As you may have guessed, this isn't the 'new project' I've been working on for the last few months. In fact, I plan on taking a mild hiatus from writing in order to work out some personal stuff. So if you see my profile void of updates, it isn't because I don't care, but merely occupied for the time being. Inspiration, however, strikes at the oddest times, so I hammered out this little one-shot to clear away some creativity cobwebs. This isn't a song-fic, but I did listen to a lot of Clarity by John Mayer while writing this. A pretty awesome song, by the way. Enjoy!
"...the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity." - Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
"I see you," he murmured, a fleck of irritation shrouding his tone. "I see you, Misty."
His left leg was locked in a completely straight position, the other bent slightly, sneaker tapping against the cement. He crossed his arms too, high and tight against his chest to finish off his air of annoyance. To make matters worse, she wasn't even trying to humor him. There was no apology - sincere or otherwise - not even a feeble attempt to continue the game. But it was obvious she was there, for her spiky lopsided ponytail was clearly poking out from behind the bushes that not even a blind man could miss it.
"You put absolutely no thought into this!" He stomped over to her poorly chosen cover, hands slammed to his sides.
"What did you expect me to do?" She rose from her 'hiding spot,' a few tiny twigs and leaves caught in the thin strands of her hair. "This is ridiculous, Ash! I'm not doing this anymore!"
"But, I didn't even get a turn." His persistence failed to strike a note with her. The loose pieces of nature fell from her hair, cast aside with a snap of her wrist. He followed her, but still made sure he was out of arms reach. "Come on, Misty," he pleaded, dodging a swaying leaf. "One more go around. I'll even hide this time!"
"No. No. No. This isn't how I wanted to spend my afternoon, okay!"
He circled around so she had to stop. "Well... how did you want to spend it?"
"Definitely not doing this."
He opened his palms. "But we used to do this all the time when we were kids."
She grumbled under her breath, and bumped him aside with her shoulder. Rarely did Ash Ketchum answer his own argument so succinctly, but the very fact he did and still didn't get it was more than enough to bypass his ignorance and pressed on.
It was nice to get a few days off - a traveling Pokemon trainer rarely gets the chance. Yes, trainers followed their own regiments, but Ash learned a long time ago to stick to his rigorous schedule. More like Brock's schedule, since he was usually the one to enforce it. Mornings began with a light breakfast, followed by two hours of battle training. After an equally light lunch, it was back to the grind, with a round of theory, strategy exercises and reading. Classroom work was Ash's least favorite subject - for he was never classified as 'book smart' - but even he could admit diligent studying paid off eventually. There were only a few times out of the month Ash could afford a break, and he jumped at the chance when the majority of his friends had some vacation the same time he did.
Misty had practically saved up a lifetime of paid time off from the Gym, and May and Dawn had a few weeks to kill before the next Grand Festival. So they all planned to spend a day together in Celadon City. It was an acceptable compromise: Department stores for the girls, but still with a large Pokemon scene for the boys. As long as Ash could eat junk food and take in a good battle, he couldn't care less where he spent it. So they arranged to meet in the food court of the Celadon Department Store. Of course, Ash and Misty arrived first and designated an orange rectangular table as their own. With Ash and Misty, however, peace often falls by the wayside.
"I'm gonna get some ice cream. Want some?"
Misty sighed, still irked by their little tiff earlier. "Dinners in a few hours, Ash."
"So?" He span in his plastic chair, flashing a teethy grin from ear to ear every time he passed. Even though his face was a fleeting peripheral image, she still felt the urge to slap him into next Tuesday.
"Cut it out." She leaned her elbows on the sticky table top.
The chair finally lost momentum and he ended up facing her anyway. "Jeez, what's you're problem? You're not still upset about 'hide 'n seek' earlier, are you?"
"Never mind. At least wait for May n' Dawn to show."
As if on cue, the girls entered, arms intertwined, with a small skip to their step.
"Hey Ash! Hi Misty!" May smiled, taking the seat next to Ash.
Dawn took the chair beside Misty and shook her friend playfully by the shoulder. "Something wrong?"
"She just doesn't want us to spoil our appetite, that's all," he wove reassuringly. "Come on, race you guys to the line."
It's funny how something as arbitrary as choosing ice cream can have such a statement on someone's personality. At least it was true in this case. May sat down first, with a single waffle cone of french vanilla, drenched in a cover of hardened chocolate. She smacked her lips together before having a taste, savoring every bit of her icy treat. Next was Dawn, who opted for the more modern cup container. She had two scoops, different flavors of strawberry and peach, squished together resembling two brightly colored hills. The light red - speckled with real berries - and peach color swirled together to form a mango-violet like hybrid. But it was the hail of pink sprinkles she covered her dessert with that made it her own. It was like she emptied the entire container. The ice cream crunched as she ate it, making sure her sprinkle-to-ice-cream ratio was even with every mouth full.
If Ash was a dessert, he'd be the one he chose that day: A double fudge banana split. It came on a silver saucer, so big Ash had to brace it with both hands as he walked back to the table. Two long peeled bananas anchored this calorie filled nightmare. Lined neatly in a row were three large scoops of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, sitting cozily between the fruit. Light fluffs of whipped cream topped each scoop, twisting upward in a small curl. A dash of crushed nuts and a single red cherry on top finalized the serving - that and a spiral-like design of hot fudge adjoining every flavor, oozing over the sides. Ash gripped his plastic spoon and devoured what the utensil could carry in a single bite.
"Want some?" he angled the dish her way.
After she thought about it, Misty dipped her finger in the melted multicolored pool and sucked it clean.
He waited. "That's it? That wasn't even a bite."
"It was barely a taste!"
"I said: 'I'm fine!'"
His dessert was gone now, resting safely in the confines of his tummy. Only the dish and spoon remained, still sticky from the ice cream, the leftovers melted in a tiny brown swirl. The stem from the cherry was flicked to the side, along with a few stray nuts. The whole group marveled how he was able to undertake such a massive dessert all by himself, even if it was Ash Ketchum. The girls finished their desserts too. May left half of her cone behind, she claimed the melted ice cream made it too soggy to enjoy. The crunch from the cone was the best part, after all. Dawn's container however was licked clean, and they wouldn't have been able to tell what she had if it weren't for the pen marks the cashier made on the side of the container.
All three nodded together.
"Well, we still have some time to kill before Brock shows up."
"I want another."
Misty winced. "I can't imagine you have enough room for another Sunday, Ash!"
He scoffed lightly, reaching for his wallet in his back pocket. "Shows how much you know. It was a banana split."
Like it made a difference, but Misty didn't feel like arguing the point. She watched as he spilled the change from his wallet: a few dollar bills, two quarters and a stray dime, rolling toward the edge of the table. Dawn caught it and dropped it back with the others. He counted each coin individually - tongue poking out the side of his mouth - as he added the total in his head.
"Just enough," he grinned happily, sweeping the change off the table with his forearm.
Glass. Two familiar faces. A red and yellow dress.
"What do you think about that one?"
"Really? I like it."
"Yellow's not your color."
"Hello, I wore yellow like every day. Remember?"
"Well, what color looks good on me?"
Glass, minus one face. He should have said yellow.
5:30 read his digital watch. He gave a heated sigh as his hand flopped to his side, knocking against the wide wooden bench. Time was moving slower than usual, which didn't make a lick of sense being time was a continuum, always in the same constant motion. But Ash was positive there were things capable of making time crawl rather than flow. Boring lectures were one, walking through a large desert was another. But girls were inevitably the third, and they were driving him particularly crazy at the moment.
"Jeez, they've been in there forever!" his head rolled back over his shoulders, and accidentally bumped into the backside of the bench.
Brock smirked, but still retained enough concentration on the small pamphlet he was currently involved with. It was a small booklet, but was still taking some time to get through. He finished his current page and dogeared his spot.
"It's only been two hours."
"Only? How long does it take for you to shop for clothes? Twenty minutes tops?"
"Girls are different, Ash. It's a more complex process for them."
He furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"
"Well, there are many things to consider when picking a new wardrobe..."
"...like color, patterns, compatibility, size, shape," he could have gone longer, but the point was made. They both knew it too. There was a brief pause and once it was done, the breeder was back to his pamphlet.
That was that - girls were weird.
Ash stared at the fore. A large store engulfed his entire vision. This was the mall's main attraction for girls, he reckoned. It took almost a fourth of the entire department store. Large lighted letters were on the top. He couldn't even pronounce the name, it was some french word, written in cursive with a few fruity diacritics above it. The entryway was all glass, as were the two display windows on both sides. Tall plastic manikins without faces posed suggestively in the shiny glass. They adorned all different kinds of outfits: black skimpy lingerie, white summer dresses, casual wear, winter wear and bikinis. The overhead lights flashing pinks, yellows and greens were giving him quite a headache. That and the rumbling bass of the techno music, leaking out whenever a girl entered or exited. It was like some bizarre carnival made specifically for women, and they were exiled to the hallway and forced to wait.
"What are you reading?" he leaned forward, trying to peak the cover.
"It's a pamphlet for a mathematics lecture at Saffron City University."
"You takin' some classes there?"
He shook his head. "No, but Suzy and I are attending this weekend."
"Never pegged you as the sci-ency type."
"I'm not. Not really," he amended. "But Suzy's really into that stuff and she's been begging me to take her. So..." he waved the booklet in the air, "I'm boning up on Advanced Algebraic Topology so I don't feel too stupid."
"Do you even like math?"
He chuckled. "Not even a little bit," and ironically, started another page.
"Then why do you do it? Seems like a waste of time to me."
The small booklet made a small thump against Brock's chest, an unreadable expression occupying his face as he turned.
"What? What did I say?"
"Ash, being in a relationship requires more than just doing the things you want to do. You have to take an interest in her hobbies too. It's part of getting to know the other person. You have to understand a girl before you can truly like her. Love her even."
Sounded good in theory. Unfortunately, theories were exactly that to Ash Ketchum - a theory.
Thankfully, the girls exited the store before Ash could claim ignorance, with the pounding techno music trailing closely behind. Dawn looked the strangest - trying to handle some twenty bags in her grasp. She looped most of them through both arms and hugged the rest against her chest. It was quite a comical site, as she stumbled her way to the bench. But to everyone's amazement, she managed to drop every bag neatly in place before giving a resounding sigh of achievement. May carried two modest bags in her possession, each in hand. Packed to full capacity, she decided to drop one in mid-walk, and slid it over with her foot.
To Ash's amazement, the third strolled out with no bag in sight. Not a new pair of shoes, not a cute skirt - nothing.
"Where's your stuff?"
"Didn't get anything," she shrugged casually.
"What? Don't tell me you were in there two hours and didn't even buy anything!"
"What's your problem?" she popped her shoulders again. "I was just window shopping."
"Yeah, what's the big deal?" May asked.
"It is a big deal! If your gonna have me wait a freakin' week to shop, you can at least have a few things to show for it! Now we only have," he skimmed his watch, "six minutes to make our dinner reservations!"
It was a painfully awkward silence, but not one void of sound - for there were many passerby shoppers still walking throughout the mall. Their cheery conversations and laughter echoed off the walls and tile floor, peppered with crying babies and muffled dance music. It was the speechless kind of silence, where despite the near deafening decibel level, the group didn't know what to say to break the tension.
Misty scoffed. "You're a dick," and walked away.
Dawn scampered after her, completely abandoning her horde of pink designer wear. If it were possible, the unbearable awkwardness intensified, and suddenly Ash found himself very interested with his shoes knocking together, avoiding Brock and May's burning stares.
"Nice, Ash," he sighed.
"Yeah. Way to go, genius."
The first thing that tipped Ash off that he was in trouble were the scathing looks from three sets of eyes as he exited the restaurant. Brock, Dawn and May stood arms crossed, eyes thinned, in battle triangle formation. Brock was at point, with Dawn at his left and May to the right. The second was his conscience, striking his mind in alarming rate. The group's distilled silence spoke for itself, causing a large lump growing in Ash's throat.
He swallowed. "What's wrong?"
Brock frowned. "You know what's wrong."
"Yeah, don't play dumb."
"What are you getting at?"
"You were really mean to Misty earlier. The whole day, in fact!"
"Oh, that?" he smiled uneasily, pointing to the restaurant doors over his shoulder. "She got over it. She's fine."
"Oh, really?" May planted her hands firmly on her hips.
Ash nodded. "Yeah..." then searched for the redhead in question. "Uh... where's she now?"
"Right after dinner," Dawn answered. "She paid for herself and left."
May had enough, and knocked the poor boy on the head. "Didn't you think it was weird she didn't say a single word during dinner?"
"No," he replied sourly, rubbing his head. "I thought she was just tired."
Brock stepped in front, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Look, we really think you should apologize to her."
"For what? I didn't do anything! She's the one cramping my style!"
He shook his head. "Do you remember what I said about Suzie and I?"
"I bet you haven't even once attempted to understand Misty."
He drew his eyebrows together, and retreated a few steps back. "What do you mean?"
"Ash... try to understand why she was bugging you. Why she did the things she did. Why she does anything, for that matter."
He did. For the first time he stopped and thought about her. But not as a rival, not as a Gym leader, not even as a childhood friend - but as a person. A person with real feelings and problems. Yes, Misty was a kid once, but she wasn't anymore. She grew up. After all, she had to when she assumed responsibility for leading an official Gym at the tender age of thirteen. Misty wasn't a little girl anymore, in fact she did grown up things. She paid bills, did her own laundry, went shopping, cleaned the house, all in addition to training and caring for her Pokemon. An innocent game of 'hide and seek' felt incompatible now.
Misty was a girl - Ash knew that, but the implications were still lost on him. Girls in their early twenties can't scarf down twenty dollars worth of sweets willy-nilly. May and Dawn still had the freakish metabolism of a five year old, and their bodies sure showed it. But Misty had to work hard to maintain her figure. He remembered a few years back when he gave her a hard time for changing to a stricter diet. She even joined a local gym and started doing yoga too.
She was a different kind of girl, as cliche as it sounded. She wasn't a 'girl' in the fullest sense of the stereotype. She wasn't Dawn, the same girl who probably maxed out all her credit cards in one day, and never lets a week go by without getting a manicure. She wasn't like May, who considered it a sin to wear the same outfit twice in a row and melted every time she came across a cute top. Misty was a tom-boy in all respects. The kind who can stomach not showering for a day, and packs a mean right hook.
Then Ash thought about her family, specifically her sisters. How their estranged relationship molded her personality more than anything, and was most likely the source of her quasi disdain for anything feminine. Ash had a loving family life, he always felt safe in his home town. But he remembered how Misty originally refused to return to Cerulean. How all the effort she invested to get away from the city, only to be coaxed back a few years later. Maybe that was the reason why she still calls him once a week, or why she jumped at the chance to spend some actual time with him. She was lonely.
"Why do you think she wanted to come with you today?"
"And why she hasn't dated in years."
"And why your first on her speed dial."
A long exhale, then he was gone, with no hesitation.
The high screech from the tires made her jump, but it was the footsteps behind her that made her turn, her right hand still clutching the door knob. It was dusk, with a few remnants of sun left in the day. But despite the lack of light, she recognized his familiar profile climbing to the topmost step to meet her.
"Misty!" he called out of breath
"What are you doing here?"
His breathing began to normalize before he rose to her level. "I want to apologize."
"Everything, I guess." Immediately, he lost his courage and aimed his eyes towards the deck. "I'm sorry I was such a jerk to you before."
"A dick," she corrected. "You were a dick."
He let out a small chuckle. "Yeah, you're right. I'm really, really sorry."
It was a sincere apology, she knew that. It wasn't lined with any sarcastic undertones or preluded by a snort of derision. But despite his candid apology, it refused to soften her features, still hard as nails.
"It's fine," she wove reassuringly. "I expect that from you, Ash. I'll be fine."
"No!" his hand dove over the knob before she could turn it, and guided her fully around. Her eyes met with his, and for one tedious second realized how dangerously close they were. She could still feel his labored breathing and could see his chest gently rising and falling under his shirt outlined by the porch light. "You don't understand, Misty. I'm sorry for everything. I didn't get it before, I didn't know, but I do now."
"What are you talking about?"
They almost bumped noses as he shook his head. "I'm not sure if I fully understand it myself," he started with a nervous twitch. "But you're not a kid anymore. You're a grown up. A Gym Leader's salary sucks and ice cream is good when your ten but yoga is better, I guess. And you don't look good in pink, but you do in yellow. Blue and red too, I suppose... but mostly yellow." He laughed timidly afterward, realizing how incredibly foolish he sounded at the moment, then added "I understand."
"What do you understand, Ash?" she murmured pessimistically, barely above a whisper.
"You." The word sounded sweet off his lips, sending a brilliant chill down her spine. It was a simple answer - with no explanation needed - but what followed next trumped everything in recent memory. He moved closer and pecked her gently on the cheek, the cold skin on their faces reddening with a growing warmth.
"I see you." He said it as a whisper, but it was the strongest level she'd ever heard. "I see you, Misty."
He did. He finally understood her, and when clarity is achieved, love is not far behind.
Hope you liked. Thanks for reading. I appreciate it.