Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, a very special group of foals lived in the town of Tall Tale, and had many wondrous adventures. Some of their days were filled with grand journeys, others with the simple joys of friendship. This is one of their stories, about how the silliest little Pegasus you could ever meet tried to throw a party for a dear friend.
“What?” To say that the carmine coated Pegasus was befuddled would be inaccurate. Red knew exactly what was going on. She was standing at her front door, talking to a pony she knew. The problem, instead, was that after a few minutes of back and forth she still didn’t know what they were talking about. Not for lack of trying, when it comes to being gregarious few could match her forwardness, but the pony who had come to see her was quite the opposite.
“. . . Shady.” Standing opposite Red was a splotched coated Unicorn who appeared to be trying very hard to convey an entire sentences meaning in a single word. Towards some ponies, Neon didn’t have a problem with this. Red was not exactly one of them.
“What about Shady?” Red asked for about the twelfth time. This back and forth was starting to become uncomfortable. “Is he in trouble? No offense, but I think all this time you’ve only said ‘Help’ ‘Shady’ ‘Weekend’ and ‘Plan.’ Maybe you could try more words at once?”
Neon didn’t so much stare as glance about without any actual eye movement. Of course this was going as well as expected, which says something about Neon’s self-awareness that Plan A is to enlist help explaining their own intent. “. . . Come.”
Red sighs, at a loss towards the whole situation. “I guess I’m going out then.” She closes the door behind her as Neon turns to lead onwards. “So… how are things with your troop?”
“. . . Good.” Awkwardness. Red follows Neon, and pure awkwardness is the feeling that follows Red the whole way.
Of course absolute and total defeat is not something that comes easily to a pony like Red Robin, so they did not proceed silently. She was determined to get Neon to use more than a single word. It was not going well.
“So where are we going?” Red asks, fidgeting about as best she can without losing Neon.
“. . . House.”
“Your house? What are we going there for?”
“. . . No.”
“Then whose?” Red was now in front of Neon, looking back and turning around to make sure she doesn’t lose her monosyllabic guide.
“. . . Here.” Neon had stopped.
A few seconds later, Red stops as well. Then she walked back to where Neon had halted. She looked around.
They had walked through the park, crossed a bridged, and navigated the main shopping district. No small feat during the Tall Tales tourist season. Their destination is a normal neighborhood. Specifically, a normal house before them. Two stories. A front door and windows. Some flowers in front.
“Hold on, why’d you bring me to-“
“. . . Yes.” Neon walks up to the front door and knocks. Just one knock, not very loud, and makes no move to do anything else.
They stand there for a moment waiting. “Maybe they didn’t hear you?”
“. . . Expected.”
“Then maybe we should just go in?”
A sudden crash sounds from somewhere in the dwelling, and very fast hoofsteps rush to the door.
“Oh, I’m so sorry dear,” A mare with a snow white coat and a gold and lemony mane jerks the door open frantically. “I didn’t expect you to get here so early, I was in the middle of- Oh, who’s this?”
Red shuffles about in place. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t this. This new pony was positively glowing, and simply put was not at all how she envisioned her, so Neon oddly enough responded first. “. . . Red. Robin.”
“Oh,” the nearly porcelain coated mare beamed. “Red Robin? My little Shadlekins has told me so so sososososoooo much about you. What an absolute darling of you to help me and Neon out like this. Come in, come in, don’t mind the mess, we’re redecorating.” She turns and disappears as quickly as she arrived.
“Was that…” Red gapped. The dichotomy between the vision she was expecting and what she got was still causing some slight lag.
“. . . Shady’s mom.” Two victories at once.
“Would you like some tea? Or juice? Just water? I’m making cookies so maybe you’d prefer some milk?” Shady’s mom, Honeyed Words, was so much easier to talk to than Neon. She was full of energy and did everything at about a mile a minute, running back and forth, checking and double checking everything, getting glasses and plates ready for her guests and adjusting flowers, paintings and any of the dozen or so other decorations.
“I’d love some juice,” This was a groove Red could fall into. She hadn’t started the day expecting to meet her friend’s mother, which came as a nice surprise.
“Of course dear,” already pouring a glass of milk and reaching for the juice, “And for you Neon?”
“. . . Milk.”
“I knew it!” She places the glasses before the foals and rushes to the oven a few seconds before the timer goes off. “Just a few minutes before these cool off. So, what do you two think, a spring theme for the kitchen?” She gestures around while placing the tray to cool off.
The room is flushed with light, airy colors and filled with pictures of trees and streams and birds, some painted and some printed. In some ways it’s over decorated, as though someone with a vendetta against negative space decided to wage a full scale war, with this room as the main front.
“. . . Nice.” Neon nods approvingly.
Red looks around, taking it all in. “It’s pretty. I like all the bird pictures. Where’d you get them?”
Honeyed giggles. “Oh, I think I took most of the ones in here. They’re nothing special, but I think they give it that personal touch.”
“These are yours? They’re great!” Red exclaims, running about to get a better look at everything.
Honeyed takes a seat at the table placing the plate of cookies down. “Aren’t you just a little sweetie? And cute as a button too. It’s no wonder Shady’s been so happy, with a friend like you.”
A grin spreads on Reds face before she gets back to the table. “So why-“
“. . . Help.” Neon interjects, somehow once again cutting Red off with the silence before the word.
“Oh that’s a wonderful idea,” she beams at Neon. “Did Neon tell you about the favor I asked for?”
Red quizzically looks at Neon who just nods back at her. At the very least now there’s somepony around who can actually tell her what’s going on. “Uh, no, not really. I got something about help and Shady, that’s about it.”
“Oh dear.” Honeyed Words looks at Neon, who shies away from her gaze. “It’s okay dear. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help when it’s important.”
For a moment they lock gazes and just barely the look of understanding from the adult pony yields a comforted gleam from the eyes of the aloof unicorn. “. . . Okay.” Neon nods and grabs a cookie.
“Of course, help yourselves, that’s what I made them for.” She gestures and waits for Red to take one as well before continuing. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my little Shady can be a bit shy.”
There’s a certain art to being able react calmly to surprise that comes with practice. Red has not had this. The opposite in fact. Red is very expressive. The best she does is to coyly look away “… no, hadn’t noticed.”
“Well, it’s… He probably hasn’t told you, sometimes I wonder if he forgets it himself half the time, but it’s going to be his birthday soon.”
If Red had been drinking her juice it would have been a perfect time for a spit take. If she had been eating a cookie it would have been the perfect time to choke. Doing neither of these things, it was the perfect time for a very audible gasp. “What?! He forgets his birthday?! How can you even do that?”
“. . . Shady.” Neon offers as explanation while nodding in agreement.
“Don’t misunderstand,” Honeyed breathes in. “He does love his birthday, I just don’t think he looks forward to it very much. He’s very ‘in the moment’ you know.”
Neon nods. A look of excitement balloons out on Reds face. “Oh, is there gonna be a party? Am I invited? Please tell me there’s gonna be a party!”
“Well,” Honeyed chuckles. “That’s what I asked Neon about. I think he’d just love a party with all his little friends. But…” She sighs deeply and pouts. “I want to plan it, but my husband says I shouldn’t do that. I mean really, I am not too busy to plan my own son’s party…”
“. . . Busy.”
“Oh not you too Neon.” Honeyed sticks her tongue out, not caring about looking childish in front of two foals. “So anyways, I asked if Neon wouldn’t mind planning the party, and Neon brought you here, so I wonder if you would mind-“
“Of course I will!” Red screeches, leaping out of her seat. “I love parties! Of course I’ll help plan Shady’s. Just leave everything to me.”
“Wonderful!” Honeyed joins in, excitedly joining in the frolicking herself.
“. . . Yay…” Neon does not exclaim loudly, leap, frolic or express anything in any way.
“Now I just have to pick a recipe for the cake.” Honeyed chimes joyously.
“. . . No.”
Suddenly all the happiness stops and she stares misty eyed at Neon. “W-what? How could you say that…?”
Staring straight ahead without expression Neon isn’t so much fazed by this show of emotion as completely oblivious to it. “. . . Friends.”
Honeyed Words sniffs in her disappointment and processes, quite mysteriously from Reds perspective, exactly what Neon means by this and manages a return to being all smiles and rainbows. “Oh, that’s a great idea! Shady will love it even more if his friends put it all together for him. Oh Neon, how could I ever doubt you, you know him so well.”
In an instant both Red and Neon are pulled into a deep hug by the hyperactive Unicorn. “I just know you’ll make it perfect, dears!”
Meanwhile across town the pale pony that’s been the subject of the discussion excuses himself from the library due to a fit of hysterical sneezing.
“It’s what now?”
To some it’s charming.
To some there’s a certain elegance and quaintness to an environment full of the noises of metal clanging against metal, of the rhythmic ticking as mechanisms grind through their motions, of the smell of oils and slag. In places such as that some ponies find comfort as smooth as the cool press of steel. It’s a rare few who prefer such, and to them this is paradise.
“It’s gonna be his birthday soon.” Red plays with some screws as Gin ratchets and tightens… something, not sure what exactly. “And I’m planning the party.”
“That’s great.” Gin says, screwing a propeller into a socket. “Why hasn’t he said anything about it though?”
“You know how he is,” Red sighs. “Shady. He probably forgot about it or something.” She looks around. It’s not entirely her type of place. Hardly anyone but the Gears know what anything actually does, and it can be hazardous to try and figure it out. “I already talked to Oak. We’re gonna surprise Shady with a party there. You know, lots of space. So I was thinking you could-“
“Gotcha,” Gin says, whatever he was just working on now floating about the room wildly, its inventor doing much of the same, a mad grin on his face as he collects new parts. “I’ll put together the best party stuff ever. I’m thinking something with lasers-“
“And maybe some-“
“GIN!” Red belts out, finally catching the attention of the flighty Pegasus.
“Gin,” Red starts, giving a very serious look. “All that sounds very nice. But don’t you think it’d be a little too much for Shady to handle?”
“Whaaat?” Gin retorts, clearly flabbergasted at the notion that anything can be ‘too much.’ “I don’t follow.”
Red Robin sighs, and approaches Gin, looking at him directly. “Alright, reason two. Could you promise me that if I let you do any of that, none of it would explode?”
“… Of course I can.”
“Gin…” Red moves to where Gins face just shifted “Look me in the eyes and just say yes or no.”
Gin sulks a bit as Red pats him on the back and smiles. “See? Even you know everything’d go boom.”
“Then… what did you want me to do.”
“Come on, don’t sulk.” Red pats him even harder. “You have a very important job. I want you to use all your sciency knowhow and machines to make a great big cake. That’s something that’ll at least make a tasty mess if it goes pop.”
Gin collects himself and immediately beelines for a drawing table. “Okay, I’ll put some designs together. It’ll be amazing. I’d do anything for you.”
“What was that Gin?”
“N-nothing. So what’s everyone else doing?”
“I’m on my way to tell them that now. Moon and Oak’ll do the designing, obviously. Torch and Otan are gonna help me set it all up, and Dawn’s gonna distract Shady so he doesn’t find out.”
“We’re hiding it from him. I don’t think-“
“Which reminds me. It’s a surprise party, and you’re not… very good at keeping secrets. So don’t go blabbing the whole thing to Shady and ruin everything. We’re all gonna meet tomorrow to get everything prepared. I’m so excited!”
“Wait I-“ Gin panders out as Red runs off, a full day’s work ahead of her.
It was all going so well. Everyone had their role, everyone was working together, it was going to be Shady’s best birthday ever, and he was oblivious to the whole thing. Absolutely perfect, and it was all going to be because of Red.
Over the next few days everyone worked frantically to get everything right. Decorations were made, two practice cakes exploded, and everyone was giddy for the big event.
The day before everything was to happen, Red Robin went to sleep full of anticipation.
Much like it started, as Shady was being fetched, Neon was trying to talk to Red, and by Celestia Red was trying to make sense of it.
“. . . Perfect.”
“Aw shucks,” Red beams, absolutely confident in all her hard work. “I don’t know if I’d call it perfect.”
“. . . Ideal.”
“Hmp,” Red giggles as she playfully pushes Neon. “Don’t play any ol’ silly word games with me. So, you think Shady’ll like it?”
Neon nods and pulls something out to show Red.
“What c’ya got there?” Neon presents to Red something that looks like a little glass marble with bubbles in it and a blank piece of paper.
Neon places the paper down, and holds the marble above it, positioning it to catch the light off the sun, and fidgeting to get it juuuust right, and as it’s shifted the light landing on the page twists and circles and finally, as Neon arranges it just right, breaks into a rainbow circle on the paper.
“Oh wow,” Red say, looking down amazed. “Where’d you find a fancy prism like that?”
“. . . Present.”
“Huh?” In a moment Red’s expression moves on from the distraction at hand to show, in succession, confusion, worry, panic and despair. “Of course! The most important part… how… how did I forget to get him a present?!”
“. . . Party?”
“Of course I was planning the party. It’s been pretty much the only thing on my mind all week. I had the cake, his friends and family, games, decorations, how could I forget one of the most important part of a birthday party?! I-I have to go get one right now.”
“. . . Too late.”
“You’re right, Torch is already getting him, what am I gonna yowch!” Red jumps forward, a sharp, if quick and light pain in her wing. Looking back to see what caused it, Neon is holding a bright, red feather in his/her mouth. “What’d you go and do something like that for?!”
“. . . Present…”
Neon presses the feather into Reds hoof and repeats. “. . . Present.”
“Wha,” Red flusters. “You think Shady would want… this?”
Neon nods and pulls in a long breath before speaking. “… Shady. Loves. His friends. More. Than anything.”
“… You’re alright, Neon.” Red turns away embarrassedly clutching the feather.
Just then what should happen to interrupt this tender moment than for the guest of honor to arrive?
“Torch, why am I wearing a blindfold?”
“Oh, you know. Training to… blind… or something… ah forget it, we’re here.”
As the blindfold was removed from his eyes everypony present, Gin Gear, Oakheart, Moon Dancer, Dawn Song, Torchlight, Neon, his parents and everyone else yelled “Surprise!” and Shady looked flatly ahead, eyes rolled back, and immediately fainted, shocking almost no one.
Five minutes later, when he woke up, he properly had the best birthday ever.
Without a doubt the worst part of any party is the cleanup. Still, Red had a responsibility to see it through from start to finish.
As she was putting streamers and the like into a box, somepony addressed her from behind.
She smiled. It was all for this, and it was all worth it. “What is it Shady?”
“Neon told me… how much you went through to do all this. Uh… thanks.”
“It was no-“ she couldn’t finish. Never had a chance. As she turned around the last thing she had expected happened. She was on the receiving end of a hug. From Shady, of all ponies. It was quite… something.
“This was the best present ever…” Lingering for just a moment, it finally dawned on Shady what he was doing, and he recoiled, face completely flushed.
Red giggled, finally back on familiar ground. “Shady, I didn’t give you your present yet. So close your eyes and get ready for it.”
She’d have to thank Neon for this later, she’d have to thank everyone later. As she twirled the feather around, though, there was only one thing firmly in mind as to what to do now.
She was going to tickle the heck out of Shady. And love every second of it.