Zarivar Town had not experienced a day of such beauty in nearly a month.
Winter was winding down, a slow crawl to the inevitability of spring, but it had decided to go out with a bang. It had rained for nearly a week straight, and the days it wasn’t, the clouds converged across the sky, blotting out the sun in protest. Wind blew leaves, branches, and dirt with a determined stubbornness. It wasn’t cold enough to snow, but it was cold enough to get under Jake’s skin and tap dance inside his bones.
Today, however, was a blessing. The chill had softened, and with the sun finally breaking through the scattered clouds, it was almost warm. The town of Zarivar seemed to wake up from a temporary hibernation as rays of light glided along roofs and roads, bouncing off windows, and caressing the plant life that awaited the return of warmer days.
Pokémon and humans alike all around Zarivar looked happier and behaved friendlier – smiling to each other, holding doors open, greeting each other with warmth. Such were the effects of an unusually long and gloomy winter. The town was all but celebrating.
So why did it feel like there was a thunderstorm raging in Jake’s heart?
He lay in his bed, pajamas wrinkled from a night of restless sleep. His dark hair was a mess across his pillow. He would have to tame it before leaving his room on the top floor of the trainer school; the younger kids all looked up to him and he had to set the right example for them.
Tired gray eyes searched the wooden ceiling boards for a clue, a message, a sign. Anything that could help him figure this out. He knew that what he wanted and what he should do were very different things. But they both felt right.
So how exactly am I supposed to decide!?
Jake grabbed the pillow beneath his head and yelled a muted scream into it, letting out his frustration and confusion. It didn’t do anything to solve his dilemma.
A noise from his window dislodged Jake from his thoughts, pulling him back to the reality of the room. Reluctantly, he untangled himself from the covers and got out of bed, stretching and suppressing a yawn. He hadn’t been sleeping well since his eighteenth birthday last week, and he knew it was to do with this decision.
The floorboards creaked beneath his bare feet, the first time in weeks he hadn’t a need for slippers to warm them. He rubbed his eyes, clearing the sleep away, and was mildly surprised to see a Starly perched outside the window ledge. Its sharp, black-tipped beak tapped his window three times in rapid succession.
“Hey there, little guy,” Jake murmured through the glass. He could tell the Starly was male because of the larger white spot on its forehead – he had shown the younger kids in the school a video about this just yesterday, with multiple examples of Pokémon with gender differences.
Tap tap tap tap tap.
“I can’t!” Jake whispered. “I’m not supposed to let wild Pokémon in without supervision…. Please be quiet, Starly. I don’t want to get in trouble!”
“Ar!” Starly chirped from behind the window, and continued tapping.
With a worried glance to his bedroom door, Jake slid the window open and ushered Starly inside, saying, “Oh, alright, alright! If it’ll keep you quiet…but only for a few minutes! I really don’t want to get in trouble.”
Starly hopped inside. “Ar. Lee.”
Was it Jake’s imagination, or was Starly’s chirp quieter? He didn’t think wild Pokémon could understand what he said, not without hanging around trainers first.
Starly bounced around the mess, its orange feet making light pitter-patter noises. Clothes of all kind were thrown around haphazardly and models of his favorite Pokémon were on every available surface. A number of large posters of the Elite Four lined the walls, with creases at the corners where Jake had taken them down and put them back up, trying different positions in the room.
Again, Jake checked the door, but everyone was too busy enjoying the day outside to pay attention to the noise. He noticed how Starly made an effort to avoid stepping into the mess around his room.
Was this really just an ordinary Pokémon?
“I envy you, you know?” he said to Starly, slumping back onto his bed with a sigh. It stopped bouncing around and stared at Jake, head angled to the side as if to say Oh, really?
“You can go wherever you want and fly anywhere. If you end up taking care of anyone else from your family, that’s just part of what you need to do. But me? Not that simple.”
Starly bobbed his head but otherwise remained still. Was the Starly actually listening to him? Really listening?
“You probably have parents to fly back to, but… I never met mine. Mom – Mrs. Tanner to you – took me in a long time ago and I owe her everything for that. She’s been the best mom I could ask for. I do my best to help out with the younger kids in school. They need a good role model, and I’ve tried to be that. But I can’t be here forever.”
As if in reply, Starly hopped onto the bed frame, balancing on the corner post.
“Star. Star! ”
“I do love it here. I learn so much from helping the rest of the kids but eventually I need to use that knowledge out there in the real world. I want to be a good trainer – no, a great trainer. And that means leaving Mom on her own, and I feel guilty because she’s done so much for me. It also means getting my own Pokémon, which I’m super nervous about. What if my Pokémon won’t like me? Or what if I won’t end up being such a good trainer after all?”
With sudden quickness that he hadn’t expected, Starly hopped over to him and nuzzled his head in Jake’s arm. It flew over to the open window, perching on the ledge.
“Do you think I’d make a good trainer?” Jake asked hopefully. “Would you want me to be your trainer?”
“Lee! Lee!” Starly replied, and flew away. By the time Jake got to the window, only a speck in the bright blue sky gave any hint that Starly had been there just moments before.
“I guess not,” he said with a sigh.
He had asked for a sign…was this it? Was Starly trying to tell him to wait some more, that he wasn’t ready? Or was this a test of his resolve?
He closed the window, and decided to give himself one more week. He’d make a decision one way or another by then.
A knock on his door startled him. He didn’t bother trying to clean up the room – he’d do that later, maybe. Anyway, it always seemed to get messy again after a few minutes that he never saw the point. He only did it because it made his mom happy.
“Morning, Mom,” he said, opening the door.
She was grinning from ear to ear. “Good, you’re up! I thought I heard noises from up here –” Jake stole a quick peek at the window but there was nothing there “–and wanted to see if you were awake. I know last week was your birthday and I hadn’t gotten you anything yet…”
His foster mom might have been grinning but Jake could see something else in her eyes. It was a happy kind of sadness. It showed sometimes when she looked at him, though he had never mentioned it. Taking him in was blessing enough.
“I’ve been talking to Kris lately – Professor Arbutus, you know – and we both agree that it’s time.”
“Time?” Jake asked, cocking his head in an unconscious imitation of the Starly that had been in his room. “Time for what?”
“Time for you to get your own Pokémon!”
Jake’s mind was running faster than a Garchomp could fly. Was his mom serious? He could see on her face it wasn’t a joke. Did that mean she knew he wanted to start his path to being a trainer? Was she expecting it? Or was this, like Starly, just another coincidence, the real answer to his question? Was this why he could see the hint of melancholy behind her eyes, because it meant sending him off on his own?
Before he could say anything, however, his mom’s Pokégear rang.
“Speak of the devil, it’s Kris!” she said as she plucked it out of her pocket, nearly dropping it in excitement. “Kris, hi, I was just telling Jake the ne – Wait, what? In Nyasa? Yes, I’ll tell him. Yes. Yes. Let me know if you need anything else.”
A look of concern replaced her grin as she hung up. She bit her lip, frowning.
“Something’s happened in Nyasa, I don’t know what. Kris didn’t say – or couldn’t say? They’re evacuating everyone to here through the Escape Route. I’m going to go help her, please stay here and watch the kids, keep them safe. When everything settles down we’ll go to Arbutus and get you a Pokémon, I promise!”
Jake could only nod, still trying to wrap his head around the news. She kissed him lightly on the forehead and ran down the stairs.
Still in a bit of a daze, Jake stood rooted to the spot for a moment. He knew he should be worried about Nyasa Town but with all the thoughts that had been running in his mind all day, now only one dominated everything. He kept repeating it in his head as he got dressed and as he brushed his teeth. By the time he reached downstairs the thunderstorm within that had raged all morning had subsided, and his heart was just as sunny as the day outside.
I’m going to get a Pokémon today! I’m going to be a trainer!