The next morning, when I went downstairs to get breakfast, I was hoping that Mom was sleeping off a hangover or, I dunno, gone. She surprised me by not only being awake, but by having breakfast cooked and set out on the table. Fresh cooked eggs and ham, still steaming on the plates, with buttered toast.
“Having company?” I asked.
“Actually,” she sighed, “It’s for you. And me. One plate each.”
“What’s the occasion?” I was suspicious, of course. Mom hadn’t made breakfast in years. She didn’t do much of anything these days. The two potted fake-plants in the corners were covered in dust. The dishes hadn’t been done in ages. The TV was on, like always, showing lots of nothing, yet she had managed to clear two little spots on the table for us.
“Professor Elm wants you to do him a favor.”
“What? No way.”
“Gold, please, let’s just sit and eat for a bit before we make any rash decisions.”
Maybe it was the mysterious pep talk from Professor Oak, or maybe I was too tired to argue, or maybe I was so angry with her for volunteering my time that I decided to just go with it. Whatever, I thought. At least breakfast was ready.
And it was delicious too. It put me in the right kind of mood. I doubt she spiked it with drugs to get me to be more complacent, but… I wouldn’t put it past her. Then again, I kinda liked Professor Elm. He was weird, for sure, and my dislike of Pokemon didn’t help, but he never judged me for it.
“So,” I began, finishing up the last bite of toast. “What does the Professor need?”
“He didn’t say, only that you were the best candidate.”
I suppressed an eye roll. Sure I was.
“When does he expect me?”
“Oh, right about now,” she said, her voice overly sweet and bright.
I stood to go and she jumped up with me.
“Here, I put this together for you,” she declared, handing me my backpack. “There’s a journal, in case you need to take notes. And some money. And this,” she said, pulling out something like a small laminated card. “Is your trainer card…”
Oh yes, my trainer card, actually a digital device as thin as a credit card. It was standard government issue, but you didn’t need it if you didn’t train Pokemon. If you DID train, however, it was one of the most important things you could own. It kept track of your money, had your picture ID, your signature (which I never penned) and a small screen that would display the trainer’s badges.
The money caught my eye, though I surprised to see my trainer card again after all these years.
“Where did the three thousand credits come from?” I asked. That wasn’t a huge sum, but it was more than we ever had on hand at home.
“Never mind that. You’ll be late if you don’t get going.”
“No buts, Gold. Go meet Professor Elm!”
She pushed me out the door.
No sooner did I regain my balance before I was knocked off my feet by a vicious Pokemon! I screamed, covering my head and curling into a ball, just like they taught us in school, in case someone wandered out into Pokemon territory and got attacked by, I dunno, a rabid Raticate or Growlithe.
The attacking monster let up, so I stole a glance back to the house. Could I get back inside before the creature finished me off? I glanced back, my vision filled with violent azure fur. This was it. The end.
Oh no, I thought. That was a bad sign. I mean, it was a good sign–most people didn’t laugh at someone being torn to pieces, not the way the giggling sounded, at least. It was a bad sign in the sense that I was now humiliated because I was not, in fact, eviscerated by thrashing claws and gnashing teeth.
I looked up, and died a little inside.
It was Lyra. I had had a crush on her for the last, oh, 17 years. And here she was, giggling at my Marill faux pas.
“Come on, Milly,” Lyra said, “Watch where you’re running so you don’t knock people over.”
Marill, or as she was named, Milly, let out a squeak and wiggled its arms. My face reddened, and I stood up to leave.
“Hey, Gold. Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks for asking.”
“I’m really sorry about Milly,” Lyra apologized. “We were playing hide-and-seek and I guess she got excited.”
“It’s okay. Really. Um, I have to go, uh, see Professor Elm.”
“Oh, Gold! That’s great! Are you finally going to get your own Pokemon?”
Milly bounced in anticipation.
“I don’t know. My mom volunteered me to help him or something.”
“Well, whatever it is, good luck.”
Lyra smiled. Oh, that smile. How many times had I imagined her smiling face as I fell asleep? Fifty-two thousand times? Rough estimate.
“Th-thanks,” I stammered. “You too.”
Smooth, Gold. Smooth.
Lyra giggled and said to Milly, “Come on. Time to hide, and I’ll come find you.” Milly replied with an exclamation of joy and took off running toward the lake on the east side of town. Lyra closed her eyes and started counting, so I turned to go. After twenty feet or so, she called to me:
“It’s nice to see you out and about.”
I was filled to the brim with teen-aged hormonal puppy love excitement. I almost skipped to the laboratory, if I had been a less shy kind of person, but the mere fact that I was thinking about skipping was a big indicator of my improving mood.
In fact, I was feeling so good about my day, that I felt social. Like my shyness was melting away. When I saw another guy, about my age, hanging out by the laboratory, I approached him. He had long red hair, kinda greasy and unkempt. His clothes–they were not normal clothes for someone our age. Weird, but hey, I was feeling outgoing.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s up? You here to help Professor Elm too?”
“What? Go away!” he cried out, and he pushed me out into the street. Then he went back to the laboratory window, staring inside and muttering to himself.
That was… really weird, I thought. I should probably tell someone about him.