It is a truth universally acknowledged,
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is
There was a girl, once.
His voice hitched over the line after she accepted the video call, “Hang on, now. Gimme just a sec.”
“S’not like I have a choice,” she mumbled, looking down at the table she was handcuffed to. She looked back up and could see his hand adjust the camera so the feed of him was straightened out.
“Hey there...Jolene, right?”
She schooled her face into indifference, not letting the jealousy show. He was her age and free . “Yup,” she answered, popping the p.
“Good afternoon, Jolene! So, I hear you’re interested in being the first person through the new Alolan Rehab initiative.”
“Anything beats sticking around in Kanto. Or Johto,” she replied. “Alola’s the right kind of far away, y’know?”
He studied her face for a moment and she wondered what he saw. A scar here and there on her pale, never-to-be-tanned face (one from an over-affectionate Ekans, one from an agitated Beedrill, maybe he could spot the start of the burn scar from her father’s Houndoom when she took an Ember to the face) and probably the bags under her teal eyes. She was glad that her hair was kind of growing back, even if they didn’t let her dye it in here — hated how this stranger would see her hair in its natural state of blonde.
“How much have you been told about Alola?” The man asked. He shook his head, laughing a bit when she shrugged. “Guess they were leaving that up to me then. Alola is a region made up of several islands. Might be the reason the region of chock full of nothin’ but rare Pokémon, yeah!”
She tilted her head, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah, basic island ecology. S’like the Sevii Islands, yeah? Isolated ecosystem means shit flourishes different, different food chains. Probably got a good measure of adaptive radiation with some Pokémon bein’ different from island to island. Probably a shit ton of invasive species from all the boat travel, yeah?”
The man’s face lit up like the sun and Jolene almost grimaced. People shouldn’t be allowed to be this cheerful. “Exactly! You didn’t mention on your application that you were this well-read about Pokémon ecosystems.”
“I can rattle off surface shit, but can’t go much deeper. Was always more a battler than a researcher.”
“That’s exactly one of the reasons why you’re one of candidates to go on this experimental rehabilitation program: I research Pokémon moves and you have an interesting portfolio of Pokémon you’ve worked with. According to some of your police files, you’ve been noted for unorthodox usage of Pokémon moves and I’d like to see some of that in action.”
“Huh.” She sat back in the chair. “Sounds too good to be true, Professor...”
“Kukui,” he said. “You’d basically be undergoing the traditional Alolan island challenge, under my supervision. I’d set you up with a starter-”
“None of the regular fire-water-grass starters, please,” she said. She winced, realizing she was sounding snotty. “Especially fire. I don’t do good with fire types in general, in case the burn scars didn’t make that clear.”
Kukui pushed up his glasses, humming. “What sort of Pokémon are you alright working with?”
“Poison and bug types are what I prefer working with,” Jolene answered. “My best work battling was with an Arbok, but that Arbok was put down a year ago.”
“We have a bundle of cool poison and bug types here in Alola,” he replied, humming. “If I did select you, I could find a good candidate for you as a starter. There’s some Ekans on a route close to my home. Would an Ekans be alright for you or would that bring up too many painful memories?”
“Prof, I’d love a new noodle jerk in my life,” she replied, letting herself smile. “I’m sure the local birds won’t mind a very slight decrease in predators eating their eggs either.” Jolene hummed. “Might be the best time to pick up an Ekans, honestly, after they eat a big egg. Sometimes they go for more than they can swallow and faint, the little idiots.”
“You’re very knowledgeable about them,” Kukui said, blinking owlishly behind his glasses. “I hadn’t noticed that. The Arbok I’ve seen use Stockpile and Swallow don’t seem to have that problem.”
“See, that’s where you’re jumping too far ahead,” Jolene replied. “Arbok have had practice doing that, yeah? It’s a built up muscle thing, that’s why they can do it on command in a move. Ekans are too itty bitty to swallow like Arbok do, the muscles aren’t developed fully. So they can safely swallow up to like...something the size of a purse, but some Pokémon lay big eggs. Younger ones tend to not have the smarts to avoid the big shit, they get greedy, boom. Fainted Ekans, prime for any scavenger to eat.”
Kukui nodded. She couldn’t tell if he looked intrigued or that was just more cheer , so she pulled the smile off her face. “Anything else about this program I should know about?” She asked. “Or anything you wanna ask me?”
“How comfortable are you with strangers knowing that you’re ex-Team Rocket?” He asked.
She snorted. “About as comfortable as a Bulbasaur on a rotisserie stick.”
“I’m...sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard that phrase before.”
“Basically means not comfortable at all,” she replied. “They’ve been knocked down before, yeah? They just keep getting up. And when they get up, first thing they go for is the ex-members. Make ‘em rejoin or make examples out of ‘em. I don’t wanna rejoin, ever, period, so they’d make an example out of me.” She shrugged. “Don’t mind people knowing I’ve got a criminal history, though. Keeps ‘em on their toes and makes sure I don’t forget the things I’ve done.”
Kukui nodded, jotting something down at the desk. “That’s...a little cynical, but I think I can understand it. How do you feel about children?”
“I’m not fond of anyone younger than seven,” Jolene answered. “Seven and up’s okay. Ten and up is better. Absolutely no babies. Why?”
“Parts of the island challenge are run by children. They’re known as our trial captains. The cut off age to be a captain is twenty, but plenty of the current lot are ten and up.”
“I’ll cut the swearing around ‘em and be on my best behavior with ‘em,” she said. “Mew knows that they don’t need to turn out like me. So are they like gym leaders or something else?”
“Something else,” Kukui answered. “Think of them as camp counselors. They set up an activity themed around a Pokémon type and supervise as the challenger goes through the activity. The adult in charge of the trial captains is the kahuna. You finish the trials for an island, then you challenge the kahuna, who functions like a gym leader and an Elite Four member. Once you beat the kahuna, you move to the next island.”
“Sounds nice enough,” Jolene replied, trying to sound as noncommittal as possible without giving away her interest too much. “Anything else I should know about or you wanna ask me?”
“Tell me about you. Sure, I’ve got your application, but that doesn’t tell me who you are.” He had a dog Pokémon jump into his lap, but he pushed it off with a laugh. “Rockruff, down! I can’t play right now.”
“Well...how about I tell you some stories about my old Arbok?” she asked, “Easy subject, won’t get too depressing.” She waited for him to nod before taking her free hand and pointing at the small scar on her face, a small knick under her left eye. “See this? This is from when the noodle was growing in his teeth. I raised the little shit, snagged his egg from another member that wanted to eat it. The little shit was trying to snuggle, but he slipped with his teeth. He was always getting things stuck in his mouth, since snake Pokémon sense better with their mouths and tongues, but he’d just...put things in his mouth.” She hummed. “Once had a chair that big, bad Maniaㄧthat’s what I nicknamed my Arbok, since he was so happyㄧdidn’t like. Just one specific chair. Made friends with other chairs, but this big leather chair I bought he wasn’t a fan of. At all. He’d avoid it as much as possible, to the point of climbing up my body to hide from it via coiling around me .” Jolene smirked as she got a laugh out of him for that. “Built a lot of muscle, holding him up. It was annoying the first couple times, but sometimes I wonder if he did it just for an excuse to be close to me. They put him down because he was dubbed too aggressive to release into the wild. Call me a sugar coat candy queen, but I think he was just mad they separated him from me. Wouldn’t listen to me when I said he got anxious when separated from me and when a predator like that is anxious, it does one of the only things it knows it can do: lash out.”
“Absolutely, I’m surprised they hadn’t thought of that themselves,” Kukui replied. “That’s one of the major things that Alolan nurses are taught, not to separate predator Pokémon from their trainers if the trainer needs hospital care.”
“Smart. Was that you who gave that advice or someone else?”
“Not me, it’s one of the old pieces of advice that everyone’s grandma tells them,” he answered.
Jolene nodded, huffing a quiet laugh. “Glad that Alolan grandmas are smarter than Kanto’s police force then.”
The conversation fell for a moment as Kukui looked at her. She shouldn’t be surprised that the Professor, whose life work was studying shit, was studying her. Jolene tried not to shift uncomfortably in her chair.
“Okay,” the Professor replied, “I’m going to do something crazy.” He gave her a grin when she raised an eyebrow at him. He fiddled with something off screen and brought out a handful of pictures. Of her. “Which photo can I use for your Trainer ID?”
“I’m gonna use Trick Room here to swap our speeds,” Jolene replied, her eyebrows furrowing and her head tilting. “You’re...you’re accepting me?”
“Yeah,” Kukui answered, smiling. It was...less irritating now, his smile. “I have a good feeling about you. I’m going to ask some questions, just to make sure I’m introducing you to everyone right rather than assuming things from your application.”
“Would I be able to update my Trainer ID later?” she asked. “I kinda...hate my natural hair color.”
“Oh yeah, cousin, we can handle that when you get here.”
Jolene smiled a bit, letting herself feel a bit happy. “Okay. Then I guess until then...that picture? It’s got my good minty ombre hair in it.”
“And you’re smiling in it,” Kukui teased.
Jolene shifted her smile to a smirk. “Sure, sure. What’s next, prof?”
“I know Jolene Jokela’s on the application, but do you want a different name on the ID? People call you something else?”
“Let’s stick with Jolene and let people earn the right to call me Jo,” she joked.
He nodded, writing something down. “Okay. Can I run past a list of potential starters for you? You said poison and bug types, yeah?”
“Sure and yep,” Jolene answered.
“So we’ve got Ekans down, but lemme run the bug and poison types that are easy for me to grab,” Kukui replied. “We’ve got Caterpie, Ledyba, Spinarak, Grubbin, and Cutiefly.” He pulled out his phone, typing something quickly. He held it up so she could see a picture of two bug type pokemon. Jolene hummed, looking between the two. “This is Grubbin and this is Cutiefly. They’re local to the Alolan islands. Grubbin evolves from a pure bug type into a bug electric type and Cutiefly is a bug fairy type.”
“Hmmm...maybe I should go something new for me,” Jolene replied, “give you a new perspective on something you’re used to.”
Kukui’s eyes lit up. “Oh, that’d be fascinating. What are you thinking?”
“Let’s go with Grubbin,” Jolene replied. “I’ve got a good feeling about that little squirt.”
Jolene stepped off the plane and the taste of the air made her pause. She wiped her eyes, smiling a little. The Kanto police officer that came with her put a hand on her shoulder and she stepped forward as she wiped the smile off her face, making sure she was a little out of his reach. She spotted Professor Kukui and a woman standing at the exit gate of the landing strip. She put her bag over her shoulder and walked over to them.
The woman was tall, with tan skin and fluffy brown hair. Her face gave her the real life feeling of what novel writers always meant when they said that a character had a kind face: rounded, easy laughter lines to spot, faint crows’ feet. She wore a white shirt and a long, yellow skirt.
“Hey, cousin!” Kukui waved when Jolene got into earshot. “Glad to see you in person.”
“Ditto,” Jolene replied, giving a small smirk. She tried not to pay the officer any mind. She gave a small wave to the woman. “Hey, I’m at a disadvantage. You probably know that I’m Jolene Jokela.”
The woman chuckled. “I’m Selina Calabrese. Kukui asked if I could house you while you’re here.” She gave a smile and nod to the officer and he backed up more. “Given that I have a history with Kanto’s police force and they trust me, this felt like a good compromise to give you freedom to grow while you’re on the Island Challenge.”
Jolene nodded, not wanting to give away her happiness at hearing that this particular development. She tried not to flinch as Selina took her hand and gently lead her away from the officer and the landing strip. Kukui stayed behind, talking quietly with the officer.
Selina quietly said, “He’s getting the officer off your tail. You wanna see the house?”
“Yeah,” Jolene replied. “That sounds...nice.”
“I imagine not being in prison and handcuffs is even nicer,” Selina replied.
“Yeah, definitely,” Jolene replied. “I mean...that’s a huge motivation for applying for the program.”
“Makes sense,” Selina replied. She stopped walking, looking Jolene dead in the eyes. Jolene felt like a Ledyba being stared down by a Persian. “You’re serious about all of this, right?”
“About going through the program? Heck yeah I am,” Jolene replied. “I wasn’t a voluntary member of that team. My dad forced me in after he went off his rocker when mom died. All I’ve been wanting is the chance to prove I’m not who he wants me to be. If I have to go through this challenge, play nice with the trial captains, and bond with some Pokémon for people to start believing that, then I’m going to be one hundred percent on that track.”
Selina nodded, a smile spreading across her face. “Good.”
They got into a taxi and drove. They got to the city and then went on foot from there to a nice looking beach house. A Kanto Meowth sat on the railing of the porch, watching them as they walked up.
Jolene noticed all the boxes that weren’t unpacked. As if sensing that she was noticing that, Selina replied, “There’s some stuff in those boxes for you, some stuff is just me bringing more of my stuff from Kanto.”
Jo didn’t know what to say, looking at some of the boxes and seeing that, sure enough, some of them were labeled with her name.
“Your room’s down the hall, that way,” Selina replied. “If you wanna start unpacking your stuff.”
Nodding, Jolene slung her bag over her shoulder and mutely picked up one of the boxes. She walked down the hallway to the room, bumping the door open with a hip.
Looking over the room, this could have fit her old Unova room inside it, five times over.
A little girl ran around her room, oblivious to it really being an adapted walk-in closet. She held a little Joltik in her hands.
“A little string here, please,” she whispered, pointing up at the wall. It complied and she grinned at it. Slowly, with a lot of difficulty, there was a little Joltik-made hammock and ladder for her in the corner of her room, high up along the wall.
She nestled into it, holding her Joltik close. “Thanks, bud,” she whispered. She shuddered, hearing a loud slam from down the hall. She quickly pulled up the ladder.
Jolene looked up at the far corner of the room, imagining that old Joltik-string hammock right there in that corner. She was too big for it now, but...it was the last gift she could remember that was truly hers, for her and not her father . And now she was being given a room, a bunch of shit in boxes, and a whole second chance to get an experience she never got in her childhood.
She muttered, “No fucking this up.” She put the box down and grabbed the others, not really caring if Selina thought she looked like a Druddigon on its hoard. She slowly started opening up the boxes, not letting herself really think about the contents as she got into a rhythm sorting everything into a rightful spot. She stood back when she was done, looking at everything that was...kind of hers? More hers than anything before.
A closet of clothes (actual clothes, not uniforms), complete with three pairs of shoes (hiking boots, sneakers, and high heels). A traveling backpack, a handful of Pokéballs, different Pokémon related medicines, a first aid kit, and damn near everything she’d need for a journey.
Heck, Selina even got her some stuff to decorate the room with so it wasn’t so...barren. A stylized Arbok poster, a purple bean bag chair...the room must’ve been meant to feel like hers, Jolene realized as she wiped some freak moisture out of her eye. Try to make her feel included and give her actual things to lose if she messed up. It didn’t feel like Kukui’s speed, that kind of handling, so maybe that was on Selina?
She quickly changed clothes, wanting out of the scratchy Kanto souvenir clothes that they made her wear on the way over. A pair of green cargo pants and a sporty white shirt with “Wander Forever” in black bold letters on it later and Jolene felt...lighter. Prison therapist would say she probably felt more in control, that her problem had always been a lack of control in her life. Maybe that was it? Kukui seemed determined to try that hypothesis.
There were voices down the hall. She left her room, leaning up on her toes to try to be sneakier. Wasn’t meant to be though, when the Meowth spotted her as soon as she left the room and damn near charged her from the living room at the end of the hallway. Jolene snorted as it climbed up her leg, choosing to ignore the light pain of its claws pricking her now and then. She helped it up onto her shoulder, scratching it behind its ear as she walked out into the living room proper.
Kukui was there, talking with Selina in hushed tones. Jolene decided not to eavesdrop, heading out onto the porch and keeping herself within their line of sight (didn’t want them to think she was running away or anything). The muscles in her shoulders relaxed as she looked over the area, bathed in moonlight.
“Have you ever felt more soothed?” Selina asked. Jolene looked over her shoulder, seeing Selina had followed her outside. “Your first night spent under the Alola’s calm moon. You can make the argument that the moon’s the same everywhere-” Jolene closed her mouth, having just been about to do that very thing “-but in Alola, the moonlight feels...more peaceful. I could stay out here all night.”
“I don’t blame you.” Jolene closed her eyes, feeling the breeze on her face. “I dunno if it’s just the two years of prison, but this...this is better than I remember it in Kanto.”
“I felt the same when I first came out here,” Selina replied. “Picking Alola as the place where I retired from my old career was a smart move. But this isn’t about me. Are you ready to meet everything Alola has to offer?”
“I...” Jolene opened her eyes, biting her lip. “I guess?”
Selina snorted, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “You remind me of my husband. Both of you need to learn to have a little wonder in your life.”
“I think that’s part of why I’m here, with this rehab program,” Jolene replied, rolling her eyes. “Alolan wonder to sprinkle me up to being a proper citizen.”
“Then let’s start with some Alolan food in you,” Selina replied.