2. Going home
James stood on the threshold of the building, hesitating again. What if all this is for nothing…? Immediately he put all useless thoughts to the back of his mind and rang the doorbell. Within seconds, the butler Hobbs opened the door.
"Yes?" he asked. James said nothing, but simply stared at the now old butler, waiting for the realisation to hit. "Master James! What are you doing here?!". He was pleased to see him but seemed nervous.
"I've come home. I have to do what needs to be done." he lied, as sincerely as possible… and then realised that technically he wasn't lying. Hobbs was evidently looking for Jessie, remembering the last time James had come home. "She's not here." A pause while the dapper man straightened up. "For goodness' sake, Hobbs. It's me! Little Jimmy! Let me in!" said James, not sure whether to be annoyed or amused by the butler's behaviour. Hobbs smiled and then waved him through into the house, noting the immediate lack of luggage and the fact that James was still wearing the uniform of his employment… he still wasn't entirely convinced that his partner and that Meowth weren't going to leap out of the nearest bush and jump him. After a few seconds surveying the grounds for suspicious persons, he eventually followed James through, closing the door, and listened to the story that he had already started babbling.
James watched his every word… he mentioned that he was quit - well that was true - and that he had decided that the best thing would be to perform his rightful duty as son and heir to the fortune. He was careful not to mention Jessie even in passing, mainly because he was sure it would drop him right in it, and partially because he wasn't sure he wouldn't break down in tears if he mentioned her. Even just thinking about it made his heart hit his knees. Luckily, Hobbs bought the story. He stopped in the huge hallway and indicated for James to stay put.
"If you wait here, I'll inform your parents that you're here." he said. James nodded. Suddenly the butler grabbed him in a bear hug and then let go, looking embarrassed. "It's good to have you back." James smiled in spite of himself and couldn't resist replying with:
"It's good to be back." The butler resumed his original professionalism and walked in the direction of the Great Hall. James looked around and noted how the place, scarily, hadn't changed at all since his childhood. Everything was in precisely the same position as it had always been, the furniture, the floor rugs, even the ornaments, and he remembered how he would take perverse pleasure in moving one of them a few millimetres to the right just to annoy his mother. He was just about to swap two of the china Persians around when he was alerted by a familiar voice.
"James, my son. Welcome home." It was his mother.
"Glad to see you've finally come to your senses. " That was his father. He nodded to them both.
"Mother. Father. It's good to see you." It seemed so detached. No poignant reunions for his family, they disliked disorder, and emotional greetings and gestures simply weren't done - it wasn't proper. Talking of which, where was she, that screeching harpy he had come to know and hate as Jessiebell? He didn't particularly want to find out, and instead examined his parents. They had both been in their thirties when he was born, and now in their fifties they looked haggard - perhaps they had missed their only son after all? (Although he highly doubted it when they had their prodigal daughter still living in the mansion, when she was 'proper' and perfect, unlike himself.) As they stood side by side he couldn't place why they seemed so familiar; aside from the fact that they were his parents, obviously, he could remember this image from somewhere, but his head hurt too much to focus on anything but the present.
His voice defied his brain by asking: "Where's Jessiebell?" What? I don't give a damn where she is!! She can be dead for all I care! He resisted the urge to smack himself on the head in frustration, and listened to his mother.
"She is asleep at the moment, James, dear. She'll be downstairs in a few hours. She'll be so glad to see you!" said his mother. Yes, I bet she will, he thought, Jessiebell and her torture chamber will be very pleased to see me back.
"She's been pining, poor thing - beginning to think you'd never marry her." added his father. Any chance of following up that idea? He was seriously beginning to consider asking if he could. His mother then piped up again.
"See to it that James get some better clothes, and, please, dispose of that outfit… send it back to his employer with our compliments." Luckily she didn't see him pale. Giovanni finding out his location was the last thing he needed to happen.
"Certainly." the butler smiled. "Come along, young James, I believe your suit is still here from the last time. It may be a little snug but it'll do for now." He walked in the direction of James' old room, and James followed, despite knowing the way. He was sure he'd end up getting lost - he was getting more and more dazed as he contemplated his situation. The two of them passed a familiar door, which was ominously quiet within - Jessiebell's room. She even SLEEPS properly! he figured, disdainfully.
They reached his old room, and like the others it was untouched… in fact it looked more like a shrine than a bedroom. He immediately shoved that thought to the back of his mind and flopped down heavily on the bed. Hobbs went to the wardrobe and took out the suit, waiting patiently for instructions.
"Thank you Hobbs. You can leave it on the chair." Hobbs did so. "Is dinner still at six?"
"In that case inform them that I'll be down then."
"As you wish." He eyed James' uniform. "And your current attire, Master James?"
"Less of the Master, just James is fine." The butler nodded his assent. "And as for this - I'll take care of it. You needn't concern yourself with it." He hoped he didn't sound too desperate for Hobbs not to interfere, and to his utter relief the butler nodded again and left him alone.
James watched the door close and waited for the footsteps to disappear, then he locked himself in and got changed. He placed his uniform carefully on a hanger, remembering old times. He walked into the wardrobe and found the false wall, behind which he used to hide things he didn't want his parents to find, and he was just about to hang up the uniform when a box caught his eye. *Must be the stuff I never got around to sorting before I left…* he thought. He took out the box, put the hanger on the rail, and replaced the panel to hide it. Then he sat on his bed and decanted the contents of the box onto the covers.
Wow… he thought, I don't even remember half of this stuff. There were various small toys from when he was a boy, mainly presents off Jessie - all clockwork pokémon. He'd bought three himself, the first three, and she'd bought him the other twelve. There were twenty in the collection and he'd got fifteen of them… and he was still looking for the other five. He wound them all up and set them going along the bed, watching as they fell off the end. Pikachu, Growlithe, Meowth, Bulbasaur, Charmander, Ekans, Koffing, Squirtle, Psyduck, Onix, Starmee, Goldene, Lickitung, Victreebell and Lapras, he mentally named them all… then realised that they were incredibly familiar… Guess I was fated to join the Team… and fated to meet those twerps… I wonder what else fate has in store? As he was putting them all back in the box, he noticed another, smaller box inside, and took it out curiously. The lid was held on with an elastic band, that hadn't stood the test of time very well; as soon as he tried to remove it, it crumbled to rubbery dust and the lid of the box sprung off. James found himself being rained on by about a hundred or so photographs. He gathered them up and went through them all systematically.
There were photos of himself, photos of Jessie, and mainly photos of them both together, at various stages throughout their lives… even their first day as Rockets, with an incredibly cheesed-off Meowth between them. That was the last of the photos chronologically (they'd all been dated), which he figured must have been right, since he'd gone home that day to sort out possessions, and had eventually decided that photos probably weren't the most useful things to take on their mission. He'd only taken one - a copy of one of the pictures of them together, his favourite one. It had gotten torn in half once in an argument. He'd ended up with one half and she'd got the other, and each of them had the half with their partner on it. He was certain she'd kept her half too, because he'd gone back with some tape to renovate the picture and the other half was mysteriously absent…
It was then that he recalled who his parents had reminded him of earlier - it was of himself and Jessie when they had dressed up as an old couple to fool some kid… yet another of their failed plans, way back when they actually enjoyed their work. He sighed heavily. It was all very well telling her he'd find her, and he'd really said it to convince HIMSELF. But he was beginning to have doubts. Realistically it was virtually impossible… if she even managed to stay alive… That thought joined the other one at the back of his mind.
Suddenly, he realised it was already six o'clock, so he bolted down the stairs to the dining room. When he got there, he was met by three rather irritated faces, and skidded to a halt. The huge table was the centrepiece of the room, which had tall, arched windows and a chandelier at each end. His father sat at one end of the twenty-person-long table, and his mother at the other, with Jessiebell on one side. She was situated, naturally, exactly in the middle, and James noted with dismay that his seat was directly opposite hers. He sat down and started to apologise, only to be interrupted by his father.
"I hope this will not become a regular occurance, James."
"Sorry, father. It's been five years, I was getting used to the layout of the house. It won't happen again." His father backed off after seeing his mother's warning look. James turned to Jessiebell, in an attempt to at least try and talk to her civilly. "Jessiebell -"
"Not nahw, James. Much as Ah'm pleased ta see ya, it ain't proper to discuss thangs at the dinner table."
"Sorry." With that the conversation dissipated, and the four people sat in silence. Hobbs brought out the meal, and it was served up, eaten, and cleaned away with equal unenthusiasm. This is the first meal I haven't enjoyed, thought James glumly.