"Girls, are you sure this is safe? I don't know about this, it looks kind of dangerous..." Sweetie Belle said while eyeing the large device in front of them cautiously.
She didn't know much about industrial equipment, but she knew that anything industrial was dangerous. The cement mixer in front of her had to be handled with the utmost care and caution. It was a large round cauldron-like container, which mixed the cement until it was ready to be used. One wrong move could cause serious injury, especially to three young foals like them. Nervously, she took a sharp breath, hesitant about her friends' latest idea.
"Oh come on Sweetie! Don't be such a baby, it'll be fine," Scootaloo said while waving her hoof nonchalantly. "Besides, it'll be super cool! Just think about it: ponies walking over this sidewalk everyday and knowing that we made it! Everypony will know that we can be helpful when we want to be, and that we don't always cause problems!" she said excitedly.
"Yeah! Sweetie, this could also be our last chance ta' get our cutie marks! We're runnin' out of ideas!" Apple Bloom shouted despairingly.
"Alright, if you're sure... Then let's do this!" Sweetie shouted with more enthusiasm than before. She trusted her friends completely, and she knew that they would never let any harm come to her, nor she to them.
The three young fillies grabbed their trowels in their mouths and proceeded back over to the machine. As they prepared to tip the cement down from the mixer in order to sculpt it into a sidewalk, they shared a quick glance. They all knew that this was one of the last ideas on their crusading list; this was one of the few hopes of discovering their marks that they had left. Together they drew a large breath, hopeful for one last time, as they readied themselves for their signature cheer.
"Cutie Mark Crusaders Cement Layers Yay!"
Apple Bloom sighed deeply, thinking about the last failed attempt by her and her friends to gain their cutie marks. In all honesty, she was beginning to think that she and her friends might never learn what their special talents were, that they would never experience that special sensation of earning their cutie marks. They would never learn what their special talents were. Never feel the fulfilling sensation of knowing what they were meant to do in life. They would remain blank flanks forever, ordinary, talentless ponies who had no place in life other than to take up space.
She exhaled again, sadness visible on her face to anypony in the classroom. Her eyelids drooped and her mane sagged around her face in a series of dull red, loose strands, lacking its usually vibrancy. She looked nothing like her usual energetic self, instead looking as if a terrible tragedy had just occurred and she was in mourning.
Her friends were faring no better, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were almost as out of hope as she was. They had tried everything that they could think of to get their cutie marks and to realize what was special inside each of them, but everything they’d tried ended as a failure. Six months of dangerous stunts and grueling activities, of hard work and sweat, all to no avail. Their last attempt at obtaining their marks had been just as spectacular a failure as every other before, honestly, how could it not be with an idea like Cutie Mark Crusaders Cement Layers? Apple Bloom remembered the horrible idea that they had all tried to act on just a few weeks before.
What a spectacular failure that had been. Somehow, Sweetie had fallen face first into the quick dry cement, and was thrashing about in what was supposed to soon become a new sidewalk. As she had thrashed about in the sticky and uncomfortable mixture, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo had tried to grab her. Sweetie's frantic flopping ended up pitching them both into the mixture as well.
They tangled together, covering each other in the sticky substance from head to toe; now appearing to be a squirming mass of wriggling children struggling to free themselves from their sticky situation. It had taken the real construction crew four hours to clean the goop out of their coats, and thirty minutes just to get them out of the fresh cement. They’d had to use a rope to pull the girls out, proceeding to wash them off with a power hose and industrial strength cleaners. More than once, they’d been blown off balance by the powerful hose, falling back into the pit of cement.
In the end, the crew finally managed to get most of their manes and coats clean, though multiple patches still contained random small patches of cement. After a rather embarrassing coat cleaning and explanation of what happened that afternoon to their families, they had been forbidden from coming within twenty feet of any construction or industrial site.
Due to that incident, they had lost faith in their abilities. Even now, three weeks after the incident, they still had random patches of coat and mane missing where their coats had undergone the “special cleaning.” Apple Bloom shuddered at the thought of that evening. All of that tugging and scrubbing. All of the fur falling out or being ripped out very painfully. It was terrible, every single moment was as terrifying as it was embarrassing for the young girls.
What kind of pony even made a trowel for cement spreading anyways? Whose bright idea was it to make ponies use their faces to spread cement? It didn't matter anyway, Apple Bloom was just trying to find a way to vent her frustration. What were they missing; what were they doing wrong? Maybe they were just going about this whole thing the wrong way, nothing had worked for them so far; there had to be some kind of underlying secret that nopony was telling them. What was that secret though, and how were they to discover it and utilize its powers?
She was brought out of her wallowing by a loud, ear-splitting ringing sound. The school bell was ringing for class to end. Had she really spent that much time thinking?
"Alright children, class is dismissed. You can all pack up your things and go home. Have a great weekend everypony!" their teacher Cheerilee exclaimed with a cheery smile.
Everypony else in the class got up quickly, clambering for the doors so that they could go enjoy their weekends. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon stopped just long enough in front of Apple Bloom to give her an egotistical smirk before continuing on their way out the door. The three crusaders rose slowly from their seats and shuffled slowly to gather their things, sad and gloomy expressions displayed across their features as Cheerilee eyed them with concern.
The teacher had never seen the three fillies so... hopeless looking and defeated. Usually, they had an air of confidence about them, and a determination, not letting anypony's opinions about them get in their way. Today it was not so, their heads drooped and they walked a sad slow walk with no purpose. She stuck her foreleg out in front of the three as they approached the door, stopping them from exiting the classroom.
"Girls, is everything alright?" she asked, the concern lacing her voice. "Why are you so sad? Are Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon messing with you all again?"
"No Ms. Cheerilee, it's nothin' like that," Apple Bloom stated depressingly.
"Well why don't you tell me what's wrong girls? Maybe I can help you with whatever it is. That is if you'd like of course."
"It's not fair Ms. Cheerilee, why can't we find our cutie marks? What are we doing wrong? We've tried everything," the young, orange pegasus filly cried out.
Her voice was filled with exasperation from the multiple failures. She was beginning to get annoyed, and more than a little downtrodden. All of their great ideas were failing them, and she was getting tired of it. The others girls were too, as they felt like the universe was working against them.
"Girls, you just have to be patient. I'm sure in time you will all find your special talents. Why don't you tell me all of the things you've tried, and maybe we can figure out what is going wrong together," the teacher offered with a small smile.
"We've tried hoof-fishing, hang-gliding, bungee jumping, construction work, drag racing, and lots of other stuff! Nothing works!" Sweetie yelled as Cheerilee recoiled slightly.
"Drag racing...? Girls, I think I know what the problem is, you're trying too hard to earn your cutie marks. Instead of going out and trying all of these new things that you have no experience at, why don't you just stick to doing just a few things that you like to do? That will give you girls a better chance of discovering what you actually want to do with your lives. Think about it; would you really want your cutie mark to be any of those talents? Are those things something that you want to do?"
The girls looked to each other and thought for a moment; now that they thought about it, they didn't want cutie marks in any of those things. They looked towards their teacher and shook their heads.
"See girls, just try to do what you love to do!" she said with a smile, grateful that they were understanding what she was trying to convey to them.
"Ms. Cheerilee, how did you get your cutie mark?" Sweetie asked.
"Yeah, we never really hear you talk about how you got it. You just talk about what it means," Scootaloo added.
Cheerilee looked at them for a moment, seeming to think it over for a moment. It had been a long time since she had thought about that moment, and it still made her smile fondly at the memory. It had been a very profound and revealing experience for her.
"Yeah Ms. Cheerilee. It could help us find our own cutie marks!" Apple Bloom yelled.
"Please!" they all pleaded with puppy dog eyes.
Ms. Cheerilee merely smiled down at them, happy at their enthusiasm.
"Well, alright girls, take a seat and I'll tell you about how I got my cutie mark. It's a pretty interesting story actually."
Cheerilee looked at her small garden in the backyard of her home with a small smile on her face. She loved to come out here whenever she was stressed, or just wanted to relax. She loved the smell of fresh air, the beautiful sight of the sun reflecting off of all of the different colored flowers in her garden. The wind blowing through her mane as she watched the flowers bend and wave in the breeze filled her with a sense of being. The whole place was seemingly alive and in tune with nature, lifting her spirits and filling her heart with a loving warmth.
It was truly a breathtaking sight to behold, and it was worth every painstaking minute of care that she had put into it. Every flower, every plant, every vine and tree had required its own special care, an act of devotion and love that Cheerilee had been more than happy to put in. It wasn't as if she had anything better to do with her time, Ponyville wasn't exactly the most exciting town to live in. Everypony got along well, which formed a tight knit community who took care of each other. This was something that she appreciated very much, however it meant that life could get pretty bland and repetitive at some times.
Apple Bloom raised her hoof before calling out to Cheerilee, “Ms. Cheerilee, how did you know so much about gardening?”
“Uh, yeah. Since when did you like that so much?” Scootaloo questioned.
“Why did you think that Ponyville was bland and repetitive?” Sweetie asked.
“Well girls,” Cheerilee began. “I think that I first learned how to garden from my mother. We were always very close, and I spent a lot of time with her. As it turns out, one of her passions was gardening, and whenever I would go outside with her, she would teach me how to tend to the garden with her.”
“To answer your question Sweetie, there just wasn’t as much going on in the town then as there is now. It was even more rural than it is nowadays, and the community was so tight knit, that every piece of drama was handled almost right away. Most of the time there was nothing to do around the town, so I would just spend the day out gardening with my mother.”
“Wow Ms. Cheerilee, that’s pretty interesting! Why don’t we ever see you gardening anymore if you love it so much?” Sweetie asked the school teacher curiously.
“I do Sweetie Belle, I just do it in my backyard like I always used to. There are just so many memories in that garden. I still tend to it whenever I have the time to. Now, shall we get back to the story girls?”
The three fillies immediately pounced upward, stating their excited approval of Cheerilee’s continuation.
The only thing that Cheerilee didn't like about Ponyville was the schoolteacher, Mr. Graphite. It wasn't that he was a bad teacher per se, he just wasn't... it seemed as if he just didn't care. He just wanted to do his job, go home, and get paid; he didn't really care much about the curriculum or the students, just the bits at the end of the day. Cheerilee didn't know much about teaching, it interested her but she just hadn't gotten around to studying into it, but she knew that a class was not supposed to be taught like that. It was the teacher's job to care about their students, and to help them learn and retain the information that would help them in their futures. It wasn't about the money, it was about the children.
She looked again to her beautiful garden and then through the small fence in her backyard. She could see the little fillies and coIts frollicking about and playing in the streets that lay behind her humble abode. It was such a heartwarming sight that filled her with hope and happiness for the future; this was what it was about. Children were like delicate flowers, she realized that now as she gazed back and forth across the path. They were just as beautiful and complicated as her garden.
Thinking back, she thought of all of the times that she had played the role of babysitter for busy families’ foals. No single time had been exactly the same as the other before, in fact, that was what she had loved about the job. Each child that she had looked after had been different in their own way and required different caretakings, however, she had loved all of them the same. She realized now how the children were so similar to her flowers; she realized that no single child was exactly like any other.
Each child was their own delicate flower, unique in every way, and a gift from nature to the Earth. As such, each child needed their own special brand of teaching. Each child could grow and flourish into a beautiful flower if given the chance and opportunity to do so. To form them into all that they could be would take hard work, sacrifice, love, and a tender attention, but she knew in the end that to see the child's successful smiling face would be worth it.
“Ya’ used to babysit for ponies?” Apple Bloom asked quizzically.
“That’s right Apple Bloom, I would babysit for ponies when they were too busy to watch their kids. It’s kind of what got me even slightly interested in teaching in the first place. I loved seeing the joyous faces of the little fillies and colts that I played with and took care of. I wanted to be able to give something like that to everypony,” Cheerilee reminisced.
Sweetie seemed to be distracted, seemingly deep in thought herself. She merely continued to stroke her chin with a hoof as she stared at Cheerilee. Never would she have guessed that a cutie mark could result from such a deep and insightful realization about oneself... So this is what it meant to earn a cutie mark? To learn something about yourself?
Scootaloo interrupted Sweetie’s mental inquiry and addressed Cheerilee, “Yeah, yeah. Can we just get back to the story please, I’m still waiting for the part where you get your cutie mark.”
Cheerilee looked at her incredulously while the other two crusaders expressed their disapproval at Scootaloo’s rude statement with sour faces.
Cheerilee cleared her throat, “Ahem... Right. Well, back to the story then.”
Inside Cheerilee felt a little sad at the pegasus’ remark towards her childhood memory; she hoped that they would all realize the significance of the story by the end of it.
It would be a constant struggle to keep them on the right path however. Give them too much coddling and attention and their growth would be stunted. It would also take away from the rest of the garden, preventing the other plants from growing to their full worth, deprived of the love that they would need. On the other side of the spectrum however, she knew that too little attention would stunt their growth and cause them to wilt, turning them into criminals or some other kind of street scum.
Together they would all grow into something beautiful, the next generation, ready to spread their seed to the world and take over for the previous generation. In turn she would get the satisfaction of knowing that she had helped shape a life, the feeling that she had done something worthwhile and important, that she had helped to make the world a better place.
She smiled on the inside; the more she thought about it, the more she knew that this was something she wanted to do. She understood now what her place was in life, what she was meant to become, and nothing could stop her now. She wanted to become a teacher. She wanted to help children grow and blossom just like her beautiful garden, to help them be all they could be.
She felt a strange warm spreading from her heart throughout her body, focusing down in her flanks as she let out a sigh of contentedness. Absentmindedly she turned around to continue tending to her garden, her epiphany stored in the back of her mind; it would take time for her dream to become a reality, for now she had a garden to take care of. As she turned, she thought she caught sight of something on her previously blank flanks. Excited, she turned around to gaze at her flanks and saw that she had earned her cutie mark, three smiling flowers. Cheerilee knew exactly what this symbol meant as she jumped up and down excitedly. Her parents would be so proud of her and her noble goals for the future!
She smiled and ran inside quickly to tell her parents the great news. They simply hugged her and smiled, telling her how proud they were of their little filly. She was so proud of herself as well; she was happier than she had ever been before in her life.
"And that's how I got my cutie mark girls." Cheerilee smiled proudly.
"Wow Ms. Cheerilee, that was really deep and insightful."
"Yeah, that was a great story Ms. Cheerilee! I think we know what we were doing wrong now!" Scootaloo yelled.
"We were lookin' everywhere for our cutie marks except for where we shoulda' been lookin' the whole time, inside of ourselves," Apple Bloom stated.
"Very good girls! I'm so proud of you! Now do you realize what you have to do to earn a cutie mark? Do you feel better?" she asked.
"Yes Ms. Cheerilee, we know exactly what we have to do now!" Scootaloo and Apple Bloom shouted in unison.
"And what is that girls?" Cheerilee asked, awaiting some profound and insightful answer on the meaning of life.
They all sucked in their breaths as Cheerilee looked at them confused.
"Cutie Mark Crusaders Flower Gardeners Yay!" they yelled in unison.
Cheerilee face-hoofed as the eager children ran out the door, ready to take on their new task.
'Oh well, they're still young; they have plenty of time left. It's nice to see them feeling better at least,' she thought, not noticing Sweetie Belle approaching her from the side.
"Ms. Cheerilee, thank you for telling us that story, I think I know what I want to do now," she smiled as Cheerilee looked at her quizzically. "I want to be a singer, I think I always have; deep inside I think I've always known that was what I wanted to do. I can inspire ponies with my voice and show them that they don't have to deny who they really are because of what other ponies think. Now I just have to practice working on my stage fright and maybe one day I can be a famous singer!" she said with a smile. "Oh and don't worry, I'll still keep an eye on the girls to make sure they don't get into trouble."
"I'm proud of you Sweetie, I know you'll grow up to be a wonderful singer, and a great inspiration to others," the teacher said while reaching down to give her a hug.
"Thank you again Ms. Cheerilee, you're the best teacher ever!" Sweetie yelled before running out the door after her friends.
Cheerilee merely smiled as she watched the trio take off into Ponyville. This is what she had dedicated her life to doing. To being a good influence and setting ponies on the right path, the path to their success. She gazed back at her cutie mark with a gentle smile, then back at the beautiful sight that was Ponyville. She turned her gaze back as she walked out of the door to the schoolhouse. To see ponies become all they could be had been her job since she was little, and she walked home with a happy skip in her step, knowing that she had done a job well done.