Looking Glass

by Krickis

21 – Acquaintances

Chapter Twenty-One


It was snowing outside. Sunset had always hated the snow. It did nothing but make things cold and make it harder to get around. Not to mention that recent years had only made her feelings for it worse than before.

Still, she tried to stay positive. It was just a bit of snow, nothing she hadn’t experienced before. She rested her palm against the cold window and watched as snowflakes drifted to the ground. It was a picturesque scene, she supposed.

Not that she could bring herself to care about that. No, the only thing Sunset cared about was that now she was going to have to trudge through the snow to get to her meeting.

In that case, there wasn’t much reason to stick around. The longer she waited, the more snow there would be. So although leaving the warmth of the orphanage would be torturous, she bundled up and left her room.

She only got as far as the foyer before being stopped by the receptionist, however. “Oh, Sunset?” he said as she was walking past. “Mrs. Dusk called and said to wait here, she’ll come by and pick you up on account of the snow.”

Although Sunset wanted to ask why no one bothered to tell her until she was about to walk out the door, all she said was, “Great, thanks.”

Since she probably wouldn’t have enough time to do much of anything before Violet showed up, there wasn’t much reason to go back to her room. Instead, Sunset made her way to the lounge room. She hadn’t bothered with it too much since getting her computer, but she decided that the TV would be a perfect way to waste a few minutes.

There hadn’t really been any hope of the room being empty. Sure, some kids would be out playing in the snow, but Sunset wasn’t the only one who preferred to stay out of the cold. There were kids at all three computers, although that didn’t matter much; all the computers had headphones to make the shared space more tolerable, plus they were across the room from the TV.

Much more noteworthy to Sunset was the fact that two boys were already watching the TV. Or, to be more precise, they were sitting in front of it without showing much in the way of interest. Sunset recognized them as the newest admits to come stay at the orphanage. They were brothers, and had only arrived a few days prior.

Sunset took a seat near them. They both turned to look at her, but she didn’t pay much attention. The cartoon on the television was more than a little too childish for her, but it would suffice.

“Uh, hi,” one of the boys said.

Sunset glanced over and gave a small wave.

“I’m Snips,” he said cautiously.

Both of them looked apprehensive, and Sunset recognized what was going on. The kids at New Horizons were diverse, but there was one consistent: None of them were at there because they wanted to be. It didn’t take a prodigy to guess that something very bad had happened within the past few days to leave these two with nowhere else to go. And while everyone handled that in their own way, there were a few general patterns that came about regularly.

“Sunset Shimmer,” she answered back. She was still debating how to play this interaction, but giving her name wouldn’t hurt.

“And I’m Snails,” the other one said. “So, uhm, why are you –”

“Stop.” Sunset held up her palm to emphasize the command. “Do you really want to talk about your family or whatever?”

The two boys looked at each other before glancing down to the floor.

“Yeah, and neither does anyone else here,” Sunset said. “At least not to someone they just met. It’s usually a pretty sensitive subject.”

“Oh, uh, okay then,” Snails said. He and Snips turned back to the TV in silent resignation.

It was obvious they were reaching out to someone. There were twenty-four kids at New Horizons, but they were all different ages. Snips and Snails looked like they were probably a little younger than Sunset, but they were close enough in age that she was a prime candidate to be their way to make the most of a horrible situation.

None of which was really Sunset’s problem. They weren’t the first kids to try and make friends with her, and they wouldn’t be the last. Since they had given up already, it was the perfect chance to just let things end where they were.

But there was something different this time. For once, Sunset found an actual reason to play nice with her housemates. “So what school do you two go to?”

“Hollow Shades,” Snips said. He looked at her nervously, as if afraid she was going to tell him off again. “What about you?”

“CHS,” Sunset answered.

“I know where that is, it’s right by our house,” Snails said. It made sense; Hollow Shades Middle School was on the other side of town, near Canterlot High. “Or… it was…”

This was exactly why Sunset hated talking to new admits. Well, she hated talking to anyone that lived at the orphanage, but new admits were definitely in a class of their own.

Oh god, Snails looked like he was going to cry. Sunset was not prepared for that kind of situation. “So… you two are brothers, right? Must be pretty close in age if you’re at the same school.”

Snails just nodded in answer, clearly holding back tears.

“I’m a year older,” Snips said. He was much shorter than his brother, so Sunset would’ve guessed it was the other way around. “Snails just started going to Hollow Shades, but I’m in seventh grade.”

“Few more years until high school, then.” Sunset weighed her options one last time, then made a decision. “Well, when the time comes, you should consider CHS. It’s a pretty great school, and you’ll know at least one person there.”

Snips and Snails both smiled a little. At least it looked like the tears were avoided. “Okay, we’ll think about it!” Snips answered.

Mercifully, Sunset was saved from having to continue the conversation when the door to the lounge opened.

“Hello, Sunset,” Violet said from the doorway. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything?”

Sunset smiled. It was a friendly smile for Violet’s benefit, but it was also because the situation was going perfectly. Violet being the one to come and get her meant that she was able to see Sunset being friendly firsthand.

“Hi, Violet. I was just getting to know Snips and Snails.”

“I see. I’m happy that you’re making friends, but it’s time for our meeting. Are you ready to go?”

Sunset stood up, but turned to Snips and Snails before leaving. “I gotta head out, but I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Okay,” Snips said. He smiled along with his brother as they waved goodbye. “Bye, Sunset.”

They walked to Violet’s car in silence. That was typical of her, and one of the reasons that she was one of Sunset’s favorite people. It wasn’t like they weren’t going to talk about it; Sunset making friends with people at the orphanage was a big deal, and would need to be addressed. But Violet understood that Sunset wouldn’t want to talk about that – or indeed, talk much at all – while they were still around people she knew.

Of course, once they were in the car was another matter entirely. “They seem nice,” Violet said as they buckled up.

“You’ve seen them once, and that lasted for about all of thirty seconds,” Sunset pointed out. “But yeah, I guess they’re pretty nice.”

Violet gave them a few moments of silence as she pulled out into the street. “It’s nice to see you interacting with others.”

It was only ‘interacting with’, which was not exactly ‘being friends with’. That was something Sunset could manage, at least. “Maybe other people aren’t so bad after all. Besides, they’re new. They could use someone to help them.”

“That is true,” Violet said, although her tone suggested she expected there was more to it.

Might as well oblige her. “And, you know, they don’t have an opinion of me yet. Not exactly every kid at New Horizons likes me much.”

Violet nodded. “This way they’ll get to know your good side first.”

“Exactly. It’s a win-win.”

“Speaking of getting to show off your better side, how’s school going?”

“Still going well.” The second semester had started a few weeks prior, and Sunset was already counting the days until its end. “Report cards came in. All A’s, as if there was any doubt.”

Violet smirked. “Yes, of course. But still, congratulations. It’s nice to know your grades aren’t slipping with everything else you’ve got on your plate these days.”

Sunset shrugged. “You know, this isn’t even difficult. It’s really just a matter of managing a schedule properly.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this to you of all people, but you’re selling yourself short here. You’re doing an amazing job, and you should be proud of yourself.”

Proud. Like there was any way Sunset wouldn’t be proud of herself. She had manipulated everyone around her into helping her look better, all so she could meet her own goals. Then when the time came, whether it was because she went back to Equestria or because she succeeded in getting her own place, she could just drop everyone. Sunset had made things perfect for herself with no concern for anyone else around her. Why wouldn’t she be proud?

“Yeah yeah, I know,” Sunset said.

Although Violet always let Sunset choose the location if she wanted to, all that really mattered to her was that they weren’t at New Horizons. So with that in mind, Violet occasionally took the chance to take Sunset to places of her own choosing. Today was one of those days.

Perhaps it was because she wasn’t paying much attention, or perhaps it was just because it had been years, but Sunset didn’t realize where they were headed. Not until they were already there, and by then it was too late.

“Sugarcube Corner,” Violet announced once they arrived. “Have you been here before?”

Sunset stared at the building. “Yeah,” she said, her voice distant. “Once.”

She quickly became aware that Violet was watching her, so she smiled and left the car. It was important that she not show any cracks. They were already there, and it’s not like Applejack would be inside just because the two of them had gone there years before.

Unwilling to say that she’d rather go somewhere else, Sunset followed Violet into the building. She regretted it immediately.

“Hiya, Sunny!” a chipper voice called from across the room.

Sunset looked over to see Pinkie Pie was waving at her enthusiastically. She was sitting next to Rainbow Dash, who gave a casual wave once she saw Sunset.

The only one at the table who wasn’t waving was Applejack. She was watching Sunset closely, but aside from a bit of surprise at the unexpected appearance, she didn’t show any signs of how she was feeling.

“Friends from school?” Violet asked.

“Acquaintances.” Sunset smiled and gave a friendly wave. Applejack showed her not-quite-perfect smile and waved back.

Once the basic acknowledgement of one another was finished, Sunset wasted no time in going to the counter to order something. The last thing Sunset needed was to get sucked into a conversation with Applejack and her friends while she was out with Violet.

Since she wanted to do as little as possible to recreate the events of two years prior, Sunset opted to avoid ordering cocoa. Instead, she chose to get a cinnamon bun, so as to still get something warm on the cold day. Violet, as usual, stuck to coffee.

As soon as they had their orders, Sunset made sure to choose a booth that was far away from Applejack’s table. She was still unwilling to admit that she wanted to leave, but with Applejack being around, it was more important than ever to not be overheard.

Violet was smiling about something as they sat down. “What’s up?” Sunset asked.

“I was just thinking,” Violet said, glancing over to the other girls. “A year ago, I would’ve encouraged you to turn your acquaintances into friends.”

“What’s different now?” Sunset pulled off a piece of her cinnamon bun and started eating it.

“Well, you don’t have to be friends with everyone you know.” Violet took a sip of her coffee. “You have friends at school and at home. You’re staying social with your peers that you’re not close friends with. I’m just happy, is all.”

Sunset took another bite of her pastry to give herself a reason to not respond immediately. Violet’s comment was hardly overflowing with sentimentality, but it sounded out of place from her. In all the years that they’d known each other, Sunset could count on her hands the times that Violet had shown her emotions so clearly.

Or maybe that was just because of Sunset herself. She certainly hadn’t given Violet too many reasons to celebrate in the past, always opting to scrape by with the minimal effort.

Deciding it was best not to address that fact, Sunset just moved the conversation along. “Come on, Violet, you’re going to make me blush over here.”

“I doubt that,” Violet said with a smirk. “But fine, I’ll stop complimenting you. Since you insisted.”

Sunset matched her sarcastic tone. “Thank you for your understanding.”

Violet’s smile continued, but she brought the conversation back to checking up on Sunset’s everyday life. “So how are things going with work?”

That threatened to take the smile off Sunset’s face, but she forced it into place. Smiling when she didn’t want to was becoming more essential than ever. “Well, I’m not gonna say I’m living the dream. Customers aren’t always rays of sunshine, and the limitations on the hours that a fifteen-year-old can work are less than ideal. But I can’t complain too much. It’s nice to have some income, even if I am saving most of it, and I’ve been getting along well with my coworkers.”

Getting along was easy enough. Flash’s uncle had come through in getting her the job, and he seemed delighted that his nephew’s girlfriend was so motivated. Other people saw her as a bright young girl, and she had quickly been dubbed everyone’s little sister. Sunset resented them all enormously for it, and she was looking forward to ditching the job when the time came.

“I’m glad to hear that. But I think even you would have a hard time working more than eighteen hours a week. You’re also balancing journalism, guitar lessons, and a social life.”

‘Social life’ was apparently being used very loosely, since Flash was the only person Sunset ever spent time with. “Well, I’d definitely have to reconsider what the best use of my time is. But it’d be nice to have the option for more hours, at least.”

“I suppose I can see your point.”

Sunset shrugged. She filled her time, and that’s what mattered. “Oh well. It’s only for another year, and then federal restrictions ease up.”

Violet nodded. “True. And if you stay with the store, you’ve got a good chance to get promoted to management once you graduate.”

As if Sunset would be there for that long. “Yeah, exactly.”

“Sounds like you’re pretty on top of everything these days.”

“I manage alright.”

“So, have you thought about college at all?”

For all her planning, college was certainly not something that had crossed Sunset’s mind much. “I know it’s never too soon to start planning and all that, but college is four years away.” She had vaguely realized that would be her main focus if things didn’t work with the portal, but that was something to worry about later.

“I’m a little surprised to hear that, actually.” Violet reached into her purse and pulled out a booklet, which she handed to Sunset. It was an elegant cerulean with a stylized purple ‘S’ in the center and the words ‘Crystal Prep Academy’ along the top. “Crystal Prep is among the most prestigious schools in the state. I’d like you to look over that pamphlet.”

Sunset opened the booklet and flipped through the pages. It was mostly just filler and buzzwords, with a few shots of the school and its facilities. “Looks like a really nice school. Also looks very expensive.”

“They offer a scholarship for low-income students. But you’d have to impress the school’s council, and that’s exceptionally difficult to do.”

Sunset looked up to see Violet was grinning. “I think I could manage. I am exceptionally impressive when I want to be. But what are you suggesting, exactly?”

Violet folded her hands on the table. “It’s safe to say that it’s a given that you still want to go through with getting emancipated?”

“Of course.” It wasn’t likely that Sunset would ever reach that point, but she liked having a backup. Besides, if she was wrong about when the portal would open, it would be nice to spend the last of her time on Earth alone.

“Crystal Prep offers a course for gifted students that would allow you to finish the remainder of your high school within the next year. Combine that with your work ethic and intelligence, and scholarships to prestigious colleges wouldn’t prove difficult to earn. If you can get accepted into this program, then I’ll do everything I can to help with your emancipation.”

Sunset looked down at the booklet. “You want me to transfer schools now?”

“The sooner the better. This will put you on the fast track to success and independence, and I no longer have doubts that you’ll manage it well.”

“But I’d have to leave CHS.”

Violet chuckled. “Yes. No matter how impressive you are, I don’t think you could attend two schools at once. The extra effort at school will likely require you to leave your job as well, but CPA offers room and board to students, which would be covered under your scholarship.”

The job wasn’t even a real concern. If her time was filled with extra school work, she wouldn’t need it anyway. Hell, it could even prove to be mentally stimulating for her. That would be a much better way to spend her time.

Possibly confusing Sunset’s silence for nervousness, Violet continued. “I spoke with the head of the school, Principal Cinch. She’s very interested in meeting you, and thinks that you sound like a perfect fit for CPA.”

A perfect fit? Sunset was never a perfect fit. Not once in her life could she remember feeling like she belonged. The closest had been when she was first taken in as Celestia’s pupil, but that was short lived. On some level, she had always known that she couldn’t be the pupil Celestia had always wanted her to be.

So then why not this? It was the fast track to a real life, one she could make herself. It wasn’t chasing a world that she barely remembered, and there was no chance that she would have to face the harsh reality of being wrong about everything.

Sunset glanced over to where Applejack was sitting. She was looking around, while Rainbow Dash drummed her fingers on the table and Pinkie Pie checked the time on her phone. If Sunset left CHS, she wouldn’t have to worry about Applejack anymore.

Logically, there was no reason to pass up Violet’s offer. It made too much sense. Which was exactly why Sunset found it terrifying.

She stood up and looked at the table as she spoke. “I’m going to the bathroom.”

Violet didn’t react to the sudden shift, just nodding as she sipped on her coffee.

A bathroom would not normally be Sunset’s first choice at hiding away to think about something, but there was nowhere else she could reasonably go. Even with the cold weather, a walk outside would have been preferable, but that would require she acknowledge why she was running away.

It had been four months since her last incident, but Sunset still didn’t feel comfortable around mirrors. Sure, she no longer saw visions in them like she had before going to Canterlot High School, but she always felt the potential that there could be something behind them. Some days she’d find herself staring into a mirror with no concept of how much time was passing. Most of the time she’d do whatever she could to avoid them.

But mirror or not, the bathroom was the only way she could get away from Violet for long enough to figure out what to do. And so Sunset just resolved to ignore it as she pushed open the bathroom door.

It turned out that she didn’t need to worry herself about it. Someone else was already there, watching her own reflection in the mirror. She turned at the sound of Sunset entering the room.

“Sunset?” Fluttershy said in a voice that was abnormally quiet, even for her.

“Hello, Fluttershy.” Sunset took a good look at the other girl. Her voice wasn’t the only thing that seemed odd. Her wardrobe was entirely black, with only her vibrant pink hair standing out. “Going for the goth look now?”

Fluttershy turned away, staring down into the sink. “Oh, uhm… not really.”

Sunset expected she would follow up, but Fluttershy just kept staring into the sink. Eventually, Sunset just shrugged it off. It’s not like she had any reason to care what Fluttershy wore. “Whatever.”

Since she didn’t want to be next to or across from Fluttershy, Sunset just moved to a spot next to the door and leaned against the wall. She and Fluttershy proceeded to ignore one another.

It didn’t matter. Maybe it was because Fluttershy was there, or maybe it was because she already had assessed the situation in the instant that it came up, but Sunset was just as conflicted as before. It had always been easy to work on both fronts at once – she could check on the portal every day and make plans for when she went through it, but she would also keep her social status up and work on independence just in case.

But that was all changing now. Now she actually had to choose. She could either st–

“Uhm…” Fluttershy said, cutting through Sunset’s thoughts.

Sunset just glared at her.

“Never mind.” Fluttershy turned away again. “I, uhm… I’m bothering you, aren’t I? I should go…”

Sunset didn’t bother to say anything. If Fluttershy left, maybe she’d finally have the chance to think.

But Fluttershy just stayed where she was. She occasionally glanced over to Sunset, who never reacted to her. She fidgeted in place somewhat, but for the most part remained where she was.

It was pointless. She couldn’t think as long as Fluttershy was there, but she couldn’t be mean to one of Applejack’s friends. “So, what? Do you just hang out in bathrooms or something?”

Fluttershy tucked her arms in tighter towards her body and stared down at the floor. “No, I… I’m, uhm…”

Sunset facepalmed. “Okay, seriously? You weren’t even this bad when we met. Hell, you were fucking cheerful during the interview. So what gives?”

“I… I’m sorry…” Fluttershy kept her focus on the floor.

Sunset leaned her head against the wall. She really didn’t have time for this. She was about to cut her losses and go, until she turned back to look at Fluttershy. She was still standing with her arms wrapped around herself, and she was shaking. Sunset almost couldn’t believe it. “Are you crying?”

Fluttershy quickly wiped her eyes, then looked up and showed an eerily calm smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

This was not a situation Sunset was prepared to handle. “It’s fine, you just…” Sunset sighed. It was just like when she first arrived at the orphanage and constantly struggled to figure out what to say to Dew Drop. “I’m not exactly the type of person people go to for support. I’m bad at all this sentimental crap.”

Surprisingly, that actually caused Fluttershy to smile. “You’re just like Rainbow.”

“Doubtful. Trust me, I’m one of a kind.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Okay, Sunny.”

Sunset groaned. “Don’t call me Sunny.”

Fluttershy’s hand shot up to her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just thought that… well, Pinkie always…”

“Yeah, tell her to stop that too. I really hate that name.” Bringing up the subject of Fluttershy’s friends reminded Sunset of what she’d seen. “Pretty sure they’re looking for you, by the way. Unless they were waiting for Rarity or something.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy’s head sank down again, but she kept it high enough that Sunset could see her face, at least. “No, Rarity was with us earlier, but she had to go. I… I know they’re looking for me, but…”

Sunset realized what was going on. “But you’re hiding away from them in a bathroom.”

Fluttershy looked up, making direct eye contact for the first time. Sunset got the impression that she wanted to deny it, but she couldn’t. “Yes. I didn’t even want to come here, but Applejack thought I should get out of the house, and everyone agreed with her. I just didn’t want to let them down.”

That sounded about right. “So AJ’s still doing that then? So sure that all anyone needs is to spend some time with a friend, and everything will just be better.”

“Uhm… yeah…” Fluttershy sighed and crossed the room, standing next to Sunset against the wall. “I know she means well, but… I don’t know. She’s probably right.”

“Well, of course she means well. She’s Applejack!” Sunset shrugged. “But she thinks everyone is like her. That everyone else will respond to things the same way she does. Because for her, being with friends is exactly what she needs when shit’s not going her way. She doesn’t really get that some of us just need more space than that.”

“Is, uhm, is that why you two don’t talk anymore?”

Sunset grinned. “That’s one hell of a story. But if Applejack hasn’t told you, then I’m not going to. You can ask her about it if you want.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No, I understand. I didn’t mean to pry.”

It didn’t really matter. One way or another, Sunset wouldn’t be sticking around CHS for long, it seemed.

“So, uhm, you must have something on your mind, too,” Fluttershy said after a moment.

Sunset smirked. “What, who says I don’t just like hanging around in bathrooms?”

Somehow, it seemed Sunset was managing to cheer Fluttershy up, judging by the way she laughed. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Thanks, but some of us don’t just talk about our feelings in public restrooms.”

“Okay. Well, whatever it is, I know you’ll figure it out.”

They stood silently, side by side. Sunset had to wonder what it would be like if she had just accepted any of Applejack’s offers for friendship. Would she be part of their group by now? A group of friends who always tried to support each other, even if they didn’t always know the best way to go about it.

No. That was a world Sunset could never belong to.

“What would you do?” Fluttershy asked eventually. “If you were out with your friends, but you really just wanted to go somewhere else?”

Sunset shrugged. What did she know about friendship? She didn’t even have any friends to be able to imagine herself in a situation like that. “I don’t know. I guess… You’re not happy here, right?”

Fluttershy frowned and looked away. “Well, no, not really. But I don’t… I also don’t think I would really be happy if I left. So I guess I should just stay. That way, at least they’ll be happy.”

Sunset cocked her head to the side. “Uh, no, fuck that. Look, you don’t strike me as a people person. At least not the kind of person who likes being around a bunch of people you don’t know. Right?”

“I… I guess that’s right. I don’t really mind people usually, but it can be a little hard sometimes.”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, and right now you’re surrounded by them. And I don’t just mean your friends, but everyone. Trust me, I know it sucks to be miserable at home, but if you’re going to be miserable somewhere, it’s better to be miserable where you’re most comfortable.”

“I guess that makes sense. But the others…”

“Hey, you asked what I’d do. And personally? If I wasn’t happy somewhere, I’d try going somewhere else.”

Fluttershy nodded and smiled. “Thank you, Sunset.”

It felt weird to be thanked for advice that could be completely awful, for all she knew. “Yeah, whatever. Just don’t blame me if it doesn’t work out. Like I said, I’m bad at this.”

“I don’t think so.” Fluttershy laughed again. “I think you’re actually a lot better than you realize. Just like Rainbow. And anyway, thank you for talking to me.”

Before Sunset could answer, the door opened. “Hey, Shy, are you –” Rainbow Dash stopped when she noticed Sunset, and grinned as she looked in between her and Fluttershy. “Uh, bit of advice? Maybe go into a stall if you two want some private time.”

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy blushed, but she maintained a glare in Rainbow’s direction. “We were just talking!”

Sunset grinned. “Yeah, come on now. Fooling around in a public bathroom stall? That’s fine for you or me, but Fluttershy’s classier than that.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Yeah, I guess you got a point there.” She walked over to Fluttershy and her tone got noticeably more serious. “But really, you doing okay, Shy?”

Fluttershy hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Yes. But, uhm, do you think it would be alright if we went back to your house? I, uh, I don’t really want to go home right now, but I’d feel a lot better if we were somewhere else.”

For a moment, Rainbow looked to be unsure of what to say, but then she smiled. “Yeah, no problem. Just me and you, or you want to invite the others?”

Fluttershy blushed again and looked down at the ground. “Do… do you think they would mind if it was just the two of us?”

“Nah, they’ll be fine.” Rainbow motioned for Fluttershy to follow her then led her to the door. She turned back to Sunset on the way out. “Later, Sunset.”

Sunset waved. “Yeah. Bye.”

Fluttershy smiled and waved as well, then Sunset was alone.

She walked over to the sink and looked in the mirror. She had come to the bathroom to think, but she had spent so long talking with Fluttershy that she was already past what could be considered a reasonable amount of time. She placed her hand on the mirror, and watched as her reflection’s hand met hers. At least she didn’t stop to wonder what was on the other side.

On the way out of the bathroom, Sunset took a look at the table Applejack and her friends were sitting at. Only one friend was there now, however. Pinkie looked sad that the others had left, and Applejack had a hand on her shoulder while she tried to cheer her up.

Violet was drinking her second cup of coffee when Sunset walked up, and there was an insulated cup on Sunset’s side of the table. Sunset took it and smirked. “I didn’t think I was gone that long.”

Violet smirked as well. “You know, you could have just said that you wanted some time to think about it.”

That took the smile off Sunset’s face. In retrospect, it must have been pretty obvious. “I just got caught up talking with another acquaintance.”

“Of course,” Violet said, although she clearly didn’t buy it. “So then, do you want time to think about it? It would be best to have an answer soon, but you don’t need one by today.”

Sunset took a sip of her drink, which turned out to be cocoa, not coffee. Typical. “No, I have my answer already. I’m going to stay at CHS.”

“Really?” Violet frowned. “You’re sure you’ve thought this through?”

“Yes.” Sunset looked down at the booklet from CPA. It really was the best chance she had to be happy in this world, and she already knew that it wasn’t good enough. Nothing in this world made her happy, and if she wasn’t happy somewhere, why not try going somewhere else? “I know it might not seem like the best decision, but I know what I’m doing. I’m working towards the future that I’ve chosen”

Surprisingly, Violet smiled. “You know, you’re an interesting person.”

Sunset chuckled. “Yeah, I’ve been told.”

“Well, I can’t say that I think this is the best choice, but it seems like it’s the right one for you. Although I have to warn you, this could be a setback on your emancipation.”

“I can accept that.”

It was a setback on her progress in this world in more ways than Violet could realize. For the first time, Sunset was presented with a choice. She could choose to pursue the dream that was Equestria, or she could play it safe and cut her losses. She had no way of knowing what would happen, so she would just have to wait and see if it turned out to be the right choice in the end.