A light blue-gray compact car pulled into the parking lot of a large building. At the driver’s seat sat a middle-aged woman with light yellow-orange skin and dark red hair. She wore a pair of semi-rimless glasses and had her hair pulled back in a messy bun. In the passenger seat next to her was a 15-year-old boy with spiked blue hair and a slightly darker version of her skin tone.
“Okay, Flash, here’s our stop,” the woman Lantern Heart said to the boy. “Are you sure you don’t need me to come down with you?”
“I’m sure,” the boy replied with a small smile as he opened the car door. “Thanks for dropping me off, Mom.”
However, before Flash could step out of the car, his mother grabbed onto his arm. He turned to her, his blue eyes meeting her brown ones. Although she wore a smile, Flash could tell that his mother was deeply worried.
“You know I love you, right?” she said to him.
“Of course, I do.” Flash’s smile widened almost imperceptibly as he pulled his mother into a hug. The two of them kissed each other’s cheeks before they parted.
After Flash entered the building, Lantern Heart prayed under her breath, “Dear God, please, please, please help my son.”
She lingered a bit in the parking lot just staring at the door of the building before pulling away.
Meanwhile, Flash had entered the building into a large hallway. He found the door he was looking for and entered. Inside was the waiting room for a doctor’s office.
Flash went up to the receptionist at the front desk and said, “Uh, hi, my name is Flash Sentry. I’m here for my appointment with Dr. Feel.”
“Okay, let me just sign you in,” replied the receptionist, making a few quick clicks on the computer. “Just take a seat in the waiting room. We’ll call you when the doctor is ready for you.”
Flash thanked the woman and sat in the waiting room. There were three other people there, an 11-year-old boy with his mother and a woman in her late 20s. None of them looked like they wanted to make conversation, so Flash just sat there and kept to himself. After a while, he pulled out a small notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket.
“Dear God,” he wrote. “It’s me again, but I guess you already know that. What don’t you know? Anyway, I’m at the waiting room of the psychiatric clinic. I’m not doing anything, so I guess I figured that now would be as good a time as any to pray.”
Flash had taken up the habit of writing out his prayers ever since his grandmother died. She used to do it, so this was his way of keeping her memory. Maybe it will help him cope.
“Firstly,” he continued writing, “thanks for making me not want to die. I can’t believe how close I had been to doing it. How could I have ever thought that putting my mom and my brother through that was going to be what was best for everyone? Please take care of them and help them to stop worrying about me.”
He winced as guilt painfully punched him from the inside. “God, I don’t know if I’m asking for too much with this, but please make me want to live. I mean, not wanting to die is great, but it’s not the same thing as wanting to live. You know what I mean? Of course, you do.”
Flash sighed as he continued, “This is hard for me to admit, but I’m scared. I’m scared that one day, not wanting to die isn’t going to be enough for me. What if, what if what I find myself at that point again, and what if next time, I actually finish the job? Dear God, please, please, please don’t let that happen again. Just please make me want to live again.”
As Flash finished writing the last two sentences, the door to the waiting room opened, and in stepped two young women. The taller, older one appeared to be in her early 20s and had pink skin and tricolor hair. The younger one looked about Flash’s age with purple skin and indigo hair. The younger girl wore a pair of glasses, and her hair was pulled into a tight bun and had a pink stripe on the bangs. Her face was scowling, and her eyes were downcast.
“Hi,” the older woman said to the receptionist. “We’re here for the three o’clock appointment with Dr. Better.”
“Okay,” the receptionist replied as she scrolled through the computer. “Which one of you ladies is Twilight Sparkle?”
“That would be me,” the younger girl answered in a blunt monotone.
“Alright, just take a seat in the waiting room, and the doctor will be right with you.”
“Thank you,” replied the older woman.
The younger girl sat down one seat away from Flash with a humph while her babysitter calmly sat next to her.
Twilight turned to her companion and snapped, “You didn’t have to come with me, Cadance. I’m perfectly capable of keeping my own appointments.”
“Your mother wanted to make sure that you didn’t try to weasel out of meeting the psychiatrist, and I can’t say that I blame her,” Cadance replied with a sad sigh, causing Twilight’s eyes to roll. “Look, I think I saw some vending machines outside. Why don’t I get us something to drink? What would you like?”
“Iced tea if they have it. If not, fizzy apple cider.”
Cadance nodded as she got up and exited the clinic, leaving Twilight sitting in the waiting room with her arms crossed and scowling. Flash had rather uncomfortably seen the whole exchange and looked at the surly girl with a raised eyebrow.
“So,” Flash began, trying to start a conversation with the girl, “are you here to see one of the psychiatrists?”
“No,” Twilight sarcastically replied, “I just happen to like sitting in the waiting room of a psychiatric clinic for absolutely no purpose at all.”
Flash blinked twice, completely taken aback. “You really don’t want to be here, don’t you?”
“Gee, what gave it away?”
Flash looked from Twilight to the door leading to the outside hallway and back. “So, is she a friend of yours or your sister or something?”
“Brother’s girlfriend,” Twilight bluntly replied, refusing to even look at him.
“Oh, do the two of you get along? You don’t seem to like her very much.”
Twilight turned to the boy with a furious glare. “I happen to like Cadance just fine. You, on the other hand, I find very annoying.”
Flash looked away with a sigh. “Sorry. I was just trying to be friendly.”
“Well, you and I definitely aren’t friends.”
As if on cue, Cadance returned to the waiting room with two bottles of iced tea in her hands.
“Who’s your new friend, Twilight?” Cadance asked, noticing Flash and handing her charge one of the bottles of iced tea.
Twilight accepted and rolled her eyes. “One, he’s not my friend, and two, I don’t know. He never said.”
Flash looked to the ground in embarrassment before turning to the two women.
“Sorry about that,” he began, extending his hand. “My name is Flash, Flash Sentry. And you two are?”
Cadance waited a few seconds for Twilight to accept the boy’s handshake. However, Twilight simply crossed her arms and continued to ignore him. Cadance sighed and accepted the handshake for her.
“I’m Cadance,” she said. “And this little sourpuss is Twilight.”
“Nice to meet you two,” Flash replied.
A long silence followed, Flash and Cadance unsure how to continue the conversation while Twilight was still stubbornly trying to avoid it.
“So,” Cadance finally uttered. “Are you here to see one of the psychiatrists?”
“Yeah,” Flash replied. “I’m here to see Dr. Feel. And you two?”
“Well, Twilight has an appointment with Dr. Better. I’m just here to make sure that she actually goes in to see him or her.”
Twilight once again rolled her eyes at that. “My mom saw something in my browsing history, completely overreacted, and made me come.”
“Is that the long story or the short story?” Flash asked her.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Twilight, I know you’re kind of in a bad mood right now, but try to be nice to the guy, okay? He’s just being friendly,” Cadance scolded before turning to Flash. “What about you? What are you here for?”
“Well,” Flash averted his gaze before continuing, “the short story, I tried to slit my wrists but couldn’t go through with it; my little brother heard me crying in the bathroom, freaked out, and called 911, and I got put on suicide watch. Now, I’m here making sure that that never happens again.”
“And the long story?”
“I’m afraid the long story is going to cost you ladies,” he replied with a mischievous smirk, “and I don’t mean in money.”
Twilight’s eyes widened as she whipped around towards Flash and slapped him across the face.
“Ow!” Flash cried.
“You sick pervert!” Twilight screamed. “One, we just met, and two, Cadance and I aren’t that kind of girl.”
“And I’m not that kind of guy,” Flash replied as he rubbed his throbbing cheek. “What I meant was that if you want to hear my long story, you’re going to have to tell me yours too. What did you think I meant?” Flash had an idea what the answer to that last question was; he had asked more out of indignation than curiosity.
Twilight looked away as she blushed in embarrassment. She looked down on her lap and saw that she still hadn’t opened the iced tea that Cadance had gotten her.
“Here,” she said, begrudgingly holding the cold bottle out to Flash. “This should help your cheek feel better.”
Flash took the bottle and held it to his face. He moaned in relief as the pain subsided.
“I hope those nails of yours didn’t leave a mark, or else, Dr. Feel is going to think I’ve got more problems than I actually do,” Flash quipped bluntly.
Twilight rolled her eyes and crossed her arms as she turned away from him.
“So,” Flash continued, “are we going to share each other’s long stories, or are we keeping those to ourselves?”
“I don’t share my long story with strangers,” Twilight flatly replied.
“Well, I think at this point in our relationship, we’re more acquaintances than strangers.”
“There is NO relationship,” Twilight vehemently insisted.
At that moment, a medical assistant stepped out the door separating the waiting room from the rest of the clinic and called Flash’s name.
“That’s me,” Flash said as he handed the bottle of iced tea back to Twilight. “I guess I’ll see you around then.”
“Whatever,” Twilight replied.
Flash could only sigh in a mix of annoyance and frustration as he walked through the door, and the medical assistant closed the door behind him.
After Flash left, Cadance turned to Twilight, crossed her arms, and gave the girl a stern glare.
“What?” Twilight snapped as she noticed the look that her unwanted babysitter was giving her.
“Would it have killed you to be polite to the guy?” said Cadance. “He seems nice.”
“Yeah, SEEMS nice,” Twilight emphasized. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that he IS nice.”
“How would you know? You wouldn’t even give him a chance.”
“Oh, yeah, well, what if I do give him a chance and he takes advantage of me?” Twilight’s voice betrayed the fear that she hid under her bad attitude. “It’ll be worse than anything the other kids at school have ever done to me, and that’s saying something. I think I’m better off playing it safe.”
“And by ‘playing it safe,’ you mean shutting out anybody and everybody, including me and your parents?”
Twilight groaned as she pressed her fingertips against her temples. “If I attempt to become friends with this guy, will you and my parents please get off my case?”
“No promises, but it’ll definitely be one less thing for us to worry about. Furthermore, your parents and I only get on your case because we care about you.”
Twilight closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. Then, she opened her eyes again and walked up to the reception table.
“Ma’am, may I please borrow a pen and a sticky note?” Twilight asked. The receptionist gave Twilight what she asked for, and Twilight quickly wrote something on the note, folded it, and gave it to the receptionist. “Can you make sure that the boy I was talking to earlier gets this before he leaves?”
“Of course,” the receptionist replied. “He seems like a nice boy. You’d be really lucky to have him as a friend.”
“Uh, thanks. I guess.”
One hour later, Flash went to the reception desk to schedule his next appointment.
“Okay, it looks like we have a slot at the same time and day next week. Will that work for you?” the receptionist asked.
“Yeah, that’ll be great,” Flash replied.
“Oh, by the way, that girl you were talking with earlier wanted me to give this to you.” The receptionist handed Flash a folded piece of paper.
Flash accepted it and unfolded it. Written on the paper was Twilight Sparkle’s name and what appeared to be a phone number. Flash raised an eyebrow at this but nevertheless, took out his cell phone and dialed the number.
“Hello?” Twilight’s voice answered from the other end.
“Uh, hi,” Flash replied nervously before chuckling. “It’s Flash. I’m just calling to make sure that you didn’t give me a fake number or anything.”
In spite of herself, Twilight giggled a bit before she caught herself and stopped, hoping that Flash hadn’t heard. Flash had totally heard but decided to pretend that he hadn’t.
“So, uh,” Flash stuttered, unsure what else to say. “I guess I’ll call you and talk to you later then.”
“Yeah, sounds great. Bye,” Twilight replied rapidly, hanging up before Flash had a chance to say anything else.
Flash sighed dejectedly as he turned around and headed for the door. However, before he could leave, he saw Twilight and Cadance re-enter the waiting room from the corner of his eye. He stopped and whipped his head towards them in surprise. Twilight stopped in her tracks as she found herself meeting Flash’s eyes. For what felt like an eternity, neither of them spoke. Finally, Flash broke the silence.
“Uh, hi,” he said.
“Hi,” Twilight replied, looking away from him.
“So,” Flash continued as he walked towards her, holding up the note that she left him, “what was this all about?”
Twilight groaned as she pressed her hands against her temples.
She looked back at Flash and explained, “Look, Cadance has been trying to get me to make some friends for a while now, and for some reason, she decided that my first friend might as well be you. I only gave you my number so that she’d finally get off my case about it.”
“Oh,” Flash replied, looking from Twilight to the note in confusion. “So, does this mean that we’re friends now?”
Twilight sighed as she covered her face with her hands before turning to the receptionist. “Um, ma’am, is it okay if we sit at the waiting room for a bit, or is it only for patients who haven’t seen the doctor yet?”
“Oh, go ahead. There’s plenty of seats,” the receptionist replied.
Twilight and Flash sat down next to each other while Cadance sat down a few chairs away. Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She closed it and tried a second time, but again, no words came out. She leaned back on her chair with a sigh and tried a third time.
“Okay, I really didn’t want to have to tell you my long story, but I guess I don’t have much of a choice now that I’ve decided to at least try to be friends with you,” Twilight poured out in frustration. She took a few breaths to calm down and continued, “Growing up, I didn’t exactly have the easiest time making friends. Going up to other people and connecting with them just didn’t come easy to me, and the fact that other kids started making fun of me as I got older certainly didn’t help.”
Flash couldn’t help but wince as Twilight told him her story. Unlike Twilight, he had been pretty eager to make friends as a child, and he certainly didn’t have a hard time going up to and befriending people. However, he understood how it felt to be bullied and how lonely and hurtful it can be.
“As much as I hated being made fun of and picked on, I was able to deal with it pretty well,” Twilight continued, “but back then, I had my older brother to talk to and to help me cope. When other kids used to call me names and pull my hair and leave gum on my seat, my brother would tell me that I was a smart, brilliant girl who was going to do amazing things one day and that all those kids who made fun of me are going to look back and realize just how wrong they were to pick on me, and I believed him. Then one day, he stopped saying that.”
“Oh,” Flash blinked at her in surprise and concern, “I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“Well, he left to join the army, and the two of us stopped seeing or talking to each other as much. I don’t know if the bullying got worse or if just seemed worse because he wasn’t around, but after Shining Armor left, aside from the academics and the grades, I really, really started hating school. When his enlistment ended last year, I thought that he was going to come back home, and our lives were going to go back to the way they used to be.”
“That’s not what happened, wasn’t it?” Flash deduced.
“Oh, not at all,” Twilight huffed. “He came and visited for a few months before leaving again, and this time for college.”
“And you didn’t have any other friends or family you could have talked to about the bullying and missing your brother?”
Twilight suddenly found her shoes very interesting. “Oh, well, you see, I sort of started shutting everybody out around the time Shining Armor left for the military. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about anyone else. Talking to someone other than my brother about my problems just didn’t feel the same.”
As soon as Twilight finished that last sentence, she became very quiet. She pursed her lips in thought as her own words sank in. She covered her face with her hands and slumped forward.
“Maybe that part was my fault,” she continued. “Maybe, maybe if I had just reached out to someone instead of walling everybody off…” She couldn’t even finish that last sentence.
Flash put his hand on Twilight’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Then what happened?”
“I got to a point where I wasn’t just hating school. I hated everything, especially my own life. I thought about ending it, but I never actually intended to go through with it.” She bit her lip. “Okay, I did do a whole bunch of web searches on how to kill myself with stuff that I can easily find around the house or get from a store, but I didn’t have a plan or anything. I just wanted to know how to do it in case, in case…” She couldn’t finish that sentence either. “You must think I’m a horrible person.”
Flash took Twilight by the shoulders and turned her towards him. The two of them locked eyes again, and Flash opened his mouth. However, this time was his turn to not know what to say.
After he opened his mouth for the third time, he finally said, “Twilight, I think, I think I know better than anyone what it’s like to share a special bond with a loved one, and I know better than anyone that bonds like that just can’t be replaced.” Now, it was his turn to bite his lip. “That being said, I don’t think your brother would want you to spend the rest of your life behind a metaphorical wall. Besides, just because your relationship with him has changed doesn’t mean it’s broken or gone. You might not be able to do the same things the two of you used to do, but you two can still talk, can’t you? You can still see him and tell him that you love him and hear him tell you that he loves you.”
“Unlike me and my grandparents,” Flash thought dismally to himself.
His face must have betrayed his thoughts because after a long pause, Twilight took his hand, squeezed it, and said, “Did something bad and permanent happen to someone you loved? Is that why you tried to hurt yourself?”
“Your brother was right. You are smart,” Flash deadpanned, causing Twilight to blush slightly.
“You want to tell me about it?” Twilight gave Flash’s hand another squeeze.
“I’m going to have to tell you whether I want to or not,” Flash replied, still monotone. “You already paid for it.”
He subconsciously squeezed Twilight’s hand as he turned to face her. “I became friends with a guy who was a nerd and a girl with a lazy eye when I was in kindergarten. When we got older, other people started picking on them, and I would defend them. I guess you can say that I ended up getting bullied by association. Back then, I used to deal with it by fighting back.”
“Why’d you stop?” Twilight asked, although she had a good guess what the answer was.
“I kept getting in trouble,” Flash answered. “When I told my grandfather my side of the story, he told me that as long as my friends and I can keep walking away from the bullies with our heads up, then we were winning.” He frowned as he turned away and looked toward the ground. “What he didn’t tell me was that when a bully hates you badly enough, he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you never lift your head up again.”
“I’m guessing that the bullying got worse.”
“So much worse. I mean, it got better for a little while, but that didn’t last.”
“Did you tell your grandfather again?”
Flash took a shuddering breath and replied, “How could I? By that time, he couldn’t even remember who I was.”
Twilight’s eyes widened, and her mouth fell open. She wanted to say something, anything to help Flash feel better, but just what was she supposed to say to something like that?
“I-it’s not your fault,” she managed to stutter out. If Flash had heard what she said, he didn’t show it.
“Looking back on it, I guess I should have told someone else,” he continued, “but everyone else in the family was so worried about Grandpa that I didn’t want to be an extra burden, so I just kept everything to myself.”
Flash’s breath began to hitch, and he felt a pressure building up behind his eyes.
“Don’t you dare cry, Flash,” he thought to himself. “Don’t you dare.”
To his surprise, he felt Twilight put her arms around him. To think, the girl had wanted nothing to do with him a little over an hour ago. He could tell by the look she was giving him that she wanted him to continue.
“He passed away two months ago,” he said as a tear slipped out of his left eye unnoticed. “A week later, Grandma got a stroke and passed too. Besides my friends, no one at school knew what had happened at home, so that first day at school after Grandma’s funeral, it was just business as usual for the kids who picked on me and my friends. For the first time in years, I fought back and landed myself and one other person in detention.”
Twilight looked at him in shock and without thinking, exclaimed, “How on earth are you still alive?!”
When she realized what she had just said, she pulled away from Flash and began to sputter as tears welled up in her eyes, “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I-I, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean, I…”
Flash took both her hands in his and gave her a small, sad smile, “It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean anything bad by it, and to answer your question, I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m still alive right now. When I got home from school that day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I locked myself in the bathroom and took one of my brother’s baseball bats to the mirror, and, and I was going to do it.” He let go of Twilight and rubbed the inside of his left wrist with his right thumb. “I had the glass right on my wrist, but before I could get any further, this image of how my mom and brother were going to react when they found me just popped into my head. It was like they were right in front of me, and they looked like they were just hurting so bad. Next thing I knew, I had dropped the glass and collapsed on the bathroom floor crying my eyes out, and, well, I already told you the rest. Now, well, now I’m here just TRYING to want to live again.”
Twilight rubbed the tears from her eyes with her hands. She felt absolutely terrible for how she had treated Flash earlier. To think, even after everything he’s been through, he still had it in him to be kind and friendly to her. Heck, even after how she treated him earlier, he still had it in him to accept her as a friend.
“Do-do you still miss them? Your grandparents I mean,” Twilight managed to get out.
“Terribly,” Flash replied before letting out a sigh. “My mom, my aunt, and a whole lot of other people have told me that as long as I remember my grandparents, a part of them will always be with me. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just something that people say to make themselves feel better.”
“Hold it,” Twilight noticed. “Earlier when you were talking about your family, you only mentioned your mom and your brother. What happened to…?” Boy, was she having trouble finishing her sentences today!
“He walked out when I was seven,” Flash replied emotionlessly. “After the split got finalized, my grandparents moved in to help my mom raise me and my brother, and they did a pretty darn good job too. Grandpa was like the dad my actual dad should have been, and Grandma,” he smiled at the memory, “she was always ready with hugs and advice.”
Flash’s smile faded as he let out a sad sigh. Twilight once again put her hand on top of his and gave it a squeeze.
“Uh, hey, Flash,” she called, getting his attention. However, once she had gotten it, her words died in her throat, and her mind raced to replace them with new ones. “Uh, I, I think, I think,” she cleared her throat, “I think your grandparents gave you more than just their memory. They gave you their love. You still have that, don’t you?”
Flash blinked a few times as he let Twilight’s words sink in. “Yeah, yeah, I guess I do.”
Suddenly, door to the outside hallway swung open, and an 11-year-old boy who looked like a smaller, slightly darker-colored version of Flash rushed inside.
“There you are, Bro,” the boy cried when he saw Flash. “What’s taking you so long? We’ve been waiting in the parking lot for you for 10 minutes.”
Flash quickly got up and said his goodbyes to Twilight, “Hey, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you some other time, alright?”
“Uh, yeah,” Twilight replied. “That’ll be great.”
“Oh, hey, one more thing, are you free on Saturday evening?”
Twilight blinked in surprise and confusion. “Uh, excuse me.”
“Are you busy on Saturday evening?”
“If reading ahead in my textbooks and wishing I didn’t have to go to school on Monday counts as busy, then yes,” Twilight thought to herself.
“No, not really,” she answered out loud. “Why?”
Flash looked away from her and awkwardly shifted from foot to foot before turning back to her. “I know you’re not comfortable around strangers, but my friends and I are going to have a little hang-out at Pizza Luis’s. You want to come?”
“You mean that pizza buffet joint with the arcade and karaoke?”
“That’s the one.”
“Uh,” Twilight hesitated. On one hand, Flash was right; she wasn’t comfortable around strangers. On the other hand, as much as she hated to admit it, she did need more friends in her life, and Flash was offering to introduce her to his. “Well, I guess I could use a change of pace. What time?” Well, no backing out now.
“Seven. I’ll see you there,” Flash replied as he turned around to follow his brother out the door.
“Wait,” Twilight cried, causing Flash to stop in his tracks.
“Uh, yeah?” Flash asked, turning around to face Twilight.
“Uh.” Twilight had stopped him to apologize for her earlier behavior, but her words once again died in her throat. She took a deep breath to calm herself and said, “Thanks.”
“For, for agreeing to be my friend,” Twilight smiled as a light blush appeared on her face, “and for being a pretty darn good one too.”
“You’re welcome,” Flash returned her smile before turning back to head out the door and into the parking lot.
After Flash left, Twilight giggled to herself as she went up to the reception table. Cadance got up from her seat and joined her.
“So,” Twilight said to the receptionist, “when’s my next appointment?”
“Would next week at the same day and same time work?” the receptionist asked.
“Is that boy going to be here?” Cadance asked with a mischievous smirk, causing Twilight to blush harder.
“I’m afraid that’s confidential patient information that I’m not allowed to share,” the receptionist replied before giving Cadance a sly wink.
“Uh, next week at the same day and time will be just lovely,” Twilight said, trying and failing to suppress the smile growing on her face.