Iron Author


Login Create Account Read All Entries

The Sum of Our Parts

by Aquaman

A pony, Mother always said, was the sum total of her parts--good, bad, and rotten alike. I suppose I can see her logic: if one bad apple could spoil the bunch, a single defect of character could haunt a mare her whole life long. Plus, the importance of presentation can never be understated, nor the benefits of maintaining it day in and day out. Silver can be polished, but always must still gleam. A gemstone could be cracked, but should never be allowed to break.

Damn me to the moon, how long has it been since I’ve seen her? Five years since the divorce, at least three since she deigned me too painfully reminiscent of Daddy to fraternize with. And yet I can still hear her saying all that, as clear if she’s right next to me hissing it into my ear--droning on about presentation and looks and whatever I’ve done to tarnish her good name this time. Well, at least you got your name back in the end, Mother. I’m sure you’re thrilled about that.

I find my hoof tightened around the stem of my glass; for the sake of the ponies around me, I pretend it was so I can lift it quickly and drain the rest of my drink. Say what you will about high society--and trust me, there’s a lot to say--but rich ponies drink just as much as the working class and, in my experience, handle it far worse. You’d think all these former frat boys and party girls would be able to hold their liquor better, but here I am three martinis deep and by far the most sober pony at this entire gala.

Though I’m hardly better than any of them, judging by how proud I am of that fact. That’d be the Mother in me.

Leaving the empty glass on the closest table, I slide past a giggling socialite and make my way barward, silently praying the haze of booze the crowd’s drowning in will be enough to hide me from their eyes. It’s strange--I remember relishing the spotlight as a filly, scrabbling for any scrap of attention I could find to bask in, but now my skin crawls every time a wayward glance passes my way.

It’s not shame or embarrassment that gives me so much grief; it’s knowing too well precisely why they’re looking. Recognizing--like a reflection in a mirror--the predatory glint in their gazes, like vultures circling carrion, every foible and flaw a morsel of gossip that’ll keep them occupied until they sober up and suffocate under every failure they ignore in themselves.

Or maybe that’s just me. Projection is something I learned well from Mother too. As is blaming other ponies for my problems.

The bartender starts mixing before I can even raise a hoof, his eyes the only halfway-friendly ones I’ve encountered all night. That’s not to say we share any real camaraderie; I may be as repulsed by this lot as he is, but once tonight’s over he’ll go back to a cramped apartment or a room in a shared rowhouse, and I’ll retire to a fourteen-bedroom Upper Canterlot estate that’s been in the Rich family for a century and a half. Pretending our experiences are anything alike would be worse than looking down my nose at him, the basest form of self-pitying hypocrisy. Little as it counts for, at least the most insufferable ponies here are also the most honest in that way.

I stare at my hooves until I have a fresh glass in front of me to stare into, so I don’t see the mare a dozen feet to my right until a braying shout from a fat-sounding stallion draws my eyes towards the Gala’s main floor for a moment. On their way back to the bar, they catch and freeze at the sight of her mane--a shock of red in a sea of pastel and paisley, brash enough to turn heads even though she hasn’t said a word to anyone.

She’s gorgeous in a plain way--an insipid thing to think, but also true. Her mane is braided and her eyelids shadowed with a delicate blush of pink, but she’s the type of mare who’d almost look better without any makeup at all, just picking up groceries or reading a book unmolested by society’s artificial artifice. As clearly as I see her standing in her silky silver dress, I can picture her in a bandana and hair bow working a fallow field, sweat glistening on her in the setting sun like diamonds dripping off a crystal chandelier.

I can see her both ways because I have seen her both ways--in Canterlot negotiating trade deals and merchandise shipments, and in a quiet little valley town overseeing her family’s apple crops, bucking as many apples herself as she boxes and bundles to be sold all over Equestria. Sitting next to me in a one-room schoolhouse. Nose-to-nose with me in a schoolyard fight. Downing shots with me in a university flat.

Leaning over me in the morning light.

Stars above, I need to be way drunker than I am.

I look away before Apple Bloom notices me staring, keeping her in the corner of my gaze just in case she is. She’s nursing a cider--why wouldn’t she be?--and scanning the crowd, with her back propped up against the bar at an optimal angle for pony-watching. She used to do the same thing at bars in college; she told me once it was because you could never really know a pony until they didn’t know anyone was watching them.

Which, yes, is an extremely creepy thing to say and I wasted no time telling her so, but as usual, she had a point--especially in a place like this. Everypony’s just a sum of their parts until they get a little alcohol in them, and then those parts start to separate a bit. The manufactured ones start to peel away, and the honest ones rise to the surface--good, bad, and rotten alike. Like apples in a bunch. Like cracks in a gem.

Apple Bloom was always good at finding out who a pony really was. I was always good at getting other ponies to do what I want. Between the two of us, we did a lot of great things and made a lot of powerful friends. That’s how we ended up here: mingling amongst the best of the best, successful and powerful, with everything a mare could want and all she could possibly need.

Right now, I really need her not to notice me. I really don’t want her to see me as I am.

A voice calls out that sends her eyes--auburn like sunrise, streaming through cheap Ponetian blinds--darting towards some schmuck in a suit who seems to know her from someplace. She grins and greets him with a hug, speaking the truth he wants to hear with her smile as easily as I lie with mine.

She’s like this with everypony she works with, no matter how loathsome; whether she truly sees good in them or just knows it’s the best way to get what she wants, I can’t begin to figure out. Either way, she’s certainly not lying--it’d go against every part of her nature to do that, and perhaps more to the point, she really sucks at it. I know she does, because I don’t. Because when I lied to her, she always believed me.

When we were kids, I told her she was a talentless blank-flank loser who couldn’t do anything better than I could, even though she and her friends were already twice the mares I’d ever be. When we were teenagers, I told her I hated what my mother turned me into, as if she were speaking for me and claiming all my successes for herself. When we tried acid for the first time in sophomore year, I told her I wasn’t feeling anything, even though the walls were made of soundwaves and her eyes were made of stars.

And when we graduated, I told her it’d been fun, that I’d had no regrets, that I wished her all the best and would love to meet the lucky guy she’d marry someday.

And she--bless her--damn her--believed me.

I don’t know if she even remembers that night. Celestia knows, most of it was a blur to me. Some exchange student threw a house party in spring of junior year; we decided to go because my roommate flaked on us to go hang out with her boyfriend. We drank cider, we did shots, we beat a couple self-proclaimed frat stars at pong and felt pretty moondamned proud of it--and then we left together, stumbling into each other, slurring and giggling until we realized we’d forgotten to stop by her room and gone straight back to mine.

I don’t remember exactly what the logic was--my roommate was gone, so maybe Apple Bloom could have her bed? I don’t remember how late we stayed up talking, what I told her or what she said in return. I don’t remember whose bed we ended up in, who made the first move, what her lips tasted like or any other part of her.

But I do remember afterwards, when it was quiet but for the breeze shuffling through the blinds, and my muzzle was pressed to her neck and my nose was filled with her scent, and I was so deliriously happy that I had to bury my face in the pillow so she couldn’t feel me cry. I remember waking up the next morning to her face floating above mine--hair braid undone, makeup wiped away--and thinking that headache, hangover, bursting bladder and all, I could stay right here for the rest of my life and never want for anything.

We both giggled at the sight of each other; I went to the bathroom, and she borrowed my roommate’s towel to go take a shower. We went out for a late breakfast and agreed that we probably shouldn’t do that again; it was fun, but she was still mostly into guys anyway, and my mother’s head would very literally explode if word of this ever reached her ears. I agreed. I hugged her. I watched her leave.

I could’ve told her the truth. But that’s not in my nature.

Another voice rings out through the crowd, and another businesspony wraps her foreleg around Apple Bloom’s shoulder. I have to peel my hoof off my glass before the stem snaps in two; by the time I get myself under control, she’s on her hooves and walking away with her transactional companions, oblivious to the fact that I was ever even nearby.

Honest to Celestia, I prefer it this way. If she’d seen me, I’d have had to smile and hug her like an old friend, gushing about how pretty she looked and insisting she catch me up on what she’s been doing. I’d have become everything I hate about these sunforsaken things: cheerful, beautiful, and utterly fake. And then she’d have had to go, and I’d have said goodnight, and I’d have ended up right where I am now: watching her walk away, clutching a drink I’ve long since forgotten about, every fiber of my being screaming to get up and chase her down and make the choice I was too afraid to make years ago.

And I wouldn’t. I’d sit there, just like I am now, and let her leave. Because everypony has a moment in their life where everything could’ve changed, where two paths laid in front of them and each led to a wholly different life--one down which they did what they were supposed to, and one down which they’d struggle and suffer and be happier than they ever could’ve imagined. And I already made my choice. And tomorrow, I’ll tell myself it was my mother’s fault again.

With two gulps, my drink is gone. When the bartender turns towards me, I wave him away. I’ve had enough to drink--of all these ponies--of thinking thoughts I knew well enough to bury. I am the sum of my parts: I am the heiress to the Rich family fortune. I am the chief financial officer of my father’s retail empire. I am a college-educated, impeccably dressed, infinitely enviable young mare with the world at my hooftips and every possible opportunity available to me.

I am Diamond Tiara. I am my mother’s daughter.

I am not in love with Apple Bloom. She is not in love with me.

I am a liar.

And I am drunk.