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City in a Garden

by Regidar

A minute ago, Caramel had watched Trixie and Starlight laugh and talk with one another.

Starlight bobbed a shining silver sphere next to her head. “It’s a good joke, right?”

Trixie simply nodded. Her expression was neutral, in an oddly strained way—as if she were attempting to either avoid laughter or tears. Caramel wasn’t quite sure which. It could have even been interpreted as Trixie trying to hold back a sneeze.

Starlight bit her lip; a giggle escaped. Nervous and without substance, it was completely unsure of itself. “Because a balloon is supposed to float, right? And this one, it’s made of—“

“Right. It’s made of lead. That’s...” Trixie moved her mouth like she were chewing on the words she wanted to say next. “That’s funny!”

Starlight smiled. “Oh, good. I was afraid it’d be a little heavy-hoofed.” Another giggle escaped her. This one had a bit more heft to it. “Heh. Get it? Because it’s—“

“Yes! Please stop making jokes,” Trixie said. “I, um, I don’t think I’d be able to handle how funny the next one might be. Don’t wanna laugh so hard I pass out, you know?”

Starlight’s smile faded. “Wait a minute. Are you messing with me?”

“Me? Mess with you?” Trixie tried to look shocked. “Would I ever do that?”

Caramel was only a couple paces away from them, on the other side of the punch table. It felt like watching from a distance—as if the table were The Ghastly Gorge. He had tried not to look like he’d been too invested in what Trixie and Starlight were saying to one another. He had been doing this all night.

“Heya, Caramel!”

Caramel started. “Oh! Oh wow, Pinkie. Don’t sneak up on ponies like that!”

“Don’t let ponies sneak up on you like that!” Pinkie gigglesnorted. Caramel felt a weird pang in his stomach.

“Besides,” Pinkie said slyly, nudging Caramel. “

Caramel chuckled weakly. Pinkie took his empty punch glass and refilled it. “How’s the party?”

The party was nice.

Caramel sighed.

There was nothing wrong with the party.

An hour ago, Trixie had watched Roseluck walk up to Caramel.

“Hey,” Roseluck said to Caramel.

“Hey,” Caramel said to Roseluck.

Roseluck looked Caramel up and down. To Trixie, it looked as if she were appraising him—judging him.

“You uh,” Roseluck said, looking around a bit. She caught Trixie’s eye for a moment, and Trixie quickly looked away. She perked her ear to hear what was said next. “You having a good time?”

“Yeah,” Caramel answered. “The party is... great.”



There was silence. Trixie did her best to look as if she were inspecting the underside of her hoof for something she’d stepped on.

“Well,” Roseluck said after the longest ten seconds Trixie had ever experienced. “You have fun, then.”

Trixie heard her leave back into the crowd.

“What are you doing?” Starlight asked Trixie. Trixie yelped and felt her heart leap into her throat.

“Starlight! Don’t sneak up on ponies like that.”

“Heh, sorry,” Starlight said, the corners of her mouth turned up in a half-smile. “I’ve got something to show you.”

A day ago, Starlight had gone to Caramel’s house to convince him to come to Pinkie’s party.

“C’mon. Big Mac and Trixie and Thunderlane will be there,” she said, nudging Caramel playfully. “And so will I.” She smiled.

Caramel let out a tiny sigh, looking away. He had been putting together a jigsaw puzzle when Starlight had entered. He continued to do so as she talked, not meeting her eye at any point during her attempt to convince him. “Yeah. Yeah, I know Thunderlane will. He goes anywhere there are drinks.”

Starlight chewed on her lip. She looked down at the coffee table. The puzzle was half-finished. It was a puzzle of a bouquet of roses. “He really wants you to be there, you know.”

Caramel continued to look away from Starlight, continued to focus on his task at hoof. “And you said you and Trixie are going?”

“Well, most everypony in town is going.” Starlight tried hard not to think about the conversation Thunderlane and her had had before he had tasked her with convincing Caramel to come to the party.

Caramel completed a section of the puzzle where several of the thorny stems intertwined. “So Daisy and Roseluck are gonna be there too, then.”

Starlight was quiet. “I—“

Caramel looked up at Starlight. “I’ll go.”

A week ago, Thunderlane had gone to Daisy’s flower shop.

“Hey,” he said. He’d slammed the door open. It was hard to keep the thin snarl, the muffled growl, out of his tone. “I need to talk to you.”

“Huh?” Daisy turned around. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Yeah,” Thunderlane said, slapping his forehooves down on the flower shop counter. His heartbeat was pounding in his ears. “Yeah, it is me. And this is about Roseluck.”

Daisy cast a sideways glance at Thunderlane. “Come back when it’s not business hours.”

“I’ve got business with you,” Thunderlane said. His teeth were grit. He was doing his best not to grind them together. His wings twitched, feathers ruffled.

Daisy turned fully around—Thunderlane supposed he’d impressed her with his audacity. A condescending-come-dumbstruck look was plastered across her face. “Did you really just say that? I know you’re stupid, but surely you can’t be—“

“You can insult me all you like later,” Thunderlane said.

“Don’t you see how he looks at Starlight and Trixie, Thunderlane? Didn’t you see how he looked at Roseluck and I until she put him in his place?”

“What are you talking about? You’re insane. You’re seeing things that aren’t there.”

“No, you’re not seeing things that ARE there. You want him so badly that you don’t realize that he only wants what he can’t have. Guess you’re similar in that way.”

“He hasn’t left his house in weeks. Roseluck was one of his oldest friends, and the things she said were completely unsubstantiated. She has no proof.”

Daisy laughed. The noise was cold and without humor. “Proof? You want proof, Thunderlane? Have him come to Pinkie’s next party, and watch him. Then you’ll have your proof.”

A month ago, Daisy had listened to Roseluck scream at Caramel.

“Dude, you need to get over it!” Daisy could hear her voice resonate through the floorboards. “It’s not going to happen!”

“I’m not trying to have anything happen.” Caramel’s voice was much softer. Daisy had to strain to hear it.

Daisy heard Roseluck snort. “Clearly. I have tried, Caramel. I have tried so hard to put up with you, and to be your friend despite—“

“Please be more quiet, I don’t want anypony to overhear.”

“Oh yeah? Why’s that? Are you afraid of Daisy finding out?”

There was a scuffle of hooves and the scraping of chair legs. Daisy felt her heartbeat quicken.

“Yeah. I don’t want her to.”

Another snort from Roseluck. When they came as she giggled, the snorts were crass but genuine—something almost gorgeous in their authenticity, and in their way they signaled the true joy Roseluck experienced. Used in anger, nasty and sardonic, they were as knives.

Daisy almost hated how much she loved to hear them cut.

“Grow up. Find your own mare or stallion. But that’s not how you do it, huh?”

“Roseluck, I—“

“And I know it. The way that you always act when she and I are together. The way you pretend to be all fine and dandy with everything, but then talk behind our backs about us. About how you’ve tried to convince everypony that Daisy is—“

“I don’t need you to tell me what I am and aren’t doing.” Caramel’s voice was nastier than Daisy had ever heard it.

Roseluck expelled a sound that was at best a cruel mockery of laughter. “I know. You tell me what you are and aren’t doing just fine.”

A year ago, Roseluck had been in her garden with Caramel.

“Y-You...” she began, before trailing off. “Oh. Oh, wow.”

Caramel nodded. “I know. I know it’s not... that it’s not like that. That things can’t just work out that way. You and Daisy, you’re... you’re happy together. And I know that... well,m yknow. I’m me. I’m a stallion.”

Roseluck smiled at Caramel. She tried her best to make it as kind as possible. “Don’t worry Caramel. Thank you for telling me.”

Caramel looked up at her with wet eyes. “Y-You mean it? Do you still—“

“We can still be friends.”

Ten seconds ago, Pinkie had asked Caramel how the party was.

Caramel sighed. He looked as if somepony had bucked him in the gut. He lifted his head like a lead balloon and looked Pinkie in the eyes.

“The party’s nice,” he said. “The party is fine.”

Pinkie watched as he trotted over to Thunderlane.