Once upon a time, I was bewailing my comparative lack of luck with the ladies, and a friend suggested that in the light of my, um, limited portfolio of virtues, I would be well advised to be somewhat less selective. “Beggars,” he’d said, “can’t be choosers, you know.” I reminded him that there were beggars all over town, standing in the middle of traffic islands, and that they weren’t about to approach a twenty-year-old rustbucket, even with the window down, if there’s a Mercedes in line. Sounded choosy enough to me. And anyway, I didn’t think I was that picky; a sweet smile and a decent pair of legs, I had said, would get my attention every time.
Which didn’t quite explain things on that Saturday morning, as I gathered up various power tools, landscape-operations division, and set about to catch up on the yard work before the sun baked everything to a crackly crunch. This was, I’d long ago figured, the only advantage of the searing summer heat: things thus baked simply don’t grow a whole lot. I surveyed the scene, pronounced it tolerable, and summoned from very recent memory a sweet smile and two decent pairs of legs while I unspooled yards and yards of electrical cord. It was just past ten in the morning, so I figured I had about an hour and a half to take care of this mess before Maximum Swelter Time kicked in.
I lead, I thought, a charmed life. Of course, there were minor irritations, punctuated every now and then with major irritations, but I really couldn’t complain: I had the house, I had the ridiculous twenty-thousand-bit metal carriage, I had (maybe) enough seniority at the salt mine to insure that I wasn’t going to be tossed into the street.
And I had Twilight, light of my life, sparkle of my soul, far away for the moment but soon to return. This wasn’t the easiest arrangement by any means, but it was livable. Things would work themselves out. If all we have is forty minutes, then we’ll make the best of those forty minutes.
Okay, thirty-seven minutes. Give or take a few seconds here and there. Things fluctuate, after all. “It’s not like she has this scheme tied to an atomic clock somewhere,” I thought.
Definitely the wrong thing to be thinking. Why the hay didn’t she have this scheme tied to an atomic clock somewhere? Surely she knew such things existed, and it’s not like she didn’t have a grounding in particle physics. “Librarian,” indeed. She could be teaching a class at MIT — the Manehattan Institute of Technology, anyway. I’d have to ask her about that one of these years. Like you’re so damned smart, said the voice in the back of my head.
Meanwhile, there was a holly that needed to be cut down to size, so I decided to introduce the shrub to Mr. Black and Mr. Decker. Having been warned a couple of times before by my physician, I pulled on a pair of ear protectors, which curiously looked almost exactly like my stereo headphones, sans cord, but which cost almost as much. Neither was exactly cheap. I hope Vinyl Scratch makes lots of bits, I thought, as the noise level increased to Barely Tolerable, just enough decibels to drown out everything else for fifty yards.
Including, unfortunately, the doorbell. I turned around just in time to see Twilight Sparkle materializing on the driveway. The holly suddenly didn’t seem so important anymore.
- = * = -
She was visibly worried. “Hurry, we haven’t much time!” she shouted as I shut down the din of the hedge clipper.
“The discontinuity. It’s sealing itself up. I don’t know how much longer I can keep it propped open. I tried to reinforce the spell by synchronizing it with an atomic time signal, but quantum effects kept canceling it out.”
So she did think of that. “How much time do we have?”
“Six or seven minutes, maybe. I’ll hold out as long as I can, but sooner or later the spell’s going to break. I’m trying not to move so I don’t disturb anything, and will you please come here and hold me?”
“I talked to Celestia,” she said. “If there’s ever a passage big enough for both of us, she wants me to bring you back to meet her. If anyone can persuade the Royal Medical Office to bend its rules, she can.” She smiled for a second, then turned serious again. “The trick is going to be finding another passage. There aren’t any more in this general area unless I’ve completely overlooked something.”
I shook my head. “You never overlook anything.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Twilight. “Ultimately, everything ends up random. What were the chances that I’d be standing here, far from home, holding on to a human and wishing I didn’t ever have to let go?”
“I think I’m going to cry,” I said. For once, one of my predictions was about to prove accurate.
“Are you okay with coming back to meet the Princess, whenever that may be?”
“I am,” I said. “To borrow a phrase, I can walk many miles, ride many trains, climb many mountains, and if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it’s going to be. I don’t even want to think about life without you.” Few things can speed along a decision quite as effectively as abject fear.
She shivered a little. The spell must be draining her, I thought. Her little backpack — I refuse to call it a “saddlebag” — opened up, and some sort of necklace rose out of it.
“I brought this for you. It’s a sliver of a tuned magical stone. It only works one way for now.” She hung the stone, encased in what looked like but almost certainly wasn’t Lucite, around my neck. “But if you ever want to talk to me, it’s there.”
“I have your email address, or at least I thought I did.”
Twilight grinned. “This is for more … immediate communication.”
Well, what do you know: it’s possible to smile through tears after all. “You mean if I yell into this little thing, you’ll hear it?”
She smiled. “You won’t have to yell.”
The shiver was more pronounced this time.
“And because I’ll regret it if I don’t —”
“Say no more,” she said, and nothing more was said. No, not even by the kid on the bicycle who stopped trying to sell newspaper subscriptions long enough to see the old man and the young unicorn engaged in what had to be one of the all-time great kisses.
At least, I thought it was.
She started to shimmer, then fade. “I will come back! I promise!”
And then she was gone.
- = * = -
One good thing about sweat: it does a passable, if not convincing, job of concealing tears. I packed up my tools, carried them back to the shed, then stood on the driveway for I don’t know how long, staring off into the distance.
“I love you, Twilight Sparkle,” I whispered. “And I always will.”
And as I turned to go back inside, the only cool breeze for a hundred miles around somehow found me and followed me to my door.