Reading Between The Lines
"He really gets under my skin; he has been there since the moment I met him. I don't know what to do! Half the time I literally want to STRANGLE him!"
Misty held her jotter pad in both hands as she perched on the edge of the bath. She twiddled the chewed biro between her thumb and forefinger and used the other hand to push back a lock of her bright orange hair behind her ear. The slender fourteen year old tapped her water-wrinkled foot against the side of the bath as she scribbled furiously in her pad. She was dressed in nothing but a regulation pink Pokémon Centre towel and her semi-damp hair was falling out of the low ponytail fashioned at the nape of her neck.
The scratching of the nib on the paper ceased, and Misty re-read her work under her breath, pride evident in her low voice. She grinned to herself, crossing some words out and re-scribbling alternatives. She sighed happily, crossing her arms across her chest and cradling her precious notepad to her.
"I wonder what would be a good writer's name for me?"she murmured to herself, gazing at the condensation on the window, masking the twilight outside. "Misty Waterflower sounds so…fake…" She screwed up her face delicately. "Misty… Misty… Sketchitt?" She laughed out loud. "No way. Misty… Slate? Hell no!" She smiled to herself, and reached out a finger to trace a path on the wet window. "Misty Ketchum…"
she murmured, smiling decisively. Suddenly, her finger juddered to a half as she cleared enough from the window to reveal the reflection of someone standing by the bathroom door. She whirled around, and her cheeks coloured as she pulled the pink towel further up.
"Finished?"asked a cheekily grinning Ash.
"Ash! How long have you been in here?!"she asked, far more concerned with the fact he may have heard her reading from her pad than the fact that she wasn't properly dressed.
"Long enough,"he smirked. Her temper rose.
"Well get outta here you lecher!"she yelled, still clutching the towel tightly.
"You've been in here for over two hours Misty,"he complained. "I need to go to the toilet!"
"Get OUT!"she growled, shoving him out the door and slamming it on his toes. Ash stared at the closed door for a second.
"Jeez…"he mumbled, before walking over and climbing with experienced skill up to the top bunk. Brock was unfurling his sleeping bag on top of the just-only-adequate Pokémon Centre bed on the other side of the small room, whilst Tracey was sitting on the bunk above that, sitting cross-legged and managing to sketch and eat strawberries at the same time.
"Told you not to go in there Ash,"he murmured across the room.
"See anything?"Brock asked as he slipped his green sleeveless jacket of his shoulders and let it slip to the floor. Ash looked down at him in disgust.
The boys jumped as the en-suite bathroom door flew open and Misty, clad in her lemon yellow pyjamas strode across the room, throwing her damp towel in the general direction of the radiator and climbing into the bunk below Ash with her jotter still in her hands. There was an uneasy silence.
"Er, goodnight Misty…"mumbled Tracey, feeling the need to break the oppressive silence. Misty mumbled a reply, then turned her back on the room so she was facing the wall. Ash sighed as he skimmed down the bunk ladder and she didn't turn around or acknowledge him. He noticed that the tips of her ears were pink, and knew well enough to leave her alone.
And no one thinks this is weird,Misty scribbled in the pad, that I'm here, sleeping in a room with three guys around my age and one of them just walked past my bed wearing nothing but boxers and a hat…
Misty touched her grazed knee gingerly as she gathered up the fallen sheets of paper with her other hand. A little way ahead, Ash, Brock and Tracey turned around with exasperated looks.
"Misty, we've been walking for an hour and that's the fifth time you've tripped on something,"Brock said in an annoyed tone. Ash said nothing, and Tracey clucked disapprovingly. Misty blushed hotly as she shoved the notepad in her red backpack, allowing the boys a quick glimpse at the many, many identical, yet full notepads inside.
Misty swung her back up on her shoulder and strode ahead purposefully. Tracey and Brock shared an understanding 'look', whilst Ash just scuffed the dirt with his trainers and scowled to himself.
Tap. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap-tap.
Tracey's eye had started to twitch in an interesting fashion. Brock had somehow permanently attached sofa cushions to his head, covering his ears and was carrying on as normal. However, Ash, the one closest to the source of the annoyance, was simply staring into space.
Yet Misty still continued tapping that bloody pen against her front teeth.
Unsurprisingly, Tracey was the first to crack.
"I'm going to go observe some nocturnal Pokémon,"he mumbled, with a trembling bottom lip, before wandering off into the sunshine. Brock seized his opportunity.
"I- think I see Nurse Jenny!"he babbled. "Excuse me a minute!"
Ash raised an eyebrow as he watched his older friends leave. Nocturnal Pokémon at 2pm and Nurse Jenny? Uhuh.
At least now the tapping had stopped, but it was replaced by the infernal scratching of the cheap nib of the pen against the paper. Ash gritted his teeth against the sound that had invaded his life for the past two months.
It wasn't just the noises that were annoying. It was the way Misty had changed. She barely spoke to any of them, and even at meal times it was obvious that she was still writing in her mind. Her teal eyes that used to flash with anger whenever he annoyed her now constantly scoured the words that she had written, and sometimes, he would have given anything for her to wallop him with her mallet again.
Now whenever he or any of the others annoyed her, she'd simply go straight back to furiously writing, and would vent her anger that way. It was… surreal to say the least.
"Ash?"Ash turned towards the turning-unfamiliar voice.
"Hmm?"he answered. Misty's cheeks flushed ever so slightly, as if she were embarrassed to be asking him a question.
"What day of the week was it when we met?"Ash blinked.
Thursday, his mind immediately said.
"Why should I remember?"he snapped, defensively, quite upset that she didn't remember things like that. Her cheeks flushed again, but this time with annoyance.
"Because it was the day you became an Official Pokémon Trainer, you twerp!"she yelled. "I thought that it might be one of those things you're not likely to forget within a five year time span!"
"Oh,"he mumbled, berating himself for forgetting that. "Thursday."
"Thank you,"she snapped, before returning to her ferocious abuse of the thin paper. Ash sighed. Enough is enough, he thought to himself.
Okay, it had to be here somewhere…
Jeez she had a lot of these…
Ash sat cross-legged on the floor, the light from his torch slightly wavering. He was so dead if she caught him. Worse than dead, he would be annihilated.
Quickly he skimmed the front covers of the notebooks. Luckily, Misty was quite an organised person, and had numbered and dated each of her ten or so notepads. He found the first one without much difficulty, and curiously read the first page.
C'est La Vie?
Written by Misty _______
A book for girls travelling with guys.
He stifled a giggle. Oh man! He and the others had guessed she was writing some soppy romance story set in France, not some kinda voodoo self-help book! Still sniggering to himself, Ash flipped through the most recent of the notepads, not counting the one she currently had under her pillow.
"Have you ever felt that because of this reputation you've built up around the guys you can't indulge yourselves in little, minor out-of-character actions? I feel like that all the time – it's stupid and I don't know why, but sometimes I just feel like quoting poetry and greeting each of the guys with a good-morning kiss on the cheek, (definitely not a day I'm on my period then – hee hee!) but then I imagine the LOOKS I'd get from them, and suddenly lose the urge.
It's not even outlandish things like that, that I feel I can't do… it sounds stupid, but I can't wear my hair down!! It's just… the first time Boy-X-that-I-travel-with saw me with my hair down, he kept looking at me like it was some kind of freaky, unnatural occurrence, and it's put me off it for life! I don't even take it out when I go to sleep most of the time!"
Ash paused. Boy-X-that-I-travel-with, he thought. Is that me? He thought back carefully. When had he first seen Misty with her hair down? God, it must be about… three or four years ago now, when they were both really young and 'new' with each other. Ah –it was Maiden's Peak, the summer festival. Yeah! There had been a really cool talking Gast-
Wait a sec, he'd been staring at Misty like her hair was freaky? He could remember the events quite clearly now; he had been wearing that minty coloured kimono that Delia had bought him for Professor Oak's birthday a few weeks prior to him receiving his license. Nah, it wasn't that! It had just been that she looked SO different. It was the same thing when he first saw her in a bikini – she actually looked like a real, pretty, feminine, curved member of the opposite gender.
Ash bit his lip – as much as she tried to hide it, he knew that she was very, very self-conscious, and knew exactly what had possessed her to think that him staring at her had been in ridicule. Of course he stared at her! She may be just Misty, but she WAS a girl, and she HAD been standing in front of him looking vaguely attractive… Ash blamed the hormones.
Ash skimmed a few more pages. His fingers and eyes halted as he came across a page that looked a lot more worn than the others – there had been many crossings out, and the page after it had even been ripped out.
"He really gets under my skin; he has been there since the moment I met him. I don't know what to do! Half the time I literally want to STRANGLE him!"
Ash flinched. No prizes for estimating that was him, he guessed. Quietly, with his lips set in a grimly straight line, he closed the notebook and stuffed it and the rest of them back into the red shoulder bag. He yawned, without his usual zeal and enthusiasm. For some weird reason, he felt utterly exhausted. And in a slight way… utterly dejected.
Ash sat, cross-legged on his sofa, staring, well actually more scowling up at the ceiling, that was literally pulsating with the sugary pop-music that was vibrating from his bedroom.
"Pikachu…"he murmured, still staring glassily upwards. Pikachu stuck her head out from where she was sheltering herself underneath a couch cushion. "I want you to KILL Britney Spears," Ash murmured. "And Atomic Kitten. And Ge- actually, no. Geri Halliwell can live." Pikachu sighed to herself and returned to her refuge underneath the padded, green pillow.
Ash groaned, wondering what the aspirin content of his body was at that moment in time. Thank HO-OH he had never had a sister. Or maybe he would have grown up with cotton-wool growing naturally in his ears. That had always been one of the main foibles of having Misty as a house guest. That and the fact that she hogged the remote to watch soap-opera crap.
But now it seemed even worse – she insisted that she needed the music in the background to aid her concentration. Ash had murmured a frosty 'whatever' and had strode out of the room. He hated seeing her in those notebooks; it's like she wasn't really there anymore. How DARE she find something more interesting and fulfilling to her that HIS Pokémon journey?
He sighed with relief as the music suddenly halted up above. A few seconds later, the opening strains of a ballad came floating gently through the ceiling. Ash hummed the familiar tune as an undertone without thinking as he fiddled with the laces on his trainers.
"How do you redefine something that never really had a name? Has your opinion changed? Because I don't know you anymore…"crooned the singer of Savage Garden from upstairs.
"Misty! He's just a crackpot who's trying to take you for a ride!"yelled Ash, trying to conceal the concern in his voice with scorn. Misty looked up with hatred at him and Brock, Tracey and Gary exchanged looks. They were wisely keeping quiet.
"Oh, right – so the only way anyone could be interested in my writing is if they were a complete lunatic, is that right, Ashton?"she countered, jumping up to her feet and thumping her chest with her balled up fist. Ash hesitated. The nicest way to say this…
"Yes!"he blurted out. "Can't you see? I thought you were smarter than this, Misty!" Hot tears stung the back of her eyes: his words were cutting deeper into her than any before. "He just wants you to come see him in Goldenrod, then he'll take you off into some woods and RAPE you!" Ash bellowed.
"Is anything wrong in there kids?"came Delia's musical, slightly concerned voice from the kitchen.
"No Mrs Ketchum, we're fine,"chorused Misty, Tracey, Brock and Gary immediately.
Ash turned back to Misty with sorrowful dark eyes – not sorry that he was hurting her, but sorry that she was being played by this obvious fraud. Why couldn't she understand?
"Why can't you understand?"Misty wailed, with a crack in her voice. "He's a respectable publisher; I've seen him on television and everything!"
"Well how do you know that this guy on the phone was HIM huh, Misty?"
"It's a vidphone, idiot."
"It could have been a look-alike!"
"Ash, unlike you I'm not a total thicko!"
"Could have fooled me!"
"Well I'm going, no matter what you say!"
"Don't be daft! You have barely any money and nowhere to stay!"
Brock, Tracey, Gary and Pikachu were flitting back and forth between the two enraged teens, looking like spectators at a match at Wimbledon.
"My cousin, Linda lives in Goldrenrod. I can stay with her,"Misty said, decisively, her voice calming slightly.
"No!"spluttered Ash, with his mouth hanging open. "There is absolutely NO WAY I am letting you go!" Misty's furious teal eyes narrowed into menacing slits.
"Let me?"she growled, in a low, frightening voice. "Well I've got news for you! You are NOT my father, you are NOT my boyfriend and do you know what? You are NOT my friend"
Ash stared at her venomous face, as she scowled around at everyone in the room, making the boys cower backwards and Pikachu lower her ears. Misty swirled around with a flurry of orange hair and vanilla scented body-spray and practically ran up the stairs; unbeknownst to the boys, taking deep, wracking breaths to compose herself.
"Misty…"Ash murmured, his tanned face showing regret for once. "I'm just worried about you…"
The quartet, no matter how strange they were together, were making excellent time to Crown City. Both Ash and Gary were in high spirits, foreseeing their victories against Courtney, the GymLeader there. Ash trotted dutifully along, amidst whispered conversations with Pikachu on his shoulder. Gary positively strutted along, with his general aura of moodiness clouded around him. Tracey popped in and out of tree branches, tipping over rocks and lifting up rotting logs to see if there were any interesting specimens that simply needed sketching. Brock strode along, clutching the wide chest straps of his large green backpack, with a suspiciously happy looking smile on his face as he allowed his feet full responsibility, as he lost himself in a daydream.
"I think she's lying dead and naked under a tree somewhere,"stated Gary, bluntly as he guessed correctly what his shorter friend was thinking of. Ash stared up at him in innocent shock.
"Aw don't say that,"he begged, his eyes wide. "We got that letter from her remember?" Gary nodded, a look of doubt still evident in his cinnamon coloured eyes; Pikachu patted Ash on the shoulder, but her ears lowered as if on cue, and she whispered a 'Pika-chu-pi'…
I should have never let her go,thought Ash bitterly to himself, as they passed the demure entrance sign to Crown City. It was too late to challenge Courtney, but it was far too early for the harassed Ash to sleep, so he slipped out of the Pokémon Centre to wander down the high street.
It was only about 7pm, and there was still a heavy bustle of shoppers and partiers flooding the narrow streets. Ash trudged onwards with his shoulders hunched and his hands deep in his pockets, staring morose fully in at a window display from time to time.
He had been walking for about fifteen minutes, aimlessly, until a pretty display in a window on the other side of the street caught his eye; well, not so much a pretty display than a cardboard cut out of a pretty young lady. It wasn't anything to striking; in fact it was done entirely in greyscale. She was simply sitting on a chair looking backwards over her shoulder and smiling.
Ash drifted over the road to look in the window more closely. The words 'Miasmic Ketchitt: signs her sensational new book April 12th!'
Ash stared again at the grey toned face of the girl. Something stirred. He walked haltingly over to the automatic doors and then into the brightly lit and busy book shop. He walked forwards and almost fell over a strategically placed display of pink, paperback books. Ash reached over and picked up a copy, wincing as he left smudgy fingerprints on the glossy surface.
'C'est La Vie?'
By Miasmic Ketchitt
A book for girls travelling with guys.
The bold and chunky letters on the front screamed at him.
"Oh. My. God,"Ash whimpered, as he stared back at the card-board cut out with new eyes. "Misty?"
The re-arrival of a subdued Ash at 8pm with a pink book tucked under his arm did not go unnoticed by Gary.
"Reading up on the facts of life, eh Ketchum?"he jeered, then facevaulted off the bed as Ash completely ignored him and rushed into the bathroom with his book. Gary shuddered, and made a vow that tomorrow he peed on the street.
Ash sat cross-legged in the shower, leafing frantically through the rough and slightly brown coloured pages of the book. He recognised it; not just passages that he sneakily read, but her whole tone and style of writing. A beaming smile broke onto his face: Misty had done it!!
With a determination that was so familiar to him, Ash settled down. He started from page one, and worked his way through the pages, through the book, through the story, through Misty's life. Once or twice she had him blinking back tears as she described events he remembered, but never knew hurt her so.
He felt the odd stab of pain whenever he read an uncaring or preoccupied remark about 'Boy-X-that-I-travel-with', but mainly he just sat there, uncaring when he felt his legs fall asleep, or when he heard the Pokémon Centre close up for the night, at the universal curfew of 11pm. He sat, reading intently, until the very end of the last chapter, only briefly noticing there was an epilogue.
It was true, he realised. He had never seen her in her awkward position as the only girl in a group of boys that fluctuated from two to five depending on where Gary, Tracey or Todd where headed, as they regularly travelled as a large group. Regardless of the fact that she was a Water GymLeader, Ash had always dismissed her battling skills as 'adequate' and pretended that they didn't even touch upon his.
Ash felt strange all of a sudden; almost like he had violated her, like he had just read her diary or something. She seemed like such a different and multi-dimensional person now, instead of just… Misty. That mallet-wielding red-head who refused to eat carrots and chased him throughout Kanto, the Orange Archipelago and Johto, yelling about a bike.
Ash took a shuddering breath and stared at the author photo at the back of the book, as if he was asking the make-up smeared and posing Misty for help. He returned to the place in the book where he had kept his thumb, and began to read the epilogue.
"I hope you have enjoyed reading my book. I have enjoyed writing it immensely, and in fact have just given the ultimate sacrifice for it to be shared with all of you. I just signed a contract with my publisher, but in order to do this, I'm afraid I have betrayed and mistreated my best friend in the entire world. 'X', I know you were just trying to protect me, and I thank you for that. You know I'd do the same for you. If you are reading this, I hope you can realise what I mean when I talk about you. Try to read between the lines a bit. I'm sorry if I made you and the others worry. You're my star, and I'll never think that of anyone else. Love, Myst xxx"
Ash blushed deeply, a custom he was not very used to. Jeez, he was acting like some love-struck teenager; blushing just cos she signs something 'Love' and adds kisses, and falling head over heels for cardboard cut outs of her. He sighed deeply, and contently, leaning back in the shower and crossing his arms over the book which he held to his chest. He felt warm all over.
"You'll be fine, doll,"croaked Elise in a guttural voice she lit up yet another filthy cigarette and waved it around in the air. Misty smiled self-consciously, and she tried to not let her disgust show as the petite talk-show hostess breathed foul-smelling and deadly smoke all over her. A busty brunette fussed over Misty's hair and numerous people holding everything from clipboards to cameras to Pichus ran around the studio.
"And we're on in five – four – three – two…"came a seemingly bodiless voice.
"Welcome back to Elise Live!"chirped Elise, in a light airy voice that could not have been more different from the one she had just been using. "Today your telephone guru is none other than the teenaged author of the best-selling cult book, C'est La Vie?!" Misty plastered a smile onto her face and gazed warily into the camera.
I wonder if Ash is watching…she thought.
"Miasmic Ketchitt!"A little sign concealed from the camera blinked on with the word 'applause' and the studio audience went wild. Misty frowned – she bet half these people had never heard of her.
"Miasmic? Miasmic? Miss Ketchitt?"Elise reached out and tapped Misty's shoulder, and she jumped guilty as she realised she had not been responding to the name that her publicity agent had given her. "Are you ready to take your first caller?"
"Yes,"Misty croaked, swallowing deeply. There was a barely inaudible click in her earpiece.
"This is 'Manless in Mahogany City',"Elise announced, and Misty winced.
"H-hello?"she murmured, timidly.
"Hi Miasmic,"came a young woman's voice down the line.
"Hey uh, Manless. W-what's the problem?"
"Well I'm manless."
"Is that such a bad thing?"Misty smiled.
"But I'm in love with my best guy friend,"the caller moaned. "I thought you could help since you're in love with yours…" Misty chuckled.
"Hmmm? What makes you say that?"she asked with a feigned innocence.
"It's totally obvious dear – that 'X' guy."Misty smiled again.
"Well Manless, the best I can tell you is to be yourself, and if it's meant to happen, then it will happen."There – that was easy enough to say. Misty had been telling herself that for years now. There was a brief exchange of thank yous, and Manless vacated the line. Misty felt happy that she was helping, and looked forward to the next caller, who was announced as 'Mr A'.
"What can I do for you, Mr A?"she asked, with restoring confidence. There was a brief hesitation on the other side of the line.
"I have a question about love as well…"he finally said, in a voice that sounded slightly accented.
"Shoot,"replied Misty, smiling as she reached for her water glass.
"Well, there's this girl I- I used to travel with…"
"She gets under my skin you see. She has done ever since the day I met her. It was a Thursday. Best day of my life. Not only did I become a Pokémon Trainer, but I also met the most important person to me. But she irritates me like no one else. Sometimes I just want to strangle her."
Misty shakily put her water glass down. She had take out that whole passage about Ash and how he got under her skin. No normal reader could have known it. It only existed on a scribbled on page in one of her earlier notebooks
that had resulted because of the sadness of yet another failed attempt to spend some 'girly' time with Ash.
"And other times,"the gentle voice continued, losing its put on accent. "I just want to grab her and kiss her. But I never really understood her, until I read your book, Misty, er, Miasty, er, Mia – what's your name again. Damn. I was doing so well."
Misty was almost crying with laughter.
"Ash? That you?"There was a sigh on the other connection.
"You're my star, Misty. Too bad I never realised it until you became a genie or whatever."
"Guru!"Misty laughed. Her voice quietened, and suddenly, she forgot all about the people watching their televisions spellbound, and the hoards of people in the studio around her. For one moment, there was only the voice on the other side of the line. "So who's this girl you met on the same day as me, she grinned. "And where have you been hiding her Ketchum?"
"You and me are the bird and the fish,"he answered, using a metaphor she had used in her book. "Ridiculous together, but inseparable."
"Ash, a bird and a fish are very separable,"she smiled, with a happy, puzzled air. "Never write a book, okay?"
"Deal. Misty, I love-"
"I'm sorry that's all we have time for,"cut in Elise's voice as the line went dead. Misty let out a huge, shuddering breath. "Before we go, would you care to tell us about any upcoming plans?" Misty hesitated, before beaming straight out at the camera and into the eyes of the many people watching, knowing that he'd still be watching her.
"I'm going back home to my journey,"she smiled. "I may write another book, another biographically based piece of writing, but not for a long time." Her grin grew even wider. "I'd very much like this one to be a romance, if 'X' will care to oblige?"