Illustration by Shigeru1313.

Never too Late

by Cori Falls


"He's beautiful!"

"Absolutely beautiful!"

I can't help but smile as I look over at Gary and Arwen. The two of them are holding a baby boy swaddled in a blue blanket, and they're grinning so widely it looks like their faces are about to split in half.

And who can blame them? The birth of a first grandchild is a momentous occasion! I remember, James and I felt exactly as they do when Miya's daughter, Rachael, was born eight years ago...and we felt that way again when Miya's son, James, was born five years ago...and again when Eric's daughter, Jessica, was born almost two years ago. And now, James and I feel that way again today, after the birth of our Rose's first child.

Rose. Her long, crimson hair is damp with sweat, and her face is etched with weariness after hours of labor, but her emerald eyes are sparkling, and there's a smile on her lips as she watches Gary and Arwen admiring her newborn son. Sam is holding her left hand in his own and covering her face with gentle kisses as tears of joy well up in his dove-gray eyes.

For as long as we can remember, Sam has been Eric and Rose's best friend. Gary, Arwen, James, and I (not to mention Meowth, Charms, Miya, Eric, and Devon) were all so happy when we found out that Sam and Rose had fallen in love and happier still when they got married three years ago. Sam is such a wonderful husband to Rose, and I know that he'll be a wonderful father, too.

"I love you so much, honey," I hear him whisper.

Rose looks up at Sam and smiles again. "I love you, too."

James reaches over and takes Rose's right hand in his. "Your mother and I are so proud of you, princess," he says.

"Thanks, daddy," Rose replies. Then, to me, "Thanks, mom."

"We're proud of you too, son," says Gary as he grins at Sam.

Sam nods to his parents.

"So, how does it feel to be grandparents?" I ask, placing my hand on Arwen's shoulder.

Arwen admires the baby a moment longer before replying. "Oh, Jessie, it's amazing! I knew it would be, but I never could've imagined...."

"It sure is," Gary agrees. "Now Ari and I know how happy you and James must've felt when Miya had Rachael."

"I was just thinking that exact same thing!" I tell them.

James returns to my side and wraps an arm around my waist. "And we're every bit as happy now as we were then," he remarks. "Grandchildren are wonderful, whether they're the first or the fourth!"

Suddenly, Meowth walks into the room. He's holding a cellular phone in one paw and a vase of pink roses in the other. "I just called Miya, Eric, and Devon and gave 'em the good news," he says as he hands the phone to Gary. "Dey're all on dere way -- dey can't wait ta meet dere new nephew!"

"Thanks, Meowth," Gary replies, placing his phone back in Arwen's purse.

Meowth then sets the vase of roses on the table next to the bed. "And I got dese for you at the gift shop while I was down in the lobby," he tells Rose.

Rose picks up the vase for a moment and inhales the sweet scent of the flowers. "Thank you, uncle Meowth. They're beautiful!"

"But dey still don't compare ta you," Meowth says. "Yer the most beautiful rose in the world, and don't you forget it!"

Sam nods and plants another kiss on her forehead. "She certainly is," he agrees.

Now Rose is blushing.

Arwen smiles at me and James. "Would you like to hold him now?" she asks.

"You know we would!" James replies, holding out his arms.

Gary and Arwen take turns hugging and kissing the baby a moment longer before handing him to James. "Here you go, little sweetheart. It's time to see grandma Jessie and grandpa James!" Arwen says.

James's emerald eyes sparkle as he takes his new grandson in his arms. "Hey, there! I'm your grand-papa," he whispers, planting a kiss atop the baby's head.

The baby giggles and coos happily as James's brushy mustache tickles him. He then reaches up and closes one of his tiny hands around the rogue wisp of hair that hangs in James's face.

Once James frees his hair from the baby's hand, he gives him another kiss and hands him to me. "Here you go, Jess," he says.

I feel tears of joy stinging my eyes as I take the baby from James and cradle him in my arms. Now that I see him up close, I can see just how handsome he is! His hair is spiky, and it's a deep, rich shade of red-violet. His eyes are celadon green -- a perfect combination of Rose's emerald-green and Sam's dove-gray. The shape of his eyes, nose, and face reminds me of James.

"He's perfect!" I exclaim, smiling again at Rose and Sam.

The two of them return my smile and nod in agreement.

"Have you chosen a name yet?" James inquires.

"Rose and I had a few ideas, but we wanted to wait and see what the baby looked like before making our final decision," comes Sam's reply.

"And we have decided," Rose chimes in. "We're naming him Dorian Gary."

"Dorian Gary Oak," James says, trying it out. "I like it."

"Has a nice ring to it," Gary agrees.

The tears that are stinging my eyes begin to spill down my cheeks when I hear the name. "It's wonderful," I whisper.

My smile grows even wider than it already is as I look back at little Dorian. And as I admire my grandson, I can't help but notice what a striking resemblance he bears to his namesake. And suddenly, I find my thoughts drifting back to a time long ago. I find myself thinking of how I came to know the man that my grandson has just been named after....


It was a cool, clear fall morning, about thirty-four years ago, now. James, Meowth, and I had still been working for Team Rocket at the time, and our travels had brought us to Redwood Heights -- a small city on the west coast of Johto. We'd followed the twerps there, in hopes of catching Pikachu. The three of us were still dedicated to completing the assignment, since our jobs depended on it, but our enthusiasm for the work had long since cooled. Back in our early days...back when there was hope that our superior brains and skills would prevail, we were gung-ho about coming up with Pikachu-catching schemes, setting up traps, and such. But after nearly three years of bad luck, failure, humiliation, poverty, and the twerps getting progressively brutal in their dealings with us, to say that we were fed-up with it would be an understatement. And the fact that a lot of major things had happened to us in recent months, like becoming friends with Gary Oak, James's spiritual awakening, our battle with Queen Ayesha of Yew, and a fake wedding that James and I had (which turned out to be mostly real) was really driving the point home that we had better things to do with our time than follow a bunch of stupid, bratty kids around!

Which is one of the many reasons I'm so grateful that this particular day took such an unusual turn.

The day began typically enough -- when we got to town, we hid in an abandoned building, where we could safely spy on the twerps and devise a plan of action. But before long, the wheels of fate were set in motion....

" seems the twerps have found a new pokemon," James remarked.

I looked up from the map of Redwood Heights that I was studying and came to his side.

He handed me the binoculars. "See for yourself."

When I took the binoculars from him, I saw Ash, Misty, and Brock standing on the sidewalk below. They were gathered around a tiny pink creature with big lips that made it look a little like a baby duck. Hmmmph. Those twerps are always finding cool new pokemon, I said to myself.

"It's a Smoochum," James informed me.

I looked back at him and raised an eyebrow. "The pre-evolved form of Jynx?"

He nodded.

Suddenly, I didn't feel so envious of the twerps' find anymore. "Bleah! They can have it!" I said, sticking out my tongue. I don't really have anything against Smoochum since it's cute, but I've never liked human-shaped pokemon like Mr. Mime and Jynx -- something about them just gives me the creeps! (And Jynx is one pokemon that I hate with a passion because of that fateful Christmas when I was seven.)

"Actually, Smoochum is a pretty rare pokemon," James continued. "If we can catch it for ourselves and send it to the boss, there might be a nice bonus in it for us."

"Hey, dat's a good point, Jimbo!" Meowth exclaimed.

I smiled again. "Then what are we waiting for?! Let's go get that Smoochum!"

With that, the three of us climbed down the fire escape that led from the building and positioned ourselves in the alley, where we could better hear what the twerps were saying.

Ash was still looking at the Smoochum, with his usual clueless expression. "Whoa! What kind of pokemon is that?" he asked, bringing out his poke-dex.

"Smoochum. The kiss pokemon. This pokemon has sensitive lips which it uses to gather information and explore," came Dexter's reply.

"Hmmm...Smoochum must use its lips like other pokemon use their eyes and ears," Brock surmised.

Ash brought out a poke ball and grinned. "Well, if it's a pokemon, then I'm gonna catch it! Poke ball! GO!!!"

When Ash tossed his poke ball, however, Smoochum slapped it away.

Misty rolled her eyes. "Ash, you have to weaken a pokemon before you can catch it!" she reminded him.

"Augh! I forgot!" Ash whined.

"What an idiot," I heard James grumble. "I swear, that twerp gets dumber every day."

I nodded in agreement.

Smoochum cast an angry glare at the three children as Ash brought another poke ball from his belt. "Smoochum, smooch!" she cried.

"Heh. Smoochum's sayin', Quit tryin' ta catch me -- I've already got a trainer! And I was tryin' ta find him til you stupid kids came along and started buggin' me!" Meowth translated.

James snickered. "You know, I'm starting to warm up to that little critter!"

My brow furrowed as I watched the Smoochum continuing to shout at the twerps. She was obviously trying to tell them to leave her alone, but they were all oblivious. "Hmmmph. Another careless trainer, just letting their pokemon wander around. Ten bucks says the twerps are going to get lauded as heroes when the kid who owns Smoochum shows up to claim her...."

"....But ya just know if we'd tried ta catch the Smoochum, dey'd accuse us of tryin' ta steal her and blast us off!" Meowth said, finishing the thought for me.

"I know. It's total bullshit," James agreed. "I guess this means we shouldn't catch Smoochum for the boss, after all. Trying to catch Pikachu is dicey enough as it is -- no point inviting more trouble."

"You're right, James," I told him. Then, to Meowth, "Speaking of catching Pikachu, how is this latest plan of yours supposed to work?"

Meowth grinned and whipped out a remote control. When he pushed one of the buttons on the remote, a small robotic Skiploom flew out the window we'd just climbed down from and hovered before us. "I'm glad ya asked, Jess!" he replied. "All we hafta do is wait for dose twerps ta get distracted by somethin' dat Smoochum! Den, I send ole Skippy, here, ta fly by and get Pikachu's attention. Once Skippy lures the little rat back ta us, we catch him and deliver him to the boss before the twerps even realize what happened!"

"That is a good idea," James remarked. "It's a shame the plan doesn't involve saying the motto and making fools of the twerps, but I guess we can always save that part for later."

The cat smirked. "And youse guys thought my Robo-Skiploom would be a waste a money when I ordered it the other day!"

I folded my arms across my chest. "I'll reserve judgement on your purchase until after our plan is executed...though I still think we'd be better off spending our money on necessities like food instead of weapons and mechas that the twerps just end up destroying."

James draped an arm around my shoulders. "I agree with Jessie. When it comes to money management, we'd be wise to remember the folly of Noober and his water clock."

I couldn't help but laugh as I recalled the time we'd played Dungeons & Dragons with Ash the previous month, and his character had wasted all of his money on a useless item and had nothing left over for food or other important supplies.

Meowth winked at us. "Don't worry, guys -- dis ain't no water clock! Just you wait and see!"

Just as he was about to activate the Robo-Skiploom again, however, we heard the twerps starting to scream at each other.

"Why should YOU be the one who catches it, Misty?!" Ash demanded. "It's not a water pokemon, so why do you care?!"

Misty stuck her tongue out at Ash. "Well, at least I know how to catch pokemon, Mr. I-Forgot-You-Have-To-Battle-Them-First!" she retorted.

"Knock it off, you two!" Brock yelled. "This pokemon is obviously a baby, which means that it requires the care of an expert breeder like myself!"

Ash and Misty forgot their argument for the moment and both turned on Brock when he said this.

As the twerps continued to argue, the Smoochum rolled her eyes. When she began to slink away, however, we heard a pair of new voices.

"Oh, look! There she is!"

"We've been searching all over for you, Smoochie!"

Smoochum's eyes lit up. When we followed her gaze, we saw an elderly couple racing up the street. "Smoochum!" she cried happily.

I don't know what it was, but when I saw that old couple, a strange feeling came over me. For some odd reason, they seemed familiar to me, and something in the back of my mind told me that I should know who they were.

But I'd never seen them before in my entire life. Of that I was sure. "Who are you?" I whispered.

"Hey, what's going on?" Ash asked.

The woman scooped Smoochum into her arms and gave her a hug. Smoochum responded by planting a kiss on her cheek. Then, she leapt into the man's arms and gave him a kiss, too.

"This is our son's pokemon," the man explained. "We got a panicked call from him a couple of hours ago. He told us Smoochie had disappeared, so we came to help him find her."

The woman reached over and patted Smoochie on the head. "He'll be so happy that she's okay!" Then, turning her attention to the twerps, "Thank you for finding her for us."

Ash, Misty, and Brock beamed proudly (conveniently ignoring the fact that they'd been fighting over which one of them should catch the Smoochum only moments before).

"Anything to help a fellow pokemon trainer!" Ash said.

"Yeah! It was our pleasure!" Misty chimed in.

"Bullshit! Bullshit!" James, Meowth, and I coughed into our hands (and paws).

The woman reached into her purse and pulled out three tickets. "Here you go," she said, handing them to the twerps. "As thanks for finding our son's pokemon, we'd like you to have these tickets to the live show that Brad VanDarn is putting on at the Redwood Heights Auditorium at three o'clock this afternoon."

The three children gave her a quizzical look. "Who?" they asked in unison.

The man and woman smiled and pointed to an electronic billboard across the street. "See for yourselves!"

As if on cue, a commercial began to play on the billboard. "He's more electrifying than a Zapdos! Cooler than an Articuno! And hotter than a smoldering Moltres! He's Brad VanDarn!" a deep-voiced announcer said as a young man with spiky crimson hair, blue-green eyes, and a slim athletic build appeared onscreen. A band of masked thugs charged the man, and he took them all out with a stunning series of flips, kicks, and punches. "The golden boy of the silver screen is back in his new hit movie, Ultra Maximum! Coming soon to a theater near you!"

The camera then zoomed in on Brad, and he peered out from beneath the brim of the black hat he was wearing to address the audience. "I'll take you to the ultra maximum!" he promised as the scene faded to black.

"Whoa!" the twerps all gasped when the movie trailer ended.

"Brad is doing the live show as a promo for his new movie," the man told them. "He's going to do demonstrations of his stunts, grant interviews, sign autographs...."

"He may be a tough guy on screen, but he's very down to earth," the woman added. "I'm sure you kids will have a great time at his show."

"I'm sure we will, too," Brock replied. "Thanks."

The man and woman waved as the twerps took their leave. "You're welcome!"


Once the twerps were gone and the man and woman left to find their son and return his Smoochum to him, James and I changed out of our Team Rocket uniforms and into jeans and t-shirts. Then, along with Meowth, we went to a little pizzeria that was a few blocks away from the Redwood Heights Auditorium to have some lunch and revise our strategy.

"Dis is the purr-fect opportunity!" Meowth exclaimed as he took a bite from his anchovy pizza. "If the twerps are busy watchin' dat action star's live show dis afternoon, chances are, we can sneak in and grab Pikachu without 'em even noticin'!"

James picked up a slice of his pepperoni pizza and pulled off the strings of mozzarella cheese that were dripping from it. "Just one problem," he said. "How are we supposed to get in? This place is packed with Brad VanDarn groupies, and I overheard a few of them saying that the show's been sold out for the past week!"

I blew on a piece of my mushroom pizza and smiled at them. "There's an easy way around that," I replied. "If we disguise ourselves as security guards, we won't need tickets to get into the auditorium, and we'll be able to go wherever we like without arousing suspicion! Posing as Pinkertons, we can pass by the twerps, pretending to check ticket stubs, and pilfer Pikachu in the process."

Now James was smiling, too. "Brilliant idea, honey!"

"And a brilliant use of the letter P!" said Meowth.

As the three of us continued to eat our pizzas, a man in a black trenchcoat entered the restaurant. The collar of his coat was pulled up to conceal his face, and he was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, but I could see the spiky crimson hair poking out from beneath his black hat.

I nudged James with my elbow. "Hey. Isn't that the guy from the movie?" I whispered.

James studied him for a moment. "I think so. But what would he be doing here?"

"Maybe he wants some lunch," Meowth speculated as he began on his fourth slice of pizza. "Celebrities gotta eat too, ya know."

My brow furrowed as I watched the man making his way through the restaurant. He was giving me the same strange feeling that the old couple I'd seen earlier had. What's going on, here? I wondered.

At length, Brad passed our table and seated himself at a booth in the back corner. And when I turned to get a better look, I noticed that the old man and woman with the Smoochum were sitting in the booth, too.

This can't be a coincidence! I said to myself. This has to be something important! I need to find out who these people are! Luckily, they were only a few feet away, and I was able to overhear their conversation....

"Where did you find her?" Brad asked.

"Your mother and I were searching up on 99th Street, and we saw Smoochie with a bunch of kids," the man told him.

Brad shook his head and sighed. "It's the damndest thing. When I went for rehearsals this morning, Smoochie was watching TV in the green room, and when I got back a couple hours later, she was gone."

When he said this, the Smoochum leapt out of the woman's arms and bounded across the table. Brad held out his arms and swept her into an embrace.

"Smoochum, smooch!" she said.

"You really had me worried, Smoochie -- I'm so glad you're okay," he said softly. Then, to his parents, "Thanks for bringing her back."

"Don't mention it, sweetheart," the woman replied. "Your father and I know how much Smoochie means to you...."

Suddenly, my eavesdropping was interrupted by the sound of James clearing his throat. "Ahem!"

I turned my attention back to James. He had a look of mild annoyance on his face.

"Should I be worried, here?" he asked.

"Calm down, sweetie. There's no need to be jealous," I assured him.

"Well, how am I supposed to react when the woman I love can't take her eyes off another man?!" he demanded.

"I wasn't checking him out!" I insisted.

James and Meowth didn't look like they believed me for a second.

"Alright, granted, Brad VanDarn is a good looking guy, but I'm not attracted to him!" I reached over and closed my hand over James's. "Why would I be when I already have the sexiest, sweetest, smartest guy in the world? You're the only one I could ever love, James. Nobody else even has a chance!" (And it was true -- even though Brad was handsome, and I was intrigued by him, I didn't feel the slightest hint of attraction for him.)

My words seemed to appease James a little, but his expression was still a little dubious. "Then, why were you staring at him, Jess?"

"It wasn't just him -- I was looking at his parents, too," I replied. "It's the old couple who took the Smoochum from the twerps!"

James and Meowth looked over at Brad, who was still hugging his Smoochum and talking with his parents.

"So, dat cute, cuddly little pokemon belongs ta Mr. Action Hero, and dose old people we saw earlier are his mom and dad?" Meowth queried.

"It's an interesting coincidence, but it's not that interesting," James remarked. "I still don't see why you're so fascinated, Jessie."

I closed my eyes and sighed. This was going to be difficult to explain.

I felt James place a hand on my cheek. "Tell me what's going on, honey. Please. If something is wrong, I want to help."

"Nothing is wrong," I told him. "It's're going to think this sounds really weird."

"No, I won't," he promised. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."

Taking a deep breath, I proceeded to tell James and Meowth about the strange feeling I'd gotten when I'd seen the old couple earlier, and how I'd gotten it again when Brad entered the restaurant.

James's expression grew serious as he listened to me. "What do you think it means, Jess?" he asked.

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," I replied.

"Maybe you should go and talk to them," he suggested.

"And what would she say?" Meowth wanted to know. "Hello, my name is Jessie. I'm not one of Brad's swoonin' fan-girls -- I just wanted ta talk to ya cuz yer all creepin' me out, and I wanna know why?"

"It's not a creepy feeling, Meowth. In fact, it's not any kind of negative feeling at all," I corrected him. "It's just...strange. It's like there's a little part of me, telling me that these people are important somehow. I don't know how to explain it...."

James took my hand in his and looked into my eyes. "Then, you should definitely speak with them. Your intuition is telling you something, Jess -- you can't ignore that."

"You're right, James," I said. "But Meowth has a point, too. How do I approach them? What should I say?"

"Hmmm...." he muttered. "I know it's a little awkward, but the best thing to do is be direct. Just go over and talk to them. Establish a rapport."

"I guess," I agreed. As I said this, I felt my stomach tying itself in knots. Why was this making me so nervous?!

As I tried to muster the courage to go and talk to them, however, I heard Brad start to laugh. When James, Meowth, and I looked, we saw that his Smoochum was giving him a kiss on the cheek. And as she gave him another kiss, his sunglasses were knocked askew, and his hat fell off.

And then, all hell broke loose.


"Is that really him?!"

"Ohmygod, yeah!!! It's Brad VanDarn!!!"

Suddenly, a group of at least thirty girls charged past our table and swarmed on Brad, all screeching and swooning and begging for autographs. James, Meowth, and I had to huddle together to keep from being jostled out of our seats.

"So much for establishing a rapport," I grumbled.

"Ladies, please!" I heard Brad saying above the din of the crowd. "I'll be happy to sign autographs at the show this afternoon! But right now, I...."

Before he had a chance to finish, a bald man with a severe expression on his face stormed into the restaurant and shoved his way through the crowd. Then, he grabbed Brad by the arm and hauled him away from the swarm of fan-girls. "How many times have I told you not to go out in public like this, Brad?! You cause mob-scenes every time!" he reproached him.

"Sorry, Vinzo," Brad apologized. "But I had to...."

"Besides, you're supposed to be rehearsing for your show!" the man named Vinzo continued.

"Yeah, but Smoochie was...."

"Forget Smoochie!" Vinzo snapped. "You have a show to put on in two hours!"

Brad rolled his eyes. "I know."

"Come on. Let's get you back to the auditorium," Vinzo went on.

Brad looked back at his parents for a moment. "Will you please keep an eye on Smoochie for me while I'm gone?" he asked.

"Of course we will!" his dad replied.

"We'll see you later, dear!" his visibly shaken mother called to him as he was led away by Vinzo.

Once Brad was gone, the girls moaned in disappointment. Then, they all bolted out of the restaurant. Looking out the window, I saw that they were chasing after the black limousine that Brad was being driven away in.

After the crowd dissipated, I breathed a sigh of relief. "As much as I talk about wanting to be a star, it's times like these I'm glad I'm not famous -- it must suck to be so popular that you don't have any privacy or can't do anything in peace."

"Big time," Meowth agreed.

James nodded. "I feel sorry for his parents, too -- they probably don't get to spend much quality time with their son...."

As I looked back at Brad's parents, I saw that his mother's face had gone pale, and his father was patting her on the shoulder.

"Don't worry, honey," he said softly. "I'm sure it just got knocked to the floor during the confusion."

"But I already looked under the table! It's not there!" she cried. "What if one of those girls took it?!"

"If it was stolen, then we'll just call and cancel the credit cards," he soothed. "Then, we can call Officer Jenny and report it missing...."

"What's goin' on now?" Meowth wondered.

"It sounds like she lost her purse," I remarked.

When I said this, James's brow furrowed, and he ducked under the table. A moment later, he sat up again and produced a black hand-bag. "I thought I felt something hit my foot," he muttered.

Suddenly, I got an idea. This was my chance! It had to be! "Excuse me, ma'am," I called to the woman.

She looked over at me.

I held up the purse. "Is this what you're looking for?"

The woman breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes...yes, that's my purse."

I got out of my seat and handed the purse to her. "I couldn't help but overhear that you'd lost something, and my boyfriend found this under our table a moment ago," I explained. "It must've gotten knocked off of your table and kicked away during the confusion."

She took the purse from me and smiled. "Thank you so much, young lady." Then, she looked past me and smiled at James as well. "And thank you, too."

"You're welcome," James replied.

Now the man was smiling, too. "Please, let us pick up the bill for your lunch. As thanks for finding and returning my wife's purse," he said.

James got up and came to my side. "That's quite alright, sir. We...."

The man's blue-green eyes twinkled. "Don't worry about it, young man. We're the parents of a famous movie star -- I think we can afford to pay for three personal pizzas and a pitcher of soda. Hell, we'll even buy you dessert if you like!"

Now he had Meowth's attention. "Dessert?! Now yer talkin', pops! Can Me-owth have a hot fudge sundae?!"

"Don't be rude, Meowth!" James snapped.

"What?" the cat said defensively. "Who am I ta turn down a generous offer like dat?"

"How adorable!" the woman laughed. "You can have whatever you like, sweetie!"

I couldn't help but smile. The woman's voice and laugh sounded almost exactly like my own. It was uncanny.

"Amazing," the man remarked. "How did you teach your pokemon to talk?"

"Dat's easy -- I taught myself!" came Meowth's reply.

"And Meowth isn't our pokemon," I said. "He's our friend."

"And a damned good one...if you can overlook his constant teasing and affinity for off-color jokes," James added, reaching down and giving Meowth a pat on the head.

Meowth grinned. "Dat's right!"

The man and woman gestured to the opposite side of the booth. "Please, have a seat," they said.

"Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. VanDarn," I replied.

The woman laughed again. "Oh, VanDarn isn't our name, dear -- it's Rochester. VanDarn is just the stage name our son uses."

"That damned agent of his thinks it sounds more exotic and action-oriented than his real name," Mr. Rochester said gruffly. "Buncha horse shit, if you ask me."

"There's no need to be so vulgar in front of these nice young people!" Mrs. Rochester scolded him.

He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, love."

Meowth waved a paw at them. "Ah, don't worry about it -- ain't like we never heard a cuss-word before! Hell, we say worse shit den dat all the time!"

James buried his face in his hands.

"What are we going to do with that Meowth?" I groaned.

But Mr. and Mrs. Rochester weren't offended -- they were still smiling!

"That cat is just too funny!" Mrs. Rochester chuckled.

Mr. Rochester winked at us. "You kids don't need to worry, either -- we say worse shit than that all the time, too. Miri wanted to be polite, though."

James and I relaxed when he said this. I was really starting to like these people -- they reminded me of our friends, Sofia and Marcello!

"Goodness, here we've been talking all this time, and we haven't even introduced ourselves properly!" Mrs. Rochester said, changing the subject. "We're Ahearn and Miriel Rochester."

James smiled and shook hands with Ahearn. "Pleased to meet you. I'm James Woodson."

I shook hands with Miriel. "And I'm Jessie Parker."

Ahearn and Miriel exchanged looks.

"Is...something wrong?" I queried.

Miriel turned to face me again. "Nothing at all, dear. It's just that...some good friends of ours are named Parker as well. Mr. Parker's first name is Jesse, too."

"Fine folks, the Parkers," Ahearn added. "Their daughter married our older son, Dorian."

"How sweet," I said.

"Those two were so in love," Miriel continued. "They had a baby girl together. Her name was Jessica...." Her voice was melancholy as she spoke.

A sudden feeling of sadness came over me. She was talking about her son and daughter-in-law in the past-tense, and it sounded like she and her husband didn't even know their own granddaughter. "Did something happen to them?" I ventured.

Miriel brought a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed her eyes, which had grown moist with tears.

Ahearn placed a hand on her shoulder and gave her a reassuring squeeze. "It's a long story, and very complicated," he told us. "We'd rather not burden you with it."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry," I muttered.

Once Miriel had dried her eyes, she sniffled and smiled at us again. "Quite alright. But let's talk about a more pleasant subject now."

James nodded. "Indeed."

"Well, howzabout tellin' us more about Brad?" Meowth suggested. "How'd he get into showbiz?"

This made Ahearn and Miriel brighten considerably.

"Bradley always looked up to his big brother," said Ahearn. "Dorian was a wonderful Shakespearean actor, and Brad wanted to be just like him. Started out the same way Dorian did, too -- took lots of classes on acting, stage movement, dance, and such in high school and college, and auditioned for lots of plays. Miri and I paid for his education, but Brad spent months and months waiting tables and washing dishes to save up enough money to get head-shots and hire a talent agent. Lots of people spend their entire lives paying their dues, but Brad is one of the lucky ones who made it -- his talent and good looks got him roles in commercials almost immediately! And from there, he moved on to cameos in TV shows and movies, and then to starring roles!"

"Ahearn and I are so proud of him," Miriel chimed in. "Brad got to where he is now with lots of hard work and dedication, and he's never let success go to his head. Of course, we knew he was going to be successful from the start! Even when he was a little boy, he was so handsome. And talk about a ham-bone!" With that, she reached into her purse and brought out a photograph. In the foreground of the picture was a young boy who was beaming proudly and striking a dramatic pose.

But it wasn't the little boy that caught my attention -- it was who was in the background of the picture. Standing behind Brad was a teenage boy, obviously his older brother, Dorian, judging from how much they looked alike. And standing next to Dorian was a young teenage girl with long, purple hair and turquoise eyes. As I looked at the boy and girl in the background of the picture, that eerie feeling came over me again.

"That picture was taken when Brad was seven," Miriel went on. "Dorian had just turned fifteen, and he was going on a trip with his friend. We took the picture before the two of them left, and Brad kind of jumped in at the last second...."

"Who's this girl standing next to Dorian?" I inquired. Deep down inside, I knew the answer to my own question, but I needed to hear them say it.

"That's the friend he went on his journey with...and the girl he married," came Miriel's reply. "Her name was Miy-"

"Miyamoto Parker?" I said, finishing the thought for her.

Miriel's eyes went wide. "Wh-why, yes! How did you know?"

"Miyamoto...was my mother," I told them.

Now Ahearn's eyes were wide, too. He and Miriel covered their mouths with their hands as they slowly turned to face each other.

"Is it true?" Ahearn whispered.

"Can it really be? After all these years?" Miriel whispered back.

I started going numb -- all of the feeling was draining out of me, like an airplane losing cabin pressure. Now I understood why my intuition had been urging me to talk to these people! Now it all made sense! Ahearn and Miriel Rochester were....

"Jessie?" Miriel said at length. She slowly reached across the table and placed a hand on my cheek. Her eyes were filling with tears again.

I closed my hand over hers and felt tears stinging my own eyes. I know....

"If you know about Miyamoto...if she was your mother, it must be true," Ahearn muttered. He reached across the table and took my free hand in his. "Dorian was your father. We're your grandparents, Jessie...."

I knew it. From the moment I saw my mom in the photograph, I knew that Ahearn and Miriel were my grandparents. But hearing that word...hearing them say it aloud did something to me.

Ever since momma died when I was seven, I'd had no family. True, James and Meowth became my family after I met them, but they weren't relatives. It wasn't quite the same. But now, in the space of a few short minutes, I'd gained a grandmother, a grandfather, and an uncle! After almost twelve years, I finally had relatives again! The realization was almost too much for me to absorb.

James put his arms around me as the tears that filled my eyes began to fall. "I'm glad you trusted your intuition, Jess -- that feeling you had really did turn out to be important!"

The only reply I could give him was a sniffle.

After a moment, Ahearn and Miriel came from their side of the booth and swept me into an embrace as well.

"Oh, Jessie. Oh, my sweet little angel," Miriel sobbed. "Please forgive us...."

"For what?" I asked.

Ahearn's expression darkened. "After Miri, the Parkers, and I found out that Dorian and Miya had a daughter, the four of us tried to find you. We didn't want you getting mixed up with Team Rocket because of what happened to your mom," he explained.

Miriel shuddered. "But your mother's boss...that awful woman told us that you'd died of pneumonia shortly after your seventh birthday -- she even gave us copies of the death certificate! We didn't want to believe it, but we didn't have any way to prove her wrong, and there was no way we could sneak into Team Rocket Headquarters to find you. There was just nothing we could do. We're so sorry, Jessie...."

Now I was frowning, too. "So, Arianna Razzo made my family believe I was dead so they wouldn't come looking for me or try to rescue me? That definitely sounds like the kind of thing she'd have done." I looked back at my grandparents. "Momma was the greatest Team Rocket agent of all time. When she died, Madam Boss wanted me to follow in her footsteps...continue the legacy. I did try to escape once, but she refused to let me go. I got caught again, and I was forced into Team Rocket anyway." Then, looking at James, "And I dragged my best friend into it, too."

"You did nothing of the sort!" said James. "How many times do I have to tell you that I chose to follow you, Jessie?"

"I know you did...and I'll always be grateful for that," I told him. "But I still can't help but feel a little guilty about it."

"It's okay," James replied. "You, of all people, know that everything in life happens for a reason. I believe we were meant to join Team Rocket because we were meant to meet Meowth and our other friends...just like we were meant to come here because we were meant to find your family."

Now I was smiling again. "You're right,'re so right."

"So, are you still with Team Rocket?" Ahearn inquired.

I nodded. "Yes, we are. But don't worry about it. Once James and I have enough money saved up, we're going to retire so that we can get married, have a family, and find normal jobs."

The two of them smiled when I said this.

"And, in a nice little twist of poetic justice, Arianna Razzo is the one who died of January 1998," I continued. "Her son had already taken over as leader when James and I joined."

"That's good to hear," said Ahearn. "Sorry to sound so harsh, but we hated that woman for what she did to our family."

"It's okay. I know exactly how you feel," I told him.

Miriel brushed her tears away and chuckled. "Oh, dear, just look at us! Dwelling on such a heavy topic on what should be a joyous occasion!"

Ahearn nodded. "I agree -- we should be celebrating!"

"Then why don't we change the subject and get back to talking about how wonderful Jessie is?" James suggested.

I blushed.

"Now that you're all together, I really can see a strong family resemblance," he went on. "Jess obviously gets her good looks from both sides of the family!"

Now Ahearn and Miriel were beaming.

I examined the two of them more closely. Ahearn looked a lot like Brad -- he had the same facial features and blue-green eyes. The only difference was that his spiky hair was red-violet peppered with white, and he had a mustache and beard. And Miriel. Her long, crimson hair was wavy and had a few streaks of white in it as well, and her face was creased by a couple of subtle laugh-lines, but other than that, she looked exactly like me! I felt like I was looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of myself forty years from now!

"James is right," Ahearn said, cupping my chin in his hand. "I look at this pretty these beautiful sapphire eyes, and I see my Miriel forty years ago!"

"Yes. What a beautiful granddaughter we have!" Miriel agreed. She was beginning to cry again.

"Dis is so great!" Meowth exclaimed. He smiled up at my grandparents. "Jessie's the best -- James and I are real lucky ta have her with us...and I know you must be happy ta finally meet her after all dis time, too."

"Yes, we are," Ahearn replied. "You can't imagine what a relief it is to know that she's alive and well -- it's one of the best feelings in the world!"

"And what better way to celebrate such a special occasion than with some ice cream?" said Miriel.

The cat's midnight-blue eyes twinkled. "Now yer talkin', granny! Ya mind if I call ya granny?"

Miriel laughed. "Not at all!"

"And while you're at it, you can call me grandpa!" Ahearn chimed in.

Granny and grandpa. Those names had such a wonderful ring of familiarity to them that I couldn't help but smile! "Alright, then! Granny and grandpa it is!"


After ordering five extra large ice cream sundaes with the works and a strawberry-flavored Italian ice for Smoochie, my grandparents continued their conversation with me, James, and Meowth. They told me about how they met and fell in love, Dorian and Brad's childhoods, and their little ranch just north of Redwood Heights, and I, in turn, told them about my childhood with momma, my time at nursing school, and how I met James at Pokemon Tech.

Their expressions became grim when they heard about how momma and I had lived.

"Poor Miya," Miriel sighed. "Forced to live in such poverty...and then that horrible mission. I can't even imagine...."

"She did the best she could with what she had...and as far as I'm concerned, momma was the best," I said.

Ahearn nodded. "I'll believe it. Miya was always so loving and generous, and she always worked hard for herself and others. She was a wonderful person, and she raised a wonderful daughter...."

More tears welled up in my eyes when he said this.

Miriel reached over and touched my cheek. "Oh, angel. We didn't mean to make you cry."

"It's okay -- I've come to terms with what happened to her...for the most part," I told them. I placed a hand over my heart. "I know that momma is always with me. I keep her here."

"I see you take after your mother in a lot of ways," Ahearn remarked. "But there's more than a bit of your father in you, too."

"Yes, there is," Miriel agreed. "I was especially reminded of Dorian when you told us about your semester at nursing school. There was a time when he dreamed of being a pokemon doctor...much like you wanted to be a pokemon nurse...."

I felt my stomach clenching as the conversation turned back to Dorian. While it had been comforting to finally meet my paternal grandparents and see how deeply they cared for me, it was also a little disorienting. They obviously loved my dad as much as they loved me, but they didn't seem to be the least bit disappointed in him or apologetic about how he'd walked out on momma when she got pregnant with me. Even more confusing, they'd told me that my parents had been married...but from everything momma had told me, I'd been conceived and born out of wedlock, and I'd never even met my dad! How could it be possible?

"I know what you're thinking about, Jessie," Miriel said, bringing me from my reverie. "You want to know the story about what happened between Dorian and Miya...the whole story."

I nodded.

"I guess you'll be hearing that long, complicated tale, after all," she continued. "But Ahearn and I shouldn't be the ones to tell it. No, if you hear this story, then you need to hear it straight from Dorian. Please come back to the house with us after Brad's show. I promise your questions will be answered."

At the mention of their younger son's name, Ahearn looked at his watch. "Speaking of Brad, we need to get to the auditorium -- his show starts in another half hour!"

As he called for the waiter and got the check, Miriel smiled at us again. "You'll be coming with us to the show, of course."

"Of course," James, Meowth, and I replied in unison.

"We need to introduce you to your uncle Brad, after all!" she chuckled. "Vinzo rushed him out of here before he even had a chance to meet you...."

Suddenly, Smoochie, who'd been quiet up to that point, began to bounce up and down and wave her tiny arms. "Smoochum, smooch, smoochum!!!" she cried.

Meowth sweatdropped as he turned his attention to the pokemon. "Are you serious?!" he gasped.

Smoochie nodded. "Smooch-smoochum!"

James and I exchanged looks. "What's going on, Meowth?" we asked.

"Smoochie sez she don't wanna go back to the auditorium," he translated.

Miriel frowned. "What's the matter, Smoochie? Don't you want to see Brad?"

"Of course she does," Meowth replied. "But she's afraid a Vinzo -- she's afraid dat if she shows up, he may try ta get rid of her again."

Ahearn raised an eyebrow. "Get rid of her again? Does that mean what I think it means?!"


"She sez, Why do ya think I disappeared from the green room dis mornin'? I didn't run away -- Vinzo took me while Brad was rehearsin' for the show and turned me loose outside a town!" Meowth told them.

"Smoochie, is this true?" Miriel asked.

She nodded again. "Smoochum!"

"She wanted ta tell youse guys earlier, but between all dose fan-girls showin' up, and the family reunion with Jess, she didn't have a chance," said Meowth.

"Smooch-smoochum!" Smoochie went on.

Meowth's brow furrowed. "She sez, Vinzo hates me -- he thinks I make Brad look like a wimp and dat it'll alienate all his fans if dey see him with me. He kidnapped me and turned me loose cuz he wanted me outta the picture. Well, dat's just awful!"

Ahearn clenched his fist. "But it sounds exactly like the kind of thing Vinzo would do. I always knew that guy was scum!"

"Brad needs to know about this right away! He won't stand for anybody treating his favorite pokemon so terribly, and neither will we!" Miriel said. She scooped Smoochie into her arms. "I'm sorry you didn't have a chance to tell us about this sooner, Smoochie, but I promise we won't let it happen again."

James nodded. "That's right! Nobody messes with Jessie's family and gets away with it!"

"Yeah! If yer gonna give dis guy holy hell, den count us in!" Meowth exclaimed.

I smiled at my two friends. I loved them so much!

"Then let's go," Ahearn said as he placed the money for the bill and tip into the black booklet the waiter had given him. "The sooner we tell Brad what happened to Smoochie, the better!"


Five minutes later, we arrived at the back entrance of the Redwood Heights Auditorium...and were promptly stopped by a security guard.

"Nobody's allowed in the backstage area!" he said gruffly. He then glared at me. "If you want to see Mr. VanDarn, you'll have to watch the show like everybody else!"

Before I could reply, Miriel stepped protectively in front of me. She looked like she wanted to punch the security guard's lights out. (If I got any of my temperament or personality from this side of the family, then I certainly wouldn't have put it past her.) "How dare you talk to my granddaughter like that?!" she shouted.

"Do you have any idea who we are?!" Ahearn snapped.

"I don't care who you are -- I've got orders not to let anybody in," the guard replied.

With that, the two of them reached into their pockets and produced a pair of backstage passes and I.D. tags.

"Not even Brad VanDarn's own parents and their special guests?" Miriel said.

The guard examined the tags and passes for a moment, and his face turned red when he saw that they were authentic. "Oh...I beg your pardon. I didn't know you had clearance."

"Dat ain't no excuse for bein' an asshole," I heard Meowth mutter under his breath.

James and I snickered.

"Now, can we please come inside?" Ahearn asked with more than a hint of impatience in his voice. "We need to speak to our son immediately -- it's urgent."

The guard gave all of us a sheepish grin and stepped aside. "Of course, of course! I'm very sorry...."

"So, where do you think Brad is?" I asked as we passed the guard and began making our way down a long corridor.

"He's either in the green room or the dressing room," came Miriel's reply. "It's still too early for him to be onstage."

"I think the green room is our best bet," said Ahearn. He rounded a corner and began leading us up a flight of stairs.

When we reached the second floor, we heard raised voices coming from a room at the end of the hallway.

"That's definitely Brad and Vinzo," Miriel remarked after listening to the voices for a moment. "And it sounds like Brad may already be suspicious about what happened to Smoochie."

Once we arrived at the door to the green room, we paused for a moment and listened to the conversation that was taking place....

"I'm not saying I don't care about my fans, Vinzo, because I do!" Brad was saying. "But you have to understand that I care about my pokemon, too!"

"But think about your image, Brad!" Vinzo countered. "What would people think if they saw you with that Smoochum?! You need to ditch her and get a pokemon like Charizard or Houndoom -- something that fits your action hero personna...."

"I don't care what people think!" Brad snapped. "Smoochie is my friend -- she helped me get through the most difficult part of my life, and she was there for me while I was taking all those acting classes in college and spending all those months waiting tables! You're insane if you think I'd ever turn my back on her or get rid of her!"

"Ugh! I can't stand when actors stick by their principles or try to think for themselves," Vinzo grumbled. "I should've done something simple like manage a boy band...."

"You know, Vinzo, I seriously doubt Smoochie just wandered off this morning while I was at rehearsal -- I know my pokemon well enough to know she'd never do that," Brad remarked. "I can't help but wonder if you had something to do with her disappearance!"

"Ridiculous!" Vinzo huffed. "You don't know what you're talking about! Crazy talk! That's what it is!"

Through the slit in the door, we could see Brad folding his arms across his chest and casting a knowing glare at Vinzo. "The man doth protest too much, methinks."

Unable to control himself any longer, Meowth pushed the door all the way open and strode into the green room. "Dat's cuz he's lyin', Brad -- he did try ta get rid a Smoochie!" the cat announced.

Brad looked down at the cat, then at me and James and raised an eyebrow. "Who are you?" he asked. "And how do you know....?"

Ahearn and Miriel stepped out from behind us and entered the room as well.

"We'll explain later, Brad," Miriel replied. "But Meowth is telling the truth -- Smoochie told him that Vinzo took her from the green room this morning and dumped her outside of town."

A fire sparked in Brad's blue-green eyes as he wheeled around to face Vinzo again. "I knew it!" he shouted.

Knowing that he'd been busted, Vinzo cracked. "I...I was only doing it for your own good, Brad!" he sputtered. "If the public knew what a cream puff you are in person, you'd lose all of your fans!"

James rolled his eyes. "Ugh. One of those people who equates kindness and sensitivity with weakness. I hate that," he whispered to me.

I nodded. "I hate it, too," I whispered back.

"And if you lost your fans, nobody would come to see your movies or buy your videos and merchandise anymore!" Vinzo continued.

"And then you'd lose out on your cut of the royalties," Brad surmised. "Honestly, Vinzo, is the bottom line all you can think about?"

"Listen, Brad, you've got an image to market, and I'll be damned if I let that little kissy-faced pokemon ruin it!" Vinzo roared.

"You seem to be forgetting that you're the one who works for me, Vinzo!" Brad retorted. "And I'm not paying you to steal my pokemon because you think she gives me a bad image! Did it ever occur to you that I don't give a damn about my image?! I didn't become an actor to get approval from anybody -- I did it because I enjoy acting!"

"What a noble attitude. Too bad it won't get you anywhere in this business," Vinzo sneered. "If you think I've crossed the line, then by all means, fire me! I'd love to see how far you make it on the power of your dreams!"

I felt my blood boiling as I listened to Vinzo. He sounded like everybody who'd ever looked down on me and told me I'd never amount to anything, just because I came from a poor family. I couldn't take it anymore....

"Well, he'd be better off getting nowhere on the power of his dreams than working with a sleaze like you!" I snapped. "So, why don't you just shut the hell up?!"

"Yeah! Zip it, chrome-dome!" Meowth chimed in.

Brad held up a hand and silenced us. "I appreciate your help, but I can handle this myself." Then, to Vinzo, "She's right, you know -- I'd rather be true to myself and get nowhere than get ahead by kissing ass and pretending to be somebody I'm not. And you were right, too -- you've crossed the line, Vinzo...and you're fired. I think I'm more than capable of making it in this business without you."

"Famous last words, VanDarn -- you'll never work in this town again," Vinzo shot back as he headed for the door. "Just you wait and see! I'm going to laugh when your fifteen minutes of fame are over, and you become a washed-up has-been who can't even get roles on public access TV!"

"Ah, but you forget, Vinzo," Brad replied cooly, "I've got more than just my principles and my dreams going for me -- I've also got a few things called training, experience, and talent."

"How nice," Vinzo said sarcastically. His lips twisted into a wicked grin. "For future reference, the next time I go to McDonald's and see you working the cash register, remember that I like my extra value meals super-sized."

James, Meowth, and I couldn't believe what we were hearing! This guy was almost as big an asshole as Ash!

"Okay, that does it! Nobody talks to my son that way!" Miriel shouted. She seized Vinzo by the collar of his jacket and balled her free hand into a fist. Just as she was about to knock his teeth down his throat, however, Brad placed a hand on her arm and stopped her.

"It's okay, mom. I can take care of this," he told her. He reached down and picked up Smoochie, who'd jumped to the floor when Miriel had grabbed Vinzo.

"Smoochum!" Smoochie cried happily.

Brad gave her a hug and smiled. Then, he glared at Vinzo. "Hey, Smoochie, why don't we give this loser the big kiss-off?" he said.

A mischievous smile made its way across Smoochie's lips. Then, she blew a kiss to Vinzo and engulfed him in a pink, heart-shaped cloud. When the cloud dissipated, Vinzo had a goofy grin on his face, and he was giggling like a school-girl.

"Whoa! Dat's one powerful Sweet Kiss attack, if it could do dat to a sour-puss like him!" Meowth quipped.

Brad nodded. "Once Smoochie's Sweet Kiss wears off, he'll be back to his old self again, but he won't be bothering us anymore. I'll...."

Before he could finish, a stage-hand came into the green room. "Oh, there you are, Mr. VanDarn! I wanted to remind you that you're on in ten minutes, and we need you onstage now," he said.

"I'm sorry, but could you please tell everybody that the show's going to be starting a little late?" Brad replied. "We've got a bit of a situation here."

"What happened?" the stage-hand asked, taking note of the still-giggling Vinzo.

"I had to dismiss my agent because he tried to steal my pokemon," he explained. "Could you please have security escort him out?"

The stage-hand saluted Brad. "Yes, sir, Mr. VanDarn," he said, leading Vinzo out of the room.

"Hmmmph. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say," Miriel commented once Vinzo was gone.

"I couldn't agree more," said Ahearn.

"I never much cared for him, either," Brad admitted. His expression brightened again as he looked down at Meowth. "Thank you for helping Smoochie tell us what happened."

Meowth returned his smile. "Ah, don't mention it!"

"So, who are these people, anyway?" Brad asked.

"We met Jessie, James, and Meowth at the pizzeria after you left," Ahearn explained. "Your mother's purse got lost in the shuffle when those girls swarmed on you, and these three found it and returned it to her."

Brad smiled at us again and shook our hands. "That was very nice of you. Again, thank you."

" may want to sit down for this next part, dear," Miriel told him. "Because it's pretty damned amazing."

"More amazing than a talking cat who can translate pokemon language?" he queried as he pulled up a seat.

Ahearn nodded. "Bradley, do you know who Jessie is?"

Brad studied me for a moment and shook his head. "No, I've never seen her before in my life...though she kind of looks like you, mom."

"Funny you should mention that," said Miriel. "There's a reason she looks like us, Brad -- it's because she's Dorian and Miya's daughter."

Brad's eyes went wide as he looked at me again. "But...but how is that possible?!" he asked. "Miyamoto's boss told us that Jessica was dead!"

"She lied," Ahearn told him. "She kept the child away from us and the Parkers...made counterfeit death certificates...and convinced Jessie that she had no family so that she could force her to join Team Rocket and follow in her mother's footsteps."

Brad placed a hand to his mouth. "Oh, my god...."

Ahearn and Miriel then proceeded to fill him in on everything that had happened at the restaurant.

"Oh, my god," he whispered again once their narrative was finished. He looked at me with an awestruck expression. "It really is you...Dorian's girl...."

Miriel smiled proudly. "Congratulations, Brad! You're an uncle!"

"I'm so glad what that woman told us wasn't true," Brad said, taking my hand in his own and giving it an affectionate squeeze. "When she said that you were dead, we felt like we'd lost everything." With his free hand, he gave Smoochie a pat on the head. "I think Smoochie, here, is the only thing that kept me going after that happened."

Smoochie looked up at him and smiled. "Smoochum!"

"After we got the news, I went off to be by myself for a couple of weeks and take everything in," Brad continued. "Dorian and I always used to go hiking and camping in the mountains east of Redwood Heights when we were boys, so that's where I went. While I was camping in the foothills, there was a bad snowstorm. It lasted for a couple of days, but I rode it out. When the storm passed, I found Smoochie -- she was in one of the creeks that came down from the mountains, and she looked half-starved, half-frozen, and completely water-logged. I fished her out and took her back to my camp, and once I'd dried her off, warmed her up, and given her something to eat, I found out that she was an orphan. She'd gotten lost and fallen into the creek during the snowstorm. Knowing that I'd saved her life made me feel a little better about everything we'd just lost, and having her around really cheered me up. She's been my friend ever since."

Meowth brushed away the tears that had welled up in his eyes. "Awww! Dat's sweet!" he sniffled.

"No wonder Smoochie means so much to you," James remarked.

"You made the right choice, getting rid of Vinzo and sticking up for your pokemon, Brad," I told him. "Friendship is always more important than image or fame...especially when it's such a special friend."

When I said this, Smoochie smiled up at me and winked. "Smoochum!"

I couldn't help but smile back.

Smoochie responded by jumping into my arms and planting a kiss on my cheek.

"She really likes you!" Brad commented.

"I really like her, too!" I replied. "She's such a cutie! And so sweet, too!"

James grinned. "You know, I think Vinzo's prediction that Smoochie would hurt your image is way off-base."

Brad raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

He nodded. "Most of your fans are teenage girls, right?"

"Yeah. A good ninety percent, I think."

I knew where James was going with this. "Well, most teenage girls absolutely adore cute pokemon! If your fans see you with Smoochie...see how much you care about her, they'd go wild! Women love strong, handsome men who have a sensitive side." I reached over and took James's hand in mine. "I know I sure do."

Ahearn closed his eyes and thought for a moment. "You know, I think they're on to something!"

A wicked grin made its way across Miriel's lips. "Oh, Brad, wouldn't Vinzo go absolutely apeshit if you went public with Smoochie at today's show and became more popular than ever?"

Now Brad was grinning, too. "I'm sure he would. But Smoochie isn't in the script. How....?"

"We can fix dat!" Meowth told him.

"Do you have a copy of the script?" James asked.

Brad took a large, blue folder from a nearby table and handed it to him. "Right here."

Meowth and I sidled closer to James and skimmed over the script with him. It was pretty straightforward -- Brad battles and drives off a group of masked thugs who try to attack him, just like in the trailer of his movie. Then, he recovers an artifact that the thugs stole and returns it to its rightful owner.

"A simple plot like this would be really easy to tweak," James commented. "All we have to do is change the group of thugs to a pair of Team Rocket agents and the stolen artifact to a stolen pokemon, and we're in business!"

"Just imagine how much your fans would love seeing you battle a pair of dastardly villains to save your adorable little pokemon!" I said.

"And I suppose you and James would be playing the villains?" he ventured.

"Of course!" I replied.

A dubious look crossed his face.

"Whatsa matter?" Meowth asked. "We play villains all the time -- we got loads of experience!"

"It's not that," Brad sighed. He looked at me again. "I just don't feel right battling my own niece, even if it is just an act...."

"Don't worry about me -- I know it's all in good fun," I assured him. "Besides, I've always wanted a chance to be an actress!"

This made him smile again. "Boy, does that sound familiar!"

"I think it's a fine idea," Ahearn told us.

"I couldn't agree more!" Miriel chimed in. "This should be fun!"

"Then that settles it!" Brad exclaimed. "The play's the thing!"


While James, Meowth, and I made a few alterations to the script, Brad called the stunt men and let them know that they could take the rest of the day off. Then, he called the stage-hand and told him about the last minute change in plans, too. After Brad took a few minutes to look over the new script, James and I changed back into our Team Rocket uniforms, Ahearn and Miriel went to take their seats in the audience, and our plan was put into action.

Once we were ready, the stage-hand went out and addressed the audience. "Sorry we're a little late, folks -- Brad made a few changes to today's show, and he was just getting ready," we heard him say.

His announcement was followed by a chorus of loud murmurs from the audience.

"Not to worry!" the stage-hand assured them. "The changes are all good ones. Brad knows that anybody can see Ultra Maximum trailers on TV or watch the movie when it comes to theaters next week. So, he's not going to be reenacting a scene from his movie today. Instead, he's going to be putting on a very special exclusive show for you, his loyal fans! Now, without further ado, please enjoy Brad VanDarn in The Purloined Pokemon!"

The audience began to cheer and applaud.

Once the stage-hand returned backstage, James and I took our places with Smoochie, and the curtain went up.

Meowth (who'd remained backstage since he was the narrator) turned on his microphone and cleared his throat. "Ahem. Our story begins with a pair a dastardly Team Rocket agents, who've just pulled off a heist!"

When he said this, James and I ran down a staircase and came to center stage. As the spotlight focused on us, I put Smoochie in a cage and grinned. "Ah, Smoochum! At last, you're ours!"

"Smoochum is a rare and valuable pokemon!" James exclaimed. "We're sure to get a raise if we send it to our boss!"

Suddenly, the audience started to boo and hiss and chant, "We want Brad!!!"

I scowled at the mob of jeering fan-girls.

"Don't pay any attention to them, honey -- they're supposed to be booing us this time!" James whispered.

"But little did dis pair a villains realize what a mistake dey'd just made!" Meowth quickly continued. "For dis particular Smoochum belonged ta none other den...."

Taking his cue, Brad raced onstage. The girls began to scream and cheer.

"Give back my Smoochum, you knaves!" he shouted, levelling an accusing finger at us.

"Forget it!" I replied, holding Smoochie away from him. "This pokemon belongs to Team Rocket now!"

"So, you can kiss it good-bye!" James quipped.

"I don't think so!" Brad retorted. With that, he leapt into the air, jack-knifed, and landed on his feet at the bottom of the staircase. Then, he assumed a fighting stance. "This is your last warning -- release her now, or things are going to get ugly!"

The audience started screaming again. "You tell 'em, Brad!" one girl shouted.

James brushed his rogue wisp of hair aside as he assumed a fighting stance as well. "Bring it on!"

As Brad back-flipped towards him and delivered a kick, James quickly ducked and rolled out of the way. When he got back to his feet, he smirked.

"Impressive! Most impressive...but I can do that, too!" James told him. He then countered with his own series of flips and kicks.

As James and Brad continued to kick, flip, and punch in an all-out karate fight, the girls in the audience began screaming louder than ever.

"Like, oh, my god! I don't know who's cuter -- Brad or that Rocket guy!" I heard one girl say.

"I think they're both hot!" said another girl.

"It's like, too much hunk to handle!" yet another girl cried.

I flashed them a wicked grin. "Back off, girls -- the Rocket guy is mine!"

They all gave me a nasty look, but quickly turned their attention back to James and Brad. And as I watched the fight, it was easy to see why the girls were so turned on. When he'd first joined Team Rocket, James had received several months of intense martial arts training -- he had a black belt in karate, and he was skilled in kung fu and jujitsu as well. He was like poetry in motion in this mock-battle.

After a few minutes, Brad won the fight, but as the "villains," James and I still had a few tricks up our sleeves.

"You fought well," Brad said to James. "Now surrender and give back my Smoochum!"

"Never!" James laughed. With that, he jumped back to his feet and returned to my side.

"This battle is far from over!" I added as the two of us brought out our poke balls.

Brad gritted his teeth and assumed a fighting stance once more.

James laughed again and tossed his poke ball. "Go, Weezing!"

"Wobbuffet, go!" I shouted, releasing my own pokemon.

But instead of preparing for battle, Wobbuffet strolled to the front of the stage and saluted the crowd. Then, he launched into an impromptu song and dance number that had the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter.

I smirked as I watched Wobbuffet hamming it up for the crowd. "On second thought, maybe I should use an understudy."

What? I'm just providing some comic relief! Wobbuffet said defensively.

I brought my poke ball out again and called him back. "This play is farcical enough as it is," I countered. Then, bringing out my other poke ball, "Go, Arbok!"

"Now, remember what we practiced backstage," James whispered as Arbok went to Weezing's side.

"We're only pretending to battle Brad, so whatever you do, don't hurt him or Smoochie," I chimed in.

Arbok and Weezing nodded.

"Good," James said. An evil leer crossed his face. "Tackle him, Weezing!"

"Arbok! Poison Sting attack!" I shouted.

As Weezing began charging forth, Arbok fired a barrage of poisoned darts at Brad, taking care to aim them at the floor so they wouldn't hit him.

Meanwhile, Brad dodged the attacks by leaping into the air and vaulting over our two pokemon. A chorus of "ooohhhs" and "aaahhhs" erupted from the crowd.

"You're quick, VanDarn!" James remarked. "But let's see how well you dodge this!" He threw his other poke ball and released Victreebel. "Victreebel! Cut him down to size with your Swords Dance!" he commanded, giving his pokemon a sly wink.

Victreebel winked back and pretended to slash at Brad with his leaves. Brad responded by leaping up and back, evading each attack. And this got more cheers from the crowd.

As Brad continued to dodge Victreebel's attacks, he eventually found his back against the wall. Then, Arbok and Weezing flanked him. Knowing that he was trapped, Brad sank to his knees. "Who...who are you?" he asked in a weary voice.

James and I exchanged grins. It was time for a formal introduction....

"Prepare for trouble!"

"And make it double!"

"To protect the world from devastation!"

"To unite all peoples within our nation!"

"To denounce the evils of truth and love!"

"To extend our reach to the stars above!"



"Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light!"

"Surrender now, or prepare to fight!"

As James and I finished reciting our lines, Wobbuffet emerged from his poke ball and saluted the crowd again. "Wob-buf-fet!"

In response, James and I saluted, too. "Dat's Wobba-right!" we said in unison.

However, before Brad could launch his surprise attack (vaulting over Arbok, Weezing, and Victreebel again, freeing Smoochie from her cage, and defeating us in a pokemon battle), we heard a trio of voices erupting from the back of the auditorium and saw the twerps charging towards the stage.

"Hey, those aren't actors!" Brock shouted.

"AUGH!!! It's TEAM ROCKET!!!" Ash screamed.

"What are you losers trying to pull this time?!" Misty demanded.

"What the hell is going on, here?" Brad whispered to me and James as he came to our side.

"These little brats are always hassling us," I whispered back. "We'll deal with them."

"Why, we're simply doing what we do best!" James replied, turning his attention back to the three children. "Stealing the pokemon...and the show!"

Brock scowled. "Not today, you're not! Give back that Smoochum right now!"

"Weren't you paying attention earlier when I said that this Smoochum belongs to Team Rocket?" I retorted.

Obviously not. These kids are pretty dense, after all, Wobbuffet remarked.

I took Smoochie out of the cage and cradled her in the crook of my arm. "I think she's prefectly happy right where she is!" I continued. "Isn't that right, Smoochie?"

Smoochie nodded and planted a kiss on my cheek. "Smoochum!"

I grinned smugly at the twerps. "See, she likes me! How's about another kiss, Smoochie, sweetie?"

"Eeewww! I wouldn't get my lips anywhere near them if I were you, Smoochum!" Ash growled.

"Yeah! Team Rocket deserves disses, not kisses!" Misty sneered.

Brad clenched his fist. "Jeez, you weren't joking when you said these kids are brats -- they're horrible!" he grumbled. "Are you sure you don't want me to call security and have them thrown out?"

"That sounds like a good idea," James told him. "If they start a fight, somebody could get hurt."

"Yeah! Namely, us!" said Meowth, who'd joined us on the stage.

Brad nodded. "Then that's what I'll do. I'll be back as soon as I can," he said as he went backstage.

"And we'll keep them busy in the meantime," I replied.

Once Brad was gone, Meowth turned on his microphone again and gave the twerps a mischievous grin. "Aw, Ash is just jealous cuz Smoochie wouldn't kiss his filthy, shit-stained face if he paid her a million bucks!"

Everybody in the audience burst out laughing...except for the twerps.

"And Misty, ya may wanna get a handkerchief or a box a tissues, or somethin' -- dat snot-nose a yers is real disgustin'!" Meowth continued.

Now everybody was roaring with laughter. Misty, meanwhile, was turning purple with rage.

"But seriously, folks," Meowth went on, "Ash is a shinin' example to us all -- a shinin' example of why inbreedin' is a crime against nature!"

When Meowth delivered the punch-line, James pantomimed playing a set of drums and made a rim-shot sound. I covered my mouth with my hands to stifle my own laughter.

"I don't know what that you just said means, but you'd better take it back right now, Team Rocket!!!" Ash shouted.

"And you'd better give back that Smoochum!" Misty warned us again.

"Yeah right," I snorted.

"On both counts," James added.

With that, the two of us pulled down our eyelids and stuck our tongues out at them.

"Then we challenge you to a battle!" said Brock.

"We'll make you losers pay for what you've done!" Ash screamed.

"Yeah!" said Misty.

"And we decline," James said cooly.

My brow furrowed as I looked over at him. "What?!"

"Trust me," he whispered.

"How come you won't battle us?!" Ash whined.

"Because they're a bunch of dirty, rotten, no good cowards, that's why!" came Misty's reply.

Brock nodded. "They know they're going to lose!"

"Wrong as usual, twerps," James told them. "We've already defended ourselves from your unwarranted verbal onslaughts and proven ourselves your superiors, therefore, we refuse to let this confrontation escalate to physical violence and endanger ourselves or anybody in the audience. Moreover, there's nothing for you to make us pay for, as you so rudely put it. My friends and I are simply acting in a play, which is certainly no criminal offense the last time I checked. If you don't believe me, just wait a few minutes -- as we speak, Mr. VanDarn is calling security and telling them what a nuisance you're making of yourselves. So, if you don't want to get thrown out on your asses, I suggest you return to your seats and shut the hell up."

James's speech was met by a round of applause from the audience.

"I don't understand what you just said, but I don't believe any of it!" Ash sneered. "I know you're up to something, Team Rocket, so quit trying to act like you're not!"

Everybody in the audience began muttering angrily amongst themselves. It sounded like they were getting as fed-up with the twerps as we were.

"Oh, go sit down and shut up, you little freak-os!" one of the girls shouted at them.

"Yeah! You ruined the play!" another girl snapped.

"And you made Brad leave, you jerks!!!" yet another girl cried.

At the mention of Brad's name, all of the fan-girls went into a frenzy and began shouting obscenities at the twerps and pelting them with soda cups, candy, and popcorn. Before long, the noise became unbearable.

"I think we'd better wait for Brad backstage," I said to James and Meowth. "I have a feeling things are about to get ugly."

"About to?" Meowth asked. "News flash, Jess -- things got ugly the second Ash showed his face!"

"Good one, Meowth!" James snickered.

As we called back our pokemon and began making our way off the stage, however, I got the feeling that this confrontation wasn't over yet. Sure enough, when I looked over my shoulder, I saw that the twerps were charging us again.

And they were about to attack.

I felt as if I were moving in slow motion as I turned to warn James and Meowth. Luckily, Smoochie reacted more quickly than I could -- as the twerps jumped onto the stage and brought out their poke balls, she unleashed another Sweet Kiss and incapacitated Brock.

Unfortunately, Misty and Ash were still coming after us, and there was nothing we could do to defend ourselves as Poliwhirl and Pikachu unleashed a Water Gun/Thunderbolt combo that soaked us and zapped us with 10,000 volts of electricity.

Somewhere in the distance, I heard screaming as the electric shock coursed through my body, but it wasn't James's voice, or Meowth's, or even my own.

When the two pokemon called off their attacks, leaving me, James, and Meowth (and Smoochie, since I was still holding her at the time) burnt and beaten, Ash and Misty stepped closer and leered down at us. I could tell from the expressions on their faces that they were getting ready to attack us again.

I felt the bile rising in my throat as I looked up at them. I hated those twerps. I hated how cruel, sadistic, and stupid they were. I hated them for their relentless persecution. I hated them for all of the pain they'd ever caused me and my friends.

You fucking little assholes, I thought. Why didn't you listen to us when we told you that we weren't doing anything wrong?! Why can't you just leave us alone?! I wish you knew how it felt to have somebody beat the shit out of you....

Little did I know, my wish was about to come true.

As Ash and Misty started to command their pokemon to attack us again, I looked beyond them and saw where the screams I'd heard had come from -- Ahearn and Miriel were leaping onto the stage and making a beeline for the twerps. The fires of Hell were burning in their eyes, and they looked angry enough to kill!

Misty smirked at me. "Poliwhirl! Hit them with a Do-"

Her command was cut short when Miriel grabbed her by the ponytail and yanked her backwards so roughly that she landed on her ass.

Ash, meanwhile, was leering down at James and Meowth. "Pikachu, hit them with another Thu-" His voice trailed off when he heard Misty cry out in pain, and when he turned to see what was going on, Ahearn caught him by the throat and began to squeeze so hard that it made him choke.

"What the fucking HELL do you brats think you're doing?!" Miriel demanded.

"Us?! What do you think you're doing?!" Misty cried. "We were trying to save Smoochum from Team Rocket!"

Since Ash couldn't reply, he just made more gagging noises.

Miriel's sapphire eyes narrowed to slits. "You kids must be pretty goddamned stupid -- Smoochie wasn't in any danger until you sicced your pokemon on...."

"But it's Team Rocket!" Ash, who'd finally found his voice again, protested.

Ahearn responded by slamming Ash against the wall. "Shut the fuck up, boy!" he snapped. "One more word out of you, and I'll smash your ugly face in!"

"Why are you taking up for Team Rocket?!" Misty said indignantly. "They're a bunch of evil, pathetic losers!"

Miriel grabbed Misty by the ponytail again and hauled her back to her feet. "Those evil, pathetic losers are our granddaughter and her friends, and we'll be damned if we let you, or anybody else bad-mouth them or mistreat them!" she growled.

Misty made a face at her. "So, you're Jessie's grandmother? I should've known -- you're a nasty old hag, just like she is!"

Those words sent a cold fire of rage surging through me. Ignoring the pain in my body, I got back to my feet and stormed over to Miriel's side. "Don't you DARE talk about my granny like that, you fucking bitch!" I shouted, wrenching Misty from her grasp.

Misty howled in pain as my fingernails cut through my leather glove and gouged into her arm. I responded by tightening my grip on her and smashing her face with a left hook.

"AUGH!!! I should've known that you were Team Rocket, too -- you're evil bastards just like they are!!!" Ash wailed. "Pikachu! Hit them all with a Th-"

True to his word, Ahearn drove his fist into Ash's face a few times, leaving him with two black eyes, a bloody nose, and a split lip. As he released his hold on Ash's throat and let him crumple to the floor, he balled his hands into fists again and boxed the twerp's ears.

When they saw what was happening to their trainers, Pikachu began to crackle with electricity, and Poliwhirl glared at us and held up his fists.

Miriel grabbed Misty from me again. "Call off your pokemon," she said.

"Why should I?" Misty sneered, sticking her tongue out.

"Because if you don't, I'll turn that snotty nose of yours into a bloody nose," she replied matter-of-factly as she caught Misty's face in a vice-like grip, making it impossible for her to withdraw her tongue.

Misty made an even nastier face at her (if it was possible) and shook her head.

Miriel wasn't amused. "Do it NOW, you little troll!" she shouted, giving Misty a vicious backhand across the face.

Tears filled Misty's eyes as she placed a hand to her bruised face. "Alright, alright," she croaked.

Once Miriel released her, Misty returned Poliwhirl to his poke ball. Then, she and Pikachu went to Ash's side. As she knelt next to him, Brad returned with three security guards.

A horrified expression crossed Brad's face as he looked from his parents, to the bruised and bloodied Ash and Misty, to the still-dazed Brock, to me and my friends. "Wh-what the hell happened?!" he stammered.

"That's what we'd like to know!" came Miriel's reply.

"When that karate fight between you and James began, an usher told me and your mother that we had a phone call in the lobby," Ahearn explained. "Turned out to be the secretary from the talent agency that Vinzo works for. She wanted to confirm some meeting you and Vinzo had scheduled for eight, so we had to explain to her that you'd just fired him and cancel the meeting. And when we got back...." His voice trailed off for a moment as he jerked a thumb in Ash and Misty's direction. "....We saw these assholes attacking Jessie, James, Meowth, and Smoochie!"

"But they're Team Rocket!" Misty said to the security guards. "We were only trying to save the Smoochum from them!"

Miriel silenced her with another slap across the face. "Shut it, bitch! You're in enough trouble as it is!"

"These kids went berserk and tried to pick a fight with Jessie and James while they were pretending to battle me with their pokemon," Brad told them. "Jessie and James tried to defuse the situation with a few ad-libs, but that just made the kids get nastier, so I went to call security. I had no idea it was going to come to this...."

"Heh. We coulda told ya it would," said Meowth. "Dose twerps are always pullin' dis kinda shit with us!"

Ahearn and Miriel's eyes went wide. "Y-you mean they attack you like this all the time?!" they gasped.

"Pretty much every time they see us," James sighed. "Which is once or twice a week at least...."

"Jeezus, that's really sick," Brad said, casting a venomous glare at the twerps.

Ahearn and Miriel grabbed Ash and Misty by the ears and hauled them back to their feet.

"Hmmmph! And to think we gave you free tickets to the show as thanks for finding Smoochie," Miriel snorted. "Would've thought twice about that if we knew what little bastards you are!"

Meowth smirked. "Actually, dey wasn't really bein' all dat helpful. Dey was arguin' about which one of 'em should capture Smoochie -- completely ignorin' dat she was tryin' ta tell 'em she already had a trainer -- and just put on dere little goody-goody act when youse guys showed up and explained dat she was yer son's pokemon."

Ash and Misty scowled at Meowth.

"Get them out of our sight," Miriel growled, shoving Misty at one of the security guards.

"And if we ever catch you shit-weasels hassling our granddaughter and her friends again, I'll ram my foot so far up your ass, you'll taste shoe leather!" Ahearn added. Then, as if to illustrate the point, he gave Ash a swift kick in the rear before shoving him to a second security guard.

As the two security guards pinned Ash and Misty's hands behind their backs, a third security guard took Brock by the arm. Then, they led the three children out of the auditorium, Ash and Misty continuing to protest, insist that they'd done nothing wrong, and hurl insults at us all the while.

Once they were gone, Brad scooped Smoochie into his arms and brushed away the burn marks that covered her. "Are you okay, Smoochie?"

She nodded and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Smoochum!"

Brad smiled at her and turned his attention to me, James, and Meowth. "What about you three?" he asked.

"We're fine, too," I assured him.

"A little sore, but no real harm done," Meowth added.

James nodded. "Like I said, this happens all the time. Don't worry about us."

"We couldn't help but worry!" Miriel said as her eyes filled with tears. She and Ahearn returned to my side and put their arms around me. "After all these years, we finally find out that our granddaughter is alive...only to see her and her friends almost get killed two hours later...."

"Never seen trainers attacking humans with their pokemon before," Ahearn muttered as Miriel's voice trailed off. "Not that viciously, anyway. Sickest thing I've ever seen. They should count themselves lucky Miri and I didn't give 'em a worse beating than we did!"

I felt my face getting wet with Miriel's tears as she covered me with kisses. "My little angel...." she sniffled.

I returned my grandparents' embrace. "It's alright," I assured them. "It's alright...."

Ahearn shook his head. "No, it's not. We've lost so much...and you've been through so much over the years. There's no excuse for the way those children treat you."

"You're absolutely right -- it's inexcusable," said James. "But the twerps got their comeuppance. Now, the best thing to do is put them out of our minds. We can't let them ruin what should be a joyous occasion."

Ahearn and Miriel looked at him. "You have a point...."

He smiled. "Besides, it's not very often somebody makes those twerps pay the price for their cruelty -- that's all the more reason we should be celebrating today!"

Now Ahearn was smiling, too. "You three are made of sterner stuff than I could imagine."

"We still couldn't help getting upset, though," Miriel chuckled as she dried her tears.

"Well, we appreciate it. Ain't very often folks take up for us when dere's trouble," Meowth told them. He grinned. "Youse guys kicked some serious ass -- it's easy ta see where Jess gets her feistiness!"

Ahearn and Miriel beamed proudly when he said this. I smiled, too.

"Well, if there's no harm done, then we should wrap everything up and call it a day," Brad remarked. He turned on the microphone again and addressed the crowd. "We apologize for the disruption, everybody -- it definitely wasn't part of the show."

Everybody began to applaud.

"But unpleasantness aside, I guess you're wondering why things didn't go as planned with the show itself," Brad went on. "One reason is that I wanted this performance to be more than just an advertizement for my new movie. But another reason...the main reason is because I wanted to share something important with you today." He paused for a moment and gave Smoochie a hug. "Smoochie, here, is my pokemon in real life. There were some who wanted me to turn my back on Smoochie for the sake of my image, so I wanted today's performance to be about why I can never do that. It doesn't matter to me if Smoochie isn't an action hero pokemon -- she's my friend, and I'm not ashamed of it. This play was about how much she means to me."

There was a long pause. But one by one, the girls began to applaud again. Before long, Brad and Smoochie were getting a standing ovation from the entire audience!

"Strong and sensitive! Oh, wow! Just when I think Brad can't get any better, he does!!!" I heard somebody say.

"I LOVE that Smoochum!!!" another girl cried.

"You rule, Brad!!!" several girls said in unison.

Brad smiled and gestured towards Ahearn and Miriel. "This lady and gentleman are my parents." Then, to me, James, and Meowth, "And this lovely young lady is my niece, Jessie, and these two are her friends, James and Meowth. They all encouraged me to put on this play with Smoochie today, and Jessie, James, and Meowth were an especially big help. My family is just as important to me as my friends -- if anybody deserves a round of applause, it's them!"

As everybody began clapping again, Ahearn, Miriel, James, Meowth, and I stepped forward and took a bow.

"And last, but not least," Brad continued once the applause died down a few minutes later, "I'd like to thank you, my fans. Without you, I wouldn't be where I am today, so to show you all how much I appreciate your support, I'm making yet another change in plans for today's show. Originally, the advance tickets for next week's premeire of Ultra Maximum were going to be on sale for ten dollars apiece, and autographed photos were going to be on sale for twenty dollars apiece. But my agent who set all the prices is no longer with us, and you've already paid good money to see me today, so everybody here will get their tickets and photos for free!"

This announcement was met with yet another round of applause.

"Once again, I apologize for the interruption in today's show, and I apologize for the cancellation of the interview segment," Brad said, bringing his speech to a close. "But a lot of big things have happened today, and right now, the place I need to be is with my family. That said, I thank you all for being here today, and I bid you all a fond farewell!"

As we all took a final bow and left the stage, we were followed by more cheers and applause.

Once we were backstage, Brad grinned at us again. "You were right -- Smoochie was a big hit with the fans! Thanks again for rewriting the play so we could include her."

"It was our pleasure," James replied.

"Yeah! Any family of Jessie's is a friend of ours!" Meowth chimed in. "And we're always happy ta help a friend!"

Ahearn reached over and put an arm around my shoulders. "Speaking of family, this pretty girl needs to learn more about us...and Dorian."

Miriel put her arm around me, too. "Indeed, she does. Won't the three of you please come home with us...and stay for a few days?"

"You know we will," I told them. "No sense in being reunited with my family if I'm not even going to stay and visit for awhile!"


The drive from Redwood Heights was a pleasant one as the city gave way to rolling hills and lush, green fields and forests that were beginning to change to the brown, orange, red, and gold of fall.

"This is really beautiful country out here," James remarked as he looked out the window of Ahearn and Miriel's SUV.

From the front seat, Miriel turned and smiled at us. "This is the horse country of Johto," she told us. "Farmers and ranchers have been living in these parts for ages."

"The only area around here that's really become urbanized is Olivine City...and that's a good fifty miles away! Redwood Heights has grown quite a bit too, especially with its film and theater industry, but it's still a relatively small city," Ahearn added. "And on a personal note, I hope it stays that way."

James nodded. "I agree. It's a shame when cities get so big that they encroach on the surrounding countryside and swallow it up." There was sadness in his voice as he spoke, and I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was thinking about his grandma and grandpa Morgan's old estate, which had been left to the town of Lilac Falls and turned into a park when they'd passed away.

"I don't see that happening to us anytime soon, though," said Miriel. "Most of the people who live in the country around Redwood Heights have owned the land for generations, and they're not likely to be selling to developers, no matter how much they offer!"

"I'm glad to hear that," I replied, taking James's hand in mine.

He turned and smiled at me.

Twenty minutes later, we turned off the main highway and followed a dirt road a couple of miles further west. Then, we turned north onto a little driveway and passed through a wrought iron gate decorated with stylized Ponytas and Rapidashes. We then found ourselves surrounded by acres upon acres of woods and pastures. Atop a hill at the end of the driveway, I could see an immense log cabin with dormer windows, a green metal roof, and a wide front porch. In a way, the honey-colored wooden building with its massive porch columns, set against the backdrop of fall-colored fields and purple snow-capped mountains, reminded me of Edoras -- the golden hall of King Theoden of Rohan.

"Well, this is it!" Miriel announced. "We're home!"

"It's absolutely beautiful," I told them.

James smiled again. "It kind of reminds me of my grandparents' old estate."

"This property's been in my family for hundreds of years," Ahearn explained as he pulled into the carport next to the house. "My ancestors came to Johto from England and Scotland in the Middle Ages, and Miri's came here from Ireland and Wales during the potato famine in the mid-1800s."

"Wow! You really have been here a long time!" I remarked. I'd always been intrigued by history, and it was especially interesting to finally be hearing a bit of my own.

"Your grandpa Parker once told us that his ancestors left Ireland and went to Kanto about the same time that my ancestors emigrated. And your grandma Parker has quite an interesting tale, too! Musashi comes from Japan, but she moved to Kanto when she married your grandfather. She was born a princess, but you'll never meet a more hard-working, down to earth soul," Miriel chimed in. She smiled at me again. "You've got a colorful heritage, Jessie -- everything from the British Isles, and even some Japanese royalty!

"And that reminds me, we need to call the Parkers and tell them about you!" she continued as we began heading for the house. "I know they'll be as delighted as we are!"

I felt my heart racing when she said this. Ever since momma had told me that her parents were still alive and living in Kanto, I'd been looking forward to the day when I got a chance to meet them. The prospect of finally seeing them and getting to speak with them was every bit as thrilling as how I'd met my grandma and grandpa Rochester!

"But we can do that tomorrow," she said, placing a hand to my cheek. "It's starting to get late, and you'll be wanting to hear about your father first."

My father. The mention of those words stirred up a host of conflicting emotions inside of me. On one hand, I did want to know the whole story about what had happened between him and momma. Now that I'd come this far, I needed to know! But on the other hand, from what little information I'd managed to glean from momma while she was alive, the thought of learning the whole story was unsettling...even frightening! I already knew that my dad had loved momma, left her, and never looked back. Did I really want to know why he'd left? What if he blamed me? What if it turned out to be my fault? It was only a few short weeks ago that I'd finally managed to forgive myself for a lot of the mistakes and shortcomings of my past. Was I about to become burdened with guilt all over again?

I was brought from my reverie by the feeling of James placing his hands on my shoulders. "Are you okay, Jess?" he asked.

I looked back at him and forced a smile. "I'm fine. I just have a lot of stuff on my mind, that's all."

The concerned expression didn't leave his face when I said this, but I knew he wasn't going to press the issue.

A few minutes later, Brad's sports car pulled up the driveway and parked next to the SUV. Then, he, Meowth, and Smoochie piled out and joined us on the porch.

"Yer car kicks ass, Brad!" I heard Meowth saying. "What is it, a Hemi 'Cuda?"

Brad nodded. "Yeah. Classic muscle cars are a passion of mine...."

"Dorian was always the horse lover of the family, and Brad is the car lover," Ahearn remarked.

"And he's got the Hot Wheels collection to prove it!" Miriel added. "Cases and cases of them...."

Brad smiled sheepishly.

Once Ahearn had found the right key, he unlocked the front door and held it open for us. "Come on in!"

A feeling of awe came over me as I walked through the door and entered the Rochesters' house -- the inside was as inviting and cozy as Bag End, Hobbitton as the outside was as stunning as Edoras! Passing through the foyer, I found myself in a living room with a terra cotta tiled floor and soft peach-colored walls. Leather chairs and sofas were grouped around a coffee table and television set, forming a conversation area in the center of the room, and a red wood stove with Charizards on the sides sat in the corner. A shelf filled with books and crystal and porcelain pokemon figurines stood next to the window, and on the opposite wall was a cross-stitch picture of two Rapidashes nuzzling each other and standing together beneath the branches of a willow tree. Next to the Rapidashes, embroidered in a Celtic font with glossy green thread were the words:

Ahearn Caleb Rochester
Miriel Gwenllian Gilmore
United in Love
October 10, 1962

But the detail about the room that most caught my attention was the picture that was hanging next to Rapidash cross-stitch. It was a photograph of a teenage boy. He had the same spiky red-violet hair as Ahearn, only it was several inches longer and pulled back in a ponytail. And his sparkling eyes were sapphire-blue, just like Miriel's...and my own. I knew immediately that it was Dorian -- I recognized him from the photo that Miriel had shown me earlier.

"That picture was taken when Dorian was fourteen," Miriel told me as she came to my side. "His Sophomore year in high school...."

Meowth climbed onto my shoulder to get a better look. "Not a bad lookin' guy," he commented. "I can see why Miyamoto fell in love with him."

I know he'd been trying to be complimentary, but the cat's words only sent another pang of sadness through me.

I don't get it, I said to myself as I stared up at the picture. You look like such a nice guy. Like James. So, why did you do it, Dorian? Why did you leave us?


I tore my attention away from the photograph of Dorian and saw Miriel standing at the foot of the staircase.

"I'll show you to your rooms so that you can get settled in and freshened up," she said. "Come on, you three."

"Thank you," James, Meowth, and I replied as we followed her upstairs.

When we reached the top of the staircase, the hallway branched off to an east wing and a west wing. "This is Brad's room," she told us as she led us past the first door on the east. "He has an apartment in Redwood Heights, but we left his room the way it is since he still lives here most of the time. He only stays in the city when he's working on long-term projects."

"Must be nice to have such a close relationship with your son," said James.

Miriel nodded. "It is." Presently, she opened the second door on the east wing and revealed a room with pale blue walls, floral-patterned curtains, and a four-poster bed with a spread that matched the curtains. "And this is our guest room. Meowth, you can stay in here."

Meowth grinned as he walked into the room and flopped down on the bed. "Nice digs! Comfy, too! Thanks, granny!"

Miriel returned his smile. "You're welcome."

Suddenly, Wobbuffet popped out of his poke ball again and followed Meowth into the room. Wow! This place is nice! I think I'll stay in here, too!

Miriel chuckled as she watched the two pokemon deciding who got the bed and who got the bean-bag chair, looking out the dormer window on the southern wall, and admiring the decor. Then, she turned her attention back to me and James. "I hope I'm not being presumptious in assuming that the two of you will be sharing a room?" she asked.

"Not at all," I replied. "James and I are practically...."

"....Joined at the hip...if ya know what I mean!" Meowth snickered as he returned to our side.

James reached down and gave him a pinch. "Behave, Meowth!"

I facefaulted. "I was going to say that James and I are practically married!"

Miriel chuckled again. "That cat!"

"Jess and I even had a wedding ceremony of sorts about a week ago!" James added.

Meowth's jovial expression suddenly vanished. "Actually, I've got somethin' ta tell youse guys about the weddin'," he sighed.

"Don't worry, Meowth -- Jessie and I already figured out that even though the ceremony was real, the marriage itself isn't completely official until we get our marriage license," James told him.

"We actually figured it out right after the ceremony, when we went off to consummate our vows," I said. "But we were all having so much fun that James and I decided not to break the news to you until later."

Meowth breathed a sigh of relief and brushed away the sweatdrop that had formed on his temple. "Well, dat's good ta know. Dis past week, I been worryin' about how ta break the news to you!"

"Well, there's no need to worry!" James laughed. He wrapped an arm around my waist. "Our plans remain as is -- when Jessie and I have our real wedding, we'll just get the license and renew our vows in a second ceremony. Until then, we'll just be partially married."

Miriel smiled again. "It's so wonderful to see two young people so deeply in love with each other. Reminds me of Ahearn and myself...and Dorian and Miya...."

I felt my stomach tying itself in knots again as she said this.

"And that reminds me, it's time you hear your father's story," she continued, taking note of my expression. "Come with me." With that, Miriel led us to the west wing of the upstairs hallway and opened the first door.

My nervousness subsided a little as I stepped into the bedroom and took in my surroundings. It looked like a room that I might've designed myself -- everything about it seemed just right for me. The interior walls were painted a soft mist-green color, and curtains of a matching shade, decorated with purple leaf and fern patterns, hung in the dormer window along the north wall and the gable window on the western wall. In the dormer alcove were a bean-bag chair covered in forest-green corderoy and an oak end-table with a purple lava lamp on it. A closet and an oak dresser were on either side of the alcove, and a row of oak bookcases lined the eastern wall. Above the bookcases was a poster that had a stylized painting of Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and the thirteen dwarves in the center and Elrond, the Great Goblin, Gollum, the eagles, the wood elves, Bard of Lake Town, and Smaug the dragon around the borders, and The Hobbit written across the top in gold letters. Against the southern wall was a bed covered with a green blanket and green leaf-patterned sheets. An enormous Medieval-style tapestry with a Rapidash embroidered on it hung above the headboard. On the sill of the western window was a bouquet of white roses in an oddly-shaped vase made of green glass.

"Wow!" James and I whispered in unison.

"This was Dorian's room...just the way he left it," Miriel informed us. "The room next to this one is the office, so you and James will be staying in here."

We looked back at her.

She smiled tenderly at me and selected a thick book with a cover of red suede from one of the shelves. "And this is Dorian's personal journal," she said, placing the book in my hands. "It has a full account of everything that happened between him and Miya. I imagine you never had a chance to hear the whole story, and doubtless, you have a lot of questions. But I promise you'll find all of the answers within these pages."

I looked at her a moment longer. Then, at the book. "Thank you."

"I'll leave you alone now," she said softly. "You have a lot of reading to do, and I need to get dinner started. I'll let you know when it's ready."

Once Miriel had taken her leave, I stared down at the journal...ran my fingers along its cover of soft, red leather. Inside this book were the words of my father, Dorian Rochester. It was strange. In all of my eighteen years, I'd never given much thought to the man. I'd never even considered him a father -- to me, he'd always been nothing more than some nameless, faceless man that had impregnated my mother. But in the space of a few short hours, that had all changed. I'd met Dorian's family -- my grandparents and my uncle. I'd heard names...seen faces, and now I had this book, which promised to fill in the rest of the blanks.

But I had to ask myself again: did I really want to learn the answers that this book held?

I felt James wrap his arms around my waist. "I can only imagine how strange this must feel," he told me. "But think about it, Jess -- you're finally going to learn about your dad!"

"I know. But I'm afraid, James," I replied.

He raised an eyebrow. "Afraid? Of what?"

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "Everything inside of this book. After all these years...after all that's happened, I'm not sure I want to hear what my dad has to say!"

"You may not want to hear it...but you need to hear it nevertheless," James replied. He turned me around and cupped my chin in his hand. "Jessie, I'm not taking up for him, and I'd never try to justify what your dad did to your mom. But there are two sides to every story, and so far the only side you've ever heard is your mom's. Now you have a chance to hear your dad's side. He was in the wrong -- there's no doubt about that, and you don't have to forgive him. But at the very least, read the book and hear him out. Give him a chance to explain why he did what he did."

"But that's the problem, James -- I don't think I want to know why!" I shook my head and felt tears stinging my eyes. "What if....?"

"It's not your fault, if that's what you're thinking," James interjected. "Jess, when a man walks out on a woman who's carrying his child, it's NEVER the baby's fault! A child never asks to be born...nobody comes into the world with the intention of destroying love or breaking up a family."

"I know you're right, James," I muttered.

He brushed my tears away with his thumb and smiled tenderly at me. "Of course I am."

I looked again at the book. As I slowly opened it, I saw the words Personal Journal of Dorian Ahearn Rochester written on the inside cover in a smooth, flowing script.

James squeezed my shoulders again and planted a kiss atop my head. "I'll leave you alone now," he said softly. "If you need me, I'll be downstairs with your grandparents and Brad."

I gazed into his glittering green eyes for a moment and smiled in spite of myself. Knowing that James was always there for me meant more than he could ever imagine. "Thank you," I whispered.

He gave me another kiss and ran his fingers along my cheeks. Then, he took his leave.

Once James was gone, I seated myself in the bean-bag chair and turned my attention back to the book that I was holding. Alright, Dorian. Start talking, I said to myself as I flipped to the first entry and began to read....

January 5, 1979

What an incredible night it's been! Who would've guessed that when I auditioned for a role in the school play last fall, it would lead to this? The whole thing seems like it was meant to be!

It all began when I started my Sophomore year of high school last September. It was nice to finally have a bit of flexibility with the classes I took -- all throughout elementary and junior high and even Freshman year, the teachers picked our classes for us, and they always preferred to focus on academics and shove the arts and humanities aside. There's nothing wrong with academics, per se...especially since I enjoy biology and might like to become a pokemon doctor someday, but I've always felt that the arts are every bit as important. That's why I signed up for as many electives as possible this year. One of the classes I was lucky enough to get into was drama. Acting is another of my passions -- if I don't become a doctor, an actor would be my other profession of choice.

But I digress. When I enrolled in drama class, I learned that the annual school play was going to be a production of "Romeo & Juliet." Naturally, I had to audition. I knew that underclassmen rarely get cast as anything but extras in big plays like these, but I had to try nevertheless. Shakespeare has always been one of my favorite playwrights -- while all of the other fourteen-year-olds are busy reading those flaky teen magazines or gossiping about their classmates, I'm either perusing the Bard of Avon's works or out riding my Ponytas. Who better to star in a Shakespeare play than one who knows his works inside and out and aspires to be an actor someday?

When I went to the audition, I gave my most heartfelt performance during the reading and was immediately cast as Romeo. It was a dream come true for me, but the drama teacher was more interested in my appearance than my merits as an actor -- he said I had "the look." I suppose my sapphire-blue eyes and long, red-violet hair evoke images of the impulsive star-crossed lover to some, and I certainly have no complaints about my appearance, but the shallowness of the process really hurt me...especially since the other roles were cast for similar reasons. The girl who's playing Juliet is beautiful (she's the head of the school's cheerleading squad), but I feel no chemistry with her -- she has no knowledge of or passion for Shakespeare's work and only auditioned so that she could add another extracurricular activity to her resume.

Yet, I digress again. Three months of rehearsals and costume and stage design led to tonight -- opening night. It all paid off, and our first performance was a moderate success, but the play itself wasn't what made the night so wonderful. No, it was an enchanting night for quite another reason.

As I made my entrance in Act I Scene V of the play, where Romeo first lays eyes on Juliet and falls hopelessly in love with her, my own eyes scanned the audience for a moment, and sitting in the front row, I saw the most beautiful girl imaginable! Her long, luxurious hair was a deep, rich shade of amethyst-purple, her eyes were the color of turquoise, and she had the face of an angel. But most beautiful of all was the light shining in that girl's eyes -- in those eyes, I saw a passion for the literature that matched my own. She wasn't a student at the school, of that I was sure. I could only conclude that she was there for no other reason than because she wanted to see the play. And in that moment, I became as enamored as the character I was playing. For the rest of my performance, I held an image of that girl in my mind's eye -- each word of love that I spoke to Juliet was, in reality, aimed at her. And she seemed to know this -- every now and then, I'd steal glances at the audience and see that her eyes were fixed on me and me alone...or that she was mouthing Juliet's lines, as if giving me a reply.

Anybody reading this would probably think I imagined the whole thing...that it was just the workings of a teenage boy's overactive imagination. But my impressions of the girl were confirmed when the play came to an end. After the closing scene, the cast came back onstage to take a final bow, and some of the audience members came up to congratulate us on our performance. The guy who's dating Veronica Prichard (the girl playing Juliet) gave her a bouquet of lilies, and mom, dad, and Brad came up and told me how well I'd done, too. And when they stepped aside, I saw the girl from the audience standing behind them! Her turquoise eyes were covered by a dull, glassy sheen of tears, but there was a smile on her delicate ruby lips -- she'd come to talk to me!

"I...I just wanted to tell you that I really loved your performance," she said softly. "It blew me away!"

My heart skipped a beat, and I felt my cheeks growing hot at the sound of her voice. But a lame "Uh...thanks," was the only reply I could manage. I kicked myself for getting tongue-tied all of a sudden. Why couldn't I be as suave and poetic as Romeo now that I was actually talking to her?!

The girl's smile grew even wider as she continued. "I like Shakespeare, and I just...." She paused for a moment and shook her head. "I dunno. There was just something about the way you spoke...the way you carried yourself. It's like you were doing it for the love of the play, and that really moved me. I know that probably sounds stupid and flaky, but...."

She was as nervous as I was! Suddenly, I didn't feel so uncomfortable anymore. I seated myself at the edge of the stage and returned her smile. "I don't think it's stupid or flaky at all. If you wanna know the truth, when I saw you in the front row, I got the feeling you were here for the love of the play, too. It felt kinda inspirational to me."

Now she was blushing, too.

"So...are you a student here at Redwood Heights High?" I asked, changing the subject. "I've never seen you before."

She shook her head. "No, I live in Kanto. I just graduated from Pokemon Tech last month, and my parents are taking me on a pre-pokemon journey vacation as a graduation present." She then nodded towards a red-haired man and a Japanese woman, who were still in their seats. They smiled at me and waved when I looked over at them. I waved back.

"Getting the lay of the land before you enter the Johto League?" I ventured, turning my attention back to the girl.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," she replied. She smiled again. "Oh, my name is Miyamoto...Miyamoto Parker."

It was an unusual name, but I liked it. "Pleased to meet you, Miyamoto," I said, extending my hand.

She took my hand in hers and gave it a gentle shake. "And I'm pleased to meet you...Dorian Rochester."

My cheeks grew even redder than they already were. " did you know....?"

She smirked and held up a little white pamphlet. "I have a copy of the program, silly," she said, cutting me off.

I buried my face in my hands. Why had I become such a blithering idiot all of a sudden?!

Miyamoto must have sensed how nervous I'd become again because I felt her place a hand on my shoulder. I looked at her once more and saw that she was still smiling.

Feeling my confidence returning, I decided to make a bold move. I closed my hand over Miyamoto's and gazed into her beautiful blue-green eyes. "Are you still going to be in town tomorrow?" I inquired.

She nodded. "We're here til Monday."

"We have another performance tomorrow night, but...I was wondering if...after the play...would to...get some hot chocolate with me, or something?" I felt my face flushing once again. "It's just's not every day I meet somebody that likes the same things I do. It'd be a shame if we couldn't get together and talk for awhile."

"I agree," she said. "And I'd love to meet you tomorrow night...if it's okay with my mom and dad." Miyamoto paused for a moment and looked back at her parents.

"It's okay with us, princess," her dad replied.

Her mom nodded. "Yes, he seems very nice."

Miyamoto's eyes sparkled as she turned her attention back to me. "Then it's a date!"

My heart raced when I heard her utter that word. "A date...." I echoed.

For the next few minutes, Miyamoto and I made plans and said our good-byes. I felt as if I was walking on air the whole time, and even now as I write this entry, my spirit feels like it's been lifted higher than all the stars in heaven!

I know fourteen is really young to be having such strong feelings for a girl I only met just a few short hours ago...but something about it feels so right! When my gaze fell upon her, it was like a moment of destiny. It's as though I've strayed into a dream...a dream from which I hope I never awaken! Some may scoff at the idea of soul-mates...of love at first sight. But not me.

I believe. With all my heart, I believe....

-- Dorian Rochester

That feeling of numbness came over me again as I finished reading the first entry. I'd expected Dorian to sound arrogant, cold and detatched...maybe even a little brutish. But the writing seemed to reveal a man who was the exact opposite of what I'd always thought him to be. These weren't the words of a deadbeat dad -- this was a sensitive, intellectual, artistic, passionate soul who possessed a wisdom and maturity beyond his years! If anything, he sounded eerily similar to James!

Which made the outcome of his relationship with my mom all the more puzzling.

"What happened to you, Dorian?" I whispered. "You don't sound like the kind of man who'd leave the woman you don't sound like somebody who'd turn his back on his own child. So, why did you?"

Knowing that the only way to find the answers to the questions I'd posed was to read on, I turned the page and did just that....

January 6, 1979

It was everything I'd hoped for and more! As planned, Miyamoto attended my second performance of "Romeo & Juliet" and met me after the play. Once I'd changed out of my costume, we went to a little coffee shop downtown, and we must've talked for hours!

I learned that her parents, Jesse and Musashi Parker, are farmers who live in a little town called Opal Ridge in northern Kanto. Miyamoto has dreams of becoming an expert pokemon trainer, so when she got her trainer's license at age ten, her parents enrolled her in Pokemon Tech to ensure that she'd get the best possible education. And she didn't let her parents down -- for the past four years, she's attended classes at the school, and she's just graduated as Valedictorian. Now, she's on this trip with her parents, getting ready to enter some of the various league competitions.

But pokemon aren't Miyamoto's only passion -- I learned that she loves art and literature as much as I do! Like me, she doesn't really have much in common with people her own age and mostly keeps to herself, preferring the company of books. Among her favorites are works of Medieval and Renaissance literature and modern fantasy authors like Tolkien, Lewis, and Beagle -- all of the same things I like! When our conversation drifted from "Beowulf," Chaucer, and Shakespeare to "Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and "The Last Unicorn," I knew that the first impression I'd gotten of her last night was dead-on!

And after we talked about our favorite books, I told Miyamoto about myself -- growing up in Redwood Heights, my aspirations of being either an actor or a doctor, and my horses. Ah, there was no missing the glimmer in those dazzling turquoise eyes when I mentioned my two Ponytas, Snowmane and Diablo! Knowing that I'd come across a topic as hot as the literature, I explained to her that the Rochester side of my family has a long history of horse training. She seemed especially intrigued to hear that my dad's name (and my middle name) -- Ahearn -- is an old Scottish name meaning "lord of horses." I also sensed a hint of envy when I told her how I've been riding since I was two. Miyamoto told me that she'd ridden a Ponyta once when her parents had rented one for her sixth birthday party, and she'd enjoyed it so much that she's wanted one of her own ever since. When I learned that she's a fellow horse lover, I invited her to come riding with me tomorrow afternoon, and she accepted!

We probably could've spent all night talking, but all too soon, midnight came, and Miyamoto had to go back to the hotel where she and her parents are staying. As I escorted her back to the hotel, she kissed me on the cheek and thanked me for a wonderful evening. Her lips felt like fire on my skin, and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to return her kiss. But once again, my tongue got tied in knots, and I was too dumbfounded to give any kind of decent response. Luckily, Miyamoto knew the reason for my nervousness and didn't take offense. Instead, she gave my hand a gentle squeeze and asked what time we should meet tomorrow. Her understanding calmed me, and once I found my voice again, we made arrangements and said our good nights. Then, I managed to muster enough courage to give her a quick kiss on the cheek before taking my leave.

And now, my spirits feel as if they're soaring again as I sit here in my room and write this entry! I'm in love with her -- if I had a feeling last night, I'm absolutely certain of it now! Never before have I known anybody that I have so much in common with. Never before have I yearned to spend every moment I can with somebody. Never before have I heard such a sweet voice...seen such a beautiful face...felt such an electrifying touch! Yes, I love Miyamoto Parker.

I've found my soul-mate. Of that I have no doubt.

-- Dorian Rochester

My hands trembled as I closed the book and set it down. "They...they don't sound much different from me and James -- we became friends a similar way, and James knew that he was in love with me right from the start, too...that we were soul-mates!"

But this only brought the nagging question back to my mind. "If Dorian loved momma so deeply...if he knew that they were soul-mates, then why....?"

Reflecting on what I'd just read made the shadow of doubt return to my mind. "What if James is wrong? What if it really was my fault?" A sick feeling formed in the pit of my stomach at the possibility that I'd driven my father away and made him fall out of love with my mother, but I quickly banished that thought from my mind. "No! James is right -- it can't be my can't! I can't be held responsible for the choices he made!"

But knowing in my heart that I wasn't the one at fault still didn't help me understand why Dorian had made the choices that he did. So, steeling myself, I opened the book again and continued to read....

January 7, 1979

It feels so strange, these conflicting emotions. My heart is soaring...yet at the same time, it's breaking. The day began and ended so wonderfully, but I dread what tomorrow brings.

After calling the school and letting the drama teacher know that my understudy would need to take my place in today's matinee and evening performances of "Romeo & Juliet," I met Miyamoto at the hotel to pick her up for our horseback riding date. Her parents accompanied her since they were overjoyed that the two of us are getting along so well, and they were eager to meet my family.

My family is happy that I've made a new friend as well -- mom and dad think Miyamoto is wonderful, and Brad really likes her, too. My parents hit it off instantly with Mr. and Mrs. Parker, and as they all got to talking, I took Miyamoto to the pastures down the hill from our house.

Her turquoise eyes glimmered again when she saw Snowmane and Diablo cantering through the field. "They're beautiful!" she sighed.

"My mom and dad got them for me a few years ago," I told her. "They gave me Diablo for my seventh birthday, and I got Snowmane a few months later for Christmas."

"You're lucky," she said. "I've always wanted horses too, but my parents can't afford them."

I raised an eyebrow. "How is that possible? If they enrolled you in Pokemon Tech and took you on this trip, then...."

Her expression darkened as she turned away from me. "They could barely afford that, either," she muttered. "But they wanted the best for me, so they scrimped and saved for years in order to send me to Tech. I got a full scholarship after the first year because of my good grades, but even one year of tuition was enough to wipe them out. And I know they were trying to keep it secret from me, but I found out that mom sold some of her jewelry -- including one of her favorite rings that she took with her when she left Japan to marry my dad -- so they could afford to take me on this vacation."

Suddenly, I felt guilty. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought it up."

The smile returned to her lips. "That's okay -- you didn't know. And technically, I'm not supposed to know, either." She leaned closer to me and whispered into my ear. "But I'll make it up to them someday -- I'm going to work as hard as I can when I leave on my pokemon journey, and when I become famous, I'll pay them back for all the sacrifices they've made for my sake."

I wanted to smile too, but when she uttered the words, "when I leave," it reminded me that she was only going to be here for one more day.

And she must've sensed what was on my mind. "Don't worry, Dorian. It's not every day I make a new friend -- we can call and write to each other when I get back to Kanto. I want to keep in touch."

"Y-you do?" I asked.

Miyamoto nodded. Then, her eyes sparkled again. "And I just got a cool idea! Do you'd be okay if you...traveled with me for awhile?" She blushed. "I didn't plan on leaving til summer, and you'd be out of school by then. And I know my parents would like it if I had a friend with me...."

My heart fluttered when she said this. "R-really? Y-you want me to come with you?" I stammered.

She nodded again. "I really like you, Dorian. I can't stand the thought of never seeing you again...."

Tentatively, I reached over and took her hand in mine. When she offered no resistance, I twined our fingers and caressed her palm with my thumb. "I really like you, too," I replied. "And I'd love to travel with you, Miya! Is it okay if I call you Miya?"

Her smile became a grin, and I knew that the answer was yes.

"We can talk to our parents about it a little later," I continued. "But right now, let's do some riding!"

Miya watched intently as I led Snowmane and Diablo to the barn, secured their halters in the cross-ties, and brought the saddles, pads, and bridles from the tack room. Once they were ready, I took her hand in mine again.

"You can ride Snowmane," I told her. "She's not as high-strung as Diablo, and she doesn't spook as easily as he does...."

She raised an eyebrow. "Spook?"

"Horses are flight animals," I explained. "If they think they're in danger, they're more likely to run than hold their ground. If something catches them off-guard, they'll try to take off on you, so have to be mindful of everything that's going on and keep your cool."

Now Miya looked nervous. "I don't remember anything like that when daddy led me around on the Ponyta at my birthday party."

"Party ponies are a little different -- they're trained to stay calm because children ride them," I said. I gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry. I'm here, and I won't let anything happen to you, Miya. I promise."

My words seemed to comfort her. "I know, Dorian. I trust you."

Hearing her say that meant the world to me. And as I helped her climb into the saddle, I promised myself that I wouldn't let her down, now or ever.

Once Miya was seated comfortably on Snowmane's back and had the reins in her hands, I mounted up on Diablo and gave her a quick lesson. "Now, if you want them to go, you just give them a little nudge in the ribs and make a kissing sound. If you want them to stop, pull back gently on the reins and say 'whoa.' To make them turn left, pull the reins left, to make them turn right, pull the reins right. If you want them to back up, pull back a little harder on the reins and make a clicking sound. Hold on tightly with your legs, and if you feel like you're going to fall off, don't hesitate to grab the saddle horn."

"Sounds easy enough," she said in a quavering voice.

I smiled at her. "Come on. Let's go."

She nodded. Then, she gave Snowmane a gentle nudge in the ribs. "Okay, Snowmane, go slow."

For the next couple of hours, the two of us rode around the pasture and along the trails through the woods on my family's property. Normally when I ride, I love letting the Ponytas run like the wind, but today I was content with them walking slowly, giving me a chance to enjoy every moment with Miya. At one point, a flock of Murkrow flew from a cluster of bushes as we rode by and spooked the Ponytas. Diablo reared up and whinnied, but I was able to calm him and bring him under control in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, Snowmane was prancing and shying away, and Miya looked absolutely terrified -- she was sitting lopsided in the saddle, and her knuckles were white as she gripped the horn in an attempt to keep from falling off! But when she looked over at me...looked into my eyes, she quickly regained her composure and spoke softly to Snowmane. As the horse calmed down, she straightened herself up in the saddle and took the reins in hand again. Then, she returned to my side, and we continued our ride.

When we finally returned to the barn, Miya helped me put the saddles, pads, and bridles back in the tack room, and I showed her how to brush and curry-comb the Ponytas and pick their hooves. Once we were done grooming them, we returned Snowmane and Diablo to the pasture, and I let Miya feed them some carrots and apples while I gave them fresh hay and made sure their water trough was full.

After I finished, I returned to Miya's side. She was giggling as the Ponytas gently took the last of the carrots from her hands.

"They really like you," I remarked.

Miya smiled at me. "I like them, too. They're very sweet...just like their trainer."

I felt my cheeks flushing again.

"I...I wanted to thank you," she continued. "When they spooked at those Murkrow, I was afraid I was going to fall off and get trampled, but I remembered what you told me. And when I looked into your eyes, I wasn't afraid anymore."

I smiled at her. "I'm glad you didn't panic -- that's the worst thing you can do in a situation like that."

"I think I would have if you weren't there."

"But you didn't," I said, taking her hand in mine. "A little more practice, and you could be an expert rider! If we travel together this summer, we can ride Snowmane and Diablo everywhere, and you'll get lots of practice!"

Her eyes sparkled when I reminded her of what she'd proposed earlier. "I'd like that!"

"So would I...."

Suddenly, Miya stepped closer to me and put her arms around my shoulders. My heart pounded as she ran her fingers through my hair, and her face was so close to mine that I could feel her warm, sweet breath on my lips. For a moment, I thought she was going to kiss me, but then she pulled away, holding a few pieces of hay in her hand. "You...had some hay in your hair," she said awkwardly.

For a split second, I was disappointed, but then I noticed the hopeful look in her eyes. She'd felt something when she'd touched me, and now she was gauging my reaction...hoping that I'd felt something, too...waiting for me to make a move.

So I did.

On impulse, I wrapped one of my arms around her waist and held her to me. Then, I placed my free hand on her cheek and lowered my lips to hers. After an initial moment of uneasiness, Miya relaxed and returned my embrace...and started kissing back.

I wanted that kiss to last forever, but all too soon it ended. As Miya pulled away from me, she blushed more fiercely than ever and covered her mouth with her hand. Suddenly, I felt guilty for being so forward with her.

"I-I'm sorry," I stammered. "I...."

"Don't be," she said, cutting me off. "I wanted that as much as you did."

I raised an eyebrow.

She turned to face me again. "What I feel for you is so much stronger than friendship, Dorian. You're smart, funny, sweet, and cute, and I love talking to you and spending time with you." Her brow furrowed. "Does that sound crazy? I mean, we just met two days ago, and we're only fourteen...."

"I don't think it sounds crazy at all," I told her. "Miya, why did you go to see the play on Friday night?"

Miya closed her eyes and thought for a moment. "Well, I've always liked Shakespeare, and when I saw the marquee in front of the school, I thought it'd be nice to see the play...but it was more than that. It's like something inside of me was telling me that I had to go, and that if I didn't, I'd regret it."

"Exactly!" I said. "Miya, I feel like we were meant to find each other. I've never felt such a connection with anybody before -- it was love at first sight!"

She opened her eyes again.

I felt my cheeks getting hot once more. "There. I said it. I'm in love with you...."

Miya breathed a sigh of relief. "Then I'll say it, too -- I love you."

I rested my forehead against hers and ran my fingers through her silky purple hair. "Miya, when you find that special someone, you just know."

She smiled. "Good. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way." With that, she leaned closer and pressed her lips to mine.

After our second kiss ended, the two of us remained in our embrace and continued to gaze into each other's eyes.

At length, I broke the silence. "Come on. Let's go back to the house and get some lunch. Then, we can talk to our parents about this summer."

She smiled again and took my hand in hers. "Yeah!"

When the two of us returned to the house, we found our mothers in the kitchen. My mom was standing at the stove, grilling a couple of ham and Swiss sandwiches, and Miya's mom was sitting at the dining room table, drinking a cup of tea.

"It's amazing," my mom remarked. "Dorian is usually really withdrawn. I've never seen him open up to anybody like he has with your daughter!"

Mrs. Parker nodded. "Miyamoto is the same way. She has such a hard time making friends."

"Well, I'm glad she made friends with my son," mom told her. "She's a very sweet girl."

"Your son is very nice, too," Mrs. Parker replied.

Miya and I exchanged smiles. Then, I cleared my throat and announced our presence.

Mom and Mrs. Parker turned and smiled when they saw us.

"Oh, you're back! And just in time!" mom exclaimed. She flipped the two sandwiches from the griddle and put them on plates. "I made grilled ham and Swiss for lunch. And there's sweet pickles in the fridge or potato chips in the pantry if you want anything to go with them."

I looked at Miya.

She smiled shyly. "I'll have sweet pickles with mine, if that's okay."

I nodded and went to the refrigerator. "That's what I wanted, too."

"So, did you and Dorian enjoy your ride, princess?" Mrs. Parker inquired as Miya joined her at the table.

"We sure did!" Miya replied.

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," said a new voice.

I looked and saw that dad, Mr. Parker, and Brad had all come into the kitchen, too. Mom was starting to make more sandwiches.

As I set the jar of sweet pickles on the table and seated myself next to Miya, she proceeded to tell her parents about how much fun she'd had riding the Ponytas with me. Mr. and Mrs. Parker beamed as they listened to her, and I knew that they'd be happy if I went with Miya on her pokemon journey.

While she was talking to her parents, Brad gave me a sly smile and playfully kicked my shin under the table. "Dorian's got a girlfriend!" he whispered in a sing-song voice.

I put my sandwich down and tousled his spiky red hair. "Yep! I sure do!" I said proudly.

Brad pulled away and pouted for a moment, miffed that his teasing hadn't upset me. Then, he smiled again. "Ah, that's alright -- she's cool."

I returned my little brother's smile. "Yeah, she is."

Once mom finished making sandwiches for everybody else, and we were all seated at the table, Miya and I exchanged looks. Then, she turned her attention back to her parents. "Mom? Dad?"

"What is it, sweetheart?" Mrs. Parker asked.

"Well...I was thinking...." She paused for a moment and blushed. "When I leave on my pokemon journey in June, would it be okay if Dorian comes with me? We talked about it while we were riding, and we decided that we'd like to travel together."

"I think that's an excellent idea!" Mr. Parker replied. "It's definitely okay with us, but you'll have to ask Mr. and Mrs. Rochester, too."

I looked up at my own parents. They were both smiling, and I knew immediately that the answer was yes. Still, I had to hear them say it aloud.

"May I? Please?" I asked. "It won't be til the school year's over, and...."

"You don't need to sell us on it, son," dad laughed. "We think it's a fine idea, too."

"This will be a wonderful opportunity for you to expand your horizons, Dorian," mom remarked. "And the firsthand experience you get on a pokemon journey will be valuable, whether you decide to be an actor or a doctor."

I returned their smiles. I could always count on mom and dad to be supportive of my decisions.

Mrs. Parker smiled at me, too. "I'm so happy that Miyamoto won't be going on her journey alone. Jesse and I will still miss her like crazy, but it makes us feel a lot better to know that she'll have a friend with her."

Miya finished her sandwich and dabbed her lips with her napkin. "Thank you, mom and dad...and Mr. and Mrs. Rochester!"

"Yeah! Thanks!" I echoed.

"Thank you for lunch, too," said Mr. Parker. "It was delicious!"

"You're welcome," mom replied.

"Would the three of you like to stay for dinner as well?" dad asked the Parkers. "We're having barbecued ribs, baked beans, corn on the cob, and a strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert!"

Miya's eyes lit up when he said this.

"Well...we don't want to impose," Mrs. Parker said shyly.

"Nonsense!" dad interjected. "I wouldn't have invited you if we thought you were imposing!"

"Good point," Mr. Parker conceded. "We'd love to stay!"

"Yes, thank you so much!" Mrs. Parker chimed in.

"You're in for quite a treat!" mom told them. She draped an arm around dad's shoulders. "The corn is fresh from our garden, and Ahearn, here, makes his own barbecue sauce from scratch!"

Dad returned mom's embrace. "And Miriel makes the beans and the pie from scratch, too."

Miya licked her lips. "It all sounds so delicious!"

"It is," I assured her. "My mom and dad are great cooks."

"So are mine," she replied. "We don't really eat barbecue that often, though." She paused for a moment and chuckled. "It's kinda strange -- on the nights my dad cooks, we usually have stuff like corned beef and potatoes, and on the nights my mom cooks, we have stuff like sushi and tempura...."

I raised an eyebrow. "Sushi? Isn't that raw fish?"

"Some of it," came her reply.

My stomach clenched at the thought. "Bleah! You'll never see me eating raw fish!" I said, sticking out my tongue.

Miya gave me a playful shove. "I'm gonna make you eat those words, Dorian Rochester!" she warned me. "Cause you can bet while we're traveling, we'll be eating sushi more than a few times when it's my turn to do the cooking!"

I felt the color draining from my face when she said this.

She winked at me. "Don't worry -- I'll start you out slow. You'll probably like California rolls. They're cucumber, avocado, and cooked crab wrapped up in a ball of rice."

"Ya know, that does sound really good," I admitted.

Miya flashed me a wicked grin. "I'll save the fun stuff like masago and eel for later!"

I felt a drop of sweat forming on my temple as I looked over at Mr. and Mrs. Parker. "Sh-she's joking, right?"

Mrs. Parker smiled at me. "Actually, when smoked for a few minutes and drizzled with teriyaki sauce, eel is quite tasty!"

Mr. Parker put his arms around his wife and laughed. "Don't worry, son. When Musashi and I were first married, I swore up and down I'd never eat sushi either! 'Where I come from, we call that stuff bait,' I'd always say. Now, it's one of my favorite dishes!" He leaned closer and whispered to my mom and dad. "And I'll let you in on a little secret -- eel is quite an aphrodisiac!"

Mom and dad covered their mouths with their hands and chuckled.

Mrs. Parker returned her husband's embrace. Then, the two of them rubbed noses for a moment and kissed.

I looked back at Miya and smiled. "Alright, I guess I will give it a whirl sometime."

She smiled back and touched the tip of my nose with her finger. "Good."

"Why don't you kids go and have fun for awhile?" mom suggested. "If we're going to eat at a decent hour, I need to get the beans started...."

"Do you need any help?" I asked.

She reached down and tousled my hair. "Not this time, sweetie. Thanks for offering, though."

Brad grinned and tugged on the sleeve of Miya's blue sweater. "Come on! I'll show you the Hot Wheels I got for Christmas!"

Miya giggled as she got up from her seat and followed my little brother upstairs. I smiled and went with them.

When we got to Brad's room, he got out the little plastic cases that he kept his Hot Wheels in and showed all of them to Miya. He'd been collecting them ever since he was three, and he'd just gotten all of the latest models for Christmas. After showing off his cars, he brought his miniature race track out of the closet and began setting it up.

"Hey, Brad, can I show Miya what grandma and grandpa Gilmore got for you?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yeah. It's on the shelf."

Sure enough, when I looked on the shelf, I found the brightly-colored cube next to Brad's plush Houndoom.

"What is it?" Miya asked as I brought it from the shelf and held it out to her.

"It's called a Rubik's Cube," I told her. "When our grandparents were in Europe last year, they found it in a toy store. They thought it was interesting, so they brought one back for us. It's like a puzzle -- you have to get it where all the sides are just one color instead of all jumbled up." I spent the next couple of minutes twisting the different rows of the cube until all of the colors were sorted. "Like so!"

Miya looked impressed. "Wow! You did that fast!"

Brad smiled. "Yeah. Dorian can always solve it in a few minutes. It usually takes me a couple of hours."

"Can I try?" she queried.

I mixed the colors up again and handed it to her. "Go for it!"

After studying the Rubik's Cube for a moment, Miya began twisting it and sorting the colors. A few minutes later, she'd solved the puzzle as well.

"I do believe I've met my match!" I remarked.

"That's pretty cool," she said as she placed the cube back on the shelf. "I've never seen anything like it before."

"Me either," I replied. "It's pretty unusual, but I bet everybody's gonna have one in a few years!"

Miya raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?"

I shrugged. "I dunno. Just a feeling I have."

By then, Brad had finished setting up his racetrack and was now driving some of his toy cars on it. He was so engrossed in what he was doing that I doubted he even noticed our presence anymore.

I took Miya's hand in mine and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Why don't we leave Brad to his Hot Wheels and go to my room for awhile?" I whispered.

When her eyes met mine, I tensed, suddenly realizing how that must've sounded. I can't deny that I've started to get curious about sex in recent months...and that I'd like to have that kind of relationship with Miya someday. But this was hardly the right time.

"Uh...we can look at my books and eight-tracks, and stuff," I quickly added. I felt drops of sweat forming on my temples. 'Yeah, real smooth, Dorian,' I reproached myself.

Miya reached up and gave my nose a tweak. "Calm down -- I know your intentions are pure."

I breathed a sigh of relief when she said this, but I still couldn't help but feel a little awkward.

Sensing my uneasiness, she gave me a nudge. "Come on. Let's see those books and eight-tracks of yours."

When I saw the twinkle in her eyes and realized just how comfortable she was with me, I relaxed and led her across the hall. And once we were alone again, I was glad that I'd made the suggestion.

"You've got a nice room," she remarked as she flopped down on the bean-bag chair in the dormer alcove.

"That's my reading area," I told her. "Whenever I'm in the mood for a good book, I just grab one from my bookshelf, open the curtains, and curl up in that chair. And when it's dark outside, I turn on my lamp." With that, I switched on the purple lava lamp that was on the little table next to the chair.

"No wonder you love reading so much!" Miya said as she snuggled deeper into the chair. "This is so cozy!"

I couldn't help but smile.

Presently, her gaze drifted to the gable window, and she got back to her feet.

"What is it?" I asked.

She pointed to the green glass vase of roses on the windowsill. "I've never seen a vase like this before, with all these globes and stems on it -- it's so pretty! Where did you get it?"

"'s not a vase," I replied. I leaned closer and whispered into her ear. "It's a bong."

She gave me an incredulous look. "Dorian, don't tell me you...."

I shook my head. "No, I don't use it for that -- I found it in the woods when I was five," I explained. "I thought it was a vase, too...and I thought it was pretty, so I took it home for my mom." I paused for a moment and laughed. "She had a shit-fit when she saw it, and dad made a remark that a bunch of teenagers were probably gonna wonder what happened to it, and I couldn't figure out for the life of me why they'd gotten so worked up over a little glass vase that I'd found!"

Now Miya was laughing, too. She has such an amazing laugh -- like the pealing of crystal bells!

"After that, mom and dad calmed down and said that I could keep it if I promised to only use it as a vase," I continued. "I didn't find out til several years later what it really was. I'd never use it to smoke weed, anyway -- I don't ever plan on doing drugs."

"Me either," Miya agreed.

"I just keep it on my windowsill and put flowers in it since the spout on the side makes it easy to refill with water," I went on. "And the light looks so beautiful when it shines through all of those green glass globes."

She wrapped her arms around my waist and rested her head on my shoulder. "Yeah, it does...."

For the rest of the afternoon, the two of us sat together in my room and talked about our lives, our interests, our dreams...everything. And as the aroma of brown sugar and hickory-smoked bacon from the beans mom was cooking in her crock pot and the sound of our parents' mirthful laughter filled the room from all the way downstairs, I knew now more than ever that the two of us were meant to be. For the first time in my life, I felt truly complete.

But all too soon, the afternoon had passed, dinner and dessert had been eaten, and my day with Miya had come to an end. There were more than a few tears as the two of us said our good nights, but our parents had been quick to remind us that we'd see each other again in June and that we could talk on the phone and write to each other in the meantime.

But June is still six months away! I know that's not such a long time in the big scheme of things, but to me, every moment away from my new friend seems like an eternity.

Summer can't come soon enough. I just hope I can wait that long.

-- Dorian Rochester

Tears blurred my vision as I finished reading that entry. Dorian no longer felt like a stranger to me -- if anything, he felt more like a kindred spirit. He'd had all of the same aspirations that I once did. He'd loved all of the same things that I do. With every word I read, it was getting harder and harder to hate him.

But the book still gave me no clue as to what had gone wrong.

Closing the journal and setting it on the little table next to the bean-bag chair, I looked up and scanned the room for a moment. I hadn't noticed until now just how dark it was getting -- if I wanted to continue reading, I was going to have to turn on the lights.

And as I got up to do just that, I caught a glimpse of something -- the vase of roses on the windowsill. The golden glow of the setting sun was filtering through the green glass globes and casting patterns of iridescent light on the floor and the eastern wall. And as I looked at the vase, I thought about Dorian finding it in the woods when he was a little boy and the creative new use his innocent mind had devised for it. I thought about my mom and dad standing in the exact same spot where I was standing now...looking at the vase and admiring the way the glass caught the light. I thought about the two of them riding Dorian's Ponytas through the pasture, eating grilled ham and Swiss sandwiches together, taking turns solving the Rubik's Cube....

Mom and dad had once been a couple of ordinary teenagers, just like me and James. And they'd loved each other every bit as deeply as James and I love each other.

"So, why did their story turn out so differently from ours?" I asked aloud. "For the life of me, I just can't figure it out...."

Just as I was about to turn on the light and resume my reading, however, a knock at the door brought me from my reverie.

"Come in."

Slowly, the door creaked open, and James entered the room. "Hey, sweetheart," he said softly.

"Hey," I echoed.

James smiled and took my hands in his. "Miriel wanted me to let you know that dinner is ready. She made roasted lemon pepper chicken with fresh vegetables and crescent rolls, and there's a cheesecake for dessert."

When I heard this, I suddenly smelled the aroma of the food wafting up from the kitchen, and I realized just how hungry I was.

"It sounds...and smells delicious," I replied, placing a hand to my growling stomach.

"Then I guess I don't have to tear you away from your reading in order to get you to join us?" he ventured.

I shook my head. "No. But I have to admit I was getting really engrossed in it. If I hadn't stopped to turn on a light...."

"So, I take it the journal is pretty interesting?"

"Yeah, it is," I said. "Dorian's writing is so descriptive -- when I'm reading it, I feel like I'm actually there, watching his memories unfold right before my eyes! It's kind of like that part in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where Harry is reading Tom Riddle's diary and gets drawn into the book to see Tom's memories firsthand."

He chuckled. "Yes, but I doubt that Dorian Rochester will turn out to be as duplicitous as Tom Riddle. This diary isn't any kind of trap -- it's just the truth."

"I know. But...."

James raised an eyebrow. "But what?" he prompted.

I tried to put my thoughts into words. "It's weird -- I've spent my whole life hating my dad...resenting him for what he did. But now, I just feel confused."

"How so?" he asked.

I looked into his emerald eyes. "James, my mom and dad fell hard for each other. They were soul-mates, and they knew it from the start. And reading that journal...I can't get over how much Dorian sounds like you! I really, really want to hate him, but I just can't. And I don't understand...."

"....You don't understand what could've possessed him to leave your mom," he said, finishing the thought for me.

"I keep asking myself that same question after every entry I read, but it's not giving me an answer, or even a clue," I told him. "I guess I could skip ahead to the 1982 entries to get my answer, but...."

"....But that'd be like reading the end of a mystery novel to find out whodoneit before you've even read the first page," James said, finishing the thought for me.

"Exactly," I said. "But this is more than just reading a book. It's like I'm making a journey...into the past...into my father's mind...."

"And you need to know about the events that transpired before the fact in order to get a more complete picture of what happened," James concluded. "You need to follow Dorian every step of the way in order to understand why he did what he did."

"But it feels like I have such a long way to I'm not getting anywhere," I sighed.

He shook his head. "Jessie, that's not true. This journey has been almost nineteen years in the making, and now you've literally got the answers in your hands. The final part of a journey always seems like the longest and most difficult...because the goal is finally in sight. It's just a matter of seeing the story through to its end, that's all."

"You're right, James," I said. "But I can't stand how disorienting this all is. It was easier to deal with when I didn't know anything about Dorian...when everything was black and white, and I could just hate him."

"Easier...but not necessarily better. Everything will be clear eventually, Jess," he assured me. "You just have to have patience."

When the two of us got downstairs and went to the kitchen, we saw Miriel bringing a platter of chicken breasts and a pot of green beans, potatoes, and turnips to the table. Meowth and Wobbuffet were already in their seats, slathering some piping-hot crescent rolls with butter.

The cat's mouth began to water when he saw the rest of the food. "Mmm-mmm!!! Dis home cookin' smells really good, granny!"

Her sapphire eyes twinkled. "Why, thank you, Meowth!"

I smiled as I watched the exchange.

"Hey! There's the pretty girl!" Ahearn exclaimed when he saw us.

"Hi, grandpa," I replied.

Miriel's smile grew even wider than it already was. "Jessie! Come have a seat, darling -- we've been waiting for you!"

I felt myself blushing as I sat down at the table, and Miriel began to load my plate with food. "So, this is what grandparents are like?" I whispered to James.

"Yeah! Wonderful, isn't it?" he whispered back as he seated himself between me and Meowth.

I nodded.

Ahearn sat down across from me. "Brad will be with us in a few minutes," he said. "We sent the boy out to chop some firewood!"

"Actually, he volunteered to do it," Miriel told us. "Most folks who get famous move away and forget all about their families, but not Brad. He's been more of a help to us than ever in recent years."

"I'm glad to hear that," I said.

After a few minutes, Brad came through the side door, carrying a bundle of logs. "This oughtta keep the place warm tonight," he said as he placed the logs in a pile by the wood stove. Once he'd washed his hands, he joined all of us at the table.

"I'm sorry I haven't been very good company tonight," I told everybody. "But...."

"That's okay, dear," Miriel replied as she began serving everybody else. "You'll have plenty of time to visit with us once you finish reading your father's journal."

"And in the meantime, your friends have been keeping us entertained," Ahearn added. "James told us about some of the adventures the two of you had after leaving Pokemon Tech, how you came to join Team Rocket, and a few other tales."

"And Meowth had some funny stories, too!" Brad chuckled.

"Your James is so sweet!" Miriel exclaimed. She reached over and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "What a wonderful grandson-in-law he's going to be!"

Ahearn nodded. "We were as happy to meet him as we were to finally find our granddaughter!" he agreed. "It's nice to know you have somebody that treats you right."

Now James was blushing, too.

I leaned over and planted a kiss on his burning cheek. "James is the best -- I don't know what I'd do without him...."

"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, dear," Miriel said tentatively. "But James reminds me of your father in a lot of ways."

I knew immediately what she was talking about. "It's strange, but I thought the exact same thing after reading the first few entries in his journal," I told her. "I really wasn't expecting Dorian to sound so sensitive, intellectual, and artistic. If anything, I was shocked to see how much James and I have in common with him."

Ahearn and Miriel exchanged smiles.

"Dorian was a good man," Brad affirmed. "Nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. But like any person, he had his shortcomings. He had a tendency to make rash decisions...or say and do hurtful things that he didn't really mean when he was upset or afraid...."

I felt myself going numb again as I listened to Brad's words. This was an important piece of the puzzle, no doubt. Maybe that had something to do with it! I speculated. Knowing that momma was expecting me probably scared him...and he probably said something he didn't mean...something that made momma angry enough to break up with him. But....

My train of thought was suddenly derailed by a nudge in the ribs from Meowth. "Boy, does DAT sound familiar!" he snickered. "Jess is always lashin' out at us and sayin' nasty stuff when she gets upset! I guess the apple don't fall far from the tree, huh?"

James shot the cat a warning glare. "Meowth!"

"What?!" he said defensively. "I was only teasin'!"

"Well, I'm not amused," James retorted.

"Meowth is right," I said, placing a hand over James's. "I've said and done a lot of things I'm not proud of...all because I was upset and needed to take it out on somebody. I'll be the first to admit I have a short temper. I guess I know where I get it from now...."

James closed his other hand over mine. "I know, but you've been trying to change that part of yourself, and you've been doing a great job."

"Thanks," I whispered. Then, changing the subject, "I think I take after Dorian in other ways, too -- like how he wanted to be a doctor or an actor!"

Miriel chuckled. "When he was a little boy and folks asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, those were always the two answers he gave!"

I smiled again. "I remember, when I was in kindergarten, my teacher asked me that same question, and my reply was, I wanna be an actress, a doctor, and a pokemon trainer!"

Now Miriel was laughing. "You're definitely your parents' child, Jessie -- there's no doubt about it!"

"I think you get most of your looks from this side of the family, too," Ahearn added. "Don't get me wrong -- the Parkers are good looking folks, and Miyamoto was a beautiful girl. But I said it before, and I'll say it again -- you're the spittin' image of my Miriel."

"That makes sense," James remarked. "I've always heard that girls usually take after their fathers, and boys usually take after their mothers. And this time is no exception -- Miyamoto was a great woman, and Jess takes after her in a lot of ways...and now I see that she gets a lot of wonderful things from this side of the family as well."

Ahearn and Miriel grinned.

"Flatterer!" Miriel said, giving James a second helping of chicken, vegetables, and rolls.

I gave him another kiss. "He certainly is," I agreed.

As the seven of us continued chatting and finished our dinner, I found my thoughts drifting back to the journal entry I'd just read. My parents had sat together at this very table almost twenty-three years ago, enjoying a home-cooked meal and planning their future together...just like James and I were now.

But every time I thought about how things had turned out for them, it just baffled me all over again. I knew that James and I would never end up like them -- there wasn't a doubt in my mind about that -- but it still broke my heart every time I thought about it.


Once we finished dinner and dessert, James and Meowth volunteered to help my grandparents clean the kitchen while I went back upstairs to resume my reading.

After that third entry, Dorian didn't really write much in his journal for awhile -- just an occasional blurb about how he couldn't wait for the school year to be over so that he could accompany momma on her pokemon journey, and a slightly more detailed account of how his parents had given him a lot of camping gear and other traveling supplies for his fifteenth birthday on April 8, 1979. And even after he was reunited with momma that June, there wasn't really much in the entries he wrote that gave me a real look into his mind.

I did, however, learn quite a bit about my mom. The Pokemon Tech diploma Miya had earned the previous year was the equivalent of eight Indigo League gym badges -- technically, she was qualified to compete in the Indigo finals right then and there. But even though she was qualified, Miya didn't feel like she was ready -- the only pokemon she had was her Dratini, which she'd received while she was a student at Tech, and she hadn't had much training experience outside the classroom. So, instead of going to the Indigo Plateau to compete in the finals, she and Dorian went south to the Orange Islands so that she could have a chance to catch more pokemon and get in some real-life training and practical experience.

After Miya registered for the Orange League, she and Dorian bought ferry passes, and the two of them spent the summer sailing to all of the different islands in the Orange Archipelago. There'd been a lot of swimming and sun-bathing (and true to her word, Miya made sushi dinners on several occasions, and Dorian acquired a taste for it), but there'd been a lot of intensive training going on as well. Miya caught a Kabuto and a Magikarp during that time, and after battling them against Dorian's Ponytas for a couple of weeks, they evolved into Kabutops and Gyarados, and Snowmane and Diablo evolved into Rapidashes. With three powerful pokemon in her line-up, Miya went to the Orange League gyms and earned the Coral Eye Badge, the Sea Ruby Badge, the Spike Shell Badge, and the Jade Star Badge. Then, she went to Pummelo Island to face the leader of the Orange Crew, and Dorian was there to cheer her on. Her parents came down from Kanto to watch her battle and root for her as well.

Normally, trainers who wanted to compete for an Orange League championship battled in a six-on-six match against the Orange Crew leader, but Miya had only three pokemon. Dorian offered to loan Snowmane and Diablo to her, but she refused, saying that if she won the battle, it had to be her own way, with her own pokemon. She also refused the Orange Crew leader's offer to make the match three-on-three, arguing that giving her a handicap would cheapen her victory if she won. So, she became one of the few trainers in Orange League history to compete against the Orange Crew leader's full line-up with fewer than six pokemon. Nobody in attendance at Pummelo Stadium could believe what they were seeing that day...and they were even more amazed when Miya's Dratini, Gyarados, and Kabutops emerged victorious against the Orange Crew leader's Kingdra, Tyranitar, Espeon, Blastoise, Zapdos, and Dragonite!

I couldn't help but smile as I read dad's description of momma's battle. The way she'd used strategy to overcome number, level, and even type-disadvantages was amazing -- it made all of Ash's dumb-luck victories that he constantly brags about pale by comparison! Momma's victory with only three pokemon over a far stronger Orange Crew leader and a far stronger pokemon line-up than the one Ash had faced also made his own Orange League championship (which he's always gloating about as well) look like a joke. In all the years I'd known her, momma had never really told me much about her days as a pokemon trainer, other than the fact that she'd been on a pokemon journey. She'd certainly never brought up any of her victories and accomplishments.

I closed my eyes and smiled as I thought about my mom. You were such a great trainer, momma. I wish you would've told me more about this part of your life. Why didn't you? Is it because you were too humble...or because the memories of dad were too painful?

Tears spilled down my cheeks when I opened my eyes again. It seemed like the more I read, the more questions I had, but I knew that James was right -- I'd have all of my answers by story's end. So, I brushed my tears away and read on.

After Miya won her Orange League championship on September 13, 1979, she went back to Opal Ridge with her parents and stayed with them for a couple of weeks, and Dorian went back to Redwood Heights to see his family, too. Brad's eighth birthday was on September 14th, but his parents had held off on his birthday party until Dorian returned home on the 17th. Dorian brought his parents some beautiful seashells that he'd collected over the course of the summer, and he brought Brad a set of Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres figurines that he'd purchased at a souveneir store on Shamouti Island as a birthday present. He also spoke with his parents about continuing his travels with Miya that fall instead of going back to school. His parents were adamant that he complete his education, but they also knew that all of the practical experience he was gaining in his travels and the time he was spending with his new friend were equally important. So, they agreed that Dorian could continue to travel with Miya as long as he liked, provided that he finish his Junior and Senior years of high school when he finally did return home for good. And since Dorian had every intention of finishing high school and going to college eventually anyway, he accepted.

Dorian and Miya spent the remainder of September with their families, but at the beginning of October, they joined up again and went to Pallet Town, where Miya registered for Indigo League. Professor Oak had read about Miya's impressive victory at Orange League in the newspaper the previous month, and he wished her luck in the Indigo finals, which were slated for the following May. He also gave her a choice of the three starter pokemon that he raised for trainers who entered Indigo League, and since she wanted a fire-type in her line-up and had always had an affinity for dragons, she picked Charmander.

For the next several months, Miya and Dorian traveled all over Kanto on Snowmane and Diablo (and just as Dorian had predicted, Miya became an expert rider in the process). During that time, Miya caught an Ekans, which evolved into an Arbok, and her Charmander evolved into a Charmeleon, and then a Charizard. She also went to the eight major Indigo League gyms and even a couple of minor ones and earned badges. Even though she didn't need to earn any of the badges for Indigo League because of her Pokemon Tech diploma, she wanted to do it anyway, just so she could have more practical experience to go along with all of the classroom experience she already had. (And with Snowmane and Diablo's help, Dorian also won a few badges along the way -- the Thunder Badge, the Rainbow Badge, and the Soul Badge.) The only time the two of them spent apart during those months was a couple of weeks in December 1979, when they returned home to be with their families for the holidays, and even then they talked on the phone practically every day and couldn't wait to be together again.

With every entry I read, it was apparent that Dorian and Miya were falling more deeply in love with every passing day. And when I got to the spring of 1980, I finally found more entries that promised to give me some insight into the man who was Dorian Rochester....

April 8, 1980

Today is my sixteenth birthday...and what a day it turned out to be! Miya and I just had the first real test of our relationship tonight, and I think we passed with flying colors! Miya loves and trusts me more than ever now, and that's the greatest gift I could ask for.

The two of us are staying at a hotel in Viridian City since Miya won her tenth Indigo badge -- the Earth Badge -- at the local gym a couple of days ago, and she wanted to remain in town so that we could celebrate my birthday in style. And celebrate in style we did. I started my day by calling my parents and Brad and talking to them for a few hours. They were sorry that I wouldn't be able to make it home for my birthday this year, but they promised to throw a party for me when I come to visit in June, after the Indigo finals end. After talking to my parents, Miya and I spent the day shopping and sight-seeing in Viridian City, and she took me out to dinner at an Italian restaurant. And when we got back to the hotel, she had a surprise for me!

As I sat down on my bed and took off my jacket and boots, Miya seated herself next to me.

I smiled at her. "Hey, beautiful."

"Hey, handsome," she replied.

"Something on your mind?" I asked.

She placed her hand on my thigh and began to rub. "Yeah, there is," she whispered hotly into my ear.

A warm, tingly sensation coursed through me as she leaned closer and started kissing my neck. Then, with her free hand, she reached up and began running her fingers through my hair. Knowing instinctively what was on her mind, I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into me as I laid down on the bed.

Miya smiled slyly and planted a kiss on my lips. "I've got a present for you, birthday-boy!" she said.

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

Getting back to her feet, Miya pulled off her boots. Then, she unfastened her denim skirt and let it drop to the floor. "Take a wild guess!" she replied as she began unbuttoning her blouse.

My heart started racing, and my fingers all turned into thumbs as I got up and started taking off my shirt and jeans. It was about to happen! After all these months, it was finally going to happen!

Once Miya had tossed her blouse aside, she unhooked her bra and shrugged it off. Then, she slid off her panties and stood before me, naked.

I'd never seen Miya without her clothes on before, but I'd fantasized about it countless times. She was even more lovely than I imagined. I suddenly noticed how dry my mouth felt and licked my lips. "Y-you're so beautiful," I stammered.

Miya returned to my side and put her arms around me. Her bare flesh felt so warm and silky against my own, and her fingers felt like fire as they crept up my back and caressed the nape of my neck. In response, I slid my arms around her waist and held her to me once more.

"Miya...." I whispered.

She cut me off by closing her mouth over mine. When I parted my lips and welcomed her kiss, she thrust her tongue into my mouth. And as our tongues mingled and caressed each other, I felt myself getting weak in the knees. As if she could sense this, Miya pressed herself to me again and gently lowered me to the bed.

Once I was on my back, I lifted my hips and let Miya slide off my boxer shorts. "You're beautiful, too," she said softly as she laid down next to me.

As she started kissing me again, moving her lips from my face to my neck and chest, I caressed her back and shoulders with my fingertips and enjoyed how soft and smooth her skin felt. At length, she reached down and began rubbing my stomach. I arched my back and whimpered with pleasure when her hand lingered at my belly button. She knew that was one of my sensitive spots...and that I loved it when she touched me there. When Miya finished caressing my abdomen, her hand moved lower still and began to stroke between my thighs. Her turquoise eyes glittered when she felt me becoming aroused in response to her touch.

Once I was ready for her, Miya straddled me. Tentatively, I reached up and placed my hands on her breasts. She smiled again and closed her hands over mine, trembling with desire as my fingers brushed across her nipples. "Make love to me, Dorian," she gasped.

My heart pounded harder than ever when I heard her say those words. Now that she'd invited me, I could finally do what I'd been fantasizing about practically since the day I met her!

But just as I was about to put myself inside of her, I realized something.

We didn't have any protection!

I opened my eyes again and looked up at Miya. She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and every fiber of my being was aching with need for her, but deep down, I knew that I couldn't go through with it.

Offering herself to me like this was the greatest show of trust on her part, and if I took her now, paying no heed to the possible consequences of our actions, I'd be violating that trust.

And I couldn't do that.

I laid there for what seemed like an eternity. My body was urging me to press on and make love to her, but my heart and my mind were urging me to stop. Finally, reason won out over desire, and mustering all of my willpower, I gently nudged Miya off of me and pulled away from her.

A bewildered expression crossed Miya's face. "D-Dorian, what's wrong?" she asked.

I couldn't look at her. I knew that if I did, I might give in to my desires and take her anyway. I had to cool off...and fast!

"I...I can't do this. I-I'm not...I can't...." I stammered lamely. "Probably too much brandy in the tiramisu we had for dessert...." With that, I got out of bed and ran to the bathroom, closing the door behind me.

'Yeah, that was smooth,' I reproached myself as I stepped into the shower and turned on the cold water. 'Dammit! Why couldn't I just tell her the truth -- that I didn't want to go all the way without protection?! She would've understood...wouldn't she?'

For the next twenty minutes, I stood under the spray of that icy water. Once my passions had been sufficiently cooled, I opened the hot water faucet a little so that I could take the chill off and shampoo my hair and scrub myself clean. When I finally finished my shower, I wrapped a towel around my waist and studied my reflection in the mirror. My wet hair was hanging limp in my face, and my cheeks still had the slightest hint of a blush on them. I shook my head and sighed. "Jeez, the sexiest girl in the world wants to make love to me, and I turn her down, just because I don't have a condom. I'm either really responsible or really stupid...."

After drying myself off and putting on a clean pair of boxers, I returned to the bedroom. Miya had put on her blue bathrobe and was now lying in her bed on the other side of the room. Her face was buried in the pillows, and I could tell from the way she was trembling that she was crying.

My heart sank when I saw just how hurt she was by what I'd done. 'Shit! I knew I should've just leveled with her!' A nauseous feeling formed in the pit of my stomach as I slowly crossed the room and seated myself next to her. Tentatively, I placed my hand on her shoulder. "Miya...." I began.

She reached up and slapped my hand away. "Don't touch me!" she shouted, her voice muffled by the pillows.

Undaunted, I withdrew my hand and continued. "Miya, I'm sorry. I just...."

Miya sat up and glared at me. "What's to apologize for?!" she demanded. "You only thought I was sexy because there was too much brandy in your dessert!"

I buried my face in my hands. "I didn't mean that, sweetheart. Not a word."

"Then why did you say it?! Why don't you want me?! What's the matter with me, if it wasn't the tiramisu talking?!"

"It's not you," I sighed, running a hand through my wet hair. "I stopped because we don't have any protection."

Her expression softened when I said this.

I placed my hands on her cheeks and brushed her tears away. "Miya, you are beautiful, and sexy, and making love to you would've been the best birthday present ever!" I continued. "But I didn't want to violate your trust by doing something irresponsible like having unprotected sex. I know I probably sound like one of those preachy after-school melodramas, but...."

Miya placed a finger to my lips and silenced me. "Dorian, why didn't you just tell me that the first time I asked what was wrong?"

"Because I was freaked out...and sometimes that makes me say stupid shit that I don't mean," I admitted. "I'm so sorry, Miya. I wasn't trying to hurt you, and I definitely wasn't rejecting you. I only did it because I respect you, and I want you to trust me. I love you, sweetheart. I love you so much."

The smile returned to Miya's lips as she gazed into my eyes. "I love you too, Dorian...and I do trust you. But next time, think before you speak."

I smiled back. "I will. Promise. I also promise to have condoms next time."

"You'd better...because there will be a next time!" she said, touching her lips to mine. When our kiss ended, her cheeks turned pink, and she placed a hand over her heart. "Damn! Now I need a cold shower, too...."

Reluctantly, Miya pulled away from our embrace and got to her feet. I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched her go into the bathroom to take her shower. And now, as I sit here and write this entry, I listen to the sound of the running water and form a mental image of it cascading down her beautiful body. I should also make a mental note to go to the drugstore and buy a pack of condoms first thing tomorrow morning.

Next time, I'll be ready....

-- Dorian Rochester

I looked up from the book for a moment and took a deep breath. My head was spinning, and my face felt like it was as red as my hair. "Now this is really getting freaky," I whispered.

But reading such a detailed account of how my parents had almost made love wasn't the main thing that had freaked me out. I suppose it would have under normal circumstances, but as I read the journal, it was hard for me to think of them as my mom and dad. On these pages, they were just Miyamoto Parker and Dorian Rochester -- a pair of ordinary teenagers in love...just like me and James.

And therein was the reason why reading this passage had made me feel so strange -- the similarities between Dorian and Miya's relationship and my own with James were becoming more uncanny with every passing second! I could distinctly recall at least two occasions where James had had a chance to make love to me but declined because he knew that we hadn't been ready. I could remember how upset and guilty he'd felt because he hadn't used a condom on the night we made love for the first time. The trust I placed in him and the mutual respect we had for each other were more important to James than physical gratification.

And it had been no different with Dorian.

The fact that he'd stopped himself from making love to Miya, simply because he hadn't had protection, was proof positive that he wasn't the kind of man who'd use a woman for sex and walk out on her. If I needed any further evidence that he'd loved and respected her with all his heart, then it was right there in front of me!

But no matter how much he'd loved and respected matter how trustworthy he'd been, it still didn't change the fact that he did walk out on her in the end. And now I was more puzzled than ever.

Now that I'd looked into Dorian's mind and knew this much about him, I knew that walking out on Miya and their unborn child was completely out of character for him. Part of me wanted to believe that it had never happened that way. Could it be possible that everything momma had told me about my dad was a lie?

I shook my head. "No. That's ridiculous! Momma would never have lied to me...especially not about something like that!"

The more I read, the harder it was to believe that their relationship had gone sour. Yet, it had to have happened -- the fact that dad had never been there for me and momma was proof of that. The only other thing I could think of was if he'd died before I was born. But it couldn't have happened that way, either. Momma wouldn't have dishonored his memory by telling me that he'd abandoned us -- she would've told me the truth and made no secret of what a great man he'd been.

Something had definitely gone wrong between the two of them. Of that I was sure. But try as I might, I just couldn't wrap my brain around it.

My hands trembled again as I turned the page and resumed my reading. Now more than ever, I needed to know...but at the same time, I was dreading the answer I'd find more and more....

May 1, 1980

It's been awhile -- almost a month -- since I've had a chance to write about what's been going on, but today has been such an eventful day that the temptation has become too great to resist any longer!

Nothing much happened for the remainder of April. True to my word, I bought those condoms the morning after my birthday, but sadly, another opportunity for us to make love didn't present itself in the weeks that followed. After we left Viridian City, Miya stepped up the intensity of her training regimen so that she'd be prepared for the Indigo finals, and she was usually too tired to do anything but eat a quick dinner, bathe, and go to sleep when the day was over. Besides, I want our first time together to be perfect. It has to be a special occasion, when the moment is just right, like it had been on my birthday. The wait seems an eternity, but every minute I spend with Miya is precious to me nonetheless. In the meantime, I take comfort in the knowledge that Miya and I will find another opportunity to make love eventually.

But enough of this young lover's pinings! On to the reasons this day was one worth writing about.

Miya and I arrived in Indigo Village -- the town where trainers stay while competing in the league finals -- this morning. There are lots of inns (not to mention a variety of stores and restaurants) in the downtown area since hundreds of trainers and thousands of friends and family members come to the Indigo Plateau for the league games every spring, but Miya wanted to get here a few days before the games begin so that we could get a good room before the really big crowds start showing up.

And it's fortunate that the two of us arrived early. Since there are still a lot of vacancies at this point, Miya and I were able to get a room at the best hotel in town, and we were also able to reserve two more rooms for our families. Once the two of us got settled in, we took turns calling our families to let them know that we'd arrived safely at the Indigo Plateau and invite them to join us. My parents, Brad, and Mr. and Mrs. Parker were all happy to hear from us, and as predicted, they all made plans to come and watch Miya compete in the finals and help me cheer her on.

After calling our families, Miya and I left the hotel and decided to do some sightseeing around town. We went to a few stores, and once we were done shopping, we stopped for lunch at the local McDonald's. And it was there that the first major event of the day occurred. It wasn't a monumental event in the big scheme of things -- truth be told, it's actually quite farcical (and even a little disturbing when you really stop to think about it). I guess you could say that Miya and I were "treated" to a live performance of life's drama -- a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

While Miya and I were waiting in line and deciding what we wanted to order, a teenage boy and girl who were about the same age as us entered the restaurant. The girl smiled sweetly as she took her place in line behind us, but the boy looked fidgety.

He was also, quite possibly, the ugliest person I'd ever seen. His greasy black hair stuck out in all directions and looked as if it hadn't been washed or combed once in his entire life, his face was smudged with dirt, and he smelled as if bathing were a completely alien concept to him. He kind of reminded me of an orc. Still, I knew that judging people by their appearance was wrong, so Miya and I did our best to ignore him (and his foul smell) as we turned our attention back to the menu.

"Hmmm...I think I'm gonna have a cheeseburger, a small fry, and a chocolate shake," the girl behind us remarked. "What about you, Ash?"

"I'm gonna have ten HAPPY MEALS!!!" the guy shouted.

Miya and I winced. His voice was squeaky and grating, like a rat with a throat full of gravel.

"Tee, hee! Oh, Ashy-poo!" the girl giggled.

Miya leaned closer and whispered into my ear. "She must call him that because that's what he smells like!"

I covered my mouth with my hand to stifle a snicker.

Suddenly, the boy shoved his way past us and ran up to the counter. At first, we thought he was trying to cut in line so that he could get his ten Happy Meals, but instead, he was gawking at the fiberglass statues of Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, and Big Mac that were standing next to the condiment bar.

"Whoa! What are those?!" he asked, whipping out a poke-dex.

"No pokemon data available," the poke-dex replied in a monotone robotic voice.

"ALL RIGHT!!!" the boy screamed. "I just discovered three new pokemon! I bet that clown is an evolved Mr. Mime! And those cheeseburger pokemon are far out! I'm gonna capture them!!!"

Miya sweatdropped. " this guy just goofing around, or is he really that stupid?"

I felt a drop of sweat forming on my temple, too. "I hope he's only goofing around -- I'd be truly worried if anybody were that dumb."

The girl, who was still standing behind us, giggled again. "That's my boyfriend, Ash!" she told us. "He's gonna be the world's greatest pokemon master someday! Isn't he dreamy?"

Miya and I exchanged looks.

"This has got to be some kind of joke," Miya muttered.

Turning our attention back to Ash, we saw that he'd brought out some empty poke balls and was now lobbing them at Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, and Big Mac. He frowned as the poke balls bounced off of the statues and rolled across the floor. "Augh! These things are hard to catch!" he whined. And as he went to retrieve his poke balls, he caught sight of the Hamburglar and Captain Crook statues next to the soda fountain. "AUGH!!! It's TEAM ROCKET!!!" Ash screeched. "I bet they're here to steal fooooood! We've GOT to stop them!!!" With that, he lobbed two more poke balls at the statues. "Pikachu! Hit them with your Thunderbolt! Bulbasaur! Use Razor Leaf!"

I looked back at Miya. "Holy shit, he is that dumb!"

As Ash's two pokemon began attacking the Hamburglar and Captain Crook statues, the manager came from the back. "Uh, pokemon battles aren't allowed in here, sir...and vandalizing our property is a criminal offense -- we're going to have to ask you to leave."

"But it's Team Rocket!" Ash cried. "I just KNOW they're here to cause trouble!"

The manager ran a hand through his hair. "Look, just get out of here before I call Officer Jenny!" he said in a voice barely restraining rage.

Ash threw himself down on the floor and began pounding his fists and kicking. "This isn't faaaiiirrr!" he whined. "I just wanted to catch some new pokemon and get rid of Team Rocket! And I didn't even get my Haaappy Meeeals!!!" He looked up at his girlfriend. "Delia, do something!!!"

Miya covered her mouth with her hand. " He's...he's throwing a temper-tantraum!" she gasped.

I shook my head and sighed. "Jeezus Christ on a motorcycle...."

"Just do what the man says and wait outside, Ashy-poo. I'll get your Happy Meals for you," the girl, Delia, told him.

Ash made a face at the manager, but once he'd regained some semblance of composure, he did what Delia said and went outside.

"Well, that was...disturbing," I whispered to Miya once he was gone.

"No shit," she whispered back.

The two of us ordered and ate our lunch without further incident, but little did we know that it was only a brief intermission before act two -- once we finished our lunch and began heading back to the hotel, we ran afoul of Ash again!

We were cutting through the park when we saw him. Delia was sitting on a bench, finishing her chocolate shake, but Ash was on the ground, surrounded by empty Happy Meal boxes. He was playing with a handful of McDonaldland character figurines that had come in his Happy Meals.

"Oh, no. Not him again," Miya groaned.

I took her by the arm and turned around. "Come on. We'll find another way to get back to the hotel."

But it was too late. As we began walking in the opposite direction, Ash spotted us.

"Heeeyyy!!!" we heard him shout in his grating voice.

Not wanting to seem rude, we turned to face him again and forced ourselves to smile. "Hi," we replied in unison.

"I saw you guys at McDonald's!" he continued. "Did you catch any pokemon while you were there?"

Miya rolled her eyes. ", can't say that we did."

"Yeah. We ordered off the grown-up menu," I whispered into her ear.

She stifled a fit of laughter when I said this.

Ash grinned smugly and held up his new Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, and Big Mac toys. "That's too bad cause I caught ten!" he announced. "I got four of those weird Mr. Mimes and six of those far out cheeseburger pokemon! They're a lot smaller than the ones I saw in the restaurant, but they're gonna help me win at Pokemon League!"

"Good for you," I said.

As Miya and I tried to take our leave a second time, however, Ash followed us. "Are you guys here to compete in Pokemon League, too?"

"Yeah, I am," Miya told him.

"And I'm just here to cheer her on since I've only got three badges," I added.

Ash grinned again. "Well, you'd better get used to losing, then!"

Now I was starting to get irritated. "What makes you say that?" I demanded.

"I'm just saying you guys must not be very good trainers if you couldn't even catch any pokemon at McDonald's when I just caught ten!" he explained. "I'm Ash Hull Ketchum from the town of Pallet, and I'm destined to be the world's greatest pokemon master!" With that, he struck a goofy pose and held open his ratty blue vest, showing off the eight badges that were pinned inside.

Miya raised an eyebrow. "Your name is Ash Hull?"

Ash nodded proudly.

"More like Ash-hole," I snickered.

Now Miya was laughing out loud.

"Laugh all you want!" Ash continued. He stuck one of his Happy Meal toys in Miya's face. "Cause I'm the one that's gonna be laughing when I beat you and everybody else at Pokemon League!"

My irritation gave way to anger as I watched him taunting my Miya. Did I compare Ash to an orc earlier? I take it back -- orcs are far more comely and polite! "What the hell is your problem, anyway?!" I asked, slapping the toy from his hand. "Why do you have to hassle my girlfriend, just because she's competing, too?!"

Miya placed a hand on my shoulder. "Calm down, Dorian -- this idiot isn't worth getting worked up over."

"Sweetheart, he insulted you!" I countered. "You think I'm just going to stand here and let him get away with that?!"

She touched the tip of my nose with her finger and smiled. "I appreciate your chivalrous attitude, but I can take care of myself. Chances are, I won't even see him in the preliminaries, and if I do, beating his little plastic 'pokemon' will be a piece of cake," she assured me. "Now, let's go. We don't have to take this...and he's not going to get far with such a shitty attitude, anyway."

"You're right...but it's the principle of the thing," I sighed.

I guess I would've been content with the encounter ending right then and there since Ash-hole's insults weren't really bothering Miya...but I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't bothering me.

As Miya and I made another attempt to walk away, Ash-hole followed us again. "You get back here!" he shouted.

Miya and I exchanged looks. Then, we both flipped him the bird and continued on our way.

But Ash-hole just wouldn't give up. As he shouted at us again, I felt something whiz past my head. When I looked, I saw one of his plastic toys lying on the ground in front of us. And from the expression of shock on her face and the way she was holding her hand to her ear, I could tell that Miya had almost been hit!

Well, I wasn't about to let it slide this time. Ash-hole's insults had been bad enough, but attacking my Miya was too much! I'd be damned if I just walked away from an affront like that!

"You want to fight?" I asked, bringing out a poke ball.

"Yeah!!! I challenge you losers to a battle!!!" came his reply.

"Fine. Prepare to get your ass kicked, Ash-hole," I told him.

Miya offered no protests this time -- she just stood back to watch the fun.

Ash-hole smirked and threw one of his poke balls. "This should be easy! I've got eight badges -- I can beat somebody who's only got three any day! Bulbasaur! I choose you!"

"Go, Snowmane!" I said, tossing my own poke ball.

Snowmane whinnied and pawed the ground with her diamond hooves as she emerged.

Another clueless look crossed Ash-hole's face. "Whoa! What's that?" he asked, bringing out his poke-dex again.

Miya smirked. "He thinks he's going to be the world's greatest pokemon master, but he doesn't even know a Rapidash when he sees one?!" she said incredulously. "Riiiiight. Tell us another one, dip-shit."

While Ash-hole was busy messing with his poke-dex, I issued my first command. "Snowmane! Use your Fire Spin!"

Snowmane whinnied again and exhaled a swirl of flame that engulfed Bulbasaur.

"Augh! No fair!" Ash-hole whined. "I wasn't ready to start the battle yet!"

"News flash, twerp -- this battle started the second you threw your damn toy at us! Not my fault you'd rather stand around with your thumb up your ass than command your pokemon," I countered.

Ash-hole scowled. "Come on, Bulbasaur -- let's show this jerk who's boss! Fight back with your Leech Seed!"

But Bulbasaur was still trapped by the Fire Spin and couldn't do anything. And once Snowmane's attack ended, he was burnt to a crisp and unable to battle.

"Augh! That was a cheap shot!" Ash-hole sneered. He called back his fallen Bulbasaur and tossed another poke ball. "But you won't be so lucky this time! Pikachu! Hit it with your Thundershock!"

"Dodge it, Snowmane!" I shouted. "Use Agility!"

As the little rat sent forth a bolt of electricity, Snowmane broke into a gallop and evaded it. Once she was close enough, I issued another command:

"Now use your Stomp attack!"

Snowmane reared up and brought her hooves down on Pikachu, knocking him out for the count as well.

"Pikachu! NOOO!!!" Ash-hole wailed. He cast another venomous glare at me. "How could you have beaten my pokemon?! I've got eight badges, and you've only got three! This isn't fair! You must have CHEATED!!!"

"No, you LOST because you're a piss-poor trainer," I informed him as I returned Snowmane to her poke ball. "Now get the fuck out of my face, and leave us alone."

Miya took me by the arm again, and we tried for the fourth time to walk away.

But Ash-hole still refused to give it up. As he gave chase once more, he threw another McDonald's toy at us. "Get back here, you cowards! You cheated, and I'm not gonna let you get away with it!"

"Not this again," Miya groaned.

I winked at her and brought out my other poke ball. "Don't worry -- I know how to get him off our case once and for all." Then, to Ash-hole. "So, you still want to battle?"

He nodded.

I held out my arms. "Then, go on. Send out those ten 'new pokemon' you just caught. Hit me with your best shot, twerp."

Ash-hole grinned and gathered up all of his Happy Meal toys. "Alright, you asked for it!"

As he began throwing the toys at me, I released Diablo. "Go easy on the twerp -- just use an Ember attack," I told him.

Diablo nodded and exhaled a puff of fire that melted all of Ash-hole's toys.

"AUGH!!! NOOO!!!" he wailed again.

I smirked and called back Diablo. "Now this battle is over."

As Ash-hole fell to his knees and picked up the remains of his toys, Miya smiled at me, and I took her by the arm once more.

As we began to walk away again, however, Ash-hole started to scream. "YOU KILLED MY POKEMON, YOU BASTARDS!!!!!"

"I guess he doesn't like his cheeseburgers flame-broiled," Miya quipped.

I snickered.

"Now just calm down, Ashy-poo -- I can go back to McDonald's and get some more Happy Meals for you," we heard Delia saying.


"Ten bucks says he's throwing another tantraum," Miya muttered to me.

Out of morbid curiosity, I looked from the corner of my eye and saw that Ash-hole was, indeed, in the throes of another temper-tantraum, kicking and screaming and whining, just like he had at McDonald's. Delia was kneeling at his side, trying in vain to calm him down.

"You're right," I affirmed. "Let's get out of here while the getting is good."

Miya nodded. "I agree!"

With that, the two of us quickened our pace and got away from Ash-hole as fast as we could. But his screams and whines followed us and echoed in our minds, long after his hideous face was out of sight.

When we got back to our hotel room, I wasted no time in getting a drink of water and taking a couple tablets of Tylenol. Our encounter with Ash Hull Ketchum from the town of Pallet had left me with a massive migraine.

Miya seated herself next to me on the bed and massaged my shoulders. "You were wonderful, Dorian!" she exclaimed. "The way you stuck up for me...the way you battled with Snowmane and Diablo...." Her voice trailed off, and I could feel her warm breath tickling my skin as she leaned closer and planted a kiss on my cheek.

I turned and smiled at her. "It was my pleasure, sweetheart. I couldn't let that guy get away with insulting you and attacking you the way he did!" I wrapped an arm around her waist. "I love you, Miya, and I want to protect you...even if the only 'danger' is just some asshole with an undersized brain and an oversized ego."

She tucked a loose strand of my red-violet hair behind my ear and gave me another kiss. "Well, I appreciate it. That's one of the things I've always admired about you, Dorian -- you're a gentleman."

I felt my cheeks turning pink.

Miya continued massaging my shoulders a moment longer and moved on to my back.

"Feels nice," I murmured.

"I thought so," she replied. "I figured you needed this after the day we just had."

I nodded. "You figured right." I placed a hand to my forehead. "Jeez, what the hell was wrong with that guy? I didn't think it was possible for anybody to be that stupid...or obnoxious -- it's scary!"

"What's even scarier is that he has a girlfriend who thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced bread!" Miya remarked. "What does she see in him?!"

I shrugged. "Who knows? I guess it just goes to show that love is blind...and deaf...and dumb. Let's just hope those two never have kids. Can you imagine how screwed up any baby of theirs would be?!"

"That's a pretty scary notion, too. But let's not dwell on it anymore," Miya said, changing the subject. "I'd rather think about how wonderful my boyfriend is and how beautiful our babies are going to be!"

I looked back at her and raised an eyebrow.

She blushed and buried her face in her hands. "I'm sorry. I'm getting way ahead of myself...."

I gently removed her hands from her face and kissed them. "It's okay," I told her. "I want to marry you someday, Miya. I want to have kids with you...and they will be beautiful!"

The smile returned to her lips as her eyes met mine again.

I wrapped my arms around Miya once more and pulled her with me as I laid down on the bed. She returned my embrace and rested her head on my chest.

"Look at us!" she chuckled. "Not even seventeen and already thinking about marriage and children!"

"Nothing wrong with that," I replied. "We're going to spend the rest of our lives together, so thinking about the future is only natural."

Miya slid a hand under my shirt and began caressing my stomach with her fingertips. "I love you so much, Dorian Rochester," she whispered as she showered my face and neck with her soft, velvety kisses.

A feeling of warmth spread through me as I savored her touch. I wanted her so badly it was making me ache, and I could tell from the look in her turquoise eyes that she wanted me, too. But it still felt like a jackhammer was pounding inside of my skull, and I knew that if I took her now, I wouldn't be able to concentrate or give her the pleasure that she deserved. Talk about bad timing!

I ran my fingers through her silky purple hair and touched my lips to hers. "I love you too, Miya. I just wish I didn't have such a headache...."

A look of disappointment crossed her face, but she quicky smiled again and gave my nose a gentle tweak. "Don't worry about it -- we'll find the right time...eventually," she assured me.

"Yeah. If only I'd quit screwing it up," I sighed.

"You're not screwing anything up. You just want our first time to be perfect...and I love you for that," she told me. Her smile grew wider. "Tell you what. Since spontaneity isn't getting us anywhere, let's make some definite plans."

I raised an eyebrow.

"It's probably not a good idea for us to become lovers during the finals -- I'd be too busy basking in the glow of our relationship's new level to concentrate on my training if we did!" she went on. "But once the finals end, it promises to be a festive occasion...and if we do it then, it'll either be a great way to celebrate my victory or a consolation prize that's a million times better than any trophy I could ever win!"

"Is that a guarantee?" I ventured.

A sly smile spread across her lips as she caressed my stomach again. "Yep. After the closing ceremonies, you're all mine!"

"I just hope I'll be good enough for you," I said, giving her another kiss. "Miya, I've never had sex before, so don't be too disappointed if I'm not any good."

"Hey, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a virgin, too!" she chuckled. "Chances are, I won't be any better."

"I just don't want to do anything that's going to hurt you or leave you unsatisfied," I continued. "You deserve the best, and that's what I want to give you!"

"Dorian, you are the best," Miya replied. "I know our first time will be wonderful as long as you're the one I'm with."

This made me smile again. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," she said, planting a kiss on the tip of my nose. "I love you, sweetie."

"I love you, too," I echoed.

And that's how the two of us spent the remainder of the afternoon -- lying together in my bed, kissing, cuddling, and talking about our relationship and our future. I still have a bit of a headache from our encounter with Ash-hole, but at the same time, the prospect of making love to Miya and knowing that it's definitely going to be happening in three short weeks overwhelms me with euphoria!

Yes, today has definitely been an interesting day. Who would've ever guessed that a random encounter with an obnoxious twerp would set the stage for such an immense step forward in my relationship with Miya?

Though on the other hand, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. The universe works in mysterious ways, after all.

-- Dorian Rochester

A drop of cold sweat formed on my temple. The conversation Dorian and Miya had had about becoming lovers...discussing their plans for the future -- every single word they'd spoken to each other sounded exactly like conversations James and I have had. The two of us are always talking about our we want to get married, have children, and spend the rest of our lives together! And James had been every bit as nervous as Dorian on the night we'd become lovers. One of the things I remember most about that night was how much James wanted to please me -- how worried he was that his inexperience might cause him to do something that I wouldn't like. He was more concerned with keeping me comfortable and giving me pleasure than his own gratification...and Dorian had been no different with Miya. Hell, they'd even called each other by all of the same pet-names that James and I do!

And this, of course, brought that nagging question back to my mind...that nagging question to which I still had no answer.

I scanned the entry again, hoping to find some kind of clue that I might have missed before. And as I reread the entry, I found myself focusing on the passage where Dorian and Miya had met Ash Hull Ketchum and Delia at McDonald's.

I laughed in spite of myself. "Looks like your worst fear came true, guys -- Ash-hole and Delia did have a baby...and he's every bit as screwed up as his dad! I guess we know where the twerp gets his arrogance and some of his obnoxiousness and idiocy from. Meowth was right -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree at all!"

When I said this aloud, I was suddenly reminded of what Brad had told me about Dorian. He was a good, kind-hearted person, but he had a tendency to say and do hurtful things that he didn't make rash decisions. I had proof of that in the April 8th entry, where he'd panicked and made a callous remark that had made Miya cry.

And this, in turn, made me think about myself. How many cruel remarks had I made to James over the years? How many times had I hurt him, for no other reason than because I was feeling bad? How many times had I almost walked away from the best thing that had ever happened to me? If James weren't such a forgiving, understanding person, I probably would've screwed things up ages ago!

And as I pondered this, I got the sinking feeling that I had, indeed, found the answer to that nagging question. In the back of my mind, I was sure that Dorian had said or done something hurtful when he found out that Miya was pregnant...something for which Miya had never forgiven him. But a little part of me still didn't want to believe it. A little part of me still wanted to believe that things hadn't turned out the way they did...that everything would be okay for Dorian and Miya in the end.

More tears filled my eyes as I shook my head and slammed the book shut. "Oh, who am I fooling?! I already know how the story ends...and I don't like it! Reading about why it happened isn't going to change anything!"

I set the book down on the table and ran a hand through my hair. Getting to my feet, I parted the curtains and opened the dormer window, letting in the cool night breeze. And as I inhaled the fresh air, the tears in my eyes began to spill down my cheeks.

"Why did everything have to be so difficult?" I whispered into the darkness. "They loved each other -- why did it all have to be destroyed?"

But the the only reply I received to my questions was the soft hooting of a Noctowl perched in the branches of the cedar tree outside the window.

Suddenly, I heard the door creaking open. When I looked, I saw James coming into the room. "It's just me, honey," he said softly.

I brushed my tears away and smiled at him. "Hey, sweetie."

He smiled back and began to root through his backpack. "Don't mind me -- I'm just getting a change of clothes so that I can take a shower."

"It's okay," I told him. "I was taking a little break from reading anyway. It's an awful lot to absorb."

"I can imagine," he replied. "What have you learned? If you don't mind my asking."

I shivered and closed the window again. "Well...I know what happened between my parents, and I'm starting to get an idea of why it happened. But I still don't understand why it happened...and I don't know if I ever will," I sighed. "James, they sound so much like us that it's starting to scare me! They loved each other as deeply and truly as we do, but everything still fell apart on them in the end!"

James set down the clean pajamas and boxer shorts he'd brought from his backpack and placed his hands on my shoulders. "We may have a lot in common with your parents, but when all is said and done, the fact remains that we're not your parents! No matter how many parallels there are between their path and ours, those paths are going to diverge eventually. Somewhere along the line, they're going to make different choices."

My lip quivered, and I felt more tears welling up in my eyes.

He brushed my tears away with his thumb. "Jessica, I am never going to walk out on you, no matter what! NEVER!!! When we have children, I'm going to love them with all my heart and be the best dad I can be! And I will do everything in my power to keep those promises, even if it means literally following you to hell and back! You know this, angel -- I've proven it to you time and time again!"

I closed my hands over his and brought them to my lips. "Yes, I do know that, James -- I never said I doubted you. After all you've done for me, I could never doubt you again! I know things will turn out okay for us...."

"Then, why....?"

"All I'm saying is that sometimes love isn't enough...sometimes fate does stand in the way and keep happily ever after from happening," I went on. "I know that Dorian and Miya's story isn't ours, no matter how much we may have in common with them. But it still hurts to know that not all love stories have a happy ending. I don't know if I want to read anymore -- I'm more afraid than ever of what I'll find...."

James held me closer and stroked my hair as he rested my head on his shoulder. "I know this can't be easy for you, Jess," he said. "But now more than ever, I'm sure that you have to see the story through to its end. Listen to Dorian, honey. Hear him out. You wouldn't have made it this far if there weren't something in his journal that you needed to learn."

"And what would that be?" I asked. "The mistakes my parents made? James, I already know that they made a lot of bad choices! I don't need to know all the gory details of why they made those choices to know that I shouldn't repeat their mistakes!"

"I think there's more to it than just learning from their mistakes, Jess," James told me. He cupped my chin in his hand and gazed into my eyes. "Can you look me in the eye and honestly tell me you'd have preferred to live your life never knowing a thing about your father?"

I looked back into his emerald eyes and shook my head. ", I can't."

"Of course not," he said. "Because if you went through life never knowing anything about him, then you would've been robbed of meeting your grandparents and uncle. And even if you tried to ignore it, there always would've been a little part in the back of your mind, wondering...questioning...doubting. But at least if you know the whole story, you can come to terms with it and have closure. No matter what that book reveals, it has to be better than not knowing at all."

I closed my eyes again and exhaled in a ragged breath. "You're right, James. You always are," I muttered.

I felt James pulling me closer and rubbing my back with his gentle hands. "Try not to dwell on the upsetting parts while you read," he continued. "If it gets difficult, just stop for a minute and think about a happier entry. You said earlier that you don't really hate your dad anymore, right?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Now that I know him, he's a really hard person to hate. Meowth was right -- it's easy to see why momma fell in love with him."

James smiled and planted a kiss on my forehead. "Well, there you go! Think about all of the things that you're happy you learned about him. Focusing on the good things will help you make it through."

The smile returned to my lips. And as I recalled part of the latest entry I'd read, I laughed again.

James raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"I just remembered, there's something in there you might get a kick out of."


I pointed to the book. "Check out the May 1, 1980 entry...the part where Dorian and Miya go to McDonald's."

James smiled at me again as he picked up the book and flipped through the pages for a moment. His eyes widened, and he covered his mouth with his hand to stifle a laugh when he found the entry and began to read. By the time he finished reading, his face was red, and his entire body was trembling.

"!" he said once he was able to find his voice. "Oh, my god! Oh, my god!" Unable to hold himself back any longer, he broke out in peals of laughter.

Now, I was laughing out loud again, too. "Talk about history repeating itself, huh?"

"No kidding!" James gasped, brushing away the tears that were now streaming down his cheeks. "Sounds like old Ash Sr. was every bit as stupid and obnoxious as his son! Jeez, your dad was right on the money when he predicted that Ash-hole and Delia would have a seriously screwed up kid if they ever managed to reproduce!"

"Hey! What's so funny?"

We looked and saw Meowth standing in the doorway.

"Can I show him?" James asked.

"By all means!"

James laughed again as he handed the journal to Meowth. "May 1, 1980. You'll never guess who Jessie's parents met at McDonald's."

The cat gave him a quizzical look as he took the book and began to read, but after a moment, he was rolling on the floor with laughter, too. "Holy shit on a cracker!" he cried, clutching his sides.

"Pretty bad, huh?" James snickered.

"Heh, heh! Thinkin' the McDonaldland characters are pokemon and tryin' ta catch 'em! Aw, man, dat is just too damn funny!" Meowth laughed. "Sounds exactly like the kinda thing the twerp would do! Ol' Ash-hole is just as big a Noober as his son!"

"Actually, Noober is a relative from Ash's mother's side of the family," James reminded him. "Delia's uncle, if I recall correctly."

"So, that means Ash Jr. got a double-whammy of the stupidity gene!" I chimed in.

"Yeah, but it wouldn't surprise me if Ash-hole and Noober was related somehow," said Meowth. He smirked at us, and a mischievous light glimmered in his midnight-blue eyes. "I wasn't completely jokin' when I made dat inbreedin' crack about the twerp earlier, ya know!"

"The scary thing is, you may very well be right, Meowth," James remarked.

I shuddered at the thought.

Meowth looked up at me and smiled. "It's so cool dat Dorian whipped his ass when he started pickin' on Miya! Dat part ruled -- I loved how Snowmane flattened Pikachu and Bulbasaur, and Diablo roasted all dose Happy Meal toys!"

I returned his smile. "Yeah. I liked that part, too."

"I guess the next time we see Ash, you can tell him, My daddy can beat yer daddy in a fight! and it'll be true!" Meowth continued.

"Not that he'd have the slightest clue what I'm talking about," I said.

The cat shrugged. "Doesn't matter either way. Since when has dat twerp ever had a clue about anything?"

"Good point," I admitted.

"Well, I hate to break up the party, but I really need to get a shower," James said, picking up his pajamas and boxers again. He cupped my chin in his hand once more. "Remember what I told you, Jess -- when it gets too difficult to read, take a break and think about something positive for awhile...or something funny like Dorian and Miya's encounter with Ash-hole!"

"I'll remember that," I replied. "Thanks, James."

He leaned closer and touched his lips to mine. "You're welcome."

Once James had taken his leave, Meowth handed Dorian's journal back to me and jumped onto the bed. "Dis room is real nice," he commented. "All dese tapestries and fantasy posters...the bookshelves, the bean-bag and lava lamp -- it kinda reminds me of how you and James decorated yer old apartments at headquarters."

I nodded. "It does, doesn't it? This is Dorian's old room -- I guess he and I have similar tastes."

Meowth looked around the room a moment longer, then back to me. "I...uh...guess ya wanna do a bit more readin' now, huh?"

I ran my fingers along the book's soft, suede cover and smiled in spite of myself. "Yeah, I probably should."

"Den I'll leave ya to it." He climbed down from the bed and started heading for the door, but then he paused at one of the bookshelves. "Hey, Jess?"


"Ya mind if I take a book with me? I'm in the mood ta read somethin' myself."

"I don't mind at all. I'm sure granny and grandpa won't mind either, as long as you put it back when you're done."

"Okay, thanks." After examining the books for a couple of minutes, Meowth selected a slim paperback. A drawing of five children with awestruck expressions on their faces and a whimsical man with a purple tophat and tuxedo was on the cover. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl," he said, reading the title aloud. "Is dis anything like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?"

"That's the book the movie was based on," I informed him.

The cat flashed me a playful smile. "Dey made a book outta dat movie?"

I smirked at him.

"Ah, you know I'm just kiddin'," Meowth said, waving a paw at me. He looked at the book again, and his smile became a grin. "Dis is cool. Wobbu will prolly wanna read it, too. Thanks again, Jess!" With that, he began humming the Oompa-Loompa song as he returned to his room.

I shook my head and laughed as the sound of Meowth singing "Oompa-loompa, oompa-dee-doo" echoed through the hallway. Willy Wonka had always been one of our favorite movies, and the book had always been a childhood favorite of mine as well. I knew that Meowth would enjoy his read.

I just wish I could say the same for myself, I thought as I turned my attention back to Dorian's journal. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to read about Dorian and Miya's fate. But at the same time, I knew that James was right -- there had to be something in here that I needed to know...something that would give me closure for what had been the darkest chapter of my life.

So, steeling myself once again, I reopened the book and read on....

May 25, 1980

This has been, without a doubt, the most wonderful night of my life! After all these long months, it's finally happened! The three weeks since Miya and I made our plans seem to have stetched all the way across eternity, but I can say without hesitation that it was worth the wait. And in the meantime, we found other ways to keep ourselves occupied.

My parents, Brad, and the Parkers joined us in Indigo Village on the morning of the 4th. I hadn't seen my family in person since the holidays, and I hadn't had a chance to really speak to them since my birthday, so it felt good to be with them again. And I knew that Miya felt the same way about seeing her parents. The seven of us spent the entire day chatting and hanging out together -- it brought back pleasant memories of that horseback riding date Miya and I had when we'd first met last year.

The opening ceremonies for the games were held on the morning of the 5th, and the preliminary matches began that same afternoon. In round one, Miya had to face none other than Ash Hull Ketchum himself on the rock field. And I thouroughly enjoyed watching Miya's Charizard and Arbok drive Ash-hole's Bulbasaur and Pikachu into the ground before they even had a chance to attack. The moment was made even more enjoyable when Ash-hole threw the mother of all shit-fits after the referee declared Miya the winner.

Ash-hole accused Miya of cheating and insisted that there was no way anybody could possibly beat him, and this, in turn, led to an investigation of the match. The insinuation that my Miya had achieved her victory through underhanded tactics enraged me (and the Parkers, my parents, and Brad, for that matter) beyond words, but in a lovely little twist of poetic justice, all Ash-hole ended up doing was hanging himself with his own rope. The investigation revealed that Miya had won the battle fair and square...and that Ash-hole's trainer's license wasn't even authentic -- it was nothing more than a prize he'd found in a cereal box the previous year and mistaken for "proof" that he was destined to become a pokemon master! When the Pokemon League officials discovered this, they confiscated all of Ash-hole's badges and disqualified him from the match, and he was forced to return to Pallet Town in disgrace. Miya ended up having to fight another battle on the rock field the next day, since her opponent had to be a legitimate trainer, but luckily, she had no problems winning that match, either.

In the days that followed, Miya also won her second round match on the water field, her third round match on the grass field, and her fourth round match on the ice field. When she was named one of the semi-finalists last week, she proceeded to her fifth round match in Indigo Stadium and won that battle as well. And this morning, she faced off against her final opponent in the sixth round.

Just like Orange League, the final round of Indigo League is normally a six-on-six battle...but Miya has only five pokemon in her line-up. Once again, I offered to loan her Snowmane or Diablo to give her an even six, and once again, she refused, insisting that she needed to win the battle with her own pokemon.

Not that there was any need to worry -- Dratini, Gyarados, Kabutops, Charizard, and Arbok battled valiantly and emerged victorious against her opponent's Venusaur, Jolteon, Magmar, Skarmory, Kingler, and Hitmonchan.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with excitement. Once the remaining finalists duked it out in their matches, the Pokemon League officials presented Miya and the other two winners with their championship trophies and gave commemorative badges to all of the other participants. Then, the closing ceremonies began, and we were treated to musical performances by a live band and a stunning fireworks display.

After the closing ceremonies, our families celebrated Miya's victory by taking us to the movies to see "The Empire Strikes Back," which had opened the previous week. (Just like me, Miya had enjoyed the original "Star Wars" movie immensely when it had been in theaters three years ago. Now we can't wait for the next installment three years hence! Who knows? Maybe we'll be engaged by then!) And after the movie, our families treated us to dinner at a nice Thai restaurant, and we all went out dancing.

Everything about the evening was magical! As Miya and I danced together, our two bodies seemed to move as one, and I was reminded that tonight was the night. And as I gazed into her sparkling turquoise eyes, I knew that she was anticipating it as eagerly as I!

It was almost midnight by the time we returned to the hotel. Now that the Indigo finals were over, Miya was going to go back to Opal Ridge to visit her parents before entering the Johto League. It was going to be a few weeks before I saw her again since I was going home with my family too, so I was determined to make the most of our last night together.

When we got back to our room, I took a hot shower and scrubbed myself from head to toe. And I must've brushed and flossed my teeth and gargled with mouthwash at least five times to get the last traces of garlic from the cashew chicken I'd eaten for dinner out of my mouth. I always like to be clean and smell good, but it was even more important than usual tonight! Tonight, everything had to be absolutely perfect!

Once I was ready, I put on my nicest bathrobe and returned to the bedroom. Then, Miya went into the bathroom to take her shower and get ready. While I was waiting for her, I lit some rose-scented candles and set them on the end tables. I then brought the single long-stemmed red rose that I'd purchased earlier in the evening from my coat pocket and laid it on the pillow. And, of course, I made sure that I had protection.

Just like the three weeks since we made our plans, the half hour that Miya spent in the shower seemed to take an eternity. But it was worth the wait -- when she was finally ready, she looked more beautiful than I ever thought an angel come to earth! Her bathrobe was clinging to her in all the right places and showing off every curve of her luscious body, and the diaphanous fabric was giving me a tantalizing peek at what was underneath. Her hair was still wet from the shower, and her cheeks were pink.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw her. " look gorgeous, Miya," I stammered.

Her cheeks turned from pink to red. "So do you," she replied.

Slowly, she crossed the room and seated herself next to me on the bed. My heart started pounding as we gazed into each other's eyes.

It seemed like we sat there and stared at each other forever. I was too nervous to say anything or make a move, sure that if I did, I'd only make a fool of myself.

Thankfully, it was Miya who broke the silence. "So...this is it," she said at length.

"Yeah," I replied lamely.

She bit her lip and gave me a sheepish smile.

"Nervous?" I asked, taking note of her expression.

Her cheeks flushed redder than ever. "More than you could imagine...."

I cupped her chin in my hand. "Miya, we don't have to do this if you don't want to. If you're not comfortable, or if you're having second thoughts, just let me know. I won't pressure you, and I won't do anything unless...."

Miya placed a finger to my lips and silenced me. "No, Dorian. I do want this -- I want it more than anything!"

"Then, why....?"

"I'm just worried that I won't be any good at it...that I won't satisfy you," she explained.

"Then I'm just as worried as you are -- I don't really know what I'm doing either, Miya," I assured her. "And I want to satisfy you more than anything."

Miya relaxed when I said this. "Then let's just do what feels right and take it from there," she said softly.

Hearing this made me relax, too. Tentatively, I placed my hands on her burning cheeks. "You're absolutely sure?" I muttered one last time as I lowered my lips to hers.

Miya nodded. "Make love to me, Dorian. Please," she whispered back. Then, she returned my kiss and pushed her tongue between my lips.

As our kiss deepened and our tongues caressed the inside of each other's mouths, my hands crept down and undid the sash of Miya's bathrobe. Her porcelain skin seemed to glow with a warm, rosy hue in the soft pink candlelight, making her look more ethereal than before.

"You're even more beautiful than I remember," I whispered, resting my forehead against hers and giving her another kiss.

She smiled at me and shrugged her robe completely off. Then, she slid one hand inside of my robe and undid the sash with the other. My breathing became shallow and rapid, and I moaned with pleasure as her fingers caressed my chest and stomach and lingered on my belly button. Her smile widened when she felt my response. "You always did like that," she murmured.

Once I'd wriggled out of my bathrobe, I wrapped an arm around Miya's waist and laid her down. She spread her legs apart and lifted her knees, and I knelt between them. Taking the rose, I gently traced the outlines of her facial features with the velvety petals and held it to her nose. She sighed contentedly as she inhaled the sweet fragrance.

After caressing her face with the rose a moment longer, I brushed it along her neck, between her breasts, and down her stomach. Then, I leaned down and began kissing her in all the same places that I'd brushed the rose, worshipping her flesh with my lips and tongue.

Miya heaved upwards and gasped with pleasure as I closed my mouth over one breast and then the other, lingering on each for a few minutes before moving on to her neck and face. As my lips found hers again, I felt her hand rubbing my stomach once more and moving lower to caress between my thighs. As she stroked me with one hand and ran her fingers through my hair with the other, I became aroused. But before I could go any further, there was something I needed to do....

"Just a sec," I muttered, breaking off our kiss. I reached down and took a condom from the box, which was sitting on the floor next to the bed. I smiled at Miya and held up the little foil package for her to see. "I'm ready this time...and there's eleven more where this came from!"

Miya's smile became a grin. "Good!"

My hands trembled as I began to take the condom from its wrapper. Now that my self-consciousness had returned, I was starting to get nervous again.

As if she could sense this, Miya closed her hands over mine. "Let me do it," she said softly, taking the condom from me. "Just relax," she told me as she finished unwrapping it.

I closed my eyes and smiled again. Her calloused hands became soft and gentle as she put the condom on me, and the feeling of her lips kissing my face, neck, and chest was sending another surge of desire through me.

When she finished, I laid her down again and laid myself on top of her. "I love you, Miya," I whispered.

"I love you too," she echoed.

Once I was sure that Miya was ready, I pushed forward with my hips and put myself inside of her. For a moment, she tensed, and I could tell from the expression on her face that she was in pain. But in her turquoise eyes, I saw nothing but desire, and she was holding me so tightly that I couldn't withdraw -- she still wanted me!

"Are you okay, honey?" I asked. "We can stop any time if you're not comfortable...."

Miya shook her head. "I'll be fine, Dorian," she assured me. "Don't worry about me...and don't you dare stop!"

I smoothed back her purple hair and kissed the tip of her nose. "Then you're the one who needs to relax now -- if I do anything while you're this tense, it's just going to hurt," I told her.

For the next couple of minutes, I remained motionless and just covered Miya's face with tender kisses and whispered words of love to her. Once she released the tension in her muscles, her body accepted me. I pushed deeper inside of her and withdrew a little so that I could thrust again, taking care to be as gentle as possible all the while.

It was a little awkward and uncomfortable at first, but before long, our bodies found a matching rhythm and began moving as one, just like they had when we'd been dancing earlier. As Miya arched her back to meet my thrusts, she began gasping with delight and saying my name over and over again.

Her cries of ecstasy and the feeling of her body responding to mine suddenly overwhelmed me with pleasure, and I started to tremble. The sensation of her silky skin against my own...of being sheathed in her soft, warm body...of the gentle friction that our movements created...of being this close to my soul-mate and sharing such an incredible bond with her -- I'd never experienced anything so wonderful in my entire life! I never wanted it to end!

But end it did. When I finally released a couple of hours later, I withdrew myself from Miya's body, and the two of us collapsed in each other's arms, pleasantly spent.

"Oh, Miya. That was...that was...." I gasped once I was able to find my voice.

"....Incredible!" she said, finishing the thought for me.

I placed a hand over my still-racing heart and smiled at her. "I guess I did okay, then?" I ventured.

Miya reached up and ran a hand through my hair. "You were better than okay, Dorian -- you were wonderful! I've never felt anything so amazing in my entire life!"

"Me either," I told her. I wrapped my arms around her and stroked her hair. "I just loved the feeling of being so close to you."

She snuggled into me and returned my smile. "I loved it, too. It felt like we were joining more than just our bodies...."

"....It felt like we were joining our souls, too!" Now it was my turn to finish the thought.

She nodded. "Exactly!"

"We really are soul-mates, Miya," I continued. "I'm so glad we did this!"

"I am, too," she agreed. "I love you so much, Dorian!"

"I love you, too," I echoed.

Our lips met in another passionate kiss, and when it ended, Miya rested her head on my chest and drifted into peaceful repose.

But sleep doesn't come so easily for me -- I'm too ecstatic to find sleep tonight! Miyamoto Melissa Parker: the most beautiful girl in the world, the best trainer in Orange and Indigo League, the smartest person I've ever met, my best friend, my girlfriend, my soul-mate...and now she's my lover, too! Words can't describe how happy that makes me! Even as I sit here, writing this entry and rereading it, I feel my descriptions don't even begin to do it justice.

I'm going to miss Miya these next few weeks while we're at home visiting our families. I always miss her when we're apart, but it'll be even worse now that we've shared such a powerful bond of closeness and love. The remainder of May and June will probably seem even more an eternity than these past three weeks have!

At least we'll be together again when we resume our travels in July, and Miya enters the Johto League. And someday, the distance between our homes won't matter -- someday, I'll ask her to marry me, and we'll be together forever!


Ah! I hear Miya stirring from her slumber. She's giving me a sleepy smile as she watches me writing by the light of the rose-scented candles, that are now burning low in their little glass jars. There's a look of desire shining in her turquoise eyes, as if she's inviting me to make love to her again.

So, I'd better bring this entry to a close. How can I resist an offer like that, after all?

-- Dorian Rochester

A myriad of conflicting emotions came over me as I closed the book and set it down again. I was happy that Dorian and Miya had become lovers and that sharing their bodies with each other had brought them closer than ever. But at the same time, it was upsetting because it still didn't change the fact that they eventually had a falling out and parted ways. And this, in turn, made me angry with the two of them for not being able to work things out. And then, I got an oogy feeling as it finally registered with me that I'd just read about my parents having sex!

I closed my eyes and massaged my temples. "I think it's definitely time to take a break from reading!" I chuckled.

After a moment, James returned from the bathroom, wearing his blue silk pajamas and a pair of fuzzy Growlithe slippers. His blue-violet hair was still damp from the shower. As I looked at him and admired how sexy he was, I found myself thinking about Dorian he must've felt when he'd seen Miya come from the shower on the night they became lovers.

"Hey, honey," he said as he put the clothes he'd been wearing into the dirty laundry bag. "Get any more reading done?"

I nodded and rubbed my temples again. "Yeah...but I think I need to stop for awhile."

His brow furrowed. "Is it upsetting you?"

"Not really. But it is getting kind of...heavy," I replied. "James, I just read the entry where they made love for the first time."


"It's weird," I continued. "The similarities are almost nonstop! They even became lovers on the night that the Indigo finals ended, just like we did!"

James's eyes widened. "Now, that is freaky!"

I got back to my feet and went to his side. "Like I said, I need to get away from it for a bit -- it's getting a little overwhelming."

James put his arms around me. "Sounds like it. Why don't you get a nice, hot shower and come to bed?" he suggested. "You'll probably feel better if you get some rest and go back to it in the morning."

I returned his embrace and nodded again. "Good idea."

James leaned closer, and our lips met. The feeling of his kiss, his gentle touch, and the warmth of his body was comforting to me. It reminded me once again that we'd always be together and that I'd never have to worry about losing him. Even if our relationship fell on hard times, he'd never walk out on me. And on the occassions when I'd been the one to walk out on him, he'd never given up on me -- we always managed to work things through and forgive each other whenever there was a misunderstanding, disagreement, or fight. And for that, I loved him more than he could ever imagine!

When our kiss ended, I held him in my embrace a moment longer and gazed into his gorgeous green eyes.

"What is it?" he asked when he saw that I was smiling.

"Just thinking about how lucky I am," I replied, giving him a quick kiss on the tip of his nose. "I love you, James."

He smiled back and rested his forehead against mine. "I love you too, Jess."

After sharing another quick kiss, I got some clean clothes from my backpack and headed for the bathroom, which was midway between the east and west wings of the upstairs hallway, near the top of the staircase. As I made my way along the hall, I noticed something that I hadn't seen before. Hanging on the wall a few feet from the bathroom door was another photograph of Dorian. He looked like he was about two years old in this picture -- the age he'd been when he'd learned how to ride horses. He was wearing a red and green flannel shirt, a pair of blue jeans, a black cowboy hat, and a tiny pair of black cowboy boots, and he was sitting on the back of a small Ponyta, the reins gripped in his little hands. Ahearn and Miriel were standing on either side of him to keep him from falling off, and the three of them were smiling.

He was such an adorable little boy, I said to myself. And as I studied the picture, a warm feeling of familiarity came over me. After hearing about his childhood from Ahearn and Miriel and hearing about his teenage years firsthand, Dorian almost felt like an old somebody I'd known my whole life.

But there were still a lot of things I didn't know...things I still wasn't sure I wanted to know.

The whole time I was in the shower, my thoughts kept drifting back to Dorian. I kept thinking about how much I had in common with him, especially where relationships were concerned.

"Dammit, Dorian!" I muttered, pounding my fist against the tile wall of the shower stall. "You loved Miya, and she loved you! You were soul-mates -- you shared your bodies with each other...and you had a child together! What the hell did the two of you break up over?! What was so horrible that you couldn't work through it together?!"

Trying my best to banish the thoughts from my mind, I finished washing my hair and scrubbing myself clean. Then, I dried off, and put on a clean pair of panties and my white nightgown. The shower had been refreshing to my body, but my mind was more troubled than ever. I was torn between loving my father and hating him. It had been so much simpler when I knew nothing...when I just hated him.

Simpler, but not necessarily better, I reminded myself, paraphrasing what James had told me earlier in the evening. He's right -- the only way I can put that part of my life behind me and move on is if I learn the truth and deal with it. But why does it have to be so difficult?

When I returned to the bedroom, I saw that James was still awake. He was lying in bed with his grand-papa's copy of Lord of the Rings propped on his chest. Last month, when he'd learned how to use magic in order to rescue me from Ayesha, his grandparents had led him to an entire trunkful of their most valued possessions. Jim Morgan's old leather-bound copies of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings had been among those possessions. For the past month, James had been rereading the books, both for sentimental reasons and in anticipation of the live-action movie of Fellowship of the Ring that was coming out in December. He was now halfway through The Two Towers.

He looked up from his book and smiled at me again. "Hey."

"Hey," I echoed, climbing in bed next to him.

Once he finished the chapter he'd been reading, James placed the gold tassel bookmark between the pages and put the book away. Then, he wrapped an arm around me and pulled the blanket up over us.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, as if he could sense what was on my mind.

"A lot of different ways at once," I replied in all honesty. "I feel so bi-polar -- one minute I'm happy to be learning about my dad, then I'm sad about how things turned out between him and momma, then I'm cracking up about something funny they did together, then I'm pissed at them for not having what it took to make their relationship's so confusing, James." I rolled onto my back and sighed as I stared up at the ceiling. "I just don't know what to make of it."

James reached over and caressed my cheek. "Sounds like you definitely need to get some rest...or at least take your mind off of it for awhile," he remarked.

I looked back at him.

"You'll be able to enjoy yourself a little more once you finish reading and have a chance to visit with your grandparents and uncle," he continued. Another smile spread across his lips. "Spending more time with Ahearn, Miriel, and Brad will definitely make you feel better -- they're wonderful."

I laughed bitterly. "Seems kind of ironic that you and Meowth have spent more time with my family than I have...."

James gave my nose a tweak. "Don't worry about it," he said. "They know that you have to meet your dad first. They'll still be here once you're ready."

This made me smile again. "I'm glad we met them. When I was a little girl, I always felt so isolated. I loved my momma so much, and I treasured every moment with her, but there were times when I wouldn't see her for weeks on end -- I was lonely, even before she died. And I never got to meet her parents and never even heard anything about anybody on this side of the family! After momma died, I didn't have anybody until I met you, James. And, I'm suddenly surrounded by more love than I ever thought possible! It seems almost too good to be true!"

"Well, it is true," he assured me. "Your granny and grandpa love you so much, Jessie. And if anybody deserves that, it's you. It's always broken my heart that you never had grandparents like I did. And I imagine being an orphan is just as bad as having parents who don't love you."

"I imagine so," I replied, taking his hand in mine.

"Visiting with Ahearn and Miriel has brought back so many pleasant memories!" he went on. "It really made me think about my own grandparents and all the good times I had with them when I was a tot."

I nodded. "Jim and Rose love you as much as Ahearn and Miriel love me. You were lucky to have them in your life when you were little."

"Yes, I was. Grand-mama and grand-papa were the best," James agreed. "But I was actually referring to my grandma and grandpa Woodson this time."

I raised an eyebrow. "I don't think you've ever told me about them before. What were they like?"

James smiled again. "Well, I'm not quite as close to them as I was to grand-mama and grand-papa, but I still love them with all my heart. And needless to say, I have a much better relationship with them than I do my parents. Grandpa Woodson is cool -- I remember, he always used to tell jokes, pretend to pull coins out of my ears, and such every time I came to visit. He even taught me some sleight of hand tricks, using the bottle caps that grand-papa gave me! He's like Meowth in a lot of ways. And grandma Woodson always made treats for me -- chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter balls, coconut name it, she can bake it! She's an excellent piano player, too -- she and grandpa would always sing songs together while she played."

"They sound like they were a lot of fun to spend time with," I remarked.

"They were," he affirmed. "Sometimes I wonder how such nice people like Eric and Miranda Woodson ended up with such a...conservative son like Quentin. Even my mom wasn't so bad until she met him. From what I heard, she used to be cool like grand-mama and grand-papa, but she changed when she fell in love with dad...became just like him."

"Maybe becoming a couple of closed-minded, conservative sticks in the mud was Quentin and Judith's way of rebelling against their cool parents," I offered. "Just like you rebelled against them by becoming just like your grandparents!"

Now James was grinning. "Could be!" He put his hands behind his head and continued. "I used to spend a lot of time at grandma and grandpa Woodson's estate when I was a tot. Grandma gave me piano lessons, and since they had horses like Ahearn and Miriel, dad would take me there for horseback riding and marksmanship lessons, too. I probably would've had more fun with grandma and grandpa if dad hadn't been there, standing over my shoulder and criticizing everything I did." His expression suddenly darkened as he turned to face me again.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

There was a long, uncomfortable pause before he answered. "Well...since we're on the subject of my grandparents, there's something I should probably tell you. Awhile back, I told you a story about my childhood that...wasn't completely true."

James had lied to me about something?! I could scarcely believe what I was hearing! "Go on," I prompted, my brow furrowing.

His cheeks flushed. "Do you remember when I told you how my dad threatened to send me to military school and made me get a buzz-cut when I was little?"

I shuddered as I thought back to the night the Scyther swarm on Murka Island had chopped off all of our hair, and James had related his sad tale to me. "Yeah, I remember."

"That story was only half-true," he told me after another pregnant pause. "The real story has quite a different outcome than the version I told you...and I have grandma and grandpa Woodson to thank for that."

Now my curiosity was piqued. "So, what's the real story?"

"The beginning part was true -- one Saturday afternoon when I was seven, dad took me to grandma and grandpa Woodson's for my weekly horseback riding, archery, and piano lessons. I think I did okay, but my best wasn't good enough for him, and he launched into a big tirade about how stupid and useless I was and how if I didn't shape up, he was going to send me to military school," James explained. "But here's what really happened after that. When dad got to the part in his rant where he called me a long-haired hippie and threatened to make me get a buzz-cut, grandma and grandpa told him to get off my case. They didn't presume to tell my parents how to raise me, but dad had been picking on me during my lessons for ages, and they'd had enough of it. They read him the riot act for being such an asshole and warned him that if he touched even one hair on my head, then he was out of their will. Once dad backed off, grandma and grandpa gave me a big plate of chocolate chip cookies and promised that they wouldn't let him cut my hair or send me to military school. And they made good on that promise, too!"

I felt a wave of relief wash over me when I heard this. "So, the true story has a happy ending?" I asked.

He nodded. "I'm sorry I lied to you when I first told the story, honey. I hope you're not mad at me."

"Of course I'm not mad at you, sweetie," I assured him. "I just want to know why you gave that story a bad ending the first time you told it."

His cheeks turned redder than ever as his eyes met mine. "Jessie, I don't know if you remember how miserable you were that night, but I do," he muttered. "When I looked into your eyes and saw nothing but despair...heard you screaming that you wished you were dead, it scared the living hell out of me! And you'd already pushed me away once when I'd tried to comfort you because you didn't think I understood how you felt! I had to do something...anything to show you that I did understand, and that I was there for you. So, I took the memory of that close shave from my childhood and changed it around a bit. I made up that unhappy ending so you wouldn't feel so alone."

I gave his rogue wisp of hair a gentle tug. "You embellished the story, just to make me feel better? That was very sweet of you, James."

The smile returned to his lips when I said this.

"I'm glad you told me what really happened," I continued, resting my head on his chest. "It would've been awful if your dad really had made you get all your hair cut off! He, your mom, and Jessiebelle treated you bad enough as it is -- you didn't need something humiliating like that on top of it. I'm happy that you had such loving grandparents, James...that you had people who tried to keep the abuse in check and did whatever they could to protect you."

"I'm happy that I had them, too," he replied. His expression became grim again. "I do feel a little guilty, though. My grandma and grandpa Woodson are still alive, but I haven't seen them or spoken to them since I ran away from home. After grand-mama and grand-papa died, I just never looked back...and I was trying to stay away so that my parents wouldn't come looking for me...."

"Well, maybe it's time to change all of that," I told him as I traced patterns on his chest with the tip of my finger. "You've broken off your engagement to Jessiebelle, and you're a grown man now -- your parents don't have any more control over you. So, what's stopping you from calling your grandparents or writing them a letter?"

Now he was grinning again. "Absolutely nothing!"

"If meeting my granny and grandpa today has taught me anything, it's that it's never too late to come home if you have a family that loves you," I went on. "If Eric and Miranda Woodson are as wonderful as you say, then they'll understand why they haven't seen you or heard from you for so long. They'll just be happy to know that you're okay and that you still love them."

"You're right, Jess," he said. Tears were welling up in his emerald eyes.

I brushed his tears away with my thumb. "Granny said she's going to call my grandma and grandpa Parker tomorrow to let them know about me and let me talk to them for awhile. I'm sure she'll let you give your grandparents a call, too."

James breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back on his pillows. "I'd like that."



"Thank you for talking to me about your grandparents...and for being here to listen to me," I said. I cuddled closer and touched my lips to his. "I don't know what I'd do without you. I love you, James."

He put his arms around me again and ran a hand through my hair. "I love you too, Jessie. And I don't know what I'd do without you, either."

Presently, his hands began massaging my shoulders and back. I closed my eyes and sighed contentedly. And as I concentrated on his touch, on the feeling of his heartbeat next to mine and his sweet breath on my lips, and on the fragrance and warmth of his body, all I could think about was being as close to him as I possibly could.

"Jessie," James murmured as I opened my eyes again and met his gaze.

I could tell from the look in his eyes that he knew exactly what I wanted.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked, tentatively sliding down the straps of my nightgown. "This isn't weird for you, being in your dad's old room, and all?"

I placed a finger to his lips and silenced him. "It doesn't matter," I whispered as I began to unbutton his pajama top. "Right now, I just need you. I don't want to think about my dad anymore tonight -- I want to concentrate on the here and now...on what I have with you."

His eyes sparkled. "I just wanted to be certain...."

James and I finished undressing each other and made our joining in silence. The feeling of James putting himself inside of me and moving in perfect time with my body was sending waves of ecstasy through me. Waves that washed away all of my troubled thoughts and replaced them with serenity.

Making love with James is always an invigorating experience -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. But at the same time, it's always so peaceful and calming. It's almost Tantric, the way sharing a perfect union with each other always seems to center us and take us to a higher plane of being. It was exactly what I needed.

When it was over, James kept me in his warm embrace and gave me another kiss. "I love you so much," he said as he pulled the blanket around us again.

"I love you, too," I echoed.

James smiled at me once more, and after a couple of minutes, he drifted off to sleep.

I wanted to join him, I really did. A lot of physically and emotionally draining things had happened today, and I was exhausted. I needed rest, and more than that, I needed my mom. I knew that if I thought about her before falling asleep, then I'd be able to dream about her...and if I dreamed about her, then I'd be able to talk to her about my dad. She, of all people, would be able to help me sort through everything that was going on.

But for some odd reason, sleep just wouldn't come. In fact, once James had dozed off and left me alone with my thoughts again, I became more restless than ever! My mind kept drifting back to Dorian and Miya -- it was almost as if the book was calling to me...beckoning me to read on!

I shuddered at the thought. The last time I'd succumbed to temptation when something had called to me, it had almost cost me my life. In the logical part of my brain, I knew that Dorian wasn't some malevolent entity and that his journal was nothing like the enchanted staff and mask that had delivered me into Ayesha's clutches, but it was still a disturbing parallel. I felt every bit as possessed now as I had then, and it was starting to frighten me!

It can wait until tomorrow, I told myself as I held James closer and tried to banish all thoughts of Dorian and his journal from my mind.

But to no avail. The more I tried to ignore it and fall asleep, the more I found myself thinking about it.

Slowly, I untangled myself from James's embrace and sat up in bed. Shafts of moonlight were streaming through the curtains and bathing the room in dim silvery-green light. Across the room, I could see the shadowy form of the journal. It was still sitting on the table, where I'd left it before I went to take my shower.

"You're not going to be happy until I'm done reading, are you?" I muttered under my breath.

The only reply I received to my question was the sound of James shifting in his sleep, but in the back of my mind, I knew that the answer was yes. The only way I was going to find put my troubled mind at ease was to finish the book.

Climbing out of bed, I put my nightgown and panties back on. Then, I tucked the blanket around James once more and returned to the bean-bag chair. Once I was comfortably seated, I switched on the lava lamp so that I could have enough light to read by without disturbing James. I then picked up the book again and found the page where I'd left off.

I had to see the story through to its end. There was no turning back or stopping now....


The entries that followed weren't much different from a lot of the earlier ones -- the only real difference was that Dorian and Miya were lovers now. When the two of them went home with their families after the Indigo finals, they spent the rest of May and June pining for each other, calling each other every night, and counting the days until they could be together again. (During that time, Miya also started taking the pill so that they wouldn't have to worry about whether or not they had protection anymore.)

At the beginning of July, they met up in New Bark Town, where Miya registered for the Johto League. Then, Dorian and Miya set out together and traveled all over Johto on Diablo and Snowmane, training their pokemon during the day and making love at night. During their first couple of months in Johto, Miya caught a Donphan and a Houndour, which evolved into a Houndoom. Her Dratini also evolved into a Dragonair.

In September, the two of them went back to Redwood Heights for a few days so that they could visit Dorian's parents and attend Brad's ninth birthday party. And from there, they traveled to the Whirl Islands, where Miya entered the 1980 Whirl Cup competition in October. With the help of her Dragonair and Gyarados, Miya won the tournament and received the title of Water Pokemon Alpha Omega. During November, the two of them continued to travel in the Whirl Islands and won the Mineral and Storm Badges from the Olivine and Cianwood Gyms. And in December, they went home to spend the holidays with their families again, but before they parted ways, Dorian gave Miya a pair of gold earrings as a present for her sixteenth birthday.

When they resumed their travels after the new year, Miya won the rest of her Johto badges (and Dorian was able to win all of them except for the Fog Badge and the Rising Badge) within the space of a few short months. The two of them spent the rest of 1981 and the first few months of 1982 competing in various regional tournaments and training for the Johto finals, which were slated to begin in May. (Since Johto was a much more expansive country than Kanto, the Johto gym leaders usually had tougher pokemon than the ones in Kanto, and the competition tended to be more fierce, the Johto League held its championship games every other year instead of every year so that trainers would have enough time to earn all of their badges and prepare.)

To the casual reader, it looked like everything between Dorian and Miya was just fine. But I knew all too well that things were about to go horribly wrong. And come May 1982, that's exactly what happened. After the Johto finals, I found the entries that I'd been dreading....

May 23, 1982

How could this have happened?! How could a day that started so wonderfully have ended I can't even find the words to describe how I'm feeling, I'm in such a state of shock. And my hands are shaking so badly I can barely grasp my pen to write! But write about it, I must. It's the only hope I have of getting my thoughts together and coping with the news Miya has just given me!

I suppose I should've seen it coming -- looking back, it's so obvious now! It all began a few weeks ago, when I noticed that Miya was under the weather. She complained of being tired and sluggish, and her appetite was off because she was nauseous and couldn't keep anything down. I figured she had a cold or the flu, so I suggested that we take it easy for awhile. Luckily, we were on our way to visit my family at the time since my eighteenth birthday was only a few days away, so that meant she'd have a nice warm bed to sleep in and lots of my parents' home cooking while she recuperated.

And that's exactly what she got -- mom and dad let Miya stay with me in my room (they'd long since figured out that Miya and I are sleeping together and don't mind in the least), and they made plenty of soup and herbal tea to settle her stomach. My parents also called the Parkers and invited them to come and stay with us as well so that they could visit their daughter (and so that they wouldn't have quite as long a journey to Mt. Silver when the Johto finals began in another month).

Mr. and Mrs. Parker arrived on the morning of my birthday, and my parents put them up in the guest room. By then, Miya was feeling a little better, and she was able to eat some cake and ice cream at my birthday party and keep it down. But she still hadn't made a complete recovery, so both her parents and mine insisted that we stay with them until the Johto finals began.

The remainder of April passed without incident. Miya tried to get in as much training as she could, but she was still tired and nauseous, so she ended up spending most of her time in bed. It wasn't natural for a stomach bug to last this long, so I made her promise to see a doctor if she was still sick when we got to Mt. Silver. Not wanting her illness to interfere with her performance at the Johto finals (and not wanting me to worry about her), she agreed.

We left for Mt. Silver a week before the games were scheduled to begin. Miya still felt sick when we arrived at our destination two days later, but she kept her promise and went to a clinic while I reserved three rooms for ourselves and our families at one of the local hotels. When we met up again at dinner, she assured me that she was going to be okay. She didn't really go into details about her exam, but she did say that the doctor had told her to eat a balanced diet and get plenty of rest and excersise and that if she did, then everything would be just fine. It was a great relief to know that Miya wasn't seriously ill (and she did seem to be in better spirits after her visit to the doctor), but I could still see the slightest edge of apprehension on her face. I expressed my concerns about this, but Miya was reluctant to discuss the matter any further. She promised to tell me more when the time was right, so I was content not to press the issue.

The three weeks that followed seemed to pass by in a heartbeat. Just like she had at Indigo League, Miya defeated all of her opponents and earned another championship. After the closing ceremonies this afternoon, where Miya was presented with her trophy, our parents took us out to dinner and held a celebration in her honor. And when she and I returned to our hotel room this evening, we made love like never before!

It could've been the perfect night...would've been the perfect night. But when our lovemaking ended and we laid together, cuddling and basking in the afterglow of what we'd just shared, Miya finally decided to tell me what she'd learned at the doctor's office earlier this month.

And boy, was it a bombshell!

"Dorian?" she muttered, reaching up to play with my hair.

"Hmmm?" I muttered back.

"You know how we talked about traveling to Houen after the Johto finals ended?"

I nodded. I'd been looking forward to going to Houen with Miya. It's a country across the sea, and it's filled with all kinds of pokemon that are extremely rare (even non-existent in some cases) in Kanto and Johto.

"Well, I think the trip will have to be postponed -- I won't be able to do any traveling for awhile," she told me.

I raised an eyebrow. "Why is that?"

She gave me a sleepy smile and played with my hair again. "It has to do with why I've been so sick lately."

I felt an icy hand of dread close over my heart when she said this. Was her illness getting worse?!

"Don't worry -- this is good news," Miya assured me, as if she could sense my unease. She took one of my hands in hers and placed it on her stomach.

I knew what she was going to say next. Now that I'd put two and two together, it all made sense! The tiredness, the nausea, the appetite changes -- I kicked myself for not being able to see it sooner. "Y-you mean you're....?"

She nodded. "I'm pregnant, Dorian. We're going to have a baby!"

Even though I'd seen it coming, I felt as if I'd been struck by lightning when she said this. "P-p-pregnant?! B-b-baby?!" I stammered, still not quite believing what I'd just heard.

Miya gave my hand a squeeze and nodded again. "You're going to be a daddy!"

I felt my body going numb and my throat getting tight. Me?! A dad?! The mere thought was almost too much to absorb! "H-how did this happen?" I asked once I'd found my voice again.

She smirked. "Well, you see, Dorian, when a man and a woman really love each other...."

"You know what I meant!" I interjected. "Miya, haven't you been taking your birth control pills?"

"Of course I have," she said. "But you can't always rely on birth control. The only method that's one hundred percent guaranteed is if we didn't have sex at all."

"You're right," I sighed. "So, how far along are you?"

"About two and a half months now. It's due sometime in December," came her reply. She closed her eyes and smiled again. "I think it's going to be a girl...just a feeling I have. Oh, Dorian, can you imagine how beautiful she's going to be?"

I wish I could've shared her enthusiasm and joined her in fantasizing about what the baby was going to be like, but I had an important question that was still nagging at me. "Miya, why didn't you tell me about this as soon as you found out?"

She blushed. "Well, I didn't want you to worry about me or the baby while I was doing all of that training -- I wanted to be able to concentrate on the finals. Plus, I was putting it off because I was nervous. In retrospect, I know those aren't very good reasons, but it didn't seem that way at the time. I'm sorry."

I placed a hand to my temple and sighed again.

"I know this is unexpected," she continued. "But we did want to have kids someday. It's just happening a little sooner than we'd planned, that's all."

"More like a lot sooner," I commented.

Miya caressed my cheek with her fingertips. "Yeah...yeah, it is," she confessed. "I was in shock when the tests came back positive, and the doctor told me I'm pregnant, so I can only imagine how you feel."

I nodded.

"I know it's an awful lot to absorb -- it took me awhile to get used to the idea, too," she admitted. "Why don't you sleep on it? We can talk more in the morning."

"In the morning," I echoed.

And so, Miya drifted off to sleep. If only I were that lucky -- I'm too nervous to find rest tonight.

I can't really say that I'm upset about this. Miya is right -- I do want to marry her and have children with her. I love her with all my heart and soul, and I love our baby, too! But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared about this. I've only just turned eighteen...and Miya is only seventeen! Are we up to the challenge of raising a child?! How are we supposed to do it when we haven't even finished school and don't even have jobs?! What are our parents going to say?!

What am I going to do?! I'm so scared....

-- Dorian Rochester

I looked up from my reading and shivered. I felt as thunderstruck as Dorian must have when Miya had told him that she was pregnant! And I knew all too well how frightened he must've been.

I found my thoughts drifting back to the July before last -- the time I'd thought that I was pregnant. I remember taking three different pregnancy tests that all came back positive. I remember crying all night and drifting into a fitful sleep plagued with nightmares of James leaving me...of being forced to raise my child alone...of history repeating itself. The prospect of giving James the news and imagining how he'd react to it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life!

And yet, those fears had been groundless. If James had been as scared as Dorian when I told him that I was pregnant, then he sure hadn't shown it -- his devotion to me hadn't wavered, even for a second! If anything, he'd been more upset when we found out that I wasn't pregnant, after all.

But Dorian had loved me and momma, too...just like James loved me and the baby he thought I'd been carrying.

So, what had gone wrong? Why had two men with so many similarities made such different choices when faced with the same situation?

There was only one way to find out.

December 4, 1982

It's been a long time since I've ventured to write anything on these pages. But this is only one of the many things in my life that's long overdue.

I still remember it as if it were yesterday -- that night back in May when Miya told me that she was pregnant. The argument we had the next morning. I don't know what the hell I was thinking -- all I do know is that I wasn't myself that morning. I hadn't slept at all after she gave me the news, and the combination of fear and fatigue overwhelmed me and kept me from saying what was truly in my heart. When Miya tried to discuss the matter with me over breakfast, all I could do was tell her that I wasn't ready to be a dad...that I wasn't ready to put my life on hold. She countered that we were going to be parents, whether we were ready or not. I asked her how we expected to finish school, find jobs, and support a child, and she replied that we'd find a way, but that answer hadn't been good enough for me.


I wanted to step up to the be a man and take responsibility for my actions. I wanted to take Miya in my arms, shower her with kisses, and tell her that everything was going to be okay. I wanted to marry her and be the best husband and father I could be.

But it didn't happen that way. I let all my feelings of uncertainty get the better of me. I told Miya flat-out that I didn't want this...that I needed some time to myself, and then I promptly walked out the door.

I hadn't meant a word of it, and as soon as I was alone, I kicked myself.

After our fight, Miya went home with her family, and I went home with mine. We didn't tell our parents what had happened, but they knew that something was wrong, and the parting wasn't a pleasant one. Once I got home and had time to reflect on what I'd done, I realized what a mistake I'd made. I knew that I needed to talk to Miya and make amends, but I was too scared. How could I even begin to apologize or make up for the way I'd treated her?! Every time I thought about it, my stomach tied itself in knots, and I found myself at a loss for words. Facing her again, calling her, or even writing a letter seemed out of the question. And so, I continued to hide from it...hoping in vain that it would all work out in the end.

Miya called me a few times in the weeks that followed and attempted to straighten things out. She knew my rashness and my foolish tongue all too well, and she was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. But each time I heard her voice on the other end of the receiver, my own voice became stuck in my throat, and I couldn't give her a reply. Nothing I could say seemed good enough. After the third or fourth try, she finally told me to go to hell and hasn't called back since.

My life has been a meaningless blur since then. I vaguely recall taking my high school equivalency exam over the summer and passing with top marks. I know I've spent many a day rereading my favorite books or riding my Rapidashes in a futile attempt to keep from languishing. Yet none of it has lifted my spirits, even the slightest. Nothing has been able to stir me from the torpid haze that my life has become. I'd sunk to such depths that not even my family could reach me. Mom, dad, and even Brad have tried every day to get me to talk about what happened and to offer their advice and comfort. And like everything else, it's all been in vain.

But this morning, that all changed.

My sleep last night had been restless, just as it's been for the past several months. Unable to bear the tossing and turning and the nightmares any longer, I awoke before dawn, hoping that an early morning ride on Diablo would clear my mind. And it was when I went to get dressed and saw my reflection in the mirror that it happened.

When I looked into the mirror, I didn't see Dorian Rochester staring back at me. I didn't see a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, or a lover, or a father-to-be -- I didn't see any of the things I should've been. Instead, I saw a gaunt shell in the mirror. A foolish, cowardly little boy who'd thrown away the best thing that had ever happened to him. And when I saw myself for what I was, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started hating myself.

I stepped closer to the mirror and examined my loathesome reflection for a moment. Then, I brought up my hand and slapped myself across the face as hard as I could. "Look at you. Look what you've become. You're pathetic," I said to myself. "Is it any wonder Miya gave up on you? She deserves so much better than what you've given her! She deserves a real man -- somebody who's willing to stand by her side no matter what and help her raise her child. And what are you? Not much more than a child yourself! Running away...hiding from your troubles...feeling sorry for yourself -- it hasn't done a goddamned bit of good, for you or her! If you want to deal with this, then you need to wake the fuck up and see what really matters...."

I tore my gaze away from the mirror and closed my eyes. "I do know what really matters," I whispered. "Miya...and our baby. They mean everything to me." I paused for a moment and looked back at my reflection. "And it's time I started acting like it."

Once I finished berating myself, I started to see my old self in the mirror again. It was time to come out of the shame spiral I'd been on for the past six and a half months and make some changes.

Feeling better than I had in ages, I finished getting dressed and went downstairs to make myself some breakfast. While I was eating my toast, I thought long and hard about what I was going to say to Miya. I was still at a loss for words, but I wasn't going to let it stop me this time. When I was done eating, I screwed up every ounce of courage that I had and picked up the phone. Rivers of cold sweat poured down my temples, and my heart thundered in my chest as I dialed the Parkers' number. 'Please...please don't let me choke now....' I silently implored.

After the third ring, somebody finally picked up. "Hello?" a woman's voice said.

I felt my throat getting tight again, but I forced myself to speak. "M-Mrs. Parker?" I stammered.

"Dorian, is that you?" she asked.

"Y-yes, ma'am," I replied. "Is Miya there? I really need to speak to her."

There was a long pause on the other end. I half-expected Mrs. Parker to say that Miya didn't want to talk to me and hang up. But her voice was surprisingly gentle when she answered. "I'm sorry, Dorian -- she isn't here."

My heart sank. "Well, where is she? Will she be back soon?"

Mrs. Parker sighed. "I'm afraid I don't know. She came home and stayed with us for a few weeks, but then she set out again. Said she was going to find work. She's been sending us checks from a P.O. box in Viridian City every two weeks for the past few months, but she hasn't called, or written, or even visited since she left...."

'Miya left home and hasn't been keeping in touch with with her parents? That doesn't sound like her at all,' I said to myself as I listened to Mrs. Parker. 'That must mean she hasn't told them that she's pregnant. Probably too ashamed to face her family...just like I've been.' Then aloud, "Would you mind giving me her mailing address?"

"Of course not," she said. "I've got an envelope right here...."

I got out a pen and paper and wrote down the address as Mrs. Parker read it to me. If I couldn't call, then I could at least write to Miya. "Thank you, ma'am."

"You're welcome, Dorian," she replied. "I just hope you have better luck than her father and I have -- she hasn't replied to any of our letters. Just keeps sending us checks. She seems to be avoiding us...though I can't imagine why...."

I felt another lump forming in my throat. "M-Mrs. Parker?"


"I guess you know that Miya and I had a falling out after the Johto finals."

Another long pause. "Yes, I do."

"Well...I just wanted to say that it was all my fault. I made a really stupid mistake, and I wasn't man enough to face Miya when she tried to work it out with me," I told her. "I regret it now, though. That's why I called today -- I want Miya to know how sorry I am. I want her to know that I still love her and that I'll do anything for her forgiveness. If you manage to speak to her before I do, will you tell her so? Please?"

"I think that's something only you can tell her," said Mrs. Parker. "But if we hear from her, we'll be sure to let her know that you asked about her and that you want to talk."

"Thank you," I repeated.

After saying good-bye to Mrs. Parker, I returned to my room and got out a pen and my stationery pad so that I could write a letter to Miya. But while I was thinking about what to say, I got an idea that was just crazy enough to work.

"A letter won't do any good," I muttered, putting the stationery pad away. "If I say anything to Miya, I need to say it to her in person. If I go to Viridian City, then maybe...just maybe I can find her and work things out with her face-to-face. Besides, she said our baby is due sometime this month -- I want to be there when it's born...I want to be there for my child right from the start."

Once I made my decision, I spent the rest of the morning packing and preparing for my journey. Then, I talked to my parents and let them know where I'm going. They're happy that I'm going to try and set things right with Miya (though I still haven't told them about the baby), and they're now helping me get ready. Mom is down in the kitchen making some sandwiches for me, and dad is in the barn, getting Diablo saddled up. If I ride as fast as I can, I should be in Viridian City within a few days.

I'm bringing this journal along as well. Writing on these pages seems to be helping me find my voice again, and seeing my decision in writing makes me all the more resolute. Once I finish getting my thoughts in order and bring this entry to a close, I'll be ready to go.

I have no idea how I'm going to find Miya when I arrive at my destination, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. And I will find her, no matter how difficult it may be. I'll do whatever it takes to win Miya back, and then I'll marry her and always be there for her and the baby. I just hope she can find it in her heart to forgive me. I hope I'm not too late....

-- Dorian Rochester

"So, I was right," I muttered. "He got scared and lashed out. But he regretted walking out on us and wanted to come back."

My heart sank when I said this. Dorian may have wanted to come back, but for some reason, he hadn't. What had gone wrong? Had he been unable to find momma? Had she been unable to forgive him? Or had something else stood in their way?

The pieces of the puzzle were finally beginning to fall into place, but what the picture would look like once it was complete, I still couldn't say. I needed more answers.

And when I turned the page and came across a shakily-written, tear-stained entry dated the day after my birth, that's exactly what I found....

December 14, 1982

It's just as I feared -- I'm too late. For a few glorious hours, I felt more happiness than I ever thought possible...and for a few glorious hours, I actually thought that everything would be okay. Oh, how wrong I was.

I arrived in Viridian City last Thursday and wasted no time in trying to find Miya. The first place I searched was the White Pages, in hopes of finding a phone number or street address. There were several pages of Parkers, but Miya wasn't among them. Failing that, I turned to the Yellow Pages to try and find where she worked -- I must've called every restaurant, store, and business in the city, but nobody had an employee named Miyamoto Parker. It was beginning to seem an impossible task, but I refused to give up hope. And while I was reading "The Viridian Times" at breakfast this morning, my efforts finally paid off.

It happened when I was perusing the local news section and brainstorming about where I should look next. Buried on the last page was a list of engagement, wedding, anniversary, and birth announcements. And one birth announcement in particular caught my eye:

Jessica Rachael Parker: daughter of Miyamoto Melissa Parker and Dorian Ahearn Rochester. Born on Dec. 13 at Viridian Regional Hospital. She weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 21 inches. Grandparents are Jesse and Musashi Parker of Opal Ridge, Kanto and Ahearn and Miriel Rochester of Redwood Heights, Johto.

A chill of excitement raced up my spine as I read the announcement. Miya had the baby yesterday -- that meant she was probably still at the hospital! And she'd mentioned me as the father in the birth announcement -- that meant she probably still loved me...that I probably had a chance to set things right with her!

Knowing that there wasn't a moment to lose, I finished my breakfast, paid the bill, and headed straight for the hospital. When I arrived fifteen minutes later, visiting hours were just beginning -- I was right on time! I told the receptionist at the front desk that I was there to see Miyamoto Parker, and she directed me to room 5101.

My heart raced as I rode the elevator up to the fifth floor. After all these months, I was finally going to see Miya again! And I was going to see my baby -- my little Jessica -- too! I still wasn't quite sure what I was going to say to Miya, but I knew the fact that I'd come back would say more than any words I could possibly offer. I didn't have to worry if I got tongue-tied this time.

When I reached room 5101, I found Miya sound asleep in the bed by the window. The maternity ward was on the eastern wing of the hospital, and the light of dawn was streaming through the window, bathing the room in pink and gold. There were dark shadows under Miya's eyes, and her hair was hanging limp and stringy in her face, as if it had been soaked with sweat and dried that way, but I swear, she'd never looked more beautiful to me than she did at that moment.

" look like an angel," I whispered as I stepped closer to the bed.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw a nurse standing behind me. "Are you here to see Miss Parker?" she whispered.

I nodded. "I'm the baby's father," I whispered back.

"You missed all the fun, dad," she chuckled.

I hung my head. "Yeah...yeah, I know."

"Miyamoto had a rough day yesterday," the nurse told me. "The poor girl was in labor for fifteen hours, but she was a real trooper -- she didn't take any drugs, or pain killers, or anything! Did the whole thing natural."

"Miya's always been tough," I remarked.

"Well, she pulled through just fine, and the baby is in perfect health, too," she continued. "Oh, she's such an adorable little girl!"

I looked down at Miya for a moment, then back at the nurse. "Do you think I could see the baby for awhile? I'd rather not disturb Miya just yet."

She nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. Follow me."

The nurse led me to a private room at the end of the corridor. Then, she went next door to the nursery and returned a couple of minutes later, wheeling a little crib with a tiny pink bundle inside. At the foot of the crib was a pink card that read:

I'm a girl!
Jessica Rachael Parker
Born at 6:45 PM, December 13, 1982
7 lbs., 8 oz.; 21 in.

"Here you go, daddy!" the nurse whispered as she lifted the baby from the crib and placed her in my arms.

My eyes filled with tears as I looked at my newborn daughter. She was so tiny and delicate, like a porcelain doll, and she had a full head of hair that was the deepest, richest shade of crimson I'd ever seen. "You're perfect...absolutely perfect," I whispered.

The baby opened her brilliant sapphire-blue eyes and looked up at me. Then, she gave me a little smile and began to coo happily.

"Hi, Jessica. I'm your daddy. And I love you very, very much," I told her. I leaned down and planted a kiss atop her head.

"Mommy fed her about half an hour ago, and we just changed her, so she should be okay for awhile," said the nurse. "I'll leave you two alone for now, but if she gets fussy, just press the intercom button and give me a call."

"Okay, thanks," I replied.

Once the nurse was gone, I smiled down at Jessica again. She was the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen, like a little cherub come to earth. And she was mine...mine and Miya's. I couldn't get over how amazing it was, that Miya and I had created such a wonderful thing. And I found myself wondering how I could've ever been afraid of fatherhood. How could I have ever had doubts about wanting this perfect little angel?!

"I'm sorry, Jessica," I apologized. "I'm sorry I was such a bad daddy and wasn't here for you and mommy sooner. But daddy's here now...daddy's here...."

Jessica pulled one of her arms free from the pink blanket she was swaddled in and closed her tiny hand around one of my fingers.

"Wow! You're strong! Got a good grip," I told her. "Once you get big enough, I'm gonna teach you how to ride horsies! You'd like that, wouldn't you? Yeah!"

Jessica smiled at me again. I touched her little nose and made her giggle.

"I can't wait to tell your grandma and grandpa and uncle Brad about you," I continued. "They're going to love you so much...."

For the next couple of hours I sat there in the room next to the nursery, holding my daughter and talking to her. She was extremely alert for a newborn and seemed to be listening intently and taking in every word I said to her, and I knew that she was going to be every bit as smart as she was beautiful. But as the morning hour grew late, Jessica got hungry and started crying. Remembering what the nurse had told me earlier, I pressed the intercom button and let her know that the baby needed to be fed.

"Looks like we'll need to wake mommy up again," the nurse remarked when she returned a few minutes later and put Jessica back into the little crib. "She's still exhausted from yesterday, but I'm sure she'll be happy to see you...."

'I hope so,' I said to myself as the nurse wheeled the crib out of the room.

When I got up to follow her, an idea came to me. I couldn't just show up empty-handed after all these months -- I wanted to buy something for little Jessica and give Miya a gift that would show how sincere I was.

"I'll catch up with you in a few minutes," I told the nurse.

She turned around and gave me a quizzical look.

"Gonna go down to the gift shop real quick," I explained.

The nurse smiled at me and nodded. "Good idea. Do you want me to tell mommy that you're here and that you'll be in to visit her soon?"

I shook my head. "No, I want it to be a surprise."


As the nurse wheeled Jessica's crib into Miya's room, I got back into the elevator and went down to the lobby. Then, I went to the gift shop and looked around, hoping to find some nice presents for Miya and Jessica. At length, I found a shelf of plush pokemon near the back of the store. The sign above the shelf said that the toys were safe for children under three, so I decided to get one for Jessica. After looking at all the different pokemon there were, I chose a Rapidash. Its fur was made of a velvety fabric, and its fiery mane and tail were made of fine, silky yarn. Its horn was the same velvety material as the body, and the facial features were all embroidered on with glossy thread -- it was the perfect soft, cuddly toy for a baby to play with. Once I'd placed the Rapidash in my basket, I went over to the refrigerator case where the floral arrangements were displayed. I knew that Miya had always loved roses, so I selected a bouquet of a dozen red ones with white baby's breath in an iridescent purple vase. And as I started heading for the checkout counter, something else caught my attention -- a small heart-shaped locket on display in the jewelry case. Unable to resist, I put that in my basket as well.

After paying for my purchases, I seated myself next to a fountain in the lobby and went through my wallet, trying to find a picture to put in the locket. At length, I decided on a photograph of me and Miya that had been taken the previous April while she'd been staying with my family. The two of us were sitting together atop the wooden fence that surrounded the horse pasture, and we had our arms around each other.

"If only I knew then what I know now," I whispered as I took the photo from my wallet and fitted it into the locket. "I just hope we can go back to that time when our love was so perfect...and that the mistakes I've made will only make us stronger...."

As I stood up and started heading back to the elevator, however, I felt an icy hand clamp down on my shoulder. "So, you're the father of Parker's baby?" an equally icy voice hissed into my ear.

I turned around and saw a woman standing behind me. Her long, wavy hair was as black as night, and her face seemed to be frozen in a look of perpetual severity. Her eyes were like two black tunnels, dark and devoid of light. She was dressed in a bright red jacket and skirt with a pair of matching stiletto heels, and she had a pearl choker around her neck. I knew immediately who she was -- Arianna, the leader of the Viridian Gym. I remembered seeing her when Miya had battled for her Earth Badge (and I also remember that she'd given me the creeps). But what was she doing here?

"I am," I replied curtly. I didn't have time to stand around, talking to this woman, and her presence was making me uneasy. I wanted very much to get out of there. "Now, if you'll excuse me...."

When I tried to take my leave, Arianna stepped in front of me. "And I suppose you've come to make up for abandoning Miyamoto and your child all those months ago and sweep her off her feet?" she asked, her lips twisting into a smile.

Now I was starting to get annoyed. What business was this of hers?! And how did she know so much about me and Miya?!

Arianna's smile became a shark-like grin as she placed her hands on my shoulders once more and leaned closer. "Well, I'm going to let you in on a little secret -- it's not going to happen."

I pulled away from her and took a step back. "What?!"

Arianna began to pace around me, the way a vulture circles a carcass. "When you walked out on Miyamoto, you left her in a rather...dire situation," she told me. "She was lonely and frightened. Too ashamed to face her family and tell them she was pregnant. Desperate to find work so that she could support her child and pay her parents back for all the money they spent on her education. And that's precisely what I offered her. Yes, I remember how fiercely she battled my pokemon when she challenged me for the Earth Badge almost three years ago. I remember reading in the newspaper about all of those amazing Orange League, Whirl Cup, and Johto League championships she won and seeing her victory at Indigo League firsthand. To say that I was impressed with her skills would be an understatement. I would've been a fool not to offer one of the greatest trainers of all time a position in my organization! It was an offer she just couldn't refuse!"

My blood ran cold as I listened to Arianna. The malevolent tone in her voice told me that this wasn't as simple or innocent as Miya working at the Viridian Gym.

"Have you heard of Team Rocket, by any chance?" she queried.

Those words sent a chill up my spine. Team Rocket was the biggest criminal organization in Kanto and Johto. It wouldn't surprise me if this woman was involved with them, but what did that have to do with Miya?! Surely she hadn't been so desperate to make a living that she'd joined their ranks!

"I see you have," Arianna remarked, taking note of my expression. She flashed me that shark-like grin again. "Doubtless, you've put two and two together by now. Yes, that's right. Miyamoto Parker works for me for Team Rocket now."

I shook my head, not wanting to believe what I was hearing. "B-but why?" I stammered.

"I already told you why!" she hissed. "You left Miyamoto in a desperate situation! I simply offered her a solution to her problems! So you see, you have nobody to blame but yourself for the choice she made."

I closed my eyes and placed my hands to my temples. This couldn't be happening! Why would Miya take up with this woman and choose a life of crime?! Why was that preferable to swallowing her pride and facing her family?!

"And therein lies the problem with you showing up today," Arianna continued. "You see, I have a few rules of conduct that I expect all of my employees to abide by. One of which is, they're not allowed to marry civilians or excessively fraternize with them. Can't have any of my organization's secrets leaking out now, can I?"

"Che stronzata," I heard somebody grumble.

Looking beyond Arianna, I saw a boy who looked to be about thirteen years old, standing next to the fountain and tossing coins into the water. He had slick brown hair that was so dark it was almost black and the same dark eyes and surly face as Arianna. He was obviously her son.

Arianna turned and frowned at the boy. "I've had just about enough of your smart mouth, Giovanni!" she snapped. "Go sit down and behave yourself!"

The boy scowled at her but did as he was told and sat down on a nearby bench. "Sorry, mother," I heard him say.

"Now, as I was saying," Arianna went on, "Miyamoto is with Team Rocket, and you're not. This poses a problem if you came here today to try and win her I suspect you have. However, I do have a rather simple solution."

I raised an eyebrow.

Arianna smirked. "No, I'm not letting her go, if that's what you're hoping. Like I said, she's one of the greatest trainers of all time, and she's one of the best damned employees I've ever had. I'd be crazy if I let her get away. And doubtless, your little rugrat will be just as good once she's a little older. I intend to keep both of them."

My blood, which had been running cold only moments before, was now boiling. She was talking about Miya and Jessica as if they were commodities!

"So, my solution is this," she said as she began to pace around me again. "I don't have any rules against my employees fraternizing with or marrying each other. So, if you join our family, you, Miyamoto, and your baby can be one big, happy family again. That's the deal -- if you want to be with them, then you'll have to join Team Rocket, too. If not, then you're wasting your time, and more importantly, you're wasting mine...."

Again, I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Me?! Join Team Rocket?! The very idea was preposterous! There had to be some other way....

"And I wouldn't try anything 'heroic' if I were you, Prince Charming," Arianna continued, as if she could read my mind. "When I said that I intend to keep both of them, I meant it."

This time, her words chilled me to the very marrow of my bones. I'd heard tales of Team Rocket agents being hunted down and killed for trying to leave the organization. Would the same fate befall Miya if I tried to get her out? And what about Jessica? And our families? Would Arianna try to hurt them, too?

What was I going to do?

I closed my eyes again and thought about the choice I was now faced with. I thought about finding a way to get Miya and Jessica out of Team Rocket...and then about spending the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders, constantly on the run from Arianna and her agents...about Miya, Jessica, and even our families paying the price for my decision with their lives. I thought about joining Team Rocket to be with Miya and Jessica again...and then about me and Miya losing our lives on a dangerous mission and leaving Jessica an orphan, or a mission going bad and me and Miya spending the rest of our lives in prison, never seeing Jessica or each other again...about how horrified and upset my parents and brother would be if they found out that I'd become a criminal. Needless to say, each and every one of those notions made me sick to my stomach, but there was no way to avoid them, no matter which choice I made.

But there was also a third option. It didn't appeal to me in the slightest, and nothing really good could come of it. But at the very least, it didn't have the grisly consequences that the other two options had.

If I walked away now, then I wouldn't have to worry about Miya and Jessica being killed for trying to leave Team Rocket...and I wouldn't have to worry about Arianna coming after our families. If I walked away now, then I wouldn't run the risk of screwing up a Team Rocket mission and getting Miya killed or sent to prison. If I walked away now, then I'd probably never see Miya or Jessica again. But walking them up seemed to be the only way to keep myself from signing their death-warrants.

And so, I made the most difficult choice of my entire life.

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I slowly shook my head. "No...I can't...." I whispered. I felt as if a knife had been plunged into my heart as the words passed my lips.

"I didn't think so. Didn't think you had the balls to become one of us," Arianna sneered. "Just as well -- you don't seem the criminal type. You'd probably just end up being a liability." She looked back at her son. "Come on, Giovanni. Let's go."

The boy got up and followed his mother towards the elevators. As he passed by, he paused for a moment and looked up at me. There was the slightest hint of sadness on his grim features, but his expression quickly became stony again as he continued on his way.

Once Arianna and Giovanni were gone, I left the hospital and returned to my motel room. I've spent the entire day reflecting on my decision and regretting it, but what else can I do? I'm but one man, and how can one man take on an entire criminal organization? I'll only end up destroying the people I love if I try to save them. And I can't do something like that to them. Not after all the trouble and pain I've already caused.

Miya will probably never know that I was here today...that I tried to come back to her. And little Jessica won't remember the time I spent with her this morning. They'll probably never know just how much I regret what I've done to them, or how desperately I love them. Still, I'd rather they went through life hating me than feel all the same regrets that I do or risk their lives for my sake. When all is said and done, I'm not worth it...and I probably deserve their hatred.

Yet, even in this hour of darkness, I have to believe there's a ray of hope. I have to believe that someday...somehow, I'll be able to save them...that I'll be with them again without fear or worry.

I only hope I'm not fooling myself.

-- Dorian Rochester

I set the book down again and covered my mouth with my hand. "Oh, my god," I whispered. "Oh, my god...."

I almost didn't know where to begin.

"Daddy really did love me and momma. He only stayed away because he thought he was protecting us. He was only putting our safety before his own happiness...."

I closed my eyes and formed a mental image of my daddy. I had no memory of the one and only time that he'd held me, but after reading the entry, I could see it as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. He was probably as happy on that morning as James was when he thought I was pregnant. If only momma had known that he'd tried to come back. If only Arianna hadn't shown up and scared him away.

My mood darkened as my thoughts turned to the former leader of Team Rocket. As ruthless and ambitious as she'd been, Arianna Razzo had never once punished or murdered an agent for leaving Team Rocket -- those tales of horror were nothing more than myths and rumors she'd started and perpetuated to maintain her fearsome reputation. A reputation that ensured unwavering loyalty from her employees and respect from her enemies. And sadly, daddy had been one of the people who'd heard those stories. Arianna hadn't made any specific threats when she'd spoken to him, but then, she hadn't needed to -- Team Rocket's reputation preceded it, and it had been enough to make daddy believe that we'd be in danger if he got involved with us.

And he'd loved us too much to risk putting us in any kind of danger.

Opening my eyes again, I looked once more around the room. The dim lamplight was casting shadows everywhere, but in the darkness, I could make out a small form sitting atop the dresser. I knew what it was before I even got to my feet -- a little plush Rapidash.

Hot, bitter tears spilled down my cheeks as I picked up the soft, velvety toy and held it to my chest. "Oh, daddy, if only you'd known. If only you'd seen Arianna for what she was. But how could you have known? Only Arianna's most trusted agents knew that she was all talk -- I doubt even momma knew back in those days. She probably thought she was trapped, too -- if you really did get to talk to her on that day, she might've turned you away in order to protect you from the danger that never existed. Funny how one little little lie can shatter so many lives...."

Brushing my tears away, I set the toy back on the dresser. It was then that I noticed the golden necklace with the heart-shaped locket hanging on the corner of the dresser mirror. Taking the necklace in my hands, I opened the locket and revealed a photograph of Dorian and Miya sharing an embrace while sitting together on a wooden fence. Dorian looked every bit as handsome here as he had in the high school photo I'd seen hanging in the living room. I couldn't get over how beautiful Miya was, either. She was wearing her purple hair down instead of in the two sweeping coils I always remembered, and it was so long that it looked like she could sit on it. Her face wasn't etched with the world-weariness that I knew so well, either. Here, she and dad were just a couple of happy, care-free teenagers. It was hard to believe that these two were my parents...and that Miya had been a few weeks pregnant with me when this picture had been taken!

And this, in turn, drew my attention back to daddy's journal. I knew all too well how momma and I had lived without him. But how had he lived his life after making the choice to give us up? Putting the locket back where I'd found it, I returned to my seat and resumed my reading.

September 14, 1983

Today is Brad's twelfth birthday. He says I've given him the greatest gift he can ask for. As for my part, I doubt it, but the smile I saw on his face today told me he couldn't have been more sincere.

It's been exactly nine months since I've ventured to write anything on these pages. It's no great loss, as there's been nothing worthwhile to write about until today. My existence has been empty and meaningless since that fateful day last December...that day when I gave everything up. Without Miya and Jessica, I feel as if I'm in limbo -- unable to feel either the joys of life or the sweet oblivion of death. All I've known is pain. Pain and emptiness.

When I returned home last December, all my parents and my brother knew was that I hadn't gotten back together with Miya. I knew that this upset them and that they wanted nothing more than to comfort me, but I shut them out. I've spent my days locked away in my room, trying desperately to find a way to save Miya and Jessica from Team Rocket without endangering their lives.

I barely sleep anymore. How can I waste my time sleeping when I should be thinking of how to rescue my soul-mate and my daughter? I barely eat anymore, either. Every day, mom and dad make all of my favorite dishes to try and whet my appetite, but all I can manage to do is eat a few bites before returning to the solitude of my room. How can I can I allow myself to enjoy my parents' wonderful cooking after what I've done? I don't deserve to.

Of course, this has all taken its toll on me. I've lost a lot of weight -- each time I look in the mirror, the person I see staring back looks more like a skeleton than a human. The lack of sleep has begun making me ill and playing tricks with my mind as well. But as weak and exhausted as I am, I just haven't been able to fall asleep. Each time I've tried, I've had nightmares of Arianna taking Miya and Jessica away from me...nightmares of my loved ones being slaughtered if I dare to try and rescue them...nightmares that make me wake up screaming, afraid to fall asleep again.

When my nineteenth birthday came and went and I still showed no signs of improvement, my parents finally broke down and took me to the doctor. They'd wanted to give me a chance to get better on my own, but that wasn't going to happen. Not that anything a doctor could do would help me, either. I was beyond help.

Sure enough, the doctor found nothing wrong with me aside from my extreme cases of sleep deprivation and malnutrition. All he could do was recommend that I eat a balanced diet and get more rest.

What a waste of time.

But this morning, something changed.

Today began just like all the other days for the past several months -- I was lying in bed, half-asleep, too depressed to get up and face the day. It was then that I heard a knock at my door.

"Come in," I muttered.

I heard the door creak open. As I slowly opened my eyes, I saw my little brother entering the room.

A weak smile made its way across my lips. "Hey, Brad."

"Do you know what day it is?" he asked as he seated himself next to me on the bed.

I looked up at the calendar on my wall for a moment. Was it September 14th already? I was beginning to lose track of time. "Yeah. Happy birthday," I said tentatively.

Brad nodded and managed a weak smile as well when I said this. "Do you know what I want for my birthday? More than anything?" he ventured.

I had to admit that I didn't.

His expression quickly became serious. "I want you to get better, Dorian. I don't give a damn about new clothes, or model cars, or birthday parties, or anything like that! I just want you to be okay!"

I reached up and closed my hand over his. "Brad...."

"I overheard mom and dad talking when I went downstairs just now. I don't think they wanted me to hear it, but I did," Brad continued as his blue-green eyes filled with tears. "Th-they're afraid that you're dying, Dorian. Nothing they've been doing to help you is working, and...." His voice trailed off, and he began to cry in earnest.

Mustering my strength, I sat up and put my arms around him. "It's alright," I soothed. "I'm not dying from any illness."

"That's not what it looks like," he sobbed.

I pulled away slightly and looked Brad in the eye. "I'll admit I'm sick at heart, but it's my own fault. I've done this to myself," I told him.

His lip quivered. "But why?"

I continued to look into Brad's eyes. I had to confide in somebody, and I knew that I could trust him. "Can you keep a secret, Brad?" I whispered.

He nodded again.

"You have to promise me that you'll keep what I'm about to tell you in confidence," I said. "I've made some really big mistakes, and I don't want mom and dad to know until I've set them right."

"I promise," he replied.

I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. "Brad, do you know why Miya and I broke up?"

He shook his head.

"Well, I'm going to tell you. Last year, Miya pregnant, and when she told me that she was going to have a baby, I got scared and walked out on her...."

Brad's eyes went wide. "Dorian, how could you?!" he cried.

I hung my head. "I often asked myself that same question. For months, I didn't want to face the facts, but last December I finally decided to take responsibility and go back to Miya. I was finally ready to be the husband and father that she and our baby deserve."

"What went wrong?" he asked, his expression becoming grim again.

Now I was beginning to cry, too. It was several minutes before I was able to answer him. "Miya didn't tell her parents about this either -- she...she left home and went to Viridian City to find work. I found her the day after the baby was born and went to see them at the hospital. I got to see my baby -- Miya named her Jessica Rachael. Oh, Brad, she's so beautiful -- she has my eyes, and red hair like mom's...she's such a perfect little angel!" My voice got stuck in my throat for a moment. "But...but then, I found out about Miya's job. She was desperate to earn money, so she joined...Team Rocket."

Brad gasped.

"Miya's boss confronted me when I was on my way to see her. She told me that the only way I could be with Miya and Jessica again was if I joined, too." I shook my head as more tears spilled down my cheeks. "I...I couldn't do it...and I've heard about all the terrible things that happen to agents who try to leave. So, I had to give them up -- I had to give up Miya and Jessica in order to protect them.

"And that's why I'm in such a wretched state," I concluded. "I won't be happy until I can be with them again -- I don't deserve to be happy without them. I've been trying and trying to think of a way to save them from Team Rocket, but...nothing. I hate myself for being so irresponsible and letting this happen. And I hate myself even more for not being able to do anything about it. But how can I? How can I possibly make this right?"

Once I'd finished relating my tale, I broke down completely.

Now Brad was the one who was hugging me. He rested my head on his shoulder and patted my back as I continued to cry. "Why didn't you tell us sooner, Dorian?" he whispered. "Why didn't you want us to know?"

"Because I was too ashamed," I admitted. "And I know that if I tell mom and dad, they'll want to try and get Miya and Jessica back, too. You know mom -- she'd probably bust into Team Rocket Headquarters, ready to kick ass and take names...."

The two of us couldn't help but laugh a little when I said this. Mom is the sweetest woman in the world, but she's got a fierce temper.

"I can't have that, Brad," I continued. "Team Rocket is dangerous. I can't let mom and dad risk getting hurt because of the trouble I caused. If I set things right, I have to do it on my own."

"No, Dorian," Brad told me. "You're not alone...not anymore. I don't agree with your decision, but I promise not to tell mom and dad if you don't want me to. And I promise that I'll try to help you think of a way to save Miya and Jessica. But you have to do me a favor."

"What's that?" I asked.

Brad placed his hands on my shoulders and stared into my eyes. "You need to stop punishing yourself," he replied. "You need to start eating again. You need to get some rest. And most importantly, you need to start living your life again. I know you don't think you deserve to, but you're hurting me, mom, and dad a whole hell of a lot more than you're hurting yourself. Seeing you like this is tearing us up -- if you won't do it for yourself, then at least do it for us. Please."

I considered his words for a moment. I'd never really thought about what the prison I'd created for myself was doing to my family, and I suddenly felt guilty all over again. "You're right -- I've been so selfish," I sighed. "All I ever seem to do anymore is hurt the people I love. I'll try and pull myself back together...I promise."

When I said this, my little brother smiled so widely it looked like his face was going to split in half. Then, he threw his arms around me again. I could feel his tears soaking into my shirt as I returned his embrace.

"Thanks, Dorian," Brad said. "Seeing you get better is the best birthday present I could ask for." He brushed his tears away and sniffled. "And if you're healthy, it might help you think a little more clearly and find a way to get Miya and your baby out of Team Rocket. I'll do whatever I can to help, too. Everything will be okay. I just know it!"

I smiled at him. "Thank you, Brad. I really needed to talk to somebody about this -- it's been eating away at me for ages. I feel a little better already."

He smiled back. "And you'll feel even better after you eat some breakfast." He took me by the hand and pulled me out of bed. "Come on! Mom's making Scotch pancakes! And there's gonna be pizza and cake and ice cream later today, too!"

At the mention of all that food, I suddenly realized for the first time in months just how hungry I was! "I'm there!" I told him.

After I took a shower and got dressed, Brad helped me downstairs. When I saw mom and dad, I finally noticed just how upset they'd been on my account, but their looks of sadness turned to joy when they saw me dig into my stack of pancakes and ask for more.

I spent the rest of the day downstairs with my family, laughing and joking and talking with them, the way I always used to before I was crushed by the weight of the world. I ate so much pizza, cake, and ice cream at Brad's birthday party, I felt like I was going to explode. And for the first time in a long time, I wore a smile of genuine happiness.

And why shouldn't I be happy? I'm not alone anymore -- I have my brother to confide in, and I know that I can trust him completely. I know that he'll be there to help me in any way that he can. For the first time since that dark day nine months ago, I can actually see that ray of hope that I've been wishing for. There will always be emptiness, sorrow, and regret inside of me as long as I'm away from Miya and Jessica, but maybe things aren't so hopeless, after all. Maybe if Brad and I put our heads together, we really can find a way.

He's right, after all -- it's time to stop punishing myself for the mistakes I've made and start living my life again. Maybe it will give me the clarity of vision I so desperately need.

-- Dorian Rochester

"Poor daddy. You really beat yourself up about what happened to me and momma," I whispered. "But did you ever figure out the truth?"

The entries in the years that followed were sporadic -- daddy only wrote in his journal once every couple of months rather than every day. But from what he did write, it seemed as if he had, indeed, been trying to get his life back on track. After Brad's birthday, he started eating again and getting the sleep he needed, and he soon gained back all the weight he'd lost and became healthy once more. He then enrolled in college and became a theater major. During his time at school, he auditioned for and got roles in plays, and after he graduated in the spring of 1987, he joined a Shakespearean theater troupe in Redwood Heights and began to make a living as an actor. He also bred Snowmane and Diablo to each other, and in the fall of 1988, Snowmane gave birth to a beautiful Ponyta filly that had a red appaloosa blanket on her backside and a little red anklet on her left rear hoof. Daddy named the shiny filly Roheryn, after the horse that Arwen gave to her beloved Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. But even though it looked as if daddy was back to normal on the surface, there was a sadness and a hollowness to his writing -- it lacked his usual flair and vividness of detail, and it was easy to see that he was still dying on the inside.

Yet he and Brad never gave up hope. The two of them spent many an afternoon horseback riding on Snowmane and Diablo and many a weekend camping in the mountains east of Redwood Heights so that they could devise their plans in private. They also spent many an hour in the libraries, reading any and every book and article they could find on Team Rocket, hoping to discover something that would help them learn how the organization operated and how best to infiltrate it. At Brad's urging, daddy also wrote several letters to momma over the years...letters where he poured his heart out to her, begged her for forgiveness, and promised that he was trying to find a way to get us out of Team Rocket. He sent letters to her mailing address in Viridian City, and he sent some to the Parkers to forward to her, but she never answered any of them. Daddy was beginning to lose hope again, thinking that perhaps momma couldn't find it in her heart to forgive him and that she'd fully embraced a life with Team Rocket.

But then, in December 1989, something miraculous happened....

December 4, 1989

I can't believe it! All these years of clinging to hope haven't been in vain, after all! This afternoon, when I went to check the mail, I found the very thing I've been waiting for ages to see...the very thing I was beginning to doubt I'd ever see -- a letter from Miya!

My heart thundered in my chest as I raced back to the house with the mail and closed myself in my room so that I could read the letter in private. My heart still thunders now that I've read the letter...thunders with a joy that I feared I'd never feel again.

Seeing her beautiful handwriting again...reading her words to me after all these years has been far too wonderful for any meager descriptions I can conjure to even begin to do justice to! I've placed her letter in my top drawer where it will always be safe...where I can always remember the amazing thing that's happened on this day....

Suddenly piqued by curiosity, I set the journal down for a moment and went back to the dresser. When I opened the top drawer, I found a collection of cards, letters, photographs, and various other of which was an envelope, yellowed slightly by twelve years of sitting in that drawer. An envelope addressed to Dorian Rochester in momma's handwriting. An envelope postmarked November 25, 1989, from Manaus, Brazil.

"This has to be it," I whispered as I gingerly took it from the drawer and pulled out the letter that was inside.

Sure enough, it was several sheets of momma's stationery, and both sides of each page were covered with more of her beautiful, curving script. Overcome by the urge to read what momma had said to daddy, I unfolded the letter and began to read:

My Dearest Dorian,

I'm so sorry that I wasn't able to write to you sooner. Where do I even begin?

I guess it all started last Friday. I was leaving headquarters to prepare for an assignment when I was approached by my boss's son, Giovanni. He asked if we could speak in private and told me it was a matter of the utmost importance. I agreed, and he led me to an empty conference room. Once he'd checked the area to make sure we were free from prying eyes (and ears), he produced an enormous stack of letters from his coat pocket...all of which were addressed to me. I asked Giovanni what this was about as he handed the letters to me, and he explained that he'd found them in the junk folder of his mother's file cabinet while he was helping her organize her office earlier in the day. She'd instructed him to put the letters through the paper shredder and throw them away, and he'd left her office on the pretense of doing just that. But he didn't destroy them -- instead, he hid them in his office and waited for me to return to headquarters so that he could deliver them to me.

I then asked Giovanni why he was disobeying his mother for my sake, and he told me in no uncertain terms that while he loves and respects his mother, he's never agreed with the way she treats me. He said that all of the letters were from you and my parents...that you'd all been writing to me on a regular basis for the past seven years. Sadly, you'd all been sending the mail to the anonymous post office box that Team Rocket uses for its correspondence, and Arianna had been intercepting all of your letters. To be honest, I never expected to get any mail from you -- after I got pregnant, I got the impression you didn't want to have anything to do with me anymore. But I'd always wondered why I never heard from my parents -- every two weeks for the past seven and a half years I've been sending them part of my paycheck. I thought it odd that I'd never gotten a single letter from them in all that time. Now I know why. I guess Arianna was trying to cut me off from my family and loved isolate me so that I wouldn't have a sudden incentive to quit my job. I know I don't get to see Jessie nearly as much as I'd like -- Arianna almost always has some kind of mission or assignment for me that invariably cuts into time I'd rather be spending with my daughter. Sometimes, it seems like she spends more time with babysitters and in day care than she does with me, but what choice do I have? If I don't take the assignments, then I don't get paid, and if I don't get paid, then I can't afford the food, clothes, school supplies, and such that Jessie needs. I have to be a bad mother in order to be a good mother. Ah, the bitter irony.

Thus the reason Giovanni delivered the letters to me rather than destroy them. He felt I had a right to know that you'd all been trying to contact me. His only request was that I couldn't let Arianna know what he'd done or let on that I'd found out what she'd done. A simple matter -- after working for over seven years in the web of intrigue that is Team Rocket and rising to Elite status within its ranks, I've become adept at keeping a poker face and not tipping my hand. I promised Giovanni that Arianna wouldn't learn of his "treachery" through me, so I kept the letters secret and safe until the time was right.

That time happened to be after I left on my mission. I'm currently on assignment in the Amazon rainforest, tracking an extremely rare, extremely powerful legendary pokemon. Arianna has heard rumors about sightings of the pokemon in this area, so she's sent me to investigate. I figured now that she's halfway across the planet, she's far enough away that I could read all of the letters she's been keeping from me in peace.

And what an experience it's been! I was so touched to be able to read all of the letters my parents have been sending to me at long last. And I was genuinely shocked to find out that you'd been writing to me, too!

Oh, Dorian! Dear, sweet Dorian! I wish I'd known that you'd tried to come back to me and Jessie! I wish I'd known how much you missed us and how much you loved us! All this time, I thought you didn't care. I just hope you haven't taken my silence to mean that I stopped caring about you -- nothing could be further from the truth! I still love you, Dorian -- I've loved you with all my heart and soul since the day we met, and I've never stopped. But I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't mad at you. I didn't write this letter to berate you, though -- I know you well enough to know that you've probably been beating yourself up about all of this for the past several years. All I'm saying is that if we're going to give our relationship a second chance, it's going to take some work. I'm more than willing to do it. If you feel the same, then please come to Viridian City and meet with me. I should be back from South America by the time you get this letter.

Oh, and don't worry about any kind of "retribution" from Arianna. You've doubtless heard all those horror-stories about agents who leave the organization being hunted down and killed, but I assure you, none of them are true. After working with Arianna for almost eight years, I know her better than she'd care to admit. Yes, she's manipulative, deceptive, opportunistic, insensitive...even ruthless at times, but she's no murderer. She knows all too well that people who join Team Rocket can't work for her forever -- teenagers eventually grow up and want to move on with their lives, young adults eventually grow old and can't handle the physical demands of the job any longer. And when they're ready to retire, she's more than willing to let them all go and use her connections to clear their criminal records and ensure their smooth transition back to civilian life. She only started those rumors about former agents being killed to instill fear in her enemies. Yes, even I believed the rumors after I first joined, but I know better now.

Still, I know the retirement issue isn't so simple in my case. She's told me time and time again that I'm her most valued employee and that she doesn't want to let me go. The fact that she's been intercepting all of your correspondence with me is proof of that. In a way, she does have me trapped -- even though I'm an Elite agent, she pays me a paltry salary so that it'll take me ages to pay back my parents for that year of tuition at Pokemon Tech. And if I quit now, she won't erase the black marks from my criminal record, which would effectively keep me from getting a job in the private sector. If I want to pay my parents back and support my daughter, I have to keep working for Team Rocket. I suppose I could just say "fuck it," retire, and go home to my parents (especially now that I know how much they miss me), but my pride won't allow it. I can't ask them to support both me and my daughter -- I can't be a burden to them. Not after all the sacrifices they've already made. Paying them back and having financial independence is something I need to do.

You probably wonder why I even joined Team Rocket in the first place. I've often asked myself the same question. The life of a criminal isn't one that I relish, after all. Granted, I take measures to ensure that the pokemon my squadron and I capture in the wild aren't harmed in any way, shape, or form, and I only steal from other trainers if they abuse their pokemon or don't take care of them, but I want to live a normal life and set a better example for Jessie. And looking back, I realize that I really didn't have much choice. As I said before, I couldn't be a burden to my family, and the job market was so poor back in those days that I had to take whatever I could get. And as it turned out, Team Rocket was the only place that gave me a chance.

But I'm rambling. I really should get back to the point of this letter. I still love you, Dorian. And I'm willing to work things out if you are. If we get back together, I can quit Team Rocket, and we can raise our daughter in peace. I want that just as badly as you say you do. And I know Jessie would like that, too -- she's no happier with this life than I am, and she needs her daddy.

Please come to my house if you want to meet with me and talk things out. And please send any future correspondence to my home address so that Arianna won't have another chance to intercept it. The street number is:

9113 NW 139th Pl
Viridian City, Kanto

I'm sorry there have been so many misunderstandings between us over the years, but I know things will be okay if we can talk it through. I'll be eagerly awaiting your arrival...or at least, another letter. I miss you so much, Dorian. And I'll always love you.

Yours Forever,

My hands trembled as I put the letter back in the envelope and placed the envelope back in the drawer. Giovanni had a hand in getting my parents to talk to each other again? Foul-tempered, overbearing, unreasonable, scary-as-hell Giovanni had felt sorry for my mother and disobeyed his own mother to help her? I could scarcely believe it. Yet it was all right there. He'd had nothing to gain from such an action, so there couldn't have been any ulterior motives -- he'd done it for no other reason than because it had been the right thing to do.

Maybe the boss wasn't such a bad guy, after all.

And now, everything was crystal-clear to me -- why Ahearn and Miriel had said that my parents were married, why momma had made all those promises that we'd be able to live a normal life once she returned from her final mission, why daddy wasn't here to tell me his tale in person -- it all made perfect sense now! I knew how the rest of the story was going to play out! I only needed to finish reading to confirm what I already knew....

I can't even begin to describe how relieved and overjoyed I am to know that Miya still loves me! Looking back, I feel like such a fool for not being able to see that Arianna had only been trying to intimidate me...that I needlessly threw away seven years of my life because of her deception and almost allowed it to destroy me, but I can't worry about that now. Right now, all that matters is getting back to Miya! And if she's already back from South America, then I haven't a second to waste in getting to Viridian City!

And so, I bring this entry to a close. I have a little packing to do and a lot of lost time to make up for.

-- Dorian Rochester

* * * * *

December 6, 1989

After two long days of driving, I've finally arrived back in Kanto. I wanted to get here as quickly as I could, so I borrowed Brad's car. (I didn't want to push Snowmane or Diablo too hard or rely on the bus.) When I showed him the letter Miya had written to me, he was all too happy to help. I promised him that the next time he saw me, I'd be with Miya again.

It's a promise I intend to keep.

I must've driven all night after I got that letter, and all day yesterday, and all day today. I still haven't made it to Viridian, though -- the hour grew late, and exhaustion began to set in, so I'm staying the night in Pallet Town. I'm a little disappointed that I had to bring my journey to a pause with my goal just twenty miles away, but it'd be better to show up at Miya's door first thing in the morning, refreshed and relaxed than late at night, weary from travel. Besides, this little stopover has proven to be a rather interesting one.

I arrived in town at about seven this evening. It had already been dark for a couple of hours by then, and it was getting harder and harder to resist the temptation to nod off at the wheel, so when I saw the lights of Pallet Town, I knew that I'd best call it a day. After checking in at a little motel in the downtown area, I decided to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant that was only a couple of blocks away.

And it was there that I had several encounters, both reassuring and unsettling.

The restaurant was crowded for a weekday night, and the vestibule area was packed with people waiting for tables. After the hostess wrote down my name, I scanned the benches to see if there was any room for me to sit while I waited.

"May, Gary, would you please scoot over a little so that man can have a seat?" I heard a woman with a French accent say.

"Okay, mommy," a pair of children replied.

Looking to my left, I saw an elderly man, a young couple, and a little girl and boy moving over to make room for me on the bench where they were sitting.

I took a seat next to them. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," said the elderly man.

I smiled at the five of them. It was then that I realized who they were. The elderly man was Professor Oak, and the younger man and woman were his son and daughter-in-law, David and Clarice. I'd seen Professor Oak when Miya had first entered Indigo League, and I'd seen him with his wife and David and Clarice at the Indigo finals. The two children, May and Gary, were obviously David and Clarice's daughter and son. May looked to be about Jessie's age, and Gary looked like he was about two or three. Both of them had auburn hair like their father and indigo blue eyes like their mother.

My smile grew wider. "Professor Oak. It's good to see you again."

Professor Oak studied me for a moment. "You'll have to forgive me, young man, but I'm afraid I don't recognize you. Were you one of my students at Celadon University?"

I shook my head. "No. You probably don't remember me. But do you remember a pokemon trainer named Miyamoto Parker?"

"Yes...yes, I do," came his reply. "I remember giving her a Charmander when she came to Pallet to register for the Indigo League back in 1979. Goodness, was that ten years ago already? Where does the time go? I remember reading about her three against six victory at Orange League, her victory at the 1980 Whirl Cup, and the 1982 Johto finals, too...."

"And we saw her win at the 1980 Indigo finals," David added.

Now Professor Oak was smiling, too. "Yes, I remember her well. Excellent trainer, that Miyamoto Parker -- one of the best of all time, I daresay. She'd probably make a great gym leader...but I haven't heard anything about her since she won that Johto championship in '82. Do you know her?"

"Yeah -- she was my girlfriend. I was there when you gave her Charmander, and I saw you at Indigo," I told him. I extended my hand. "The name's Dorian Rochester."

Professor Oak shook my hand. "Ah, yes, I remember you now! Pleased to meet you, Dorian."


"So, how is Miyamoto?" he inquired.

"I'm actually on my way to Viridian City to see her -- we've been apart for awhile because of her job, but that's all about to change," I replied. I looked down at May and smiled. "We have a little daughter who's about your age -- she's going to be seven in another week!"

May returned my smile. "I just turned eight," she told me.

"And I'm this many!" Gary announced, holding up three fingers.

Clarice tousled her son's spiky hair. "Gary just turned three a couple of weeks ago."

Seeing the two children and how much their parents loved them made me think of my little Jessie and how much I love her. It was a comforting reminder that I'd soon be with my daughter again.

"They're both adorable," I said to David and Clarice. "You must be very proud of them."

"Yes, we are," David affirmed. He, Clarice, and Professor Oak were all beaming now.

"So, if you're on your way to see Miyamoto and your daughter, does that mean you're eating alone tonight?" Professor Oak asked, changing the subject.

I nodded.

"Well, you're more than welcome to sit with us," he told me. "A couple other friends are joining us too, so making room for one more won't be a problem."

"Well, I don't want to impose...."

"Nonsense!" David interjected.

"We'd love if you joined us!" Clarice chimed in.

The Oaks were all still smiling at me. How could I refuse? "Okay," I conceded.

"Yay!!!" Gary exclaimed. He took one of the plastic pokemon toys he was playing with and placed it in my hands. "Let's have a battle! You can be Arcanine, and I'll be Umbreon!"

"Sounds like fun," I laughed. "Are you gonna go first?"

He nodded. "Yeah! Umby is usin' a Tackle attack!"

"Yeah? Well, my Arcanine is gonna use a Flamethrower!" I countered. I made a whooshing sound like fire as Gary tapped his toy against the one I was holding.

While the two of us were playing, another familiar figure entered the restaurant.

"Um, I ordered take-out about half an hour ago," the woman said to the hostess. "The name's Ketchum."

I looked up at the woman. She had dark brown eyes and medium-length brown hair that was pulled back in a ponytail -- it was Delia, the girl I'd seen with that obnoxious Ash Hull Ketchum when Miya had been competing in the Indigo finals. I shuddered when I heard her say that her last name was now Ketchum and saw that she was pushing a dark blue baby carriage.

'Heaven help us -- it looks like they had a kid, after all,' I said to myself.

"Egg drop soup and the five flavor beef?" the hostess asked.

Delia nodded.

"It'll be another few minutes -- we've been really busy tonight."

"Oh, okay." As Delia wheeled the carriage over and took a seat on the bench next to ours (which had since been vacated by a party of four whose table was ready), she smiled at the Oaks. "Hello, Professor...David, Clarice," she said.

The three of them smiled back and nodded. "Hello, Delia," they replied in unison.

Delia then looked at me. "Who's your friend?" she asked. She obviously didn't remember who I was.

"This is Dorian Rochester -- he's an old acquaintance of mine," Professor Oak told her.

"Hello, Dorian. I'm Delia Ketchum, the Oaks' neighbor," she said. She got up and wheeled the baby carriage before me. "And this is my son. Isn't he adorable?"

I was almost afraid to look, but spurred on by morbid curiosity, I did anyway...and instantly regretted it. Inside that carriage was the most hideous baby I'd ever seen! His head was bald save for a lone patch of greasy black hair that stuck out in all directions, and his face looked as if it were smudged with dirt. His eyes were muddy-brown, and there was a vacuous expression on his face. He smelled like a pail full of dirty diapers. A little carbon-copy of his father, if ever I'd seen one. I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from screaming in terror or throwing up.

'Holy SHIT, that's one ugly baby!' I said to myself. But aloud, the only reply I could manage was a halting "Uh...."

Delia giggled and lifted her son from the carriage. "His name is Ash Noober," she told me. "I named him after his daddy, Ash Hull Ketchum, and my uncle Noober!"

I raised an eyebrow. "Noober?"

David leaned closer and whispered into my ear. "Don't ask. Believe me, you don't want to know."

Too late. No sooner than the word had passed my lips, Delia launched into a speech about her uncle Noober (who sounded like he very well could've been the Pallet Town village idiot).

While Delia was busy bragging about her uncle's greatness, Ash Jr. looked down at me and Gary. And when he saw the pokemon toys that we were holding, he began to kick and scream. "MEEEE!!!!" he whined in the same grating, screechy voice I remember Ash-hole speaking in.

Delia giggled again. "Yes, you're so smart, poopie-kins!" she exclaimed. Then, to the rest of us. "He must want to play with Gary's pokemon. My little Ashy is going to be the world's greatest pokemon master someday, just like his daddy...."

"MMMEEEEEE!!!!" Ash continued to scream. He held out his grubby hands, grasping at Gary's toys.

Professor Oak, David, Clarice, May, and I all had to cover our ears to block out the noise.

Gary winced and held his plastic Charizard out to Ash. "If I let you play with this, will you stop crying?" he said.

Ash snatched the toy from Gary and made a smug face at him. Then, he promptly threw it to the floor and started screaming again as he grabbed at the rest of Gary's toys.

I reached down and picked the Charizard up off the floor. Then, I wiped it off before handing it back to Gary, who looked as if he'd just been slapped across the face. "Here you go," I said softly. "Your Charizard is okay. He didn't break it."

The smile returned to Gary's lips, and he nodded. "Thank you, sir."

The rest of the Oaks smiled at me as well. But their expressions quickly soured again as they looked back at Ash. It was obvious they didn't care much for the Ketchums either.

"My husband is one of the greatest pokemon trainers of all time!" Delia continued, completely oblivious to the unpleasant exchange. "He won an Indigo League championship almost ten years ago -- beat out some horrible girl who'd been cheating in the first round! He also won an Orange League championship, the 1980 Whirl Cup, and a 1982 Johto League championship! And my little Ashy will be every bit as great...."

Now I felt as if I'd been slapped across the face, too! Ash-hole had been taking credit for all of Miya's accomplishments...and Delia sounded as if she honestly believed it! Was she going to raise her son on these lies and give him an ego every bit as inflated as his dad's?! I clenched my fists and began to tremble with rage.

"Don't worry about it," Professor Oak whispered as he reached over and placed a hand on my shoulder. "We know the truth, and so does practically everybody else in Kanto, Johto, and the Orange Islands."

His words calmed me, but the temptation to tell Delia Ketchum exactly what I thought of her asshole husband and obnoxious troll-baby was hard, indeed, to resist.

Luckily, I didn't have to resist it for long -- a couple minutes later, the hostess produced Delia's order, and she paid for her food and left.

Once she was gone, I brought out my handkerchief and mopped away the sweat that had formed on my brow.

Professor Oak shook his head and sighed. "That Delia. She's a nice girl, but she's...not all there, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah," I agreed. "I don't exactly have fond memories of the way her husband hassled me and Miya at Indigo League all those years ago. And now, with him taking credit for everything Miya did...."

"I wouldn't worry about it, if I were you," Professor Oak told me. "Like I said, most people know the truth...and Ash Hull Ketchum isn't going to be lying about his accomplishments anymore." With that, he produced a newspaper from his coat pocket and handed it to me.

I took the newspaper from him and unfolded it. It was the weekly edition of "The Pallet Town Post." And when I saw the front page article, I knew immediately what he was talking about:

Local Man Found Dead Near Gringy City Power Plant; Possible Blackout Connection

-- Gringy City, KT

The blackened and charred remains of a man were found next to an electrically-charged perimeter fence at the Gringy City Power Plant early Tuesday morning. The discovery came immediately after a massive power outage that the city suffered the previous night. The man, identified as Ash Hull Ketchum, 25, from Pallet Town was found by a group of night shift employees who were going home for the day after restoring the power.

Investigation of the scene revealed that Ketchum had been urinating on the electric fence at the time of his death. "We believe that the fence short-circuited and caused a chain reaction after electrocuting him, which would account for last night's blackout," the Officer Jenny on the scene said Tuesday.

The reason for Ketchum's action, however, is still unclear. "In all likelihood, we're dealing with a suicide, drunken misconduct, or a practical joke gone wrong," Jenny speculates. "It's hard to imagine anybody being stupid enough to whiz on an electric fence for no reason."

Ketchum is survived by his wife, Delia Shrubb-Ketchum, 24, and his eight and a half month-old son, Ash Noober Ketchum, both of Pallet Town.

"Oh, my god," I muttered when I finished reading the article.

"Yeah. We never much cared for him, but it's still a shame," David remarked as he took the paper back from me.

"I think it's even more of a shame the way he treated his family," said Clarice. "After their son was born, Ash walked out on Delia. Said he wanted to go on another pokemon journey and set out for Houen."

"And poor Delia's in denial about the whole thing," Professor Oak added. "She saw the article too, but she still insists that Ash is off competing in Houen League, getting one step closer to his goal of becoming the world's greatest pokemon master...."

I felt a sudden rush of guilt when I heard this. Ash-hole had ditched his wife and child, almost exactly the way I'd abandoned Miya and Jessie. The thought that I actually had something in common with him made me sick to my stomach.

And this, in turn, made me all the more determined to get back to Miya and Jessie and never leave them again. I was through being a deadbeat dad, and I'd be damned if I wound up dead before I had a chance to do right by my family.

Of course, I know better than to take a piss on an electric fence, and that makes a world of difference between me and Ash Hull Ketchum.

While I was mulling this over, the hostess approached us again. "Oak, party of eight, your table is ready," she said.

"Would it be any trouble to make that nine?" Professor Oak queried. He gestured to me. "This young man will be dining with us."

The hostess shook her head and scratched my name off the chart she was holding. "No trouble at all. Right this way." With that, she led us to a long table near the back of the restaurant.

"Our friends, Jim and Rose Morgan, will be joining us tonight. And they're bringing their little grandson, James, with them," Professor Oak informed me as we all took our seats. "My late wife, Vivien, knew Jim and Rose practically her entire life -- they were friends with her parents as well."

"So, you all go way back," I commented.

He nodded. "The Morgans are wonderful -- they've made lots of contributions to Celadon University over the years, and they've provided funding for my archaeological research, as well as David and Clarice's."

I smiled.

"In fact, that's why they're here tonight. David and Clarice are planning another dig, and Jim and Rose agreed to loan them some research materials," he continued. "We're treating them to dinner as our way of saying thanks. And here they are now!"

I looked up and saw an elderly couple and a little boy approaching the table. Jim Morgan had emerald-green eyes, a brushy mustache, and long, bluish-gray hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. Rose Morgan's wavy hair was pure silver, and it was so long that it reached below her knees. Her eyes were a warm shade of brown. Little James looked like a younger version of his grandfather -- he had the same green eyes, and his long hair was blue-violet. He also looked like he was the same age as my Jessie.

"Jim! Rose! So glad you could join us!" Professor Oak exclaimed.

"It's nice to see you again, Sam," Jim Morgan replied, shaking his hand.

"We brought the books you wanted," Rose Morgan added as she handed a pair of large tomes to David and Clarice.

"Thank you so much," they said in unison.

"Our pleasure," Rose told them. "I just hope you find them useful."

Jim smiled as he took the seat next to mine. "I see we have company."

Professor Oak nodded. "This is Dorian Rochester. He's on his way to see his family in Viridian City, and since he's an old acquaintance of mine, we invited him to dine with us."

Jim's smile became a grin. "Well, the more the merrier, I say!" He extended his hand. "James Morgan's the name, though my friends call me Jim."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Morgan," I replied, shaking his hand.

"Jim. Call me Jim," he laughed. "Any friend of the Oaks is a friend of ours!"


Jim held out his free hand in a sweeping gesture. "This lovely lady is my wife, Rose. And this handsome young lad is our grandson, James," he announced.

Rose smiled at me and nodded. "Pleasure to meet you, Dorian."

"Likewise," I said.

James peeked out from behind his grandmother's skirts. "Hello, Mr. Rochester, sir," he said in a very soft voice.

I waved to him. "Hi, James."

He smiled a little but quickly hid behind his grandparents again.

Rose knelt down and cupped her grandson's chin in her hand. "It's okay, sweetheart -- you don't have to be nervous," she assured him. "Why don't you go and sit next to Professor Oak's grandkids?"

James looked over at May and Gary. The two children smiled and waved at him. "Alright," he said as the smile returned to his lips.

"He's shy," Jim explained as James took a seat next to Gary. "His parents are really strict with him...always criticizing him and cutting him down. He tends to get self-conscious."

"That, and he's very mature for his age," Rose added. "He doesn't really have anything in common with the other kids at his school, so he's always getting picked on. That just makes him even more withdrawn."

"What a shame. I think he's sweet," Clarice remarked as Gary handed his plastic Arcanine to James and picked up the battle where I'd left off.

"He's very sweet," Rose affirmed.

"Smart, too," Jim chimed in.

James's cheeks turned pink as he looked back at his grandparents.

Presently, a waitress arrived and handed menus to all of us. Then, she gave a few sheets of paper and a box of crayons to the children.

James's eyes lit up when he saw the drawing supplies. He then went to work on a picture. When he finished a couple of minutes later, he produced a splendid drawing of an Arcanine battling an Umbreon.

May and Gary "ooohhhed" and "aaahhhed" when they saw the picture. James blushed more brightly than ever and handed it to Gary.

"James loves to draw," said Rose. "He's very artistic."

"He's also very talented," David commented as he leaned over to get a better look at the picture James had given to Gary.

By then, James had already started on another drawing. But even though his head was down as he concentrated on his picture, I could tell that he was smiling in earnest now.

I couldn't help but smile too as I looked at the boy. For some reason, he reminded me of my Jessie...and not just because the two of them were about the same age. I don't know what it was, but something told me that if my daughter and James knew each other, then they'd get along really well. Something told me that Jessie probably had a lot in common with him.

"So, when do you plan to leave?" Jim's voice snapped me from my reverie.

"Probably not until March," came Clarice's reply. "That'd be early fall down there."

David patted the books Rose had given them and smiled. "But it doesn't hurt to get in some extra research a couple of months beforehand."

"Where are you guys going?" I heard myself asking.

"South America," Clarice told me. "David and I are doing a dig in the ruins of an Inca city that was recently discovered."

Now my curiosity was really piqued. "South America? Miya was there just recently."

Professor Oak raised an eyebrow. "I'm guessing that's why you haven't seen her in awhile?"

"One of the reasons," I replied. "Like I said, her job is pretty demanding."

"I don't think you ever mentioned what Miyamoto does for a living," he continued.

"Oh, she still works with pokemon. Research, mostly. She was studying pokemon in the Amazon rainforest," I said, choosing my words carefully. I didn't want to go into all the lurid details of her involvement with Team Rocket.

Professor Oak, David, Clarice, and the Morgans all nodded approvingly.

Before long, the five of them went back to discussing the particulars of David and Clarice's archaeological dig while the children continued to play with Gary's pokemon toys and draw pictures. I barely knew the Oaks, and I'd only just met the Morgans, but it didn't feel that way at the moment. It felt more like I was surrounded by old I truly belonged.

It was the same feeling I had on the night I first met Miya almost eleven years ago. That had to be a good sign...that my reunion with Miya was meant to be.

I spent the rest of the evening with my new friends. Seeing the parents and children...grandparents and grandchildren -- it all made me think of the family reunion I'll be having with Miya and Jessie tomorrow...and how happy mom and dad and the Parkers will be when they see their granddaughter for the first time and how happy Brad will be to finally meet his niece.

I have such a peaceful feeling as I write this entry. After all these years of emptiness and these past few days of nervousness, I feel truly happy. At this time tomorrow, I'll be with Miya and Jessie, and everything will be okay again.

And so, I'd better bring this entry to a close and go to bed. The sooner I do, the sooner I can fall asleep. And the sooner I fall asleep, the sooner tomorrow will come.

-- Dorian Rochester

I couldn't help but smile as I read this latest entry. My dad had met James, the Morgans, and Gary on his way to see me and momma...and somehow, he'd known that James and I were meant to be!

This man was, indeed, full of surprises.

"I wonder if James remembers this night," I whispered as I looked back at the sleeping form of my lover. "I wonder if he remembers meeting my daddy. I've got to show him this entry tomorrow morning!"

I scanned the pages again, and my smile grew even wider than it already was. James and Gary sounded like they were adorable as opposed to Ash, who'd been a bratty twerp from day one.

"Oh, yeah. James and Meowth will definitely enjoy this!" I laughed as I turned the page and continued my reading.

December 7, 1989

Well, things didn't go quite as planned today...but it was an interesting and productive day nevertheless.

I was awake before dawn this morning and wasted no time in checking out of the motel and getting to Viridian City. I arrived at Miya's house (truth be told, it was actually more of a broken down shack in a seedy neighborhood on the outskirts of town) at seven, but nobody was home. I wasn't too worried, though -- in all likelihood, Miya had taken Jessie to school. Still, I had no idea when she'd be back, so I decided to go downtown and get some breakfast while I waited.

There was certainly no shortage of places to eat in the city, but the place I ended up choosing was an International House of Pancakes that was just across the street from Viridian Elementary School. I was hoping to see Miya and Jessie there so that I wouldn't have to wait all day for them to get back home.

My hope paid off in a way I never could have imagined.

While I was sitting at the table, sipping my coffee and perusing my menu, I kept looking out the window, waiting for Miya and Jessie to show up, praying that I hadn't missed them. Ten minutes went by, then fifteen, then twenty, and I still saw no sign of them. But finally, at ten til eight, a large yellow bus pulled up to the front of the school, and children began piling out.

One child in particular caught my eye.

I couldn't see her face very clearly from all the way across the street, but her long mane of crimson hair was hard to miss. My heart leapt up at the sight of her. It was Jessie! It had to be!

But what was I supposed to do now? I couldn't very well race out of the restaurant, march onto school grounds, and tell a little girl who didn't even remember the one and only time she'd ever seen me that I'm her father. If Miya had been there, it would have been possible, but with Jessie all by herself, the idea was nothing short of ludicrous.

Luckily, something unexpected happened.

As the children began filing into the school building, the little red-haired girl cast a furtive glance around and ducked behind the bus. Once she was sure the teachers and safety patrols hadn't seen her, she ran across the street...and came right into the IHOP!

When the little girl stepped into the restaurant and I was able to get a good look at her, I knew that this was, indeed, my little Jessie. She had my sapphire-blue eyes and Miya's porcelain complexion. And her face -- her face looked so much like my mother's it was uncanny!

But then, I noticed what she was wearing. Her blue dress and denim jacket were ragged and patched, and it looked like the soles were coming off of her red galoshes. Even the little blue-violet ribbon tied at the end of her hair was frayed around the edges. She was shivering, and I knew that those clothes couldn't possibly have been keeping her warm. She looked underweight, too -- it was obvious she wasn't getting enough to eat.

Then again, after reading about how meager Miya's wages are and seeing that pitiful shack she's calling a house, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. But it still filled me with sorrow and guilt to know that the two most important people in my life have been living in such wretched conditions for the past seven years and that I'm partially to blame for that.

I brushed away the tears that were beginning to well up in my eyes and silently vowed that I was going to treat Miya and Jessie like princesses for the rest of their lives! It's the very least they deserve from me.

"Shouldn't you be in school, kid?"

I snapped myself from my reverie and saw that a waitress was trying to shoo Jessie out the door. Jessie was shaking her head and trying desperately to fight back the tears in her own eyes.

Panic seized me. I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by! I had to do something!

Quickly, I got up from my table and ran to Jessie's side. "Excuse me, ma'am. I'm this girl's father -- we planned to meet here for breakfast," I said to the waitress.

Her cheeks flushed, and she gave me a sheepish smile. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I had no idea. We get kids coming in here all the time, trying to play hooky. I just thought...."

"Well, you thought wrong," I replied.

"I'm sorry. Won't happen again," she apologized. With that, she retreated to the kitchen.

Once the waitress was gone, I smiled down at Jessie and winked. "Come on, kiddo. Let's get you something to eat."

Jessie's nervous expression became a scowl. "I'm not going anywhere with you -- you're a stranger!" she said in an accusatory tone.

I withered at her words. 'Oh, Jessie, if only you knew,' I thought. But then, I reminded myself that she wasn't lashing out at me personally (though she certainly has every right to...and probably will once she learns the truth) -- she was just on guard because she didn't know me. I knelt down so that my face was level with hers. "Look, I know your family, your teachers, and everybody have all told you never to talk to strangers, or go anywhere with them, or accept presents from them...and that's good advice," I told her. "But I promise you, I'm not out to kidnap you, or hurt you in any way -- I'd never do anything like that. I just want to buy you breakfast. Nothing more, nothing less."

The suspicious scowl didn't leave her face. "Why?"

"Because you look hungry, and you really look like you don't want to be in school today," I replied in all honesty. "And I want to help."

Jessie looked around the restaurant and placed a hand to her growling stomach. Then, she looked back at me. "Okay...I'll eat breakfast with you," she relented. "But I'm still not going anywhere with you, and if you even touch me, I'll snap your fingers off!" she quickly added.

I held up my hands and gave her an innocent smile. "Perish the thought!"

My hands were shaking so badly as I read this latest entry that it caused me to drop the book. I remembered this! I remembered skipping school on the day momma left for that final, fateful mission! I remembered meeting a kind-hearted stranger who bought me breakfast! The passage of time had made the man's name and face blurry in my mind's eye, but now that I was reliving it, I remembered it all in vivid detail!

"So, that was my daddy?" I whispered as I picked the book up again and found the page I'd been on. "I got to meet him, after all. And this time, I was old enough to remember it."

I brushed away the tears that were clouding my vision and smiled as I went back to the one bright spot on that otherwise dark day.

Once we got back to my booth, Jessie picked up the menu and licked her lips as she read the selections.

"I guess I should thank you," she said. "When I came in, the best I was hoping for was getting some of the flavored syrups they have at the tables. I can't afford anything on the actual menu."

"That's awful," I muttered.

"That's life," she replied bluntly. "Momma doesn't make a lot of money...."

"Maybe that'll all change soon," I offered.

"That's what momma's hoping," Jessie sighed.

I could tell that this was a painful subject for her, so I decided to change it. "Figure out what you're going to have yet?" I asked.

Jessie went back to looking at the menu. Suddenly, her sapphire eyes lit up. "Ooohhh, they have French toast! I just love French toast! Momma made it for me once -- it's my favorite!" she exclaimed. Her expression quickly darkened again. "Oh, but it's the most expensive thing on the menu. I guess I'll have something cheaper, like the Belgian waffles...."

"Now hold it right there, kid," I interjected. "If you want the French toast, then go right ahead and order it!"

She looked up at me.

I winked at her. "That's what I'm ordering -- French toast is my favorite, too!"

This made her smile again.

"And hey, I'll even get you some Belgian waffles smothered in whipped cream and strawberries to go along with your French toast, if you want!" I added.

"Are you serious?" she said incredulously.

"If you can eat it, I'll buy it. Don't worry about the price," I replied.

"Still don't know why you're being so nice to me," she muttered.

"Maybe it's because you remind me of my daughter -- I came to town to see her and her mother," I told her. I held out my hand. "Name's Rochester. Can I at least shake your hand without the danger of having my fingers snapped off?"

She laughed a little at this and nodded. "I'm Jessie Parker," she told me as she extended her own hand and shook mine.

"Nice name."


Presently, another waitress arrived to take our orders. I got the French toast with bacon on the side and more coffee for myself, and much to Jessie's delight, I made good on my promise and ordered the French toast, Belgian waffles with extra whipped cream and strawberries, and even a hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows for her.

"You weren't kidding," she remarked as the waitress took her leave.

"Told you I'd get whatever you wanted," I replied. "Like I said, don't worry about paying me back. But since I did order such a big breakfast for you, can I at least ask you a question?"

The suspicious glare returned to her face. "What kind of question?"

"No biggie. I just want to know why you're skipping school today."

"What are you? My dad?" she said sarcastically.

I raised an eyebrow. "Well?" I prompted.

Jessie shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and her gaze dropped to the floor. "Because I just can't deal with it today," she muttered. Something about the tone of her voice told me that this was more serious than a test she wasn't prepared for, or a homework assignment she hadn't done.

"Why not?" I asked.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before Jessie spoke again. "It''s about my momma," she whispered. "She was away for three whole weeks last month because of her job...busted her ass, and how does her dumb old boss repay her? By sending her on another assignment, that's how. I only got to see mom for a few days, and this morning, she had to leave again -- she's gonna miss my birthday next week...and Christmas...and I don't know what it is, but I just have a bad feeling. I didn't want her to go, but she wouldn't listen to me...."

'So, Miya's boss sent her on another mission? No wonder she wasn't home when I got there!' I said to myself as I listened to Jessie.

"....And I fucking hate school, anyway!" Jessie continued, pounding her little fist on the table. "Stupid Cassidy and her friends always pick on me cause I don't shop at Bloomingdale's and The Gap like they always do. And if they're not making fun of my clothes, then they're stealing my books, or my school supplies, or my lunch box and throwing them in the garbage. They say that's where my stuff belongs cause mom and I are so poor, and then they chant 'garbage picker' and call me trashy when I go to get my stuff back." She shook her head and sighed. "Whenever I tell the teacher that they're bothering me, she just tells me to shut up and stop provoking showing up for school and minding my own damn business is such a crime. And whenever I try to fight back and stick up for myself, I'm always the one who gets in trouble."

I felt my blood boiling when she said this, and I made a mental note to give Jessie's teacher a piece of my mind once I was in a position to do so...maybe even find out who this bitch, Cassidy, was and beat some manners into her and her snotty little friends.

"I can barely tolerate that shit on a good day," Jessie went on. "So, I know I can't take it today...not today. I just want my momma to come home...." Her voice trailed off, and she quickly brushed away the tears in her eyes. "I dunno why I'm telling you this," she muttered, assuming her gruff exterior once more.

"Maybe because keeping it bottled up hurts too much, and you needed to get it out of your system," I said. "Don't worry, Jessie -- nobody's going to make you go to school today, least of all me. I just appreciate that you felt you could talk to me about what was bugging you."

"It feels good to have somebody actually listen," she admitted. "Thanks, Mr. Rochester."

"Don't mention it."

At that moment, the waitress returned with our food. Jessie's mouth began to water as she eyed her French toast and Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries and inhaled their warm, sweet aroma. Then, she drowned the toast in flavored syrup, grabbed her fork, and began wolfing her food down, almost as if she were afraid somebody would take it from her.

"Take it easy, kiddo! You'll get sick to your stomach if you eat too fast," I chuckled.

Jessie looked up at me, then resumed her eating at a normal pace.

"Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about what Cassidy and her friends think of you," I said, getting back to the original subject. "They sound like a bunch of snobby bitches, if you ask me. Quite frankly, if I had the approval of people like that, I'd wonder what I was doing wrong!"

Jessie laughed at this. "You're right -- I don't give a shit what the other kids think about me. But they're always getting in my face about it, you know? I try to ignore them, but it's hard. And when they go out of their way to do mean things...well, that just makes it worse."

I nodded. "Yeah, I know exactly how that feels. I'll let you in on a little secret, Jessie -- I used to get picked on all the time when I was in school, too."

Her eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yep. I never had anything in common with any of the other kids, so I usually kept to myself," I told her. "Most people were just indifferent to me, but there were a few assholes that wouldn't get off my case. They'd call me names, or knock my books out of my hands, or try to pick fights with me...and I was invariably the one who got in trouble whenever I tried to report them or fight back. I never really had a friend until I was fourteen."

"Wow! I never would've guessed...."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Well, you don't look like the kinda person who'd get picked on," she replied. "You"

I couldn't help but smile. (I also can't help but wonder how cool she'll think her daddy is when she becomes a teenager.)

"Cool is what you make of it," I said. "For me, that's always been marching to the beat of my own drum, and I imagine it's the same for you."

She returned my smile.

"All I'm saying is that you're not alone, Jessie," I continued. "Most kids are vicious pack-animals who delight in ripping apart anybody who's different. They do it because they're followers...because they don't have the courage, the smarts, or the strength of character to stand out from the crowd, and they're jealous of those who do. Why, just yesterday, while I was on the way to Viridian, I met a little boy who's facing the exact same problem that you are -- he's more mature than the other kids at his school, he's smart, he's talented, and he's also one of the nicest kids I've ever seen...but he's the one who gets picked on by his classmates, for no other reason than because he's different. In every school, in every era, the kid who's different from everybody else usually gets singled out and hassled. I'm afraid it's one of those nasty little human nature things that just can't be changed. All we 'outsiders' can really do is ignore the taunting of the idiotic masses and take comfort in the fact that more often than not, different is better. And if you stay true to yourself, things usually do get better. Granted, there are some people who never grow out of their stupid little junior high mind-set, but a lot of them do mature and learn how to accept people who are different...or at the very least, learn how to live and let live."

Her smile grew even wider than it already was. "You know, I think you're right. Thanks, Mr. Rochester. I feel a lot better now."

"You're welcome, Jessie. I'm just glad I could help."

Jessie and I spent most of the day sitting together at that booth in IHOP, just talking to each other. And I could tell from the glimmer in her sapphire eyes as she spoke to me that she actually liked me...that she trusted me. At one point, as she told me a little more about her family, she mentioned that she didn't have a father, but that if she did, she'd want him to be just like me. Words can't express how happy it made me to hear her say that! And the knowledge that I'd be making her wish come true very soon made me happier still!

When morning became afternoon, I ordered Jessie a grilled ham and Swiss sandwich with sweet pickles and potato chips for lunch, and she devoured it every bit as eagerly as she had her breakfast. After hearing how she and Miya usually had to subsist on crackers, ramen noodles, and plain white rice when there was food and snow flavored with soy sauce when there wasn't, I got the feeling that this was probably the most she'd ever had to eat at a single sitting in her entire life. That knowledge tore me up on the inside and filled me with guilt all over again, but I quickly reminded myself that I was going to set this atrocity to rights.

As the afternoon wore on and the school day came to a close, Jessie reluctantly said good-bye to me. She'd wanted to spend more time with me (and I'd wanted to treat her to dinner as well), but she had to catch the school bus and get back home so that her babysitter wouldn't get worried. (That, and she knew she'd be in serious trouble if anybody found out that she'd skipped school and spent all day talking to a "stranger.")

"Oh, I don't think your mom would mind if she knew where you were today, Jessie," I whispered as I watched my daughter leave the restaurant and get back on the school bus. "I don't think she'd mind at all."

Now that I'm alone again, however, a host of troubling thoughts have occurred to me. If Miya was sent on another assignment at the last minute, then how am I supposed to get in touch with her? Jessie said that Miya is going to miss her birthday and Christmas, so she's obviously going to be gone for a few weeks, at least. What am I supposed to do in the meantime? I don't want to leave Viridian City now that I'm here (and especially not now that I've met my daughter and spent some quality time with her). But I can't just show up at their house again, announce to Jessie that I'm her father, and invite myself to stay with her while we wait for Miya to return.

Perhaps I should get a motel room and get some rest. I'll stay here in Viridian and wait for Miya's return as long as it takes. Maybe I'll even have another "chance encounter" with Jessie while I wait. But I hate not knowing how long it'll be before Miya comes back. I hate this feeling of being trapped in limbo...of feeling powerless to really do anything for myself and my loved ones -- it's where I've spent the last seven years!

But I take comfort in the fact that I won't be trapped like this much longer. I know where Miya lives. I know that she still loves me and wants me back. I know that my daughter loves me too and that she'll accept me when she learns the truth. I have to remind myself that I've taken great strides, and that my goal is finally in sight. Perhaps that's why this unexpected delay is so frustrating. The final stage of a journey is usually the most difficult, after all.

But I can...I will see it through to the end. I've come too far, and there's too much at stake for me to do any less.

-- Dorian Rochester

Another tear spilled down my cheek as I looked up from my reading. Yes, I remembered that day well, though I never would've guessed that the man I'd befriended was my dad. There'd been a reason I'd had that warm feeling of familiarity earlier...the feeling that Dorian was like an old friend. It had been about more than just the journal -- it was because he really had been my friend!

And yet, I'd never seen him again after that day...just like I'd never seen my momma again after she walked out the door that morning. What had become of them in that brief window of time before I lost them forever?

It was time to find out.

December 8, 1989

After almost twenty-six years of life, I'm still continuously amazed by the twists and turns that fate so often places in our path. One simple choice can dictate the course of an entire life, as I've seen firsthand so many times.

I'm just thankful that the choice I made today was the right one.

When I woke up this morning, I still felt lost and confused as to what I was supposed to do with myself while waiting for Miya to return from her latest mission. Luckily for me, I decided to get my thoughts in order by calling Brad and talking to him for awhile.

There was no missing the joy in my brother's voice when he picked up the phone and heard me on the other end. "Dorian! Thank goodness! I was wondering how I was going to get in touch with you!" he exclaimed.

"Well, hello to you, too," I replied.

"Listen Dorian, this is important," Brad said, his tone suddenly becoming serious. "I got a call from Miya on Wednesday night."

This got my attention. "You did?!"

"Yes. She wanted to talk to you, but I told her that you'd gotten her letter on Monday and that you'd left for Viridian City the very same day. So, she gave me a message to give to you. I've been hoping you'd call ever since."

"Well, what did she say?" I asked.

"She told me that her boss had just given her another that was just too good to turn down," came his reply. "Problem was, accepting the mission meant she couldn't wait around for you to show up -- she had to go yesterday morning."

"Yeah, I know," I told him. "Jessica told me a little about it."

"Jessica?! You got to see Jessica?!"

"Sure did -- I spent the day with her yesterday! Brad, she's even more beautiful than I remember! She's the most wonderful little girl in the world, and she really seems to like me!"

"That's great!" he said. "Anyway, Miya wanted me to let you know that you still have time if you want to see her. She doesn't actually leave on this mission til Sunday morning -- her boss just wanted her in Saffron City three days before the departing flight so she could meet with some contact and make all of her preparations."

"So, she's in Saffron City right now, and she'll be there until Sunday morning?"

"Yeah!" Brad replied. "She wanted me to tell you that she's staying in room 634 at the Sylvan Inn. The address is 8171 Sunrise Blvd., Saffron City."

I wrote down the address as quickly as Brad read it. I then read it back to him, and he confirmed that I'd copied it correctly. "Then, that's where I'm going!" I told him. "Thanks, Brad!"

"Good luck, Dorian!"

After saying good-bye to my brother, I wasted no time in checking out of the motel, grabbing a hasty breakfast, and continuing my journey east to Saffron City. I knew I'd get there well before Sunday morning, but I wanted to spend as much time with Miya as possible before she left. I'd already wasted seven...almost eight years of my life, and I'd be damned if I let so much as one more second go to waste!

I arrived in Saffron City early in the afternoon. After a quick lunch, I found the Sylvan Inn and went up to room 634, but when I knocked at the door, nobody answered. Knowing that I couldn't turn back now, I decided to stay where I was and wait until she got back.

Fortunately, I wasn't kept waiting for long.

After ten minutes (though it seemed much longer than that) of pacing up and down the hallway, I heard the ding of the elevator. And as I turned and watched the elevator doors slide open, it happened.

I saw her!

She was the same Miyamoto I'd always known and loved, and yet, these past seven years had changed her somewhat. Her luxurious purple hair was still as long as I remembered, but she wasn't wearing it down anymore -- instead, she had it in two sweeping coils that kept it out of her face. And her eyes held that same world-weariness that I'd come to know all too well in my own. But she was still my beautiful Miya. And seeing her again after all these years reminded me of just how deeply I loved her.

For several minutes, all the two of us could do was stand where we were and stare at each other. Then, at the exact same moment, we ran to each other and embraced so tightly that we could barely breathe! Neither one of us could utter a single word because by then, we were both crying.

"Miya...." was all I could manage to say once I found my voice.

She sniffled and held me closer. I could feel her tears soaking into the sleeve of my shirt as she buried her face in my shoulder.

I gently rocked Miya back and forth and stroked her hair. "Oh, sweetheart," I whispered.

After a moment, Miya freed herself from our embrace. Then, she brought up her hand and slapped me across the face so hard that I staggered backwards and fell on my ass!

I looked up at her and placed a hand to my stinging cheek. There was profound pain and sorrow in her eyes...the exact same pain and sorrow I'd known since the day I'd walked away from her. Unable to bear that withering look any longer, I hung my head. "I...I deserved that," I muttered.

Miya reached down and closed her hand over mine. "Come on, Dorian. Let's go inside," she said, pulling me back to my feet. "We have a lot to talk about."

I followed Miya as she unlocked the door and went into her room. Once we were inside, she closed the door and fixed me with that withering gaze again.

"Look, I know I've got some serious hell coming," I told her. "And I don't blame you one bit for being angry with me -- I'll be the first to admit that I really fucked up. So, let me have it, Miya. Hit me, punch me, kick me, scream at me, cuss me whatever you have to...."

No sooner than these words had passed my lips, Miya struck me across the face again. This time, however, I was ready for it, and I was able to keep my balance. "What the hell were you thinking, Dorian?!" she shouted. "All those years we spent together, you kept promising that you wanted to marry me and have a family with me! And what happens when the time comes to make good on that promise?! You turn your back on me and run away like a coward, that's what! You abandoned me! And even worse, you abandoned our daughter! Do you have any idea how much that hurt?!"

I hung my head again as I listened to her tirade. Miya was right -- I'd betrayed both her and Jessie. I was beginning to wonder why she still loved me...why she was giving me this second chance...why she wasn't more angry with me.

"Oh, why am I asking that? Of course you know," Miya continued in a much softer, much sadder voice.

Venturing to look up once more, I saw that Miya's face was buried in her hands, and her body was trembling, as if she were beginning to cry again. I knew that her anger was spent, though I still felt like I deserved more and worse than what she'd given me.

Slowly, I reached out and drew her into another embrace. "I'm so sorry," I murmured over and over again.

Miya put her arms around me and rested her head on my chest. "I know that now," she said. "I know that you were just scared and that you thought you were protecting us...and that you beat yourself up every day about it. I'm sorry too, Dorian. I shouldn't have lost my temper like that...."

"No, Miya. You have every right to be mad at me," I said, cutting her off. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't gotten cold feet in the first place or been so tongue-tied when you tried to work things out, none of this ever would've happened."

She shook her head. "I'm as much to blame as you are. I knew you were just nervous when I told you that I was going to have a baby -- I should've kept that in mind and had more patience instead of breaking up with you the way I did. And I shouldn't have run away from home and joined Team Rocket -- I know now that it wouldn't have mattered to my parents that I was pregnant and that you would've come back to me."

I laughed bitterly. "I guess we've both made a lot of bad choices. Turned ourselves into quite a pair of star-crossed lovers, haven't we?"

"It sure seems that way," Miya replied. As she looked up at me again, however, her face blanched, and she covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh, my god!" she gasped.

My brow furrowed. "What's wrong?"

"Y-you're bleeding," she stammered.

As soon as she said this, I became aware of a warm, sticky sensation on my face. I placed a hand to my nose, and sure enough, when I pulled it away, my fingers were covered with blood. "You must've hit me harder than I thought," I remarked.

Miya's pale face turned bright red. "Oh, sweetie. I'm so sorry...."

"Don't worry about it -- it's just a little nose bleed," I assured her. "If that's all the punishment I'm going to get, then I should consider myself lucky."

My words did little to comfort her. "Sit down, and keep your head back," she instructed me.

"Yes, ma'am," I chuckled as I allowed her to seat me on the bed and tilt my head back.

Miya pulled a package of tissues from her purse and frowned. "I can't believe you think this is funny."

"I can't believe you're so upset about this," I countered. "I thought you were mad at me."

She shook her head as she wiped the blood from my face and pressed the tissue to my nose. "I'm not...not anymore, anyway," she sighed. "I was ready to give you holy hell, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it -- I love you too much."

"I love you, too," I echoed.

Fresh tears welled up in Miya's eyes and began to spill down her cheeks again. "Besides, I know you've already punished yourself worse than I ever could," she went on. "And I guess...I was worried that if I was too harsh with you, then you'd leave me again...."

"Ridiculous!" I interjected. "Miya, my life was a living hell without you and Jessie! Believe me, no matter how angry you may have been or what kind of punishments you may have had in store for me, it would've been nothing compared to the emptiness I've felt. I'm never going to walk away from what we have again, no matter what!"

She smiled ever so slightly when I said this. "You mean that?"

I nodded. "Yes. I'm here to stay, Miya. I'll be damned if I lose you and Jessie again."

Now her smile was genuine.

For the next few minutes, the two of us sat together in silence. Once the bleeding stopped, Miya drew the tissue away and gave me a kiss on the nose. Then, she kissed my cheeks, where she'd slapped me.

"Feeling better now?" she ventured.

"Yeah. What about you?"


The two of us put our arms around each other again and rested our foreheads together.

Miya smiled once more as she gazed into my eyes. "Look at us," she sighed, half-mirthfully and half-wistfully. "What are we going to do?"

I returned her smile. "There's only one thing we can do!" came my reply. I got off of the bed, knelt before Miya, and took her hands in mine. "This is something I should've done a long time ago. Miya, will you marry me? Please? I want to stay with you and Jessie and take care of you forever and ever, and...."

Miya freed one of her hands and placed it to my lips. "Dorian...of course I'll marry you!" she whispered as more tears filled her eyes. "You can't imagine how long I've waited for this!"

I seated myself next to her again and brushed her tears away. "I won't let you down this time, sweetheart. I swear it."

She placed her hands on my cheeks and pulled me closer so that our faces were less than an inch apart. "I'm going to hold you to that promise, Dorian Rochester!" she said, touching her lips to mine.

As I returned Miya's kiss, I felt her pulling off my denim jacket and sliding a hand under my shirt to caress my stomach. I trembled with delight. "Oh, my god. I almost forgot how good that feels," I muttered between kisses.

"I know. It's been so long," Miya whispered into my ear as she began kissing my neck.

"Too long," I agreed. Another shiver of excitement raced up my spine when I felt her hands reaching down to undo my belt buckle and unzip my jeans.

She gave me a sly smile as she pulled away slightly and took off her sweatshirt. Then, she unhooked her bra and took my hands in hers. "Far too long," she echoed.

I gently caressed her breasts as she placed my hands on them. "Are you sure?" I asked.

"I've never been more sure of anything in my life!" came her reply.

Once the two of us finished undressing each other, I laid Miya down on the bed and made love to her like there was no tomorrow. I made love to her like my life depended on it. I made love to her with enough passion to fill a seven year void. As we abandoned ourselves to the passion, it was as if there'd never been a rift between us. And as I gazed into Miya's turquoise eyes and saw the light that was shining in them, I knew in my heart that all had been forgiven and that our love for each other was all the stronger because of the ordeal we'd been through.

I couldn't say how long it lasted, but it was dark outside by the time we finished. As I collapsed at Miya's side, she had to reach over and turn on a lamp so that we could still see each other. "My god. That was even better than I remember," she sighed.

I smiled at her. "We had a lot of lost time to make up for."

She propped herself up on an elbow and returned my smile. "We sure did," she agreed. "Dorian, you're the only one I've ever been with -- I haven't been touched since the night I told you I was pregnant."

"Me either," I replied. "There's never been anybody else, Miya."

She blushed. "Let's never go that long without having sex again."

I reached over and tucked a loose strand of her purple hair behind her ear. "Never," I echoed. "I'll make love to you whenever you want from now on."

"Another promise I'm going to hold you to!" she said.

"Another promise I intend to keep!" I told her. My smile became a grin. "Besides, we have to give Jessie some little brothers and sisters!"

Miya laughed as she laid back down, but she quickly became serious again. "Speaking of Jessie, don't worry if it takes her awhile to warm up to you, Dorian. She doesn't know you, and...well, I haven't exactly kept it a secret that you walked out on us before she was born. Bringing you back into the picture after all these years is going to be a little disorienting to her, so you'll have to have patience with her while she adjusts," she warned me.

"Oh, believe me, I'm not worried about it. Not in the slightest!" I assured her. "I met Jessie yesterday after I arrived in Viridian City, and we got to spend some time together. I think she'll be pleasantly surprised when she finds out who I really am...and I know she and I will get along just fine."

Miya raised an eyebrow. "Really? How did you meet her?"

I then proceeded to tell Miya about everything that had happened yesterday.

"So, Jessie was skipping school, was she?" Miya said sternly once I was done relating my tale.

"Please don't be mad at her, honey," I implored. "She was really upset -- you can hardly blame her for not wanting to put up with the crap that goes on at school when...."

"You're not going to be much help when it comes to disciplining her, are you?" Miya remarked, reaching over and giving my nose a gentle tweak. "I can tell already -- you're going to spoil that girl rotten!"

"Well, I can't exactly come marching into her life after all these years and start telling her what she can and can't do, now, can I?" I argued.

"True," she conceded. "But you can't give her license to do whatever she wants or countermand the rules I expect her to follow just because you're not in a position to discipline her yet, either."

"But how could I ever say no to that precious little princess?" I said playfully.

Miya responded by smacking me in the face with her pillow. "Great! Just great! Undermine my seven long years of child-rearing and replace me as Jessie's favorite parent, why don't you?!" she said with a melodramatic sigh. Then, she shook her head and laughed. "Ah, it's alright -- I doubt it'll ever be an issue. Jessie is a good kid, and she certainly deserves to have everything her heart desires and more after all she's been through."

"Yes, she is...and she does," I agreed. "I took one look into those beautiful blue eyes, and I couldn't help myself -- I just had to pamper her!"

"She's quite a little charmer, isn't she?" Miya chuckled. Her eyes glimmered as she gave me another smile. "Just one of the many, many things she gets from her daddy!"

I smiled back.

"I think Jessie is the main reason I never fell out of love with you," she continued. "I love that little girl more than anything else in this world,, I could never feel anything but love for the man who gave me such a wonderful daughter. And she's like you in so many ways that I can't even begin to count them all -- every time I look at her, I see you!"

Now I was blushing.

Miya placed a hand to my burning cheek and gave me another kiss on the lips. Then, the playful smirk returned to her face. "Alright, you win -- I'll let Jessie get away with skipping school just this once, since it gave her a chance to meet you. You had a point, anyway -- she was really upset about me going on this mission."

"She told me the kids at school give her a hard time, too."

Miya's expression soured again when I mentioned this. "Yeah, they do. And there's three that are particularly nasty to her -- Cassidy, Jennifer, and Bonnie," she said disdainfully.

I nodded. "She told me some horror-stories about this Cassidy."

"Jessie met Cassidy in kindergarten," Miya told me. "Cassidy knew I was a Team Rocket Elite, so she pretended to be nice to Jess. I dunno...I guess she figured that if she was Jessie's friend, then I'd hook her up with free pokemon, or something. But Jessie is a smart girl -- it didn't take her long to figure out that Cassidy was just using her, so she broke off the friendship. And when that happened, Cassidy showed her true colors and started acting like the snotty bitch she is. Jennifer and Bonnie are her little followers."

"So, this has been going on for a couple of years now?" I ventured.

"Yeah," Miya grumbled. "It's bad enough that Jessie gets singled out and ridiculed for being different, but those three seem to have a personal vendetta against her, just because she didn't get taken in by their little phony act. I can't count the number of parent-teacher conferences I've gone to, but it never does any good. The teachers, the principal...they won't admit it, but I can tell that they look down on me because I'm with Team Rocket. They act like I'm an unfit mother and treat Jessie like a problem-child instead of addressing the real problem...and I'm sure the fact that Cassidy's parents are filthy-stinking rich, chair the PTA, and have most of the school board in their pockets has nothing to do with it!" She closed her eyes and massaged her temples as she exhaled in a frustrated sigh. "I'll be glad when we get married, and I can quit Team Rocket, Dorian. That way, I can pull Jessie out of that fucking hole and just home-school her. I'm so goddamned sick and tired of my daughter being the victim of all that political bullshit...." Her voice trailed off as she began to cry again.

"Well, it won't be a problem anymore," I soothed as I took Miya in my arms. "You're right -- once we get married, you can quit Team Rocket and have more time with Jessie. We can enroll her in a new school where the stigma won't follow her, or we can home-school her. Whichever you prefer."

I felt her relax a little when I said this.

"But we can sort out those problems later," I continued. I cupped Miya's chin in my hand and brought her face up again. "Right now, we have more important things to do."

"Like what?" she asked.

I grinned. "Get dressed, honey -- we're going out for a night on the town! I'm going to buy you the best wedding ring I can find, and I'm taking you out to dinner!"

"I hope you don't have anything too formal in mind," she replied. Her cheeks flushed as she looked down at her black Guns 'n Roses sweatshirt and acid-washed jeans full of holes, which were now lying on the floor in a crumpled heap next to my own clothes. "All I have to wear is my Team Rocket uniform and...that."

"Then, I'll buy you a dress, too!" I told her. "Consider it a birthday present!"

Miya reached up and tousled my hair. "I knew there was something else I loved about you, Dorian -- you could always remember birthdays and anniversaries! This is very sweet of you."

I winked at her. "Hey, Jessie isn't the only girl I'm going to be spoiling -- I'm giving you whatever you want from now on, too!"

After lying in each other's arms a moment longer and sharing a couple of quick kisses, the two of us got out of bed and took a shower together. Then, we got dressed again, and I took Miya to the Saffron City Mall.

It was obvious that Miya hadn't done anything for herself in ages, so I was glad that I'd suggested this shopping trip. The sparkle in her blue-green eyes -- the sparkle that came from knowing that she was beautiful and special and that everything was going to be okay from now on -- was far more lovely than any of the dresses she modeled for me. It filled my heart with joy to behold.

After trying on several different dresses, Miya finally decided on a floor-length gown of sapphire-blue silk. It was strapless and form-fitting, and the skirt was split on the sides to show off her long, shapely legs.

She looked like a princess in that dress, and her eyes sparkled again when I told her as much.

Once I payed for the dress, I took Miya to a jewelry store, and we browsed the rings. I chose a simple gold band for myself, and Miya decided on a diamond ring set with rubies and sapphires. Luckily, they had the ring in her size, so I was able to buy it tonight.

After we finished shopping, Miya changed into her new dress, and I took her to dinner at a bar and grill restaurant called The Ponderosa Pines. Granted, Miya was a little overdressed in her evening gown, but it didn't matter. She wanted to go there because she was hungry for something grilled (and because they had an all-you-can-eat ice cream special). And I wasn't about to deny her anything that she wanted.

When we went into the restaurant, the hostess seated us at a table for two in the non-smoking section. We then perused our menus and both ordered the grilled chicken platter with unlimited salad bar and ice cream. Once the waitress had taken her leave, Miya went to get her first helping of salad. She returned a few minutes later carrying three plates -- one with a garden salad with French dressing, one with a mountain of croutons, and one laden with packages of saltines and captain's wafers.

"Got enough croutons and crackers there?" I asked as she seated herself at the table again.

When I reached to take some for myself, however, she slapped my hand away. "Don't touch those!" she snapped.

A drop of sweat formed on my temple as I withdrew my stinging hand. "Alright, I'm sorry! I'll get my own!"

"No, I'm sorry," she apologized. "It's just that...the croutons and crackers aren't for me -- they're for Jessie."

I raised an eyebrow.

"When I'm on the job, my boss pays all of my food and lodging expenses, so I get to eat out fairly often," she explained. "I wish that I could just eat a couple bites of whatever I order and take the rest home to Jessie since keeping her fed is more important than anything I do for myself, but there's no way I can do that when I'm on an assignment that lasts for several weeks -- the food would be spoiled by the time I got it home! So, I do the next best thing -- I get as much non-perishable food as I can, like croutons, crackers, those little complimentary candies that you sometimes get with the bill, and such. Since those don't spoil, I can carry them around with me for however long it takes and still bring home food for Jessie to eat."

My heart sank as I listened to her. I was horrified that condiments were just about the only thing that was keeping Jessie from starvation, but I quickly reminded myself that this wasn't going to be a problem anymore. And I had to admire Miya's ingenuity.

"Clever!" I remarked. "But you don't have to do it this time, Miya -- I'm going to take care of you and Jessie from now on, so there's no need to worry about her going hungry anymore!"

Miya blushed as she looked down at all the food she'd amassed. "Sorry. Just a force of habit."

I looked over my shoulder, towards the salad bar. "So, are there any croutons left up there, or is this it?"

"This is it," she chuckled. "I emptied both containers!"

"Well...can I have a few when I get back with my salad?" I asked. "Or is that just going to get me another hand slap?"

Now Miya was laughing. "Of course you can have some! I really am sorry about slapping you, but Jessie always comes first as far as I'm concerned."

"As it should be," I told her. "I know I'm going to put the two of you before myself from now on."

"And I appreciate it," she replied.

I leaned across the table and gave Miya a kiss before getting up to go to the salad bar. When I returned with my own salad, I grabbed a few of the croutons and sprinkled them on top.

Miya shook her head and smiled as she watched me. "You always did like your croutons," she remarked.

"Of course! They're only the best part of the salad!" I told her as I dipped one in my honey dijon dressing and popped it in my mouth. "I remember, whenever my family went out to eat when I was a little boy, I'd always get a big plate of croutons at the salad bar and eat them one by one...."

Miya's jaw dropped. "Are you serious?!"

I arched an eyebrow. "Yeah. Why?"

She laughed. "Jessie does the exact same thing! Whenever I bring home croutons for her, she puts them on a plate and eats them one by one -- it's the cutest thing! And another thing she gets from you, apparently!"

"Apparently," I echoed. I smiled again as an image of my daughter picking up croutons in her dainty little hands and eating them one by one the way I always used to formed in my mind.

"So, don't take them all," Miya continued. "Even if we don't have to worry about food or money anymore after I get back from this mission, I'd still like to bring some home for Jessie...."

When Miya brought up the mission again, I was reminded of something that had been nagging at me. "Can I ask you a question, honey?" I queried.

She gave me a sly smile and took a bite of her salad. "You just did...but you can ask me another one, if you like."

I smirked at her, but quickly became serious again. "It's about this mission. Do you really have to go?"

"It's awfully hard for me to say no, Dorian," she told me in all honesty. "The boss promised me a lot of money if I complete it."

"Well, what do you have to do?" I prompted.

"Do you remember the letter I sent you? How I told you that I was tracking a rare pokemon in the Amazon rainforest?"

I nodded.

"Arianna was pleased with my work, so she's sending me back to South America," she explained. "Only this time, it's not a recon mission -- she wants me to capture the pokemon. According to the briefing I went to yesterday, the agents I was working with down there are still tracking it, and they've followed it to the Andes...."

"I still don't get what the big deal is," I said, cutting her off. "It's just a pokemon, Miya. And you said yourself that your boss doesn't pay you very well. It's not worth it, if you ask me."

"And that's where you're wrong, my dear Dorian. This isn't just any pokemon. It's Mew -- one of the rarest, most powerful pokemon in existence!" Miya informed me. "And Arianna Razzo promised me a ten million dollar payoff if I capture the pokemon for Team Rocket -- I have the contract in writing, and there's no loopholes, so she can't renege if I hold up my end of the bargain!"

My head spun as I listened to her. "Ten million dollars is a pretty sweet deal," I admitted. "But it still sounds like a dangerous mission, Miya."

Miya shrugged. "Every mission is dangerous," she said flippantly.

I reached across the table and closed my hand over hers. "Listen to me! I want you to really think about this! I know the money would be nice, but when all is said and done, you don't need it -- we're going to get married, and I'm going to support you and Jessie from now on! Wouldn't it be better to just call it quits now and come home to me, Jessie, and our parents? Why risk it?"

She answered my questions with one of her own. "Do you have a job, Dorian?"

"Of course I do!" I replied. "I found work with a Shakespearean theater troupe after I graduated from college. In fact, we're doing a performance of 'Romeo & Juliet' this month, and I'm playing the role of Romeo again...just like the night we met!"

She smiled, but only for a moment. "Does it pay well?"

"It's not the best paying job in the world, but it's enough for me...."

"Enough for yourself, but what if a wife and a child were suddenly added to the picture?"

I knew where she was going with this. "Probably not, but it's no problem. I'll just get a better paying job or a second job if your history with Team Rocket keeps you from finding work."

"But if you had two jobs, then you wouldn't get to spend much time with me and Jessie, and I know you wouldn't be happy doing anything other than acting," she argued.

"Miya, that's not the point!" I cried. "You and Jessie make me happy -- whether or not I enjoy my job is immaterial, just as long as I can keep the two of you comfortable."

"No! I won't have you giving up a job you love or sacrificing free time that you could be spending with your family!" Miya countered. "I've done it for seven years, and believe me, it's a nightmare! I can't let you throw away the rest of your life like that, just because you feel you need to pay for the mistakes that we both made." She placed her free hand on my cheek. "But if I do this one thing and get the big pay-off, it won't be an issue! I can retire from Team Rocket, and neither one of us will have to work again if we don't want to. I can finally pay back the debt I owe my parents. And most importantly of all, I can give Jessie all the things she deserves. I need this, Dorian -- I can't live my life in debt. Not to you, my parents, Jessie, or anybody else. You promised me that you'd give me whatever I want from now give me this chance at independence. You owe that to me...and I owe it to everybody I love."

I closed my eyes and considered her words for a moment. "You don't owe us a thing, Miya," I assured her. "And I don't agree with what you're doing, but I understand why you feel it's so important." I opened my eyes again. "Alright, you win -- I won't try to stop you from going on this mission...but only on one condition."

She raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what's that?"

"You have to take me with you."

Miya shook her head. "Absolutely not!"

"Why?" I demanded.

"Dorian, you know as well as I do that this mission is dangerous!" she told me. "There's no point in both of us risking our lives. After my flight leaves on Sunday morning, I want you to go back to Viridian City and wait for me with Jessie. I'll give her a call tomorrow and let her know what's going on...."

Now I was shaking my head. "You don't get it, do you?"

She gave me a quizzical look. "Get what?"

"Miya, I promised never to leave you again, and I meant it!"

"I know that. But you don't have to do this...."

"Yes, I do," I insisted. "I need this as much as you do, sweetheart. Even if you do trust me again, I need to prove to myself that I can keep my promise...that I can do whatever it takes to stay by your side, no matter how dangerous the road becomes." I shook my head and sighed. "I guess I was trying to protect you by talking you out of this madness, but failing that, I suppose joining you in it is the next best thing."

This made Miya smile again. "It looks like we both need something from this mission. Alright, Dorian, you can come with me. I just hope you know what you're getting yourself into."

I returned her smile. "Don't you worry about me -- I've been camping and mountain climbing almost as long as I've been horseback riding! I think I can handle the Andes for a few weeks. And I know I'll be just fine, as long as I'm with you...."

Once we made our little pact, Miya and I were content to drop the subject and move on to happier things. We spent the rest of the evening making plans for our bright future, and when we returned to our room at the inn, we made love again.

I've been so alone for so long that I'd almost forgotten how wonderful it feels to be with Miya hold her in my feel her body next to mine when we go to sleep at night...and to wake up beside her each morning. As I reflect on this day, I'm thankful indeed that my path has finally led me back to my one true love!

One final challenge still stands between us and our happily ever after, but when I consider all the ordeals we've already faced, I have every confidence that we'll prevail. Miya will find her financial security, I'll find my emotional security, and Jessie's mommy and daddy will be coming home to stay!

Maybe we're not as star-crossed as I feared.

-- Dorian Rochester

* * * * *

December 9, 1989

Today is Miya's twenty-fifth birthday...and I've made sure that it'll always be a day to remember!

After missing out on the last seven, how could I do any less?

I woke up about an hour before Miya did this morning, and I spent that time preparing a few of the many surprises I had in store for her. The first of which was making her breakfast in bed.

"These are for you, honey! Happy birthday!" I said as I set a tray of Scotch pancakes in front of her.

Miya's turquoise eyes lit up. "Oh, Dorian! You remembered that these are my favorite! Thank you so much!"

I blushed as she leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. The pancakes were my grandma Rochester's recipie. I used to make them all the time back when Miya and I traveled together, and she'd acquired a taste for them, just as I'd acquired a taste for sushi.

"And that's only the beginning," I told her as she began to eat.

Her eyes sparkled again. "Making up for more lost time, are you?"

"That, and I want to make this the best birthday you've ever had," came my reply.

"Well, you're certainly getting off to a good start!"

Once Miya was finished eating, I handed her a small package.

She gave me a curious look as she gently rattled the box. "You got me another present? But I thought the dress and the engagement ring were...."

"Open it!" I said, cutting her off. "I think you'll find something you've wanted for a long time now...nineteen years, to be precise!"

The quizzical expression didn't leave her face as she pulled off the wrapping paper. But when she opened the box and brought out the poke ball that was inside, realization finally dawned on her. "You got me my very own Ponyta, didn't you?" she asked.

I gave her a playful smile. "Only one way to find out!"

Miya returned my smile as she tossed the poke ball to the floor and released the pokemon that was inside. "Oh, my god!" she gasped when she saw Roheryn emerge.

"Do you like her?" I ventured.

"Like her? Dorian, I love her!" Miya cried. "Oh, my god! My very own Ponyta! And those appaloosa markings -- I've never seen anything like it before! She's so beautiful!"

"She's Snowmane and Diablo's foal," I explained. "When I saw what a special little baby she was, I thought of you. I even named her Roheryn -- the Elvish word for 'horse of the lady' -- because I knew that I wanted you to have her."

"Oh, Dorian," she whispered. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stroked the foal's fiery mane. "Thank you so much."

My smile grew even wider than it already was. "Now you have no choice but to come home with me after this mission! Roheryn is only a yearling -- she still needs to be with her parents. And poor Snowmane and Diablo would be heartbroken without their little filly -- they love her as much as we love Jessie."

"The three of us aren't so different from your horses, then," Miya remarked.

"Well, I do envy the fact that Diablo has been a good husband and father right from the start," I admitted.

Miya played with Roheryn a moment longer before returning her to the poke ball. "I'm just glad you decided to follow his example," she told me as she planted another kiss on my cheek.

I swept Miya into an embrace and returned her kiss. "Which brings me to my next surprise."

She raised an eyebrow. "There's more?"

I nodded. "I thought about it last night, and I've decided that I can't wait until we return from this mission -- let's get married, Miya!"

"What?! You mean today?!" she said in disbelief.

"I don't want to waste another second of our precious time together," I told her. "I want to make you my wife now."

"But what about our parents? And Jessie? And I need a dress! And...."

I placed a finger to her lips and silenced her. "You can wear the dress I got you last night. And we can have a second ceremony with our families when we get back. Please, Miya?"

She gazed into my eyes for a moment and nodded. "I never could say no to you, sweetie!"

"Then what are we waiting for?!" I exclaimed. "Let's tie the knot!"

And that's precisely what we did. After taking a shower, Miya donned her blue dress again, and I put on the suit and tie that I'd brought with me. Then, the two of us went to the courthouse to get a marriage license. Once all the paperwork was out of the way, we were married by a judge in a quick civil ceremony.

I know it wasn't the most romantic of settings, but it didn't matter to either one of us. When I put the diamond ring on Miya's finger and promised to love, cherish, and honor her in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, for as long as we both shall live, and she made all the same vows as she placed the gold band on my finger, my heart was filled with more joy than I ever thought possible! And I knew from the sparkle in Miya's eyes that she was every bit as happy as I was!

Just like last night, I took Miya out for dinner after our wedding. This time, however, I took her to a much fancier restaurant, where our evening wear fit right in. And after our meal, we went for a walk in the park and danced the night away under the silver light of the moon and the stars. Then, we finally returned to our room and made love for the first time...and the second...and even the third as husband and wife!

And now, as I watch my beautiful new wife smiling in her sleep, I know that I have, indeed, made it a day she'll always remember. For my part, I know I'll always have fond memories of it, too. How can I not look back on our wedding day and smile, after all? I guess a little part of me regrets that we couldn't have our "dream-wedding" on this day, but we can always have a more elaborate ceremony, guests, a reception, and even little Jessie as the most beautiful flower girl in the world when we come home for good. Right now, just being with Miya...finally being able to call myself her husband after all these years is all that's really important.

There's nowhere in the world I'd rather be.

-- Dorian Rochester

* * * * *

December 13, 1989

It's been a few days since I've had a chance to write anything, but that doesn't mean there's been nothing to report. Quite the contrary, the week has been so busy that I haven't had time to write anything until now.

On Sunday morning, Miya and I checked out of the inn and went to the Saffron City airport to catch the departing flight to Lima, Peru. Miya gave me one last chance to change my mind and go back to Viridian City to wait for her with Jessie, but again, I refused. After coming this far, there was no way in hell I was turning back!

When we arrived at the airport, we found a Japanese man about Professor Oak's age waiting for us. Miya introduced him as Dr. Nakamura Hiroyuki -- he'd been one of her professors at Pokemon Tech, and he now works as a resident scientist at Sylph Co. Miya had met Dr. Nakamura again when she'd gone to Sylph Co. to get supplies for her mission, and when he found out that she was planning to capture Mew, he'd insisted on coming along. Since the two of them were old friends (and since the party could always use the expertise of another scientist), Miya had agreed that he could accompany us.

I guess it's good that we got to the airport early -- the last minute additions of myself and Dr. Nakamura to Miya's party meant that we needed more plane tickets.

Fortunately, everything went through without a hitch, and our plane arrived at the Lima airport late that afternoon. There, we met the other two members of Miya's party -- Miguel Cruz and Esperanza Velas. Cruz (an Elite like Miya) and Velas (another scientist) were the agents Miya had been working with the previous month, when she'd been tracking Mew. The two of them had kept close tabs on the pokemon during her absence and informed her that Mew had last been seen near Mt. Salcantay, which was about halfway between the city of Cusco, Peru and the ruins of Machupicchu. Within the hour, we'd chartered a private plane so that we could continue our journey to the southeast, and by nightfall, we'd arrived at a small mountain village at the base of Salcantay.

The next morning, we spoke with some of the villagers. They verified that a mysterious pink cat had been spotted in the area over the last few days and that it had last been seen flying towards the summit of Salcantay.

So, up the mountain we went.

For the first few hours, things went smoothly, but our luck didn't last for long. We broke for lunch atop a small ridge at midday and continued our climb up a particularly steep face of cliff. When we got about halfway up the cliff, Dr. Nakamura's rope broke, and he plummetted back to the ridge below. Fortunately, he survived the fall since he landed in a drift of snow, but the tibia and fibula in his right leg were broken.

When we climbed back down to help him, Nakamura insisted that we leave him behind -- he knew as well as we did that there was no way he could continue the journey, but he also knew how important this mission was to Miya, and he didn't want her to be delayed on his account. But Miya would hear none of it -- no matter how important catching Mew was to her, it wasn't worth the life of a friend. She was adamant that we get him back to the village and get medical treatment for him, and she wouldn't listen to any arguments to the contrary. (Though, truth be told, Nakamura himself was the only one who was protesting -- Miya, Cruz, Velas, and I all agreed that nobody would be left behind to die on this mission.)

So, back down the mountain we went. But not before I splinted Nakamura's leg and bandaged his cuts.

Since Cruz and I were the strongest members of the group, we took turns carrying Nakamura on our backs. Velas went ahead of us to pick out the safest paths for our descent, and Miya came down behind us and kept an eye on our ropes to ensure that there wouldn't be another accident. We were back in the village and had Nakamura at a doctor before dusk.

We spent all night and all day yesterday with Dr. Nakamura. He apologized over and over again for the inconvenience he'd caused all of us and said that if Miya missed out on catching Mew, it was all his fault, but just as before, she wouldn't hear any of it. The four of us were just happy that he'd survived and that he was going to be okay.

Not many people who have accidents in the mountains are that fortunate.

This morning, we finally resumed our journey without Nakamura. Luckily, we haven't had any further incidents, and since we already knew the best trails to take, we made good time today. It's now sunset, and we've just made camp on a ridge about a third of the way up the mountain.

It's a strange feeling, indeed, to be here in the mountains of South America. In all my travels, I've never been so far from home before. And as my mind drifts back to my homeland, I find myself marvelling at my what a different world this is from the one I've always known. In Kanto and Johto, the first snows of winter are just beginning to fall, but here the summer is just beginning (though you'd never know it from the look of things -- most of the Andes are so high that they're covered with snow all year round). None of the mountains back in Kanto and Johto...not even the imposing Snowtop Mountain northwest of Ecruteak City can compare to where we are now! I've climbed the mountains east of Redwood Heights many a time, and their summits don't even come close to this relatively low encampment on the slopes of Salcantay. It's a humbling experience, indeed. Something about the enormity of these mountains...about being able to look down on so much of creation from their heights makes one aware of just how small we are in the grand scheme of things. But even though I'm halfway across the world from my parents, my daughter, and the lands where I grew up, there's no place I'd rather be right now. I belong with Miya -- as long as she's here with me, I know that I'm never too far from home. As long as she's by my side, I feel truly happy.

And yet, it's a bittersweet happiness. Today is our little Jessie's seventh birthday, and I regret that we can't be there with her. I've already missed hearing her say her first words, watching her take her first steps, the joys of six other birthdays and Christmases -- it seems cruel, indeed, that I should miss out on this as well. But I can't dwell on such things. I have to remind myself that I won't be missing out on Jessie's life anymore once I get home.

Soon, Jessie. Very soon, mommy and daddy will be home to stay. Once we come back to you, I'll fill every day with joy. But until then, I hope you know that no matter how far away I may be, you're always in my heart. I hope you know that your daddy loves you, now and always. Happy birthday, my little angel.

-- Dorian Rochester

That was the final entry. Even though there were plenty of blank pages left, nothing more had been written after my seventh birthday.

And I knew all too well why that was.

I'd guessed right -- daddy had found momma again and married her just before she left on her final mission. He'd gone with her to the Andes.

He'd been with her when the avalanche came.

I'd known from the sadness in granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad's voices whenever they mentioned him...I'd known from the way they kept referring to him in the past-tense...I'd known by the simple fact that he wasn't here...I'd known before I'd even opened the journal and read the first entry that Dorian Rochester was dead. But reading the final entry...seeing this confirmation finally made it hit home with me.

I'd lost both my mother and my father on that day. I truly was an orphan.

And even though it was almost twelve years after the fact, it wasn't any easier for me to deal with. I felt as if I were hearing the news of momma's death all over again...and now it was compounded by the pain of knowing that daddy had died with her.

A pain made all the more acute now that I knew who he was and how much he'd loved me.

I set the book aside and buried my face in my hands. And as I reflected on everything I'd just read, I had to ask myself again if I really was better off knowing about all of this.

Deep down inside, I knew the answer was yes. It was comforting to know that daddy had loved me and that he'd only wanted to do right by me and momma -- I'd needed to learn that so that I could forgive him. He'd suffered so much regret and sorrow because of what he'd done, and he'd died trying to correct the mistakes he'd made -- to spend the rest of my life in ignorance, hating him for what I thought he'd done would've been a grave disservice, both to him and myself. Yes, I'd definitely needed to learn the truth.

But why did it have to hurt so much?

Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes again and looked around the room. Eventually, my gaze fell on James, who was tossing and turning in his sleep, as if he were having a bad dream. I wanted to wake him up and talk to him about what I'd learned. I wanted him to hold me. I wanted to unleash the torrent of pain that I was barely holding back and know that I'd be safe in his arms and that he'd still be there for me when my sorrow was spent.

But a little part of me still wanted to be alone with my thoughts. And I really didn't want to be in this room right now. Seeing all of my daddy's old belongings...knowing that the person who'd once lived in this room was never coming back was like a knife in my heart.

So, I decided to leave the room and go for a walk. Maybe I'd be able to talk to James once I had some fresh air and a chance to get my thoughts in order.

I didn't make it very far.

When I got downstairs, I found my grandparents and uncle sitting together in the living room. Granny and grandpa were on the couch, and Brad was in one of the chairs. I couldn't see their faces from where I was standing, but I could hear my parents' names being whispered every now and then, and there was no missing the sad tone in their voices.

It would seem I wasn't the only one with troubled thoughts this morning.

I stood there and listened to them a moment longer before I sniffled and betrayed my presence.

The three of them turned and smiled wistfully when they saw me.

"Hi, angel," granny said softly.

"You finished reading, didn't you?" grandpa asked, taking note of the expression on my face.

That was when it happened. That was when I broke down completely, and all of my sadness and frustration came flooding out, the way a river floods when a dam breaks.

I couldn't see for the tears that clouded my vision, but I could feel my grandparents' hands on my shoulders and feel the warmth of their bodies as they both embraced me. A moment later, I was sitting on the couch between the two of them. I returned granny's embrace and buried my face in her shoulder as I continued to cry, and I could feel grandpa patting me on the back.

"Oh, sweetheart...." granny whispered into my ear.

"I...I never knew...just what happened," I muttered once I was able to find my voice again. "And momma didn't know either, until the very end...."

I could feel granny nodding. "We didn't learn the truth until it was too late either."

"I still remember that day," I heard grandpa saying. "It was a few days after Christmas...couple of Rockets in black uniforms showed up at our door. Didn't know what they were about, and they told us that Dorian had been with Miyamoto on a mission in the Andes...that there'd been an avalanche on the morning of the fourteenth and that nobody had survived...."

Brad coughed. "Mom and dad still didn't know what was going on, so I had to come clean with them. I told them about you...about how Miya had joined Team Rocket...about how Dorian had gone to try and get you and Miya back. I told them everything."

Granny shook her head and sighed. "I wish he would've talked to us about what he'd been going through...or that we'd made more of an effort to talk to him. I can't help but feel like we failed him...." Now she was crying, too.

"You did nothing of the sort, mom," Brad assured her. "Dorian wanted to solve his own problems. And he was trying to protect you."

"Didn't make it any easier for us, though," grandpa remarked. "And poor Jesse and Musashi. They were just as devastated as we were when they got the news."

"That was when the four of us went to find you, Jessie," granny continued. "Ahearn and I met the Parkers in Kanto, and we all confronted Arianna Razzo together...." Another sob wracked her body as she tightened her hold on me. "When she told us that you were dead, too...."

"We didn't leave empty-handed, though," grandpa said grimly. "By then, the search party had found the bodies. They'd already delivered those other two agents, Cruz and Velas, to their families. So, Arianna gave Dorian, Miya, and their belongings back to us." There was a long pause before he went on. "Since Dorian and Miya were married, we all agreed that they should be buried together. Miri and I still had Brad, but Miya had been the Parkers' only, we had the funeral in Opal Ridge. That's where they are now...."

I looked back at my grandpa and saw that he was crying, too.

"It was so wrong," he went on. "No parent should ever have to bury their child...."

"And no child should ever have to lose their parents at such a tender age," granny added as she stroked my hair. "Such a waste...."

"Even after all this time, it still hurts," Brad muttered as his blue-green eyes filled with tears. "I don't imagine the pain will ever truly go away -- twelve years, and it can still feel as intense as if it had happened yesterday. I guess knowing that you were finally going to hear the story for the first time took us back to that place...made us remember how much it hurt...."

I sniffled again.

Granny cupped my chin in her hand and smiled. "But now, after all these years, we finally have a bit of consolation -- we finally have our little granddaughter back!"

Grandpa placed his hand on my shoulder and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "And in a way, that helps us cope with what happened to Dorian -- as long as part of him lives on in you, he'll never truly be dead."

This made me smile a little despite the tears that were still falling from my eyes.

"So, you saw the story through to its end, after all?"

I looked and saw James and Meowth coming down the stairs. "Yeah...yeah, I did," I replied.

"And what did you learn?" James asked as grandpa made room for him next to me on the couch.

"That my daddy was a good man," I told him. "He was smart, and sweet, and handsome. He was momma's best friend, and he loved her more than anything...even life itself. I was right -- he was a lot like you, James!"

James wrapped an arm around me and smiled. "That has to give you at least a little peace of mind," he told me.

I felt more tears stinging my eyes. "It does."

James held me closer. "You're here because he and your mother loved each other. And he loved you, too," he continued. "You never have to doubt that again, Jessie."

"I know. I just wish he and momma were still alive," I whispered as I started to cry again.

"They are," James assured me. "Your grandpa is right, Jess -- Dorian and Miya live on in you. You're a part of them both." He brushed my tears away and planted a kiss on my forehead. "And now that you know the truth about your dad, you can keep him in your heart, too."

I nodded.

Meowth sniffled and brushed away the tears that were welling up in his own eyes. "Alright, enuffa dis depressin' stuff!" he said. "Jess just spent all night readin' sad stuff, and it's just draggin' us all down!" He looked up at my grandparents. "Have youse guys got any more pictures a Dorian? Maybe hearin' about the happy times and celebratin' his life instead a mournin' it will make us feel better."

"That sounds like a good idea, Meowth," grandpa told him.

"Yes, it does," granny agreed as she got up from the couch and took a few books down from one of the shelves. "You're a very wise kitty, Meowth."

Now Meowth was grinning. "Well, I learned from the best!" he replied, giving a nod to me and James.

James returned Meowth's smile. Then, he gave me another kiss and got up from the couch, too. "Why don't I make some tea?" he suggested.

"That'd be nice, James. Thank you," grandpa replied.

"The tea bags are in the pantry, and the mugs are in the cupboard over the sink," granny informed him.

Once James had made the tea and we were all seated comfortably again, granny, grandpa, and Brad began going through all of their old photo albums. For the next couple of hours, I got to see pictures of daddy as a baby, pictures of him learning to ride horses as a toddler, pictures of him when he first got Snowmane and Diablo, pictures of him playing with uncle Brad, school photos that had been taken over the years, pictures of him performing in school plays, and there was even an entire book filled with photographs of him and momma in various parts of the Orange Islands, Kanto, and Johto. And after those photos, my grandparents showed me two others -- one that was all too familiar to me and one that I'd never seen before.

"We found these two pictures tucked inside of Dorian's journal when we were going through his belongings after the funeral," granny said tentatively as she handed them to me.

The first was a picture of me -- the picture momma had taken of me the night before she left on that final mission...the infamous picture I couldn't stop crying long enough for her to take.

"Miya made lots of copies of that picture," Brad commented. "The Parkers have one just like it."

"Dr. Nakamura had one, too," I said, remembering how I'd met momma's old friend the summer before last. "He was given some of momma's belongings for safekeeping after the avalanche, and he gave them back to me."

Grandpa took the picture back from me and smiled once more. "This photograph always used to make us sad. We spent so many years thinking that we'd never get the chance to know the pretty little girl who's in it." His smile widened as he looked at me again. "But we were wrong -- she's standing right here in front of us, and we couldn't be more proud of the fine young woman she's become!"

I smiled back at him and turned my attention to the second photograph. It was a picture of my parents standing next to each other, with their hands joined and fingers entwined. Momma was wearing the gown of sapphire-blue silk that daddy had bought for her, and he was wearing a suit and tie. The two of them had rings on their left hands and smiles on their lips. I knew immediately that this was their wedding picture.

"I'm glad they were able to find each other again," I whispered. "I'm glad they had this...that they had a chance to be happy before...." My voice trailed off.

Granny took the wedding picture and gave me another hug. "I'm glad they got married, too. Ever since the day they met, Jesse, Musashi, Ahearn, and I knew that those two were meant for each other. We were as heartbroken as Dorian during all those long years they spent apart. I guess if nothing else, we can always remind ourselves that they're together, now and always...." She paused for a moment and rubbed her eyes, which were starting to fill with tears again.

"Yeah," I muttered.

James wrapped his arms around my waist and rested his chin on my shoulder. "Are you feeling better now, Jess?"

I looked around at my family, my friends, and all the photo albums filled with happy memories of my parents, and I had a definite answer for him. "Yes."

Grandpa gave me another hug and kissed my forehead. "Then, why don't you get back to bed?" he suggested. "You'll feel even better after you get some sleep."

"I think that goes for all of us," Brad remarked as he began heading up the stairs. "I doubt any of us got much rest last night. I know I sure didn't."

"Neither did I," James admitted. He leaned closer and whispered into my ear. "I can't ever seem to sleep well when you're not with me."

Meowth winked at us. "Yeah, and ya don't get much sleep when Jess is in bed with ya either, Jimmy!" he snickered.

"That's enough, Meowth!" James snapped.

I couldn't help but laugh at the two of them. Everything was back to normal.

"You know, looking at all these old pictures just gave me a wonderful idea!" granny said, changing the subject.

We all looked back at her.

"Do tell, Miri," grandpa prompted.

"Well, I was thinking we could make copies of a lot of these old pictures of Dorian and the ones of him with Miya. And Jesse and Musashi could probably make copies of some pictures of Miya when she was a little girl. Then, we could put together a nice photo album for Jessie," she explained. "That way, she can see her mom and dad the way we always knew them."

I was touched by the offer. "I'd like that. I'd like that a lot," I told her.

She winked at me. "When we call your grandma and grandpa Parker later today, remind me to talk to them about that."

I smiled again and nodded. I was looking forward to meeting my other grandparents.

"Oh, that reminds me -- after you and Jessie speak with the Parkers, would it be okay if I made a call, too?" James inquired. "I haven't spoken with my paternal grandparents in years, and I'd like to rectify that. I guess seeing how happy you were to finally meet Jess and how happy she was to meet you got me to thinking about my own family and how much I miss them...."

"Of course you can call your grandparents, James," came granny's reply.

Now James was smiling, too. "Thank you. I'll reimburse you for the long distance charges, and...."

"Now hold it right there!" grandpa interjected. "You call your grandparents, talk as long as you like, and don't even think about the phone bill, James. Miri and I already pay twenty bucks a month for unlimited long distance, so it's not an issue. In fact, the longer the call, the better -- lets us know we're getting our money's worth!"

James's smile became a grin. "Thank you!" he said again.

Granny gave James a hug. "Don't mention it, dear." Once she released him, she gave me another hug, too. "You go get some sleep now, angel," she said. "When you wake up, I'll make some cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Then, we can call the Parkers, and James can call his grandparents."

"Sounds good to me!" I replied.

After talking to my grandparents a moment longer and sharing more hugs and kisses, James, Meowth, and I all returned to daddy's room.

"So, no regrets about learning the truth about your mom and dad?" James ventured as he picked up my daddy's journal and flipped through the pages for a moment.

"No. I'm glad I know the truth now," I told him. "My daddy was a remarkable man."

James placed a hand on my cheek and smiled. "Of course. He must've been, to have a remarkable daughter like you."

"You know what else is cool? I actually got to meet him a couple of times," I went on. "He came to the hospital to see me on the day after I was born. And I saw him again on the day momma left on her final mission. I skipped school on that day, and I ran into a nice man...a nice man who bought me breakfast and actually listened when I told him about what was troubling me. I remember, I really liked that guy -- I never would've guessed that he was my daddy, though." My voice started cracking as I spoke. "It would've been so nice if he and momma had come home -- he was everything I'd always wanted in a dad. I'm happy that I at least got to spend a day with him before he died...but in a way, that makes it hurt even more. To know that I saw him once -- once that I can remember, anyway -- and that I'm never going to see him again...."

James set the book down and put his arms around me. "You're wrong, Jessie. I have a feeling his role in your life is just beginning...."

When he said this, I found myself thinking back to the night that he'd saved me from Ayesha. That night, James, Meowth, Gary, and I all had a dream where we saw the spirits of James's grandma and grandpa Morgan, Gary's grandma Oak, and my momma. They told us that because of the heightened levels of perception we'd gained from our experience, they were now able to visit us in dreams whenever we wanted. And they'd been right -- since then, James and I had visited with my momma and his grandparents in dreams almost every night! They were so much a part of our lives now, it was almost as if they were still alive!

And this, in turn, made me think of something else momma had told me on that night. She'd said that there was another guardian spirit who watched over me...that I'd be learning the truth about this person very soon and that I'd be very pleasantly surprised when I did. She'd been talking about my daddy! She had to have been!

I looked back at James. "Do you daddy is my other guardian spirit?"

James smiled at me and nodded. "I'd be genuinely surprised if he wasn't." He placed his hands on my cheeks. "Why do you think I was so insistent that you see the story through to its end? You needed to learn the truth, for your own peace of mind, and so that he could be part of your life again."

"You're right," I said. "My daddy's touched all of our lives in some way, whether we're aware of it or not. He needed to be forgiven and welcomed back."

James said nothing, just nodded again.

For the next couple of minutes, the two of us stood there in silence, savoring the warmth of our embrace. And not for the first time, I found myself thinking about how lucky I was to have a friend like James.

"Get some sleep now, Jessie," James said quietly when he finally ventured to speak again. He winked at me as I laid down in bed, and he tucked the blankets around me. "And tell your dad that I said hi."

I smiled up at him. "Hey, James?"


"Do you remember where you were on the night of December 6, 1989?"

He raised an eyebrow and thought about it for a moment. "No, can't say that I do. Not off the top of my head, anyway."

My smile became a grin. "Read the entry for that day," I told him. "I think it'll refresh your memory!"

A light sparked in his emerald eyes, as if he knew exactly what I was referring to now. "You know, I think I will!" he replied.

I smiled again and cuddled deeper into the warm, soft blankets. The last thing I saw before I finally drifted off to sleep was James and Meowth sitting together in the bean-bag chair, opening my daddy's journal and finding the entry I'd told them to read.


When I opened my eyes again, I was no longer in daddy's old room. Instead, I was standing in the middle of one of the horse pastures down the hill from my grandparents' house. The light of the rising sun was bathing the world in a soft glow and making the dew droplets on the green grass look like little pink and gold beads.

But what I noticed most about my surroundings was that I wasn't alone. A few feet away, sitting on a mossy rock beneath a large pine tree was a young man. He was wearing a faded denim jacket with a black t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He had cowboy boots made of scuffed black leather on his feet, and his long red-violet hair was pulled back in a ponytail. I knew immediately who he was.

"D-daddy?" I stammered.

The man smiled at me, and his sapphire-blue eyes twinkled. "So, you can finally see me. I guess that means you know now," came his reply.

I nodded, but said nothing. A thousand different thoughts were racing through my mind, but I couldn't seem to find the words to express any of them.

At length, daddy got to his feet and came to my side. Tentatively, he reached out and brushed his fingers along my cheek. "Jessie...." he whispered.

Unable to hold back any longer, I threw my arms around him and buried my face in his shoulder. Then, I said it -- the four words I didn't think I'd ever hear myself say: "I love you, daddy...."

I felt him put his arms around me and begin to stroke my hair. "I didn't think I'd ever hear you say those words," he muttered, as if he could read my mind.

I looked up at him and saw the tears in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Jessie," he continued. "I'm so sorry, angel. I love you too, and I wanted so much to be a part of your life. There are so many things I many things I wish I could've done differently...."

"You don't have to explain yourself to me, daddy...not anymore," I told him. "If anything, I'm the one who should apologize -- I've spent so many years believing that you walked out on me and momma...that you didn't love us...and I hated you for that. But now that I know the truth...."

"No. You don't owe me an apology, Jessie," he said, cutting me off. "I'm the one who screwed up, not you. You had every right to be angry with me. I'm just happy that you decided to hear my side of the story...and that you found it in your heart to forgive me."

"I've learned a lot about forgiveness over the past few years," I replied. "I've made my share of foolish remarks and bad decisions too, you know."

Daddy laughed bitterly. "Another thing you get from me, no doubt. I suppose I owe you an apology for that as well."

I smiled at him and shook my head. "No you don't. I've been doing a lot of soul-searching lately...and after almost nineteen years, I can finally say without hesitation that I like who I am. When all is said and done, you're an important part of who I am, daddy. And for that, I'm truly grateful."

"You really mean that, don't you?" he asked.

"Do you remember what I told you, when we had that chance meeting all those years ago?" I said to him. "How I said that if I had a daddy, then I'd want him to be just like you?"

He nodded.

I gave him another hug. "Well, I meant it. And I still do."

"Thank you, Jessie," he whispered, blinking back his tears. "You can't imagine how much it means to me, to hear you say that."

"It means a lot to me, too," said a new voice.

I looked and saw that momma was now standing next to us.

Daddy looked at her too, and his smile became a grin. "Hi, honey."

Momma stepped closer and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Hi, sweetie," she replied. Then, to me, "I see you've met your dad, Jessie."

I nodded. "He's the other guardian spirit you told me about, isn't he?" I asked.

"I knew you'd figure it out," she replied. "You've always been such a smart girl. You get a lot of that from your daddy -- he's got a mind like a steel trap!"

"I could tell from how descriptive his journal entries are," I remarked. "It's amazing how he was able to remember entire conversations and write them down later!"

Momma smiled proudly. "Dorian always had a good memory. That's one of the reasons he was such a successful actor -- he could memorize entire scripts on the first read-through!" She paused for a moment and ran her fingers through his red-violet hair. "He's a handsome devil, least, I've always thought so!"

Daddy blushed. "I've been with your mother this whole time, helping her watch over you," he said, getting back to the original subject. "You were just never able to see me or feel my presence before now because you didn't know about me."

"That's partially my fault," momma sighed. "Jessie, we wanted to surprise you when we got back from that final mission, so we never had a chance to tell you the whole story."

"Don't blame yourselves -- you had no way of knowing what was going to happen," I told them.

"True," momma conceded. "Neither one of us could have predicted what the mountain was going to do on that day. But there was one who knew...."

A chill ran up my spine when she said this. "M-momma, are you telling me that your deaths weren't an accident?"

Momma shook her head. "No, sweetheart! That's not what I'm saying at all!"

"The mission wasn't any kind of setup," daddy assured me. "The avalanche was just an act of nature -- nothing more, nothing less."

I raised an eyebrow. "Then, what do you mean there was somebody who knew the avalanche was going to happen?"

My parents exchanged looks.

"Jessie...there are some things we want to show you," momma said tentatively.

"Some things that happened the morning after my final journal entry. The happened," daddy specified. "But before we do, we need to know if you're ready. If you'd rather not, then...."

"Look, I already know that you died. There's nothing any of us can do to change that...and I guess I've accepted it," I told them. "If there's still a part of the story that needs to be told, then I can handle it."

Daddy took one of my hands in his own and gave it a gentle squeeze. "We just wanted to be sure."

Momma smiled and took me by the other hand. "Come with us, Jessie."

The two of them led me along one of the winding horse trails until we arrived at the bank of a small pond surrounded by weeping willow trees.

"Look into the water," momma instructed as we seated ourselves along the bank.

When I did as she said, she passed her hand along the crystalline water, and an image appeared just beneath the surface. It was an image of the campsite on the slopes of Salcantay. The rising sun was still obscured behind the mountains, but all the world was lit with the warm, rosy glow of dawn. Daddy was sitting next to the campfire, cooking pancakes in a griddle, and momma was approaching him.

"Did a bit of scouting around further up the trails," momma said as she seated herself at daddy's side.

Daddy smiled at her. "Find anything interesting?" he inquired.

Momma held out her hand and returned his smile. "I sure did!"

Daddy leaned closer and examined what momma was holding. It looked like a few strands of pink hair.

"I think this might be fur from Mew!" she explained when she saw the quizzical expression on his face. "I found it among some paw prints in the snow! Cat paw prints!"

Daddy nodded. "We'll go check it out once Cruz and Velas wake up," he said. He fixed two plates of pancakes and handed one to momma. "But right now, let's just enjoy our breakfast...and this beautiful sunrise...."

"....And each other," momma whispered, leaning closer and planting a kiss on his cheek. As she placed the strands of Mew's fur into her backpack, something fell from the pouch and landed in the snow.

Momma reached to pick it up, but daddy got to it first. He smiled again when he saw that it was a photograph of me.

"Oh, I almost forgot -- that's for you!" Momma told him. "I made a few copies of it, and I wanted you to have one."

"Thanks, honey," he replied. "Jessie is so adorable...but why is the little angel crying?"

Momma smiled wistfully. "I took this picture the night before I left. Poor Jessie wouldn't even stop crying long enough to give me a little smile -- she really didn't want me to come here...."

"Neither did I, you know," daddy reminded her.

She smirked.

"I can't wait to go back home, Miya," daddy continued as he placed the photograph inside of his journal. "I can't wait until this is all over, and we can go home to Jessie and be a family again."

"I can't wait either, Dorian," momma replied. "But you know how important this is to me."

"Indeed, I do -- we've been down this road before," daddy said.

The smile returned to momma's lips, and she and daddy began leaning closer to give each other a kiss. Just as their lips were about to meet, however, momma pulled back.

Daddy frowned. "What is it?" he asked.

"I think this mission may be ending sooner than we think!" she whispered as her eyes drifted to the side.

Following her gaze, daddy saw that momma was looking at a small pink cat that was hovering near the campsite. " that....?"

"Mew!" the pokemon said.

Momma slowly got to her feet and continued to stare up at the cat. "Oh, my god!" she breathed.

"Mew!" it said again.

"Amazing!" daddy gasped.

Momma leaned down and whispered into his ear. "Dorian, look in the right hand pouch of my backpack and get out the ultra balls that Hiroyuki gave me."

Daddy nodded.

While he was rooting around in her backpack, momma took a step closer to Mew and held out one of her hands. "So, you're Mew? You look so gentle," she said softly.

Mew cocked her head and blinked. "Mew?"

Momma smiled and produced another copy of the photograph from her dress pocket. She held it up for Mew to see. "Take a look at this picture, Mew. This is our little daughter, Jessie. Isn't she cute?"

Mew nodded and did a little backflip in the air. "Mew!"

"My husband and I want to be with our little girl again. More than anything, we want to go home to her," momma continued. "But we can't do that until we catch you. Won't you please come with us?"

When momma said this, Mew began drifting away from the campsite.

"Shit!" she muttered. "She's leaving! Haven't you found those ultra balls yet, Dorian?!"

"I'm trying, but you've got an awful lot of stuff in here," he replied.

Momma grabbed the backpack from him and slung it over her shoulder. "Nevermind -- I'll get them myself!" She cursed again when she saw that Mew was drifting further and further away with every passing second. "Wait! Where are you going?! Come back, Mew!" she cried as she gave chase.

Daddy grabbed his own backpack and followed her. "Wait for me! I'm coming, too!" he called after her.

It didn't take long for momma and daddy to catch up to Mew -- she wasn't moving very quickly. But at the same time, she was making sure to stay just beyond their grasp.

"What do you think she's doing, Miya?" daddy whispered. "She doesn't seem to be running away from us."

"You're right," momma whispered back. "It's like she wants us to follow she's leading us somewhere."

"Think it could be some kind of trick?" he asked. "I've heard tales about pokemon leading travelers into the mountains and getting them lost."

Both of them stopped dead in their tracks when he said this.

Momma cast a suspicious look at the pokemon. "What are you about, Mew?" she wondered.

Mew looked up towards the summit of the mountain, then back at momma and daddy. There was sadness in her large, blue eyes. "Mew!"

Momma's brow furrowed as she looked up the mountain, too. "Maybe it isn't a trick," she speculated. "Mew is a psychic-type -- maybe she can sense something that we can't...."

Daddy's eyes went wide. "Oh, my god, you're right! Miya, we have to get Cruz and Velas and get the hell out of here, now!"

"Why? What's going on, Dorian?!" momma asked as the two of them began sprinting back towards the camp, Mew following close behind.

"It's summer down here, right?"

"Almost. Summer solstice is next week. But what does that have to do with....?"

"Warm weather makes snow melt," daddy explained. "But in places like this, where it's snowy all year round, all it does is weaken the integrity of the ice sheets and cause...."

"....Avalanches," momma said, finishing the thought for him. Now her eyes were wide, too.

Mew nodded. "Mew!" she cried, as if to affirm what they were saying.

Momma and daddy exchanged looks. "Shit!" they muttered in unison. With that, they put on an extra burst of speed.

They were back at the campsite within a couple of minutes, but it took them several more to awaken Cruz and Velas and explain what was going on. Once they understood the gravity of the situation, however, they wasted no time in evacuating the camp and following momma and daddy.

Mew led the four of them along one of the mountain trails, casting nervous glances up the mountain every few seconds. Momma, daddy, Cruz, and Velas followed as quickly as they could, but with their feet sinking into the slushy snows with every step they took and the glare of the sun right in their eyes, it was difficult for them to keep up. There was no way they'd be able to outrun an avalanche if it came anytime soon.

And unfortunately for them, it did.

After about ten minutes, the group heard a rumbling sound, and the ground beneath their feet began to tremble. When they looked up, their fears were confirmed -- the ice sheets on the cliffs overhead had collapsed, and a torrent of snow was now barreling towards them!

Just as the avalanche was about to crash down on them, however, Mew began to glow, and the four humans found themselves surrounded by a pink bubble. The psychic shield the pokemon had created was keeping them from being crushed by the snow or forced off the edge of the cliff, but it was taking every ounce of concentration Mew had, and there was no end in sight to the deluge. It was as if the entire mountain was coming down around them!

Momma and daddy wrapped their arms around each other and gazed into one another's eyes.

"I love you, Dorian," momma whispered as tears began to spill down her cheeks.

"I love you too, Miya," daddy echoed.

The two of them held each other closer, and their lips met in a tender kiss.

On the other side of the psychic shield, the snows continued to crash down. Mew's strength was beginning to falter, and the walls of the bubble were getting thinner and thinner....

Suddenly, momma passed her hand over the surface of the water again, and the image went dark. "You know what happens after that. We won't make you watch," she said bluntly.

I shivered. "I appreciate it."

Now daddy was running his hand across the water. "Skipping ahead...."

The next image that appeared was one of the cliff where momma, daddy, Cruz, and Velas had been standing when the avalanche came, only now the cliff was buried under several feet of snow. Mew was hovering listlessly over the snowdrift, and tears were spilling from her blue eyes. And as her tears landed on the snow, something miraculous happened -- six poke balls rose up from the snow, and a Dragonair, a Gyarados, a Kabutops, a Charizard, an Arbok, and a shiny Ponyta filly emerged.

"Wh-what's going on?" I asked.

Momma smiled. "Even though Mew wasn't able to save us, she did manage to rescue my pokemon. Their poke balls protected them when Mew's psychic shield gave out, and after the avalanche, she saved them from being buried along with us," she explained. "I'd left my Houndoom and Donphan with Professor Oak awhile back, and Dorian didn't even bring Snowmane or Diablo with him when he came to find me, so they weren't there. But Dragonair, Gyarados, Kabutops, Charizard, Bocky, and Roheryn were all with me, and I'm happy that they survived, even if your father and I didn't."

"I'm glad your pokemon lived, too," I told her as the image of Mew guiding the six pokemon away from the mountain slowly faded to black.

"They all found their way back to Kanto and Johto eventually," momma continued. "In fact, I believe you met my old Kabutops awhile back -- he helped you and your friends out of a really sticky situation, if I recall correctly...."

When momma said this, I found my thoughts drifting back to the time James, Meowth, and I were trapped in a cave full of prehistoric pokemon beneath Grandpa Canyon. We were afraid those pokemon were going to rip us to shreds once the effects of Jigglypuff's song wore off, and they woke up. But when they did awaken, something strange happened -- one of the Kabutops stepped forward and held the rest of the pokemon back! Then, he led the three of us to a tunnel that took us back to the surface. Meowth was able to translate, and he explained that Kabutops had helped us because he wanted to honor the memory of his old trainer.

I'd always had a feeling that the Kabutops we met on that day used to be my momma's, and now I knew that I was right. "Yes, he did. He saved our lives...."

"All of my old pokemon have fond memories of me, and they always loved you, too," momma went on. "If ever your path crosses with any of them, they'll know who you are and remember me. You'll always be able to count on them if you need their help."

Now I was smiling again. "That's good to know."

"Roheryn is a horse of a different color, though," daddy quipped. "Since your mother only had her for a few days, the two of them didn't really have a chance to bond...and she never even met you. However, she does remember me -- I have a feeling she'll like you when you meet her...."

I raised an eyebrow. "When I meet her?"

Now daddy was grinning. "Roheryn is running wild in the mountains of northern Johto. There are lots of trainers who've seen the beautiful Rapidash with the unusual markings and tried to capture her, but to this day, nobody has succeeded," he told me. "Just as the unicorn only allows itself to be tamed by a virgin, Roheryn will only allow herself to be tamed by her true master. And since Miya and I...aren't of this world anymore, that person is you, Jessie. Roheryn is yours now, angel -- consider her my way of making up for all of the birthdays, Christmases, and other special occasions that I've missed out on. All you have to do is find her and catch her."

"Easier said than done, I'm sure," I remarked.

"And I know that you can do it," he countered. "You forget I've been watching over you for almost twelve years now -- I've seen firsthand how smart, strong, and resourceful you are. Whether you know it or not, you're just as good a trainer as your mother was, Jessie."

"Your father is right, sweetheart," said momma. "If things had turned out differently for us, you probably could've gone on a pokemon journey and become one of the best trainers of all time, too. Goodness knows, you're much better suited for the part than that stupid twerp, Ash Ketchum -- you could beat him to hell and back!"

Daddy folded his arms across his chest and scowled. "I hate that fucking kid," he grumbled. "I didn't think it was possible, but he's even worse than Ash-hole!"

Momma placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry about it. He'll come to no good end if he keeps acting the way he does...."

I couldn't help but laugh a little as I formed a mental image of the twerp meeting an untimely fate while pissing on an electric fence. It was exactly the kind of numbnuts thing he'd do!

"You, on the other hand, will never have to worry about sharing our fate, no matter how much you and James may have in common with us," momma continued.

Daddy nodded. "James had the courage to make the choices that I couldn't...and that makes all the difference between your story and ours. When he thought he was going to lose you to Team Rocket, he stayed by your side. When you told him you were going to have his baby, he stayed by your side. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him -- not a day goes by that I'm not thankful he's with you."

"I'm thankful to have James, too," I replied. "I love him so much."

Daddy smiled. "I knew he was somebody special when I saw him all those years ago. I'm so happy that he's the one."

"We both are," momma chimed in. She cupped my chin in her hand. "Do you remember what I once told you, about how James would someday lead you to a better life?"

"Yes. And you were right," I told her. "We've been planning for our future practically since the day we became a couple!"

"That's precisely why your father and I wanted to show you what happened on the day we died," she said. "We wanted you to see that it wasn't a setup. We were never in any kind of danger from Arianna -- it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know you already knew that there wasn't any truth to those rumors about former agents being killed, but I wanted to chase away any shadows of doubt you may have had. We also wanted you to see how Mew tried her best to save us...and how she did save my pokemon.

"And just so you know, you and your friends will never be in any kind of danger from Giovanni," momma went on. She touched the tip of my nose and smirked. "He won't admit it, but he has a real soft spot for you, Jessie. He feels terrible about what happened to me, and he's promised himself that he won't let history repeat itself with you -- he's determined not to repeat the mistakes that his mother made. You'll never have to worry about him sending you and James on the kind of missions that Arianna always sent me on. And when the time comes for you and James to be married, he'll want more than anything to see you retire from Team Rocket and go on to live happy, normal, prosperous lives."

"I think that's something we all want," daddy remarked. "That's why your mother and I are here -- to make sure it happens."

"It will happen," I assured them. "James and I are planning to leave Team Rocket within the next couple of years. And when we do, I'll wear that beautiful wedding gown you talked about, momma. I'll make James your son-in-law...and we'll be sure to tell our children all about their wonderful grandparents!"

The two of them exchanged smiles.

"Jessie, I'm so happy to hear you say that," daddy said when he turned his attention back to me. "For awhile there, I was worried that you'd never be able to see me...that my grandchildren would grow up, believing that I didn't love you and their grandmother."

I shook my head and gave him another hug. "Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore, daddy. I'll make sure my children know the truth about their grandpa -- they'll know that you were a good man...." My voice became caught in my throat for a moment as I started to cry again. "I'm just sorry that they'll never be able to meet you in person...."

I felt momma's warm, soft hands rubbing my back. "Oh, I think they will, sweetheart," she whispered reassuringly. "If your children turn out to be as wise as you and James -- and I have every reason to believe that they will -- then they'll be able to visit us in dreams, just like you do."

"And never mourn the past, Jessie. There's no point in regretting things that can't be changed...especially when you and James have such a bright future to look forward to!" daddy added as he brushed my tears away and returned my embrace. "Don't be sad for us, either. I may have had a lot of regrets during my life, but I'm still happy. I'm happy because I know that I did something truly good with the time I was given -- I helped bring you into the world. Besides, your mother and I are in a good place now. The two of us are always together...and now that you know the truth about me, I can be with you, too. Your daddy has finally come home to you, angel. I'm just glad I'm not too late this time...."

"Daddy, as long as you have people who love you, it's never too late to come home," I told him. "I'm happy that I finally realized how much I love you."

Daddy hugged me again. "I love you too, Jessie."

"And I love both of you!" momma said, putting her arms around the two of us.

For several minutes, we remained in our group hug, and I cherished the feeling of finally being with both of my parents...of knowing that they both loved me. It was a feeling I wouldn't soon forget.

When our embrace ended, momma and daddy smiled at me again.

"We have to go now -- it's time for you to wake up, Jessie," momma told me.

"Enjoy your stay with your grandparents and your uncle Brad -- they love you very much," said daddy. "Tell them that I don't want them to be sad about what happened to me. Tell them that I'm happy where I am...that I'm always with them in spirit...and that I love them."

"I will, daddy," I promised.

He winked at me. "Tell James and Meowth that I said hi, too."

I blinked back the tears in my eyes. "I'll do better than that -- I'll bring them to meet you in person next time!"

"I'd like that," came his reply.

I nodded. "I know they'll like you, too."

After exchanging hugs and kisses with me one last time, momma and daddy's spirits began to fade away.

"Good-bye, sweetheart," momma said. "We'll see you again soon. Both of us."

Daddy smiled again. "That's right. Now that you know me, you can see me whenever you want, Jessie."

"I know. You're always just a dream away," I whispered, repeating the words momma had told me once before.

The two of them nodded and blew kisses to me. Then, the field where we'd been standing became enveloped by white mist, and they vanished.


I awakened to find James sitting next to me in bed and Meowth curled up at my feet. They smiled when they saw me opening my eyes.

"Hey, honey. Did you have a nice nap?" James asked.

"I sure did," I told him. "And you were right -- I had a dream where I saw my daddy!"

"So, he really is yer other guardian spirit?" Meowth queried.

I nodded. "I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot of him from now on."

James's emerald eyes twinkled. "Well, I'm glad to hear that. I remember him now, and I'm looking forward to meeting him again."

"It's so cool dat yer dad met James when he was a little boy...and dat he knew youse two was gonna get tagedda!" Meowth remarked.

"It was very cool," James agreed. "I like that we met Gary, too -- I'd almost forgotten about that night!"

I reached up and placed a hand on his cheek. "Another sign that our love and friendship was meant to be, no doubt!"

"No doubt," James echoed, closing his hand over mine.

My smile grew even wider than it already was. "You were right about something else, too," I said.

James arched an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"When you told me that our story would have a better outcome than my parents'," I explained. "They said that history wouldn't repeat itself with us, and that we have nothing to fear. Daddy respects you for having the strength to stand by me. And he and momma are always looking out for us...keeping us safe."

James brought my hand to his lips. "So, all's well that ends well?" he ventured.

I thought about it and nodded again. "Yeah...I guess the story doesn't have such a terrible ending, after all."

"That's good to know," James whispered. He leaned closer and rested his forehead against mine. "I love you, Jessie."

"I love you, James," I replied, touching my lips to his.

When our kiss ended, Meowth cleared his throat. "Well, I hate ta break youse guys up, but we need ta get downstairs and have some breakfast! I'm starvin'!" he said.

As if on cue, the warm, sweet aroma of the cinnamon rolls that my granny was baking wafted up from the kitchen and filled the room. "You know, I'm pretty hungry, too," I told him as I placed a hand to my stomach, which was beginning to growl.

James nodded. "Then, let's go! Jess needs to spend some quality time with her grandparents and uncle now that she's met her dad. Besides, we still need to call her grandma and grandpa Parker...and I'm looking forward to talking to my grandma and grandpa Woodson, too! Lots of family reunions today!"

Not wanting to waste another second, we got out of bed and got dressed. And as James, Meowth, and I headed downstairs, I felt surrounded by more love than I ever thought possible. I had my best friend and the love of my life by my side. I had two sets of grandparents and an uncle who loved me. And I could feel the spirits of my mom and dad with me, too...always watching over me, living on in my heart and my dreams, and keeping me and my loved ones safe.

There was nowhere I'd rather be.


Back in the present, my grandson begins to cry and stirs me from my reverie.

"I think he's hungry. Give him to me, mom," Rose says.

I give little Dorian another kiss and place him in his mother's arms. And as I watch Rose cradling the baby, I find that my thoughts are still dwelling on my first visit with my granny and grandpa, all those years ago.

After that delicious cinnamon roll breakfast, we called my grandma and grandpa Parker. True to granny's prediction, they were overjoyed to learn that I was alive. I must've talked to them for hours, and I promised that we'd come to visit them the next time we were in Kanto. (They also had me calling them grandma and pop-pop by the end of the conversation!) Then, James called his grandma and grandpa Woodson, who were, indeed, happy to hear from him after all that time. He talked to them almost as long as I'd talked to my grandparents, and we made plans to visit them that Christmas.

The days that followed were some of the best I can remember. Our pokemon loved getting to run free in the pastures and forests on granny and grandpa's land, and James and I even went for a few rides on Snowmane and Diablo together, just like my parents had so long ago. We had hearty home-cooked meals every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And best of all, I was finally able to spend quality time with my family. It had been a long time coming, but it had definitely been worth the wait.

James, Meowth, and I have visited his grandparents, both sets of my grandparents, and my uncle Brad countless times since then. They were at the wedding reception James and I had after our Miya was born. (I remember, grandma and pop-pop were especially touched that we'd named our first daughter after momma...especially since she looks so much like her namesake!) They were all there for us when Eric and Rose were born, too. And they've even been here for us now that Miya, Eric, and Rose are having children of their own!

And through it all, momma and daddy have been with us, too. James, Meowth, and I visit them all the time in our dreams. Once the children were old enough to understand, they were able to visit them, too. And I suspect the grandchildren will be able to visit them before much longer as well. Not a day goes by that I'm not thankful my parents (and our other loved ones that have passed on) are still with us. After spending my childhood convinced that I was utterly alone and that I'd never have a family or a home, it feels especially good to know how wrong I was. I guess that's one positive thing that came from all those years of loneliness I endured -- it taught me to enjoy every moment I have with my loved ones and never take them for granted.

Stirring myself from my reverie once again, I see Rose handing little Dorian to Sam and buttoning up her nightgown.

"That's one beautiful baby you've got there," I tell them.

"He sure is," Sam agrees. He touches Dorian's nose and makes him giggle. "Hey, kiddo. I'm your daddy!" he whispers.

In response, the baby smiles at him and coos happily.

Rose smiles at them too, then turns her attention back to me and James. "You think grandpa is proud of his new great-grandson?" she asks.

A feeling of warmth comes over me as I ponder her question. I know that even though we can't see them on this plane, momma and daddy are here with us now...and that they're every bit as happy about the new baby as the rest of us are.

"I know he is, princess," I reply. "He and your grandma are both very proud."

After a couple of minutes, the door opens, and Miya comes in with her husband, Dante, and their children, Rachael and Jimmy. Charms, her husband, and their two kittens are with them. (I can't help but notice the way Meowth's midnight-blue eyes sparkle when he sees his daughter with her family -- he loves being a grandparent as much as James and I do!) While Miya and Dante are admiring their new nephew, Eric comes into the room. His wife, Cat, is holding their young daughter, Jessica. Then, Devon and his girlfriend, Bianca, come in, too.

Eric comes to James's side and places a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, dad. I called nana and gramps -- they'll be here later with Meowsie."

James's smile becomes a grin. "Thanks, son," he replies.

Now I find myself grinning, too. When Miya, Eric, and Rose were still little, James's parents finally realized just how much they were missing out on. They regretted the mistakes they made when James was a child and asked him for forgiveness, and he made peace with them when he saw that they were sincere. Quentin and Judith have been wonderful parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents ever since. (The two of them even adopted Meowsie when she finally came back to Meowth and Charms and made peace with them.)

I know that Quentin, Judith, and Meowsie still have a lot of regrets about the way they treated James and Meowth in the past, but they've been forgiven completely and unconditionally...just as I forgave my daddy when I learned the truth about him. We're just happy that they're here to love their family and be loved in return now. It wasn't too late for daddy when he came back to me, and it certainly wasn't too late for them when they came back to James and Meowth.

It's never too late to come home when you have family and friends that love you.

And as I look around the room at my own family and friends -- my husband James, Miya, Eric, Rose, and their spouses, our grandchildren, Meowth, Gary and Arwen, and their families -- I feel my heart swelling with pride. I love each and every one of them, and knowing that they all love me, too -- that I'm a part of them and that this is where I belong -- is the best feeling in the world!

And in my heart, I know that momma and daddy are every bit as happy as I am. I can sense the love and joy they're feeling at this moment, and I know that we're going to have a lot to talk about when James and I see them tonight.

The birth of a grandchild is a momentous occasion, after all!

The End

Author's Notes

Readers will notice that the entries in Dorian's journal pretaining to Miyamoto's final mission and the avalanche flashback that he and Miyamoto showed Jessie don't follow the exact storyline of the Birth of Mewtwo drama. There's a reason for this. Since my stories no longer take place within the canon of the anime, I did the Birth of Mewtwo part of the story as a WRH in order to keep it in continuity with my timeline and the background and characterization that I've created for Jessie. I don't buy the idea of Miyamoto putting Jessie up for adoption or giving her to a foster family -- it's obvious she loved her daughter and wouldn't do a thing like that. I also don't believe that Miyamoto was rich and accepted the mission because she wanted to make profits for Team Rocket -- as far as I'm concerned, she took the mission because she needed the money to support her daughter. (Besides, Jessie's story isn't one of riches to rags -- by all accounts, she's always been poor. And that certainly wouldn't have been the case if Miyamoto had enough money to support her.) Nor do I believe that Miyamoto is still alive, wandering around the Andes in a desperate attempt to find Mew -- if there were even the slightest possibility that Miyamoto was just missing in action, J, J & M would be out trying to find her, not wasting their time trying to catch some stupid kid's stupid electric rat. (And I sure as hell don't believe any of that nonsense about Miyamoto being Lorelei of the Elite 4. +P) I chose the characterization of Giovanni for similar reasons. I don't like the idea of Gio as a being of pure evil or a menacing character who's out to kill, rape, torture, etc. our heroes (and I find fics where he is characterized in such an evil manner to be in extremely poor taste). I know he's not the nicest person in the world and that he can be tough, but when all is said and done, he's on J, J & M's side.

Now for the original characters in this story. As you probably already know by now, I don't believe any of the theories about Giovanni, Professor Oak, Lance, Drake, etc. being Ash's dad, so I simply created my own character to fill that role. And he's in this story for a reason. I included Ash's freak-o father as a study in contrasts -- I wanted to juxtapose Jessie's dad with a real deadbeat dad and show that even though these 2 men did the same thing, they had different reasons for doing it. And this characterization idea for ol' Ash Sr. isn't completely outta left field -- I've read about a Japanese novelization of the first episode, where it said that Ash grew up believing his dad was a pokemon master when in reality, he'd never even gotten a trainer's license, and that after Ash was born, his dad abandoned him and Delia to go on a pokemon journey. I based Ash Hull Ketchum's character on a lot of this info (and the twerp's ugliness, stupidity, and obnoxious personality -- he had to get it from somewhere, ya know! >D) As for Jessie's father, it's pretty much anybody's guess who or where he is, so I created Dorian Rochester -- a good person who deeply loved Jessie and Miyamoto but had reasons for not being with them. It makes me sad that Dorian is dead (parts of this story were nearly impossible for me to write because I'm so sensitive about that kinda stuff 8_8), but there wasn't really any way to get around it, given the fact that Jess doesn't have any parental figures in her life, and I didn't want her father to be a deadbeat dad who isn't there because he doesn't love her. However, I did try to alleviate the tragic aspect by showing that he and Miyamoto are together again and that they're both watching over their daughter, and by making this a story about Jessie achieving closure for the darkest chapter of her past and finally finding the love of her family.

Please do not e-mail me to argue about any of these issues -- the matter isn't open to debate. I put a LOT of hard work and meaningful thought into the characterizations, backgrounds, and future that I've created for Jessie, James & Meowth (and I think I understand their characters a whole helluva lot better than the show's writers do), so I refuse to alter my stories, characterizations, timeline, and such to conform to the show or any other "official" sources. (I'm not trying to sound arrogant here. I think any decent fanwriter -- i.e., somebody who writes stories that flesh out the characters, treat them with respect, and provide worthwhile, emotionally satisfying plotlines -- understands the characters better than the show's writers. That's how the whole fanfiction genre got started in the first place -- the "pros" rarely give fans what they want, so the fans have to write their own stories in order to fill that need.)

And last, but certainly not least, I'd like to give a special thanks to my good friends, Shigeru1313 and Hot Lips, whose feedback and support meant a lot to me while I was writing this. And another thanks goes to Shigeru for the gorgeous pictures of Sam & Rose holding baby Dorian, and Jessie & James riding one of Dorian's Rapidashes. I'd also like to thank my friend, Mo, for the beautiful illustration of Dorian, and my friend, Christine, for the sweet illustration of Dorian & Miya! And I'd like to thank my friend, Charlene, for her feedback and support, and for giving me a little help with the Italian phrase that Giovanni speaks ("Che stronzata" means "What bullshit," for anybody who's wondering). ^_^


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