Comprehension ~ Day 1
Rarity came out of the store with several bags full of coffee and sewing supplies floating along in the grip of her magic. “There! Now that’s all taken care of, it's time I got back to work,” she remarked cheerfully to herself as she stepped out into the street.
Trotting along at a brisk pace, she ignored the ponies around her as she started to mentally go through the things she'd have to do in order to pull off this monumental task in the art of dressmaking. First, she'd finish off Roseluck's dress. It was almost done, and was looking extraordinarily lovely if she did say so herself. All that she had left to do was the bottom hem and then she could have Sweetie Belle deliver it while she moved onto Mrs. Cake's dress.
That one wasn't going to be so easy. It was the next closest to being done, but it needed some light embroidery, something that normally she would have wanted to spend a lot of time on to get it just right.
As she pondered her catastrophic coture conundrums, Rarity found herself passing the post office. She absentmindedly returned the wave of a stallion who was out front putting up a poster of a dusty yellow earth pony who was wearing a fetching cowpony hat and vest ensemble on the town bulletin board. Normally she would have stopped and introduced herself, but she was a mare on a mission and nothing was going to slow her down!
Speaking of embroidery...
Rarity fought down a surge of nausea as she remembered that Daisy's and Lily's dresses were supposed to be completely covered in embroidered flowers. There was simply no way she could get that done overnight. It was literally impossible. Was she was going to have to...change the designs?
"No no no! I can't do that!" Rarity started shivering. It would be impossible to bring the two of them in to discuss changes to their dresses. They weren't exactly the most laid back of ponies and it had taken them two weeks to settle on the ones they had now! And if she changed them, she wouldn't be able to get away with something small. She's have to scrap them and completely re-work them from the floor up!
She needed another massage. And a drink.
Maybe if she brought them in and just talked really really fast so they couldn't get a word in edgewise. "I know this is short notice, but I suddenly realized that my previous design was entirely too gauche," she rehearsed, violently gesticulating with one of the shopping bags to emphasize her words. "Embroidery is so last month, and I couldn't let a client of mine—No no no." She shook her head. "That won't work. Not if I don't want to make Rose a new dress from scratch too. Maybe I should—"
Rarity's fashion musings were cut short when she ran headlong into somepony and sent the both of them sprawling, dropping all her bags in the dirt. "Oh." She lifted a hoof to her temple and tried to stop its spinning with a shake of the head.
"Are you all right?" a dignified mare's voice asked from somewhere next to her.
Rarity looked up and saw an older (but not that old) mare being helped to her hooves by an orange filly without a cutie-mark yet.
The mare was a light orange earth pony with three orange slices for a cutie mark, and a small mole on her left cheek. Her mane was a much brighter shade of orange and done up in an elaborate hairstyle that must have cost a small fortune at a very nice salon, and was now utterly ruined.
"I'm terribly sorry," the mare continued, completely unaware of the state of her mane. "I simply was not paying attention to where I was going and now I've gone and made you drop all your bags."
"Nice going mom," the filly sniggered. "Very—" She adopted an extraordinarily snooty voice. "—graceful and ladylike."
The orange mare shot her daughter a quick glare and said, "Mimosa, why don't you be a dear and help gather up the nice mare's things." She pointed at Rarity's dropped bags, which had spilled their contents all over the street, including a gigantic mug which loudly and quite embarrassingly proclaimed her non-existent love for the Fillydelphia Fillies.
"But mo-om!" she protested. "You're the one who—"
"That's quite all right," Rarity interrupted, hoping to stave off the impending storm of whining that was sure to spew from the filly's mouth. She hastily started levitating the items back into her shopping bags and just narrowly avoided beaning a passing unicorn with the espresso maker. "It's actually my fault. I was trying to come up with some new dress designs and wasn't paying attention. And now look at your mane!"
A little chill climbed its way down Rarity's spine from the back of her head to the base of her tail as she realized what was about to happen.
The mare lifted a hoof to feel her mane, and a look of dismay crossed her face when she found several locks that had escaped their bounds before she managed to hide it behind a stiff smile. "Oh don't worry about that. It's not important." The filly tried to cover a smirk with her hoof.
Oh Goddess. Rarity, don't do it!
"Not important!" she cried. "Of course it's important! Here, you come with me to the Carousel Boutique and I'll have it fixed up in no time at all."
What are you saying?
"I..." The orange mare hesitated. "I'm sorry. I can't do that, I have things—
"Nonsense!" Rarity cut her off. "This is a crime against fashion, hairstyling, and everything beautiful in the world, and I will not be satisfied until I have rectified it!"
The mare exchanged a silent look with her daughter, who shot a glare back at her and then turned away with her nose in the air. The filly went over to a suitcase that was laying on the ground and picked it up in her mouth mumbling, "Oh go ahead and do it mom. It's not like they're expecting us or anything," around the handle.
The older mare turned back to Rarity with a more genuine smile on her face, but there were some inexplicable hints of sadness and relief in it as well. "You know what? You're right. I have time and I really should look my best when I show up." She reached out a hoof. "My name is Clementine..." she hesitated for a fraction of a second, "...Apple. It's very nice to meet you."
Rarity took Clementine's hoof and shook it. "I'm Rarity. Pleased to make your acquaintance Mrs. Apple. Are you by any chance related to the Apples over at Sweet Apple Acres?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact that's why we're in town. We were just on our way up there to pay them a visit."
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Applejack pulled herself to her hooves and walked to the door on the strength of pure force of will and stubbornness. She took a deep breath to steady herself and then walked into the living room.
Like all the other rooms in their home, the living room was sparsely decorated. The Apple family had never been one for fancy decorations or anything like that. Instead, they'd spent a good four generations laboring to make the room a simple, yet comforting and familiar place for its members to recover once the day's work was over.
The fireplace served as the centerpiece of the room, with all the furniture arranged around it. Granny Smith was sitting in her rocking chair to one one side of it, and Applebloom was on the couch in between Fluttershy's embracing legs with a worried look on her face as the pegasus fussed over her. On the other side of the fireplace was an empty, overstuffed armchair with an end table next to it.
Applejack walked over towards the chair, passing in front of the fireplace. As she walked by, she looked up at the family photos hanging on the wall above the mantlepiece. There were some of Macintosh, Applejack, and Applebloom as foals; a family photo of them all with Granny from a few years back; a few of Macintosh and Fluttershy's wedding photos; and standing on the mantle itself, a picture of a large brown stallion and a cream colored mare with a red mane posing for a picture in front of the gate to Sweet Apple Acres. Her mom and dad.
The armchair was an old, heavy thing, covered in thick brown fabric that had been worn smooth by the rumps of the heads of the Apple family for several generations. It used to be her father's chair. Then Macintosh's after he was gone, though he'd decided to leave it behind when he moved in with Fluttershy. And way back when, it had belonged to Grandpa Smith. Now, it usually sat empty, except for the occasions when Applebloom came downstairs late at night and curled up in it when she couldn't sleep "'cause of bad dreams."
That thought brought a momentary smile to Applejack's mouth as she remembered the times she'd done that herself when she'd been a filly.
Before she knew it, Applejack found herself standing next to the armchair. Everypony was watching quietly, but she didn't start talking quite yet. She lifted a hoof and stroked it along the chair's arm, taking in the smooth texture of it. Finally, she turned to face them. "I don't know how to say this right, or lead up to it or anythin' like that, so I'm just gonna say it straight. Macintosh ain't comin' back."
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Applebloom squirmed free from Fluttershy's legs and ran across the room to plant herself in front of Applejack. Fluttershy tried to hold on to her, but the filly was stronger than she looked and the pegasus wasn't expecting her to do that. She'd thought Applebloom would be struck speechless, or cry, or something like that. But she wasn't crying. She was furious.
"What's wrong with you? Y'all are talking like he's dead an' all that stupid letter says is he's missing!" Applebloom stomped her hoof to punctuate her words as the pitch of her voice rose and rose.
Fluttershy had never seen Applebloom as angry as she was right then and it scared her. Kids shouldn't have that kind of anger inside them. Nopony should have that kind of anger inside them.
"How can you just give up on him like that?" She stood staring up at Applejack with all four hooves planted like she never intended to move and just kept on yelling. "After what you said before? How can you change your mind just because of one stupid letter that doesn't say anything?" A stream of hot tears started to spill from her accusing eyes and Applejack stepped backwards, speechless.
"A-Applebloom..." Fluttershy tried to interrupt, to get her to stop yelling at Applejack, or something. Anything.
Applebloom whirled around and bore into her with red-rimmed eyes, and she shrunk back into the couch completely unable to say anything at all.
"And you! You never believed in him! I know what you thought! You always thought he was as weak and slow and stupid as you! You think everypony is, but he isn't!"
Fluttershy looked away and started to cry, unable to say anything back, or even meet Applebloom's eyes. But Applebloom wasn't done shouting. Like a rampaging dragon, she kept going on.
"He's not just goin' to up an' die because you think he's like you! He's out there waiting, an' you just give up on him as soon as it looks like something bad even might have happened?"
"P-please," Fluttershy whimpered as she pressed herself even lower into the couch and pressed her face into one of the pillows.
"I don't know why he even—"
"Apple Bloom!" Applejack finally interrupted, her voice cracking like thunder. "I suggest you shut your mouth right now, before somepony goes an' says something they'll regret!"
Complete and utter silence fell over the living room.
For an eternity nobody spoke. Fluttershy just lay where she was, face buried in the pillow as she tried to muffle her sobs, her body spasming as they tore their way out of her throat.
After a few more moments, there was a soft "clop clop" of little hooves walking out of the living room and up the stairs.
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Rarity couldn't believe her luck. While she was fixing Clementine's hair (a process that had taken entirely too much time), the subject had naturally turned to fashion. Clementine asked her about the designs she'd mentioned before, and Rarity had expounded at length on the difficulties she was going to have re-designing the flower sisters' dresses. Then out of the blue, Clementine had made an excellent suggestion about how to take lengths of ribbon and bunch them up into nice little artificial flowers so she wouldn't have to do the embroidery. After that, things just sort of snowballed.
It turned out that the older mare had an impeccable fashion sense, and was quite handy with the needle herself. One thing led to another, and after Rarity called in the flower sisters for a ten minute consultation (Somehow Clementine knew just what to do to get them to shut up and agree. She even made like the new ideas were all Rarity's idea!), and shooed Sweetie Belle and Mimosa out the door to go play, the other mare had ended up staying the whole afternoon to help with the dresses.
"And so Fancypants stayed with us the entire week he was in Manehatten! That was just after he'd gotten re-married you know, and there were all those awful rumors going around that Fleur-De-Lis was a gold digger who'd just married him for his money." Clementine dismissively waved a hoof. "Well let me tell you, there wasn't an ounce of truth to them. She was fabulous. Had a bit of a strange sense of humor, but once you knew what to look for you couldn't help but notice all the little jabs she made at how silly high society gets."
"And then what?" Rarity's voice had long since entered a register somewhere around 'squeaky little filly'. It wasn't every day you got to meet someone who was actually involved in society life! "I imagine that was exactly the sort of step up you needed to make it into Canterlot Society."
"Well—" Clementine shot an embarrassed sidelong glance at Rarity. "—I'm afraid not much happened after that. When the week was up, they went back to Canterlot. I exchanged a few letters with Fleur, and she actually invited us to visit them once, but that was about the time my niece came to stay with us for a while. Then I got pregnant and couldn't travel, and after that...well, somehow something always got in the way and we never got to go."
"Oh I'm so sorry!" Rarity exclaimed while trying her best to hide her disappointment at Clementine's less than thrilling answer.
Clementine tied the ribbon into a flower shape with dexterity Rarity hadn't ever expected to see from an earth pony, and stitched it to the dress that was rapidly taking shape on the mannequin. "It wasn't that bad." She turned slightly to straighten one of the flowers, slightly obscuring her face in the process. "I would have loved to go to Canterlot, but things were going so well for us in Manehatten I don't know if my husband would have wanted to take the time off anyways. Business really took off that year, mostly due to the fact that Fancypants gave us a glowing recommendation when he got back to Canterlot. Said anypony visiting the city who didn't try our juices had no idea what they were missing out on. We actually managed to open an entire new factory on the strength of that business alone! Because of those two we soon found ourselves headed straight to the top of Manehatten circles. It's no Canterlot, but Manehatten isn't exactly a backwater like Ponyville either."
Rarity frowned, but let the "backwater" comment slide. Clementine was a wonderful actress, but after spending several hours talking with her, she could tell that the other mare was upset about something. She couldn't help but feel that at least half the reason Clementine had decided to stay and help with the dresses was because she was putting off going to her family's place. Not that Rarity was going to complain about that in the least when she was being such an enormous help. She wondered how long Clementine planned on staying.
"Who knows though?" Clementine continued. "I'm getting older, but I just might have enough left in me to give Canterlot a try yet."
Rarity's stomach performed a sympathetic flip-flop at the mention of the 'O-word.'
"Pff," She dismissed the notion with a wave of her hoof. "Please, nopony could call you old when you have a filly Mimosa's age and still look as good as you do. Mature maybe, but not old. I don't see how that could ever be a hindrance in Canterlot anyways." Hopefully that would be enough to put the subject to rest before that particular conversation could get its hooves off the ground. For good measure, Rarity changed the subject before Clementine could say anything else. "So how did you and your husband meet? He sounds like an important pony."
Clementine smiled another one of those smiles that didn't do anything but emphasize the lines that were starting to form around her eyes, and suddenly the last few pieces of the puzzle fell into place as Rarity realized her mistake.
"It was actually at a town meeting here in Ponyville." Clementine said, that smile still plastered onto her face as if she didn't have a care in the world. "His family was trying to expand their business into the area, and that would have competed directly with Sweet Apple Acres. Mother wasn't having any of that of course, so she went and got the whole town riled up. I was young and a bit rebellious, and when he showed up at the town meeting with his parents I took one look at him and decided I had to introduce myself. At first, I was just trying to anger my parents, but he was really handsome and as we talked I took a liking to him. He had bigger dreams than working a farm in a one-pony town like Ponyville, same as I did.
"But that's more than enough about me," Clementine changed the subject. "What about you? I find it hard to believe that a pony like yourself is actually working in Ponyville when she could easily be making a name for herself in the city."
"Well," Rarity hesitated, glad that that particular awkwardness was over, but not so enthusiastic about the new direction the conversation was taking. "I grew up here. I did spend some time in Fillydelphia, but that didn't work out for me so I came back. I'd always loved coture, and I needed something to do so I wouldn't have to move back in with my parents, so I started the Carousel Boutique to keep myself afloat. It just sort of grew from there. I really hope to move the business to Canterlot someday, but I need to get my name out there before I can do that. Unfortunately, that's difficult to do when you're from a place like Ponyville."
Clementine nodded sympathetically as she made another ribbon flower and pinned it to the dress.
"That's actually why I've got so much on my plate right now. I was working overtime getting ready for the Summer Sun Celebration, and out of the blue, Mayor Mare came up and dropped the perfect opportunity in my lap. I simply had to take it even though it meant moving up the deadline for all my work."
Clementine gave her a questioning look from over the back of the mannequin so Rarity elaborated.
"There's a representative from the palace coming to Ponyville tomorrow looking for ponies to help prepare for the Canterlot Celebration," she explained. "Her name is Twilight Sparkle I believe. Not a pony I'm familiar with so she's probably not that important on her own, but she is representing the Goddess." Rarity looked down to concentrate on stitching one of the sleeves onto Daisy's dress, and when she looked back up, Clementine was staring at her with her mouth hanging open in a very un-ladylike fashion. "Umm, is something wrong?" She asked nervously.
Clementine blinked and slowly closed her mouth. "Twilight Sparkle is coming to Ponyville? Twilight Sparkle?"
"Yes," Rarity said slowly, suddenly getting the feeling that she'd just committed a huge faux pas.
"Twilight Sparkle, the personal student of Celestia herself? Never-leaves-the-palace-and-avoids-socializing-like-the-plague Twilight Sparkle? The most mysteriously important pony in all of Equestria Twilight Sparkle?"
Rarity's eyes slowly grew with each word until they were the size of dinner plates as Clementine pointed out what she should have already known. Of course the name had sounded familiar!
Clementine leaned over the mannequin and lowered her voice until it was hardly more than a whisper. "Do you know what this means? Personally getting to know Twilight Sparkle is the holy grail of Canterlot high society! Even Fancypants and Fleur haven't managed that yet!" She suddenly stepped back, unconsciously lifting a hoof to her mouth and chewing nervously on it. "What on earth could have stirred her to actually leave the palace and do this herself?"
The older (But not that old!) mare's eyes suddenly snapped back into focus and she looked at her hoof in surprise. Putting it down with a slightly embarrassed look, she leaned in close to Rarity again. With a sharp gleam in her eye that hadn't been there the entire afternoon, she said, "You have to bring me along tomorrow. You simply must."
In the face of such undisguised earnestness, Rarity couldn't exactly turn her down. Especially not after all the help Clementine had been giving. Because of her it might actually be possible to finish all the dresses without having to give anypony a refund. "O-of course! I can come and pick you up right before she's due to arrive. You're staying at Sweet Apple Acres overnight right?"
And just like that, all the excitement drained out of Clementine. She pretended to busy herself with one of the ribbons on the mannequin. "Yes. Mimosa and I will probably be in Ponyville for a while so you won't have any trouble finding us."
Before Rarity could try to find a way to break the sudden awkwardness in the room, the front door of the Boutique cracked open and the filly stuck her head in and yelled, "Mo-om! Are you done yet? I'm bored!"
"Hey!" Sweetie Belle's voice rose in indignation from outside.
Both Rarity and Clementine looked at the window and were surprised to see that the sun was starting to get low in the sky.
"Wow, I didn't realize it was getting that late," Clementine said. "I'm so sorry, but Mimosa is right. We need to get going. I hope that isn't too much of a bother for you."
"Not at all!" Rarity gushed. She was sad to see her new friend leave, but also amazed that she'd stayed this long in the first place. "I can't thank you enough for helping me, especially when you weren't planning to do it and you obviously have important things to do."
They exchanged a few more parting thanks and small-talk before Clementine picked up her suitcase and walked to the door. She looked back one last time and said, "Thank you for everything Rarity. I had a lovely afternoon." Then she was gone.
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Applejack sat alone in one of the kitchen chairs with her head resting on the table next to a tray with two full glasses of water on it. Fluttershy wasn't doing well. Applebloom hadn't come out of her room since the family meeting. And she still needed to have a talk with Granny to see how she was holding up. In a moment, she was going to have to go back out there and take care of all that. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose and then let it out slowly.
In a moment.
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Fluttershy lay completely still on the couch with her head in her hooves and her eyes squeezed shut while Applejack went into the other room to get some water.
Applejack kept telling her that she should just forget everything the filly said because she was upset and "said some things she didn't mean." But no matter how much she tried to shut it out, Applebloom's words wouldn't stop echoing in her head. How could she forget it when it was all true?
From the first moment she met him, Fluttershy had always admired Macintosh for being the kind of pony he was. He was big and strong, and no matter what he did, he never doubted himself. Whenever she was around him she felt safe, protected. He never got upset about anything. No matter what, he was gentle. And he was always there. Whenever he came into a room, everypony knew immediately. Whenever he spoke, even though he didn't say very much, everypony listened. And Fluttershy wasn't like any of that. She was—
"Be a dear an' bring me that photo album." Granny Smith's creaky voice sparked through her muddled thoughts like a zap-apple in the night. Surprised, Fluttershy lifted her head and looked at the old mare, blinking.
"Over there!" Granny pointed irritatedly to a bookshelf across the room that was stuffed to the brim with photo albums. "Hop to it girlie!"
"Um, okay." Shakily she slid off the couch and stood up. With one more glance at Granny, she moved over to the bookshelf and paused, uncertain of which album she was supposed to get. She reached out her hoof to one on the middle shelf.
"Not that'un!" Granny snapped. "Down!"
Flutershy moved her hoof down one shelf.
"To the right."
She slid the tip of her hoof right across the backs of the books.
Her hoof rested on the spine of an old dusty album with a dark green cover that reminded her of the leaves on the trees in the Everfree Forest.
"Well? What're ya waiting for!" Granny snapped. Fluttershy winced and slid the album out a little with her hoof, and then grabbed it in her mouth. Turning around, she looked across the room at Granny, who was rocking slowly back and forth in her old wooden rocking chair and staring at her with an impatient look on her face. The old pony didn't say anything else, so Fluttershy picked her way back to where she sat with the book in mouth.
When Fluttershy got close, Granny snatched the photo album from her and motioned for her to stand next to the rocking chair. Without a sound, she started leafing through the book and stopped at a black and white photo of a huge stallion standing awkwardly next to a young mare in a bonnet and braids who was hugging him around the neck.
"That's mah husband Clyde." Granny's voice became surprisingly tender and she lovingly put a hoof over the photo. "The first time we ever met was at a hoedown in Ponyville. Normally Clyde would've rather been home gettin' ready for the next day's work, but his friends dragged him along."
There was a sparkle in Granny's eye, and as she talked, her voice lost a bit of its creakiness. Fluttershy didn't understand what this was all about, but she also found herself being drawn into Granny Smith's reminiscence.
"That night, he came up an' asked me for a dance. An' let me tell you, I ain't never seen anypony act as stupid as him when he did that. He walked up to me, got down on his knees like he was gonna propose, and asked me if'n he could have some of my time. Only he did it all fancy-like, with thee's and thou's and that sort of nonsense. At first ah thought he was makin' fun of me. Ah turned him down and he started cryin' up a fuss and holler like you wouldn't believe an' before ah knew it, everypony was starin' at us. Ah couldn't get him to go away, so I agreed to jus' one dance just so ah could get him to shut up. After that he was all smiles and 'thank you's' like nothing had happened at all. That's when ah knew he was makin' fun of me.
"He never did anything like that again. After we got married ah asked him what in tarnation he'd been up to that night, and you know what he told me?" Granny looked at Fluttershy with a huge grin on her face, and Fluttershy couldn't help but return it with a little smile of her own. "He said his friends dared him ta ask me for a dance, an' he figured if he was gonna make a fool of himself trying to get the prettiest mare there to notice him, he was gonna make a fool of himself."
In spite of herself, Fluttershy giggled. "Macintosh did the same thing when we met."
"Ah know," Granny said proudly. "Ah put that notion into his head." Fluttershy looked at Granny Smith in astonishment.
"Ain't no better way to get a mare's attention than ta make a fool of yerself, an' Macintosh had been trying for months to get yours. Poor colt was at his wits end, about ta give up entirely. So ah told him what ah just told you and let him work it out from there."
"I..." Ever since that morning, her head had been a swirling torrent of grief and confusion, and now Fluttershy found a whole slew of new feelings being injected into the mix. Love, nostalgia, and a different kind of confusion. All together, it was almost more painful than just feeling miserable, but also more wholesome. "I didn't know that. He knew about me...before?"
"Uh huh." Granny Smith nodded. "But he jus' couldn't work up the nerve ta introduce himself. He always was a bit of a chicken like that. Like his grandpa. His dad was the same way too." Granny laughed out loud. "Hay. I don't think there's ever been an Apple stallion who knew what to do with a mare! Why, on our wedding night Clyde—"
Fluttershy let out a "meep" and covered her mouth, blushing bright red. Granny Smith laughed again and said, "Just messin' with you deary." The old mare looked back down at the photo album and her smile slowly disappeared as her voice took on a more sober tone. "Macintosh changed after you came along Fluttershy. Afore, he didn't have any ambition, lettin' everythin' pass him by while he just kept on workin' and waitin', content with what life was willing ta bring ta him. Ah was all afraid that he'd never do anythin' besides work the farm, but then you came along an' he found somethin' worth gettin' worked up over."
Fluttershy looked down at her hooves. It wasn't that she didn't believe what Granny Smith was saying, but she just couldn't imagine Macintosh being scared of anything, let alone her.
Neither of them said anything for a while. Eventually, Fluttershy looked back up at Granny. The old mare was absorbed in the picture of her husband, and she looked so sad that Fluttershy had to ask. "What happened to him? Clyde?"
The old green mare started and tore her eyes from the album. "He came down with pneumonia after workin' out in the rain."
Compassion welled up in her breast. She put a hoof over Granny's where it still rested on the picture of Clyde. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"In a way it ain't so bad," Granny said. "He lived long enough to see all our kids get married, an' he didn't ever have to go through loosin' Britemac."
Fluttershy looked up to the mantle, where there was still a picture of Macintosh's parents. Macintosh had told her about how they'd disappeared one day. Nopony knew why, but they went into the Everfree Forest and just never came back. Everypony figured that one of the monsters in the forest had gotten them, but they couldn't say for sure.
It suddenly struck Fluttershy how many loved ones Granny had lost over the years. Her husband, her son, and now Macintosh. She looked back at the old mare with tears in her eyes. "Are you going to be all right?" she asked.
A single tear fell from the old mare's eye and landed on the photograph. "Ah thought 'twas a cruel fate for anypony to have to outlive their own child. But now..."
Fluttershy embraced the older mare with her forelegs. Suddenly she felt embarrassed and childish for making everypony take care of her when there were others who had suffered so much more in silence.
Out of the corner of her eye Fluttershy saw some movement. Without letting go of Granny, she looked over to the hallway and saw Applejack with a tray and some glasses watching them with sad eyes and a happy smile.
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Before Applejack could move or say anything, a knock sounded at the front door. Granny shrugged off Fluttershy's hug with a huff. Applejack put the tray down on the end table and went to the door and opened it to shoo away whoever it was. Now wasn't the time for entertainin' visitors.
There on the porch, in the light of the setting sun, stood a pony that she hadn't seen in ages, and who didn't live anywhere near Ponyville. "Aunt Orange?" Applejack asked, exhaustion and surprise driving away any semblance of politeness. "What are you doin' here?"
The mare put her suitcase down and answered softly without quite meeting Applejack's eyes. "You've really grown a lot since I saw you last time Applejack. Is mother in?"
"Yeah, she's right here," Applejack answered with some consternation as she stepped aside. "Come on in."
Aunt Orange didn't say anything as she picked up her suitcase again and walked past Applejack. Behind her, an orange filly about Applebloom's age followed with another suitcase in tow.
"Clementine?" Granny Smith asked as the two of them crossed the living room. "What in tarnation are ya doin' here without writin' to let us know you're comin? Come to think of it, why don'cha ever write? Or visit? Would it kill ya to let yer mother know what's goin' on in yer life every once in a while?" She peered down at the filly who was doing her best to stay behind Aunt Orange. "This my granddaughter that ya never bring to visit?"
"Hey mom," Aunt Orange said softly. "Yeah, this is Mimosa."
"Well? Aren'tcha gonna tell us why you're here? 'Taint a social call, that's obvious."
"I...We need a place to stay for a few days."
This was just plum strange. Aside from the fact that she was there at all, her aunt wasn't acting like herself. At least not how Applejack remembered from when she was younger. But strange or not, and bad timing or not, she was family. "What's wrong Aunt Orange? What's goin' on?"
"...I'm sorry Applejack. Could you please not call me that? I...don't go by that name anymore."
Comprehension ~ Day 1
"Twilight, you need to go to bed. It's getting really late and we've got a big day tomorrow," Spike said irritatedly, and irritatingly.
"Just a minute Spike!" Twilight shook her head and turned her attention back to the book she was reading, studiously avoiding looking at either Spike or her bed.
It really was getting late. Celestia had lowered the sun quite a while ago. Twilight had the wick in her oil lamp lowered as far as she could get it without extinguishing the flame completely so as not to keep Spike up with the light, but it seemed that wasn't working.
"Twilight," This time Spike's voice spoke right next to her ear. She jumped in surprise and nearly knocked her book off the small desk the hotel had provided with the room. "It's late." His voice was gentle, but there was firmness in it as well. "You need to be at your best tomorrow, which means you need to go to sleep."
Normally, it was Twilight's job to take care of Spike and make him do the stuff he needed to do, but somehow, whenever this subject came up it always felt like he was the adult and she the baby.
"Fine!" She snapped. He was right of course, but that didn't mean she had to be nice about it. Spike just looked at her and let out a sigh before going back to his basket to try and get some sleep. They'd played this game so many times, and they both knew that he'd won.
Twilight put a marker into her book, let out a sigh of her own, and extinguished the lamp. Then she stumbled across the room to her bed, crawled in, and cast a silencing spell around it. Spike always hated it when she did that, but he needed his sleep too and it was her responsibility to make sure he got it. And since it worked two ways, it had the added benefit of silencing Spike's snoring.
She pulled the blanket over herself, settled into her pillow, and closed her eyes to try and go to sleep.
Comprehension ~ Day 1
Everypony else had long since fallen asleep, but even though Applejack had never been so tired before in her whole life, she couldn't do the same. It didn't matter how she tossed and turned, or how long she lay there holding perfectly still, she just couldn't get comfortable. Her muscles ached all over and her head was throbbing as a slew of half-completed thoughts rushed in and out of her head like a swarm of bees after their hive had been knocked out of its tree.
"Consarn it!" Frustrated, Applejack threw back the covers and sat up on the edge of her bed. It just wasn't no use. Quietly, she slid out of bed and walked over to her bedroom door. She opened it as softly as she could so she wouldn't wake anypony and stepped out into the hallway.
The house was quiet except for the occasional creak of settling timbers. A nearly full moon shone in through the window at the end of the hall, illuminating everything in a soft, silvery light criss-crossed by black bars of shadow from the window panes. After everything that had gone on that day, it felt like this was a completely different world. Almost felt she was tresspassing somewhere she shouldn't be.
Softly as she could, Applejack crossed the hallway and went down the stairs to the first floor, being careful to avoid the squeaky stair near the bottom. She turned the corner and paused at the entryway into the living room. There was her father's old chair sitting in its usual spot by the fireplace, covered in darkness because the light from the window didn't quite reach to where it sat.
She turned away and walked to the kitchen.
On the table sat an oil lamp and box of matches, ready for anypony like herself who was up and about in the middle of the night. She removed the glass chimney from the lamp and struck one of the matches, watching as it flared up and cast a yellow light over the room before dying back down to its normal size. She lit the lamp, shook out the match and threw it away, then replaced the chimney and watched the flame inside change from a small, flickering thing to a small, but now steady light source.
Applejack picked up the lamp and took it over to the ice box, setting it on top. Then, with a flick of her hoof, she opened one of the cupboards and pulled out a mug which she set on the counter next to her. When she opened the ice box, a chill of air cascaded out and down over her front legs. Reaching inside, she pulled out a pitcher and poured herself a mug of cider.
She replaced the pitcher and closed the icebox, then picked up her mug and the lamp, and started walking towards the living room. As she stepped into the room, a strange feeling of relaxation swept over her, almost as tangible as the air from the ice box. Suddenly, she was conscious of just how quiet everything was. The silence of the house no longer beat against the noise in her head. Instead, it wrapped her in a comforting blanket of stillness and memory.
One time when they were really little, Macintosh had gotten real angry at her for something she'd done. She couldn't remember what it was anymore, but it was the worst she'd ever seen him. That was when she'd learned that he could be a really scary pony if he didn't have his trademark self-control. She thought that he was going to hit her. Hard. Instead he'd gone and kicked a hole in the living room wall.
When Mom and Dad got home he'd tried to say that he didn't do it. Then they'd asked him if he didn't, who did. He didn't say anything for a long time. He could have said Applejack did it. She was strong enough even then that she could have, but he didn't. Instead, he'd changed his mind and confessed to the whole thing. When she asked him about it later, he said that he couldn't blame somepony else for something he did, no matter how mad he was. It wasn't fair.
Applejack set the lamp and mug of cider down on the end table that stood next to the chair. The little yellow flame cast its glow over that corner of the room, and everything outside of that small circle of light just seemed to disappear from the world as if it had never existed. Everything it touched seemed so small and tenuous, like they would just vanish with the rest of the world if that light ever faltered. She sat down and sank into the warm enfolding cushion of the armchair.
She remembered Macintosh and Fluttershy's wedding and how proud everyone had been. He'd never looked more handsome or happy in his life, and Fluttershy had been radiant. Just before the ceremony, Granny had taken him aside to have a private talk, and when they came back he was blushing like a ripe tomato.
They'd had the ceremony out in the apple orchard in the shade of the oldest and largest tree on the farm. Because it was a really long trip for her family, only Fluttershy's parents had been able to come, but they were wonderful ponies and when the reception came around they immediately started mingling with the hoards of Apples that'd shown up. Her mother had asked Macintosh when they could start expecting grandbabies and that set both him and Fluttershy into a blushing frenzy. Then Applebloom'd started needling them about wanting nieces and nephews.
She remembered wishing that her own parents had gotten to see that. They would have been so happy for Macintosh, and they would have adored Fluttershy.
On the mantlepiece, the light from the lamp glinted off the glass of a picture frame.
She slowly got up and walked over to it. Bracing her front two legs on the fireplace, she reared up to look at it more closely.
A giant brown stallion was standing proudly in front of the gate leading into Sweet Apple Acres. He wore a lopsided grin on his face and a very familiar wide-brimmed hat on his head. It was the same hat that Applejack never went anywhere without now. Next to him, leaning up against his side was a cream colored mare with a red mane and a secretive smile on her face. "Hey dad. Hey mom," she whispered.
A tear started welling up in her eye, but she fought it back.
Applejack picked the picture up in her mouth and dropped back down to all fours. Then she turned around and went back to the giant armchair and climbed up into it, setting the picture down on the end table next to the lamp. She picked up her cider, cradling the mug in both hooves, as she leaned back once more into the comforting softness of the chair.
"I..." She gazed down into her mug for a long moment and then lifted it up to her mouth to take a long drink. "I'm sure you know this already, but Macintosh is gone. Probably." She set the mug back down on the table and looked at the picture with a sidelong gaze. "Applebloom thinks he's still alive, and she's real sore at me for sayin' he's gone. Says I don't have any faith in him. That I've given up without any good reason."
Her father's smiling face just watched her back from his place in the picture frame. Applejack closed her eyes tight.
"The truth is, I don't know. I act like I do because I don't want it to be like last time, when you and mom went, but I just don't know. Why'd he have to go off like that an' leave us? Leave Applebloom? Fluttershy? How could he do that to us and stay away for so long, and then just...not come back?
"If it was just me, maybe I could've let it stay unresolved like that, but it's not just me. Applebloom needs closure. She was young enough that she doesn't remember what it was like when you disappeared and I don't want her to go through that. She'll be sad, but she'll still be able to move on with her life. And if she's mad at me, well, it'll still be worth it. I'll just have to work harder."
Applejack breathed in deeply and then let it out in a long, ragged sigh. A shuddery feeling gripped her chest and her throat was starting to ache. She reached for the mug and started drinking to try and sooth the feeling away, but it didn't go. All too soon, it was empty and she still felt exactly the same. She set the mug down on the end table. For a long time, she just sat there, head back, eyes closed, saying nothing.
"I'll keep them safe." She swallowed, trying to clear out her throat. "I promise." She swallowed again to try and dislodge the lump that was making it hard to talk. "I'll stay strong, just like you and Macintosh. I'll be there for them."
She felt the hot wetness of tears coming down her cheek. Hastily, she brushed them away with a hoof. "I...I almost lost it earlier...but I pulled through and nopony saw. I was able to stay strong for them when they needed me today, and I'll be strong for them tomorrow, and the day after that and for however long they need me to be." She sniffed. "If I just stay strong, we'll all pull through."
Applejack opened her eyes and looked at the picture, but she couldn't see her parents any more, only a watery yellow blur of glass and lamp light.
"You should have seen Fluttershy today. It was amazing. I never would have thought she was that strong inside before I saw her with Granny. And when Aunt Orange came she put it all aside again to help take care of them." She smiled through the haze. "She was strong. And Granny. Well, she was Granny. And Applebloom..." Applejack trailed off and took another shuddering breath before continuing. "Applebloom took it hardest, but I know she's a strong filly. And smart as all get-out. I think she'll grow up to be the best Apple in the bunch ifn' we just give her time and love. She's gonna make you proud."
There was so much more she wanted to say, that she needed to say. About Aunt Orange and Mimosa suddenly showing up. About everything. But she couldn't talk any more. Instead she simply sat there in her father's chair, in that tiny world lit by the small light of the lantern, and cried. Quietly, so she didn't wake anypony up.