53 - Perspective
This chapter has been censored in order to comply with FFN's content guidelines. Please visit my profile for a link to Archive of Our Own, where this chapter can be read unblemished.
March 27th 2009
Pokémon League Regional HQ
"Hey mom. Sorry I couldn't make it.
…I'm sure it was really beautiful.
…Because it didn't feel right.
…We were never all that close to begin with.
…Listen, if I was wanted there, she would have called me before she-
…How am I suppose to care about that-
…I've got class, got to go."
I hung up the phone, and then exited the class that had just wrapped up. A free and open evening beckoned.
My name is Morty, by the way. I'm eighteen, six-foot-two, devilishly good looking, bachelor, and most pertinently, one very put-upon momma's boy. The woman seriously has it out for me. Nag nag nag nag, everything great and small. I love her, but good god, I have my own life now and she needs to respect that.
Except, for once, she's right, I should have gone. But I didn't want to, because the very thought of being in that parlor, surrounded by a bunch of strangers and no actual family members, invited feelings I've tried so very hard to suppress. Mom ought to understand where I'm coming from, but it seems like she's gone the opposite route to dealing with all the crap we've been through. Clings to people, wears her heart on a sleeve, keeps nothing private. I prefer clamming up and cracking out a joke- keeps people around me unsuspecting and light-hearted, which keeps me sane.
"Let's see what's out there tonight."
I booted up the laptop and brought up Palpark.
"Jeff's not funny, as usual. Eusine is funny in the worst way possible. Courtney needs a butt-tuck. Whitney is visiting Indigo- woah, she's here?"
I scanned through Whitney's page and discovered one hell of a shock.
"Jasmine is in town?!" I muttered excitedly.
That's a name I haven't heard in a long time! It's been, what, ten months since we spoke? Even then it was literally thirty seconds before she shied away. When was the last time we really hung out?
I leaned back, closed my eyes, and browsed memory bookshelf.
Three years, I think. My folks brought me to Olivine for a beach vacation and we found each other and spent some time. It was actually pretty fun, she was a lot less snippety than usual. Must be the fact she was back in her home town.
What is she doing here?
AH?! Gym Leader?! She's gonna be a frickin Gym Leader!
"Wah wah woah!" I cried out in the middle of the dining hall. Some people at the neighboring table stared at me like I was being weird.
"Hey, look, my friend's going to be a Gym Leader!" I pointed at the computer screen. They shrugged and returned to their business. I continued my unabashed mirth while reading the rest of Whitney's posts.
"Mmm. Huh, what time is it?" I asked myself. 4:20. Oh shoot, she ought to be done by now. They hold the qualification exams over in the competition wing, don't they? If I scoot, I might just catch her.
She's walking along Penitence Lobby with a gaggle of other trainers. Well, to be accurate, the crowd is ahead of her and she's lagging behind, along with some other guy. I wonder who he is. Let's sneak up and listen in.
"Don't worry. You'll see him again."
"I hope so."
'Him'? That could be any number of guys, but let's take a gamble that she's referring to me. Who knows? Maybe Whitney told her I was here in Indigo for the spring.
"You hoped you'd see me again? Aw, that's so nice of you Jazz."
I leapt backwards.
This is where she usually says "Morty you creep!" and tries to judo chop me. I froze. She didn't take the bait. She's didn't even flinch or turn around.
"You're an asshole."
The accusation hit me in the gut.
Is this the girl I knew in middle school?
"Woah! Eh, hehe, sorry?" I stuttered out, sounding like both the asshole she accused me of being and the idiot I accused myself of being.
Maybe she's just surprised. Or in a bad mood. Let's give her a moment. Not that I have much choice, seeing as I'm now fending off her companion's intervention. Besides, there's Whitney. I couldn't help but snicker, her Palpark pics don't do those lovable love-buns justice. She sure has grown into a real woman since we were in school together.
"Whitney girl! Holy cow, you've grown a pair!"
"Don't mess with me, you've never been about the boing boing! DFC pedo!"
The guy with Jazz started trailing me around. He did a good job of staying out of eyesight, but that just meant he was suspiciously never in my sight, and it became obvious what he was doing. I quietly let Gengar out and focused on the image of the kid in my mind. Gengar picked up the hint and dipped into the shadows.
Let's see, if I focus some more…
Mmm. A flash, a sparkle, a round ball… Jazz's Pokémon, Magnemite. In about twenty seconds.
A Thunder Shock jolted Gengar out of the guy's shadow.
That's more like the Jasmine I knew. She's acting funny, bitter and grumpy, but I still sense that comically serious attitude underneath. Let's try a bit of nostalgia, see if that'll loosen her up.
She took the bait, reluctantly, and for a few seconds we relived a cherished middle school memory, shaking our hips and humming the catchy tune. Soon enough I had her loosened up and agreeing to a little celebration party. I know just the place- The Indigo Gym onsen baths. Awesome. Judging from the beach episode, Jazz likes being in the water, right? Cool.
There was a line for the taxis. League HQ was crowded, with a lot of employees getting off work and heading home, or to the arena. We were in the middle of tournament season and so the place was overrun by trainers and visitors. Across the block the stadium complex was already lit up and decorated with banners advertising the coming nighttime matches.
How about a detour to watch them?
Nah. Jasmine looks like crap. Her hair's on the fritz, even her normally neat spike-tails are in disarray. She should take those hair pins off. I don't care for the color, orange doesn't suit her.
She and Whitney tip-toed up the sidewalk, craning their necks to search for an incoming cab. While they were away, the guy took a formalized stand right beside me.
"How did you do that?" he asked.
"Make Jasmine laugh."
"It was easy."
"No it isn't! I've tried for years, could barely get a chuckle. You stroll in here and flip her funny bone like a light switch. What did you do? What was that?"
"Caramelldansen. It was a just a stupid internet meme, but it got really popular in our middle school. We stormed the stage at graduation and danced off to it, got our tech geek to put it on the intercom. Even Jasmine joined in. The principle was pissed. Fun times."
"Seriously? Jasmine would never do something like that."
"Oh yes she did. She loved defying authority! Even better, though, she loved getting away with it. The teachers always thought she was their little pet, when half the pranks in the school only ever got off the ground with her permission. She ever told you about the Head Scarf Mafia?"
The guy shook his head in the negative.
"Should get her to tell you about it."
"What was it about?"
"No no, she needs to tell it, she's the only one with the passion to tell the story properly."
"I'm sensing something in that "Oh…". What's your name?"
"You her friend?"
"Coworker. Well, subordinate now."
"Ohh, so you're her rival. Tough luck my friend, but I would not wager my career against beating her."
"No, it's not that."
This guy's a cake: "No, it's not that." "You've got it all wrong." "No-" Just get to the point already!
…Oh wait, I know what's going on here. Should've put two and two together sooner.
"Are you two dating?" I asked.
His entire body deflated.
"I wish," he muttered.
"You've got a crush on her."
"It's more than a crush." He turned his face away so I couldn't see whatever embarrassing expression he thought he was wearing. "You can't work with a girl like her for three years, day after day, and not fall in love."
"Well she is one of a kind," I said.
"She's beautiful. And strong. Strong-willed, definitely. She's got a lightning-bolt temper but it's awfully easy to see what's going to set her off, and you know she's that way because she cares. Then look at how she treats her Pokémon, like a tender mother. How can any guy see that and not wish to be on the receiving end of that kind of affection? It's-"
"Spare me, I spent my own three years with her," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "She's got her pros and cons like any other girl. Probably a bit extreme on both sides, actually. If you can look past the prudery, the bitchiness, the nagging, the domineering, the argumentative, the judgmental- okay, I should probably cut the list short, you're giving me a scary look there- sure, she's generous with her affection. Why do you think it ought to be you?"
"Because I care, and I can stand her faults a lot more patiently than others, when a lot of other guys have ditched her. And I'm not so interested in her body like a lot of other sleaze-balls who asked for her panties before they even asked for her name. I think I can be everything she wants in a guy, but if I can't get her to notice me…"
I put my arm around the poor guy's shoulders.
"That's good enough for me. Let's see what we can do about Jazz being a shrew."
What the hell was I thinking?
I don't think I was thinking that much.
My main line of reasoning at the moment was that Jasmine had been a little skittish about sex when in middle school. Extrapolate that out to the present day, and she's probably gone full-on puritanical. It's only been four months since I lost my virginity, but it already seems like no big deal to me. The whole affair was way overhyped. Maybe if Jasmine realizes that, she'll calm down and be open to a boyfriend.
Would she be open to dating?
It's not like she's a man-hater, she always expressed- let's call it a "healthy interest" in romance. There was just a lot of bad luck with the boys who asked her out.
Well, Morty boy, you were part of the reason for that bad luck.
That's because you kept screwing over the guys who expressed interest in Jasmine.
Well, that's because I secretly coveted her.
Then why the hell did you never ask her out yourself?
Well, I don't think I was ready at that point. Probably if we had gone to high school together. Probably.
But, at the time, I was fine with our relationship. It wasn't dating, it wasn't romantic, but it was… close. Like very good friends. Or closer.
Why not try it now?
But I see it in this guy's face and voice. He loves her. He's right beside her. I had my chance and procrastinated. Now we're four hours apart in different cities. I love Ecruteak, even this spring work-study program is making me feel homesick. She loves Olivine, obviously. We couldn't be close.
It wouldn't work out. I made an ass of myself while we were teens, and that's probably the permanent image she has of me- a class clown.
Damn you, Morty. You know exactly why it could never work out.
So, fine. Let's give this guy a chance. See what he does with it. Genuinely try to net him Jasmine's affections.
How about alcohol?
Sounds like a great idea.
Djorne works the bar tonight, he'll give me a couple bottles under the counter, right?
"Follow my lead," I said to Ed.
The girls finally waved a cab down, and we took off.
They seem sufficiently impressed by my choice of locale. The old gym was a pretty spectacular venue in its heyday. Too bad the political nannies took issue with it being favored by the Pokémon League. They said a city should never share the regional HQ and a gym; the gym is bound to get preference. Well, it was true, this place got a lot of money funneled to it, and it shows. The kabuki stage was modeled around the former arena, reminiscent of an elaborate noble's court, and the exterior is more castle than modern sporting venue.
So they moved the gym to Pewter and made this place an onsen bath.
"You said they had a sushi bar."
"The best in the city."
"I don't have money."
"I'll pay," I offered. Jasmine grumbled, Whitney seemed perfectly okay to mooch.
After we filled our stomachs it was time for the good stuff.
"I'll be right back. Hey Ed, come with me. I'm gonna need help."
I led the guy around back to the kitchen.
"Hey, Djorne, you in tonight?"
"Only as long as I have to be," one pudge-bellied man gushed. "What're you up to sport?"
"We have lady company tonight, and I'm looking for some loosey-goosy juice. Care to share?"
Djorne eyed me and Ed with daring eyes.
"Aye I got plenty of stock. Question is what you plan on doing with it."
"How old are the ladies?"
"Um…" I scratched my head. "Whitney turned eighteen a month ago. Jasmine's was sometime late last year, I think?" I queried Ed.
"Novemember 20th last year," he answered.
Djorne waddled into the kitchen and returned with a pair of bottles.
I handed over a stack of bills probably twice what the sake was worth.
"These don't leave the baths, you got it? And I swear, if I hear you did something wrong and it comes back to me, I will plead guilty just to get to the same prison as you and murder you."
"Well said!" I beamed. The bottles were handed over, along with a bag of plastic cups. "I don't ever touch a woman without invitation. How about you, Ed?"
"That's completely beneath me," Ed replied.
"Tsk. You'd do everything but touch," Djorne said in parting. The goods in tow, I took Ed to the changing room. We undressed and washed down. Towels were provided, and I noticed Ed was making use of one to protect his modesty.
"Don't be a wimp."
He shot me an angry look.
"Do you really think Jasmine is the kind of girl who'd admire a sissy? We're two big men with heterosexual orientations, there's no need for that." I pointed at the cloth wrapped around Ed's buttocks. "I'm not going to make fun of it."
Ed hesitated, before quickly flinging the towel away.
"That was easy, wasn't it?"
"Is this where we make crude 'no-homo' jokes?" Ed asked.
"Nope. I've got homo friends, and they've taught me how condescending those kinds of jokes are, so I try avoiding them."
I couldn't help but [REDACTED], and shrugged it off. We emerged from the showers out into the open air.
"Yeah, jump in."
We splashed into the water.
"Hey girls?" I called out. No answer.
"They're taking their time washing."
I nodded to myself.
"Good." I crouched over, facing Ed as he situated himself. "So here's the plan."
"Wait, what plan?"
"Where I set you up with Jasmine."
"You're actually going to do that?"
"Do I seem like the kind of guy who would go back on his word?"
"Yes," Ed said deadpan.
"Well, I'm actually the kind of guy who looks like he would screw you over, but actually has a soft, squishy, honest heart underneath it all."
"Yeah, I'll believe that when Jasmine and I are hitched. What are you thinking?"
"It's simple. We slip the sake over, get her to play a drinking game, and then when she's drunk we'll get her to open up and fess up her romantic secrets."
"That sounds too easy. You'll never get her to drink and you'll absolutely never learn anything from her."
"Ah-ah-ah," I said wagging a finger. "On the first count, you underestimate Whitney. On the second account, you're right in that it will be hard, but not impossible. We'll have to improvise once we learn her answers, but I think we can do it."
"I'll coach you how to put those things we learn to use in a confession."
"It's so simple, why didn't I think of it?" Ed asked sarcastically.
"Don't be a pessimist."
"HOT HOT HOT HOT!" We heard a familiar voice screaming from the other side of the fence.
"Hoy, what's the racket? Piper down!" I hollered.
"Where are you?"
-the sound of water sloshing.
I shoved one of the sake bottles through a small underwater gap in the planks, and then a pair of cups.
We played and swam a little, drank a little, and talked a lot. This Edward kid has a pretty interesting family. His ancestors were once a super-important noble family that controlled a lot of territory in the central mountains. They were defeated by the warlord Nobunaga and spent most of the last two centuries eking out a living. His parents returned to the wealthy status of their ancestors via the stock market, but they didn't exactly know how to act rich. They kept foisting their weird ideas of affluence onto their son, who like any good teenager is rebelling and doing something completely opposite- being a Gym Trainer. Ergo, you've got a rich kid who hates being rich. Imagine that.
"Tough to be you."
"It is tough to be me. If I were like any of those other spoon-fed slobs, sure, I could lay back and enjoy being pampered and spoiled, but I'm not. I care. I don't want them wasting money on new game systems or overblown colleges for me. I wish I was in control of the money. I could actually make a difference."
Hmm. So if I were characterizing this guy:
High and mighty.
Obsessed with formality, propriety, and morality.
Good heart, noble intentions, but has a stubborn, go-it-alone attitude.
Okay, I can sort of see him and Jasmine together.
They can be the ultra-proper couple that devotes all of their energy to the greater good. Maybe he can be a strong and level-headed political leader, a mayor or governor perhaps, and she the strict Gym Leader. To the world they're all business, but for each other, in private, they can show a quiet, gentle affection.
Just got to get the ball rolling.
"Let's play truth or dare."
The game started just as planned, having Gengar expel his bowel gasses into my face notwithstanding. However, the way it unfolded was not going according to expectations.
"Who was the last guy you had a crush on?" I asked Jazz.
A moment later, without answer from Jasmine, we received a notice from Whitney instead.
"Oh really? Huh, interesting." Ed and and I exchanged glances.
The fact that Jasmine would rather take a shot than divulge something as simple as a recent crush- not a shocking revelation in general, but a little surprising on Jasmine's part.
Yet, as I kept pressing, trying every variation of innocuous romantic curiosity I could relate to her, she always chose to drink rather than answer. It got frustrating, believe me. Meanwhile, Whitney was mostly interested in answering or doing dirty stuff, and she pressed us for the same.
"I dare you two to kiss."
"We're boys!" Ed said.
"Hey, I didn't agree to a dare."
"Just go along," Whitney pleaded.
"Heck no." Ed tipped his cup up.
Other notable challenges: the truth about my mommy complex (I was fifteen the last time I asked to sleep in my parent's bed), acting out like a Machoke, and filming Ed and I doing the macarena with nothing but towels over our johns.
"Can I see it?" Whitney asked, referring to the video.
"Sure. Let me just get the wifi working, it'll post to my computer. I'll show you after."
"Alright, Jazz, your turn."
"Truth," came the glum answer.
I scratched my brain.
Every single question we'd put to her had been answered with a gulp of sake.
Maybe we weren't getting anywhere because we kept polling her for her positive opinion of boys. Maybe she had no positive opinions whatsoever. Let's try a slightly different approach. This should be easy, I'm 97% sure the answer will be "Morty".
"Who do you hate most in the world?"
She took much longer than usual for this one. The response was the same, though. A gulp, an exhalation, and the little tink of plastic being set down on stone.
"Huh. Didn't expect that."
"What is it?" Ed asked.
I briefly explained my reasoning to him.
Jasmine defended herself in a stuttering, inebriated manner, as if she didn't have full control over her tongue. Poor girl. Must be the first time she's ever drunk alcohol.
Ed swam in close and began whispering to me.
"This isn't working."
I held him off with a wave while we worked through Whitney's dare.
"We'll just ask something so specific, that if she drinks she'll be giving herself away anyways," I said.
I took a truth from Whitney ([REDACTED]).
"Dare!" Jasmine cried.
Ed inched in, and we had a hurried, whispered conversation.
"What now?" he asked.
"Let's just go for a long-shot. Get her naked."
"What? She'll never go for that."
"Of course not," I snorted. "Let's hope she's drunk enough, maybe we can pry something out of her later."
"Got any ideas?"
Ed wracked his brain.
"You know the reception guy? He kinda looks like me. Have her ask him out on a date."
His line of thinking must be: "If she reacts even the slightest bit positively towards that guy, maybe there's hope for me."
"Oh. Haha." I chuckled to myself. "Okay, I dare you to go ask the counter guy out on a date," I said aloud.
"But I'm naked."
"That's part of the dare."
A long pause. She's probably drinking.
"Okay, I'll do it."
Ed and I's eyes went wide and wild.
She's actually going to do it?!
Our mouths fell open.
To our utter astonishment, we heard the splash of water and a dainty female body exiting the bath. The patter of wet feet slapped across the concrete and then was gone.
"She left?" I asked.
"Yep!" Whitney said.
I got up and began running.
"What are you doing?" Ed asked.
"I want to catch this on camera. Imagine the guy's face!"
"But… she's nude," Ed protested.
"Yeah, so? Don't you want to see that?" I asked.
Ed's face contorted.
"Yeah," he confessed.
I took my camera, wrapped a towel around my butt, and scooted off. Ed followed suit.
Jasmine was backed into a nook beside the counter that partially hid her from the rest of the lobby. Not that it mattered: there was no one here but her, the counter guy, me, and Ed. I couldn't get a decent view of the young woman, but I did see the receptionist. He had his head in his arms and wasn't moving.
Jasmine realized the same and began skittering back our way. I grabbed Ed and pulled him into a side hallway. We crouched.
A streak of pink passed us by.
Out of reflex, I raised the camera and snapped off a picture. "Smile!" I said. The auto-lighting flashed, audibly, and the woman came to a startled halt. She turned.
Oh lord above and devil below. I am going to hell for this, and it will have been worth it. She is beautiful.
How can a female be so slim, so petite, so devoid of fat, and yet still look like a woman? Not a child, not an anorexic, just a young woman with a perfectly skinny figure. You know how fighter jets are sleek and small compared to other aircraft? They're completely optimized for cutting through the air, granting them an efficient and graceful beauty all of their own. Jasmine's beauty is like that, except it's not air she cuts through, but men's hearts.
[CENSORED] Morty describes Jasmine's body in more "detail". [/CENSORED]
"Um, one more?" I said. How could I waste this opportunity? Hell no! I took another photograph, and wanted a third, but the girl regained her senses and darted off towards the baths.
Ed stared me down.
"Well, was it everything you imagined?"
"That was fucking stupid," he replied.
"Fucking? Oh no no, my friend, that was supremely stupid. That was the kind of stupidity that gets guys like you and me ass-raped by our jail mates. We are screwed."
"But by golly it was worth it."
I leaned back, taking in the majesty of the memory of a naked Jasmine Mikan. She is quite perfect to my tastes. Everything about her was beautifully crafted. The feminine form whittled down to perfection. Even those silly hair spikes had been rendered into smooth nothingness with the weight of the water.
"Why did you do that, Morty?" I asked myself aloud.
"That's what I'd like to know. What got into us?" Ed asked.
"It was a bit of fun."
"Fun for us! She's probably freaking out."
"She agreed to the dare. She knew the risk of being seen naked by a guy was basically 100%. So what if it was us, instead of some stranger?"
"But we took a picture."
"Bah, we can delete it for her."
"You don't get it, you moron." Ed reached up and shook me by the shoulders. "How the hell is this supposed to get her to fall in love with me? It's not! It'll sink me! You ruined what little chance I had!"
I shook myself free of the boy.
Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of what we were trying to do and just went with what seemed coolest at the time.
Damn, it must've been the sake. I shouldn't drink when I'm carrying out match-making duties.
"Okay, okay. Here's what you do. Approach her. Be earnest. Blame the alcohol, and then blame me. Ask for forgiveness, and say you never meant for this to happen. She's a sucker for apologies."
"Kk! I think I'll do it my own way, thank you very much."
"What are you going to say?" I blurted out.
"I'm going to be honest. I'll tell her how I feel and what I want. I'll take blame."
"No, don't do that!"
Ed shrugged me off. I meant to physically stop him, but discovered I had lost feeling in my legs. I can't be that drunk, can I? Maybe it was the hot-water soaking.
"Whatever you do, don't offend her!" I shouted after him.
Don't offend her? What kind of advice is that? When is it a good idea to offend someone while you're confessing to them?
It looked like Jasmine found me before Ed could find her. More accurately, she found my camera sitting next to me and was within milliseconds of cracking the damn expensive thing on the concrete. Luckily, she settled for the relatively more expendable memory chip. I took my camera and bolted away.
I was hoping that would be the end of the chaos tonight. The universe had other plans, it seemed.
"Did you see Jasmine?"
"You could say that."
I lifted up the fried remains of my SD card.
"It's 1700ρ. I can replace it."
"So what happened?"
I explained the story to her, leaving out Edward's part.
"Mmm, so that's the rundown."
I plopped back into the hotel bed and then sighed. Whitney sat on the opposite bed.
"How's Jasmine been?"
"I mean these past three years. What's going on in her life?"
"Um… same answer. Stress. She's been acting Gym Leader of Olivine Gym for most of that. She's trying to juggle that and school, and it's not been easy on her."
"What about her family?"
"She doesn't talk about them at all."
"I tried. She just goes silent or avoids the subject."
"What about guys?"
"Same deal, but with more anger."
"I'm not trying to paint her as a wreck. You know her, she's tough. She's managed to handle it. I think once she's settled in and graduates school she'll be able to focus on her job, and that should make it easier for her. She's really good at it. And she's still very devoted to her Pokémon."
"What are you thinking? Do you still like her?"
Whitney could have plunged a knife into my gut, it would have been less jarring than her question. I groaned in consternation.
"Who said I liked her in the first place?"
"Oh don't be coy. It was obvious. Especially after she left."
"That's not true."
"You ran off three girlfriends because they got sick of being compared to that "other woman". Don't deny she set your standard for female companionship."
"She was just a friend, like a.. sister," I said, and then regretted my word choice.
"She was your childhood sweetheart," Whitney retorted. Somewhat angrily, no less.
I leaned up.
Whitney isn't looking too composed herself.
"It was never gonna work," I mumbled. Whitney looked up.
"If that was the case, why didn't you realize it sooner? Why did you give other girls the cold shoulder?"
"I don't know," I said, lying.
"I liked you," Whitney said, voice cracking.
She's looking away.
"Mind you, I said 'liked'. Past tense. I would have loved to date you. You could have been my first boyfriend. I would schlick to the thought of it, at night. But I never confessed, because I knew who you liked, and I didn't want to interfere. That's why it really frustrated me when you never confessed to her. I gave up my shot for you and her's sake, and you two blew it."
"Oh god, I can't stop fucking up," I muttered to myself. "I just keep finding new ways to screw over everyone I know." I leaned back into the bed. "Whitney, I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"
"Do you still have any feelings for me?"
"Morty, the hell?"
"I just want to know."
"Romantic feelings? No. I've grown up. Moved on. Had my heart broken for real. Got over that. Fell in love again. Life goes on, and we deal with it."
The bed shuddered, because Whitney had jumped onto it beside me. She maneuvered until she was straddling me. She lifted her shirt off, revealing a pink bra and two juggernauts that bounced around way too much for being both natural and confined.
"I thought you said you didn't like me anymore?"
"Oh hush. I said I've grown up. You're drunk, I'm drunk, and there's nobody to say we can't indulge our bodies a little- with or without feelings."
She brushed a lock of my hair aside.
"This is just something adults are allowed to do, right?"
She bent down and put her mouth on mine. The kiss lasted a moment, before she pulled away. I grinned, bent my head up and renewed the kiss, much longer this time. We smothered each other's faces with our salt-lined lips. Our passion progressed from there.
The sound of the door opening reached my ears, but I ignored it.
"What the fuck are you two doing?"
Ed's voice. I raised a middle finger to the stooge and continued tasting the interior of Whitney's orifice.
"Sick," he muttered. The boy stood staring at us, obviously incensed and jealous, before retiring to the desk.
After maybe twenty minutes he slammed my computer shut and left. Whitney was [REDACTED].
"I don't have a condom."
"Shitmonkeys. You're useless."
"Yes I am. Let's keep enjoying this."
"Okay," she said contentedly.
We were eighteen, not far removed from that age where teens were happy to spend hours upon hours making out with each other, without ever progressing. Our oral adventure drifted into mindless, endless pleasure.
She's available and willing.
Just a friend with benefits.
Truly, that's all this is.
It's not ideal, but it's better than the alternative: no one to be physically intimate with at all.
Internally, I sighed.
It was unfair, what she said. And untrue.
All those girls I dated, the two I had sex with, all gone from my life. I kept saying they weren't as good as the one girl I pined for in my youth. But that was only partially true. In truth, I used it as a way to scare them away. None of them, not one of them, understood me. I couldn't share my past or my private life with them. They'd hate me. Or pity me. Or be disgusted. Most likely, they just wouldn't be able to connect.
So maybe it wasn't the fact that I loved Jasmine and Jasmine only. Maybe it was the hope that Jasmine, that wonderful, complex girl of my middle school years, could be the one woman who could relate to me. Unravel the mystery of misery choking me.
But that's impossible.
That ship has sailed.
And… and… and…
I wouldn't want to burden her with my troubles.
And yet, my idiot, hormone-driven actions had their own way of burdening her with trouble I never imagined. I found this out very abruptly, when I was yanked off of Whitney and violently thrown off the bed.
"Ouch! What the fuck Jasmine, fuck off!" I yelled in pain turning to anger.
In short order both my cheek and balls were on the receiving end of her fury.
"Jasmine, we were just kissing! Don't throw a hissy fit!" Whitney yelled.
Damn it! Shit! This fucking hurts!
Why'd she do that?
She can't be such a militant prude she'd burst in here to punish me and Whitney for making out!
So she's jealous? Screw that! I already resigned myself to never having her. There's no reason a prude like her should be jealous! Me and Whitney are consenting adults!
What the hell is wrong with her then?!
She's going for your laptop. Crap.
"Don't smash it!"
"What is the meaning of this?" she cried.
To my horror, my utter horror, I gazed upon the computer screen, and found a social media nightmare staring me in the face.
A half-dozen websites, all showing off a nude and frightened Jasmine staring into the camera. That beautiful body and pretty face was suddenly not so enthralling with the knowledge that it could be drooled over by thousands of anonymous neckbeards, or scowled at by snide adults.
I pleaded and begged with her, afraid she might crack the computer and remove any chance of salvaging this mess.
"You have ten seconds to give me a proper explanation, or else I'm reporting you to the cops!"
"I need more than ten," I said. I put my hands together in a begging posture. Her grip on my machine relented. Her temper never receded an inch, but her actions were thankfully held in check by the cooing of Whitney. I started darting through the internet files, trying to figure out what had happened.
It has to be a hacker. Shit. That's the only way. And the fact that they chose this night to strike must mean they were actively monitoring my computer. I can't believe I let my machine get infected. The virus scanners should have caught this. Damn-
"This is all my fault. It's because I took that picture."
"Of course it is!"
"But I" a neuron snapped into place.
My mind went blank.
My blood felt like lead pumping through my heart.
There's no way a hacker could beat my security. And no way they would pick this particular night to hit me.
And no reason they would waste the opportunity to steal my passwords and credit card info, and only troll me by posting one single photo.
My mind flew back to the middle of my make-out session with Whitney.
He had come in and left.
And before that? What had I sent him off to do?
I stared at Jasmine. She returned a puzzled expression of her own.
"Um… I was… hacked. Fuck."
It was pure improv, but she bought it. Sort of.
Jasmine's friend Erika called. The Gym Leader of Celadon, I recalled. A real down-to-earth lady, but somehow she had a high-tech wizard for a friend. An hour later, the offending nudie disappeared from the internet. Just like that. It was later explained that a potent virus, one usually tailored for finding and destroying incriminating evidence, had been unleashed on the net, instantly vaporizing any trace of the picture from any device that had touched it. Jasmine's honor had been saved by literal deus ex machina.
My honor, however, had evaporated into dust.
"Jasmine, wait. If you want to rag on me, by all means. I'll take any punishment you want. Please forgive me."
"Leave me alone," she muttered.
"Jazz! I'm sorry!"
"I'm tired. Say that again in the morning, I'll decide what to do with you then."
Why the fuck did I just do that?
I lied to her.
I lied to the only girl in the universe that I respected. I lied to her face. I lied about something that deeply affected her reputation and emotional well-being.
And I lied for the benefit of a guy I barely knew.
I let out a whoosh.
Ed never came back.
Whitney dozed on the bed Ed would have been sleeping in.
Where is he? What is he doing? Should I be looking for him?
Jasmine had left about 2:00 A.M. It was 4:00 A.M. now. It would be hell trying to get to class tomorrow. Maybe I should just skip.
I'm an idiot.
In every conceivable way. An idiot.
I keep doing things that I know are stupid, but the consequences don't seem like a big deal and the fun to be had far outweighed the negatives. But then everything blows up, in ways I can't predict, and I'm quickly shown just how bad things can really get.
Will talked to me about this. He told me I have the power to avoid this. My gift, my clairvoyance. It's not even remotely perfect, but he said I could hone it, and at least use it to figure out if what I was about to do would have good or bad results. But I don't trust it. I see fuzzy pictures, gargled messages, and the one time I relied on it, I interpreted it wrong and fucked up in a way that pretty much beats even this night's fuck up in sheer magnitude.
I don't want to go through life without any spontaneity. I don't want a cheat code for figuring out what decisions to make. And I don't want to make a blundering translation error that could make everything worse. So even though I have this half-assed psychic "gift", I don't want to use it.
If you're going to do things the hard way, then, why don't you put in the effort to make it work?
Why would you cover for that guy and hurt that girl in the process? Shouldn't you tell her the truth?
I shook my head.
"Men have to stick together," I said to myself.
There was a knock at my door.
Who is it?
Is it Ed?
I quietly tip-toed to the entry and peeped through the spy hole.
These things are too damn hard to see through, you can't get any kind of focus. Yet, I did catch sight of hair, sand-colored, and knew it was Jasmine.
"Hey." I opened the door.
She was bowing her head. Silent. Shaking.
"What's wrong? Are you still made at me?"
I puffed out my chest.
"Take you best shot. I deserve it."
She's not just shaking. She's shivering. Violently. Is she cold?
"Come in," I urged. She refused. Seeing that, I came out. I led her to a nook in the hallway, with a little cushioned bench sitting in front of a window. She barely moved, so I guided her to a seat with my hands on her waist. I tried brushing her hair aside. It kept falling back into place.
"What's the matter?"
"Morty," she whispered out.
"What is it?"
"Morty," she said again.
"You can keep saying my name all night long, if that's what you need to do."
Her shivering halted.
"I want you to kill Ed."
My nerves lit up and down my arms, my chest, my lungs, my heart- I swear my heart dropped a beat or two.
"Jazz… that's not a joking matter."
"He deserves it," she said.
"Jasmine, what happened?"
Here I am inside screaming my brains out, wondering if she found out, if she knew who the culprit was.
"He… Edward is not a decent person. He doesn't deserve to live. Please help me."
"Okay." I tried placing my hands on her bare shoulders. She's friggin cold! I checked her dress, praying that I wouldn't find rips or blood. There was none as far as I could see. "Let's calm down. And tell me everything. I'll help you, but not with murder."
"But he… I…"
She buried her head in my chest.
"Do I need to go to the police?"
She shook her head.
"What did Ed do?"
I know what Ed did, but does she?
"He… he…" she couldn't spit it out. "I don't know. I don't know what to do," she cried out.
"Don't call me that."
"STOP CALLING ME THAT!"
"Jasmine," I corrected myself. "I'll do anything I can, but you've got to have a little courage and tell me what to do. Something that's reasonable."
"I told you, kill Ed."
"No, I cannot do that."
"Then what the hell do I do?! What the hell do I do? Isn't that what people do with crap they don't want?!"
She's starting to scream.
"You don't want a person in your life? No? Then fucking kill them! Get rid of them! Easy peasy! Made a mistake, and now you're on the hook? Just murder the person who's giving you trouble! Poison them! Dice them up! Isn't that how the world works?"
"Stop it. Don't talk like that."
"Isn't it?! Who the hell cares? Do you? Do you care about me?"
"Then do something about Ed! Get rid of him! Anything, I don't want to deal with it anymore! I don't want anything to do with this life anymore!"
I hugged her tight as I could.
"It'll be alright. Ed's just a fool. Stupid, like me. He'll learn."
"No he won't!"
"Jasmine, you've got to forgive him, whatever he's done. He's full of emotion the same as you, and this is just a poor way of letting out those feelings. But nothing will come of it."
"Baka! You don't understand."
"I understand all too well," I said.
I understand what it's like, knowing there's someone perfect for you, but not being able to have them. I had my own idiot way of dealing with it. I played coy, and treated you like crap. Then once I realized what effect my teasing was having on you, I ran away. You wanted nothing to do with me and I made zero effort to change your mind.
Ed… he did something stupid, trying to get back at you. I'll talk with him. I'll straighten him out.
"You know nothing," she gasped.
"I know what Ed did was wrong, but it wasn't worth killing him for. It wasn't worth turning him into the police for. Don't think harshly of him. Just wait, I'll get him to apologize and make it up to you."
"Y-y-y-you-" she stuttered.
"He really loves you, Jazz. You should give him a second chance to show it, without me getting in the way. I'm sure you'll forgive him."
She pushed me away.
There I beheld disgust, loathing.
"You would… you'd seriously…."
She grit her teeth in anger.
"You're siding with him?!"
"I'm not siding with anyone," I tried to placate her. "I'm trying to be calm, and rationale. Let's let tonight end. Sleep on it. Come back tomorrow, we'll all have a fresh start."
She shook her head.
"NO!" she snarled.
Okay, my patience has run out.
"Fine. I can't deal with you anymore. Good night."
I got up. Her hand shot out and grasped my wrist.
"What the hell are you doing?" she whispered out.
"You're leaving? You're going to leave, and let Ed off free? Just like that?!"
I didn't turn to face her eye-to-eye. I glanced back, catching her hair in my peripheral vision.
"Quite frankly, Jasmine, I just don't give a damn anymore."
I left her because she was being too difficult and unreasonable.
What little logic was left in my brain told me I could come back to her in the morning, after we all had a little rest and some time to let our nerves calm down.
I could explain how Ed had logged onto my computer and began posting her nude pic to the internet. It was wrong of him, but then again, Jasmine had probably just rejected him, and he wasn't in the sanest state of mind. It was the typical action of a spurned man. I was the enabler. It was more my fault than his; if I hadn't coaxed him into going along with the dare, he wouldn't be in this situation, he might not have even been rejected. If I hadn't set my camera to auto-upload and then left my laptop unguarded, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to make such a boneheaded move. Instead, he'd probably simmer, stew, and blow off steam in the hot spring, and then we'd all hash this out tomorrow and over the coming weeks, trying to find some semblance of understanding and forgiveness.
I can take all her hate, all her blame. That's my role. I can become the boogie man who shoulders all of her negative feelings, and then vanish. Maybe it wouldn't be enough to reconcile those two, but it should at least give both of them the chance to start fresh, and live on and find happiness elsewhere.
Edward doesn't deserve to have his life ruined because of one juvenile mistake. A police record will dog him for the rest of his life. It's not fair. I could have easily been in his place, if my gross antics had been carried over into high school.
I breathed out.
We'll deal with this tomorrow.
I listened silently, abysmally, as Morty relayed his story to me.
"There was no tomorrow," he said. "You vanished. I didn't hear from you again for three years. Not even the teleconferences. Your screen was blank. It was awkward, when you talked and everyone else was listening but I couldn't hear you, and had to get Whitney to tell me what you were saying."
His chest is quivering.
"And because we never talked, I never learned what happened that night. And so I kept assuming my version of the story was the right one. That you were upset because Ed posted the pictures online." He grit his teeth. "Until the night my grandma died. I got to questioning the universe, and everything in it. I realized there was a great yawning hole in my chest, where my soul ought to be. And part of it, I realized, was left behind at that onsen. I made a mistake."
Morty knelt to his knees in the spring and hung his head in shame. Drivels of water ran off his hair and down his forehead and cheeks.
"I swear, all this time, it never, ever occurred to me that Ed visited you a second time. So, please, please, tell me what happened- what really happened."
He raised his eyes to mine, pleading.