• 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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Dear Princess Twilight,
It still feels weird to start one of these with something so formal when we’re such good friends, but I guess the journal’s enchantment is happier with it. Anyway, sorry I haven’t been in touch the last few weeks. I should fill you in on what’s happened since then, because otherwise nothing new is going to make any sense, but it’s been rough. I mean, really rough, so hang on tight. Wallflower didn’t go to the inpatient clinic right away. There was kind of a detour first. . . .

“Sorry I’m late!” Sunset’s words were a little winded as she finished striding hastily, not quite trotting, across the cafeteria. The staff didn’t approve of running in the halls or communal spaces and were not shy about reminding people, which clashed occasionally with Sunset’s energetic approach to life. She pulled up short by the small square table where Wallflower waited and took a moment to catch her breath, still clutching to her chest a finely bound quarto complete with iron spine reinforcements and brass corners. “It took longer to zip home and grab more clothes and stuff than I expected, and then I had to drop it all off in my room.” Indeed, the T-shirt and cargo shorts she wore were new, at least to her current surroundings, though her somewhat battered high-tops were the same.

Wallflower blinked up at her and lifted chin from palm. “It’s okay. At the end of the PT session Mister Gracilis went and just kinda yelled out the door to see if anyone could come and help, and someone did. He said he was headed for the cafeteria anyway, so it’d be no trouble.” Her last few words got wavery and by the time she finished the sentence her eyes were brimming with tears.

Sunset slid onto the chair opposite and let the book down on the tabletop, showing the peculiar half-and-half design on its front cover. Her face clouded with concern. “Hey. What’s wrong?”

A quick shake of the head was the initial answer, but after a shuddery breath Wallflower answered with a bit of a squeak, “Everyone’s so nice. It’s—” She broke off and drew a sleeve of her gray sweat suit across her face, trying to dry her eyes.

“It’s hard to accept?” Sunset finished in a gentle tone. The six months between the Fall Formal and the Battle of the Bands had been a tough time for her. Looking back it was easy to see she’d been pretty depressed, and afterward it had taken a long while to shake her doubts people really were changing their opinions of her—much less that she deserved for them to. So, yeah, she could believe Wallflower was having trouble turning things around, though it hurt to see her friend suffering like this. But Even Keel had pointed out it was good Wallflower wasn’t bottling up emotions any more, even when they were negative emotions, and was starting to talk more, often without prompting, in personal and group therapy.

The night Sunset had persuaded Wallflower to start trying again, to live, had felt like such a breakthrough. Now she was starting to see it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing from there. That had been just the beginning of a long hard journey.

“Y-yeah.” Wallflower started crying with a quiet intensity. In a tight voice she added, “It all is.”

Sunset stared at her for a moment. This wasn’t about feeling unworthy of a little kindness. “Wallflower, what’s wrong?”

“PT—” A few moments went by before Wallflower could go on. “—PT was really hard and it hurt a lot and I didn’t do as good as I wanted to—”

“Hey,” Sunset broke in firmly. “Wallflower, getting better’s gonna take time, maybe lots of time, and that’s okay.” She had to watch her wording. Even Keel had given her a long lecture, more of a seminar, about how to phrase things to be positive, on the one hand, without being patronizing, on the other.

“But what if I don’t get better?” Wallflower looked back with desperation. “Before I didn’t worry about it, because . . . because, but now—” From the stricken expression Sunset guessed a vision of a whole lifetime in a wheelchair flashed across Wallflower’s mind, a lifetime she had given up on until Sunset convinced her otherwise.

“You can do it.” Confidence born of assurances from physicians and therapists filled Sunset’s assertion. “I know you can. You’ve done so much already.” She listed achievements large and small, ticking them off on fingers. “If you can do all that, you can do this too. And all of us are here to help you—me, Even Keel, Mister Gracilis, Rose, everyone.”

Most of Sunset’s little speech didn’t seem to make much of an impression, but right at the end of it Wallflower appeared to perk up a little, sitting straighter and knuckling eyes. Sunset had no idea what about it had worked, but whatever it was she’d take it.

“So, uh—” Wallflower cleared her throat of the congestion and anxiety that had clogged it. “That’s the ma—the special journal you told me about, isn’t it?”

The bid at distraction couldn’t be more transparent, but after a moment’s thought Sunset decided to go along with it. Wallflower had managed to get past being stuck in her own head, and for now that was enough. “Yeah. Unless there’s a reason to write some other time, like an emergency or something, I write in it before I hit the sack.” She lowered her voice a little but carefully did not look around furtively. “Usually she’ll write back as soon as she can, and if she knows she’s gonna be away for a while, she’ll warn me, and I try to do the same.” She peered more closely at Wallflower. “Feeling better? Are you up for some lunch?”

Wallflower sniffled and nodded.

Dear Princess Twilight,
I’m doing a lot of lurking outside doors these days. It makes me feel like an eavesdropper or a vo something even ickier.

Wallflower suddenly decided she has to do everything herself if she’s going to get better. It makes sense, sort of, and it’s better than when she wouldn’t do anything, but it seems to me like she’s biting off more than she can chew. . . .

The hiss of the shower head tapered off. Sunset leaned against the wall beside the archway to the bathroom and listened to echoey grunts and muffled thuds. That went on entirely too long before Wallflower spoke up more clearly. “Okay, Sunset, you can come in now.”

Instantly Sunset pushed off from the wall and pivoted to pop through the archway. Wallflower’s renewed sense of modesty was a measure of progress, but in practical terms it was a little awkward. As she expected, Wallflower sat on the shower bench draped in a white terrycloth bathrobe, the bottom hem wet where it wended over shower floor and seat. Careful not to slip on the slick tiles, she helped Wallflower up from the bench.

Maneuvering into the bedroom still was tricky, but less so now that Sunset could expect at least a little active cooperation. Once deposited on the bed beside the clothes laid out for the day, a pleased-looking Wallflower told her, “Thanks! I’ll get dressed and then we can go.”

Taking the hint, Sunset retreated to the bathroom and leaned against the other side of the same wall. Rustles of fabric were followed by a minute or more of straining and cursing and grumbling. The longer it went on, the more winces Sunset pulled, until finally there was a yelp and a thumpity-bump. She rushed back into the bedroom to find a mostly dressed Wallflower twisted like a pretzel on the floor, jeans halfway up her bare legs. Sunset uttered her own noise of alarm and bent to help. The cheap low-pile commercial-grade carpeting wasn’t much, but it was better to fall on than hard tiles, which was a small relief.

Sniffles and tears greeted her, but at least Wallflower wasn’t bawling. Sunset bit her lip for a moment. “Are you okay? Does it hurt?”

“It always hurts,” Wallflower told her tearily.

“Yeah, I guess it would.” Chagrin colored her answer. Even numbed, she remembered the bustling Mister Gracilis commenting, messing with a spinal injury caused a good deal of pain. The jostling of an uncontrolled fall couldn’t help but make that worse, so it wasn’t just frustration that had brought out more tears.

“Look, Wallflower, you did great,” she assured the unhappy girl with all the heartiness she could muster. “Especially for the first time in a while. It’ll get easier with more practice.”

Dear Princess Twilight,
I was allowed to invite a friend to come visit us! Just one, though. I knew right away which of the Rainbooms to ask, and I’ll bet you can figure out who. If you guessed Fluttershy, you’re right!

At first Wallflower wasn’t sure about the idea. I think she was anxious and embarrassed about being seen in a wheelchair, but Fluttershy was really good about pretending not to notice. That’s not quite right. Let’s say she was really good about not bringing it up. I’m not surprised. It’s hard for Fluttershy to break the ice, but once she does, she can put people at ease pretty quickly. . . .

“Oh, it’s so good to see you, Wallflower!” Fluttershy clasped her hands under her chin, the picture of sincerity. The skirt of her simple sundress swirled around her sandaled legs. Sunset couldn’t help but beam at the understated enthusiasm from the quiet friend she hadn’t seen in too long.

“Uh—hi, Fluttershy,” Wallflower answered politely. She shifted a little on the wheelchair’s sling seat. Given how painful any such movement was for her, that spoke volumes.

“And you too, Sunset.” Fluttershy’s impish, teasing grin was like a shaft of sunlight on Sunset’s soul.

Sunset leaned back on her chair with an amused expression. “I see you’ve got your priorities straight.”

Fluttershy giggled and nodded as she pulled out another of the patio chairs. Even Wallflower quirked a smile.

The day was balmy and breezy, perfect summer weather for the T-shirts, blue jeans, and sneakers Sunset and Wallflower wore. For their first visit from the outside world—other than Rose’s rather more official manifestations—they sat around one of the plain metal-and-glass patio tables, complete with shade umbrellas. Staffers and clients alike were dotted around the courtyard surrounded by the deliberately rambling structures of the clinic.

Once seated Fluttershy glanced around and observed in mild surprise, “This is very pretty.” Lawn, mulch-covered swatches landscaped with indigenous plants flowering or not, a few trees—even a water feature with monolithic sculptures—made the courtyard a pleasant rendezvous. “Do they let you help out with the plants, Wallflower?”

“Some,” Wallflower admitted. “It’s kinda hard for me to do any gardening right now, but they have some tools I can use and a little greenhouse. Sometimes there are other chores I can use a work bench for, like when there are new plants to get ready for replanting.”

Sunset added, “They really want to make sure clients are able to do things they’re interested in, especially if it helps with getting better. And don’t let Wallflower fool you; she’s doing a pretty good job. The other day she suggested changing a few plants in one of the beds to reduce allergens that might bother some of the other clients. The new plants would make the bed look different, but almost as nice.”

Wallflower colored and looked down, but she didn’t seem displeased, especially when Fluttershy gushed, “That’s lovely! You know, there are people who do that kind of thing for a living. I think you’d be good at it, Wallflower.”

Sunset pretended not to notice Wallflower’s sudden introspective expression. “Now I wish I’d taken a geology class at CHS—then we’d have everything covered: animal, vegetable, and mineral.”

Fluttershy shot her a look of knowing amusement. “Ray’s doing fine. He misses you, but I told him you’re doing something important and you’ll come back when you can.”

From the mention of Sunset’s leopard gecko the conversation drifted through other creatures to their owners, or in one case friend, all of whom had sent best wishes Fluttershy dutifully conveyed. When she noticed Wallflower seemed a little overcome by the surfeit of attention, even at second hand, she paused. “I’m sorry, Wallflower, I didn’t mean to make you feel overwhelmed. The girls were so worried about you. They wanted me to let you know, and I just didn’t think about it.”

“It’s . . . it’s okay.” Wallflower pulled in a cleansing breath. “Of course they were worried,” she said, as much to herself as her companions. “Friends are always worried when something isn’t right with you, right?”

“That’s right.” Fluttershy’s voice went soft and sweet, the way it did when she dealt with an injured animal at the shelter. “It’s wonderful when people care, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with all the attention, isn’t it?”

Wallflower swallowed and nodded. “Uh-huh. Most of the time. I don’t like people staring at me. I really have to work at it in group sessions, actually saying something instead of just trying to hide from everyone.”

Sunset opened her mouth for a stout assurance Wallflower was getting better at doing so, but decided to leave well enough alone and closed it again.

“I know what you mean.” Fluttershy nodded firmly at Wallflower, both of them seemingly unaware of Sunset’s antics. “We both have trouble with being around people.” She tilted her head in consideration. “Just not exactly the same way. I get worried about what people may do around me—or to me. I think you get worried about what you might do instead, right? And that’s why you used the Memory Stone so much, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” Wallflower tipped her head toward one of the nearby buildings. “Even Keel, that’s my personal counselor, called it ‘social anxiety’ and said it’s pretty common, actually. Even if you and I prob’ly are more anxious about it than most people.” Wonder of wonders, a small, wry smile blossomed briefly on the round green face. “Course, I can’t talk about the Memory Stone with anyone here except Sunset! I think they know I’m keeping some kind of secret, and if I’d just be more honest they could help me better, but—” She raised both hands in an abbreviated shrug.

“Well, you can talk about it with us,” Fluttershy pointed out practically. “Maybe not right now, but when you’re better and we can see you more often.”

Wallflower blew out a breath. “You know, I think . . . I think I’d like that.”

Dear Princess Twilight,
I’m home now. I don’t know how I feel about it. I thought I’d be really happy, and part of me is, but it’s all mixed up with a lot of other stuff too. I hope you don’t mind, but I think I need to sort through this, and you’re a good listener, or reader, or whatever. . . .

“M-mom?” The hoarse voice carried more raw ambivalence than Sunset could remember hearing before, at least in real life. Wallflower sat tense on the wheelchair beside her bed, hands white-knuckled on the armrests. At least she was neatly dressed in blouse and slacks, as was Sunset, in anticipation of the reunion.

Holly, as usual wearing one of her flower-print dresses, froze in the doorway and blinked rapidly a few times. “Hello, Wallflower.” The answering whisper was barely audible.

“Where’s Dad?” If before Wallflower was hesitant, now dread outweighed welcome.

“You don’t—you don’t need to worry about him.” The sentence started out faint, but after Holly’s voice broke, it resumed with surprising firmness. “The judge said we don’t have to see him any more if we don’t want to.” She shuffled into the room toward the vacant office-visitor chair set to face Wallflower’s wheelchair.

Sunset sat quietly beside the wheelchair, on another chair brought in for the occasion, ready should she be needed for . . . anything. She bit her lip and tried not to fidget.

As Holly lowered herself onto the chair facing them, she asked, “How’re you doing?” It didn’t seem to be a token pleasantry.

“I’m doing okay,” was Wallflower’s guarded reply.

“Wallflower’s recovering physically, but slowly,” Sunset put in, her words more formal and precise than she normally bothered with. She leaned on her memories of Rose and Keel, and how they delivered information, as she considered how to continue. “They think she’ll need a lot more physical therapy, and even when that’s finished she probably won’t be a hundred percent. She should be able to walk, but maybe not run—at least not flat-out.”

Holly leaned forward a little and listened closely. Sunset was hard put not to let out a snicker as Wallflower’s hands fluttered in embarrassed discomfort, and her next few words were a little unsteady with the effort. “Counseling will take a while longer too, but she’s done really well so far.” More quietly Sunset added, “I’m very proud of her.”

Almost before Sunset finished speaking, Wallflower planted her hands back on the armrests and asked stiffly, “Why are you here?”

Holly’s mouth worked for several seconds. Sunset had the impression she was trying to come up with an answer, sorting and rejecting what came to mind. What finally came out was, “M—uh, Even Keel and Mister Sticky Note thought it would be good, now the divorce is final and everything, if I could take over from Sunset.” She dry-washed her hands in the awkward silence that followed.

“You—what?” Wallflower blurted. “But—”

This was a good time not to say anything. Sunset pressed her lips together.

The older woman’s face fell. “I—I thought it was a good idea. And Sunset’s been doing this for a while, so—”

Sunset’s face turned stormy. Was Holly trying to throw her under the bus or something?

Wallflower didn’t seem to take it any better. “Sunset’s been doing a good job,” she pointed out in a brittle tone. “And she said she’d stay as long as she had to.” Her head turned a little, though her gaze stayed on her mother. “Right, Sunset?”

No answer was the right answer, so Sunset settled on . . . no answer. Her mouth opened before she could stop it, but she shut it again with a slight click of teeth. Wallflower’s eyes flickered when she didn’t speak up with a stout confirmation.

“I . . . I wanted to help.” Holly’s eyes glistened. “Because that’s what a mother should do. And I thought, since that magic stone took away all my memories, so I don’t really know you now, I could—”

“You never really knew me,” Wallflower cut in, the hiss low and vicious. “Even when you did have all those memories.”

Sunset’s breathing quickened. She really, really didn’t want to be here for this, but now she was trapped.

A single tear tracked down Holly’s green cheek. “I guess I didn’t. And I’m sorry.”

Wallflower sat back as if slapped. That wasn’t quite right, but Sunset didn’t know what was right. For the first time since her mother walked in, she didn’t look fearful or nervous. Instead she just looked kind of blank.

Holly blinked again and reached up to rub the heel of her hand across her cheek. “I’m so sorry, Wallflower. You’re my baby girl and I love you and I want to protect you and keep you safe. You deserve a mother who’ll do that, but I didn’t. You were all alone, and Ms. Brass said I let your father do horrible things to you, and I didn’t stop him, and I even helped him!” She sniffled a little. “I can’t do anything about that now except start over and maybe do better this time. If you’ll let me.”

Both of the younger women were dumbfounded. If Holly had loomed like an ogre in Sunset’s mind, she couldn’t imagine how Wallflower felt, even after her sojourn through the other’s memories. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing a stranger, unsettling and disorienting. Sunset frankly had no idea what to do; she stole a sidelong glance to see if Wallflower had any better notion.

Nope. Not a clue. Wallflower sat and stared, almost as vacant as when the two of them arrived at the clinic. Sunset cleared her throat. “Wallflower?”

The other girl twitched as if stuck with a pin and whimpered. With another breath she shivered and doubled over, then began crying in great, wracking sobs that must have been just short of agony. Sunset jumped.

Holly put a hand to her mouth in distress; her eyes were urgent, but she didn’t reach for Wallflower herself. Belatedly Sunset realized touching Wallflower, in this delicate moment, might be the worst thing Holly could do. In her place, Sunset slid down to kneel beside the wheelchair, offering comfort with meaningless noises and stroking of wild green hair.

A hint of motion in the corner of Sunset’s eye brought her head up. Behind Holly a staffer wearing the ubiquitous polo shirt and slacks stood in the doorway, face and stance radiating concern. Sunset frantically flapped her free hand at him, which earned her a brief twinkle, not quite a smile, before he nodded and stepped away to continue his errand. By the time Holly twisted around to look, he was gone.

After a few minutes that felt like hours, Wallflower ran down to sniffles and hiccups, still bent over. “Hey,” murmured Sunset. “Hey, let’s get you sitting up again, okay? That’s gotta hurt.” A smeary mumble and a nod, forehead against knees, was the only reply, but it was enough for Sunset to stand and help unfold Wallflower.

Throughout Holly had sat stricken, clearly torn between wanting to help and knowing she probably shouldn’t. Her arms were crossed, almost hugging herself, and Sunset wondered if she’d managed to bite through her lip. Even now she restricted herself to watching Wallflower with a tense look of worry.

Wallflower’s return look was wary. “How do I know you really mean it?” she asked plaintively.

Holly blinked again as she dredged up an answer Sunset suspected made her sad. “I don’t know. Maybe you can’t.”

That gave Wallflower pause. After almost a minute of silent, withdrawn thought she came back with a sigh. “Maybe—maybe you’re right.” The admission was grudging, as was her glance at Sunset. “And I guess it isn’t fair to take up all your time, too.”

Holly had the wit to keep mum, though a brief light shone in her eyes. Sunset blinked a few times. “A-are you sure? I mean, it’s no trouble.” One amber hand waved in dismissal of the very idea of inconvenience.

The look Wallflower turned on Sunset burned with ambivalence but conveyed as clearly as words she wasn’t fooled. “It’s a lotta trouble, Sunset.” Her head lowered a little and for a moment she studied her lap with a meditative air. “I mean, if it wasn’t you wouldn’t need to be here, right?”

Still standing beside the wheelchair, Sunset shifted her weight from one foot to the other. There wasn’t any good way to gainsay that logic, was there?

Wallflower tilted her head back to glance up again, her eyes once more a little damp. “I don’t want you to go either. You’ve—you’ve helped me so much. But you haven’t seen your, your other friends for a long time.” A note of wonder graced the implication she counted as a friend too. “And I bet Even Keel would say I have to give M-mom a chance to start over too.”

Sunset slumped a little in defeat. “. . . Okay. I’ll stick around a little while longer. Somebody has to show Holly the ropes, right?” And, though she didn’t want to say it out loud, make sure Holly meant what she said. “Then I—I’ll pack up and go back home.”

Wallflower rolled back the wheelchair, gripped its arms, and struggled to rise. Sunset automatically stepped closer, ready to catch her if she stumbled, but Wallflower seemed steady enough. She reached out to hug Sunset tight, and said with conviction, “You’ll be okay.”

Dear Princess Twilight,
Is everything all right? You were going a mile a minute there for a while, with all those updates on your planning for the Friendship Festival, but then you stopped suddenly and now it’s been more than an hour. I know you’re probably busy there, but when you can, please let me know what’s up. It’s fine if you can’t keep going with the updates, but I’m a little worried here and it would be nice to know you’re okay.

Author's Note:

. . . Cue foreboding incidental music.

Folio, quarto, octavo, and a range of other terms describe sizes of books printed before the advent of high-speed mechanical presses in the nineteenth century, which streamlined and standardized the production process. Quarto size is roughly 9.5 inches (242 mm) wide by 12 inches (305 mm) tall.

According to Meghan McCarthy in DVD audio commentary for “Rainbow Rocks”, the Battle of the Bands is six months after the Fall Formal, putting it during the following spring. That makes sense when one realizes each season of MLPFIM—other than third—represents about six months of passing time. The first featurette takes place shortly after Twilight becomes a princess, putting it early in season four. “Rainbow Rocks” takes place shortly after she becomes princess of friendship, putting it early in season five. So, one television season later, six months later. There have been some anomalies since then, but as far as I can tell all of them trace back to production issues.

Addendum: I didn’t think of it until later, but I should have named the physical therapist Pop Liteal.