The Thorns of the Rose
by Cori Falls
It was a warm, sunny day in early summer. A balmy breeze whispered through the streets and perfumed the quaint mountain village with the fragrance of a thousand rose bushes in full bloom. The doors of the little brick church swung open, and a bride and groom walked out, arm-in-arm.
A wedding in June. The picture-perfect scene.
"Augh! I can't stand it anymore!" Jessie cried.
"Meowth! My ears are gonna be ringin' forever after dis!"
I sighed. Why does this always have to happen to us?
We had landed in the belfry of the church after being blasted off by the Brat Pack, yet again, and now the three of us were clinging to the inside of the bells for dear life. And to make matters worse, poor Arbok and Victreebel were out of their poke balls when we blasted off, so they got the dubious pleasure of sharing in our fate.
What were we going to do to get out of this one? If we let go, it was a long drop to the brick walkway beneath us and we'd splatter everywhere, but if we held on much longer, those ringing bells were going to blow out our eardrums and smash us to a bloody pulp.
Damned if we did, damned if we didn't. Just another day in the life of Team Rocket.
Suddenly, Victreebel began to scream, and I got an idea.
"Victreebel, use your Vine Whip so that we can climb down!" I called to my pokemon.
Victreebel screamed again and extended one of his vines to me. Grabbing onto it, I released my hold on the bell, and he lowered me to the ground. Then, he did the same for Meowth, and finally, Jessie. Once the three of us were down, Jessie and I took out our poke balls and called back Arbok and Victreebel.
There was a collective gasp as the bride, the groom, their entourage, and all of their guests looked over at us. You'd think they'd never seen two bruised and battered teenagers, a talking cat, a giant purple cobra, and a carnivorous shrieking plant before! Sheesh!
"Uh...we'll...just be...on our way now," Jessie said lamely, grabbing me and Meowth and darting away.
"Now dat was some good thinkin', James!" Meowth remarked as we headed up the street towards the local pokemon center.
(Arbok and Victreebel had taken a real beating from those Nidorans we'd been trying to steal earlier that day, and they needed to be patched up. Besides, Jess and I had taken a quite a few lumps, ourselves! Returning to our room at the inn for a shower and a change of clothes was definitely in order.)
"Yeah," I replied. "I'm glad Victreebel is finally starting to behave himself!"
"Hmmmph!" Jessie grumbled.
"What?" I said.
She shot me a venomous glare and turned away.
Then, I remembered our fateful pokemon battle earlier that day. When the two trainers came to take back their Nidorans, Jessie sent out Arbok, and I sent out Victreebel. Now, Victreebel had started following my commands in recent weeks, but he's still got that nasty habit of chomping the first person he sees when he gets out of the poke ball. (Butch and Cassidy's doing, no doubt. Weepinbell was always really sweet. I'm sure they did something terrible to him when they forced him to evolve.) Well, by now I've learned to get out of the way when he emerges, so he isn't chomping me so much anymore. Today, however, Jessie just so happened to be his unfortunate victim. Before I could even issue my first command, he had swallowed her entire top half! No wonder she was so upset that I was praising him!
Not that it mattered. For some strange reason, Jessie had been angry with me ever since last night....
Yesterday started out nicely enough -- our trek across Mandarin Island had brought us into the rolling hills several miles inland. The tropical jungles and oppressive heat gradually gave way to pine trees and evergreens, and the climate became considerably cooler. There was something about that lush, tranquil forest -- it's almost as if the place were enchanted!
To add to that feeling of enchantment, we soon came across a small town that looked like something straight out of a fairy-tale! All of the buildings were made of wood and brick, and they were done up like those gingerbread houses you see displayed in the windows of a bakery. The streets were lined with shady trees, and there were rose bushes as far as the eye could see! It was a far cry from the sprawling metropolis along the coast of the island, and it was absolutely beautiful!
It was my kind of place.
It also seemed like it would be the perfect place for a vacation. We hadn't heard from the boss in ages, so how was he to know if we took a few days off? (Besides, our last attempt at a vacation was ruined when Team Twerp showed up! We deserved a break!)
"Oh, wow! Would you look at this place?!" Jessie cried, as if she could read my mind. "It's so beautiful!"
"Almost as beautiful as you, Jess," I replied, wrapping my arms around her waist.
Jessie turned around and smiled at me, her sapphire eyes beginning to sparkle. I love it when her eyes do that. I love everything about her.
"Hey, James, what do you say we forget about work for awhile?" she whispered into my ear.
"Sounds like a plan to me," I whispered back.
Running her fingers through my hair, she leaned over and pressed her lips to mine.
"Ahem!" Meowth said, breaking us apart. "Can youse guys save dis for later? I'm starvin' over here!"
"Fine," Jessie grumbled, obviously irritated that our moment had been ruined.
"Let's go and get a room at the inn. Then we can all go out to dinner," I suggested, stepping between the two of them before an argument could ensue.
Jessie smiled again and nodded at me. "And we can throw that little fuzzball out when it's time for bed," she muttered seductively.
I grinned. This was definitely going to be a good vacation.
After checking into the local trainer inn (which also looked like a giant gingerbread house...this place was starting to make me hungry!), we went to get something to eat. The three of us were tired of dining al fresco, so we skipped the sidewalk cafes and went to a little Italian bistro on the edge of town, where we enjoyed a candlelight dinner.
Meowth stuffed himself with a human-sized order of shrimp scampi, and Jessie and I shared a plate of spaghetti, Lady and the Tramp style. The two of us twirled the pasta around on our forks and slurped it up, and several times, we even found ourselves eating the same noodle. Whenever that happened, we each kept eating our own end until the noodle got shorter and shorter, and our lips ended up touching. (I didn't go so far as to roll her the last meatball with my nose, though -- that'd just be disgusting!)
As Jessie and I ate, I found my thoughts drifting to my ex-fiance, Jessiebelle. I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of how "improperly" we were eating and what she'd have to say about that! That was one of the things she always bugged me about -- the "proper" way to eat spaghetti. I didn't have to worry about that with Jessie -- she was eating just as "improperly" as I was...and she actually thought it was kind of cute!
I must be the luckiest guy in the world, I thought as I watched Jessie dab her ruby-red lips with her napkin and reach for her water. She's so beautiful, she's so perfect...and she's mine....
Jessie looked up at me and smiled shyly. "Thanks for taking us out to dinner, James," she said.
"Hey, don't mention it," I replied, leaning back in my seat. "It's nice to not have to cook for a change."
"Whew! I never thought I'd say dis, but I'm actually stuffed!" said Meowth. "Whaddaya say we go and walk dis dinner off?"
Jessie patted her stomach. "Good idea, Meowth."
And so, since there were still a few hours of daylight left, the three of us left the restaurant and took a tour of the little town. We walked through the park, down Main Street, and through the church yard until our outing brought us to one of the side streets.
And that was our mistake.
"WELL, I'VE JUST DECIDED I'M MAKING IT MY BUSINESS!!!!!" we heard a familiar voice shout.
"Why?!" another familiar (and annoying) voice demanded.
Oh, God! Please don't be the twerps, please don't be the twerps, please don't be the twerps.... I silently prayed.
Jessie raised an eyebrow. "Hm? What's going on?" she asked.
"It's probably nothing, Jess. Let's just...."
No use. Jessie and Meowth had already crossed the street and were now peering through a row of hedges to see what all of the screaming was about. Reluctantly, I followed.
And my fears were confirmed -- Misty and Ash were standing in somebody's yard, having another of their screaming matches while their new friend looked on.
Suddenly, Misty went from irate to starry-eyed. "Because love is the most important thing in the world," she sighed.
Wow! I actually agreed with her on something! Alert the media!
Ash made his trademark clueless face at her. "Uh...even more important than catching pokemon?"
Boy, talk about a one-track mind! What a loser!
We listened in on their conversation for awhile and learned that Misty was trying to get two rival pokemon trainers together because their Nidorans were in love. It was touching, really. Just like Romeo and Juliet!
Suddenly, Jessie's eyes began to sparkle again. "Did you hear that?! A male and female Nidoran pair!"
"A perfectly matched set!" I chimed in.
I closed my eyes and smiled. Two cute little Nidorans in love! In love -- just like me and Jessie! Oh, what a wonderful evening this was turning out to be! Romance was in the air!
Or was it?
"So, how're we gonna get dose Nidorans?" Meowth asked after the twerps had left.
What? How could that stupid cat be thinking of a pokemon-snatching scheme?! We were on vacation, for God's sake. If those little brats didn't ruin my romantic getaway with Jessie, then he would!
Jessie smirked. "We'll just convince them that the only way they can be together is if they come with us! The pokemon will learn a valuable lesson...a painful lesson...." Her smirk became a mischievous grin.
Great. Now she's in on it, too, I said to myself.
Suddenly, however, Jessie's expression became sad. "....The heart always leads one to heartache!"
"Sounds like you've had some heartaches yourself," I said, vaguely remembering an ex-boyfriend or two. Not that they mattered anymore -- I was her boyfriend now, and I'd do anything to make her happy!
"I've had my share," she sighed. "Ever since I was a little girl, I've dreamed of finding love, but all I ever got was heartache...."
Okay, stop right there! Heartache?! Me?! Is that what she thought?! I know one of her exes was a real sleaze, but why was she so disappointed in me?! I hadn't done anything wrong...had I?
Jessie clenched her fists, and tears welled up in her eyes. "I can't find anyone to love me...just because I'm mean, and nasty, and evil!" she cried.
Jessie, that's not true!!! my mind screamed as I watched her fall to the ground and begin sobbing. How can you say something like that after all we've been through?! After all we've shared?! How many times have I told you that I love you?! How many times have I proven that I mean it?! How can you say that nobody loves you when I love you with all my heart and soul?! And how can such an angel possibly think that she's evil?!
I wanted nothing more than to tell her all that I was thinking -- to remind her that she was with me now and that she would be safe from heartache and betrayal forever, but for some odd reason, my mouth translated it as, "All in love's unfair!"
No it isn't! my mind screamed again. Jessie, my love for you is so pure and so true...how could you possibly think I don't care?!
God, why couldn't I have told her that?! What was holding me back?! Jessie and I had been lovers for several weeks now -- it's not like I had to hide my feelings from her anymore!
I reached down and stroked Jessie's hair as she continued to cry, but just as I was about to tell her what I really meant to say....
"Now I understand why she's such a nut-job!" Meowth commented.
Suddenly, Jessie's head snapped up, and a fire sparked in her eyes as she glared at us. "HOW DARE YOU?!!!" she screamed, jumping to her feet and kicking the two of us away.
Now, I consider myself to be pretty even-tempered. I don't get angry very easily, but at that moment, I was furious! How could Meowth say such a terrible thing to Jessie while she was so upset? And how dare he interrupt me when I was about to make her feel better?! I swear, if I weren't in so much pain from just getting kicked, I would've throttled him!
"I've had enough of this! It's time to put our plan into action!" Jessie shouted.
I looked up at her and sighed. So much for our romantic vacation.
"Jessie, why are we doing this?" I asked once we had sent Meowth to coax the Nidorans away from their trainers.
"Because when an opportunity like this comes along, you have to take it!" came her reply.
"I thought we were going to take a few days off!" I protested.
"Well, there's been a change of plan!" she shot back.
I hung my head. It had been such a beautiful evening until those twerps showed up! Now my sweet, gentle lover had reverted to her old self, and our romantic retreat was ruined!
"You'll tell those Nidorans that they're going on a little honeymoon," Jessie continued. "But you'll really be taking them to the boss!"
"Pretty dirty trick," I said sadly.
Jessie laughed evilly. "What good's a trick if it's not dirty?!"
Yeah, that definitely sounded like the old Jessie. I thought that this mean-spirited side of her had vanished on the day the two of us fell in love. Maybe I was wrong.
Suddenly, Meowth emerged from the bushes, but the Nidorans weren't with him.
"Well, how did it go, Meowth?" Jessie asked.
"Dey ain't gonna do it, Jess," he replied. "Dey say dat even though dere in love, dey ain't gonna disobey dere trainers."
Now Jessie was enraged again. "I can't believe those pipsqueaks are passing up this chance to be stolen!"
"She certainly has a unique way of looking at things!" I remarked.
"We'll just have to move on to Plan Number Two!" she growled.
I was afraid to ask, but I did anyway. "Plan Number Two?"
Jessie facefaulted. "Nidoran-napping!" she said, as if I should've known.
"That's what I was afraid of," I sighed.
"Now, if we wanna get close enough ta nab dose Nidorans, youse guys are gonna need disguises," Meowth told us as we headed back to our room at the inn.
"You're right," said Jessie. "But what....?"
Meowth looked up at us and snickered. "Well, since we're stealin' a pair of pokemon lovers, let's keep with the theme! Howzabout a bride and groom?" he suggested.
A bride and groom?! Now that was a great idea! I've always fantasized about me and Jessie dressing like that. I'd wear a red rose on the lapel of my black tux, and she'd wear a diaphanous white gown and a white rose twined in her crimson hair. Then, I'd place a diamond ring on her finger, and the two of us would vow to love and honor each other forever....
"A bride and groom?!" Jessie said in disbelief.
Meowth started snickering again as he watched her begin to squirm.
What was with her anyway? I know the two of us are still a little young for marriage, so it's not like we were actually going to go through with it! To tell the truth, I was thrilled at the prospect of pretending to be her groom for a few hours -- it'd be like a rehearsal for when we really do get married! So why was the idea of pretending to be my bride so repulsive to her? I always thought that when we fell in love, Jessie wanted to be my wife someday. Now I wasn't so sure.
"Fine," she grumbled. "I guess it'll have to do since I can't think of anything else...."
I said nothing, just looked away and did my best to choke back the tears I felt coming.
I looked over at the clock on the nightstand. It was one of those anniversary clocks -- the kind with the rotating pendulum that hypnotizes you if you stare at it long enough. I'd been lying in bed for the past two hours, staring at that clock and waiting for Jessie.
I sighed and rolled onto my back, averting my gaze from the clock and instead focusing on the wooden beams of the vaulted ceiling. What was taking her so long, anyway? It seemed so hard to believe that just this afternoon, Jess couldn't wait to kick Meowth out of our room and spend the entire night making love with me. So where was she?
Unable to bear another minute alone, I got out of bed and threw on my robe. I had to find out what had happened to her. I knew from the way Jessie was acting earlier that she had changed her mind about the lovemaking, but that didn't matter to me. All I wanted was to hold her in my arms...to be close to her.
Stepping out of the bedroom, I saw Jessie sitting on the couch. She was holding a length of white satin and embroidering swirling patterns on it with ice-blue thread.
"What do you want, James?" she said, not even bothering to turn and look at me.
"Come to bed, Jess," I said softly. "It's one in the morning. You can work on our disguises tomorrow."
"No, I can't," she growled. "James, you know it takes time to make these things! Don't you want our plan to succeed?"
"What's all of this our stuff?!" I retorted. "Kidnapping those Nidorans was your idea, not mine! I just wanted to take a few days off and be alone with you!"
Jessie looked up at me. Her expression was as icy as the thread she was embroidering with. "Well excuse me for taking our job seriously!" she snapped.
"Jess, you hate this job as much as I do! You hate the boss as much as I do! So, why are you ruining our time together just to please him?! Don't you know that he's never going to be satisfied, no matter what we do?!" I snapped back.
"Of course I do, James!" she cried, slamming down the bridal gown she'd been sewing.
Jessie closed her eyes and exhaled in a frustrated sigh. "Because maybe if we do something right, he'll leave us alone...stop tormenting us...."
"That's not true, and you know it!" I told her. "People like him are never happy unless they're complaining about something. Do you remember how furious he was that time we brought him Togepi? God, Jessie! A one-of-a-kind pokemon, and it STILL wasn't good enough for him!"
Jessie turned away from me again. She knew that I was right.
I placed a hand on her shoulder. "A long time ago, I learned that when you can't make somebody happy, no matter what you do, then you can't waste your time trying -- it's just not worth it."
I felt her begin to tremble. She was crying.
"Oh, Jess...." I said softly.
"It's more than that, James," she whispered.
"Then, what?" I asked. "Please tell me."
She shrugged her shoulder away from my touch. "You wouldn't understand."
"What makes you say that?!" I cried. "Jessie, when have I ever not understood when something is bothering you?!"
"Look, I just don't want to talk about it, okay?" she said. "Go back to bed, James. Leave me alone...."
Knowing better than to press the issue, I backed off. "Okay, Jess," I replied. "Just know that if you ever do want to talk about it, I'm here for you."
Jessie said nothing, just picked up the wedding dress and continued her embroidery.
What's wrong with you, Jessie? I wondered as I returned to the bedroom. What could have happened to upset you so suddenly? I wish you'd tell me, so I could do something to help....
Finally, I couldn't hold back my tears any longer, and I cried myself to sleep as I listened to Jessie's muffled sobs coming from the other side of the door.
When I awoke the next morning, I found Jessie sound asleep on the couch. A white bridal gown and a black tuxedo were draped across the back. Once again, she had done an outstanding job of making disguises for us. (She should be a fashion designer -- it suits her much better than the life we're leading now.)
I picked up the tuxedo and held it to me to see how it would look. It seemed like it was a size too small for me, and I knew it was going to be a tight fit, but I didn't mind because she was up all night making it. Can't blame her for getting the measurements a little wrong when she's tired. Besides, I was only going to be wearing it for a couple of hours, and the prospect of the two of us pretending to be a bride and groom was just so exciting that an ill-fitting tuxedo really didn't matter to me.
Then, I gazed down at the dress and at Jessie, who yawned and shifted in her sleep. The dress looked like it'd be a little big on her, but that didn't matter to me, either -- Jessie looks beautiful no matter what she wears! Yes, she was definitely going to make a beautiful bride...today and on our real wedding day.
"Nice work, Jess," I whispered.
She deserved a reward for her efforts, so I decided to surprise her by making her favorite breakfast -- French toast. Besides, something had really been bothering her yesterday, and I needed to cheer her up. And who knows? If I could make her feel better, then maybe she'd be willing to talk to me about it!
Going to the kitchen, I opened the refrigerator and found everything I'd need to make breakfast. As I began to mix the eggs, milk, and sugar together, Meowth came in through the open window. (I guess he'd gone out all night so that Jessie and I could be alone...not that it mattered this time.)
"Whatcha whippin' up?" he asked. "It looks good!"
"French toast," I replied.
Meowth grinned. "All right! One of my faves! I swear, ya make the best food Meowth ever tasted!" he exclaimed.
The cat's expression quickly became serious again. "Anyways, I did a little research last night."
I raised an eyebrow. "Research? On what?"
"Well, I learned dat all the trainers in dis town know each other, and dat Ralph and Emily take dere Nidorans for a walk in the park every mornin'," he explained. "So, dat's where we gotta make our move -- I even got the balloon camouflaged and set up so we can make a quick getaway once we nab dose Nidorans!"
"That's nice," I sighed as I sliced the bread and dipped it into the egg mixture. I just couldn't get excited about this scheme...especially not when it was getting in the way of quality time with Jessie.
"It's Jessie," I told him. "You saw the way she was acting last night -- one minute, the two of us are as happy as can be, and the next minute, she's crying her eyes out, saying that she's never known anything but heartache and that nobody will ever love her! How could she say that, Meowth?! What makes her think that I don't love her all of a sudden?! Did I do something wrong?"
"Ah, don't worry about it! Dat's just Jess bein' Jess," he replied. "Ya know how moody she is, James!"
I nodded. Jessie was known for her violent mood swings. But still, something was different about last night's episode. It was more than just a bad mood -- something was on her mind...something disturbing.
"Hey, Meowth. Do me a favor, will you?" I said.
"Sure. Whaddaya need?"
"I need you to go out and pick a dozen roses for me," I replied. "The nicest ones you can find."
The cat gave me a quizzical look. "Whatcha' need roses for?"
"Because after that terrible remark you made about Jessie, you owe her...and me, big time!" I told him.
"What?! Ya mean dat nut-job crack?" he asked innocently. "Jeez! I always make fun of youse guys -- you should know by now I don't mean nothin' by it! Can't ya take a joke?!"
I frowned. "You saw how upset she was! You should've kept your big mouth shut! She was mad at me last night because of what you said!" I snapped.
Meowth hung his head. "I'm sorry, James," he said contritely. "Yer right -- it was real rotten of Meowth ta insult her when she was cryin' like dat."
"Damn right it was," I said sternly. Then in a gentler voice, "But I'll let it slide if you get those roses for me. I want to give them to Jessie when she wakes up...hopefully it'll make her feel better. And besides, my bride is going to need a bouquet!"
The cat smiled. "Heh, heh! Oh, yeah! The fake weddin'!" Then, with a wink he added, "Youse guys are gonna love the surprise I got set up in the park!"
There was a playful gleam in his midnight-blue eyes. Now I was curious.
"What? What?!" I asked eagerly.
His smile became a grin. "You'll see!" Then, before I could ask again, he was out the window, off to pick roses for my bride-to-be.
As I was putting the finishing touches on breakfast a few minutes later, I heard footsteps behind me.
"Good morning, Jess," I said.
"Morning, James," she echoed. Her voice sounded weary.
"I made your favorite -- French toast," I told her.
"I thought I smelled something good."
She sounded like she was in a better mood, but I didn't want to risk saying anything wrong and upsetting her again, so I chose my words carefully. "Well, you did such great work on those costumes...I figured you deserved a treat...."
Jessie smiled at me and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Thanks, James."
Wow! She was smiling again! Maybe now she'd be willing to talk to me about what was going on last night!
"Nothing but the best for my Jess!" I replied as I drizzled some maple syrup onto her French toast and set the plate on the table.
Jessie smiled again, but there was sorrow in her blue-violet eyes.
"Do you want to talk about it, sweetheart?" I whispered, pulling her into an embrace.
She looked down at the floor and shook her head.
"Jess, do you remember a couple weeks ago when I was mad at you for no reason?"
I felt her muscles tense when I said this. "Yes."
"And do you remember when I fell off the cliff, and you thought I was dead?"
"Y-yes." She sounded like she was ready to cry.
I turned her to face me and ran a hand through her hair. "But most importantly of all, do you remember that after you rescued me, we promised that we'd never keep secrets from each other again...that we'd talk to each other rather than blame each other when something is bothering us?"
Now she really was crying.
"Jessie," I whispered, wiping her tears away. "Please don't cry, Jess! I'm only telling you this because I love you, and if something is wrong, I want you to let me know!"
"But this is different," she muttered.
"It's more than just sharing my feelings, James," she told me. "I...I just don't want to talk about it...please...don't make me...."
"Okay," I whispered, tightening my hold on her. "You know I'd never force you to do anything you don't want to...but I really want to know what's upsetting you so! If there's anything I can do to help you, then believe me, I'll do it!"
Jessie put her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder.
We stood together like that for several minutes until I broke the silence. "Alright, enough of this! Today is a wedding day, and we should be happy! Besides, breakfast is getting cold!"
"You're right...you're right," she replied, seating herself at the table.
I planted a kiss on her lips and smiled tenderly. "I love you, Jess."
Jessie smiled at me again, but there was still sadness in those beautiful blue eyes.
Why was she still so sad?
I couldn't stand seeing her like that, and as I sat down next to her and began to eat my breakfast, I knew that I had to find out what had happened to her...and to make her happy again. No matter what.
Once we were done eating, Jessie went into the bathroom to get cleaned up and change into her costume. Ralph and Emily were supposed to be walking their Nidorans at the park in a little over an hour, and we had to be ready for them.
While I was washing the dishes, Meowth returned. He was carrying a bouquet of white roses, but there was a huge sweatdrop on his face.
"What's the matter, Meowth?" I asked.
"I went back ta the park just ta check on everything one last time," he began.
"Did something go wrong?"
"In a manner of speaking -- the twerps are dere waitin' for Ralph and Emily, too. I guess dat little girl is still tryin' ta play matchmaker," came his reply. "If dey find out what's goin' on, dere gonna ruin everything!"
"Well, that's why we have the disguises," I told him. "Those kids are so stupid -- they never recognize us when we're not in uniform!"
"Yeah!" the cat laughed. "Talk about dense! All dis time, and dey STILL don't know ya when dey see ya!"
I know it seemed funny, but it really wasn't. All they ever see when they look at us is our Team Rocket uniforms. They just can't seem to understand that we're people, too. It's kind of sad when you think about it.
"Oh, well," I sighed as I finished rinsing the last dish. "Guess I'd better get dressed."
Meowth handed me the roses and nodded. And as I headed for the bedroom, I could've sworn I heard him humming Here Comes the Bride.
When I opened the bedroom door, I found Jessie standing in front of the mirror, adjusting her bow tie -- she was wearing the tuxedo!
"Jessie, what are you doing?" I asked.
"Putting on my disguise, of course!" she replied.
Now I knew why the tuxedo was too small for me...and why the dress looked like it was a little too large for her -- she never intended on being the bride! "But...but...that's the...that means...." I stammered.
"That you're the bride," she said, finishing the sentence for me.
"Jessie, why do I have to be the bride?" I asked.
"Oh, stop whining!" she snapped.
"I wasn't whining!" I snapped back. "I'd just like to know why we can't be a normal bride and groom!"
"What's that supposed to mean?!" she demanded.
"You know what that means!"
"James, we wear gender-bending disguises all the time...I really don't see what the problem is!"
"This isn't about cross-dressing, Jess," I told her. "I wanted to...."
Her eyes widened as the realization of what I meant struck her. "What do you think this is, James?! A real wedding?!"
"No, but I thought it would be fun to pretend for awhile, you know?"
"Pretend?!" she snapped. "So you think this is some sort of game?!"
Well, now I was actually starting to lose my patience with her -- she was being impossible! "What the hell do you want from me, Jessica?!" I demanded. "You think I want a real wedding, and you freak out! I tell you that I'm just role-playing, and you freak out some more! No matter what I tell you, it's not going to make you happy, is it?!"
When I said this, Jessie looked at me like I'd just slapped her across the face.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you like that," I said more softly.
Jessie picked up the wedding gown and pressed it into my hands. "Just get dressed, James," she whispered.
"Jessie, why won't you tell me what's going on with you?" I asked.
She turned away from me and began pulling her long red hair into a bun, combing it over her head and into her face like a giant pompadour.
"Is it because you don't trust me?"
Jessie brushed past me and headed for the door. Even though her hair was in her face, I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks.
"....Or is it because you don't love me?" I muttered once she was gone.
After the two of us were in costume, we set out for the park. Meowth had gone ahead of us so that he could check on things one last time. (After all, the presence of the Brat Pack has an annoying tendency to screw up even our best-laid plans -- Jessie's sudden change last night was a testament to that!)
The two of us walked down the street in stony silence. Even though our arms were linked, our hearts seemed like they were miles apart. It was bad enough that Jessie wouldn't speak to me, but now she wouldn't even look at me, either! I wanted nothing more than to break that silence, but something told me that whatever I said was going to be wrong, so I kept my mouth shut.
When we arrived at the park, we found the Nidoran trainers, Ralph and Emily, fighting with each other while the twerps looked on. Their Nidorans were in two little cages off to the side. This was going to be easier than I thought! Still, the prospect of capturing pokemon wasn't enough to lift my heavy heart -- it was this scheme that had ruined my romantic getaway with Jessie!
As Jessie and I approached, everybody stopped what they were doing and focused their attention on us.
"Oh! A bride and groom!"
That was our cue.
"On this, our sunny wedding day," I began in a falsetto voice.
"There's a funny trick we'd like to play!" Jessie chimed in, not even making an attempt to sound masculine. (Not that it mattered -- those twerps never recognize our voices, either!)
Then, we each grabbed a Nidoran cage. "Our matrimony is a total phony! Now, we'll take your Nidoran away!" we said in unison.
Only then did they begin to suspect that something was wrong.
It was time to confirm those suspicions.
"Prepare yourself for trouble, kid!" Jessie announced as Ash gave us another clueless look.
"And make it doubler than you ever did!" I added.
After we began the motto, the ground beneath our feet began to rise, revealing the enormous wedding cake that Meowth had set up the night before. (A giant wedding cake?! Meowth was right -- I DID love it! What a great surprise!)
"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!"
"Jessie!" she said, flipping back her hair and revealing her face. (Even if she was dressed like a man, she looked so pretty when she did that!)
"James!" I said, pulling off my veil and tiara.
"Team Rocket blast off at the speed of light!"
"Surrender now, or prepare to fight!"
As we recited our motto, Jessie and I became the bride and groom dolls atop the wedding cake. Then, the cake split in half, and the Meowth balloon, complete with cans and streamers attatched, rose out of it.
"Hurry up and cut the cake!" Meowth cried as the balloon drifted up to meet us.
While the twerps and the Nidoran trainers were screaming at us to return their pokemon, Jessie and I jumped into the balloon and took to the sky.
"The love birds are flyin' the coop!" Meowth called down to them.
"Okay, youse guys! Let's get dese Nidorans to the pokemon center and transfer 'em to the boss!" Meowth exclaimed once we had made our escape.
"Yeah," I agreed. The sooner we got this over with, the better.
Jessie nodded. "But first, let's get changed out of these costumes."
"Aw, but youse guys look so cute dat way!" Meowth laughed.
Jessie scowled at him, and he relented.
So, we landed the balloon in a small clearing just outside of town in order to lose the bride and groom outfits and put our uniforms back on. Normally, Jessie and I always changed clothes together...even back in the days when we were just friends -- we never seemed to have a problem with seeing each other like that. But, for some reason, she went off alone to do it this time. And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why.
"What's eatin' her, anyways?" Meowth asked, as if he could read my mind.
"I don't know," I replied, taking off the wedding gown and putting my pants back on. "But I've had enough of this!"
Meowth sweatdropped. "Uh...whaddaya gonna do, James?" he asked nervously.
"I'm going to find out what's wrong with Jessie, that's what!" I told him.
With that, I followed the path that Jessie had taken into the woods. After a few minutes, I found her beneath a large cedar tree. Her black tuxedo jacket and white blouse were lying on the ground, and she was just standing there, wearing nothing but her bra and her black pants. Her back was turned to me.
"Why?" she whispered, placing her hands on her bare shoulders. "Why won't he go away?"
I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard this. What was she talking about?
"Why won't he go away...why is he ruining everything?! God, I hate him...I hate him so much...."
I tell you, if Jess had taken a knife and plunged it straight into my heart, it would've hurt less than what she'd just said. Why?! Why did she hate me all of a sudden?! What could I have possibly done to drive her away like this?!
A sob escaped my throat as I listened to her. Suddenly, she tensed.
"What are you doing here, James?"
I couldn't falter now -- I had to be strong. "Jessie, you're scaring me," I said, wiping my tears away. "Why won't you tell me what this is all about?"
"Please. Tell me. No matter what it is, I want to know!"
She turned to face me again. "It's...it's nothing...."
Well, that did it. She'd been cold and distant ever since last night, and now she was ranting about how much she hated me, and it was nothing?! My patience had finally run out.
"Dammit, Jessie!" I snapped, grabbing her by the shoulders. "It's NOT nothing! Now will you please tell me what the hell is going on?!"
As soon as I laid my hands on her, a look of terror sparked in her wide sapphire eyes. "No...not again," she whimpered as she cowered from me -- she thought I was going to hit her!
In all the years I've known Jessie, I've never struck her...not even once! Sure, I've been angry with her plenty of times -- she can be pretty infuriating, and even I have my breaking-point, after all. But as many times as she's hit me, as many times as she's made me mad, I've never once raised a hand to her. Hell! It was a rare occasion when I even raised my voice to her! So what made her think that I was going to hit her now?
"I'm sorry, Jess," I said softly, releasing my hold on her. "I just wanted to...."
But before I could continue, Jessie turned away from me and ran deeper into the woods. I wanted more than anything to follow her, but I knew that I couldn't. Never had I seen her so small or so frightened before me! I knew that if I followed, I would only scare her even more.
"Jessie...I was only trying to help you...." I whispered as a tear rolled down my cheek.
When I returned to the clearing, I found Meowth talking to the caged Nidorans, trying to calm them.
"Hey, James, ya find out what's...."
Then he saw the look on my face.
"I just don't get it," I told him. "It's like...it's like she was afraid of me, Meowth!"
The cat gave me a quizzical look. "Afraid of ya?! Dat ain't like her at all!"
"I know!" I cried.
He closed his eyes and considered the situation for a moment. He was probably as stumped as I was.
But before he could say anything, Jessie came back out of the woods. She was in uniform once again, and there was a grim look on her face.
"Jess," I began. "Jessica, I...."
She placed a hand on my shoulder. "You don't have to say anything, James. I know you didn't mean any harm."
I closed my hands around hers and smiled. "I should still apologize," I said softly.
"So should I," she replied. "James, I've had some stuff on my mind since last night, and...well...I'm not really comfortable talking about it...."
"Then don't," I told her. "It was wrong of me to try and force you to, and I'm sorry."
"No, I have to talk about it, James," she continued. "You want to know, and I really do owe you an explanation for last night...for today...for everything...."
"Go ahead, then. I'm listening."
Jessie shook her head. "Not right now. We'll talk later...in private." Then, she looked over at the Nidorans. "Besides, we have a little business to take care of first."
"Okay," I said, bringing her hands up to my lips and kissing her long, delicate fingers. "Later."
She smiled at me.
"So, youse two gonna be okay?" Meowth asked us.
"Yeah," I replied. "I think we're going to be just fine."
"You know, we should probably spruce these two up before sending them to the boss," Jessie remarked as she picked up the Nidoran cages. "Don't want to send him scruffy-looking pokemon, do we?"
Now that sounded more like the Jessie I knew!
"Good point," said Meowth.
With that, the three of us took the Nidorans out of their cages and began cleaning them up. Finally! One of our schemes had worked, and for the first time since last night, Jessie actually looked happy!
But it was too good to last.
Just as we were putting the finishing touches on the Nidorans (dressing them in cute little outfits that Jessie had made with the leftover fabric from our bride and groom costumes), the twerps showed up...and Ralph and Emily were with them!
"Oh, no! Not you again!" Jessie snapped, jumping to her feet.
"How did you find us?!" I demanded.
Ash smirked at us. "We followed your trail!"
Then, his new friend, Tracey, held up a bag of cans -- the exact same cans that had been tied to our balloon! "You should've picked up after yourselves," he reproached us.
Oops! (Tying the cans to the balloon had been my idea -- I wanted today to be as wedding-like for me and Jessie as possible, and I thought they made a nice touch! Now, our plans had been screwed up yet again, and it was all my fault.)
"Maybe I should've tied the cans a little tighter," I whispered contritely.
"Maybe I should've dropped YOU out of the balloon instead!" Jessie shot back.
Oh, great! Now she was mad at me again! Just when I thought things were going to get back to normal, those little pests had to come and screw everything up once more! Damn them!
Well, we had worked so hard and sacrificed yet another day off to get those Nidorans, so we weren't going to let the twerps take them back without a fight! Besides, I was already mad at them for what they had done to upset my Jessie. Revenge would be mine!
"Go, Arbok!" Jessie shouted.
But (like I said before) as I was about to command him to Vine Whip those brats into next week, he chomped down on poor Jessie and tried to swallow her! I felt my stomach lurch when I saw this -- being attacked by my pokemon couldn't have been doing anything to help her foul mood. I was going to be in big trouble when this was all over! (Well, bigger trouble.)
And we soon learned just how dangerous two pokemon in love can be -- as valiantly as Arbok and Victreebel fought, they were just no match for those little Nidorans. The male Nidoran, Tony, did everyhing he could to protect the female, Maria, and vice versa. And to make matters worse, now that they had a common enemy in us, Ralph and Emily began working together, too!
Tony and Maria may not have been as strong as our pokemon, but they sure were fast! And they used that to their advantage, double-teaming to bite and scratch poor Arbok and Victreebel into oblivion.
Unable to watch our pokemon take such abuse, Jessie and I called them back and retreated to the balloon. But we weren't about to admit defeat -- we had a contingency plan!
When Meowth prepared the balloon the night before, he had also installed a vacuum pump, just in case we'd have to resort to long-distance pokemon-snatching. And we did. Switching it on, we aimed the nozzle towards the ground, but before it could suck up the Nidorans, Pikachu got caught in the suction.
Well, this actually worked out better! (For some strange reason, the boss is obsessed with us bringing him that little rodent, too.) Who needed a Nidoran pair now that we had Pikachu?!
But when he got sucked up, he somehow managed to bring a tree branch with him, and he jammed it into the vacuum hose when he reached us. And maybe it was just my imagination, but I swear to God I saw that monster give us an evil grin before Thundershocking the living daylights out of us.
Then, to add insult to injury, that little brat, Misty, sent out her Staryu and got it to blow a hole in our balloon.
And, of course, we ended up blasting off again....
Now, as Jessie and I headed back to our room after dropping off Meowth, Arbok, and Victreebel at the pokemon center to get healed, there was another grim silence between us. I know she had promised to talk to me about what was bothering her, but I could tell from the look on her face that it wasn't going to happen. Once again, those twerps had ruined everything for us, not just on the job, but in our personal lives, too.
As soon as we reached the inn, Jessie went into the bathroom and slammed the door. I collapsed on the bed and closed my eyes as I heard her turn on the water so that she could take a shower.
I just laid there and listened to the falling water, conjuring an image of it cascading down Jessie's beautiful body. Normally, I would've been in the shower with her, but as angry as she was with me, that was pretty much out of the question now.
Exhaling in a loud sigh, I opened my eyes and stared up at the ceiling. It was so hard to believe that at this time yesterday, Jessie and I were in each other's arms, planning a wonderful vacation together. We were supposed to be relaxing -- enjoying the serenity of the countryside and each other's company. But instead, the brats had to show up and put notions of pokemon-snatching schemes into Jessie and Meowth's heads. Instead of relaxing, we had blasted off, and now Jessie was mad at me.
I covered my eyes with my hand, but just as I was about to cry, I heard the bathroom door creak open. Looking up and wiping my tears away, I watched Jessie step out. Her crimson hair, which was no longer styled, was now spilling down her back, all the way past her knees. She was also wearing a short lavender sundress with white roses printed on it and strappy sandals that laced up her perfectly-shaped calves. I swear, at that moment she looked too beautiful to even be human -- she looked more like an elf, or a wood-nymph, or some other enchanted creature of the sylvan forest that surrounded this town.
"Jessie," I gasped. "You're...you're...."
She looked down at me with tear-filled sapphire eyes. "I'm going for a walk," she said curtly. "Alone."
"Please, James. I want to be alone," she muttered.
"But that doesn't mean you should be alone," I whispered as she went out the door.
I wanted to go with her, I really did, but I knew that it would be wrong. She didn't want to have anything to do with me, and if I tried to follow her, I'd only end up making things worse.
What had happened between us anyway? I honestly didn't know. Everything was perfect yesterday, but when I looked into my lover's eyes just now, I had seen a stranger. As I mulled over the events of the past twenty-four hours and tried to figure out what was going on, I began to cry.
I was so confused -- the only thing I was really sure of was that I had lost Jessie. It felt like my heart had been impaled on a knife and torn from my chest, and I was left completely empty...completely hollow. My feelings of loneliness consumed me, and I cried like I'd never cried before.
I don't know how long I had been lying there in the throes of misery when I suddenly felt a paw on my shoulder.
"Whatsa' matter, James?"
"M-meowth?" I whimpered. The room was dark, and I couldn't see a thing.
"James, what happened?!"
"It's Jessie!" I sobbed. "She doesn't love me anymore!"
I heard his soft footsteps on the wooden floor and a clicking sound as he turned on the light.
"Oh, God! James, ya look awful!" he cried when he saw me.
"I feel even worse," I muttered.
Meowth jumped onto the bed and sat next to me. "Now, what was dat about Jessie?"
"I said she doesn't love me anymore!" I told him, beginning to cry again. "Why else would she have started acting this way? Why else would she refuse to talk to me...to have anything to do with me?! God, Meowth, when we were in the woods earlier, I even heard her say she hated me!"
Meowth closed his eyes for a moment. "James," he began, "while I was at the pokemon center, I got ta thinkin'."
"Jessie. What she's been doin...and more importantly, why she's been doin' it."
I wiped my tears away and looked at the cat. "You think you might know what's wrong with her?"
Suddenly, I felt a glimmer of hope in my broken heart. "What is it, then?! Tell me! Tell me!!!"
"I think it may be dat ex she was talkin' about yesterday."
My heart sank again when I heard this. "The one who dumped her? But why would she get so worked up over him?! Don't I make her happy, Meowth?"
"Of course ya do!" he told me. "James, ya make her so happy...."
"Then why is she so sad?!"
"James, dere's somethin' ya gotta understand," said Meowth. "Ya don't have an ex -- and Jessiebelle don't count since ya weren't with her by choice -- so ya don't really know what it feels like ta be dumped...."
"I do now," I sighed. And I did -- to think that Jessie had left me was the worst feeling in the world!
"Well, it's different with you and Jessie -- youse two really are meant ta be!" he continued. "But even if dat ex was no good for ya, and ya know it, it still hurts ta get dumped. Take me and Meowsie. I know she was selfish and shallow, and dat she never loved Meowth, but it still hurts when I think about her leavin' me for dat Persian."
I closed my eyes and reflected on his words for a moment.
"And it's the same deal with Jessie, I'm bettin'," he continued. "I think somethin' made her start thinkin' about her ex...about why he left her. And no matter how happy ya make her, it probably still hurts her ta think about him. It ain't dat yer not good enough for her, James -- cuz ya are! Youse two are so perfect together. It's just...she's probably been hurt so bad dat thinkin' about it again scared her."
My mind flashed back to when we were in the woods. "That's right!" I told him. "She did look like she was afraid of something earlier...afraid, even of me...like I was going to hit her, or something...."
That's when it all came together.
"Oh, my God! She still loves me!"
Meowth nodded. "Of course! James, she loves ya so much...."
"Now I understand!" I said, taking a red rose from my pocket and holding it out to him. "You know why I always carry this rose, right?"
"I can take a wild guess," he replied.
I smiled. "Yes...it's because it reminds me of her. There's nothing more beautiful, more soft, or more gentle than a rose...but there's nothing more fragile, either. And that's why a rose has thorns, Meowth -- they protect that beautiful, delicate blossom from harm. Those thorns may hurt people and scare them away, but the rose isn't bad because of that. If you can look past those thorns, you'll see just what a glorious flower the rose truly is...and that there's nothing more precious.
"And that's why I love Jessie -- she IS a rose!" I continued. "She's got thorns, Meowth...sharp ones. And I've been hurt by them on more than one occasion. But you know what? Once I learned how to get past her thorns, she became a different woman -- she really is as soft and gentle as a rose blossom!"
The cat studied the rose in my hand for a second. "Yeah! Yer right!"
I stood up and ran a hand through my hair. "I guess I was just so wrapped up in how beautiful and wonderful she is that I forgot she still has thorns...that I still have to be careful around her. But maybe...maybe now I can make her realize that she doesn't need her thorns anymore. That as long as she has me, nothing will ever hurt her again."
"Exactly," said Meowth.
"It's funny. In all the years we've known each other, Jessie's always been the strong one. She promised that she'd always protect me, and she has. But it's not just her responsibility anymore -- I think I have to protect her, too."
Meowth grinned. "To protect the world from devastation, right?"
I returned the smile. "Right!"
Now I knew what I had to do. I didn't care what Jessie had said about wanting to be alone -- I knew that my intuition was right...that she needed me by her side. Just like the last time Jessie's spirit had been crushed -- the night we became lovers -- I had to be the one to take charge. I had to find her and put an end to her pain once and for all...to let her know just how much I cared.
And that's exactly what I set out to do.
Once again, I knew that I had to trust my intuition. Somehow, I had the feeling that Jessie was going to be in the woods, where she'd had her breakdown earlier that day, and I was right.
I found her under that same cedar tree that I'd seen her standing beneath that afternoon. And just like last night, she was lying on the ground, sobbing. Normally, she's really good at detecting another person's presence, but at the moment, she was so wrapped up in her grief that she didn't even notice my approach.
She stopped crying for a moment and got to her knees. "J-James?"
I knealt down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"James, w-what are you doing here?" she asked in a quavering voice. "I told you that I wanted to be alone."
I crawled closer to Jessie and seated myself in front of her. "I don't care," I replied. "Jess, I know you don't want to talk to me about what's on your mind, but look at what keeping it bottled-up inside is doing to you! If you think for one moment that I'm going to stand aside and let you be miserable like this, then you're wrong! Now, talk to me! Please!"
Jessie covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her sobs.
Gently, I took her hands in my own and began caressing the palms with my thumbs. "Look, I want you to be comfortable when you tell me about this, okay, Jess? I want you to relax. Whatever it is, I promise it won't make me love you less. You can talk to me...."
A tear rolled down her cheek as she looked into my eyes. She trusted me, but she was still afraid.
"Jessie, I want you to close your eyes," I told her.
She nodded and closed them.
"Okay. Now, I want you to picture your favorite place in the entire world -- the place where you feel safest...the place where you feel happiest. Can you do that?"
Jessie nodded again, and I saw her smile ever so slightly. It was working!
"Where are you, Jess?" I asked.
She smiled a little more and took a deep breath. "In your arms," she whispered.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing! She could have been anywhere she wanted to be -- lying on a sunny beach, curled up before a fireplace in a little log cabin...even in the castle of a fairy-tale princess! But of all the places her imagination could have conjured, she chose me!
Oh, Jessie! You really do love me! How could I have doubted you? I thought as tears of joy welled up in my eyes. The look on her face as she pictured herself in my arms was so serene.
Then, I realized something -- why should she have to picture herself in my arms when she could have the real thing?! In an instant, I was at her side, and I immediately transported her to her favorite place in the entire world.
Jessie returned my embrace and rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel her trembling.
"I love you," I whispered, kissing her tenderly on the forehead and running my fingers through her hair. "And I want more than anything for you to feel safe...for you to feel happy...."
"I do now, James...I do now...."
I smiled and held her closer. "Now are you ready to tell me what's going on?"
"It's about that ex-boyfriend, isn't it?"
"Yes," she sighed after a long pause.
"His name was Antonio," she said. "I met him after we joined Team Rocket. He was the Elite in charge of my trainee group...."
I closed my eyes and thought back to our trainee days. Yes, I remembered now! Jessie and I had been in different groups during our trainee period. Annie and Oakley had been in charge of the group I was in, but Jess had been stuck in the group led by Antonio. (And he'd obviously used his higher rank to coerce her into dating him -- he didn't strike me as the kind of guy she'd go out with by choice.)
"He seemed so charming at first," Jessie continued. She laughed bitterly. "But then, he showed what he really was...."
"What did he do to you, Jess?" I asked, pulling her closer.
There was another long pause before she answered me. "It's funny -- I seem like I'm so tough, don't I? I seem so goddamned tough...and for the longest time, that's what I thought I was. But he showed me just how weak and pathetic I really am...."
Sobs wracked her body as she began to cry again. "Jess, what happened!?" I asked again.
"Once we started going out, he kept demanding all of my time -- keeping constant watch over me," she explained. "Intensive training, he called it...saying it was for my own good...."
Everything was starting to make sense now. I had rarely seen Jessie while she was dating Antonio because he had isolated her. Isolation. The first sign of....
"He beat you up, didn't he, Jessie?" I asked.
She looked up at me, her sapphire eyes filling with tears -- I was right!
"He always yelled at me...told me how worthless I was," she cried, unable to hold back her tears anymore. "Whenever he wasn't happy, he'd start hitting me...pushing me around. A-and...and the pathetic thing is...I didn't do anything to stop him...not a goddamned thing...."
"That son of a bitch!" I growled.
"He kept telling me how lucky I was to have him because nobody else would ever love me, and like an idiot, I believed him. So, I stayed...kept letting him hit me...maybe I really am as stupid as he said...."
"That's the thing about abusers, Jessie," I told her. "They dominate you mentally before they dominate you physically. They tell you a bunch of crap about yourself, and they tell it to you enough times that you start to believe it's true. Once they've got you in that psychological prison, they know you're not going to leave, and the physical abuse begins. Believe me, I know...."
Jessie buried her face in my shoulder and continued to cry.
"My ex-fiance was like that -- always telling me how stupid and worthless I was! She wasn't any different from my parents," I continued. "God, Jessie, I was convinced that I was a complete screw-up until I met you! You were the first person who ever had faith in me, and because of you, I know now that they were wrong.
"I used to be so scared of them, but that changed on the day you forced me to go home," I said. "Once I saw them again, I knew that running away was the right choice -- it reminded me that I'm in charge of my own life. I can laugh at them now because they're nothing to me, and you need to be able to do the same with your ex-boyfriend. If you keep letting him make you miserable like this, then he wins! Don't let him win, Jess!"
She gave me a quizzical look.
"Let me help you overcome him, the same way you helped me overcome my tormentors!" I explained, cupping her chin in my hand. "Jessiebelle and my parents are full of it, and so is Antonio! He's trash, Jessie! Don't ever believe any of that horrible stuff he said to you!"
"That's the difference between us, James," she whimpered. "You knew that Jessiebelle and your parents were abusive, and that's why you ran away. I stayed with Antonio and kept letting him hit me!"
"But you did get out, Jess! You wouldn't be with me otherwise!" I protested.
"That's just the thing, James!" she sobbed. "I didn't leave him -- he left me!"
I raised an eyebrow. "What's the difference, as long as you're not with him anymore?"
"It was...it was two years ago last night," she said, getting a distant look in her eyes. "We'd just gone out for dinner -- a spaghetti dinner -- and we were taking a walk...."
So THAT'S why Jessie had become upset all of a sudden! It had been the two-year anniversary of her breakup...and she and her ex had been on a date almost exactly like ours! That must've triggered some really painful memories for her...and that's why she'd been so obsessed with stealing those Nidorans -- she didn't want to think about Antonio, so she tried to lose herself in her job instead!
"After dinner he got mad at me, and we got to arguing again," she continued. "We'd been going out for a couple of months at that point...and that was the night he decided that he wanted to consummate our relationship. But I wasn't ready yet, and I knew that he wasn't the man I wanted to give my virginity to, so I refused...."
I felt my throat tightening when she said this. I knew for a fact that Jessie hadn't been raped (the night we became lovers was the first time she'd ever been touched), but the mere thought that she could've been in danger of something so horrible was enough to scare the living daylights out of me!
"When I said no, he grabbed me by the shoulders and started shaking me, and...and I just couldn't take it anymore -- I broke away and slapped him. I told him that I was sick of him hitting me and bossing me around and to leave me alone. And I swear to you, James, a fire sparked in his eyes when I did that! He threw me to the ground and called me a stupid little bitch...and that he was sick of me, too. The last thing he said to me before walking away for good was that I'd never find anybody else to love me because I'm mean, and nasty, and evil. He told me I'd be alone forever...." But before Jessie could say anything more, her voice trailed off, and she began to cry again.
"Jessie," I whispered, cradling her in my arms. "Jessie, that's not true. I love you. I always have...and I always will."
She looked up at me, and I brushed her tears away.
"Forget everything that bastard told you, Jessie," I said. "I love you more than anything else in this world, and that's not ever going to change!"
Jessie smiled and put her arms around me. "I love you, too, James."
"Do you want to know why he really left you?" I asked.
"Why?" she sniffled.
"Because he was a coward," I replied. "All abusers are cowards, Jessie! They don't like strong partners -- they want somebody with a weak spirit...somebody who's easy to control. And that's not you, Jessie, not even close! You are such a brave, strong, intelligent woman, and he wasn't man enough to handle that. He didn't leave you because you're evil, Jess! He left you because he knew that he couldn't control you anymore!"
Her smile grew even wider. "You think so?"
"I know so. Jess, your strength was one of the first things that attracted me to you! Your strength is so beautiful...."
She frowned and turned away from me again. "But I still feel so stupid for letting him hurt me the way he did...so stupid, and weak, and ashamed...."
I turned her to face me once more. "Don't," I said. "Jessie, you didn't do anything wrong! If anything, you should be proud of yourself for having the courage to say no to him...not many victims can!"
"I guess you're right."
I placed my hands on her shoulders and began to massage them. She sighed contentedly. "I know that took a lot of courage to tell me, Jess," I whispered into her ear. "But I want you to know that I don't think any less of you because of what happened. If anything, I love and respect you even more!"
"I still feel guilty, though," she confessed. "After Antonio left me, I was filled with so much anger and hatred. I didn't ever want to love anybody again because I was afraid of getting hurt...and for the longest time, I took it out on you. James, I will never forgive myself for how I treated you because of him...."
Jessie began to cry again, and I just held her.
"It's okay," I told her. "I know you're not an abusive person -- I wouldn't have fallen in love with you otherwise -- you've just been in a lot of pain, that's all. We've both been hurt, but that's all in the past now. Now that we have each other, we can leave all the nightmares of our past behind and look forward to our future together!"
Gently, I caressed her tear-stained face, and she placed her hand on top of mine.
"Concentrate on me, Jessie," I told her. "Antonio is gone -- he's nothing! Only I exist now...only my touch. Only my hands. Hands that won't ever do anything to hurt you."
"You're right," she whispered. "James, you're so sweet and gentle. I love you so much, and I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner...I'm sorry it took me so long to learn how to trust again...."
"Don't be sorry -- you did tell me eventually," I reminded her. "We have each other now, and that's all that matters!"
Jessie took my hands in her own and kissed them.
"So, no more crying, right?" I said. "After all, today was a wedding day! We should be celebrating! Besides, I don't ever want the woman I'm going to marry to be sad."
Jessie looked up at me, and her eyes widened. "James! Are you saying...that you want to marry me?!"
I blushed. "Well...we're still a little young for that, but...yes, I do. Jessie, I wouldn't be in love with you if I couldn't picture the two of us spending the rest of our lives together!"
She smiled more widely than ever when I said this.
"Jessie, I will always be your best friend," I continued. "And someday, I want to be your husband...and the father of your children, too."
"You will be, James! Trust me, you will!" she said happily.
"Then that settles it!" I laughed. "We're engaged to be engaged!"
Now Jessie was laughing, too.
"I guess today was just practice for our real wedding day," I said.
Jessie stopped laughing and frowned again. "I hope our real wedding turns out better, though. I sort of screwed things up today, didn't I?"
"Well, I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get to be the groom," I confessed.
"I'm sorry about that," she said. "It's just...after all of those terrible memories came back, I was feeling so weak and vulnerable. I was afraid that being the bride -- the one who loses her identity and submits -- would make me even more vulnerable...."
"It's okay," I told her. "We made all of our mistakes today...so our real wedding day should be perfect!"
Jessie smiled again and blushed. "James?"
"What is it, Jess?"
"Well, since we practiced for our wedding day earlier," she muttered, playing with the loose wisp of purple hair that always hangs in my face, "I think we should practice for our wedding night now!"
I returned the smile. "Why, Jessie, does that mean what I think it means?"
She nodded and pressed herself against me. "Make love to me, James," she whispered into my ear. "I want more than anything to be close to you!"
I nodded. "So do I...but this time, I want the rehearsal to be as good as the real thing is going to be!"
Jessie raised an eyebrow.
"We should do this in a nice room, not out here in the woods," I explained. "I want this to be special, Jessie...more special than it already is. I want to give you chocolate-covered strawberries, silk sheets, a bed of rose petals...."
Jessie reached up and ran her fingers through my hair. "James, all I need is you. Nothing else in this world matters!"
"But you deserve the best!" I replied. "If I were still a rich man, I'd give you everything your heart desires, Jess...."
She silenced me by placing a hand to my lips. "Just give me yourself, and I will have everything my heart desires, James!"
I gazed into her eyes and felt my heart begin to race when I saw how sincere she was.
"I love you, James. You make me so happy," she whispered as she pressed her lips to mine.
I swept my future bride-to-be into my arms and got to my feet. "I love you, too, Jessie," I whispered back. "And I'll never stop making you happy -- I want to make you as happy as you make me."
Jessie smiled and put her arms around my shoulders as I carried her back to town. Our lips then locked in a passionate kiss which we didn't break free from until we had returned to our room at the inn.
I'll admit, the rehearsal for our wedding had been kind of disappointing, but the rehearsal for our honeymoon more than made up for it! Jessie and I spent the entire night in each other's arms, making love on a bed of rose petals. Rose petals every bit as soft, delicate, and beautiful as my Jessie...my lover...my future wife.
When it was over, she rested her head on my chest and let the beating of my heart lull her to sleep. As she dozed off, she knew that she would be safe in my arms forever, and a contented smile spread across her lips.
"I love you, Jessie," I whispered, running my fingers through her sea of crimson hair. "You'll never be alone again."
"I love you, too, James," she muttered in her sleep, the smile on her lips growing even wider.
I sighed happily and let my gaze drift up to the ceiling. I guess I'm going to have to start saving more money, I said to myself. After all, whoever came up with that "two months' salary" rule obviously hasn't worked for MY boss!
And it's true -- two months' worth of a Team Rocket salary would barely be enough for the tiniest diamond chip! I have to do better than that -- I'm going to save up enough money to give Jessie the best diamond ring...and the best wedding possible! Sure, it's going to take a few years to get that kind of money, but we're still too young for marriage anyway. By the time I do have enough, we'll be ready.
Yes, when Jessie and I get married, I'll give her a wedding fit for a princess...God knows, she deserves it!
Nothing but the best for my Jess....
Special thanks to Jupiter for the gorgeous illustration of Jessie & James rehearsing for their honeymoon! *_*
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