Length: 30-40k words
Notes: This won’t be as aggressively meta as my last NaNo, so if you were anticipating me leaning so hard on the fourth wall that it falls over, I’m sorry. This still will be a bit sassy, but honestly, I peaked with the Hunger Games crossover. Wait. No, I lied. I couldn’t get past the first page without doing my usual thing.
Date Published: 1 Nov 2018 • Date Updated: 18 Nov 2018
“With Mother’s Day around the corner, we are doing a very special project in class. Each of you will pair up and interview your partner’s mother. On Friday in the hall, you will each give a short presentation on what you have learned, and the mothers will be invited. Your topic title is: ‘Mothers: Everyday Heroes’,” Ms. Arnette announced.
As Ms. Arnette began listing the pairs she had assigned, Elizabeth Wakefield sat up straighter and beamed. This was exactly the kind of project she liked. It honed her investigative skills. When Elizabeth grew up, she wanted to be a writer of some kind, and she was already editor of the sixth-grade paper, The Sweet Valley Sixers, which she had founded with her friends.
“Jessica Wakefield and Ellen Riteman,” Ms. Arnette announced.
“All right!” Across the aisle, Jessica, Elizabeth’s twin sister, turned in her seat to smile at Ellen Riteman. “This project will be a cinch!” Jessica said.
“I should hope so,” Ms. Arnette said severely. “Your last project was nothing to crow about.”
Jessica flushed with embarrassment and squirmed in her seat while Elizabeth withheld a smile. It was typical of Jessica—and the complete opposite of Elizabeth. Though the twins were identical—from their sun-kissed blonde locks, to the adorable dimples in the corner of their mouths when they smiled—their personalities were as different as night and day.
Elizabeth took her studies very seriously, and was borderline boring. Her outfits reflected her abhorrence for fun, as did her friends: Amy Sutton, a person whose only function was to react to Elizabeth, and Julie Porter, who… well, even Elizabeth didn’t know too much about her. She mostly just made up the numbers when they had lunch.
Jessica, on the other hand, lived for fun and excitement. She loved to be surrounded by her friends and wear the hottest fashions—all in purple, the official color of the Unicorn Club. The Unicorn Club was comprised of the prettiest and most important girls in Sweet Valley Middle School whose sole function was to bully any new girl to the point of suicide. And also talk about boys.
Despite the fact that they had almost nothing in common, the twins were the best of friends, and no matter how many times Jessica took advantage of Elizabeth, they both knew their bond was unbreakable.
“Elizabeth Wakefield and Tammy Amerson,” Ms. Arnette said, favoring Elizabeth with a smile that seemed to say, “I know you’ll do a good job on this project, even if your sister won’t.”
Elizabeth picked up her books and moved to a desk near Tammy. Elizabeth didn’t know much about her, other than she had moved to Sweet Valley very recently. She hadn’t made any friends so far, and had kept to herself. She had a look that seemed at odds with the rest of Sweet Valley Middle School; her head was shaved, she wore dark baggy clothing, and was a few pounds overweight. Elizabeth often thought to herself that Tammy must have some kind of problem that made her choose to look that way, and she had been looking for a way to get to know the new girl and fix her life. This project was the perfect opportunity.
“Hi, I’m Elizabeth Wakefield.” As she sat down, she gave a friendly smile to Tammy, who glanced up briefly and gave a token smile in response, but didn’t say anything.
“You can tell which one I am because I usually have my hair in a ponytail or parted with barrettes—but in a pinch, if I’m wearing a wristwatch, I’m Elizabeth.”
Tammy gave her an incredulous look. “And you can tell which one I am because of my grey t-shirt. Do you usually patronize everyone you meet like that?”
Elizabeth was taken aback by Tammy’s sassy tone, then she realized that Tammy hadn’t noticed she was one of the Wakefield twins. That in itself was odd. Although there was no reason for it, she had come to expect that everyone knew about her and Jessica. “I’m an identical twin,” Elizabeth said. “My twin is called Jessica, she’s over there. Some people get us mixed up.”
Tammy looked up again. “Oh. Oh, I hadn’t noticed. Sorry, I thought you were talking to me like I was stupid for no reason. Sorry.”
Tammy twirled a pen between her fingers. “I was thinking, why don’t I write up my report, you write up yours and then we’ll swap and give a presentation. Might be easier that way.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. Surely Tammy wasn’t asking her to take a shortcut on an assignment? She took a deep breath before replying. “I think that we really should do it as Ms. Arnette outlined.”
Tammy sighed and rolled her eyes. “Ok, fine. I’ll interview your mother, and you can interview Rita. She’s not free tonight, she’s working late. But tomorrow after school.”
Elizabeth leaned forward, “You call your mother Rita?” she asked in amazement.
“No, I call my foster carer Rita, because that’s who I live with, and that’s who you’ll be interviewing.” Tammy said the words quickly and firmly and in a tone that invited no further questions.
Elizabeth nodded thoughtfully. So that was the reason that Tammy looked the way she did. She was estranged from her real parents. Clearly Tammy didn’t want to talk about it in a class full of strangers, but maybe if she and Elizabeth spent some time one-on-one, Tammy would feel comfortable about opening up, and they would become the best of friends—until Tammy’s issue was resolved, obviously. After that Elizabeth would go back to Amy Sutton.
“Well,” she said, as inspiration struck. “Why don’t we come up with some questions during class, and then you can come to my house after school and meet my mother?”
Tammy shrugged. “Eh, why not?”
That afternoon, Tammy and Elizabeth settled down in the living room to finalize their questions for Mrs. Wakefield. Elizabeth got them each a glass of juice and some cookies and they got to work.
Working with Tammy was a lot like working with Amy. She didn’t seem to have much imagination, and let Elizabeth take over the writing of the questions. Occasionally she asked, “Are you sure you want to ask that?” but for the most part deferred to Elizabeth’s lead.
“You’re really going to like my mom,” Elizabeth said. “She’s a really great mom, she works part time, but she’s always there for us. She’ll be home any moment.”
Tammy smiled politely and replied in a very even tone. “And I’m sure you’ll like Rita.”
Elizabeth faltered. Nothing in Tammy’s tone or statement invited any further discussion. She wanted desperately to know why Tammy was in foster care—she was certain that she could fix their problems, after all, she had experience in this area. If only Tammy would open up to her. She opened her mouth to ask if Tammy missed her real family but was interrupted by Alice Wakefield stepping through the door.
“Hi girls, I’m home! Elizabeth, could you put these groceries away, and then start dinner—oh, and set a laundry load going too, Ned needs clean shirts—and I’m going to have a lie down. Work was very busy today. I had to look at curtain fabric for four hours straight!”
Elizabeth beamed. “That’s my mom,” she said proudly. “I’d better stop her before she goes upstairs for a nap before dinner.”
She and Tammy headed into the kitchen, where Alice was leaning heavily against the counter, rubbing her temples. Elizabeth wondered if her mother was coming down with another virus that could be mistaken for cancer. “Hi, Mom,” she said. “We were hoping to interview you for our school project.”
Alice looked startled. “Is it about the kid I hit on the way home, I swear I wasn’t drinking! And he’s fine!”
Elizabeth smiled, her mother was such a kidder. “No, it’s for our project, ‘Mothers: Everyday Heroes’. This is my friend Tammy. Tomorrow I’m going to interview her mother.”
“Foster carer,” Tammy corrected.
“Oh, ok then, go ahead.” Alice took a seat on one of the stools by the counter and continued to massage her temples.
Tammy glanced down at her notes. “Mrs. Wakefield, what is the most rewarding part of motherhood?”
“Well, with Elizabeth around the chores practically do themselves!” Alice met Tammy’s dead-eyed stare and gave a small titter. “Of course I’m joking. Um… well, of course… the children themselves. Every time I look at them, I think to myself, ‘gosh my kids are beautiful’—and Elizabeth’s smart too!”
Elizabeth preened at the compliment.
“Mrs. Wakefield, did you always want to be a mother?”
“Wait—I had a choice?” Alice gave another laugh. “I’m joking again. Of course I did. Almost everyone in my family looks identical, and have a high proportion of twins, so once I gave birth to a clone of Ned, everyone was curious—would we get twins? Would they look like me? So curiosity won out. I’m kidding again.” Alice’s eyes glazed over. “Of course I wanted children. They are the light of my life.”
To Elizabeth’s annoyance, Tammy raced through the rest of the questions, asking them in a flat tone, and not giving any time for follow-up questions.
With half a page of notes on her notepad, Tammy shut it with a snap. “Ok, I think we’re done here. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Wakefield. I’m going home now to write it up.”
Elizabeth stepped forward. “Why don’t you stay for dinner? We could write the report together?” And you could open up to me, she added silently. I know you’re hurting, I can fix you.
“No, thank you, but I appreciate the offer,” Tammy replied. “I’m going to get dinner ready for Rita. She’s always tired on Tuesdays because she works late.”
With that, Tammy gathered her books and went on her way, with Elizabeth staring after her.
“She… doesn’t look like the rest of your friends,” Alice commented.
“I know,” Elizabeth said earnestly. “I think she has some real issues and it makes her choose that style to punish herself.” She smiled at her mother. “But I’m sure this Mother’s Day project is going to bring us closer together so I can help her.”
Alice reached over and patted her daughter on the shoulder. “That’s my girl. You’re always getting things done, aren’t you?”
“How come you never say things like that about me?” Jessica asked from the doorway where she was standing.
“Because you don’t get things done, Jess!” Elizabeth replied with a laugh. “Think about all the things you’ve started and dropped so far this year: ballet, being open minded about disability, ithig, school council, musicals, the trip we wanted to take to see Great Aunt Helen, baby-sitting, makeovers, acting, singing, running a newspaper, being a big sister, acting again, and being clever, to name but a few.”
Jessica glared at her through narrowed eyes. “I told you last year that listing all of my failures to pad a word count is both lame and obvious!”
“Even so,” said Alice. “We all know that Elizabeth is going to finish this Mother’s Day project, and you’re going to come up with a silly excuse that will get you grounded, and then we’ll forget all about your grounding before your next big adventure!”
Jessica crossed her arms over her chest. “Fine! Make fun of me! Just for that I won’t tell you the most incredible news I’ve ever heard!”
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, you’ll just make fun of me!”
Elizabeth threw up her hands. “I’m sorry, great and powerful Jessica, do tell me your most incredible news!”
Jessica allowed a small smile at her sister. “Lila Fowler claims she’s got a purple unicorn.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “So what? You all have unicorn posters, and t-shirts and all sorts of things with unicorns on them. Why is this big news?”
“It’s a real live unicorn!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “And you believe her?”
“I believe that Lila Fowler can afford anything she wants in the world. And she’s invited me to go see it.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I’ll tell you now, Jess, if there’s really a real live purple unicorn walking around Lila’s backyard, I’ll do your chores for the rest of our lives.”
Jessica reached forward and shook Elizabeth’s hand. “Deal!”
Note: I’m aware it’s a FiM thing to write Applejack phonetically. I’m not doing that. 50,000 words is hard enough without adding apostrophes and phonetic words to the mix. Also, this is set anywhere between the season 3 finale 5×07 (Make New Friends But Keep Discord). Shorthand: Twilight is a princess, and the map calls ponies to solve friendship problems.
Princess Twilight Sparkle was deeply involved in one of her favorite folklore tales, the story of how the Mighty May-Gahn, from Kali Fauna in the strange world of Ooh-Say, defeated the evil Smooze with a song of pure love, when she became aware that her cutie mark was tingling.
“OH MY GOSH!” She leapt to her feet in excitement. “Spike!” She called. “The map called me!” Her brain clicked into gear, switching from old folklore to the excitement of a new challenge. She would have to do research, of course, and pack the appropriate books, and take her list of friendship problems and suggested solutions…
Spike dashed into the room, quill and scroll in hand, and Twilight smiled at the baby dragon. He really was a very good assistant. “Where is the map calling you to?” he asked.
“I don’t know! It could be Appleloosa or Manehattan or the Dragon Lands! The possibilities are endless! Or maybe it’s the Crystal Empire and I could visit Shining Armor and Cadence! I should pack warmly. Oh, but what if it’s somewhere like Saddle Arabia—then warm clothes would be wrong!”
“Or you could check the map and see where it’s sending you,” Spike commented.
“Excellent plan! We’ll check the map, and then we’ll need a list of everything that I’ll need to take with me. Oh gosh, this is so exciting!” Twilight strode into the map room, and saw a representation of her cutie mark and Applejack’s dancing over… well that couldn’t be right.
“Why is it circling the castle?” Spike asked.
“Twilight! I got here as fast as I could!” Applejack charged into the room and came to a neat stop by the map. “Is the friendship problem in Ponyville?” she asked, peering at the map.
“I don’t know, the marks are very close to the castle…” Twilight reached out a hoof to gesture, but touched the castle on the map. Suddenly the map shifted. Ponyville expanded rapidly, as each area outside of Ponyville reached the edge of the map, it vanished, making space for the expansion. Eventually they were left with only the castle showing on the map. Twilight and Applejack’s cutie marks danced around one particular window of the castle, leaving little sprinkles of light as they moved.
“Woah,” Applejack said.
“I think…” Twilight began, walking around the table for a better view, “that it wants us to go to the room with the mirror that takes me to my friends in Canterlot High.”
“I seem to remember Princess Celestia warning us of all sorts of danger if anyone but you was to go through,” Applejack commented with a worried look on her face.
Twilight nodded. “That’s true, but the map wouldn’t have called you if you weren’t needed. We should at least check.”
“Well, if the map says we’re to offer our help, we can’t say no.”
The two ponies, tailed by Spike, made their way to the part of the castle where Twilight kept her magic mirror. The room itself was unchanged from her last visit. Twilight’s books lined the walls in neat shelves, organized by subject and then author. In the center of the room was the mirror, still with the modifications Twilight had made to enable her to travel between the worlds without having to wait for the thirty-moon cycle.
The only change was the actual glass of the mirror. Instead of showing their reflections, it showed the image of Twilight and Applejack’s cutie marks.
“I think that’s the kind of sign we can’t argue with, sugarcube,” Applejack said.
Twilight couldn’t help but agree. And surely the map wouldn’t send them somewhere where it could be damaging for the world, right? “When we walk through, your body’s going to change shape—you’ll be a person. You’re going to walk upright, like Discord. You’ll be taller—not quite as tall as him, but at least twice your height now—and you’ll have ‘hands’—they will look like Spike’s claws. It will be very disorienting, so just take small steps, and we can stand still as long as it takes to get your bearings.”
Applejack nodded, looking pale but determined. “I can’t say I’m looking forward to being a different shape, but if we have to do this, then we have to do it.”
“It’s ok, Applejack. Just you wait until you meet the other versions of yourselves—they’ll help you through,” Spike said.
Applejack took a deep breath. “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
The three of them stepped forward and one by one, they moved through the mirror.
Twilight was surprised to arrive on the other side still in pony form. She took a look round, and saw that she was in some very neatly maintained grounds, and some distance away was a large imposing building. She was not at Canterlot High. This was somewhere completely different. She felt panic and excitement rise in her chest. She wasn’t prepared for anywhere other than Canterlot. She hadn’t packed! She hadn’t brought any books, or made her lists. She didn’t even have her friendship flash cards!
“I thought I was going to be a—what do you call them?—a person?” Applejack said from beside her.
“This isn’t where my friends are from. We’re somewhere else,” Twilight said. She turned to Spike. “You should go back, Spike, and tell our friends where we are.”
Spike looked disappointed. “But I always come with you when you go through the mirror.”
“Not this time, Spike. This is someplace new, and if the map didn’t call you, perhaps it’s best you go back and wait.”
“But what if you need me?”
Twilight gave the dragon a hug. “I always need you. And right now I need you at home, telling the others where we are and keeping on top of anything that comes up in my absence.”
Reluctantly, Spike turned around. The portal seemed to be attached to some kind of large marble plinth, not unlike the one at Canterlot High, though this one was topped by a single pegasus rearing on its hind legs. The pegasus was unlike any pegasus Twilight had ever seen—the features were blockier, the limbs were wider and the head was heavier than what she was used to.
Spike gave the two ponies a final wave before heading back through the portal.
“Where do you think we are?” Applejack asked as they started out towards the building.
“I don’t know. That mirror has only ever taken me to Canterlot High. There are old folk tales of ponies visiting other worlds and inviting people back, but nopony has ever found them to be anything more than fairy tales.” Twilight paused and thought for a moment—theories always made her feel better. “Although Starswirl the Bearded wrote a fascinating paper theorizing that the Rainbow of Light actually existed and was a created as a protector for the Tree of Harmony, which, if you think about it, would be very interesting. Who knows what would have happened to Discord’s plunder vines if this Rainbow protector had been there to deal with them. Actually, it could conceivably have changed everything that we’ve experienced. Had the Rainbow been present, would—”
Twilight turned to her friend questioningly.
“I’m nervous too,” Applejack said with a smile. “What do you think we should do?”
“Well, I doubt the map sent us anywhere that’s outright dangerous. Maybe we should just introduce ourselves to the next ponies we see, and go from there?” “Go from there” was not exactly the best plan Twilight had ever formed, but landing in a different world to the one she had expected had thrown her a little. “We should try this building. I think it’s a palace of some kind. Maybe the map has sent us to meet dignitaries and forge friendships that span worlds. Wouldn’t that be something?” The last word came out a little high, but the excitement of a new place was starting to erase her worry.
“I didn’t hear anything!”
Twilight and Applejack looked up at the sound of a new voice.
On the patio of the palace were two girls in human form much like Twilight’s Canterlot High friends, but unlike them, these girls were both a pinkish color, and their manes were not as brightly colored—one had a brown mane, the other was a reddish-brown.
The reddish-brown maned girl spoke. “I’m serious, Lila. I think I heard something out here. Are you sure your friends aren’t dropping by?”
Her friend replied, “Don’t creep me out, Melissa. Nobody’s coming over. Let’s go back inside.”
“They seem friendly enough,” Twilight whispered to Applejack. “Maybe we should introduce ourselves?”
Applejack nodded, then raised her voice to the girls. “That was us, I’m afraid! Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”
The reddish-brown maned girl gasped and took a step back. “Is that…?”
Twilight and Applejack closed the gap between themselves and the girls.
“Hello,” said Twilight. “My name is Twilight Sparkle and this is my good friend Applejack, and we’re—”
“Oh my gosh,” said the brown-maned girl. “A purple unicorn.” There was a moment when it looked like a serious possibility that she might faint. Then she pulled herself together, straightened up and announced, “I have to call everyone I know right this second.”
Bonus Note: This is the pegasus that tops the marble plinth in Lila’s garden. Only in marble. And probably moderately classier. But still as 80s.
This is Firefly, the Italian variant (photo and pony from my collection). In the G1 cartoon, she was the pony who first crossed the worlds and fetched “May-Gahn” to save Ponyland. How she crossed the worlds is completely unexplained. She just flew and landed in our world.
Melissa opened the door to Fowler Crest to find the twins waiting on the other side.
“Hi, Melissa,” Elizabeth said warmly.
“What are you doing here?” Jessica asked.
Melissa smiled politely—it felt like so far Elizabeth was the only person who hadn’t asked that question. “Everyone’s in the main living room—the one to the right.” She stood aside and let the twins pass.
Jessica raced on ahead and Melissa fell in step beside Elizabeth.
“What’s all this about?” Elizabeth asked. “Jessica said that Lila has a purple unicorn? I can’t believe everyone bought that! I told her that if Lila really has a purple unicorn, then I’ll do her chores for the rest of my life.”
Melissa stopped and gave Elizabeth a sympathetic look. “Oh, I hope you didn’t shake on it.”
Elizabeth giggled. “I think I’ll be ok.”
Melissa let Elizabeth step into the main living room, which had been recently redecorated in stark blacks and whites. Everything was very pristine, and the seats so white it was almost dazzling. Every member of the Unicorn club was present. It was amazing Lila had managed to round them up so fast. Elizabeth and Jessica sat down on one of the white couches and Melissa perched on an ottoman. Janet Howell glanced at her. “What are you doing here, Melissa?”
“Science project!” Lila said quickly. “Right, Melissa? We’re getting a head start Mr. Siegel’s homework.”
Melissa gave Lila a look of confusion. They didn’t have any science project. They were paired up for the Mother’s Day project. And Melissa had been invited to dinner long before the project was even announced. Mrs. Pervis was going to her son’s school play and Mr. Fowler was in New York until Friday, so Lila had invited Melissa over for company. They’d ordered pizza and were just about to make brownies when Melissa heard the sounds of girls talking outside, which is what had led them to the ponies.
“Now,” Lila went on quickly—and very grandly—“I would like to introduce you to Applejack and Princess Twilight Sparkle.” She opened the double doors leading on to the next room (Melissa wasn’t really sure what that room was for—it had a piano, but she didn’t think anyone played it) and the two ponies stepped into the living room.
Immediately the room fell into a stunned silence, as the orange pony with the yellow hair and the purple winged unicorn stepped forward. Then there was an excited whisper, then cooing, and suddenly the room was full of excited voices.
Jessica’s rose above everyone else’s as she turned to her sister triumphantly. “Guess you’re doing my chores for the rest of your life, Lizzie!”
That had to hurt, Melissa thought, but there was still a look of wonder on Elizabeth’s face as she stared at the ponies.
“Hello,” said Twilight. “I’m Twilight Sparkle and I’m the Princess of Friendship in Equestria, and Applejack and I are here on a mission.”
Though the entire room was stunned that the brightly colored ponies could talk, only Ellen spoke up. “Oh my gosh, they talk too!” she cried.
Janet Howell leaned over and hissed. “Don’t be surprised they can talk, Ellen, it’s rude. And rudeness reflects badly on the Unicorns.”
“What mission, your majesty?” Lila asked hurriedly with a delicate curtsey.
“Oh, please don’t address me so formally, just Twilight is fine. And we don’t know. We were called to this world because we were needed in some way. We solve friendship problems.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place, your majesty,” Janet said, leaning forward. “Because we’re a group of friends, and we call ourselves The Unicorn Club, and our official color is purple. I think you may be here for us.”
This caused everyone to giggle excitedly and cluster around Twilight. Lila moved closer with her eyes firmly fixed on the princess. Tamara Chase stepped in front of Melissa, and obscured her view.
Even though it wasn’t rational, Melissa felt snubbed. She knew that there should be no reason she felt so hurt, but she always felt so excluded from Lila when she was around the Unicorns. She knew they were a club she wasn’t a part of, but she was also Lila’s friend. And she’d been there when the ponies arrived.
Melissa decided to step out of the room, get a glass of water and clear her head. She walked to the kitchen and helped herself to ice water from the cooler in the front of the Fowlers’ industrial sized and super-expensive fridge. Moments later, she heard footsteps behind her.
She whirled around, ready to make an excuse about her absence to Lila, but realized it wasn’t a person, it was a pony.
“Hoo-eey,” she said, in her soft country accent. “That is a mite more attention that I’m used to.” She gave Melissa a friendly smile. “Why did you leave?”
“Oh, I was just thirsty. All that excitement, you know.”
Applejack gave her an appraising look. It was strange on a number of levels. She was trying to get used to a talking brightly-colored pony—that was the kind of thing her younger self would have dreamed of—but it didn’t come easily.
“What sort of friendship problems do you solve?” Melissa asked.
“Oh all sorts,” Applejack said, moving closer. “We go from big things, like a pony who’d stolen everypony’s cutie mark and made them all the same; to the smaller things, like building a real sense of community in even big cities.”
“Oh,” said Melissa. “What’s a cutie mark?”
“Why, this is a cutie mark,” Applejack replied, showing off the apple symbols on her flank. “This mark arrives when you’re a young’un and you’ve just found your place in the world. Mine arrived when I was far from home and had realized there was no place I could be happier than Sweet Apple Acres.”
Melissa thought about that for a moment. “It must be nice to know you’re right about what you’re doing with your life.”
“You folks don’t have cutie marks?”
Melissa shook her head. “No. Nothing like that.” She thought maybe her father might have found decisions easier if he’d had a mark that either showed he was a musician or a father. “I wish we did, it might have made things a lot easier at my house.”
“How so?” Applejack moved a step closer.
“Well, my dad wanted to a musician, so he left my mom so he could focus on it, and…” Melissa trailed off. “Well, he was gone for awhile, and then my mom passed and then he came back, and it was all good, and we’re happy now—I mean, as happy as we can be without my mom, I mean—and—” The words had started out measured, but once she hit the word ‘mom’, they started tumbling out in an unruly fumble that ended with a near-sob.
Applejack reached out a hoof and rested it on Melissa’s arm. Melissa took a deep breath and tried to collect herself. She felt her eyes fill with hot tears and she blinked them back. Every now and then, just the mention of her mother could fill her with a deep and unexpected sadness, but when she did manage to think of her without tearing up, she would think to herself, “I guess I’m done. I’ll always be sad, but that’s the last time I’ll get caught off guard.” And then she’d be caught off guard again.
“I lost my parents when I was young too,” Applejack said in a soft and reassuring voice.
Melissa took another deep breath and hurried to explain herself. “We’re doing a Mother’s Day project at school. Lila and I were paired up. I don’t think the school even thought about it, but Lila doesn’t have a mother either. She’s alive, but she’s not in contact.” Melissa realized that she was blurting out not just her private situation, but Lila’s too, to a near stranger. She quickly finished her water and rinsed the glass and left it on the drainer to dry. “I suppose we’d better get back in there.”
Applejack nodded. “I guess so. Can’t leave Twilight alone to all that attention. She really ain’t all that formal, so I think the bowing and ‘your majesty’ing will be getting to her.” She paused for a second before moving. “But if you wanted to talk about anything, sometimes a new friend is a good choice, they can see clearer.”
Elizabeth was having the time of her life in Lila’s house. It appeared that Lila was incredibly tolerable as long was in possession of an equine—she had forgotten that.
Twilight seemed to feel slightly awkward being the center of attention, the Unicorns seemed eager to pet her, but Twilight was trying to keep a polite distance, while she fended off questions about what it was like to be a princess.
Elizabeth thought that was a boring question. They had met royalty before. “Please, Princess Twilight,” she began in her most polite voice. “Could you tell us why you’re in Sweet Valley?”
Twilight took a step towards her. “Sweet Valley? Where’s that?”
“It’s in California,” Elizabeth answered. “It’s the best town in the whole world.”
“Kali Fauna?” Twilight repeated slowly, her eyes widening. “Is that in Ooh-Say?”
“Uh… it’s Califor-n-ia in the U-S-A,” Elizabeth said, annunciating her words carefully.
The purple unicorn seemed to vibrate on the spot. “Oh my gosh! One of the great heroes of legend was a person from a different world called Ooh-Say. She is described as being a pink color with a yellow mane—” Twilight paused and looked a little bashful. “I think she probably looks a lot like you. Have you heard of her? Her name was May-Gahn. I’m sure she must be someone important in your world, because there were so many stories written about her greatness.”
Elizabeth wracked her brains but could not think of anyone called May Gan. “I’m sorry, I can’t think of anyone of that name.” Twilight looked so disappointed that Elizabeth couldn’t help but add, “But I’d love to hear all about her.”
Elizabeth felt the Unicorns collectively sag in disappointment, but she leant forward. She loved learning new things. She was already planning a commemorative edition of the Sixers featuring the ponies—a legend from their world would be a wonderful addition.
“May-Gahn was a magical warrior from the world of Ooh-Say, and when she was not saving Equestria—or, as it was known back then, Ponyland—she ruled her kingdom of Kali Fauna with a kind and gentle hand.
“The greatest tale is when she bested the Smooze—a tidal wave of evil purple ooze that destroyed everything it touched, and those left alive were unable to feel happiness. The all-seeing and all-knowing May-Gahn stepped forward and sang a note of pure joy and love for her friends. The musical note was formed out of such kindness that it became a mythical artifact called the Rainbow of Light, which was able to destroy the Smooze.”
Elizabeth nodded. It sounded like the kind of fairy tale she had read as a child. Although it was interesting that Ooh-Say seemed so close to “USA” and May-Gahn had ruled the kingdom of Kali Fauna. Maybe there was some truth to the legend. But it must have been a very long time ago if it was folklore now.
She glanced around the room and saw that the Unicorns looked quite unimpressed with the tale. “An all-seeing, all-knowing blonde from California that fixes everything?” Lila said. “I bet it was one of your ancestors, Elizabeth.”
“That would make her my ancestor too!” Jessica said indignantly.
Lila waved her away airily. “Yes, but you know it was the Elizabeth-type that saved their world. You’d have been useless.”
Elizabeth sensed an argument brewing, and headed it off. “Where did the Smooze come from? What did it want?”
“It wasn’t a creature, it was something created by three evil witches who hated kindness, and they made the Smooze to make everything as miserable as them,” Twilight said, moving to a space beside Elizabeth. “But what made you ask what it wanted?”
“Well,” Elizabeth said rather smugly, “whenever any of my friends has a problem, the best way to resolve it is to find out the root of the problem.” She thought it would be rather arrogant to add that so far in the school year, she’d had thirty-nine different best friends with problems. Well, some were the same best friend, but they were definitely different problems, and she had a checklist of diverse people to save. She just needed a person of color and a disabled person and she’d have the whole set. She wondered if Tammy’s heaviness could be counted as a disability. “Actually,” she said to Twilight, “I have a friend with a problem at the moment, but she doesn’t seem to want my help.”
“You do? That’s great!” Twilight’s eyes widened in excitement. “I mean, uh, since I’m here to solve problems, it’s great that you’ve got a head start.”
Elizabeth reached out and lightly patted Twilight’s neck. “I know exactly what you mean.”
The school was abuzz with excited gossip about talking ponies when Jessica arrived. Sarah Thomas waved at her on the way to her homeroom, and Jessica wouldn’t ordinarily stop to say hi—Sarah was definitely one of Elizabeth’s friends—but she couldn’t wait to tell someone about the talking ponies.
“Have you heard?” Sarah asked breathlessly. “Lila’s brought two talking ponies to school today!”
Jessica sagged slightly. It was so frustrating when the gossip got ahead of her. “I know.” She tossed her hair and imitated the arch tone Lila used when she wanted to put someone down. “I met them last night. I’m already very good friends with the Princess.”
“Oh, I’ve met Twilight already. She was with your sister,” Sarah said. “I didn’t get to meet Applejack yet.”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed. Was there nothing she could gloat about? And why was a unicorn befriending her sister? “Princess Twilight Sparkle told us an amazing story yesterday—a legend from her world.”
“Oh, the Smooze? Yes, she mentioned that. I think she’s hoping that May Gan is somewhere in our world.” Sarah checked her watch. “Anyway, I have to go. I want to check my math homework with Sophia.” She smiled slightly. “I guess you don’t have that problem.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jessica snapped.
“Well, you know, you don’t really take homework seriously.” Sarah shrugged and straightened her hair. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Jessica turned on her heel and strode off without another word. She was getting heartily sick of everyone thinking she was hopeless at everything. Yesterday her mom and Elizabeth had made fun of the way she tried out new hobbies, Lila had made that comment about Elizabeth being more likely to save the pony world than Jessica, and now Sarah Thomas had made a comment about her homework!
It was time to make Sweet Valley take Jessica seriously again. The best place to start would be ensuring she was best friends with the Princess of Friendship. And then she was going to make sure that her Mother’s Day project was better than her sister’s ever could be.
Elizabeth made sure that she arrived at school with plenty of time to speak to Twilight Sparkle about the problem she was sure Tammy had. She had pointed Tammy out on the way to the library, but Tammy didn’t hear when Twilight called out a greeting.
Elizabeth led the purple pony to a quite area to the back of the library, and told her as much as she knew about Tammy—which wasn’t much, just that she didn’t live with her real parents at the moment.
“I just think she needs to be reunited with her real family. She must be so unhappy to be away from them,” Elizabeth said piously. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I think that’s why she looks the way she does.”
Twilight pulled back slightly, with a frown on her face. “What’s wrong with how she looks?”
Elizabeth realized that Twilight wasn’t familiar with the standards that applied to Sweet Valley, and it might sound strange to someone outside of their world that everyone grew up to be a size six beauty, and only people with problems were heavy or ugly. She thought of a way to word it so that Twilight would understand. “I just mean that she’s obviously distressed, and it shows that she’s preoccupied with something bigger than how she looks.”
“Oh.” Twilight nodded. “That makes more sense. Well, I have several ideas ready to go. My first thought was to find out her hobbies, and if we found a shared interest, our friendship could grow from there—”
Elizabeth did not like where this was going. It sounded very much like Twilight was muscling in on her broken person. She wasn’t sure she believed in a deity, but if there was one looking over Sweet Valley, she felt a bit insulted that they had sent backup in the form of a purple unicorn. If there was a Princess of Friendship in Sweet Valley, it should surely be Elizabeth.
“Well, you see…” she began delicately. “I’ve been invited to Tammy’s house after school today, so I think we can make real progress there—”
“That’s wonderful!” Twilight exclaimed. “Would it be ok if I came along?”
“Well, I was just getting to that,” Elizabeth said in her softest possible voice. “I’m afraid in our world it’s rude to bring uninvited guests to a visit like that.”
“Oh,” Twilight nodded. “Well, I wouldn’t want to be rude, but maybe you and I can talk afterwards? You should try and ask her about her hobbies. Try to get to know Tammy, rather than just her problems.”
Elizabeth pasted a smile on her face and nodded. As if she needed advice on how to make friends!
“Hey, there, sugarcube!”
Melissa turned to see the peculiar sight of Applejack walking down the school hallway. All around them, people turned to stare. Some couldn’t help but reach out and pet Applejack as she walked through. Though she kept a fixed smile on her face, Melissa thought she could see Applejack’s skin twitch at each unfamiliar touch.
“Hi, Applejack. How are you finding Sweet Valley Middle School?”
Applejack looked around and shook her head slightly. “It’s big and it’s nice, but I’m more of an outdoors kind of pony.”
More people bustled through the halls, jostling against Applejack. Her smile started to look strained. “Don’t suppose you’d like to sit a spell outside with me? I could do with some fresh air.”
Melissa gave one last look along the hall. She had been waiting for fifteen minutes and Lila had not shown up. They were supposed to have lunch together to work on their project. “I’d love to. I know a place under the trees where it’s a lot less crowded.”
The look of relief on Applejack’s face was evident. “That sounds just the thing.”
Melissa led the way out of school and to a place on the edge of the field, where the trees provided some shade from the glorious sunshine that Sweet Valley was famed for.
They sat down at the base of a tree trunk and Applejack leaned against it contentedly. “This feels better. Your friend Lila has some mighty fine digs, but for a simple country girl like me, the grass and trees are what I need.”
At the sound of Lila’s name, Melissa sighed. She was getting fed up of being stood up or forgotten by Lila.
“Is everything ok?”
Melissa nodded. “I guess.”
“Well that sounds more like a no than a yes. If you want to talk about it, I’d be happy to try and help.”
Melissa didn’t mean to talk about it, but somehow the words just fell out of her mouth. “Lila stood me up. We were supposed to have lunch today. And last night she didn’t even say goodbye to me—which, I guess, I can’t really fault her for, because it’s not every day a talking pony walks into your yard.” She paused and looked at Applejack. “Has anyone told you we have horses and ponies in this world? But they don’t talk. And they don’t have cutie marks. They’re pets. People ride them—though they’re generally a bit bigger than you.”
“Huh,” Applejack said slowly. “So I guess that explains why everyone keeps petting me?”
Melissa shrugged. “Well, yes, and you’re new and very exciting and interesting to us. I guess you’re like celebrities. People always try and touch them too.”
“Would it help if I explained that touching and petting is a gesture of friendship, and all this attention is a bit too much for me?”
“It might a bit, but for the most part, no,” Melissa said after a moment’s consideration. She remembered seeing an interview with an actress called Roséy, who had said that she quite often found being grabbed frightening. It didn’t stop her from being mobbed every time she went out. Every fan thought they were the exception to their idol’s preferences. “I’m sorry. But I won’t grab or pet you. And I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen too.”
“Thank you. Now, let’s talk about Lila. What happened?”
Everything seemed so small and feeble when she thought about it. Was she over-reacting?
“Don’t you overthink it, just tell me,” Applejack added.
Melissa took a deep breath. “I guess I just feel like I’m not supposed to be in Lila’s life.”
Applejack reached out with a hoof and gently touched Melissa’s arm. “Go on.”
“Well, it’s a load of little things really. Yesterday when the Unicorns came over—uh, the Unicorn Club, not Twilight—Lila said we’d been working on our science homework, but we weren’t. I was just there for dinner, it’d had been planned for days. This morning I said hi to her, but she cut me off and nearly ran away from me. And then she stood me up at lunch.” Melissa tried to end on an upbeat note, so that Applejack didn’t think she was completely feeble. “But at least I got to have lunch with you.”
Applejack looked thoughtful. “Why is Lila your friend if she does things like that?”
“I’ve wondered the same thing,” Melissa said with a laugh. “She can be a terrible snob, and she sometimes says the most tactless things without thinking. But on the other hand, she’s a good person, deep down. Even though she’s swimming in money, she still stops by the homeless shelter every now and then to volunteer. She donates there regularly. And she can be funny—maybe she doesn’t always mean to be, but sometimes she makes me laugh so hard. And she doesn’t really care that she didn’t mean to be funny either. She takes the joke well. She’s… I don’t know. She’s hard to describe, and it’s hard to work out why I like her, but I do. At times I think she might be my best friend, because we have that bond over not having a mother. I sometimes think Lila says things to me that she doesn’t dare say to her other friends.” Melissa took a deep breath. “Gosh, I really did ramble there.”
Applejack beamed in response. “Well, in that case, it sounds like you two are like peas in a pod. And I’ll wager that Lila has no idea that you’re upset by these things. And do you want to know why?”
“Why?” Melissa asked.
“Because you haven’t told her. If she doesn’t notice, then you have to be honest with her. If she knows how you feel and keeps on behaving this way, then it’s a different story. But right now, does she actually know how upset you are?”
Melissa shook her head.
“But just because she didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, doesn’t make them any less hurt,” Applejack added.
Melissa nodded, then gave Applejack a smile. “I can see why this is your calling.”
Jessica’s eyes glazed over and she stifled a yawn. Who knew that hanging out with a purple unicorn who happened to be a princess could be so boring? She had invited Twilight over to her house after school and they had headed up to Jessica’s room. Jessica had thought that asking Twilight for advice on how to make a school project really exciting would be an opening gambit, and quickly they would move on to talking about more princess-y things. Like cute boys and fabulous outfits, and maybe how many rooms Twilight’s castle had.
Instead, Twilight had wittered on for several hours about all the projects she had done over the years. It was just as boring as hanging out with Elizabeth. Although, just like Elizabeth, Twilight couldn’t help but straighten up Jessica’s room as she talked, so at least something was getting done.
“And that’s how I wowed Princess Celestia on my report on genealogy!” Twilight finished with a gleeful smile. “Do you want my top tips for eye-catching penmanship? It takes a little longer, but it’s so worth the effort.”
Fancy writing? How lame was that? Jessica wondered how someone as geeky as Twilight could be something as cool as a purple unicorn—and a princess too! “Uh, maybe later,” she said politely. “This is a spoken presentation, so how it looks on paper doesn’t really matter.” She saw Twilight’s face fall, and hastily added, “But I’m sure it would be super useful for a written report.”
As an awkward silence fell between them, Jessica found herself thinking that it didn’t really matter that Twilight was a purple unicorn. She was a nerd, and would probably be happier talking to utter dweebs like Randy Mason or Lloyd Benson, than someone as cool as Jessica. But it wasn’t fair! Shouldn’t a purple unicorn want to talk to a member of the Unicorn Club? (None of the Unicorns really cared much for Applejack, she wasn’t purple, she wasn’t a unicorn, and she wasn’t a princess.) Jessica had felt like she was a step behind for the past two days, and something needed to change.
“I wonder when your sister will be home,” Twilight said. “We have a friendship problem we’re working on.”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed. When she thought about it, all of her problems came from Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the one who finished everything she started. Elizabeth was the one who saved the day. Elizabeth was the one who did perfect homework. It was time for Jessica to out-Elizabeth Sweet Valley’s own Princess of Friendship.
She arranged her features into polite interest. “I would love to hear about it. As a member of a friendship group like the Unicorns, I’m all about helping people get along.” And if I happen to get ahead in the process, she thought, all the better.
Ms. Drabble—or Rita, as Tammy called her—was not what Elizabeth was expecting. Sweet Valley adults all seemed to come from the same exquisite mold—looking much like their daughters, but just old enough to ensure that their children were never questioned as being “accidents”, with trim size six figures. Rita was at least six feet tall, with a shock of dry red hair that was moderately tamed with an elastic band at the nape of her neck, but tufts broke free and stood out in different directions. Her features were pointed and prominent, and she looked slightly like a cartoon witch with her large nose. Her figure was not size six like Elizabeth’s own mother, but instead she was tall and gangly, and lacked the style of the mothers that Elizabeth knew.
It was no wonder Tammy dressed so strangely with Rita as a role model. Elizabeth couldn’t wait to get involved. Maybe Jessica had gotten over the Sandra Ferris debacle and would be willing to give Tammy a makeover—after Elizabeth had resolved all of her issues, of course.
Rita also had a strange voice—slightly nasal in places, and flat in others. It was hard to listen to really, when Elizabeth was so used to the soft voice of her own mother.
After only a few minutes of interviewing Rita, Elizabeth could easily tell that Tammy needed her own real mother as a matter of urgency.
“Did you always want to be a mother?” Elizabeth asked, reading the same questions Tammy had asked Alice.
“She means foster carer,” Tammy corrected. “The question actually is: When did you decide to be a foster parent, and what inspired you?”
Rita gave Tammy a warm smile. “Well, I may have already told you parts of this, Tam, but for the sake of your report, I’ll give you a fuller version.
“I was a very unhappy child, my own mother and sister were… difficult to live with.” Rita took a deep breath, and then started again. “Looking back, I can see that it was their own unhappiness that made them act that way, but to a young teenager, it was hurtful. I tried to please them, but I never seemed to get it right. I tried to make other friends, but I couldn’t get that right either—and it upset my family.”
Tammy gave Rita an encouraging smile, and Rita continued again. “Then one day, someone took me aside and told me that if I really wanted to change my life, I could. She offered me a fresh start, free from my family, where I could find out who I really was when I wasn’t trying to please a bunch of people who would never be happy with me.”
Elizabeth kept a polite smile on her face, but this was awful. Rita was from a broken home? Was that safe? Wouldn’t her own history influence her to keep Tammy away from her real family?
“To make a long story short,” Rita gave a short laugh, apparently embarrassed by how long she’d taken to answer a single question. “I started over. I found out that I was actually quite smart and that I really love throwing ingredients together, so I started working in kitchens. I now work at The Soup Cauldron. You girls should stop by one day. We make the best soup in Sweet Valley.”
Elizabeth vaguely knew of The Soup Cauldron, but didn’t know anyone who went there. It wasn’t really a cool hangout, like Casey’s Place or The Dairi Burger. “That sounds nice,” she said neutrally.
“It’s great,” Tammy said, her tone almost belligerent. “I really like the beef stew they make—it’s Rita’s own recipe.”
“To get back to your question about fostering, it was about two years ago that I started to want to foster. I realized that Maj—my savior had given me a second chance that I desperately needed, and I could never thank her for it. But I could do the same for someone else.”
It seemed to Elizabeth that Rita had all but admitted her agenda to separate kids from their real parents, but she kept her tone even when she thanked Rita for her answer.
“And there’s a follow-up question,” Tammy added. “Which is—” she blushed a little “—is it as rewarding as you hoped?”
Rita reached out and threw a skinny arm around Tammy’s shoulders. “Of course it is, you silly girl!” She turned back to Elizabeth. “Tammy is actually my first foster child. It takes longer than you’d think for paperwork to go through, but we got there in the end.”
“Ok, thank you for your time. I think we’re done here,” Elizabeth said. “Tammy, why don’t we go up to your room and start writing this up?”
“Actually, Elizabeth, we aren’t done,” Tammy said. “We never explained what the project is called.” She turned to face Rita. “It’s called ‘Everyday Heroes’, and I just want to say that I think taking someone in to care for them, especially when you’ve got no reason to, is heroic.”
Rita went pink. Against her otherwise pale features, it was not a flattering look, Elizabeth thought. Rita hugged Tammy to her and whispered a few words that Elizabeth did not catch. Then Tammy broke free, and led Elizabeth upstairs to her room.
By this point, Elizabeth was unsurprised that Tammy’s room was decorated in rather boyish tones of greens, with no posters on the walls, and only a few books on the shelves.
Elizabeth set her bag and jacket down and took a seat on the bed. She decided to try and have a light conversation with Tammy. Maybe that would make her open up more easily. “So, what do you think about the magical ponies at school?”
Tammy shrugged. “What am I supposed to think of them?”
Elizabeth felt rather pleased by that. She felt that ponies fixing friendship problems was rather stepping on her area of expertise. It probably meant that Tammy would be happier talking to Elizabeth than Twilight about her issues. “Most of the school is quite excited about them.”
“Most of the school watches whichever sport is in season. I don’t really have an interest in sport—or ponies either.”
Before they could get sidetracked by this, Elizabeth decided to switch topics back to the project, so that Tammy would feel comfortable opening up to her about her family issues. “So, how do you think we should write this?”
“I was thinking that maybe we should go back to the plan of writing up about our own guardians and swapping,” Tammy said.
Elizabeth didn’t like that plan any more than the first time she heard it. “But why?”
Tammy glared at the floor for a few moments before replying. “Because I think I’d rather write about Rita than your mother. I think the project is stupid. I think if it was really a Mother’s Day gift, then the child should write it about their own guardian, rather than someone they spoke to for five minutes. I think we know nearly nothing about each other’s family, and a few questions isn’t really going to change that.”
Elizabeth was pretty sure that was the most Tammy had ever said to another human being. “But Ms. Arnette said—”
“Ms. Arnette won’t know.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to argue, but then it struck her why Tammy was being so difficult. It was hard for her to write about someone’s real mother when her own was not around. Elizabeth’s heart swelled with sympathy (and smug superiority). “It’s ok if you miss your real mom,” she said softly.
“My ‘real’ mom?” Tammy snapped, making air-quotes with her fingers.
“Yes, your real mother. It’s ok if you’re finding this project hard—it’s understandable given the subject.” Elizabeth wore her most sympathetic face, the one that had brought the likes of Brooke Dennis, Sophia Rizzo and even Prince Arthur Castillo to their knees.
Tammy stepped closer to Elizabeth, and spoke in a low, even tone. “My biological mother is none of your business. This project is just a school project, and your topic is Rita and mine is your mother. I’ve offered several times to swap with you, because it’s very clear that it bothers you that Rita isn’t my birth mother, but you won’t. So I think it would be best if you went home, wrote a report on Rita—with as little judgment as you can muster—and I’ll sing the praises of your mother, and after that we can forget this entire project.”
Elizabeth gaped a few times, searching for the right words—she wondered if this was the moment of anger before Tammy broke down and cried on Elizabeth’s shoulder. She just needed to find the right words… and then she found them. “I forgive you. I know—”
“You forgive me?” Tammy’s face turned pink with anger. “I don’t want your forgiveness. I don’t need your forgiveness! I want you to get out and take your stupid obsession with blood family with you!”
Elizabeth was so aghast that she had grabbed her bag and was halfway down the stairs before she could even process what had happened.
Elizabeth was halfway home by the time she realized she had left her jacket on Tammy’s bed. Although Tammy might not be initially happy to see her back, it might be the opening she needed for them to talk. Maybe she needed to explode with anger before she realized that Elizabeth could help her.
She turned and headed back to Tammy’s house. The journey passed quickly as she imagined all the ways that she and Tammy would have a breakthrough. The specific wording changed each time she replayed it, but it always ended with Tammy weeping on her shoulder—having an emotional breakthrough that only Elizabeth could guide her through—and saying…
“Please help me, Elizabeth, you’re the only one who can.”
Or maybe, “I need your help, Elizabeth, I can’t do this alone.”
No, without you would be better.
“I need your help, Elizabeth. I can’t do this without you.”
Elizabeth smiled happily as she knocked on the front door, and as she waited for someone to answer, she made sure her hair was pushed off her shoulders, so that when Tammy cried her face wouldn’t get stuck to Elizabeth’s hair.
“Oh, hi, Elizabeth,” Rita said. “Did you forget something?”
“Yes, my jacket, it’s in Tammy’s room. Can I go up and see her?” Elizabeth said. She was in such a good mood because of the impending breakthrough, she even managed to smile at Rita. I’m going to save Tammy from you, she thought.
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth, she went for a walk after you left, but by all means, run up and grab your jacket.” Rita said with a smile.
The smile fell from her face as she thanked Rita and headed up the stairs. How could she and Tammy have their big emotional scene if Tammy wasn’t there? She found her jacket easily, and as she picked it up, she noticed a large thick book bound in beige leather with metal corners on the floor, just peeking out from under the bed.
It looked like a baby book. Maybe this would give insight into Tammy’s situation! Elizabeth set her jacket back down, sat on the bed, and started leafing through the book.
The first page contained a letter in beautiful looping handwriting.
To my darling daughter, Tammy
As I write this, you are barely a day old, and your newness reminds me so much of all the baby ponies I have known. You are exactly the kind of baby that a unicorn like Majesty or Glory would visit and bestow gifts on.
I can’t wait to get to know you, and take you on wild adventures—we’ll fly on pegasi, and find the end of the rainbow, and have Wooliecakes with the Bushwoolies.
You are the way back to magic, my darling.
With all the love I have,
Elizabeth placed her hand on her heart. What a beautiful letter to write to a newborn. No wonder Tammy was so upset to be apart from such a loving mother. She flipped the page and was instantly struck by how much care Tammy’s mom—Megan—had put into the book. Each slot had a photo, like a normal baby book, but for each photo, Megan had drawn a brightly-colored pastel pony and pasted them on to the photos, so Tammy and Megan would be surrounded by them.
There was a particularly beautiful shot of who Elizabeth could only assume was Megan holding Tammy, and pictures of ponies had been added—a white unicorn with purple hair, a blue pegasus with pink hair, a pink pegasus with blue hair. The artwork was very good, though it had slipped down and obscured Tammy, leaving the ponies to stare adoringly at Megan.
For a moment she wondered if the ponies Megan drew were anything to do with the ponies in Sweet Valley, but they looked very different. The ponies Megan drew were heavier, blockier lines, bigger heads, and wider limbs than the lithe ponies like Twilight and Applejack.
Megan herself was a very pretty blonde with blue eyes and what looked to be, in the small snippets of photos, a trim size six figure. On reflection, if Tammy lost the extra weight and grew her hair, she would look much like Megan. Oh, this explained everything! She had made herself heavier and shaved her head because she couldn’t bear to see the face of the mother she loved so much when she couldn’t be with her.
As she leafed through the pages, she saw that a lot of the pony pictures had shifted and hidden Tammy, probably through her excessive handling and—Elizabeth couldn’t help but imagine—from the tears Tammy would shed over her estrangement from her mother.
She felt compelled to read every single entry.
Today you started teething. It reminds me of the time that Baby Lickety-Split got her first tooth. Golly, she was noisy with it! But with a little love and patience, I was able to settle her down. She was so adorable when she was calm, with her pink skin and hair, and a single tooth that she was so proud of when it didn’t hurt!
She found it beautiful that Megan had taken the time to weave a wonderful fairy tale specific to her own child. She even felt a little envious. While she wouldn’t trade her perfect size six mother, who worked part time as a successful interior designer and maintained a beautiful house on Calico Drive, she thought it would be wonderful to have someone like Megan to make up magical stories for her to grow up with.
It was your birthday today. By coincidence, it fell on Sun Tuesday, so we had a Summer Sun Celebration instead! It wasn’t the same without the Wooliecakes and the ponies there, but one day they will come back to me, and I’ll take you on a great adventure!
Elizabeth continued to flip through the pages, which catalogued the first few years of Tammy’s life. As she aged through the pictures, it was clear to see that she looked more and more like her mother.
Towards the end, there was a picture of Tammy in a bathtub, covered in bubbles with a gleeful smile on her face. Megan had added pictures of what looked like sea horses, but with the same style head as the ponies from the rest of her artwork, but much more solid bodies to support the head. They were just as brightly colored as the rest.
Today you got the hang of the sea pony song! Every time you have a bath, we sing “Shoo-be-doo! Shoo-shoo-be-doo!” and then you giggle. If only the sea ponies would come, I’m sure you would giggle more.
Oh, the magic of being safe under the ocean in a bubble of air, being shown a whole underwater world!
Tucked into the final page was a letter, written in the same looping handwriting and—Elizabeth’s eyes widened—dated only a few months ago!
I wish you would get in contact. I just know that if we were together, we could make it work. I need you to come back home where you belong, and where all that love you can easily find you.
I know we had problems before, but you just don’t understand what you mean to me. You’re so important. One day everything will change, and I need you beside me when that happens. They will come back, I promise.
I know you think you’re happy where you are, but you can’t imagine the world I want to show you. I know I’ve told you over and over, but when you see it, you’ll know that everything we’ve been through was counting down to this moment.
Please, please come back home.
And at the top of the letter was Megan’s address and phone number. Elizabeth quickly pocketed the letter and set the book back under the bed where Tammy would inevitably look for it when she got home. Elizabeth picked up her jacket and left the room.
She had a wonderful idea, and she just couldn’t wait to get started!
Jessica couldn’t take any more talk about homework, reports, penmanship or her own twin, so she excused herself, saying she needed a walk before dinner to clear her head. Twilight had encouraged her to take a walk because exercise was good for the brain as well as the body. And then she’d mentioned she was going to visit Applejack at Melissa McCormick’s house and come back to speak to Elizabeth. Of course. Because Elizabeth was so perfect.
She walked aimlessly, no destination called to her—she didn’t really want to visit any of her friends, because it quite often became a bragging session, and Jessica wasn’t willing to enter something until she was certain she’d win it at the moment.
She made lefts and rights at random, and was lost in her own thoughts—she needed to do something that would make everyone remember that she was the Jessica Wakefield, and not Elizabeth’s useless twin.
She glanced up ahead and saw a bald girl striding angrily in her direction. Jessica recognized her from Ms. Arnette’s class, but as she clearly wasn’t Unicorn material Jessica hadn’t bothered to learn her name.
“Oh not you again!” The bald girl snapped. “Have you come back for round two? Because I haven’t changed my mind. I bet you think I’m going to weep on your shoulder and tell you I miss my mommy and you’re going to fix it, don’t you? Well I’m not!”
Jessica glanced over her shoulder to see who the girl was shouting at, but they were the only two on the sidewalk. “Uh, are you yelling at me?”
“Of course I’m yelling at you!” The girl snapped.
Jessica noted that she was so angry she’d turned pink—including her scalp. She’d never known you could be so angry your scalp changed color. “Ok, why are you yelling at me?”
“You came to my house, insulted my guardian with your snotty questions, and then had the nerve to ask me about my ‘real’ mother and you want to know why I’m angry? My family life is none of your business, so keep your nose out!”
“Oh!” Jessica suddenly realized that Elizabeth was paired with the angry baldy in Ms. Arnette’s class—so this must be the one that Elizabeth and Twilight wanted to help. “You must mean my twin, Elizabeth. I’m Jessica.”
The girl deflated somewhat, then rubbed her face with her hand. “Oh, darn, I’d forgotten there were two of you. I’m sorry.” She sighed deeply and then offered Jessica a smile. “I bet that happens a lot to you, doesn’t it—people think you’re her, and you get in trouble?”
That wasn’t exactly how Jessica would put it, but it was nice to see someone who didn’t think she was the bad twin. “We do get mixed up quite often,” she said. “And Elizabeth does sometimes jump into things without thinking them through.”
“That must suck for you. I’m sorry. I’m Tammy, by the way.”
“And I’m Jessica.”
“Jessica, the nice twin,” Tammy said with a smile.
Again, not exactly how Jessica would put it, but it was certainly nice to hear. She thought of how Elizabeth and Twilight were scheming to save this girl and realized that if she saved her instead, then she would beat two pros at their game, and everyone would take her seriously after that. Maybe the news would run a feature on her, “The Generous Girl Who Saved Her Schoolmate” it would be called. And celebrities all over the USA would hear of it, and they would call her and ask her for advice—maybe even Johnny Buck would call her. “And Tammy, whose family life is none of my business,” she said.
Tammy shrugged in embarrassment. “Look, I didn’t mean to shout all that at you. It’s not like it’s a secret or anything, but I live in foster care, and I don’t want any contact with my birth mother. Your twin doesn’t seem to respect that.”
Jessica could see that was true. From what Twilight had said, they were planning on trying to get Tammy to reconnect with her birth mother. She thought for a moment. It wasn’t as if this was the first time Elizabeth had done such a thing—she had forced George Henkel and his father to reconnect… actually, come to think of it, she hadn’t seen George since then. That was… actually kind of pushy of Elizabeth. And everyone thought she was so perfect.
“I’m sorry,” Jessica said, adopting her most Elizabeth-like tone. “That’s not fair on you. She does like to fix things to her liking. She can be very headstrong at times.” Why was it whenever Jessica fixated on something, it was called silly or shallow, but when Elizabeth did the same thing, she was lauded as a hero? Jessica sighed. “Of course, nobody will tell her off for it.”
“Oh, she’s one of those, is she?” Tammy asked. “I did wonder. She kind of reminded me of my birth mother. She forced things around to her liking, and everyone thought she was brilliant.”
“That’s exactly what Elizabeth does!” Jessica cried. “And nobody ever tells her to stop.”
“Everyone kept telling me that she meant well, but she really hurt me,” Tammy said in a low tone.
Jessica nodded. It was so sickening to be around someone as perfect as Elizabeth all the time. “I know exactly how you feel.”
“I’m telling you, Twi, Melissa’s the reason we’ve been sent here,” Applejack said, as they sat in the front garden of Melissa’s house. “She’s got a friendship problem with her friend Lila.”
“And I’m telling you that it’s just as likely that we were sent here for Tammy,” Twilight replied.
A big metal contraption went past them on the road, and they both shuddered. It was strange to see a carriage without at least one pony pulling it.
“I don’t think I could get used to this world in the long haul,” Applejack said.
“No, and we’ve already been here a day. We need to find this problem fast,” Twilight said.
“But you haven’t spoke to Tammy yet, have you?” Applejack pushed. “So you don’t know if she’s actually got a problem.”
“No, but Elizabeth seems certain she has one, and she’s been solving friendship problems in this town a lot longer than us. If anypony knows where the problem lies, it’s her,” Twilight said.
“Well maybe that’s why the map sent us both. I’m here for Melissa, and you’re here for Tammy? Because Melissa’s problem sure is honesty.” Applejack paused, then clarified. “She ain’t no liar, she’s just not got her nerve up just yet to lay it all out there.”
Twilight considered that for a moment. There had to be a reason they were both summoned. Perhaps the did have individual problems, and possibly they overlapped. “That’s quite possible—if you stay with Melissa, I’ll check in with Elizabeth, and maybe we’ll find a way our problems marry up?”
“I’m on it,” Applejack said.
Jessica arrived home to find Elizabeth and Twilight enthusiastically composing a letter, as if it was as important as a fan letter to a movie star, or choosing the right outfit for a dance. She peered into Elizabeth’s bedroom and found Elizabeth settled in front of her typewriter, while Twilight looked over her shoulder.
“I see, you push each letter and it appears on the page. That’s ingenious.” Twilight took a quick lap of the room and began. “Dear—oh, do we have a name?”
“Of course we have a name,” Elizabeth replied. “It’s Megan Williams.”
“May-Gahn?” Twilight repeated.
“Megan,” Elizabeth corrected. “It’s a common name.”
“Hi guys, what are you doing?” Jessica asked.
“Oh, it’s just wonderful!” Twilight exploded. “Tammy has misplaced her mother, but Elizabeth has found her!”
Jessica bit her lip. Tammy had made it clear that her mother was far from misplaced. “Oh really? Did she tell you that?”
“No, but it’s obvious she wants to be with her,” Elizabeth said, and gave one of the sickening smiles that made Jessica want to rip the head of Elizabeth’s beloved toy koala. “I found—I found an address for her mother, so I wrote it down and Twilight and I are going to reunite them.”
“Isn’t it exciting?” Twilight said. “I just wish I could do more. I’m going to introduce myself to Tammy tomorrow.”
“I have an idea,” Elizabeth announced grandly. “What if I actually reunite them at the Mother’s Day presentation at school? It would be a wonderful surprise for Tammy.”
“That’s—” Jessica stopped herself. She had been about to say that it was the exact opposite of what Tammy wanted, but then she realized that it was the perfect plan. Not only would Elizabeth fail, she would fail spectacularly. And by contrast, Jessica’s rather boring report on the time Mrs. Riteman raced Ellen to the hospital with a suspected concussion, which turned out to just be Ellen’s personality, would look amazing. “That’s a great idea, guys. You two really are the Princesses of Friendship of two different worlds!”
On Thursday morning, Applejack walked Melissa to Lila’s locker and gave her a gentle nudge with her foreleg. “You got this, sugarcube. You want me to stay until she gets here?”
Melissa looked at the crowded hall, and the way that even though there was space, people couldn’t help but reach out a hand and skim Applejack’s skin or mane, even if they didn’t speak to her.
“No, it’s ok. Why don’t you get some last-minute fresh air before classes start?”
Applejack’s relief was evident. “Well, if you’re sure…”
“Go. Get away from the grabbing hands!” Melissa said with a smile.
As Applejack retreated, Melissa took a deep breath and gave herself a final pep talk. She had to talk to Lila. Lila could be dense at times. It wasn’t out of character for her to miss the obvious. Melissa had to lay everything out firmly and gently, so they could work on the problem like adults.
And they also really needed to work on their Mother’s Day project—it was due tomorrow and all they’d done so far was eat pizza, write the title on a sheet of paper, and get distracted by talking ponies.
She caught sight of Lila approaching surrounded by a herd of Unicorns (of the non-equine variety), but Lila didn’t notice her until the group was almost upon Melissa.
“Hi, Lila,” Melissa said. “Have you got a moment?”
Lila froze for a second, then regained her composure. “About Mr. Siegel’s homework? Not right this second, Melissa, but later, ok?”
Melissa fought a frown—it was the second time Lila had used science homework as the only reason she would talk to her. “No, it’s—”
“Like I said, Melissa,” Lila said, peering around the Unicorns, “not right this second. I’ll come and find you, ok? Good. See you in science! Bye!”
And with that, Lila took off at high speed down the hall. After a few moments, the Unicorns followed in her wake.
“Well, sugarcube,” she said to herself. “That went well.”
All day long, Lila was bothered by the look on Melissa’s face when she cut her off. She was sure that Melissa would understand why she did it. It seemed that every time Melissa wanted to talk to her about this stupid Mother’s Day project, at least three Unicorns were in earshot.
She could only imagine how hurt Melissa would be if they started asking tactless questions about how she was doing to do a Mother’s Day project without a mother.
She’d been trying to keep the Unicorns and their thoughtless questions away from her friend for days now, but—she realized as Melissa’s disappointed floated through her mind again—Melissa was probably getting annoyed with the runaround she was giving her.
As soon as Booster practice was over, she would head over to Melissa’s house, they would talk about their stupid project. Melissa probably understood what she was doing, she was pretty smart, but it couldn’t hurt to talk it through.
And if Lila were honest, she quite enjoyed the talks she and Melissa had about mothers. They were both in very different situations, but they both felt the absence all the same. All of the other Unicorns had mothers—even Mary, through a very unlikely turn of events. They didn’t really understand.
And it wasn’t as if the Unicorns were any good at talking about their feelings most of the time anyway.
Melissa realized her mistake as she was walking home from school. Lila was terrible at talking about important things, especially if she considered them a secret. Ambushing her at her locker first thing in the morning, when surrounded by her friends, was exactly the wrong way to do things. No wonder Lila panicked and started blurting the words “science project”.
Melissa did resent being the secret that Lila was apparently ashamed of, but she also realized that most of the time when Lila did something obnoxious, she wasn’t aware of how obnoxious it was.
The best thing to do was to head over to Lila’s house—her father would still be away, so she’d be pleased for the company, which would put her in a much more talkative mood.
And if that didn’t work, Melissa was going to just have to make up the Mother’s Day report on Lila’s mother.
As Melissa’s front door opened, Lila realized immediately she’d made the correct decision to smooth things over with Melissa. The first piece of evidence was that Melissa’s older brother, the very cute Andy McCormick, answered the door.
“Hi, Lila, come on in.” Andy gave her a friendly smile and headed back into the living room. “How’ve you been?”
“Oh, good, thanks.” She peered around the room. It was just as haphazard and cozy as always. Something about visiting the McCormicks’ always made her feel warm and safe. It wasn’t as grand as her home, and the McCormicks desperately needed a new couch (and there was a truly ugly embroidered cushion that seemed to have a personal mission to clash with literally everything on the planet) and an interior designer, but she would never forget how welcome they made her feel when she thought she was poor. “Is Melissa around?”
“Actually, no,” Andy said, moving through to the kitchen. “She left a note on the fridge saying she had an errand to run and she’d be back later.”
“Oh.” Lila deflated a little. That rather ruined her plans.
“But you can hang around here and wait for her, if you want.”
Well, that was better. She’d get to see Melissa and hang out with Andy.
Andy stuck his head through the kitchen door. “But I plan to put you to work. Do you still remember how to peel carrots?”
Actually, Lila had moved far beyond carrots, and had added peeling potatoes and shelling peas to her repertoire—all under Melissa’s tutelage—but she quickly understood that this was part of an ongoing joke. “I’m not sure. Did you replace your defective peeler?”
She was delighted when Andy laughed, and she followed him into the kitchen. Mrs. Pervis would probably keel over in shock if she saw the way Lila grabbed the carrots like an old hand and set about washing them in the sink before diving into the McCormicks’ flatware drawer and finding a peeler. Mrs. Pervis ran a tight ship and didn’t really like Lila in the kitchen. Having rarely seen Lila in there, she didn’t have much faith in Lila’s culinary abilities.
She started peeling, and she couldn’t help be proud of the fact that there was so much more carrot left than her first attempt, which had left them with significantly more peel than carrot. “Why is it always carrots with you?” she asked, to make conversation. “I bet I could peel other things—I’m ready for sweetcorn, I think.”
Andy laughed again. “Actually they were mom’s favorite. Her mom told her when she was a very little girl that she would be able to see in the dark if she ate her carrots. She thought that would be pretty cool, so ate them every time she could.” Andy paused and smiled at Lila. “Actually, she told me and Melissa the same thing. We believed her. At one point, Melissa even thought she could see better at night.”
Lila sighed. Although her mother was alive, she didn’t have any silly stories like that. “Tell me more about your mother,” she said.
“What do you want to know?” Andy asked.
“Silly stuff,” Lila said promptly, then realized that her phrasing might be a bit rude—especially since Mrs. McCormick was dead. “You know, stories like you just told me. Nice things.”
Andy nodded and pointed through to the living room. “Ok, you see that really ugly cushion?”
Lila nearly said yes, but stifled the urge. “Uh… which one?”
“Don’t be polite, Lila, I’ve seen you staring at it in horror every time you visit.”
Lila flushed. The McCormicks were always so aware of her rudeness.
“Don’t be embarrassed, it really draws the eye,” Andy added. “My mom worked on that every evening after work for over a year. The more she embroidered, the uglier it got. We all agreed it was hideous, but since nobody else in the house had ever made a cushion cover, we kept it.”
Lila smiled. The cushion had managed to get marginally less ugly in her eyes.
It was not Lila or Mrs. Pervis that opened the door as Melissa was expecting, but Mr. Fowler. He smiled at her. “Hello, Melissa, what can I do for you?”
“I was hoping to see Lila. Is she back from Booster practice yet?”
He opened the door wider. “She isn’t, but she’s due home any time now, so why don’t you come on in and wait for her?”
He led her through to the main living room (on the right) where Lila had hosted the ponies’ welcome to Sweet Valley only two days ago. There was no sign of the purple or orange hairs on the couch now. Mrs. Pervis ran a tight ship.
Although there were photos all over the coffee table now and Melissa wondered what Mrs. Pervis thought of that. Probably something respectful, but silently disapproving.
“You’ve caught me in the middle of a project,” Mr. Fowler said, looking a little embarrassed. “With it being Mother’s Day on Sunday, I came home early to be with Lila. I usually get her a present, but this time around I’m a little behind. Maybe you could help me?”
Melissa glanced at the scattered photos. “With what?”
“I picked up a beautiful frame in New York while I was there, and I want to fill it with photos of Lila, but I got back later than I thought, and there are a lot of photos.”
Melissa smiled. What a nice idea. She knew Lila probably did feel miserable on Mother’s Day, and it was nice that her dad did something special to help take the sting out of the day. “And when she gets home, I’ll bustle her up to her room, so that you can get everything hidden away.”
Her eyes lit on a picture of a beaming baby, absolutely covered in what looked like pureed peas. “Now that’s a great photo.”
“Oh, feeding times were always an adventure,” Mr. Fowler said with a laugh, looking less like a stern businessman and more like a regular dad. “My daughter has always known how to wear everything with style—including dinner.”
“Oh, and this one…” Melissa reached out and picked up a beautiful picture of Mr. Fowler, looking much younger and far less coiffed, cradling Lila in his arms. The look on his face showed he was absolutely captivated by his new child. “You really need to use this one.” She paused for a moment before adding, “I think maybe you need to be in the pictures you pick, Mr. Fowler.”
Everyone in Ms. Arnette’s sixth grade class took a seat on the stage, and looked nervously out to the sea of parents. Melissa could see her father, and a row behind him was Mr. Fowler. They seemed to stand out in a sea of mothers—she recognized the twins’ mother near the front.
Melissa glanced over at Lila. They hadn’t managed to talk at all yesterday—she’d stayed for about an hour, helping Mr. Fowler pick out the best pictures for Lila’s present, and then she’d realized that she would be late for dinner, so she hurried home. When she got there, Andy told her that Lila had stopped by.
Just knowing that Lila had made the effort warmed her—they still needed to talk, but the first steps had been made. She gave Lila a big smile, which Lila returned with equal enthusiasm. Melissa glanced out into the crowd, and saw that Applejack was smiling encouragingly at her. Next to Applejack was Twilight, who looked incredibly interested in the goings on. Melissa hadn’t spent much time with her, but Applejack had mentioned that Twilight was fascinated by almost anything new.
“Hello everyone, and a big welcome to all the mothers…” Ms. Arnette glanced up from her notes, and hurriedly added, “and fathers. This week my class has been doing a very special project on the everyday heroics of their mothers. They have paired up and interviewed their partner’s mother, and now they are ready to report their findings.” She checked her notes again. “And today we’re going to start with Lila Fowler, who interviewed Mrs. McCormick.”
There was a painful silence, and everyone turned to stare at either Melissa or Lila. Lila quickly rose to her feet and took her place in the center of the stage. She began speaking in her usual imperious tones.
“I have never met Melissa’s mother, Mrs. McCormick, because she sadly passed away a few months ago,” Lila announced, pausing to give Ms. Arnette a very solid staredown. When it became apparent that Lila had won (of course she had—every cashier at Valley Fashions was terrified of her), she turned to face the audience once more. “I wish I had. I don’t really know much about her, but I do know three very important facts about her:
“The first is that her favorite vegetable was carrots, and for quite awhile she really did believe they would help her see in the dark. Finding out this wasn’t true didn’t stop her from passing the story on to her kids—and I’m led to believe that Melissa has excellent night vision.”
There was a ripple of surprised laughter. Melissa herself joined in. She had forgotten about the time she had convinced herself she really could see in the dark after eating carrots every day for a week.
Lila continued, “The second fact is that Mrs. McCormick worked tirelessly on an embroidered cushion cover. While it’s not the prettiest cushion in the world, I can personally attest that it is very comfortable.”
This time the laughter was a little more confused. Melissa was surprised that Lila hadn’t been more savage in her description of the cushion. It was truly a monstrosity.
“Finally—and this is the most important fact of all—Mrs. McCormick raised two wonderful children, one of which is my best friend, Melissa. So if you want an example of everyday heroics, look no further than Mrs. McCormick.” Lila finished almost defiantly.
Melissa suddenly felt a lump in her throat. Her eyes filled with hot tears. She never would have guessed that Lila would do such a nice report—and proclaim to the whole school that they were best friends. She got to her feet and threw her arms around Lila.
“Oh,” said Lila. “A hug. Yes, I like these.”
Lila took a seat once more and noticed Jessica glaring daggers at her. “I thought I was your best friend!” she hissed.
Lila ignored her as Melissa took center stage for her half of the report. She didn’t really care what Melissa said, she was too pleased with her own report. She’d seen her father nodding along and joining in the applause. She’d done well, and Melissa looked happy.
“Hello everyone, I’m Melissa McCormick, and my partner is my friend—my best friend—Lila Fowler.” Melissa turned to grin in Lila’s direction, and she couldn’t help but smile back.
Melissa then continued. “I also haven’t met Lila’s mother… exactly.”
Lila leaned forward, interested to see where this was going. She noticed Elizabeth Wakefield do the same, and sardonically noted that Elizabeth probably felt left out of all the revelations going on so far. She usually orchestrated the emotional moments in Sweet Valley.
“Because I dropped by Lila’s house last night to see Lila, and see if we could come up with a way to do a project on mothers when neither of us have them. But she wasn’t home, so I ended up talking to her father, who had cut his business trip short to spend time with his daughter.
Melissa checked her notes and continued. “My own mother was a wonderful person. She was kind, she was strong, and she loved me unconditionally. When I was small, she tucked me in every night, she sang to me, and she was there if I had a nightmare. After speaking to Mr. Fowler, I know that he tucked her in every night, and he sang to her—he absolutely refused to give me a rendition though—”
There was another polite chuckle, and Lila remembered that her father had used to sing to her at night. She felt a flush of joy that Melissa had managed to shake loose an old memory.
“—And so when I think about what makes a mother to me, it’s someone who’s caring, who’s there for you, someone who makes you feel safe, I realize that Lila does have a mother. Her father does the role of both parents. And I find that pretty heroic.”
Lila saw her father turn pink at the compliment. After a few more facts about Lila’s father, Melissa returned to her seat and mouthed, “Was that ok?”
Lila nodded enthusiastically.
Ms. Arnette announced that the next pair would be Tammy and Elizabeth. Tammy glanced over her report one more time. She didn’t care what the assignment was, she was going to do a report on Rita, because she knew that Elizabeth wouldn’t do a fair report. She just had to be the first to speak.
“I’ll go first,” Tammy said.
“No, let me, I promise you won’t regret it,” Elizabeth said, with a smile that made Tammy want to knock her off the stage. Tammy did some quick thinking—if Elizabeth went first, she could get her snotty little report over and done with, and then Tammy could read hers, which would mean that Elizabeth’s mother didn’t get a report—and Tammy was fine with that. Given the fumes she smelled on Mrs. Wakefield when she met her, she wasn’t sure she’d even notice nobody talked about her. And she had the nice twin’s partner, so that would be ok.
But Tammy really didn’t want Elizabeth to say a word about Rita. Rita was the only person who had ever accepted Tammy just the way she was. She took her in and made her feel welcome without any agenda. She didn’t just endure Tammy’s shaved head, she actually went with her to the hairdresser, and even suggested Tammy got patterns shaved in—and Rita bought her a hat for sunny days because a sunburnt scalp was not fun. She never felt the need to push her own narrative at Tammy.
Just seeing those multi-colored ponies in the front row made her feel like screaming—especially the orange one. Applejack had featured in quite a few of her birth mother’s stories. Every time she caught sight of a pastel pony in the halls, she wanted to run home, hide under her bed, and cry until there was nothing left of her.
“No, I’ll—” Tammy started.
“Elizabeth, why don’t you go first?” Ms. Arnette suggested.
Tammy reluctantly took her seat and looked out into the crowd for Rita. There she was—at the end of the second row. Easy to spot because of her height and bright hair. Tammy gave her a smile that she hoped adequately conveyed that she had no control over what Elizabeth was about to say—she had prepped Rita last night, but Rita had seemed unconcerned.
Elizabeth smiled, and Tammy saw that this smile had scaled new and epic levels of smugness. She hoped Elizabeth fell off the stage.
“Hello, I’m Elizabeth Wakefield. I’m sure most of you know me because I’ve helped your kids in some way. My partner is Tammy Amerson, and she is a dear friend who was in special need of my help with this project.”
Tammy’s jaw dropped. What on earth was that stupid brat going to say about Rita? She got to her feet and took a step towards Elizabeth. A very small part of her hoped Elizabeth would say something stupid, which would give Tammy a reason to knock her off the stage, but for the most part, she was dreading what Elizabeth would say next.
“You see, Tammy had lost touch with her mother.” Elizabeth paused and gave a particularly smug smile. “I was able to find her, and thanks to the improbably fast turnaround of the Sweet Valley postal service, she is here now, so come on out, Megan Williams, Tammy’s real mother!”
Tammy froze on the spot. A door to the side of the stage opened, and through it walked her mother. She was tall, slender, with long blonde hair tied back in a pink ribbon—the same style she’d had since she was eight, Tammy knew because she’d seen the pictures in the family album. Megan still wore a red locket around her neck—that had been in place since she was twelve.
How on earth had Elizabeth found her? Tammy hadn’t even spoken her mother’s name, she hadn’t told anyone any personal details about herself, she had deliberately changed her name to a surname picked at random out of the phone book. There was a court order stating that she was to have no contact with Megan. How on earth could she be here?
And then, despite everything, Tammy felt a tiny sprig of hope. What if maybe this time it was different? Maybe Megan had realized that in her obsession with the ponies, her past, the whole magical land thing, that she had lost her daughter, a real person who did—at least at one point—love her. Tammy tried to squash it down, because that hope was always in vain. No matter how it was pitched, nothing ever changed.
Everything always led back to the ponies. When Megan taught Tammy to swim, it was because they might want to visit the sea ponies one day. When Tammy fell over, Megan told a story about a baby pony getting hurt. When Tammy got scared, Megan told her there were real monsters in Ponyland, and the baby ponies were braver than her. When Tammy asked for a bike for her birthday, she got a pony instead, because she needed to learn the riding skill. When Tammy wanted to go for a walk and spot birds, she was kept home and told stories of all the times Megan saved Ponyland.
When Tammy needed to do her homework, Megan was there, throwing away real maps and testing her on her Ponyland geography. When Tammy did badly at school, it didn’t matter, because there was no use for algebra in Ponyland. When Tammy did well in school, it didn’t matter, because there was still no use for algebra in Ponyland. When Tammy wanted a haircut, she wasn’t allowed one, because she was starting to look like Megan did at that age, and the only hairstyle allowed was a ponytail tied back in a pink ribbon. When Tammy wanted to join the swim team, she wasn’t allowed, because what if the ponies came back and she wasn’t home?
When Tammy wanted anything, it always came back to Megan and her stupid ponies.
Megan made it to the stage and took two steps in Tammy’s direction, and then her mouth fell open as she spotted the ponies in the front row. She clasped her hands over her heart, and gently caressed the red locket with the ball of her thumb.
“Applejack! You’ve come back to me!” she cried. Then she rushed towards the pony, with such force that both Elizabeth and Tammy had to take a step back or be knocked over. Megan leapt down from the stage and threw her arms around Applejack, crying, “I knew it! I just knew if I waited long enough, you’d come back to me.”
Tammy felt her world cave in. Everything went dark and quiet, and all she could hear was Megan sobbing happily into that stupid orange pony’s hair.
“Uh, excuse me ma’am, but I don’t know you,” Applejack said, trying to step back from the embrace.
“Of course you don’t, I’m all grown up now. You look different too, but I’m the same Megan who used to come to Ponyland. I’m the same Megan who listened to your stories about the Jewel Wizard—I remember your bravery when you saved the Twinkle Eye ponies. I’m the same girl, I promise,” Megan wept into Applejack’s hair.
Tammy remembered the story in question. It was particularly horrific and she had nightmares about it for weeks after hearing it. Applejack was captured by the Jewel Wizard and forced to work as a slave in his mines. Other pony slaves were there and had gone blind from the constant darkness. Applejack tried to run for help but accidentally knocked the Jewel Wizard off his throne and into a dark crevice, where he died. The jewels embedded in the blind ponies’ eyes, and they became a new type of pony, called Twinkle Eyes, who had the ability to see with the jewels. Megan’s version had been very long, detailing the horror of being starved, living in constant darkness, and how the dust in the mine damaged the ponies’ lungs.
It was one of the many reasons that Tammy became scared of the dark.
(There’s nothing to be scared of here, Tammy. In Ponyland there are monsters and witches, but here you are safe. Now go back to bed. Do you want me to sing you the song I first sang to the baby ponies when they didn’t want to take their naps? Let me tell you how it started…)
It was one of the many reasons Megan was a terrible mother. She didn’t care about how Tammy felt about anything, her only goal was to tell Tammy every single thing about her precious ponies.
“Did you say Jewel Wizard?” Twilight asked in a squeaky voice. “Are you May-Gahn?”
The only thing that had gotten Tammy through the worst times with her mother was the certainty that the ponies would never come back. She was never really sure whether the ponies were real or a mental illness. Aunt Molly had let a few things slip out over Christmas a few years ago after several bottles of wine, but Uncle Danny had made it very clear it was just a game they played when they were younger. Tammy didn’t see either of them again after that Christmas.
Tammy felt an arm around her waist, and she realized that Rita had pushed through the crowd to comfort Tammy. “Come on, honey, let’s get out of her while Megan’s distracted by the ponies.”
As Rita spoke, Megan stiffened and turned to face them. When she saw Rita—she still hadn’t looked in Tammy’s direction—her face hardened into a mask of hatred. “You evil witch!” Megan cried, leaping to her feet. “How dare you steal my daughter?”
“She’s not stealing me!” Tammy screamed. “I walked into Social Services and begged them to take me away from you! You’re the witch!”
Megan moved towards them both. “No, Tammy. It’s going to be ok, I can see it now. You’re under her spell. I’m going to save you.”
“I don’t want to be saved!” Tammy flung her arms out to fend off her mother. “Save Saint Elizabeth Wakefield. She wanted to save me. You both like saving people—save each other. You’re both horrible people and you need to be saved.”
“No, darling,” Megan said softly. “You do. That’s not a foster parent, that’s Draggle, one of the evil witches from the Volcano of Gloom. She unleashed the Smooze that nearly destroyed Ponyland.”
“Oh, that’s enough!” Tammy turned back to her guardian, ready to protect her from Megan’s ongoing obsession with Ponyland.
But Rita had turned pale and was staring at Megan in horror. “I’m not that person any more,” Rita mumbled. “I changed!”
That was—that—no! No, Rita could not be part of this too! Everything was about those damned ponies! Tammy shoved Rita’s arm away with such force that Rita stumbled several steps and crashed into Ellen Riteman, who had been politely waiting to read out her report.
She let out of a scream of frustration—nothing was ever about her—and ran for the door.
Note: The story about Applejack and the Jewel Wizard is from the MLP G1 comics. You can read the horrible thing here: http://heckyeahponyscans.tumblr.com/post/27216636085 If you’re in the market for a great pony story that incorporates it (which is how I know about it, and where I got Megan’s extra details that weren’t in the comics), try A Mighty Demon Slayer Grooms Some Ponies by D G D Davidson: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/71660/a-mighty-demon-slayer-grooms-some-ponies
Megan turned a hate-filled gaze on Rita. “How dare you, Draggle? How dare you steal my daughter and come to this world! You’ve always hated me and the ponies, and now you’ve gone too far!”
“I had no idea she was your daughter? It’s the eighties! Do you know how many people are called Megan in California? How was I supposed to know that Tammy’s mother was the same Megan who visited Ponyland all those years ago? How was I even supposed to know we were in the same timeline? Majesty told me that Ponyland and this world run in different times.”
“You dare to speak Majesty’s name? You monster!”
Twilight straightened up. She had heard of Majesty. She was the most revered leader in Equestrian history. She was so universally beloved that when she passed away, her heir refused to take the mantle of queen, and instead ruled as a princess for her entire lifespan. According to a fascinating genealogy report by famed historian Royal Bouquet, there was a familial link between Queen Majesty and the ruling princesses, Celestia and Luna. In fact, there was a very small subset of ponies who called themselves Majestites who believed that one day Majesty would return, and they’d had quite the internal spat as half of their faction believed that Celestia was Majesty reborn, while the other half were deeply offended by this assertion—
“She was my friend! She helped me become a good person!” Rita said tearfully.
“I don’t believe you!” Megan said. “Nobody here does! Everyone knows that the witches from the Volcano of Gloom are evil!” She turned to the ponies. “Tell them!”
Twilight found herself to be the center of attention, with Megan, Rita, Applejack and Elizabeth Wakefield staring at her expectantly—not to mention the rest of the audience, who were watching the exchange with interest. “Well, it is true that history does not remember them kindly, but….” She looked at Megan and could only see the way she pushed past her daughter to embrace Applejack. It was not the action of the great May-Gahn she had read about. The all-knowing, all-seeing May-Gahn was a being of pure love, one whose sole purpose was to teach the ways of friendship. She had quelled the Smooze with a single song note, one that represented the love and protection she felt for everypony around her. Twilight was bitterly disappointed, and filled with remorse that she had helped events take this particular course. “The stories remember the great May-Gahn as a girl filled with love and kindness, and not somepony who would run straight past their daughter.”
Megan looked taken aback, her mouth fell open, but she said nothing.
“Queen Majesty is an ancient ancestor of Princesses Celestia and Luna—the rulers of our land. She is regarded so highly that the title of Queen was never bestowed on a pony again.” Twilight looked in Rita’s direction. “If she gave somepony a second chance, then I don’t doubt that pony’s worthiness.”
“But you don’t know Majesty gave her a chance!” Megan cried. “And why would she? Draggle was nothing but evil! Majesty would have destroyed her kingdom before she helped you!”
“I don’t know nothing much about the history stuff, but if Twi says that’s what the history books say, then you can be sure that’s what the books say. Ain’t nobody more well-read than her,” Applejack put in.
“Majesty,” Rita said, in a voice filled with sadness, “was the only friend I ever had back then. I mourn her every day.” She shook her head and wiped her eyes. “I don’t have to defend myself to you, Megan. I’m going to find Tammy, she must be so upset.”
She turned on her heel and headed for the door.
“Not without us, you’re not!” Megan cried. “Come along, ponies!”
Twilight gave Megan and incredulous look. “I’m going, but only because I owe Tammy a very big apology.” She glanced over at Elizabeth Wakefield. “And so do you. I wish we’d known that she and her mother didn’t get along.”
“But she did know!” a new voice chimed in. Elizabeth’s twin joined the group with an unsettling smile on her face. “Tammy told her over and over that she wasn’t to have contact with her mother, and she didn’t want to talk about it, but Elizabeth wouldn’t let it go.” Jessica grinned at her sister.
“How would you know that?” Elizabeth asked.
Twilight didn’t have time to process that. Rita was striding away, and Twilight decided that Tammy was the priority—not the twins, who were turning out to be as disappointing as May-Gahn—Megan.
Twilight trotted past Megan and the twins, with Applejack beside her, and they kept the pace until they reached Rita.
“I’m so sorry,” Twilight offered. “I really didn’t know that all this would happen.”
“What’ve you got to be sorry about? You’re just here, you didn’t do anything,” Rita said. They exited the school, and Rita took the lead. “We’ll try home first. That’s the first place she’d go. I hope.”
“But I did do something,” Twilight said. “I thought that she couldn’t find her mother, and you were kindly caring for her until she found her. I helped Elizabeth write the letter that brought May—Megan here.”
Rita sighed deeply. “I seem to remember that you ponies used to keep all the babies in a nursery and take turns in parenting them, so I suppose that made sense to you.”
Twilight shook her head again. “No, I know that’s how it was back then, but that’s not how it is now. Foals grow up with their parents—or at least close family.”
“Still, this world takes some getting used to. If you say you didn’t mean any harm, I believe you.”
“You do?” Twilight was surprised. She was having a hard time reconciling her knowledge of the witches and May-Gahn with Rita and Megan. It seemed that every telling of their stories was backwards.
“Yes, anyone who speaks Majesty’s name with such reverence can’t be all bad,” Rita said.
With a clatter of feet, the twins and Megan caught up with them.
“I don’t think the same can be said of her though,” Rita added with a pointed look in Elizabeth’s direction.
Elizabeth stuck her nose in the air. “I just thought that Tammy should be reunited with her real mother. I have experience in that area. Just ask the Henkels!”
“And I have passed every single government-required check and course, not to mention all the hours of tutoring I’ve taken above and beyond that to know what is best for any child trusted in my care! I’ve spent months of my life building a bond with Tammy, and we were really making progress—” Rita’s voice broke off, and she had to start again. “But of course, a child knows best!” Rita shook her head, and quickened her pace.
“She did know best!” Megan snapped, which caused Elizabeth to smile. “Tammy wouldn’t have run off if she hadn’t found out you were an evil witch!”
“I know I’ve got no horse in this race, but it seems to me that Tammy wouldn’t have run off if she hadn’t been blindsided by a whole heap of emotional revelations right in front of everypony she knows,” Applejack said.
Rita shook her head and quickened her pace still. She reached a house that Twilight had never visited, strode down the path and threw open the door. Twilight followed hot on her heels. She paused and gave Applejack a quick look and an ear flick, which Applejack interpreted correctly, because she turned and blocked the door, keeping Megan and the twins from following them inside.
Rita gasped at the sight of the living room. It had been trashed. Books had been ripped from the shelves and left in haphazard piles at the foot of the shelves, cushions had been torn up from the sofa and left on the floor, papers were scattered, and it looked like a herd of Pinkie Pies had gone through it.
“She was probably looking for money,” Rita said, then added in a low voice that nearly broke Twilight’s heart, “We had been doing so well until now.”
Twilight raised a hoof to Rita’s arm in a gesture of comfort. The best way to help Rita—and Tammy—was to be logical though. “Would she have found any?”
“Because if she did, we can work out where she went. Is there enough for a carriage to another village? Is there—” Twilight floundered. She didn’t know how people travelled in this world—aside from those horrific pony-less metal carriages. “Can she buy transport somewhere else? If there was enough bits to buy a ticket, how far could she go with it?”
Rita thought for a moment. “If she found the emergency fund—and she probably would, she knows it’s on the bookshelf, just in case she needs it—then she could get a bus ticket out of here.”
Twilight had no idea what a bus was, but that sounded hopeful. “Right. A bus ticket. Where do you buy them?”
“The bus station. Come with me!”
They dashed out of the house. “We’re going to the bus station!” Twilight said.
“Actually, I think Tammy would be happier if I just went alone.” Rita gave Twilight an apologetic smile.
“I think I should go,” Elizabeth announced. “You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve talked out of running away at the Sweet Valley bus station.”
“You’re the problem,” Jessica said, with a certain amount of glee. “She hates you. She told me. I think I should go. I’m the ‘nice’ twin.”
“I think—” Applejack began, but was cut off by a curious groaning sound in the distance.
“What is that?” Twilight asked.
As the sound got closer, it was accompanied by sharp cracks, shattering glass and the tumbling of rocks—not to mention shouts of surprise and then screams of terror.
“Oh no…” Rita murmured.
The groaning sound continued and the group looked down the road, they saw a wave of purple viscous ooze dotted with eyes making their way towards them, with throngs of people ahead of it running for their lives. Everything the ooze hit crumbled beneath it, and the tidal wave continued on its path of destruction, all the while making that inhuman groaning noise.
It crested another house—this one a level higher than the ones around it, and Twilight watched in horror as the ooze seemed to reorganize itself, thinning in some areas so it could bulk up nearer the house in order to wash over it. The house caved in under the weight. Windows burst outwards, walls buckled, people screamed, and soon the house was invisible under a thick layer of purple slime.
It was a lot different from Twilight’s stories. “Is that…?”
“Smooze!” cried Rita. “RUN!”
Note: Majesty was a white unicorn from the G1 My Little Pony line, she was the queen of Ponyland and came with the Dream Castle playset. She wasn’t in the TV show or movie, but it’s been mentioned in more than one fan theory or fic that she is an ancestor of Celestia and Luna. I can’t find any official word from Hasbro on why Celestia and Luna are princesses and not queens—though the theory I’ve seen most often is that it was a show aimed at girls and, as we all know, girls LOVE princesses. (And queens tend to be evil in the Disney-verse.) However, I have to credit A Mighty Demon Slayer Grooms Some Ponies with the idea that it was a mark of respect that the next rulers after her take a different title and retire the title of “queen”. I thought it was a lovely idea and now it’s my fanon.
Rita/Draggle was one of the witches who lived in the Volcano of Gloom. Yes, they were the bad guys, but Draggle seemed to constantly get it in the neck. Her mother and sister (Hydia and Reeka) constantly berated her. In one episode, the witches have captured a few ponies in a net, and Draggle is left behind to watch over them because she screwed something up. The ponies pretend to befriend her, and obviously double-cross her, and leave her tied up, where once again she is berated by her mother and sister. The small contingent of fandom who watched the G1 cartoon (and cared enough to think about it) seems to universally feel that Draggle should have joined the side of good, and the ponies should have been kinder. Basically, Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t pull this shit.
Famed historian Royal Bouquet does not exist. I went to my collection database, got it to randomly generate a name, and that’s who we landed on.
Finally, the video I linked at the bottom of the chapter is my favorite thing in the G1 cartoon universe. I absolutely love the song. Draggle (Rita) is the tall skinny witch, and the small fat one is her sister, Reeka.
“Let’s ride!” Megan cried, and hopped on Applejack’s back. Applejack instantly bucked Megan off. Megan landed face first on the sidewalk. Rita couldn’t help but feel a moment of satisfaction when that happened.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, ma’am, but I really wasn’t expecting that.” Applejack said. “I’m not used to critters on my back, except for my young sister.”
“Talk later,” Twilight said. “Run now!”
They all sprinted back the way they’d come, up a mild hill that led back to the school. Rita tried to remember everything she knew about the Smooze. It wasn’t a truly separate living being, but more of an ooze that was temporarily given life by the person who controlled it. Although it could defy gravity, unless it (or its controller) actively chose otherwise, gravity would govern its flow. So up hill was the right decision initially.
Even though it had been many years since Rita had helped her sister and mother unleash the Smooze on Ponyland, she could remember it clearly. It was very different being on the ground, running away from it, rather than riding the Smooze in a boat.
Megan stumbled and Rita automatically threw out of an arm to keep her upright. Megan opened her mouth to thank her, glared, and kept running.
They would never be friends, Rita thought. She had spent months being furious with some faceless anonymous woman named Megan, who had put Tammy through the ringer.
Tammy had been so withdrawn when Rita first met her. Rita didn’t know the specifics of her history—if she’d have known it was ponies, Rita would have been far more careful—but she did know that Tammy had been forced into adhering to a delusion of her mother’s. Everything she wanted had to follow the narrative of her mother’s childhood delusion.
Tammy’s birthday was looming, and every time Rita made a suggestion, Tammy got a haunted look in her eye. Every suggestion Rita made—swimming, roller-skating, a theme park, anything a girl turning thirteen might enjoy—provoked a look of distrust and calculation, as Tammy tried to figure out why Rita wanted her to do that particular thing.
But they’d made some great steps forward. Tammy always responded well when Rita asked about her homework—good or bad, Tammy seemed to be delighted to tell her and watch Rita’s reaction. She seemed to like sitting at the end of the kitchen counter and listening to Rita talk about her day. Even the mundane stories about running out of potatoes on beef and potato stew day seemed to interest her.
And now Rita knew that the Megan Williams that gave birth to Tammy was the same Megan who had loved Ponyland so much everything made so much sense. Rita, who had never loved Ponyland at the time, still wistfully remembered the place. Everything was very simple back there. You were good or evil. You did good or evil. Everything else just took care of itself. There was no stress of working, balancing your checkbook, having to do last-minute overtime because somebody had gotten sick, vacuuming the living room, unclogging drains—none of that in Ponyland. If you were good, everything was clean. If you were evil, everything was dark and dank and dreary.
For someone on the side of good, Ponyland was a perfect utopia. Especially since good easily thwarted evil. (Rita had a vague theory that Majesty’s presence kept that rule solidly in place. If Majesty could open up pathways between worlds, then she was far more powerful than just a regular unicorn born to be queen.)
Of course Megan couldn’t get over Ponyland. She had been a hero, she had been beloved, she had been surrounded by friends.
Then she’d lost it all.
And she’d taken it out on Tammy. Not out of cruelty, but out of a deep immovable sadness.
(Rita had done incredibly well on the empathy section of her courses.)
But it was just so infuriating that everything had converged to set Tammy back to square one. Rita could understand Megan, but she couldn’t help but be furious with her. She was damaged by the ponies thoughtlessly dragging her into their world, and even more so by Majesty severing the path. But that damage had spilled over on to Tammy, the most important person in Rita’s world.
Rita could well imagine how Tammy was feeling right now.
They reached the school and one of the twins took the lead, ushering them into the lunchroom, where people were trickling in anxiously.
Rita found a seat and took a moment to catch her breath. The lunchroom was a hub of tween panic. Clusters of children were grouped together. A set of worried looking parents and teachers conferred in a corner. A woman who looked like an older version of the twins dozed in a corner. As Rita watched, she bolted upright, glanced around and when it seemed she’d ascertained that nobody was looking in her direction, she took a quick nip from a silver flask from her purse, before settling back to her doze.
Rita’s gaze moved on. The lunchroom was a fairly large room with two doors and large windows along one wall. Beyond them was a glass-walled walkway that led with doors off leading to halls and classrooms, and one exterior door. It didn’t fill Rita with much hope that all that stood between the kids and the Smooze was two layers of glass and some supports. The Smooze was starting to converge, splatting hard against the windows of the walkway and rising slowly. It was at ankle-height, but rising quickly.
A chubby girl with large glasses stood at the lunchroom door, gazing out at the soon-to-be-submerged walkway with a look of horror and determination of her face.
“The Smooze,” Twilight said. “It can be defeated by a song of love, right? Can anyone do that?”
Twilight looked as if she wasn’t having a good day. Rita had seen the look in her eye when she apologized. She had been misled. Ponies always did assume the best in people—except for Rita, and she couldn’t really blame them for that. Setting the Smooze on them had been devastating.
“It wasn’t a song,” Megan said. “It was the Flutter Ponies. They used Utter Flutter against the Smooze and dropped it back into the Volcano of Gloom.”
“What are the Flutter Ponies?” Twilight asked.
Megan straightened up, apparently glad to be of use again. “They are ponies with gossamer wings. When they fluttered their wings, it caused a magical wind that scooped up the Smooze. We need to fetch them!”
Twilight looked blank, and then looked over at Applejack. “Have you heard of anypony like that?”
Applejack shook her head. “Nearest I can think of is when you created wings for Rarity, would that do it?”
“No, you can’t make them, they’re a species.” Megan rubbed her forehead, then looked pleased. “We should go on a quest. We shall find the Flutter Ponies and save Sweet Valley! Who’s with me?”
“I’m with you!” Elizabeth cried. “I’ll do anything to save Sweet Valley, it’s the best town in the world!”
“The gunk is rising out there,” reported the girl by the door. The Smooze was at knee height now. “How much pressure can that glass take?”
Twilight moved through the door and opened the exterior door a crack. She fired a bolt of magic from her horn. The Smooze surged backwards to avoid the bolt, but bulged higher to the side in a surge that took it to shoulder height against the glass walkway. Twilight tried several more times, firing magic from her horn in different colors, all to the same end. The Smooze would not be hurt by her magic. She slammed the door shut again, and fired another bolt of magic at the lock, which Rita assumed was some kind of locking or strengthening spell.
“We don’t have time for a quest!” Twilight announced. She moved towards Rita. “Rita, you know about the Smooze, how do we stop it?”
Rita shrugged. “Megan’s right, last time the Flutter Ponies—”
“That’s not the question!” Megan snapped. “The question is where did it come from, and the answer is Draggle!”
“Who cares where it came from?” Jessica said. “I have tickets for a Johnny Buck concert next Saturday and I am not missing it because of all that slime. The question is most definitely how to get rid of it.”
“Erm,” Twilight said, with a hesitant look on her face. “It’s not a bad question. If we knew where it came from, maybe it will give us a way to fight it that doesn’t rely on mythic creatures.” She gave Rita a smile. “But we all know that it didn’t come from Rita, because she was with us the whole time.”
“Actually,” said Rita. “It was me.”
“I knew it!” Megan crowed triumphantly.
Twilight looked confused. “But you were with us?”
“I didn’t actually create the Smooze,” Rita explained. “But it was my spellbook. When I left Ponyland, I wanted to take something that reminded me of who I was—maybe even my family, I don’t know—and I took it with me. There’s no magic in this world, so it shouldn’t have worked—and there’s definitely no Flume in this world.”
“And so some random person broke into your house, stole your spellbook, and created the Smooze? A likely story!” Megan sniffed. Elizabeth nodded firmly and took a step closer to Megan.
Rita sighed. “Sure, let’s go with that.” Rita kept the spellbook on the far end of the top shelf of the bookshelf in the living room. The emergency fund was kept on the third shelf in the middle. Tammy must have found the book while looking for the money. In theory, anyone born in this world shouldn’t have been able to read it anyway, but clearly being Megan’s child made a difference to that rule. Majesty had known about the book, and was in fact grateful that it would be taken out of Ponyland and into a world where it couldn’t cause any damage. Even Majesty didn’t see something like this happening, Rita thought.
“Are we really supposed to believe that?” Elizabeth asked, looking at Megan for approval. They both smiled at each other.
Twilight moved to Rita’s side and placed a hoof on her forearm. “How could this have happened?”
Rita placed her head in her hands. “Only someone touched by Ponyland could even read the book, let alone create the Smooze.”
“So if you didn’t do it, are you saying I did?” Megan snapped. “Of all of the insulting things to say! I have always loved Ponyland.”
“You’ve always loved Ponyland more than your own daughter!” Rita suddenly leapt to her feet and crossed the space between them. “Everything you ever said to Tammy was about Ponyland, everything you wanted her to know was about Ponyland, she was drenched in Ponyland. That’s how she managed to read the book!”
Megan drew her hand back and delivered a stinging slap to Rita’s cheek.
Rita didn’t even flinch. “I’m going to find Tammy. She needs me.” She turned on her heel and strode towards the door.
“You can’t go out there!” said the kid by the door. Rita noticed that behind the oversize glasses, she had a pretty face and an intelligent look in her eyes. “You’ll get hurt.”
Rita didn’t care if she had to wade through knee-high Smooze to get to Tammy, she was going to do it. “It doesn’t hurt if it touches you, but it makes you sad and disagreeable, so don’t let anyone touch it. If they do get Smoozed, don’t let the Smooze touch anything else, and don’t take it to heart if they’re mean. They don’t mean it.”
The girl nodded. “I’m on it.”
“We’re coming with you,” Twilight announced, with Applejack at her side. “I think I can use a combinations of the spells I did before to push it back. We could have a small unsmoozed area to walk in until we find Tammy.” She sighed. “If only we had all of the Elements of Harmony together, I think we could make the area larger.”
“So why don’t we just call the rest of our friends here?” Applejack asked.
“The map may have meant well, but things are going wrong here,” Applejack interrupted. “Sometimes you have to ask for help, and I think now’s a good time.”
Twilight nodded. “I think you’re right. I’ll summon them.” She sent up a waft of purple magic, like smoke set with stars. It circled the ceiling of the room, looking for an exit. It squeezed through the crack between the door and the molding, into the walkway and repeated the process with the exterior door.
As it flew escaped outside, the Smooze morphed into a slimy purple hand, which made a grab for Twilight’s message. It closed around it but, the magic passed harmlessly through it. The Smooze gave an indignant groan.
“That’s that done, I’m glad the Smooze couldn’t touch the message. We should go now.”
“I think you should stay here,” Rita said. “You need to protect the kids.”
Twilight moved forward and spoke in a low tone. “If you think that Tammy may be involved in this, helping you is the best way to protect them.”
Elizabeth, Jessica and Megan joined them by the door. “We’ve decided,” Elizabeth announced in an imperious tone, “that we’re going to search for the Flutter Ponies. So we need to get to Lila’s backyard, which is where the ponies came through from Ponyland.”
“It’s Equestria now,” Twilight corrected, and Rita was pretty sure it was automatic. “It hasn’t been Ponyland for thousands of years. The name was changed to incorporate the fact the Earth Ponies, Pegasi and Unicorns lived in harmony. It was felt that the old name…” She shook her head. “Never mind.”
Megan chipped in. “I’m sure we can find them. They used to live in Flutter Valley, which was not far from Dream Valley, so we’ll start there.”
“Neither of those places exist,” Twilight said. “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t a feasible plan. We don’t know where those places were in Equestria as we know it—the records aren’t consistent, and there are no species of pony with gossamer wings on record. We just don’t have time to go off on an adventure to find something that hasn’t existed for thousands of years!”
Megan gulped. For the first time, she lost her strong decisive edge, and her voice lost the accusatory tone. “But they were my friends.”
Twilight softened. “I am sorry for your loss, but—”
“I’m going,” Rita said. She didn’t have time for Megan’s emotions or lectures on Ponyland’s change to Equestria.
“We’re with you.”
Rita felt a pony either side of her. Twilight fired a steady stream of pink magic into the Smooze. The magic bolt split and created a protective T shape, pushing back the Smooze enough for them to step out on to a Smooze-free ground.
Together, they stepped forward.
Tammy rode the Smooze on a surfboard she had found in one of the first houses she had destroyed. The Smooze adjusted to her whims, and ensured she was kept upright. It was exciting. It was like being on a rollercoaster that moved to her precise liking.
Megan had always talked of the exhilaration of flying on the back of a pegasus, but Tammy doubted it felt as good as surfing the Smooze.
The Smooze, while following Tammy’s whims, had shown an interest in the puff of purple smoke the purple unicorn sent out. On instinct, she and the Smooze had followed it. The Smooze seemed to grow to accommodate her needs. She left a sizeable chunk circling the school ominously—sooner or later she was certain that Elizabeth Wakefield would stride out and attempt to resolve the situation. At that point, Tammy would take great delight in Smoozing her.
But that was an afterthought to her real plan. Her real plan was to carry out the witches’ plan—ironically, her foster mother’s plan—to utterly destroy Ponyland with the Smooze.
It was the only way to make them feel the way she felt. They had ruined her life, and she’d never even spoken to a pony. Actually, she’d gone out of her way to avoid the ponies once they arrived. She hadn’t mentioned them to Rita, because she was afraid that Rita had it in her too—the need to shove Tammy aside and worship the small pastel ponies.
And then she’d discovered that Rita wasn’t Rita. She was Draggle, one of the three witches Megan had endlessly told her about. It made her sick. One of the reasons that she’d taken to Rita so quickly was because she had looked like Megan’s description of Draggle, and it was a tiny rebellion that gave her pleasure every day.
She had no idea that Rita was Draggle though. Rita had never once spoken of ponies, everything Rita said was boringly and wonderfully mundane. Tammy had found it fascinating. She nearly cried with joy the day Rita came home and told her a really dull story about running out of potatoes on a busy day at work. That was the kind of thing she’d always wanted to hear. There were no sudden swerves, no magical unicorn waved their horn and made a billion potatoes. No Bushwoolies showed up with Woolie Cakes to appease the hungry patrons. All that happened was that as soon as possible, Rita nipped to the grocers and bought more spuds. It was all so boring and normal and perfect.
But Rita could have waved a magic wand or found the right spell. She could have made a billion potatoes.
The wave of Smooze swerved around a large building, but underfoot supported her surfboard. While the Smooze could destroy everything in its path, it sometimes made independent pragmatic choices, and this one made sense.
The building she surfed past was gigantic with three stories, and wings extending in all directions. It would have slowed the Smooze down significantly to go over or through it, and they didn’t want to lose that waft of magic. It was pony magic, so it was probably designed to hurt the Smooze, so Tammy wanted to know where it was going.
The Smooze swept down the gardens, cheerfully splattering over the pool house, and filling the pool, which Tammy thought was at least Olympic sized—very excessive. The Smooze followed the wisp of magic as it disappeared into the plinth of a statue. Tammy noted with very little surprise that the statue was clearly of Firefly, the pony who first brought Megan to Ponyland. (When Megan spoke her name, she would cross her hands over her heart.)
Tammy hated Firefly more than any other pony in this or any other world.
The Smooze crashed over the statue with gleeful spite, but unlike everything else it had encountered, it did not smash or shatter under the weight of the Smooze. Tammy felt the resistance, as if the statue was pushing her away. The Smooze could touch it, but it couldn’t destroy it.
The Smooze reacted to her confusion, and gently deposited her in front of the statue, just where the magical wisp had gone through. She reached out to the plinth, which was just a little taller than her and made of white marble. It was oddly warm to touch. She ran her fingers lightly over it. It was solid at the edges, but had no form at all in some places. She imagined the portal was a kind of oval shape, like the free-standing mirror in Megan’s room. The one she’d designed herself and painted an obnoxious shade of blue.
Her fingers sank into the plinth when she pushed harder, and Tammy snatched them back as if it burned. She didn’t want even a single fingertip of hers in that stupid land. Maybe she’d come back all broken like her mother. Maybe she’d spend all day blathering on about stupid pastel ponies and how they were so much more important than real people.
Her plan was to send the Smooze through. It would destroy everything and maybe finally Tammy would be able to stop hating them so much.
But the Smooze wasn’t moving. It ebbed and flowed in viscous eddies around her and the statue, but would not go through the portal. It frequently splashed the statue, but the Smooze would just peel off in bits and rejoin the mass. Everywhere else it touched, it left a foul-smelling purple stain.
“Go on!” Tammy said. “Go through! Destroy everything you see!”
The Smooze took another run at it but was unable to pass through. It was as if it was a solid stain-proof mass.
Tammy made a noise of exasperation. It would be just her luck if the portal to Ponyland had been open for days, and now, just as she was so close to getting the ponies out of her life forever, it had closed. She pressed her palm against the plinth again, but it passed straight through. Her fingers touched fur or skin or something living, and she shrieked and withdrew her hand as quickly as she could.
The Smooze seemed upset by her fear, and started groaning in sympathy.
The portal glowed a dazzling white for a moment, and Tammy—amped up by fear and panic that her plan was falling apart—urged the Smooze to make another attempt.
The Smooze surged forward just as four ponies stepped out of the portal. The Smooze gleefully oozed all over them, coating them in purple slime, and the curious looks on their faces became glares and looks of disdain.
“What a horrible world!” one chirruped. On her un-Smoozed parts, she looked pink, with a wildly curly mane and tail. “I hate this place. It’s suckerific.”
“Uck! How ghastly!” This pony was a white unicorn with a purple mane and tail. “I can’t believe Twilight wasted our time calling us to a place that is covered in slime? Doesn’t she realize we have better things to do?”
The other two ponies behind her—a yellow pony and a blue pegasus—were equally hit by the Smooze and were making equally disagreeable comments.
A small purple dragon made his way to the front of the group. “I’ve got some kind of gross slime on my tail. What’s going on? What is this slime? I wish Twilight had let me stay with her.”
“Why would she, darling? You’re absolutely useless. We only keep you around out because we think it’s funny that you think you actually matter.” The white unicorn gave a toss of her mane and a small titter at that.
The dragon looked hurt. He only had a dob of Smooze on his tail, and clearly it wasn’t enough to color his own feelings as it had with the other ponies. His small size and the ponies’ height had probably protected him from the surge.
“Yeah, Spike, you’re pretty much a waste of scales,” the pink one said as she bounced on the spot.
Spike! Realization dawned on her that he’d been in her mother’s stories too, but in all honesty, not very often. He rarely showed up in the pictures Megan drew—mostly he filled a blank bit of space she had left over. She didn’t think that Megan thought particularly highly of him. He was a baby. He made silly choices because of his age. He wasn’t a pony.
Megan suddenly felt a stab of conscience. All she’d wanted was to get rid of the ponies. She hadn’t meant to emotionally abuse someone in the process. As the ponies turned on Spike and began taunting him, Tammy began to cry. They told him he was worthless, and that he wasn’t good enough to be part of their adventures. He tried to defend himself, he said he helped, and they laughed at him.
It was like watching her own childhood. Megan had never said that Tammy wasn’t good enough, but it had been there in everything she had done. When Tammy failed, Megan told stories about how baby ponies—younger than she—had succeeded. When Tammy did well, Megan told stories about how ponies had done much better things.
Tammy was just not good enough. She was worthless.
“Just shut up and leave him alone!” she yelled.
The ponies turned towards her, ready to find a new victim for their spite.
She suddenly wanted nothing more than to rewind this whole day, and feign an illness so she and Rita could bypass the meddling of Saint Elizabeth Wakefield. And Rita always made the best soup when Tammy was sick.
Everyone turned to the sound of the new voice.
It was Rita, and a few steps behind her was Twilight Sparkle, who looked utterly exhausted from firing a continual bolt of magic from her horn. One foreleg was thrown over Applejack’s shoulder, and the orange pony was clearly shouldering the weight of her friend, so that Twilight could concentrate on her magic.
The magic was acting like a snow plough, giving them a small clear area to walk through. As they moved forward, the Smooze closed around behind them.
Tammy was so confused and upset, she was almost happy to see them. She wasn’t so upset that she was happy to see Megan or Elizabeth. She felt fairly ambivalent about Jessica.
“Tammy, are you ok?” Rita rushed through the last dregs of Smooze, and unthinkingly, Tammy cleared a path for them, and pushed the Smooze back to give them some space.
Rita wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. Tammy sagged against her. Rita gave the best hugs. She looked too bony to give hugs, but somehow it always made Tammy feel so safe.
“I have to send the Smooze to Ponyland,” Tammy explained. “I just have to get rid of them.”
“You can’t send Smooze through a portal, Tam. Only living beings can pass through, and the Smooze is only a reflection of what you want.” Rita squeezed her again. “And you really have to tell it to stop.”
“No, I can’t!” Tammy’s throat felt hot and raw, and her eyes were full of useless tears. She wanted to stop, she didn’t want to inflict this on anyone, but she thought she might hate herself for the rest of her life if she didn’t find a way to end those stupid ponies.
“You must stop, Tammy,” Elizabeth said earnestly. “Your mother is here to prove how much she loves you. She wrote you all those wonderful stories when you were a baby. How can you not love her—and the ponies? I saw your baby book, I know your mother loves you very much. Why can’t you see it?”
Tammy stepped away from Rita in order to give Elizabeth the full force of her glare. “Because, you stupid busybody, everything has always been about those ponies! You’ve read my baby book? Did you miss the part where everything I did reminded her of ponies? I didn’t have a birthday, we celebrated Sun Tuesday! If my birthday didn’t fall on a Tuesday, we’d just postpone it. All my baby pictures are covered up with her stupid drawings of those horrible ponies. Everything I said or did somehow led back to them. I hate them!”
“You have to stop, Tammy!” Megan snapped. “How can you want to hurt these wonderful ponies?”
Instantly, the Smooze reared up and splatted itself against Megan. The twins, who were either side of her, also got a Smoozeball to the face. Tammy felt bad for Jessica, who had been nothing but nice to her.
“Forget about Megan, Tammy,” Twilight said as she stepped forward. She looked much better now that she wasn’t having to keep a spell alive. “Listen to Rita. She was willing to wade through the Smooze unprotected to get to you.”
“But the ponies ruined my life. I’m so sick of ponies!” Tammy wailed. “I don’t even know why Megan kept me around.”
“I kept you around because they visit children!” Megan snapped. “Because they left me, and all I had was you. If you think your life was ruined, think about mine. I was dragged out of my world at random one night and brought to a different land to face a monster of nightmares called Tirek! I had to fight a monster on a chariot of darkness! I was twelve! I should’ve been studying for my math test, and instead I saved their world! I loved those ponies, but they were childish and stupid! They kept running to me for answers, and I had to keep giving them. And every time they called, I dropped everything for them.” Megan’s voice caught. “And then one day they never came back.”
“I don’t care!” Tammy screamed. “You should never have had a child. It’s not my fault you’re broken!”
And suddenly, she felt lighter. Something that had been wound tight inside her for as long as she remembered, suddenly wasn’t there any more. It was as if she’d been living with chronic pain and it had suddenly gone completely. She felt almost woozy with the lightness.
Around her the Smooze calmed and stopped its infernal groaning.
“It’s not my fault. And it’s not the ponies’ fault either.” Tammy said softly. “I’m sorry they broke you, but it doesn’t give you the right to break me too. I don’t want to live with you, Megan, and I don’t want to see you again. Maybe it’ll change one day, and I’ll want to visit you, but right now, I don’t.”
The Smooze that covered Megan and the twins lifted off and joined the main mass. Tammy turned to see the same thing was happening to the ponies that had just come through the portal.
“I don’t know how to get rid of the Smooze,” Tammy said.
Rita put an arm around Tammy again. “You’re lucky. You skipped the flume. This is going to be much easier without that ingredient.”
“I did wonder what that was.”
“It’s a horrible plant back in Ponyland. Imagine the Smooze—if you’re not in control of it—but it’s a plant with angry tentacles.” Rita glanced at Twilight. “Please tell me it’s extinct now?”
“Flume? I’d have to check with a botanist for certain, but I remember that Blossomforth did a very interesting paper suggesting it had become what we now know to be a Tatzlwurm,” Twilight said. Then she moved towards Tammy, but left a respectful distance between them. “Tammy, I need to apologize. I should never have participated in bringing your mother into your life. I didn’t fully understand the situation, but that’s no excuse. I pride myself on being an excellent researcher, but in this case I just took somepony’s word for it. I upset you, I didn’t speak to you, I interfered, and I’m sorry.”
Tammy nodded and then stared at the ground with her eyes full of tears again. She didn’t quite know how to feel. Her instinct told her that the purple unicorn hadn’t meant any harm. She hadn’t realized until this moment that Twilight was even involved. It seemed like such an Elizabeth thing to do.
“Tam, I want you to know I had no idea you were Megan’s daughter. Nobody has surnames in Ponyland, so she was only known as Megan. I never saw pictures of her, and in all honesty, I never spent much time with her back then, so I honestly didn’t see any resemblance between you two.” Rita looked up at her, then continued. “I’ve told you that I was never happy with my family, that I could never please them, I never felt loved by them, but I never told you they were witches from Ponyland. I thought it would sound like I was delusional, and knowing that you had lived with one person’s delusion for a long time, I knew it wouldn’t go well.
“On a particularly low day, I decided to run away from home—from Hydia and Reeka—because I was so miserable. I hadn’t thought it through at all, but I’d made my mind up, I didn’t want to be an evil friendless witch, I wanted to be something less powerful but more happy.
“As I walked through the forest, I met Majesty. I’d heard of her, but she was so rarely seen back then that I was shocked to see her. She walked with me and asked about me, and I was just so lonely I told her everything. Every single thing that was in my head. And she just listened.
“She was so warm—you can’t imagine what it’s like to meet someone who gives off such an aura of power, but is so warm and friendly that you want to be their friend, even though you know they’re so far above you—especially when you’re an evil witch from the Volcano of Gloom. She was the first friend I ever made.
“As we walked, she asked where I was going, and what would I do if Hydia and Reeka found me, and realized that I had no plan at all. So she made me an offer. She said she could send me to a different world. I could never come back, but on the other hand, nobody could ever follow me. She was planning on closing the road between the worlds, because she worried that the humans who visited were getting too attached and my leave their world forever, which would destroy their family.”
Tammy glanced at Megan, who was weeping into her hands. Looking back, there was no way to win. When Majesty closed the link, she destroyed Megan. If she’d left it open, it would have destroyed Megan’s family to lose her. They’d still lost her though. Tammy had never met her grandparents. She hadn’t seen Aunt Molly or Uncle Danny for years.
“So I took the offer. I didn’t know how all this would turn out.” Rita looked at Tammy with tear-filled eyes. “I understand if you’d rather live with someone else. I know you’ve had a lot of emotional turmoil, and finding out I’m from the land you’ve heard about non-stop may be a step too far, but if you want to stay with me, I’d be so happy. I think you’re the reason I came to this world.”
“I’m so tired of not being important, and I’ve loved living with you,” Tammy said. “But I don’t know how to come back from this. I don’t know how to stop the Smooze.”
“I do,” said Rita. “I’ll help you.”
The blue mirror in Megan’s bedroom is merely a reference to the mirror you got in the Dream Castle playset, and Megan’s obsession with Ponyland.
“You had a spell in that book that just separates the Smooze back into its ingredients all along?” Megan asked incredulously as the Smooze began to break down into harmless components like dirt, dust and cobwebs after Rita and Tammy chanted some words.
“Oh yeah. Every spell in here has an undo option,” Rita said. She turned to Tammy and gave her a smile. “I’ve got a great story about the time I made it rain banana ice cream into the Volcano of Gloom for three hours before I realized there was a counter spell on the next page.”
Elizabeth watched Rita and Tammy interact with a terse kind of politeness. Nothing had gone the way she had planned at all. In her head, everything was supposed to go: big reveal of Megan, tearful reunion between mother and daughter, everyone praised Elizabeth for bringing them together.
Instead there had been a lot of anger followed by a near apocalypse. And honestly, Elizabeth was pretty sure she was supposed to save the world. But maybe it had been a warm-up. The apocalypse hadn’t really happened, it had shown up, then Tammy changed her mind. Next time Elizabeth would save everyone.
As the Smooze broke down, it revealed the damage it had done. Once the group walked out of Lila’s backyard, they could see the destruction far better. Some houses were missed, but others were wrecked, with missing walls and broken windows. Elizabeth immediately started imagining all the fund-raisers she could organize, and the special feature she could run in the Sixers, pitying the poor people who had lost their homes.
“Oh, no…” Tammy moaned. “Oh wow, I… I did this.”
Twilight Sparkle moved beside her. “It’s ok. I know a spell or two that will fix this.”
“And believe it or not, there are actually some spells in this book that can create as well as destroy,” Rita added.
“And I have the Rainbow of Light!” Megan said with a smile.
“You have the Rainbow of Light?” Twilight repeated. “The actual Rainbow of Light?”
“Yes, the ponies asked me to keep it,” Megan said. “I don’t think it will do much here, I’ve tried using it in the past, and mostly it just pops out of my locket and back in.” She sighed deeply. “I always hoped someone would come back for it.”
Every few houses on the walk back to school, the group would stop, and Twilight and Rita would step forward. Rita would read some words from her book, Twilight would send a bolt of magic from her horn, and the damage would start to repair itself. Glass would fly into the air and re-form as a single pane before slotting in neatly to the repaired frame. Walls would rebuild themselves, pulling up their broken parts from the garden. It was amazing to watch.
But it got a little repetitive after the first few times.
“You blew your report,” Jessica said, falling in step beside Elizabeth.
“I reunited estranged relatives,” Elizabeth said in a tight voice.
“You put a kid in a room with someone she’s legally separated from, and the kid tried to destroy this world and another.” Jessica’s smile was smug. “You’re getting an F.”
“You didn’t even do yours,” Elizabeth retorted.
“Yeah, but nothing I said took out most of Lila’s street. It’s nice to see you fail at something. Sometimes we all get sick of how perfect you are. I’ve got Ms. Arnette, mom and some kids from school calling me stupid, and now you’ve done something so stupid that nobody will ever forget it!”
With one more smug smile in Elizabeth’s direction, Jessica skipped on ahead.
Usually Jessica’s words didn’t get to Elizabeth—literally everyone on the planet knew she was the best twin—but this time, she had a point. Elizabeth had made a severe misstep when she decided reuniting Tammy and Megan during a school project was the best decision.
Elizabeth brightened. Tammy wasn’t ready yet. She needed more time and the right setting. Then everything would go perfectly, and Elizabeth would regain her crown.
She hurried to catch up with Megan, and as she did, she overheard Rita say to Tammy, “So, Tam, your birthday’s tomorrow, and you still haven’t told me if you want to do anything special. Do you want a party?”
Tammy snorted in response. “Sure. Let’s just ask all the people I nearly Smoozed today. I bet they’d love to hang out with me!”
Elizabeth had a wonderful idea.
Tammy slept late on Saturday. When she roused herself from bed, she was halfway through her morning shower before she even realized it was her birthday. She was thirteen.
She had never particularly cared for her birthday before. Her first birthday had fallen on Sun Tuesday, and ever since then Megan had insisted they celebrate Sun Tuesday instead of her birthday. Rita had prodded her several times about what she wanted to do for it—most kids did something exciting like go to the movies or a water park or something—but Tammy had never had that experience. Even though she knew that Rita wasn’t Megan, a lifetime’s experience suggested that Rita wanted her to pick something to please Rita, not for Tammy’s own enjoyment. So she’d dilly-dallied until it was too late.
On reflection, it was probably for the best. She could only imagine the awkward phone calls Rita would be fielding this morning. “Hi there, Mrs. Drabble, it’s Susie’s mom. I’m just calling to say that she has a bad case of Smoozeitus and won’t be able to come to Tammy’s birthday party.”
It wasn’t as if Tammy had a lot of friends before she’d tried to destroy the world.
On the plus side, she was pretty sure she’d put off Elizabeth Wakefield, so that was something.
She got dressed in her slobby clothes—if you couldn’t veg out on your birthday that was nothing to do with Sun Tuesday, when could you?—and headed downstairs.
The living room had been tidied and Rita was in the kitchen making bacon and scrambled eggs, which was Tammy’s favorite breakfast. There was a pile of presents on the kitchen counter.
“You’re up!” Rita said. “Happy birthday! Did you sleep well?”
“I am. Thank you. Surprisingly, yes. I guess I was exhausted after yesterday,” Tammy said.
“What do you want, breakfast or presents first? Or do you want to skip straight to the birthday cake I made you. I don’t want to brag, but it’s really one of my best.”
“Breakfast,” Tammy decided. She tried to casually eye the presents. They were neatly wrapped and were interesting shapes. And she was pretty sure they weren’t drawings of ponies. She suddenly realized that birthdays might be fun with Rita.
“And what do you want to do today?”
Tammy shrugged and gave it some thought. Maybe a slumber party or going to the movies would have been fun if she’d had friends, but she was still new at school (and she’d tried to destroy more than one world yesterday), so that wasn’t really an option. Besides, she kind of liked the quiet. She wasn’t sure she was a surrounded-by-people-what-a-fun-party kind of girl. In all the stress of the past few days, she hadn’t been out with her bird book and binoculars. And there were some really pretty walks around Sweet Valley. “Um, I wouldn’t mind going out birdwatching later,” Tammy said. “Would you come with me?”
Rita looked pleased by the invite. “Do you have enough index cards if we’re both birdwatching?”
Tammy grinned. She had a very precise filing system for her birdwatching records. It was cross-referenced by color, location, species and dozens of other options, just so she could easily find the very thing she was looking for. If pushed, she would find it hard to work out which she loved more, spotting birds, or the lengthy admin that accompanied it.
Rita served up their breakfast and they moved over to the breakfast bar to sit and eat.
They were halfway through breakfast when there was a knock at the front door. They both looked at each other quizzically. Tammy shrugged. “I’ll get it. Maybe it’s the post.”
She went to the front door and threw it open to find the entirety of Sweet Valley Middle School outside, with Elizabeth smiling beatifically at her.
Tammy sagged against the frame and muttered, “Nope, I guess it’s still Sun Tuesday.”
“Hi!” Elizabeth trilled, looking utterly delighted. “I heard it was your birthday, and since things went so wrong yesterday, I thought I’d organize the best birthday party Sweet Valley has ever seen.” All the kids in the first wave behind Elizabeth were holding cakes, cookies, chips and drinks. Behind them Tammy could see people holding balloons and streamers.
“Doubtful,” Lila commented dryly. “Have you seen my parties?”
“Uh, I don’t…” Tammy began. But then she realized that anything she said was utterly pointless. Elizabeth would do this with or without her consent, and she would expect gratitude and adoration. Tammy leant back into the house. “Rita! Elizabeth Wakefield has invited the entire town to a party at our house, and I think we’re supposed to be happy about it.”
Rita ran to the front door in horror. She smiled weakly at the hundreds of kids milling around outside the front door, and then murmured to Tammy, “The house! I haven’t vacuumed all week. It’s a mess.”
“STOP!” cried a panicked voice.
Then through the crowd came Twilight Sparkle, followed by Melissa McCormick, Applejack and the other ponies that came through the portal yesterday. Once Twilight was at the front of the crowd, she turned to Elizabeth. “For the love of Celestia, leave the girl alone!” She quickly looked over to Tammy and Rita. “Hi there, sorry about this. Happy birthday, by the way, Tammy.”
“I’m trying to make sure Tammy has a good birthday,” Elizabeth said. “I’d have thought the Princess of Friendship would understand that.”
“You’re trying to make her have the birthday you want her to have!” Twilight yelled. “You’re not trying to make amends, you’re trying to push her around.” She turned quickly to Tammy. “That’s right, right? Am I getting this right?”
For the first time in her life, Tammy felt a burst of fondness for a pony. “Yes, Twilight, you’re right.”
Elizabeth looked deflated. “I spent all morning calling everyone to organize this.”
“Nobody asked you to. You’ve inflicted a party with hundreds of guests on a house and two people who don’t want a party and aren’t prepared for it. That’s not friendship, that’s bossiness.” Twilight appeared to notice how downcast Elizabeth looked, so softened her tone. “I’m sure you’re heart’s in the right place—” (Tammy wasn’t sure Twilight believed the words she was saying.) “—but true friendship is finding out what your friend wants, and doing that, even if you think it should be something else.”
“What am I supposed to do with all this food?”
Lila waved a hand airily. “Oh, let’s all go to my house. We can have a party there, my house is large enough to accommodate the entire town.” She cast a queenly glance in Tammy’s direction. “You can come or not. Whatever you want.”
“That’s a wonderful solution, Lila,” Twilight said.
As everyone turned and started to make their way to Fowler Crest, Elizabeth lingered.
She approached Tammy. “I wanted to tell you something,” she said.
Tammy raised an eyebrow. She wondered if Elizabeth was going to apologize for bulldozing Tammy’s life.
“Last night something Lila said got me thinking,” Elizabeth said earnestly.
“It did?” They didn’t seem like an obvious pair of friends—especially with Lila announcing to the world that she was best friends with Melissa yesterday.
“Yes, she said that Megan had a lot of qualities that reminded her of me,” Elizabeth said.
Tammy exchanged an amused glance with Rita. “I don’t deny the similarities occurred to me too.”
“So when I got home yesterday, I started reading the book we have about our family tree—you see, everyone loves a Wakefield, that’s why someone wrote a book about us—and it turns out that Megan is a cousin of my mother! Can you believe it? You and I are cousins! We’re family!”
Tammy shook her head wearily. “Elizabeth, all that means is that somewhere along the line, you and Megan have a bit of genetic material in common. It doesn’t make us family.”
“But—” Elizabeth started.
“No, Elizabeth, Rita’s my family, not Megan, and not you.”
With that, Tammy had the delightful feeling of shutting the door in her face. It was a pretty nice birthday present.
“I think the bacon will be cold by now,” Rita said, as they headed back to their breakfast.
“Let’s skip straight to the presents then,” Tammy suggested.
Rita pushed the brightly-colored boxes towards her, and Tammy was reaching for the first when there was another knock at the door.
Tammy froze, her fingertips millimeters away from a gift. “If it’s her again, can I punch her? I won’t ask for anything else for my birthday. Or any other birthdays.”
“I can’t condone that,” Rita said. “But I might be looking out the window when you did it, and then of course I’d be shocked that it happened.”
“Close enough.” Tammy hopped off the barstool again. She opened the door, and was surprised to see a small group of kids she vaguely knew from school. Lois… someone, Carol or Caroline, the redhead, and a rather cute boy she’d never spoken to but noticed several times.
“You’re not Saint Elizabeth,” Tammy said in surprise.
“Yeah… about that,” said Lois. She looked up at Tammy shyly. “We kind of have a support group going for people who’ve been Elizabeth’s projects in the past, it’s called SEW—that’s S-E-W—Survivors of Elizabeth Wakefield. And we’d like you to join.”
“Actually, we’d kind of like you to take over leadership,” Carol or Caroline said. “Your indifference to her was wonderful to watch.”
Tammy smiled a little. “Uh, I’m sorry, I don’t really know all your names, I’m still new here.”
“Oh, I’m Caroline Pearce, she’s Lois Waller and he’s George Henkel,” said the redhead. “I haven’t actually been Elizabeth’s project but every time I speak to her, I can feel her judging me.”
“Caroline’s been provoking her for months,” George said. “Every time she sees a Wakefield, she tells the most ridiculous story she can think up, but so far Elizabeth has never taken the bait.”
“I’m a decoy,” Caroline said. “I thought if she invested all her time in a fake problem, she might let people resolve their own problems. Lois and I have been friends for years, but every so often Elizabeth does or says something stupid that she thinks is helpful and it ticks me off!”
“We don’t really have an official meeting schedule—we’re not the Unicorns—but you’re always welcome to join us for lunch,” Lois offered.
George smiled up at her, and Tammy noticed how nice he looked when he smiled. “It’s ok, after all this, she’ll drop you. She forced me and my father back together—he’s a Vietnam vet with PTSD, and we really don’t get along. So we had the tearful reunion that she wanted, and she completely forgot either of us existed. And about ten minutes after that, we realized that we were not supposed to be around each other.”
“Huh.” Tammy said. “So I could have bypassed that whole Smooze thing if I’d have just pretended to be happy to see Megan?”
“Maybe,” Lois said. “But it’s fine. We get it. And Caroline’s got you covered. Her silly stories have been going around so much that people actually believe her now. We’ll get something else going around school and they’ll forget all about you. As long as you don’t join the Sixers, the Unicorn Club or the Boosters, you can pretty much disappear after your five minutes of fame.”
Tammy couldn’t fight the smile again. These were really nice kids, and school would be a lot more fun if she had friends like them. “For what it’s worth, I am really sorry about the Smooze.”
“That’s ok,” George said. “If I could’ve done it, I probably would have too.”
Tammy paused for a moment, then said, “Hey, do you guys wanna come in for a slice of birthday cake?”
Elizabeth was having quite a fun time at Lila’s party, even though it should have been Tammy’s birthday party. People kept thanking her for an impromptu Saturday party—to the point where Lila, who was hosting, was getting quite cross. That was rather gratifying. At least she could walk away from this safe in the knowledge that most of the school thought she was just wonderful.
It still bugged her that Tammy wouldn’t accept her help. Especially now they were family. Megan was actually from the Frankenhuysen branch of the family, along with Quakefield Wakefield. Elizabeth was thinking of writing a report about her exciting family for the Sixers. That might be a little arrogant. Maybe she could get Amy to write it.
“Elizabeth, I was looking for you.”
Elizabeth turned to see Twilight Sparkle behind her. In all honesty, Twilight had fallen in Elizabeth’s estimation. She clearly didn’t understand how friendship worked. Elizabeth considered offering her services as an advisor. But then again, maybe that was why Twilight was looking for her.
“Could we talk privately please?” Twilight asked.
It was beginning to look very likely that Twilight needed her help. Probably she had realized that her earlier reaction to Tammy’s surprise party was wrong. “Of course. Why don’t we talk in one of the unused rooms?”
Elizabeth led the way through the house and found a relatively small room off one of the living rooms. It could still fit her entire house in it. She took a seat and made sure she was wearing her most encouraging smile.
Twilight did not sit. She paced. She did a few back and forths before coming to a stop in front of Elizabeth. “I’ve been mulling over the best way to bring this up. It’s very awkward, but I think I really must say something.”
Elizabeth couldn’t fight the smile. “If it helps at all, the answer is yes.”
Twilight looked startled. “The answer is yes?” she asked. “What did you think the question was?”
“Whether I would be your advisor on friendship matters,” Elizabeth said. “And I’d be honored.”
Twilight looked pained. “No, that wasn’t the question. Actually, I was going to say that you seem to be struggling with the basics of friendship.” Twilight gave her a worried glance. “And that’s ok. Plenty of ponies do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t need a Princess of Friendship.” She gave an awkward laugh. “So I was going to offer my mentorship. I thought we could be pen pals and we could talk about friendship issues, so that we won’t end up down a similar path again.”
Elizabeth felt a hot blush flood her face. How could Twilight think she needed friendship lessons? She was the Queen of Friendship, never mind Princess! Everyone in Sweet Valley knew it. Why, Elizabeth would bet her attractive split-level house on Calico Drive that even Lila would ask for her help one day.
“I don’t think so,” Elizabeth said in a tight voice.
“There’s no shame in continuing to learn, Elizabeth. I do it every day. It’s something everyone should learn more about,” Twilight implored.
“I think you’ll find,” Elizabeth sniffed, getting to her feet. “That I am the living embodiment of friendship and everyone knows it! It’s not my fault you don’t know enough about it to see that!”
And with that, she stormed out of the room.
After a bit of prodding from Rita and her new friends, Tammy decided that they might as well go up to the party and get an idea of what school would be like for the girl who nearly destroyed more than one world.
When they arrived at Fowler Crest, which Caroline told her was the name of Lila’s palatial estate, the party was in full swing. People were dancing on the terrace by the pool, Johnny Buck’s latest album was blaring at full blast, there were tables of food laid out—and many harassed-looking gardeners and maids trying to keep control.
Tammy was expecting a hostile reaction, but for the most part everyone just ignored them. It was perfect.
Lois nudged her. “You travel with a fatty, a gossip and a nerd, and it’s like you’re invisible. Isn’t it great?”
“It’s amazing,” Tammy said.
The four helped themselves to snacks and punch and found a table in the shade where they could watch the party unfold.
“Unless you’re the subject of a Wakefield Crusade, you can get through school pretty much unscathed,” Caroline added.
“Don’t forget to use your power for good though,” George said. “For example, you see a Wakefield staring at someone—if it’s Elizabeth, she wants to help, if it’s Jessica, she might be mean—and you know that if you just distract the Wakefield, she will lose her concentration. Then you can bump into her, or knock her books out of her hands or something like that.”
“Doesn’t that put you back in her crosshairs?” Tammy asked.
“No, they don’t often loop back to people they’ve fixated on before, unless it’s a member of their group—the Sixers, the Unicorns or the Boosters.” Lois said. “Once you’ve got the Wakefield’s attention, Elizabeth will smugly smile and remember the time she saved you, or Jessica will scowl and remember that you’re not Unicorn material, and then they’ll move on.”
Tammy exhaled slowly. “Boy, do I wish you guys were in Ms. Arnette’s class!”
“Hi, I hope I’m not interrupting,” Twilight broke into the group, with a bashful smile. She eyed Tammy carefully. “I’ll go away if I’m not wanted.”
Tammy smiled at Twilight—genuinely, probably for the first time in her life. “No, it’s fine. How are you, Twilight?”
“Hey, Caroline,” Lois said. “Why don’t we three go and start that rumor about Johnny Buck moving to Sweet Valley?”
Caroline nodded. “Yes, that sounds like fun, come on, George.”
The three of them quickly left the table, leaving Twilight and Tammy alone.
“I’m sorry,” Tammy said. “I’m so sorry that I hated you and your people so much. It wasn’t fair. I was blaming you for something that was nothing to do with you.”
“I’m sorry too. If I’d have gotten to know you, instead of taking Elizabeth’s word for it, I would have known better than to be a part of reuniting the two of you. I wasn’t sure of this world and its customs, and…” Twilight sighed. “I didn’t do my research. And that’s so unlike me. You should see my research! It’s usually well-organized with an extensive cross-referencing system… I’m sorry, you probably don’t want to know about my flash-card system.”
Tammy leaned forward. “Oh, believe me, I do. You should see my filing system to log which birds I’ve seen. I have it logged by location, species, color, even the weather that day. I love birdwatching.” She blushed. “And I love the admin I can do afterwards.”
“Oh! Would you like to see my library? I have such an extensive system you wouldn’t believe!” Twilight offered.
Tammy paused. Part of her really did want to go to Ponyland and see what it was like. And to meet a fellow nerd with a filing system was tempting. Given how Twilight was geeking out, Tammy was inevitably going to pick up some tips, but… “My mother never recovered from going to your land.”
Twilight nodded, suddenly somber after her animated talks of filing. “I know. I can’t imagine what that was like for her or you. I can’t say that visiting my world wouldn’t affect you, but the situation would be different. I wouldn’t be taking you to save my world, I would be inviting you as a friend to visit my home.” She met Tammy’s eyes. “But I understand if you would rather not.”
Tammy really wanted to want to say yes—but she wasn’t really sure that she wanted to go. What if it brought back all of her anger and bitterness? What if she stepped into that world and suddenly hated everything again. Being that angry had been exhausting. The only thing she knew she wanted for sure was to extend her friendship to Twilight. “Why don’t you come to my house and see my filing system? Even if I’m not ready to visit your home, maybe you visit mine?”
Twilight brightened. “I’d like that.”
Tammy looked around the party, and saw that pink pony was entertaining a crowd with some wacky dance moves, the white unicorn was talking to Applejack, Lila and Melissa, the blue pegasus was talking to Billie Layton, the yellow pegasus was sitting beside Spike the dragon, having a conversation with Amy Sutton. “And maybe you could introduce me to your friends? I think I’m ready to be friends with ponies now. Actually, could you introduce all of my friends? I’m sure Caroline, Lois and George would like to meet them too.”
“I’d be happy to.” Twilight nodded, then she gave a small shake and turned to look at her flank. She had a symbol of purple and white stars on her flank, and they were kind of vibrating and shining.
“Is that normal?” Tammy asked.
Twilight beamed. “Yes, it happens whenever I’m sent somewhere to help somepony and the job is finished.”
“So you’ll be shutting the gate between our worlds?” Tammy said. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Relieved mostly. Relieved that the choice of whether or not to visit their world had been taken from her. But she also felt… concerned, maybe? There was an odd feeling inside she couldn’t quite put into words. The ponies came, they did something, and they left, and it was all over. While Tammy felt relief, maybe others would not. Others would miss them, and wish they could see the ponies again. “Maybe—” Tammy blurted, and then pushed on before she could logic herself out of it. “Maybe you could take Megan to Ponyland to visit before you shut the gate? She never said a word against the ponies, but I think it broke her heart that one day all links between worlds were just cut off. Maybe it would help her heal if she knew that this visit is her last one.”
Twilight gave her a very serious look. “Are you sure about that? Do you think it would help her?”
Tammy shrugged. She found that she could be a little empathetic to Megan’s life when she was certain that it was no longer going to impact her own. She didn’t want to reconnect with Megan, and she would probably always feel let down by her as a mother, but objectively, Tammy could see that the ponies had made choices that separated Megan from her own world. “I honestly don’t know for sure. Megan’s spent her entire life dreaming about your world. She didn’t leave any room for anything in this world. If she knew for certain, and saw with her own eyes, maybe she could build a life in this world that isn’t about ponies.”
Twilight nodded. “I’ll ask her.”
Tammy gave a small laugh.
Twilight gave her a questioning look. “What’s funny?”
“I was just thinking that even though I’m glad you’re going, I sort of wish we could be friends here? I’m not ready to go to your world—and with the gate shutting, I think that’s ok—but it’s not often you find someone who thinks filing systems are fun,” Tammy said.
After a moment’s consideration, Twilight spoke up. “How do you feel about being pen pals? I have some books that connect worlds. You write in one, and the person with the book’s twin receives the message.”
Tammy gave her a big smile. “I could go for that.”
Megan stood at the base of a marble statue in the back garden of her daughter’s schoolmate. Her heart tugged painfully just looking at the statue. It was Firefly. The statue might not have a symbol on its flank, but Megan could see echoes of the cheerful pegasus she had known so well, even rendered in cold marble.
Her fingers flew to the locket around her neck and thoughtlessly worried the clasp that held the Rainbow of Light in.
She was surrounded by ponies, and they all reminded her of a pony she had known and loved in her childhood. The white unicorn with purple hair—Rarity—reminded her so much of Glory. Twilight Sparkle herself looked like Twilight. Rainbow Dash may not have replicated Firefly’s pink and blue colors, but the fearless spirit reminded Megan all the same. Fluttershy, the quiet yellow pegasus, looked like Posey. Pinkie Pie was neither white nor a pegasus, but her infectious enthusiasm and joyful outlook had shades of Surprise all the same.
And Applejack. She the same color, the same name, the same symbol on her flank—though this Applejack had fewer apples, and the ponies overall looked different. Several thousand years of evolution, she supposed. And Spike was just the same too—same color, same name, slightly different, but the same. It broke her heart to look at them both and see something so close to her old friend, but a complete stranger.
She almost wished Danny and Molly, her brother and sister, were there to see. But they had put the ponies behind them in a way that Megan never could. They told themselves it was just a game they played, it was all make-believe. They never went to Ponyland, the meadow behind their house became Ponyland when they played the game.
“That’s just a dumb locket, Megan. It’s not the Rainbow of Light!” Molly had once yelled when Megan had pleaded with her sister to admit that it all happened. Megan had opened the locket to prove that the Rainbow still lived, but it had only given a feeble glimmer, a small splash of color that never moved away from the locket.
“See! Just a hologram! Grow up!” Molly said.
But Megan was already grown up. She had to be. She was the savior of Ponyland. She was the person they fetched when things became difficult. She took her responsibility very seriously. She stayed in the old house when her brother and sister moved away. She raised her child there alone, when Tammy’s father wanted to move away. She had waited. They needed her.
And now finally, after twenty years of waiting, they had invited her back.
But they didn’t need her. She was being politely asked back, probably so they could reclaim the Rainbow of Light as their heirloom. Which was their right, but Megan had a childish urge to run away and keep it—just so she had that one speck of proof that she wasn’t delusional like everyone thought.
“Are you ready?” Twilight asked.
Megan didn’t trust her voice, so she gave a nod.
“If you’re not ready, we can wait—or you don’t have to come, this is just an invitation, not a demand,” Twilight said. “Tammy was invited, but she declined. We weren’t offended.”
Megan shook her head. “I can do this,” she said. It came out shaky. So she did what she always did when she was frightened. She acted. She stepped straight through the portal in three large strides.
She found herself in a tall crystal room. Bookshelves lined the walls to an impossible height. For a second she wondered how anyone reached the top shelves, but then she remembered, she was no longer in a world that required ladders. There were pegasi and magic for that.
Before she could stop herself, Megan ran for the nearest window, she wanted to see Dream Castle and Paradise Estate once more. She knew it wouldn’t be the same, but just to see a ghost of her childhood haven would be—
Nothing outside the window was familiar. When Twilight said she lived in a castle, Megan had assumed it was Dream Castle, and when she saw the crystal rooms, she thought maybe it had been changed over the years, but somehow she would see something she remembered.
Outside the window was a small but bustling village. Some kind of gazebo marked the center of town. To one side she could see shops and small houses, and in the distance she saw an orchard, but it was all wrong.
She was expecting to be at the base of a waterfall, to look out along the stream and see Lullaby Nursery, Paradise Estate and the Baby Bonnet School of Dance. Ponies didn’t live in separate houses back then, they shared a single building—Paradise Estate.
She ran down the corridor, opening doors and running through rooms, checking the windows but no matter which angle she looked at this world from, it was wrong.
Megan gasped as the weight of realization hit her: everything was gone. There would not be echoes of her friends because it was thousands of years ago. Nothing in this world related to Megan.
And nothing in her own world did either.
She felt a shuddering sob wrack through her, and the weight of her sadness nearly knocked her over. She leaned against a wall and let the tears fall. She hadn’t cried when the path between worlds had been severed. She hadn’t cried any of the following nights. She hadn’t cried when her brother and sister denounced Ponyland as a childish game. She hadn’t even cried when Social Services had taken her daughter from her.
She’d held back every single tear with a force of will backed by the determination that one day she would get back to Ponyland and everything would be worth it.
But it wasn’t. And the grief was crushing.
“My dear little pony, what’s wrong?”
Megan looked around and through the blur of her tears saw a large winged unicorn. Her coat was a pure and dazzling white, and her hair seemed to flow like a river, with pink, blue and green hair, all moving as if she was underwater. Megan wiped her eyes and took another look. The pony’s hair continued to move. She had soft pink eyes that looked at Megan with such kindness that she was reminded very strongly of Majesty, the queen of the ponies.
“You’re May-Gahn, aren’t you?” the pony asked.
“Megan,” she corrected. It was flattering that she had been remembered as folklore, but it was weird when ponies got her name nearly right.
“Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Princess Celestia.” She looked concerned. “Can I do anything to help? Would you like a glass of water?”
Megan wiped her face again and shook her head. “No thank you.” She gazed out of the window again and took a deep breath. “It’s all so different. It was a shock.”
“Did nopony warn you that thousands of years have passed since your time in our world?” the princess asked in a soft tone.
Megan shrugged. “They did, but I couldn’t comprehend it. I haven’t been here for twenty years, and that feels like forever to me. I couldn’t imagine how long several thousand years was when twenty was so hard.”
“I want to apologize that you were brought here, May—Megan,” Celestia said. “Majesty was born brilliant and kind, and she was eventually wise, but she lacked wisdom when she allowed her little ponies to bring you here.”
“I did my best!” Megan snapped with more volume than she’d intended. “I saved everyone!”
Celestia reached out a hoof to Megan, but stopped short of touching her. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. You were a true champion of the ponies, and I’m certain our civilization wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t come to their rescue. My remark was that Majesty didn’t consider the effect it would have on a child to be thrown into a strange world and forced to save the day over and over. It must have been very hard on you.”
Megan felt another surge of tears—not as devastating as the first wave, but just as unstoppable. It had been hard. She’d had to balance being the savior of the world with being an average student (not a cheerleader, not a brain, just a regular B student). When she first returned from Ponyland, she told her family about it, and her mother had just ruffled her hair and said, “My, my! What an imagination. And you did all this in five minutes?”
Because time moved differently in Ponyland. She and her siblings could spend days there and only be gone a few minutes. And then they would go back to their regular lives. Danny would play baseball, Molly would play with her dolls (but she would kick anyone in the shin if they mentioned it in public), and Megan would wait.
And one day, nobody came. And Megan thought the ponies would visit the next day. They didn’t. Around the second month, Molly and Danny gave up hoping, but Megan never did.
She waited for twenty years.
She pushed her daughter into waiting.
And all that time was wasted!
“Why did they drag me into their world?” she burst out.
“Because Majesty didn’t have the wisdom to see how it would affect you,” Celestia said gently. “She let it happen because she didn’t know any better. By the time she realized that you were choosing this world over your own, she didn’t know what to do. She reacted, rather than planned, and she just cut the link between our worlds.”
“It’s not fair,” Megan said. Her head was beginning to ache from all the crying. All the colors in the room were too bright and perky.
“It wasn’t. And that’s why she laid down rules that we would never bring people from other lands to ours again.” This time Celestia did reach out and touch Megan’s shoulder gently with a hoof. “By the end of her reign, Majesty was as wise as she was brilliant and kind. I’m sorry you had to be a learning experience for her.”
“I’m sorry too,” Megan whispered. And she was. She was sorry for everyone involved. Her world had been shaped by a leader without the wisdom to foresee problems. She had built a life around a civilization that no longer existed. She had spent every moment with her daughter preparing her for something that would—could—never happen.
“Oh! There you are—” Twilight stopped abruptly, halfway into the room. “Uh, if now’s a bad time, I can…”
“No.” Megan shook her head. “I’m fine.”
Twilight looked doubtful. “Well, I thought I could show you around Ponyville and introduce you to the local ponies, I’m sure everypony is excited to meet the all-seeing, all-knowing May-Gahn.”
Megan thought about it. She could see how it would go—just like last time. She would meet a gaggle of ponies, all with their own quirks, wants and fears, and they would all become important to Megan in some way. Every piece of her life, in this world or her own, would start to link up with the ponies. Swimming would be preparation for visiting sea ponies, homework would become strategy for invading threats.
Birthdays would become Sun Tuesday.
Megan ripped the Rainbow of Light locket from her neck and set it down on the window sill. “Actually, I think I want to go home. I think I want to find out what I like that isn’t about ponies. I want to see what’s in my world and not compare it to this one. I’m not a real person—I haven’t been since I was a kid. I’ve been half in my world, waiting for a way back to this one. I want to go home and see what that’s like.”
Twilight looked pleased—maybe even proud—as she said, “I’ll show you the way.”
As Megan crossed the room, she pulled the pink ribbon from her hair and let it flutter to the floor.
And maybe one day, she thought, when I’m a real person again, I’ll get to know my daughter.