Big Macintosh Apple stared at his closet.
It felt symbolic, given what "coming out of the closet" meant. He ran a hoof down the soft fabric of Orchard Blossom's dress. He'd had Rarity repair it. She'd made it in the first place, long before he'd finally dared to put it on to take part in the Sisterhooves Social. She'd never breathed a word, of course. She loved gossip, but when push came to shove she could keep a secret. Though that particular secret was out. Probably. He had no idea if anypony had guessed that the dress was something more than just a desperate ploy to bond with his little sister. If he ignored it, hopefully they would all forget that day had ever happened.
The big stallion sighed, feeling its silky softness. Putting it on had felt so right in so many ways. He could put it on now and go look in the little mirror on the bathroom cabinet. But he knew what he'd see. He wouldn't see a slender, graceful mare with a mare's curves. He'd see a stallion, huge and blocky and awkward, in a dress.
With another sigh he shut the closet door and set about his day.
No matter how he tried to put Orchard Blossom and his divided feelings about her out of his mind, though, he just couldn't. His managed to put on a good face for his sisters, but when they were out of sight his feet dragged and his head hung low. He felt trapped, caught between two things, and having both was utterly impossible.
Orchard Blossom was one of those things. He wanted to be her. Something about her was freeing. Donning the dress set his tongue loose, and it seemed to set his spirit loose as well. It felt so good, so right! The worst thing was that he knew he could claim that rightness if he truly wanted it. There was a way. There were unicorns who had spells that could erase that blocky shape that looked so wrong in the dress and replace it with the curves he desired. He could become her.
But only if he gave up the other thing he wanted; only if he gave up Big Macintosh. The spells were permanent. If he chose, there would be no going back. He would be a mare, plain and simple and in so many ways wonderful, for the rest of his life.
He knew that many of the things he loved about his life would still be his as a mare. He had only to look at how Applejack worked up an honest sweat around the farm to know that he'd still be able to enjoy tending apple trees. And yet there would be things missing. He wouldn't be the same person. He wouldn't fit into the world in the same way. He'd be letting go of so much that made him who he was. No matter how right the dress felt, no matter how much he longed after Orchard Blossom and all that she represented, he couldn't give up Big Macintosh for her.
So he went about his day as he did every day, trying to not think about the dress in the closet, trying to pretend that half of his Self wasn't missing, trying to insist that Big Mac was just fine the way he was, in a sweaty old yoke, hauling apples into town, with no hint of grace or beauty about him whatsoever. He was as rough as the work-worn cart he towed. He was not made for the softness of satin and silk. That was how it always had been, that was how it always would be.
"Fresh apples, two for a bit!" His deep voice boomed under the higher tones of the other sellers at the Ponyville Square Market. Most of them were mares, but even the other stallions were mostly baritones and tenors to his decided bass rumble.
He wasn't fond of selling, he'd rather just pull the cart and let Applejack sell the apples, but sometimes things just worked out that way, so he did the best he could. As he called out his wares he let his eyes scan the crowd. Ponies of all sorts wandered amid the various stalls, examining the wares, searching for whatever produce or hooficrafts they found themselves needing. He'd never been a fan of crowds, but sometimes pony watching was interesting.
As he scanned the throng, his eyes fell on one pony in particular. He was an older stallion with a gray coat and a faded indigo mane and tail. He wore a red hat and a collar with an old-fashioned bolo tie that matched the bolo tie on his cutie mark. Also, he was threading his way through the crowd, directly towards Big Mac's apple stall.
Big Mac very definitely recognized the pony. He'd been one of the officials at the disastrous Sisterhooves Social. He must have recognized Big Mac too, or he wouldn't be heading for him with such obvious determination. For just an instant the big stallion considered trying to hide or flee the inevitable embarrassment, but in the end he just stood beside his stall, watching probable doom slowly approach.
"Hello there young stallion. Fine afternoon we're having."
The older stallion's greeting was surprisingly light and cheerful. Well, doom surely was about to descend at any second.
"I have a feeling that you might be able to do me a little favor. I hear you might know a mare, fine figure of a lady, by the name of Orchard Blossom."
There it was. Though the doom had arrived in a very confusing form. Why was the old pony asking if he knew Orchard Blossom? Surely it was obvious that he had been Orchard Blossom? The other officials had certainly been clear on that point.
"If you would be so kind as to tell her that she has an admirer in Aglet Finding—that's me, of course—and that he'd love to treat her to a dinner out sometime, I'd be very much obliged." He hoofed over a card, which Big Mac took instinctively, without even looking at it.
He found himself at a complete loss for words. He was often laconic, but he was seldom utterly speechless. Now, though, all he could do was stare. "I..."
"She doesn't have to reply if she doesn't want to. You can take your time relaying my message." The old stallion smiled and winked.
"I... she..." He tried to collect his thoughts and finally blurted, "There ain't no Orchard Blossom. Never was. Just... just a stallion looking like a fool."
Aglet chuckled softly and reached out—and up—to pat Big Mac's shoulder. "I'm old, son, not stupid or blind. I know that. But there's just something about a stallion in a dress. Something about all that ruggedness being all lady-like. Can't really say exactly what, but it does things for me."
"I..." Big Mac shook his head, utterly confused and baffled.
"Take your time to think about it, but I really would be honored to take her—and by her I do mean you, yes—out sometime. Nothing too serious, I know I'm twice your age, but still, the invitation stands." Aglet patted him again, smiled, then turned and walked back into the crowd.
Moonlight washed out the colors of the dress, but Big Macintosh stood looking at it all the same. He stroked it, thinking about the startling day he'd had. That somepony might find him interesting—attractive even—despite the fact that he didn't remotely pass for a mare had never crossed his mind.
The moon had only just risen, so the night was still young. Young enough that even an old stallion would probably still be awake. Certainly young enough that the restaurants of Ponyville would still be open.
Aglet's card, which had proved to bear his name and his address, neatly printed next to a picture of his cutie mark, sat on the bedside table. Big Mag glanced at it, then back at the dress again.
Finally he stepped forward and took the dress off its hanger.
Minutes later, Orchard Blossom quietly slipped out of Sweet Apple Acres and headed towards town. Maybe this wouldn't work. Maybe it would be too uncomfortable, or embarrassing, or shameful. Maybe she would hate Aglet. Maybe Aglet would hate her.
But maybe, just maybe, there might be room in this world for Orchard Blossom and Big Macintosh both.