Applejack ran as fast as her legs could carry her. Unfortunately, with the fear coursing through her body and her heart racing even before she started running, she wasn't able to go as fast as she would have liked. Her breathing shallow, she felt like stopping for a moment to catch her breath, but she knew that that wasn't an option right now; all that mattered was getting to the motel as fast as she could so she could think about what she was going to say to her friends when the time came, which she knew was very, very soon.
Everything was running through her mind at once; the terrified look of her friends, Fluttershy running away with tears in her eyes, the angered look on Rainbow Dash's face. What would they think of her now? Would they be able to look at her the same way again? Would they even want to remain friends with her, knowing what she'd just done? She tried her best to shake her mind of these thoughts and focus on getting to the motel, but to no avail.
It seemed to take longer than it usually did, but soon, the motel was in sight. She gave out a small sigh of relief as she began to slow down, trying her best to prevent her heart from pounding out of her chest.
Jogging up to her truck, she opened the front passenger door and placed the brown paper bag into the glove compartment. However, her heart skipped a beat again when she heard the sound of a car door opening and closing within close proximity of her. Lifting her head, she saw that, a few car spaces away from her truck, Sunset Shimmer had gotten out of Rarity's car and began walking up to her. As quickly as she could, Applejack slammed the door shut and began running to the motel, reaching into her pocket to get the key for her room.
"Applejack, wait!" she heard her yell, though she didn't acknowledge her request. She stood in front of the door, her hands shifting back and forth in all of her pockets, trying to find her key.
"Looking for this?" she heard the familiar voice ask next to her, making her come to a halt. Turning to her right, she saw that Pinkie Pie was standing there, the key ring that held the room key dangling from her finger.
"How did...?" Applejack began to ask, before cutting herself off, realizing that asking questions was irrelevant. Quickly, she reached out to grab the key, only to have Pinkie quickly pull it away and shove it into her hair (makes you wonder what else she keeps in there), crossing her arms with a serious expression on her face.
"Give it back, Pinkie!" shouted Applejack as she took a few steps closer to her. Pinkie only turned her back to her and let out a small huff of defiance. She was about to advance on her when Sunset Shimmer's voice froze her in her place.
"Applejack," she said, making her turn to face her. Behind her, she saw that Rarity was also approaching them from her car. "You're not going anywhere."
She wanted to run, bolt away and not turn back, but she didn't have anywhere to go, anywhere where she could escape. Tears beginning to well up in her eyes, Applejack leaned her back against the motel door, trying to keep herself from breaking down. She took her Stetson off and held it in front of her as if she was trying to hide behind it. She looked up at the three of them, all of them glaring down at her, only to notice just that; there were only three of them before her.
Lowering her head and keeping her voice low, she asked, "How's Fluttershy?"
"Oh, she's just dandy," Rarity said sarcastically. "Forgive the sarcasm, darling, but you of all people should know how she's doing."
Tears began to stream down Applejack's face as the image of Fluttershy, running out of the club the way she did, flashed through her mind again. "Where is she?"
"She's in the car, crying her eyes out after seeing that horrid display back there!"
Silence dawned on them as Applejack wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. After a while, Sunset Shimmer began rubbing her temples and let out a sigh.
"So many questions running through my head right now," she said. "I don't even know where to start."
"I do!" an angered voice called out to them. All four of them turned their heads to see an enraged Rainbow Dash approaching them, her hands balled into fists at her sides. She walked right up to Applejack and said, "What the fuck was that back there, huh?"
"Rainbow Dash!" Rarity shouted at her, eyebrows furrowed. "What did I say about your language?"
"I'm sorry, alright," she said. "I'm just a little...oh, I don't know...pissed off that I had to see one of my friends up on a stage, shaking her ass and showing her tits to a bunch of strangers!"
Applejack cringed at her words as she clutched her hat closer to her chest, trying to conceal her already covered body.
"Thank you for that, Rainbow Dash," said Rarity, rolling her eyes and putting her hands on her hips. "Honestly, you can be so callous sometimes."
"Hey, it's the truth."
Letting out a sigh of disapproval at Rainbow's statement, Sunset Shimmer turned to Pinkie and said, "Think you can give Fluttershy some company?"
Pinkie only nodded in agreement as she began walking away. She handed Sunset Shimmer the motel key before making her way to the car.
"Good idea," said Rainbow, crossing her arms. "She needs all the comforting she can get! You know, you might have mentally scarred her for life with that little performance of yours. Hope you're proud of yourself, 'Candy Apples'."
Those words seemed to hit her harder than perhaps any of them anticipated. Slowly, Applejack raised her head to look at Rainbow, her eyes narrow and tears streaming from the corners. She gritted her teeth as she began breathing a little heavier than before, almost as if she were hyperventilating.
"'Proud'?" she asked as she took a few steps closer to Rainbow Dash in a defensive manner, placing her Stetson back on her head. "'Proud'? Ya think ah'm 'proud' of this?"
She saw her advancing on her, but Rainbow Dash stood her ground, ready to take on Applejack. Immediately, Sunset Shimmer and Rarity stood in between the two of them, both of them with worried expressions.
"Both of you need to calm down," Sunset said.
"She's right," Rarity agreed. "Rainbow Dash, you need to tone it down a notch or two. And Applejack..."
She let out a sigh as she tried to finish her sentence. Fortunately, Sunset Shimmer was able to. "What's going on, Applejack?" she asked.
Still breathing heavily, she turned her back on the three of them, her hands balling into fists. She kept trying to hold herself together, but with every passing second, it felt harder to do so.
"You wouldn't understand," she said softly as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Of course we would," said Sunset Shimmer. She walked in front of her and placed her hands on her shoulders and gave her a reassuring look. "You can tell us."
She looked into Sunset's eyes for a second before closing them and turning her head away from them. Applejack wanted to tell them, wanted them to understand why she was doing this, but a small tinge of skepticism washed over her, making her hesitate for a few more seconds.
After several tense moments, Applejack lowered her head and let out a small sigh as she said, "It started a while back in late-October..."
"Our family sells produce at the local supermarket. That's where most of our money comes from. However, every year, there comes a time when fresh fruit and such don't sell as well, so money becomes an issue. This year, though, it was really bad."
Applejack and Big Macintosh were in their living room, both of them sitting with worried looks on their faces. It was the middle of the night and the two of them had gone through a mess of bills that were strewn about on the table in the center of the room.
"What're we gonna do, Big Mac?" Applejack asked as she rested her head in her hands. "We aren't makin' enough money to pay half these bills, not with the salary Granny makes and the drop in sales at the store."
"Eeyup," said Big Macintosh softly, followed by a sigh.
"Looks like we have one option, and that's to find more work elsewhere, at least until sales go up again."
Big Mac responded with a nod, a stern look on his face.
"So, the two of us set out to try and find whatever work we could get. Big Mac was able to find a part-time job, but it still wasn't enough to help us. Me, on the other hand, couldn't find anythin' that ah was qualified for, nothin' that could get a lot money right away. That is, until...that day..."
Applejack was walking down the street, her hands in her pockets and her head hanging low. She walked up to the newsstand and picked up the paper to look in the classified ads to see if there was any work she could do.
She read through each individual ad she could find with an optimistic look on her face. The longer she skimmed through the paper, the more the look of hope began to fade away. Letting out a sigh, she closed it up and placed it down on the counter. However, a small ad on the back caught her eye.
The ad only consisted of two words, Models Wanted, and a phone number to call. Desperation kicking in, Applejack memorized the number before walking away from the stand. When she got home, she made sure that no one was around. Then, she called the number to see if she could get the job.
"After ah called 'em, they told me to meet 'em at the photo studio on the other side of town. With nothin' ta lose, ah went there and tried my hand at modelin'."
"That's good," said the photographer. "Now show me what else ya got, sweetheart!"
Her cheeks red, Applejack tried her best to show the male photographer her best poses, smiling as perfectly as she could muster and praying to herself that the sweat that was forming wouldn't show up in the pictures.
After what felt like an eternity, the shoot was finished and the photographer and his clientele were reviewing the pictures of her and the other models that they had shot that day. As the models all stood next to each other, looks of anticipation on their faces, Applejack couldn't help but feel completely out of place, mostly because it was pretty obvious she was the youngest one there.
Soon, they went to the models and selected the ones that they really wanted the most; along with a few others, Applejack wasn't one of them. A defeated look on her face, she placed her hat back on her head and began walking out of the building. One of the clients watched her leave in this manner and began to think, scratching his chin as he looked her up and down.
"Ah didn't think anythin' would come out of that, especially since ah didn't make the cut, until ah had left the studio..."
Outside the studio, Applejack walked up to her truck and let out a sigh as she began thinking of where else she could look for work. She was about to open the door when she heard someone calling for her attention.
"Excuse me, miss," the voice said, causing Applejack to look up in curiosity. She saw that a middle-aged man with a beard and a white suit on was running up to her. "Mind if I have a word with you?"
"Sure, ah guess," she said.
The two of them walked back into the studio together. Fixing his tie, the man said, "I couldn't help but notice that you were pretty let down about not being chosen for the job, uh, Applejack, was it?"
"Yeah," she said. "It's no big deal, really. Ah'll just find something else, is all."
"If you don't mind me asking," he said. "Why is a young girl like you looking into modeling in the first place?"
Applejack gave him a suspicious look. "That's none of yer business."
"Ah, I see," he said with a smile. "Personal matters. I understand completely."
"Why do ya wanna know, anyway?" she asked as she crossed her arms. "What exactly did ya want from me?"
Letting out a sigh, he said, "No need to be so defensive, miss. I'm only trying to help."
"First of all, how old are you?"
She told him her age.
"Excellent. You see, I'm actually looking for a few...how can we say...dancers for a club I own and, seeing that you're young and trying to earn money to make a living, no doubt, I think you could benefit from this."
Applejack blinked in surprise. "How did you-"
"Because of your answer," he interrupted. "Most young models who try out often tell me that they're only doing it to earn extra money. To go on the defensive like that tells me that you're trying to earn money for someone or something other than yourself, like a family or trying to survive in these tough times."
She fell silent.
"Like I was saying, someone with your physique and financial troubles might benefit from this, if you're interested." He pulled out a small business card and handed it to her.
"'The Dark Side'," she read. "What is that, a night club?"
"Not exactly," he said with a laugh. "You don't really need dancers for a night club, now do you?"
Mentally, she put two-and-two together. "Have ya spit yer bit or somethin'!? I can't do somethin' like that! No way, no how."
"I can understand how you must feel. I just figured, since the club is out of town and that you can go by a stage name and everything, you wouldn't have to worry about anyone here recognizing you. Not to mention, you get paid in cash upfront every night you 'perform', shall we say?"
Applejack turned her gaze to the ground as the thoughts ran through her mind.
Seeing this, he continued. "Perhaps it would be better if it wasn't a permanent arrangement. Maybe you can come work for me for a little while, just to help get your feet off the ground. You can even tell me when you want to stop and I'll let you go, no questions asked."
Applejack looked up to him with a raised eyebrow. "Why are ya pressurin' me like that?"
He put his hands up in surrender, the smile he wore slowly disappearing. "I'm sorry, miss. I didn't mean for it to sound like that. You see, it's been a while since we had any new dancers. When we have a couple of new faces showing up every now and then, it brings in new 'customers' and makes the 'regulars' stay and spend more. This way, everybody wins: not only do we, the owners, make more, but we have more to give to our dancers."
She looked down at the card in her hands and read it to herself one more time. Her eyes shifted back and forth as she tried to comprehend the weight of the situation. As desperate as she was to make money, would she be willing to stoop to an all time low like that? How would she tell her family or her friends?
"Tell you what," he said, seeing Applejack struggling to give him an answer. "You can think about it if you need to, however long it takes. We're always looking for new dancers, so the job is always there if you need it. Just give me a call whenever you're ready."
He turned to the door, but before he left, he placed a hand on her arm and said, "I hope you understand that I am only giving you this offer to help, nothing more."
With that, he walked away and exited the building, leaving her alone for a moment. After a while, she put the card in her pocket, left the studio, and began her drive back home.
"Every fiber of my bein' kept sayin' to say 'no' to the offer, to throw away that stupid card and never think about it again. But, the longer ah thought 'bout it, the more ah began to realize..."
It was the middle of the night and Applejack sat in her room, looking at the card she was given. She ran a finger over the phone number as the thoughts of dancing – no, stripping – began to turn her stomach something fierce; she just couldn't picture herself doing such a thing. Sure, she was desperate for money, but there was a line in the sand and she refused to cross it.
Her eyebrows began to furrow as she got read to tear the card in half. However, the thoughts of everything happening to her and her family began rushing through her mind. The bills not getting paid, not being able to afford the things they need, like food or clothing, everything crossed her thoughts, stopping her from getting rid of the card.
Then, she began to recollect what the man had said about the anonymity of it all, the upfront pay, how she would be able to stop when she wanted to, how no one in town would ever find out.
Tears began to well up in her eyes as all of her thoughts mixed together to form her answer, an answer that she already began to regret.
"...Ah didn't have much of a choice. So, ah did what ah had ta do, not for me, but for mah family."
If anyone was awake and standing outside of her door, the only thing they would hear after a moment of silence was the sound of a phone being dialed. Then, they would hear her say in the softest voice she could muster, "Hi...it's me, Applejack...I'll...I'll do it..."
Sunset Shimmer stood and watched as Applejack covered her eyes with her hands, the tears she tried so hard to fight back streaming down her face. She and Rarity had a look of sadness on their faces as they watched their friend softly sobbing in front of them; even Rainbow Dash's aggressive demeanor had disintegrated at this point.
"Ya hafta believe me when ah say that ah never wanted this ta happen," she said through tears. "Ah never wanted ya'll ta know that ah would go so low ta make money."
"But, Applejack," said Rarity, "If you were having troubles, why...?"
Thinking she knew what she was going to say, Applejack interrupted. "Ah know it didn't seem like ah had troubles, but that was 'cause, with all the weekends ah was away, ah managed ta make more than enough to pay our bills."
She wiped her eyes with her hand, which did little because she was still crying. "Ah planned ta stop in the middle of next month, when sales at the store would be in full swing again. It was never meant ta be permanent, honest!"
"Yeah, but, all those times..." Rainbow said.
"Ah know," AJ interrupted again. "Ah wanted to try and forget about this for a while, so ah began comin' here for the whole weekend to make a little more money for me. But, no matter how hard ah tried, ah just couldn't spend it all on mah-self, so ah'd spend it on all of us. That's how ah was able to afford goin' to different places every now and again. Ah hoped that it would help me feel better about doin' this, but no matter how hard ah tried, it wouldn't work."
Then, Sunset Shimmer held Applejack in an embrace, allowing her to rest her head on her shoulder. Tears continued to stream from her eyes as she stroked her back, trying her best to comfort her.
"Ah'm so sorry," she said softly. "Ah know that...none of ya'll would...ever wanna be friends with...a girl like me..."
"That's not true, Applejack," said Sunset.
"She's right, darling," Rarity chimed in. "You know, what I was going to say earlier was, if you were having troubles, why didn't you just tell us so we could help you."
"Ah wanted to," said Applejack. "But ah didn't want to be a burden. Besides, ah don't know how you can help me now."
Rarity let out a small giggle. "Actually, I know exactly how to help you."
Applejack lifted her head from Sunset Shimmer's shoulder and turned to look at her with a questioning gaze.
"I was trying to get Sunset Shimmer here to start working at the Boutique for the past few days," she explained. "You don't need any experience on fashion to apply and the pay is very good. I think you need the job now a lot more than Sunset Shimmer...no offense, darling."
"None taken," said Sunset Shimmer with a smile. "I agree with you anyway. I wasn't sure if I should work there, but now, I think you should take the job, Applejack."
Applejack looked at them with a confused look. "That's mighty kind of ya, but aren't ya'll mad at me for all of this."
"Of course not, dear," said Rarity as she brought her in for a hug. "We're your friends, and that's what friends do for each other."
"Thank you," she said to her as she released her embrace. Then, she focused her attention to Rainbow Dash, who had been quiet this whole time. She walked up to her and said, "Ah'm sorry about all of this, Rainbow, for makin' you mad and gettin' in yer face earlier. Can you ever forgive me?"
She let out a small sigh from her nostrils and smiled. "Of course I can. Just promise us that you won't do this again."
AJ smiled. "Ah promise."
Then, the two of them shared in an embrace, both of them with smiles on their faces. Before they could release, they were taken by surprise by Pinkie Pie throwing her arms around the two of them.
"And I forgive you, too, Applejack," she said.
"Pinkie?" asked Rainbow Dash. "Did you hear all of that from the car?"
"Well, duh!" she said as she pulled out a party hat from behind her. Then, she put the thin end of the hat up to her ear and said, "I used this to hear from all the way over there. It has really good reception when you think about it!"
"How's Fluttershy doin'?" asked Applejack.
"She's fine for now. She cried herself to sleep in the back of the car, though."
AJ sighed. "Looks like ah'll hafta tell her all this tomorrow."
The others nodded in agreement.
"Come on, let's get out of this dreadful place and go home," said Rarity.
"You girls go on ahead," said Applejack. "Ah need to tell the club that ah'm quittin' for good."
"Great idea," said Sunset Shimmer as she patted her on the shoulder. Then, she handed her the motel key. "You might want to give this back, too."
She nodded in agreement as she began to walk away. However, Rainbow Dash stopped her in mid-step.
"Hey, Applejack, can I ask a serious question?"
"Sure, what's up?"
Putting her hands on her hips, Rainbow raised an eyebrow and asked, "'Candy Apples'? Seriously, was that the best stage name you could come up with?"
Silence fell upon them for several moments as Rainbow tried to maintain a serious face. Then, she found herself trying to hold back her laughter, Applejack slowly following suit. Then, all five of them found themselves breaking out into laughter, making Applejack feel better than she had in a long time.
But alas, my little readers, this story isn't finished yet...
BTW, I know I'm not the best at writing "flashbacks", seeing as this is the first time I've actually done so!
What can I say? At least I tried!