The world was silent except for the buzzing of the flies. I watched Big Macintosh out of the corner of my eye. The only part of him that moved was the wheat stock he always had in his mouth. I figured I had riled him enough. “Look, about Applejack...”
I could feel the anger radiating off of him. He answered through gritted teeth, “Not another word, colt. Don't you move one muscle or I'll tear your head off. Let me tell you what...”
I turned toward him. “No Big Macintosh, you will not tell me. We are about to have a calm conversation where we treat each other as adults, not some hot headed idiots who will take a swing at the first opportunity. Besides, what do you think Applejack would say if she found us fighting like school foals.”
Big Macintosh snorted, but stayed silent. I looked straight ahead, leaning on the fence.
“First off, I was out of line. I never should have said I was courting your sister, because I'm not. I wanted to get your attention and lucky for me you talk first, swing second. Applejack is a wonderful person and a good friend. It doesn't hurt that she's a lot like the wife I lost a long time ago, so she'll always have a special place in my heart, but never in that way. Second, you will not tell me who I can court and who I can't.”
“With that being said, I'm not a pony and I don't feel like that about her. I don't feel like that about any pony, including Rainbow Dash. But even if I did, honestly, what are the odds of Applejack or Dash returning those feelings and jumping into my arms, huh? Zip. Nada. None. The best I could hope for is a pity date. Not exactly the makings of a heart breaking Lothario,” I chuckled at my own whit.
“Who knows, one day you may be my brother-in-law,” Big Macintosh stiffened at that and it made me smirk, “But not today and likely not ever.” I paused, letting what I had said sink in, then continued, “And for Celestia's sake, if you like Rainbow Dash, go talk to her! She won't bite, or maybe she will, I'm not up on pony dating etiquette.” Big Macintosh chuckled, and I could see he physically relaxed. Success! “The point is, you need to get off your flank and start, you know, talking to her. Pining away silently may work in fairy tails, but not where I come from. Saying three words a day will not cut it.”
I turned to him, “Big Macintosh, I know you don't trust me, but I want to be a friend. I'm a bit of a loudmouth and I don't always know when not to joke. But, Applejack was there when I needed help. I will forever be in her debt, and by extension in debt to the Apple family. The point is, I hope you and I can start again.”
I was surprised to see him turn, give that almost smile, raise his hoof, spit in it, and hold it out. I spit on my palm, and pressed it against his hoof. Man, that is one big hoof, even with my fingers spread out I still don't reach the sides. We gave a single shake. In that subsonic rumble of a voice, “Pleased to make your acquaintance Mr Alex Roberts.”
“My friends call me Alex. The mister confuses me and I start looking around for my dad.”
Applejack's twang sounded amused, “I'm sure you hens would love to spend the whole day clucking, but we all have work to do, so get at it!”
My clever reply is to squawk like a startled chicken and jog off to the bale pile.
At about supper time, I was three quarters done. I was fed again and headed back to my bales.
About half an hour later, that bass rumble called out, “Need any help Alex?”
“No thank you. Stubborn pride and all that. But, I appreciate the offer. You and everyone else have worked like crazy today. I just want to pull my weight. Anyway, it won't be much longer, a couple or three hours, tops.”
“Crazy fool. Alright, but if y'all decide to swallow your pride, just give a shout.” He headed to the stands and got comfortable.
Not fifteen minutes later, “Sugarcube, you sure you don't need no help?”
“Go sit with your brother please. I'm Apple family stubborn if I think I'm right. Anyway, just a couple of hours and I'll be done.” Applejack sighed and headed to the stand.
About an hour later, I heard from the stands, “Apple Bloom, you go say goodnight to Mr Alex Roberts, then it's off to bed.”
I smiled, she's a nice kid, good with building things. I paused for a minute while she came trotting along, “Mr Alex Roberts sir? I just wanted to say good night and thank you for helping us set up for the Sisterhood Social.”
“Sweetheart, call me Alex, and you're very welcome. Helping out today gave me a chance to get to know your Granny and big brother better. And I'm always happy to see you too young lady. Have a good night.” I patted her on the head and got back to work.
After Apple Bloom went to bed, I heard Big Macintosh ponder, “You sweet on him, little sister? He said he's got a, what did he say now, a special place in his heart on account that you remind him of the wife he left behind.”
Applejack replied in a flustered tone, “That ain't no mind of yours Big Macintosh. And he didn't leave her behind, he was taken away from his family. Now hush, he can hear us.”
“Hear us? All the way across the track? Shoot.”
I was almost done, no more than half an hour left. I paused for a minute to stretch my back again and heard, “Applejack's still got you working? Or are they holding you prisoner?”
I snorted at that, “Well, almost got in a brawl with Big Macintosh over you, but otherwise there have only been minimal threats of violence.”
Dash blushed a little, “I can't imagine that happening. Anyway, Big Macintosh isn't my type.”
Dash continued, “Sure, I guess he's good looking, but he never says more than three words. Anyway, I'm not interested in anything right now. I've got my eye on someone, but I'm still figuring things out, know what I mean? So...” she shrugged.
“Rainbow Dash, you stop bothering my working stallion. He owes me the rest of the track,” Applejack's tone was playful.
Dash smirked, “I'll flirt with any stallion I want to Applejack,” she giggled. “Well, I'd better go, I have a race tomorrow. Bye Alex!” With that and a burst of wind Rainbow Dash flew straight up and disappeared into the darkness. I glanced in Big Mac's direction and smiled seeing him follow her flight.
I finally finished at about 9pm. I walked the track twice, once on each side, just to make sure everything was straight. I was tired and looking forward to bed, but wanted to do a good job. After saying my goodbyes, I walked home. It took about half an hour and the cool night air refreshed me a little.
When I got back to my cottage, I was surprised to find a snack on my kitchen table along with a bottle if ice cold sarsaparilla. There was a note beside the plate, it said, “For my hard working stallion.” It was signed “Your Special Friend”.
I looked at the note for a long time. Who could have written this? As I ate the snack, I kept looking at the note. It was not written on the notepaper I had in my desk. They must have been here very recently, the bottle of drink was still ice cold and the food was still cool. They had used my dishes, not that I minded.
I finished the snack and washed the plate. Just in case they come back, I wrote a small note, “My Dearest Special Friend, Thank you for the lovely snack and drink. They hit the spot after a long day. I am curious to know who you are, as you seem to know me. If there is a reason you wish to remain anonymous, I will respect your wishes.” I signed it, “Your Curious Friend, Alex”. I left my note on the table, along with notepaper and a pencil.
Although I was tired, I needed some time to wind down. I took the opportunity to call home. According to my calender, it should be 3:47 on Monday. Dan should be home from school by now and Anne will still be out for about another month. I'll give him a call. He was happy to talk to me. We chatted about school, how he was doing on a project, and how his friends were doing. He talked about the latest episode of My Little Pony where some con artists were trying to out do the Apples at cider making or something like that. I promised I would watch it and call back later.
After a good nights sleep I came down the stairs with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Would there be anything on that notepaper? I doubt it, but you never know. I noted, with a little disappointment, that everything was as I had left it.
I made some breakfast and checked out the episode on youtube. Very interesting and possibly useful in my current endeavours, especially since the antagonists left on an incompetent note, not a bad one. I made sure to carry two coin purses with enough bits to cover anything that comes up. As they say, luck favours the prepared.
On the way to the race, I stopped in town and made a reservation at the cafe. It took a little bribing, but I got us the tables reserved for the whole day. I was going to take my friends out for a celebration. Afterwards I took my time walking to Sweet Apple Acres. I still had the note and pulled it out periodically. What pony in their right mind would crush on me? I didn't recognize the handwriting, but I didn't see much of any pony's, so it's not surprising.
I'm fairly sure it's not Applejack, I doubt she could have gotten past me. However, she does know this town like the back of her hoof, so it's not impossible that she could have. Also, she would have been rested and she's a heck of a lot faster than me. Also, after Dash left, I didn't see Applejack for a while, but I was busy, so that doesn't mean anything.
This doesn't strike me as something Dash would do, it's not really her style. I think she would be more... direct. Grab the bull by the horns and all that. However, she does seem more reluctant when it comes to affairs of the heart, so it's not impossible.
Rarity? Hmmm, maybe. I think she's still got that gallant knight idea about me. But, she's more likely to try to seduce me. I snorted. I can just see her standing in front of me, batting her eyelashes. Now Alex, you know that's not fair, and she is your friend.
Twilight? Conceivable but unlikely. We haven't spent much time together and I really don't see her doing something like that. Anyway, I doubt she will ever date, too wrapped up in her studies.
Pinkie Pie? Again, not her style. She would throw a party for two or something.
Fluttershy? Again maybe. I can't see her building up the courage to do something like this, but I could be wrong.
Some other mare? I don't know, who else do I have regular contact with? Mrs Cake? Nope, not with Mr Cake and the twins. So, no one else, really.
Humph, I'll have to nip this in the bud. Any mare that... wait. What if it's a stallion? Not that I wouldn't be flattered, but Mr Alex Roberts does not swing that way, pony or human. Gutter, thy name is Alex.
So, with my head full of questions I walked through the gates of Sweet Apple Acres. The place was crowded, the stands were full of spectators, ready to cheer on their sisters, daughters, and wives
I wandered over to the staging area of the big race and saw Rarity with Sweetie Belle, Applejack and Apple Bloom, and, to my surprise, Dash standing beside Scootaloo. “Hey guys! All getting ready for the big race I see. And, it's extra nice to see you Miss Scootaloo. Dash, I didn't have you pegged as the big sister type.”
“Ya, well, I have hidden depths, okay. I saw a flyer for the Sisterhood Social and thought Scoots would like to go. I figured her best first time would be to win, with my awesomeness to help.”
Scootaloo's little wings were flapping so fast she was almost hovering, “You bet Rainbow Dash!”
Looking at all six of them, I said “I don't know Scootaloo. It's going to be hard to pick a winner in advance.”
“Well darling, with our grace and elegance, Sweetie Belle and I are bound to come in first place.” Rarity gave a haughty smile, then broke down and gave a warm laugh.
“Well, I reckon you have your right to an opinion, no matter how incorrect.” Applejack had that little half smile she usually has and Apple Bloom hopped around excitedly.
“Darn right! 'Cuz it's me and Scoots here that are gonna win!” Dash ruffled Scootaloo's mane and flashed her confident smirk.
“Ladies, please, no fighting. Save the dirty tricks for the track,” I chuckled. “First and foremost I've come to wish you all good luck. I also want to share the wonderful surprise I had last night.” I carefully watched their faces, “When I got home, someone had left me a snack, a perfectly chilled bottle of sarsaparilla, and this,” I pulled out the note, no noticeable reaction, “does this writing look familiar? I would like to thank whoever did this.”
The fillies 'awwwed' as a group.
Rarity grew thoughtful, “A kind gesture and a mysterious note. How romantic.”
Applejack gave her low chuckle, “Well, looks like you will have to beat mares off with a stick after all. Who ever did it must be mighty sweet on you.”
Dash seemed annoyed, “You know, they probably wouldn't appreciate having that private note flashed around everywhere.”
“Yes, you're right Dash. I just wanted to share something cool with my friend. I haven't had a secret admirer since high school,” I grew thoughtful for a moment,”that's about eighty or eighty-five years ago,” that was a depressing thought, “and I have to admit I'm a little excited by the prospect.” Rarity gave one of her knowing little smiles, “Not that I think it will be anything at the end of the day, but I can't deny it feels good. Anyway, I'll keep it to myself and let you know the day before the wedding.”
I looked at the platform beside the track, “Looks like Granny Smith is setting up for the announcement of the race. I'll head out to the stands. Okay, I promised myself I wouldn't show any bias, and you know I'm rooting for you all, but I'm putting my bets on Dash, only because she has Scootaloo with her.”
Scootaloo looked at me in surprise, charged towards me, and tackled me with a hug, “Thanks Alex! I won't let you or Rainbow Dash down!”
“Don't worry about that, kid. No matter what happens, you've already won.”
I headed to the stands and found the bookies. There are always bookies in these situations, in every reality. It must be some kind of universal law. It was twin unicorns and one had a moustache. “Hurry up pal, I'm stopping bets as soon as the race starts.” It looked like them, sort of. And it sounded like them, sort of.
I pulled out a coin pouch, “Five thousand bits on Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo.” I was going to bet on Applejack and Apple Bloom, but that was before I knew Dash and Scoots were in the race. I felt anything else was a suckers bet.
The bookie and his patrons stopped and gapped at me. The one with the moustache broke the silence, “There's a gambler folks. Most ponies don't take more than a twenty bits bet, but if you want to throw your money away on unknowns, well, I'll be happy to take it.”
I lightly toss him the budging bag. “What are my odds, money pony?”
“Seven to one. Last chance to get out.”
“Nope, it was burning a hole in my pocket.”
“Alright, bet taken, whatever you are. Your money's as good as the next pony's.”
I could hear Granny Smith starting her speech. I could see over the crowd, and made sure to place myself so I could be seen. The bookies, with their trade complete, joined me. Just as Granny Smith said go, I started talking, “Yup, my best friend Rainbow Dash, winner of the young flyer competition, only pony known to have made at least two sonic rainbooms, champion athlete, a real class act, and Scootaloo, her protégé.”
The girls were leading the pack past the mud pit, surprisingly, Rarity and Sweetie Belle were in the lead, with Applejack, Apple Bloom, Dash, and Scootaloo all neck a neck.
The bookies move back to behind the bleachers, but I could hear them talking franticly, “What do you think Flim?”
“Well Flam, if she doesn't come in first, second, or third, we can cover the bets and make tidy profit. If she does, we can only cover it if she's in third.”
“Not only that, but what if the Apples catch us? Did you see the size of the red one? What are we going to do?”
“Don't worry brother of mine, our disguises are fool proof.”
I cheered as Dash and Scootaloo raced by in the lead. Then I stepped back behind the bleachers. “Well gentlemen, you seem to have yourselves a bit of a pickle.” They looked up at me, surprised.
Flam put on a false carnival barkers voice and demeanour. “You've got it all wrong, friend. We're just discussing other business matters. But I like the cut of your jib and I'll forgive you this time.”
I glance at the track, Dash, Scootaloo, Applejack, and Apple Bloom are ahead of the pack, jumping the hurdles. “Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are in the lead. Looks like Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are getting first or second place. Tell you what, I may need your entrepreneurial skills in the near future. Do you know what a retainer is?”
Flam answered cautiously, “It depends what you want to retain us for.”
There was a roar from the crowd. I looked out, Dash and Scoots were the winners! “Oh, looks like my friend came in first place. Well, hear's the deal, I'll need some ponies with a flare for showmanship and you two fit the bill. The name's Alex Roberts. You can ask anywhere in Ponyville, people know who I am and where I live. I'll make sure you earn more with good honest work suited to your talents than you make running numbers or pulling scams. So, take the five thousand or pay me my thirty-five thousand, your choice.”
The brothers looked at each other, nodded, “You've got yourself a deal. The Flim-Flam brothers are in your employ.”
I steepled my fingers and smiled, “Excellent... come to my cottage in two days at about 1 pm. We'll discuss details.”
I carried a self satisfied smile all the way to the winners circle. When I finally caught up with the girls, they were all talking excitedly, and it almost looked like Applejack and Dash were arguing. When they noticed me, they stopped talking abruptly. I couldn't hear them over the noise of the crowd, but, it's none of my business anyway.
When I made my way to them, “Hey! Great job Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash!” I gave Dash a quick hug, then saw Scootaloo's expression. Not sadness exactly, just resignation. I glanced at Dash, smiled, and called out, “Hey, we're missing the star of the race.” I gestured for her to come. She looked so surprised and happy, I think she was about to cry. “That's my girl! You did great, you both did.”
For a split second, I had a family again. My world was this pony and this filly, and I was happy. I wanted this. I wanted this so bad I could taste it, but I knew, deep down, that it wasn't mine to have. The moment passed.
Dash said quietly, “So, Alex, are you going to let go or what?”
“Sorry, I got swept up in the moment. So who's up for a celebratory dinner?”
“As generous as that is, I must decline. My parents are here and we were planning on having dinner with them,” Rarity gave me a little grin and shrugged.
“Alex, I'm pleased you asked, but we have, uh, commitments here. Sorry sugarcube.” Applejack seemed a little disappointed.
Dash's confident smirk was like a mask, I just couldn't read through it. “Looks like you're stuck with the winners Alex.”
I smiled, “Well, that's just fine by me.”