Rarity was very helpful. She told me that all I have to do is tell Big Macintosh how I really feel about him. Right now I’m sitting in the café; Big Macintosh is in town selling apples today, so he’s just down the street. I think, maybe, if I could just pretend I wanted to buy some apples…no, that would be dishonest. I couldn’t do that to anypony, especially not to such a big sweetheart.
Fluttershy paused. Did she really just call Big Macintosh a “sweetheart?” She wasn’t sure whether this troubled or excited her; maybe a little of both. She took a bite of her dandelion sandwich to calm her nerves, and then went back to writing:
No. I have to tell him right out. No pretense, no preface…well, maybe I could at least say “good morning” to him, and maybe talk about the weather, and I could ask him about the farm…oh, but if I did that, how would I ever get around to telling him how I feel?
I have to do this now. I can’t wait any longer. Maybe the words will just come to me. Oh, I hope they do.
She closed the book. Well, that was that: her last diary entry as a lonely single. If all went well, she’d be Big Macintosh’s marefriend by the next entry – if there was a next entry, that is. Writing in her diary had become a rather therapeutic exercise for her, and she doubted she’d need to continue once she was with the stallion of her dreams. She briefly considered adding a lengthy coda to the last entry, thanking her diary for all its help in dealing with her emotions…but no, that would be too long and too sad a goodbye. This needed to be a happy occasion.
Fluttershy took a couple of long, slow deep breaths and placed her diary back in her saddlebag. Nervous as she was, she couldn’t deny that there was a twinge of excitement in her heart. There was a chance – a good chance, if Applejack was right – that Big Mac might actually agree to go out with her. Just the thought of it was nearly enough to make her feel giddy. Even the fear of rejection now seemed a feeble obstacle, easily surmounted. She could do this. She knew she could.
Well, she hoped she could. But that was better than nothing.
Big Macintosh stood beside the apple cart, gazing stoically at passersby. Apple-selling wasn’t really his game; his more outgoing sister was usually better-suited for the task. She had a level of salesponyship that often eluded the big red stallion, try as he might to emulate her. He was simply too shy, too stoic, too taciturn to attract customers – he felt much more at home in the fields, bucking apple trees, where his real skills were of use.
Fortunately, apples seemed to be in high demand of late. Business had been quite good, and it had taken very little effort on his part to sell a decent number of his wares. He had also grown rather more comfortable interacting with customers, and each successful transaction left him with a slight grin on his face. A good day so far, by all accounts, and he expected to return home that evening satisfied with what he had accomplished.
Shortly before noon, he spotted a familiar butter-yellow pegasus strolling through the streets. She wandered about the square, sometimes looking vaguely interested in other vendors, but never once approaching them. Her eyes darted all around, taking stock of the whole area, save for one spot: Big Mac’s apple cart. In fact, she seemed to consciously avoid looking at it – and at him. This went on for several minutes.
At last, she wandered in his direction – slowly, seeming reluctant – and stopped just in front of him. “Good morning, Big Macintosh,” she said softly. He could’ve sworn he heard her voice tremble.
“Mornin’, Miss Fluttershy,” he replied. “You lookin’ to buy some apples?”
“Oh! Why, yes, certainly,” she said, sounding strangely surprised, as though she hadn’t expected him to ask her that. Curious, but Big Mac didn’t bother to question it. Fluttershy dug through her left saddlebag with her snout and produced a hoof-full of bits, which she gave to the stallion. He counted them and gathered a few apples from the cart.
“So…wonderful…weather we’ve been having?”
Big Mac looked back at Fluttershy: she was smiling at him – a broad, horrible-looking forced smile. Her eyes looked desperate, almost pleading.
“Um…eeeyup,” he answered, not sure what else he could say. The weather had been quite nice lately: a scheduled rainstorm three days ago had brought much-needed rain to Sweet Apple Acres, and the days since then had been relentlessly bright and sunny. “Them weather ponies sure do a fine job, don’t they?”
“Yes…yes, they certainly do,” said Fluttershy. Big Mac passed her a bag of five apples, and she placed it in her own saddlebag. She thanked him politely, if rather quietly, and he thanked her in return for her business.
Several seconds passed in silence and Fluttershy continued to stand there, glancing nervously about. “Uh, Miss Fluttershy,” said Big Macintosh. “Is there somethin’ else you want?”
She looked back at him, mildly startled. “Oh…well, yes, actually. I was just wondering…I wanted to ask you…that is, I wanted to tell you….” She began to stutter, her speech trailing off into half-audible mumblings.
The stallion eyed Fluttershy calmly, waiting patiently for her to re-rail her train of thought. He knew how timid she could be, and how uncomfortable she was talking even with close friends; Applejack had told him more than once that interacting with Fluttershy could be a tad frustrating at times. But he was glad to wait for her – she was clearly a very nice pony and it wouldn’t do to be ungentlemanly with her. He cleared his throat softly, hoping that he could catch her attention subtly and without seeming rude or impatient. It worked.
She blushed. “Oh. Right, sorry,” she said, looking him in the face. The pegasus closed her eyes and took a deep breath, seemingly preparing to speak. She opened her mouth:
“Good morning Big Macintosh! And Fluttershy, nice to see you as well!”
Both ponies turned their heads. The voice belonged to Cheerilee, who was making her way across the square towards them. Big Mac caught a glimpse of Fluttershy out of the corner of his eye: her own eyes were wide in stark terror, her pupils shrunken to tiny black dots. Before he could wonder why she’d have such a reaction, Cheerilee was upon them.
“Mornin’, Cheerilee,” he greeted her. Two months of dating (and a subsequent week of casual friendship) had eventually caused Big Macintosh to drop the ‘Miss’ when addressing Cheerilee; she seemed to prefer it, and the kindly earth stallion couldn’t bring himself to do anything she preferred he didn’t, even for the sake of politeness.
“G-good m-m-morning,” Fluttershy stammered out. She drew back away from the ex-couple, looking like she felt rather awkward to come between them.
The two earth ponies shared a bemused glance. Both of them knew Fluttershy fairly well, and were aware of her discomfort with social interaction, but this seemed excessive even for her.
“Um…you all right, Miss Fluttershy?” asked Big Mac.
This only seemed to cause the discomfited pegasus even further distress, as she cringed with embarrassment and shrank back into her mane. “Oh, y-yes, yes,” she said, so softly that they could barely hear her. “I’m j-j-just fine.”
Another awkward glance passed between Cheerilee and Big Macintosh, and ended when the former at last spoke up: “Well, I just came by to buy some more apples,” she told her ex-coltfriend, ignoring Fluttershy’s nervous antics. “I always keep one on my desk, and some of the fillies and colts I teach seem to think it’s funny to take bites out of it when I’m not looking.” She sighed wearily – the unmistakable sigh of a beleaguered schoolteacher.
“Sorry to hear about that,” said Big Mac sympathetically. “Maybe you could…mmm, nah.”
“What? What are you thinking?” asked Cheerilee, her curiosity piqued.
“Well…I was thinkin’, maybe I could gather up some of the rotten apples we find sometimes, and let you put one o’ those on your desk, and see what they think of that…but that’d be a little mean, I suppose.”
“Oh, Big Mac,” Cheerilee laughed. “You’re always such a sweetheart.” This prompted a blush and a shy grin from the stallion.
Fluttershy’s face darkened, her mood shifting all at once from tension to despondency. Cheerilee and Big Macintosh weren’t even dating anymore, and yet the teacher was still better at interacting with him than she was.
While the two friends laughed, Fluttershy slipped away, quietly and without farewell. Big Macintosh was the first of the two to notice her absence.
“Miss Fluttershy?” he called out curiously. Glancing around, he caught a glimpse of her at the far end of the square before she vanished down another street. He felt oddly disappointed that she had left – more so than he thought was appropriate, at any rate. He had rather enjoyed her company, awkward though it had been. He turned back to Cheerilee. “What do you suppose all that was about?”
There was a short pause as Cheerilee stared in the direction Fluttershy had gone. The stuttering, the blushing, the awkward demeanor, the way Fluttershy ditched the scene when she had arrived…now that she gave the matter some thought, it wasn’t the first time she’d noticed that sort of behavior from Fluttershy, especially around her ex-coltfriend. A vague suspicion crept into her mind, prompting her to glance back at Big Macintosh; he continued to look back at her, waiting patiently for a response.
She frowned…and then smiled. If her suspicion was correct, this may actually be a good thing.
“I…don’t really know,” she answered him truthfully, if not completely. “But you know how Fluttershy is. The poor thing can get so nervous at times.”
“Wonder what’s got her so worked up. That was mighty strange behavior, even for her.”
“True,” agreed Cheerilee. “But I’m sure she’s fine.”
After staring across the square with a grim frown for a moment more, Big Mac finally turned back to Cheerilee. “Eeyup,” he affirmed, and began to gather a few apples from the stand for her.
Cheerilee smiled again. Big Macintosh seemed quite concerned about Fluttershy. Maybe it was just his caring personality, but she couldn’t help but hope that it meant something more – even though things hadn’t worked out between the two of them, Big Mac still deserved a wonderful special somepony. She still wasn’t totally certain her suspicion was correct, but if it was, then things might work out very well for him after all.
Even as she ran, Fluttershy could feel hot tears pricking at her eyes. She just had to get away – somewhere where she could be alone, where nopony else could see what sort of state she was in.
Her attempt to talk to Big Mac had been pitiful. She had come so close – so very, very close – but even that thought was scant comfort. Fate seemed to have intervened, putting her in the most painfully awkward situation she could imagine at just the moment of truth. It would’ve been hard enough admitting her feelings for him if it had been just the two of them there; but for Cheerilee to show up, just as she was ready to pour out her heart…it had to be a sign. Yes, that was it: a sign that she and Big Macintosh simply weren’t meant to be together.
The more she thought about it, the truer it seemed. She lacked the spine to talk to him when she had the chance, and now she didn’t think she’d ever again be able to work up the necessary nerve. It was over, as far as she was concerned. Her dream crushed, all because of a single failure. How pathetic.
There was a secluded alleyway some distance from the square; even in the bustle of late morning, the alley was dim and quiet. She slumped against the wall of some unidentified building and just let the tears flow, sniffling softly. Though the air was warm and the sky cloudless, she couldn’t help but feel terribly cold and dismal, as though the whole world had singled her out for unfair punishment – no no, it was entirely fair, now that she thought about it. A pony as pathetic as she was didn’t deserve a special somepony as strong and sweet and kind as Big Macintosh.
A sound caught her ears – somewhere nearby, a pony was humming a jaunty tune. Her eyes widened and fright and she leapt to her hooves, quickly scurrying behind a nearby garbage can. She had a tendency to be especially timid when upset; and besides, she was in no condition to be seen by anypony at the moment. She cowered, trembling, hoping desperately that whoever was near would simply pass her by –
“Hiya, Fluttershy! Whatcha doing down there?”
“Eeeek!” The frightened pegasus leapt up from her hiding place, only to come face to face with a broadly grinning pink pony.
“P…Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy quickly did her best to regain her composure. She glanced about, now realizing that the building against which she’d been leaning was in fact Sugarcube Corner. “I…I’m just…um…nothing,” she mumbled.
“I thought so! That’s what it looked like you were doing: just sitting there in the alleyway with your head down. Well, actually, that would mean you were doing something, since sitting technically counts as something, but it’s not the kind of something that ponies usually mean when they say they’re doing something. So why were doing nothing in the alley all by yourself?”
“Oh…well, I just kind of wanted to be alone for a while. If that’s okay, I mean. I just…”
Pinkie moved in a bit closer, staring the pegasus right in the eye. “Are you okay, Fluttershy?” she asked, speaking in a softer voice than Fluttershy thought the party pony was capable of. “And don’t just say ‘I’m okay,’ like you do sometimes when you’re not really okay but you just don’t want to talk about how you feel. I really mean it: are you okay? Because you don’t really look okay.”
Fluttershy was rather taken aback. Pinkie wasn’t even smiling; her eyes were full of concern, maybe even worry. From a pony who was usually so bubbly, this sort of behavior was a little disconcerting. But then, Fluttershy really did look like she felt less than okay: though she couldn’t see herself, she could feel the tearstains on her cheeks and sense the red puffiness of her eyes. No wonder Pinkie was worried about her.
“Well, actually,” she began, “something…kind of happened, and I…I don’t feel very good right now. I don’t really want to talk about it, if that’s okay with you.” She didn’t quite feel up to explaining the whole situation to Pinkie Pie. Besides, enough of her friends already knew about it.
A smile returned to Pinkie’s face. “That’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But at least let me do something to help you feel better.”
“What?” Fluttershy asked, sounding a little skeptical.
“I can get you something to eat from Sugarcube Corner! Eating something sweet always makes me feel better when I’m all down in the dumps, and I’m sure it’ll work for you too! I can get you anything you want: cupcakes, or chocolate cake, or ice cream cake, or fudge cake, or cookie cake, or double-fudge cake, or molten chocolate cake, which is like regular chocolate cake except it has – ”
“Oh, Pinkie,” Fluttershy protested, “you really don’t need to do that for me.”
“Of course I do!” The pink pony struck a dramatic pose and her face fell into a resolute expression. “As the self-appointed friend-cheerer-upper of Ponyville, it is my duty to provide cheering-up services to any friend in need. And you, my friend,” she pointed to Fluttershy, “are most definitely in need of a good cheering-up.” With that, she smiled yet again and seized her friend with a foreleg, dragging her in the direction of Sugarcube Corner’s front door.
A small smile wormed its way onto Fluttershy’s face. She often found it hard not to grin when Pinkie Pie was around. And the thought of a nice slice of chocolate cake, fresh and hot out of the oven, was a charming prospect. As she followed Pinkie into the bakery, she felt her despair fade away like mist in the sun. Her situation hadn’t changed, but something still felt different.
Now that she thought about it, her situation hadn’t been that grim to begin with. Perhaps she’d overreacted – after all, the whole incident was nothing more than a simple, silly coincidence: no reason to give up her dream, to give up hope. Big Macintosh was still within her reach; all she needed now was another chance, and the willingness to try again.
Her smile widened. Having friends to turn to always seemed to make everything just a little clearer and brighter.