• Published 24th May 2015
  • 2,491 Views, 150 Comments

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 Two: Dinner and a Show

Since it was the first day, there wasn’t any true instruction, and school passed faster than Cheerilee wanted it to. After she went over the class syllabus, the rest of the day was spent doing activities like hoof painting and group reading, all in an effort to get to know the class better. It was safe to say that they were already taking a liking to her, but that could have just been the effect of the fun day. She would have to wait a while longer before she got her answer there.

There wasn’t much to do around the schoolhouse after hours since it was still the first day, so Cheerilee wasn’t far behind the children in leaving when they released in the early afternoon. She took advantage of the free time to take a walk around Ponyville. She hadn’t noticed much in the way of changes when she came in from the train stations, but now that she had a chance to look around, it became evident that there were several subtle differences since she had left over three years ago. First of all, the Town Hall had been renovated in that time. Several new homes had sprung up, and there was even a new spa not far from the library.

In addition to seeing the sights around town, she also ran into several ponies that she knew. There was Davenport, still running his Quills and Sofas store. It was a wonder how he stayed in business with such a limited variety of stock, but she couldn’t knock it if he made his living at it. At the marketplace, she stopped and had a short discussion with Applejack, who had taken the reins of the family’s apple stand from Granny Smith about a year before, and was quite skillful at selling the fruit. Cheerilee walked away from the stand with half a dozen apples in her saddlebags. She ran one final errand at the Golden Oak Library and checked out a book called Windfall, a notoriously cheesy romance novel that she’d been eyeing for a few months. Her friends back at Bridleway had taken every possible chance to gush over it, but she’d been putting it off for years. Now it was time to see what all the buzz was about, if only a few years after it had come and gone. After that, she returned home with her saddlebags stuffed to the brim.

It was now getting later in the evening, and her stomach was calling for supper. Once again, her mother had extended an invitation to dinner. Considering that she was living on apples and cheap soup at her house until she was established better, a full meal from her mother’s kitchen wasn’t exactly something she could turn down. After she dropped her things off, she immediately left for her parents' house.

Cheerilee’s parents lived in a house much like any other in Ponyville: a two-story timber frame house with a thatched roof. The only real distinguishing aspect of the home was the large garden out back. That and the tall trellis next to the front door, ablaze with violet flowering Morning Glory vines.

She knocked three times—the exact number her mother insisted on as proper—and waited. She heard a spoon clatter in the kitchen, and the door swung open a few seconds later. In it stood none other than her mother, Lilting Melody, her graying mane tied back in a loose bun and her spectacles perched atop her head to keep them out of the way. Her smile was tense, and her eyes reflected the stress that she often felt when preparing large meals on her own.

“Cheerilee!” exclaimed Melody, throwing her front hooves up in the air and wrapping them around her daughter’s shoulders. “So glad you’re here, I need an extra set of hooves! Come in, quick!” Before Cheerilee could get a word in, she broke the hug and scurried back into the house. Cheerilee followed behind her, crossing through the dining room and into the kitchenette.

The kitchen was alive, it seemed. All four burners on the stove were occupied by steaming pots, the the counters were strewn with mixing bowls and a wide array of utensils. A large cutting board held chopped carrots, squash, zucchini, tomato, and onion. An automatic mixer was churning away at what looked to be chocolate cake batter, and the oven was already in use making a pizza. An instrumental jazz piece could be heard in the background. Amid the chaos, the main thing that stood out was the smell. The aromas from the stove coupled with the scent of the raw ingredients on the counters created a smell so mouthwatering that it almost made Cheerilee’s knees weak.

“I’m so glad you got here early! I got a little carried away with all this.” She took a spare apron from a cupboard on the far side of the room and tossed it to Cheerilee. “Here, can you take over tending those pots on the stove for me? I need to get the cake going.”

“On it.” Cheerilee slipped the apron over her head and picked up a wooden spoon in her teeth.

“Thanks a bunch!” Melody chimed, singing the last word. She took a tiny scoop of flour and sprinkled it into a pan already coated with shortening. “I hope you don’t mind, but we have a couple of other guests coming for dinner.”

“‘Ho are ‘hey?” Cheerilee asked, still stirring a pot full of boiled squash.

“Don’t talk when you’re stirring, you’ll spit in the food!” Melody shot Cheerilee a quick glare. “Anyway, Hondo and Cookie just came back from Cervidas last week. You remember them, right?”

Cheerilee dropped the spoon from her teeth and looked over at Melody, who had just taken the bowl out of the mixer. “Rarity’s parents, right?" Melody nodded. "I didn’t know you were friends with them.”

“We got to know them not too long after you left for college. They’ve kind of become our go-to couple recently. Keep an eye on that pasta, it’s almost ready!”

Cheerilee looked back at the pot on the left-rear burner. Sure enough, the noodles were done. “Is the strainer ready to go?”

“It’s called a colander, honey. And yes, it’s already in the sink.”

Cheerilee rolled her eyes at the correction, making sure not to let her mother see it. She picked up the pot in her teeth and carried it across the kitchen to the sink. With a twist of her head, she dumped the noodles into the colander. It had been a while since she made pasta herself, and she forgot the big cloud of steam that came with draining spaghetti. The steam billowed up into her face and she jumped back reflexively, sending the empty pot clattering across the brick floor.

“Careful, that steam will get you,” Melody idly commented, not looking up from pouring the cake batter into the pan.

“Noted,” Cheerilee deadpanned. Before she could pick up the pot, the doorbell rang.

“Oh, that’s them!” Melody placed the empty mixing bowl back on the counter. “I can handle it from here. You go answer the door and show them in, Cheerilee. I’ll call you if I need help.”

“That works for me,” Cheerilee agreed, not bothering to take the apron off. She walked out of the kitchen and crossed the dining room to the front door. She ran a hoof through her mane and pulled the door open.

“Well hey there, Cheerilee! Long time no see!” greeted the loud voice of Hondo Flanks, the moustachioed white unicorn who was never seen without his trademark straw hat.

“Oh, that rhymed!” added Cookie Crumbles, the plump pink mare with a fashion sense almost equally as bad as her husband’s.

“It has been a while, hasn’t it? Come on in!” Cheerilee motioned for them to enter, and the couple stepped into the entryway. Cookie had a plastic tub perched on the small of her back, appearing to contain some kind of rice and vegetable mix.

“I’ll take this back to the kitchen,” Cookie said, turning towards the kitchen door and leaving Cheerilee and Hondo alone in the entryway. An energetic greeting sounded out from around the corner when she walked into the kitchen.

“Is your dad around?” Hondo asked, walking past Cheerilee and into the den.

“I don’t know what he’s doing right now, but he should be around here somewhere.”

“I’ll bet he’s out in the shop. Probably building a cabinet or somethin’,” Hondo stopped in front of the sofa.

“Cheerilee! Will you come here a minute?” called Melody from in the kitchen.

“You better go in there. I’ll go snoop around and see if I can’t find your Dad somewhere.” Cheerilee gave Hondo a quick smile before she trotted off in the direction of the kitchen. Even after several years away from home, she still remembered exactly how much her mother meant when she said “a minute”. With a bit of dread in her stomach, she crossed the threshold into the kitchen.

“Sure mom, what do you need?”

Cheerilee took her seat at the table, feeling more than a bit frazzled. Since her mother had called her into the kitchen, she had been bustling back and forth nonstop for nearly half an hour. Setting the table; helping put the finishing touches on the food; putting away ingredients and utensils; fetching Hondo and Chisel, who had congregated out in the adjoining workshop to have a bottle of cider and talk; and other random little jobs that needed done had kept her plenty busy. As she settled into the chair, she took a moment to fix her mane, which had fallen down into her eyes as a result of the quick work she was doing.

Chisel Point sat at the end of the table nearest to the kitchen doorway. Hondo and Cookie were seated next to each other on the side left of him, and Lilting Melody and Cheerilee sat on his right. The far end seat was empty, its place setting relegated to more space for the serving dishes.

Before them was a feast worthy of Hearth’s Warming Eve. Large bowls filled with pasta, squash, carrots, and zucchini sat steaming, ready to dish up. A raised platter in the center of the table held a pizza topped with black olives, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Two loaves of fresh bread and butter sat at each end of the table, and a pitcher of iced tea sat on standby on the far end. In the mix was the dish that Cookie had brought in. Everypony at the table seemed transfixed on the food, eyeing it hungrily.

“Before we start, let’s all take a moment to thank Melody and Cheerilee for preparing this wonderful meal,” said Hondo, suddenly remembering to remove his hat thanks to a nudge from his wife. Everypony said their thanks in a respectful murmur.

“Thank you, Hondo. Now then, no sense letting it get cold. Dig in!” Melody was the first to grab a bowl, her choice being the spaghetti. Hondo went straight for the pizza, as did Chisel. Cookie lit her horn and levitated the bowl of squash to her plate, and Cheerilee chose Cookie’s contribution. Dishes were passed around frequently, and everypony’s plate was full in no time.

With the full selection of food from her mother’s she had tasted many times before, Cheerilee was far more eager to try the interesting new dish. She scooped up a bit of it on her fork and took a bite, some of the rice-like food spilling back onto her plate as she did so. It was an interesting taste for sure; she detected a lot of lemon juice and vinegar, but under the tartness of the dressings was the… rice? It looked like rice, but it didn’t quite taste like any rice she knew of. Parsley, mint, garlic, and a faint hint of tomato rounded out the potent flavor. It wasn’t the best thing she had ever eaten, but it was no doubt good!

“Mmm, Cookie. What is this that you brought with you?” Cheerilee asked.

“It’s a kind of salad we tried while we were over in Cervidas, it’s called tabouli. Do you like it?”

“It’s really good!” Cheerilee replied, taking another bite of the tabouli.

“Oh thanks! Those deer down there just can’t get enough of it. This nice doe I met named Thicket taught me how to make it. It’s easy enough that even I can’t burn it!” Cookie smiled widely.

Melody giggled from the other side of the table. “She must’ve been a miracle worker. Try as I might, my cooking lessons never seemed to work for you.”

“I’ll tell ya, it’s nice having something that isn’t crispy come out of our kitchen for once,” added Hondo, earning a playful elbow from Cookie.

“How was the rest of the trip?” asked Melody.

“It was great!” said Hondo, taking a bite of his pizza.

“I loved going to Concordia the most. There’s just so much neat stuff at the marketplace there, I’ll have to show you all of what we got next time you come over!”

“There’s a bunch of neat history down there,” added Hondo. “That museum was great, but I liked the countryside down there. Their forests are unbelievable!”

“Maybe we’ll go sometime,” Chisel mused, finally breaking into the conversation after having concentrated on his food the entire time.

“We should go together!” Cookie suggested with a grin, “I’d love to go back sometime.”

“Oh, tell 'em the story about the mouse,” said Hondo, nudging Cookie with his elbow and grinning smugly.

“I’d rather not,” Cookie replied, chuckling. It was easy to tell that she was only half-joking.

“Okay,” replied Hondo as he leaned back in his chair, getting ready to tell just a portion of there grand adventure. “So we went on a hike in this little forested area near Equadoe. Real pretty woods, lots of neat little critters running around all over the place. There was this little rest stop at a place where the trail crossed a road— Ow!” Hondo jumped as he was elbowed in the ribs, eliciting laughs from Chisel and Cheerilee.

“Don’t do it, bucko,” Cookie warned, cocking her elbow back again. Again she was only half-serious, but the threat still carried some weight.

“So this rest stop…” Hondo continued, ignoring Cookie’s bluff. “...there’s a little restroom there and she has us stop at it. While she’s in there, I went off to this little scenic overlook they have set up. I’m gone a few minutes, and when I come back, I hear some big ruckus coming from inside. She’s screaming like a little schoolfilly who saw a ghost— Ow!”

Hondo was cut off again by an elbow from Cookie. Her face was steadily turning redder under her pink fur, her blue eyes alight with playful loathing. He responded by scooting his chair a bit to the right, away from her. “So I go in there, not knowing what I’m gonna find. For all I know, someone just waltzed in there with her, so I’m ready to do what I have to do. What I find is her, standing on top of the toilet, looking like she was ready to faint—” he looked at her, his grin widening “—What was it that that was scaring you so bad, again?”

Cookie shot him a glare so intensely icy that she could have brought on winter with a little more work. “A mouse,” she spat, not taking her eyes off of her husband, who was sniggering quietly in an attempt to keep himself from bursting out laughing.

“A mouse, that’s r— that’s right!” He was fighting to keep himself from losing it, but it was quickly becoming a losing battle. Everypony else at the table was in stitches to some degree by this point. He swallowed hard, suppressing his mirth a bit so he could continue. “Anyway, it gets better when I get in there. That mouse saw me come in and he went right straight for the first place he could see to hide: right under the throne Cookie was perched on!”

“I tell ya, you’ve never seen a pony jump until you’ve seen her running from a mouse. And since she was too worried about where the mouse went, she wasn’t really looking out where she was jumping. I didn’t have more than a second before she landed square on my back. I went down, all the wind knocked out of me like I just got tackled by a quarterback, and she comes down on top of me.” Cheerilee and Melody were both giggling, while Chisel was about to choke on the bite of squash he had just taken. “So, we’re laying there in a pile on the restroom floor, I’m gasping for breath and she’s just trying to get the heck outta there…” Hondo couldn’t continue through his hysterics, but quickly caught his composure.

“Touchdown,” Cookie added, taking a sip of her water. While it didn’t have as much of an effect on Cheerilee’s family, that one-liner was enough to send Hondo into a fit of laughter. Even Cookie couldn’t help but chuckle at the scene, despite the fact that she was the butt of the whole anecdote. Most of the laughs at the table were aided by the mustachioed stallion’s mirth, which took quite a while to subside. When they finally started coming down, Melody was the first to speak.

“I’m sorry, Cookie. That was a good story though,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with her napkin before placing her glasses back on the bridge of her muzzle.

“Oh it’s fine,” said Cookie, a cool smile appearing on her face.

“Oh boy, I know that look,” Hondo shifted uneasily in his chair. “She’s planning something to get me back.”

“Oh? I wouldn’t think of such a thing,” Cookie said, retaining her nonchalant posture.

Hondo looked to Chisel and Melody. “I’m toast.”

“So,” Cookie said, looking to Cheerilee. “Enough about us. How was your first day of teaching today, Cheerilee?”

“Mmm!” Cheerilee hummed, swallowing the bite of food in her mouth. “It was wonderful!”

“How’s Sweetie Belle been treating you?” asked Hondo.

“Is she behaving herself?”

“She’s a sweetheart,” Cheerilee answered with a smile. “I haven’t seen her since she was just a toddler, so I didn’t know what to expect when she came to class.”

“She can be a hoofful, just to warn you,” said Cookie.

“At this age, what foal isn’t a hoofful? Cheerilee pointed out, earning a nod of agreement from everypony in the room. “Are you two going to come out to the parent-teacher conferences next week?”

“Well since you asked…” Hondo started, a dubious frown crossing his muzzle as he looked down and away. Cheerilee deflated a bit at his words, but quickly relaxed when she saw him look back up with his usual grin. “I’m kidding. Of course we’ll be there.”

“Great! I should be better acquainted with her by then, so I should be able to tell you better about how she’s doing.” Cheerilee took a bite of the tabouli, followed by a generous drink of tea.

“Oh! I have another great story to tell you guys…” Hondo began, changing the subject as he launched into another tale of their travels. As he went on with his yarn—this time about one of their adventures in the capital city of Cervidas—Cheerilee let herself slowly lose focus. It wasn’t that it was a boring story, but rather she wanted a moment to think to herself. When Cookie mentioned that Sweetie Belle could be hard to handle at times, it kicked loose a series of thoughts.

Would any of the students turn out to behave differently than they had on the first day? Would they be better or worse in that case? A certain mauve filly came to mind; Aura, wasn’t it?

With another bite of her mother’s homemade bread, those thoughts faded. She wasn’t here to worry about what lay ahead; there was plenty of time for that later. She was here to enjoy herself and celebrate. With that, Cheerilee let her thoughts escape her mind, and she tuned herself back into the conversation. The rest of the dinner party was sure to be a blast.

With a soft click, Cheerilee closed the front door of her house. Dinner had been… exhausting to say the least. Coupled with the stress of her first day on the job, sleep was the only thing on her mind. Several large containers of leftovers were perched on her back, the stack wobbling precariously as she walked. Before she could go upstairs, she needed to go to the kitchen and drop off the containers. She placed them on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, which was completely empty. In fact, the only items contained inside were a carton of milk and a half of a watermelon.

With a bump from her rump, she closed the fridge door and exited the kitchen, clicking the light off as she left. Hanging a right, she slipped through the narrow opening in the boxes to the stairs, trudging up them with as much speed as she dared use with her mind as foggy as it was. At the top of the staircase, she turned left and entered the first door on that side: the bathroom.

Her bathroom was still largely barren, as with most of the rest of the house. The entire room was plain white, from the tile floor to the fixtures. The only real source of color in the room was a faded floral-print shower curtain over the tub, and that was meager at best. However, now wasn’t the time to worry about the decorations. Her mind was on a set track: Brush teeth, then go to bed.

She didn’t go into as much detail with her brushing as usual, just getting her teeth passably clean before sticking her head under the faucet to rinse. She exited the bathroom and made for her bedroom door across the landing. As she put her hoof to the door to push it open, she stopped.

Water. Even though she wasn’t thirsty at the moment, it was a small comfort to have a glass of water on the nightstand. Instead of diving straight into her waiting bed like she so desperately wanted to do, she turned and went down the stairs to the kitchen. She grabbed a glass from the cupboard and filled it with ice from the freezer, making sure to flip the lights off once she had her drink. On her way back through the foyer, she bumped into one of the stacks of boxes. The top one fell to the floor and spilled out across the room.

“Oh ponyfeathers,” Cheerilee muttered, setting her glass down on the first stair. She picked the box up and placed it back on top of the stack. The box had been mostly filled with books, so there wasn't a huge mess to clean up. A small pile of them were right in front of where the box fell, and she went for those four first. She didn’t bother to neatly stack them like they had been before, instead just throwing them back in without thought. A textbook about music theory had gone a bit further than the first four books, which brought back memories of the class it came from.

It was hard to understand and she never seemed to hear the same thing that the professor wanted her to; she barely squeaked by with a C average in that class. With that book back in the box, she moved over closer to the door where a small book with her cutie mark on the cover and a magenta ribbon bookmark had landed. It was her diary.

Oh, right, she thought. The last entry had been the day before she made her move, and she had been meaning to make an entry after her first day of teaching. As much as she wanted to put off making the entry, she knew that it would be best to do it now, while the thoughts were still fresh. She looked at the few books still scattered about, and instead picked up the diary and headed for the stairs.

Up in her room, she dropped the diary on the bed and found a quill and ink in the nightstand drawer. Since she didn’t have a desk yet, she would have to make do. With her supplies, she hopped into the bed, making sure to leave the ink jar on the nightstand in case it spilled. She opened the diary to the correct page, dipped the quill in the ink, and carefully touched it to the page.

Dear Diary,

This last week has been a blur! I went from having an apartment in the big city to renting a house back in my hometown, all in just seven days. I must say, it is a nice little place. More than enough for a single mare to make use of. I still need to turn it from a house to a home, but for now it serves fine as a roof over my head. I can’t complain one bit!

Also, today I started my first day of teaching class at the Ponyville schoolhouse! All this week, I’ve been a nervous wreck with worry about how I will adjust to the new job, but Nook was right. It looks like I’m going to do just fine. The students are wonderful, and they all seem to like me from the start! There was one little filly named Aura who didn’t seem to like me so well, but I’m sure I can win her over in time.

After class, I went for a walkaround Ponyville. Everything is just so different from when I was here last. Theres a bunch of new stores and things around town and I still need to go see them Maybe tomor~

Before she finished her sentence, her head sank back to meet the pillow in a lazy slump. She was fast asleep in seconds.

Author's Note:

Oh, hello there! I forgot to make author's notes on the last two chapters because of the hectic times surrounding their posting, but I will make a point to not miss them again.

Not the most plot-advancing of chapters, but it provides a nice bit of characterization for Cheerilee's family and their friends. Next chapter, we dive further into the school aspect of things.

(There are a few errors in the diary entry, as some of you may note. These are intentional, so don't try to tell me I messed up. Looking at you, Ice Hammer)

Thanks go to KillerShadow15 and Lord-Commander for their continued assistance, and to you readers who make this so worthwhile. See you all at the next chapter!