Strawberry and Rocky entered the room together, Katie looked up from the drawing in front of her. “What’s so funny?” She asked, smiling a little at the happiness around her. The girl might not have admitted it but drawing had lifted her spirits. Having something to focus on other than the situation at hand did her good. Around the couch were several sheets of paper each one containing a drawing in crayon. The works of art were not masterpieces but showed clear potential. One was of Rocky in a chair reading, the other was of the room itself, the third was of a flower which was sitting by the window, the fourth and final drawing was in the lap of the girl half finished.
Rocky dropped the saddle bags sitting his massive self back down in the chair, “Oh nothing, just silliness.” He replied, again waving his hoof as if this dismissed the topic.
Strawberry sat down on the couch right beside Katie being careful not to crush her drawings. “Your silliness,” she replied smiling and taking a drink of the cider in her hoof.
Katie watched quietly aware her question went unanswered. Rocky and Strawberry started talking about town ponies, and laughed about common history. The girl was suddenly filled with a sense of unreality as she sat there and neither pony seemed to care she was listening and watching. Soon she grew a bit tired of anecdotes she did not understand and went back to working on her drawing.
The conversation got serious, Katie could tell from the change in tone, her attention snapped away from what she was doing and focused entirely on Strawberry. The pink mare started talking about all the ponies that saw and felt things in the cafe, how they came to her looking for help. Telling Rocky about her frustration and exhaustion dealing with the ungrounded suspicion and fear, her annoyance at being accosted trying to get home. The implications of these words, what Rocky had said to her earlier, and Strawberry's curiosity about her experience at the cafe hit her like a punch to the gut.
“What everyone there! Everyone saw my life!” Katie exclaimed in realization interrupting Strawberry mid sentence. It was too much, being naked all day, meeting Rocky, the colours all around, and suddenly hearing everyone in that room could know things about her set the tiny human into a state. Feeling terrified and so exposed she actually dove under the throw blanket to hide. She could not stop shaking, the idea of so many ponies seeing her life and history, it made her want to disappear.
Strawberry and Rocky both looked at the small lump under the throw. Strawberry let out a large breath, she put down her cider and gently rested a hoof on the girl drawing circles as if she could provide some comfort.
"I should go." Rocky declared sensing it would be best to leave the two alone. He got out of the chair walked towards the couch and nuzzled Strawberry. “You take care of yourself Straws, remember you can't help everypony. Is it ok if I take this?" He asked, gesturing to the picture of himself that Katie drew. "Going to put it up over the bar. Not everyday you get to see yourself though the eyes of a non pony,” Strawberry gave a positive nod.
Rocky White tried to say goodbye to the little human on the couch but she refused to speak or move under the blanket. The stallion shook his head in understanding, picked up the picture, gave Strawberry a wink, and left the house heading for the cafe. Strawberry continued to sit and stroke the girl through the soft blanket thinking. Looking down at the bottom of the couch she saw a half finished crayon drawing of what was clearly a mountain range landscape. Though it was recognizable as a landscape it was not one Strawberry was familiar with, it was most likely from the girls home, wherever that was. The mare didn't realize until this very moment how much taking the human to the Cafe Harmony had hurt her. The human girl did not understand anything about harmony, magic, or the freedom in these things. Katie saw it as threatening, dangerous, and the exact opposite of healing. This realization made Strawberry feel more guilty for her error in judgement, she knew Katie had forgiven her, but that was before she understood the full implication of it all. All she could do was hope the girl would truly forgive her and learn to trust her again.
It was getting close to evening, Katie had refused to move out of her self induced isolation and had become essentially part of the furniture. Strawberry did not bother the girl, didn't force conversation on her, instead she did what she did most days, work on her correspondence with ponies all over Equestria. She was not a famous pony, but she was well known in certain circles related to her talent. Most of her bits came by way of her correspondence and letter exchanges, these had increased ten fold since the arrival of the little human, but it was still within her capacity to deal with. This arrangement allowed her to work in Hay River free of charge enjoying the process. Strawberry Dusk had found a harmony that worked for her, that is until Katie's arrival had forced the mare to drastically adjust. But Strawberry was a resilient pony, capable of much, this, though trying to the mare was not beyond her ability to cope.
The kitchen was filled with the sounds of meal prep, a pot of water on an element heating, pasta nearby, measured and ready. Strawberry busily moved to and fro prepping chopping and measuring using her mouth, she was making two meals one for herself with hay and one for the human without. The plan of action was simple, Katie has to eat sometime, make dinner, place it out on the table and coax her out to eat and talk. Strawberry had brought this human food everyday she had been here, it was something simple, something the girl could see as relatively safe. Or at lease that is what the pink earth pony hoped for.
Sounds of domestic chores around the house came muffled through the blanket Katie hid under. For a quite a long time the girl had imagined those noises as belonging to her home, closing her eyes she would think that beyond the large blanket that smelled of vanilla would be a familiar house, a familiar home. Katie never lifted the blanket forcing her imagination to construct the escape for as long as she could. As time went on the escape became less and less satisfying, little noises like clopping of hooves, or certain smells would intrude on her consciousness. Her muscles began to ache and her stomach grumbled in protest. She began to smell food wafting into the room from the kitchen.
Strawberry had just finished setting the table and dishing out food, she turned to get Katie when in the door frame stood the small creature. Lots of brown hair and a tiny head poking out of a vast comforter covering her whole body and trailing a meter or so behind her.
"You're up," Strawberry said with calm, as if the girl had just woken up from a nap. "You're just in time for dinner." she added with a gesture. Katie began to shuffle into the kitchen she looked very drowsy and even though she had spent the day on the couch there was signs of exhaustion. Strawberry cringed as the girl walked in with the blanket, that blanket was her mothers and the mare did not want it ruined. She was not sure how to say it politely so she just said it, "Um Katie could you leave the blanket in the living room, my mother made it and I don't want it ruined by getting food on it." The girl froze on the spot and looked down at the blanket and back up to the mare as if she didn't really know what to do. Strawberry watched as the girl seemed to sink in on herself.
"Umm.. I'm sorry... I'll put it back," she sniffled "and I'll go...." Katie added turning to leave the kitchen.
"Go?" Strawberry asked in bewilderment. She trotted with haste to get in front of the human. "Where are you going?"
The girl didn't reply she just kept walking, stopping at the couch she pulled the blanket off and folded it neatly. "Katie," Strawberry prodded again, "where are you going? it's cold and dark out, you have no clothes and you haven't eaten all day. I just made us dinner."
Again the tiny human didn't reply, she just stood there shivering and began moving towards the door. Strawberry was suddenly filled with a cocktail of panic, anger, annoyance, and concern. The filly was acting like a spoiled foal, and this frustration and annoyance built in Strawberry and it lead her to do something she had not done in a long time, she raised her voice.
To Strawberry's and Katie's astonishment the girl stopped suddenly.
"YOU COME BACK HERE, YOU PARK YOUR FLANK ON THAT COUCH AND TALK TO ME!"
To the mare's surprise the girl did exactly that, she turned on the spot walked back towards her and sat on the couch looking almost as shocked at her own behaviour. Strawberry came up to the couch and laid down, her hind legs were tucked up and forelegs out in front of her, she was intentionally getting down to the girls height.
Katie was vaguely aware of the pressures in the air, a bit like the cafe, it was thicker in one direction then the other. She choose to stop and turn around but it felt easier to do that then to walk away. Kind of like swimming with the current opposed to against it. Strawberry's anger and yelling had scared the girl more than she'd personally admit. The mare lay in front of her taking up her whole field of vision, Katie realized Strawberry had positioned her body so she could not go anywhere. They both sat there facing each other. Katie looked into the enormous eyes, so bright green, and so gentle.
"What's going on?” Strawberry asked quietly.
“Nothing,” the human replied quickly looking away.
“Now sweet tart I know that’s not true.” The mare gently moved closer with her muzzle. The girl tried to shy away from it. Slowly Strawberry nudged the girl using her muzzle so her head was facing forward again. Strawberry had made a decision the moment she raised her voice. It was to deal with this girl at this moment as if she were a foal. It was an intuitive judgement based on her experience, her understanding of other ponies, and her knowledge about the cutie mark magic running through the girl.“Did my asking you to put the blanket away upset you?”
“I.....yes.....no....” Katie stammered. Trying to find her feelings though a storm inside. Tears were falling and she didn’t really know why. She was crying without sobbing. “I just don’t want to be a bother to anyone. I’m not a kid, I’m an adult I shouldn’t be burdening anyone, especially someone as kind as you Strawberry,” she added as little sobs began. Everything seemed to blur, as the small sobs turned into outright crying.
Katie was scared, back in earth she never cried, feelings were things you deal with alone, on the inside. This world was changing her, she felt totally out of control. This made her feel more guilt about depending on Strawberry. She could not stop, it was the cafe all over again.
The pink mare got up from the floor trotted quickly to her saddle bags pulled out a random outfit. This level of raw feeling distressed even Strawberry who was having a crisis of her own, will getting her dressed help? Strawberry knew that the the way the outfits were built she’d have to dress the little human. She just wasn’t sure if that would help. In the end she continued down the path of treating the little human like a foal.
Katie was trying to bring her consciousness out of the back seat it had been thrust into. A voice broke through the chaos.
“Stand up sweet tart.” It was Strawberry’s kind delicate voice. Katie stood up, her body was responding not her mind. “Good filly, now give me your hind leg.... the other please,” each instruction was followed meekly. For Katie each leg felt like it had been lowered into warm water as the soft warm garment encased it.
"You're doing great love, good job, now your foreleg..... the other goes right in there, and we're almost done." The mare's voice was high and sweet as she dressed the human using her mouth to guide the garment onto her. Once all the girls limbs were in each hole Strawberry used her mouth to close up the back. The seal required her to bite it with strength, it was designed to lock at a certain pressure. This was so the foals wouldn't wiggle out of them when being carried by the handle sewn in the back. Once that was done Katie simply sat on the ground whimpering indecipherable things.
The air pressure around her lifting, Katie felt the jags of crying slowly drifting away. Her awareness was coming back to a place were she could exert some control. Strawberry's voice was like a light in the darkness, her stream of talking kept the girl aware. Suddenly her body jerked upward, she had grabbed the handle on the clothing and lifted the girl up off the ground. Strawberry carried the little human out of the living room and into the kitchen where the dinner still rested on the table somewhat cool. She gently set the human down at the table, trotting around to the other side she sat down took a breath, "Alright, lets eat before it gets really cold."