Part I: Cause
"Okay, your registration is complete," the desk receptionist said kindly through her heavy Kalosian accent, sliding the trainer license and a small key across the desk. "You'll need to report back to the Contest Hall by noon. The appeals round begins at 1 p.m. The key is to the locker in stall 6A in the ladies' dressing room."
"Thank you very much," May said, beaming at her as she stowed her license away in her wallet again and attached the key to her purse. "By the way, do you have any recommendations for food in the city? Someplace close?"
"Oh, sure," the receptionist said. "There are many different restaurants and cafés in Lumiose City, but if you're here for the first time, you must try the Lumiose Galette."
"Lumiose Galette?" May perked up.
"It's a popular local treat," the receptionist elaborated. "The nearest stand is located on the North Boulevard, just outside Autumnal Avenue."
May was intrigued. She had an affinity for sweets, no matter the time of a day, and she especially adored local specialties—something she'd never be able to eat back home in Hoenn. That was the fun part of traveling. She had no idea where North Boulevard or Autumnal Avenue were... but she'd figure that out.
"All right!" May said. "I'll be sure to check it out. Thank you."
"Anytime. Good luck with the contest this afternoon."
It was May's third week in Kalos and her second day in Lumiose City. She had arrived yesterday evening to the glimmer and glamour of the city's nightlife, but now, she wanted to soak in some of the daytime culture. Kalos had, thus far, been host to her new favorite contest circuit, if only because she loved traveling the region. In fact, regardless of the result of today's contest, May planned to extend her stay in Lumiose a little longer, just to see and enjoy more of the city.
On her PokéNav, May looked up the exact address for the Lumiose Galette stand and set her digital map in motion to guide her there. She was in no hurry, though. Noon was several hours away, and there was so much to see. She peered through the windows of several fashionable boutiques, every so often taking a mental note that she would drop by again later, and passed by a wide variety of different stores for trainers and Pokémon alike. It was only the dull throbbing her hunger that compelled her to take no full detours.
Soon, she came upon the stand, and it had quite the line—an excellent sign, in May's mind. Sure, long lines meant long waits, but long lines also usually meant the long wait was worth the time. May closed her PokéNav and immediately fell into place. She waited with anticipation, for the closer she moved up the counter, the stronger the scent of the warm, sweet pastry became.
Finally, it was her turn.
"One, please," May politely requested of the cashier. The menu had only one item—the Lumiose Galette itself—another good sign. One item, only one, and the stand was still so popular, so it had to be delicious.
"Make that two."
The voice, so very familiar to her, caused May to snap straight up in surprise. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Drew standing over it. He smiled at her, and May's heart thrummed in response. She couldn't help it; this was the first she had seen of her long-time rival since competing in the latest Hoenn Grand Festival, and given what had happened there, anyone with a heartbeat would have felt similarly.
At least, anyone in their situation.
"My treat," Drew added, pulling out his wallet. The cashier smiled tamely at him and nodded—May suspected she didn't speak much of their language—before accepting his cash and handing them their desserts.
"I was wondering when I would run into you," May said after stepping away from the counter with Drew. Her full attention was locked on him; her newly purchased Lumiose Galette, as excited as she had been to try it, had been reduced to a mere prop in her hand now that Drew had appeared. "I knew I would eventually because you said you were going to Kalos, too… but still! It's been so long."
"It's only been a month."
"A month is a long time," May said. Finally remembering the existence of her treat, the whole reason she had come down this way, she held up the pastry and took a large bite, savoring the flavor. Delicious. It was wonderfully sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. Drew watched her, still leaving his own galette untouched.
"So what brings you here?" May asked after another moment.
"The contest, same as you," Drew answered as if it were obvious.
"Well, yeah," May replied with the same plain tone. "Of course. But I meant down here. You don't exactly strike me as a sweets person."
Drew blinked, glanced down at his treat, then looked back up at her. "I like sweets just fine," he said. He took a bite of his own pastry to prove his point. After swallowing, he added, "It was just convenient I caught you at the counter."
"Are you implying you only said 'hi' so you wouldn't have to wait in line?" May teased.
"Maybe," Drew said, equally teasing, and May, of course, knew from the tone of his voice that he had actually come to see her. He lifted his hand to May's face and, with a deft flick of his thumb across her lower lip, wiped away a crumb that was stuck to it. He leaned in a little closer before adding, "But… it is nice running into you."
May felt a tickle of warmth rise in her chest and throat at his touch. She smiled and looked at him expectantly, but he ended up leaning back into place. May furrowed her brow in response, but, with a breath, quickly recollected herself. Realization then struck her.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. Drew blinked as she, contorting her body to balance her open purse on her hip so as to not drop her galette, pulled out a brand-new ribbon case. "You'll be proud to know…" she began a little dramatically, "... I've earned my first ribbon!" She flashed it in his face, and he reeled back—just a little.
"So you have," he said. "What contest?"
"The one in Santalune City," she said. "I got it my first week in Kalos, actually!" She tilted her head, just a little, before asking, "How many do you have?"
He shrugged off the question. "What does it matter?" he said lightly. He paused for a moment, then added, "Anyway, I have to go get ready for today's contest."
May's shoulder's sagged, and she frowned. He already wanted to go? But they had just run into each other again. And, well, she thought he had wanted to see her, especially because of what happened last time...
"Don't you want to catch up?" she asked.
"Later," he grunted, turning. "See you, May."
He left in a hurry, and May watched him go. Just before she watched him disappear into the throng of daytime shoppers, she saw him toss the remainder of his galette into a trash bin. She gaped a little. He had only taken a single bite; she would have finished it for him.
May huffed and turned away, stalking up the street in the opposite direction. She took a large, angry bite of what remained in her own galette. She would never understand Drew. Even through all the years they had known each other, she still hadn't cracked him—or their relationship.
She thought, after the Hoenn Grand Festival, she had been closer to figuring him—to figuring them—out.
"What are you doing out here all alone?" May had asked, a little playfully, as she ventured onto the balcony outside the ballroom where the Grand Festival's afterparty was being held. Drew, leaning over the railing, tossed a glance over his shoulder at her.
"You know me," Drew said. "I'm not wild about parties."
"Yeah, yeah," May replied with an exasperated smile. "But you actually showed up to this one."
"Don't get too excited. I just came to confer with my rival, nothing more."
"Aw, I'm flattered," May said, standing beside him and leaning over the railing, too. "Confer over what?"
She suddenly found a rose in her face. She saw Drew smile winningly from behind the petals and say, "Solidad wasn't going to give this to you for me, so I had to do it myself." May gently accepted the rose, gazing at it with affection, before looking back up at Drew. He added, "You did a nice job today."
May laid her hand on his arm, resting on the railing. "Thank you," she said with as much sincerity as she could muster. "It was a well-fought battle. You deserved the win."
He didn't say anything. May waited for him to do so, but he didn't. They stared at each other for a while, until he eventually leaned in close to kiss her. May didn't shy away; she kissed him back, moving her hand up his arm to grasp it. Even when they broke apart, May quickly rose up again to recapture his lips.
It didn't matter if anyone saw them. Who cared? It seemed everyone believed they were an item anyway, and as far as May was concerned, they might as well have been at that point.
"Where are you headed next?" Drew asked in a low rumble after the second kiss ended. He was still mere inches from her face.
"Kalos," May breathed.
"I'll see you there, then." He untangled himself from her and walked away, leaving May in a daze. With a thrilled breath, she turned and leaned her back against the railing to watch him go.
That wasn't the first time he had kissed her. It had been the first time in a while admittedly, but even in the space of time since then, their conversations had teetered between the standard banter of competitive rivals and the flirtatious teasings of romantic interests. They never seemed able to commit to one narrative.
By the time noon rolled around in Lumiose City, May had already let go of some of her frustration—or, at the very least, had managed to set it aside. She couldn't concern herself with Drew's moodiness when she had a contest to win.
In May's experience, the contests in Kalos most closely resembled the contests in Sinnoh with their high emphasis on exhibitionistic moves and combinations in both the appeals and battle rounds, as well as the expectation that both the coordinator and the Pokémon present a unified act. Everyone dressed up. The major difference was that unlike the august fashion that characterized Sinnoh contests, Kalos coordinators' wardrobes were a little more contemporary. Not that May minded; she liked the modern look.
Since she planned to use Blaziken as her primary partner throughout the day, she sported a fiery red two-piece dress that stopped a cut below her mid-thigh but revealed generous sliver of her midsection. Her friend Dawn had pushed for the purchase before May departed to Kalos, but today's contest would be the outfit's official debut.
After May stepped out of her dressing stall, she milled around in the ladies' backroom for a bit, mostly just to admire some of the other outfits and maybe also scout out the competition a little. She was feeling pretty hot after winning her first ribbon at her first contest in Kalos, and she wanted to see herself start a winning streak. May wanted to feel ahead, for once.
Eventually, she meandered again into the main backstage area. May intended only to continue her people-watching activities, but it wasn't long before she spotted Drew on a lone bench with Roserade, feeding her some PokéBlock. May felt the residual aggravation from that morning rise in her chest, and her first instinct was to turn away and head back into the ladies' room—but she halted herself.
No. She wasn't going run just because she was still a little annoyed. Besides, maybe Drew had cooled off from whatever had bothered him that morning, and he'd be in the mood for actually interacting. She turned toward him again and watched as Roserade handed him a fresh, deep red rose; Drew immediately thanked her before pinning the flower to his black vest. May couldn't help but smile before she approached him.
"You look pretty sharp," she complimented. He turned a wary eye to her, but she went on, "The light green really matches well with Roserade." She was referencing the dress shirt he wore beneath his vest, a faint, minty color that, now that May was looking at him directly, also brought out the stunning hue of his emerald eyes.
"Thanks," he said with some stiffness. His piercing gaze passed over her, and suddenly, May felt a little vulnerable. "You clean up nice yourself."
May managed a grin.
"You like it?" she asked, twirling her hips a little to show off the billowy chiffon layers.
"It's nice," Drew conceded, pulling out a Poké Ball to return Roserade. As soon as she had immaterialized inside the device, May took her spot on the bench, crossing one leg over the other and resting her chin atop both of her fists. A frown tugged at the end of Drew's lips.
"So, are you using Roserade for today's contest?" she asked. "That ought to be interesting, it's—"
"—Look, May," Drew suddenly and exasperatedly cut her off. "I don't really want to do this right now."
May straightened up.
"—You're a nice girl," he went on, "but I need to concentrate."
With a few simple words, May felt her spirit shatter into a hundred tiny pieces. A nice girl. That was all she was, huh? A nice girl, someone nice to kiss, sometimes, someone to string along on coy teases and free galettes. A nice girl—not even his rival.
May abruptly stood, bristling.
"Fine," she hissed before turning sharply on her heel and heading straight back into the ladies' dressing room.
May stayed there even as the contest began and the coordinators filed into the main backstage area, where there were televisions. She was alone in the room, save the occasional competitor or two who popped back inside to fix their hair or re-do their lipstick. May did not care to see Drew at all again that afternoon, so she was content to simply listen to Marion Meridian's appeals commentary over the PA system. She knew where she was in the line-up, and she would move out to get into the queue when the time came.
The result of her solitude, however, was stewing. That Drew. The more she tried not to think about him, the more she did. What was his problem? How could he be so intimately charming one moment and then distant and cold the next? What was she to him, even? He had been the one to initiate their first kiss, ever, back when they were still kids, and May was certain if she counted all their kisses on her fingers, she would find he was usually the initiator—though May had grown braver in recent years.
May forced herself out of her cycle of thoughts when she heard Marion call Anaïs Laurent to the stage. May had no idea who she was, but she had memorized the name and was waiting for it to be called. Her turn was coming up.
May stood again, re-adjusted her dress, and briskly left the room. She only passed through the main backstage area, lest she risk running into Drew, and headed straight for the hall leading toward the main stage. There, she would wait. She pulled out Blaziken's Poké Ball and stuck a Flame Seal on the top. May then pressed her lips close to the release button, murmuring, "You're going to do great out there. Let's make each other proud, okay?"
The not-too-distant cheers of the audience indicated that Anaïs had just finished her appeal. A few minutes later, Anaïs herself—a rookie coordinator from the look of her—stumbled down the hall, absolutely beaming. May offered her a congratulatory and encouraging smile before turning her attention to the stage again.
"Next, we have a former Top Coordinator joining us on stage! Please give a warm welcome to the Princess of Hoenn, May Maple!"
Thoughts of Drew vanished the moment she stepped onto the sunlit stage to the welcoming shouts of her audience. May's smile widened to a grin, and she waved before brandishing Blaziken's Poké Ball.
"Blaziken, take the stage!" she cried out. The seal broke, and Blaziken emerged in an impressive fiery display. May quickly called her first command: "Use Overheat!"
Before the pageant of seal flames had fully faded, Blaziken's entire body began to glow a bright red color. He then released a giant fiery inferno above him, at which point May called out, "Now, Blaziken, use Sky Uppercut!" Blaziken promptly leapt and struck the massive fireball, dispelling it in a spectacle of his own power. He landed on his own two feet effortlessly, and the crowd broke into unbridled roars of approval.
Marion made some type of comment, but May couldn't even hear her over the crowd, so she just smiled again and took a bow in unison with Blaziken. May then looked up at the screen and was delighted to see the judges' scores: an 8.9, a 9.7, and a 9.3 for a total of 27.9 points. This time, May did hear when Marion said it was the highest score of the day.
May left the stage brimming with an excited energy. The highest score of the day thus far! She was surely well on her way to her second ribbon and her coveted win streak. Her satisfaction in her own achievement was such that she felt like reveling in it—just a bit. Rather than head immediately back into the ladies' dressing room again, she went into the main backstage area with the intent of finding Drew.
She found him where she left him. She didn't talk to him; she didn't even approach him. She just managed to catch his eyes and flash him a proud smirk. He looked annoyed, which was exactly what May wanted. Gratified, May turned on her heels away from him, toward one of the television screens. Why should she let Drew chase her into the solitude of the dressing room? No, she would stay here, just so she could bask in her victorious performance in his presence a little longer.
It was only a few appeals later, though, that she spotted Drew from the corner of her eye leaving, probably to get ready for his own appeal. May pressed her lips together and flicked her gaze toward the screen again, more attentive than ever. Surely, within a few minutes, Drew was on the screen with Roserade at his side.
"Roserade, use Petal Dance!" he ordered. The stage was cloaked in a ethereal cascade of pale pink petals, though not for long. Drew called for a Solar Beam, incinerating the flora in a dazzling display.
It was a routine May recognized well. He broke it out only every so often to ensure it never went stale, and it was always a crowd-pleaser—and judges tended to love it, too, for its use of the open-stage format. May held her breath as the scores were announced: 9.4, 9.0, and 9.6.
28 points exactly. Only a tenth of a point ahead of her. May pursed her lips. So much for her having the highest score.
Minutes later, Drew was backstage again—and apparently feeling more chatty because he immediately went to May to strike up a conversation. "Impressed?" he asked, looking quite pleased with himself.
May's arms were folded, and she looked deeply irritated.
"I suppose," she answered stiffly. "It's nothing I haven't seen before."
"You can't mess with a classic," Drew said with a roll of his shoulders. He then plucked the rose Roserade had given him off his vest, holding it out toward May. "For you—you did well, too. It matches your outfit."
May didn't accept the flower. Rather, she looked at him incredulously.
"Are you serious?" she asked, the anger rising in her voice, and Drew straightened up. "Oh, so now you want to get all flirty again now that you're secure in the thought you're still better than me?"
Drew visibly tensed up.
"May, I—" he started.
"—No," May cut him off, her heart rising in her throat. "No, just forget it. Just forget—" She made a sweeping gesture between them. "—whatever this is. I'm done."
And with those cutting words, May turned away and left him bewildered and with a rose still in hand.