“Jeez,” Rainbow Dash said with a laugh, “how many of those things did you guys make?” She sauntered past the bookshelves containing fiction and idly glanced at the titles passing before her eyes. She finally decided on a book and grabbed it before walking towards the table and laying it open in front of her.
“About three hundred and fifty by my count,” Twilight answered her as she brought a mug of tea to Rarity sitting on a pillow by the table. The purple unicorn joined her friend with her own mug.
“Wow!” Pinkie Pie said with a bounce to emphasize the syllable. “How long did it take you two?”
“Most of the night,” she said as she looked at the only paper dart left on the table. “Thanks again for helping us clean them all up.”
“Think nothing of it, dear,” Rarity said as she finished sipping her tea. “It’s what friends are for, after all. And with all that commotion I just couldn’t help but investigate.”
Big Macintosh just stayed silent in his place a little farther removed from everyone else. He smiled as he saw the four close friends interact with each other. He couldn’t help but feel a bit relieved since most of their attention was focused on each other rather than him. He could’ve just excused himself and went home, but a part of him wanted to stay as long as possible.
That was until the library’s door slammed open and a familiar blond-maned mare stormed inside, kicking the door shut behind her with a loud bang. She took four steps in before she spoke in a harsh whisper. “You,” she pointed to Twilight, “and you,” and then to Big Macintosh, “come here.”
The two exchanged nervous glances before walking towards Applejack. They sat down in front her and she immediately began to pace back and forth. She was seething; her brisk steps and violent shakes of her head were proof enough. Nothing was said for a few minutes, but Big Mac could see his sister’s mind hard at work for the proper words to say (or scream as the case may be).
“Just what in the heck were you two thinkin’? Yer just damn lucky you two didn’t get three hundred tickets for litterin'. The only reason y’all didn’t was ‘cause it would’ve taken as much paper to write the tickets as you two threw around in the first place and the mayor thought it’d be bad publicity ta be that wasteful.”
Neither Big Mac nor Twilight could look Applejack in the eye, while Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie stood in silence by the library’s wall and simply watched the scene unfolding before them. The air was so tense it was palpable. So much so that Big Mac assumed the only reason the other three were still here was because he and Twilight were blocking the exit.
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” Twilight said. “We cleaned up the mess we made and everything turned out okay.”
“You were lucky,” she retorted. “Ah expected this from him, he doesn’t give a damn. But Ah thought ya had more sense than that, Twilight.”
“C’mon, sis, go easy on ‘er. It was my idea,” Big Mac said.
“Oh believe me, Mac, Ah haven’t even started on ya. A hole in the barn, plowin’ and planting a field when ya know damn well ya ain’t supposed ta work. Do ya want ta make yer injuries worse? Do ya want to spend the rest of yer life stuck in a bed? Ah bet ya’ll be really happy then.”
“Applejack,” Twilight began, “the field was-“
“You know Ah don’t,” Big Mac interrupted. “But ya can’t treat me like a dang foal for as long as Ah’m injured.”
Applejack glared at him. “Ah wouldn’t need ta if you didn’t act like one. This is the last straw, Mac. Ah want ya on the farm in plain sight where Ah can keep an eye on ya.”
“You can’t do that!” he said, matching his sister’s glare.
“The hell Ah can’t. Ya won’t blow your damn nose without me seein’ it and you sure as hell won’t do any work on my watch. And just ta make sure,” Applejack stood in front of her brother and reached out a foreleg towards him, “gimme yer harness.”
The Apple siblings glared at each other, neither one giving in. The room was dead still for several minutes, no one dumb enough to speak a single word.
“Give. Me. Your. Harness.”
“Maybe you should,” Twilight whispered next to him. Big Macintosh broke his gaze from his sister and stared at the unicorn in disbelief.
“But-“ he stammered.
“Yeah, big guy,” Rainbow pitched in. “I know it sucks but, you know, doctors orders.”
“Yes, sweetie, you wouldn’t want to make things worse, would you?”
“C’mon Macky, not working means you have lots more time for fun!”
Big Macintosh looked at them in turn and saw faces full of worried eyes and reassuring smiles, but none of them made him feel any better. He had expected a little support, but, now that he really thought about it, he didn’t know why they would be on his side when they were all really Applejack’s friends. Slowly, he brought a hoof to the familiar wood around his neck. Sure, he had been without it hundreds of times. But to have it taken away from him, it was as if he was giving up on his purpose. The very reason for his existence. It marked him as a workpony, always had. Without it, what good was he?
He felt the fight in him shrink and shrivel away. His glare disappeared and he looked down at the library’s floor. He slipped his collar off and allowed it to fall on the floor with a heavy thud. Without saying a word and without looking up, he stood, walked to the door, and made his leave. What was the point in staying when no one had any use for him?
He didn’t argue with Applejack anymore. He hardly did anything anymore. The rest of the week was spent lying beneath the shade of an apple tree. Sometimes, rarely, he would walk up and down the rows of trees looking for any signs of infestation or disease. It was a fool’s errand, but it made him feel better. At least, that’s what he told himself.
Every fifteen minutes or so Applejack would come by to make sure he stayed out of trouble. He didn’t fight it. In fact, he had come to accept it, and that dismal fact did nothing for his morale.
The worst part was that he wasn’t sad, though he felt a twinge of it. Rather, it was as if he just didn’t care about anything anymore. He didn’t care that he wasn’t allowed to work, he didn’t care that Applejack took up the brunt of the farm’s labor upon her shoulders, he didn’t care that he was completely and utterly useless. He simply waited for the day to pass him by.
Finally finished with his four hundredth walk around the orchard, the farmpony hung his head and fell to his side beneath a tree. The only thing left to do was to wait out the day. Not even the faint smell of sugar and vanilla wafting through the orchard could cheer him up. Wait.
“Hey Macky.” Pinkie’s singsong voice called out, and before Big Mac could even begin to look around he felt a weight suddenly press on his side. He turned his head to find the perky pink pony playfully perched upon him, her huge eyes hovering above so close their noses touched.
“Howdy Miss Pie,” he monotoned as he turned his head back to the side.
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked as she bounced off of him and walked to sit in front of his line of sight. When he didn’t say anything, she lowered her head and cocked it to the side to catch his gaze. “Well?”
“That’s great!” she exclaimed as she leapt straight up into the air. “I was kinda worried after you left the library and as soon as I got a day off from Sugarcube Corner I came here right away to make sure you were okay. So anyway wow! I wish I thought about throwing that many paper darts but I would have done it all at once but I guess…”
Her ramblings continued on for a while, leaving Big Macintosh to simply listen quietly. Every so often he would catch his sister looking at them from somewhere out in the orchard, though once she was satisfied that he wasn’t doing anything labor-intensive she would quickly get back to her own work. Pinkie didn’t seem to notice and just continued with her talk.
“…so I thought if we got enough paper together…” Pinkie Pie trailed off as she seemed to notice Big Mac’s bored expression for what seemed like the first time. She brought her face closer to his and looked into his eyes with a focused gaze. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Just fine,” he said.
“You don’t look fine. You look unfine. Really really unfine.” She tilted her head again to look at him straight on. “Sad even,” she said as she stood back up. She rubbed her chin as she hummed aloud, the gears in her head spinning at full speed while Big Macintosh wondered if her mind went as fast as her mouth. It was a strange brainteaser, kind of like trying to figure out if the chicken or the egg came first.
Pinkie giggled, seemingly at her own thoughts or maybe at his. “Stay here okay, I’ll have you cheered up in no time,” she said.
“Miss Pie, Ah don’t really feel like bein’ cheered up,” he said. But Pinkie just ignored him and started bouncing down the rows of apple trees to who-knew-where. Big Macintosh didn’t say anything more, and just watched her leave. When she was out of sight he rolled onto his back and stared at the sunlight filtering through the canopy of leaves and flowers. He had to admit it was a pretty sight, though he would be enjoying it more if he felt the small sting of sweat in his eyes.
He silently hoped that he would be well enough by Applebuck season. Of course, it was months away and all logic would suppose that would be plenty enough time to recover. But the way his luck was going lately, he wouldn’t be surprised if a giant rock were to suddenly fall from the sky to crush him where he lied. But really, there wasn’t any point in thinking about the future right now.
“What are we looking at?”
He didn’t even bother to look around this time. The feeling of her curly mane pressing against his head was enough. She started talking again and he listened, letting her voice take his mind off his troubles.
“…long story short, I got you a present.”
His ears twitched at that last part. He slowly sat up to face her and saw, for the first time, a box about the size of Pinkie’s head sitting next to her. It was wrapped in glimmering red wrapping paper with a lid decorated with a ruddy orange bow. On the box’s side was a picture of a green apple half. He didn’t bother asking where she got this particular wrapping paper, he really didn’t want to know anyway.
Noticing his gaze, Pinkie Pie hopped up on all fours and pushed the box towards him with a huge grin on her face. With nothing better to do, Big Macintosh lowered his head to examine it more closely before placing a hoof beneath the lip of the lid. He lifted it up slowly, but before he could completely remove it the lid forcefully flew away from him. The next thing he knew a small alligator had its mouth clamped around his muzzle.
“Gotcha!” Pinkie Pie managed to say amongst a barrage of giggles. He simply watched her as she rolled around in the grass, obviously the only pony around who actually appreciated her joke. A few minutes passed before the giggling pony settled down enough to notice Big Mac’s bored expression laced with a bit of irritation at having to breathe moist air that smelled of spit.
“It’s a prank,” she said as if Big Mac’s problem was a simple issue of communication. She approached the stallion and placed her hooves around her pet. With a gentle pull she managed to release the alligator’s grip on Big Mac’s snout, a thick rope of spit bridging the two for a moment before breaking. He quickly cleaned his muzzle with a foreleg.
“You should've seen Twilight’s face when I pulled this prank on her. It was sooo funny!” She grinned at him and he just nodded his head lamely. He wasn’t angry, it wasn’t as if having his muzzle bitten by a reptile was new to him after all, he was just so damn tired even though he had no reason to be. So with a small yawn he lied back on his side beneath the shade.
“Well if that didn’t help, maybe…” she trailed off in another hum of thought. In an instant her face brightened. “Can you wait here for an hour?” she asked with a smile.
“Ain’t got nothin’ better ta do.”
“Perfect. I’ll be right back with something amazing!” She bounced away, leaving a trail of giggles behind her. He watched her go with a sigh and rolled over on his back, again facing the backlit canopy of foliage. Idly, he wondered what Pinkie Pie would bring him next.
“She ain’t botherin’ ya, is she?” Applejack’s voice caused him to turn his head towards his sister walking down the rows of trees. He briefly wondered if it had been fifteen minutes already. She approached him, and his heart fell as he saw the bag of seeds slung across her back.
“Nnope,” he said, turning his gaze back above to avoid looking at her. He heard the sound of hooves idly shuffling on the grass before Applejack spoke again.
“A’right, if ya need anythin’ just tell me.”
“Are you,” Applejack approached him and her face filled up most of his line of sight as she looked down on him, “feelin’ okay?”
It was obvious that she didn’t believe him. She opened her mouth as if to say something but decided against it. Instead, she just gave him a weak pat on his chest before heading off to continue her, and his, chores. Leaving him to continue his gazing. He didn’t know how much time passed when he heard the distinct sound of rustling leaves above him. He squinted his eyes to try to see anything amongst the green and white foliage, but saw nothing.
Big Macintosh turned his head to see who else but Pinkie Pie happily bouncing towards him with a bright pink box balanced precariously on her head. As she approached, Big Mac rolled around to sit and face the oncoming mass of pink and curls.
“Guess what I~ go~t.” Pinkie sang as she stopped in front of him. With a downward curve of her head, she dropped the pink box between them. Big Macintosh looked at it a bit before lazily staring at the mare. Her grin never shrunk for a moment. “It’s my very own Super Sweet Special Treat! Patent pending. One bite and you’ll be cheered up in no time, guar-an-teed.”
Casting her strange pronunciation aside, Big Mac took a second look at the pastry box. Without much thought he opened its lid, causing its walls to fall and reveal…a cupcake. Though larger than any cup he’d ever seen. If it weren’t for its pink wrapper decorated with balloons and the mountain of strawberry frosting and white sprinkles finishing the pastry at a point, he would have just called it a cake.
His gaze kept moving between the giant cupcake and Pinkie Pie, who only looked at him with a grin as she waited. With a mental shrug he lowered his head and looked for a place that wasn’t absolutely slathered in frosting. He had no such luck. He would have quit there, but Pinkie’s grin seemed to compel him to continue. So with a quick shake of his head he bit down deep through the two inches of frosting and into the sweet bread beneath. And how sweet it was. As he chewed he could actually feel his teeth rotting, and he cringed as the sugary mush crawled down his throat. He couldn’t take another bite, he could barely manage to lick his lips to clean the frosting smeared on his muzzle.
“Thanks,” he said as he wiped his mouth with a foreleg. He could feel Pinkie Pie’s unblinking gaze on him, urging him to take another bite. Instead, he pushed the undone box of cake towards the mare. “Ya can have the rest if ya want,” he said.
“Are you sure?” she asked as she eyed the cake. He only had to nod once before the pink pony dove head first into the dessert, causing Big Mac to raise a foreleg to protect his face from the sugary shrapnel. It only took a few seconds before Pinkie was licking her face clean. How she could stand that much sugar and bread he had no idea.
She grinned at him, but he just kept his usual bored expression. Slowly, her smile faded and was replaced by a thoughtful expression. “Still nothing, huh?” she asked as she circled around him as if he was on display. She poked him at random areas every now and then, his nose, his ribs, his chest, the top of his head. Finally she stopped in front of him with a hoof on her chin and her grin returned in full force. “This time I’ll get you up and going for sure! I hope you enjoy the sugar rush!” she exclaimed out of the blue before turning and bouncing away once again.
He watched her go with a bit of confusion. Sugar rush? Sure he had a bit of cake, and sure it was sweetened beyond all belief. But a single bite couldn’t possibly have much of an effect on a colt his size. Even so, he absently raised a hoof to knock on his harness before remembering it wasn’t there anymore. He shook his head at the realization and lied down on his back once again. But it didn’t last for long.
It started with a twitch in his back left leg. Then that twitch turned into a shiver. Quickly, the colt stood on his hooves and looked at his back leg tapping the ground. Strange, it seemed that the sudden onrush of energy was isolated to that one leg. Damn that Pinkie and her sweets, how the heck was that even possible? As he looked down at his leg, itching for something to do, an idea struck him. Carefully, he looked down the rows of apple trees for any sign of orange. Seeing none, he turned his back to the tree he had been lying under for the past few hours and lined up his twitching leg to the tree trunk.
“Don’t even think about it,” Applejack said as she appeared, seemingly from nowhere, behind the tree he was about to buck. Dejected, Big Mac lowered his hoof. Satisfied, Applejack continued down the orchard, pulling a small wagon of wicker baskets behind her. And that was the end of their interaction.
Big Macintosh shook his head as he fully turned around to face the tree. With a world-weary groan he idly thumped his head to rest on the trunk, causing it to quiver. The cool wood made him feel a bit better, if only slightly. Though he didn’t have time to fully enjoy it before he heard the fluttering of falling paper. He turned his head to see a sheet of card stock, folded in half, on the ground like a tiny tent. Its pink color gave him a quick idea of where it could have come from.
He didn’t really know if he wanted to open it or not. He didn’t really know if he wanted to waste more of Pinkie’s time. Or maybe he just had enough of her attempts. Still, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do. So with a quick look around the orchard he went up to the card and flipped it over with his nose. Printed in curved and spastic writing were three words that sent a shiver down his spine. You are invited…
He hung his head, knowing exactly where this was going. Pinkie Pie throwing a party was about as inevitable as him going to a hospital. Though at least in a hospital no one forced him to a social event when he wasn’t feeling at all social. He read the rest of the invitation and gleaned out the details. When: well if the time on the card and the position of the sun were to be believed, he was already half an hour late at least. Where: the Apple family barn?
Another groan escaped his lips as he read the location. He had been avoiding the barn like the plague for the past few days. It didn’t contain anything but reminders of his recent slothful lifestyle: tools, barrels, wood planks, and his plow. Once upon a time he would go in the barn and just look at all the things that needed to be done and start doing them. But now, he was like a prisoner of his own injuries and that building only served as a remnant of his lost freedom.
But what else could he do? Leave Pinkie Pie and whoever else that decided to come to the party in the barn only for them to eventually seek him out? No. He’d go, maybe talk with his usual two-word vocabulary and leave early. He’d suffer through it because the last thing he wanted was for others to feel sorry for him. And for some strange reason, whenever he told ponies that he didn’t want to be bothered with a party they instantly assumed something was wrong.
His mental rant completed, he walked down the rows of apple trees towards the barn in the distance. He took his time, even though he was already late. There was no reason to rush, besides there would obviously be a pony peeking outside for him and they probably already saw him coming by now.
Finally after a few minutes, he arrived at the barn’s shutted doors. He pressed his ear against the wood to try and hear any noise within. But all he heard was silence. A bit confused, he opened the door and stepped into the darkness inside.
With a small whoosh the lanterns illuminated the straw covered space, and an instant later a pink pony bounded up from behind one of the stacks of bales. “Surprise!” she shouted at the top of her lungs as she bounded towards him with a hug. Big Macintosh pondered at the credibility of a surprise party when the pony being surprised received an invitation before taking a look around. Hundreds of balloons floated in the air and were held back only by the ceiling. Streamers and ribbons of every color imaginable hung from the walls and a giant five-tier cake covered in green frosting sat on a nearby table. But through all the decorations he quickly realized that there was something missing. He looked at her, the question on his face.
She noticed. “I tried to invite more ponies but a lot of ponies are busy during the day. Applejack is out working and Rainbow Dash is fixing the rainbow pools at the weather factory and Twilight is doing some research for the princesses and Ditzy’s re-re-re-redelivering today’s mail and Octavia has a recital with Lyra and Rose is out selling flowers and Bon Bon is making some candies for a fundraiser…”
With each ‘and’ Big Mac’s head drooped lower and lower. Not for the abysmal number of attendees to Pinkie’s, and by a lesser extent his, party. No, it was because every pony she listed was working and he was not. That thought obliterated any sort of contentment he might have been feeling today.
“…and Haystack is busy pulling haystacks and Derpy’s busy moving pianos and Caramel is busy with his marefriend and Mr. and Mrs. Cake are busy with a huge order of cupcakes and Rarity has a dress she’s working on and Pokey is busy poking things and Fluttershy is taking care of a sick bird and hey! Where are you going?”
Big Mac ignored her question as he made his way to the back of the barn. The hole he had made a few days ago had been stuffed with straw, a band-aid fix that would have to do until either he was fit enough to fix it properly or Applejack found the time to do it herself. Next to the stuffed hole was his plow and harness with chains looping in and out of every conceivable nook. They wrapped around the plow’s handles, around his yoke’s pegs, through the harness itself, and even around the plow’s blade until finally they ended at various points around the barn. Every support beam, every rafter, and everything bolted to the floor was wrapped in chain and helped keep his plow and harness securely in place. Applejack was not messing around this time. Which was good, because neither was he. Not anymore.
With a quick twist and crack of his neck he bit down hard into one of his plow’s handles and began to pull. He had enough of letting himself be ruled by the limitations of his body and the concern of his little sister who, though well meaning, could not begin to understand his need to feel useful. He had enough sitting around and doing nothing while the burden of his labor fell on his family. And he had enough of being told what to do. He was Big Buckin’ Macintosh Apple for Celestia’s sake and he was healed enough to do some damned work around here.
“What are you doing, Macky?” Pinkie Pie asked as she came to his side, but still he ignored her.
The barn itself seemed to groan and whine as his pull became stronger. He ignored the pain welling up in his chest and barrel and only focused on pulling his plow and harness free from the chains that bound them.
“Get out,” he said firmly, his voice coming out clearly despite the plow in his mouth. He could hear the farm implement start to bend to his force and the groaning of wood and the low rumbling growl of bending metal filled the barn. He didn’t care, he’d break the whole damn thing if it meant freeing it. Heck, he’d enjoy rebuilding it.
Pinkie Pie took his resolute command to heart and dashed out of the barn, leaving him to complete his task. Big Mac could feel the plow start to splinter and crack but still he kept going. He was enveloped within the frustration and anger he had kept within for so long and all at once it was about to come loose. He didn’t think, not at all. His mind hadn’t been out of commission for a month and a half, his mind wasn’t keeping him from doing his duty to his family, his large mind covered in rippling thoughts was not what Ponyville knew him for, and so his mind stayed out of the equation.
“Big Macintosh, stop!” a voice cried out from the barn’s doorway. He ignored it, already knowing what it was going to say. Again it cried for him to cease, and again he paid it no mind. Soon he felt a set of teeth clamp onto his neck and he felt them try to pull him away, but he would not be pulled away. The teeth finally let go and in its place a sharp pain exploded from his side as he felt a swift kick to his ribs. He opened his mouth to grunt out his pain and collapsed. Applejack still had one mean buck.
“Are ya crazy! Of all the stupid things you’ve done in yer life this has got ta take the cake. What, ya wanna break yer plow and wait even longer for us ta replace it?” she screamed at him.
“So what if Ah do?” he yelled back at her as he stood up on all fours. “Ain’t none of yer business.”
“Course it’s my business. Yer my brother! So start actin’ like it.”
“What the hell’s that s’possed ta mean?”
“It means that yer so damn caught up with what you wanna do and how yer feelin’ that you don’t give two bits about what the rest of the family feels. Thank Celestia Pinkie came ta get me or who knows what ya would’ve gotten yerself into.”
Big Mac turned to glare at the pink pony standing beneath the doorway. Pinkie Pie immediately shrunk beneath his gaze before he directed it back to his sister.
“Like Ah said, what Ah get myself inta ain’t none of yer damn business so why don’t ya just leave me alone?” The Apple siblings glared at one another, neither one backing down nor neither one admitting that their eyes were watering.
“Ya want me ta leave ya alone?” Applejack’s voice became a deathly whisper, “Fine, cause its crystal clear ta me that you don’t care about this family. So go ahead, Mac, you go on and do what ya want. You won’t be hearin’ from me anymore, ‘cause Ah’ve stopped caring. Some brother you are.”
With gritted teeth and a low growl Big Macintosh stomped out of the barn, Pinkie Pie quickly getting out of his way. He heard his sister start to cry. It made him pause, for just a second, before he shook his head and continued on his way.
It was torture. For the first time Applejack had given him permission to work, and all he could was lie under an apple tree and mull over his thoughts. To think, after all he’d done for her and all he’d done for his family, Applejack would have the audacity to say he didn’t care. Yeah, because a pony that gave so much for the farm so his family could live a better life obviously didn’t care. Some sister she was.
He heard the approaching hoofsteps long before he smelled the familiar scent of vanilla and sugar. He didn’t know how to react or what emotions would overtake him when she would undoubtedly speak. So he just waited and allowed himself a few deep breaths.
“I know you didn’t mean to say those things,” she said, stopping a few feet away from him. He wondered why she didn’t get as close as she usually did. Maybe she was scared or, more likely, maybe she was disgusted with him. He wouldn’t have been surprised either way.
“I know that ponies get mad sometimes and say things they regret. I know that the Apple family always sticks close together. And I know that if I cheer you up, you’ll say you’re sorry and Applejack will be happy again. So that’s what I’ll do. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
Big Macintosh didn’t say anything and just kept staring off into the distance, still lost within his thoughts. He valued her sentiments though doubted whether she could really pull it off. For him to come off this slump now aggravated by the anger he felt, well, that would take a miracle. But he supposed if there was any pony that could do it, it would be Pinkie Pie. Part of him wanted her to succeed and make everything better, but another part knew that life just didn’t work that way.
“Can you do me a favor?” she continued. “Can you be by the path to Ponyville in an hour?”
He nodded and she left and he was alone and he hated it.
He stoop up and began a slow walk towards the all-familiar path. Having arrived, he made himself comfortable and lied down on the grass with his hooves tucked underneath him. Then he did what he did best. He waited. An hour came and went, but still nothing changed. A whole other hour passed by but, still, nothing happened. It wasn’t until three hours later, when the sun was beginning its lazy descent towards the horizon that a low rumble reverberated through the ground.
It started softly at first, barely felt and barely heard. But soon it became louder and stronger. Big Macintosh craned his neck to see as far down the path as he could, half-expecting to see a full on marching band coming from the distance. So he was surprised when instead he saw a single pink pony with a cacophony of various horns, drums, and cymbals strapped all over her body and playing in rhythm as she half-walked and half-bounced down the path. If it had been only the instruments, then perhaps he could get over his surprise. But it wasn’t.
Tied around her barrel were several dozen balloons of every conceivable color. Big Mac could have sworn she could have floated away at any moment. And indeed, it seemed that with every bounce she hovered in the air for a split second longer than what was normal. If it had been only the instruments and the balloons, then perhaps he could get over his surprise. But it wasn’t.
Strapped to her head was a long tube that looked a bit like a small cannon. And amongst all the clutter that covered her body she had still found room for a flagpole harnessed to her back. On its top was a bright pink flag with the words ‘Cheer Up Big Mac’ painted in thick bolded letters of red. He was actually impressed at how it seemed to flutter in a nonexistent breeze.
The actual tune Pinkie played was, he had to admit, quite catchy. It was a jaunty beat that reminded him of the traveling carnivals that sometimes frequented Ponyville. It was all cymbals and trumpets and proud, booming drums that matched with a pony’s beating heart and managed to bury itself deep within it. If it were any other day, he would have enjoyed it.
The song reached a crescendo as Pinkie Pie stopped to stand in front of the red stallion. Just when it sounded as if the tune were about to burst from its own grandeur the cannon strapped to Pinkie’s head gave a booming trumpet and blasted a shower of confetti skyward. It fluttered down in a rain of red, blue, white, and yellow. And amongst all the chaos the music died down as Pinkie struck a triumphant, show-stopping pose with her fore-hooves stretched high above her.
She kept her pose long after the last of the confetti landed. Long after any hope of Macintosh feeling any better had vanished. The world between red and pink held itself in absolute silence as slowly, ever so slowly, Pinkie’s grin got smaller and smaller. He noticed. When it had disappeared entirely he got up on his hooves and started to walk back towards the orchard. But Pinkie Pie wouldn’t give up that easily and followed close behind.
“Okay, I tried almost everything I could think of.” She quickly took off her equipment before speeding up and stopping in front of his path. “So how about I just ask what would make you happy? Go ahead and tell me and I’ll try my absolute best to help,” she said with a grin.
Big Mac quirked an eyebrow at her and stared for a long while. Did she really have to even ask? Was she not paying attention these last few days?
“Ah wanna work,” he said.
It was Pinkie’s turn to give him a confused gaze. “But working’s not fun. C’mon, I mean something really, really, really fun. Like eating sweets until you feel like your stomach’s going to explode or singing a song until your voice gives out or just hanging out with friends.”
Well, he got the response he expected to get. He walked around her and continued on his way, though Pinkie refused to be left behind and started walking beside him. She examined him for a long time like a doctor examines a patient until finally she just shook her head in defeat.
“Miss Pie, what would it be like if ya couldn’t throw parties anymore?”
She giggled. “Why would I stop? Throwing parties is the best thing ever! Especially if it’s for a special occasion. I don’t think there’s anything better than seeing a pony’s face light up when they walk into their birthday party or anniversary party or ‘get well soon’ party or unbirthday party or any other kind of party they have. And plus all the games and treats and friends! Parties are fun!” Being reminded of her most favoritest thing had the mare bouncing up and down uncontrollably all around the red stallion.
“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh whispered half-heartedly. He couldn’t really be surprised at her reaction, she was Pinkie Pie after all. “Now stop,” he said, and immediately she froze in place. “Ya feel that bubble in yer chest? The one that makes ya feel like yer doin’ something important?”
Pinkie Pie pursed her lips in thought before bringing a hoof to rub her chest. After a few seconds her face lit up. “Hey yeah, I do!” she exclaimed.
“A’right. Now this part’s important. Ah want ya ta close yer eyes and really imagine not bein’ able ta throw parties. Maybe ‘cause yer too injured or ‘cause no one needs a party anymore.”
“I…” she paused as she closed her eyes and tried her hardest to imagine. Her whole body seemed to react. Slowly her shoulders slumped and her mane and tail became limp. “I don’t like thinking about this.”
“Ya feel that weight in yer chest where that bubble used ta be? Like someone put a bunch of rocks where yer heart should be?”
Pinkie Pie nodded and opened her eyes.
“That’s how Ah’ve been feelin’ all day, and I don’t think that feelin’s going away anytime soon.”
Pinkie stood still for several seconds until, with a vigorous shake of her head, she returned back to the bubbly mare she was known to be. “Wow, I don’t ever want to think about that again,” she said with a smile.
Big Macintosh only nodded. “C’mon, ya must have somethin’ better to do on yer day off than hang around the farm.”
“Of course not,” Pinkie said, her grin never leaving her. “You’re my friend, you’re sad, and I want to cheer you up. And now that I know what you’re feeling that makes me want to cheer you up more.”
Her answer made him stop in his tracks, though it took a moment for Pinkie to notice and backtrack to him. “That’s sweet of ya Pinkie, but,” he stopped and tried to find the right words that could say how annoying she was getting while at the same time how much he cherished that annoyance. He couldn’t find them and so just struggled with the words he could think of. “Ah want ya ta know that-“
His words stopped and his body tensed as he saw the last pony he wanted to see walking towards him. Though only because he happened to be in her way. Her gaze was focused directly to some distant point behind him. He wasn’t about to lose this game of chicken and he started walking towards her as well, his eyes on the trees behind her.
Neither one of the stubborn Apples moved aside to let the other pass, and so both were forced to meet each other’s eyes with hard glares as they both stood at a standstill. No one said anything for several minutes, not the Apple siblings nor the pink pony trying her best to maintain her smile.
“Move,” Applejack said.
“Mac,” Applejack said through gritted teeth, “Ah ain’t kiddin’. Move. It’s for yer own dang good.”
“How about we go inside the barn and have a party. There’s still plenty of cake,” Pinkie Pie said, but she was ignored.
“Ah thought ya stopped carin’ ‘bout me,” Big Mac said.
“Ah did, so why don’t ya go and plow a field and then get yerself hurt for the hundredth time. See if Ah care.” Her voice got louder and louder with each word, which only served to get Big Mac’s voice raised as well.
“It’d be better than havin’ you watchin’ me every minute of the day,” he yelled.
“Well sorry if Ah wanted ta make sure my brother was safe,” she screamed.
“Can’t you two just please-“
“Shut it, Pinkie,” the Apples snapped at her before moving back to rip into each other. It only took them about a second to realize exactly what they had done. But by the time they turned to apologize, the pink pony was nowhere to be found. Gone with a speed rivaling any pegasus.
“Now look at what ya did,” Applejack said.
Big Mac ignored her accusation, there were more important matters to attend to. “You start with Ponyville, Ah’ll look around the farm.”
Applejack nodded and quickly ran towards town while Big Mac made his way to the barn. If Pinkie Pie was anywhere on the farm, it would probably be in the only place decorated for a party. But when he opened the doors he saw that everything was still. He looked in every crevice that could fit a hiding pony and even a few that were impossible for a pony to get into, but his search proved fruitless. He quickly left, though not without taking a sideways glance at the green-frosted cake on the table.
The apple orchard was the next to be searched. He walked up and down every single row of trees and took his time searching the boughs for any sign of pink. He even tapped the trunks to see if he could hear anything besides the shivering leaves, but all that got him were a few falling blossoms. Again he found nothing and he even combed the orchard a couple of more times for good measure.
She wasn’t in the farmhouse either, or the Cute Mark Crusaders Clubhouse, or even the dirt field where the Iron Pony competition and Sisterhooves Social were held. The sun was quickly setting and soon it would be dark. All he could do was hope that Applejack had more luck in Ponyville.
With a lowered head and guilty heart, Big Macintosh made his way to the hill where he could get the best view of the setting sun. Soon it would sink behind the apple trees and for a split second the greens, whites, and tinges of red would all burn the orange of the late sun. And for a split second it would seem as if autumn had arrived early, as if he had traveled forward in time where his life was back to normal and the horribleness of today could be tucked neatly into a forgettable past.
But it was only an illusion that would only last for only a split second. But what a split second it would be. So with a small sigh he laid himself down on the soft grass to stare at the western horizon and waited for the sun to disappear and waited for another day to go by. All he had now was time to waste, and he couldn’t waste it fast enough.
Steady hoofsteps made him turn his head to see his sister coming towards him. By her downcast eyes and forlorn frown he could tell she hadn’t had much luck tracking down Pinkie Pie. She met his gaze not with a glare but a gaze that reminded him that she was his little sister and she needed, more than anything else right now, her big brother.
He tapped the ground beside him and she took his invitation and lied down next to him. She leaned against him and rested her head on his shoulder.
“We really screwed the pooch this time,” she whispered. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. “If ya would’ve just…” she started but trailed off with a sigh. Moments passed before she continued. “Ya know Ah ain’t too good at sayin’ sorry but… Ah’m sorry,” she said.
“Usually Ah’m the one that apologizes first,” he said as he looked at Applejack.
“Ah know but, even though Ah’m still mad as heck for what ya did, Ah can see why ya did it. And Ah bet me saying that…stuff, didn’t make ya feel better. Ya know Ah didn’t mean any of it, right?” Her gaze fell to her hooves as the question left her.
“Course ya did,” he said, causing Applejack’s head to snap up. “Ah ain’t ever known ya ta lie, at least not well. Don’t sugarcoat it, sugarcube. Somewhere deep down, ya really do feel like Ah don’t care about the family. That Ah don’t really care about you.”
“Well sorry if Ah don’t see how workin’ yerself ta death does any good for anypony,” she snapped. But just as soon as it had come, the anger vanished and was replaced by regret. She leaned back on the mass of red. “Yer gonna kill yerself if you keep on like this Mac, and Ah don’t wanna lose my brother. And Ah know full well Applebloom doesn’t wanna lose ya either.”
The eldest Apple couldn’t look his younger sister in the eye, and just turned his head back to staring up into the sky. He had missed his one moment of autumn, but that was okay. There was always tomorrow. The sun disappeared behind the horizon and the last touches of yellow, orange, and red faded away to make room for the night and its stars.
“And you ain’t smilin’ enough,” Applejack whispered. Big Mac looked at his sister with a puzzled gaze, silently waiting for her to continue. “Ya used to smile a whole lot when you were workin’, but now since you’ve been injured you hardly ever do.”
“Ah know, sugarcube,” he said softly. “Once Ah recover it’ll be better. Ah promise.” A small nod from Applejack told him she believed what he said. And the two fell back into silence. Though not for long.
A muted sniffle caused the Apple siblings to look to their side and find Pinkie Pie standing next to them. Her mane and tail were a bit more limp and lacked much of its usual poof. She walked in front of them and faced the two before wiping her eyes with a foreleg. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, her voice no longer laced with mirth. “I’m sorry I wasn’t a good enough friend. I couldn’t make either of you two happy and I just made everything worse. I’m sorry.”
“Aw sugarcube,” Applejack said as she got up. She walked up and wrapped her friend in a tight hug. “Ain’t nothin’ for ya to be sorry for. We’re the ones that should apologize to ya for snapping at ya like that. Ain’t that right, Mac?”
Applejack smiled. “Why don’t ya come and watch the stars with us?”
A remnant of Pinkie’s usual grin appeared and the two mares turned to lie down next to Big Macintosh with Pinkie comfortably nestled between the Apple siblings.
“So does this mean everything’s okay and you’re all happy again?” she asked with a twinge of hope lighting up her voice.
“Well…” Applejack started.
“Nnope,” Big Mac finished.
“Oh,” Pinkie said, her ears tilted back. “Then, I still couldn’t make you happy.” The three were silent and just stared at the stars for several minutes. None of them were smiling and instead wallowed in a bit of self-indulgent misery.
“Ah don’t,” Big Macintosh surprised everyone, even himself, by breaking the silence. “Ah don’t think bein’ a friend means ya always try ta cheer up a friend. Sometimes the best ya can do is just be there an’ let ‘em know they ain’t alone. Bein’ happy and bein’ sad will happen whether or not ya got friends, but havin’ some just makes everythin’… better. The good an’ bad.”
“Yeah…” Applejack whispered. “Yeah,” she said a little louder. She quickly got up and turned to the other two. “Stay here, Ah’ll be right back.” Applejack quickly trotted off towards the farmhouse and barn leaving Pinkie and Macintosh alone.
“I don’t know,” Pinkie Pie said after a few seconds of silence. “I can’t see a sad pony and do nothing about it. I have to cheer them up and throw them a party or at least give them a cupcake.”
He nodded. “That’s fine, Pinkie. But Ah gotta tell ya, Ah think ponies ain’t cheered up by what ya do ta make ‘em happy, but by you just carin’ so much about them bein’ happy in the first place. Ah know Ah would’ve liked it a whole lot more if ya just had kept me company, rather than goin’ all out and throwin’ me a party and a one-pony parade.”
Pinkie smiled, not her usual full on grin but something more subdued. “Is it too late to start now?”
She nodded and pressed against him as if she could push the very sadness out of him. She couldn’t of course, but damn if his heart didn’t melt at her trying. And slowly, ever so slowly, his frown got just a bit smaller.
He hoped she noticed.
A small cough announced Applejack’s presence and for some reason Pinkie Pie took it as a signal to stop leaning against the red colt. Big Macintosh looked at his sister curiously. She had his harness around her neck and her hat between her teeth. Gently, she laid down the Stetson in front of her older brother.
“Ah think Ah know how to make all this right,” she said. “How ‘bout we switch jobs?”
Macintosh’s ear twitched at the statement, and the farm mare smiled. “Ah knew that’d get yer attention. Listen, Ah know how much ya work ‘round the farm just so Ah can have some free time with my friends. So Ah wanna return the favor. Ah’ll take care of the farm while you take care of anything my friends need a level-headed farmpony for. Maybe hangin’ around 'em might make ya feel better.”
“Hey that’s a great idea!” Pinkie chimed it. “It’ll be like working, only fun!”
He thought a while about her proposition. A few minutes passed before he spoke. “Ah dunno AJ. Sure me and yer friends have been getting’ along, but yer place is with them and mine is on the farm.”
Applejack chuckled. “What ‘place’? C’mon Mac, it ain’t like you can only work on the farm. Matter of fact, Ah like seein’ ya outta this place and enjoyin’ yerself for once. Kinda reminds me of when we were younger and ya weren’t a stick-in-the-mud all the time. Besides, it’ll only be until yer all healed up. And it’s spring, ain’t like there’s that much work ta be done ‘round here.”
“Ah still don’t know, wouldn’t it be kinda weird?” Big Mac asked.
“Of course not,” Pinkie Pie said. “We’re not just Applejack’s friends, we’re yours too. What’s so weird about hanging out with your friends?”
That really wasn’t what he meant, but as he looked back and forth between Pinkie and Applejack’s smiles he could only nod meekly. “A’right, Ah guess that’d be fine. But if there’s anythin’ ya need done on the farm Ah-“ he was cut off by his sister’s gentle nuzzling.
“Ah know,” Applejack said. She clenched her hat back into her teeth and placed it on her brother’s head. With a tilt of her head she examined her handiwork before nodding to herself and taking her place next to Pinkie Pie, lying down with a grunt as she tried not to let Big Mac’s yoke drop her too quickly.
“Ah know yer tryin’ ta be all symbolic and what not, but” Big Mac took the hat off of him as Pinkie Pie giggled, “we don’t gotta switch clothes.”
Applejack chuckled nervously. “Ah know, but Ah always wanted ta try this thing on. Makes me look stronger, don’t it?” She was met with blank stares and quickly slipped the yoke off her shoulders with a sheepish smile.
“Hey, you know what’ll help me feel better?” Pinkie Pie said suddenly.
“What’s that sugarcube?” Applejack asked.
“If you two scooted in closer.”
The Apple siblings looked at each other before Applejack just shrugged. The two shuffled closer to the pink pony and managed to squeeze a contented sigh out of her. No one said anything after that. The three earth ponies were satisfied with just looking up at the stars above and enjoying each other’s company.