"From the top, everybody," Frederic said, turning the page in his arrangement book. The other members of the orchestra did the same. The next piece, a gentle concerto, was a personal favorite of Octavia's. She had specifically requested this piece be on their playlist once she'd heard that they would be playing at the Grand Galloping Gala, and as soon as she'd finished freaking out over that news. In all her time playing cello, she'd never expected to hit this pinnacle in her career. The announcement had come at the perfect time, too, as it helped her take her mind away from the troubles her family had been facing. Surely, tonight's performance in front of Princess Celestia and tons of nobles would result in recognition for her and the rest of the orchestra. With recognition would come jobs. Jobs would bring money, and that was exactly what she needed right now. Octavia raised her bow to her cello as Frederic gave the signal that they were about to begin playing. The piece began, and she tried her hardest not to smile. She wanted to smile so badly, but this was a high-society party, and dignity was a necessity. Her pink eyes scanned the room as she played, and she was delighted to see the upper-class ponies enjoying the piece. Her eyes returned to her sheet music, and while her outward appearance was stoic, inside she was beaming. Nothing could possibly ruin this night for her.
"Ooh! The shiny dance floor!!"
If Octavia weren't so disciplined, she would have dropped her cello right then and there. She knew that voice...that energy...but there was no way SHE was at a high-class party like this.
"The pretty party ponies!!"
That voice definitely sounded like her...but this party was invite-only, and the chances of her being invited to the Grand Galloping Gala were astronomically low. She closed her eyes and continued playing.
"OOOH, the fancy band!!"
Octavia kept her eyes tightly shut. She knew this part of the piece well, so it wouldn't be a problem. She refused to open her eyes, because she knew that no one else squealed like that, and she needed her fear to remain unconfirmed.
"Shiny!! Pretty!! FANCY!!! Nnnnnn......GOTTA DANCE!!!!"
Despite her best attempts to prevent it, Octavia's eyes shot open and turned to where the voice was coming from. Her heart sank as she finally had visual confirmation of her fears.
It was her sister. She hadn't seen Pinkamena (or Pinkie, as she'd started to call herself) since she moved to Ponyville, and she wasn't quite sure whether or not that was a good thing. She was her sister, and she loved her, but Pinkie had a tendency to make things more...difficult. Ever since that first party she'd thrown, she had gotten more and more out of hand, to the point where it was consistently disruptive to have her around. She was always wanting to throw more parties, and while the family would indulge her a bit, but it got to the point where it was just too much for them to keep up. Even though they had changed from the boring, no-fun ponies that they used to be, the level of partying that Pinkie desired was beyond their capabilities. Octavia hoped that maybe she had calmed down a bit since leaving home, but based on what she'd heard already, that was pretty unlikely. She was surprised that Pinkie hadn't burst into song already.
"I'M AT THE GRAND GALLOPING GALA!! I'M AT THE GRAND GALLOPING GALA!!"
Right on cue, Octavia thought. She silently hoped that Pinkie would bounce out of the room without even noticing her. Playing at the Gala was easily the biggest moment of her life so far, and Pinkie's...Pinkieness...wasn't going to ruin it for her.
"I'M AT THE GRAND GALLOPING GALAAAAA! IT'S ALL I EVER DREAMED!"
Octavia's eyes went wide as she saw Pinkie approach her and the orchestra. She winced as Pinkie terrified Sousa and Baroque, the tuba and harp players. The pink earth pony darted behind her and Frederic...and then darted away, still singing. Octavia was baffled; did she not recognize her? She breathed a sigh of relief, then returned to her playing. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the other party guests staring disdainfully at her energetic sister. Pinkie snapped out of her song, noticing everyone looking at her with disapproval, and she seemed to almost deflate. Octavia couldn't help but feel a little bad for her, but she had a job to do, and the piece had to continue.
The orchestra had been playing for a good long while, and the majority of the room seemed to be enjoying it. There was still a good half hour or so until the orchestra would be invited in for a private performance for Princess Celestia, though, and Octavia was beginning to get antsy. The performance for Celestia was the moment she was really looking forward to, and it seemed like it was still ages away. To make things worse, she couldn't get her mind off of Pinkie. After she had realized that the party guests were not enjoying her behavior, the pink earth pony had sat at a table the whole time, looking bored and generally sad. Pinkie was Octavia's estranged sister, but she was her sister nonetheless, and even if she could be a bit annoying, she still cared for her. The gray earth pony decided that after the piece they were playing was done, she would ask for a break until the performance for Celestia so she could talk to her sister for the first time in a good long while. The piece ended with a flourish, eliciting an appreciative round of hoof stamping. Octavia started to put her bow down, when she noticed Pinkie whispering something to Frederic. Before she knew it, Pinkie was right behind her. The gray pony waited with anticipation to see what the first words her sister spoke to her in ages would be.
"Could you guys play the Pony Pokey next?" Pinkie whispered. "My sisters and I used to LOVE that song!" Pinkie gave her a wink, and before Octavia could even respond, the pink pony had bolted over to Sousa and Baroque to make the same request. Octavia couldn't believe it. She didn't even acknowledge her. Did she really not remember her? Pinkie was always a bit bizarre, but it seemed unlike her to completely forget her own sister.
"Is that pony kidding?" Frederic asked Octavia, knocking her out of her train of thought.
"Well, we WERE told to take any and all requests..." Octavia said, still distracted. The other orchestra members rolled their eyes, then prepared their instruments.
Octavia and the orchestra stood there, dumbfounded. It had all happened so fast. After they had finished playing the Pony Pokey, Pinkie had burst onto the stage, carrying a DJ turntable (where she got it from, nopony knew) and taken over. Before they knew what had happened, a cake had been hurled across the room, a prince had been embarrassed, statues and pillars had fallen over, and the entire room had been stampeded by a hoard of terrified critters. Now everything was in shambles, and word had it that Princess Celestia had left as well. Octavia could feel her chances at fame and fortune slipping through her hooves, and her fears were only confirmed as the pony who had hired them for the evening approached them.
"I'm really sorry, everypony," the disoriented pony said, "But due to the cost of the upcoming repairs to the castle, the gala fund doesn't have enough bits to pay you..."
The other orchestra members complained loudly once they were alone, but Octavia remained eerily quiet. She placed her cello gently on the ground, then started walking away from the group.
"Octavia?" Baroque asked, noticing her first. "Where are you going?"
"I'll catch up with you all later," she responded quietly. "I have something to take care of." Before the others could raise a protest, she had walked away.
"Excuse me," Octavia asked one of the guards at the door. "Did you see a pink pony wearing a candy-themed dress come this way?" The guard did not speak a word, as was customary of the Princess's royal guards. He did, however, point off to the distance. Octavia's eyes turned in the direction he was pointing. She saw the donut shoppe, and she walked silently towards it.
It had been a very long night for the six ponies and their baby dragon friend. Every one of them had come into this night expecting all of their dreams to come true in the most wonderful and exciting ways possible, and one by one, their dreams were dashed. Despite all that, however, they decided that spending the rest of the night with each other was enough to consider it the best night ever. They were so busy talking and having a great time that they didn't even hear the door open.
"Pinkie Pie!" Octavia shouted into the store. The six ponies and Spike stopped their conversation and looked up at the gray pony. Octavia took a deep breath. In the short walk to the donut shoppe, she had prepared herself for this meeting with her sister. It was still jarring to her that Pinkie didn't even seem to recognize her earlier, but she was fully prepared to reintroduce herself. Knowing how wacky Pinkie could get, it was possible that it would take a while to convince her of who she was, but she was...
Octavia found herself on the floor before she knew what had hit her. Pinkie's embrace was tight and strong, as she nuzzled her sister lovingly. Now she was more baffled than ever.
"P...Pinkie?" she muttered. "But I thought you didn't recognize me earlier..."
"Don't be silly!" Pinkie said, laughing. "That’s MY job! I just didn't want to go crazy on you and distract you too much from your big performance! How could I forget my own sister?"
"Sister?!" Pinkie's friends all asked at the same time. Octavia tried to speak up, but before she could, Pinkie had pulled her up and, still holding onto the embrace, dragged her over to the table.
"Oh, how rude of me! I should have introduced you first!" Pinkie said, nearly overflowing with energy and happiness. "Octavia, these are my friends! That's Twilight Sparkle, and Rainbow Dash, and Rarity, and Applejack, and Fluttershy, and the dragon is Spike! Everyone, I'd like you to meet my sister, Octavia!"
"H...hi..." Octavia coughed to the others. Then she turned back to Pinkie. "C..can you please let go of me now?"
"Oh! Of course!" Pinkie said happily, and released her sister from her loving grapple. "I'm so happy to see you, Octavia! You sounded really good tonight! Have you been taking lessons? Because I wanna learn to play the cello in case there's another big swarm of parasprites! Oh, did you hear that Ponyville got attacked by parasprites? And I drove them off, just like you and Aquarina and I did when..."
"PINKIE!" Octavia shouted. Pinkie quickly quieted down and smiled a big smile at her sister.
"Yes, Octavia?" the pink pony asked. Octavia glared at her, not returning the smile.
"Do you have....ANY IDEA....what you and your friends did tonight?" the gray pony asked.
"Yes I do!" Pinkie answered. "We had a great time at the..."
"NO!" Octavia said, exasperated. "Pinkie...tonight was supposed to be the greatest night of my life. My orchestra and I were supposed to play for Princess Celestia, and then we were going to get noticed and get lots of gigs, and that would get me a lot of money, which is exactly what I REALLY need right now...but you had to not only interrupt our performance, but ruin the ENTIRE GALA before we could even play for the Princess! I haven't seen you for YEARS, Pinkie, ever since you abandoned your family, and the first time I see you again, you ruin my entire night!" Octavia shook as she said this last sentence. She hadn't intended to use the word "abandoned," as even in her anger, she knew how harsh it came off, but it had just come out. There was no taking it back now.
Pinkie and the others were quiet. Pinkie's smile had faded, and she stared at Octavia, remaining completely speechless. After a moment, her ears drooped, and she closed her eyes and lowered her head.
"Octavia...I'm so sorry..." Pinkie said, her voice cracking a bit. "I really didn't mean to..."
Octavia stared Pinkie down. The pink pony's friends looked on, not wanting to get between the two. Octavia tried to stay angry, but this was her sister. Even though they hadn't seen each other in a long while, she still cared for her. She let out a drawn-out sigh.
"It's OK, Pinkie..." she said. "There'll be other opportunities...I guess..." Pinkie looked up, her eyes big and red.
"No, it's not OK," Pinkie said quietly. "It was very insensitive of me, and I'm really, really, REALLY sorry..." Octavia sighed again. She was all ready to let Pinkie have it before, but seeing how genuinely bad she felt about what had happened changed her mind. The gray pony reached out and hugged her sister. She felt a tear fall from Pinkie's eye onto her shoulder, and she patted her on the back gently. The two sisters shared a quiet moment as the other ponies began to get up.
"Umm...Pinkie..." Rainbow said awkwardly. "We're...gonna let you two have some time to yourselves, OK? We'll catch up with you tomorrow, alright?" Pinkie turned to look at her friends, who all offered her warm smiles.
"Thanks, girls," she said. "Tell the Cakes I'll be home a little late, OK?" Rainbow nodded, and the group left the donut shoppe.
The two estranged sisters held each other for a while, neither of them saying a word. After a little while, Octavia released the embrace, and the two looked at each other.
"I missed you, Pinkie," Octavia said quietly. "Things weren't the same after you left."
"I missed all of you too," Pinkie answered. The two sat down, and another few moments passed without a word.
"So you said you needed the money?" Pinkie asked. Octavia nodded solemnly.
"What for?" Pinkie continued. Octavia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It was time she knew.
"Pinkie...we have a lot to talk about."
It had been a long day on the Pie Family Rock Farm. Pinkamena sighed as she pushed another rock across the field. She had been doing the same thing over and over for the entire day, for the last four days this week...it was beginning to grate on her nerves. She had never questioned her lot in life, nor had her sisters, but the constant tedious act of moving rocks was finally starting to lose whatever tiny bit of luster it had. The pink filly looked over at her sisters. Neither Octavia nor Aquarina seemed to be bothered at all by the work they were doing. If they were bothered, they were doing an excellent job of hiding it. She didn't understand how they could possibly be alright with the work they were doing...it was so repetitive, so uninteresting, so non-stimulating. Yet she hadn't even been getting these feelings of unrest until about a day or so ago. Before that, she was just fine doing what she was doing, and didn't question it. Now, though...she wasn't sure what made the change in her mind occur, but farming rocks wasn't enough for her. She wanted more.
"Come on, Pinkamena," Octavia whispered to her. As soon as she did, her eyes darted across the field to make sure their parents weren't watching. They weren't allowed to talk while they worked; it was strictly forbidden. "You're starting to fall behind, and you know what Mom and Dad think about that."
"I know, I know..." Pinkamena said. Then she sighed. "I just don't want to do this anymore." Octavia nearly tripped over the rock she was pushing. She stared at Pinkamena with wide eyes.
"But you have to!" Octavia said, not noticing the volume of her voice. "This is what we have to do!" The pink filly lowered her head.
"I just...want to do something else," Pinkamena told her sister
"What?" Octavia asked, baffled. What else was there to do other than farming rocks?
"I don't know," the pink filly sighed. "All I know is that I want to do something else with myself."
"Oh, please!" Aquarina said, strolling by. "Pinkamena, this is what we do. We were born on the rock farm, and our parents own it!"
"Well, technically, Dad co-owns it..." Octavia said, but Aquarina shushed her.
"It's close enough!" Aquarina said. "The point is, it's our responsibility to help out now, so that the farm stays in working order. Then once Mom and Dad can't work anymore, we'll inherit the farm, and our children will do the same. It's the way this works, Pinkamena, and you're going to have to live with that!" Pinkamena rolled her eyes. Aquarina was the oldest of the three (albeit by a scant three minutes), and she always loved to flaunt that over hers and Octavia's heads by being as bossy as possible. Pinkamena usually let it slide, because she didn't want to cause a fuss, but she felt particularly strongly about this, and to hear Aquarina dismiss it so quickly was frustrating.
"Not necessarily!" Pinkamena argued. "Just cause we were born here doesn't mean we aren't gonna be good at anything else." Aquarina gave her sister a smug look.
"Oh yeah?" the blue filly asked. "Well, what else do you think you could possibly be good at, then?" Pinkamena thought for a while. She knew that she wanted to do something else with herself...but she had to admit that she had absolutely no clue what that something else was.
"Can't think of anything, huh?" Aquarina taunted. "That's what I thought. Now get back to work!" Pinkamena sighed and looked down at the ground.
"You know, Aquarina," Octavia spoke up, "Just because you're three minutes older than Pinkamena doesn't mean she has to listen to you." The pink filly looked up at Octavia, surprised. It was so unlike her to speak up and inject herself into an argument. Aquarina looked just as taken aback, and for a second she couldn't even come up with a retort.
"Girls!" Pickerton Pie shouted from the barnhouse. "Stop talking and get back to work!"
"Well, you DO have to listen to HIM," Aquarina said, grinning. Pinkamena and Octavia sighed, and the three sisters resumed working. Pinkamena pushed the rock she had been moving into the nearest pile. There just had to be something else...
Pinkie Pie sat silently in the donut shoppe, waiting for Octavia to return. She had left to pick up her cello, which she had left with her bandmates. This gave the pink earth pony a chance to think things over. It had been years and years since she had seen any of her family, and now here she was, sitting in a donut shoppe with Octavia. She still couldn't believe the stroke of luck she'd had in meeting up with her, but she never would have though that the family harbored any grudge against her for it. She had talked to her parents beforehand about it...she'd left a note for her sisters...it just didn't make sense. Even now, when Octavia had accepted her apology for it, she wasn't totally sure if she really meant it. And that word she used...abandoned...that hurt more than anything. Was that really how she felt? Pinkie figured that she might have been unhappy with her leaving, but abandoned? The pink pony sighed, then looked up as the door opened and Octavia reentered the shop, cello strapped to her back. The gray pony propped the cello case on the table, then sat down across from her sister. There were no words for a few moments.
"So what do we need to talk about, Octavia?" Pinkie asked. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer to this; the concern in Octavia's eyes spoke volumes. Octavia let out a long, drawn-out sigh.
"It's about Dad," she said. Pinkie looked at her, her face instantly matching the concern she'd seen on her sister's face a moment ago.
"Dad?" Pinkie asked. She didn't know what else to say. Octavia nodded solemnly.
"Ever since a year or two after you left," Octavia said, "He hasn't been doing too well...to be brutally honest, we don't know how much time he has left..."
Pinkie couldn't believe her ears. Their father always seemed to be the invincible pony that never let anything get in the way of his family and his work. If he was ever sick in all the time she'd been at home, he sure didn't show it.
"So now, that leaves us with two problems," Octavia said. "Besides the obvious one, we also have a complication with the farm. It turns out that the deed to the farm is co-signed by Dad and an old business partner. If Dad....well, if the worst happens, the farm will be under his former partner's sole ownership, and he wants a pretty large sum of money to give up his share. So basically, that's why I was hoping to get some work after being seen at the Gala. We need this money so the rest of our family isn't thrown out on the streets."
Pinkie took this all in, trembling. She had been away from her family for so long, and she never would have expected them to come across such troubles. It made her feel even worse for accidentally ruining Octavia's opportunity to play for Princess Celestia. She looked at Octavia, who was starting to lose her composure. Pinkie took a deep breath, then stood up. She had to be strong for her little sister. She was only 2 minutes older than her, but regardless, that made her the older of the two, and she had to keep strong for her. Pinkie trotted over to her sister and put a hoof around her shoulders.
"There there, sis," she said, trying to return to her usual exuberance. "We'll get the money, no worries."
"How?" Octavia asked, her voice cracking a bit. "We didn't even get to play for Princess Celestia, and..."
"Don't worry about that," Pinkie said. "We can earn it in other ways! My friends and I can work something together tomorrow and we'll get it taken care of!" Octavia gave her sister a cockeyed look.
"Pinkie," the gray pony said, "I don't think you understand how much money we need here..."
"And I don't think you understand how super great and awesome my friends are!" Pinkie said, her voice finally making a complete return to its usual timbre. "We'll work this thing out tomorrow, Octavia. Don't you worry!"
"If you say so, Pinkie..." Octavia responded. "But it's really more than..." She was interrupted by Pinkie patting her on the head. It made her smile, despite her sadness. Pinkie used to do that to her all the time back when they were young, and it was refreshingly nostalgic.
"Ooh! I've got a great idea!" Pinkie said, pulling a surprised Octavia out of her chair. "How about you come spend the night with me, and then tomorrow we'll both work things out with my friends?"
"Oh, I don't want to impose..." Octavia started, but Pinkie would have none of it.
"You're not imposing, silly!" Pinkie said. "C'mon! It'll be just like a good old-fashioned Pie slumber party!" Octavia let out a small smile at the mention of this. She did enjoy the slumber parties she used to have with Pinkie and Aquarina.
"Well....alright," the gray pony agreed. Pinkie beamed, her smile hiding her trepidations about her family's situation. Octavia picked her cello up and followed her sister out the door, reflecting on the situation. She never would have expected that this gig at the Gala would have ended up with her staying the night at her long-lost sister's house. She silently doubted Pinkie's ability to help her earn the money needed, as she was a bit...flighty...but it was certainly worth a try.