by Cori Falls
Chapter 7 -- A Tradition Worth Keeping
"So, how much farther is it to Transit Town?" Jessie inquired.
Gary brought out his map and studied it for a moment. "Just under a mile, I think."
"Good!" Meowth sighed. "I can't wait ta take a break and get some lunch!"
"Me, too!" Jessie concurred. She draped an arm around my shoulders and leaned into me as we walked.
I smiled and returned her embrace.
It was the second day of November, and Gary, Jessie, Meowth, and I were on our way to Transit Town, at the northeast end of Red Rock Isle. We'd spent all day yesterday at the Team Rocket cabin outside Scarlet City, recovering from the party we'd had on Halloween. And now, we were continuing our journey and hoping to catch the afternoon ferry to Silver Rock Isle.
My smile grew even wider than it already was as I savored the feeling of Jessie's warm, soft body next to mine and the crisp sea breeze whipping through my hair. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend such a perfect fall day than traveling with my friends and enjoying their company.
But little did I know, our day was about to take a strange turn.
When we arrived in Transit Town, it was almost two o' clock. The afternoon ferry was scheduled to leave at four, so we had plenty of time to eat lunch. As we made our way up and down the streets, trying to find a place to eat, however, we noticed that the town seemed devoid of life, and all of the shops, restaurants, and other businesses were closed!
"Dis is so weird," Meowth remarked as we walked past a row of closed stores along the main strip.
Jessie put her arms around herself and shuddered. "It's creepy, is what it is -- this place feels like a ghost town!"
"Yeah! Where is everybody?" Gary wondered.
I brought my field-guide from my backpack and consulted it. "Well, it says here that all of the traffic between Red Rock Isle and Silver Rock Isle comes through Transit Town...which means that this place is a bustling port," I informed them. "I can't imagine why it would be dead...unless everything just shuts down in the middle of the day for afternoon siesta...."
"That could very well be," said Gary. "Lots of countries in Europe and South and Central America do that."
Jessie relaxed a little when she heard this. "Well, I hope that's all it is."
"And I hope dat everything opens up again before the ferry gets here!" Meowth chimed in. "How're we supposed ta eat lunch or buy ferry tickets if everything is closed?"
"Don't worry about it, Meowth," I said. "I can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch."
"And if we can't get ferry tickets, we can just take the balloon to Silver Rock Isle," Jessie added.
This made him smile again. "Hey, yer right!" He placed a paw to his growling stomach and blushed. "Heh. Ya think you can make dose sammiches now, Jimmy? All dat walkin' we did dis mornin' really made me work up an appetite!"
Now Jessie's stomach was growling, too. "I'm pretty hungry, myself."
"Then, why don't we see if this town has a park, or some other place where we can have a picnic?" Gary suggested.
"Sounds good to me," I replied.
As the four of us set out to do just that, however, we soon discovered that we weren't alone -- when we got to the town square and found the park, we saw two young teenage girls sitting together on a bench.
"Looks like this place isn't deserted, after all," Gary remarked.
"Either dat, or dey're just waitin' around for everything ta open, too," said Meowth.
"Should we invite them to have lunch with us?" Jessie asked. "It'd be rude to have a picnic right in front of them if they haven't eaten yet."
I nodded. "Of course! We've got more than enough to spare."
After choosing a spot beneath some pine trees, Jessie spread out our picnic blanket, and I began digging the food out of my backpack. While we were doing this, Meowth and Gary waved to the two girls and gestured for them to join us.
"Hi," the first girl said as they got up from the bench and approached us.
"You wanted to talk to us?" the second girl asked.
Gary smiled. "Yeah. We wanted to invite you to join our picnic."
"If ya haven't had lunch yet, we'd be happy ta share some of our sammiches with ya," Meowth told them.
"Thanks. That's very nice of you," the first girl, who had shoulder-length red hair and green eyes, replied. "But we've already eaten."
"My sister and I have been busy all day -- we just came here to take a break before getting dinner ready," the second girl, who had short green hair and dark blue eyes, chimed in.
Jessie raised an eyebrow. "I take it you live here in Transit Town?" she ventured.
The two girls nodded.
"My name is Rita," the red-haired girl told us.
"And I'm Sue," said the green-haired girl.
"We're the mayor's daughters!" they said in unison.
"Well, if ya don't mind my askin', where the hell is everybody in dis crazy town? And how come everything is closed?" Meowth inquired.
Rita and Sue exchanged looks.
"That's the reason Sue and I have been busy all day," Rita sighed.
"Yeah. Transit Town isn't normally shut down like this," Sue added.
"What happened?" I asked.
"It's kind of a long story," Rita told us.
"And we have time to hear it," Jessie replied, patting the picnic blanket.
"Well, you see, all of the parents and grandparents of the people here in Transit Town live in a little farming village on the other side of the mountains," Sue began as she and Rita seated themselves next to us. "A couple years back, our dad had a nice luxury retirement community built for them here, but they didn't want to leave their village. They've been working that land their whole lives -- they believe that the farming they do with their Diglett is what's allowed them to live such a long time, so they want to stay there forever."
"Back when this island was all wasteland and wilderness with only a few farming communities, there used to be roving bands of pokemon thieves who'd raid the villages and steal all of the Diglett. The old ones had to fight them off all the time," Rita continued. "Once more people started coming to the island, and the urban areas like Scarlet City and Transit Town sprang up, the bandits dispersed. But defending their village from the Diglett thieves had become just as important to the old ones as their farming -- they believe that the battles they fight are another of the keys to their longevity."
"So, once a year, everybody here in Transit Town poses as Diglett thieves and stages a reenactment of the raids against the village," Sue went on. "We're always very careful and make sure that nobody gets hurt during the battles, and we never really take any of the Diglett from them. We just want to see the old ones continue to live their lives the way they always have and keep them as healthy and active as possible."
Rita frowned. "Yesterday was the day of the annual raid. While Sue and I were at the village, helping everybody prepare for the battle, three kids who were on their way to Transit Town showed up -- they fell into one of the pit-traps that the Diglett made, and we had to help them out. One of the kids -- I think he said his name was Ash -- kept ranting about somebody from Team Rocket digging the hole, so we had to explain that we'd gotten the Diglett to dig the holes as a defense. When they heard why we were digging pit-traps around the village, the three of them volunteered to help us protect the old people. We figured that a little outside help would boost everybody's morale, so we took them up on their offer."
Now Sue was frowning, too. "Rita and I didn't tell them that the raid was only an act since we didn't want them to accidentally spill the beans. You see, in order for it to work, the old ones have to believe that the threat is real...that it's a real battle they're fighting to defend their way of life. Unfortunately, Ash took the battle a little too seriously, and things got out of control...."
Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I exchanged looks. We already knew how this story was going to end.
"Everybody who poses as bandits wears armor so that they don't get hurt, no matter how badly the old ones attack them, and they take air-bags along in case they fall into one of the Digletts' pit-traps," Rita explained. "But nobody was prepared for what Ash did. He got his Cyndaquil to roast a bunch of people with its Flamethrower -- it overheated the metal of their armor, and they had to take the suits off. And his Bayleef and Bulbasaur pulled their helmets off with Vine Whip. Once everybody was stripped of their armor, Ash and Misty got all of their water pokemon to soak them. We didn't want the old ones to discover the true identity of the Diglett thieves, so our dad ran up the white flag and surrendered. But as they all started retreating, Ash sent his Pikachu after them and got it to electrocute them with a Thunderbolt...and since everybody was wet, it made the electric attack even more intense!"
Gary gritted his teeth. "Oh, shit...."
Jessie, Meowth, and I buried our faces in our hands. Boy, did this sound familiar!
"And that's why everything in town is closed today," Sue concluded. "Our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors -- everybody in town is either in the hospital or at home in bed, recovering from their injuries. Since Rita and I were the only ones who didn't pose as Diglett thieves, we're the only ones that Ash didn't attack. We've spent all day taking care of the folks that are at home. Luckily, all of the people who work in the hospital stayed behind last night just in case anybody got hurt, and they were able to administer first-aid to everybody when we got back." She paused for a moment and shuddered. "I don't even want to think about how disastrous it could've been if all the doctors and nurses had been injured, too...."
Gary placed a hand to his temple. "How awful," he sighed. "We're so sorry to hear that."
Jessie folded her arms across her chest and scowled. "Yeah, but I'm not the least bit surprised. That full-on assault with his pokemon, even when you're trying to retreat, is Ash's specialty. He's always pulling that shit with us."
"You know him?" Rita and Sue asked.
"Unfortunately, yes," I replied.
"Ash used to be my neighbor back in Pallet Town," Gary told them. "He was always something of a public nuisance when we were kids, and ever since we left on our pokemon journey, he's had a bug up his ass about being my rival and wanting to beat me."
"And Jessie, James, and I are the Team Rocket agents he was rantin' about when youse guys fished him outta dat hole yesterday," Meowth added. "We used ta be on a mission ta capture his Pikachu, and he was always siccin' dat rat and all his other pokemon on us practically every time he saw us. Hell, even now dat we're tryin' to avoid him, he still won't leave us alone!"
I nodded. "Yes. To say that Ash is a thorn in our side would be an understatement."
"I wish we'd known what a jerk he was yesterday," Rita grumbled.
"Yeah," Sue agreed. "If we had, we could've told him to get lost, and none of this would've happened."
The smile returned to Rita's lips. "Though on the bright side, we were able to get a little revenge on him."
"He and his friends finally arrived in Transit Town earlier today to catch the morning ferry to Silver Rock Isle. When they got here and saw that everything was closed, we told Ash that the battle had only been staged and gave him hell for hurting everybody," Sue explained.
"Brock and Misty felt bad about what happened once they learned the truth, and they apologized to us. They were even nice enough to help us deliver breakfast to everybody who's home in bed," Rita continued. "But Ash still insisted that he hadn't done anything wrong and that it was our fault for not telling him the battle was fake yesterday. In retrospect, I'll admit we probably should've told him the battle wasn't real, but jeez. You'd think he'd have at least shown a bit of remorse for what he did!"
Jessie rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Lots of luck trying to reason with that twerp or get an apology out of him."
"It's the ultimate excersise in futility," I said.
Now Sue was smiling, too. "Which brings us to the best part of the story! When Ash still wouldn't apologize for attacking everybody and started whining that he was going to miss the ferry if Brock and Misty stuck around to help us, Rita and I told him that if he was so desperate to catch his damn boat, then he should just swim out to it. Then, we grabbed him by his ratty vest and threw him off the dock!"
The four of us burst out laughing when we heard this.
Meowth clutched his sides and doubled over. "Aw, man, dat's priceless!"
"That also makes two baths the twerp's had in a month's time," Jessie snickered. "Must be a new record for him!"
"The scary thing is, you're probably right," I sighed.
Gary's expression became serious once more. "Well, we're really sorry to hear about what Ash did," he said. "If you two need any help preparing meals, taking care of people, and such, then we'd be glad to stick around for awhile."
"That would be really nice -- we could definitely use the help," came Rita's reply.
"Are you sure it's not a bother?" Sue asked. "If you have somewhere you need to be...."
"Ain't no trouble at all!" Meowth assured them. "We was plannin' on headin' over ta Silver Rock Isle, but if the twerps is dere, we ain't in no hurry."
Jessie nodded and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. "James loves to cook, and he's damned good at it!" she told them. "He can help prepare meals!"
I felt my cheeks turning pink as I slid an arm around her waist. "And Jessie's had some training as a nurse," I said. "She can help administer first-aid and make sure everybody is comfortable."
Now Jessie was blushing, too.
"And I can keep everybody entertained with my extensive collection of off-color jokes and anecdotes!" Meowth volunteered.
Jessie shot the cat a warning glare.
"You behave!" I told him.
Meowth stuck his tongue out at us. "Ah, yer no fun!"
Gary said nothing, just shook his head and laughed again.
Rita and Sue laughed, too.
"Thank you so much!" Rita said.
Sue nodded. "Yeah! This really means a lot to us!"
"Don't mention it," Jessie told them. "Like I said, we know firsthand how brutal Ash can be...and we know firsthand how painful it is to be attacked by that Pikachu. We'd be happy to help until everybody is feeling better."
I held up a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. "But right now, I need to make lunch," I said, getting back to the original subject. "We spent all morning walking from Scarlet City, and we haven't eaten since breakfast -- we're famished!"
"Well, if it's lunch you want, then you're more than welcome to eat at our house," Rita offered.
"And we have three guest bedrooms upstairs, too -- you can stay with us while you're in town!" Sue added.
"Well, we don't want to impose," Gary told them.
"You're not imposing at all!" Rita insisted.
"It's the very least we can do to thank you for your help!" Sue agreed.
Jessie and I exchanged looks.
"What do you say, James?" she asked.
I smiled at her. "How can we refuse an offer like that?" came my reply.
"Den dat settles it!" Meowth exclaimed. "Youse guys have yerselves some guests!"
When we arrived at Rita and Sue's house, the two of them made grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for us. While we were eating, they brought out a map of the town and showed us where all the people who needed homecare lived. There were nine houses we had to make stops at, so we decided to split into three groups of two -- Rita and Sue, Gary and Meowth, and me and Jessie -- and take three houses apiece. After making nine breakfasts and nine lunches and taking care of everybody all day, Rita and Sue were relieved by the prospect of having a lighter workload this evening. They were even able to make plans to visit their parents, who were still in the hospital.
Once we'd finished our lunch, Rita and Sue showed us to the guest rooms. The room Gary chose was done in pale aqua with prints of Winslow Homer seascapes hanging on the walls. Meowth's room was in soft cream and champagne colors with prints of Theophile Steinlen paintings on the walls. And the room where Jessie and I were staying was done in rich raspberry colors with paintings of roses on the walls. The drapes and bedspread were made of satin that was a couple shades darker than the walls, and an oriental-style rug with dark pink roses on it covered the wooden floor.
"Oh, wow! Dis is great!" Meowth said as he stepped into his room and admired the decor. "Steinlen is one a my favorite artists! He loved ta draw cats, so ya know he was cool!"
"I like his works, too," Gary agreed. "One time when my family went to France to visit my grandma and grandpa Vannier, we made a stop in Paris and got to see the site of the Chat Noir nightclub that Steinlen painted a poster for."
"Isn't that one of the clubs Toulouse-Lautrec frequented?" I asked.
He nodded. "It sure is!"
"I bet dat was really somethin'!" Meowth remarked. "I'd sure like ta visit France someday...."
"Maybe we will, once we have a little more money saved up," I told him. "I'd like to go there myself...see some of those famous art galleries and historical sites."
Jessie's sapphire eyes sparkled. "A vacation in France would be so romantic!" she sighed. Then, to Rita and Sue, "Speaking of which, our room is absolutely gorgeous! I love the colors, and roses are our favorite flower! Whoever did the decor has wonderful taste!"
"That'd be our mother," Sue replied.
"We'll be sure to pass on the compliment when we see our parents tonight!" Rita chuckled.
"Well, I hate to break things up, but I'm exhausted," Sue said, changing the subject. "We should probably take a nap before we make our evening rounds."
"Sounds like a good idea," Gary agreed. "I'm pretty tired, too."
"I think we could all do with some rest," Rita yawned. "Just as long as we're up by five. I'll set my alarm clock...."
Sue waved to us as she and Rita went back downstairs. "See you later. Thanks again for all your help."
"Thank you for your hospitality," Jessie replied.
"And for dat delicious lunch!" Meowth added.
Once the two of them had taken their leave, we all retired to our rooms and got settled in.
"This really is a nice bedroom," I remarked as I kicked off my boots and laid down on the bed.
Jessie took off her own boots and flopped down at my side. "Nice and romantic," she muttered into my ear.
The feeling of her warm, sweet breath tickling my skin and her gentle arms snaking their way around my waist made my heart flutter. "Very romantic!" I concurred. A shiver of excitement raced up my spine when her hands found the ticklish spots on my sides.
"All these roses...the satin sheets...it'd be a shame to let this romantic atmosphere go to waste," she whispered hotly. Her hands were now under my shirt, caressing my bare flesh.
I cupped her face in my hands and caressed her burning cheeks with my thumbs. "Indeed it would," I whispered back.
Jessie leaned closer and pressed her lips to mine. "Then, what are we waiting for?" she asked between kisses.
Another chill of excitement coursed through me when she said this. I wanted her as badly as she wanted me...and the atmosphere of the room was extremely conducive to the mood. I couldn't deny that. As I rolled on top of her and began pulling off her shirt, however....
"Aw, shit! I'm sorry! I shoulda knocked...."
Jessie and I pulled apart and saw Meowth standing in the doorway. He was smiling bashfully at us and had a big sweatdrop on his temple.
Jessie's face turned even redder than it already was. "What are you doing, Meowth?"
"Sorry," he apologized again. "I just wanted ta ask if I could borrow yer art book, James. I was checkin' out dose Steinlen prints in my room, and I wanted ta look up dere titles, when dey was painted...stuff like dat."
"Of course you can borrow my art book," I told him. "It's in my backpack."
"I didn't know youse guys was bein' amorous," Meowth said as he dug the book from my backpack. He surveyed the room for a moment and smirked when he looked back at us. "Though I shoulda figured dat a place like dis would get ya in the mood!"
"A mood which you've just killed!" Jessie retorted. "So, spare us your smart-ass commentary, Meowth!"
"Alright, you win," he conceded. "I really am sorry, though. I didn't mean ta disturb ya."
"It's okay," I assured him. I cast a quick glance at the clock on the nightstand. "It's already half past three -- Jess and I don't really have enough time to do anything anyway."
"I guess we'll have to wait until tonight, then," Jessie sighed. She smirked at Meowth. "So, consider yourself warned!"
The cat saluted us. "Got it! I'll save all my best cracks til den!" he said as he took his leave.
Once he was gone, Jessie and I exchanged wistful smiles.
"Damn. I was hoping for a nice, romantic afternoon," Jessie muttered with more than a hint of disappointment in her voice.
I took one of her hands in mine and raised it to my lips. "I'll more than make it up to you tonight, honey. I promise," I told her.
This seemed to make her happy again. "You'd better!"
I wrapped my arms around her waist and held her to me once more. "Don't worry -- you know I always keep my promises."
"Indeed, you do, James," she replied, closing her mouth over mine.
This time, there was nobody to interrupt us, and our kiss lasted for several minutes. When we finally released each other, Jessie laid her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.
"I guess we should get some rest now," she said softly.
I ran my fingers through Jessie's crimson hair and gave her another kiss. "I guess...."
As I held my lover in my arms and felt her slowly drifting off to sleep, I closed my own eyes, and before long, I joined her.
I opened my eyes and found myself standing in a garden. In the distance loomed the imposing figure of my parents' mansion, and beside that stood the much smaller form of Growly's doghouse. It was a warm, sticky evening, and waves of heat seemed to be radiating from the ground as the blazing red sun sank below the western horizon, and the golds and pinks of sunset gave way to the blues and purples of night. I knew right away that this was a dream (or a nightmare if Jessiebelle or my parents showed up).
But why was I here?
Suddenly, I heard a hushed voice coming from a cluster of azalea bushes on my right. "Stay close to me! We can't let anybody see us!"
I raised an eyebrow. That voice...it sounds like.... I peered through the bushes and saw a nine year-old boy and a Growlithe puppy sneaking through the garden. It is! It's me and Growly! I wiped away the sweat that had formed on my brow. What's going on, here? I wondered.
As if in answer to my question, I saw myself cast a nervous glance towards the mansion, then kneel at Growly's side. "I'm not going to let them get away with this, Growly," I whispered. "I love grand-mama and grand-papa too much!"
I felt as if I'd been struck by lightning when I heard myself. This was more than just a dream -- it was a memory! A memory of the day after my parents cut me off from my grandparents...a memory of the first time I went to visit them on the sly!
A chill ran up my spine as I closed my eyes and recalled those fateful events....
My parents hadn't known it, but I'd seen the fight they'd had with grand-mama and grand-papa. I'd seen my grandparents shouting them down and expressing their disgust with the way I was being treated...mom bursting into tears and making a big production about how disgusted she was that grand-mama and grand-papa were trying to tell her and dad how to raise me...and dad calling them a couple of bleeding-hearts and accusing them of corrupting me with their hippie lifestyle and sinful Pagan ways. Grand-mama and grand-papa made no apologies for the way they lived their lives, and when they demanded that my parents call off my engagement to Jessiebelle and allow me to live my life how I chose, my parents refused...and punished them for their insolence by telling them that they could never see me again.
After grand-mama and grand-papa were thrown out, I went to my room and cried all night. And once I couldn't cry anymore, my sadness gave way to anger...anger and defiance. That latest act of cruelty on my parents' part had only made me more determined than ever to live my life the way I wanted...and I wanted to be just like the grandparents I loved so dearly. I'd vowed right then and there that I'd never become what Quentin and Judith Woodson wanted to make me -- I'd never become like them. I'd also vowed that I wouldn't let them keep me and my grandparents apart, no matter what.
So began my clandestine visits.
Whenever my parents were home, I'd wait until after dinner and sneak out of my room. They always thought I was reviewing the day's ettiquette lessons or doing my homework and were never the wiser about what I'd really been doing! And whenever they were at a social function or on a trip, I'd go to visit grand-mama and grand-papa any time I damn well pleased! Most of the servants liked me and never told my parents about my comings and goings, and they always kept Jessiebelle and Hopkins distracted so that I could slip out without their noticing.
For four months -- from the day my parents cut me off from them to the day they died -- I visited grand-mama and grand-papa almost every day, and I never once got caught. It had been a difficult time for all three of us, but looking back, I'm glad that I did it. Those secret trips to see grand-mama and grand-papa were the only thing that helped me cope with my parents' discipline and Jessiebelle's sadism. If I'd given up and allowed my parents to win...if I'd allowed them to keep my grandparents from being a part of my life, who knows where I'd be now?
I brought myself from my reverie and saw the younger versions of myself and Growly leaving the garden and making their way towards the woods at the north end of the estate. Yes, this was definitely a memory of the first time I'd snuck out to see grand-mama and grand-papa.
But why I was reliving this memory was still unclear to me. I knew I was having this dream for a reason...I just had to figure out what that reason was!
So, I decided to follow myself and Growly.
At length, the three of us arrived at the Morgan estate. As my younger self climbed up the front steps of the mansion and rang the doorbell, however, my surroundings went blurry and faded away. For a moment, I thought I was waking up, but then, everything came back into focus, and I found myself standing in my grandparents' library. Grand-papa had a grim expression on his face as he thumbed through a book, and grand-mama was at his side, her eyes moist with tears.
This must be what my grandparents were doing while I was on my way to see them! I surmised.
"Have you found anything yet?" grand-mama whispered in a broken voice.
"Not yet," came grand-papa's reply. He closed the book and placed a hand to his temple. "Goddammit all, sometimes I really hate the legal system!"
Grand-mama was crying in earnest now. "It's so wrong!" she shouted. "We've got photographs that show how badly James has been hurt by that bitch and how sick he got when her Oddish Stun Spored him! We've seen with our own eyes that torture chamber she's built in the basement! And Eric and Miranda even promised to be our witnesses if we bring charges against Quentin and Judith! What jury in the world wouldn't be able to see that this is a clear-cut case of child abuse?!"
Grand-papa grabbed another book from the shelf. "I know. That's what makes this so aggravatin'! We've got a body of evidence that proves our case beyond a shadow of a doubt, and all Quentin and Judith have to do is get that lawyer of theirs to claim that the evidence was obtained illegally! Even Eric and Miranda's testimony isn't likely to be much help -- I've seen the toughest men and women reduced to sobbing wrecks by the cross-examinations of Preston S. Beauregarde III!"
"What are we going to do, Jim?" grand-mama sobbed. "I love that little boy more than anything -- I can't bear the thought of him suffering any more than he already has!"
Grand-papa placed a hand on her shoulder. "I love him too, Rose. I promise I'll find a way to prove that our evidence is legitimate. We're NOT going to lose this case...or our grandson to any goddamned technicalities! We're going to get James out of there, even if it's the last thing we do!"
Grand-mama dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "I hope so...."
I felt my own eyes filling with tears as I watched the scene that was unfolding before me. I'd often heard grand-mama and grand-papa say that they wished they could adopt me (and I'd often wished it myself), but I'd never known that they really had tried to get custody of me, and that they'd gone so far as to try and bring child abuse charges against my parents! They'd fought harder for me than I ever suspected...and they'd been willing to risk all for my sake! In that moment, I felt more love and admiration for them than I ever thought possible!
Suddenly, grand-mama and grand-papa's dark reverie was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. And a couple of minutes later, their butler showed the younger versions of me and Growly into the library. When my grandparents saw me standing there, the expressions of sorrow on their faces turned to unadulterated joy.
"Oh, James! Oh, my sweet little angel!" grand-mama cried, scooping me into her arms and showering my face with kisses.
Grand-papa put away the books he'd been looking at and gave me a hug, too. "What are you doing here, James?" he asked. "How did....?"
"I snuck out of my room," I replied. "Mom and dad think I'm reviewing my ettiquette lessons...."
Grand-mama smoothed back my hair and gave me another kiss. "We were so worried about you, darling. The thought of never seeing you again broke our hearts...."
I shook my head. "I won't let mom and dad do this to us -- I won't let anything keep us apart!"
"We love you so much, James," grand-papa told me. "We'll do everything in our power to put a stop to what your parents are doing to you. We promise!"
"You mean everything to us, James...everything...." they said in unison.
I brushed my tears away as the scene faded to black. I still wasn't quite sure why I was dreaming about this, but I found it comforting to learn what my grandparents had been doing...to know just how hard they'd worked to rescue me from my abusive home-life while they were alive. It served as a reminder that they were still watching out for me, even now.
And that look on their faces! I said to myself. When I was a child, I hadn't noticed the way their eyes had lit up when they'd seen me. I hadn't realized just how happy that visit had made them...or just how much weight their promises had carried.
But I knew now.
Now more than ever, I was aware of how important I'd been to grand-mama and grand-papa and how deeply they'd loved me. And now more than ever, I was thankful that I'd defied my parents and done everything I could to ensure that my grandparents remained a part of my life.
When my surroundings reappeared, a montage of images began to flash before my eyes. Images of grand-mama casting spells, praying for me to be protected, and for the efforts of those who meant me harm to fail. Images of grand-papa spending every spare moment in his library, preparing a flawless case against my parents and getting grandma and grandpa Woodson ready for the ruthless cross-examinations of mom and dad's lawyer. (Grand-papa had been a lawyer himself...one of the best in the business. He'd spent his entire life fighting for justice, serving as a champion for innocent victims and the falsely accused. If he and grand-mama had lived long enough to bring the case to trial, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that they would've won.)
But then, the nature of the images changed, and I saw that the intensity of the work they were doing, their sadness at not being able to see me as often as they liked, and the stress of duking it out with Preston S. Beauregarde III in all of the pre-trial hearings were taking a heavy toll on their health. But even when grand-mama and grand-papa got sick and knew that the end was near, they still didn't give up -- unable to take my parents to court after all, they just left me a cash inheritance that mom and dad didn't know about so that I could leave home and have the freedom to live my life however I chose. Saving me from my parents and Jessiebelle truly had been the last thing my grandparents had done...and they'd succeeded!
And this, in turn, made me think about some of my own accomplishments. The time I'd returned home and broken off my engagement to Jessiebelle...the time I'd defeated Preston S. Beauregarde III in court when Jessie, Meowth, and I had posed as lawyers and defended Ash -- I'd honored (and avenged) my grandparents with both of those victories. And I knew in my heart that as long as I remained true to my family, my friends, and myself and kept living my life on my terms, then I'd continue to honor their memory.
"Don't worry," I whispered as the final image of myself digging up the money that grand-papa had left for me under the white rose bush in his garden vanished. "I'll always be grateful that you played such an important part in my life. I'll always remember the lessons you've taught me and the freedom you've given me. And I'll always make you proud of me...."
"I see you understand the importance of what you've just witnessed."
I turned and saw grand-papa standing behind me. I smiled at him. "I knew I was having this dream for a reason."
"Your grand-mama and I wanted you to see what we were doing on that night," he told me. "We wanted you to see how important your visits were to us. That battle we fought to get custody of you is what contributed to our final illnesses, but there's not a doubt in my mind that getting to see you...having you there to cheer us up and remind us that we had something worth fighting for is what allowed us to hang on as long as we did. You made us so happy, James...and you still do. Having you in our lives meant more than you could ever imagine."
"I feel the same way," I replied. "You and grand-mama were the very best part of my life when I was a child...and I met Jessie because of you!"
Grand-papa nodded approvingly. "Your grand-mama and I were very happy when the two of you became a couple. We knew that she was the one you belonged with -- seeing how happy she makes you...and how happy you make her only further convinced us that we did the right thing, getting you away from your parents and Jessiebelle."
"You did do the right thing -- my freedom was one of the greatest gifts you ever gave me," I affirmed. "It's a gift that I'll treasure all the more now that I know how hard you fought to give it to me."
"How could we have done any less?" he asked. "We love you more than anything, James. We were always proud of you when you were a little boy, and we're even more proud of the man you've become. Not a day goes by that we're not thankful for the joy you bring us and the knowledge that we're so important to you." Suddenly, however, his expression became serious. "But not all grandparents are as fortunate as we are...and not all young people are as wise as you. You and your friends arrived in Transit Town when you did for a reason, James...just as you had this dream for a reason. You have an opportunity to help these people in more ways than you know...."
Before I could ask grand-papa what he meant, his spirit began to fade away. And once he was gone, the dream-world around me started vanishing, too.
I awoke to the sound of knocking on the door and Meowth shouting, "Come on, guys! Ya gotta get up so we can help Rita and Sue make dinner for everybody!"
I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.
At my side, I felt Jessie stirring. "Mmm...is it five already?"
As I sat there in bed and tried to wake up, I found that my thoughts were still dwelling on the dream I'd just had. Learning about what a tremendous thing my grandparents had done for me was a lot to absorb...and I was still a little puzzled about what grand-papa had told me right before the dream had ended.
I looked up at Jessie, who was now sitting at the dressing table and brushing her hair.
"Out of bed, sweetie -- we've got work to do!"
"Sorry, honey," I apologized as I got to my feet and stretched myself out. I seated myself on the bed once more and started pulling on my boots. "I just had some stuff on my mind, that's all."
"What kind of stuff?" Jessie prompted.
I then proceeded to tell her about my dream and what grand-papa had said to me.
A smile made its way across Jessie's lips as she returned to my side and listened to me. "You never told me that your grand-papa was a lawyer, James!" she remarked. She gave me a playful nudge with her elbow. "Now I know why you put on such a splendid performance as Charles Cheatum: Attorney at Law!"
I smiled shyly at her and felt my cheeks turning pink.
"I think it's wonderful that your grandparents took such a strong stand against your mom and dad," she continued. "They really were looking out for you...."
"Yes," I agreed. "But what do you think grand-papa was talking about when he said that I could help these people in more ways than I know? What's the connection between my grandparents' legal battle with my parents and our arrival in Transit Town?"
Jessie pondered my questions for a moment. "Maybe your grand-papa wants us to get these people to press charges against Ash -- we have enough legal expertise to represent them in court!" she said, only half-jokingly.
"That would be nice," I chuckled as I formed a mental image of Ash drowning in legal fees, liability, and punitive damages -- it was the least that asshole deserved, considering all he'd done! Then, becoming serious again, "But I don't think that's quite what grand-papa had in mind. The dream was mostly about how important my grandparents are to me and how important I am to them. I think it has something to do with the old people who live in that farming village -- the parents and grandparents of Transit Town's citizens."
Jessie raised an eyebrow. "But Ash didn't hurt the old people -- by all accounts, they're just fine and dandy! Why would they need our help?"
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "But I get the feeling that something besides Ash's latest act of cruelty is terribly wrong here...and I intend to find out what it is."
"Then, count me in!" Jessie said, taking my hand in hers. "I'll help you in any way that I can, James. And I know that Meowth and Gary will, too."
I brought Jessie's hand up and kissed her fingertips. "Thanks, honey. I can always depend on you...."
Once we finished freshening up, Jessie and I went downstairs and joined Meowth, Gary, Rita, and Sue. After studying the map of town again and deciding which houses each team would take, the six of us set out. While we were on our way to our assigned houses, I filled Meowth and Gary in on the dream I'd had.
"Hmmm...what do you think is going on with those old people?" Gary wondered.
"That's what we're hoping to find out," Jessie told him.
"Jessie and I are going to try and learn more about these Diglett raids and such from the people that we visit tonight," I explained. "Why don't the two of you do the same?"
"Good idea," said Gary.
"Yeah!" Meowth agreed. "Let's split up and see if we can't solve dis groovy mystery!"
Jessie smirked at him. "Thank you, Scooby Doo!"
"Yer welcome, Daphne!" Meowth retorted.
"It turns out, the scary Ash monster is really Old Man Jenkins from the amusement park...." Gary chuckled.
"....And he would've gotten away with it, if it weren't for us meddling kids and that talking cat!" I said, finishing the thought for him.
Now we were all laughing.
When Gary and Meowth arrived at the first house on their route, Jessie and I wished them luck and continued on our way. And a few minutes later, we reached our first stop.
I consulted our map again and double-checked the address as we came up the walkway to a white stucco house with sea-green trim. "2470 Wavecrest Drive. This looks like the place."
Jessie rang the doorbell. After a moment, an intercom buzzed. "Who is it?" a gruff voice asked.
"Is this Mr. and Mrs. Salazar?" Jessie inquired.
"Yeah. What do you want?"
"Rita and Sue sent us," I answered. "We're here to make dinner."
"Oh, okay. The key is in the garden gnome. Come on in."
The two of us looked and saw a little garden gnome statue standing in the flower bed. Jessie picked it up and produced a key from a compartment on its back.
As we unlocked the door and let ourselves in, we saw a middle-aged couple coming from the bedroom. The man smoothed back his rumpled brown hair and studied us for a moment. "So, you're friends of Rita and Sue?" he inquired.
"Actually, we're just passing through town," I explained.
"But when we found out what that rotten twerp, Ash Ketchum, did, we decided to stay for a couple of days and help out," Jessie added.
"Well, we appreciate it," the woman told us.
Jessie motioned for the two of them to have a seat. "How are you feeling tonight?"
"A lot better than we were last night," came Mr. Salazar's reply as he and his wife sat down on the couch.
Mrs. Salazar nodded. "I think a day of rest was all we needed. Rita and Sue were so nice to make breakfast and lunch and do some chores for us...and it's really nice of you to be helping them out."
"Speaking of which, what would you like for dinner?" I asked.
"Rita took some imitation crab delights from the freezer at lunchtime," said Mr. Salazar. "Anything that goes with those is fine by us."
"And Sue started a load of laundry at breakfast and put it in the dryer at lunch," Mrs. Salazar chimed in. "If you could take it out for us to fold later, that'd be great. The utility room is right next to the kitchen."
"No problem. I'll get right on it!" Jessie said.
As she went to the utility room and began pulling the clean laundry from the dryer and putting it into a basket, I went to the kitchen and looked through the pantry and refrigerator for something to make with the crab delights. At length, I found a box of tricolor rotini pasta, some tomatoes, peppers, and black olives, a bottle of Italian salad dressing, and a can of parmesan cheese.
"How does pasta salad sound?" I asked.
"Sounds great!" they replied in unison.
When Jessie finished with the laundry, she joined me in the kitchen and watched me put a pot of water on the stove to boil. "This is fun! Kind of like Doorknock Dinners on Food Network!" she remarked.
I smiled at her. "Yeah, it is!"
While the pasta was cooking, I started chopping the vegetables. Meanwhile, Jessie returned to the living room and spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Salazar for a moment. Then, she got a first-aid kit from the hall closet, sprayed healing potion on their superficial injuries, and did a quick check-up on the two of them. "Well, you both seem to be healing nicely, your temperature and blood pressure are normal, and your hearts sound just fine. I think you're right that a day of rest was all you needed," she announced. "That twerp's Pikachu is always electrocuting me, James, and our friend, Meowth -- we usually feel better after taking it easy for awhile, too."
"You mean he's attacked you, too?!" Mrs. Salazar gasped.
"All the time," I sighed. I took the pasta from the stove and poured it into a colander. Then, I rinsed it with cold water and put it into a bowl. "That's a big reason Jessie and I wanted to help out -- we know how it feels."
"Jesus Christ. That boy is a lunatic," Mr. Salazar grumbled.
I added the vegetables, the crab delights, the salad dressing, and the parmesan cheese to the pasta and began to mix it up. "Indeed he is," I agreed. "But let's not talk about him anymore...."
"Yeah! Why don't you tell us about the annual Diglett raids instead?" Jessie suggested. "Rita and Sue mentioned them briefly, but we'd love to hear more!"
Mr. and Mrs. Salazar's expressions brightened as they came to the table, and I served a bowl of pasta salad to each of them.
"Mmmmm! Delicious!" Mrs. Salazar exclaimed after taking her first bite.
Jessie brought a pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator and poured two glasses. "I'm sure it is -- James is a wonderful chef!"
I felt my cheeks turning pink.
"He's also very humble," she continued, wrapping her arms around my waist and giving me a kiss.
Mr. Salazar smiled. "Please join us. We'd be happy to tell you all about our local custom."
As Jessie and I sat at the table and helped ourselves to the iced tea and pasta salad, the Salazars proceeded to fill us in on how the old people lived and how keeping them healthy and active with the annual Diglett raids had become a tradition. Most of their story sounded exactly like what Rita and Sue had told us, but I did notice something strange -- Mr. and Mrs. Salazar only went to the village during the annual raids! They'd never once visited the old people at any other time!
Jessie and I exchanged looks when we heard this. I had a feeling we'd just discovered what was wrong with this picture.
Once the meal was finished, Jessie and I put the leftovers in the refrigerator and cleaned up the kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Salazar thanked us once more for our help and said good-bye to us before going back to bed.
After leaving their house and locking up again, we went to the next two stops on our route. Just like we had at the Salazars, Jessie gave quick check-ups to confirm that everybody was okay and did chores around the house while I prepared dinner. And just like we had at the Salazars, we inquired about the annual battle and heard the same story -- the only time anybody ever went to the village and saw the old people was during the Diglett raids!
Yes, I definitely knew what grand-papa had been talking about now.
My suspicions were confirmed when we met up with Meowth and Gary again, and they told us that everybody they'd visited had said the same thing.
"Apparently, the people in this town don't bother to spend much time with their parents and grandparents," Gary concluded when he and Meowth finished telling us what they'd learned.
"Apparently," Jessie echoed.
"But why?" I wondered. It was obvious that the people of Transit Town loved and respected their parents and grandparents, and by all accounts, the village was only a few miles away. So, what reason could they possibly have for never visiting them? How could they not want to be a part of their loved ones' lives?
When we returned to the mayor's house, we found Rita and Sue waiting for us.
"Hey! How did everything go?" Rita asked.
"Pretty good," Meowth replied. "Everybody enjoyed dere dinner, and dey all seem ta be feelin' better."
Sue nodded. "Everybody that we visited is feeling better, too. Hopefully that means the people in the hospital will be well enough to come home tomorrow...."
"Speaking of which, we'd better get going if we want to see mom and dad before visiting hours end," said Rita.
"Oh! Before you go, we have a question," I told them.
Sue raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Well, while we were visiting everybody, they told us more about those Diglett raids, and from what we've heard, we get the impression that nobody ever goes to visit the old people," I began.
"Of course nobody goes to visit them," Rita replied, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "Sue and I are the only ones...."
"And why is that?" Jessie queried.
"Like we told you earlier -- the battle that the old ones fight every year is one of the keys to their longevity...and in order for it to work, they have to believe that the raids are real," Sue explained.
"If everybody in town went to see them on a regular basis, then the old ones would be able to figure out the true identity of the Diglett thieves," Rita chimed in. "And we can't take that chance. Believe me, everybody would love to visit them more often, but we don't want to risk destroying their way of life."
"That's why Rita and I never disguise ourselves as thieves during the raids," Sue continued. "We visit them on behalf of the townspeople and keep them from feeling isolated, and we don't jeopardize the raids."
"Dat makes sense...I guess," Meowth said, though the expression on his face showed that he was still bewildered.
And quite frankly, so was I. And it looked like Jessie and Gary were, too.
"Tell you what. We should have some free time tomorrow, so we can take you to the village to see the old ones, if you'd like," Rita offered.
"Yeah! That way, you can see firsthand how they live, and how important their way of life is to them," Sue added.
"Sounds good," Gary told them.
"Yes. We'd like that," Jessie agreed.
"Thank you," I said.
"No. Thank you," they replied. "We really appreciate all the help you gave us today."
Meowth waved a paw at them. "Aw, dat's okay -- it was our pleasure!"
Rita looked at her watch and got to her feet. "Well, we really have to get going now -- visiting hours end at nine, and it's almost eight."
"We won't keep you, then," said Gary.
Sue smiled at us. "We'll be back later. In the meantime, make yourselves at home -- you can listen to the stereo, play video games, watch DVDs, read some books...anything you want. And if you get hungry, you can help yourselves to whatever you like."
Meowth's midnight-blue eyes lit up. "Wow! Thanks!"
Once Rita and Sue had taken their leave, Meowth opened the freezer and began to root around.
"I can't believe you're still hungry!" Gary chuckled. Then, to me and Jessie, "We had about three dinners tonight since everybody that we cooked for invited us to eat with them."
"We couldn't refuse -- didn't wanna seem rude...and everything was so delicious!" Meowth said. "At the first house, we had club sammiches. Den, at the next house, we had spaghetti and meatballs with garlic toast. And at the last house, we had fried chicken fingers with mashed potatoes and gravy!"
"James and I had three dinners, too," Jessie told them. "Pasta salad with imitation crab delights, chicken with Spanish rice and beans, and pepperoni and mushroom pizza!"
"We're absolutely stuffed!" I added, placing a hand to my stomach.
"Yeah, but dere's always room for dessert," Meowth countered. "And....Hey! Dey got puddin' pops!" With that, he produced a box of chocolate and vanilla swirl pudding popsicles from the freezer.
Now Jessie's eyes were sparkling, too. "You're right, Meowth -- there is room for dessert!"
Meowth grinned and handed a popsicle to her. "What about youse guys?" he asked me and Gary.
Gary shrugged. "Why not?"
"I guess I can find room for one, too," I replied.
Once we each had a pudding pop, Meowth put the box back in the freezer. And once we began on our dessert, we decided to get back to the issue at hand.
"So, whadda we gonna do about gettin' dese families back tagedda?" Meowth asked. "Dat's what yer grand-papa said we had ta do, right, James?"
I nodded. "I'm sure of it. These people are nice, but they really need to rethink their priorities if they place more value on a fake battle than they do on spending quality time with their loved ones."
"You're right," Gary concurred. "But it won't be easy to make them see that. Those battles have become a tradition to them...and if there's one thing I've learned from all the history I've studied, it's that people don't like letting go of their traditions."
"Yes, but some traditions need to be scrapped or changed when they don't work," Jessie argued. "Just look at how Wobbuffet Village was almost destroyed by three little pissant vandals, all because of that stupid no battles during the Wobbuffet Festival rule!"
"Good point," I told her. "We can't force them to give up their tradition, but we can't let it continue to keep these families apart either. We need to find a way to change the custom...."
"But how?" Meowth queried.
"Well, Rita and Sue offered to take us to meet the old people tomorrow," Gary reminded him.
"Yes. Maybe if we see firsthand how they live and how much value they place on that battle, we'll be better able to decide on a course of action," I agreed. "We definitely need to learn as much as we can before we do anything."
"Unlike Ash, who's always horning in on stuff that isn't any of his business and fucking everything up," Jessie snorted. "I swear, he never stops to think about the consequenses of his actions!"
"Precisely," I said. "We have to really think this through and find a way to help these people that doesn't end up doing more harm than good. All I really know at this point is that we have to do something -- otherwise, I wouldn't have had that dream about my grand-papa...."
Jessie took my hand in hers. "Then, that settles it -- we'll wait and see."
Meowth and Gary nodded. "Agreed!"
Once we finished our dessert, we put the popsicle wrappers and sticks in the garbage, and Meowth and Gary went to the living room to play some Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda games on Rita and Sue's Nintendo 64. Jessie and I watched them for a little while, but then we went upstairs so that we could have some time to ourselves.
"So, what do you want to do first?" Jessie asked seductively as we returned to our room. "You promised me a romantic evening, and I'm holding you to that promise!"
"And I intend to keep it!" I told her. I knelt down and produced a bottle of rose-scented bubble bath from my backpack. "I thought we'd start things off with this."
Jessie took the bottle from me. A smile made its way across her lips as she opened it and inhaled the sweet fragrance. "Mmmmmm! I like the way you think, James!"
I winked at her. "I know!"
As I brought out a bathrobe and a clean pair of boxers, Jessie knelt next to me. "James?"
"This is off-subject, but I was wondering...well, I remember when we first decided to take this vacation and get away from the twerps, you told us that you'd performed some kind of spell to ask for guidance," she began. "I was wondering if...maybe you could do something like that tonight? I'm sure it'd help you figure out how to get these families back together...."
"I'm sure it would," I agreed. "But I don't want to find the answer that way."
Her brow furrowed. "Why not?"
"Because that's not what the craft is about. It's supposed to be a tool, not a crutch," I explained. "When I cast the spell for guidance last time, grand-mama reminded me that I have to look within for answers and listen to my heart. And she was right. I don't want to rely on magic to solve all of my problems for me -- I'd rather place my faith in myself and my loved ones first. Magic is more effective when it's used as an aide, like the spiritual cleansing that I performed on the night of the new moon and the Samhain ritual that I performed last night...or when the situation is so dire that no other solution will do, like when I rescued you from Ayesha and tried to rescue you from Vicious."
"I never thought of it that way," Jessie admitted. "But I see your point -- we need to try and figure this out for ourselves before turning to magic."
I nodded. "Precisely!"
She blushed. "I'm sorry for suggesting it, then. There's still so much I don't know about this new side of you...."
I placed a hand to her burning cheek. "Don't be sorry, Jess -- I know you meant well," I assured her. "And there's still a lot that I don't know about the craft either. But we'll learn about it and grow together...just like we have with everything else in our lives!"
This made her smile again.
"And I'm sure we'll figure this out, too," I continued. I leaned closer and kissed her. "But in the meantime, let's just enjoy ourselves and make the most of this nice, romantic atmosphere."
Jessie took my hand in hers as we got to our feet. "You're right, James," she said. "We can't do anything until tomorrow anyway, so there's no point in worrying about it tonight."
"Indeed," I said. I gave her a sly smile and held up the bottle of bubble bath. "Now, about that bath...."
Once Jessie got her robe, the two of us crossed the hall and went into the upstairs bathroom, which had an atmosphere that was every bit as romantic as that of our room! The walls were done in a pale lilac color, and there was an arrangement of flowers and scented candles on the shelf next to the claw-footed tub.
"It's so beautiful!" Jessie sighed as she inhaled the sweet fragrance of some sprigs of English lavender in one of the vases on the shelf. "Purple has always been one of my favorite colors...especially the bluish shades...."
I ran a hand through my hair and smiled slyly at her. "Gee, I wonder why!"
She returned to my side and tousled my hair.
After giving her another kiss, I began filling the tub and added some bubble bath. While I was doing this, Jessie lit the scented candles and turned down the dimmer switch. Before long, the entire room was filled with the fragrance of roses, lavender, and vanilla. Once the tub was full, I turned off the tap, and we got undressed and sank into the warm, bubbly water.
For the next hour, Jessie and I soaked together and scrubbed each other clean by the light of the scented candles. Once we finished our bath, we snuffed out the candles, put our robes back on, and returned to the bedroom. Then, I lit some rose incense, and we nestled together beneath the satin sheets and made love.
When we finished a couple of hours later, Jessie cuddled into me and rubbed my stomach. "You were wonderful, as always, James," she muttered.
I ran my fingers through her hair and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "So were you, Jess," I said.
Her sapphire eyes sparkled. "Best romantic evening I've had since...last night!"
Suddenly, however, Jessie's expression grew pensive.
"What is it?" I prompted.
"I was just thinking about how happy you make me," came her reply. "You're sweet, and smart, and handsome, and funny, and romantic -- you're everything I've always wanted, and so much more...."
I raised an eyebrow. "Then, why do you look so sad?"
"Because it got me to thinking about how lonely I always used to be when I was a little girl," she sighed. "I never had any friends or extended family, and then I lost momma -- back then, I never would've guessed that I was going to end up with somebody as wonderful as you." She paused for a moment and played with my hair. "Which makes me appreciate you all the more."
"I feel the same way about you, Jessie," I told her. "After grand-mama and grand-papa died, I didn't think the void in my heart would ever be filled. But then, I met you...and not a day goes by that I'm not happy to have you in my life."
The smile returned to her lips, but only for a moment. "I guess that's why I don't understand what's going on here. These people have families that they love with all their hearts, but they won't have anything to do with them, all because of a stupid fake battle!" she continued. "If I'd been able to visit granny and grandpa, or grandma and pop-pop when I was little, I would've gone to see them every chance I had! And here, these people have a chance to see their families every day, but they don't. How can they do that? How can they think they're doing right by their families when all they're doing is wasting time?"
"I don't understand it either," I replied. "That's what my dream was about -- it was reminding me how precious the time I spent with my grandparents was...how much more fulfilling our lives were because of it." I cupped Jessie's chin in my hand and caressed her cheek with my thumb. "Don't worry, honey -- we'll find a way to make everybody realize that treasuring the time they have with their families is more important than that fake battle."
Jessie closed her hand over mine. "I know we will, James," she whispered. "I know we will...."
"We'll figure this out, Jessie. I promise," I assured her. "But in the meantime, let's get some rest. It's usually easier to find the solution to a problem after sleeping on it."
Now Jessie really was smiling again. "You're right, James. You usually are."
I held her closer and touched my lips to hers. "Good night, Jess."
"Good night, sweetie," she echoed.
As Jessie laid her head on my shoulder, I pulled the sheets up around us and watched as she slowly closed her eyes. After she'd fallen asleep, I remained awake and pondered our situation a moment longer. I know I can do this, I said to myself as I began drifting off to sleep, too. Grand-papa has faith in me, and so does Jessie...and I don't intend to let either one of them down....
When Jessie and I awoke the next morning, we got dressed and went down to the kitchen, where we found Rita bringing a tray of blueberry muffins from the oven and Sue making a pot of coffee. Meowth and Gary were setting the table.
"Mornin', guys!" Meowth said when he saw us.
"Good morning," I echoed.
"Sleep well?" Gary asked.
Meowth smirked. "Now, what kinda question is dat, Gary?"
Jessie frowned and mouthed the words, "Not now!" to him.
Before Meowth could say anything else, I turned to Rita and Sue and changed the subject. "So, how was the visit with your parents?"
"It was great," Sue replied. "Mom and dad were feeling a lot better last night, and so was everybody else. The doctors said it looks like they'll all be able to come home today."
"And we called everybody who was home in bed yesterday," Rita added. "They're all better, too."
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," said Jessie.
Rita arranged the muffins on a platter and brought them to the table. "That means we don't have to worry about taking care of anybody today, and we can take you to see our grandparents!"
"We'll head out after breakfast," Sue told us. "It's only a few miles as the Murkrow flies, but the road through the mountains is tough to negotiate -- it'll take us a couple hours to get there."
"That's a big reason the old ones never come here to visit us -- they may have a lot of spunk, but they're not strong enough to make the trip," Rita explained.
Jessie, Meowth, Gary, and I said nothing, just exchanged grim looks.
We ate our breakfast in silence, and once we finished, we helped Rita and Sue clean up the kitchen and got freshened up ourselves. Then, the six of us set out for the village.
As it turned out, the trip through the mountains wasn't quite as difficult as Rita and Sue had made it out to be (of course, Jessie, Meowth, and I had climbed far higher, more dangerous mountains in our time -- a little foothill path was nothing to us), but the road was still far too steep and twisted for old people to follow. I could hardly blame them for never making the trip to Transit Town.
Which was all the more reason why we had to convince the young people to come and see them more often.
After a couple hours of walking, we came out of the mountains and found ourselves looking down at a tiny cluster of stone and thatch-roofed huts in the valley below. Surrounding the huts were vast fields of grain and vegetables and rice paddies, and the perimeter of the village was pock-marked with the pit-traps that the Diglett had made. It felt as if we'd gone back hundreds of years in time.
"Well, this is it!" Rita and Sue announced.
"Wow! It kinda looks like a farming village from Feudal Japan!" said Gary.
"Talk about going back to basics," Jessie remarked.
"It may be a simple lifestyle, but they love it," Rita told us.
"They wouldn't trade it for anything," Sue chimed in.
I nodded. "I can respect that."
"Come on!" Rita and Sue exclaimed. "I know they'll love meeting you!"
With that, the six of us made our way down the mountain trail and into the valley. When we approached the village, Rita and Sue slowed their pace and told us to watch our step, just in case there were any Diglett holes that were still concealed. Having dug more than a few pit-traps in our time, Jessie, Meowth, and I were easily able to spot the places where the ground looked soft and unstable, and avoiding them was a simple matter.
Once we made it through the minefield of pit-traps, we crossed a couple of fields where bundles of harvested wheat were arranged in rows and found ourselves standing before the huts. A group of old ladies was in a garden next to one of the huts, picking squash and putting them into reed baskets. And in the distance, a group of old men was standing in another of the fields, digging up potatoes, carrots, and turnips.
One of the old ladies looked up from her work and smiled when she saw us. "Rita! Sue!" she cried.
"Hi, grandma!" the two girls said in unison as they went to the old woman's side and put their arms around her.
The old woman's dark brown eyes glimmered as she returned their embrace.
While grandmother and granddaughters were hugging, another of the old ladies cupped her hands around her mouth and called to the old men. "Denton! Denton, git over here -- your granddaughters came for a visit!"
When she said this, all of the old men threw down their picks, hoes, and shovels and came running. Meanwhile, all the rest of the old ladies had flocked around Rita and Sue. For the next several minutes, everybody in the village took turns hugging them. And as they hugged Rita and Sue, I noticed the light that was shining in their eyes -- a light of pure, unadulterated happiness.
It was the light that had shone in grand-mama and grand-papa's eyes every time I'd gone to visit them...the light that had shone in grandma and grandpa Woodson's eyes when I'd gotten back in touch with them a little over a month ago...the light that had shone in Ahearn and Miriel Rochester's eyes and Jesse and Musashi Parker's eyes when they'd met Jessie and learned that their granddaughter was alive. Yes, I know the light of a grandparent's love. I know it well.
Once Rita and Sue finished hugging everybody, they gestured to me and my friends.
"Oh! I see we have company!" their grandfather exclaimed.
Rita nodded. "This is Jessie, James, Meowth, and Gary."
"They're visiting in Transit Town, so we thought we'd bring them to see you," Sue added.
Their grandmother smiled. "Well, we're so very glad you did!"
"We're pleased to meet all of you," their grandfather said as he shook our hands. "It's always nice to have company."
"Have you had lunch yet?" another of the old ladies inquired.
"No, we haven't," came Rita's reply.
"Then come on in!" their grandmother said as she opened the door of the nearest hut. "Can't say we didn't feed you while you were here...."
"Well, we don't want to impose," I told them.
"Don't worry, young man -- we've got plenty and to spare!" their grandfather assured me.
Meowth grinned. "Well, seein' as how ya put it dat way...."
All of the old people gasped when they heard the cat speak.
"Yes, Meowth can talk," Jessie answered before anybody could ask.
"Amazing!" one of the old men remarked. "How did you teach your pokemon to....?"
"We didn't -- he taught himself," I told them.
Jessie knelt down and scratched behind the cat's ears. "And Meowth isn't our pokemon -- he's our friend...the best friend we could ask for."
One of the old ladies knelt next to Jessie and scratched under Meowth's chin. "He's adorable!"
The cat blushed. "Aw, knock it off -- yer embarrassin' Me-owth!" he protested. But I could tell from the look on his face that he was enjoying the attention.
"Alright, we'll leave you alone," Jessie chuckled.
Once she got back to her feet, we all went inside the hut and saw two more old women bringing a loaf of bread from a brick oven and stirring a pot of carrots, potatoes, and turnips on the stove. "It's almost ready!" said the woman who was stirring the vegetables.
"Well, I hope you made a lot!" Rita and Sue's grandfather replied. "I told our guests that we had plenty of food, and I don't want you making a liar outta me!"
The two old women grinned when they saw Rita and Sue. Then, they smiled at me and my friends. After another round of introductions, we all seated ourselves at a long table, and the old women served everybody a bowl of vegetable stew and a slice of the fresh-baked wheat bread.
"Dis is real delicious!" Meowth exclaimed as he dug into his stew.
"We grew all of the vegetables ourselves," Rita and Sue's grandmother informed us. "And we grew the wheat that made the bread flour, too."
Gary nodded. "Your granddaughters told us that you've been farming this land practically your whole lives. I think it's wonderful."
Rita and Sue's grandfather (whose name was Denton) turned his attention to me and Jessie. "We were about your age when we bought this land," he said. "It was owned by a wealthy man in Olivine City, and he was selling it dirt-cheap. None of us had a lot of money, so we took him up on his offer and bought the land. When we got here, we found out why it had been so cheap -- the soil was rocky and barren...not good for growing crops at all. But we didn't give up -- with the help of our Diglett, we busted up the rocks and cultivated the soil. We found out how best to grow our crops, and with a lot of hard work and dedication, the land became rich and fertile. And as long as we keep working this land, it'll continue to share its bounty with us."
"Sounds a lot like what happened in The Good Earth," I remarked.
Denton smiled. "So very true. We don't have much time for reading with all the farming we do, but that's one book we're all familiar with."
"I know that book well, too," I told him. "My parents' gardener, Willy, had a copy of The Good Earth that he loaned to me when I was a tot. I'd always been close to nature, and reading that book simply confirmed my belief that the bounty of the land is far more valuable than material wealth. That's one of the reasons why I want to own land and grow things someday, too."
"Yes," Denton agreed. "Land is a far greater treasure than gold or jewels -- it can turn even the poorest peasant into a lord when you work in harmony with it. We may not have much money, but we always have plenty to eat, and we're happy with the way we live. And even after we pass away, the legacy of what we've done with this land will live on."
I nodded. "Indeed, it will."
Denton placed his hands on Rita and Sue's shoulders. "Your new friends are very wise. I'm happy that you brought them to meet us."
"Yes. It's not every day we meet young people who feel the same way that we do about the land," Denton's wife (whose name was Florence) sighed.
"We were hoping to leave our farms to our children when we pass on," said another of the old men. "But they're so caught up in their town life, I don't think any of them would want to work the land like we have."
"They don't even have time to come and visit us," another of the old women added. "Rita and Sue are the only ones. Them and that pesky band of Diglett thieves that shows up once a year. Other than that, we don't get any company."
"Rita and Sue are the only ones who truly understand our way of life...who love it as much as we do," Denton continued. "We're gonna leave these fields to them when we pass on. But it's gonna be a lot of work for just the two of them...and I worry about how well they'll be able to defend the village from those raiders once we're gone...."
Rita and Sue winked at each other.
"Oh, don't worry about us, grandpa!" Rita chuckled.
"Yeah! I think we'll manage just fine!" Sue chimed in.
Once the meal was finished, all of the old men and most of the old women went back outside to resume their work, and Rita and Sue went with them. But Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I stayed inside so that we could help the two old ladies who'd made lunch clear the table and wash the dishes.
"Everything was very tasty," Gary told them as he brought a stack of bowls to the sink.
"Yes. Thanks again for sharing with us," said Jessie.
"Don't mention it," the first old lady replied.
"Yes. We're always happy to have company -- it was our pleasure," added the second.
"I imagine it's terribly lonely, never getting to see your children...and that Rita and Sue are the only grandchildren you ever get to see," I prompted.
"Yes, it is," the first lady agreed. "But what can we do? We're not strong enough to make it through those mountains to visit them in Transit Town."
"And we can't tell Rita and Sue the truth -- it'd break their hearts," the second lady sighed.
Jessie raised an eyebrow. "Tell them the truth?"
The first lady cast a furtive glance around the room and leaned closer. "About the annual Diglett raids," she whispered. "We know damn well that those thieves are really our children and grandchildren in disguise...we've known for years that the raiding parties dispersed long ago and that ever since then, the battles have been staged! They come wearing that fancy armor that hides their faces, but we recognize their voices. And the way they battle is nothing like the real bandits back in the old days -- the real thieves were always ruthless, but our children are always careful and don't do anything that'll hurt us or the Diglett. We notice, even if they don't think we do!"
"Den why d'ya keep pretendin' dat ya don't know?" Meowth inquired.
"Because they believe that these battles are what's keeping us alive," the second lady explained. "They work so hard to make us think we're still fighting to preserve our way of life -- if they found out that we know the truth, they'd worry about us. And we don't want that. Besides, those raids are the only time they ever come to see us -- if they give that up, they might never visit us again...."
Jessie stomped her foot. "That's ridiculous!" she cried. "Did you ever stop to think that these stupid battles are the only thing that's keeping you apart?!"
Gary nodded. "Rita and Sue told us that everybody in Transit Town would love to come and see you more often. They stay away because they're trying to make the battles more realistic."
Meowth folded his arms across his chest. "So all youse people are doin' is hurtin' yerselves by continuin' ta live dis lie!"
The two old ladies exchanged looks. "You mean...our children and grandchildren would actually spend more time with us if they knew?"
"That's precisely what we mean," I told them. "I think it's time the truth came out, don't you?"
After a moment of hesitation, they nodded.
"The truth about what?"
Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I turned and saw Rita and Sue standing in the doorway.
The old ladies tensed.
Jessie placed her hands on their shoulders. "Tell them," she whispered.
After a long, uncomfortable pause, the first lady spoke. "Well, you see, girls...we were just talking with your friends about the Diglett raids...."
Rita's brow furrowed.
"We were telling them that we know who the thieves really are," said the second lady. "We know that the battles are fake."
Sue gasped. Then, she and Rita looked back at us.
"No, no! Your friends didn't say a word about it!" the first lady interjected. "We were telling them that we've known the truth for a long time now, and they told us that we needed to be honest with you about that...and that you need to be honest with us."
Rita and Sue slowly seated themselves at the table. They both looked as if they'd been slapped across the face.
"But...but if you know the battles aren't real, then how are you going to preserve your way of life?" Rita stammered.
Sue's eyes began to fill with tears. "What are we going to do now?"
By this time, Denton, Florence, and several of the other old people had returned to the hut to see what was going on.
Florence put her arms around Sue. "Sweetheart, it's not the battles we care about -- it's you, and Rita, and all the rest of our children and grandchildren."
"And it's not the battles that keep us alive," Denton told them. "The farming we do is hard work that keeps us active and gives us lots of excersise, and working with the land makes us happy."
"But you'd make them a lot happier if you weren't the only relatives they ever got to see," I said. "They didn't want to say anything to you because they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the one time when the rest of their children and grandchildren come to visit them."
Rita and Sue hung their heads.
"We've all been lying to ourselves this whole time," Rita muttered.
"How could we have been so blind?" Sue whispered.
Jessie smiled at them. "It's not too late to change things, you know. Where is it written that you have to keep fighting these battles?"
"Your friends are right," said Denton. "Seeing the rest of you more often would mean so much more to us than those fake raids. We love you for respecting our way of life and wanting to see us continue to live the way we always have, but it's so lonely without anybody to share it with."
Rita and Sue looked up at them again.
"What are we supposed to tell our parents?" Rita asked.
"Just tell them the truth," came Gary's reply.
Sue raised an eyebrow. "Do you think we really can call off the annual raids and get everybody to start visiting again?"
I nodded. "Yes, I do. And my friends and I will help in any way that we can."
The smiles returned to their lips when I said this.
"Then, that settles it!" Rita exclaimed. "As soon as mom, dad, and the others get out of the hospital, we'll tell them everything!"
"The hospital?!" Florence cried.
"That kid, Ash Ketchum, hurt everybody really badly when he got his Cyndaquil to Flamethrower them and his Pikachu to electrocute them," Sue explained. "That's why we didn't come to visit yesterday -- we were taking care of some of the people that got hurt, and Jessie, James, Meowth, and Gary volunteered to help us when they found out what was going on."
"So, Ash hurt them, after all?" Denton grumbled. "It was so dark, and things were so crazy to begin with, it was kind of hard to tell what was going on in that battle -- I was hoping the armor would protect them from that electric shock...."
Rita shook her head. "They had to take off their armor when Cyndaquil overheated it -- they didn't have any way to protect themselves...."
Denton folded his arms across his chest and scowled. "In that case, I'm glad we gave that little brat holy hell for what he did. Gave him a big lecture about how it's dishonorable to attack an enemy after they've surrendered, and they're trying to retreat."
One of the old ladies grinned and draped her arm around an old man's shoulders. "The boy was so powerful dumb I don't think he understood a word Denton was sayin', but my Hap, here, got the message across by knockin' him upside the head with his cane!"
The old man grinned and held up a stout wooden cane.
We all had a good laugh at this.
"Rita and I got a little revenge on him, too," Sue chuckled. "When he and his friends showed up in Transit Town yesterday, we threw him off the dock!"
All of the old people applauded.
"Well, by all accounts, everybody is feeling better. When we go back to Transit Town later this afternoon, we'll explain the situation to them and see what we can do about getting them to come and see you again," Jessie said, getting back to the original subject.
Florence took Jessie's hands in hers and gave them a gentle squeeze. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
Denton nodded and shook hands (and paws) with me, Gary, and Meowth. "Yes. It'll be so nice to see our families again."
"Don't mention it," Gary replied. "We're all really close to our own grandparents, so we know how important it is."
After discussing our plans for a few more minutes, Rita, Sue, Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I said good-bye to the old people and started heading back to Transit Town. We would've liked to stay longer, but Rita and Sue needed time to talk to their parents and work everything out.
I just hoped that we'd be able to make everybody realize that they needed to put an end to the charade...and that we weren't setting the old people up for a big disappointment.
It was almost four by the time we returned to town. And when we got to Rita and Sue's house, we found their parents in the kitchen.
"Hey, girls!" their mom said as she took a pot of tea off of the stove. She smiled at me, Jessie, Meowth, and Gary. "Oh, these must be your new friends!"
Their dad got up from the table and shook our hands. "Rita and Sue told us all about you when they came to visit last night...and they had nothing but good things to say! I'm pleased to meet you -- the name's Steve Landower."
"And I'm Susan," their mom chimed in.
"We're pleased to meet you, too," I replied.
"It was very nice of you to help our daughters the way you did," Susan continued.
"We were glad to do it," Jessie told her.
"So, where have you all been?" Steve inquired as Susan poured a cup of tea and handed it to him.
"We took Jessie, James, Meowth, and Gary to meet grandma and grandpa," Rita explained.
Steve smiled. "Wonderful! How are they doing?"
Sue shifted uncomfortably and averted her eyes. "Actually...we need to talk to you about that...."
Susan's brow furrowed. "What's going on, girls? Is something wrong?"
Rita and Sue then proceeded to tell their parents about what they'd learned.
Steve brought a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped away the sweatdrop that had formed on his temple. "Well, damn. What are we supposed to do now?" he muttered.
"Isn't it obvious?!" Jessie snapped. "All you have to do is forget about the battles and start spending some quality time with your families, for godsake!"
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," he argued. "Those battles have become a way of life for us and our parents."
"A way of life that isn't working and needs to be changed!" Jessie countered.
Steve and Susan bristled when she said this.
I placed my hands on Jessie's shoulders and pulled her back. "Look, honey, you know I'm with you one hundred percent on this, but could you please try to be a little more tactful?" I whispered into her ear. "This isn't going to work if we upset them or make them angry."
"You're right," Jessie whispered back. She ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "I'm sorry -- it's just that...this is something that really strikes a raw nerve with me. You see, both of my parents died when I was seven, and I never even met my grandparents until a month ago. I'm happy that I know them now, but I'll always regret that they never got to be a part of my life when I was a little girl...."
"This hits really close to home for me, too," I added as Jessie's voice trailed off. "I was always very close to my grandparents, and my parents tried to cut me off from them." I felt tears stinging my eyes as I recalled that night. "I had to sneak out to see grand-mama and grand-papa after that...and I'm glad that I did because they both passed away a few months later. I'll always be thankful that I made the most of the time I was given with them...."
"I'm really close to my grandparents, too," Gary said as Jessie and I rested our foreheads together. "My grandpa lives just down the street from me -- I visit him every chance I get! And I've even made a few trips to France to visit my other grandparents. I can't imagine what my life would've been like if I'd never had a chance to spend time with any of them!"
"The point of all dis is, even though ya mean well with the fake raids, yer doin' dose old folks a real disservice -- dey're lonely without ya. And yer doin' a real disservice ta yerselves by never goin' ta see yer parents either. And what about all the kids in dis town who've never even met dere grandparents?! Yer doin' dem the greatest disservice of all!" Meowth told them.
"Meowth is right," Gary agreed. "You should be more concerned with adding life to their years than years to their life."
I nodded. "Yes. It's admirable that you want them to live long, healthy lives, but the fact remains that no matter how much you try to prolong their lives, they're not going to live forever. If you keep this up, you're all going to regret that you didn't spend more time with them after they're gone."
"And the battles aren't even an issue, anyway," Jessie pointed out. "They've known all along that it's just an act, so there's no point in trying to convince them that it's real anymore. They said themselves that the work they do is what keeps them healthy and energetic and that it'd make them happier if you went to visit more often and didn't bother with the battles."
"Yeah!" said Meowth. "So give us one good reason why ya shouldn't spend more time with 'em!"
"I...I can't," Steve replied after a long, uncomfortable pause. "I never thought about any of that before, but you're right...you're all right."
Susan covered her mouth with her hand. "We were so concerned with helping them preserve their way of life that we lost sight of the big picture...."
"That may be, but you still have time to make this right...and make up for lost time," Jessie told them.
"Precisely," I said. "Just visit your parents, and the problem is solved!"
"It's that simple?" Susan asked.
"It's dat simple," Meowth affirmed.
Steve smiled at his daughters. "Rita, will you please bring me the telephone? I have some calls to make!"
"You going to let everybody in town know what's happened?" Sue inquired as her sister went to the living room.
Steve nodded. "Yes. As your friends pointed out, we have a lot of lost time to make up for!"
Susan closed her eyes and sighed. "I just hope mom, dad, and the others won't be mad at us for all those years we never visited...."
"I wouldn't worry about it if I were you," Gary assured her. "They know your intentions were good -- they'll just be happy to finally see you again."
"I hope so," she whispered. "I hope so...."
When Rita returned with the phone, Steve made a few calls and told people to spread the word that the raids were off and that first thing tomorrow, they were going to pay a visit to the old people...without the disguises. It took a little convincing and a lot of explaining, but he eventually made everybody realize that there was no more point to the annual battles and that the best way to improve the old peoples' lives was to spend more time with them.
His smile grew even wider than it already was as he turned off the phone and handed it back to Rita. "It's a go! Everybody that I spoke with thinks it's a good idea, and news spreads fast around here. I think it's safe to say that the whole town will be on board for this."
"Wonderful!" Rita and Sue cheered.
"Well, folks are always talking about how much they miss the old ones and how they'd visit them more often if not for those raids," Susan remarked. She nodded to me and Jessie. "You and your friends are right -- it's time to make some changes."
"And I have a feeling that they'll be changes for the better," I replied. Then, I changed the subject. "Now, what would you folks like to have for dinner?"
Susan raised an eyebrow. "You're going to cook?"
"Of course he is!" said Jessie. "We certainly don't expect either of you to go to any trouble for us...especially since you just got out of the hospital!"
"But you're our guests," she argued. "And...."
"....And I insist," I told her. "It's no trouble at all -- I enjoy cooking, and you've been so kind to us. I'd like to repay you for your hospitality."
Steve and Susan smiled at their daughters. "Did we mention that we really like your new friends?"
Rita nodded. "They're great, aren't they?"
Meowth jumped onto my shoulder. "Dat's right!"
Jessie wrapped her arms around my waist. "James is the best."
"He sure is," Gary agreed.
I said nothing, just blushed.
While Steve and Susan continued to discuss their plans for tomorrow and talk about how much they were looking forward to visiting their parents again, I made a vegetable lasagne for dinner. I couldn't help but smile as I listened to them. A lot of changes were, indeed, going to take place tomorrow, and I knew in my heart that they were going to be good changes.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
I turned on the lamp and looked over at Jessie. After the two of us had taken our bath and gone to bed, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about all of the family reunions that were going to be happening tomorrow. And this, in turn, got me to thinking about my grandparents...and the Samhain ritual that I'd performed the night before last.
"How did you know that something was on my mind?" I asked.
Jessie reached over and smoothed back my hair. "I could tell you were still awake...which means you must be thinking about something. Now, what is it, sweetie?"
"I was thinking about a lot of things, actually," I told her. "The Ancestor Night ritual, in particular...."
"That ritual was so cool!" she said. "I loved getting to see momma and daddy while I was awake."
I smiled. Ancestor Night was the first full moon of Scorpio -- the night when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest...the one night of the year when the spirits of the departed could manifest in the physical world and commune with the living. Since my friends were all believers and all had departed loved ones, I'd invited them to join me when I performed the Ancestor Night ritual to honor the departed and ask for their blessings and guidance. After I'd cast the circle and lit candles to honor the God and Goddess, the four of us had joined hands and prayed for strength of body, spirit, and mind. We'd thought of all we'd accomplished over the past year and all we hoped to accomplish in the coming year, praying for all that was good to be harvested and all that was hurtful to be cast aside. And as Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I had sat together within the circle, reflecting on all of this, grand-mama, grand-papa, Jessie's parents, and Gary's grandma Oak had joined us!
We'd met the five of them and spoken with them in dreams before, but getting to see them in waking life had been a whole new experience -- for a few hours, it had actually felt like they were alive! I remember how comforting it was to speak to them and feel their presence outside of dreams. They'd assured us that we were, indeed, reaping a bountiful harvest this year and that we'd sown the seeds of many good things to come by setting our feet on the path that we had. They'd also reminded us that they were always with us...and to always listen to our hearts and hold true to ourselves and each other.
"I remember having such a warm, happy feeling while they all visited with us," I said. I placed a hand to Jessie's cheek. "And I feel the same way tonight. I can't see them or hear them right now, but I can feel them here with us, Jessie...."
Jessie closed her eyes and smiled as well. "I can feel them too, James."
"It feels like they're telling us we did the right thing today," I continued.
She nodded. "You're right -- I don't think we'd feel this way if we'd screwed up." Her cheeks flushed. "And you were right that we didn't need magic to figure this out -- the answer was more simple than I ever could've imagined! Now I feel foolish for thinking you needed to cast some kind of spell to...."
"Don't be ashamed," I reassured her. I cupped her chin in my hand. "As grand-mama said to me, The simplest answers often elude the smartest minds. For with intelligence comes thinking...and sometimes there's such a thing as too much thinking!"
This made Jessie blush more brightly than ever.
I leaned closer and gave her a kiss. "Come on. Let's get some sleep. Tomorrow promises to be an eventful day!"
Jessie returned my kiss. "It sure does!"
As she cuddled into me, I turned off the lamp again. And as I held her in my arms and felt the warmth of our loved ones surrounding us, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
"Ever ridden on a Dodrio before?"
Jessie smiled at Gary. "No, we haven't," she replied. "It's a lot different than riding a Rapidash...."
I smiled, too. After a peaceful sleep the previous night, we'd awakened and had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Then, Steve, Susan, Rita, and Sue had taken us to the park in the town square, where everybody else was gathering. Once all of the citizens of Transit Town were present and accounted for, Steve had told them once again that there would be no more fake Diglett raids...and as predicted, everybody had been very happy to hear the news.
Now, we were all on our way to the village. The people of Transit Town had a stable of Dodrio that they used to ride across the mountains during the raids, and they'd loaned some to me, Jessie, and Gary (Meowth was riding with me).
Gary nudged his Dodrio and urged it to run a little faster. "Yeah, it is a lot different from riding a Rapidash, an Arcanine, or even a Charizard or a Pidgeot! I've got a Dodrio at grandpa's lab, and I've ridden her a few times -- it's not that difficult, as long as the three heads work as a team."
I tugged on the reins to keep two of my Dodrio's heads from pecking each other. "I think I'm starting to get the hang of it," I remarked as the bird shook its three heads and got back on course.
"Yeah! You're doing great!" Gary affirmed.
Steve rode up beside us. "These Dodrio have been specially trained for fast travel through rugged terrain. We all spent months and months learning how to ride and teaching the Dodrio how to negotiate the mountain roads." He paused for a moment and laughed. "We wouldn't have made very convincing bandits if we couldn't even stay on our mounts, after all!"
"Not dat it mattered -- the old duffers saw right through yer disguises, anyway," Meowth reminded him. "It is nice dat ya have a good mode a transportation, though."
"That reminds me, I need to talk to Geoff," Steve muttered. He smiled at us. "Geoff is the head of the Department of Transportation -- he can probably get some better roads built so that it's easier to get to and from the village."
"Sounds like a good idea," Jessie told him. "The old people could probably come to see you in Transit Town if there were an easier route through the mountains."
"I'm sure of it," I agreed. "While we were speaking with them yesterday, they said that they would visit if they were able to."
"Then I'll definitely see what I can do about improving the roads!" he said.
Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I nodded approvingly.
After about twenty minutes of riding, we came out of the mountains and found ourselves looking down at the village again. All of the old people were working in the wheat field this morning, carrying the harvested bundles to the barn. When they saw us, they began to wave. And even though we were still a good quarter mile away, I could hear them all cheering.
My heart leapt up at the sound.
As all the people of Transit Town rode down to the village, my three friends and I hung back a little so that we could give the reunited families some time to themselves. My eyes filled with tears as I watched all of the parents and children hugging...and grandparents and grandchildren getting to meet each other in person for the first time. And through the tears that clouded my vision, I could see that Jessie, Meowth, and Gary were all welling up, too.
"Dat's beautiful!" Meowth sniffled as he brushed his tears away.
"That's exactly how granny and grandpa looked when they realized that I was their granddaughter," Jessie whispered as she watched a starry-eyed old couple hugging a little girl. "And that must've been how I looked when I found out that they were my grandparents...."
I placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "It was," I affirmed. "You all looked so happy."
She smiled at me.
"That was also how grand-mama and grand-papa looked every time I went to visit them," I continued.
"And how grandpa looks every time I go to see him," Gary added.
Meowth looked up at me. His midnight-blue eyes were filling with tears again. "We did a good thing today, didn't we?"
A smile made its way across my lips as I looked back at the old people celebrating the return of their children and grandchildren. "Yes...yes, we did," I replied.
At length, we drew closer and heard Steve talking to his parents. "Mom, dad, I'm so sorry for what we've done. Please forgive us for staying away for such a long time...."
Florence smiled tenderly at her son. "There's nothing to forgive, dear. We know you were only trying to help us."
Denton nodded. "What matters is that you're here now. Thank you for coming to see us again -- it means more to us than you could ever imagine."
When Steve noticed the four of us, he shook his head. "The thanks should go to Jessie, James, Meowth, and Gary -- they're the ones who made us realize that we had to do this," he told them.
I felt my face turning red again. "It was nothing! Really! I'm sure you would've figured it out on your own sooner or later...."
"That may be," said Jessie. "But thanks to you, they were able to realize it before it was too late."
"I guess," I admitted.
Meowth gave me a playful nudge with his elbow. "Aw, quit bein' so modest, Jimmy -- yer a hero!"
"Yeah!" Gary agreed. "You brought all these families back together and made a lot of people happy. That's something to be proud of."
My face flushed redder than ever when they said this.
Jessie wrapped her arms around me and planted a kiss on my burning cheek. "I love you so much, sweetie," she whispered into my ear.
"I love you too, Jess," I whispered back as I returned her embrace.
After the initial family reunions, several of the old ladies and some of the children and grandchildren went into one of the huts. A little while later, they returned with some loaves of freshly-baked bread, some pots of steamed rice, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, and we all enjoyed a picnic lunch. For the rest of the afternoon and evening, there was singing, dancing, storytelling, and catching up on everything that had been happening during the past several years, and then we all enjoyed another feast for dinner.
It was well past midnight by the time the party started winding down. But before they took their leave, the people of Transit Town promised that they'd be back to visit as often as possible. They even decided to make the picnic lunches and Sunday dinners a weekly event! And the old people promised that they'd come to visit their children and grandchildren in Transit Town once a better road was built.
As Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I prepared to head back to town, Denton and Florence approached us.
"We wanted to thank you again for what you've done," Florence told us. "Getting to see our families...it made us feel twenty years younger!"
"Much better than those silly fake battles ever did!" Denton concurred. He reached into his pocket and produced four small pieces of silver. "Please accept these as a token of our gratitude."
Gary shook his head. "We can't take your money...."
"It's not money," Denton replied. "These are Silver Wings. We do a lot of business with the folks on Silver Rock Isle -- sometimes we sell our surplus crops to them, and sometimes we barter for the silver goods they manufacture. Silver Wings are some of the most valuable things they make on Silver Rock Isle -- they're precious to the people of this village because they symbolize the great pokemon Lugia, who controls the ocean currents and weather. Without the favorable weather, we wouldn't have been able to survive here the way we have. Even though we're not rich, everybody in town has a Silver Wing to serve as a reminder that there are many forces in the world that have allowed us to live our lives the way we chose. And now, we want you to have them, too. Every time you look at these Silver Wings, you can remember us and what you've done for us."
Florence gave us a sly smile. "Take them! It'd be rude to refuse."
"Well, seein' as how ya put it dat way," Meowth chuckled.
With that, the four of us each took one of the Silver Wings that Denton was holding. The metal felt cool and smooth in the palm of my hand, and now that I saw it up close, its beauty became even more apparent. The silver was molded into the shape of a bird's wing in flight, and intricate feather designs were carved on its surface.
"It's exquisite!" Jessie breathed.
Meowth studied his Silver Wing for a moment and admired the way the moonlight glinted on its surface. "Yeah! Dese are a lot more den just a token!"
"Well, you deserve them," Florence told us. "You helped us all overcome our fears and brought our families back into our lives. That's a far greater gift than silver could ever be. I wish there were some other way we could repay you."
"Don't worry about it," I said. "Just make the most of the time you have with your family. That's the only thanks we need."
"But we will treasure these Silver Wings, and we'll think of you every time we look at them," Jessie added. "Thank you."
Denton smiled. "You're welcome, my friends."
After saying good-bye to Denton, Florence, and the rest of the old people, Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I got back on our Dodrios and followed everybody else back to Transit Town. A feeling of peace and warmth came over me as we rode away from the village, and I knew in my heart that we had, indeed, done a good thing today.
I brushed away the tears that were beginning to cloud my vision and smiled. This was for you, grand-mama, grand-papa....
I closed my eyes for a moment and savored the feeling of the cool fall breeze playing with my hair and the sound of leaves rustling in the trees overhead.
After my friends and I had returned to Rita and Sue's house, their parents had thanked us once again for helping to make the wonderful day they'd just had possible. Then, we'd said good night to our hosts and gone upstairs to start getting ready for bed. While I'd been taking my bath, I'd found myself thinking about my grandparents and the dream I'd had about them two days ago. I'd gotten the feeling that I'd be having another dream about them tonight.
And I was right. I opened my eyes again and looked up at the grove of cedar trees that surrounded me. I was in grand-mama's glade -- the special place where my dreams brought me when I wanted to visit my grandparents.
As if on cue, I saw grand-mama and grand-papa emerging from the forest and joining me in the clearing. Their eyes lit up when they saw me.
"Hello, darling!" grand-mama exclaimed as she swept me into an embrace.
Grand-papa placed a hand on my shoulder. "It's good to see you again, James."
"It's good to see you, too," I replied. "It always makes me happy when we can meet like this."
"It makes us happy too," said grand-mama. Tears began to well up in her brown eyes. "You make us so happy, James."
"We're also extremely proud of you," grand-papa told me. "Your friends were right -- bringing all those families back together was a heroic thing to do...a very heroic thing."
"All we did was get them to start talking to each other again," I insisted.
"You're too modest, James," grand-mama chuckled. "Do you know the red rose you always carry? It's not just a symbol of the love you have for Jessie -- it's also a symbol of the red blood that flows through your veins. It knows not of good or evil. It stands as an enduring sign that even though you're a member of Team Rocket and your life hasn't always followed the straight and narrow path, you've always been first and foremost a person with a burning desire to help others. In the end, you can always be counted on to rise to the call of the rose within your heart and do the right thing. That's why we're so proud of you, my darling."
I felt myself blushing when she said this.
"Besides, that one simple act you and your friends performed meant the world to those people," grand-papa reminded me. "You did away with all of the deception and pretense that was clouding their lives and brought the light back to them...much like you did for us all those years ago."
Grand-mama smiled tenderly at me. "Someday you and Jessie will have children and grandchildren of your own. When you do, you'll know firsthand just how deeply we love you -- you'll know because that's exactly how you'll feel about your children and grandchildren."
"And that's why we're here, James," grand-papa concluded. "We have something wonderful to show you!"
With that, he and grand-mama led me to the pool at the center of the clearing. I looked into the water as grand-mama passed her hand over its surface.
After a moment, an image appeared in the water. An image of the old people and the citizens of Transit Town singing, dancing, feasting, and enjoying each other's company. Then, the image changed, and I saw Steve and Susan as old people. Rita and Sue were with them, along with their husbands and children. A light of pure happiness was sparkling in Steve and Susan's eyes as they played with their grandchildren. And then, the image changed again, and I saw Rita, Sue, and their husbands as old people. They had that same light of joy in their eyes as their children and grandchildren came to see them.
"You and your friends started a new tradition," grand-mama informed me as the final image faded away. "That celebration you saw -- it will take the place of the annual battle. Instead of fake Diglett raids, they'll have Diglett festivals every November, in honor of the harvest and how hard the old people and their pokemon worked to cultivate the land. And above all, the festival will be held in honor of reunited families. The old ones will continue to live their lives the way they always have, and the young ones will continue to respect that, but now, they'll do it together."
"And this tradition will withstand the test of time -- the love that families have for each other is something that will never become dated or obsolete," grand-papa added. "The joy that you brought into these peoples' lives will last for generations. And it's all because of you and your friends."
My eyes went wide.
Grand-mama cupped my chin in her hand. "And incidentally, this is one more thing that happened because of the new direction your life has taken." Her expression grew serious. "If you'd still been following Ash when you met these people, the results would've been disastrous, to say the least...."
Grand-papa shuddered. "Damn right. You would've joined in the battle and fought tooth and nail to defend the old people, but you never would've learned that the battle was only staged. Ash and his friends would've figured out the truth, but they wouldn't have told you -- they would've just punished you for it and blasted you off, even though you were trying to help them." He paused for a moment and clenched his fist. "You, Jessie, and Meowth would've been hurt, the lie would've been perpetuated, and the only person who would've benefitted from it in the end was Ash."
"In other words, the exact opposite of what really happened would've come to pass?" I concluded.
Grand-mama nodded. "Precisely. But because you weren't there when the battle took place, you did learn the truth, and you were able to solve the real problem...and Ash Ketchum paid the price for his cruelty." The smile returned to her lips. "And speaking of solving problems, that's another reason we're so proud of you, James."
I raised an eyebrow.
"I was very happy when you said that you didn't want to use magic as a crutch or rely on it to solve all of your problems for you," she explained. "That's one of the most important lessons a witch must learn. I'm glad you took what I said to heart on the night when you asked me for guidance. I'm glad that you decided to put faith in yourself and your friends rather than letting magic do the work for you." She placed a hand to my heart. "For magic comes from within, and it doesn't work if the one using it has no faith in their own abilities."
"If I have faith in myself, then I have you and grand-papa to thank for that," I replied. "If you hadn't been there for me when I was a tot, my parents probably would've succeeded in crushing my spirit and turning me into what they wanted."
Grand-papa shook his head. "You're wrong, James -- you have far too much strength of character to let anybody dominate your spirit or destroy who you are. But your grand-mama and I were all too happy to give you all the encouragement and moral support we could!"
"And I have a feeling that Quentin and Judith will one day come to their senses and realize what a wonderful son they have," grand-mama remarked. "James, you are goodness and light, and you possess more strength and wisdom than even you know. A person would have to be as stupid and blind as Ash Ketchum not to see it...and your parents aren't stupid -- they're just...misguided."
I looked up at her. "Does that mean....?"
Grand-papa's emerald eyes twinkled. "You'll find out...someday!"
Grand-mama smoothed back my hair and gave me a kiss on the forehead. "We love you so much, James."
"I love you, too," I echoed.
I spent the rest of the night in the glade, talking to my grandparents and enjoying their company. When they'd passed away, I'd feared that I'd lost them forever -- being able to visit them in my dreams now...to hear their voices, feel their warm, comforting touch, and see the light shining in their eyes again is a true blessing. I'm grateful for the time I shared with them when they were alive, and I'm grateful that they're always with me in spirit now...that the love we have for each other is something both deathless and eternal.
Yes, not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for everything my grandparents have done for me and all they continue to do for me. And I know in my heart that I'll do no less for my own children and grandchildren.
Grand-mama and grand-papa are right, after all -- I can't imagine a more worthwhile tradition than honoring the love that a family shares.
To be Continued....
As you've noticed, this chapter is my WRH of "Plant it Now...Diglett Later." After watching this episode, I knew that I needed to do a WRH scenario for it -- the ep coulda been good since it showed J, J & M as the heroic and unselfish people that they truly are, but once again, it was totally ruined by the senseless cruelty and raging stupidity of Ash. >_< (I have no idea why the writers keep giving us eps where J, J & M do something heroic and then get blasted off anyway -- nothing burns my bacon like seeing our heroes get screwed over...especially when they're trying to help save the day! Jessie, James & Meowth are GOOD people who DON'T deserve to be treated like such shit! *kicks the twerps and the sadistic scriptwriters*) Anyway, after I watched that ep, I was so angry that I couldn't even think clearly enough to come up with a WRH idea -- I just wanted to stomp a mud-hole in Ash's ass. >P Fortunately, a conversation with my good friend, Shigeru1313 (who was also really angry after watching this ep), was a major source of inspiration to me. She very rightfully pointed out that the episode was whacked to begin with since all of the young people placed so much importance on a fake battle and never spent any quality time with the old people. This is what gave me the idea to make the WRH about our heroes doing away with the fake battles and bringing the families back together. So, Shigeru, this chapter in particular is for you! I couldn't have done it without ya! *hugs*
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