Playing House

by Krickis


12 – The Distance Between

Chapter Twelve

The Distance Between

It had taken some convincing, and an entire week of deliberation. Sometimes Sunset was so sure that it was the right thing to do that she was tempted to just jump on her motorcycle and go. Other times she thought the idea was so stupid that she was wasting her time by even considering it.

But the day came, and Sunset found herself looking up at New Horizons. She had dropped Fluttershy off at work, then she drove to the orphanage she had been sure she’d never see again.

The fatal mistake had been telling Twilight. She’d brought it up with Fluttershy first, who had expressed her belief that Sunset should reach out to Rose Petal, but Fluttershy wouldn’t push the point.

Twilight, on the other hand? Twilight had been insistent. As soon as she heard there was someone in Sunset’s past that she was avoiding making amends with, the journal had been vibrating constantly, each time with another reason for Sunset to finally meet with Rose.

It got to the point where Sunset eventually agreed, if only because she couldn’t keep finding points to cancel out Twilight’s. But as she stared at the pale yellow building, she wondered if she might be better off turning right back around.

And if she could think of what she might tell Twilight if she did, she probably would have. So if for no other reason than that she wanted to tell Twilight she’d actually done it, Sunset left the car.

The walk up to the building brought back memories. Mostly insignificant things that she’d never realize she had forgotten because they simply weren’t worth remembering regularly. Times she’d lingered around the yard for lack of anything else to do, kids that she’d spend her time trying to get out of spending time with.

She hesitated again at the door. The desire to tell Twilight of her success was becoming a distant factor in the face of actually going through with it.

Sunset closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then forced herself to open the door. It wasn’t that she was convinced this was a good idea, but she knew she’d never be satisfied with herself if she didn’t do it.

The inside was just like she remembered it. The reception area had a business feel to it, with chairs for people to sit as they waited and a table with old magazines on it. They were all empty, as they usually were; it was rare for people to walk in without an appointment, so the staff was usually ready to see people right when they arrived.

As usual, Sunset was the exception. She hadn’t called ahead since she had been unsure if she’d go through with it, and she doubted it would matter very much anyway. Rose Petal was an old woman, and she had long since stopped doing much actual work. She’d have time to see Sunset, there was no doubt there.

All there was left to do was to go ahead and do it. Sunset tucked away her worries and walked up to the counter, maintaining an appearance of absolute confidence regardless of whether she felt it or not.

“Hello, how can I help you?” The receptionist looked up and smiled as she approached. At first it was the generic smile of an employee that had to pretend to be happy to see everyone, then it became the confused sort of smile of someone trying to place where they knew someone else from.

For her own part, Sunset recognized the receptionist but couldn’t remember her name. She had seen so many people come and go during her time at New Horizons that it became easier to just not bother remembering them all. “Hi, my name’s Sunset Shimmer. I used to live here.”

“Oh, that’s right!” The receptionist’s face lit up. “You were the one who lived here since you were little, right?”

Sunset nodded and wondered why the receptionist hadn’t introduced herself. If she hadn’t immediately recognized Sunset, why did she think Sunset would know her? “Yeah, eleven years.”

“So how have you been? I remember you moved out before graduating high school.”

“I’ve been pretty good.” Sunset wasn’t interested in catching up with someone she didn’t even remember, so she moved to her main point quickly. “I’m here to pay Rose Petal a visit. Is she available?”

The receptionist’s face immediately fell into a frown. “Oh, you haven’t heard…”


Sunset sat on her bed, knees to her chest and arms around her legs. Parents were stupid. She never needed them before, and there was no reason she would need them now. Why did she have to go through this dumb exercise anyway?

There was a knock on the door, which Sunset ignored. She continued to ignore it when Rose called, “Sunset? Are you in there?”

Where else would she be? Rose was the one who sent her to her room in the first place.

It was harder to ignore the opening door, but Sunset certainly tried. She continued to try and ignore it even as Rose came and sat down on the bed beside her.

Rose was quiet for a moment, then sighed. “Sunset, what am I going to do with you?”

Sunset wished Rose wouldn’t do anything with her. Why couldn’t everyone just leave her alone?

“You know what you did was wrong. What were you even hoping to get?”

Sunset didn’t answer that either.

“This isn’t like you, Sunset. You’re not a thief. You aren’t the type of kid who goes looking through someone’s purse when they aren’t looking, I know you’re not.”

As if Rose knew anything about what kind of kid Sunset was. As if Rose could possibly understand her.

“Why won’t you talk to me?”

Rose Petal reached for Sunset, so she pulled away.

Rose sighed. “Sunset, you’re nine years old. You’re a smart kid, and you can be delightful when you want to be. You know you would be adopted by now if you just didn’t keep doing things like this. Don’t you want that?”

Sunset just turned pointedly away.

“Fine. You don’t want to talk now. We can try again later.”

Later wasn’t going to happen. Sunset waited for Rose to leave the room, then collapsed on the bed. She didn’t need Rose’s misplaced sympathy, or her false belief that Sunset was a good kid. Good kids didn’t try to steal things from their potential new mother’s purse. Good kids got adopted. Good kids like Sugar Breeze, who was finally going to a family of her own because Sunset screwed up.

But that was fine. Sunset didn’t need Sugar Breeze, even if she was the most tolerable kid in the orphanage. She didn’t need new parents, no matter how nice they seemed. And she didn’t need Rose Petal.

Sunset didn’t need anyone at all.


Everything sort of happened in a daze. Sunset left New Horizon with none of the hesitation she’d arrived with. There was no doubt about what to do next or whether or not she’d go. There were no thoughts at all.

Sunset left New Horizons and got in her car. She drove without noticing what was playing on the radio, without paying attention to the scenes around her, without stopping to think of what was going on at all. She simply drove, reacting to the cars, road signs, and traffic lights as was needed and never thinking about any of them.

Even when she reached the hospital, she hardly paid attention to anything but the immediate path ahead of her. She left her car and didn’t stop to double check the doors, or to take a moment to compose herself, or anything. She simply walked, putting one foot in front of her as she closed the distance, step by step.

She had to stop and talk to another receptionist, which required a little more concentration. But for once, Sunset didn’t stop to think about how she appeared as she spoke. No attempt to craft the perfect reaction, no hiding any feelings.

“I’m here to see a patient, her name’s Rose Petal.”

The receptionist typed something into a keyboard. “Are you a family member?”

“Yes.”

“Your name?”

“Sunset Shimmer.”

More typing, then Sunset was passed a form to sign. She didn’t read what it said, she just signed it and passed it back.

The receptionist pulled out a sticker with the word “Visitor” on it and filled it out with the required information – Sunset’s and Rose’s names, the date, and the time. He handed it to Sunset, who stuck it on her shirt.

The receptionist gave her directions to Rose’s room on the third floor, and Sunset made her way there as quickly as she could. Once again, she barely noticed the world around her, only interested in taking step after step to close the distance to Rose.

It took a while to get to Rose’s room, unfamiliar with the hospital’s layout as Sunset was. She could have asked for directions, but she never stopped to think about it. As long as every step felt like it brought her closer, she would continue walking.

Eventually she found the room. The door was opened, and she could hear the TV inside. Someone inside was moving around, but Sunset couldn’t tell who it was.

“Hello? Miss Rose?” Sunset called gingerly in case she was in the wrong room.

It was a man who greeted her, however. “Hello. Are you a visitor?”

“Yes. Is this Rose Petal’s room?” Sunset couldn’t quite see Rose from the doorway. She could see the edge of the bed, but that was all. But before she could walk in, the man who answered her walked out to greet her.

He was a nurse, judging by the scrubs he wore, and he was holding a clipboard with what Sunset assumed was Rose’s chart on it. “Yes, you’ve got the right room. Is this your first time coming to visit her?”

Knowing that Rose was inside made Sunset want to just run past him and speak with her, but she waited. “Yes. Can I see her?”

He gestured for her to step in. “You came at a good time. She’s awake, and today’s been a good day.”

Sunset walked in to see Rose was sitting up in bed. She looked different than Sunset’s memories of her, much older. Although Rose had never been young while Sunset knew her, she had still been full of life even in her old age. Now her cream-colored skin seemed paler and stretched thin over her bones. Her once maroon hair had faded to grey even when Sunset was still living at New Horizons, but now it had thinned out considerably.

It had been almost two years since Sunset had seen Rose, but she never imagined her former caretaker could have aged so much so fast.

She still smiled as she walked up to Rose’s bed. “Hello, Miss Rose,” she said gently. “It’s been a while. How’re you feeling?”

Rose studied Sunset, but she didn’t seem to recognize her. “Like I keep telling all of you, I’m ready to go home. My children need me.”

Sunset couldn’t even fake a smile. “Miss Rose, don’t you know who I am? It’s Sunset. Sunset Shimmer.”

Rose nodded slowly. “I need to get home, need to take care of little Sunset.”

The nurse stepped up beside her. “This is Sunset, Rose. She came to visit you.”

“Hmph. No one wants to listen to an old lady. Sunset’s at the home, she needs me. No one else understands the poor girl.”

Sunset looked in between Rose and the nurse. He gestured for her to step away, so she did. They walked to the other side of the room, but didn’t leave it completely.

“Sorry, she was doing really well this morning too…”

“What’s wrong with her?” Sunset asked. She didn’t like the way her voice came out. “I heard she had a stroke but… why doesn’t she recognize me?”

The nurse glanced back towards her and frowned. “Sometimes, especially at her age, strokes can lead to other issues. Rose has rapidly progressive dementia, which causes her to have trouble remembering. Some days she isn’t responsive at all.”

Sunset folded her arms and frowned. Rose wasn’t paying them any attention, instead focused on the TV.

“It’s hard to see a loved one like this, but she’s as comfortable as we can possibly make her. If you come back another day, she might be a little more present.”

Sunset would be returning, she had no doubt there. But still, even if Rose didn’t know who she was, Sunset couldn’t leave her. “I think I’d still like to stay for a while today.”

The nurse nodded. “Okay. If you need anything, you can hit that nurse call button by her bed, and I’ll come to check on you two.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Sunset took a seat next to Rose’s bed while the nurse left. Rose didn’t react. Sunset watched the TV with her while trying to figure out what to say. Some sitcom was on, with a perfect made for TV family. Two parents, a couple of kids, enough comical misunderstandings to make things interesting, but all in all wrapped in a heartfelt message of love.

Neither of them laughed at any of the jokes, or seemed to pay it much attention at all really. Eventually, Sunset used it to try and get a conversation going. “I never knew you liked TV, Miss Rose.”

Rose didn’t answer.

“Guess there’s not much else to do around here, huh?”

Again, Rose didn’t answer.

Sunset remained quiet as she watched the TV family. The dad was being a hardass because his teenage daughter wanted to stay out late at a party, and she was complaining that he never let her do anything. Her little brother was making quippy one-liners about their argument.

“What was it like raising so many kids?” Sunset asked without really thinking about it.

At first, she thought Rose wouldn’t answer again. Eventually, however, she said, “You never get used to raising kids. All you can do is learn each kid, and hope that they don’t grow up faster than you can keep up.”

“Were you scared when you first took the job? That maybe… maybe you’d mess it up somehow?”

Rose let out a short laugh. “No one ever stops worrying about that.”

Sunset wondered how often she’d made Rose worry. “Then why do you keep doing it? Why not, I don’t know, retire? Not have to worry about kids anymore?”

“Oh, I could never do that. I’ll live right here at New Horizons until I wither away.”

Sunset was taken aback by the statement. Right here. Somehow in the minutes since Sunset had walked in, Rose’s perception of her surroundings seemed to have changed. It was hard to say if that was good or bad since she still seemed to be having delusions, but she did sound happier.

Sunset decided to keep talking. “So it’s all worth it in the end?”

“Oh yes. Every day brings something new, and every day I’m reminded that I wouldn’t change a thing. I love all the children dearly, you know.”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, I know. And… they all love you too, Miss Rose.”

Rose smiled, and it broke Sunset’s heart. Not nearly as much as what she said next, however. “That’s very sweet of you, Sunset.”

Sunset’s hand rose to her heart. “You… you recognize me?”

Rose gave her a confused look. “Well, of course I do. I may be old, but I’m not senile yet, Sunset.”

Sunset swallowed a lump down her throat. “No. Of course not.”

“How was school today, dearie?”

The question hit Sunset like a blow. It was too much, and she couldn’t help but turn away as she answered. “It was good.” She knew Rose wasn’t living in the present. To Rose, Sunset had never left, and they were back in New Horizons. She didn’t know how long ago Rose thought it was, but she knew that Rose was never going to get better. This conversation would fade from her as soon as it was done, but Sunset was determined to make her as happy as she could for the time being. “I met some new kids. I think I’m finally starting to make some friends.”

Rose beamed. “Oh, that’s wonderful to hear! Tell me about them.”

“Well, one of them is named Fluttershy. She’s a little shy, but she’s really nice. She loves animals and books and… and I think you’d really like her. And Applejack. She’s stubborn and hard-working, and I know she’ll always be there for me when I need her. Pinkie Pie is the friendliest person I’ve ever met, she can make anyone laugh, and Rainbow Dash is too cool to show it much, but I know she really cares about everyone. And…” Sunset trailed off, unable to keep talking.

Rose put her hand on Sunset’s, and Sunset could feel just how thin she’d gotten. “They sound lovely, dearie. I hope I get to meet them someday.”

Sunset blinked back her tears and turned her hand to take hold of Rose’s. “Me too. I’d really like that.

“Help me remember, dearie, do you have a meeting with Mrs. Dusk today?”

Sunset shook her head. “No. I have all day to spend with you.”

“Oh? Are you going to be my little helper today?”

Sunset forced a smile as she turned to Rose. “You bet. Anything you need, just let me know..”

“Mmm.” Rose leaned back and closed her eyes. “That’s good. I know I can count on you.”

“Of course, Miss Rose. Always.”


It had been a hard day. During the hours Sunset was with Rose, she went back and forth on how responsive she was. When she did respond, she usually remembered Sunset, but always seemed to think she was still a child.

Sunset stayed into the evening, despite the fact that Rose had fallen asleep an hour before she left. She wanted to be around if Rose woke up and needed anything, even though she knew that the hospital staff would take care of that. In the end, she only left when it was time to pick up Fluttershy from work.

There was one more thing she needed to do before she left the hospital, though. On her way out of Rose’s room, she pressed the nurse call button, then waited at the door. A minute later, the same nurse she talked to before walked up.

“Is everything alright, miss?” he asked as he walked up.

“Yeah, sorry to bother you, but I didn’t know who to ask, and…” Sunset realized she was about to start rambling and paused to take a breath before continuing. “I wanted to know how she’s doing. Has her dementia been getting worse?”

He seemed to weigh his options for a moment. “It would really be better if you waited until the morning to talk with the doctor. She’ll be in around eight, and she could tell answer your questions better than I could.”

Sunset knew that was reasonable, but she didn’t know how she could possibly hold out until the morning. “Just… could you tell me how long she has?”

He seemed to see something in Sunset’s face, although she wasn’t sure what that was. Regardless, his tone became more solemn as he answered more openly. “A month. Maybe two. When dementia is rapidly progressive like hers is, everything progresses quickly, right up to the end.”

Sunset shut her eyes and nodded her head. That was exactly what she thought.

“I’m very sorry, miss. She’s been holding out okay, all things considered.”

“And there’s no cure, is there?” Sunset knew the answer already, but she had to ask.

The nurse shifted in place and looked off to the side. “I’m afraid not, no.”

“Thanks for telling me. I’ll get the details from her doctor when I can.”

“At least she has people like you who care about her. She seems to have visitors almost every day.”

At least there was that. If anyone had earned that love and support, it was definitely Rose. And now, Sunset was going to make sure it was every day. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Alright. Take care of yourself.”

Sunset barely registered his well wishes as she walked away. They fell flat to her. All she thought about was how each step she took put more distance in between herself and Rose Petal.


Sunset wasn’t really supposed to be out in the garden gazebo. She had been told to go to her room after trying to steal from her potential new mom’s purse, and no one had told her it was okay to come out again.

And yet, she had. Sunset had always had a problem with staying in one place for too long, so after dinner – which she ate alone in her room when she refused to talk to anyone again – she snuck out and went into the garden.

It wasn’t even that she didn’t think she’d get caught, just that she didn’t care. So when Rose Petal found her, Sunset didn’t think much of it.

Rose’s question did take her by surprise, however. “Lovely evening, isn’t it, Sunset?”

Sunset was silent until Rose took a seat next to her, then she quietly mumbled, “It’s alright.”

“It’s very calming out here. Helps me clear my mind when I need to think.”

Sunset stared down at the floor. “I guess.”

“Have you thought about our conversation earlier?”

How could she not have? It had only been a few hours, after all. She remembered the question Rose had asked, and she gave her answer. “No.”

“I see. Well, whenever you’re ready to talk, you just let me know.” Rose stood up. “It is getting late though. Don’t stay out too long, Sunset.”

Sunset could hardly believe Rose would give up that easily. As Rose started to walk away, Sunset jumped to her feet. “No, I don’t want to be adopted.”

Rose stopped and turned back to Sunset, who was blushing furiously and trying to avoid her eyes. “Really? Every kid wants a loving family.”

Sunset shoved her hands in her pockets and tried to ignore her blush. “I don’t. Kids like Sugar Breeze want families like that. I’d rather sta– I’d rather not deal with anything like that.”

Rose placed her hand on Sunset’s back to guide her back to the seat, and kept an arm around her while she sat down. From anyone else, Sunset wouldn’t have tolerated the touch. Only Rose could get away with something like that.

“If you really don’t want to be adopted, you could have just told me.”

Sunset frowned. “It doesn’t matter. It’s your job to get kids like me adopted.”

“Not entirely. It’s my job to take care of you, and sometimes it’s my job to help parents adopt or foster kids.” Rose leaned in and smiled. “But what I really want is what’s best for you. And if you think living here is what’s best for you, then I have no problems with that.”

Sunset looked up at Rose’s smiling face, every bit as warm and welcoming as Sunset had ever seen it. “Really? I can stay here with… I don’t have to deal with stupid parents?”

Rose laughed. “Well, no. But you do have to be better behaved. And really, Sunset, I promise things will be much easier if you just stop and talk to me once in a while.”

Sunset tried, but she couldn’t keep the hint of a smile from her face. “Maybe.”

“So was that what this was all about today?” Rose asked. “You didn’t want them to pick you?”

That was part of it. Sunset had also known who their second choice had been. “Yeah, that was it.”

Rose sighed, but it was with a smile on her face. “You really are an interesting child.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me.”

They sat side by side as the evening slowly turned to night. Sunset wasn’t sure why Rose insisted on keeping her hand on her back, but she never said anything about it. They didn’t speak at all, in fact, simply sitting in silence without quite as much distance between them as Sunset would have liked.

It was just as well. When Sunset did decide to speak, she found it words didn’t seem to improve things. “Miss Rose?”

“Yes, Sunset?”

Sunset found she wasn’t sure what to say. Something along the lines of ‘thank you’, although she wasn’t really sure what she would be thanking Rose for. Besides, somehow that didn’t feel like enough.

“Never mind.”

She expected Rose to press her to answer, or maybe to make another comment about how strange Sunset was. But instead, she just smiled and squeezed Sunset’s shoulder, then went back to silence.

Somehow, the moment found a way to speak for itself.