Disclaimer: While it would be nice to own the Rangers and those
characters associated with them, I don't have any claims whatsoever on
them - they're Saban's. Mariel (Mariah) is the only character that I lay
claim to. The only compensation I'm getting for this is the fun of writing
Notes: This story comes around a month after "Of Dances and New Beginnings". This is the third in a series, and if you haven't read the other two first, you may be a little lost. The series takes place during the Zeo period after Jason loses his Gold powers and in my version, Billy's returned from Aquitar.
Rocky DeSantos woke up to a novel sound in his large household: quiet. Except for a few soft steps sounding that indicated that his mother was around, he couldn't hear anything else. It must be one of those rare Saturdays where Mama managed to get all the kids up, dressed, and out to their various activities and let me sleep in, he mused. In that case, I'm not getting up for at least another hour. It wasn't so much that he wanted to sleep more, as it was already around eleven, but the chance for Rocky to actually sit back and take some time to think was a rare chance to be savored for the Hispanic boy.
I wonder if there's anything going on at the Youth Center today, he thought. Then he nixed the idea. He hung out with his friends most Saturdays, but it had been harder lately since everyone had paired off so conveniently and he was left as the one single. Jason and Kat. Tommy and Kim. Adam and Tanya. Billy and Mariel. He'd felt sort of ignored for the past two weeks with all the couples around, and it made him feel even worse. As long as he could remember, Rocky had cherished a private fantasy that he'd meet a special girl in high school, marry her right after college, and have a large family just like his current one. He never had admitted this fantasy to anyone, not even Adam or Aisha, fearing irrationally that they'd laugh at him. However, the current attached status of his teammates made him feel like he was in the middle of Noah's Ark, and made his private hope feel even more impossible. The breakup with Jaimi Calin, the girl he'd been dating steadily for several weeks had covered it even further. Rocky sighed at that. Jaimi was funny, cute, and matched him beautifully. But she was tired of being abandoned at odd hours when Rocky had to rush off to fulfill his responsibilities. Even Billy's got someone special, thought Rocky. Billy and he had been the chronic single men for ages, but then when Billy had been sent to find Mariah because of her guardian powers, Billy had fallen for her instantly.
Mariah was the type of girl even his mother would have approved of: pretty, polite, and attended church on a regular basis even if she was Protestant. Though Mariah was just too serious and quiet to suit him romantically (she complimented Billy well, was Rocky's personal opinion) he knew they'd make very good friends if his friendships with the two most serious, quiet guys on the team were any indication. Rocky had always wondered inwardly what had drawn him and Adam together, since they were as opposite in many ways as people came. The shy Asian boy had been assigned as his partner for a class project when they were both in the third grade, and despite Adam's reticence, Rocky had insisted on including him in everything after that. Adam, previously a total loner, had eventually responded and become party to most of Rocky and later Aisha's exploits. He was always the cautious one, thought Rocky. It's a good thing, too, or we would have probably wound up dead before we reached our teens with some of the wild stunts Aisha and I would have tried to pull.
Billy had been another matter. When he and Rocky had first met, Billy had been even more quiet than usual, mourning his lost chance with Trini, the former Yellow Ranger as well as the loss of Jason and Zack, especially Jason who he'd always looked up to as a big brother. Even Kim and Tommy who knew Billy well had been hard-pressed to figure out how to reach him, but Adam, recognizing shyness when he saw it, had quietly began a friendship with Billy. Both teens shared quite a lot, from their intelligence to their introversion, and soon Adam had become one of Billy's best friends. Rocky had been introduced better to Billy through Adam and through Billy's offer to help him in math after Rocky had failed a test miserably and was in danger of failing the course entirely. Rocky had recognized that this was a gesture of friendship and taken it. Since then, Rocky had found the former Blue Ranger to be a very good listener and a tutor that wasn't condescending about Rocky's difficulties in math. Rocky stopped for an instant as his stomach growled. He padded down to the kitchen to fix himself a large breakfast.
After starting with an enormous plate of Huevos Rancheros and continuing on to toast, pancakes, bacon, cold cereal, and some hash browns, Rocky felt in a much better humor and decided to head for the Youth Center after remembering that he'd asked Billy to do an extra tutoring session before the Trigonometry test on Monday. Humming to himself, he bounded up the steps to inform his mother where he was going, and get dressed.
Kat and Jason were sitting on the front porch of Jason's house, enjoying the sunlight and the company. "Guess what?" asked Jason, a bright gleam in his eye.
"Zack and Trini are going to be coming home this summer on break from the Peace Conference."
"Really? I know that you were hoping that they would be able to. When are they going to arrive?"
"Well, it's only April so it won't be for a while still. They're planning to come back in late June and stay until mid-August."
"Will they be going back to Switzerland then?"
"Yeah," said Jason with a wistful smile. Kat noticed the look in his dark eyes seemed almost sad.
"Are you ever sorry that you left the Peace Conference?"
"Yes and no. I enjoyed meeting all the different people, but really, I always missed Angel Grove and being on the team. I didn't have much chance to practice my karate, which I also missed. But Zack and Trini were really good friends of mine, and it's hard sometimes because they're moving on. Zack writes on occasion, but I know that he's got new friends, some of who are almost as close now as we were. They're still friends, I mean, but not the same."
Katherine winced. She knew exactly how he felt, she had had that feeling about her once-best friends back in Australia. Jason sighed. "But it's the way things work. I'm changing too, and it's for the best."
"Speaking of changing," said Kat, casting a meaningful look at Jason, "is it just me or does Rocky seem too subdued lately?"
"He has been pretty quiet, and not pulling his usual stunts," said Jason. "It's not a huge change though. Just enough of one to indicate that something's not quite right."
"Or maybe he's just being a normal teenager that's going through a moody time. We've been spoiled with him: Rocky's so sunny that he helps to light up the rest of the team, as infuriating as he can be at times."
Jason nodded. If it had been Tommy, most of the team would have just continued to leave him alone without too many qualms unless he got worse or snapped at one of them. Tommy and Billy in particular could be very moody and with those two, it was impossible to figure out what was wrong until they decided to spill whatever was on their minds. Most of the time though, they just worked what ever was annoying them out for themselves. It was only on the bigger issues - such as break ups, family problems, and difficulties resulting from their service to the rangers - that the rest of them intervened forcefully unless Tommy or Billy came to one of them to seek guidance on their own. "I think that we should just keep an eye out for any other odd behavior. He's not doing anything particularly out of the ordinary, only a bit less effusive than normal. But if it keeps up, we ought to at least ask." Jason didn't really like leaving a possible problem hanging like that, but he knew from experience that if he asked what was going on, all he'd probably get was an odd look or a response of "Nothing, man. Why?". No, whatever was with Rocky would reveal itself if it was important in due course.
Rocky bounced into the Youth Center almost an hour early for his appointment with Billy. He had been planning to work out during that hour, but as he entered, he saw Mariah sitting at a table by herself with a book. "Hey!" he called, waving to her. Mariah smiled and waved back.
Rocky took a seat beside her at the table. "What're you reading?" he asked. "Is it good?"
"I'm rereading The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevesky's one of my favorite authors. It's a fabulous book. I highly recommend it."
"Oh, so you're one of those smart people."
Mariah blushed slightly. "Sort of. I really like literature and philosophy, but compared with, oh, say Billy, I'm pretty outclassed in the brains department."
"Aren't we all? Even most scientists who have studied for years couldn't match him," laughed Rocky. "But he's cool about us average people. I mean, he's not stuck up about it."
Mariah nodded. "He's a great guy."
"Dancing?" asked Rocky taking in her attire, which were jeans over a black leotard.
"Yeah. I miss the classes at the academy being right there in the same building, but the division of the Los Angeles Academy that practices here has been quite adequate."
"You don't go to school with the rest of us." It was a statement more than a question.
"No, I passed my GED when I was fourteen or so. Ever since then I devoted my life to dancing. I was a principle back in New York, but I'm taking a break from performing for now. This new...responsibility...plus a new family and friends and boyfriend is more important than performing five times a week. I mean, I still take four-hour classes to keep up my technique five times a week in the mornings, but the schedule's not like it was."
"Was your Academy kind of like that movie Kat dragged us all to see, Center Stage?"
"Sort of. I mean, the jealousy and rivalries are similar, but it's a little overdone."
Rocky nodded. "Cool. What was your life in New York like?"
"Well, I lived at the Academy and danced with a ballet company. It was hard work, but it's fun as long as you're the right type-"
Rocky couldn't resist breaking in. "What's the right type?"
"You don't get to really have relationships, like as in boyfriends or girlfriends if you're a prima so young. Most of them are either jealous or you don't have any time to hang out with a significant other. Not to mention once you take out of the running the gay dancers, those that are attached, and those that just - excuse the expression, but it's the truth - screw any girl that's stupid enough to get involved with them, you have a pretty small pool of available men. So I really didn't get to date much, and with some of the rivalry, you don't always have too many friends. But dancing was fantastic, and it made up for it most of the time."
"Ugh." Said Rocky. "I understand the part about dating, though. Man, you would think that a guy with all sorts of domestic skills, a great sense of humor, and that's always disappearing mysteriously at bad times would have girls flocking to him!"
Mariah laughed. "Oh, come on. It can't be that bad."
"Oh, yes it can," said Rocky. "The last time I had a date, I was finally getting to know and like Jaimi. Then the scrap heap attacked and by the time I got back, she was flaming mad. It sort of ended pretty quickly from there." His dark brown eyes took on a puppy-dog expression as he looked at her, but the effect was ruined when he was unable to keep his lips from turning upward into a smile. "Hey," he inquired, changing the subject, "Are you going to Jason's house tonight with the rest of the gang?"
Mariah nodded. "It sounds like it'll be fun."
Rocky grinned. "Of course it will be. Well, I've got to go, I see Billy over there, and he's supposed to tutor me this afternoon, but see you later!" He bounded away. Mariah smiled and decided to walk home. Billy approached her just then.
"Hey, Mar. How are you?"
"Pretty good. How are you?"
"Good. I'm tutoring Rocky, so I'd better go over there now, but I wanted to say hi. You are going to Jason's tonight, right?"
"Yeah, I'll be there. See you then."
Billy hugged her lightly. "See you then," he whispered, planting a light kiss on her cheek that made her shiver slightly.
Going back over to Rocky, Billy sat down and opened Rocky's trigonometry book. "So what exactly is this test over? Sins, cosines, tangents, and their associated equations in reference to the curves they create, right?"
"Yes," grumbled Rocky reluctantly. "It might as well have been written in Sanskrit for all I can understand of that gobbledy-gook. Sorry, I know you dig it, but I just don't get it."
Billy couldn't resist smiling at that. "It's fine. Now, look at problem one. If you take the cosine..."
Once they had worked for an hour, headway had been made. It was time for a break before starting the next hour of studying. "I'm NEVER gonna get this!" said Rocky melodramatically flinging his hands into the air. "How come CALCULUS is so much fun for you and I can't even figure out trig?"
Billy looked at him quizzically. "I never said calculus was FUN. I may have said it was easy for me at some point, but I don't think I ever referred to it as a preferred activity."
Rocky shot Billy a look. "You do quantum physics in your spare time. I'm sure that involves calculus."
"Yes, but you miss the fundamental point. With physics you can figure out most functions of the natural world. Calculus is merely one step in that discovery process."
Rocky threw his hands up. "I rest my case. I bow at your feet, oh god of the trig universe. You're a genius, you know that, right?"
Billy couldn't resist laughing at Rocky's statement. He knew that no matter how jokingly it was couched, Rocky's admiration was genuine, and he appreciated it. "Hey, how was your date with Jaimi?"
Rocky groaned. "Awful. If Mondo causes one more break up for me, I am going to fly to his stupid palace and take him out."
"Oh, that bad. I'm sorry."
"Wasn't it you who had dates with Marge, Tamara, and at least one other eligible girl interrupted?"
Billy groaned. "Yes. Violet got stuck with my evil clone! Then of course, the whole Cestria fiasco...suffice it to say that I've never done too well in the girlfriend department."
"Join the club. But at least you have Mariah now. She seems really nice." Rocky nodded approvingly.
A blush crossed Billy's face along with a smile. "Mar is amazing. But now we'd better get back to studying."
Rocky groaned anew. "All right. What kind of torture do we have now?"
Tommy was bored. Very bored. He'd already worked out that day, though he would have been up for a sparring match if he could have found a partner. He knew that he ought to finish some reading for school, but he figured he could do it tomorrow. Mariah was heaven-only-knew where, Adam had had a dentist appointment, Billy and Rocky were working on math, Jason was hanging out with Kat, and Kim was taking a badly needed nap. Tommy considered again. No, wait. Kat had promised to help her mom with something or other during the afternoon, so Jason was probably free. There were some things he needed to discuss with Jason that Tommy didn't feel comfortable telling any one else on the team, with the possible exception of Billy. But Billy was busy, so he meandered toward Jason's house, taking his time and soaking in the sunlight. Once he reached it, he saw Jason sitting on the porch, half studying, half enjoying the nice weather. "Hey!" Tommy called. "You up to anything?"
"Nah, I was looking over my French homework, but hey - how are you?"
"Okay. Sort of bored. Until they finish the work on my jeep, I'm sort of stuck begging my parents to get a car to drive, and Mom had to do some shopping."
Jason nodded. "Driving over those cogs, huh?"
Tommy groaned. "It was the only alternative. It's just that the insurance company is starting to get a little annoyed. My family's had bad luck with cars being damaged - every car we've had, one attack or another it gets messed up. That's why it's taken so long to get fixed. The jeep sat in the mechanic's lot for three weeks and now the insurance finally gave them the go-ahead to fix it. My father is ready to strangle some people for it taking so long!"
"You could have fixed it faster!"
"Yeah, I could have done the body work and the replacement of the parts, but there were some pretty expensive parts damaged. Besides, with my dad, it got personal. I'm convinced he would have left it alone if some idiot at the insurance agency hadn't all but accused him of trying to perpetrate fraud!"
"I bet that pissed your dad off...he takes such stock in honesty, and then to be accused of lying!"
Tommy laughed. "Oh, yeah! But it's getting done and paid for now, that's the important thing. How are things going with Kat?"
"Great. She's a lovely woman, and I'm hoping this relationship works out - maybe permanently."
Tommy raised his eyebrows. Even when Jason had been dating Emily seriously, he'd never heard the mention of anything permanent cross his friend's lips. "Whoa, man. You think Kat is the one?"
"Didn't say that. Just said that I hoped she was. There's a big difference, and she and I will have to be dating a lot longer before I'll even get to thinking seriously about that. It just hasn't escaped my notice that we work amazingly together."
Tommy nodded. That made sense. "The Machine Empire's stepping up their attacks again." He said, segueing into an opportunity to talk to Jason about his worries.
"Yeah, I noticed. They sent two monsters, cogs, and managed to kidnap Adam and Tanya the other day. I was pretty worried about that, and I know Billy was looking at the zord weaponry and he's working on a way to up your firepower."
"They scare me more than anything I've ever faced. I mean, I'm not scared during battle, but sometimes I look back and think that we got pretty lucky. That feeling that there was some sort of random element involved - luck, chance, fate, whatever you call it - terrifies me."
Jason sighed. "There's always that element, and you know it. We have a lot of skill, which we rely on. But we've also had some very lucky breaks. There's only so much you can control, you know."
"I just wish I could control more. After I became the White Ranger, I never used to feel that way - out of control, you know. And then everything happened so fast: Rita and Zedd joined forces, the Machine Empire came, Billy and you both nearly died... "
Jason looked at Tommy. "I accepted that there were a lot of things out of my control early on. I just did my best to do all I could to prevent evil from taking over, and worked with the team. Recently, I got a reminder of just how close we've come to being killed. Surprisingly, while losing the Gold Powers and the brush with death in that situation were reminders, they weren't the main one. You remember my old rivalry with Goldar, of course? I've never forgotten that moment in the dimension of darkness where he vowed to hunt me until he'd killed me. Every time we'd fight, he'd take me on. One time, just after that..." Jason trailed off for a moment. It was something he'd never told the rest of the team, it had shaken him so badly. "I was coming out of the Youth Center, and I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Goldar. I looked back, and nothing was there. But everywhere I went, I would see him, just for brief instants at a time, never long enough to morph or fight. One night, I was up in my room trying to get to sleep, and the entire time, I could have sworn something was staring at me. I kept chalking it up to nerves, since I was pretty stressed at the time. Eventually, the incidents decreased, and then I handed over my powers to go to Switzerland. Even there, I'd see Goldar every once in awhile, always half-shadowed or hidden. Finally, when I came back, it stopped entirely. After losing the Gold Powers, I became oddly curious about whether those visions had been hallucinations, so I told Zordon the whole story and asked if I was making stuff up. Zordon just went very, very quiet. Then he told me that he was indeed aware that Goldar had been stalking me for years. It wasn't that he didn't want to do anything, more that he couldn't. Goldar wasn't harming me, he wasn't doing anything, and he was always gone before I could have morphed. To attack offensively instead of defensively is against the ranger's code of action, and since Goldar wasn't aggressively challenging me, Zordon's hands were tied, figuratively speaking. Eventually, Goldar gave up after the losing his memory incident. He had all but forgotten his vow to destroy me, and had stopped bothering to track me. Zordon says that after Rita and Zedd were overthrown by the Machine Empire Goldar also lost a significant amount of power so that he probably couldn't even destroy me now. Still, it's a creepy feeling to know that he followed me around for so long."
Tommy shivered. That was the stuff of his worst nightmares. "I guess you're right," he said, casting his glance down and lowering his voice. "But I felt like it was my fault, that maybe I wasn't leading the team well enough."
Jason shook his head. "You're doing a great job. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You can't control what Mondo does or doesn't do. By the way, Kat and I were talking earlier about Rocky."
Feeling reassured, Tommy was ready to turn his attention from himself to Rocky. "What about Rocky?"
"Have you noticed that he's been sort of - well, 'subdued' was the word Kat used - lately?"
Tommy had noticed that. On outings with the team, Rocky had either been ultra hyper or he'd been thinly veiling annoyance for a while. Then lately, he'd just not been...Rocky. "Now that you say something, yeah, I have. Any ideas?"
"Beats me," said Jason. "I was hoping you might know something."
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"Just wanted to make sure that I wasn't reading too much into it. I don't know that it's anything serious, but it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on him."
The guys sat for a moment in silence. Jason drew a deep breath. "Emily came home the other day."
Tommy looked at him. After all he'd said about Katherine, Tommy doubted that Jason had any feelings for Emily. But he wanted to make certain. "You don't..." he began. Jason cut him off.
"Oh, no, nothing like that. When Em and I broke up, she was decent about it. She said we didn't have the chemistry, or something like that. Now, looking back, I can see what she meant. But at the time, I was...not quite in love with her, but pretty close. I loved her as a friend, and was really starting to think I loved her as a romantic partner too, but then she told me it wasn't working out. Now that I actually think about it, I'm glad. Kat and I work much better as a couple. It's not even that it so much hurts when I see her, it's...weird. I'm just not ready to really be friends with her yet."
"Yeah, that happened to me when Kat and I broke up. Those first weeks were really hard. And this is your first time seeing Emily since you broke up. It's going to be a little strange. But if you want my advice, just leave it alone. Eventually it won't be so odd to run into each other."
"I'm more worried about Kat..." Jason trailed off. He knew how skittish Kat was on the subject of his ex. He couldn't say he blamed her, but seeing Emily around was likely to put her on the defensive. "I'm just going to have to be extra nice this week," he declared. "Be courteous to Emily, but pay some special attention to Kat."
Tommy nodded. It sounded like a firm plan to him.
After wrapping up his study session with Billy, Rocky decided to walk home from the Youth Center instead of riding with his friend. He needed some time before reaching the chaos of his household and going to Jason's that evening. He was both looking forward to and dreading hanging out tonight. He was pleased with the movie choice - a Bruce Lee flick, and his friends could always be counted on to be interesting. All the displays of affection, whether covert or obvious, that were likely to be going on when you got four couples together did not appeal to him at all. As Rocky headed out, a blonde girl caught his eye. He swiveled his head to look at her, she had struck him as vaguely familiar. When she smiled at him, he placed her immediately: Emily, Jason's ex-girlfriend. Rocky smiled back at her. "Hey." She called to him.
Rocky walked over to her. "How are you doing? Haven't seen you around in awhile!" He slipped almost automatically into 'charming' mode. As time drew on, they kept talking, eventually sitting down at a table and ordering drinks. Rocky could have sworn Emily was almost...was she really?...flirting with him! No way, he thought to himself. Not a chance. Rocky looked down at the watch built into his communicator. "Oh, man! I'm supposed to be over at Jason's in five minutes to watch a movie with the others."
Emily looked at him, opening her blue eyes wide. Rocky was still fiddling with his communicator, and thus missed the eager look in her eyes. "Jason's?"
"I know he's your ex, but he's one of my good friends."
"Don't worry about that. Jason and I are civil to each other, and it was a really long time ago. By the way, what are you doing after your movie?"
Rocky's jaw dropped. What in the world? Was she asking him out? His better judgment reminded him that even if she was, she was off limits. But she was being so nice to him, Rocky reasoned. "Well, I suppose I could just call the others and let them know I'm not going if you want to do something."
"I wouldn't want you to do that!" Emily protested.
"They won't miss me." Rocky grinned. At least this way he wouldn't be single for the evening, AND he wouldn't have to hang out on the lovey-dovey mush his friends seemed so bent on indulging in. He bolted up and grabbed the phone.
At the Scott's, Adam who was next to the phone answered. "Hello?"
"Adam? It's Rocky."
"Where are you? We've been waiting."
"Sorry about that. Don't wait on me, I might drop by later, but I'm going to do something else this evening."
Adam stared at the phone. While Rocky was happy-go-lucky, it was unusual for him to blow off plans at the last second. "What are you doing?"
Fine, thought Adam. You don't want to tell me, do you? I'll let you go this once, but tomorrow you're going to have some explaining to do. Aloud, he said "Well okay. But we'll miss you. 'Bye."
"See you later."
Adam hung the phone up. "That was Rocky. He's got other plans, apparently, so he won't make it for the movie."
Kat shot a glance at Jason as if to say 'see what I mean?' Jason shot a similar glance to Tommy who looked around. "Is Rocky all right?"
Adam sighed. He wasn't sure what exactly had possessed his friend lately. "I'm not sure."
"I wonder if he got a date," Billy said thoughtfully. "Sort of out of thin air this afternoon, he started talking about how he and Jaimi hadn't worked out and dating in general."
"Well, let's let him be for tonight," said Tanya pragmatically. "Whether he's on a date or he just had a family situation or something like that, we can talk to him tomorrow. It didn't seem like he was particularly forthcoming when he was talking to Adam - the conversation was so short. Give him an evening, but then I want to make sure we go see him, just in case something is wrong." Her suggestion won out, and they started the movie.
Across town at the park, Rocky and Emily were walking along the worn paths. "I had a great time," she said smiling. "That restaurant - Jillian's - was good."
Rocky took her hand in his. "I'm glad." He leaned down just a little and daringly touched his lips to hers. Emily responded fully, pulling him into a long embrace. "Wow" murmured Rocky when they broke apart.
"That was great," said Emily looking up at him coyly. Rocky thought fleetingly that he'd seen something in the expression he didn't like, but it had passed so quickly he gave it no more time.
He wordlessly reached down and kissed her again.
Jason woke up the next morning feeling mildly cranky for some reason unknown to him. He dressed and went to church with his parents and Billy, as per his usual Sunday custom. After church, he got started on his homework. About two o'clock, he glanced at the time. Surely, he thought, Rocky would be back from Mass by now, if he had gone that morning with his family at all. Jason picked up the phone and dialed. Busy. He decided to call back later. Maybe it would be better if he left it to Adam, who knew Rocky better than he did. He'd always gotten along with his replacement and liked Rocky very well, but he didn't have quite the same bond with Rocky that he did with Billy and Tommy.
Adam headed for the DeSantos household once he figured the DeSantoses would be back from Mass. Striding up the front steps, he rang the bell. A small earthquake sounded, and Adam chuckled, standing back from the coming onslaught. The door flew open, about three of Rocky's siblings behind it. "Rocino! Es su amigo Adam!" shouted Diego.
A minute later, a slightly harassed looking Rocky came flying down the stairs. "Adam! Hey, I was just finishing something up. Come on upstairs, we can go in my room where there'll be relative peace." At that moment, the phone rang.
"Just a second" said Rocky, grimacing. "Go on up if you want."
Adam was about to obligingly head up the stairs when he caught wind of Rocky's conversation with the caller. "Oh, yes. No, no, I'm free tonight if you want to just hang out. Yeah, last night was incredible! Okay, see you then!"
Adam shot Rocky a slightly startled look. Rocky returned his gaze. "Upstairs. Then we'll talk."
Once they were situated in Rocky's room, Adam got straight to the point. Normally it would have made him uncomfortable to be so obviously prying, but this was one of his best friends, and he was intrigued. "Where were you?"
Rocky grinned ear-to-ear. "I had a date! Adam, she is the most incredible girl I've ever dated. Not like all those other ones. I mean, she's already dated one of us, so she won't respond so badly when I get called off!"
Adam's head jerked up. The only two single girls he could think of that would understand the commitment to rangerhood were Trini and Aisha, and that was just impossible. "Who?"
"What?!" Adam couldn't believe it. That was Jason's ex! Yes, they'd broken up over two months ago, but Adam knew that it had stung Jason badly. Emily had been polite, but to the point: it wasn't working. It had actually been a surprisingly amicable break up. Jason had still been pretty hurt over it, the hurt only recently assuaged when he and Kat had started dating. Still, thought Adam, I doubt he's going to be pleased by this. He knew that Jason was truly smitten with Kat, and would never have wanted Emily back under any circumstances, but just like Kat had had some trouble when Kim had come back, it was always hard to have your ex dating a friend or someone you were around on a regular basis. "Rocky, do you think that's a good idea?"
Rocky shrugged. "She's nice." It was a simple but effective way of cutting off that avenue of conversation to a polite person.
Adam had his own opinion on the suitability of Rocky's choice. Emily seemed a decent girl, but you just didn't date your close friend's exes, for heavens' sakes! Adam wisely kept it to himself and decided to leave the subject of Rocky's dating life well enough alone. "Say, how's your reading for Mrs. Appleby going?" The afternoon passed quickly, but Adam felt a strong desire to get out and fast. He wasn't sure how the situation was going to play out with Jason - on one hand, Jason was so calm. On the other, he'd been hurt badly. Whatever, it was going to have to be broken with tact to Jason, which, Adam thought somewhat affectionately, Rocky had never been too good at. That was one of Rocky's best and worst characteristics: you always knew what he was thinking on a given subject and where you stood with him, but he could be blunt about it.
After leaving the DeSantos home, Adam pondered what to do next. He knew he ought to tell someone, but he wasn't sure whom. Jason himself was out of the question. Tommy was a good friend of Jason's and a decent guy, but Adam wasn't quite as comfortable with him. Not Kat, why would she want to hear about Jason's ex? Adam knew that after the Tommy disaster she was still sensitive to things like that. Tanya? Maybe, but she wasn't connected with Jason as much. Billy? Perfect, thought Adam. He headed for the Cranston residence.
Billy answered Adam's knock. "Oh, hi Adam. Come on in, I'm just finishing up fixing one of the medical scanners." The two walked into Billy's lab, where Billy took up the device and a couple of tools. A few twists, turns, and splices, and the device beeped to life. "There." Said Billy, putting it down. "What's going on?"
"I found out where Rocky was last night."
"Where? I'm assuming from your tone that it's not a good place."
"Well, whether it's honestly good or bad depends on a few factors. Like how comfortable Jason is with Rocky dating his ex."
Billy drew in a breath sharply. "Hmmm..." He thought carefully. "This is Emily we're talking about, right?"
Billy flashed Adam a look. "I suppose there are worse things he could do. But I don't think Jason will be happy, to put it one way."
"I didn't think so. I mean, he's over her. But being forced to hang out with her on a regular basis if she and Rocky hit it off? That's a whole different matter. I know he's happy with Kat. But I've noticed how hard it was on Kat to watch Tommy start dating again even though she didn't like Tommy in that way any more. And those two had a good working relationship to begin with that they could build off of so that they could stand each other on a regular basis and redevelop their former friendship after they broke up."
"This is true. But Jason and Emily DID part on speaking terms, even though it really broke Jase's heart."
"So what do we do?"
Billy sighed. "Try to break it to him gently. And I mean, there's a really good chance that he'll take it just fine. He's settled and happy, he still can stand Emily, and he'd never deny Rocky the opportunity to be happy if that's what Rocky really wants."
The next morning, Adam got up and pushed his wild black hair out of his face. I ought to get it cut, he thought to himself. Showering, breakfasting, and remembering to grab his book that he'd worried about forgetting on the step, he got into his car and drove to school. When he got there, he made a beeline for Tanya. "Hi, Tanya. How are you?"
"I'm fine. Not quite finished reading, but I'll be okay in class. Hey, there's Rocky! And...Emily?" Tanya sounded slightly shocked. "Isn't she the one who dumped Jason?"Adam nodded, but before he could do anything, he saw Jason, Tommy, Kim and Kat walk into view. So much for breaking it gently. Moment of truth, he thought, holding his breath.
Jason's facial expressions coursed through a series of disbelief, shock, horror, and settled on a rather impassive poker face. Still, like the gentleman he was, Jason was polite. "Good morning, Rocky, Emily."
Emily smiled. "Hey Jase," she said. "How are you?" Jason was surprised at how difficult it really was to have to interact with his ex. And they'd parted civilly. He did not envy couples who had messy break ups and then got stuck being close to each other.Rocky was smiling as well. He wrapped his arms around Emily. It wasn't to be mean, though if truth had been told, there was a kernel of jealousy in the whole thing. He was telling all those couples that he too, had a girlfriend now! His own hurt feelings at having felt left out for the past month were bubbling up inside, and looking at Jason's drawn face, he felt a tiny prick of nasty satisfaction as well as some accompanying guilt. Rocky was not prepared for what happened next. Jason looked him straight in the eye and said "Congratulations, Rocky." Rocky knew he meant it. He hoped for both Rocky's and Emily's happiness, despite his own personal reservations. It deflated Rocky entirely. Maybe this had not been such a good idea. Rocky reminded himself, not untruthfully that he really did like Emily and that this had not been designed to upset Jason. Still, he felt a bit of guilt as well as a mild unease. Emily was smiling softly at Jason.
Jason was not the only one on edge. Katherine watched the interaction carefully. What if he still likes Emily? She wondered to herself. Stop it, Kat, you're being silly. Jason's over her. Her natural caution and suspicion kicked in, and she had to fight to keep tears out of her eyes. I'm just being dumb, she reassured herself as Jason slid his arm around her waist and they headed for class.
By the time lunch rolled around, Kat was a wreck. Tanya stared at her friend. Normally, Kat was cool and collected, but today she looked awful. Tanya put a protective arm around Kat's shoulders and sighed. "Jason's not going to dump you for Emily, hon."
Kat shrugged off Tanya's arm. She looked as if she were about to say something, but then turned and ran out of the cafeteria. Tanya followed, catching up to Kat at last in the ladies' room. "Kat?"
"Go away." Said a tear-roughened voice from one of the stalls.
"No, I'm not going to go away. What is going on?"
Kat swung the door open finally. "Did you see the way he looked at her? It was that same stupid look that Tommy used to get on his face every time someone would mention Kim. How would YOU know that Jason doesn't want her back, any way? Tommy denied that he still loved Kim right up until he slipped up."
Tanya groaned. She had suspected that the wreckage Kat had suppressed from the Tommy disaster would surface the moment she'd seen Rocky and Emily together and had seen Jason's shock. Jason's reaction, in Tanya's opinion, had been appropriate, but she could see how a girl who had had her trust ripped to shreds in a similar situation would be interpreting every interaction her boyfriend and his ex had as a potential chance for them to get back together. And while she loved her best friend, Tanya knew that one of Kat's faults was a mild jealous streak. Rita had apparently played on it when Kat had been turned evil, using Kat's crush on Tommy to turn her against Kimberly. Tanya had rarely seen the streak herself, but every once in a while it would flare up, especially when Kat felt defensive or unsure. "Kat," she said, looking directly into Kat's eyes, "You've either got to trust him, or not. Sometimes when you trust people, especially in love, you get hurt. There's no way around it. The more deeply you love them, the worse it'll feel if it doesn't work out. But do you really want to abandon that wonderful relationship with Jason because there's a tiny chance he'll screw it up and hurt you? That's no way to live life!"
Kat blew her nose. Tanya wet a paper towel for Kat so that she could wipe mascara streaks off her face, and then sighed. "I know it's hard. But I'm sure Jason's over Emily." Tanya had talked to Tommy during first hour, and Tommy had recounted Jason's intentions from the previous day to take some special time with Kat, to reassure her. Tanya had been impressed. "Give him a chance, Kat."
Kat nodded. Tanya was right. In her heart, she knew she had nothing to make her suspicious of Jason.
True to his word, Jason behaved himself admirably. He took Kat to a play, something he had no interest in on one evening, called her every night to say good-night, and made sure to treat her with the utmost courtesy and respect.
After school on Friday, all of the rangers except for Tommy and Kim walked toward the park for volleyball. Emily tagged along with Rocky. The tension was beginning to dissipate. Kat, while still not completely comfortable with Emily being so close, was beginning to relax at last.
Adam was nervous. Something didn't feel right about the whole thing. Rocky and Emily had hit it off, yeah, but it had progressed so fast! Emily was always around now, it seemed. Meeting Billy and Mariah at the courts, both of them sensed the atmosphere. "Who's that?" whispered Mariah to Billy, indicating Emily.
"Jason's ex. He was always nice to her, and they actually parted on decent terms, but I think it's hard for him to be around her so much. She was his first real girlfriend."
"Kat looks like she'd like to burst into tears."
"Yeah, the whole situation with Tommy...it hurt her a lot."
Mariah sighed. "She wrote me about what had happened. At the time I vowed revenge on that Tommy guy if I ever met him. Then he turned out to be my brother, and despite his failings, a pretty decent guy. What were the odds of my being related to him, I mean? Still, I don't blame her for being a little edgy. Hanging out socially with your boyfriend's ex except for in special situations is not high on most people's lists for great activities."
The teams chose up sides and began the game. Several matches passed uneventfully. Everyone went to go take a break and grab drinks and towels. It was warm and they'd been playing hard. Jason sighed. He'd get used to having Emily around, he told himself. But for the moment, he just wanted to be alone to think. He wandered off a little ways, not hearing the footsteps that followed him. "Hey there," he heard.
Jason whipped around, startled. "Oh, hi Emily."
"Hi Jason. Look, I wanted to talk to you."
Jason nodded. He wanted to be at least comfortable around her, and part of that process was listening to what she had to say. He began to speak, but was cut off abruptly as strong, slender arms grasped him and lips pressed against his. Jason blinked, too shocked to do or say anything. At last, he managed to push Emily away. "What are you doing?"
"It's not working out as well as I'd hoped with Rocky. I've realized that I made a big mistake in breaking up with you. There's just no one that could compare to you."
Jason began to speak, but before he could get a sentence or even a word out, he heard a strangled cry. Standing about ten feet away was Katherine. Her face was so white she looked like she might faint, and tears were splashing onto her cheeks. "Kat..." he began.
"Oh, SHUT UP! I don't want to hear it!" She turned and ran.
"Kat! Wait!" Jason shouted after her. He turned to Emily. "What are you trying to do, huh?" He breathed deeply. Fury was bubbling in him, a sensation he was not used to feeling.
Emily looked him. "I want you back..." she began.
"Well I don't want you back. You are or were with my friend. I'd NEVER do that to him. And I'm with Kat, who is one of the sweetest girls I've ever known."
Emily began to speak, but Jason cut her off. "You hurt my friend and the woman I love. Would you mind leaving after you explain to Rocky? Please?" He asked pointedly. Emily, knowing defeat when she saw it, turned and walked away.
Jason hightailed it in the direction he'd seen the girls flee. Stumbling over to them, he could hear Kat sobbing painfully and Mariah and Tanya trying to comfort her. "Kat, it's not what you think..."
"Maybe it's exactly what I think." Sobbed Kat. "You...you KISSED her!"
Tanya gasped. "Jason, you didn't!"
Jason thought. He knew it hadn't been his fault - he hadn't invited it or wanted it, but it was unlikely that Kat would believe him. "I'm sorry, Katherine. I had no idea that it was going to happen that way. When Emily said she wanted to talk, I thought that she just wanted to make sure that we were okay with each other while she dated Rocky." The look in his midnight eyes broke Mariah's heart. She was sure that Jason wasn't lying. Before she could react, a streak of blue came flying at Jason.
Rocky didn't even speak. He just lashed out, and Jason in his confusion and hurt was too shocked to counter him. Mariah jumped up. "Don't touch me," spat Rocky.
Mariah didn't want Rocky to go any further than he had. She effectively grabbed him and pinioned him. Rocky tried to break free, but Mariah's black belt in Tae Kwon Do came in handy in restraining him. "Calm down. The one you should be mad at is Emily, apparently." Once she was sufficiently convinced that Rocky wouldn't attempt to harm Jason again, she let him go. "I'm sorry, Rocky."
"Yeah, you and everyone else. Well, you have someone special. I'm stuck trying to watch the rest of you get cozy with each other." With that, Rocky strode off.
Jason groaned. So that had been it. He didn't blame Rocky, he'd been single long enough that he knew how Rocky felt. Especially when he'd had to watch Tommy and Kim act ridiculously in love with each other when he was still the Red Ranger, he could remember being happy for them, but had twinges in his heart of jealousy for that special relationship they shared.
He turned back to Kat. "Sweetheart..."
"Don't you sweetheart me! Just go. Get out. Leave me alone."
Jason dipped his head to prevent the girls from seeing the tears in his own eyes. "As you will it." He walked away.
The weekend and following week was a nightmare. Kat's eyes were ringed with red and were bloodshot from crying so much. Jason didn't even feel like sparring with his friends. The tension was evident, and no one knew quite what to do. Mariah was worried. She would have been the first to decry Jason, and from everything Kat had told her, it certainly appeared that Jason was guilty. But she knew from his face that he wasn't lying either when he had denied that he was cheating. Mariah was sitting in Billy's garage a week after the fateful incident. She looked at her boyfriend, who was tinkering with some nameless device at the table and decided to voice her thoughts. Billy knew Jason better than just about any one. "Jason's not lying, is he? About the whole Emily situation." she asked. "He doesn't strike me as the cheating type, and I saw his face when he denied it. He was honest."
Billy looked up from his project and set it down. He loved hanging out with Mariah. They went on dates, of course, and hung out with the others, but there were some afternoons where Mariah would bring her latest book, and he'd be putting around his lab, and they'd just enjoy the other's company, sometimes talking, sometimes not. He came over and sat down beside her. "You're right. Something's really bizarre about this situation. I've heard Kat's story, and Rocky's furious, but I've known Jason since we were ten. And I believe that he did love Kat, so why would he cheat with Emily, knowing how much it would hurt her?"
Mariah nodded. "Kat's one of the best friends I have. Normally, she has good judgment, but I think this time she's off base. She's still freaked over the way my brother dumped her, and that means she's not thinking the clearest. It's so hard to see her like this. She's such a good, decent person. And," Mariah added in frustration, "There's nothing Tanya or I can do to convince her to believe Jason when he told her that he wasn't cheating."
Billy wrapped her in his arms. He recalled how intensely painful Cestria's cheating had been for him, and knew how Kat had to be feeling. Yet still...Jason was one of his best friends, his 'big bro'. Billy had looked up to Jason for years. It seemed inconceivable that Jason would sink so low.
Katherine was sitting in her bedroom on her bed, her stuffed cat pillow clutched to her chest. One week ago. One whole week ago it had happened. She had known all along that it was. "How could I have trusted him?" she wondered aloud. A knock sounded at her bedroom door. "Come in" she called listlessly, assuming it was Tanya, Mariah, or Kim trying to cheer her up. She was not prepared for the sight she beheld when the door opened. A blonde in a jogging suit walked over to Kat. Emily. "Get OUT!" cried Kat. This was just too much!
"All I'm asking is that you hear me out, then I'll leave."
Kat glared fiercely. "Fine. What do you want to tell me?"
Emily took a seat on the floor. "I wanted to tell you that Jason loves you."
Kat was taken completely aback. "What?" Her mind screamed that it was a cruel trick, not to listen, but her wounded heart compelled her to at least check the possibility.
"Jason loves you. He told me. Just after I kissed him and you ran off. He called you, and I quote, 'the woman that I love'."
Kat glared. "How do I know you're not lying?"
Emily shrugged. "I'm not going to be dishonest. I wanted him back, and I would have stolen him if I could have. I just thought you ought to know that if Jason told you that I kissed him and not vice-versa, he was telling you the truth, much as it pains me to say it." She got up and left the room before Kat could respond.
Shocked, Kat sank back down onto the bed.
Across town, Rocky DeSantos had all but returned to his normal routine, except that he was still mad as anything at Jason. Yet another break-up, he thought bitterly. And Jason's got TWO girls going after him. It was an unpleasant sensation, thought Rocky. Just then, he heard Ignacio yelling for him. "What now?!" he grumbled and stomped over to where he had heard Ignacio. "What is going on?" he addressed the boy.
"Theresa took my Lego and she won't give it back. I need that piece to finish my super-death-star destroyer craft."
"He started it!" shrieked Theresa. "He called me a stupid girl!"
Rocky glared. "Can't you two just get along? Diego, apologize to your sister. Theresa, give him his toy. Okay?"
"I'm IGNACIO, not Diego. I'm sorry, Theresa." Grumped Ignacio.
Theresa dropped Ignacio's Lego piece onto the floor reluctantly and walked out.
Rocky headed back to his room, when all of a sudden little Rosa attached herself to his leg. "Rockeeeeee! Will you read to me?"
Rocky didn't feel like reading, but at least it would be something beyond obsessing over his dating life. He reached down and detached Rosa, hefting her into his arms. "All right, come on. Let's go find a book."
Rosa's tiny arms clung to Rocky's shoulders. All of a sudden, she reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Rocky," she declared with a little girl's unashamed way of expressing her feelings as they occurred.
Rocky felt the clouds of bitterness and disappointment depart as Rosa snuggled against his shoulder. He gently kissed the top of her head. "I love you too, Rosa." Then the thought occurred to him. Jason was an only child. He'd never had this unique experience with a younger sibling. Rocky sighed softly. He knew that while his friends had loving families, they typically didn't have more than two siblings, and there were quite a number of only-children like Jason, Kat, Kim, Billy, and before discovering David and Mariah, Tommy. At that moment, Rocky felt jealous no longer. Yes, they had their boyfriends and girlfriends, but he had his wonderful, large family. It didn't completely ease the rancor of Emily's betrayal and use of him to get close to Jason, but it helped.
And, he thought, with a familiar grin, Jaimi didn't call it off entirely. She just was mad at having yet another date ruined. I know that Monday she chose to be my lab partner in chemistry, so maybe she doesn't hate me after all...
Kat's fingers shook as she tried to dial Jason's number. She dialed six digits, and then hung the phone back up. If Emily hadn't been lying, then she had made a serious mistake. Finally she grabbed her shoes and a jacket. This wasn't something to do over the phone. "Mom, I'm going out! I'll be back in about two hours probably."
Walking through the darkening streets, Kat felt miserable. What if this was some sort of awful prank? What if Jason was busy? Or even worse, angry?
With a swirling mixture of dread and anticipation, Kat knocked on the Scott's door. Mary Scott answered. "Oh, hello Katherine. Come on in, I'll get Jason."
Kat stood, adrenaline rushing through her. Just then, she saw a figure descending the stairs. Jason. Her heart skipped a beat as he looked toward her, surprise written on his face. "Hi, Jason" she managed to get out.
"Hi," said Jason slowly. "What...what's going on?" Kat had ignored him furiously for the last week. She'd been graceful through the Tommy debacle, through Kim's return, but this had been too much. Jason was surprised to see her not visibly angry.
"Can we talk?"
Jason nodded. "Let's go out on the porch."
Once they had sat down, Kat looked at him. "How are you?" she asked, at a loss for words.
Jason stared at Kat. He didn't see her car, and he didn't think she'd walked all the way over to shoot the breeze with him. "Kat, I don't know exactly why you're here. But could you tell me instead of pretending everything is fine?" His tone was strangely neutral. He betrayed no hope in it, but no anger either.
Encouraged by the absence of anger in his tone, Kat spoke. "I owe you an apology. I shouldn't have doubted you, I've treated you horridly and I'm sorry."
Now Jason was surprised. "Why the sudden turn of mind?"
"Emily came to see me today. Said you...didn't do anything."
Jason blinked in complete bewilderment. I'm not even going to ask, he thought. Sometime, someday, I'll get the whole story, but this is not the time to do it. "I'm sorry that you had to go through that, Kat."
Kat looked at him quietly. "Can we go back to being 'us' again?"
A thoughtful look crossed Jason's visage. Did he really want her back? He asked himself. It had hurt more than he'd ever dreamed possible when she'd broken up with him so angrily. And yet, the sincerity in her voice, face, and eyes didn't lie when she said that she was sorry. The thing was, he'd been dreaming of this question all week. He considered for a moment more, but his genuine love for the girl broke through the hurt. "That depends on you. I love you. But there's so much mistrust there. I'm willing to trust in your sincerity right now, but I need you to trust me if we're going to be together. I know how much you've been hurt before, and what happened then with Emily was your worst nightmare. But there can't be love unless there's trust. And if you won't trust me, we can't be together no matter how much I want it. All it will lead to is heartbreak, and I'd rather be alone in that case. Think carefully before you ask me out - you may get more than you bargained for." Despite his depressing words, a faint hope fluttered in his chest.
Tears dripped down Kat's face. "Can you forgive me?"
Jason nodded wordlessly as the anger and hurt began to depart. "I can. But will you be willing to at least let me explain when things happen instead of flying off the handle immediately?"
Kat sighed. "Jason, I just want you back so much. I made an enormous mistake by not listening to you. Since you can forgive that, I know I can trust you."
Jason swept her into a tight embrace. "By the way," murmured Kat softly, "Did you say you loved me just a minute ago?"
Jason grinned from ear-to-ear. "Yes. And I'll say it again. I love you, Katherine Hillard, Sweetheart of Surrey Hill. You're my sweetheart now."
Rocky sighed. It was dark and getting late, but he had an unresolved conflict. His virulent lashing out at Jason had been undeserved, he knew that now. He might not finish making his peace with what Emily had done for longer, but he had made his peace enough to know that Jason had not been responsible. I'm going over there, he thought. I have to. I can't let this go any longer.
He got up, rummaging for his car keys and driver's license. Climbing into his blue pickup truck, he drove swiftly to Jason's.
Taillights in the driveway indicated that Jason had just returned from somewhere. Rocky parked the truck in the street, feeling uncomfortable. He walked up the driveway to find Jason getting out of the car. "Hi."
Jason started slightly. "Hey, Rocky. What's up, man?"
"Um, I wanted to apologize. For yelling at you and all. I shouldn't have."
Rocky found it harder than he'd imagined to apologize. Jason's face was unreadable in the dim light, and Rocky found himself praying that Jason didn't tell him to go to Hell. He wouldn't have blamed Jason too much if he had. Instead, Jason put out his hand. "It's okay. I know it hasn't been easy for you with all of the rest of us paired up. And I'm sorry if I made you feel left out. I was just so excited to be with this incredible girl, and I overlooked how you might be feeling. I know the others realize that now as well, and we'll all try to tone down some of the PDA in the future."
Rocky shook Jason's proffered hand. "It's just that...I've always had this stupid fantasy."
Jason nodded. "What is it?"
"That I'd meet this wonderful girl and we'd get married right out of college, and have a huge family like mine. I'd own my own dojo, and everything would be great. Being around you guys who were paired off so beautifully made me wonder if I'd ever even find a girl that appreciates a guy with incredible domestic skills, a great sense of humor, and that has an odd habit of strutting around in spandex to save the world!"
Jason laughed at the last part, but treated Rocky's fantasy with complete seriousness. "Rocky. That's not a stupid fantasy. It's a dream I've also cherished for quite some time. I don't know when or if it will come true - it's going to be quite some time before I have any plans to get married, and while owning my own business would be great, we'll see. But it is not stupid or weird."
Rocky looked at Jason with new respect. "Thanks."
"Not a problem at all."
"Are you and Kat going to get back together ever?" As soon as he said it, Rocky wished he'd thought before blurting it out.
Jason's face lit up. "We are back together." A slightly teasing expression came over his face. "When are you and Jaimi getting back together? You know that she was perfect for you, right?"
Rocky grinned. "Well, I plan on turning the charm up to warp factor 9 by Monday morning. If she's resistant to that...well, I don't have to worry. It's always worked in the past!" He flashed a huge grin at Jason. "Well, my mama will worry if I'm not home in a little while. But Jason?"