"No way! This can't be happening!" Rainbow Dash moaned, trotting out of the bushes as the lights in Twilight's house went out one by one, leaving only the light in her bedroom window. "I've got to know what's going on," Rainbow said, determination etched on her face as she took flight. She hovered just out of view of Twilight's bedroom window as she peered inside. Applejack and Twilight had just entered her room before Applejack took a seat on her bed.
"Ah guess Ah'm still a might nervous. As you could probably guess, Ah've never done this before..." Applejack admitted as a blush began to form over Rainbow's cheeks.
"Don't worry, Applejack, I've been at this for years! Before you know it, you'll be just as good as I am!" she assured her, to Dash's horror.
"Thanks, Twi. Ya mind drawin' those curtains? Ah'd hate for somepony ta stumble across our little secret." She grinned in embarrassment as Twilight used her magic to close the curtains. That was the last straw. Rainbow had no idea what to do now. Running a hoof through her mane, she fluttered to a low hanging cloud.
"Okay, Rainbow... it's no big deal... two of your best friends are hanging out with each other in secret." Dash wiped her hooves across her face as she moaned. "Oh Celestia, how is this not a big deal?" Rainbow thought for a moment, wondering why Applejack would want to hide this from her. Was she afraid she would laugh at her? Or tease her about finding her special somepony? Dash may have been a lot of things, but a jerk to her friends was not one of them. All that mushy stuff wasn't really her thing, but she wouldn't make fun of others if it was theirs.
One thing was certain: she had to tell somepony about this. Not so much to expose a secret, more like to get a second opinion. After all, what if they were just meeting with each other in the middle of the night for something else? She couldn't exactly think of anything else they'd be doing, but the thought still warranted investigation.
Dash tried to think of the most rational pony to present this finding to. Hm... Pinkie? Nah, she'd probably just throw 'em a party. Fluttershy? Nope, she'd just think it was none of her business and move on. Guess that just leaves Rarity.
With a sigh, Rainbow headed towards the Carousel Boutique, hoping to catch Rarity before she went to bed.
"I understand wanting some privacy, but I think we'll be okay," said Twilight, turning to Applejack. She hadn't brought anything but herself, so it was up to Twilight to provide the reading material. "So, I guess a good place to start would be where your teacher left off." Twilight smiled, levitating two large cushions on the floor in front of them. "How much do you know?"
Applejack examined her hooves and held her tongue for a moment. "Well... Ah know the alphabet, and Ah recognize a few easy words, but... that's about as far as Ah got."
A pause blanketed the room as Twilight sat on her cushion and thought about an appropriate way to start their first lesson. "That's okay," said Twilight as she levitated a book from her personal shelf in front of them. "I asked Spike to borrow a few worksheets from Cheerilee in case you decided to accept my offer, so I think that'll be a good place to start."
"If you say so, Twilight," Applejack sighed, her limited enthusiasm seemed to evaporate as soon as a simple grade-school work sheet was laid out in front of her.
"Okay, so let's figure out what words you know," Twilight said as she pointed to the first word in a column of many.
"And," Applejack answered confidently.
"Great! How about this one?"
"Uhm... t-tr-tra-urgh," Applejack groaned.
"Sound it out, you almost had it!" Twilight cheered.
"Ah don't know what it is, Twilight!" she snapped.
Twilight scrunched her face in thought before covering the first half of the word with a hoof. "Try this. Read me the first three letters."
Applejack narrowed her eyes at her instructor before spitting out the first half of the word she'd already mastered. "Tra."
"Good. Now this part," she said, moving her hoof.
"Okay, now put them together."
"Close, but tra-in isn't a word. What word does it sound like?" Twilight led her, hoping she'd come to the correct conclusion.
"That's right!" Twilight beamed at her student as Applejack caught her infectious smile. "Okay, let's keep going." With a renewed sense of vigor, Applejack sounded out and began reading words she'd have never thought herself capable of pronouncing for nearly an hour. Though they were mostly of the four-to-six-letter variety, progress was progress.
"You're doing so well, Applejack! I think we're ready for our first sentence!" Twilight sang, sharing her friend's pride in her accomplishments thus far.
"Alright, Ah'm ready!"
Twilight levitated a quill and ink jar, as well as a blank piece of parchment, between the two of them. With a quick flourish, she composed an easy sentence.
"Alright, how about this?" Twilight slid the scroll towards her, waiting with bated breath for her answer.
Applejack took a few seconds to study the simple five word sentence before looking back at her instructor. "It is very hot today?"
"Yes!" Twilight exclaimed, wearing a smile just as wide as Applejack's. "I knew you'd pick this up quickly!" Twilight gave her friend a hug. Slowly, Applejack returned the gesture. As she held the hug, Twilight felt the coat on her shoulder become a bit moist. Pulling away, Applejack rubbed her eyes. "Applejack, what's the matter?" she asked. "You're doing great!"
"Ah know... it's just... Ah've faked this for so long. Ah've always relied on myself for everything, and this was the one thing Ah just couldn't figure out, and now..." She paused, her breathing becoming a bit more staccato than normal. "Now it's just this easy? All this time Ah could've been learnin' what Ah should've known as a filly, but instead Ah was just too stubborn to ask for help."
Twilight laid a hoof on her shoulder lightly. "Applejack, there's no reason to be ashamed of this. Everypony has things they're embarrassed about." C'mon, Twilight, you can't just let Applejack be the only one sharing a secret! Think! How can I level the playing field? she wondered, before an idea struck. "Would you believe that I nearly failed magical theory while I was in Celestia's school for gifted unicorns?"
Applejack raised her eyes from the floor and dried her tears. "You... you did?"
"That's right. The Element of Magic, barely got out of that class with my G.P.A. intact. I was mortified of asking for help. The princess herself told me I was one of the most gifted unicorns she'd ever come across in terms of magic, and I just couldn't grasp the concepts presented in that class. The professor even confronted me about it. He said 'Ms. Sparkle, if you do not earn a perfect score on the final exam, I will not allow you to pass my class,'" she said in her best Hoofington accent.
Applejack giggled. "So what'd you end up doin'?"
"I eventually broke down and asked a colt in my class to help me. And this was before I got over a lot of the anxiety I had about meeting new ponies," she recalled. "I was petrified of even asking him, and I'm pretty sure a lesser colt would have run away screaming if the quiet weirdo in class had asked them for help. But—to my surprise—he was glad to help me, and he explained it in such a way that it immediately made sense to me," she recalled wistfully. "When finals rolled around, I aced the exam and got my credits."
"So what happened between you and 'Mr. Genius'?" Applejack asked, eyebrow raised suggestively.
Twilight sighed, "He transferred to Oxenford. I never saw him again after that," she sighed.
"That's okay, Twilight. Ah guess my brother'll just have to do."
Twilight nodded. "Yeah, I guess he'll—what?! No! I mean, he's a n-nice stallion and all but... uhm..." Applejack laughed as her friend blushed, attempting to backpedal out of her slip of the tongue. "Look, it's getting pretty late, I think this is a good place to stop for tonight," she said, trying to change the subject quickly.
"Ah reckon so," Applejack laughed. "Ah really appreciate you helpin' me, Twilight."
"It's the least I could do for a friend." As she headed for the door, Twilight set her cushion and half-completed worksheet on her desk for their next session. "Have a safe walk home!"
"Will do, Twi," Applejack said as she descended the stairs carefully, so as not to wake the sleeping dragon on the couch. Once outside, the air seemed fresher, the stars, brighter. Applejack was well on her way to accomplishing a long-held goal of hers, and nopony would be the wiser as to her 'deficiency'. She set off down the trail to her farm, humming her favorite country song as she went.
"Rainbow, dear, don't you think you're overreacting just a tad?" Rarity asked, pouring herself a cup of hot tea. If Rainbow was going to wake her out of a dead sleep just to gossip, the least she could do is be awake to appreciate it.
"Overreacting?" Rainbow parroted. "If anything, I'm under-reacting!"
Rarity arched an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Yes, really! She's been my bro ever since Twilight brought us all together! How could she pick her over me?"
"You are aware that 'bro' refers to stallions?"
Rainbow groaned. "You know what I mean!"
"Don't you think you're being a little bit possessive? Is Applejack not entitled to spend her time however she pleases?"
"Well... yeah, I guess," Rainbow replied, her tone softening. "But this is our thing! It's like a tradition for us, and she just... just bailed on me. Me!"
Rarity rolled her eyes. "Rainbow Dash, you must respect the fact that Applejack is a grown mare, and is entitled to make her own decisions." She paused, taking a slow sip of her tea before setting it back onto the coffee table in front of her. Rainbow sat back in her plush chair, a pout across her lips. "Why exactly is it so important that the two of you spend so much time together?"
Rainbow's cheeks flushed a furious red as she tried to answer the question truthfully. "Because!" she began. "Fluttershy never stays up past sundown, Pinkie is hard to find half the time, and I didn't really think you were the type of pony to drink cider in a field while watching stuff burn."
"Well, you're most certainly right about that!" Rarity huffed. "All that mud and filth would be simply dreadful for my coat, not to mention the bugs!" Rarity reeled in her disgust and continued. "However, I still don't see why this was worth interrupting my beauty sleep," she said narrowing her eyes.
"I was getting to that," Rainbow huffed. "I was outside Twi's place, and Applejack and Twilight started talking about 'never having done this before', and that it'd be 'their little secret'. They even closed the curtains! What could they have been doing in there that they'd need that kind of privacy?"
Rarity's eyes widened at Rainbow's implication."Oh dear..."
"'Oh dear' is right! Do you, do you think they're..."
"No! Don't be ridiculous! My lady's intuition would have recognized when two ponies are attracted to each other, and I simply couldn't imagine Twilight and Applejack seeing each other in secret," Rarity answered confidently, content to end her remark with a closed-eyed victory sip. The teacup and saucer clanked together as she set the empty vessel on the table. "Although... why would they want to hide something like that?"
"Right? We're supposed to be best friends!" Rainbow nodded.
Rarity waved a hoof, "I'm sure we're simply over-thinking this entire ordeal. I'm sure there's a perfectly logical reason they were together tonight. After all, I seem to recall a certain pegasus believing that reading was for eggheads?"
Rainbow blushed again. "Yeah, well, I didn't try to be all secretive about it! And it is for eggheads."
Rarity sighed in frustration. "Rainbow Dash, it's getting late, and I'm out of tea. I'd like to try and get back to sleep before sunrise, if you don't mind."
Rainbow fluttered to her usual hover. "Yeah, yeah. See ya, Rare." Dash flew out of the window she'd flown in through, Rarity closing it behind her. Shimmying back beneath her blankets, she entertained the wild idea Rainbow had implanted earlier.
"Applejack and Twilight, the farmer and the scholar! Simply ludicrous..." She yawned, though she couldn't help but smile at the adorability of the couple as she drifted off.
I don't care what Rarity says!" Rainbow huffed as she flew over town towards her home. "Something's up, and I'm gonna find out—" She cut herself off upon spotting an orange dot walking slowly down a dirt road. Dash zipped downward, hovering just above Applejack's head.
"So, have fun not drinking cider with your best friend?"
Applejack stopped walking, a slight blush coming over her cheeks. "Oh, naw," she replied, her eyes darting between the road and her hovering companion. "Ah just... had some errands to run."
"Really? Then where are your saddlebags?" Dash asked incredulously.
"Uh... the stores were closed... guess I should have gone with you, huh?" She smiled, beads of sweat beginning to form beneath her stetson.
"I'll bet they were, it's past high moon!" Rainbow replied.
"Yeah... welp, silly me for tryin' ta get 'em done so late! G'night, Rainbow!" she said quickly, galloping past her and through the entrance to her farm.
Rainbow crossed her forelegs and narrowed her eyes at the plume of dust her friend kicked up as she ran. "I don't know what you're up to AJ, but I'm gonna find out."