We sat there for hours, chatting idly about silly little things that I can’t even bother to recall—our favorite foods and colors, what we thought of certain types of ponies, the things we hated.
Somehow, I found out he wasn’t all that different from me. The conversation wandered to mares, and while I had little complaints beyond how they had forced me to pay for dinner on all those failed dates my family had set me up on, Soarin had plenty to say. He’d rattle off names, listing countless mares and comparing them to others. I didn’t pay attention to most of them. The food seemed to keep coming; he’d just order more and more appetizers to nosh on and pick at. The table was cluttered with plates, sauces and little bits of food smeared across them.
He, evidently, couldn’t be bothered to worry about them. I was sure that the waiters knew who he was, as they were coming back to our table and refilling my water and his soda more than they were with anypony else. I caught the occasional angry eye from those around us and lowered my head. Soarin, however, was completely oblivious. He chattered on and on and on about mares.
“So, anyway,” he mumbled through a mouthful of hay fries smeared with cheese. “Life I wash shaying, she wash tofally crazshy.” He gulped loudly and made a circular motion by his ears with his hoof. “Totally bonkers. She threw this vase at me and chased me out,” he started to laugh through another bite. “Told me never to come back!” He was clutching his stomach in mirth, basking in the hilarity of it all. “Nothing compared to Spitfire, though. We lasted like, a month. Longest relationship I’ve ever had, and it was really only ‘cause she was a good lay,” said Soarin thoughtfully. “and I mean really, really really good. I mean she could ju-“ he cut himself off, noticing my discomfort and stopped. “Sorry. Heh, but, uh, she was pretty psycho. Craziest pony I’ve ever known. You wouldn’t really know it from just talking to her. She’d seem pretty chill, but once you got to know her or saw her mad…” Soarin shuddered. “You have any crazy exes? Prolly not, huh?”
I shook my head. “Nope,” I muttered, looking down at the table. I’d only nibbled on a couple of things in the spread.
“Figured as much.” Soarin flicked his ear dismissively. “Well, I’ve got practice today if you wanna show up and see for yourself.”
My emotions were mixed. On the one hoof, Applejack had been expecting me home last night. On the other, the idea of spending even more time with Soarin enticed me in a way I just didn’t quite understand, as though he has some sort of magnetism about him. He was drawing me toward him. And the closer I got, the closer I wanted to be. Yet at the same time, it was kind of like I felt a dragging sense of guilt. I had to get away from him at some point. I paused anxiously. “Well, er…”
“Look, it all depends on you. Every decision you make, m’kay? I’m not pressuring you to do anything. Whatever you want.” The corner of his mouth snuck upward.
I paused anxiously. Somehow, I was beginning to have second thoughts about the things I’d told Soarin earlier. Did I trust him enough? But, if I didn’t trust him, who else could I trust? Then, I realized something. I couldn’t tell Applejack about all my problems, or Big Mac, and definitely not my folks or Applebloom.
But I’d known them all my life. Why had I been able to talk to Soarin about how I felt as a colt? That stumped me. I trusted MacIntosh and Applejack with my life, but not with something as simple as that?
I stopped myself. Was I really a coltcuddler? I wasn’t just looking for attention? My stomach dropped at just the prospect. Had I wasted his time? I glanced back over at the yellow mare hiding behind the menu. It was morally wrong, but I wasn’t doing anything by going with him, was I?
Of course. It wasn’t unnatural or wrong for me to go with him just as friends, was it? It’d give me a chance to see the world-famous Wonderbolts I’d heard about. I could get Applebloom and her friends could get some autographs from Spitfire or something. I nodded internally, the plan sounding better and better in my head the more I thought about it.
“Yeah, sure,” I agreed, nodding. “Why not?”
Soarin smirked and waved down the waiter, taking a pen in his mouth and signing a receipt as the waiter handed him back a plastic card. “Just wait ‘till Spitty sees that,” he chortled, keeping his head low as we wandered down the busy streets
While dodging past crowds of ponies at different levels off of the road, I turned to him. “So, ever been to Appleoosa?”
“Nah, never needed to tour over there. I think Spits was saying something about it in the future, it’s getting big enough. It’s worth a shot. I’d be happy to go if it meant seeing you.”
I froze anxiously for a second. What was that supposed to mean? I focused on my hooves as I continued walking beside him. He snorted passively and looked over to the side. “This way,” he mumbled, turning down a corner.
I followed him around multiple streets. I almost asked him if he even knew where we were going this time but he had this lingering sense of confidence that told me he’d gone this way quite a few times, like he had the way memorized.
I don’t think I really expected him to lead me to the Cloudiseum, though. He ducked under a massive archway that cleared out and opened up to a huge arena, rows upon rows of blue and white cloud seats arching in a circle around the hollow centre that was entirely open, nothing on the ground.
Soarin turned, leading me up a series of stairs that ran up the seating arrangements. “Just sit somewhere around here.” He smirked, flitting an ear. “I gotta go get changed, but I’ll be back in a flash. We’ll be here just a few hours or something. Nothing intense. Just keeping up with our regimen.”
I could use this time to clear my head a little. I felt confused and maybe a breath of fresh air alone would help me reorient myself. I settled on my haunches, closing my eyes and feeling a breeze run through my mane.
I was transported back to Appleoosa, sitting on the edge of the cliffs as an adolescent, alone in the winter. The breezes would buffet around on the bluffs and would somehow level out and hit in even spurts of quiet energy, blowing my mane back, just like they were doing now in Cloudsdale.
I’d settle down on the edge of the overhang that looked out across the orchard and find myself there for hours, recounting every moment of the day with arid winds clearing the dust and dirt from my mane and carrying the crumbled leaves and bits of grit on its breeze.
For a moment, dry desert air filled my lungs and I had to open my eyes to remind myself of where I really was. I glanced up, seeing the famous stunt fliers already in formation. I spotted Soarin without much trouble as he zipped around and weaved in and out of the group, clearly exerting as much energy as he possibly could.
An orange-maned mare barked at him, and he straightened up, though something about his body language told me he was exasperated. I assumed that it was Spitfire.
Watching the practice was, overall, nothing too special. As a matter of fact, it was pretty boring. I watched them go through countless drills, circling around the stadium at shocking speeds. For some reason, none of it amazed me. I even watched Soarin perform some crazy stunt.
He stopped in mid-air, locking his wings at his sides, and he free-fell until he nearly hit what would have been the pit of the coliseum when dark clouds expoded and peeled back from him, leaving a thick ring of black smog with static crackling through and jumping around, charging and electrifying everything within range.
I was breathless, but not because of the fancy tricks or what they caused. I was amazed by his focus. I could rarely see the strain on his face, and if I could, it was so little. He looped and dove and soared and dipped, openly defying wherever the wind tried to force him to go. As practice wore on it seemed fewer and fewer Wonderbolts were in the sky, but I paid them no mind.
My eyes were trained on Soarin and his acrobatics, and at the way that he moved through the air almost like it was water, with ease, as though gravity just wasn’t present. He openly defied physics and tore away from whatever boundaries had been set for him. I guess I was too busy focusing on that, and maybe that’s why I didn’t notice the mare sitting beside me until she jabbed a hoof in my side.
“Hey,” murmured a scratchy voice in my ear. I glanced over to see none other than Spitfire. She wasn’t wearing her uniform, allowing me to see all of her yellow coat. “Soarin’s friend?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.” I nodded, not taking my eyes off of Soarin, who was still zipping around in amazing patterns I wouldn’t have even thought of on my own, but he seemed to be mindlessly playing around with them on a whim, like it was foal’s play.
She paused for a while, turning to watch him as well. “Heh, I saw you watching me earlier.”
I glanced back at her, blinking. “Oh, no, sorry.” I smiled nervously, hoping not to offend her. “Ah was watching…” I nodded toward the blue Pegasus. “But, you’re pretty great.”
I watched her expression melt, and I slowly found myself frowning as well. Her mane covered her face slightly, and her face took a nosedive as she turned downward, eyebrows waffling. “Hmph,” she muttered, glancing away from me. “So, what’s your name again?”
“Braeburn. Braeburn Apple. You’re Spitfire, right?”
“Yeah,” she grumbled. I frowned, trying to be more polite and tearing my focus off of Soarin for a moment.
“You’re pretty great, though. No need to get real sore about it.” I tried to smile at her. “As a matter of fact, Ah think you’re real talented.”
“Hah, yeah. Right,” she hissed bitterly, poison dripping from her voice. I did my best to ignore it. I hadn’t meant to offend her.
Soarin finally dipped down between us, shattering the awkward barrier I had accidentally built up. “Heya!” He smirked, completely ignoring the tenseness between me and Spitfire. “I’ll go get changed, then we can head out. Cool?”
Soarin immediately left, nosing his way past the irritated-looking Spitfire. Once he had gone down the steps and headed toward some unseen locker room, Spitfire turned to me. “What, you his new plaything or something?”
Alarmed, I turned to her, taking my focus off of the passing clouds overhead. “Huh?”
“You heard me.” Spitfire glared at me. “New boyfriend for a week or something?”
“Wha? No, I’m not-“
“Oh, that’s what they all say. He’ll drop you in a week.”
“No. Surprise. Of course I mean Soarin, you idiot!” Her voice was staring to rise now, something that shocked me. I barely knew her, but she was practically screaming at me. I couldn’t even move.
“Look, he’ll drop you in a week after he’s gotten with you. Take this as a warning. He’ll either get what he wants, or he’s gonna give up. He’s not with you for some stupid emotional reason.”
Would he? Of course the second part wasn’t about to happen, but would he give up on me just because I refuted his attempts? It never occurred to me that how clear he’d made it that he was attracted to me.
And suddenly, I was a whole different degree of uncomfortable. If he felt that way… if he felt… romantically toward me… what kind of a pony was I to ignore his advances, or even worse, not notice them entirely? What if he desperately wanted me to like him back?
Somehow, I’d gotten the idea that I’d stop doing this when mares weren’t the ones making the advances. Now that it was Soarin, could I still defend myself?
Spitfire continued to fume angrily beside me, shouting things that I deafened out, lost in trying to make sense of the situation I’d just found myself in.
Then, I heard Soarin’s voice. “Hey! Spitfire! Look who I found!” He rounded the corner and bounded up the steps to the seats with a small Pegasus mare in tow. The same Pegasus mare from the diner earlier. She moved quietly, like a little canary, and her footsteps were muffled by the cloud, but I somehow got the idea that she walked quietly anyway.
I also managed to realize that she had come with Applejack to Appleoosa, when they’d needed to plant Bloomberg. She had helped settled the dispute with the buffalo. My blood ran cold. Why had she been here, of all places?
“Oh, um. Braeburn,” her voice was low and I had to strain to hear her. “Hi…”
“H-how long have you… have you been here?” I couldn’t swallow the lump in my throat.
“I’m sorry, uhm. Applejack wanted me to uh, see if you were okay, so I was at the restaurant and I kind of… overheard,” she squeaked out the last word.
All I could manage to get out was, “Please don’t say anything… please, you don’t understand! You can’t tell her anything you heard! I’m still… I’m still figuring things out! Please, you can’t tell her!” I was hysterical now, I could barely move, but I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears. Out of the corner of my eye, though I was focused on Fluttershy’s anxious face, I could see the color drain from Soarin’s face.
“O-okay…” She looked down quietly.
“Uh, Spitfire.” Soarin was clearly trying to ease the tension. “Fluttershy was the one Photo Finish was talking about… that one time.”
Spitfire nodded, glaring at Soarin momentarily before looking at Fluttershy and smiling good-naturedly. I’d never seen a faster transformation of emotion. It must have been a Wonderbolt thing. “So, Fluttershy…” Spitfire began to idly walk with the disoriented mare, leading her away from the general direction of me and Soarin. Their conversation dissolved into a quiet susurration as Soarin turned to me.
I only realized then that I was beginning to tear up. Remembering that my father always taught me that crying was for the weak, I wiped the unshed tears away immediately. I saw Soarin smile, faintly sympathetic. “You probably wanna start going home soon now, right?” he asked. “That potion’s gonna be wearing off in an hour or so, it’s only good for twenty-four hours.” He began to walk, heading toward the arched opening of the Cloudiseum that briefly obscured the massive, blue sky. I’d never seen it so clear.
“You know, we’re not on a tour right now. We’re just kind of hanging out and doing a couple of shows in Ponyville. How long will you be there?”
“Ah dunno.” I shrugged. “AJ and Mac wanted me out there so Ah could meet Rainbow Dash, but… Y’know how that went. They’re always tryin’ to set me up with some mare.”
“And you wonder if it’s not some mare that you’re looking for sometimes?”
I paused. “Well, yeah. Ah guess. Ah felt like Ah haven’t been myself these past few days, though. I’m usually so upbeat for everypony else, but lately…”
“You’re not comfortable.” He shrugged. “It’s normal. You don’t have to feel that way around me, though. I hope you know that. I kinda just… throw everything out there. No sense in hiding it. Hop on.” He motioned to his back once we had reached the edge of the cloudy platform. I hopped onto his back once again. It was odd. I wasn’t as terrified as I had been when we had come up here yesterday. I trusted him more. I wasn’t sure why, but I did.
The descent was easier than going up was; he strained less and seemed much looser. The sun cast its rays from the highest point in the sky. The flight was short and didn’t drag as awkwardly las I had expected it to. Somehow, it was nice, actually.
I had time to clear my head, or at least a little.
Well, I tried to. I couldn’t form a coherent string of thoughts, between the stallion beneath me and Spitfire’s words echoing through my head. Was that really all Soarin cared about?
We landed softly on one of the off-roads from the barn, winding through the middle of the red delicious orchard. He shook me off, then turned to me, smirking. “Hey, I don’t think she’ll say anything. It’s not worth stressing."
I was glad to have solid ground beneath my hooves again, and I stamped a couple of times for good measure. “Yeah, Ah don’t think so either.”
Soarin stared at me for several seconds. “Uh, hey. Mind if I come by again? We could… I dunno. Hang out, I guess. Have a real conversation.” The corners of his lips curled up slowly into a smile, and I blinked.
“Y-yeah, sounds good to me.”
Soarin approached me slowly, the light filtering through the trees dappled his body when he moved through. “This was fun,” he whispered coyly, moving closer and pressing his nose up against mine. My face warmed and for a moment, I was petrified. He darted back again and winked. “Let’s get you home, though.”
For whatever reason, that left me with an insatiable hunger for me to get just a bit closer to him again. I leaned in toward him as we walked. It was only when we came across the barn that I realized I had gotten uncomfortably near and jerked away.
He laughed at me as we wandered up the path to the barn, but I shoved him away. I felt strangely… safe.
This feeling didn’t last much longer, though. He ducked inside through the dutch door of the house with me, and I looked up to see Applejack. Everything shattered in a single moment. I could tell by her face something was wrong. The color was gone from her normally cheery, bright face. Big MacIntosh was sitting there as well, in quiet stoicism as he sat by the corner of the room. “Braeburn,” Applejack choked out, her expression a mixture of horrified sadness and guilt. Clearly, she was a little alarmed by my sudden appearance. “Somethin’ terrible’s happened.”