The way she used to be: Chapter 3

One of the best things about small towns, the old pony decided, was that you didn’t have to go out of your way to see the night sky: it was right there where you couldn’t miss it, just the way Princess Luna would have wanted it. So he took his sweet time getting back to the inn, marveling at the sheer vastness of it all. He didn’t pretend to understand Luna’s design theory, but he was grateful that she was on the job, night after night.

Once back inside, he asked the desk clerk: “What’s the fastest way to send a letter from here?”

“Depends on where it’s going and how fast you need it to get there,” said the clerk.

“Detrot, day after tomorrow. No, make it the day after that. I want it to arrive one day before I do.”

“Your best bet would probably be Fetlock Express. They’ll guarantee two-day delivery for eleven bits, one-day for twenty.”

“FetEx it is, then. Where’s the nearest dropoff point?”

“You’re looking at it. They pick up here every day, no later than noon.” The clerk pulled out a FetEx envelope from under the desk. “Bring it down when you check out in the morning, and be sure to tick the box for one-day delivery. We’ll add the charges to your bill. Anything else we can do for you?”

“This is fine, thanks,” said the old pony. “PasternCard will hate me next month, but they’ll get over it.”

|—-|

He hadn’t originally planned on writing her a letter, but it occurred to him that it would hardly be appropriate for him to come trotting into her office and then throw himself at her hooves; the least he could do, he thought, was to warn her in advance. And since he was looking at a three-day train trip anyway, this way she’d get at least a whole day to think about the matter.

He’d already thought of the opening: “Dear Dr. Twist: You probably don’t remember me, but…”

And there, he got stuck. If she truly didn’t remember him, he’d have to explain everything that happened in line that day, waiting for a cup of cider. As a proper engineer, he’d have to provide all that data in the first couple of paragraphs. But do proper engineers, dedicated to numbers and systems and mechanisms, ever have to write about falling in love?

Of course they do, you dimwit, he said to himself, and he started writing. About the fourth paragraph, he wished for a moment that he were back in his old office, where he could just dictate a letter to a member of the administrative staff and be assured it would reach its destination at the proper time.

But no, he really didn’t wish that. When he was at work, he was working: he did not spend office hours on unofficial business, and he expected the same from the hundred or so ponies who worked under him, so he strove to set the proper example. And besides, did he really want some secretarial type to go blabbing to everypony on staff that old Spoke was desperately hung up on somepony he hadn’t even seen since he was a foal?

So he kept writing, and somewhere around midnight he’d completed a version of the narrative, a version that somehow did not actually contain the phrase “I love you.” That, he decided, would come later, assuming there was a later to come.

But he did say this: “I admit that it does seem somewhat improbable, but I swear to you it’s true: not a single day has gone by since then that I haven’t thought about you.”

And then he made his pitch:

“You may, of course, choose to disregard this letter, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did. The circumstances are highly unusual. And I don’t think I should just drop in at your office all of a sudden.

“If you are at all interested, meet me at seven on the twenty-third at a little restaurant called Sorraia on Augeron Avenue. In case you’ve forgotten, I have a dark blue coat, a grey mane and tail, and a confused look on my face. If you don’t show, no hard feelings, and I promise never to bother you again. But if you do, I promise to do whatever I can to make you feel like it was worth the effort.”

Sorraia. Perfect. One of those out-of-the-way places where the lights are low and the prices are high and the staff deserves far more than the standard gratuity. He’d first gone there two years ago, when he’d traveled to Detrot to negotiate a new deal with Roundabout Axle, and as more and more suppliers migrated to that area, thanks to Mustang and his method for building several wagons at once instead of just one at a time, he found himself coming in once or twice a month. It wasn’t enough to get him his own table or anything, but it was enough to get him a personal greeting at the door, and once in a while somepony might be impressed by that sort of thing.

He signed it “Very truly yours, Broken Spoke,” and tacked on his address in Baltimare, just in case.

|—-|

Two in the morning. He sat bolt upright. “W-who are you and what are you doing here?”

The strange pony laughed at him and spread her multicolored wings. Dost thou not recognize us? she said in a weirdly accented — and not particularly loud — version of the Royal Canterlot Voice.

“An alicorn? But you’re not a Princess.”

We, she said, are every mare thou hast ever dated. Our appearance is a composite, and our coat is resplendent with all of their colors.

He forced a chuckle. “There can’t be too many of you in there, then.”

And who, thinkest thou, is to blame for that paucity of selection?

“I never was much for promiscuity. And I’ve never forced myself on anypony, if that’s what you mean.”

Thou hast never even tried, she said. We remember several instances wherein thy inability to comprehend even the most blatant of signals was distressingly apparent to us.

The alicorn disappeared in a flash of light, and standing in her place was a vaguely familiar yellow pegasus.

The old pony stared. “Tender Blaze? Is that really you?”

“I still can’t believe you turned me away,” said the pegasus.

“I thought you were bored,” he replied.

“Well, of course I was bored!” she yelled. “You didn’t try to lay a single hoof on me all night!”

“But we’d only just met! How was I supposed to know you were …”

“For Celestia’s sake, don’t say hot to trot! I hate that phrase. What the hay was wrong with you? Wasn’t I pretty enough for you? Wasn’t I interesting enough for you? Do you expect the mare to do all the work for you?”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he admitted.

Thou camest unprepared, said the voice of the alicorn from somewhere behind — no, somewhere inside — him. A mare wishes to be wooed, and to be won; were it not so, she would not have presented herself to thee.

“I object,” said the old pony. “What about those times when all she wants is a chance to get back at her ex-coltfriend?”

“What about them?” Where the yellow pegasus had stood, there was now a dark-green unicorn. “If you thought there was something wrong with the deal, nopony said you had to go through with it.”

“You said you wanted me to buck your brains out!” he shouted.

“And guess whose brains actually did get bucked out? Not mine.

Wooed and won, said the alicorn again. Not screwed for fun.

“Why are you telling me all this ancient history?”

The unicorn dissolved into the air, and the multicolored alicorn materialized in her place. A single thread, she said, connects all thy relationships. We do not doubt thy sincerity; but we question thy judgment, for thou hast driven away everypony who sought thy company.

“Some things,” said the old pony, “are simply not meant to be.”

And now thou seeketh to rekindle the most insubstantial of relationships, from a chance meeting in a queue.

“Your point being?”

Thou didst sacrifice a dozen potential companions on the altar of adolescent folly. The alicorn scowled at him. Sufficient point, or shall we continue?

“You question my love for Twist,” he said flatly.

We question the timing. Wouldst thou not have pursued her before? Why wouldst thou wait forty years? We believe that in thy heart of hearts, thou hast abandoned hope, and this adventure serves merely to push it farther from thy sight.

“If I’ve abandoned hope,” he shot back, “you’re not helping in the least.”

On the contrary. We seek to return thee to the path of rationality. Youthful crushes do not result in happy relationships.

“The Captain of the Royal Guard might disagree with you on that point. He wooed, and won, an alicorn. A real one, yet.” He paused. “I don’t know what branch office of Tartarus sent you here, or why you’d think I needed this sort of thing.”

Thou needest this sort of thing because—

“I’m not finished yet.” By now he was visibly angry. “I admit that I can’t do a damned thing about the past. Most of us are doing well if we can do something about the present.”

Which thou cannot.

“You think so? We’ll see about that. Twist may not love me. She may not even like me. But one way or another, I’m going to find out, and you’re not going to stop me. Get out of my head, get out of my sight, and get out of my way!”

The image of the alicorn dissipated into random shimmers, then vanished altogether.

The old pony looked at the clock. It was still two in the morning. Whatever had just happened, evidently happened outside the normal borders of space and time. Either that, or those hotel walls were extremely thick, because nopony had pounded on the door to tell him to knock off the racket already.

He rolled over on his side and slept, perhaps better than he’d slept in weeks.

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