Back to School

by Coyote de La Mancha

Chapter Four: After Classes.

Mercifully, Sunrise’s hoof had proved to only be bruised. Just the same, it hurt like blazes. Sunrise had treated it very gingerly the rest of the day, even after Cheerilee had put a poultice and bandages on it.
After taking Sunrise to a private room. And, um… and paring her hoof.
Which was weird, though the teacher hadn’t made a big deal out of it.
Oh, Sunrise, you’ve got a hurt foot, Sunrise had thought frantically during the teacher’s ministrations. It looks bruised. Here, let me give you a pedicure and a fucking foot massage before rubbing in this medicinal goo I’ve got…!
Sunrise had tried to stay chill. This was obviously a chill pony situation, and she had been determined to be the chillest pony around. Every possible chillness faculty within her psyche was just blazing away, inundating every wrinkle in her brain with pure hundred-percent chillness, accept no substitutes. But just the same, she was pretty sure her eyes had been the size of dinner plates the entire time.
The students, meanwhile, had seemed able to hash things out amongst themselves. At least, for the most part. Snips, Snails, and a few others had apologized to Diamond Tiara when she’d returned. And she had accepted their apology, apologizing in turn for old wounds she’d caused for probably not the first time. Still, Sunrise had a feeling that the underlying problem had yet to be resolved.
When second recess had come round, Cheerilee had gone outside with the foals, and Sunrise had gratefully stayed in, resting her injured hoof on a desk, contemplating her own mistakes. But to her surprise, the teacher had come in just a few minutes early, to brief Sunrise on the next major topic of class discussion.
Apparently, each year the class put on - or participated in - a different competition or performance, depending on what was available in the school budget. And based on what was anticipated this year, Cheerilee was hoping to put on a school play.
Which, in Sunrise’s estimation, had been the most awesome thing she’d heard all day. The two of them had paused in their delighted discussion of the possibilities only long enough to bring the students in, and allow them to be part of the discussion. Possibilities had been excitedly tossed about regarding when and where they might perform, how the stage might be constructed, how they might do sets and lighting and costumes, and even the possibility of performing before royalty – though, of course, the students had quickly admitted that any princesses other than Twilight would be far too busy to watch a school play.
Inwardly, Sunrise had made a mental note to ask if that would actually be the case. She had a sneaking feeling that, not only would Celestia and Luna be overjoyed to be invited, but that their personal assistant would happily make whatever schedule arrangements were needed. Sunrise hadn’t really gotten to talk with Raven before, but she’d suspected that the – major domo, wasn’t it? – would distinctly be on her side on this.
Sunrise had expected that the students would be allowed to choose a play, or vote on several possibilities, or something similar. Instead, Cheerilee had just said that the play would be announced in a few days, so that everypony could start thinking about things in more detail. For a moment, Sunrise had been a little surprised, not only at Cheerilee making the choice for them but at none of the students minding, or even seeming surprised. None of them had even made a suggestion as to what the play should be. But then she’d remembered, nodding silently to herself.
Right, not living in a democracy, here.
But that had all been hours ago. Now, the last period was finished, and class had been dismissed. Sunrise watched out the classroom window as the last of the students trotted away, some hurrying home, others happily meandering with friends. Only she and Miss Cheerilee remained.
Eyes closed, she did her best to ready herself for the day’s assessment. There really wasn’t any sense in putting this off. But somehow, saying something like ‘How’d I do?’ just seemed stupid. She knew how she’d done, after all.
Still, she had to say something.
“Hey, Cheerilee?” she managed at last.
“Was this… would you call this a normal day?” she asked without turning around.
Cheerilee frowned in mock-puzzlement as she wrote. “Normal? Hm. A strange word. What’s it mean?”
Then, looking up, she saw her assistant’s slumped shoulders, her sadness reflected in the windowpane.
The younger mare sighed.
“I am so, so sorry,” she said quietly. “I don’t even have words.”
Cheerilee’s frown became more genuine. “Sorry? What for?”
“The whole recess thing. You left me in charge, and the next thing you know I’ve got four students running through the woods into who knows what kind of danger. When I think of what could have happened…”
Rising from her chair, Cheerilee walked over to where the younger mare stood, still staring outside.
“I’m sorry, too, then,” she said. “Princess Twilight had mentioned that you came from a land with different kinds of threats than this one. I just didn’t think how that might have affected you perceptions of… well, everything, I suppose.”
Sunrise glanced at her. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that the woods near the schoolhouse may have the occasional wild animal, but it’s hardly the Everfree. Really, even the outskirts of the Everfree aren’t quite the Everfree anymore. Even the bears tend to be well-mannered these days. So, I hope it helps if I tell you that the foals were never in any physical danger.”
As Sunrise turned to look at her, Cheerilee gave a teasing glance down at Sunrise’s bandaged hoof, adding, “Well, no more danger than you found for yourself, at any rate.”
She waited a second as relief washed over the other mare before continuing, “The main danger was to their hearts, especially Diamond Tiara. And I don’t know what you said to her, but she came back in much better shape than I’d expected, even with her friends with her.”
Sunrise’s shoulders sagged a little more, and this time she relaxed a little. She even managed a smile as she said, “Yeah, well, she’s a great kid. Foal,” she corrected herself. “She’s a great foal.”
Cheerilee smiled.
“I don’t think that ‘kids’ is considered improper anymore,” she said. “Some of the older ponies don’t like it, I guess, but in the years since we started trade with the Fauns in Barberini…”
Cheerilee’s voice trailed off as she considered for a moment. Then, cocking her head to one side, she asked, “Are you from somewhere near there? During your Q and A, you’d told the students you were from a place called ‘Alphabet City,’ but I know I’ve never heard of it.”
“Well, I’m really not sure how to best answer you,” Sunrise said cautiously. “Like I said in class, it’s far away enough that you won’t find it on any map here. And Twilight asked me not to go into detail about the magic involved until she’s had more time to study it.”
Cheerilee nodded. “And that’s fair, if a little disappointing. I’d love to know more about it. With a name like that, it must be quite the center of education—”
But Sunrise just laughed.
“Oh, man,” she managed. “Not even close!”
Her smile was rueful as she went on, “See, the streets there have signs, just like most neighborhoods. But a lot of times, when someone’d get a new weapon they wanted to show off, or they’d get mad or whatever, they’d break whatever’s around. And, for whatever reason, street signs were a favorite target. They’d rip off both sides of the sign, and all that was left would be the letter in the middle, nailed to the signpost.
“After a while, the powers-that-be got tired of replacing them, and just left them alone. So you wouldn’t be at the corner of Scarborough and Asimov, for example, you’d be at O and M.”
Cheerilee nodded slowly, eyes wide. “Hence, Alphabet City,” she said.
“Yeah. That’s not the official name of the place or anything. But that’s what we all called it.”
Cheerilee swallowed. “That sounds… horrible. I can’t imagine living in an environment of such constant violence. I’m so sorry to bring that back for you.”
“Nah, there are worse things.”
As the two of them headed back towards Cheerilee’s desk, Sunrise smiled.
“Besides, life’s been pretty good to me lately” she said. “I’m in Ponyville now. I’ve got friends now, and even a marefriend. And today I got to work with the foals, which was awesome, by the way… I really can’t complain.
“Besides, don’t you live in Ponyville?” she added with a wink. “As in, misadventure capital of Equestria?”
Cheerilee stared for a moment, then started to laugh, with Sunrise joining in.
“You know, I never really thought about it that way” the teacher admitted. “I always feel safe here, of course. Even when there’s an emergency, there’s Princess Twilight and the rest of the Elements. Mayor Mare keeps everything together, and Canterlot isn’t that far away. But thinking on it, life here the past few years has been rather…”
“…Eventful?” Sunrise suggested.
Cheerilee chuckled. “Yes. I think ‘eventful’ sums it up nicely. I guess if you live with something, it always seems normal.”
Sunrise’s smile faded, and she looked away again with a sigh.
“Yeah,” she said.
For a moment, silence hung between them both, and Cheerilee frowned a little in concern.
But then Sunrise faced her again with a forced smile, asking, “So, what else did you want to talk about?”
“Oh! Yes. Well,” Cheerilee said hastily, clearing her throat. “Heh-hem! Well, I’d wanted to talk to you about the play this year. I’ve been thinking it over since our last discussion, and having seen you in action with the students I think you’d make a fine director…”
“Yes!” Sunrise leaped into the air, pumping her hoof as she did.
“…especially considering your obvious passion for the arts…”
The young unicorn covered her mouth, blushing slightly. “Oops.”
But Cheerilee only grinned as she sat down.
“…which I think could only benefit you and our students,” she finished. “You have most of the knowledge you need, and your instincts are good. Mostly, I think you just need experience, and the confidence it brings. And it just so happens that directing school plays is an excellent way for you to get both.
“So, the main question becomes, do you have any ideas about what play you’d like to direct?”
Sunrise tried and failed to suppress her own grin as she sat down across from Cheerilee.
“Actually, yeah,” she said. “I know it’s a little advanced, but I think they can handle it. I’d like to put on Journey to Sorrow’s End.”
Cheerilee cocked her head, considering. “From the Tribe Quest cycle? Hm. Well, I can’t say you don’t have ambition. But don’t you think the themes are a bit… adult?”
Sunrise blinked. “Oh. Um. Are they?”
“Well, the two tribes are ultimately joined through marriage, but only after the unicorn and earth pony in question… well…”
“Oh,” Sunrise said, considering the matter. “Wwwelllll, it’s not like anything’s shown… but I guess we could just cut out the scene with the rocks. We’ll lose the symmetry of the ‘watching the sun rise’ line, but… hm.”
After a moment, she shrugged. “Or, the characters could be there holding hooves instead, as a symbol of their new relationship. That could be a great way to end the act, actually. Both of them with her father, facing upstage, with the sun rising in the background.”
“And the herding reference?” Cheerilee asked, eyebrow raised.
Sunrise stared at her, completely lost. “I’m sorry, the what?”
“In the final act, when the Mother of Memory sends her spirit-form to talk to Blackmane while he’s on his way into his self-imposed exile…”
“Oh, yeah,” Sunrise nodded, remembering. “She says something like, ‘Though it is not common practice, there are those in the village who have taken more than one spouse. Is it unthinkable that you and she and Cutter might…?’”
Cheerilee nodded as well. “And to many of our parents, yes, that solution to the story’s love triangle really would be unthinkable.”
Sunrise considered the matter for a moment, then shrugged. “Well, it’s not like the line’s central to the plot or anything. We can cut that, too, I guess.”
Cheerilee nodded. “I’ll back you up on anything I can, especially dealing with artistic merit. But you’ll have to be ready to make concessions, too. Those two are the most obvious, I think.”
“Yeah, well. As long as we’re not gutting the story, I think it’ll be fine.”
“Good. Then we’re in agreement.” Standing, Cheerilee put her pen aside and started to move around the desk to face Sunrise properly.
“I know we haven’t talked about your employment after today,” she went on, “so maybe I was putting the cart before the team just now. But…” Cheerilee’s voice trailed off as her gaze caught something over Sunrise’s shoulder, and she finished with a simple, “Oh, dear.”
In the doorway stood an earth mare Sunrise didn’t recognize: a pink-coated mare, with two-tone purple mane and tail. Her sneer seemed habitual, and Diamond Tiara sorrowfully stood in her shadow, making their familial relationship clear. The mare’s necklace and earrings were obviously pure gold, well-engraved and heavy. Her cutie mark, a wedding ring with an oversized diamond.
“Cheerilee,” the strange mare sniffed disdainfully. “I thought we’d have a word.”