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The Lady sat at her kitchen table, her eyes fixed on her shoddily painted nails. This was not the work of a professional, but it was undoubtedly an artist’s work. Every nail was painted a different uneven color, the polish spilling onto delicate white skin like a child who’d refused to paint within the lines.
It was, for lack of a better word, very unseemly. Very amateurish.
“Should be almost done, ma’am! Just needs a spot of lemon, I reckon.”
Her eyes fluttered upwards towards the young maid hovering over a pot of chamomile and honey tea. The Lady watched as the younger woman deftly squeezed half a lemon into the mixture, then reached for a large spoonful of sugar and dumped it in.
“Didn’t you already add sugar to that?” asked the Lady.
The maid smiled. “Oh, I did, ma’am, but, well…” She giggled, stirring the pot. “You know how she likes her tea. Sweet as herself.”
“That’s still too sweet, I think,” said the Lady with a smile. “But considering the circumstances…”
An allowance could be made.
“Poor thing,” the other woman sighed. “I suppose it’s a good thing Miss Cadance visited this week, or else the young miss might have left with her parents on their trip after all and gotten sick there. What a nightmare that would have been! Good thing she has you, doesn’t she, ma’am?”
The Lady smiled sympathetically. “I’m happy to help.”
“Alright, it’s done!” The maid poured the drink into a nearby blue mug and handed it to the Lady. “Here you go.”
The Lady smiled, getting up and receiving the tea. “Thank you, Rain.”
She stepped out of the kitchen and traveled across her grand estate, going up the stairs, into the hallways, and finally stepping into her grand master bedroom.
A great, grand room with a bed much too large for the sickly nine-year-old girl tucked under its covers, her pouting face peeking out.
“S’not fair,” I grumbled hoarsely, my head slightly throbbing. “It’s the summer! Why would anyone get a cold during summer?! It’s dumb! I wanted to go to the museum with Cadance!”
Auntie Celestia refrained from pointing out that one could hardly blame the summer sun for the actions of little girls refusing to wear a coat during their evening strolls.
“Sit up, my sundrop,” she said instead, sitting next to me on the edge of the bed. “This should help.”
“What is that?” I asked, my eyes narrowing. “Is it medicine? I don’t want it.”
“It’s tea!” exclaimed the Lady. “You’ll like it. Come, sit up. I don’t want you spilling it.”
“I said I don’t want it, Auntie,” I protested because in retrospect, I can admit I was somewhat of a brat. “Tea’s gross!” I crossed my arms. “I won’t drink it!”
She blinked at me. “I think you’ll love it, sundrop. But…” She shrugged. “I won’t force you. It’s a shame, though,” she finished with a grand sigh.
“What’s a shame?”
“You won’t be a true lady, then. All ladies love tea.” To punctuate this, she took a sip and sighed with practiced bliss, masquerading her disgust at just how much sugar was in that thing. “Aaaah, delicious.”
“Wha—That’s not true!” I stammered, fighting my horror. “You’re lying!”
“I would never lie,” lied the Lady. She took another sip. “Why, it’s in the third chapter of the Lady rulebook. Page… thirty-eight, I believe?” And yet another drink, all while privately celebrating herself for not spitting it out. “Mmm. So good.”
My red nose scrunched up. “There’s no Lady rulebook!” I protested. I looked her straight in the eyes. “You just made that up!”
“Oh?” She smiled lovingly. “Is that what you think? Well, then.” She levitated the cup onto the bedside table and got up. “Shall I go fetch it, then? Since you don’t believe me, and you’re calling me a liar?”
We must have stared at each other for a full minute, I swear. Eventually, she took a step back, and then grinned when I squeaked with regret.
“No, no! I believe you!” I exclaimed, cross at having crossed her. “You’re not a liar, Auntie!”
“Oh, good!” She sat back down and gestured to the cup. “Off you go, then. Drink your tea, Lady Rarity.”
Reluctantly, I grabbed the teacup and took a sip, and then another and another and another as I realized I did in fact like it very much. Not that I could let her know that, of course.
“Well?” she asked when I put the cup down after finishing it all. “Did you like it? It should make your throat feel better.”
“It was fine, I suppose,” I replied haughtily. “Auntie?” My eyes sparkled. “Can I see the rulebook?”
She cocked her head to the side. “The rulebook?”
“The lady rulebook!”
“I’m afraid you can’t, dear,” she said somberly.
My pout returned. “Why not?” I asked, and my god, the grin she gave me.
“Because I made it up, of course!”
“Auntie!” I screeched while she laughed! She laughed at me, delighted. “I knew you were a big liar!” I buried myself under the covers, a furious little sickly lump. “I’m never talking to you again!”
“But you’re talking to me right now!” Auntie pointed out, tickling me through the covers. “What if I just pull these off, then? Should be easy.”
“I’ll cough on you!” I threatened. “And then you’ll be sick!”
“Oh, goodness, that would be wonderful,” she said, laying all her weight on the wriggling, giggling lump. “I’ve been trying to find an excuse to get out of the Nature Museum’s board of members dinner.”
“I won’t cough on you, then!”
“No? Oh dear. I’m sure giving you a thousand kisses will work instead, then.”
I’m surprised no one on staff came running, considering how loud my screeching was. In retrospect, forcing that much exertion on a sick child wasn’t very intelligent, but neither of us cared very much. My stomach hurt from laughing as she slid under the covers and tickled me all over, peppering my head with affectionate kisses, each one punctuated with a loud “muah! Muah! Muah!”.
“Stop, Auntie!” I pleaded, trying my best to fight back. I resorted instead to hugging her body, giggling into her chest. “You win! You win!”
I remember still how angelic her laughter was. There’s really no other way to describe it, except for perhaps, for better or worse, motherly. A burst of warm laughter that enveloped me just as her arms did, holding me close as I snuggled into her.
“I hate you, auntie,” I whined like the child I was.
“No, you don’t,” she replied with great amusement, her fingers lovingly brushing my messy violet hair. “You love me.”
And, my God, I did.
I loved her so, so much, utterly blissed by her affection and embrace. I am convinced that there was no little girl in the entire whole world who…
I’m sorry, dear friend. I don’t mean to interrupt myself, but I suppose it’s just…
What I was about to say is something I felt great shame over when I was a child. Heavens, even now, here in the one place and time where no earthly shame even matters, I still feel it. This shame, and this… this understanding of just who she and I were to each other.
Forgive me, but let’s put a pin in this, shall we? I promise we’ll get back to it before this session ends.
So, moving on, there we were, the Lady and I sharing a wonderful moment, when what did we hear but a voice whining into high heavens.
“What?!” she said. “You’re having a sleepover without me?!”
Bursting with sudden excitement, I pulled myself away from Lady Celestia and looked towards the door, finding a very smartly dressed teenager standing under the frame of the door, her pale-magenta hair with pink and cream-colored streaks tied-up in a ponytail.
“You’re back!” I exclaimed, my voice hoarse from either laughing or being sick—probably both.
“Welcome home, Cadance,” Lady Celestia greeted, watching as the fourteen-year-old joined us on the bed, unceremoniously throwing herself on top of it. “How was the museum?”
“Horrible!” said Cadance.
“Really?!” I asked, truly delighted, only to catch Lady Celestia’s disapproving glance. “Oh no!”
“What happened?” the Lady asked, because she hadn’t spent most of the afternoon sulking at the fact she’d not been allowed to go to the museum. Neither had I, really.
Cadance sighed, theatrically. “Rarity wasn’t there,” she declared, and what a winning smile she gave me when I giggled. She rolled herself tummy-down on the bed and rested her chin on her hands. “It was okay, Auntie. The Arimaspi exhibit was the only new thing from my visit last summer, and that was really interesting. But mostly that.”
“S’not fair!” I pouted, tugging on Lady Celestia’s sleeve. “I really wanted to see that!”
“Oh deaaaar,” said the Lady, once again enveloping me in her arms. “Poor little Rarity, didn’t get to see the exhibit she really wanted to see yet has never mentioned once!”
“Yes, I have!” I protested, banging my little fist on the bed.
“So, Rarity,” Cadance asked, innocently, “who are the Arimaspi?”
My cheeks grew hot when they laughed after I failed to reply. “Whatever,” I said, trying to move things along. I turned to Cadance. “You did get me a present, didn’t you? Where is it?”
“Rarity!” Lady Celestia chastised. “Manners!”
“It’s in my room,” Cadance replied, fluttering her eyelashes innocently at her miffed relative when I screeched like a banshee and ran out of bed and the room.
“Thank you, Cadance!” hollered Lady Celestia, rolling her eyes when a little voice called back, “Thank you, Cadance!”
Cadance was clearly very amused. She’d spent every summer of her life so far with her aunt, but it hadn’t been until I’d come into their lives that she’d started to really enjoy them.
“You’re like her mom,” the teenager noted, a twinkle in her eyes.
Lady Celestia replied immediately. Almost too quick.
“Oh no,” she said. “Don’t be silly.”
Ordinarily, Cadance would have let the subject drop. Maybe made a funny remark, something to make her aunt laugh, as she so often did as a child wanting to brighten up her perpetually somber relative.
But, the truth was, she hadn’t had to do that in forever. Aunt Celestia, the somberly scholar, felt like a distant memory.
This was the gossip of their family, you know? Cadance had heard it so many times, whispered after family dinners. The two strange sisters of the family, Luna and Celestia, never wed or bred.
Auntie Luna was a lunatic, that Cadance knew well enough. She didn’t mean this in any ill way—in fact, as a child Cadance wished she were like her—but the young girl had never doubted that Lady Luna truly didn’t need or want a traditional family. She was wholly eccentric and bizarre, through and through.
But Lady Celestia?
Lady Celestia she’d never known. She’d always suspected she was lonely and wanted children, wanted a so-called traditional life, and that first summer when I was introduced into their lives, she thought she’d found her answer.
But… hadn’t Cadance herself been me, in a way? A young girl, cheery and chipper, come to spend time with the recluse scholar? She had, and though there was certainly love shared between them, Celestia had never acted any other way than a relative towards her.
So maybe it wasn’t that Celestia was lonely or wanted kids.
Maybe it was just me.
You’re like her mother, she’d said, and when the Lady said she wasn’t, the inevitable question slipped out Cadance’s lips unbidden.
“Do you wish you were, Auntie?”
Lady Celestia looked at her, caught. For once, the grand woman, always so quick to reply, had nothing to say. Or, rather, all to say, but lacking the courage to voice it.
Ultimately it didn’t matter.
Not because I’d just barged back in at that precise moment, mind you, but because Cadance knew the answer. She’d always known it, just like anyone who had eyes knew it, thus she smiled affectionately at her aunt, tacitly ending their conversation.
“Can I open it?!” I asked Cadance, so enamored by the gift I’d already half-unwrapped that I didn’t notice Lady Celestia’s shaken expression.
“It is yours, silly,” Cadance replied. “I hope you like it!”
One might have expected I’d just dig in, but I was who I was, and that was someone who lived and died by Celestia’s approval, so I turned to her with excitement.
“What do you think it is, Auntie?” I asked, and only then did I notice something was off. My brow scrunched up, and I dropped the present on my lap. “Auntie Celestia? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong!” she exclaimed, trying to cover up, but anyone who’s ever talked to a child knows they know when something is wrong, especially the things you don’t want them to know.
“What’s wrong?” I repeated, and I was immediately beset with anxiety. “Did I do something to upset you?”
She didn’t hesitate.
“…You promise?” I asked, my great wide eyes hurting her with their distress.
“Of course I promise,” she said at once, taking me in her arms and covering me with affectionate kisses. “I could never be upset at you, my little sundrop. Muah, muah, muah!”
“Okay, okay!” I whined, half-annoyed and half-delighted. “Lemme go! I wanna open my present!”
“Not until I’m done! Muah, muah, muah!”
I think I’d like to circle back to our little conversation from earlier, that little thing I’d interrupted myself from saying.
I’m sure you’ve already deduced what I was about to say. That I loved Celestia like she were my mother. It’s understandable why this would feel shameful to confess, even if now, right now, I don’t think that’s entirely true.
I think it’s complicated. My relationship towards Celestia, and the one towards my mother of flesh and blood are complicated affairs, just like so many relationships are.
I’d like to posit instead that that’s not what matters. The answer to my feelings on Celestia wasn’t important or relevant then or now.
What’s important is the opposite side of that proverbial coin. A side that, unlike the other, isn’t blurred or nebulous or scarred with scratches.
I present the following, dear friend, as a statement that wasn’t only just true then and there, but has always been true, especially so in the moments when it seemed like it wasn’t.
Never has there been a mother in the whole wide world who loved her daughter as much as Lady Celestia loved me.
For better or worse.
God, I really missed Sapphire Eyes.