Rose in a Gilded Vase
by Cori Falls
I only see myself reflected in your eyes,
So all that I believe I am essentially are lies.
And everything I've hoped to be, or ever thought I was
Died with your belief in me, so who the hell am I?
I don't know if I am real without you.
What is left of me without you?
I don't know what's real without you.
How can I exist without you?
-- Stabbing Westward, "Shame"
The warm, rosy glow of our fire illuminates the small clearing where we've made camp for the night and keeps the darkness and cold at bay. But it's of little help to me.
My gaze drifts up to the starry night sky as I reflect on the day's events. Everything has changed between me and James...but at the same time, nothing has changed at all....
You see, I made a shocking discovery about James this morning -- I found out that he's rich! Can you imagine? All this time, we've been living from paycheck to paycheck, going penniless more often than not, and it turns out that his parents are zillionaires!
Naturally, when I saw the picture of that adorable little boy on the missing child poster, my curiosity was piqued. The shoulder-length purple hair, the sweet smile, the beautiful emerald eyes -- could it be....
"James! This kid looks just like you!" I remarked as my partner came to my side.
"Really?" he said nonchalantly. "I think he looks kind of pathetic."
"Heh, heh! Dat's what Jess means!" Meowth laughed.
Stifling my urge to stomp the cat for that rude comment, I began to devise a brilliant plan. The twerps had been looking at that sign not five minutes before we arrived, and when they saw it, a butler with a bullhorn came along, pulled them into a limousine, and drove away.
Who is this kid anyway? I wondered. Exactly how much money do his parents have? And, more importantly, how much will they pay for his return? If we could somehow convince them that James is their missing son....
"Come on! Let's go check it out!" I cried, running in the direction that the limo had gone.
"You guys go ahead," James sighed. "I'll just wait here...."
Well, now I was starting to get annoyed. Why wasn't James as enthusiastic about my plan as I was? Didn't he want to get rich?
"Oh, no you don't!" Meowth and I shouted in unison.
With that, we both grabbed James and dragged him along with us.
We followed the limo until we arrived at the gates of a large estate. When we passed through, it felt like we had stepped out of the world we knew and into the pages of a novel about the Old South. It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful place I had ever seen -- the front yard was a lush, green meadow, and a lake full of Magikarp was nestled between the rolling hills. Weeping willows stood on the shores of the lake, their drooping branches playing on the surface of the water. The driveway was lined with magnolia trees, rhododendrons, and live oaks thick with Spanish moss, and there were rose bushes as far as the eye could see, all of them in bloom, perfuming the cool February air with their heavenly scent!
"Oh, my! I feel like Scarlett O'Hara!" I giggled in a fake Southern accent as I danced along the path.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," James grumbled.
Meowth, who had been skipping at my side, fell over laughing.
My good mood suddenly vanished. "What's your problem anyway, James?!" I demanded. "You've been acting weird ever since we saw that poster! Do you know something that I don't?!"
"You wouldn't understand," he said, turning away from me.
"You're right -- I don't understand!" I snapped. "Why don't you want to find out what's going on here?! Why don't you want to cash in on it?!"
"Because...it's too much of a price to pay," he muttered, still not facing me.
"You really ARE the boy in that poster, aren't you?!" I said as the realization dawned on me. "This place belongs to your family, doesn't it?!"
James turned to me again. The look on his face was that of a condemned prisoner. "....Yes," he replied.
Well, when I heard this, it annoyed me to no end -- where did James get off not telling me that he was rich?! I thought we were friends, and that we didn't keep secrets like that from each other! Maybe I was wrong.
"Well, I think it's time for a little family reunion!" I said, grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him with me once again.
At length, we arrived at the mansion...at least, I thought it was the mansion, but then I heard the butler shouting to those kids that it was only the dog house for Growly, the favorite pokemon of "Master James."
Dog house?! I said to myself. It's the size of a mall!
And it was! That was just where the Growlithe stayed, and it was far bigger and nicer than anything I'd ever lived in. But then, almost anything is better than a run-down hovel in the slums....
"Master James?" Meowth snickered, elbowing James in the side.
James hung his head and sighed.
Then, our attention was directed to the "Master's mansion." And if I thought the dog house was big, then the real mansion was at least twice the size!
"Oh, wow!" I cried. "We're in the lap of luxury!"
Meowth and I began to dance around. We were set for life!
James said nothing...only sighed again.
While the butler was taking the kids inside, the three of us got out our ropes and grappling hooks and climbed up to the roof. Once we had broken into the attic, we were able to spy on them from the opening of an air-duct.
I looked down into the main hall and saw a pair of coffins. Then, the butler proceeded to tell a heartbreaking story of how James's parents had died of grief after he ran away from home.
When I heard this, I became even angrier. How could James run away from all of this luxury?! What a little ingrate! He must've been a spoiled brat! I know if I had that kind of money, I'd spend every moment rejoicing and giving thanks for it!
"....And their will clearly states that if Master James is to collect his inheritance, he must marry his fiance within twenty-four hours!" the butler continued.
Inheritance! The sound of that word knocked me over! "James! Does that mean all of this is yours?!" I gasped.
"....I guess...well...I don't know...." he stammered.
"Come on!" I said, grabbing him once again. "It's time to collect your inheritance! And if getting married is the only way to do it, then, by God, that's what you're going to do! You owe me!"
"No!" he cried, pulling away from me and breaking into a run. "No! I won't do it! You can't make me!"
Meowth and I gave chase and tackled him. Unfortunately, when we did, we fell out the window and landed on the driveway.
"NO!!! I DON'T WANT TO!!! I DON'T WANT TO!!! I DON'T WANT TO!!!" James continued to scream as he broke free from us and began to run again.
I grabbed the rope that we had used to climb to the roof and made it into a lasso. With that, Meowth and I snagged him and began to drag him back.
"Leave him alone! His parents just died!" the kid who never opens his eyes shouted.
"Yeah! You can't make him get married!" the brat chimed in.
"Put a sock in it!" I snapped. "Nobody asked your opinion!"
"James should be free to decide who he does or doesn't want to marry!" Brock retorted.
Now I was really angry! Why was Team Twerp meddling? This was none of their business! I was about to give them a piece of my mind when James suddenly clutched his head in his hands and began to cry.
"Who am I?! Where am I?! I'm all mixed up!!!"
Ash blinked. "Does James have amnesia?"
"I only remember one thing...." James said softly. "A boy and his loyal Growlithe, Growly, were walking down the road. It was so cold, and neither of them had eaten in days...."
James then told us a tale of how the little boy collapsed in a drift of snow, too weak to go on. Then, the angels came and took him away to Heaven. Poor Growly cried all night, and the next morning, they found the little boy frozen to death. It was such a sad story that I began to cry!
"Grrr...JAMES ISN'T DEAD!!! HE'S STANDING RIGHT HERE!!!" the little girl screamed, snapping me out of my haze.
"Oh, yeah! Now I remember!" James said.
Then, he looked up at me with a lucid expression on his face. He didn't have amnesia -- he was only trying to distract me! I scowled at him, and he grabbed his head again.
"Who am I?! Where am I?! I'm all mixed up!!!"
"Look, James, we're becoming very annoyed with you!" I growled. "What's your problem, anyway?!"
"Yeah! Don't ya wanna be the richest guy in the world?" Meowth asked.
James gave no reply.
Meowth and I disguised ourselves in black veils so that nobody would see us, and after we dressed James in a suit, we took him back to the mansion. With a little puppeteering, we managed to convince the butler that "Master James" had come home to pay his last respects to his parents and get married. It was the perfect plan!
But oh, how quickly it fell apart!
When we got inside, laughter began to emanate from the coffins. "W-w-what's going on?" I stammered.
Suddenly, a man and woman burst out of the coffins and grinned at us.
"Prepare for trouble!" the man said.
"Yes, dear! And make it double!" the woman chimed in.
Were these James's parents? I thought they were dead! And why were they saying OUR motto?! "Are they g-ghosts?" I asked nervously.
"They're not ghosts!" James snapped, pulling the gag from his mouth. "It's just like them to pull a stunt like this to get me to come home!"
James's mother smiled. "James, dahlin', now that you've returned, it's time for you to get married! Hopkins, make the preparations!"
"No!" James protested as the butler grabbed us and began to race up the stairs.
Now I was really curious -- I wanted to see this girl he was supposed to marry! "Shut up, James! You're tying the knot!" I growled.
"Heh, heh! Jessie means yer tyin' the noose!" Meowth quipped as James got that condemned prisoner look on his face again.
The butler brought us to the parlor and pushed James into a chair. Meowth and I grabbed onto him to keep him from running away.
"James, dear, as our son and heir, it's your duty to get married and continue the family line," his mother told him.
"Do I have a duty to be manipulated?!" James shouted as he tried to break free once again.
Meowth and I tightened our grip on him, but it was all we could do to keep him still -- he was really struggling!
"Dear, we only want what's best for us...I mean, for you!" his mother said.
Suddenly, I regretted what I was doing. I remember, James once told me that his parents had been cold and distant with him when he was a child and that all they'd ever done was criticize him. And now that I saw for myself how little they cared for him, I understood why James had been so reluctant to come home. I felt like such a fool for letting their wealth blind me to how cruel they were to their son. I may not have had much when I was growing up, but at least my mother loved me. She was always there to hold me on those nightmare-plagued nights...to pick me up when I fell down...to let me know that I was someone special when the rest of the world was busy trying to convince me that I was nothing more than a worthless piece of trash. The only other person in the world who's ever done anything like that for me is....
"James, You must learn to become a proper gentleman," said his father. "After all, a man who can't settle down is like a bumblebee without a nose -- he'll never be able to smell the daffodils of life! It's time to meet your fiance."
"And here she is!" his mother said, gesturing to a girl sitting in a chair directly across from us. She had curly red hair, and she was wearing a pink gown. I couldn't see her face because she was hiding shyly behind a large fan. "My dearest Jessiebelle...I just know you'll make a gentleman of our son!"
"Yes," the girl said in a syrupy Southern accent. "James, I want nothing more than to be your lovin' wife and companion...."
When I heard this, I was gripped by jealousy! Now that the girl was actually here and talking about becoming James's wife, the thought of him getting married was becoming less appealing by the second! Why? It couldn't have been because I wanted him for myself, could it? I know I'd always cared about him, and that he'd always been my best friend, but could it be that I had fallen in love with him? Nah! Impossible...right?
"Meowth! Her voice is like catnip!" the cat purred. "Now dat's what I call a real lady! Not a tough, mean, nasty girl like Jessie!"
Well, now I was really upset! I was beginning to think that maybe I should be the one to spend the rest of my life with James, and that little fleabag had the nerve to insult me?! "I'll show you tough, mean, and nasty!" I said through clenched teeth.
"....And your teacher," Jessiebelle continued, closing her fan and looking directly at us.
When James saw her face, he emitted a scream of sheer terror, and, quite frankly, I felt like screaming, too!
Jessiebelle. When I saw her, I felt like I was staring into a fun-house mirror -- looking at a dark, twisted reflection of myself. Even her name was a hideous mockery of my own!
And now, yet another troubling thought occurred to me! If James hated this woman so much, and I looked exactly like her, then how would he feel about me now? He wouldn't want to be my friend anymore...and I'd never have a chance with him -- every time he'd look at me, it would only remind him of HER!
"She looks just like Jessie!" Meowth cried.
"She does not!" I retorted. "How dare you compare me to that wimp?!"
"Whaddaya' talkin' about?! Youse two have the exact same face!!!"
Tears began to well up in my eyes. I knew it was true, but I still didn't like it. The last thing I wanted was to be compared to something that hurts James! And maybe it was bothering me so much because I knew that I was guilty of this myself! How many times had I smacked him with my fan or my mallet? How many times had I beaten him up and cut him down? Yes, I hurt him, too...I hurt him a lot, but I still wasn't anything like this girl -- at least I could accept James the way he was!
I didn't know quite what to make of these strange new feelings I was having -- they were confusing me, and what's more, they were frightening me! Was it really love I was feeling for James? Or was it just love for his money? Thinking about it was giving me a headache, and I was getting all mixed up! So I did the only thing I could -- I pushed the troubling thoughts out of my mind and told myself that the money was all I really cared about.
Once James's parents had left, Jessiebelle suggested that they go down to the vault to count all of the money he was going to inherit. It sounded like a good idea to me (I had to remind myself what I was doing this for, after all!), so Meowth and I grabbed James once again and followed her out of the room.
"After you ran away from home, your parents were so worried about you...as I was, of course!" Jessiebelle said as she led us down to the basement.
I frowned. There was just something about the way she said those words...they sounded so phony, and they rang hollow in my ears. Still, I felt compelled to reply.
"I'm sorry for running away," I said, putting my hand over James's mouth and lowering my voice an octave. "But now I've come home to be with my money...er, I mean...to be with you!"
Jessiebelle flinched when she heard this, and I smiled to myself. That little slip obviously disturbed her, which is precisely why I had said it! (Hey, if she could play, then so could I!)
At length, we arrived at a large pair of iron doors in a dark corner of the basement. Jessiebelle took a set of keys from her pocket and unlocked them.
"Here," she said. "Your inheritance is in here, James."
James began to struggle again as she pushed the doors open, but I barely noticed. Meowth and I were too busy drooling at the prospect of snatching all of that money!
"Cha-ching!" the cat and I snickered as we shoved James into the vault.
But once we were inside, we discovered that it wasn't the vault we were in...it was a torture chamber!
"Huh? Where's the money?" I asked, looking around at the rusty gym equipment that lined the walls.
James pulled the gag out of his mouth again and scowled at me. "Don't you get it?!" he snapped. "Jessiebelle's tricked you! She wanted us to come down here!"
Then I heard the laughter of his parents once again. "That's right!" the two of them said, looking directly at me.
I sweatdropped. "Y-y-you mean they can see us?!" I said in disbelief.
"I thought these disguises were supposed to make us invisible!" Meowth cried.
A fire sparked in James's eyes as he turned on us. "IDIOTS!!!!!" he screamed.
"Do you take us for fools?!" his father demanded.
"We were only pretendin' not to notice you so that you'd bring our James down here," his mother laughed.
James may have been screaming at me and insulting me, but I didn't begrudge him that -- I really did feel like an idiot! Here, I thought my brilliant plan had been going so well, but all this time, they'd been using me. James was right about them being manipulative -- I had played right into their hands, and now we were trapped!
But I wasn't about to let them have the last laugh. I still had a way to get us out of this mess....
"Think again! We're outta here!" I growled as his parents and Jessiebelle began to close in on us. With that, I threw a smoke bomb and clouded the air so that we could make our escape....
While our captors were busy coughing and choking, I bolted for the doors and kicked them open. But as I began to race up the stairs, I heard James cry, "Jessie! Meowth! Help! Don't leave me!"
I turned around and discovered, much to my dismay, that James wasn't with us! Why hadn't he made a run for it when I threw the bomb? Didn't he know by now that the smoke bomb was the universal cue for us to make our escape? And how many times had he used Weezing for that exact same purpose?! I could only conclude that Jessiebelle had captured him.
My suspicion was confirmed when I heard the cracking of a whip, followed by James screaming in agony! Oh, my God! She's torturing him! I silently screamed back.
Now, the feelings that had been muddling my brain earlier became all too clear -- I really was in love with James! All I cared about was saving him. Nothing else mattered...not the danger of facing his family again...not my fear of seeing Jessiebelle and coming face to face with everything I hated about myself...not even the money! I stood to lose so much, but there was only one thing I couldn't bear to lose....
"Hang on, James! I'm coming!" I cried as I turned and began to race back down the stairs.
Now, normally I'm really good at listening with my body -- being so attuned to my environment that I can sense another presence and anticipate when somebody is approaching. It was all a part of my Team Rocket training to prevent sneak attacks. But at that moment, I was so obsessed with getting back down the stairs that I didn't even see the dark figure lurking in the shadows....
I didn't notice Hopkins until it was too late -- when I reached the bottom of the stairs, I felt another person standing behind me, and I wheeled around just in time to watch him bring a large, golden candlestick down on my skull.
"Got you, you little hussy!" he laughed as I crumpled to the floor.
"No...James...." I muttered, trying to stand again. But my head was throbbing so badly that I couldn't move.
"I believe the butler did it in the basement with the candlestick!" Hopkins laughed as he reached for me.
But suddenly, Meowth jumped into his path and stood protectively over me. "Leave her alone!" the cat demanded.
The butler began to laugh again, but Meowth stopped him with a round of Fury Swipes to the face. Unfortunately, this only made Hopkins angry, and he retaliated by clonking Meowth with the candlestick, too.
The cat collapsed on top of me, and everything went black.
When I opened my eyes again, I found myself, Meowth, and the three twerps being chucked out the front door of the mansion. And, as I feared, James wasn't with us.
"So, that was his fiance?" Ash said in disbelief.
"Well, every rose has its thorns," Brock told him.
"Unnnhhh...she's more like a cactus!" Misty groaned.
I wanted to make some kind of snide remark, I really did, but nothing came to mind. I was so upset about my poor James getting tortured by that harpy that those little brats were the least of my worries! (Besides, even though I hate to admit it, I actually agreed with Misty!)
My mind raced -- I had to find a way to rescue James, and I had to do it quick! If I didn't, I was going to lose him forever...and I didn't even want to think about that! If I felt empty now, then how unbearable would the rest of my life be without him?!
Suddenly, I heard a loud thud, and a low, rumbling, "Grrrrrowlithe! Grrrrrrrowwwwlithe!" I turned around and saw the doors of the dog house rattling, as if something were trying to escape. Could it be....
"What's going on?" Ash asked. "What's it saying?"
"The Growlithe wants somebody to open the doors," Meowth translated.
"Then come on, everybody!" Ash cried. "Let's let him out!"
I couldn't believe it! The kid actually had a good idea! I wasn't too thrilled about having to cooperate with Team Twerp, but James was in danger, and I knew now that I'd do anything to save him...even this....
The four of us grabbed onto the doors and pulled as hard as we could. Even Meowth and Pikachu joined in, holding my legs, as if it would help me pull. I yanked extra hard a couple of times, just for them!
Then, the doors flew open, and Growly jumped out and began charging towards the mansion. In his haste, he trampled on us, even stepping on my face and leaving a big, muddy pawprint, but I didn't care! If there was any hope of getting James to safety, this Growlithe was it!
Several minutes passed as we sat there, waiting. Everything was silent, and time seemed to come to a standstill.
Suddenly, I heard another scream -- James's scream -- and the shattering of glass, as if a window had been broken. Then, Growly rounded the corner and charged towards us. James was on his back!
"Growly says to get inside!" Meowth cried, gesturing towards the dog house.
Once Growly and James had reached us, we ran into the dog house.
As I pulled the doors shut, I saw Jessiebelle standing on the roof of the mansion, staring down at us. "You can never escape from me, James dearest!" she cackled like a madwoman. "I'll follow you to the ends of the earth...." My blood ran cold as her pale blue eyes locked with my sapphire ones. Quickly, I turned away.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw James collapse onto the couch, shaken but unharmed. "Well, James, that fiance of yours is truly despicable," I said disdainfully.
"She's the reason I ran away from this estate in the first place," he sighed.
James then told us about how Jessiebelle always followed him around, telling him how improperly he was doing everything. Nothing he did was ever good enough for her, and he couldn't stand it! He knew that if he married her, it would be the biggest mistake of his life! And so, he decided to leave -- he traded his wealth for his freedom!
Now I felt more guilty than ever about what I'd done. James had been right about me earlier -- I wouldn't have understood if he'd told me about this!
But I understood now.
Now, I knew that without friendship...without love...his childhood had been just as miserable as my own! Now, I knew that no matter how gilded the bars, a prison was still a prison. And now, I knew that I really was in love with James! At that moment, I felt closer to him than ever before, and I realized that he was so much more than my best friend -- he was the other half of my soul!
I took a step towards James. My feelings of love for him were overwhelming me, and I had to tell him how I felt! I didn't even care that Meowth and the twerps were there!
But as I opened my mouth, the wall behind me began to crack. Before I could duck out of the way, an explosion rocked the dog house, and Meowth and I were launched into the sky. As the two of us blasted off, I saw Jessiebelle storm inside. She began to close in on James, and, once again, there was nothing I could do to save him....
Meowth and I finally landed in the Magikarp pond near the front gates of the estate. In the distance, I could see the twerps heading back down the driveway. What I didn't see was James.
"Come on, Meowth!" I said, getting to my feet. "We have to go back for him!"
Meowth hung his head. "We're too late, Jess," he sighed. "He and Jessiebelle are probably on their honeymoon by now."
"You're wrong!" I cried as I began to run back towards the mansion. "He would never marry her!"
"If he didn't, he would've escaped by now!" Meowth retorted.
"Then if he hasn't escaped, I have to save him!" I shot back. "I can't leave him with that awful woman! I just can't!"
"Do ya really wanna face his family again?!" the cat asked. "Do ya really wanna face that vine-whipping lunatic again?!"
"No," I replied in all honesty. "But for his sake, I would...."
"Jessie, think!" Meowth snapped. "They almost killed ya earlier! There's nothin' you can do!"
"I don't care!" I shouted.
"Well, I do," he said. "Jess, they may not love him, but at least they won't kill him! I can't say the same for you...."
"But they would...they would kill him!" I cried.
With that, I reached over and plucked a single red rose from a nearby bush, ignoring the stinging pain as its sharp thorns pierced through my glove and into my fingers, drawing blood. "Don't you get it, Meowth?!" I asked, holding the blossom out to him. "A rose can only live when it's allowed to grow wild and free! Once it's been picked...no matter how much water and sunlight you give it...no matter how beautiful and fancy the vase you put it in is...it's still going to wither and die!"
"I'm sorry, Jess, but I can't let ya do this," said Meowth. "I already lost one friend today! Don't make me lose another!"
"Please!" I implored. "Can't we at least wait just a little longer?"
"Fine," Meowth conceded. "We'll stay here for another couple hours. If he don't show up by sundown, we've gotta assume he's decided to stay and go on without him...."
"Maybe you can go on without him, but I can't!" I retorted. "I'll wait here forever if I have to!"
Meowth tilted his head and gave me a quizzical look. I could tell what he was thinking about -- Maiden's Peak! I was acting just like the kind of girl that I had said made me sick, and we both knew it!
"Shut it, cat!" I growled.
"What?!" he said defensively. "I didn't say nothin'!"
"Well, you were about to!" I shot back.
Meowth grumbled something under his breath as he sauntered away and left me alone with my thoughts.
We stayed by the lakeshore for the next two hours, watching and waiting for James to show up...but he never did.
"C'mon, Jess. We've gotta go," Meowth said as he watched the sun begin to sink below the western horizon.
"No...just a little longer...." I pleaded, still not wanting to believe that he was really gone.
"We can't stay here!" the cat said. "It's too dangerous!"
Knowing that he was right, I hung my head and looked down at the rose I had picked earlier. It was already beginning to wilt, and when the cool evening breeze started to blow, several petals fell out and drifted slowly to the ground.
"Looks like I killed two roses today," I whispered as the tears I had been trying to hold back began to spill freely from my eyes. I pressed the velvety, red petals to my lips and let the dying flower drop from my hand. "Good bye, James...I'll miss you...."
When I was finally able to stop crying, I rejoined Meowth, and the two of us began to head back towards the front gates. "Oh, well. Guess James chose to hang up his Team Rocket costume," I sighed.
"Yeah," Meowth muttered. "I guess all dat money and luxury was just too temptin' for James ta give up."
I know he was only trying to comfort me by reminding me that James would get his inheritance now, but the words only made me sadder. I hung my head and felt fresh tears stinging my eyes. "I guess you're right," I whispered.
But just as I was about to break down and cry again, I heard the most wonderful sound imaginable....
"Prepared for trouble?"
I looked up and saw James hovering above us in the Meowth balloon!
"Hey, it's him!" Meowth cried.
"James!" I exclaimed. At the sound of his beautiful voice and his lovely name, all of my sadness vanished, and I grinned so widely it felt like my face was going to split in half! "Make it double!" I called up to him.
James brought the balloon lower and reached his hand out to me. I extended my own to him. As our hands joined, the balloon took to the sky again, and James pulled me into the basket with him.
The setting sun was behind him, enveloping him in a halo of pink and purple. James and I had watched many a sunset together from the basket of the balloon, but never before had he looked so beautiful in the fading light of day! He was like an angel!
"Well...I guess we didn't get rich this time," I ventured, still not quite believing that he had returned.
"Guess not," he said shyly. "They wouldn't give me the inheritance...."
Why did he seem so skittish? Did he think I would be angry with him because of that? If anything, he was the one who should've been mad at me for forcing him into such an awful position!
"Oh, well! There's always next time!" I laughed, shrugging my shoulders, letting him know that I wasn't upset. "We may not have much money, but we sure have got our freedom!"
"Yeah," James agreed, holding out his hand. "Double trouble time! Right?"
I smiled and took his hand in my own. "Sounds great to me, James!" I replied.
As we tightened our grip on each other, James gazed adoringly at me. His emerald eyes were glittering, and once again, my feelings of love for him overwhelmed me.
I gazed back and put my arms around him. I was just about to tell him everything I was feeling when we heard the cat scream, "Hey! You forgot Me-owth again!!!"
Well, that certainly killed the moment. Exhaling in a frustrated sigh, I broke from our embrace, and we lowered the balloon once again so Meowth could climb inside.
And now, as I sit and watch James kneeling by the fire, cooking our dinner, I'm being overpowered by feelings of love once again. After such a miserable day, he's still my best friend in the world! I want more than anything to tell him that I'm in love with him, but I can't.
I know now that I can never tell him how I feel -- it's too late!
Oh, why did it take me so long to realize it?! After all, he's the most beautiful man in the world...and he's so sweet and gentle! How could I have spent so much time with him and not fallen madly in love with him?! How could I have been so blind?!
If it had been any day before today, I could have told him...but now, everything has changed, and I can't.
If I tell him that I love him now, he'll never believe me! Now that I know about his rich family, my sincerity is forever tainted. I never let on that I felt this way before...I only just realized it myself! But even though the money has nothing to do with it, how could I ever convince him of that? If I tell him that I love him now, he'll think that I'm just some gold-digging slut, trying to get my hands on his inheritance.
And I couldn't blame him for thinking that...I certainly acted like one earlier today!
How can I possibly let James know that he's all I care about and that I just want to spend the rest of my life with him...as his lover as well as his friend?! The answer is...I can't. I want him more than anything, but I know now that I can never have him....
Suddenly, James puts down the potatoes that he's been peeling and turns to face me. "Is something wrong, Jess?" he asks.
Yet another reason to love him! He always seems to know how I'm feeling...almost as if we're of one mind...of one soul....
"It's...it's nothing," I reply, trying to choke back the tears I feel coming.
"You're lying," he says, gazing into my eyes once again. "Now tell me what's the matter."
"I guess I just feel guilty about what I did to you earlier," I confess.
James comes to my side and puts his arms around me. "It's okay, Jess," he whispers into my ear. "I'm not mad at you. If anything, what you did today was good for me!"
I pull away slightly and raise an eyebrow.
"What happened today served as a reminder of just how important you are to me," he explains. "If I had any doubts about the path I've chosen in life, then the things that happened today took them all away!"
"But you gave up so much money by leaving...."
"I would've given up more if I'd stayed."
A single tear escapes from my eye and begins to roll down my cheek. James cups my chin in his hand and brushes it away with his thumb.
"I'd rather give up all the money in the world than lose something priceless," he continues. His eyes are glittering again...just like earlier when we were in the balloon, and somehow, I know that he's talking about more than just his freedom.
I put my arms around him, and James pulls me closer.
"You're priceless to me, too," I whisper. "You're my best friend, James...I know I'm not very good at showing it, but I care about you more than anything!"
"And you're my best friend," he whispers back as he begins to stroke my hair. "I will always cherish what we have...."
We sit together like that for several minutes, but then, James breaks the silence once again. "You know, a lot of people think of home as a physical place...a location...but it's not -- it's a state of mind," he tells me. "Home is where you feel safe...where you feel comfortable...where you feel loved...and...I know this sounds strange, but I think of you as my home, Jessie. The only time I ever really have that state of mind is when I'm with you...."
"It's not strange!" I reply. "I feel the same way about you, James!"
James smiles at me. "The look in your eyes earlier when we were reunited...it's almost as if you were saying, Welcome home...."
I smile back. "That's exactly what I was thinking!"
James and I embrace once again, and we rest our foreheads together. I feel the beating of his heart, the warmth of his flesh, and the sweetness of his breath...almost as if his body and mine were one! It would be so easy to move not half an inch closer and press my lips against his own!
But I can't do that...not yet, anyway. As James and I sit together in each other's arms, I suddenly feel my confidence returning -- despite what's happened, he still trusts me! Maybe I can't tell him that I love him tonight, but I take comfort in the fact that I can, and will, tell him eventually. When the time is right, I'll bare my soul to him...and he'll believe me when I say it!
But until that day, I'll just have to wait. I don't know how, or when, it's going to happen, but I do know that it will.
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