It was L-day. I hadn't told Professor Oak anything, but he knew something was going on. It could be because he had to say my name twice before he got my attention. It could be because I dropped three dozen poké-balls (one for each rose I was giving Misty, how about that) and spilled two bags of poké-chow before lunchtime. Mostly likely it was the fact that he asked, "What's going on?" and I said, "Nothing." The nothing is always a dead give-away that there's really something.
"Does it have anything to do with Misty?" he asked me, as we knelt down and worked together to clean up the mess of pokémon food I had made.
"It has nothing to do with her."
"Aha. I see. Did you have a fight?"
"What did you fight about?"
"We didn't have a fight, Professor Oak."
"Then why are you mad at her?"
"I'm not mad, you just made that up."
"But it has to do with Misty."
"It has nothing to do with Misty..."
Well, that was productive.
Professor Oak went to the kitchen and came back with some Windex and paper towels. He set me to work wiping the floor while he attempted to salvage the rest of the food in a huge plastic container. Poké-chow doesn't come cheap, especially when you go through five bags a day.
As we worked, he resumed our previous conversation. "You guys are pretty serious, aren't you?" he said.
"Well..." Growing up without a dad, I'll admit, I had a tendency to think of Professor Oak as a surrogate father. But it was just as awkward talking to him about Misty as it was talking to Jessie. Ye gads...I hoped the conversation wasn't coming up. The Professor offering advice on condoms was not an appealing thought.
Hopefully my answer was generic enough. "We've been together five years. Yeah, I'd say we are."
"Do you love her?" he asked, giving me a sly look.
"I..." Wasn't I supposed to be having this conversation with Misty? It occurred to me that I hadn't told her, or even my mom of my plans, and yet I was blabbing to Jessie and now Professor Oak. To my credit, I hadn't told the Professor myself, but it was rather obvious...
"You do, don't you?" He grinned.
"Have you told her?" he asked.
"If you care about someone, it's completely natural for you to tell them how you feel."
I was ready to change the subject. "So, does that mean you've told my mom?"
"What?" Professor Oak dropped the container of food he was holding, promptly spilling everything he had just finished picking up. A flush rose in his cheeks as he hurriedly denied, "This has nothing to do with Delia...I mean, Mrs. Ketchum!"
"Aha. I see."
"Ash!" Ha ha, the Professor sounds funny when he's annoyed...
The phone rang.
"I'll get that," Professor Oak said, shooting me a murderous look. He picked up the phone. "Hello?...yes he is, just a moment." His look changed to curiosity as he handed me the receiver. "It's for you. I don't recognize his voice."
I took the phone, but before I even said hello, I heard a deep voice wail, "I'm not a guy!" then break down into sobbing.
"I...uh...Misty?" I asked incredulously. I actually didn't recognize the voice either, but the tears were unmistakable. "Calm down, sweetie, calm down... are you okay?"
"No. I'm sick," she said. Poor thing. I had finally started empathizing with people as much as I did for pokémon, so I was immediately sympathetic. "And Professor Oak said I was a guy."
Knowing Misty, that was worse than being sick. "Uh...that's not what he meant," I said hastily.
"He said his."
"He was being generic. He just couldn't tell it was you because, um, you sound kind of hoarse."
"I'm sick..." she said again. "I woke up this morning with a sore throat. My head has been killing me. I'm so sorry." Even though she sounded raspy I could hear sadness behind her voice.
"What? Why? You can't help being sick...did you go to the doctor yet?"
"Yeah, he gave me some antibiotics. But Ash...." she sniffed again. "Your plans..."
Yeah, my plans. Pffffffffffft... There went my bubble. So much for The Loft, so much for the roses...so much for I love you. I won't deny my disappointment. But I would have to put that temporarily on hold while I comforted my distraught girlfriend.
"It's okay. We can go some other time. I mean, I do want to see you, but it's more important that you feel better."
"You were looking forward to it though...I mean, you made reservations at The Loft."
Yeah, and there was a twenty-dollar cancellation fee. But no need to mention that...
"Mist, don't worry about it. You know that if I could, I'd be sick instead of you. Just get better, okay?"
"Okay." She sounded pitiful, and I felt guilty for even thinking about money. I was still struggling with depression that I wouldn't get to say I love you though. How selfish is that?
"Do you care if I call you tonight to see how you're feeling?" I asked. "I don't want to wake you up..."
"That'll be okay," she sniffed. "If I'm asleep I'll just have my sisters tell me and call you back later. I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing..." I soothed. "You can't help it. I'll talk to you later. Bye, Mist."
"Thanks. Bye, Ash."
I love you...
We hung up. My hand lingered on the receiver for a moment as I let the full impact of our conversation sink in. Normally it would just be a canceled date. But tonight...good grief, now I was going to be nervous for at least another week. I wondered if it was even possible to change the reservations. I may have to change my plans, and then who knows how long it would take before I got to tell her that I loved her? It had to be just right...
The Professor was standing beside me. "She's sick," I told him, sighing. "We were going to go out tonight, but...well, she's really sick."
"I see," the Professor said. Strangely enough, it sounded like he really
did understand. "How are you feeling?"
"Me?" I asked in surprise. "I feel sorry for her, but she's the one who's sick. I'm fine."
The Professor raised his eyebrows. I finally shrugged and admitted, "I'm bummed, but I'll get over it."
"I think you should go to her," he said.
"But..." I trailed off. "I haven't gotten off work yet..."
"I think it's important that you be with her, and you've done enough for one day," the Professor said sympathetically—then glanced over to the Poké-chow which still wasn't cleaned up. "Quite enough," he added dryly.
I gave a sheepish chuckle, but it only took a second of deliberation before I made my decision. "Okay, I will. Thanks, Professor," I said gratefully.
"Any time, son. Any time."
I went home, changed clothes, grabbed a can of chicken noodle soup and lugged three dozen roses out to the front seat of my car. I drove to Cerulean City and then drug three dozen roses into the gym. Daisy was at the reception desk, and she dropped her clipboard when she saw me.
"My goodness!" she said. "For Misty?"
"I was going to give them to her tonight..." I said by way of explanation. "Is she here?"
"She's in the living quarters...either in the den or in her room. Here, let me walk with you and we'll put those in vases before you go see her. How many are there?"
"Three dozen?" she squealed. "What's the occasion?"
"They were free."
Once Daisy stopped laughing at me, she led me to the kitchen. She insisted on putting a bit of Sprite in the water, saying that it would make the roses look fresher. How do girls invent these things? We managed to fit them all in two large vases, and we each carried one as we went searching for Misty.
"I hear the TV...she must be in the den. Either she's watching it or she fell asleep with it on. Here we are...Misty?" she called, juggling the flowers in her arms as she rapped lightly on the door. "Are you awake? You have a visitor."
"Wha...?" A groggy Misty looked up from the sofa. She was in a yellow tank top and pajama pants, and that made me grin, remembering the yellow outfit she wore so often the first part of my journeys. She was awake, but just barely. She didn't see me at first and I sneakily stayed back. "Daisy, I look horrible. I can't see anybody...who gave you those?" she asked, admiration in her voice. Time to make my entrance.
"They're for you," I answered, walking in after Daisy and setting my vase beside hers on the coffee table.
"Ash!" Misty gasped. She smoothed her hair back self-consciously. I don't know why she bothered—I had seen her messy hair every morning for almost six years. Why should I start caring now?
"Are they from you?" she asked.
"Err...me, and Jessie and James," I admitted.
"They're beautiful!" She leaned over and sniffed them. "I can't smell them..." she added ruefully, "but they're gorgeous!"
"Well," I said as I walked over and sat next to her on the sofa, putting my arm around her, "I thought that was fitting."
"Ash..." she pulled away and pushed a limp strand of hair behind her ear. She did look a bit unkempt, and her face was pale, bags under her eyes—but she had a very good excuse. I felt sympathy and affection for her rise in my chest as she tried to downplay the compliment. "I'm not very beautiful at the moment..."
I put my arms around her again, forcing her to give me a hug. "You're you. Of course you are."
"Oh, gag me with a spoon," Daisy said. She was teasing. At least I think she was. "Bye bye, sweethearts," she said as she walked out of the room.
"Don't be such a sap, Ash," Misty scolded me, but I noticed that she didn't pull away this time. In fact, she relaxed into my arms. I could feel warmth radiating from her body. I lifted one of my hands and placed it on her forehead, then let my lips touch it when I felt a fever.
"You're burning up," I said, shifting so that I was stroking her back instead. "Can I get you something to drink? My mom told me to tell you only to drink clear liquids..."
"My sisters did too," she said. "There's some water on the end table." I kept my arm wrapped around her and squeezed her by the shoulders, then let go of her and made her finish off the rest of the glass. I watched as she drank it.
"Thanks," she said, and I was pleased to see that her voice sounded a little healthier. "Why are you here, anyway? I thought you were at the Professor's all day."
"He told me to come visit you," I said. "I wasn't about to disagree."
She smiled. "Some visit," she said wryly. "I've done nothing but sleep and watch TV. I don't know if I even feel like talking very much. I don't mean to be rude..."
"But you're sick," I finished. "Are you tired? Do you want to take a nap? I can go visit your sisters and check on you a little later."
She hesitated. "Maybe..." Stubborn little Misty. She wanted me to stay, but was unwilling to offer the invitation herself. I offered an alternative.
"Or we could just watch TV, and if you fall asleep, then—I get to watch football!" I sat down at the end of the sofa and commandeered the remote control. Misty smiled, and then lay down with her head on my lap.
"Sounds good," she said, snuggling against my leg. I stroked her hair gently. "As long as you're absolutely positive that I'm asleep before you even dare turning it to ESPN. I'm too sick to handle that much testosterone."
"Are you questioning my manhood?"
She laughed, but didn't get a chance to respond with anything else before I mockingly continued. "A man doesn't have to watch three-hundred pound men in tights running around in the mud to prove his manhood. Though I'm starting to see the appeal for women." She laughed again and shifted so that she could punch my leg as I said, "Do you want to know how much of a man I am?" I raised my eyebrows at her and wiggled them in a macho manner. "I'm so much of a man that—" I clicked on the TV remote dramatically—"I watch ice skating."
"Wow. Now that's my kind of man," she teased, then yawned as she settled down against my leg one last time as we watched the graceful dancers twirl and leap on the TV screen. Okay, so normally I didn't watch ice skating, but I was a pushover, and I knew Misty liked it. Though neither of us watched it for long. Her eyelids drooped lower and lower as the minutes passed, probably because of—as much as I would have liked to have blamed it on the ice skating—exhaustion from her sickness. She was asleep within fifteen minutes.
And I confess. After she fell asleep, I didn't watch football, or ice skating, or any other show for that matter. I turned the television off, put the remote down, and as I began tenderly stroking her hair while she was sleeping, I watched...Misty.
I remember a lot of things. I remember the day I met Misty. Contrary to what all my friends believe, I did not think she was beautiful or even nice at the time. There was one moment, right when we first saw each other, when I had a neutral perspective on our relationship, because with her first words I thought she asked if I was okay. But when I replied and she immediately yelled at me, my defenses rose, and we've been sparring partners ever since. Of course, that bike incident didn't help matters much...though we've since made peace on that. Even if I never did pay her back for it.
I remember the day I knew she was pretty. Before then I knew she could be pretty, because I had seen her dress up for festivals and parties, but I was always surprised to see that regular old Misty could look so much like a normal girl. But one day we were traveling in the Johto League, and we stopped at a town during its annual charity week. We stayed to help, and one of the projects was building a home for a family that otherwise couldn't afford it. Brock was assigned to work with the men inside the house while Misty and I, due to our ages, got to help with the painting.
We had all wanted to help, but I don't think any of us expected it to turn out as fun as it was. The charity workers really knew how to have a good time. They had several radios playing at the same time—and usually on different stations. The workers would divide into teams and see who could sing along the loudest to the song they were hearing. And it did get very loud—not to mention raucous and off-key—but it was a blast. There was also a refreshment table set up, which Misty teased me for visiting too often, even though she either went with me or asked me to bring something back. The people whose house we were building maintained the table most of the time and they would thank us repeatedly whenever we went up to get a drink. It made me blush, but it also made me feel really, really good. Misty and I never talked about it, but I could tell by her smile that she felt the same way.
During the afternoon, the crew leader came over to see how we were doing. He smiled and told us we were doing great, and then went to one of the other sections. Misty and I exchanged a look when he started harassing one woman, saying her painting was so pathetic, he bet she couldn't even paint her nails right. And, of course, the woman promptly flung paint at him. Which prompted all the other workers to turn on their neighbor...turns out the man and woman had been husband and wife and were just teasing each other, but the news came way too late—a full-fledged paint war was in effect. They went easy on us since we were kids, but we were by no means spared.
Then again, that may be my fault...as soon as I realized that we wouldn't get in trouble for playing around, I took my brush and swiped it right on Misty's nose. She shrieked and threw her brush at me. It hit me on the head and I got paint all in my hair. And that was it for the paint throwing, but seeing as we then got into a wrestling war and rolled around on a paint-speckled ground while paint was flying through the air, we still got paint all over ourselves. It was a good thing Brock had made us change into old clothing...by the time a truce was declared, we were coated in the eggshell shade we had been painting with—but we were also laughing too hard to care. And neither of us could stop laughing, either. Each time we came close to calming down, one of us got a good look at the other and we simply broke down again.
And that's when it happened...
I glanced over at her, intending to say something along the lines of her having problems with her make-up brush that morning, but never made it that far. I watched as she stood up, stretched, and tilted her head as she tried to comb through her hair with her fingers. And then I saw something...different. At first I thought it was just the sun in my eyes, so I rubbed at them, almost smearing paint in my eyes. Misty saw me trying to blink it away. She scolded me and, still giggling, grabbed a rag that was near us. As she leaned over to wipe the paint off my face, I caught my breath, and hoped she didn't notice...I was acutely conscious of her touch, and how close her face was to mine. For the first time I was nervous to be near my best friend, because I had just realized something.
She was still skinny, and still looked like a tomboy. She was dressed in one of Brock's lumpy old t-shirts and frayed jeans with holes in them. She was covered in paint and her hair had come down from her ponytail and was a tousled mess from our wrestling match. She hadn't changed a bit—but my perception of her had. Because suddenly...
She was pretty to me.
I remember realizing that my best friend had just become my love interest. I remember my surprise and fear and my not knowing how to act around her for several weeks. I remember worrying that I had ruined our relationship forever, and I remember the night when we both found out that I hadn't. It was the last night of the Johto League ceremonies. Misty was upset about something, and I comforted her...by kissing her. I remember how tightly we held each other after that as we admitted that we liked each other.
I remember the travels after that, and I remember all our special moments. I remember everything about Misty...well, almost everything. Because the one thing I don't remember is...when I fell in love with her.
And that's because by now...I can't remember a time when I ever wasn't.
She slept for two hours while I reminisced. By the time she woke up, not only had I given in and tuned in to ESPN, but it was dinner time. She excused herself to go take a shower while I went out to the car and pulled out my trusty can of chicken noodle soup and heated it up. After she dressed, still wearing pajama pants and a T-shirt but a fresh pair, I dished up a big bowl of soup and brought it out to the living room, complete with ice water, orange juice, and crushed ice on the side. I set one of the roses I had given her on the tray, right next to the box of tissue. She laughed when I delivered it, and I waited for a crack about how I missed my calling as a Nurse Joy.
"Ash..." she said. "Don't you think I'm sick enough without you cooking for me?"
"Don't worry. Daisy supervised," I told her.
"Oh, that's real reassuring," she teased.
"And it was microwavable."
"I won't tell you about the fire she started in there..." She took the spoon and blew on it, then took a sip. "But it appears to be safe."
"Sure it is. I only spit in it once."
She dropped the spoon—she knew I was joking, but I had made the faux pas of speaking as she was swallowing and she was now choking. Immediately repentant, I pounded her on the back, punctuating the motion with a "Sorry! Sorry!" every time I jabbed. She gulped down half the glass of water, finally stopped choking, and threw me an exasperated look.
"What am I going to do with you?"
I shrugged helplessly, giving her my best puppy dog pout, and she shook her head. But I knew her weak point—eventually she had to grin. She rolled her eyes and said in a not unaffectionate tone, "Just watch your testosterone channel, okay?"
"Okay." I was forgiven.
I leaned back against the sofa, did as she commanded, and consequently she was able to finish her meal in relative peace. When she finished, she lay back down and settled against my leg like she owned me. She was probably right. She coughed, and I could hear the congestion in her voice. I ran my fingers through her hair to comfort her. And then she burped.
"That was lady-like."
"You watch ice skating."
We both smiled and I changed the channel to something we both liked.
It wasn't The Loft...but I can't say that it wasn't an enjoyable evening. Of course I would have liked for her to have been well, and for me to have taken her out to eat, but there was something special in itself to have such a simple, trusting love. Misty lay peacefully against my side all night, and sometimes I could feel her sighing contentedly. I kept my arm around her, occasionally stroking her arm or her hair, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead after I did. Around ten she was almost falling asleep again, this time for the night. She declined going to her room, saying she'd use the sofa for a bed. So I got up and retrieved her pillow, fluffing it before I placed it under her head. She smiled at me when I knelt down with a blanket and attempted to tuck her in.
"Thanks..." she mumbled. "Ash, you're so sweet." She was too tired to qualify that.
"It is too."
"What, that I'm sweet?"
"No, silly," she said, and then coughed. I rubbed her back through the blanket.
"You should stop talking," I said gently. "Just go to sleep, okay? You'll feel better in the morning."
"But...you didn't have to do everything you did tonight," she said, completely ignoring me. "You didn't have to bring me flowers or make me soup or stay with me so I didn't get lonely. You shouldn't have to do that."
"I wanted to," I told her.
"Because..." I paused. Because you're sweet yourself, Mist, I wanted to say. Because you stay with me when I need you. Because you care for me without caring for my position or status. Because you're beautiful and don't even know it. Because...because of all the little things, that make you who you are...
...and because I don't need a fancy evening or dramatic moment as an excuse to care for you, because you're special, and that's what's important.
"Because I love you," I said.
She blinked, recognizing even in her fever-induced state that this was the first time I had ever said the words to her. And that I meant them.
"Even...even when I'm sick and sweaty and snotty and tired?" she asked.
"Of course. I just love you." I tensed slightly, wondering how she would react. If that was enough.
She smiled. "Well, good," she said softly. "Because I love you too."
And I relaxed. We gazed in each other's eyes, my right hand brushing the hair out of her eyes, my left hand in hers. She squeezed it gently, and I squeezed it back. Everything—her condition, the circumstances—became unimportant compared to what had just taken place. I told her that I loved her. And she accepted it.
I brought my face close to hers, and her eyes closed—and not because she was tired, either. Our lips met. I could feel the flush of her cheeks, and the labored effort of her breathing, but she didn't hold back, so I didn't either. I took my hand off her forehead and placed it behind her neck, stroking it as I felt her lips part and we fell into a deeper kiss. She reached out and put her arm around my waist, drawing me closer, so that in order to be comfortable I had to lie on the sofa next to her. My hand drifted to her waist and I let it rest on the bare skin that was peeking out from under her shirt. It was several minutes before we broke apart, and then she pulled away, smiled as she looked me in the eye, and matter-of-factly said,
"You just frenched the flu."
I shrugged and smiled back as I traced her lips with my finger, trying to be amorous and shut her up at the same time. "It was worth it."
I was sick to my stomach. I was sweaty all over—when I wasn't busy shaking with the chills. My breathing was ragged—or else congested. And my mind wouldn't function at all—though Misty politely refrained from making any further comments on this, as she was sympathetic to my condition.
Sure, I was in love, but I wasn't only in love—I was sick.
With my mom bustling around as my nurse, Misty didn't have any duties to care for me, but having completely recovered herself, she came over to keep me company. Though in my opinion, I had been much more charitable.
"Told you that you shouldn't have kissed me," she said cheerfully. "Didn't I?"
I would have answered her, but I was too busy coughing.
She waited until I stopped and I leaned against her leg, exhausted. My head was pounding, and despite the fever reducer and antibiotics the doctor had given me, I was still shaking from the fever most of the time, and not even the heavy blanket over me helped. Through a dim haze I could feel Misty trying to stroke the bangs off my forehead, like I had for her just a week earlier. My hair stuck to my forehead from the sweat, and without complaint she took a washcloth from the table next to her and wiped my face with it. Strange how I could be shaking with the chills and have a cool washcloth be welcome relief.
"Thanks, Mist," I said hoarsely.
"You know I love you," she said simply. The words seemed to roll of her tongue so much easier than they had for me. I had worried for nothing.
"I'm not kissing you though."
I let my head flop onto her lap and leaned into the hand that she had on my cheek. "I know..." I groaned, then coughed again.
She giggled and rubbed my arm consolingly. "Just so you know that."
"Can you say anything other than I know?"
She laughed and, trying not to disturb me too much, made herself a hypocrite as she adjusted herself and leaned over to kiss me on the forehead. "Get some sleep sweetie, okay?"
I closed my eyes, concentrated on the touch of her hand on my forehead, and dozed off almost instantly. The world was a blur around me before I remembered something and tried to wake myself. It was important that I say this. My speech was a bit slurred, but I was successful enough to say, "Misty?"
"What is it?"
"I love you too." I tried to sit up so that I could see her.
She placed her hands on my chest and gently forced me back down, running her fingers through my hair as I lay back down, my eyes drooping even as she answered me. But she was right—I hadn't needed to look at her, because I could hear the smile and warmth just through her voice. Her words were the last ones I heard before, with a contented sigh, I drifted off to sleep again.
And I know I was asleep, but I'd like to think she kissed me one more time.
A few shout-outs to: Dragoness, who either knows me too well or had a really good guess about what was going to happen...and Shandy, because I decided I didn't want to be an accomplice to your death so I posted within a reasonable amount of time. ^_~ Oh, and E2K—yup, I like roses! Kinda a coincidence that both stories involving them got posted in succession, though. ^_^
Once again, this can all be blamed on Latonya Wright. Latonya, now look what you did...
Disclaimer, seeing as I forgot it last time: I don't own pokémon, but I never really wanted that much money, anyway. (Survey says: Yeah, right. ^^)