Ponyville's supposed to be such a great town. That's what they told me. I guess it's not too bad but it ain't Manehattan. Sure, it's the kinda place an Apple like me's supposed to like, little town by the farmland and woods. They say it's a little like Pericarp, where the family doesn't live anymore. I asked pops once but he changed the subject. I tried asking aunt Valencia but she told me to eat my canapes.
Anyway, it's supposed to be so great, with Canterlot in the background and the Everfree next to it and all that. Where are all the skyscrapers and paved roads? Not packed dirt and cobblestones, paved! No sidewalks, even if they have a cafe. Seeing family's great but there's a lot that could be improved. Even the arcade is outside.
It's... not that I hate it. I guess I just... it didn't leave a great impression. I wanted to like it, even if it was different. Ma may be from Manehattan but pops was born and raised in a place like this, and I've got it in me to do it too. But I made all the wrong choices. I fixed it! I fixed it. I always fix it. I mess up sometimes but I make it right. I ain't perfect, but I try.
I wanted friends and I got 'em. Twice. I'm good. Two of 'em wanted a city pony to be their friend. It's nothing special to be from the city but I was totally into it. It was cool being cool. I didn't like what happened to my cuz and her friends but I loved hanging around with Diamond and Silver. I... wanted them to be cool with me...
I remember when I was hanging out with them, when they still thought I was cool. When I thought they both thought I was cool. We were at that Sugarcube place, having some snacks and smoothies. Nothing like the Roani deli back home but not bad. The owners of the place were up tending to their kids, and I was looking around another room at all the photos of the spastic pink pony I had seen around, mostly with a purple mare that was probably her marefriend.
I couldn't see what was going on, but for some reason Diamond suddenly scoffed and slammed her glass down. “Silver! What's the matter with you? Like, your scowling is totally ruining my mood. And don't say you're not, because I can totally see you doing it when you think I can't.”
It took Silver a minute to answer her, and her voice was kinda weird. “Sorry, Diamond... I'm just... I don't know about her.”
“About who?” Diamond asked.
“Babs,” Silver answered. I could hear her smoothie come down to the table again before she said, “I don't... I don't think we need her. I mean, it's cool that she's a Manehattan foal but... I don't... I mean...”
“Spit it out, Silver. You never hid anything from me before,” Diamond insisted. She was sounding weird too. I don't know how to describe it. She was angry but not.
“I'm not hiding. I just liked it when it was... us...” Silver tapped on the table and added, “I want us to have friends but... I don't like how she's impressing you like that.”
I was impressing Diamond? Cool! I was making friends, cool ones!
“Impressing me? Is that what's bothering you?” Diamond made a little noise and there was a short sound of movement. “Yea, Babs is cool and stuff but it's that she's a big city filly. I'd be more impressed if it was Canterlot but Manehattan is, like, totally up there.”
“That's not all it is!” Silver was almost shouting. I had to look. They were turned slightly away from the room I was in, and Silver had her hooves on Diamond's shoulders. “You like how she does stuff. You like how cool she is. You like her attitude and... her...”
I could tell Diamond suddenly got it. I wish I could have asked what she got. I was lost. “Silver... who kept you away from Miss Francon's pet students? Who deflected the queen bees and snotty fillies in that other school? Who hit that angry wall of meat when she broke your glasses? Who puts up with your hissing peacock? Besides Fluttershy, I mean.” Diamond and Silver both laughed at that, though Silver wasn't as convinced.
“You did. Do. You always did everything to help me. I'm just... she's really good at stuff. Diamond, what if I'm not as good?” Silver started to turn but Diamond reared up herself and took a hold on Silver.
“You're good at one thing, the important thing,” Diamond said, very seriously.
“What is it?” Silver asked, looking a little surprised.
“Being you,” Diamond said, leaning in to touch her forehead against Silver's. Then they did that weird little dance they always did while yelling about sugarlump rumps.
That sure said it all. Silver was jealous. Of me. Wow. Nopony had ever been jealous of me, not a filly or colt. It was flattering. But, just a little sad. Not that Silver thought I was trying to get Diamond. She thought I actually could, that felt good. But because I never even thought of it. Love had never come to mind before. Friendship was hard enough.
They had something going. Silver was serious about it. Diamond... was probably even more serious. Silver got jealous. Diamond never even thought there was anything to be jealous about. She was wrapped around Silver's hoof, and probably was going to stay there.
Looking at them, before joining them, I had to think: I really want that. Why can't I have love?
“Hey Babs! Cousin Babs!” Applebloom broke me out of the memory. She was with her friends, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. They were all piled in that cart, getting pulled around by Scoots. That filly was crazy.
“Hey cuz! I was looking for ya,” I said, slapping a grin on my mug and trying to be cool. I had just gotten in good with them and I wanted to stay there. “I wanted to get up to something. What can we do around here?”
Scoots tossed me a helmet and motioned back at the cart. “Hop on, I'll totally show you where we can do some crazy stuff.” She actually gave me a wink. Woah. She's really a cool filly. She'd get on great in Manehattan.
“But not too crazy, right Scoots?” Sweetie almost sounded like she was scolding Scoots. I had to smile as I tightened the helmet and climbed on. I knew fillies like Scoots. Nopony talked to them like that.
“Y-yea, totally!” Scoots yelled out, both over the wind and to make sure Sweetie knew she was serious. “No more zip lines and things. I totally promise. We can get rid of most of the tree-sap-related issues.”
“Wow. Sweetie must be one tough cookie, cuz,” I said to Applebloom, leaning in to keep the conversation private. “Fillies like Scoots never give up on anything.”
“Scoots always listens ta Sweetie,” Applebloom answered, leaning in even closer and whispering more softly, “Ya know... ah think one-a them might be sweet on th' other. Keep it ta yerself. It ain't polite ta spread gossip.”
Even though we were gossiping right then and there, I knew what she meant. It was the same not-gossip Aunt Valencia was always sharing with her friends. I nodded to my cousin and winked. “Sure thing, cuz. They ain't hearin' nothin' from me.”
We zipped around for a while, just being us. Had a good time, really. No zip lines or anything like that, but we did stuff, hung out at the playground, played a little two-on-two basketball, and I even taught them how to have fun like we do in the city. Loitering, bouncing around adults being cheery and annoying, reading comic books and only buying about half of them (that kinda cheesed off Scoots' dad; how could I know he owned the comic and toy store?)
It was totally cool. For being a little place I guess Ponyville wasn't so bad. Still... I noticed that Scoots did a lot of tricks when Sweetie was watching, and Sweetie just kinda smiled and nodded. Oh she was cool. I knew fillies like her, too. Older ones, but still. They got all the fillies and colts. Probably came from getting lessons from her big sister. I could tell she was like a nicer version of Aunt Valencia.
After we had annoyed all the adults, and exhausted sorta safe Cutie Mark activities we all headed for home. Scoots dropped Sweetie off right at her house, some neat place on a lake. Of course she got off the scooter and walked her to the door. Next she buzzed me and cuz back to the entrance to the farmland. She wasn't being rude, she just knew what was important.
Dinner was nice, with my cousins and Granny Smith. Pops told me what to say and not say and made sure I knew all my manners, like when we went to one of Uncle Hamlin and Aunt Valencia's fancy parties, but I actually had to make sure I did it. No hooves on the table, no fidgeting, don't make noises, speak after a big pony speaks. I didn't think they'd care. It was just dinner. We'd eaten before.
But it just felt different. Granny watched me a lot. She must have had a lot of energy after sleeping all day. She sure did a lot of smiling and nodding about how I was sitting and eating and stuff.
“So tell me, young'un, how are yer pappy and ma?” Granny asked me. She was looking really nice; friendly sort of.
“Ah, they're cool. Pops is doin' real great with his job. Ma too. They're real sorry they couldn't come here to visit. But they're really looking forward to the reunion,” I answered, before shoving some apple pie into my mouth.
“Well that's wonderful to hear! Ah do so miss mah boy, an' ah feel like ah hardly had a chance ta meet that wife-a his. Ya got any special holidays comin' up 'r anythin' like that?” When she asked the question Cousin Macintosh and Cousin Applejack both kinda fumbled their food. Weird.
I had to think about that. There were a lotta things we celebrated in the city besides the big holidays from the government. “Well... I think the Neighponese folk are having some kinda festival, and I think they're getting something going at that Roani deli I...”
“What was that? Roani?” Granny sure turned quick. She wasn't looking too nice anymore. “Ya been hangin' around with them ribbontails, girl?”
Cousin AJ and Mac were doing something but I just looked at Granny. Never heard that before. I've seen the ribbons, they wore them all the time. “Well, yea, it's a good deli, right in the neighborhood. They've got this great thing... I forget the name but there's raisins and pudding and noodles and stuff...”
Granny just kinda tapped on the table and waved. “That's enough. Ah see. Well... yer jes eatin' there, right?”
“Well, y-yea,” I told her. Sometimes I hung out because they played that weird instrument with the crank and stuff and it was really cool but I spent more time at the arcade or comic book store.
“Ah'll be sure ta send a letter home with ya. Ah gotta say, at least yer manners are good fer a young'un,” she told me, going back to just eating. I guess those things pops said when he thought I wasn't there were true. Granny Smith was losing her marbles, just saying weird stuff. Didn't explain why Cousin Mac and AJ were looking at each other weird.
After the weird dinner we went up to bed. I was sharing a room with Cousin Applebloom, and it was nice. Even though we had to share a bed it was really neat, I never lived in a house like that, just an apartment, so it was what my ma calls a 'growth experience.' Whatever that is. It was awesome that's all I cared about.
I wanted to do something with my cuz, maybe not-gossip, or tell scary stories or wrestle. I figured I could take her. Country fillies couldn't beat city fillies, not a Manehattan foal like me. But she wasn't up for it.
“Ah can't do nothin' like that tonight, cousin. Gotta get ta this here stuff an' get some sleep. We get up purty early around here ta get ta work,” she told me. She was sitting at her desk, with some books, a few sheets of nice paper and a pencil in front of her.
“Nah, it's cool, cuz. Whatcha working on?” I strolled up to take a look at what she had. I never pegged my cuz for an egghead so there must have been a reason for her doing that. The books had some weird words on them, mixed in with the Equestrian. Looked like a dictionary of Zebrican and some books on reading and speaking it.
“Ah jes wanted ta write a letter ta mah... friend,” She blushed while she said it. A pretty special friend. Good for her. I knew there were some zebras living in another neighborhood but didn't know them personally. Good on my cuz knowing someone like that even if she's living in the sticks. “An' ah thought she'd like it if ah did it in her language.”
“That's really awesome of ya, cuz,” I said, giving her a pat on the back. “Where does she live? Other side-a town? Up that mountain? Little place down the road?”
“Nah, she lives out in th' Everfree Forest in this nice, cozy little hut. Ah gotta take ya out there before ya go back ta Manehattan. Her name is Zecora an' she's real nice, she talks in rhymes an' she's purty... m-much the best zebra ah know. Th' only zebra ah know but...” She just gave me a smile and turned back to the books.
She was crushin' on an older lady. I heard they let that go on with chaperones in little places like this. Granny would probably find out and say something about it. “Sounds like a plan, cuz. We'll make a day of it.” I just left her to it and went ahead to bed. Sleep would be better than watching her try to write a love letter in another language.
Another language... as I was laying there, listening to her grumble about how hard it was, while she scratched out words, I thought about that. I don't really speak any other languages. It never came up in school. Uncle Hamlin liked trying to teach me Percheron, but all that gargle-spit-hacking was just annoying. Some of Aunt Valencia's fancy friends were Bald Eagle Griffins and they had all kinds of words. I learned that guys don't wanna be called drootheens and hens hate being called bawrshucks. I tried them out at home once and got a country-style paddling from pops.
The nice old lady at the deli taught me a few things, to say 'nais tuke' when she said hello at the door or when I got something, or to call the rude folks 'gadje' under my breath when they couldn't hear it. Not much but it made me feel cooler than the foals that couldn't do it.
The other foals... maybe I should have kept up with them and gotten to know them better. It was just so lonely there, in class, no one wanting to be my friend. Plus being a blank flank sucks. Guess my cuz and her friends can show me how to be better at that whole thing. I can finally get things going.
So, friends... I wanted friends. Then a step up from there. It's in all the magazines and movies and stuff. Sure, I was still just a filly but it's never too early to think about it. Other fillies get love, so why not me? I ain't so bad of a catch. Aunt Valencia said something like that about some of her single friends. I didn't know what it meant but I guess it means they could land a mare or stallion if they wanted. I wanted.
A good fillyhood crush never hurt anypony. I heard that cousins' mom and pop were foalhood friends and they ended up together. Couldn't hurt. I decided, as I started going to sleep, that I'd see what I could get up back home. I lived in Manehattan. It ain't Canterlot but it ain't bad. They said everypony was your friend in Manehattan, and love was in the air.
The rest of the time there was just too quick. I hung out with the Cutie Mark Crusaders... the other Cutie Mark Crusaders... I was one of them. That was undeniably awesome. I got a chance to meet Zecora. It was pretty scary going through the Everfree but it was so worth it. She seemed nice, talked in rhymes, and showed me how to make weird potions, even if I didn't remember a thing it was still cool.
I was sad when we said goodbye on the train platform, though I laughed really hard when Silver and Diamond scampered off in fear. Sometimes things work out. I promised I'd keep in touch and make the Cutie Mark Crusaders of Manehattan as awesome as the original one in Ponyville. But after that it was nothing but a long, boring trip in one of the cars back home.
We pulled into the Grand Sun Station in the middle of the morning, after the railroad folks had been by with some breakfast. Pressed fruit and oat bars, alfalfa bunches and juice. There was a selection but I had orange juice. I always had apple juice at home, I wanted to live a little. It wasn't the big breakfasts I had had at the Apple farmhouse but it was food.
When I stepped off the train my ma was there, huggin' me up and kissin' me and bein' ma. Pops was there too, and he gave me a nudge on the chin. He was smiling like he always did.
“Hey there, kiddo,” he said to me in his best 'dad' voice. He was hiding something. Just a bit too stiff, like he got when he was talking about Granny. “Hope you had fun out there on the farm. You know, I grew up on one of those.”
“Yea, I heard. Saw the pictures and everything,” I said, digging around in my pack. Just thinkin' about it reminded me of what I had to do. “Granny Smith sent this along, said I gotta give it to ya.” I pulled out the letter. Real fancy thing, something outta Aunt Valencia's playbook. Had his name on the front, Baldwin, written out in really nice letters. Never knew Granny had it in her.
That wasn't the right thing to do. Pop's face got real pale, green going down until he almost looked like Granny. “Th-thanks... I can't wait to see what my dear momma has to say.” He was lying. He could wait. He wanted to wait. But he wasn't gonna wait. Whenever letters came from someone in the family he went through all that, then tore 'em open and read 'em.
“Yes, well... let us go home, dear, I'm certain our daughter needs to reacquaint herself with her surroundings. It must be a shock to go from city to country to city again, a strong cultural shock,” ma said, leading me along in that way she has. She ain't much for bein' pushy but she gets her meaning across. We were going to be quiet about it and let it just happen. Hay, I saw pops open the letter and look at it. He got even more pale.
They really planned out the trip perfectly. I got two days to recover and started school right after. Back to work. At least I could be sure I'd know folks. I could work on getting them to be my friend.
Good old PS77. Pops was always a little weird about it, he said there was something about the number that wasn't cool with him, when he thought I wasn't listening. But whatever. It was pretty cool. Had a good vibe to it. It had a mix not just of ponies from around the Principality, but species. There were plenty of donkeys, a couple of calves, and a few griffins, mostly Booteds and Harpies but there was a Black-Verreaux going around who totally sounded like Uncle Hamlin.
But when I got there an hour early for the first day I saw there was a little scramble happening at the front of the place. I recognized some of the snottier foals from my class, my old class anyhow, I guess my grade... anyway... they were all crowded around a new kid. Not weird. Even in a place like this foals could be jerks.
Looked like the new kids was from way out there. It was a puppy. A Diamond Dog. He was kinda lean and lanky, really a scrawny guy, maybe looked a little like the foals in the science club. He was this dark blue color, kinda like my ma's fancy jewelry. He had a really square snout that was kinda pushed, but his cheeks weren't hangin' off of his face. His ears were kinda pointy and a little floppy but they were all the way back. His ma musta dressed him that morning, he had black pants and a shirt with buttons, what an uncool mother would make a kid wear on the first day of school. He was hiding behind a brand new backpack, just making little noises.
“We're gonna have to go to class with a Diamond Dog? Ugh, as if!” Rail Thin, with that same fakey bleached mane and prissy outfit she always had.
“Yea, go back underground! We don't need you here!” Hyacinth, backing up that snob Rail. She was always a push-over if it meant she could sit with the cool kids.
“You don't belong here! You should be living in those dirty colonies!” That jerk Second Banana. Figured he'd get into something if Rail was into it.
“N-not dirty... is carved clean and we sweep...” He had a small, scratchy voice, and didn't talk too good. But I had heard that about Dogs. He stood up a little, maybe trying to be tough, or just to make a point. Didn't last.
“Guh! Talk right, Dog! This is Equestria, we talk Equestrian here!” Rail was in his face, looking over him. He crunched himself down again, into a little blue ball. Those big arms sure were good at covering him up.
'I'm a Cutie Mark Crusader...' I thought to myself. It meant more than just going after a Cutie mark... no, it meant that mostly, but anything could get a Cutie Mark. Like rescuing. I'd totally get a Daring Do mark for protecting a kid from foals like that. “Hey! Cut it out!”
“What? Oh it's you,” Rail said, looking at me like she usually did. She was a real pain. “The Blank Flank Apple. You've always been good and quiet. Keep it up or you'll get more like you did last year.”
I was gonna. I was so gonna just back up. Then I remembered, oh yeah, Cutie Mark Crusader. I've got responsibilities and stuff like that. I had to earn that gold-backed cape they gave me. That awesome, awesome cape. “No way! This is Equestria! We ain't like that around here!”
Rail didn't believe it. The look on her face! Like I had bucked her in the gut. “W-well... we don't need to have everyone here. He can go to a Colony school!”
“Yea! A Colony school!” Hyacinth backed Rail up again. Old Mrs. Mondlicht would definitely be calling her 'gadji' and giving her the evil eye. She deserved it.
“Well he's here now. PS77 is the best school in Manehattan and this kid deserves the best. So here he is!” I got up in Rail's face, just fulla cider and vinegar, like they say on TV sometimes. “Ya gotta problem with dat?”
Rail was gonna scrap with me. I thought she was gonna go. But her type never did. She folded like a cheap lawn chair. Fell back and sniffed and did that stupid hair thing the cool kids did. “W-whatever. As long as he stays out of my way I just don't care.”
The three of them took off, and the rest of the lookie-loos did too. It was just him and me. I held out a hoof and gave him a grin. “Come on, I'll give ya the two-bit tour. They ain't about to go after you again.”
Then he did it. He didn't grab my hoof. He leaped up and wrapped his big, gangly arms around my neck and wagged that spiky-nubbed tail of his. He even yapped like a puppy. Which... I guess he was. “Oh thank you! Thank you! Momma told me ponies were nice. Did not believe but... you were nice! Thank you, nice pony!”
Oh a hugger. “Uh, yea! I'm totally the nicest pony and stuff. And it was totally cool that I saved you. Cutie Mark cool.” I looked. No dice. “Cutie Mark Crusader cool.”
“Yes! Is very cool! I learn words in Colony, know how to act in pony school,” he grinned at me and hugged me again, patting my back. Then he suddenly pulled back and gave a bow. “Name is Azurite, named after pretty gems. Is also favorite snack. Not know if have in school, so brought my own.”
“Well, that's new. Name's Babs. Babs Apple-Seed,” I said with an extension of my hoof. As he was shaking it I had to remember my father talking to me after going over the letter. 'Now, Babs... maybe... maybe you can hang out at the arcade more. I'll give you more bits and you can play all the video games and pool that you want. Don't go to the deli as much. Just... don't. And you know, just to be sure, stick with ponies. Or zebras. Creatures with Cutie Marks. It's just for now. And next time don't talk to Granny Smith about so many things.' He had such weird teeth. All jagged and sharp, and I think he still had gems suck in them. He was just looking at me like I was the best thing since pudding pie. “It's gonna be good having you around school.”
I thought about it as I led him in. He was weird, he was new, he was nice. I could make it work. He didn't seem too bad. Friends. Just friends. For a start.