Bonnie was taking a study break in front of the television when the doorbell rang. She almost ignored it because they didn't have TIVO, but she was closest to the door so she answered. A young woman, perhaps her own age but who looked tired and perhaps older than her years, stood on the porch, “I was told this was where Ron Stoppable lives. Can I see him, please?”
“Sorry, Ron has a class and won't--”
“Bonnie? Bonnie Rockwaller?”
Bonnie looked more closely at the woman on the porch, she seemed vaguely familiar, “Do I know you?”
“No, I don't supposed you do,” the little half-smile on the woman's face was bitter as she said it. “We were in high school together. I wasn’t in your circles. My name is Rosita Flores.”
Bonnie searched her memory, but had no recollection of Rosita. She must have simply been another one of the faces in the hallway that had been beneath her notice in high school. “I'm sorry, I don't remember you. Do you want to come back in a couple hours? Ron should be back from class.”
“I don't have any place to go. I heard Kim lives here too, is she around?”
“I think she's up playing with the twins, let me--”
“The twins? Her brothers are here?”
“No, her daughters?”
“Daughters? Kim and Ron have been busy.”
“Uh, not Kim and Ron. I'll let her explain.” Bonnie moved to the foot of the grand staircase and yelled up, “Kim, you got company.”
Zita moved inside and closed the door behind her. She shivered, the weather was unusually cold for late November and it had been a long walk. Halfway down the steps Kim recognized their visitor and bounded down the rest of the stairs to give Zita a big hug, “I don't think I've seen you since high school! How's it going?”
“Not so hot. I really need a place to crash for a couple days while I try and figure out what to do. I was hoping Ron would let me stay with him. That is, if your landlord wouldn't mind.”
Bonnie, who had not gone back to the television, felt something of a shock as she heard those words. She'd never paid enough attention to Ron back in high school to see him associated with anyone except Kim, although she vaguely remembered he and Tara used to flirt a bit. She had a feeling that she had not appreciated him properly.
“This house is in my parent's name, but Shego has paid for and done a lot of the remodeling. I think my folk regard it as ours--”
“Ours? Who are you talking about as ours? You and your parents? You and Ron? Isn't Shego that criminal? I'm confused.”
Kim sighed; this was going to take some explanation, “Want to come into the kitchen for a cup of tea? If your story takes as long as mine you'll be here 'til Ron gets home.”
“And, if its not too much trouble, could I have something to eat? I haven't had anything since breakfast.”
“Let me heat something up for you,” Bonnie offered, very much wanting to hear more of this conversation. Bonnie put on a pot of water for tea, and heated up a couple things in the microwave while Kim and Zita talked. Unfortunately while Bonnie wanted to hear more about the Ron - Zita connection it seemed like Zita simply wanted to hear about what had been happening with Kim. A call from Monique that the twins were awake took all three women upstairs. They returned to the kitchen a little while later with the toddlers, who became the center of attention until they heard a key in the back door lock.
A minute later Ron strode into the kitchen, waving a bag in his left hand, “Who wants one of the popovers that earned me an A in pastry class?” He stopped when he saw a stranger in the kitchen. In the split second it took for her identity to register with him Zita had thrown her arms around him and started crying hysterically.
Bonnie stayed in the kitchen, making a new pot of tea and serving pastries, to justify listening in to the conversation. She was burning with curiosity about another woman from Ron's past.
Zita's story was both conventional and depressing, a tale which made even Bonnie feel better about her own family.
Zita's family had no history of college education, and no money for it. Zita simply went full time at her job at the mall after high school As Kim's other friends had begun work on their bachelor's degrees the fall after high school graduation Zita had gotten her M-R-S. He managed a small store at the mall, and while he had represented a way out of her home Zita soon found his tyranny far worse than a domineering mother. The abuse was mostly verbal and emotional, but sometimes included the physical. No one should have to endure any of the three. Her mother's only advice was to submit to her husband's will and pray to God to change him. But God had not changed him. And as he held her arms and screamed at her that morning -- Zita showed them the bruises his fingers had left on her arms -- she told him she was leaving. He had told her to go and never come back, something she had no intention of doing. She walked to her parents' home, where she announced what had happened and was told to go back and beg him for forgiveness. When she told her mother she intended to file for divorce her mother than thrown her out, saying the family did not believe in divorces. She had been afraid to return to her job at the mall. Her few current friends had no room or money to help her, and most of her high school friends were gone, many at colleges in other cities. In desperation she had stopped at the home of Ron's parents, and told where he was living.
“Please, Ron, Kim, can I stay here for a few days? I'll sleep on the couch or floor. I just need a little time to find a job and get some money.”
Ron looked at Kim, who nodded 'yes'. “Sure you can stay,” he told her. “We just got a couple little guest beds in on the top floor. The rooms are small but you're welcome to stay. Do you have any plans?”
“Not really,” she confessed. “I've got a sister in Texas. I haven't heard from her in years. She got a divorce and mom forbid any of us from ever talking to her. I want to call her, see if she'll let me move down with her. I don't know if that will work, but it’s the only plan I have. And get a job. I don't have any money for a ticket or anything. I… I don't know how long you'll let me stay. But if she says I can come I'll want to work until I have enough to pay for a ticket.”
“Do you have any clothes?” Bonnie asked.
It was the wrong question, it brought another round of tears. “The only things I own are what I'm wearing.”
“Ron and I will take you by your old place tomorrow,” Kim promised her. “We'll help you get your clothes.”
“But what if he's there…” Zita began to ask, then remembered that Ron and Kim handled far more dangerous enemies than abusive spouses.
“I hope he is,” Ron growled.
“Ron, why don't you take her up and show her a room? Zita, you can stay as long as you want. We'll try to find a phone number for your sister tonight. Ron, why don't you--”
“I'm on it, KP. I'll give her one of my old jersey's to sleep in, some towels, and get a new toothbrush from the stash. We've really gotten organized for company since Will stayed around for a couple days after Thanksgiving.”
“Will Du is dating Monique,” Kim explained to Zita. “She lives here too.”
“Thanks, Kim. This is really quite a place you have here. When do I meet Shego?”
“She'll be home for supper. Now, let Ron show you a room.”
After the two departed up the back stairs Kim turned to Bonnie, “Well, what do you think?”
“I think she's still interested in Ron.”
“Where did that come from?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that was a weird thing for you to say. I asked for what you thought and you said you think she's still interested in Ron. I can't figure out why you'd say that.”
“Look, Kim, she can't have lost touch with all her friends. She must have made some new friends in the last two years. But here she is, on Ron's doorstep. I'm just saying, it looks peculiar to me. Were they ever lovers?”
“I don't know. And I'm sure it's none of your business. You've never been anything but abusive to poor Ron. It's not like the two of you were ever lovers.”
Kim stared in wonder as Bonnie suddenly bolted from the room. Even as she heard the sound of footsteps going up the big stairway in the front of the house the kitchen door swung open and a curious Shego walked in. “What in the hell did you say to Bonnie? She looked like she was crying when she ran past me.”
“I don't think I said anything to upset her. Oh, we've got company. A friend from high school may need to stay with us for a little while--”
“One of Bonnie's old boyfriends? Not that Brick guy or whatever his name was, he sounds like a jerk.”
“No, an old friend of Ron's. Bonnie said she thought Zita, that's the woman who'll be with us, is still interested in Ron--”
“Say what?” Ron asked. He'd suggested Zita lie down for a minute and had come back to the kitchen so quietly Kim had not heard him enter.
“I said it was a weird thing for her to say. I mean, the two of you are finally speaking to each other, but I know she's never had any interest in you and she almost sounded jealous of Zita. It was almost like you and Bonnie had been lovers or something. Weird, huh?”
Shego stared at Ron, he wasn't laughing. It even looked like he had colored slightly at the accusation. “Have you ever had sex with Bonnie?” she demanded.
“Look, it… I--”
“You've had sex with Bonnie?” Kim yelled at him.
“It was her idea. I didn't--”
“Oh, yeah, blame the victim,” Shego interrupted. “You're never supposed to have sex with a housemate.”
“Wait a minute,” Ron tried to change the subject, “you and Kim--”
“We moved in together to move in together. That's different than putting the moves on someone who was just a friend when you moved into a place. Who's next -- are you going after Monique?”
“She put the moves on me! We were in your Jacuzzi and--”
“You had sex in our Jacuzzi?” Kim and Shego shouted together.
“Can we just forget this ever happened?” Ron asked.
“Is that what you told her? When did this happen?”
“Last spring, when--”
“Spring? Before Yori was here?”
“God, no one wonder she was pissed with you all summer Stoppable.”
Kim broke in, “Ron, I've never known you to be a jerk before.”
“I'm not a jerk, KP, I… Oh, heck. Fine, I'm scum. Are you happy now?”
“March yourself upstairs right now, young man,” Shego told him, “and apologize to Bonnie.”
“Apologize for what?”
“Everything,” Kim suggested. “Start with the Korean War and work forward.”
Ron glared at the two, then stomped out of the kitchen -- but in the direction of the front stairs and Bonnie's room rather than the back stairs to his own.
“Ron and Bonnie?” Kim mused in disbelief.
“I thought he was all hot for Yori?”
“Yeah, it makes no sense. It must be Bonnie's fault.”
“Why blame the girl? You always told me she had no interest in Ron. Men are like alley cats, they don't care who they mate with. It was Ron's fault.”
“No way, Ron is a great guy.”
“The operative word in that sentence was guy, Kim. It was Ron's fault.”
Shego drew a deep breath, “Look, we can't decide what happened by arguing. Let's just wait and maybe someday we'll find out I'm right.”
Kim snorted, “Oh yeah, like that's ever going to happen. But let's drop it for now… Ron and Bonnie? Who'd have thunk it?”
Monique wondered what was going on at supper than night. She understood why Zita was there and mostly silent. But Bonnie wasn't speaking to Ron, Ron wasn't speaking to Kim and Shego, and Kim and Shego weren't speaking to each other. Monique made the best of the situations by telling everyone anecdotes from her management class which would normally have been ignored. Tonight everyone seemed please to have any sort of background conversation.
They were not able to find a phone number for Zita's sister that evening after supper. It had been so long that she had no idea what might have happened to the older sister, she could have moved to another city or state, or have remarried and still be living in the same house. “I'll ask Wade to try and find out where she is tomorrow,” Kim promised. “He can do anything with computers. Do you need a loan to get down to her if we can find her and you can stay with her.”
“Let's find her first,” Zita sighed. “I think I'd rather earn the money myself here… I guess that doesn't make sense. I ought to just accept your loan offer and get out of your hair. I'm just so grateful to you and Ron this minute, God, I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for you two. To be honest I want to stay around you two for a little while until I know I've got a life again.”
“You're welcome as long as you need a place. It isn't very fancy up there.”
“I feel safe there. I haven't felt really safe in two years.”
Bonnie had modified her schedule only slightly since her freshman year. She was still an early riser, but on mornings when she was practicing some of her more energetic dance moves she usually didn't start her practice sessions until everyone else was awake. She finished double checking her homework and came down for breakfast about seven in the morning. Zita, apparently in nothing but Ron's old jersey, was helping Ron in the kitchen. It would have been stretching the facts to say Zita looked happy, but she appeared more comfortable and relaxed than Bonnie felt as Zita and Ron chatted and cooked.
“Any luck locating your sister?” Bonnie asked hopefully.
“No, but Kim says her friend Wade can locate anyone. She'll ask him to try and find her today.”
“Oh, good,” Bonnie smiled, “I'm sure you'll feel much happier when you have a real place to stay again.”
“And what's wrong with this place,” Ron demanded.
“Oh, nothings wrong with this place. She just needs a real place of her own instead of that dinky little maid's room.”
“It's fine, really,” Zita tried to assure Bonnie. “I'm really happy Kim said I could stay as long as I wanted.”
“Damn,” Bonnie thought, “every time I actually start to like Kim she finds some new way to screw me.” Zita looked far too good in that jersey, which wasn't nearly long enough. Bonnie hoped she was wearing underwear and not flashing Ron.
Kim, Shego, and Ron took Zita back to her apartment in the mid-morning. It was a section of town Kim didn't get to very often. There were small, worn apartment buildings mixed with houses that were probably lower middle-class when they were built -- but which had not seen proper repair for a half century. The rents were so low that, had it been closer to the campus, the neighborhood would have been flooded with college students.
“Don't they have trash pickup around here?” Shego asked, “Look at that pile of garbage on the sidewalk.”
Zita stared, aghast at the sight. “Those are my things. That was my building.”
Kim pulled over to the curb and all four got out. It appeared that all the clothing on the sidewalk had been slashed with a knife or pair of scissors before being thrown out of an upper window in the building they stood beside. If anything had made it out the window in one piece it was likely dogs or kids had dragged it off. There were books, ripped in half, and a variety of broken dishes. Zita fell to her knees, crying at the remains of her life.
Shego pulled her to her feet, “Ron, you and I will go in with Zita. Kim, you see if anything out here is salvageable.”
“What if he's there?” Zita asked as they entered the building.
“I hope he is,” Ron muttered under his breath, “I really hope he is.”
Zita's key failed to work, “A new lock.”
“Is your name on the lease?” Shego asked.
“Then it's not breaking and entering if you give me permission to open the door.”
Shego glanced at the door, “Hell, that isn't even a real lock. No deadbolt, no cover over the strike plate and a spring latch. Ron, give me your student ID.”
Zita glanced around the apartment, then moved through the few rooms, pulling open empty drawers and opening the doors on half empty closets. In the dish drainer, overlooked under a dishtowel, was a cup whose design matched the smashed china on the sidewalk below the apartment. “The china was a wedding gift from my abuela. She died six months after the wedding… We need to go, there's nothing here.”
Zita held the cup carefully as they left. Before going out Ron punched a wall, leaving a fist sized hole. He drew his hand back for a second blow, but Shego caught his arm. “You're a good guy, Ron. You don't do that.”
“And you're a villain, why are you stopping me?”
“Because I'm a frightened villain who is going to court in two weeks and doesn't need this on her record. You don't need it on yours. The bastard isn't worth the aggravation.”
“I liked you better before you were scared.”
“Please, Ron, I don't need this today.”
He hesitated before finally speaking, “You're right, I'm sorry.”
“Thanks… You know, I think I agree with you. I'd rather bust the place up with you.”
“No, you were right the first time. He's not worth the trouble.”
Zita was already outside talking with Kim when Ron and Shego finally left, pulling the door shut behind them.