• Published 26th Aug 2013
  • 1,898 Views, 59 Comments

Cheer for Me, Cheerilee - Written Out

Five years after quitting teaching, Cheerilee finds herself pulled back to Ponyville to teach once again.

  • ...

Maybe I can Teach?

...Twisting…Turning…Swaying in the breeze…

…A scream…A still heart…Quiet…Empty…

…Tears…Regret…Can’t go back…

…Mustn’t go back…

Cheerilee woke with a groan, a dull throbbing pain shooting through the back of her eyeballs. She lay face down on her mattress, the remnants of the party all around her. Streamers, balloons, and confetti of all colours and shape lay discarded through the library, clinging to the books and shelves. The banner had torn at some point during the night and was left hanging limply from a single nail.

A loud clatter suddenly rang out from the kitchen, and Cheerilee whimpered as she buried her head underneath her pillow. It felt like an army of ponies with sledgehammers had been trapped in her skull and were desperately trying to get out. The pounding her head shot to an agonizing peak as she moved before it quickly tapered off to a more bearable intensity. As the pain reached a tolerable level, Cheerilee tried to remember what had happened the previous night. The last thing she could remember was talking to Fluttershy about… something.

A shadow loomed over Cheerilee, blocking out the light. She stuck one red eye out from underneath her protective pillow to see an amused-looking dragon staring down at her. He held a coffee pot in one clawed paw and a white mug in the other, steam billowing out of the pot’s spout.

“Sounds like you had a fun night,” Spike said as he poured some of the steaming coffee out into the cup. He passed it down to Cheerilee, who gratefully reached out to take it. Her covers fell off her upper body, pooling atop her hindlegs as she sat upright. Spike sat down and waited as Cheerilee greedily guzzled down the entire cup.

“Ahh!” Cheerilee proclaimed as the last of the coffee disappeared into to her greedy belly. “I feel like a new pony! More?” She tentatively held out her cup and Spike poured her another cupful. Pulling the cup back to tack a sip of the dark, rich wonder held within, she stared at her companion over the rim. “You know,” she said after she put the cup down, “I didn’t see you at the party last night. You vanished pretty quickly.”

Spike leaned back with a shrug, supporting himself against his long, prehensile tail. “I usually don’t go to any of Pinkie’s evening parties, especially not when it’s adults-only. Not a fan of alcohol, you know?”

Cheerilee cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really?’ she asked. “Twilight doesn’t mind you drinking?”

“Dragon,” Spike explained, gesturing at himself with the tip of his spaded tail. “It does absolutely nothing for me. All the alcohol is evaporated by my flames before I can process it.” To prove his point, he spat a stream of emerald flames towards the ceiling, which danced in the air for a moment before it vanished into a wisp of smoke and warmth.

“Mmm,” Cheerilee said as she enjoyed another mouthful of coffee. She hadn’t taken the time to enjoy it before, but it was just as she liked it; pitch black without a drop of cream or sugar. A single drop of milk is all it takes to destroy the pitch black magic in the cup, she thought happily, taking another swig. Her gaze slowly shifted from the coffee to the dragon sitting in front of her. I wonder… Spike, what’s your drop? “You know,” she said, “I had a little talk with Applejack last night. We didn’t talk much, but she did tell me something interesting. She said you’re afraid of me.”

“Applejack says a lot of things,” Spike replied defensively, crossing his arms over his chest. Cheerilee’s eyebrow rose a little further and Spike sighed, throwing his paws up in the air. “Alright, alright. I admit it. I was scared of you. But I’m not anymore. Happy?”

“How come you’re not afraid of me anymore?” Cheerilee questioned, tilting her head curiously.

Spike snorted in laughter, a whisper of smoke escaping from his nostrils as he waved a paw dismissively in her direction. “Scared of somepony who looks like they just lost a fight with a wagon?” he teased her. “Who looks like they have half of Fluttershy’s animals nesting in their mane?”

Cheerilee glared at him, running a hoof through her mane. Like he had said, it was a tangled mess, sticking wildly in every direction. “Hmph,” she grunted at him, hastily smoothing down her wild mane. “Alright, fine. But you still shouldn’t be afraid of me in the first place. You can’t be afraid of every new pony you meet.”

“Hey!” Spike protested, beating a paw against his outthrust chest. “I’m not scared of nopony! I just…” he hesitated before looking down at the ground, “don’t like meeting new ponies. That’s all.”

Cheerilee held her cup under her nose, letting the delectable bitter scent waft into her nostrils. She could tell that, no matter how black and bitter the coffee before her, it was nowhere near as dark as whatever Spike was holding close to his heart. She could see he was hiding something from her. That he was in pain. Even though he was three times her size and covered in scales, she just wanted to pull him close and tell him everything would be alright.

No! she told herself, squashing those feelings. What do you think you can do? You? You’re pathetic, a failure of a teacher! You couldn’t help a single one of your students! Who do you think you’re trying to fool, teaching again? You’re only going to hurt yourself again. And you’ll just hurt him more.

The pair sat together in mutual, unshared pain. When Twilight came down the stairs a few minutes later, she found them sitting together in heavy silence.

Cheerilee let out a thankful mental groan as the school bell rang, signifying the start of lunch. Hiding her emotions beneath a smiling façade, she cheerily smiled at the class. “Alright class, close your books and we’ll pick up after lunch.” As the schoolbooks vanished to be replaced with boxed lunches, Cheerilee slid open a drawer of her desk and pulled out her own lunch. She licked her lips at the thought of it. Spike had made her a daffodil and sunflower sandwich. She still felt guilty about leaving him alone to clean up the library by himself. I’ll have to make it up to him later.

“Um… excuse me… Miss Cheerilee?” Cheerilee stuck her head up to see who was talking to her. Little Dinky stood before her desk, a timid expression on her face. Her mannerisms reminded Cheerilee of a scared little animal.

“Yes?” Cheerilee asked in a soothing tone of voice. She felt that if she scared Dinky now, the little unicorn might bolt. “What is it?”

“It’s… um…” Dinky glanced at the class behind her. The other students were starting to tear into their own lunches, uninterested as to what was going on at the front of the class. Dinky turned to look at Cheerilee. “Could we… could we talk outside?”

“Alright.” Leaving her sandwich behind, Cheerilee followed Dinky out into the hallway. Out in the empty hallway, the sound of the classroom they had just left was muffled as Cheerilee slid the door closed. “So?” she asked, looking at the grey unicorn. “What can I do for you?”

“I…” Dinky stared down at the floor before she looked up at Cheerilee. “I wanted to ask you… Did you meet my mom last night? How was she?”

Cheerilee thought back. Most of the previous day was a blur of stress and cider, but she could still remember Derpy’s bizarre actions. “She was acting rather strange,” Cheerilee admitted. “Der-Ditzy said at one point that she had to leave at one point because she had to go deliver a message to me.” She offered a silent gratitude to anypony that might be listening that she remembered not to use the name ‘Derpy’ in front of Dinky.

“Oh…” Dinky sighed, her gaze dropping to the ground. She slumped against the wall, falling against it like a puppet with its strings cut.

“Are you okay?” Cheerilee crouched down beside Dinky, uncertain what she could do for the little mare.

Dinky’s eyes were brimming with pain when she looked up at Cheerilee. “I…” she choked, needing to take a moment to start again. “My mom’s… sick. I think. The doctors don’t know what wrong with her.” The words tumbled out of her, like blood pouring from a wound. “Grandpa told me the story once. When I was just a baby, before we moved here, my mom was involved in a horrible accident. She tried to fly in a storm. I don’t know why, and she won’t tell me, but I know. She tries to laugh it off, tries not to worry me, but I know… “

Dinky trailed off into silence. Cheerilee noticed a few telltale glitters falling from the young unicorn’s cheeks down to the hardwood floor but chose not to comment. After a few seconds, Dinky started again, her words as halting and broken as her choked voice. “She was struck by lightning. She should have been fine. Pegasi are stuck by lightning all the time. They can usually walk it off with a day or so. No problem, no biggie. But something happened. We don’t know what. Ever since, she hasn’t been the same. She isn’t even the same from day to day. She’ll be clear and lucid one day to confused about where our home is the next. And she’s getting worse.”

“Are you…” Cheerilee hesitated. She knew what she was about to ask would only hurt the little unicorn more, but she had to know. “Are you… scared of her?”

“What?” Dinky stared at Cheerilee in disbelief, her shock clear on her face. “Why would you even… oh.” She sighed, wiping at her eyes. “I guess you know. No, it’s nothing like that. She’s never like that. She would never harm me, never harm anypony. I just… thought you would want to know. Why my mom was acting so strangely last night, I mean.”

Cheerilee stared down at Dinky, her eyes full of pity. A mother and daughter, brought together by love. Their hearts torn apart by that very same love. And she couldn’t think of a single thing she could do for them. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Dinky reached up and grabbed Cheerilee’s shoulders, pulling her teacher’s face close to her own. “Could you be her friend?” she asked sincerely. “I know it’s a lot for me to ask, but please. She trusts you.”

Cheerilee stared deep into those earnest eyes, Dinky’s pleading gaze boring into her. She felt a laugh building deep within her, struggling to escape as she thought about the request that Derpy had made. They really are mother and daughter… Removing Dinky’s hooves from her shoulders, Cheerilee held them in her firm grip. “All right,” she told Dinky.

Dinky sniffled, her pain and fear overflowing in the form of tears that rolled unrestrained from her quivering eyes. She leaned forward, burying her face in Cheerilee’s chest. “Promise?” she asked in a quiet voice.

Cheerilee wrapped a forehoof around Dinky’s head, pulling the little unicorn close. Dinky’s horn jabbed painfully into her skin, but she ignored it. “I promise.”

Nearly a minute passed before Cheerilee let go, stepping back from Dinky. Reaching down, she ran her hoof across Dinky’s cheeks. “Now,” she said with a kind smile, “let’s dry those tears of yours. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sandwich waiting for me and I’d hate to disappoint it.” Dinky giggled and Cheerilee felt her heart go out to the little loving unicorn. Maybe… maybe I really can help these kids…

After classes had finished for the day, Cheerilee was left alone in the empty classroom. She picked up dropped pieces of paper, either returning them to the students’ desks or tossing them in the trash. The last two days had been a whirlwind of excitement and she savoured the opportunity to enjoy a moment’s peace.

A happy hum developed in her throat as she went about cleaning the room, eventually developing into a full-blown song. The song was one of her favorites from a play she had often watched back at Neigh York. “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens~” she sang, skipping cheerily down the empty aisles. Her bright, colorful voice filled the empty room as she finished cleaning, eventually ending just as she wiped the blackboard clean. She had thought she was alone throughout the impromptu recital, which was why she was so surprised to hear applause coming from the open classroom door.

“That was wonderful,” Fluttershy said, coming into the room. A saddlebag lay on her back, covering her folded wings. “I didn’t know you sang so well.”

Cheerilee scratched the back of her neck awkwardly. “It’s just something I do for fun.” She didn’t feel comfortable knowing that somepony had been watching her sing. She felt like she had just unintentionally bared her soul. “What are you doing here, Fluttershy? You don’t have any family in my class, right?”

“You forgot?” Disappointment flashed across Fluttershy’s face for a split second before she abruptly giggled. “Actually, I suppose that makes sense. You were a little out of it last night.”

“Huh?” A flash from the previous night popped up in Cheerilee’s mind, half-hidden behind a haze of stress and stress relief. “Oh, that’s right. You wanted to talk about Sweetie Belle.”

Fluttershy smiled thankfully, her one visible eye shimmering brightly. “Yes, that’s right. I think you’ll be able to help her.”

“Help her?” Cheerilee scoffed. “She barely let me talk to her. Besides, Twilight told me that you girls have already been trying to get to her. What do you think I can do that you couldn’t?”

“So are you just going to abandon her?”

The question cut to the very core of Cheerilee’s being, a spasm of pain shooting through her heart. She physically flinched away from Fluttershy, her sorrowful gaze dropping to the floor. “I… No.”

Fluttershy reached out, resting her hoof on Cheerilee’s shoulder. “I know,” she said kindly, her voice brimming with sincerity. “It hurts, I know. You can’t stand to stand by and just watch their pain. You’re like me. Those kids may not be away of it, but we have to be there for them. Because if we aren’t, then who will?”

Cheerilee laughed bitterly. “You’ve changed, Fluttershy.” The mare before her bore little resemblance to the meek mouse of a pony she remembered. Now, the pegasus stood firm, her eye brimming with confidence. Cheerilee kicked at the floor as she turned away, shrugging off Fluttershy’s hoof. “But I’ve changed, too. I’m not the mare I once was. What am I trying to prove, thinking I can help these kids? Who am I trying to fool?” She collapsed in her chair, her head lolling back as she stared up at the ceiling. The words she hadn’t wanted to admit even to herself flowed out. “I’m just a washed-up failure trying to relive my past.”

Fluttershy remained silent for several minutes, staring sadly at Cheerilee. Eventually, she reached up with a single hoof and held it in front of her face. When she spoke, it was in a quiet voice that nevertheless seemed to fill the entire classroom “We all bear scars, Miss Cheerilee. It’s how we work through them that make us who we are. But we can’t do it on our own. That’s what friends are for.”

“Oh yeah?” Cheerilee challenged sharply, glaring at Fluttershy. Who are you to tell me to ‘get over’ my problems? She mentally raged. You have no idea what happened to me! “And? What’s your sc…” She felt her voice die in her throat as Fluttershy pulled back the fringe of her mane that covered her face. Cheerilee’s anger dissipated in the breeze as she saw what had been hidden behind the thick pink mane.

Fluttershy’s right eye was a clear greenish-blue, deep enough to get lost in. It welcomed the world, returning kindness to everything it saw. But her left eye, which was normally hidden from sight, was a cloudy, milky bluish-white. Scar tissue surrounded it, giving the eye an ugly, outlandish appearance. The eye stared emotionlessly forward, revealing nothing and taking nothing in. Cheerilee’s stomach churned at the sight and the taste of bile filled her mouth. “What happened?” she asked breathlessly after she managed to get her churning gut under control.

Fluttershy released her mane, letting it fall limply over her blind eye like a curtain being pulled over a broken window. “I made a mistake,” she said simply, her one good eye remaining firmly locked on Cheerilee’s own. “I’m just grateful I was the only one who got hurt. It could have been so much worse.” She pressed her hoof against her mane, over where Cheerilee now knew her blind eye was. “The doctors were able to reconstruct my eye, but there was nothing they could do to give me my sight back. But that’s fine with me.” She let her hoof fall, and a small distant smile bloomed on her face as her gaze shifted to the open window. “I don’t need my eyes. So long as I have my friends, there’s nothing I’m afraid of.” Her view returned to Cheerilee, and she held her hoof out to the other mare. “You don’t have to be afraid, either. It’s okay. Let me help you.”

Cheerilee stared blankly at Fluttershy’s outstretched hoof, not really sure about what she should do. For years, she had gotten by by holding everypony at arm’s length. Now Fluttershy was laying siege to the walls that surrounded her heart, not with a battering ram, but with simple kindness. Almost against her will, Cheerilee’s own hoof slowly inched towards the offered appendage and what it promised. She tentatively brushed against the yellow hoof, almost flinching away as the simple touch seemed to send an electric shock speeding through her leg. The barriers around her heart shuddered and crumbled, helpless against the gentle touch of the friendly pegasus.

Fluttershy reached forward and cupped Cheerilee’s hoof, bringing it up to the side of her face. She leaned against Cheerilee’s hoof, letting it press into her cheek as she closed her eyes. “You see?” she said, a serene smile on her face. “I knew you could do it.”

Cheerilee just stood there, her hoof resting against Fluttershy’s cheek. Warm… she thought. Had Fluttershy always been so warm? Wait, no, that wasn’t right. The warmth wasn’t coming from Fluttershy, it was coming from within Cheerilee. A happy warmth slowly spread in the hearth of her heart, where only ashes had been for years, suffusing her blood and her body with a feeling she had nearly forgotten. Friendship. “Thank you.” Cheerilee extracted her hoof from Fluttershy’s grip, laying it down on her desk beside her. It felt like a great load on her shoulders had been lightened for the first time in years. “Thank you, Fluttershy.”

“You’re very welcome, Cheerilee.” Fluttershy looked up at the clock just above the door, gasping in shock as she saw how much the arms had moved since she arrived. “Oh dear. That took longer than I thought it would. Sorry, but I can’t stay to talk,” she said apologetically. “I’ve got an appointment at the spa this evening.” She took a single step towards the doorway before looking back at Cheerilee, a speculative expression on her face. “Actually,” she said as if the idea had just occurred to her, “would you like to come along? It’s a good way to relax, and I can tell you what I wanted to tell you about Sweetie Belle.”

“You know…” Cheerilee rolled her shoulders, the bones and muscles creaking and shifting over each other. Her burden may feel lighter than it had in years, but she could still feel it pressing down on her nonetheless. Go ahead. What could it hurt? “You know, I think I might like that.”

After closing up the schoolhouse, Cheerilee and Fluttershy walked next to each other towards the Ponyville spa and massage parlour. Thin clouds covered the sky, giving several pegasi a place to perch as they watched the crowds walking below them.

Seeing these pegasi, Cheerilee turned to look at her companion… no, her friend. Cheerilee looked over at her friend walking beside her. “What’s it like?” she asked the butter yellow pegasus, gesturing at the pegasi above them. “Being able to fly, I mean.”

“Oh, it’s…” Fluttershy hesitated to frame her answer, and Cheerilee held her breath in anticipation as she waited. “…nice,” Fluttershy said eventually. “I don’t really fly very much,” she admitted. “You’d probably be better off asking somepony else. Sorry”

Cheerilee sighed in disappointment at the non-answer given to her. Taking the ability to fly freely through the air unrestrained by the constraints of gravity and calling it ‘nice’ felt a little anti-climactic. “I was just curious,” she confessed. “I’ve seen the world pretty high up before from the skyscrapers of Neigh York, but I’ve never really thought about what it must be like to fly.” Her voice dropped to a quiet whisper. “The world must look so different from up there…”

“I think it looks beautiful either way.” Fluttershy stopped, looking at a tiny flower growing right next to the road. The flower hadn’t blossomed yet, its petals still held firmly closed. Carefully digging into the ground around it, Fluttershy delicately pulled it out by its roots. “But you can see everything so much clearer from down here. It may not seem like much, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Cheerilee gave Fluttershy a wry smile. “Wise. Seems like I’ve learned something today. Maybe I should watch out; you might try to take my job.”

Fluttershy giggled as she slipped the small flower into her saddlebag. “Not me. I wouldn’t be able to handle so many children at once.” She pointed at a building ahead of them with a drooping purple roof and clean white walls, giving it a tent-like appearance. “We’re here.” She led the way into the spa, Cheerilee following after her.

A pair of earth ponies sat behind the counter, and both of them looked over as the little bell hanging above the door gave a quiet ring. Both of them were mares, their manes carefully tied back so they wouldn’t dangle in front of their faces. One had a pink coat and a blue mane and tail, while the other had a blue coat and a pink mane and tail. “Ah, Miss Fluttershy,” the blue-coated one said, a strong accent in her voice. “We have been waiting for you.”

“Sorry, Lotus Blossom,” Fluttershy apologized, hanging her saddlebags up on a hook on the wall. She gestured at Cheerilee standing in the doorway, who was looking blankly around the large open room. “Is it all right if Cheerilee joins us? I don’t want to be a bother…”

“It’s no bother at all, Miss Fluttershy,” the pink-coated one – Cheerilee vaguely remembered that her name was Aloe – said. Both of them looked over Cheerilee with curious interest. “We had heard the prodigal teacher had returned. It’s good to see the rumours are true.” They momentarily shared a meaningful glance before turning those gazes back to Cheerilee. “We can tell that you need this, so we’ll give you our special discount for this and any future visits.”

“Thank… you?” Cheerilee asked, unsure whether or not she had just been insulted. Are they saying I need a bath? As she surreptitiously sniffed at herself, a nearby door burst open, disgorging a white unicorn with a towel wrapped around her head into the room.

“Fluttershy!” the newcomer excitedly proclaimed, leaping past Cheerilee and wrapping Fluttershy in a enveloping hug. The unicorn’s purple tail was done up with rollers, and Cheerilee could see the effects of cleaning products shimmering on her coat. “You came! I was starting to- I mean, I wasn’t worried at all! I knew you’d come!”

Fluttershy squeaked in surprise at the sudden contact. After she realized who was holding her, she smiled and happily returned the hug. “Sorry, Rarity. I didn’t mean to make you wait.”

“Hmph,” Rarity sniffed, disentangling herself from Fluttershy. “Don’t worry about me; I’m just glad to see you again. It’s been nearly four months since the last time we did this and I’ve really been looking forward to it.” She sighed theatrically, holding her hoof up against her forehead. “Work has just been so stressful lately, positively working me to the bone. But nevermind that, dear, because I think I’ve finally got my big breakthrough! Fancypants come to me just last week, and he said he wanted to be my official patron! Can you believe it?”

“That sounds nice,” Fluttershy said, finally finding a break in Rarity’s ramble. “I’m sure you’ll do great.”

“But of course, darling.” Rarity snapped a pose, her hooves outstretched and her head flung back. “I will wow the fashion world with my dresses! I will show them designs that will wow them with magnificence!” She dropped down her hooves, looking Fluttershy in the eye. “But we can talk about that later. Tell me, is it true? Did Miss Cheerilee really return? Or is Rainbow Dash just pranking me again?”

Deciding it was time for her to speak up, Cheerilee loudly cleared her throat. “You could just ask me yourself.”

Rarity gratifyingly leapt into the air in surprise, whirling around to look at the teacher standing behind her. “Miss Cheerilee?” she asked hesitantly, staring at the earth pony as if she was some sort of apparition. “Miss Cheerilee!” she proclaimed, throwing her hooves around Cheerilee’s neck and clinging to her like she was a drowning mare and Cheerilee was a life raft. “You’ve got to help me!” she wailed, tears pouring down her cheeks like a pair of miniature waterfalls. “I just don’t know what to do!”

Cheerilee looked down at the unicorn hanging off of her neck before looking up at the other three ponies in the room for support. Fluttershy looked apologetic while Lotus and Aloe only smiled amusedly before slipping out of a nearby door. Seeing that no help was forthcoming, Cheerilee awkwardly peeled Rarity off by herself. “I’ll be happy to help, but first you’ll need to tell me what’s wrong.”

Rarity sniffled, looking like she was about to burst into tears agian. “It’s my sister,” she said. “I just don’t know what to do about Sweetie Belle.”

“I thought Rarity might be able to explain things better than I could,” Fluttershy told Cheerilee. She walked next to Rarity and gave her friend a comforting rub on the shoulder. “I invited Miss Cheerilee to join us. I hope that’s alright with you.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Rarity dabbed at her eyes with the corner of the towel wrapped around her head. “I just…” She shook her head, catching sight of her tear-streaked face in a mirror. “Heh, look at me,” she laughed ruefully. “My makeup’s running. Lotus! Aloe! We’re starting again.”

“Right this way, Rarity,” the twins simultaneously said from directly behind Cheerilee. Cheerilee leapt away from them in surprise, shocked that they could have snuck up on her so quietly. The twins gestured towards the open doorway that Rarity had first appeared from and Rarity strolled in that direction.

Cheerilee followed, feeling herself pulled along by the sheer force of the unicorn’s personality. Before the teacher was able to form a protest, she found herself buried up to her withers in a mud bath. The cool mud felt nice on her stressed body, and Cheerilee closed her eyes and rested her head back against the side of the bath. She could feel the tension seeping out of her body, leaving her a limp puddle of pony.

Rarity and Fluttershy sunk into their own mud baths, the mud closing up to their necks. Rarity giggled at Cheerilee’s blissful expression. “Why darling, don’t tell me that teaching a room full of belligerent foals is stressful,” she good-naturedly teased. “Surly a teacher of your caliber would be able to whip even Ponyville’s class into order.”

Cheerilee made a strange, non-committal noise, too wrapped up in her mud bath to actually pay attention to what Rarity said. A few seconds passed, and Cheerilee’s expression changed as Rarity’s words slowly penetrated her skull. “Wait…” she said thoughtfully. “I keep hearing that those kids are really troublesome, but I haven’t really seen anything that makes me think they’re bad. Why is that?”

“Well, that’s…” Rarity hesitated before turning to their other companion, “Fluttershy, help me out here.”

Fluttershy rested her muddy forelegs on the side of the tub, then resting her chin on top of them as she looked at Cheerilee. “It’s not that the whole class is seen as bad. It’s just that there are a few… I suppose they would be called bad apples?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” Rarity leaned back as one of the spa ponies placed a pair of cucumber slices over her eyes. “Most of them are good kids, but there’s a few that just make the whole class look bad. Diamond Tiara, Scootaloo, and, well…” Her words waned and eventually disappeared into silence, as if she didn’t want to speak the last name aloud.

Unfortunately for her, Cheerilee already knew enough to fill in the blanks. “Sweetie Belle,” she said, finishing Rarity’s sentence. “What happened? She always seemed like such a sweet kid.”

“She was such a sweet kid.” Rarity sighed and Cheerilee heard the voice of a mare who had been so battered that she no longer knew which way to turn. “I just want my sister back…” she said, her voice sounding like somepony who had been beaten and battered by life and was all but ready to accept defeat. There was a tiny ember of determination in her voice, but Cheerilee could tell that if that ember ever went out, it would be nearly impossible to light it again.

“Anyway,” Cheerilee said, trying to get the topic back on track, “what happened? If you told me that, I might be able to figure something out?”

“Really?” Rarity asked in the tone of a pony on the verge of dehydration being given a full canteen of water. “You really think you can help?” When Cheerilee nodded, Rarity squealed in delight. “Oh, darling! If you really can help, I’ll give you anything you want! I’ll make you enough dresses so you can wear a different one every day for the rest of your life!”

Cheerilee shook her head, her lips quirked in a half-smile. “You don’t have to go that far,” she said soothingly. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Alright, well, um…” Rarity floundered for a moment before managing to settle on a place to start. “Well, I suppose it begun a few years after you left. As you probably remember, my parents have never been very close to Sweetie or myself. They’re usually off on vacation somewhere or something. The first time she ever stole something, it was when they were out of town. I gave her an earful about it, believe me, and even told our parents about it. At the time, I thought that was the end of it, but a few months later, I heard she had stolen again…”

Cheerilee closed her eyes and listened, letting Rarity’s words flow over her. Rarity continued talking, apparently unaware of her audience’s unreceptive state. And throughout the entire event, Fluttershy only remained silent and watched.

“…And now I just don’t know what to do,” Rarity said, finally wrapping up as Aloe and Lotus began to work at cleaning her hooves. “I just can’t concentrate on my dresswork when I’m stressed like this. I don’t understand why she’s doooooooing thiiiis,” she wailed dramatically, throwing her hooves in the air and unintentionally splashing Aloe and Lotus with mud. “Please Cheerilee, you’ve got to help meeeeee...”

Cheerilee remained silent, the thoughts behind her closed eyes remaining hidden to the four other ponies present. The seconds ticked slowly past before a small devious smile spread upon her lips. Interesting... she thought. You know, I’m starting to feel like I can help these kids after all.

“You… you have an idea?” Rarity asked hopefully. “Something- anything to fix her? So I don’t need to worry about her anymore?”

“Yeah,” Cheerilee laughed grimly, opening her eyes and tilting her head so she could see Rarity. “You’re not going to like it, though. But if it works, you won’t need to worry about your sister anymore. Are you prepared?” Seeing Rarity nod, Cheerilee stood up, the mud falling off of her body in streams and rivulets. “Alright, there’s no school tomorrow, so here’s what we’re going to do…”

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