Belatedly

by Scribus Caballus

“It ain’t stubborn, Twilight, it’s just practical.” Applejack bucked another tree, dumping the apples into the baskets waiting below. “Hired hooves would need to get paid, and we just can’t afford that this season.” She walked to another tree, Twilight following her. “And since Big Macintosh is all healed up, it ain’t like I’m doing this all myself.” She bucked again; fruit fell again.

“Still. You could use the help. You let us help you last season.”

“And I’m right grateful for it. But I just can’t let y’all go to such a bother for us. We’ll get it done. It’ll be hard, but we’ll get it done.”

“Well, if you’re so sure...”

“I’m sure, sugarcube.”

Big Macintosh ambled up, hauling a cart behind him. “Morning, Miss Sparkle.” He nodded with a slight smile.

“Good morning,” Twilight smiled back.

Applejack started lifting baskets and placing them into the carts.

“Well, it was nice talking with you, AJ. Good to see you’re feeling better, Big Mac.”

“Thank you kindly for the offer, Twilight.”

“Have a nice day, Miss Sparkle.”

“You, too, you two.” Twilight turned and walked away, quickly vanishing between the trees of the apple orchard.

“What was the offer?”

“Oh, that,” Applejack said. “She offered to help us with the harvest, maybe get the other girls to help, too.” She bent to pick up another basket of apples.

“And you turned her down?”

Applejack let the basket fall into the cart; maybe a little harder than she needed to. “I did. It’s not like I could just let my own friends slave away for me, and we both know we can’t afford to pay anypony to help us.” She moved another basket into the cart. “Besides, it’d be just plain awkward offering to pay them.”

“You let them help last applebuck season.”

“I had no choice, and you know it. This time, you’re better, Applebloom’s a bit bigger. We’ll be all right.”

“Well, it’s your call, sis.”

Applejack sighed, trying to hide her frustration as exhaustion. I wish I wasn’t the eldest, sometimes.

In the darkness of Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie Pie crouched behind a table, ready to spring out, noisemakers blaring and confetti flying. She heard somepony clip-clopping towards the door and gasped, then shushed everypony in the room, even though she was the only one who had made any noise.

The door opened, and she jumped out from her hiding place, throwing confetti and spinning noisemakers and shouting, “Happy Birthday, Applejack!” with everypony else following her lead.

Twilight Sparkle walked through the door, alone and shaking her head. “She wouldn’t leave the orchard, Pinkie.”

“WHAT!?” Pinkie Pie shouted. “How could anypony miss their own birthday party!? I mean, I know it was a surprise party and everything, so I didn’t send her an invitation, but I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings and now I just feel so-”

Rainbow Dash dropped her half of the banner, rolling her eyes, and swooped down to put a hoof in Pinkie Pie’s mouth. “She can’t be mad if she doesn’t know about the party, Pinkie Pie.”

“Oh. Right.” Pinkie blinked. “Well, it’s still just so sad that she’s the only one not here, and we can’t have a birthday party for Applejack if she’s not here, and it’s nopony else’s birthday today, but the sign already says, ‘Applejack’ on it...”

The other ponies tuned her out as she kept talking to nopony in particular. “What happened, Twilight?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“She said she was just too busy to leave. I told her that we’d help her out later, but she just wouldn’t take a break for anything.”

“Well, you didn’t tell her about the party, did you darling?” Rarity asked, ribbons floating down from the ceiling towards the glow of her horn.

“Of course not, how could I?”

“Oh, no... You don’t think, maybe, she forgot, do you?”

“I don’t know, Fluttershy. Maybe she did.”

Night was falling, and Applejack was still hard at work, trying to buck as many apples as she could before full dark. It should be a full moon tonight, she thought. Maybe I can get in a few more hours of work.

Big Macintosh’s voice came rolling across the hills. “Applejack!”

Applejack groaned in frustration and bucked the nearest tree, leaving a deep cut in its trunk. “Aw, shucks!” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; Big Macintosh called her name again. “I hear ya, I hear ya!” She started trudging back downhill towards the farmhouse. “You ain’t gotta go hollering up and down all of Ponyville, y’all know where I’m at...”

She reached the farmhouse just as the sun fell below the horizon. “What happened? Why’d you call for me?”

“Applebloom and I had something we wanted to say to you.”

“Well, couldn’t it have waited until I was done?”

Big Macintosh shook his head. “Applebloom would’ve been asleep by then.”

“I could stay up,” the little filly protested, stifling a yawn.

Big Macintosh laughed and nudged his little sister affectionately. “Ain’t nothing wrong with a good night’s sleep after a hard day’s work, li’l sis.”

“So, what was it y’all had to tell me?”

“Well...” Big Macintosh looked down at Applebloom. “Do you want to tell her?”

“Together!”

“All right.”

Big Macintosh reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a folded piece of paper, as Applebloom shouted, “Happy birthday!”

Applejack was stunned. “I... I can’t believe...”

“You didn’t forget your own birthday, did you?” Applebloom asked.

“You’ve been working yourself too hard again,” Big Macintosh said, passing the paper to Applejack.

“I reckon I have been...” Applejack set the paper on the ground, opening it with her nose.

“I hope you like it,” Applebloom said.

Applejack tried to read the paper by the moonlight and what was coming out of the farmhouse.

“It’s for a day at the spa in town," Big Macintosh explained. "We reckoned you needed a day off. Why don't you let your friends cover for you tomorrow and go use that?"

        Applejack sighed. “I reckon I will. Thank you. Both of y’all.”

        “Ayup.”

        Applebloom just snored.

        “Now, y’all be sure not to bruise them,” Applejack told her friends.

        “We’ll be fine,” Twilight assured her yet again.

        “If y’all get confused or anything, just ask Big Macintosh what to do.”

        “We will.”

        “And if y’all need me-”

        “Just go already, Applejack!” Rainbow Dash said, poking her head out of a tree above.

        “Alright, alright, I’m going!” She started to walk into town, then turned to face her friends. “Thank y’all again. I’m sorry about yesterday.”

        “Don’t worry about it, silly! We’ll just throw you another party!”

        Applejack clip-clopped into Ponyville, nodding to ponies as she passed. “Morning. Good morning. How are y’all?” She couldn’t remember where the spa was, so she stopped to ask somepony for directions.

        “Oh, my!” the light blue-green unicorn said. “You’re just going to love it! Bon-Bon took me there once, and I’ve never felt better in my whole life! I’ll show you where it is, just follow me.”

        “Well, thank you kindly.”

        Applejack followed her, listening all the way to the unicorn praising Lotus’ work. “If I didn’t know better I’d swear she had some kind of magic! But of course, we all know only unicorns know magic - erm, no offense.” Applejack just rolled her eyes; the unicorn kept on talking.

        They turned up a side road and soon came to the spa, nestled away in a quiet corner of Ponyville. “Well, here we are! I am so jealous, you are going to positively love Lotus, she is simply the best!”

        “Thank you again,” Applejack said. “I should be getting a move on, I reckon.”

        “Oh, yes, yes of course. You have fun! Tell Lotus that Lyra said, ‘Hello!’”

        The unicorn walked away, barely giving Applejack a chance to respond. Applejack knocked at the elegant double doors and was promptly greeted by a cyan pony with a pink mane.

        “Hello, darling!” the pony greeted Applejack. “Welcome, welcome, please do come inside.” Applejack entered, unsure of what to do or say.

        “I, uh... I got this here paper,” she said, reaching into her saddlebag and pulling out her gift from Big Macintosh and Applebloom.

        The other pony took it, set it on a desk, and began reading. “Ah, yes... Somepony must care very deeply for you, indeed; this is our very best treatment.”

        “Well, it was from my brother and sister-”

        The cyan pony heaved a sigh. “Ah, isn’t family simply the best?” She didn’t wait for an answer before she started walking down the hallway. “Follow me, I’ll take care of you. Come, come!”

        Applejack followed her deeper into the building, the air smelling like flowers and fruit. Their steps were muffled by soft carpets, and slow music played faintly from somewhere in the distance. “So, tell me, have you ever been to our spa before, miss...?”

        “Applejack. And, uh, yes, I have. Once. My friends and I had a run-in with some poison joke, and-”

        “Oh! I remember that! The striped one, she had the most luxurious treatment. It has become one of our customers’ favorites.”

        Lotus led Applejack to the very back of the hallway, then pushed open a door and gestured for her to enter. Applejack did, and was surprised to see another pony who looked just like Lotus already inside.

        “This is my sister, Aloe. We’ll be taking care of you today, Miss Applejack.”

        “Here, come,” Aloe said as Lotus removed Applejack’s hat and saddlebags. “Get into the tub and we can start.”

        The next day Applejack was a new pony. She seemed lighter on her hooves, and Big Macintosh had a hard time keeping the cart moving fast enough to pick up all of the apples she bucked.

        “So,” Big Macintosh asked, “how was it yesterday?”

        Applejack stopped in her tracks and smiled ear-to-ear. “It was one of the best days I’ve ever had. Thank you very much for it.”

        “Well, what’d they do for you?”

        “I ain’t supposed to say. They told me it was, what was it... a ‘trade secret’ or somesuch. But I sure do aim to get back on down there when applebuck season’s over.” She paused a moment in thought. “Say, I think you might like it down there, too, Big Mac. You oughta try it sometime.”