under a desk or table and try and stay by an outside wall," Olivia related.

"That's a very good precaution," Tommy replied. It saddened him to think that such a thing was still necessary. For all the incarnations of the Power Team, they were never truly able to hang up their helmets. They best they could hope for was an extended lull.

"Is the apartment monster-proof?" Olivia queried.

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"We don't get many monster attacks on the north side of the city," Tommy explained. As he recalled, most monster damage was done downtown, at the water front, or in Angel Grove park --sort of in an east/west line. For the most part, the residential areas were on the north and south ends of the city.

"That's good `cause I wouldn't want our house to get squished."

Tommy smiled as Olivia said "our house." It made him feel good to know that she considered his place as home now. He still wasn't sure about Kim, but he hoped she felt the same way. Thinking about Kim reminded him that . . . . "Come on, Princess; the clothes are probably just about done. We don't want your mom to fold them all by herself. We can talk to her about your costume, too."

"I can't wait for Halloween," Olivia bubbled as she took Tommy's hand. "You mean people really give you candy if you knock on their door and say `trick-or-treat' . . . ?"

"Where are those two?" Kim fumed. She had already hung up the clothes; all that was left was sorting the socks and underwear and folding the sheets and towels. "I should have known better than to let them go off on their own." Shaking her head, she returned to searching for all of Olivia's anklets. It was probably just as well that they hadn't hung around. Although the laundromat was unusually full for a Sunday afternoon, most of the other patrons were college students --predominately male. Olivia would be bored to tears with no one to play with, and I wouldn't be able to get anything done.

Saturday was the best day to catch the "family" crowd, and the after school hours during the week weren't too bad for that either. Monday was the usual laundry day, but Tommy had to switch off with Kurt this week, and Kim now worked on Mondays. She felt guilty about sending Tommy to do the wash by himself (and she really didn't trust him not to shrink her leotards.)

A sudden flurry of activity caught Kim's attention. The lackadaisical crowd was all aflutter --at least the men were; their attention was riveted to the front door. Kim noted that the other women were rolling their eyes and whispering amongst themselves as if this sort of thing happened regularly. As Kim glanced towards the door, she saw the reason for the men's sudden animation. In walked one of the most gorgeous women Kim had ever seen. She had to be close to six feet tall without the heels, and she was all lithe muscle and generous curves and moved with a sexy swagger that seemed natural. Perfect white teeth smiled out from dark, full lips, and sultry black eyes reduced her admirers to puddles of simmering hormones. Her skin was a lush bronze color, but her hair was a shocking shade of red.

"Muchas gracias," she cooed in a thick accent to the young man who held the door open for her. He was so enraptured by the woman as she walked past that he didn't notice the woman coming in behind her. Shaking her head, Kim hurried forward to help the basket-beleaguered woman.

"Hey, Maggie," Kim greeted.

"Hello, Kim," Maggie puffed as she juggled her awkward load. "I thought Monday was laundry day."

"And I thought you had gotten your new washer."

"Stupid tub is too small. The bedspreads won't fit," Maggie groused, and Kim stifled a laugh. "So, did Tommy and Olivia abandon you here?"

"Actually, he's saving me from the `Mommy, I'm bored' litany while doing some shopping," Kim explained, resuming her sorting.

"Have you nominated him for sainthood yet?" Maggie teased.

"Hello, Mrs. Donovan," the flame-haired knockout said as she passed by on her way to the change machine.

"Hello, Carmen."

"Carmen?" Kim queried once the other woman was out of earshot. "The same Carmen you warned Tommy about?"

"Uh huh. Carmen Vega." The two fell silent as Carmen sauntered past; both shook their heads at her adoring audience. "I've had a few conversations with her; she's a nice young woman, really. She's just blessed with an overabundance of . . . sex appeal. What comes natural to her would be affectation for you or me. I mean, she's not even trying and she has the guys falling all over her. Her problem is that she doesn't have a lot of common sense when it comes to men. She attracts all sorts but always seems to go for the wrong ones; she told me once that the nice ones bore her, and the others . . . well . . . ."

"And she's interested in Tommy?"

"She thinks she is. Tommy's definitely not her type --way too nice."

"Then why . . . ?"

"Two reasons: first, he helped her out of a really tight spot. She was hooked up with a guy who was renting the upstairs apartment; Joe was okay when sober, but he got violent when he got drunk. Tommy didn't know that when he rented the place out . . . . Anyway, Joe and Carmen got into it one night and things turned ugly. Carmen ran to Tommy and David for help. They called the police, let Carmen stay with them a couple of nights . . . . She swears Tommy saved her life.

"The second reason is that Tommy is just about the only man in the neighborhood who hasn't followed her around, drooling all the while. Even Matt at the coffee shop --and he's old enough to be her father!"

"He's old, not dead," Kim joked.

"Okay, I'll give you that. Tommy's always polite to Carmen when he runs into her but otherwise tries to avoid her. Why he doesn't just tell her to get lost is beyond me."

"He probably feels responsible for something," Kim speculated; that would be just like Tommy. "Also, I bet he doesn't want to hurt her feelings."

"She probably thinks he's playing hard to get," Maggie snorted. "It's high time Tommy stopped hiding from her and stood up to her."

Kim privately agreed, but Tommy wouldn't do something like that until he found a way to break it to her gently or she seriously backed him into a corner. She was getting a little uncomfortable with the whole subject of Tommy and Carmen and turned to a new topic. "I noticed you've been calling him `Tommy' instead of `Tom;' why the change?"

Maggie shrugged. "Olivia's birthday party, I guess. Everyone was calling him Tommy, and he seemed much more at ease with that than Tom. Besides, in addition to having Chris calling him Tommy, now I have Kelly calling him that, too. It was an battle I couldn't win. By the way, how is Kelly working out?"

Maggie's daughter had been helping Kim and Tommy with Olivia's after school care as their babysitter. "She's doing just fine, and Olivia adores her," Kim reported. "I'm glad you let her take the job; we needed the help but didn't really know anyone else to trust Olivia with."

"I was a little worried at first; Kelly is just twelve. I haven't left her alone with Mike and Chris very often, but with Tommy being downstairs if there was an emergency, I figured that would be all right."

"That was our thinking, too."

"Plus, I had never seen a kid beg so hard to be allowed to take a job."

"I just hope watching Olivia doesn't interfere with her school work."

"Quite the opposite," Maggie laughed. "Her grades have never been better. Of course, she's been told that she'll have to stop babysitting if her grades drop."

Kim shook her head. "I wonder if she'll still be so gung ho about all this when I fall off her pedestal and she finds out I'm only human."

"Hero worship doesn't sit well with you, eh?"

"I'm no hero."

"She could have a worse role model than someone who's worked hard and overcome a lot of adversity to get where she is today."

Maggie picked that moment to wander off, leaving Kim gaping after her, wondering just what Maggie knew about her. However, further speculation was shoved aside as she saw Tommy's white truck pull into the parking lot. Kim gathered up a fully loaded basket and went to meet the twosome.

"So, what do you guys have to say for yourselves?" she demanded with mock sternness.

"We brought you ice cream," Olivia announced, holding out a dripping cone.

"Well . . . ."

"It's your favorite," Tommy added with a hopeful expression on his face as he got out of the vehicle and took the basket from her.

"I suppose you're forgiven," she muttered with feigned reluctance and a grin as she accepted their peace offering. She looked for a napkin as the melting confection dripped all over her hand. "So, what section of Wal-Mart did you get distracted in? Toys?"

"Halloween costumes," Tommy said.

"Ah, I'd almost forgotten . . . ."

"I'm going to be the first Pink Ranger!" Olivia declared.

"The first . . . and just where are we going to find one of those?" Kim demanded, knowing full well no store was going to have one.

"I was thinking of asking Kelly," Tommy replied. "Maybe she or one of her friends has an old one. She'd have been about Olivia's age when the Pterodactyl Ranger was in style."

"I see Mrs. Maggie," Olivia chirped, waving through the plate glass window.

"No time like the present," Kim sighed.

"I'll take care of loading up. We really didn't mean to leave you to do all the work," Tommy said contritely.

"I know," she assured him with a forgiving smile. Olivia had already dashed inside, and Kim found her telling Maggie about her grand plans for Halloween. "You wouldn't by any chance have an old Pink Ranger costume that Kelly might have worn?"

"I wouldn't be surprised; she wouldn't let me get rid of any of her Power Ranger memorabilia."

Kim found it almost too much of a coincidence that Kelly idolized her both in and out of costume.

"Say, did you warn Tommy that Carmen was here?" Maggie asked suddenly.

"No . . . I didn't think . . . ." Kim turned, hoping to intercept Tommy, but it was too late.


Tommy froze in the doorway as Carmen sashayed over to him. Kim didn't know how he kept from grimacing as his erstwhile pursuer wrapped him in an effusive hug. She noticed Tommy's gaze dart her way as he went through the motions of returning the embrace, and she mouthed a silent apology.

"Hello, Carmen," he replied, disentangling himself from her arms.

"Is that any way to greet an old friend?" the vivacious woman queried with a mock pout. "It is good to see you again. You are looking good . . . very good." As she spoke, Carmen circled around him, making no attempt at being subtle in her scoping him out.

"Oh puh-lease!" Maggie groaned softly, rolling her eyes as Kim was sure Tommy wished he could. It was so hard to stifle her giggle, but she just couldn't laugh at poor Tommy.

"You're looking good, too, Carmen," Tommy responded politely. "What brings you back to the north side of town?"

"It was so boring where I was, and the people were not so nice," Carmen answered airily. "Certainly, there was no one as interesting as you around."

"I can't wait to see how he gets away from her this time," Maggie sniggered.

"Maggie," Kim chided. She really did feel sorry for Tommy. Even when they had been dating, he always tried to be polite when turning down the other girls who hit on him; he just didn't have it in him to hurt someone else's feelings if he could help it. Kim was tempted to help extricate him from his predicament, but she wasn't sure she should interfere.

"Carmen, please," Tommy sighed, removing her hands from where they had wandered across his chest. "I think you and I need to have a little talk."

"Oh?" Carmen purred, her face lighting up hopefully. "About what?"

"I think you know, but this isn't the best place."

"Outside, perhaps?"

"Sure." However, instead of heading towards the door, Tommy turned to Kim. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"

"Okay," Kim stammered as she and Maggie traded astonished glances. As Carmen took Tommy's arm and headed for the exit, remarkably enough, Maggie started after them. "Maggie, what are you doing!" Kim gasped, grabbing for her elbow to hold her back. "You're not going to eavesdrop, are you?" Maggie didn't strike her as the sort to do that type of thing.

Maggie blushed sheepishly. "I know I shouldn't but . . . ."


"I can't help it," she said defensively. "This whole business with Tommy and Carmen has been a major conversation piece at the coffee shop ever since he first helped her out. Matt's sure Tommy's going to get nabbed sooner or later --that man is so annoying sometimes. He always seems to have the low down on anything that happens; for a change, I get to scoop Matt."

Kim wasn't sure what to do. On the one hand, Tommy wanted to speak with Carmen privately; if he was going to do what she thought he was, he wanted to do it in a way that wouldn't embarrass Carmen. However, she really was as curious as Maggie to know what was being said. Kim was hit with a sudden inspiration; it was the sort of thing she and Aisha would have done way back when. "Here," she said, thrusting a laundry basket at Maggie, who looked at the it puzzledly. "You can help me load the truck," Kim said pointedly, nodding toward the window. Carmen and Tommy were standing right by the vehicle.

"Right," Maggie agreed as understanding dawned, and she flashed Kim a conspiratorially grateful smile. The two adjusted their burdens and headed for the door.

". . . I'm not interested; I never have been," Tommy was saying as Kim and Maggie came out. Neither he nor Carmen seemed to notice the pair. "I never meant to make you believe otherwise."

"But why?" Carmen pursued in obvious surprise.

"Maggie," Kim hissed, elbowing her companion who was lingering way too long by the truck. "Come on; there are a couple more baskets," and Kim had to practically drag her back inside the laundromat. "You aren't very good at this sneaky stuff, are you?"

"Never was; too bold for my own good when I was a kid," Maggie conceded. She cast a quick glance behind her. "I can't believe it; he actually told her off!"

"Isn't that what you wanted him to do?" Kim queried with a knowing smile as she loaded up another basket with the unfold sheets and towels. She'd take care of them at home.

"Yes, but I never imagined that he would."

"What surprises me the most is that she doesn't seem to be too upset about it," Kim observed. "From the way you talked, I got the impression that no man has ever told her `no.'"

"That's what Matt says." Maggie chuckled softly. "Poor Matt; he was so sure Tommy would ...."

". . . try to break to the news to him gently; Matt doesn't handle disappointment too well."

Kim nearly burst out laughing as Maggie, thoroughly embarrassed at having been found out, blushed at Tommy's words.

"I'll finish loading the truck," Tommy said as if nothing untoward had happened. "You've already done enough for one afternoon."

Kim caught the mischievous twinkle in his eyes; he'd been more amused by their blatant attempt at eavesdropping than anything else.

"He really knows we were listening?" Maggie gulped.

"Uh huh. Well, we weren't exactly subtle," Kim consoled her.

"Would you like to know why Thomas did what he did?" came the throaty query. The two turned to find Carmen regarding them with as much amused tolerance as Tommy had --a pose worthy of any mother.

"Can I go crawl in a hole now?" Maggie moaned under her breath.

"Another woman," Carmen continued. "All this time it has been another woman he has loved." She shook her head. "Ah, to be so loved by a man that neither time nor distance could make his heart falter."

Kim felt as if someone had just knocked the wind out of her. Carmen couldn't possibly mean her --could she? Kat was far away, too, and Tommy hadn't seen her in a long time, but . . . .

"Do not apologize," Carmen said dismissively to Maggie; Kim had completely missed Maggie's comment. "I know why you came out. Thomas is your friend, and you worry about him as if he was your son. To have such friends is good."

Kim suddenly felt Carmen's dark-eyed gaze on her. The woman regarded her thoughtfully, almost as if she was taking her measure. When the moment of scrutiny had passed, Carmen simply shook her head as if in disbelief.

"You are a very lucky woman," she said at last. "When Thomas speaks of you, his eyes smile. Such joy. Such love." Carmen walked off without another word, leaving Kim stunned and speechless.

"She's right, you know," Maggie added, turning her attention to her now-finished washer.

"Mommy, are you ready to go?" Olivia called out. "Tommy says the truck is all loaded."

"Yes, Sweetie, Mommy is ready," Kim confirmed, absently scooping Olivia into her arms.

"Mommy, is something wrong?"

"I'm not sure."

"Whatcha doing?" Olivia queried, quizzically regarding Tommy as she stood in the bathroom doorway.

"Shaving," Tommy answered, pausing his razor in mid-stroke. "Getting rid of those `prickles' you don't like."

"Good." Uninvited, Olivia wandered into the small bathroom and made herself comfortable on the closed lid of the toilet seat. "I don't like your face all prickly."

Your mom never did either, Tommy reflected wryly.

"What's that white stuff on your face? It looks like frosting."

"It's shaving cream." Tommy deposited a fingerful on the tip of Olivia's nose, which caused her to giggle. "Doesn't your mom use something like this on her legs?"

"Oh, yeah!"

Olivia continued watching intently as Tommy finished up the last few strokes and began rinsing his face.

"So, are you already for Nanna Jan?" Tommy asked, reaching for the aftershave. Kim was at work already since she wanted to take off early. Until Kim could pick up Olivia, Tommy's mom was going to watch her "almost" granddaughter.

"I sure am --except for brushing my hair. It's too tangly for me to do all by myself."

"I'm just about done here, Princess."

"That smells good; can I try some?" Olivia requested. Grinning, Tommy poured a little aftershave into her palm, and she slapped it on her cheeks just as Tommy had.

"So, how do I look?" Tommy queried impishly. "Am I all set for class?"

"Silly! You need your gi, not your bathrobe!" Olivia laughed, "and your hair is all messy."

"Guess I forgot a few things. Well, why don't we finish you up first."

Olivia grabbed his hand and tugged him toward her bedroom.

"So, why is your mom taking off early today?" Tommy asked as he grabbed the brush.

"I can't tell; it's top secret," Olivia announced oh-so-seriously.

Tommy had a fair idea of what was going on. Olivia had gotten very excited last night when Kim told her that his birthday was coming up.

"Can you put my hair in a fancy braid?" Olivia requested as she positioned herself between Tommy's knees as he sat on the side of the bed facing the mirrored dresser.

"Sure thing, Princess." As Tommy began detangling the girl's hair, he found himself studying their reflections, noting how uncanny their superficial resemblances were, and once again he found himself wishing that Olivia had been his child. I'd like nothing better than for the three of us to be a real family, Princess. I want you and your mom to stay here with me always. I love your mom so much, I just wish I could tell her, but I'm afraid she would . . . .

"We were talking about grandparents in school yesterday," Olivia declared, interrupting his train of thought.

"Is that so?"

"Uh huh. Grandparents are your mommy and daddy's mommy and daddy."

"That's right, Princess."

"Does everybody have grandparents?"


"Do you have grandparents?"

"My Grandma Sarah is the only one still alive; the others all died a long time ago."

"Do I have a grandma and grandpa?"

"Of course you do. There's Nanna Jan and Grandpa Thomas . . . ."

"I don't mean `dopted grandma and grandpa; I mean real ones."

Her distinction between the two caught him by surprise. Still, he managed to answer, "Yes, you have real grandparents."

"Since we don't know who my daddy is, I guess I won't ever know his mommy and daddy," Olivia remarked crestfallenly.

"Probably not, hon." Tommy put the finishing touches on Olivia's braid then pulled her into a hug.

"That's okay. It makes me just like you," Olivia said bravely, and Tommy felt something stinging the corners of his eyes as he held her tighter. "Hey, Tommy, can I brush your hair now?"

Tommy gave a long suffering sigh as he handed over the brush. Olivia was definitely her mother's daughter; however, while she had Kim's old enthusiasm for playing with his hair, she certainly didn't have Kim's skill --as he had learned the first time Olivia "brushed" his hair.

"Are Mommy's mommy and daddy still alive?" Olivia asked, resuming their conversation.


"Then how come we never see them? How come Mommy never talks about them?"

She's done it to you again, Tommy chided himself, recalling the last heart-to-heart he had gotten conned into. With any luck, this one would be easier to get out of.

"That's hard to say; I know your mom really misses her parents and would like to see them again. I know she wants them to see you."

"Then why can't we?"

"Your mom's parents are divorced. Grandpa Ken lives in Seattle, and Grandma Caroline lives in Paris --that's in a whole other country."


"You also have an Uncle Kenny; he's your mom's brother just like David is my brother."

"Really? How come Mommy never told me? Did something bad happen like with my daddy?"

Tommy tried not to wince as the brush hit a snag --or was he really wincing at Olivia's query? This time, there wasn't as cut-and-dried an explanation. He knew what had happened, but he didn't know why --especially, he didn't know why Kim hadn't tried getting in touch with her family after all this time, and Olivia was too smart for his own comfort. She'd want a reason. However, as he struggled to give the girl some kind of answer, he heard the buzz of the doorbell.

"I bet that's Nanna Jan!" Olivia cried, tossing aside the brush and her questions --to Tommy's relief-- in her eagerness to answer the door..

Thank you, Mom!

"I'll get the dishes," Tommy offered, taking the plates from Kim. "You look like Olivia ran you ragged today."

"You don't know the half of it," Kim sighed tiredly.

"I guess she inherited your ability to shop-til-you-drop," Tommy teased.

"Who said anything about shopping?" Kim returned nonchalantly.

Tommy could tell her innocent tone was feigned, and he did his best to hide his smile. "The park, then?" he suggested, all innocence himself.

"Uh huh . . . and I thought we liked the park as kids! We ran into one of her little friends there."


"No, Suzanna, I think. We wound up staying longer than I had intended, then we walked Suzanna home. What a zoo!"

"Does Suzanna have a lot of brothers and sisters?"

"Huh? Oh, no. There was a block-wide yard sale going on. That place was a mad house; I was glad we weren't driving. Walking was bad enough."

While Kim hadn't quite regained her former shopping ways, Tommy had noticed that she took quite an interest in bargain hunting at yard sales. He just barely managed to keep a smile off his face. It was time to pursue another topic. "So, what movie was that you brought home?"

"Anastasia. We found it at the yard sale," Kim answered. "The girls spotted it, and Suzanna said it was all about a girl who didn't know she was a princess, so of course Olivia wanted to see it. It was only a couple of bucks, so I figured what the heck."

"Doesn't sound like anything recent," Tommy mused. Once, he wouldn't have known a thing about kids' movies; Olivia was broadening his animation horizons.

"It isn't. It came out on video about three years ago."

"Mommy, can we start my movie now?" Olivia requested.

"Go on; I'll join you guys in a minute."

The dishes didn't take very long (they never did when he cooked), so Tommy only missed the first ten minuets or so.

"What's this about again?" Tommy queried as he flopped down on the couch.

"Sh!" Olivia shushed.

"You've heard the story of Anastasia, haven't you --how this woman swore she was the daughter of the last Russian Tsar and somehow survived the Revolution," Kim began. "This is based on that. Anastasia survived but got separated from her grandmother, so everyone is looking for her to collect the reward her grandmother is offering."

It was enough for him to pick up on what was going on and settle into watching the show. As Anya began singing her first number, Tommy reflected on how ironic it was that the film was about searching for families, and he wondered if Kim picked up on the significance of that.

Home. Love. Family.

There was once a time I must have had them, too.

Home. Love. Family.

I will never be complete until I find you.

Tommy glanced over at Kim, and by the suspicious glittering on her eyelashes, he knew that she had.

"Hey, are you okay?" Tommy asked as Kim returned from tucking Olivia in; Kim had been rather subdued all evening.

"Yeah," she sighed heavily and absently sank down on the couch. "Remember when you said Olivia ought to be a pro tackle? Forget that. She's going to be a prosecuting attorney."

"More tough questions?" he asked, fully sympathetic.

"She was asking about her grandparents."

"I wondered if she might. She interrogated me about them, too."

"What did you tell her?"

"Not much. Mom arrived and rescued me," Tommy answered with a smile. "What about you?"

"This was even harder than talking about the attack," Kim confessed. Tommy recalled that Kim had sat Olivia down for a talk the day after he had tried to answer her questions. "All I could think to tell her was that we had had a fight and hadn't spoken in a very long time. Then she wanted to know why we hadn't made up."

"It is a good question," Tommy ventured delicately.

"I know. I'd always hoped that maybe mom would call or write or something, but she never has."

"Why haven't you called her?"

"I've thought about it," Kim confessed sadly. "That first year I don't know how many times I picked up the phone then put it back. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't. I was hurt and angry and . . . ."

". . . and scared that if you reached out, she'd hurt you all over again?" Tommy asked kindly.

Kim's answer was a very tiny, "yes."

"You had a right to feel all those things, but don't you think it's time you let it go?"

"I know I should, but . . . ." Kim let out a long breath. "Every time I think of getting in touch with her, I think of what she said, and I'm afraid that she'll misunderstand and think that I'm asking for help and get mad all over again."

"You're still afraid she'll hurt you."

Kim hung her head. "I feel like such a coward!"

Tommy put a hand on her shoulder. "You're not a coward; never think that."

Kim wiped her eyes and gave Tommy's hand a squeeze. After an extended silence, she tearfully asked, "What did I do wrong?"

"You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then why'd she get so mad at me? I didn't ask to be raped or get pregnant --I wanted to try for the Pan Globals as much as she wanted me to . . . ."

"I wish I knew, Kim."

"W-when Aisha first told you what happened, how did you react?"

Tommy thought for a moment --not about his feelings; he remembered those clearly enough, but about how much he should tell her. He decided to be totally honest with her. "Remember what a mess I was after I first lost my Green Ranger Powers? Angry one minute, depressed the next? Condense the time period and multiply the intensity by about a hundred, and you might come close to the uproar I was in when Aisha told me --although, I seriously doubt that would even touch what you felt at the time.

"The first thing I went through was denial. It was awful; when Aisha started telling me the story, I could see the end coming. I remember wanting to throttle her --to shut her up somehow, as if that would have kept what happened from being true. When she finally said the words . . . I was so angry; I can't even begin to describe . . . . All I know is that if I could have gotten my hands on one of those guys at that instant, I'd have killed him without a second thought, without a regret." Kim's eyes widened in surprise at that; even he could tell how cold his tone had become. Actually, it was rather unnerving to know that he could feel such hatred, but he meant what he said, and he could see that she saw it, too, and was a little frightened by it. "When the blackness faded, it hurt . . . oh man, Kim, I hurt so much for you; to be honest, I cried in Aisha's arms." He let out a sigh and ran his hands through his hair, gathering his composure. He hadn't realized it'd be so difficult to talk about his feelings. "There were a lot of other things, too: helplessness, guilt, failure . . . I felt responsible . . . ."

"Why? It wasn't your fault; there wasn't anything you could done."

"I know it doesn't make sense. I just felt like I had let you down . . . that I had failed to protect you. You'd probably feel the same way if something happened to Olivia even if you knew there was nothing you could have done."

Kim considered his words. "Well, Mom certainly went through denial and anger, but do you think that she went through the other emotions, too?"

"I'd be more surprised if she hadn't. I'm sure she blames herself to some degree; after all, she's the one who let you stay in Angel Grove when she moved to Paris and then let you move to Florida to chase a dream. I really don't think she was angry with you, just the situation in general; I think she was just lashing out in the heat of the moment, and unfortunately, you were in the line of fire and bore the brunt of it."

"If she hadn't meant to do what she did, then why hasn't she ever tried to apologize or anything?"

"Why did you have such a hard time facing me at Aisha's wedding?" Tommy asked in return.

His query took Kim by surprise. "I-I was scared," she admitted at last. "I was so afraid that you'd hate me for hurting you the way I did, and I couldn't bear to . . . ." Comprehension suddenly dawned.

"I bet your mom is scared to reach out to you for the same reasons," Tommy said quietly.

"So, what happens now?" Kim asked plaintively.

"Kim, can you really forgive her for what she did to you, what she put you through?"

"She's my mother!" she insisted as if that was all the explanation needed. "Maybe she hurt me, but I still love her, and I miss her. I want Olivia to know her grandmother, and . . . ."

"Then you may have to be the one to take the risk and reach out to her first," Tommy pointed out. Kim seemed to shrink back as if frightened. "I know it isn't an easy thing to do, but if you love her and want her back in your life, you have to let her know that you still care. Offer her your hand and see if she takes it."

The following morning, Kim sat on the couch, her address book clutched tightly in her hands. She stared at the phone as if to will it to ring. Tommy's words from the previous evening echoed through her thoughts: "I know it isn't an easy thing to do . . . you have to let her know that you still care . . . ."

Just like you did.

The similarity between their situations had hit her like a bolt of lightning during the middle of the night, and she hadn't slept much afterwards. Tommy hadn't known at first why she had hurt him--only that she had, but he had still offered her and her daughter his friendship, and after he knew the truth, he hadn't turned away from her. He could have been bitter and angry; instead, he held his hand out to her . . . a hand she had been almost too scared to accept --almost. In her heart she knew that more than anything she had wanted to accept what he offered. Could it really be the same way with her mother? She wanted to believe that so badly . . . .

"How about a cup of sludge?"

Kim nearly leaped off the couch. She looked up to find Tommy standing beside her, holding out a cup of steaming coffee. "You're up awful early," she stammered as she accepted the mug. Taking a tentative sip, she noticed that the "sludge" was actually pretty decent this morning; he really was getting better at making coffee.

"I could say the same thing about you," he said in reply, pulling up the desk chair and joining her. "Couldn't sleep either?"

"Too much to think about."

"Like what time it is in Paris right now?"

"Maybe. Tommy, if I call . . . what do I say to her after all this time?"

Tommy shook his head. "I can't help you there, but I had an idea about how you could find out how your mom feels before you actually call her."

"Really? How?"

"Call your brother."

"Kenny? But . . . ."

"Why not? I imagine he's kept in contact with your mom. I'm sure he could tell you what's

going on."

"I don't know, Tommy . . . ."

"Kenny never abandoned you; you never gave him --or your father-- the chance."

Kim flinched at his words; she knew Tommy hadn't meant to be so harsh . . . but he was right. She sighed. "I'm sure Mom told them."

"Kim, do you want your family back or not?" Tommy demanded suddenly.

Kim was surprised by the exasperation in his tone. In all the time she'd been living with him, she had never heard him lose his patience with her--and she imagined she had sorely tested him more than this!

"I'm sorry," he apologized almost immediately. "It's just that this is your family. I guess I don't understand. I mean, I don't think I could just sit back and let my family fall apart without fighting with everything I had to try and keep it together."

She understood where he was coming from now. In many ways, Tommy had always envied her her family -- as disjointed as it was. You know who you are --where you come from. She remembered how much he always wished he had a brother or a sister --and how much she wished she didn't have one whenever Kenny was being a jerk. To Tommy, a family was one of the greatest gifts in the world, and it always bothered him when other people took their families for granted. Olivia had made her appreciate that sentiment as she never had before.

Kim looked into her heart and was able to admit that she really did want to have her family back. Now, all she needed to do was find the courage to be the one to take the first step. She looked up at Tommy and managed a wan smile. "You're right. It's time someone did something about getting us back together, but . . . I'm still really scared."

"There's nothing wrong with that. If you want me to, I'll help any way I can."

"You've already done so much that I hate to ask, but . . . do you --um-- think you could dial Kenny's number for me?" She smiled sheepishly as Tommy chuckled at her request.

"What time is it in Salt Lake City?" Tommy teased as he reached for the cordless phone and plucked the address book from her hands.

Kim said nothing, biting her lip, her heart pounding as he dialed. When he handed her the receiver, her hands were shaking so much she nearly dropped the phone.

The number you have dialed is no longer in service . . . .

"He's not there any more; the phone's been disconnected," Kim murmured, fighting back tears of disappointment. It wasn't fair! Just when she finally got the courage to call . . . . She had always assumed that her family would be there when she was ready for them again; it was crushing to find out otherwise.

"Hey, it's been five and a half years," Tommy said consolingly. He took the phone from her and dialed another number.

"Who are you calling?"

"Your dad."

For a moment, her eyes lit up hopefully, but almost instantly she caught his crestfallen expression.

"I guess he's moved, too," Tommy announced.

"Now what?" she asked, sniffling.

"Hey, don't let it get you down," Tommy encouraged. "We'll find them somehow."

"Will we?" she muttered doubtfully.

"Is this something you really want to do?"

She knew without a doubt that it was. "Yes."

"Then, we'll find a way," he promised.

"Say, is anybody thirsty?" Kim asked her companions. She had chaperoned Olivia's class field trip to the public library and had made arrangements with Mrs. Yashida to bring Min home.

"Me!" Olivia piped up.

"Me, too!" Min chimed in.

"Can we have shakes?" Olivia queried.

"Why not. So, where do we want to go?"

While the girls debated the issue, Kim found herself driving Tommy's truck down a familiar street. She hadn't thought about it when she made the turn; however, before she knew it, she was pulling into the parking lot of the Youth Center.

"What's this place?" Olivia wondered.

"This is where Mommy used to hang out with Tommy and her other friends after school," Kim answered. In a way, she was a little surprised she hadn't brought Olivia here sooner. She had spent some of her happiest days at the gym and juice bar. Perhaps it was because of the things Tommy had told her about Ernie leaving and Lieutenant Stone taking over and how the Youth Center had lost it's popularity with the high school crowd after that. Kim couldn't imagine the place without Ernie behind the counter; he had been the heart and soul of the Youth Center.

The trio made their way inside, and Kim was overcome by a wave of nostalgia. This was where she had been with Jason and the others when Zordon chose them to be Power Rangers. This had been the place where she had first laid eyes on Tommy . . . . Her heart ached with the memories. The juice bar hardly seemed to have changed. She half expected to find Bulk and Skull lurking about. Kim's first impulse was to head for the gang's old table, but she changed her mind and steered the girls towards the counter.

"Up you go," she said, swinging first Olivia then Min onto the stools, consciously making the effort not to treat Min any differently than Olivia.

"What can I get you ladies?"

Kim's head snapped up at the sound of a familiar voice, and she nearly missed the stool as she sat down. "Ernie? Is it really you?"

"Yup, that's me. I . . . Kim? Kimberly Hart?"

Before Kim knew it, Ernie had made his away around the counter and wrapped her in an enthusiastic hug. "It's so good to see you!" she exclaimed, genuinely happy to see him if a trifle unnerved by the hug, but it was only a momentary flicker.

"Same here; you're looking great. When'd you get back into town?"

"Only a couple of months ago. What about you? I heard you were supposed to have gone to South America with your old army buddies or something."

"I never made it past the physical --my heart," Ernie admitted ruefully. "The doctor told me to come home, take some time off and take off a few pounds. I tried taking it easy for as long as I could, but I just couldn't stay away any longer. I missed this place too much."

Kim thought Ernie looked like he'd lost some weight. "Tommy said the juice bar wasn't the same without you," she said kindly.

"You've seen Tommy recently? How is he? Have you heard from any of the others?" Ernie questioned eagerly.

"Mommy and I live with Tommy!" Olivia said brightly.

Ernie shot her a look of complete astonishment, and Kim wanted to melt into the cracks between the tile. She managed a brave smile as she made the introductions. "I'd like you to meet my daughter Olivia. Sweetie, this Ernie, an old friend."

"Hello," Olivia said politely. "And this is my friend Min."

"It's a pleasure to meet both of you," Ernie said in his typical jovial fashion. "Tell me what you girls want, and I'll get it. It's on the house."

"Shakes!" both girls chorused.

"Coming right up!"

As Ernie revved up the blenders, Kim tried to fight back her feelings of discomfort and embarrassment. She hoped that Ernie would let Olivia's comment pass; even after all this time, she still wasn't sure what to say. She didn't want him to misunderstand or think badly of her. Kim had never before realized just how much Ernie's opinion meant to her.

"Okay, two strawberry-vanilla swirl shakes for you guys," Ernie announced, presenting the colorful cups to the pair, "and a special Smoothie for your mom."

"Thanks, Ernie," Kim murmured quietly as a pink glass appeared before her. She took a sip and was a little surprised to find that it had been one of her favorite flavors. "Ernie, I . . . ."

"You don't have to explain anything to me, Kim," Ernie said kindly, "but if you ever need a friend to talk to . . . ."

Kim was grateful for both his restraint and his offer. "I really appreciate it."

"Just one thing . . . are you doing okay? If you guys need anything, don't be afraid to ask."

"You're the best, Ernie," Kim said, choking up and her eyes getting misty. Ernie always did have a heart of gold. She remembered how he always seemed to treat the kids at the Youth Center as if they were his family. He was always helping someone out with a problem, even if it was just with a sympathetic ear and a Smoothie to drink.

Ernie favored her with a fatherly smile then went back to wiping his counter. "I'm just glad to hear you and Tommy are back together," he commented. Kim started to speak, but he rambled on without letting her get a word in. "I always thought the two of you belonged together. Man, it about killed Tommy when he got that letter, and . . . whoops. Sorry, Kim, I didn't mean to ...."

"I know," she murmured; it was her turn to offer him a forgiving smile. He meant well. Kim was spared further awkwardness by a timely interruption.

"Mommy, where's the bathroom? Min's gotta go potty."

Kim returned to the counter after stopping to call Tommy and let him know where they were so he would worry when they weren't back when they had told him. Olivia and Min, however, hadn't wanted to wait to return to their shakes, so she was surprised to find that the girls weren't at their seats.

"Where did Olivia and Min get to?" she asked Ernie.

"They're over there by the video games," he answered.

Kim glanced over; there was quite a crowd by the machines. She relaxed when she spotted the two among the group.

"I suppose they won't get into too much trouble watching," she remarked. After all, the games were in clear view and just at the opposing end of the counter.

"I have to tell you your daughter is a sharp little girl," Ernie said. "She and Min remind me an awful lot of you and Trini."

Kim laughed. "That's what Tommy said the first time he saw them together."

"What's Tommy up to these days? Olivia was saying he's opened his own karate school."

"He did --about two years ago; he's really doing . . . ." Kim was interrupted by an explosion of angry, high-pitched voices.

". . . you're so dumb!"

"Am not!"

"Everyone knows she was the lamest Ranger."

"Was not!"

"The new one is the coolest!"

"No way!"

"Turbo was . . . ."

"No, Zeo . . . ."

"Space Rangers were the best . . . ."

"What seems to be the problems, kids?" Ernie queried, jumping in to referee.

"Ernie, do you know a lot about the Power Rangers?" Olivia asked.

"Oh, about as much as anybody else, I suppose. Why?"

"Who was the best Pink Ranger?" another girl with tight pin curls demanded. She stuck her tongue out at Olivia. "She says it was the first one."

"No way!" another child burst in. "The first Rangers were okay, but my dad says they were too weak; that's why they kept having to get new ones."

"And their Zords were stupid," another chimed in.

"And the Pink one was the weakest of all," one of the boys interjected.

"She was not!" Olivia asserted.

Kim refrained from adding her two cents. Part of her bristled at the claim that she was the weakest Ranger. Sure she was the shortest and she'd needed help getting out of jams on occasion, but so had the other guys on the team --even Jason and Tommy. And she'd had more training in martial arts than Kat had when she took over. It also wasn't fair to compare the different teams; the other's powers had been from completely different sources. However, a little seed of doubt crept into her certainty. For all her skill, for all the guys had taught her and she had gleaned from having the powers for so long, it hadn't been enough that one evening. She had been as weak and small as she appeared.

"Was, too! She's just a girl, and everybody knows girls are weaker than boys!"

"The Yellow Ranger was a girl; what about her?" Min piped up.

"The Pink Ranger was just as strong and smart and brave as any of the boy Rangers," Olivia shot.

"Take it easy, guys!" Ernie shouted above the growing din. "Olivia has a point. All the girl Rangers had to be as strong, smart and brave as the boys, otherwise they wouldn't have been Rangers."

"I told you," Olivia claimed smugly.

"Our teacher showed us pictures of all the Rangers, and the first Pink one was smaller than all the others!" another boy added.

"My sensei taught our class that in martial arts, size doesn't matter," yet another boy informed the gathering.

"There have been, what --five or six different teams since the Rangers first showed up?" Ernie queried.

"I thought there were more. The first ones had Dinozords . . . ."

" . . . Thunderzords, then came the Ninjazords . . . ."

"Those were all the same Rangers, though," Ernie said.

"How do you know?"

"You could tell by body type and fighting style. Just like there were a couple of different Zeo Zords, but only one team of Zeo Rangers."

Well, Ernie was almost right, Kim mused. Maybe the reason that the transition between Jason, Zack, and Trini to Rocky, Adam, and Aisha wasn't as noticeable was because they all had similar training and skills. The Zeo team had kept the same five members, merely adding Jason, but the Turbo team had roster changes, and according to Tommy, most of the second generation of Turbo Rangers went on to become the Space Rangers. As far as the current team was concerned . . . .

". . . I don't know much about the current team --they're still too new," Ernie was saying, and Kim tried to pay more attention, "but out of all the other teams, the one I have the most respect for was the original team."

"Why?" a girl asked.

"They had the hardest job because they were the first ones to be Rangers. How did they know what to do? They had to learn as they went along; the other teams could look back to see what the first team did in certain situations to see what worked or didn't work. Maybe their powers weren't as strong as some of the later teams, but they still had to fight some pretty powerful monsters. And, they didn't know whether people would accept them or not. Maybe folks wouldn't have accepted them; maybe people would have been as scared of them as they were of the monsters."

Kim smiled; Ernie could really get into it when talking about the Rangers. She often wondered if maybe he had known more than he had let on. How many times had she and the gang scurried off unexpectedly or dashed into a secluded corner to teleport out? Now that she thought about it, the odds were against him never having caught them, but if he had, he had never given them any inkling that he had known.

"But the Rangers are the good guys."

"We really didn't know that in the beginning, but we figured it out quickly enough. A lot of people blamed the Rangers for Rita and Zedd and all the others attacking, saying if the Rangers wouldn't have been around, the bad guys would have left us alone."

"It wasn't until after Rita appeared that the Rangers did," Kim pointed out in spite of her resolve to remain silent, and Ernie nodded his confirmation.

"The other reason I've always respected that first team is that most of them served as Rangers longer than any of the others," Ernie continued with his topic.

Kim had to give that some thought. Ernie had a point. From Green Ranger to Red Turbo Ranger, Tommy had probably served the longest--in uniform, but he hadn't been there from the very beginning. Of the original five, Billy no doubt had the longest service record with his time behind the lines. She had never really thought of it before, but after Billy, of the original Rangers, she probably had the second longest career --most likely the longest stint of any of the female Rangers.

". . . I'm really proud of the job those guys did," Ernie said in conclusion.

"How do you know so much about the Rangers?" one of the enraptured audience members asked.

"Oh, I have my sources," Ernie murmured evasively and returned to wiping the counter as the group began breaking up.

"Did you have a favorite Ranger, Ernie?" Olivia wondered as she clambered back onto the stool next to Kim.

"Sure. I always liked the Green Ranger because he was able to change from being evil to good; he kept fighting even when his powers got weak, and I'm pretty sure he was the one who became the White Ranger."

Kim gave a start and nearly spit out her drink. The only way Ernie could have known that was if he'd known who they were! Almost as if he had read her thoughts, Ernie cast a knowing look in her direction.

"And I've always felt the first Pink Ranger was really special," he went on to say. "Just like you said, Olivia, she was as smart, strong, and brave as any of her teammates, and she had a heart as big as the Megazord."

Kim blushed and ducked her head, finding his words a bit unsettling, wondering if she really deserved them.

"I also know of a few times when the Pink Ranger saved all the other Rangers."

"Really?" Olivia and Min gasped, their eyes getting wide, and Kim glanced up. Ernie's best asset may have been his ability to listen, but he could also spin a pretty mean story. It would be interesting to see what his take on their exploits had been.

"There was this one time when this giant toad swallowed all the other Rangers . . . ."

"How'd it go at the Youth Center," Tommy queried when he popped upstairs to grab a quick bite to eat on his dinner break.

"Olivia and Min can hardly wait for me to take them back," Kim responded, absently staring into the bottom of her soda glass as she sat at the kitchen table.

"Did something happen there? You look a little distracted."

"It's nothing, really. Did you know Ernie is running the place again?"

"Really? That's great! When did he get back?"

"He never left; he took off for health reasons."

"He's okay, now, isn't he?"

"He's doing really good."

"The next time you guys go, can I tag along?"

"Sure. By the way, Tommy, Ernie knows we were the Power Rangers." Kim smiled when she saw Tommy's flabbergasted expression.

"He does? Well, I suppose it does kind of make sense; he never used to get bent out of shape when we were running off all the time --sometimes forgetting to pay for our drinks until we got back. How'd you find out?" Tommy asked.

"Olivia and some of the other kids got into a big debate over which Power team was the best. Ernie said some things that he couldn't have known about unless he had known who we were."

"I figure Olivia defended the original team; which one did you stick up for?"

"I stayed out of it; I just couldn't bring myself to . . . ."

"Someone said something that really bothered you, huh?"

"You could say that." Tommy was waiting for her to elaborate, and she sighed. "I wonder . . . Olivia and Ernie were saying that I had to be as strong, smart, and brave as any of the rest of you, but I don't know if I ever really was. It sure doesn't seem like it."

"You were, Kim; trust me."

"Maybe when I was morphed, with the Power to protect me and all, but without it . . . ."

". . . you were every bit as strong as you were with it."

Kim just looked at him doubtfully; Tommy's gaze held hers and when he spoke again, it was with quiet sincerity.

"You were strong enough to fight your attackers and were smart enough to know when that wasn't a viable option anymore, and you were brave enough to make the sacrifice necessary to save the life of a friend and teammate --just like you did when you were a Ranger."

Tears threatened, and Kim ducked her head to hide them. "I never thought of it like that."

"Your greatest strengths have always been your heart and spirit. The Morphin' Powers didn't give you those qualities; you've had them all along," Tommy assured her, "and they're still inside you; you just have to learn to believe in yourself again."

"Thanks, Tommy." She wiped at her eyes. "How come you always seem to know the right thing to say to make me feel better?"

His demeanor remained sincere. "Because I believe in you. Because I care."

"Is it time to open presents?" Olivia gushed as she hurried through the door, practically flattening Tommy in the process.

"She's so excited, you'd think this was her birthday," Tommy chuckled.

"She has been going nuts waiting for yours to get here," Kim confided.

The trio had just returned from dinner at Tommy's favorite Mexican restaurant. To Kim's embarrassment and Olivia's sheer delight, Tommy had proudly worn the birthday crown she had made for him through the entire meal. Really, it looked a lot better than the silly sombrero the waitress had brought out for him to wear while the staff sang.

Before Tommy had the door closed behind him, Olivia sped down the hall and back again; she wore her own birthday crown and had retrieved Kim's old party hat.

"It's the rules, Mommy," Olivia insisted, handing her the headwear, and Kim obliged by donning her hat. "Oh boy, Tommy, I can't wait for you to see your presents!"

"Aren't we supposed to sing 'Happy Birthday' and blow out the candles first?" Kim queried.

"Oh, yeah, that's right," Olivia pouted. "Okay, Tommy, you sit down, and me and Mommy will bring the cake out."

"I thought the birthday boy was supposed to get to order everyone else around," Tommy muttered with a good-natured grin.

"You hush; we'll call you when we're ready for you," Kim ordered as the two disappeared into the kitchen.

Tommy took his hat off for a moment and shook his hair out. He smiled wonderingly at the creation; it was quite a sight! As he had, Olivia had used a Burger King crown and decorated it with paint, glitter, pieces of paper, buttons, feathers, and other baubles; however, his favorite decoration was the big heart on the front that read "Happy Birthday, Tommy. We love you. Kim and Olivia" all done in Olivia's handwriting.

"Okay, Tommy!" Olivia called as she emerged from the kitchen; he had barely gotten up off the couch when she grabbed his hand and started pulling him along. "Close your eyes."

"If I do that, how am I going to find the kitchen?" he protested.

"That's why I'm holding your hand."

Tommy complied and allowed himself to be led into the next room --not without running into a few corners in the process. He was grateful to feel Kim guiding him into a chair.

"Can I open my eyes yet?"

"All right."

He opened one a tiny bit, cautiously looked around then opened the other, a performance that had Olivia giggling. It even had Kim smiling.

"Do you like your cake?" Olivia queried eagerly.

Tommy regarded the mini inferno; why did they have to put all twenty-three candles on? The perimeter of the white-frosted cake was lined with candles, making it look like a blazing stockade fence on a snowy field. Stationed within the wax ring were six plastic figurines--six Power Rangers. Tommy wondered where they had found the toys; he hadn't seen any like that in years. Towering over them was a creature made of Legos, and in one of the corners in red and green frosting were the words "Happy Birthday."

"Mommy put the frosting on, and I put on the decorations," Olivia piped up before Tommy could say anything.

"Pretty impressive; I really like the monster."

"That's the Megazord!"

"If you don't blow out the candles soon, we're liable to set off the fire alarm," Kim scolded playfully.

"Just you wait until your birthday," Tommy warned mischievously. He reached out to arm himself with sweet ammunition.

"Don't you dare," Kim snapped, slapping his hand away. "Remember the rules --no snitching frosting until the candles are blown out."

Tommy just laughed. "Do I get the song first?"

Olivia serenaded him with great enthusiasm, and Kim snapped the pictures as he extinguished the candles with one deep breath. Olivia made quite a show of coughing and fanning the smoke away.

"Did you remember to make a wish?" she asked as she began helping Kim pull the candles out.

"Of course I did."

"What'd you wish for?"

"I can't tell; if I did, my wish wouldn't come true." Just as Tommy tried for the frosting again, Olivia planted a creamy smear across his face.

"Gotcha first!" she giggled.

Tommy went for the second strike, only to be smeared by Kim on his blind side. Kim assumed an angelic expression, and Olivia practically fell off her chair because she was laughing so hard. Quick as a wink, Tommy managed to retaliate.

"Okay, why don't we cut the cake before this gets out of hand," Kim advised, retreating.

"You're no fun," Tommy pouted.

"You want to argue with a woman holding a sharp object? Go right ahead," was Kim's retorted as she returned with a cake knife.

"It's really good cake, Tommy," Olivia declared. "Mommy let me lick the spoon when she made it. Mm!"

"Boy, I'm jealous." Kim handed him the first piece; he was a little surprised that the cake was chocolate. Neither he nor Kim were big chocolate eaters, even though she really liked hot cocoa and he had a weakness for Mrs. Bilinsky's cookies. He noticed Kim's anxious expression and realized she was waiting for him to take a bite. He didn't understand why she should be nervous about how the cake turned out; it was pretty hard to ruin a box cake --although, he had managed to do it. Still, he obliged and took a fork full. One bite was enough to tell him that it was no box cake.

"Did you make this from scratch?" he asked around his mouthful.

"Is it okay?" she asked eagerly.

"It's wonderful! You know what this tastes like? Mrs. Bilinsky's double chocolate cookies with . . . ." He paused as something else tickled his tastebuds. ". . . raspberry?"

"It should since I asked Mrs. Bilinsky for the recipe," Kim replied with quiet pride.

"Mrs. Bilinsky parted with her prized recipe?"

"You said those were your favorite cookies; when I asked her if she could bake some for you, she told me she had a cake recipe, too, so I thought I'd try it."

"This is awesome, Kim."

"Is it time for the presents?" Olivia interjected, bouncing in her seat.

"You can go get them, Sweetie," Kim said. As she dashed off, Kim added, "She's been so excited about them; I really don't know how she managed to keep them a secret."

Olivia returned a few moments later with two brightly wrapped packages.

"Which one should I open first?" Tommy wondered.

"Mommy's" Olivia declared, to Kim's obvious surprise.

Tommy regarded both gifts. One was a neat rectangle-shaped package that felt rather like a book. The other was a rather lumpy bulge with almost more tape than paper. He set that one aside.

"How'd you know that one was from Mommy?" the girl wondered, mystified.

"Lucky guess," he replied. He glanced up at Kim as he carefully slipped his finger under the tape at one end. Her expression was an amusing mixture of hopeful anxiety and excited eagerness as she worried her lower lip between her teeth. Impishly, he prolonged her agony by taking his time with the paper.

"You are so mean," Kim hissed when she realized what he was doing.

"Hurry up, Tommy," Olivia urged.

"When you only have two presents, you have to make them last," Tommy retorted. However, the suspense finally became too much for him, and he tore the remainder of the paper off. Inside was an envelope and a binder. He looked to Kim for a clue as to which one he should look in first; she merely shrugged as if to say "it's you're choice." Tommy opted for the envelope. Inside, he found about a dozen trading cards; as he flipped through them, his smile became an look of pure astonishment. "Magic Johnson, Kareem . . . Kim, where did you . . . how did you . . . ?"

"They should be the right ones; I made sure to have your list with me," she said.

"They are, but how . . . ." Every card in his hands was both rare and expensive; his uncle had been looking for these cards for years! There was no way Kim could have afforded even one of them. When Kim didn't offer any further information, Tommy turned his attention to the binder. More cards from various teams . . . it took Tommy a little while to realize the significance of the cards in the pages. "These are all rookie cards!"

"When we were at that block-wide yard sale, there was this woman who was selling a bunch of sports cards and things," Kim explained. "That's where I found all those Lakers cards. When Olivia mentioned that we were buying them for a birthday present, the woman offered me the binder. Even I recognized some of the names, so I figured those were some pretty important players."

"Didn't she know what she had? She could have sold these to Pete at the Sports Card shop and gotten quite a bit of money for them."

"I told her that, but she said she didn't care about the money; she wanted them to go to someone who was going to enjoy them as much as her son had --I think he had passed away or something."

"This is just incredible; I can't wait to show Uncle John . . . . Thank you!" Tommy hopped up from his seat and wrapped Kim in a jubilant hug. He held her tightly for several moments before he realized what he was doing and that Kim's body was stiff in his embrace. He felt like kicking himself; Kim looked a little shaken as he released her without ceremony. "Kim, I'm . . . ."

"Open mine!" Olivia insisted, interrupting his apology.

Judging from Kim's expression, Tommy thought it best not to make a big deal about the hug. "At once," he said instead as Olivia thrust her gift into his hands. "You did a good job of wrapping this." The girl just beamed with pride. He tried to use the same care he had when opening Kim's present, but that proved nigh impossible. Once he ripped away the bear-bedecked paper, he found himself as shocked as when he saw Kim's gift.

It was a White Ranger action figure with a Falcon Zord. He hadn't seen one of those in ages. They had shown up on the market right after they had gotten their Ninja powers and had sold out quickly. People clamored for more, but the manufacturer had never released a second series --to the disappointment of the customers and the delight of collectors.

"Where'd you find this?" Tommy wondered. The toys had been both flattering and embarrassing at the time. They had been good likenesses. Tommy would never admit it to any of the others, but he had tried to get a hold of one of his namesake's toys --sort of as a keepsake for the days when his career was over. However, he had never had any luck.

"At the same sale --different yard," Kim revealed.

"Mommy said you always liked the White Ranger, and you like falcons, so I wanted to get it for you," Olivia elaborated.

Tommy noticed that Kim was blushing. "Princess, it's wonderful," he said, sweeping her into a hug. "Thank you both for a wonderful birthday."

"Do you think that maybe sometime I could play with your White Ranger?" Olivia asked. "Y'see, Mommy found the Pink Ranger for me . . . ."

Kim's blushed deepened, and Tommy laughed. "We'll see, Princess."

"Now, it's time for someone to go to bed," Kim announced.

"Aw . . . but I'm not tired," Olivia protested, but she went with Kim without too much of a fight.

Tommy took the opportunity to wander into the living room. He removed a wooden box from the top of the bookcase. It was one of his most cherished possessions; Sam had given it to him shortly after he and David first met. Their father had carved the box, and their mother had painted the designs on it. David had one just like it; this one had belonged to Sam, but he wanted Tommy to have it. Tommy stored in it the things he treasured most: pictures of both his biological and adoptive parents, his old communicator, a copy of the song Kim had written for him, and a Pink Ranger figurine to match the White Ranger he'd just received.

Kim sighed as she emerged from the bedroom; Olivia had finally settled down to sleep. She was beginning to think the child was never going to stop bouncing around; she had been just too excited. Olivia was so pleased that Tommy had liked their presents and the cake; truth be told, she was pretty happy about that herself. She spied Tommy laying on the couch, his party crown still perched on his head. She was glad that she had been able to return a little of the happiness that he had given to her and her daughter. Just the look in his eyes . . . .

She wandered over to the couch as if to wake him and send him to his bed as he was sprawled out on the short sofa most uncomfortably, but she paused and just looked at him as he dozed. In a way, he reminded her of Olivia when she slept. It was that same something that drew her to her daughter and made her want to touch her hair and stroke her cheek and whisper sweet, soothing words as she watched her sleep. Those moments always made Kim realize just how precious Olivia was and how much she meant to her. She felt the same thing for Tommy right now. She reached out as if to brush her fingers over his soft, silky hair, but she stopped herself. Retreating a bit, she wrapped her arms around herself as if to ward off a chill. What was she thinking? She shouldn't . . . .

Kim found herself missing the old days. Tommy used to be so affectionate --even before they were officially a couple: a soft smile, a pat on the shoulder, a hug for no reason . . . . Oh, he still did some of those things, but it wasn't the same. Things were more restrained, almost as if he was going through the motions without the feelings.

What about the hug he gave you tonight?

The emotion he had shown when he hugged her had taken her by surprise; it was as if, for a moment, he had forgotten that things weren't the way they used to be between them. Kim felt her bottom lip trembling. The embrace hadn't lasted very long; she had just started to relax into it when Tommy seemed to recover himself. It had just felt so good . . . .

"Why won't you hold me?" Kim whispered, a tear sliding down her cheek. "Is it because I'm . . . unclean somehow that you hardly ever touch me?" Fighting back further tears, Kim fled into the kitchen.

She was so intent on her thoughts as she put away the cake and washed the dishes that she wasn't aware she was no longer alone until she felt a gentle touch on her arm. She gasped, started, and spun around to find Tommy standing close behind her. He was so near . . . she felt herself cowering back against the sink.

"T-Tommy," she stammered, trying to settle her rapidly pounding heart.

"This is why, Kim," Tommy said quietly, his smile tinged with sadness as he took a step away from her.

"Why --what?"

"It's not that I don't want to touch or hold you," he began, and the heat flared hot in Kim's cheeks; she hadn't realized that Tommy hadn't been asleep. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep from touching you sometimes? When I see you in pain, or when you smile and you're happy . . . but whenever I get close to you --like just now-- I can see how scared you are. Even the lightest brush makes you tense up like a bow string."

Kim wanted to deny it, but she couldn't. Even now her muscles were still tightly clenched. She hung her head as bitter tears slipped from her eyes. "It's not fair!" she cried. "Why won't this just go away and let me get on with my life!"

"Like with any other wound, the scar will always be with you," Tommy said gently. "It won't ever go away, but it will fade with time. Right now, you're going through a lot of things you haven't had to face before, and there are no more gymnasium walls to hide behind. It's going to take a little time and effort, but you can get through this."

Kim buried her face in her hands as she continued to cry. "It's just not fair! I'm so tired of being afraid . . . I don't want to be afraid of you! I want you to hold me and tell me everything will be all right, that this nightmare will be over someday --just like you used to."

Then, to her amazement, Tommy reached out and tilted her chin up. He looked into her tear-filled eyes and smiled reassuringly. The breath caught in her throat as she felt his arms go around her. To her sorrow, she experienced a moment of panic, and her body went rigid as she felt the embrace tighten. She was consumed with this overpowering urge to break free, and briefly she was glad her arms were trapped against her chest --a barrier between their bodies. When she realized all this, she began sobbing harder; she just could not relax into his embrace --and he knew it, too.

However, he didn't let go. He continued to hold her and let her cry. At some point, Kim's arms had relaxed; she discovered that she had Tommy's shirt clutched tightly in each fist. She became aware of Tommy's hand softly stroking her hair --she always used to love it when he did that. She felt his cheek resting against the top of her head, and under her own she felt his warmth and heard the steady, soothing beating of his heart. She remembered standing on the beach like that --for hours it seemed-- neither of them would speak as they watched the sun go down and the stars come out, and it had always made her feel so safe, so loved. That's all he did now, and slowly, Kim's tears and trembling began to subside. To her joy, she was able to release his shirt and slide her hands around his waist.

Kim couldn't have said how long they stood there like that, but it seemed like hours and yet not nearly long enough.

"Kim, I . . . ." Tommy began hesitantly.

Kim could feel the tension in his body now; it caused her to look up to see what was in his eyes.

"I wasn't going to say anything . . . . I don't want to make you uncomfortable or hurt you or anything like that, but I have to . . . ." He held her tighter as he seemed to seek the courage to continue, and his voice was husky and tremulous. "I love you. To be honest, in spite of everything, I never really stopped."

His words shook Kim to the core. He loved her? She wanted to say something, but she couldn't find the words as astonishment and joy bubbled within her. However, before she could even try, Tommy placed a finger on her lips.

"You don't need to say anything," he told her. "I don't want you to feel obligated to answer. I know I probably shouldn't have said anything yet. You're still hurting, and I don't ever want to do anything to cause you any more pain, but I had to tell you . . . . Maybe it will help you in some way to know . . . . I just hope it doesn't make things worse between us.

"I know things can't be exactly like they used to be --as much as I wish they could-- but that's okay. You don't know how much it means to me that you're back in my life again. If friendship is all we can have together, I'll take it --gladly. I just don't ever want to lose you again."

Tommy released her, and all Kim could do was stare up at him in wide-eyed amazement. He smiled and kissed her softly on the brow.

"Good night, Kim."

Numbly, she sank down into a chair and watched as he disappeared into his bedroom. Finally, she found her voice as she heard the door close. "You won't lose me; I love you. Always have. Always will."

Kim sat in the waiting room nervously twisting her purse strap in her hands. What am I doing here? she asked herself for the umpteenth time.

She should have gone to the costume shop to see if she could find something for Halloween. She hadn't thought she be off to take Olivia trick-or-treating. It turned out that she was going to be able to, and Tommy and Olivia had talked her into dressing up. Now her problem wasn't so much what was she going to be but rather what did the shop have left! However, instead of doing that, she was spending her dinner break sitting at the Carmichael Center.

You're here because you love Tommy.

"I love you . . . I never really stopped." His words still made her feel warm all over. It had been a rough week since Tommy had confessed his feelings to her. One minute she was floating on cloud nine, and the next she'd be in tears and unable to even look at him. His announcement should have made her the happiest woman in Angel Grove. Instead, she felt lost and confused. She wanted to tell Tommy that she felt the same way, but for some reason she couldn't say the words.

After a great deal of soul searching, Kim realized what was wrong. She didn't feel worthy of Tommy. She felt he deserved more than she could presently give him, but at the same time, she didn't want to lose him a second time. She knew Tommy would be patient --he'd help hold her up no matter how long it took, but she didn't want to lean on him forever. She wanted things to be like they used to as much as he did, but they couldn't be until she could stand on her own. Tommy was right; she had a lot of things she needed to work out --things she couldn't face or identify without help. Gathering her courage, she had called the Women's Crisis Center and made an appointment to talk to one of the counselors.

Kim glanced at her watch. It was starting to get late; she was going to have to leave soon to get back to the gym on time. She hadn't wanted to make the appointment in the morning because she didn't want Tommy to find out she was going, at least, not just yet. She wasn't even sure this was the right place to go; after all, it had been five years . . . but she hadn't known where else to turn. She got up and crossed the empty waiting room to the magazine rack; the receptionist had already left for the night (although she had offered to stay with Kim). Kim grabbed a magazine and had just resumed her seat when the door to the inner office opened.

"I'm glad to see you're doing so much better, Kaitlyn," the counselor said as she ushered the girl to the outer door.

"Thanks, Mrs. Donovan; I'm glad you were able to talk with me on such short notice," the girl replied.

"I'm always available, Kaitlyn."

Donovan? Kim's head snapped up. Sure enough, it was Maggie. It took her a moment to recall that Tommy mentioned that Maggie volunteered at the Crisis Center.

"Sorry, I kept you waiting, I . . . why, hello, Kim," Maggie greeted, sounding only marginally surprised.

"Hi, Maggie," Kim essayed wanly. She wanted to die; here she had geared herself up to talk with a stranger, and it turns out to be Tommy's friend.

"If you'll pardon my saying so, I kind of thought I might find you here sooner or later."

"You did? Tommy didn't say . . . ?"

"No, Tommy's not said a word to me. I know how to read the signs," Maggie answered kindly. She glanced over at the wall clock. "You're on your dinner break, aren't you? How do you feel

about talking over a quick bite to eat?"

"I guess that's okay; you're the doctor."

"Don't worry, Kim; this won't be as difficult as you think. Come on."

"Come on, you two!" Tommy called out as he looked at the clock on the VCR. They needed to get over to the Youth Center to get their group assignments. The program for safe trick-or-treating that they had participated in as high school students had greatly expanded; there were so many youngsters that parents had also been asked to be chaperones for the children. It had definitely evolved into a community project.

"Hi-ya!" Olivia shouted fiercely as she bounded out of her room. Maggie had found Kelly's old costume; it was in pretty good shape and hadn't needed much in the way of alterations. "How do I look?"

"Morphinominal," Tommy replied, using one of Billy's old terms. "How about me?" He had resurrected his old pirate costume --the one Kim had told him he looked so "dashing and roguish" in.

"Pretty cool. That's a neat earring," Olivia evaluated.

"So, what's your mom going as?"

"I dunno. She said it was a secret; she made me leave the room so she could get dressed."

The other day, Kim had come home, announcing that she finally found a costume, but she hadn't told anyone what it was. Tommy wondered if she might go with a princess costume; she always liked those in high school. However, princesses were notorious for being weak and helpless -- victims always needing to be rescued. He didn't think that'd be such a good idea for Kim right now. She was still feeling pretty vulnerable and didn't need to pretend to be a damsel in distress.

Tommy was pretty concerned about Kim anyway; she had been acting rather unusual since the night of his birthday. He almost regretted telling her how he felt. He had meant his words to give her something to believe in, to give her a sense of security. They seemed to have just the opposite effect; he hadn't seen her so unsettled in weeks. For a while there, things were as awkward between them as they had been after Kim had told him about the rape. However, the last couple of days hadn't been too bad; maybe Kim just needed a little time to let the shock work through her system. She had definitely been surprised at his announcement; it had probably been the last thing she had expected.

As for himself, he was glad he had finally told her. It had taken a load off his mind, but at the same time, it had created a new dilemma: waiting to see if Kim felt the same.

"Sorry, guys, I didn't mean to take so long," Kim said breathlessly. "We're not going to be too late, are we?"

"Hey, Ernie knows me; he probably figured we'd be . . . ."

Tommy couldn't believe his eyes. Kim was dressed as the Pink Ninja Ranger. "Where'd you find that costume?" It was remarkably close to the original; only someone who'd worn the actual thing would notice the minute differences in the gauntlets, tabard and insignia.

"I got lucky at the costume shop," she explained as she tied on the headband.

"You look just like the real Pink Ranger," Olivia gushed, "but how come you don't have the mask?"

"The shop didn't have it any longer."

"I always hated that mask," Tommy whispered. "I felt like I had a pillow case over my head."

"I felt like a mummy."

"You know, Ernie will probably have heart failure when he sees you in this."

"Too bad I didn't find a White Ranger outfit; that would have really made him flip," Kim added with a laugh.

Tommy found Kim's light-hearted mood encouraging. She was laughing and smiling; there was a sparkle in her eyes, and there seemed to be something different in the way she was carrying herself. "So, how does it feel to be back in uniform?" Tommy asked.

"You know, it's kind of weird . . . . I know this isn't the real thing, but I feel almost like I did when I was still on the team, like I could take on the world! It feels good --real good."

Tommy knew what she was trying to say; he gave her hand a heartfelt squeeze and didn't let go. She glanced at their joined hands briefly then smiled up at him without letting go either.

"Will you guys hurry up! I don't want to miss trick-or-treat," Olivia declared with an imperious stomp of her foot.

All I Want for Christmas

A Power Rangers Story
by Cheryl Reynolds

Part 4 of 7

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