Cup Cake and Carrot were in high spirits. From the day they had gotten their children their pets the twins almost felt like different ponies. They had been so well-behaved it ordinarily would have been a cause for suspicion, but it was obvious that their hearts were full to bursting with affection, and it spilled over into everyone they came in contact with.
There was hardly a time the twins weren’t smiling or laughing, and it always brightened up their day to see their kids so happy.
Naturally Pinkie threw a big party over the occasion. She had invited the usual gang, telling them to bring their own pets to get them all acquainted. And, just as naturally, Pound and Pumpkin soaked up the attention and were eager to show off their new pets.
As Fluttershy had told them Champ and Tiger Lily had no animosity between them, despite being a cat and dog.
Yet another benefit of owning a pet was that Pound and Pumpkin had someone else to play with during busy days at the shop. Usually they and Pinkie Pie were baking and selling most of the day, so the twins usually only had each other to play with. That usually worked out fine for them, but it could also lead them to get on each other’s nerves.
All in all, they had not one single regret about their choice. Since they hadn’t had to decide on one pet there was no concern over them fighting over who got to play with their pet first.
The two of them weren’t stupid. They knew that the excitement of getting a pet would wear off eventually, and that was when the twins true test of ownership would begin. For now, though, they didn’t want to concern themselves over the misfortunes of the future. What was important right now was that the twins were doing exactly what they had set out to do: be good owners. That was enough for the time being.
Pinkie Pie walked in the door of Sugarcube Corner. “I’m back!” she trilled.
“Welcome back, Pinkie,” said Cup Cake, ringing up a customer.
Pound and Pumpkin came in right behind her. “Hi, Mom!” they said brightly.
“And hello to you too!” she finished giving the customer their change, then turned to them. “How was school?”
“Great! No problems at all!” said Pound. He put his hooves to his mouth and called out, “CHAMP! Here, boy!”
There was a bark from upstairs, and the golden retriever came barreling down the stairs toward him. The dog knocked him over, standing on his chest and licking his face repeatedly, making the colt laugh and half-heartedly push him away.
Several customers looked warmly at the display.
Pumpkin was giggling as well, then jumped as she felt something against her leg. She heard a meow and looked down to see Tiger Lily rubbing up against her, having followed Champ downstairs.
“Hello, Princess.” She picked up the cat, nuzzling her face. “I missed you so much.”
The cat began purring in response. Setting its front paws on Pumpkin’s leg it crawled up her leg and sat on her head. Pumpkin rolled her eyes, snickering. “Fine, fine. You can stay up there.”
The pair went into the back room where their father was taking a cake out of the oven. “Hi, Dad!” they said.
He set the cake down on the counter to cool. “Hey, kids.” He wiped his brow.
“We’re gonna do our homework, okay?” said Pound.
“When we’re done could we borrow Auntie Pinkie and go to the park?”
He went to the swing door and pushed it open halfway, looking around the front. “Well, it’s not too busy right now. If it stays like this I don’t see why not.”
The two of them smiled before going to the table, setting their saddle bags down on it before climbing up. Pumpkin lifted her legs above her head, picking up Tiger Lily and putting her on the floor. “Sorry, kitty, but I’m afraid I’m gonna knock you off my head while I’m working. As soon as I’m done with my work we can go back to the park.”
The cat stared up at her with an inscrutable expression, then walked away, lying down on the carpet.
Champ walked over to Tiger Lily, lying down with his body curled around hers.
Pound beamed at his pet. The way he was wrapped around her made it look like he was protecting her from danger. It was exactly what he wanted in a pet. He would keep Pumpkin safe, while Champ would protect Tiger Lily.
He took out his worksheet and began working with vigor. Pumpkin did the same. While they were working their dad got them an after-school treat of milk and cookies, which they eagerly accepted.
When their homework was finished they put all their papers and books away, took the dishes and plates to the sink, and called each of their pets over. Tiger Lily went right back to Pumpkin’s head, while Champ walked side-by-side with Pound.
They went into the shop area, and were elated to see the store was still pretty empty. “Auntie Pinkie!” they said together as they spotted her cleaning one of the display cases.
“Hey, you guys! What’s up?”
“Daddy said if it wasn’t busy you could take us to the park,” said Pound.
“So can we go?” asked Pumpkin. “Can we, can we?”
“Sounds great!" she responded. "Just let me finish up here and we’ll be out. In the meantime why don’t you two put your bags in your room and grab any stuff you want to bring.”
“Okay!” they said together, heading upstairs.
Once in their room they put their saddle bags in the closet.
“Man, this has been the best week ever!” Pumpkin said, wanting to jump up and down, but restraining herself. She didn’t want claw marks all over her head.
“You said it!” Pound agreed. “I never even knew what we were missing all this time.” He hugged Champ. “I love you, Champ! You’re an awesome pet.”
The dog let out a loud bark, his tail wagging hard.
“Tiger Lily is awesome too. Her colors are so cool.”
“Yeah. It’s too bad she’s so lazy,” he said with a wink.
Tiger Lily gave a mild hiss, but otherwise made no reaction.
“Hey, cats like to sleep. And being up on my head means she’s in the best position to be safe.”
“I know, I know. I’m just messing with you.”
A few minutes later Pinkie came up to check on them. The pair were ready.
On the walk there Tiger Lily had her front legs on either side of Pumpkin’s face, dozing in the sun.
Champ, on the other hand, was a ball of energy. He kept running ahead, turning around and coming back to them, coaxing Pound to run with him. The colt finally took the bait and raced him.
Pound noticed that Champ’s limp was already improving. Fluttershy had told him that his leg was healed, but it was still weak from lack of use. If he kept taking Champ out to exercise every day then Champ would be walking fine in a few months. And because he wasn’t surrounded by dozens of animals he received plenty of one on one care.
Pinkie let out a contented sigh. Pound and Pumpkin were really growing up. They were still children, of course, but with going to school and now owning their own pets they were really becoming responsible.
Pound stopped, panting, as they reached the entrance to the park. Champ was breathing heavy too. “G-good… boy…” He patted Champ’s head.
Pumpkin just strolled past him as Tiger Lily stretched and yawned, oblivious to everything else.
As Pound went to get some water Pumpkin went off on her own.
“Don’t go too far, Pumpkin,” Pinkie warned her.
“I know,” she replied. “'Have fun but stay close by', right?”
Pinkie nodded. “Good girl.”
Recovered now, Pound went to a big open area with a frisbee, throwing it and watching Champ run after it, jumping into the air and catching it in his mouth. Pound applauded as Champ returned and dropped it at his hooves.
Pumpkin watched her brother for a little bit, then grabbed the bag with some bread in it she had brought to feed to the ducks and geese. She sat down at the pond, once more taking Tiger Lily off her head. The cat let out a mewl at being disturbed, but settled down once Pumpkin set her down on her lap, going back to sleep.
Pumpkin threw a small piece of bread into the water by a nearby duck, who quickly snatched it up and ate it. When she threw another piece near the land in front of the pond it came out of the water to eat it.
As she continued it got the attention of the other birds, and they all began to swarm out looking for their share. She tore up the bread into little pieces, throwing it in as many directions as possible to try to make sure all of them got a little bit. It was so much fun to her.
Getting bold she let one of them eat off her hoof, but that caused the lot of them to get too close. She wasn’t worried about them attacking her or anything, but she didn’t want to frighten Tiger Lily, so she took some more pieces and threw them away in the distance, granting her room again.
When she stopped providing them with food the birds scattered around again. She leaned back against the tree she was sitting in front of, thinking that Tiger Lily definitely had the right idea. It was so warm and peaceful in the sun. There were a few ponies talking, but for the most part all she heard was the cries of animals, the sound of splashing water, and the cool breeze that whipped past her, stirring the trees. She closed her eyes, petting Tiger Lily. It was such a beautiful day.
She wasn’t sure if she actually fell asleep or not, but a sound was slowly drawing her attention. It sounded like crying. She wondered what anyone could possibly be sad about on a day like today.
She knew she couldn’t keep relaxing if there was someone upset, and so reluctantly opened her eyes. Nearby was a filly about her age restlessly throwing rocks into the pond. Her coat was a light yellow, her mane and tail mainly red with white highlights.
The filly was curled up, her head on her knees. She softly shook from time to time, tears coming down her eyes.
Pumpkin woke up Tiger Lily. “Come on, girl. There’s someone who needs help.” She set the cat on the ground, standing up and walking around the pond toward the girl. Tiger Lily followed behind her.
She sat down next to the filly. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
The filly stopped in the middle of throwing a rock. After a second she completed the throw, ignoring the question.
She tried again. “My name is Pumpkin Cake. What’s your name?”
“What does it matter?” the filly replied dully.
“It does matter! I need to know what to call you.”
“And why would you want to talk to me? It’s just a waste of time.”
“Come on. I told you my name. It’s only fair.”
She sighed. “Peppermint Swirl,” she replied. She picked up another rock, tossing it. Ripples went throughout the water.
Pumpkin put a comforting hoof around her. “Look, I know bad things can happen, but it’s so much worse when you don’t have anyone to share your pain with.”
Far from feeling reassured it only made the filly angrier. “Shut up!” She pushed Pumpkin over. “Just shut up, would you? Who asked for your help? What makes you think you understand, huh?”
Pumpkin sat up as Peppermint turned away and went back to throwing rocks. She closed her eyes. “What would Auntie Pinkie do?” she asked herself. Something about Peppermint’s behavior struck her as very familiar.
It didn’t take her long to find out what. Peppermint’s actions reminded her of Pound’s behavior after Tree Leaf had betrayed him. Pound had pushed everyone away and didn’t want to listen to anything.
She thought about everything she and Pound had been going through lately. From what she had seen she should just listen, not get angry at her outbursts, and wait for her to calm down. That was how Fluttershy had helped them out, and her parents, Pinkie, and even Princess Twilight had followed that example recently.
She took a deep breath, preparing herself for battle. “Why are you sad, Peppermint? I know you’re not really mad at me.”
Peppermint paused again, her body clenching. “Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”
“Can’t you just tell me what’s wrong? I want to help you.”
“Leave me alone!”
“But what kind of pony would I be if I left you all alone and sad?”
A muffled sob came from the filly, before her anger returned and she slapped Pumpkin across the face. “Why can’t you just GO AWAY! I don’t want you here.”
Pumpkin recoiled a bit, but she wouldn’t retaliate. It might hurt, but if Peppermint was anything like her brother the filly was only lashing out because she wasn’t sure how else to express her feelings.
She rubbed her cheek a bit to take out the sting. “I don’t believe you. I think you do want me here. Everyone needs someone to help them out when they’re sad.” She wrapped the filly in a hug. “Isn’t that right?”
“What are you doing?” Peppermint tried to fight her off, but Pumpkin wasn’t going to let her go until she let the love in. “Stop! Stop it! S-s-stop. Stop…” She got quieter and quieter, her protests growing weaker, until she wasn’t fighting at all.
Pumpkin smiled. “There you go. Doesn’t it feel better?”
Tears filled Peppermint’s eyes, and Pumpkin was sure the filly was about to give in and hug her back. Instead she roughly pulled herself out of Pumpkin’s hold. She walked a short distance away and sat back down facing away, quietly sobbing.
Pumpkin wasn’t daunted. It was just like her brother’s situation. Peppermint needed some love. She just wasn’t ready to accept it. Maybe she had done something bad and was in trouble. Or maybe she was just in a bad mood. She’d dealt with Pound’s moods enough to know what usually cheered him up. The only problem was she didn’t know what was causing Peppermint’s distress. It wouldn’t be effective to puff up her pride if she was in trouble.
She sat next to Peppermint, but maintained a little distance. She mimicked the filly’s pose, lifting her back legs up and putting her head on her knees. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said quietly. “I’ll stay here as long as it takes until you’re ready to talk.” And then… she waited.
Peppermint gave no indication she had heard Pumpkin’s words. She just kept crying into her knees.
Pumpkin closed her eyes, knowing that she only had to be patient. Auntie Pinkie was able to be friends with everyone she met because she paid attention to what other ponies needed. She had put her hoof out with an offer of friendship, but she couldn’t force Peppermint to take it. The filly had to make that decision on her own.
Minutes passed by before Peppermint finally spoke again. “What are you doing?” she asked. Pumpkin opened her eyes. “Why are you still sitting there? You don’t know me. You’ve never seen me before today. What do you care about my problems?”
Pumpkin gave her a smile. “Because I’ve hung out with too many heroes to just ignore you.”
Peppermint’s eyebrow went up. “What does that mean?”
“A lot of ponies have taught me important things, one of them the princess of this town.”
Peppermint’s interest faded, and she turned away with a huff. “Yeah, right!” she said sarcastically. “And Princess Celestia is my aunt.”
“Princess Twilight is my aunt’s best friend, from back before she was an alicorn.
“But someone doesn’t have to be a princess to teach you important stuff. Even kids can have something important to teach.” In her mind she could see Twilight with the friendship diary, asking for her and Pound to write down what they had learned. “That’s what Twilight said to me.”
“Stupid,” she said dismissively. “Adults always lie to kids to make them feel better about how dumb and pathetic they are. What makes a princess any different, even if you are telling the truth?”
Pumpkin still couldn’t get rid of the image of Pound. Twilight had said that Pound usually got confrontational to hide his true feelings. She thought Peppermint was doing the same thing. But until Peppermint actually told her what she was upset about she was at a standstill.
Peppermint began quietly sobbing again. “Lucky! You’re friends with a princess, but it doesn’t even matter! A princess would never want to even look at me.”
“That’s not true! Twilight is an amazing pony. She’s kind and smart and she tries to just be a normal pony most of the time. She gets very uncomfortable when other ponies bow to her, so she tells all her close friends to treat her like she’s not a princess.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Peppermint turned her head slightly toward her. “You really want to know what happened?”
Pumpkin couldn’t answer at first. Peppermint was flashing her that exact same twisted smile that Pound had. There was no doubt in her mind. She had had to deal with Pound’s destructive phase for days on end, and she couldn’t forget it.
“What’s wrong? You’re the one that wanted to know.” She finally uncurled herself and stood up, turning her head to the side.
Pumpkin had always seen the left side of Peppermint’s face, but now she could see the right side, and there was a bright red hoof mark across her cheek. She jumped up as well, concerned. “What happened, Peppermint?” She winced as the filly laughed, the image of Pound getting stronger and stronger all the time.
“Oh, nothing. My daddy just gave me what I deserved.” Despite her smug expression a tear came down her face.
Pumpkin gaped at her. “Your dad hit you?” Her stomach felt like it had worms in it. No matter how badly she or Pound had acted none of the adults in their lives had ever struck them. “Why?”
Peppermint’s grin wavered a bit. “I told you that already. He gave me what I deserved.”
“Don’t say that!” Pumpkin said angrily. “No one deserves to be hit by their parents.”
Peppermint’s expression grew dead again as she looked at the ground. “I did.
“My mom recently gave birth to a baby boy. He’s about a month old now. While we were all waiting I was so excited, but ever since he came into the picture everything’s changed. My parents don’t pay attention to me anymore. They’re either working or sleeping or taking care of the baby. Now all I am to them is a foalsitter.”
She looked up at Pumpkin, tears streaming down her eyes. “I hate him! I hate him so much for taking my parents love away from me! And today I felt so jealous that I hit him!” She sank to the ground. “And… and when he saw that he smacked me and yelled at me for picking on a defenseless baby.”
Burying her head in her hooves she shivered. “I… I-I-I ran away. I ran out of the house. I’m not going back! Ever! They don’t need me anymore! They have something else to love now. And I guess one day they’ll have another kid and kick my brother out next.”
Pumpkin was crying now. She sat down next to Peppermint and started rubbing her back as the filly cried. Before she could say anything else she had to know one thing. “Peppermint… does your daddy usually hit you when he’s mad?” If the answer was yes then she’d have to go to Auntie Pinkie, and likely to Twilight. That would be an issue too big for her to fix herself.
“N-no!” she croaked out. “T-this is the first time.”
Pumpkin let out a sigh of relief. If this was just a one-time thing then she thought it was just an accident. She thought of when she played with Skyla, and how protective she felt over her when she was going to sleep. If someone had hit Skyla she would have felt justified in hitting that pony, even if that wasn’t the right thing to do.
“Well, that’s a relief,” Pumpkin said. “I’m glad this isn’t something that happens all the time. I think your daddy just had a Pound moment.”
Peppermint glanced up at her. “A… a what moment?”
“Oh, right. You don’t know my brother. We’re twins, but he’s technically my older brother because he was born a few minutes earlier. He’s a total dork and a loser, but he’s the most amazing pony I know.” She giggled.
Peppermint just stared at her.
“Pound is a perfect older brother to me.” Her eyes glazed over, her smile growing tender. “Every time I’m in trouble or sad, and I don’t know what to do, Pound always comes to my rescue. He’s very protective of me. He used to be too protective. Anytime someone would pick on me, and especially if they hit me, he would go crazy and hit them without a second thought. Twilight eventually helped Pound to find a better way.
“Twilight pointed out that all the times he had attacked another pony to protect me it had actually made things worse. One time it led to the kid coming back with his older brother and their friends. One time it led to him getting kicked out of school. So now he does his best not to get into fights anymore, so he doesn’t hurt me by getting in trouble or possibly making other ponies want revenge.”
Peppermint slowly put her face back on her legs. “Your brother sounds really cool.”
“He is! Well… most of the time. The rest of the time he’s a total butt face and a dummyhead that gets on my nerves.” She snickered into her hoof. “Aw, but I still love him though.”
“I guess that’s what an older sibling is supposed to be like, huh?” Her body scrunched up. “A good sister is someone that protects their baby brother, not smacks him in the back of the head because she’s mad!” The self-loathing in her voice was evident. “I’m a bad sister and a bad daughter and a bad pony! I was so horrible that my dad hit me!” She rolled over onto her side, in a ball again as she rocked back and forth. “T-t-that’s why I’m never going home! None of them are gonna wanna see me anymore. They probably all hate me!” She began wailing into her knees again.
Pumpkin’s legs felt weak, and it was all she could do not to just break down with Peppermint. Hadn’t she been in this exact same position on their first day of school? The circumstances were different, but the feelings were so familiar to her. It had been unbearable. Or it would have been, if Pound hadn’t been with her. Peppermint didn’t even have anyone by her side. She felt all alone.
Pumpkin released the breath she was holding, determined to make things right. After all, what was the point of everything she had gone through if she couldn’t even help a pony that needed that lesson the most? She already had all the study material before her, and now it was time for the test.
She first went back to Twilight’s lessons on regaining calm. She focused entirely on her breathing, taking measured breaths, until she felt a little more relaxed.
She walked over to Peppermint, pulling the filly into a sitting position. She sat down in front of her. “Peppermint, let me ask you something. Do you feel bad for hitting your brother?”
The filly growled, her eyes narrowing. “Were you not listening to what I just said? If I didn’t feel bad then would my heart hurt this badly?”
Pumpkin nodded. “And that’s why you’re not a bad pony.”
“Hmm?” Peppermint’s expression grew mixed. The anger was fading, a touch of interest in her eyes.
“Me and my brother ran away from home twice. The first time was over something stupid. We ruined something our Auntie Pinkie made and were so scared she wouldn’t like us anymore we left.
“The second time… well, it’s different than what you went through, but the two of us left because we felt we weren’t wanted anymore.”
Peppermint was listening hard now.
Pumpkin looked at the ground, those past feelings emerging again. “The two of us had gotten into a fight at school on our first day. We got kicked out, and everyone was mad at us. Auntie Pinkie wouldn’t talk to us, our teachers were mad, the principal was mad, our parents scolded us…
“Later on Princess Twilight came to visit. She was the one that got us into school in the first place, so when she heard about what happened she got mad too.
“We thought for sure that none of our family loved us anymore, so we were better off just leaving.”
“So what happened?” asked Peppermint.
Pumpkin looked up, meeting her eyes. She could hear the anxious tone in Peppermint’s voice, and see she had the filly’s full attention. There was a spark of hope in her eyes, and that made a small grin come to Pumpkin’s face. She was doing it. If she just kept going she was sure she could take Peppermint’s pain away. Auntie Pinkie would be so proud, and Fluttershy and Princess Twilight too. She could feel her heart swelling up with joy, and she wanted nothing more at that moment than to pull Peppermint out of the dark cloud of her despair, to make her feel what she was feeling right now.
“Well, a lot of stuff happened. One of Auntie Pinkie’s friends is named Fluttershy. She’s a very kind pony. She found us while we were out there. We made up a lie about why we were by ourselves, but she pretty much saw right through it and pretended she didn’t. She was so nice that she got us to tell her what happened. When she heard it she didn’t yell or tell us we had done something bad. She didn’t like that we had gotten into a fight, but she still loved us.
“Eventually we all wound up back at our parent’s house, where Fluttershy made all of them promise to keep quiet and let us talk about how we were feeling. When our parents saw just how much they had hurt us they apologized and we made up.
“Princess Twilight apologized to us too. She’s a bit of a nerd. Most of the time she’s reading and learning stuff. So she said she wasn’t really mad about us fighting, but she just didn’t want us to not be able to learn stuff.”
Pumpkin put a hoof to her heart, smiling warmly as she closed her eyes. “Princess Twilight really is amazing. She knew just what to do to help us. We were still a bit scared that maybe she didn’t like us. We asked her if she just thought we were bad ponies.”
Peppermint turned away, wincing. “So… what did she say?”
Pumpkin opened her eyes, putting her hooves out and pulling up Peppermints. The filly looked over at her, not fighting. Her expression had grown dead again. Beaming, she said, “She said that what separates a bad pony from a good pony is how they feel about the bad things they do. A bad pony doesn’t care about hurting others. But that’s NOT you. So long as you feel bad about hurting someone then you’re NOT a bad pony. You’re just a good pony that made a mistake.”
“Mmm.” A tear slowly came down her cheek. “I’m… I… I…”
Pumpkin could see the pain slowly leaving Peppermint’s face.
“Do… do you really think that, Pumpkin?”
In her mind’s eye Pumpkin could see herself in front of Twilight, dictating their message into the friendship diary. “Princess Twilight and her friends have a notebook where they write down the lessons they learn about friendship. The idea is she wants to help future ponies through seeing other ponies that have gone through the same thing. Twilight wrote down what she learned about little kids like us, and then she surprised us by letting us write down what we learned. It seemed crazy. OUR words, right next to a princess? But Twilight let us make that message for a time like this.
"And that message was that EVERY pony, no matter how old, makes mistakes. Sometimes really, really big ones. But so long as you feel bad about what you’ve done and try to make up for it then you’re still a good pony and you still deserve to be loved and hugged. And so I know for sure that you’re not a bad pony.” She let go of Peppermint’s legs and spread her own out further. “Now just come here already. I know a good pony that needs a hug.”
Peppermint’s breathing grew shorter and shorter, and her resistance finally broke. She threw herself at Pumpkin, bawling her eyes out.
Pumpkin wrapped her hooves around the filly, knowing that the worst was over. “That’s right. Just let it all out. It’s gonna be okay now. I'm here for you, so just cry as much as you want.”
When Peppermint settled down a bit Pumpkin asked, “Don’t you feel better now?”
Peppermint pulled back, shaking her head. “No, I don’t.”
“Why not?” Pumpkin asked. “Don’t you believe me?”
“It’s not that. I DO believe you. It’s just… I don’t know if it matters.”
Pumpkin released her, sitting back on her haunches. “Why doesn’t it matter? I’m sure you’d rather think of yourself as good than bad.”
“You’re right, but… it’s not up to me.”
“Not up to you?” she responded, confused.
Peppermint got up and began pacing back and forth. “I do feel really bad about hitting my brother like that. It wasn’t like he had done anything, like ripping apart one of my stuffed animals. My dad came into the room, and as he passed by he nuzzled my brother and used some silly baby-talk. He didn’t say anything to me, and I just felt so jealous and angry I smacked my brother one. When he heard the sound he instantly turned around, and when he saw my brother crying that’s when he hit me. I was so surprised and scared that I just started running without even thinking about where I was going to go.”
She stopped her pacing, returning to the edge of the pond and throwing another rock in it. Sitting down she moved into the same position she had been in when Pumpkin had first found her. “I’m scared. My daddy probably hates me for what I did.”
Pumpkin sat down next to her. “I don’t think so. I already told you about what happened with us. Auntie Pinkie promised us that she would always love us no matter what bad things we did. She made sure we knew that she never hated US. She only hated the bad behavior. I think your dad is probably the same. He took it too far, but I really think he was just trying to protect the baby. And if he really loves you I bet he feels as bad about what he did as you do.”
Peppermint was being quiet again, going back to making ripples in the water. She let out a heavy breath. “You know, things weren’t always like this.”
“You mean, between you and your parents?”
She shook her head. “No. I mean with my brother. When he was first born I got to come into the room and hold him. He was so tiny and handsome. Right then and there I pledged to always protect him. I wanted to be an amazing big sister. I wanted to be someone he could look up to… someone he could come to when he was upset or scared.” A few tears dripped down her face. “I wanted to be his hero.
“I always offered to look after my brother so my parents could be free. They would always thank me for it, but when I noticed they weren’t paying much attention to me anymore I started to get upset. And after that I got angry. Everything had been great for me before he had been born. Every day I got more and more jealous of how much attention they gave him, and looking after him was now just another chore that I hated. Today I just… snapped.”
Pumpkin put a hoof around her. “Peppermint, did you ever tell your parents how you were feeling?”
She shook her head. “No. They’ve been so busy lately I didn’t know how to talk to them. If they weren’t working they’d be sleeping or resting or cleaning or cooking. My brother’s a fussy sleeper, so he keeps them up most of the night.”
“Well, how were they supposed to know how much it was upsetting you if you never told them? You said before that you always offered to watch him. If you never said you didn’t want to do it anymore then of course they’d expect you to keep doing it.”
Peppermint pushed her head down further. “So you’re saying everything is my fault?”
“NO!” she replied strongly. “This isn’t about blaming anyone. I’m saying you need to talk to your dad and tell him how you’re feeling.”
Peppermint turned slightly towards her, wiping her face. “Do you think he’s gonna want to even listen to me? He’s probably going to yell at me for running away. Or punish me for hitting Pencil.”
“Pencil Sharpener. It’s my brother’s name.”
“Oh! Oh, right.”
She looked back down at the ground. “I’m… I’m scared to go home. I don’t know what’s gonna happen when I do.”
She nuzzled Peppermint’s cheek with her own. “What if I went with you?” Pumpkin’s mind went back to when she used to be afraid of thunderstorms, and how Pound always let her sleep with him. “Scary things are never as scary when someone else is sharing them with you.”
Peppermint was silent for a while. “I… I guess so,” she finally said.
Pumpkin grinned. “Great. Let’s go right now!”
“Right now?” Peppermint shivered.
Pumpkin got up on her hooves, pulling Peppermint up too as she said, “Of course right now. If you don’t talk to your daddy then you’re just gonna be scared and upset all day.”
Peppermint was standing now. “Pumpkin, I-” she froze suddenly, her eyes going wide.
Pumpkin gazed at her in curiosity. She strained her ears, and she could make out someone calling the filly’s name.
Peppermint began to breathe heavily, her body shaking as she clenched Pumpkin. “It’s… it’s my daddy. What do I do? What do I do?”
Pumpkin held her back, saying calmly, “We go talk to him. I promise I’ll be right by your side and keep you safe.” She giggled, giving a warm smile. “After all… it’s just what my dumb brother would do for me, and as my biggest hero I want to imitate him.”
Peppermint clenched her eyes shut, torn between wanting to run and hide somewhere, and making up with her dad. The voice was getting closer. She didn’t have much time to decide. She looked back up into Pumpkin’s eyes, seeing the comforting look still on her face, and her racing heart slowed down slightly. Pumpkin was about the same age as her, certainly a lot smaller and weaker than her father. She didn’t know what Pumpkin could do to protect her, but Pumpkin was so kind and nice to her that she wanted to trust in this filly.
She let go, standing up straight and taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she said in a croaky voice. “I… I believe you.”
In the distance her father came into sight, his head whipping around rapidly as he called out her name. Her father was a unicorn like her, with a green coat.
He was panting heavily, as if he had been running a lot. Did she hear concern in his voice? Was that a tear coming down his eye? Was… was Pumpkin right that he felt bad?
Pumpkin’s body was mainly hiding her from his view. She could just keep quiet and let him run past, but… she didn’t want to. She moved a bit so she’d be visible, but couldn’t get her voice to work.
Her dad was still looking around as he trotted. Suddenly he turned in her direction. Their eyes met, recognition in his eyes. He skidded to a stop, and for a moment in time he just stood there, catching his breath.
Peppermint turned away guiltily, wondering what was going to happen to her now. She could hear the rapid hoof-beats approaching her, and again she thought about running away. The beats stopped a few feet away, and all she could hear was the sound of his breathing.
Pumpkin stood slightly off to the side, magic at the ready. She wasn’t strong enough to lift a full grown pony, but she had several options to get them apart if the stallion got violent. And if that wasn’t enough she could always call Auntie Pinkie for help. Not for the first time she understood why Pound had been so apt to get violent to protect her. She wasn’t going to allow any further harm to come to Peppermint, even if she had to throw herself between the two of them.
The tension was so thick Peppermint felt like someone had their hoof over her snout. The wait was killing her. Whatever was going to come next she just wanted it to happen.
The stallion looked down at his daughter. “Peppermint…” The word hung in the air. The way she was turned let him clearly see the impact he had left on her face. Reluctantly, Peppermint looked up at him. As they met eyes again he could see the dead expression she wore, the weight of shame and fear. He could see how much pain she was in.
His eyes filled with tears, and he fell to the ground in a submissive position in front of her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! I know what I did is unforgivable. I know how much I hurt you. It’s not an excuse, but I’ve been so tired lately I just lashed out without even thinking about what I was doing. When I realized what I had done I felt absolutely horrible.” He looked up into her cautious expression. “I know I can’t take it back, no matter how much I wish I could, but I truly am sorry for what I did. Can you ever forgive me?”
Peppermint certainly hadn’t been expecting this reaction when they met up again. Pumpkin had been right. He did feel bad. While she appreciated it, she didn’t know if she was ready to forgive him yet.
Pumpkin put a hoof on her shoulder. “I think you need to speak your mind. He’s clearly ready to listen.”
Peppermint gave her a quick glance before turning back to her dad. All the anger and rage she had been holding back was expanding within her, and she didn’t feel like fighting it anymore.
Glaring down at him she said coldly, “It’s real nice that you only care about my feelings NOW, after all this trouble. Do you know WHY I hit Pencil?”
He shook his head.
“Because I was jealous! Because ever since he was born he’s been getting all the attention and love! Because you and Mom have been ignoring me! I’m tired of it! I’m your child too!” She turned away from him, barely holding herself back from sobbing. “I-I feel like you don’t even love me anymore! I was so happy taking care of Pencil. I wanted you to see me as a big girl. But I don’t want to be big if it means you don’t tuck me in at night and read me bedtime stories.
“I need love too!” She spun back around, putting a hoof over her heart. “And what you did to my face doesn’t hurt nearly as much as what you did here.” She pointed an accusing hoof at him, tears pouring down her face as she yelled, “IF YOU COULDN’T LOVE TWO KIDS WHY DID YOU EVEN HAVE TWO IN THE FIRST PLACE?” She held herself, hiccupping as she sobbed.
Her dad slowly rose, closing the distance between them. He sat down on the ground, pulling her toward him. She didn’t resist. “You’re right. There’s nothing more that can be said. Your brother is so small and helpless right now, and needs a lot of care and attention. We’ve been so busy lately we’ve been neglecting you and putting you in the background.”
He gave her a squeeze. “I’m sorry. I really am. It’s been exhausting trying to work and take care of a newborn, but you’re right that it doesn’t make it okay to not pay attention to you too. And it’s also not okay that I lost control and slapped you. That’s not the kind of parent I want to be.
“If you’re willing to give me another chance I promise to make it up to you. Your brother is here to stay, so things can’t ever be exactly the same as they were before, but maybe we can have some time together that’s just for us. And I’ll also make sure to give you a bedtime story like before. Would that be okay? You don’t have to forgive me right now, but I want to offer you that much.”
Peppermint had her head against his chest. She could hear his heartbeat and feel the warmth of his coat. She could feel his loving hold. It reminded her of how things used to be. “Daddy?”
“I… I don’t really hate Pencil. I liked taking care of him. I just felt so mad because he was getting all the attention. If you and Mom give me some special time together and love I wouldn’t feel so mad at him.”
He could hear the shift in Peppermint’s tone. She sounded calmer now. Her body wasn’t as tense, starting to relax into his hold.
“I understand.” He began rubbing her back. “I know I made a big mistake, but I’ll do my best to make it up to you from now on.”
Peppermint nuzzled his chest. “If you do that then I’ll forgive you.” She looked up into his eyes. “I… I really missed you.” Tears formed in her eyes, but they were happier this time. “I’m so h-happy to have you back!” She put her legs around his back, sobbing happily. "I love you, Daddy!"
"I love you too, Peppermint!" Her dad joined in right with her as they held one another.
Pumpkin was quietly crying. She had done it. She had solved a friendship problem all by herself. Her heart was soaring as she looked at what she had wrought. By applying everything she had learned over the past few months she had brought a father and daughter back together.
She jumped slightly as she felt a hoof on her shoulder. She looked up to see Auntie Pinkie, smiling down tenderly at her.
Pinkie kissed her forehead. “I’m so proud of you, Pumpkin. You did a great job.”
Pumpkin blushed. “Oh, it was nothing. I just had some amazing teachers.”
Pinkie sat down and pulled Pumpkin to her, much like Peppermint and her dad a short distance away. “Nonsense. You did this, so you get the credit.”
Pumpkin held her back, joy radiating through her. “How long have you been listening?” she asked.
“For a while, actually. I saw you talking to a sad filly, and I just had to see what you would do. And you get an A plus! And you know what else?”
Pinkie turned Pumpkin around toward the pair. “Peppermint won’t forget this. I think you’ve found yourself a friend.”
Pumpkin blinked. It occurred to her that, despite getting on well with her classmates at school, she didn’t have any close friends to hang out with.
“A friend, huh?” She beamed, relaxing her back against Pinkie and closing her eyes. “That’s fine with me.”