by Cori Falls
Chapter 8 -- Friends and Foes
"Brrr! I'm glad we ain't out in dat!" Meowth remarked as he looked out the window.
I followed the cat's gaze and shivered in spite of myself. It had been raining since yesterday afternoon, and the weather had been getting steadily worse as the day progressed. Gale-force winds were whipping through the trees, and rain was coming down in thick, gray sheets as white lightning laced its way across the black sky. Every now and then, a clap of thunder would rattle the window.
It was the ninth of November. After leaving Transit Town four days back, Gary, Meowth, James, and I had taken the ferry to Silver Rock Isle. We'd spent three days there, enjoying the sights, visiting museums, and admiring the silver arts and crafts that the island was famous for. We would've liked to stay longer, but the forecast had called for a cold front to be moving in from the west, and there was a violent storm on the leading edge of it. Not wanting to be in the Whirl Islands during such a major storm, the four of us left Silver Rock Isle yesterday afternoon and took the balloon back to the mainland. We'd arrived in Olivine City and checked into a motel last night, just as the rain was beginning to fall.
James and I wanted to go to the Olivine Gym to try our hand at winning the Mineral Badge, and Gary wanted to take us to the Battle Tower while we were in town, but we didn't want to go anywhere until the weather started cooperating. So, we'd just been holed up in our motel room all day, waiting for the storm to pass. Since the power had been out for most of the afternoon, we hadn't been able to watch TV or listen to music, so we'd passed the time by playing some Dungeons & Dragons.
After the fire pokemon tournament in Laurel Valley last August, James, Meowth, and I had played a game of D & D with Gary and our friends, Mondo, Cairdea, and Emanuela. We'd also spent a couple of days at Cairdea's house in Alderbrook after the tournament, and we'd had some more gaming sessions with our characters during that time. This afternoon, however, it was just me, James, Meowth, and Gary. Gary was playing the role of the DM, and he was taking our respective characters, Eowyn Firebrand, Severus Blackthorn, Peregrin Fastfinger, and Alcavar Oakenstaff on a little side-adventure. Our characters' travels had taken them south to the deserts of Calimshan, where they'd discovered an ancient pyramid. When they'd decided to explore the pyramid, their souls had been taken to another plane, where they had to learn how to control powerful creatures and elemental forces and use them in a Duel Monsters-type game. Our characters were dueling to save their souls and escape from the "Shadow Realm," but we were taking a break from D & D at the moment. The power had finally come back on an hour ago, and since it was almost dinner time, we'd decided to order some pizza. Now, we were just waiting for the pizzas to arrive and enjoying each other's company.
"You and me both!" James agreed.
The sound of his voice stirred me from my reverie. Tearing my gaze away from the storm outside, I looked back at James, who was bringing a kettle of tea from the kitchenette.
"Any idea when dose pizzas are gonna get here?" Meowth inquired.
Wobbuffet placed his hands to his stomach. Yeah! I'm starving!
"Well, they said it'd be about forty-five minutes when we called," Gary muttered. "But the storm is probably holding them up."
"No doubt," said James. He divided the tea among five mugs, stirred in some sugar, and handed a mug to each of us. "But in the meantime, drink this. As the old Japanese proverb goes, Even a cup of tea helps hunger for a bit."
I held my mug and let it warm my cold hands for a moment before taking a sip. "So very true!"
As we all sat together at the table and drank our tea, we heard the sound of a car engine. Looking out the window, we saw a green Honda Civic with a Papa John's sign on its roof pulling into a parking space outside our room.
"Pizza's here!" Meowth and Wobbuffet exclaimed in unison as a teenage boy wearing a yellow raincoat grabbed a red thermal case and jumped from the car.
James brought out his wallet and opened the door.
"One extra large with pepperoni and green peppers, and one extra large with Canadian bacon and mushrooms?" the delivery boy inquired.
James nodded. "That's us." After taking the two pizzas, he handed the money and the coupon to the delivery boy.
The delivery boy handed some of the money back to James. "You get a discount because I was late," he said.
James shook his head. "Keep the change," he insisted. "You deserve an extra tip for venturing out in this vile weather."
The delivery boy's face lit up as he pocketed the money. "Thanks, man!"
"Don't mention it."
Once the delivery boy had taken his leave, James brought the pizzas to the table. Gary cleared away all of the Dungeons & Dragons stuff so that it wouldn't get dirty, and Wobbuffet helped me set out the paper plates and napkins. Meanwhile, Meowth went to the mini-fridge in the kitchenette to get our sodas. Since our pizza coupon hadn't included any kind of beverages, we'd sent the cat to the motel lobby to get some sodas from the vending machine after placing our order. He'd gotten a Dr. Pepper for Gary, a root beer for Wobbuffet, a Mountain Dew for himself, and Wild Cherry Pepsis for me and James.
Meowth licked his chops. "Dis looks really good!" he remarked as James opened the pizza boxes.
"Sure does," Gary agreed.
Once we each had two pieces of pizza, I picked up the remote control. "Why don't we see what's on TV?" I suggested. "I'm not holding my breath for the cable to be back on, but maybe we can get some of the local stations. I'd kind of like to see the news so we can get a weather forecast for tomorrow."
Sure enough, when I turned on the television, the cable was still out. After flipping through the channels for a few minutes, however, I was able to get a staticky image of a local network just as the six o' clock news was coming on.
"In our top story tonight, pokemon poaching ends in disaster for Team Rocket," the anchorman began.
This got our attention.
James nudged me with his elbow. "Jess, turn it up."
I nodded and turned up the volume. Meowth and Wobbuffet leaned closer to the TV.
"It all began when a massive explosion rocked the waters off of Ogi Isle late yesterday afternoon," the anchorman continued. "Upon investigation of the scene, local authorities discovered the wreckage of what they believed to be an undersea research base which was being utilized by Team Rocket. Suspicions were confirmed when Team Rocket agents -- including several Dan'in and wanted criminals Butch Kidd, Cassidy Sundance, and Professor Egbert Namba -- were found clinging to the wreckage."
When he said this, mug-shots of Butch, Cassidy, and a balding man with unruly red hair and a wild, brushy mustache that made him look like a mad scientist appeared on the screen.
"Kidd and Sundance have been charged with poaching an endangered Lugia and her offspring, and Namba has been charged with pokemon abuse and conducting unethical pokemon research. All three are being held without bail at the Olivine Correctional Facility. The remaining Dan'in are being held for questioning. The Lugia and her offspring were unharmed, but four children who were being held prisoner in the Team Rocket base are being treated for minor injuries at Olivine Regional Hospital. More on this, as it develops...."
I couldn't help but smile. "So, Botch and Crappidy have been arrested?"
Meowth nearly choked on his Mountain Dew. "And dat other guy...did dey say his name was NAMBLA?!"
"Actually, I think they said Namba," Gary corrected him. He snickered. "But you're right -- it does sound a little too close to Nambla for comfort!"
James shivered. "One more disaster we've avoided. I'm sure of it...." he muttered.
I looked back at him.
"When I had that omen-dream, grand-mama showed me an image of Butch and Cassidy attacking us...then an image of the three of us nearly drowning after sneaking aboard an undersea Team Rocket base...and an image of an enraged Lugia blasting all of us off while we're battling Botch and Crappidy," James continued. "If we'd still been following Ash, we would've gotten dragged into that mess somehow...because I'm willing to bet those four children who got caught by Team Rocket are Ash, Misty, Brock, and some twerpy friend of theirs. I saw them in that part of the dream, too -- we helped free them from that mad scientist, but we got screwed over anyway when Botch and Crappidy showed up."
A chill raced up my spine. "I guess that's yet another reason to be glad we stopped following the twerp."
"No kiddin'!" Meowth snorted. "Ol' Ash-wipe is bad enough by himself -- gettin' hassled by Botch and Crappidy on top a dat is just way too much!"
"Indeed. Having to contend with those two is most certainly not my idea of a good time!" I concurred.
Gary raised an eyebrow. "Butch and Cassidy. I've heard you mention them before. They sound like a couple of world-class assholes."
"Heh. Dat's puttin' it mildly," Meowth grumbled.
"Butch and Cassidy are to us what Ash is to you," James explained to Gary. "They think that they're hot shit, and they're about as obsessed with becoming the boss's number one team as Ash is with becoming a pokemon master. They've also got a major bug up their ass about being our rivals and wanting to beat us at everything."
Gary placed a hand to his temple. "I can sure relate to that! What's their problem, anyway?"
"I think jealousy has a lot to do with it," I sighed. "That's the story of my life with Team Rocket -- I've had agents suck up to me in hopes of getting ahead because I'm the daughter of Miyamoto...and agents who've hated me for the exact same reason."
Gary rolled his eyes. "People always pulled that shit with me, too."
"Cuz yer Professor Oak's grandson?" Meowth ventured.
"Yeah," Gary replied. "They either pretended to be my friends in hopes of getting rare pokemon or inside information that would give them an advantage over the other beginning trainers, or they were just plain spiteful." He frowned. "I'm sure Professor Oak being my grandfather has a lot to do with why Ash has his knickers in a knot about me -- he was one of the people who believed all the dumbass rumors that other kids used to spread about me. He was convinced that I was an arrogant jerk and that I was gonna use my family name to get all kinds of unfair advantages over the other pokemon trainers...and that he was the scrappy, underdog hometown hero who was gonna bring me down."
James frowned, too. "Typical Ash. That sounds like one of his delusions, alright."
"And Ash isn't scrappy -- he's just crappy," I added.
Meowth smirked. "I've tried ta see things from the twerp's point a view...but I just can't get my head dat far up my ass!"
We all had a good laugh at this.
"Well, with Butch and Cassidy, it was a combination -- Cassidy pretended to be my friend when we first met and turned on me the second she realized that it wasn't going to get her what she wanted...and Butch and I flat-out hated each other from the start," I said, getting back to the original subject.
James put his hands behind his head. "You know, Jess, I don't believe I've ever heard the whole story about what happened between you and Botch and Crappidy."
"Me-owth, either!" the cat chimed in.
I sighed. James and Meowth were right -- even though they knew that Butch and Cassidy's vendetta against me went way back to when we were kids, I'd never gone into all the details of what had happened or why it had happened. "It's kind of a complicated story...."
Gary gestured to the window. The storm was still raging outside. "Well, we've got plenty of time to hear it -- it's not like we have anywhere to be at the moment."
I shook my head and laughed a little when I saw the expectant looks on their faces -- I couldn't not tell the story now that I'd piqued their interest. I didn't enjoy recalling a lot of my past, but I knew that I could trust James, Meowth, and Gary. I had a feeling that confiding in my friends about this dark chapter of my life would be theraputic. "Alright, guys! Pull up a seat, and get comfortable!" I told them.
"Hugs and kisses, Jessie! Have fun at school, sweetheart!"
I pressed my hand to the cold, dingy glass of the school bus window and felt tears stinging my eyes as I watched my momma waving good-bye to me.
It was a dreary Monday morning in the September of 1987. I was four years old and starting my first day of kindergarten at Viridian Elementary School. The previous year, I'd attended a preschool class at the day care where momma left me when she was at work, but I'd never been to a public school before. As the bus drove away, I looked around at its sickly-green interior, the obscene graffitti scribbled on the metal walls and worn naugahide seats, and the layer of dirt and garbage that littered the floor and listened to the din of sixty other elementary school children all talking to each other at once. I got the sinking feeling that I wasn't going to like it.
"Hey, hobo! Why don't you get some real clothes?!"
"Yeah! How dare you wear something like that?!"
I hugged my backpack closer and looked out the window again. I hated when I was able to pick up the occasional coherent bit in the cacophony of voices -- it was invariably insults against somebody or mindless gossip. I'd never fit in with other children -- at day care, I usually just kept to myself, and the other kids left me alone -- but now more than ever, I felt isolated, like a lone island amid a sea of chaos.
Suddenly, I felt somebody grabbing my hair and giving it a sharp tug. "Hey, stupid, look at us when we're talking to you!"
I bristled as I realized that the insults I'd overheard had been directed at me. I looked over my shoulder and saw three girls who were about my age sitting in the seat behind me. One of them had blonde pigtails and purple eyes, the second one had medium-length blackish-brown hair and hazel eyes, and the third one had short sea-green hair and amber eyes. It had been the third girl who'd pulled my hair and insulted me.
I rolled my eyes at them and looked down at my outfit. I was wearing an orange sundress that momma had bought at a thrift store and patched up, and there was a pair of worn canvas sneakers on my feet. I'll admit it wasn't the height of fashion, like the clothes my three tormentors were wearing, but there was only so much momma could do on her limited budget.
I felt a tug on my hair again. "Are you homeless, or something?!"
I wheeled around to face the girls once more. "None of your business. Leave me alone," I said curtly.
The dark-haired girl stuck up her nose at me. "Your mom is stupid for dressing you like that!"
Those words sent a cold spike of rage through me. On impulse, I lunged over the seat and slapped the dark-haired girl. "Don't you ever, EVER talk about my momma like that!" I shouted.
As she began to cry, the green-haired girl lashed out and grabbed my arm. "You wanna start something, hobo?"
I responded by twisting free and slapping her, too. "You're the ones who started it," I hissed.
As the green-haired girl prepared to strike back, the blonde girl held up a hand and stopped her. "Jeez, Bonnie, lay off already!"
"But Cassidy!" the brunette whined.
"You shut up too, Jennifer!" she snapped. She turned her attention back to me, and her expression softened. "Sorry. My friends can be real meanies sometimes."
I nodded and went back to looking out the window.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked and saw that the blonde girl had gotten out of her seat and was now sitting next to me. "Name's Cassidy Sundance," she said. She pointed to the brunette and the green-haired girl. "And that's Jennifer Ratliff and Bonnie Barrows."
"I'm Jessie Parker," I replied.
Cassidy smiled. "You seem pretty cool, Jessie. Wanna hang out with us?"
I raised an eyebrow. Jennifer and Bonnie still looked like they hated me, but Cassidy seemed nice enough. I'd never had a friend my own age before, and I wasn't quite sure what to say. So, I decided to be civil. "Okay...I guess."
"Gnarly notion!" Cassidy exclaimed. "You can sit with us at lunch!" She shot a venomous glare at Jennifer and Bonnie, who looked like they were about to protest.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.
"So, looking forward to school?" Cassidy asked.
"Not really," I confessed.
"Yeah, me either," she agreed. "Mumsy and daddykins actually wanted me to go to Viridian Academy, but the entrance exams were really hard. So, now I'm stuck going to this dump...."
For the rest of the bus ride, Cassidy dominated the conversation. She mostly talked about her favorite toys and clothes, how rich her parents were, and gossipped about the other kids. It was pretty boring, but I figured once it was my turn to speak, it'd be fun to tell her about some of my interests.
As it turned out, I didn't get the chance -- by the time Cassidy finally finished talking about herself, the bus had arrived at school, and all of the kindergarteners and other new students had to follow the safety patrols and be sorted into their classes. Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie ended up being in a different class than me (which I was grateful for -- even though Cassidy seemed okay, I still didn't trust her two friends and didn't want to spend any more time with them than I absolutely had to), but Cassidy promised to save me a seat at lunch and made plans to meet me on the playground at recess.
On the whole, my first day of school wasn't as bad as I'd feared. My teacher, Miss Cindy, was really nice, and most of the other students in my class were like the kids at day care -- indifferent to me (which I greatly preferred to the out-and-out hostility of Jennifer and Bonnie). We spent the morning learning letters and numbers and doing arts and crafts. Then, we went to lunch, and I sat next to Cassidy at the kindergarten table (though once again, she dominated the conversation...and kept telling Jennifer and Bonnie to shut up every time they made a snide remark about my clothes or the fact that I was on the free lunch program). After lunch, Miss Cindy played some music and read stories to us. And finally, we had juice and cookies and took a nap before going to recess (where once again, Cassidy dictated what we did and dominated the conversation).
During the ride home, however, I was determined to change that.
"So, like, do you want to come over to my house someday this week, Jessie?" Cassidy inquired as the bus left the school. "I've got at least fifty Barbies, and a Barbie dream-house, and a Barbie Corvette, and all the Cabbage Patch Kids. And I've got a Rainbow Brite playhouse, and My Little Ponytas, and Pound Puppies, and Strawberry Shortcake, and a bunch of She-Ra dolls...."
"And I've got New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson, and J.J. Fadd tapes!" Jennifer squealed. "They're, like, sooo radical!"
"I know -- you told me about them this morning!" I chuckled. I turned away for a moment and rolled my eyes. Jennifer had been singing Supersonic ad nauseam during recess (and bleeping herself at the part of the song where they say "hell"). I'd have much rather listened to some of my momma's Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, and Guns n' Roses tapes...though I wasn't about to tell them that!
"So, like, what kind of toys do you have, Jessie?" Bonnie asked, not even bothering to conceal the snotty tone of her voice.
"Not nearly as many as you -- I just have a doll that momma made for me," I replied.
Jennifer and Bonnie snorted.
"Toys don't really matter to me, though," I continued. "Momma and I listen to music together, and she reads to me -- that's what I enjoy. Over the summer, she read me these really cool books called The Chronicles of Narnia -- they're about these kids who get transported to a magical world filled with talking animals, witches, and all kinds of mythical creatures and go on all these adventures!"
Jennifer blinked. "The what of what?! What are you talking about?"
Cassidy grabbed me by the arm and pulled me closer. "Jessie, only nerds and geeks are into that kinda stuff!" she whispered into my ear.
My eyes went wide. "What?!"
"Duh!" Bonnie sneered. "Everybody knows that!"
"Oh, yeah. I'm sure you fit in really well with that clique!" James said sarcastically as he listened to my narrative.
"It's like that song from Sesame Street," Gary chuckled. "One of these things is not like the others! One of these things just doesn't belong!"
"No kiddin'!" Meowth remarked. "Dese girls sound like some real grade-A airheads! No wonder yer friendship with 'em didn't work out!"
"You got that right," I told them. "They were a lot like the fashion club on Daria -- Cassidy was the alpha bitch like Sandy, and Jennifer and Bonnie were the mindless followers like Stacey and Tiffany."
"Yeah! And we all know Daria would never hang with flakes like dose!" said Meowth.
I smiled. "Exactly. They all had that late 80s valley girl thing going on, and I've always been more the kind of person that marches to the beat of my own drum...."
James snickered. "Is that where you got the idea for that ditzy valley girl act we put on when we were giving St. Anne tickets to all those trainers in Vermillion City?"
Now I was snickering, too. "Like, totally! For sure!" I replied in my best valley girl voice. "I was so making fun of Jennifer with those radical costumes and that radical lingo!"
"Cooooool!" James said in his valley girl voice.
"No joke," I continued in my regular voice. "Those valley girl characters we played were Jennifer in a nutshell -- the schoolgirl outfits, the white lipstick, the accent...everything."
"Jeez! Dat girl really does sound like a flake!" Meowth remarked.
Gary said nothing, just laughed.
"Anyway, I just didn't have anything in common with them," I said, getting back on-subject. "I couldn't really talk to them, and every time I tried to be myself, they found some reason to insult me or make me think that there was something wrong with me."
"Well, nothing could be further from the truth," James assured me. "You're smart and funny and a pleasure to talk to -- that's just one of the many things that made me fall in love with you!"
"Damn straight!" Gary agreed. "Anybody who thinks there's something wrong with you needs their head examined!"
"Or dere ass kicked!" Meowth chimed in.
My smile grew even wider than it already was as I looked at my three friends. "Thanks, guys."
James brought my hand to his lips and kissed it. "Just telling the truth, honey."
I blushed and continued my narrative. "Well, my friendship with Cassidy was shaky from the start...and I was never friends with the other two. But the fact that we had nothing in common wasn't what ultimately destroyed any chance of friendship Cassidy and I may have had...."
"Jessie? How are you feeling, sweetie?"
I shivered and pulled the blankets around myself, careful not to disturb the thermometer in my mouth. "Cold...." I murmured.
Miss Cindy smoothed back my hair and placed a hand to my forehead. "Poor thing. You're burning up."
The school nurse took the thermometer from my mouth and frowned. "She's got a fever of 102," she confirmed.
Miss Cindy ran a hand through her green hair and sighed. "This happens every year -- before the first week of school is over, there's always at least one or two kids in my class who get sick."
"It's the new environment...being exposed to new germs," the nurse explained as she shook out the thermometer and placed it in a jar of green alcohol. "I hardly ever see this happen to returning students -- it's always the kindergarteners and new kids."
Tell me about it, I said to myself as I listened to the exchange. This had happened to me before -- I'd been too young to remember it at the time, but momma had told me that when she'd started sending me to day care, I'd gotten really sick because I'd been exposed to lots of new kids and new germs. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that the same thing was happening to me now.
"I need to call her mother to come and take her home," said Miss Cindy. "There's no way the poor dear can go back to class. And I don't want any of the other kids getting sick, either."
The nurse nodded. "I agree."
"I think we have Ms. Parker's phone number on file in the office," Miss Cindy remarked. She adjusted her glasses and smiled tenderly at me. "I'll be back in a minute, Jessie."
Once my teacher had taken her leave, the nurse tucked the blankets around me. "Hopefully, your mommy will be here to pick you up soon. And if not, you can spend the rest of the afternoon in here," she said.
"Thanks," I whispered hoarsely.
As the nurse went back to her paperwork, I leaned back on the pillows and took in my surroundings. The school clinic was a tiny room in the main office. With its blue and gray high gloss walls and white tile floor, it had a cold, industrial air about it, but thankfully, it was warmed up somewhat by the brightly-colored crayon drawings that students had done adorning the walls and patchwork quilt-style covers on the two beds. The nurse's desk and a cabinet full of medicine and first-aid supplies were next to the door, and in the adjoining bed on the other side of the white curtain was another student -- a fourth grader -- who had a fever, too.
I closed my eyes and sighed as I reflected on how I'd ended up here.
It was Friday afternoon -- the end of the first week of school. I hadn't felt well when I'd woken up that morning, and I'd told momma as much. She'd wanted me to stay home, but she hadn't been able to get a babysitter for me, and her boss had needed her at Team Rocket Headquarters that day, so she'd had no choice but to send me to school anyway. I'd spent the entire morning hacking and coughing and fighting off a headache, and then at lunch, I'd gotten sick to my stomach and thrown up on Jennifer and Bonnie. When the janitor had arrived to start cleaning up the mess, Miss Cindy had brought me to the clinic.
Now, I was resting and trying to take my mind off of the shitty day I was having (though I had to admit that the look on Jennifer and Bonnie's faces when my puke had poured off the edge of the table and gotten all over their designer jeans and blouses had been pretty damned funny).
As I rolled onto my side and tried to fall asleep, however, I suddenly heard screaming. When I looked, I saw that a sixth grader had come into the office. She was sobbing hysterically and shrieking, "Like, oh my gawd, ohmygawd, OHMYGAWD!!!!!" at the top of her lungs. I sat up in bed to get a better look at what was going on.
The principal, several administrators, and even Miss Cindy and the nurse ran to the girl's side and attempted to calm her down.
"What's going on? What's the matter, young lady?" the principal asked once the girl was finally able to stop screaming and bring her sobs under control.
"Like, oh my gawd, it's a disaster!" the girl cried. "I, like, got a chain letter on Monday, and I totally forgot to make twenty copies and send them on! It said the letter has been going around for over a hundred years and that everybody who's ever broken the chain has, like, died a really horrible death! And it totally said that if you don't pass it on within three days, then you're a dork!!! That's, like, even worse than dying!" When she said this, she broke down and began sobbing again.
I rolled my eyes and laid back down as the girl continued to cry and scream and rant about how she didn't want to die or be considered a dork for breaking the chain. It never ceased to amaze me how insipid people could be.
And this, in turn, made me start thinking about Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie again. I'd only known them for five days, but the more time I spent with them, the more dubious I was becoming about our friendship. I just didn't feel comfortable around the three of them -- we didn't like any of the same music, movies, or TV shows, and I couldn't talk to them about a favorite book momma had read to me since none of them could even sit still long enough to listen to a whole story. And worse, I couldn't be myself around them or talk about the things I was interested in without being belittled for it. (Though why loving imaginative movies like The Neverending Story and The Last Unicorn and fantasy stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit made me a geek, while listening to shit like New Kids on the Block and watching flaky shows like Beverly Hills Teens made them cool was a mystery to me.) I also hated how the three of them treated me like a baby, just because I was a few months younger than they were.
Now that I was really thinking about it, I was kind of glad I'd gotten sick. Cassidy had invited me to come with her, Jennifer, and Bonnie on a weekend cruise that her parents were taking to the Seafoam Islands in their private yacht. Momma had been happy when she'd learned that I'd made a friend close to my own age, and she'd been eager for me to go on the cruise with the Sundance family so that I could have fun and get to eat some decent meals, but truth be told, I'd been dreading it. If having a friend meant being picked on and forced to participate in activities that I didn't enjoy, then I wasn't so sure I wanted to have a friend. Now more than ever, I treasured the time I spent alone, and the time I spent with momma -- they were the only times I could really be myself without being ridiculed!
I brought myself from my reverie and saw that Miss Cindy and the nurse had returned to the clinic. Chain Letter Girl had finally calmed down and been sent back to class.
"I called your mom, dear," Miss Cindy told me. "She said she'll be here to pick you up in about half an hour."
I nodded. "Thank you."
The nurse opened the medicine cabinet and brought out a bottle filled with pale pink tablets. "But in the meantime, she said we could give you some Children's Tylenol for your fever." She shook two tablets from the bottle and handed them to me. "The water fountain is just outside the office door, if you need to wash them down. Or I can bring you a cup if you'd rather stay in bed."
"I can do it myself," I replied.
Miss Cindy gave me a hug. "I need to get back to class, sweetie," she said. "But I hope you feel better soon. Take it easy this weekend."
"I will," I promised.
After Miss Cindy took her leave a second time, I got out of bed and left the office. Just as the nurse had said, there was a water fountain outside the office doors. I popped the Children's Tylenol tablets into my mouth and got a drink. They tasted like fruit punch as I washed them down.
Once I finished, I looked around and noticed that the bathrooms were a short distance down the hall. I still had a bitter taste in my mouth from when I'd thrown up earlier, and my face felt sticky and dirty. I wanted to get cleaned up a little before momma arrived, so that's what I went to do.
And that's when I received an unpleasant surprise...a very unpleasant surprise.
As I pushed open the door to the girls' room and entered the vestibule, I heard three voices coming from bathroom area. Peeking around the corner, I saw Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie standing in front of the sinks. Jennifer and Bonnie were washing off their clothes, and Cassidy was helping them. None of them had noticed my presence, so I ducked behind the corner again and listened to their conversation.
"Ugh! This is so gross!" Bonnie was saying. "I can't believe Jessie got throw up all over us!"
"Totally!" Jennifer agreed. "Like, gag me with a spoon!"
"You'd better have a really good reason for letting that dork hang out with us, Cassidy!" Bonnie snarled.
"Yeah! I hate her!" Jennifer whined. "Her clothes are ugly, and she always talks about geeky stuff and uses big words that I don't understand! She's sooooo stupid and boring!"
My blood boiled when I heard this, but I supressed the urge to rush out of my hiding place and knock them into next week.
"Take a chill pill, you two," Cassidy told them. "I do have a good reason for letting Jessie think I like her."
Jennifer and Bonnie muttered something under their breath.
"Didn't you see Jessie's mom at the bus stop on Monday morning?" Cassidy went on. "She's with Team Rocket!"
The two of them gasped. "Team Rocket?! Radical!" they said in unison.
"If Jessie thinks we're her friends, then her mom can get us some rare pokemon! And if we know somebody in Team Rocket, we can join, too! Then, we can be famous and get whatever we want, whenever we want!" Cassidy concluded. She snorted. "You didn't think I'd really be friends with a loser like Jessie, did you?"
That did it. I couldn't hold my temper in check any longer. "So, I'm just a loser, am I?!" I shouted as I stepped into the bathroom.
Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie's eyes went wide when they saw me and realized that I'd overheard everything.
A sweatdrop formed on Cassidy's temple. "I...uh, didn't mean that, Jessie," she said lamely. "It's just that Jennifer and Bonnie don't like you, and I had to put you down so that I don't look bad to them...."
"Why don't you just shut the fuck up?" I sneered. "I'm not buying it!"
Cassidy and Bonnie covered their mouths with their hands.
"OOOHHH, you said a bad word!!!" Jennifer cried. "I'm gonna tell the principal on you, and you're gonna get your mouth washed out with soap, and then your mommy will get mad and put you back in the garbage where you belong!"
I smirked at her. "Momma and I say worse shit than that all the time, you fucking ditz. She won't give a good goddamn if I cuss you out!"
"That's because you're trashy!" Bonnie shot back. "Your whole family is trashy, and you're a loser, too!"
"Well, I'd rather be a trashy loser than a bunch of snot-nosed bitches like you!" I replied. With that, I stuck up my middle finger at the three of them. "I didn't like being your friend anyway, and if you're just using me to get at momma, then you can all fuck off!"
"Like, ohmygawd, ohmygawd, ohmygawd!" Jennifer wailed. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she slumped to the floor.
I arched an eyebrow in disbelief. Hearing some cuss words and getting flipped off made her faint?! Holy shit! What a wuss!
Unfortunately, her two friends weren't so easily intimidated.
"You're gonna pay for what you did to her, you bum!" Bonnie growled. With that, she began to charge me.
I held my ground. This wasn't the first time I'd been in a fight -- I'd gotten into more than a few scuffles on the playground at day care. I knew firsthand that the best way to deal with people who picked on you was to knock them back in line, and the best way to deal with bullies was to stand up to them. (There'd been a reason most of the kids at day care had left me alone, after all -- anybody who did bother me and wouldn't get off my case invariably ended up with a black eye or a bloody nose...sometimes both!) If Cassidy and Bonnie thought they could push me around with brute force, then they had another thing coming!
As Bonnie drew closer and took a swing at me, I sidestepped the blow. Missing her target had knocked her off balance, and she'd been running so fast that she'd gained too much momentum to stop. All I had to do was turn and give her a shove to send her crashing headlong into the wall. Like Jennifer, she slumped to the floor as well, leaving a smear of red blood on the beige tile wall in her wake.
Once I was certain Bonnie wouldn't be getting back up, I turned my sights on Cassidy.
"You gonna beat me up too, slugger?" she said sarcastically.
I could tell from the look in her eyes that she was baiting me...that she wanted me to start a fight. The urge to smash her face in and wipe away that smug look was a hard one to resist, but I held myself in check. I knew enough about schoolyard brawls to know that the kid who threw the first punch was usually the kid who got in the most trouble. I wasn't about to give her the satisfaction.
So, I just flipped her off again and took my leave without saying another word.
"You're nobody, Jessie! You're a worthless loser! You always will be!" Cassidy called after me. She continued to rant, but I didn't listen to her. I just left the bathroom and went back to the office to wait for momma to come and pick me up.
"So, Cassidy was just usin' you ta get ta Miyamoto?" Meowth said as I brought the narrative to a close. "Dat bitch!"
Gary shuddered. "Why would a kindergartener be so obsessed with Team Rocket and power-trips? That's whacked!"
"That was Cassidy," I replied. "She was always the kind of person who saw nothing wrong with getting whatever she wanted by whatever means necessary. Back in those days, she mostly talked about wanting to join Team Rocket for the shock value...or she used it as a scare-tactic to make her parents give in to her when she wanted something. And when she found out that my momma really was in Team Rocket, she saw it as a way to make good on her threats. Needless to say, she wasn't very happy when I learned the truth about why she was buddying up to me -- it screwed up all of her plans, so she decided to get revenge on me." My brow furrowed. "In fact, once I recovered from the flu and went back to school on Wednesday, things got really ugly. After I'd gone home on Friday afternoon, Cassidy and her two little cronies had gone to the principal and told him that I'd beaten them up. First thing Wednesday morning, I had to go to the office to tell my side of the story, and even though I told the truth -- that I hadn't touched Cassidy or Jennifer and that Bonnie had been the one who'd started the fight with me -- the principal didn't believe me. It was basically my word against theirs, and I'd been outnumbered. I ended up getting detention for a week while Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie got off scot-free. They'd also spread the word that momma was in Team Rocket, and that only further poisoned the principal, the faculty, and the rest of the students against me. I got labeled as a troublemaker, and any time momma went in for a conference from then on, she got treated like shit. I think the only person who didn't turn against me after that was Miss Cindy. She was always nice to me and momma, but once kindergarten was over and I was out of her class, there wasn't much she could do for either of us. Things got a lot worse in first grade -- Cassidy was in my class that year, and our teacher, Mrs. Crabtree, was a real bitch...."
Meowth snickered. "Crabtree? Ain't dat the name of the bus driver on South Park?"
I couldn't help but laugh at the realization. "Yes...yes, it is! She was about as nasty as the Mrs. Crabtree on South Park, too! She had this bony face with a perpetually pissed off expression, like a Remoraid, and she was always screaming at the class to sit down and shut up. And my second grade teacher, Ms. Kris, was even worse than that -- almost makes me glad I was kidnapped by Team Rocket before the school year was over."
James frowned. "Jeezus Christ. That makes some of the shit I went through at Viridian Academy sound like a picnic in the park!"
I raised an eyebrow. "Ah, so you were a student at the notorious Viridian Academy?"
"What is dat?" Meowth queried. "Some ritzy private school where rich folks send dere kids?"
"That's exactly what it is," James replied. The smile returned to his lips. "Unlike Cassidy, however, I did pass the entrance exams...with flying colors!"
I leaned closer and gave him a kiss. "Of course! Unlike Cassidy, you're smart!"
"Did you guys start school the same year?" Gary asked.
James nodded. "Yeah. 1987."
"Dat's pretty cool!" Meowth remarked.
"Yes, it is," I agreed. I smiled. "To think, we were going to school in the same town for a couple of years before we met! I'm surprised we didn't run into each other during that time...."
"It wouldn't have been very likely," James sighed. "Classes at Viridian Academy start earlier and end later than public school -- I would've been in class while you were going to and from school. The long commute didn't help, either. Lilac Falls is a good twenty miles from Viridian City, and my parents' estate is about ten miles out of town, anyway -- I had to get up at five every morning so that the chauffeur could get me to school by seven, and when school let out at five in the afternoon, he was always there with the limousene to take me home. Needless to say, I didn't get much free time on school days."
Meowth smirked. "You got ta ride a limo to and from school?! I bet dat beat the hell outta dose piece a shit buses Jess had ta ride!"
James blushed more brightly than ever and hung his head. "I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have brought that up...."
I cupped his chin in my hand and made him look up at me. "Don't be sorry. You may have had a better commute than I did, but you still had to put up with shitty people at school...and you didn't even have a good home-life the way I did. Nobody's jealous of you, James...least of all me."
This made him smile again.
"I'm sure the classes at that school were really tough, too," I continued.
"You can say that again," James replied. "The teachers and administrators were allowed to use corporal punishment -- I can't count the number of horror-stories I heard about students who got paddled or had their mouths washed out with soap! I got swatted with a ruler plenty of times, myself. I'm ambidextrous, so I used my right hand to do some things, but every time I used my left hand, the teachers would come along and rap me on the knuckles."
I cringed when I heard this. I was ambidextrous, too -- the thought of being punished for using my left hand was unthinkable!
James grinned and continued. "Of course, that only made me want to use my left hand more, just so I could piss them off!"
"Now, dat sounds like the Jimmy we know and love!" Meowth laughed.
"And the school work itself was pretty intense," James went on. "By fifth grade, we were already studying high school-level curriculum."
"Sounds like what happened with me after momma died," I remarked.
James, Meowth, and Gary turned their attention back to me.
"Like I said earlier, I was taken out of Viridian Elementary in the middle of my second grade year. After being kidnapped, I attended a private school at Team Rocket Headquarters for a couple of years before going to nursing school and Pokemon Tech," I explained. "We studied a lot of advanced subjects, too...and we had stealth, combat, and martial arts training on top of that. It was basically a school that Madam Boss had set up for her employees' children...to train the next generation of Team Rocket agents." I scowled. "And that was where I met Butch."
"Lucky you," Meowth said sardonically.
I closed my eyes again and recalled that day....
"Class, we have a new student," the teacher announced as he clamped a hand over my shoulder. "This is Jessica Parker."
When he said this, all of the students began muttering amongst themselves.
I looked down at the floor and nervously shifted my weight from foot to foot. It was common knowledge in Team Rocket that Miyamoto Parker had been the greatest agent of all time and that I was her daughter. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that Madam Boss, this teacher, and my new classmates expected me to follow in her footsteps and be every bit as great as she'd been. But after the way I'd been treated by my teachers and classmates at Viridian Elementary, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of living in momma's shadow and carrying on her legacy. And I knew in my heart that momma wouldn't have wanted this either -- she'd enrolled me in public school so that I wouldn't be trained as a Team Rocket agent and forced into the organization.
The teacher gave my shoulder a squeeze. "Please find a seat, Miss Parker, and we'll begin our first lesson."
I looked up at him. Dr. Holliday was a middle-aged Elite agent with neatly-combed brown hair, a brushy mustache, and blue-gray eyes. He walked with a severe limp and had to use a cane, but I could tell from the firmness of his grip and the set of his features that he was the kind of man who didn't take any shit from anybody. I didn't want to be here, but his demeanor was actually making me think twice about saying or doing anything insubordinate! (Not that it mattered -- after the way my whole world had fallen apart like a house of cards during the past month, I didn't feel like I had much fight left in me, anyway.)
"Yessir," I muttered. I scanned the classroom and saw an empty desk in the back row.
As I began walking towards the desk, I heard somebody whisper, "Bitch," in a cold, raspy voice.
I turned and looked at the owner of the voice -- a green-haired boy that was about my age, sitting in the front row. A fire of pure hatred and malice was burning in his mud-brown eyes as he stared up at me. In the adjacent desk, a boy with dirty blonde hair and watery blue eyes was snickering.
Suddenly, I heard a sharp crack and saw that Dr. Holliday had slammed his cane down on the green-haired boy's desk. The boy yelped in fear and turned his attention back to the teacher. The rest of the students and I flinched, too.
"Do you have something you'd like to share with the rest of the class, Mr. Kidd?" Dr. Holliday growled.
The boy shook his head. "Sir, no sir!" he replied nervously.
Dr. Holliday shifted his attention to the blonde boy. "What about you, Mr. White?"
He shook his head as well. "Sir, no sir!"
Dr. Holliday's blue eyes narrowed to slits. "Then, I suggest you keep your mouths shut." He waved his cane menacingly in the boys' faces. "Next time, you won't get a warning."
The boys gulped and nodded.
A drop of cold sweat formed on my temple as I continued on my way and seated myself at the desk in the back of the room.
As Dr. Holliday began his geography lecture, I opened my text book to make it look like I was following along, but in reality, my thoughts were focused on my momma and how I'd gotten into this situation.
It was January of 1990. I'd just turned seven the previous month...and I'd also just lost momma. Shortly before my birthday, she'd accepted a mission to capture a rare pokemon known as Mew. I'd had a bad feeling about the mission and begged her not to go, but Madam Boss had offered her a lot of money -- she'd been unable to refuse. And unfortunately, my instincts had turned out to be right -- a couple of weeks after she left, I learned that she'd been killed in an avalanche. The Dan'in who'd given me the news had then brought me to Team Rocket Headquarters, and Madam Boss had forced me to join the organization. It was kind of ironic -- momma had accepted the mission so that she could achieve financial independence and leave Team Rocket, ensuring that I'd never have to join...but instead, all she'd done was bring about everything she'd been hoping to prevent.
I didn't blame momma for what had happened, though. She could hardly be faulted for wanting to do what was best for her child. No, I blamed Madam Boss for all of this -- she was the one who'd kept momma beholden to Team Rocket...the one who'd sent her on that mission...the one who'd taken me from my home and forced me to join Team Rocket. She was the one who'd ruined my life. She was the one I hated.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I reflected on the events of the past month. It's not fair! I said to myself. Why did this have to happen? Why?
The sound of Dr. Holliday's voice startled me from my reverie. "Y-yes?" I stammered.
"I was asking if you could tell us in which continent the Alps can be found."
I looked up at the world map that was hanging on the blackboard. "Europe?" I said meekly.
Dr. Holliday nodded approvingly. "That's correct, Miss Parker. The Alps are in Europe." He cast a stern look at the rest of the students. "I'm glad somebody in this class knows a bit about geography!"
The boy with the green hair turned and gave me a wicked grin. "You should've asked her where the Andes are!" he sneered. "I bet she knows that one, too!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing! This kid knew about momma's mission...and he was making jokes about what had happened to her! I didn't know whether to cry, or cuss him out, or jump out of my desk and beat the living shit out of him!
I didn't get a chance to do any -- before I could react, Dr. Holliday brought his cane down on the boy's knuckles and split them open.
"What did I tell you about speaking out of turn, Mr. Kidd?!" he shouted.
The boy held his now-bleeding hand to his chest and whimpered.
Dr. Holliday responded by boxing his ears. "I will not tolerate you talking during my lectures. And I will not tolerate anybody speaking disrespectfully about the late agent Parker! Do I make myself clear?"
"Sir, yes sir!" the students chorused. The green-haired boy whimpered again.
I couldn't help but smile a little. I was starting to like Dr. Holliday -- the way he took up for me and momma reminded me of my old kindergarten teacher, Miss Cindy.
For the rest of the morning, I listened intently to Dr. Holliday's geography, history, and English lessons. A lot of the subject matter was more advanced than the stuff we'd been studying at Viridian Elementary, but I found the challenge to be a refreshing change of pace (and thankfully, the green-haired boy made no more snide comments).
When we broke for lunch at midday, Dr. Holliday held me back as the rest of the students filed out of the classroom and headed for the cafeteria.
"What is it, sir?" I asked.
"I just wanted to apologize for Mr. Kidd's behavior," he told me. "There was no excuse for it."
"Who is he?" I queried. "And what's his problem with me and momma, anyway? What did we ever do to him?"
"His name is Butch Kidd. His parents, Ed and Bailey Kidd, used to be in Team Rocket. They hated Miyamoto...and Butch was raised to be every bit as hateful. It's a long story," he replied. "Come on -- you can have lunch in the break room with me and my friends. We'd be happy to tell you all about it."
I smiled again as I followed Dr. Holliday to a lounge at the other end of the hall. When we entered the room, I saw a man with long black hair and a thick beard and mustache, a woman with spiky fuschia hair, a woman with curly blonde hair, and a woman with pale blue hair that was straight as pins. They were all dressed in the black uniforms with red and white stripes worn by the Team Rocket Elite, and they were sitting at a round table, eating take-out Chinese.
"Hey, guys!" Dr. Holliday said.
The four Elites smiled when they saw him. "Hey, Henry! We got lunch!" the man replied.
"Well, I hope you've got extra -- we have a special guest today," Dr. Holliday told them. He stepped aside and gestured to me. "Any guesses who this is?"
Their smiles became grins.
"Oh! It's Miyamoto's daughter!" the fuschia-haired woman exclaimed.
"Little Jessie!" said the blonde.
"She's even more adorable in person!" the blue-haired woman cried.
I raised an eyebrow. "You all knew my momma?"
Dr. Holliday smiled at me and gestured to the fuschia-haired woman. "Jessie, I'd like you to meet my lovely wife, Kate." He pointed to the man. "And this is Wyatt." Then, he pointed to the blonde woman and the blue-haired woman. "And Belle and Star. Your mother was the leader of our squadron."
Wyatt knelt down and cupped my chin in his hand. "Miyamoto was a damn fine woman -- it was an honor and a privilege for all of us to work with her."
Star nodded. "That's right. She wasn't just our leader...."
"....She was our friend," Belle chimed in.
Kate brought out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes, which had grown moist with tears. "Any one of us would have given our lives for her...because she would've done no less for us. I'd be a widow if not for her bravery."
I looked up at Dr. Holliday. "Momma saved your life?"
He nodded. "Yes. In fact, that's an important part of the story I want to tell you. Have a seat, Jessie."
As I sat down at the table, Kate, Wyatt, Belle, Star, and Dr. Holliday gave me a plate and shared some of their Kung Po chicken, won ton soup, sweet and sour pork, spring rolls, shrimp in lobster sauce, rice, and fortune cookies with me. And as I started to eat, Dr. Holliday related his story.
"This happened about three years ago. Your mother, Belle, Star, Wyatt, Kate, and I were tracking down a rare red Gyarados that had been spotted in the Dragon Cave, in the mountains of northeast Johto, near Blackthorn City," he began. "There was another squadron with us -- a squadron that included Ed and Bailey Kidd...."
As his voice trailed off, Wyatt took up the story. "The Kidds had been on probation because a few years back, they'd been abusing the pokemon they captured, and they almost killed the pair of Elites that Madam Boss had sent to stop them -- there was a car chase, and Ed and Bailey forced the Elites' vehicle into oncoming traffic and caused a major accident. Luckily, the Elites weren't killed, but the woman was pregnant and could've lost her baby, and the man was crippled and has to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair -- the two of them had to retire after that incident."
My stomach lurched. "That's awful."
"Arianna was furious," Dr. Holliday continued. "She didn't bail the Kidds out when they were arrested, and she used her connections to make sure that they went to prison for a couple of years. When they were finally released from prison, they came back to Team Rocket and told Madam Boss that they were eager to redeem themselves. She didn't really trust them, but she'd been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. She sent them with us on that assignment to see if they really were willing to clean up their act...and so that we could keep an eye on them if they were trying to pull another fast one."
"What a mistake that turned out to be," Belle grumbled. "There was a lot of bad blood between them and your mom."
"Miyamoto made no secret of the fact that she hated Ed and Bailey -- the Elites that they'd tried to kill were friends of hers, and she couldn't forgive them for that," Star added. "And Ed and Bailey had always been jealous of Miyamoto because she was Madam Boss's favorite employee."
"They say a leopard can't change its spots, and sadly, it was no different for the Kidds," Kate sighed. "While we were on that assignment, Ed and Bailey tried to set up a little...ahem...accident for us. They thought that if they could get us out of the way, then it'd be easier for them to get ahead in the organization."
"While we were exploring the Dragon Cave, Ed and Bailey planted explosives in one of the tunnels," Wyatt explained. He placed a hand on Dr. Holliday's shoulder. "Henry, here, caught them in the act...."
"When I saw what they were doing, I shouted for everybody to get the hell out of the cave," Dr. Holliday went on. "Then, Ed and Bailey pulled guns on me. I was able to disarm Ed, but Bailey managed to get off a shot. Blew my damn knee out...."
"We heard Henry screaming that Ed and Bailey had a bomb...and then the gunshots," said Belle.
Star shuddered. "When that happened, Miyamoto told us to run for it...and that she was going to find Henry and stop Ed and Bailey."
Kate's eyes filled with tears again. "I was so afraid that I was going to lose Henry, but Miyamoto promised me that she wouldn't leave him behind...no matter what."
Dr. Holliday put an arm around his wife's shoulders. "After I went down, Ed and Bailey activated their bomb. Then, they turned their guns on me again. Just as they were about to pull the triggers, Miyamoto showed up and shot the guns from their hands. There wasn't enough time to defuse the bomb, so she just helped me up, and the two of us made a run for it. I couldn't move very fast because of my knee, so we didn't get far before the bomb went off. I told Miyamoto to forget about me and save herself, but she wouldn't hear of it...just tightened her hold on me and kept running as fast as she could. Those few minutes seemed more like an eternity -- falling rocks were raining down all around us, and I thought for sure we were going to be crushed. In fact, we made it out of the tunnel just a split second before the whole thing collapsed!"
I was on the edge of my seat as I listened to the story. Momma had never talked much about work with me, let alone any of her accomplishments. I was beginning to see why she'd commanded so much respect. "Momma did that? Wow!"
Kate placed a hand to my cheek. "Once Miyamoto was sure everybody had made it to safety, she rushed Henry to the hospital. His knee had been shattered from Bailey's gunshot, and his hip had been crushed by a falling rock on the way out -- he'd had to have surgery to replace both of them, and he hasn't been able to work in the field since. But he would've died if not for your mother -- she was a real hero!"
Dr. Holliday nodded. "When we returned to headquarters, we told Arianna what had happened. She took me out of the field and gave me a position as a teacher in her training school, and she even gave Miyamoto a bonus for her heroic efforts!"
"And in case you're wondering, Ed and Bailey didn't make it out of the cave," Wyatt told me. "They got caught in the explosion, and their remains were found by a search party a few weeks later. I seriously doubt anybody missed them, though -- even Arianna said good riddance to bad rubbish!"
"As for Butch? I don't think he really cared, either," said Belle. "He was just a baby when his parents got sent to prison the first time. A couple of Ed and Bailey's friends looked after him while they were in prison, and he only got to see them on weekends, so he wasn't really that close to them."
"After Butch's parents died, their friends adopted him. They're raising him with their son, Clyde," Star continued. "Nobody wanted Butch to be punished for his parents' mistakes, so Arianna kept him with Team Rocket, and she's letting him attend her training school."
Dr. Holliday folded his arms across his chest and scowled. "I don't have much hope that he'll turn out any better than his parents, though...not if the way he acted this morning was any indication." He then proceeded to tell Kate, Wyatt, Belle, and Star how Butch had hassled me and made a rude remark about my momma's death.
Wyatt clenched his fist. "Why, that snot-nosed punk!" he growled. "How dare he?!"
Dr. Holliday's scowl became a smirk. "Don't worry -- I gave the brat a set of bloody knuckles for bothering Jessie."
Kate put her arms around her husband and gave him a kiss. "Good for you, honey!"
He smiled at me. "Don't you worry about Butch. I wish with all my heart that there were something we could've done to help your mother last month...but failing that, we'll honor her memory by doing the next best thing -- looking out for her daughter. If Butch, or Clyde, or anybody else gives you any shit, just let us know. We won't stand for it."
Now I was smiling, too. "Thank you, sir."
For the next hour, I ate lunch and chatted with momma's friends. When class resumed that afternoon, Dr. Holliday gave his science and math lectures, and we all went to the gym for physical training. When school let out and I returned to my room that evening, I felt a lot better than I ever could've imagined. I still missed my momma, I still didn't want to be part of Team Rocket, and Butch and the boy with the dirty blonde hair -- whom I later found out was his friend, Clyde White -- still hassled me every chance they got, but at least I had momma's old friends looking out for me. (And the fact that Dr. Holliday didn't tolerate people bothering me and conveniently turned a blind eye whenever I fought back was an extremely refreshing change of pace from how I'd been treated at Viridian Elementary. I even got to punch Butch and Clyde's lights out a few times and never once got punished for it!)
Maybe life at headquarters wouldn't be as bad as I'd feared.
"I guess my time at the Team Rocket training school was a mixed bag," I concluded. "On one hand, it sucked that most of the students hated me for being Miyamoto's daughter, just like the kids at Viridian Elementary had. But on the other hand, it was nice to meet momma's friends and to know that they were on my side." I folded my arms across my chest and smiled. "In fact, it was Dr. Holliday, Kate, Wyatt, Belle, and Star who convinced Arianna to let me attend nursing school. They knew that I didn't want to join Team Rocket and that momma hadn't wanted it either, and I'd told them that I'd dreamed of becoming a doctor. I never would've gotten that chance if not for their help."
James took my hand in his. "And because you went to nursing school, you befriended Chansey and had an opportunity to help her make her dream come true!"
I nodded. "That's right. For the longest time, I'd thought friendship was about manipulation, betrayal, and pretending to be somebody that you're not because of what Cassidy had done to me. But meeting momma's friends and learning what she'd done for them...and what they'd been willing to do for her in return helped me to see what real friendship was about. I think that's what gave me the courage to reach out to Chansey and be her friend -- when I saw how she didn't fit in with the other Chanseys, I saw a reflection of myself...and I knew that I couldn't let her do it alone." I paused for a moment and brushed away the tears I felt stinging my eyes. "But it hurt so much when I flunked out of nursing school, and Chansey and I had to go our separate ways. That's why I was so guarded when I met you that first day at Pokemon Tech, James. Like Chansey, I liked you and saw myself in you...but I didn't want to make another friend, only to end up losing him."
"Yes, but you weren't counting on how deeply I cared for you and what I was willing to do to stay by your side," James said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
I felt my cheeks turning pink. "You got that right -- nobody has ever done as much for me as you have, James. You're the best friend I've ever had!"
James brought my hand to his lips and kissed my fingers. "You're the best friend I've ever had too, Jess."
"And youse guys are my best friends!" Meowth exclaimed as he jumped into our laps.
"And you three are my best friends, too," Gary chimed in.
"And for that, I'm truly grateful," I told them. "You can't imagine how good it feels to finally be with people who like me for who I am, rather than who I'm related to or what I can offer them." I paused for a moment, and my smile grew even wider than it already was. "But then again, maybe that's precisely why I fit in with you guys -- because you do understand!"
Gary nodded. "You can say that again!"
James leaned closer and touched his lips to mine. "Thank you for telling us about this, honey," he said softly. "I know it was probably difficult going back to those places, but we appreciate that you trusted us and felt you could share it."
I returned his kiss. "Well, I'm glad I did. I feel a lot better now that I've talked about it...like I can finally let it go and move on. I always used to get so angry when I thought about the way Butch, Cassidy, and their friends treated me, but when I looked back on it just now, it really made me see how petty and pathetic they truly are...it made me see that they're not worth getting worked up over."
"Damn straight!" Meowth agreed. He scratched his head thoughtfully. "Hey, speakin' of pathetic, ya know Crappidy's friend, Bonnie, and Botch's friend, Clyde? Dey wouldn't happen ta be....?"
"The very same," I replied before he could finish his question.
James put his arms around himself and shivered. "Jeezus! No wonder you never got along with them as kids -- they turned out to be a real pair of lunatics!"
Gary raised an eyebrow. "Is this the Bonnie and Clyde who were running the fake breeding center that you rescued Vulpix from?" he asked me.
"Yeah, that's them. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime before James and I joined Team Rocket, Cassidy, Bonnie, and Jennifer joined, too -- Cassidy was partnered with Butch, Bonnie was partnered with Clyde, and Jennifer got some kind of office job since she wasn't strong enough to handle the demands of physical training and field-work," I explained. "I saw the five of them hanging out together at headquarters during our trainee period. I wasn't happy about returning to Team Rocket, and I didn't want any of their bullshit on top of that, so I kept a low profile whenever they were around. James didn't know who they were, though -- I'd never told him about my old enemies because I didn't want him dragged into the vendetta, too." My brow furrowed. "But they dragged him into it, anyway. Poor James was guilty by association...and he almost lost his life because of it...." The memory of our ordeal in the Safari Zone still held a lot of emotion for me, and my voice became stuck in my throat as I thought about it.
Luckily, James was able to pick up the narrative. "This happened when our boss sent us to shut down Bonnie and Clyde's fake breeding center last year...."
"And dey wasn't even bein' original!" Meowth interjected. "Earlier dat year, Botch and Crappidy had dere own fake breedin' center...and dey was abusin' all the pokemon dat people sent 'em, too. Bonnie and Clyde obviously borrowed a page from dere book...the copy-cats...."
"I remember seeing a commercial for that place," Gary remarked. "A blonde girl and a green-haired guy who sounded like he smoked at least two packs a day, and they kept saying something about pokemon love power."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, that was Botch and Crappidy."
"Anyway," James said, getting back to the story, "defeating Bonnie and Clyde in a pokemon battle and closing their breeding center down was a simple matter. Unfortunately, they remained in the area. They were eager to redeem themselves in the boss's eyes, so the next day, they went to the Safari Zone to poach some pokemon. As luck would have it, Jessie, Meowth, and I had decided to spend the day in the Safari Zone as well, and we ran afoul of them again."
Meowth scowled and unsheathed his claws. "Bonnie and Clyde musta been plannin' ta kill some of the pokemon dey captured, cuz dey was workin' with some really powerful poison, and Clyde had a bow and arrows with him...."
"While Jessie and I were taking a walk together, Bonnie and Clyde spotted us and started shooting at us," James went on. "Jessie was going to get hit, but I pushed her out of the way at the last second and took the arrow for her. Got me right in the shoulder. Jessie battled them with our pokemon and blasted them off, and she and Meowth got the arrow out of me...but then, we found out that the arrow had been poisoned...."
Gary's eyes went wide. "So that's why Jessie looked so nervous when I said that I'd been hit with a tranquilizer dart on the night you saved me from Clay and Allison!" Now he was shivering, too. "You were afraid they'd poisoned me, the way Bonnie and Clyde poisoned James."
I blinked back my tears and nodded. "What happened to James was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life -- I didn't want to see anything like that happen ever again."
James put his arms around me and continued. "Well, as you know, this story has a happy ending. After I was shot, we sent Meowth to get help. Things were pretty dicey for awhile, though -- I almost died while we were waiting for him to return...."
"Bonnie and Clyde caught me while I was on my way ta call an ambulance for James," the cat explained. He closed his eyes and shuddered. "Dey beat me within an inch of my life ta try and get me ta tell 'em where Jess and Jim was, but I wouldn't talk. Dey found 'em anyway, though...."
"I had to fight them again," I said as I scratched behind Meowth's ears and rested my head on James's shoulder. "I ended up with a bunch of cuts and a few broken ribs, but I defeated them and their pokemon with Vulpix and Arbok's help, and I got the antidote from them and gave it to James before it was too late."
James grinned. "And just like Clay and Allison, when Bonnie and Clyde were brought to justice, our boss used his connections to make sure that they were sent to prison...and that they'll stay there. I don't think any of them will be bothering any of us ever again."
I looked back at the TV. "And hopefully, Butch and Cassidy won't be bothering us anytime soon, either."
"Amen ta dat!" said Meowth.
"You know, everything Jessie told us about Butch and Cassidy tonight just goes to show that as great as they think they are, you three are better people by far!" Gary told us.
James nodded. "You have a point. Butch had a rough childhood and lost his parents at a young age, just like Jessie did. But he chose to become a royal asshole, while Jessie simply chose to become stronger. She never allowed the hardships that she faced to extinguish the light that shines in her soul."
I blushed. "And James may have been born into a wealthy family like Cassidy, but she became spoiled and snotty because of it, while James remained humble and down-to-earth. He never allowed the fact that he came from a life of privilege to go to his head," I pointed out. "And he didn't join Team Rocket as any kind of power-trip like Cassidy did -- he joined because he loved me and wanted to stay with me."
"Yep. Youse guys definitely have Botch and Crappidy beat all ta hell and back," Meowth concurred. "Ya had the strength ta resist the negative influences in yer lives and always strive for what ya knew was right, no matter how much ya got beaten down by circumstance. You was lucky enough ta have people like Miyamoto and Jim and Rose Morgan in yer lives. And you was smart enough ta follow the good examples dat dey set and grow up ta be brave and true, just like dey was! So Gary is right -- no matter how many more pokemon Botch and Crappidy catch den we do, no matter how far dey may outrank us in the organization, dey'll never truly be better den us!"
Gary smiled. "That's probably the real reason they hate you. They're jealous because you have something that they never will -- character!"
"I think the same can be said about Ash's rivalry with you," I remarked. "Deep down inside, he must know that you're a better trainer...and a better person than he is. And I bet that drives him nuts!"
"You're probably right," he chuckled.
I smiled once more at my three friends...my three best friends who loved me unconditionally, who'd never leave me, and above all, who'd never betray me, and I knew in my heart that I truly was over the painful experiences that I'd suffered at the hands of my old foes. "Now, if it's all the same to you guys, I don't want to talk about Botch, Crappidy, or the twerp anymore," I said. "Let's just watch the weather forecast and get back to our D & D game -- we can't call it a night until we rescue Eowyn, Severus, Peregrin, and Alcavar from the Shadow Realm, after all!"
James, Meowth, and Gary returned my smile. "Sounds like a plan to us!" they chorused.
After watching the forecast (which called for the weather to be clear and cool for the next few days), we finished our pizza, fed our pokemon, and resumed our Dungeons & Dragons adventure. It took a couple of hours (and a little help from the spirit of an ancient Pharaoh), but all four of our characters emerged victorious from the Duel Monsters game and escaped unharmed from the Shadow Realm. We ended the session by having Eowyn, Severus, Peregrin, and Alcavar return to Baldur's Gate and rejoin their friends, Alaric, Morrigan, and Nami.
Once we put away the game supplies and put the pizza boxes, paper plates, napkins, and soda cans into the recycling containers, Gary went to take a shower. While we were waiting for our turn to take a shower, James and I cuddled together on the bed that we were sharing. And since the cable had come back on, Meowth and Wobbuffet seated themselves at the foot of our bed and began to flip through the channels.
As the two pokemon tried to decide on something to watch, James ran his fingers through my hair and smiled tenderly at me.
"What is it?" I asked.
His emerald eyes glimmered as my gaze met his. "Just thinking about what a lucky guy I am to have you -- you're an amazing woman, Jess!"
I blushed again.
"It's true!" James insisted. He placed his hands to my burning cheeks. "As the old Chinese proverb goes, The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all."
I reached up and touched his nose. "You're just full of proverbs tonight, aren't you?"
"Yep!" he replied. With that, he pulled me closer and lowered his mouth to mine.
When our kiss ended, James caressed the outlines of my face with the tip of his finger. I closed my eyes and sighed contentedly, savoring the feeling of his gentle touch.
"You really are beautiful," he whispered. "I love you so much, Jessie."
I opened my eyes again and smiled at him. "I love you too, James. More than anything."
Suddenly, James grinned and began to laugh a little.
"What's so funny?"
"I was just thinking about something you told us earlier."
I raised an eyebrow.
He tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear and continued. "I was thinking about that flaky girl who got the chain letter and was convinced that something terrible was going to happen because she broke the chain. It reminded me of something that happened to me once."
"A couple of weeks after my grand-mama and grand-papa died, I got a chain letter at school," James told me. "It said all that bullshit about how you'd have bad luck if you didn't pass it on -- I didn't believe in it anyway, and I figured I'd already hit rock-bottom, so I just threw it in the trash without a second thought. Then, a little over a month later, I met you! That proves there's no such thing as having bad luck for breaking the chain...because I broke it and had the best stroke of luck ever!"
Tears welled up in my eyes when he said this. "James, that's so sweet."
"It's just the truth," he replied. "You're the best part of my life, Jess."
"I feel the same way about you," I told him. "Your friendship, and Meowth's, and our pokemons', and everybody else -- it makes all the shit I went through as a kid worthwhile. For a long time, I didn't think I'd ever have friends or be happy. I'm glad you proved me wrong."
James put his arms around me again. "Well, if anybody deserves to be happy, it's you."
"I am, James," I assured him. "And I have you to thank for that."
As I rested my head on his shoulder, I closed my eyes once more and enjoyed the feeling of his warm body next to mine. I couldn't imagine a better feeling than being surrounded by my friends. And as I reflected on how grateful I was to have them, all the thoughts of my old foes were banished from my mind and replaced by a sense of peace.
Now that I had acceptance and love, I was safe from the hatred and grudges of my enemies. None of them could ever hurt me again.
And I truly did have my friends to thank for that!
To be Continued....
Readers will notice that all of the Team Rocket agents mentioned in this chapter have historical names. Jessie's teacher, Dr. Holliday, was named after outlaw Doc Holliday, and his partner, Wyatt, and wife, Kate, were named after Wyatt Earp and "Big Nose" Kate, who were friends of Doc Holliday. Belle and Star were named after Belle Starr, who was a friend of the James Gang. And Ed and Bailey were named after gunman Ed Bailey, who was killed by Doc Holliday after cheating in a game of cards.
Readers will also notice that I made a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh! references in the Dungeons & Dragons adventure. I couldn't resist, since Yu-Gi-Oh! is another anime that I enjoy. I think Jessie, James, Meowth & Gary would be great duelists. I also think Yugi and his friends would like them and get along well with them in a crossover situation...which is why I had Yami helping them in the game. ^_^
As always, I've gotta thank my good friend, Shigeru1313. Her feedback and support were really helpful while I was writing this chapter. ^__^ (A hilarious story she told me about something that she saw during her school days also inspired the scene where Jessie sees the girl flipping-out about getting a chain letter! XD)
And another special thanks goes to my friend, Charlene. The Elites that Butch's parents almost killed were Emanuela's parents, Filippo and Giada D'Andrea -- the scene where Miyamoto's squadron tells Jessie about the incident is a reference to a scene in Charlene's story, Uniti in Amore.
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