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TEEN: Nori Carino: The Question of a Journey (Summer one-shot)

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Claris Willins, a child actress. Nori Carino, who lives in a trailer park. A rich girl and a poor boy who became the best of friends. What seemed like a story of true love is derailed by one incident.

Contest entry. It's lower quality than I would've liked. Blame trigeminal neuralgia for murdering me for 2-3 weeks straight including antibiotics making me delirious, forcing me to bang this out in the span of a couple days near the deadline rather than doing that before and having any time to let retrospect with edits come in. Probably could've benefited from that, or even being longer. Is what it is though.

The zeroth in a metaseries. Mostly puts a couple things in perspective for it. Might see a longer release of about 4-5 chapters someday. That said, maybe not, since the important parts to the overall narrative are still covered here. Rated C for cuts to the finger, because seriously.

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Claris Willins and Nori Carino were as opposites to those who didn't know them. She was a child actress from an affluent family, living in a sixty room mansion in North Veilstone. He was impoverished, living with his unemployed mother in the city's trailer park. She could be reserved. He was outspoken. More subtle was how she had many friends yet few who were genuine, whereas he had only a few while still being liked and respected by almost everyone.

One would be forgiven for thinking they had nothing in common. Those who did know them would tell you otherwise. From the time they met, they were inseparable friends who did everything together. There was something special between them, a blossoming bond that couldn't be explained with mere words. It had all the makings of something that comes around only a few times per generation.

This is the story of how they met, and what broke them apart.

##########​

Claris' first on-screen role was the toddler Marie in The Wonderful World of Mr. and Mrs. Nieves. It was a bit part, a gift from a filmmaker to her father. During a scene where the titular characters were having a fierce argument in front of their children, she started to cry. It ruined the take, but the director found it so appropriate that it was written into the script. Claris proved she had a knack for acting by not only being able to convincingly cry on cue, but through her little reactions which helped sell the scenes she was in.

While normally a quiet and observant child, it was as though Claris was a completely different person when a camera lens was on her. This inspired her parents to have her take formal lessons. Which led to her first major film role when she was five, costarring with Doug "The Golem" Maivia in Spy Little Girl. It proved a critical and commercial success, elevating the young girl to stardom when she was still in kindergarten. Almost all her classmates knew her from the movie.

Nori's life was nowhere near as glamorous. He was conceived at a party, between his mother and a visiting tourist. Ayume Carino and her son lived with her parents for the first two years of his life, but moved to a trailer she inherited upon disagreements about his upbringing. They survived solely on government support and Ayume perfectly balancing their budget. Despite the unintended circumstances of his birth, Nori was his mother's purpose. She would do anything to ensure he had a good, successful life.

As he left infancy, Nori grew into a curious, free-spirited boy. More than once his mother had to stop him from wandering off to go exploring. He was kind and compassionate, but temperamental. He got into trouble at his first day of kindergarten for getting in a fight with a would-be bully from second grade. His peers saw him as cool and tough, yet hard to approach. Despite this, Nori could fit in wherever he went.

With Nori and Claris being the two most well-known students in their age group, it was inevitable that their paths would cross. Claris going to school in the morning and Nori in the afternoon prevented this initially, but they ended up in the same class in first grade...

##########​

It was a beautiful day in the middle of April. The school year was two weeks in. They'd just finished English class, where they were learning about proper capitalization - including Pokemon species names. It was now time for Art, and their teacher, Mrs. DeMark, had set up a scavenger hunt around the school. They had been learning about hues and basic color composition. As part of this, they were to partner up to search around the school, filling a bag with as many different objects of their chosen color as possible and stating their hue.

Claris was in blue and white clothing that gave the illusion of being a dress. She wore long white socks and heels just a couple millimeters high. A vivid red ribbon was tied into her flowing blonde hair. As the teacher set everyone loose, she found herself set upon by no less than five others.

"Hey Claris! Partner with me!"

"No, me!"

"Shut up, Annie! Let me help you!"

"Don't infect her with your boy cooties, Hiro! I'll be your partner."

Claris checked around the classroom, trying her best to look around the kids jumping in front of her like crazed fans. She'd rather not partner with any of these people if they were going to be like this. But she was already running out of time. Over half the class had paired up, some with friends and others seemingly with strangers.

There was one person who caught her attention. A boy in a simple white shirt and dark green shorts. As everyone else was scampering around, the chestnut-haired boy sat in calm solitude.

She found herself being drawn to him. Perhaps it was curiosity. She walked around the other kids and over to his desk. "Um, hello," she politely greeted.

"Hi!" was the simple response.

"Why are you by yourself?"

"Waitin' for a partner." He had a light but noticeable rural accent.

Claris looked behind her. Those five were still vying for her attention, watching carefully with hopeful expectation. As nice as being popular was, there were times like now when it was too much. With her options shrinking by the second, she made up her mind. "I can be your partner."

The boy smiled. "Okay!" he cheerfully said. "I'm Nori! What's your name?"

Claris was surprised twofold. She had heard about Nori before, but hadn't expected him to be this friendly. Second, he didn't know her? In a strange way, she found that assuring. She smiled back at him as she replied, "Claris."

"Nice to meet ya!"

---​

As all the teams were settled and the teacher set them off, the two started by going outside. They hadn't decided on strategy or even what color to go for yet. Claris put forth a suggestion as they stood just outside the doors.

"Let's find blue things!"

Nori tilted his head. "Why blue?"

"It's my favorite color!"

He gave thought, but shook his head. "I think we should find red stuff."

"Is there a reason?" If he wanted red, it couldn't be helped. But blue seemed more common than red to her.

"We already got two red stuff! Your ribbon, and my eyes!"

Claris patted her head, touching the soft fabric. It was a stretch to count his eyes, but maybe her ribbon would count. Yet that would mean her clothes could count for being blue, too. Too bad her eyes were green.

Before she could say anything, Nori sprung into action. "Oh, a third!" He nigh-pounced on what he had found. A simple red flower growing in the grass. "Here, you put this in the baggie."

It was innocuous and unintentional, but Claris couldn't help but blush at being handed a flower. She could only shyly nod and tuck it safely away.

---​

"Found some more!" Nori said. He came up from looking in a garbage can, holding a couple candy wrappers, a plastic cup, and a scrap of paper that looked like it was ripped off a calendar. Claris was amazed at her partner's ingenuity, and willingness to do something like that. "That's um." The boy started counting. "Fourteen, no wait, sixteen things!" Most of these he had found himself, although she found a mini toy Poke Ball and a pen. Together, they also found an eraser, a felt pen, and four different crayons that were some different kind of red.

What was most surprising was that Nori was thinking of things others didn't. The teacher had evidently scattered some of these objects around, like those drawing and writing tools or a simple bead, but Nori was going beyond that.

The boy gestured to follow, with a bounce in his step. Claris was a little overwhelmed by this, but in a good way. This upbeat, cheerful boy was Nori Carino? In kindergarten, she heard he was that cool, tough loner in the other class. But no. He was actually very sweet, and pretty polite too.

"Hey, Claris! I got an idea!" he said to her.

"What is it?"

"Um. Well..." He turned away, as if he thought whatever he had to say was stupid.

"You can tell me, Nori."

He nodded. "Well, it's just, I was thinkin'! Do your parents give you an allowance?"

She probably had more money than every other kid in the class put together. "Yes, why?"

"If the school store is open, you can buy snacks! We'll have more red things, and you can eat them later!"

"I...I guess." There it was again. She never would've considered that. "But is it fair to the other kids?"

"The teacher didn't say we couldn't! Um, if you're okay with it. It's okay if you don't wanna."

Claris blinked. He was leaving it up to her? She was so used to her parents, her directors, fellow cast members, her teachers, and even other kids asking her or telling her to do things. He was giving a suggestion and leaving it up to her. More than that, too. He said she could eat whatever she bought. Just her. He wasn't trying to get snacks himself this way.

She felt a weird feeling in her chest. It compelled her to grin widely. "Okay!"

---​

Claris bought a can of cola, some red licorice, and various fruits and berries from the store. That put them well over twenty different items. As they were walking around outside the school, the girl spotted something on the ground.

"Look, a feather!" she said. "A bright red one!"

The teacher certainly didn't place that in advance. But they were getting whatever red stuff they could, so they may as well. As she was leaning over to grab it, a gust of wind suddenly blew it away. Claris chased after it, with Nori hurrying behind. It thankfully didn't go far, allowing her to triumphantly grab hold of it.

"Nice goin', Claris!" he congratulated, opening the bag for her.

She giggled at the praise, but took a moment to study the feather first. "I think it may be Staraptor plumage."

"Star...raptor? Is that like a Starly?"

"Mhm! Their final stage!"

"Neat!"

"I know they're not the rarest bird Pokemon, but I still like them! I want to have one someday!" Claris beamed. "Do you want to have Pokemon someday, Nori?"

"Maybe." Nori shrugged, and his eyes were drawn to something shiny on the pavement nearby. "Oh! That looks red to me."

He hurried over to what he had seen. It looked like broken glass to Claris. Maybe from a bottle? She heard how dangerous that stuff could be.

"Nori, I think–" she started to say, but it was too late.

The boy swiftly picked up a piece and stored it, only to recoil in pain. "Ow!" He nearly dropped the bag in shock, and probably would've if it was in his other hand. He winced, clenching the hand he used to pick up the maroon-colored shard.

"Nori!" she ran to his side. "You okay?"

"I..." He peered at his index finger. Claris shivered, having to look away. He'd cut himself. But to her surprise, Nori's face wasn't pained. In fact, it flashed with realization. "Wait, red! Do you have...somethin' we can put this on?!"

"Um." She did, but did they really have to? She reluctantly put her backpack down, opened the front, and took out a tissue. She handed it at full arm's length to Nori. He tore just enough off to do what he wanted, and gave the rest back to her.

Claris meekly spoke up. "Do you...want a band-aid too?"

"Oh." Nori looked at his finger and held it out. "Yes, please."

Her parents gave her a few basic essentials like this to carry around. The blonde girl retrieved one, which had a cute Kricketot pattern on it. She fought back her discomfort long enough to wrap it around Nori's finger. "There you go. All better!"

The chestnut-haired boy grinned. "Thanks."

"You're welcome!" There was the politeness she liked about him. Claris looked down at her handiwork, at that moment realizing she hadn't let go of his hand yet.

His left hand, her right hand. It felt nice. Nori noticed, quickly pulling away.

Claris giggled. "You're bright red."

"I don't think the teacher will be countin' that though..."

"But the band-aid is red," she said, trying to change the subject. No, she should address this. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

"No, it...I just, um..."

Claris held out her hand. It was just on a whim. Nori, after a few moments of hesitation, shakily took it. They didn't say anything, just exchanged smiles.

---​

In the end, they not only won the scavenger hunt, but they destroyed the previous record for it as well. Borrowing someone's shirt, shoes, journal, and the teacher's coffee mug put them over the top with 37 unique things found. All of it counted, including the clothing and Nori's eyes and the tissue (though the teacher gave him a scolding for the last one).

They both received mini toy cars from the teacher's bucket of them for winning. Nori was given a race car, and Claris got a convertible - both in the color red, appropriately enough. That was the last thing at school that day. Their peers set upon them shortly after the bell rang, excitedly congratulating them and asking to see their new toys. They left together after sating the other kids. Before they walked out the door, Claris stopped and reached into her bag.

"Here, Nori," she said. "Have some licorice."

The boy stared blankly for a couple seconds. He modestly shook his head. "But you bought it."

"We can share it!"

"Really?"

"I like you, so I don't mind."

"You like me?"

"Mhm!" She gave a big nod. "You're cool, but you're sweet too! You're like ice cream!"

The boy ruffled his hair. "Umm...hehe." Again, he started to blush. "Okay."

Claris took half of the licorice out and placed it in Nori's hand. As she did so, she wrapped one of the pieces around his thumb like a ring. She clasped both her hands around his one.

"When we grow up, I want you to be one of my husbands!"

##########​

It was of course only a naive declaration. But with how close they became, there were those who did not discount that it could eventually happen. Neither gave it serious thought given their youth, though the two sometimes pretended they were married when playing together. Yet their parents could see it. Claris' parents didn't mind. Seeing their daughter having made a real friend and being able to act her age was more than enough, and Nori was a good kid. Ayume Carino was hopeful. If her son married into money, he'd be secure for the rest of his life. This was a thought that went unspoken of course, and she still hoped for Nori's personal success.

Even after he found out she was famous, Nori never treated Claris any differently. The two always hung out, and even as they found other kids to be friends with, they always considered themselves each other's best(est) friend. They visited each other's homes, and sometimes slept over. Both were surprised at the size of where the other lived. Other times they would go for walks together, usually holding hands. They would visit parks and have picnics. Nori would take her to explore the city or wilderness. Claris would take him to eat, see entertainment, or invite him to formal gatherings and film shoots.

As they entered third grade, Claris' schedule became tighter. More schoolwork, more films to shoot, and more lessons at home. Nevertheless, she always made time for Nori. She promised to spend every Friday with him no matter what, and made good on that.

It was one day when they were in fourth grade that everything changed.

##########​

It was a Thursday in late June, and summer break would soon be upon children across the nation. This would be no obstacle to the two's plans. When school wasn't happening, Claris' parents or servants would drive them to see (or pick up) Nori. Otherwise, they would take her to a public park to meet there. Friday was nearly always a definitive, but depending on the child actress' schedule, other days were not out of the question.

Class was almost over. Their teacher, Mr. Rust, had just made the announcement of tests that were coming up. A way to end one semester before the next two months off. There was one student who was very unhappy to hear this news.

"What do you mean, it ain't fifth grade in September?!" Abraham Smith was a loudmouth transfer student from the US. An obese but muscular boy with a buzz cut. He was in a blue jean shirt and jean shorts.

"Yup," replied Nori, in lieu of the teacher saying anything. "That's how it works here."

"That's dumb!"

"No, you're dumb for not knowing that!"

Many students gasped, Claris included. Provoking someone like that wasn't a good idea! Sure enough, a seething Abraham stood up and stormed over to her friend's desk. He grabbed Nori's binder and hurled it to the ground before leaving the classroom. The entire time, the chestnut-haired boy didn't so much as flinch.

Mr. Rust sighed. "Thank you for not starting a fight, Carino."

Nori just smirked and nodded. Claris breathed a sigh of relief. Her best friend had grown a lot as a person over the past three years. He was more mature, calmer, and due to being around Claris and her family, he even talked more eloquently. Yet he was still cheerful, outgoing, strong, and willing to say exactly what was on his mind to anyone. He was dressed in a blue shirt that she'd bought for him last year for Christmas, as well as black jeans.

As the bell rang and everyone was leaving, she managed to catch up with him. "Nori," Claris spoke up. She was in a designer outfit. A frilly sky blue shirt with white frills on the sleeves and neck, along with a matching white skirt that went just above her knees. "Do you want to go for a walk together?"

He agreed without hesitation. "Okay. Ma will know I'm doing something when I don't come back right away."

They extended their hands towards each other at the same time, bumping their wrists together by mistake. They laughed.

---​

Claris and Nori were walking down Heidi Road together, hand-in-hand. It was a bright and sunny day, perfect for being outdoors.

The child actress found herself unable to stop gazing at her friend. She'd recently started feeling differently about him, and wasn't completely sure why at first. Sure, she still liked him for everything he was. But there was something else now. When she was with him, her hands got sweaty. She felt a shortness of breath. Her chest felt funny. She asked her parents about it, and they said it was hormones. She had to look that up on the internet, but it explained everything.

"So what's the occasion?" her friend asked. "Is tomorrow too busy, or got free time today?"

Claris gave this question some thought. There was a lot she wanted to say. She decided to take a unique approach, just to see his reaction. "No, I want to spend more time with my future husband!"

She hadn't called him that since they played house in first grade. Nori cringed at this, though squeezed her hand tighter. "Aren't we too old to say things like that?"

The girl could only sigh to herself. Could he not take the hint? She was too embarrassed to say it directly. Or was he embarrassed too? Nori did get flustered easily. All she could say was, "I guess you're right." In retrospect, it was silly, wasn't it?

They continued to walk, now in awkward silence. She had a destination in mind, hoping they would reach it sooner rather than later. They'd be able to talk about everything there. She told herself that everything was going to work out. Everything would be fine.

Nori suddenly stopped. "Um, Claris?" he said, tapping her on the shoulder and pointing with his free hand. "Someone's following us."

She figured she knew who. Her parents hired a bodyguard to keep an eye on her. They insisted, even though she felt they were being paranoid. A subtle one who'd only watch from afar at least, but Nori was observant enough to maybe notice. "Oh, it's just–" She turned to see he was gesturing to an older woman with orange-red hair in casual clothing, wearing a camera around her neck. "...a reporter." She was poking out of an alleyway, trying to be yet not at all subtle about it.

She shouldn't have been surprised at what happened next, but was anyway as Nori let go of her hand and stepped towards the woman to confront her. "Who do you think you are following us around like this?!"

The reporter replied to his bold stride in kind. "I am Hikari Schrader, and–"

"–and you're a creepy stalker!"

"I'm not a stalker, I'm a reporter and I have freedom of the press. Claris Willins is on a date, and–"

"You're just using sematics! How'd you like it if I followed you around on your days? You wouldn't, so go away!"

"I–"

"GO AWAY!"

Swiftly realizing there was no recourse and no arguing with the angry boy, the reporter hurried off. Nori had just chased off a paparazzi. A Schrader, no less. One of the many reasons why she liked him. He wouldn't take flak from anyone, not even if they were from an influential family.

"Thanks Nori," Claris said, giving him a quick hug. She did feel a need to correct him on something, if only so he'd come across better in the future. "But, it's semantics, not sematics."

"Oh, uh..." He ruffled his hair. "My bad."

She laughed. "It's okay. I'm just glad you got rid of her."

"Anytime!" he boasted. "Um, if they're being annoying like her, that is." They'd run into a few reporters or fans on their walks. Most were respectful enough to give them their space, or at least act at a distance. If they got too pushy, Nori wouldn't hesitate to give them an earful.

The boy took stock of their surroundings, specifically the street names. "Well, Gabbron Park's only a couple blocks away. Did you want to go there?"

Claris took a deep breath. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something."

"About us?"

She felt herself starting to blush. "Kind of."

"So what is it?"

She closed her eyes, holding his hand again. Her heart was racing. "I want to go somewhere special to tell you. It shouldn't be far now." He nodded and allowed her to lead the way.

Claris had always liked Pokemon. She liked working with them on the set, and always enjoyed their company at home. Just like Nori, they were cute and didn't treat her differently for being famous. She had something in mind for the longest time, and just yesterday it had come to fruition. There was only one thing left to do, which was part of why she wanted to speak with Nori today.

---​

They eventually arrived at the Twisty-Licky-Licorice-Shack. It was a regional store with a Lickitung motif that specialized in licorice, although it had other candies and frozen delicacies available. She hadn't intended for this to be a date as the reporter was suggesting, but supposed it was all but a formal one.

The two were seated across from each other in a booth, which had pink cushioning on the back. Better and more comfortable than the tables and chairs, she felt. Claris had gotten them each three ‘Pokey-Fun Shapes’ with a side of sherbet. Nori examined the former in disbelief. A blend of orange and black entwined together like a clown would tie balloons, crafted in the shape of a Torchic. "I don't get this," he said. "Why make all this nice-looking food if it's just going to be eaten?"

"It's a confectionery." The child actress picked up one of her own. A Poliwhirl. It certainly stood out among more beloved Pokemon like Eevee, but she figured it must be popular itself for some reason if it was one of their options. She explained further, "Confectioneries like these don't just give you normal food. It's like art! That's what makes it more special than regular licorice." She took a bite, and was delighted. "Mmm, blue raspberry!" she said with her mouth full, ignoring manners for just a moment.

"I mean, I guess I can see that. But I still don't get it." Nori was a practical person. When he was younger, he was often astonished at some of the things her family was able to do with money. Growing up the way he did, his mom couldn't afford to waste a single cent. Luxuries and fancy things were a foreign concept to him.

"Well you like gummy Pokemon, don't you?" Claris asked. It often took one little thing to put something in perspective for him.

"Oh yeah! When you put it like that, that makes more sense. It's just bigger and with licorice." He nodded and took a small bite. He tasted it carefully and swallowed before remarking, "I think it's tangerine flavored?"

The two ate and held light conversation about school, home, and stuff they heard on the radio (the only form of entertainment Nori had). Eventually, they were finished eating, and the discussion turned to the reason they came here.

Nori spoke up about it first. "So what did you want to talk about here?"

Claris took a deep breath. There was a lot to talk about. A lot she wanted to get off her chest. She started at the beginning. "Do you remember the day we met?"

"How could I forget?" Nori replied with a light smile. "That's why we're having licorice, right?"

Claris giggled. He was intuitive enough to figure out the significance. "Yes, it is. But do you remember what else happened?"

"Ummm...a lot did. What part are you talking about? How I cut myself on that bottle like a stupid moron?" That was almost a catchphrase of his. He liked to call people stupid morons as a kid, and still did out of habit.

A lot did happen, that was true. She specified, "Remember the Staraptor feather? I asked you if you wanted to have Pokemon someday. Have you thought about it, ever?"

He shook his head. "Not really, no. Owning a Pokemon's a lot of work, and I can't afford it."

"Oh." Money and taking care of the Pokemon, right. "I hadn't thought about that."

Nori understood at once, smiling a bit. "Just like I don't think about rich people things."

She laughed, as did he in turn. They came from two different worlds, and despite spending a lot of time together, they still didn't understand each other at times.

Getting back on subject. "We're at the age where we can get a trainer card, though."

"Well, I'm still nine. I don't turn ten until July 11th, remember?"

"They make exceptions sometimes. And it's not that far off, either."

Nori tilted his head. "What do you want to get trainer cards for, though?"

The child actress grinned. Want to? No, she already had hers. She retrieved it from her wallet and showed it off to her friend. His eyes went wide in equal parts amazement and astonishment. She had been thinking about it for the longest time, ever since first grade. Now it had finally happened.

"But, why?"

"Nori, you know what my life is like, don't you?" Claris lamented. It had started as a fleeting thought, but there was now reason for seriously considering it. "I have school, film shoots, acting lessons, and I even have to learn to take over my family's business someday. The time I spend with you is some of the only time I have to myself."

"Why don't you tell your parents you don't like it?"

"I do like it!" She waved her hands. That wasn't the problem here! "It's just, a lot of work. Plus, I don't want to let my parents down." They paid for all these lessons for her, and she didn't want them to go to waste. It's not that she hated acting. She liked it. "But, I do want a break from it. I was thinking if I went on a Pokemon journey, I could get away from it. Even if it's just for a while."

Nori listened intently as Claris continued. "I asked my parents if I could. I pleaded with them, I did what you sometimes do. And they eventually said yes. They even imported some foreign starter Pokemon, so we can have something unique."

"Wait, we?"

Claris tensed up. That part slipped out. She started breathing in short spurts. She was never nervous in front of a camera or a crowd, but she was nervous now. She inhaled deeply to compose herself. "Yes, we. I know we're still young, but the time I've spent with you has been some of the best of my life."

She leaned in towards him, reaching out and lightly placing her hand over his. "And...I want to spend more with you. So I would love it if I could go on this journey..." She briefly paused to give him a tender smile. "...with you."

Claris lightly shut her eyes. That came out as perfectly as she had hoped. She liked Nori. At first, she thought it was just lingering precocious feelings, or just her hormones. But the more she seriously thought about it, the more she wondered. She knew from talking with cast members that celebrities can have trouble finding the right person. Despite not even being a teenager yet, she couldn't rule out she'd already met that person. One of the people she worked with told her that if she's sure, to hang on to him and never let go.

Getting a reprieve was only one of the reasons for Claris wanting to go on a journey. The other reason was to see if she and Nori could truly work together, as real partners.

Nori remained quiet. He was frozen up with uncertainty. Claris almost wanted to lean in and kiss him right there. Just to punctuate things and get it out there and over with. She was nearly about to do so when he finally spoke. "But..."

"But what?"

He was worried. "But what about after? If I do this, I won't be able to take care of my Pokemon after."

"I'll..." She clasped his hand. "...we'll figure something out. I promise." She was not sure how or what. But she was willing to do whatever it took to make this work.

Nori closed his eyes, going into deep thought about this. Claris got up and sat beside him. "So..." he eventually asked. "This'll just be through summer break?"

She could only chuckle at that. "It's going to take longer than that to make it through Sinnoh!"

"But why?" he repeated. "We'll have to make up for all the school we missed."

"I know. But we can make it up. Won't it be worth it?"

Nori slowly shook his head. "But I don't want to miss school. I don't want to be a Pokemon trainer, I want to learn to be someone important who does important things, like you!"

She tried to reassure him. "Missing a year won't be the end of the world. You can just do it the next year or make it up."

"A year?!"

"That'd be the worst case. We might be able to do it in six months."

"That's not much better!" he snapped. "And what about at the end? If we both get badges, we might have to fight each other! I don't want to do that!"

"Well..."

"Plus, you're saying all this stuff too! A journey's not as easy as just deciding to go on one, and I still need to ask my ma if it's okay! Just..." He shook his head again, forcefully. "Just...it's just too much!"

Claris shrunk back. What was he saying? What was he about to say? No, it couldn't be...

"I can't do this, Claris! I just can't!"

It was. The words echoed in her head. He couldn't do this. She felt as though she had been stabbed in the heart. Claris clasped her chest. Her mind was blank. Her eyes were watering. Her throat was burning. Her nose was clogged. He just wouldn't. She instinctively rose to her feet, buried her face in an arm, and hurried out of the store.

"Claris, wait!"

She thought she heard words to that effect, but it didn't register. All she was sure she heard was that Nori wouldn't journey with her. So she only continued to run away in tears.

##########​

That night, Nori was filled with regret. He didn't mean for it to come out that way. But it did. It's not as though he was outright refusing. He had a lot of reservations to get by if he wanted to go on a journey. Those had to be settled before he could give Claris an answer.

To his surprise, his mom fully supported this. She thought it would be a good experience for him. She even suggested he could make a living from it, no matter how absurd it seemed. As for the issue of looking after Pokemon, she suggested leaving them at the Willins family mansion. He'd still be able to see and access them, and they would be taken care of. If not there, she said he could send them to a Pokemon Professor's lab or a ranch, which do offer limited free storage for trainers. Nori was unsure about those options. It'd be hard to see them, and how'd he know if they were looking after his Pokemon? But if it was at Claris' place, that was enough for him.

That just left the other problems. Nori thought long and hard about this. He really didn't want to be a Pokemon trainer. It wasn't a lifestyle he felt he could enjoy. He didn't hate Pokemon, but all the competition wasn't appealing. He'd rather be someone who did something meaningful, like a doctor or a lawyer! Someone who could make a difference in the world. He liked Claris, and he got the feeling she really liked him. Because of that, he also wanted to be someone who could stand with Claris Willins, rather than behind her.

Yet some more thoughts were occurring. Maybe he was being immature and farsighted about this. Maybe Claris was right. Maybe he could make up the school stuff. Maybe he didn't have to do badges, or find some other way to avoid conflicting goals. Maybe he could handle a journey. Maybe he could enjoy one. No, he would. If it was with her.

It was going to be a lot of work. He was perhaps one of the few kids his age who already realized exactly how hard a journey could be. You had to walk long distances, camp, manage money, look after yourself, look after your Pokemon, train them, and more. It wouldn't be easy. But he figured he could do it.

As he went to sleep that night, he made a decision. His answer to her would be yes.

##########​

At least, that was his plan. When Nori came in to school next day, he saw an empty seat to his left. It wasn't like Claris to run late. His initial thought was that there was a first time for everything, and that she'd walk in through the door by the time the bell rang. Then he could see about setting the record straight. He'd apologize for how he acted yesterday, and let her know that yes! He did want to travel with her!

But she did not make it to class. The news reached him immediately at recess. Claris had gone missing. Kids were asking what happened to her, since he was with her yesterday. All he told them was they had a small argument and she ran off.

Nori knew, however. He could just tell. He didn't tell anyone at school, both to respect his friend and not wanting to be a tattletale.

Claris had run off to go on a journey alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
====================
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~​

The news eventually confirmed his suspicions. After returning home that day, she got her maid to fly her to Jubilife City. She had impulsively set off, and indeed, wanted to collect badges. Part of him wanted to rush to her side. To find some way of getting to her, or letting her know he was supporting her even if he couldn't be with her. Yet those were just pipe dreams. Nori couldn't afford any travel, and had only a few ways of contacting her. The best he could do was walk to her house and speak with her parents, who agreed to pass his apology along when they could.

Nori had no further interest in going on a journey. He didn't even want to later if it turned out he could afford one, and somehow changed his mind on them. He wasn't going to go back on his decision. He'd badly messed things up. And going back on it later would just make things worse...

The two would meet again in March the next year. It was happenstance. Nori was out exploring the city, which was still a favorite pastime of his. He was walking through the parking lot of a farmer's market when he saw her exiting. He would recognize her anywhere, no matter how long it had been. She was in a simple blue and white dress.

Had she just recently returned from her journey? A tightness in his chest spurring him on, he rushed over.

"Claris!"

The child actress faced him. He was expecting her to still be hurt by what he had done. He couldn't make things right then, but he wanted to now. What he was not expecting was her expression. He heard that journeys could change a person, that they were a coming of age. It did not take an expert to see that Claris looked miserable. What happened?!

She gave him no answers, turning and walking away. She entered a limousine and was gone.

He'd missed out. He knew it, and lots of others had been unafraid to tell him it. This cemented it. All because he couldn't put aside his personal feelings for his friend's sake.

Nori reached into his pocket and retrieved the race car he had won on the day they had first met. Ever since Claris had left, he often carried it with him as a reminder. He intended to show it to Claris, to prove he hadn't forgotten about her. That he hadn't forgotten about all the good times they had. But it was too late.

The boy sat down on a curb, self-deprecation nearly consuming him. As he saw it, he never deserved to have a friend like Claris. All he could ever offer her was his loyal friendship. That one moment where he faltered had ruined things forever between them. Even if it got better, it'd never be the same. That was probably just wishful thinking, too...

Nori clasped the toy car and held it to his chest. He was not religious, but he made a vow at that moment.

##########​

It was an inevitability that never came to pass. All it took was one day, one disagreement, and one rash decision each.

A girl who thought a journey was a simple thing to accept when they took a lot of work to make happen. Someone who hastily ran away from home, and who realized the hard way that things aren't always as perfect as they seem.

A boy who didn't want to journey in a world where they were accepted with little question. Someone who lashed out at the prospect of one, and didn't fully realize what he could've had if he read the mood or just said yes.

This one incident drove them apart, and shaped who they would become.
 
Last edited:

Juliko

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Copy-pasted my review from FF.net

Awww, this was a bittersweet story. I remembered seeing the name Claris mentioned in your other stories, and I'm glad we finally have a person to put a name to. Claris is a pretty good character, all things considered, liking how her life is going but also wishing to do something on her own power for once. I like how you didn't make escaping her work and family the entirety of her character. I also liked her friendship with Nori. I wish the two of them had been able to go on a journey together, but I can also understand Nori's concerns, not wanting to stretch his already precarious finances thinner than they already are, even though Claris could easily use her money to make things work in some way.

However, one thing that bothered me was Nori randomly insulting that kid Abraham for not knowing how Sinnoh's school system works. Why did Nori just expect some kid to just magically know how Sinnoh's school system works, even though said kid has never been to Sinnoh before? I know this takes place before Training A Demon, but I found that part to be a little out of character for him. I mean, yeah, he could let his emotions get the better of him, but I can't imagine him just insulting someone/blaming them for not knowing something that they wouldn't have any real way of learning about beforehand. But that's really the only pet peeve I have with the story. Everything else about it is great as usual! I hope we get to see more of Claris and the gang!
 

System Error

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I remembered seeing the name Claris mentioned in your other stories, and I'm glad we finally have a person to put a name to.
Yup. The concept from this came from a zeroth story in general for Nori's metaseries. I decided not to go through with it, because I could address what happened elsewhere - plus the Claris scenes would be cute fluff/childhood romance, there'd be buildup for another character yet to be introduced, and other funness of writing a young child. But with this contest, I figured hey, good chance to explore Claris. Since it perfectly fit the theme.

Claris is a pretty good character, all things considered, liking how her life is going but also wishing to do something on her own power for once. I like how you didn't make escaping her work and family the entirety of her character.
Glad you inferred that part. I dropped the scenes with them in third grade for space and time, which would've stated that explicitly (and built up a couple things (and had another punny teacher name, Ms. Judge)). And I feel those kinds of characters are cliches, and some even unrealistic. So I gave Claris a good reason to want to do that, while making clear it wouldn't be a permanent escape.

I also liked her friendship with Nori. I wish the two of them had been able to go on a journey together,
I made their friendship as perfect as possible! Like, I almost explicitly used the term "fairytale romance". Sadly, things don't always work out.

However, one thing that bothered me was Nori randomly insulting that kid Abraham for not knowing how Sinnoh's school system works. Why did Nori just expect some kid to just magically know how Sinnoh's school system works, even though said kid has never been to Sinnoh before? I know this takes place before Training A Demon, but I found that part to be a little out of character for him.
This actually isn't too far out of character for Nori, especially a younger one. He was understanding until Abraham (a wannabe bully) called Japan's semester system dumb for not being like America's. He had no qualms saying what he did because of it. Young Nori can be a mean person, usually when his emotions get the better of him and only towards other mean people. He's better about things like this by the time of Training a Demon.

Idle aside, I changed Nori's reaction to the journey to be somewhat sensible, because that would've been out of character. In the original draft he fully deserved losing Claris' friendship. So instead I made it a rash misunderstanding, and his journey hatred was downplayed (which was the "right character, wrong genre", but I had a very easy backup that made BOTH characters fit the theme)
 

Daren

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*Another reference to capitalizing Pokémon (which I also recall from A Move to Abjudicate).
*Collecting his own blood for a scavenger hunt. Exactly the sort of thing I'd expect a kid to think of without expecting the most likely reaction. :p
*So is polygamy legal in Sinnou or is that "one of my husbands" party just a bit of young naivety?
*Hmm, I wonder how many real world celebrities appreciate animals not realizing they're famous? Maybe a surprising number.
*I suddenly found myself double checking "Training a Demon" and yep! This was mentioned in it.
*Foreign starters, huh? I wonder which ones...

Nori had no further interest in going on a journey. He didn't even want to later if it turned out he could afford one, and somehow changed his mind on them. He wasn't going to go back on his decision. He'd badly messed things up. And going back on it later would just make things worse...
Nori definitely has an issue with doubling down, doesn't he?

I completely agree with Juliko that it was nice to see Claris refreshing avoided the cliche of wanting to completely escape her fame and fortune; she wanted a break, not to run away from everything.

Similar to your other stories I love the injected realism--going on a journey is a huge event that could cause a lot of trouble, especially when 99% of trainers aren't going to dethrone the current champion like the player character always does (I do sometimes wonder how much money trainers can make since I'm not sure how much the "pokédollars" you get as prize money are worth).

Good luck with the contest! :)
 

System Error

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*Another reference to capitalizing Pokémon (which I also recall from A Move to Abjudicate).
It's a running gag. I also post this on ffnet, and well, some people there are anal about not capitalizing Pokemon names. This is my constant in-universe answer (sometimes insult) to them, even though the only interaction I've actually had so far was people warning me of them (and me delightfully telling them what I did the first time).

*Collecting his own blood for a scavenger hunt. Exactly the sort of thing I'd expect a kid to think of without expecting the most likely reaction. :p
It's the entire reason the fic is rated T here, even though other places wouldn't bat an eye at something so minor! :D It was the setup for holding hands for the first time too. And, indirectly reveals Nori is left-handed. But yeah, writing little kids is fun in that sense!

*So is polygamy legal in Sinnou or is that "one of my husbands" party just a bit of young naivety?
It's the latter. Randomly, this was actually inspired by an "FBI thriller" book I'm reading which I picked up to have something to do when waiting for my antibiotic prescription to treat the neuralgia I mentioned. A couple's like five-year-old son has this friend he always plays with, and it's said he wants her to be his wife, "one of them". Thought that was adorable enough to have the young Claris say it, but it's clarified in the fourth grade scene by her specifying a singular husband.

*Hmm, I wonder how many real world celebrities appreciate animals not realizing they're famous? Maybe a surprising number.
A good question indeed. Have at least heard many stories of celebrities and their pets!

*I suddenly found myself double checking "Training a Demon" and yep! This was mentioned in it.
General rule of the metaseries: if something is talked about that you haven't seen, expect to actually see it at some point or for it to come into play.

*Foreign starters, huh? I wonder which ones...
You may in fact find out! I'll just say other plans changed as a result of the direction this took.

Nori definitely has an issue with doubling down, doesn't he?
It's one of his flaws! But, this does put his journey hatred in another perspective. Plans changed there a bit, too...

Similar to your other stories I love the injected realism--going on a journey is a huge event that could cause a lot of trouble, especially when 99% of trainers aren't going to dethrone the current champion like the player character always does (I do sometimes wonder how much money trainers can make since I'm not sure how much the "pokédollars" you get as prize money are worth).
I try to go for realism, while still keeping the fantastical elements that are the core of the world. Like journeys aren't easy, but they're safe and doable enough so that kids can go on them. The money issue I partially address with the free services for trainers I mentioned in Training a Demon. Of course, having money will make a journey far more comfortable. And indeed, many journeys aren't going all the way, although few people are as cynical as Nori is about that point.
 

Flaze

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Well it's been a while since I've read something from you. I think what's changed most since eth least time I read one of your stories is the way you integrate flow between narration and dialogue. The story itself is relatively simple, and maybe Claris and Nori do fall into the trap of being ten year olds that act kind of like their thirteen, but considering pokemon as a franchise is popular for that, I don't think it's something you can strike against it too harshly.

That being said, you do manage to give us a good look at both Nori and Claris as well as their relationship. I particularly liked the first part of the story which captured that sort of childhood innocence. I do think it leans a little too much on the "precious little angels" aspect of writing children but not too much, it's still believable enough and makes for fun reading. There were also interesting details you added in like how not everyone necessarily wants to be a trainer, and the training experience would be different depending on your class level.

That being said, I do feel like the way everything develops, if solid, still feels a little bit barebones, like maybe we could've used some more exploration of Nori's character from his point of view, we got a lot from Claris, but considering that the final conflict revolved around Nori's choice and what he thought of the idea, maybe a couple more scene exploring his homelife with his mom would've helped. In general, and considering you could've written more since I don't think you came close to hitting the word limit, there's a lot of summarizing about Claris' and Nori's life, and it works in a general sense but I think more detail would've helped give the final scene more of a punch.

That final scene as well passes a little too quickly. It makes sense, sure, but considering it's what the story was leading towards I would've expected a bit more, especially when the two of them saw each other at the end. But maybe that's just me.

Nevertheless, it was still a solid story and I like that you focused on something more slice of life, I'd love to see something like this but longer or another story that focuses on either one of these characters.
 

System Error

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Well it's been a while since I've read something from you. I think what's changed most since eth least time I read one of your stories is the way you integrate flow between narration and dialogue.
Switching to third-person helps a bit! And, not having a character who's hiding secrets even in the narration helps too. And a main character who's a lot more open. And characters who play off each other a lot better. :p

The story itself is relatively simple, and maybe Claris and Nori do fall into the trap of being ten year olds that act kind of like their thirteen, but considering pokemon as a franchise is popular for that, I don't think it's something you can strike against it too harshly.
You'd be surprised at kids these days. That said, Nori and Claris are both in the adult world to some extent - Nori from the reality of living in poverty, and Claris because of being a child actress. So it's sensible for them to act a little older than their age, I feel!

That being said, you do manage to give us a good look at both Nori and Claris as well as their relationship. I particularly liked the first part of the story which captured that sort of childhood innocence. I do think it leans a little too much on the "precious little angels" aspect of writing children but not too much, it's still believable enough and makes for fun reading.
A little too much but not too much? That is a CONTRADICTION! :p Silliness aside, I made their relationship the main focus of this one-shot. I especially enjoyed writing the first-grade part. Could've chosen to do more with it, but, time and probably eventually space happened.

There were also interesting details you added in like how not everyone necessarily wants to be a trainer, and the training experience would be different depending on your class level.
It's something that not a lot of fics tackle. Or if they do, they make it the entire focus. It's a definite thing though. Like you could have rich kids who can afford all sorts of TMs for their rare and exotic Pokemon, contrasted to poor ones who have to make do with only a few.

That being said, I do feel like the way everything develops, if solid, still feels a little bit barebones, like maybe we could've used some more exploration of Nori's character from his point of view, we got a lot from Claris, but considering that the final conflict revolved around Nori's choice and what he thought of the idea, maybe a couple more scene exploring his homelife with his mom would've helped
Okay, so this. This was less of a word limit thing and more of a time limit thing. I was cruising through another project in the metaseries instead of working on this. I intended to get to it after hitting a milestone, but...well. Imagine a needle going into your gums at the dentist for freezing. Except it never goes away unless you put ice cold water on the affected area. That is trigeminal neuralgia. Now imagine being delirious from antibiotics, not in pain but unable to think straight. By the time I was in condition to write, it was into the last week of writing before yet another extension happened. So I was forced to bang this out in that short timeframe.

As for Nori's point of view, there would've been more of it in the third grade scenes that were dropped for time purposes. As for showing his home life...if I did that, I'd have to show Claris' too. And that'd definitely have taken me way over the word limit. So I settled for barebones in the end: how they met, and how they broke apart. Really, the one thing I definitely should've did was set up the world's more practical take on training ahead of time, so it isn't just brought up at the end. It still kind of works in how it comes out of nowhere, when it's otherwise from Claris' POV and it comes out of nowhere for her too. Still, not the best way to handle it, and probably the thing I'm most dissatisfied about. It's covered better in other fics in the metaseries, that said! Just not here.

That final scene as well passes a little too quickly. It makes sense, sure, but considering it's what the story was leading towards I would've expected a bit more, especially when the two of them saw each other at the end. But maybe that's just me.
This, on the other hand, was very much intentional. Claris just gives him the cold shoulder, no answers. Which means Nori worriedly filling in the blanks on his own. And, questions for later installments!

Nevertheless, it was still a solid story and I like that you focused on something more slice of life, I'd love to see something like this but longer or another story that focuses on either one of these characters.
Well, I'll point you right here then, so you can do just that!
 

Rainfall

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Hi SystemError!

That’s cool of you to have read and reviewed nearly every oneshot story. I’m attempting to my version of that and lagging/struggling to, when it should be very doable.

Sorry to hear you were dealing with some pains that might have been extra strong while writing this. Glad you have a zeroth to your meatseries metaseries out now, and I see you have something in the works already!
Here’s my response, no promise at all on quality! Actually, I’m mostly quoting you in reaction to the story (aside from some early rants). Here goes.
___

“More subtle was how she had many friends yet few who were genuine, whereas he had only a few while still being liked and respected by almost everyone.”


Start of the story, setting up Claris and Nori as opposites. A good contrast, and something of a characteristics 2x2 in that last line. Appearances can belie substance.
__

“…she started to cry. It ruined the take, but the director found it so appropriate that it was written into the script.”
Looks like Claris first shows promise by a genuine (crying) reaction to a staged argument.

“Claris proved she had a knack for acting by not only being able to convincingly cry on cue, but through her little reactions which helped sell the scenes she was in.”
__

One interpretation of acting highlights a curious contrast. [Uh, very long rant incoming for two basic well-known ‘ideas’, from an absolute layperson…]

Actors showcase characters through ideas and words, voice and delivery, movement and body language, within a propped up setting, carrying out a simulated/pretend set of events. Does acting represent reality better than real life? More generally, is carefully developed fiction truer than reality, in some sense? Certainly not objectively; but in the sense that it manifests the vibrations of the heart, and captures the (filtered) memory and vision of a time or event, it may do just that…

In developing their talents for animating characters, actors draw on their emotions and experiences, and can widen their journey into the human condition. However, (mostly in regard popular film,) as certain actors gain recognition and fame, a larger population of people know the actors only by the roles they have recognized on the screen, or by the public actor personas. Some make use of their public persona blend, some specifically live their work by engaging in method acting during work production. It is possible that many labor under the demands of performance pathos and media drain. How much of their life goes to supporting the mask? How much of life becomes all about the mask?

“It proved a critical and commercial success, elevating the young girl to stardom when she was still in kindergarten. Almost all her classmates knew her from the movie.”

In the case of a rising star like Claris, it may be the case that they’re generally not allowed to neglect their duty to play their mask and/or star roles at all times, contributing to atrophy of ‘normal’ relationships, ‘normal’ emotions, further exacerbating the divide of the mask-to-reality ratio.
[End this particular non-novel rant.]
___

“They survived solely on government support and Ayume perfectly balancing their budget. Despite the unintended circumstances of his birth, Nori was his mother's purpose. She would do anything to ensure he had a good, successful life.”

Feeling very relieved for Nori. The following notes are not an excuse to ignore the importance of a good and safe economic and social system for babies and children, but do highlight that a parent’s care can do much to ameliorate the real physiological (and psychological) cost of poverty.

--“The reseasrchers ran test after test, and on each one, the high-LG offspring excelled: They were better at mazes. They were more social. They were more curious. They were less aggressive. They had more self-control. They were healthier. They lived longer. Meany and his researchers were astounded. What seemed like a tiny variation in early mothering style, so small that decades of researchers hadn’t noticed it, created huge behavioral differences in mature rats, months after the licking and grooming had taken place. And the effect wasn’t just behavioral; it was biological too. [There was impact on] the stress-response systems… including big variations in the size and shape and completixity of the parts of the brain that regulated stress.” [How Children Succeed, ch. 9, Paul Tough]
--“Evans found mostly what you’d expect: the higher the environmental-risk score, the higher the allostatic-load [corporeal debt from stress] score—unless a child’s mother was particularly responsive to her child.” [How Children Succeed, ch. 10, Paul Tough]
__

“He was kind and compassionate, but temperamental. He got into trouble at his first day of kindergarten for getting in a fight with a would-be bully from second grade. His peers saw him as cool and tough, yet hard to approach. Despite this, Nori could fit in wherever he went.”

Sounds like a good person and child. The ability to fit in and connect with different sets of people is not to be taken for granted or underestimated. [I’m jealous]
__

“They'd just finished English class, where they were learning about proper capitalization - including Pokemon species names.”

Ayyyyyyy, lmaoooo

“Those five were still vying for her attention, watching carefully with hopeful expectation. As nice as being popular was, there were times like now when it was too much.”

Everything can have its downsides, definitely including popularity.

“Second, he didn't know her? In a strange way, she found that assuring.”

What is scarce is valuable, and reputation not preceding reality provides an opportunity for a non-anchored get-to-know.

“A simple red flower growing in the grass.”

Okay!!! I have deduced your foreshadowing with the utmost of cognitive insights!!! Green refers the verdance of youthful childhood, and of a newly blossoming new friendship! Red of course refers to blood! The blood of a friendship rend apart by misunderstandings and mis-matched/torn care-abouts or whatever else. Whyyyyyy do this, no sad stories please

“Claris was amazed at her partner's ingenuity, and willingness to do something like that.“

“The boy gestured to follow, with a bounce in his step.”
Wholesome characterization.

“Claris blinked. He was leaving it up to her? She was so used to her parents, her directors, fellow cast members, her teachers, and even other kids asking her or telling her to do things. He was giving a suggestion and leaving it up to her. More than that, too. He said she could eat whatever she bought. Just her. He wasn't trying to get snacks himself this way.

She felt a weird feeling in her chest. It compelled her to grin widely. ‘Okay!’ “

Agency can be a scarcity for a star, eh.

“He winced, clenching the hand he used to pick up the maroon-colored shard.”

Seeing red red red red red red red red

“ ‘You're welcome!’ There was the politeness she liked about him. Claris looked down at her handiwork, at that moment realizing she hadn't let go of his hand yet.
His left hand, her right hand. It felt nice. Nori noticed, quickly pulling away.”

“Claris held out her hand. It was just on a whim. Nori, after a few moments of hesitation, shakily took it. They didn't say anything, just exchanged smiles.”

Ahh, how sweet : o
__

“That was the last thing at school that day. Their peers set upon them shortly after the bell rang, excitedly congratulating them and asking to see their new toys.”

That sounds like a pleasant interaction!

“The boy stared blankly for a couple seconds. He modestly shook his head. "But you bought it."”
Nori is fair.

"When we grow up, I want you to be one of my husbands!"

The girl-child knows what’s up! B)
__

“It was of course only a naive declaration. But with how close they became, there were those who did not discount that it could eventually happen. Neither gave it serious thought given their youth, though the two sometimes pretended they were married when playing together. Yet their parents could see it. Claris' parents didn't mind. Seeing their daughter having made a real friend and being able to act her age was more than enough, and Nori was a good kid. Ayume Carino was hopeful. “

This is so sweet. (It has to be sweet before the stated fall, right?)

“Even after he found out she was famous, Nori never treated Claris any differently. The two always hung out, and even as they found other kids to be friends with, they always considered themselves each other's best(est) friend. […] Other times they would go for walks together, usually holding hands. They would visit parks and have picnics. Nori would take her to explore the city or wilderness. Claris would take him to eat, see entertainment, or invite him to formal gatherings and film shoots.”

:heart-eyes: :heart-eyes:

“[…] Nevertheless, she always made time for Nori. She promised to spend every Friday with him no matter what, and made good on that.

It was one day when they were in fourth grade that everything changed.”

This end of this section of narration flows well.
___

“Many students gasped, Claris included. Provoking someone like that wasn't a good idea! Sure enough, a seething Abraham stood up and stormed over to her friend's desk. He grabbed Nori's binder and hurled it to the ground before leaving the classroom. The entire time, the chestnut-haired boy didn't so much as flinch.

Mr. Rust sighed. "Thank you for not starting a fight, Carino."

Nori just smirked and nodded. Claris breathed a sigh of relief. Her best friend had grown a lot as a person over the past three years. He was more mature, calmer, and due to being around Claris and her family, he even talked more eloquently. Yet he was still cheerful, outgoing, strong, and willing to say exactly what was on his mind to anyone. “
__

Oh, good on Nori.

“Claris gave this question some thought. There was a lot she wanted to say. She decided to take a unique approach, just to see his reaction. "No, I want to spend more time with my future husband!"

She hadn't called him that since they played house in first grade. Nori cringed at this, though squeezed her hand tighter. "Aren't we too old to say things like that?" ”

Aww, hand squeeze.

“Swiftly realizing there was no recourse and no arguing with the angry boy, the reporter hurried off. Nori had just chased off a paparazzi. A Schrader, no less. One of the many reasons why she liked him. He wouldn't take flak from anyone, not even if they were from an influential family.”

what : o

“"Why make all this nice-looking food if it's just going to be eaten?"”
Bam. But it looks good and is a work itself.

“"How could I forget?" Nori replied with a light smile. "That's why we're having licorice, right?"”

Aw, yay. : )

“ "I do like it!" She waved her hands. That wasn't the problem here! "It's just, a lot of work. Plus, I don't want to let my parents down." “

A hard good.

“Claris lightly shut her eyes. That came out as perfectly as she had hoped. She liked Nori. At first, she thought it was just lingering precocious feelings, or just her hormones. But the more she seriously thought about it, the more she wondered. She knew from talking with cast members that celebrities can have trouble finding the right person. Despite not even being a teenager yet, she couldn't rule out she'd already met that person. One of the people she worked with told her that if she's sure, to hang on to him and never let go.”

That sounds mature and real.

“Nori slowly shook his head. "But I don't want to miss school. I don't want to be a Pokemon trainer, I want to learn to be someone important who does important things, like you!"”

Still practical, and thinking about the costs and opportunity costs, and whether it is even affordable at all.

“It was. The words echoed in her head. He couldn't do this. She felt as though she had been stabbed in the heart. Claris clasped her chest. Her mind was blank. Her eyes were watering. Her throat was burning. Her nose was clogged. He just wouldn't. She instinctively rose to her feet, buried her face in an arm, and hurried out of the store.”

Ouch ouch ouch
__

“To his surprise, his mom fully supported this. She thought it would be a good experience for him. She even suggested he could make a living from it, no matter how absurd it seemed. As for the issue of looking after Pokemon, she suggested leaving them at the Willins family mansion. He'd still be able to see and access them, and they would be taken care of.”

That is nice that his mom supports the idea.

“That just left the other problems. Nori thought long and hard about this. He really didn't want to be a Pokemon trainer. It wasn't a lifestyle he felt he could enjoy. He didn't hate Pokemon, but all the competition wasn't appealing. He'd rather be someone who did something meaningful, like a doctor or a lawyer! Someone who could make a difference in the world. He liked Claris, and he got the feeling she really liked him. Because of that, he also wanted to be someone who could stand with Claris Willins, rather than behind her.”

Damn, Nori : o

“Maybe he was being immature and farsighted about this.”

Did you specifically mean “farsighted” here, as a weakness? Interesting.

__
“As he went to sleep that night, he made a decision. His answer to her would be yes.”

“Kids were asking what happened to her, since he was with her yesterday. All he told them was they had a small argument and she ran off.”

“Nori knew, however. He could just tell. He didn't tell anyone at school, both to respect his friend and not wanting to be a tattletale.

Claris had run off to go on a journey alone.”

Yes yes, here’s the moment. The moment of lost opportunity to communicate.
The moment to flip all the tables
__

“Part of him wanted to rush to her side. To find some way of getting to her, or letting her know he was supporting her even if he couldn't be with her. Yet those were just pipe dreams. Nori couldn't afford any travel, and had only a few ways of contacting her. The best he could do was walk to her house and speak with her parents, who agreed to pass his apology along when they could.”

Nori is a good person, and at least he didn’t do the utterly dumb thing, where one doesn’t make the move or effort to communicate at all.
__

“Nori had no further interest in going on a journey. He didn't even want to later if it turned out he could afford one, and somehow changed his mind on them. He wasn't going to go back on his decision. He'd badly messed things up. And going back on it later would just make things worse...”

No. Wrong. No one messed up here.

“He heard that journeys could change a person, that they were a coming of age. It did not take an expert to see that Claris looked miserable. What happened?!

She gave him no answers, turning and walking away. She entered a limousine and was gone.

He'd missed out. He knew it, and lots of others had been unafraid to tell him it. This cemented it. All because he couldn't put aside his personal feelings for his friend's sake.”

“Nori clasped the toy car and held it to his chest. He was not religious, but he made a vow at that moment.”

Nice work building the story to a crashing crushing crumbling. It feels a bit sudden, but real-life timeskips can work that way.

__

That’s a powerful ending. Once again contrasting the different styles of the two people.

“This one incident drove them apart, and shaped who they would become.”

Strong ending. Hurtful. In the stated sense, realistic.
 

System Error

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That’s cool of you to have read and reviewed nearly every oneshot story. I’m attempting to my version of that and lagging/struggling to, when it should be very doable.
I couldn't find time for them all, but I tried to make sure I could get as many as possible.

Sorry to hear you were dealing with some pains that might have been extra strong while writing this. Glad you have a zeroth to your meatseries metaseries out now, and I see you have something in the works already!
Yeah, it's awful. The hilarious thing is, when it was in its starting stages and I wasn't paying it much heed since it was like a lull, I was doing like 2000-3000 words a day on another thing. Really, takes murderous pain to keep me down.

Start of the story, setting up Claris and Nori as opposites. A good contrast, and something of a characteristics 2x2 in that last line. Appearances can belie substance.
Love and like are two different things. You can be liked but not loved, and loved but not liked.

In the case of a rising star like Claris, it may be the case that they’re generally not allowed to neglect their duty to play their mask and/or star roles at all times, contributing to atrophy of ‘normal’ relationships, ‘normal’ emotions, further exacerbating the divide of the mask-to-reality ratio.
Fortunately for Claris, she doesn't have to go that far. But, this is very much something that plagues the series' other protagonist, besides Nori.

Feeling very relieved for Nori. The following notes are not an excuse to ignore the importance of a good and safe economic and social system for babies and children, but do highlight that a parent’s care can do much to ameliorate the real physiological (and psychological) cost of poverty.
Pretty much, yes.

Sounds like a good person and child. The ability to fit in and connect with different sets of people is not to be taken for granted or underestimated. [I’m jealous]
It's not all a good thing. It can mean you have few real friends. And sometimes trying to play to all sides means you please nobody in the end.

(Pokemon capitalization)

Ayyyyyyy, lmaoooo
I always have to fire those shots in the first chapter of any of the metaseries. The most recent was the hardest and most awkward, though.

Everything can have its downsides, definitely including popularity.
This is, in fact, a theme of the metaseries. As well as the opposite: there's upsides to everything, too.

What is scarce is valuable, and reputation not preceding reality provides an opportunity for a non-anchored get-to-know.
Indeed. Nori is so poor he never saw the movie. And if he heard about it, he didn't think much of it.

Okay!!! I have deduced your foreshadowing with the utmost of cognitive insights!!! Green refers the verdance of youthful childhood, and of a newly blossoming new friendship! Red of course refers to blood! The blood of a friendship rend apart by misunderstandings and mis-matched/torn care-abouts or whatever else. Whyyyyyy do this, no sad stories please
Well, symbolism like that is sporadic. I mostly focus on other things besides colors. That said, it being a red flower that's the first thing found is very much symbolic!

Aside, if I knew there were going to be so many dark stories, I might've done something different here. Still, feel I differentiated this from others enough, keeping it positive most of the way through and just having a melancholy ending.

Wholesome characterization.
As it should be for child characters. :>

Agency can be a scarcity for a star, eh.
A sad fact.

Ahh, how sweet : o

This is so sweet. (It has to be sweet before the stated fall, right?)

:heart-eyes: :heart-eyes:
Having experienced one myself (before our parents had a falling out), childhood romance can be very sweet! Strangely, I didn't draw on any of my own experiences for this...

Nori is fair.
There's lots of people out there who want to take advantage of others' friendship, sadly. This is a distinct trait about Nori: he may be poor, but he's almost hesitant to accept others' generosity, out of modesty and fairness. Contrast with someone rich who always wants more - not Claris of course.

Oh, good on Nori. (for not starting a fight)
As an aside, this is loosely based on one of my own experiences in eighth grade. Some kid got mad, forget if it was because of me, but he dropped my binder on the ground before storming out. I just sat there the whole time. This was intended to highlight Nori maturing a bit. Maybe even imply he wasn't as bad as people thought to begin with.

Aww, hand squeeze.
:3

what : o (on influential families)
The Schraders are recurring characters in the metaseries. They're third only to the Joy and Jenny families, and are used whenever I need a reporter character (and the newest is going to feature one as a supporting character). Though they have individual characteristics, unlike Joy/Jenny. But yes, it's very much a "what" moment.

Bam. But it looks good and is a work itself.
This was actually inspired by me as a kid. Though I was more "I don't want to ruin this effort," and Nori is more "practical to the point of not seeing the point".

(Aside, I removed a little bit here that I couldn't make not-awkward. Somehow I didn't save any version of it, but in the paragraph about Nori being practical, an incident was mentioned where he expressed his disbelief at some fancy thing that Claris' father bought, right to his face. It got a positive reaction, since he saw it as Nori knowing how to handle/not waste money.)

(Claris' bit about her feelings for Nori) sounds mature and real.
It can be a big problem when you're rich and/or famous. People who like you for what you have, and not you. Was trying to balance that paragraph with the fact that Claris is still a kid, with her facing an adult problem. Glad that part seems to have come out right. :)

Still practical, and thinking about the costs and opportunity costs, and whether it is even affordable at all.
As I mentioned in some other review replies, the cost factor in a journey is something that's rarely covered in fanfics. Or if it is, it's a big focus. I'm aiming for a healthy medium: I cover it, but it's not a focus. Nori could in fact go on a journey due to all the free services for trainers, it's just the question of what to do after will come up.

That is nice that his mom supports the idea.
In the first of the metaseries, this is actually something she tries to force on him, for certain reasons. After all if he somehow does succeed as a trainer, that'd be one way to cover his future.

Damn, Nori : o
Now this. This is actually an important part of Nori's overall characterization being pretty much spelled out, and more importantly explained. Him wanting to do meaningful things was a big part of his struggle in the first (and probably others), but this gives some insight to some (but not all) of the reasons as to why that's the case.

Did you specifically mean “farsighted” here, as a weakness? Interesting.
It's arguable whether it's just him mixing up the two words. It could technically be said that Nori's being nearsighted. But yes, it does fit being too farsighted too and was the intent: Nori is thinking about his future too much without focusing on his present. One of the major themes of the metaseries is those who are not able to enjoy life as a kid.

Yes yes, here’s the moment. The moment of lost opportunity to communicate.

The moment to flip all the tables
Indeed.

Nori is a good person, and at least he didn’t do the utterly dumb thing, where one doesn’t make the move or effort to communicate at all.
Yup. It's a scene I wish I could've shown in further detail. But then as mentioned in some others, space constraints. And if I showed how Nori interacts with Claris' parents, I'd have to show how Claris interacts with his mom.

No. Wrong. No one messed up here.
One of Nori's biggest flaws is his tendancy to blame himself for things. He isn't mindless about it, but he does get very hung up on "what could I have done differently?" too much. Nori also HATES messing up. Put the two together, and...yeah, he can be way too hard on himself!

Nice work building the story to a crashing crushing crumbling. It feels a bit sudden, but real-life timeskips can work that way.
Sadly. The reality of it is, things can fall apart overnight, or just with one incident. Life can be sudden, spontaneous, hurtful. Some things you just aren't prepared for.

That’s a powerful ending. Once again contrasting the different styles of the two people.

Strong ending. Hurtful. In the stated sense, realistic.
Glad the ending clicked. It was something I was slightly concerned about, but seems it was okay enough at worst! Thanks for reading and replying!
 

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So. With the results now published, the first of my post-competition reviews.

I don't recall any major technical flubs, and my notes seem to bear this out. It seems like it ought to be a given, but in this competition it wasn't - there's sufficient attention to detail on the formatting for the forum.

From a competitive standpoint, I think this choice of prologue was a mistake. For it to succeed in its own right you have to get the reader to care about the characters within the space of the story. I think this leans too heavily on your other stories in the series to get that investment. Perhaps without the 10,000 word constraint you wouldn't need to narrate so much of the underlying backstory and thus be able to show more of it.

I was somewhat more conflicted about the theme. You seem to have picked up on the idea of playing around with tropes, because there's a strong idea of subverting the joruneyfic clichés in there - two friends don't have dovetailing goals and poor communication puts the final nail in the coffin. Whether that entirely fits "Right Character, Wrong Genre" is up for debate and I never entirely made my mind up on that point.
 

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I don't recall any major technical flubs, and my notes seem to bear this out. It seems like it ought to be a given, but in this competition it wasn't - there's sufficient attention to detail on the formatting for the forum.
Honestly, it's this that surprises me more than anything else. Had to go through everything myself and last minute, and I didn't really mangle anything badly.

From a competitive standpoint, I think this choice of prologue was a mistake. For it to succeed in its own right you have to get the reader to care about the characters within the space of the story. I think this leans too heavily on your other stories in the series to get that investment.
You'd only be half-correct, give or take 10%. This is actually Claris' first appearance in the series. Having some knowledge for Nori helps, but I tried to make it as unneeded as possible - prior knowledge mainly helps on his home life side of things. But for her it doesn't lean on anything at all except what's here, and from the above reviews, I feel comfortable saying I did adequately. Not great either, though, given...

Perhaps without the 10,000 word constraint you wouldn't need to narrate so much of the underlying backstory and thus be able to show more of it.
...a problem I noticed with a lot of these, mine admittedly being no exception. Needing more space to properly do what you need to do with the story. That said, as mentioned, also partially has to do with that I was rushing this out. Given more time, I probably could've figured a way around that.

I was somewhat more conflicted about the theme. You seem to have picked up on the idea of playing around with tropes, because there's a strong idea of subverting the joruneyfic clichés in there - two friends don't have dovetailing goals and poor communication puts the final nail in the coffin. Whether that entirely fits "Right Character, Wrong Genre" is up for debate and I never entirely made my mind up on that point.
Now for this. For the approach, I decided to go with something different. Instead of a fish out of water approach, I went for youthful naivete making the characters not realize things about how the world is. Or the situation. The last scene touches what those themes were. The journeyfic subversion (from both ends!) is only part of it. The main things are their personal ones, like how Nori is too realist for the romance genre. This one was better defined than Claris being too idealist (sheltered?) for a harsh(er) world - one hint of this being not thinking about money issues with Pokemon training. Probably could've had more in there, if I had more time/words. Again, a problem. >_<

If it feels clunky, yes. It may well be. It's because I changed the idea from strictly being about the journey partway through. Nori was originally MUCH ruder about the journey, hence the working name "The Boy Who Didn't Want to Journey". He kind of really deserved to lose Claris as a friend. When I realized that was out of character though, I downplayed it and introduced the points above. Making BOTH characters fit the theme.
 

kintsugi

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hi, here for judging--I'm sorry this is so late. This year has been hellish, but on the down side it sounds like it's been hellish for everyone. Hopefully by the time you're reading this, you've fully recovered from that murder pain you were dealing with earlier.

---

Overall thoughts--I liked the concept here, and I thought it was clever to have both characters being wrong for each other, which in a sense shapes them into the wrong genre. Fun twist on the theme. I liked Claris's characterization in broad strokes, and I think you use that to seed most of the conflict here: of course she'd seek independence, and of course she'd do so without realizing that she's got resources that simply aren't accessible to Nori. Briefly skimming through reviews, I guess I'll put my hat in "kids can act pretty mature and this isn't completely out of the ordinary" camp, and I think you do a good job of selling me on why these particular kids act more mature for their ages.

Probably a strong ask, since this is a prologue to a metaseries that focuses primarily on Nori and I imagine that's where you choose to really get into the weeds with him, but I wish we got more on his end. I'm not sure exactly what you wanted to get across in his first grade characterization--I got the impression that he was a bit socially unaware (not knowing who Claris is, let alone that she is is the Most Special), earnest, unafraid to go outside of the box to win (pay to win color project), and not squeamish/instead inclined to turn the bleeding into an advantage for him. The flash to fourth grade, saying he's grown a lot, doesn't really land to me, since it quickly goes to a scene where he's much more smug and less calm--like yes, he doesn't flinch when Abraham rushes him, but he purposefully incites this reaction, which didn't quite jive with Claris' "he was more mature". There are are a few lines like "he liked to call people stupid morons as a kid" that also feel incongruous since we do see him as a kid and he doesn't call anyone a stupid moron; nor do we see him use his catchphrase on Abraham Smith. I wasn't sure if this was supposed to be a jab at Claris definitely Missing the Point here, but the conclusion with these two falls apart because they're bad at talking to each other (and arguably that Nori has a better grasp/is more cautious of the barriers that might prevent him from journeying), not because Claris incorrectly classifies Nori as a calm and mature adult when he's still picking fights he knows he doesn't have to win.

Claris was in blue and white clothing that gave the illusion of being a dress. She wore long white socks and heels just a couple millimeters high. A vivid red ribbon was tied into her flowing blonde hair.
He was in a blue jean shirt and jean shorts.
He was dressed in a blue shirt that she'd bought for him last year for Christmas, as well as black jeans.
She was in a designer outfit. A frilly sky blue shirt with white frills on the sleeves and neck, along with a matching white skirt that went just above her knees.
A boy in a simple white shirt and dark green shorts.
I noticed a running trend with clothing descriptions, but I'm not entirely sure what the motif was here. I get why Claris would point them out (although some of these don't really feel like they're from her--the first one in particular). There's certainly something to be said about running themes of color, self-expression, the difference between Claris' designer wardrobe and Nori's gifted one, but I don't quite know where this thread was going.

This is the story of how they met, and what broke them apart.
It was one day when they were in fourth grade that everything changed.
I'm a pretty big fan of big dramatic statements about how the story is going to fall to shit, and I think the prologue was effective for setting up the broad strokes. I also think you get more leeway in mini-prologues like this since you can blatantly state stuff without having the burden of having to prove it or anything. I thought the closing line re: how they met/what broke them apart was a good hook, since we immediately get stakes and outcomes of the situation, as well as loose outlines for who the two main characters are. The bookends with the end are also nice, although I'm not sure if you even needed it. The opener is basically "this is how different people can be friends; just kidding, they aren't friends", while the closer is "this is how different people ended up not being friends". I found the racecar promise a bit more poignant as far as an ending point.

The middle bit, where they transition to fourth grade--this one feels really rushed to me. My understanding is that you were butting up against a bunch of issues + deadlines + word counts, and I think you do know how to pace a good story, so I don't want to harp too hard, but this summary section was a bit rough + a lot of summarizing in a story that is served by focusing on subtle character development. I'm also not sure what gets added here, since we know from the first one that they're friends who are going to break apart.

In general I find the passage of time and the closeness of characters that time passing creates is probably the hardest thing to convey in fiction. Sometimes the prose slips into summary and I don't think it lands for me--both because I find that summaries aren't super capable of conveying character development/friendships, and also for the aforementioned reasons that they seem to contradict what we've actually been told. This one stuck out to me in particular:
Even after he found out she was famous, Nori never treated Claris any differently. The two always hung out, and even as they found other kids to be friends with, they always considered themselves each other's best(est) friend. They visited each other's homes, and sometimes slept over. Both were surprised at the size of where the other lived. Other times they would go for walks together, usually holding hands. They would visit parks and have picnics. Nori would take her to explore the city or wilderness. Claris would take him to eat, see entertainment, or invite him to formal gatherings and film shoots.
And I'm a bit torn--I think a combination of "young kids often become friends for transactional rather than personal reasons" and "deadlines/word counts" seem to hit you here, but reading this doesn't feel like reading a story; it feels a bit more like a Wikipedia article. I know you're constrained spacewise so again, not really something I wanted to harp on, but overall I got less of the feeling that these two were friends than I did the feeling that you wanted us to know they were friends. For story purposes I think the latter works, but the former is much more effective.

Overall--I like the broad strokes here; some of the detailwork could probably come out with time. Some macro-level thoughts:

More subtle was how she had many friends yet few who were genuine, whereas he had only a few while still being liked and respected by almost everyone.
I didn't understand the dichotomy here--she has many friends (which implies some respect, unless we're going very deep into false friendship, which I don't think this story was really aiming for) but few real ones; he has few friends but has many people who respect him. This felt like the same thing.

It ruined the take, but the director found it so appropriate that it was written into the script. Claris proved she had a knack for acting by not only being able to convincingly cry on cue, but through her little reactions which helped sell the scenes she was in.
I wasn't entirely clear on "it ruined the take", since it becomes clear that this does not ruin the take. Something like "At first, her parents were afraid she'd ruined the take, but the director found it so appropriate [...]" might help. The "not only"/"but through" structure in the second sentence doesn't quite parse for me either.

They had been learning about hues and basic color composition. As part of this, they were to partner up to search around the school, filling a bag with as many different objects of their chosen color as possible and stating their hue.
I'm not sure what "stating their hue" would actually look like in words, especially for reds. Most strictly-hue variants (i.e ones that don't vary saturation/color) aren't really human-parseable as colors. It feels like you're dancing around using the word color multiple times here.

There was one person who caught her attention. A boy in a simple white shirt and dark green shorts. As everyone else was scampering around, the chestnut-haired boy sat in calm solitude.

She found herself being drawn to him. Perhaps it was curiosity. She walked around the other kids and over to his desk. "Um, hello," she politely greeted.

"Hi!" was the simple response.

"Why are you by yourself?"
In general your prose is simple and effective; everything is made clear + you don't have to deal with the issues of obfuscating similes or anything. It makes for an easy read. Sometimes the style felt more stilted, like here--it's due in part to the simple, very short sentences all back-to-back here. The result is that the scene feels awkward, which may be what you want, but then I wish there was more of transition/payoff here--if the other scenes where they're friends and get along feel more fluid, then this one would stand out, or something.

"I..." He peered at his index finger. Claris shivered, having to look away. He'd cut himself. But to her surprise, Nori's face wasn't pained. In fact, it flashed with realization. "Wait, red! Do you have...somethin' we can put this on?!"
I liked both that this happens and that it gets taken to its logical conclusion with the teacher, haha.

Mr. Rust sighed. "Thank you for not starting a fight, Carino."
I struggled to picture the sequence here. Did Mr. Rust just sit back and watch this escalate, only to chime in now?

It certainly stood out among more beloved Pokemon like Eevee, but she figured it must be popular itself for some reason if it was one of their options.
I thought this was a nice bit of subtle characterization here. Of course she's picking what she thinks is popular, but she's also tired of being shepherded into the "popular" picks.

She retrieved it from her wallet and showed it off to her friend. His eyes went wide in equal parts amazement and astonishment. She had been thinking about it for the longest time, ever since first grade. Now it had finally happened.
I'm not sure why the narration switches to Nori for this second sentence--if the emphasis supposed to be that she was waiting for his response, I think it'd help to have he react to it a bit more. Otherwise, it just feels out of place among the Claris-centric bits here.

Claris lightly shut her eyes. That came out as perfectly as she had hoped.
I liked this bit here too; makes sense that she'd be rehearsing this and puts a lot of stake in a picture-perfect performance.
 

System Error

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hi, here for judging--I'm sorry this is so late. This year has been hellish, but on the down side it sounds like it's been hellish for everyone. Hopefully by the time you're reading this, you've fully recovered from that murder pain you were dealing with earlier.
Well, I have other worries now that maybe be more severe, but the murder pain is long gone thanks to a root canal. Ironically I was on a hot streak of writing when it was in its early stages, but then it got to be way too much, especially with having to constantly hold water to dull the pain.

Overall thoughts--I liked the concept here, and I thought it was clever to have both characters being wrong for each other, which in a sense shapes them into the wrong genre. Fun twist on the theme.
As I mentioned a couple times, a fun fact is that it was originally just Nori who was wrong. But when I felt it didn't fit his characterization, I adjusted it and had both be wrong.

Probably a strong ask, since this is a prologue to a metaseries that focuses primarily on Nori and I imagine that's where you choose to really get into the weeds with him, but I wish we got more on his end.
Yeah, it's the biggest thing I'm pretty unsatisfied about here. The lost third grade section would've been from his perspective.

I got the impression that he was a bit socially unaware (not knowing who Claris is, let alone that she is is the Most Special
There's actually a very clever reason behind him not knowing. Because he's so poor, he hasn't seen the movie with Claris in it that pretty much everyone else has - and likely didn't have an interest in it either. That's why he didn't know who she was. That said, he's the type who treats people equally (to a fault sometimes), so it didn't change anything after. Not knowing allowed for that initial interaction, though.

The flash to fourth grade, saying he's grown a lot, doesn't really land to me, since it quickly goes to a scene where he's much more smug and less calm--like yes, he doesn't flinch when Abraham rushes him, but he purposefully incites this reaction, which didn't quite jive with Claris' "he was more mature".
Heh, this is fair! I guess in that sense, he is more mature, but that's relatively speaking. Again, a case of not having that third grade scene to show a more gradual transition. The younger Nori would've yelled and started a fistfight.

There are are a few lines like "he liked to call people stupid morons as a kid" that also feel incongruous since we do see him as a kid and he doesn't call anyone a stupid moron; nor do we see him use his catchphrase on Abraham Smith.
This was actually shown in a cut scene that I wasn't sure how to handle and ended up snipping without thinking about the implications. Short of it is, all the kids trying to be Claris' partner would be all 'you don't want to partner with him' and he'd fire back at them, calling one a stupid moron. It is one of his catchphrases in the metaseries proper, that said, and I figured it should be in here in some capacity.

not because Claris incorrectly classifies Nori as a calm and mature adult when he's still picking fights he knows he doesn't have to win.
See above, and that is actually a character flaw that he has to overcome.

I noticed a running trend with clothing descriptions, but I'm not entirely sure what the motif was here. I get why Claris would point them out (although some of these don't really feel like they're from her--the first one in particular). There's certainly something to be said about running themes of color, self-expression, the difference between Claris' designer wardrobe and Nori's gifted one, but I don't quite know where this thread was going.
It was just simple description. Emphasis on simple, as I've been trying not to get too carried away with that. Now that I think about it though, yeah. Given it's from Claris' perspective, maybe it should've been more detailed?

I'm a pretty big fan of big dramatic statements about how the story is going to fall to shit, and I think the prologue was effective for setting up the broad strokes.
Those lines went through several revisions, glad to see I got them right. :D

In general I find the passage of time and the closeness of characters that time passing creates is probably the hardest thing to convey in fiction. Sometimes the prose slips into summary and I don't think it lands for me--both because I find that summaries aren't super capable of conveying character development/friendships, and also for the aforementioned reasons that they seem to contradict what we've actually been told.
Yeah. When you're showing only two days in a friendship, many years apart, that's kind of unavoidable. It's definitely hard - even in my current fic I'm sometimes second-guessing if it's clunky in places (even though that's going day-by-day).

but reading this doesn't feel like reading a story; it feels a bit more like a Wikipedia article. I know you're constrained spacewise so again, not really something I wanted to harp on, but overall I got less of the feeling that these two were friends than I did the feeling that you wanted us to know they were friends. For story purposes I think the latter works, but the former is much more effective.
To be honest, this was actually originally planned as a full-on prequel fic. Still would've been jumping around a lot, but it would've shown a lot more. However, I felt I could work most of the content into other fics in the metaseries, so I discarded the idea and used the contest as an excuse to write this part which I couldn't, especially since it's an important part of how Nori became who he was.

Regardless I'm not entirely satisified and unsure what I want to do with it. Ideally: write an expanded version focusing on the Nori/Claris relationship.

I didn't understand the dichotomy here--she has many friends (which implies some respect, unless we're going very deep into false friendship, which I don't think this story was really aiming for) but few real ones; he has few friends but has many people who respect him. This felt like the same thing.
This is addressing a somewhat complex concept: the difference between being liked and being loved. Oftentimes they're the same thing, but it's very possible to be loved and not liked, and liked but not loved. One example would be a person in a position of leadership who makes proper decisions even if they're unpopular. That gives you love as a leader for doing the right thing, but people aren't going to like you for it.

Claris has a lot of people who enjoy her as an actress, but few who actually care for Claris Willins the person. They love her, but don't like her. Nori on the other hand is liked by his peers for several reasons, but he doesn't get love for it.

I wasn't entirely clear on "it ruined the take", since it becomes clear that this does not ruin the take. Something like "At first, her parents were afraid she'd ruined the take, but the director found it so appropriate [...]" might help. The "not only"/"but through" structure in the second sentence doesn't quite parse for me either.
Yeah, should've made that one more clear. For the record: the other actors were implied to be so thrown off that they broke character. But it was fitting in the context of the scene, so it was written in and used in future takes.

I'm not sure what "stating their hue" would actually look like in words, especially for reds. Most strictly-hue variants (i.e ones that don't vary saturation/color) aren't really human-parseable as colors. It feels like you're dancing around using the word color multiple times here.
Well, they're learning about hues. The scavenger hunt isn't just for fun, it's part of their lesson. They can get all these kinds of red things here, but what kinds of reds are they? The teacher probably isn't looking for too much, but it's a thing I put in to make it feel like more of an actual project.

In general your prose is simple and effective; everything is made clear + you don't have to deal with the issues of obfuscating similes or anything. It makes for an easy read. Sometimes the style felt more stilted, like here--it's due in part to the simple, very short sentences all back-to-back here. The result is that the scene feels awkward, which may be what you want, but then I wish there was more of transition/payoff here--if the other scenes where they're friends and get along feel more fluid, then this one would stand out, or something.
Sometimes, talking goes that way. It feeling awkward was very much intentional. Fair on the transition/payoff though.

I liked both that this happens and that it gets taken to its logical conclusion with the teacher, haha.
Crazy actions like that do have consequences.

I struggled to picture the sequence here. Did Mr. Rust just sit back and watch this escalate, only to chime in now?
Yes.

I thought this was a nice bit of subtle characterization here. Of course she's picking what she thinks is popular, but she's also tired of being shepherded into the "popular" picks.
Yup, glad you caught that. This was actually a light reference to an old experience of mine too: in an old magazine, I saw a list of the ten most popular Pokemon in Japan. Poliwhirl was listed at #9, which was very confusing to child me! It wasn't a fully evolved starter, or a legendary, or a super strong Pokemon, or the series mascot. It even got some attention given to it by western marketing, like being one of those Burger King gold plaque things. Of course now I know it's likely because Red had one in Adventures. But had no way of knowing that back then, hence the confusion.

I'm not sure why the narration switches to Nori for this second sentence--if the emphasis supposed to be that she was waiting for his response, I think it'd help to have he react to it a bit more. Otherwise, it just feels out of place among the Claris-centric bits here.
It's not switching, it's just awkward phrasing that can make it look that way. The last two are Claris' thoughts, and the second is her seeing Nori's reaction. Yeah, more reaction from him probably would've helped there. x-x

I liked this bit here too; makes sense that she'd be rehearsing this and puts a lot of stake in a picture-perfect performance.
I felt it was fitting. Especially for a child actress. Plenty of people go over things in their head before saying them. I know I have a couple times.
 
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