by Cori Falls
Chapter 10 -- Celebration and Affirmation
"Dis is the place! It's just like Gary described!" Meowth exclaimed.
I couldn't help but smile as I looked up at the white Victorian house with blue gingerbread trim and a blue tin roof, set against the backdrop of a brilliant red, gold, and violet sunset. On the front of the house was wide porch with a swing, and a tall oak tree was growing in the front yard. Its branches were bare now, save for a couple of orange and gold leaves, but in the springtime, it would be loaded with beautiful pink leaves, and in the summer, its foliage would be thick and green, making it a perfect source of shade. From the road, I could see that there was a conical tower on the back of the house and a flower garden in the backyard. A green Land Rover was parked in the driveway.
"Yeah, this definitely looks like the place," I agreed as I pulled into the driveway and parked the Jeep next to the Land Rover.
It was the twentieth of November. Exactly one week ago tonight, Jessie, Meowth, and I had found an injured Donphan in Donphan Valley, and we'd spent the past week at the pokemon center in Florando, waiting for him to recover. During that time, we'd learned that Donphan already had a trainer, but when Nurse Joy had given him a clean bill of health and released him from the pokemon center this morning, she'd told us that Donphan's trainer had discovered what we'd done for her pokemon...and that she'd said we could keep Donphan as thanks for saving him.
When we resumed our journey this morning, we made a quick stop in Donphan Valley so that we could thank Rochelle in person for letting us keep Donphan. She was happy to see how we'd changed for the better since the last time we'd seen her, and she told us that she knew her littlest Donphan would be in good hands with us. I promised her that I would, indeed, take good care of him, and she wished us luck in all our future endeavors.
After leaving Donphan Valley, we stopped for a quick lunch in New Bark Town, and by mid-afternoon, we were back in Kanto. Now, we were in Pallet Town, and we'd just arrived at Gary's house. Thanksgiving was on Thursday, his birthday was on Friday, and we'd made plans to spend a few days with him and his family.
As the three of us piled out of the Jeep, the front door of the house opened, and Gary, May, a man with spiky auburn hair and brown eyes, and a woman with long blonde hair and indigo blue eyes stepped onto the porch.
"It's them! They're here!" we heard Gary exclaim.
Jessie smiled down at Meowth. "He sounds as excited as you!" she chuckled.
Gary ran down the porch steps and came to our side. "Hey, guys! It's good to see you again!"
"It's good ta see you, too!" Meowth replied.
"Thank you so much for inviting us to stay with you," I said.
"Yes. Your house is lovely," Jessie chimed in. "Aside from the twerp living in the same neighborhood, it must've been nice growing up here."
"It was," Gary affirmed. By now, the rest of his family had joined him. He smiled up at his parents and sister. "These are my friends, Jessie Parker, James Woodson, and Meowth," he told them. Then, to us, "Guys, these are my parents, David and Clarice Oak, and my sister, May."
"We're very happy to meet all of you," Clarice said as she and Jessie shook hands. "Gary has had nothing but good things to say about you!"
Jessie blushed. "We're happy to meet you, too."
David extended his hand and smiled at me. "I'm so glad that Gary has made some friends close to his own age. His mother and I sometimes worried about him doing so much traveling by himself...."
"Well, ya don't hafta worry anymore! We'll always look out for him!" Meowth assured them.
"And we're proud to call Gary our friend," I added. "He's one of the best friends we've ever had."
As I shook David's hand, he leaned closer and studied me for a moment. "You look familiar, James," he remarked. "You wouldn't happen to be related to....?"
"James and Rose Morgan?" I asked, finishing the question for him. "Yes, I am. They were my grandparents."
David smiled. "I thought so. I remember meeting you when you were just a little boy."
I knew exactly what he was referring to. One December afternoon when I was six, my parents had gone to some party that one of their rich buddies was throwing. Since children hadn't been invited to the party, mom and dad had left me with grand-mama and grand-papa for the day (which was just as well, since I liked spending time with my grandparents better than going to my parents' boring parties, anyway). That evening, we'd made a trip to Pallet Town so that grand-mama and grand-papa could loan some of their books to Gary's parents, and the Oaks had taken us out to dinner. Professor Oak, Gary, and May had been there as well, and so had Jessie's dad. I hadn't remembered much about that night until I'd read about it in Dorian's journal a few weeks ago, but now the memories were crystal-clear in my mind.
"Yes, I remember that, too," I replied. "It's so cool that Gary and I met when we were little kids."
"You know what else is cool?" Gary asked. He looked up at Jessie and smiled. "Can I tell them? Please?"
Jessie's sapphire eyes sparkled. "By all means!"
"There was a guy named Dorian Rochester who had dinner with us that night, right?" he said to his parents.
Clarice nodded. "Oui, I remember Dorian. He was on his way to Viridian City to see his wife and daughter, if I recall correctly. Such a nice young man...."
David closed his eyes and thought for a moment. "I remember him, too. Dad said Dorian's wife, Miyamoto, was one of the best trainers he'd ever seen." He looked back at his son. "But how could you have known....?"
"Because Jessie is Dorian and Miyamoto's daughter!" came Gary's reply.
"Wow! That is cool!" May agreed.
"What an amazing coincidence," David gasped.
"How are your parents doing, Jessie?" Clarice inquired.
Jessie hung her head. "Momma and daddy...were in an accident about a week after that night," she muttered. "They were both killed...."
Clarice covered her mouth with one hand and placed the other on Jessie's shoulder. "Oh. I'm so sorry. I had no idea."
"It's okay -- reading my dad's journal really helped me to cope with everything that happened," Jessie told her. She smiled again. "Besides, I still have both sets of grandparents, an uncle, and the best friends I could ask for. And momma and daddy's memory will always stay alive in my heart."
"I'm glad to hear that," Clarice said quietly.
Sensing that the mood was becoming too somber, I decided to lighten it. "Look at us, dwelling on such a heavy topic on what should be a happy occasion!"
"Yeah. Let's talk about something else now," May agreed. She draped an arm around Gary's shoulders. "Hey, don't you still have that picture James drew for you?"
Gary grinned. "The one of an Arcanine battling an Umbreon? Of course I do!" He turned his attention back to me. "Mom and dad hung that picture on the refrigerator with a magnet, along with all the pictures that May and I drew. It stayed up there for ages, and when they took the old pictures down to make room for new ones, mom put it in a folder with all of my drawings. After Jessie told me about that night, I remembered the drawing that you did. And when I came back to take care of grandpa last month, I went through my stuff and found the folder that had the drawing in it!"
I felt my cheeks turning pink. "My picture actually earned a spot on the refrigerator?"
The four of them nodded.
"It was a wonderful picture, and it was very nice of you to give it to Gary. We were proud to hang it up," Clarice told me.
"Yeah! I'd forgotten what a nice drawing it was," said Gary.
I couldn't help but smile. My parents had never liked any of the pictures that I drew -- they never would've dreamed of complimenting me on them, let alone hanging them up anywhere. It gave me a warm, welcoming feeling on the inside to hear so much praise for a simple crayon drawing I'd done as a child!
David placed a hand on Gary's shoulder as well. "Well, I hate to break things up, champ, but we should probably go inside. Dinner is almost ready, and I imagine your friends will want to get settled in and freshened up before we eat."
When he said this, I suddenly realized how dark it had gotten. The sun, which had been low in the western sky when we'd arrived, was now completely gone, and the last golden rays of light it was casting were slowly fading away, too.
"That sounds like a good idea," Jessie remarked. "We definitely need to make ourselves more presentable before dinner."
"Do you need any help with your luggage?" David asked.
"That's okay. Thank you for offering, though," I told him as I opened the hatch and started unloading our things.
Once Jessie, Meowth, and I had our backpacks, I closed the hatch again, and we followed the Oaks inside.
"Come on, guys," Gary said as he headed for the stairs. "I'll show you to your rooms."
The Oak house had two guest bedrooms upstairs. Once Gary had shown us the rooms, he let us decide which ones we wanted. Meowth had chosen the bedroom on the right side of the hall. It was done in pale mint-green, with Queen Anne mahogany furniture and old oil paintings of pokemon on the walls. The bedroom on the left side of the hall -- the one Jessie and I had chosen -- was done in pale rose, with French cottage-style furniture that had floral patterns painted on it and oil paintings of the French countryside adorning the walls. Both bedrooms had glass curio cabinets filled with various items that the Oaks had brought back from all of their travels and archaeological digs.
"These rooms are gorgeous!" Jessie breathed as she stepped into our bedroom and admired the decor. "The colors are so beautiful, and I just adore this furniture!"
I walked over to the curio cabinet and studied the pottery, fossils, and pokemon figurines inside. "These are really cool, too," I remarked. "Your parents sure do find a lot of interesting stuff."
Gary beamed proudly. "I'll be sure to pass on the compliments."
Once Gary had gone back downstairs, the three of us unpacked some of our clothes and toiletries, and put them away. After getting settled in, Jessie and I went into the bathroom to wash our hands and faces and brush our hair. Meowth, meanwhile, brushed his fur, filed his claws, and polished his golden charm. When Jessie and I returned to our bedroom, I changed into a pair of black jeans and a red velvet dress-shirt and put on a spritz of wild musk cologne, and Jessie put on a black mini-skirt, a blue-violet off the shoulder sweater, and a spritz of juniper berry perfume, and reapplied her make-up. Since I was ready before Jessie, I went back to admiring the oil paintings on the walls and the items in the curio cabinet while I waited for her.
The sound of Jessie swearing brought me from my reverie. I tore my gaze away from the painting that I'd been looking at and saw that she was still sitting at the dressing table. She was holding something in her hands and looked as if she were struggling with it.
"What's the matter, honey?" I asked.
She looked up at me and sighed. "I wanted to put on one of my necklaces, but the chains got tangled together, and I can't undo them."
I frowned. Jessie didn't have anything to store her jewelry in, so she had to keep all of it in a ziploc bag. "Here. Let me try," I said as I came to her side. "You won't get them apart by pulling -- you have to finesse them."
Jessie sighed again and handed the necklaces to me. The pewter necklace with the rose-shaped locket that I'd gotten her for Christmas almost three years ago, the silver necklace with the moonstone locket that I'd bought for her after rescuing her from Ayesha, and the little gold chain that she kept her promise ring on when she couldn't wear it on her finger had somehow tied themselves into a knot. I seated myself on the bed and studied the tangle for a moment. Once I'd figured out how they were entwined, I started working at the knot and freed the chains one by one.
"Got it!" I said once I'd finished. "Which one do you want to wear, Jess?"
"The pewter necklace," came her reply.
I smiled tenderly and helped her put the necklace on. When she got back to her feet and turned to face me, I ran my fingers along her neck and collarbone and admired how the necklace accentuated their beauty. "You look gorgeous," I whispered, snaking an arm around her waist and holding her to me.
"So do you," she echoed as she returned my embrace.
The two of us leaned closer and rubbed noses. Then, we joined hands and twined our fingers, and I lowered my lips to the hollow of her throat.
Jessie tilted her head back and sighed contentedly as I showered her with soft kisses. "Feels so good," she murmured.
A wild chill of excitement raced up my spine as I felt Jessie's fingers creeping up my neck and running through my hair.
My kisses trailed slowly upwards until my mouth found hers. Jessie responded by parting her lips. For several minutes, our tongues mingled and caressed each other's mouths. As our kiss deepened, I could feel Jessie lowering herself to the bed and pulling me with her.
I had no plans to resist.
Once I was on top of her, Jessie wrapped her thighs around my waist and rubbed herself against me. The sensation made me shiver with desire.
As I slid a hand under her sweater and closed it over one of her breasts, however, I suddenly heard a knock at the door. "Come on! Aren't youse guys ready yet?" Meowth asked.
The sound of the cat's voice instantly cooled us off, and we reluctantly freed ourselves from the tangle we'd gotten into.
"I guess we can always do this later when we have more time...and privacy," I sighed as we got back to our feet and smoothed our rumpled clothing.
"Count on it!" Jessie replied, giving me a sly wink. She turned her attention back to her jewelry, and her expression became serious once more. "I should probably get some individual bags to keep my necklaces in so that they don't get tangled up again."
"Sounds like a good idea," I told her.
Jessie wrapped an arm around my waist and leaned into me as we left the room. I hugged back and planted a kiss atop her head.
She looked up at me, and her sapphire eyes sparkled.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I was just thinking, if a couple of my necklaces getting tied into a knot is the biggest problem I have, then I'd say I'm pretty damned lucky," she replied.
I smiled and held her closer. "I'd say so."
"I thought about all those times we'd go for days without eating...all those second and third jobs we busted our asses at so that we could survive until the next paycheck...all those times the twerps would attack us, even when they didn't have a reason," she continued. Another smile made its way across her lips. "And now here we are, getting three square meals every day, sleeping in warm comfy beds every night, finally getting to prove our worth as trainers...and finally having friends and family to share our joys and sorrows with. Those hard times seem so far away and long ago now...and I'm glad of it!"
"As am I," I agreed.
"I'm glad we decided to do this, James," Jessie told me. "We really did need to make a change -- I don't even want to think about where we might have been or what we'd have had to suffer if we'd kept on following the twerp...."
When she said this, one of the visions that grand-mama had shown me -- the vision of the basilisk tearing me, Jessie, and Meowth apart and devouring our flesh -- came unbidden to my mind. But I quickly banished the unpleasant thought and reminded myself that we'd taken steps to avoid that fate. None of the other dreadful visions she'd shown me had come to pass, and I knew in my heart that the final vision wouldn't come true either. "I'm glad we did this, too," I echoed. "I'm very glad we did...."
Over a scrumptious dinner of chicken breasts in honey dijon sauce, mashed potatoes and crescent rolls made from scratch, and a vegetable medley of baby peas, pearl onions, and mushrooms, David and Clarice told us all about their latest archaeological exploration in the mountains of northern Kanto, and we, in turn, told the Oaks about the time we'd spent with Gary in the Whirl Islands and how we spent the past week. David, Clarice, and May were all fascinated to hear how I'd rescued Donphan, and Gary was overjoyed to hear that Rochelle had allowed us to keep him and that he was now my newest pokemon.
Once the meal was finished, we complimented the Oaks on how delicious everything was and thanked them once again for their hospitality. We then helped them put the dishes in the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen. (They'd told us that we were their guests and that we didn't have to worry about helping out, but we'd insisted.) And once we were finished cleaning up, it was time for dessert!
Clarice had baked congolais earlier that afternoon in anticipation of our arrival. The little coconut cakes were one of Gary's favorite desserts, and he told us that with a cup of hot chocolate, they were one of the best treats we'd ever taste. The prospect made our mouths water.
"So, what do you guys want to do tonight?" Gary asked while we were fixing some plates of the coconut cakes and boiling a kettle of water for the hot chocolate. "There isn't much on TV on Tuesday night, I'm afraid...."
Meowth grinned up at me and Jessie. "Hey, I know! Why don't we show him dat tape of Jessie's weather girl segments?" he suggested.
Jessie's cheeks turned pink. "Meowth, I don't think Gary wants to spend an hour and a half watching me point to weather maps."
"Don't be ridiculous, Jessie! I'd love to see the tape!" Gary assured her. He winked at us. "It's not every day you can say one of your best friends has been on TV, after all. And that reminds me -- I managed to get that Entertainment Tonight story about the Brad VanDarn show you were in on tape, too. I also taped the story when it was repeated on the eleven o' clock news later that night. We can watch that after we watch your tape!"
Jessie blushed more brightly than ever.
I planted a kiss on her burning cheek. "Sounds like a great plan. I'd love to see the world's most beautiful weather girl in action again...and I'd love to see the media's take on the twerps crashing Brad's play."
"Den dat's what we'll do!" Meowth cheered.
Once we had our coconut cakes and hot chocolate, Jessie went back upstairs to get her tape, and Gary searched the cabinet by the entertainment center and found his. When Jessie returned, Gary popped the tape in the VCR, and we all took a seat.
For the next ninety minutes, we all sat together in the living room, enjoying our dessert (which was, indeed, every bit as wonderful as Gary had promised) and watching the tape of Jessie's weather segments on Goldenrod City's KGRC 33 News. Jess looked gorgeous in all the different outfits she'd worn that week, and like I had when the segments had been live, I hung on her every word about high pressure systems, warm fronts, scattered showers, and sunny days. Every now and then, I stole a glance at Jessie -- her face was as red as her hair as we watched the tape, but I could tell from the tiny smile on her lips that she'd enjoyed her time on TV and was enjoying the attention she was getting now.
When Jessie's weather segments came to an end, we rewound the tape, and Gary showed us the footage of the riot the twerps had caused at Brad's play. Hearing the insults Ash and Misty had hurled at us repeated made my blood boil, but Meowth's impromptu comebacks were even funnier the second time around. I also enjoyed getting to see Ahearn and Miriel beat the living shit out of Ash and Misty again -- I'd been in too much pain from Pikachu's Thunderbolt to fully appreciate it at the time. And we all got a kick out watching a brief interview with Brad, where he called the twerps "a bunch of hooligans," and the reporters insinuated that they were idiots for not realizing that it had only been a play.
"Oh, man!" Jessie snickered after the segments ended. "I'm going to have to make a copy of that tape -- granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad will love this!"
"I'd kinda like a copy for us, too," Meowth added.
I nodded. "And I know your grandparents and uncle would probably like to see you as a weather girl too, Jess."
"Tell you what. Why don't we get some blank tapes at the store tomorrow so we can make dubs?" Gary suggested. "I know I'd sure like a copy of Jessie's tape."
"And while we're out, you can show us around Pallet Town!" said Meowth. "We never had much chance ta enjoy the sights any of the other times we was here cuz we was too busy messin' around with Ash."
"Yeah! We'll make a day of it!" Gary exclaimed. "You guys will really like Pallet -- it's not a big town, but there are some cool used book stores, antique shops, and such downtown."
"That really does sound cool!" I told him. "I look forward to it!"
"Me, too!" Jessie agreed.
"Me-owth three!" the cat chimed in.
After putting the tapes away and putting the dessert dishes in the dishwasher, Jessie, Meowth, and I said good night to the Oaks and went back upstairs. Then, Jessie and I took a shower and started getting ready for bed.
A smile made its way across my lips as I laid in bed and watched Jessie standing before the dresser mirror, brushing her long crimson hair. Her little red nightie was clinging to her in all the right places, and the diaphanous fabric was giving me a terrific view of every curve and sinew of her luscious body. It suddenly reminded me that we had some unfinished business to take care of!
In the mirror, I could see the corner of Jessie's mouth turning up in a little smile, as if she could read my mind. She set down her hairbrush and turned to face me. "Hey, James. Seeing that old tape again reminds me -- I have a forecast for you!" she said seductively.
I arched an eyebrow. "Oh? And what does this forecast call for?"
Jessie's sly smile became a grin as she stepped closer to the bed. "Well, there's going to be a major heat wave tonight with unseasonably hot temperatures," she began. She slid down the straps of her nightie and let it fall to the floor, along with her red lace panties.
My smile became a grin as well. "Yeah?"
Jessie straddled me and started unbuttoning my pajama top. "It'll include scattered showers of kisses...." she continued as she touched her warm, velvety lips to my bare chest. "....And...extended periods...of passion," she muttered between kisses.
My heart fluttered as I lifted my hips and let her take off my pajama pants and boxers. "Mmm...I like this forecast already! Sounds like it's going to be a beautiful night!" I replied as I took her in my arms.
"It certainly is, my dear James," she told me. "It certainly is...."
The two of us had, indeed, had a night that was every bit as passionate and wonderful as Jessie had forecast. When our lovemaking had finally ended a couple of hours later, Jessie and I had fallen asleep in each other's arms, and I'd enjoyed one of the most restful night's sleeps ever.
And now, as I was awakening, I felt a sense of total peace. The morning light was filtering through the curtains and filling the room with a warm, rosy glow, and Jessie was cuddled at my side, with her arms around my waist, her head resting on my chest, and her silky crimson mane engulfing the two of us. I couldn't imagine a better way to wake up!
At length, Jessie began to stir, and she slowly opened her sapphire eyes. She looked up at me, and a sleepy smile made its way across her lips.
I returned her smile. "Good morning, beautiful."
"Good morning, handsome," she replied. "Sleep well?"
I nodded. "Once I was able to get to sleep, that is."
Jessie laughed a little at this. She rolled onto her back and stretched herself out. "I slept well, too," she told me. "There's something really...comfortable about this room." She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. "I don't know how to describe it, but I just feel so safe and warm and cozy right now...."
I brushed my fingers across her cheek. "I feel that way, too. Of course, I always feel that way when I'm with you."
This made her blush.
"The room has a really romantic atmosphere as well," I continued. "The rosy colors, the French decor -- it's very conducive to the mood."
Jessie rolled herself on top of me and ran her fingers through my hair. "Indeed it is," she agreed.
For the next few minutes, the two of us laid together in bed, kissing and cuddling and teasing each other. Before things really heated up, however, the warm, sweet aroma of cinnamon filled the room and made our stomachs start to growl.
My mouth began to water. "I smell cinnamon rolls!"
Jessie's eyes lit up. "So do I!"
Reluctantly, I pulled away from our embrace and got out of bed to get dressed. "I guess we should get downstairs -- don't want to keep anybody waiting if breakfast is ready."
"Yeah. And knowing Meowth, we'd better hurry, or there won't be anything left by the time we get there!" Jessie chuckled as she got out of bed, too.
Once Jessie and I had put on some blue jeans and shirts, we made a quick stop in the bathroom to get freshened up. We then went downstairs and joined everybody in the dining room. True to our prediction, Clarice was in the kitchen, bringing a pan of cinnamon rolls from the oven, and Gary was boiling a kettle of water and getting out some tea bags and hot chocolate mix. May and David were sitting at the table, reading the newspaper, and Meowth and Wobbuffet were there as well, their mouths watering in anticipation.
"Hey, guys!" Gary said when he saw us.
David and May looked up from their newspaper sections and smiled at us.
Clarice set the pan of cinnamon rolls on a hot pad and smiled at us, too. "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
Meowth fixed me and Jessie with a mischievous grin when she said this. I could tell from the look in his eyes that he knew what we'd been doing last night and that he was waiting for us to say something that he could make a filthy comeback or double-entendre about. (Somehow, Meowth always seems to know when Jessie and I have made love -- he says we always have an I just had some really great sex air about us afterwards...which is probably true!) I know Meowth only teases us because he cares about us, and he's happy that Jessie and I are a couple, but now was hardly the time or place for his little innuendos. I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction.
"Yes, we did," I replied matter-of-factly. Then, I quickly changed the subject. "Those cinnamon rolls smell delicious -- I can hardly wait!"
Meowth smirked. "Yeah, I bet you and Jess worked up a real appetite with all dat sleepin' ya did last night."
Jessie shot the cat a warning glare. "You behave," she muttered through clenched teeth.
Luckily, Gary came to our rescue before Meowth could make another crack. "Come on, guys. The cinnamon rolls have to cool off for awhile before mom can frost them. Why don't we take the pokemon outside and feed them while we're waiting?"
Jessie breathed a sigh of relief. "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Gary."
After gathering our poke balls, Gary, Jessie, and I took our pokemon outside and released them in the backyard. Gary had brought out May's Ninetales, too.
"So, that's your new Donphan?" Gary remarked as he watched Donphan talking to Weezing and Growly and being introduced to Gary and May's pokemon. "He's really adorable. And I know Nurse Joy and his old trainer are right -- he'll have a chance to grow bigger and stronger and be the best he can be now that he's under your care." When Donphan returned to my side, Gary knelt down and stroked the leathery gray hide on his back. "Grandpa once told me that pokemon usually get bigger when they're really well-trained and well cared-for."
"Kind of like how Smaug is way bigger than Ash's old Charizard was!" said Jessie.
"And how yer Kingler is bigger den Ash's, too!" Meowth pointed out.
Gary smiled proudly. "Yeah...."
We played with the pokemon for a few more minutes before giving them their breakfast and going back inside to get our own. Since it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day, we decided to leave the pokemon outside to get some fresh air and excersise.
By the time we got back inside and got cleaned up, the cinnamon rolls had cooled off and been frosted, and they were ready to eat. As Clarice served everybody, Gary brought the kettle from the kitchen and filled everybody's mugs.
"So, what are your plans for the day, champ?" David inquired as he took a bite of his cinnamon roll.
"Well, I needed to go to the store to get some blank tapes, so I figured I'd take Jessie and James and Meowth sightseeing while I was at it," Gary told him.
David nodded approvingly. "Sounds like a good idea."
"And it works out nicely," Clarice added. "Your dad and I need to go grocery shopping today and pick up a few things for your birthday dinner."
"I'm looking forward to seeing Pallet," Jessie remarked. She took a sip of her hot chocolate and dabbed her lips with a napkin. "Gary says there are some pretty cool shops downtown."
"Yeah, there are," May affirmed. "There's a great used book store called Blue Dragonite Books. Gary used to spend a lot of time there before he left on his journey. The owner, Mr. Green, is really nice."
"I'd definitely like to check that place out," I replied. "I love old books -- I used to spend a lot of time in my grandparents' library when I was a tot."
Gary grinned. "We'll go there after we hit the general store and get our tapes."
After finishing our breakfast and helping to clean up the kitchen, Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I went back upstairs to brush our teeth and get ourselves cleaned up. Once we were ready, we said good-bye to David, Clarice, and May and set out.
Since it was a clear, crisp day, we decided to walk. Gary introduced us to some of his neighbors and told us about the various ways that Ash had "touched" their lives. Mr. Harris (the man whose bird bath Ash had pissed in when he was eight) was sweeping his walkway, a woman named Mrs. Colson was raking leaves in her front yard (Ash used to ride his bike through her flower beds and had pulled up her lawn ornaments a few times), and we saw a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, who were having a yard sale (Ash had once stolen a pair of hedge clippers from their tool shed and blamed it on Gary, and their son, Travis, was the boy Ash had accused of pissing in Mr. Harris's bird bath).
"Jeez. Seems like everybody in town has some sorta Ash horror-story ta tell!" Meowth commented as we continued on our way to the general store.
"That's for sure," Gary replied. "I hear that the people who showed up to see Ash off on the day he left on his pokemon journey were only there because Delia had paid them. And even then, they did it as more of a good riddance thing than a farewell party."
"I can imagine," Jessie chuckled.
When we arrived at the general store, Gary picked up a six-pack of blank videotapes, and we browsed the aisles for awhile. The store had everything from snack foods to housewares, and it even had a toy aisle, a clothing section, and a bin of framed pictures and posters for hanging on the wall.
While Jessie and I were going through the bin, we found a trio of matted Steinlen prints -- a poster for the Chat Noir nightclub that had a black cat against a cream-colored background, an ad for the Clinique Cheron that had a group of cats and dogs gathered around a woman in a red dress, and a painting called Les Chats that had a black cat and a calico cat against a stunning red background. We knew that Steinlen was one of Meowth's favorite artists because of all the stylized cat drawings he'd done, so we decided to buy the prints to give to him for his birthday next March. (Jessie and I had already gotten a Christmas present for him. After talking Meowth out of entering the hot-air balloon race back in September, we'd had a new hot-air balloon engine built for him...one that was even better than the prize they'd been giving away at the race. We'd sent the engine to Annie and Oakley after having it built -- they were keeping it for us until Christmas so that Meowth wouldn't find it.) While I got the prints from the bin, Jessie kept Meowth distracted by showing him some catnip toys on the pet aisle. Then, I got some wrapping paper and went to the checkout lane with Gary, and we paid for our purchases. (Gary agreed that the Steinlen prints would be a great birthday gift for Meowth, and he volunteered to keep them at his house until March.)
As the four of us were leaving the store, we ran into Delia Ketchum and her Mr. Mime, who'd also come to pick up a few things. (Thankfully, she didn't recognize me, Jessie, and Meowth as "that horrible Team Rocket" who used to follow her son around, since Jessie and I weren't wearing our uniforms.) Not wanting to seem rude, Gary stopped to talk to her for a few minutes when she said hello to him, but I could tell from the look on his face that he wanted to be on another planet while Delia babbled incessantly about how many badges Ash must have won by now, how well he was going to do at the Johto finals, how her "little poopie-kins" was destined to be the world's greatest pokemon master, and so on and so forth.
Jessie, Meowth, and I rolled our eyes as we listened to her. It was all I could do to supress the urge to vomit.
Gary looked like he was on the verge of puking himself, so Jessie came to the rescue. "I'm sure Ash will turn out just like his father," she said to Delia.
This made Delia smile. "So, you've heard about my husband's accomplishments as a pokemon trainer?"
"Yep. We've heard all about Miyamoto's accomplishments dat Ash-hole took credit for," Meowth whispered.
"And let's not forget all those weird Mr. Mimes and far out cheeseburger pokemon that he caught at McDonald's, and how he went out in a blaze of glory by taking a piss on that electric fence!" I whispered back.
Gary covered his mouth with his hands to stifle a fit of laughter.
Jessie smirked. "Yeah. My parents knew Ash Hull Ketchum. I've heard all about him -- your son is definitely a chip off the old block."
Delia was now grinning from ear to ear.
"Heh. The dingy broad don't even know dat was an insult!" Meowth muttered under his breath.
"Well, I've got to get going -- Mimie and I have a lot of errands to run today," Delia said. "Bye, Gary. It was nice seeing you again." Then, to me and Jessie, "It was nice meeting you, too."
"Bye, Mrs. Ketchum," we all replied in unison. And once she was gone, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Our encounter with Delia Ketchum had left the four of us unsettled, but our next stop at Blue Dragonite Books helped us put it out of our minds. Just as May had said, the proprietor, Mr. Green, was really nice, and he was happy to see Gary again. He told us stories of how Gary always came to the store when he was little and how he often helped out, too. And it was easy to see why Gary loved the store so much -- every single shelf was filled to the brim with out of print books, rare first editions, and various other paper treasures!
As I was thumbing through a tiny blue book about dream analysis, I heard Jessie squealing excitedly on another aisle. When I went to see what she'd found, I saw her showing an enormous album-type book with a black leather cover to Meowth, Gary, and Mr. Green.
"....That was brought in a few months ago," I heard Mr. Green saying. "Used to belong to a nice old man named Mr. Fernicola. When he passed away last summer, he left all of his books to my shop. He was an avid bottle cap collector, and I'm told that album contains some of his rarest finds."
Jessie became starry-eyed. "My boyfriend collects bottle caps, too! I know he'd love this -- it'd be a perfect birthday present for him! How much do you want for it?"
I couldn't help but smile as I returned to the aisle I'd been on. You're right, Jess -- I will love getting that album full of bottle caps for my birthday! You're the best!
For the next few minutes, I browsed some of the other aisles and pretended to be distracted while Jessie paid for the book. And when we left the store, I asked her what she'd bought and was told that I'd have to wait and see.
After Blue Dragonite Books, we went across the street to an antique shop called The Retro Roadshow. Just as the book store had been a veritable treasure-trove of rare books, so the antique shop was a veritable treasure-trove of vintage furniture, clothing, figurines, and other items.
As the four of us passed by a rack of hats, Jessie took an old fedora and placed it on Meowth's head. The cat grinned up at us. "Here's lookin' at you, kids!" he said in his best Bogart voice.
Gary, Jessie, and I had a good laugh at this.
Once Jessie had taken the hat from Meowth and placed it back on the rack, she started looking at some of the other vintage clothing, and Gary showed Meowth a display case of toys that looked like they were from the early 1900s.
I couldn't help but smile as I watched my three friends. I looked at a shelf of nineteenth century tea-sets and china for a moment, but my attention kept drifting back to Jessie and the shopping bag she was holding...the shopping bag that contained the birthday present she'd just bought for me. And this, in turn, made me think about Jessie's upcoming birthday. We'd already bought presents for Meowth and Gary, and I knew what I was getting, but I still didn't have anything for Jessie.
Well, maybe I should remedy that, I said to myself. But what does Jessie want for her birthday? What should I get for the woman who already has a Sea Spirit replica wand and a Corsola horn tiara?
As the word "tiara" passed through my mind, I suddenly found myself remembering something that had happened last night -- Jessie's necklaces had gotten tangled together because she had to store all of her jewelry in a ziploc bag!
Now I knew the perfect present to get for her!
For several minutes, I searched the store until I found what I was looking for -- a shelf of jewelry boxes. There were boxes made of glass and crystal and all kinds of exotic woods and ranged from simple and elegant to rich and ornate. And one box in particular caught my eye -- it was made of black lacquered wood, and the front of the box had a scene of a Japanese garden carved on it and tinted in the makie style, with colored powder in subtle iridescent hues. The garden scene showed a cherry tree in bloom, standing next to a pond that was fed by a little waterfall spilling down a formation of mossy stones. A nightingale was perched in the branches of the tree, and pink sakura petals were raining down from the tree and dotting the surface of the pond. The front of the box had hinges on the side, and when I opened the little door, I found a pair of drawers made from the same lacquered wood. The top drawer had a row of purple velvet cushions and individual compartments inside, perfect for storing rings, earrings, pins, and necklaces, and the bottom drawer was empty and had enough space for storing larger items like bracelets...and even tiaras! At fifty dollars, the jewelry box was more of a bargain than I expected -- it was too good to pass up!
As I took the box from the shelf and began heading for the checkout, however, something else caught my attention. At the end of the aisle where the jewelry boxes were, standing against the wall was a display case that contained an authentic set of Princess Dolls from Japan! There was also a little sign that read, "Custom made sets available upon request" at the bottom of the case.
Now I knew what to get Jessie for Christmas as well!
"Excellent choice," the proprietor, whose name was Mr. McCormack, said as I brought the jewelry box to the checkout counter. He looked over at Jessie, who was now admiring some Baroque furniture, and smiled. "For your lady friend?"
I nodded. "It's for her birthday," I whispered.
"I'm sure she'll love it," he told me.
"Oh. I also saw a sign that you make custom sets of Princess Dolls?" I inquired.
His smile became a grin. "I sure do. I have a side-business working with ceramics, and my wife is a seamstress. We get lots of orders for the dolls, especially around Princess Festival time."
Now I was grinning, too. "Well, I'd like to place an order for a set. And...if it's at all possible, can they be ready by Christmas?"
Mr. McCormack brought out an order form. "It usually takes about three to four weeks to make a set, and I don't have any other orders pending at the moment, so...yes, I'm sure I can have them ready by Christmas," came his reply. "What do you want the dolls to look like? Anything specific?"
I brought out my wallet and produced the photograph that Jessie had gotten a passerby to take of the two of us, Meowth, and our pokemon dressed as a set of Princess Dolls. "Can you make them look like this, please? And can you make a Wobbuffet, Victreebel, Vulpix, Growlithe, Articuno, Sunflora, and Donphan to go along with the Arbok, Weezing, Meowth, and Lickitung?"
He chuckled as he looked at the photo. "I certainly can! This picture is so cute!" he remarked.
I blushed. "That picture was taken at the 2000 Princess Festival in a town called Verdant Acres. My girlfriend never had Princess Dolls or got to celebrate the festival when she was a child because her family was poor, so that was her first Princess Festival. She entered a tournament to win her own set of dolls, and she made it to the final round, but in the end, she got beaten out by some whiny spoiled brat who already had three sets of dolls and just wanted another one to make her sisters jealous."
"What a shame," Mr. McCormack sighed.
"Poor Jessie was heartbroken about losing the dolls," I continued. "So I bought that emperor kimono and dressed myself and our pokemon as a doll set to cheer her up. She ended up liking what we did better than the real doll set!"
He smiled again. "That was very nice of you."
"Anyway, I'd like to get a real doll set for her now -- goodness knows, she deserves one," I went on. "And I thought having them look like us and our pokemon would be a perfect way to commemorate her first Princess Festival celebration."
"It certainly would," Mr. McCormack agreed as he filled out the details on the order form and made a copy of the photograph so that he could have a visual reference. "I'll definitely have these ready by Christmas. Just sign at the bottom, select a payment plan, and I can get started!"
He handed the form to me, and I double-checked to make sure that he'd filled everything out correctly. Then, I wrote down the address of my grandma and grandpa Woodson's vacation home in Cedar Creek, Johto (where we'd be spending the holidays) as the place where I wanted the dolls to be shipped, elected to pay for the dolls in full today (the total for the doll set and the jewelry box was almost two hundred dollars, but I had more than enough to cover it from all the money that I'd won at Battle Tower), and signed my name. After returning the paperwork to him, I gave him the money, and he gave back my photograph and handed me a receipt.
Once Mr. McCormack had wrapped the jewelry box in tissue paper and placed it in a bag, I rejoined my friends, and we left the store. Jessie asked me what I'd bought, but just like she'd done with me earlier, I told her that she'd have to wait and see.
Our birthdays and Christmas were definitely going to be occasions to look forward to!
While we were downtown, we stopped at a deli and had some sandwiches, and after lunch, we started heading back to the Oaks' house. When we returned, there were a pair of packages and an envelope on the table, all addressed to Gary.
Gary read the return address labels and smiled. "Oh, cool! These must be my birthday presents from cousin Alwyn, grandma and grandpa Vannier, and uncle Alain, aunt Leandra, Felix, Sebastian, and Rosamunde!"
"Ya gonna open 'em?!" Meowth asked eagerly.
"Not right now," came Gary's reply. "I prefer to wait until my birthday to open all of my presents."
"Well, if you can wait, I guess I can, too," the cat chuckled.
I reached down and scratched behind Meowth's ears.
"You never told us you had cousins, or an aunt and uncle," Jessie remarked, changing the subject.
"Uncle Alain is my mom's older brother, and aunt Leandra is his wife. Felix, Sebastian, and Rosamunde are their kids. They all live in France with grandma and grandpa Vannier," he explained. "And Alwyn Devon is my third cousin on dad's side of the family -- he lives over in Houen. My great-grandpa, Gary Devon, had a brother who moved to Houen in the early twentieth century and founded the Devon Corporation in Rustboro City. Alwyn is his great-grandson."
"How cool!" Jessie exclaimed.
"My great-aunt Rowena took May and me to Houen to visit Alwyn once," Gary continued. "It was quite an experience. Rustboro City has all kinds of old Second Empire buildings, street lamps, and such -- it was like being in Victorian England! And Alwyn is really nice -- he enjoys pokemon training, archaeology, and such, too. You'd probably like him." He picked up the package from Alwyn and chuckled. "He probably sent me another fossil for my birthday -- we've been sending each other fossils ever since we were kids!"
"I know we'd like him -- he sounds a lot like you," I told him.
Gary smiled again. "Alwyn has come to visit us in Pallet a couple of times, too." He set down the package and led us to the family room. After a couple minutes of searching, he pulled a photo album from one of the shelves and opened it. "Here he is."
As Gary held out the album, Jessie, Meowth, and I gathered closer and saw a photograph of two young boys sitting together on the big swing on the front porch. The first boy, with his spiky auburn hair and indigo eyes was obviously Gary. The second boy had spiky hair as well, but his was copper-colored. His eyes were a dark shade of green. The two of them looked like they could be brothers.
"I definitely see a strong family resemblance," I told him.
Meowth snickered. "Aw, man! I'm willin' ta bet if Ash saw ya with yer cousin, he'd flip out and think dere was two of ya, or somethin'!"
Gary burst out laughing when he said this.
Jessie and I exchanged looks. "Oh, my god! He did think there were two Garys!" we gasped in unison.
"Yes, he did," Gary said once he'd regained his composure. "I remember, Alwyn and I were hanging out in the front yard when Ash rode by on his bicycle. He did a double-take when he saw Alwyn and ended up crashing his bike into a row of garbage cans. Once he got out of the garbage, I believe his exact words were, AUGH! Two Garys! AUGH!!!"
Now Jessie, Meowth, and I were roaring with laughter, too.
"And he kept screeching GARY!!! every time he saw Alwyn after that," Gary added.
Meowth rolled his eyes. "Oh, brother."
"Yeah. I'm sure Alwyn was real impressed with the twerp," Jessie snorted.
"Oh, yeah!" Gary chuckled. "Alwyn and I had fun messing with his head, though. Ash freaked out every time he saw us." He smirked. "That's probably another reason Ash doesn't trust me and thinks I'm evil -- he's convinced that there's two of me lurking around."
"Indeed," I agreed. "With all those identical Officer Jennies and Nurse Joys out there, Ash probably thinks that there are carbon-copies of everybody!"
"You know, I'm surprised Ash didn't think there were two of me when he saw Jessiebelle," Jessie commented.
Meowth shuddered. "Really!"
I put my arm around Jessie's shoulders. "I think it just goes to prove that you couldn't be more different from Jessiebelle, if even an idiot like Ash could tell you apart."
"Anyway, Alwyn is really cool," Gary said. "I'd like to take another trip to Houen someday -- it'd be nice to see my relatives from the Devon side of the family again...and there are lots of ruins and such in Houen, so there are plenty of places for researchers and archaeologists to explore."
"It's cool that you have relatives in Houen, Gary," I told him. "I have relatives over there, too...."
Jessie arched an eyebrow. "You do?"
I nodded. "My great-grandmother, Elisi Silverwolf -- grandma Woodson's mother -- was from Houen," I explained. "My great-grandfather, Robert Richmond, went over there to compete in Houen League in the late 1920s, and the two of them ended up meeting and falling in love. After the league finals, great-grandma moved back to Kanto with great-grandpa, and they got married."
Jessie became starry-eyed. "How romantic," she sighed.
"Great-grandma had a younger brother who stayed in Houen -- I remember, grandma Woodson would often write to her mother's relatives when I was a child," I went on. "So, I know I have some aunts and uncles and cousins on the Silverwolf side of my family."
"Silverwolf. Dat's a cool name," said Meowth.
I smiled at him. "Great-grandma was an Indian. Grandma Woodson told me that Elisi's family had a long history of training Pochena and Guraina -- that's where the Silverwolf name comes from."
Jessie smiled too and shook her head. "You're just full of surprises, James -- I could stay with you forever and still learn new things about you!"
"That is really cool," Gary agreed. "Between Jessie's grandmother being a runaway princess and James having an Indian great-grandmother, you guys sure do have some colorful backgrounds!"
As the four of us continued to look through the photo album and talk about our families and how we'd all like to take a trip to Houen to meet my relatives and Gary's sometime, David and Clarice came from the library and joined us.
"Bonjour, mon petit!" Clarice said, giving Gary a hug. "Your presents from your grandma and grandpa, and your aunt and uncle, and cousin Alwyn arrived while you were out."
Gary returned his mother's embrace. "I know. I was just telling Jessie and James and Meowth about them and showing them the pictures of when Alwyn came to visit."
"Did you all have fun shopping?" David asked.
"We sure did, Mr. Oak," Jessie replied.
"Pallet is a very lovely town," I told them.
"Yeah! We saw all kindsa cool stuff at the used book store and the antique shop!" Meowth exclaimed.
Clarice smiled. "We're very glad to hear that you're enjoying yourselves."
"We were wondering if you'd like to go out to dinner," said David. He winked at us. "We figured we'd take a break from cooking tonight since we're going to be making Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow and Gary's birthday dinner on Friday. Besides, I know a certain Chinese restaurant that I think you'll all like!"
Gary grinned. "You mean The Shanghai Palace?"
Now David was grinning, too. "I sure do!"
Jessie took my hand in hers. "That's the restaurant where you and Gary met, isn't it, James? And where you all met my daddy?"
"Yes, it is," came Clarice's reply. "We've been thinking about that night so long ago ever since you arrived...so, we thought it would be nice to treat you all to dinner there."
Jessie nodded. "It sounds like a wonderful idea. I'd love to see the place where you all met my daddy."
Meowth seconded the motion. "I'd love ta see dis place, too...and I'm always up for Chinese food!"
"I'd like to go there again, myself," I agreed.
"Then it's unanimous!" said Gary.
"I'll call and make reservations," David told us. "What time would you all like to eat? Six thirty? Seven?"
I looked up at the clock. Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I had eaten a late lunch while we were out, and it was a little after three now. "How about seven?" I asked my friends. "I'm not very hungry yet."
The three of them nodded in agreement.
"Seven it is, then!" Clarice exclaimed.
After David and Clarice made dinner reservations, Gary hid the Steinlen prints that Jessie and I had bought for Meowth in his room, and Jessie and I put away the birthday presents that we'd bought for each other as well. Gary then opened the pack of tapes he'd bought and made a copy of the Entertainment Tonight and eleven o' clock news stories about Brad's play for us, and we made a copy of Jessie's weather girl segments for him. By the time we finished, it was almost six, so we fed the pokemon their dinner and went upstairs to get freshened up and changed into nicer clothes. By six forty-five, we were ready to go.
Our dinner at The Shanghai Palace was every bit as wonderful as we'd expected. The lettuce wraps, spring rolls, mandarin chicken, honey and ginger chicken, sweet and sour pork, and stir-fried vegetables that we ordered were all delicious, and being there again brought back a lot of happy memories. Quality time with grand-mama and grand-papa, meeting one of my best friends for the first time, meeting the father of the girl who would someday be my very best friend and the love of my life -- even though that night had been almost twelve years ago, it seemed more like it was yesterday. Everything that had happened on that night had been a sign that all of the love and friendship I've found was meant to be. And seeing the sparkle in Jessie's sapphire eyes made me even happier than I already was -- it reminded me that all of the good things that were happening now were meant to be, too.
Jessie and I spent another restful and romantic night in our room. On Thursday morning, we made more copies of our tapes for the Rochesters, the Parkers, and even my grandma and grandpa. Since it was another clear, cool day, we spent the rest of the morning outside with our pokemon, and when we came back in for lunch, the whole house was filled with the warm, sweet aroma of Clarice's cooking. Normally, the Oaks would have been making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but they were planning on serving Cornish game hens with chestnut and wild rice stuffing on Gary's birthday, so turkey and stuffing would have been too redundant. Instead, a honey-baked spiral-cut ham, broccoli casserole, homemade honey wheat dinner rolls, and garden salad were on the menu for Thanksgiving dinner, along with pumpkin pie for dessert.
Over a light lunch of tomato soup with saltines, David informed us that Gary's great-aunt Rowena (who had also been invited to Thanksgiving dinner and Gary's birthday party) had called from Viridian City and was planning on arriving in Pallet later that afternoon. Meowth volunteered to give up the room he was using, and Jessie and I said it'd be no problem to share our room with the cat if Rowena needed a place to stay, but David told us not to worry about it. Professor Oak had a few guest rooms at his house as well, and she'd be staying with him.
After lunch, we went outside again, and Jessie and I practiced our pokemon dancing with Arbok and Victreebel for awhile. Gary and May had never seen anything like it before, and they were fascinated with how we'd trained our pokemon and ourselves to move in such perfect time together. Gary even asked us if we could do a demonstration of the dance at his birthday party tomorrow! We were flattered that he liked our performance so much, so we told him that we'd be happy to dance at his party.
Once it started getting late, we went back inside to get ready for dinner. Jessie and I took a shower together, then I put on my blue formal suit and black necktie, and she put on a blue-violet tank-dress and her moonstone necklace. (I couldn't help but smile when I saw that she'd put all of her necklaces into individual bags so that they wouldn't get tangled up again -- in another couple of weeks, she was going to have a nice jewelry box and wouldn't have to worry about such things anymore!)
When we joined everybody downstairs again, we saw that Rowena and Professor Oak had arrived. There was another round of introductions, and the two of them told us that they were delighted to meet Gary's new friends and that they were glad we could join them on these special occasions. (I was a little worried that Professor Oak might recognize us as the three Team Rocket agents who'd caused trouble in the past, but if he did, then he didn't say anything about it. Gary still hadn't told his parents and grandfather about our involvement with Team Rocket. We knew that Gary's family wouldn't think any less of us or condemn us for the choices we've had to make -- he was simply waiting for the right time and place to broach the subject. The only one who knew the whole story was May...and she was cool with it.) Jessie, Meowth, and I said hello to Professor Oak and chatted with Rowena for awhile. Like her older sister, Vivien, Rowena had been good friends with my grand-mama and grand-papa, and she was ecstatic when she learned that I was their grandson. She, too, believed that our friendship with Gary was meant to be.
Once dinner was ready, we all seated ourselves at the table. And as we enjoyed the fresh salad, the succulent ham, the cheesy broccoli casserole, the piping-hot dinner rolls, and the spicy-sweet pumpkin pie, I reflected on the importance of this occasion. We had friends and family in our lives, our financial woes were a thing of the past, and we were enjoying good food and good company instead of starving and suffering.
Jessie, Meowth, and I did, indeed, have much to be thankful for this year.
The next morning, Jessie and I woke up early. After the two of us got dressed, I brought the journal and pen set that we'd bought for Gary from my backpack, along with the wrapping paper (which was light blue and had pictures of the various Eevee-lutions on it) that I'd picked up at the general store the other day. While Jessie wrapped Gary's present, I brought out a sheet of paper and my colored pencils and made an updated version of the Arcanine and Umbreon battle that I'd drawn when I was a child. When I finished the picture, I folded the paper in half, making it into a card. I wrote Happy Birthday, Gary! on the inside of the card with my black pen and signed my name, then handed the card and the pen to Jessie so that she could sign her name, too.
Once Jessie had signed the card, the two of us went across the hall to Meowth's room and found that he was awake as well.
"Too excited to sleep?" Jessie asked as she watched the cat standing in front of the dresser mirror, brushing his cream-colored fur.
"Yeah!" Meowth replied. He looked up at us and grinned. "I can't wait ta see what all Gary gets for his birthday!"
"I'm sure you're looking forward to some birthday cake, too," Jessie chuckled.
"And those Cornish game hens that Mr. and Mrs. Oak are making for dinner!" I chimed in.
"Ya got me dere," he confessed. "I really am excited about the party, though. I'm so happy we can be here on our friend's special day!"
"We all are, Meowth," Jessie told him.
"Which reminds me, would you like to sign the birthday card that I made for Gary?" I inquired.
"You bet I would!" Meowth exclaimed as I held out the card and my pen. He took them from me and wrote his name next to Jessie's and mine. Once he'd signed the card, he admired the picture on the front. "Dis must be like the drawin' ya did for Gary when you was kids," he remarked. "I know he'll love it."
I smiled at the cat. "Thanks, Meowth."
When the three of us went downstairs, we saw that the Oaks were all awake, too...and that Clarice was making stuffed French toast for breakfast!
"Hey!" Gary exclaimed when he saw us come into the dining room.
"Hey, Gary! Happy birthday!" we said in unison.
While Jessie placed his present with the rest of the packages, I handed him his card.
Gary's smile became a grin as he looked at the drawing. After reading the message inside, he showed the card to his parents and May. "Check it out! Arcanine vs. Umbreon, version 2.0!"
David, Clarice, and May all smiled and admired my drawing as well. Then, Gary hung it up on the refrigerator with a magnet.
Jessie placed her hands on my shoulders and giggled. "Just like last time, huh?"
"You three are just in time -- breakfast is almost ready," Clarice told us as she began putting whipped cream and strawberries on the French toast. "Gary said that you made this for him while you were in the Whirl Islands. He really loved it, and it sounded delicious, so I thought we'd give it a try."
"It is delicious," Jessie affirmed. "One of my absolute favorites!"
I wrapped an arm around her waist and planted a kiss on her cheek. "I'm glad it turned out to be such a hit!"
When Clarice brought the food to the table, we all seated ourselves and began to eat. The stuffed French toast was every bit as tasty as I remembered, and I told her as much.
After breakfast, we helped clean up the kitchen so that David and Clarice could get started on baking Gary's birthday cake and cooking his birthday dinner. Meowth was still feeling sleepy from waking up so early (and the big breakfast had made him drowsy), so he went back upstairs to take a cat-nap once the dishes were done. Meanwhile, Jessie and I went into the family room and watched a DVD with Gary and May -- a documentary about Tolkien and Middle Earth called J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of the Rings. May had gotten the DVD for her twentieth birthday in October, and she said it was a great companion piece to Lord of the Rings. We all had a lot of fun watching the film, which included footage of old BBC interviews with Tolkien, commentary from literary scholars, and an in-depth look at the plotline of Lord of the Rings -- it served as a reminder that The Fellowship of the Ring would be in theaters in another month! And when the film ended, we went to the special features and looked at an image gallery that was filled with the artwork of some of Tolkien's most famous illustrators.
By the time we finished watching the DVD, Professor Oak and Rowena had arrived with Gary's presents, and Meowth had awakened from his nap. Clarice had also finished baking the Black Forest cake, and the entire house was filled with its chocolatey aroma. After taking the cake from the oven and placing it on a cooling rack, she filled the Cornish hens with the chestnut and wild rice stuffing that David had prepared and started baking them.
Now that dinner was on the way, it was time to start the party!
Once we were all seated at the table, David and Clarice brought all of Gary's presents to him.
"Here you go, champ!" said David.
Clarice tousled his spiky hair. "Happy birthday, mon petit ange."
Gary smiled at them and began opening his presents. His parents had gotten him a black and gray jacket and a matching pair of boots, May had gotten him a new belt for his poke balls and a few Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons modules (including some Sword Coast adventures that we could incorporate into our current campaign and an underdark adventure in the drow city of Menzoberranzan), Professor Oak had gotten him a Return TM, Rowena had gotten him a 1962 first edition of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, Alwyn had sent him a card and an Anorith fossil, his grandma and grandpa Vannier had sent him a wrist watch, and his uncle, aunt, and cousins had sent him a card and a check for fifty dollars. And last but not least, he unwrapped the journal and pen set that Jessie, Meowth, and I had gotten for him.
Gary's indigo eyes sparkled as he admired all of his presents. "Oh, wow! Thank you everybody!" He smiled up at his parents. "I love the jacket and boots!"
"We figured you could use some new clothes for winter," David told him.
"And you'll look very handsome in those!" Clarice said proudly.
I leaned closer to Jessie and whispered into her ear. "That new outfit of his will look great with the woolens you knit him for Christmas!"
Jessie smiled at me and nodded.
"I needed a new belt, too," Gary said to May. "And these modules look like they'll be really exciting -- I can't wait to try 'em out!"
"I thought you'd like those," May replied. "I know how much fun you've all had playing D & D."
"And this Return TM will be the perfect attack to teach Umbreon!" Gary continued. "Thanks, grandpa!"
Professor Oak placed a hand on Gary's shoulder. "I figured you'd teach that attack to Blaze or Umbreon. You've forged such powerful bonds with all of your pokemon, but those two are particularly close to you. I knew that Return would be a good attack for one of them to learn."
I couldn't help but smile as I listened to Professor Oak. Annie, Oakley, and Mondo had given me a Return TM for my eighteenth birthday back in January, and I'd taught the attack to Growly. Since Return's effectiveness is based on how closely bonded a pokemon and its trainer are, learning the attack had given Growly an incredible power boost. Umbreon would be even more powerful than he already was if he knew the attack, too.
"And aunt Rowena! Thank you so much! Something Wicked This Way Comes is my favorite Bradbury book! It's so cool to have a first edition!" Gary exclaimed.
Rowena's amethyst eyes twinkled. "You're welcome, sunshine. I saw that at a used book store in Turquoise Springs a few weeks ago and thought of you."
Gary smiled at his aunt again before turning his attention to the fossil, wrist watch, and cards he'd received from his relatives who couldn't be here today. "Remind me to write thank you notes to Alwyn, grandma and grandpa Vannier, uncle Alain, aunt Leandra, Felix, Sebastian, and Rosamunde tonight," he said. "All of their gifts are great, too!"
David and Clarice nodded.
Finally, Gary picked up the journal and ran his fingers along its indigo suede cover. He flipped through the blank pages, and his smile grew even wider than it already was. "And this is wonderful. Thank you, guys!"
"Yer welcome, Gary," Meowth replied.
Jessie took my hand in hers and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "James picked it out," she told him.
Gary looked up at me. "Excellent choice."
I smiled again. "I remember, you'd told us that you'd recently started keeping a journal again and that you want to be a writer someday. When I saw that journal at the book store in Megi City, it seemed like the perfect present."
"It is," he affirmed. "This is so much better than the old spiral notebook I've been using -- I'm going to love writing in it!"
Jessie nodded approvingly. "We knew you'd put it to good use."
Once all of the wrapping paper and packaging had been cleaned up, Gary took his presents to his room. Meanwhile, Clarice drizzled the layers of the chocolate cake with cherry liqueur and topped the first layer with whipped cream and cherries. After placing the second layer over the first, she covered the top and sides of the cake with whipped cream and put cherries and chocolate shavings on top. Then, she put the cake in the refrigerator for later. While she was doing this, David checked on the Cornish hens.
When Gary returned from his room, he asked me and Jessie if we could demonstrate our pokemon dancing for everybody, since it was going to be awhile before dinner was ready. Jessie and I agreed that now would be a good time, so we all went to the backyard, where the pokemon were. Gary also brought along his portable stereo and a bunch of CDs so that we could have music while we danced.
Once we made our selections, we put the CDs into the changer and began our performance. First, Jessie and Arbok danced together to a Nine Inch Nails instrumental called Just Like You Imagined. The two of them turned and swayed in perfect time to the music and each other for the duration of the song. I could tell that Jess and Arbok had done a lot of work together, and it was paying off in a big way -- they were poetry in motion! When their dance was finished, we skipped discs, and Victreebel and I danced to a remix of Loreena McKennitt's song, The Mummer's Dance. Just like Jessie and Arbok had, Victreebel and I didn't miss a beat, and he didn't even try to give me a love-bite until the song was over! (I'd been working with Viccie a lot more over the past couple of months, especially after taking up pokemon dancing with Jessie. Dancing together has helped us to bond and become even closer than we were before, and as a result, Victreebel has learned to be more gentle with his love-bites...and not to get overzealously affectionate during inopportune moments. Nowadays, he waits until I'm ready before giving me a love-bite, rather than doing it as soon as I call him out.) When our dance ended, I gave Victreebel a break and called out Weezing instead. He and I then danced with Jessie and Arbok to Stabbing Westward's You Complete Me. Jessie's body felt so warm and soft against my own as we held each other and moved in time to the music, and at our side, Arbok and Weezing looked like they were enjoying themselves every bit as much as we were!
After our three dances, Jessie, our pokemon, and I took a bow and received a round of applause from Gary, May, David, Clarice, Rowena, and Professor Oak. They were all impressed with how how we'd trained our pokemon to dance with us, and they'd all enjoyed our performance immensely. As I looked at the smile on Gary's face, I was happier than ever that Jessie and I had agreed to dance today. We'd done something to make his party even more special than it already was.
Knowing that we'd made our friend happy was a good feeling...a very good feeling, indeed.
For the next couple of hours, we all stayed in the backyard, listening to music, playing with the pokemon, and enjoying each other's company. Professor Oak told us how wonderful it was that our pokemon and Gary's pokemon got along with each other so well, and he even commented on how healthy, well-groomed, and well-trained Jessie's and my pokemon were! Rowena told us stories about when she and Vivien were younger and some of the experiences they'd shared with my grandparents. And through it all, Gary was by our side, enjoying every moment of it just as much as we were!
By mid-afternoon, dinner was ready, and we all went back inside to eat. The roasted Cornish game hens were rich and succulent, and the chestnut and wild rice stuffing and roasted red potatoes that had been cooked with the birds had soaked up their flavor, making them even more savory than they already were! The French-cut green beans were fresh and hearty and made an excellent side-dish, and the iced tea had been sweetened to perfection.
When the meal was finished, we all complimented Clarice and David on how delicious everything was, and Jessie, Meowth, and I helped them clean up the kitchen. Then, we all went to the family room and watched a DVD of The Maltese Falcon (the Bogart impersonation Meowth had done the other day had gotten Gary in the mood for a Humphrey Bogart movie). After the movie, we all went back into the kitchen, and Clarice brought the Black Forest cake from the refrigerator. She and David placed fifteen candles in the cake and lit them, and we all sang Happy Birthday to Gary. When the song ended, Gary closed his eyes, made a wish, and blew out the candles.
Eating the birthday cake was an especially satisfying experience. Black Forest cake had always been one of my favorites, but Jessie and Meowth had never had it before. Seeing the way their eyes lit up when they tasted the rich chocolate cake flavored with cherries and iced with whipped cream for the first time reminded me of when I'd first eaten Black Forest cake and brought back pleasant memories of the treats that Dalila and grandma Woodson had always made for me. Once we'd all had our cake, Professor Oak and Rowena said good night to us and went back to his house. Rowena would be heading back to her home in Turquoise Springs in the morning and wanted to get an early start, but she promised to stop by for breakfast before she left.
After the two of them had taken their leave, Gary went to his room to admire his birthday presents, and we went with him. He put his fossil and the books he'd received on the bookshelves and hung his new clothes up in the closet, but he put the journal that we'd given him in his backpack so that he could take it along on his journey and write in it whenever he wanted. And since we'd brought all of our pokemon in for the night when we'd come inside for dinner, he used the Return TM to teach the attack to Umbreon. While we were in his room, Gary even brought out the folder where he kept all of the drawings he'd done as a child and showed my drawing of the Arcanine and Umbreon to Jessie and Meowth. My picture received a chorus of "aaawwws" from the two of them when they saw it, and Jessie even gave me a kiss and commented on what a wonderful artist I'd always been!
At length, we went back downstairs to watch the eleven o' clock news with David, Clarice, and May. One of the top stories was about an annual pokemon race that was being held in a small Johto town called Exeter. There were going to be smaller races and festivities all throughout the week and a big race on the first of December, which was a week from Saturday. When Gary saw the story, he told us about how he and Blaze had done a similar type of racing at summer camp when he was ten. Blaze had been napping by the fireplace with Houndoom while the news was on, but as soon as he heard Gary talking about racing, he became very excited. Meowth was able to translate Blaze's barks and told Gary that the fire-dog thought entering the race would be fun. And Meowth thought going to Exeter would be fun, too -- that way, we could watch the races and cheer Gary and Blaze on...and the town was located in a valley that was ideal for hot-air ballooning! Not wanting to disappoint Meowth or Blaze, Gary decided to enter the race, and Jessie and I decided to go with them! We'd be staying in Pallet for another day so that Gary could find his old racing equipment and get ready for the trip, but on Sunday, we'd be heading back to Johto!
After discussing our plans for awhile, Gary said good night to us and returned to his room so that he could write thank you notes to Alwyn, his grandparents, and his uncle, aunt, and cousins. Jessie and I went upstairs too and took a shower, and now we were getting ready for bed.
"Well, it looks like our trip to Opal Ridge is postponed for yet another week," Jessie commented as she stood before the dresser mirror and brushed her long, crimson hair.
"But we'll still be there in time for your birthday," I reminded her. "And Jesse and Musashi even said that whenever we decide to visit is fine with them."
"That's right," Jessie said. She set down her hairbrush and smiled at me. "I still can't believe it!"
I raised an eyebrow. "Believe what?"
"How so many things have changed for us in such a short time," she replied as she climbed into bed with me and pulled the blankets up around us. "A few months ago, we didn't have any family, any money, any badges, and we hardly ever got to see our friends. Look how far we've come since then, James. Look how far we've come because of you!"
I placed a hand to her cheek. "We all had a part in this decision, Jess," I told her. "I suggested that we do something different with our lives because I wanted to protect you and Meowth and our pokemon. And you all knew that we needed to make these changes, too. This was a team effort -- everything good that's been happening has been because we've all played our part."
Jessie cuddled into me. "I just feel so happy right now," she whispered. "I feel like we've finally made it through all the shit we've had to endure. I feel like we're finally safe."
"We are, Jess," I assured her. "We are...."
Jessie leaned closer to me and brought her lips to mine. As our kiss deepened, I laid myself on top of her, and she began undressing me. Nestled together in the blankets, in that cozy, romantic room, we made love until the wee hours of the morning. When we finally finished, we continued to hold each other close, and those feelings of happiness and serenity remained with us as we drifted off to sleep.
I opened my eyes and looked at my surroundings. I was standing next to the enchanted pool in the woods on my grandparents' estate, and I was dressed in the same purple and white outfit that I'd been wearing in the dream where grand-mama had warned me to change my path and avoid Ash.
I'm having another dream, was the first thought that came to my mind.
"Indeed you are, for we have an important matter to discuss," I heard my grand-mama saying.
I turned and saw her standing at the edge of the clearing. Grand-papa was at her side. Both of them were smiling at me.
I smiled back. "I had a feeling I was going to be seeing you again soon."
"And you were right," grand-papa told me. "Your grand-mama and I are very proud of you."
Grand-mama took me by the hand, and the three of us seated ourselves at the edge of the pool. "Look into the water and tell me what you see, James," she instructed as she passed her hand along the surface of the pool.
I gazed into the water and saw another montage of images flashing by. Just like the last time, they were images of the twerps attacking me and my friends and making us suffer in the most brutal and demeaning ways. But something was different this time -- instead of culminating in a final horrifying vision of my friends and myself being devoured by a basilisk, the images slowly began to fade and changed into one of Ash sitting alone in the darkness and giggling like a madman as he babbled about how he'd "make Team Rocket pay."
A chill raced up my spine as I told my grandparents what I'd seen. "I...I don't understand," I muttered. "What does this mean?"
"What you've just seen is the fate that you've avoided," grand-mama explained. "All those images of you and your friends being attacked, blasted off, and made to suffer were what would have happened if you'd continued along your old path. That would have been the fate the basilisk had in store for you if you'd kept following him."
"And what about the final image? The one of Ash?" I queried.
"That's what's going to become of him, of course!" grand-papa replied. "The only place where those terrible things you saw will be real is in Ash's mind. That boy will come to no good end -- his foes have already given up on him, and his friends will soon lose faith and trust in him. He'll be left with nothing...with no friends to turn to and no enemies to blame for his wretched state. His only consolation will be in his delusions -- he'll pretend that that you're still following him, that Gary is still his rival, and that he's defeating you and punishing you at every turn...but in reality, you've all left him far behind, and you'll all continue to prosper while Ash simply continues his slide into ruin."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad those awful things I saw will never really happen to us. But it's still pretty sad to see how pathetic Ash is."
"Yes. Ash Ketchum is a hopeless case," grand-mama agreed. "He's in store for a world of misery, but you mustn't feel sorry for him. He's brought it all on himself."
"I don't feel sorry for Ash," I assured her. I thought again of all the pain he'd caused me and my friends over the years and clenched my fist. "He can go to hell, for all I care."
Grand-papa smirked. "He may very well. Ketchum sure isn't going to be getting any kind of eternal reward for his behavior, no matter how heroic he thinks he is!"
Grand-mama dispelled the image in the water. "So very true. But let's not talk about that twerp anymore -- this is a happy occasion!"
"That's right," said grand-papa. He placed a hand on my shoulder. "James, we came here tonight to show you how well you've done. You and your friends truly have changed your path and left the twerps behind. The darkest chapters of your lives are officially over."
"There will still be many challenges ahead, but have no fear, James," grand-mama said quietly. "You and your friends can and will prevail."
"I know," I replied. "Jessie, Meowth, and I have made it this far -- I'm sure we can handle anything."
Grand-mama and grand-papa nodded. "Yes, you can," they affirmed.
Grand-papa gave my shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "What you told Jessie and Meowth on the night you decided to change your path and performed the ritual to rid your lives of negative influences is correct -- you were never really suited for the villain role that you were forced to play for so many years, and now that you've cast it aside, you can finally be true to yourselves."
"And as long as you hold true to yourselves and each other, everything will be just fine," grand-mama added. "That white tomorrow you're striving for is close, James...it's very close. You'll get there before you know it!"
Tears welled up in my eyes as I hugged my grandparents and felt them returning my embrace. "Thank you," I whispered.
As the three of us held each other in that group-hug, the dream world around me began to fade away, and I found myself back in bed with Jessie. I brushed away the tears in my eyes and smiled as I held Jessie closer and looked out the window at the starry night sky. I knew in my heart that grand-mama and grand-papa were right -- my friends and I would be together forever, we'd overcome every challenge that we were faced with, and everything would be okay for us.
Jessie shifted in her sleep and cuddled into me once more. "I love you, James," she softly muttered.
I smoothed back her crimson hair and gently kissed her lips. "I love you too, Jessie," I muttered back.
While I laid there in bed, holding my lover and gazing up at the stars, that peaceful feeling came over me again. Yes, everything is definitely going to be okay for us, I said to myself. Thank you, grand-mama and grand-papa. We couldn't have done it without you.
My smile grew even wider than it already was as I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep. Who knows? Maybe I'd have another pleasant dream. And maybe...just maybe, my friends and I would wake up to that white tomorrow we've been waiting for!
Once again, a huge thanks goes to my good friend, Shigeru1313, for her technical assistance with this chapter. She designed the Oaks' house, chose the menu for Gary's birthday dinner, decided what presents he'd get, etc. She also let me incorporate her original characters -- David & Clarice Oak, Rowena Devon, Alwyn Devon (Gary's relatives founding the Devon Corporation in Rustboro City was her idea ^_^), and Gary's other family members -- into this chapter. It's a real honor to be able to work with a talented author like her on this trilogy and to be able to combine the background, characterization, and timeline that she created for Gary and his family into my own story arc. Shigeru, this story, like all the others, is for you! I know I always say it, but that's because it's true -- I couldn't have done it without ya! ^__^
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