Tuesday arrived at Twilight's doorstep in a flash. Before she knew it, Friday became Saturday, Saturday became Sunday, and Sunday became Monday in a giant blur. But today was the big day, and as soon as the sun rose she jumped out of bed to make herself a hearty, balanced breakfast. She would have to keep her strength up if she didn't want to get in Applejack's way, and the last thing she wanted to be was a hindrance.
She hadn't really done much the past few days. Aside from studying and going a couple of errands, she mainly just rested up for her first big day at Sweet Apple Acres. Part of her could hardly wait to start working, and she wanted to impress Applejack with her energy and endurance. Even so, she knew there was another reason she'd been such a shut in. Every minute spent out of the library was a minute she ran the risk of dealing with Fluttershy. She'd have to talk to Fluttershy again at some point, but Twilight had enough on her plate at the moment. Whatever issues Fluttershy had would have to wait.
Twilight winced at her own thoughts. She knew her reasons for avoiding Fluttershy were weak, but she didn't want to hurt her friend even more. Whatever she had done a few nights ago was far from intentional, and Twilight knew better than to assume she wouldn't make things worse by trying to confront Fluttershy about it. She'd need to think about how to approach the situation first, and that kind of thing couldn't be rushed. A checklist, maybe, or, better yet, a flow chart. Before she could construct one of those, though, it was best to exercise caution.
Her inner turmoil might have taken a small fraction of the spring out of her step as she trotted to Sweet Apple Acres, but Twilight kept a grin on her face as she approached the farm. Today was the start of something new, and interesting, and fun! As soon as the apple orchards came into view, she could smell the scent of their sweet fruit in the air. As she let the heavenly smell wash over her, the chirping of nearby birds filled her ears. Twilight closed her eyes, her smile spreading ever wider as she fell into a deeper and deeper bliss.
"Howdy, Twi!" Her rapturous state interrupted, Twilight opened her eyes to look for Applejack, only to find the mare's orange face less than two feet away from her own. She yelped and jumped back, falling on her rump before grinning sheepishly. As she regained her footing, she lowered her eyes and turned her head to the side.
"Hey, Applejack," she replied in a low tone, blushing furiously. Her friend offered a hoof to help her up, and she accepted it with a smile. "I was, um, just enjoying the scenery."
Applejack stifled a laugh and came out with a less than graceful snort. She coughed and brought a hoof to her face in a vain attempt to cover the blush that rapidly spread across her cheeks. "Sorry, sugarcube. It sure is beautiful 'round here."
Twilight bobbed her head up and down. "It must be so great having this to enjoy while you work."
At that, Applejack felt no need to suppress her laughter. "There ain't much time for enjoying it if you're working hard enough. But yes, I wouldn't want to live anyplace else."
"I can't blame you." Twilight noticed that Applejack had a pair of full saddlebags on and asked, "Do you need any help with those?"
"I've got it," Applejack drawled, but Twilight chuckled and shook her head. A shimmering purple haze engulfed the bags before they lifted into the air. Twilight smirked as she glanced back at Applejack. Her smirk widened as she saw Applejack breathe a sigh even as she rolled her eyes.
"It's nothing, really," Twilight told Applejack curtly.
"Yeah, which is why I was dealing with it just fine," Applejack commented without missing a beat.
Twilight giggled before letting out a low whistle under her breath. "I'm the one who has to earn my keep here, Applejack. You have to give me every chance I can get."
"Twi, you're helping my family on the farm for no pay, just to learn. S'long as you don't break nothing, you'll be more than good in my book."
Twilight's cheeks exploded into a deep pink blush that quickly became rose red as she turned away from Applejack to hide it. "You're the one who's doing me a favor."
"How about we both agree to be thankful and just leave it there?" Applejack drawled. Seeing Twilight nod and giggle, she smiled back and said, "Great. Let's get going to the carrot field, then."
It turned out that the two weren't far from the field they would be planting, and there was only room for the most basic small talk before they reached their destination.
Once the field came in view, Twilight immediately slowed down and glanced back at Applejack. She furrowed her brow as she gazed at a field that was already plowed in neat, parallel lines.
"I thought you said we were just starting the planting process today." Twilight tried to keep the complaint out of her voice, but the effort proved futile.
Applejack rubbed the back of her neck and offered up a toothy grin. "I did," she admitted, "and we are. It's just, well, plowing is a mighty difficult job, and Big Mac and I thought we'd take care of it just this once so you could ease into things a bit more."
Twilight blew a large, forceful sigh, easing the saddlebags slowly onto the ground. Glaring at each and every rut, she said, "Is there anything I can do to touch things up?" After a moment, her eye caught on something, and her ears perked up immediately. "Aha!"
"Um… What is it, Twi?" Applejack asked.
The unicorn thrust a hoof at the last furrow on the right. "Look at that line, right there! See!" She smirked and peeked back at Applejack's tilted head. "It's crooked, Applejack."
Applejack trotted up to the trench and, sure enough, Twilight was right. Toward the end of the line—for maybe the last five paces—the line became slightly jagged. This time, Applejack made a point of rolling her eyes in full view of her friend.
"It ain't even a big deal, Twi," she insisted, stomping a hoof on the ground. "You've just got to—"
Before Applejack could finish her sentence, a purple haze engulfed the entire furrow and pulled the dirt in on itself, filling the trench like it had never existed. Applejack jumped back a step and grit her teeth. "Consarnit, Twilight! Why'd you do that?"
"I hope there's a plow nearby," Twilight said to herself, smirking at Applejack. "I'd like to try this the old-fashioned way."
What felt like Applejack's thousandth sigh of the day deteriorated into a begrudging laugh as she watched Twilight plant her hooves and pout. "We've got a shed over here," Applejack said, jerking her head in the direction of the small, worn building. "I think Mac left it there after he finished this morning."
Twilight's eyes twinkled and her teeth sparkled as she beamed at Applejack. "Thanks, Applejack."
Shaking her head, Applejack chuckled. "Only 'cause you twisted my leg, sugarcube."
Once Applejack got to the shed and threw open the door, Twilight started to levitate the plow out of the shed before her jaw went slack and she released her magical grip on the tool.
"You okay, Twi?" Applejack asked, frowning and taking a step forward.
Twilight nodded and bit her lip. "Absolutely, Applejack. I just realized that if I'm going to do this right, I should pull the plow on like you or Big Macintosh would: no magic required."
At last, it was time for Applejack to put her hoof down. "Alright, sugarcube, I'll let you plow that furrow—one furrow, mind you—but please, just magic it on over to the field. It's heavier than you think."
Not about to strain her friend's good humor, Twilight looked her in the eyes and nodded. The purple haze rematerialized around the plow, and it slowly made its way out of the shed before picking up speed and flying over to the beginning of the furrow.
It took only a few moments to trot back to the field, and once Twilight made some final adjustments to the position and orientation of the plow, she grunted and turned to Applejack. "So how do I hook myself into this?"
"Don't you remember your first Winter Wrap Up?" Applejack asked.
Twilight looked at the plow—it looked nothing like the canopied wagons used to clear snow, and something that looked like a harness hung in the air in front of the blade. "This is nothing like that!"
"Exactly, sugarcube. It's nowhere near as cushy," Applejack responded without skipping a beat. "You sure you want to do this?"
"I'm not taking no for an answer," Twilight insisted. She stomped a hoof and scowled. Walking up to the harness, she asked, "Can you help me figure this thing out, though?"
Once Twilight had herself properly situated in the plow's harness, she began to pull it down the field. For a good few moments, she worked and strained against the immutable force of friction, failing to win out against unforgiving physics. After a while, she took a moment to catch her breath, then started to pull again, dragging the plow a few inches forward at a dreadfully slow pace.
Content to let Twilight learn for herself the error of her ways, Applejack sat back and watched, grinning despite herself. I've got to admit, she's got a fantastic work ethic. Her eyes began to stray from Twilight's grimacing face to her straining shoulders down to something much more appealing to look at. And now that I think about it, she's got some pretty fine flanks, she added, blushing. She chuckled and shook her head, tugging her hat down to shade her face. Its true after all. I can see why Fluttershy's taken such a shine to her.
The thought reminded her of Fluttershy's visit a few days earlier, and Applejack hollered, "Hey, Twi! I forgot to ask. How'd dinner with Fluttershy go the other day?"
Twilight immediately stopped pushing and collapsed on the ground, out of breath. Applejack rushed toward her friend, eyes widening, but Twilight waved her off with a hoof. "I'm not hurt, I'm just—sorry. Dinner was sort of… awkward?"
A pit opened in Applejack's chest, and her heart fell right into it, going into free fall. "Oh, Twi, you didn't—"
"It's not that big a deal!" Twilight snapped. "Yeah, I told her I was going to work here for a while, that I couldn't help her with the animals every day, but why's that such a problem?"
Applejack let out a sigh, but her frown remained. "Just tell me what happened, sugarcube."
"I don't know. That's the problem." Twilight bowed her head. "Fluttershy was acting like it was the end of the world. It was ridiculous! But I don't know, maybe I was wrong. What do you think, Applejack?"
Applejack shook her head. "Whatever it was, Twilight, I'm sure you didn't do nothing wrong, especially not on purpose. Did Fluttershy tell you what the problem was later on?"
Twilight's grimace only caused Applejack's frown to deepen. "Um, I've been kind of busy this weekend, so I haven't really seen her yet."
Applejack narrowed her eyes, and Twilight's shoulders drooped even more. "You know better than that, Twi," Applejack said softly, almost sadly. "You can't let things linger like that."
"I know. I feel horrible, but—"
"So how do you think Fluttershy feels?" Applejack had known the pegasus for years, and for all her hidden strength, Applejack held no illusions about her emotional fortitude. "I just can't believe you'd do something like this, Twi—especially to a good friend."
Twilight winced. She hated the idea that she was anything but good to her friends. "I don't even know what to do, though! Do I apologize? Do I try and brush it off? Whatever it was, anyway." She shifted around in her harness as she let out a loud groan.
"Let me help you out of there," Applejack offered, but Twilight shook her head firmly. Her horn flared, and the plow began to move on its own, leaving her to just trot ahead with it.
"Careful, Twi!" Applejack shouted. "Remember Winter Wrap Up!"
"This is nothing like that, remember." Twilight accompanied her smile with a roll of her eyes. "Hold on a moment."
Applejack stood stock still as the plow made its way across the field and when Twilight completed the furrow without incident, she let out a massive sigh of relief. Even in her stressed condition, though, she did not miss the irony of what Twilight had just done. She smirked as she asked, "Not as easy as it looks, huh?"
Twilight laughed and rolled her eyes. "I might have bit off more than I could chew," she admitted. "My magic sure took care of it, though."
"Fair enough," Applejack conceded. "How about we get back to something your magic can't fix, though."
Twilight pouted and slouched her shoulders. "Alright. Nice segue, though."
Applejack couldn't help but laugh at the compliment. "Thanks, I guess."
"Anyway…" Twilight took a breath before resuming. "I was going to say that I'm not avoiding her on purpose. I mean, I guess I kind of am, but it's not because I don't want to fix things—I definitely want to clear the air. I don't really know what to do, though, and I don't want to make things worse."
"Sometimes you have to take a risk, Twi," Applejack said, putting a hoof on Twilight's shoulders. "You can't help it."
"But you could try and figure out what's wrong," Twilight insisted, her eyes widening as a grin slowly spread across her face.. "Please, Applejack. Just go over sometime soon and ask her what's up, make small talk."
Applejack grimace. "I'm the element of honesty, sugarcube."
"It's not lying, Applejack. It's not even—" Twilight began to take a step forward, but Applejack stopped her with an upraised hoof.
"Have you seen me try to be keep a secret, though?" Applejack raised an eyebrow.
Twilight opened her mouth and blew out a sigh. "I guess that's a good point."
"And besides, I hardly ever go to Fluttershy's. It'd be weird, and she'd notice. This is your responsibility, sugarcube."
Twilight's ears flattened against her head. "What if she's mad at me? What if she doesn't want to see me?"
Applejack half-smiled. "Twilight, just trust me when I say she'd be anything before she'd be angry with you."
Twilight returned the weak smile. "Promise?"
Applejack's grin spread to overtake her whole face. "Of course I do, Twi."
Planting the carrots was a fairly uneventful job. Uneventful and long, just like always. Even so, Applejack laughed inwardly at the way Twilight's mouth scrunched up when she was deep in thought. At the end of the day, she found herself enjoying her work far more than she had any right to.
In fact, she was awful glad that Twilight had decided to join her on the farm. The two ponies had remained friends in the years since Twilight's move to Ponyville, but Applejack's farm work kept her busy most of the time. Besides, most of their time together had been with the rest of the girls, and Applejack rarely got to interact with Twilight one on one.
Now, as the two worked on a farm—Twilight at a farm, of all places!—Applejack could kick herself for not making this happen sooner.
For their friendship, of course. It was just fun to have Twilight around as a friend. Nothing more. Applejack had always been fond of mares, but not Twilight. Of course not. After all, it wasn't like they had all that much in common. And they hadn't even spent too much time alone before today. And that was to say nothing of Fluttershy…
Applejack knew what it was like to love someone. She knew what it was like to yearn so long and so deep that it hurt, emotionally and physically. And she knew what it was like to have that thrown in her face, after so long. So many wasted efforts, broken dreams...
She would do everything she could to keep Fluttershy from feeling that. She would do anything to ensure that nopony ever experienced that sort of pain again.
She would do it in ten seconds flat—that is, if the very phrase didn't fill her mouth with a bitter taste that refused to go away.
Those thoughts cast only the slightest, most fleeting shadows on Applejack's day. On the whole, it was wonderful. Twilight proved surprisingly helpful. Most of the facts and figures she brought to bear were things Applejack already knew, but from time to time she revealed a brand new landscape of insight to the seasoned farm pony. They were booksmarts—not the product of honest experience—but they impressed her all the same.
And it didn't hurt that the twinkle in Twilight's eye and her enthusiastic work ethic made Applejack feel like a young filly again, just learning about the wonders life bore witness to.
As they covered the last carrot seeds with rich, fertile soil, Applejack patted the earth and offered Twilight a warm smile. "Hey, Twi. Thanks for helping today."
Twilight's eyes twinkled as she beamed at Applejack, and it looked like she had to work just to keep still. "It really was nothing, Applejack. It was all so much fun seeing what you do and how you do it. I should be thanking you, really." She giggled and said, "So, thank you."
Applejack chuckled and turned her gaze to the setting sun. "I guess it's getting late," she commented, though the fact hardly surprised her. The pair was right on schedule, according to Applejack's estimation.
"Does that mean we're done for today?" Applejack could hear the whine in Twilight's voice, but she also caught a hint of fatigue. Twilight was ready to be done; Applejack was sure of it.
"I think we've got enough work done for one day," Applejack drawled, letting her words stretch out into a yawn. "Granny Smith's probably finishing dinner about now. Do you want to eat with us?"
"Sure." Twilight dipped her head in a shallow nod and yawned. "Just promise not to be weird or anything," she joked, although the words seemed a bit strained coming from her.
Applejack scoffed. "I can't make no promises, sugarcube, but I'll try my best." She offered a playful grin. "If you insist, of course."
Twilight giggled and rolled her eyes, nudging . "Oh, I definitely do, Jackie."
Suddenly, like a snuffed candle, Applejack's face darkened. The grin was gone. The twinkle in her eye was gone. Her mouth hung agape as she struggled to blink tears back. A few gasps and whimpers escaped her lips, and her whole body trembled as she stood motionless for a long, agonizing moment.
"What's wrong, J—Applejack?" Twilight asked, a frown overtaking her features.
Applejack refused to make eye contact. "Don't call me Jackie, Twilight." She spat the words out as if they were venom befor biting her lip and pausing. "I'm sorry, but that's just got to be a rule with us."
"Okay…" Twilight nodded. "But—"
"No questions, please." Applejack drew her lips into a thin line and shrugged. "Let's just say it brings up bad memories."
Knowing she'd get nothing more from her friend on the subject, Twilight nodded again, eager to move on. "I understand. Anyway, let's get going, AJ."
Applejack gave her a half-smile. "What's with the nicknames, Twi?"
Twilight looked around as she casually replied, "Well, you call me Twi, so I thought I'd have to find something to call you." A smile spread across her face as she finished her sentence, and she leaned into Applejack's shoulder. "It only seems fair."
Applejack pulled away suddenly, causing Twilight to lose her balance and fall into the dirt. Not good, Applejack thought, cursing silently. She blushed a bit as her mind raced at a thousand miles a minute. Not good, not good, not good!
"Sorry," Twilight said hastily, drawing back with a blush. "I was just trying to be funny." Whatever that means, she silently added as she marveled at her lack of eloquence.
"Oh, no, it was funny," Applejack replied just as quickly, wondering how much worse this conversation could get. "You just startled me was all."
Twilight giggled longer and louder than necessary. "Okay. Yeah, I didn't mean anything." Her eyes widened and she reached toward Applejack befor pulling away once more. "I mean—no, I guess that's true."
Applejack snorted. "Not even sure what it could mean?" she asked with an eyebrow raised.
"Not a clue," Twilight answered, stifling another giggle.
"Me neither." As the two both laughed, they smelled the sweet scent of baked apples wafting from the Apple Family home and began to trot in its direction, hoping that dinner was ready and eager to dig into a hearty meal.