By Eeveebeth Fejvu
The bright summer day was pretty hot, about seventy-nine degrees and slowly rising, but there was practically no humidity, so it was a good day to be outside. Ash, Misty, and Brock had gone back to Pallet Town for a short break from Ash's training for the Johto league and had been joyfully met by the reasonable temperature and lack of precipitation. Having to camp outside all the time, Ash would have preferred to stay inside his house now that he was home for a week or two, but the weather was too good for him to stay cooped up indoors.
If there had been a public pool in Pallet Town, Ash would have immediately gone to it first thing, but there wasn't. He would have gone to the beach south of Pallet, as it wasn't far away, but going there wasn't an option, as a great group of Tentacool had washed up there on shore the day before. The Officer Jenny from Viridian City had come by with her Growlithe patrol to help the Tentacool. The three trainers still all wanted to go to the beach, but they had been shooed away. Misty still protested that she wanted to help the Tentacool (and catch one, Ash figured), and Brock still protested about not being able to be with Officer Jenny, but to no avail. It seemed as if there was nothing to do on a hot summer day such as that one.
Luckily, this day didn't have to be boring. They had seen Tracey the night before at Professor Oak's lab, and he had suggested that the four of them hang out together the next day, which was his break time. They all approved, but then had a hard time figuring out something to do. All of Ash's Pokémon, except Pikachu, were too tired to do any battling, so that was out of the question. The beach being closed, that wasn't an option, either. Finally, Tracey suggested that they all go play a few games of tennis at the courts that were right on the outskirts of Pallet. He said that he had been there before, and it was very nice. They had agreed, as Ash, Misty, and Brock usually never had time for other sports than Pokémon training.
Ash was excited, but apprehensive. He had never played tennis before, though he had seen and knew where the courts were, as they were on the way to the Xanadu greenhouse. He hadn't told Tracey, Brock, and Misty that he didn't know how to play, but figured he could learn fast enough. It can't be THAT hard, can it?
The next morning had dawned a beautiful day, so the plans were to go on as scheduled. Ash, Misty, and Brock were ready at eight o'clock when Tracey came by with four tennis rackets and a jade-colored bucket full of tennis balls. They left Ash's house and started up the dirt road towards the tennis courts. Each of the four humans toted a tennis racket, and Pikachu was left to carry the bucket. Togepi trotted happily behind them in the rear.
Ash glanced up at the sun still rising in the east. They planned to play until lunch, go back to Ash's to eat, and then go play some more until dinner. Ash leaned his tennis racket against his shoulder. Misty and Tracey were the only ones that had been wearing suitable clothes to play tennis in, so Ash and Brock had had to change. Brock was wearing his orange shirt and some dark brown shorts. Ash wore his black tee shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts. He had been going to wear his Pokémon league hat, but he had accidentally left it at home. Ash sighed slightly. The hat always brought him luck.
" 'Hope it's not a bad omen," Ash muttered quietly to himself.
"What's that, Ash?" Misty questioned, glancing at him over her shoulder.
" 'Talking to himself, again," Misty chuckled to Tracey and Brock, "Maybe we shouldn't be going to tennis courts. Maybe we should be taking him to a doctor. Or a psychiatrist." Brock had a hard time keeping back a grin. Tracey snorted with laughter. Ash rolled his eyes, but no one saw, as he was in the back. Misty glanced over her shoulder at him again and gave him a roguish grin. When her back was to him again, Ash stuck the very tip of his tongue out at her. Crazy girl.
Ash looked back to see where Pikachu and Togepi were. Pikachu was staggering back and forth slowly, carrying the bucket in a drunken manner, because he couldn't see over the top of the pail. "Here, buddy," said Ash kindly. He went back to where Pikachu was and grabbed the bucket's handle, relieving Pikachu of his burden. "Could you carry my racket instead?" Pikachu nodded happily, really wanting to be useful, and collected the equipment. Tracey, Brock, and Misty paused and watched the exchange.
The three boys continued on, but Misty remained to observe Pikachu's struggle with his new load. The racket was too heavy for him to carry by the handle, and the poor electric mouse ended up flat on his back, the racket crushing his whole body to the ground. Misty walked back to him and released Pikachu from under the netted paddle. "How about I carry Ash's racket, too? If you could just make sure that Togepi doesn't get lost, that would be a big help."
"Pika!" Pikachu saluted her importantly, and went off to fetch his new charge, which was already wandering into some bushes. Misty hurried off with the two tennis rackets to catch up with the rest of the group.
"This is a perfect day to play," Tracey was commenting when Misty caught up, "It's not too hot or too windy or anything. At least, not yet."
"I'm sure it will get hotter when the sun comes up the whole way," supposed Brock. Ash glanced over at Misty and saw that she was now carrying his racket, too. He looked behind him to find where Pikachu was, and saw that he was just now catching up, carrying Togepi piggyback style.
"Well, here it is," Tracey announced, pointing ahead of them. The four trainers and two Pokémon sprinted up to the gate, which was situated in between a grove of pine trees. Under the trees, a few wooden backless benches were scattered in a bed of dead auburn pine needles. Ash, Misty, and Brock gazed up for a minute at the yellow, blue-trimmed archway, which read 'PALLET TOWN TENNIS COURTS' in big, red letters. "Are you guys coming?" Tracey walked on in through the gates and the rest of the group followed eagerly.
Ash gasped excitedly when he saw, for the first time, the inside of the facility. There were two courts, the boundary lines painted white on the concrete, which was the green shade unique to all tennis courts. The nets tightly stretched across from one side to the other were a crisp white, obviously kept in good shape. Some kind of machine, foreign to Ash, was sitting across at the farthest court, filled with tennis balls. Around the whole area was a fifteen-foot high chain link fence, which Ash supposed kept wild balls from flying too far away.
The machine and the fence, somehow, seemed to be another rather foreshadowing omen to Ash. He gulped slightly as the four trainers walked out onto the nearest court. Ash glanced back to see Pikachu and Togepi sit down and lean against the fence. Togepi trilled. Turning back to his friends, he set the bucket of tennis balls down on the ground in front of him. A second later, his tennis racket was forcefully shoved into his hands by Misty. Ash almost dropped it in surprise, but caught it just in time. He shot Misty a reproachful look.
"You should have seen if Pikachu could carry that thing or not before just going off and leaving him to be crushed," Misty sassily explained. Ash didn't know what she was talking about, but that didn't stop him from responding.
"Pikachu could have carried it! I gave it to HIM to carry, not you!"
"I wasn't carrying it for YOU! I was carrying it so Pikachu wouldn't get flattened!"
"He could have carried it fine!"
"Yeah, right!" Misty cried out sarcastically.
Ash and Misty screamed rather unintelligently at each other, both of their tennis rackets lying forgotten on the ground. Tracey and Brock watched a safe distance away. Tracey looked worried, as he was not used to the quarreling. Brock simply shook his head at the sight.
"Um, guys," Tracey carefully crept a few footsteps closer to the arguers. Sweatdropping, he waved his hands timidly in front of him. "Calm down now! There's no reason to fight!" Tracey chuckled nervously. Ash and Misty disregarded him completely. Their shouting caused a few Pidgey to fly away from their roosts in the pine trees.
Brock walked over beside Tracey. "If you say it like that, it'll never work," Brock advised him, "You have to be a bit more forceful. Like this." Turning to Ash and Misty, Brock cupped his hands to his mouth. "ASH! MISTY! CUT IT OUT!" They froze in mid scream, and both turned to face Brock like Stantler in a headlight. "See, Tracey? The 'calm down' method never works anymore. It hasn't worked for a long time. You have to be forceful."
"O…kay," Tracey replied hesitantly.
"What?" Ash asked, confused.
"Are we going to play tennis or not?" Misty grumpily snapped, retrieving her racket from the ground.
"We will if you two stop shrieking at each other," Brock muttered. He went and picked up his and Tracey's rackets from where they had left them. Ash quickly picked his own racket up from the ground, as if suspicious that Misty might take it away from him again.
"Alright, let's get started," Tracey began, accepting his racket from Brock, and then added, "Well, first, does everyone know how to play tennis anyway? Brock?"
"I do," Brock replied, "My dad and I used to play a bunch in the summertime. There are some courts in Pewter City. I haven't played for a bit, but I still remember how and I was pretty good."
"Uh…" he trailed off and avoided eye contact with the others, "Uh… well…"
"Well, do you!?" Misty screeched at him.
"No!" Ash shot back at her. "Do you!?"
Ash cocked his head in surprise. "You don't?"
"Oh, boy," Brock muttered under his breath to Tracey, "Half of the group is inexperienced? The younger half? This is going to be a long day, isn't it?"
"Probably," Tracey whispered back. To Ash and Misty, Tracey asked, "Do you even know the setup of tennis? Even if you don't know about backhand and that kind of thing, you can still play. But do you know what game, set, and match is?" Slowly, both Ash and Misty shook their heads. Tracey sighed. "Okay, the first thing you need to know is that a real tennis game is divided into games, sets, and matches. A game is-"
Ash looked away from Tracey. He didn't see what this had to do with playing tennis. All you do is hit the ball over the net, right? Easy as pie. Easy as a battle with Pikachu verses Pidgey. You know, this court kinda looks like a battlefield. It's got the white lines as boundaries like a battlefield. The net would make a good obstacle, too, like boulders on a rock field. Maybe there is a Tennis Pokémon somewhere out there. If there isn't, there should be. It would be pretty cool. Maybe it could be a normal evolution for Eevee! It would be the court-color green, with white stripes, a racket for a tail and ears, and a tennis ball nose! That would be so cool! It would be called Tenniseon, or maybe Racketeon, or Courteon, or Balleon, or-
"ASH!" Misty's voice broke Ash's daydream of a Tennis Pokémon, "You didn't listen to a word Tracey just said, did you?"
"Sure I did!" Ash responded automatically, "All about games, and sets, and matches! I heard!"
"How could you hear him, staring off into space the way you were!?"
"I wasn't staring into space," Ash said defensively, "I was looking at…" Ash glanced back to see what was near where he had been staring into space. He had unconsciously been looking through the fence at some bushes on the other side. "Uh… I… thought I saw Team Rocket for a second."
"ASH! MISTY! CUT IT OUT!" Both Brock and Tracey yelled at them at the top of their voices. With a final glare at each other, Ash and Misty stopped shouting.
"Pika!" Pikachu shouted from where he and Togepi were watching. He waved his paws back and forth, wanting the four to start playing tennis so that the Pokémon wouldn't be bored.
"Let's just play," Ash muttered, "Before it gets to be lunchtime."
"We don't have to have lunch," Misty slyly joked, "We could play right through lunch." Ash looked appalled.
"Could we practice a bit before starting a real game? I need to warm up," said Brock.
"Okay," said Tracey, "I think we should all play on teams, even though there are two courts, because it's hard to have two games going at the same time." Ash, Misty, and Brock nodded favorably. "Okay, how should we divide up? Maybe there should be one experienced person on each team to help the unseasoned person."
Brock quickly pulled Tracey aside and whispered, "Don't divide it up that way! Surely you don't want to lose!?" Tracey shook his head. "Let's do me and you on a team, and Ash and Misty on the other. We both know how to play, so we can totally obliterate them in every game, set, and match. It's perfect; Inexperienced verses Experienced. Do you really want someone who plays like Ash does on your team?" They watched Ash, who was swinging his racket back and forth wildly like a baseball bat. Misty kept ducking, even though the racket was nowhere near her, just to aggravate Ash, which it did.
"Quit doing that," Ash complained, when she ducked quickly, though he had swung the racket far away from her, "You're messing up my concentration."
"Concentration? On what? Becoming the first human windmill?"
"Oh, very funny."
"Okay, you two," Brock called to them, "Let's get into our teams and practice."
"What are our teams?" Ash asked.
"Me and Tracey, versus you and Misty."
"WHAT!? I'm on a team with her!?"
"Do you have a problem with me, Ash Ketchum!?"
"No, but…" Ash looked pleadingly at Tracey and Brock, "Come on, guys! Don't make me be on her team!" The two boys ignored him, taking their rackets and the bucket of tennis balls with them to the other side of the court. Ash glanced at Misty. She twirled her racket menacingly. Ash sweatdropped.
"Ash, Misty," Brock called to them from across the net. He and Tracey had already gotten into position, one in the middle of each side of the court. "Get in place. I'll serve first, and just try to hit it back over the net, okay?"
Misty walked to the left side of their area, and Ash went to the right. "Serve?" Ash asked his partner, "I thought we were going back to my house for lunch. Besides, we just got here, so it's not time to eat yet."
Misty sighed. "He means 'serve the ball', Ash."
"I don't think I'd like to eat a tennis ball."
"…Just hit the ball when it comes over the net."
"Ready? Here we go!" Brock threw the tennis ball up in the air. Ash tensed as he watched the ball soar straight up. It seemed to pause for a moment, and then began to come back down. Brock swung his racket, and it hit the ball dead center. The ball instantly changed direction, flying in an arc over the net. It was going in Ash's direction so Ash ran up to meet it, racket at the ready. Suddenly, the ball seemed to disappear, and Ash froze, looking around. As Ash stood there, dumbfounded, Misty, Tracey, and Brock surveyed the ball plummeting to the ground right behind Ash. It bounced against the fence, then away towards the second court, and still Ash was confused about where it went.
"This is going to be easier to win than I thought, isn't it, Brock?"
"Maybe. 'Depends on how quick he learns. 'Depends on how good Misty is."
Misty tapped her foot impatiently. "Let me have a try at a tennis ball, will 'ya?"
Ash looked away from where he had been gazing straight up in the sky for the missing ball. "Hey! Give me another chance! It just… kinda took me by surprise a little."
Misty snorted under her breath. "Yeah, no duh."
"Ash, I'll give you two more shots, then it will be Misty's turn, okay?" Brock reasoned, so as to keep another futile argument from ensuing, as it no doubt would. He was used to being the peacemaker.
Ash's second and third tries at hitting the tennis balls were as prolific as his first. The second ball didn't go over his head, because Ash backed up instead of running forward. Instead, it hit Ash in the chin after the first bounce because he didn't back up far enough. Pikachu, at his seat off the court, dissolved into furious giggles. The third ball actually made contact with Ash's racket, but Ash turned his wrist in such an impossible way, which was hardly perceived and out of the question to duplicate, that the ball became imbedded in the chain link fence behind Ash, about nine feet up and out of reach. Pikachu resorted to numerous bouts of laughter, and Misty became so hysterical that she had to sit down on the ground, unable to stand up in her hilarity. Ash's face burned in disgrace and was as red as the hat he had accidentally left back at home.
Brock and Tracey were trying so hard to control their own laughter, that they had a hard time talking. Finally, Tracey was calm enough to be able to shout across the court to Ash and Misty. "Ash, you can, uh… try again in a minute. Misty, do you want to try now?" Misty nodded vigorously, her face screwed up from trying to keep her mouth straight, and got off the ground. She shook herself, in anticipation and to rid herself of all distraction, and balanced on her toes. Ash watched her flick her bangs out of her eyes with the back of her left hand. Her racket was poised in the air just perfectly. This time, Tracey served, so that the ball would fly over the net diagonally, in Misty's direction.
Everyone watched the ball soar gracefully over the net from Tracey's hit. Misty backed up a few paces in expectancy, and a look of panic suddenly crossed her face as she found that her head was in the ball's direct path. She moved her racket up in front of her face just in time. The ball bounced harmlessly off of her racket, and rolled away towards the other court, but Misty was frozen in her position in fear. The horrified and terrorized look on her face was too much for Ash to bear, and he clamped his free hand over his mouth to suppress the chuckle rising in his throat.
Across the net, Tracey and Brock grinned. "We are so going to beat them bad, aren't we, Trace?"
"Simply butcher them, I reckon."
"I bet so." Brock called to Misty across the net, "You want to try again?" She nodded and lowered her racket, but panic was still lingering in her eyes.
Tracey served again, but again Misty found herself in the path of the next tennis ball. With a slight yelp, she leapt out of its way and it flew past her, rebounding off the fence, and rolled to join the others on the second empty court. As Tracey was about to serve her last practice ball, Ash could contain himself no longer. "Hey, Misty! Is that another thing to add to your list of the most disgusting things in the world!? Carrots, peppers, bugs, and tennis balls!?"
The only thing that kept Misty from leaving her area to insult and physically hurt Ash right away was the fact that the ball was already flying though the air. She took her instant rage out on the tennis ball, running to it with her racket. She finally hit the ball, but in her ferocity, her wrist twisted and the ball simply hit the bottom of the net, which was actually the best either she or Ash had done so far. Ash burst out laughing in amusement, but this was the wrong decision. His reflexes were just fast enough that he was able to duck as Misty's racket whooshed centimeters over his head. He sidestepped out of the way as Misty swung her racket at his head again. Her face was livid. "You want a piece of this racket, Ketchum!?"
"Come on, Mist!" Ash tittered anxiously, "I was just joking!"
"At least I hit the ball in the right direction, Mr. I-Don't-Eat-Tennis-Balls-For-Lunch!" Ash ran for his life as Misty lunged forward and swung her racket at him another time. Misty was usually proficiently better than Ash at many things, including Pokémon knowledge, physical strength, and witty repartee. Apparently, she was on the same level as Ash was at tennis, and was quite taken aback by this.
Tracey, trailing the tennis ball bucket behind him, and Brock rushed to Ash and Misty's side of the court. Brock intercepted Misty and grabbed her under the arms, holding her back. She swung her racket back and forth violently, trying desperately to get to Ash. Ash tried to hide behind Tracey until Misty settled down, but Tracey didn't seem to want to be any closer to Misty's wrath than Ash did.
"Let… me… hit… you," Misty cried out in between swings of her racket. Brock struggled to hold her back. "You can… tell me… if this… thing… hurts more… than a… mallet… It has… more… surface… area… and a… wider… range… so it… should… hurt you… worse…"
Ash was frightened. "Misty, I'm sorry!" he blurted out, then put his hands over his mouth. He had just told Misty that he was sorry. He truly was sorry, and he had been sorry many times before when he had said something hateful to her, but he never, ever apologized. Apologizing meant confessing that you were wrong, and Ash didn't ever admit that he was wrong to Misty unless he wanted it to be rubbed in his face for a week.
Tracey, Brock, and Misty all stared at Ash as if he was crazy, which, Ash reasoned, might be true. Suddenly, Misty stopped swinging the tennis racket and relaxed. Her face became serene. Brock waited a moment, and then let her go. Tracey got out of Ash's way in case Misty changed her mind again. There was a pause as Ash looked up and found himself gazing right into Misty's eyes. They stood there for a moment, not glaring at each other, but just looking each other straight in the eyes. Misty seemed to be telling Ash, "Let's not make this as hard for each other as we can. Let's at least try to stop making fun of each other and maybe we can actually have some fun with this tennis stuff, even if we aren't the best at it." Ash nodded once. Misty nodded once, too, and, twirling her racket, leaned it against her shoulder.
Brock and Tracey stood watching them, bewildered completely, until Misty turned to them and said, "Can WE try serving now?"
"Um, okay," Tracey muttered. Brock nodded, and they left to go back to their side of the court.
"I'll go first," said Ash, and Misty shrugged indifferently. Ash picked up the bucket of tennis balls and set it down a few yards behind him, out of the way. He selected one tennis ball off of the top and walked back to his starting position, tossing the ball a few inches into the air and catching it several times. Readying his racket, he stood still for a moment, focusing on his mission, and then threw the ball up into the air. Ash's pitch was wild, however, and instead of going straight up, went high and backwards. Ash was desperate not to loose track of the ball like he had the first time, so he quickly backed up and kept his eyes on the flying ball. He raised his racket to hit the ball over the net. He took one more step backwards for good measure, and suddenly, the bottom of Ash's foot hit something… the edge of the ball bucket. He lost his balance instantly, and fell backwards over the bucket, overturning it and causing all of the balls to roll away in every direction. Ash hit the concrete, but fortunately landed in such a way that he didn't hurt himself very much. His racket fell out of his hand in defeat, and Ash watched the ball he had been trying to serve bounce away to the other court.
It was truly a pathetic sight. Funny, but pathetic. Misty worked hard to not laugh, succeeded, and walked over to see what Ash's condition was. " 'You okay?" she asked, concerned. With a sigh, Ash nodded. Misty extended her hand and helped him stand up. Ash looked around at the loose tennis balls. They were slowly rolling away, almost as if they were alive and unsure about how far to go away from their bucket home. Ash righted the bucket and began to pick up the rouge tennis balls. Misty set her racket down and gathered some tennis balls to help. Pikachu scampered over to help, too, and picked up one ball at a time and deposited it in the bucket. Soon, the bucket held all of the tennis balls.
Meanwhile, Brock and Tracey watched and waited patiently.
Ash declined the chance to try and serve the tennis ball twice more, so as to prevent the chance of him injuring himself again. After setting the bucket safely off of the side of the court, Misty grabbed three tennis balls to practice serving herself. She hit the first ball, but accidentally twisted her wrist again, resulting in the ball bouncing off the middle of the net and rolling to join the growing quantity of tennis balls abandoned on the spare court.
Misty hit the second ball with a firmer wrist and at just the right angle, and it actually made it across the net. Brock and Tracey weren't prepared for the ball to bounce into their court, but Tracey recovered quick enough to swoop in with his racket and send the ball back over the net. Because Tracey's hit was rushed, the ball consequentially flew exceptionally high into the air, higher than the top of the fence. It headed over towards Ash's area of the court, but it was clear to everyone that the ball would eventually go over the fence on the path it was on now. Everyone could see that… except Ash.
Knowing that there was no bucket in the way now, Ash focused hard on his target and began backing up rapidly to try a swing at it. The ball seemed to speed up in Ash's mind, so Ash sped up his backwards sprinting. Just when it looked like he would be able to hit the ball any second, he suddenly rammed backwards into something very hard and solid, knocking the breath out of him. The ball disappeared over the chain link fence, which was what Ash had collided with. Ash groaned dejectedly and leaned against the fence right where he crashed.
"At least we got it over the fence twice," Ash heard Brock comment.
"Come on, Ash!" Misty called to him. "This is my last serve!"
Ash took half a step forward to return to his position. As he did, he felt something pull on the back of his black tee shirt, and suddenly Ash was jerked back. With an "Oof!", Ash's head slammed into the fence and the chain links rattled with their unique metallic sound. Ash charged forward, only to be wrenched right back into the fence again. He struggled to look over his shoulder, and saw that his shirt was caught ridiculously in a crevice in the chain links. Ash stormed forward furiously, and beat his racket against the fence in torment. His struggle to get free was ineffective.
It finally came down to Misty to loose Ash from his prison. Moaning inertly, she sauntered over to where Ash was being overwhelmed by the fence. Ash watched her uneasily. She grabbed a hold of the place where Ash's shirt was caught and yanked it upwards. It came free. Ash didn't even glance over at Brock and Tracey, because he was too embarrassed to see what state of silent laughter they were in now. Ash mumbled, "Thanks," to Misty under his breath and they went back to their positions for Misty's last practice serve.
The third tennis ball that Misty hit made it over the net like the last one, but this time Brock and Tracey were ready. Brock ran ahead and knocked the ball back over the net with ease. The ball flew right towards the center of the court for either Ash or Misty to strike. Both of them ran to the center at the same time and stood waiting for the ball side by side. Misty drew her racket back to hit the ball- "AH!" Misty's racket striked something hard, and Misty looked to see what it was. She was startled to see that she had clouted Ash in the face by accident, as he had been standing a few inches farther back then she was. With a gasp, she jerked her racket away and Ash, dropping his own racket, began to raise his hands to hold his face when- "AH!" Ash cried out again a second later as the forgotten incoming ball clouted him in the face where his partner's racket had. He sat down hard on the ground, and buried his face in his arms.
Brock and Tracey couldn't contain their mirth any longer, and burst out laughing. Misty dropped her racket and kneeled down beside her ill-treated friend. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she asked quietly, "Are you hurt real bad, Ash?" He trembled a little, but shook his head.
From inside his arms, Misty heard him mumble, "It does kinda hurt more than a mallet, though. But I'm okay." Ash had bit his lip to keep himself from tearing up, because both blows had stung, but it went away quickly. Ash had built up an immunity to pain through many years of life and small things like that didn't hurt much anymore anyway. Besides, he was determined to beat this game of tennis at its own nasty game. Ash looked up at Misty and grinned, to show her he was all right. She sighed exasperatedly and they stood up.
Brock and Tracey's giggles had subsided and Tracey called out, "Is that enough practice for you guys? If we don't hurry and start soon, we won't be able to get in at least a set before lunch!" Ash looked up at the sky. The sun was completely up now and the temperature was beginning to climb into the eighties.
"All right," Ash shouted back, "Let's get a real game started. But first, shouldn't we pick up all of the balls we've used? Because if we don't, we might run out."
"Okay, let's do that first," Brock agreed. The four set their tennis rackets down and strolled over to the second court, which was scattered with rouge tennis balls. Ash, Misty, Brock, and Tracey began to gather the balls and deposit them into the jade-colored bucket. In their seat beside the fence, Togepi had fallen asleep and was curled up leaning on the fence. Pikachu made sure that she was napping, then ran to join his master and friends in their rounding-up off the tennis balls. Out on the other court, Pikachu appointed himself to making sure that no ball went unnoticed, so he glanced about for a high place to search from. Pikachu eyed the tennis-ball-filled machine Ash had noticed earlier that was sitting on the court and bounded toward it. He leaped up on top and gazed around.
He saw no tennis balls hidden near the fence, so Pikachu began to climb down as he felt something shift under his paw. Moving his paw away, Pikachu saw that he had treaded on some sort of button and the button was now glowing green. Curious, Pikachu leaned down to examine the gleaming switch, and suddenly, the machine flinched underneath him and gave a great clatter. Pikachu was scared out of his wits. The four trainers jumped and stared at the machine. The device gave a roar similar to the one that terrified Pikachu most… the dishwasher. Then the thing began to buck up and down, and suddenly, tennis balls began shooting out from the tube that stuck out from the machine. Ash, Misty, Brock, and Tracey all screamed and tried to run for cover as the ball-shooting contraption pelted them with tennis balls. It jerked this way and that, and it was all Pikachu could do to hang on tight like he was at a rodeo. The humans all abandoned the second court immediately and could only gaze in horror at the mess of tennis balls tumbling everywhere.
A moment later, the basket on the machine was empty, and the machine shut itself off. There was a pause. Pikachu was breathing heavily, and he was very angry from the wild ride he had endured. With a great battle cry, Pikachu charged up and Thunderbolted the machine before anyone could do anything. Pikachu sauntered off to his seat smugly, satisfied with his smoldering work. Slowly, the four humans made their way through the flood of balls to gaze at the remains of the device. Ash gulped nervously. "I hope whoever owns this thing doesn't get too mad." They all nodded hopefully, but got away from the fried contraption as fast as they could, after throwing all of its balls back into the warped basket.
Everyone was still shaken up, but went about preparing themselves for the first official game anyway. All of them became very serious and solemn. Tracey took the ball bucket with him back to his and Brock's side of the court so that he could serve first. Ash whipped his racket up from the ground and swung it back and forth experimentally; he stopped after a few swings, however, as he didn't want to be labeled as a 'windmill' again. Misty stretched her legs and arms to loosen up. Brock rolled his shoulders back and readied his racket.
"I'll keep score, okay?" Tracey called out to his teammate and opponents. "Tennis is scored in a weird way, so it's kinda hard to keep track. The first score is fifteen, then thirty, and forty. The next score is advantage, and the last score is a win."
"Ready?" Brock shouted. Everyone was in his or her correct positions and all rackets were held up in front like warrior swords. Ash and Misty nodded. Tracey nodded, too. "Let's play!"
Pikachu nudged the sweetly slumbering Togepi so that she would be able to see the start of the valid game. She blinked her eyes open and trilled softly. Pikachu turned his attention back to the court and watched the first serve soar high into the air.
Tracey was good at serving and he used all of his skill to make the first one a challenge for the inexperienced partners. The refined arc brought the ball cattycornered into Misty's area. Misty was beginning to figure out how to handle the racket properly, and after the first bounce, she just managed to hit the ball back over the net. Ash wondered how she learned so fast. Natural, Ash thought slightly resentfully. Brock charged forward and sent the ball over the net. He purposely aimed the ball at Ash, given that Ash had only hit the ball with his racket once the whole time, and that had been in the wrong direction. Ash panicked and swung his racket crazily, but in his rush, actually hit the ball back over the net, though just barely. Brock and Tracey both rushed forward, but Brock let Tracey hit the tennis ball into the opposite area again. It went straight down the middle. Misty lunged towards it. Ash interrupted his personal victory dance to chase the ball, too. A second before a possible collision between them could have occurred, they both looked down and halted, but in the process, lost track of the ball. Ash and Misty saw it again just as it touched the ground inside their court. They groaned sadly as Brock and Tracey erupted into joyful whoops and cries for scoring the first point. They high-fived each other. Tennis had begun to actually get interesting.
Ash retrieved the ball and threw it back to Tracey. Tracey caught it. "We're going to take them down," Tracey muttered and Brock grinned. Tracey loudly shouted out the points. " The score is Brock and Tracey, fifteen, Ash and Misty, love."
It took a second for Ash to realize what Tracey had just said, and when he did, he was completely bewildered. Did he just say 'love'? Ash had no idea what to do or think about the comment. He looked over at Misty. She was looking at him, teal colored eyes wide, and when he glanced at her, her cheeks reddened very deeply. Ash felt himself blush furiously, too. Why on earth did Tracey just say that!? What does that kind of stuff even have to do with anything, anyway!?
Brock and Tracey stood on the other side of the court, watching Ash and Misty in confusion. They had no idea why their opponents were acting so strangely. "Tracey, what's going on? I think I missed something."
"If you missed something, Brock, I missed it, too, 'cause I have no idea what they're doing." After a pause, Tracey added, "Was it something I said?"
Misty was as confused as Ash about why Tracey had just said what he had said about them. It was weird to be so embarrassed about something that she didn't understand, but embarrassed she was. Inside of her, a little alarm was going off, crying, "Deny it, deny it, deny it!". She did.
"WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY, SKETCHIT!?"
"Uh…?" Tracey turned to Brock. Brock shrugged.
"TAKE IT BACK!" Misty shrieked.
"YEAH!" Ash inserted, getting into defensive mode, too.
"What'd I do!?"
"YOU KNOW!" Misty nervously gestured with her racket, utterly unable to repeat the offending remark. Both she and Ash blushed further after glancing at each other again.
"All I said was the score!" Tracey defended himself uncertainly.
Brock was thinking hard. Suddenly, he burst out laughing. Tracey gave him a weird look. In between chuckles, Brock managed to explain, "THEIR… SCORE, TRACEY! …THEIR… THEIR… SCORE!" Brock doubled up, howling with amusement.
Tracey thought for a moment. "Ash and Misty's score is…" He trailed off as he realized his fault. Tracey began to laugh, too. They were soon both hysterical.
Misty's face was burning. "TAKE IT BACK!" she shrieked again.
"No, no, Misty!" Tracey laughed, "You don't get it!"
"SURE AS HO-OH, I DON'T GET IT!"
"Calm down, you two!" Brock chuckled. Misty was the only one yelling, but Ash's eyes were shooting daggers at the two boys. "You don't get it! In tennis, when you have zero points, it's called 'love'. 'Love' is a score of nothing! That's another thing that makes tennis so hard to keep track of. Tracey was just saying the score! He wasn't… implying anything!" He burst out laughing, again. "You two! You… I can't believe… you all took it… so LITERALLY!"
That is the stupidest way to score anything in the whole entire world, Ash thought miserably.
This is so… embarrassing isn't even the word for it, Misty thought, mortified.
Brock and Tracey couldn't even try to stop laughing. "ASH AND MISTY, LOVE," Tracey screeched.
"ASH AND MISTY LOVE! THAT'S BRILLIANT, THAT IS!" Brock was hysterical.
"SHUT UP!" Misty screamed quickly.
"STOP IT!" Ash yelled. They glanced at each other again and blushed even further, if that was humanly possible. Ash glared at Pikachu, who was rolling around on the court, consumed by enraged giggles. Even Togepi looked like she was making fun of them, even though she was only chirping and waving her paws like she always did. "IT'S NOT TRUE!" Ash cried out.
"ASH AND MISTY LOVE!" Brock and Tracey jeered at the same time.
"YEAH, RIGHT!" Misty screamed out sarcastically.
Trying to recover from his laughing fits, Tracey called out, "Here!", and began to serve the tennis ball he was holding. Ash gripped his racket intensely. Misty ground her teeth. The ball plunged over the rope mesh. Misty ran forward and hit the ball with great, goaded force. It went back over the net. Brock swung at the ball, and volleyed it to Ash and Misty's side. Ash ran to make a swing at the tennis ball, but in his resentment towards his adversaries, missed. The ball hit the court, thus earning Brock and Tracey their second score.
"Brock and Tracey, thirty," Tracey grinned, "Ash and Misty, LOVE!"
"SHUT UP!" That was Misty again.
"What was the score, again, Trace?" Brock joked, "I didn't hear you way over here."
"I said," Tracey repeated teasingly, raising his voice, "Brock and Tracey, thirty, ASH AND MISTY, LOVE!"
"OH! Ash and Misty, LOVE!" Brock cried out, with mock realization. "I wasn't sure if you said ASH AND MISTY LOVE or not! Silly me!"
"SHUT UP!" Misty cried desperately once more.
"You know, Tracey," Brock said very loudly, but conversationally, " 'Ash and Misty LOVE' is terribly hard to say!"
"Oh, yes, let me try!" They both had a mocking, bantering edge to their voices. "ASH… AND… MISTY… LOVE! Oh, yes, I see what you mean, Brock! Terribly hard to say in a rush! And such an important thing to say, too!"
"Let's shorten it a bit, shall we!" Brock cried jovially. He considered the phrase as an acronym. "Let's see? It would be… AAML, then, wouldn't it?"
"AAML!" Tracey exploded cordially, "Wonderful! Rolls RIGHT off the tongue! AAML!"
Together, Tracey and Brock started up a sing-song-like chant. "AAML! AAML! AAML! AAML!"
"SHUT UP!" Ash and Misty yelled jointly.
"AAML! AAML! AAML! AAML!"
"PIKA-PI-KA!" Pikachu joined in the chant for fun. "PIKA-PI-KA! PIKA-PI-KA! PIKA-PI-KA!" Togepi trilled.
"Hit the ball, already!" Ash yelled, trying to ignore the mantra.
"Okay!" Tracey complied, as Brock continued the chant. He selected a ball from the bucket, and lobbed it over the net. Misty was so furious and wrapped up in her own thoughts that she didn't see the ball at all. She stood, fuming, as the ball went right past her. Brock and Tracey scored again.
"Lookie at that!" Tracey squealed, "Now the score is Brock and Tracey, forty, AND… AAML!"
"AAML! AAML!" Brock continued, absolutely loving the joke.
Tracey served again. He and Brock scored easily. "Brock and Tracey, advantage, and everyone's favorite score of… AAML!"
"AAML! AAML! AAML! AAML!"
"One point to win! Here goes!" …They scored. "Well, ladies and gentlemen," Tracey announced to Pikachu, Togepi, and an imaginary audience, "What a game this first one has been! Brock and Tracey have won, and the opponents are… AAML!"
"AAML! AAML! AAML! AAML!"
"Let game two begin!"
Tracey transferred the ball bucket over to Misty to serve the next game, who looked very sadistic. He ran back to his position quickly before Misty could compose herself enough to thrash him over the head with her racket, as she had tried to do to Ash earlier.
Each time she served, the ball bounced hard, high, and at strange angles, because her fury didn't allow her to have decent shots. Misty was truly more embarrassed and shy than she was angry, but she always covered up her bashfulness with rage in every situation.
Brock and Tracey were able to chant their "AAML! AAML!" cheer the whole second game, as they won and Ash and Misty stayed at 'love' the entire time.
Game three was very similar to game one, as Brock served this time, and Brock was about as good at serving the ball as Tracey. Fifteen, thirty, forty, advantage… Brock and Tracey won the third time in a row. Also for the third time in a row, the chorus of "AAML!" was shouted after every score. Ash and Misty hadn't scored one point yet, and the first set was half over.
Game four was Ash's turn to serve. Brock and Tracey didn't even have to hit the ball more than five times the whole game. Ash was so bad at serving the ball that he kept automatically giving them points. Some of the balls headed towards the second court, some ended up in the back fence (though none were hit as grand as Ash's third practice ball), and some almost mashed Pikachu and Togepi. Ash might have done better serving if he hadn't been so jumpy. Unlike Misty, who knew exactly why she was so self-conscious of the comment, Ash had no idea why Brock and Tracey's love chanting made him so fidgety. Game four's final score, as Tracey broadcasted it, was "Brock and Tracey win, with Ash and Misty in- I mean AT… LOVE!"
"Tracey, you shouldn't have fixed it!" Brock remarked on Tracey's commentary. "You had it right the first time!"
"Oh, okay! I'll change it then… Brock and Tracey win, with Ash and Misty IN love! Also known as AAML!"
"AAML! AAML! AAML! AAML!"
Tracey served again in game five, and Ash and Misty were so dispirited and so humiliated, that by this time, they had practically given up. Ash wished he had earplugs, so that he wouldn't have to hear the repeated mantra shouted by two of his friends and, even more pathetic, his own Pokémon. Pikachu had rejoined the chorus with a rousing cry of, "PIKA-PI-KA! PIKA-PI-KA!" and was now trying to teach the acronym to Togepi. Fortunately for the losing pair, Togepi didn't seem to be able to recreate the rhythm of the chant. Déjà vu reigned supreme as Brock and Tracey scrapped in their fifth win, Ash and Misty remained jammed at zero, and the initials of 'Ash and Misty love' rang throughout the court.
Ash sighed. One more game won by Brock and Tracey, and they would win the first set. Ash glanced up at the sky. The sun was essentially right overhead, signifying that it was around noon, and time for lunch. I hope we can get this over with quick. Game six was almost a repeat of game two. Misty's serves were out of control with fury, but weren't as hard, as Misty wanted the game to end quickly like Ash. She tried to remain hopeful that after they finished playing and had some lunch, Brock and Tracey would give up on their teasing, but she had some serious doubt.
To no one's surprise, Brock and Tracey, expert tennis players and chant writers, won the last game. They had won not only the game, but also the whole set, with Ash and Misty not scoring a single time. They celebrated the major victory with a loud, resounding chorus of "AAML! AAML!" They somehow managed to create a kind of triumphant song out of their chant, which went to the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'. They danced about, waving their rackets, noisily singing:
"AAML is the score!
Such 'love' we could not ask for more!
If easy winning is your dream,
Put Ash and Misty on a team!
Don't they make the cutest pair?
Pikachu leapt up and joined the two boy's dance. Ash threw his racket at the ground in disgust. Misty threw her racket at Brock and Tracey in disgust, but it missed. Ash feverishly hoped that Gary was nowhere nearby; Ash had heard that he was visiting home, too, and would give anything to not let him hear the mockery song.
Ash sulkily grabbed his racket, marched over to the other court, grabbed Pikachu around the stomach right in the middle of the fifth round of the song, and silently headed towards the gate. There's absolutely no reason for all that… that… nonsense, Ash thought. ANYBODY could make the mistake of taking the score the way I thought at first! Even MISTY thought that Tracey meant that me and her are… in… uh… Suddenly, Ash blushed. Pikachu looked up at his master's face. "Pik-A?" Pikachu clandestinely asked.
Pikachu chuckled slightly. "PIKA-PI-KA!?" he asked of the chant.
"You try having people say that kinda stuff about you. 'See what you think then!"
Ash was out of the gate and under the archway. Pikachu climbed up on his shoulder to ride back to Ash's house for lunch. Ash started down the dirt path, when he heard pounding steps behind him. He paused and looked around to see Misty sprinting towards him, clutching her tennis racket and Togepi close to her chest. Ash wondered nervously if she was going to talk to him, but she never slowed her pace. She ran right past him down the road, and Ash caught a glimpse of her scarlet face as she glanced at him, too. She ran on towards Ash's house, but she was so tired from staying furious the whole morning that Ash thought that they might catch up with her before she got to her destination. He started to walk on, as Brock and Tracey burst out from the archway of the courts and hurried to catch up with one of their victims. They swung their rackets and the bucket of tennis balls wildly, their faces grinning maliciously. Ash quickened his pace.
"Ash! Hey, Ash!" Brock called to him. "Guess what!? We decided on a name for the song! It's…"
Brock and Tracey yelled the title together. "BATTLE HYMN OF THE TENNIS LOVERS!"
"Get it!? 'Tennis Lovers'!? It's 'Tennis Lovers', not as in people who love tennis, but people who are IN love who PLAY tennis together!" Tracey shrieked unnecessarily, "GET IT!?"
Ash sped up, so that he was running like Misty, who was out of sight.
"Whatcha doing, Ash?" Tracey asked with fake innocence, "Trying to catch up with your one and only soul mate!?"
"Yeah, what do you call what you're doing, huh, Ash!?" Brock called out.
"What do YOU think, Brock?" Tracey warmly asked.
"Oh, I dunno," mocked Brock, "Maybe AAML?"
"What do YOU think, Ash?"
Ash ignored them as best as he could.
Finally, Ash's house was in sight. Ash thankfully hurried to the door, where he saw his mom standing in the doorway, waiting. When he got to her, he saw she was looking inside the house. When Ash greeted her, she looked around and he saw that his mom looked puzzled, but smiled when she saw him.
"Oh, hi, honey," she greeted, "Misty must be very hungry. She already inside waiting." Ash found that he had underestimated Misty's determination to escape the commotion. "So… how did your first try at tennis go?"
"… Uh… well, not too good."
"Oh?" She frowned. "Why?"
"Hi, Mrs. Ketchum," Brock said. He and Tracey had finally caught up. "Did Ash tell you about how we played?"
"No. What happened?"
"Well," Tracey began, "We ended up playing a whole set, six games, and me and Brock won every game!"
"Wow, good for you," Mrs. Ketchum muttered, thinking that she had understood Ash's comment.
"But the weird thing was," Brock continued, "Every game was AAML!"
"AAML?" Mrs. Ketchum questioned. "What's that?"
"Ask Ash. He knows better than us."
"… No comment."
TO BE CONTINUED…
Hee, hee! AAML is a wonderful thing, huh? PLEASE REVIEW! As I previously said, I already have the second and final part written and ready to post, but I would like some feedback first. You don't have to worry about missing the second posting, because I'm going to tell you when I'm posting it. On TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2004 I will be posting Part Two, so don't miss it! (Hey, who'd want to?) See 'ya, and please review!