A White Today (Part 3)
by Cori Falls
Chapter 7 -- The Fellowship of the Rocket and Their Fu King Adventure
(Based on a true story...sort of)
"It's here, James! The big day has finally arrived!" Jessie squealed excitedly as she looked at the calendar on the dining room wall.
"Yeah! I've been waiting practically my whole life for this, Jessie!" I agreed.
The two of us joined hands and twined our fingers. "The Fellowship of the Ring is finally in theaters!" we said in unison as we began an impromptu tango.
It was the nineteenth of December, and Jessie, Meowth, and I were at my grandma and grandpa Woodson's vacation home in Cedar Creek. We'd spent the past two weeks with Jessie's grandma and grandpa Parker in Opal Ridge, but yesterday morning, we'd said good-bye to them and set out again. We would've liked to stay with the Parkers for another couple of days since we were having such a good time with them...and since my grandparents wouldn't be arriving in Cedar Creek until the evening of the twenty-first (they were attending a Christmas party that my parents were hosting tomorrow and couldn't leave Lilac Falls before then), but there was only one movie theater in Opal Ridge -- a one-screen discount theater that didn't show movies until several months after they'd been released. Jessie and I were eager to see The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night since we'd been looking forward to the movie for ages, so we'd decided to leave for Cedar Creek a little earlier than we'd anticipated, catch the movie there, and have grandma and grandpa's vacation home to ourselves for a couple of days.
It had taken us all day yesterday to drive through the mountains and back into Johto, but we'd finally reached our destination late last night. About twenty-five miles northeast of Violet City, Cedar Creek was a small town nestled in the foothills on the Johto side of the Cobalt Mountains. Like Opal Ridge, it was surrounded by lush evergreen forests, and a network of small creeks made their way down from the mountains.
My grandparents' place was another fifteen miles northeast of town. It was a large two-story building made of white stone and red cedar wood, like a Swiss chalet. A wooden deck wrapped its way around the upper level and overlooked the nearby creek. Built over one hundred years ago, it had once been an inn. Grandma and grandpa had spent their honeymoon here back in 1953, and they'd often returned for their anniversary to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the forest and the hot springs up in the nearby mountains. About sixteen years ago, however, the inn had closed, and the thirty acres of land that it was on had been put up for sale. Not wanting to see developers demolish one of their favorite places or pave over the pristine forest, grandma and grandpa had used their money to buy the land themselves and fix the old inn up. When I was a boy, I'd spent a few summers here, exploring the woods, wading in the creeks, and spending countless hours playing hide and seek with Growly and my grandparents in the chalet's numerous rooms.
When Jessie, Meowth, and I had arrived last night and let ourselves in with the key grandma and grandpa had sent me, I'd felt as if I were a child again. The chalet was exactly as I remembered it -- rustic wooden furniture carved with simple yet elegant leaf designs, paintings of animals and landscapes adorning the walls, and floral-patterned rugs and drapes accentuating the natural beauty of the cedar wood floor and white stone walls. The sight brought back pleasant memories and served as a comforting reminder that some things never changed.
After taking Jessie and Meowth on a little tour and showing them the lounge, kitchen, dining hall, library, and rec room downstairs, we'd gone upstairs and decided which of the ten bedrooms we wanted. Jessie and I had chosen a large suite at the southeastern corner of the chalet so that we could have a nice view of the sunrise in the mornings and the forest and mountains during the day. Meowth, meanwhile, had taken the suite on the southwest corner at the far end of the hall ("ta give us our privacy," he'd said). Once we'd gotten settled in, Meowth and Wobbuffet had gone back downstairs to the rec room, and Jessie and I had taken a bubble bath together in the enormous spa-tub that was in our suite's private bathroom. The two of us had then enjoyed a romantic night of lovemaking and fallen asleep in each other's arms.
Now, Jessie, Meowth, and I were together in the dining room, waiting for the strawberry almond muffins I'd made for breakfast to finish baking and eagerly anticipating our trip to the movies tonight!
Meowth smirked as he watched me and Jessie dancing and bouncing around like a couple of overgrown children. "What am I gonna do with youse two?" he sighed. "For the past three months, it's been nothin' but Lord of the Rings dis and Lord of the Rings dat! Honestly, guys, what's the big deal?! It's just a movie!"
The cat's words stopped us dead in our tracks.
"J-j-just a movie?! Just a movie?!" Jessie sputtered.
I knew that the cat was only joking, but I wasn't in the mood for a crack like that this morning. "Meowth, I'm going to pretend I didn't hear you say that!" I thundered.
"But if you say it again, we'll be left with no choice but to kick your ass seven ways to Sunday!" Jessie warned him.
Meowth put up his paws. "Calm down! I was just yankin' yer chains! Jeez!"
Jessie and I folded our arms across our chests and frowned at him.
"Aw, come on! Why are ya gettin' so worked up about dis? Can't youse guys take a joke?" Meowth asked.
I looked at Jessie. "Well, he's never read the books, so he doesn't really understand how important this is to us," I said.
"I guess," Jessie conceded. "But ignorance is still no excuse!"
"Then why don't we enlighten him?" I suggested.
"Good idea," she replied.
With that, the two of us seated ourselves on either side of Meowth.
"Sorry for yelling at you, but this is a really touchy subject for us," I told him.
"I noticed," Meowth said.
"You see, Meowth, Lord of the Rings is more than just a movie -- it's one of the greatest books ever written!" Jessie explained.
"It's played a very important part in both of our lives," I chimed in. "And it's one hell of an amazing story!"
Jessie closed her eyes and smiled. "I remember, my momma always read to me when I was a little girl. One night every week, she'd stop at the library on the way home from work -- when she wasn't away on missions, that is -- and get a book that we could both enjoy. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were always my favorites. Hearing about Bilbo and Frodo's adventures always took my mind off my empty stomach...getting to visit Middle Earth for awhile let me forget about how much my real life sucked. And it was always nice to sit on my momma's lap, feel her arms around me, hear her voice in my ear...."
"That's how it was for me, too," I agreed. I closed my eyes and smiled as I recalled how grand-papa and grand-mama had read Tolkien's works to me all the time when I was a boy. "Some of my happiest childhood memories are the times when my grandparents read to me...."
"Those books are also one of the reasons why James and I became such good friends," Jessie continued. "We always got along and enjoyed talking to each other, but when we found out that this was one of the things we had in common, it took our friendship to a whole new level! It was like a bonding experience for us...."
I felt my cheeks turning pink. "I...never told this to you, Jess, but Lord of the Rings is one of the reasons why I'm here now."
Jessie raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, James?" she asked.
I took her by the hand and caressed her palm with my thumb. "Do you remember the night you wanted to join Team Rocket by yourself and leave me in Sunny Town so that I wouldn't get hurt?"
She nodded as her eyes grew moist with tears.
"Well...I'd just finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and it got me to thinking," I explained. "Jess, I was awake when you told me who your mom was and that you had no choice about joining Team Rocket -- the burden of that legacy was the Ring of Doom that you were forced to bear...and hearing why you were leaving reminded me so much of why Frodo left the fellowship and wanted to go to Mordor alone...."
"....But Sam didn't want Frodo to face the darkness alone -- he promised never to leave his friend, and he cared about their friendship too much to break that promise," she concluded. "That's why you joined Team Rocket with me -- because you wanted to keep your promise to stay with me, no matter what...just like Sam did for Frodo."
I smiled at her. "Jess, I would've come with you whether I'd read those books or not," I told her. "But seeing those two little hobbits going through the same thing that we were going through further convinced me that I was making the right choice."
"James...that's so sweet!" Jessie whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"So, I have dose books ta thank for youse guys bein' such a cozy couple!" Meowth mused. "Wow! No wonder dey're so important to ya!"
"Those books are just one of the reasons why Jess and I share such a deep bond of friendship and love," I said as I draped an arm around Jessie's shoulders and brushed her tears away with my free hand. "But they are a very big reason. There's no doubt about that."
Jessie smiled and rested her head on my shoulder. "And one of the things James and I always used to talk about was how much we wanted to see a live-action version of Lord of the Rings on the big screen," she told Meowth. "We'd spend hours on end, talking about how they'd adapt the book into movie format, how we thought the scenery was going to look, who we thought should be cast as the characters...you get the idea."
"So you see, Meowth, one of our fondest wishes has finally been granted!" I exclaimed. "Our favorite book is being brought to life -- it's a dream come true!"
Meowth smiled. "Dis must be one helluva book! Now I'm startin' ta get excited, too!"
"Does this mean you'll stop making jokes and enjoy the movie with us?" Jessie ventured.
"Yeah!" the cat replied. "If it's had dat much influence on where we are now, den I've GOTTA see it!"
My smile became a grin as I scratched behind Meowth's ears. "Glad you feel that way. This is going to be a really special experience for me and Jessie, and we want you to be a part of it."
"Yeah. You're our best friend, Meowth," said Jessie. "It wouldn't be the same if you weren't there."
Meowth sniffled. "Awww! Thanks, guys!"
As the three of us were about to share a group-hug, the oven timer suddenly started beeping.
I jumped out of my seat and headed for the kitchen. "Sounds like the muffins are done!"
Now Jessie was grinning, too. "All right!"
"Breakfast is served!" Meowth cheered.
While I was taking the strawberry almond muffins out of the oven, Jessie put a kettle of water on the stove and added some cocoa mix to three large mugs. Once the muffins had cooled a little, I removed them from the tin and placed them on plates, and once the water was hot enough, Jessie poured it into the mugs. The warm, sweet muffins made with fresh strawberries and the hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows were the perfect treat for a cold morning.
"Mmm-mmm! Another stupendous breakfast, Jimmy-boy!" Meowth said as he slathered one of his muffins with butter and shoved it into his mouth.
After she'd finished one of her muffins and wiped the crumbs from her lips, Jessie nodded. "I couldn't agree more!"
I blew on my hot chocolate and took a sip. "Thank you," I replied.
"So, are dere any movie theaters in Cedar Creek dat's showin' dis movie?" Meowth inquired, getting back to the original subject.
"There should be," I told him. "After breakfast, I'll go online and look up some theaters and show times."
"Good idea, James," said Jessie.
Meowth nodded. "Yeah. Never hurts ta plan ahead...'specially for somethin' like dis!"
Once we were done eating, I got out our laptop and connected to the internet while Jessie and Meowth cleaned up the kitchen and put the dishes in the dishwasher. I went to the "movies" option on our ISP's home page and entered the town name and movie title so that I could find out which theaters would be showing Lord of the Rings and when.
"Hmmm...there are three movie theaters in Cedar Creek, but only the Poke-Plex 16 is showing The Fellowship of the Ring," I informed Jessie and Meowth once the results were displayed on the screen.
"That's odd," Jessie remarked. "You'd think a big movie like this would be in more theaters."
Meowth shrugged. "Apparently not."
"On the bright side, they're showing it on two screens, so that means we have ten different show times to choose from," I continued.
Jessie smiled and perused the menu for a moment. "Then why don't we shoot for the seven o' clock show?" she suggested. "That way, we'll have plenty of time to get there, and it won't be too late when the movie lets out."
"Sounds like a plan to me!" I told her. As I clicked on the option to buy advance tickets, however, the page wouldn't load, and I lost my internet connection.
"Stupid piece of shit ISP!" Jessie grumbled.
"Oh, well," I sighed. "I don't mind standing in line for tickets at the theater...not for a movie like this!"
Jessie leaned down and began to massage my shoulders. "Me either."
I placed my hand over one of hers and smiled up at her. "So, Jess, have you got our costumes ready?" I asked, changing to a more pleasant subject. Jessie had bought fabric while we were staying in Opal Ridge, and she'd been making Aragorn and Arwen costumes for us, using screen-shots that we'd downloaded as patterns.
Her sapphire eyes lit up. "I sure do! Aragorn, son of Arathorn and his Arwen Undomiel will be the best looking people in the audience tonight!"
"Heaven help me! I'm surrounded by geeks!" Meowth snickered.
I gave the cat a wicked grin. That crack would cost him. "And wouldn't Meowth make the most adorable little hobbit?" I suggested.
"He sure would!" Jessie agreed. "He's even got the furry little feet!"
"He'd be purr-fect as Pippin or Merry," I quipped. "They sort of remind me of him...especially in terms of appetite, attitude, and penchant for making mischief!"
"Then that settles it! Meowth is getting a costume, too!" Jessie cried as she went back upstairs to get her sewing kit.
After making another pattern from some Pippin and Merry screen-shots on our computer, Jessie got to work on Meowth's costume. She spent the next few hours sewing, but it paid off -- by five thirty, she'd made yet another exquisite outfit and presented it to Meowth just in time for us to start getting ready for the movie.
"This is great!" I remarked as I tried on my black pants and dark gray shirt. "It kind of feels like we're living one of our old Dungeons & Dragons adventures!"
Jessie smiled as she helped me with my brown leather tunic and fastened my dark green cloak with a leaf-shaped brooch. "You make such a gorgeous ranger, James! Of course, you look gorgeous no matter what you wear!" she told me, tousling my hair and playing with the rogue wisp that always hangs in my face.
I returned her smile and pulled on my boots. "Thanks, Jess."
After admiring me for a few more minutes, Jessie picked up the gown she'd made for herself. "I guess I should try mine on now."
I blushed. "Yeah!"
My cheeks grew even redder than they already were as I watched Jessie take off her clothes and put on her gown of shimmering blue-violet silk. After adjusting the flowing skirt and flared sleeves, she tied a purple sash embroidered with elvish runes around her slim waist. Then, she swept her hair (which she'd left down today) back and crowned it with a jeweled tiara. A little pair of pointy ears added the finishing touch.
"How do I look, James?" she asked as she twirled around and modeled the outfit for me.
"The brightest stars in the sky and the fairest of elven princesses pale before thy beauty," I replied as I knelt in front of Jessie and took her hand in my own.
Jessie blushed too as I brought her hand to my lips. "And I would renounce my elven immortality to live one life with a man as wonderful as thee," she responded.
As the two of us began to laugh, we suddenly heard a knock at the bedroom door. "Hey! Are youse guys ready yet?" Meowth called to us.
"Yeah, we're ready!" I answered.
"Den hurry up and get yer asses out here!" he shouted. "I wanna see how youse guys look!"
Jessie and I exchanged smiles.
"I guess we should humor him, huh?" I ventured.
"Guess so," Jessie replied. She winked at me. "We can always pick up where we left off later...and I'd like to see how his costume turned out!"
I nodded. "Yeah. And if we tarry too much longer, we'll miss the movie!"
"Then what are we waiting for?" she said.
With that, Jessie and I opened the bedroom door and struck dramatic poses as we stepped into the hall.
"Jessie's getting dressy!" Jessie announced.
"And does James look hot, or what?" I chimed in.
Meowth grinned as he examined our costumes. "Not bad! Not bad at all!" he said. "And mine turned out alright, too!"
We grinned as the cat showed off his gold-colored vest, his brown pants and coat, and his hobbit-sized cloak. Except for his feline face, he bore a striking resemblance to Merry!
"It certainly did, Master Brandybuck!" I told him.
"Some of my better work, if I do say so myself!" Jessie remarked.
"Alright, enuffa dis!" Meowth said, changing the subject. "We need ta get goin' -- it's already ten past six, we got a long drive ta town, and we need enough time ta find dis theater."
Jessie nodded. "You're right."
"And the lines will definitely be long on opening night," I added.
"Den let's go!" the cat exclaimed. He began to race down the stairs. "Ya been jazzed up about dis movie for months, and now ya got me jazzed up, too! I'm gonna be real pissed if we miss it!"
"That makes three of us!" Jessie and I said in unison as we followed him.
The three of us arrived in Cedar Creek after only twenty minutes, but when we pulled into the shopping plaza where the theater was supposed to be, we were more than a little surprised to find that there was no theater!
"James, are you sure you know where this place is?" Jessie asked.
"The web page said it was at 3463 Bayberry Road -- this is the right address," I replied.
"Heh. I'm lookin', but I sure as hell don't see no theater!" Meowth said.
I pulled into a parking space and got out the map that I'd printed from the web site. "I don't get it," I muttered. "There should be a movie theater here!"
"Maybe there was a typo, and the theater is at 3643?" Jessie suggested.
"Maybe. Let's go look," I sighed.
"Well, whatever ya do, hurry it up!" Meowth cried. "We only got thirty minutes til the movie starts!"
Quickly, I pulled out of the parking lot and drove up the road for a couple of blocks, but we still didn't see any movie theaters.
"What the hell?!" Jessie, who was starting to get annoyed, growled. "Where did they hide this goddamned theater anyway?!"
"I'd like to know the answer to that one myself!" I growled back.
"Ya prolly passed it," Meowth remarked. "We're at the 5000 block now."
I scowled as I pulled into the next turn lane and made a u-turn. "It'd help if these damn places would put their numbers where you can actually read them from the road. How the hell am I supposed to keep my eye on traffic and find an address at the same time?!"
"Well, ya don't hafta yell at me!" Meowth said defensively. "I was just sayin'...."
I looked over my shoulder and frowned at him. "I WASN'T yelling at you!"
"Both of you quit yelling!" Jessie snapped. "Don't worry about the addresses, James. Just watch the road. Meowth and I will look for this place."
"Thank you, Jess," I said.
After driving back the way we'd come and still not finding the movie theater by the 1000 block, I turned the Jeep around again.
"Grrr! I can't believe this!" Jessie shouted. "That map you printed is useless, James! There's no movie theater here!"
"Well, that's not my fault!" I shot back.
"Why don't we just stop somewhere and ask for directions?" she said. "We've been driving around in circles for ten minutes and haven't found shit! We're going to miss the movie if we keep this up!"
I ran a hand through my hair and took a deep breath to calm my nerves. "You're right. We're not getting anywhere." With that, I turned into the parking lot of a Taco Grande.
"You stay here...and leave the engine running!" Jessie told me as she hopped out of the Jeep and ran into the restaurant. A few minutes later, she emerged with a paper bag in her hand and a nonplussed expression on her face.
"Well?" I asked.
"I was right, James -- our map is a piece of shit," she said as she got back into the Jeep and fastened her seat belt again. "Turns out the theater is over by the mall on the opposite side of the road at 6334."
I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. "Great."
"Hey. What's with the bag, Jess?" Meowth queried.
Jessie frowned. "They wouldn't give me directions unless I bought something. So, I bought nachos since they were the cheapest thing on the menu."
"Ya gonna eat dose nachos?" he ventured.
"You can have them," Jessie sighed, tossing the bag into the back seat.
"All right!" Meowth cheered as he ripped the bag open and pulled out the box of nachos.
"Let's just hurry," she grumbled. "We've only got fifteen minutes left!"
When we reached the mall parking lot a few minutes later, we were met with another unpleasant surprise -- there was, indeed, a movie theater at 6334 Bayberry Road, but it wasn't showing The Fellowship of the Ring!
"Ohhhhkay," I said as I read the marquee. "This isn't the Poke-Plex 16 -- it's the Maplewood 8! I'm officially confused."
"Yeah, well I'm officially PISSED!!!" Jessie shouted. "This is serious bullshit! Somebody's going to get their ass kicked if we don't get some answers NOW!!!"
"Think we should go with her?" I asked as Jessie got out of the Jeep and stormed up to the ticket window.
Meowth polished off the last of his nachos and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Yeah. Dis could get ugly."
When we reached the ticket window, we found Jessie talking to the theater manager. Surprisingly, she was making an effort to keep her temper in check.
"Look, we just want to know where the theater that's showing The Fellowship of the Ring is," she said calmly. "The map said 3463 Bayberry Road, but we couldn't find anything there, and when we asked for directions, we were sent here...."
"Yeah! Is there some other theater on Bayberry Road, or are we looking in the wrong place entirely?" I asked as I came to Jessie's side.
"Oh, you must mean the Poke-Plex 16," said the manager. "Yeah, they used to be down at 3463, but they moved a few months ago. They're up the road a couple of miles yet. Great big multi-plex at the 13th Street intersection on the left side. Can't miss it."
"Would've been nice if the damn map site had actually UPDATED that little bit of information!" Jessie huffed.
I nodded and took her by the hand. "It certainly would have, but we don't have time to worry about that now!" I said as we raced back to the Jeep. Then, looking over my shoulder at the manager, "Thank you, sir!"
"You're welcome!" he called after us.
Once the three of us were back in the Jeep, I pulled out of the parking lot and floored the gas pedal. After what seemed like an eternity (but was actually more like five minutes), we finally arrived at the Poke-Plex 16 at the 13th Street intersection and saw Lord of the Rings in big, black letters on the marquee.
"Whew! We made it!" Jessie sighed.
"And it doesn't look like there's a long line at the ticket window!" I commented as I found an empty space near the end of the parking lot.
"Dat's good, considerin' we got less den five minutes til the movie begins!" said Meowth.
"I guess we're going to have to wait until after the movie to get something to eat," Jessie remarked as the three of us jumped out of the Jeep and made a mad dash for the ticket window.
"Yeah! There's no way in hell I'm going to go to the snack bar...or anywhere else while the movie is on!" I agreed. "I don't want to pay their outrageous concession prices anyway."
"Well, I'm good! I had nachos!" Meowth said happily.
When Jessie, Meowth, and I got to the ticket window, we didn't even pause to catch our breath.
"Th-three...for...Lord of the Rings...please...." I gasped.
"Sorry! We're all sold out!" the clerk said, a little too cheerfully.
"S-s-sold out?!" Jessie stammered.
"Well...what about a later show?!" Meowth asked. "We can wait!"
The clerk shook her head. "Every single show for the night is sold out," she told us in that same chirpy voice. "The tickets for all of today's showings went on sale yesterday morning at six, and they were all gone within an hour."
Jessie sighed. "At that time yesterday morning...."
"....We were still in bed!" I groaned, finishing the sentence for her.
"So, we drove fifteen miles ta get here, got lost twice, and got ourselves all worked up...for nothin'?!" Meowth cried.
"Sorry. I can't help you," said the clerk.
Jessie, Meowth, and I fell over.
"However," she continued, "we still have plenty of tickets for all of tomorrow's shows. If you'd like to buy some advance tickets, it won't cost any extra."
"Okay...that's what we'll do, then," I muttered as I got back to my feet and took out my wallet. "Three for tomorrow night's 7:00 showing of Lord of the Rings, please."
"That'll be $24."
I handed my money to the clerk, and she handed me three tickets. I tucked them into my wallet for safekeeping. "Well, looks like we're going to be waiting another day to see the movie," I said as I turned to face Jessie and Meowth again.
Jessie hung her head. "But I wanted to see it tonight, goddammit!" she grumbled. "We hardly ever go to the movies anyway, and we've been waiting forever for this one! It's not fair!"
"I know," I replied as I placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Why does this always happen?!" she cried, shrugging my hand away. "Why do we always end up getting screwed-over?! Somebody's going to pay for this!"
"Who?" I asked, grabbing her by the shoulders again. "Who's fault is this?"
Jessie bit her lip and fell silent.
"It's not the people who bought the tickets before we did -- they can't be blamed for wanting to see the movie, too," I told her. "It's not the theater's fault -- they can't help it they sold out of tickets so quickly! Hell! It's not even that stupid map site's fault! Even if we didn't get lost and got here with plenty of time to spare, it wouldn't have helped because there weren't any tickets left anyway! Sometimes it's not anybody's fault, Jess. Sometimes shit just happens, and there's nobody to blame."
"I know. But why does it always have to happen to us?" she whispered as her eyes filled with tears. "I thought things were supposed to be getting better for us!"
I put my arms around her. "It's not so bad, honey," I whispered back. "It's not like we're getting blasted off, or going hungry, or anything like that anymore -- we just have to wait one more day to see a movie. In the big scheme of things, that's not an emergency."
"Yeah, but it's still a royal pain in the ass dat we went ta all dis trouble and ain't got nothin' ta show for it," said Meowth.
"It wasn't a total loss," I reassured them. "We're definitely getting in to see it tomorrow night. And at least now we know where this damn place is and won't get lost again! Everything will be okay, guys. You'll see."
Jessie looked up at me. "Is this another maple syrup moment, James?"
I smiled, remembering the metaphor I'd come up with on the morning Jessie and I had become a couple. "Yes, it is," I whispered, brushing her tears away. "It's just like running out of maple syrup."
"I guess you're right," she sighed. "It could've been worse...but it's still frustrating."
I hugged her again. "Yeah. I'm disappointed, too...but I know something that'll cheer us up."
"And what might dat be?" Meowth asked.
"Let's go out to dinner! My treat!" I announced.
This made Jessie and Meowth smile.
"There are plenty of restaurants around, and it wouldn't make any sense to drive all this way and not even do anything while we're here," I continued. "So, let's make the most of it!"
Jessie nodded. "Sounds great to me, James!"
"There anything in particular you're hungry for?" I queried.
"Anything's fine by me," Meowth said as he began heading back to the Jeep. "Well...'cept for Mexican. I just had dose nachos."
"I'll be happy no matter where we go," Jessie replied. "Though I am kind of partial to Chinese or Japanese."
I took Jessie by the hand, and the two of us followed Meowth. "Chinese or Japanese it is, then!"
After changing out of our costumes and putting on some jeans and sweaters, Jessie and I surveyed the local restaurants, trying to decide which one we wanted to eat at. As we drove down 13th Street, Meowth began to bounce up and down in his seat.
"Hey, lookit dis one -- the Fu King Chinese Buffet!" he piped up.
"Watch your language, Meowth!" Jessie scolded him.
"Yeah! There's no need to be so vulgar!" I added.
"I wasn't cussin'!" the cat said defensively. "Not dis time, anyway -- dat's the name of the restaurant!" With that, he pointed to the sign.
Sure enough, I looked and saw a sign that said, Fu King Chinese Buffet in front of one of the restaurants. "Hey, he's right! That's a rather...interesting name for a restaurant."
"Heh. Dat's one way a puttin' it," Meowth snickered.
Jessie grinned. "With a name like that, they're just asking for a bunch of Fu King trouble!"
Taking her cue, I grinned, too. "And we're about to make it Fu King double!"
Meowth began to laugh. "Dis is gonna be so much Fu King fun!"
"May I help you?" the host asked as Jessie, Meowth, and I entered the restaurant.
"Yes," I replied. "We'd like a Fu King table for three, please."
The host sweatdropped. "Uhhh...okay. Smoking or non-smoking?"
"We want to sit in the Fu King non-smoking section," Jessie told him.
"And make it Fu King snappy!" said Meowth.
"Y-yeah. Right this way," the now visibly agitated host said.
Once the three of us were seated at our table, we exchanged smiles.
"Did you see the look on that guy's face?" Jessie giggled.
"We must be the only ones who get the Fu King joke," I remarked. "Either that, or we're the only ones who actually had the guts to say it out loud."
"Yeah. Somethin' tells me we woulda been met with more indifference or sarcasm if it'd been done ta death," Meowth remarked. He leaned back in his chair and put his paws behind his head as a smile made its way across his mouth. "It's good ta know our material is fresh...dat way, we can milk it for all it's worth!"
"Hmmm...I wonder where the Fu King waiter is," Jessie said.
"Yeah! I'm ready for my Fu King dinner!" I agreed.
"I didn't know dis place had such slow Fu King service!" Meowth chuckled.
After a couple of minutes, a waiter with a nervous expression on his face came to the table and handed a menu to each of us. "Can I get you anything to start?" he asked.
"Give us a minute to look at the Fu King menu, please," I told him.
"Wow! Looks like they've got a big Fu King selection!" Jessie remarked.
"I think we'll start with three Fu King green teas," Meowth replied after perusing the beverage list.
The waiter nodded and hastily took his leave.
"We're ready to place our Fu King order now," Jessie announced when the waiter returned a few minutes later with a kettle of tea and three cups.
"And...what have you decided on?"
"We're going to have the Fu King all-you-can-eat buffet!" I said.
"And can we get some Fu King chopsticks with dat, please?" Meowth asked.
The waiter, finally starting to appreciate the humor, smirked. "Would you like some Fu King napkins, too?"
Jessie, Meowth, and I grinned. "Of course!"
"Alrighty, then," he said. "The Fu King buffet tables are on your right! Enjoy your Fu King meal!"
This made us laugh.
When we returned from our first trip to the buffet table, we all looked at each other's selections.
"I got the Fu King sweet and sour chicken and the Fu King shrimp in lobster sauce!" Meowth announced.
"I got the Fu King honey and ginger chicken and some Fu King fried rice!" said Jessie.
"And I got the Fu King tangerine chicken and some Fu King spring rolls!" I told them.
After we'd each had three plates from the dinner buffet and sampled some of the ginger cookies, bananas in strawberry sauce, fried breads, and ice cream from the dessert buffet, Jessie, Meowth, and I were thouroughly stuffed and thouroughly satisfied.
"Now that was some great Fu King food!" I said, patting my stomach.
"This is the best Fu King restaurant we've been to in a long time!" Jessie sighed.
Meowth grinned and picked his teeth with one of his chopsticks. "Ya got dat right!"
"Is everything okay?" the waiter asked when he returned to our table and took the empty plates.
I nodded. "Give our compliments to the Fu King chef!"
"We're ready for our Fu King check now," Jessie told him.
"And don't forget the Fu King fortune cookies!" Meowth chimed in.
The waiter laughed. "Coming right up!" He came back a few minutes later with the bill and three fortune cookies.
I got out my wallet. "Thanks for being such a good sport and putting up with our twisted sense of humor," I said. "You're getting a big Fu King tip!"
"I've got no Fu King complaints about that!" he chuckled.
"I know! Let's open our Fu King cookies and see what our Fu King fortunes say!" Jessie suggested after the waiter left.
"Now dat's a Fu King great idea!" Meowth replied.
With that, the three of us cracked open our cookies and pulled out the fortunes.
"That which seems bad now is really for the best," Jessie said, reading her fortune aloud.
I smiled at her and read my fortune, too. "Your patience will reap great rewards."
"Your path will cross with dat of an old friend," Meowth said as he munched on his cookie. "Now dose are some Fu King sweet fortunes!"
"Yeah," Jessie agreed.
"Hey. Why don't the three of us go for a walk?" I suggested once I'd finished my cookie. "That way, we can digest our Fu King dinner."
"That sounds like a Fu King great idea, too!" Jessie said.
As Jessie, Meowth, and I got up from the table and headed for the door, continuing our Fu King conversation all the while, the manager facefaulted. "That does it -- we're changing the name of this Fu King restaurant," I heard him grumble.
After leaving the restaurant, the three of us got back into the Jeep and drove to the Cedar Creek Town Park, where we took a walk along one of the nature trails. Now, Jessie and I were sitting together on a wrought iron bench surrounded by fragrant evergreen trees while Meowth skipped rocks along the surface of a nearby pond. The silver light of the moon and stars reflected on the surface of the water, giving us a feeling of tranquility, and the fresh, sweet scent of douglas fir, blue spruce, and the trees the town was named for perfumed the air, serving as a reminder that Christmas was coming.
"You were right, James," Jessie sighed as she draped an arm around my shoulders. "Going out to dinner really did cheer me up!"
Meowth returned to our side and seated himself next to us. "Yeah! Dat was a Fu King blast!" he said.
I nodded and put my arm around Jessie's waist. "It's always nice to have a blast instead of a blast-off," I agreed. "And we probably wouldn't have gone out to dinner at all...or gone on this lovely walk if we hadn't missed the movie."
Jessie smiled. "Yeah! This is such a beautiful night, James -- I don't ever want it to end!"
"Exactly," I told her. "It's like your fortune cookie said -- even though things seemed bad at first, it was all for the best."
"Good point," she said. "And your fortune cookie probably means that if we're just patient and wait for tomorrow, the movie will be even better than we expected!"
"Wow! Yer fortunes make a lotta sense, now dat ya mention it!" Meowth remarked. "I wonder if my fortune about meetin' an old friend is gonna be right, too."
As if on cue, the three of us heard footsteps approaching...and then we heard a familiar voice. "Jessie? James? Meowth? Is that you?"
Turning around, we saw Gary standing behind us.
Meowth grinned. "Look, guys! It's Gary!"
"Hey, Gary!" Jessie exclaimed.
I folded my arms across my chest and smiled. "Well, what do you know, Meowth? All three of our fortunes were right!"
Gary returned our smiles. "It's nice to see you guys again! How have you been?"
"Heh. You will NOT believe the night we just had!" came Meowth's reply.
"What happened?" he asked.
"We came to see The Fellowship of the Ring, but when we got to the theater, we found out that all of tonight's shows have been sold out since yesterday morning," I explained.
Gary closed his eyes and shook his head. "Man, that's rough!"
"Looks like you're in town to see it, too," Jessie said, taking note of the brown pants, burgundy overcoat, and dark green cloak that Gary was wearing. "Why else would you be dressed as Frodo Baggins?"
"Guilty as charged," Gary chuckled. "I was running an errand for grandpa here in Cedar Creek. One of his colleagues, Professor Maple, is doing research on grass pokemon, and I volunteered to deliver the chlorophyll samples that grandpa prepared for him. I knew I was gonna be here when the movie came out, so I got my advance tickets when they went on sale first thing yesterday morning. I had an early dinner and caught the five o' clock show this afternoon, but if you ask me, you didn't miss out on too much...."
Those words hit us like a punch in the gut. Jessie and I gasped and threw our arms around each other. "Y-y-y-you mean the m-m-movie w-wasn't g-g-good?!" we stammered.
"No! I didn't mean it that way!" he quickly replied. "The movie was awesome! I just mean the crowds were so huge that it was hard to enjoy the full experience."
Jessie, Meowth, and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"Practically everybody was there in costume," Gary continued. "There were a bunch of guys wearing big, pointy wizard hats, and wouldn't you know it, they all had to sit in the front row! I was in one of the upper tiers, and I STILL couldn't see over them -- the whole bottom part of the screen was blocked out! I tell you, I had a devil of a time reading the subtitles during the parts that were spoken in Elvish. If I hadn't already read the books, I probably would've been lost!"
"Sheesh! Ya think dey woulda taken dere hats off while the damn movie was on," Meowth grumbled.
"No such luck," Gary sighed. "And the noise! It was bad enough that I couldn't see the whole screen, but there were so many crying babies, people yakking on cell-phones, and hard-core fans nit-picking the movie to death that I could barely hear either!"
Jessie buried her face in her hands. "Why can't people turn off their damn cell-phones while they're at the movies?" she groaned. "And a PG-13 movie is no place for a baby! Jeez!"
I frowned. "And talking during the movie? Talk about rude!"
"They changed some things to make the story more big screen friendly," Gary told us. "They omitted a few scenes that didn't completely advance the plot, like the stop at Merry's house in Buckland, the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil, and the Barrow Downs -- the hobbits just went straight to The Prancing Pony after crossing the Brandywine River instead. And they did actual cut-scenes of things like Gollum being tortured by Sauron's minions and Gandalf's confrontation with Saruman instead of having the characters just describe the events later on. And they changed a few minor details, like having Frodo be rescued from the ring-wraiths by Arwen instead of Glorfindel. You should've heard the people whining about all of that -- it about drove me nuts! Quite frankly, I didn't think the differences between the book and the movie were that big a deal!"
"Yeah! You have to expect a few things to be left out in the movie adaptation, considering the scope of the books," I said. "And it's a trilogy of three hour movies -- sounds to me like they're making every effort they can to stay true to the books and leave in as much as possible!"
"And the changes they did make sound like good ones!" Jessie added. "Maybe this is just me, but I like that Arwen has a bigger role in the movie than she does in the book. The female characters are just as important as the male ones, you know!"
Gary nodded. "Precisely. It's not like they butchered the story -- I was amazed by what I saw! The little things they did change shouldn't matter. And if people did have to nit-pick or complain about all of the things that were wrong, I wish they'd have at least waited til after the movie." He shook his head and smiled again. "Anyway, from what I did manage to see and hear, it was one of the best movies ever...and definitely the best adaptation of a book I've ever seen! I bought advance tickets to see it again tomorrow night -- hopefully the crowds won't be as big, and I'll actually be able to concentrate on the movie!"
"Hey! We're goin' tomorrow night, too!" Meowth exclaimed.
"Really? Which show?" Gary asked.
"The one at seven," he replied. "Dat's the one we tried ta see tonight...until our plans fell through, dat is."
"Whoa! That's the one I'm going to!" he said. "Small world!"
"It sure is," I agreed.
"Maybe we could all go together!" Jessie suggested.
Gary raised an eyebrow. "You mean I wouldn't be in the way, or anything?"
I shook my head. "Jessie and I weren't planning it as a date -- this is the kind of thing we want to share with our friends."
"Yeah! Dat's why I'm here!" said Meowth.
"And the more friends we have with us, the better it'll be!" Jessie told him.
"Kind of like our own fellowship!" I remarked.
Gary smiled again. "I never thought of it that way, but you're right!"
I wrapped my arms around Jessie's waist again and rested my forehead against her own. The tips of our noses brushed together. "Besides, Jess and I can always do something romantic later," I muttered as I lowered my mouth to hers.
"We was in costume, too," Meowth informed Gary once Jessie and I finished kissing. "Yer Frodo outfit would look perfect with what we was wearin'."
"Really? Which characters were you?" he queried.
"I was a hobbit. Merry, I think," the cat replied. "Jess was dat elf princess, Arwen, and James was someone named Aragorn. I've never read the books, so I'm not too sure who everybody is, but...."
Gary nodded to me and Jessie, then looked back at Meowth. "Well, I don't want to spoil anything for you, but I will say that Aragorn and Arwen are a couple, too."
Meowth grinned. "Heh. No wonder dey picked dose characters!"
Suddenly, Gary began to chuckle. "Oh, man, that reminds me...speaking of costumes, I'm so glad I was wearing one tonight!"
"Why's dat?" Meowth asked.
"This is another reason you should be glad you weren't at the movies," he continued.
This got Jessie's and my attention. "What happened?" we asked in unison.
"Well, since I already had my tickets, and I got to the theater a little early anyway, I was just hanging out in the lobby, waiting for the movie to begin," he told us. "And you'll never guess who I saw...."
"Lemme guess! The twerps!" Meowth interjected.
"You got it!" Gary laughed.
"Why am I not surprised?" Jessie groaned.
"I guess they couldn't agree on which movie they should go to -- they were all standing around and arguing," he said.
"Yeah, that sounds like the twerps, alright," I remarked.
"Misty wanted to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Brock wanted to see Vanilla Sky, and Ash kept whining that he wanted to see Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," Gary continued. "Poor Brock and Misty had to explain to him at least five times that Jimmy Neutron isn't gonna be in theaters until next week, and when he finally did get it, he just started whining even more, like that was gonna make the movie magically appear, or something."
"Poor Brock and Misty, indeed," I sighed. "How they put up with Ash is beyond me!"
"I know! What a spoiled brat!" Jessie grumbled.
"And whatta dumbass!" Meowth added. "How dense is he anyway, dat dey had ta explain somethin' dat simple ta him five times before he understood?!"
"And that's why I'm glad I was in costume," Gary snickered. "I was standing just a few feet away, and Ash looked right at me a couple of times, but he had no idea who I was...just because I'm wearing this burgundy overcoat and green cloak. I guarantee you, if I'd been in my everyday clothes, he would've started screaming my name like it's some kind of obscenity and challenging me to a battle."
"Ugh! No kiddin'!" said Meowth. "Obnoxious don't even begin ta describe dat twerp!"
I winced. "Yeah! That whole name-screaming and picking a fight every time he sees you, even when you're just minding your own business thing he does gets real old real fast! I swear, if we had a nickel for every time he's pulled that shit with us, we'd be millionaires!"
"I heard that," Gary sighed.
"And he never recognizes us when we're in costume either," Jessie added. "We could walk right up to him, have a whole conversation with him...even take Pikachu right out of his hands, and he wouldn't know it was us if we weren't wearing our Team Rocket uniforms!"
Gary buried his face in his hands. "I know you've mentioned that before, but I STILL can't get over how dumb Ash is! Man, that's dense!"
"He probably wouldn't have recognized us if he did see us tonight, but you're right -- at least we didn't have to hear him bitching and whining about that movie," she went on.
"Exactly," Gary said. "I think they all finally decided on Harry Potter -- though Ash kept complaining about wanting to see the other movie, and Brock was upset about having to wait and see Cameron Diaz on the big screen some other time -- so that means they probably would've been leaving the theater at the same time you were arriving. Chances are pretty good you would've run into them, too...."
Meowth breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness we didn't!"
I hugged Jessie again and ran my fingers through her crimson hair. "See, honey? If we'd gone tonight, the theater would've been too crowded for us to really enjoy the movie, we might've run into the brats, we wouldn't have had that fun dinner, and we wouldn't have met Gary! Didn't I tell you that everything would work out for the best?"
"You sure did, James!" she replied. "Everything worked out exactly the way it was supposed to!"
"So, where are ya stayin', Gary?" Meowth inquired, changing the subject.
"Over at the pokemon center," came Gary's reply. "What about you three?"
"We're staying at my grandparents' place just outside of town," I informed him. "We'll probably be here until after the new year."
Gary raised an eyebrow. "So, this is where your grandma and grandpa Woodson's vacation home is? That's cool! Now I'm really glad I volunteered to run this errand for grandpa!"
"Hey, I've got an idea!" Meowth exclaimed. "Why don't ya check outta the pokemon center and come stay with us for a couple a days? Dat way, we don't hafta make no complicated plans about when and where we're gonna hook up tomorrow afternoon before the movie!" He looked up at me and Jessie. "If it's okay with youse guys, dat is."
I smiled at the cat. "It sounds like a wonderful idea, Meowth!"
"It sure does!" Jessie agreed. "And if Gary stays with us, we can have a little Christmas party and give him his present before he heads back to Pallet."
I gave Jessie another kiss. "That's a wonderful idea too, angel!" Then, to Gary. "What do you say?"
Gary's indigo eyes lit up. "I say...yes!"
"All right!" Meowth cheered.
"But first, I need to make a stop at the pokemon center and get all of my stuff," Gary continued. He winked at us. "I should also give my family a call and let them know I'll be staying here in Cedar Creek with you for a couple of days...and get them to send me the Christmas presents I got for you!"
"Not a problem," I told him. I gestured to the Jeep. "Come on. We'll give you a ride."
"So...tell me more about dis story," Meowth said as the four of us began walking back to the Jeep. "A lotta the stuff you and Gary was talkin' about went over my head. I don't wanna be lost when we see the movie."
I picked the cat up and let him climb onto my shoulder. "Don't worry, Meowth -- I'm sure people who haven't read the books will still be able to follow the story."
"But if you really want to know, it all begins on old Bilbo Baggins's eleventy-first birthday...." Jessie began.
After Gary got his belongings from his room at the pokemon center, called his family, and got our presents, we drove back to grandma and grandpa's chalet. While I built a fire in the fireplace, Jessie made some hot chocolate, and the four of us stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, catching up on all we'd been doing lately. Gary gave us the full account of how things had gone with his parents and grandpa when he'd told them about our involvement with Team Rocket, and we even got to hear the story of how David's good friend, Charlie, had once been a Dan'in. Hearing how Charlie had been picked on and discriminated against because of the choices he'd made was all too familiar to me, Jessie, and Meowth, but the way David always stood up for Charlie and never once judged him or condemned him sounded just like the way Gary was with us! We were on the edge of our seats when Gary got to the part of the story where his dad saved Charlie's life...and after that, Gary had all of us rolling on the floor with laughter when he told us how Professor Oak had fired Tracey! Once Gary finished telling his tales, we told him all about our run-in with Ash and how we'd kicked his ass again when he'd accused us of stealing his Phanpy, our encounter with Kuso Baba, how Jessie had caught Delibird, all of the personnel record tampering and payroll fraud that Wendy and Jennifer had been doing behind our backs, how the boss had cleaned house and given us a raise and a de facto promotion in addition to compensating us for all of the hardships we'd had to endure over the years, our new apartment at headquarters, how we'd won the Earth Badge, and our stay with the Parkers...and we had him rolling on the floor with laughter when we told him about our Fu King dinner!
We spent most of the next day relaxing. Meowth, Wobbuffet, and Gary shot pool in the rec room for a couple of hours while Jessie and I built another fire in the fireplace and stayed in the lounge and caught up on some reading (I finished Sea of Swords, and Jess finished the book that Giovanni had given her for her birthday). Around midday, the snow that had fallen during the night finally melted, and we all went for a nature walk on one of the trails that wound through the woods on grandma and grandpa's property before going back inside for lunch. And finally, at five o' clock, we all changed back into our costumes and went to town so that we could have an early dinner before going to see the movie. (We ended up eating at a place called Mario's Pizza Palace, but during our restaurant search, we noticed that the Fu King Chinese Buffet had mysteriously changed its name to the Gold Star China Buffet overnight.) After dinner, we headed to the Poke-Plex 16 and arrived a good half hour before the movie began, which gave us plenty of time to admire each other's costumes and discuss the finer points of Tolkien's masterpiece.
And once the movie began, the experience was nothing short of amazing. Since the crowds were smaller than on opening night, Gary was able to fully enjoy his second viewing...and I even caught him stealing a few glances at our reaction to seeing The Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen for the first time!
"Wow! Dis is intense!" Meowth whispered as he watched the four terrified hobbits huddling under the roots of a tree and hiding from the ring-wraiths that were tracking them.
Jessie and I wrapped our arms around each other and nodded in agreement. The filmmakers had captured the bone-chilling air of the Nazgul perfectly!
When the ring-wraiths found the hobbits and gave chase, Jessie and I shuddered and tightened our hold on each other, and Meowth began jumping up and down in his seat. "Run, hobbits!!! Run!!!!!" the cat screamed, his voice barely above a whisper.
Gary couldn't help but smile.
When the hobbits arrived safely in Rivendell, thanks to the help of Strider and Arwen, Jessie, Meowth, and I were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief...and then we were able to admire the scenery.
"Oh, James! Rivendell is so beautiful!" Jessie whispered.
I nodded in agreement. Elrond's white palace, with its free-flowing architecture and harmony with nature, reminded me so much of grand-mama and grand-papa's old mansion. "It's just like I imagined, Jessie!" I whispered back.
But the tranquility of the elven lands didn't last long -- once the Fellowship of Nine set out to destroy the Ring, the drama began anew. There was more fear-hugging with Jessie when Saruman attacked the intrepid heroes from his stronghold in Isengard and when the tentacled creature attacked them at the gates of Moria. And the drums of the deep, echoing through the silence of Moria and signaling the approach of an army of goblins, orcs, cave-trolls...and something far worse made our blood run cold all over again.
"Holy shit!" Meowth whispered as he chewed nervously on his claws. "What'd dose dwarves wake up when dey dug too deep?!"
Jessie and I held each other closer than ever. "Y-you'll see," Jessie replied, in a voice as fearful as his own.
Gary's eyes widened with fear, too. "Yeah. I knew what was coming, and it still scared the bejeezus outta me!"
"Oh, man!" the cat whimpered.
The four of us remained on the edge of our seats as the armies of the deep chased after the heroes and suddenly retreated when the dark halls of Moria lit up with flames.
Meowth began chewing his claws again. "Oh, god, here it comes!"
As Frodo and his companions ran for the Bridge of Khazad-Dum -- the only way out of Moria -- they were beset by goblins and orcs again, and the long, narrow stairway that led to the bridge started to collapse! And when they reached the bridge and began to cross, the unseen enemy finally revealed itself -- a balrog...a demon of the deep!
Gary wrapped his arms around himself and shuddered. "Damn! This part is still scary!"
Jessie and I let out a short squeal of terror. The balrog in the movie looked almost exactly like the balrog that Ayesha had transformed into when I'd battled her! Gandalf's stand against the demon reminded me of the battle that my friends and I had fought as well.
Meowth's fur stood on end. "Scary?! Dat's puttin' it mildly!" As Gandalf stood his ground against the monster so that his eight companions could make it to safety, the cat's eyes filled with tears. "No, Gandalf! Ya ain't got a chance against dat thing! Run!!! Run!!!"
Jessie and I exchanged sad looks. We knew how the battle would end...and we knew that Meowth wasn't going to like it.
As the wizard cast the demon back into the abyss, it lashed out with its fiery whip and ensnared him. Meowth covered his mouth with his paws and gasped as he watched Gandalf plummet to his doom. "Oh, no...no...." he whispered. The tears in his eyes began to fall.
Jessie and I rested our foreheads together and began to cry, too. We knew something that Meowth didn't, but it was still a heartbreaking scene...and it was touching to see how much the cat cared.
Not even the relative tranquility of Lothlorien and the beauty of Galadriel could take Meowth's mind off the Fellowship's loss of Gandalf -- he spent the rest of the movie crying. And by the end, Jessie and I were in tears again, too.
Jessie's lip quivered as she watched Frodo holding the Ring in his hand and making the decision to leave the Fellowship. "To bear a ring of power is to be alone," she muttered, repeating the words that Galadriel had spoken. "For the longest time, I thought so, too...but I was wrong, and so are you, Frodo."
I twined my fingers with Jessie's as Sam chased after Frodo and begged him not to leave him behind. "I made a promise -- Don't you leave him, Samwise Gamgee! And I don't mean to!" I whispered, speaking the lines along with Sam after Frodo took him by the hand and pulled him into the boat. Then, I gazed into Jessie's sapphire eyes and brushed her tears away. "I made a promise, too -- Don't leave her, James...."
"....And you always keep your promises," Jessie said, reaching up and brushing away the tears that were falling from my own eyes.
The two of us turned our attention back to the movie and felt our spirits rekindled as Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli vowed to track down the Uruk-Hai and rescue Pippin and Merry...and Frodo and Sam set out on their own, hoping to return from the darkness of Mordor someday.
As the scene faded to black, and the closing credits began to roll, we all burst into tears again.
"Wow!" Gary said, dabbing his moist eyes with a kleenex. "It was even better the second time...and not just because I was actually able to see and hear everything!"
Jessie smiled and put her arms around me again. "I saw it, James! I saw what you were talking about...when you said that we made the same choices as Frodo and Sam."
I smiled back and returned Jessie's embrace. "Now aren't you glad you didn't leave me behind?"
"Of course I am!" came her reply. "I love you, James...and I'll always be thankful that you made the choice you did."
"How could I do any less?" I asked. "I love you too, Jessie."
As we leaned closer for a kiss, we suddenly heard the sound of sniffling. Looking down, we saw that Meowth was still crying.
I seated myself next to the cat and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Hey! What's wrong, Meowth?"
Jessie seated herself on Meowth's other side and gently scratched behind his ears. "Yeah! Didn't you like the movie?"
As Meowth continued to cry, Gary handed him some kleenex. "I...I loved the movie! It was beautiful!" he replied once he'd dried his tears and brought his sobs under control. "But it was so sad! Poor Gandalf and Boromir died! And...and what about Pippin and Merry?! Are Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli gonna be able ta save 'em from dose orcs?! And what's gonna happen ta Frodo and Sam?!"
"Well, Meowth, there are two ways to find out," Gary told him.
Jessie nodded. "You can either wait and see The Two Towers a year from now and Return of the King two years from now...."
"GAH!!! Two years?!" he cried. "I can't wait dat long -- I wanna know what happens NOW!!!"
"Join the club!" Gary chuckled. "I'm gonna have a hard time waiting for the next two installments, myself!"
"We all are," I said. "Which brings us to your other option."
Meowth looked up at me.
"If you really can't wait for the next two movies, then you can read the books to find out what happens to everybody," I told him.
"Read the books?"
I nodded. "I have two copies of Lord of the Rings -- the one that Jessie gave to me as a Christmas present a few years back, and the one I got from grand-mama and grand-papa," I explained. "If you want, I'd be happy to loan one of them to you, Meowth."
His eyes filled with tears again. "Y-you'd do dat for me?"
"Of course!" I replied.
"We're so glad that you enjoyed the movie, Meowth," Jessie said. "That you saw for yourself why this is such an important story to us and that you appreciate it as much as we do. I promise, if you read the books, then seeing the next two movies will be an even more rewarding experience."
Meowth smiled again and brushed his tears away. "Den whadda we waitin' for?!" he cried. "Let's get back to the cabin, sos you can loan me dose books, Jimmy!!!"
I laughed and let Meowth climb onto my shoulder again. "Oh, and just so you know, you don't have anything to worry about," I reassured him. "Everybody's going to be okay -- Frodo and Sam, Pippin and Merry, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli...and even Gandalf."
"Y-ya mean he's still alive?!" Meowth gasped.
Gary, Jessie, and I nodded.
"But...but how could he have survived dat balrog attack?!"
Jessie smirked and gave Meowth a playful nudge. "You'll just have to read the book and see for yourself!"
"Yeah! We're not gonna spoil all the surprises!" Gary told him.
Meowth began to bounce up and down on my shoulders. "Alright, now I REALLY wanna read dese books! Come on! Let's go!"
"Well, it looks like we should start heading back," Jessie chuckled.
"Yeah. Don't want to keep Meowth from his reading," I agreed.
"This was so cool!" Gary exclaimed as we left the theater and got back into the Jeep. "I'm really glad we all got to watch the movie together."
"I'm glad we did, too," Jessie replied.
"That's right. It's not every day we meet somebody who's as enthusiastic about Tolkien as Jess and I are," I concurred.
Gary nodded. "And it's not every day I get to talk to people about Tolkien. Most people just don't get it."
"Really! And I bet when you was a kid, it was impossible ta have any kinda intelligent conversation with ol' Ashy Neutron: Boy Moron!" Meowth snickered.
Jessie and I covered our mouths with our hands to stifle a fit of laughter.
Gary laughed too, but quickly became serious again. "Yeah, Fun With Dick and Jane was...and probably still is the extent of Ash's literary knowledge," he sighed. "And kids my own age aren't much better. I was always my school's resident nerd, just because I like to read."
"Join the club," Jessie and I said in unison.
"We always got ripped on and beat up for reading sci-fi and fantasy, playing D & D, and such," I sighed.
"Kids can be so mean to people that are different," Jessie grumbled. "Just look at those twerps and how nasty they are!"
Gary nodded. "Exactly. But that's why I enjoy talking to you guys so much," he continued. "We actually have common interests, and we can be ourselves around each other. You were right -- seeing this movie with friends made it a whole lot better."
"Hey, ya think maybe we can come see the movie again?" Meowth asked.
"Definitely!" I replied. "It's only been over for a few minutes, but I already want to see it again!"
"You and me both!" said Jessie. "But we should probably wait until after the holidays -- that way, we can enjoy our visit with James's grandparents and give the crowds more of a chance to die down."
"Ah, it's just as well. I need a chance ta do some readin' and get up ta speed anyway," said Meowth.
Gary nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me! If we hook up again after the holidays, we'll definitely go to see it again!"
"Yeah!" Jessie, Meowth, and I chorused.
Once we returned to my grandparents' place, I wasted no time in getting out the leather-bound copy of Lord of the Rings that Jessie had given me for Christmas four years ago.
"Here it is. Take good care of it," I said as I handed the book to Meowth.
Meowth held the book in his paws and gazed at it as if it were made of gold. "Don't worry. I will," he solemnly replied. "Thank you."
I nodded. "You're welcome."
Gary, Jessie, and I exchanged smiles and watched Meowth take the book upstairs to his room.
"Well, James, it looks like we made a die-hard Tolkien fan out of our little friend," Jessie remarked.
"We certainly did, Jess," I agreed. "Of course, the movie had a lot to do with it, too. I still can't get over how amazing it was!"
"That makes two of us!" she said. "I have to admit, when I first heard they were making live-action movies of Lord of the Rings, I was worried that they'd ruin the story, or do a bad job with the casting, the scenery, and such. But there was nothing to worry about, after all -- it was better than I ever could've expected!"
"Yeah! The story adaptation, the acting, the scenery, the special effects -- everything about it was wonderful!" Gary exclaimed.
I smiled again. "It's uncanny how so much of it was just like I'd pictured in my mind's eye whenever I read the books...especially Rivendell and Lothlorien!"
Jessie chuckled. "And it was so cute to see Meowth getting into the story the way he did -- it kind of reminded me of myself! When I was a little girl, and momma was reading Lord of the Rings to me for the first time, I remember bouncing up and down in her lap, screaming for the hobbits to run whenever there was danger, crying my eyes out when Gandalf fell into the abyss with that balrog...."
"When I was a young lad, I was like that, too!" I laughed. "Sometimes grand-papa would have to stop reading and get me to calm down because I'd get so worried about those little hobbits. He and grand-mama even had to tell me, without ruining the surprise, that Gandalf was still alive and that he'd return in The Two Towers so that I'd stop crying. Seeing Meowth acting the same way we did sure brought back memories!"
Jessie nodded. "Happy memories. We don't have too many of those from our childhoods...but I guess that makes the ones we do have that much sweeter."
I smiled again and rested my chin on Jessie's shoulder. "Do you think this is what it'll be like when we read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to our children and make Tolkien fans out of them?" I whispered into her ear as I wrapped my arms around her waist.
Jessie placed her hands over mine and turned so that she could gaze into my eyes. "I'm sure it will," she whispered back. "We'll give our kids more happy memories than they'll know what to do with!"
"Sounds great to me!"
Jessie turned completely around and placed her hands on my cheeks. "This was definitely a night to remember."
I tightened my hold on Jessie and ran my fingers through her sea of crimson hair. "Yes, it was."
As our lips met, we suddenly heard the sound of Gary clearing his throat. Jessie and I pulled apart and saw that he was blushing.
"Well...it's starting to get late, so I think I'm gonna get to bed," he announced as he began heading up the stairs.
"Jessie and I will probably be going to bed soon, too," I replied.
Jessie nudged me with her elbow and gave me a sly smile.
I returned her smile and looked back at Gary. "Tomorrow is the first day of winter -- Pagan Yule. I'll make a big breakfast, and we can exchange presents to celebrate the occasion," I continued. "How does that sound?"
Gary gave us a thumbs-up. "Sounds great! I look forward to it!"
Once he'd taken his leave, Jessie and I turned our attention back to each other.
"Think we should go to bed now, too?" Jessie whispered seductively as she traced patterns on my chest with the tip of her finger.
I lifted her into my arms. "Definitely!"
Jessie's smile grew even wider than it already was as I carried her upstairs and began heading for our room. "I love you so much, James. You make me feel like the brightest star in the sky!"
"You are the brightest star in the sky, Jess!" I told her. "You're my beautiful, radiant Evening Star!"
Hearing me call her by Arwen Undomiel's human name made Jessie blush. "And you're my handsome king among men, James," she replied.
The two of us laughed, and our lips met in another loving kiss. A kiss that didn't end until we got to our room, and Jessie and I laid down together on the bed.
Chapter 8 -- Holiday Magic
A smile made its way across my lips as I hummed the hobbit music from Lord of the Rings and mixed the Scotch pancake batter. It was the morning of December twenty-first, and snow was falling outside as I made breakfast for myself and my friends. Last night, Jessie, Meowth, and I had gone to see The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time. The movie had been one of the best I'd ever seen, and the fact that our friend, Gary, had been there with us had made it even more of a special occasion than it already was! After returning to my grandparents' place, Jessie and I had laid together in bed for a couple of hours and further discussed the importance the book had for us and how pleased we were with the movie adaptation. Then, we'd made love and fallen asleep in each other's arms.
It had definitely been a night to remember...for a number of reasons, and today promised to be even better.
I poured the batter into the skillet, and the kitchen was soon filled with the warm, sweet aroma of cooking pancakes. Before long, it lured Jessie, Meowth, Wobbuffet, and Gary from their rooms, and they joined me.
"Those smell wonderful, James!" Jessie remarked as she slid her arms around my waist and planted a kiss on my cheek.
I winked at her. "I should hope so -- I got the recipie from your granny and grandpa!"
She licked her lips.
"So, what're our plans today?" Meowth inquired as he, Gary, and Wobbuffet began to set the table.
"I was thinking that after breakfast, we could exchange presents with Gary and have our little Christmas party," I replied. "And after that, we should make another trip to town -- since grandma and grandpa are arriving tonight, I'd like to cook a nice dinner for them, and I'll need to pick up a few things at the grocery store in order to do that. We can go out to lunch while we're in town, too...."
"Yeah!" Meowth cheered.
When I finished cooking the pancakes, I put them on a platter and brought them to the table. Meanwhile, Meowth brought the butter and syrup from the refrigerator, and Jessie started a pot of coffee. Once we were done eating, we fed our pokemon their breakfast. Then, Jessie, Meowth, and Wobbuffet volunteered to clear the table and clean the kitchen while Gary and I went back upstairs to get the Christmas presents. Five minutes later, we all gathered in the lounge so that we could exchange gifts.
"Why don't we all take turns opening our presents?" I suggested.
"Who's gonna go first?!" Meowth asked. He and Wobbuffet were bouncing up and down in their seats. They looked like they were ready to explode from excitement.
Jessie smiled at them. "Let's let Gary open his first, since he's our guest. Then, you and Wobbuffet can open yours, and then James and I will open ours."
"Sounds good to me," I said.
Gary picked up his present and undid the blue paper that it was wrapped in. His indigo eyes lit up as he brought out the gray sweater, black gloves, and gray scarf with black oak leaves on it. "Oh, wow! These are beautiful!" he exclaimed. He rubbed the fuzzy-soft scarf against his cheek, and his smile became a grin. "Is this Mareep wool?"
"It sure is!" Meowth told him. "Jess got the wool from Felicia's Mareep, and she had it dyed and spun inta yarn sos she could knit dose for ya!"
Gary looked over at Jessie. "You knit these yourself?"
Jessie blushed and nodded.
"They're wonderful," he said. He wrapped the scarf around his neck. "I love them! Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome," Jessie replied, her face turning even redder than it already was.
"Our turn!" Meowth and Wobbuffet cried. They squealed with delight as they ripped the paper away from their gifts.
"What did you get?" I inquired.
The two pokemon grinned and held up their presents. Gary had bought each of them a box of assorted gourmet hot chocolates -- they had Swiss raspberry truffle, English toffee, French vanilla, Irish creme, amaretto, chocolate mint, and peanut butter fudge. Just reading the names was making my mouth water!
"Those look delicious!" Jessie commented. Her mouth was watering, too.
"Dey sure do!" Meowth agreed. "Thanks, Gary! Dis rules!"
Gary smiled. "May got those for me one year, and I really liked them. I thought you would, too."
I'm sure we will, said Wobbuffet. And Meowth and I will be happy to share if you want any.
Meowth hugged his box of hot chocolates to his chest and stuck his tongue out at the blue pokemon. "Speak for yerself, Inky!"
"Oh, don't be so stingy, Meowth! It's Christmas!" Jessie snapped.
I reached over and gave Wobbuffet a pat on the head. "It's okay -- Wobbuffet will just get bigger portions of dinner and dessert tonight, that's all."
Meowth sweatdropped. "Uh...on second, thought, dis is the season for sharin', so if ya wanna try one or two of my hot chocolates, I won't mind," he relented.
Jessie winked at him. "I knew you'd see things our way, Meowth!"
Gary said nothing, just laughed.
I wrapped an arm around Jessie's waist and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Go ahead, honey. Why don't you open your present next?"
Jessie smiled at me and picked up her present. When she undid the green paper, she found a little sewing box made of rich red cherrywood with ornate floral patterns carved on it. "Ooohhh...." she breathed.
"Do you like it?" Gary asked.
"I love it! It's absolutely beautiful!" came her reply.
"When May and I went Christmas shopping on the fifth, I found that at an antique store in Viridian City," he explained. "I remembered what Meowth had said about how you liked sewing and crafts, so I thought it'd be nice if you had something pretty to keep your sewing supplies in."
"It's very nice...and very pretty. Thank you," Jessie whispered as she ran her delicate fingers along the carvings on the box and admired its craftsmanship.
After a couple of minutes, I unwrapped my present and found a set of sixty-four watercolor markers. I'd seen them in art supply stores, and I'd always wanted a set of my own, but I'd never bought any because they were so expensive.
"I got those while I was out Christmas shopping with May, too," Gary informed me. "I've seen people draw some really beautiful pictures with watercolor markers...and you're such a wonderful artist to begin with. So, just imagine how beautiful the pictures you draw with them will be!"
I smiled at him and looked at the rich, vibrant colors of all the different markers. "Thanks, Gary! I can't wait to try them out!"
He nodded. "You're welcome."
Once we were done admiring all of our presets, we cleaned up the giftwrap. Meowth and Wobbuffet then gave us our choice of hot chocolates (Gary picked French vanilla, Jessie picked Swiss raspberry truffle, and I picked English toffee) and went to the kitchen to boil some water. While we were waiting for them, Gary, Jessie, and I went back to our rooms to get dressed. After putting on some sweaters and blue jeans, Jessie put her scissors, pin cushion, thimble, thread, embroidery floss, and other sewing supplies into the box that Gary had gotten for her, and I brought out a pad of paper so that I could use my new markers.
When we rejoined our friends in the lounge, we saw that Meowth and Wobbuffet were already finishing off their hot chocolate (they'd had chocolate mint and peanut butter fudge, respectively), and that our mugs were ready and waiting for us on the coffee table. We also noticed that Gary was wearing his new sweater.
For the rest of the morning, the five of us sat together in the lounge, sipping our hot chocolate, chatting, listening to music on the radio, and enjoying each other's company. And all the while, I worked on a new picture with my watercolor markers -- a drawing of myself and my friends celebrating together on this beautiful Yule day.
"So, what's first on our agenda?" Meowth asked as we drove into town.
"The post office, definitely," came my reply. "After that, we'll go out for lunch. We'll save the grocery store for last."
"Good thinking," said Jessie. "It's never a good idea to take Meowth shopping on an empty stomach."
I smiled as I listened to my three friends. After I'd finished my drawing (which had turned out quite nicely), we'd all gotten cleaned up and headed for town. On the way out, we'd checked the mail and found a stack of delivery slips in the mailbox. Several packages had arrived for us this morning (one from Jessie's grandma and grandpa Parker, one from her grandma and grandpa Rochester and uncle Brad, one from Annie and Oakley, and one from the Retro Roadshow Antiques and Collectibles Shoppe in Pallet Town), but they were all too big to fit into a mailbox, so we had to go to the Cedar Creek post office to pick them up. I didn't mind the prospect of another errand, though -- I always enjoyed doing things with my friends, no matter how mundane or simple the task...and picking up Christmas presents and anticipating how happy everybody would be on Christmas morning was anything but mundane!
Luckily, since Cedar Creek was a relatively small town, the post office wasn't too busy, even with the holiday rush, and we were able to get our packages after only a few minutes of waiting in line. Once we loaded everything into the Jeep, we cruised the main strip for awhile and looked for a place to have lunch. We ended up choosing a Thai restaurant called Orchids of Siam. The day's special was Thai-style sweet and sour chicken with steamed vegetables, fried rice, wonton soup, and spring rolls with plum sauce on the side, so that was what we all ordered.
After lunch, we decided to do a little sightseeing around town before heading to the grocery store. There were lots of old buildings and little shops in the downtown area, and we spent the next couple of hours checking out everything that caught our interest. We looked at some of the log cabins and structures made from river rocks that had been built back in the 1800s, when the town was just starting out, we explored an antique shop in the town square, we went to a craft store where Jessie bought a bolt of beautiful peachy-pink fabric that had pink roses in green Oriental vases printed on it, and we even found a new age store where I picked up some candles and incense for my spellwork. After our little shopping trips, we visited the park again so that we could enjoy the scenery during the day.
And it was there that our day took a strange turn.
While we were taking a walk on one of the nature trails, we came to a clearing in the woods, where we found none other than Ash, Misty, and Brock. A young teenage girl with short red hair and a pointy hat that made her look like a witch was with them.
"Oh, shit! What are the twerps still doing here?!" Jessie whispered.
"I don't know...and I don't want to find out," I whispered back.
"Me either," Gary concurred.
"Yeah. Let's get outta here before dey see us," said Meowth.
No such luck.
As the four of us began backing away, the girl turned and saw us. "OH!!!" she cried.
When this happened, the twerps looked and saw us, too. Luckily, Brock and Misty didn't seem to have a problem with our being here...but as soon as Ash recognized who we were, he started throwing one of his trademark shit-fits. "AUGH!!! It's Team Rocket and Gary!!! AUGH!!!!" he whined.
Suddenly, however, the girl in the pointy hat held up a hand and silenced him. Then, she gestured for us to join her. "Please don't leave -- I need your help," she told us.
Gary arched an eyebrow. "Us?"
"Your Meowth, actually," the girl clarified. "I need some of the dirt from under his claws."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't help ya dere," Meowth replied. "I just gave myself a manicure dis mornin' -- my claws is squeaky-clean!"
The girl's blue eyes went wide. "You can talk?!" she gasped. "This is wonderful -- it has to be a sign!!!"
Jessie and I exchanged looks.
"A sign of what?" Jessie asked.
"And what do you need dirt from Meowth's claws for?" I inquired.
"Perhaps I should explain," the girl said. "My name is Lily -- I'm a pokemon magician. I've spent the past few months gathering components for a spell that I want to perform. I already have flower petals touched by the kiss of a Jynx, Stun Spore from a Parasect, tears of an Aipom, and yogurt made from a Miltank's milk -- the only other two things I need are the Thundershock of a Pikachu...." She paused for a moment and pointed to Ash. "....Which this boy has agreed to provide, and the dirt from a Meowth's claws."
I rubbed my chin for a moment. "I've never heard of a spell that uses components like those. What does it do?"
"It's a spell that can allow humans to read a pokemon's mind and know what they're thinking," came Lily's reply. "It's a terribly complex spell, and nobody has ever been able to successfully perform it before. But I'm hoping that I can do it. Can you imagine how much easier it would be for humans and pokemon to communicate if I did?"
Jessie smiled. "Think of all we could learn from pokemon if we could understand them as easily as we understand Meowth!"
"And think of how much more closely trainers and their pokemon could bond if they could actually talk to each other!" Gary remarked.
"It sounds like a wonderful spell, Lily," I said.
"Yeah! I'll be happy ta help, if yer tryin' ta improve communication between humans and pokemon!" Meowth cheered. He knelt down and scratched the ground for a moment, then stood up again and held his paws out to Lily. "Here ya go -- take all the dirt ya want!"
"Thank you so much!" Lily exclaimed as she picked the dirt from beneath Meowth's claws and placed it into a vial. "It can't be a coincidence that I've met a talking Meowth today! It has to be a sign that my spell is going to work!"
Brock nodded approvingly. "That was really nice of you, Meowth."
"Yeah! It's so cool that you all want to help Lily, too," Misty chimed in.
Ash made a sour face. "Why are you guys still taking up for stupid Team Rocket and Gary?!" he demanded. Then, to Lily, "I wouldn't trust them if I were you -- they're EVIL! I bet they only wanna use the spell to get rich, or something...and it'll probably go wrong anyway if dumb old Meowth is helping you!"
"Don't you DARE talk about Meowth that way!" Jessie shouted.
"Yeah! He's got more heart in one claw than you've got in your entire body, Ash!" Gary added.
"Look, twerp, we're not here to fight or cause trouble," I said through clenched teeth. "But if you try anything with us again, we'll come down on you like grim death."
"Better listen to them, Ash," Brock warned him.
"Yeah! Quit being obnoxious, Ash!" Misty agreed.
Jessie rolled her eyes. "That's like telling the sun not to rise in the morning," she muttered under her breath.
Ash scowled at us again and turned away.
"So, are ya gonna perform yer spell now, Lily?" Meowth asked eagerly, getting back to the original subject.
"I'd like to, but I still have one problem," Lily told him. She smiled wistfully and brought a thick tome with a black leather cover from her backpack. "One of the pages that the spell is written on is damaged, and I can't read how to perform the ritual. I came here to Cedar Creek because I heard that the proprietor of the local new age store was versed in ancient languages -- I was hoping he could help me decipher it."
"Maybe I can help," I offered. "May I see the book, please?"
Lily's expression brightened again as she handed the book to me. "Of course!"
"Don't trust him!" Ash shouted. "Team Rocket is just gonna steal it...."
Brock silenced the twerp by clamping a hand over his mouth. Misty grabbed Ash by the arms to keep him from struggling.
Ignoring the brat's outburst, I flipped through the spellbook. All of the pages were yellowed with age, but the second page of the spell that Lily wanted to perform was covered with an enormous black blob, as if a vial of ink had been spilled onto it. The runes were barely legible, but I could make out a few vague shapes. "Hmmm...it looks like it says something about adding all of the ingredients to a cauldron and bringing it to a rolling boil on a fire made from oak logs, but I can't make heads or tails of anything it says after that," I said after studying the page for a moment.
Jessie gave me a quizzical look as she read over my shoulder. "You can actually understand that? It looks like a bunch of scribbles to me."
"It's written in the language of an ancient Johto kingdom called Pokemonia...from the age of the third king, if I'm not mistaken," I informed her. I handed the book back to Lily. "This must be a very old text."
Lily nodded. "It's been in my family for generations. I'm surprised you can read it -- not many can, since pokemon magic is a dying art."
"My grandparents had a book like that in their library," I explained. "I used to read it all the time when I was a little shaver -- at first, I just liked looking at all the illustrations of pokemon, but grand-mama taught me how to translate the runes when I got older."
Lily's eyes lit up again. "If your gran had a book like mine, then...."
"Yes. Grand-mama could use magic, too -- she was a witch," I said, finishing the thought for her. "And she taught me the craft as well."
Brock and Misty gasped when they heard this.
"Does that mean you can use magic, James?" Brock queried.
I folded my arms across my chest and smirked. "That's precisely what it means."
"Since when?" Misty wanted to know.
"Since September," I told her. I turned my attention back to Lily. "I'm afraid I don't know much about pokemon magic, though. I specialize more in candle and herb magic...."
"He's lying!" Ash cried. "James doesn't know magic -- he's stuuuupid!"
Gary walked over to Ash and swatted him upside the head. "Wrong as usual, Ash. James can use magic -- I've seen it myself!"
"And James isn't stupid, either -- if you want to see stupid, try looking in a mirror!" Jessie snapped.
I waggled my finger in Ash's face. "Better watch it, twerp -- I'll turn you into a rat or have you coughing up slugs if you're not careful!"
Misty's brow furrowed. "Hey. If you really can use magic, then why is this the first we've ever heard of it?"
Ash and Brock looked every bit as dubious as she did.
I wasn't surprised that the twerps didn't believe me. But truth be told, I wasn't really bothered by it -- I didn't expect people like them to understand. "Because you kids have never once made the slightest attempt to learn anything about us and see who we really are...and because I prefer not to discuss the craft with nonbelievers, that's why," came my reply.
Meowth pointed a claw at the twerps. "Dat means you, ya dumb muggles!"
Jessie and Gary snickered.
I looked back at Lily. "Anyway, I doubt an ancient languages expert will be able to help you with this particular problem. The page is far too damaged for anybody to read...even somebody who does understand the language of ancient Pokemonia."
"That's what I was afraid of," Lily sighed.
"You'd be better off finding somebody who specializes in restoring old texts," I suggested. "Or better yet, you said the book has been in your family for generations. Is there anybody in your family who might've had the book before it got damaged and would know what was written on that page? Your mother, a grandmother, or an aunt, perhaps?"
Lily thought for a moment. "My gran and my mum both had the book before it was passed down to me, and I did ask them if they knew how the rest of the spell went before I came here. But that damage was done long ago -- back in my great-great-gran's time. She's the last one who knew the whole spell, but she died before she could rewrite the page. And, as you know, it's impossible to ask her...."
"That's not true," I interjected. "I've had many dreams where I've been able to communicate with the spirits of departed loved ones...and so have my friends. Perhaps you can perform a spell that will enable you to contact your great-great-grandmother's spirit and ask her to share her knowledge with you."
Lily hung her head. "I would if I could...but I don't know any spells like that."
I grinned at her. "Well, I do! In fact, I have my Book of Shadows with me -- it's in the Jeep. Come with me, and I'll be happy to write down one of my dream spells for meeting with loved ones that have died."
Now Lily was smiling again. "You'd do that for me?"
"Thank you so much!" she exclaimed. "I knew coming here would be a great idea!"
"Hmmmph! I still don't see what's so great about stupid James!" Ash grumbled. He levelled an accusing finger at me. "I bet you think you're really cool cause you're a musician...er, mortician, er...."
"I believe the word you're looking for is magician," I said evenly.
"Well, I know a magic trick, too!" Ash snapped. "Check this out!"
"Are you going to make yourself disappear, Ash?" Jessie asked hopefully.
"Or better yet, why don't you saw yourself in half?" I suggested.
"Maybe he'll amaze us all by pullin' his head outta his ass!" Meowth speculated.
"We should be so lucky," Gary laughed.
Ignoring us, Ash took a poke ball from his belt and brought three clear plastic cups from his backpack. He placed the poke ball under one of the cups and shuffled them around for a moment. "My friend, Melvin, taught me this trick!" he boasted. "Which cup is the poke ball under? I bet you'll never guess!"
"Yes, I can," I replied. "It's under the middle cup."
"AUGH!!!" Ash cried when he picked up the cup in the middle and saw his poke ball. "That was a lucky guess!"
"No, you used clear cups, dip-shit," I told him. With that, I flicked Ash on the forehead.
As the twerp landed on his ass, Jessie, Meowth, Gary, and Lily began roaring with laughter. Brock and Misty, however, just looked dumbfounded by Ash's raging stupidity.
"AUGH!!! That wasn't fair!" Ash whined. He looked up at Brock and Misty. "You saw him! James cheated somehow, didn't he?!"
Lily sweatdropped. "What a complete and utter git...."
Brock smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. Misty said nothing, just threw her hands up in the air and rolled her eyes.
I began heading back to where we'd parked the Jeep. "Come on, Lily. Let me get that spell for you...."
Ash sprang back to his feet and followed after me and my friends. "Oh, no you don't!!! You cheated, and now you're gonna try to steal Lily's book and magic bag and use her spells to do evil stuff, and I'm not gonna let you losers get away with it!!!" he screeched.
Lily stomped her foot. "They're doing nothing of the sort, you prat! Leave them alone!" she cried.
Brock and Misty grabbed Ash by the arms and pulled him back. "Knock it off, Ash!" they shouted in unison.
"NO!!!" he screamed. "PIKACHU!!! STOP TEAM ROCKET AND GARY!!! HIT THEM WITH YOUR THUNDERBOLT!!!!!"
Jessie reacted quickly and tossed one of her own poke balls. "Wobbuffet, go! Use Counter!" she commanded.
Wobbuffet emerged and began to glow with a pink aura as Pikachu unleashed his electric attack. When the attack struck him, it rebounded back on Pikachu and knocked him out. Since Ash was unable to grab any of his other poke balls because Brock and Misty were still holding his arms, the battle was over.
But I wasn't about to let it slide.
I stormed back to where the twerps were standing and grabbed Ash by his greasy black hair. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!" I demanded. "You could've hurt me and my friends, you son of a bitch!"
Ash stuck his tongue out at me. "I wish I had -- you're all evil!"
I silenced him with a left hook that could've floored a charging Rhydon.
As Ash slumped to the ground, clutching his bloody nose in his hands, Brock and Misty backed away. They knew that Ash had crossed the line, and they weren't about to come to his defense.
I grabbed Ash by his raggedy vest and hauled him back to his feet. "I warned you, didn't I, you piece of shit?" I hissed. "But you never listen, and now you're going to pay for it." With that, I stuck my finger in his face and gave him a wicked grin. "Wichita, Walla Walla, Kalamazoo! Turn this twerp into a Pikachu!"
When I finished my pseudo-incantation, I released Ash, and he fell back to the ground. He looked up at me with a blank expression on his face and blinked. "Pika? Pika-pika?"
Misty gasped. "You...you didn't really put a curse on him, did you?" she asked. Her voice was full of fear as she spoke.
"Of course not -- that isn't how magic works," I told her. "I was just messing with his head. Not my fault he's too stupid to realize that I didn't really turn him into a Pikachu."
Ash began scrambling around on all fours. "Pika!!! Piiiiikaaaaachuuuuuuuu!!!!!" he cried.
Brock smacked him on the back of his head. "Get up, Ash! You're not really a Pikachu!"
"Yeah! James was only kidding!" said Misty.
Ash gave them another blank look. "Pika-pi?"
"How thick can a person be?!" Lily gasped. "Is he retarded, or something?!"
"Calling Ash retarded is giving him too much credit," Gary sighed.
"Sadly, his stupidity knows no bounds," Jessie agreed.
Meowth nodded. "Ya got dat right."
Lily shook her head. "Bloody hell...."
Misty buried her face in her hands. "I give up."
"Come on, Misty," Brock said as he grabbed Ash by the arm and pulled him back to his feet. "Let's get out of here before Ash tries to do something else stupid."
As Misty scooped the unconscious Pikachu into her arms, she looked back at us. "Um...you wouldn't happen to know the quickest way to Kanto, would you?"
I raised an eyebrow. "We do. Why do you ask?"
"Yeah. Aren't you guys supposed to be in Mahogany Town, or Blackthorn City, or something?" Jessie inquired.
"We were in Mahogany Town earlier this week," Brock explained. "Ash challenged Pryce for the Glacier Badge about five times, but he couldn't beat Piloswine -- Pryce ended up giving him a badge just so he'd quit whining and go away."
"There he goes, getting another badge that he doesn't deserve," Jessie grumbled.
"And how lame is he that it took him five tries, and he still couldn't win?" Gary muttered to us. "Houndoom was more than a match for Dewgong, and Blaze beat Piloswine in just two turns when I challenged Pryce for the Glacier Badge!"
"While we were staying at the pokemon center in Mahogany Town, we got a call from Charles Goodshow -- the president of Pokemon League," Misty said, picking up the narrative. "He said it was urgent that Ash meet him at Pokemon League Headquarters in Indigo Village, and he wanted to speak with me and Brock, too. Ash thinks President Goodshow wants to present him with some kind of pokemon master award...."
Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I exchanged looks.
I wonder if Giovanni has something to do with this, I said to myself. I wonder if he really did talk to the big brass at Pokemon League about getting Ash's Earth Badge revoked!
I could tell from the expressions on my friends' faces that they were thinking the exact same thing.
"So, we're on our way to Indigo Village," Brock concluded. "We stopped here for the night about two days ago, and we thought we were making good time when we set out again yesterday morning, but Ash was just walking in circles, and we found ourselves back here today."
"Well, if you need to get back to Kanto in a hurry, you should probably take the bus," Gary told them.
Meowth nodded. "Yeah. You'll never get dere if ya rely on Ash's navigation skills."
"That sounds like a good idea," Misty sighed. "I'm sick of Ash always getting us lost."
"Join the club," Brock groaned. He gave Lily a sheepish smile. "Sorry we couldn't help you with your spell -- it looks like you won't be able to get Pikachu's Thundershock, after all."
"Quite alright," she told him. Then, to us in a much lower voice, "I'm actually glad about it -- the results surely would've been disastrous if I'd used the Thundershock of a Pikachu that has such an unstable trainer! I wouldn't have asked him for help if I knew what a nutter he was!"
"You can say that again!" Jessie whispered back.
"Well, we'd better go and find the bus station now," Misty said.
"Yeah. Sorry about Ash being such a jerk," Brock apologized. "I'm just glad he didn't hurt anybody this time."
Gary shuddered. "You're not the only ones."
As Brock and Misty began taking their leave, Ash broke away from them and crawled back towards us. "Pika-pi! Pi-ka-chu!" he shouted angrily.
"Look, guys! It's the world's ugliest Pikachu!" Jessie snickered.
"It's a Puke-achu!" I quipped.
Meowth and Gary gave me a thumbs-up. "Good one, James!" they chorused.
Ash screwed up his face, like he was trying to use an electric attack, but all he succeeded in doing was letting out a loud fart. "Piiiikaaaachuuuu!!!!"
"I think he's tryin' ta use a Thunderbolt attack on us!" Meowth laughed.
I covered my nose as the stench of methane hit me. "That smells more like a Poison Gas attack...."
Jessie covered her nose, too. "Ugh! That's disgusting!"
Lily turned away. "How foul!"
Gary began fanning the air to dissipate the odor. "Jeez, Ash, what crawled up your ass and died?!"
Brock and Misty winced as they grabbed Ash and started dragging him away again.
"That's nothing," Misty told us. "Ash does this all the time...especially when Brock makes chili."
"Lucky you," Meowth said sardonically.
Once the three of them were gone, and the air had cleared, Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"What the ruddy hell was wrong with that boy?" Lily wondered as she mopped away the sweat that had formed on her brow.
"Just about everything, I'm afraid," Gary replied. "We've known Ash for a long time now -- he's always been really stupid and crazy."
"And sadly, he's been getting worse in recent months," I said. I rolled my eyes. "I still can't believe he actually thinks I turned him into a Pikachu. What a fucking idiot!"
"That's putting it mildly," Jessie sighed.
Meowth laughed again. "Heh. I wonder how long it'll take ol' dumb-Ash ta figure out dat he ain't really a Puke-achu."
Jessie shrugged. "Who knows?"
"And who cares?" I added. I smiled at Lily. "Let's forget about Ash and get that spell instead."
Lily nodded. "Sounds good to me!"
"Ya know...I just thought a somethin'," Meowth remarked as we headed back to the Jeep. "It don't really matter if Lily's spell works or not."
Lily looked down at him. "And why is that?"
"Cuz ya don't need a magic spell ta understand what pokemon are thinkin'!" came his reply. "Just look at Me-owth. I didn't learn how ta talk because of a magic spell -- I did it with a lotta hard work and dedication. And I think humans can do the same. I think if humans take the time ta listen ta dere pokemon, dey can understand what dey're sayin' and thinkin'...."
"Meowth is making a damn good point!" said Gary. "Sometimes, when I look into Blaze or Umbreon's eyes, it's like I really can hear what they're thinking."
Jessie draped an arm around my shoulders. "It's the same for me and James! We can always understand what Wobbuffet is saying, and we're pretty in tune with our other pokemon, too."
"You're all right," I said. "It doesn't take a magic spell to learn what a pokemon is thinking...because there's no great mystery to it. It's something that every good trainer should know."
"So very true," Lily admitted. "I'd still like to figure out the spell and attempt it, though."
"I didn't say you shouldn't," I told her. "If you can use your magic to make it easier for humans and pokemon to communicate with each other, then more power to you. All we're saying is that it's not the end of the world if you can't perform the spell, because there are other ways for humans and pokemon to communicate without magic. One of the most important lessons I've learned about the craft is that you have to look within for answers and rely on yourself and the ones you care about in order for magic to be most effective."
This made her smile again.
When we got to the Jeep, I brought out my Book of Shadows and copied one of my dream spells for Lily.
"Thanks again," she said as I handed the paper to her. "If this works, and I get to talk to my great-great-gran, I can restore the spellbook and ensure that the craft stays in our family for generations to come! It'd be a shame if all of the wisdom within its pages were ever lost."
"Yes. The wisdom of our ancestors is one of the greatest treasures of all," I agreed. "For how can we know who we are and where we're going if we don't understand where we've come from?"
"You know, I've always been quite fascinated by candle and herb magic, though I've never practiced it before," Lily continued as she looked at the spell I'd written down for her. "Do you think I could scribe a few more of your spells?"
I nodded. "Of course! And a lot of your pokemon magic spells look really interesting, too. Do you think I could scribe some of those for my book?"
Her eyes twinkled. "By all means!"
For the rest of the afternoon, Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I sat together in the park with our new friend. Lily wrote down some of my spells like the ritual for increasing your psychic shield, the ritual for ridding your life of negative influences, and a few more of my dream spells, and I wrote down a spell for using Spinarak webs to improve the complexion, some spells for improving pokemon health and beauty, and a few magical remedies for the effects of psychic, ghost, and dark pokemon attacks. When we finished trading spells, we talked for awhile about how magic had become part of our lives. Hearing how Lily had learned a lot of what she knew from her grandmother brought back pleasant memories of the times I'd spent with grand-mama and grand-papa, and she, in turn, was fascinated to hear about our battle with the undead spirit of Queen Ayesha of Yew. (Millennia ago, the kingdoms of Yew and Pokemonia had been at war -- some of the passages in Lily's book even mentioned the dreaded Queen Ayesha, who could control the minds of pokemon with her enchanted staff and mask!)
When the hour grew late, we reluctantly said good-bye to Lily. She wanted to get to the new age store before it closed so that she could pick up the candles and essential oils that she needed to perform the dream spell I'd given her, and we still needed to get to the grocery store so that I could get the ingredients that I needed for dinner. But before we parted ways, Lily exchanged e-mails with us so that she could let us know how the spells went and so that we could keep in touch with her.
A feeling of contentment came over me as my friends and I continued on our way. Our run-in with Ash had been unsettling (as twerp encounters always are), but once again, I was thankful that nobody I cared about had been hurt.
"It's dem! I think dey're here!" I heard Meowth exclaim.
Jessie and I got up from the loveseat and joined Meowth at the window. Sure enough, a black Rolls Royce had just pulled up next to our Jeep, and an elderly couple was getting out.
"Yeah! That's grandma and grandpa, alright!" I affirmed.
It was a little after seven o' clock. Gary, Meowth, Jessie, and I had gotten back from our trip to Cedar Creek about an hour ago, but I hadn't wanted to make dinner until grandma and grandpa got here since I wasn't sure when they'd be arriving. Instead, I'd just started marinating the tilapia fillets I'd bought at the grocery store and chopped up the fresh mangoes and chilis for the mango salsa while Jessie and Meowth put the rest of our purchases away and fed the pokemon, and Gary started a fire in the fireplace.
Now, the four of us were sitting together in the lounge, enjoying the warmth of the fire and watching TV while we waited for my grandparents. And our wait was finally over!
After a moment, the front door opened, and my heart leapt up as grandma and grandpa came inside. Even though I'd spoken to them on the phone several times since September, this was the first time in nine years that I'd seen them in person. They both looked exactly the way I remembered them. The last traces of royal blue were gone from grandpa's smooth, shoulder-length hair, and it was now completely gray, but he still had his brushy handlebar mustache and the same jovial glint in his sapphire eyes. Grandma's long, wavy hair was almost completely white, save for a few vestiges of raven-black. Her skin was dusky, like somebody with a dark, even suntan, and her eyes were emerald-green, like my own.
The two of them grinned from ear to ear and held out their arms when they saw me. I wasted no time in running to their side and letting them sweep me into an embrace.
"James! It's so good to see you again!" I heard grandpa say.
"My little handsome prince," grandma whispered. I felt my hair getting soaked with her tears as she showered me with kisses.
"I missed you so much," I told them as I returned their embrace. "I'm sorry for not getting in touch with you sooner."
"It's okay," grandma assured me. "We knew you were only trying to avoid your parents. We certainly couldn't blame you for that."
Grandpa frowned. "We're just sorry that we didn't do a better job of protecting you. It's partially our fault you ran away...."
"That's not true!" I interjected. I looked up at them and brushed away the tears that were filling my own eyes. "Grandma, grandpa, I found out about what happened when I was nine. I know that you tried to help grand-mama and grand-papa Morgan get custody of me. I think it was very brave of you to stand up to mom and dad like that."
"Not brave enough," grandma sighed. "We could've brought the case to trial after Jim and Rose passed away and tried to get custody of you ourselves -- we wanted to more than anything, but we were afraid."
"Jim and Rose were devastated when Quentin and Judith cut them off from you," grandpa continued. "We didn't want them to find out about our involvement in the lawsuit or pursue it ourselves because we didn't want them to take you away from us if we lost. We failed you, James...."
I shook my head. "No you didn't. I've never once blamed you for anything that happened. My parents were the ones who mistreated me, not you. And you did what you thought you could to help me -- that's all that really matters." I smiled at them again. "But it's all in the past now. I'm a grown man, and my parents don't have any more control over me -- they can't ever hurt me again, and neither can Jessiebelle. So let's not think about them anymore -- this is supposed to be a happy occasion!"
Grandma and grandpa exchanged smiles.
"You're absolutely right, James!" said grandpa. "We should be celebrating!"
Grandma gave me another hug, then held me at arms' length. "Let me get a look at you. Goodness, what a handsome young man you've become!" She winked at me. "You were always the cutest little boy -- I knew you'd grow up to be a real heartbreaker!"
"I certainly think so!" Jessie concurred. "And he's sweet, and smart, and talented, too! That's one amazing grandson you have, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson!"
I felt my cheeks turning pink.
Grandpa shook Jessie's hand. "You must be Jessie."
Grandma released her hold on me and cupped Jessie's chin in her hand. "You're absolutely right, James -- she's a million times more beautiful than Jessiebelle!"
Now Jessie was blushing, too. "I've heard a lot of nice things about you from James," she said quietly. "I'm very pleased to meet both of you."
"And James has had nothing but good things to say about you," grandpa told her.
"It's so wonderful that our James has found such a lovely young lady," grandma said as she gave Jessie's hand an affectionate squeeze. "We hear you make him very happy."
I slid my arms around Jessie's waist. "She does." After giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, I gestured to my other friends. "Grandpa, grandma, these are my friends, Meowth and Gary. Meowth, Gary, these are my grandparents, Eric and Miranda Woodson."
"So, you're the talking Meowth we've heard so much about!" grandpa remarked as he knelt down and shook Meowth's paw."
Meowth smiled. "Dat's right!"
"And you're Samuel and Vivien Oak's grandson," grandma said as she shook hands with Gary. "We heard that Jim and Rose were very good friends of theirs."
Gary nodded. "They were. I didn't know that when I became friends with James, but it's cool."
After exchanging pleasantries for a few more minutes, grandma and grandpa excused themselves so that they could get settled in and freshened up. When they went upstairs, I went to the kitchen to make dinner. While the tilapia continued to marinate in citrus juices, I started a pot of rice. Once the rice was cooked, I put the tilapia in the oven to broil and added some black beans and mojo seasonings to the rice. And once the fish was ready, I took it from the oven and garnished it with the mango salsa I'd made earlier.
When I brought the food to the table, Gary, Meowth, Wobbuffet, Jessie, grandma, and grandpa were all waiting for me. Their mouths began to water when they saw what I'd made for dinner.
"You're in for a real treat," Jessie said to grandma and grandpa. "James is a wonderful chef -- he makes meals fit for a five-star restaurant!"
"James has always enjoyed cooking -- when he was a little boy, you couldn't keep him out of the kitchen," grandma replied. "He was always helping Quentin and Judith's chef, Dalila, and whenever he came to visit me and Eric, he'd always say, What are we gonna bake today, grandma?!"
Jessie giggled. "Awww!"
I smiled as I looked back on all the times I'd helped grandma in the kitchen. Sometimes when I was little, I'd roll the cookie dough unevenly or overmix the muffin batter, but grandma never scolded me or punished me for doing things wrong -- she just showed me the correct way to do it so that I could learn from my mistakes. And she always let me eat the excess cookie dough or cake frosting and lick the bowls and spoons and beaters. But as much as I'd enjoyed eating the treats that grandma had always made for me, I'd enjoyed helping her and spending time with her even more.
And this, in turn, made me think of all the fun I'd had with grandpa. Whenever I came to visit, he'd always pretend to pull a coin or a bottle cap out of my ear and let me keep it, and he'd always had a new joke or riddle for me. The time I'd spent with him was one of the things that had given me my affinity for puns and word-play. He and grandma always used to play the piano and sing songs to me, too. Like grand-mama and grand-papa, I couldn't imagine my life without them!
Stirring myself from my reverie, I set the dishes on the table and let everybody serve themselves. And as they began to eat, they raved about how delicious everything was.
"This is superb, James!" grandpa told me. "Jessie was right -- it tastes just like something from a five-star restaurant!"
"I always knew you'd be an excellent cook," grandma praised. "It was so nice of you to make us such a delicious dinner!"
As I served myself and started eating, I knew that they weren't paying me any idle compliments. The white tilapia was succulent and flaky, and the fruit juices it had been marinated in gave it a flavor that tied in well with the spicy-sweet mango salsa. Likewise, the black beans and rice were moist and tender, and they'd been seasoned to perfection. Even though it was more of a summer dish, the hot, spicy meal seemed appropriate for this festive first night of winter.
"James sounds like he was such an adorable little boy. I'd love to hear more about his childhood and the times he spent with you, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson," Jessie prompted as she took a big bite of her mango salsa.
"Well, we'd be happy to tell you more!" they chorused.
"Why don't we tell them about the time James saved that pokemon's life?" grandpa suggested.
Jessie, Meowth, Wobbuffet, and Gary leaned closer.
"This happened when James was six. His parents had gone on a week-long cruise in the Orange Islands that April and left him with us," grandma began. "One day, he was out exploring the woods, and when he came back inside, he had a Bellsprout with him! The poor thing was sick and looked like it was half-starved, but James took such good care of it -- he fed it, watered it, and carried its little bed around the house so that it could always be in the sunlight. Nurse Joy even taught him how to give it medicine when we took it to the pokemon center on the day he found it!"
Grandpa sighed. "James adored that little Bellsprout, and it adored him, too. But when Quentin and Judith got home from their trip, they wouldn't let him keep it. They wouldn't even let us keep it at our place so that James could play with it when he came to visit...just took it and released it back into the wild." His brow furrowed. "Said they didn't want that little weed around because it might aggravate James's allergies. Biggest bunch of Tauros shit I ever heard -- Miranda and I have never once seen James have an allergic reaction to animal dander, pollen, spores, or anything else!"
"I think they didn't want him to have it because it wasn't the kind of pokemon that they could get a pedigree for and brag that they'd spent a fortune on," grandma commented. "That's how James got Growly, you know. He found him the same way he did Bellsprout -- sick and injured in the woods. He'd been staying with Jim and Rose when that happened, and they'd helped him nurse Growly back to health, just like we'd helped him take care of Bellsprout. Quentin and Judith weren't going to let him keep Growly either, but they found out that he belonged to a friend of theirs who'd just bred his Arcanines and was selling the pups. Granted, Growly had been the runt of the litter -- he'd run off because all of the bigger pups had been pushing him around -- but he was still worth thousands. With a little convincing from Jim and Rose, Quentin and Judith bought Growly and got his papers. But they only did it because they wanted to breed him someday."
"Yeah. They definitely didn't let James keep Growly so that he could have a pokemon. They didn't want him to go on a pokemon journey," grandpa grumbled.
"Why not?" Gary asked.
Grandpa rolled his eyes. "Because they were afraid that if he went on a pokemon journey, then he'd start associating with riff-raff -- they wanted him to stay home so that they could drill proper manners into him and make him marry that psychotic Jessiebelle."
Grandma shook her head. "I don't know what got into Quentin. Eric and I didn't raise him to be so humorless and conservative -- he just became that way. Jim and Rose said Judith was like that, too -- they raised her to be tolerant and open-minded, but she just went conservative on them." She paused for a moment and gave me a wistful smile. "I'm glad you didn't turn out like they did, James. Don't get me wrong, we love Quentin and Judy, but we've never agreed with their politics or the way they treated you."
Sensing that the mood was becoming too dark, I decided to cheer everybody up. "Well, the joke's on mom and dad, because I ended up doing everything they were trying to prevent me from doing!" I smiled at my grandparents. "Including getting my Bellsprout back!"
They gave me a quizzical look.
"This happened about two years ago. Jessie, Meowth, and I were in the Safari Zone, searching for a Dratini," I explained. "We didn't manage to catch any Dratinis while we were there, but we did find a Weepinbell -- he was just following us around and seemed really happy to see us. Meowth translated what Weepinbell was saying, and he told us that I reminded him of somebody who'd saved his life when he was a Bellsprout. That's when I realized that he was the Bellsprout I'd rescued when I was a boy, and he let me catch him! He's a big, strong, healthy Victreebel now...and he's one of my best pokemon!"
This made the two of them smile as well.
"That's wonderful, James!" grandma exclaimed.
Grandpa nodded. "Miranda and I always regretted that Quentin and Judith took that little Bellsprout from you. I'm so glad you were able to find him again."
"We're glad about a lot of things," grandma continued. "We're happy that you're living your life the way you want to, that you've made such good friends, that you're with somebody who loves you...and that we're finally able to spend time with you again!"
"I'm grateful for all of that, too," I told her.
"That reminds me!" grandpa said. He reached over and placed a hand on Jessie's shoulder. "We have a birthday present for you. We'll give it to you after dinner."
Jessie blushed. "You didn't have to get me anything, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson...."
"Yes, but we wanted to, dear," grandma told her. She smiled at Gary. "You're not going to be leaving empty-handed, either!"
Gary raised an eyebrow. "I'm not?"
"How long will you be staying with us?" she inquired.
"I'm gonna head back home tomorrow morning," he replied.
"Then, it looks like I'll have to get cracking tonight!" grandma exclaimed. She grinned at me. "I'm gonna make a great, big batch of holiday cookies! Care to help, James?"
I nodded. "You know I would!"
When we finished our dinner, grandma and I cleaned up the kitchen and got started on the holiday baking...and everybody else stayed in the kitchen to watch and give us some help! While grandma started making the coconut macaroons, grandpa began chopping pecans for the tea-cakes, and Jessie helped me mix the dough for the almond cookies. Once grandma put the macaroons into the oven, she got to work on the dough for the tea-cakes, and Jessie and I rolled out the almond cookie dough. Then, Jessie cut the pink dough with a poinsetta-shaped cookie cutter, and I cut the green dough with a Christmas tree-shaped cookie cutter. The two of us then put the cookies onto baking sheets and decorated them with sprinkles. When the macaroons were done, grandma put the almond cookies into the oven and let me and Jessie roll the tea-cakes into balls while she started a batch of fudge and mixed up a cinnamon sugar glaze to coat some raisins and pecans with. As I sat there in the kitchen, helping grandma make all of her best holiday treats, it brought back more pleasant memories from my childhood...only this time, it was even better because now I had my friends to share this wonderful family moment with, too!
After three hours of preparation, baking, and cleaning up, we had two dozen coconut macaroons, four dozen almond cookies, four dozen butter pecan tea-cakes coated with powdered sugar, a pan of fudge, and a plate of raisins and pecans coated with cinnamon sugar. The entire house was filled with their heavenly aroma, and the prospect of sampling everything for dessert was making us hungry again!
Once we each had a plate of cookies, fudge, and candied raisins and pecans, we gathered in the lounge, and grandma and grandpa presented Jessie with a small, slim package wrapped in gold paper. When she unwrapped it, she found a little black case...and when she opened the case, there was a diamond and emerald tennis bracelet inside.
Jessie placed a hand to her mouth. "Oh! Oh, my god!" she gasped. "Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson!"
"Don't mention it," grandpa replied. "We wanted to get you something to show you how grateful we are that you've come into our grandson's life."
"We're glad you like it, Jessie," grandma added.
Jessie put the bracelet on and admired it for a moment. The petite stones accentuated her slim, delicate wrist beautifully. "I love it! Emeralds are my absolute favorite!"
I winked at her. "Gee, I wonder why!"
After our dessert (which tasted every bit as good as it had looked and smelled), grandma seated herself at the piano at the far end of the lounge. As she began to play some Christmas songs, grandpa sang along and got us to join him. First, we sang a few classics like Holly, Jolly Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer...and Jessie and I even did a duet of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire! Then, grandpa did a couple of Christmas songs with changed up lyrics that had us rolling on the floor with laughter!
"This is so much more fun than the party Quentin and Judith had last night," grandpa remarked when he finished his renditions of The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen sung to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Wreck the Malls sung to the tune of Deck the Halls. "They never would've let me get away with singing those!"
Meowth dismissively waved a paw. "Ah, we all know dat dey need ta dislodge dose big sticks dey have up dere rears."
"This is true," grandma chuckled. Then, becoming serious again, "I really wish they would, though. James, seeing you again after all these years and having so much fun with you and your friends tonight makes us realize just how much we missed you. I wish your mom and dad would wake up and realize what a wonderful son they have because they're really missing out, too...."
I placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, grandma. Really."
"She has a point, though," grandpa sighed. "We can't let Quentin and Judith go through life, thinking that their only child is some kind of failure. James, your grandma and I are so proud of you...and I'm sure your parents would be too, if they'd just open their eyes. We won't tell them where you are or that we met with you here if you don't want us to...but at the very least, we need to talk to them about you...remind them of how lucky they are to have you for a son."
I felt tears welling up in my eyes again. "I'd appreciate that," I whispered.
Jessie wrapped her arms around me. "You're right, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson -- James's parents should appreciate what a great son they have! We'd love if you could make them see that. And if not...well, that's their loss!"
This made grandma and grandpa smile once more.
"Well, I hate to break things up, but it's after midnight," Gary said as he looked over at the grandfather clock in the corner. "I need to get an early start in the morning so that I can get home before dark, so I should probably get to bed."
Grandma yawned. "Yeah. We should call it a day, too. It's a shame you can't stay longer, Gary, but we're very glad that we got to meet you."
"I'm glad I got to meet you too, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson," he replied. "I'm happy that James has such nice grandparents."
Grandpa reached out and shook Gary's hand. "And we're happy that he has such nice friends."
After putting our dessert plates in the dishwasher and tidying up the lounge, we all exchanged good nights and went upstairs to our bedrooms. When Jessie and I got to our room, she went into the bathroom to take a shower, and I seated myself on the bed and brought out my Book of Shadows. The reason I'd taken it to town earlier that afternoon was because I wanted to perform a Yuletide ritual tonight, and I'd needed the book so that I'd know which supplies to stock up on. Now I had everything I needed.
Setting up my cauldron and arranging a white, red, and black candle around it and a green candle inside of it, I cast my circle and recited the Yuletide prayer. Winter solstice was the time when darkness reigned supreme, a time for saying farewell to the old and preparing for the rebirth of light. As I lit the candles and said my blessings, I thought about how much meaning this ritual carried tonight. Like the cycles of nature, our old way of life was passing away...and with the new life we were leading, we were being reborn like flowers in the spring. And as I sat within the circle and reflected on everything that had been happening, I knew that my friends and I were truly blessed -- we'd sown the seeds of new beginnings, and we'd have the strength and wisdom to make the most of them.
When I finished the ritual and dispelled the circle, Jessie came from the bathroom. She was wearing her white nightgown and drying her hair with a purple towel. "Casting another spell?" she asked, taking note of the candles and cauldron that I was putting away.
I nodded. "A Yuletide ritual." I smiled and took her by the hand. "It went really well -- I think we can expect a lot of good things to be happening from now on."
Jessie smiled, too. "You know, I always used to hate this time of year. I always used to dwell on everything I'd lost. But this is the first time in twelve years that I haven't let it get me down!"
"That's because we finally have reasons to celebrate," I told her. "Everything that was making us miserable in the past is over now -- those old ways are dead, and it's time to welcome the new! It's like we're starting life over again!"
Her sapphire eyes sparkled. "You know, that's exactly how I feel -- I feel like we have a clean slate."
"Precisely!" I said. "And even though we made a lot of mistakes in the past, we've learned from them, and we won't make those mistakes again."
"Yeah," she agreed. "None of it was easy, but I think we're all the wiser because of it. So, I can't really say that I have any regrets."
I pulled Jessie closer and ran my fingers through her hair. "Neither can I, Jess. As you so often and so wisely say -- it all happened for a reason!"
Jessie placed her hands to my cheeks and brushed her lips against mine. "I love you, sweetie."
"I love you too, angel," I replied. I rested my forehead against hers and gazed into her beautiful blue eyes.
"Why don't I light some scented candles?" Jessie whispered seductively. "After you take your shower, I'll give you another reason to celebrate this occasion!"
I smiled again and gave her another kiss. "I like the way you think, Jess!"
Chapter 9 -- The Dawn of a White Tomorrow
I slowly opened my eyes and stretched myself out. The pink light of dawn was filtering through the curtains and bathing the room in a rosy glow. Taking care not to awaken Jessie, I climbed out of bed and covered her with the blanket once again. Then, I went to the eastern window and drew the curtains apart. It had snowed again last night, and the forests and mountains were covered with a thick blanket of white. Even the creek that ran alongside the chalet was encrusted with ice.
I smiled. Looks like we're going to have a white Christmas!
The past few days had been eventful ones for me and my friends. Gary headed back home to Pallet on Saturday morning, but before he left, grandma made a big batch of chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. She also put together a large tin of the cookies, fudge, and other treats that we'd made for him and his family. After breakfast, Gary put on the sweater, scarf, and glove set that Jessie had knit for him and the gray jacket that his parents had gotten him for his birthday, gathered his belongings, and said good-bye to all of us. He then called out Smaug, and as he flew away on his Charizard, he promised to send us an e-mail when he got home.
Once Gary had left, we were all feeling a little down, but Meowth cheered us up with a wonderful idea -- he suggested that we call Jessie's family and invite them to spend the holidays with us in Cedar Creek! Grandma and grandpa were all for it ("We'd love to meet the Parkers and the Rochesters -- we'll all be family someday, after all!" they'd said), and Jessie and I loved the idea as well. The more loved ones we had with us on this occasion, the better! Jesse, Musashi, Ahearn, Miriel, and Brad were all thrilled to hear from us, and they all promised to be there with bells on. They were as eager to meet my grandparents as grandma and grandpa were to meet them...and they weren't about to pass up an opportunity to spend time with Jessie!
Jessie spent the rest of the morning talking to her family. When she got off the phone with them, I helped grandma make lunch -- a pot of honey roasted ham and potato soup and a loaf of honey wheatberry bread. After lunch, grandma and grandpa took us for a walk around their property. We explored the creek and the nature trails that wound through the forest, and we even hiked up into the mountains, where grandma and grandpa showed us the hot springs! All of us enjoyed soaking in the pools of hot, steamy water (even Meowth), and Jess probably could've stayed up there forever. But when it started getting dark, we reluctantly headed back to the chalet.
While grandma and grandpa were making dinner, Jessie, Meowth, and I went upstairs to check our e-mail. When we connected to the internet and logged into our e-mail account, we had two messages -- one from Gary and one from Lily. Gary had written to let us know that he'd made it home safely, and that he and his family were now getting ready for Christmas. He also thanked us once again for all of his presents, and he told us to tell grandma that his whole family was raving about the holiday treats she'd made. And Lily had written to tell us that she'd performed the dream spell I'd given her and that it had worked -- she'd been able to speak to the spirit of her great-great-grandmother, and she was now in the process of restoring her spellbook! She promised to keep us posted on how everything went and thanked us again for all of our help.
Jessie, Meowth, and I couldn't help but smile as we read the e-mails our friends had sent and replied to them. It felt good to know that Gary was safe at home for the holidays and that Lily was gaining the wisdom of her ancestors and doing her part to preserve her family's tradition of magic thanks to us. That knowledge was a gift in and of itself.
The next day, Jessie's grandparents and uncle arrived, and they spent the morning getting acquainted with my grandparents. Grandma and grandpa thought that Jesse, Musashi, Ahearn, Miriel, and Brad were wonderful, and the feelings were mutual. (Jesse, Musashi, Ahearn, and Miriel even remarked that meeting grandma and grandpa brought back pleasant memories of how they'd met each other when Jessie's parents had become friends!) We then spent the afternoon in town. Since our families were all eager to see The Fellowship of the Ring, we made another trip to the theater to catch a matinee show. It felt good to see the movie again, and seeing our loved ones enjoying it as much as we had made it an especially gratifying experience for me, Jessie, and Meowth. Now more than ever, we were looking forward to seeing The Fellowship of the Ring with Gary again after the holidays!
After the movie, we stopped at the grocery store so that we could pick up all of the ingredients that we needed for our Christmas dinner, and while we were there, we bought a Christmas tree as well. When we returned to the chalet, we spent the rest of the afternoon decorating the tree, putting up colored lights in the windows, and hanging wreaths and mistletoe.
While grandma was making a pork roast for dinner, Mondo arrived with our paychecks (which now reflected the raises we'd received) and some Christmas cards from our friends. Felicia's family had invited Mondo to spend Christmas and new years with them at their home in Sunflower Fields, and he'd wanted to stop by to visit us since Cedar Creek was on the way to where he was going. He'd taken the bus from Viridian City that morning, and he was planning to catch an overnight bus to Sunflower Fields later that evening, but we wouldn't hear of it. Grandma and grandpa wanted Mondo to stay for dinner and spend the night, and Jessie, Meowth, and I volunteered to give the Jeep back to him so that he could drive to Sunflower Fields in the morning and not have to worry about expensive bus tickets and confusing bus schedules. Mondo hadn't been looking forward to the long night he'd had ahead of him, so he was all too happy to accept our invitation.
The next morning, Mondo set out early since he wanted to be at the Calvetti's by lunchtime, but he thanked us once again for our hospitality. He'd greatly preferred meeting our families, eating grandma's home-cooking, and sleeping in a warm, soft bed to riding all night on a bus full of strangers and eating dinner and breakfast in greasy spoon diners.
After he left with the Jeep, Jessie, Meowth, and I devoted the rest of Christmas Eve to spending quality time with our families. Grandma and grandpa had brought along some of their photo albums, so they spent the morning showing everybody pictures of me when I was little. I enjoyed seeing the expressions on Jessie and Meowth's faces as they flipped through an album filled with pictures of me riding Ponytas with my mom, taking archery lessons with my dad, playing with Growly and Bellsprout, helping grandma in the kitchen, and practicing sleight of hand tricks with grandpa. Jessie even went ga-ga over my baby pictures! Once again, everybody agreed that I'd been the cutest little boy.
But as much as I enjoyed the attention that everybody was lavishing on me, I enjoyed getting to see pictures of my family even more. There were adorable pictures of grandma and grandpa when they were children in the 1930s (with her curly hair and dimples, grandma had looked a bit like Shirley Temple), pictures of them as teenagers in the 1940s, and pictures of their wedding in 1953. There were also a couple of old photographs of my great-grandparents, Edgar and Antoinette Woodson and Robert and Elisi Richmond. The picture of great-grandma and great-grandpa Woodson had been taken in 1927, while they were on their honeymoon in Paris (like Gary's mom, my great-grandma Woodson had been from France). And the picture of great-grandma and great-grandpa Richmond had been taken in 1929, shortly after great-grandpa had won a Houen League championship. (I remember, grandma and grandpa had always let me look at great-grandpa Robert's trophy when I came to visit them, and they'd often shown me pictures of him and told me how he'd won the Houen League with the help of his Arcanine, Charizard, Vaporeon, Cacnea, Dustox, and the Guraina that great-grandma Elisi had given him. Grandma and grandpa even had an oil painting of great-grandpa and his Arcanine hanging in their den. He'd been a handsome man, with long, blue hair that he wore in a ponytail and emerald eyes like grandma's and my own. Sometimes, when I was a boy, I'd look at that painting of great-grandpa and his Arcanine and imagine that it was me and Growly -- I'd admired him as much as I admired grand-papa Morgan. In fact, the stories I'd heard about great-grandpa had been one of the things that made me want to become a pokemon trainer!)
When I was done looking at the photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents, I got to see some old pictures of my parents as well. It was kind of funny, to think that the baby boy with sparkling green eyes, dimples, and ringlets of indigo hair was my dad, and Jessie, Meowth, and I cracked up at an old picture of mom and dad that had been taken a couple of years before they got married. Mom's purple hair was down, and it cascaded all the way past her waist. She was wearing a green halter-top and a pair of bell-bottom jeans that had flowers embroidered on them. And dad was wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses. His curly hair was down to his shoulders, and he had a pair of mutton-chop sideburns. I could scarcely believe that these were the same people who were always complaining about hippies and thought that having any kind of fun was unrefined! (Meowth even suggested that the next time mom and dad started acting like a couple of sticks in the mud, grandma and grandpa should show some of these old pictures to them and remind them of how cool they used to be...or at least embarrass the hell out of them!)
But the most interesting part of all was getting to see pictures of relatives that I didn't know and learning more about my family. Before they'd left for Cedar Creek, my grandparents had received a holiday newsletter from grandma's cousin, Mako Silverwolf (who was the son of great-grandma Elisi's younger brother). Mako had written to grandma to let her know that everybody in his family was doing fine and to wish her a happy holiday season. He'd also enclosed a photograph of his granddaughter, Kajika, who'd just turned thirteen in October. I couldn't help but smile as I looked at the picture of my third cousin. With her doe-brown eyes, long, raven-black hair, and dark, ruddy complexion, she looked a lot like great-grandma Elisi had. Jessie and Meowth enjoyed getting to see the picture of Kajika, too -- last month, I'd told them that I had relatives in Houen, and now they were getting to see one of them! Now more than ever, the three of us wanted to make a trip to Houen so that we could meet my relatives and Gary's cousin Alwyn, and so that we could explore a new land and broaden our horizons!
Looking at pictures of my family had gotten Jesse, Musashi, Ahearn, and Miriel in the mood to show pictures as well, so after lunch, they let Jessie open one of her presents early -- the photo album that they'd put together. For the rest of the afternoon, we looked at pictures of the various members of the Parker and Rochester families. There were old photographs of Jesse with his parents and younger sister, some beautiful portraits of Musashi when she was a little girl (when I looked at the pictures of Musashi, it was easy to see where Jessie's regal air had come from), and pictures of Ahearn and Miriel when they were teenagers in the 1950s (we all had a laugh at an old picture of Miriel in a poodle skirt, and in one picture where Ahearn was dressed in a black leather jacket and a pair of scuffed boots and leaning against a candy-apple red GTO, he looked a bit like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause). Then, we got to see more photographs of Dorian and Miya -- there were adorable pictures of them when they were babies, a picture of Miya sitting in her parents' garden when she was two, a picture of Ahearn and Miriel teaching Dorian how to ride horses when he was two, a picture of Jesse taking Miya for a ride on a Ponyta at her sixth birthday party, a picture of a seven year-old Dorian holding his new baby brother on his lap, school portraits, pictures of Miya at her graduation ceremony at Pokemon Tech and at the closing ceremonies of all the leagues and competitions where she'd won championships, pictures of Dorian performing in plays, pictures that had been taken while the two of them were traveling together (Jessie's favorites were one where they were riding Snowmane and Diablo and one where they were roller-skating at a boardwalk on one of the Orange Islands), and finally, a beautiful picture of them at their wedding in 1989.
Jessie cried the whole time she was looking at the pictures of her parents, but I could tell from the smile on her lips that they were tears of joy. She even told her grandparents that getting to see what Dorian and Miya were like and learning about her family was one of the best gifts she could ask for.
And I had to agree. After all, knowing where we come from is an important part of knowing who we are and what we want to become. Everything we've been learning about our families seems to be showing us that we're on the right path in life and that our future is, indeed, as bright as we've been hoping. Who knows? Maybe someday Jessie and I will be showing these pictures to our own children and grandchildren, teaching them where they've come from and who they are and helping them while they discover where they want to go in life!
I look forward to it.
And now, as I gazed out the window and watched the sunrise on this beautiful Christmas morning, I felt myself overcome by a sense of peace. So far, every day we'd spent with our families had been one to look forward to, and I knew that today would be no exception.
Suddenly, I heard Jessie stirring. Looking over my shoulder, I saw that she was rubbing the sleep from her eyes and getting out of bed.
"Good morning, angel," I said quietly. "Merry Christmas."
Jessie smiled sweetly at me and came to my side. "Merry Christmas, James," she echoed, wrapping her arms around my waist and planting a kiss on my cheek.
I closed my hands over hers and enjoyed the feeling of her warm, soft body next to mine. "Looking forward to opening your presents?" I ventured.
"I sure am!" came her reply. "And a big Christmas breakfast, and watching everybody else open their presents, and going for a sleigh ride now that there's finally enough snow, and Christmas dinner...."
"But it's still early yet," Jessie continued. She leaned closer to me and rested her head on my shoulder. "Why don't we go back to bed and...keep ourselves occupied for awhile?"
My heart skipped a beat as I turned around and took her in my arms. "That sounds like an excellent suggestion, my dear Jessie!"
"Come on! Hurry up! I wanna see what I got!" Meowth exclaimed as he bounced up and down on the couch. Just like Friday morning, when we'd opened Gary's presents, the cat looked like he was about to explode from all of the excitement!
After watching the sunrise together, Jessie and I had gone back to bed and spent the next couple of hours nestled together beneath the blankets, making slow, gentle love. When we'd finally gotten up, we'd joined everybody in the kitchen and enjoyed a delicious Christmas breakfast of French toast, hash browns, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Now, we were all gathered around the Christmas tree in the lounge, opening our presents.
First, we gave all of the pokemon stockings stuffed with treats and toys. Then, the Parkers, the Rochesters, and my grandparents exchanged gift baskets of fruits, cheeses, and various types of candies and opened their presents from Jessie, Meowth, and me. The three of us had assembled some photo albums for them so that Jessie's family could see what she'd been like as a child and young teenager, and my grandparents could see what I'd been like in the years after I'd run away from home. (And we'd also given my grandparents and the Rochesters copies of the tapes of Jessie's weather girl segments and the Entertainment Tonight footage of the twerps crashing Brad's show.)
"Oh! Thank you, Jessie!" Jesse and Musashi chorused as they skimmed through their photo album.
Ahearn, Miriel, and Brad flipped through theirs as well and smiled. "This is wonderful!" they agreed.
Jessie blushed. "I got the idea from the five of you. I'm glad you like them."
"We'll have to look at these later," said grandpa.
Grandma nodded. "I can't imagine a better way to spend the day than looking at pictures of our grandchildren and their friends!"
"But right now, let's finish opening our presents," I chuckled as I looked over at Meowth, who was still bouncing impatiently in his seat. "I don't think poor Meowth can contain himself much longer!"
"Ya got dat right!" the cat said as he tore the paper away from the first of his presents. He grinned from ear to ear when he saw what Ahearn, Miriel, and Brad had gotten for him.
"What is it, Meowth?" Jessie wanted to know.
Meowth held up a set of crystal cat food dishes that had frosted moons and stars etched on them.
"Oh, wow! Those are gorgeous, Meowth!" Jessie exclaimed.
"And they'll go wonderfully with that little jade bowl you got last year!" I added.
"Yeah, dey will," Meowth agreed. He nodded to the Rochesters. "Thanks!"
"You're welcome, Meowth," they replied.
After admiring the dishes a moment longer, Meowth gingerly set them aside and unwrapped his present from Jesse and Musashi -- a cat-sized midnight-blue cloak with a golden crescent moon-shaped brooch.
"Oooh! That's beautiful too!" Jessie breathed.
Meowth rubbed the fabric against his cheek again and smiled. "It sure is!" He wrapped the cloak around his shoulders and fastened it with the brooch. "And it's so soft and warm! I'll definitely be gettin' a lotta use out of it dis winter! Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Parker!"
Musashi gave him a little bow. "We're glad you like it, Meowth."
Jesse wrapped an arm around his wife's waist. "Yeah! 'Sash made it herself."
"Dat makes it even better," Meowth told them. He then picked up his third present -- the one from me and Jessie -- and rattled the box for a moment. "Hmmm...I wonder what it is...." he muttered.
Jessie and I exchanged smiles. "Only one way to find out!"
Meowth ripped away the red and green paper and opened the box. His eyes lit up as he pulled away the layers of styrofoam padding and bubble wrap and saw what we'd gotten him. "It's...it's a hot-air balloon engine!" he stammered.
"We had that built for you after the hot-air balloon race last September," I explained. "Jessie and I felt awful about talking you out of the race, and we wanted to make up for it."
Meowth shook his head and blinked back the tears that were welling up in his eyes. "I was never mad at youse guys about dat -- I knew you'd only stopped me from enterin' the race ta keep me safe from Ash...."
"Even so, we wanted to get you something," said Jessie. She winked at him. "We know you would've won that race if you'd been able to enter...and you'll always be the world's greatest pilot to us!"
Tears were now streaming down Meowth's cheeks. He sniffled and brushed them away. "Thank you. Youse guys are the best!"
Jessie scooped the cat into her arms and gave him a hug. After planting a kiss on his golden charm and setting him back down, she picked up her present from Ahearn, Miriel, and Brad and opened it. Her sapphire eyes sparkled when she saw what she got.
"Do you like it?" Ahearn asked.
Jessie held up her gift for everybody to see -- a delicate golden bracelet with her name engraved on it in a curving brushscript font. "It's lovely!" she exclaimed as she slid it on and admired the way it looked on her slim wrist. "I've always wanted an ID bracelet! Thank you, granny, grandpa, and uncle Brad!"
Miriel put her arms around Jessie and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "This is like a dream come true," she whispered. "I love my boys with all my heart and soul, but I've always wanted a girl, too. I'm so happy that Dorian had a daughter...that I finally have a little girl I can buy pretty things for and spoil rotten!"
Jessie returned her granny's embrace and winked. "You won't hear any complaints from me!"
"Well, you're not the only ones who like spoiling her!" said Jesse.
Musashi handed the next package to her. "That's right! We all love having a beautiful granddaughter that we can give pretty things to!"
Jessie took the package from her grandma and opened it. "Oh, my!" she gasped. "Did...did you make this, too?"
Jessie's smile grew even wider than it already was as she brought a kimono from the package. It was made of deep purple silk and had fuschia roses printed on it. "It's wonderful! Thank you, grandma and pop-pop!"
"I saw that fabric in a craft store a couple of months ago and thought of you," Musashi told her. "I just had to buy it and make something for you!"
Jessie blushed again. As she set the kimono aside, Meowth and Wobbuffet put a large box in her lap.
"Now open ours!" the cat exclaimed.
Wobbuffet saluted her. You're gonna love it!
"I'm sure I will," she said. She grinned from ear to ear as she opened the box and rooted through the sea of styrofoam peanuts to see what they'd gotten her. "Oh, cool!"
Now I was grinning, too. "What did they get you, Jess?"
"See for yourself!" she said as she handed the box to me.
I looked inside the box and saw a set of glass goblets with Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Arwen on them. "Whoa!"
Jessie gave the two pokemon a hug. "You're right -- I do love my present! Thank you so much, guys!"
Wobbuffet blushed. You're welcome.
I looked at the goblets for a moment and admired the way the colored lights on the Christmas tree glinted through the glass. Each one had been molded with such incredible detail that it almost looked like the characters were going to come to life! "These are amazing," I remarked.
"They sure are," Jessie agreed. She then gave me a sly smile as she began opening her final present -- the one from me. "And what did you get for me, James? It had better be something really spectacular -- all the other great presents I got are a tough act to follow!"
I grinned. "Oh, I don't think you'll be too disappointed."
As Jessie unwrapped the purple paper and opened the box, she gasped. And then, she smiled so widely it looked like her face was going to split in half! "Oh, James! Are...are these....?"
"Princess Dolls," I said, finishing the thought for her. "Yes, they are. I had them custom-made for you."
Jessie blinked back the tears of joy in her eyes as she brought the thirteen figurines and their display stand from the box. "They look like us and our pokemon! James, they're so adorable! I love them!"
"I'm glad to hear it," I replied. "It broke my heart to know that you never had Princess Dolls when you were little -- I thought it was about time you did have a set of your own."
Jessie's tears were now flowing freely. "These are the best ever! Now I'm really glad I lost that tournament!" She threw her arms around me and covered my face with kisses. "Thank you so much, sweetie!"
I returned her embrace and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. "You're welcome, angel."
Once Jessie released me, I opened my present from the Rochesters. They'd given me a gold wrist watch.
"This is exquisite -- I've always wanted a Rolex," I commented as I put the watch on and set the time. "Thank you."
"We're glad you like it, James," Ahearn replied.
"Nothing but the best for our future grandson-in-law!" Miriel chimed in.
I smiled at them and proceeded to open my gift from the Parkers -- a black kimono with red roses on it (which Musashi had obviously made herself as well).
I admired the craftsmanship and smiled again. "Thank you, Mrs. Parker -- I love it!"
Musashi blushed. "You're welcome, James."
Jesse winked. "Now you and Jessie can match!"
"And dat ain't the only thing yer gonna match with!" Meowth said as he and Wobbuffet handed me my present.
I had a pretty good idea what they'd gotten me. And sure enough, when I opened the box, I found a set of Lord of the Rings goblets identical to the one they'd given Jessie. "Thanks, guys!" I said.
"Yer welcome!" the two pokemon replied in unison.
Jessie gave me another kiss and placed a soft package wrapped in green paper in my hands. "And this is my present. I hope you like it, sweetie."
"I know I will," I assured her. With that, I undid the paper and found the best present of all -- a sweater, scarf, and glove set hand-knit from Mareep wool! It was just like the woolens Jessie had knit for Gary (only mine were black with red roses rather than gray with black oak leaves), and she'd knit a pair of socks and boxer shorts to go along with them! And beneath the woolens, I found yet another present -- a traveling cloak of soft black cloth, with tiny red roses and emerald-green leaves embroidered along the edges. "Jess...."
She smiled at me. "I made those for you while we were staying at the pokemon center in Florando," she informed me.
I winked at her. "I figured that was why you'd wanted your privacy."
"I've wanted to knit you something from Mareep wool for a long time," Jessie continued. "And I think you'll look really handsome in that cloak."
I picked up my new scarf and brushed it against my cheek, enjoying the silky-softness of the Mareep wool. Then, I ran my fingers along the warm, soft fabric of the cloak and admired the embroidery work. "They're wonderful, Jess -- I know I'll enjoy wearing them. Thank you so much!"
She took my hand in hers and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "My pleasure."
Once I'd finished opening my presents, grandma and grandpa cleared their throats to get our attention.
"And now, it's time for us to give our present to Jessie, James, and Meowth!" grandma announced.
Grandpa got to his feet and walked to the front door. "It's not anything that could fit under the tree -- you have to come outside to see it!"
Jessie, Meowth, and I exchanged quizzical looks as we followed him. I'd wondered why there hadn't been any gifts from grandma and grandpa under the tree, and now I was more curious than ever about what they'd gotten us!
Grandma and grandpa led us outside and gestured to a brand new Jeep parked in the driveway. The gloss-black paint job and chrome sparkled brightly in the morning sun.
"Holy flurkin' shnit!" Meowth gasped.
"It's beautiful!" Jessie breathed.
"Is...is this...ours?" I stammered.
Grandma and grandpa nodded.
"It's got all the luxuries -- air conditioner, power everything, automatic transmission, CD player, all-leather interior...and we even paid for the tax, tag, and insurance!" grandpa informed us.
"We figured you didn't own that Team Rocket Jeep you were driving, so we wanted to get you one of your own so that you can have a vehicle when you retire," grandma explained. "And this should be a nice, reliable one."
"Definitely," I agreed. "We loved the old Jeep, but this one is even better!" I hugged my grandparents. "Thank you!"
"You guys are the best!" Jessie and Meowth chorused as they hugged my grandparents, too.
Grandma and grandpa returned our embrace. "Don't mention it."
Meowth looked back at our new Jeep and smiled. "We gotta take dat baby for a test-drive!" His smile became a grin. "And we gotta put the new engine on our balloon and give dat a try, too!"
Jessie rubbed her hands together and shivered. "Absolutely...but it'll have to wait until later -- it's too cold right now, and we haven't even gotten dressed yet!"
"Then why don't we go back inside and let our grandparents look at those photo albums we put together?" I suggested. "We can take our test-drives this afternoon."
"Sounds like a plan ta Me-owth!" the cat exclaimed.
I closed my eyes and sighed contentedly as Jessie rested her head on my shoulder and pulled the afghan closer around us. She and I were cuddled together on the loveseat in the lounge, basking in the warmth of the fireplace and reflecting on what a magical day it had been.
After opening our presents, we'd all spent the entire morning in the lounge, and our grandparents had looked through the photo albums we'd assembled for them. Just like they'd done with the photos of me yesterday, everybody -- myself included -- went ga-ga over Jessie's baby pictures and agreed that she'd been the cutest little girl. Our grandparents also got a laugh out of some of the pictures of me and Jessie that had been taken after we left Pokemon Tech and during our bike gang days. There were photos of Jessie wearing old flannels with ripped jeans and combat boots, photos of me wearing long black trenchcoats and black nail polish, and even a picture of me and Jessie standing back to back and flexing our biceps, showing off a pair of fake tattoos that we'd drawn on each other's arms (Jessie had had a fire-breathing dragon on her arm, and I'd had a rose on mine). I couldn't help but laugh as I'd looked at the pictures of me and Jessie in our early teen years -- they'd reminded me of the photograph of my parents dressed as hippies! Would our children someday look at these photographs and laugh, too? I certainly hoped so.
When we'd finished looking at pictures and reminiscing, we'd eaten lunch and gone back outside to try out our new Jeep and Meowth's new hot-air balloon engine. We'd driven the Jeep along some of the forest roads on grandma and grandpa's property. Like our old Jeep, some things remained comfortably familiar -- the hum of the engine, the way it could power through tough terrain, the feeling of safety and control I got from being behind the wheel. The only things that were different were the improvements over the old Jeep. The seats were softer, the equipment was more up to date, the gas mileage was better, and the ride was smoother. And just like the Jeep, the new hot-air balloon engine was a vast improvement over the old one. Meowth had taken us for a flight over the mountains behind grandma and grandpa's chalet, and he'd been in heaven the whole time. With the new engine, Meowth was able to ascend faster and maneuver the balloon better, and our ride was much quieter -- since this engine hadn't been destroyed and repaired hundreds of times, there were no straining, knocking, and pinging noises. Jessie, Meowth, and I had always enjoyed traveling, and I knew that with better vehicles, we were going to enjoy traveling that much more!
Once we'd finished our Jeep and balloon rides, we'd gone for a ride of a different kind -- the Rochesters had brought Dorian's old Rapidashes, Snowmane and Diablo, with them so that we could all go for sleigh rides together! The feeling of the icy wind buffetting our faces and ruffling our hair as the two Rapidashes pulled the red sleigh through the snow had been exhilarating, but at the same time, the feeling of my lover cuddled next to me so that we could share the warmth of our bodies during the ride had been comforting. And the sound of the jingling bells on Snowmane and Diablo's reins had served as a wonderful reminder that it was Christmas day and filled my heart with joy.
I'd had Christmases like this nearly every year when I was a child, but I knew that this was the first truly merry Christmas that Jessie and Meowth had ever had in their entire lives. And seeing how happy the two of them were had made me even happier than I already was. Thanks to them, this was the merriest Christmas yet! It had been a long time coming...a very long time, but it had been worth it!
Now, Jessie and I were sharing a romantic evening together by the fireplace while grandma made a honeybaked ham with corn pudding, fresh-baked rolls, and sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner and a cherry yum-yum for dessert. The sweet aromas of all the cooking foods were filling the room and making us hungry, but we didn't mind the prospect of waiting another half hour to eat. The fire was so warm, the colored lights twinkling on the Christmas tree produced such a soothing effect...and the feeling of Jessie's body next to mine was so incredible! I almost didn't want dinnertime to come -- I felt like I could stay here forever.
And apparently, Jessie felt the same way. "Mmm...I'm so happy right now, James," she murmured.
I buried my face in her sea of crimson hair and inhaled its floral fragrance. "So am I," I agreed as I planted a kiss on her neck.
Jessie reached up and wrapped an arm around me. Then, she turned slightly so that she could gaze into my eyes. "I love you, James."
"I love you too, Jess," I echoed.
With that, the two of us leaned closer and brushed our lips together. Jessie turned herself completely around, and I offered no resistance as she leaned me back and laid herself on top of me. As our kiss deepened, however, Meowth raced into the room.
"Hey, guys! Come quick!" the cat exclaimed.
Jessie and I broke from our embrace and looked down at him. For a moment, I was worried that something was wrong, but then I saw that Meowth was smiling. "What is it, Meowth?" we asked in unison.
His smile became a grin. "I logged onto the computer sos I could send some Christmas e-mails ta our friends, and...well, ya gotta see for yerselves! It kicks ass!"
Jessie and I exchanged smiles as we got up from the loveseat and followed the cat upstairs. We'd obviously gotten a good e-mail, but what could it be? And who'd sent it?
When we got to our room, Meowth jumped onto the bed and turned the laptop so that we could see the monitor. As we seated ourselves on either side of the cat, we saw that there was a message from firstname.lastname@example.org in our inbox. A message that read:
Jessie, James, and Meowth,
As promised, I got in touch with Pokemon League President Charles Goodshow earlier this month and told him about the circumstances in which Ash Ketchum "won" his Earth Badge. I also requested permission to revoke the badge. Due to the seriousness of the charge, Goodshow summoned the leaders of the other seven Indigo League gyms and Ash Ketchum himself to a formal hearing so that the evidence could be examined and Ketchum could have a chance to defend himself.
Ketchum and the leaders of the Pewter and Cerulean Gyms finally arrived in Indigo Village on the morning of the twenty-third, and the hearing was held that afternoon. I think you will be very interested to know what went on at the hearing. So, please allow me to tell you all about it!
When Ketchum showed up, he seemed to be laboring under the delusion that he was a Pikachu -- all he could do was crawl around on all fours, and whenever anybody addressed him, he made squeaking noises or pretended like he was using electric attacks. The leaders of the Pewter and Cerulean Gyms told us that Ketchum had come down with a case of Pokemonitis and volunteered to speak on his behalf, but I got the impression that they didn't feel much like making a case for him. They certainly didn't deny any of the charges brought against him and didn't contradict me when I repeated your account of how the Viridian Gym was destroyed.
And here's where it gets even more interesting. When I was finished relating my tale, the leaders of several other gyms spoke up -- Sabrina, Erika...and even Brock and Misty each had accounts of how Ketchum hadn't legitimately won badges at their gyms either. So, when a vote was taken, it wasn't just to revoke Ketchum's Earth Badge -- it was to revoke his Marsh, Rainbow, Boulder, and Cascade Badges as well. (The vote was unanimous, just so you know -- everybody was in favor of the motion!)
Moreover, Erika had a tale of her own, in regards to the fire that broke out at the Celadon Gym over two years ago. For the longest time, she'd believed that the fire had been caused by a bomb that "three Team Rocket agents" had planted in the gym. That was the story the media pushed as well. However, the forensic investigation of the crime recently came to a close, and it told quite a different story. The forensic evidence revealed that there was no way your bomb could have caused the fire. The fire had started in the greenhouse area, which was at the opposite end of the arena from where you had set off your bomb...and there was no structural damage where the bomb exploded -- only a hole in the roof that was made when you three were blasted off. There was no bomb residue in the places where the fire damage was worst either. In fact, it seems far more likely that some kind of fire pokemon or electric pokemon set off the fire in the greenhouse. Consequently, all charges against you three have been dropped, and an investigation of Ash Ketchum is now pending.
And now, for another amusing twist to this tale. Since five of Ketchum's eight badges were revoked and he's now under investigation for criminal conduct, Goodshow decided to take disciplinary action by putting points on his trainer's license. However, the only license he was able to find among Ketchum's possessions was a forgery! Misty explained that Ketchum had lost his trainer's license on the first day of his pokemon journey but that he'd claimed to have obtained a replacement license upon reaching Viridian City. Apparently, his idea of getting a replacement license was taping a picture of himself to a piece of paper and writing "pokeeman leeg tranur lisuns" on it. (I've attatched a scan of the forged license so that you can see it for yourselves. It's most amusing.)
In light of this development, Goodshow had no choice but to nullify all of Ketchum's accomplishments as a pokemon trainer to date. His "top sixteen" status at the 2000 Indigo finals was nullified anyway because of his Indigo badges being revoked, but he lost his four Orange League badges and his status as an Orange League champion as well. I doubt Ketchum is even aware of anything that happened, though -- at the conclusion of the hearing, he still thought that he was a Pikachu.
Please write back or give me a call once you have had a chance to absorb all of this.
Have a merry Christmas! >D
P.S. Thank you for the "Sopranos" DVD. I know I will enjoy watching it.
By the time we finished reading Giovanni's message, Jessie, Meowth, and I were laughing so hard that our sides were aching, and tears were running down our faces!
"Didn't I tell ya it kicked ass?!" Meowth gasped once he was able to bring his laughter under control.
"Oh, yeah!" Jessie snickered. "I'm glad the twerp lost all of those badges he didn't really earn -- it's about time the truth came out about what a shitty trainer he is!"
I nodded. "Yes. And I'm glad the truth came out about that fire at the Celadon Gym, too. I feel a lot better now that there's proof it wasn't our fault." (We'd felt awful about the Celadon Gym burning down...though we'd always wondered how our bomb had managed to cause that fire. We hadn't intended for the bomb to do any actual damage -- we'd only wanted to frighten those snotty girls that had thrown us out of the gym, so we'd used a flash-bomb designed to make a lot of noise and smoke and nothing more. I was very relieved to hear how the fire had really started.)
"And dat part about Ash still thinkin' he was a Puke-achu, and dat forged license?! Dat was priceless!" Meowth went on.
Jessie and I looked at the picture of Ash's forged license that was attatched with the e-mail and laughed again. The twerp's handwriting was barely legible, and nearly every word he'd written was misspelled. (Though the scary part was, as clueless as the authorities could be, I wasn't really surprised that nobody had caught the forgery sooner.)
Jessie smirked. "Isn't it ironic, how Ash is such a raging dumbshit, but he still thinks that he's the wolrds gratist poekamann masutur and that he's beturer then stoopid garry adn teem rokit?"
"Not anymore yer not, twerp!" Meowth chuckled. "Not by any stretch a the imagination!"
I folded my arms across my chest and smiled. "Indeed. It seems there's been a real reversal of fortune here."
Jessie's sapphire eyes lit up. "You're right, James! You're so right!"
"Hey, why don't we forward dis message ta Gary?" Meowth suggested. "I was gonna write him and wish him a merry Christmas anyway, and I know he'd love ta hear all about what happened ta Ash!"
"I think he will, too," I agreed.
"Then, what are we waiting for?" Jessie chuckled.
Meowth grinned again and began to type a message to our friend:
We just wanted to drop you a line and wish you a merry Christmas. Hope this message finds you and your family well. We all got some real kick-ass presents and had a lot of fun today. We'll tell you about it the next time we get a chance to talk...and we'd love to hear how your day was, too.
Now, here's something really cool -- we just got an e-mail from our boss, telling us all about what happened to Ash at that Pokemon League hearing. We got a real kick out of it, and we know you will too, so we've attatched a copy of the message to this e-mail for you! >D
Guess that's all for now. I think dinner is just about ready, so we'd better wrap things up. We'll try and send a longer message tomorrow or give you a call in a couple of days. Until then, take care! ^_^
~@~ Jessie, James & Meowth
After Meowth sent the message, he disconnected from the internet and shut off the computer. He turned and smiled at us again. "Come on, guys! Let's go get some dinner -- I think I heard the oven timer goin' off just now!"
"We'll be right down," I called after the cat as he took his leave.
Once Jessie and I were alone again, she looked back at me. "What is it, James?"
I wrapped my arms around her. "Oh, nothing. I just thought we should finish the kiss that Meowth interrupted."
Jessie reached up and ran her fingers through my hair. "Well, what do you know? I think we should, too!"
"Great minds think alike, honey!" I whispered as I held her closer and lowered my mouth to hers.
Our kiss lasted for several minutes, but even when it ended, we remained in our embrace and continued to gaze lovingly into each other's eyes.
"Everything really is going to be okay now, isn't it?" Jessie ventured after a moment of silence.
"Yes, it is," I told her without hesitation. "I think that white tomorrow I've been promising you for so long is finally here, Jessie -- it's become a white today!"
The corner of her mouth turned up in a little smile. "A white today. I like the sound of that, James. I like it a lot."
I had to agree.
A feeling of total peace and contentment came over me as I stood there, holding Jessie in my arms and gazing out the window at the starry night sky. The past was over now, and we were finally on the path that would lead us to our bright future. Now all that was left to do was enjoy each day as it came.
Our white tomorrow truly had dawned -- every day from here on out would be a white today...a day of happiness and prosperity to share with our friends and family.
I couldn't imagine a better fate.
This story was a long time in the making. My good friend, Shigeru1313, and I actually started thinking of writing this trilogy about a year ago. We'd been reading episode guides for Master Quest and learning about what was going to be happening in Advanced Generation and were extremely unhappy with what we saw. Between all of the screwed up stuff the show's writers were doing with Gary and the way Jessie, James & Meowth were continuing to get screwed-over in increasingly cruel and demeaning ways, we just didn't want to write stories within the canon of the anime anymore. We'd put too much work into our timelines and stories about Team Rocket & Gary to see it get ruined by sub-par writing on the show. So, we decided to break away from series canon and do our own thing in order to remain true to the backgrounds and characterizations we'd established for our favorite characters. The trilogy you've just read (New Directions, Loyalties & A White Today) was the result of this decision. It took many long months of developing and refining ideas and many more months of writing to reach this point, but we're happy with it. Hopefully, you've enjoyed reading it as well. ^_^
Now, on to some technical notes. Chapter 7 of this story -- The Fellowship of the Rocket and Their Fu King Adventure -- used to be a separate story. However, as I developed the idea for A White Today and realized that these two stories took place within the same timeframe, I decided to incorporate the smaller story into the larger one and make it a "side adventure" of sorts in order to keep the narrative flow. I felt that The Fellowship of the Rocket and Their Fu King Adventure was in need of an update anyway, since I wrote it before Shigeru and I had really started working on our Katakishippy stuff. So, I expanded Gary's role a little and tweaked the characterizations somewhat in order to have the story better reflect the way the timeline had developed since the original writing.
While we're on the subject, The Fellowship of the Rocket and Their Fu King Adventure is based on a true story. All of the stuff that our heroes went through -- getting bad directions, getting lost twice, and getting to the theater scant minutes before the movie began...only to find out that every single show had been sold out since the previous day -- really happened to me when I tried to see The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night. X__x It was aggravating, to be sure...especially since I'm a huge Tolkien fan, and seeing LOTR on the big screen had always been a dream of mine, but I made the best of my misadventure and let it inspire me to write the story! (And I also bought advance tickets, so I got to see the movie the next day! It was definitely worth the wait! ^_^) The dinner scene, as odd as it may seem, was also based on real events. There used to be a Chinese restaurant called Fu King near where I live, but they changed their name to the Gold Coast Buffet after a little vandalism incident where somebody added a "c" to their sign. When my mom explained why they changed their name, it inspired a conversation between me, her, and my brother, where the three of us came up with as many ways as possible to use "Fu King" in a sentence. It really sounded like something our heroes would do too, so I added it to this story for a bit of comic relief...and to give Jessie, James & Meowth a way to vent after the run of bad luck they'd just had.
And last, but certainly not least, I'd like to give a very special thanks to Shigeru1313. She helped with unwavering advice and support, technical details (she came up with the ideas for what Gary got Jessie, James, Meowth & Wobbu for Christmas), and friendship. I'd also like to thank her for the gorgeous illustrations of Jessie & James dressed as Arwen & Aragorn, Meowth dressed as Merry, Gary dressed as Frodo, Meowth reading James's copy of Lord of the Rings, Jessie & James kissing under the mistletoe, and James's cousin Kajika! ^_^ Special thanks also goes to Jupiter for the hilarious picture of Gary's flashback about seeing the twerps at the movies! XD I know I always say it, but that's because it's always true -- Shigeru, this story is for you! I couldn't have done it without ya! *hugs*
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