2. “You should laugh more. It’s nice.”
“I swear to you, dude, it’s DJ-Pon3!”
“You know!” The porter waved his hooves wildly. “The DJ!”
“I guessed that from her name. Is this something to do with that dubstep garbage you like listening to?” His friend continued pushing a gurney and snapping his gum, wondering where he could stick it that nopony would notice. It had totally lost its flavour. Maybe under the table in the cafeteria …
“It’s not garbage. It’s totally awesome. You have no taste.” The first porter lifted his head sharply as an idea came to him. “She did a collaboration with Sapphire Shores. You like her, right?”
“Sure, I like Sapphire Shores. That mare is fine! Plus, she can actually sing, not just play around scratching up records on a gramophone.”
“Gramophone? What century are you living in, dude? Anyhow, DJ-Pon3 worked with her on a single last year.”
“Hoof to Hoof.”
“Really?” His friend was surprised. “I like that single.”
“So you like DJ-Pon3!”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well you should like her. She’s awesome.”
“Well that single wasn’t garbage, I guess. So she’s here in the hospital? What’d she do, break her wrist on a record player or something?”
“They’re called turntables and I don’t know,” the first porter said truculently. “But I swear to you, dude, she’s right here in this very building. Isn’t that awesome?”
“It’d be more awesome if you’d quit steering this gurney into the walls, ‘dude’.”
“Whoops! Sorry Mr. Storm Star.”
“He’s unconscious, dummy. He can’t hear you.”
“Is she still awake? It’s your turn to check.”
Nurse Merry Heart peered around the edge of the door. She snapped back like a foal trying to pluck up the courage to visit the scariest house in town on Nightmare Night. She scurried back to the nurses’ station, which was essentially an oversized semi-circular desk piled high with paperwork, abutting a wall of shelves also crammed with bulging folders of paperwork. “Yes, she’s still awake.”
Nurse Flower Heart shook her head. “That has to be at least forty-eight hours now, assuming she didn’t sleep during the day before she got here. Has she eaten anything?”
“I saw her go to the vending machine earlier when the interns were checking on her friend. I was changing Mr. Grizzleberry’s bedpan so I wasn’t paying much attention to anything except not splashing myself.”
Flower Heart frowned. “A candy bar is no substitute for real food. Hasn’t she been to the visitors’ café?”
“I don’t think so.” Merry Heart mirrored the frown. “Does she even know there is one? I don’t think she’s gone further than the bathroom at the end of the hall since she got here, in spite of how loud that stallion in the suit yelled at her.”
The dark blue unicorn stallion had marched in like he owned the building and stomped into Room 219 before anypony could stop him. The two nurses had been able to hear his raised voice from three rooms away, even above Mr. Grizzleberry’s yelling. They would be so glad when the crotchety old goat was discharged and hoped never to see him again – provided he didn’t try butting heads with his neighbour again and end up back in the neurology department.
Flower Heart wrinkled her nose. “I didn’t like that stallion. His suit was cheap. Plus, did you see how he oiled his mane? Never trust a stallion who oils his mane, my mother always used to say.”
“Your mother used to say never to trust any stallion.”
“Well, she was usually right. Especially about the bums in our neighbourhood - and especially about ones who oil their manes, wear cheap suits and yell at ponies sitting vigil at their friend’s hospital bed. I mean, who does that? Seriously, who’s that cold? Bruiser – y’know, that colt in security I’ve been seeing? He told me they had to carry him out – literally carry him out – when he tried to force her to leave with his telekinesis. The idiot was yelling and cussing and causing such a ruckus about the fact she’s missing work. I mean, can you believe it? What a … a …”
“Actually, I was gonna say cretin. Doodyhead? What are you, a filly? No adult says ‘doody’.”
Merry Heart sighed. “You get out of the habit when you have kids.”
“What habit? Cussing? That’s just sad. How the hay do you cope when Mr. Grizzleberry drops grapes on the floor and then pinches your flank? Or when he deliberately unplugs his monitors? Or when he throws his dinner out the window and then tells his daughter we ain’t feeding him? I gotta go into the break room and yell obscenities at the wall.”
“I internalise and imagine a pool of soothing blue calmness.”
“Soothing blue … have you been listening to those relaxation tapes again?”
“… Maybe. Look, I had to justify buying them, okay?”
Flower Heart paused. “We should bring her some actual food.”
Merry Heart didn’t need to ask to whom she was referring. Flower Heart had been her friend for years and she was used to the other mare’s habit of wandering off the topic only to snap back to it when everypony else in the conversation had forgotten what they started talking about. “I have some couscous I made for my lunch. I always make too much in case you’re still hungry after you have yours. It has those peppers in it you said you like. Do you think she likes peppers?”
“How should I know? She barely said two words to me in all my shifts.”
“She must be saving her breath for the patient.” Merry Heart paused. “It’s touching, I guess. They aren’t related, are they?”
“Not according to the records,” replied Flower Heart. “But she got some sort of special clause that says we’re supposed to treat her that way anyhow. Doctor Thorntree was very particular about making sure we knew that. Apparently that receptionist, Kind Wishes? Y’know, the one who looks like she needs a stick-in-butt-ectomy?”
“I know the mare.” Merry Heart pulled a face she last saw her son make when she served him boiled spinach. “I still don’t understand what her parents were thinking. Why didn’t anypony encourage her to change her name when she got her cutie mark? I mean, a clipboard? A clipboard with math on it? That cutie mark and ‘Kind Wishes’ don’t go together. If either of my kids turns out to have wildly inappropriate names when they find their special talents, I wouldn’t mind if they chose to change –”
“As I was saying,” Flower Heart interrupted, adjusting the bun on the back of her head with an air of annoyance. “Kind Wishes messed up and Doctor Thorntree had to go all the way down there to apologise, so he made real sure we all know we’re supposed to treat that mare like family.” Her hoof hesitated in tucking back a lock of unruly mane. “Uh, I mean the patient’s family, not ours.”
“Wow.” Merry Heart was impressed. “They must be really close for somepony to go to that kind of effort. I know my health insurance wouldn’t let me do anything like that. I’m lucky if they’ll call my husband’s heart attack a heart attack and not an ‘episode’ so they don’t have to pay for as much treatment.”
Flower Heart, however, was not listening. She pursed her lips in thought. “Hey, do you think they’re …” She looked around before tapping her front hooves together meaningfully.
“Huh?” Merry Heart didn’t understand for a moment. When she did, her cheeks flushed. “I wouldn’t know! Besides, I don’t think it’s any of our business.”
“But it would make sense,” Flower Heart insisted. “Who else would do what she’s doing?”
“No friend of mine would.”
“Hey, I’m your friend!”
She waved a dismissive hoof. “You know what I mean. You’d come to visit me, sure, but you’d eventually go home and feed your kids, see your husband, take care of the day-to-day things. That mare has pretty much put her life on hold to be here, even though there ain’t no telling how long it’ll be before anything happens.”
Disgruntled at the insult, however unintentional it had been, Merry Heart had to agree. “She practically hasn’t stopped talking the whole time. Every time I go past I can hear her voice. I wonder what she has so much to talk about.”
Flower Heart lifted her shoulders. “Search me.”
Vinyl’s eyelids pulled like she had tiny weights hanging from each eyelash. She shook off sleep for the millionth time and carried on her one-sided conversation.
“So she said to me, ‘You can’t count that as music’, which was just friggin’ rude. You know what I said to her? Well, you should, since it’s pretty much what I said to you the first time you bashed one of my mixes. Remember that? I said ‘The feel of music is as important as the sound of it’. I was always pretty proud of that line. I was especially proud because you couldn’t disagree. You always said music was about feeling as much as hearing. Remember, back in school? You always wanted to get in that extra hour of practise when I wanted to go home. Was it twice or three times the janitor accidentally locked us in? Whatever, it doesn’t matter. I should totally use that line as an album title someday. Maybe I could remix some of your quartet’s work. One of your concertos would sound ace with a beat. What do you think? Huh, Tavi? What do you think of me defiling one of your precious concertos with some dubstep?”
Octavia didn’t respond. She hadn’t so much as flickered in all the time Vinyl had been there.
Vinyl’s heart had crawled back into her chest a while ago, but now just sat like an aching lump of meat, beating only enough to keep her alive. Not even using Octavia’s nickname had provoked anything.
In the early days, when Vinyl had been trying to draw the nervous filly out of her shell, Octavia once chased her across every single bed in the girl’s dormitory at the orphanage for calling her ‘Tavi’. It was the first time she had really lost her temper or done more than whisper nervously and look sad. Feathers had gone everywhere when she launched a pillow at Vinyl’s head and it snagged on her horn. They had both been in so much trouble. Matron had forced them to repair the pillowcase and all the sheets they had muddied. Vinyl had never been able to look at soap flakes again after her hooves turned wrinkly from washing. She recalled how Octavia had sewed the way she played cello, her foreleg moving with even, fluid strokes.
“That was so unbelievably cool.”
“How can you say that? We got into trouble.”
“So what? I’m always in trouble. At least this time I had fun first.”
“You’re a bad influence.”
“Excuse me? I wasn’t the one who started that pillow fight. You have really good aim, by the way. I bet you’d be friggin’ ace at paintball.”
“You always use that word. What does it even mean?”
“No, the other one.”
“Paintball? You don’t know what paintball is?”
“No, I … oh, never mind. It sounds rude, whatever it means.”
“So you do remember my real name.”
“Ooh, the sarcasm! It burns! I was just gonna say it was good to hear you laugh. It was a shame Matron had to come in and spoil everything. You should laugh more. It’s nice. In fact, I’m gonna make that my new mission: make Tavi laugh more.”
“I told you, my name is Octavia!”
“For Celestia’s sake, Tavi, will you wake up already? I’m busting a friggin’ gut out here trying to think up new things to talk about. Wake up and yell at me for saying friggin’, at least. Or correct how I pronounce words. I’m almost as bad now as when you met me. Tell me my accent’s hard to understand. Criticise my grammar. Anything.” She let her face fall into her hooves. “Just … wake up already. Just … wake … up …”
The next thing she knew, somepony was gently shaking her shoulder. She startled and nearly fell out of the chair.
“Careful!” It was one of the nurses, a pale green unicorn with a bright yellow mane. Wisps had come untucked from the bun all the nurses wore and curled around her ears and bottle green eyes. Her cutie mark was a red cross, also just like the others who answered that calling, but a sunflower bloom decorated one side. She spoke in the same harsh accent Vinyl had once possessed, indicating she was from the Boondocks, a part of the city renowned for toughness and poverty. “Hey there, sweetie. Feel any better? You’ve been asleep a couple of hours.”
“Hours?” Vinyl was horrified. “No, I can’t have … that’s not possible.” A quick glance at the clock on the wall said otherwise. She had wasted three hours she could have used to stop Octavia fading further from the waking world. She imagined her words like a fishing line constantly being cast in the hope it would snag on something, her voice the lure to keep Octavia from swimming away into oblivion.
“You obviously needed the rest, sweetie,” said the nurse. “You were running on empty. You’ll be no good to anypony if you exhaust yourself into a hospital stay of your own. I’ll bet you ain’t eaten more than a candy bar, either. Look here, I brought you something to eat, to keep your strength up. Do you like couscous?”
Vinyl stared at the plastic container and spork. “I … huh?”
“We figured it’d be contrary to our jobs to let you starve. Do you think your friend would appreciate you passing out by her bedside because you didn’t take care of yourself on her account?”
“I … no, I guess not.” Vinyl accepted the container. “We?”
“Nurse Merry Heart and me. I’m Nurse Flower Heart, by the way.” Like all nurses, she had added the word ‘Heart’ onto her name like the other bookend to her cutie mark. Nursing sure was meticulous when it came to that sort of thing.
“Oh. Right. Thanks. This is … this is really generous of you.”
“Ain’t no bother, sweetie.” Nurse Flower Heart patted her on top of her head. She was a generously proportioned pony, so her pat shoved Vinyl’s neck down an inch or two. “Actually, it was Nurse Merry Heart who fixed it, but we both reckon you should eat something substantial if you’re planning to stay here a while.”
Vinyl looked back at the bed. “Yeah, I’m planning to stay.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, sweetie, for how long?”
Vinyl considered this for a moment. “As long as it takes, I guess.”
“Um …” The nurse looked uncomfortable.
“Yeah, I know there’s a chance she might not recover. I want to stay anyway.” Vinyl swallowed her first bite of couscous. She had never eaten the stuff before. It was surprisingly tasty. The peppers gave it a real tang. Or maybe that was just her ravenous hunger talking. She realised with a jolt that she was starving and practically inhaled the food. “Or worse,” she said through a mouthful. “But there’s also a chance she could wake up. She’s a fighter. You’ll see. She plays with one of the top classical quartets in the entire Manehattan music scene.”
“Uh-huh.” Vinyl shoved more couscous into her mouth to prevent the next words itching to get out: Not that I’ve ever seen them perform. “They play at functions and parties. She even performed at the Grand Galloping Gala last year.”
“For Princess Celestia herself?” Nurse Flower Heart sounded genuinely impressed.
“Yup.” Vinyl couldn’t help the pride in her voice. Of course, they had shared the stage with half a dozen other instrumentalists and Quaver had put a dampener on proceedings by rehearsing them morning, noon and night until they could all barely see straight. Still, Octavia had gone to every rehearsal early and stayed later than everypony else. Her dedication was staggering. Vinyl had always admired that, from their music lessons at school to just last week when Octavia told her all this.
Had it really only been a week ago that they last spoke? Octavia had said to call her and then never picked up or responded to any messages. Vinyl had thought old scars were too hard to get past. She was now left to wonder whether Octavia would have called her back, had she been able. The very real possibility that she might never know was terrifying.
The nurse looked at Octavia appraisingly. “I was never into all that classical music, myself. I prefer me some jazz.”
“Each to their own,” Vinyl shrugged. She put the spork inside the empty container and passed it back. “Thanks. That really did hit the spot.”
“See? I said you needed some real food.” The nurse made to leave, but paused in the doorway. “Sweetie, I ain’t being rude, but how come you’re still here? You could always go home, get some sleep in a real bed and then come back again.”
Not you too. Vinyl could still remember Indigo’s shouts as the security ponies escorted him away. He was going to be majorly mad, even after he calmed down from that. “I just want to be with her. Is that so wrong?” she snapped, more harshly than she intended.
Nurse Flower Heart raised her forehooves. “Whoa, sweetie, you can stay as long as you like. Ain’t no hair off my snout. Personally, I think it’s sweet that you’re so devoted to your, uh …” She trailed off, as if realising she had no end to her sentence only when she got midway through it.
Vinyl understood in a heartbeat. “We’re not a couple.” Not anymore. But we might have been again, if this hadn’t happened. Maybe.
“Oh. I understand. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause offence.”
“I’m not offended. She’s a wonderful, kind, gifted mare. Anypony would be crazy not to fall in love with her after five minutes in her company.” She looked up, but the nurse’s image had fractured into dozens of tiny shifting blurs. She blinked, cursing inwardly until the traitorous wetness was reabsorbed. She would not cry. She had promised long ago that she would never show that kind of weakness again. “She’s got this super sense of humour too, even though you wouldn’t know it at first. It takes a lot to make her laugh, but she’s got that whole sarcastic wit thing down pat. She used to have me in stitches with the things she’d say about our teacher whenever he turned his back.” She chuckled, the noise only slightly jagged around the lump in her throat. “And the things she’d say about the school orchestra conductor when … when … damn it.” She coughed the croak from her voice like it had offended her.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” Nurse Flower Heart said softly. “It sounds like you two are pretty close.”
“We are. Were. We had a … a falling out a few years back.”
“This isn’t working, Vinyl. You know it and I know it.”
“She didn’t speak to me for … a long time, but recently she got in contact and we started talking again.” Vinyl closed her eyes against the wash of memory. Old wounds could hurt just as much as fresh ones. “I guess it doesn’t matter. If she wakes up, she might not even remember me. She might be a vegetable.” She gave a short, humourless laugh. “She used to make me eat all the vegetables off my plate, even the ones I didn’t like.” One of the manifold things that had irritated her, but which she had grown to love over time, and eventually missed just as much as everything else. “Could … could you leave me alone please? I … want to be alone with her for a while.”
“Sure thing, sweetie.” The nurse backed through the door and pulled it shut behind her.
Vinyl sucked in a breath, gathered her thoughts and started talking again. “Hey, did I tell you about the cartoon show they nearly made about me? Only the pilot got animated in the end, but I was played by a celebrity voice actor…”
“Sweetie?” Nurse Flower Heart tapped the open door lightly with her hoof. She could be surprisingly delicate for a pony of her size. “I got some visitors out here to see Octavia. Just thought you might wanna know.”
“Huh?” Vinyl wondered who it could be. The sound of their voices reached her seconds before the ponies themselves. Of course. Who else could it be?
“Oh!” Cavatina, one of the violinists in Octavia’s quartet, froze in the doorway when she saw Vinyl. Behind her two other ponies urged her forward. They stepped into the room one after another, until they were ranged in a line like three soldiers instead of musicians.
“What are you doing here?” Quaver demanded.
He was the leader of the group and its designated spokespony, even without consulting the others. His brown coat and black mane were just as perfectly clipped and coiffed as the last time Vinyl saw him. Even from across the room she could smell the oil he put on his hooves each day so his grip didn’t damage his viola. Octavia used to wear it too after she joined them. Vinyl saw the bottle in the bathroom cabinet every day and had once spilled it on the rug. The stuff stank so much the smell endured even after the rug had been cleaned several times.
Vinyl threw the rug out after everything went wrong, unable to bear the memories it invoked.
She met Quaver’s eyes impassively. Easier said than done, as she wasn’t wearing her shades and felt sure she must be giving off sparks at his tone. “Where else would I be?”
He snorted. “Anywhere but here.”
“Quaver?” Cavatina tapped his shoulder. She was a petite, pale violinist who looked like she had once been bright yellow before somepony put her through the wrong washing machine cycle. Her cream coloured mane and tail only made her look more like a used dishcloth, Vinyl thought uncharitably. “Quaver, why is she here?”
“You could always ask me yourself,” said Vinyl, shifting her gaze to look at the other mare instead. “You don’t need a go-between.”
Cavatina shrank behind Quaver as if she was frightened Vinyl might get up and bite her. “Why are you here?” she asked tremulously. Everything she had ever said around Vinyl had been spoken tremulously. It was intensely irritating.
“Quaver told me what happened.”
Cavatina was aghast. “You told her, Quavey? Her?”
Irritation frosted Quaver’s features, though whether at Vinyl’s presence, because she had spilled the beans, or because Cavatina had called him ‘Quavey’ wasn’t clear. “That was days ago. Shouldn’t you be on a tour right now? I thought the Palladium was the first date on a tour.”
“Yes, it was.”
And hadn’t Indigo thrown a hissy fit over that? It was only five dates over a two week period, mostly small gigs, but the Palladium had been the cornerstone of the whole affair. The ponies in charge had said they understood but Indigo had railed at her for her unprofessionalism and she had not been able to argue. She had run out on a gig without warning. It was one of the worst sins in the industry. There was no way to sugar-coat it.
A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Hang on, you knew I was going on tour, Quaver? Is that why you waited a whole week to tell me what had happened?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Did you except me to leave and never find out about the clause Tavi put in about me being treated like family?”
Quaver actually looked shocked. Beside him, Coda mirrored his expression – as long as you were talking about a fairground mirror that made everything looked bigger. He was the other violinist of their group but looked like he belonged in the ring wrestling somepony with a name like ‘The Masked Mangler’.
“She didn’t,” Coda breathed.
“She did,” Vinyl confirmed.
“Why would she do that? She hadn’t even seen you in four years.”
“Apparently I mean more to her than any of you thought.” Though she lifted her chin in a ‘so there’ gesture, Vinyl wished she could put her hoof on her heart and say this was true. She didn’t know why Octavia had allowed her access like this when in all other ways she had pushed Vinyl out of her life.
“Ridiculous!” Quaver shook his head and took a step towards her. It occurred to Vinyl that he was trying to be threatening. It would have held more weight if he wasn’t wearing spats. “You need to leave. Now.”
“Nope.” She leaned back in her chair, linking her forelegs behind her head. “Actually, I don’t. I’m staying right here, whether you three like it or not.”
“She wouldn’t want you here!” Cavatina appeared from behind Quaver to spit the remark.
“Wow, you almost sound brave for once,” Vinyl replied easily.
“Go away!” The words snapped across Cavatina’s palette like they were full of sharp edges. Unlike Octavia, her accent was the result of long hours practising to hide her Hoofington brogue. She gave Vinyl a poisonous look before disappearing again behind Quaver’s reassuring frame.
“You mean you don’t want me here.” Don’t lose your temper. That didn’t work out last time with these ponies. Don’t, don’t, don’t lose your temper with them. “That’s different. Tavi wants me around. Otherwise, why would she have called me last week and talked about meeting up?”
“She didn’t!” Coda protested.
Quaver merely stared at Vinyl, his jaw so tight a small muscle jumped in his cheek.
“You knew, didn’t you, Quaver?” Several things suddenly added up in Vinyl’s head. “You knew she’d called me.” Rage uncurled inside her like a waking dragon. “So why did you wait a friggin’ week to tell me she was in hospital? Did you hope I’d just go away? Leave to go on tour and be out of the way where none of you had to deal with me?”
“You’re not good for her,” he replied softly. “Or did you forget?”
Vinyl’s spine straightened. “That was four years ago.”
“Four years or forty, it doesn’t matter. You’re a bad match. You make her miserable.”
Vinyl wanted to object, but instead shot back, “Says the pony who barely met me before he threw me out of his theatre. You don’t know anything about us.”
He lowered his head, peering at her from under hooded eyes. “Doesn’t that say a lot?”
The dragon hissed and spit, but its fire breath turned to ice. Part of Vinyl, the part that still remembered the feel of a window frame against her sides as she tried to wiggle through it, cringed at his accusatory question. “You don’t know anything,” she said again, though not with the same fervour. “Tavi and I were happy together.”
“So why did it end so badly if you were so happy?”
She fell silent, searching for a comeback. “We were happy. Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You’ve never seen a million bits but you know it exists.”
Quaver rolled his eyes. “Don’t try that old chestnut. Maybe you were happy. I don’t know. She never talked about you after that day.”
The whole dragon turned to ice in Vinyl’s stomach; a cold, crystalline lump weighing her down. “Never?”
Cavatina reappeared, a triumphant light in her pale green eyes. “Never. She forgot all about you.”
“Butt out, you,” Vinyl snarled, turning her impotent rage on the smaller mare. Cavatina squeaked and went back to hiding. Quaver actually stepped in front of her protectively. His stance was that of a warrior willing to take arrows and slingshots for somepony else. Coupled with the pet name Cavatina had used, Vinyl wondered if they were an item. He certainly wasn’t protecting Coda the same way.
“How do you know how she feels? How are you fit to judge me or our relationship? You’re just her colleague.”
“Wrong. I’m her friend.”
“Or are you something more? She won’t even talk to me! Are you the reason? Are you sleeping with her?”
“Get a grip, Scratch. You’re being totally irrational, not to mention hysterical.”
“I’ll bet that’s it. You old pervert! There’s no way she’d ever refuse to see me unless you were pouring poison into her ear. You’re just trying to keep her for yourself–”
“That’s it. You’re leaving.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I’ve seen Tavi.”
“Oh yes you are.”
Past conversations rose in Vinyl’s memory like butterflies, flashing to the front of her mind in brief splashes of colour and sound, and then gone again as she refocused on the present. Quaver looked older now. Four years had put lines around his eyes. How the heck did somepony like him get laughter lines? He never friggin’ smiled! He was substantially older than Octavia – middle-aged at least. The whole quartet was a different generation than her. She had been ecstatic when they selected her to join them.
“I’m the youngest member they’ve ever had, but Quaver said I’m the most talented cellist he’s ever seen and I’ll only get better as I get older. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“That’s great, Tavi!”
“Vinyl! Vinyl, put me down! Viiiinyllll, I’m getting dizzy!”
“Hey, if you puke, I can say I got puked on by the youngest, most talented cellist the Quaver Quartet ever had.”
“Vinyl, you dork.”
“Hey, you used one of my words!”
“It seemed appropriate.”
“Well do you know what’d make this dork put you down?”
“If she could also say she kissed the youngest, most talented cellist the Quaver Quartet ever had.”
Memories. So many memories. The good ones hurt even more than the bad. Vinyl shoved them away. It used to be so easy to put aside things she didn’t want to think about and concentrate on her work instead. Work blotted out everything. Why was it so much harder now?
Maybe because Octavia was right in front of her, injured, helpless and further away than she had ever been even though Vinyl could easily reach out and touch her hoof. You couldn’t push aside thoughts of a pony when she was right under your nose.
Likewise Quaver and his band of merry idiots. No matter how much Vinyl wanted it, they weren’t going away. Why should they? These were the ponies of Octavia’s world since she and Vinyl parted ways. These were the stallions and mare who had been there for her over the last four years when Vinyl had not. These were her colleagues and, yes, her friends. They had been there when she was happy, supported her when she was sad, worked with her, socialised with her, done everything that Vinyl once had – or once should have done.
Three phone calls. That was Vinyl had to go on. One hesitant, awkward and brief – an unexpected thing she would have missed if she hadn’t arrived home early from the recording studio. The second had been planned and longer, though no less awkward. Vinyl had locked her door and spent the whole time twirling the phone cord nervously around her hoof, until she worried she would pull it out of the wall and lose even that tenuous connection to the pony who had once been her whole world. The third was longest of all, ending with the cautious question Vinyl had wanted to ask since the beginning.
“Can … y’know … maybe I could see you sometime?”
“Oh, I … I don’t know about that, Vinyl. I still don’t even know if this much was a good idea.”
“We’ve been talking for nearly three hours. That’s a long time for you to start doubting now.”
“We have? Really? For that long? Goodness gracious. Why … why are you laughing?”
“I haven’t heard anypony say ‘goodness gracious’ in ages!”
“No, no, it’s … it’s nice. I missed it.”
“You always made fun of the way I talk.”
“And you didn’t? I remember you giving me elocution lessons the whole summer before the Academy.”
“Golly, I’d forgotten about that.”
“So … what do you say? We could meet somewhere neutral – someplace we’ve never been before.”
“I don’t know, Vinyl, I really don’t.”
“Can I at least ask you a question?”
“Isn’t that one?”
“Why did you call me?”
“I … because we arranged for me to phone you today.”
“Not this time. The first time.”
“I … I don’t … Vinyl, I …”
“Octavia? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here. I’m not sure why I phoned you. I just … I suppose I … missed you.”
“It’s been four years.”
“Yes, it has, hasn’t it?”
“You only just missed me now?”
“Vinyl, don’t. Don’t push me. This was a difficult decision. I wanted to pick up the phone before but I … I never plucked up enough nerve. You’re so famous now. You jet-set all over the place and I … I’m still just me. Then the time got longer and longer and I … Look, you could have phoned me!”
“I didn’t have your number. You cut all contact, remember?”
“Oh. Yes. Right. And I suppose that … would have been a bit awkward after … what happened, wouldn’t it?”
“Just a smidge.”
“Careful, Vinyl. You’re starting to sound like me.”
“Wouldn’t be a bad thing. A ridiculously uncool thing, but not a bad one. Hey, wow, is that actual laughter I hear?”
“You should laugh more. It’s nice.”
“Yes, I’ll meet with you. Just … just give me a chance to think where we can go. But yes. My answer is yes, Vinyl.”
“Huh? What?” Vinyl stared dimly at Quaver for several seconds before registering his scowl.
“You should leave, Scratch.”
Vinyl’s hooves curled. Don’t lose your temper. Don’t lose your temper! “No.”
“Nopony wants you here.”
“Except the one who counts.”
“She’s not here to vouch for you.”
“She’s right there, or did you miss the friggin’ obvious?” Vinyl gestured sharply at the bed. “What’s the matter, Quaver? Does it bother you that you can’t throw me out this time?”
Quaver glanced at his friends and let out a short breath. “Fine. We can’t stop you from being here, however much we want to.” He paused, as if assessing the wisdom of his own thoughts before letting them reach his mouth. “But could you at least let us visit in peace? She means a lot to us and this is hard enough as it is without you watching.”
For the first time, Vinyl noticed the strain in his face. She had been so focussed on his scowl she had missed the extra layer of stress coating all of them like a film of grease they could smear but not wash off. If she looked in a mirror, she guessed she would see it all over herself too.
“Fine.” She got up and moved away from the bed. “But don’t you dare try pulling anything to make the hospital throw me out, Quaver.”
“Go away, Scratch.” Quaver sounded tired, some of the fight gone out of him. His neck wasn’t as arched as it had been when he came in. His ears were half-turned, not quite flattened but no longer perked either. His gaze rested on Octavia and the myriad machines surrounding her. “Please,” he added quietly.
Vinyl backed out of the room and didn’t protest when they closed the door.