By Willow Blessing

Disclaimer: Yadda, yadda …Saban … yadda, yadda. But Carla I made up myself. There is some foul language and a few references to sex, but mostly it's harmless. And it's a 'people' story; so if you want fight scenes, I can recommend some good authors.

Penny was amazing. Penny was great. Penny had a chip on her shoulder the size of Wisconsin. No matter what he did, Rocky couldn't do anything right. After a few disastrous dates, he came to the conclusion that Penny didn't want to get along with people her own age. She wanted to fight the good fight; she had something to prove.

So at the end of what turned out to be their final date, he told her how he felt. He liked and admired her, but they just didn't seem to be hitting it off. Could they try being friends for a while?

Penny thought that was a great idea. She seemed relieved. So their dating days came amicably to a halt. "I think you'd get along better with Carla." Was the last thing she said to him as he walked her to her front door.

< Carla? > he thought as he went back to his car. < That Italian chick? > He'd met Penny's friend Carla a couple of times, while the two of them were out and about. And he'd sort of seen her around school every so often. < Well, she is pretty. > he mused as he backed out of Penny's driveway.

He wasn't too sure; his track record with women was pretty lousy this year. But he did ask her out the next time he ran in to her.

He found out fast that Penny had been right. He got along great with Carla. She thought his jokes were funny, and they liked a lot of the same things. She was kind of quiet, which was a big change for him. He had always seemed attracted to forceful, opinionated girls. He discovered Carla wasn't exactly shy -a little conservative, but not mousy. Being quiet was just an old habit, because kids used to make fun of her accent when she had first moved to the U.S. But that had been when she was twelve years old -she hardly had one now. Well, it was still there, but her English had smoothed it out a lot, so now it was just pretty. [At least Rocky thought so.]

"I think it's kinda sexy." He had told her once. Carla had blushed slightly at that. < She's so darn cute. > he thought for the hundredth time, smiling.

Once it became common knowledge that he was dating Carla, Rocky began getting advice [or rather, warnings] from some of the guys he knew at school who had gone out with her a few times.

"Don't waste your time, man." It invariably went, "She has her knees super-glued together." He was told, "There's no way you're gonna get her to put out."

Rocky was irked; he wasn't trying to get into Carla's pants, he just wanted to go out with her -get to know her. He didn't think with his dick all the time. And if he did ever sleep with anybody, he knew that it would be something a long time down the road. You had to get to know a person first; fall in love. Sex wasn't supposed to be cheap, it was supposed to mean something.

< But these guys are too immature to see that. > he told himself, < And it isn't any of their business, anyway. > So he told them all to mind their own damn horn-dog business and shut their flapping jaws about Carla.

They were right about one thing, though. Contrary to the 'hot-to-trot' Italian image, Carla was an old fashioned Catholic. She intended to be entitled to that white dress on her wedding day. As a horny teenager, that was kind of hard for Rocky to relate to on a practical level. But as a fellow Catholic, he had a lot of respect for it.

In the three or four months that they had been going out, handholding, hugging and kissing were as far as they had gone. Although recently, the kissing had been pretty passionate, and he had run the heel of his hand along the outside of her breast once or twice without getting his face slapped. Maybe they would have been a little farther along by now if Rocky didn't have to keep running off to save the world so often.

He told Carla that his communicator's beep-beep-beepbeep-beep-beeping was a pager, meaning his mom needed him to come home and help with his siblings. And then he had to come up with another lie when she volunteered to go with him and help. [He said his mom didn't want him to have unsupervised female company in the house; which made him look bad, but it kept Carla from being suspicious.]

He hated lying to her, but what could he do? He couldn't tell her he was the blue Zeo Ranger and that he had to go kick Machine Empire butt. But, oh, how he wanted to! Carla always looked so disappointed when he had to cut out early on their dates. Or when he was late getting there in the first place. Or when he didn't show up at all.

It turned out to be the reason she broke up with him a month before graduation.

She tried to be nice about it, not to lay any blame, but it was obvious her feelings were deeply hurt. She didn't accuse, or get angry, [he wished she had - that would have been easier to take] she just seemed so terribly sad.

"You don't seem to care about me as much as I care about you." She told him. "You are always gone with your friends. Or helping your mom. I don't think these are bad things," She hastily explained, "I just don't think you return the depth of my feelings. And that isn't really fair to either of us."

"Carla, I…" He'd started forward as he began speaking. She stopped him, body and voice, with a raised hand.

"Rocky, don't. It's okay; you don't have to. It's just that lately, I seem to spend my whole life waiting for you to have some time for me. All I ever do anymore is wait." She sighed heavily, then continued in a small voice. "I just can't live like that anymore."

There was finality in her tone as she said, "Goodbye, Rocky." And walked out of his life.

He wanted to scream; he wanted to deny it. < It's not true! I care about you, Carla! > He wanted to run after her, take her in his arms, hug her and stroke her soft hair and tell her everything would be all right. But he couldn't. He couldn't promise not to duck out on her any more, he had responsibilities. He was a Power Ranger. And that was more important than his own little personal life. Wasn't it?

The days dragged by into weeks. When the Zeo crystal sang in his veins and transformed him he was all right, focused. But as soon as he powered down, the gaping hole in his life pained him. With Carla absent, he realized something. He was in love with her. He hadn't noticed before because she was always there. But from the moment she'd said goodbye, he had felt like he was missing a limb. His life wasn't much of a life anymore without Carla in it.

He had tried talking to her a few times, but she had flat refused to have anything to do with him. She was too hurt, too afraid that he would be able to sweet-talk her back. And then she'd be stuck in the same predicament she was before, waiting for him to find a little time for her.

"She's right." He told Adam, summing up the whole sorry mess. "I don't blame her." They were supposed to be studying for their History test, but Rocky couldn't keep his mind on it. And Adam had finally slammed the book shut and asked him what was wrong. [Although he had a pretty good idea.] "I wouldn't have any more time for her now than I did before. It just hurts." Rocky sighed. "I miss her so much!"

Adam tried to be reassuring, but he didn't have an answer for his oldest friend. "Don't give up hope, man." He told him, clasping Rocky's shoulder. "It'll all work out."

Hope came in a strange and surprisingly unpleasant form. When he, Tommy and Adam were practicing for the Charity Karate Tournament, he sprained his spine. He had been upset, impatient and distracted, and it caused him to make a stupid mistake. He put too much power into a spinning heel kick, misjudged the target and ended up flat on his back outside the ring, unable to move. It put him in the hospital, doped up on painkillers when his friends came to see him; when they got the fateful call from Zordon; when he sent little Justin to take his place.

But Carla came to see him. She heard he was hurt and hadn't been able to stay away. She was solicitous and concerned. Her deeply felt caring for him shone plainly in her soft, dark brown eyes. She stayed and held his hand, chatting with him about nothing important until the nurse came to chase her out.

As Rocky lay staring at the balloons on the ceiling after visiting hours, it was all suddenly crystal clear to him. Just don't go back. Let Justin keep the Power. No Rangering equals no running off all the time equals Carla. So simple. He smiled and closed his eyes. He slept peacefully despite his injury, dreaming of being with his sweet Carla.

Now actually winning her back proved to be more of a problem. He couldn't tell her that everything would be all right now, because then he would have to tell her what the problem was in the first place. < Dammit! > Rocky thought in frustration, < There's gotta be some way. >

Until he could think of something, he settled for just getting Carla to talk to him. She didn't hang up on him when he called her, saying he was lonely, and feeling restless from being cooped up in the house all day.

"What are you doing out of the hospital so soon anyway?" She demanded to know.

"I just couldn't stay there. I hate hospitals. And the doctor said it'd be okay as long as I take it easy and don't miss any of my physical therapy sessions. Which reminds me. Could you drive me there tomorrow? I'm not up to driving yet and my mom can't get off work in time to take me."

"What about Adam? Or Tommy? Or Tanya or Kat? And why aren't they keeping you company? They're your friends." She was starting to sound a little annoyed at the gang, and maybe a little suspicious.

Rocky thought fast. < Can't say they're all on a Ranger mission to Muranthias. > "The guys are really busy practicing for the tournament." He stretched the truth a little. "And the girls can't just drop their volunteering commitments at the Little Angel Shelter just to baby-sit me."

Carla seemed to buy it. He felt both relieved and guilty over that. "Okay. I guess I can understand that." She sounded mollified. "And yes, I'll drive you to your appointment tomorrow. What time do you need me to be there?"

Rocky tried not to sound too eager as he gave her the particulars. Maybe there was hope after all.

"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."