When the twins arrived home from school they went through their usual routine: greeting their pets before doing their homework.
Pound rushed it and felt he probably was going to get a bad grade, but he wasn’t concerned about that. After putting his stuff away he went back downstairs and sought out Pinkie Pie, who was manning the register.
“Auntie Pinkie?” he said.
“What’s up, Pound?” she responded.
“I’m gonna take Champ for a walk. Would you come with me?”
“Right now, Pound? I’m working. You know that.”
Pound let out a quick breath, moving up and down on his hooves. Once again he felt full of nervous energy. “It’s… it’s important. I, um…” He glanced toward his mother, who was busy cleaning one of the display cases nearby. “Another… another blanket was stolen.”
Pinkie gave him a questioning look, then their conversation of the previous night came back to her, and understanding flooded her mind. “Ooooh.” After understanding came worry, because it meant things were growing worse with Pumpkin.
Cup Cake turned to them. “A blanket was stolen?” she asked. “You’re certainly not going to find it on a walk. At least I should hope you didn’t leave it out there.”
Pinkie said, “It’s more of a codeword for something he confided to me about. And it’s pretty serious.”
“Oh,” she replied, seeing the way Pound looked like he was anxious about something. She glanced around the store. “Well, the store is pretty empty right now. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off to help Pound?”
Pound jogged over to his mother, gave her a hug and a thank you, then raced upstairs to get Champ’s leash, impatiently waiting for Pinkie to join him as they went outside.
“Let’s go to the park,” said Pound. “I need a good run. I feel like I’m going crazy.”
“Alright,” she said, figuring he’d tell her what was up when they got there.
Five minutes later, breathing hard and sweating, the trio entered the perimeter of Ponyville Park. Pound sought out the water fountain nearby, gratefully drinking down the cold liquid. Pinkie went next.
In his rush to get out he had forgotten to take along some water for Champ. Looking awkwardly around and seeing no one close by they lifted the dog up and let him drink from the fountain as well.
After quenching their thirst Pound and Pinkie sat down on a nearby park bench. Pound took off Champ’s leash to let him play, telling him to be good while he talked with Pinkie. The dog let out a hearty bark in response.
Pinkie rubbed Pound’s head a little. “Alright. Lay it on me. What’s going on in the case of the ‘stolen blanket?’”
It took Pound a while to open up. He was watching Champ chasing some birds, which he found fairly amusing, although it was more of a cover to avoid answering right away. Finally he said, “Pumpkin stole another blanket today.”
Pinkie grew serious. “She framed someone else?”
He shook his head. “No, but she lost control of herself and started abusing her magic.” He told her of how Pumpkin had been sneak attacking his bullies, as well as how she wouldn’t listen to him when he tried to get her to stop.
Pinkie looked irritated. “This is getting out of control.”
“Not anymore,” he responded. He continued, telling her how he had been so scared and overwhelmed that he had tried to get a teacher and then passed out, and now Pinkie looked concerned.
“Your teacher said you got a bit of heat stroke from playing too hard.”
“That’s what they thought happened.”
“Oh, Pound.” A tear came down her eye as she held him close. “Things have been so rough for you lately.”
“I know, but because of that I finally got through to Pumpkin. When I woke up in the nurses office she told me that she realized how badly she was acting, and she made me a Pinkie Promise she wouldn’t do things like that anymore.”
Pinkie let out a relieved sigh. “Well, at least there’s that.”
“She was justifying what she was doing by saying they were only getting what they deserved, but I did what you said. I thanked her for trying to help me, but told her it wasn’t the kind of help I wanted.
“She said that she felt like she had a fog in her mind and it made her forget her conscience.”
“Children tend to test the limits. Having got away with framing Drill Bit she decided to see what else she could get away with. If she hadn’t been stopped there she might have gone ever further until she was finally stopped and held accountable.”
She rubbed his head. “I’m proud of you, Pound! As hard as it was you still were going to tell a teacher. Even those we love must sometimes get us in trouble for our own good.”
His eyes swam with tears. “I… I don’t feel proud. I only did it because I couldn’t think of any other way to make her stop.”
She kissed him on his forehead. “I get it, Pound, but you weren’t being a ‘rat’ or a ‘tattletale.’ You were doing it for her safety. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.”
He blinked, the tears coming down his face. “I don’t wanna talk about that anymore.”
She let it go. She could see he was struggling with the concept. “Very well. So Pumpkin realized the error of her ways. Anything else of importance?”
“I got the dirt on Masky, and found out the answer to both questions we had yesterday.” He sighed. “And they’re not good answers. Neither one of them.”
“And where did you get this information?”
“From Masky himself. When Pumpkin went to the bathroom I confronted him on how he really felt about Pumpkin. He told me straight up that he didn’t actually love her.”
Pinkie sighed now. “I was afraid of that.”
“He also admitted that he was the one who told Pumpkin to frame Drill Bit.”
Pinkie groaned. “Mmmmm. That boy is trouble.”
“I know that, but I don’t know whether I should tell Pumpkin or not.”
She pulled him onto her lap. “How is it even a question?” she asked, an edge in her voice.
Pound suspected she wasn’t angry at him, but at Masky, and didn’t feel afraid. “Well, let me start at the beginning.”
He told her everything he could remember of their conversation. Pinkie listened with a neutral expression on her face.
When he finished she said, “So he claims he’s playing the role of her boyfriend to keep her happy, then sets her up for something that could led to her getting suspended or injured?”
“I thought the same thing.”
“That boy may have some family troubles, but it doesn’t excuse his behavior. Nothing of your conversation explains why you should let Pumpkin labor under a false belief if he doesn’t care about her.”
“Auntie Pinkie, you’ve seen her! She’s so happy and giddy. If he was going to be here permanently I wouldn’t have any trouble spilling the beans, but in a month or two he’ll be gone. That’s where the problem comes in.”
Pinkie let out a slow breath. She could understand his conflict now.
“Auntie Pinkie, did you ever have a crush on someone when you were a filly?”
The sudden focus on her caught her off guard, and Pinkie giggled. “Yes, Pound.”
“Who was it? Did it work out?”
“Weeeell…” She blushed and giggled again. “It wouldn’t have worked out, because my first crush was on my teacher, Birch Tree.”
Pound looked at her funny. “Your teacher? Isn’t that kinda weird? He would be like twice your age.”
“At that age a crush isn’t concerned with age or anything rational. He was good looking and smart and kind and encouraging. All qualities that made him very endearing to me.”
Pound hesitated a moment, rubbing his head. “Ummm… did he love you back? Or, um, go on a date with you?” It all sounded so odd, thinking of a kid being on a date with an adult.
“Of course not, silly. He didn’t even know how I felt at first. You know me.” She grabbed Pound and pulled him in a big hug. “I’m very affectionate and touchy-feely with the people I care about.”
“I do know that.” Pound smiled. “So what clued him in?”
Pinkie released him, her cheeks turning red. “Well, it helped that I spelt out my feelings plainly during Hearts and Hooves Day. Looking back on it now it must have sounded very creepy.”
“So what did he do?”
“When class ended he asked me to stay back, and at the time I felt so happy. When we were alone he very gently let me down. He told me I was a great student and he loved the way I helped everyone, but he had a wife and he couldn’t hurt her by loving someone else.
“I was pretty sad when I heard he was already taken, thinking that if I had just been born a little earlier I could have had him. Today, I know he was just trying to spare my feelings, since even if he didn’t have a wife we still couldn’t have been together. He just would have used a different excuse to avoid making it seem like there was something wrong with me that stopped him from loving me romantically.”
“Mmm… well, that doesn’t help me with my situation.”
“Auntie Pinkie, what do you think I should do? As much as I don’t like the way Masky lies and pretends, one thing he said was right: Pumpkin getting hurt was going to happen no matter what. She told me she fell in love with him at first sight, before he ever opened his mouth. Unless she stops loving him on her own she’s going to be devastated. Either she’ll learn the truth, or he’ll keep the act up until he leaves, and she’ll be just as hurt then.
“If it were you, if, like, you were in love with Big Macintosh, and he was all 'Oh, I love you too' but was gonna leave in a month or so what would you want?”
Pinkie looked thoughtfully over at him. “If you want my honest opinion… I think you should tell her the truth.”
“You act like him leaving will resolve everything. Oh, sure, it will free Pumpkin of the weight of knowing he was only pretending, and allow her to think that their love would have succeeded if not for cruel circumstances, but there’s always the possibility that she won’t give him up.
“Let’s go back to my situation. My teacher told me he had a wife, so it wouldn’t feel right to love me. What if he didn’t have a wife, or just didn’t mention her, and said instead, 'I’d love to be your boyfriend, but you’re too young right now?' In that situation it gives me a false hope. It ensures my feelings are still there, because he encouraged them. And maybe along the way I would have lost those feelings for him and found someone around my age, but maybe not. Maybe I’d reject all the potential colts that show interest in me because I believe my teacher is waiting for me. I’d be in for a rude awakening if, years later, I go back to find him and found out it was all a lie. Don’t you think so?”
Pound nodded. “That would stink.”
“Let’s look at Pumpkin, and explore all the possibilities. First of all, that boy is dangerous for her. True, he didn’t talk her into attacking those other kids today, and you got a Pinkie Promise from her she wouldn’t engage in such activities anymore, but there’s always other possibilities.
“She promised you not to frame others, or sneak attack ponies, but who’s to say she won’t go stealing their stuff, or do a dangerous stunt so as not to displease him? Her love for him is clouding her judgment, and it’s obvious she’ll do whatever he says or act out on her own to keep him interested in her.
“His time may be limited, but he has the potential to cause a lifetimes worth of trouble for Pumpkin. Can you acknowledge the threat he poses to her well-being?”
“Point two: As you said, unless she stops loving him on her own she’ll be hurt either way it goes, but for me the scale is clearly tipped in just one direction: the one where she knows the truth.”
“And why is that?”
“Simple. I spoke to you earlier about false hope with the comparison to my crush for my teacher. Assuming her feelings don’t fade, the longer she stays with him the stronger her feelings will grow. Once he’s gone she’ll pine over him, always hoping that he’ll return or visit so they can continue where they left off. She won’t be able to let go of her feelings because she believes he wants to be there with her but can’t. While this will spare her feelings it will also stop her from moving on. In this situation you have an ache that can go on indefinitely.
“If Pumpkin knows the truth it will hurt more at the start, as she’ll find out she was being deceived and was taken in by his act, but she’ll know their relationship has no chance and will have no reason to focus on him. Seeing as how Masky seems to be unpredictable there’s always the chance he’ll grow bored of the game and tell Pumpkin the truth himself, which will hurt double coming directly from him.”
Pound hadn’t considered that. A month did seem like a long time for someone to put on an act.
“And, finally, there’s point three: in order for this deception to continue it means you have to constantly lie to your sister on a daily basis.” Pound winced. “It means holding your true thoughts back, forcing yourself to pretend that Masky’s a great kid while inside cursing his name and despising him. Once he goes you’ll have to comfort her, and continue praising him. Because he’s ‘such a nice guy’ why wouldn’t you talk about how lucky they were to have each other, even if just for a short time? Do you really want to lie and lie and lie to your sister?"
He shook his head.
“So for all those reasons I say tell her the truth and get them away from each other, for your sanity and hers.
“Now comes the question: what do you want to do, Pound?”
“Last night you begged me to keep quiet about things, so I’m following your lead here. With everything I pointed out to you is there any benefit you can see that outweighs the negatives? Is there any reason to keep this deception going?”
Pinkie made some good points, and he couldn’t refute them. “Just one…”
“And that is?”
His eyes swam with tears. “So I can put off that moment when I destroy her happiness.” His eyes clenched shut, and he clutched her hard as he quietly sobbed.
Pinkie felt tears coming down her own eyes. She had been so focused on helping Pound with his inner turmoil that, even though they had been talking about it the whole time, she hadn’t truly considered the way Pumpkin was going to react. And destroyed was indeed what the filly would feel. Her voice shaking a bit she said, “It will be hard, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s the right thing to do.”
Pound sniffed. “T-that doesn’t make it any easier.”
“The right actions seldom are.” She hugged him tightly. “But you aren’t alone, Pound. You know that. That’s why you came to me in the first place.”
Pound looked up into her eyes, and gave her a teary smile. “I know, Auntie Pinkie. And… I agree. I think it’s for the best to tell the truth. Thank you for listening to me.”
Pound’s smile faded. “Well… the sooner the better, I guess.”
“It’s certainly not gonna become easier by waiting.”
He climbed down from Pinkie’s lap and called out, “Champ! Let’s go!” Champ let out a bark, and came running. He reattached the dog’s leash, and the trio returned back home.
Cup was just finishing ringing up a customer when they entered. She gave him his change, then turned to them and said, “Hey there, you two. How was your walk?”
Pound opened his mouth, then closed it, unsure of what to say. It wasn’t like things could be kept a secret. As soon as Pumpkin heard the bad news she’d throw a giant fit. “Well… I got the answer I needed, but, um, things… might be a little… difficult for the next few days.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just… well, you’re working right now, so for now me and Auntie Pinkie will handle it. You’ll find out all about it soon enough.”
Cup looked at him questioningly. She trusted Pinkie Pie to be able to competently handle the problems her kids ran into, but his vague answer made her more nervous than if he had told her the nature of the difficult thing that was coming. “Pound, I would appreciate it if you would let me in on this secret.”
“I can’t right now. I have to go take care of this problem now before it gets worse.” Not giving her a chance to respond he trotted upstairs.
Cup next looked to Pinkie Pie for explanation.
“It’s… complicated,” she responded. “But nothing you need to be worried about. I need to go follow Pound so I can give him moral support.”
Pound entered his room, seeing Pumpkin playing with Tiger Lily. The cat was on its back, and Pumpkin was trying to pet her tummy without getting scratched up. Tiger Lily wasn’t using her claws anyway, so there was no physical danger.
“Hi, Pumpkin,” he said cheerily.
“Hey, bro,” she responded, not looking at him as she teased dropping her hoof down.
He slowly walked over to his bed, sitting down on it. He gulped, and steeled himself. “Pumpkin, I need to talk to you about something important.”
That made her look up. “Is it about what happened today? I already promised you I wasn’t going to do that anymore.”
He shook his head. “No, no, no. It doesn’t have anything to do with that.”
She gave Tiger Lily a pat on the nose. “We’ll play some more later, okay?” The cat nuzzled her hoof in response. She moved to the edge of her bed like him. “Okay, so what’s up?”
Pound wasn’t sure how to start. “Well, um…” What could he say?
Before he could figure it out his mother’s voice came from downstairs. “Pumpkin, can you come down here, please?”
“Can it wait?” she said, raising her voice so it would carry downstairs. “Pound’s trying to tell me something.”
“No, it can’t.”
Pumpkin looked at Pound, gave him a silent apology by way of an awkward gesture, and left the room.
Pound bit his lip. What horrible timing.
His annoyance turned to dread a few seconds later. From outside the room he heard a gasp of surprise, then a squeal, and then the pounding of hoofsteps rapidly going down the stairs. ‘No, no, no, no, no!’ he thought, his insides going cold. ‘This better not mean what I think it means.’
But there was no other explanation he could think of. He got off his bed, walked by Pinkie who looked a bit confused by Pumpkin’s reaction, and stood at the top of the stairs.
His trepidation was proven correct, as he saw Pumpkin hugging Masky near the entrance to the shop.
Things had just gotten complicated.