"The only way you can fully understand someone's pain is by feeling something of that pain yourself."
"Are you saying I don't understand?"
"Only you know that, Ash. But I think you do. Now I'll find out..."
"You can only find out in a confrontation."
"Then I guess that's what it will take."
"Even after a confrontation, there are still a lot of mysteries unsolved. New ones can even appear."
"There are a lot of mysteries in my life. But I need the answer to this one."
The Day it Changed
"Auntie Marina, why does Mummy call you an old maid?"
"Yeah, auntie, your hair isn't grey yet."
'Auntie Marina' smiled at her two nieces. "No, an old maid is just someone who hasn't married."
"How old are you?"
"Yeah, are you an old old maid?"
"Serra, Kat, you shouldn't ask personal questions," scolded the girls' mother gently.
But Marina didn't seem to mind. "28."
"That's not too old," said Serra thoughtfully.
"That's REAL old," argued her younger sister.
"Older 'an us," agreed Serra.
"Anyone's older 'an us."
Marina grinned, and her sister decided to leave her children with her for a while, deciding it was safe to go back to cooking dinner.
"Auntie," said Kat thoughtfully, "why're you not married? You're pretty."
The aunt smoothed back her red hair thoughtfully. "Why didn't I get married... well, it's sort of a long story."
"Story?" Serra perked up. "I like your stories!"
"Yeah yeah, tell us a story!"
It was in that time where most of my stories to you two took place. I was travelling with my friends Ash and Brock. Back then, everyone called me by my nickname, Misty.
I was 15 years old at the time. Ash was 14 and Brock 17. We'd all grown up, but it didn't matter. Ash was a Pokemon Master but we were all still travelling together. We did whatever people requested of us. Some asked us to find their stolen or lost Pokemon. Others wanted us to photograph a rare Pokemon, not daring to go after it themselves. Others wanted us to catch Pokemon for them.
All these and more we did. It was challenging, but a lot of fun. Our friendship was cemented.
One day, a significant day, we were all walking along the route to Lavender Town. We were looking for a pair of Cubone that were presumed to have escaped Pokemon Tower in a panic.
It was a serious job but we were all in good spirits.
"I bet the Nurse Joy in Lavender Town will want to reward us after we find those Cubone," said Brock. He still hadn't grown out of his girl-crazy stage.
"You want romance, Brock?" I grinned. "You should check out this book I'm reading right now... Shakespeare is so romantic."
"Really?" asked Brock. He probably hoped it would give him some ideas.
"Sure. Just listen to this: 'I will have the heart of him, if he forfeit.' Isn't that sweet?"
Brock and Ash sweatdropped. "Misty, are you sure you know what you're talking about?" asked Ash.
"Of course. This lady obviously is really hot for that guy, and..."
"What play IS that?" asked Brock, taking the book from me. "The Merchant of Venice? Misty, Shylock is speaking."
"Yeah, she's cool. She speaks her mind."
Brock facefaulted. "Misty, are you sure you understand what this play is about? Have you even read it?"
I blushed. "Well, I sorta skim-read. I was just looking for the romantic parts."
"I... see. Maybe you should give the Shakespeare a miss, or go for a romantic play."
I hugged the book to my chest. "It is romantic..."
Brock just sweatdropped. I didn't know what he was talking about back then, until I read the book properly a few years ago.
We kept walking. The sky was clouded and the breeze was brisk and cool. It was the sort of weather I liked. After a while, I asked Ash what he thought.
"And you, Ash? Brock's always talking about romance, but you never say anything. Are you a real teenager?"
"Well, how could I ever like a girl, after hanging around with you for the last few years?" he teased. I knew he was kidding, but he was also evading the question.
"You're always talking about romance yourself, you know," he said. I was surprised. I hadn't thought so, but I guess a person doesn't notice everything they say and do as much as others do.
"Oh... I guess I always thought it was important," I said.
"Misty, do you want to talk?"
He'd stopped walking now, and was looking at me intently. It made me a little nervous. And I really did want to talk, but the thought of discussing romance with Ash made me feel a bit sick. Not because it was bad, but because I didn't want to think about it any more. He was just a friend...
"Huh? Oh, no thanks Ash."
We had all the time in the world. We were always going to be hanging out together, weren't we?
We kept walking then. We walked a lot. It was about all we ever did, but it felt good.
"Prepare for trouble!"
"Make it double!"
We knew the routine by then, of course. It still took us by surprise, especially that time. We hadn't seen Team Rocket for several months, at least not the Jessie and James part of it.
They did their speech and we watched, disinterested but a little wary. I was worried because they had suddenly appeared while we were looking for the Cubone, and I thought they might have had something to do with it.
"Okay Team Rocket, what do you want?" demanded Ash.
"Just a few moments of your time," smirked Jessie.
"And maybe your Pikachu too."
They still hadn't given up on that. Even though they'd both grown up somewhat - in looks, anyway - they were still part of Team Rocket and still chasing Pikachu. I didn't understand them at all.
Ash rolled his eyes. "I've never given you Pikachu before, why would I suddenly start now?"
"Because we can be really... persuasive," said Jessie, eyes gleaming.
James fingered a Pokeball. Suddenly I felt apprehensive.
Ash stood firm. "I'm ready."
The two both threw down Pokeballs, in perfect unison and their Pokemon began to materialise. They weren't what we expected.
"Cuuno!" sang one.
"Ssszaa," hissed the other.
They were both birds, fairly large, intimidating. One crackled with electricity, the other shimmered like an ice Pokemon.
We couldn't stand there, we had to act. I threw a Pokeball and Brock did too.
My Togepi had evolved into a Chansey the year before. It turned out to be quite a strong Pokemon.
"And I choose you, Pikachu! Thunderbolt!"
"Chansey, same technique! Thunderbolt!"
"Graveller, rock throw!"
Our Pokemon attacked. I think the attacks should have been effective, but they didn't seem so.
"This is why you haven't seen us around lately," grinned James, "we've been adding to our team of losers."
"We've been adding to that team with WINNERS."
"We have no need for Arbok and Weezing any more."
"Yeah, those two are useless."
I suddenly felt furious. True, winning was important in Pokemon battles, but it wasn't a Pokemon's fault if they lost, provided they tried their best. And Arbok and Weezing always had.
"Articuno, ice beam!"
"Quick Chansey, use a light screen!"
Chansey closed its eyes, and the air in front of it flared up bright. The light surrounded our Pokemon, stopping the birds' attacks from hitting too hard.
"Show those Team Rocket losers who's boss." I knew this was technically Ash's battle, but I was mad. "Okay Chansey, thunderbolt again!"
"I agree, let's beat them good," growled Ash, "Pikachu, thunder!"
I realised Ash was just as mad as I was, and probably for the same reason. We were the perfect team.
We battled for a long time. A lot longer than I remembered battles with Team Rocket taking. This battle was actually a challenge, and that scared me, because I knew what Team Rocket would be capable of if they won.
Eventually, Brock's Vulpix wiped out James' Scyther and my Starmie beat Jessie's Pidgeotto. But they were our last Pokemon, and Team Rocket were down to theirs.
"Hey, where's Meowth?" asked Ash suddenly, and I realised with surprise that I hadn't seen him either.
Jessie bit her lip. "He's... gone."
"Is he dead?"
I hated Team Rocket right then, but I still wanted to hit Ash over the head for such an insensitive question.
"No... no, he's not dead."
Jessie evidently didn't want to say anything, and James' eyes were shadowed. Even Ash got the point, and we didn't prod further.
"Well, we won," said Ash, "so go away."
"We're not finished yet," said James, "Pokeball go!"
Jessie threw her final one too, and Arbok and Weezing appeared. They didn't look very happy. Neither did their masters. I suppose they were depressed at having to resort to their 'loser' Pokemon. The ones they'd had for so long that were supposed to be their friends.
"Okay Arbok," sighed Jessie, "try a poison sting."
I didn't really want to win, because I felt sorry for Arbok and Weezing. But I couldn't let Team Rocket take our Pokemon. I'd had enough of it.
"Starmie, water gun!"
"Vulpix, fire spin!"
I don't think that technique was very good, because the fire was extinguished by water, and before they reached the enemy Pokemon, both fizzled out into nothing but steam.
Arbok glanced at its master out of the corner of its eye. She was tapping her foot slightly impatiently, and looking bored. It glared at us and launched itself towards Starmie, sending poison sting slashing into my Pokemon.
Then it coiled itself around the starfish and squeezed it tightly before I could retaliate. I was just surprised. It was fighting all-out.
I realised why a moment later, by the way it kept stealing furtive glances at Jessie. Obviously it hadn't fought for a while, and was doing a last-ditch effort to try to make its master care for it again. I felt furious again.
"Starmie, fight on your own," I ordered. My Starmie was well trained enough. Then I marched over to Jessie and slapped her.
"Now don't you think that was a little melodramatic?" she asked snootily, as our Pokemon tore into each other in the background. She didn't react with rage as I'd expected. I don't like it when people act differently to how I expect them to.
"I don't care. You're treating your Pokemon like crap. It's scared of you."
"That's the way it should be."
I don't think she believed what she was saying, but that she would say it at all made me all the more angry.
"You shouldn't be a trainer at all. You're a disgrace. You DESERVE to be a loser."
She stared at me in shock. I'd been mad at her before, but never spoken to her like that.
"You nothing! It's always about you! What about your Pokemon? Just because you think it's not strong you have no faith in it and mistreat it. If Arbok wasn't a nice Pokemon it would have turned on you by now."
"Arbok would never turn on me!"
"That's because it's scared of you."
"Stop repeating yourself, little girl," she said, in a tone that infuriated me. As if I weren't infuriated enough already. She was treating me as if my words weren't worth considering. "The world isn't as black and white as you think it is."
I lunged at her then. Caught her by surprise, and tackled her to the ground. She hit back at me, but my blood was up. I started hitting her hard, over and over. She could've beaten me, I think, but she didn't try, she just covered her head with her hands.
I don't know why I was so angry. Well, I guess it was a combination of things, but also... I knew she was right and hated her for it. I hit her again, and saw blood on my hand. I didn't care.
Suddenly something leapt in between her and me. I was surprised, and turned to see my Starmie fainted on the ground. Its first loss.
"Shaa," hissed the cobra Pokemon, flicking its tail. It looked at me steadily as it stood in front of its master.
Suddenly I remembered our earlier conversation and how I'd thought Ash and I would have all the time in the world to talk about things like that, like about us. I don't know why I thought about that at that moment. Maybe because I realised anyone could die at any time. I think I could've killed Jessie with my anger a minute before.
I really didn't understand Arbok. But it just kept looking at me steadily until I stepped away. It didn't attack me. I think it understood everything, but it still protected Jessie.
Jessie stood up and rubbed at her face. It was a mess; the face which she always was obsessed with defending.
"If you're so concerned about the stupid Pokemon," she snapped at me, "then as far as I'm concerned, you can HAVE it!"
She threw Arbok's Pokeball, hard, and it hit me in the head. I hadn't been expecting it. I picked it up from the ground and looked at it, then into Jessie's eyes. I couldn't read them.
She grabbed James' arm. He and Brock were oblivious to all this, engaged in their own battle. Ash had been watching us.
"We're leaving," she said to him, and started pulling him off.
"But I hadn't finished - we were -"
She didn't let him finish, so he just shot his Pokeball's beam at Weezing, and it was drawn inside. Arbok watched it and then saw its trainer walk off without another backwards look.
I didn't know why Team Rocket had suddenly decided to challenge us then. Maybe they were trying to prove that they could win. They couldn't though, with the way they treated Pokemon.
Arbok and I looked at each other. I couldn't believe that even Jessie could be so cold. I think it was then that I stopped trusting people. I'd never trusted Team Rocket, but I'd always thought they at least knew how to treat Pokemon.
My anger faded and was replaced with a... weariness, I guess. I leaned against the nearest tree and slid to the ground.
"Sssha," hissed the snake, turning and slithering off in the direction that Team Rocket had gone.
"Wait, Arbok!" called Ash, but it didn't listen.
Brock called Vulpix back into its ball and I did the same with Starmie, mechanically. We all stood - or sat - there for a long time, saying nothing.
"We'd better keep looking for those Cubone," said Ash finally.
Brock and I nodded.
Even when you lose your innocence, life does go on. You just have to live it differently. I knew what that should start with. But I found it hard to talk about childish things like feelings so frankly. I saw them as childish anyway.
We walked a kilometre, maybe two. We did find one of the two Cubone. I think it was glad to see us, because it didn't argue when we asked it to come back to Pokemon Tower. It was worried though. I don't understand Pokemon language very well, but Ash is pretty good at understanding all Pokemon. He said that Cubone was looking for its child, the other Cubone that was lost.
We said we would help it. And of course, that's our job.
It seemed like a fruitless search though. We walked one kilometre, two, three, four. Usually I found this sort of thing rewarding, but now I was just fed up. I wanted to find the Cubone and get over with it. I was surprised at myself at the same time, because I didn't feel any anxiety for the lost baby Cubone - just irritation that it had gotten itself lost and cost so many people time and effort.
Finally I heard the sound of quiet, yet laboured breathing. We peeked behind the bushes, but we didn't find the Cubone we were looking for.
It was Arbok, lying, barely conscious. I didn't know what had happened. I guess it went looking for Jessie until it got so tired it gave up and collapsed without finding her. But there were footprints in the dirt nearby...
I drew it back into its Pokeball. It didn't resist.
We never saw Team Rocket again after that. I kept Arbok. I still have it with me, and it fights for me now. It does win too, because I know it can. But to it, Jessie will always be its master.
We searched for a long time, before we found the baby Cubone. We had taken too long. It was dead. The mother Cubone refused to leave her child, and refused to let us move it, so we had to leave them both out in the forest alone, as a light rain fell...
"Ash, we need to talk now."
He looked up at me, and didn't seem surprised.
"Well... what do you want to say?"
He looked at me with a smile in his eyes. He wasn't like other 14 year olds I knew. And now I knew what I had to say. The events of the day before had taught me that. You never know what's going to happen next. And you have to talk to people when you think you know them, before they change and you can't trust them any more.
I felt like I couldn't say it. That it was too much like a cheesy movie or book. But then, I noticed again the depth in his eyes, and it came out.
"Ash, I think I'm in love with you."
He made a choking noise. There was a long pause.
"I thought you were going to say that," he said finally.
I was annoyed. I hate it when people presume to know my mind, and I hate it more when they're right.
"Well? I need an answer from you, Ash."
"Do you love me?"
He blinked. Ash is a very direct - even blunt - person, but I think when it comes down to it, he has as much trouble saying things he means as I do.
"Am I in love with you... I can't say yes. You know Misty, you have this... idea... of love. And you look to the nearest guy who's a friend to fill it. I don't think you meant what you just said."
I felt empty inside. "Ash... do you-"
"I do believe what I just said. You're not in love with me."
"Ash... you don't know that."
"I know you, Misty."
"You don't understand," I said. I still felt empty, and I didn't really know what I was saying. I think I just used meaningless phrases, like people do in movies. "You don't understand a meaningful love."
He just looked at me.
"You know I'm right, Misty."
I think I did know it too. It took me so long to figure that out though...
Marina finished talking and looked into the fireplace where the flames were alive. She seemed to have forgotten that her nieces were there, until Serra piped up.
"What happened then? Didn't he say 'I love you too' ever? And then you kissed?"
Marina smiled slightly. "No, that didn't happen. This isn't the movies. After that day, we left. He kept travelling with Brock. I haven't seen him since."
"Why? Why'd you guys split up?"
"I couldn't stay. I didn't believe in what I was doing after that day we fought against Team Rocket. And I'd changed after that day."
Kat looked sad, and was about to say something, but their mother, Daisy, came back into the room.
"Dinner's ready, everyone."
Marina looked up at her sister and smiled.
When I remember his eyes, I'm sure he was right. He spoke with sincerity when he said I didn't love him. His tone was not the Ash Ketchum I knew.
But how can he be right... I've been thinking about him ever since. I've never had much interest in another man, although some have shown rather unsubtle interest in me. I can't bother with them. They're not Ash.
It's after tea now, and I'm sitting staring into the fire again.
"Charmander! Light the way so we can get through this tunnel!"
"Come on Charmeleon, are you ever gonna listen to me?"
"Charizard, you obeyed me! Do you... finally respect me as a trainer? You're the greatest!"
I can remember his voice.
I think Serra and Kat are talking to me but I can't hear them, just him. I just sit here and stare into the ashes...
The next morning... I haven't thought about all that happened those years ago, I haven't let myself. Yet I remember it every time I use Arbok in a battle. I remember it every time I see fire, or hear Shakespeare, or see my Cerulean, gym or see a bicycle...
After I get dressed, I look at my reflection in the mirror. Then I pull my hair up into a lopsided ponytail. It's been a while since I've worn it as such. But it brings back memories, and they are good, even if bittersweet.
Shutting the door to my house behind me, I walk without thinking anything. Walking again, it's been a while...
I walk over the grassy fields, toward Mt Moon. I remember this place, going here... with Ash, of course. I mentally chastise myself; I can't seem to go for five minutes without thinking about him. I'm an established gym leader, not some lovestruck teenager with a schoolgirl crush...
Today I'm going to find out what I've been wondering. Where is Ash today? Is he married, settled down with a family and a wife who he loves, who loves him? Is he still travelling wildly, battling and caring for Pokemon? Is he still friends with Brock? Has he travelled far away from here?
Or has he shut himself up trying to forget the past? Did he change on that day as I did?
And then I suddenly know where Ash is today. Because I can see him. That's his Pokemon League cap, and even though he's a lot taller, and still in the distance, I can recognise him. Nobody is quite like Ash.
Pikachu is not with him.
And I know he's looking for me. He sees me at the same time as I see him. It's like something out of the movies.
We run to meet each other, and crash in a childish hug. Now we stand looking at each other.
"Misty, it's been a while."
It has been, it really has.
"Yes. Ash, you came looking for me?"
"I wondered where you were today..." he said.
We always did think along the same lines, even though neither of us liked to admit it.
And then we hug again, but it's different, and then he's kissing me - no, I'm kissing him. It doesn't matter, we're kissing each other and it feels great. At 28, my first kiss, but I don't mind that at all because it's right.
Eventually we stop, for air. I hate things like reality. He holds me at arm length and he has that serious look in his eyes again.
"Has anything changed?" he asks.
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Yes, you are."
Yes, I am.
"Everything's changed. We've changed."
"But the fact hasn't changed, has it."
"That's not true! I do love you, Ash! Today was my first kiss... I've never had any boyfriends. I couldn't, because all I could think about was you. Since we left, when I was fifteen, I couldn't stop thinking about you."
"It's... the same with me," he says, finally, and I can't stop myself from smiling.
"So what's the problem?"
Suddenly I feel really restless, and fed up with all these years of pent-up emotion. So I pull him towards me and kiss him hard.
"You're wrong!" he says, pushing me away. "You don't mean that!"
"Ash, we're meant for each other."
He doesn't understand me, and he doesn't care. After everything... I was wrong. I thought we were meant for each other, but after saying that, the look on his face... he doesn't agree with me, and I realise that the lesson I learnt on the day I fought Jessie was right... that you can't trust anybody.
I never thought I'd have to apply it to him though.
"Don't distrust me, Misty," says Ash, "I haven't betrayed you."
He does understand? How can he read me after so many years?
"Misty, we're friends," he says, as if reading my mind, "and that's all. It's all we ever were. It's all we ever will be. And you know what? That's GREAT."
You know what? It is great. I felt like I was missing out on something. But maybe love is whatever you make it.
"Love in friendship is the best."
It's true, and I know it. But you can't just turn your feelings on and off like a tap. It took meeting again to realise how we really felt for each other. Those years of agonising over him, the years I wasted... they happened because we were stupid and ended our friendship after that day, just because I changed.
They happened because we couldn't naturally realise the truth, that we were friends. So we kept thinking we were wrong, or wondering if they other had changed their mind, and for years we had minds for each other only...
We put our lives on hold for each other, for this?
"I have something for you," he says, after a time. "Come back with me to Pallet."
I nod, numbly, and follow him. I have no idea what it could be.
I can't help laughing as Ash shows me what he has for me.
"Ash... finally! But I'm too old!"
"You're never too old. You know what they say, you never forget, it's like riding a bike..."
I groan at the bad joke as I run my fingers along the new bicycle. It's a good one. I think I'll give it to one of my nieces when they get a few years older.
"You know Misty," he says, "you said you were only following me until I replaced your bike. Well..."
I nod, and smile. Finally, I smile and mean it.
"I can stop following you now."
I mount my new bike and ride away, pumping hard at the pedals. I don't look back.