Chapter 8: Heaven's on fire

I was tying my shoes, taking long and steady breaths. Everyone around me was fully concentrating on the upcoming tournament. They were encouraging their Pokémon and perfect their moves and strategies. I, on the other hand, could hardly focus on this prestigious competition. My thoughts were with Jessie. I still blamed myself for upsetting her to such an extent that she wouldn't talk to me ever again. Walking up to the stage curtains, I slid them to side and took a glimpse at the audience, quietly hoping to see her. The arena was fully booked to the last seat. Some people were even fighting for a seat, just as I was about to fight for victory. I called Spearow out of his Pokéball. He spread his wings, resting on my left arm.

„Are you ready, my dear friend?" I asked him. His well-being was important to me, more important than my own emotional state. Pokémon never disappointed you. They were good listeners and loyal companions. Spearow cawed excitedly. We were a well-rehearsed team, but would it be enough to win?

Someone pushed me from behind. „Move, boy!" It was a tall man with dark green hair and a grim expression on his face. I knew him from newspapers and magazines. They called him „The machine", because no one was able to beat him so far. Maybe I could put his skills to the test. He seemed fiercely determined to win every single battle, but he hadn't counted on me. I looked at him top to bottom. Sure, he was muscular and well-trained, but I had a few tricks in store, too. I knew special manoeuvres, sophisticated tactics and my Spearow breezed through the air.

The gong rang. My heart missed a beat. I swallowed hard, made a step forward and walked through the curtains. Thousands of people greeted us, waved at us and shouted their favourite participant's name. I was still an unknown face to them, but not for much longer. The spotlights were on, flooding the arena. Ten hot air balloons waited not far from us. Mine was marked by a grinning Meowth. This brought back memories of my good friends. I missed them, I missed Jessie and her radiant smile. „Get a grip, James!" I lessoned myself. „No time to shed a tear. You've got to concentrate on your first combat!"

I climbed into the basket and soared into the air. It was a starlit night, not a single cloud blocked the view of the luminous celestial bodies. It was chilly up here. I took another deep breath, the wind played around my hair. Spearow waited impatiently for my command. „Are you ready?" He cawed and positioned himself on the edge of the basket. We were about to fight Roger and his Gligar. The tiny plastic ring hovered in the air. A brief moment of carelessness and Gligar had already snatched the ring. I hung my head in shame, what a terrible start. It could only get better. I shouted to Spearow that he should keep Gligar close on his heels. My friend was fast, but the flying scorpion moved at a rapid pace. It seemed almost impossible to overtake the Pokémon. I began to sweat. „Think, James! Think about all the videos you've watched, about all the moves you've learned by heart," and then it fell of my eyes like scales. „Spearow! Use his tailwind in order to gain speed! You've got to tackle him!" My bird Pokémon did as he was told. He was able to rip the ring off Gligar's mouth and placed it on the iron bar.

„James and his Spearow win!" the presenter of the show was very dynamic. The audience rejoiced and clapped their hands. It felt good, it felt so relieving. Spearow flew directly into my arms. „We did it, my friend! Good job!" I hugged him as far as you could hug a bird without getting peaked.

The next rounds ran flawlessly. We took one win after another. The audience called my name. „James! James! James!" I was in great demand – the newcomer that has the last laugh. Round after round, we defeated our opponents, until one was left – The machine.
He was a tough guy, unbeaten and ready to defend the first place, but I would stand on that winner's podium, too. What kind of victory I would win wasn't clear to me until then. We soared into the air. By now it was pitch dark. Spotlights illuminated our action in the sky. The machine won over. His Zapdos was at a great pace, Spearow had trouble keeping up with him. We were in danger of losing. I trembled, ramming my fingers into the basket.

„Come on, James!" This voice. Was that...no, that can't be true. „James, hurry up!" It was her. It was Jessie cheering me. My heart leaped with joy. I couldn't make her out in the audience, but she was there. My Jessie, the most wonderful woman was sitting somewhere between the guests, shouting at the top of her voice. I gathered new strength. She had come to support me, I wasn't allowed to screw things up, but too late. Distracted by her pleasant voice, I lost track of the battle. Zapdos grabbed the ring and dropped it over the bar.

„And The machine wins!" We landed back on firm ground. My opponent was showered with confetti. His fan girls hugged him, screeched and cheered. The victory fanfare resouned. I should have been devastated, but I was overwhelmed by a feeling of unbelievable joy. She was here, somewhere. The presenter wanted to lead me to the winner's podium, but I was on a mission to find Jessie, hold her tight and never let her go again. I cleaved my way to congratulating crowd. They patted my back. „Well done, James!" I heard them say, but I paid little attention to them.

A graceful figure stood between all the people. „Jessie," I whispered, running up to her. Meowth was standing right next to Jessie, grinning waggishly. „Told ya, Jimmy! Now, don't screw dis up again," he winked at me.

Jessie made a step forward. My heart skipped another beat. I took her hands.
„Jessie! I'm so sorry," the tears running down my face. „I've done you wrong, I hurt you. Please, forgive me," bowing down, I hoped that she would give this friendship another chance.
„Listen, James. You can't fool around with me and I can't change your gruesome past, but a wise cat once told me that I could improve your future and let's be honest, I'm a very good catch. I'm charming, I'm funny and you better appreciate that, okay?" she smiled at me. I nodded my head, wiping off my tears.
„Jessie, I missed you so much," I hold her tight. „James?" she whispered. „Yes?" – „Don't you want to kiss me?" – „Not yet, Jess", I replied. There was one thing left to do. „Come with me," Jessie and Meowth followed me to the basket. „They said we can keep the hot air balloons if we like, you know as some kind of consolation prize. Let's go for a ride," I helped Jessie climbing into the basket. She seemed insecure and didn't know what was going on. „Where are we going?" she asked. I turned around. „We're going to celebrate the best night of my life," I answered her question. „Yeah, okay...but you lost!" Jessie cocked an eyebrow as we soared into the night. „No, not at all! Remember what's better than any victory?" I could see her blush. „My smile?" – „Yes, Jessie. Thank you for turning back to me and thank you for giving me a second chance. Now, let's get one more thing done," I pulled the strings of the hot air balloon and we flew over a dark forest.

I rolled the engagement ring between my fingers. „Jessie, this shall no longer stand between us. The past is the past. It ruined a lot but now, I'm sure our bond will bring about a cure," I dropped the ring into the endless night, far away so it would never cause harm again. And by dropping the ring, I also dropped a burden, a heavy load that had been chasing me for years. I took a long and deep breath, the first breath of boundless freedom. Jessie looked at me expectantly. „Now?" she grinned. „Now," I pulled her closer, cupped her face and put as much love into our first real kiss as I could. She wrapped her arms around my neck. I kissed her full of passion, kissed the girl I fell in love with, kissed the girl who would join me on my future walks on the wild side as PokéRinger and team member of our small trio. Our meowthy hot air balloon rushed through the night on the way to new adventures.

THE END