• 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 Four: Meeting Aura

“Am I in trouble?” Aura looked up from her desk sheepishly, not quite making eye contact with her teacher before looking back down.

“No,” said Cheerilee, rising from her chair and walking towards the back of the classroom. “I just wanted to ask you something.” She took a seat in the desk immediately in front of Aura’s, straddling the seat backwards and hugging the backrest with her forelegs.

Aura seemed to be hiding under the cover of her hair, or at least attempting to do so to the best of her ability. “Did I do something bad?”

“No, Aura. You’re not in trouble.” Cheerilee smiled warmly, which in turn brought Aura’s face out from behind her mane. “I wanted to talk with your parents at the conference last night, but you guys didn’t show up.”

“We were busy,” said Aura, her eyes darting to the clock before returning to her teacher.

“Well, I can certainly understand that.” Cheerilee could tell one of two things from the way the filly barely made eye contact: That she was either very shy, or that she was not telling the truth. “But I really must speak with your parents. Is there any way I could meet them today?”

“Nope,” Aura replied. “I don’t think they’ll come at all.”

Cheerilee frowned. It was definitely the latter. “Young filly, don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not lying!” Aura finally made eye contact again, and sun above, she was working the puppy dog eyes hard. “My daddy’s busy all the time at work!”

“Is your mother available?”

“She’s always busy with my little brother!” Aura sank deeper into the chair, her lip quivering faintly.

Hmm. Foals rarely had the acting ability to pull off lies so convincingly. Perhaps there was a third possibility that her parents were actually too busy to attend. Even so, there was surely a way to get a moment of their time.

“Where does your dad work? I could probably find a way to talk with him on my own.” Cheerilee watched Aura closely. She didn’t squirm or show any sign that she didn’t want her parents to meet with her teacher. It looked like she was telling the truth after all.

“He writes for the newspaper. He’s always busy, so you won’t see him.” There was a bit of acid in the filly’s tone.

The Ponyville Express? What does he do there?”

“He's the edition pony or something. I don’t remember.” Aura shrugged and looked over towards the window.

“The editor,” Cheerilee clarified.

“Yeah, that.”

“Well, I guess you can run along no—” Cheerilee couldn’t finish her sentence before the chair shot back and Aura was on her way towards the door. “Remember to do your homework!” The call went unanswered, and the filly didn’t look back as she bolted out into the hazy afternoon sunshine.

“That was interesting,” Cheerilee said to herself. She rose from the chair and walked to her desk, slipping her saddlebags on and making for the door as well.

Before she walked out, she froze in place. What was it that she was forgetting? She had everything in her saddlebags, the art projects were… Aura’s art project. How could I forget that?

It was going to come in handy later.



It took Cheerilee the better part of fifteen minutes to find the The Ponyville Express's office building. Being a local newspaper with a small readership, it didn’t have the need for a large building to operate out of. As such, it occupied a squat, nondescript structure near Town Hall. The only things identifying it from any other buildings were the large overhead door on the side of the building and the small, faded sign of the namesake paper painted above the front door. From the outside, it looked a lot like a normal house.

A wave of relief washed over Cheerilee when she finally spotted the faded stenciling, and she trotted over to the door in a hasty jog. As she entered, the bell over the door jingled.

“I’ll be there in a second!” came a voice from the back of the room. The entire first floor of the building looked like one large room. A large printing press near the doorway was humming loudly as it spat out newspaper after newspaper. The conveyor belt took the papers to another machine which rolled them up and tied them with a rubber band before spitting them out into a waiting wagon near the overhead door.

With a loud whine, the whole operation began slowing. The press was first to turn off, and the belt soon carried its last edition down to the tying machine. With a few more loud electrical hums and snaps, the system shut down and went quiet. Some hoofsteps could be heard coming from behind the press in the newfound silence, and from there emerged an ink-smattered unicorn, his jet black mane slicked down with either hair gel or sweat.

“Can I help you?” he asked, wiping at an ink spot with an old rag.

“Uh, yes. I’m looking for the newspaper’s editor, Pencil Pusher. Is he around?”

“In the flesh,” Pencil Pusher replied, discarding the rag. “What can I do you for?”

“You’re the editor? I didn’t think you would be the one running the press.” Cheerilee cringed at her comment as soon as the words left her lips. Maybe he wouldn’t take notice of it.

“It’s a small operation. The guy that usually runs this thing, Ink Jet, got the feather flu. I’m filling in for him when I can.” He didn’t notice, thank Celestia.

“All by yourself? I— Oh drat, I could stand here and pester you with questions about the newspaper all day, couldn’t I?” Pencil chuckled alongside her at the quip. “Anyway, my name is Cheerilee, and I’m the teacher at the Ponyville Elementary school. I came to talk to you about your daughter, Aura.”

“Sure,” said Pencil. “We can go on up to the office to talk if you want.”

“Oh no, I don’t want to take up any more of your time than I need to. We can just do this right here.” Pencil nodded, giving Cheerilee the go-ahead. “I wanted to bring this up with you at the parent-teacher conference last night, but you didn’t show up. It’s about Aura’s classroom performance.”

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Pencil.

“I sent home several notes about it. Did Aura not give them to you?”

“I guess not,” Pencil replied with a frown. “I’ll be sure to bring that up with her tonight. Is she misbehaving in class?”

“No, actually. Aside from this, she’s actually very well-behaved in class. I’m more concerned about her academic performance. In the last week, she hasn’t shown much interest in class. She just sits there and looks on most of the day without ever truly participating.” She paused for a moment, reading Pencil’s expression. His brow was furrowed, his eyes locked on hers and his ears pointed forward. He was paying concerned attention. “Her daily grades are suffering for it, too. She’s in the bottom of the class right now, and to be frank, I don’t think that she’s taking much interest in learning.”

Pencil remained silent.

“However, there is something peculiar about her. One of our assignments from this week was an art project, and I just want to show it to you,” Cheerilee said, reaching back into her saddlebags to retrieve Aura's project. She passed it to Pencil, who took it in his magic. “Take a look at this.”

Pencil Pusher’s eyebrows raised in surprise, his golden eyes scanning the paper fervently. He whistled in awe before he looked back to Cheerilee. “That’s really something,” he commented, passing it back to her.

“It’s the best one in the entire class, hooves down. She has an uncanny knack for art, but she can barely write her own name on a paper.”

Pencil cocked an eyebrow. “That’s news to me. We’ve never had any complaints about that before.”

“Really? That’s peculiar,” said Cheerilee.

“Well, what can we do?” Pencil asked, shrugging his shoulders a bit.

“It’s still early on in the year, so I’m not entirely sure at this point. Perhaps you could help her with her study habits at home?”

“I can try, but my job doesn’t give me a lot of time to see my kids at the moment, as you can see.”

“In any case, it’s a start. It could be something as simple as not getting back in the swing of things from summertime, but it could also be warning signs of a learning disability—”

“Let’s not go there,” Pencil interrupted. “My daughter is just fine. I can make the time to help her. Now, I really need to get back to the press, so I’m afraid that we have to cut this short. Thanks for stopping by!”

“Anytime,” Cheerilee said, turning and making for the door. “I’ll keep you in the loop if anything else comes up!”

“Thank you,” said Pencil, turning his own way and trotting back off towards the press. Cheerilee stepped back out into the warm afternoon, and as soon as the door shut, she looked back quizzically.

What was that all about?



“What can I get you to drink?” asked the waiter, a lanky young stallion wearing an apron. He looked to Nook first.

“Hmm…” Nook scratched at her muzzle thoughtfully. “I’ll take a root beer.”

“I’ll have water,” said Cheerilee.

“Alright! Are you two ready to order now or do you need a minute?”

“I’m ready now. How about you, Cheers?”

“I’m ready. I’ll just have the small garden salad with creamy Bitalian dressing. Oh, and can you put sunflower seeds on there?”

“Sure! And you, ma’am?”

Nook flipped her menu closed. “Gimme a pasta salad with diced cucumbers and toasted croutons. Vinaigrette dressing, please.” She floated their menus to the waiter, who took them under his wing.

“Thank you, ladies. I’ll be right back with those drinks.” With that, the waiter went on his way, disappearing back into the café.

With the waiter gone, Cheerilee took a few glances around at the restaurant. A small wrought iron fence surrounded the outdoor dining area, and six or seven wooden tables covered with red and white umbrellas filled the small patio. Only one other table was open at the moment, and a dull roar of chatter punctuated by the occasional clink of silverware on a plate floated in the air.

“Gee whiz, thanks Cheerilee.” Nook’s voice brought her attention back from the surroundings.

“What?”

“The way you’re ordering, it makes me feel fat. Are you trying to diet or something?” Nook had a tell when she was being less than half serious. The left corner of her mouth would involuntarily turn up slightly, just enough to give her a smirk. The upturn was there, so Cheerilee let her guard down.

“I’m just not all that hungry. Might as well eat light if I don’t feel the need to eat, you know?”

“Alright then.” The unicorn let out a yawn and stretched out her forelegs. “Wow, I had a rough day. You know that new mare I was telling you about yesterday?”

“The one you called ‘plump’, right?” Cheerilee asked, cocking an eyebrow and a smirk of her own.

“Geez, when you say it like that, you make me sound mean.” Cheerilee didn’t lower her eyebrow. “Oh, shut up. Anyway, I’m the one who got assigned to train her, and she doesn’t seem to learn anything I teach her! I asked her to organize the file cabinet today, and she actually managed to make that mess harder to understand! We were playing catch-up all day long after we got that whole mess sorted out.”

“The way you’re talking about her, it sounds like you think she’s an idiot.” Cheerilee immediately bit her tongue, and the look of shock on Nook’s face confirmed her fears.

“Alright, that’s it. Who are you and what have you done with the real Cheerilee?”

“Sorry,” Cheerilee said, averting her eyes. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind today, that’s all.”

“That explains why you’re barely eating.” Nook leaned forward, resting her head on her hooves and staring forward with enough intensity that it seemed like she was trying to look directly into Cheerilee’s soul. “Spit it out, sister.”

“I’m not really sure that I want to discuss it right now.”

“Not buying it. Give me the details.” Nook wasn’t going to back down, as Cheerilee knew from experience. Better to get it over with as quickly as possible.

“Fine, I’ll tell you. I—”

“Alright, here’s your drinks!” The waiter interrupted, much to Nook’s chagrin. From what Cheerilee could tell, it was taking an impressive amount of self-control for her to not shoot him a glare. “Root beer for you and water for you.” He was balancing the glasses on his wingtips, and he expertly slid them forward onto the table, not spilling a drop during the process. “Your salads should only be a couple more minutes, hang tight.” In an instant, he had disappeared amongst the other tables.

“Go on,” said Nook, taking a sip of her drink.

“It’s work trouble for me too. There’s this filly in the class who never pays attention at all. Bless her heart, she can barely write her own name legibly.”

“A slow learner? I kinda figured that was part of being a teacher.”

“Let me finish,” Cheerilee chided. “The thing is, I can tell that she’s smart. She can barely write and math is a total impossibility for her, but she can draw. For her age, she is the most talented artist I’ve ever seen. Here,” Cherilee dug into her saddlebag, which was perched on the ground below her chair, and produced Aura’s project for the second time that day. She passed it across to Nook, who took it and whistled in awe.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” asked Cheerilee.

“It sure beats anything I can do.” Nook didn’t look up from the paper, still taking in the details of the drawing.

“That’s almost exactly what I said. I tracked down her father today since they didn’t show up at the conferences, and he was mostly helpful.”

“Mostly?” Nook asked, finally tearing herself from the sketch.

“Yes, mostly. He promised to try to work with his daughter, but he seemed a bit testy.”

“Sounds to me like he thinks that his daughter’s bad habits reflect on him as a parent.” Nook took another sip of her drink.

“There’s your psychology class coming out again,” Cheerilee mocked.

“Hey, it happens. Keep talking, girl.”

“Well, there’s not much else to say. I’m really glad that she has talent, but it raises questions. Why does she write so poorly when her artistic skill is so developed? How has she not gotten help with this before now? Why did her dad get so short with me when I mentioned—” Cheerilee stopped abruptly. In effect, she had just answered her own question. “Oh. When I mentioned learning disabilities.”

“That makes a lot of sense, really. I’ve heard of kids being really smart in one thing but they’re completely clueless in everything else.” Nook flipped a hoof through her mane, making the curly mass of hair bounce a bit.

“Uh-huh.” Cheerilee looked down at the table thoughtfully, tracing her gaze along the wood grain. Could the answer really be so simple? “I think I need to do a bit of research tomorrow when the library opens.”

“Hey, here comes the waiter!” Nook bounced in her chair a bit, her eyes brightening.

Suddenly, the knot that had been plaguing Cheerilee’s stomach all afternoon was gone. The swirl of questions and uncertainty had gone by the wayside, replaced with one single thought:

That she desperately wished she had gotten a bigger salad.

Author's Note:

Every so often, an author creates a character that the dialogue just seems to flow from like a river. In my case, Nook is one of them. It's a great feeling when the character practically takes its own course and you get to almost sit back and enjoy the ride. I hope you all enjoy her as much as I do!

The entire story so far has been largely exposition with a few little hints of the rising action. With this chapter, we thrust ourselves headlong into the first stretch of the big hill. So, let's hear what you guys think so far. Hit up those comments below, and I'll see you at the next chapter!

Thanks to Lord-Commander, KillerShadow15, and Xhoral1865 for their help.