"Spring, can we talk for a moment?" The mares in front of me blinked in unison. I sounded tired - I was tired - and that may have been affecting me a bit. Just a tad. From the semi-elation of 'not going to jail' to depression, distraction and dismay, I had felt just about every high and low barring romantic attachment. And the way I was feeling after that little hug-fest in the administrator's office, I wasn't entirely sure my body was following what my mind was telling it.
The mares shared a look.
"Alright ... Miss Rarity, would you please take a seat and we'll be back in a moment?" Spring asked gently, receiving a nod from the resident fashionista of Ponyville in reply. After Rarity had trotted over to Spring's couch - and grimaced at the state of it - Spring and I went over into an opposite corner for what passed as privacy in Ponyville.
"Spring, this isn't going to work." I jerked my head towards Rarity. Who was still trying to sit on Spring's couch without touching it, which would have been hilarious any other day. Spring opened her mouth but I held up a hoof. "Please, Spring. I'm tired. Tired of a lot of things. Pardon me if I'm blunt but Miss Prim Pants over there and I will not work out. I know this and even if I gave her a chance, just by me thinking that will put her at a disadvantage."
Spring had left her mouth partly open as I spoke and her jaw hinged further down as I continued.
"I'm sure she's a wonderful mare - she's an Element after all - but there's no way I can do this anymore." I looked at her and I must have looked awful because the counselor started to gnaw at her lower lip as she looked between me and Rarity. Who had given up on the couch and was now grimacing at the magazine I had left opened on the table from before the meeting. From the way her face had contorted I was guessing it was a few seasons out of style.
After gnawing away, Spring gave me one final brave look before deflating.
"Bruce, I'm running out of options." Spring's tone shifted drastically and I could hear the desperation. That caused me to do a double-take and my eyes stayed on her grim face. If I felt tired, she looked it. "I want - I need you nearby. Canterlot is packed to bursting, Trottingham's Ministry is a mess and I can't send you farther away without special dispensation. The fact you were found in Ponyville's boundaries works in our favor but if I run out of families willing to take you, I'll have to either find a free bed in Canterlot - which is going to be a miracle if it ever happens - or you'll end up in Trottingham."
She looked at me with a hard stare. "You do not want to end up in Trottingham."
"Holy balls, Spring." I was shocked, amazed, flabbergasted - every word in the thesaurus that could mean 'seriously fazed.' "You're almost talking to me like an adult."
"Bruce, I'm serious," Spring shook her head. She twitched at my word-choice but didn't say anything. Which meant this was a 'super serious' conversation. "I don't want you to disappear into the 'system' because of how delicate your situation is. I've got two options and one of them ... let's just say I'm going to be going over that mare's file soon."
I kept my eyes on her face as her words filtered into my mind. The Cakes were the best option I had and I blew it. Spring was desperately trying to help me find a place and ... I blew it. I looked down as an image of Mr. Cake walking through the hospital doors jumped to my mind. I blew it for a lot of ponies. A hoof brought my chin up and the tired and slightly blurry face of Spring - still smiling that gentle smile - filled my vision.
"Let's give Miss Rarity a chance, okay Bruce?" I looked down at the floor again, though this time in concentration. I had never been 'lost in the system' during my real youth ... despite how unhappy I had been back then, I knew that other kids had it much worse than I. But I'd heard stories and they still sent shivers up my spine. This mare was going out of her way for me and I had done nothing to help. I had done nothing but cause misery and strife. I heaved my own little sigh and nodded.
Rarity and I ended up sitting across from each other at the small coffee table in Spring's office as the pegasus herself completed the 'trifecta of coming catastrophe' a little off to the side. I had taken the nice cushy couch while Rarity was making gagging noises at some mare in what looked like spandex - that magazine was way out of date. She looked up in slight surprise when I cleared my throat and gave me the strangest look when I tried to smile hopefully at her. I don't think she got my message.
"Bruce, are you feeling well?" Rarity looked at Spring's quirked eyebrow and then back to my grinacing face. "Do you need to use the little colt's room?" I dropped the act.
"No, Miss Rarity. I was trying to do that whole 'smile' thing I've heard about but I don't think my face works that way." My statement caught both mares off guard and I swear to everything, Rarity managed to snort. Which caused her face to burst into a blush I could never duplicate even with paint.
"Ahem, Spring darling? Could I bother you for a bit of tea perhaps?" Rarity asked as she tried to cover her social faux pas with a bit of mane-fluffing. I bit my tongue, figuratively this time. No need to antagonize the mare that might be my last chance at contacting the Princess. Because let's face it, Rarity is one step closer to Twilight than I was before. After that little bit of primping - and Rarity had some tea floating in her aura field courtesy of Spring - there was a long and awkward silence.
Followed by a long and only slightly less awkward conversation.
"Bruce," Spring began, "you are not a bad colt." This sounded like a rehearsed script already. Spring continued despite the look of disbelief I gave her. "The Cakes just ... couldn't work with you. I'd like to work with you, I think Miss Rarity would like to work with you - but you need to work with us."
I put on my serious face and nodded. Spring nodded as well and I swore I could see Rarity trying to hide a smile behind her tea cup. Spring didn't notice my glance - taken as she was with shuffling a set of papers in front of her. She cleared her throat and sighed, looking back up at me with a 'stern gaze.' Or at least as stern as a candy colored pony can manage. I was a little less than intimidated. Though these ponies could be downright terrifying, Spring wasn't pulling it off very well.
"But there are some behaviors that we need changed," she glanced at Rarity before continuing. "We're here to help, Bruce. We want you to be happy. We want you to be healthy and cared for but we need you to listen to adults. We need to know where you are in case there's an accident. We need you to communicate with us and to do what we say - so long as it's within reason."
I gave her a blank look. Spring's wings shifted and I could see creases beginning to form on her forehead as I watched.
"'kay." Both mares blinked. "What?"
"That's it?" Rarity was the first to pipe up.
"What?" I looked between the two of them, baffled. Rarity's tea was momentarily forgotten for some reason and it met the tea-plate with a clink. "I may not remember all the time - I've been on my own for nearly twenty years guys."
They blinked again and I rolled my eyes at their antics. "Look, I'm not used to this whole 'suddenly being a kid again' schtick so there will be mistakes and all but so long as no one panics," I gave Spring a hard look and she grimaced at the implication, "or throws a drama queen fit," Rarity gasped and put a hoof to her chest in indignation, "so far I'm on board."
From the hard stare from Spring and Rarity's flattened ears, I knew something was wrong. But I had no idea what it might have been. "What?"
Spring cleared her throat again and pointedly looked at Rarity for some baffling reason. I could tell I had irritated her and Miss Prissy Pants - all the signs were there - but I was lost as to why.
"Bruce, what was your reaction to 'adoption?'" Spring asked. I blinked at her before flipping my ears down in embarrassment. I opened my muzzle ... but had nothing to say. Saying 'I'm a kid' doesn't cut it when you're no longer a kid. The pair of them looked at me for a moment before I let my anger deflate.
"You have a point," I grumbled. Spring nodded at that.
"Yes, well ... we'll work with you on correcting mistakes, Bruce. But please try." She nodded to Rarity and unceremoniously stacked the papers she had so lovingly spread out. I guessed they were some kind of 'foal-friendly' worksheets to make me 'see reason' or something.
"Bruce," Rarity began as Spring finished squirreling away her unused papers, "I'm more than happy to have you stay with me at my home but there are some rules you'll need to follow while you're there."
I suppressed a groan. Barely.
"- and finally, if you do invite a friend over, please be aware that all these rules will apply to them as well." Rarity ignored our looks of shock as she finally - finally! - ended her list. Fifty seven. Fifty seven 'Things Bruce is Not Allowed to Do or Must Do.' I know this because Rarity had produced a scroll with every single item listed in beautiful calligraphy. And they were numbered. Also in calligraphy. At least it was 'earth pony script' so I could read the stupid thing. Spring had a copy and Rarity had a third - and they were all hoof-made from what I could tell. How freakin' long did it take her to make these stupid things? And when?
"Uhm, Rarity?" Spring gave the smiling fashionista a fragile smile. "Don't you think that list is a bit ... long?"
"Whatever do you mean, Spring?"
"Item forty the first," I recited, "all plates are to be emptied of uneaten foodstuffs into the appropriate bins, rinsed, pre-soaked and placed in the appropriate wash basin for cleaning."
"Well, yes." She seemed confused. I was not - just horrified that Rarity was a crazy germaphobe. "We don't want the Boutique to smell of half-rotted vegetables."
"Pre-soaked? And you have different bins for ... why again?" I asked, calmly. Rarity huffed and started to tap a hoof as she listed them. I think this was the pony equivalent of counting on fingers.
I miss fingers.
"One is for daily-use items, one is for my special Crystal China and one is for my tea set." The way she said this made me seriously consider asking to go to Trottingham. Bad orphanages aside, at least I can deal with bullies and freaks. A unicorn that honestly thinks three 'bins' for dish washing duties is necessary might be a bit too much for me. I took a calming breath before I started on a rant about crazy ponies and Spring leapt on the opportunity to smooth things over.
"Perhaps we can narrow some of these down for Bruce, hmm?" Spring looked at Rarity with half-pleading eyes and the unicorn grimaced a bit. "A few of them seem to be duplicates."
"Well," the unicorn hemmed and hawed as she thought this over, "I can see some of them might seem like duplicates but there is a very good reason for that. I wanted to make sure-"
About this time, I pretty much zoned out. Not because the conversation was boring - it actually got a bit tense as both mares started to 'heatedly discuss' the relative merits of certain portions of Rarity's List and perhaps I should have added to the general chaos with my precocious ways. No, I zoned out because a memory resurfaced. A recent memory. One that didn't seem all that strange when it happened but, as I looked back at it, really struck a powerful chord in me. A cultural thing, if you will.
It was in the middle of one of Spring's 'points' that I slammed both hooves to the couch and shot into an upright sitting position causing both mares to jump in surprise at my sudden movement. But ears flattened at what happened next. I think my shout was heard throughout the hospital and though the words may have been lost, the anguish in it would forever haunt ponies as I screamed.
"Oh my god, my nose touched his junk!"