Despite being nineteen years old, I am still terrified of the dark. I blame it on the horror stories I was told way too often. Despite being of faint heart, my friends had all thought it was funny to scare the crap out of me, and now my Chinchou’s antennae serve as a constant night light through the unrelenting darkness. Without them, I don’t know how I’d survive through the night. Chinchou’s gentle snores coupled with the rocking waves and its calming bioluminescence should’ve put me to sleep hours ago, but I can’t sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning, I will be back in the Johto region and, in the evening, at home. It’s been a little more than a whole year since the last time I went home, right after―
No, I shake my head, trying to rid my mind of the memory before it came. I’m not avoiding anything, I tell myself. I’m just dreading the questions that’ll come, the pity in their eyes, all the memories of― Stop! Stop thinking! I bury my head into my pillow, groaning into it. It’ll be a long night…
The S.S. Aqua docks in Olivine City at 10AM. Sypriana and I don’t leave the ship until a whole hour later because, as always, we slept in. I carry Chinchou in my arms, my Meowstic walking beside me and Sypriana’s Meowstic. The two Meowstic are fraternal twins, mine the female and Sypriana’s the male and older sibling. And after today, who knows when they’ll see each other again―Sypriana and I would be separating at the fork in the road a bit after Ecruteak City, she going to Goldenrod City while I would venture through a few more towns to get back to New Bark Town. My Meowstic had slept in Sypriana’s cabin last night in order to spend as much time with her brother as possible.
If Sypriana notices the bags under my eyes―she most likely did―then she doesn’t point it out on our trek through Olivine. That’s what I like so much about her, she won’t make small talk about things she knows I won’t divulge to her or to anyone for that matter. It was the reason why I left for Sinnoh―everyone kept asking too many questions I wasn’t ready to answer or to even think about.
We make a detour at the MooMoo Farm on Route 39. Their slogan, displayed proudly at their gate, is still the same: “Enjoy Our Fresh and Tasty Milk.” When we enter, the farmer’s young daughters greet me by hopping to either side of me and linking hands, trapping me in their game of Dancing Roselia. I am surprised they remember me. It has been at least five years since I had helped their sick Miltank by feeding it Berries. The farmer’s daughters must be preparing to set out on their own Pokémon journeys now.
By the time the two girls are done with their game, Sypriana has already finished our business here, in her hands two carriers each with 6 bottles. We make our way to Route 38 and sit on the edge of a small ledge and release the rest of our Pokémon from their Poké Balls. There are two extra bottles since our Meowstic split one bottle and my two Vivillon share another. One of the extra bottles goes to Sypriana while she gives me the other, but I only drink half of the MooMoo Milk. I don’t want a queasy stomach today, and so the other half goes to my Chinchou―even if I weren’t lactose intolerant, I would have given Chinchou more of it anyways. Most Chinchou can walk on land without problems, but my Chinchou’s legs are smaller than normal and much weaker. It’s the reason why I carry Chinchou instead of letting her walk besides me. My Chinchou needs as much calcium as she can get, and I’m opposed to most supplements, so it’s a good thing Chinchou loves MooMoo Milk. I wouldn’t know what to do if Chinchou hated milk.
It takes only ten minutes from our rest stop to Ecruteak City. We debate for a while whether to stop by the Kimono Dance Theater to enjoy a show, but in the end, we decide not to in order to reach our destinations before nightfall―at least, that’s the reason we both agreed on. In actuality, it’s more like Sypriana didn’t want me to travel alone at night due to my nyctophobia, and I hadn’t bothered to argue. We leave Ecruteak within fifteen minutes of arriving, and we quickly walk through the grassland of Route 37, but its forestry area is a bit more difficult to maneuver, a few new trees having sprout out in places they weren’t in before and a few of those trees turning out to be Sudowoodo. I’m not surprised when we encounter a few baby Bonsly as well, for this forest seems to have become a nesting ground for the Sudowoodo.
We finally reach the fork in the road, and Sypriana gives me a hug once I put Chinchou down, my Meowstic mimicking Sypriana and hugging her brother. “Don’t dwell on the sad things,” Sypriana tells me. “You’re a part of the Ribbon Syndicate now. That’s a great honor already. And don’t forget you’ve already conquered the gyms of Johto and Kanto. But if you really need someone to talk to, I’m just a phone call away.” The hug lasts longer than I expected it would.
“I’ll be fine,” I assure her, almost promise. My voice almost trembles. I’m not good at saying good-byes. “I promise I’ll call if I need to.”
She is probably waiting for that because she lets go of me then. We say our goodbyes, our Meowstic finally releasing each other from their hug. It breaks my heart that they’ll be apart, but our Meowstic have refused to leave their respective trainers, a choice I am grateful for. I don’t know how I’d react if Meowstic leaves me. She is the first Pokémon I received since―
Stop, stop, stop! I blink back the tears I didn’t know are forming and quickly turn towards my path east before Sypriana could see the state I’m in. She wouldn’t let me leave if she had seen me cry.
It is only out of her range of sight that I let Chinchou walk beside me and Meowstic. I’m not exactly excited to go home, and if slowing my pace for Chinchou to keep up with me keeps me away from home then, by all means, I will walk at my disabled Chinchou’s pace.
I reach New Bark Town before the sun sets, just when the sky turns from blue to shades of orange and purple. Meowstic is on my shoulder, and I pick up Chinchou, hiding my face as much as possible before power walking towards my parents’ house. I don’t want to risk anyone recognizing me and stopping me, and there’s a high chance of that happening because the house is on the opposite side of town away from the entrance by the river that makes up Route 27. Thankfully, I only pass one or two people out on a stroll, and they don’t bother to look up from their phones. It’s when I reach the house about to knock on the door when I lose my nerve. My fist ready to knock stays still in the air, but I can’t force it to move.
As if she senses my hesitation, my mother opens the door then. The sight of someone at the door spooks her at first, but when she realizes it’s her eldest daughter returned home, she embraces me―it’s awkward at first as she maneuvers around Chinchou, but once she finds a position comfortable for all three of us, her hug is warm and soothing. “You’re just in time for dinner, Zoey,” she says.
It’s like nothing has changed.
Dinner goes as always. The only one missing is Ember who’s two years into her Pokémon journey and who’ll drop by tomorrow. Amelia and Audrina, sitting on my right and left, are talking animatedly about how the year has gone for them. They had gone to Kalos a couple of months after I had left and had returned only a couple of weeks ago. Amelia’s Pumpkaboo and Audrina’s Litwick are evidence of their trip, the newest additions to their Pokémon parties. They eat their dinner with the rest of our family’s Pokémon. They are not the only new faces. There’s my two Vivillon, Meowstic, and Chinchou. There’s also my mother’s Lilligant who she had obtained on her trip last month when she visited family in Unova, the Lilligant’s four baby Petilil crowding around their mother. And finally, there’s this weird new one my father found on his trip with Professor Elm two months ago. Father says its name is Mimikyu, and frankly that weird ghost puts me off. It’s bad enough that each of my family members have Pikachu-related Pokémon―Ember has a Pichu, Amelia and Audrina have a Plusle and Minum respectively, my father a Raichu, and my mother an actual Pikachu―but to think that my father actually caught a Pokémon wearing a badly drawn Pikachu disguise with me in mind… I have no idea what he expected to happen. Had he thought I would fall in love with his new discovery despite the fact that I detest all Pikachu ever since one had hit a Poke Ball right back at my face when I was five? And besides, this Mimikyu is not starting out on the right foot, staring at me without break―at least, its Pikachu disguise’s eyes are.
“So, a Chinchou, huh?” my father says once silence fills the room after my sisters finish their stories. “It’s certainly a . . . uh, interesting-looking one, but I didn’t think you’d get another one of those…”
His voice trails off, but I understand what he’s implying. I didn’t think you’d get another one of those after what happened.
My mom understands too because she glares at my father while my eyes are downcast, just watching as my chopsticks poke at my rice. “I didn’t think I’d get one either…” It barely comes out as a whisper, and I look towards Chinchou, my Chinchou with her tiny feet, a bent antenna, and her slightly greenish hue. My Chinchou as she finally tires from standing and sits on the wooden floor. My Chinchou as Meowstic with her blue stubby hands passes her the rest of her Poké Chow. My Chinchou as the Togekiss, Cherrim, and Eevee I left behind here also share their food with her. “But she needs me…” And on cue, Chinchou makes her way over to me and extends her two white fins up. I carry her onto my lap and continue my dinner. The conversation ends.
It’s when I’m alone in my shared room with Ember when it starts to get difficult. Even with all my pictures and earned Gym Badges hidden away, a few stray memories float to the surface of my mind. Togekiss, Cherrim, and Eevee are as understanding as always, Togekiss trying to cheer me up as she flies around the flower petals Cherrim conjures up and Eevee rubbing himself against my hand. “I’m sorry,” I apologize for more than just feeling down. “You three must be having a hard time too.” My eyes shift to Chinchou who slept by my pillow. “And you probably hate me for bringing home a Chinchou. She’s still a baby though, so don’t take it out on her please.”
Eevee jumps off the bed and rushes under it. When he comes back up, a silver locket is in his mouth. I’ve always wondered where the locket had gone, and as I take it from Eevee, it flips open. It’s hard to forget when the picture was taken―it was when I had finally beaten the Elite Four on my third try, the first of my friends to do so―and I smile back at my frozen younger self. Around me in the picture is the Pokémon party I had when I claimed my victory: Togekiss, Cherrim, and Eevee are there, of course; Typhlosion who I had gotten as my starter Pokémon when he was just a little Cyndaquil and . . . my Lanturn. The sight of the last Pokémon brings tears to my eyes.
Eevee worms his head under my head and mews sadly. “Yeah, buddy, I miss her too…” I scratch behind his ears to bring his mood up. “But Chinchou’s not her replacement. No other Pokémon will replace her in my heart.” And I let a tear fall from my eyes, another sliding down my cheek, as I close the silver heart.