The pot was a dazzling shade of pink, sparkling with silver holographic glitter. Ornate lace wrapped around its rim and its base. An elegant name was written in glittery quill on the side, next to a plain tag that read:
CONSOLATION - KEEP IT UP! ☺
Diamond Tiara stared at it mutely.
For this- this abomination wasn’t the hydrangea she’d brought home one week ago! Her flower had been a voluminous, beautiful azure. Now, it was brown. An ugly, revolting shade of brown, the gross kind that peeled away from the bottoms of her boots after rain (ew) and also the stinky kind that farmer kids brought around with them every day to school (double ew). Its stem also drooped over in abject wrinklyness, as if a projection of Diamond Tiara’s disappointment.
Taking a deep breath, she swivelled to look at her deskmate. To her left, one of said farmer kids was patting the soil in her own pot with small yellow hooves. Her ludicrously huge pink bow bounced as the pony noticed her, and returned the gaze.
“What?” Apple Bloom said, in that annoying twang she always spoke with. “You gonna say something about how much my flower sucks?”
Truth to be told, Apple Bloom’s flower did not ‘suck’. Hers was a peach-coloured orchid that stood proud and tall in its pot. It looked even more vibrant than the day they had all gotten to choose their flowers in the greenhouse to keep. The bright blue ribbon that hung on its pot was a testament to its allure. It only made Diamond Tiara more furious.
Her nostrils flared. Then, she hopped up from her stool onto her desk with a loud THUMP!
Miss Cheerilee stopped talking. The whole class stared.
“Diamond Tiara,” the teacher finally said after a while. “Do you have something to say?”
“Apple Bloom cheated!” Diamond Tiara yelled, prompting gasps and murmurs. Huffing and puffing, her eyes fell on the ponies that had earned second and third place. They had something in common— they were Earth ponies. That, and that they all now found themselves face-to-face with her aggressive pointing. “You, you and you too! This is clearly unfair! You only gave the prizes to Earth ponies!”
“...Uh.” A colt said. “You know you’re an Earth pony too, right?”
“Yes,” Diamond Tiara fumed. “But I’m not really an Earth pony. I'm not a… a farmpony!”
Scootaloo piped up. “I’m not a farmpony nor an Earth pony, and I got runner’s up,”
Diamond Tiara was about to retort when Miss Cheerilee cleared her throat and said with a stern voice. “Diamond Tiara, will you please sit down?”
Having no choice, the filly plopped back on her stool and sulked. Miss Cheerilee stepped closer to her while addressing the entire classroom.
“I did my best to judge this contest as fairly as I could. However, it is true that ponies who grew up on farms will have more experience with plants than those who did not, and it cannot be denied that Earth ponies have a special bond with the Earth.”
Diamond Tiara opened her mouth. Miss Cheerilee gave her a look and continued:
“But, this does not mean that other races of ponies cannot learn to take care of a flower. And you, Diamond Tiara, also have the special inclination of an Earth pony, so I am sure you could easily grow flowers just as pretty if you put your heart to it.”
“I did put my heart to it!” she wailed. “Look at my pot and how pretty it is! I don’t understand how Apple Bloom’s clay pot is better!”
“Sorry, but dumping a heap of glitter on your flower isn’t going to suddenly make it spring up all happy,” Sweetie Belle cut in.
“Girls!” Miss Cheerilee sighed. She turned and smiled at the desk next to her, “Apple Bloom, since you did so well with your orchids, could you maybe help your friend here with her hydrangea?”
Apple Bloom fidgeted in her seat with a strained expression. However, she nodded, surprising even Diamond Tiara herself. Why would she agree to help her, even after she had basically just insulted her? She brushed the thought aside. Well, her special talent was leading other ponies, not smooshing dirt around. If her farmpony classmate had been enlisted to repair her flower, then so be it.
“So?” Apple Bloom repeated. “I need you to tell me what in tarnation you did to this poor thang!”
“Can’t you—like, just look at it and figure it out?”
“Whaddya mean figure it out?” She groaned in exasperation. “It’s a plant, land’s sakes. Not a machine!”
“Even if I told you, you wouldn’t learn anything from it,” Diamond Tiara leaned against the picket fence of Sweet Apple Acres. “I did everything there was to do! I watered it everyday, I put it out in the sun, fertilised it with the most expensive fertiliser, everything!”
Apple Bloom twitched. She picked up the watering can and motioned once above the hydrangea, then below towards the soil. “Did you water it on top like this, or below like this?”
Diamond Tiara snorted. “Why, above, of course. The flower needs to drink, not the soil.”
“Nghhh.” She face-hoofed with a flounce of her red mane. “No, you’re supposed to water the soil, an’ the flower sucks up the water through its roots. If ya water the flower itself, it’s gonna rot like you see here!”
“Watering too much also isn’t good for hydrangeas. You should water every few days, not everyday.” Apple Bloom kept talking, circling around the pot. “And you can’t leave hydrangeas out in the full sun for all day, they’re scared of too much sun and will become all dry. More isn't always better. Also, the most pricey fertiliser isn’t always the best! You hafta look for fertiliser that your plant likes. Didn’t you know that?”
Diamond Tiara’s eyes were stinging. Those remarks, especially coming from somepony like Apple Bloom, felt a great deal more caustic than they probably were. She didn’t like being put down by a pony she had always considered to be below her.
“I’m just not cut out for planting, okay?” she bit out. “Look, I don’t care about the stupid flower anymore. I’ll just go throw it away.”
Apple Bloom wavered. She glanced in Diamond Tiara’s direction. The pony was looking down, trembling. Something in her expression softened, and she trotted over, putting a gentle hoof around her shoulder.
“Hey, it’s fine,” she said, consolingly. “Everypony starts somewhere. I’ll teach ya, and we’ll have your flower back in bloom in no time!”
Diamond Tiara sniffled. “I tried so hard to take care of it. I really did.”
Apple Bloom smiled. “That’s already a good first step. Now all you have to do is do things nice and proper. Come, I’ll show you!”
She held out a yellow hoof.
Diamond Tiara took it.
After they had snipped off all the brown clumps of petals, Apple Bloom said they should change its soil. Diamond Tiara started scooping soil off the ground they were standing on until Apple Bloom said that stuff was good for apple trees, but not flowers, and promptly offered some of her farm's flower soil stock. It turned out that the Apple family didn't only grow apples; they had corn, radishes and also occasionally ornamental blossoms such as these.
It was when they were waddling back from the barn, drawing a wagon of supplies, that Diamond Tiara asked the question that had been nagging her the entire time.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" she winced. "Like, why are you still helping me, even though I…"
Apple Bloom's lips curved thoughtfully. "Well, it's like mah big sis says: to be the bigger pony. I mean, easy for her to say, she's huge! But it's true— helping other ponies always feels better than spiting 'em. And if it's somethin' I can help with, then…"
She shrugged. "...I dun see why not!"
Diamond Tiara stared at her. Then, slowly, she smiled too. "You're a good kid."
"Heehee…Wasn't always," Apple Bloom said, falling back into an easy chatter. "Did I ever tell you about when I snuck outta the house to deliver pies through fire geysers by myself?..."
A week later, the class crowded around Diamond Tiara’s desk. The filly sitting behind it tossed her violet mane and sat back, grinning proudly.
The hydrangea potted within was almost unrecognisable from last week's. This one had furling, thick layers of petals, decked out with natural swirls of blues and purples. In contrast, the pot was dull and undecorated, but nopony was paying it any attention.
"I must say, that looks amazing," remarked a colt.
"How did you get it to look like...like that?" cooed another.
"Well, Apple Bloom taught me how to care for it properly," Diamond Tiara explained. "And from then— lurve does all the rest." She turned to her left and winked. Apple Bloom beamed back with pride.
"Hmph," Silver Spoon scoffed from beside her. "No wonder you smell just like her now."
"Shuddup," chorused everypony.
"What? I'm right!" Silver Spoon glared at the class. She glanced at Diamond Tiara. "Isn't it?"
Diamond Tiara lingered. "Well, that was kinda mean, Silver…"
Silver Spoon arched an eyebrow, bewildered. Then, she stamped her hoof, "Ugh, I've enough of you fools." And stormed back to her seat, twin braids swinging behind her. It was then when the classroom door creaked open.
"Miss Cheerilee! Miss Cheerilee!" Apple Bloom rushed up to her delightedly. "Come look at Diamond Tiara's flower!"
"Hmm? Oh... How lovely!" Miss Cheerilee crouched by her desk and patted her back. "See, you had it in you."
Diamond Tiara positively swelled with happiness. "Well, it's all thanks to Apple Bloom. My cutie mark sure isn't a flower." She nudged her deskmate. "Hey, maybe your cutie mark is in gardening! You should try it more often!"
Apple Bloom's eyes lit up as she turned to her friends. "Yeah, maybe it is!" The three of them immediately exploded into enthusiastic discussion.
Miss Cheerilee regarded them with a warm gaze, before returning to Diamond Tiara. Leaning down, she whispered, as if divulging a secret:
"Whatever your cutie mark may be, that Earth pony charm is present in all of us Earth ponies. Not just in gardening, but also in a good, strong heart. Remember that."
And long after the blossoms that lined the schoolhouse windows had wilted away and scattered in the wind…
Diamond Tiara remembered.