Stay Seventeen

by nagoluckywriting


Unfinished Business

The knocking at the door continued, but Photo didn't bother to answer it, because she knew who was behind it. Knew that she didn't want to talk to him. That jerk, she thought to herself. But she would have to leave eventually, because bird watching or whatever was beginning in less than fifteen minutes.

Photo got off the bed and saw the face in the window, muzzle pressed against the glass. She jumped back before quickly closing the shutters. From outside, the intercom blared. "Attention campers, please meet in the center of the campgrounds to pick up a pair of binoculars. The hike towards the sighting area will begin in ten minutes." She sighed. She had no choice now but to leave.

She hadn't even set one foot out of the door when Blueblood came around the corner of the building and started to yell at her.

"You spit coffee all over my coat! I have to wash in the showers here! The showers!" He added emphasis to the word "showers", as if the showers at they were disgusting, which, they probably were. Photo hadn't been in the mares' showers yet, on account of being distracted the previous night.

By the time Photo saw what was in Blueblood's right hoof, it was too late. Cold coffee splashed across her face, and Photo was forced to close her eyes. "What the hay?" she said.

"How do you like it, huh?" Then Blueblood started laughing. "Having a cup of pedestrian coffee being dumped all over you?"

Photo took a moment to collect herself, then walked calmly towards the center of camp, where the blue mare who delivered cabin assignments yesterday was handing out pairs of black binoculars with the same, bored look on her face. She passed Blueblood without looking at him.

"Ignoring me huh? Ignoring a member of royalty? How disrespectful."

Photo smiled. The blue mare outstretched a hoof, offering Photo a pair of binoculars. They weren't much, just two lenses and two plastic tubes connected by a thin hinge. Photo took them. The mare procured another pair, which was immediately taken by Blueblood, who had followed Photo Finish.

"I should have expected as much though, from common ponies such as yourself," said Blueblood, looking through his binoculars.

"Oh and you're such a rarity. A real gem," Photo said sardonically.

"If it were up to me, I wouldn't even be here right now. I'd be on my estate, where the coffee is good and I don't have to share a room with a stallion who snores like a wild beast."

"I feel bad for you, truly," began Photo. The two of them were walking towards the sign that marked the entrance to the camp, where a large group of ponies had amassed, most of them holding black binoculars.

"I do hope this makes my parents happy," said Blueblood, gritting his teeth. "Because being here sure doesn't bring me any happiness." He looked down, and for a moment, Photo glimpsed genuine sadness in his eyes. The expression faded quickly, replaced with the judgmental smirk again.

Berryshine waved at Photo Finish, and, seeing no reason to stay with the rude white stallion, she made her way over to her. But as she began the hike with Berryshine and the others, she looked back at Blueblood. She wanted to see what he did. Other ponies recoiled, unwilling to interact with him. Photo assumed that many ponies at camp were now aware of his demeanor.

"Isn't this exciting?" said Berryshine, looking out of her binoculars at the sky.

"Yeah," replied Photo Finish absentmindedly.

"Be careful!" said an yellow mare with an orange curly mane, pushing the binoculars away from Berryshine's face. "Do you want to go blind?" She looked at Photo Finish. "You must be Photo Finish. My name is Golden Harvest." She stuck out a hoof, and Photo shook it. Berryshine was still occupied with the cheap binoculars.

"So... what do you do for fun?" asked Golden Harvest.

"I like to take photos." She instinctively reached for her camera, and felt nothing.

"Oh. Are you going to take pictures of the birds today?" Golden Harvest was in front of Photo, and couldn't see that Photo didn't have a camera with her.

"I left my camera in my cabin," Photo murmured, her head down.

"I see. You don't want to be distracted," said Berryshine, who had let go of the binoculars. She winked at Photo Finish.

Together, the three mares followed one of the camp counselors, a lanky tan unicorn who demanded he be called Joe. Photo wasn't sure whether that was a nickname or not. She could see his horn peeking out from behind a layer of shaggy, brown hair. Now that Photo thought about it, there weren't many unicorns at the camp. She looked back at Blueblood, who trotted alone, looking anywhere but straight ahead.

The hike to the hill was short. "We have arrived," announced Joe in his best attempt at an authoritative masculine voice. Everypony spoke over him. Some even continued walking, not realizing that they had reached the end of the hike. Joe moved to stop them. Berryshine held the binoculars up to her face again. "Uh, the trees are that way," said Golden Harvest.

"Oh, I know," replied Berryshine with a lopsided smile.

Photo looked at the trees before her. Even without the binoculars, she could see the birds darting in and out of the trees. Birds of all different colors, shapes and sizes blurring together, paint on a canvas. She again felt the emptiness around her waist, where the strap that held her camera normally was. She put the binoculars to her eyes, and continued to peer at the trees on the hill.

Photo focused on a bird's nest, halfway up a large pine tree. A mother bird skittered around, feeding young birds who bobbed up and down eagerly. Somehow, the bird reminded her of her own mother. Her own mother, who worked tirelessly to make sure that all of her children were happy. Just her mother and nobody else.

Golden Harvest seemed to have noticed the bird's nest too, her binoculars aimed in the same direction. When Photo removed the binoculars from her face, she could see that the crowd had scattered, groups of ponies dotting the hillside around her. Some actively watched birds while others just chatted.

Then she noticed Blueblood, who was walking around aimlessly, sometimes looking at the trees, sometimes looking at the ground. Joe brushed past Photo Finish and the other mares, headed towards Blueblood. He muttered something, but the only words Photo Finish heard clearly was "my job".

She pressed the binoculars to her face again, pointing them at Joe, who was now engaged in a conversation with Prince Blueblood. Joe reached out a hoof awkwardly, and wrapped it around Blueblood. Photo wished she had the ability to read lips. It was difficult to discern the nature of the exchange taking place, because neither stallion showed any vivid expression. Their mouths just moved. It was like watching two cardboard cutouts.

A hoof tapped her shoulder. "Hey," Golden Harvest said. "I'm pretty sure I spotted an eagle! It's in this direction, near the tops of the trees." Sure enough, far in the distance, an eagle sat perched in a tree, it's large body curving majestically.

"Now that's awesome!" Berryshine exclaimed, looking at the eagle. For a moment, the three mares gazed at the eagle, far away, unreachable with anything but their eyes. Photo wished she had her camera more than ever. The eagle cocked its head, looking at the ponies below, before taking off in the opposite direction, its massive wings spanning nearly the entire length of the binocular lenses.

"Pretty cool, huh?" a voice from behind them said. Joe had returned from his conversation with Blueblood. "You don't see eagles around here all that often. They tend to prefer the trees near Canterlot. My family lives there." The mares stared at him, and he looked down at the grass sheepishly. "Anyways, just wanted to check in with you, and make sure everything's alright." They all nodded. "Uh... great, I guess! I'll be around if you need anything from me or have questions about the birds. We're going to head back to camp for lunch soon. I'll call everypony when it's time." He started slowly towards another group of ponies, then sped up as he realized that a pegasus was holding an earth pony high in the air.

Berryshine and Golden Harvest laughed at the earth pony, legs dangling in the open air. Joe was shouting. Meanwhile, Photo looked for Blueblood in the hills.

She could see him, still alone, standing near another group of stallions who had their backs turned. The earth pony had come down, and Joe gave him and the pegasus a strong lecture about safety, and about how it was his job to protect the campers. Photo wondered what it would be like to be a pegasus. To fly amongst the clouds. She imagined the photographs she would be able to take from a bird's eye view, out of reach.

"Let's head back," said Joe, beginning to head in the direction of camp. His voice lacked the energy it had when they had arrived at the hill. Together, Photo Finish, Berryshine, and Golden Harvest followed him.


Warm shades of orange interspersed the cool darkness of the campgrounds. Photo had her camera out, taking photos of the campfire in front of her, feeling the heat from the flames against her body. Most of the other ponies retreated to their cabins, exhausted after a long day, but not Photo Finish. It was nice, being out under the night sky. Alone.

"Hey," said a voice. Not alone. Photo could see only his silhouette. She considered going inside to avoid what would surely be another annoying conversation with someone who looked down on her. Blueblood stepped forward, his face glowing in the light of the fire.

"You run out of people to mock?" asked Photo Finish.

Blueblood laughed. A sharp laugh. So sharp that it sounded pained. "Maybe I have."

"And now you're here, because I'm the only pony still awake. What time is it anyways?"

"I don't know. Midnight, maybe?"

"The showers were just as bad as I imagined, by the way." Blueblood turned his body and sat next to Photo Finish. "The water was cold, the water pressure was low, and the drain, the drain was—" He gagged. Pretended to gag? Photo wasn't sure. Either way, she was glad that he didn't finish the sentence, because that was a visual image that she wasn't sure she needed.

"What did you expect?"

"I know, I know. At least I was able to wash my mane with organic shampoo. I brought a bottle with me. Can you believe that most of the ponies here don't use shampoo for their manes?"

"I don't use shampoo." Photo said dryly. "Is there a point to this? Otherwise, I'm going to head in for the night."

Blueblood was quiet for a moment. He stared at the fire intently. "I want to apologize."

"For what? Being a jerk?"

"Uh... I guess?"

"You guess?"

"I don't know."

Photo said nothing.

He sighed. "This was stupid."

"What?"

"Letting my parents talk me in to coming here. It was stupid." Photo turned to look at him, at his face, unreadable. His eyes were directed towards the fire, but where they should have been glowing, they seemed overwhelmingly empty. "The thing is, I could have said no, and they would have let me stay in Canterlot. I could be sleeping in my own room right now, on the finest mattress in Equestria. But I'm here."

"So why'd you choose to come to this camp then?" asked Photo. Blueblood didn't notice that Photo's gaze was focused on him.

"This is... This is going to sound pathetic, and I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I wanted to come here."

"What's so pathetic about that?"

"I just wanted to feel normal. Everypony in Canterlot caters to my every whim because I'm a prince. Celestia forbid I become upset."

"Must be nice," mumbled Photo Finish.

"Listen, I know I don't know how to associate with other ponies, and that what I said this morning was rude, but that's all I know."

"That's your excuse? Now that's pathetic."

"I feel like I'm not explaining this well."

"You aren't."

"I guess I'm just... afraid. What if I share my true self with everypony, and they don't like me?"

"Then they don't like you. Big deal. That's how it works here. Some people like you, some people don't. Is it really better to hide beneath your mean attitude?"

Blueblood put a hoof to his chin, seeming to consider the thought. He stayed quiet for a long time. Photo Finish looked at him, and thought about taking his picture. In this moment, he seemed more real. She wondered if he would even notice that she did.

"I'm going to bed," said Photo Finish finally.

"Good night," replied Blueblood, unmoving. That was the nicest thing he'd said to her, probably anypony, since Photo had arrived at camp.


A few days passed. Photo still looked for Blueblood occasionally. Despite his demeanor, he never seemed to be more than a wallflower, looking longingly at other ponies, but never interacting with them. They didn't seem interested in interacting with him either.

She spent a lot of time with Berryshine and Golden Harvest. Photo was growing to like both of them, which was odd considering how different their backgrounds were. Berryshine and Golden Harvest both grew up in farming families, out in the Ponyville countryside. Neither of them had ever even been to Canterlot. And meanwhile, Photo lived in a decent house in one of the richest cities in Equestria.

"You have to understand that ponies here don't like him because he's royalty," said Berryshine, stirring some milk and sugar into her coffee. She had caught Photo staring at Blueblood again. "Yeah, it doesn't help that he acts like a jerk, but I'm not sure that matters."

"Nobody in Ponyville likes the members of royalty?" Photo stared into her own cup of coffee, black.

"Celestia's the only one who gets any respect from us."

"Why?"

"Because she actually cares, y'know? Members of Canterlot's royalty, hay even ponies who just live in Canterlot, they're always judging Ponyville, ponies like me, ponies like Golden Harvest." She gestured to her left at the yellow mare, who was only half-awake. "Which is completely unfair, because who provides all the food to them?" Scoffing, she added. "I just hope they enjoy it."

Photo didn't have the heart to tell her about the way ponies behaved at many of the more esteemed restaurants of Canterlot, where food was often sent back only because it "didn't taste right". Where one carrot could feed one hundred customers, because tiny portion sizes were trendy. She looked at the apple in front of her, and wondered where it might have come from.

"Sweet Apple Acres," said Golden Harvest. "It's a great apple, right? Nothing less from the Apple family." Her words were slowed by morning sluggishness. Like Berryshine, she stirred some milk and sugar into her coffee.

"Anyways, I wonder who's going to be in my group for the scavenger hunt today," said Berryshine.

The activity for the day was a scavenger hunt, with the groups randomly assigned. Photo wasn't excited about it. If she wasn't excited about it, she imagined that Blueblood was having a mental breakdown. Spending half the day with ponies you don't know?

The intercom blared, and a voice informed the ponies in the dining hall that the scavenger hunt was beginning, and that all of them should report to the center of camp for assignments.

Photo, Berryshine, and Golden Harvest trotted outside, into the strong beams of sunlight. Photo felt the strap around her body. This time, she had her camera. Some ponies gathered in small clusters. Others were still waiting in line to get their number.

The unenthusiastic blue mare was the one doling out little sashes made of worn cloth, each with a number drawn in permanent marker. Photo Finish stepped forward from the line when it was her turn. Her sash bore the number six. She gently her head through the loop of fabric and let it rest across her shoulders.

The groups were gathered around labeled flags. Photo walked up to the one that matched her sash. She didn't know any of the ponies, but they all smiled at her. There were six of them in all. "We've got the list," one of them said, a blue stallion with a country accent. He handed it to Photo, and she skimmed its contents. The items she and her team were supposed to find were generic scavenger hunt items, save for the rubber chicken.

Seriously? Photo thought to herself. She returned the list to the stallion.

Suddenly, the ponies, who had been chatting, went silent. Blueblood approached the flag. Photo looked at his sash. Tried to find the number. Six. It was written in dark ink. Conversation resumed, though much quieter. Cold stares were directed towards the newcomer.

"What are the odds?" said Blueblood shrugging. "We're supposed to find items, right? Is there a list?" The stallion who held the list had turned his back to Blueblood. Photo tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around, she gestured towards the list, and he held it out to her again. She, in turn, handed it to Blueblood. His eyes scanned it for all of a second before he burst out laughing. "A rubber chicken? Seriously?" Everypony in the group just looked at him. Shook their heads.

Joe rang a small metal bell, and that was the signal for the campers to begin the scavenger hunt. All around her, ponies began to race frantically in different directions. Except for Blueblood. He walked.

"C'mon," said Photo Finish.

"I don't run," he replied.

The rest of group six looked back at them. It was a look that suggested they were prepared to leave Photo and Blueblood behind if they didn't hurry up.

The two of them moved quickly to catch up with their group. Together, they dashed along the soft earth, led by the stallion, looking for the first item on the list, a blue lantern. "I want to win the prize!" shouted the stallion. "Let's go!" Onwards they trotted, the early morning sun beating down on them.

The group found themselves running alongside a dense wall of trees. Photo slowed to peer into the darkness, and wondered for a moment if maybe the lantern was in the forest.

"Are you crazy? They'd never hide anything in the Everfree Forest. It's much to dangerous."

Photo recognized the name. Everfree Forest. It was likely discussed in her geography class in grade school. Whatever was said about it, she didn't remember. The camera dangled around her neck, begging her to take pictures of the forest and its secrets.

"You aren't seriously thinking of going in there," said Blueblood, looking towards their group, which grew more distant with each passing moment.

"Why not?"

"It's... There's monsters in there. Magical creatures that will eat you alive."

"You're not going to tell me what to do." Photo looked at the group, which she could barely see now, and walked underneath the dark canopy of trees. Without turning around she said, "Are you coming, or are you too scared?" She heard Blueblood shuffle behind her and smirked. Stallions hated to be called weak, and Blueblood was no exception.

A few minutes passed. A few more. The trees around them grew denser.

"You... you know the way out of here, right?" asked Blueblood, accidentally brushing against Photo Finish. Photo recoiled from his touch. She looked around. That tree seemed familiar. Kind of.

"Yeah, yeah," she reassured. She pointed a hoof to her left in an attempt to prove this to Blueblood. He followed, though even in the deep darkness, Photo could see the look of skepticism on his face. She gulped, hoping that this would lead them out of the Everfree Forest.

She heard a growl from behind her. "Y'know, I get it. The food isn't great. That doesn't mean you have to starve yourself."

"That wasn't my stomach," replied Blueblood.

Another growl, closer this time.

"I know you said you don't run, but we should probably—"

Blueblood dashed in front of her, a dark blur beneath the trees.