• Published 24th May 2015
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Learning Curve - Jack of a Few Trades



Cheerilee's new teaching career tests her passion for education when she must teach a student who is unable to learn.

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Chapter Twelve: Positive Reinforcement

Ugh.

The disheveled mess of pink and white hair in the mirror stared back at Cheerilee with what she could only describe as a smirk. It was challenging her to try and straighten it out.

From the top. She picked up her trusty mane brush from the edge of the sink. Several of the tines had snapped off through years of use and abuse, but it still worked just fine. She worked it into her mane with care, and when she was satisfied with the positioning, she began to pull forward. The knots and tangles in the brush’s way gave a stern resistance, making her wince when they caught and pulled hard on her scalp. Eventually, she won out and got through the mess, pulling the brush free from her hair to find that she’d barely made a dent.

One. It wasn’t anything new, really. Just about every morning had some degree of bedhead involved, and some days were definitely worse than others. It was routine.

But on a morning like this, even simple routines seemed like tedious, unnecessary chores. She stared at her reflection in the mirror with only enough enthusiasm to open her eyes halfway.

Twelve. Her bangs were pretty well under control, and the next order of business was to start working her way towards the back.

Should I even worry about it? It’s not like I’m leaving the house today.

With a defeated sigh, Cheerilee pulled the brush from her mane and gave it an idle glance before she dropped it on the counter. It promptly tumbled into the sink.

“Lovely,” Cheerilee muttered under her breath, not bothering to return the brush to its proper place. She yawned lightly as she took her robe down from the hook on the wall, and in doing so, her gaze fell on the shower.

Good idea. Instead of either fighting to gain control over her mane or leaving it be, showering would simply wash away the tangles. That, and she wouldn’t feel gross for the rest of the day. Yes, showering was probably the best possible thing she could do for herself at a time like this. She hung the robe back on its hook and stepped over to the shower. She brushed the curtain aside and leaned in to turn on the water and check to make sure that she hadn’t misplaced anything she’d need.

Right. Washcloth. Cheerilee backed out of the shower, not looking where she was going until she felt her hind legs bump against something, followed by a loud crash and the rustling of paper. She winced at the noise, and she turned around to see that she’d backed into the bathroom’s magazine rack, which was now laying sideways with most of its contents spilled out across the tile in a cascade of tabloids.

Cheerilee felt the frustration bubble up in the back of her head, so she bit her lip and groaned through her teeth.

“Should I pick these up first?” she asked aloud. The magazines were strewn out pretty widely across the floor, and aside from presenting a tripping hazard, there was the risk that any water that escaped the shower would ruin them. “Yep, looks like I have to.”

She started by tipping the rack back upright. “I’m replacing you,” she said. “Maybe a nice rack that bolts onto the wall. You’re just a flimsy little starter kit.”

“Why am I talking to a magazine rack?” Cheerilee snorted, smiling for the first time since she’d come home from the meeting yesterday. She lazily swept the spilled magazines into a pile with only one hoof, and when she’d gathered all of them up, she began sorting them into the same system she’d used before: Tabloids at the back, more serious material at the front. Canterlot Vogue and Ponies went to the back, while things like Carpenter’s Cove went towards the front.

I really should go see Mom and Dad more often. The pile was disappearing quickly, but there were quite a few more magazines there than Cheerilee realized she’d bought. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t see much point in buying all of those pointless tabloids. She hardly ever read them anyway. Her mom surely didn’t waste her money on such trivial pursuits, but then again, she didn’t have the scoop on “Celestia’s New Baby Bump” or the “Top 15 Proven Ways to Get Stallions to Drive You Crazy!”

I’m a sucker.

It was down to the last few, and she was already tired of looking at the tabloids. Baltimare Bottomfeeder, check. Downside Edition, accounted for. Equestrian Equity Financial...

“The last thing I want to think about right now is finances.” She groaned in disgust and tossed the magazine into the trash can. She closed her eyes tight and forced herself to think of anything else.

Washcloth. Soap. Water. Bubbles. “Boy, that shower sure does sound nice! I think I’ll get in in the shower now. Shower ahoy!” She took out a new washcloth and tossed it over the top of the shower curtain.

“Nothing like a good shower to cleanse the soul.”



“Grace, I need to tell you something,” said Gable, averting his eyes. “I’m not who you think I am.”

Grace stood there for a moment, pondering his expression. He seemed hesitant to reveal his secret, but little did he know that it already wasn’t a secret. Not since Bundie’s visit the week before. She smiled a cold, calculating smile. He was about to become putty in her hooves.

“Grace, you devil,” Cheerilee muttered. “Go easy on him. He’s been through a lot.” She dropped the book on her lap and took a sip of her coffee, which was just starting to turn lukewarm. She shifted in her seat and stretched her forelegs, yawning in the process. She took a glance over to the window, and judging from the fact that there were no longer any rays of sunshine coming in the window, it must have been getting on towards noon.

Not that I care. This is me time. She settled back into her seat and picked Backside of Tomorrow back up, but before she cracked it back open, she was stopped by a knock at the door.

Please don’t be important. She dropped the book on the couch beside herself and hopped up, completing her prior stretch in her hind legs before she started for the door.

There was another knock as she neared the door, and this time it was the all-too-familiar sound of “shave and a manecut” being tapped on the door. Brace yourself.

“Hey, Nook,” she said before she even had the door all the way open.

“Cheerilee!” Nook shouted, hopping through the doorway and immediately wrapping Cheerilee in a hug. “Where have you been? I haven’t heard a peep out of you in two weeks!”

“Oh, you know, working. The usual,” said Cheerilee. She stepped back a bit, breaking the hug. “How about you?”

“Same, really.” Nook looked Cheerilee up and down, and her expression flattened a bit. “And I see from that robe you’ve got on that you’ve been sitting around the house all day.”

“Well, it was a pretty exhausting week for me. I’ve just been relaxing today.”

Nook shook her head. “Cheerilee, do me a favor real quick and look outside.”

Before Cheerilee could respond, she was being pushed towards the door. She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the bright light of midday, and when as she began to adjust to the outdoors, she began to realize just how perfect of a day she’d been missing. The air was crisp, mild with a little hint of coolness on the breeze, which was just strong enough to keep things stirred up, but not so much as to be disturbing. The weather team really outdid themselves today.

“You’ve been wasting a great day sitting inside, Cheers.” Nook led her back into the house with a hoof around her shoulders, and she kicked the door closed behind them. “It’s gorgeous outside and you’re not doing anything important, so we’re going to the tennis court.”

Nothing important. Sure. Cheerilee bit down on her tongue and let herself cool down for a second before she spoke. “Nook, I don’t know. I was really looking forward to just taking it easy today.”

“Which is exactly why you need to come with me to play some tennis! We haven’t done that in forever, and what’s more relaxing than hitting balls with your best friend?” Nook’s tone softened just a touch, but there was still one major overtone to it; she was being pushy.

“Nook, I don’t think I’m up for that today. I’m sorry.”

Nook paused, and she seemed to deflate a bit. “Please? Cheerilee, it’s been way too long since we just got to hang out, and I’ve been missing you.”

“Eeeh…” Cheerilee trailed off when she saw the look in Nook’s eyes. It wasn’t overly dramatic, but there was a certain sadness in there that was certainly out of place. Nook was always such a peppy sort of mare, and to see that was the final straw that broke her. “Alright, fine. I’ll go get my stuff.”

“Yes!” said Nook, pumping her hoof in celebration. She instantly snapped back to her normal, persistently upbeat self. “I’m gonna go ahead and run over to my place to get my things together. Just come on over when you’re ready.” Nook bounded out the door in a flash, leaving Cheerilee alone again.

So much for finishing that book.



“Whew! That’s three in a row!” Nook announced, her face plastered over with a big, smug grin. She trotted across the tennis court, and Cheerilee could practically feel the smugness in her friend’s steps. She plopped down on the bench right next to Cheerilee, letting out a breath of relief when she hit the seat. “I have to give it to you, it was a valiant effort, but sometimes I just can’t contain all of this talen—ooof!”

Cheerilee smirked to herself as she removed her elbow from Nook’s ribs.

“Alright, alright, point taken.” Nook rubbed her side a couple of times before she levitated her water bottle over and took a greedy gulp from it. “So, how many more times are you gonna want to go? We’ve got the court for another forty-five minutes.”

Cheerilee wiped the sweat from her brow. “I guess it’d be better to get the most for our money.”

“That's what I was thinking too,” said Nook, taking another gulp. “You know what’s probably letting me kick your tail up and down the court?” she asked, nudging Cheerilee’s side smugly.

“The sun in my eyes?” asked Cheerilee. Or the fact that I don’t even want to be here.

“Nope. Check it.” Nook passed her racquet to Cheerilee. She hadn’t noticed it until now, but this racquet was nice. Instead of the old, beaten and worn wooden frame that Nook had been using before, this one was carbon fiber with beautiful, clean white string, and it still had enough weight to keep balanced. “I picked this bad boy up last week. Isn’t that the greatest racquet you’ve ever seen?”

“Sure beats my old hunk of junk,” said Cheerilee. “How much did it cost, though?”

“Enough to make my bank account scream for mercy. Hackamore sure is proud of the stuff they make,” said Nook.

Cheerilee cocked an eyebrow. “And you waited this long to tell me?”

“I was going for the element of surprise. Sure seems like it did the trick with that streak I’m on,” Nook said, adding just the right amount of smug to the end of her sentence.

Cheerilee rolled her eyes. Yeah, that’s totally it. She passed the racquet back to Nook.

“So, let’s get back down to it. Time is money!” Nook hopped up from the bench and ran across the court to her side. Cheerilee took one more drink before she did the same.

Time is money, she thought as she got back into her position.

“Serve up!” Nook shouted, bouncing the ball once on the ground before swatting it out of the air. The serve was easy enough to deal with, sailing just left of center. Cheerilee caught it with a lazy fore-stroke, sending it back towards the far right corner. Nook was ready for it, already moving before Cheerilee managed her shot. She was in position for the return with time to spare.

Why did you have to show up today? Cheerilee thought, watching as Nook sent the ball nearly straight ahead, into her right corner. Cheerilee scrambled, but she hadn’t been thinking as far ahead as Nook. She nearly had to dive for it, but she managed to catch the ball at an odd angle. It went high, but still stayed in bounds.

Focus, Cheerilee. Focus. She watched for Nook’s rebound as she moved closer to the center of the court. If she dragged me out here today, the least I can do is beat her.

She was more ready for Nook’s next shot, but still didn’t quite manage the angle on the ball she wanted. It went low, and to her chagrin, it caught the top edge of the net.

“Point!” called Nook. Cheerilee grumbled to herself and walked over to get the ball, which she threw to Nook. Nook waited until Cheerilee was back in position. “Fifteen serving Love!” she called as she served the ball, and so the next point was underway.

Time is money, Cheerilee thought as she hit the ball, feeling the racquet rattle against her teeth. No matter if you have too little or too much, they’ll both ruin you sooner or later. Cheerilee felt herself losing touch with the moment, and she barely managed contact with the ball. Focus! You’re going to let her win!

“Hyaa!” Nook shouted, doing a frontflip as she moved to make her rebound shot.

She’s taunting me. She felt the back of her neck stiffen with the frustration, and it was just enough to throw her off. The ball went high, sailing past Nook’s baseline and out of bounds.

“Point!” Nook called. This time the ball was on her side, and she was the one to retrieve it. “Come on, Cheers, I’m going easy on you!” she yelled, and Cheerilee felt the tension in the back of her head grow tighter.

“Just serve the ball,” Cheerilee said, grumbling again under her breath.

“Thirty serving Love!” said Nook, picking her racquet back up in her teeth and serving the ball.

I just spent the last three days worrying myself to death over a filly I can’t even help, and now I have to spend my afternoon getting taunted by this lunatic. Cheerilee swatted the ball back hard enough to hurt her teeth, and she grunted partly from the exertion and partly from anger.

And of course, Nook was able to handle it. Maybe she was just a little surprised by the amount of heat Cheerilee had put into the stroke, but it didn’t do much to affect her return.

Time is money, huh? Well too bad we can’t just pay for special education resources with time! Again, Cheerilee swung as hard as she could muster, and when she connected with the ball, she practically screamed against the handle. The loud pop of the ball getting hit echoed through the court, and instead of the sound of Nook’s swing to return the ball like she expected, it was followed by the shout of ‘Point!’

Cheerilee focused her sight on Nook, expecting to see the ball on the other side of the court. Instead, she saw the ball rolling back towards her, and the net swinging from the ball it had just reflected.

I can’t win.

Nook sure looked smug. “Come on, Cheers! I’m going eas—”

“Just serve the godforsaken ball.”

“Wow, okay then. Forty serving Love!”

Sure you’re going easy. There’s obviously something besides that racquet giving you an advantage. You’re cheating, you little snake.

“Point! That’s game.” said Nook.

Cheerilee blinked. The ball had gotten past her, and she’d been so busy fuming that she barely even noticed.

“What was that? You didn’t even try for that last one.” said Nook as she walked over from her side of the court.

You want to rub it in, you arrogant screwball? Cheerilee growled in anger, and she threw her racquet on the ground as hard as she could manage. “You know what that was? That was the last time I’ll be playing tennis with you, you little braggart.” A little voice in the back of her mind was screaming for her to abort, but it was lost in the cacophony of rage. “I’m tired of that snotty little attitude of yours! You just come waltzing in and expect everypony to do what you want to do. Have you ever stopped to think about what I want? Have you ever asked me that simple question?!”

Nook opened her mouth as if to give an answer, but she was instantly cut off. “No! You always come around and tell me what we’re doing. I’m just along on your crazy ride, and I’ve had it!” Cheerilee took a deep breath. It was time for the closer.

“I don’t need this. You’re a pushy, overbearing know-it-all, and I want you out of my life!”

Nook’s jaw was hanging open, and Cheerilee stood there staring her down for a moment. After a few seconds, her sight began to focus, The rage was finally starting to subside, and realization began to set in.

What did I just do? Tears began to flood Cheerilee’s eyes, and she finally averted her eyes from Nook, who was still standing there agape. Speechless.

Cheerilee could only think of one thing to do, and that was to run. She turned for the exit and took off at a gallop, not bothering to grab her belongings on the way out.

Nook stood there for a few more moments, and she began to realize that there had been a few other ponies there, and they were all staring at her. She picked up the racquet that Cheerilee had thrown on the ground, and took it over to the bench, where she sat down and took a drink of water.

“What just happened?”



Knock-knock-knock.

Cheerilee groaned into the couch pillow. She knew exactly who was knocking at the door.

Knock-knock-knock.

“Cheerilee, I know you’re home. Will you answer the door?” came the voice from outside.

I knew she’d be too stubborn to not bother me. “Go away, Nook.”

“Do you want me to pick the lock?” said Nook.

Cheerilee grimaced. Knowing Nook, that wasn’t exactly a hollow threat. “Ugh,” She heaved herself up and off of the couch, trudged across the living room to the entryway, and threw open the door.

“Hey,” said Nook. Where she’d usually just come right in the door as soon as it was opened, this time she didn’t take the liberty. She stood there on the front step for a few moments, staring at Cheerilee with wide, unsure eyes.

“Hey, yourself,” said Cheerilee.

Nook stepped into the foyer while Cheerilee walked back into the living room and reassumed her position on the couch without saying a word. Nook followed her in, but she stopped halfway across the room. Cheerilee couldn’t force herself to look over there, but she could tell that Nook was standing there searching for words. The silence held on for a few more tense seconds before Nook finally found her voice.

“So...uh, you said some things,” Nook began, but she paused.

“I did, didn’t I?” Cheerilee said, staring up at the ceiling.

“I came by to drop off your things that you left at the court.” There was a clatter off to the side that Cheerilee assumed was the tennis gear dropping on the floor, which was followed by a long, awkward silence.

“Did you really mean all of that stuff you said?” Nook asked.

Cheerilee didn’t respond.

“Am I really that hard to be around?” Nook sniffed once, and that was what got Cheerilee to finally look at her. Nook’s eyes were welling up with tears as she stood there in the doorway to the living room. “Do you really not want to be friends anymore?” Her voice was shaky, and Cheerilee could tell that she was trying to keep herself together.

“No, Nook. I don’t mean it anymore.”

“Don’t mean it anymore? What does that mean?! You can just tell me I’m this awful pony that you can’t stand, and then it doesn’t mean anything anymore?”

“Nook, I’m… I’m sorry for what I said,” Cheerilee averted her eyes again, picking a spot on the floor to stare at instead.

“I accept the apology, but only because I know that wasn’t you screaming in my face back there. Where did all of that come from?” Nook asked. Cheerilee heard hoofsteps cross the room, and then Nook took a seat on the couch next to her. “Is there something else bothering you?”

“I really don’t..”

“Ah, ah, no.” Nook interrupted. ”No, you’re not doing that to me. You said I’m pushy, so I’m being pushy. Spill the beans.” Nook leaned in to the side, trying to get a good look at Cheerilee’s face, but that was the last thing Cheerilee wanted. She shied away, hiding her face behind her mane as best she could.

A hoof wrapped around Cheerilee’s shoulder, and she was pulled closer to Nook. Cheerilee looked up at Nook, who was giving an encouraging smile back. As mad as she’d been at her less than an hour ago, and despite all of the things she said, Nook was still trying to help. “Come on Cheers, I’m your best friend. You can tell me.” Cheerilee looked back down at her spot on the floor, and she took a deep breath.

“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a teacher.”

“What are you talking about? Of course you are!” said Nook. “Heck, you went through four years of college to do this. And from what I hear, your students love you just as much as their last teacher. What’s making you even think that at all?”

“All through college, class after class, year after year, they sit there and tell you all about how you’re going to ‘make a difference’ and ‘give our children what they need to succeed’.” Cheerilee turned to Nook and looked her dead in the eyes. “But that’s not what it’s like, Nook. You don’t have any real power to make a difference. You just get to stand there, give your lecture, and watch them sink or swim.” Cheerilee shuddered, and she suppressed the urge to stop and cry. “I can’t actually do anything, Nook. I’m just there to weed out the lowest common denominator.”

“Okay,” said Nook, “I could see a secondary school teacher talking like that, but you’re teaching the younger foals. You can’t even drop out until you’re past primary school, right?”

“And I’m sure she will as soon as I pass her along like they all want me to,” Cheerilee muttered under her breath.

“Pass who along? What are you talking about, Cheers?”

Cheerilee sighed. “Do you remember that filly I was telling you about a while back? The one with dyslexia.”

“It rings a bell. What about her?”

“I talked to her parents yesterday. I even managed to get them on board with the idea of putting their daughter into special education until she catches up with the rest of her class, but there’s just one problem with that. We can’t afford it.”

“Why? How much could special schooling cost?” asked Nook.

“Special education is expensive to start up, Nook,” said Cheerilee. “We don’t have a program in place for that, and the district isn’t going to be able to pay for it, and there’s nowhere else to get the money from. I can’t help her without the curriculum.” Cheerilee sank down into the couch, hugging her tail to her chest.

“Surely there’s some way to get the funding. Have you actually inquired about it?” asked Nook.

“I have, and the school board specifically told me that it isn’t in the budget,” said Cheerilee.

“Are you sure? You’d be surprised at what sort of things you could throw together if you do some digging.”

“Nook, I’m a grade school teacher, not an accountant. Even if I knew how to wring some money out of the system, I don’t think it would work. This town isn’t big enough to have the kind of cash that I’d need.”

“Well, I don’t know then, Cheers,” said Nook. She reached over and wrapped Cheerilee in a hug. “But you know what I do know? You’re a smart pony. You’ll find a way. And for what it’s worth, I believe in you.”

They sat there in silence for a minute, and Cheerilee could feel a few tears streaking down her cheeks. Maybe things looked bleak at the moment, but now she felt that little something inside of her that had been missing all day. Hope. She sat there in her friend’s embrace for a few more seconds before she found her voice.

“Thanks.”

Author's Note:

I've put her through some real tough stuff these last few chapters, so Cheerilee deserves an evening to just read her silly romance novels.

Since Lord-Commander was forced to step down, it appears that we've gotten his role filled once again! My amazing friends Xhoral1865 and Kestrel have taken the editing reins for this chapter, and it appears that they will be cleaning up my messes for the foreseeable future. Thanks go out to them for their help!

I really need to stop taking so long to get these chapters out. Granted, it does take some serious effort to get these horsewords into proper condition to post for you, but four months is just too much downtime.

Was it worth the wait? Why not hit up those comments and tell me what you think?