Kelly was on the border of freaking out. There were Power Rangers in Blue Bay Harbor. Well, maybe. Only one kid had seen them out in the quarry, so normally everyone would just ignore him, but the sky had been doing that weird thing, so nobody was really sure yet, and nobody was going to be surprised if a giant robot suddenly showed up downtown. Someone was saying that the warehouses and office buildings were already preparing for transfers of their stock and staff, just in case.
Was Storm Chargers safe? Did the giant monsters ever attack beaches? She'd have to save her worries for later, though. Storm Chargers was open and Dustin had the day off.
Eventually Kelly just had to close early. If her regulars weren't asking her questions she was trying not to think about, they were talking with each other about the rumors. After spending a while just trying not to imagine Storm Chargers being stepped on (oh, what if she was working at the time?), Kelly decided that proper research on other towns that had dealt with monster attacks should be able to give her some perspective.
That the first few pages to come up when she searched “Power Rangers” were fan pages full of what had to be fictitious stories of the rangers' personal lives confused the freakout right out of her and she realized that first-hand information would probably help her better. She knew exactly who to call.
“Hi, Richie? This is Kelly Holloway, we went to school together before you moved?”
“Hey, yeah! Are you still doing motocross and all that? Wait- Are you still in Blue Bay Harbor?”
“Yeah. You've heard?
“I've gotten a few calls. I'm happy to help. I mean, it's kind of my job to know most of what I've been getting asked anyway.”
“Yeah, I help organize the recovery efforts for towns hit by monsters, so I'm pretty familiar with what happens to cities generally, not just Angel Grove. What's got you freaked out? I can tell you right now that there have been no recorded robot fights in residential areas, so you don't have to worry about being crushed in your sleep.”
“Awesome, but what about being crushed at work?”
“Well, where do you work?”
“I own an extreme sports gear store, Storm Chargers. It's across the street from the beach, 'cause I sell and rent surf gear too.”
“You shouldn't get crushed, then, but you are a little at risk for ground fighting. The worst you're likely to get is some damage to the outside. If you do get attacked inside, exit or take cover quickly and you should be alright. If your store gets damaged, call me. That's what the rebuilding efforts are for. Anything else really worrying you?”
“Not anymore. Thanks, Richie.”
“Anytime. Oh! One more thing: your clientele is largely teens into early twenties, right?”
“Well, we don't really understand why, yet, but monster attacks tend to take place where rangers already are. If your store is attacked, rangers should be there shortly if they aren't already.”
“That's good to hear. I'll, uh. I'll let you handle all the other old classmates who are probably trying to call.”
“Sounds good. We should catch up for real sometime, though!”
“Of course! I'll call in a couple weeks or so, if that's enough time for the calls to die down?”
“It definitely is. Later?”
It wasn't until the next day that Kelly realized Richie had basically said “the rangers will be in your store.” Sort of. And Dustin was in that age range, so what if he was one of the rangers? Having to run off at a moment's notice all the time would come off really flaky and worth firing him over, but if she fired him for saving the world? That would just be unfair.
But Dustin had been a bit of a flake since long before there were Rangers in Blue Bay Harbor, so not firing him might be a mistake.
Richie was so going to hear about what he did to her when she caught up with him.
Shane was brooding. Shane had never gone broody before. Was this a sign he was a ranger, or was it just being a teenager? Either way, he came into Storm Chargers without Tori or Dustin just to brood by her counter, so clearly he wanted help.
...And he wanted help with leading. And then people started flying by the window. Literally flying. And the way Shane said “Stay here. I'll check,” so confident in what he was doing? Shane being a ranger seems pretty much a given.
But does that mean his friends are, too? None of the Lightspeed Rangers had known each other beforehand. Not all teams had to. Would she have to run interference between Shane and the other two if being a ranger started keeping him away? Could Kelly get an answer to a question that bothered her without creating new questions to freak out over?
Well, okay, she knew the answer to that last one. Twenty-four years of experience had taught her that no, that was never going to happen.
Someone had delivered an envelope addressed to Tori through the mail slot in the back office door. Which was weird, since it was just a left-over from the previous tenant; Kelly had a mailbox installed because she kept slipping on mail on the office floor. It wasn't the first time someone who wasn't the post officer had done that, though, so she went to see if Tori had shown up at the store yet. (Shane and Dustin were both in, after all. Tori's presence was practically a given.) Seeing the way Tori stomped in, though, Kelly figured she should let her cool off a bit, first.
“You know, Shane thinks you're mad at him,” Dustin said.
“Wow,” Tori replied, dripping with sarcasm, “I guess that's why he gets the red suit.” So he is a ranger? Tori knows?
“Well, what happened?” Dustin asked. “I mean, it didn't sound like a big deal to me.” And Dustin, too? They've got to all be rangers, then. No way a bunch of ninja would be so open about their identities to others.
“You don't get it, either. I'm a girl. Giiiiiirl.” Oh, this was getting bad. What if this argument interfered with the rangers' fighting?
“Yeah, I- I know,” Dustin said, “but like, you're not a girl-girl.” Oh no.
“You're like a guy-girl,” Shane said. Did those guys even realize how stupid they were being? This called for intervention even if they weren't rangers.
So as Dustin “yeah”-ed at Shane and Tori just got angrier, Kelly finally rounded the corner and did her best to intervene.
“My advice for you both? Stop trying to make it better, 'cause it's only getting worse.” While the boys were letting that sink in, delivered the letter to Tori. There was a moment, when it turned out to be an invite to a photo shoot, where it looked like Dustin and Shane were going to start digging again, but it passed.
The monster that showed up later got defeated just fine, and the next day the three were back to normal, so Kelly was glad they got things sorted. Still, if she had to play peacemaker to keep the rangers fighting monsters and not each other, this was going to be a long year.
Kelly had made her mind up. The rangers needed to know she knew. After all, Dustin needed to know that it was totally cool if he had to run off and save the world. If he was fighting monsters, he didn't need to be worrying about whether he had a job to come back to. Still, she had some doubts that she'd picked the signs up right. She'd need an opportunity to let them know without just walking up to them and going “Hey, I know you're the rangers. You can totally come to me if you have problems so you're not too pissed at each other to save the world!”
Well, she probably wouldn't even say it that way if she were completely certain they were the rangers, anyway.
She got her chance fairly soon, when she realized she'd left the book she was in the middle of at Storm Chargers and headed back to pick it up. There were lights on in the stock room, and voices. She was pretty sure it was Dustin and Shane, but she couldn't hear what they were saying from where she was. She headed slowly toward the stock room, in case it was actually thieves or vandals or other unsavory people.
“What now, fearless leader?” Oh, good, it was Dustin.
“Plan B,” said Shane.
Seconds later, Kelly walked into the stock room and she was not expecting Dustin's shoulder to be bleeding like that. “Shane? Dustin? What happened here?”
Dustin shrugged, wincing in pain. “I was running the track one more time and took a spill. Didn't turn out too bad.” Kelly caught the reproving look that Shane shot at Dustin for that, which must mean Shane didn't approve of Dustin's story, which meant Dustin was lying. She managed to school her look of surprise at what she could only take as proof they were rangers into a look to match Shane's.
As she helped Shane bandage Dustin's shoulder, she noticed to her relief that most of the blood was just smeared from a couple minor scrapes and most of the pain must have been coming from the bruise, unless he'd really messed something up, inside. “Well, it's a pretty straight-forward injury, but that bruise is gonna take some time to go away. How does it feel?”
“Nothing broken or pulled if that's what you're asking,” Dustin replied, as if he could know just from feeling it.
“Alright,” she said. “If it starts bothering you, you go to the hospital immediately. Either way, you'll just have to put up with it for a while. I guess we'll just let that be your punishment.” She meant that she couldn't punish a ranger for saving the world, but letting him think she was angry he was biking so recklessly was a bonus because, hey, he shouldn't be. A reminder of that couldn't hurt, even if he already wasn't doing it.
“Where's your bike anyways?” It's not toying with them, she told herself, if it's a question she would have asked if she didn't think they were rangers.
“It's in the back of Tori's van,” Shane said, with only the tiniest delay. “She'll be back in a minute to give us a ride home."
“She was with you guys too?” Kelly asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Somebody had to try to convince me to go home,” Dustin replied as he flexed his arm.
Kelly sat for a moment judging how well they'd covered for being rangers, and rolled her eyes and stood up when she figured they'd done okay enough. “I'll be back in the front; I need to check through a few things.”
Kelly headed to the front but was still well within earshot when Dustin said, “I hope she doesn't call my parents or anything; that'll blow our fake cover.” That pretty much lost the two any points they'd gained. If she didn't know they were rangers, and she heard that? That would have been ugly.
“Well,” Shane said, “I'd rather we broke a fake cover that we came up with at the last minute than our real one. We can put up with our parents yelling at us if it comes to it.” And he did have a point, but it would have been just as bad to hear, if she didn't know.
Tori's “Um, sorry?” when she arrived shortly was kind of adorable in how clearly it said “I have no idea what the cover story is, but since Dustin is hurt you're probably mad.”
“I'd say try a little harder next time,” Kelly told her. Figuring that Tori was the most likely of the three to pick up on layered meaning (not that Shane and Dustin weren't bright, they just wouldn't ever consider it), she continued, “but that's not fair to you, and it's probably not gonna change the outcome anyways.”
“Aww, c'mon man!” Dustin said, having heard her on the way back out front with Shane.
“It's a valid point; don't complain.” Kelly countered. Since she was sending layered meaning anyway, she added, “You can be brave without being foolish, Dustin.”
“Don't worry, we've learned our lesson,” Shane said as the three headed to Tori's van “We'll see you tomorrow.”
Kelly watched the van as it headed down the street. If the minor swerve followed by a whole lot of gesturing was any indication, they'd put her message together.
Now she just had to decide the best way to tell them that if her store were ever destroyed by a monster, they'd be working for her for free until she'd made back her losses. She wouldn't mean it, but they didn't have to know that.