Chapter 3 – Sweet Apple Romance
"Pinkie, please tell me what we're doing!" Fluttershy pleaded, reluctantly following her excitable friend.
"I have to show you something, first!" the pink mare replied. "Trust me, you're gonna love it!"
"Are you sure? What do you want to show me?"
"I can't tell you that. It'll ruin the surprise! But believe me, you'll be glad you left your cottage."
Fluttershy was used to Pinkie's eccentricity — the cheerful pony was notorious for crazy ideas that she liked to spring onto others — but for some reason this particular outing to Sweet Apple Acres made her feel uneasy. Pinkie still had the usual foalish grin splashed on her face, but her expression bore something else. Not 'sinister' per se, but she had a certain air of unruliness about her. Something strange was going on…
"Does Applejack need our help?" Fluttershy asked, trying to get to the bottom of things. "Is she pushing herself too hard again?"
"Applejack's always pushing herself too hard," Pinkie said matter-of-factly, making no obvious attempt to give a straight answer.
"So we're not going there to speak to Applejack?"
"No. Oh wait, yes!" the mare corrected, leaping into the air with glee. "Good thinking, Fluttershy! I should speak with Applejack! Look at you, coming up with all the best ideas even though you haven't got a clue as to why we're heading there in the first place! That's pretty impressive if you ask me."
It was far from the answer that she had expected, and was even further from an answer that she'd have liked. It might have seemed dangerously suspicious, but this was Pinkie Pie, for Celestia's sake. She'd never do anything… morally questionable, would she?
"Pinkie, is there something I should know?" Fluttershy asked timidly.
"All you need to know is that I have a surprise for you. Honestly, I've given away too much as it is."
For the rest of the journey, the jolly earth pony remained oddly tight-lipped, which was difficult for Fluttershy to get used to when it came to one of the biggest chatterboxes in Ponyville. Even Pinkie's trademark bounce appeared to be reined in, as if the mare was genuinely nervous or apprehensive. It was undeniably worrying, but the pegasus reminded herself that she could trust her friend completely, even if she was a bit kooky at times.
With that inner turmoil settled, Fluttershy began speculating on the reason for this in the first place. She knew that they were headed for Sweet Apple Acres, and that they apparently weren't there to speak with Applejack. Or at least, she wasn't there to speak with Applejack. Had Pinkie arranged some kind of surprise party? It was definitely plausible.
As they neared the farm, Pinkie brought her fore-hooves to her eyes in a pair of mock binoculars. "Hmm… Now where could you be?" she muttered to herself.
"What are you looking for?"
"Not looking for!" the earth pony replied cheerily, putting the pretend binoculars away into an invisible saddlebag. "Found! Now hurry up! You don't want to miss your chance!"
Having come this far already, Fluttershy plodded along after the joyful mare, still trying to figure out what she was up to. Instead of heading for Applejack's front door, Pinkie led her across the farm's surrounding field, over the fence and out towards the orchard. Fluttershy was sure that she could hear apple-bucking up ahead — an Applejack trademark if there ever was one — and breathed a small sigh of relief. For a moment she was concerned that they were…
Just up ahead, Big Mac came into view. His back turned to them, he bucked hard against a tree, ridding it of every single apple in one fell swoop. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he flicked back his mane. To anypony else, it would just be a stallion working under the sun. But to Fluttershy, she was witnessing something magnificent.
"I know, right?" Pinkie whispered into the pegasus' ear, breaking the trance.
"Know… know what?"
Pinkie took a step back, glancing towards Big Mac and raising her eyebrows suggestively. "Those strong, muscular legs… He's pretty hot, right?"
Fluttershy felt her entire face surge with heat. As much as she tried to keep her composure, it was impossible. "Um… I… I guess so. I don't really—"
"Yes you do," Pinkie interrupted with in a sultry voice. "I saw you after the party, Fluttershy."
"You… you saw me?" the pegasus trembled, thinking back to her previous encounter with the stallion.
"Uh-huh!" the party pony answered with a sly grin. "Or I guess as Big Mac would say, eeyup."
That last word made Fluttershy gulp with fear. Suddenly, it all made sense. This was the entire reason Pinkie had dragged her out here. "What are you going to do?" she asked worriedly.
"Me?" Pinkie asked, looking perplexed. "I'm not doing anything! Oh, except for distracting Applejack if she shows up. We wouldn't want her to mess things up when you ask her brother out on a date, would we?"
Fluttershy gulped again. "D–Date!? But Pinkie Pie, I can't do that!"
"Sure you can! Just go over there and ask if he wants to go out with you some time."
"I… I couldn't do that! I… I have to get home and give Angel another bath!"
The pegasus tried to make a break for it, but Pinkie had latched onto her tail, pulling the mare back to the ground. "Oh no you don't," Pinkie said, a serious expression on her face. It was enough to shock Fluttershy into staying still. "You like him, right?"
"I… I guess so."
"You want to spend time with him, right?"
"I… Well, perhaps."
"You want to kiss him, right?"
Fluttershy tried to speak, but her only response was a faint squeak followed by an exasperated sigh. Sweating all over and feeling more flustered than ever, she took another glance at the red stallion several metres away. She did like him, and she did want to be with him. She could go on merely fantasizing about kissing him, but what if there was a chance that it could happen for real?
"Well don't just stand there!" Pinkie exclaimed. "Go on over and ask him out. You're Fluttershy, and you're cute as a button! What are you?"
"I'm… cute as a button?"
"Right! There's no way Big Mac could say no to you!" The jolly mare paused, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "In fact, I always had a feeling about you two."
Fluttershy's eyes widened in surprise. "You did?"
"Yep. At least, it was either you or Cheerilee. You'd better make your move before that naughty teacher snaps him up!"
"You're right!" Fluttershy got to her hooves and took a deep breath. "I can do this. I think I can really do this!"
"What are you?"
"I'm cute as a button."
"What are you!?"
"I'm cute as a button!"
Pinkie stomped her hooves down. "Now go out there and bag yourself a sexy stallion!"
Fluttershy took a deep breath and charged forward with a confident stride, her eyes focused on her target. This is it, she thought, psyching herself up. You have to do this.
"Well howdy!" came a recognisable voice, breaking the pegasus' concentration. "What brings you here?"
"Oh, hi Applejack," Fluttershy said meekly, downplaying the fact that she'd almost leapt away in fright. "I was just out for a stroll and—"
"There you are, Applejack!" Pinkie butted in with, appearing as if by magic between the two mares. "I wanted to speak you about, um… Oh, I remember! Could you show me how to make those awesomely delicious apple crumbles?"
Applejack sighed, curving the corners of her mouth into a half-smile. "Ah'd love to show you, but maybe later. There's quite the workload needin' to be done around the farm."
"Oh, that's a shame," said Pinkie, her hair drooping slightly. "It's just that, he doesn't really have a sweet tooth, and none of my cakes have impressed him. I was hoping you could help me out."
Applejack's eyes widened, her grin broadening. "Well ah'll be a tater's grand-pappy. Are you tryin' your hoof at wooin' a stallion?"
Pinkie blushed, looking to the ground. "I'd really appreciate it if you'd help me."
"That's what friends are for, right?"
Pinkie turned momentarily towards Fluttershy, winking discreetly, before nodding energetically and putting a foreleg around Applejack. "Thanks, AJ! I'm so happy you could help me! Thanks for your help too, Fluttershy. You can go on now." The pink pony directed her eyes towards Big Mac.
"I was glad to help!" Fluttershy piped up, playing her part in Pinkie Pie's charade.
"Now, Ah have to ask who this mysterious stallion is," questioned Applejack as the two earth ponies trotted side-by-side back to her house. "He must be somethin' mighty special to hold your attention."
"Oh, he's just a dream!" said Pinkie with another secret wink, leading Applejack away from the strike-zone.
Fluttershy let out another deep breath, setting her sights on the whole reason she was even here. Applejack had made a good point. Friends were there for each other, right? They would help one another if they yearned for a relationship with somepony, right? Pinkie had taken it up on her own to help her like this, and she wasn't about to throw such a gesture away. Then again, she wondered what Applejack would think. Would she approve of this? It was her brother, after all. While Fluttershy didn't have any siblings, she considered how strange it might be if one of her friends were to become involved with them.
Thrusting those insecurities aside, the pegasus concluded that Applejack didn't have a bad bone in her body. There was no way she would flip out over something like this, especially if Big Mac also insisted on it.
With that in mind, she crept towards the oblivious stallion, putting on as brave a face as she could muster. She was about to do something that she'd never done before, and she was petrified. I have to be strong! I have to be strong!
"Hello?" she whispered, not even loud enough to gain the pony's attention as he tossed a few loose apples into baskets. Still determined, she repeated herself. "Hello?"
This time Big Mac did turn around, casting a glance that almost caused Fluttershy's face to burst. Despite her quickening pulse and erratic breathing, she felt like she was holding it together pretty well, all things considered. He paused for a moment, startled out of his routine. As he looked into her eyes his cheeks rose, curving his muscular face into a welcoming grin.
"Hi," Fluttershy said nervously, feeling a bead of sweat drop past her left eye.
"Well hello again," the stallion greeted, giving a respectful nod. "What brings you out here?"
"Um, apples?" Fluttershy replied, wanting to hit herself over the face as soon as the words left her mouth.
"Well Ah guess you came to the right place," he said with a chuckle, thankfully underplaying the mare's awkward response. "Any particular kind?"
How about a tasty, red Macintosh, her mind dared her to say. "Um, no. I'm not here for apples, silly me." Just ask him!
"Are you OK?" the stallion asked, raising an eyebrow with concern.
Fluttershy smiled weakly and nodded, feeling her heartbeat quicken. "I'm fine, thanks. I was here to ask you… something."
"Ask me what?"
"I wanted to know if you could… Um, I guess what I'm trying to say is…" Come on Fluttershy, just go ahead and say it! The worst he could possibly say is 'no'. That's not so bad, right? Oh, who am I kidding? If he said 'no' it would be awful! It'd be terrible! The young pegasus took a deep breath. "Date?"
Big Mac looked ponderously at her for a few moments, tilting his head like a puppy. "Eenope," he finally said.
Fluttershy's heart sank. Her smile dropped, and her eyes began to water. Lowering her head shamefully and hiding behind her mane, she sniffed sadly. "I understand. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"Ain't no bother. Just a strange request is all."
Fluttershy wiped her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"Ah'm pretty sure the name 'Sweet Apple Acres' is some kinda giveaway. If you want dates, you should go into the market. Ah'm sure there's plenty on sale. Quite frankly, Ah can't stand the things. But, each to their own."
"Oh… oh," the pegasus exclaimed, finally realising what Big Mac was talking about. "Yes, I should have realised that, shouldn't I? It's not called 'Sweet Date Acres' is it?" she said with a nervous laugh. "I… I should have just gone to the market in the first place."
"Eeyup," Big Mac remarked, bucking against another tree.
"There's one more thing I need to say." Come on now, no more beating around the bush! Tell him how you feel! "I, um… I really like—"
"Oh, shoot!" Big Mac blurted out, his eyes widening with anxiety. "Ah just remembered Ah was s'posed to help Cheerliee today! Sorry, Fluttershy. Until next time."
"Sure…" The yellow pegasus stayed stock still, keeping up her enormous fake grin as Big Mac galloped off. Once he'd reached a fair distance away, Fluttershy collapsed into a heap, tears streaming down her face. I should have known that I had no chance, she thought to herself as she curled up underneath a tree and wept.
"You really need to loosen up," Cheerilee said with a chuckle, pouring another cup of tea for Big Mac. "It's hard to believe that you're getting like this."
The stallion sighed, leaning back into his friend's sofa. "Ah know. Ah really like her, and Ah think she likes me. Ah saw her today and… to tell you the truth, Ah think perhaps she thought Ah was comin' to see you 'cause, well… you know. She was smilin', but there was this look of disappointment on her face."
Cheerlie shot her friend a condescending look. "And why would you let her think a thing like that? You didn't have to tell her that you were coming to see me. Seriously, you could have at least made it clear that we're not dating."
Big Mac sighed, running a hoof across his temple. "Ah was scared. Ah worry that if we were together, it'd be weird 'cause of how she's friends with mah sister. What if somethin' happened 'tween us an' they didn't talk to each other no more? An' there's somethin' about her — this kind of raw innocence to her — and Ah wonder if Ah'd be taintin' that innocence by havin' a relationship with her."
"You can't go in wondering if things like that could happen. Instead, you should be wondering if you'll find happiness."
Big Mac smiled nervously. "Ah know, Ah know."
"So the next time you get a chance to spend time with her, grab it by the hooves! Even if it means blowing me off, at least I know you're doing it for the right reasons. Deal?"
The stallion chuckled to himself, nodding with acceptance. "Deal."