• Published 10th Jul 2020
  • 1,080 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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Rose would be wrong about the meal.

A few blocks from the hulking brutalist building she’d departed minutes before, Sunset leaned against a downtown lamppost and held her phone to her ear, opposite forefinger blocking her other ear against street noise. Text messages had gone unanswered, starting a couple of weeks ago with one or two a day and, by logarithmic progression, today culminating in one every few minutes other than during the commencement and the meeting with Rose. It was harder, she’d found, for people to ignore a phone ringing—not impossible, but more difficult.

She’d lost count of the rings when the phone clicked and after a few seconds a low, slightly hoarse voice answered, “Sunset?”

“Wallflower!” Sunset’s response was just a little breathless. “Where are you?”

“Home.” A voice-activated digital assistant used more inflection.

“Where’s that?” It suddenly occurred to Sunset she’d never been there, wherever it was—never even been invited there.

When the following pause lengthened into awkward territory, Sunset blurted on impulse, “Let’s meet up! We haven’t seen each other in a while, right?”

“Uh . . .”

“I mean, I could swing by your place, or we could go to a diner or something,” Sunset suggested in a cajoling tone. Even for Wallflower this was like pulling teeth.

“No, I—” At least now there was some emotion, though Sunset would have felt better if it didn’t consist of agitation and confusion. “I dunno.”

Sunset relaxed, but only a little. At least it wasn’t an outright refusal. “Give me an address.” The longer this went on, the more she doubted letting it go was a good idea.

It took a few more rounds of breaking down the other girl’s stalling, but eventually Sunset managed to extract a location. “I’ll be there soon,” she vowed, trying to infuse the statement with the same firmness Rose seemed to project so effortlessly in every word, before hanging up and sliding the phone into her messenger bag. She looked around to reorient, then stepped off briskly.

Sunset didn’t know what she’d expected, but this wasn’t it. From the fact its address included a unit number, the dwelling might have been a flat or part of a multiplex, even a townhouse, but the building turned out to be a ramshackle boarding house. It wasn’t much bigger than the renovated row house, last of its kind in a neighborhood now zoned for commercial and light industrial buildings, Sunset herself lived in. It was, however, in considerably worse shape, to the point she was astonished it wasn’t condemned.

The visitor took a breath and stepped up to the sagging farmer’s porch. Midafternoon on a weekday, she wasn’t surprised not to see anyone else about. Given the kind of place this looked to be, she was just as glad. If she was uncomfortable, it obviously wasn’t someplace she’d want to find any teenage girl—young woman—living in. She glanced down at the mailboxes, not expecting to see any familiar names, and was surprised to find the legend BLUSH, on label-maker tape, adhered crookedly in the window of the one bearing the right number. She frowned and shook her head as she opened the glazed front door to the tiny vestibule.

Finding her way to the upstairs door, one of a few facing a drab little hallway, reminded her of the survival-horror video games she’d played and once in a while streamed. At least the sun was nice and bright, elevating the corridor from utter gloom to half-hearted twilight. She stopped in front of the door she sought and hesitated. Everything about this rang alarm bells. She shrugged. All the more reason to charge ahead.

Nothing happened for almost a minute after she knocked, the sharp sounds echoing in the passage, but she wasn’t about to give up at this point. At last the door opened an inch or so and a flash of familiar green hues showed in the crack.

“Wallflower? Let me in.” Sunset stood tall. She wasn’t that much bigger, but what she had, she used. “Please.”

An inaudible mumble answered, but after another couple of seconds the door creaked open. Sunset stepped forward; if she had to, she absolutely would crowd Wallflower into giving her some answers. She straight-armed the door aside and pressed on, forcing the other girl back by intruding ruthlessly on personal space, until she could look around.

Wallflower was holed up in a single room, barren of decoration, about the size of Sunset’s sleeping loft—including the walk-in closet, though at least there was a tiny bathroom adjoining it, shared with the neighboring room. The self-invited guest looked around as her putative hostess retreated to flop on the bed that dominated the limited square footage. Only Sunset’s long practice at controlling her expression, left over from her scheming days, prevented an appalled look from crossing her face.

It was a mess. Oh, there wasn’t garbage everywhere or piles of hoarded items, but dirty laundry lay in small drifts against furniture and unmade bedclothes heaped on the twin long mattress and foundation; there was no sign of a frame. Being guilty of the same sin, Sunset could hardly kick about the handful of take-out containers crusted with dried residue here and there, but it was like the cherry on top of the sloppiest half-melted hot-fudge sundae ever. She blinked and decided Pinkie Pie had played the “read my mind” game a few too many times, then shook her head again.

Most heartbreaking of all was the lonely potted plant, brown and dead, on the scratched and gouged dresser. On top of that, the place . . . smelled, too. Part of it, she was convinced, was an unwashed Wallflower, wearing unwashed baggy T-shirt, jeans, and socks. The aroma wasn’t overpowering, but it added an emphasis all its own. “Wallflower,” she said quietly, more so than she originally had in mind. “What’s going on? Where’s your family? Why are you here?”

Wallflower sat like a lump, never meeting Sunset’s eyes, and answered a relentless barrage of questions in a muttered monotone. After the first few, Sunset, unable to keep still, began collecting detritus and sorting it, laundry in pillowcases and trash in plastic take-out bags.

The tale that unfolded in fits and starts was baffling. Sunset pieced together a bleak portrait of an only child grappling with . . . what, exactly? Even Wallflower didn’t seem to understand, at least not completely. A moody father, hard to please; a mother who always sided with him—that much seemed to be a constant in the girl’s life from childhood, as far as Sunset could tell. Harsh words and gratuitous carping alternated with extravagant expressions of remorse and affection. It would never happen again, until it did, but it was never his fault, her mother assured her. Sunset winced.

Then, right around the Fall Formal that loomed so large in Sunset’s life—now more than a year and a half in the past—something else happened, but they wouldn’t say what. The swings gradually got wider and scarier. “. . . And then he slapped me,” Wallflower all but whispered. Despite her determination not to react, Sunset’s breath drew in and she dropped the pillowcase she was stuffing full of discarded garments. Wallflower made no sign of noticing. “He was sorry after, and he said he wouldn’t do it again, but I knew he would. And he did. Just once in a while—but every time, he hit me a little harder, or someplace that hurt more.”

Sunset bit her lip, but she knew now she’d opened the door, she had no choice but to follow this out to the end. She resumed picking up the laundry and kept silent. She couldn’t remember seeing recently any telltale cuts or bruises, but then if he’d been careful not to strike at his daughter’s face, they might’ve been covered by the frumpy sweaters or other long-sleeved tops Wallflower always wore. And as an upperclassman Wallflower could opt out of PE and the shorts and tank top—not to mention showers—that went with it.

Then it all came to a head. Some minor infraction, an enraged tirade, a not sufficiently cowering response, and a sudden chase down the hall. Sunset found herself unable to breathe as Wallflower’s trembling voice continued, “I got the door locked, but he started banging on it hard. I knew he was gonna knock it down if he kept going long enough, and then it was gonna be my turn. I didn’t know what to do. Then I tripped on my bookbag and . . . and the Memory Stone fell out.” The last few words came out almost in a squeak.

“After that I got outa the house as fast as I could. I hadda use the Stone on them a buncha times before I got everything together and ran.” Wallflower seemed to run down like a wind-up clock and slumped even further.

“Wallflower—” Sunset had to clear her throat. “Wallflower, when was this?”

The answer was just what she expected: a week or two before the other girl had started clear-cutting the Rainbooms’ memories. Sunset wondered about the logistics involved, leaving behind a roomful of evidence documenting the existence of a teenage daughter neither parent could remember, but this was not the time or the place to pursue that line of questioning. “Then what happened?” The effort of keeping her voice soft and even was greater than she ever thought it might be.

“I found this place,” was the simple answer. “I took a bunch of money with me, so I was able to pay for a couple of months up front. Since I was eighteen, they didn’t ask too many questions.”

Sunset opened her mouth, then closed it again. Again she wondered about means and timing, but again she had to stay on track. She couldn’t short-circuit this with her magic; it wasn’t any kind of emergency, and after they’d made up in the wake of the Memory Stone’s destruction, Wallflower had wrested a promise from her not to do so again. She had to do this the old-fashioned way.

“So you paid for a couple of months,” she said slowly. “But you’ve been here longer than that, if I’ve worked it out right. How did you keep paying? Do you have a job?”

Wallflower shook her head, the seaweed-like masses of her forest-green hair waving limply. “I used the Stone to make people forget when I came into stores. Sometimes I’d take food and stuff. Sometimes I’d take other things, and sell them somewhere else or try to return them. I made sure the stores didn’t have cameras.”

Sunset’s brows drew down in consideration. “But the Memory Stone is gone. What are you doing now?”

There was no answer.

“What are you going to do at the end of the month?”

Wallflower remained quiet, still looking down, unkempt hair nearly covering her face.

“Wallflower. What happens when you have to move out?”

The silence stretched, and after most of a minute Sunset’s eyes widened and her mouth opened, then froze. After another few seconds she shut it and thought furiously. In the most casual tone she could manage, she said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s go get some pizza. My treat—oh, and how about a sleepover? I don’t think you’ve seen my place yet. It’s, uh—I think you’d like it.”

At the mention of food, Wallflower finally looked up, which was almost worse given the baggy, vaguely bloodshot condition of her eyes. Knowing she wouldn’t get much more than that, Sunset went on, “Look, we’ve got things almost cleaned up here, right? So why don’t you take a shower and put on something nice, and we’ll head out. I mean, it’s graduation day! We should celebrate!”

In the end she nearly had to bundle Wallflower into the bathroom by main force, but once she’d shut the door and leaned against it, only a short while passed before, to her vast relief, water started to flow audibly through the uninsulated pipes. She heaved a great sigh, open-mouthed for quiet, and pulled out her phone. Busy fingers scrolled through the contact list until Rose Brass slid into view. She tapped the name and started typing.

Found her. She’s in bad shape. Help pls.

Author's Note:

This wasn’t as difficult as “Iokheira” or “Investigation”, but I ran aground on reefs and shoals several times in the course of writing it. Fortunately Scampy was available to help talk me through the rougher parts.

This is my first collaboration on Fimfiction, and it is turning out to be a fascinating experience.

Addendum: Originally, I was going to phrase Sunset’s text message as Found her. She’s full of angst. Help pls. I lifted that directly from plotting discussion; it was intended as a summary exemplar rather than literally, but I really liked the mordant humor of it. In the end, though, I was persuaded it was a little too pointed, so I rephrased it.