• 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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“You just have to get her through the night and bring her back in the morning.” Rose’s last assurance, delivered in an undertone while Wallflower’s attention was diverted by the fast-food billboard menus, echoed in Sunset’s memory.

A whole cacophany of other thoughts tumbled through her mind at the same time, their intensity and tumult nearly paralyzing. For a young woman who normally forged ahead, self-assured to a fault, the sensation proved unaccustomed and unpleasant. The last time she’d felt this way—at least to this degree—she was looking up from a crater, battered and bruised.

A sudden insight coalesced out of the mælstrom. This, or something like it, must be how Wallflower felt all the time. Sunset’s breathing steadied, no longer on the verge of hyperventilation. The epiphany gave her an anchor, a handle on the problem she faced. Now to climb the chain, not only for her own sake but for a friend who needed that lifeline.

She rolled her head to look over at her companion. “Hey, Wallflower, it’s been a pretty rough day.” She tried to balance sympathy and nonchalance, not wanting to come off as patronizing—but Wallflower really might as well be a glass figurine right now.

Both of them half-reclined on the comfortably shabby overstuffed armless couch, the afghan thrown across it a splash of cheerful color, facing the big-screen television set on its makeshift shelf over game consoles and related electronic boxes. Indirect early-evening summer sunlight lit the other half of the long, tall room. Enough of it spilled over they weren’t sitting in total gloom, but the dimness was cool relief after the hothouse events of the day.

Sunset had no idea what the place used to be originally. It had been billed as a refurbished row house, last of its kind in a changing neighborhood—but the room’s brick rear wall, old-fashioned electrical conduits bracketed to it and institutional-style bathroom behind it, suggested a previous life as a workshop of some kind. Either way, even in Equestria such chic urban loft or studio conversions were not unknown, though at least here building codes assured they were more likely to be safe and livable. Truth to tell she’d fallen in love with the quirky space, whatever it once was, sandwiched between two much more modern light-industrial storefronts. She wasn’t sure what she would do when the time came to find a new domicile.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m too pooped to pop,” she went on into Wallflower’s continued silence. “How ’bout I call out for dinner, get it delivered, and we just veg out in front of the boob tube tonight?” She pulled out her phone and waggled it in her hand.

Wallflower blinked at her; Sunset would swear she could hear a hard drive spooling up in the green-haired head. “You don’t have a kitchen, so what else would we do for supper?” It seemed a sincere effort at teasing, though the jumble of acid emotions underlying the words made Sunset want to wince.

“You’ve got a point,” Sunset conceded sheepishly. The previous evening she’d scurried around tidying up for her unexpected guest, most notably take-out boxes, soda cans, and assorted other meal-related detritus. While a far cry from the mess that had accumulated in Wallflower’s much smaller room, it was similar enough to be a bit embarrassing. It also reminded her how little domestic effort she’d made beyond a bar refrigerator and a microwave oven. For a sixteen-year-old that might be excusable. At twenty . . . maybe not so much. “So, anyway, whattaya wanna get?”

After half a minute or so, when Sunset realized they were sliding toward the dreaded “I dunno, what do you wanna get?” back-and-forth, she made an executive decision and simply called her favorite stand-by, then rattled off from memory a family-style dinner order for two. Wallflower didn’t object to any of the choices, which she hoped was a good sign. The familiar voice and mannerisms of a regular customer sped the order to completion, and the order-taker at the other end recited the delivery address without prompting. Sunset confirmed it all, finished with the usual exchange of pleasantries, and hung up. As she dropped her phone back in a pocket, she grinned at Wallflower. “They said it’ll be between a half-hour and an hour. Meanwhile, let’s see what there is to watch.”

Jumping directly from the Industrial Revolution to the digital age had been a rough transition, but once Sunset had navigated it, she’d embraced the new technological wonders with the same fervor, and in much the same fashion, as pretty much any other teenager in the city. She never had bothered with cable television, instead skipping straight to the streaming services currently proliferating like so much yeast. Many were available through the top-of-the-line console that had soaked up months of discretionary cash, so why spend yet more money she didn’t need to?

The aftermarket remote control made using the console’s central video interface easier, but the individual services’ uneven hodgepodge could be exasperating. Sunset kept up a running commentary—a couple of times succeeding in provoking a snicker from the other girl—offering suggestions or ideas. Wallflower watched wide-eyed and gradually began to respond to the carefully laid-back tourguide patter.

By degrees it became obvious Wallflower’s exposure to video games, consoles, and just about anything else in the world of electronics beyond the bare minimum had been unusually limited. Lack of interest, lack of budget, and lack of parental acceptance all figured in, Sunset gathered, though it was harder to tell how much of each was involved. The same was true, if to a lesser extent, when it came to movies and television series.

Sunset finally hit the jackpot when she brought up a service specializing in animation from overseas. Wallflower visibly perked up, sitting a little straighter. Eyeing her sidelong, Sunset asked casually, “Wanna take a look?” At Wallflower’s nod, she suppressed a smile and obliged.

The wonderland that unfolded on the big screen was a revelation, albeit a very different one for each of them. Sunset watched Wallflower’s reactions out of the corner of her eye. “Have you seen much of this stuff?”

Wallflower, still riveted by the menu system promising riches aplenty, shook her head. “Nuh-uh. Wasn’t allowed.”

“But you’ve seen bits and pieces, huh?” Sunset guessed, nodding sagely. “That’s how you know about it.”

“Yeah.” Mournfully Wallflower explained, “But Mom an’ Dad—they didn’t approve.” She stopped short, not going into detail; at the same time, the longing in her words clearly went beyond the desire to watch forbidden television shows.

“Oh.” Sunset fell silent as well and turned back to the television set. Everything seemed to lead back to the same place, and she regretted bringing it up again. She had no idea how to cut through this tangle of emotions and associations and frayed family ties, severed now by the Memory Stone as thoroughly as if parents—or daughter—were physically gone. She suppressed a shiver. Even Rose admitted she didn’t know how, that this was beyond her skills and abilities, and Sunset found that surprisingly daunting.

When had Rose become one of the pillars of her world? Maybe not the same way the other Rainbooms or Princess Twi or both Celestias and Lunas might be, but even so, Rose and Cookie Pusher, the diplomat sent to keep an eye on the burgeoning magic and the circle of friends it had chosen, were important in her life. And at least she still had a family, even if she hadn’t seen that family in . . . had it really been more than four years?

Sunset squeezed her eyes closed for a long moment. She needed to think about this, but it would have to wait. Right now the girl sitting next to her deserved more of her attention.

It was like deciding on dinner all over again. The tyranny of choice held Wallflower captive; she made plenty of interested noises, especially considering the state she was in, but never moved that extra step to selecting something in particular. It was a little frustrating, but Sunset possessed her soul in patience; in fairness, there really was a lot to take in all at once.

When she’d exhausted the whole menu without result, Sunset took charge again. In a breezy tone she commented, “Well, there’s the nickel tour,” as if it had been her plan all along. She paused, affecting a thoughtful look. “You know what we need? Something that’s not too heavy—something we can watch while we eat dinner and just relax. Let me see . . .” She noodled around with the remote control, trying to look aimless, until she reached the right list. She scrolled idly downward, pursing her lips and emitting occasional hmms, until the entry she really was looking for hove into view.

“Perfect!” she exclaimed as the focus highlight settled on it, screen shot and series description fading in to replace the previous one. “I know this one; it’s pretty good, and I think you might like it too. It doesn’t get too intense, but it’s more than just fluff, which is about right for tonight. Let’s give it a try—we can always go on to something else after a couple of episodes if you decide it’s not for you.”

The last point neatly scotched Wallflower’s reflexive contrariness, but gently enough not to sting. She closed her mouth and settled against the couch back as Sunset hit the play button. By the time the cold open gave way to the strains of “Moonlight Legend”, Wallflower already was leaning forward, forearms on her crossed legs. Sunset permitted herself a small smile. Bingo.

The food arrived during the second episode. They ate like the perpetually ravenous young people they were, absent-minded slurps and all. Wallflower sat up, absorbed by the animated antics, explosions and melodrama and fantastical menaces alike. Sunset lay back, barefoot legs curled under, again lost in the thoughts that refused to leave her alone. She didn’t know what she could say that would help make things at least a little better. She certainly didn’t know what she shouldn’t say that would make things worse. So she said nothing and simply watched over the vulnerable girl beside her, enjoying the enjoyment that had drawn Wallflower out of her shell.

Episode upon episode played back to back; daylight faded into the timelessness of night. It was only when Wallflower abruptly broke into a massive yawn and blinked several times that Sunset glanced at the huge analog clock hanging square over the entry door—and yelped in dismay.

“No wonder we’re so tired!” she exclaimed, waving a hand at the accusing timepiece. “It’s after midnight, and it’s been a long day.”

Wallflower’s heavy-lidded gaze took in the late hour and she slumped, crestfallen. “Oh.”

“Hey. Hey. We can always watch more later,” Sunset soothed. “It’s not going anywhere.”

“I guess not.” The brown eyes still seemed a little wary, but Wallflower went on, “How many episodes are there, anway?”

“Umm . . .” Sunset picked up the remote control and stopped the playback, then returned to the season list. “Forty-six in the first season. Wow.” The screen dissolved to the series overview. “And there are four more seasons. Two hundred episodes on the dot. I forgot it was that big.”

“That’s a lot, yeah.” Wallflower watched as Sunset went about shutting down the electronics. “So she found two others, right? One in the fifth episode and one in the seventh episode, I think. But aren’t there five of them in that poster-thing on the main page?”

Sunset nodded in confirmation. “The other two show up later in the first season, but I don’t remember exactly when. It’s been a while since I last watched it.”

“And they all have different powers and abilities, I bet.” Wallflower’s expression was sleepy, but a heartening trace of a smile also graced it. “Y’know who that reminds me of?”

“No, who?” Sunset replied absently as she stood.

“The Rainbooms.”

Caught mid-yawn and mid-stretch, Sunset nearly fell over in surprise. An inarticulate noise emerged.

Wallflower actually giggled, obviously pleased by her friend’s reaction. “I mean, think about it. You turn into superheroes with fancy costumes and magical powers, right? And you’re all girls, and we all just graduated from high school. No wonder you liked that show!”

Sunset gaped for a second before closing her eyes and covering them with one hand, flapping the other to forestall further analysis. “Okay, okay. Maybe you’re right. But, um, I’m not sure what the others might think of that.”

Wallflower’s enthusiasm dimmed, but she nodded solemnly. “It’ll be our secret,” she promised.

Sitting back down, Sunset slipped an arm around Wallflower’s shoulders. “Listen, it’s been a long day, and we’ll need to get an early start in the morning.”

Wallflower turned and threw her arms around Sunset for a fierce hug, as if one of them were about to vanish without trace and only her embrace would prevent it. Sunset returned it with equal intensity, her own eyes closing tight and a hint of moisture glistening in her lashes. Tomorrow was a door to the unknown they would face all too soon.

Author's Note:

So is that building a renovated row house, a renovated workshop conversion, or something else entirely? Who knows? I also have absolutely no idea how the heck the floor plan is supposed to fit into the building exterior that’s shown in “Monday Blues”.

At any rate, one lesson on world-building I’ve learned is: it’s okay if things don’t always line up perfectly or are left unexplained, so long as they are crooked or mysterious in ways that resemble oddities or head-scratchers in the real world.

Ten trivia points to the reader who can identify what series they’re watching.