The first thing I noticed when I woke up that morning can be summed up like so: I felt great.
As in, take-on-the-world-without-breaking-a-sweat great.
With a surge of energy I pushed myself out of bed, landing on my feet easily. I glanced over into the mirror, and a chuckle escaped me when I noticed I'd automatically struck a pose. Still grinning, I shook my head and rummaged through my drawers, searching for my usual outfit. This is going to be a very interesting Friday, I thought wryly, though beneath that train of thought I wondered why there was a sudden oomph to the day …
It took me getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and staring down at my falsely innocent locket to realize that there was something wrong with this picture.
Iris wasn't there.
I cautiously stepped over to her bed. Not bed anymore, really, just a mattress propped up on a four-legged metal frame. Excitement started to ebb away as I poked the mattress tentatively, as if that would magically make her many blankets and pillows reappear. Yeah, right.
I looked over at her desk. Nothing there – no laptop, no books, no open sticks of deodorant, nothing.
Peeking under the mattress: nothing.
Glancing through her tiny closet: nothing.
Looking in her shelves: nothing.
Running my fingers along her shelves: nothing, if you didn't count a disgustingly thick layer of desk.
I leaned against my bed, staring at her half of the room. Shouldn't she be right there, sleeping dangerously late like she always did on weekdays? Axew too, snuggled up next to her like a puppy …
Where is Iris?
It could have been a practical joke. Maybe this was like that time when she'd lured that green-haired guy into an unused classroom, only to dump a bucket of … something … all over his head. Yeah, I told myself, that had to be it. She'd just moved all her stuff out of the room, that's all, and I'd start freaking out enough to fly out the door and run out the hall and down the stairs and into the cafeteria while acting crazy like a cat on fire, only to be met with people snickering at me and Iris's stuff sitting in the middle of the room, with her lounging on the top of the pile like a queen, and we'd all have a good laugh afterward and hear everyone tell the story for a while afterward …
Although that still didn't explain all the dust.
Shivering slightly, I grabbed my books and headed out of that weirdly empty room.
I wasn't in any particular hurry when I entered the cafeteria. After all, there was a whole hour before my first class! Sure, I was still a bit nervous about the Iris thing, but that satisfying feeling from earlier was coming back to me, and it was really hard not to strut about the place like some goth kid in a music video. Speaking of which, that purple-haired emo guy I'd punched at the beginning of school was glaring at me from across the cafeteria. I couldn't be bothered to go punch him again, so I basically told him to talk to the hand as I turned and went to stand in line.
Once there was plenty of food on my tray, I swiveled around energetically, already tasting the sweetness of milk and cereal as I considered which table to sit at.
Unfortunately, the guy behind me chose that exact moment to do the same thing.
Needless to say, much splattering of milk and juice ensued.
"I'm sorry," he repeated five minutes later, after he, the janitor, and I had all taken turns chewing each other out. Now the janitor was mopping up the mess, while the other students in line were all careful to make their way around him, bemused. I made note of that as I got in line; the guy came in behind me, much to my annoyance.
"Oh, it's perfectly okay," I told him sweetly. "I've only got a cranberry stain in my favorite shirt that's never going to come out no matter how hard I scrub it. It's no trouble."
"Really?" he raised an eyebrow, placing an apple on his tray. "I thought you had hundreds of shirts exactly like that, Misty."
I blinked, hand still hovering over some random food item. Slowly I turned my head towards him, taking his appearance more into account this time.
He was rather tall, though he was probably a year or two younger than me anyway. His hair was spiked in an oddly familiar way, but it was the mischievous twinkle in his eyes that told me just who he was.
"Gary?" I asked tentatively.
His face broke into a grin. "So you do recognize me." He glanced behind them. "Want to sit somewhere? We're holding up the line."
Even though I had planned to find Ash somewhere, I nodded anyway, gathering up food on my tray before turning to step out of line, far more slowly and carefully this time. Gary chuckled at this.
Once we had seated ourselves, Gary gave me a few seconds to stare down sadly at my shirt before speaking up. "Maybe we should start those introductions from the top," he said.
I rolled my eyes. "I already know who you are, Gary Oak," I quipped, sipping from my glass of juice.
"Got my name in one!" he laughed. "Although most people call me Professor these days."
He should have known better than to say that when I was drinking.
"… Okay," he stated after a moment, looking down at his soaked shirt. "I guess I should apologize for the stain, then."
"Likewise," I said, even though he probably deserved a better apology from me. I dabbed at my mouth with a napkin before going on, "But seriously? 'Professor'? What are you now, fourteen?"
"Yeah." He nodded redundantly. "Studying Pokemon like Gramps. It probably helps that I knew so much about Pokemon before, back when I was training. Too bad I'm not eighteen yet, or I could be out there doing fieldwork with the rest of the best."
"Aren't you modest."
"Extremely." He smirked. "So what've you been up to?"
"Still a Gym Leader." I swallowed a spoonful of cereal.
"Um, yes. We're in my city, it's easy enough to do."
"Fair enough." He took a folded-up newspaper from who knows where and snapped it open with a flourish. "Hm. They still don't know who's leading Team Omega? Trainers could probably figure it out in less than a week."
"Omega, huh? Is that what they're calling it now?"
He gave me a strange look. "When haven't they been called Omega?"
I didn't reply, thinking over the little I'd bothered to learn about the merged teams. I'd been positive their name was Team Ultimatum last week …
"Anyway," he said, looking back at the front-page story, "it looks like they've been attacking Orange Archipelago again. Doesn't look like they've started bombing over there, at least …"
"And nobody's doing anything about it?" I asked angrily, thinking of water Pokemon trying to protect their beach nests from evil thugs.
"The Orange League is, that's for sure. The police are trying to get hold of the terrorists, 'try' being the key word … You know how police are, only able to arrest people. No good at actually catching them at all."
"Oh, do I know," I agreed, remembering my traveling days years ago when Ash and I had been stalked by goons so incompetent that it was astounding the Officer Jennies hadn't managed to seize them.
"Ash!" I exclaimed, swiveling around in my seat to look at the boy behind me.
While I'd meant to look right into his face, my eyes made their way over to his chest instead – right where I knew his key would be. It was then that it hit me that my good mood was, in some freaky way I couldn't hope to understand, due to that locket incident the other day. I knew it didn't make sense. I knew it was completely stupid to want to do that again.
I also knew that I wanted it anyway.
In my defense, I was a pretty stupid kid back then.
Tearing my gaze upward, I managed an innocent smile and asked, "Have you seen Iris anywhere? I've been wondering what kind of surprise she's trying to pull on me."
He frowned thoughtfully. "Iris?"
"Oh, come on, you've got to know what she's up to. Or has she already headed off to Trig?"
He stared, eyes full of confusion. "Mist … who is Iris?"
"What …" I glanced back at Gary, who didn't seem to have a clue of what we were talking about. "Come on, Ash. Iris. My crazy-as-hell roommate? The one you went around Unova with?"
For the first time, I was intensely aware of how jumbled and subdued the noises in the cafeteria were, in spite of all the ridiculous volume everyone used while talking. How had I not noticed it before?
Ash's brow scrunched up, the way it usually does when he's trying and failing to make sense of something. "… I thought I already told you about Whitlea," he said slowly, as if speaking to a little kid. "Her middle name definitely isn't Iris. And since when have you had a roommate? You keep bragging about how you've got a room to yourself …"
Something was very wrong here.
"Ash," I told him, getting out of my chair fast enough to knock in over, "follow me. We need to talk."