Letting Go

I was up at first light that day, the sun having barely appeared over the horizon by the time I was dressed. As I fastened my blouse, I was . . . I wasn't entirely sure what I was feeling. Proud, I guess, but also a little worried . . . No, that's not the word; I was more . . . uncertain. That doesn't quite cover it either, but it's the best I can do. Today was the day my son, Jake, was going to see Professor Rowan and get his first Pokemon.

He'd been looking forward to this day for ages. Sandgem Town is a quiet place and there isn't much for kids to do. So Jake wanted to go off on a Pokemon journey and have adventures all over Sinnoh. I supported his wishes, especially since Kaylie (our neighbours' daughter) was starting her journey on the same day and they planned to travel together. But, now that the day had come, I knew it was going to be hard to see my own flesh and blood fly the nest.

Still, it was Jake's decision to go and I wasn't going to let a mother's natural protectiveness stop him. First, though, I had to wake him up so he would have plenty of time to eat a good breakfast and get to the lab. I walked towards his room and knocked on the door.

No answer.

Recalling how lazy growing boys can be, I pushed open the door and walked in, heading straight towards the window. I pulled open the Voltorb-patterned curtains, letting the sun flood in. "Jake?" I called, addressing the small figure in the bed. "Time to get up. It's your big day - you don't want to be late."

With some grumbling and yawning, Jake sat up and swung his legs out of bed. He stood up and stretched, as I withdrew to allow him time to get dressed and myself time to finish getting his things together. There is so much work involved in preparing for a Pokemon journey; trainers need a lot more than just a Pokedex and a supply of Poke Balls. They need at least two changes of clothing, a sleeping bag in case they have to camp outdoors, a basic first aid kit in case they or their Pokemon are injured, spending money . . . Thankfully, Jake and I had sorted out his things last night and it just remained for me to pack them in his backpack.

As I entered the kitchen, I was greeted by two Grass Pokemon, one of which looked like a walking sunflower, while the other looked . . . I suppose the best way to describe her would be as a green fairy with posies of roses for hands. In other words, they were a Sunflora and a Roserade respectively. "Morning, Goldie," I said to the Sunflora. "Bloom." The last word was addressed to the Roserade, who waved her flowers like a cheerleader waving a pair of pompoms in acknowledgement of her nickname. These were the Pokemon I had raised since I was a girl, though I had never taken them on a Pokemon journey; I had no desire to either win Gym Badges and get into the Sinnoh League or to compete in Pokemon Contests.

Anyway, I patted Bloom on the head and stroked Goldie's petals the way she liked. Then, I set to work packing Jake's backpack, which was dark green with a picture of a Seedot embroidered on the flap. Spare clothing went in first, followed by some basic camping equipment and a torch. Next, I packed a package of healing items (two each of Potion, Antidote, Paralyze Heal and Awakening) that I'd picked up on Special Offer at the PokeMart, followed by six unused Poke Balls. These were followed by a Sinnoh League guidebook that I'd bought; it was second hand but still fairly new, so I figured Jake might find it useful.

I was just fastening Jake's rolled-up sleeping bag (which was blue and covered with images of Poke Balls) to the top of the backpack when Jake entered the room. He was wearing a red t-shirt and black jeans, with sneakers on his feet and wristbands matching his t-shirt on his hands. His belt was one of those special "trainer belts" designed for holding Poke Balls at the trainer's waist; many Pokemon trainers use these belts, as they make it easy to get at your Pokemon without having to fumble through your bag. His brown hair was still slightly mussed and I quickly told him to "give it a comb" before Kaylie came.

As Jake grabbed a comb, I set to work preparing breakfast, pancakes with maple syrup and fresh orange juice. This was one of Jake's favourites, but I couldn't help thinking that, after today, it would be several months before I had a chance to cook it for him again. My little boy was growing up and I couldn't help but feel a little sad at the thought . . . To take my mind off things, I turned on the TV in the wall bracket, just in time to catch the morning news.

Jake and I were just finishing our pancakes and the newsreader was reporting on one of those "human interest" stories that come at the end of a bulletin (something about a Marill which had learned to water-ski) when the doorbell rang.

"That'll be Kaylie!" Jake said, jumping up from his seat and hurrying to the front door. A moment later, he returned with Kaylie close behind him. She had auburn hair tied into two pigtails, plus pale grey eyes, and was ten, the same age as Jake. Like him, she was dressed in the casual clothing worn by trainers on the road; in her case, these consisted of a dark-blue pleated skirt, a grey t-shirt with a blue band round the neck, long white socks and sneakers. She carried a backpack over her shoulder and, unlike Jake, she already had a Pokemon; a cute little Phanpy was trotting at her heels.

"Hi, Mrs Lewis," she greeted me. Her Phanpy walked up to Goldie and Bloom in turn, sniffing them with his trunk; I read somewhere that this is how a Phanpy or Donphan greets another Pokemon. The Sunflora and the Roserade returned the greeting. Goldie grasped the Phanpy's trunk with her leaves and shook it in much the same way a human might shake hands. Bloom simply curtsied.

Kaylie then began explaining what route she and Jake planned to take. "We'll head north to Jubilife," she told me. "Then east to Oreburgh. After that, we'll either go through Mount Coronet to Hearthome City or head north to Floaroma Town - we haven't decided yet."

"Well be sure to let me know when you do decide," I said, thinking privately that I would like to take a trip to Floaroma Town myself someday. From what I heard, that place is famous for its flowers - which should suit Goldie and Bloom down to the ground. But now was not the time for thinking about trips I might take in the future; Jake still had to go and pick his first Pokemon. I turned to him. "Hadn't you better be getting along?"

"Oh! Of course!" Jake grabbed his backpack and hurried out. "Bye, Mum!" he called over his shoulder. "I'll come back and show you my new Pokemon!" With that, he was gone. Kaylie called her Phanpy back and followed him; she was not going to pick a starter Pokemon since she already had the little blue elephant, but she still had to go to Professor Rowan's lab to get her own trainer's licence. I've seen Professor Rowan in town a few times; he's a bewhiskered older man, who has helped many of the trainers from Sandgem Town and nearby Twinleaf Town begin their Pokemon journeys.

Anyway, once Jake and Kaylie were gone, I headed up to Jake's room to make his bed. That way, it would be ready for him when he returned home. As I entered the room, it suddenly dawned on me that this might not be for some time; Sinnoh is a big place and it would take several months, at least, for Jake and Kaylie to get round all the Gyms. But I suppressed the thought and got on with straightening the bed out, then had my usual root around for stray socks that might have found their way underneath. Jake has a rather annoying habit of flinging his clothes down at random when he gets undressed at night, so it's perhaps inevitable that some of his things end up under his bed.

On this occasion, I found four socks (none of which formed a pair) and two pairs of underpants. "Well, Jake," I said as I picked up these items, "you'll have to be a bit tidier than this on your journey - I won't be there to pick up after you and . . ." I suddenly realised how daft I sounded, talking to myself.

As I left the room, my eyes suddenly lighted on something sitting on one of the shelves. That something was Jake's Buizel doll, the one he's had since he was a baby. But he isn't a baby anymore; it must be nearly three years since that plush Buizel's been taken down from the shelf. "Maybe," I thought to myself, "Jake will soon have a real Buizel to show me . . ."

I headed back downstairs and, having nothing better to do, made myself a cup of coffee. I like my coffee with fresh Miltank milk and one spoonful of sugar, but I can't stand those fancy coffees they serve in coffee bars. At the same time, I fed Goldie and Bloom; the two Grass Pokemon ate sitting on the kitchen windowsill, since my kitchen is on the side of the house which gets the sun in the morning. To be honest, I've never heard of many Grass Pokemon which didn't enjoy being in direct sunlight. Even the Grass/Dark Nuzleaf, Shiftry and Cacturne like to spend at least some of their time in the sun, same with Snover and Abomasnow, which are Grass/Ice.

Anyway, I made myself some coffee and, as I sat sipping it, I thought about what I was going to do now that I no longer had to be at home for Jake all the time. My husband and I divorced six years ago and, since then, I've been raising Jake alone; I've been involved in a few relationships, but none of them have been on a long-term basis - yet.

Perhaps I should get myself a job. They were advertising for an assistant in the local PokeMart; I saw the notice when I went there to get the things Jake needed to start his Pokemon journey. Just the basics, since he would be able to replenish his stocks on his journey. And what would happen to him, out there in the big wide world? Would he be all right? Or would he . . .?

I checked myself. "He's a big boy now," I reminded myself. "He can look after himself and, besides, he hasn't even left Sandgem yet. And, when he does, he'll call when he gets to Jubilife."

This did not stop me from worrying, but I pushed thoughts of all the perils Jake could face on the road out of my mind. Some (I had mental images of him being Hyperbeamed by a Gyarados, caught in an Onix's Rock Slide . . . and so on) were just the work of an over-active imagination anyway. Kids have been going on Pokemon journeys for years and hardly any of them have anything really bad happen to them. No, if I started worrying too much, I'd end up calling every Pokemon Centre in Sinnoh every five minutes, just to ask if Jake had passed through yet.

I'd just finished my coffee and was washing the mug in the sink when the door opened and Jake walked in, with Kaylie and her Phanpy following close behind. Jake looked exactly the same as he had when he left, but with one difference; there was a Poke Ball attached to his belt. And that Poke Ball must contain whichever Pokemon he had picked out at the lab. But which had he chosen? Turtwig, Piplup or Chimchar? Those are the starter Pokemon traditionally given to new trainers in Sinnoh - those who don't already have a Pokemon.

"Well?" I asked Jake, drying my hands on the tea towel. "What did you choose?"

In reply, Jake took the Poke Ball off his belt and pressed the button on the front. The Ball opened and, in a flash of red light, my son's very first Pokemon materialised in front of him. This Pokemon was a cute little orange monkey with a flame for a tail, a Chimchar. "It took me a while to decide," Jake told me, patting his new Chimchar on the head. "Turtwig, Piplup and Chimchar are all cool Pokemon. But this little guy took one look at me and . . ." He patted the Chimchar again.

"Chimchar!" piped up the Chimchar. A male, I guessed, since Jake had referred to him as "this little guy".

"We've even had a battle already," Kaylie added from where she stood with her Phanpy. "On our way back here, we ran into a couple of other rookies." And, with that, she and Jake began to fill me in on their first Pokemon battle.

As they left Professor Rowan's lab, Jake now in possession of his Chimchar and both of them carrying Pokedexes, they encountered two boys around their age who had told them they were trainers from Twinleaf Town and were themselves just starting out. Neither Kaylie nor Jake said which of them first suggested a Pokemon battle; nonetheless, a Pokemon battle was what they got. Jake had faced off against the Bidoof belonging to one of the boys, while Kaylie battled the other boy's Mankey. "That Mankey was fast," Kaylie told me. "It kept running up to Phanpy and using Scratch on him. So I told him to use Defense Curl to protect himself. But, then, the Mankey went in for a Karate Chop, so I told Phanpy to use Double Team and . . ."

"I get the idea," I said. "So what happened?"

"I lost," Kaylie replied with a touch of bitterness. "Jake won his battle, though; Chimchar got that Bidoof with an Ember." She nodded towards the little Fire monkey and I privately thought to myself it was lucky Chimchar had met a Bidoof and not its evolved form, Bibarel. For, when a Bidoof evolves into a Bibarel, it changes from a pure Normal Type to a Normal/Water Type. And, as anyone who knows anything about Pokemon will tell you, Fire is weak against Water.

"We stopped at the Pokemon Centre to heal Phanpy," Jake added. "Then we headed back here, 'cos we promised to show you my Pokemon."

Jake and Kaylie would have liked to stay and chat some more. But I reminded them that they had to get going if they wanted to be in Jubilife City by nightfall. So Jake called back his Chimchar, as Kaylie did likewise with her Phanpy and they stepped outside, two kids on the verge of their Pokemon journey. Already, with his backpack on his back and a Poke Ball on his belt, Jake looked every inch the Pokemon trainer.

"Bye, Mum!" he called, waving as he turned to walk away, with Kaylie following.

I wanted to say something, something to wish him (and Kaylie too) luck on their journey. But I found that I couldn't; the thought of my only son setting out into the world suddenly filled me with emotion so that I couldn't speak for a moment. So I stood by my kitchen door, watching and waving until Jake and Kaylie were out of sight.