Cynthia drilled Ingo on every little detail surrounding Jubilife Village for at least an hour. She might have gone on longer if his gurgling stomach didn’t interrupt her next question.
“Oh, dear,” she said, lowering her notepad–which she’d gotten seven pages deep in already. “Perhaps we should break for lunch?”
“Perhaps,” Ingo said with a chuckle. He had to admit, a part of him enjoyed being the expert and not the sad, confused man trying to fake his way through modern life. “Do you want some mochi? How about bran flakes?” He stood to retrieve the milk from the refrigerator, but Cynthia frowned at his suggestion.
“You know what?” she said. “As long as we’re both here, let’s go get lunch at the diner together. They serve breakfast all day.” She said the last two words in a singsong-ish voice, like she was tempting Ingo with his dream meal. Considering the only modern food he showed interest in was boxed cereal, he could see how he gave her that impression.
He pull the carton from the refrigerator door. “Is Lear at the restaurant?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Then I’m quite fine. Thank you for the invitation.”
Cynthia narrowed her eyes at him. She made no sound as she did this, but somehow she had a way of making people feel the intense weight of her disapproving glare. Ingo returned the milk to its little shelf and went to get his jacket. Apparently, they were eating out whether he liked it or not.
Cynthia’s diner of choice sat dwarfed in the shadow of the Battle Villa–a massive castle-like building, complete with towers and a crown-shaped roof. The nearby restaurants, diner included, were often mobbed with customers when the villa hosted a competition. But off those times, Cynthia explained, they were quite the pleasant experience. When she had first described the villa itself, it sounded like exactly like the type of place Ingo would have loved to work. Thirty consecutive halls with increasingly difficult opponents, with trainers who passed through limited to teams of nine. Opponents on halls twenty, twenty-five, and thirty were known to be especially difficult. It was basically the old subway battle system that Ingo loved, only with vertical floors to ascend instead of horizontal train cars to move through. And it didn’t travel anywhere, as far as Ingo knew.
When they entered the diner, the waitress immediately showed them to a booth towards the back, sitting them alongside a glass wall that granted a perfect view of the Battle Villa’s foyer and its grand double staircase.
Ingo opened the menu only for Cynthia to pull it down. “I swear if you order bran flakes…” she began.
“I wasn’t,” he argued.
She raised an eyebrow.
“I was thinking of ordering corn flakes.”
She groaned and pulled the menu from his hands. He chuckled–not something he did that often nowadays. He suspected Cynthia made a more dramatic reaction just to cheer him up. “That’s it,” she announced as she flipped through the menu pages. “I’m ordering for you.”
He wasn’t thrilled with this declaration, but he didn’t argue, either. Sure, he assumed that when one invited their friend to a restaurant, said friend got to select their own meal. But he also hadn’t been to a modern restaurant in decades. So anything was possible. What did he know?
Cynthia gave all the menu items a cursory glance before asking, “Ever had peach-pie waffles before?”
He frowned as he removed his jacket and folded into a neat pile at his side. The diner was sweltering. “That sounds like something from a confection-based children’s board game.”
“Hmm…an apt description,” she said, not taking it in the least like the insult he’d intended. The waiter came up and she placed two orders before he could object.
When the plate came out, Ingo’s descriptor of “confection-based children’s board game” didn’t seem that far off the mark. Three thick Belgian waffles were stacked atop each other, each rotated slightly to reveal square indents drizzled with melted better. The edges shown a perfect toasted-marshmallow brown. A precariously high spiral of whipped cream donned the top of the stack, surrounded by globs of what Ingo could only assume was the titular peach pie filling. And the whole thing was dusted with rainbow sprinkles because, of course it was.
He cut cautiously into the sweet monstrosity, the waffles almost sliding off one another and did his best to get a little bit of every ingredient on the fork. Then he put it into his mouth.
His eyes widened. The rich, fatty warm butter, swirled into the whip cream, melting it as the two mixed with–was that cinnamon in the peach sauce? The hunks of fruit weren’t sugary mush as he expected. Instead they brought a touch of firmness and tartness that fended off a sweet overload. And he never thought he would say this in his lifetime, but he was now quite sure that rainbow sprinkles were genuinely magical.
“Well?” Cynthia asked, her chin resting on her folded hands.
“To be honest?” Ingo muttered, melted cream and cinnamon dripping down his chin. “If this killed me, I would die happy.”
Cynthia giggled. “If you think that’s good, I hear the upcoming Palentine’s Day celebration will be quite the sugar fest.”
“Looking forward to it,” Ingo managed to mumble between each heavenly bite. His stomach was not going to thank him for this afterwards. His hand, currently shoveling the next goopy forkful into his mouth, did not care.
He’d consumed one of the waffles and was slamming his way into the second when a voice behind him called out, “Emmet? Is that you?”
The voice was oddly quiet and monotone despite the call for attention, but Ingo would have heard that name if it’d been whispered on the opposite side of the restaurant. He whirled around to see a young woman stepping up to their booth. Not towards some other table with his brother magically at it. And she was looking right at him. “Emmet, I didn’t know you made it here to…oh.” She narrowed her eyes at Ingo’s face, no doubt scrutinizing his features. The extra worry lines, the lack of Emmet’s signature smile. “I’m so sorry,” she finally said. “You looked so much like someone I know back home.”
“It’s all right,” he replied, doing his best to hide his disappointment. If he needed any more evidence that Emmet wasn’t on this island, this was pretty solid. He redirected his attention to the young lady, who definitely looked familiar in turn. She had blonde hair like Cynthia but stood at maybe two-thirds the champion’s height, and her hair was so thick and long, it seemed to float around her in an almost supernatural way. Caitlin, his brain finally registered. From the Unovan Elite Four.
Caitlin stepped back, glancing between him and the half-eaten plate. “I see you’re a fan of sweets.”
He swallowed. “I suppose I am,” he said, trying his best to be pleasant while mentally begging her to leave. This was awkward enough already. Beside Caitlin stood her faithful butler, though Ingo was not going to pressure himself to remember his name, too. For now, he picked up a napkin and tried to wipe the syrup and peach jam off his face without looking like he had the table manners of a toddler.
“But it’s a rather…unrefined selection, isn’t it?” Caitlin said. Her voice had a distant, far-off tone, like someone speaking in their sleep, even though her eyes were wide open. “Don’t be embarrassed. It’s all right if you lack the capacity to choose the most perfect sweets. There are so many choices here, after all.”
“Um…” It was nearly impossible to read Caitlin’s tone when her every word came out dripping with neutrality and disinterest. But it certainly didn’t seem like she was complimenting him. As Caitlin spoke, she motioned to a blue-haired woman at another table, who stood and came up alongside her. The new arrival carried something like a pole in her right hand, and Ingo was embarrassed at how long it took his to realize it was a golf club.
“I, of course, am used to fancy things,” Caitlin continued, nodding to her golfer friend. “If you want, I could tell you where to find sweets that are far more extraordinary than your–pardon me–rather juvenile entree here.”
The golfer rolled her eyes. “Hold on there,” she said. Or more like recited, from her tone. “If you tell him that, you’ll be letting him in on our most exclusive dessert spots. It should take more than just a request to get us to spill our secrets like that.”
“I didn’t request–” Ingo began.
“Well, how about this, then?” Caitlin asked, ignoring him. “Perhaps they could help us train by being our opponents in a battle? I wouldn’t mind sharing my go-to spots if they were able to make the battle exciting for us.”
“No, thanks,” Ingo said with a polite nod. “I appreciate it, but I’m not interested.”
Caitlin raised her hand in a dramatic fashion. “What I look for in my opponents is superb strength and–wait, what do you mean you’re not interested?”
“I mean I’m fine with what I have,” Ingo clarified. “I’m not really looking for anything fancier at the moment.”
Caitlin’s cheeks puffed with frustration, while the golfer shrugged her shoulders. “I told you this was a silly idea. It’s not everyone’s job to jostle you out of your boredom, Caitlin. Some people just want to sit and enjoy their meal. Like me, for example.” She turned back towards the table she’d left, waving at Ingo as she did so. “Sorry about my high-maintenance friend here.”
“Quite all right,” Ingo said, waving back.
Caitlin stood watching the both of them, mouth slightly agape. “But…everyone always wants to challenge me,” she said, sounding both confused and disappointed. Her eyes locked with Cynthia’s.
“I…I do understand that you are limiting your challenges for your Pokémon’s health and well-being–” Ingo raised an eyebrow. He hadn’t heard that from Cynthia at all. “–but even so…surely your friend could make his best effort to offer me a less yawn-inducing battle?”
“Apologies,” Ingo said with a small head-dip in her direction. He glanced at Cynthia, just to make sure this wasn’t some Pasio rite of passage she hadn’t mentioned to him. She nodded him on. “Perhaps another time?” he added for the sake of politeness.
Caitlin turned in a huff, and her butler rubbed his chin as he watched her go. “Her self-control is showing its weak spots,” he said, presumably to Cynthia once his charge was out of earshot. “Of course, I’d appreciate if you didn’t inform Lady Caitlin I said that.”
“Of course not, Darach,” Cynthia assured him.
Darach smiled and bowed to Cynthia before following after Caitlin. Ingo watched them go, a mix of conflicting emotions churning in his stomach.
Or perhaps the peach-pie waffles were already catching up with him. “You know Caitlin of the Unova Elite Four, then,” he said.
“We’ve met a few times,” Cynthia said. “She leant me one of her villas once.”
Ingo couldn’t fathom the wealth required to have spare villas available for near strangers. Probably the same amount needed to create an artificial island.
“I recognized her eventually,” Ingo said. “But the Battle Subway is one of Unova’s biggest attractions. She didn’t recognize me. She only thought I might be Emmet.”
“Maybe because you’re not in your conductor attire?” Cynthia suggested.
Ingo looked down at what he was wearing–he hadn’t actually paid that much attention when he left. Most of his outfits had simply been clothing plastered with the PML logo. Lear was sending everything from PML lounge pants to PML fuzzy slippers to Cynthia’s residence on a regular basis in the vain hopes she’d actually wear it.
“Somehow, I don’t think that’s it.” He rubbed his chin. He’d assumed when he’d vanished from Unova that Emmet had fallen into panic at his disappearance. But what if nothing of the sort happened? What if events were altered so that he never existed in Unova at all?
It was a frightening thought, and not one he wanted to dwell on. He pushed his plate of half-eaten food aside. “I need to find Lear.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Cynthia said. “What do you think I’ve been doing the past two weeks?”
Ingo’s hand balled into a fist, and he almost slammed it down on the table. “I mean, I want to get out and help you. What kinds of places does he usually go? Who are his friends?”
“He doesn’t really have any,” Cynthia said. “He has two assistants, much like Caitlin has Darach, but when I have seen him, it’s usually been when he’s telling off some poor kid for being new to the island and having a ‘shoddy hat.'”
“Then I’m searching this island until I find every last new kid and shoddy hat,” Ingo declared as he stood up. He ignored the fact that Cynthia’s response was simply to shake her head and sigh.
Kahili rested her golf club against her chair as she resumed her seat with meal with Caitlin. She had been hoping that spending some time with the young Elite Four member would help her better understand her position as a member of the much-newer Alolan Elite Four. Instead, she seemed to have established herself as Caitlin’s partner in annoying random trainers. Perhaps she should have tried to make friends with Shauntal. Or Grimsley. Or members of an entirely different Elite Four group.
Caitlin had her head buried in her arms as Kahili finished off a rather refreshing egg-white omelet with broccoli and peppers. The broccoli stalks were still a bit firm, giving a delightful mix of flavor and texture. Caitlin had ordered the same, although she was not appreciating any of it at the moment. Half the omelet was left growing cold on the plate.
“What am I to do, Darach?” Caitlin said, her desperate-sounding words spoken with her same still monotone.
“Do about what?” Kahili asked. “So Cynthia’s friend didn’t want to battle you. Surely that’s not the end of the world.”
Caitlin moaned into her folded arms.
Darach cleared his throat. “Cynthia only associates with strong trainers,” he said. “I believe my lady was hoping a battle with one of the champion’s comrades could jostle her over-suppressed emotions.”
“Caitlin is suppressing her emotions?” Kahili questioned.
Darach nodded. “It began as a necessity to ensure her psychic powers did not unexpectedly erupt. Now I’m afraid she’s become so adept at it, she often requires a catalyst to have any feelings at all.”
“A challenging Pokémon battle is the only thing that’s ever made me happy,” Caitlin said. “It’s been so long since I had one that I…I’m afraid I might never feel happy again.”
Oh, the humanity, Kahili thought as she leaned back in her chair. She never expected so much melodrama from someone who seemed so calm all the time.
“Please don’t despair,” Darach said, sounding like a parent trying to calm a toddler mid-meltdown. “Do you want me to bring you your favorite tea?”
Kahili was not surprised when Caitlin responded with a pouty, “yes, please.” Probably the most emotional thing Kahili had heard in their time together. Come to think of it, have I ever witnessed Caitlin being happy? Her inability to answer her own question left her stomach ill at ease. What if Darach’s words weren’t an exaggeration? She finished her last bit of omelet and tried to imagine how it might feel if only the tightest, most intense round of golf could lift her spirits in any way. How demoralizing that would be after even a small time. Perhaps she had judged Caitlin too harshly. How did the phrase go? First walk a mile in another person’s cleats?
She wiped her chin and moved a bit closer to Caitlin, consoling her as Darach went to get the tea.