• Published 28th Sep 2014
  • 4,004 Views, 190 Comments

Duet in the Folk Style - Pascoite



Big McIntosh's unique way of experiencing music fascinates Octavia, and he'd love nothing better than to satisfy her desire to get in touch with her earth pony roots. They could learn so much from each other.

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Chapter 3: Divertimento

Big McIntosh arrived back home and found himself not wanting to do anything but lie in his bed. When had two weeks ever sounded so long? And when had he ever wanted to sit in his room alone and stare at the wall instead of getting a good day’s work in? Only one thing to do when he’d rather mope around than work: work anyway.

He rolled off the mattress, gave Miss Smarty Pants a squeeze, and wriggled into his collar. Plenty of chores needed doing, and torturing himself with… whatever this was wouldn’t get them done any faster.

Moments later, he trotted out the back door and past the barn, on to the apple orchards. And that pond glimmered up at him from its little dale, down there where they’d taken in all the afternoon had to offer. Her mane smelled of… a curious mix of things, come to think of it. Earthy rosin, for one. He recognized it from the couple of cousins who played the fiddle. Also sweet perfume, crisp linen, and musty antique wood. If only he could smell it now.

“Well, good mornin’ to you, Casanhoofa,” Applejack said as she emerged from the trees. “Golly, I think you said more words to that mare than you’ve said to me ever since I came back from Manehattan. What’s got you so talkative?” She leaned against a sturdy trunk and rolled her eyes up at the almost-ripe apples above her.

Big Mac shrugged.

“Back to normal, I see.” A chuckle floated away from her, and she nudged the brim of her hat up. “Look, Big Mac. I’m here if you wanna talk. I’m not sure how this’ll work, what with her on tour and livin’ in Canterlot. But I’m plumb happy for you.”

She clapped him on the shoulder. “Maybe I’m gettin’ ahead o’ myself, but y’all seemed awful chummy.”

Yes, and no, and… Ugh, why did it have to feel like this? He opened his mouth to speak, but only a croak came out. Sisters made for risky confidants, but who else did he have anymore? Maybe he should get up early tomorrow and wait outside the post office. Whenever Derpy found him sitting on the front steps before sunup, she knew… and she made the time, schedule or no schedule.

“I—I walked her down by the pond. There and in the woods. I made her stop and listen and smell and everything.” He finally smiled. “She’s a quick study. Then after dinner, I took her for a good run back to town.”

Applejack slid down the trunk and closed her eyes, a faint smile on her lips. “Yeah.” He knew that look. If anypony appreciated feeling the earth under her hooves and the day all around her, it was Applejack. Even as a filly, she’d disappear sometimes for an hour around sunset and come back sweaty, dirty, and grinning like she’d found some juicy secret. One the entire family knew, though.

“You sure she was ready for that? City ponies don’t always get that sorta thing.”

“She got it,” Big Mac replied. “She already knew, in a way, from her music. Just took somepony to help her find it.”

“Good.” Her eyes jittered a bit behind their lids. Still out galloping through a stand of trees or a dry creek bed or something.

“Down there, in the tall grass and weeds by the pond—” He pointed, even though she wasn’t watching. “It surprised me when I groomed her mane for her that she said she ain’t ever had that done.”

Applejack nodded. “Yeah, them burrs and thistles can get crammed in there real bad.” And then her eyes popped wide open as she grimaced. “She told you to stop, didn’t she? City folk ain’t always agreeable to that.”

“Naw, she liked it,” he said, shrugging. “Said it felt like a massage. Why?”

“Let’s just say I learned from my time in Manehattan that most city slickers’d take it wrong.” She cocked her head and tousled his mane. “But good on her to see it as the gift you meant it to be.”

“She understands a lot more than you’d figure she would.” Enough said on the matter.

“So, y’all had a nice date, then?”

Big Mac winced at that choice of words and let out a sigh. “Eeyup.”

“I gather I’ve hit your word limit for the day,” Applejack replied through her laughter.

“Eeyup.”

“See you at dinner, Big Mac,” she said, shaking her head.


Tugging an irrigation wagon through an oat field, Big Mac figured he must be sweating enough to double up on the watering. That meant he could move twice as fast, he supposed, but that would only leave him with more time to think about how those grain stalks swayed in the breeze, just like Octavia’s tail.

He shook the notion from his head and continued on at a slow, steady pace. Work to do, nothing else. He stared at the dirt and watched one hoof after the other kick up dust. Soft from the recent rains, and it molded up nicely behind his horseshoes, too. Had Octavia gotten that satisfying a sensation from—?

Forcing out a snort, he pulled the wagon from the final row of the field and into the shelter beside the barn. Next, on to the corn field. A few of the scarecrows needed repairing. Plus he had to move them around every couple days, or the crows got wise and started ignoring them. To the first one, then. He stuffed some straw back in where the shirt had come unbuttoned, then closed it up. After taking it down from its pole, he carried it a few dozen paces and leaned it against the split-rail fence, its new home for a little while.

And one of the birds that had gotten brave enough to try stealing a meal suddenly lost its nerve at the apparent signs of life. It took one last hop and eyed Big Mac, its wings halfway spread. Nice, shiny, overlapping black feathers, like Octavia’s hair.

He stomped a hoof, and the crow launched skyward. This wasn’t working.

Working wasn’t working. He chuckled at the thought, even forced it out a bit longer, for whatever distraction it might provide. After tying the scarecrow to the fencepost, he trudged back to the barn and hitched up the steel plow.

Off to another of the hayfields this time, and the sharpened blade tore through clods of dirt, the occasional rock, and the thatched remains of last year’s crop. He could practically do this with his eyes closed—why not? Just the rhythm of his hooves hitting the dirt, the sound of his own breath echoing in his ears. It could hypnotize him, if he let it. Thud, thud, turn, another eighty-four paces, turn. Thud, thud, over and over again.

Rather like a drumbeat. A little music to go along with those drums—he conjured up a slide guitar. Oh, and a fiddle—

Big Mac would have fallen to his knees and beat his head against the ground if he thought it’d do him any good.

Just two days ago, he’d been his old self, happily laboring in the orchards and dreading a pointless concert that his sister found important for some reason. Had she—? No, Rarity’d been genuinely surprised to see Big Mac’s reaction. Not a set-up job. Just dumb luck.

Not even two days! He’d gotten tired of the tightness in his chest, feeling at loose ends, caring a whit about wherever that train had gone. Now to convince his smile of that.


The metallic clang of a triangle rang out over the farm, and Big Mac’s first thought was of the one that those stupid drummers had at the concert. But his stomach soon reminded him of the more immediate need. He took a deep sniff—carrot stew and… apple crumble for dessert. Granny Smith’s recipe, but a little heavy on the cinnamon. Apple Bloom must have helped her cook.

He headed upstairs to hang his collar and wash up, then he patted Miss Smarty Pants before returning to the kitchen. Peering into the stew pot, he gave it a stir. Not bad. Not that he expected bad—Apple Bloom wasn’t exactly Sweetie Belle. Still learning, though Granny Smith’s watchful eye had guided her well. Same as it had for Applejack and Big Mac years ago.

Making sure Apple Bloom wasn’t looking, he added a few shakes of pepper and ladled up a big helping. He slid into the seat next to Applejack and took one of the biscuits from the tray in front of her. “Evenin’,” he said.

She pursed her lips and made a show of shaking her head at him. “You’re absolutely miserable, ain’t you?”

“Eeyup,” he replied, raising an eyebrow toward the hired hooves at the next table. One of them had the others’ attention with an animated retelling of some yarn. “You ever feel like this?”

Applejack drew a long breath and looked out the window. “Once, or at least I thought I did. Just a schoolyard crush, years ago, but that didn’t make it any easier. So… kinda?” She laughed and gave his shoulder a little shove. “You love every minute of it too, dontcha?”

“Eeyup.” He flashed her a self-conscious smile and tapped a hoof against his bowl.

Her neck puffed up like she wanted to say something, and once she got that itch, it rarely went away. So he waited. “I hate to be a downer, but how much do you really know about her? She might have a coltfriend, for all you could tell.”

“Well, I don’t reckon she’d’ve given me that kiss, then.”

Applejack’s jaw dropped. “Kiss? What kiss?”

“Aw, just a peck on the cheek, AJ!” Big Mac rubbed a hoof between his eyes—the conversation at the other table had gone quiet. “Consarn it, you’re a busybody,” he muttered. And then Apple Bloom and Granny Smith joined them at the table.

“What’re y’all talkin’ ’bout?” Granny Smith said. She nudged Apple Bloom with an elbow and winked at her.

“Ooh! Is Bag Mac’s fillyfriend still here?” Apple Bloom blurted out, shooting glances around the room.

For the first time in a while, he seriously considered having dinner away from the family.

Applejack smiled, but then shook her head slightly. “Alright, ease up now, y’all.”

Granny Smith, the picture of innocence over there, and Apple Bloom pouted the same way she always did when adults needlessly stifled her fun. Applejack leaned in closer to him. “Look, I’m only tryin’ to watch out for you,” she said under her breath. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“AJ, I’m the big brother. It’s my job to take care o’ you.”

Applejack put her mouth up to his ear, and he didn’t like that smirk. “Naw, it’s your job to take care o’ Miss Smarty Pants.” Big Mac shoved her hat down over her eyes.

One day. Only one day since Octavia had left. One down, thirteen to go. He picked up his biscuit and wondered if she’d like them plain or with honey.


Maestro stopped waving his baton, and instead tapped it against his music stand and waited for everypony’s silence. “You okay, Octavia?” he asked. “It doesn’t seem like your heart’s in it tonight.”

“I know,” she said, shaking her head.

“You played so beautifully in Ponyville. Just do whatever worked for you there.” Maestro smiled warmly and reached down from the podium to touch her shoulder. “It’s still in there.”

Yes, Ponyville. That performance had gone well, but what had happened afterward held sole responsibility for her current mood. Far be it from her to admit that to anypony here… Still, she’d made an even deeper connection with the music as a result. No time like the present to see if she could put it into practice. She set her jaw and nodded to Maestro.

All of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes… colors flooded through her, and she barely heard her own instrument. She’d be left to her own devices for some of the pieces, she supposed, but for the folk song themes of the suite she had in front of her, it all fit. She stared through the page and remembered every bit of that feeling, when she’d listened beyond the silence of the woods, heard the stream’s ostinato that he’d so readily identified without knowing it. The stream wasn’t enough—she added in the deer, the chipmunk, the birds. A tingle ran down her back.

She’d stopped. No music playing around her, and her hoof dangled by her side. When… when had it ended?

“…Octavia?”

She blinked and looked up at Maestro, her jaw slack.

“That was extraordinary!” It was over? “Whatever muse you’ve found, hold on to it!”

Muse. That was an interesting way to put it. She vaguely heard Maestro dismiss everypony for the evening, so she packed up her instruments and music, then trotted back to her hotel room. Lying back on the bed, she pulled a small novel out of her toiletries bag and slid the bookmark out, but after the third time through reading the same page again, she gave up. A radio sat on the bedside table—surely Fillydelphia had a classical station. After a few tries of sweeping the dial back and forth, a bit of staticky piano came through, but it sounded closer to elevator music than anything else. Maybe she’d just passed over the signal because of a commercial break, but she couldn’t imagine sitting still while listening right now, anyway. She took her room key and trotted out into the moonlight to find somewhere with a little more… character to it.

Muse. Yeah, her time yesterday had given her the vision to improve her artistry, it seemed, but there had to be more. She’d hate to feel like she’d used Big Mac. He was so sweet, after all, and that wonderfully shy smile…

There it was. She blushed, not that anypony could see. But she had her answer. Sure, her new perspective had helped her play better, but it hadn’t necessarily made her want to. And it wasn’t why she felt this restless.

She came to the open gates of a city park and went in. Nice and quiet, nopony there. The soft feel of pliant grass and earth under her hooves instead of that ever-present concrete. Darkness, trees, and pale light from a half-moon high in the sky.

A bronze statue glinted in its glow, with a foreleg reaching up toward it. Shallow steps around the base and a group of benches offered plenty of places to sit, but she settled into the grass and closed her eyes at the coolness of the blades against her belly. Well, they apparently kept it mowed short enough that it was a bit prickly, which also made it a little bland for a snack—not tall enough to have the lovely crunch of seeds in it. But she probably wouldn’t find anything better somewhere else in the city.

Laughter and conversation floated to her from some of the nearby restaurants, and the occasional wagon rumbled by, even at this hour. Urban noises everywhere, and that formed a music of sorts, too. The occasional piece certainly called for that language, one she knew well. But now she craved a new one. New to her, but old, primal even.

Octavia closed her eyes and let the moonlight filter through them. Crickets chirped in the bushes, and a soft, leathery flapping marked the swooping of bats through the clusters of moths that the gaslights out by the road attracted. In the branches, nightingales called back and forth. Even here, she could find that peace. Something was missing, though.

She’d barely spent a day with Big McIntosh. A very memorable day, granted, but… why couldn’t she stop thinking about him?

Glancing down the fenceline, she estimated that the park must cover a few acres. Big enough. Despite muscles still sore from yesterday, she stood up and ran. She ran as hard as she could through the dirt and trees and grass, her room key clicking in her teeth all the while. Scents gathered in her nose, and her ears pricked toward any minute sound. And through it all, she ran.


After four nerve-wracking days, Big Mac had at least settled into some form of routine again: get up, don’t think about Octavia, work without thinking about Octavia, have lunch, work some more without thinking about Octavia, and have dinner. Then stare out the window all evening, most definitely not thinking about Octavia. It was all going perfectly, except for the “not thinking about Octavia” part.

He’d stopped at the house for a quick drink of water before going to replace some of the siding boards on the barn when Derpy flapped up with the day’s mail. “Thank you, Derpy,” he said as he tossed her a fresh apple from the bin inside the front door and caught the bundle of letters from her.

“Can’t stop to talk today,” she said. Her eyes ran him up and down once, and then she shook her head. “If I didn’t know better… Tell me later, okay?”

Of course she’d notice. And of course he’d tell her. But if not for her overflowing calendar, he wouldn’t even have to consider confiding in Applejack. He raised an eyebrow. “You have to ask?”

“Saturday. Come over for breakfast with the gang. Then we’ll go for a walk, just you and me. Okay?” Her left eye wandered up, and she rubbed at it as if it itched—a nervous tic she really didn’t need to use with him.

Big Mac smiled up at her. “Thanks. I’ll bring the grits.”

“Yeah, and you can take them right back home with you,” she said, which drew a hearty laugh from him.

“If I gotta endure such insults…” He held a hoof to his wounded heart, which still jostled with laughter. “Go on, then. Back to work with you!”

She snapped a smart salute and zipped off, leaving a single envelope fluttering to the ground. He bent over it—an advertisement for a personal injury attorney, addressed to “Postal Customer” at an address down the road. Not likely they’d miss it, but he’d carry it there later, anyway.

So, through the stack, then. “Bill, bill, bill,” he muttered. “Regrow bald mane patches, bigger what in five days!?” And one last thing: a glossy photograph of a city scene. He flipped it over and saw a Fillydelphia postmark, from two days prior. A postcard from Octavia! Derpy’d already seen it, too, the varmint.

Hello, Big Mac!

Performances have been going very well this week. I was getting a little down, but I imagined myself back on that hillside, feeling so peaceful, and it’s really helped me find my center. Maestro says he’s never heard me play with more intensity and passion, and I couldn’t have done it without your help. Almost halfway there! Manehattan next week, then back home to Canterlot. Looking forward to visiting!

Octavia

Turning to the photo on the front again, Big Mac peered at it more closely. It showed an ornate building, with big pillars and windows. “Fillydelphia Concert Hall,” the caption said. He could see it now: Octavia on a large stage, carved stonework arching high overhead, decadent chandeliers winking in the spotlights, and a whole passel of ponies wearing fancy outfits and hanging on every note. At least he pictured it that way—he’d never gone to Fillydelphia in his life.

On a whim, he held the postcard up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Mostly mailbag canvas, but he found a faint trace of perfume where she must have held it. Not Derpy’s—one of the other mail workers’, maybe? No, definitely Octavia’s, just because he wanted it that way.

Big Mac gave it another sniff, then tossed the junk mail in the trash and put the bills in the incoming letter slot on the old oak desk in the hallway. Then up to his room, where he propped the postcard up among his photos.

Fortunately, today promised a full slate of very mind-occupying tasks. The barn first.

He spent a good hour measuring, re-measuring, and cutting lumber, then nailing it into place. For the first time in nearly a week, the sun had crept across the sky far more than he would have guessed. He’d nodded at a job well done, put up his tools, and found the red paint when he heard the shout he’d been anticipating from over the hills: “Big Mac! It’s time!”

He shoved the paint back onto its shelf and galloped at top speed to the sheep pasture. One of the ewes was expecting, and it seemed Fluttershy had figured the due date smack-dab right. Big Mac found the sheep already lying on her side, with a small knot of workers and one dog gathered around. By her side, Applejack gently stroked her head with a cool cloth. “You’re doin’ great, Woolamina.” Two more workers rushed over from the house with some clean towels and a tub of warm water.

Immediately, Big Mac shouldered his way through the workers and knelt down. “I see legs!” he announced, and he wrapped his lasso around the infant’s hooves. One mighty tug on the other end, but Applejack hadn’t put her cloth down yet.

Big Mac nodded at her and pulled again. “Push!” Applejack urged at the same time, but only a little progress—they hadn’t gone with a contraction.

Up by Woolamina’s face, Applejack watched and waited, and she must have seen something. “Push!” she called again, and Big Mac gave another haul on the rope, and then… the lamb lay on the ground, shivering and bleating softly.

“Bring that tub ’round!” Applejack barked as she rushed to grab a towel and bathe the new arrival. Once clean, it stood on wobbly legs and staggered over to nuzzle its mother. Big Mac grinned the whole time, but soon Applejack broke the silence. “C’mon, folks. Let’s give ’em a while alone.”

The workers started back to the house, and Applejack gathered up the towels. “You got the tub, Big Mac?” she asked, and he nodded back after sharing a smile with her. Such a great experience every time. If only Octavia could have seen it. Yet another way this place always renewed itself.

Big Mac could have watched for an hour, but Applejack was right. They needed some alone time. “Winona, you stay nearby, and don’t let any harm come to ’em, y’hear?” Winona barked, wagged her tail furiously, and took up her post, casting a wary gaze toward the distant forest.

One rope dirty—time to get another. Big Mac wandered down to the barn for a spare and eyed the bucket of paint again. Not enough time today, he figured, so push that until tomorrow. Then back to the orchards to snag all the insect-eaten fruit off the trees. Next to the chicken coop to gather eggs, and finally dinner. A long day, and he’d made it through without thinking much about…

Good thing he’d worn himself out. After dinner, he didn’t have much to do except get some sleep, but before he turned in, he had one last piece of business. “Manehattan next week, then back home to Canterlot. Looking forward to visiting! Octavia.” He sighed and returned the postcard to its spot on his dresser. “Gettin’ close to the halfway mark, Miss Smarty Pants! You see the nice picture of Fillydelphia?”

He just might have heard some snickering and retreating hoofsteps in the hall.


Almost bedtime.

Five days since the last note from Octavia, and Big Mac had saved the new one all day long to give himself a nice treat when he’d finished all his work. Now he rubbed a bath towel through his mane one last time, lay back on his mattress, and held it up to the light.

Hi, Big Mac!

Our train arrived in Manehattan last night. This is my second-favorite city after Canterlot! The pasta here is legendary, and I always go to the same restaurant for their wonderful cheese and spinach lasagna. I’m actually having fun performing again, now that I found a way to put my heart back into it. Every night, I look for a quiet spot to meditate, then go for a run in the dark. Thank you for teaching me to feel the magic in the earth again and draw strength from it! I hope you’re doing well, and I can’t wait to get back home.

Octavia

The picture showed yet another impressive city building that he knew absolutely nothing about. The Metroponitan Museum of Art. He could see her playing on the front steps or in a courtyard or something, but he knew they wouldn’t have a full orchestra performing there. Just a bunch of fancy pictures hanging on the walls. Some old ones, nice enough landscapes, and a lot of portraits of ponies whose names he’d never recognize. And then a bunch of really strange ones that’d make his head hurt.

He couldn’t imagine making a point of visiting just to look at all the art, but he’d heard Rarity say how great it was, and she’d been right about the music, so maybe he’d give it a shot sometime. Later, though. For now, sleep.

Big Mac got up and placed the postcard next to the first one. “Another fancy place to put around you, Miss Smarty Pants, courtesy o’ Tavi. Gettin’ to feel like a high-class city mare yet?” No answer, as usual.

He patted her head and turned out the light.


Five more days, and the endless weight tugging Big Mac downward had turned into an energy that had him bouncing on his hooves toward tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow! Octavia should have gotten back to Canterlot last night, and tomorrow, she’d take the coach to Ponyville.

He clutched the newest postcard in his hooves. Derpy had practically flown loops around him when she’d brought it, and ever since their talk that one Saturday, she’d peek through her mailbag for them. Since he didn’t have long to wait anyway, he didn’t see any harm in reading it now. For a second time.

Greetings, Big Mac!

By the time you get this, I should already be on the train back to Canterlot, and then on my way to see you the next day. I’ve had a great time, and we’ve played to sellout crowds, but I’ll enjoy having some time off. I’ll arrive in Ponyville on the ten o’clock coach. Please give my regards to Applejack!

Octavia

With a huge smile, Big Mac added a photo of the Trotborough, Bucklyn, and Lipizzaner Narrows bridges to the collection on his dresser. “There you go, Miss Smarty Pants. Took a lot o’ hard work to build those. Not like some stuffy art.” Well, no. He’d changed his mind about music, so he should give art a fair shake as well.

A few chores left to do before dinner still—he fixed a gap in one of the stone walls, trimmed some dead branches from the apple trees, and checked on the new lamb’s health before the familiar clanging rang out from the triangle on the front porch. Then he took his usual seat beside Applejack and dug into some standard vegetable casserole. Familiar, usual, standard. Tomorrow would be anything but.

“So, big day comin’ up, huh?” Applejack said.

“How’d you know?” he answered, squinting at her. Not like he hadn’t heard her sneaking around in the hallway outside his room, but he wanted her to admit it.

She shrugged. So she got to play both sides of it? Fine. He couldn’t exactly stay mad right now, anyway. “I’m meetin’ her coach at ten.”

“Then what?” she said between mouthfuls of casserole. “Got any plans?”

He took a bite of his own dinner and mumbled at her. “Nope.” Let her scold him about bad manners. He’d just hold his tongue and starve her of information in that case. “Spend some time together. Hadn’t thought much ’bout it. Didn’t figure that was the important part. By the way, she said to tell you hello.”

“Oh, that’s nice o’ her. Y’all been correspondin’ ’n’ such?” She turned her nose up and smirked just enough so that he’d notice but she could deny it if he said something. That used to get his blood boiling when they were little, but they’d both grown up since then. At least he had.

“Got a few postcards,” he said, sure to give her a good view of half-chewed squash, “but she was on the move so much that I didn’t have an address to send anything back. ’Sides, she was so busy, she prob’ly didn’t mind.”

“You think so, huh?” Applejack had lost the glint to her eye, and she leaned over. “Look, I know you don’t have much figured out about mares, but if she likes you half as much as I think she does, she was mopin’ somethin’ fierce for two weeks solid.”

He straightened up from his slouch. “You—you reckon? Really?” He didn’t wish that on Octavia, but it would be nice… “What have I got to offer a pony like her?”

Applejack curled a foreleg over his shoulders. “Whatever it is, it was worth sendin’ you three postcards in only two weeks and makin’ another trip right after she’s been out o’ town a long time.”

She had a point. He tried to think of something nice to say, but he could only muster a “thanks, Sis” as he gave her foreleg a squeeze. Derpy, more of a listener, and AJ, more of an advice-giver—he was lucky to have both of them. And then he frowned.

“Wait, how’d you know there were three postcards?”


The first coach from Canterlot jostled its way down the well-rutted dirt road to Ponyville. Despite the bumpiness and constant racket, Octavia could have been floating on air. Her mouth fixed in a permanent grin, she craned her neck to see if she could tell how far they still had to go. Not that she’d recognize any landmarks around Ponyville. From her one trip there, no early warning signs popped up. Just wilderness one second and civilization the next.

An old mare beside her reached over to pat her hoof. “Going to see your sweetie, dear?”

“Oh. Well, uh…” Octavia blushed and clutched at her small pack. “I’m not sure if it’s quite like that…”

The mare clicked her tongue. “Oh, young love. It’s always a joy to see. Trust an old pony—you’ve got it bad.”

Letting out a sigh, Octavia scrunched up her face into a sheepish smile. “I still don’t know, but… is it that obvious?” She peeked out the window again in case she might see anything but trees.

“I wish you two all the best,” the mare said with a knowing nod, then returned to her knitting.

What had she gotten herself into? Nopony in her right mind could want to spend the last two weeks—rooftops! Carousel Boutique, the train station, town hall! Her heart leapt into her throat as the carriage ground to a halt.

And when she stepped out—Big Mac! There to greet her with a cluster of flowers! “I picked these for you, Octavia, from our best flowerbeds,” he said, holding out a bouquet of daisies.

She smiled her thanks and took them, but… were they decoration or breakfast? She debated for a moment and finally tucked the largest one behind her ear before eating the rest. He didn’t seem to mind. “Thanks, Big Mac. That was sweet!” She leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek. His eyes widened, but he didn’t object to that, either.

She took her violin down from the coach, then strapped on her saddlebag while Big Mac stowed her instrument in his own bag. That earned him a wary eye, but she supposed he knew how much value it held for her. He’d be careful. “Is there an inn where I can rent a room for a few days? The hotel where the orchestra stayed is more than I’d spend on my own.”

“Nonsense. You’ve seen the spare room at the farm. No reason for it to sit there empty.” His eyes glimmered, and he took a half-step toward the road home. “House like that is meant to be full. You’ll stay with us. How long do you have free?”

“About three weeks until our rehearsal schedule starts up again. Other than that, I hadn’t really given it much consideration. I just thought I’d play it by ear,” she said, falling into step beside him.

“Works fine for me,” he replied. After a few minutes of silence, he leaned into her, just a little. “I’m glad to have you back. I was right miserable without you.”

Octavia sagged her shoulders and let out a sharp breath. “Oh, good. I was hoping I wasn’t the only one. Not that I wanted you to feel bad, but…”

“I know,” Big Mac said with a nod. “I’ve got a good sister and an old friend to talk some sense into me. I feel the same way.”

And then back to silence. She didn’t mind. She merely took in all the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations around her. Just like he’d taught her to do. Watching his easy gait, she relaxed into the same quiet confidence. Sometimes, she didn’t need words. When he had that tacit, peaceful smile—that was when he said the most.

Author's Note:

A divertimento is a fairly loosely defined work that often has a light tone and semi-connected parts, somewhat similar to a suite at times or a symphony at others. Its original use was for incidental music during or after a meal.

Here, it reflects how Big Mac and Octavia feel at loose ends, and how their lives seem kind of piecemeal at the moment. It also plays at similarity with the English word "diversion," which Big Mac constantly seeks during Octavia's absence.

Coming October 19, Chapter 4: Elegy