• 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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The side street encapsulated city history in its patchwork of old and new buildings, architectural styles cheek by jowl—whatever had been in fashion at the time of construction, without regard for visual harmony. Its relative quiet, neither bustling nor deserted, made the civic center seem miles rather than blocks away. Before the two of them stood a little hole in the wall, sash windows above the vintage storefront on the ground floor, plate glass on either side of a classic trapezoidal inset for the age-blackened single-leaf door.

A casually dressed Sunset took a last bemused look up and down the sleepy block as Rose, as usual in one of her trademark pastel business suits, turned to pull on the decorative brass doorhandle. Over her shoulder, the older woman commented, “It’s early yet; we’re here before the lunch rush. Enough folks live around here to make the dinner hour fairly lively too, but weekday mornings, everyone’s at work.”

The interior was cool and dim, an impression reinforced by dark wood paneling everywhere. Bench seating and a few chairs made small waiting areas of the glazed extensions to either side of the doorway, unoccupied at this off hour. A neatly dressed young woman behind the nearby lectern pasted on a noncommittal smile, which immediately dissolved to startlement. “Ms. Brass! This is a surprise.”

“Well, a certain someone skipped breakfast this morning, so I decided to split the difference and get some brunch.” Rose shot her companion a glare half humorous, half reproving.

Sunset looked as if she couldn’t decide whether to hide or roll her eyes, so she settled instead on a persecuted sigh. “I already said I was sorry about oversleeping.”

“Mm. And how many times did you hit the snooze button on that ancient alarm clock of yours?” Rose didn’t bother to wait for an answer before following as the determinedly silent hostess set sail across the dining hall.

Not unlike the street outside, a few people populated the long, narrow room through which the hostess conducted them, most sitting alone or in pairs at various tables and booths. After a word sotto voce, Rose and Sunset ended up at a side booth a discreet distance from other parties, where they were left to their own devices, brick-red leather folios and all.

Rather than pick up the menu immediately, Sunset looked around in unabashed curiosity. The boiserie walls bore on their panels neat arrays of picture frames, each built around some large photograph, usually but not always monochrome, and usually but not always showing groups of smiling or grinning men in battle kit of one sort or another. The other frames displayed embroidery patches, enameled brasses, medals, or other military memorabilia. “I can see why you like this place,” she murmured absently.

Rose grinned. “Well, that and veterans get a discount.”

The food was hearty and plentiful, the coffee more than just decent. Everything about the place sought to balance the bluff, straightforward manner affected by so many military officers with the elegance of a restaurant that aspired to its own guidebook star. Sunset’s insistence on paying her part of the bill had faltered in the face of printed prices, not to mention Rose’s veteran discount and expense account.

As they ate Rose held forth one last time on the clinic to which Wallflower would be transferred. She knew full well Sunset had heard it all before, but ingrained officer habit combined with the youth of her audience punched a well-trained button deep in her brain labeled “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.” Besides, it gave Sunset time to stuff a starving face with eggs, toast, orange juice, and all the other parts of a complete breakfast.

“So you should be able to start visiting her again after a couple of weeks.” Rose raised a forkful of breakfast sausage. “I’ll be sure to let you know when things loosen up, just in case. A lot depends on the progress of her case.”

Sunset, still chewing, nodded, then swallowed with a gulp. “What about the rest of the girls?”

Rose gave that question the serious consideration it deserved. After a moment she shook her head, not without a small measure of regret. “Probably best it be just you at first. Maybe later, if things go well, you can take one or two of the others with you.”

She could tell that stuck in Sunset’s craw, but after a flicker of hesitation, another, more reluctant, nod accepted the verdict. “Wallflower seemed a lot calmer yesterday. Well, I mean, she was a little bit better every time I saw her, but I really noticed last night. Does she still have to go—”

“Yes.” Rose’s interruption was firm, almost hard. “Nobody gets that much better after just a couple of weeks in a halfway house.” She paused and took a breath. “Think of it this way: if she really is better, let the experts make that determination and certify it. Otherwise, let them do the jobs they’re trained for and give Wallflower the help she needs.”

Sunset flinched, face blank, and Rose sighed. “I’m sorry, Sunset; I didn’t mean to lecture. But the process is important and pretty well established for good reason.”

This time it was Sunset’s turn to sigh and slouch a little. “I just wish . . . I just wish I could help somehow. Like, if I could . . .” She reached up to finger the coin-size pendant that hung on its fine gold chain.

A headshake answered the uncompleted suggestion. “Didn’t you tell me you made a promise? And—I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but technically, touching someone who didn’t give you explicit permission could be construed as assault and battery, especially if it’s to do something like use that.” Rose nodded toward the crystalline medallion and the magical power it contained.

From the stricken expression, Sunset hadn’t considered that little wrinkle. Rose rubbed her forehead with her good hand. She was not batting a thousand today, was she? “That’s enough business for now, I think. How are you and the girls doing? Getting ready for university, right?”

It was a fine, if rather too warm, midday when the dependable old white panel van turned off the boulevard onto the parking lot that had displaced a goodly portion of the gardens that once surrounded the big old mansion. Rose sat quietly on the front passenger seat as the competent and companionably laconic driver cruised among the lanes and stalls, headed for the white-painted stretch of curb along the inner part of the lot. Outward tranquility belied the furious mental recitation of checklists, dependencies, and contingencies. The process wasn’t quite as straightforward as she’d led Sunset to believe, but she wanted neither to trudge through the tiresome details nor to alarm Wallflower’s friend unnecessarily. To be fair, Sunset’s age wasn’t a factor in that decision; she would have done the same with any friend or family member.

After a final nod, Rose concluded her double-checking and looked up as the van pulled to a neat halt on the loading zone, otherwise unoccupied thanks to careful scheduling procedures. Through the glass beside her, she caught a glimpse of a familiar wild-haired figure framed in an end window, sash raised, on the top floor. One smallish hand rested on a plastic watering can standing on the windowsill, and the round face was lowered in a pensive examination of the flowers in the box just outside. Rose smiled wryly at the last gesture of care for the small row of plants with their brilliant purple flowers, their predecessors no doubt littering the sill and, more visibly, the sidewalk below. The girl’s head rose just as Rose looked down and unbuckled her seat belt.

The driver hit a series of studs, unlocking both curbside doors and popping the tailgate; Rose opened the front passenger door beside her and exited onto the concrete edged by the curb, too wide to be a sidewalk, too narrow to be an apron. The quarter-inch heavy-gauge wire mesh that normally segregated the front and back seats had been removed for a routine transfer of a client judged not to be any kind of hazard—and who might take its presence amiss. She leaned back in to exchange a last few words with the driver, who nodded in confirmation he understood the intended sequence of events, then stood again and turned.

Wallflower stood with her back to Rose. One foot balanced on the windowsill and the matching hand braced on the underside of the window sash. The other arm stretched toward the shiny-polished vertical course of stone quoins reinforcing the building’s corner while the foot below it groped sideways along the small decorative ridge that continued the sill horizontally along the exterior façade.

By pure reflex Rose exploded into a sprint straight across the lawn toward the pavement under Wallflower’s window, already knowing it was too late. Even if she won the race, she would lose, but she was constitutionally incapable of not trying anyway.

It was a hairsbreadth too far—fingers and sock-clad toes slipped on the slick stone, the skinny figure swung out on the pivots of the other hand and foot, torque slid them free of their precarious grip. Wallflower seemed suspended an eternal moment, four floors up, before gravity took over and she arced downward back-first.

Author's Note:

End Act I.

For those who are curious, here’s how Scampy’s and my process seems to be working out.
  Her initial campaigning has to be counted as part of it—if nothing else, by planting the seed and floating a few basic concepts. Once my (limited, to be honest) resistance was eroded away, which didn’t take all that long, we ended up in a five-hour story conference that hammered out a basic outline. I chopped and channeled the Discord chat into something vaguely resembling notes and provided her with a copy of the roughly edited transcript.
  Once I started the actual writing, we settled into a new routine. Generally it takes me a few days to catch my metaphorical breath and to ponder a new chapter. After that we kick around some basic plot points for the upcoming chapter in at least one chat session, and usually two or three. At the point I feel I have the energy and the material to start—and work isn’t too busy—I’ll open a new chapter file and begin actual composition. Before I start a writing session I let Scampy know, and if it’s possible and convenient, she “rides along” by refreshing the unpublished chapter at intervals or when I suggest it. If I get stuck, or she sees something she wants to address, we discuss it in chat. Nearly always we come up with some sort of solution on the spot.
  After I think I have a complete chapter, both of us read it over, start to finish, at least once to be sure it works. I make any last-minute tweaks either of us feels are needed, then I push the button and release the chapter into the wild.