I paced back and forth, thinking the situation out. She said for me to meet her on this hill at eight, and it is now eight-fifteen. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, just like Cadence had taught me.
There were plenty of good reasons for Applejack to be late, after all. The Apple family business had started to boom lately, partly due to one of the princesses of Equestria dating one of its proprietors. Applejack was busy. She had ponies to meet and places to be. That was normal.
It wasn’t like she was unpopular in Ponyville, either. Her family could have stopped to chat with her, or maybe one of their neighbors had invited her over, just for old times’ sake. Hay, any of our friends might have wanted to hang out with her. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for her to lose track of time, especially if she was with Pinkie.
I nodded. Yeah, that’s it. No need to worry, Twilight. I laid down on the blanket, looking out over the festival.
From this spot, I could see most of the festivities. Foals darted to and fro in an open field, laughing and playing while their parents looked on. Booths cluttered the town square, with games scattered throughout and a variety of stalls selling the unhealthiest foods ever conceived. There were normal attractions, too, like face painting and raffles.
So many ponies, all living in this town. And Ponyville was considered to be pretty small in comparison to places like Manehattan and Canterlot. Applejack visited those cities a lot, among others. I sighed. Surely she was meeting dozens of new ponies a day, all of which were getting more of her time and attention than I had been.
My stomach twisted itself in knots. What if she’s found somepony better than me to spend time with? I immediately reprimanded myself for the thought, of course. Applejack’s the Element of Honesty. Why would she lie to me? She’s not even good at it!
But the doubt was already setting in. She meets so many ponies every day. Surely there’s at least one that has sparked her interest.
I had to admit, the idea was plausible. Beyond plausible, actually. It was practically guaranteed to happen at some point. Maybe that interest could grow into a friendship. And really, how far-fetched was it to assume that a friendship could turn romantic at some point? That was more or less what had happened between us.
If Applejack was meeting all of these ponies, at least some of which were likely to develop some sort of relationship with her, how could I possibly compete? I’m just some nerdy bookworm who didn’t even learn the value of friendship until after I graduated from Celestia’s school. I have even less experience with romance. If somepony were to sweep her off her hooves, I’d look hopeless in comparison. It took Applejack two weeks to teach me how to actually kiss her instead of just mashing my lips against hers.
And that was the part that stung the worst. Applejack and I had so much history already, not just in the year or so we’d been dating, but the years of friendship we’d shared before that. So many memories, so many things we’d learned, both about each other and ourselves. Would that all just go out the window?
The setting sun painted the sky an angry red, as if to serve as some sort of portent for my future with Applejack. Or rather, my future without her. The admission plunged a knife into my heart. My chest ached with each desperate gasp for air as my lungs tightened. The world spun around me. I felt lightheaded, dizzy. I toppled.
A familiar pair of muscular, orange legs picked me up. Long, blonde ponytails draped over my face. They smelled of sweat and apples, the two scents I had come to associate with the only lover I had known.
I clutched her tightly, my eyes welling up with tears. “App-le-jack,” I choked out, sobbing into her chest.
“Shhhh,” she soothed. “It’s all right now, Twi. I’m here. I just got held up with somethin’, that’s all.” Applejack frowned as she patted my back. “Apparently I should’ve hustled more’n I did. Looks like you had another panic attack.”
“How could I not?” It killed me to be so bitter, but I had to let her know how I felt before I let her go. “You’re never around anymore. You’ve always got someplace better to be.”
Applejack winced. I felt her muscles tighten, but she only held me tighter. “Aw, shucks, Twi. I knew it was gonna be hard on you, but I never would’ve done it if I’d have known it’d be this hard.” She pressed her lips against the top of my head, planting a soft kiss there. “I’ll try to be around more, Twi.” Her voice lowered, becoming almost a whisper. “But I could never, never have anyplace better to be than right here with you, sugarcube.”
I shook my head, sniffing. “What makes me so special? You’ve got ponies all over to choose from!”
I did not expect Applejack to respond the way she did. She laughed, brushing my mane out of my face. “Aw, Twi, there ain’t nopony in Equestria as special as you. Trust me, I’ve seen ’em all.”
“Why do you say that?”
Leaving one foreleg wrapped around me, she scratched her chin with the other. “Well, for starters, I reckon there ain’t a pony in Equestria who likes books as much as you do.” She chuckled. “Hay, you even got me readin’ a few of ‘em.”
I giggled at that. “I guess that’s true.” Leaning against her, I looked into her eyes. “What else?”
“Shoot, that’s easy! You’re the smartest pony I know, and downright reasonable about it, too. You’ve even talked sense into me, and I like to think I’m pretty down-to-earth.”
Smiling, I poked her in the side. “Everypony needs some advice now and then.”
Applejack grinned. “Oh, yeah! How could I forget about that? I think I can practically take all the credit for you learnin’ how to kiss.” When I pouted, she wrapped her other foreleg around me. “Admit it, darlin’, the way you puckered up was worse’n kissing a fish.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” I muttered.
She mussed my mane. “And you’re just plain ‘adorkable’, as Pinkie would say. You’re cute when you get excited about stuff, even if I ain’t interested, personally.”
“Well…” I rubbed the back of my neck. “I get really wrapped up in books and my studies and other things.”
“I know.” Applejack booped my snout. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
We sat in silence while I absorbed everything she’d said. The moon rose above us, as though it had been waiting for a moment of peace between us. Hay, if Princess Luna was watching—something I very much doubted—it was entirely possible that that was the case. And speaking of princesses…
“Hey, wait!” Spreading my wings, I turned back to Applejack. “You didn’t mention that I’m a princess or anything.”
A simple snort. Applejack tilted her hat back. “Naw. That ain't a reason at all.” She scratched her head. “Although it is kind of a nice perk. Havin' a princess personally affiliated with a business does wonders for sales.”
In the couple of years since my ascension, I had long since grown accustomed to my status as a sort of figurehead. Ponies saw the wings, they saw the horn, and they interacted with me as a princess. I knew that Applejack wasn't shallow enough to date me just for that, but to hear that it barely even entered her mind lifted a tremendous weight. I took another deep breath, finding it to be much easier this time.
“Besides...” Applejack leaned in close, her breath tickling my ear and causing it to twitch. “You an' I have history. Ain't nopony knows me better than you,” she casually traced a hoof down my side, “and ain't nopony knows you better than me.” As if to emphasize this point, she nipped my ear, brushing her hoof against my cutie mark.
My wings flared, prompting a huge blush from me. “N-no fair...” I whimpered.
With a predatory grin, Applejack loomed close over me. “All’s fair in love and war, right?” she whispered, her voice low and husky. She winked. “Ain’t that what your fancy books say?”
Swallowing the sudden lump in my throat, I nodded. “Something like that.”
Then Applejack pounced, causing me to squeal. She tickled me, and I squirmed. Flailing about with my wings, I tried desperately to retaliate. I must have hit my mark, because about the same time I hit something soft, she started giggling. We thrashed about for some time, the upper hoof swapping back and forth between us, before we collapsed against each other, too out of breath to continue.
Wrapping my wing around her, I cuddled up to her. “The fireworks are about to start.”
She nodded. “With Pinkie in charge, they’re sure to be a show.”
I rested my head on her shoulder, and we watched the first few take off. Colors burst and bathed the sky in vibrant blues, greens, reds, and every color in between. The night, which had previously been silent save for whispers and quiet conversation, was suddenly filled with pops and bangs and other onomatopoeia Pinkie might come up with. I must have jumped at some of the louder ones, because Applejack started softly stroking my mane at some point. If not for the beautiful display, I might have shut my eyes and savored her touch.
And then it happened.
A pink heart fizzled across the sky. I thought I was seeing things at first, but it was followed by another, then yet another. At this point, the hearts began to overtake the sky, as far as the eye could see. Applejack and I looked at each other, then turned around to catch a brief glimpse of a pink blur darting into the bushes. So we did have an audience. Giggling, I turned back, and we settled back in our positions.
Several fireworks went off at once now. They all went off in a heart formation, which I had to admit really impressed me. Pinkie had outdone herself this time. But the next batch made my jaw drop.
‘AJ+TS 4EVER’, it said. The bushes rustled behind us.
“Psst!” Pinkie hissed in what I could only assume was an attempt at whispering. “You two should kiss now.”
Before I had time to react, Applejack closed the small gap between us and kissed me. Puckering up (I kiss better than a fish, right?), I placed a hoof behind her head, holding us together. Not that I really thought I needed it. Having Applejack here in this moment, and after our conversation, I was certain she was still completely interested in me. But that was the right sort of thing to do when making out with your marefriend, right? That was what the books said, anyway.
Applejack’s lips curled into a smirk, and as the last fireworks went off, I swear I heard her laugh just a little bit. I know I felt her breath against my face.
We pulled away at some point after things quieted again. As I thought, Applejack wore a smug grin, and she shook her head.
“You’re somethin’, you know that, Twi?” She nuzzled me. “But I still love ya. Even more for that, actually.”
Smiling, I nuzzled her back, burying my head in the crook of her neck. “I love you too, Applejack.”
And I still do.