"You know, Dinks, you don't have to use your horn to place them. You can just use your mouth like an earth pony."
Dinky Doo stared intently at the clay cup, as her horn glowed and a tiny black bead rose out of it surrounded by a faint lavender aura. "I know, I know-- hold on a sec... There." She panted for a moment while studying the board on which she'd carefully placed it. "Momma always says that if you never do anything that's hard, the hard stuff never gets easier."
Sparkler effortlessly lifted a white bead from her own cup and placed it near Dinky's latest, which she then scooped up with four others. Placing them on the table next to the board, she smiled at her younger half-sister. "Your mom's a clever pony."
Dinky grinned proudly, brushing off the lost beads and straining to place another. "Yeah, she is." She held the bead aloft a moment, considering her next move before setting it down near another small cluster of black. "I dunno why so many ponies think she isn't, though."
"Well, those ponies just don't know her well enough. I know, that sounds like an awful cliche, but it's really true in her case." Sparkler hesitated before making her next move, starting to wonder if Dinky was getting better at this game despite her frequent, small losses so far.
"What's a klee-shay?" Dinky asked, carefully enunciating the word.
"It's an expression that's been so overused everypony's tired of hearing it. Doesn't mean it stops being true though."
Dinky thought about it for a moment. "She tried to explain to me once that it's just because she sees the world differently. I thought she was talking about when her eyes go crooked, but she said that there's stuff that's obvious to her nopony else notices, and stuff that's obvious to everypony but she doesn't get. She said it was like being tone deaf, but everyone around you is colorblind: You can't make sense of music as easy as they can, but they can't tell that red and green aren't the same."
"And then some of them think you're dumb for the first one, and crazy for the second. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. But we're her family, and we know better."
The game progressed in silence for the next few turns. Dinky put her elbows on the table and supported her head on her hooves, eyes never leaving the board. She eventually lost another group of beads, but had others that Sparkler had so far been unable to threaten. I think she IS getting better, Sparkler thought to herself. Gotta stay on my guard.
Sparkler thought Dinky's unusual quiet spell was because of her concentration, but realized that while her eyes were pointed at the board, they weren't focused on it. "Hey. Dinky." Her little sister blinked and turned her eyes up to meet Sparkler's. "It's been your turn for five minutes. What's wrong?" Dinky looked away, and Sparkler recognized her "I'm not sure I should say anything" look. "Are you worried about your mom?"
"No... She said her hoof's getting better, she's up and walking around again, and Mac's been a big help. She's happier than I've seen her in a long time, and she's usually plenty happy." Dinky chuckled quietly as she placed her next bead. "She thinks she's being, what's that word, not 'sneaky', but when you try to do something so it's not in everypony's face that you're doing it?"
"Do you mean 'subtle'?"
"Yeah, that's it! She thinks she's being subtle about how happy she is to have Mac around, but she really isn't."
Sparkler giggled as she lifted another white bead. "Yeah, that's really not her strong suit. Something's bugging you, though, sis. C'mon, out with it. I can't help if you don't tell me."
Dinky took a deep breath and braced herself, closing her eyes as if she couldn't bear to meet Sparkler's gaze. "Diamond Tiara said you and Momma aren't really family."
Sparkler's horn stopped glowing as she stared aghast across the table at Dinky, the bead clattering across the board. "WHAT?! That bitch!"
Now it was Dinky's turn to look aghast. "Sparkler!" she whispered. "You said a bad word!"
"I'm a grown mare, I'm allowed to say bad words. Okay, maybe I shouldn't be saying them around my little sister, but you gotta admit, that was a pretty bitchy thing to say."
Dinky pointed an accusing hoof across the table. "You said it again!"
Sparkler couldn't help but laugh at Dinky's righteous indignation. "Alright, alright, I'll stop! But bad words are just as much a part of our language as the nice ones, you just have to be careful how and when you use them."
"So you only use them when they're appropriated?"
"Appropriate. But no, they're never really 'appropriate', but that's the point. You use them when you need to make your point inappropriately. But you have to be really careful with them; effective swearing is a skill in its own right." She thought about it for a moment, picking up the dropped bead and placing it near another group of black. "But maybe it wasn't called for here; I mean, she said one mean thing, but maybe she didn't realize how hurtful it was. I'm sure she's a very nice filly most of the time."
Dinky rubbed her chin, thinking hard. "Hmm... No, she's pretty much always a bitch."
"DINKY! What did I just tell you about swearing?"
"You said 'Effective swearing is a skill in its own right.' And skills need practice, don't they? 'If you never do anything that's hard, the hard stuff never gets easier.'"
Sparkler blinked at her for several seconds, struggling for any flaw in her logic. Dinky looked up at her with the barely-contained glee she reserved for when she knew just just won an argument with someone older. She'd learned long ago that being smug in such a victory would often completely negate it, but Sparkler had argued with her too many times not to recognize the gleam in her eye.
"Alright, you got me," she said, narrowing her eyes. "But swearing is a grown-up thing, okay? You'll get in trouble for it at your age, especially if Miss Cheerilee hears you. This is one skill you can wait before practicing, got it?"
"Got it." Dinky placed another black bead, trying to recover from her series of small losses. "I meant what I said about Diamond Tiara, though, she's always saying mean stuff. Especially to blank-flanks. When she heard we were gonna compete in the Sisterhooves Social, she made a big stink about how we're only half-sisters. I didn't let that one get to me, though, I just told her that we love each other twice as much to make up for it."
Sparkler made a show of clutching her heart and grimacing comically at the cuteness overdose. "Heehee! I bet that shut her up good."
"Not really, she said that didn't make any sense, and I said sure it did, it's not my problem if she's bad at fractions, and if she doesn't believe me she should go ask Miss Cheerilee and maybe get some help with her math homework while she was at it."
Sparkler's jaw dropped a little. "Oh dude. Sishoof," she said, extending a foreleg towards Dinky.
Dinky lightly tapped her own forehoof against Sparkler's. "That still didn't shut her up, though. She actually went and asked Miss Cheerilee! I was just joking about that part, but she went and did it! And you know what? She said it made perfect sense! I don't think I've ever seen Diamond Tiara so mad. She just went back out to the yard and played tetherball by herself for the rest of recess. I even thought she might break the rope."
"Oh wow, Dinks. Way to stand up to the bully."
"Miss Cheerilee told me it was really clever, and she's super smart, so if she says it's clever, it's gotta be super clever. She even sent me home with a note for Momma, I thought I mighta been in trouble but she just wanted to suggest that I sign up for the debate team when I'm old enough. I asked Momma what that was, and she said it's a competition where you get scored on how well you argue!" Dinky grinned like she'd just made the greatest discovery in the world. "I told Sweetie Belle about it and how maybe I could get a cutie mark for arguing, but she just sorta rolled her eyes at me."
"Oh, well. Genius often goes unrecognized in its own time." With great trepidation, she set down another white bead.
With barely a moment's thought, Dinky zipped another bead onto the board next to where Sparkler had just placed hers, prompting a frustrated growl from her sister. "Dang it! I was hoping you'd miss that."
"Why'd you make the move if you knew it was a bad one?"
Sparkler scooped over a dozen of her own beads off the board and dropped them gracelessly onto the table. "I was running out of options. I kept taking your pieces, but I was getting fenced in as I did it. I thought if I could just have one more turn before you noticed the opening, I'd be able to--" She stopped short, her eyes wide. She scanned back and forth over the board, replaying move after move in her head. "Oh, no WAY."
Dinky grinned at her like a maniac. "Something wrong?"
"That is the LAST time I let you start with an advantage, you little twerp." She placed another bead, but the board was very much under Dinky's control; all she could do was limit the margin of her victory. She gave her sister a crooked smile. "Next game, we start on equal footing."
They breezed through the remaining turns until no more moves were possible, and then swept the pieces onto the table to count. Dinky only won by three pieces, but it was still a win. Scooping the beads back into the cups, Dinky begged, "Can we please go back to Momma's house now? I wanna tell her about how good I'm getting, and we can teach Mac how to play. He's a smart pony, I'm sure he'll like it."
Sparkler stood up and fetched a soda from the icebox for each of them, popping them open on the tip of her horn. "We'll be there for dinner, and no sooner. Your mom needs her rest, and her and Mac need some time alone."
Dinky carefully lifted her bottle with her magic, taking a small sip before setting it down. "Scootaloo said Rainbow Dash told Pinkie Pie something about how Momma wasn't gonna get any rest while Mac was around."
Sparkler's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and she struggled not to choke on her drink. "WHAT."
"We didn't understand it either, I thought he was making sure she didn't have to get up for anything until the doctor said it was okay. Plus the pills she's on make her kinda loopy, so it's not like it's safe for her to fly. Scootaloo said Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle didn't understand it either. They asked their sisters about it, but they just got real nervous and changed the subject."
Sparkler sat back down slowly, careful not to spill her soda or reveal her freakout to the young filly, lest she reveal that she understood the remark and be badgered endlessly until she explained it. Dinky was not one to accept "I'll tell you when you're older" as an explanation.
"I dunno, those two are weird. Probably some inside joke." Sparkler immediately wished, for her own sanity's sake, that she'd phrased it differently, but kept her demeanor cool and collected. "Tell you what," she said, desperate to change the subject, "if you manage to keep from asking if we can go over early until it's actually time... I'll teach you how to make hay fries."
"The way YOU make 'em?! It's a deal!" Dinky made a gesture of drawing a zipper across her mouth. "Wanna play again? Even footing! Hey, since I'm getting so good, maybe I'll get my cutie mark as a Go player!"
"Patience, Dinks. Your mom and I don't want you getting in trouble or hurt chasing your cutie mark like those friends of yours keep doing... Wanna take the first move?"
"Yeah, I know." Dinky placed the first black bead on the board. "You heard about the thing with the cockatrice, right? Scare. Ree. I already told 'em, I don't need a cutie mark in getting myself killed." She turned her head to look at the plain lavender coat on her flank. "Still..."
Sparkler reached over to hold her hoof. "Dinks..."
"I know I need to be patient, but I've been so patient already. I'm a growing filly, Sparks! How am I gonna figure out what to do with the rest of my life without knowing where I'm headed?"
"You aren't. Not yet anyway. You're growing, but you're still a filly. You shouldn't be worrying about the rest of your life right now, you should just be living it." She looked down at the Go board and the one lonely piece on it. "Do you remember when I first taught you this game, all the stuff I told you about it?"
Dinky thought back. "I remember that Neighponese colt who taught you, you wouldn't stop talking about him."
Sparkler rolled her eyes. "I mean, all the philosophy and stuff they have about it. Do you remember what the empty board symbolizes?"
"Infnint... Infininitt... Endless possibilities?"
"That's right. You could even say it represents the infinite possibilities at the beginning of a pony's life. At the very beginning, the board -- and the world -- is wide open. Things can go anywhere from there. But as you start to play, or live, certain possibilities become more likely, and others are closed off. It's okay, because otherwise none of the possibilities become real. But the more that happens, the less options there are to go back to. Getting your cutie mark is like one really critical move, like when you captured that big bunch of my pieces last game. The game, or your life, suddenly takes on a clear direction, but on the other hand, a bunch of other options just aren't there anymore."
Dinky sat for a moment as the words sank in. "So... as long as I don't have my cutie mark, I still have the chance to make my life however I want it?"
"Exactly! It'll still be great when you find out what that talent is and there could still be any number of ways you can apply it. But until you do, you should just try to enjoy the fact that you still have all these limitless possibilities ahead of you, and not having to worry about what you'll do with the rest of your life."
"I s'pose that makes sense."
"You know, sometimes I wish I'd had a little more time before earning my cutie mark. I'm glad I have it, and I love making beautiful jewelry and seeing how happy it makes my customers, but it's a lot of work and responsibility, too. It's like the day I got my cutie mark was the day I grew up. Not a hundred percent, but I'd crossed the halfway point and I couldn't go back. It was a big change." Afraid she was scaring her off the idea of ever getting her cutie mark, she added, "But cutie marks don't appear until you're ready for them, so you don't have to worry about being forced to grow up too fast."
They quietly played the opening moves of the new game as Dinky processed everything she'd been told, watching the board as if it were a map of her own life. Starting to feel philosophically overwhelmed, she broke the silence. "Speaking of your cutie mark, how was the trip to Manehattan? You told me all about spending time with Dad, but none of the business stuff."
"Honestly, that whole process was just epically boring. Selling stuff here in Ponyville is easy-peasy, I make a pretty thing, someone likes it, they give me money for it. Or they tell me about something pretty they'd like me to make, and I make it, and they give me money for it. But it's a small town, there just isn't enough business to be had here. I remember talking to Rarity about it, she told me about how she dreamed of making pretty dresses and fancy suits for all the ponies in town... And then, one day, she had. But she still needed to do business, so she needed to start selling elsewhere. That's pretty much where I am now. But all these lawyers and contracts and schedules... AUGH." She wiped her face with a hoof. "It's a nightmare. But once it's settled I can go back to just making jewelry. I'm so lucky Dad had the connections to get me started, I can't imagine even having to find a lawyer on my own."
Dinky placed another piece as she thought back over the last few days. "So Dad knows people in the lawyer club?"
"Sweetie Belle said she heard you talking to Rarity about some stallions you met at a club, and you sounded really happy about it. Is that where Dad introduced you to the lawyers who helped you?"
Sparkler made a mental note to check inside cupboards, air vents and light fixtures for any younger sisters next time she dished with Rarity. "No, that was something else. That was a party I went to after a meeting to relax. They were just some nice ponies I hung out with for a while, I didn't have any friends in the city besides Dad so they kept me company." And nothing else happened, nothing at all, she told herself. Certainly nothing like dancing on tabletops for drinks, oh no.
"That sounds nice," said Dinky as she watched her sister's next move. "Ya know what, Sparks? You're right. I'm gonna stop worrying about my cutie mark and just enjoy being a filly for now. Well... I'm gonna try to, anyway."
"I'm glad. Maybe you can explain it your friends, too, might keep them out of trouble."
"Nah, even if they got it they'd just decide to be Cutie Mark Crusader Philosophers and bug that nice unicorn in the library for every book on the subject."
"Oh, I'm sure she'd be happy just to see them reading more. 'Sides, how much trouble could they get into at a library?"
Dinky looked up at Sparkler in horror. "You. Have. NO. Idea."
"Ooo-kay, I'll take your word for it."
Dinky looked over the mostly empty board as she lifted her next piece, fields of white and black beginning to slowly encroach upon it. She gently set the bead back down in its cup. "Hey, sis, why don't we just leave this game the way it is for a while. We're in no hurry to finish it, are we?"
Sparkler blinked at her sister, wondering what she was getting at. "I'm not if you're not. But why?'
"I dunno, I just think the board looks nice the way it is right now, with all that open space. It doesn't seem like it really needs to be filled in yet." Dinky's eyes were once again pointed at the board, but not truly looking at it. Then she looked up to her sister, smiling as she walked around the table. "Wanna go color?"
Sparkler pulled the little filly into a tight hug. "More than anything."
Back in the kitchen of her own home, Dinky stood on her hind legs on top of a stool, balancing with her forehooves by the range controls. "Now, the secret to really excellent hay fries is to only barely cook them," Sparkler told her as they waited for the pan to heat up. "Remember, hay is already delicious, so you just need to crisp it up a little and cook it juuust enough to make it taste even more like hay."
Dinky tried to memorize her sister's instructions, but it was hard to focus her thoughts through the constant stream of I'm using the stove I'm using the stove I'm using the stove! She was exhilarated and terrified in equal measure.
"Okay, now tilt the pan around so the butter covers everywhere." Dinky did as she was told as meticulously as she could, but even nudging the pan with her magic took a fair bit of effort.
Big Mac leaned into the kitchen. "You girls need anythin'?"
Sparkler replied, "No, we've got it under control." Dinky glanced his way, wishing for a box into which she could place mortal terror, but didn't dare speak for fear of breaking her concentration on the pan.
Sparkler leaned over to her and whispered, "If you never do anything that's hard, the hard stuff never gets easier."
Dinky looked up at her sister, then steeled herself and stared at the pan with a new-found resolve to conquer the challenge before her. "Okay... The butter's spread around like you said."
Sparkler scootched the cutting board with the neatly-cut hay stalks next to the burner. "Okay, put it in."
"ME?" Dinky had never lifted more than a single object at once, and she knew that if she tried to put the hay stalks in one at a time, the first would be burnt before the last was even in the pan.
"Yes, you. You were doing pretty good with the Go pieces. If you mess up, I'll take care of it, but at least try."
Dinky stared at the pile of hay, trying to imagine it as one contiguous mass. With a colossal effort, she lifted it from the board, and barely held onto it until it was over the pan, at which point her grip failed and it fell. About ninety percent of the hay made it into the pan, and Sparkler picked up the rest.
"Not bad, Dinks!" Sparkler beamed with pride. "Although it might've been easier to lift the board."
Dinky was panting too hard to facehoof.
As soon as the sisters were done cooking and joined Ditzy and Mac at the table, the four of them dove into the meal without hesitation.
"Did you have fun staying with Sparkler, Dinky?" Ditzy Doo knew her daughter loved to spend time with her half-sister, but she missed having her around the house while she was laid up with her injured hoof.
Dinky swallowed a bite of the wildflower salad. "Oh yeah! She told me about Manehattan and we colored and played Go and had a picnic and we talked about life and philosophy and stuff and she called Diamond Tiara a bitch!"
Every utensil and mouth froze. After a few seconds of Did I actually hear that right? running through everypony's head, Ditzy glowered at her daughter. "Dinky! You know better than to use that kind of language!"
"Ayup," Big Mac interjected, "you should know by now not t' talk like that where parents or teachers can hear ya."
Ditzy whipped her head around to face Mac. "Not. Helping," she chided him, but the smirk beneath her mask of motherly disapproval was showing through. Dinky marvelled at how quickly Mac had learned how to push her mom's buttons.
"It was Sparkler who said it! I just quoted her!"
Mac leaned towards Ditzy, speaking in a soothing tone. "Ya know, she's got kind of ah point."
Ditzy sighed, and munched on another bite of apple cobbler. "Fair enough. But you could have said that she called her the B-word instead."
"But what's the point of saying 'the B-word' if everypony knows it means 'bitch'?"
Ditzy shot a sidelong glance at Mac in case he felt like contributing, but his mouth was occupied with a glass of cider and his attention was keenly focused on the ceiling fan above the dinner table. "The point, dear, is that it's not considered appropriate for young fillies and colts like you to use such words, even when quoting others, so we agree on certain placeholders instead."
"Sparkler says that swearing is never appropriate, and that that's... kinda... the point." Mid-sentence, Dinky noticed her sister giving her a glare that vividly conveyed her desire that she stop speaking immediately, but the already fully-formed sentence continued to tumble out of her mouth.
"So, Sparkler," Mac said desperately, "these hay fries are every bit as good as Ditzy said they'd be. Most folk'll cook 'em too long, but you got it jus' right."
"Actually, Dinky made them," Sparkler said proudly.
"Really?" Her previous anger completely forgotten, Ditzy reached across the table to pat Dinky on the hoof. "Wonderful job, Muffin!"
Mac sent a subtle smile towards Sparkler, one that clearly said, "You owe me one."
"Well, Sparks gave all the instructions..."
"Yeah, but you did all the work!" Sparkler added. "She even lifted the hay into the pan with her magic. She's getting pretty good at that."
Barely containing her pride in her daughter, Ditzy got up from the cushion, hobbled around the table and gave Dinky a colossal mom-hug.
As Ditzy returned to her seat, Mac said, "While ah'm at it, mah compliments on the rest of the meal, Sparkler. Where'd yah learn tah cook?"
"I worked at the diner as a fry cook for a while after I got my cutie mark, earning money to start up my jewelry business. I always had a knack for it, though. Dad used to say that cooking might turn out to be my special talent, but just between us, I always hoped it would be playing the electric guitar."
Dinky turned towards her. "No offense, Sparks, but there really wasn't ever a chance of that."
Sparkler sighed. "I said 'hoped', not 'expected'. Besides, I have headphones for it now, so my neighbors don't have to wish for Celestia to strike them deaf anymore. Anyway. It was while I was at the diner that I learned how to make hay fries properly, but I'm still trying to get them as perfect as theirs. I tell you, that employee discount was dangerous. I don't think my dear caboose ever fully recovered from it."
"I thought you said the colts in Manehattan liked your big caboose?" asked Dinky, receiving another glare from her sister.
Ditzy's ears perked up. "Hey, I'm not your mother. I wanna hear this!" Her eyes quickly darted from Sparkler to Dinky, then back again, smiling awkwardly. "... After we put Dinky to bed."
An awkward silence fell, but Big Mac did his best to break it. "So, Diamond Tiara... Pink earth pony, purple an' white mane, about Apple Bloom's age?"
Dinky nodded, a muffled "mm-hm" making it's way through a mouth full of hay fries.
Mac turned to face Ditzy as she started to sip her own glass of cider. "Ya know, Ah've met that filly, and Ah can say without reservation that she really is kind of a bitch."
Until that moment, Dinky never believed that anypony could actually spray their drink through their nose by laughing, but her mother proved her wrong.
Sparkler tucked her little sister into bed, giving her a peck on the top of her head for good measure. She was already out like a light, but she responded by snuggling in even deeper into her covers.
"She really beat you at Go?" Ditzy asked softly.
"Yep. I was playing with a handicap, but still. She's a sharp one." Sparkler softly shut the door to Dinky's bedroom behind her as they walked out.
"She sure had fun teaching it to Mac. I'm not sure what he enjoyed more, the game itself or just watching her explain it. What was all that stuff she was saying about possibilities?"
"I'll explain in the morning." Sparkler let out a protracted yawn. "It takes a lot of energy to keep up with her. Anyway, I've got a book about it, Mac might like it."
Ditzy nodded as she started to yawn herself. "So, I'm probably gonna regret this, but what the hay did Diamond Tiara do to set you off?"
"She said you and I aren't really family."
Ditzy boggled at Sparkler before narrowing her eyes as if trying to set fire to the young bully with her mind.
"What a bitch."
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is property of Hasbro, and made awesome by Lauren Faust.
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