Hearts and Minds

By Kawaii Cherry Blossom

Author Notes: Hi, everyone. Once again, I apologise for the long wait you have had for this chapter. I guess you must be used to that nowadays, though. I have an excuse though, kinda – aside from my life just being crazy busy in general, I started reading the Twilight series recently…and could not put it down. All of my spare time went to finishing it, which I did last night! Hehe. Now that I've finished it, I can concentrate on writing again. Yay! Anyways, I hope this monster of a chapter is enough to make up for the wait. At 17 pages it should have something for everyone! Hehe. Especially for any Contestshippers reading – I hope you enjoy this chapter. :)

A few things before you start reading…

I have put a new poll on my profile about whether you would like Dawn to be made into a main character by transferring to the school. I would love some feedback as it has been something I have been contemplating!

Also, while I had a bit of writer's block and spare time (doesn't happen often!) I made a little video just for fun, with the 'cast' of Hearts and Minds – actors I would choose if this were to be a TV show. It's just a bit of fun, but if you want to take a look my youtube name is kawaiicherryblossom1.

Lastly, if you enjoy Hearts and Minds you might think about checking out the fanfic 'All For One' by the amazing licoricejellybean. It's a great fic and I think you will all enjoy it immensely.

Ok, on with the chapter…

Chapter 19

The First Cut is the Deepest

Gary stood outside the gates to Viridian High, frozen in place as he stalled from stepping inside. There weren't many people around; he had made sure to arrive earlier than usual to avoid being the centre of attention amongst hundreds of other nosy, gossiping teenagers. It was hard enough to do this without people staring at him and gossiping and pretending they were sorry and they understood. Gary was well and truly over their fake sympathy. Thankfully, this was the last week of school before a two-week break, but this week also held one of the most important dates of the school calendar: Year 12 Retreat. Viridian High put a lot of emphasis on school retreats, seeing them as a chance for students to bond and spend time together away from school. This would be the last chance for this year's Year 12's to do so. Not that Gary cared. But he hoped it would be a welcome distraction from his troubles. Adjusting his maroon and navy striped school tie nervously, he reluctantly and hesitantly walked inside.

Misty, May and Erika sat on their usual table, chatting and catching up on the weekend past.

"So Misty… Tell us…" Erika coaxed. "How was it?!"

Misty blushed, radiating with happiness and love as she gushed about her date.

"It was amazing. I don't know what happened to Ash to turn him into a completely different person – he was romantic and thoughtful…"

"So where did he take you?" Erika demanded, cooing. Misty smiled thoughtfully.

"Well…you know that French restaurant on Oceana Road? The one I always talk about?" Erika nodded knowingly.


"That's so romantic…" May forced a smile, pushing away the pang of jealousy and hurt that swayed through her. She had accepted the fact that Ash would never be interested in her, and she was genuinely happy for him and Misty. But still, she couldn't help but wish that she was the one reminiscing about a date with him.

"Then we went for a walk on the pier…" Misty continued, "It was just a really wonderful night. He put in so much effort."

"What a good boy!" Erika laughed, happy that her friends had finally found happiness with one-another. It had been a long time coming…

"What about you Erika?" May asked knowingly. "How long did you end up staying at Brock's for?"

Erika blushed furiously. Misty raised an eyebrow, as her curious eyes glanced between and May. May smiled, anticipating that something had happened.

"Erika! What happened?!" Misty demanded impatiently, confused.

"Well… Brock and I…we…we kinda…" she hesitated as her friends' eager eyes stared back at her. "Kissed."

Misty almost fell off of her chair in surprise, while May smiled knowingly.

"You and Brock?!" Misty was astonished.

"Yeah…" Erika trailed off, emerald eyes clouded with bewilderment. "It was late and we were chatting and…it just kinda…happened…" she explained.

"You…and Brock?" Misty was utterly stunned at this development. "Wow…"

"I know," Erika smiled shyly. "I never expected to feel this way about him – he's always been so girl-crazy. But lately he's changed. I don't know…he's just…different."

"So how do you feel about it now?" May asked.

"I don't know…" Erika replied, putting her head in her hands exasperatedly. "I really don't know."

There were students everywhere now, but there was no way for Gary to avoid them anymore as he made his way across the school to his first classroom. Better to do it now than when the bell went, but nonetheless, he felt millions of pairs of eyes on him, staring, whispering and gossiping. He kept his head down, pretending to sort through the pile of books in his arms instead. It was only when a familiar voice caught his ear that he did glance up.

She was chatting with her friends, probably happily recounting her date with Ash. He felt that familiar yet confusing feeling of jealousy rise up within him as he thought about it. He tried to force his eyes away from her, to walk faster, but it was too late – she had seen him.

Misty froze as she caught site of Gary's brown eyes, staring at her from across the school yard. Their eyes locked momentarily, uneasiness burning between their gaze. Her brow furrowed as she lingered on his figure, a wilted version of the rose he used to be, before she forced herself to look away, hoping her friends hadn't noticed her brief lack of attention to their conversation.

"Hey look, Gary's back," Erika pointed out as she glanced in his direction, pointing him out.

'Shit,' Misty thought anxiously. 'She saw me.'

"Wow… Poor thing. He must be suffering," May mused sadly, and Erika agreed with a solemn nod. Misty sighed in relief. Thank God, they hadn't noticed.

"So... Retreat is this week, right?" Misty was quick to change the subject, distracting herself from the look in Gary's eyes.

'I wonder where we'll be going," Erika pondered aloud.

"As long as we're not camping, I'll be happy!" Misty exclaimed passionately.

"How come?" May asked curiously.

"There are three things I hate in this world," Misty ranted, as though she were rehearsing the lines of a play. "Carrots, peppers and bugs," she emphasized the last one as her face wrinkled in disgust. "And camping involves bugs, lots of bugs."

"Oh," May remarked as Erika was trying to hold back her laughter at Misty's 'performance'.

"In other words, she's afraid of them," Erika said.

"Really?" May asked innocently, wondering whether they were pulling her leg.


"I am not! They're just gross!" Misty's cheeks flushed red with embarrassment as she defended herself, while Erika and May tried to stop from bursting into fits of laughter.

"So Ash," Brock nudged his friend with his elbow after they had met up at Ash's locker. "Does that ecstatic smile on your face mean that your date with Misty went well?"

A blush crept onto Ash's face as he swung his locker door open.

"It was better than I could have imagined," Ash couldn't force the smile from his face even if he wanted to. Brock raised his eyebrows with a sly smirk, intrigued.

"Care to explain?"

Ash's red cheeks grew redder. He felt it weird to talk about his feelings for Misty, even if it was to his best friend.

"I dunno Brock, it's so weird. Remember when Misty and I first met? On that first day of middle school, when I accidentally wrecked her bike and she swore she would not get off my case until I paid her back? I couldn't stand her – I thought she was so snobby and mean!" Brock nodded, remembering in amusement the way they used to bicker about everything.

"But now that's all changed, and the other night I realised that…well…I don't ever want to be without her. It seems stupid," Ash shook his head and wished his cheeks would stop burning!

"It's not stupid Ash," Brock crossed his arms. "Sometimes love is inevitable."

"Yeah," Ash pretended to understand Brock's too-thoughtful-for-him comment. "So…what did you do on the rest of your weekend?"

It was Brock's turn to blush now.

"Uh…" he was unsure whether he should tell anyone about what had happened between he and Erika until he had first talked to her about it. But there was probably no harm in telling Ash, in fact, he was sure Erika was telling Misty and May about it right now…

"Hello? Brock-o?" Ash was waving his hand in front of Brock's face, trying to get the attention of his glazed-over eyes.

"Oh, sorry," Brock finally came back to earth. An apologetic smile crossed his face.

"Are you ok? Did something happen?" Ash's question was coated slightly in worry, and slightly in curiosity.

"Actually…yes," Brock stated, causing Ash's brow to rise questioningly.

"What?!" Ash questioned impatiently. He could sense from Brock's expression that it wasn't something bad, and he was dying to know!

"Erika stayed at my house after you guys left on Saturday. It was late and we were outside and we…we kind of…kissed."

"What?" Ash was dumbfounded. His mouth hung open and then clamped shut ten times over – he wanted to say something, but he was speechless. Brock and Erika???

"I'm guessing you're a little shocked?" Brock detected.

"Uh…a little?!" Ash found his voice.

"I am, too," Brock admitted, his eyes turning thoughtful.

"What…what happened afterward?" Ash's voice was unsteady, still ridden with muted shock.

"It was a little weird… I don't know. It wasn't bad."

"Do you…like…Erika?" Ash was clearly inexperienced at giving advice to anyone about love, especially Brock.



Brock had to laugh at Ash's flabbergasted expression; this was clearly out of the blue, for him just as much as anyone.

"So what are you going to do? Talk to her?" Ash asked, and Brock nodded in response.

"I guess. I just hope it doesn't end badly and make our friendship weird…you know?"

Ash understood this better than anyone.

"Well, I think you and Erika would make a great couple." Brock was grateful for Ash's support.

"Thanks, Ash."

"You and Erika…" Ash shook his head to make sure he wasn't dreaming, as he closed his locker door and started off down the hallway with Brock. "Wow…"

James felt gloomy and unhappy as he walked to his classroom for home group, only to find a note on the door saying that the class was cancelled and all Year 12's were to meet in the lecture theatre. He sighed glumly and turned. His thoughts only consisted of one thing these days – Jessie. Everything else was somehow less important than her – school, his future, university – much to the dismay of his father, who was now on his case every chance he got. James hadn't spoken a word to Jessie ever since their conversation in the park last week. This wasn't by choice, of course. She had not been back to school. He had tried and tried to call her, text her, e-mail her…but no reply came. The absence of communication was driving James crazy. He constantly felt as though his stomach was knotted in worry, like his soul was in desperate need to see her, to know that she was ok. As he reached the lecture theatre and took a seat near the back, he wondered what he could do to prove that he cared about her, that he wanted nothing more than to see her recover from the damage her step-father had caused. And he wanted to be there, to help her get better. The look in her eyes that day, when he had told her that he loved her…he would never forget it. It was as though she wanted so desperately to believe him, yet, something inside of her would not allow that. He had to find out what that something was.

James wondered how many days he would have to sit and think these same thoughts, intensified by time. How long could he go before he had to step in, to go to her house or call her mother? She would hate that. But perhaps that was the only way to show her how much he cared? Maybe then she would believe him.

In an uncanny irony, as James settled his gaze on the door he was sure Jessie wasn't going to walk through, she did just that. Jessie's slim figure, dressed in her school uniform and with her long red hair tied back into a ponytail, walked into the lecture theatre. For a few seconds, James felt his breath leave him and he remained in a choked stranglehold of unexpected shock. Her face was expressionless as she walked to find a seat, giving James no clue as to how she was doing or feeling. He had to wonder whether he was dreaming, but no; there she was, right in front of his eyes.

Jessie knew that everyone's eyes were upon her, but that was ok. She had prepared herself for it, and she could deal with it. Despite this, she did not linger – she took the first empty seat she came across, at the end of an aisle where she could make a quick escape. There was one thing she wasn't sure how she was going to deal with today – James. For days he had been trying to make contact with her, but she had been ignoring him. She thought back to that day in the park. She was such a complete and utter mess. It was amazing how a few pills could make such a difference. She felt…strong, almost; happy, almost. Not quite but almost. And almost was better than she had been for a very long time. She had at first doubted her need to rely on any medication to get over this, but as days passed and she was still feeling the pull of fear and panic drag her down into the bottomless depths of depression, she had decided that she needed to try something, anything, to make it stop. And it had. The insomnia and the vivid nightmares when she could sleep, the constant feeling of terror and fear, the scary feeling of wanting to punch a wall one second, and crawl under her covers and hide the next… But no more did she face those challenges. Jessie felt like she could face the world again, like she could move on with her life. To her, right now, it was the best feeling in the world.

As Ash glanced idly around the lecture theatre, his eyes widened as they locked onto the cold, indifferent eyes of…

'Gary?' Ash froze, caught off guard at seeing his former rival back at school already. It had only been two weeks since the funeral. He didn't expect him to be back so soon. Ash struggled with a reaction as Gary's eyes bore into his. What should he do? A smile hardly seemed appropriate, and he couldn't exactly yell a hello across the room. Instead, he nodded his head in acknowledgement, uneasiness filling his eyes.

Gary's eyes, on the other hand, heralded no emotion, no reaction. His features tightened as he glanced away.

"Thank you Year 12's," Ash didn't get a chance to reflect upon Gary's demeanor as Mrs Scott stepped up to the front of the theatre, commanding their attention. The students quieted down almost immediately, eager to hear about the plans for their retreat.

"As you know, this Wednesday is your Year 12 Retreat. This will be your last high school retreat and so it is a very important event on the school calendar. I suppose you have all been pretty curious as to the finer details of this event," Mrs Scott said with a coy smile as her students engaged in a few seconds of chatter.

"This year," she commanded their attention once again, "the theme of the Retreat is 'Ready to Fly'. As you all know, after this year you will be set out into the world to start your adult lives. But before you do that, we will be getting to know each other, and ourselves, better. We hope that this Retreat will prepare you for whatever you choose to do next year."

Brock's heart beat faster as he glanced over at Erika, sitting four seats away from him. In a strange occurrence of timing, she turned to unexpectedly meet his eyes. He smiled at her, feeling his chest tighten at the sight of her beautiful green eyes. Her cheeks reddened slightly as she smiled back, and then turned back to face the teacher.

"The Retreat this year will be three days and two nights. We leave on Wednesday morning at 8 am sharp…for…Viridian Forest!" Mrs Scott clasped her hands together as her eyes lit up in excitement. "Yes, Year 12's, we'll be camping!"

Misty's face fell. Erika and May glanced at each other, then at Misty's horrified face, and then back to one another as they tried not to burst into fits of laughter.

"Your home group teachers will hand out permission slips and lists of what you will need to bring along with you," Mrs Scott went on. "Permission slips need to be returned tomorrow, please."

After a few more minutes of instruction, the students were finally dismissed. A low hum of chatter filled the air as they milled out of the theatre.

James was out of his seat in a millisecond, pushing through the crowd rudely to reach her. He had not listened to a word of that assembly – his mind was only focused on Jessie, on trying to see her face, on anticipating what they would say to each other when they finally spoke after what felt to him like so long. He had to reach her, to catch up to her. But when he reached the bottom level of the lecture theatre where she was sitting, there was no sign of her. He searched the crowd desperately for any sign of her glistening red hair, but she was nowhere to be seen. He practically ran out into the busy corridor, but no luck there either. She was gone and James was crushed. He thought she would at least wait for him… Why was she avoiding him?

"May," May whipped around when she heard her name being called, to find that it was Mrs Scott asking to speak with her, "have you got a second?"

"Sure…" May's blue eyes shone with curiosity. She liked Mrs Scott, but couldn't imagine what she could want from her.

"I wanted to ask you a favour… Well, you and your band, actually. During retreat, we'll be having a campfire, you know, just a laid-back time for everyone to relax. And I thought it might be nice to have some music."

May's interest perked – this sounded like fun.

"I have a few songs in mind. All it needs to be is a few acoustic songs. What do you think?"

"That sounds great!" May agreed wholeheartedly, drawing a relieved smile from Mrs Scott.

"That's fantastic May," she fished around in her bag and eventually pulled out a CD. "The songs are on here, but if you have any other suggestions I'd love to hear them."

"Great," May took the CD with a smile and waved goodbye to her teacher, eager to hear the new songs and tell Chanel about it.

Jessie lingered outside of her English class, not because she didn't want to go to class, but because she knew James would be in that class with her. She had been successfully avoiding him all day, still unsure as to how she wanted to deal with that delicate situation. Yes, she loved James. Such fact was unquestionable – in her heart, she just knew. But Jessie was broken, and James didn't deserve that. She wouldn't let herself drag him down, no matter how much better she was feeling. He was too great a person; he had a promising future ahead of him. But Jessie didn't, not right now. She could only take it day by day. If she was with him she would only get left behind, and James being James would undoubtedly stay behind with her, risking his future in the process.

Being unselfish was painstakingly difficult – it wasn't like she didn't want him. She longed to feel his protective arms around her, to hear him say he loved her again, and that he would never leave her. But Jessie needed to be strong now, and she was sure this was the only way to make him from making a big mistake.

Nervousness was a terrible feeling – it clawed at Brock's stomach menacingly, almost to the point that he wanted to throw up. He had never felt so apprehensive in his entire life, but he knew that the reason behind it was worth all the trouble. For right now, Brock had a study period, and he knew that Erika did, too.

Brock suppressed a sigh as he shuffled his books in his locker. Usually, Erika would meet him here and they would go someplace to study together. He was trying very hard to wait patiently for her, but his anxiousness about their impending conversation was disallowing any such calmness. He had been trying to play the conversation in his head, attempting to decide what he would say and how he would say it, but the fact that he didn't know where she stood stopped him from making any decisions. He just hoped that their kiss hadn't destroyed their friendship. Brock could not bear that – he relied on Erika more than he had realised before he thought about losing her. It was kind of ironic how he had talked Ash through this exact problem for years, and now it was happening to him. He knew now why it took Ash so long to act upon his feelings, but Brock didn't have the luxury of time. He and Erika were already wrapped up in the friendship-or-relationship web.

At least Brock knew where he stood. Erika was like…a ray of sunlight in his otherwise cloudy life. He hadn't realised he cared for her so deeply until their lips had met two nights ago. Everything about her was incredible to him. She was the most caring, selfless person he knew. She was graceful and beautiful and…

"Hi, Brock." …standing right behind him.

Brock whipped around in a rush, his face flushed from the shock of her voice breaking up his embarrassing inner thoughts.

"Uh…hi, Erika!" he stumbled over the words and they came out too fast. He wanted to slap himself but he couldn't help his clumsiness – it was like all of a sudden she had some sort of power over him – the power to knock him out with a single smile.

She only laughed, cocking her head to the side slightly as her eyes lit up in amusement.

"Are you ok?" she asked, her eyes still heralding the same humour, as if she thought it funny how easily she could control him. He shook his head, banishing the silly thought with the conclusion that he was losing it.

"Yeah," he replied as coolly as he could. Her emerald eyes dimmed then, the brightness giving way to a darker emotion which Brock could not identify.

"Do you want to go somewhere to talk?" Brock was kind of pleased at her direct question, but wished he had had the strength to ask it.

"Good idea," he nodded, swallowing the nervousness that had formed a lump in his throat and was making words hard to speak.

Jessie could feel James' eyes on her as their English teacher waffled on about their next assignment. It was unnerving her to have someone watching her so intensely, yet at the same time she was almost comforted with his emerald eyes on her. She glanced over at him inconspicuously, meeting his desperate gaze. Jessie sighed helplessly and turned away, putting her head down and pretending to read her unfinished notes.

She knew she would be letting James down. He had told her he loved her, and she knew without a doubt that he had meant every word of his admission to her. He only wanted the best for her, only wanted to take care of her. She was going to break his heart, or maybe she already had as she could painstakingly see in his eyes.

But that didn't change anything. She was doing this for him. It was already killing her, gnawing at her insides viciously. But someday he would understand. And someday, she would forgive herself.

Jessie took a deep breath to calm herself and took her mobile phone out of her pocket. Hiding it behind her stack of books so the teacher didn't see, she sent a short text.

We will talk – after school today.

A few seconds later, she saw movement from her right. Jessie turned her head slightly to see James take his own phone out. Her heart broke even further as she watched his face soften in relief. Her eyes narrowed in pain; she turned away before he had the chance to set his calmed eyes upon her – she was sure such a vision would shatter her already fragile state.

Brock and Erika made their way to their usual table. They always came here during their study periods. Though it was a cool autumn day, the sun was out, its warm rays soaking their cold skin to their delight.

Brock sat down across from Erika, placing his books on the table in front of him, though he knew he probably wouldn't even be opening them. As he looked back up at Erika, he noticed the way the slight breeze whisked through her hair, and her emerald eyes sparkled like real gems in the sunlight. She was beautiful.

"This is weird, right?" her unexpected comment broke the awkward ice a little, for which Brock was thankful.

"Yeah," he agreed with a small laugh. "Erika…" he began, but she cut him off.

"I understand if you don't feel that way about me, Brock," her voice was small but not unsteady. It did, however, hold a tone of finality, as if she was assuming rather than asking.

"What would make you think that?" he was perplexed by her apparent conclusiveness. She didn't appear to be nervous at all, almost as if she knew exactly how this conversation was going to play out, and how it would end.

"I'm not really your type," she pointed out. He couldn't tell what she was feeling – her face heralded no clear emotion, nothing for him to go by. He raised an eyebrow at her question.

"I have a type?" She laughed.

"Well…the girls you usually go for…they look like future supermodels, you know," she laughed slightly, but not out of humour. She looked sort of sad for a few seconds, before her eyes lightened slightly into a neither happy nor sad smile.

Brock was disappointed by the turn this conversation had taken – it was not what he had expected at all. He needed to counteract some way, to divert this conversation to the road he wanted it to take.

"None of those girls are like you, Erika," his voice was steady and serious, his eyes fixed on hers as they flickered in confusion. "You're different. You're…better than any of them."

"Brock…" her eyes had widened in astonishment at his words – they were so unexpected to her.

"You are the most caring person I know," he went on, "and everything you've done for me and my family…it just proves what a kind and generous person you are. Most people wouldn't go to such lengths, but you do so without a second thought. You have a good heart, Erika."

Erika was blushing furiously at his words, words he spoke without any hesitation or second thought. She tried to speak, but her voice would not cooperate, and she instead stuttered a few times before eventually giving up. Brock smiled at this, glad he had steered the conversation into the right direction.

"What I'm trying to say is…" he paused, feeling his cheeks flush slightly. "What happened the other night…it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Erika was horrified to think that her face probably looked as red as a tomato right now; she was completely overcome by emotion at his words, words she had been hoping and praying she would hear. He felt the same… He actually felt the same. She wondered whether she was actually sitting in class, having one of her daydreams, but as the breeze whipped through her hair she knew it was too real for that. This was actually happening.

In the brief silence, Brock was growing nervous. She looked deep in contemplative thought, her brow furrowing as she came to grips with what his words meant. But what if he had misinterpreted her? What if she regretted their kiss? What if she didn't…?

"I just…I can't believe you… I feel the same way, Brock," she felt a weight lifting from her shoulders as she spoke the words she had been dying to say. "I was so scared you didn't, so I didn't want to say anything… But I do…"

Brock recovered from his panic with a relieved smile, and even a small laugh.

"What's so funny?" Erika raised an eyebrow with a smirk.

"Well it's just…it's very… 'Ash and Misty', isn't it?"

Erika couldn't help but stifle a few giggles at that in agreement. "Yeah, maybe it's contagious?"

"So Erika, what do you say?" he stood, holding his hand out to her. "Will you be my girlfriend?"

Erika giggled up at him; she could actually feel her heart lurching at his adorable gesture. She reached her hand out to grasp his and stood so that she was facing him.

"I would be honoured," she mocked with a laugh.

He put his arms around her, holding her freely, no longer afraid to cross the boundaries beyond friendship. It was finally time for Erika and Brock's happy ending.

Normally, Jessie would rejoice at the sound of the last school bell for the day, but today, not so much. Its shrill ring felt like a knife to her skin as she realised what it meant. It wasn't just the end of the school day. It was the end of so much more.

As she stood from her desk and threw her books in her bag, Jessie realised she still had not worked out what she was going to say. Should she just be blunt and cruel, lie and say she doesn't want him? Or should she just tell him the truth? Would she even be able to make him understand? Or would she not be able to let him go?

These questions circled in Jessie's head, as crowded and distracting as the packed corridor she walked through. When she was finally out into the open, she took a deep breath, the cool air outside waking her from her trance.

A few seconds later, James walked around the corner of the brick school building. His face was strangely vacant of any tangible emotion. Even as he got closer and his emerald eyes fixed on hers, she couldn't tell how he was feeling, what he was thinking. She thought, perhaps, that that was a good thing.

"Hi," his deep voice was all she could hear in the crowded school environment. She nodded an acknowledgement, trying very hard to calm herself, to figure out how she was going to do this. To figure out how she was going to break James' heart.

They walked in silence, out of the school gates and away from all the commotion of the end of the day.

Jessie felt uncomfortable with James walking beside her. She felt an odd sense of optimism emanating from him, like he was confident that she was here to reconcile with him rather than what she was about to do – the complete opposite. The guilt she felt at that moment was as crushing as a landslide falling onto her.

They reached the park within minutes – every second taken up by silence.

Jessie's heart was pounding erratically; it seemed so loud that she was almost positive James could hear it. Her stomach was doing backflips meanwhile, tossing her senses around as she tried to focus on the matter at hand.

"James…" she began, but it came out as a choked murmur – there seemed to be something wedged in her throat, blocking her voice. She cleared it as his eyes narrowed in wonder and worry. He didn't interrupt her – it was pretty obvious to him that she had something to say. He felt dread rise up within him, even though she had said nothing to indicate he should feel that way. It was the look in her eyes which scared him the most. The façade she was trying desperately to maintain had all but vanished, lost to the despair that replaced it.

"James…" she tried again, and this time her voice came out a little louder – loud enough. Inwardly, she took a deep breath. He had sensed something was wrong, she could now see it clear as a cloudless sky in his emerald eyes.

"I am so grateful for everything you have done for me. If it weren't for you, I don't know where I would be right now. You have saved me both physically and mentally…" Jessie trailed off, but James could hear where the conversation was leading from the tone of her voice. A 'but' was coming…

"But…" though he had expected it, her words pierced his skin like a knife wound. "I can't do this to you anymore…" it was too late to hold back the tears now; Jessie felt all of her resistance fail as the hot wetness gathered in her eyes, burning them as she fought to stop them from falling.

"What do you mean?" James needed clarification of the outrageous words that she had just spoken.

"You're such an incredible person, James. The most incredible person I have ever met. I've never known anybody like you…" the loss Jessie was feeling at this moment was so heavy, weighing her down as she remained trapped beneath it.

"I am eternally grateful for what you have done for me. But I am not done healing. It is going to take a very, very long time for me to feel better about myself and about the world. And I won't let you sit by and wait for me to do that. That is why I can't let you waste your life on me…" the tears would not stop pouring now as Jessie's voice cracked, just as her heart was cracking apart inside her. James' eyes darkened, but he remained patient, letting her finish.

"You have so much ahead of you; your life is going to be full of success. You will go so far, James, but you know that you won't be able to do that with me. I will drag you down, and you being you will stay behind with me, and in the meantime you will miss every opportunity. I can't live with that, James. Don't you see? I am bad for you."

The words hung in the air, thick with tension pulling down upon them. Jessie dropped her gaze to the floor, trying to gather her composure, to stop the tears. They made her feel weak – she didn't want to look this way to him. She wanted him to know that she was going to be okay without him. Right now she was proving exactly the opposite.

"No," James uttered, his eyes fixed on her downward gaze. She brought her eyes up to meet his, guilt framing her features. She should have known from the beginning that this relationship could never work out. She was selfish to think otherwise, and all she had achieved was to hurt him.

"I love you Jessie," she cringed at the words, knowing how much he meant them, "and I would do anything for you. Anything. How can you think that I would see it that way? That you would think I am wasting my time? Without you, my life is a meaningless shell – worthless," James watched Jessie's expression carefully as he spoke, but with each word it only contorted more with pain. Why was she being so selfless, when he didn't want her to?

Jessie shook her head slowly, pursing her lips for a moment before speaking, "you're wrong… I am not going to drag you down. I won't do that to you. We can't be together James. You will find the right person someday but it's not me," Jessie felt physically sick at the thought of him with someone else, but the harsh words were becoming necessary. It hurt her even more to know that he loved her too much to let her go so easily.

James was barely staying afloat, it seemed like he was kicking with so much force and yet it was having no effect. He was still drowning, still choking, and she was slipping away no matter how hard he tried to hold on to her in the crashing waves.

"Don't do this, Jessie…" he was pleading with her now – what other option was there?

"It's for the best," she tried to smile through her tears but her attempt only ended up as a grimace.

"No. It's not. I want to be there for you, Jess. I want to help you through this."

"You have already done way too much for me. Way more than I ever expected. But we're two different people, from different worlds. You're destined for success; I am destined for…well, who knows… But we are certainly not on the same path, James."

"None of that matters," he shook his head vehemently in protest. "None of it matters to me. I…"

"Please, James," Jessie had no fight left in her now, only desperate pleading. "I want the best for you, and that's not me, not right now… I am going to get better, I promise, but you need to live your life. Be the person I know you can be. Maybe…maybe later…when I am in a better place, maybe if we're really meant to be then it will work out. But not now, now you need to concentrate on yourself. On your future."

James was losing grip on her as he desperately scrambled for a comeback. But all he had was the one fact he knew: he loved her, and he cared about nothing else. But that wasn't enough for her, she wouldn't have it, wouldn't accept it.

Knowing she had him now, Jessie took a step back, fighting back tears once more, trying to overcome the wedge in her throat and speak through the pain it was causing.

"I'm sorry James," but that was all she could manage, and as all of her remaining self control buckled under the pressure, she turned and fled, leaving James broken and alone.

After school the next day, May wandered down Rundle Street, one of Viridian's many tree-lined shopping avenues, absentmindedly glancing in shop windows as she passed them by. She had made a detour into the city on her way home from school, in need of some new clothes for camp and wanting a distraction from her thoughts after a bad day – something which, for her, shopping always provided. Her interest perked as she came to Urban Outfitters, one of her favourite stores. The young shop assistant smiled at May as she entered the store and drifted to the women's section, browsing through the racks of clothing to see if there was anything she liked. Across from her, a young couple laughed as they shopped together, and then leant in for a kiss. May glanced back down at the colourful range of clothes on the rack with a rueful sigh. It seemed like everyone was in love with someone right now. Ash and Misty, Erika and Brock, the two people with their public display of affection in front of her… May wasn't one to need a boyfriend all the time, but sometimes there was a big difference between need and want. She had made some amazing friends since her arrival in Viridian, and she thought herself very lucky for that. But still, the lingering feeling of loneliness that coursed through her like an icy wind was hard to ignore. Being in love was the most amazing feeling; though May had tried very hard to suppress her memories of the happiness she had felt with Lucas, she would never forget the bliss that she felt when he told her he loved her, or how safe and protected she felt in his arms… May wondered whether she would be able to love like that again; he had, after all, taken a giant part of her with him when he died…

And then there was Ash… May was sure she could love Ash – how could anyone not love him? He was amazing – gentle, kind, funny, caring…and also completely unavailable. With the beautiful and fiery Misty at his side, he was sure never to look her way, she was sure of it. She was, after all, nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a girl with a dark past and an uncertain future…

May came to the end of the clothes rack, having found nothing she liked enough to try on, but suddenly she didn't feel much like shopping anymore. Slightly dejected, she left the store. The breeze was turning cool outside, and May shivered as she continued walking past decorated shop windows. But their carefully placed displays failed to attract her attention now; she was over shopping, but didn't want to go home just yet. As she was debating what to do, her eyes fell upon a small park across the road. It was small, with only a slide, a small jungle gym and a swing, but it would provide somewhere quiet for her to pass some time before going home.

She sat upon the flimsy seat of the swing, resting into it as she leaned her head on the cold metal chain holding it up.

'What is wrong with me?

Why do I feel so…depressed?

I have a good life here, good friends, a great family, and school is ok…

If anything, I'm lucky…

But there is a part of me…something that feels…wrong…like…I can't find what I'm looking for…like I'm always searching for something that's not there.

Why do some girls…like Misty…have all the confidence in the world? They know what they want, they go after it, and they get it. But not me. The only time I don't stumble is when I'm on stage. And that's only, right now, because of…Ash…

Ash… If Misty wasn't his soulmate, could he ever love me? Could anyone ever love me? Am I too broken, too wounded now…?'

"You know, for a pretty girl, you sure frown a lot," a familiar sounding, nasally voice nabbed her attention, and May glanced up to find…

"Drew?" her voice was sour as she mouthed her surprise to find him standing there, dressed impeccably in expensive looking jeans and an Ed Hardy t-shirt, and bursting with smug confidence as usual.

"In the flesh," he turned his nose up in his usual annoying fashion.

"You know, sometimes it feels like you're stalking me, turning up wherever I am," she mouthed dryly. He replied only with an indifferent shrug, and moved to sit on the swing beside her. May watched him with subdued interest, wondering what he could possibly want from her.

"So…what are you doing sitting out here on your own?" his eyes didn't meet hers; he almost looked…uncomfortable.

May shrugged, not really in the mood for talking or playing along with whatever game he was playing today. She didn't meet his eyes, choosing instead to glance down at the bark chips on the ground beneath her. She swung back and forth gently; the chain squeaked loudly in the quiet surroundings. Drew was silent, but as the seconds ticked by, she could feel his eyes on her – he was staring so intensely that she felt sort of uncomfortable. She glanced up at him, and sure enough, his emerald green eyes bore straight into hers. Quickly enough, he glanced away, and May could have sworn his cheeks flushed a little, though she didn't read much in to it.

"What do you want, Drew? Why are you here?" she sighed, fed up and confused at his presence.

His perfect features crumpled in surprise at her words, so thickly coated in frustration.

"I…" he stumbled uncharacteristically, truly shocked by her attitude. "I was just walking by and saw you sitting here alone, and…it's uh…not safe, you know, to be here on your own when it's getting dark," he trailed off uncomfortably.

"Yeah, well, I don't need saving or protecting. I'm just fine," she barked stubbornly.

"Did something happen to you?" he asked out of the blue, his emerald eyes shone with an emotion May couldn't pinpoint. Something between annoyance and concern.

"No," she said a little too forcefully that it sounded like she was lying. "I just want to be alone for a while, is that such a bad thing?"

"Oh…I get it."

"Get what?"

"Why you're acting so weird."

"You don't even know me well enough to know I'm acting weird!" she retorted angrily at his assumptions.

"Nah, but I know girls," he replied smugly with a sly wink, "and when to stay away from them."

As she realised what he was saying, May grit her teeth in fury as her eyes burned with irritation. Now completely fed up with his pathetic behavior, she stood up, leaving the swing to fall around violently behind her, scooped up her school bag and stalked away.

"Wait!" she was only a few feet away from him when his voice – coated with slight humour, called out. May whipped around furiously, her azure eyes blazing.

"Now you look here!" she yelled viciously, but was deterred when she saw his reaction. "What the hell are you laughing at?!" her fists clenched as she took in his perfect face while he laughed carelessly. She wanted to punch it.

"See, I knew you were in there somewhere," he seemed perfectly at ease with her foreboding stature, cheeks red with frustration as she glowered at him.

"What are you talking about?!"

"Depression doesn't suit you," his face turned serious as he watched her carefully, seemingly having all the control.

May was flabbergasted at his random comment, and at his apparent knowledge of exactly who she was, but nonetheless, she lowered her guard.

"I…I'm not depressed," her voice lowered a few octaves as she defended herself.

"It's ok," he apparently wasn't accusing her. "We're musicians…and we feel things differently."

May narrowed her eyes in bewilderment. "How so…?"

"I mean…" his features softened uncomfortably once again, "it's like we feel every part of an emotion, every feeling behind it, like it's amplified tenfold."

May's blue eyes widened as his words – they were completely accurate, as if he had just taken a journey through her thoughts. It was true. But right now, she supposed it was irrelevant. Whether she was depressed or not wasn't the issue – her life was the issue.

"That may be true…" she shifted uncomfortably. "But I still don't get why you're here."

"Like I said, I was just making sure you weren't about to get kidnapped or mugged," he replied quickly.

"Right," she turned – his unpredictably bizarre attitude was exhausting her. She wanted to go home. "Bye, Drew."

"Where are you going?" he called out after her.

"Home," she didn't bother turning.

"And how are you getting home?"

May paused mid-step and glanced around at the near-deserted street, noting the increasing darkness.

"Uh…" she was trying to decide the same thing herself.

"Look…" Drew approached her, taking out his keys and dangling them in front of her. "Why don't you let me drive you home?"

"No, it's fine. I'll…catch the bus. Plus, my mum always told me not to accept rides from strangers," she said with mild humour.

"Geez, you have got to be the most stubborn person I know!" his perfect features crumpled in aggravation, but he calmed himself immediately. "Where do you live?"

May sighed, giving in. For some reason, she knew she could trust Drew, even though she barely knew him, and he was probably the most irritating person she had ever met.

"In Bellevue Gardens, on East Avenue," she explained, and he nodded.

"As a matter of fact, that's on my way."

Silence engulfed them as May followed Drew to his car, which was parked about two minutes down the road. She raised an eyebrow when she saw the shiny, brand new silver BMW she was about to be driven home in.

"Nice car…" she uttered.

Drew caught sight of her expression and let out a slight chuckle.

The car was as impressive on the inside as it was on the outside, with a spectacularly lit dash, an expensive looking stereo system and leather trim.

"Is this yours?" she asked as he started up the car. He nodded idly.

"A gift from my parents for my eighteenth birthday."

"Wow…" she was dumbfounded, but not really surprised. The way Drew looked, dressed, walked – it was pretty obvious he was from a wealthy family. "I got a new camera when I turned eighteen," she laughed at the uncanny distinction, and he even laughed along for a few moments, before his features stiffened and he became serious once more.

"So, do you want to talk now about why you were sitting in a park in the middle of the city all alone?" he kept his eyes on the road, but his voice held no emotion. May couldn't tell if he really cared or if he was just fishing for things to hold against her. Choosing the latter, she let out an exasperated sigh.

"I just wanted some alone time. Geez, is that such a crime?!"

"No," he seemed to take no notice of her sudden anger. "But I can still tell there's something wrong."

"You don't know me well enough to be able to tell that." Drew shrugged, eyes still focused on the road in front of him.

"Maybe. Fine, so you don't want to talk about that. So, tell me about yourself."

May turned to look at him, her eyes narrowed questioningly. He seemed to grow slightly uncomfortable with her intense azure eyes on him, scrutinizing whether he was really interested in an answer or just talking to fill the silence. It took her a couple of seconds to decide that an answer would be ok.

"Um…I dunno… I'm from Petalburg City… I moved here early this year, before school started, with my family…"

"Why did you move?"

"My dad's business," she answered simply, whilst wishing it had been that simple.

"Oh," he nodded as he turned a corner. May had to admit, for someone with a car like this Drew was a pretty safe driver. She half expected to be hurtling along at one-hundred kilometres per hour.

"What about you? Have you always lived in Viridian?" she asked before he could ask her another question.

"No," he shook his head. "I moved here from LaRousse City when I was ten. Same deal – business relocation." May nodded.

"LaRousse City… That's on the island near Slateport City, right?" He nodded in response.

"That's right."

"Wow, so you're from Hoenn just like me," May observed. "Do you miss it?"

"Yeah, I guess, but Viridian's ok," he paused for a moment. "So…when did you start singing?"

"Well…" she felt her insides tighten at the question – one name played on her mind when she thought of where singing began for her. Lucas.

"When I started middle school, I started…" she trailed off, and she felt him glance over at her quickly.

"What's your school like?"

"It's ok. I've made some great friends," she felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth as she thought of Ash and the others, but that all but evaporated when she thought of Ash in particular…

"So…the next Battle of the Bands is two weeks away. Are you entering?" May was glad for the shift in topic.

"I'm not sure… We have camp for the rest of this week so we might not have time to practice a new song."

"Aw, come on…" he seemed genuinely disappointed. "If I'm gonna beat you I need you to actually be there," the snide humour was back, to May's disappointment. She was sort of enjoying him acting like a semi-normal person.

"Hah," she snorted. "You wish."

"C'mon, you know you got the sympathy vote last time. Everybody votes for you if you pour your heart out with a big ballad."

Drew didn't know it, but his words cut May deep as she remembered that night…that song…how she had felt as if she couldn't breathe, let alone sing. But it wasn't his fault – he didn't know – so May didn't let her uneasiness show.

"So I guess now I know what I have to do to beat you every time," she counterattacked, but he didn't provide a comeback. Had he noticed her cringe moments earlier?

"Why did you choose that song, anyway?" he asked, not the type of question she feared but it was touchy nonetheless. May sighed inwardly; she was growing too tired to hold her walls up any longer.

"I just…I've had some stuff going on, that's all…" she relented; her words trailed off into the silence. She glanced away from him to look out of the window. They had almost reached her street, she noticed idly.

For what seemed like a long time, he didn't answer. May was too afraid to shift her gaze his way, in case he took it as a sign shewanted an answer. She didn't. But she was very confused about the boy that sat beside her. One minute he could be a total pig and the next, a sweet, caring person.

"What number is your house?" was his next question, totally off the topic.

"Um… Eighty one."

Less than a minute later, they pulled up outside her house, which must have been about one tenth of the size of his home, May thought.

She took hold of the strap on her school bag and put her hand on the door handle, eager to exit the vehicle without any further questions from Drew.

"May," he called quietly. She was going to have no such luck, it seemed. Pausing, May turned back to face him. His intensely serious emerald eyes bore into hers, as if he was seeing right through her, again.

"Do you remember what I said to you that night?"

"Yes, I remember…" she answered quietly, remembering his words.

"Everything that you feel…don't let it go to waste. Go and write a new song about it or a new melody…or learn a song you relate to."

May nodded slowly, but once again, she didn't understand where this was coming from.

"Tell me…why are you helping the enemy? I thought you wanted to beat me." He loosened up then, his eyes losing their previous intensity as he chucked smugly.

"Oh, I still won't have any problems beating you. It's just…I want some actual competition. Some of the people that turn up, ugh, they make my ears bleed."

May's jaw wanted to drop to the ground, and it took a bit of effort to keep it secured. There was the switch. What game was he playing with her?

May's brow creased in anger, but she wasn't letting him see how he got to her when he acted that way, so instead she huffed childishly.

"Right, whatever. Thanks for the lift…"

With that, she opened the car door and stepped out, swinging her school bag over her shoulder and closing the door behind her.

"That was weird…" she uttered as she walked to her front door.

Inside, May's mother and father, Caroline and Norman, were in the lounge room watching TV.

"Hi honey, how was shopping?" her mother turned away from the TV to welcome her.

"It was ok," she replied with a small smile. "Didn't find much, though." Her mother nodded in response.

"How did you get home?" her father asked. "I would have picked you up…"

"That's ok dad, I got a lift from a…friend," she hovered on the last word.

Thankfully, they asked no further questions, like which friend. May was a bad liar, and they would see right through her immediately. And she had a feeling they would not be happy with her taking lifts from strange, rich boys.

"Oh, Erika called for you," Caroline piped up. "She said it wasn't important though, and that she would speak to you tomorrow."

"What time did she call?"

"Only about twenty minutes ago." May glanced at the time – 9:30 pm.

"Ok, thanks. I'm going to bed now. Night," she gave her parents a small wave and a smile and made her way upstairs to her bedroom.


A buzz of excitement was in the air on Wednesday morning as the Year 12 students assembled on the oval at the front of the school, waiting for the buses to take them to the Viridian Forest. Their Home Group teachers walked around with lists, checking off people and making sure they were organised.

May caught site of her group of friends as she approached the oval. She put her carry bag in the pile with the others and made her way over to them, holding onto the straps of her backpack.

"Hey, guys," she greeted. Ash, Misty, Erika and Brock returned her greeting excitedly…well except for Misty, who was already cringing at the thought of camping.

"May," she turned her head toward Erika, who was calling her. "I tried to call you last night."

"I know," May smiled apologetically, "my mum told me. Sorry I missed you. I got home just after you called. Is everything alright?"

"Oh, yeah," Erika put her short hair behind her ear. "I just wanted to discuss what clothes you were bringing with you, but I ended up sorting it out."

"That's good," May nodded.

"So…where were you? It was late when I called…" Erika was not prying – that wasn't in her nature – but was asking out of true curiosity, and perhaps, worry.

"I went shopping…" she started, and then realised that would sound fishy since she still wasn't home one and a half hours after the shops closed. "Then I ran into a…friend…and got a lift home."

"A 'friend', huh?" Erika held up her fingers to make quotations as she winked. "Anyone I know?" May cringed, she hadn't wanted to tell anyone about her ride home with Drew, of all people. But she was a terrible liar, so really, she had no option but to tell the truth.

"Um…yeah…just…just Drew, the guy from the Battle of the Bands."

In an instant, Ash's eyes were on her, questioning what she had just said.

"You let that rude, incompetent jerk drive you home?" his tone was incredulous, almost like he was telling her off.

"It was fine…" May blushed at his sudden outburst and tried to reassure him. "Really."

Misty shot a quick glance Ash's way, an emotion present in her brilliant aquamarine eyes that May couldn't identify. Nonetheless, she felt uncomfortable. It wasn't any of Ash's business, after all – he wasn't her boyfriend.

"Still…I just don't trust him," Ash crossed his arms immaturely, not noticing Misty's glare.

A slight blush warmed May's cheeks. She didn't know what to say.

'May is a big girl, she can take care of herself,' Misty wanted to say, but she kept her mouth shut. She was trying very hard to not feel jealous of Ash's apparent protectiveness over May. After all, she liked May, and it was nice to have another girl friend in their group. Misty knew Ash loved her to pieces. She reassured herself calmly, thinking back to their date on the weekend and remembering the way he looked at her. She had no doubt of his feelings for her, and she had no doubt that he would never betray her. Misty cursed herself for always feeling so jealous and insecure, knowing it was totally unnecessary when it came to Ash.

Then, a familiar figure with a head of spiky brown hair caught her attention. Gary. While the others chatted about camping, Misty couldn't help but turn her head as inconspicuously as she could, meeting his lost dark brown eyes. His gaze made her feel uncomfortable, but somehow, she couldn't force her eyes away from him. His mouth was set in a straight, unemotional line, giving no clues as to how he was feeling. Finally, he broke their stare as he walked to tell his teacher he was present. Bewildered, Misty turned back to her friends, who were far too deep in conversation to notice she hadn't been listening.

Two gigantic coach liners pulled up then, their brakes squeaking as they grinded to a halt. Next to her, Ash took Misty's hand and squeezed it. She smiled up at him.

"You ready for our big camping trip?" a cheeky excitement ran through his eyes as he winked. Misty felt her chest tighten – how did he do that to her with just a smile.

When she pulled herself together, she smiled softly.

"Even though I hate camping," she scowled through her smile, "I'm glad I'm with you."

"That's right, I'll protect you from any and all bugs!" once again, she felt herself falter at his adorable grin.

"You'd better…" she uttered, and punched him in the arm when he let out a stupid laugh.

To be continued…


Credits: the chapter title is from the song 'The First Cut is the Deepest' by Sheryl Crowe.