• Published 7th Aug 2012
  • 5,025 Views, 164 Comments

Pride and Prejudice and Snails - Mudpony

A lost bet forces Diamond Tiara to ask Snails to a dance. But when Snails turns to Sweetie Belle for help with impressing his date, she develops feelings for him. And so what was to have been a simple victory for the CMC gets a bit more complicated.

  • ...

Chapter 7

The blue streak whooshed past Scootaloo's head, colliding with the wall. Pieces flew in all directions as the crayon shattered. Worse yet, Sweetie Belle noticed, it had left a mark where it hit the wall.

"Gaaaah!" Sweetie Belle screamed. Now she would have to clean that up before her sister noticed. At this rate, the card was never going to get done. And now no more blue. She sighed as she looked at what she had made so far. A crudely drawn Snails, next to an even more crudely drawn Snips that might have started out as white unicorn filly, waving goodbye to a pony in front of the double doors of a building. A sign with a big red cross sat to the left of the doors. One door was colored blue and the other was as yet uncolored. Sweetie Belle looked over the remaining crayons and settled on a green one. It would not be perfect, but it would have to do. She grasped it between her teeth and started coloring the door.

"Ah did tell you it was a bad idea," Apple Bloom said.

"Yeah, yeah, you've already told me that," Scootaloo replied.

"Ah told you Ah was going to do that too."

"I know, okay?"

Sweetie Belle's eyes crossed as she focused on the point of the crayon in her mouth, as she pondered chucking it at whichever of her two friends spoke up next. Maybe it would do the trick where the blue one had failed. Of course, if it broke, she would end up losing another crayon, but she did have another green crayon. She envisioned the crayon landing with a satisfying thunk on a forehead. Knowing her luck though, she would miss. She glanced over at the spot on the wall where the previous crayon had met its end. She really did not feel like having more to clean up.

"It was a bad-" Apple Bloom started up.

Sweetie Belle spat out the crayon. "Will you two be quiet?" she screeched, her voice cracking on the last word.

"She started it," Scootaloo pointed out.

"Nu-uh," Apple Bloom protested.

Papers and art supplies went flying as Sweetie flipped over the table. "I don't care who started it. I just wanted to make this card perfect and get to the hospital before visiting hours are over. Now I have to clean the wall, and the card isn't turning out as well as I hoped." She looked around at the mess she had just created. "Oh, great. Even more stuff to clean up." Sweetie sighed. "I'm going to get a bucket with some soap to clean the wall."

Sweetie's feet took her to the kitchen. She took out a small bucket from under the sink and began to fill it up with hot water. As she added some soap, she watched as the clear water became obscured under soapy bubbles. The water was just like her life of late, she realized. It had all been clear, but ever since the talent show, it had gotten murky. Although it was not quite right yet, something was missing. She shut the water off and tossed a rag into the bucket. That was better. She was not sure what exactly the rag symbolized, but it seemed fitting somehow, some extra thing to mess up the purity of the water, soon to make it even murkier. She picked up the bucket and headed back to the room.

Sweetie entered the room to find the table back in its place. Her art supplies were stacked neatly upon it. Even the bits of blue crayon had been cleaned up. On either side of the table, facing the door, sat Scootaloo and Apple Bloom.

"We're sorry," the two said simultaneously.

"We know this is hard on you..." Scootaloo continued.

"And we didn't mean to be insest-, inzensu-, not thinking of how you are feeling," Apple Bloom finished.

Water sloshed out of the bucket as it hit the ground. Sweetie Belle bounded forward and threw her forelegs around her two best friends, one after the other. The water seemed clearer somehow.

"Let's finish the cleaning and we can go visit Snails in the hospital," Apple Bloom suggested.

With the combined effort of the three fillies, the mark on the wall was quickly cleaned off and a rug strategically placed over where the soapy water had spilled. Then, the rag was placed in the laundry room, and the bucket returned to its place under the sink.

Sweetie Belle looked around, making sure that everything was sufficiently ordered to pass a Rarity inspection. Spotting nothing that was out of order, she slipped on her pack and waited by the door for her friends. She was joined by Scootaloo, but as Apple Bloom approached, Scootaloo's eyes shot open wide and she raced back toward the craft room. Apple Bloom looked questioningly at Sweetie Belle, who could only shrug. The unspoken question was answered when Scootaloo returned, an envelope in her mouth.

"You almost forgot this," Scootaloo mumbled, before slipping the card into Sweetie's pack.

"Good thing I have the bestest friends in all of Equestria to remind me," Sweetie Belle beamed, shutting the door behind her as the three friends headed out.

The door clicked shut behind Diamond Tiara as she left Silver Spoon's home. They had spent most of the time discussing the events of the dance, both the bad and the, well, she wouldn't call it good. Interesting would do, she decided. Both the bad and the interesting. On the one hoof was the disaster that was Silver Spoon's night, and on the other was Diamond Tiara's.

Who could have imagined that Sweetie Belle would fall for Snails? Or that Snails would start would a fight with Heart Throb? That dim witted fool seemed to have a knack for making things interesting. She reached up and touched the necklace Snails had given her and smiled. And then of all the things he could do before passing out, he apologized for ruining his cloths. That part of the story had even resulted in Silver Spoon showing a glimmer of her usual self, as she had teased Diamond Tiara, saying that she thought it was sort of cute.

Other than that though, Silver Spoon had not been her usual self. She was feeling down, betrayed, and dreading what Monday at school would bring. Being dumped by her date in the middle of the dance would have been bad enough. Add the fight to the mix though and everyone would be talking and speculating about the events. And that would, inevitably, lead to discussion of Silver Spoon's night. It was an unmitigated disaster for her friend.

There had been one other thing on Silver Spoon's mind as well, and that was why Snails had started the fight in the first place. Diamond Tiara wished she had a good answer for her friend, but alas, she did not. She could see him chasing after Heart Throb to scold him for abandoning his date. That much made sense, but getting into a fight, let alone a fight with a bigger colt, for someone who was not your friend just did not make sense.

Diamond knew she herself would not have gotten into a fight at all. It would take a threat to her life before she resorted to physically brawling with someone. No, she would have stayed with Silver Spoon and gotten payback on Heart Throb and Alula at a later point in time. The payback would happen, she thought, smiling wickedly.

Boys were different though, a lot quicker to resort to a physical confrontation. Why think through a problem when you could kick it instead? It was probably because they were not as smart as girls. Snails definitely was not as smart as Silver Spoon or her, in any case. Even Apple Bloom was probably smarter than he was.

A good thing though, that lack of intelligence. It would make it easier for her to play out her charade with Snails. Play the dating game. Maybe even kiss him. She wondered briefly where that thought had come from and forced her body to give a little shudder. Still, it would be practice for the future at least. Yes, that would be how she would look upon the whole exercise. It would be an educational experience, and so being, it would benefit her later when she moved to Canterlot and met a handsome stallion with proper manners.

Silver Spoon's question returned to her though. What had made Snails go after the bigger colt? Surely he had not thought that getting beat up would impress her, or that his brawling could somehow undo the ruin that was Silver Spoon's night. Either of those motivations would be stupid, even for him. She tried to think of some other reason, one that made more sense, but none came. She herself would have stood up for Silver Spoon, naturally enough. Without actually resorting to fighting, of course. But for a friend of a friend? Why would that concern her?

As she stood there pondering for a while before it occurred to her what she was doing. Or rather, what she was not doing. She was just standing there, no longer walking. Either she had gotten so involved in her thinking that she had forgotten to keep walking or her subconscious had taken her where it wanted her to go.

She took in the large marble sign in front of her, with its red circle, white cross, and four pink hearts, as well as the three story building behind it. Ponyville's hospital. That lent credence to the subconscious guiding her theory. As long as she was here though, she might as well go in. What better way to get the information than straight from the pony's mouth. And, besides, if she was going to pull off this whole relationship thing, this was exactly the sort of thing a concerned girlfriend would do.

Her mind made up, she pushed her way through the doors and entered the hospital proper. Her nose scrunched as the smell of hospital air hit her, the smell of disinfectants used to keep the place clean. The least they could do was use some pleasant air fresheners to cover it. Still, she was here for a reason and she supposed she could stand it for a little while. She made a mental note to remember to bring some fragrant flowers to cover the smell if she were to visit again.

That done, she set off to find Snails. She supposed she could ask, but a quick looked over at the reception area made her dispense with that idea. The single pony manning the desk looked overwhelmed as it was. No pony else looked to be a good choice to ask either. The ones that were obviously hospital staff moved with a purposeful stride, the stride of ponies on a mission. It appeared today was not a quiet Sunday afternoon at the hospital. She would figure it out for herself then.

Spotting a map, she went over and examined it, quickly finding the children's ward. A quick glance to find the right doorway and she was off. A left here, a right there, up the stairs, and another right, and she found herself in what should be the right area. She strode up to the nurses' station. "Nurse?"

"Redheart," the nurse replied, apparently taking Diamond Tiara's query to mean Tiara cared about the nurse's name, rather than just her attention. "How can I help you?"

"What room is Snails in?"

"Snails? Ah, you mean..." The nurse cut herself off as she ran a hoof down a clipboard until she found what she was looking for. "Ah, yes, here he is. He should be in Room 212."

Diamond Tiara took a step toward the hall, when the nurse added, "But he's asleep right now, I think. At least that is what the three fillies that were here earlier said."

Inwardly, Tiara grumbled at her subconscious for leading her here for naught. No answer for the question, apparently. As long as she was here, she might as well make sure. "I'm going to peek anyway, just in case," she told the nurse.

"Okay. It'll be on the right side."

She walked down the hall. She glanced at the numbers next to each door: 202, 204, 206, 208, 210, and finally 212. Carefully, she opened the door and glanced inside. With the curtains drawn, the room was dark. She could make out a lump on the bed. "Snails, you awake?" she called out quietly.

When no answer came, she swore under her breath. What a waste of time this had been. She might as well go home. Quietly she shut the door and headed back the way she had come. At the nurse's querying look, she nodded and said that he was still asleep, before retracing her steps back toward the entrance. She thrust the main door open, venting some of her frustration upon the inanimate object, and nearly took the head off a short greyish green pony in the process.

"Oh, hey, Snips," she told the startled colt.

The flustered Snips quickly regained his composure at the sight of a known face and reached out a hoof to catch the closing door. "Heya, Diamond Tiara. I'm just about to go visit Snails. Are you here to visit Snails? Oh, wait, of course you are. Why else would you be here? How is he?" He rattled off one line after the other, not giving Diamond Tiara a chance to respond in between.

"Sleeping," Tiara responded.

"Oh." Snips eyes shifted around, his eyebrows moving. Even his body shifted, as he seemed to be torn between entering the hospital anyway or going off in some other direction.

Diamond Tiara tilted her head, observing him as he flipped between the two conflicting ideas. She rolled her eyes. The thought process of boys was so alien. Her stared at him as an idea occurred to her. If she could not get the answer for Silver Spoon from Snails, maybe Snips would know. The two ponies were as inseparable as she and Silver Spoon were. If any other pony knew the inner workings of Snails's mind, it would be Snips.

"Snips... Why?" she asked.

"Huh?" Snips replied, utterly confused.

"The fight. Why?"

"Oh, you want to know why Snails decided to fight that blow hard?" Tiara nodded.

Snips dropped his rump to the ground and let the door go, forcing Diamond Tiara to get out of its way. She scowled at him, but he seemed not to notice, deep in thought. Several times, he started, only to cut himself off. Finally, he said, "To understand, you've got to understand Snails. Really understand Snails. Walk with me."

Walk with him? That sounded like it meant that this would take a while. Did she want to spend that much time with him? He seemed to have the answer to her question though, and if she did not get the answer, it would continue to trouble her for at least another hour. Besides, she did not have anything else planned for today, what with Silver Spoon not in the mood to do anything, not even plan their revenge upon Alula. Mind made up, she fell into step beside him.

Snips walked silently beside her. Just when Diamond Tiara started to wonder if he had forgotten what she had asked, he asked her a question, "Do you remember when Snails got his cutie mark?"

She tried to recall, but she could not. She knew he had gotten his before she had gotten hers, but he was not important enough to her for her to remember when or how he had gotten his cutie mark. She gave a questioning shrug.

He nodded and started to talk. "I didn't think you did. It was just a little bit after Silver Spoon got hers and so almost all the attention was focused on her. Yours certainly was, anyway."

Diamond Tiara tried to recall anything about Snails at that time. About all that came to mind was him hobbling around trying to play Pin the Tail with his leg in a cast at Silver Spoon's cute-ceaƱera. She tried to recall how he had wound up in that cast, but nothing came to mind. She did recall that she and Silver Spoon had given him extra turns just because it had been so amusing to see him hobble around. Letting the sight play through her mind even now, she couldn't help but smile.

Snips took her smile as a sign to continue. "Snails and I had been playing out by the big lake, climbing one of the cliffs. We were about halfway up when it started to rain. Not the usual rain either, but a rogue storm the weather team didn't bother to coral because it wasn't going to come near enough to Ponyville.

"So there we were, hanging onto this cliff, with sheets of water coming down upon is. It felt like we were standing in a waterfall, or maybe as if we were pirates fighting the waves in heavy seas. It would have been awesome except that the cliff was, like, all wet and muddy, and we could barely hang on. We were over halfway up, so we figured we would climb the rest of the way.

"We're going up real slow, our coats slick with all the gunk pouring down, when I slipped. Stupid short legs. And I would have fallen, right then and there, except for Snails. He caught me, hanging onto me with one leg, while he had another wrapped around a root. It was right out of a story, so awesome. Well, except that the root broke and we both fell. But if not for that, it would have been really cool.

"That's about the last I remember. Hit my head on a rock, knocked me clean out, left me with a nasty gash amongst other things. Snails was lucky. He only broke his leg. That'd probably have been the end of us though, with the storm and all, except for Snails.

"He pulled me to a safe spot, then hobbled back to town with his broken leg to get help. All by himself, injured, with lightning and thunder and buckets of water pouring down. Somewhere in the middle of all that, he got his cutie mark."

Diamond Tiara fit the story into what she knew. It certainly explained why Diamond Tiara could not recall Snips being at the party and why Snails had a cast. She concluded that what Snips was saying was probably true, but she did not see the relevance. "Okay, so he saved himself and got his cutie mark. How does that explain yesterday?"

"Don't you get it?" Snips asked. "No, of course you don't. When you look at Snails's mark, what do you see? What do you think it means?" He paused, giving her time to answer. The ideas that flashed through her mind were ones she and others had made remarks about before when discussing Snails: slimy, slow, icky. The usual sort of things one thought of when thinking of a snail. She did not think that those were the answers he was looking for though.

Snips seemed to be able to follow along with her thoughts. "See, you got it all wrong. It isn't the snail. Snails is the shell. He protects the soft bits he's attached to from harm, no matter how icky they might be." Diamond Tiara glared at Snips, unsure if he was insulting her friend. Snips was oblivious to her glare though, as he continued, "He didn't go to town to save himself. He went to save me. Protecting others is his talent."

The pair walked in silence for a bit as she pondered what he said. It made sense, in a fashion. About as much sense as having a snail for a cutie mark could make, short of being some sort of animal scientist or a cooky outcast animal provider, anyway. But it didn't explain it all.

She stopped, causing Snips to stop as well. "Okay, Snips, that sort of makes sense. But it still doesn't explain why. If he did it for you or for me, I could understand. You're his friend, I was his date. But Silver Spoon wasn't either of those. She barely said two words to him. The only reason she spent time with him is because he spent time with me. So why?"

Diamond Tiara watched as Snips stood still, his face shifting as he struggled to think. Finally, he seemed to settle on something.

He jabbed his hoof at Tiara. "When you look at somepony, what is the first thing you see? The things that are wrong, weaknesses. I'm not tall. Snails isn't smart. Apple Bloom has a blank flank." Diamond Tiara wanted to protest, but Snips cut her off with a second jab to the chest. "No, you asked the question. Let me finish the answer. Maybe I'm wrong there, but I don't think so. Most ponies, they see both good and bad.

"Snails though, when he looks at somepony he likes, he sees them as the best they could be. That stupid half full glass people always talk about? For him, it is full. Not half full. Full-full. When he looks at me, I might as well be a Royal Canterlot Guard, proud and tall. When he looks at you, he sees how you adore your father, he sees your drive, he remembers how you gave him extra turns at "Pin the Tail", and so on." Snips smiled. "I should know, I hear about it often enough of late."

After a short laugh, he continued, more somber. "So that is how he sees you. All the mean things you have said in the past, forgotten. And Silver Spoon? Well, she is your best friend. And that makes her his friend, even if she doesn't think about him the same way. And since she is his friend, he'll act to protect her, no matter the cost. Make sense?"

Tiara tried to contemplate the world from such a vantage point so alien to her own. Try as she might, it slipped away after just the briefest of glimpses. Still, it seemed to fit for Snails. It explained much about him. But this whole dialogue led to another question.

"You don't think the best of me, that much is obvious. Maybe you have some reason for that. I'm cool, you're not, and so on. So why do you support Snails in... in this?"

"Because he wouldn't believe me if I told him. Because he is my friend. Because he would do it for me. Because maybe the world would be a better place if we all saw through his eyes. Because if I don't believe in what he sees in others, how can I believe in what he sees in me? Any of those. Maybe all of those."

Diamond Tiara just stood there as Snips started to walk away. The questions had been answered, even as her mind tried to make sense of it all, so there was no point in following. She should not have asked Snips after all, she realized. This was going to be on her mind for much longer than just an hour now. Snips though had one more thing to add. He stopped and looked back over his shoulder.

"Tiara... I may not be the biggest carrot in the vegetable patch, but I'm not a complete idiot. I know there's something going on here between you and the Crusaders. That Snails is caught in the middle somehow.

"...Don't break him."

The light of the Monday morning sun flooded into the room as the nurse opened the drapes the window, shocking Snails into wakefulness. Snails rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, while waiting for them to adjust to the sudden shift in light levels. Blinking, he looked into the face of the white coated nurse who was now inspecting his head.

"Good morning, Pe--" Nurse Redheart stopped herself at the sight of Snails's grimace. "Snails," she finished with a slow, overly dramatic wink.

Snails grinned. He really was not fond of his given name. On top of that, it was used so rarely that he rarely responded to it. Unless his parents used it, of course, but that had more to do with the tone of use than the words. If they used it, he was in trouble, big trouble, so that was yet another reason why he preferred nopony use it. The rest of the time, they either referred to him as Snails, same as everyone else. He had asked Nurse Redheart to call him Snails after she had read his name off the clipboard the first time, and though she had almost slipped, she had remembered.

"Good morning to you too," Snails said, politely, eying the breakfast on the tray she carried.

"So how you are feeling today? Head feeling better?" she asked, setting the tray down.

"Much better, thanks. Got a head made of rock, my dad always says," Snails said with a grin, as he cooperated with the nurse's poking and prodding as much as he could. His body ached in various spots, doing its best to remind him that being on the receiving end of a beating was not a good thing.

"Good thing too. Looks like you will be out of here tonight, as far as I can tell. Although the doctor will have the final say on that, of course. Just try to avoid fights, if you can help it."

Snails nodded but did not make any promises. He certainly would not go looking for any fights, that was for sure. If the situation called for one though, he would not back down. The body was pretty good at healing. Memories, on the other hoof, tended to stick around far longer. He would rather live with temporary physical pain than long term regrets.

Her task complete, Nurse Redheart headed to the door, stopping just before it. She raised a hoof, indicating an envelop on the nightstand. "Almost forgot. Some fillies left you a card yesterday."

Snails pulled the card from the envelope as the nurse left the room, hoping he was right as to who might have left it. The outside of the card did not really tell him, just a crayon drawing of him leaving the hospital, though it did not appear to be quite finished. Opening the card to reveal the inside revealed a large red crayon outline of a heart. The aches and soreness vanished, replaced by a blissfulness. He lightly brushed the card, then set it open upon the nightstand, scooting aside a book to make room. He adjusted the position twice, and then, satisfied, picked the book up.

It was a book he had read before, but there was a comforting aspect about that, something familiar in a strange place. It also read easy, a boon with his aching head. Besides, he liked it, and it was not like he had much choice; the selection of books available from the hospital's bookcart had been limited. Most of it was aimed for older ponies, so when he had seen a novel from his favorite secret agent series, it had been a no brainer to pick it.

He spent the next while reading, interrupted only by the doctor, a visit from his parents, and lunch. The doctor had checked him over and confirmed that Snails should be free to go home that night. The parents had visited during his lunch, just a short visit. There was not much to say that had not been covered during their visit yesterday. Lunch was hospital food, which meant its purpose was primarily to discourage ponies from getting sent to the hospital. At least, Snails assumed that was its purpose. The cookies were not half bad though.

With lunch finished and his parents having completed their visit, promising to be back to pick him up tonight, he resumed reading his book. He had just gotten to a good part, where the secret agent was about to escape from the clutches of the evil mastermind's death trap and put a stop to her plan to build a publishing empire, when somepony knocked on the door. He pulled himself away from the story and looked at the doorway. There stood Diamond Tiara.

"Hi," she said.

Something seemed slightly off in her voice. It seemed quieter than usual, without its usual brashness. Maybe she was worried about him. It would only be natural.

"Hi! I'm fine."


"I'm good." Snails tapped the side of his head with a hoof. "Got a hard head, no permanent damage done, see?"

"Ah." The tone was still off. Snails decided to try again.

"I liked the card you and Silver brought yesterday."

Diamond Tiara seemed confused a second, before she noticed the card on the nightstand. "Oh, yes, the card, of course the card. I brought flowers" With that last sentence, she seemed to find herself again. She smiled at Snails and strolled into the room, dropping a bundle of flowers onto Snails's bed. The smell of the flowers hit his nose, and he was momentarily taken aback by the flower's potency.

"Smells... good."

"A bit strong, I know. But I figured it would help cover up that awful hospital stench. Why they can't make these sorts of places smell nicely I don't know. Maybe they could send some of the smellier patients home or something," Diamond Tiara said as she reached over and picked up the card, examining the picture on the front, then opening it and looking at the inside. She frowned and her eyes narrowed, before she turned to Snails with a very big smile. "Oh dear me, it looks like I forgot to sign it. I should fix that. Be right back."

Snails watched her leave the room, then occupied himself trying to find a good spot for the flowers. Some place near enough to make it clear he appreciated them, but far enough away to lessen the aroma. Trying to find just the right distance was easier said than done though, as he moved it back and forth between close and far. Finally, he decided that he would put up with close for now, and then move them away once Diamond Tiara left, if they still bothered him.

Diamond Tiara re-entered, carrying a vase on her back and the card in mouth. The card she tossed to him and while he examined the signature inside, she set down a vase and put the flowers in it. She settled into a chair, giving him a little smile as he put the card back in its place.

Both sat quietly, until the need to fill the silence overcame them at the same time, resulting in them talking over each other. The silliness of it made them both giggle.

"I'm sorry. You go ahead," Diamond Tiara said.

"I was just asking you to tell me more about yourself," Snails said.

"You know all that from school. What more is there really to tell?" Diamond Tiara asked.

"The stuff you don't talk about there. Your hopes, your dreams, plans for the future, maybe?"

"Plans for the future, huh?" Diamond Tiara said, stopping to think for a bit. Snails took advantage of the silence to rearrange his pillows a bit and make himself more comfortable. He knew Diamond Tiara was one of Diamond Tiara's favorite topics so he wouldn't have to say much once she got going, but could just relax and listen.

"Canterlot. Maybe Los Pegasus or Manehatten, if I don't get into Royal University," Diamond Tiara began. "One of those cities for sure. A place with class, sophistication, and a good night life. That's where I want to go to college. I'm going to major in journalism or business, with a minor in the other.

"Sil and I are going to room together. We'll get an apartment in the city, someplace that has a nice view. Probably of a river or the ocean. It'll be up on the top floor of the building." She smiled while talking, as her mind drifted through her future and she narrated. "It will have a big living room in which we'll hold parties. And the parties will spill out onto the patio, where we'll admire the stars while drinking wine. Once we're old enough, of course." The last statement was rushed, and Snails could tell she had no intention of letting her age stop her. Still, he nodded, and she continued to describe how her college life would be.

He tensed up as it occurred to him that this was different than the ways Diamond Tiara usually spoke to him. Not that it was unfamiliar to him, he had definitely heard her speak this way before, just not to him. It took him a moment before he could place it. This was how she sounded when telling a story to Silver Spoon and he had just happened to be in the general area. All the tenseness was gone and Snails relaxed, letting the words wash over him, as he tossed in an occasional "uh-huh" or nod to show that he was paying attention.

Diamond Tiara finished off describing college, how she would graduate, and moved on to what her first post college job would be. Snails was amazed that she had thought that far ahead. For him, the furthest he had tried to foresee his future was two weeks ahead, and that plan had not included waking up in a hospital. Although, all things considered, it had sort of worked out. Yet here was Diamond Tiara, laying out her life, step by step, the goals and how she would achieve them, and the dreams to go with them. She even had contingency plans to put herself back on track if something did not work out.

Something Diamond Tiara said derailed his train of thought, and he quickly thought over the last thing she had said to figure out what it was. She was talking about social events she would attend, her husband at her side. That hit him like a kick to the head. "Her husband, who would be, like, a captain of industry or something else respectable," that is what she had said. That was not him. It would never be him. He did not have the brains or the charm.

"Are you alright?" Diamond Tiara asked.

"Huh? Oh, sure. Just bumped a sore spot, that's all." Snails laughed weakly and settled back down. "Please, tell me more."

Her head tilted for a brief moment as she looked at him, but straightened when he forced a grin. "Okay," she said and continued laying out her life story.

For Snails though, his mood was ruined by the new reality. This, whatever it was that he had worked so hard for, would not last. Diamond Tiara had plans and they did not include him. He nodded and "Ah-huh"ed while Tiara talked, but he was not really listening anymore. Instead, he tried to find some way that it could work, but came up empty.

"And after the state funeral, they'll make, like, the biggest statue of me in Canterlot in the Royal Gardens," Diamond Tiara concluded. She rubbed her throat and looked over at the clock on the wall. "Geez, I've been talking your ears off for, like, an hour. I can be such a motormouth."

"I don't mind. I like listening to you," Snails replied, automatically trying to please her even with his troubled thoughts.

"Well, I should still let you get at least a few words in. So how about you? What are your plans?"

Snails scrambled to think of something, anything that might impress Diamond Tiara and yet also seem plausible. Ideally, something that might actually work. He could come up with nothing, however and so he borrowed his friend's dream instead. "A barber shop," he said. "Snips and I are going to open a barber shop."

Seeing that it did not have the desired effect on Diamond Tiara, he acted quickly to embellish it. "It'll be in Canterlot." The first alteration made, he quickly added more. "High end. We'll cater to all the best nobles and famous celebrities. And it will be a chain. An empire of barber shops." He swept his foreleg to stress the size of hairstyling empire. "With our own line of hair products."

The truth was that Snips's dream did not include anything that major. He just wanted a small shop, with normal ponies. And it certainly was not Snails's plan to go into business with his friend. He had no knack for cutting hair, and he knew it. But at least it sounded good, and as he had never really thought about his future, he figured it was not really a lie.

Snails became aware of Diamond Tiara looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue. What else could he talk about? Mane styles would probably bore her, and she probably knew more about the topic than he did. He decided to describe his dream house, except he realized he had no such dream. He would have to wing it. A mansion, with a pool, he decided, figuring he might as well go for broke. In for the tree, in for the orchard, as an earth pony might say.

The sound of a pony clearing her throat interrupted Snails's thoughts. He looked over toward the sound to find Twilight Sparkle standing just outside the doorway, with another familiar pony sulking at her side. Snails scowled.

"Diamond Tiara, would you mind giving Heart Throb and I some time alone with Snails?" Twilight Sparkle asked.

"Sure," Diamond Tiara answered. She glanced over at the clock again. "I should probably be going anyway. Got homework to do and I want to swing by Sil's. See you later, Snails." Snails blushed as she gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

"Uh... yeah. See you. Thanks for the card." Snails cursed at himself for how lame that sounded. He watched as Diamond Tiara walked toward the door, and as she deliberately tripped and slammed her shoulder into Heart Throb. Snails could see the anger rising in Heart Throb, but all he did was cast a frustrated look at Twilight Sparkle.

"Oops, sorry," Diamond Tiara uttered, then threw a sly wink Snails's way, before leaving the room. Typical Tiara, always knowing exactly how far she could push someone without getting into trouble. Usually, this was a side of her he tried to overlook. This time though, he grinned, until he noticed Heart Throb glaring at him.

"Heart Throb has come to apologize before he returns to Canterlot." Twilight Sparkle nudged Heart Throb. "Go on."

"I'm sorry," Heart Throb mumbled, barely audible, his glare having shifted to a glower.

"What was that?" Twilight Sparkle asked, holding a hoof close to an ear.

"I said that I am sorry," Heart Throb said, louder this time. "I shouldn't have said what I said."

Twilight Sparkle looked expectantly at Snails.

Snails looked back at her puzzled. "Apology accepted?" Snails said.

That seemed to satisfy Twilight Sparkle, who smiled and said, "See? That wasn't so bad." Her horn glowed and she pulled out a scroll and quill from her pack. Unfurling the scroll, she scanned down the list until she found the item she was looking for and checked it off. "Okay, next thing to do: Take Heart Throb to the train station."

All the while Twilight Sparkle was occupied with her list, Snails found himself in a staring contest with Heart Throb. It was obvious that Heart Throb had meant none of his apology, and that he now blamed Snails for his training being cut short. Probably for the possibly of putting a blemish on his record that might make his getting into the academy less than the sure thing it had been as well, no doubt.

The contest ended as Miss Sparkle put away her scroll and quill, and Heart Throb resumed the role of sulking colt. Snails breathed a sigh of relief as the pair left the room. His thoughts returned to Diamond Tiara. What was he going to do? Should he break it off now, since it would never work? Should he enjoy it while it lasted? Or was it possible that there might be some way he could succeed, some way he could get into a good college? He was so close. It just was not fair.

At least Heart Throb would shortly be out of Ponyville, back in Canterlot. That would be one less worry. It wasn't that he was afraid the bigger colt, just that he had enough troubles of his own already. Besides, by the time the competition was held, Heart Throb would probably have forgotten all about him.

The competition. What was it called again? The something something championships. He shrugged, deciding the exact name did not really matter. Heart Throb had said whoever won it got into the academy, regardless of academic standing. That was the answer. He would enter. He would find a way to win. He had a plan for the future.

"If not a captain of industry, then just a captain. Her captain."