• Published 10th Jul 2020
  • 1,079 Views, 147 Comments

Three-act Play - Dave Bryant



Wallflower Blush didn’t show up for graduation. Sunset Shimmer is worried—but luckily she knows just the person to consult about it. If Rose Brass can’t help, no one can. • A Twin Canterlots story

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Vigil

“Holly.” Sunset stood straight and tall in the ICU doorway, face and tone carefully neutral. A bright, cheery frock, one of Rarity’s elaborate gifts—and of course a trial run for a possible saleable design—balanced ease and formality. From one of her hands dangled a take-out bag; the other hand rested on the metal doorframe.

The older woman started and looked over at her. “Oh. Hello, um, Sunset. I guess it’s time, isn’t it?” Only the different colors and floral pattern gave away the fact she wasn’t wearing the same dress as the day before.

“Yeah.” Sunset stepped in and edged to the side, careful to clear the way just in case. “I had dinner earlier, and I’ll bet you’re hungry, so I got you something. I hope you like it.” She held up the bag.

Holly gathered up her purse from the floor beside her chair, then stood and approached with a hand extended. “Th-thank you. For the food, and for this morning, when Ms. Brass . . .”

“When Rose knocked our heads together,” Sunset finished ruefully as she gave over the bag. “Mostly me. But—she was right, and I should apologize.” It hadn’t been a shining example of civility for any of them. Sunset herself, strung out after a day and a half without sleep, hadn’t held back at all. Holly had dug in her heels with dull stolidity. Rose had taken a long deep breath and proceeded to lay into both of them, her growled words plain and searing. Once she had their full attention she proposed a simple compromise: split the time, turn and turn about.

“Is that why you said you’d stay here at night and in the morning, and I could stay during the afternoon and evening?” Holly seemed honestly curious.

Sunset leaned back against the narrow stretch of wall that didn’t have any equipment or furniture against it and rubbed her face with both hands, then let her arms drop. “Yeah. Rose said you needed some time during the day you could talk with Mister Note about your case. I figured the morning would be okay for that, and I didn’t see a good reason to make you stay up all night.” She shrugged.

“Did you get any sleep after that?” Holly certainly sounded like a mother just then.

“Uh, yeah. Yes I did.” Sunset blinked in surprise. “Thanks for asking. I didn’t think I would, and I kept telling Rose that, but she made me lie down anyway. The next thing I knew, it was dinner time.”

“She’s very . . . firm,” Holly observed.

“No kidding.” Sunset frowned down at the worn floor tiles. She suspected Holly really meant intimidating or even scary. That wasn’t how she saw Rose, but it wasn’t hard to imagine how overwhelming the tall, powerful, raffish-looking woman’s sheer presence could be for someone like Holly or Wallflower—even Fluttershy. “Anyway, like I said, I’m sorry I was such a pill about it.”

“Well, you didn’t know about what happened to me yesterday.” For once the soft voice seemed more thoughtful than timid. “And you’re Wallflower’s best friend, so of course you’re worried too.”

Sunset shifted her weight. “Best . . . yeah, maybe I am. I mean, at the end of the school year she was getting better about making new friends, and the gang and I were trying to help her, but she hadn’t been working at it very long. A few other students did join the gardening club before the year ended, especially after we showed off the garden she built behind the school.” She wondered if Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna would name it after the student who created it. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that idea, especially right now.

“She likes gardening.”

Was that a question? “More than that.” Sunset stood away from the wall again. “I think for her it’s a passion.” Details began to spill forth, overflowing the dam she hadn’t realized was there. Her voice thickened a little, but she literally could not stop. It was only the last couple of weeks she shied away from, concentrating instead on happier memories. Little moments, small joys, the faltering steps Wallflower had been taking from the dark place where she’d been hiding.

When Sunset paused for breath during this stream of upbeat reminiscing, Holly interjected, “That’s not all, is it? Ms. Brass told me all kinds of . . . bad stuff was happening too.”

Sunset’s mouth snapped shut and her face worked. A string of the most sulphurous curses she knew—from both worlds—flashed through her mind. She would bend Rose’s ear about this. Finally, when she could loosen her jaw enough, she grated, “Are you really sure you want to hear about that?”

Holly bit her lip briefly. “I need to understand—as her friend, do you have any idea why she might have done . . . this?” She tipped her head toward the bed surrounded by medical sentinels.

It was like slamming into a brick wall, hearing the same anguished question from someone else’s mouth. Sunset paled and stiffened all over. She opened her mouth to disclaim any knowledge, only to pause at a mental picture of Applejack’s disapproving scowl. Seconds trickled past before she could reply stiffly, “I can’t say.”


Sunset shifted again on the visitor chair. After enduring increasing discomfort over the previous nights she’d decided in favor of more practicality. A pillow from the hotel added a little cushioning to the thin padding of the pleather-upholstered seat. A sports bra under a trim top, along with boot-cut slacks and slip-on shoes, were adequate if not fancy.

She hunched over her lifeline to the outside world and flicked a thumb across it absently; the smartphone’s screen scrolled and coasted to another stop, nothing more than a glowing blur in her distracted eyes. The two nights since she had broken her promise, empty hours measured out by beeps and ticks, had passed in a like blur. Surely there would not be many more before the medically supported stillness ended and Wallflower would be wheeled to another more welcoming room to begin the process of recovery.

Surely.

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying whispered, you just might get it. She had wished to know why, and now she did. Was it worth the price? What would she say once Wallflower was awake again to hear? Should she say anything at all?

She tapped the phone again, dropping back to a screen full of icons, and glanced at one in particular. A red badge clung accusingly to one corner, and the number it bore made her sigh. Even as she’d scrambled around, meeting with Rose, trying to help Wallflower, she’d been conscientious about responding to the other Rainbooms—until this had happened. The last message she’d sent out, from the lobby after the completely unmemorable cafeteria dinner, laid out nothing more than the bare bones of the situation, though at least she did think to mention the hotel stay.

She’d glanced at the message client a few times since then, reading her friends’ words. Shock at first, then supportive well-wishes, eventually turning to worry when she failed to communicate. Too many of those words, Sunset felt, were for her rather than Wallflower. Surely the girl hooked up to all those wires and hoses deserved more of their attention and sympathy than Sunset did after everything she’d said and done.

Surely.

The hand holding the phone fell back to her lap and she leaned back on the chair. Without looking she pressed the button to turn off the screen. They all would be asleep right now anyway. Rose too, probably. Besides, she didn’t think she had anything to say, and even if she did, she didn’t think she could come up with a way to say it. Some genius she was.

Pinkie Pie had ordered a bouquet, just a simple store-bought arrangement in a cheap plastic vase, and had it sent to the hotel in care of Sunset’s name. It was still in the room. Sunset couldn’t help but remember the last time she’d brought plants to Wallflower. Besides, she vaguely remembered reading somewhere hospitals actually didn’t like people bringing in live plants—allergies and sensitivities, that sort of thing.

Still, the girls shouldn’t be left hanging like Sunset was hanging, waiting in limbo for something to happen, for someone to wake up and answer. She lifted her phone again and lit the screen. E-mail would work. She could peck out something a little more substantial than just a quick phrase or two, and it would keep until they were awake. Surely the sooner Sunset broke her silence, the sooner Wallflower would break hers.

Surely.


An abrupt blaring tone stabbed straight through the ears into the brain, piercing as a smoke alarm. With a convulsive start Sunset—this night dressed in basic T-shirt and jeans—snapped upright on the visitor chair, eyes popping open and hands white-knuckled on its arms. Her breathing had just begun to settle when a second urgent warning kicked off, heterodyning with its predecessor in an ululating howl.

She hadn’t been sleeping, exactly—more mesmerized by the accumulated hours of isolation and monotony, rather like road hypnosis. It made her logy and slow, scattered thoughts unable to gel under the electronic screams filling the small space, tachypsychia distorting the world around her. She struggled to her feet and took a couple of sluggish, dreamlike steps toward the door before freezing as a tornado of people swept into the room.

Her eyes blinked, trying to focus, but caught only fragmentary snapshots. Tight faces. Scrubs of a brilliant azure she hadn’t seen on the staff before. Glossy identity cards proclaiming CRASH TEAM in giant bold letters. An arm rising to point an imperative finger at her, then swinging to indicate the marked-off safety zone from which she’d stepped; a mouth calling out words she did not hear. She retreated, hands reaching behind her, and sank back onto the chair and the pillow she’d forgotten.

It was a well-choreographed dance. One of them worked at the touch-screens, turning down the alarms and making adjustments. Another exchanged some of the boxes on the tall slender pole with the disciplined haste of a pit-crew mechanic at a race track. The one in charge leaned over to glance down at the patient and up at the monitors, snapping out polysyllabic words full of prefixes and suffixes Sunset thought she might recognize, but with the havoc and noise and Wallflower looked so pale she couldn’t find the meanings in her brain. All she caught was the phrase hemorrhagic shock. The surgeon—he had to be a surgeon—and two others started a rough-and-ready examination for external bleeding from which Sunset had to look away, burying her face in her hands.

Seconds and an eternity later the physician’s voice rasped, “exploratory laparotomy, stat,” followed by a chorus of acknowledgements, mostly grunts or the merest hints of words, exactly the sort of truncated responses she and her friends flung at each other out of long familiarity. Sunset looked up again. The bustle shifted, concentrating more on the body in crisis, and less than a minute later a moccasined foot kicked the wheel stops to free the gurney. The whole group gathered around it like an honor guard and whisked it out the door with the speed and ease of long practice.

The last of Sunset’s hope went with it.


Sunset slumped on the chair, fists thrust into the pockets of her oversize hoodie and outstretched legs shapeless in loose sweat pants. Her gaze was fixed on the worn linoleum floor and her phone was in a pocket, set to do not disturb.

She wasn’t sure why she’d bothered to come this evening. Everything was the same as before the panic of the previous night—except now she felt empty as an abandoned building. She couldn’t even summon tears; her eyes probably looked dry and red. Sooner or later, she was convinced, the rhythmic sounds of the machines would transform one by one to steady tones until someone came to shut them off and shoo her out of the room.

She couldn’t look up at the clock either, or even at the gurney. She just sat, drifting, waiting, in an unchanging bubble, thoughts slowly working their way through her head. For all the awful things Sunset Shimmer had done in her life, at least she’d never gotten anyone killed. She lifted her head and looked across the small room.

Not yet, anyway.

She closed her eyes again and listened to the endlessly patient beeping and ticking of the technology around her.

. . . No, there was a change. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something about the metronomic noises wasn’t quite the same as her ears had become accustomed to over the last four nights—well, four and a half, now. A prickle of curiosity brought a faint frown to her face. After another minute or so she opened her eyes and pushed herself to her feet. She caught her lower lip in her teeth as she tiptoed over to look down at a green face.

Half-lidded brown eyes stared blankly back.

Author's Note:

Not much to say this time around, aside from boy this chapter was tough.