Sorry for the long wait, everybody!!
Cassandra adjusted the straps of her backpack so it fit more comfortably. Swablu perched delicately on her bedpost, gazing across at her. Finny sat on the floor, staring blankly. Fluffy wasn’t watching at all; he was scratching his ear and squinting up at the ceiling, fully focused on his itch.
“You three are going to have to be in your Poké Balls while we’re flying,” Cassandra told them. Fluffy’s ears perked up and he stopped scratching to listen. “I won’t chance losing any of you. Now, don’t think that we’re not training just because we’re going to Almia. The only day we’ll take a break is the day of Alyssa’s graduation.” She patted her backpack and sat down on her bed, opening her arms as if to encompass the whole room. Swablu fluttered over and perched on her head, while Fluffy nestled to her side and Finny jumped to the other. “You’ll like Alyssa and Belle,” she told them. “They’re not anything like me, though. We’re all very different, but we’re all very best friends.” She stroked Finny’s head and scratched behind one of Fluffy’s ears. “Well, it’s time to go down and say goodbye to my parents and Dorothia.”
Cassandra actually lived in a very grand house. Her bedroom was in the tower, making it circular. When she went downstairs, she descended a winding, spiral staircase before coming into a sitting room on the second, and also topmost, floor. They only used this sitting room for very special family occasions, like opening presents Christmas morning. As a result, the white leather couch looked amazingly new, as did the white leather recliner and oak coffee table. The fireplace was incredibly clean. When she exited this room, she entered a much larger room set up for entertaining. A grand piano stood against one wall, with a brown couch facing it. There was a large space for dancing, as well as a stereo and karaoke system set up in a corner. An archway led to the stairs. The door across from the stairs was almost always shut. Upon opening this door, one would find the guest bedroom, which was done up in several different shades of green. A small door in the corner of the large entertainment room led to her parents’ bedroom.
Going downstairs brought Cassandra into a small hallway, which turned off almost immediately into the parlor. This room had a flat-screen television in the wall and all the necessary furniture, such as a couch, recliner, loveseat, end tables, coffee table, and the like. Joanna most often used this room for her stupid “girl nights”, in which she gathered all her snotty friends and talked about snotty things while watching television and smoking cigarettes. The maids, however, did a very good cleaning job, so nothing in the house smelled even remotely of smoke. The parlor was in the center of the house; on the side of the parlor nearest the door was the entryway, a large hall decorated with fancy hardwood floors and sage green wallpaper with little white flowers. There were sculptures, plants, paintings, and such to decorate this room, so as to immediately impress whoever happened to stumble in. On the other side of the parlor was the dining room. It had a long, gleaming oak table with matching oak chairs all around, each with its own blue velvet cushion. The kitchen spanned the length of the house, but one could only get to it by way of the dining room. A small table was set up in there for when Cassandra and her family didn’t feel like utilizing the humongous dining hall. Mostly, this was where Cassandra and her father dined; Joanna almost always wanted to sit at the large, fancy dining room table, even if she was alone.
Cassandra made the trip to the parlor, where her parents sat talking and drinking coffee. Gerald was facing the stairs, and he looked up and grinned broadly as usual when she entered the room, setting down his coffee. “Sandy-bear!”
Joanna turned, mug still in hand, and took a sip. “Hello, Cassandra dear.” She eyed her daughter. “Can’t you teach that thing not to sit on your head like that? It’s repulsive.”
Cassandra felt Swablu tense atop her head.
“I think it’s adorable!” Gerald proclaimed. “Ah, is that little Fluffy? Glad to see he’s doing well!”
Fluffy wagged his tail from his place at Cassandra’s feet. “Yes, he’s doing very well,” she told her father, smiling. “I just came down to say goodbye. I’m not sure when I’m supposed to be leaving, but—”
“Leaving?” Joanna set down her mug. “I thought I told you that you were not allowed to take Staraptor.”
“You did, Mother. I am not taking Staraptor. You told me to find other transportation, and I did. Belle is picking me up on her mother’s Skarmory.”
“Skarmory?” Joanna exclaimed, aghast.
“That’s a Steel and Flying Type, am I correct?” Gerald asked. “That Bird Pokémon that looks as though it has armor on it?”
“Yes,” Cassandra was about to answer, but Joanna cut across her in a disgusted tone. “Yes, it is, flying through the air with its great metal wings—”
“Fantastic! I’ve never seen one in person!” Gerald’s grin broadened. “Won’t this be exciting?”
Joanna clamped her mouth shut and picked up her coffee mug. Cassandra tried to keep her amused expression off her face. Her father was always painfully oblivious to Joanna’s attitude, and as a result, she couldn’t be quite as nasty around him.
There was a great cry followed by a thud from outside. Gerald leapt to his feet, suddenly throwing himself to his near-seven-foot height. “That must be her!”
Cassandra felt a thrill in the pit of her stomach as she ran to the doorway, Swablu chirruping indignantly as she was bounced about. Finny and Fluffy chased her excitedly.
Gerald beat her to the door; he threw it open to reveal Belle sliding surely off a Skarmory, which folded its wings back and preened itself. Cassandra frowned. How did a giant bird made of sheet metal preen itself? She stopped pondering this as her eyes fell on Belle, who looked as though she had grown since her last picture. She looked a lot more womanly. She even had breasts! Well, Cassandra herself had these, as did Alyssa, but on Belle it was strange to see them. She was so tomboyish.
“Belle!” Cassandra shrieked, dropping her backpack by her feet and throwing open her arms.
“Cassandra!” Belle ran toward her and nearly bowled her over with the force of her hug, squeezing the air out of her lungs. Cassandra squeezed right back, just as hard. They drew back panting and laughing. “It’s good to see you, too, Papa G,” Belle added, giving Gerald a much calmer hug. Gerald laughed as he returned the embrace—he loved the simple nickname Belle had created for him. Both she and Alyssa used it.
“So, this must be Swablu and Finny and Fluffy,” Belle said, looking over Cassandra’s Pokémon. Swablu had flown off Cassandra’s head when Belle had run at her and was now hovering gently in the air. “I’m Belle.”
“And where are Charmy and Swifter and Mankey?” Cassandra prompted.
“Oh—right here.” Belle pulled out three Poké Balls and tossed them, releasing her three Pokémon.
Joanna now stepped out onto the porch, curling her lip at the Skarmory preening itself in her yard. “Oh, hello, Miss Joanna.”
“Now, now,” Gerald said, climbing the steps to the porch. He threw an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Miss Joanna doesn’t sound nearly as young as Mama J. Why don’t you call her that?”
“Now really, Gerald,” Joanna said, her face turning rapidly to a scowl, “there’s no need for that.”
Cassandra glanced over at Belle. Her eyes were sparkling dangerously. “Oh, it’s really no problem. I’d love to call you Mama J. Sorry I called you Miss Joanna at first—Papa G’s right, it sounds so much older than Mama J.”
Gerald laughed uproariously. “It’s settled then!”
Cassandra wanted to collapse into laughter. Her mother had crossed her arms and looked away, but now she was surveying Belle. She saw her mother’s eyes go over Belle’s blue baseball cap, her red T-shirt, her cutoff-jean shorts, her old and battered tennis shoes. “Wherever did you get those shorts, Belle?” And just like that, Cassandra’s mood snapped right into boiling anger.
“Oh, these? These were some jeans I had. I got a hole in the thigh from playing in the yard too much so I had to cut them. They make pretty nice shorts. Don’t you think, Mama J?” She lifted up the tail of her T-shirt a bit so as to show off her shorts. Cassandra bit down on her knuckle, amused and wishing she could take a picture of her mother’s face.
“Well, we’d better get going,” Cassandra piped up when she trusted herself to speak.
“Oh, surely Belle can stay the night. She must be tired from flying!” Gerald was strolling down the steps of the porch, toward the Skarmory.
“No, we really need to go, actually. Don’t worry, Papa G. I’m coming back to drop Cassandra off, so I’ll be in time to watch her first Contest. I’ll stay the night then.”
“Excellent!” Gerald clapped his hands eagerly. “And you’ll be riding Skarmory?”
“Of course,” Belle replied. “Well, bye, Papa G! Bye, Mama J!”
Cassandra gave her mother a stiff hug before giving her father a daughterly embrace. She returned her Pokémon and allowed Belle to help her onto the Skarmory. Gerald strode over to stand by them when they were mounted up.
“Have you got enough money?” he asked Cassandra.
“And you, Belle?”
“Oh—yeah, Papa G.”
Gerald lost his smile. “I’m very serious, Belle. Do you have enough money to get you through your adventure? We can help you. It’s no problem for us, really.”
Cassandra looked at Belle, who glanced over Gerald’s head (quite a feat) and at Joanna, still standing on the porch. Her gaze went back to Gerald. “Papa G, I think I’m okay. But if I need help, I know where to turn.”
Gerald’s face split into his wide grin again and he patted her knee. “There’s a good girl. Keep my Sandy-bear safe!” He patted Cassandra’s knee as well. “Love you!”
“Love you too, Daddy.”
“Please back away, Papa G. Skarmory has got quite a wingspan.”
Gerald jogged backward several steps as Belle shouted a command to Skarmory; the Pokémon spread its wings and gave a mighty flap. Cassandra reached out and wrapped her arms around Belle’s waist. Skarmory rose into the air and flew off, leaving Hoenn behind.
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WE’LL BE THERE TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!