Illustration by Shigeru1313.
The Prodigal Parents
Chapter 3 -- Strangers
Judith Woodson shifted her parasol and looked to the sky. Despite the bright, sunny weather, her mood was somber. This time of year always made her more than a little pensive.
And with good reason.
It had been a chilly fall night almost twenty-four years ago now when her son, James, had run away from home. She'd only seen him once since then...and the reunion hadn't been a happy one. James had been a non-conformist since day one, always questioning authority and wanting to do things his own way -- it was why he'd run away in the first place. And on the day he'd returned, Judith had seen that his wild, rebellious streak had increased over the years. He'd even joined Team Rocket and taken up with a girl who couldn't have been more different from the bride she and her husband had chosen for him!
Judith and Quentin had hoped that by luring James home, they could marry him to Jessiebelle...and then she could rein him in and turn him into the gentleman they'd always wanted him to be. But their plan had backfired. James had prized his freedom and that other girl -- Jessie -- over his inheritance, and he'd been willing to give everything up in order to live his life the way he chose. She'd never seen him again after that. Where he was or what he was doing now was anybody's guess.
She'd tried telling herself that it didn't bother her...that James was simply a delinquent and that when she and Quentin had disowned him, it had been for the best. But in her heart, she knew it was a lie.
The simple fact of the matter was, Judith missed her son. And on days like these, she often found herself thinking about him, wondering where he was and what he was doing...and wishing that things could have turned out differently.
"Here you go, my little friends! Eat up!"
Judith stirred herself from her reverie and looked over at her husband, who was tossing bread crumbs to the Magikarp in the fish pond of their garden. The roses and azaleas had long since faded, and the oak trees had already shed their leaves for the fall, clusters of Spanish moss hanging from the bare branches like cobwebs, but the asters and chrysanthemums were still in bloom, and a few tenacious crepe myrtle blossoms still remained. It was a beautiful garden, and on days like this, she and Quentin could spend hours there.
James always loved the garden, too, Judith thought. There were times when he'd spend the whole day out here with Growly....
"Judy? Is something wrong, love?"
Judith turned her attention back to Quentin. He'd finished feeding the Magikarp and was now coming to her side.
"I was just thinking," she sighed.
"About what?" he prompted.
There was a long pause before Judith answered. "Quentin...have you ever wondered....?"
Suddenly, Quentin held up a hand and silenced her. "Don't look now, but I think we have company!" he whispered.
Judith looked over her shoulder. Just beyond the hedgerows, she could see a young boy coming from the woods. A large Arcanine was with him.
Quentin gave his wife a wry smile. "I think we should have a word with our little visitor...."
"There it is, Growly!" Eric whispered.
He and the Arcanine had been searching the woods for Sam's lost boomerang for nearly an hour. During that time, they'd gone over a fence onto somebody else's property -- his mom and dad weren't going to be happy if they found out -- but Eric knew that he had to find his friend's toy. It was mostly his fault it had gotten lost, after all.
And now, his search had finally paid off. As Eric emerged from the woods, he saw the boomerang lying on the ground next to a row of hedges in somebody's garden.
"Come on!" he whispered again. "Let's get it and get back home before mom and dad find out!"
As Eric prepared to leave the cover of the trees, however, Growly took the edge of his sweater in his teeth and held him back.
Eric looked over his shoulder at the Arcanine. "Let go, Growly! You're gonna ruin my new sweater!"
But Growly held fast.
"Stop it, Growly!" Eric said. He gently removed the hem of his sweater from the Arcanine's teeth and smoothed it out. "What's the matter?"
The big dog whimpered and nudged Eric with his cold, wet nose. His midnight blue eyes were fixed on something in the garden.
Eric looked back and saw that Growly was staring at an old man and woman in the garden. The old man was standing next to a pond, tossing some bread crumbs to a school of Magikarp. His brushy mustache and short, wavy hair were silver, save for a few streaks of navy blue, and he was leaning heavily on a cane. The old woman's purple hair was peppered with white and piled into a bun atop her head. She was holding a parasol and standing next to a crepe myrtle tree with a few fading lavender blossoms in its branches.
"Ohhh...." Eric said quietly.
Growly whimpered again.
For the next few minutes, the two of them remained hidden in the trees, waiting for the old people to continue on their way. When they showed no sign of leaving, however, Eric began to get antsy.
Aw, man! I can't stand here all day -- I've gotta get home, or mom and dad are gonna find out I left the yard...and then I'll be in big trouble! he said to himself. Those old people aren't looking over here, and the boomerang is only a few feet away -- chances are, they won't even see me! He looked back at Growly and placed a finger to his lips. "Growly, I'm gonna make a break for it. Don't make a sound!"
The Arcanine cast a wary look at the old couple, but after a moment, he nodded.
Eric took a deep breath and silently counted to three. Then, he slowly made his way to where the boomerang was lying, hoping not to draw any attention to himself. When he went to pick it up, however....
"Excuse me, young man!"
His head snapped up, and he saw that the old people had spotted him. They were now coming over to him.
"What are you doing in our garden?" the old woman inquired.
The old man nodded. "Yes. It's extremely rude to trespass on other peoples' property."
Eric bit his lip and looked down at his shoes. He found himself thinking of how that cretin, Ash Ketchum, had shown up uninvited at his house earlier that afternoon and realized that he was now doing the same thing to these people.
"I'm sorry, sir...ma'am," he said, meeting their stern gaze again. "I didn't mean to trespass. Honest. My sister and I were playing with my friend's new boomerang, and it got lost. I just came to get it back, that's all."
As he spoke, the old couple's expressions softened, and they exchanged looks.
"Where do you live, young man?" the old man asked.
"Just north of here," he replied.
"And what's your name?" the old woman wanted to know.
"Eric Woodson, ma'am."
The old couple exchanged looks again. They seemed as if they'd just been struck by lightning.
After a moment, the old woman stepped closer and cupped Eric's chin in her hand. "It's okay, dear -- we're not mad at you. You've done nothing wrong."
"Why don't you come back to the house with us and have some cookies and hot chocolate?" the old man suggested. "We'd like to talk to you."
Eric's brow furrowed. They seemed like nice people, but after all the warnings he'd heard from his parents and all the lectures the teachers at school had given, he knew better than to go anywhere with strangers. "I'm sorry, but I can't. Rose and Sam are gonna be worried if I don't come back soon. And mom and dad told me that I'm not allowed to talk to strangers." He knelt down and picked up the boomerang. "It was nice meeting you, though. Bye!"
The old couple gave no reply as he and Growly headed back into the woods. The two of them still looked as if they were in a state of shock.
"There they are!" Sam exclaimed as Eric and Growly came back into the yard. They'd been gone for over an hour and a half, and it was starting to get dark.
Rose stomped her little foot. "What took you so long?!" she demanded. She then ran to her big brother's side and gave him a hug. "I was getting worried about you!"
Eric handed the boomerang to Sam and returned Rose's embrace. "I didn't mean to worry you, sis. It just took a long time to find the boomerang. The wind carried it pretty far -- it ended up in somebody's garden a couple miles south of here!"
"And I also ran into the people who owned the garden and talked to them for a few minutes," Eric continued. "They were upset at first. I guess they thought I was gonna cause trouble like that Ash guy, but they calmed down when I explained everything to them. They even invited me to their house for cookies and hot chocolate!"
"You didn't go with them, did you?!" Rose gasped.
Eric shook his head. "Of course not! They looked nice enough, but I knew better than to take any chances."
She breathed a sigh of relief.
After a moment, the front porch light switched on, and Miya came out the door. "C'mon, guys! Mom and dad said it's time to come in and start getting ready for dinner!" she called to them.
"Okay, Miya!" Rose called back.
"We'll be right there!" Eric chimed in. Then, to Sam, "Sorry I ruined the afternoon."
Sam shrugged. "That's okay. Not your fault the boomerang got lost...and you did find it again, so no harm was done."
Rose nodded. "Yeah! Like daddy says, all's well that ends well."
"I guess," Eric conceded.
When the three of them got inside, they found James bringing a tray of homemade clover leaf rolls and a second apple pie from the oven while Jessie stirred the pot of pork roast and autumn vegetables. Miya was helping Meowth, Charms, and Wobbuffet set the table. The entire house was filled with the warm, spicy-sweet aromas of fall.
James set the second pie on the counter next to the first one and put the rolls into a serving bowl. He draped a cloth over the rolls to keep them warm. "Sam, your mom and dad called a few minutes ago. They were just getting ready to leave, so they should be here before long," he said.
Sam's dove-gray eyes twinkled. "Great!"
"Oh, that reminds me," said Jessie. "Miya, would you please get Rose's old high chair from the basement so that Devon will have a place to sit?"
"No problem, mom!" came her reply.
Jessie smiled at her eldest daughter. "Thank you, angel." Then, to the other children, "And you three should wash up and help Sam get his things together."
"Yes, ma'am!" Eric, Rose, and Sam chorused.
"Gary. Arwen. C'mon in," Meowth said as he held the door open for their guests. "Dinner's just about ready!"
"Thanks, Meowth," Gary replied.
Arwen closed her eyes and smiled. "Everything smells so delicious!"
Jessie and James set the pork roast and dinner rolls on the table and waved.
"Hi, guys!" Jessie said.
"This all needs a few minutes to cool, so why don't you have a seat and make yourselves comfortable?" James told them.
"Don't mind if I do!" Gary replied.
Gary and Arwen seated themselves on the sectional in the living room. While Arwen placed Devon on the floor, Gary got a couple of plush pokemon from the diaper bag and handed them to him. As Devon began to play with his toys, Eric, Rose, and Sam came back downstairs.
"Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Oak!" Eric and Rose said.
Sam waved to his parents. "Hi, mommy! Hi, daddy!"
Arwen waved back. "Hello, sweetheart."
"Did you have fun?" Gary asked.
"Yeah! I had a lot of fun!" Sam exclaimed.
At the sound of his brother's voice, Devon looked up from his toys and clapped his little hands. "SAM!!!" he cheered.
Sam knelt down and gave his little brother a hug. "Hi, Dev!"
Devon hugged back. "Missed you...."
"I missed you, too," Sam replied. He tousled his brother's spiky brown hair and went to Gary and Arwen's side. "Guess what happened today!"
Gary and Arwen exchanged knowing looks. "What?"
"I was playing Candy Land with Rose, and that doofy guy, Ash Ketchum, showed up and tried to eat the game!" Sam explained. "But Eric punched him in the stomach and made him spit all the cards out!"
Arwen covered her mouth with her hand and chuckled.
"Good for Eric!" Gary remarked.
Rose frowned and tugged on the sleeve of James's sweater. "Daddy, why did that bad man eat our game? Didn't he know it was just plastic and cardboard?"
James picked up his daughter and gave her a hug. "No, he probably didn't know, princess. He's very, very stupid."
"That's putting it mildly," Jessie snorted.
Gary shook his head and sighed. "That's Ash for you. He never did have good luck with games or toys. When we were kids, my mom was always hearing horror-stories from Delia, about Ash sticking the bug parts from Cootie up his nose or eating the marbles from Hungry Hungry Hippoes. One time, Delia even had to take Ash to the emergency room to get his stomach pumped because she'd gotten him one of those Play Doh McDonald's sets, and he'd eaten all the Play Doh from it because he'd thought it was real hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes!"
Meowth smacked his forehead with the heel of his paw. "Dat's sad!"
"But at the same time, I'm not the least bit surprised," Jessie groaned.
James rolled his eyes. "Indeed."
Arwen raised an eyebrow. "Gary, didn't you once tell me that Ash used to eat school supplies, too?"
"Oh, yeah!" Gary snickered. "His teachers had a devil of a time with him. I was a couple grades ahead of Ash, so we were never in the same class, thank goodness, but I often heard the teachers complaining about how he always ate the crayons and paste and gave himself funny haircuts with the scissors. Quite frankly, I think the only reason he kept getting promoted was because his teachers didn't want to deal with him for another year...and I know that everybody was relieved when he got his trainer's license and dropped out of school."
"I can imagine!" said Arwen.
Meowth smirked. "Yeah. Can ya picture dat twerp in high school? He'd prolly still be whinin' for juice and cookies and wantin' ta take a nap! And he'd of had ta ride the short, short bus, no doubt!"
Everybody had a good laugh at this.
"He even tried to eat my toys a few times," Gary continued. "He was always inviting himself over to my house. Whenever he did, mom had to hide my Lite Brite because he thought the little colored pegs were candy." He paused for a moment and laughed again. "And get this! I used to have one of those Magic 8-Balls, but it had a crack in it. One time, when Ash came over, I left him alone in my room for a few minutes. When I got back, I saw him drinking all of the blue-black liquid out of my 8-Ball! And when he was done, he told me, Gee, Gary, your mom makes the worst Kool-Aid!"
Now everybody was roaring with laughter again.
"Oh...my...god!" Jessie gasped.
James's eyes went wide. "That is bad!"
"I guess the liquid in the 8-Ball wasn't poisonous, since nothing happened to him, but Delia had to take him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped...again," Gary concluded.
"Oh, for godsake! Didn't Delia ever feed that kid?" Arwen sighed.
"Yeah, but he was always really messed up," said Gary. "Even Brock and Misty won't have anything to do with him anymore! Ari and I were talking to them on the phone the other day, and they told us what happened when they invited Ash to their daughter, Vanessa's, birthday party awhile back...."
Jessie, James, and Meowth exchanged looks. "Uh, oh."
Arwen continued the story. "Ash was completely out of control -- he tried to hog the cake and ice cream and take all of the party favors and Vanessa's presents for himself. He even broke some of their sons' toys! Brock ended up having to throw him out, and Misty said that was the last time they ever tried to be nice to him!"
I don't know why they ever bothered being nice to him in the first place! Wobbuffet remarked.
"No kiddin'!" said Meowth. "How dey put up with him all dose years dey was on the road tagedda is beyond me!"
"It's beyond all of us, Meowth," Jessie sighed.
James smiled again. "Hey, if it's all the same to you guys, let's not talk about Ash anymore -- this is supposed to be a happy occasion!"
"Yer right, Jimmy!" Meowth agreed. "Besides, I bet all dat food is cool enough ta eat now, and if we talk about the twerp too much more, we're gonna lose our appetites!"
Gary winked at the cat. "Exactly!"
James's smile became a grin. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's eat!"
Meanwhile, a couple of miles down the road, another family was sitting down to dinner. And old memories and the afternoon's events were occupying their thoughts as well.
"That boy, Eric, is our grandson. I'm certain of it," Quentin Woodson said as he began cutting up his chicken kiev.
"Absolutely," Judith agreed. She took a bite of her own dinner and dabbed her lips with her napkin. "Except for those blue eyes, he looked just like James...and he even said his name was Woodson!"
Quentin huffed at the sound of his son's name.
Judith ignored him and continued. "You know, I seem to recall a few years ago, somebody bought daddy's old estate out from under the developers and turned Morgan Park back into private property."
"Somebody who obviously has a lot of money -- those developers were bidding top dollar for your parents' land," Quentin remarked. "And yet, in all these years, we've never seen this neighbor in church, at the country club, or at any of the social gatherings. We don't even know who they are! Seems a little strange, don't you think?"
"It does," Judith answered. "Do you think it could be James?"
"It has to be," Quentin replied. "That boy never was one for church, country clubs, or parties...respectable parties, anyway. It would explain why we've never seen him if he's been living next door to us all this time." He frowned. "But you'd think he'd have at least told us he had children...brought them to visit!"
Now Judith was frowning, too. "Did you ever stop to think there's a reason James never talks to us or brings his children to visit?! Did you ever stop to think there's a reason he ran away from home?!"
"Oh, I know why he ran away! The boy was an ingrate! We gave him everything he ever could've wanted, and it wasn't good enough for him!" Quentin thundered.
"I'm not so sure about that anymore," Judith muttered.
Quentin raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I've been doing a lot of thinking lately...and I've been thinking that maybe James not turning out the way we wanted wasn't his fault -- it was ours," she explained.
"How could it be our fault, Judy?" Quentin asked. "We did everything we could to make James a gentleman!"
"That's just it, Quentin," said Judith. "We were too busy trying to turn James into something he wasn't, and we never accepted him for who he was. Our parents never once tried to change him, and he was always on his best behavior for them -- it was only when we criticized him that he acted up!"
Quentin considered her words for a moment. "You have a point. But damn it all, the boy needed discipline!"
"Discipline, yes...but we crossed that line, Quentin!" she cried. "How many times did we call him stupid or worthless when he made a mistake that any child would? How many times were we too busy with our social obligations when he needed us? How many times did we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear when that...that monster tortured him in the name of discipline? Good God, is it any wonder James ran away and never looked back?! Is it any wonder we're nothing more than strangers to our own grandson?!" Her eyes filled with tears, and her voice trailed off.
Quentin got up from his seat and went to his wife's side. "Judith," he said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Judith stood up and wrapped her arms around her husband. She was crying in earnest now. "Our only son is a stranger to us, Quentin! And now our grandchildren are strangers to us, too! The thought of it is like a knife in my heart...."
"It pains me too, love," he admitted as he returned his wife's embrace. "But what can we do? It's obvious James wants nothing to do with us, and we can't very well show up at his door and demand to be part of our grandchildrens' lives."
Judith sniffled and looked into her husband's green eyes. "Or maybe we can." She brushed her tears away. "You're right, dear -- James is never going to come to us, so we're the ones who have to go to him. Even if he can't forgive us for what we've done, we owe him an apology."
There was a long pause before Quentin spoke again. "I've never thought much about it before, but I think you're right. I think we do need to talk to James."
She nodded. "Yes, we do. I miss him so much, Quentin. Whether he's perfect or not, he's still our son, and I want to see him again."
"Tell you what," he said quietly. "Tomorrow morning, after church, we'll pay a visit to James. No guarantee we can set things to rights, but we can at least try."
Judith rested her head on his shoulder. "Sounds good to me...."
To be Continued....
Another special thanks goes to Shigeru1313. The Ash-bashing in this chapter was a continuation of the Candy Land RP we did. XD The adorable scene where Devon is happy to see Sam again was her idea, too. She also drew the sweet pictures of Eric with Growly and Eric returning to Rose & Sam with the boomerang! ^__^
And yet another special thanks goes to Kally for the cute illustration of Eric meeting his grandparents for the first time! ^_^
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