The sound of the doorbell faded to silence. After a few seconds passed with no activity from the other side of the door, Sunset rang again. Maybe Mrs. Sparkle didn't hear—but then she heard a faint voice in the distance growing louder.
“I'm coming! Hold on.” Then the door opened, and Sunset was left face to face with Mrs. Sparkle who's eyes widened at the sight of her. “Sunset?”
“H-Hi, Misses Sparkle.”
“You're here.” Surprise was etched in her words.
Sunset shifted her feet and rubbed her hands together. “Well, you said any time so...” Was she too early? Of course she was. Idiot. “I'm sorry I bothered you.” She had to go. She had to leave. She had to—relax.
“Bother me? What? No. I'm just surprised to see you so early. I didn't think you'd be here till after school, at least.”
See? Now breathe and calm down. In and out. There you go. After a few breaths, Sunset had to admit that she felt better. You need to stop making mountains out of molehills. She'd been doing that a lot lately, hadn't she?
“So it's really okay that I'm here?”
“Of course it is,” Mrs. Sparkle said. Though Sunset could've sworn she heard a brief pause in her words, but it may have been all in her head. “Why don't you come in?” She felt Mrs. Sparkle's hand on her upper back as she led her inside the house.
It'd been a long time since she last stepped inside the Sparkle residence. So long that she was almost certain things would've changed. However, things were exactly as she remembered them. Not exactly though, right? Family portraits lined the walls in level rows, and the blanket draped over the back of the couch was folded end to end between the two back cushions.
“So what have you been up to?” Mrs. Sparkle asked.
“Oh, you know”—lying in bed as my life falls apart—“just… stuff.”
“What about you?” Sunset asked, hoping to shift the conversation off herself.
“Just living day by day.” Mrs. Sparkle picked up an askew picture frame sitting on a small table by the entryway. Even without a clear view, Sunset knew it was a picture of Shining Armor. “I sent Shining out to do some errands earlier. It's been a blessing having him around the house these past few weeks.”
Sunset's gaze wandered to the door. If Shining Armor was out then the last place she wanted to be was in his home when he returned. Any second now the door could open, and there'd he be, and that wasn't a situation she wanted to be in. Maybe you have nothing to worry about. Things might have changed since the funeral. But she knew it was wishful thinking. He was furious then, and she remembered his burning expression, his painful words… No, she doubted that much—if anything had changed since then.
“He still hates me, doesn't he?” she asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
Mrs. Sparkle's face fell when she glanced at the picture in her hands, confirming her expectations. “I don't think he hates you. He's just hurting. I've tried convincing him and his father to join me in counseling, but...”
“You're going to counseling?”
“Yeah.” Mrs. Sparkle placed the picture back on the table. “I started a few days after the funeral. Doctor Balm's been helping me find ways to cope with Twilight's death.”
“That's… good.” What else could she say? Guilt washed over Sunset like a wave. While she was glad that Mrs. Sparkle's therapy seemed to be working, if it wasn't for her then she wouldn't need to find ways to cope to begin with.
“Why don't you have a seat? I'll make us some tea,” Mrs. Sparkle said, walking towards the kitchen.
'Organization is the key to a happy mind, at least that's what my mom taught me.' That's what Twilight told her the first time she visited when she asked why the living room looked like a picture in an interior design magazine. With everything so immaculate, she remembered feeling awkward about even sitting on the couch, and joked about how her presence would somehow ruin the perfect image.
But then Twilight's expression intensified as she placed her hands on her shoulders. Sunset could still feel the gentle squeeze of her fingers. 'If you're in this house then you have a place.' The words made her smile then, and they made her smile now.
Sunset ran her fingers along the picture frames that sat on the end table, but she didn't dare look at them because if she did, she felt like she might cry. So she sat on the couch at an angle that didn't risk glimpsing the pictures in her peripheral vision and waited. A few minutes passed before Mrs. Sparkle came back carrying a small tea tray.
After placing the tray on the coffee table next to an album named “family”, Mrs. Sparkle picked up a white pot and poured the tea into a couple ceramic cups. Sunset felt the steam rise from the cup when she accepted the plate from Mrs. Sparkle. To avoid appearing ungracious, she took a small sip of tea, and winced as the scalding liquid slid down her throat.
“Be careful. It's hot.” Mrs. Sparkle took her cup and sat in a cream colored armchair across from Sunset.
Silence fell upon them, and Sunset shifted her position. Should she say something? Now would be a good time. She had the words ready. Just two, but that was all she needed and probably all she'd be able to manage. Yet the more she thought about those couple words, the faster her heart beat. You can do this. But the words stuck to her tongue, allowing the silence to continue.
Then Mrs. Sparkle put her tea down.
“It feels like a lifetime has passed since I last saw you.”
“Ye-Yeah.” Sunset tensed at Mrs. Sparkle's voice, fearing the upcoming conversation. The last time she saw her was at Twilight's funeral, the funeral she ran out of. What if that's what she wanted to talk about? Or what about how she was directly responsible for her daughter's death? Was she ready to hear those words come out of someone else's mouth besides her own? But it wasn't your fau—What if?
“You must be tired of hearing this question, but… how are you doing?” Mrs. Sparkle asked.
That question wasn't even on her mind, and it took her a moment to realize it'd even been asked, but she had the answer in the chamber ready to fire. “I'm...” Sunset paused. Do you want to lie to her? Can you lie to her? “fine,” she said. What's one more time, right? For a moment, she considered asking her how she was, but thought better of it. She lost a daughter. How fine could she be?
“Hmm.” Mrs. Sparkle gave her a sad smile, nodding as if she got the answer she expected. “I'm fine,” she repeated. “Don't you get tired of those words? I'm fine. You say it so often that you sound like a record stuck on repeat. Eventually, you don't even notice when you say it. It just becomes second nature. But it wasn't my truth, and I can see in your eyes that it's not yours either.”
Sunset placed her tea on the coffee table. She was right, of course. But how could she admit that to Mrs. Sparkle, the mother who's child died because of her actions? Honestly, she was tired of keeping the lie raised as a shield all the time. Could it hurt to lower her guard and be honest?
“You know it's okay to say you aren't fine,” Mrs. Sparkle said.
Was it though? Sunset felt the words wrap around her chest, cold and hard. How she wanted to release herself from their burden even if it was only for this moment. However, the words locked her tongue. It wasn't right for her to confess to Mrs. Sparkle. Mrs. Sparkle's pain was more important than her own. She didn't have a right to free herself from her chains, not when she sat across from Twilight's mother. Your feelings are valid too. Just because someone may have it worse, doesn't mean what you feel isn't important. Sunset's nails dug into her palms when she braced against her thighs.
Why was Mrs. Sparkle telling her it was okay? Because it is. Why wasn't she angry with her? Why wasn't she yelling at her, screaming that it was her fault? Because she isn't, and it wasn't. Why—can't you stop blaming yourself? You're the judge and jury to your own trial. Can't you see that the only person that hates you in this room is yourself? But she had every reason to hate her. Was Mrs. Sparkle simply good at hiding it or did she really not hate her?
Sunset lowered her gaze away from Mrs. Sparkle, fearing that she might see something that wasn't there in her eyes. You need to stop forging monsters out of nothing. What has she done to make you question her motivations? The truth was that she hadn't done anything. Then why are you desperate to find something that isn't there? She didn't know.
In the silence, Mrs. Sparkle said, “I remember when I first spoke the words, 'I'm not fine' out loud. It was like a weight had been—”
“Do you hate me?” Sunset's voice wavered.
“Hate you?” Surprise weaved through Mrs. Sparkle's words. “Why would you think that?”
“Why not?” In the corner of her eye, Sunset saw the family album, and knew that it would never be filled the same way again. It was broken beyond repair. Just like her. “I could've saved her.” Sunset's voice cracked and her vision blurred and she wanted to stop, but she couldn't. The words poured out of her. “If I'd been faster. If I'd tried harder.” Her body shook. There were so many things she could've done differently that day. “If I'd held her hand. If I… If I… If—”
A warm pressure wrapped around her body. “Shhh...” It took her a moment to notice Mrs. Sparkle's presence next to her. And when she did, she pulled away. Yet Mrs. Sparkle held on. “It's okay.”
“No it's not! Please let me go.” It was supposed to be a comfort being wrapped in someone's arms, but the embrace only intensified her pain. The action felt… wrong—sick, like it was a crime made worse by the fact that it was Mrs. Sparkle who hugged her. She didn't deserve the kindness, not with the pain she caused.
After Mrs. Sparkle released her, she hugged her arms, keeping her head lowered. She feared the look on Mrs. Sparkle's face. Why did she have to react like that? It was just…
“Mrs. Sparkle?” Her voice was so small that she was reminded of the time when she was a foal back in Equestria. “I'm...” What should she say now? Her mind went blank.
“Is it okay if I touch you?” Mrs. Sparkle asked softly.
She nodded quickly, still averting her gaze.
Hands on shoulders, a reassuring squeeze. “Look at me,” Mrs. Sparkle said softly. Sunset tilted her head up, meeting her tired, tearful gaze. “It's not your fault. I don't blame you.”
Sunset opened her mouth to speak, but only a half choked sob came out.
“It's okay. I'm going to hug you now,” Mrs. Sparkle said, pulling her close.
Guilt and anger and sadness swirled inside of her. But there was another feeling too. Want. She wanted the contact. Perhaps even needed it. So she didn't fight Mrs. Sparkle this time. Despite the confusing storm raging in her heart, she reached her hands behind Mrs. Sparkle and dug her fingers into the back of her shirt.
“I'm sorry,” Sunset said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“You don't need to apologize.” Mrs. Sparkle ran her fingers through Sunset's hair. “It's not your fault what happened. Alright? It was a tragic accident. There's no one to blame.”
“B-But there is! I could've prevented it. If I'd known what would happen that day, I wouldn't have given up on trying to stop her,” Sunset said. “She'd still be with us.”
Mrs. Sparkle shook her head. “None of that. There was nothing you could've done.”
“How can you say that?” Because it's the truth, and you know it too.
“Sweetie, you need to stop beating yourself up. You'll wear yourself away until there's nothing left. I know it's hard, but you have to trust me on this.”
She was right, but—What would you do if you stopped blaming yourself? You don't know, do you? “I can't,” Sunset said.
“I understand,” Mrs. Sparkle said. “Sunset, do you ever talk about what happened that day?”
A lump formed in her throat and her heart felt like it wanted to fall from her chest. The memories of that day reached for her mind with cold, shadowed fingers. No. She didn't want to think about it.
Rain pelted her face and drenched her clothes. Each step weighed heavy as she trudged through the mud. And she remembered reiterating how dangerous this would be with all the mud and rain.
'As long as we're careful we'll be fine. Okay? Trust me.' Then Twilight flashed her a smile, and despite her doubts, she believed her. Up ahead of them was—No! Sunset pushed the shadowy hand away. The memory faded leaving a chill down her spine.
“It hurts too much,” Sunset said.
“I know,” Mrs. Sparkle said. “But it's not good to keep those feelings bottled up. They build and build until the pressure reaches a breaking point.”
“Yeah...” Where is your breaking point? Have you reached it yet? You're almost there, aren't you?
“Just know that it's okay to talk about Twilight. It's okay to feel.”
But what Sunset wanted was to feel less. You know that's not true. Why don't you listen to her advice and—“I should leave before Shining gets back,” Sunset said, rising from the couch.
You know that's not the real reason you want to leave. You're afraid of dealing with your loss. That wasn't… She wasn't afraid. Your life has been on pause for so long that you don't know where to find play anymore. Was she?
“You don't have to do that,” Mrs. Sparkle said.
“It's for the best.”
“Okay. Let me give you another hug before you go.” As Mrs. Sparkle embraced her, she whispered in her ear, “My daughter cared about you a great deal. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help if you need it.”
Sunset felt a twinge of pain in her heart at hearing the declaration of affection, but her lips turned to a small smile. “Thanks, Misses Sparkle.”
“Before you go, there's something important I want you to take home and read,” Mrs. Sparkle said.
“What is it?”
“The last entry of my daughter's diary.”