• Published 28th Jan 2020
  • 3,150 Views, 48 Comments

To Belong - Freglz



It ain't always easy, regaining what you lost. Especially when you've been missing it for years.

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More Bitter Than Sweet

The smell of warm, melted cheese filled the air, as well as the scent of freshly baked cookies — white chocolate in a fudge base, to be precise — and I was suddenly tempted to say their cooking was as good as Granny’s without ever actually trying it.

“What is it?” I asked hungrily, eyeing the deep, rectangular dish in the centre of the table. “Some kind of bread and pasta bake?”

“Mushroom, spinach and feta ravioli with tomato relish, topped with cheddar and croutons,” announced Bow Hothoof as he sunk the spatula into the surface and carved it up into eighths — plenty enough for seconds if anypony wanted it. “It’s been a staple meal between us for decades now. Windy introduced me to it, actually.”

“Well, I’m glad she did! It looks mighty good.”

“Oh, it is.” He nodded fervently as he reached over and took my plate, then slid a square portion onto it and gave it back. “I love making it, and adding a little variation here and there — spice it up every so often. That way, it’s like I’m repaying Windy here for sharing it with me in the first place.”

“Bow, you charmer,” Windy gushed, giggling abashedly and blushing as bad as Rainbow was earlier. It seems her daughter inherited more than just her enthusiasm. “But let’s not make this about us, alright? We have guests, and a very special one to boot.” She looked to me, more or less back to her original self, beaming her smile as bright as ever. “I wish we’d gotten to meet you sooner, Applejack. You have no idea how happy we were to hear Rainbow say that she’d found somepony, and then when we heard who… Well, it was just one surprise after another that day!”

“It wasn’t a big deal, Mom,” Rainbow remarked, trying to come off as cool and collected, but the sideways glance, shuffling wings and shifting weight said otherwise. “I was bound to catch somepony’s eye eventually.”

“And you did!” Windy exclaimed, offering Bow her own plate as she shared her excitement with Rainbow. But then she cocked her head and furrowed her brows inquisitively, glancing and pointing a hoof between us. “Or did you catch hers? Or was it a mutual attraction, maybe?” And then she gasped. “A love at first sight?!”

No, Mom, it was… it was nothing like that.” Groaning, Rainbow folded her forehooves on the table and learned forward in her chair, burying her face in them. “You always do this.”

“Do what? I’m only expressing a healthy interest in how my child found love. Nothing wrong with that, is there?” Windy maintained a positive eager expression, but there was some concern in her eyes — a rising worry that only grew the more time passed. Until her smile faltered and she looked at me with flattened ears and upturned brows. “I’m not being overbearing, am I?”

I paused, glancing at Rainbow to gauge how she felt and it seemed that she was no better or worse. And then I returned to Windy and shook my head. “Nah, you’re fine,” I said, offering a small smile. “But since your daughter here’s bein’ tight-lipped about the whole thing, I guess I’ll have to take up the slack. So, what do you want to know?”

Rainbow pouted and gave me a sideways look, but it lacked any biting power; there are only two ways to deal with curiosity, and lying would’ve gone against everything I stood for, so that really left the truth. Honesty. And neither of us had any reason to be embarrassed about it, seeing as we’d come to accept the truth ourselves.

“How’d it start?” Windy queried, reaching over and retrieving Rainbow’s plate to give to Bow.

“You mean how we met?”

“No, I mean… you two. This connection.”

“Oh.” I nodded understandingly, then sat back in my seat and looked up in thought. “Well… I’m not quite sure, honestly. I mean, if you’re out for a tale of star-studded romance, heartwarming confessions and the like, that wasn’t us. It ain’t us. It just started off with friendship, and then…”

“You found something more,” Bow finished, regarding me with a tender gaze and an easy smile as he returned Rainbow’s plate, now with a steaming square of mouth-watering, tummy-rumbling goodness. “Yes, I heard from the kitchen. And I think you’ll be happy to know that that’s how we started too.”

“You and Windy?”

“Mm-hmm. Worked as a pair of couriers back in the day, delivering mail here and there. We were just two plucky teenagers then, trying to scrape by on what money we could earn. But eventually, we figured that… well…”

“We were available,” Windy continued, placing a hoof on his shoulder almost as if to reassure him, but the smile she wore was too flattered for that. “And with the opportunities for a traditional romance growing slimmer and slimmer the longer either of us waited, we thought we’d give each other a shot.”

“Lo and behold, one dinner became two, then three, then five or six, or however many there were.” Bow served himself and grinned with a sense of nostalgia. “Before we knew it, we were going steady. Real steady. And I couldn’t think who else I’d enjoyed spending so much time with.”

Realising that it might’ve been some time before I got to speak again, I decided to dig in, cleaving away one of the topmost ravioli pieces and making sure to take a crouton and as much cheese with it as possible. And even before it had reached my mouth and I chewed on it, I was savouring the aroma. And the taste itself… Let’s just say that after that night, Granny had a lot of ground to cover if she wanted to make it back into first place cooking.

For one of the few times in her life, growing fewer ever since, she hadn’t been exaggerating.

“He was just sitting down to serve us this when…” Windy began, then drifted off, a crease in her brows forming as her gaze grew distant. And then she blinked and cleared her throat, brightening up once more. “Well, we’d known each other for upwards of three years by that point, dating for six months, and later that evening, he… suggested that we should get married.”

“And you said yes?” I asked.

She smirked. “I wasn’t going to say no.”

I chuckled, glancing between her and Bow as I started breaking apart my slice into another bite-sized portion. “That was sweet, Windy. Mighty cute. And I’m glad that it happened, or else I’d never have met this girl here.”

“Yes, well, it certainly wasn’t the easiest, uh…”

My ears twitched while I chewed, quirked an eyebrow, expecting an end to the statement.

But nothing came, and Windy merely shook her head again. “Anyway, you… didn’t tell us how you two started seeing each other in a new light. There wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment moment, was there?”

It was a rather quick change of subject, and it made me wonder what she’d been trying to say, but I supposed that ponies were allowed to make mistakes and try to backtrack. Heck, if I’d been able to reverse a dozen things I’d done in the past, perhaps I’d have become the Princess of Friendship instead of Twilight, or never moved away from home to live with a branch of the family in Manehatten for a spell, or even…

Well, there were a lot of ways history could’ve played out differently.

“Not really.” I looked at Rainbow for a moment, who now seemed a little more like herself, even sporting a passive smile as she met my eyes. “I mean, I guess there were a few points… but I suppose the same could be said for any relationship. We liked spendin' time together even when we weren’t off savin' the world, and gradually… we started recognisin' how close we were gettin'. Emotionally.”

“There was nothing that really caught your eye?”

“Not immediately, no. But she was always good lookin’ — I’ll never deny that.”

“Pssh.” Rainbow shrugged and turned away, waving a flippant hoof. But for all her efforts to make it seem like it didn’t affect her, she’s as bad at bluffing as I am. “You’re only saying that for their sake.”

“But it’s the truth, ain’t it?” I smiled at her again, reaching a hoof over and placing it upon hers, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You know I don’t lie.”

She returned to me with a shy, flattered smirk, and it shared a warmth I’d long since come to crave — to see and feel its tenderness every morning, day, evening and night. It’s a side of her that she always had, but needed the right pony to help her not be so afraid to show it. And I don’t mean to brag, but I think I played my part quite well.

“She gets it from me,” Bow commented, running a hoof through his mane as he got himself comfy in his chair. “It’s the rainbow hair. Glad it snagged her a mare as well.”

“Bow!” Windy exclaimed, batting at his shoulder with a wing and an amused if slightly affronted grin. “Don’t make it sound so simple. There was a lot more I liked about you than just how you look. And I’m sure these two feel the same way.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow confirmed, nodding. And then a thought struck her and she slumped a little. “I mean, no offence or anything, Dad, it’s just, like… Well, looks are a factor, but it’s not all I care about — all we care about. If that were the case, I think we’d both have fallen head over heels for Fluttershy; that girl’s built like a supermodel!”

I chuckled, shaking my head. “She don’t know how good she has it, does she?”

“Nope! Well, maybe she does, but she never brags about it.”

“Unlike you.”

“Exactly!” She slapped the table excitedly, then snapped to me and blinked. “Wait, what?”

My chuckle boiled over into a laugh. She really could be clueless sometimes, and that only added to the charm. Occasionally, she still is, and I love her all the more for it; no matter how many years pass, some ponies never change with it. That’s stubbornness for you, and Rainbow and I know all about it.

“So, you can’t think of any reason why you’re attracted to one another?” Bow queried after finishing a mouthful of his own. “Not that I’m complaining or trying to poke holes in what’s obviously a perfectly healthy relationship, but… you know, as a romantic myself, I feel like there has to be something that connects you — why you two and not, say… Rainbow and Twilight. Not that I mean to imply anything.”

I hesitated, raising a furrowed eyebrow despite his assurance. But even though we’d only been properly introduced to each other less than half an hour ago, I could tell that he wasn’t the sort to try and drive a wedge between us. He and his wife were way too honest with themselves for that.

And there was something else tripping me up, I realised, and it made me chuckle.

“You’re startin’ to sound like our other friend: Rarity. Girl can’t keep a thought to herself if it involves romance, and it takes all five of us — plus Spike, sometimes — to get her to shut up about it ”

“Yes, Bow, stop it.” Windy giggled and batted at his shoulder again. “Let the poor girl be.”

“Okay, okay, alright, I’ll stop.” He lifted a foreleg to defend himself and leaned away in his chair. “I was just curious.”

She retracted her wing, but lingered on him for a few moments to make sure the message sunk in — more a gentle reminder than an actual warning — then she returned to me. “Forgive my husband. He’s sometimes a bit too inquisitive for his own good. Not that I’m much better myself, granted, but… at least I check to make sure I haven’t crossed any lines.”

“Well,” said Rainbow, “I think it’s because we were too similar to ignore.”

Our collective gaze fell on her, ears perking up.

She appeared a little wary with the sudden attention, eyes widening just a touch, but she maintained her composure and nodded once in affirmation. “We were both competitive. At first. We’ve come a long way since then, but… yeah, we started off competitive. And that’s kinda what clued us in on how alike we were — me being awesome, her being… amazing…”

That got a bashful smirk out of me. Hearing her speak openly about us is always a nice thing.

“…But over time, the more we learned about ourselves, we stopped being that bullheaded pair of stubborn tomboys and started being actual friends. Not to say we weren’t before, but… you know. A more typical friendship. And when things started settling down after Twilight became the one and only princess, we suddenly had a lot more time to play with.”

“She’d swung by the farm before,” I added, figuring I might as well have thrown in my two bits. “A few times, actually. More than a few, really, especially when cider season came around — and your daughter is a hefty drinker, I’ll tell you that much.”

“I don’t have a problem.”

“Maybe not, but she sure is addicted to the stuff.” I gave her shoulder a bit of a knock and chuckled. “But anyway, yeah, she’d swung by before, usually to annoy me and my family in the most delightful ways she knew how, and then find an apple tree to nap in afterwards, but over time… she sorta started invitin’ herself over for dinner. You know, stayin’ late enough that we basically had to ask if she’d like to. She never refused none because—”

“Granny Smith,” Rainbow cut in, and by the look on her face, it didn’t seem like she noticed that she had. “She’s getting on in years, but man, that mare can cook. Not as good as you two, so don’t worry, but there hasn’t been a single meal of hers that I haven’t liked.”

I could’ve said that it was bold of her to think that I didn’t mind having my own grandmother play second fiddle to her parents. I would’ve enjoyed her desperately trying to backtrack and fumble around for an apology on the spot. But I didn’t. She hadn’t meant any harm by it, and for as much as I enjoyed entertaining the idea, this meeting was too important to her for me to make her feel any worse about it.

“She’s definitely one of a kind,” I agreed, nodding idly. “But as time went on, it turned out Rainbow here wasn’t just showin’ up for the free service.”

“Is that right?” Windy raised her brows with an innocent smile and cocked her head to Rainbow.

Rainbow merely shied away, blushing again.

Stars, she could be so cute sometimes.

“Yep,” I answered, then sighed as I thought back on the day. “There was this… late afternoon in winter, just last year before Hearth’s Warmin’. There was a fog in the air, and I was strollin’ through the orchard, checkin’ in on all the trees and how they had no leaves anymore, when all of a sudden, she dropped in outta nowhere and stole my hat. Naturally, I asked for it back all kind-like, but I knew from the look in her eye that she weren’t gonna have none of it. No, what she was after was a snowball fight.”

“I was bored,” Rainbow defended, shrugging, but the upward curl in her lips betrayed her fondness. “Twilight was helping Spike put something together for Rarity, Rarity was at the spa with Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie was working full-time at Sugarcube Corner. My weather duties were done for the day, so I thought I’d head down to Sweet Apple Acres and see what AJ was up to.”

“Now, I wasn’t in the mood at first, but after she goaded me a little… Well, it ain’t always easy to refuse an invitation from her, especially when she’s wearin' the smug kind of grin that makes you wanna smack her outta the air. You know what I’m talkin’ about.”

“But she fell for it.”

“That I did. And as I recall, I thoroughly whooped your behind into next week.”

“I let you win.”

“Uh-huh, o’course you did, because you’d always intended on gettin’ sucker-punched square in the jaw by a hoofful of powder.”

“It wouldn’t have been fair otherwise!”

“And I bet it was also your plan to let yourself get pinned against that tree?” I could still see it fresh in my mind at the time, the light of a low-hanging sun coming in from behind me, my shadow cast over her, the snow beneath our hooves and caught in each other’s hair and fur. The way her daring grin relaxed into something far more… affectionate. The way those beautiful magenta eyes almost seemed to glow while in the shade. The way my chest began to feel tighter at how close we were and the look she was giving me, like a knotted rope being pulled to its breaking point.

Rainbow turned to me, still smiling. “It wasn’t my plan, but… I don’t think it turned out so bad. You said I was pretty, after all.”

In that moment, I couldn’t help myself. I’d said it without meaning to, and when it was out there, I couldn’t take it back. And I didn’t really want to: it was the truth. I’d always had trouble keeping my opinions to myself. It just so happened that in that particular instance… it was the right thing to say. “You said the same about me.”

Her smile grew. Not by much, but enough. And then she noticed the adoring looks her parents were giving us. “We didn’t kiss, let’s be clear,” she insisted, shaking her head and making a cutting motion with her hoof. “Our first was, like, half a month later, while we were stargazing in the barn. But then? We just… stared at each other for a while, catching our breath. And it was nice.”

“Intimate,” I confirmed, but like that moment in the orchard, it came out like a whisper — as if I hadn’t meant to say it, but couldn’t help myself. And when I realised that I was lingering on her, studying the outline of her face, the soft dimple in her left cheek, how her nose curves at just the right angle… I blinked, cleared my throat and returned to the parents. “Well, if you want a point where we started takin’ an interest in each other, I guess that’s as good as any.”

“It’s sweet,” Bow said, nodding, then tucked into his slice again.

Windy had her hooves to her mouth, brows upturned and ears pinned back, switching focus between us and sharing a look of pure adulation. In fact, the faint shimmer of water in the corners of her eyes were beginning to shine through, and I felt the tug of a nerve pull at my chest, running up and down my spine and prickling at my scalp.

She was proud.

Not just for Rainbow, but me too.

And…

…I couldn’t be sure how I felt about it.

But I didn’t let it show.

“You’re perfect,” she mouthed, shaking her head as she lowered her hooves, placing one over her heart and beaming at me shakily. “Both of you. You’re just… perfect.”

“Glad you think so, Mom.” Rainbow looked to me and squeezed my hoof. “We think we’re a good match too.”

“Obviously,” Bow exclaimed with a laugh, “or else you wouldn’t be dating!”

“Oh, we’re a bit more than dating.”

There was a pause.

Another nerve tugged at me, perking up my ears and widening my eyes, weighing down on all of my insides like a lead ball dangling from a string. It sent a chill across my withers and filled my stomach with a terrible sense of unease.

The parents watched Rainbow with blank stares.

Mine was a little more restless.

Her smile wilted into a confused and slightly anxious frown. “What?”

Bow blinked, hesitant. “Well, I… suppose it’s only natural.”

“Huh?” She cocked her head, confusion growing, then baulked and recoiled in sudden understanding. “Oh my stars, Dad, no! That’s not what I meant!”

“Then how do you mean?” Windy queried, cocking her head in turn.

I felt a lump form in my stomach. There was only one thing Rainbow could’ve been referring to, then, and the prickly feeling of that nerve hadn’t quite gone away. It left me on edge. Wary. And yes, this was the whole reason why we’d decided to finally meet the parents properly, but still… “Don’t you think it’s a little early in the night for this, Dash?”

She glanced at me, then Bow and Windy, and then sighed and turned her head my way with a resigned look upon her face, shrugging listlessly. “Cat’s outta the bag.”

And there was no way we’d be getting it back in. Not without constructing some convoluted falsehood, and I certainly didn’t do those anymore. “Okay,” I mumbled, taking a deep breath and lifting a hoof to the collar of my hoodie, and to the small lump that lay hidden beneath it. “You sure?”

“Positive.” She nodded, then switched her attention back to Bow and Windy and offered them a brave smile. “Mom, Dad… we’re… well…”

I slipped it in and touched the fine chain around my neck, then slowly, carefully eased it out and laid it to rest upon my chest. And despite the small size of the pendant, and the fact I could barely feel it before… it seemed to grow heavier; it felt out of place, even though it was as much a part of me now as she was.

A ring.

“…What?” Bow said absentmindedly, as if waking up from a daydream, then blinked hard and shook his head, a mixture of emotions flashing across his face in the blank of an eye, finishing in a dopey smile. “You mean you’re—”

You’re getting married?!” Windy cried, her expression brightening faster than Rainbow could ever hope to fly and wings shooting open in excitement. “Sweet heavens above, that’s wonderful!”

“Mm-hmm!” Rainbow nodded eagerly, her confidence making a sudden, triumphant return. “It’s made from the wood of an apple tree, and Twilight put a spell on it so AJ can walk on clouds all she likes. We should’ve told you sooner, but we just had to do it — putting it off for too long, I think. We knew we were good together, and if we got along so well… why not make it official?”

“Oh my stars. Oh my stars, this is happening! It’s actually happening!” Windy bounced in her seat and clapped her hooves, turning her attention to her right. “It’s actually happening, Bow! Our little Dashie is getting hitched!”

“I know!” he heartily replied, attention flicking this way and that, unsure which of us to share his enthusiasm with most. Until he settled on me. “Applejack, you… you have no idea how happy we are.”

I smiled, and something about it felt forced. “I can certainly guess.”

“Oh, what’s the use in guessing?” Windy waved a playfully dismissive hoof, then leaned over and grinned some more. “You’ll be a part of the family, and we’ll be a part of yours!”

“Well then, get ready for a lot of introductions, because while my immediate family is small, my extended family is huge.”

“Mom,” Rainbow excitedly added, “she’s not kidding. I’ve seen their reunions, and every time, there are, like, upwards of a hundred ponies or more, from all walks of life, from every corner of Equestria. When we tie the knot, you’d better be ready for a literal tsunami of in-laws.”

That seemed to get Windy’s attention alright. “M-m-more than a hundred?”

“Two hundred and fifty-six,” I reply, squinting up at the ceiling for a moment in thought. “That’s how many there are, I think. With a couple dozen on the way, of course.”

She raised her brows and bowed her head, staring at the tabletop with wide eyes as she blew a long, awed breath through pursed lips. Part of her seemed intimidated, probably imagining how she’d possibly memorise all their names, and who was related to whom in what way. But part of her also seemed keen, like it was a welcome challenge, and that side of her was quickly becoming the majority.

Clearing her throat, she looked up at us with a newfound sense of happiness in her gaze and a barely contained grin. “This is… a lot to take in.”

“We are,” I said, nodding sagely. “But you’ll get used to us, right as rain. First things first, though, you’ll have to stop by sometime and meet the rest of my family in Ponyville.”

“Oh, yes, of course, you mentioned them before, didn’t you?”

“My big brother, little sister and grandmother, yes. And if you try cookin’ with Granny Smith, I can promise you right here and now that even though she’d put on a smile, she’d secretly envy what you’re able to whip up, Windy.”

“Applejack!” She put a hoof to her chest as she laughed, a faint blush rising to her cheeks. It seemed her enthusiasm wasn’t the only thing Dash inherited. “That’s… Well, I’m flattered! Really, I am. Do you think she’d like it at all — my cooking, that is?”

“Probably. She just has a bit of a stubborn streak. But then again, so did Rainbow and I. Who knows? Maybe she’ll come around eventually.”

“That’s kind of you to say, but now I have to wonder what hers is like!”

“Savoury for the most part. Sometimes a little sweet. Kinda poetic, now that I think about it, considerin’ that description fits her to a T.”

Rainbow lifted her fork high into the air while munching on a mouthful of ravioli. “Can confirm!”

Windy tensed up and practically squealed, stiffly snapping attention to Bow. “A mother figure, honey! We get to impress a grandma!”

“I know!” he exclaimed, turning to her with just as much enthusiasm. “And that’s such a sweet name, don’t you think? Granny Smith. Oh, it’s almost like music to my ears.”

She nodded vigorously, and then a thought struck her and she switched focus back to me with a giddy sense of delight, as if she were living out a long-awaited fantasy. “Ooh, Applejack, tell me, do you think she’d ever let us call her Mom?”

And then I felt something.

An inkling.

A tickle.

Something whispering up my spine and into my ear, but I couldn’t tell what it was. So, supposing it was just a mild spike of surprise, I blinked and mentally shrugged it off, forcing my smile to stay put. “She… might. If you treat her right, that is.”

Eeee!” She swung back to her husband. “We’re gonna have a new parent, Bow! A new mom!”

He held hooves with her and beamed. “It’s a blessing, isn’t it, dear?”

But better! Because it isn’t just her but the brother and the sister too! More siblings for Rainbow, dear! A brother and a sister!”

“Ugh.” Rainbow bowed forward and banged her forehead against the table. “Way to make it sound weird, guys. Seriously, you two are such a hoofful.”

But it didn’t seem like they were paying attention. If they were, maybe they’d have noticed the vacant look on my face as I stared ahead, that same whisper growing into a murmur, and the unsettling chill that soon followed. My mind fumbled for some kind of response, but there was something about the whole situation that kept me from thinking straight, and my mouth simply hung open, waiting for words that would never come.

“Maybe they’ll get to call us Mom and Dad,” Windy whimsically gushed.

“Wouldn’t that be a sight,” Bow airily replied.

She hummed.

And then her ears perked up.

And then, slowly, very slowly, she returned to me.

It was like watching a roaring tornado creep upon the homestead, uprooting every in its path.

“And then…” Windy’s breath caught, clasping her hooves to her mouth once more as she snapped her focus to me. “And then you’ll have to call me Mom, and it’ll be just like having a second daughter!”

That’s when I couldn’t ignore myself anymore and the tension snapped. “Now, hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute,” I interjected, sitting more upright in my seat as my ears pinned back while I leaned closer, “who says any of that’s happenin’? Last I checked, we ain’t blood-related.”

“Oh, no, not by blood. By law. When you marry somepony, you legally bind two families together. So, when you marry Rainbow, she’ll become your wife, your brother and sister will become hers, your grandmother will become our mother, and we’ll become your—”

“I know how it works. But you ain’t my ma and pa.”

Windy blinked with widening eyes and drew her head back, ears flattening and face falling. “I… beg your pardon?”

“You heard me.” I folded my forelegs and sat back, my frown deepening to a scowl. “You ain’t my ma and pa. And just because some ink on paper says you are don’t make it so.”

She hesitated, and her husband looked just as flummoxed. Their jaws hung open, looking as dazed as a pair of freshly shorn sheep, but the longer they were given to process everything, the more aware the became of what I was laying down for them.

“AJ?” Rainbow leaned over in her seat and peering up at me with a puzzled, concerned look. “Are you alright?”

“Am I alright?” I repeated, squinting, then swung my head about to look at her properly. “Am I alright? Of course I ain’t! Do I sound like a mare who’s alright to you?!”

“Applejack, please,” Bow cut in, confused, though the angle of his ears hinted at a touch of irritation. “There’s no need to—”

“Actually, Mister Hothoof, sir, I don’t think you’re in a position to decide what’s needed at all. I didn’t get engaged to your daughter and come all this way to your pleasant little dinner just so you two could start claimin’ me or my family as your own. I don’t want that, Apple Bloom wouldn’t either, and neither would Big Mac or Granny Smith. You ain’t my parents and you never will be, and if you can’t get that through them featherbrained heads of yours, then you can consider yourselves uninvited to the weddin’, and good riddance!”

AJ!”

I shot a glare to my right, then blinked and reeled myself in a bit when I realised that it was Rainbow, and that she’d taken on a far more riled look than before, brows furrowed more than an old oak has wrinkles, muzzle curled into a sneer.

“You don’t get to make that call.”

I shut my mouth, but refused to let blow of her taking their side show too much.

She stayed on me for what felt like ages, making sure the point stuck, then gradually shook her head. “What the heck is up with you?”

The words caught at the back of my throat and I flinched. I mean, couldn’t she see? Wasn’t it clear as crystal? It was right there, staring all of them directly in the face. All they had to do was stop paying attention to me and actually look at it.

But no. No, none of them were having it. And that only made my blood boil.

But I couldn’t hang around there and trust they’d see the bigger picture. If they were to come to that revelation, I wouldn’t be the one to spell it out for them — they knew better than that, easily, especially Rainbow. She can be pretty dense from from time to time, but she sure as heck ain’t stupid.

And I wasn’t going to sit there and listen to them criticise me when I was the wronged party.

“I’m gettin’ some air,” I said, taking my at with me as I scooted back and stood up from the chair, then turned and marched from the dining room to the lounge, and further still to the outdoor balcony.