Katherine Hillard's heart pounded joyfully in her chest as she turned the rental car down the familiar streets.
*It's been so long ... I can't believe it's been two years...*
It was her first extended break from the academy, and she was anxious to see her family and friends again. Unfortunately, she hadn't told anyone that she was coming, wanting to surprise everybody. She had just assumed her parents would be there, but it turned out they were in Sydney visiting relatives. She had tried Tanya next, but she was in Africa visiting Aisha and Ashala. However, there was still one person in Angel Grove Kat was longing to see, and she knew *he* was in town.
*Tommy,* she sighed to herself.
Even though it had been two years, Kat still felt a flutter in her heart at the mere thought of those gorgeous, chocolate colored eyes and that warm smile... For some reason, Tommy Oliver captivated her as no other man had.
They had parted as friends and had even kept in touch for a while, but both had become caught up in their hectic schedules, and their correspondence had become sporadic. Kat had tried seeking out other relationships, but none had lasted very long or had been very satisfying.
*And your relationship with Tommy was?* she chided herself sarcastically. All right, so maybe things hadn't been perfect between them. She had caught Tommy on the rebound --that was a bad time to get involved with *anyone.* He had loved Kim so much, and the hurt she had caused had wounded him deeply.... Tommy's inability to let his first girlfriend go had always amazed and frustrated Kat. Still, the strength of his commitment to Kim --that a person could love someone *that* much-- had been one of the qualities that had drawn her to Tommy in the first place.
When she had been under Rita's spell, the witch used to go on and on about how nauseating true love was --implying that that's what Kim and Tommy shared. Kat could believe it; she had never seen two people so in love, and she knew that was the sort of relationship she longed to have with a man. It was the reason she had been willing to be patient with Tommy after her friends' break-up; although, it had been sad to see that relationship fall apart in the first place. Someday, Tommy would be able to let himself love again as completely as he had with Kim and Kat knew that it would be worth the wait.
She sincerely hoped that Tommy had been able to let go of Kim after all this time.
*You haven't exactly let _him_ go,* that snide inner voice reminded her, *you're hanging onto Tommy just like you did Mickey.* Kat hadn't thought of Mickey Black in years, but she had had a crush on him for ages. It had taken her a long time to accept that he wasn't interested in her. Her heart could be so stubborn sometimes. However, Kat pushed her memories of her first serious love interest aside as she turned down Tommy's street. She fully realized that Tommy might have gotten on with his life and not waited for her. She had no reason to expect that of him; after all, hadn't she called him and told him about Michael when she began dating him? He could very well be seeing someone else. Still, it was difficult not to hope...
*What's wrong with that?*
As she pulled into the Oliver driveway, she noticed that there was only one car in front of the house, and it wasn't Tommy's red 4 x 4. She was a little disappointed; before she had left, she had made sure to check Tommy's uncle's website to make sure the team wasn't on the road somewhere. As long as they were in Angel Grove, Tommy was sure to be home.
*He could be at the track,* Kat mused as she emerged from her vehicle and headed up the walk to the front door.
Tommy's mom answered her knock.
"Yes, who ... Katherine?"
"Hello, Jan." Tommy's mother hated to be called Mrs. Oliver, and it had taken Kat forever to get used to calling her by her first name. The hazel-eyed nurse with her sand colored hair hadn't changed a bit since she had seen her last. The two women hugged warmly.
"Come in," Jan invited, ushering Kat into the living room. The place brought back so many memories from the trophies and ribbons on the shelves to the profusion of photographs on the mantelpiece. They passed from the front room into the kitchen; the gesture filled Kat with a sense of warmth, security, and renewed hope. The living room was for company; the kitchen was for family.
It was like old times as Kat found the glasses and Jan poured the iced tea as they talked about what had been going on in her life: going to school in England, touring with the ballet company and now her visit home after so long. Finally, Kat got around to asking, "What's Tommy up to these days?"
"Karate, what else," Jan said with a shrug, and Kat had the impression that the other woman assumed that she knew what she was talking about. "Ever since he opened the dojo, it seems like he's always there. I was so happy when he stopped racing and settled down. If you're trying to catch Tommy, you stand a better chance of finding him at the school instead of at the house."
Tommy was no longer racing and had a place of his own? When had that happened? He never mentioned it in any of his letters; although, it had been a while...
"I'd like to go look him up now, if you don't mind," Kat said eagerly. "Where's the dojo at?"
"The mini mall in Jackson Street Plaza," Jan answered. Kat didn't notice the small frown that puckered her companion's mouth.
"Thanks, Jan; I'll see you later."
Fortunately, Kat remembered where the small shopping center was located. She was so excited for Tommy, recalling how much he always wanted to own his own dojo. *His own school, a house ... he must have done fairly well with his racing.*
The butterflies in her stomach were doing *grande jetes* as she pulled into a parking space in front of Angel Grove Martial Arts. Nervously, she tidied her windblown hair (it was too nice a day to have the windows up). Before entering, she paused by the plate glass window and peered in. Her heart skipped a beat as she spied her former teammate and boyfriend. He was as handsome as ever. Tommy was dressed in white gi trousers and tank top with a white bandana holding back his ponytail. She smiled as she caught him flipping a flyaway strand of hair out of his face before demonstrating a kick.
Catching her own reflection in the glass, Kat straightened her tank dress (in the vibrant pink Tommy said looked best on her) and tucked yet another strand of hair back in place. *Perfect.* Then, summoning her courage, she strolled into the studio.
She stood off to one side, observing Tommy's class. She noticed a second instructor and was surprised to see Tommy's brother, David. She had figured that if he had gone into business with anyone, it would have been with Jason. Kat waited patiently, then came the moment she had played and replayed in her mind ever since she had bought her plane ticket. Tommy looked up, and their eyes met across the room. A smile of surprise and delight lit his features. He told the class to take a break then rushed over to greet her, wrapping her in an effusive hug. (Okay, so she had envisioned a little more than the peck on the cheek he gave her, but still...!)
"Ohmigod, Kat!" Tommy sputtered, his joy in seeing her unfeigned and unrestrained. "I can't believe it! How've you been? When'd you get home? Man, it seems like forever..."
"Take it easy," Kat laughed, letting his enthusiasm surround her and overwhelm her. "It's so good to see you again, Tommy; I've missed you." She hadn't wanted to say so much so soon, but she couldn't help herself.
"Same here," Tommy concurred. Just then, David wandered over, and Tommy asked, "You remember my brother, don't you?"
"How could I forget?" she replied, favoring Tommy's sibling with a friendly smile.
"Hello, Katherine," David said, taking her hands and giving her an affectionate kiss of greeting. David then turned back to his brother. "I take it this means you're going to want to cut out of here early."
Tommy shrugged sheepishly. "Hey, it's not every day you have a beautiful ballerina show up on your doorstep."
"Not a problem. Go on; I'll finish up with this class," David offered.
"You'll still be coming by for dinner tonight, won't you?" Tommy asked.
"As soon as I'm done here. I'll join you guys later; I'm sure you have plenty of catching up to do."
* * *
They left Kat's car in the parking lot; she was more than happy to go for a ride in Tommy's truck (he had traded in the 4 x 4 a while ago). She made the mistake of asking Tommy about the school, and she wasn't able to get a word in edgewise as he went on about his pride and joy. She didn't mind. It made her feel good to see him so happy. If there were any shadows lurking in Tommy Oliver's life these days, she couldn't see them.
Tommy lived just a couple of blocks from the school; they probably could have walked. The house he parked in front of took Kat by surprise. It wasn't very large: single story with white siding and dark green shutters. The yard was well kept with lots of beautiful flowers. In spite of the basketball hoop affixed to the garage, the place looked much too feminine for a bachelor. All it lacked was a white picket fence.
"Come on," Tommy said, all but dragging her out of the vehicle. He was acting as if he had a great surprise he wanted to show her. Kat let herself be towed along as they entered the side door into the kitchen. The wonderful aroma of Italian cooking filled Kat's nostrils. She sighed hungrily; it had been a while since she had eaten last. As Tommy led her into the living room, she belatedly realized that if there was food cooking, someone else had to be home. *Maybe he has a roommate.*
"Tommy, is that you?" a very definitely female voice called out. Kat suddenly felt cold inside.
"Sure is, Beautiful."
"I have a surprise for you," Tommy replied. He turned to Kat and said, "Wait here." Then, he hurried down the hall.
Kat's heart felt like lead as she looked about the small living room. She hadn't noticed the pictures right away, but all of them were of a happy couple. There was one in particular of a bride and groom...
*Oh, Lord, he's married!* she realized, feeling both sick and like an utter fool. With a growing feeling of dread, she drew closer to the shelf that displayed the photos. She wondered if she knew who the woman was. Well, she had hoped he had put the past behind him and moved ahead...
*I guess he did.*
Then, Kat stepped on something that squeaked. Startled, she jumped back. However, instead of the pet toy she expected to find, she found a pink, rubber teddy bear.
"Tommy, what's going on; when can I open my eyes?"
"In a minute."
Kat spun around; she recognized that voice...
"Okay, now you can see..."
Before Kat could blink, Kimberly Hart Oliver dashed forward and flung her arms around her long-absent friend. Kat, however, was almost too numb to return the embrace. Her eyes were locked on Tommy standing back in the doorway. Balanced on his hip was a little girl maybe six months old.
"You look so good...!" Kim continued to gush, pulling away to hold Kat at arm's length, looking her up and down. "When'd you get back in town? How long are you here? How's London...?"
"Take it easy, Kim," Tommy chided gently, and Kat saw the warmth of his love glowing in his eyes ... the way they once used to whenever he looked at Kim. She felt a lump in her throat. "Kat just got in; she's probably pretty wiped from the flight..."
"I'm sorry, Kat," Kim bubbled. "Let's sit down. Can I get you something to drink?"
"S-sure," she stammered in reply, too overwhelmed to do anything but accept.
"I think someone else is wanting something to drink, too, Mommy," Tommy said as the child in his arms started fussing. Kim quickly took the girl from him.
"Kat, this is our daughter Rose --Amanda Rose Oliver." Kim beamed at her daughter. "Sweetie, this is Mommy and Daddy's good friend, Kat."
All Kat could do was stare. The child had Kim's features but Tommy's big dark eyes and a head full of mahogany hair. She was the sweetest little thing as she sucked on a tiny fist. Then, she smiled and held her arms out to Kat.
*As friendly as her mother,* Kat reflected as she automatically reached for the tot. The girl immediately went for the star necklace Kat had worn since high school.
"Did you remember to stop by the store and pick up more formula?" Kim asked Tommy as the group drifted towards the kitchen.
"I forgot," Tommy answered.
"Do you want to explain to your daughter why she won't have any dinner?" Kim queried exasperatedly. "I'm down to her last bottle."
"I'd rather change a toxic diaper," Tommy quipped. He grinned at Kat. "Hell hath no fury like a hungry baby. I'll be right back." As he headed out the door, he called back, " David's still coming to dinner."
"I'm cooking Italian; of course he's going to be here," his wife replied as if the idea of David not being there was absurd.
Kat's mind was still trying to assimilate these latest revelations of Tommy's life as Kim retrieved a bottle from the refrigerator and began warming it up. The original Pink Ranger was prattling on, seemingly heedless of Kat's state of shock. Her arms still full with Rose, Kat at last sank into a chair.
"... I so wanted to nurse Rose, but somebody just didn't like my milk, so we had no choice," Kim sighed. "Tommy thought that maybe my Ranger Powers had something to do with that."
Kat managed to extract her jewelry from the tiny fingers only to have them tug at her hair.
"... Rose is named after Tommy's birth mother and great-great-great grandmother whose wedding ring he gave me."
As Kim set two glasses of cola on the table and reached for her daughter, Kat noticed the ring in question: a beautiful solitaire set in the center of a rose in bloom.
"... of course, my mother thinks we named her Amanda' after her grandmother --my great-grandmother-- but we haven't bothered correcting the notion, have we, Sweetie?" Kim rubbed noses with her daughter then settled into a chair to begin feeding her.
Kat finally found her voice. "H-how long have you and Tommy been married?"
Kim frowned. "Didn't you get the invitation?"
"We sent you a wedding invitation; we got married last February. Rose was definitely a honeymoon baby; she was born in November."
Kat tried to think back. She had changed flats last year around Christmas, and much of her mail had been lost. She had had a devil of a time getting that straightened out.
"I never did," she confessed.
"Oh, Kat, I'm so sorry ... you must really feel lost right now."
*That* was an understatement.
"When did you get back in Angel Grove? I thought you were going to Paris to live with your mother after the Pan Globals were over." She recalled reading in the paper that Kim had won a medal.
"That's what my mother thought, too," Kim sighed, "but I couldn't go to Paris without coming home and talking to Tommy about what happened between us."
"What did happen?" Kat asked, desperate to know. "How could you have broken up with Tommy --hurt him-- like that?"
She hadn't meant to be accusatory, but she couldn't help herself. Kim winced as if the memory was still painful. Then she gave off another long sigh.
"It wasn't that I didn't love Tommy," she began, shifting her daughter around so that she rested over her shoulder as she patted her back. "I never stopped loving him. It was just that.... I had to see what it would be like to have a normal boyfriend, someone without the world to save, someone I didn't have to share with anyone else. I'd never had a serious boyfriend before Tommy, and whenever we spent time together, it always seemed like we'd be attacked or have to run off and save this or that part of Angel Grove... It wasn't so bad when we both had powers, but when Tommy first lost his and I still had mine ... it was pretty tough. So when I gave up mine to go to the Games...
"All I wanted was a chance to see what a normal life would be like. I just didn't think Tommy would understand, that's why I made all that stuff up. It was the biggest mistake of my life. As for normal...." Kim laughed, but it was tinged with a harsh edge. "It was boring. The guys just didn't have a clue. They seemed so shallow ... it was like they couldn't appreciate the little things, the quiet times. Their priorities seemed all wrong. And I couldn't talk to them like I could Tommy --that was the worst. I couldn't open up to them ... I always had to keep a part of myself hidden. When I finally came to my senses, I realized just how much I truly loved Tommy."
Kat said nothing, but Kim had just described the exact same things she had felt about dating other men.
"When I returned to Angel Grove, it was after you had left for England and the two of you had split up. Tommy was more hurt than he let on about how things had turned out for you guys; he blamed himself. And he was still pretty pissed off at me. We didn't get back together right away; in fact, when I told him what happened, we'd had the biggest fight we'd ever had --all without one of Rita's spells! I enrolled at AGU for a semester to see if he and I could work things out. Instead, he said he'd finally come to his senses and that it was about time he let me go and made a fresh start. He began dating a girl named Karen. It was awful to see them together, but I did my best to be happy for Tommy.
"At the end of the semester, I had decided to move to Paris; there was nothing for me in Angel Grove. I had gotten exactly what I'd deserved. However, the night before I was supposed to fly out, I was in the park. I met up with Tommy by the pond. He'd just broken up with Karen. It turns out he had made the same discoveries I had about dating other people and most especially that we both still loved each other and were miserable being apart. The next day at the airport, I never made it onto the plane. Tommy came to see me off and proposed."
*It's nice to know that he cared enough to regret the way things turned out between us,* Kat tried consoling herself, and she couldn't help but wonder if maybe she would have stayed, had been around when Kim explained herself, Tommy would have come to his senses and *they* would have been able to work things out. However, there was nothing to be done about that now. *You can't change the past.*
"I'm happy for you guys, truly," Kat murmured, not knowing what else to say.
* * *
"I should probably get going," Kat announced as Kim excused herself to put Rose to bed. "It's been a long day, and I'm pretty tired." All in all, it had been a pleasant evening, once she had gotten past the shocks. Tommy had returned with David, and it turned out that Kim was a very good cook. Being with her friends was something she had missed desperately, but it had been difficult watching the two together. She remembered how much she had envied their closeness when she first knew them. Now, they were closer than they had ever been. The soft looks, the touches, a kiss snuck in here and there.... It wasn't that she begrudged them their affection and happiness; it was more that she wasn't quite prepared to deal with it.
"Don't go," Tommy insisted. "Your folks are out of town, right? Where will you stay? That empty house? A motel?"
"Stay with us," Kim offered as she returned to the living room. "We can put Rose in the bassinet in our room, and you can have the day bed in hers."
"I wouldn't want to put you guys out," Kat demurred, not certain if she *could* stay.
"You wouldn't be putting us out," both insisted.
"You're always welcome at my place," David spoke up. "While I don't have a guest room, I do have a sleeper sofa."
"Thanks, you all; I really appreciate it, but...."
"I hate the thought of you staying some place all by yourself," Tommy said.
"This is really sweet, you guys, but I already have a deposit down on my room. Maybe tomorrow night, okay?"
"Will you at least come by for breakfast?" Kim asked.
"If you're cooking, can I come, too?" David piped up.
"Hey, you know you're welcome anytime," Tommy assured him --and Kat.
"Which isn't bad except at diaper changing time," David murmured in a stage whisper, making Kat grin.
"I'll be by in the morning; I promise," Kat answered.
After making her good byes and declining the offer of a ride back to the dojo, Kat stepped onto the front porch and drew in a calming breath. Her hand shook as she grasped the railing.
"Kat, are you okay?" David queried. She hadn't realized he had followed her.
"The mush get a little too thick for you?" he pursued knowingly. His words gave her a moment's pause; had she been *that* obvious? David chuckled and shook his head. "You'd think that after a year of marriage *and* a kid, the lovey-dovey stuff would have worn off, but noooo, they're as bad as ever."
"They've always been pretty mushy," Kat agreed with a smile.
"You will be by for breakfast, won't you?" David continued. "Hey, it's worth the price of admission to see the former leader of the Power Rangers with baby food in his hair."
This time, Kat laughed softly.
"We'll see how late I sleep in."
"Are you sure you don't want a ride back to your car?"
"I'm sure. It's only a couple of blocks, and it's such a nice evening.... A walk will do me good, but thank you."
"All right, I'll see you tomorrow then."
Kat gave him a friendly peck on the cheek then headed down the drive without a backward glance. She had never felt so lonely in her entire life.
She tried to hold back her tears of disappointment as she idly kicked at the pebbles in her path while she meandered down the sidewalk. She had tried so hard not to get her hopes up, so what happened...?
*It's not fair!* She raged inwardly. It wasn't fair that Tommy had given Kim a second chance and hadn't even given her a first! *I loved you as much as Kim did, and I'd never have tossed you aside just to find out what a 'normal' relationship was ... I'd never have broken your heart....*
If Tommy was so happily married, why had he greeted her as he had ... with such emotion...? He seemed so genuinely pleased to see her ... and he'd never been so unreservedly affectionate to her in all the time they had dated...
*That's because he was too afraid of being hurt again,* Kat chided herself, a part of her insisting on being reasonable about all this. Still, the last time she remembered Tommy being so open with his friendship and love was back when he was still dating Kim, secure in their relationship. It was like he was so in love with Kim that he couldn't contain it all and had to share it. Perhaps that was all he had been doing at the dojo.
*Still, I wish he hadn't built up my hopes like that ... how could he be so cruel? Doesn't he know ... couldn't he tell how much I still care...?*
Even so, she knew deep down that her disappointment was her own fault for not letting go of something that had never been hers to begin with.
*I'm being ridiculous!* Tommy was happier now than he had been in years. When she had first reached out to him, her only intent had been to ease his pain ... to make him happy. She wanted to be happy for him now --him and Kim-- she really did. She just wished it didn't have to hurt so much.
Kat paused at the corner and looked back at the cozy little house. David was still on the porch, watching. Did he really know how troubled she was? Kat dredged up a cheerful smile and waved. She supposed she could turn around and go back --accept their invitation to stay. The deposit wasn't all that much.... However, she just wasn't in the mood at the moment. Maybe tomorrow, after she had time to make peace with her shattered expectations. For now, she wanted to indulge her sorrows.
She resumed walking, turning the corner, when she heard a sound that made her blood run cold.
"Here, kitty, kitty...."
"Rita!" Kat gasped, instinctively dropping into a defensive stance. She wanted to kick herself as she only just realized how unnaturally still the evening was. If she hadn't been so bloody wrapped up in her pouting.... What was that witch doing here? Now? None of them had been Rangers for years, and hadn't Mondo sent her and Zedd running to the far side of the moon?
"Poor Kitty-Kat ... all broken hearted because Tommy married his precious Kimmie?" the would-be empress of evil sneered.
Kat's eyes narrowed, and the hackles on the back of her neck bristled.
"What do you want?" she challenged.
"Misery loves company," Rita quipped. She looked Kat up and down; the scrutiny gave the former Ranger the shivers. "Retirement has been good to you, I'll give you that. You weren't half this good lookin' when you ran around in those pink tights."
Kat blinked in astonishment.
"But even though you're drop dead gorgeous, you're still in Kimmie's shadow, aren't you?" the sorceress casually mocked. "Still looking to that pink pipsqueak and finding yourself wanting? You're a beautiful, graceful ballerina --maybe a little on the tall side and a bit big boned for the job. Yet even after having a kid, Kim is still small and cute. You never were half the Ranger Kimmie was ... but you already knew that. You never felt like you filled those little white booties quite good enough, did you?"
Why was Rita digging all this up now? Kat had put those insecurities behind her a long time ago! She didn't need to compare herself to Kim or anyone else!
"Of course, Kimmie always seemed to have what you wanted, didn't she?" Rita purred slyly. "She was a Ranger and had the skills to kick putty butt. Zordon picked *her*; *you* got the powers because she gave them up, and for all Tommy, Rocky, and Adam's training, you were only a mediocre fighter without your powers, always calling for Tommy to save your wimpy pink behind. She made it to the Pan Globals and won a medal; you conked your head on a diving board, and bye-bye dreams!"
*Stop this!* Kat seethed silently.
"Then there's Tommy.... She tossed him aside like yesterday's trash, and you couldn't get him to love you. She ripped his heart to shreds, and he still married the little tramp! Now they have a brat and are disgustingly happy."
Kat tried desperately to tune the witch out. Rita was up to something ... there had to be a reason she was bringing all this up. She knew she shouldn't just be standing here listening to the sorceress' spiel, but she couldn't seem to help herself. Rita had just put into words the host of feelings churning around inside her. Kim had been one of her dear friends; she hadn't wanted to be jealous of her. Yet, even after she had received the Zeo Powers --powers Kimberly never possessed-- she often felt like she never measured up to the original Pink Ranger. And the Pan Globals ... she had trained for years to dive in the Games, whereas Kim got a lucky break. As for Tommy ... if Kim truly loved him, she would never have let him go.
"It really is too bad that Tommy's married," Rita went on, strolling idly about. Was it Kat's imagination or did she honestly sound regretful? "A gorgeous hunk of flesh like him is wasted on one woman --and a mousy lookin' one at that."
"*You* find Tommy attractive?" Kat gaped, almost laughing in disbelief.
"I'm evil, not dead," Rita snorted. "Tommy's a man any woman with a pulse could appreciate. I had more plans for my evil Green Ranger than just destroying the Power Brats. Tommy would have been a lot more fun in my bed than Zedd's been."
Kat shivered with revulsion at the thought.
"Look how long I've been married to Radiator Face and still don't have a rugrat to pass my wicked ways on to."
*Oh, Lord!* Kat exclaimed silently, finally grasping the sorceress' plan. *She's going to go after their baby! Tommy and Kim won't be expecting an attack, not after all this time.... I've got to do something to stop her, but what?*
She hadn't kept up with her martial arts since leaving Angel Grove, and Rita had been right about one thing: her unmorphed fighting skills had never been what Tommy and the others' had been, though they had improved over her career. However, Rita made no move other than to sit down on the low wall surrounding the neighboring yard. She twisted her staff back and forth absently.
"Do you know at one time my stupid husband wanted to make Kimmie his queen? Can you believe that? What do men see in that skinny little weenie anyway? Now, if Zedd had decided to make a fool out of himself over you, I could have understood it --at least you're a knock-out."
Though puzzled, Kat was willing to let Rita continue spouting, but there was no way she was relaxing her guard, no matter how much her clenched teeth and straining muscles ached.
"Kimmie! Kimmie! Kimmie!" the witch whined, sounding for all the world like Jan Brady ranting about her sister Marcia. Then, she continued more pleasantly, "I don't blame you for resenting her. She's caused you as much trouble as she has me! It's her fault I lost the Green Ranger. Oh, Jason may have destroyed the Sword of Darkness, but Kimberly was the one who kept Tommy from sinking into a dark, guilt-induced depression. If it hadn't been for her, I could have gotten my hooks into him again, and then I wouldn't have needed to make you my slave. If it hadn't been for that little pink bitch...."
*... I wouldn't have been put through that nightmare ... no!* Kat shrieked inwardly in fierce denial. She couldn't listen to Rita; the woman was evil, saying things to suit her nefarious whims. *She's twisting everything out of proportion!*
"Kimberly has stood in the way of everything you ever wanted," Rita claimed, standing again. She drifted behind Kat, placing a commiserating hand on her shoulder. Kat shrugged off the cold appendage, flinching away from the contact. "I remember when you were my Kitty-Kat slave. I remember the look in your eyes when you first saw Tommy. I saw how much you wanted him, but Kim had him. So you waited. Then Kim went away. She broke up with Tommy; you thought you had your chance at last, but she still had him. Tell me, would you have gone to England to study if you'd had the relationship you'd always dreamed of having with Tommy? If he had said, 'I love you; please stay' would you have?"
Had she loved Tommy enough to abandon her other life-long dream? Besides, Tommy would never have made her choose between the chance of a lifetime and himself --just as he didn't make Kim choose. He'd have waited...
"If you'd have never gone to England, that could have been you in the park the day when Tommy stopped being so blind and stubborn and come to his senses. Then you'd be happily married to him and have had his baby and lived happily ever after. If it weren't for Kimmie...."
"That's enough!" Kat shouted, ducking her head and covering her ears with her hands. Then, she felt a burning at the back of her eyes and a numbing sensation seeping into her brain; she remembered Rita's touch in her mind from so long ago, and at last she understood --but far too late-- why the witch seemed to be making so much sense.
"All I'm doing is pointing out that we have a mutual thorn in our sides," Rita replied smoothly, " and how much more enjoyable our lives would be without her."
Kat began to realize what Rita was driving at. "You want me to help you do something to Kim, don't you?" she gasped, drawing away from the witch. "I may be a little envious of Kim, but she's still my friend. I'm happy for her and Tommy, and I'd never do *anything* to hurt my friends --least of all serve you again." She glared at Rita with fierce defiance.
"Too bad," Rita sneered dismissively.
Before Kat realized what was happening, she felt something cold and metallic close about her throat. Then came the fire ... a fire she'd never forget as long as she lived, a conflagration that sill seared her nightmares. It burned through her veins, and she could feel her very being melting ... changing.... She fell to her knees as her body began to shrink. The hairs on the nape of her neck --all over her body-- stood on end and enveloped her in a furry embrace. Kat raised her head to cry out, but the only sound that came forth was a plaintive mew.'
Rita bent down to collect the white cat before she could bolt and run. "What a pretty kitty you are," the sorceress cackled as she walked off into the night.