In retrospect booking half of the restaurant was a little excessive, so I let the maitre d' know it was just the three of us. He looked much less annoyed when I paid for the unused tables. We took a table out front on the patio. “Why hide inside? I want everyone to see what winners look like.”
I could see Scootaloo was so full of joy and bursting with pride at winning the race with her idol. I encouraged her to tell me everything about the race and she happily complied, bouncing around the whole time. Dash just watched quietly with her confident smirk, enjoying the energy of her little sister for the day.
Scootaloo was talking excitedly, “It was awesome when we jumped the mud pit in one leap, hey Rainbow Dash!?! And how about when we climbed the crates and I was all, 'I can't make it', and you were all 'I believe in you kid, now jump!' and I jumped and you caught my hoof, and we got over it! And then we gobbled down those pies in ten seconds flat! How cool was that?!? And then we got to that hen house and we went all slow motion ninja like they did in that play with all the special effects I saw in Canterlot and we had the egg, nose to nose and carried it out easy peasy! But the best part was when we were jumping the hurtles, and I did the same trick I do when I'm on my scooter to jump low branches!” She sat back, winded from the story telling, “It was totally wicked!”
Dash threw out her best over confident grin and ruffled Scootaloo's mane, “You're the coolest kid.”
Scootaloo got a bit of a surprised look on her face, “Oops, got to go to the can! Be right back.”
Dash followed Scootaloo with her eyes. Her expression softened when Scootaloo was out of sight, “She's a good kid you know. Tough as nails. Was taken away from abusive parents when she was three. That's why her wings are a little small. They half starved her, kept her in a closet. I try to give her the big sister she never had.” She chuckled mirthlessly, “And the big sister I never was. And, I'd appreciate it if you keep that to yourself. I haven't told anyone else and it's not something they need to know.”
“Hey, mum's the word. But, how did you find out?”
“Heh. I was doing some court ordered volunteer work and while I was waiting in Ms Sweetheart's office, I saw Scootaloo's file folder. I was curious and flipped through it.” Dash looked away for a moment, composing herself. “Alex, if I could get my hooves on those monsters...”
I put a comforting hand on Dash, “I hear you. I was a scout leader back in the day and saw some kids from bad situations. I know exactly what you mean.”
Dash wiped a tear away and I saw something new in her face, a fierce, almost defiant loyalty, “But, I never want her to think I feel sorry for her, because I don't. I want her to be strong and feel worthy of herself.”
I nodded and gave her a small smile. We looked at each other in silence then my brain caught up with what I heard. I snickered, “Court ordered volunteer work? My dear friend Rainbow Dash is a master criminal?”
She rolled her eyes and gave me an annoyed smile, “I crashed into the Town Hall while practising my tricks. I couldn't afford to fix it, so I did some community service, a hundred hours in the Big Sister program. Are you happy now?”
I smiled, “That's actually very cool. As hard as it is to believe, my admiration for you has gone up.”
Dash blushed a little, “Really? I mean... naturally! Someone as cool as me only continues to amaze.”
“Oops, short stuff at twelve o'clock.”
Dash looked confused, “Short what when?”
Scootaloo exuberant voice cleared up any confusion, “Sorry about that, there was a lineup.”
“I was just about to say before you came back, your exciting tale of heroism and race winning almost wiped me out.” In a bad french accent, “Now what would the young lady like for her winners feast?”
Scootaloo giggled and pondered for a moment, “Oat burger and hay fries, please!”
I looked at Dash, “Et madam?”
Dash snorted at my french, but didn't even glance at the menu, “Steamed vegetable and daisy stir fry.”
The waiter was just arriving at our table the guy with what sounded like a fake french accent. I spoke with my best Persian french, “Fantastique! La jeune femme aimerait le hamberger d'avoine et des frite de foin, et pour la jolie demoiselle les légumes cuit à la vapeur sautés avec marguerite.” As a joke, I threw in, “Et pour moi, un bifteck, cuit à point.” Who knows, I might get lucky.
I could see the beads of sweat forming on his brow, and in a slightly less french accent, “Beg pardon?”
“I'm sorry, I assumed you spoke french. My bad.” I repeated our order except for the rare steak, I got the same thing as Dash. Much to their credit, the girls didn't start laughing until the waiter was out of ear shot.
Scootaloo was just looking at me slack jawed at first. I'm not sure if she was more shocked that I spoke french or that I had pulled a prank in such a public place. When the waiter was gone, she started tittering, then all out laughing.
Dash was slowly shaking her head, a look of pleasant surprise on her face. Between giggles, “Alex Roberts, that was a good one.”
I smiled, “Well, sometimes I just like to shake things up. Anyway, I was curious if the guy actually spoke french.” Why did I do such a juvenile prank? It's not like me. Now I feel bad about embarrassing the guy at work. But, I feel so damn at ease around Dash. I guess it just seemed to be the natural thing to do.
Once we had finished the meal, and were waiting for dessert, I readied myself to tell them what had been burning in my head, “Okay Dash, and you too Scootaloo, I figured out what I'll be putting my energies into.” I nervously wiped my mouth one last time with the napkin and they both perked up. With a dramatic flare, “I, Alex Roberts, have decided to build... wait for it... a theatre! And not just any stage, I mean a theatre fit for Princesses. Plays for every taste, young and old, action, adventure, drama, comedy, everything! And not just plays, but all kinds of music, lectures, something for your mind and your soul.” Noting they were not excessively excited about my idea, “Think about it, maybe I can get a retired Wonderbolt to give a lecture on what it means to be a Wonderbolt, maybe a documentary on how to become a Wonderbolt.” That got their attention.
“I want to build something that will last a thousand years Dash. Applejack gave me a hint of an idea, but...” I put my hand on her hoof, Dash looked down at my hand, then back up to my face, slightly confused, “Dash, it's you that really inspired me. I wanted to do something bold and brash that will bring joy to others, illuminate their minds, make strong stallions cry, and sad foals laugh. That... that's what I want to do. I want to do to them what you, my best friend, do to me.”
Dash was blushing, looking at me in surprise, “I do all that to you? Really?”
“Yes, really. When you take off and that gust of wind hits my face, my heart jumps into my throat. When you're turning a lazy arc in the sky, your grace makes my heart ache. Before I met you, I've never talked to anyone who could fly, not without an airplane, or magic spells, or super powers, or some other cheat. Well, technically I met Fluttershy first, but you're the first I really talked to. And your self confidence is amazing, even if it does get you into trouble some times. You know who you are, you know what you want, and you know where you're going. Most days I don't know if I'm going left or right.”
This touching moment between two friends was shattered by the awesome and perfect timing of one little filly known as Scootaloo, “Oh, that's soooo gross! Are you guys, like, dating or something?”
Dash started laughing, and I started sputtering, “Whoa, hey there Scootaloo.” She had been so quiet I had totally forgotten about her, “You see, sometimes grownups can say stuff like that without it being anything more than what it is.”
“You're so funny when you're flustered Alex. No Scootaloo, we're just friends. It's just the way Alex talks. All emotions and passion and junk like that.” Dash turned her face to mine, a light smile, her expression otherwise unreadable, “But, that's what makes him cool.” Her smile became a little sultry, “But, I'll tell you what, if we do start dating, I'll get your permission first.”
“Eew! He's not even a pony, why would you go out with him? I mean, he's cool and all, but you wouldn't go out with a diamond dog, or a dragon?”
From the mouths of babes. I smiled, “Dash and I are just good friends. I assume that is an acceptable social pairing?”
Scootaloo looked confused, “A social what?”
Dash chimed in, “He means, is it ok if we're friends?”
Scootaloo grew thoughtful, scrunching her face as if she was doing a complex algebraic calculation. “Ya, I think that's okay.”
I threw my hands in the air, “Woohoo! Scootaloo approves!” This prompted a fit of laughter from Scootaloo, some chuckling from Dash, and some curious looks from other patrons. Maybe I shouldn't have used my Homer voice
After dessert, while paying the bill, I apologized to the waiter and I made sure there were no hard feelings. I also tipped him 100%, just to make sure. I even offered to give him french lessons, and he accepted. He told me he had taken french in school, but that was one semester in Canterlot and there were few ponies who spoke it in Ponyville. Years of not practising had left very little of it.
We all headed off to the park so Scootaloo could burn off some of that energy and Dash and I could talk. “She's a heck of a little filly.”
Dash's voice was soft, thoughtful, “Ya, she is.”
We walked in silence, simply enjoying each others' company. I was happy in this fleeting time as a family. I was enjoying this so much. I didn't realize how much I had missed this. I gasped, suddenly overwhelmed by sadness and a sense of loss, and stumbled.
“Alex? What's wrong?”
“N... Nothing. Just me being stupid. Don't worry about it.”
“Are you new around here? It's me knucklehead.”
I snarled at her, “I said it's nothing.” I cursed myself for snapping, “Sorry Dash. I was just... remembering something I lost a long time ago.”
“Don't worry about it, and that's not nothing.”
“It's fine, see? I mean, why wouldn't I be deliriously happy?” I pirouetted and flashed a smile, “I'm in paradise for Celestia's sake.” I started counting off on my fingers, “I have friends, my own place, more bits than I know what to do with, and now I have something to fill the time until the next jump!” I starting dancing and in a sing song voice, “Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy!”
Dash didn't look very convinced, “You sure?”
I continued walking. I smiled, maybe a little too much, “Dash, I have more than I could reasonably ask for. This is as good as it gets so I'm calling this, happiness.”
She snorted in irritation, “Okay. When you decide to stop lying to me, I'll be here.”
No point in keeping things focused on me, time to redirect. “Speaking of butt heads hiding things... tell me about your dad.”
Dash stopped. “You really know how to make a segue, don't you?”
“Well, you know me. Sneaky, underhanded, all that stuff. Tell you what, if I tell you what was going on in my head, you'll tell me about your dad. Deal?”
Dash looked at me for a long moment, anger and irritation evident, but she rolled her eyes and sighed, “Deal.”
I pursed my lips and sighed, “It was just me being stupid. I haven't had a family moment like this in a very long time. You know, mom, dad, little one in the park, and it felt nice, really nice. And a moment after I had that feeling, it all collapsed when I remembered you're not my wife, Scootaloo is not my daughter, and I'm nothing important to you guys, just a friend. And that lead to me remembering what I lost all those years ago, which lead to getting bucked in the heart, which lead to the gasp and stumble. Et voilà! Now you know my sad sad story. You know, the usual boring whiny one. The one I usually keep under tight control, but today, it got away from me. Sorry about that.”
“For what it's worth Alex, you are a lot more important to me than some casual friend, and I think you would make a great dad, pony or not.” Dash walked silently for a few moments more, “Alright, my end of the bargain. So, my dad. Well, first off I want to say I love him very much and I know he loves me, in his own way. He wasn't one of those lovey dovey dads that gave you praise for every little thing. He was always helping me get better at flying. All the training he gave me was to get faster and stronger. Speed and skill and winning were all that mattered, and he reminded me of that every day. He was always pushing me to try new tricks. He taught me how important the Wonderbolts are. If you can make it to the Wonderbolts, he told me, you have it made.”
“We saw them whenever they were in Cloudsdale.” Dash privately relived old, happy memories, then her face went neutral, “He almost made it into the Wonderbolts, you know. He was in the finalist group of five, they picked three, but not him. He said it was his second biggest disappointment.” I saw her face harden. “He never told me what it was, but I knew. You see, my mom couldn't bare anymore foals after me, and I knew he wanted a colt. Well, I knew for sure after he got drunk that one night. He could never have the colt he always wanted and was stuck with the little mare.”
I carefully put my hand on her shoulder, “I don't care if you slug me Dash, I need to have my say. I know your dad loves you, he would have been a monster not to, but if you're his greatest disappointment, then he was blind to the wonderful daughter he had. And, the truth is, you're so far beyond awesome, I can't even think of a word to describe you. Maybe super-ultra-extreme-awesomazing? No, not cool enough. Anyway, if your dad couldn't see that, well, he's missing out on something amazing. No, not amazing, he was missing out on something even better, he was missing out on you.” I gave her shoulder a little squeeze, and got up. I smiled wearily, “Come on, I don't see Scootaloo and I don't hear emergency vehicles, yet. Let's go find her.” As I started off to look for Scootaloo, I realized Dash had not moved.
She was still sitting, with a little half smile, and that unreadable expression. Her lips moved a little, then she spoke. “But, you're still a big loud mouth, you know that, right?”
I unshouldered my carryall and knocked on the library door, “Sir Spike! It is I, your arch enemy.”
“One sec!” The door opened after a few moments with a smiling Spike and a new, more refined nose filter. “Hey Alex. What's up?”
“I need to talk to Twilight, Spike. Also, I wouldn't mind if you were there too. I think I know what I want to do with my time here and I'll be needing help. Also, I'm kind of hoping to getting Twilight's approval, her blessing if you will.”
“Huh, what are you doing, breeding dragons? Because, if you're doing that, I think it would be cool to be the elder statesman, you know, show them what to do and all that.”
I winced, imagining a pen of living flamethrowers all hating my guts, “No, nothing like that, but I'll keep it in mind as a backup plan.”
I see Twilight coming down the stairs to the main room. “Hi Alex. What brings you here?”
“Ulterior motives and sneakiness,” Twilight gave a little laugh. “Well, not exactly. I think I've come up with an idea of what I'll be doing from here on out.”
Twilight gave me one of her genuine ear to ear smiles, “That's great news! I'm so happy you found a direction for yourself.”
“Me too Twilight, me too.” I sort of stared off into space for a second.
“So? Don't keep me in suspense!”
“Oh, right! Heh. Yo, Spike! I need your expert opinion!” Twilight looked at me with a confused expression. “So, what is Alex going to do with his life? The short answer is I'm building a theatre.”
Spike exclaimed, “Cool! This place needs a place to see plays! Twilight, you remember when we lived in Canterlot we used to go to one or two plays every week. I mean, the Town Hall is okay, but there's maybe, what, one play a month? And half the time it's just some talent competition or amateur production with only a few cheesy special effects. Plus it's a little run down and...”
I interrupted, “So Spike, what you're saying is that you think it's a good idea. Good. How about you, Twilight? I value your opinion.”
Twilight grew thoughtful. She levitated a pencil and slowly tapped it on her lips. Then, she spoke slowly and nodded her head, “I think it would be a great addition to Ponyville. The educational possibilities alone would prove to be a great boon to this town.”
“Great! I'm glad you brought up education, what would you say about creating a musical series about various scientific and magical truths. I actually have a human example of what I have in mind. There was a series of musical compositions called the Symphony of Science.” I pulled out my laptop and went to youtube, and started playing a few of the titles. I had listened to them before, and they still caused a catch in my throat even after all these years.
After listening to a few Twilight said, in a dreamy voice, “'Not a sun rise, but a galaxy rise', you humans sure are ambitious.”
I smiled, “Twilight, I'm tired of stagnating, I want to grow.”