"Ah just don't figure how we'll manage this year. We're not fillies and colts no more and Applebloom's too young."
"Ah mean Ah know how important it's for Rainbow Dash ta open for her precious Wonderbolts and tour with them. She says she's goin' ta try and charm that Soarin character right outta his horseshoes. Don't know about that, but he did buy mah pie at the Gala, the only stinkin' pony in Canterlot to touch our food. And then Twilight's left for Canterlot of course. Ah don't blame her, Ah told her Ah says, 'Twilight your families's a might bit more important than helpin' us with some silly apple buckin'.'"
"Ah won't even ask Rarity. She'll just say, 'Well why can't Ah use my magic, darlin'? And oh dear my mane is gettin' dusty, darlin'. I chipped a hoof darlin'!' Ah'd go crazy. Pinkie's too busy tendin' ta the Cake's shop while they're in Manehattan for that silly conventionwho cares about pumpkin anyways? Apples is where's it's at."
"Fluttershy's gone with Twilight. She wants to try again with those critters at the Royal Gardens. Ah don't know who else ta turn to."
"Ya even listenin' to me?"
Applejack stamped her hooves and glared at her brother. She paced right outside their barn, while Big Macintosh removed his harness. He stood in the doorway now, in the distance he heard Applebloom squeal. She and Scootaloo were playing again, their other little friend wasn't around as much as she'd like to. Applebloom complained about Sweetie Belle having to help Rarity, Applejack scolded her about helping the family was more important, and that one day she'd be standing outside this barn, waiting for the fearless leader of Sweet Apple Acres to dictate and decide.
"Don't ya even think of sayin' 'Eeyup,'" Applejack said. "Ah came here on account that Ah figured ya might have an idea."
Big Macintosh shrugged. He'd worked the orchard all day, the grind wore his brain raw and his thoughts slipped by like a smooth molasses down a tree
"Ah guess Ah'll figure everythin' out, again," Applejack said.
Big Macintosh blinked. He shook the cobwebs from his head and said, "How 'bout hirin' some help?"
Applejack spun around. She scratched her chin with her hoof. "Could do that. Where we get the bits from?"
Big Macintosh shrugged. "We've split our profits between us. Ah don't spend much. Nothin' Ah need anyhow."
Applejack sighed. "Now you're just bein' unfair. That's your bits, Ah know it's not much but you haven't spent a one?"
Big Macintosh shrugged.
"Ah suppose. What you reckon we do with it? We could get a few hands, mostly earth ponieshate usin' magic to get the apples off. It's bad for the trees. Ah don't know who'd we hire here in Ponyville, though. Don't think no one's lookin' for work who doesn't already got some."
"Look elsewhere. Fillydelphia's just a short train ride away," Big Macintosh said.
"City ponies? You a few apples short of a barrel?"
Big Macintosh said, "Nothin' wrong with city ponies. Your friends did an alright job last year with ya showing them what to do. Figures we can teach anypony how to buck a tree."
Applejack frowned. She said, "Ah suppose it's the best we can do." She nickered and said, "Ah heck, Ah don't know, let's both think about it. 'Specially you, Ah'm not going to take your bits unless you're abs-oh-lutely okay with it. And Ah'll know if you're lyin' faster than an apple falls from a tree."
Big Macintosh nodded.
Applejack departed the next day and left Big Macintosh to get ready.
All the real work was already done. Big Macintosh was left with a mostly empty farm. He prepared some of the trees and tucked barrels beneath them. He cleaned out the cellar and took the time to prepare the presses for apple cider. That little guilty pleasure was Big Macintosh's favorite part of the whole season.
Applejack planned to be gone for three days, so on the second Big Macintosh made a trip into Ponyville. He visited a barn that held a series of carriages and wagons, the twin brothers who owned it were Plink and Plunk. They made wagons, carriages, and whatever they could fit wheels under. Big Macintosh liked the brothers, they cut to the chase and seldom nicker-nacked if you didn't want any nicker-nack. Problem was their business also did taxi work, any road to anyplace self-respecting was on the road that led out the opposite side of Ponyville.
Big Macintosh didn't mind traveling through town. His thoughts kept him plenty entertained, he did get too uncomfortable sometimes when people noticed him. Lot of ponies thought him odd, not in a bad way odd. Like, "Oh there goes Big Macintosh, must be running some important errand if her sister can't handle it," kind of odd. They thought he was married to the farm, and in a lot of ways Big Macintosh supposed he was, but he still liked to think he took time for other ponies. He didn't have a problem socializing with all the mares around. He just treated them with the hospitality he always used.
The giggle of a mare caught his attention. Big Macintosh glanced to the side and found a pair of ponies walking beside them. A cream colored mare with a black mane and tulip cutie mark and beside her a slimmer yellow pony with a light orange mane and sunflower cutie mark. They made the very image of respectable mares. Big Macintosh figured he might even know them.
He smiled and said, "Why good mornin' ladies."
The cream one giggled again. She said, "Morning Big Macintosh. No one's seen you around Ponyville in weeks. We thought your sister tied you up to some tree."
"Well not a tree Ah suppose. She likes the harness more. Gets more work outta me."
"You can certainly see it," the yellow one said.
Big Macintosh frowned. "Ah thought Ah got rid of that limp. Guess Ah got so used to it it just got ta be the way Ah've been walkin'."
One of the mares snorted.
"Beg your pardon miss?" Big Macintosh said.
"Nothing. Say Big Macintosh, you want to spend some time outside the farm? We're going somewhere for a brunch and we'd love for you to come and talk about plows and dirt and stuff," the cream colored mare said.
Big Macintosh whistled low. He stopped and faced both mares. "Reckon that's a mighty nice invitation, ladies, but Ah'm afraid Ah gotta decline on account of all the work that still needs ta be done. Both of you are mighty pretty, though, Ah do enjoy your company."
The yellow mare's left eyebrow twitched, both stared at the red stallion. The cream one managed to break a smile over her face and say, "We'll just walk with you to where you're going then."
Big Macintosh nodded, "Ah reckon that's a fair trade. How 'bout it then? Ya want ta know about plowin' or sowin' seeds or harvestin' or what? Ah don't get ta talk about it much, but Ah got lots to talk about. Enough to keep ya'll pretty ladies entertained."
The yellow one leaned over and whispered into the cream's ear. The cream's smile got wider. "I'm sorry, but Daisy just reminded me that we have a friend we have to meet. Some other time Big Macintosh?"
"Absolutely, Ah'd love sharin' mah day with a couple of nice lookin' mares like yourself
" but the ponies scampered away before he finished. Big Macintosh said under his breath, "Ah hope ya'll ladies have yourselves a nice day."
"This is all Ah can afford Ah guess. Ya'll look like honest types, though. Now we'll feed ya and shelter ya, wouldn't be fair otherwise," Applejack said. She stood in the doorway of a train car, the floor rocked under her hooves as she addressed the four ponies in the car. Applejack recruited them and talked to a whole hay more, but not everypony was willing to just toss everything in the air. She figured this lot was needing the bits something fierce, she'd have to watch them to make sure they remained honest. She liked the pegasus. Another mare would keep the numbers even on the farm between the three stallions she found. She counted Big Macintosh for her side, on account of he wouldn't defend any of the boys if they stirred up trouble anyways.
The oldest of the four, older than her even, perked his head up. He was a navy blue pony with a blond mane. He said, "Think we'll be there long?"
"Depends on how hard ya work, partner. Gotta hot date or somethin' tomorrow? Figured ya ta be pretty lonely for how I found you." But the stallion found her talking with another pony about the job and he walked out an alley and volunteered. Applejack didn't like him, if only because he looked a mess. His knees were scabbed and calloused, too much time lying in hard alleys. His mane held a whole host of mess in it. All greasy and washed out, trashed tangled and mingled with matted wads of blond hair. He stunk the whole car up.
Applejack believed any pony be given a chance, and heck, this pony looked like he needed a chance. And definitely a bath, Applejack didn't have a problem with dirt and sweat coating a pony after a good day's work, but she also thought smelling like death was a terrible way to make friends.
"I'm more concerned with how long it takes to get there," another stallion spoke up. This one was named Fleck, he had a splash of what Applejack supposed was red, white, and green paint for a cutie mark on his brown hide. Said he was an artist, but was used to taking on outside work so he could eat, he also thought the countryside would do him some good.
The pegasus, she was named Freebird. Applejack liked the name, it made music in her head. She was a blues singer, another down on her luck pony who needed the food. She said, "Soon. Been to Ponyville once, nice place. Did a show there."
"Ah don't remember that," Applejack said.
"It was a small show. Got on stage with a band I know and we started playing our tunes when this pink pony jumped on stage and ruined things. Went on and on about us needing to laugh more."
Applejack rolled her eyes.
The last stallion grunted. He was a workhorse, as big as Big Macintosh, if a bit younger. Applejack liked him, he said he was in construction, but got laid off recently. He said this job might offer him a new perspective, if Applejack got the chance she'd make sure he saw all the possibilities. His name was Brick.
The first pony who spoke up, Delph said, "Party poopers can be such a downer."
"At least they don't smell like their name," Fleck said.
"You want to make something of the way I live my life?"
"Not sure if you even live some kind of life, blank flank."
Applejack stamped her hoof. "That's enough, Ah won't be listenin' to no fightin' when we ain't even got there yet. Ya save that stuff for when you're sleepin' out in the barn and Ah can't hear a lick of it."
That got them quiet. Applejack sighed and took her place in the car. When she passed Delph she swore first thing would be a bath for that pony.
Big Macintosh, out of courtesy, rounded Applebloom up from Rarity's boutique and had her sit and wait for her sister to return with their guest. Good old Granny Smith rocked and waited behind them. Big Macintosh listened to the creak of her chair and counted the time with every swing. Applebloom fussed around and said, "Ah don't see why it matters if we're all here. This is the first time Ah got to see Sweetie Belle in three whole days."
"It's a courtesy little miss," Big Macintosh said. "Look out there, now really look. Ya see that dust comin' up from the road? I'm bettin' my bits on that bein' your sister. What if she came back with some cute colt, hmm?"
"Eww, boys are gross."
Big Macintosh chuckled. One day he was sure she'd sneak home some colt and after Applejack stopped her bucking he'd tell Applebloom something witty like, "Told ya so."
Applejack came back with three stallions and a pegasus. She introduced each and when she finished said, "Now we need ta get ya'll cleaned up and tamorrow we can get started on the apple buckin'."
Big Macintosh eyed the filthiest of them. Well, his sister did try to be polite about it. Big Macintosh was inclined to wonder if an outhouse gave birth to the stallion
Applebloom gasped and jumped to her hooves. She saw something Big Macintosh didn't notice and dashed over to the repulsive stallion. She said, "Oh my gosh. Ya don't have a cutie mark either!"
"What? Oh, I guess I don't. Never noticed before."
"Golly, Ah thought Ah was goin' ta be the oldest pony ever not ta have a cutie mark but now you're here and now Ah know Ah won't!" Applebloom said. She bounced around this newcomer and questions began spilling out her mouth.
Applejack chuckled and shook her head. She approached Big Macintosh and whispered, "Ah'll take the clean ones ta the barn and tell'em what they'll be doin'. Ya want ta take the stinker down to the creek and see if we can't get some of that nastiness scrubbed outta him?"
Big Macintosh sighed. "Eeyup."
"Thanks, Big Mac."
Applejack turned on the four newcomers and said, "You three, come with me ta the barn and Ah'll show ya around. Delph, how about ya follow my brother Big Macintosh down to the creek. He'll show ya which way to go."
Big Macintosh made eye contact with the other stallion for the first time. He regretted it. He wasn't used to other stallions, not ones that weren't related. Ponyville didn't have as many stallions, and none ever tried to talk to Big Macintosh. Applejack and her gang moseyed past Big Macintosh, the big one bumped into him and made a gruff apology. It made the adam's apple in his throat swell. He didn't understand why it mattered what these city ponies thought of him. It shouldn't matter no way no how what a bunch of silly filly city ponies thought of him. Big Macintosh knew if they judged him, well he didn't care.
He began to wonder if this was all just a big mistake.
He grunted. "Well, Ah'll show ya the way to the creek." Big Macintosh turned around and began walking there. He knew the other stallion followed because he heard Applebloom's constant blabber.
"Ah've tried everythin' from cupcake bakin' to underwater explorer to gliders. Ah think Ah'll do everythin' ever before Ah get my cutie mark. But Ah wouldn't mind, it just means Ah have more options. Do ya ever feel that way? Do people still call ya blank flank? There were some mean girls who used ta call me blank flank, but I figure grown-ups don't call each other blank flanks on account that they're grown-ups
Big Macintosh could feel the other stallion watching him. The blue stallion's silence unnerved Big Macintosh, he felt the pony should say something. Maybe if they struck up a conversation and Big Macintosh could realize none of these city-folk were as freaky as he suddenly wanted them to bewell then maybe
"Why, people call me blank flank still," Delph said.
Big Macintosh heard Applebloom become downcast. "They do?"
"Yes, you're lucky no one around here says it to you. City people are just meaner."
"Oh, well Ah don't think Ah wanna go to the city then. Unless Ah need to for my cutie mark."
"It's not the city that's mean, little filly. It's the people, they get to rushing around so much that they forget about you and everything but that one hoof swinging in front of the other."
This left Applebloom quiet. Hearing him talk relaxed Big Macintosh, though. The fear disappeared, Big Macintosh thought it silly now. Why did he get so nervous over the opinions of a bunch of city ponies? Big Macintosh said over his shoulder, "Ya did the impossible, partner. Ya made my sister not have a thing to say about cutie marks."
He smiled. "I didn't mean to. Let's start over, hmm little filly? My name's Delph, and before you ask, it's just Delph."
"Well mine's Applebloom, Delph, and Ah figure you'll fit right in once we get ya ta stop smelling like a used up outhouse."
Big Macintosh snickered.
The other stallion paused, and Big Macintosh almost swept around expecting to defend his little sister for being a filly, but Delph surprised him. "That's very gracious of you Applebloom, and if you promise to help me clean myself I'll tell you the secrets of how to smell this bad. You haven't tried a stinky cutie mark, have you?"
Mah cutie mark wouldn't be a stupid stinky mark
Big Macintosh stood on a rise with his sister, overlooking their farm. Off to the east grey seeped into the horizon. Applejack said, "Well whatcha think of'em? Reckon Ah trust Delph and Fleck as far as Ah can throw them, but Freebird and Brick seem an alright pair a ponies."
Big Macintosh said, "Delph seemed pretty nice ta Applebloom. Ah think she likes'em."
"Of course she does, he doesn't have a cutie mark. Ah don't want ta call him a blank flank, but it's what he is. It's not natural Big Mac, how does somepony go their whole life without knowin' what their supposed to do?"
Big Macintosh said, "It's gotta happen somewhere in someplaces."
Applejack frowned. "Well then it just comes down ta him not wanting to talk ta me. Ah don't mind quiet ponies after all."
"But he won't talk ta me at all and it makes me nervous. If he's opened up ta you and Applebloom then, well Ah guess he's not too bad. Ya mind if ya take him and that other stallion, Fleck for me today?"
Big Macintosh shrugged.
"Ah'm not going to lie, that'un gives me the creeps for the opposite reason. He keeps tryin' to chat up a storm with me and Ah think he's just tryin' ta get on mah good side."
"Ah'll take care of'em both," Big Macintosh said. "Ah don't like to, but Ah can knock their heads together."
Applejack smiled. "Thanks Big Macintosh, now let's go wake'em."
Big Macintosh said, "Apple buckin' ain't a hard sport. 'Suppose everypony knows how ta buck. Let's see ya do it, the both of ya. Just get under those pink ladies and do what comes natural."
Fleck trotted to the closest tree. He was eager to please, Big Macintosh guessed. He reared up on his front hooves and his back hooves smacked the bark of the tree. A dozen apples popped loose of the tree and bounced across the grass. Delph sat on his haunches and watched.
Big Macintosh did not expect to be ignored. He cleared his throat while Fleck bashed the pink lady again. Fleck stopped and said, "No use with that blank flank."
"Now Ah know ya city-folk like ta curse, but we won't use that particular kind of language on the farm. Delph, somethin' a matter?"
Delph said, "I was kind've hoping you'd show us how it's done, rather than rushing blindly into bucking just to impress you. Is there a certain part of the tree to aim for? Do we need to be careful with your trees? Figure we might over do it if we just keep kicking it like there's no tomorrow."
Fleck stopped and glared at Delph. Big Macintosh said, "Gather up whatcha got Fleck and then move on ta that tree over there. You're doin' fine." Big Macintosh faced Delph. "Ah'll show ya this once. Try ta kick as high as you can ta shake the tree and when ya start rippin' bark off it means it's time ta stop."
Big Macintosh went to a nearby pink lady with empty buckets around it. He tensed his muscles, crouched low, and with grunt pushed his hindquarters off the ground and kicked the tree. Apples spilled in torrent, the branches shook and leaves flew off like they were cut away by a fierce gust. An apple bumped Big Macintosh's head, the last to fall. He snorted and said, "There ya go. How 'bout ya try your hooves on that tree over yonder? Ah'll gather these up."
The two went to work. They did not make quite so much of a fuss when they got their hooves dirty. Big Macintosh listened to the trees swing and tremble, the sound fooled his head into believing there was a breeze. Big Macintosh wouldn't have minded one, today turned out hotter than he thought it could. Even in the shade of the trees he sweated more than he liked to admit.
Big Macintosh bucked his fourth pink lady when he heard Fleck say, "Quit staring at him and get to work. What's wrong with you? Got pegasi floating around in your brain?"
"Better than a dopey-eyed donkey," Delph said.
Big Macintosh sighed and gathered apples into their buckets.
"You don't even have a reason to be here. You know I've heard about you blank flank"
"Really? I thought I was the only one who's heard of me."
Big Macintosh sighed and stepped away from his buckets between the two. Both of the stallions shut their traps. Big Macintosh said to Fleck, "Why don't ya gather up what we got and haul it back to the barn in that there wagon over there. Reckon it'd be easier for you."
"And you work over here with me. Where Ah can keep an eye on you. Ya didn't come here ta loaf around."
Delph nodded. "Yes, sir." Big Macintosh almost smiled. Much better. Fleck tried for one better. "I'll get right to it Mr. Macintosh."
"Big Mac is fine, among you fellas. No reasons we can't be on speakin' terms, way I sees it. But more work, and a less speakin'."
Big Macintosh returned to his previous task. Delph hauled some buckets over to a neighboring tree while Fleck loaded the wagon. Delph began to work. Pretty soon silence returned and Big Macintosh's mind smoothed over into that fine rut. He thought about apples and the trees and bucking, and it was nice and easy. Fleck returned and he loaded the next wagon and departed again.
Delph became a steady presence in the corner of Big Macintosh's eye. Pretty soon he did recognize Delph sneaking him glances. At first Big Macintosh didn't mind, it didn't seem to hinder the other pony. Big Macintosh shouldn't have cared no two ways about it, but he kept looking at Big Macintosh like there was something to judge. Big Macintosh never got judged. His movements became awkward and rigid, one point he only skinned the bark of a tree with his left hoof when he tried bucking a tree. They almost finished with all the pink ladies and Delph still kept glancing. Maybe not so much anymore, but Big Macintosh felt it more and more every time the other stallion did. The red stallion wanted it to stop. But he wouldn't tell a pony to quit looking at him. That'd just be silly sounding. Worse it would let Delph know he got Big Macintosh riled up, and no pony was supposed to make Big Macintosh the least bit riled.
Big Macintosh decided saying something was better than silence. "Hey Delph
"Yeah, Big Mac?"
Big Macintosh wished he hadn't told the fellas to call him that.
that's an odd name ya got there. Delph, doesn't seem like a name a mare would give her colt."
"I didn't have a mother."
"Oh, well Ah apologize most deeply"
"It's fine, I guess you couldn't have known. I've been an orphan forever and I've gone through a lot names before I took the one I have."
Big Macintosh bucked the last pink lady and Delph went about to helping him gather the apples. Big Macintosh dumped the last one in a bucket and said, "Reckon we'll wait here until Fleck gets back with the wagon."
"Fair enough," Delph said.
He sat beside Big Macintosh. Big Macintosh figured if he kept standing it'd give Fleck a reason to berate Delph when he returned, so Big Macintosh sat too.
Big Macintosh wished he had something to chew. Instead he tried speaking again, "Why did ya choose Delph?"
Delph said, "Lot of reasons. I spent my whole life in Fillydelphia, and the people there never seemed to give me a chance. First it was because I was a blank flank, then when they figured me out it got even worse. Seemed every pony knew about the blank flank too old and too selfish to not respect the natural order of things. I made friends, and lost them, but the city was always kind. It seemed like she just gave when I needed it the most. She's my only friend, so I named myself after her."
Big Macintosh cleared his throat. "Eeyup."
"Don't talk much, do you Big Mac?"
"That's okay. Can't stand ponies that just sit around and talk all the timespeaking of Fleck, I think I see him over there."
Big Macintosh caught sight of the other stallion and both of them rose to greet him.
The rest of the day went by without much incident.
They tackled the red delicious the next day, and this time all six ponies worked on Sweet Apple Acres largest plot of trees. The change of pace suited everyone it seemed. In the afternoon Big Macintosh volunteered to haul the apples back to the cellar. Delph volunteered to take the other wagon.
Big Macintosh didn't mind. If he had to deal with a pony it'd be nice if it was one he knew. They got halfway back to the cellar and passed through the pink ladies when Delph stopped.
Big Macintosh paused and looked over the wagon and a stack of red delicious two ponies tall. He asked, "Somethin' wrong?"
Delph nipped at his harness. He said, "Think my harness is screwed up. It keeps rubbing me the wrong way. I can feel it chafing."
Big Macintosh frowned. He said, "Ah suppose Ah could take a look at it."
Big Macintosh swept out of his harness and approached Delph. He saw the problem right away. "Ya need ta flip this strap on your shoulder."
Delph shifted in the harness. He grunted and asked, "Can you fix it for me? I don't want to get out of this thing yet. You know how hard it was to get me into it. I don't want to waste more time than we have to."
Big Macintosh hesitated. He grit his teeth and decided, "Do it so he doesn't see you reluctant to touch him. Don't want no pony thinking you're afraid of other stallions." Big Macintosh gingerly bit the strap and tugged it to the right. He released it and it flipped back into place.
Delph sighed. "Thank you, that's much better."
Big Macintosh nodded. "Eeyup." He went back to his harness, and while he slipped into it he heard Delph say, "You know. You're pretty lucky to have a family here."
"Eeyup." A piece of leather caught on his nose and the red stallion snorted, shook it loose and settled the harness back into place.
"Nothing else? Just 'eeyup.' I bet that's all you say. I bet even if Applebloom said something like, 'Golly Big Mac you're the best brother ever. I love you.' All you'd say is, 'Eeyup.'"
"Ah can talk plenty," Big Macintosh said.
"Then talk. I dare you to try it. I know you're not used to working that tongue muscle, but a working pony like you shouldn't have much trouble."
Big Macintosh almost glared at the other stallion. He reminded himself of the hospitality his parents taught him and said instead, "Ah can't imagine not havin' a family. We've just been together for so long and there's so many of us. Ya lose track, but at the same time you're happy ta lose track 'cause it means your families growin' and you're a part of somethin' that grows. Ah know Ah haven't done much ta help with that growin', but Ah figure Ah've got time enough to find me a nice mare
hey what's wrong with ya Delph? You're lookin' at me like Ah just coughed up a bucket full of parasprites."
Delph shook his head. "Sorry, I just thoughtno, never mind. But see? Nothing wrong with talking, is there?"
Big Macintosh and Applejack stood on their rise again. She said, "Ah hate bein' wrong, Big Mac, but there ain't nothing wrong with you bein' right."
In two days they harvested Half of Sweet Apple Acres. Tomorrow they'd tackle the northern section of the farm and work their way down.
Applejack said, "Ya know Ah almost regret goin' through this so fast. Ah'm gonna miss a few of them ponies. Be happy ta get rid of some of'em, 'Specially that Fleck and Delph."
Big Macintosh glanced at his sister. She studied the farmland and didn't notice the look Big Macintosh gave her. She said, "Ah think Ah really like that Brick fella. Shucks Big Mac, what do ya think Ah should do? Ah think Ah want to keep him around a little longer, ta see what might just happenwell gosh listen to me gettin' embarrassed. Ah know neither of us has much experience with this kind've stuff, but whatcha think of it all Big Mac?"
Big Macintosh shrugged. "Keep'em 'round, then."
"Just for another day. Ta see what happens. Then we'll ship'em out, 'cept maybe for Brick. Heck Ah don't know. We'll just see what happens."
They eased up on the workload the next two days. Applejack said it was on account of their fine jobs. She figured to give the city ponies a break, but the only ones who seemed a might bit strained were the artist and singer.
Big Macintosh got a kink in his right hind-hoof, so he enjoyed the ease in the workload. He and Delph worked together again, this time sorting apples in the cellar. Not work he enjoyed, but work that needed to be done.
"Why do we have to do this?" Scootaloo asked. "All it's doing is making me hungry."
Her and Applebloom sat at the back of the cellar, sorting their own bucket of apples.
Applebloom said, "We haven't tried apple sortin' yet. Ah reckon it's worth a shot."
"I'd say we'd have a better chance rock farming," Scootaloo mumbled. Big Macintosh heard something get thrown. "Hey! I'm sorry, okay? I know it's mean of me to say that. You and Sweetie Belle helped me get my cutie mark in that scooter race. I owe you this."
Applebloom said, "You're darn right ya do."
Delph chuckled. The two stallions sorted apples in the light of a lantern, they were on the pink ladies they picked recently. They essentially looked for bruised or otherwise bad apples to be pressed into cider, the rest went for cooking and eating and such.
Applebloom said, "That was still an amazing move ya pulled. When ya fell off your scooter Ah was sure it was over but then you were all like bam-zoom!Ah still ain't seen nothing so graceful before."
Scootaloo giggled. "Thanks. And I haven't seen no pony sort apples like you do."
Delph shook his head and whispered, "Those two."
"'Scuse me?" Big Macintosh asked.
"They just make a cute pair is all. Bet they're a force to be reckoned with when they have their other friend with them."
"Ee" Big Macintosh stopped himself. He was trying to not sound so
simple anymore. He said, "Ya should've seen them at the talent show last year. Applejack told me about it and Ah just 'bout fell over laughin' my hooves off."
"I'm sure it must have been quite a sight."
"Ah wish Ah could've been there. Applejack said they went and tore the whole dang stage down"
"No, I don't mean that."
"I meant seeing you laugh."
Big Macintosh stared at the other stallion in the lantern light. Delph ignored him and went back to sorting. Big Macintosh became aware of how close they stood. He wanted to step away, and yet at the same time
He nickered and said, "It takes somethin' fierce, like those two gettin' inta trouble ta get me ta." Delph grunted to show he heard and went back to sorting. Big Macintosh felt something well up underneath his diaphragm that made breathing hard. He glanced at the other stallion and realized aside from that one particular occasion with the harness, they never touched before. Didn't seem right. Big Macintosh brushed shoulders and sides and haunches all the time with every other one of these new ponies. Why did he act like he walked across caltrops when it came to Delph? Just silly and stupid, in fact he'd prove it wrong right now and
"Big Mac, Ah don't think Ah want ta sort apples no more."
Big Macintosh almost jumped out of his horseshoes. He cleared his throat and said, "Ya'll can head outside then. Reckon the sun do ya fillies some good."
"Come on Applebloom, let's go see if you have a tree climbing cutie mark or something. I need to stretch my wings."
"Okay, that sounds like fun."
Big Macintosh watched the two fillies trot up the stairs, his will dissolved. Then he felt something warm brush under his neck and his breath caught. Delph had stretched his neck and brushed his mane along the underside of Big Macintosh's throat and grabbed an apple sitting under Big Macintosh's chin. He pulled away and dropped it in the bad bucket. Delph said, "Sorry, I think that one was bad."
Big Macintosh's cheeks flushed. He said, "Eeyup," and went back to work.
"Dinner's served everypony, watch your hooves now, plates are hot," Applejack said. She set the tray down at the table before the four hungry city ponies and Big Macintosh. Tarts, pies, and few other apple confections greeted their ravenous eyes.
It was their last night here. In the morning they would be paid and sent home. Big Macintosh didn't speak to Delph much after they left the cellar. He didn't understand it. Lately he caught himself taking peeks at the other stallion. He told himself he did it because he liked watching the city stallion do well. The last five days had been long, and Big Macintosh was right proud of what he could consider his pupil.
Ponies dug in. Applejack sat beside him, Big Macintosh and her took up the end of their side of a square table. Conversation flowed back and forth and time became easy and enjoyable.
Opposite him was Fleck and Brick. Fleck now held an animated conversation with Freebird, telling her how he'd like to do her portrait and such. Near as Big Macintosh could tell that wily painter probably told every mare the same thing so he could bring them home.
Big Macintosh heard Applejack say, "So Brick, ya reckon ya enjoyed your stay here at Sweet Apple Acres?"
Brick said, "Wasn't bad. Got to say I don't mind the quiet much, weird not having a bunch of other ponies around."
"Eh-heh, right. I was a city pony myself once."
Big Macintosh's gaze slid across the table, just a glance at Delph. The pony toyed with his food and nickered. Big Macintosh said, "Uh
"Hmm? Oh of course, your granny's recipes are swell. I'm just thinking about going back to Fillydelphia tomorrow. Not sure what I'll do after this."
Big Macintosh heard his sister blunder and come right and say it: "Well if ya want ya'll could stay while longer if ya find this country livin' to your fancy."
Big Macintosh swung his gaze back over to Brick. The pony grunted. "Maybe some other time. I need to be getting back, got a sweet little filly I promised I'd come back to."
Applejack looked down at her plate of a half-eaten green apple tart. "Ah, right. Ah don't blame ya for wantin' ta go back."
Fleck and Freebird stopped talking at that. Seemed an awkward silence fell in on all of them.
Delph broke it. "I'll stay. If you guys need the extra hand around. I don't mind working on the farm a little longer."
Delph scooted off the bench and said, "You got something you want to say?"
"Just can't believe you think you're any better than me when you're trying the exact same thing. Getting in close with these farmers so they'd take care of you. That'd be real nice I bet."
Big Macintosh was slow to process that. Delph didn't seem to talk much to Applejack, he did with Applebloom but he knew Applebloom was
"Ah don't want ta hear no more of this. And if anypony tries raisin' the subject again Ah'll hogtie them and hang'em from the barn ya hear?" Applejack turned Delph. "You, Ah don't trust ya near as far as I can buck ya. And if ya haven't seen yet that ya need mah trust to stay here then ya'll can bet your hooves Ah won't have ya stickin' 'round."
Delph glared at Applejack. He said, "Funny, I thought two Apples owned this farm."
He stormed off. Big Macintosh watched him go and felt the need to defend him. Fleck muttered something and Applejack raised her voice all over again. She was in a mood. He stood and put a hoof on Applejack's shoulder.
His sister paused and Big Macintosh told her. "Ah'll talk with him. Ah know ya don't want him stayin' but sis you gotta understand ya done hurt him."
Applejack bit her lip and stamped her hooves. "Fine, but don't ya dare leave me here alone with these three." His sister didn't care if those three heard. Big Macintosh knew she didn't want anything to do with any of the city ponies anymore. It took her so much courage to ask Brick, and he shrugged his shoulders at her. Big Macintosh did not blame her for the way she treated any of them.
Big Macintosh smiled and said, "Eeyup."
He departed the table and tracked Delph into the orchard. Big Macintosh found him lying underneath the shade of a pink lady. His front hooves stretched out before him and he hid the bottom half of his face between his knees, his hind end sprawled on its side. His eyes flicked to Big Macintosh while the red stallion sat in front of him. Delph said, "You always let your sister boss you around?"
"Eeyup. Reckon she's better at it than me."
Delph laughed. "What does that even mean you big stupid pony?"
Big Macintosh flared his nostrils. "Ah didn't come here ta be insulted. Ah thought ya might be needin' somepony ta talk to."
"And you're just generous enough to be that pony? Gosh, you're so oblivious. Why don't you think about why you came out here?"
Big Macintosh's brow furrowed. He said, "Ah think you're the one who don't know what he's talkin' 'bout."
Delph sighed. With effort, he clambered to his hooves and said, "You're just
heck I don't know. How about I put it this way? Uh
if you were an apple, I'd buck this whole orchard for you."
Big Macintosh blinked. It occurred to him, that Fleck did not mean Delph charming Applejack.
Delph licked his chops and said, "Look, part of the reason I don't have a friend anywhere is because of what I am. And you got to understand it's not from a blank flank, I know why I'm blank. It's because stallions like you and me aren't supposed to be. I mean, there are so many mares in Equestria that no one minds when one announces her attraction to another in town. Heck I've seen it here already with that Lyra and Bon-Bon pair I met yesterday when I went into Ponyville, and I can tell you right that that Scootaloo has eyes for your Applebloom like no other. But if you were to tell them our feelings for each other, they'd look at you like we were wide-eyed stupid."
Big Macintosh coughed, for the first time in a long time he felt all of the hard work he'd done in the past few days come down on his back. He didn't believecouldn't believe this pony thought he eyed other stallions. Big Macintosh scraped his front hooves across the grass and said, "Ah don't know what you're tryin' ta say, but Ah reckon it better be said mighty carefully if'n ya want ta get paid."
Delph shook his head. "I don't care anymore. That day you told me you were still looking for a mare I couldn't believe it. I saw what you were by that first day and I couldn't believe when you said that about needing to find a mare of your own. Good luck living that lie. Shoot, I mean, I'm not blind Big Mac. I saw how you responded when I brushed my mane under your neck, I had to see it to be sure and that's why I did that. You can't hide what you are from me."
Big Macintosh rose to his full height at some point. He stomped his front hooves down, reared up, and kicked a tree behind him. Bark splintered, wood cracked and cried out, and the tree moaned as its top came toppling down. The might of the blow forced Delph to take a step back.
Big Macintosh said, "If Ah ever see you in my farm againwell Ah'll make what Ah did ta that tree look weak. Ya git outta here, and don't ya dare come back."
Delph shook his head. "I'm sorry, not for me, but for you." He turned and broke away at a canter toward the farm's entrance. Big Macintosh did not watch him go, he turned on the tree he decapitated and saw in the ruinous mess of branches and leaves an apple had rolled free. It was a late bloomer, half the size of most apples this time of year.
Big Macintosh crushed the pink lady under hoof as he returned to the farmhouse.
He did not want to go back to Applejack but he said he would, so he marched to the table and said to city ponies there, "Ah don't want ta hear a word from any of ya the rest of the night. In the barn. Now. Or Ah'll kick your teeth out."
Freebird's eyes popped, Fleck flinched, and Brick shrugged. The three of them went to the barn and Big Macintosh said to Applejack, "There. Ah dealt with'em."
Big Macintosh didn't wait for Applejack. He began to march over to the other side of Sweet Apple Acres, and maybe when he reached there he'd just march through across the meadows and over hills and maybe into the Everfree Forest and maybe to the other side of the forest and then whatever lied beyond that. He'd just keep walking until his hooves were so sore his body would force him to lie down and maybe then he wouldn't be too inclined to get up.
His sister had other plans. "Hold on a sec Big Mac. What's twistin' you're tail? Ya'll can tell me, Ah'm kin."
Big Macintosh almost shoved her aside. He whipped his tail and smacked his leg to show his agitation.
"Don't turn inta a stupid ole mule, Big Macintosh. Hey ya listenin' ta me? Ah'll tie ya up if Ah have ta." Big Macintosh didn't answer, he kept walking and Applejack followed. She said, "Hey did that stupid stallion say somethin' to ya. Ah knew he was trouble"
Big Macintosh turned on Applejack so fast she fell on her haunches. Big Macintosh said, "Ah'm sorry Applejack but ya don't know nothin' 'bout him so don't ya dare judge someone ya don't know. Yeah he's got me riled up and maybe Ah'll tell ya and maybe Ah won't, but don't ya dare be blamin' him for anything."
Applejack eyes went wide. Big Macintosh saw he almost made her cry. All the tension in him collapsed like a house of cards. He said, "Gosh, Ah'm sorry Applejack. Ah'm not sure no more." He turned away. "He said some things and it got me thinkin'. He
he 'cused me of fancyin' other stallions."
Applejack shook her head. "That's just silly."
Big Macintosh took a deep breath and exhaled. "Eeyup."
"Ah mean, gosh how selfish does he think ya are? Sure there are plenty of mares, but only the worst of stallions decide they want nothin' ta do with mares. And there's 'specially not enough good ponies like yourself ta go 'round. And what in tarnation does he think would happen ta the farm? What if ya passed without no kids of your own and the farm passed into the hands of some lousy stallion Ah made the mistake of hitchin' myself to? Why we might just lose the farm. Ah'm not goin' ta say nothin' bad about him, but he's not bein' fair accusin' you of stuff like that."
Big Macintosh nodded. "Eeyup."
Applejack nuzzled her brother's shoulder. "Hey Big Mac, don't ya worry a lick about what he said. How 'bout the next few days ya take off from the farm? Mosey on into Ponyville and meet a nice mare. That sound fine?"
Big Macintosh resolved to prove Delph wrong. He knew none of that was true, he was just out of his senses, too much sun and not enough water.
Big Macintosh cracked a smile. "That'd be mighty fine, little sis."