E1

by PoH

First published

When Fluttershy realizes her talent in a sport she'd never thought of playing, she will have to choose between her newfound friends and being framed forever in the game's pantheon.

Her whole life, Fluttershy never liked being the center of attention. Reaching no higher than above average grades and keeping entirely to herself, she blended into the general population. After meeting her new friends, she gathered herself to interact with people once again. But after a walk to their favorite lunch spot one fateful day to wait for her ride home, life-changing eyes where lain on her.

AU:

Take a Stand

View Online

The fresh scent of floor wax flooded Fluttershy’s nostrils. The bustling conversations within the high school’s sleek walls reverberated throughout the main hall. The constant noise made all of the stress of choosing an outfit earlier that morning all the more mundane. Familiar faces passed Fluttershy’s route to her first class of the morning and, in turn, her high school life. Although familiar, names drew blank and she neglected to interact with any of them. It didn’t matter, as each face seemed to notice her less than the last. Not to say she didn’t grow up with some close friends, but none that lasted past a year. Many moved away, many faded into the crowd, while few turned around and carried on with repugnance towards her introverted personality. Fluttershy became used to the cycle of people flickering into and out of her life to the point where it didn’t even phase her anymore.

She looked down at her schedule and smiled once again at her first class: biology. Her favorite subject. What she lost in sociability she made up for in enthusiasm in her studies. Throughout elementary and middle school she made the best of the classes she didn’t very much enjoy and showed exceptional enthusiasm for the more bearable subjects to her. After finding her classroom, she peeked in through the doorway.

Only one student seemed to be in the classroom. Her deep blue and magenta accented hair swayed back and forth as she was setting up her own side of the two-person desk for the class that would be taking place within the next 30 minutes. Noticing that this girl was here well before the general population of the class, Fluttershy assumed one of two things: either this girl loves biology as much as herself, or she's an avid scholar that was punctual about her attendance in any class. Fluttershy recalled her 8th grade graduation resolutions to attempt to make friends once again. She knew maturity was higher and more common at the high school level and felt a twinge of growing confidence in expanding her horizons. She rallied, and stepped into the classroom, her hands clasped tightly behind her. She approached the other girl’s desk as she zipped up her backpack.

“Um.. excuse me?” Fluttershy muttered louder than she normally would. The seated girl snapped her attention to Fluttershy with raised eyebrows.

“Yes?” The girl responded, almost surprised that another person was in the room half an hour early to the start of class. Fluttershy refrained from drawing in a deep, nervous breath.

“Is that seat taken?” Fluttershy gestured to the empty seat next to the early bird. The girl waved her hand over the empty seat with a friendly smile.

“Not at all!” She quipped cheerily.

Fluttershy smiled lightly as she took the empty seat and placed her backpack down next to it. When she brought her attention back to her new biology neighbor, she met a rosy hand extended to her.

“Twilight Sparkle.” the girl said, pushing her amethyst glasses back up to the bridge of her nose with her opposite hand. Fluttershy took Twilight’s hand in her own and applied a light squeeze which was overpowered by the firmness of Twilight’s grip.

“Fluttershy.”

“Fluttershy…” Twilight waved her hand in a forward motion expectantly.

“Oh!” Fluttershy flinched. “Um, Breeze. Sorry, I’m not used to...this.” Her eyes flicked downward at the ongoing handshake. Twilight released her grip, her soft smile persisting.

“What do you mean?” Twilight questioned. Fluttershy cringed lightly behind her pink curtain of hair.

“I mean, um” Fluttershy began, “making... friends.” She flushed with a light pink on her cheeks.

“Oh!” Twilight exclaimed, surprised that someone like her had no real friends. “Well, could I introduce you to my friends? Only if you feel comfortable with that, considering all I know is your name.”

Twilight let out an embarrassed giggle, rubbing the back of her neck nervously. Twilight always seemed to come off awkwardly strong onto potentially new friends. More often than not, they tend to shy away or brandish her as desperate. Fluttershy didn’t feel this way though. On the contrary, Fluttershy was flattered at the fact that Twilight presented the opportunity of an expanded friend circle.

“Well, we’re hardly strangers anymore, are we?” Fluttershy attempted to be as casual as possible with her new friend, the threshold of comfortability unknown to her. Twilight sighed in relief.

“Excellent!” Twilight quipped. “At lunch, go to the softball field bleachers. That’s where we normally eat.”

“Okay…” Fluttershy said, unsure, “But...where is that?”

As Twilight began explaining the directions to the bleachers, students slowly filed into their seats. Conversations filled the room until the teacher stepped in and began her introductory period. Having Twilight as her partner on this first day really set the tone for Fluttershy’s day. She had no reason to frown through the halls or the remainder of her classes. She could feel excitement that she hadn’t felt since she received her first puppy when she was a little girl. A chance at unconditional friendship. A real chance with real people. Using animals as a substitute to social interaction only got her so far. This past summer was her epiphany to change that. Meeting Twilight made her consider whether destiny would lead her down a path of true happiness.

Lunch could not come around quickly enough. Fluttershy was basically bursting at the seams with anticipation. When the electronic bell chimed to signal lunchtime, Fluttershy nearly slammed her history book shut. After stuffing her syllabus and schoolwork into her backpack, she got up and was the first out of the classroom. She walked with haste, recalling the directions Twilight had given her to the softball field. She followed them step by step. She leaned on the push bar leading outdoors.

When her eyes adjusted, she could see a hill in front of her cresting downward. A stone path led from the door she exited down the hill and to the far fence that marked the edge of Canterlot High. The path bisected two practice fields. On the left side of the path was the boys baseball field, and on the right was the girls softball field. By what Fluttershy could see, the varsity softball and baseball teams were in their respective dugouts and bleachers eating their lunches. She could faintly see Twilight amongst a group of four other girls at the top of the softball field bleachers.

As she made her way along the path and in between the fields, she could see the group more clearly: a pink and fluffy haired energy source, a pale but beautiful violet haired goddess, a rainbow haired athlete, and a blonde and freckled rancher, by the looks of her. She noticed that the blonde one was matching in the plain white and jade laced uniform with the varsity softball players who were scattered around and enjoying their lunches.

It was then that Fluttershy felt her heart quicken in pace as she rounded the backstop of the softball field and approached the bleachers. The echo of clarity on what she had done had finally caught up to her. She felt every synapse in her brain fire one by one, instinctively telling her to simply walk past the bleachers and back around the opposite side of the softball field. They hadn’t seen her yet so her mind began to war with itself. She felt conflicted. Jumping head first into the cold waters of the unknown began to frighten her. Second thoughts flooded her mind as Twilight noticed her and smiled widely. It was too late to run now. Running would only make it worse, as she was well experienced with running from interaction.

“Fluttershy!” Twilight called out. “Come on up!” Twilight’s group had turned to see who she was talking to. The amount of pupils on Fluttershy paled her face as her palms perspired behind her back.

“Yeah!” the blonde one spoke up with a southern drawl, beckoning with her hand “Twilight’s been tellin’ us how you two went together like apple pie and ice cream.” Fluttershy was now close enough to read the word on the apparent cowgirl’s jersey in a deep emerald and gold medieval style casing: Canterlot.

Fluttershy stepped onto the bleachers and squeezed past the other softball players who let her pass without a look. Twilight stood and stepped down the bleachers to Fluttershy’s level and stood next to her.

“Girls,” Twilight began with a courteous smile, her hand gesturing to Fluttershy, “this is Fluttershy.” Fluttershy waved lightly from her waist. They all gave her their own version of a jovial “hello” to her at the same time. Fluttershy giggled at their simultaneous but discordant greetings. Twilight continued introductions. “Fluttershy, this is Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack.”

“It’s, um, very nice to meet you all.” Fluttershy almost whispered. She remained silent as her new group of friends sat silently as if waiting for something to happen. Just before Fluttershy officially felt uncomfortable, Applejack broke the silence.

“Well, Fluttershy?” she chuckled, “Are ya gonna take a seat?”

The rest of the group continued their conversations amongst each other. Fluttershy smirked bashfully at Applejack and took a seat on the bleacher next to Applejack and Twilight on the bleacher below them. She unpacked the lunch she had made herself that morning. She could almost feel eyes on the back of her neck as she popped the tops of her tupperware and set them on the bleacher she sat on. Once prepped, she turned to make eye contact with Applejack mid-glance. Applejack seized the moment to ask a question.

“Hey, Fluttershy? Ah know ah’ve seen you before. But Ah can’t put my finger on it. Mind helpin’ me out?”

Fluttershy looked Applejack up and down closely. Now that she mentioned it, she too felt as though she knew Applejack from somewhere as well. A memory buried deep within the far reaches of her psyche brought itself to light as Fluttershy’s eyes lit up with realization.

“Oh! I know!” Fluttershy exclaimed. “You’ve brought in farm animals to the veterinarian before. I remember helping with feeding Mads. Oh, he was so so very sick.”

“Right! Now Ah remember.” Applejack concurred. “That old pig got into the produce sacks and ate somethin’ he shouldn’t have.” She laughed a hearty laugh. “I gotta say, ya’ll took real good care of him. He came out even better than before he got sick. Thanks for lendin’ that hand.”

“You’re welcome!” Fluttershy smiled brightly. “I just love animals. That’s why I volunteer at the shelter and the veterinarian. Since having my own pets is… difficult.” Her smile seemed to melt off her face. Applejack, being no stranger to anxious teens, decided to take the reigns of Fluttershy’s emotional state for the better.

“Ah heck, any friend of Twilight’s is a friend o’ mine!” Applejack gave Fluttershy a hefty pat on the back. Fluttershy’s falling smile rose to a smirk. “If ya want, you can come to Sweet Apple acres whenever ya feel like and be around all the animals we’ve got.” Fluttershy’s eyes lit up at that.

“Really? I mean, I appreciate it. Really I do!” Fluttershy gave Applejack a reassuring nod. “I’ll have to take you up on that offer.” Fluttershy looked over Applejack’s stained uniform. She noticed the age and grit that the uniform exhibited. Applejack’s ballcap sat on her knee as if her knee wore it; a crescent-up golden horseshoe detailed with wings extended from the curve of the horseshoe and an inverted home plate sat in the center was emblazoned on the front. “So, you’re on the softball team?”

“You bet.” Applejack affirmed with a wink. “Ah play anywhere in outfield.” She flexed her right arm and patted the bicep. “Gotta thank all the years of workin’ on the farm for givin’ me this canon of an arm. Tillin’, movin’ hay bales and harvests, and even wrestlin’ my older brother for fun got me this far.” Fluttershy giggled as Applejack lowered her arm. It was Applejack’s turn to examine Fluttershy’s physique. Although seeming very timid and gentle, Applejack could easily notice Fluttershy’s tone, despite most of it being covered by modest clothing. “What about you? You play any sports?”

“Oh, um.” Fluttershy felt the words stuck in her throat. “Well…”

“No. She doesn’t.” A male voice, one all too familiar to Fluttershy, spoke up from the base of the bleachers. She turned to see it was her older brother, Zephyr. He was in a baseball uniform much like Applejack’s, the main difference being that the emerald was replaced with a navy blue. Fluttershy could hear Applejack huff in frustration behind her. The conversations of Fluttershy’s new friends ceased with all of the attention on Zephyr. Rarity and Rainbow Dash showed obvious annoyance to Zephyr’s company, while Pinkie Pie and Twilight seemed to not know him too well.

“Did ah ask you, ‘Zeph?’” Applejack asked in a sarcastic tone.

“It’s ‘Zephyr’ to you, saltlick.” Zephyr spat back. “And even though you didn’t ask me, I think it’s pretty obvious Flutters here hasn’t partaken in anything redeemable throughout elementary or middle school.” Fluttershy dipped her head a small amount, curling up into a social shell.

“So what?” Rarity interrupted, crossing her arms across her chest. “So she may not have had an upbringing in school sports. That doesn’t give you the right to deem her case so hopeless. And who do you think you are to act as though you know her?” Zephyr laughed at Rarity’s ignorance. Twilight was able to put two and two together since she was the only one at this point who knew Fluttershy’s last name.

“It’s ‘cause I’m her brother, runway.” Zephyr smartly replied, obviously having thought of their nicknames carefully. “Who else would know her better?”

“Hey!” Rainbow joined in with a finger jutted directly at Zephyr’s face. “You don’t have to be such a prick about it! Especially because she's your sister!” She gritted her teeth at the smirking boy. Rainbow Dash, being the shortest of the group, had Zephyr at equal height with Rainbow on one of the bleachers. Still, a height difference didn’t do anything to fault Rainbow’s assault.

“Oh? And what are you gonna do about it, Rainbow Crash?” Zephyr laughed, recalling a nickname she had earned rather than was given by the quick-tongued boy. Rainbow blushed with rage. She stepped down to ground level and was about ready to fly off the handle alongside Rarity when Fluttershy intervened.

“Please stop!” She stood with more volume than even Zephyr had heard before, earning her a raised eyebrow from him. Her kindhearted demeanor almost cracked under the stress her brother was placing on her new friends. Even to her, such an action was so foreign that she felt as though someone else had taken control of her at that moment. She sighed, calming herself down and turning to her brother. “Zephyr, as impolite as you were, I don’t expect you to apologize. But can you please…” She mustered up all of her confidence and momentum gained at this point. “Just leave us alone?” Fluttershy looked to her brother with a determined visage. He stared into his little sister’s eyes and shrugged.

“I don’t know what you girls did to my sister, but whatever it is, it’s putting some fight in her. Which will do her some good, I guess.” He left with a dismissive wave of his hand as a king would to his lowly subjects. “See you at dinner later, Flutters.”

Rainbow Dash sat back down grumbling about pounding Zephyr into the next week with Rarity who is using more refined words to describe her own threats against him. Fluttershy also sat back down with a decompressing huff. He was wrong about one thing though, it was not her friends who motivated her outburst. That came from within her, all on her own. Something so outlandish of her was pulled out from her, by her. It was definitely new to Fluttershy. Escaping the limiting shell of seclusion has brought new parts of her to light. She couldn’t decide if she liked it or not.

“The nerve of that Zephyr.” Applejack said, mostly to herself. She felt it was unfair to speak any worse about Zephyr in front of Fluttershy, so she left it at that and tended to the obviously distressed Fluttershy. “Hey there, sugarcube. Are you okay?”

"Yes. Thank you, Applejack." Fluttershy responded, still obviously upset with her brother's uninvited appearance. "That's just how he is. I'm sorry you had to see that." Applejack chuckled at that. Fluttershy looked up at her with a confused expression as she tried to figure out what she said that made Applejack react that way. Rainbow Dash answered her question.

"It's no problem, uh, Fluttershy." Rainbow said, leaning back in her bleacher seat. “AJ, Rares and I know about your brother well. As much of a jerk he is, you do know he’s pretty important to the baseball team.” Fluttershy knew well. He’d come home boasting about how well he did during that day’s game to their dad, both with ice creams in hand. Their father had taken a particular pride in Zephyr’s constant baseball achievements as Canterlot’s ace pitcher. Despite Fluttershy’s preference to remain in the backseat, it sowed the seeds of desire to be as strong as her brother. She never openly expressed these feelings. In fact, she suppressed them and preferred to love her brother despite the way he treated her. Fluttershy gave a dismissive smirk.

“I’m well aware.” Fluttershy affirmed. “But I’m pretty used to how he is.” She continued her lunch but seemed quite irked.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash looked at each other unsure of what to do about Fluttershy’s reserved feelings against her brother. It left a heavy awkwardness in the air of the group. The conversations slowly built back up. Pinkie Pie and Twilight were caught up on Zephyr’s history courtesy of the rest of the group for the remainder of lunch. Since neither of them really frequented the areas where the sports teams would gather, they never really knew Zephyr or what kind of person he is. Fluttershy occasionally added on or clarified what Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack had to say as they seemed to know him almost as well as Fluttershy did.

His importance to the Canterlot baseball team was a paramount point. A starting pitcher with the highest win-loss ratio in the province. Held at a high standard, a lot was expected of him. Not just from the team, school, or coach, but from their own father. Fluttershy voiced the sole defense of her brother to her newfound friends, explaining the pressure was immense. Her friends, skeptical about the causation of stress leading to Zephyr's sour attitude, gave Fluttershy what she wanted and agreed to go easy on her brother.

As they drew their conversations to a close, the distant electronic bell for the school rang. The six girls, besides Applejack, gathered their school supplies. Applejack, like other athletes, have their respective sport as an extracurricular activity right after lunch. As Fluttershy placed her now empty lunch containers into her backpack, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She quickly turned her head to see the owner of the calloused hand belonged to Applejack.

"Hey," Applejack began, "if ya got nowhere to go after school, come here to the softball field. Ah know you mentioned you don't really have a ride home. Ah can take you." She smiled warmly as she said the last part.

"Oh!" Fluttershy exclaimed, never being offered a ride home. Zephyr was always picked up by their dad, only because Zephyr stayed late enough to where their dad got off work and was able to get him on the way home. Fluttershy, on the other hand, had to walk home due to how early she left school. "Thank you, Applejack. I'll take you up on that offer." She smirked back awkwardly, trying her hardest to be casual.

"One more thing before ya go." Applejack released her touch on Fluttershy's shoulder. "Just 'AJ' from here on out. Only my Granny calls me Applejack." She let out a southern chuckle at that. Fluttershy giggled at the drawl, even in her friend's laugh.

"Okay. Then I'll take up your offer, AJ." She said, trying the nickname Applejack asked her to address her by. It felt odd. She had never been close enough to somebody to call them by their nickname.

One week later

After school

Fluttershy walked through the now thinning hallways of the high school as many students either began going home or making way to their afterschool activities. She went down the flight of stairs closest to the same door she used to meet her friends at lunch. Pushing on the push bar, she was greeted by a still high but setting sun. Light clouds casted shadows over the two practice fields before her. She strolled down the same path from earlier that day at lunch.

On the softball field's right field, closest to the path Fluttershy currently walked, the softball team was performing their cardio exercises. They were close to the fence adjacent to the path. Close enough that one girl in particular was able to make out Fluttershy’s approaching figure. With a sinister smile, the girl jogged to the fence to talk with the old classmate.

"Heyyy, Flutters." The softball player said in an overly enthusiastic voice. Fluttershy turned her head and saw the approaching girl. Fluttershy couldn't recognize who was talking to her, but the girl obviously knew Fluttershy since she used a familiar nickname to her. Of course, it was only a name her childhood bullies used for her. Her dad used it once and she remembered hating it. So much so that she even asked her dad not to use it anymore. Her dad, unconcerned but obliging, agreed to not use it anymore. Still, the nickname seemed to have followed her all the way to high school.

"Oh.. hello." Fluttershy responded, still unsure of who she was talking to. "I'm sorry if this is rude, but… do I know you?" The girl frowned, obviously annoyed at Fluttershy's response. She slipped her cap off her head, allowing the hole in the back of the cap to be guided down the dark brown ponytail she sported. With the girl's face now clear to Fluttershy, she examined her features. A relatively short but taut girl, she had snowy blue eyes and a natural silver streak in her hair. These unique features not only rang every bell in Fluttershy's mind, but raised every red flag as well.

"Now do you recognize me, Flutters?" She asked with venom lacing the nickname. All of Fluttershy's built-up confidence began to crumble at the realization of who was in front of her.

"O-oh. Hi, Wynter.." Fluttershy choked out, her eyes averting Wynter's. "I d-didn't recognize you." Fluttershy wanted to turn and run at that moment. The fence would have her back and stop Wynter from stalking her to the ends of the earth. Escape was only a turn of the heel away. It was always that easy.

"Hmph." Wynter grunted in annoyance. "Well isn't it rude that you don't remember someone you grew up with?" Fluttershy had a knot caught in her throat. She tried to quickly think of a way to escape the situation as Wynter stood there, her hands on her cocked hips, waiting impatiently for an answer. Fluttershy was visibly sweating, earning an obvious roll of Wynter’s eyes. “Typical, Flutters. Cat got your tongue? Well, I need to get back to practice. Hope we can talk again sometime!” Wynter flashed a fake smile alongside her mock enthusiasm as she slipped the cap back onto her head. She hastily turned and jogged back to the large group of softball players who seemed to gossip about their conversation.

Fluttershy could see Applejack among them. Applejack seemed to scoff at her teammates as her eyes trailed to the still anxious Fluttershy. Applejack’s disgust morphed into a look of worry as her new friend quickly turned and continued down the same path, obviously downcast.

Fluttershy moved more slowly, a heavy feeling in her heart she hadn’t felt in years. Her seclusion sheltered her for too long as the scars of her past began to slowly rip open. She moved at a sluggish pace, making little progress to her desired destination. She felt the urge to run once more. The once-suppressed sadness she locked away deep in her heart began to surface. She felt-

“Hey!! Heads up!”

A male voice called out from her left. She picked her head up slightly, tears welling and obstructing her sight. She looked to the sky and saw nothing at first. Before she knew it, she saw a white blur zip downward in front of her. It emitted a hearty thump as it struck the dampened dirt, making Fluttershy jump and yelp in surprise. The object bounced two more times before rolling to Fluttershy’s right. She wiped the tears from her eyes and focused on the now clear object.

A baseball.

She picked it up gingerly in her right hand. A layer of moisture encompassed the solid game ball. She vaguely remembered the feeling of holding the ball from her past. Echoes of inferiority made way to the forefront of her mind. At this moment, she heard another familiar but more distant voice come from deeper in the baseball field near the pitcher’s mound.

“Hey, Flutters!” Zephyr called, a devious smirk spread across his face. Fluttershy picked her head up half-heartedly and saw her brother with an outstretched glove. “We need our ball back. Mind giving it a toss?”

Fluttershy felt tears push at her ducts, begging to roll down her cheeks. Her heart began to quicken, crack and chip so relentlessly that she could almost hear it. She felt sandwiched. With that statement, her brother crossed the last line. He knew exactly what buttons to press. Not just with others, but with her specifically. The memories broke the dam of her subconscious, flooding back in torrents.

The backyard…
Zephyr and Dad…
Father and Son..

Pride

“Atta boy, son!”

Joy

Sunshine….

“Try it!”

Failure……
Failure..?
“Stick to animals.”
Failure.

“Okay, Dad..”

Never again…

Terror

Not enough…

Anger

He is better…than me..

“Here! Try again!”

Dread

I..can’t….
Too weak…
Dad said…

“I believe in you!”

Try…?
Try..!

Resolve

Try!
For her!

“See? I knew you could!”

Thank you…
I love you!


Mom…

Her grip tightened around the ball. Tears began to forcefully recede as her vision cleared. The eyes on the back of her neck from the softball field bored into her spine, but she gave them no more mind. As she reared her arm, she felt it heat up and burn in a way she hadn’t felt since that time so long ago. Her fingers took a grip using her index, middle, and thumb that her mom taught her. She took in air, further heating up her arm. Taking a muscle memory step towards the baseball field, she felt her weight shift back then forward. A tightness in her forearm shot from her elbow to her wrist. Her torso violently exploded in rotation as her arm shot forward, just like she was shown all those years ago.

The ball left her hand at a speed that could be rightfully described as incredible. It made a slicing right curve, its path intended for a waiting Zephyr. He watched in awe as the ball struck the shortstop’s position and skipped on the dirt of the infield. It hit the chain link fence of the home dugout, causing it to rattle. All eyes of the baseball field and softball players in their respective outfield were now focused on her.

Fluttershy gave no mind to the athletic feat she had just performed due to newfound blinding anger and resentment taking the place of fear and embarrassment. She speed walked down the path, head hung low once again, except she no longer felt embarrassment. Rather, she felt annoyance, bitterness, and resentment. She made her way to the softball bleachers where a few other students sat, idly chatting and watching the girls practice.

At this point, Fluttershy didn’t care who looked at her. She had finally had enough. She climbed up to the top of the bleachers, set her book bag down onto the bleachers next to her with an audible clang. She sat down heavily in frustration with crossed arms, slouching against the chain link fence wrapping around the very top of the bleachers. Her face showed no sign of changing for the better. It spoke of many emotions, none of them good. The few students who shared the same bleachers as her took note of her burning feelings and rightfully steered clear of her eyesight.

For the remainder of softball practice, Fluttershy had begun to calm herself. She settled enough to watch Applejack during her practice. Watching her run around in the outfield and working drills for different scenarios and provided the distraction Fluttershy needed from the events that transpired only an hour before. For once in a long time, watching someone relatively close to her play this sport brought her a small sense of pride. Pride that her friend is someone so skilled and dedicated.

Softball practice ended usually around two hours earlier than baseball practice, especially in these two early months of school since no games were to be played until October. After Applejack gathered her things, she joined her team in a huddle. Fluttershy could only assume they were talking future practice schedules and overviews of the day’s practice. Things to be worked on, upcoming important dates, and some words of encouragement were definitely passed around in the small conglomeration. After they broke their huddle, Fluttershy descended the bleachers until she was on the ground floor. As softball girls poured from around the cinder block corner, a few passed by her giving her ominous looks to which Fluttershy was finding it became easier to ignore. Still, they gave her a great deal of anxiety.

Applejack rounded the corner bidding farewell to a couple of her teammates. Once she saw Fluttershy, she gave a genuine smile. She seemed really happy that Fluttershy decided to stay, despite Wynter and Zephyr’s hassling. Fluttershy turned to walk alongside Applejack, the two of them greeting each other.

“Hey, Fluttershy.” Applejack said, jovial as ever.

“Hi, AJ.” Fluttershy responded with a semi-forced smile. “How was practice?” They turned and walked between the baseball and softball bleachers, heading to an opened gate and the adjacent street. A red truck with a beige trim sat parked right next to the two fields. Fluttershy had thought Applejack’s truck fit her so well since the first day she gave her a ride home a week ago. Every time Fluttershy sees it, she giggles inside hearing the words “country bumpkin.”

“It went well.” She answered. “Thanks for askin.” To Fluttershy, Applejack seemed a bit on edge, like she wanted to say something else. Her body language was too honest to Fluttershy. Every little movement spoke in volumes to her. To Fluttershy, it felt like Applejack wanted to talk about what happened earlier. “So, ah saw you throw that baseball earlier.” Fluttershy winced a little at that, despite expecting it. She was kind of hoping Applejack’s reluctance would’ve kept her from bringing it up.

“Oh… that. Um..” Fluttershy fiddled with the hem of her skirt. “Sorry about the scene I caused.” She immediately felt a friendly punch to her shoulder.

“Aww, don’t apologize.” Applejack beamed. “Ah thought it was downright amazin’ what ya did! Never seen anythin’ like it.” Fluttershy blushed lightly at the compliment. “Ya ever play ball before?”

“Oh.. umm..” Fluttershy trailed off, trying to find a way off the topic. Before she could start to formulate an excuse or lie, a gruff voice interrupted the two girls’ conversation.

“Hey! Excuse me!” The voice sounded older than that of a high schooler. Both Applejack and Fluttershy turned and saw what looked to be a middle aged man jogging towards them and waving his hand to get their attention. He wore cargo shorts and a Canterlot High coach’s polo shirt. Fluttershy smiled internally at how much of a stereotypical dad he looked like. “Sorry if I’m interrupting anything.” He came to a stop directly in front of Fluttershy. He stuck his rather large hand out to her. She daintily shook his hand. She could feel him restraining a firmer handshake. “Coach Hothoof. I coach the baseball team. I’m also your history teacher. Didn’t know if you remembered me.” He gave her a friendly smile.

“Oh! Yes of course I remember you, Mr. Hothoof.” Fluttershy reciprocated the smile he gave her as they released each other’s grip on their handshake. “This is just not the clothes I’m used to seeing you in.”

“Yeah.” He chuckled, knowing his shorts, polo, and running shoes are a drastic change from slacks, dress shirt, and loafers. “I get that a lot.”

“Hey,” Applejack nudged Futtershy, “Ah’ll be waitin in the truck. Gotta call Big Mac about me gettin’ home a little later than usual.” She turned and stuck her fist out to the baseball coach. “See you tomorrow, Coach.” He gave her a nod along with a strong fist bump. Applejack then began a brisk walk to her truck.

“Looks like you have a good taste in friends there, Fluttershy.” Hothoof commended. “Of all the girls on that team, AJ is definitely my favorite. The only one to have not caused drama between the boys and the girls.” Fluttershy smiled bashfully, not used to being complimented on anything, especially in making friends. “Anywho, that’s not what I came to talk to you about.”

“Oh?” Fluttershy responded with confusion weaved in her tone. “Then what did you need, Mr. Hothoof?”

“Look,” he said, following up with a sigh. Fluttershy knew that he was gonna ask something difficult of her. She took in a nervous gulp as he continued. “I know you and your brother aren’t exactly the perfect sibling pair. Knowing this makes what I’m going to ask you a bit more difficult. Before I ask, however, I want to ask a preliminary question: who taught you to throw like you did earlier?” He crossed his arms, patiently waiting for an answer.

“Umm, my… m-mom.” She stuttered. She shook her head at that. Stuttering was something she hated doing. She took a deep breath and pressed forward after rallying. “My mom taught me. My dad was too busy teaching Zephyr and my mom thought I felt left out. So she decided to teach me in place of my dad.” Hothoof nodded slowly, not sure whether he believed it or not.

“Well, your mom must’ve been quite the ball player hunh?” He meant that as genuinely as he could, but Fluttershy did flinch at the statement anyways. She knew he meant well, so she ignored any possible underlying sarcasm. “But anyways, the big question.” He huffed, preparing to ask her his awaited question. “Bluntly, I want to invite you to a spot on the late tryouts for the baseball team. It’s mainly for students that may have changed their minds after signing up for another extracurricular that they don’t want anymore. Would you like to give it a whirl?” She recoiled and her eyes widened a bit at the question. “Look, I know your type. I’ve seen it a million times. But this is the first time I’ve seen such raw talent in someone, let alone of that type.”

“Umm, I’m not sure, Mr. Hothoof.” Fluttershy responded, her eyes veering elsewhere. She never once thought about being on a team of any sort. A sports team even further shyed her away as she felt like she was never really strong enough for any sport. Plus, too many eyes on her. Even if she wasn’t the center of attention, it’s way too many.

“You don’t gotta decide now!” He jumped in, hoping to salvage if he came on too strong. “Just…let me know by next Friday. I won’t breathe a word to your brother or anyone for that matter, even if you say no. I want this to be your uninfluenced choice. Okay?”

Wow, Fluttershy thought, he really wants me to feel comfortable with this…if I’m a “type,” then he wasn’t lying when he said he knows it well… maybe I…

“Okay, Mr. Hothoof. I’ll consider it.” Fluttershy responded with a smile to help ease her teacher’s anxiety of potentially scaring her off. Despite his very manly exterior, he seemed to have a real heart. When she heard him speak she couldn’t detect any deception. He was genuinely offering something to her, no strings attached. He sighed a nearly invisible sigh in relief.

“Sounds like a plan, Fluttershy.” He had visibly calmed seeing he didn’t scare her off. “Just let me know yes or no by next Friday and we can get you on the list so you can be temporarily excused for your last classes. Which are your last two classes by the way?”

“Umm, algebra and orchestra.”

“Orchestra? Really?”

“They had nothing else I would’ve even thought about being in.”

Hothoof laughed in response. “You’re telling me! Well, orchestra will be no problem, but I’m gonna have to wrestle with your math teacher just to get you 10 minutes early.” He shook his head and waved his hands to her. “But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just consider the offer and let me know as soon as you decide.”

“Okay, Mr. Hothoof.” She said with a reassuring smile. “Thank you for the offer. I’ll…definitely think it over.” She started to back up and turn her way towards the waiting Applejack.

“Okay!” Hothoof called. “Have a good weekend!”

Fluttershy approached Applejack’s truck, already beginning to ponder over Hothoof’s invitation. If she joined, she would be around Zephyr more. It could be problematic to their already troubled relationship. On the other hand, it could heal and maybe even strengthen their bond as brother and sister. But a team sport? In front of her peers and parents? The thought rattled her spine, sending shockwaves of anticipation and downright fear to each bone. But her thoughts came back to what he initially asked her. She really wondered if he saw something in her. Some hidden talent. She wondered if he saw whatever her mom saw in her too.

“Hey, ‘Shy.” Applejack’s words shook her from her trance. Her hand remained on the arm rest on the passenger door, but she had yet to board the truck. “You gettin’ in or ya gonna keep lookin’ like a deer in some headlights?” Fluttershy stepped aboard and closed the door shut behind her. She placed her backpack between Applejack and herself on the bench seat. “So, what’d Coach wanna talk to us about?” She asked as she started the engine and placed it in its first gear. The truck pulled forward and then made their way onto the road.

“Umm..” Fluttershy hummed, wondering if she should share with Applejack the big news. She knows how honest Applejack is at heart, so with that comes a natural layer of trust. She turned to her friend, currently focused on traffic. “Well, I’ll tell you. But promise you won’t tell anyone else!”

“Alright, alright.” Applejack put a hand up and waved playfully. “Ah won’t tell a soul. Swear.” Fluttershy nodded and returned her gaze to the road ahead. She took in a breath and let it out inaudibly.

“Mr. Hothoof offered me a chance to try out for the baseball team.” They came to a red light as she finished. At the same time, Applejack’s eyes became wide with surprise. She snapped her head to Fluttershy.

“Whaaaat?!” She exclaimed, a smile spread across her face, something Fluttershy didn’t expect. “Was it ‘cause of that throw you made earlier during warmups?!” Fluttershy responded with a light nod. The light turned green as Applejack returned to driving Fluttershy home. “Well I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t impressed by it too. Shoot, Fluttershy. You got an arm like a rifle. Not only you threw it to the dugout from deep left, but you did it on the baseball field.”

“What difference does it make?” Fluttershy asked, then tried to answer her own question. “Is the softball field smaller?”

“Bingo.”

“Huh.”

“What?”

“I don’t know why, but I guess I just assumed they were the same size.”

“Oh no, there’s a difference. By about a hundred feet, give or take.”

“Oh wow. That is quite a big difference.” Fluttershy hummed lightly in thought. “What do you think, AJ?”

“Hm? About what?”

“About me joining, of course. I wanted to see what you think.”

“What’s it matter what ah think?”

“Well, you’re my friend. Plus you’re on the softball team so it makes sense I ask someone close to the teams. Other than my brother, of course.”

“Hmmm.” It was Applejack’s turn to hum in thought. Although she was partially distracted by the road, she did set aside resources to think about the offer. “If it were up to me, ah’d go for it. Especially ‘cause you’ve never been a part of a team sport right?” Fluttershy nodded in response. “There you have it. Why not? Try. If it don’t work out, just go back to how you were goin’ about your business before. Ain’t got much to lose.”

Fluttershy pursed her lips in thought for the rest of the ride. She thought about everything she did have to lose. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much just like Applejack said. Girls had tried before but none had made a meaningful impact in the school’s history. However, none of it was meaningless as well. It gave girls like Fluttershy hope. She saw the pictures in the school’s trophy case. Some of their champions had anywhere between one and three girls on the team. This thought alone boosted Fluttershy’s confidence in success.

It’s been done before… what’s stopping me..?

She didn’t give it much more thought as Applejack turned the corner onto Fluttershy’s street. They neared a tall apartment building of about seven floors. Applejack stopped in front in a drop-off lane designated for the apartment complex. Fluttershy opened the truck door and took her backpack into her hands. She stepped out and faced the open truck.

“Thank you, AJ, again.” Fluttershy smiled warmly.

“Aw shucks.” Applejack rubbed the back of her neck. “No need for that fuss. But you’re always welcome to ask for a ride, Shy. Stay safe. And think about that offer, alright?”

Fluttershy responded with a quick but fairly confident nod as she closed the truck door and watched Applejack drive away. Once she made her way into the apartment complex, she knew that this baseball thing was something she was going to be thinking about all weekend. And she was oddly okay with it. She’d been looking for a change of pace in herself, so she saw this as potentially a good opening to do something with her life which had been nothing but ostracization up until she met Twilight.

Maybe for once… I can

Her Life, Her Choice

View Online

Saturday

Fluttershy packed her backpack with a change of clothes, some toiletries, and a change of sleepwear. The weather tends to get more crisp during September’s transition to Fall. It was Pinkie Pie’s idea to have a sleepover at one of their houses this weekend to welcome Futtershy into their friend group. This group has been long overdue for a new and friendly face. At least that’s how Pinkie put it. The group decided it’d be best to have the get together at Rainbow Dash’s due to her rather large home. Fluttershy would be lying if she didn’t say she was nervous. After all, she’d only been to one other sleepover. It was a long time ago and her mom had to pick her up early. She never told her mom why, but her mom didn’t care. Her mom wanted what made Fluttershy happy and comfortable. Fluttershy carried that embarrassment, but her mom did everything in her power to erode that embarrassment.

The doorbell rang, shaking her awake from her thoughts. She grabbed her lightly packed backpack and made her way to the front door. As she passed the living room couch where her dad and Zephyr sat watching one of the remaining games of the baseball season, she glanced at the TV. She knew the teams at the least. They were rivals. The biggest rivals in all of the ELB and even the rest of Equestria’s sports: Manehattan Star Swirls and Klugetown Rockhoofs. Fluttershy knew who her dad and brother rooted for, her father always sporting the gray baseball cap with the signature maroon K on the front. Growing up looking up to their father, Zephyr followed in his footsteps and rooted for the Rockhoofs as well. Fluttershy, on the other hand, wasn’t interested in sports altogether, further driving that wedge between her and her brother and father.

“I’m leaving, dad.” Fluttershy called to her dad. He turned to look over the back of the couch that him and Zephyr sat upon. His short but wavy blond hair and freshly shaven face looked to his daughter with near indifference.

“Okay.” He turned his attention back to the TV, his priorities being elsewhere at the moment. “Be safe. And call if anything changes.”

“I will.” She responded curtly. “Love you both.”

She received a genuine “I love you” from her dad, despite his eyes being glued to the baseball game before him. She knew he meant it, he just wasn’t intimate with it.

“Later, Flutters.” Zephyr said in a forced tone of sincerity. “Say hi to your new gal pals for me.” He snickered.

Fluttershy ignored the final remark as she unlocked the door and opened it to see a patiently waiting Rarity and Applejack. Fluttershy stepped out and quickly closed the door to avoid any confrontation with Zephyr and her two friends. She re-locked the door behind her and greeted her friends joyfully. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t excited. To give people another chance filled her with an anxiety that morphed into a rush of jubilant anticipation. Once down the elevator and out of the lobby, they piled into Applejack’s truck and left for Rainbow Dash’s house.

~

The truck ride gave Fluttershy enough time to learn some things about Applejack and Rarity. Cloudsdale Heights was quite a drive from Canterlot, so Fluttershy took the initiative to try and talk to her new friends.

Although not the sharpest of the five of her new friends, Rarity definitely had an eye for color and style. She even went as far as calling Fluttershy’s consistent and humble clothing a “vibrant meek chic,” as she went into detail about every tiny aspect of Fluttershy’s attire down to the buttons of her comfy button-up. Fluttershy couldn’t help but blush from the torrent of micro-complements she received. Seeking a future in fashion under high scrutiny, Rarity had been practicing and perfecting her trade since she was a child.

Applejack, next to Rainbow, was the most helpless in the classroom. Her only drive in seeking passing grades was the softball team. She never worried about work after high school since she intended to simply work her family’s apple orchard outside of town. She explained that whoever found success beyond the orchard, between her brother, little sister, and herself, would simply chase that dream. Since her burly older brother Big Mac had little intention to leave the orchard, it was pretty much up to Applejack or her little sister to find a dream worth chasing.

Their conversations, for the time being, had come to an end. Having arrived at Rainbow’s home, Fluttershy’s excitement peaked. When she approached the wide two-story home, she began to smile. The moment slapped her in the face and she was more than okay with it. Applejack and Rarity took the lead in front of Fluttershy since they were more acquainted with Rainbow and her family. They rang the electronic doorbell and waited. After a few moments, the door creaked open. Fluttershy nearly gasped at who she saw standing at the door.

“Hey, AJ. Rarity.” The stocky Coach Hothoof beamed at the two of them. He looked beyond them and expectantly saw a slightly wide-eyed Fluttershy. “Well hello to you too Fluttershy. Rainbow told me that you’d be here too.”

“Heya, Coach.” Applejack greeted informally.

“Hello again, Mr. Hothoof.” Rarity followed in greeting.

“Um, hi Mr. Hothoof.” Fluttershy subconsciously crossed one arm over and held onto the opposite arm. The choice he had given her earlier that week now became the biggest thing on the front of her mind. She didn’t want to dawdle on his patience so she knew she’d dedicate time tonight at some point to muse deeply over the option he’d given her.

Coach stepped aside allowing the girls to enter the home. Fluttershy, once again, clung closely to Rarity and Applejack.

“The rest of the girls got here a while ago. They should be on the porch. Windy is making snacks right now for you guys.” Coach informed them, mainly Fluttershy, about their friends’ whereabouts. He directs his attention to Fluttershy. “Windy’s my wife. She’ll be nearby the whole night if you need anything. I can take you to introduce you.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy tensed. Being around so many people is still something she’s getting used to. But her motivated and headlong attitude pushed her forward. “Thank you, Mr. Hothoof.” She turned her head to her passing friends. “I’ll um.. catch up with you guys later?” Rarity was already halfway up the stairs while Applejack answered her.

“Sure thing, sugar cube.” Applejack began climbing the stairs. “We’ll be waitin’.” She quickly disappeared up the staircase as Fluttershy followed Coach closely through the main hall. Halfway down, he pointed out an archway and told her that his wife was through there. Coach broke off to another section of the first floor in a hurry. Fluttershy assumed he had more important things to do and continued following his directions.

Taking a quick left through the archway Coach pointed at earlier led to an enormous kitchen with a granite topped island at its center. The kitchen was very modernized with nearly everything seeming to be electrically reliant. Standing at the island was a middle aged woman with scruffy hair and a combination of orange and a light scarlet. She seemed to be working on a large and incomplete platter of various finger foods. She looked up and made eye contact with Fluttershy. She gave a warm smile at the new face in her house.

“So you must be the infamous Fluttershy.” Windy said, extending her hand across the island’s corner. Fluttershy took her hand and shook it before releasing quickly so as to not potentially dirty her hands.

“Yes, ma’am.” Fluttershy shifted her weight back and forth in her shoes. “I guess Rainbow Dash has talked about me a little bit around the house?”

“Not much actually.” Windy responded, her eyes still focused on the snacks before her. Fluttershy gave a quizzical tilt of her head in confusion. “Believe it or not,” Windy continued, “My husband is the one who won’t stop going on and on about you.”

“Oh..!” Fluttershy could feel an awkward sweat building up along her spine.

“He told me about your talent.” Windy said, noticing Fluttershy’s disgruntled eyes as they shifted elsewhere in the kitchen. “Don’t worry. I gave him an earful and a half for breaking the promise he made to you about not telling anyone.” She aggressively rolled a sandwich meat around a stick of cheese as she mentioned this. She sighed. “It’s not his fault. He’s excited about your potential so he had to vent it to someone. So he chose the person he trusted the most.” Fluttershy replaced the annoyed look with understanding, inwardly smirking at Coach’s hidden excitement. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him this excited about that baseball team. You must really have some talent, hunh?” Fluttershy’s cheeks tint pink at the complement.

“Oh, um, I only threw a ball.” Fluttershy responded quietly. “I don’t think it’s that special.” She rubbed her throwing arm once again, remembering the odd feeling her arm gave when she hurled the ball as hard as she could.

“My Bow has a very sharp eye for talent, you know.” Windy continues her indirect praising. “He’s even had a hand in sending a few boys all the way up to the ELB level.” Fluttershy blinked in surprise.

“Oh wow.” Fluttershy was in awe despite her lackluster reaction. Despite not fully understanding the work that went into it, she knew making it in professional sports was quite the daunting task. “That’s really amazing actually. I hope they didn’t forget about him.”

“You’d think they would.” Windy said with a smirk. “Oh no, we get calls every other week from one of those boys. They want to thank my Bow for giving them the chance of a lifetime.” She stopped her work and gazed off to the living room. “To be under those lights must be…” she paused and shook her head to find the right word.

“Intoxicating?” Fluttershy finished for her. She didn’t even know why she used that word when her instincts screamed words like “horrifying” and “hellish.” She wondered deeply about it, but couldn’t put her finger on why she chose that word. She simply chalked it up to an understanding of those in that position. Windy slowly nodded as her distracted visage rose into a smirk. She turned her head to look Fluttershy in the eye.

“I really couldn’t have said it better myself.” She continued her work on the platter as it neared completion. “Well Fluttershy, it was really nice talking to you. But I really shouldn’t keep you from your friends.”

“Oh it’s no problem Mrs. Dash. I had fun talking to you.” Fluttershy spoke with a smile to further confirm her feelings towards the conversation.

She turned and quickly went back up the hallway and to the flight of stairs she saw Rarity and Applejack go up. Once at the top, she ran into a bathroom to her right. I should probably get changed in advance. She walked in and changed into her sleepwear. A simple pair of black track shorts and a large t-shirt with the words “need more sleep” on the front. As she began to gather her clothes to walk out of the restroom, she glanced into the mirror. She now regretted not getting actual pajamas as her efforts seemed too lazy for what her friends may have for themselves. She shook the negativity from her head and stepped back into the hallway.

Continuing down the rather long hall, she saw a door on her left that was slightly ajar. She pushed it open lightly and peeked in. She was greeted by a white-walled room. A large bed with a thick comforter and sheets sat with one side to the doorway. A TV fit perfectly into an entertainment center across from the foot of the bed. The entertainment center looked to hold a myriad of sports trophies and medals. She assumed they belonged to none other than Rainbow Dash. On the opposite side of the bed on the far side of where Fluttershy peeked in, she saw a large set of glass and wood balcony doors covered by thick curtains. The room overall was rather messy and she could see various bags dotting the room, each one presumably belonging to each of her friends.

Fluttershy stepped in and laid her own bag next to the door. Closing the door behind her, she could hear muffled voices and laughter coming from the other side of the balcony doors. She traversed the room and peeked beyond the curtains. She saw a sizable balcony that had a breathtaking view over Canterlot. She could even see her distant apartment building amongst the growing skyscrapers of downtown. As for the balcony, the center had a gas fire pit. At the two far corners also sat a large outdoor space heater at each. Her friends were all gathered around the fire pit in a mishmash of beanbags and large pillows talking amongst each other. They all seemed to have actual pajamas on, which nagged at Fluttershy to, next time, have actual pajamas ready. She could also hear music coming from somewhere amongst the group.

Taking a deep breath, she turned the door’s knob and slowly pushed it open. As she did, one by one, all of her friends looked in her direction. They each smiled and gave a warm greeting to her. She compiled herself and shook her thoughts of being underdressed since her friends did indeed have dedicated pajamas for occasions such as these.

“Hi, everyone.” She sheepishly reciprocated.

“What took ya?” Rainbow asked brazenly. “I was thinking you chickened out or something.” Twilight was about to scold Rainbow for her shameless teasing when Fluttershy spoke for herself instead. She shook her head.

“Oh, no. I was just talking to your mom.” Fluttershy took this opportunity to be playful with Rainbow Dash. “Actually, she was going on and on about you, Rainbow.” Fluttershy snickered internally. “I had to politely stop her from showing me all of your baby pictures.” Rainbow was stricken with shock and grew beet red. Applejack started letting out a hearty laugh at the sight.

“Aw now this Ah gotta see.” Applejack joined the teasing of their normally confident star athlete. “What do you think, Rares?” She elbowed Rarity sitting right next to her.

“Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t at least a little bit interested.” Rarity put a hand to her mouth and joined Applejack’s jovial laughter.

“Yeah well,” Rainbow said, her confident personality shaking apart, “it’s whatever. I was cute back then and I’m hot now so I don’t know what the big deal is.” Her face still flushed, Fluttershy couldn’t help but continue.

“You were veeeeery cute.” Fluttershy approached and sat in-between Rainbow and Twilight. Fluttershy decided to take a shot in the dark and hoped it would hit something to pull that same reaction from Rainbow. “My favorite was the one with you in the sink for your bath.” It seemed her gamble paid off as Rainbow turned in horror and an even deeper crimson now took over her ears.

“Are. You. Kidding me?!” Rainbow let out a prolonged “ugh” as she clawed her own face. At this point, the remaining girls were giggling and laughing at their friend’s lost composure. “She said she’d never show anyone that one.” Before anything got out of hand, Fluttershy decided to cut her teasing short. She put a hand on Rainbow’s shoulder.

“I was, um, just kidding with you, Rainbow.” Fluttershy let Rainbow in on her teasing. Rainbow turned and looked at her with a frustrated look while Fluttershy only smiled towards her disgruntled friend. Her annoyance faded and morphed into a snickering smirk.

“Alright,” Rainbow rolled her eyes, “I guess you did get me good. But wait, how’d you know about the picture of me in the sink?”

“Just took a guess.” Fluttershy shrugged.

“Pretty good guess,” Twilight added, “if you ask me. You got her good, Fluttershy.”

“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie spoke up next. “Seeing Dashie turn all red like that was something completely new to me.” She leaned to her side where Rainbow sat. “You should do that more often, hmmmm?”

“Tch.” Rainbow scoffed. “Whatever. It’s not like she’d be able to do it again. She caught me off guard. So what?”

“Suuuuure.” Applejack drawled sarcastically.

The girls casually broke off into their own conversations as Fluttershy simply listened in. They all seemed to have a decent history with each other as they all talked about memories from years ago. As left out as she felt, Fluttershy didn’t mind. She knew she’d get to have memories to share with each of them in the future, so she was patient. At some point, she caught Rainbow Dash occasionally glancing in her direction multiple times. Fluttershy was curious, and soon made intentional eye contact with her rainbow haired friend.

“Something the matter, Rainbow?” Fluttershy asked, leaning in just in case her friend didn’t want to be embarrassed again.

“No! Nothing really.” Rainbow shifted in her bean bag to hear Fluttershy better over her talking and laughing friends. “I was just wondering… what were you really talking to my parents about?” Fluttershy pursed her lips in response. She had already told Applejack about the whole situation. She wondered if she should just tell all of her friends now and see what they all think. Her eyes left Rainbow’s as she thought deeper about it. She finally decided on taking that chance on her new friends, in spite of every red flag her instincts gave her.

“Actually, I was going to bring it up to all of you at some point tonight.” Fluttershy gave an anxious smirk. “I guess now is a good time?” Rainbow nodded, but leaned in closer.

“You sure? Cause you don’t look too sure.” Her eyes gestured down to Fluttershy’s subconsciously clasped and white knuckled hands. She drew in a silent breath and steeled her nerves.

“I’m… pretty sure.” Fluttershy responded hesitantly. She cleared her throat, which got the attention of the other girls. Although she meant to use words to get their attention, she took the opportunity head on as it came. “Excuse me.. Sorry if I’m interrupting anything.”

“No need for apologies.” Twilight essentially spoke for the group since no one said anything else and instead directed their attention to Fluttershy. “If you need to tell us something, we’re all ears. Right, girls?” The group gave their affirmations and encouraged Fluttershy out of her shell. They seemed to know Fluttershy was itching to tell them something since all of their conversations came to an abrupt stop.

“Okay.” Fluttershy calmed herself further, not wanting to take up more of their time. All but Applejack sat with intrigue. “AJ already knows what’s going on, but I wanted all of your opinion on it.” Fluttershy knew their answer already. In fact, she knew her own answer as well. She came to her own conclusion after hearing Rainbow’s mom go on about Coach’s excitement. She was simply looking for that last big push. “Coach Hothoof invited me to try out for the baseball team.. what do you girls think I should do?” Rarity was the first to speak up almost immediately.

“I’m sorry, but the baseball team?” Rarity asked more in raw surprise rather than objection. Fluttershy began to worry once again. She began to question her friends’ expectations and confidence in her. She gave her posh friend a closed eye nod. “How impressive!” Fluttershy was relieved to hear that, to say the least. “To not only have a chance to try out for our most prestigious sports team, but to be invited as well?”

“Yeah!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed next. “I mean, the last girl to be invited was before any of us were even at Canterlot!” She quickly pulled out her phone, her tongue now peeking out passed her lips as she quickly tapped and swiped her way to her intended destination. “Here!” She tossed her phone to Fluttershy. Fluttershy caught it in both of her hands and oriented it to its proper portrait orientation. The picture shown was from a social media site dating back to around 10 years ago. The picture was a team photo of the Canterlot baseball team. The team looked fairly ordinary until she looked to the right of the coach from that year. A girl. Chestnut haired with a blonde strand running down half the full length of her loose hair, she seemed happy. “Apparently she was really good at her position! I don’t know baseball or softball so all I know is that she was really good!”

“Oh wow.” Fluttershy said aloud, mostly to herself. “And what happened to her?” Pinkie Pie shrugged with an unsure expression. Rainbow Dash leaned closer to Fluttershy to get a better look at the picture.

“Oh! I know her!” Rainbow remarked with enthuse. “That’s um…” she snapped her fingers trying to remember the name of the girl in question. “Oh! Willow! Willow Tail. I remember seeing her on TV when I was younger. She’s one of the athletes who got me to do sports in the first place.”

“So do you know what happened to her?” Fluttershy asked. She felt tension in her neck when she saw Rainbow’s expression fall.

“Oh. That.” Rainbow rubbed the back of her own neck and avoided eye contact with Fluttershy. “Not sure you wanna hear that one.” Since Fluttershy was already edging on anxiety once again, she decided to take Rainbow Dash’s word for it.

“Uhh comin’ back to Fluttershy’s offer, girls.” Applejack spoke up next, trying to get off the subject of the past Canterlot ball player. “Ah think it’s a fine idea for Fluttershy to join up. Shoot, that opportunity don’t come around too often.” The group muttered in agreement. “Ah mean, who knows how far she’ll go, am ah right?” When she said this, she made sure to look confidently into Fluttershy’s eyes. Fluttershy mentally thanked Applejack for making this already awkward situation easier on her.

“I don’t see why not.” Twilight put in her thoughts.

“Well, I think Fluttershy should give it a fair attempt.” Rarity said, examining her nails. “It’s not every day you get invited to a team with no prior experience.” Her eyes widened at some realization and sat forward in Fluttershy’s direction. “Now just a moment…! Imagine the look on your brother’s face!” She threw her head back and laughed a proper laugh. The rest of the girls but Fluttershy joined Rarity’s train of thought as they laughed, thinking about the complete shock in Zephyr’s face at the moment of realization. Fluttershy had thought about that too. She thought the look on his face would be priceless too. But the face she worried about was the only other one in the house.

“Yeah!” Rainbow elbowed Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Why not stick it to your brother? I mean, even he barely made tryouts his freshman year. Right, Rares?” Rarity nodded in confirmation. Being the oldest, a junior, Rarity was in the same grade as Zephyr when he tried out for the team.

“He was quite clumsy then.” Rarity added, leaning back into the bean bag, returning her focus to her now chipping nails. “Oh how times change.” Fluttershy knew she referred to his dramatic jump in skill from freshman year to now.

“But look at you!” Rainbow exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “A freshman! No experience in sports and even less experience with people!” The girls shot a collective frown at Rainbow Dash’s choice of words while Fluttershy sunk a little bit into her bean bag, dejected. “But against the odds, and I mean all odds, my dad sees something in you.” The girls’ expressions changed into something more hopeful after being misled by Rainbow Dash’s brash personality. Fluttershy looked up to Rainbow for that final push. “You should do it, Fluttershy. Kick ass for once in your life! If my dad says you got it, then I believe you’ve got it!” Rainbow finished with a pump of her fist.

Fluttershy fought back a smile. She felt confidence surging through her like electricity. She didn’t know where it came from. Like she had locked up a beast inside her that finally fought its way out. It cascaded through and snapped every red flag as if they were twigs. For the second time in her life, someone believed in her. This time, she didn’t intend to let them down. She finalized her decision in her head. Even after she was sure of what she wanted, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Whatever happens,” Twilight, the owner of the gentle hand upon Fluttershy’s shoulder, assured her, “even if you decide not to do it, we’ll always be there for you.”

“…Thank you..” Fluttershy smiled warmly and placed her own hand on Twilight’s. She looked across her friends who had done so much in such little time. “All of you…I couldn’t ask for better friends.”

“Okaaaaay… GROUP HUG!!!” Pinkie Pie screamed with a smile showing all of her teeth as she dangerously jumped over the fire pit and into Fluttershy’s lap, burying her face into Fluttershy’s stomach and wrapping her arms around Fluttershy’s waist. The remaining girls soon ran in and joined the hug.

Fluttershy’s face grew into a deep crimson at the sudden showing of affection. Her heart raced as she let herself fall into the group embrace. She wrapped her arms around who she could and rested her head in the crook of Rainbow Dash’s neck.

“Thank you all…”

4:21 am

Sunday

Fluttershy turned over in the bed in between Rarity and Applejack. Due to their polar nature, the two girls pulled the blanket taut on either side of the bed, leaving Fluttershy with a hovering middle section. They warred even in their sleep, to which Fluttershy quietly giggled to herself. Feeling parched from the night of talking and watching movies with salty snacks, she rose from the bed and climbed off carefully at the foot. On the floor at the foot of the bed, Pinkie Pie laid sprawled over Twilight and Rainbow Dash’s oppositely and more neatly made floor bedding. Fluttershy carefully stepped over the three girls and made her way to the door.

She entered the hallway and made her way down the staircase. Once in the kitchen, she grabbed a cup from the cabinet and used the refrigerator’s water dispenser. In the middle of her drink, she noticed a hallway across from the kitchen’s entrance. At its end, a dim, soft light spilled into the hallway through what looked to be a glass door. She put her glass down in the sink and crept down the hallway. Once up to the door, she tried to peer through the distorted glass but couldn’t see anything. She turned the handle and slowly pushed the door open. Once through the door, she was in awe.

A desk sat at the far end with a lamp providing the light that spilled through the door. The desk was a clutter of papers that looked like school assignments from her grade. Along the walls perpendicular to the door, were cabinets and cases containing memorabilia, pictures, trophies, medals, plaques, newspapers, and various old baseball equipment. There was a color theme of scarlet and gold. It was like a museum to her. She stepped further into the study and looked closely at one case. A baseball sat neatly on a three point stand. The side of the ball, written in pen, read “Our First Game.” Two signatures were scrawled underneath those words. One she recognized as Hothoof’s, while the other was unrecognizable. Behind the ball, was a picture of a younger Hothoof and another young man, each with an arm laid across the other’s shoulder.

She looked closely at many of the other cases, reading words on pictures, baseballs, and newspapers out loud in a whisper. “Our First Win. Rookie Catcher takes ELB by Storm. Bow ‘Shotgun’ Hothoof. The Star Swirls’ Starboy. Canon-Armed. Soothsayer Hothoof does it again. For the sonuvabitch who reads my mind. Captain Hothoof.” By the time she looked through most of the cases, her curious expression turned into one of inspiration. It wasn’t a surprise to her that her soon-to-be Coach was a baseball player. What was a surprise was how decorated and respected he was. Since she excluded baseball from her life at such a young age, she couldn’t name a single baseball player by name other than her own brother. Now, an ex professional baseball player is her Coach.

“Those were the days.” Fluttershy jumped and turned quickly to the voice at the door. Coach stood in sweats and a Canterlot shirt, leaning on the frame, admiring the study full of achievements as if it’s the first time he’s seen it. He had a nostalgic look in his eyes as he ended their wandering onto the now embarrassed Fluttershy. “Sorry if I scared you.”

“It’s okay!” Fluttershy quickly shot back, nervous about the predicament she found herself in. “I should be the one apologizing…for intruding like that.” She rubbed her arm anxiously and forced her eyes to the side. Coach shook his head with a smirk.

“You’re okay, Fluttershy.” He walked into the room and passed her to the desk. “I couldn’t sleep so I came in here and decided to do some early grading on the class’ assignments on the Frozen War.” He sat at the desk and pulled an assignment packet off the desk to show Fluttershy. Her eyes landed on it and noticed it was her own paper. She scored an 82. “Good job.” He put the paper back on the desk. “But I know you can do better. So, what’s got you awake so early in the morning?” He turned his attention back to the desk in his swivel chair.

“Oh, um. I got thirsty so I came down for some water.” Fluttershy lightly kicked the ground beneath herself. Reflecting on her pep talk with her friends, she gathered herself and spoke without thinking. “Also… I’ll go to the tryouts. And I’ll see how I do.” Coach spun quickly, eyes lit up.

“Really?” He asked, obviously hoping Fluttershy wasn’t messing with him.

“Yes. I… want to give it a shot. If that’s okay…” She squealed out the last half of her statement.

“Alright!” Coach exclaimed, “That’s the attitude I’m looking for. I knew you had it in you.” Fluttershy smirked and laughed nervously. She didn’t know what he meant by the “attitude” she had that he liked so much. All she did was accept his offer after all.

“So what should I do? I mean, to prepare?” Fluttershy dug her index finger into her palm as she asked that.

“Well, just show up to the baseball field in something athletic. You’re gonna be doing some running around mostly. And then we’ll get a baseball in your hands to do some throwing too.” He turned back to the desk. “Don’t worry too much about it. All you gotta do is show up dressed accordingly, then let me handle the rest.”

“Okay.” Fluttershy nodded. “I can do that.”

“Good.” Coach continued his work on the work packet in front of him. “Now, best you head back upstairs. Don’t wanna keep you up any longer.” He paused his writing. “I really appreciate you stepping out of your comfort zone for this, Fluttershy. I really do think you can go far.” He continued his scribbling. Fluttershy felt an echo of the same feeling of invigoration her friends gave her earlier that night.

She thanked him for his time despite being up in the wee hours of the night. She made her way back upstairs replaying the sights in the cabinets she saw. The glory. The respect. The struggle. The hill she chose to climb was daunting, indeed. But she knew that if she never risked anything, she wouldn’t get anywhere. She’d stagnate. She’d prove her dad and brother right. That angered her, even though she chose not to indulge in that anger. She shook off those feelings in place of her new friends. Friends who brought her smiles and laughs, just like the smile and giggle she made walking back into the room of her sleeping friends. Rarity and Applejack seemed to unconsciously have been drawn to each other as they had ended up in a tight embrace, both smiling in a way that Fluttershy could only describe as goofy. In that moment, she had hoped her friends’ pep talk was something more than that: the truth.