He didn't remember Pallet being this unbearably hot. Either he had been away for far too long and had started to forget things, or climate change was already affecting his little hometown. In any case, the cool lemonade his mother had left in the fridge before going out was as refreshing and welcoming as discarding his various articles of clothing and being able to walk around the empty house in only his boxers. Pouring the bittersweet drink into a glass, he sprawled himself between two of the kitchen chairs as lazily as a slowpoke would near the seashore.
He fanned his heated body with a gardening magazine and sipped the icy drink, letting it cool his tongue for a few seconds before gulping it down. The glass's perspiration dripped down his hand and onto his bare stomach, sending little pleasant chills with each drop.
He finally downed his drink, set the empty glass on the table and closed his eyes, completing the embodiment of laziness he had been portraying. Only his hand kept moving while he used his mother's latest issue of Fine Gardening as a fan, careful not to crumple it too badly. A shuffling sound from the outside made him open one eye for a fraction, just to close it back down after deciding the moving shadow he caught through the window was either Mr. Mime obsessively cleaning something in the backyard or his mom bringing back the groceries.
The door squeaked open, and then he was forced to widen his eyes, freeze his hand holding the magazine, and lose all sort of relaxation he might've acquired.
"Mrs. K, I brought you some –"
Yeah, that was definitely not his mother's voice.
She hurried toward the picket-fenced house where some shade and protection from the blazing sun awaited her. Once under the shades of the trees, she let herself slow down to a regular pace, re-adjusting the large, carton box between her arm and hip while she rounded the house in the direction of the back door.
She pushed it open, her eyes on the vegetables in her arm while the door squeaked familiarly and let her in. The moment she looked up, whatever greeting she might've been saying died halfway in her throat. Instead of finding the brown-haired woman with the sweet, welcoming smile she was used to see in this specific household, she found herself face to face with a half-naked male she hadn't expected to see since forever.
She didn't know what she was more shocked about; over the fact that he was only wearing boxers, or that said boxers had a silly pokéball print, or if it was simply the fact that the last time she had seen this particular male in person, he hadn't looked this grown-up or this underdressed. In spite of the changes there was no doubt it was him because he still had those huge, brown eyes that never kept up with his age and that black mess instead of hair. And maybe she would've stared for all eternity if the box she held hadn't slipped from her arm and landed right on her toe.
Maybe it was the thud of the box when it fell, or the rolling sound of whatever greenish things inside it spilled over the tiled floor, or her pained exclamation. Whatever it had been, he was grateful for the distraction because otherwise he would've kept trying to decide if the girl who had just entered the kitchen instead of his mother was, in fact, his oldest traveling companion. He was finally able to move and, dropping the magazine, he scrambled down to where she was now attempting to pick up the cucumber-like things and put them back in the carton box.
"Misty!" His eyes shifted between the scattered vegetables and the person crouched in front of him, who was failing amazingly at putting them back in the box. She was determinedly not looking at him, her hands clumsy at picking up the mess. He swooped six of the cucumbers in his hands and placed them in the box, which was more than what could be said about the single two the redhead had managed to collect.
"Ash, it's you! I didn't know… Sorry I –when did you…" she stopped, seeming to give up at trying to both gather her things and continue her so far incoherent sentence, and after taking a deep breath and still refusing to look at anything but the box she said, "for goodness' sake, put something on!"
At her words he instantly stood straight, realizing he had almost forgotten he was wearing nothing but one of his most childish boxers. "I-I'm so sorry," he stammered before backing away from the kitchen in search of his discarded clothes.
With each item he collected and pulled on, his face seemed to get a couple of degrees warmer and warmer, which was saying a lot thanks to the hot weather. At the same time, one hundred questions ran through his mind, like; Do you come here often when I'm not here? And, why are you bringing cucumbers to my mom? And of course, how long has it been for your hair to be that freakishly long?
Once he was fully and appropriately dressed he returned to the kitchen, hesitating at the entrance while he wondered which question he should ask first. He found her already standing, picking on a fingernail and staring out the window, the box with the green, elongated things he was still not sure were cucumbers neatly placed on the kitchen counter. She heard him come in and turned with a small jump in his direction, lowering her hands to her sides and widening her always bluish, green eyes. He stood still a few feet across from her, not knowing if he should be the one to speak first.
She was so different, but yet he was sure could've recognized her anywhere; her hair was actually down, and it was so long he guiltily realized they hadn't spoken in a very long while. He could see the sport swimsuit underneath her light, flannel shirt, disappearing under her denim shorts. He was about to open his lips when she beat him to it.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know you were home," she said simply. She started picking on her fingernails again and he wondered if it was a new habit she had developed. "I wouldn't have… I mean… If I had known…"
"I just got here last night," he cut in, making her nod understandingly. A long, long strand of hair fell over her shoulder when she did, and he felt yet another, little pang of guilt. He quickly added, "I was going to call you… I –"
"No, it's fine," she wove her hand reassuringly, although he wasn't sure if he bought it. She turned to the box with the green vegetables, asking, "is your mom home? I brought her these."
"No, she went to the market a while ago." She nodded again, this time fiddling with the edge of the carton box. There were so many things he could've asked her right in that second; how's the Gym? Are the pokémon doing well? How've you been? But, being the person he was, he settled for the stupidest one. "Are those cucumbers?"
Luckily, she only let out a small breath that could be considered a little chuckle. "No. They're zucchinis. Your mom says she can never get them at the market here, and there was a fruits and vegetables fair in Cerulean last weekend. So I just thought I would… you know…"
"You visit my mom often?" he asked hesitantly.
"N-not that often. Sometimes, I mean, every once in a while. It's usually when I have to come down to Oak's reserve. The professor has been checking on some of my pokémon for a while now."
"Oh," they were both nodding again, and he hated how it was the only thing they seemed capable of doing. With each second he became more aware of exactly how much she had changed while he was away, not looking. She played with one of her shirt's buttons, and he wondered when in the world had she turned so uneasy around him.
"I should go," she finally said, pointing with her thumb toward the backdoor over her shoulder.
"Wait, mom will be home soon," he said maybe too hopefully.
"I have a train to catch," she sounded regretful, or maybe he was imagining it. In any case, he appreciated the slight grin she then gave him. "It was nice seeing you, Ash. Make sure Mrs. K gets the zucchinis."
"Well. See you around," she wove briefly and turned to leave, not seeming very sure about her last statement.
"Of course!" he called after her retreating figure, and she was already outside, the door clicking closed behind her, when he added, "I'll call you sometime!"
He stared at the ghost she had left behind for Mew knew how many seconds, her shadow already out of sight from between the kitchen windows. Almost zombie-like, he turned around and started exiting the kitchen, deciding to discard once again his clothes –for it seemed it was now even hotter than before –and maybe have another glass of lemonade. It would all then be back to normal, the little encounter he had just experienced something he could ignore. Or at least try to. It seemed that after his absence she had left some things behind, right? So he should too.
And then his foot bumped into a forgotten, cucumber-like 'zucchini' that had rolled too far away from the others.
She was directly under the sun heat again, just having stepped away from the shady, comfortable trees that surrounded the Ketchum household. She couldn't help but squinting her eyes against the light, shielding them with one hand above her forehead and wishing the station weren't so far away.
Part of her felt bitter about the horrible weather, but she knew that was not only it. It wasn't like she had imagined a tear-filled reunion with his old friend. Or was he an ex-friend? Could people have ex-friends? It didn't matter, but she would've never imagined it being like it had been. Especially because she hadn't even expected to see him. It had been practically ages, after all.
She checked both sides of the diverging road, some feet away from the house, making sure she would not get run over by a car. Or maybe a cart or a pack of tauros was more probable, since this was Pallet.
She froze for a second, her brain processing what she was hearing and trying to figure out if it was actually real.
It was definitely real, she decided, and she turned around to find him again, standing by the door of the picket fence that surrounded his home. She squinted her eyes further, just to make sure she was not having one strange illusion caused by the heat.
"What is it?" she called back. He had one of the zucchinis in his hand, she realized as her eyes adjusted. His face was scrunched up, probably just like hers, and for a reason something in her chest tightened.
"I'll call you," he said, and the three words were completely unexpected. "We should grab something to eat. Lunch…or dinner. Or we could eat these things," he gestured toward the zucchini he was holding, clearly unsure if they were even edible, "whatever they are. We… we have a lot of catching up to do, I think."
She didn't know how long she stared at his expectant figure, processing what he had said one word at a time. She felt slow, mostly –and he probably thought she was, too –but once she actually got it, she also felt her bitterness draining slowly away from her. At the same time, a smile spread on her scrunched up face, and she was sure every facial muscle of her face was now working. Damn the blazing sunlight.
"That'd be nice," she said, nodding again, but this time decidedly and for once happy to do it. "You have to hear what Dewgong learned to do. And you wouldn't believe about Lily's new boyfriend," she added, just for the sake of it.
"Well, at least she can catch a boyfriend, don't you think?"
She would've called him an asshole if she hadn't been so happy that this was finally more like she remembered it.
"Real mature, Ash."
"So I'll se you then?"
He tossed the zucchini in her direction, and when she caught it with both hands in midair, he was already turning back toward the house. She smiled to herself, and continued back in the direction of the Train Station. The weather didn't seem so bothersome anymore, and the vegetable felt comfortably cool against her stomach.
I'm feeling sad, because this is at last over :( I had so much fun writing these! I want to apologize for the long wait, but words beginning with 'Z' are not very... inspiring. Or maybe I was undergoing a block. Either way, I finally made it and this is, at last, finished!
I want to thank all of you who read and reviewed this, especially the ones who have stuck with me through the whole thing. Thank you so much! I also want to thank my friend Claudia, for threatening me in the most cruel (and unlikely) ways so I could finish writing Zucchini ASAP, and for encouraging me for oh-so-very long!
I really appreciate everything :)
I would LOVE to hear your favorite ones! So reviews are very appreciated :)
It was really fun, and maybe, maybe I could go for the 52 mark someday. AAML is just too awesome. Take care everybody!