"Am not," Lily said, sticking her tongue out at Fran. It looked especially funny because her face was covered in a light dusting of flour.
"Not brave? How can you say that? You go out and face those...things." Fran shuddered, her fear only slightly exaggerated for effect.
Shrugging, Lily kneaded the pizza dough a few more times. "Yeah, but I've had years of martial arts training added to the powers of a Ranger. It's not the same as you being brave."
Fran stared at her.
"Me? Brave? Are you kidding?"
"Fran, you're the brave one. You stick around us even though you have no training, no powers, nothing but faith in our ability to protect you." Lily stopped kneading and looked her in the eyes. "Even though RJ nearly killed you."
"He'd never...I mean, I knew he wouldn't. It's RJ!"
"You stay and take care of us, even though you know exactly how dangerous it is and exactly how scary the thing we're facing is. That's bravery."
Fran looked down at the jar of olives. "Oh. I just...you're my friends. I can't really do anything to help, so--"
"Can't do anything to help?" Lily's voice was sharp, so Fran looked up. "You have no idea how much it helps to have you here."
"You. Who else would patch us up, or run JKP while we're off fighting, or--bravest of all--try RJ's new pizzas?"
Fran giggled. "I guess I do help."
"You do. You really don't know how much." Lily went back to kneading.
Fran frowned at her for a moment and opened the olives to start slicing.
The kitchen door opened with more force than absolutely necessary and Lily looked up in alarm. "What's wrong?" she asked Fran.
"Um...nothing," Fran tried, brushing her hands down her apron and adjusting her cap.
"Uh-huh." Lily put down the ladle and crossed her arms.
"No, really, it's fine." She twisted her hands together.
"You don't look like it's fine. Tell me or I'll keep interrogating you."
Fran couldn't help glancing toward the dining room. "He...I mean, a customer, the guys in the corner..."
"What about them?" Lily's eyes narrowed and she suddenly looked more dangerous.
"It was just one of them. He...the one in green."
"What. Did. He. Do?"
"He grabbed my butt," she said very fast.
Lily stepped toward the door.
"No!" Fran grabbed her arm.
"I know you don't want to make a fuss, but he can't get away with that."
"Of course I don't have to, but I want to! You're one of the team. You're my friend."
"It's not acceptable and he needs to learn that."
"I know!" Fran shook Lily's arm. "That's why I already kicked him out and told him to never come back."
Lily's jaw dropped.
"I can take care of myself, you know." Fran let go of Lily and crossed her arms defensively.
"I knew that," Lily said, grinning broadly. "I just didn't know if you did."
If had taken RJ a while to get it just right, but he'd finally tweaked his citywide monitoring system to alert whoever was in the kitchen that they needed to get to the monitors. (His failures were...epic. Fran never wanted to think about the Price Is Right incident ever again. Let alone the sliced eggplant and the exploding water clock.)
So Fran only jumped partway out of her skin when she heard a familiar set of tones while manning the kitchen herself. "Not now," she moaned, throwing salad into bowls with reckless abandon. "How does RJ expect to stay in business?"
Running upstairs after dropping the salads on tables she hoped were the right ones, she glanced at the TVs, then yelped. "There's another monster! It's down the street by the gas station."
"I knew Camille knowing where JKP is would bite us in the butt," Theo said. There was a thunking sound and several "Ooof"s.
"It's not Camille's fault," Lily said. "I don't think she'd sneak like that to attack us."
"Uh, Lil, she's a chameleon. Sneaking is what she does."
"Rangers?" Fran called. "A little less arguing and a little more coming to save JKP, please?"
"I'll come," Lily said. "The guys have their hands full here."
"I'll try and keep the customers from bolting," Fran said, grabbing a spare comm and holding it to her ear as she ran back down the stairs.
"You're the best, Fran," Casey said. "RJ would say so too, but there's currently a llama beating him into the ground."
"Great," Fran muttered, trying unsuccessfully to get the comm to stay on her head.
A few minutes later, Fran panted as she ran up the steps for what felt like the millionth time. Thankfully, the lunch rush was dying down and she had a minute to check. The banging and crashing seemed to be getting closer and even the hearty Ocean Bluff crowd had gotten nervous. She slid into RJ's recliner and looked at the screen.
"Ugh!" Lily said as she was thrown against the ATM a block away. "This is getting on my last nerve."
"Ewww," Fran said. "Are you covered in slime?"
"Yes. When I get back, I'm taking the longest and hottest shower ever." Lily slipped and slid across the marble tile of the bank plaza, almost tumbling on her ass. "I can't believe I'm being beaten by a slug!"
"At least it's not a sloth," Fran said as she watched Lily's attack sliding right off.
"I don't know if it matters if I can't beat it. ETA, guys?"
"We've just gone to megazord mode," RJ said. "It may be a while."
"Great." Lily groaned. "Someone needs to squash this slug."
"Hmm." Fran scowled at the screen. "Maybe I can help with that."
But Lily's voice was left behind as the comm slipped off onto RJ's chair and she ran down the steps.
Grabbing a box out of the kitchen, Fran dashed through JKP, ignoring the startled cries of customers.
It was only a block, but Fran felt herself puffing a bit by the time she made it there. (Maybe it was time she took RJ up on the offer of a little training.) It wasn't exactly difficult to figure out where the fighting was, since the distinctive sounds of crashing and explosions were right ahead of her.
Clutching the large box to her chest, Fran tried not to think about what she was about to do as she slipped and slid right out into the middle of the plaza, in front of the slug about to grab Lily. "Hey, you!" she hollered, waving. "Your mother was a, uh, a caterpillar!"
The slug picked her up (and how did a slug have arms?) and she poured the entire contents of the box over its head. It screamed, dropping her on the ground with a thud and staggering back.
Sliding back on her hands back through the slime, Fran got out of the way as the slug screamed louder and started to fall apart.
Lily grabbed her, pulling her up out of the slime. "What did you do?" Obviously speaking into her comm, she yelled "I don't know! Shut up a minute and let me find out! Fran, what's going on?"
Starting to giggle, Fran looked at her. "I killed it!"
"Yes, you did, but how?" Lily was almost shaking her now. "What was that?"
"Oh, don't you know? It was salt. Everybody knows you kill slugs with salt."
Lily started to laugh. "You're the best."
Fran couldn't help blushing. "Um, thank you?"
"RJ says so too." Lily threw her arms around her. "You scared the hell out of me just now, but you're awesome."
The blush was threatening to burst into flame, but Fran hugged her back. Sometimes, if you were paying attention, life wasn't too bad.