Tea Party or Slumber Party?
It could not be denied that Erika was a wonderful hostess. The scene she'd set out was just all too perfect. The tall glass windows of the Celadon gym let in and magnified the weak, winter sun, yet kept out the biting wind and the dusting of snow falling over the rest of the city. Between the soothing heat of the greenhouse and the indoor garden all around them, it was as though Erika had carved out a spot of the world that winter could never touch.
The scenery wasn't the only thing to make the meeting picture perfect. As Jasmine sat across from her host, she couldn't help but marvel at the work her fellow gym leader had put into setting the perfect table for tea. A beautiful arrangement of pink and white flowers rested in a glossily painted vase that made up the centerpiece of their table—a treat for the eyes amongst all the other sweet things Erika had prepared.
Jasmine took a bite out of one of the Grepa Berry tarts, slightly disappointed that she had to destroy the delicate buttercream piping that decorated the top of the sweet to do so. She wasn't used to this kind of food. Olivine City's cuisine was more geared toward feeding hungry sailors back on dry land after a long haul at sea. It was very meat and potatoes—filling, sustaining, but not something you were meant to spend a lot of time looking at. This on the other hand… this food was almost too pretty to eat.
And Jasmine wondered if this kind of detail-oriented tea time presentation was something special for her. It would've warmed her heart if it was, but somehow she doubted it. Erika seemed like the kind of person who was ready to put on a stunning social gathering at a moment's notice for anyone who stopped by.
Yes, the moment was perfect. Nearly perfect, at least. It crossed Jasmine's mind as she took a carefully non-slurped drink of tea and stole a worried look at the silent figure across from her that they might've both been better off if Erika had chosen to serve caffeinated tea instead of an herbal blend.
There was so much riding on this tea party for Jasmine. It was hard for her to make friends. She'd never been the kind of person who could easily start up a conversation with someone out of the blue. Whenever she tried, her opening remarks usually included some lame comment about something in her immediate sight-line or in her hands and she regretted them the moment they were out of her mouth. Even if the person was polite enough to continue the conversation, she felt too cowed by her own weak responses to continue with much fervor. Even entering a conversation that was already going on was too hard most of the time. Whenever she'd think of a clever thing to say to crowbar her way into the group, the subject had usually long been passed over and her input was no longer valuable.
For a while, she hadn't had to worry about any of this. Whitney had been there. They lived relatively close to each other and, what with Whitney's frequent trips to Moo Moo Farm, they'd had plenty of chances to meet up and talk. But the calls and visits from Whitney had grown less and less frequent in the past few months. No matter how much getting left behind, or growing apart, or whatever you wanted to call this distancing hurt, Jasmine would've been lying to herself if she said she didn't know why it had happened.
It'd been a blessing that they'd been friends at all in the first place. Whitney was so bubbly and in-your-face and was always craving new and exciting experiences. When it came to conversations, Whitney was the one cracking jokes or sharing interesting stories and Jasmine was the one laughing and oohing and ahhing. She was just a Joltik, leeching off of Whitney's energy. What had she brought to the table? Hot tears had burned down her face the day she realized she brought nothing. In fact, she'd held Whitney back. She'd never wanted to do anything risky or new and how could anyone like Whitney allow herself to get pulled into doing nothing by some homebody, pile-of-nerves?
It was only after Whitney had moved on that Jasmine realized that she should've stretched herself—could've tried to do more things instead of leaving the entire maintenance of the relationship to Whitney. Of course, by then it was too late.
And without Whitney it had been very difficult to find friendship in the small circle of Johto-Kanto gym leaders that were around her age. Oh, Falkner and Morty were nice enough—certainly polite—but she got the distinct feeling that they weren't interested in a third wheel on their friendship mobile.
Clair was… more than a little scary and Jasmine was starting to wonder if she should take it personally. She tried to tell herself it was paranoia and that Clair was just abrasive to everyone, but she couldn't help but fear that she'd somehow found out that Jasmine though her outfit was very… embarrassing. She didn't think anyone who knew would've told her, but somehow she felt as though Clair knew she was thinking it. Which was silly, of course. Clair wasn't psychic.
Sabrina, however, was, and that made trying to make her a friend an even more anxiety-inducing proposition than usual. What if she thought something wrong about her? She'd know instantly! The fact that Sabrina had a habit of predicting Jasmine's untimely death made getting any closer to the psychic completely undesirable. Whitney always used to say that Sabrina was just doing it to get attention… but still… Jasmine always looked both ways before crossing the street. Better safe than dead.
As for the rest… well, Brock was at least an acquaintance, but she couldn't help but feel like he'd started giving her the cold shoulder a bit ever since she'd changed her type specialty. She barely saw Blue since he didn't show up at gym leader meetings and Misty only seemed interested in finding friends if they were boyfriends.
But Erika… Erika had been so kind and so effortlessly gracious. "Let's be friends," she'd said when she'd seen Jasmine sitting alone at a Kanto-Johto conference. Let's be friends. Like it wasn't any big deal to her. Jasmine knew if she'd said such a thing it would've come across awkward and desperate, but when Erika said it, it just seemed… warm and forthright.
They'd gone on a few shopping expeditions together in Celadon and now Erika had invited her back to the gym for tea. All the while Jasmine had been terrified she was going to mess this up. It would be harder to see each other regularly since they didn't even live in the same country, which put a lot of the burden on PokeGear calls, which she could never persuade herself to initiate. What's more, she secretly feared it wouldn't be long before she made some sort of terrible misstep around Erika. She was such a graceful person that nearly everyone looked like a clod by comparison, after all. What's more, she couldn't help but feel like her Pokemon weren't to Erika's taste. Aesthetics were important to Erika, and the vegetable world seemed to impress her much more than the mineral one.
So all in all, this tea time had very high stakes. Jasmine worried that a tiny but damaging catastrophe would happen—she'd use the wrong utensil or trip on a cobblestone and look like a klutz or she'd just say exactly the wrong thing at the exactly wrong time.
...And something had happened, but it was something she hadn't even thought to try to plan for.
Erika, her head dipped slightly forward toward the table, let out a light snore, somewhat undercutting Jasmine's former claims of Erika's grace and civility.
Jasmine took a long, procrastinating drink of her tea—as though she could hide herself in the teacup. Random, unannounced naps. Nothing in her limited social experience had taught her how to deal with something like this. Was it a commentary on how Erika was feeling? Had Jasmine's ramblings about her own quiet, unassuming lifestyle been so uninteresting that it'd literally put Erika to sleep? Even in her most critical moments, Jasmine had never thought she was quite that boring.
Jasmine looked up and sniffed the air. There were a lot of grass type Pokemon in the gym, and they very likely had status altering moves. Perhaps a waft of Sleep Powder had escaped into the air and that was what had sent Erika to dreamland? It would've been an encouraging thought, but it seemed unlikely considering Jasmine wasn't even a little bit tired.
Or perhaps Erika had some sort of sleeping disorder? Wasn't that called narcolepsy or something? Jasmine didn't know anything about the disorder except that it could cause people to fall asleep at odd times. The thought froze her blood. What if she was supposed to do something in this situation? She couldn't render any medical assistance if she had no idea about the disease in the first place or if Erika even had it!
What to do, and not why this had happened, was really the ultimate problem here and Jasmine was at a loss. It would seem reasonable, she supposed, to wake Erika up. But what if Erika thought she was being rude? Jasmine certainly knew how painful it could be to be called out on your faux-pas, and she knew that, while she beat herself up inwardly for them, some people lashed outwards when they were embarrassed. It's all very well and good to say "don't shoot the messenger," but if you're about to point out someone's breach in manners… well, you'd better duck.
But if she didn't wake her up, what other options were there? Just… let her sleep? Maybe take a snooze herself? …How absolutely ridiculous would that look? "I thought it was nap-time." Pah! Erika would think she was a weirdo. And she might be annoyed too that Jasmine had just let her go on sleeping. People who care about manners obviously are aghast at themselves when they mistakenly misbehave. Would letting Erika go on sleeping be like letting someone go around at a party with spinach in their teeth?
And what could she even say if Erika asked her why she didn't wake her up? "I was too paralyzed with indecision to know how to handle the situation." …Too honest.
"You just looked so cute I couldn't bring myself to wake you."
She looked at Erika. An unladylike bit of drool was at the corner of her mouth. Cute? You bet your life. But there was no way Jasmine could get away with a line like that. She didn't have the skills.
No, there was nothing else for it. She'd have to wake Erika and just hope that she didn't mess things up.
"E…Erika?" Jasmine tried, in such a frail whisper that even if Erika had been conscious she probably wouldn't have heard her.
She leaned forward and tried again in a voice that was actually audible. "Erika?"
She lifted up her hand and reached out, stopped uncertainly halfway across the table, then she, very lightly, patted Erika's limp hand that lay on the table. "Are you—?"
Erika's eyes fluttered open. She suppressed a yawn and looked into Jasmine's concerned face with growing realization. "Oh dear," she said, bringing her fingertips to her lips in a gesture of embarrassment. "I'm so very sorry, Jasmine. I must have dozed off for a minute."
It had been more like ten, but Jasmine was more anxious to take the onus for Erika's nap upon herself. "Oh, no need to be sorry," she said hurriedly. She looked down. "I-I'm sure I was just monopolizing the conversation too much. …I'm… well, my life is a little dull so I don't have much to say that's not…"
"Oh no!" Erika refuted, now fully awake. "No such thing is true. In fact, I believe I can be sure as to why I fell asleep in the midst of our tea party and it's certainly not because I wasn't interested in what you were saying."
Jasmine looked up, afraid this was too good to be true. "R-really? Why then?"
Erika smiled. "Because I'm just so comfortable around you!"