Cheer for Me, Cheerilee

by Written Out

I'm not a Teacher

“Next stop, Ponyville. Please prepare for a sudden stop. Repeat; next stop, Ponyville.”

Cheerilee yawned as the cool female voice came on over the intercom, breaking her away from her restless sleep. Lifting the sleeping mask off her face, she tucked both it and the pillow she had been using in the space between her seat and the side of the train. Near silence filled the empty train car; only the wheels running along the train tracks beneath her and the rain beating on the roof above her prevented the silence from being total.

The falling rain beat an irregular drumbeat against the train window, running in rivulets down the clean glass and warping her view of the outside world. Deep grey clouds covered the sky, offering nary a gap for sunlight to pour down and illuminate the lush rolling hills and gently swaying trees. As the train turned a corner, the earth pony mare could see the fast-approaching buildings of her destination in the distance.

Shifting her gaze slightly, Cheerilee caught sight of her own reflection in the rain-spattered window. Saggy bags ringed her light green eyes, and a closer look revealed lines criss-crossing the rest of her face. A sad sigh escaped her lips as she stared at the face in the window. When did I get to be so old? Lifting one of her forelegs up as she leaned back against the seat back, she stared at it despondently. Her light purple coat and two-toned pink mane and tail were as lush as ever, but the effects of the march of time were still clear on her face.

Letting her hoof fall, she heard a crinkle as it hit a solitary piece of paper she had left on the seat beside her. Picking up the paper and smoothing it out, her gaze slowly skimmed across the meticulous hoofwriting that had been written on it. Unfortunately, the words didn’t reveal any more then they had when she had first read it after receiving it unexpectedly in the mail.

Dear Miss Cheerilee,

I realize this letter may seem out of the blue, but there is something important I want to talk to you about. I would prefer to speak to you face-to-face, so please come down to Ponyville at your earliest convenience.

Enclosed, you should find enough money to pay for the train ticket as well as any amenities you may need. I will await you eagerly.

Princess Twilight Sparkle.

Cheerilee sighed as she let the letter fall. Five years. It had been almost five years since she had last thought of Ponyville, and she wasn’t looking forward to returning. She would have preferred to simply turn Twilight down, but one did not refuse the request of a Princess without at least hearing them out. Like Twilight had said, there had been more than enough money with the letter for Cheerilee to take first class all the way to Ponyville and, after some thought, Cheerilee had gone out and purchased a ticket.

The intercom crackled to life once more, and the cool feminine voice once again filled the train car as the train started to slow down.

“We are now arriving at Ponyville Station. Please be careful when removing your luggage, as it may have shifted in transit. We thank you for riding the Friendship Express, and hope you have a nice day.”

Cheerilee unsteadily stood in the center of the aisle as the train rode to a squealing halt. One of her legs had fallen asleep during the ride, and she gave it a quick shake to return feeling to it. She didn’t have any luggage, since she intended to leave Ponyville as soon as she had heard Twilight out. A tiny purse with a single small item in it and a small bag with a few necessities were all she had brought with her from her home.

After a few seconds’ pause, the doors smoothly slid open with a faint hiss. Cheerilee stepped out into the rain, her hooves splashing in the puddles that covered the wet cobblestones. Cheerilee closed her eyes and tilted her head back, enjoying the feeling of the cool water running down her body.  Inhaling through her nose, the fresh scent of the surrounding fields tickled familiarly at her senses.

Despite her desire to leave as soon as possible, she had to admit she enjoyed the smell and feel of the town. There were never any moments like this in Neigh York. The Big Apple always smelled of industry and smoke, and there were always dozen of ponies bustling around everywhere. She could never take a moment to just enjoy some peace and quiet and she could feel her worries washing away, even if it was just a tiny amount.

A nearby female voice spoke up, bringing Cheerilee back to the present. “Miss Cheerilee?”

Looking where the voice had come from, Cheerilee saw Twilight Sparkle walking towards at her. The earth pony could see herself reflected in the young Princess’ violet eyes, and her mind drew an immediate connection to a bug trapped in amber. Twilight’s wings were pressed tightly against her sides, the purple feathers smoothly transitioning into her purple coat. A sharp horn spiralled out of her deep blue mane, and a purple stripe ran through both her mane and tail. Her horn was glowing faintly, and an umbrella floated above her, wrapped in the same raspberry coloured glow.

Cheerilee inclined her head, bowing slightly. “Princess Sparkle.”

Twilight giggled awkwardly, floating the umbrella over above Cheerilee’s head. “Please,” she said, “call me Twilight. All those formalities make me itch. I don’t know how the Princesses can handle it. Er, the other Princesses. I mean...” Blushing furiously, she gave up as Cheerilee laughed.

“Still haven’t got used to your title?” Cheerilee teased gently. Even five years ago, Twilight had always tried to downplay or flat-out ignore her own position.

“It doesn’t come up much,” Twilight huffed indignantly. “Anyways,” she said with a meaningful look around the station, where ripples danced across the surface of the surrounding puddles from the heavily falling rain. “Why don’t we head back to my place? I can make some tea and we can talk there.”

“Lead the way,” Cheerilee said with a wave of her hoof. With Twilight slightly in the lead, the two mares slowly began making their way through the muddy streets towards the library where Twilight lived.

“It wasn’t easy finding you,” Twilight said after a few minutes, trying to make casual conversation. “What have you been up to?”

“Oh, this and that,” Cheerilee said, shrugging off the question. An awkward silence filled the air between, neither of them sure how to fill it. Before the silence could become too deep, a shout rang out from a nearby building as they passed.


Something charged out the door of the building, slamming into Cheerilee and throwing her to the ground with a wet squelch. Cheerilee grunted as something heavy landed on her chest. Turning her head to see what it was, Cheeriliee’s sight was filled with a pair of large greyish-green eyes looking back down at her.

“Not again…” Twilight groaned. The pair of eyes looked in her direction, and Cheerilee saw they belonged to a white unicorn mare. The mare’s mane and tail were two-toned, half light purple and half rose coloured. She looked young, only a few years away from foalhood.

“Oh, hey Twilight,” the mare squeaked. A shout from the store she had just left drew her attention, and the white unicorn glanced in that direction. “Sorry I can’t stay to talk. See you around.” She smiled sheepishly down at Cheerilee as she jumped off of her. “Sorry about that, Miss.” With a wave of her tail, the unicorn disappeared around a corner as an angry bright orange stallion barreled out into the street.

Cheerilee stared in the direction the young mare had vanished. An almost-forgotten memory tickled at the back of her mind before she was finally able to place it. “Wasn’t that Sweetie Belle?” she asked Twilight uncertainly from her position on the ground.

“Yeah…” Twilight said with a heavy sigh. “Rarity and her parents aren’t sure why she’s doing it.” Something in the mud beside Cheerilee began to glow with Twilight’s distinctive magical aura before floating up into the air. “Looks like she dropped whatever she took. I’ll just go return this.” Walking over to the angry stallion, Twilight intercepted him before he could chase after Sweetie Belle.

Her mind drifting to thoughts of her former student, Cheerilee slowly climbed out of the mud. From what she could remember, Sweetie Belle had always been one of the most honest students she had ever taught. Why would she be shoplifting? Cheerilee shook her head, mud flying free of her mane. No, she scolded herself, it doesn’t matter to you. That’s not your life anymore.

“Sorry about that,” Twilight said, walking up to her. Behind the alicorn, the orange storeowner had returned to his domain, heavily slamming the door behind him.

“It’s not your fault,” Cheerilee said, brushing some of the sticky mud off her sides. Twilight’s magical aura wrapped around her and all the mud covering her abruptly disappeared.

“I still feel responsible. You’re here because of me.” Picking up the dropped umbrella, she levitated it above Cheerilee again. “Let’s get to my place and I’ll try to make it up to you.”

The pair continued walking, their hooves leaving imprints in the increasingly muddy streets. Large puddles that had started formed in the middle of the road, and they would occasionally have to go around them. Cheerilee eventually broke the silence after several minutes, posing the question that had been plaguing her mind. “What was that all about?”

Twilight shook her head, her wet mane slapping limply at her sides. “I’m not really sure,” she admitted. “We’ve tried asking her, but she refuses to talk to us about it.”

“Have you tried talking to her friends? She might have said something to them.”

“No luck,” Twilight said. “Pipsqueak and Twist aren’t very close to her, and they say she hasn’t told them anything either.”

“Pipsqueak and Twist?” Cheerilee asked curiously before she could stop herself. “What about those other friends of hers? Apple Bloom and Scootaloo?” Stop it! she scolded herself again. Stop asking questions! It doesn’t matter to you, so quit it!

Twilight laughed bitterly, unaware of Cheerilee’s mental turmoil. “Yeah right, that’s a laugh. Apple Bloom hasn’t left the farm in years, and the less said about Scootaloo, the better.” Twilight coughed awkwardly, giving Cheerilee a sidelong glance. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You see…”

“Oh look, we’re here,” Cheerilee interrupted, cutting Twilight off. She was pretty sure she knew why Twilight had asked her here now, and there was only one way that conversation could end.

Twilight grunted, seeing that they had indeed reached the tree library without her realizing it. Walking up the stairs, she pushed the doors open as she folded up the umbrella. “Spike!” she shouted inside. “Our guest’s here!”

A deep male voice drifted out of the building, its booming impressiveness somewhat undercut by the way it broke at the end. “Coming, Twilight! Tea’s just finished.” As Cheerilee entered the library, the source of the voice walked out of the kitchen.

Adolescence had been kind to Spike, the once-pudgy dragon much leaner and sleeker than he had been five years ago. Standing on his back legs as he carried a tea tray with two empty cups and a steaming kettle, he was almost three times as tall as Cheerilee or Twilight. Passing through the doorway, he needed to duck to avoid banging his head on the frame. His purple scales and green spines were well maintained, and his green reptilian eyes blinked down at the two mares. A pair of green wings the same color as his spines hung limply at his sides, and Cheerilee suspected they were as long as she was when fully extended.

Spike nodded his head in greeting, giving Cheerilee a closed-mouth smile that kept his fangs hidden. Placing the tea tray on a table in the center of the room, he turned and quickly disappeared through an open doorway.

Cheerilee gave the doorway Spike had vanished through before turning it to Twilight. “That was a little strange,” she said as they sat down. “Was it something I said?”

Twilight smiled uncomfortably as she poured the tea, its gentle fragrance filling the room. “It’s not your fault. Spike’s just not good with ponies he’s not used to. They usually start screaming and calling him a ‘monster’.” She frowned and Cheerilee could see the kettle quivering in her magical grip. “If I ever catch any of them, I swear I’ll show them what a monster is.”

Cheerilee coughed, trying to interrupt Twilight’s line of thought. The idea of being the only pony in a room with an angry Princess was not a pleasant one. “What about the ponies in Ponyville? Surely they’re not scared of him? It’s been five years, and I still remember him as that chubby little reptile that followed you and Rarity everywhere.”

Twilight laughed fondly as she returned the kettle to the table. “Don’t worry. Most ponies around here see him the same way. It’s just whenever we have to go somewhere for something official that there’s a problem. He shouldn’t have to hide at home because of some arrogant bigots.” Picking her cup up, she simply watched the thick steam that slowly drifted upwards. “It’s not right,” she mumbled.

Picking up her own tea, Cheerilee blew on it as she surreptitiously watched Twilight over the brim of her cup. It was obviously something that meant a lot to the young alicorn. Taking a sip of the tea, Cheerilee was pleasantly surprised by the subtle wealth of flavors that flooded her mouth. “This is good tea,” she told Twilight. “Is it Zecora’s?”

“Yeah.” Twilight said, holding her own cup in her hooves. “Princess Celestia told me that good tea is one of the few pleasures of a long life, but I dunno. I just can’t get into it.” Putting her untouched tea back on the table, she turned to look at Cheerilee. “But we’re not here to talk about tea. I’m sure you’re curious, so I’ll get right to it; I want you to teach a class at the Ponyville Schoolhouse.”

“I refuse,” Cheerilee said flatly, pointedly taking another sip of tea.

Twilight gave the mare sitting across her a pained look. “Please, Cheerilee,” she all but begged. “I’m out of ideas. You’re my last hope.”

Cheerilee stared down into her cup of tea, seeing herself in the reflection. “I’m no longer a teacher, Twilight. If you put so much energy into finding me, you should already know that. I’ve retired from that life.”

“Don’t say that,” Twilight pleaded. “Didn’t you used to say that your cutie mark symbolized your care for your students and how you loved to watch them grow? Don’t you want to do that again?”

Cheerilee looked down to where her cutie mark proudly adorned her flank. The three bright yellow flowers smiled up at her, and Cheerilee sighed deeply before looking back up at Twilight. “I’m retired,” she restated. “If you need help for those kids, it should be easy for you to get help from Canterlot. You’re a Princess; throw some weight around. Surely you can find somepony better than some no-name former teacher.”

Twilight shook her head sadly, looking down at the table. “We already tried that. Some of the best professionals Canterlot has to offer tried to tame that class. All of them were sent packing within the year. Apparently, some of them even quit their jobs. That class is vicious to their teachers, and Diamond Tiara and Scootaloo are the worst of the lot. I asked you here because you were the last teacher who was able to control them.”

Giving her teacup a little shake, Cheerilee watched as her reflection danced within its china confines. Her expression looked back at her, placid yet firm. “I see,” she said after a pause. “That’s a very sad story, but unfortunately it has nothing to do with me.”

“Cheerilee!” Twilight exclaimed, slamming her hoof against the table. Her teacup rattled in its saucer, but she ignored it. “How can you say that!?”

“I’m not an educator anymore, Twilight,” Cheerilee said calmly. Affecting to ignore Twilight’s outburst, she took another sip of tea. “Somepony like me has no right to teach those kids.”

“Cheerilee…” Twilight said in a strained voice. Sighing sadly, she relaxed and the tension seemed to drain out of her body. “I heard about what happened,” she said. Cheerilee visibly tightened at that, but didn’t say anything. “It was terrible, but what happened wasn’t your fault.” An angry tink cut her off as Cheerilee put her teacup down.

“That doesn’t matter,” Cheerilee said firmly, standing up. From her higher position, she glared down at the still-sitting Princess. “I’m not a teacher anymore, and that’s final. If that’s all you wanted from me, then I’m afraid you’ve wasted both your time and mine.”

“I…” Seeing no sign of give anywhere in Cheerilee’s face, Twilight was forced to give up, though unwillingly. “…Fine. But won’t you at least stay the night?” She gestured outside, where the rain was coming down harder than ever. “It’ll clear up in the morning.”

Several hours later, Cheerilee was staring up at the ceiling of the library’s main room, listening to the patter of the rain outside. She lay on Twilight’s guest bed, which was little more than a mattress tossed on an open spot on the floor. The room was almost pitch black, illuminated only by the lanterns outside. Twilight had already gone to bed hours earlier, but Cheerilee was unable to get to sleep.

“A teacher, huh…” she mumbled. She had to admit that she didn’t find her current life as fulfilling as she had when she had lived as a teacher. The cute sleepy faces of her students in the morning and the happy noises they made as they played had never failed to bring a smile to her face. All she had to look forward to now was her small cramped apartment and the hustle and bustle of the crowded street.

Grunting, Cheerilee rolled over, pulling the covers up over her head. What are you thinking, girl? she asked herself. How many times do you have to remind yourself that that is no longer your life? It’s over. That’s all there is to it. Her mind was already made up. Why are you even thinking about this?

Rolling out onto her back, Cheerilee huffed at her thoughts. There’s nothing to think about, she told herself firmly. In the morning, you’re leaving. Just say your goodbyes and leave. This was a wasted trip. Having made up her mind, Cheerilee let her mind blank out, quashing any opposing thoughts as they threatened to form. She listened to the soft drumbeat the rain made as it beat against the walls and windows, letting it relax her. The pitter-patter was very soothing, and Cheerilee soon felt herself drifting off to sleep.


Cheerilee’s ear twitched sharply as the grip of sleep released her entirely. That wasn’t rain. Quieting her breathing, she focused her hearing and tried to hear the noise again.


That was definitely the sound of somepony crying. It sounded like it was coming from just outside, the weak noise almost drowned out by the sound of the pouring rain. Knowing she would never get to sleep without finding out what that noise was, Cheerilee threw the covers off her body and climbed off the bed. Walking slowly in the unfamiliar territory, she cautiously made her way through the darkened room towards the door before quietly pushing it open. A blast of wet air slapped her face as the door swung open, and she stepped through the doorway into the howling storm outside.

The crying was louder outside and Cheerilee was easily able to find its source. A fairly young mare sat pressed up against the side of the library, shivering as she hid from the cold rain. The mare had a light greyish violet coat with a light blonde mane and tail, and her flank was adorned with the image of a bow and arrow. She had her back to Cheerilee, and hadn’t yet noticed the former schoolteacher’s appearance. Her shoulders shuddered as unsuppressed sobs tore through her body.

“Are you alright?” Cheerilee asked. The young mare swung around at the noise, and Cheerilee was able to get a better look at her. A tiny horn poking out of the mare’s mane proclaimed her to be a unicorn, and her golden eyes were red and puffy from crying. Something about her looked familiar to Cheerilee. “…Aren’t you Dinky?” Cheerilee asked, thinking she recognized her from the schoolhouse.

“Yes,” Dinky sniffled, rubbing at her eyes. Her tears wiped away, she looked up at Cheerilee. “Who’re you?”

“I’m…” Cheerilee hesitated. She didn’t want anypony to know she had been in Ponyville, and had hoped to leave without talking to anypony at all. “I’m a friend of Twilight’s,” she said instead, gesturing at the library beside them.

“Oh,” Dinky said simply. Silence filled the gap between them as the rain pounded the ground only inches away, splashing them both with a cool spray. Dinky shifted uncomfortable under Cheerilee’s gaze before looking down at the ground.

Seeing that Dinky wasn’t going to say anything else, Cheerilee decided to ask some questions. “What are you doing out here this late at night? Isn’t your mother going to worry about you? What was her name…?” Cheerilee tapped her forehoof against the ground, trying to remember the name of Dinky’s mother. “That’s it! Derpy! Isn’t Derpy worried about you?”

“She’s not Derpy!” Dinky shrieked, her voice rising to an ear-splitting pitch. “Her name’s Ditzy!” Cheerilee took a step back from the force of the yell, as well as the anguish that filled it. A single tear rolled down Dinky’s cheek, and she sniffled before looking down again. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but the others always make fun of her and I just… I just….” She sniffled again.

Cheerilee quickly spoke up, wanting to prevent Dinky from breaking into tears. “It’s alright. I didn’t know. I apologize.” Seeing Dinky give her a quavering little smile, Cheerilee gave a reassuring smile in return. “But I’m certain that your mother is very worried about you. Come on.” Leaning down, she helped Dinky stand up. “Let’s get you home.”

Dinky wiped her eyes before slowly nodding her head. “…’k.”

Pushing Dinky out into the rain, Cheerilee walked alongside her. The two walked side by side in silence, the cold rain running unchecked along their manes and backs. The streets were faintly lit by the lanterns that lined the roads, and they had to be careful not to step in any of the larger puddles.

After they had walked for several minutes, Cheerilee looked over at Dinky. “So you going to tell me what that was about?” she asked. Her mind screamed at her. NO! Stop asking questions! It’s not your concern! She grimaced, mentally screaming back. Shut up! The voice silenced itself, retreating into the recesses of her mind.

Dinky sighed, looking up at the sky. The rain pooled in her upturned eyes before running unimpeded down her cheeks. “It’s stupid,” she said after a few seconds had passed. “I know crying doesn’t help anything, but I just can’t help it. Whenever they say those things about my mom, I just get so mad. I guess I just feel helpless.”

“Do you want to tell me what they said?” Cheerilee asked kindly.

Dinky shook her head. “No. I just want to forget they said it.” She turned off the main road onto a little walkway leading up to a house. “We’re here,” she said, nodding up at the house. “Won’t you come in? My mom’ll probably want to thank you.”

Cheerilee shrugged – it wasn’t like she had anything better to do right now – and followed after Dinky. The lights were still on inside, so Der- Ditzy was probably still awake.

The young unicorn led the way to the front door before pushing it open. “Hi Mom!” she called inside. “I’m home!” The doorway opened into a fairly unremarkable corridor, a set of stairs at the end leading upstairs.

“Muffin!” came a somewhat boyish cry from inside, followed by a loud crash. A grey pegasus flew down the hallway, leaping on Dinky and wrapping her up in an enthusiastic hug. “You worried me!”

“Sorry, mom,” Dinky replied fondly, returning the hug and resting her head against Ditzy’s shoulder. The two held each other like that until Ditzy released the hug and stepped back, letting Cheerilee get a good look at her.

Ponyville’s resident mailmare looked pretty much the same as Cheerilee remembered her. Her bluish grey coat covered her coat and feathers, topped by her light greenish yellow mane and tail. But it was her eyes that really stood out. Running a gradient, they were coloured differently on the top than they were on the bottom, going from a rusty brown to a light apple green. One stared up at the ceiling while the other one focused on Cheerilee. “Who’s your friend?” Ditzy asked her daughter.

“Oh, right.” Dinky stepped aside, letting Ditzy see Cheerilee. “Mom, this is a friend of Twilight’s. She found me outside the library and walked me home.”

“Well, any friend of Twilight’s is probably a good pony,” Ditzy said with a beaming smile. “Thank you for helping my daughter. But,” she added, looking at Dinky, “what were you doing outside the library at this hour?”

Dinky looked down, not willing to meet her mother’s gaze. “Nothing.”

Ditzy grabbed Dinky’s chin, lifting her head and forcing her to meet the pegasus’ gaze. Seeing Dinky’s puffy red eyes, Ditzy sighed and released her grip. “Muffin…” she said sadly. “You can’t let them get to you. I’ve told you that. ”

“I know, Mom. But they’re just so mean.” Covering her mouth with a hoof, Dinky tried and failed to suppress an enormous yawn. She had a slightly shocked expression on her face, which was quickly overcome by a cute little giggle.

Ditzy giggled as well. “Sounds like little Muffin is tired,” she said fondly, stepping to one side of the hallway. “Go get yourself some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Dinky affectionately nuzzled her mother’s cheek. “Love you.”

“I love you too, muffin,” Ditzy said, nuzzling her daughter in return. As Dinky walked past her towards the stairs, Ditzy turned to look at Cheerilee. “Thank you so much for bringing my little Muffin home,” she said gratefully. “How can I repay you?”

“That’s alright,” Cheerilee said with a smile and a slight shake of her head. “I just did what anypony would. If you’ll excuse me…” She turned and walked towards the open door.

With a single beat of her wings, Ditzy flew over Cheerilee’s head and shut the door before the earth pony could reach it. “Out in that?” Ditzy protested. “You’ll catch a cold. Let’s get you dried off. You can stay the night.”

Before Cheerilee could respond, she found herself bodily pushed inside. She could escape if she wanted to, but she allowed herself to be hustled into Ditzy’s house. The lonely walk back to Twilight’s in the rain wasn’t that appealing, anyway.

Swept inside Ditzy’s living room, Cheerilee took a look around the small room. Like the hallway, the room was mostly barren, with only a few small pictures adorning the walls. Most of them were child-like scribbles, and had probably been drawn by Dinky. A small sofa sat in the middle of the room, lying on its back with its legs up in the air. A potted fern was placed beside the sofa, its green leaves offering a solitary splash of color to the otherwise unremarkable room. Cheerilee wondered how much money Ditzy made on a mailmare’s salary.

Ditzy easily picked up the sofa, putting it back upright and straightening the cushions. “Go ahead,” she said, gesturing for Cheerilee to have a seat. “I was just about to have some cocoa. You want some?”

“That would be lovely,” Cheerilee said, sitting down. As Ditzy walked out of the room, Cheerilee noticed the small puddle she was making on the cushion. “If it’s not too much bother, could I have a towel as well? I don’t want to make a stain on your lovely couch.”

“Sure thing,” Ditzy called back. Cheerilee could hear the pegasus moving around the kitchen, bangs and clatters marking the path of the somewhat clumsy mare. After about half a minute of this, Ditzy strode back into the living room, a platter with two steaming cups balanced on her back and a towel held in her mouth. “Thanks,” she said as Cheerilee took the towel. Placing the platter down on the middle of the sofa, she sat on the end opposite Cheerilee. “Help yourself, though I don’t know if you’ll like it. It tastes a little funny. I just don’t know what went wrong.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” Cheerilee reassured. Picking up her own cup and taking a sip, Cheerilee had to fight the urge to spit it out immediately. Unlike her host, she did know what went wrong. The well-intentioned mare had accidently added salt instead of sugar. Seeing that Ditzy was staring blankly at the opposite wall, Cheerilee immediately took advantage of the opportunity and dumped the contents of her cup on the nearby fern.

“Did she… did she say what happened?”

Cheerilee looked over at Ditzy, and saw that the pegasus had put her own cocoa cup down. The wall-eyed mare had slouched out, her head resting on the sofa back as she stared up at the ceiling. Cheerilee blinked before deciding how to answer. “…No,” she said at last. “I just found her and brought her home.”

To her surprise, Ditzy chuckled at that. “It’s fine. You don’t have to lie about it.” Turning her head towards Cheerilee, one of her pupils locked on her guest while the other stared down at the floor. “It was about me, wasn’t it?”

“…Yes,” Cheerilee admitted. She had hoped to hide the truth from Ditzy, since she was afraid knowing she was the reason for her daughter’s distress would only hurt the loving mother. “I’m sorry.”

“I already knew,” Ditzy said, leaning forward and staring down at the ground, her blonde mane catching against her ears. “I know everypony thinks I’m clumsy, that I’m a klutz. That’s why they call me Derpy.”

Cheerilee stared down at the ground, unable to say anything. After all, she had thought the exact way.

Catching onto her guest’s silence, Ditzy laughed it off. “Oh, I don’t mind. I know it’s true. I know you think the same, Miss Cheerilee.”

Cheerilee’s head shot up, and she gave the pegasus a wide-eyed stare. “How did you…”

“Know?” Ditzy shrugged. “I’m clumsy, not forgetful. Being the mailmare has some advantages. It’s been five years, but I haven’t forgotten anypony who’s lived in this town. Or was it supposed to be a secret?”

Slowly shaking her head, Cheerilee relaxed against the sofa. “Not really, but I guess I just didn’t want anypony to know I was here. I’m only here because Twilight asked me to and I’m leaving in the morning.”

“I see. That’s disappointing.” Ditzy sighed, letting her mane fall forward over her face. “I thought… well, nevermind. I won’t tell a soul you were here.”

“Thanks, Der- Ditzy.” Cheerilee grimaced at her slip of the tongue. And things had been going so well. No wonder you’re a failure of a teacher.

Despite Cheerilee’s trepidations, Ditzy’s only response was to laugh. “Don’t worry about it. I told you, I don’t care. I actually kinda like the name. I think it suits me.”

“Really?” Cheerilee asked in surprise. “From the way Dinky reacted, I thought you would hate it as well.”

Derpy sighed, the cheerful smile sliding off her face. “The other kids pick on her a lot. Tell her that I’m a pathetic excuse for a pegasus that shouldn’t even be allowed to fly. Things like that.” She waved her hoof carelessly.

Cheerilee gasped in shock. Had any kids said something like that to her about her mother when she was growing up, she would have beaten them black and blue. No wonder the little unicorn had been so sensitive. “But what about her friends at school? Surely they could help her?” Her ear twitched as she remembered she had asked a similar question about Sweetie Belle only this afternoon.

“Dinky doesn’t have any friends at school,” Derpy admitted quietly. “She hates the place. The only reason she goes at all is because I make her.”

“I… but… what…” Cheerilee’s mouth opened and closed like a fish’s. How could anypony hate school? she wondered, her mind whirling with questions. Ponies of her age should have friends they can hang out with. “But… how can she not have any friends?” She decided to focus on the most prudent question. “I remember her always being in a large crowd of ponies. She always seemed to be fairly popular. I would think she would have plenty of friends.”

Derpy seemed to shrink at that, recoiling away from Cheerilee. “I’m afraid that’s my fault,” she admitted. “I always tried to be everything for her, and she never really tried to get close to anypony else. I was her best and eventually her only friend.”

“But she should still want to have friends her own age,” Cheerilee protested.

Derpy laughed mirthlessly, sitting upright and brushing her mane out of her eyes. Her loose eyeball wobbled slightly before focusing on a spot directly above Cheerilee’s head. “Miss Cheerilee,” Derpy said seriously. “Do you know how old I am?”

Cheerilee blinked as the unexpected question caught her off guard. She had never put much thought into it, but she did have to admit the mare seemed rather young. “I don’t know. Maybe thirty five?” she guessed.

“I’ll be twenty nine this spring.”

If Cheerilee had still been drinking her cocoa, she probably would have spat it all across the room. “Wha- What!?” But that- that means…” She quickly started doing some hasty mental math in her head.

“I had Dinky when I was fifteen,” Derpy said, answering Cheerilee’s unanswered question. “I had already split up with her father by the time I realized I was pregnant. At first, I thought I was just getting kinda fat, and by the time I realized what was happening it had already been five months. When I talked to her father about it, he said he wanted nothing to do with her.” Derpy hugged her middle, smiling with a fond reminiscence. “I decided then and there that I would give my daughter all the love I possibly could. I had to drop out of school and move to Ponyville so I could raise her, but my parents gave me enough money to buy a house and start a new life. It was hard, though, and I don’t want Dinky to have to go through what I went through. That’s why I make sure she keeps going to school even though she hates it. She knows why I do it, so she doesn’t complain. I really am lucky to have such a wonderful daughter. I just wish she could have at least one friend her own age. She deserves that much.”

Throughout the entire speech, Cheerilee had remained silent, staring openly at Derpy. She had never imagined the clumsy mailmare had such a complicated past. “But why?” she asked. “Why would you go through so much trouble for her? You must have ruined your own life, so why…?”

Derpy blinked owlishly at Cheerilee, looking somewhat confused by the question. “Isn’t it obvious?” A brilliant smile blossomed on her face, seeming to light up the room with its mere presence. No matter what life she had lived, her look of supreme happiness she wore was as sincere as could be. “It’s because she’s my little Muffin.”

“Where did she go, Spike?”

Inside Twilight’s library, the illustrious librarian was madly dashing back and forth. When she had woken up shortly after sunrise to discover that her guest had vanished, she had panicked.  Guests didn’t just vanish! Where did she go?

“I dunno, Twilight,” Spike sleepily mumbled from his room. “Now let me sleep. Don’ wake up fer ‘nother hour.”

A loud knock against the front door broke through Twilight’s worry. Zipping over to the front door, she pushed it open with her magic. “Cheerilee!” she exclaimed in relief, seeing her missing houseguest on her front doorstep. “Where did you go? I was so worried about-”

“Let’s go,” Cheerilee said, jerking her head towards the center of town and cutting Twilight off.

Twilight tilted her head, not sure what Cheerilee was referring to. “Huh?” she said unintelligently.

“I said let’s go.”Cheerilee paused as she needed to swallow a lump that felt like it had suddenly grown in her throat. “I want to see the students you want me to teach with my own eyes. I’ll make my decision then.”

“Really?” Twilight asked, a smile developing on her face as she realized what Cheerilee was saying. “You’ll think about it? You mean you might decide to teach them after all? That’s great!” She clapped her hooves together, her eyes twinkling with excitement. “Spike!” she shouted up the stairs. “I’m heading outside for a bit.”

“Yeah, sure, great. Have fun.”

“Then let’s go.” Twilight beamed at Cheerilee as she stepped out into the early morning sunlight. “What made you change your mind?”

Cheerilee shrugged, “I guess I just had…” An image of Derpy’s brilliant smile flashed in front of her eyes, and Cheerilee released a tiny sigh. “…an epiphany.” As Twilight looked at her curiously, Cheerilee instead turned her eyes up to the clear morning sky. Could I ever achieve such happiness? she wondered glumly as she watched a few stray clouds drifting lazily in the calm morning air. And would I even deserve it?

Even if such happiness was unachievable, she knew she would regret it forever if she didn’t at least try.