Playing House

by Krickis


18 – Disconnected

Act III

Summer Storms

Chapter Eighteen

Disconnected

“This is Fluttershy, but I can’t get to the phone right now. Leave a message and I’ll be sure to get back to you.”

If the past two weeks were any indication, that was unlikely to be true. Still, Pinkie held onto hope that this time would be different, and left her message after the beep. “Hiya, Fluttershy! Applejack and I are gonna hang out, so I thought I’d see if you wanted to join us. Give me a call back and let me know, bye!”

Even just a response would be enough. If Fluttershy didn’t want to hang out with her and Applejack, that was okay. It would be wonderful if Fluttershy and Sunset got out of the house and spent some time with their friends, but they needed space, and Pinkie understood that.

It didn’t make her feel better, though. It had been two weeks since Fluttershy had woken up, and Pinkie still hadn’t heard from her. She opened her text messages and pulled up Sunset’s message history. It was mostly full of messages from Pinkie, with the occasional short response from Sunset. Undeterred, Pinkie typed another message.

‘Hey Sunset! Gonna be by your neighborhood tonight, wanna meet up for dinner?’

In truth, Pinkie had no particular reason to go to Sunset and Fluttershy’s neighborhood. No reason aside from them, of course, although that was more than enough.

Pinkie stared down at her phone and sighed. All she could do was hope for the best. Her friends deserved the benefit of the doubt, after all. This time might be different. They might actually call her back this time.

And while she waited for that, she really did have plans with Applejack. She debated waiting around a few minutes before heading out, just in case Fluttershy called her back, then decided she would gladly double back if she needed to. After making sure her phone volume was high enough that she’d hear it ring while she was driving, Pinkie walked to the door.

She stopped before going through and turned back to a plush alligator. “Keep an eye on things while I’m out, Gummy!”

Gummy gave her a blank stare.

“Aww, I knew I could count on you!”

Confident that her house would be safe in Gummy’s felt claws while she and her family were all out, Pinkie stepped outside and locked the door behind her. There was a light drizzle, but Pinkie didn’t mind. A little summer shower never hurt anyone, and the water droplets were nice and warm against her skin.

Once she was in her minivan, she considered the same thing she’d considered almost every day – stopping by Fluttershy and Sunset’s house unannounced. It felt more and more like that was the only way she’d get to see them, but Pinkie knew they needed space and didn’t want to intrude. It was just… she never could shake the feeling that even if they needed space, they didn’t need quite so much as they were giving themselves.

But Pinkie wouldn’t do that. No matter how much she wanted to, she would be better than that. Her friends needed her, and if they needed her to be somewhere else for a little while until they were ready to see her again, that was okay. Even if it hurt, Pinkie could do that for them.

Still, they never left her thoughts as she drove to Sweet Apple Acres. The rhythmic motion of the windshield wipers kept time with Pinkie’s thoughts. Fluttershy had never learned to drive in the rain. Pinkie wondered if she’d still be giving her driving lessons. Their last one had been before Rarity visited, which was over a month ago. And after what happened, Pinkie wondered if Fluttershy would want to be behind the wheel again.

She wondered how Sunset was handling work. She had never liked her job at the best of times, and there was no way this was making things any easier. She needed space even from her friends, and yet she had to spend every day smiling for strangers. Pinkie didn’t know how she did it.

But most of all, she just wondered about her friends. What they were doing. If they were taking care of themselves the way they should. If they’d be ready to see her soon. If they stopped to think about her from time to time.

‘It’s not about me,’ Pinkie reminded herself. Fluttershy and Sunset were hurting, and Pinkie couldn’t make her own desire to see them into the more pressing issue.

It was hard to get rid of the negative feelings and intrusive thoughts, but Pinkie at least managed to dull them a little by the time she reached Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack deserved to see a friendly face, after all.

Pinkie parked behind Applejack’s truck and looked around for any sign of Applejack herself. It was early summer, so it wasn’t time to start harvesting apples, but she usually had some sort of work to do around the orchard.

When she didn’t see her, Pinkie decided to take a look around. It would be easier to call and let her know she’d arrived, or even to do it the old fashioned way and knock on the front door, but the rain was still light enough to not worry about getting a little wrt. Besides, it seemed more fun to try and find her friend first.

That was what the day was supposed to be about, after all. The past two weeks had been tense for everyone. Everything was the hardest for Fluttershy and Sunset, of course, there was no doubt there. But still, they’d all been stressed while Fluttershy was sleeping, and they could all use a little more fun to get things back to normal.

An afternoon with Applejack and an evening with Rainbow seemed as good a way to do it as any. Well, maybe not as good as any. The best times were when they were all together, of course. But everyone had their own stuff going on, which made group outings a lot harder to plan than when they were in high school.

One on one time could still be a ton of fun, though. And a walk around Sweet Apple Acres was always a good way to start. Pinkie first checked around the barn, but Applejack wasn’t back there. The apple orchard was huge and would be impossible to comb through, even if Pinkie had a comb that was big enough. She still looked around it as best she could and still didn’t see Applejack. And since she’d parked right by Applejack’s truck, Pinkie knew she wasn’t working on that.

That only left the garden or inside the house. The latter was far more likely, since the garden was mostly tended to by Granny Smith, but she’d already checked everywhere else. She figured she might as well finish what she’d started.

It was a good thing she did too, since to her surprise, Pinkie did find Applejack as she approached the garden. She wasn’t, however, tending to the plants. She was near the garden, standing alone in the rain over a small plot of dirt.

Although she had initially planned on surprising Applejack by popping up unexpectedly, Pinkie decided to take a more casual approach upon seeing where her friend was. She walked up beside Applejack and joined her in looking down at the little grave.

“Ya ever just… wonder what coulda happened?”

“All the time.”

Applejack turned towards her with an expression as solemn as her voice. “You know, I didn’t even think keeping her was a good idea. Even told Sunset as much when we first found out. But then… they were just so happy. I’ve never seen Sunset that happy ‘bout anything in all the years I’ve known her.”

“They both were. They would’ve been great moms, too.”

“Yeah…” Applejack opted to keep her attention away from the Sky in the ground and looked instead at the one above them. Pinkie pretended to believe the wetness on her face was only from the rain. “Kinda wonder if they’ll ever try again. I know it’s way too soon to be thinkin’ too much about that now, but you know. Seems like if they plan for it next time, it might be even better.”

There was something unstated in what Applejack said. Something she didn’t want to say out loud, but which had clearly been on her mind a lot. Pinkie pretended she hadn’t noticed. “There won’t ever be another Sky Shimmer though…”

“True.” Applejack looked back down at the ground. “I just… I want them to be that happy again.”

“I know. Me too.” Pinkie looked away from both Sky and Applejack. “Have you seen them lately?”

“Yeah, I saw Sunset a couple of times.”

“How’s she doing? I haven’t seen her since the hospital.”

“She’s, er…” Applejack adjusted her hat. “She’s doing alright. You know, all things considered.”

It was hard to even pretend she believed that, especially when Applejack lied about it so poorly. “I wish she’d call me back. I just want to help make them happy again.”

Applejack patted Pinkie on the back. “I know. And they know that too. But they got a lot to work through before they’re even ready to be happy again.”

Pinkie frowned, knowing that her message hadn’t really gotten through properly. “I know, but they shouldn’t be all alone.”

“They’re not alone. They got each other. Besides, remember when Fluttershy’s mom passed away? We dragged her out of the house and made her spend time with us because we thought that’s what she needed, but then it turned out she wanted to just spend time with Rainbow instead.”

Pinkie didn’t really need the reminder, that had been on her mind for weeks already. “You’re right, but…”

“This isn’t any different. Fluttershy just ain’t like you and me. She’s not gonna feel better if she’s surrounded by people, no matter who they are. And trust me, I know Sunset. More than anything, she needs to be the one deciding what she’s doing or else she’ll just resent us for forcing it on her.”

It wasn’t that Pinkie disagreed with Applejack. But she’d already known better than to drag them out to do something in public. She’d learned that much years ago, and she wasn’t planning on making the same mistake twice.

But she didn’t want to argue with her friend, especially considering where they were. “I guess you’re right. You know best, AJ.”

Applejack turned back towards the grave for a moment, then gestured away. “Anyway, I doubt ya came over to be all sad.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Pinkie said, although she followed Applejack as they walked away. “I’m happy to spend time with a friend, no matter what we talk about.”

“Thanks, Pinkie. I reckon there just ain’t much to say, though.”

Pinkie glanced back at Sky’s grave and wasn’t quite sure she felt the same way. But if Applejack didn’t want to talk about that, then she wasn’t going to press it. “Okie dokie. So, what’s on the agenda for tonight? Parcheesi? Scrabble?” Pinkie grew a wicked grin. “Risk?”

“No!” Applejack shot back quickly. “You really think I want a repeat of last time? We’re playin’ Monopoly tonight.”

“Monopoly? How is that better than Risk?”

If anything, Applejack’s grin was even more sinister than Pinkie’s had been. “Because this time, it’s a game that I’m good at.”

“Oh ho ho! Just you wait until you see what you’re in for! My parents didn’t name me Pinkamena Realtor Pie for nothing!”

“You’re parents did not name you Pinkamena Realtor Pie.”

Pinkie sighed and shook her head. “So little faith… It’s okay though, I’ll go easy on you.”

They laughed and shoved each other playfully as they walked into the house. Every week, the Apples had a family game night. All of their friends had joined in from time to time, Pinkie most of all. She’d become a regular at the Apple’s house, stopping by most nights to play with the family.

Even as she walked in the door, she was greeted as if she was another part of the family. “About time you two showed up!” Apple Bloom said from where she was lying on the couch.

“Some of us don’t get a summer break, AB,” Applejack shot back.

Apple Bloom sat up on the couch and opened the game box on the table in front of her. “Pinkie’s on summer break.”

“Pinkie has work,” Applejack pointed out before Pinkie could answer.

Pinkie put an arm around Applejack’s shoulder. “I could’ve come sooner, but I didn’t want to make AJ look bad by beating her here.”

“Yeah, she looks bad enough all on her own,” Apple Bloom said with a smirk.

“Is that AJ and Pinkie?” Granny Smith called from the kitchen.

“Yepperoni!” Pinkie called back.

“Could one of you get Big Mac from the basement and the other come give me a hand?”

“Coming, Granny!” Pinkie left Applejack to get Big Mac while she walked into the kitchen. She found Granny had several plates of food ready, including both home baked goods and store bought snacks.

“These look so good!” Pinkie said as she picked up a plate of cookies.

“Thank you, Pinkie. But try to save some for the rest of us this time, hmm?”

Pinkie blushed. “That happened one time!”

Granny chuckled as she carried chips and dip into the living room, Pinkie trailing behind her. She and Granny Smith doubled back to get the rest of the snacks while Apple Bloom set up the game. By the time they came back, Applejack and Big Mac were coming upstairs from the basement. Pinkie was surprised to hear a third set of footsteps coming up after them.

“Oh, hi, Sugar Belle!”

Sugar Belle smiled. “Hello, Pinkie. Hope no one minds if I join you all tonight?”

Pinkie rubbed her hands together. “As long as you don’t expect me to go easy on you. Tonight is Pinkie’s night to shine!”

“You win like every other week, Pinkie,” Apple Bloom pointed out.

Big Mac took a seat on the couch next to Apple Bloom, Sugar Belle sitting beside him. “Eeyup.”

“Not this night.” Applejack sat down on the floor next to the couch. “This is my favorite game, ain’t none of y’all gonna beat me at it.”

“I thought your favorite game was that card game with the apples,” Pinkie said.

“Shush, I have a lot of favorite games.”

“We’ll see if it’s still your favorite when I whoop your butt!” Apple Bloom said. “I call banker!”

Big Mac fixed her with a glare. “Nothing doin’. You cheat too much.”

“Do not!”

“Do too.” Applejack moved the pile of money to her side of the table. “I’ll be the banker. Y’all know I’m too honest to cheat.”

“Sugar Belle, do you wanna be banker?” Pinkie asked. “You’re the guest after all.”

“Oh, sure. But aren’t you a guest too, Pinkie?”

“No,” all three Apple children answered at once.

“Pinkie’s more like… extended family,” Apple Bloom said.

“Yeah, we’re like cousins or something!” Pinkie added.

“Could even be, considering how far back the Apples and the Pies go,” Granny added. “But enough yappin’, time for me to show you youngins how it’s done!”

They each picked their pieces and started the game, letting Apple Bloom go first since she was the youngest. Once or twice they got into arguments over which house rules were in effect, but they managed to keep the game much more friendly than it could’ve been, considering which game they were playing.

And it was nice having the chance to play with Sugar Belle. Big Mac had started dating her a few months earlier, and he was finally starting to bring her around the family a little more often. They were still getting used to being together, embarrassed by small touches with family present.

It made Pinkie happy to see, as couples always did. She loved being around love, and seeing them happy together made her heart soar. At the same time, it hurt to see. In every touch, Pinkie saw Sunset’s gentle encouragement. Every time Sugar Belle cautiously joined into the family’s good-natured jabs at one another, Pinkie saw Fluttershy trying to join in with Sunset and Applejack’s jokes.

She wanted to be happy with the reminder of her friends. Heck, she wanted to be happy just because she was with friends and Big Mac and Sugar Belle were so cute together! But… Pinkie wasn’t happy. She wanted to be, she should’ve been, but she wasn’t.

“Pinkie?” Apple Bloom said, pulling her out of her daze. “It’s your turn.”

“Oh, right.” Pinkie laughed it off even though she was unsure of how long she’d been zoning out for. She took the dice and rolled them, moved her pieces, and paid Granny Smith for landing on her property.

She tried to focus on the game after that, but she couldn’t bring herself to get back into it. It was all she could do to keep from zoning out too often and to try to watch her behavior so she wouldn’t worry her friends. Still, she couldn’t help but notice the looks Applejack gave her from time to time.

They managed the game with surprisingly few heated discussions. Big Mac was the first to fold to bankruptcy when he couldn’t afford to stay at Sugar Belle’s hotel. Her reign was soon ended by Apple Bloom, but none of them were able to stand up to the real estate empire of Granny Smith.

“No fair!” Apple Bloom said as she landed on one of Granny Smith’s properties and was unable to pay.

Granny just laughed gleefully as the last of her opponents fell. “What did I say? None of you kids have the business sense to beat an old expert like me!”

“Guess we learned who the real master is,” Pinkie said to Applejack.

“Yeah, suppose there wasn’t any real chance of winning.” Applejack and Apple Bloom worked on getting everything put away. “Wanna stay for dinner?”

Pinkie had originally planned to do just that, but when she looked at the couch, she saw Big Mac and Sugar Belle holding hands. “I’d love to, but I’m supposed to be meeting Rainbow.”

“Gotcha. Well, tell her hi for me.”

Pinkie felt guilty for the lie. While she did have plans with Rainbow, they weren’t planning on meeting up until later. But she shook her guilt off and smiled for her friend. “Will do!”

She said goodbyes and gave out hugs to everyone, promised she’d see them all next week, then left the house. She couldn’t remember ever leaving a friend’s house early before.

The guilt only grew as she walked through the rain, which had picked up a little during the game. By the time she got in her minivan, she couldn’t even bring herself to start it. “Come on, Pinkie,” she said aloud, “you love spending time with the Apples!”

“I know, but…” she tried to answer herself, but realized she didn’t know what to say. She could tell that seeing Big Mac and Sugar Belle had reminded her of Sunset and Fluttershy, and that had been upsetting. But she couldn’t place why, exactly. Why had the connection been so strong? Why had it been as upsetting as it was? Even visiting Sky’s grave hadn’t been as bad as watching two of her friends being happy together.

She pulled out her phone, which had no new messages or texts. She opened up the message app and selected Fluttershy’s name. None of her recent messages had any reply, but she sent another anyway.

‘Just finishing up at Applejack’s. Hope your day has been as great as you are! And if not remember you can always call your friend Pinkie Pie! ❤️😉❤️😉❤️’

“Come on, Shy, please message me back…”

The phone remained silent. Pinkie debated messaging Sunset as well, but decided against it. Instead she started her van and pulled out of Applejack’s driveway.

Between the rain and how late it was getting on a weekday, there wasn’t too much traffic on the road, which made the drive a good time to think. Of course, Pinkie wasn’t really interested in spending more time in her own head, so she turned up the radio and sung along loudly as she drove to Rainbow’s house. It worked to drown out the thoughts, at least a little.

Even though she was sure she would’ve heard it, Pinkie still made a point of checking her phone once she parked outside of Rainbow’s house. As expected, there were no new messages.

She resigned herself to the fact that she wouldn’t be hearing from Fluttershy for the night and got out of the van. The rain wasn’t the only reason she kept her head hung low as she walked up the driveway to the front door.

She stopped before knocking, taking a moment to fix a smile onto her face. She was here to spend time with a friend, and she wasn’t going to drag Rainbow down by being sad.

Confident that she’d be greeting her friend with a smile, Pinkie knocked on the door. A moment later, it opened to reveal a pink woman with blue hair. “Oh, hello. Hope you’re not here for band practice, they already finished up.”

As usual, Pinkie got the impression that Firefly couldn’t quite remember all of her daughter’s friends by name, even the ones who’d known her for years. She never let that get to her though, preferring to just smile as if Firefly knew exactly whom she was talking to.

“No, Rainbow and I were just gonna hang out.”

Firefly stepped aside to let Pinkie in. “She’s down in her cave. Try to get her to see the sun one of these days, would you?”

“Sure thing, Mrs. Firefly!”

Firefly laughed at being called ‘Mrs.’, as she always did. Even though Pinkie was well aware of the house’s layout, Firefly still showed her to the door that led to the basement. She didn’t follow her down though, just pointing out the time and asking that they keep the noise down.

Pinkie descended the now-familiar steps. For years, the basement had just been used for storage. But when Rainbow started her band, her parents had allowed her to transform it into a practice area. These days it had also become Rainbow’s usual hangout, where she often liked to entertain guests.

Before she reached the bottom, Pinkie realized Rainbow was playing a song. After the Rainbooms had broken up, Rainbow had decided to leave the pop rock act behind to form a punk band, but the song she was playing now didn’t seem to fit into either genre.

It was quiet, the type of ballad that would normally be played acoustically. Rainbow almost always played an electric guitar, even for traditionally acoustic songs, and this was no exception. What was an exception, however, was how she played the song. Soft and clear, with the notes plucked one at a time rather than strummed. There was no hint of distortion on the guitar, and her voice was quiet and as melodic as she was capable of making it. It sounded like the type of song that Fluttershy would write.

“…part of me that wishes there was something I could do. At the end of the day –”

The bottom step creaked, and Rainbow stopped suddenly. Pinkie continued as if nothing was amiss, walking into the room with her smile firmly in place. “Hiya, Dashie. New song?”

“Pinkie! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

Rainbow was clearly embarrassed, and it was easy to see why. If that was a song she wrote, it was much more personal than the type of songs she liked others to hear.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.” Pinkie flopped over the back of a couch, so that she was upside down with her legs hanging off the top. “It was a really nice song though!”

Rainbow blushed and looked away. “You weren’t supposed to hear it…”

“Well, why not?” Pinkie swung her legs over the couch and sat up properly. “It sounded really pretty, and I’d love to hear the rest of it.”

“No way. It’s not even done, anyway…” Rainbow strummed a chord and seemed to mutter to herself more than to Pinkie. “Besides, it’s just some stupid sappy thing. I probably won’t even bother finishing it.”

“What? You’re being too hard on yourself. Here, maybe I can help!” Pinkie stood up and felt dizzy from standing so soon after tumbling over the couch, and she wound up falling back onto it.

“It’s… not really a song that needs drums. Or, you know, anything really. Like I said, it’s just dumb.”

“I don’t think it’s dumb.” Pinkie didn’t want to push Rainbow too hard if she really didn’t want to share the song, but she didn’t like hearing Rainbow put herself down. “I don’t think anything you’ve written has been dumb.”

Rainbow couldn’t hide a grin forming. “That’s because I’ve only ever played you the cool stuff.”

Pinkie smiled at an opportunity. “Okay, so prove me wrong.”

“What?”

“Well, I still think all your songs are cool. So if you want to prove me wrong, then you’ll have to play me this one. Then I can decide if it’s cool or dumb.”

“And why would I want to do that?”

Pinkie shrugged. “It’s up to you. I already know it’s a good song.”

Rainbow played a few notes. Pinkie couldn’t tell if it was part of the song or not. “It’s just… kinda personal, you know?”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to play it. But you know… it is only me here.”

Rainbow looked at Pinkie and seemed to be conflicted. Eventually she looked down at the guitar. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Of course I do! I’d never laugh at you.”

Rainbow took a deep breath, then started to play.
“A penny isn’t worth the thoughts
That storm away in my head
And nothing too can pay the cost of
What happened in that hospital bed
But there’s a part of me that wishes
There was something I could do
At the end of the day
I’m still useless to you

Words can’t wrap themselves around
The way you must feel
Stuck in a reality that always feels too real
What am I supposed to say to you
About an experience I’ve never been through?
If only I knew

Are you thinking of what coulda been?
All the jokes and laughs and little things
I’ve been thinking about them too
All of the ups and downs a child brings
Calls are just another noise she’ll never hear
And another thing I can’t bring myself to care about
Is that how you feel when you ignore us all?
Are you too busy looking for another way out?”

The song stopped suddenly, reminding Pinkie that she was sitting in Rainbow’s basement. The whole time she was listening to the song, her mind had been somewhere else. While her body couldn’t be near Fluttershy and Sunset, her mind was never far apart from them.

“And… that’s all I have so far,” Rainbow said, looking at her guitar rather than at Pinkie.

Pinkie spoke quietly, almost afraid to break the spell Rainbow’s song had created. “Dashie, that was really good.”

Rainbow blushed. “I guess maybe it’s alright. You know, if you’re into songs like that.”

Once again, Pinkie felt like Rainbow was selling herself short. It was true that the song was an odd fit for her, and her naturally raspy voice wasn’t usually suited for melodic songs. But it gave it an edge of realness that carried through the lyrics, and Pinkie couldn’t imagine it being any other way.

She wanted to tell Rainbow that, but she couldn’t figure out how to get the words out. So she smiled instead, and said, “I think it’s great. You should totally finish it.”

Rainbow smirked and strummed a few chords absentmindedly. “Maybe, but I dunno. I mean, it’s not like that’s ever gonna be a Bitchette song, you know?”

“You can write songs for other reasons,” Pinkie said. She wanted Rainbow to finish the song. She wanted to hear it once it was done.

“I guess. But hey, if you wanna hear something really cool, check out this one!”

Without waiting for Pinkie’s response, Rainbow started playing a song that was much more in her usual style – loud and fast. And not just the music, but the way Rainbow sang it. For her new band, she’d abandoned proper singing in place of a much harsher style. It was a good song, and Pinkie enjoyed it, but for all its intensity, it didn’t hold nearly as much power as the other one did.

Of course, she still clapped at the end and praised Rainbow for her talented song writing.

Rainbow got them each a beer from a mini fridge she kept in the basement, and they sat on the couch together and talked about music and how practice had gone. Rainbow’s band was becoming more and more her primary focus, and Pinkie was happy to hear things were going well. Still, it felt like they were avoiding talking about what was really on their mind.

And they were. Rainbow had to know that as well as Pinkie did. Neither of them really had music on their minds, that was just the best distraction at hand. And it could only hold out for so long.

“So, uhm…” Pinkie had to turn away as she broached the awkward topic. “Have Fluttershy and Sunset seen you all play since Rarity and Twilight were here?”

Rainbow managed to keep her voice calm. She must’ve known the question or one like it was coming. “Fluttershy has. Haven’t managed to drag Sunset over yet, though.”

“Oh.” Pinkie had to fight off the frown. “How’s she doing.”

Rainbow’s voice faltered a little more on that one. “She’s… okay.”

Pinkie turned to face Rainbow. “Really?”

Rainbow shifted nervously. “Well, you know… what do you want me to say? Of course she’s kind of fucked up over everything, who wouldn’t be? But she’s getting around pretty well, she’s leaving the house to hang out, she’s talking about going back to work and stuff. I think she’d doing pretty damn good. Probably better than I would be.”

Pinkie nodded. “Yeah, she’s tough.”

“Exactly. It’s only been a couple weeks, it’s gonna take some time before she’s back to normal. But she’s doing her best, and I know she’ll be alright.”

Pinkie wanted to believe that too. It was just so hard when all she had to go by was what her other friends told her. But she wanted to have faith in her friends, including in Rainbow’s judgement of what was going on, so she decided to change the subject slightly. “Kinda funny to imagine her hanging out with a punk rock band.”

The new subject seemed like a good choice, since Rainbow grinned broadly. “Yeah, she’s a little out of place with how loud the rest of us can be. The rest of the band likes her, though.”

“Of course they do! Who doesn’t like Fluttershy?”

“Heh, true. Plus it’s kinda hard not to like the girl who always makes sure we’ve got plenty of food and drinks for our jam sessions.”

Pinkie snickered. “I hope you’re including her more than that.”

Rainbow shrugged. “It’s not like we’re making her get us stuff. She joined in on guitar once when Ringo bailed, but she says she likes just hanging out more.”

“Uh oh. Ringo bailed on practice already?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah. To tell the truth, I’d kinda rather if it was Sunset or even Fluttershy in the band. Shy’s still pretty new to guitar so I get why she doesn’t want to join a band where she’d be struggling to keep up, but shit, she shows up even when she’s not in the band!”

Although they had asked Flash Sentry to join, he said he was too busy to commit to it. Instead, he suggested that the bassist from his old high school band could join on rhythm guitar. Although Ringo was a decent enough player, he didn’t seem to take it as seriously as the others did.

“Maybe he just needs to get used to playing with you guys more?” Pinkie suggested.

Rainbow shrugged. “I guess. I’m serious about Fluttershy, though. Only reason I don’t try to get her in the band instead of him is because she’s too embarrassed to play unless she’s had a few drinks.”

Pinkie frowned. “Fluttershy’s drinking?”

Rainbow’s head shot up as she realized what she’d said, then she continued in the most normal tone she could manage. “A little bit. We all usually have a few beers or whatever when we get together. She’s not, you know, getting wasted or anything like that.”

“Is that… safe though? After the accident?”

“I guess?” Rainbow drained the last of her beer and tried to throw the can into the trash. She missed, and it clattered against the floor. “She says it’s alright, and I’m sure she knows what she’s talking about.”

“I’m worried about her.”

“Pinkie, it’s fine.” Rainbow nudged her playfully. “Do you really think I’d let anything bad happen to Fluttershy? She’s gone through a lot, and if a few drinks helps her loosen up and actually have a little fun, then is that really a bad thing?

“I guess not…”

“And you know, I’m not gonna let her get plastered. Not that I’ve had to stop her or anything, she only ever has one or two drinks.”

Pinkie found herself with the same feeling of wanting to trust her friends, even when she was inclined to keep worrying. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Hey, why don’t you swing by on Friday? We’ve got another practice session, and then we could show you the new stuff we’ve been working on.”

Pinkie managed a smile. Since Fluttershy liked going to the practice sessions, maybe Pinkie would actually get to see her there. “Sounds good. I’ll absolutely be here!”

With that topic firmly closed, Pinkie looked down at her drink and found she didn’t want it anymore. She handed it to Rainbow. “Want the rest of this?”

Rainbow took it, but wore a confused expression. “You not feeling good or something?”

Although she wasn’t sick, Pinkie decided it was still true in another sense. “Yeah, I… I think I’m gonna head home early tonight. I… probably just need some sleep.”

“Oh, uh, okay.” Rainbow took a drink of the beer Pinkie left her. “Well, it was cool seeing you. Hope you feel better.”

“Yeah. Thanks, Dashie.” Pinkie stood up and walked to the stairs. Rainbow must’ve chugged the drink, because on her way out, she heard the empty can land into the garbage.

Most of the lights were off in the house when Pinkie reached the top of the stairs. She walked out as quietly as she could, making sure the door was locked behind her.

The rain had picked up some more. It was starting to look like a thunderstorm might be around the corner. Pinkie didn’t pay much mind to that, however, practically shuffling to the minivan.

That was twice in one night that Pinkie had left her friends earlier than she planned. And for what? All she would do when she got home was be alone, and Pinkie hated being alone.

She checked her phone again when she got into her van. There were still no missed calls or messages. She wanted to reach out again, but she knew how she looked. So desperate to hear from her friends that she was constantly bothering them when what they needed was time to themselves.

She tossed the phone onto the passenger seat, refusing to be more of a pain than she already had been. She’d spent time with both Applejack and Rainbow, and she loved spending time with them. Why did she need more than that? Why couldn’t she just be happy?

Why wasn’t it good enough that her friends had told her Sunset and Fluttershy were fine? They had said the same thing – both of them were holding together as best they could under the circumstances. They would both be fine in time.

Did she not trust her friends? No, that wasn’t it. She did believe that both Applejack and Rainbow knew what they were talking about, and that Sunset and Fluttershy really would be okay. It was just…

It was just that Sunset had Applejack, and Fluttershy had Rainbow. While they had all been friends since high school, each of them also had their best friend that they’d known for even longer, someone they could always turn to. Sunset and Applejack, Fluttershy and Rainbow.

And what about Pinkie? Back in high school, they had been one big group. But since then, it felt more and more like they were separating, even among the friends who stayed in town. And as everyone partnered up, Pinkie was just… there. One piece, disconnected from the rest of the puzzle.

Against her better judgement, Pinkie picked up her phone again. But she didn’t try to make a call or send a text. She just turned on the screen and looked at the background.

It had been hard to get it all in one shot. But with Rarity and Twilight visiting at the same time, how could they not take a group picture together?

Fluttershy stood in the middle, Sunset beside her. Her hand rested protectively around Fluttershy’s stomach as they scrunched together to fit everyone in. Rainbow stood on Fluttershy’s other side, one hand around her shoulders, the other in the devil horns sign. Applejack was next to Sunset, and she’d dropped her hat onto Sunset’s head for the picture. Twilight and Rarity both kneeled in front, Twilight looking a little unsure of what she should be doing, Rarity holding her arms out as if she were showing off her beloved friends to the world.

And Pinkie? Pinkie had been there too. She was standing behind the camera, making sure everyone else was in their perfect place for the perfect photo.