• Published 10th Aug 2016
  • 669 Views, 31 Comments

Light Pollution - Quillamore



When her mother drops her off on the Manehattan streets to fend for herself, Diamond Tiara takes the opportunity to mend ties with Babs Seed...and to regain just a bit of the light she had always kept herself from.

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Second Day: Ace of Diamonds

Diamond Tiara could just barely feel a hoof run past her mane as she slept, willing herself to flip her body over when it got too close. As much as it’d stirred her in the night, she still wasn’t quite sure what time it was when it had happened, and were it not for the strangeness of it all, she would’ve forgotten it by morning. For the time being, she’d chosen to write it off as her imagination sensing things that weren’t there, since this was one of the first unfamiliar beds she’d ever slept in. Anything besides hers, her parents’, and Silver Spoon’s were probably enough to give her night terrors just being in them, as much as she’d hate to admit it. Even then, it was still so much better than thinking that some big-city creep was watching her as she slept.

She still wasn’t anywhere near used to living in a building with other ponies that weren’t her family, but unfortunately, that was just part of the arrangements here. As a rising Bridleway costume designer, Coco probably still earned a pretty decent amount even for Diamond’s standards, but Manehattan’s central district was just too crowded for anypony to have anything other than a mishmash of rooms inside a mishmash of a building. The ponies she was staying with assured her that the condo was perfectly safe and installed with an impeccable security system, but she still eyed the neighboring blocks with caution.

Thankfully, though, there hadn’t been a breach in the system, in spite of her fears. The only alarm she’d heard was the one by her bedside, and as she stretched her legs on the other pillow, she could feel a piece of paper hidden underneath. Picking it up and staring at it with still-fatigued eyes, Diamond could see drops and smears of ink covering it in strange places. In fact, the parchment was almost ripped in areas from the sheer pressure the quill’s tip had placed on it, even though the scrawled hoofwriting on it was nowhere near as messy as the rest of the letter.

Diamond—

Help needed on set. My boss is insistent. He wants me to come as soon as I can. I probably won’t see you much today, if at all. Sorry. Be sure to have fun without me and tell me all about it later!

--Coco

Her caretaker for the week had drawn a tiny heart next to the last sentence, almost as if she’d forgotten what a rush she was in. Still, at least she’d bothered writing a letter to begin with instead of outright disappearing to her job without warning. Diamond sure couldn’t remember the last time somepony had done that for her.

Even though she knew she shouldn’t get too attached to the family living here, she stuffed the letter into her saddlebag almost without thinking and turned to the window soaked with water droplets. Hidden behind the skyscrapers, she could just see the first thing that’d caught her eye when she and her mother had ridden into the city: a huge track-like structure almost like a railroad that seemed to touch the clouds. She’d noticed some sort of box attached to it, too, where ponies would come in from the ground and let the structure take them up like a pulley. There were more of these moving structures all around it, and all of them seemed to do different things: going around in circles, launching ponies up and down a tower, squirting water all over the place, and so forth. Back when Diamond had asked her mother about it, she’d simply ignored her, probably so she could plot the easiest way to get rid of the load she called a daughter.

Today, the structures didn’t seem to be moving at all, and as she went down to the kitchen for breakfast, Diamond almost wondered if she’d imagined that, too. Last night, she’d thought about asking Coco if she could investigate them today, but the words had never come. In fact, she’d almost be afraid to ask about them now if she wasn’t so curious about the whole weird thing.

“They only move when it’s not raining,” Babs’ sister Bambi explained with a strange look in her eyes. “It’s not safe for ponies to go on them otherwise.”

“So it’s not their job to go on them?” Diamond asked. “I always thought ponies didn’t cancel work when it rained.”

The mare stifled tiny chuckles at hearing this, but surprisingly enough, Babs had the same look of awe about the whole situation that Diamond Tiara did. Babs had probably seen the place with the track millions of times before, Diamond reasoned, but maybe she hadn’t seen the ponies go up it yet. To another pony hearing her story, this whole thing probably would’ve sounded quite odd.

“It’s not their job,” Bambi replied with a smile, putting waffles onto the table. “They’re having fun. They pay to get in, and they can ride as often as they want. It’s hard to describe, but going on stuff like that tends to make ponies your age happy for some reason. Like going down a slide, I guess, except way faster.”

As soon as Diamond heard “ponies your age,” she barely had to think about what it translated to in her mother’s terms. Ponies that weren’t her, that weren’t high society, that didn’t have the pressures she did.

“I always thought it was some messed-up train track,” Babs muttered finally. “And they actually enjoy themselves doin’ that?”

The brown filly shrugged and took another bite of her waffle, not even giving the place a second thought. But Diamond couldn’t help but wonder deep down why she, too, was so unfamiliar with the place. Come to think of it, even from far away, somepony could still tell that mainly foals and families were riding the ride. If it was some sort of experience every foal had, then why was Babs so confused by it?

Diamond shook it out of her head as soon as it had come. She hadn’t meddled in other ponies’ affairs or uttered a single word of gossip in months, and she intended on keeping it that way.

“Anyway,” she continued, trying to shove the intrusive thoughts out of her mind, “can we go together when it’s not raining? If you and Babs aren’t too busy with your own things, I mean.”

“Sure,” Bambi answered. “The weatherpony here says it’s going to rain all week, but we’re so far away from pegasus cities that he’s always wrong anyway. I keep telling the paper they need a more reliable system or at least somepony who’s right twenty percent of the time…”

Thinking back to her job, the mare buried her head into her front legs in frustration and just started muttering even more.

“That’s a yes, by the way,” said Babs. “She just gets like that sometimes. As long as you don’t make me ride that freaky train track, I’m in, too.”

Bambi got off the table, pulled out the newspaper, and began to do the crosswords inside her own publication. The last thing Diamond Tiara thought before breakfast came to a close was whether or not this could be considered cheating. All else was still.

****

With all this in mind, all Diamond could do was sit at the table patiently and stare at the window as if she had the magic to will it to stop raining. She would’ve stayed there forever if Babs didn’t tap her on the shoulder an hour and a half into waiting.

“Whoa,” the other filly whispered. “You’re a lot more patient than I figured you’d be.”

“And you’re a lot more nosy than I thought you’d be,” Diamond quipped. “I didn’t think anything I did was any of your business.”

“Yeah, well, Coco wanted you to have fun here, and you won’t have fun starin’ at rain for hours on end. That’s the only reason I care.”

Diamond cracked a slight smile at hearing this, even though Babs’ tone would seem disinterested and rude to other ponies. Really, though, this was the sort of inside joke she’d developed with the few friends she’d had: coming up with little pretend arguments and pretending not to care just to get a chuckle out of somepony. Watching her get in on it was at least a start in a potential new friendship, whether it was sincerely meant or not.

“Well, for your information, I’m having the time of my life,” Diamond spat, trying her hardest not to laugh. “I’m not waiting for that place to open, I’m like, watching the raindrops run into each other. It’s tons of fun seeing how big they can get before a bigger one gets them.”

Babs just rolled her eyes and blew her mane away from her eyes like usual. Even as everything between them had changed, that much had at least stayed the same.

“Suit yourself, then,” she said as she trotted away. “Bambi’s got games set up in the other room. But sure, keep watchin’ your raindrop demolition derby.”

As soon as the other filly was gone, Diamond suddenly lost any interest she’d faked in the raindrops altogether. Cheerilee had a couple board games stored in her room in case it was too rainy for recess, but Diamond had always just talked to Silver Spoon and kept herself away from everypony instead. She figured that, if anything, it’d be more interesting than waiting for something that probably wouldn’t come.

Her thoughts were only further confirmed when she noticed Bambi sitting next to the coffee table in the living room, shuffling cards like she’d had too much experience with this sort of thing.

“Oh, good, I was just about to come in there and call you over,” she said when Diamond trotted past her. “I figured we’d start off with something highbrow so you’d feel a bit more at home.”

Granted, Bambi wasn’t exactly wrong when she said this. But as she set up the cards, it looked less and less like a foal’s card game and more like the kinds Filthy Rich would invite other stallions to play when Spoiled was off doing something else.

“Um, isn’t this illegal?” Diamond asked.

“Why would it be?” Babs answered with a shrug. “Sis and I used to play it all the time, and it wasn’t like the police barged through our door or anythin’.”

There it was again: the “used to.” Even though she hadn’t particularly noticed it before, Diamond realized that at the dinner table last night or at breakfast today, Babs had always referred to her relationship with Bambi in past terms, as if something had changed to get to where they were now. Before, it’d been a little piece of chatter she hadn’t caught up on. But if she had any hope of making friends with Babs again, she knew she’d have to face her with the question someday.

Still, she couldn’t help but wonder why the filly had to be so darn mysterious about everything.

“It’s not gambling if it’s not for bits,” Bambi explained with a chuckle. “I bet your teacher has you play bingo at classroom parties, right. Same difference.”

The pink filly still had a skeptical look on her face, but shoved it to the side, realizing that a newspony like Bambi probably wouldn’t con her into illegal acts for article fodder. Even a then-devious mind like Diamond wouldn’t have dared try anything like that when she ran the Foal Free Press.

As if to show how low the stakes really were, Bambi poured out a bag of lollipops and split them amongst the three ponies. Each one was heart-shaped and swirled with two different colors, and none of them looked like anything Diamond could buy in Ponyville. Looking across each pile, she saw that only a few of them looked exactly alike, and that their color combinations seemed almost endless.

“It’s simple,” Bambi began. “You place your bets in Spade Suckers, put them in the middle of the table, and try to get your cards to add up to twenty-one. If nopony reaches twenty-one, the closest one to that gets the Spade Suckers in the pot.”

Diamond still wasn’t quite sure how this was supposed to be a family-enriching activity, especially considering the look on Babs’ face when she saw the lollipops. That was most definitely the look of a filly with candy cravings, and Diamond suspected that getting in between that could turn either violent, competitive, or potentially both.

“Where did you even find these…Spade Suckers?” she asked, assuming that Bambi was referring to the lollipops. “I’ve never heard of them.”

“Coco’s mom makes ‘em,” Babs replied. “She and Coco’s dad have a general store on the other side of town called Heart and Spade, and these’re some of their biggest sellers. They say they’ve got a different flavor for every coat-mane color combo you can think of. Mine is cherry cola.”

“Tropical punch for me,” Bambi continued. “But you should’ve seen what they did when they found out about their daughter adopting Babs. They renamed the flavor after her!”

“That’s how you tell you’re real family with ‘em,” Babs answered back. “Getting a Spade Sucker named after you, I mean. Coco’s the only other pony they’ve done that with, and she’s blueberries and cream.”

Even if Diamond wouldn’t have been listening, Babs probably still would’ve been prattling on about the lollipops. For once, she actually seemed to be excited to tell her former enemy about her hometown, to everypony’s surprise.

“Tell you what,” the brown filly said with a wink, “I’ll bet a pink-and-purple one right now, if you really think you can get it. It’s one of my favorite kinds, but hey, watching you win at cards will probably be worth losin’ it.”

As much as she hated to admit it, the Spade Sucker fever was even getting to Diamond, and she couldn’t help but wonder what special thing her matching one would taste like. That, plus the teasing glint in Babs’ eyes, was enough to get her going through the first round. Friendship or no friendship, being showed up by anypony else still wasn’t something she craved by any means.

After drawing a few cards, she looked at everypony with beaming eyes. There was no way she could lose this time. Everything was moving in her favor. She was about to start her time with this family in the best of ways, and her time to shine was now. All she would have to do was place the cards on the table, and they would talk about Diamond Tiara, blackjack prodigy, for days and days to come…

“Twenty-four!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, slamming her cards out so hard the coffee table shook from the impact. “Twenty-four!”

Bambi and Babs both eyed her with the utmost shock. In that regard, she supposed her plan of beating them at their own game had worked. The two sisters whispered to one another, trying to figure out how best to break the news.

“You lost,” Babs finally said bluntly, without a hint of mockery to her voice.

“What?” Diamond replied. “You guys rigged this! You said I had to get as close to twenty-one as possible, and twenty-four is even better than twenty-one! That lollipop is mine.”

Both of the others looked to each other again, this time trying their best to stifle laughter at the situation even as Diamond had no clue what was going on.

“Nah, nah, it’s okay,” Bambi said finally. “We’re not laughing at you, it’s just cute. Of course a pony who’s never played this before wouldn’t know going over twenty-one automatically disqualifies you.”

“What kind of rule is that?” Diamond asked indignantly. “What, do you just pull them out of nowhere or something? What’s next, you’re going to tell me that only the red cards count towards the total?”

Even knowing the other ponies weren’t laughing at her, losing to them at the lowest-stakes card game imaginable was still humiliating. She’d put everything into the next few rounds, still trying for that Spade Sucker, but the hands she’d been dealt were never as good as the first time. After losing to them for who knows how many times, Diamond finally put her head on the table and sighed.

“You’re takin’ this way too seriously,” Babs told her, stroking a strand of her mane out from her eyes. “I mean, Apple Bloom told me in that letter that your mama’s always pushing you to be the best and all, but she’s not gonna care if you lose fourteen rounds of blackjack in a row—“

“Fifteen,” Diamond corrected.

“—fifteen games of blackjack in a row, and neither will we. If you’re not havin’ fun with this, we should move on to somethin’ else.”

The pink filly opened her mouth to protest, no longer thinking about her mother or anything else like that. All she really cared about at this point was something that she’d lost the chance to get fifteen rounds ago.

“Oh, almost forgot,” Babs interjected, shuffling through a pile she had on the floor. Before Diamond could do anything about it, the other filly shoved the pink-and-purple lollipop into her mouth. It wasn’t quite like anything she’d tasted before, almost like a mix of sugar cubes, cream, and marshmallows all at once. Still, she found herself licking it as fast as she could.

“What flavor’s this supposed to be?” she asked, desperate to find out where she could try something like it at home.

“Cotton candy,” Bambi answered. “They sell it over at the amusement park you were looking at today.”

“And don’t worry,” Babs chimed in, “once we go there, I’ll buy you the biggest stick of it we can find. That’s a promise.”

****

“Ha! You landed on my exclusive Pony Place resort! It’s time for you to pay up!”

Hours later, Diamond had finally found a game she could win at and was flaunting it as much as she could, flinging paper money all across the room. The other two looked at her with exasperated, but still proud, grins on their faces, willing to placate the filly and let her revel in her victory.

However, as tired as Bambi and Babs looked after an afternoon of rainy-day game playing, they were still nowhere near as much so as the mare who walked into the room just as the game ended. At first, Diamond thought she was the only one who noticed her, seeing as the other two didn’t even look her way. But then she noticed the way they both stared at the table with heads down to the ground, almost as if they were too used to the situation to look her way.

The mare groggily came out of the room just as tired as she’d been when she trotted into it, and just when she was about to go straight out the condo door, Diamond galloped straight up to her.

“Coco!” she yelled. “I had a really good time today, you know. Do you think you’ll be able to do something with us later?”

Coco gave her a tiny smile before walking out of the room, just barely looking back to her. It was then that the way Babs always called Coco by her name and not “mother” finally seemed to make sense.

All that mattered in that moment was Bambi’s resigned voice talking to nopony in particular. Almost as if to tell her that life in this family wasn’t without its hardships, either.

“She’s been like that ever since she met up with that scoundrel. That boss of hers never lets her alone, does he?”

Author's Note:

Fun fact: the blackjack scene was actually taken from personal experience with my parents. It's an inside joke in our family to this day.

Coco won't be as much of a presence in the story as she was in the first two parts, but trust me when I say she doesn't mean to be distant. As you'll see later in the story (or as you can start finding out right now), she's going through her own trials over this spring break, too. Enjoy the rest of the parts!

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