Big Macintosh had picked this spot out for his date with Twilight Sparkle for several reasons. First and foremost, it was quiet and secluded - it wasn't as if he was going to try to make a move on her or anything. As polite and pretty as the unicorn may have been, the red stallion had no interest in her. Rather, he planned on telling Twilight a thing or two about both herself and his own sister, and to do so, he was going to have to dig up some secrets that had been buried long ago. Such things were best discussed away from others, lest they begin to spread about, and these were already rather sensitive things to be discussing with another.
The second reason? That was easy enough - he had come to this place time and time again whenever he needed to think about something. It was a tiny pond, with a babbling brook and a tree hanging over it, and it was almost the very meaning of 'serene'. Macintosh had spent a lot of time here after his sister's first romance had begun, and he had spent even more time here after it had ended. It was his own little sanctuary of sorts, a place where the stallion could go to distance himself from the rest of the world while he thought on various things. The faint sound of hooves upon the grass quickly told him that he was not alone, though.
The red stallion turned and looked over his shoulder, offering the new arrival a friendly smile. "Looks like ya found me easy enough, Miss Twilight. C'mon over an' have a seat."
Twilight Sparkle did as told, slowly walking over and taking a seat beside Big Macintosh. She fidgeted and glanced around the area, and her ears repeatedly flapped for one reason or another - things that did not escape the stallion's watchful eye. It was clear that the lavender mare was nervous, but whether or not she would actually admit to such a thing was unknown. "So, um... nice spot. It's... really nice?"
"Miss Twilight, I didn' bring ya out here 'cause of th' date. I brought ya out here 'cause there's somethin' ya need ta know."
"Oh." Twilight seemed surprised at how blunt Big Macintosh was, though it seemed to run in the family. Applejack acted much the same way at times, as did Apple Bloom. "Sooo... what do I need to know?"
"Do ya know why I only use one-word responses?" He turned to look at the unicorn, and when she remained silent, he continued. "It's so folks think I'm a simpleton."
She blinked at him, confused by such a statement. "...and that does what, exactly?"
"Well, when folks think I'm a simpleton, they let their guard down. All th' other ponies go 'Oh, that's jus' Macintosh. He ain't too bright, so it's not like he's gonna know any better', an' they jus' go ahead an' blab away with me right there. They underestimate me, an' I use that ta mah advantage. 'Cause of that, I've grown awfully perceptive over th' years. I see an' hear a whole lot of things, an' I know how ta find those same things."
"So, wait. Lemme get this straight - you've purposely been acting the way you do, just so you can get an edge?" Twilight seemed utterly astounded by such news. She knew Big Macintosh was an incredibly hard worker, and both Applejack and Apple Bloom always stated that he was the best brother a pony could wish for, but she had no idea that he was such a shrewd businessman. "...you purposely play dumb, you see and hear more than you should, and you use that to your advantage."
"Eeexactly. I've always told AJ that it was jus' 'cause I've got social anxiety or somethin', but a lot of th' farm's success has been 'cause of mah little game. Applejack was always a lil'... too honest ta do it. Made her awfully gullible when she was younger too." Macintosh turned away from Twilight and looked towards the pond. "Ya see, Miss Twilight, I see an awful lot of things. Things other ponies don' see. Small, subtle things, but I still see 'em."
Twilight Sparkle raised an eyebrow and looked up at him. "Big Mac, I'm not sure what this has to do with our da-"
"Yer livin' a lie, Miss Twilight."
She stopped herself mid-sentence and stared at the stallion. "...w-what?"
"I said yer livin' a lie. Yer deludin' yerself. This entire date of yers is a waste of time, but I know why. I've seen th' signs. I know ya couldn' see it for yerself, but when AJ firs' came back from th' trip you two went on, she was pretty darn happy. It wasn' jus' because Granny was gettin' better - there was somethin' else, and it took me forever ta figure out, but I finally got it. It was you, Miss Twilight. You were that somethin' else." Big Macintosh turned back towards the lavender mare and smiled at her, though she seemed completely shocked by what she was being told.
"What... what are you trying to say, Macintosh?"
"I've seen how both of ya are. How ya look at each other. How ya talk ta each other. How ya act an' move around each other. AJ's got a bit of a crush on ya, Miss Twilight. Talks about ya in her sleep some times. Shoot, some days, yer th' only pony she even talks about. She'll mention how she wants ta see ya, or talk with ya. She's got a crush on ya, Miss Twilight, and it wouldn' surprise me if ya felt th' same."
Twilight was absolutely flabbergasted as she heard everything the red stallion told her, and she was a bit unnerved at just how much Big Macintosh apparently knew. If she didn't know any better, she would've sworn that he had used some long-forgotten spell to delve into her thoughts, but he had done everything purely through detective work. He had watched their body language and seen things that neither of them had, and a small part of her was impressed by such work. At this point, however, it was futile for her to try and hide things any further, especially after everything he had apparently seen. "...okay, so... I might have a bit of an infatuation with your sister."
"Might have an infatuation? Miss Twilight, it's a full-blown crush. Gotta say, though - you two make fer an awfully cute couple. Took a peek into AJ's room after ya spent th' night with us, an' I saw both of ya in bed together."
"Y-you saw that?!" The unicorn blushed furiously and placed both front hooves over her face as she tried to hide it. "It wasn't what it looked like! Honest!"
Big Macintosh chuckled and slowly shook his head. "Naw, I know you two didn' do nothin', Miss Twilight. I'd say that blush of yers gave away how ya really feel, though... didn' it?"
"...maybe? Okay, even if I did have a crush on your sister, wouldn't that be a little... weird? Having a crush on your best friend?" Twilight pulled the hooves away from her face and glanced up at the stallion. She honestly had no idea why she was still trying to pretend like she didn't have a crush on Applejack. After all, Big Macintosh had seen right through that.
"Miss Twilight, yer new at this, aren' ya? It's actually pretty normal fer two friends ta end up bein' more than... well, friends. That's how Mister an' Missus Cake apparently ended up together - jus' friends, an' it got bumped up a notch."
The lavender mare blinked at him for a moment. "Okay, so... it's completely normal for this sort of thing to happen. But what if I try and talk to her about it, and Applejack ends up hating me for it?"
"Hate ya? Why would she go an' do that? After everythin' th' two of you have done, I doubt she's gonna hate ya simply 'cause ya spoke yer mind an' told her what was botherin' ya. Besides, AJ's got a crush on ya herself, even if she won' admit it jus' yet. I think she's still a bit sore over ya askin' me out, though."
Twilight groaned and covered her face with her hooves once more. "Not my finest moment... I shouldn't have just left like that. I should've told her how I felt, or maybe-"
Big Macintosh placed a hoof on her mouth, silencing her, and he slowly shook his head. "What's done is done, Miss Twilight. Ya can' ever change that, but ya can make up fer it. There's still time ta get this all sorted out. If yer dead-set on tellin' AJ how ya feel, though, there's somethin' else you oughta know."
"I get th' feelin' ya already know. Ya see, yer not th' firs' ta catch AJ's attention - there was another, a year or two before ya came ta Ponyville. I need ta tell ya th' full story of that. I jus' gotta, so that... maybe I can keep it from happenin' again. Ya see, Miss Twilight, it all started when..."
It all started when he showed up in town. He was an earth pony stallion, light brown coat and piercin' blue eyes. A 'farmer like us', he said. The guy soon proved to be stiff competition, selling his oranges right alongside our own apples. Applejack didn't take kindly to that - you see, in Ponyville, everypony knew everypony else. All the vendors knew to give one another plenty of space so we could all hawk our wares, but this guy didn't care. Sat up his cart right next to ours every single morning, even after myself and AJ both tried to tell him how things went around here.
This happened morning after morning, and my sister finally got fed up with it. She marched right up to him and stared him down, demanding to know why he wouldn't move his cart. "I'm just looking to do a bit of friendly business," he said. "Or are you afraid of some competition?"
Now this fella had a real silver tongue to him. Knew just what to say and when to say it. He riled up AJ awfully bad with those words, and he intended to do it too. I've never seen Applejack work so hard to sell our stock, and sales were good for a while. Over time, she began to calm down, and the presence of the new guy irritated her less and less. Eventually, we introduced ourselves - he seemed to recognize the Apple family name, though looking back on it, it was probably another one of his lies... I'll get to that part eventually.
He introduced himself to us as Midsweet. Said he was a traveling salesman, traveling Equestria to carry on his family tradition of selling oranges. His travels had brought him to Ponyville, and he was looking to sell most of his stock before winter, at which point he would return home. As for where 'home' was, he would never tell us. Dodged the question every time. Instead, he'd turn it around on us, asking about our family or Sweet Apple Acres. He was starting to look like a rather shifty character to me, but I stayed quiet. After all, he was new in town, and it wasn't exactly polite of me to be suspicious of newcomers. Things between us and Midsweet stayed cordial... for a while.
Then something began to change. I can't point out when or where it started, but him and AJ began to have an eye for one another, and it became increasingly common for the two of them to chat during any breaks. Eventually, Applejack began to ask me to keep my distance during breaks, so she and Midsweet could chat in private. Not long after that, she asked me to stop coming to the market entirely. "I can sell the stock myself," she said. "You've been working too hard."
I knew better than that. Her and Midsweet were starting to get awful close, and she was afraid I wouldn't approve. I didn't care much, really - she had been a grown mare for a few years at that point, and I knew it was only a matter of time until she found that special pony. Only thing I really cared about was her own happiness, and so I stayed quiet on the matter. Went with her plans, so she could continue to spend time alone with him.
Applejack came home one day, said she had some good news. Midsweet had asked her out on a date during one of their breaks, and she had gladly agreed. They went out later that week, and from everything I could see, it went well. I mean, AJ was happy. Not much else mattered. They went out on another date, and then another. Now, back in those days, I took care of all the financial stuff for the family. Slowly but surely, Applejack's personal savings began to dwindle. I stayed quiet on the matter - after all, it was her money, not mine. She could do what she wanted with it.
I began to have my suspicions, though. AJ had never really been a big spender, and she still isn't even to this day. Her savings had only started to drain after Midsweet showed up in town. I confronted her and pointed out that she had been spending quite a few bits as of late. She brushed it off, said that she and Midsweet had been buying gifts for one another, to show their affection. I asked where the gifts were that he had gotten for her. "Oh, he has to ship them in from out of town. They'll come eventually," she said. They never did.
Remember when I said that AJ was awfully gullible when she was younger? Somepony else had taken advantage of that, and I knew just who it was. I warned her to stop seeing Midsweet and to stay away from him, that he was using her. My little sister flew into a fit of rage, said that I 'didn't understand'. That, deep down, he was a nice guy. That I was wrong. I wanted to believe her, I really did - I mean, he made her happy. Happiest she had ever been. And now I wanted her to stop seeing him, just because I was suspicious.
She was right, to an extent. It wasn't fair of me to demand such a thing out of her, and so I no longer brought it up. Days went by, and then weeks. Her and Midsweet went on more dates, and her money continued to disappear. I still had my suspicions, of course - every time I saw Midsweet, I'd ask him about his past. Sometimes, the stories changed. Sometimes, they stayed the same. He seemed to get real nervous around me, like he knew that I knew something was up. Still, I stayed quiet about it around AJ. It was her choice after all.
Applejack came home one day, as happy as could be. I asked what was going on, and she beamed up at me. "Midsweet proposed to me! He just needs a bit of money so he can move the rest of his stock up here from home, and then we'll open a farm of our very own!" she said. I tried to be happy for her. I wanted to be happy for her. I simply couldn't.
I should've said something, and I didn't. I stayed quiet, like I said I would. Like I had promised. I was a damn fool.
AJ gave Midsweet the money and he left town, saying that he would be back as soon as he had everything gathered up back home, and that they'd be together forever soon enough. Days went by, then weeks. Then months. Day after day, my sister patiently waited, saying that he'd be back soon enough. That he just had an awful lot to pack, and then he would return.
Then one day, I had to sit her down, and do the hardest thing I had ever done - I had to tell her what had happened. That she had been conned and scammed. That everything Midsweet had said and done had been a farce. A lie, just so he could squeeze some money out of her. And the worst part about it?
He didn't truly love her. He never had.
She laughed at me at first. Denied it all, and said that I was crazy. I can hardly blame her, you know. Her entire world was crashing down around her, and she didn't want to watch it. She didn't want to know that so much within her life had been undone by false promises. She denied it for several weeks, and as she began to finally accept it, she became furious. AJ broke an awful lot of furniture that week... but her heart had been twisted and broken. I think any of us would have done the same thing in that sort of situation.
Eventually, she calmed down and retreated inwards. Applejack became a shadow of her former self, barely eating and drinking, and hardly ever saying a word to any of us. Her life was in shambles, her money gone, and her heart broken, all because of one stallion and his lies. It was all because of him. To see her so hopeless broke my heart, and it pained me to know that my cheerful and hardworking sister had been reduced to nothing.
All because of him.
I took everything she had that was about Midsweet and placed it within a crate, hiding it in the barn, away from prying eyes. I wanted to burn it all, to destroy everything about that awful man and his 'legacy' - but I couldn't. It was a reminder of happier times, but also a painful lesson for both myself and Applejack. It took a few months for AJ to recover, and she was eventually smiling once more, but she had been forever changed. She became especially distrustful of outsiders, and refused to go the market by herself. She only recently got over those things, did it a few months before you first showed up.
I made a vow the day that I hid that crate. I knew that, one day, Applejack would yearn for another, and when that day came, I would have to be ready. Whoever it was, I would have to tell them everything, so that maybe I could keep this from happening again.
And that somepony is you.
"I..." Twilight Sparkle blinked and slowly shook her head, still slowly comprehending everything she had just been told. It seemed Applejack was full of all sorts of secrets, though it was quite obvious some of those were best left buried. "...poor Applejack. I never knew she went through that sort of thing."
"Yyyyep. There's a reason she don' like talkin' about it." Big Macintosh sighed and tilted his head a few times to stretch his neck. At the very least, the hard part was over - with the tale now out in the open, Twilight at least had a bit more insight into Applejack's past.
"...Midsweet is such a bastard."
The red stallion snorted and chuckled, glancing over at the unicorn and grinning. "We can both agree on that, Miss Twilight. There's jus' one more thing I need ta ask ya. I ain't gonna tell ya whether ta go after this crush of yers or not - that's yer choice, not mine. But... if ya decide ta do this, an' ya really do care that strongly about mah sister, stick with it. She's had her heart broken once already, an' I don' wanna see it happen again."
"I'll try, Big Mac. I... can't really make any promises, but I'll try." The lavender mare looked over at Big Macintosh, and he nodded knowingly. She still had a question of her own, though. "Macintosh, I gotta ask... why are you doing all this? I mean, I thought the Apple family was usually a little more... conservative. And I'm a mare, who may or may not have a crush on your sister. So, assuming I go through with this... they're not exactly gonna approve, are they?"
"Mm. That." The red stallion briefly closed his eyes, looking upwards for a moment before opening them once more. "Not all of us are like that, Miss Twilight. It's true, some of th' older generations are still a bit stuck in their ways, like Granny Smith or Uncle Apple Strudel. They say it's 'tradition', but th' younger generations know better. We know it's a changin' world out there, an' a lot of us are startin' ta see it a bit differently. Some of us, well... we'd rather jus' see folks happy than throw a fuss about what we think is right."
"So you really don't care?"
"Me? Naw. I'll admit, I'm still a bit stuck in th' old ways - I still sometimes think it's a bit odd ta see some couples out an' about, but... I'm tryin' ta change that. An' honestly, th' only thing that matters ta me is whether or not mah family's happy. If AJ is gonna find th' love an' happiness she deserves with another mare, I ain't gonna complain. Shoot, I'll probably root for it. That answer yer question, Miss Twilight?"
"It does." Twilight Sparkle sighed and looked down towards the ground, pawing at it with a hoof before continuing. "Big Macintosh, I just wanted to say thanks for... you know, talking some sense into me, I guess. The past few days have been kinda hard for me. I've had an awful lot on my mind, and I didn't know what was right or wrong, but... seems like all it took to get me through that was a story and a guiding hoof from another pony."
Macintosh smiled and nodded. "Sometimes that's all a pony needs, Miss Twilight. Somepony else ta give 'em a different perspective on things. I think it might be time fer us ta head out, though - we both got ponies we need ta have a lil' chat with. Jus' be a bit subtle when ya talk ta AJ. though. Simply ask if she wants ta meet ya somewhere. Trust me."
"...never thought I'd get dating advice about Applejack from her own brother, but... thanks again." The unicorn giggled and grinned as she stood up to leave, looking towards Big Macintosh one last time. "I'm kinda curious, though... who's the pony you have to talk to?"
"That, Miss Twilight, is a secret. I'm sure you'll hear 'bout it soon enough, though." He winked at her and stood up as well, quickly galloping away from the area and leaving Twilight Sparkle to ponder everything she had been told. It had been a bit of an odd 'date', but she felt much more comfortable knowing that everything she was going through was perfectly normal. Even better, Macintosh had seemingly approved of it and caught it long before either of them did - the stallion had surprised her quite a bit.
There were still some things she was a bit unsure about, but for the most part, her confusion was gone. She was feeling much more confident with herself, and the more she thought about it, the more she was sure that she was making the right choice and that this was truly what she wanted to do.
"I wonder if Applejack likes meteor showers..."