Mary, Meet Arcanine

Chapter 7 – "Don't you let him go."

I did not intend for Roger and I to be cuddling.

I might have held his hand, and he might have kissed my forehead in the middle of the night when he though I wasn't awake, but that was all normal. (Mary-and-Roger normal is weird.)

I woke up completely wrapped up in the guy. My face was pressed into the nook where his collarbone met his neck, and he smelled of dog hair and the fresh outside. Our legs had wrapped up around each other into a ball of limbs, and I looked down, at them, unsure of where I ended and he began.

No, that is not foreshadowing. I am an English student. I know better.

I sat up slowly. I almost forgot that I was bra-less and so my girls nearly flew into Roger's line of vision. I did a quick check to make sure my panties were still on.

Good god, one night out of the house and I wake up like this. Was I proving every frightened parent right, or what?

…Was my father frightened? Did he have any idea where I—

Quick! Change the topic!

"Roger?" I poked him with my pinky finger. He stirred, barely. "Are you up?"

"Of course."

I remembered our conversation last night. "Did you sleep at all?"

"I blinked in and out." He held his hands up to his face. "I kept my human form the whole time, so that's a good sign. I need to survive a six hour bus ride, surrounded by the dregs of society and what we're meant to believe is bathroom, while being a human. This was a successful training run for my endurance, Mary Mackle."

I found myself smiling at the Roger-ness of the statement.

Anyway.

I slipped out of bed and started to dress. I won't say I felt Roger's eyes on me, but…well, he was an eighteen-year-old boy, right? And I was a girl of similar age. If he wasn't ogling me, I would have been stunned. But then, why was I getting dressed like this when we had a perfectly good bathroom?

I decided it was better to not ask those questions.

"We're taking a bus?" I asked. "Like…a…school bus?"

Roger slapped the covers. "Mary! Don't tell me you've never experienced the joy that is traveling the country by bus!"

I looked over my shoulder and shook my head. Roger was already dressed, but he didn't seem to be staring at me that way. Darn.

Oh no.

Oh, no.

In that moment, half-naked and far from home, with a cute boy (technically) who made me laugh and cuddled me at night, I didn't know what I wanted.

"Mary?" Roger waved his fingers. "You're staring at me funny."

I snapped back to attention and shoved my body into whatever clothes came out of the duffel bag first, hoping against hope that Roger couldn't see my tomato-red face.

Breakfast was near the lobby, where we had come in after parting ways with Oliver. In the extra room that had been sealed off the night before, Roger and I found a spread of freezer waffles, bagels, pre-made French toast, cereal, and a few spreads. The hot chocolate and orange juice machines droned where they sat, waiting to be put out of their misery. I was suddenly acutely aware of how my feet made that sticky sound along the tile, and how the whole place smelled like cigarette smoke.

No wonder it was a bed and breakfast. You probably didn't want to stay for longer than that.

Roger signed us out at the front desk and joined me in the breakfast room. I had found us a round wood table to sit at. It wobbled, but all four legs seemed to be firmly on the ground. Huh.

"We have a bit of a walk to our next destination," Roger said. He was looking over a map of Mauville City that had been scribbled over in black sharpie. He traced his finger along one particular line. "We've got an hour to make it there, so we're not in much of a hurry, but I mean…we're on a schedule, you know?"

"I know," I said. My father's face flashed in my eyes. I shuddered.

"Are you cold?" Roger asked. I told him I wasn't. Bless him, he knew to change the subject. "Hey, this is your first time traveling, right?"

I stared blankly at him. "Was that rhetorical?"

"Well, hey. If you already know all there is to know about a BnB…" He jammed half of an uncut cinnamon bagel into his mouth.

In the silence, I wanted to reach across and put his hand on my cheek again. Except we weren't in bed anymore; whatever we became at night, we were simply Mary and Roger during the day.

"I'm sorry," I said for my snideness.

"What for?"

I glowered. Wasn't my jerk-itude obvious?

"No, really. What for?" Roger swallowed, then smiled. "You're a grump in the mornings. I know this about you. Don't apologize. Now, finish that cardboard you're eating and come with me. I wanna show you something."

I felt insulted for the waffles, but then I got a good look at the ones I was force-feeding myself. Cardboard didn't do it justice. "Is it a trap?"

"I don't know. Do you still think I'm an evil girl trafficker?"

After we ate, Roger led me through the lobby and back to the rooms. We stopped at the very first door, and Roger pushed it open. "Roger!" I warned. "Someone might be in there!"

"Nope. Look."

The door swung all the way open. I've been leaning pretty hard on smelling things this chapter—Roger in the morning, the BnB lobby—but believe me: the unmistakable aroma of used books hit me with the force of a bullet train.

I waddled into the small room, arms at my side, careful not to knock anything over.

There were no shelves. Only boxes.

Boxes and boxes and boxes of paperback books, stacked high to the sky. (Actually, the ceiling.) Cardboard boxes faced outward, and the crammed books stared at me wistfully, almost like the new Wonder Trade Pokemon back home. The only furniture were two folded-up metal step-stools by the window, and another wobbly table, the same as downstairs.

I did a three-sixty turn, my eyes taking in the display. "What is all this?"

"The cool thing about traveling," Roger started, leaning into the doorway. "It's that only smart people do it. And regardless of what the film industry believes, smart people tend to read a lot. So, hostels and BnBs almost always have a room like this."

"A private library?"

"Better. It's a free book trade."

I was careful. "Now, when you say the word 'free'…"

"It's not technically free," Roger said, gesturing with his hands. "It's supposed to be that you take one book, and you leave one. Maybe you sign it, too. It keeps you connected to everyone walking the path around you. But since you didn't pack any books, I figure you're allowed to take one starter."

Me, still not getting it: "And I can keep it?"

"Mary Mackle, you are focusing too much on rules that do not exist. Here, do what I do."

Roger made a show of perusing one particular outward-facing box. He pulled out one title and scanned the cover, with his finger and thumb cradling his stubbly chin. "Hmmmmm. Yes. Yes, I like this one quite a bit." He held it above his head. "I think I will take this with me to my destination. I will read it and be connected to those who share my path."

He started for the table, but then his eyes went wide. "Gasp! What is this!" Roger zipped past me to another box, in the far corner. "This tome is wondrous as well. But alas, I am only allowed one volume as a traveler! What am I to do?"

I folded my arms and tapped my toe. The stiff carpet muffled the sound.

"Perhaps, I might be able to abscond with both!" Roger continued. "I have the space in my luggage…who would refuse my desire to read? Oh, right: nobody!"

Roger let the two books fall on the table from where he held them, high above his head. They landed with a flat 'thwap' sound, and the first book let out a wave of dust.

"Did you randomly pick out two books just to teach me a lesson?" I asked.

"Not even. I placed those there strategically. Have a look." Roger gestured back to the table.

One was a graphic novel. Immediately I wanted to push it away—I mean, comics?—but the homesickness for watching Cartoon Network with Linc settled at the pit of my stomach. "Lost at Sea. By Bryan O'Malley…Roger, this looks melancholy as hell."

"It is! That's why it's perfect for you. You're a fifteen-year-old who uses the word 'melancholy'. You'll love it. Guaranteed, or you can drop it at the next hostel."

"How many hostels are we staying at, by the way?"

"Not many," Roger said dismissively.

I put Lost at Sea down and looked at the other book. "Roger, I'm not supposed to read On The Road until I'm like, twenty-five and washed up."

"Or," Roger retorted, "Or, reading it now will keep you from ever being washed-up."

I picked up both books and felt the weight of them. They could totally fit in my bag. A side-effect of trying to outrun my sleeping father—which made more sense at the time—meant I was a light traveler for the moment.

"Anywho," Roger said. "I'm gonna go wait in the lobby. I figure you probably want some time to find something to read."

That didn't seem right to me. Roger saw it on my face. "What, have to go to the can? Your face is all scrunched."

"I'm good on books," I said. Two books was rule-breaking enough, no matter what Roger thought.

"As long as you're sure," he said. "Ready to saddle up?"

"That only works happens in Westerns."

"Well then, I'm pioneering it as a universal phrase," Roger said.

I hated walking, back at home. Hated it.

It wasn't the physical exercise that nagged me. I'm not one of those girls who complains about chub-rub on her thighs and refuses to go have fun because she's 'tired'. Walking is fine in itself.

Walking beside Roger on the eight-foot-wide sidewalks, my head craned up at a ninety-degree angle to take in the army of skyscrapers, revealed what sucked so badly about roughing it in the country. Home was the only building for an hour in any direction. A place like Mauville City was a pool of unique buildings, each one vying for attention from an army of people headed to and fro, unaware.

Roger yanked me to the side, and I narrowly avoided crashing into a man in a suit. "Sorry," Roger called back. Then, to me: "People. How are you holding up?"

"I'm fine," I said. I had my backpack on and held the straps in my hands. The duffel bag didn't seem that horrible when the walk was pretty. "Are we there yet?"

"I'll let you know," he said. "Anyway, a heads-up. The bus terminal is in the fashion district of town."

"So?"

"Well, this is the business district. Hence the suits walking right into the out-of-place teenagers."

Proving the point, a taller, older man with a gray beard and hopefully-intentionally-matching suit shoulder-checked Roger and kept on moving. "Ow," Roger groaned. Hollering at the shoulder-checker: "That hurt! Health insurance isn't free in Hoenn yet, you know!"

Then, to me: "The Pokemon Center totally is, though."

"The fashion district," I said to remind Roger what the conversation was.

"Right. It's the pits. Stay close to me."

"It's barely the middle of the day," I whined, but Roger had none of it. We continued moving.

Twenty minutes later, Mauville City changed the way the seasons did: slowly at first, and then shoving everything at you all at once, right down to the decorations. Skyscrapers were replaced with squat brick stores, most of which were sealed off with steel shutters. Most everything had some form of graffiti. I didn't recognize any of it, meaning no Team Aqua, but still.

The shops themselves altered. Gone were the boutiques that I would never in a million years have willingly shopped at; in their stead were a parade of oddly-sketchy-looking store stands selling backpacks, dolls, action figures that didn't seem quite legitimate—'Action People' instead of 'Power Rangers'—and the occasional ice cream man. They all had the same leer at me while we passed.

The buildings became shorter and shorter, and the sidewalk narrower and narrower, and soon it was a good few hours on the road and my legs were killing me.

Roger offered hope. He dug into his back pocket and found his map. "We're down this way," he said, gesturing down a wide, faceless street. We took two steps, but then he paused again.

"What is it this time?" I asked.

"If anyone asks what we're up to," Roger started.

"I won't say a thing. I'm a runaway; my face is probably all over the news. I don't even have the PokeNav connected to the global network, I'm very aware—"

"That's all good stuff, Mary, but I mean the Eteorite-May."

"Pig latin? Etorite…Meteorite!"

Roger shushed me. I apologized.

"I'm not saying don't talk to anyone," Roger continued. "Just…don't tell them all the details."

I nodded. "Omit certain truths. Got it."

The bus station was a long, squat building. The front facing the street was all wide windows, and inside, I saw a front desk and a seating area similar to what the Internet said airports were like.

I have never taken a commuter bus, and I certainly haven't flown. Roger would never know that one; I wouldn't hear the end of it.

Roger pulled the station door open. "Ladies first."

We went to the front desk. An older woman with a curved spine and olive-shaped glasses greeted us from her computer terminal. "Don't see many young couples out this far," she said.

Roger, before I could correct that: "We'd like two tickets for Slateport City, ma'am."

The woman straightened up as much as she could, then started tacking at her keyboard. "When are you two departing?"

"Can we be on the next bus out? One-way?"

The woman was quiet for a moment as she put in the request.

My stupid paranoid eyes glanced around and found the TV in the corner of the waiting room. Showing the daily news, of course.

What if this woman recognized me from some broadcast? What if my head really was all over the place?

Roger's hand on mine.

"Just breathe," he told me. The woman looked up at us. "It's her sister," Roger said. "Helena just went into labor. We were here visiting my parents, and I didn't want to go but Mary didn't want to make a bad impression. Now this happens—"

"That's awful!" The woman answered, clearly drinking up the bullshit soup. "Don't you worry, dears. There's a bus leaving in half an hour. It gets into Slateport Terminal a little after five. That's the best I can do."

"That's wonderful!" Roger beamed. "How much is it?"

The woman softened. She saw Roger and his infinite Roger energy, then me and my typical fat-mouse-with-braids self, and then the woman was watching where his and my hand met. She ticked in another keystroke. "Fifty dollars even, for both of you."

"Fifty dollars? Online the price was—"

"It's called an employee discount, and be quiet about it!"

Roger handed over a crisp fifty, and the woman printed out our tickets and tags for our meager luggage. She slid them over the desk slowly.

"Slateport Terminal, bus leaves in thirty minutes out of gate 4. Be careful, out there, dears," she said.

"Thank you so much!" Roger nudged me, and I followed: "T-thank you, ma'am."

She singled me out. "You! Young lady!"

I went rigid.

"You remind me of my granddaughter, so I'll tell you: this boy, right here? He's a good egg. Don't you let him go."

"I don't plan to, ma'am."

Roger tugged at my hand. We took our tickets and baggage tags and sat in the hard, plastic and multicolored seats at gate 4. One of those signs with red electronic words moved above the gate: Bus 8891, Hoenn Central.

"Hoenn Central?" I asked. "Is that the bus's name?"

Roger nodded. "Our bus cuts right down the middle of the continent. It starts at Fortree City, and comes down through Mauville, and ends up in Slateport."

"There are already people on the bus?"

Roger nodded. "If you're worried about stranger danger, sit next to me."

We sat quietly for the next thirty minutes. Or to be more accurate, Roger sat quietly. I fidgeted for fifteen of them, worrying that the woman at the desk was watching us and expecting Roger and I to get, I don't know, PDA-y or something.

The voice called out over the loudspeaker: "Line 8991 to Slateport City approaching Gate 17." I leaned past Roger's body and saw the bus pull up to its designated space, on the other side of the door labeled '17'.

I don't know what I had expected, but the bus still surprised me. I was only used to those yellow school buses, or maybe those metro busses around Mauville City. The bus we would be on was easily twice the size of either of those.

"Here we go," Roger said.

The gate door opened. We watched as a few people got off of the bus and rubbed daytime sleep from their eyes. They were all different ages, and I spotted a mother with a toddler, which surprised me, too. I assumed only young people were day travelers. Or travelers at all.

The driver came off the bus last. He wore pleated pants, a blue shirt with a darker navy vest, and an almost military-style cap. The driver opened a compartment toward the underside of the bus, and this was evidently where checked baggage went. The driver pulled a few bags off, passengers collected their luggage, and they came through gate 17. I kept my head down as they passed.

"Now boarding!" This was the driver's voice. He waited at the gate threshold. Roger pulled me by the hand and walked me to the driver, holding our tickets. The driver read them quickly. "Two for Slateport?"

"That's us," Roger said.

The driver tore the tickets off and handed Roger the stubs. "Any checked luggage?"

"One bag," Roger said. I handed the driver my duffel. I hadn't put the claim tag on yet; the driver took it from Roger and deftly tied the little slip of paper around my bag handle.

"Can we get on, now?" I asked meekly. The driver nodded. He put my duffel under the bus with the rest of the bags, and Roger took me to the bus's stairs. Buses have stairs, apparently.

We stared down the aisle and looked for seats. The front half of the bus was completely taken up with people minding their own business—headphones in, books out, laptop screens glowing—and the back half was mostly single people hogging up two seats. Cleaning supplies burned my nostrils. I remembered Roger saying busses had bathrooms.

"Can we be closer to the front?" I asked.

"Worried about bathroom proximity," Roger said, nodding toward the cubicle-sized compartment in the very back. "Got it."

We found a pair of seats, luckily. Un-luckily, the window seat had the worst view. It was the kind where I was seated in the break in the panoramic window. I saw the edge of the person in front of me's window, and the first bit of the person behind me. Great.

Roger sidled into the seat beside me. The armrest was still up and out of the way. He didn't put it down to separate us.

I didn't tell Roger that the spot where our arms touched was on fire.

"If you're worried about your bag, don't be," Roger continued. "Nobody loses their stuff on bus rides. Besides, isn't all the important stuff in there?" He tapped the backpack, and he was right. The PokeNav, my wallet with my money and my ID, a pair of underwear, spare hair ties, and the hostel books were here with me.

It seemed we were the only people leaving Mauville City. Nobody got on after Roger and me.

I remembered Lincoln wondering if he should move to Mauville City. I had walked through the pretty and the bleak parts of it today, and dear reader, I did not see the appeal.

Bus rides are the worst.

It was interesting at first. We pulled onto the highway, and I got to see the sprawl of Mauville's skyline with the midday glow behind it.

Twenty minutes later, I discovered a strange fact about the Pokemon World.

No matter what kind of wasteland it is, everywhere has a wasteland.

I was used to Buttonwillow and the outlying nothingness. Mauville City presented us with short, off-green grass as far as the eye went. Without the ocean to orient the view like it did from my bedroom window, I was instantly turned around. Which way was west? Which was east? If I had to walk this with Roger, would even a Pokemon like him navigate?

And the Pokemon! Manectric ran alongside us, racing with the Tailow in the air, both gangs of Pokemon tryingand failing to outrace our mysterious man-made leviathan barreling down the empty single road. At home, the Zigzagoon and Wingull could care less about people. Did Slateport City Pokemon like humans more? Or maybe we worried them?

As if on cue.

"I realize it's stupid to start a fight with there's no way to escape," Roger began cautiously. "But I think you should call Nimona and tell her you're okay."

This was Serious Roger again, who was now a distinct individual. Like the Dads.

"Roger, that's a horrible idea."

Roger shook his head. "Don't tell her where we are, or anything about the plan. All Nimona needs to hear is that you're okay, and that you won't be home soon, but you plan on it."

Then, Roger still: "What's that look? It's a dubious thinking look, isn't it?" He raised a finger and hovered it in front of my nose. My eyes started to cross. I swatted his hand and cleaned my glasses.

"My dad's probably asking where I am. I don't want to get her in trouble if she says something she's not—"

"Nimona's a big girl. You are too, you know."

"She's prettier," I mumbled. I think Roger caught it because he grumbled at me.

I could tell Roger wouldn't let it go. Primarily because he spent the next ten minutes poking me in the side, right where I porked out under my bra.

"I'll do it," I finally agreed. "But not…not now, okay? Not right now?"

"Why not now?"

"I don't feel comfortable."

"Too many people watching you?" He pointed to the infinite sea of nothing outside. Jerk. "How about calling her at the rest stop?"

"Buses take rest stops?"

"They have to. The drivers would probably go postal if they had to drive around without stretching. Hell, the passengers might attack, too." He held up hands in the shape of a screen. "When Passengers Attack."

We had two seconds of companionable silence, and then Roger dropped the A-bomb on planet Mary. He cleared his throat and asked: "Why did you drop out of school?"

"Come again?"

"You heard me," he said playfully. Then, all seriousness: "The Mary I know uses big words, she reads, and she knows when she has to be bold. That's not somebody who up and quits getting an education."

My fingers were fiddling again. "If I call Nimona, can I not answer that question?"

Roger's winning smile confirmed that he won this round. The bastard.

Twenty minutes later, we pulled into my first truck stop. The bus rolled up to a parking space the size of my house, lined up alongside two parked trucks and another bus like ours. There was a larger-than-average convenience store connected to a Taco Bell waiting us, plus a few benches, and then nothing on the horizon in any direction.

"Thirty minutes," the driver said over the intercom. Again: "Thirty minutes, then four hours to Slateport."

"Mary Mackle, how much money do you have on you?"

I fumbled with the pouch in my bag. "I haven't spent any of it yet," I remembered. "Why?"

Cue his stomach rumbling. "But not Taco Bell," he said. "Anything but Taco Bell."

I had never had Taco Bell. "What's wrong with that?"

"I hate dog food."

I followed the handful of passengers off of the bus. My feet hit the pavement and it felt wonderful, feeling the pull of my hamstrings and the cleanliness of the outdoors air. It wasn't quite home, but it was leagues better than Mauville. My heartstrings ached only a bit.

Inside the Taco Bell line was already ten people deep. Each of them were pimply, overweight, bald, or some lethal combination of the two. I shuddered for Roger.

My own decision of two Three Muskateers bars, two diet root beers, and two of those shrink-wrapped submarine sandwiches wasn't much better. At least I didn't have to see what I would look like after eathing this while I waited in line to pay for it.

I was almost at checkout when one of those shelves at the exit caught my eye. You know the type: the strategically-placed displays with clearance video games and albums, each one of the god-awful variety. This one was different. There was an entire rotating caddy for Westerns.

I picked one up and fought down a howl of a laugh.

"Hey, watch out," said the girl in front of me. "Don't hack a furball at me."

"Sorry," I said.

She observed me the way I had observed the Taco Bell line. "You got on at Mauville, didn't you?"

I nodded, and then I remembered I wasn't supposed to. Face on the early-morning news, and all.

"That guy with you is your boyfriend?"

I nodded again. Only because that was easier than denying it.

The girl's face softened. If I had to guess, she was Oliver King's age. Not quite a grown-up, not quite a kid. "Hey, let me give you a hint. Your boy is all hands right now, right?"

I didn't respond. She took it as a positive sign. "Typical," she said. "Boys, am I right? Can't make it on a bus ride without wanting to get in a girl's pants. I could tell you stories, kid."

Again, no response from me.

"Get him the book," she continued. "All the boyfriends I've had? They loved Westerns. I don't get it, myself. If you want to travel and fight crooks and whatnot, just do it. But that's me." She had a playful shrug, even though her words were dead-serious. "The book will keep him off of you. Your hips will be thanking me."

…Ew?

"What's your name?" She asked me. "I'm Belinda."

"Mary," I said.

Belinda took my hand forcefully and shook it with enthusiasm. We waited a moment before getting back on the bus. "Remember to give him the Western right when you sit down," Belinda said. "Keeps his grubby paws to himself. Unless you're, you know, into being grubby-pawed."

I might have been.

"I guess I'll see you in Slateport, right?" Belinda said. Belinda wore her hair in the weirdest way: she had two almost-kind-of pigtails high up on the back of her head, where they flicked down and met with the rest of her mahogany hair, which flowed down to her collarbone. How the hell did she maintain that?

Belinda sat toward the front of the bus with nobody beside her. She collapsed into her two seats and gave me a thumbs-up as I passed.

"Food, food, food!" Roger chanted. "And what's that?"

"I got you a book," I told him.

"The man with the rifle and cowboy hat on the cover worries me…just like the shrink wrap on that sandwich," Roger said slowly, "But I'm not one to look a gift Girafarig in the mouth." He clearly enjoyed that pun.

The book didn't keep me and Roger from touching. We were hand-holding an hour later.

It did keep him distracted enough to not ask about me calling Nimona. Belinda turned her head and found me over the seatbacks, and I waved in gratitude.

The sun set over the horizon. The waters of Slateport were almost visible.


Eight chapters of slice-of-life. That's quite the relaxed pizza-pie.

As always! Thanks a bunch for reading, and you're the best if you review.