A White Today (Part 2)

by Cori Falls



Chapter 4 -- A New Beginning

I felt as if I were in a daze as my friends and I left Giovanni's office and got back into the elevator. James and Meowth still looked like they were in shock, too. All of the changes that had taken place, everything the boss had told us...it was a lot to absorb!

Once James pushed the button for the seventh floor and the doors slid shut, the three of us exchanged looks. "Somebody pinch me!" we all said at once.

Simultaneously, I reached over to pinch James's cheek, James reached down to pinch Meowth's cheek, and Meowth reached up to pinch my cheek. But nothing happened -- we were all still standing together in the elevator, and all we'd succeeded in doing was giving each other sore spots on our cheeks.

"Dis...dis ain't a dream, guys -- it's real!" Meowth exclaimed as we released each other. "Our back-pay, our raise, our de facto promotion, our new assignment, the boss likin' and respectin' us...it's all real!!!"

I couldn't help but smile. "It's just like I always imagined!"

"Only better," James said, taking me by the hand.

I gave his hand an affectionate squeeze. "I still can't believe the boss was such good friends with my momma...that he's practically family!"

"He did a good job keeping it a secret all these years," James remarked. "And he was probably right to do so. Butch, Cassidy, Bonnie, Clyde, Jennifer, Wendy, Domino -- can you imagine how much worse they might've been if they'd known how the boss really feels about us?"

I felt a chill race up my spine as he said this. "The scary thing is, I can," I replied.

When the elevator reached the seventh floor, the three of us got out and found ourselves standing in a short hallway that connected two larger corridors. Another floor plan was posted on the opposite wall, so we studied it for a moment. The dormitory levels of Team Rocket headquarters were arranged into east and west wings with sixty apartments along each. The two wings were joined by connecting hallways on the north and south ends of the building. There were elevators and stairwells in each of the connecting hallways (though the stairs and elevators on the south side only went up to the ninth floor -- Giovanni's office on the tenth floor could only be reached by the elevators and stairs on the north side of the building). Each dormitory level had a small laundromat in the northern connecting hallway and a lounge area in the southern connecting hallway. Our apartment -- 754 -- was located on the left-hand side of the hall near the southern end of the east wing. And we could see why the boss had chosen that apartment for us -- it was in a good "neighborhood!" According to the directory that listed who had which apartment, Mondo was just across the hall from us in room 753, and Emanuela and Simone and Annie and Oakley were our next door neighbors in rooms 752 and 756, respectively! None of them were here tonight (Mondo, Manu, and Simone were all on assignment, and Annie and Oakley had their own apartment in Celadon City and only used their apartment at headquarters when they needed to be here for official business), but having our rooms in such close proximity would make it easier for us to get together with our friends when we were all at headquarters.

Once we knew where everything was, we followed the eastern hallway to room 754. James swiped the key-card in the lock and opened the door. When he turned on the lights, we stepped inside and looked around at our new apartment. To our left was a little kitchen with a bar, a refrigerator, an oven, and a microwave. Three stools at the bar served as a dining area. To our right was a living area with a green leather sofa and loveseat, a glass coffee table, and a small entertainment center with a TV. To the left of the entertainment center was a small bookshelf, and to the right was a stereo. Along the eastern wall were three doors that led to the other rooms of the apartment. The room to the far right was a big bedroom with a double bed. A computer desk was in the room as well, letting it serve as an office, too. The room in the center was a smaller bedroom with a twin bed. And the room on the far right was a bathroom. All of the walls were painted a light sea-green color, and the floor was covered with ceramic tiles that were a darker shade of green and had rose and gray marbling in them. Rose-colored Venitian blinds hung on the windows in the bedrooms and bathroom, and all of the furniture was contemporary in style. It couldn't have been more different from the sparsely-furnished military-style rooms we'd stayed in at the old headquarters.

"Nice digs," Meowth commented.

James nodded. "Maybe it's a good thing the old headquarters was destroyed -- I like the new building...and these new apartments a lot better!"

"Me, too," I agreed. "I remember, when I was in training school and Dr. Holliday was teaching us about the history of Team Rocket, he told us that the original headquarters was built back in the 1920s by Giovanni's great-grandfather, Vito Razzo -- the first leader of Team Rocket. Back then, Viridian City was a lot smaller...so back then, the military compound that Vito built was in the middle of nowhere rather than just outside the city. He'd been paranoid about the authorities discovering his budding criminal empire, so he'd been trying to keep it hidden."

"Well, dere ain't too much need for dat anymore," said Meowth. "Dese days, corporate-lookin' places like dis are a lot less conspicuous den old military compounds in the woods."

James folded his arms across his chest and smirked. "Not that there's much danger from the authorities to begin with -- most of the Officer Jennies out there make Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons look like a Rhodes scholar! And I seriously doubt that Pokemon League will ever discover that the leader of the Viridian Gym and the leader of Team Rocket are one and the same!"

"Too true!" I laughed.

"So, what're our plans?" Meowth asked, changing the subject.

"I was thinking that when we go back to work, we'll return to Johto and stay there for a few months so that we can travel with Gary and help him get ready for the Johto League finals. After that, we can come back to Kanto and do most of our work here," James replied. He waved his back-pay check at us. "Maybe we can even take some of those vacations we've been fantasizing about, now that we can finally afford them!"

"Sounds wonderful!" I told him.

"Yeah, it does," Meowth concurred. "But yer thinkin' too big, Jimmy. I mean, what're our plans for tonight? What're we gonna have for dinner? I'm starvin'!"

When he said this, my stomach started growling. "Good question."

James smiled sheepishly at us and blushed. Then, he looked back at his check and grinned. "Well, why don't we celebrate this special occasion with a special dinner? Let's splurge on something we couldn't have afforded in the past...like lobster!"

Now my mouth was watering. A lobster dinner sounded like heaven!

"Yeah!" Meowth cheered.

"And after dinner, why don't we go shopping?" I suggested. "We need to get a nice Christmas present for the boss, and we should also get a few household things to spruce this place up. I'm glad we didn't have anything important in our rooms at the old headquarters, and all we lost were a few posters when the place blew up, but this isn't anything like our old rooms...and I don't think the new headquarters is in danger of being destroyed anytime soon. This is like our starter home, so we need to do something to make it more like our home!"

James draped an arm around my shoulders. "Good idea, honey! We should also get some groceries so that I can make a nice breakfast in the morning."

"But first, we need to get cleaned up and changed into nicer clothes," I continued. "We haven't had a shower since Sunday night, and we can't go out for a fancy dinner in our work clothes!"

James looked down at himself and frowned. "You're right." He smiled at me once more. "Why don't you take your shower first, Jess? While you're doing that, Meowth and I can go down and get our backpacks from the Jeep. Then, I can take my shower."

"We should prolly feed the pokemon before we leave, too," Meowth added.

I nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me!"

James winked and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Just don't use all the hot water, dearest!"

"Don't worry -- there'll be plenty left for you!" I assured him.

After giving me another kiss, James promised that he and Meowth would be back with our stuff in a few minutes. Once they'd taken their leave, I went into the bathroom. Next to the showertub was a cabinet that contained a stack of plain white towels, a bottle of shampoo and conditioner in one, a few bars of soap, and various other toiletries. I took one of the hand towels and hung it on the towel bar next to the sink and selected two of the bath towels for myself. Then, I laid out the bathmat in front of the tub, grabbed the bottle of shampoo, and took two bars of soap from their paper wrappers.

It's just like spending the night in a motel, I mused as I put the bar of hand soap next to the sink and the bath bar and shampoo on the tray in the bathtub.

Once I had everything set up, I peeled off my Team Rocket uniform and tossed it into the laundry hamper. I then unhooked my bra and pulled off my black string-bikini panties and tossed them into the hamper with the rest of my uniform.

For a moment, I studied my reflection in the bathroom mirror. My hair had gone flat since I hadn't had a chance to style it for the past couple of days, and there were dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep. I also smelled a little sweaty. But even though I looked rough on the outside, I felt like a million bucks on the inside. And once I'd had a shower and eaten some dinner, I knew that I'd feel even better!

I stepped into the tub and turned on the water. Once it had heated up, I slid the door shut and pulled the handle to turn on the shower head. The feeling of the warm water cascading down my body, massaging my tired muscles and washing away the dirt and sweat that had accumulated over the past couple of days was sublime. I probably could've stayed in there all night, but I soon remembered that James needed a shower as well and that I'd promised to save enough hot water for him, so I quickly lathered my hair, scrubbed myself with soap, and rinsed off. After turning off the water and getting out of the shower, I wrapped my hair in one towel and my body in another and dried myself.

When I left the bathroom, I saw James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet sitting together on the couch and watching TV. Meowth and Wobbuffet were munching on a bag of cheese-flavored pretzels, and Arbok, Weezing, Lickitung, Victreebel, Vulpix, Growly, Sunflora, Articuno, Donphan, and Delibird were in various places throughout the kitchen and living room, eating pokemon food from their dishes.

James looked up at me and smiled. "Hey, honey."

"Hey, sweetie," I replied. "Bathroom's all yours...and there should be plenty of hot water left."

"I appreciate it," he told me as he got up from the couch. On his way to the bathroom, he stopped for a moment to give me another kiss.

Once he'd gone inside and closed the door behind him, I waved to Meowth, Wobbuffet, and the other pokemon and went into the bedroom. Our backpacks were sitting together at the foot of the bed, and James had already laid out the blue jacket and slacks, white dress-shirt, black tie, and black shoes and socks that he was going to wear to dinner. After bringing a clean bra and pair of panties from my backpack, I went through my clothes for a moment and decided to wear a white lace-up tank top with a purple jacket and mini skirt and a pair of purple knee-high boots.

James was still in the shower after I'd gotten dressed, reapplied my make-up, brushed my hair, and put on a spritz of perfume, so I decided to send some e-mails while I waited for him. Seating myself at the computer desk next to our bed, I switched on our laptop and connected to the internet. Once I'd logged into our e-mail account, I sent a little newsletter-type message to Annie and Oakley, Mondo and Felicia, Emanuela and Simone, Cairdea, granny and grandpa and uncle Brad, and James's grandma and grandpa Woodson, letting them know about the personnel file tampering and payroll fraud that had been going on at headquarters, our raise, promotion, and new assignment, and the firing of Wendy, Jennifer, Butch, and Cassidy. (I kept my promise to the boss and didn't say a word about his friendship with momma or us, though. I knew that I could trust our friends and family with Giovanni's secret, but I kept it anyway. I wasn't about to do anything that would make him regret coming clean with us after all these years.) I then sent an e-mail to grandma and pop-pop, letting them know that we hoped to be in Opal Ridge sometime tomorrow. Once that message had been sent, I closed our e-mail program and disconnected from the internet. I'd wanted to send an e-mail to Gary as well, but I needed a little more time to think about what to say -- we had a lot to talk to him about, after all!

While I was shutting off the computer, James returned to the bedroom. He had a towel wrapped around his waist, and he was drying his blue-violet hair with another one. "You look gorgeous," he told me as he took off the towel that he was wearing around his waist and picked up a pair of blue silk boxers.

I admired his naked body for a moment and gave him a sly smile. "So do you!"

He smiled back at me and started pulling on his boxers. "I'll give you another look later, if you want," he said playfully.

I reached up and gave him a gentle spank on the butt. "You'd better give me more than a look, James!" I told him.

His emerald eyes glimmered. "I was hoping you'd say that!"

Once he'd finished getting dressed, James brushed his hair and put on a bit of cologne. He then put his wallet into his pocket and grabbed the Jeep keys from the dresser. "Ready?" he asked.

I picked up my purse and looped my arm in his. "I sure am!"

"Then let's go -- we'll never hear the end of it if we keep Meowth waiting for his dinner!"

"Indeed, we won't!"


Luckily, the pretzels that Meowth had eaten earlier had been enough to tide him over until dinner, and he was in good spirits anyway, so we heard no complaints or snide remarks from him when we finally came from the bedroom. After locking the apartment, the three of us took the elevator down to the parking lot and piled into the Jeep. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the local Red Lobster.

Just as James had predicted, dinner was a real treat. The rich, creamy New England clam chowder that the three of us ordered as an appetizer was the perfect way to warm up on a chilly December night. And when our lobster dinners arrived, they were more delicious than I ever could've dreamed! Drizzled with lemon juice, the succulent white meat was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, and it was so tender that it fell apart in my mouth! Hearty cheese biscuits and fresh grilled vegetables were served on the side and rounded out the meal nicely. And to finish things off, we ordered some strawberry cheesecake for dessert.

By the time our meal was finished, James, Meowth, and I were so full, we felt like we were going to explode! With three appetizers, three lobster dinners, three drinks, and three desserts (not to mention the tip for the waitress), the bill was pretty steep, but none of us were worried about it. Between all of the money we'd won at Battle Tower the previous month, all of the back-pay and the raise we'd just received, and the inheritance that James would be getting in a couple of years, our financial troubles truly were over.

After paying the bill and leaving the restaurant, we went downtown to the Mega-Mart Supercenter to do our shopping and walk our dinners off. In the grocery section, James loaded our cart with household items and non-perishable foods. Then, it was off to the pokemon section, where we stocked up on food and other supplies for our pokemon. After that, we went to the audio/video department and got a DVD set of the entire first season of The Sopranos as a Christmas present for Giovanni. And finally, we browsed the housewares department. While we were there, James got some silverware, a set of plates, bowls, and mugs, and a set of hand towels, pot holders, hot pads, and rugs that were all decorated with pink roses and green leaves for the kitchen, and I selected a set of hand and bath towels, a toothbrush holder, a soap dispenser, a shower curtain and window curtain, and bathmats that were almond and light green with pink sakura blossoms for the bathroom. We also picked up a dusty-rose area rug that had darker pink roses and the Japanese symbols for "happiness," "health," "prosperity," and "love" on it for the living room and curtains and bedding for our bedrooms -- James and I chose purple satin sheets, a purple vellux blanket, and lavender curtains with darker purple roses for our room, and Meowth chose midnight-blue sheets and curtains decorated with silver crescent moons and stars and a dark blue vellux blanket for his room. And as a finishing touch, we got a pair of black and gold 8 x 10 frames for some of James's artwork, a curio cabinet for his bottle cap collection, and some pictures to hang on our walls -- Meowth picked a Japanese print of a black cat sitting beneath a willow tree for his room, James and I picked some framed pictures of roses and peonies in Japanese vases for our room, and we all took a cue from Gary and chose a print of Rene Magritte's surrealist painting, Le Tombeau des Luteurs for our living room. (Gary had a print of Magritte's Chateau des Pyrenees in his room. We all thought it was cool, so we couldn't resist getting a Magritte of our own...especially since Le Tombeau des Luteurs was a painting of an enormous red rose in a tiny pink room!)

With our two carts filled to overflowing, James, Meowth, and I began heading for the checkout. While we were passing by the clothing department, however, something caught my eye -- hanging on a rack was a row of black midriff tank tops. They were similar to the one I wore with my uniform, but the cut was slightly different in the neckline, giving them a little more flair.

And this gave me an idea.

"Hey, guys -- I'd like to try something on," I said to James and Meowth.

The two of them exchanged smiles.

"Somehow, I knew we wasn't gonna get outta here without Jess lookin' at clothes," Meowth remarked.

"Yeah," James chuckled. Then, to me, "Go right ahead, honey."

I gave him a kiss on the cheek and grabbed one of the shirts from the rack. "Thanks, sweetie!"

On my way to the fitting room, I passed by another rack, where several pairs of black hip-hugger pants were hanging. I needed something to go with the shirt, so I grabbed a pair of those, too.

True to my prediction, the shirt looked good when I tried it on...and it was just my size. The pants I'd selected were a perfect fit as well, and they looked like they were made to go with the shirt. Form-fitting, but not the least bit tight, the outfit I'd assembled was a perfect blend of style and comfort.

I'd be crazy to pass it up!

When I came from the fitting room to model the outfit for my friends, they approved of my choice as well.

"Whoa! Dat kicks ass!" Meowth told me. "Ya look like a secret agent in dat getup, Jess!"

"Yeah! You look hot!" James agreed. His eyes were wide with awe.

"Glad you think so," I replied. "Because you're looking at my new work uniform!"

"New uniform?!" they said in unison.

I nodded. "Just as we've made some changes with our lives and our job, so I think it's time for a change with our fashion, too. I like our old uniforms, but let's face it -- they've got more than a few problems. Mine is always cold in the winter, James's is always hot in the summer, the white fabric shows every single speck of dirt...and quite frankly, I need to wear something more practical than a micro-skirt when I'm doing field-work. I think we could both do with a more comfortable and practical uniform design...and a little style upgrade never hurts!"

James thought about this for a moment. "You know, you're absolutely right!"

"I think this new ensemble is perfect for me," I continued. "Without the jacket and gloves, it'll be a lot less stifling when the weather is hot, and if I add a jacket in the winter, it'll be a lot warmer than my old uniform, too. And I like these pants so much better than the skirt!" I did a couple of high-kicks and roundhouses to test them out again. "The fabric is nice and stretchy, so it gives me real freedom of movement...."

"And if yer wearin' pants, ya don't hafta worry about nobody sneakin' a peek at yer underwears if ya don't want 'em to!" Meowth laughed.

I blushed. "Yeah. That, too."

James wrapped an arm around my waist. "That's right! Nobody's allowed to do that except me!"

"Exactly!" I replied, touching the tip of his nose.

Now he was blushing, too. "Well, I love the new look, Jessie!" he told me. His face turned redder than ever as his eyes drifted to the plunging neckline of my shirt.

I couldn't help but smile as I started heading back to the fitting room. I knew he'd enjoy the view this outfit gave him...which was yet another reason I liked it so much!

After changing back into my regular clothes, I put the shirt and pants in one of our shopping carts, and I also picked up a red belt for my poke balls. We then went to the men's clothing department to get some ideas for a new uniform design for James. Since he wanted to match me and have a black uniform too (and since he agreed with me that black was a more practical...and flattering color than white), he picked up a pair of black pants that were the same style as the ones he wore with his white uniform. And after looking at all of the shirts, he decided to go with two different styles. He chose a sleeveless black shirt of lightweight cotton for summer and a black tunic-style shirt made of a soft, fleecy material for winter. The summer uniform accentuated his sexy, well-toned body beautifully, and the winter uniform almost made him look like a character from a fantasy novel or a D & D campaign (which meant that it'd go perfectly with the black cloak that I'd made him for Christmas)!

Once we were sure we had everything we wanted and needed, we paid for our purchases and returned to headquarters. The first things we unloaded were the clothes, the towels, the bedding, and the laundry detergent, and our first stop was the laundromat on the seventh floor. Luckily, nobody else was there at the moment, so we were able to load everything into three separate machines and wash it all simultaneously. After starting the wash cycles, Meowth volunteered to stay and keep an eye on the laundry while James and I finished unloading the Jeep and putting everything away.

It took another five trips before James and I finally got all of the things we'd bought carried up to our apartment. And after that, we spent the next hour and a half putting the groceries in the cupboards and freezer and arranging everything else. While James laid down the new kitchen rugs and washed our new flatware and dishes, I hung up the curtains in the bedrooms and bathroom, laid the area rug in the living room, and arranged all of the bathroom accessories. James then framed two of his colored pencil drawings -- a picture of Meowth, Wobbuffet, and Growly sitting together by a campfire, and a picture of Arbok and Weezing cuddled together beneath a cherry tree while sakura petals rained down all around them -- and we decided where to hang all of the pictures. We put the Magritte print on the west wall of the living room, above the couch, and we put James's two pictures on the east wall. On the dining room wall across from the bar, we hung the photograph of momma and daddy that Gary had given me for my birthday. In our bedroom, we hung the rose picture on the south wall over James's side of the bed and the peony picture on the south wall over my side of the bed. We then mounted the curio cabinet on the west wall and arranged James's bottle cap collection inside of it. The only picture we didn't hang up was Meowth's cat print -- since it was going in his room, we figured we'd let him decide where he wanted it.

By the time we returned to the laundromat, the wash cycles had finished, and Meowth had put everything into the dryers.

"Youse guys sure took yer sweet time!" he teased when he saw us.

"Oh, knock it off, Meowth -- we had a lot of stuff to put away!" I told him.

The cat winked at us. "Yeah, I know."

"It all looks wonderful!" James exclaimed. "You'd be amazed at what a big difference a few rugs on the floor, curtains on the windows, and pictures on the walls make -- they really do warm the place up and make it feel like home!"

Meowth nodded. "I'll bet! I can't wait ta see!"

James gestured to the doorway. "Go right ahead! Jessie and I can keep an eye on the laundry now."

His eyes lit up. "Thanks!"

"Oh, while you're there, can you please get the laptop for me?" I asked as Meowth prepared to take his leave. "We need to check our e-mail again to see if Gary made it home okay...and I'd like to send him a message anyway."

"You got it, Jess!" Meowth replied.

When the cat returned about ten minutes later, he was holding the laptop in his paws and grinning from ear to ear. "Youse guys were right -- it looks great in dere!" he told us as he handed the computer to me. "I love the curtains in my room, and when I hung up my cat picture on the wall, it really added dat special somethin'! It really is amazin' how a few little things like dat make such a huge difference! It makes the place feel like it's all our own...and dat's a good feelin'!"

"It's a very good feeling," James agreed. "Like Jessie said earlier, this is our starter home. Naturally, we'll have to find another place to live when we retire from Team Rocket, but that little apartment is perfect for now. And by the time we retire, I'm sure we'll be able to afford some land and a nice house."

"It's so cool, that all those plans we've been making for our future are finally starting to take shape!" I remarked as I plugged the laptop into a phone jack and booted it up.

"Yeah! It's about damn time things started goin' our way!" said Meowth.

When I connected to the internet and logged into our e-mail account, I saw a message from Gary in our inbox. He'd made it safely back to Pallet this evening, and he'd told his parents about everything that had been going on. As we predicted, David and Clarice had been very understanding...and Gary had even discovered that one of his dad's best friends used to be in Team Rocket! He promised to tell us all about it the next time we met. He also told us that he was going to talk to Professor Oak tomorrow and see what he could do about Tracey.

I hit the reply button and began to type:

Hey, Gary!

Thanks for the e-mail.

We're glad to hear that you made it home safe and sound. We're also glad that things went so well with your parents. We knew they would -- your mom and dad are some of the nicest people we've ever met! (The story about your dad's friend sounds really interesting -- we look forward to hearing it! ^__^) We miss you, too -- it does seem odd not having you around after all the traveling we've done together recently.

Speaking of odd, a lot of strange stuff has been happening since you left. Yesterday morning, we started heading back to Kanto and had another twerp encounter around lunchtime. (Don't worry -- we kicked Ash's ass good and proper again when he accused us of trying to steal his pokemon and kept gloating about how he attacked you. We'll tell you all about it the next time we see you! >D) We were going to stop for the night in Happy Town (I got to see Blissey again), but we ended up having an encounter with a crazy old lady who claimed to be a Team Rocket recruiting agent and kept insisting that James, Meowth, and I weren't real Rockets. We rescued a Delibird that she'd been abusing (he's now my newest pokemon), but when we tried to call the boss and bring the incident to his attention, we discovered that our IDs had been invalidated! We ended up driving all night so that we could get to headquarters and find out what was going on in person. We arrived in Viridian City this morning, and we've spent all day with our boss, getting everything straightened out. When Giovanni did a little investigating, he found out that some disgruntled employees had been tampering with our personnel files and salaries, which is why we've been making so little money these past couple of years. The boss was not amused when he found out about that -- he fired the guilty parties on the spot! And once that mess was taken care of, we told him all about the trouble we've been having from Ash and Pikachu. Giovanni was disgusted when he heard about Ash's behavior, and he was all too happy to put us on a new assignment, complete with a raise! He even offered to have Ash whacked...and I'm not so sure he was joking! We'll be sure to tell you all about that the next time we see you, too.

Needless to say, it's been a long couple of days for us, so I'd better bring this e-mail to a close. We still have a lot of stuff to do before we can call it a night, and we've got an early morning tomorrow, too. The boss invited me and James to battle in his gym for a chance to win the Earth Badge, and then we're finally going to head up to Opal Ridge to visit my grandma and pop-pop. We'll be sure to keep in touch and let you know how everything goes.

Take care, Gary! Talk to ya soon!

~@~ Jessie, James & Meowth

P.S. Good luck talking to your grandpa tomorrow...and good luck getting Tracey's fat ass thrown out of the lab! >D

After sending the e-mail, I disconnected from the internet. There was still another fifteen minutes to go on the drying cycles, so I decided to kill the time by bringing up the Team Rocket database and checking out our corrected personnel files.

I couldn't help but smile as James, Meowth, and I looked at the updated information about us. Giovanni had adjusted our rank and salaries while we were in his office earlier that afternoon, and he'd also finished rewriting our personnel entries sometime this evening. Gone were the crude, mean-spirited jabs that Wendy had written, and in their place was now an accurate, professional evaluation of our characters and performance. My smile widened as I read the new entries aloud:

Jessie Parker: The daughter of one of Team Rocket's greatest employees, Jessie continues Miyamoto Parker's proud tradition by doing whatever is needed of her and giving 110% to everything she does. Her skills at tracking and combat and her training as a nurse make her a versatile agent in the field and a force to be reckoned with in battle.

James Woodson: Another versatile agent, James has a vast array of knowledge, from pokemon to mechanics to electronics. Whether you need information on a rare pokemon, a vehicle repair, or an advanced computer system hacked, he's the man for the job. His marksmanship and martial arts skills also make him a combatant who's every bit as strong as he is intelligent.

Meowth: This pokemon has the amazing ability to speak fluently in both human and pokemon language. Meowth's translation skills facilitate communication between humans and pokemon and make him a valuable member of the Team Rocket organization.

As a group, these three comprise one of the most dedicated, hard-working, and harmonious teams in my employ. They pursue their assignments with honor and dignity, often thinking outside the box to come up with innovative ways to rise to challenges, they stand tall and keep doing their best no matter how much adversity and scorn they find themselves faced with, and they have a knack for landing on their feet whenever there's trouble. Their integrity often costs them their quarry, and as a result, they don't bring in the most pokemon or have the highest success rates...but what their turnover lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. All in all, they're an exemplary team and a credit to the organization.

"So, dis is what the boss really thinks of us!" Meowth exclaimed when I finished reading.

James nodded. "It certainly is a far cry from the garbage that used to be in those files. I'm glad the three of us have his respect."

"So am I," I agreed. I looked back at the files and smiled again. "So am I...."


Once the laundry was finished drying, I shut off the computer, and we took everything back to our apartment. By the time we returned, most of the pokemon had fallen asleep, but Wobbuffet and Delibird were sitting together on the floor, watching The Daily Show on Comedy Central. After we hung up the towels and made the beds, I took the three shirts that James and I had bought and got out my sewing kit so that I could embroider R-logos onto them. We then joined Wobbuffet and Delibird in the living room so that we could watch TV with them for awhile.

When The Daily Show ended, Meowth switched to one of the networks, which was airing the Bloom County Christmas special, A Wish for Wings That Work. James, Meowth, and I had always enjoyed the satire of Bloom County, and Wobbuffet and Delibird looked like they were enjoying it, too...though Delibird seemed more interested in the storyline itself. Perhaps he could relate to Opus the penguin and the lesson he'd learned -- that just because he couldn't fly, it didn't mean that his wings were useless.

And this, in turn, reminded me of something.

I set down my embroidery for a moment and looked at James. "Honey, do you know what attacks Delibird can learn?" I inquired.

"I'm not sure," James replied in all honesty. "I'd never seen a Delibird in person before yesterday -- they're pretty rare. Why don't I look it up in my guidebook?"

"Or we could just ask Delibird himself," Meowth suggested. He turned to the penguin. "Hey, Deli, what attacks do ya know? We seen dat explodin' present thing, but what else have ya got?"

"De! De-deli!" he replied.

Meowth looked back at us. "He sez Present is the only attack Delibirds can learn on dere own, but when Kuso Baba captured him, she used a couple a TMs ta teach him Thief and Icy Wind, too."

"Those are pretty good attacks," James remarked.

"Yeah!" I agreed. Then, to Delibird, "You're an ice-type, right? Do you think you could learn Blizzard with a TM?"

He nodded.

Meowth's midnight-blue eyes lit up. "Oh, yeah! Ya got dat Blizzard TM dat ya won at Battle Tower! I almost forgot about dat!"

James smiled at me. "Good thinking, Jess! Blizzard will be a great attack for Delibird to learn!"

I returned his smile, then looked back at my new pokemon. "What do you say? Would you like to learn Blizzard?"

Delibird nodded again.

When the show went to commercial break, I went to the bedroom and got the Blizzard TM from my backpack. And when I returned, I used it to teach the attack to Delibird. "There you go," I told him. "You may not be able to fly, but now you've got two powerful ice attacks and a couple of other cool attacks. I think you'll do just fine."

Delibird flapped his flipper-like wings and smiled at me. "De!"

"He sez Thanks!" Meowth translated.

I patted Delibird on the head. "You're welcome."

As I resumed my embroidery, James snaked an arm around my waist.

I smiled at him again. "What?"

"I was just thinking -- we have matching poison-types, fire-types, grass-types, and ice-types...and I have a ground-type, and you have a normal-type and a psychic-type. I'd say we finally have some nice, well-balanced teams," he remarked.

"Yeah. We do, don't we?" I replied.

"And havin' a variety a pokemon ta choose from will come in especially handy when ya battle the boss for yer Earth Badges tomorrow!" Meowth pointed out.

"It certainly will," James and I agreed.

When I finished embroidering the R-logos onto my shirt and James's winter and summer shirts, I set down my needle and thread and admired my handiwork for a moment. Rather than the large Rs that had dominated our old white jackets, I'd made these new logos small, relatively inconspicuous marks on the left side of my shirt and the right side of James's shirts. It was enough to show that we worked for Team Rocket, but it wasn't so blaringly obvious as it had been before. The thread I'd used was the same shade of red as the eyes of the black dragons that Gary's aunt Rowena had embroidered on his Mordred costume...and the effect it produced on our black shirts was every bit as stunning.

"Those look great, honey!" James said as he joined me in admiring the embroidery. "You were definitely right that it was time for a change."

I reached up and gave his rogue wisp of blue-violet hair a tug. "I can't wait to see you in your new uniform tomorrow!"

"And I can't wait to see you!" he echoed.

"Den why don't youse two go ta bed?" Meowth suggested. He winked at us. "The sooner ya do, the sooner it'll be mornin'...once ya fall asleep, dat is!"

"Your innuendo is duly noted, Meowth," James replied as he got to his feet and stretched himself out. He yawned. "But I'm afraid it's ill-timed -- the only thing I have the energy to do tonight is go to sleep!"

James's yawning was contagious, and it made me start yawning as well. "Now that you mention it, I'm really tired, too. Sorry, Meowth. Looks like you won't be getting in any jabs at us this time."

Meowth waved a paw at us and sighed. "Youse guys sure do know how ta ruin a cat's fun." He smiled again. "Oh, well. Some other time, den. Good night, Jess. Good night, Jim."

"Good night, Meowth," we said.

After retiring to our room, James and I changed into our pajamas and got into bed. In the dim light that was filtering through the curtains and blinds, I could just barely perceive the wistful smile on James's face.

"Sorry we didn't get to break in this new mattress tonight, honey," he sighed as he pulled the blanket up around us.

"It's okay, sweetie," I assured him. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and rested my head on his chest. "It's been a long couple of days, and we need our rest. Like Meowth said -- some other time."

He hugged back and touched his lips to my forehead. "I love you, Jessie."

"I love you too, James," I replied.

As the two of us cuddled closer, I savored the feeling of the soft bed, the silky-smooth sheets, and my lover's warm embrace. I felt so comfortable at that moment, and knowing that everything had finally worked out for us, the way James had always promised...that everything really was okay now made me feel happy and safe, too.

A feeling of total peace came over me as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.


I awoke to the sound of an electronic buzz. Opening my eyes, I saw that it was morning. At my side, James was sitting up and reaching over to turn off the alarm clock on the nightstand.

"Nnnhhh...is it seven thirty already?" I muttered.

James rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Unable to answer my question because he was yawning, he simply nodded.

For the next couple of minutes, we sat silently together in bed and tried to wake up.

At length, James turned to me and smiled. "So, how do cinnamon rolls sound for breakfast? They'll just be the instant kind from a tube, of course, but...."

"Sounds great to me, honey!" I interjected.

Climbing out of bed, James and I joined hands and went to the kitchen. While he was preheating the oven and arranging the cinnamon rolls on a baking pan, I got out some of our new plates and started the coffee. And while the rolls were baking, the two of us wrapped the boss's Christmas present and fed our pokemon their breakfast. Before long, the entire apartment was filled with the warm, sweet aroma of cinnamon, and it lured Meowth from his room.

"Dose cinnamon rolls smell real good," Meowth said as he seated himself at the bar and placed a paw to his growling stomach.

I stirred some cream and sugar into a mug of coffee and handed it to the cat. "They'll only be a few more minutes," I told him. I then prepared two more mugs of coffee for me and James.

Once the rolls were finished baking, James turned off the oven and let them cool for a few minutes before icing them. He and I each took two for ourselves, and Meowth and Wobbuffet split the remaining six.

After breakfast, Meowth and Wobbuffet volunteered to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen while James and I got dressed. The two of us went to the bathroom to brush our hair and teeth and wash our faces, and then we went back to our room and got dressed in our new uniforms. When James put on his new pants and tunic-top, along with his purple belt and black boots from his old uniform, he looked even more handsome than he had when he was trying on the outfit last night. And when I put on my uniform and studied my reflection in the dresser mirror, I looked better than I remembered, too. My new pants were a lot warmer than my old skirt had been, and they went perfectly with the thigh-high black boots from my old uniform. I still felt chilly in my midriff top, but once I put on my black leather jacket, I was fine.

"So, what's the final verdict?" I ventured.

James gave me a thumbs-up. "Gorgeous! And you don't look half-bad, either!"

I gave him a playful shove.

"But seriously, I like the new uniforms," he continued. "Mine is so comfortable...."

"So is mine," I agreed. "And I love the way they look -- black is so slimming...and it really brings out the jewel-tone colors of our hair and eyes!"

He smiled.

We admired our reflections in the mirror a moment longer. Then, we put our old uniforms on clothes hangers and hung them up in the closet.

James saluted. "They've had a good run, huh, Jess?" he asked.

I nodded and saluted, too. "Yeah. They've served us well these past three years...but now it's time for them to retire."

"Ahem. When youse guys are through bein' sentimental about yer clothes, can we start gettin' ready ta go? In case you've forgotten, we gotta be at the gym in another fifteen minutes!" We turned and saw Meowth standing in the doorway.

I looked over at the clock. Sure enough, it was already eight forty-five. "You're right -- we need to get going!"

Quickly, the three of us packed everything that we needed for traveling, and James and I put our pokemon back in their poke balls. After making a quick sweep of the apartment to make sure that everything was turned off, we locked up and headed for the elevators. I didn't know when we'd be back to spend another night in our new apartment, but at least we finally had a place we could come home to when we weren't on the road or visiting with our family and friends.


It was exactly eight fifty-nine when we pulled into the parking lot in front of the Viridian Gym. Giovanni was at the front entrance, waiting for us.

As we piled out of the Jeep, he looked at his watch and grinned. "Ah! You're right on time!" A quizzical expression crossed his face when he looked back at me and James. "What are you wearing?"

"In honor of our new assignment, I designed new uniforms for myself and James last night," came my reply. I made a quick turn and held open my jacket to show him the logo. "You like?"

He nodded approvingly. "As long as it has the Team Rocket logo, you can wear whatever you want...Kuso Baba and her Dan'in uniform obsession be damned," he told us. "Now come on. We have some important business to take care of."

The three of us followed Giovanni inside the gym. He led us down a long corridor to a room with a large arena. Trainer boxes were at either end of the arena, and around its perimeter was a balcony held up by Corinthian-style pillars. The new gym was a lot like the old gym in style, but it was far more structurally sound -- it wasn't likely to be razed anytime soon...especially since Ash had already gotten his Earth Badge and competed in Indigo League and probably wouldn't be back.

"I believe you know the house rules," Giovanni told us as he crossed the arena and stepped into the trainer box on the far side. "We'll each use three pokemon. There will be no time limit. Now, who wants to go first?"

James gestured to the trainer box and bowed to me. "After you, m'lady."

I bowed back. "Thank you, kind sir." I took off my jacket and handed it to him as I stepped into my trainer box.

"Uh...dese things ain't rigged ta give shocks anymore, are dey?" Meowth asked.

Giovanni shook his head. "Of course not! I give you full marks for coming up with that ingenious plan to stop Ash Ketchum's run at Indigo League dead in its tracks -- I must admit, I wish I'd thought of it myself, but it's not the kind of thing I'd ever do to competent trainers or my own employees. Rest assured, nobody will be getting electrocuted today."

Meowth breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. We've already had more den enough electrocutions ta last us our entire lives!"

Across the arena, I could see Giovanni wincing, but he quickly shook it off. "Are you ready, Parker?"

I smiled. "Bring it on!"

"Very well, then," he replied. He brought out a poke ball and tossed it. "I think I'll start things off with Machamp!"

My smile grew even wider than it already was as the fighting-type emerged. "Then I'll choose Arbok!" I snapped one of my poke balls from my belt and tossed it into the arena.

"Machamp! Cross Chop!" Giovanni commanded as the cobra emerged before his pokemon.

"Dodge it, Arbok! Then paralyze Machamp with Glare!" I countered.

As Machamp slashed at Arbok with his four massive hands, Arbok danced around the blows and avoided each one. (The dancing I'd been doing with her these past few months was really paying off!) She then fixed Machamp with a piercing gaze, and her eyes began to glow red.

Now that the fighting-type was incapacitated, I issued another command: "Now hit him with Poison Sting!"

"Chaaa!" Arbok hissed as she fired a barrage of poisoned darts at Machamp. Still unable to move, he was hit with the full fury of her attack.

But he was still standing...and the effects of the Glare were beginning to wear off!

"Hang in there, Machamp!" Giovanni encouraged. "And show Arbok your Submission attack!"

I frowned. Even though Arbok had the type-advantage in this match, Giovanni's Machamp was at a much higher level than she was. It wasn't very likely that she'd be able to withstand Machamp's most powerful attack.

I had to finish this battle quickly.

"Arbok! Use your Wrap attack!" I shouted.

When Machamp began powering up for his attack, Arbok bound him in her coils and began to squeeze, rendering him unable to move once again. After a couple of minutes, Machamp went limp and crumpled to the floor.

"Nicely done, Parker," Giovanni told me as he called back his fallen Machamp. "But let's see how you handle this!" He threw another poke ball into the arena. "Rhydon! Go!"

Now I was smiling again. Arbok didn't have the level or type-advantage this time...but she knew a few attacks that would allow her to hold her own!

"Arbok! Go underground!" I commanded.

A shark-like grin made its way across Giovanni's lips as Arbok burrowed into the ground. "Rhydon! Use your Earthquake!"

Rhydon studied the ground for a moment. Once he seemed to know where Arbok was, he roared and leapt into the air. When he landed, the earth beneath his feet split, and I heard Arbok emitting an agonized screech. When she emerged from the crack in the ground, she was bruised and battered.

"She's on the ropes, Rhydon! Finish her off with your Horn Drill!" Giovanni ordered.

It was time to show the boss Arbok's secret weapon. "Mega Drain! Now!" I cried.

As Rhydon charged in and prepared to impale Arbok on his horn, the cobra dodged and sank her fangs into his thick hide. Her obsidian eyes began to glow green, and with every passing moment, she seemed to be getting stronger while Rhydon seemed to be getting weaker. By the time she called off her attack, she was completely revitalized, and Rhydon was the one who looked like he was on the ropes!

Giovanni snickered. "Clever girl."

I called back Arbok and snapped another poke ball from my belt. "Now that Arbok's softened that Rhydon up, I think I'll send in my Sunflora!"

He grinned again as the sunflower pokemon emerged before Rhydon. "What a pretty flower. Rhydon, flatten it with your Stomp attack!"

"How predictable!" I scoffed. "Sunflora! Dodge Rhydon's attack and fight back with Petal Dance!"

Rhydon roared again and began stomping his feet in an attempt to flatten Sunflora. But just as Arbok had in the previous match, Sunflora whirled and spun about, dodging each attack. And as she continued to twirl, she fired a flurry of golden petals at Rhydon and knocked him off balance.

"Now finish him with Razor Leaf!" I commanded.

While Rhydon was still trying to regain his balance, Sunflora fired a barrage of leaves at him and slashed his leathery hide open. Unable to withstand the assault, Rhydon fainted as well.

I smirked. "My Sunflora's not such a shrinking violet after all, is she?"

Giovanni raised an eyebrow as he called Rhydon back. "I'm impressed, Parker. But this battle isn't over yet." He tossed his third poke ball into the arena. "Now I choose Golem!"

I held my ground. "Sunflora! Use Razor Leaf again!"

"Golem! Defense Curl!" Giovanni countered.

As Sunflora launched another attack, Golem curled himself into a ball, and her leaves bounced harmlessly off of his rock-hard skin.

"Now go into your Rollout!" Giovanni commanded.

"Get out of the way, Sunflora!" I cried.

But it was no use. When Golem began to roll, his massive body gained momentum, and Sunflora wasn't able to dodge quickly enough. She was flattened in one hit.

"It's okay, Sunflora -- you did a good job," I assured my pokemon as I called her back. I turned my sights on Giovanni again. "You may have defeated one of my pokemon, but I've only just begun to fight!" I threw another poke ball into the arena. "Go, Delibird!"

"So, that's the pokemon you rescued from Kuso Baba?" Giovanni asked. "Well, it's still no match for my Golem. Golem! Use Rollout again!"

"That's not going to work a second time!" I shot back. "Delibird! Present!"

Delibird pulled a handful of glowing orbs from his sack and lobbed them at Golem. When the orbs detonated, Golem was blasted all the way across the arena.

"Now freeze him with your Blizzard attack!" I continued.

The penguin nodded and began flapping his flipper-like wings, producing a gale of ice and snow. The assault froze Golem solid and rendered him unable to move.

"Let's finish this battle, Delibird!" I shouted. "Use Present again!"

Delibird brought another handful of orbs from his sack and threw them at Golem. Just like last time, all of them blew up. The series of explosions shattered the ice that encased Golem, and at the same time, it knocked him out for the count.

"So, you defeated my Golem as well?" Giovanni remarked. "Excellent work, Parker. You truly are your mother's daughter."

I smiled proudly at him and bowed. "Thank you, sir."

Giovanni looked over at James. "Once I give my pokemon a bit of time to recover, it'll be your turn, Woodson."

"I'll be ready," James assured him.

When I climbed down from the trainer box, James and Meowth swept me into an embrace.

"You were wonderful, Jess! The boss was right -- you do your mother proud!" James exclaimed. He held me closer and lowered his mouth to mine.

"Yeah! You kicked ass!" Meowth cheered.

I blushed. "Thanks, guys. But I couldn't have done it without my pokemon...or you!"

Now James was blushing, too.

"Speaking of pokemon, Sunflora needs to be revitalized," I continued. I knelt down and brought a bottle of healing potion from my backpack. Then, I called Sunflora from her poke ball and sprayed potion onto her wounds. Within a couple of minutes, she was back to normal.

Sunflora waved her leaves at me and smiled. "Sunflora-flora!"

I returned her smile and patted her on the head before returning her to the poke ball. "Glad you're feeling better."

After a moment, Giovanni came back into the arena. "It's time for your match, Woodson. I hope you put up as good a fight as Parker did."

James touched the five poke balls on his belt and smiled as he took his place in the trainer box. "Oh, I will. Believe me, I will."

"Then let's get started. For my first pokemon, I choose Kingler!" Giovanni said.

When the crab emerged, James tossed one of his own poke balls. "And I choose Weezing!"

Giovanni got off to a strong start. "Kingler, Crabhammer!"

But James was ready for a powerful opening move and reacted accordingly. "Make a Smokescreen, Weezing!"

As Kingler charged forth and prepared to deliver a crushing blow with his enormous claw, Weezing exhaled a cloud of black smoke and obscured his opponent's vision.

"Nice move, but you can't hide forever," Giovanni chuckled. "Hit Weezing with your Hyper Beam, Kingler!"

James remained calm and studied the battlefield. After a moment, a point of white light appeared in the smoke. "It's two feet to your left, Weezing! Dodge the Hyper Beam and hit Kingler with Sludge Bomb!"

When Kingler unleashed his attack, Weezing darted to the right. And when he emerged from the smoke, he spit out a river of black sludge and sent Kingler reeling.

The giant crab was now poisoned, and the Sludge Bomb had scored a critical hit and knocked him for a loop, but Giovanni wasn't about to give up. "Let's finish this battle, Kingler! Use Guillotine!"

James grinned. "Hit Kingler with your Thunder attack, Weezing!"

Giovanni's eyes went wide as Weezing's body began to crackle and spark with electricity, and he released a blast of lightning. Even though the water-type was at a high level, he was unable to withstand the electric attack, and he fainted.

"That Thunder attack caught me off-guard," Giovanni admitted as he called back Kingler and released another pokemon. "But you won't be so lucky this time. Golem! Go!"

James bristled as the enormous rock pokemon came back onto the field. "He's right," he muttered. "None of Weezing's attacks are any use against Golem. I'll have to use a different pokemon...and I know which one!" He called back Weezing and threw another poke ball. "Go, Victreebel!"

Giovanni smirked. "Smart move, Woodson. But the pokemon who has the type advantage doesn't always win the battle. Golem! Rock Throw!"

"Victreebel! Vine Whip!" James commanded.

As Golem charged forth and slammed into Victreebel, Viccie defended himself by rolling with the hit instead of standing against it. He then wrapped his vines around Golem's arms and used the larger, heavier pokemon's own weight and momentum to toss him. The entire arena shook as Golem was sent crashing headlong into the wall.

"Good work, Victreebel!" James praised. "Now hit Golem with your Razor Leaf!"

"I don't think so!" Giovanni snickered. "Go into your Defense Curl, Golem!"

When Victreebel fired his leaves, Golem rolled himself into a ball again, and the attack was unable to pierce his stone skin.

"Now use Rollout!" Giovanni ordered.

"Oh, shit! This is the same combo that crushed Sunflora!" I muttered to Meowth.

Knowing that he was unable to run, James held his ground and went on the defensive instead. "Victreebel! Stop him with Stun Spore!"

As the rock pokemon began its roll, Victreebel emitted a cloud of golden powder. The Stun Spores sank into Golem's craggy hide and slowed him down, but it wasn't enough to stop him. Victreebel still got mowed down, but the force of the impact wasn't nearly as powerful as the one that had hit Sunflora. And Victreebel was at a much higher level than Sunflora, so he was able to take the hit.

"Now, Victreebel! Finish him off with your Solar Beam!" James shouted.

"Golem! Stop Victreebel with your Earthquake!" Giovanni commanded.

Golem came out of his roll as Victreebel began powering up. Under normal circumstances, Golem would have been able to execute his attack first...and his most powerful attack would have put Victreebel out of commission. But he was still feeling the effects of the Stun Spores, and that gave Victreebel a few seconds' purchase, which he used to finish gathering energy for his Solar Beam. When Golem leapt into the air and prepared to shatter the earth beneath him, Victreebel unleashed a blast of yellow-green light and hit him dead-on. The rock-type was unconscious before he even hit the ground.

James smiled. "You were right that the pokemon with the type advantage doesn't always win the battle...but he did today!"

"True. Level advantage doesn't always guarantee a victory either," Giovanni admitted. He called back Golem and held up another poke ball. "But I think I'll try again anyway. Rhydon! Go!"

"How are you feeling, Victreebel? Think you can take him?" James called to his pokemon.

Victreebel nodded.

"Alright, then! Hit Rhydon with your Razor Leaf!"

"Rhydon! Take Down!"

Rhydon snarled and scraped his foot on the floor before beginning his charge. Not allowing himself to be intimidated by the display, Victreebel held his ground and launched his own attack. His razor-sharp leaves slashed viciously into his opponent's leathery skin, but Rhydon ignored the pain and kept charging. When he collided with Victreebel, the force of the impact knocked Viccie halfway across the arena.

James frowned. Victreebel was still standing, and he looked like he still wanted to battle, but he also looked like he was in serious pain. Not wanting to see his pokemon take any more hits, James called him back and snapped another poke ball from his belt. "Take a rest now, Victreebel -- you've earned it," he said quietly. Then, to Giovanni, "Let's finish this battle by matching ground-type against ground-type." He threw his final poke ball into the arena. "Go, Donphan!"

"That puny thing doesn't stand a chance!" Giovanni scoffed when he saw the little elephant. "Take it out with Horn Drill, Rhydon!"

"Dodge it with Rapid Spin, Donphan!" James countered.

As Rhydon began his charge, Donphan leapt into the air and curled himself into a ball, the way he would for a Rollout attack. But instead of using the maneuver offensively, he used it to roll out of the way and avoid getting skewered by Rhydon's horn.

Once Donphan was safely out of the way, James decided to fight back. "Now go into your Rollout and hit him with everything you've got, Donphan!" James commanded.

Maintaining his momentum, Donphan switched directions and started rolling back towards Rhydon. He struck the larger pokemon at full speed and bowled him over.

But the boss wasn't about to give in. "Rhydon! Squash Donphan with your Stomp attack!"

As Donphan continued his roll and came in for another attack, Rhydon raised his foot and brought it down on the elephant with all his might. Donphan was stopped dead in his tracks, but he quickly shook off the blow and got back to his feet.

Giovanni grinned. "Good work, Rhydon! Now Stomp him again!"

"Hold your ground, Donphan!" James told his pokemon. "And get ready to use your Horn Attack!"

When Rhydon raised his foot again, Donphan remained in place and braced himself. And when Rhydon brought his foot down to deliver another crushing blow, Donphan thrust upwards and stabbed him with his tusks.

Rhydon roared in agony and staggered backwards, giving James another chance to strike. "Now finish him off with your Tackle, Donphan!"

Donphan nodded and began another charge. When he plowed into his opponent, Rhydon toppled over and hit the ground like a ton of bricks. He didn't get back up.

Now James was the one who was grinning. "Donphan may be small, but this battle just goes to prove that old saying -- the bigger they are, the harder they fall!"

"Well, I'll be damned," Giovanni mumbled as he called back his Rhydon. "That was some pretty sharp battling, Woodson!"

James called back Donphan and bowed. "Thank you, sir."

Giovanni stepped down from his trainer box and crossed the arena. "Well done -- you both put up excellent fights. I was impressed by your strategies, and you've done a great job training your pokemon." He reached into the pocket of his orange jacket and produced a pair of emerald-green badges that were shaped like leaves. "That's why I'm proud to present you with these Earth Badges."

"Thank you!" James and I said in unison as we took the badges he offered.

"Don't mention it," he replied. "You've earned them...unlike the little shit that's responsible for destroying my old gym." He winked at us. "I know you're the ones who rigged the platforms to explode, but I don't blame you for that -- you were only doing your job, and there wouldn't have been a need for you to resort to such measures if Ketchum hadn't been such a monster. I think I need to make a call to Pokemon League about having his Earth Badge revoked...."

James, Meowth, and I exchanged smiles. Ash had gotten most of his badges through pity and dumb luck rather than actual skill -- it would be nice if one of the many badges that he hadn't truly earned was taken away from him!

"So, I guess you'll be getting back on the road soon?" Giovanni ventured, changing the subject.

I nodded. "Yeah. We're going to visit my grandparents."

"Ah, yes. The Parkers. Good people, by all accounts," he said, more to himself than to us.

"Oh. Before we go, we have something for you," I told him.

He raised an eyebrow.

I knelt down and brought a package wrapped in blue paper that was decorated with all the various Eevee-lutions from my backpack. "The three of us bought you a Christmas present," I said as I handed the package to him.

Giovanni took the present from me and smirked. "I've something for you as well," he replied. He then produced a small rectangular package wrapped in metallic green paper from his jacket and handed it to me. Pinned beneath a red ribbon on top of the package was a note that read: To Jessie. Do not open until December 13th.

"A birthday present," I whispered.

"I...hope you like it," he said gruffly.

"I'm sure I will," I replied. I smiled at him again. "Thanks again, sir. We appreciate everything you've done for us these past couple of days. It means more to us than you could ever imagine."

Giovanni returned my smile for a moment, but his expression quickly became stern again. "Don't get mushy on me, Parker!" he snapped. "Now get out of here, you nit-wits! Quit wasting my time, and go enjoy the rest of your vacation!"

The three of us saluted him. "Yes, sir!" we laughed.

As James, Meowth, and I shouldered our backpacks and began heading for the exit, I looked at the boss from the corner of my eye. Now that he thought we weren't watching him, I could see that he had a genuine smile on his face. And even though he thought we were out of earshot, I could hear him whispering, "You're welcome...my friends...."

Chapter 5 -- Another Family Reunion

"So, dis is it?" Meowth asked.

I looked out the window of the Jeep and smiled. "Yeah, this is it," I replied. "Momma's hometown...."

After battling Giovanni and winning our Earth Badges this morning, James and I had taken our pokemon to the Viridian Pokemon Center to be revitalized. And after filling the Jeep with gas, we'd left the city and enjoyed a leisurely drive through the Kanto countryside. We'd been on the road for a little over half an hour, and we'd just arrived in Opal Ridge.

About twenty miles northwest of Viridian City, Opal Ridge was a small town nestled among the foothills of the Cobalt Mountains and the western reaches of the Viridian Forest. The town had been built around the forest rather than over it, and thick, lush evergreens and deciduous trees that had shed their leaves for the winter lined the streets and parking lots and filled every yard. To the north and west, the hazy blue mountains dominated the horizons. The cliff faces seemed to glimmer with an iridescent sheen, making it easy to see how the town had gotten its name. Like most small Kanto towns, there were shops, restaurants, old houses, and even a pokemon center in the downtown area, and newer houses could be found on the outskirts. Just about the only thing the town didn't have was a pokemon gym.

I felt my eyes misting over with tears as we drove by the local cemetery -- the place where momma and daddy were buried. This town would have a gym -- my momma's gym -- if things had turned out differently.... I said to myself.

Ever in tune with my moods, James reached over and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. "It's okay, honey," he assured me. He cast a quick glance at the cemetery before turning his attention back to the road. "That may be where their bodies are, but their souls are still with you."

I looked back at him and smiled again. "I know," I whispered. "I know...."

Sensing that things were becoming too somber, Meowth quickly brushed away the tears that were filling his own eyes and changed the subject. "So, where's yer grandparents' house, Jess?"

I reached into my purse and brought out the piece of paper where I'd written the directions that grandma and pop-pop had given me. "It says we're supposed to follow 27th Street east to 24th Street and make a left," I began.

James started to slow down and switched on the left blinker as we approached a stoplight. "This is 24th Street here. Where do we go now?"

When the light became green and James made his turn, I consulted the directions again. "We follow 24 north, and about three miles out of town, we're going to find a road called the Blue Mountain Parkway. We make a right there and follow that road east for another three miles. Then, we turn south on a little side-street called Stony Creek Drive. We follow that road until we come to a bridge over a little creek, and their driveway is the first right after the bridge."

"Sounds simple enough," James replied.

As we followed the road north out of town and turned east onto the Blue Mountain Parkway, I went back to admiring the scenery. And as I looked out the window, I suddenly found myself thinking about momma again. Had she hung out in the shops and restaurants in town...waded in the creeks that came down from the mountains...explored the forests, hills, and meadows around the town during her childhood? How different growing up here must have been from the slums of Viridian City where I was born and raised! And this, in turn, made me wonder what it would've been like if I'd been able to grow up here as well. I know that momma had hated living in the city and that she'd wanted to go home to her family and raise me in a place like this. If only her foolish pride had allowed it.

At length, we came to a narrow cobblestone road marked as Stony Creek Drive. After turning onto the road and heading south for about half a mile, we crossed the bridge over the creek and found a shellrock driveway hidden among the trees. A green mailbox with the words, "Parker 2696" written on it stood next to the driveway's entrance.

"This is it!" I exclaimed.

James smiled at me and turned onto the driveway. It wound south and west through the forest for another quarter of a mile and ended at a two-story house made of brown bricks. The house had a wide front porch that wrapped partway around the sides, and dormer windows jutted from the mottled shingle roof. Behind the house, I could see an expansive Japanese-style garden.

"So, this is the house where momma grew up," I whispered.

"Nice place," Meowth remarked.

When James pulled up to the house and parked the Jeep, the front door opened, and grandma and pop-pop came out to greet us. As soon as the vehicle came to a stop, I took off my seatbelt, jumped out, and ran to them.

"Hey! There's my pretty girl!" pop-pop exclaimed. I couldn't help but laugh as he swept me into an embrace, lifted me off of the ground, and spun me around a couple of times.

I gave pop-pop a kiss on the cheek when he set me down again. "That's what grandpa Rochester calls me, too."

"Well, I hope Ahearn doesn't have a monopoly on that nickname," pop-pop chuckled. He gave my nose a gentle tweak. "Because you are a pretty girl!"

"Yes, you are," grandma agreed as she came to my side. She placed one of her hands to my cheek and turned me to face her. "You're even more beautiful in person, Jessie."

I gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, too. "Hi, grandma."

After grandma returned my kiss, I stepped back for a moment to get a better look at her and pop-pop. Grandma was a small, slender woman with delicate features and clear, smooth skin that almost made her look like a porcelain doll. Her almond-shaped eyes were a deep shade of amethyst-purple, and her long, purplish-black hair was piled atop her head in an elaborate bun and held in place by pins and jeweled combs. She was dressed in a kimono made of light green silk with white roses printed on it. By contrast, pop-pop was a tall, muscular man. He was slim as well, but his build was much more solid than grandma's. His eyes were a brilliant blue-green color, and his long, crimson hair was pulled back in a ponytail that had a slight curl at the end. He was dressed in a green flannel shirt with a faded pair of blue jeans, and he had a pair of black and brown work boots on his feet. Except for a few streaks of white in their hair and a few subtle wrinkles around their eyes and mouths, they looked young for their age. And now that I saw them in person, I saw that momma had been a perfect combination of the two of them -- she'd had pop-pop's eyes and grandma's porcelain skin, hair that was closer to pop-pop's in style and grandma's in color, and a frame that was somewhere between pop-pop's tall, muscular build and grandma's petite one. Like the time I'd first met my granny and grandpa Rochester, I had a warm feeling of familiarity on the inside. It was comforting to meet my family and see firsthand where I'd come from.

When James and Meowth finished bringing our luggage from the hatch of the Jeep, they came to my side. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Parker," James said, extending his hand.

Grandma and pop-pop shook his hand. "We're pleased to meet you too, James," they replied. They smiled at the cat. "And you, Meowth."

Meowth nodded. "Thanks for invitin' us ta stay with ya -- you've got a real nice place."

Grandma gave him a slight bow. "Thank you, Meowth."

Pop-pop took our backpacks from James and Meowth. "Come on. Let's go inside. Once you three get settled in, we'll have some lunch."

"Sounds good to me!" I told them.

As we went through the front door, James, Meowth, and I found ourselves standing in a small foyer. To our right was a doorway that led to the master bedroom, and to our left was the living room. In front of us, there was a small powder room and a staircase. The exterior walls were made of the same mottled brown brick as the outside of the house, and the interior walls were painted a warm almond color. The floors were made of smooth, golden planks of birdseye maple.

"Musashi and I sleep in this big bedroom down here, but you three will be staying upstairs," pop-pop informed us as he began heading up the stairs.

When we followed him and grandma to the second floor, we saw bedrooms on the eastern and western gable ends of the house, a bathroom in the north central dormer, and a library and office area with a computer in the south central dormer on the other side of the staircase. Just like downstairs, the walls were painted almond, and the floor was made of birdseye maple.

"This is my sewing room, but it also doubles as a guest room when we have company," grandma said as she went to the bedroom on the west side of the hallway. She opened the door and revealed a room that had light mint-green walls and a cream-colored rug decorated with Japanese flowers and symbols on the wooden floor. Behind a Japanese changing screen in the north dormer of the room was an oak desk that had a sewing machine on it, and near the southern dormer was a futon-style bed. A collection of Japanese folding fans with pictures of flowers, animals, and landscapes on them hung on the walls, and light green curtains decorated with Japanese floral designs covered the windows.

"How beautiful!" I breathed.

Pop-pop wrapped his arms around grandma's waist and gave her a kiss. "'Sash decorated it herself -- she's got good taste!"

Grandma blushed and returned his kiss. Then, to Meowth, "You'll be staying in here."

"Cool!" Meowth exclaimed. He took his backpack and went into the room. "A cat could get used ta dis!" he sighed contentedly as he flopped onto the futon and stretched himself out.

Suddenly, one of the poke balls on my belt popped open, and Wobbuffet emerged. Hey, can I stay in here, too? he asked.

I placed my hand atop the blue pokemon's head. "Of course you can!"

All right! Wobbuffet cheered. He saluted me and seated himself next to Meowth on the futon.

Pop-pop chuckled at the two pokemon for a moment before turning his attention back to me and James. "Ahearn and Miriel told us that you two stayed in Dorian's old room while you were visiting with them...so we figured you'd like to stay in Miya's old room while you're here with us."

My heart skipped a beat at the prospect of getting to see my momma's old room. I'd enjoyed staying in daddy's room while I'd visited with granny and grandpa. Granted, it had been a little sad, but at the same time it had been comforting to sleep where he'd once slept...to go through his things and learn more about what kind of person he'd been. I knew that it would be the same with momma now. "You figured right!"

He and grandma smiled again. "Then follow us!"

With that, they led me and James to the bedroom on the east side of the hallway. The walls in momma's room were painted a light purple color, the shade of larkspur, and black curtains decorated with jewel-toned butterflies of fuschia, purple, blue, green, and gold hung in the windows. A full-sized bed with purple sheets and a patchwork quilt decorated with hearts and flowers was against the western wall, and along the eastern wall were a dresser, an armoire, and a dressing table made of oak. In the dormers on the north and south ends of the room were oak shelves filled with books, figurines, dolls, and various other things that momma had collected during her life. Paintings of wizards and dragons hung on the walls, and on the nightstand next to the bed was a photograph of daddy in an antique brass frame with ornate rose designs on it.

I went to the nightstand and picked up the photograph. Daddy was dressed in his trademark denim jacket, black t-shirt, faded jeans, and scuffed black cowboy boots, and he had his arms folded across his chest as he leaned against one of the columns on the front porch of the Parker house. The wind was blowing his long, phlox-colored hair, and there was a rakish smile on his lips and a glimmer in his sapphire eyes. The pose he was in and the expression on his face reminded me of James whenever he was in one of his mischievous moods. "Daddy," I whispered as I ran my fingers along the glass.

Grandma came to my side and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Your mom took that picture in the summer of 1980, just before she entered the Johto League. Dorian had come to stay with us for a few days before he and Miya resumed their travels." She winked at me. "He was such a handsome young man...and so smart and sweet, too -- all of the Rochesters are wonderful. Jesse and I were very happy when Dorian and Miya became a couple, just as we're happy for you and James now."

I blushed.

Pop-pop gave grandma another kiss. "Come on, love. Let's let these two get settled in."

Grandma nodded. Then, to me and James, "What would you like for lunch?"

"Anything is fine by us," James replied.

"How do soup and salads sound?" she inquired.

"Great!" James and I chorused.

After grandma and pop-pop took their leave, James and I unpacked some of our clothes and other belongings and changed out of our new Team Rocket uniforms. James put on a pair of blue jeans and a green tunic-top, and I put on a pair of jeans and a black midriff sweater with three-quarter length sleeves. Once we freshened up in the bathroom (which was painted aqua and had an ocean motif), we got Meowth and Wobbuffet and went to join my grandparents for lunch.

I hadn't gotten a good look at the downstairs when we'd first come inside, but now, I saw that the living room was decorated with an incongruous yet harmonious mixture of east and west. Paintings of castles, standing stones, waterfalls, and lush green landscapes on the Irish countryside hung next to Japanese paintings of courtesans, animals, flowers, and landscapes on the walls, and an Oriental rug and an oak coffee table carved with ornate Celtic spirals were in the center of the room, surrounded by an overstuffed couch, loveseat, and reclining chair upholstered in a purple, green, and peach floral fabric. An entertainment center and stereo system were along the east wall next to the staircase, and in the southwest corner of the room was a fireplace with a light peach-colored cobblestone hearth and mantle. Against the western wall, next to a window framed by floral drapes that matched the furniture, was a glass case. When I looked closer, I saw that the case was filled with all of the trophies momma had won at Orange League, Indigo League, the 1980 Whirl Cup, Johto League, and various other regional competitions. All of her Orange League, Indigo League, and Johto League badges were in the case as well, along with her diploma from Pokemon Tech and all of the plaques, trophies, and other awards she'd won during her time at the school. There were also photographs of momma at her graduation ceremony and the closing ceremonies of all the league finals and other tournaments she'd competed in.

"Wow! Momma sure did win a lot of stuff," I remarked as I studied the contents of the case.

"Heh. I bet Ash would shit his pants if he saw all of Miyamoto's badges and trophies!" Meowth snickered.

Now James was snickering, too. "No doubt!"

"Ah. I see you're admiring the Wall of Fame." I looked and saw that pop-pop had come to my side.

I nodded. "I was just commenting on what a great trainer momma was."

"Yes. Miya was a real champion," he agreed.

I looked again at all of her badges and trophies and smiled wistfully. "Almost makes me feel like a dud by comparison...."

"Don't you dare talk that way about yourself, Jessie!" pop-pop interjected. He closed his hands over my shoulders. "You may not have won any league championships, but I hear you and your friends have won a lot of badges and even a regional fire pokemon tournament. That's certainly nothing to sneeze at."

"He's right, you know," James told me.

"Besides," he continued, "it's not how well you do against other people that truly measures your worth -- it's how hard you work to attain your goals and what you learn along the way that really matters. It's true that Miya won a lot of battles and championships during her time, but it was all of the work she did and all of the lessons she learned that made her a champion. And I see that same wisdom, determination, and work-ethic in you and your friends. You would make your mother very proud, Jessie...just as you make me and your grandma proud. Don't ever doubt that. Not even for a second!"

I felt tears stinging my eyes as I listened to his words. I closed one of my hands over his and smiled at him. "Thank, you."

He winked at me. "Don't mention it. Now come on. Lunch is just about ready."

I looked towards the kitchen and saw grandma bringing the food to the table. Pop-pop went back to the kitchen, brought some bowls and silverware from the cupboards, and started setting the table. James, Meowth, and I joined them as grandma started ladling the miso soup into some of the bowls, making sure that everybody got plenty of scallions, seaweed, tofu, and shitake mushrooms with their broth. Meanwhile, pop-pop started serving the salad and topping it with fresh ginger dressing.

"Dis all looks so delicious!" Meowth told them.

James nodded. "Yes. Thanks again, Mr. and Mrs. Parker."

"You're welcome," grandma replied. "I made the soup from scratch, using fresh mushrooms and scallions from our garden. And all of the vegetables in the salad are from our garden, too."

I licked my lips. "Sounds wonderful!"

As we all seated ourselves at the table, I looked around at the dining room. Along the back wall was a pair of French doors that led to the garden behind the house. Through the glass panes, I could see a stone path, a little stream with a waterfall cascading down a rock formation, and all kinds of trees and bushes. It reminded me of the Japanese garden in the vision that Ayesha had shown me of my grandma when she was a child. Beyond the botanical garden, I could see another garden where vegetables and herbs were growing.

Turning my attention back to the interior of the house, I saw a pair of pictures hanging on the east wall of the dining room. The first was a photograph of momma when she was a child, sitting next to the waterfall in the garden behind the house. She was wearing a blue sundress, and her long, purple hair was pulled into a ponytail that cascaded all the way down her back. Her turquoise eyes were shining, and she was smiling from ear to ear as she held a plush Dratini in her tiny hands. She couldn't have been any older than two or three. The second picture was a wedding cross-stitch similar to the one that granny and grandpa had in their living room. It had a pair of cardinals building a nest in the branches of a pine tree. The two birds were holding a length of red ribbon that formed the shape of a heart. Beneath the image, in a curving brushscript font, were the words:

Two hearts become one.
Jesse Declan Parker
Musashi Matsuki
March 3, 1962

"Those pictures are beautiful," I said. "Momma was such an adorable little girl...and it's so cool that you got married on Princess Day!"

Grandma blushed. "Hina Matsuri was my favorite holiday when I was a girl. There were always dolls, and new kimonos, and parties, and feasts, and I got to drink a delicious sweet rice wine called shirozake." She reached over and took pop-pop by the hand. "But Jesse, here, gave me the best reason of all to love that day!"

"How did the two of you meet, anyway?" I inquired. "I've heard that you used to be a princess, grandma...and that you gave up your life of privilege to be with pop-pop. I'd love to hear more -- it sounds so romantic!"

"Yes. I'd love to hear the story myself," James agreed.

Grandma and pop-pop exchanged smiles and nodded.

"Well, for me, this all started in the fall of 1961," pop-pop began. "I'd just graduated from high school the previous spring. For generations, the people in my family have been poor farmers, but my parents had wanted more for me and my younger sister, Melissa. They worked hard and saved up as much money as possible so that we could go to college. But I'd worked hard in school, and I'd earned a scholarship...a scholarship that gave me the opportunity to study abroad for a semester. I'd never gotten a chance to travel before then -- I'd been too busy with schoolwork to go on a pokemon journey when I was a boy, and my family had never had the time or money for vacations -- so it was too good to pass up! I decided to go to a university in Tokyo, and that September, I set off for Japan."

"For me, the story begins a few months earlier -- December of 1960," grandma said, picking up the narrative. "When I turned sixteen, my parents began speaking of marriage and searching for a man who'd make a suitable husband for me. They ended up choosing a young man named Kenji, who was the son of another noble family in my parents' social circle." She winced. "It was hate at first sight -- he was snobby and arrogant and had such a condescending attitude towards women...and to make matters worse, he was ugly, fat, and pimply, too!"

I shuddered. "How lovely."

"Yeah. I was real impressed," grandma snorted. "After my first meeting with Kenji, I told my parents that I didn't love him, but they wouldn't listen to me. They assured me that I'd grow to love him and announced our engagement. They also made me continue to visit Kenji every week so that we could get to know each other better. The matchmaker that helped our parents arrange the marriage -- the nakodo -- was there to act as a chaperone during the visits...which is a good thing, since Kenji was also something of a pervert, but it was still intolerable."

"I'll bet," James remarked. "I had a fiance from hell when I was a boy, too."

"After a few months, I began staging a silent rebellion against my parents," grandma continued. "I started sneaking out of my room at night and going to the city. I wanted to be wild and crazy and live my life to the fullest before having to marry that awful man...and that was how I met Jesse."

"I'd been in Japan for about a month when I first met Musashi," said pop-pop. "It was early October. The term at university had just begun, and I'd been in the library all day, working on an assignment for my literature class. I was feeling pretty burnt-out, so I was on my way downtown to unwind and get a cup of coffee before hitting the books again. That was when I ran into her...literally."

Grandma giggled. "Jesse wasn't watching where he was going because he was so tired, and I wasn't watching where I was going because I was looking over my shoulder and making sure I wasn't being followed, and the two of us crashed into each other. He was almost a foot taller than I was, and quite a bit heavier, so I ended up getting knocked to the ground." She smiled at pop-pop again. "When Jesse saw what he'd done, he kept saying gomen nasai -- excuse me, pardon me -- in broken Japanese over and over again. He helped me to my feet and started dusting off my kimono, and then he started apologizing again because he'd just remembered that it's considered extremely rude to touch a stranger unbidden in Japan. I remember, his face turned about as red as his hair, and he just shook his head and said, You probably think I'm a complete jackass now...."

Pop-pop returned grandma's smile. "I was totally humiliated -- here was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, and in the space of a few seconds, I'd done some of the most stupid and impolite things I could possibly do. I just wanted to run away, get my coffee, and get back to my schoolwork, but when I apologized one last time and tried to go, she held me back. Then, she smiled at me -- she had the most amazing smile, the way it made her whole face light up -- and she told me in perfect English, You're not a jackass. I think you're very cute. I was blown away that she could understand me and even more blown away that she wasn't offended by what I'd done!"

"Of course I wasn't offended!" grandma told him. "I knew full well that it had only been an accident and that you were trying to be polite. And I meant what I said -- you were very cute...and you still are!"

Pop-pop blushed.

"Jesse and I got to talking after that," grandma went on. "He bought me a coffee when he got some for himself because he still felt bad about bumping into me, and he told me that he was at university on scholarship. I thought he was really sweet, and I wanted to spend more time with him, so I offered to help him with his assignment. We ended up going to his dorm room, and after I helped him with his Japanese, we just talked for hours. I loved hearing about Kanto, and it was so refreshing to spend time with somebody who actually listened to what I had to say and respected me -- he couldn't have been more different from Kenji! I enjoyed myself so much that I wanted to see him again, so we made arrangements to meet at least a couple of times a week."

"It went on like that for about five months," said pop-pop. "Musashi and I would meet at the library or the coffee shop, and we'd spend the evening together -- I even took her out for dinner on her seventeenth birthday!"

"The time I spent with Jesse was wonderful," grandma sighed. "But at the same time, it was making my weekly visits with Kenji...and the prospect of marrying him all the more unbearable! I was falling in love with Jesse, but I knew that he was going to be leaving when his semester at university was over, and the prospect of never seeing him again broke my heart!" Her expression became grim. "It was the second of March when things finally came to a head. I'd been taken for my Friday night visit to Kenji. While we were in the garden at his house, the nakodo was called away for a minute to speak with Kenji's parents...and once the chaperone was gone, he got fresh with me. He started pawing at me and talking about how he wanted to practice for our wedding night and teach me how to satisfy him...."

James frowned. "Sounds like my ex-fiance -- she tried to seduce me the last time I saw her. I didn't let her, and she's in prison now, so hopefully I'll never see her again...but it was still a revolting experience."

I felt my stomach tying itself in knots. "Ugh. Sounds like my ex-boyfriends, too," I grumbled. I rapped my knuckles against the oak table. "Thank goodness they lost interest and dumped me when I refused to have sex with them. James is the only one I've ever been with."

James wrapped an arm around my waist. "And Jessie is the only one I've ever been with."

Grandma nodded approvingly. "I wasn't about to let Kenji have his way with me, either. When he tried to undress me and grabbed at my breasts, I smashed his face with a right hook and told him, Kuso shite shinezo! -- Die shitting!" A mischievous grin made its way across her lips. "That's one of the most vulgar things you can say to somebody in Japanese...and when you consider that women aren't even allowed to utter mild oaths like darn it -- especially not in the higher social circles, and especially not back in 1962 -- well, you can imagine how scandalous something like that was!"

Meowth snickered and brought out his notepad. "Heh. Die shittin'. I'm gonna hafta remember dat one for the next time we see the twerp!" He winked at grandma. "Dat kicks ass!"

Grandma laughed, but quickly became serious again. "Well, Kenji certainly wasn't amused by it. In fact, he got so angry that he hit me right back! Gave me a bloody nose, he did. And he was about to strike me again when the chaperone returned. She demanded to know what was going on, and when we explained ourselves, she was so disgusted that she took me straight home. Luckily, she felt that Kenji was more out of line than I'd been, so she went to my parents and tried to convince them that he wasn't good marriage material, after all. Mother was distraught about what he'd done, and she agreed that calling off the wedding would be the best thing to do, but father was more upset about what I'd done. He was worried that my use of violence and vulgarity would bring dishonor to our family, so he thought it was more important than ever to work things out with Kenji since he was sure nobody else would want to marry me after the way I'd behaved."

James rolled his eyes. "My parents were just like your father -- everything I did was improper to them. That's a big reason they engaged me to Jessiebelle -- they thought she could teach me manners and turn me into the kind of person they wanted me to be. I don't think they even understood what a psychotic freak she was...."

Grandma shook her head and sighed again. "Yes, there was no telling father -- he just wouldn't listen to reason. When he was adamant that the wedding was still on and that I should apologize to Kenji, I made a decision. I knew that the semester at university had just ended and that Jesse would be going home to Kanto the next day. I'd already resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't be with him and that I had to marry Kenji...but there was one thing I was determined that Kenji could never have. So, after everybody in the house had retired for the night, I snuck out of my room and went to the city to see Jesse one last time."

As her voice trailed off, pop-pop picked up the narrative again. "I was packing my belongings when Musashi came to my dorm room. I wasn't expecting to see her again since we'd already said our good-byes and promised to keep in touch the previous night, but before I could ask what she was doing, she silenced me with a kiss. Then, she let her hair down and took off the green robe that she was wearing and asked me to make love to her. I couldn't deny that I'd wanted to, practically since the day I'd met her...and I wasn't about to refuse when she was standing right there and inviting me!" He smiled sheepishly and blushed again. "I'll spare you the details since I'm sure you don't want to hear all about your grandparents' first time together, but I will say that it was wonderful." He paused for a moment and took grandma by the hand. "But when it was over and I was holding Musashi in my arms, she started to cry. I was worried that I'd hurt her or done something wrong...or that she was having regrets about what we'd just shared, so I asked her what was the matter."

"I assured Jesse that he'd been perfect and that I had no regrets about what we'd done," said grandma. "But when he brushed my tears away, he smeared my make-up and saw the bruise on my face where Kenji had struck me. That was when I told him the whole story -- that I was a princess, that my parents had engaged me to a man that I hated, about what Kenji had tried to do, that I'd come to him because I wanted to give my virginity to a kind, gentle man who respected me and have just one good night of love before resigning myself to a loveless marriage...everything...."

Pop-pop brought grandma's hand to his lips and kissed it. "When she finished telling me her story, 'Sash started crying again. She said she loved me and didn't want to live her life without me. So, I told her not to marry Kenji -- I asked her to come home with me and be my wife instead. There was no way in hell I was going to leave her behind after what we'd just shared...and I wasn't about to stand by and let her marry somebody who hit her! When I heard about what that bastard had done, I wanted to kill him!"

Grandma smiled again. "Jesse warned me that his family was poor and that I wouldn't be living like a princess anymore if I came with him. But he promised to love me and treat me with respect and never do anything to hurt me. I didn't even have to think about it -- my answer was yes!

"After making our plans, I went back home to get some of my belongings," she went on. "While I was packing some clothes and jewelry and a few keepsakes, my mother came to my room. She'd been unable to sleep because of what had happened with Kenji, and she'd wanted to talk to me about it. She was shocked to find me getting ready to run away, and I was afraid she was going to stop me...but she didn't. When I told her that Jesse and I were in love and that he'd asked me to marry him...she gave us her blessings. She told me that even though her marriage to my father had been arranged, she'd been lucky because she was in love with him, and he with her. She'd hoped that it would be the same for me and Kenji, but now that she knew what he was really like, she knew that seeing me marry a man that I loved was more important than the family's honor or putting up a good face. Mother wished all the best for me and Jesse and promised that she wouldn't let father or the servants or anybody else find out what I'd done or where I'd gone...at least not until we were out of their reach, anyway," She brushed away the tears that were filling her amethyst eyes. "I've always been grateful to mother for what she did for me and Jesse. That's why we named our daughter after her when she was born. Yes, my mother's name was Miyamoto. We gave our daughter that name to remind us...."

"Musashi and I met up again shortly before dawn," pop-pop continued as grandma's voice trailed off. "We eloped that morning, and when I caught the boat back to Kanto, she was with me." He paused for a moment and chuckled. "Mom, dad, and Melissa were shocked to see me coming home with a wife -- I was only eighteen, and 'Sash had just turned seventeen, after all -- but they were happy for us. My family adored Musashi, and she got along really well with them, too. Since we didn't have a place of our own, we lived with my parents for another few years while I finished my education at a university in Viridian City. Musashi stayed at home and helped mom and dad on their farm while I attended class, and when Miya was born at the beginning of my senior year, it was nice living at home so that she could be with her grandparents and her aunt. I graduated with honors in the spring of 1965, and my parents gave me the northernmost ten acres of their property as a graduation present. That's when Musashi and I built this house -- it took about a year and a half of hard work, but we were moved in by the Christmas of 1966."

"I was so happy," grandma told us. "I loved Jesse more and more every day, his family was wonderful, and my little Miya was the light of my life. But I still couldn't help but feel a little homesick. So, in the spring of 1967, after the snow melted, Jesse made that beautiful Japanese garden in the back yard for me!" She nodded to the picture of momma that was hanging on the wall. "That picture was taken later that summer. Miya was about two and a half."

"We've lived quite well here," pop-pop concluded. "Even with my college degree, I didn't really want to get any fancy business job in the city -- I was happier staying in the country and continuing to work the land with my family, the same as I'd always done. Granted, money was tight when we sent Miya to Pokemon Tech, but it was worth it. I'd always regretted that I'd never been able to go on a pokemon journey, so when Miya told us that she wanted to be a pokemon trainer, Musashi and I were determined to do everything we could to help her make her dream come true. We just worked extra hard and saved up as much money as we could, the way my parents had done for me and Melissa, and Musashi sold some of her jewelry so that we could afford the tuition. And Miya didn't let us down -- she worked hard in school and got a scholarship the way I did, and she made the most of her education. We were always very proud of her...and we still are."

"And even the tale of my parents has something of a happy ending," grandma added. "About six years ago, I received a letter from my mother. Father had just turned eighty, and he was on his death-bed. He'd disowned me after he discovered that I'd run away from home to marry a penniless farmer from a foreign land, but once he knew that the end was near, and he looked back on his life, he realized that he'd been wrong. He wanted me to come home so that he could make peace with me and give his blessings to me and Jesse before it was too late. So, Jesse and I went to Japan to see my parents. Sure enough, father told me that he loved me and asked me for forgiveness, and he wished all the best for me and Jesse. After he passed away, he left everything to me. Mother didn't want to live by herself in the palace once father was gone, and Jesse and I didn't want to move, so we donated it to charity -- it's now a school and day care center for underprivileged children. Jesse and I used some of the money I'd inherited to make repairs on our house and update some of the decor. Then, we did some traveling, and we invested the rest of it. And mother came with us when we returned to Kanto -- she went to live with Jesse's mom, since she'd just lost her husband three years before. Mother regretted that she'd never gotten to meet the granddaughter who'd been named after her...or her great-granddaughter, since we all thought you were dead, too, but she never once regretted letting me follow my heart. We took her back to Japan to be buried next to father when she died three years later, but I'm glad she was able to live with us for a time...that I got to see her again and reconcile with my family before it was too late."

I brushed away the tears that were welling up in my own eyes. "That's such a sweet story," I whispered.

My grandparents smiled at me.

"I remember, when Jesse and I told Miya the story of how we met, she said, Wow! You saved mom from that awful man! You're a hero, daddy!" grandma chuckled. She gave pop-pop another kiss. "Miya and Jesse had always been really close, and that story made her admire her daddy even more -- she even promised to name her first child after him!" She reached across the table and touched my cheek. "And she did."

I closed my right hand over grandma's, and with my left, I reached across the table and placed it atop one of pop-pop's hands. "I've always liked my name," I told them. "And now that I know what a wonderful person I was named after, I like it even more."

Their smiles widened when I said this.

Suddenly, however, pop-pop looked down at my left hand. He seemed to be studying the promise ring that I was wearing.

I raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"This ring," he replied. "Where did you get it?"

"It's a promise ring. James made it for me last fall. He didn't make the band himself, but he did carve the amberite stone in the setting and inscribe the words on it," I said.

"May I have a closer look?"

I nodded.

Pop-pop took the ring from my finger and studied it a moment longer. Then, he showed it to grandma, and her eyes went wide.

"James, where did you get the band for this ring?" she asked.

James blushed. "Last October, Jessie, Meowth, and I were in Katalia City. We were reenacting some of the great robberies of the Black Arachnid -- one of Jessie's favorite historical figures. I...found that ring in one of the mansions that we robbed. It looked like it was Jessie's size, and I loved the design, so I held on to it and used it to make a pre-engagement ring for her. Why do you ask?"

"Because this is my ring," grandma answered. She held it out to me and pointed to a series of kanji characters faintly inscribed on the inside of the band. "That's my name, and I recognize this design -- a petite golden band with tiny peach blossoms engraved along the edges. My parents gave me that ring for my fifteenth birthday. It was one of my favorite pieces of jewelry, but I had to sell it when Jesse and I needed money to send Miya to Pokemon Tech...and we sold it to a rich old lady from Katalia City, if I recall correctly...."

Now my eyes were wide, too. "Oh...my...god...."

James placed a hand to his mouth. "Holy shit. What are the odds?"

"Better den ya think, I'd say," Meowth commented. "I guess now we know why ya thought dat ring was so perfect for Jess when ya saw it!"

Grandma's smile became a grin. "I was happy that my ring gave us enough money to send Miya to school, but there was always a little part of me that missed it. If I'd kept it, I would have passed it on to Miya or you." She took my left hand in hers and placed the ring back on my finger. "And now that it's back in our family, I really can pass it on. This ring is yours now, Jessie. I'm happy that James was able to find it for you and make it into something even more special than it already was."

Tears filled my eyes again as I looked from the ring, to my grandparents, to James. A thousand different thoughts were racing through my mind, but ironically enough, I was at a loss for words.

James wrapped an arm around me. "I'm glad I found it, too. I'll admit that stealing it was wrong, but it's better off with people who appreciate it and have a sentimental investment in it than somebody who doesn't need it and didn't seem to want it in the first place. When I came across that ring, it was buried beneath a mountain of junk in some bottom drawer. It's like whoever bought it just did so because they wanted another trinket to add to their collection and then tossed it aside and forgot all about it the second the novelty wore off. I'd be genuinely surprised if they even knew it was gone."

"Damn straight!" Meowth agreed. He smiled up at me and James. "Ya know, I bet dis is another a dose meant ta be things dat yer always talkin' about, Jess! I think Jimmy was meant ta find dat ring cuz you was meant ta have it!"

I couldn't help but smile. The cat had just put to words exactly what I was thinking! "You're right, Meowth. You're absolutely right!" I looked again at the ring with a newfound appreciation for what it was and where it had come from. It was already my favorite piece of jewelry, but now I'd treasure it all the more. "It's kind of like The One Ring, always managing to be found so that it could make its way back to its true owner," I mused.

"Yes, it is," James concurred. He leaned closer and touched his mouth to mine. "Only there's nothing evil about this ring...and its owner is an angel who brings happiness to all around her."

I gave him a playful shove. "There you go, being a flatterer again!"

"Just telling the truth, angel," James replied.

"He's right, you know -- you're our angel," pop-pop agreed.

"And you've certainly made us very happy," grandma chimed in.

I smiled again at my grandparents and my best friends. I knew that they were right -- this was all meant to be!


After lunch, grandma and pop-pop took us outside. They showed us the botanical garden, their vegetable garden, their greenhouse, and their orchard of fruit trees, and we all went for a walk along the paths through the woods on their land. When we returned to the house, we spent the afternoon swapping stories. I got to hear more about momma's childhood, and I told them about things momma and I had done together when I was a child, how I'd met James and Meowth, how James and I had become a couple, more about all of the changes that had been going on with our jobs, and how we'd won the Earth Badge this morning. We also showed them our videotape of the Entertainment Tonight and eleven o' clock news segments about the twerps crashing uncle Brad's show. Grandma and pop-pop hated Ash as much as we did (especially when they learned that he was the son of the notorious Ash Hull Ketchum that had hassled my parents when they were on their pokemon journey), so they nearly fell out of their seats laughing at the footage of granny and grandpa beating the living shit out of him and Misty. And after that, they enjoyed getting to see the tape of my weather girl segments. We'd made a dub of the tapes for them while we were in Pallet, so they were happy to receive copies of their own. (Grandma considered it a belated birthday present.)

By the time we were finished watching the tapes, it was getting late, so pop-pop decided to get dinner started. He made roasted chicken breasts in a honey and whiskey sauce and served them with seasoned red potatoes and more fresh garden salads. There was even a caramel apple cake for dessert!

While we were eating, pop-pop explained that the cake recipie had been in his mother's family for generations, and that she'd taught him how to make it when he was a boy. And he'd made up the chicken recipie himself. When he and grandma had used some of her inheritance money for traveling, one of the places they'd visited was Ireland. Pop-pop's ancestors had come from County Kerry and County Clare, on the island's southwest coast, and he'd wanted to see the lands himself. (I loved getting to hear about their trip to Ireland -- the Emerald Isle sounded every bit as beautiful and magical as the stories and legends make it out to be...and it was an opportunity for me to learn more about my family, too. James was extremely interested in the story as well, since some of his grand-mama and grand-papa's ancestors had come from County Galway and County Mayo, which were also on Ireland's west coast. Perhaps one day we'd travel there ourselves!) While they were in Ireland, grandma and pop-pop had eaten a lot of dishes that had been flavored with whiskey, so pop-pop had decided to experiment with it when they returned home. The chicken dish he'd made for us was one of the results. I'd never eaten anything flavored with whiskey before, but it was delicious -- the chicken was succulent, and the honey's sweetness provided the perfect balance for the sourness of the whiskey. It was so good that James even asked for the recipie!

After dinner and dessert, we helped my grandparents clean up the kitchen and watched a couple of DVDs with them. When the movies ended, all of us were feeling pretty tired, so we said our good-nights, and James, Meowth, and I went upstairs.

Once James and I had taken a shower and returned to momma's room, we decided to check our e-mail before going to bed. Gary had said he was going to talk to his grandpa today and promised to let us know how it went...and we wanted to e-mail him as well and let him know how we were doing!

While James was booting up our laptop, I took the opportunity to explore momma's room a little. On the top shelf of one of her bookcases, there was an arrangement of plush pokemon toys (including the little Dratini from the photo that had been taken of her when she was two), a wooden ninja doll like the one she'd carved for me (perhaps grandma had made this doll for her when she was little), and a pair of music boxes. I'd always loved music boxes, and I knew that momma had, too, so I couldn't resist taking them from the shelf to play them. The first music box had a glittery snow globe with a pair of porcelain Rapidashes in it on top. On the underside of the box, next to the crank, was an inscription that read, To Miya, the love of my life. From, Dorian. Christmas, 1980. When I turned the crank, the music box began to play the tune of John Lennon's song, Imagine.

A smile made its way across my lips as I shook the globe and watched the glitter rain down around the two nuzzling Rapidashes while the melody played. This was a really sweet present, daddy, I said to myself. I'm sure momma loved it almost as much as she loved you....

When the music box wound down, I placed it back on the shelf and looked at the second one. It was a heart-shaped box made of cream-colored porcelain with a bouquet of pink roses painted on the lid. Opening the box, I found a little note that read: 12-9-80 To a very special daughter on a very special day. Happy sweet sixteenth, Miya! Love, mom and dad. The underside of the box's lid had the crank and the musical apparatus, and on the bottom of the box's interior, a poem was painted in pink brushscript lettering:

A daughter brings a special joy
that comes from deep inside.
As she becomes a woman,
she fills your heart with pride.
With every year that passes,
she means more than before.
Through every stage, at every age,
you love her even more.

The song that the music box played when I turned the crank was vaguely familiar to me (I recognized the melody, but I couldn't think of the title or how it went), and hearing it gave me a warm feeling on the inside. Had momma stood here in her room twenty-one years ago, playing these music boxes and thinking of her family and friends, the way I was doing now?

"Jessie?" The sound of James's voice stirred me from my reverie.

I looked back at him. "Yeah?"

"I was saying, we got an e-mail from Gary," he told me. He smiled. "You were really getting into those music boxes, weren't you?"

I brushed away the tears that I felt welling up in my eyes. "Yeah. They were making me think about momma and daddy."

"Well, I think you'll like what Gary has to say," James said, getting back on-subject. He turned the computer so that I could read the e-mail as I came to his side.

And he was right -- I was very happy to hear Gary's news! He had, indeed, talked to his grandpa today, and he'd been every bit as supportive of Gary and understanding of our situation as David and Clarice. Gary also told us that Professor Oak had offered to help us in any way he could if we ever needed work or a place to send our pokemon. And best of all -- Professor Oak had fired Tracey today! It made my blood boil to read about how Tracey had taken a swing at Gary and called him a bastard, but luckily, Gary had been able to defend himself, and witnessing the confrontation had been the final straw for Professor Oak. He promised to tell us all about it the next time he saw us.

"All right!" I exclaimed.

"Told you you'd like it!" James snickered. He hit the reply button and began to type:

Hey, Gary!

Glad to hear things went well with Professor Oak. He's always seemed like a really nice person to us -- we knew he'd be as understanding and open-minded as your parents. Tell him if we ever manage to catch more than six pokemon, we'd be happy to keep them at his lab. ^_^ And ROTFLMAO about what happened to Tracey! It sucks that he tried to take a swing at you and insulted you (Jess looked angry enough to kill when she read that part of your e-mail...and I'm tempted to kick Tracey's fat ass the next time I see him, too!), but at least, like you said, he's a pansy, and no real harm was done. We're glad he's out of the lab, too -- with the way he was always goofing off, taking advantage of your grandpa, and bothering May, he didn't deserve a job there! We look forward to hearing more about it the next time we talk!

It's been a pretty busy day for us, too. Before leaving the city this morning, we went to the Viridian Gym. Jessie and I battled our boss's pokemon, and we both won Earth Badges! Giovanni said he was really impressed by how we battled, and he even mentioned talking to Pokemon League about how Ash "won" his Earth Badge and seeing if anything can be done about it. Now that he knows the whole story about how the old gym was destroyed, he blames Ash for what happened...and he agrees that the twerp didn't earn his badge. We'll be sure to let you know if anything comes of it. >D

After leaving Viridian, we finally made it to Opal Ridge, and we're now staying with Jessie's grandma and grandpa Parker. Jesse and Musashi are really nice -- it's been great, getting to meet them and hear more about Miyamoto's childhood. We'll probably be here through next week, since we want to celebrate Jessie's birthday with the Parkers, so you know where to reach us if you want to call. We'll probably be calling you a few times while we're here, too -- just let us know when a good time will be!

We'll probably be signing off now, too. It's been a long day, and we need to get some rest. But you'll definitely be hearing from us again! ^_^

Take care, Gary. Talk to you soon! (We miss you, too!)

~@~ Jessie, James & Meowth

After sending the e-mail, James disconnected from the internet and shut off the computer. Then, the two of us climbed into bed and cuddled together beneath the quilt. Like last night, we were too tired to do anything amorous, but as I drifted off to sleep, a peaceful, contented feeling came over me. In a warm, soft bed in my momma's old room, surrounded by my friends and family on a cold December night, there was no place I'd rather be.

Chapter 6 -- A Birthday to Remember

"Jessie? How do these look, sweetheart?" grandma asked, holding up a package of fresh tuna fillets.

I studied the succulent red fish for a moment and licked my lips. "Perfect!"

Grandma nodded approvingly and put the package in our shopping cart. Then, she went back to browsing the fish case.

It was the afternoon of December thirteenth -- my nineteenth birthday -- and I was at the grocery store in Opal Ridge with James, Meowth, and my grandparents. Grandma had volunteered to make all my favorite kinds of sushi for my birthday dinner -- California rolls, masago wraps, smoked eel with teriyaki sauce, spicy tuna rolls, and crab -- and James was making a strawberry cheesecake for me, so we were here to get all of the ingredients that we needed.


It had been an enjoyable and eventful week for me and my friends. On December sixth -- the day after we'd arrived at grandma and pop-pop's -- they showed us some of the sights in Opal Ridge and took me to meet my great-aunt Melissa, who lived in town with her husband, Sean. Aunt Melissa had blue-green eyes just like pop-pop, only her hair was black rather than crimson. And like pop-pop, she had a jovial disposition and a kind, humble nature. Momma had spent lots of time with aunt Melissa when she was a little girl, so I got to hear even more stories about what she'd been like as a child. Aunt Melissa also told me more about my great-grandparents, Malcolm and Rachael Parker -- she even got out some old photo albums to show me what they'd looked like. All of the pictures from their youth were in black and white, but aunt Melissa told me that great-grandpa had had hair that was so black it was practically blue and that he'd had eyes that were blue like the sea after a storm. And great-grandma had had the reddest hair and the most brilliant green eyes of anybody she'd ever seen. As I looked at some of the old photographs of my great-grandma Rachael -- the other person I'd been named after -- I could see once again who I was and where I'd come from. When I looked at the pictures, it was almost like I saw myself looking back!

On the ninth of December -- momma's thirty-seventh birthday...and the twelfth anniversary of her marriage to daddy -- we made another trip to Opal Ridge. We went to a florist's shop, where I bought two bouquets of white roses, and then we went to the cemetery. Visiting the place where my relatives who'd passed on were buried was an interesting experience. I'd never known my great-grandparents, but I did know that they'd lived long, fulfilling lives -- if anything, getting to see the final resting place of Malcolm Ian Parker and Rachael Moignahan-Parker was sort of comforting. Seeing where momma and daddy were buried, however, was another story entirely. Seeing where they were buried was a painful reminder of how their lives had been cut tragically short.

Their grave was beneath a weeping willow tree that hadn't yet shed its shimmering golden leaves for the winter. A white marble headstone shaped like a pair of interlocked hearts marked the spot. Carved into the marble were a pair of inscriptions that read:

Miyamoto Parker-Rochester
Loving wife and mother
December 9, 1964 - December 14, 1989
Dorian Ahearn Rochester
Loving husband and father
April 8, 1964 - December 14, 1989

And beneath that, four more lines:

If tears could build a stairway,
And memories a lane,
I'd climb straight up to Heaven,
And bring you home again.

Those words were the most difficult thing I'd had to read since the final entries of daddy's journal, where I'd learned what had happened to him and momma. But just like reading the journal, it was something that I needed to do in order to more fully close the book on that dark chapter of my life. Putting the roses that I'd bought on the graves of my parents and great-grandparents...seeing what a beautiful and peaceful place they were resting in was another thing that gave me closure. I cried for a few minutes, but James, Meowth, grandma, and pop-pop were there to give me strength and comfort. And when James put his arms around me, I was reminded of what he'd said when we'd first driven by the cemetery the other day -- this may have been where momma and daddy's bodies were, but they were still with me in spirit, and they'd always live on in my heart and in my dreams.

When we returned home after our visit to the cemetery, we cheered each other up by doing the same thing we'd done after I read my daddy's journal -- we swapped stories and spent our time celebrating my parents' lives rather than mourning them. Pop-pop also told me more stories about his mother and how much I reminded him of her, not only in appearance but personality as well. (In fact, great-grandma Rachael had just passed away earlier this summer -- a couple of weeks before I met granny and grandpa. Pop-pop had always been really close to his mother, and even though it had simply been her time, her loss had been hard on him. Learning that I was alive and finally being able to see me had been what cheered him up!)

Now, we were celebrating my birthday. And so far, it had been one of the best birthdays I'd ever had! This morning, I awoke in James's arms after a peaceful night's sleep, and we greeted the dawn by making love. When we finished, we got dressed and went downstairs, and he made my new favorite breakfast for me -- French toast stuffed with whipped cream and strawberries! Made with potato bread that grandma had baked last night and strawberries that pop-pop had grown in his greenhouse (and homemade strawberry syrup), it was the best batch of stuffed French toast yet!

After breakfast, we called Gary and talked to him for awhile, and I thanked him once again for the beautiful photograph of momma and daddy that he'd given me for my birthday. (It was a gift I treasured all the more after the time I'd spent with grandma and pop-pop and all of the new things I'd learned about momma.) And after talking to Gary, we spent the rest of the morning watching a videotape of one of my favorite movies -- The Last Unicorn. I hadn't seen the movie since I was a little girl, so being able to watch it again brought back pleasant memories of listening to momma read the book to me at bedtime and sitting in her lap and watching the movie with her. I'd loved the story for its high fantasy element -- the unicorns, wizards, harpies, dragons, and such -- when I was a child, and now that I was an adult, I was able to more fully appreciate the story's true depth.

Once the movie ended, we went to town to run a few errands. Our first stop was at the post office. My birthday presents from granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad and birthday cards from our friends had been arriving all week, and it reminded me that James, Meowth, and I wanted to get all of the Christmas presents and cards that we were sending into the mail so that they'd arrive at their destinations in time. (We sent a copy of the tape with my weather girl segments and the Entertainment Tonight and eleven o' clock news stories on it to granny and grandpa and uncle Brad, along with a photo album that we'd filled with pictures of me when I was a child and pictures of me with James and Meowth now. We also sent phone cards along with the Christmas cards to our friends so that they could keep in touch with us and not have to worry about long distance charges.) After leaving the post office, we went to a little Italian bistro, where we enjoyed hot minestrone soup and fresh-baked breadsticks for lunch. And after lunch, we came to the grocery store to get everything we needed for my birthday dinner and birthday cake.


As grandma continued to browse the fish case and select the best of everything, James and Meowth returned and placed some packages of light cream cheese, a gallon of skim milk, a carton of eggs, and a box of graham cracker crumbs into our shopping cart. Then, pop-pop returned with a box of green tea bags, a package of dried seaweed, and a bag of glutenous rice.

"Is that everything?" James asked.

"Almost," came grandma's reply. She picked up a tub of fresh smelt roe for the California rolls and masago wraps and put it in the basket with the rest of our groceries. She consulted her list and nodded. "Now we have everything!"

After checking out, we returned home, and James got to work on the cheesecake. While he whipped the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, pop-pop made the topping by slicing up some fresh strawberries and adding a bit of sugar. James then made the crust by adding some strawberry-flavored syrup to the graham cracker crumbs and mixing them together.

While the cake was baking, grandma boiled the rice and sliced the fish and vegetables so that they'd be ready when she started dinner. Once all of the prep-work was completed and the cake and rice were taken out of the oven and off of the stove to start cooling, we all went out to the garden to take a break and enjoy the peace and tranquility of this clear, cool afternoon in late fall. Just as we had at Gary's birthday party, James and I did some pokemon dancing with Arbok and Victreebel...and grandma and pop-pop were every bit as impressed as Gary and his family had been! Grandma even joined us and did a pretty dance with my Sunflora! She commented that momma had done an excellent job teaching me how to dance and that I'd done an excellent job teaching James. She was happy to see that the artform she'd learned as a child had been passed down to a new generation.

When the sun began to sink behind the mountains in the west and the temperatures began to drop, we all went back into the house so that grandma could get dinner started. James, Meowth, and I watched intently as she formed some of the rice into rectangular sheets and lined them with seaweed. She arranged pieces of cooked crab meat and avocado and cucumber slices down the sides of six of the sheets and slices of raw tuna and cucumber and hot sauce down the sides of the other six. She then used plastic wrap and a little reed mat to roll the sheets up. Once they'd been formed into tubes, she unwrapped them and rolled the ones with tuna in sesame seeds and the ones with crab in sesame seeds and smelt roe. And finally, she sliced them up and arranged them on our plates. When those were finished, she placed the eel into the toaster oven to broil for a few minutes and formed the rest of the rice into balls. She wrapped seaweed around the outside of twelve of the rice balls and topped them with a generous scoop of smelt roe. Then, she used strips of seaweed to tie pieces of crab meat onto twelve more balls. And once the eel slices had been cooked, she used seaweed to tie them onto the last twelve rice balls and coated them with teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds. When she was done, she, pop-pop, Meowth, Wobbuffet, James, and I each had four California rolls, four spicy tuna rolls, two masago wraps, two crabs, and two smoked eels on our plates, along with a generous helping of fresh ginger root and wasabi sauce. While grandma was making the sushi, pop-pop heated up a pot of miso broth and added chopped scallions, seaweed, shitake mushrooms, and tofu. By the time everything was ready, my mouth was watering with anticipation, and I could see that my friends were all drooling, too!

Our dinner tasted every bit as delicious as it looked. I'd had sushi in Japanese restaurants before, but there was just something extra special about this meal since it was homemade. The tuna had a light, delicate flavor that was balanced by the hot sauce, the sweetness of the rice matched perfectly with the saltiness of the smelt roe in the California rolls and masago wraps, the crab and eel were sweet and tender and fell apart in my mouth with every bite I took, the fresh garden vegetables added just the right touch, and the wasabi sauce made from scratch with homegrown horseradish was far more potent and flavorful than the kind made from reconstituted powder (the wasabi sauce and ginger were so hot that they made our eyes water and our noses run)! The hot miso soup filled with more fresh vegetables and the sweet, earthy green tea were perfect complements to the sushi.

After dinner, we all cleared the table. While Meowth helped pop-pop clean up the kitchen, Wobbuffet helped grandma bring out all of my birthday presents and set them on the coffee table in the living room, and James and I gave the rest of our pokemon their dinner. Once the kitchen was clean and the pokemon had been fed, I was ready to open my presents!

"Here, Jess! Open dis one first!" Meowth exclaimed, placing a small box wrapped in blue paper with Eevee-lutions on it into my hands. "Dis is from me and Wobbu!"

Wobbuffet saluted me and smiled. I hope you like it, Jessie.

I returned the pokemons' smiles as I unwrapped the paper. When I opened the box, I found the bottom half of a gold egg pendant resting on a red velvet cushion. It was the pendant that Blissey had given to me so long ago...only now, it had a tiny hole drilled in its base, and it was attatched to a fine golden chain.

"We, uh...robbed yer jewelry bag and took dat to a jeweler one day when we was in town," Meowth explained. "Wobbu and I thought ya looked real pretty when you was wearin' Blissey's egg pendant necklace at yer fake weddin', and when we was in Happy Town earlier dis month and I saw ya with yer half of the egg pendant while you was talkin' ta Blissey, I got the idea. We thought it'd be nice if ya had yer half of the pendant on a necklace, too."

My smile grew even wider than it already was as I admired the way one of my most treasured keepsakes had been turned into such a lovely piece of jewelry. "It's beautiful! I love it!" I told them. I fastened the chain around my neck and gave Meowth and Wobbuffet a kiss. "Thanks, guys!"

The two of them blushed.

After Meowth and Wobbuffet's present, I opened the cards I'd received from aunt Melissa and uncle Sean, Annie and Oakley, Mondo and Felicia, Emanuela and Simone, Cairdea, and Blissey and read all of their warm birthday wishes (the card from my aunt and uncle also included a check). Then, I turned my attention back to the packages on the coffee table and tried to decide which one to open next.

"Howzabout the one from the boss?" Meowth suggested.

"Yeah," James agreed. "I wonder what he got for you."

"You know, I've been wondering about that myself," I told them.

I picked up the package wrapped in green paper. I studied it for a moment before pulling away the paper and revealing a small book with a slightly worn blue cover. The words, "Las Extranas Vacaciones de Davie Shaw (The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw), by Mario Puzo," were embossed on the cover in gold letters.

"Hey, ain't dat the guy who wrote The Godfather?" Meowth inquired when he saw the author's name.

I nodded. "Yeah. But this looks more like a children's book, judging from the title."

"I think it is," said James. "I remember, I once read somewhere that Puzo had written a children's book. But it's out of print now."

"It must be pretty rare, then," I remarked. When I opened the book and began to thumb through it, a note fell from between the pages...a note written in Giovanni's bold script. I picked it up and read it aloud:


You probably don't have any memories of it, but you enjoyed this book immensely when you were a child. I remember, your mother had to bring you to work one day when you were about a year old because she'd been unable to find a sitter for you, and she didn't want to leave you in day care while you were a baby. Miyamoto couldn't take you in to the meeting she had with my mother, so she asked me to keep an eye on you for awhile. I agreed.

You were a well-behaved child and played quietly with some toys while I did my schoolwork, but after a couple of hours, you started to get bored and asked me to read you a story. You then proceeded to pull my copy of "The Godfather" off of the bookshelf. I didn't think that was the kind of story a baby would want to hear, so I selected another, more appropriate of my Puzo books from the shelf -- the book you're holding now. You sat in my lap and listened intently the whole time I read to you about Davie Shaw and all of the adventures he had with his pony, Mustang. Miyamoto was very happy when she returned and saw how well we were getting on -- she even had to wait around for another ten minutes so that I could finish reading the story to you, since there were only a few pages left, and you wanted to hear how it ended.

I thought perhaps you'd like to read this book again. I do hope you enjoy it as much now as you did then.

-- Giovanni

I smiled again when I finished reading the note. "So, this was another story I enjoyed when I was a little girl," I mused.

Meowth grinned. "Heh. Teenage Gio readin' ta baby Jessie. I bet dat was a sight ta see!"

"Indeed," James chuckled.

"That was really cool of him, to give me one of his books," I remarked. "I'll have to thank him the next time we see him."

James and Meowth nodded.

Setting the book aside and looking back at the rest of my presents, I decided to open the ones from granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad next. The three of them had sent me a card with a check for one hundred dollars enclosed and two small packages wrapped in red paper and trimmed with gold ribbons. I gasped when I pulled away the paper and saw what my gifts were.

James, Meowth, Wobbuffet, grandma, and pop-pop leaned closer.

"What is it, Jess? What did you get?" James asked.

I held up the two items for everybody to see -- a little plush Rapidash and a gold necklace with a heart-shaped locket that had a photograph of momma and daddy inside of it. "These are the gifts that daddy bought for me and momma on the day after I was born...the gifts he never had a chance to give us...." Tears welled up in my eyes as I hugged the toy and the necklace to my chest. "It was so sweet of them to give these to me. Remind me to call them later and thank them."

"We will," grandma promised. She and pop-pop exchanged smiles as they handed a box wrapped in purple paper decorated with butterflies to me.

"If you like what Ahearn, Miriel, and Bradley gave you, then I think you'll like our gift as well," pop-pop said quietly.

"I know I will," I replied. I unwrapped the paper and opened the box. Like granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad, grandma and pop-pop had given me a card with a check. And they'd also given me.... "M-momma's music boxes?"

Grandma smiled. "Jesse and I heard you playing them. They haven't been played since Miya left home. It felt so wonderful to hear their music again after so many years...."

"We know that Miya would've wanted you to have them," pop-pop added as grandma's voice trailed off. "So, we want you to have them, too."

I brushed away the tears that were now rolling down my cheeks and brought the two music boxes from the package. I opened the porcelain box and wound it up. "I love them. Thank you so much," I whispered as the music began to play.

"Miya loved them, too -- she used to play them before going to bed, just like you've been," grandma told me. "Every night when she was home, we'd hear the tunes of Imagine and Too-Ra Loo-Ra Loo-Ral coming from her room."

Pop-pop placed a hand on my shoulder. "And the poem inside of that music box we gave to Miya -- that's exactly how we feel about her. It's how we feel about you too, Jessie."

I gave him and grandma a hug and kissed their cheeks. "I love you too," I replied. "Thank you."

After a couple of minutes, James smiled sheepishly and handed me the last of my presents -- a box wrapped with the same blue paper with Eevee-lutions that Meowth and Wobbuffet's present had been wrapped in. "You've certainly received a lot of beautiful gifts today, Jessie," he said. "I just hope mine can measure up."

"Don't be silly, James -- I know I'll love whatever it is," I assured him. When I pulled away the layers of wrapping paper and tissue paper, I found the most exquisite jewelry box I'd ever seen. It was made of black lacquered wood, and it had a scene of a beautiful Japanese garden like the one behind grandma and pop-pop's house carved on the front. The scene was colored makie-style, with iridescent powder that had been sprinkled onto the lacquer when it was wet. Inside the box were two drawers -- one for storing large items of jewelry and one with compartments and purple velvet cushions for storing smaller items like necklaces, rings, earrings, and pins. I placed a hand to my mouth. "Oh! Oh, James...."

He arched an eyebrow and smiled.

"I was right -- I do love it!" I exclaimed as I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a kiss.

"I got that for you while we were at the antique store in Pallet Town," James explained as he returned my embrace. "I wanted you to have something nicer than a ziploc bag to keep your jewelry in, and when I saw that, I knew it'd be perfect for you."

Grandma picked up the box and studied it. "The craftsmanship is exceptional," she remarked. "I've seen a lot of lacquerware in my time, and this is one of the finest pieces I've ever come across. It must be worth hundreds!"

James smiled proudly when she said this. I could tell from the gleam in his eyes that he hadn't paid nearly that much for it, but how much it had cost and how much it was worth didn't really matter to me. I loved it because James had given it to me.

"It's quite a useful item as well, since Jessie got a couple pieces of jewelry for her birthday," pop-pop chimed in. "Now, as James said, she has something nice to keep them in!"

I gave James another kiss. "Yes, it's a wonderful present. Thank you so much, sweetie!"

He blushed. "You're welcome, honey."

After admiring all of my presents a little longer and thanking everybody again, we returned to the dining room table, and James brought my cheesecake from the refrigerator. He placed some birthday candles in the cake and lit them, and everybody sang Happy Birthday to me.

When the song ended, I concentrated on the candle flames for a moment and closed my eyes. I wish that we can always be as happy as we are now, I said to myself before blowing out the candles.

I opened my eyes again. And when I saw Meowth, Wobbuffet, and my grandparents applauding me and the way James's emerald eyes were shining as he cut the cake, covered each piece with strawberries, and served everybody, I knew that my wish would come true.


After we finished our cheesecake, I decided to give granny and grandpa a call. Their eyes lit up when they answered the phone and saw that it was me.

"Oh, Jessie! Hello, angel!" granny exclaimed.

Grandpa grinned. "Happy birthday, sweetheart!"

"Hey, Jessie!" Brad said as he joined the two of them.

"Hi, granny. Hi, grandpa. Hi, uncle Brad," I replied.

"I see you've made it to your grandma and grandpa Parker's," granny remarked. "Are you enjoying your stay with them?"

I nodded. "Yeah! I'm so happy that I got to meet you all!"

"We've enjoyed getting to meet Jessie, too," grandma said to granny. "She's wonderful!"

Pop-pop came to my side. "You were right, Ahearn -- she is a pretty girl! Even prettier in person than she is over the phone!"

Grandpa winked at him. "Isn't she?"

I felt my cheeks turning red.

Uncle Brad chuckled. "So, have you been having a nice birthday?" he inquired, changing the subject.

"I sure have," I told him. I smiled again. "In fact, that's a big reason I wanted to call you -- I wanted to thank you for my presents."

Granny returned my smile. "You're welcome, dear."

"We knew Dorian would've wanted you to have that little Rapidash and the necklace he bought for Miya," said grandpa. "They were intended for you, after all. It seemed only right that we send them to you for your birthday."

I nodded again. "I love them. I saw those presents when I was staying with you -- I'm happy to have them now...and I know daddy would be happy, too. Thank you."

For the next couple of hours, we all talked to granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad. I told them about how my friends and I had been spending our time with grandma and pop-pop, I showed them all of the other presents I'd received for my birthday, and I gave them more details about how we'd been spending the past couple of months and all of the changes we'd just made at our job. Like the rest of our friends and family, they were happy to hear about all of the positive changes we'd made and all of the good things that had been happening for us lately. They wished us all the best and reminded us once again that they were always there for us if we ever needed anything.

By the time all of the minutes on my phone card had been used up, it was almost midnight. But before saying good-bye to granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad, I promised to call them again at Christmas.

When I hung up the phone, I stretched myself out and yawned. "Well, I'd love to stay up later, but I should probably get to bed," I said.

Pop-pop nodded and draped an arm around grandma's shoulders. "We're about ready to turn in, too."

I gave the two of them another hug and kissed their cheeks. "Good night, grandma. Good night, pop-pop. Thanks again for that birthday dinner and those beautiful music boxes. I loved them all, but getting to spend time with you is the best birthday present I could ask for."

"You're welcome, sweetheart," grandma replied.

"Getting to spend time with you has been a wonderful present for us as well," pop-pop added.

As James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet helped me gather up all of my presents to take to my room, I looked again at my new music boxes and smiled. "Grandma? Pop-pop?"

"Yes?" they asked.

"I...I'd like you to keep these music boxes for me for the time being," I told them. "James, Meowth, and I are going to be doing a lot of traveling, and I don't want anything to happen to them while we're on the road."

Grandma nodded. "Of course. We'd be happy to keep them for you, Jessie."

"Just promise me something," I continued. "Promise that you'll play them for me and fill your house with their beautiful music every night. I want you to enjoy them the way momma did...and the way I do. I know momma would want that as well."

Pop-pop's blue-green eyes grew moist with tears. "We'd be happy to do that too, angel. We'll think of you and Miya every time we listen to them."

My smile grew even wider than it already was. "Good."


After another chorus of good nights, grandma and pop-pop retired to their room, and James, Meowth, Wobbuffet, and I carried all of my presents upstairs. I placed the two music boxes back on the shelf and put my two new necklaces (along with the rest of my jewelry) in my new jewelry box. I put the little plush Rapidash next to the photograph of my daddy on the nightstand since I wanted to keep it with me while we were here, and I placed the book that Giovanni had given me on the nightstand as well. I was definitely going to read it the first chance I got. I also put all of my cards next to the computer so that I could e-mail everybody in the morning and thank them.

Once everything was organized, Meowth and Wobbuffet said good night to us and went to their room across the hall. Then, James and I went to the bathroom and took a shower. When we returned to our room, we seated ourselves on the bed and smiled at each other.

"So, you enjoyed your birthday?" James ventured.

"Very much so," I affirmed. I looked over at my jewelry box, which was now sitting on momma's old dressing table, then back at him. "Thanks again for that delicious birthday breakfast and that heavenly strawberry cheesecake...and that gorgeous jewelry box! Getting to spend time with my family may have been my favorite birthday present, but when I'm with you, every day feels like a special occasion."

James put his arms around me and rested his forehead against mine. "I'm so happy that you're finally getting to meet your family and spend time with them, Jess. I'm happy that you finally know what it feels like to have grandparents who love you." He touched the tip of my nose with his finger and smiled again. "I'm also glad that you like the present I got for you. I had to get you something special, considering what you got for me...."

I pulled away slightly when he said this. Did James know what I was getting him for his birthday...or Christmas?!

James's cheeks turned pink as he placed a hand to his mouth.

He did know!

"How did you find out about your present?" I asked.

He blushed more brightly than ever. "While we were at Blue Dragonite Books, I saw you buying that album of bottle caps for me. I didn't mean to -- it was an accident. And I didn't mean to let it slip just now. I'm sorry, honey," He buried his face in his hands and shook his head. "Can you tell I'm tired?"

"Well, I guess the surprise is ruined," I sighed. I gave him a playful shove. "Thanks a lot, James."

"Look at the bright side -- at least you know I'm going to love my present," he told me.

I got to my feet and dug the album out of my backpack. I then returned to his side and handed the album to him. "I guess...but I wanted to surprise you with it."

"Well, for what it's worth, I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw you buying it for me," James replied. He grinned as he opened the album and looked at all of the rare bottle caps inside. Then, he handed it back to me. "Hold on to it until my birthday anyway, Jess. I promise I'll be as happy then as I am now."

I gave him another kiss before returning the album to my backpack. "Alright...but I still need to think of something to surprise you with. I guess you'll be getting two birthday presents from me."

James leaned back on his pillow and put his hands behind his head. "I can live with that!"

He looked so cute lying there that I couldn't help but smile again. I also couldn't resist the urge to have a little fun with him. "So, James, if I'm giving you two presents for your birthday, then what else are you going to give me for my birthday?" I asked as I undid the sash of my bathrobe and gave him a tantalizing peek at my breasts.

James gave me a sly smile. "What do you call all of that heavenly food I made for you today, dearest?" he replied nonchalantly.

Knowing that he was only teasing me, I decided to tease right back. I shrugged my bathrobe completely off and turned playfully about for a moment before bringing a nightgown and a pair of panties from my backpack. "Oh. There's nothing else you want to give me?" I said with a melodramatic sigh. "Then, I guess I'll just put some clothes on and go to bed...."

This got his attention. Before I could say anything more, James scrambled out of bed, wrapped his arms around me, and turned me to face him. "Well, now that you mention it, there is one more thing I'd like to give you before we call it a day."

I arched an eyebrow. "And what might that be?"

James shrugged off his own bathrobe. "Take a wild guess," he whispered into my ear.

"Mmmm...I think I'm going to like this present, too!" I giggled as he lifted me into his arms and carried me back to the bed.


I closed my eyes and sighed contentedly, enjoying the feeling of the cool breeze playing with my hair, the tranquil sound of water spilling down the mossy stones and into the pond that I was sitting next to, and the heavenly fragrance of roses that perfumed the air. I'd just enjoyed a wonderful night of lovemaking with James and fallen asleep in his arms. Now I was dreaming...and my dream had brought me to the garden behind my grandparents' house.

"This was one of my favorite places when I was a little girl." I turned and saw that momma was now sitting next to me.

I smiled at her. "I can see why. It's so beautiful here."

Momma draped an arm around my shoulders. "I'm so very glad you came to see your grandparents, Jessie. You've made them very happy."

"I've enjoyed getting to meet them," I replied. "I've wanted to ever since you told me they were still alive."

A wistful smile crossed momma's face as she looked around at the garden. "It's times like these I wish I hadn't left home. It would've been so nice if I'd raised you here...if you'd had a chance to grow up surrounded by the love of your grandparents, your great-aunt and uncle, and even your great-grandparents."

"And let's not forget me -- I would've been here, too." Daddy was now sitting at my other side.

Momma reached over and placed a hand to his cheek. "Yes, you would have." Then, to me, "I've always felt like a bad mother, but now, after seeing how happy mom and daddy were to meet you, I feel like a bad daughter, too." She laughed bitterly. "I feel like I let all of you down. I just wanted to pay my parents back for all of the sacrifices they made for my sake...but all I ended up doing was robbing them of something that would've made them far happier than money ever could and denying my own daughter the very opportunities my parents had worked so hard to give me. I'm so sorry, Jessie."

Daddy took her hand in his. "Miya, if anybody around here has let Jessie down, it's me. You may have been proud and stubborn, but I was a coward. At least you were there for her -- I wasn't even man enough to face up to my responsibilities...."

"Stop it! Both of you!" I interjected. "I came here because I wanted to spend time with you, not to listen to you talking about what bad parents you think you were!"

Momma and daddy looked back at me.

I smiled at them. "Look, I know you both made choices that you regret...that you wish you could've done things differently -- I've often wished it myself. But I don't think either one of you has let me down. Momma, I've never blamed you for anything...and daddy, I stopped blaming you when I learned the truth. You were both young and frightened and unprepared for parenthood when you had me -- I'd be more surprised if you hadn't made any mistakes or bad choices. What matters to me is that you tried your best and always did what you thought was right...that you both loved me and wanted me."

Tears filled their eyes as they listened to me.

"How did we end up with such a wonderful daughter, Dorian?" momma whispered.

"Just lucky, I guess," came daddy's reply. He cupped my chin in his hand. "You're too kind, Jessie."

"Daddy, do you remember what I told you the first time I met you like this? About how I've learned a lot about forgiveness over the years?" I asked.

He nodded. "How could I forget?"

I took one of his hands in one of mine. Then, I reached over and took one of momma's hands in my other. "Well, I want you both to listen carefully to me...because I'm about to tell you what I want from you for my birthday."

They both leaned closer. "We'll give you anything you want if it's in our power, Jessie," they told me.

"I'm sure it is," I said. "All I want is for you to learn one of the lessons that I've learned." I gave their hands an affectionate squeeze. "It's easy to be forgiven by somebody that you love when you've done something that you regret. But it's usually not so easy to forgive yourself. Believe me, I know -- I've said and done a lot of hurtful things to James and Meowth in the past. James and Meowth always forgave me because they knew that I'd never really meant to hurt them, but even after we patched things over and moved on, I still felt guilty about what I'd done. I carried that guilt inside of me for such a long time, and it almost destroyed me...."

Momma shuddered. "Yes. When you were captured by Ayesha, and she used your painful memories against you. I remember that."

"And it was that experience that allowed me to forgive myself for my past mistakes," I continued. "When James and Meowth risked all to save me, I realized that they loved me unconditionally and that the things I kept punishing myself for really didn't matter. That's when I was able to let it go -- I've been like a different woman ever since! And now, I want you to do the same. I've already forgiven you, and you've forgiven each other. Now it's time for you to forgive yourselves."

Momma and daddy exchanged looks.

"I love you both unconditionally," I told them. "And so do grandma and pop-pop, granny and grandpa, uncle Brad, and everybody else. None of us want you to spend eternity feeling bad about the mistakes you made during your lives. In fact, some of the bad choices you made led to good things." I smiled at momma again. "I know you didn't like working for Team Rocket, but think about all the friends you made while you were there. Henry and Kate Holliday, Wyatt, Belle, and Star -- they all admired you so much, and you even saved Dr. Holliday's life! Giovanni admired you, too -- he told me that you were the closest thing to a friend he ever had. That had to mean something."

Now momma was smiling, too. "Yes. Yes, it did. I made some very good friends during my time with Team Rocket...just as you have, Jessie. Annie, Oakley, Mondo, Cairdea, Emanuela, and Simone all care about you very much...and so does Giovanni." She winked at me. "I told you he has a real soft spot for you!"

"I knew he wasn't a bad guy after I found out how he helped get the two of you back together," I remarked. "But I never would've guessed...."

"Giovanni did a good job hiding his true feelings and motives all this time. But he has his reasons for being the way he is," momma said. "He never had much of a childhood, you know. As you've already heard, his father died when he was really young, and his mother was cold and distant with him. He spent all of his time in school and being prepared to take control of the Team Rocket empire, so he never really got to have any fun. I think the day I left you with him while I attended to some business with Arianna was one of the few times he actually got to enjoy himself -- when he was reading to you, he had a smile of genuine happiness on his face!" She winked again. "Why do you think he gave you that book for your birthday?"

My smile grew even wider than it already was. "See what I mean? Joining Team Rocket may not be what either one of us wanted to do with our lives, but a lot of good things happened because we did. I don't have any regrets about it anymore...especially not now that James, Meowth, and I know the truth about the boss and have a better salary and assignment. So you shouldn't be sad about it anymore either."

Momma considered my words for a moment. "You have a point, Jessie."

"Besides, a lot of the other things that you regret have turned out okay, too," I went on. "I got to meet my family, I learned about daddy, and I finally get to spend time with you in my dreams."

"That's true," daddy admitted.

"I know there will always be a part of me that's sad about what happened in the past, but there's no point in dwelling on it. Not when there are so many good things going on now and so many good things to look forward to," I told them.

Momma put her arms around me and planted a kiss on my cheek. "You're right, sweetheart. You're so right."

Daddy gave me a hug and a kiss, too. "I still wish I could've been there for you when you were growing up, though," he sighed. He touched the tip of my nose with his finger. "I would've spoiled you rotten."

"It's okay," I assured him. "You're here now, and that's what really matters."

"And I'll always be here for you, angel. Always," daddy promised as he wiped away the tears that were welling up in his sapphire eyes. He smiled again and looked over at momma. "What do you think, honey? Can we give Jessie the birthday present that she wants?"

Momma nodded. "Yes...yes, I think we can." Then, to me, "Thank you, Jessie. I really do feel better now."

"So do I," daddy added. "We're so lucky to have such a wise, understanding daughter."

"So, no more regrets about the past?" I ventured.

They shook their heads.

"That was all I really wanted," I replied. "I couldn't ask for a better present than that."

I spent the rest of the night in the dream-garden with momma and daddy. They enjoyed hearing about the time my friends and I had spent with grandma and pop-pop and how wonderful my nineteenth birthday had turned out to be, and I, in turn, enjoyed getting to see them and talk to them and be reminded that they weren't really dead as long as I could be with them like this. When I saw the light that shone in their eyes, I knew that they really had made my birthday wish come true -- they'd forgiven themselves for their past mistakes and were finally ready to move on. And when I saw how happy they truly were now, I knew in my heart that I was right -- being surrounded by the joy and love of my friends and family really was the greatest gift I could ask for!

To be Continued....

Special thanks to my friend, Shigeru1313, for the awesome illustration of Jessie & James in their new Team Rocket uniforms! And another special thanks to my friend, Tara, for the beautiful illustration of Jessie's 19th birthday party! ^__^


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