Now, don't get me wrong, I like winning as much as anybody else does. In fact, contrary to the old saying, I believe that winning IS everything. But sometimes, it's better to lose.
What makes me say that, you ask? Maybe it's because sometimes the consolation prize turns out to be something even better than what you wanted in the first place.
Like the time when Jessie entered that tournament during the Princess Festival. She wanted a set of princess dolls more than anything else in the world. She had always yearned for them as a child, but her mother was poor, and thus, she could never afford them. So when the opportunity to win her very own set presented itself, it was just too good to pass up. Unfortunately for her, however, Misty also wanted the dolls, and when it came to the final round of the tournament, of COURSE her Psyduck managed to pull off a good attack and defeat Jessie's Lickitung. (Honestly, why do the good guys ALWAYS have to win? It's so...predictable.) I know Misty never had her own princess dolls when she was little, either, but if you ask me, Jess deserved them more. They may have been hand-me-downs from her sisters, but at least Misty HAD dolls. Jessie didn't even have that! (Her only doll was stolen from her...on Christmas, no less!) Anyway, Jessie was so upset about not winning those dolls that she actually cried! Seeing her like that broke my heart, so I did the only thing I could think of -- I dressed myself, Meowth, and our pokemon like princess dolls, and we gave ourselves to her. I'll admit it was a real pain finding the kimonos and having to pay full price for them since I'm a guy, but seeing the smile that it put on her face made it worthwhile.
In fact, she was so moved by this gesture that she got a passerby to take our picture so she could always remember what we did for her on that day. (She keeps the photograph with her personal belongings, and sometimes, I even catch her looking at it!) And that night, as the festivities came to a close, Jessie told me she was actually glad that she lost the tournament. Seeing my confused look, she explained that if she had won the dolls, then we never would have dressed up for her -- that simple action meant more to her than the very thing she had wanted since she was a child!
"Princess dolls are nice, but good friends are even nicer," she said. "Would that little brat's friends have dressed up like dolls for her if she lost? Somehow, I don't think so!"
"Yeah!" I laughed. "I just don't see the twerp or that other guy donning kimonos for her sake!"
"So let the baby have her bottle!" she continued, putting an arm around me. "I'VE got something MUCH better!"
Then, Jess and I looked into each other's eyes, and she smiled so tenderly at me that my heart skipped a beat! (It gave me hope that she loved me as much as I loved her!) Would we have shared that moment if she had won the battle earlier that day? Probably not. (If she won, there wouldn't have been any need for me to dress up -- we would've been out celebrating her victory instead.) It was such a beautiful experience, and it was all made possible by defeat. This was the day I realized that sometimes losing presents you with opportunities that victory could never possibly give...that sometimes losing is the best thing that can happen!
Just recently, my theory was put to the test, and now more than ever, I'm convinced of it....
"Oh, well! At least we're blasting off with a beautiful bang!" we cried in unison as the fireworks detonated and launched us out of the Indigo Stadium.
The annual Pokemon League Games were officially over. We wouldn't have another chance to snatch so many powerful pokemon at once for another year. And what's more, we missed our chance to compete and show the world what great trainers we really are.
Fortunately, none of us were seriously injured when we landed (blasting off is standard operating procedure by now -- we're used to it!). Unfortunately, wounded pride hurts more than most physical injuries, and we're most certainly NOT used to that yet.
As Meowth built a fire and began to set up camp, I looked over at Jessie, who was sitting some distance away, gazing up into the night sky. Her back was turned to us, but even so, I could tell she was crying.
I wanted nothing more than to take her in my arms and make the pain go away, but I hesitated. After all, Jess is proud, and when she cries, she doesn't like people to witness it. But then, I got to thinking about why she was crying.
We had already accepted the fact that we didn't make it into Pokemon League this year, but I guess the final round and the closing ceremonies earlier that day just did a painfully good job of driving the point home. I mean, sure, Meowth and I were upset about it, too, but Jessie wanted to compete more than we did. This was her dream -- something she's spent her entire life striving for. Something she had just been denied. The endless trail of heartache that was her life was now one shattered dream longer, and as my mind dwelled on this, I began to cry, too.
(You wouldn't think I'd be able to understand -- I was wealthy as a child, and all of my material desires had always been fulfilled. If I wanted something, I got it. Except for the things I wanted most -- acceptance and love. Jessie may not have had much, but at least her mother cared about her. To my parents, I'm nothing more than a continuation of the family line, my sole purpose to become a perfect Southern gentleman, marry my fiance, and produce heirs, thus perpetuating the cycle. Even though I had money, without friendship, I was just as impoverished as she was. So, yes, I know all too well the yearning -- the desire for something you can never seem to obtain, no matter how hard you try. I knew exactly how she felt.)
At length, I stopped myself. What was I crying for? I wasn't in pain anymore -- now that I had Jessie, I had everything I wanted from life. I tried to tell myself that I felt sorry for her, but it didn't work. No, Jessie isn't the kind of person who accepts pity. I knew that crying for her wasn't going to do any good -- I had to take action.
I know full well that in our relationship, Jessie is the one in charge, but who says it always has to be that way? For the time, she was vulnerable, and I had to be the strong one for a change. Usually, I have a gentle, child-like nature (it seems to protect me from the evil that I'm forced to deal with on a daily basis), but I can be a man, too. And at that moment, I knew that was exactly what I had to be.
"Hey, Meowth, why don't you go back into town and pick up some pizzas for dinner?" I said after I had dried my tears. "I don't feel like cooking tonight."
There must've been something about the tone of my voice because the hint wasn't lost on him. "Ya know, I think I'll do just that," he said. And then, before leaving, he whispered to me, "Be careful. Even when she's cryin' she can score a nasty blow with that mallet!"
"Don't worry about me," I replied. And I meant it. For once, I wasn't afraid of getting hurt -- I wasn't going to let her hit me.
I can read Jessie pretty well, and she can do the same with me. It's like she knew I was coming, because as I approached her, she began wiping her tears away.
"The stars are so pretty tonight," she said, trying to pretend everything was okay. But I could hear the quaver in her voice. Who did she think she was fooling?
"You wanna talk about it?" I asked softly.
"They're stars...what's to talk about?" she replied.
I knelt down behind her and began to massage her shoulders. "You know that's not what I meant."
Jessie tensed the muscles in her back and shoulders. She knew there was no getting out of this.
"Come on," I prompted. "You can talk to me."
Jessie turned around and looked up at me. There was a smile on her lips, but her normally sparkling eyes were clouded by a dull, glassy sheen. "James, there's nothing to discuss!" she insisted, as if I were acting silly.
"Don't hold out on me, Jess," I said, running my hands down her back. "I know you're upset, so just tell me! What's the matter?"
After a long pause, she closed her eyes, and a tear spilled down her cheek. "We...we didn't...." Her voice then trailed off, and she began to cry again.
I put my arms around her. "It's okay, Jess. It's okay...."
"No it's not!" she snapped, pulling away from me. The force of her reaction caused her to fall forward, and she hung her head. "Don't you get it, James?! Another year of work, and nothing to show for it! Another wasted year of my life!" As if to illustrate the point, she tore up a clump of earth and let the dirt pour out from between her fingers, like the sands of an hourglass, slipping away. "I'm no closer to my goal than when I first began...."
"That's not true!" I interjected. "Jessie, you have come so far! You started out with nothing, but look at you now! You've got an Arbok and a Lickitung that love you more than anything, and you're a terrific trainer...."
"Yeah, right," she snorted. "A trainer who flunked out of school and doesn't have any badges. Real terrific...real goddamned terrific!"
"You are!" I insisted. "That kid thinks he's hot stuff, but you are so much better than he is! That Charizard of his won't even give him the time of day! That's how he got eliminated...pretty embarrassing way to lose, if you ask me! Arbok and Lickitung would NEVER do that to you -- no matter what, they've always been completely loyal. Hell! Even my Weezing listens to you as if he were your own!"
Jessie raised an eyebrow.
"And they don't obey because they're weak," I continued. "Lickitung is strong enough to beat that kid's invincible Pikachu! And Arbok? Jess, I can't begin to describe how powerful she is! Do you remember when we were at the Cerulean Gym a couple of months ago? She was battling Squirtle, Starmie, AND Seaking underwater, where water pokemon have a huge advantage, and she was kicking ALL of them combined! The only reason she lost is because that Dewgong hit her with an Aurora Beam and an Ice Beam in rapid succession. An all-out assault, and it was still barely enough to defeat her! Now, I'll be damned if those aren't well-trained pokemon!"
This made her smile ever so slightly.
I cupped her chin in my hand and wiped her tears away with my thumb. "If we made it to Pokemon League, I bet you could go all the way with just those two...."
"That's the problem!" she interjected as fresh tears began to well up in her eyes. "We're never going to make it, James!"
"What makes you say that?!" I demanded.
"Because we need badges to compete, and there's no way we'll ever be able to get them!" she cried. "We can't earn them -- all of the gym leaders hate us! They'd never accept a challenge from us after what we've done! And we failed miserably when we tried to take the Pokemon League entrance exam and earn an equivalency badge! Hell! We can't even steal badges from other trainers without making a mess of it...."
When she said this, she blushed and turned away from me. Was she still upset about that? I told her it didn't matter anymore, but then, Jessie always did have a hard time forgiving people...even herself, I suppose.
I placed a hand on her shoulder. "We will think of something," I said.
Apparently, the forceful tone of my voice took her by surprise because at that moment, she looked back at me with a quizzical expression on her face.
"Nothing is impossible, Jess," I continued in the same firm voice. "After all, we're the unstoppable Team Rocket -- we get beaten down and keep coming back for more...."
"That's just it!" she said, cutting me off. "I'm sick of always getting beaten down -- it's the story of my whole goddamn life, and I'm fed up with it!"
She turned away from me again in a futile attempt to hide her tears. "It's true," she insisted. "I can never win, James -- I want the things I can never have, and I always lose the things that I do have...."
"You have me," I said, wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her into me.
Jessie rested her hands on top of mine, as if to ensure that I wouldn't release my hold on her. I responded by pulling her closer.
"And you're never gonna lose me, Jess," I whispered into her ear. "I'm yours forever."
When I said this, she turned and put her arms around me. I could feel her warm breath on my neck as she laid her head on my shoulder and whispered, "Promise?"
I held her as close as I possibly could and began to stroke her hair. "Nothing will ever make me leave you," I told her.
Sobs wracked her body as she tightened her grip on me. I guess I couldn't blame her for being so uneasy -- everybody she's ever loved has either abandoned her or betrayed her. I'm the only person who's stuck by her no matter what, and she needed to know that this would never change.
"Jessie's James," I said softly. "I always have been, and I always will be."
She looked up at me. "You are, aren't you?"
I nodded and kissed her forehead.
For several minutes, we just sat there in silence. I cradled her in my arms, and she rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel the tension in her muscles start to go away as I caressed her. Before long, she was completely relaxed.
She hadn't said a word, but it was the greatest compliment she could possibly have given me at that moment -- she trusted me enough to show her weakness. She had enough faith in me that she could let me be the strong one and not resent it. The realization that I was exactly what she needed filled me with pride -- I could protect her in this moment of vulnerability! It made me feel like a real man, and what's more, it made me feel worthwhile. Jessie is the first person -- the only person -- who's ever made me feel this way. It's just one of the many reasons why I love her so much.
"Well, I must've done something right along the way," she said at length. "Because I ended up with you!"
I looked down at her. All of her tears were gone, and her beautiful sapphire eyes were sparkling. Her lips had curved into a smile again, but this time it was real. I smiled back.
"How do you do it, James?" she asked. "How do you always manage to make me happy, even when I feel rotten?"
"Because happiness is contagious...and you make me happy, Jess," I replied. "I'm the happiest man in the world because of you." And I meant it, too.
Jessie's smile grew even wider when I said this. Her hands slowly crept up my back until they were running through my hair. Then, she pressed her lips to mine.
There was something about that moment. Jessie and I had kissed before, but something was different this time. Being the strong one gave me more courage than I thought I had...it gave me the courage to do something that I had wanted to do for the longest time....
There are no words beautiful enough to do justice to what happened on that night. We had always been perfect together, seeming to share one mind...one soul, but now, that intimacy had reached a whole new level! By adding a physical dimension, our union was complete!
It was the first time for both of us, but at that moment, our inexperience didn't matter. The sheer thrill of this newfound closeness was enough. Nothing we had ever shared before, not the tightest embrace, not the most passionate kiss, could possibly compare to what we had now!
Jessie. My entire world -- my partner, my confidante, my best friend, my soul-mate...and now, my lover! I thought as I gazed into her beautiful blue-violet eyes.
"I love you, James," she whispered as she gazed back into my green eyes -- she felt the same way I did!
"I love you, too, Jessie. I love you, too...."
When it was over, she fell asleep in my arms, her head resting on my chest. Her hair had come loose from its normally impeccable coif, and the two of us were completely engulfed by it. (She has the most beautiful hair -- it's so long that it goes all the way past her knees when it's down! And it always seems to smell like roses!) I could run my fingers through that sea of crimson forever, and at the moment, that was exactly what I was doing.
Jessie smiled in her sleep as I stroked her hair, and I pulled her body closer to mine, almost as if I were afraid to let go.
Actually, I was.
Unsettling thoughts plagued me as I laid there, staring up at the starry sky. My courage was spent, and questions began to form in my mind. What if this was only a dream, and any second I'd wake up, and things would go back to the way that they were? It's not such a preposterous notion, really. For years, I've had dreams about this, and for years, I've woken up in the morning, only to realize that it had never really happened. It's a dream that I have almost every night. That and another one -- where the two of us walk down the aisle together, and I place a diamond ring on her finger and promise to love and cherish her for all eternity. And I do (no pun intended!).
I quickly dismissed that thought as Jessie put an arm around me. This was no dream -- nothing I'd ever fantasized about before was as beautiful or intense as what had just happened -- she was real...this was real!
But then, something else occurred to me. What if the dawn brought regrets with it? (Not on my part, of course -- my only regret was that I hadn't done this sooner!) But what if this was too much too soon for her? What if she had only given herself to me in a moment of clouded judgement, and she ended up resenting me for it? What would I do if she didn't love or respect me in the morning? If anything, I was more in love with her than ever, and the thought of losing what we had scared the living hell out of me! There was no denying that everything would be different between us from now on, but whether that would be for the better or the worse, I couldn't say.
Try as I might, I couldn't get these disturbing thoughts out of my head, and they tormented me for the rest of the night, even haunting my dreams when sleep finally claimed me.
I awoke the next morning to the most wonderful sight imaginable -- Jessie was still in my arms! She opened her eyes just as I opened mine, and she smiled when she saw me.
"I can't believe I'm waking up next to you!" she whispered. (Well, we always wake up next to each other, but never before like this!)
"Me either," I whispered back.
"Oh, James, you can't imagine how often I've dreamed about this!" she said.
What?! She fantasized about this, too?! I was so shocked (and overjoyed) that words failed me.
"I just don't know why we didn't do this a long time ago," she continued.
"I don't know either," I replied. (Well, actually, I did know, but if I told this to her, it would only make her mad!)
Jessie blushed. "Well, I didn't want to seem too forward...I mean...."
"Yeah. Neither did I," I confessed.
Suddenly, her eyes widened. "You were afraid of me, weren't you?!" she exclaimed as the realization struck her.
It's like she read my mind. "Well, you are rather handy with that mallet," I said tentatively.
She smiled and ran her fingers through my purple hair. "Poor James. I probably WOULD'VE smacked you for trying something like this."
"That's why I've spent all this time dreaming," I sighed.
"What is it with me, anyway?" she muttered. "Am I really that intimidating?" Then, looking back to me, "You know, I've noticed something. The only time our relationship seems to make any progress is when I'm really upset about something. Tell me, James, why is that?"
"Is it because the only time you're not afraid to approach me is when I'm vulnerable?" she asked, answering her own question before I could reply.
Once again, it's like she read my mind. Not sure of how she would react, I tried to choose my words carefully. "Well...I-I...." I stammered.
She smiled at me again. "James, you don't ever have to be afraid of me," she said softly. "I love you. I know I'm not very good at showing it, but I really do."
I smiled back and ran a hand through her hair. Jessie closed her eyes and placed her hand on mine. "I know," I said.
"I'm sorry that I'm always so mean to you," she continued. "It's just the way I am...."
"You don't have to explain yourself to me, Jess -- I understand," I said. "I know you care...with everything you've done for me, how could I doubt that?"
Jessie inched closer to me and rested her forehead on mine. Silently, I chided myself for being such a coward. After all we've been through together, how, indeed, could I doubt her?
"There are so many times you've proven how much you care -- the St. Anne...Maiden's Peak...even last week when our van went off the cliff, and I was knocked unconscious! I never told you this, but hearing your voice is what pulled me through! Just knowing that you were there...it made me feel safe," I continued. "No matter what, you've always been there for me. Nobody has ever done anything like that for me except you...that means a lot...."
"And nobody has ever placed as much faith in me as you have, James," she said as she began to trace patterns on my chest and stomach with her fingers. I closed my eyes and smiled, enjoying the pleasant sensation it created. "That means a lot to me, too."
I opened my eyes again and met her adoring gaze. "I love you, Jessica. I'll try not to be so timid around you anymore."
She took my hands in her own, and our fingers entwined. "I love you, too, James. And I'll try to be nicer to you. I really will."
And then, as if to seal those promises, we made love again as the sun rose.
"You know, it's kind of ironic," Jessie remarked while I was making breakfast later that morning.
Gingerly, I flipped some of the golden-brown pieces of French toast with my spatula and set them on a plate for her. "What is?" I asked.
She snaked her arms around my waist and rested her head on my shoulder. "Last night...this morning...it never would've happened if I hadn't been so upset, would it?"
"Probably not," I replied.
"Then maybe it's not so bad that we didn't make it to Pokemon League this year," she said, planting a kiss on my cheek. "Sure, I've always dreamed about that...but I've dreamed about what we did, too. And if only one of my dreams is ever to come true, this is the one I'd want!"
I smiled. "Me, too."
"Strange," she said. "Every time we lose something that we wanted from life -- your inheritance...my dolls...our badges...Pokemon League -- we seem to find something new about each other in return...."
"Sounds like a fair trade-off to me, Jess!"
"It's better than that, James!" she told me. "It's so much better!"
I put down my skillet and returned her embrace. "Yeah," I agreed. "We may not win very often, but the consolation prize makes it all worthwhile when we lose!"
Jessie grinned and pressed herself against me. "In that case, here's to a couple of losers!" she laughed.
We leaned in to kiss each other when, suddenly, I heard, "You can say that again!" Meowth had finally returned.
Angry that our kiss had been interrupted, Jessie scowled, and that little vein popped out on her forehead. "Shut up, cat!"
"Hey! Yer the one who said it, not Meowth!"
But before Jessie could reply, I turned her face back to mine and finished our kiss. All of her anger was gone when I finally released her.
"So, I take it youse guys worked everything out?" Meowth said.
"Yeah," I replied. "Everything's just fine."
"Never better!" Jessie chimed in.
Meowth smirked when he heard this. He knew. He had to. Why else would he have stayed out all night?
"Glad to hear it," was all he said, but he winked at us when he said it. Yeah, he knew, all right.
But this didn't bother us -- we knew that we could trust him with our secret.
Sensing that we still wanted a little privacy, Meowth grabbed the plate of French toast that I had made for Jessie and went off into the woods.
Once we were alone again, Jessie turned to me and smiled.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I'm just so happy, James," came her reply. "Our life together...it's like a journey, and it's only just beginning! It may be a long, hard road ahead of us, but if we walk it together, I know I'm going to enjoy every step of it! Thank you for reminding me of that."
"No problem!" I said, taking her in my arms again.
Slowly, I leaned in and pressed my lips against hers. And as she returned the kiss, I knew that she was right -- the best was yet to come!