Chapter 26: The Red Park Bench
September 24, PA 2019
Victoria Inn – Esterland City
A furry rug tickled the sole of Lucas’s feet as they emerged from the tile-floored inside of the shower to the outside. It felt good in its own way, and at least the rug kept his feet off the tile floor outside. Bathroom tile, Lucas knew for a fact, was not exactly friendly to wet, unshod feet. There was always friction in the relationship – or, more appropriately, there was a complete lack of it. Lucas didn’t much feel like falling and cracking his skull open, anyway. As he reached the mirror, he blinked awkwardly; a few strands of his sopping wet, wavy hair had fallen into his eyes. He slicked his hair back with his hand to get a better look at himself. His slightly tan chest was bare, still glistening with water from the shower than ran down into the towel covering his lower half. Somehow, without remembering exactly what he had looked like in the early summer, he could tell that he had put on a few pounds. Not many – just enough to notice.
The one thing he was observing more than anything, however, was his hair. It had been years since he had seen it this long. It was still a darker red in most places, flecked with bright red and black. The wavy curls, released from their usual headdress prison, threatened his ears on the sides, flirted with his shoulders in the back, and danced against his eyebrows in the front.
He reached behind himself and tried to grip a handful of his hair. He felt his hand bunch it together. In the mirror, he saw his own face change to a look of slight disappointment. He’d always said to himself that he’d band it back the next time it got this long…except it wasn’t quite long enough.
“Balls,” he murmured to himself, ruffling it instead and watching it spread out around his face. He took his skullcap and fitted it over his head. “Maybe in another month…”
In a matter of minutes, Lucas was dressed and headed toward the suite’s living room. He flopped onto the couch, then decided to stretch out. He stared at the lamp hanging from the ceiling for a while. He wasn’t sure what time it was exactly; he only knew that it was morning. Judging by the fact that he seemed to be the only one awake, it was probably somewhat early in the morning.
Right as he thought that and his eyes started to close, a single word broke him out of his serene, little world of solitude.
Lucas opened one eye, letting out a long sigh and he looked up and to his left.
“Decided to start talking to me again?” he asked tiredly.
Nalani put her hands on her hips. “I never said I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Well, you sure didn’t say **** to me at dinner yesterday,” Lucas deadpanned.
“Did you say anything to me? Hell, do you ever say anything to me unless you’re answering something I said?” she asked.
“Oh…**** me, you’re nagging,” groaned Lucas, trying to cover his ears with his forearms.
“I am not – naaaaaaagging,” she intoned, drawling in an exaggerated fashion to mock Lucas. “I was just asking you a question. I thought about it last night and…I start every conversation.”
“I thought we established this already. You’re the chatty one, and I’m –”
“The grim, quiet one with no people skills. Yes, I know,” sighed Nalani wearily. “I’m bored.”
Lucas looked up at her. “So……?”
“Let’s go to the park,” she said briskly. “Wheels let me borrow her key card.”
“‘Park’?” repeated Lucas, confused.
“It’s the next block over from this building,” she replied. “We can all get some exercise.”
Lucas eyed the hallway where his and Wil’s room was. Wil, when Lucas last checked, was still fast asleep. “Wil might get pissed if we go sneaking off without letting him know.”
“Who cares?” questioned Nalani flippantly. “Doesn’t his ‘mother hen’ act get on your nerves just a little bit?”
Hate to admit it, but she’s got a point.
We’re supposed to be full-fledged mercenaries. In the four months I’ve been here, I’ve taken a gang beating, been attacked by feral Pokémon, had guns pointed at my head, gotten two cracked ribs, a concussion, a crapload of other bumps, bruises, and injuries…
So a walk in the park should be…well, a walk in the park.
Lucas sat up.
As it turned out, the park was appropriately called the Victoria Gardens. Lucas glimpsed a bush somewhat off the cobblestone path that he and Nalani were walking. Something appeared to be moving inside it. A little blue weed on legs stumbled out a second later.
“Odd-ish-odd,” it squeaked before bounding away again.
The sun was barely up, and the September morning air had a bit of chill to it. Nalani, nevertheless, had on her normal tank top and shorts. Lucas took one, then two, then three glances at her before finally saying something.
“You’re not cold in that?”
Nalani turned to him. “Are you serious? This is summer weather in Ëdelbourg. Part of my training was to stand outside in clothes like this when it was below freezing.”
Lucas’s jaw unhinged a little bit. “You’re joking. Your uncle made you do that?”
“Not directly,” Nalani said. “He just went out and found the most hard-*** martial arts master in Carona for me to learn under.”
“I’m not sure if I mentioned this before…” he said casually. “But your uncle sounds like a real jerk–”
“You watch your mouth.” It was like Lucas had flipped a switch. Nalani’s stare had become hard as stone, and her vaguely smiling face had morphed into an angry scowl. Lucas just stared at her, flabbergasted. She seemed to come back to herself after a few seconds. Her head dropped, and she said, barely above a whisper, “Sorry…but, you know…he’s literally the only family I have. Just him. Nobody else. You understand, right?”
And she looked up at him. There was an uncommon sheen in her blue eyes.
“I thought you didn’t want to be around him,” Lucas said somewhat sheepishly.
“That’s not it…” she trailed off with a sigh. “I lived in Ëdelbourg all my life. I want to travel the world – see new things. He promised me we would, as soon as…it was safe.”
She closed her eyes.
“What about Hoenn?” she mused a bit breathlessly. “I hear the weather’s beautiful down there, and they hardly get any snow. God knows I’ve seen enough snow to last me a lifetime.”
“Sounds nice,” Lucas said.
“Maybe we’ll go to the Orange Islands,” she went on. “Sun, waves, beautiful beaches…”
And Shiro. Not that Nalani would know or care who Shiro was, but he was most certainly there. At least, he was most of the year. Maybe, after everything was done, Lucas would swing through and visit his older brother…
Nalani opened her eyes and cast a sly look at Lucas. “You’re picturing me in a swimsuit right now, aren’t you?”
“Seriously? Come on.” Lucas rolled his eyes.
Nalani tilted her head. “You don’t get all embarrassed like you used to.”
“That’s because I’m not shocked by anything you do anymore,” Lucas replied with a sort of resignation, folding his arms across himself.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Nalani immediately asked. Lucas couldn’t look her in the eye for some reason, so he stared down at his shoes.
They didn’t walk much longer before they found an empty patch of grass. A strong, proud, and old tree ruled over the otherwise clear field. Ratty, gray-winged Starly seemed to be gathered around the isolated wooden bench, pecking away at the ground. Nalani saw them first, shot Lucas a mischievous smirk, and gave chase. She flapped her arms in what looked to be a cheap imitation of the bird Pokémon, who scattered in unison, beating their wings around her as she covered her head and laughed wildly. She whirled around and a second later Lucas saw a sphere flying through the air. It hovered and pulled in a beam of red light while the rest of the Starly scattered. As Lucas finally approached (covering his head in case one of the feathered flock decided to drop a parting gift), he saw the sphere fall to the ground. It rattled once, then twice…
Then stopped. Lucas and Nalani both approached the dormant Pokéball at the same time, both with similar wide-eyed expressions as they observed it.
“Wow.” Nalani blinked a couple of times. “That actually worked.”
“How did…” Lucas muttered. “Do you plan this stuff out?”
“It’s like I said,” she commented, picking up the ball. “I don’t have the patience to plan.”
She looked at Lucas. There was a hint of a fox in her mischievous, glinting, blue eyes.
“I feel like giving it a test drive,” she said.
“W-what?” Lucas stammered. “Well, I don’t. It wouldn’t be a fair fight, would it? I’ve had Apollo almost a year, and Blink – who’s an Electric-type, by the way – for a couple of months. You’ve had that Starly…”
“Manu,” Nalani corrected him.
“…Manu?” repeated Lucas, a somewhat stuck look on his face. Nalani nodded.
“When did you decide that?” Lucas asked.
“Just now,” she replied.
“Okay, fine,” Lucas sighed. “Still doesn’t change my point. You’ve had him for all of thirty seconds. Or ‘her’. You don’t even know, do you?”
Nalani’s enthusiasm was starting to wane. She looked at the Pokéball containing her new Starly and turned it over in her hand. “I guess you’re right.”
“I mean, how’d you like to come to a new place, and the first thing you realize is that everyone’s trying to kick your ***?” Lucas said, his arms folded. “Pokémon have feelings just like people do.”
“I know that,” rebutted Nalani tersely. “This coming from the guy that never lets his Pokémon out of their Pokéballs except to battle?”
“Apollo’s not what you’d call a sweet, peaceful Pokémon,” Lucas answered. “You know what my family told me? Right after he came out of his egg, a couple of the other Charmander were standing over him while he was sleeping. He opened his eyes, saw one of his own brothers getting too close, and damn near gouged his eye out. And ever since he evolved....”
“He also enjoys hanging around Ahi,” interjected Nalani. “Did you notice that, too?”
Lucas’s next thought got lost on the way to his mouth.
“That’s what I thought,” Nalani said, sounding exasperated.
“Sure. Y’know what? Screw this. I’m going back.” Lucas threw up his hands and began to walk away.
The scream was louder and more shrill than Lucas ever thought possible. At the same time, he felt his entire arm wrenched backward hard. It took all of Lucas’s effort to curb his instinct, which was to backhand the person grabbing him. Even so, he whirled around so quickly that she nearly stumbled to the ground. Nalani took a breath – one slow, deep, unsteady breath.
“Nalani,” he murmured. She was looking straight at her shoes.
“We should go,” she said sullenly.
“Go?” repeated Lucas. “Go where?”
“Away,” she replied cryptically. “Away from Maverick Heart, away from everything…wasn’t it more fun when it was just us two?”
Lucas didn’t answer. The truth was, he didn’t know how.
“Well…” he said, a slight hitch in his voice. “Where would we go if we left the guild? How would we put food in our mouths?”
“I don’t know – I don’t care!” she suddenly clenched her hands into fists and started yelling. “I just…”
Lucas sighed through his nose. “You’re being stupid.”
Nalani appeared to swallow. “I know.”
Lucas trudged over to the bench and sat down on it. She sat down next to him a few seconds later. They started a couple of feet apart, but it was like putting two opposing magnets down next to each other. Sooner or later, they always snap together and stick. From his shoulder, she stared straight into the blue sky, her blue eyes following a flock of airborne Starly. Lucas stared in the same general direction. The feel of her violet strands tickling his face wasn’t nearly as foreign the second time around. She felt her push against him somewhat as her body expanded in a couple of deep breaths. Part of him wondered wildly whether she was doing that on purpose.
“Hey…Lucas?” she uttered in a small voice that fit the serene setting.
“Yeah?” he answered just as calmly, looking down at his shoulder. He was no longer looking at the crown of her head, but her blue eyes.
“You know you’re my best friend, right?” she asked.
“Uh…yeah, I guess,” Lucas murmured, still sounding bemused.
“Well…you remember the conversation we had?” she asked, saying the sentence very quickly, as if a moment’s hesitation would have caused her to lose heart and abandon the topic entirely.
Lucas’s brow furrowed in confusion. “We’ve been around each other almost every waking hour for four months. We’ve had a lot of conversations.”
“I mean that conversation,” she said, this time a bit more insistently. Lucas frowned. She wasn’t being helpful at all. “We were on the beach, remember?”
Lucas didn’t answer.
“You’re thinking of me in a swimsuit again, aren’t you?” she asked, a knowing smirk crossing her face. However, her head stayed locked against Lucas’s right shoulder, and her voice remained small and almost demure.
“We were at the beach. Everybody was in swimsuits,” answered Lucas. “Kind of hard not to. But which beach are we talking about?”
“Cadlamere,” Nalani sighed, sounding somewhat frustrated. “Don’t you remember? It was after we went looking for that treasure.”
“You mean, the ruins?” Lucas said sourly. He’d had a few pleasant memories since coming to Carona. That mission was not one of them – mainly because he couldn’t remember much of anything. “How the hell do you expect me to remember any details from right after that?”
“This was after you’d…gotten better. We went to the beach,” Nalani said, trying hard and failing in her attempt not to smile. “And we had a conversation…”
“Well, sure, I guess,” Lucas answered. “I can’t remember what we talked about, though.”
“I asked you if you’d kissed a girl before.”
“Wh-what?” A sudden impulse to separate himself from Nalani and jump away from her disappeared as quickly as it came – leaving Lucas to wonder where the hell it went. “We never talked about that.”
“Of course we did. I remember things, Luc,” she said tersely, as if angered. “And the last thing I asked you was if you ever wanted to.”
“Wh-y-yeah,” Lucas stammered, looking away from her and down at the ground. “I mean…I guess I will, someday…b-but what’s that got to do with anyth—”
He was in the middle of the sentence when the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. He pulled back a bit.
That tree’s shadow looks like it’s about to grab something. Long, skinny, skeleton hands. They look like bones. It’s creepy as all hell. And the Starly flapping around it make it look even worse. I know they’re Starly, but if I just look at the shadows, they look like Zubat or something. Zubat are irritating. Starly are only slightly less irritating.
I hope I don’t get **** on by a Starly. I wonder if Starly like coffee? I don’t like coffee, but if I gave it to a Starly, I wonder if it would drink it? How does it like its coffee? Black, like Wil does?
Oh, ****. Wil’s probably just realizing that I’m gone. I wonder if Wheels is getting yelled at for letting Nalani take the key.
“Lucas?” Nalani slid away from him, looking concerned. “A-are you okay?”
“W-w-wait a sec…” he stuttered. “You don’t mean…”
There was silence between them for a long moment.
“I…” Lucas tried to gather himself.
“Are you asking…” Lucas tried to put words together. “You don’t mean…”
“Just…just to try it,” she said, not meeting his eyes. “I’m curious – that’s all.”
“I just don’t understand, Nalani,” Lucas said seriously. “I mean…here? Now? Me?”
“You have a better idea?” she asked, a curt snippiness in her voice. “Just pull aside some random guy and plant one on him? I’m sure that’ll go over great.”
They went silent again. Nalani started to look at her shoes, and stared at them for what seemed like days. Then, all in a moment, her head snapped up.
“One second,” she said. “We just touch for one second. Nothing weird, like they do on TV. And we don’t say anything about it later – to anybody.”
“Wha-hold on,” Lucas fumbled. “Who said that I was agreeing to this?”
“…At least do yourself a favor. Maybe one day…” Nalani’s eyes brightened for a brief moment, then disappeared behind her bangs. “Maybe one day you’ll find a girl you really like. You don’t want to be all nervous if she wants you to kiss her. It’ll make you look bad.”
Lucas tried to think of another argument – something, anything that he could say that would perhaps stall or stop this from happening. But then the little voice in his head started running its mouth…
How bad could it be? Your lips touch for a second – two, tops.
And, come on, let’s be honest. She is good-looking. You said so yourself.
She took a very deep breath, almost as if she needed to steady herself, and leaned in closer. Lucas gasped. He never knew that it was possible for a heartbeat to accelerate that quickly.
Maybe it wasn’t possible. Maybe his heart had exploded and he was already dead. Maybe heaven and hell did exist, and he was in one or the other. Maybe both. No…that didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense in this moment. All he knew was that he felt himself trembling. He’d been in some pretty hairy situations before, but he could never remember quaking in place like this. His stomach was doing cartwheels in his belly and his heart was beating his chest like a drum.
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” she asked. Lucas didn’t trust himself to speak, although he did hear himself exhale unevenly. Nalani swallowed hard. Her blue eyes bored straight into him, and her voice dropped to the very quietest of whispers.
From this distance, Lucas could not only see each one of her long eyelashes; he could almost feel them bristling against his face. Their heads started to tilt. One of them guessed wrong and they went in same direction, bumping noses awkwardly. They each tried to correct their mistake at the same time, and just wound up repeating it. A final cry of reason erupted from somewhere in the back of Lucas’s brain, and he fleetingly thought of backing away – but Nalani was having none of it. She immediately turned her head, knocking his nose away with her own…
A second later, their lips found each other.
Their mouths were closed, their lips almost stiffly tight. As Lucas sat there under the sunlight, the breath of her nostrils and the autumn morning breeze cradling his face, he found that his mind was not racing the way he thought it should have been. In fact, it was as if time itself had slowed to a crawl. But he did keep his eyes open. They stared right into her orbs of blue.
This had to be the longest second ever. Lucas wondered wildly for a moment whether the birds overhead were flying in slow motion. He watched the blue orbs widen, as if the gravity of the situation was starting to hit her. Maybe it was from the angle of a stray ray of sunlight somewhere, but they seemed to have an extra luster to them – a shine that built upon them as the seconds passed until, finally, they started to close. It felt awkward staring at someone who wasn’t looking back (was that a tear on one of her eyelashes?), so he shut his eyes, too.
Lucas literally felt the moment where everything changed. A vulnerable sound escaped her – half a giggle, half a moan. Her entire body seemed to slacken, and getting an arm around his neck might have been the only thing that stopped her from falling to the ground. The businesslike handshake of their lips had turned into a beautiful slow dance with fingers entwined. Lucas’s brain was in a haze – or the opposite of a haze. The few images sent from his brain to the inside of his eyelids seemed sharper, every sound louder and clearer.
Then, all at once, it was over. He felt a cool on his lips that seemed almost foreign now. She had pulled back slowly, catching him with a second peck that was just enough for him to notice. Her teeth were clamped down almost dangerously hard on her bottom lip now. She was a small child, caught red-handed after eating one too many sweets from the candy jar. That is, the expression of feigned innocence on her face couldn’t quite overpower the satisfaction that glimmered in her blue eyes.
He sat there for a couple of moments, pondering what had happened. Meanwhile, Nalani slid to the far end of the bench, looking out at nothing in particular. Small giggles escaped her every now and then, and even from this, the worst possible angle to see her face, Lucas could still tell that she had gone very red. Of course, Lucas was one to talk. He felt his face burning and was prepared to bet that he had gone just as red as she was.
It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. It had been clinical at first – as close to ‘all business’ as an act that inherently intimate could be. A thought danced wildly to the front of Lucas’s brain, like an early childhood memory, waiting deep in the recesses of his mind for the perfect trigger to bring it to the forefront.
I don’t have anything else that I can compare that kiss to. Of course it’s the best kiss I’ve ever had. That’s kind of by default. It’s the only one I’ve ever had.
Sometimes, though, when Nalani does things, I get the feeling she’s trying to send me messages. Maybe that’s the part of my brain that believes that sending messages is just what girls do. But, for a long time, I’ve been wondering…wondering if there was something that Nalani’s wanted to tell me.
Something that she can’t say with words…maybe because she can’t say it with words.
Maybe because she doesn’t know how.
Lucas took a deep breath.
Either way this goes, it could be the worst mistake of my life.
So why am I still going through with it?
“You remember what we said, right?” she interrupted, turning to him. “What happened here…we leave it.”
The flighty, whimsical spring in her voice was gone; she was talking to him like they were in the middle of a mission. Her face was stony. Not angry so much as completely unreadable – a blank slate.
“So, as soon as we stand up,” she said, sounding like she was measuring her words carefully, “this never happened.”
She seemed to take a deep breath, reared back, and made to stand. She had gone about halfway to her feet before something stopped her – she slumped back onto the red bench.
“I…” she said, shaking her head quickly. “I need to be alone for a minute.”
“Wh-no,” Lucas answered, surprising himself at his own forcefulness. But the truth was, Nalani never said things like that. She was every bit as social as he was aloof, and then some. Solitude was never something she needed. In fact, it was something she feared, maybe more than anything else. “Something’s wrong with you.”
“I wasn’t asking you, Lucas,” she said. Now she did sound angry. “I’ll catch up with you later. Just don’t leave the park without me.”
Lucas stood; truth be told, he couldn’t wholeheartedly protest having some time with his own thoughts after what had just happened. He didn’t know what possessed him to do it, but he laid a hand on Nalani’s shoulder as he got to his feet and walked away, leaving her to watch his back. He turned around and took a long, hard look at the bench, and at the surrounding area. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to make sure he remembered this otherwise nondescript place perfectly.
Nalani watched him disappear and, as soon as he was out of sight, stretched herself prone over the bench. She shut her eyes tightly as she pressed her face to the rust-red wooden slats.
Plain and simple, it was true.
“Damn it,” she whimpered, as if responding to a voice in her head. “What am I doing…?”
Lucas was still waiting for everything to stop glowing. The world around him was a television screen with the contrast turned up a bit too high. Yet, it was not overbearing – not like the sort of brightness that assaults the eyes after hours in a dark room.
…Only that violent sort of shine ebbs away after a few moments.
A stiff breeze ruffled the hairs in the back of his head. He hadn’t noticed how windy it had been.
He shut his eyes tightly for a few moments, then let out a strained groan.
“I can’t believe you!” Lucas opened one eye and turned his head in the direction of the yelling. It sounded like a girl or young woman, and she sounded tearful. He whirled around, all the while thinking about how stupid he probably looked doing so. In his state of mind, he wasn’t even sure if the voice was real. Nevertheless, he found the vague location of where the girl was still yelling, and took the concrete path he was on in that direction.
“I feel like I don’t have a choice, babe,” a young man’s voice answered. “Look, everything’s gone straight to hell in the last couple of months. First I lose my title, then the guild folds. I’m starting to think it’s time for me to move on.”
“Move on, then! Go somewhere else!” the girl snarled hysterically. Lucas rounded a bush on the path he was walking, and finally found the source of the commotion. A taller, young man with very dark hair that seemed to be spiked upward somewhat was talking to a blonde girl a head shorter, who looked like she might have been pretty if not for the splotched makeup and full-out sob face. “Go find some **** in some other city! See if I care!”
“You don’t get it, do you?” the young man seemed to be losing his cool. “I have – nowhere – to live. If I’m lucky, this next job will get me set up with another guild.”
The girl responded with a sob. She whirled around and began to walk away from the black-haired boy.
“Hey, if you really want…” he said, “I could maybe come back for you later–”
“Don’t bother!!” the girl screamed, whipping her head around toward him again before breaking out into a sprint. Lucas felt himself jostled as the girl, who might have been about his height, slammed into him. He took the blow somewhat stoically – he wasn’t in a condition to care much at the moment. As he approached the young man, though, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had just witnessed a breakup, and a nasty one, at that. Lucas was just beginning to ponder how ironic that was when the young man laid eyes on him.
“Watched that whole thing, huh?” Lucas could hear a tinge of bitterness in the young man’s voice.
“Well…” She was only screaming like she was getting murdered. Kind of hard to just ignore that.
“You’re not some kid who wants my autograph or something, are you?” the young man asked wearily. Up close, Lucas was able to get a better look at him. His dark brown eyes were oddly narrow, and his hair, even where it was not gelled, looked to be very straight and stiff.
“Autograph?” Lucas repeated in bewilderment. “That’s a good one. I have no idea who you are.”
“Oh…good,” the youth answered, looking relieved. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his acid-wash jeans. “Don’t mind me. I gotta go blow off steam someplace I won’t get arrested for it.”
Slowly, he trudged off, down the concrete path and out of sight.
Lucas shut his eyes again.
You can’t try to forget something. To try to forget, you have to remember what you’re trying to forget. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Of course, when you want to remember something, it’s damn near impossible. Our brains hate us like that.
It’s nuts to ask anyone to forget something like this. It’s almost enough to make me mad at her.
No matter how hard I try, though, I can’t do that, either.
Wil said once that he thinks Nalani has ‘feelings’ for me. I don’t know if she completely meant to, but there were definitely some ‘feelings’ involved. She seemed…well, enthusiastic for one. It was almost like she’d been waiting for it a long time.
Then again, I really didn’t stop her from doing anything she did. It was a half-assed try at best. I know that deep down. But then again, most guys in my situation wouldn’t have turned it down, either, would they?
Lucas, don’t be stupid. She’s just the first girl your age you’ve ever been around. Yes, she’s pretty, but so are a lot of other girls.
They’re not her, though.
Would I have done that if it had been some other girl? One that wasn’t Nalani?
No. I don’t think I would.
Does that mean…does that mean I have ‘feelings’ for her, too?
What kind of question is that? Of course I have ‘feelings’ for her. It’s just a question of whether those feelings are what everyone thinks they are.
…What I’m starting to think they are.
It wasn’t long before Lucas found himself going back the way he came. He recognized a couple of well-placed signs and landmarks that his brain had somehow taken note of in its fuzzy haze. Those were what kept him from being hopelessly lost. At least, physically speaking. Lucas’s feet were starting to tire just a bit as he reached the top of a familiar hill. From there, he saw a full view of the field where the bench had been. It was such a simple place, now that Lucas got a good, long look at it. It seemed not to want to be remembered. To Lucas, though, it could not and perhaps would not be forgotten. There was a part of Lucas that had thought – or maybe hoped – that he would return to find his personal ghost already gone, departed to some other small adventure of her choosing. But, alas, to his – something…maybe it was delight, maybe disappointment, maybe chagrin…he didn’t know what the hell to feel anymore. In any case, to whatever emotion he was having at the time, she was there – not sitting, but standing…and not alone, either.
A bright red, small dragon was staggering to her feet in front of Nalani, looking like it had been on the wrong end of one hell of a pounding. The teenage boy’s eyes lingered on Nalani for a moment. She looked flustered at best. Her lips were pursed in a stony expression…her blue eyes were focused hard on something or someone a few feet away from her. Lucas followed Nalani’s gaze, and what he saw shocked him.
A tall young man stood there, wearing a black t-shirt with some aggressive-looking graphics and a pair of acid wash blue jeans. His eyes were vaguely narrow as well.
Lucas would remember eyes like that. They weren’t something you came across very often. Not to mention, he had just seen them about fifteen minutes back.
At the young man’s command was a short, slightly pudgy, rodent-like creature. Its fur was bright orange, except for right around its belly, which was close to white. Its large ears flared upward alertly. The tail, which was as long as the creature was tall, lashed eagerly behind it. Two small, yellow cheek markings on its face appeared to crackle with excitement.
“Rai, rai…” it said in a slightly high rasp.
“Keep focused, Tenchu, it’s not over yet,” the young man said somewhat sternly. “Use Quick Attack!”
“Raiii…chu!” the small, orange rodent quickened to a pace that belied its somewhat stout appearance.
“Ahi, watch out~!” Nalani took a step backward. Rarely had Lucas ever seen her that rattled, especially in the face of an opponent. Her hesitation cost her, and cost Ahi worse. The Kaegon went flying into the air as the Raichu skidded to a stop a few feet away from where Ahi had been. Tenchu’s eyes flashed and its rodentlike mouth curled into an unmistakable smirk. The tall, black-haired boy cocked his head.
“Pull. …Thunderbolt!” the young man yelled. Lucas watched Ahi sail through the air, taking seemingly forever to come down. Tenchu started to spark wildly. Lucas smirked as a hilarious thought entered his brain:
That might explain why his hair stands straight up all the time.
The humorous moment quickly and abruptly ended as Lucas watched Ahi sniped out of the air by a flying bolt of lightning. The small dragoness let out a screech of surprise and pain as she went limp in midair. She hit the grass with a soft flump and crumpled. Lucas winced; it was hard to watch.
Nalani was taking deep breaths. Her face was locked in an expression of shock.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” the young man remarked, returning the Raichu to its Pokéball. “You couldn’t have known. You did well to last as long as you did.”
Almost immediately, Lucas felt a hot surge of anger well up within him. No wonder this guy’s girlfriend left him – he was a patronizing *******. However, the very stealthy way he had told Nalani that she was basically out of her league seemed to be lost on her. She was too busy staring down at the grass at her feet. Finally, she did look up. Up and to her left.
Straight at him.
For one wild second, Lucas thought that maybe the fact that she noticed him would take her attention off having just been curbstomped in a Pokémon battle by a stranger. Instead, Nalani’s blank facial expression changed to one of horror. Her eyes went down to her feet a second time, and her hands, already in fists, clenched even tighter.
She was just returning Kaegon as Lucas approached. He had no idea if she even acknowledged his presence. He turned instead toward the other boy.
“You, too?” the latter sounded annoyed. “Listen, I don’t mind playing with you two, but I can’t do it right now. I’ve got somewhere to be.”
He started to walk and went right past Lucas and Nalani. He was about a step or two behind them when he stopped.
“Nothing personal…but maybe it’ll be a lesson about picking your fights a little bit more carefully,” he said.
“You’re pretty sure of yourself,” Lucas said, looking at the other young man through the corner of his eye. “Who the hell are you, anyway? …Forget it. Doesn’t matter. Keep one thing in mind, huh?”
“And what’s that?”
“I’m not from around here,” answered Lucas. “So if we ever meet again, your ‘reputation’ doesn’t mean **** to me.”
The black-haired teenager took a long look at his red-haired counterpart through the corner of his somewhat slanted eyes. His lips turned upward into a smile. “For a kid whose balls have barely dropped…you’ve sure got a set of big ones.”
He glanced at Nalani as well, before turning his head toward Lucas. His smile widened.
“Aha,” he commented. “I think I see what’s happening here. Well, all I can say is…good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it.”
And he stalked off further, taking about four more strides before stopping.
“Now what?” snarled Lucas, annoyed. “If you’re gonna leave, leave. Stop being so dramatic about it.”
“Cassius Minamoto. That’s my name,” the young man said. “Remember it. Or don’t. Your call.”
Finally, he trudged out of sight, hands in his pockets the entire time.
“Arrogant son of a *****,” Lucas growled. He turned to Nalani, who was still staring at her shoes with her fists clenched. “You okay?”
As soon as he said it, and her head snapped up, a small voice in his head told him that he’d said something wrong. That, and the punch that Nalani was trying to throw at his head. Lucas’s reaction was almost quicker than thought, and the next sound he became aware of was the enemy going over his back and landing on its own, right in front of him. He clenched a fist, aimed at the assailant’s throat, and started to drive.
The blue of the eyes caused something to click in his brain, and he stopped dead.
“Go ahead,” she whispered. Her face betrayed no sign of pain. “I’m not weak like Demitra. I can take it.”
“The **** is your problem?!” snarled Lucas, struggling against the sudden lump in his throat. He threw Nalani’s arm away from him and stood, turning away from her. He was looking down at his hands, which were trembling. “****…****, I’m shaking…why the **** would you do that, huh?”
“Lucas…” Nalani started.
“What the **** is wrong with you?!” Lucas continued to swear and rant. “When I go to that place, I…I-I can’t control it. You know that…you ****ing know that!”
“Then why? Why do you bother?” Nalani asked. Lucas rounded on her.
“What the hell kind of ******* question is that?” he asked. “You think I want to kill you?”
Lucas made a sudden movement with his hand, and put up one finger right in front of her face. She didn’t flinch.
“There’s one person I’m after, Nalani – one. One man I need to kill,” he said with an unnerving but tremulous calm in his voice. Often times, his voice tended to crack under stress. This time, though, it didn’t. Nalani took note of it and how it made him sound years upon years older. “To protect the people I love, I have to be a murderer. There’s no getting around that. But I will not be a monster. If you see it start to happen, you need to ****ing end me. That’s what I want – get it?”
“Don’t ask me to do that, Lucas,” Nalani answered. Conversely, her voice started breaking as soon as she hit his name. She shut her eyes tight and shook her head quickly. “I can’t. I know I can’t.”
“You could,” Lucas said. “I know how strong you are.”
“Not strong enough for that,” she said. “Anyone else, maybe…but not…”
Nalani buried her head into the thing that was closest – Lucas’s shirt. He staggered backward in shock, until it occurred to him that she’d fall on her face without his support. He instinctively caught her. He was waiting to hear the sounds of sobbing, but they never came.
“If you really knew, you’d never ask me to do that,” she said.
“Knew? Knew what?” Lucas asked.
“You guys are damned lucky,” a loud voice from somewhere behind Lucas caused him to whirl around. Wil was striding down the path toward them. “Lucky Wheels made a really good guess about where you’d be. Otherwise, I’d have gone looking all around town for your asses and I’d be really pissed.”
Lucas’s arms were still vaguely around Nalani’s back. She looked up and separated herself from him, her face quickly going red. Wil arrived in front of them, wearing a smirk. Lucas grimaced. He already knew what Wil was thinking.
“It’s like Wheels said, though…you two really do make the cutest couple.”
The two teenagers briefly looked at each other…then turned away. Lucas glanced at the red park bench.
We’re not a couple…
~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~
BTW, if anyone can figure out the meta reference in this chapter, you get free imaginary cookies. AD, you don't count because you already got a HUGE hint. :P
Hope you enjoyed. I'll be back to respond to your reviews as always, and you can expect to see the fallout from this chapter sometime in the middle part of March.