Chapter 3: A 'Warm' Reunion
Thunderlane stood alone in the rank bathroom- the smell of cider, vomit and Celestia-knows-what lingering all around. The green walls and sticky floors only added to the slimy atmosphere of the room. The lighting was dim, though enough to allow the stallion to gaze upon his reflection in the cracked mirror.
A bruise he had gotten the night before stood out profoundly. Even his black fur was not enough to obscure its lumpy texture and deep purple tinge. Both hooves planted firmly on the counter, Thunderlane leaned closer towards the mirror, all the time keeping his eyes firmly planted on his disheveled image.
His eyes carried heavy bags, his face scarred with cuts and bruises from the past week, his pay for staying up late to help his father upon returning home. His mind drifted back to the numerous times his father knocked at the door to be let in. The logical and mentally exhausted of him wished that he could just leave him out in the night to sober up. But he couldn’t, the emotional side of his brain wouldn’t allow him to.
He let out a deep sigh before stepping away from the mirror and exiting the bathroom. He found himself in the main area of Ponyville’s local bar. The air was grey and smokey. Stallions sat all around, drinking and smoking to their hearts’ content- trying to rid themselves of the agony they endured throughout the day. Though for Thunderlane, his daily agony wasn’t something he could simply drink away- it would greet him at home later that night.
He trotted over to the bar where his two friends were sitting. The brown earth pony named Caramel and the famous blue pegasus named Soarin. Caramel looked plum tuckered out, a glass of soda placed in front of him. Thunderlane always thought it was strange how his earth pony friend never drank alcoholic beverages, and often vocalized his confusion through, typically, playful mockery.
Soarin’, on the other hand, was busy nursing a mug of cider. He was careful not to drink too much, not wanting to feel like garbage for the Wonderbolts show that he was going to be a part of the following day. Sometimes, while out, they’d get stopped by fans that recognized the sky blue pegasus from the Wonderbolts. Most of the time, however, if he didn’t wear his spandex blue suit nopony would recognize him.
And that’s how he liked it. Soarin’ wasn’t a glory hound, and the less public attention that was drawn to him, the better. Plus he hated signing autographs. Not because his fans annoyed him- he loved everypony that looked up to him- it was just something he didn’t particularly enjoy. Especially since he would always end up with a cramp in his hoof.
“It’s nice to finally see you again,” Caramel said to Soarin’, “you’re always so busy with the Wonderbolts that it’s nice to finally get a chance to hang with you.”
“Yeah Spitfire works us ragged,” Soarin’ responded, taking a sip of his cider. “With all of the practicing and working at the Academy to bring up new recruits, we can hardly find time to catch up with old friends. Lucky for me the show we’re putting on tomorrow is here in Ponyville so I can see you guys.”
“It’s a shame,” Thunderlane butted in, taking a seat beside Soarin’, “we were just getting used to looking cool.”
“Haha,” Soarin’ laughed sarcastically, “very funny feather-brain, you wish you had a quarter of the fame that I have.”
“What, you mean all those ponies that recognize you because you fly around wearing a tight spandex suit?” Thunderlane said with a laugh.
“Well seeing as you just attended our academy, it seems you’re pretty eager to wear the spandex yourself.” Soarin’ said with a sly grin, drinking the cider from his mug.
“Buck you, I’m there for my need for speed, not the tights.” Thunderlane spat, drinking his cider. He lowered his mug and let out a sigh before turning to Caramel, who stared out at the bar, holding his glass of soda in his hooves. Thunderlane couldn’t help but snicker. “You enjoying your soda, chief?”
Caramel turned to Thunderlane, giving him a small smile. It was an expectant smile, as if Caramel knew exactly where the conversation was headed.
“Yeah, it’s fantastic. So much better than cider.”
“Come on, Caramel. Why don’t you drink alcohol?” Soarin’ asked.
“Yeah, are you even a real stallion?” Thunderlane asked mockingly.
Caramel rolled his eyes and pressed his hoof to his forehead, “Because I just don’t, okay? Why is it so important to you that I don’t drink?””
“Because it’s weird. I mean look at the situation! You’re in the middle of a bar on a Friday after a day on the job. The whole place is swimming with mares of all shapes and sizes and you sit at the counter, nursing your soda like a ten year old that’s out at dinner with his parents?” Thunderlane said, shaking his head in disapproval. “Dude, you are never gonna get into a relationship if you don’t grow up.”
“That’s funny you say that Thunderlane,” Caramel said, a shimmer of confidence rippling over his face, “because I actually started dating someone.”
Both Thunderlane and Soarin’, who had been drinking their cider when their friend had made the statement, spat their drinks out in streams of brown before turning to the earth pony, shouting a barrage of “what!?!” and “who!?!” at him.
Caramel smiled, “Well if you must know.” He took a gingerly sip of his soda before turning to his friends, “it’s Applejack.”
Soarin’ nodded, still in shock but he seemed to believe the notion. Thunderlane, however, stared slack-jawed at his friend as if he just told them that the world was flat and the grass was purple.
“The farmer?” He asked, staring at his lucky friend with a set of wagon wheel-sized eyes. “That...beautiful mare...is dating you?”
Caramel nodded, “Yep, she sure is. We’re a couple”
“Congrats man,” Soarin’ said, “very well done, you should feel proud.”
Before Caramel could have the chance to thank Soarin’ for his kind words, Thunderlane let his disbelief get the better of him.
“So hold on a second,” he said, holding out his hooves in an attempt to get everypony to stop talking. “Out of every stallion in town, she chose you?”
“Yes, that’s what I just said.” Caramel muttered, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“Why in the world would she do that!?!”
Caramel scowled, clearly starting to get annoyed with Thunderlane’s condescending attitude towards him.
“You know I’m starting to feel insulted here, man.” Caramel muttered. Soarin’ looked down in shame while Thunderlane just kept staring. “The truth is that she’s kind and sweet and doesn’t see me as any less of a stallion. You see, unlike you, she thinks it’s cool that I don’t drink. She respects the decisions I make as I respect hers.”
“But it still doesn’t make sense! I mean...she’s so...hot,” Thunderlane said.
“And, what is that supposed to mean?” Caramel asked, almost daring Thunderlane to come out and say what he was thinking.
Thunderlane’s answer was as blunt as Caramel had expected.
“How could you get her? You’re so immature!” He snarled. “You’re like a colt trapped in a grown stallion’s body! And even then your body is more like a blend between a mare and a stallion! Let me ask you, do you even know how...it...works?”
Thunderlane even surprised himself with his jerkiness. He immediately felt regret, but his stubborn pride forced him to maintain a glare and prevent himself from apologizing from his clearly hurt friend. Caramel stared at Thunderlane for a brief moment before he reached into his pocket and pulled out some bits, tossing them onto the counter.
“You’re a judgmental jerk, Thunderlane, and I don’t need your negativity right now.” He spat before standing up and looking over at Soarin’, “Good luck tomorrow man, I’ll be there with AJ. We’ll be looking for you.”
Soarin’ nodded. Caramel dropped a few bits onto the bar, gave Thunderlane one, last dirty look, and stormed out of the bar.
“Whatever,” Thunderlane sipped from his mug when she felt somepony smack him on the back of the head. Clutching the place where he was struck, Thunderlane turned to see Soarin’ glaring at him.
“What the hay is your problem? Talking to Caramel like that! My Celestia, we’re supposed to be supportive of our friend, not trash him!”
Thunderlane opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. It suddenly dawned on him how much of a plot-hole was being.
“Sorry, I’m...I’m just sort of upset.”
“Upset?” Soarin asked, his critical glare softening slightly, though he maintained a somewhat critical expression. “Upset about what?”
“About life...about being single, I guess.” Thunderlane sighed. “I don’t know I...I think I need a marefriend. I mean, even Caramel has one now. A pretty one. I feel like I’m falling behind. Like the world is passing me by and I’m stuck in tar- unable to move.”
Soarin’ placed a reassuring hoof onto his friend's shoulder. “Relax man, it’ll happen. You just need to be patient. Someday you’ll find the perfect mare for you.”
Thunderlane stubbornly pulled away, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re dating Spitfire.”
“Yeah but our relationship wasn’t rushed,” Soarin’ explained, raising his mug of cider, “our relationship budded from us spending so much time together on the Wonderbolts. We went to so many parties, it was bound to happen sooner or later.” Soarin’ drank from his mug while Thunderlane looked away, staring down at his own mug, now completely empty, with regret.
“But I don’t have a mare that I see day in and day out, all I have is work, my friends and Rumble.”
Soarin’ put down his mug and turned back to Thunderlane, “Speaking of Rumble, how is the little rascal anyway?”
“Has he learned how to fly yet?”
“Still working on that.”
Soarin’ nodded, before he continued. “And...have you told him?”
Thunderlane looked up at his friend, raising an eyebrow. “Told him what?”
Soarin’ scoffed, “Don’t act stupid, man. You know what I’m talking about. His father.” He pointed to Thunderlane, “Your father. Have you talked about him with Rumble or are you still perpetuating the lie that everything is sunshine and daisies at your house?”
Listening to his friend talk about his father, Thunderlane unconsciously placed a hoof onto his cheek, right over one of his fresh bruises. Flinching from pain, he brought his hoof down and shook his head.
“How can I, Soarin’? He’s so young, hearing that would only break him.”
“Well you have to eventually. And the longer you wait, the more it will hurt when he does find out.”
Thunderlane glanced up at Soarin’. “Who says he has to find out?”
“He’s going to,” Soarin’ said, his face the most serious it had been all night. “Even if you don’t tell him yourself, he’ll find a way. You can’t hide the truth from him forever.”
“I’ll try my best.” Thunderlane grumbled back before looking from side to side, slamming his empty mug onto the countertop. “Can I please get another tall cider please!?! Celestia above I’ve been waiting long enough!”
The barkeep rolled his eyes and trotted over, taking the mug and filling it to the brim so pearly froth dribbled over the sides.
“Look, I know, I’m no expert...” Soarin’ started.
“You think!?!” Thunderlane hissed as the barkeep placed his now-full mug down in front of him. “How can you be, you don’t have a sibling. You don’t even live with anyone other than your cat.”
Thunderlane started to chug the cider like he was in a competition of some kind. Deep down he hoped the alcohol in the mug would wash away his worries and leave him content.
“First off,” The blue pegasus continued, “leave Miss Mittens out of this. And secondly, while it may be true that I don’t know what it’s like to have a sibling, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong in this case. You have to tell him.”
Thunderlane, unable to contain his rage anymore, slammed the mug to the hard countertop. Soarin’ jumped back a bit, almost falling off of his stool. Everypony in the bar turned to look in their direction as Thunderlane leaned towards his celebrity friend, eyes narrowing.
“Tell him what!?!” He growled, continuing to stare into his friend’s horrified eyes, “That his father’s a good-for-nothing drunk that comes home every night wasted, ready and willing to beat the snot out of me? That the stallion he spent his whole life looking up to is nothing more than a violent loser that wallows in the past and can’t seem to get it through his bucking skull that it’s time to move on from his wife leaving him and focus on raising Rumble right? Is that what I should tell my little brother!?!”
Soarin’ stared at Thunderlane, his face showing pure shock. Still angry, and too stubborn to apologize for his outburst, Thunderlane grabbed a napkin and wiped his mouth clean. He then tossed some bits onto the counter and stormed out of the bar, cursing under his breath.
He was met by bright rays of light as he exited the stuffy bar and entered the clear and sunny day. He continued trotting at a fairly hasty pace until he was certain that he was far enough away that nopony was following him after his outburst. His scowl remained, but slowed his pace. His vision got cloudy as tears started to fill his eyes. He continued on until he found himself in the park. Sitting down on one of the many benches, he leaned back and stared up at the sky.
Up above him he could see various pegasi flying around. Part of him wished to join them, but his frustrations prevented him from mustering up the enthusiasm to do so. So there he sat on the park bench, ponies of all walks of life passing him by without a second glance, and yet he couldn’t help but feel isolated. He was outside on a sunny day and yet he couldn’t help but feel down. He felt regret- for how he treated Caramel as well as Rumble.
Especially Rumble, though, for he knew Soarin’ was right. No matter how hard he would try to continue the perpetual facade of happiness he held around his little brother, in the end he knew the truth would eventually make itself known. He just didn’t want to believe it. He was living in his own fantasy based on the one he created for Rumble.
Thunderlane let out a sigh and closed his eyes, trying to visualize himself someplace else.