• Published 10th Jul 2020
  • 1,087 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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He looked like a gym teacher to Sunset’s eye—not much taller than Sunset herself, but built like a fireplug, solid and muscular in his shorts and employer-mandated polo shirt with embroidered logo. He could have been sent down by central casting for the role, as Mister Doodle once put it. Even his lively attitude fit the image, though it seemed to serve a far more sensitive and supportive manner than the stereotypical early-middle-age jock personality. His brisk speech about means and goals didn’t sound rehearsed, quite a trick considering how often he probably gave it.

She glanced down at the stick figure muffled in loose gray sweats who slumped on the wheelchair in front of her. Wallflower appeared barely awake, let alone attentive, but after all it wasn’t like listening demanded much visible activity. Sunset, herself clad in practical T-shirt and jeans, looked up again at the physical therapist holding forth.

“Most of it will be helping you through each motion you need to relearn.” His powerful hands moved continually, reinforcing the man’s words and adding to his kinetic impression. “Over time, the assistance ramps down as you pick up the slack. It’s a lot of work, and it isn’t a lot of fun, but when you succeed, it’s hugely rewarding.”

Both brawny arms waved broadly at the fittings and furnishings bolted solidly to the floor, walls, or ceiling of a room that otherwise could have been a dance studio, aside from the lack of a mirror-wall. “Okay then. We’re going to start with something simple—get you into a harness and help you stand. We won’t try walking or any other activities yet, but everything we do in the future will build on what we do today.” He took hold of the suspended harness beside him, pulling it closer with a hiss of the bearings in the ceiling race above, and advanced on the wheelchair. “Now. Let’s begin.”

Sunset in turn stepped back to lean against a wall, out of the way, and drew a deep breath—what felt like her first in the last day and a half or even longer. Wallflower had been moved from place to place three times since Sunset had kicked off this whole ordeal. The first had been hopeful and not too different from settling a friend into a small apartment. The second hadn’t involved her at all, and once she had the attention to spare, she’d worried what would happen to Wallflower’s pitifully small collection of possessions.

The third, yesterday, had been confusing and exhausting until she forced herself to relax and simply concentrate on her own tasks. Rose’s dry observation the inpatient clinic’s staff had done this before and probably knew what they were doing still smarted a little, but it had helped and in the end proved accurate. When Sunset realized Wallflower’s clothing and her few other other odds and ends of belongings had made their way successfully from the halfway house, she’d felt a relief out of all proportion.

Sunset’s part of the job had consisted mostly of moving Wallflower herself, for which she’d prepared over the previous several days by running through the wringer of a short but intensive course on acting as an assisted-living aide. She had considered it overblown at first, but her mind was changed in a hurry by a laundry list of potential injuries to either or both of them that could result from a lack of training in how to lift and move Wallflower—not to mention another list of blush-inducing topics regarding personal care. In the event the other girl proved a literal and metaphorical dead weight throughout the transfer, which at least meant there’d been no active opposition; on the other hand there’d been no active cooperation either.

Well, the therapist was a professional at this, certainly more than Sunset was. While the program he just outlined wouldn’t be fast or easy, she knew eventually it would get Wallflower walking again, maybe even running. The injuries had been serious, and there might be some permanent damage, but the doctor had assured her Wallflower should be able to resume something resembling a normal life. She smiled at the thought and looked up again to watch the first modest endeavor that held such promise.

The therapist’s movements were efficient and businesslike, but not as rapid as she expected from the energy of his initial body language. Instead patience and forbearance came to the fore. The cadence of his speech slowed and softened. He described each action before carrying it out, never failing to ask permission before touching Wallflower in any way, even if it was nothing more than a double-checking “okay?” at the end of a sentence.

The responses he coaxed out of the patient—client; the word was important, Even Keel had stressed to her—amounted to little more than nods with the occasional monosyllabic grunt or mumble. Sunset almost missed the brief flicker of consternation on his face before he adapted smoothly. Wallflower’s surly passive resistance couldn’t be anything new, so he probably had a whole procedure for dealing with it.

Procedure. A nagging sense of familiarity snapped into focus as Sunset recalled a documentary on the space program that included a brief segment of a spacewalk and the radio chatter between astronaut and mission control. It wasn’t exactly the same, but the astronaut’s calm, unhurried step-by-step recitation did bear a similarity to the therapist’s painstaking explications.

“There we go.” The tone was hearty and encouraging as the therapist carefully adjusted the straps to accommodate Wallflower’s height and weight. Sunset, brow furrowed, glanced at the wall clock. That took longer, and the therapist worked a lot harder, than she expected. She straightened a little, attention now fully on just what was happening across the room.

The therapist started talking Wallflower through the rest of the process, but she leaned unmoving on the straps, apparently oblivious. Arms and legs and even head dangled limp. Sunset could see the downturned snub-nose profile only because the wild green hair surrounding it was pulled back in a rough pony tail.

The harness turned lazily a few degrees in a fashion gruesomely reminiscent of a . . . hanging, at least as depicted in the movies. That was a mental image Sunset didn’t need; a quick mind and an artist’s imagination weren’t always blessings. Wallflower’s half-visible face twisted in a fleeting wince—the kind Rainbow Dash made when struggling to hide the pain after pulling a muscle or something—but other than that didn’t move a muscle. Sunset’s heart sank. Would Wallflower rather suffer than exert herself in the slightest?

“Team effort!” The note of determination in the therapist’s voice sounded to Sunset’s suddenly anxious ear a little forced. “Let’s start again. You have to try too, okay?”

Sunset always had to wake up first, and even before a school day she hadn’t rushed quite so much.

In the week or so since their arrival at the clinic she’d managed to pare down her morning ritual to less than ten minutes. In the seconds she could, she snatched glances at her smartphone and mentally rehearsed the day’s agenda presented by the calendar application. When she wasn’t, say, brushing her teeth, she tended to mutter bits of it to herself under her breath. Once she was finished, and sure she had the schedule straight in her mind, she bounded out of the bathroom—still in her pajamas—and plunged into the chores entailed in likewise preparing Wallflower.

Rouse Wallflower if she wasn’t awake already; sometimes Sunset couldn’t tell whether she was or not, even afterward, because either way she always gave off the same grouchy grumbling. Hoist her from the bed to the wheelchair standing nearby, wheels locked to keep it steady. Unlock the wheels and maneuver her across the bedroom and into the bathroom, to the toilet and the wall-mounted transfer bars beside it. Place the chair just so and lock the wheels again. Leave the room and let her have a modicum of privacy to deal with the single task for which she would bestir herself at all. At least she got a little exercise there. Come back after hearing the toilet flush. Sunset had the whole operation more or less memorized by now, but still couldn’t help red faces and twitchy nerves.

Next came the shower. There was, unfortunately, no practical method other than to share the stall and the experience. Sunset had spent enough time in the human world to internalize local ideas about modesty and personal space—at least while human herself—and still more had worried at first how Wallflower would react. To her own surprise and discomfort, Wallflower seemed completely unfazed right from the start, accepting it with the same stoic apathy as pretty much everything else.

This morning’s bathing proceeded in silence minute by minute, Sunset alternating between washing herself and washing her charge. Any time she stole a few seconds for her own ablutions, she made sure Wallflower was braced upright on the bench in the stall’s middle. As she scrubbed away busily at her arms, she glanced down at the skinny green form leaning against one of the access bars that lent the bench a resemblance to a pool stair. The normally tousled seaweed-like hair was plastered in long, straight cascades along the bent neck, rounded back, and hunched shoulders.

Aside from Wallflower’s groggy mumbled complaints about returning to the waking world, neither of them ever said more than a few brief phrases to each other. Sunset felt as if unsaid words were dammed up inside her head; it was a wonder she wasn’t suffering a constant headache from all that pressure. On top of that the job at hand was pretty much rote by now. Her mind wandered in something like a fugue state, and her eye traced the shapes and contours around her, human or not, with an artist’s abstract regard. A remark escaped over the spillway.

“Y’know, Wallflower, you’re really pretty.” It was true—or at least it could be, if Wallflower cared enough to let someone like Rarity lavish some advice and attention on the matter. Sunset bit her lip. It was too late to call back the words, but maybe something good would come of them. And didn’t Even Keel say something about encouragement and positive reinforcement?

“No I’m not.” The retort was barely audible over the roar and drum of water.

Sunset sagged and closed her eyes. A split second later, belated realization stiffened her back and popped her eyes and mouth open. She’d meant the comment as a simple observation, but the echoes in her head took on a far less innocent quality. The slight flush in her cheeks and upper chest intensified. What did she just say? That wasn’t at all something Even Keel or Rose would approve, was it?

She strangled a hasty attempt to clarify down to a short squeak as her mental Applejack again came to the rescue. The summer before, they’d been working on the truck garden at Sweet Apple Acres, hot and sweaty but in good spirits. During a break for sport drinks, salty snacks, and meandering conversation, the farm girl had related a humorously cautionary anecdote ending with the moral, “First rule o’ holes is: when ya find yerself in a hole, stop diggin’.

It definitely was time to stop digging. Luckily the unsavory implication seemed to sail over Wallflower’s head, absorbed as she was in her own little world. Did she really think of herself as ugly? How could she? It was so obviously untrue; she had so much potential, if she could just see it! Or did she think Sunset was just trying to make her feel better? Twilight could get that way sometimes, after all, if not nearly to the same degree. The shower finished as quietly as it had started, and what followed was no less uncomfortable even on the best of days.

It was like dressing a rag doll. Sunset hadn’t played much with dolls as a filly, and by the time she’d run away through the portal she’d outgrown them. Still, she’d seen other foals and children playing with them, and of course toy advertisements were ubiquitous in both worlds. As with the showers, the doll in question evinced not the slightest embarrassment.

“You seem . . . pretty calm about this.” Sunset strove for a casual, only mildly curious tone. She was just making conversation, after all.

“What, never seen a girl’s body before?” Wallflower’s blunt scorn skewered Sunset’s bid for polite circumlocution.

Sunset’s face heated again, this time with irritation as much as discomfiture. Of course she had—her own, as well as occasional if inadvertent glimpses caught in the course of everyday teen and young-adult life in digital-age suburbia—but she suspected Wallflower also had in mind the fact she’d spent only the last few years in human skin.

Her teeth gritted, but she didn’t rise to the bait. Instead she fell back on routine with a cool, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing today.”

“I’ll be right outside if you need anything.” As usual, Sunset offered the low-voiced assurance before departing. As usual, Wallflower returned no acknowledgement. Sunset restrained a sigh and turned to stride from the bright, cheery room with its circle of chairs facing inward, the wheelchair occupying a break in the line provided expressly for it. Some chairs were occupied, others yet to be filled; a few minutes remained before the official starting time. The group therapist maintained a absent smile, but Sunset felt sure she was keeping a close eye on the people already gathered, no doubt monitoring their actions and reactions even in this unstructured time. Sunset certainly would, in her position.

Once in the corridor outside Sunset let the door close quietly behind her, then took up her customary position leaning against a wall nearby. A glance both ways assured her nobody in eyeshot seemed to be paying any attention, so she vented her disquiet with a slow shake of the head. The last three weeks had been a treadmill. Even their wardrobes didn’t vary much; every day Sunset wore T-shirts and jeans, and it was easiest to dress Wallflower similarly for anything other than the mostly unproductive PT sessions. Sunset wasn’t allowed to stick around for the group sessions like this one, or for Wallflower’s personal sessions, but she had an unpleasant suspicion the psychological therapy might not be any more fruitful than the physical therapy.

Her phone buzzed. She hauled it out to see a message from Cook on the lit screen before it darkened again. This time she did sigh. They didn’t have to meet in person very often these days, but even so, she was overdue, and she couldn’t put him off any longer with brief noncommittal assurances everything was fine. Her head tipped back against the wall and she spent a moment in thought.

Cook probably had no idea what was going on. This manifestly wasn’t his business, and Sunset was not about to drag Wallflower into it. Cook was a good guy, really, and she’d told him about the Memory Stone, as well as a little about the poor girl who’d gotten mixed up with it. Once the stone was destroyed, though, his and his bosses’ interest went with it, and even he agreed.

She’d hoped things would move a little faster, and she could slide out of here before too much time went by. Now she could see how forlorn that hope had been, and the bind it put her in. She lifted the phone and lit the screen again.

Hi. Have to cancel. Sorry.

A lull filled with a little strobing ellipsis, then: What’s up? Hope it’s not serious.

Just the bare gist of the situation took a whole minute of pondering and pecking. Immediately she started typing a follow-up, only to falter when Stop materialized on the screen.

Don’t tell me anything else, she read. Just give me the case number. I’ll check it with Social Services. If it’s legit, everything’s hunky-dory. A small grin crossed her face. Kind of like Applejack, but from different sources, Cook was full of odd little turns of phrase.

She shrugged and typed in the number. If it had been anyone else, she wouldn’t have done it—but Cook’s phone, and the software on it, were not the ordinary consumer products they appeared to be. Secure connection or no, though, she didn’t give any names. Don’t know when this will be over. I’ll try to keep in touch. Sorry.

There was a longer pause before she got back I know. I hope your friend gets better soon. Best wishes to you both. And that was that; Sunset turned off the screen and slid the phone back into a pocket. Why did something so simple make her eyes sting? Was it because Cook trusted her enough to bet the diplomatic career he’d wanted since childhood on her ability to come through?

She glanced at the now-closed door to the room where Wallflower and a couple of dozen other people conferred—or didn’t, as the case might be—with each other and the therapist. Considering how bad a job she’d done so far, should he?


She nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden question, and whipped her head back the other way. There stood Even Keel, in a suit rather more severely tailored than Rose’s, obviously having approached from the hall’s other direction. Sunset cleared her throat. “Uh—h-hi. What’s up?”

The voice was beautifully modulated as always, but utterly without emotion. “I need to speak with you.”

That wasn’t ominous or anything. Sunset swallowed, nodded, and followed as the counselor set sail again.

As part of the transfer process Wallflower had signed a whole stack of forms, pretty much without bothering to look at any of them. One was a release listing the people with whom treatment information could be shared. Holly, as next of kin, was on it—though not her soon-to-be-ex-husband. As the case worker, Rose was listed too, which was routine but, since she wasn’t part of the treatment team, not automatic. Sunset had been included at Even Keel’s request; she was spending more time with Wallflower than anyone else and thus had a need to know.

Sunset had a sinking feeling that form was why she was following Keel now.

A good couple of minutes and at least two doors labeled STAFF ONLY later, they arrived at an office bigger and far less sterile than Rose’s little cubbyhole. Keel waited for Sunset to enter, closed the door, and breezed across the room; in passing a hand waved at one of the chairs facing the front of the desk. “Have a seat.”

Once they faced each other across the smallish, but well-built, wood desk, Keel leaned forward, fingers laced and forearms on blotter. “Wallflower’s suicidal thoughts have not abated. More than that, she’s hinted she would try again if she could.”

Just that suddenly the mælstrom was back, tumbling Sunset in a flood of emotions she could not sort out. Her eyes squeezed shut as she struggled to breathe, to comprehend, and most of all not to drown in the undertow. Keel kept talking, but she couldn’t hear the words as she strove not to hyperventilate and pass out right there.

“. . . But the bottom line is, Wallflower may have to transfer to a hospital-run clinic.” Keel sounded just as calm and indifferent as ever, which sparked a flicker of anger in Sunset. “You wouldn’t be able to follow her there.”

“I don’t—I don’t understand.” Her voice sure sounded different, rusty and wavering.

Keel actually sighed. “Our clinic offers a lot of freedom for clients to help in their own treatment, but if safety’s a concern, this isn’t where Wallflower needs to be. When a client can’t make progress in a relatively unrestricted context like this one, the only alternative is to send that client to a more closely monitored and controlled environment.” The laced hands turned, thumbs out and palms up, in a gesture of finality. “It’s never an easy thing to do, but if there’s no significant improvement in the next week, we’ll have no other option.”

“Hey, d’ya wanna talk for a while before we sack out?” Sunset didn’t look up as she finished tucking in Wallflower, both of them in their pajamas for the night. Keeping up a straight face since Even Keel’s devastating, if inadvertent, ultimatum earlier in the day had been an agonizing challenge. Meeting the other girl’s eye now might shake the illusion of nonchalance suggested by her idle-sounding question.

“No.” The short, sullen answer went perfectly with Wallflower’s usual porcelain-doll stare into space, well over Sunset’s bent head.

Sunset’s mouth pursed in frustration before she could smooth away the expression. The indirect approach hadn’t worked for her—or anyone else, to judge from Keel’s revelations. Talking around the problem to spare delicate feelings just let Wallflower spike the discussion with snappy sarcasm, like a volleyball straight to the face. Time to try something different.

So far Sunset had done her best to help Wallflower without intruding on painful subjects or a therapy program run by people who knew the ropes far better than she did. As Even Keel had described it to her, therapy couldn’t cure anyone. All it could do was guide clients and help them try to overcome their own obstacles. Nobody else could do that for them.

Rose, as always, had been more colorful. “It’s like moving a boulder. You can’t reason with it or convince it to move—or wait for it to move on its own. The only way you can get it to move is to push it.” After a pause, she added in a reminiscent tone, “With a bulldozer, if you have one handy. We didn’t always. Then we just had to slide on work gloves and put our backs into it.”

Wallflower was doing everything possible to avoid trying. Reasoning and convincing hadn’t budged that boulder an inch. Sunset would have to put her back into it. “Well, I do.”

Even the doll’s willful lassitude couldn’t resist a reflexive jerk, though she managed not to let out a peep. Feeding Wallflower a taste of her own medicine filled Sunset with a vile flash of satisfaction. Wasn’t the goal to grow away from that sort of spite? A grimace and a shake of the head dismissed the distraction.

Wallflower in the mean time apparently decided to steal a march. “So fine.” Resentment colored the low voice. “Why’re you still here, anyway?”

“Excuse me?” Sunset’s eyes narrowed in genuine perplexity.

“This!” A hand turned as if to lift and gesture before Wallflower apparently remembered her rebellious inertia. “All of this . . . it’s a waste of time—for you more than anybody.”

Sunset shook her head. “I don’t see it that way.”

A note of exasperation leaked past the ennui. “You should be off having magical adventures and doing amazing things with your life—like always—but here you are wheeling around a crippled girl in a clinic.” Sheer vitriol imbued the last word with scare quotes. “You got better things to do!”

“Better than helping a friend?” Sunset was regaining her balance; she thought she had an idea where this was going.

“I don’t have any friends.” The intransigence was back.

A sigh slipped out before Sunset could stop it. “Wallflower . . .”

“You can’t do anything to make me feel better,” Wallflower assured her in mingled defiance and despair. “Nobody can.” The pause that followed dragged out long enough a trace of bleak triumph glinted in the brown eyes.

Finally Sunset told her quietly, “You’re right. I can’t make you feel better, and neither can anyone else. Only you can do that.”

Wallflower hunched down a little. “Maybe I don’t want to feel better.”

They were getting close to something important, Sunset was sure. She did her best to emulate Rose’s understated style of leading questions. “Why not?”

The effort was rewarded with a snide glare. “Don’t play dumb. You know why not.”

She should have known that wouldn’t work. Sunset sucked in a breath. “Do—do you really want to try again?” The words stuck in her throat as if they had sharp spines all over.

“Do what?” Wallflower challenged her. “Go ahead and say it.”

Sunset’s eyes hardened in turn. “You know what I mean.”

Wallflower’s gaze flicked downward. “And that’s why you can’t help me. You can’t fix a problem you won’t talk about.”

It took all Sunset’s fading strength to push out, “. . . Do you still want to kill yourself? Tell me the truth.”

Bluff called, Wallflower tried to roll over and look away, only to stiffen in pain. Sunset watched, her own torment no less real, no less intense, for being emotional rather than physical. She could feel tears prickling, but she dared not let them out. She was running out of time—or rather Wallflower was. No matter how much it hurt either of them, she had to push on.

Panic was rising in the eyes that darted back and forth but couldn’t escape Sunset’s. Wallflower probably blamed herself for getting backed into a figurative corner, like she blamed herself for everything else, and must be looking for any way out of it. When they steadied again, Sunset guessed Wallflower thought she’d found one.

“You’re here just because you want to fix all the things you broke, aren’t you?” The vicious accusation stung. “You feel guilty, and you think if you help out a little, you can make it all better, right?” The very phrasing made Wallflower sound like an object, not a person, yet another irritation.

Steady breaths. Sunset couldn’t let her temper get the better of her, now of all times. “I’m here to help any way I can, yeah.” Only a slight tremor betrayed how hard-won her calm was. “I can’t fix everything. Maybe I can’t fix anything. But if I’m gonna be a better person—or pony, whatever—I have to try. Besides—” Her voice broke despite her best efforts. “—that’s not the only reason I’m here. I care about you, whether you want to believe that or not. You mean a lot to me, because you are a good person and a good friend.”

A scowl of disbelief greeted the assertion. “Stop pretending you care. We both know I don’t matter.”

Sunset closed her eyes for a beat. “I’m not pretending, Wallflower.”

“You are!” It tried to be a shout, but Wallflower’s weakened condition muted it to a raspy cry. “Stop lying to me! Nobody would even care if I just . . . disappeared.” The words ended with a half-sob, half-hiccup.

They might as well have been a slap to the face. Sunset flinched, the shards of her broken promise suddenly and horribly sharp. Holly she could fob off with a little verbal sleight of hand. Wallflower . . . not so much, not after hearing the same cruelly wounding words parroted back to her. This was gonna hurt.

Her only hope was it would hurt like physical therapy and not like a knife to the heart.

“An’ why’re you talking about this now anyway?” Wallflower sounded bewildered as well as suspicious. “Why all of a sudden? You been really quiet all this time, but now you wanna talk?”

“You . . . you wanna know why?” Everything blurred. Sunset’s voice thickened. She bent over, breaths heaving and unsteady. “If th-things don’t change—now—you’re, you’re going to a hospital and I can’t go with you.” It all poured out, a waterfall of consequences, blunt and brutal, the whole inexorable stream of institutional logic.

Head down and unable to see past the flood of tears, Sunset had no idea of Wallflower’s reaction. Was that an attentive silence, a distressed silence, a baffled silence, an apathetic silence? “I hurt you so much, I hurt everypo—everybody so much.” This was even worse than facing Princess Celestia again. She literally could not stop babbling. “I was such an awful person, such a b-bully. I’m sorry—I’m so sorry for everything I did to you and everyone else, even the things I don’t remember! Like—” She paused for a deep shuddering breath. “—Like telling you nobody would care if you disappeared.” She did stop then, blinking and sniffling, eyes and nose still inconveniently and annoyingly runny.

The silence dragged on until a single word broke it. “How—?”

It took no effort of thought to guess what Wallfower wanted to know. “I b-broke my promise. The first night you were in a coma . . . I used my pendant.” Sunset paused to let her breathing settle again. “Just something else to be sorry I did.” Her whole expression screwed up as if she were spitting out something bitter and raw, as indeed the words were, but she forced her head up to face squarely her friend—her victim.

Wallflower’s wide-eyed face was contorted with a surfeit of emotion, though far more of it was shock and far less of it anger than Sunset expected. “I totally forgot about that.” The whisper held a note of something with a family resemblance to wonder. “I made you forget about it too, didn’t I?”

Sunset swallowed and rubbed her damp eyes with the heels of her hands. “I guess so.” Biggest meanie. A yearbook page leaped to mind. She could remember hauling off, her dim-bulb henchmen laughing behind her, the camera falling—but who was the photographer at the other end of the punch? “I mean, I coulda just forgot about it ’cause I was a bully and it was Tuesday, but it doesn’t feel like that.” She cleared her throat, then added delicately, “You, uh, you remember it now, though, right?”

A nod was the only immediate reply, but it was enough.

In an even smaller voice, Sunset asked, “Are we still friends?”

After a heart-stopping hesitation came another slow, uncertain nod. Sunset closed her eyes momentarily in sheer relief.

“But why?” Wallflower sounded puzzled rather than angry or hopeless; at least Sunset had accomplished that much. “Why would you do that?”

The words stuck in Sunset’s throat; she forced them out with a squeak. “Because I was asking why too. Why did you do it? Why did you t-try to—” She just couldn’t finish the sentence. “I wanted to make sure you never felt that way again.” Now she couldn’t even look at Wallflower. “I haven’t done a very good job so far, have I?” The tears were threatening again.

“When I found out you thought I’d be grateful if you d-died, I—” She blinked several times. “After I got over being shocked, I got so mad.” The watery sound she managed wasn’t exactly a laugh. “Like I always do. But now?” A deep sigh left her slumped in defeat. “Now I’m just so, so sorry about all the things I did to make you feel that way.”

She half-straightened and put her hands on Wallflower’s frail shoulders. “I want to do better. I’m trying to be better. I don’t know how but I’m trying, even when it’s hard and it hurts and I mess up all the time, even though I never feel like I’ve made up for it all.” She leaned forward and enfolded the other girl in her arms as if embracing a sculpture of blown glass. “Please, Wallflower. I have to try, and I need you to try too. You don’t need to feel better right away—just, please, you need to try, okay?”

The glass doll was limp against her, forehead on shoulder, and fear rose in Sunset’s chest again. She suppressed another sob and began to rock Wallflower like a child, slowly and gently. All she could hear and feel was breathing, in two different but equally shaky rhythms. All she could hope was the continued hush signified thought and not obduracy, because she felt wrung out, unable to think of anything else to say.

“Okay.” It was a bare husk of a reply, and only the tiniest nod against her shoulder accompanied it. But what convinced Sunset was when Wallflower tentatively reached up to return the embrace—and began to weep as well.

Author's Note:

End Act II.

The concept of katharsis—or as it is more commonly spelled in modern English, catharsis—is an ancient one. In Western culture the term is rooted in Greek theater and philosophy, and today mostly is known from Aristotle’s Poetics. He never explains or defines it, though, apparently assuming it to be well-known to the reader. As a result, over the centuries interpretations have varied wildly, though most of them seem to have revolved around emotional purgation, epiphany, closure, or some combination.

The first rule of holes—or the first law of holes, depending on who’s telling the tale—is excellent advice for almost any situation.

Sunset did tell Cook about the Stone, and about Wallflower—but I put that in a journal post rather than a story because it was just a fragment of a few hundred words.