It was totally unfair. For whatever reason, Octavia and Cirrus had gone off to the kitchen to clear up the 'tornado damage', and Strato had started hanging pictures using the special adhesive we'd gotten. That meant that I was on my own.
Now there was just over half an hour left before we had to leave to get over to Vinyl's, and we still hadn't moved half the large furniture in the living room.
I quit trying to push against the base of the couch and bit down on the wooden arm to pull it. Turns out that was an even worse idea, if the sudden pinprick of focused agony that I felt in my upper gum was anything to go by. Splinters in your mouth hurt a lot.
"Think I could get a little help over here?" I asked, hoping Strato could hear me. His lack of response told me that he didn't- and now I could see why.
He slowly reached out with his teeth and pulled at the thin layer of protective covering preventing the material from becoming sticky before its use. Nyeh, I wouldn't like the taste either. After he'd gotten it off, he gently stuck the clay-like stuff onto the picture frame and spit the plastic onto the uncovered carpet.
Once he had the frame hung up, I asked again. "A little help?"
This time, he finally heard me. "Sure," he answered, fluttering over to the other side of the sofa. We both braced ourselves for the force required to push the couch back against the wall.
With a forceful heave, we each threw our bodies into it. For the first time since I'd started pushing, it shifted. In fact, it almost went all the way there on the first shove.Turns out we were pretty strong when we worked together. Too bad we'd never do this again.
We managed to get it perfect - which was an amazing feat by anypony's standards, especially with us - and headed into the kitchen to check on the other two. But they weren't there.
It seemed like Strato was thinking the same thing I was. We both immediately went toward the extra bedroom- maybe a bit too quickly on his part. He literally shoved me into the paneled wall as he passed.
We may have been searching for his sister, but that was no reason to push me that hard. I was starting to hope she was back there, just to save myself from any more unnecessary pain. If Strato was going to be like that, I wasn't going to help him. Besides, there were still a few pans on the counter that needed to be put away.
I shoved the first one into an already packed cupboard just under the end of the sink. Holding it so that I didn't cause myself more pain might have been hard, but I was getting used to working around that little-
No, don't finish that sentence.
Either way, I couldn't possibly have fit anything more in that cupboard. I rummaged through three other ones on that level, only to find them the same way- with no way to get anything in. And to make things even worse, there were even more plates and glasses in the shelves above. I might be able to fit it in between that sauce pot and the strainer though.
"See anything up there, giraffe?"
I probably jumped about five feet in the air. Sure enough, Cirrus had snuck out of the back bedroom and crept up behind me. I took a moment to gather myself and replied, "Never do that again."
Cirrus chuckled and leaned on me. "You'll have a better chance than us. Hay, with that neck, you'll be able to work on the roof from here."
Oh, she did not just go there. I'd taken enough long-neck jokes from Strato over the years, I didn't need them from her.
But I just brushed it off and acted like nothing had even happened. I'd have my chance for revenge later. "I could say the same to you."
"Whatever." She pointed to the last pan on the counter. "See anything up there?"
"Do I eat meat?"
She smirked in that way that meant she was about to make what she thought was a witty remark. "Actually, you did." She winked at me and continued, "I still have the tape."
Oh sweet mother of Luna, she didn't record it. She wouldn't! All thoughts about anything else flew out the window like a brick in those slapstick comedy movies.
Apparently she picked up on my state of panic, because she shoved her hoof in my mouth and explained, "Relax- it was just a joke."
Alright, my reputation was still safe. If that got around - and it would - I'd never be able to show my face in Nightshift or any other club again. I'd be the laughingstock of the entire town. I'd have to go into exile!
"You'd better not have anything like that."
"Trust me, I don't. That's just disgusting."
An awkward silence pervaded the kitchen. Occasionally we would glance off in some random direction, waiting for the other to speak. I certainly wasn't going to start up a conversation after that.
But it was just too awkward. "So... how about that weather?"
Cirrus glanced out the window at the almost clear sky and answered, "I guess it's pretty nice."
Oh come on, bring up something else. Please don't make me do that again. Just saying something generic like that felt like walking into a manticore's den in a tutu... not that I would know what that was like.
Okay, here we go. "Did you know that the capybara is the largest member of the rodent family?"
Cirrus sighed and shook her head in what I could have sworn was embarassment. "You think of some of the strangest things sometimes, you know that?"
"You've got to be used to it by now."
"And I'm sure Octavia loves it too."
Oh, now she did it. That was the last straw. If she wanted a battle of disguised insults, I had an entire arsenal lined up. She might catch on, but that was just a risk I had to take.
"So, miss bunny, the new issue out yet?" I snarked. Yeah, suck on that!
"What are-... Oh hay no. You did not just say what I think you did."
Okay, that might not have been my smartest idea. I really shouldn't have used the PlayColt one.
She glanced up at the clock, and turned back to me. "As much as I'd like to kill you right now, we have to get going." Sure enough, we had less than twenty minutes to get out to Vinyl's. How had time gone by so quickly?
Then I realized we hadn't seen any sign of the other two yet. Strato had gone back there five minutes ago, and only Cirrus had come out. "Hey, where is he?"
Cirrus thought about it for a few seconds and answered, "He should be getting out of the shower pretty-"
Octavia stormed into the kitchen, shortly followed by Strato. He stammered, "Look, I'm sorry about that."
"Still, you couldn't have locked the door?"
Me and Cirrus gave each other matching questioning looks. Then we just chalked it up to Strato being himself.
"Come on," I said, heading toward the door, "You don't want to be late, do you?"
The four of us left together, off to one of the best and worst nights of my past life.
By the time we reached Vinyl's I could already feel the light vibrations that meant she was testing her speakers. Strato literally did what I could only describe as a joy-hop and ran up to the door. I swear, if he was any more excited, he's explode twice... if you could even do that.
The four of us headed downstairs, bouncing the entire way down. The bass was even louder down here. For a second, I thought I was going to lose my hearing. And sure enough, Vinyl was - as usual - behind the mixing table with her headphones.
... But not her glasses. Her trademark shades were nowhere to be seen. And here I was without my camera.
It didn't matter anyway, because the pounding beat fell away. She levitated her headphones off and picked up her glasses from behind the speaker setup. "Hey, guys. You ready for the night of your life?"
"Hay yes," Strato answered for most of us. Octavia just tried her best to stay quiet. Unfortunately, Vinyl noticed her before she could hide.
"Cat got your tongue?"
Octavia steeled herself and finally spoke for the first time since we'd arrived. "Not really. I've just never been to something like this."
Strato gasped, if a bit more dramatically than he had to. "You've never been to a party?" he asked, moving up beside her. "You haven't lived."
"Well," Octavia rebutted, "I've been to parties. They've just been more high-class than this."
Vinyl nodded in agreement. "But you definitely won't forget this one. Just sayin', there's a few new tracks coming out tonight."
A wayward glance to my left showed exactly what I was expecting. Strato was standing there with his mouth open like a foal that got what they wanted at Hearth's Warming Eve. In fact, was that drool right there?
I remembered which ones were the new tracks, but just barely. Looks like it would be as much of a guessing game for me as it would be for everypony else.
Somehow Cirrus had shifted over toward the snack table - or tables - which were more full than the last time I'd seen them. Or maybe it was just the fact that the chips were taking up half of the second one.
Either way, there was still a huge gap between the plate of arranged baked goods and the bucket she'd mixed the glowsticks in. Apparently she noticed where I was looking, because she asked us, "Hey, did any of you see Neon on your way here?"
"Who?" Cirrus, Strato, and I asked at the same time, all of us sounding extremely confused.
"Um..." Vinyl explained, rubbing a hoof against her chin, "unicorn, sunglasses, shirt and tie..."
"Don't think so," I replied, thinking about the few ponies I'd seen on the sidewalk during our short trip over here. Nopony fitting that description came to mind- but in all honesty, I wasn't really paying attention.
Cirrus and Strato agreed, and Vinyl cursed under her breath. "Knew he wasn't going to be back in time."
"What's he doing, anyway?" Strato asked.
"He was supposed to be getting the pizza I ordered."
So that was Neon. I don't think he'd been wearing his shirt and tie though; nah, that was probably just my memory acting up again. It did that sometimes. As much as I tried to fix it, I just couldn't.
Although if I remembered correctly, the pizza wouldn't get here for a while. I don't know what he was doing instead, but something deep down inside me told me I didn't in a million years.
Vinyl nudged me curiously with her hoof. "You alright, buddy?"
Oh Celestia, I'd lost focus again. I'd really have to stop doing that if I wanted to blend in. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why'd you ask?"
Apparently they were tired of our casual conversation, because Vinyl slipped back over to her mixing table. Cirrus had firmly planted herself by the ping pong table I hadn't noticed before, with... So that's how I'd gotten so drunk. The ten plastic cups arranged into a triangle on either end were already filled with foaming cider. That certainly explained a lot.
As much as I hated to admit it, I was a big fan of cider pong. There was no better party game, so long as you were above the age limit. I still remember that one pony from my class at Madame Legato's music academy. As much as I'd enjoyed being roommates with him, he'd almost gotten me expelled after Professor Tremolo had found him wandering the campus alone- not to mention drunk out of his mind. Thank the sisters I hadn't been the one running that party.
By the time I checked again, two other ponies had arrived. As anypony could have expected, they gravitated straight toward the punchbowl. To make matters worse, the first one slugged his whole glass in one gulp. Reminder: stay as far away from him as possible.
It took what seemed like forever, but there was finally a good-sized crowd present. In fact, I'd had to abandon my spot by the snack table just to make room for some of the rowdier guests. And to think I'd only gotten one donut...
I didn't really need it anyway.
Vinyl finally switched the microphone on and asked the crowd, "So, you ready for this?"
Before any of us could even remotely attempt to reply, she shut off the lights. I stumbled around in the darkness for a second, desparately hoping I wouldn't run into anypony that was bigger than me. Not that I was small, but you know... just taking precautions.
As a solo - obviously female - voice came from the speakers, a pink light started to glow at the far right end of the light setup. Just as I feared, it brightened as the single note grew louder.
The first voice fell away, and a new, male one came on. A sickly green light matched the first one, except this one was shining right on me. Just my luck, eh?
"So this is what it's always like?" Octavia had come up behind me silently- practically scared me out of my skin too.
"Well, I'm pretty sure this is the only time it's going to be this dark," I replied, not realizing what I already knew. Of course it was going to stay this way... Vinyl must have some sort of night vision or a spell or something.
And just to prove how bad my luck today was, I'd totally missed the drumbeats that led up to the first drop. Bass pounded away at my currently unprotected ears. Today just wasn't my day, was it?
Octavia actually snickered at me. "What's so funny?" I asked, trying to get my bearings after I'd adjusted to the bass levels.
"Well," she replied, smiling at me, "I've never been to anything like this before, and I can stand the music better than you."
That was unexpected... even I was planning on her going straight upstairs when the music started. And now she could stand it without any visible force of will?
"I just wasn't ready for that drop, okay?"
"Fine, but don't make me show you up."
That was even more unlike her. She never been that forward with a challenge, or even challenged me like that before. Please don't tell me I caused this.
She quickly glanced off to her left and turned back to me. "I'll be back in a bit, alright?"
Alright, now is a perfect time to panic. With Octavia like that, it would be even harder to resist my urges. This was moving way too fast.
Strato - literally - danced his way over to me, somehow making it about two thirds of the way over on his back two legs. "Come on, dance." He pulled me back toward the even bigger crowd of excited fans eagerly standing just in front of the speakers.
I finally broke out of his grip and argued, "I'm not doing it. I don't care how much you've got on you right now." Just as I suspected, Strato had his bag of bits out, and was ready to toss the entire thing over to me. Some things just never changed.
"Pfleashe?" he begged, the bag in his mouth making him almost impossible to understand. "Fretty pfleashe?"
He put his bits away wherever he kept them, and grabbed me by the head. "Why not? It's a party! You're supposed to enjoy yourself."
A mare from behind me left her conversation and came over to ours. "Did you seriously just ask that?" she inquired, taking a curious step towarde me.
"Yeah," I answered, taking another step away. You know, personal space and everything...
"It's just wrong." By now, she was almost nuzzling my eye with how close she was. As much as I didn't want to do it, I pushed her away. "Besides, Vinyl's got the greatest special effects around."
"Look, I just don't really care what she does."
Both of them gasped so loudly I thought the entire street would hear them. They both stared icredulously at me as if I had just insulted their parents. She spoke first. "How could you say that?"
Strato mimed her as if they'd practiced this a million times over. "Vinyl's effects are amazing."
Then I realized the track had started. It was just a simple electronic beep interspersed with percussive beats, but Strato and the other mare ran up as close as they could and waited anxiously.
They're crazy. Everypony I used to know is crazy. There's just no denying it anymore. I must have been just like them though... That was certainly a scary thought.
My mind drifted off to Octavia's strange behavior. Why had she been acting so different? And why in Celestia's majestic mane was that mare storming toward me with an angry look on her face?
"You have a lot of explaining to do, Strato," she hissed, baring her overly sharp teeth at me. What the buck was happening here? I certainly didn't look like Strato, so how had she confused me for him?
"Look, I think you've got the wrong pony," I hastily replied in a desparate attempt to get her away from me.
And then she trotted right past me, and up to the muddy brown pegasus stallion playing cider pong, leaving his partner to drink the other seven cups. She bit down on his ear and dragged him over toward the door to the closet under the stairs.
Okay, scratch what I last said. This was now the weirdest thing that'd happened tonight.
Now that I looked back at what I'd seen from her, she'd almost acted as if he was Strato. As if she'd seen him instead of the struggling stallion trying to get away from her.
Why was everything so weird tonight? There was no way this could have possibly been right. None of this sounded familiar, and I'd already been through this!
Except that Octavia hadn't been there, and I'd probably have been out of my mind by now from playing too much cider pong. I really needed to focus more than anything.
Before I could even think of a million different out-in-left-field ideas for the sudden interruption, a crowd of excited partygoers were surrounding somepony at the bottom of the stairs. By the time a roughed up pale green unicorn stallion wearing a black shirt and sunglasses crawled out of the swarm, I knew Neon had finally arrived. And from the way he was shuddering, I figured he hadn't been expecting that reaction at all.
Amazingly, none of the pizza had hit the ground. Although there was a slice dangling off his left shoulder... Sadly, I couldn't keep myself from laughing.
"Yeah, laugh it up fuzz-face," he growled, probably assuming I couldn't hear him.
What do you know, I'd forgotten to shave. I really needed to do that sometime soon before I had a full beard. Why was I even thinking about that right now?
Great, I was confusing myself again. And this was the very worst possible time for that.
Now I just needed to keep Strato from losing control. If memory served - and I really hoped it did - he'd get in serious trouble with somepony else tonight. I certainly didn't want that happening.
But the real trouble would be finding him. Over the course of about thirty minutes, the small crowd that had come in at the start had swollen to a massive sea of sweaty, excited bodies.
Although one thing was clear: if I'd have to go in there to get him, I was waiting until he came out. No question asked...
Thank Celestia I hadn't had to go back on my promise. As it so happened, he came out just a few minutes later. Granted, he thought I was a mare, but I'd done the same back in the future.
That just sounded weird every time I said it. I'll admit it would usually be strange to anypony, but for me, it had almost become what could possibly be considered normal over the course of a day. I still had trouble saying it though.
The only problem with finding Strato was the fact that I had to deal with him leaning over and stroking my mane like an idiot. In fact, I think he even sniffed me a few times.
And there he went again. "Will you stop that?"
He stared at me as if I was crazy and slurred, "But it's jusht so fuuuuuuuun."
Oh buck me. I needed to keep him away from any and all alcoholic beverages for the rest of his life... On second thought, I'll just promise to jump off the nearest cliff without a parachute and survive. It would still be easier than that.
Strato switched from playing with my mane to running his hoof down my back left leg. He leaned in close and whispered into my ear. "How 'bout you come back to my plashe tonight?"
How much longer was this going to last? "No way." Even though he wasn't serious, I didn't want the punch muddling his thoughts to convince him I actually agreed.
"No really," Strato explained, moving his hoof farther up my leg. "I'll show you a night you'll never forget."
I swatted his hoof away from a rather private area and glared at him with the fury of a thousand suns. "For the last time, I'm not a mare. Now stop joking." Just thinking about him making a move on me made me want to throw up whatever I'd already eaten, even if I wasn't male in his eyes.
"Awww, come on, Pizz. You're no fun anymore."
Was I no fu-... What did he just say? He knew I was male the whole time?! Oh please please please please don't let that be the case.
Thankfully, the girls came back just before I could attempt to beat him out of his drunken stupor.
Cirrus nudged Octavia toward me with her wing... then went the opposite way. For a second, I almost convinced myself to yell, 'Help me, your brother's trying to hit on me', but that would probably have made me sound crazy. Instead, I let Octavia slide in between us. Unfortunately, she scooted over as close to me as she could possibly get.
She flashed me an unavoidable set of the greatest bedroom eyes I'd ever seen. At that point, I completely lost control. By the time I came back to some sort of a normal state, she was giggling like a schoolfilly.
What had I just done? If I didn't find out now, it'd torture me for the rest of the time I'm stuck back here. But if I asked, I might make myself look like an idiot.
Why'd I have to be myself?
Strato pretty much answered my question before I could even ask it. "Dude, that your first kiss or something?"
For what seemed like the first time in my short life, I felt like somepony had hit me over the head with a pillowcase full of bricks. Sure I'd been surprised before, but this was a whole new level of shock.
I think I might have gone through the rest of the night staring off blankly into space. There were still the hints, like the overly comedic record scratch when Strato embarassed himself, and the point when I had to carry him up the stairs with his terrible breath right in my face.
Even after I got home, only one thought ran through my mind: We'd just kissed... a good month before we were supposed to.