"Hey, Tari. Tari. OKay, you wanna be called Rika? HELLO?!?"

Tarika Evans looked up from her notebook, pen, as always, incorrectly held in her right hand. Seeing who the speaker was, she slammed the notebook shut and jumped up.

"Hi Zack." she replied, not trusting herself to say much more around her crush.

"What are you doing here, sitting down on a Cherrygrove City sidewalk and doing something in your notebook? A diary or something?"

Tarika blushed. "Sitting down on a Cherrygrove City sidewalk and doing something in my notebook, that's what." In reality, she'd actually been writing sappy love poetry with Zack Johnson as the subject.

Zack cocked his head and planted his hands on his hips. "I guess that means you're not gonna tell me." A smile played across his face, making Tarika's heart melt. She bravely smiled down at him – though she was 10 months younger than Zack, her growth spurts had kicked in earlier than his, and she'd always been the same height or taller anyway.

"Nope."

"Fine." Looking Tarika up and down, he *finally* noticed the Poké Ball on the strap slung across her shoulder. "Oh, you finally got your first Pokémon?"

Tarika smiled. "Hell yeah."

"In that case…" he grabbed a Poké Ball off his belt, enlarged it, and tossed it from hand to hand like a juggler. "I, Zachary Johnson, challenge you, Tarika Evans, to a one-on-one Pokémon battle."

A grin spread over Tarika's face, as she removed the Poké Ball from her one shoulder backpack strap and enlarged it with one swift motion. "You're on. And did I mention that I love hearing you say my name?"

Both New Bark Town trainers hurled out their Poké Balls, with cries of "Go, Fuego!" and "Splashter, you're on!" However, Zack preferred a flashy throw where the Poké Ball went spinning out, opened mid-spin, and spun back to him in an arc, while Tarika went with the usual 'throw, wait for the Ball to come back to you'. Starter Pokémon from Professor Elm's lab leapt out of each Poké Ball, Fuego the Cyndaquil standing in front of Zack and Splashter the Totodile fighting for Tarika. Both Pokémon stood their ground, making mock Growls at each other.

Zack smiled. "With your fiery spirit, I would've thought you'd get Cyndaquil."

Tarika put on her most annoying expression – calm and cool. "I would have loved ta. Unfortunately YOU DID, remember? So I thought at least I'd go for the type advantage over ya."

"I thought girls usually preferred cute Pokémon?" He coughed twice, Tarika catching the word "Chikorita" in between coughs. Zack smirked, knowing that making references to the stereotype of girl trainers was a good way of starting up Tarika's anger motor.

"I'm not the usual girl, OKay?!?"

Zack shrugged. "Oh yeah, met up with Jace the other day. Said he had a letter for ya, catch!" He took an envelope from his knapsack and threw it at Tarika, who caught it and used a pocketknife to slash the envelope open.

The letter was scrawled in Jace's usual slightly messy handwriting on Surf Mail. Tarika squinted at the paper, trying to read the blue writing over the Lapras print.

Hi Tari – hug me. :P

Nah, just kidding. How's your journey going? Still in love with Zack? :P Mail me back if you get a chance.

Forever yours,

JaCe

Tarika looked up, stuffing the letter into her backpack. "Zack, you wouldn't happen to know if Jace is crushing on me or anything, would you? He signed the letter, forever yours, Jace."

Zack facepalmed. "He is. I heard him sleep talking once. I quote, 'Tari, I love you, I've always loved you, ever since I first laid eyes on your black hair.' It's such an ironic little love triangle. It's sort of ridiculous, my best friend loves the girl who he knows and I know loves me."

Tarika kept silent. A wise decision, as anything she thought of to say would have made her look like a lovesick little loon.

"Fuego, Tackle attack!"

The little fire echidna lunged for Splashter eagerly, and would have hit, had Tarika not called her own command in time.

"Double Team!"

Splashter flickered out of normal vision, then two versions of the Totodile quickly appeared, disappeared, and reappeared around Fuego, making the Cyndaquil rather confused.

Zack gaped at the Totodile. "How'd you get TM 32? No one should have that at this point in their journey, you can only get TM 32 at the Celadon Game Corner!"

Tarika smirked and shrugged, in almost perfect replication of Zack himself. "I've got a cousin in Celadon City. Erika, the Celadon City Gym Leader, heard of her?"

Zack groaned, and Tarika's grin grew wider. "Now, Dig attack!"

Zack gasped, as Splashter clawed its way underground. "Again, I ask you… How did you get a Digging Totodile with no badges yet whatsoever?"

Tarika smiled. "I've also got a florist cousin in Goldenrod City. Her daughter found the TM in the National Park, had no use for it, and sent it off to me via Pidgeot Air Mail."

Fuego looked frantically around itself, and fractional motions in the ground were the only sign that there was an underground Pokémon. Suddenly, Splashter exploded from the ground in a fury of Pokémon and upturned dirt – right underneath Fuego. Taking all things into consideration:

Splashter was level 8, compared to Fuego's untrained level 5

Totodiles' Attack and Defense stats are generally higher than Cyndaquils'

Dig was a ground type attack, which is super effective against Fire type like Fuego

The Cyndaquil instantly fainted, and Zack started to look very, very pale. He got out a wad of cash from his pocket, and as Tarika walked past him, she kissed him on the cheek and took the money at the same time.

"I may love you, but that doesn't mean I won't try my hardest at everything I do. Train your Cyndaquil a tad, by the way."

With that, she was gone, lost into the large building of the Cherrygrove City Pokémon Center. Still stunned at what had happened, both the battle loss and the peck on the cheek, Zack fainted. Yes, he had known of Tarika's crush on him, Jace had made sure of that, but still…