“Here are the manuscripts you wanted,” Sapphire said, carelessly tossing the pages onto Macarius’ desk.
“It’s about time,” the blue stallion muttered, leafing through them. “By the way, Sapphire-“ Sapphire, heading for the door, turned back around and looked at him. “-I was displeased with your behavior this afternoon.”
“My behavior?” Sapphire echoed incredulously. “What are you talking about?”
“You were flirting with Beauregard,” Macarius said bluntly.
“Wha-? I was not flirting with him!” Sapphire said vehemently. “And even if I was, I don’t see what concern it is of yours!”
“Anything that affects operations here concerns me,” Macarius said, his gaze pinning Sapphire’s. “And you took an inordinately long amount of time to conclude business with him.”
“I was instilling customer confidence, but of course you wouldn’t know anything about that!” Sapphire snapped. “I was asking him about his family... he’s married, you know.”
“Well, just see that you don’t waste any unnecessary time in the future,” Macarius terminated the conversation, turning back to the pages.
Sapphire left his office in a huff. That stallion was insufferable! “What a jerk,” she muttered as she stalked down the hallway. Macarius had to find fault with everything she did! Why couldn’t he have stayed back in Forest Brook when this new merged branch of their families’ publishing firms opened in Dream Valley?
It was time for her shift to end, so Sapphire headed towards the main doors, glad to be able to get away from her arch nemesis’ overbearing presence. He’d always been like that, ever since the first time they had met. The incident still seemed like just yesterday to Sapphire; the memory was still crystal clear...
* * *
Twelve-year-old Sapphire was skipping down the school hallway toward the auditorium, where a very special tryout was being held that afternoon. She paused to feel the bag at her side to ensure that her treasured flute was still there. Being reassured, she continued on her way.
“Hey, Sapphire.” A colt stepped out in front of her. “I gotta show you something.”
Sapphire snuck her nose up in the air as she strolled past him. She’d had enough of this colt and his buddies since yesterday. “I can’t think what you’d have to show me that would be of any interest,” she said primly.
“Yeah, well, I was thinking about what you said yesterday to me and the guys,” young Macarius acknowledged. “And I decided you were right.”
“Really?” Sapphire’s eyes lit-up; it was so great when another pony saw it her way! “So you admit that your science project is really lame?”
“Yeah, and we’ve decided to do something else. I thought you’d like to come and see it.”
The little blow-up of yesterday had started when Sapphire had walked by the table where Macarius, Heath, and Renny were working on their project for the science fair, and she had quite innocently commented that their volcano looked more like a heap of lumpy mashed potatoes than anything else. The colts had, for some reason, taken offense to her statement (she had just been trying to offer advice! Some ponies!) and a major exchange of heated words followed. In the end, Heath had called her a stupid know-it-all, Renny a clueless airhead, and Macarius an ignorant interfering girl. Sapphire, before stomping off in an angry huff, declared that a volcano was a totally unoriginal idea, anyway, and they would so not win any prizes for it. And that was how matters stood when Macarius approached Sapphire in the hall.
“Well...” Sapphire hesitated. “If it doesn’t take too long.” She looked up at the clock on the wall; it was still ten minutes before tryouts.
“It’ll just take a minute,” Macarius assured her, taking her hoof and literally dragging her down a side passage.
“Where is it?” Sapphire demanded.
“In here.” Macarius came to a stop in front of a closed door.
“In there?” Sapphire said suspiciously. “But that’s just an old storage room, isn’t it?”
“We got permission... come on, look.” He swung the door open for her.
Sapphire peered in without actually entering the room. “I don’t see anything.”
Muttering something like “dumb girls,” Macarius shoved past her and flipped the light switch.
“I still don’t see it,” Sapphire protested, stepping over the threshold and eyeing all the shelves lining the walls. “Where-“
Suddenly, the door slammed shut. Someone was out in the hallway, messing with the lock. Two voices were laughing. “Hah! This’ll show ya, Sapphire,” Heath’s unmistakable voice said.
“Yeah! Nobody makes fun of our volcano and gets away with it!” Renny chortled. “Catch ya later, airhead!”
Before Macarius had time to react to the mistake that had been made, the clopping of hooves on the hallway floor and raucous laughter signified that his two buddies had already made good their escape. “Hey! Hey, I’m still in here!” he shouted, pounding on the door, but in vain.
Sapphire whirled on him with fire in her eyes. “You... you... worm,” she hissed. “You did this all on purpose! You jerk!”
Macarius sighed and leaned into the wall. “At least if you hadn’t been so stupid I wouldn’t be in here, too.”
“But I have to get out!” Sapphire pounded on the door for help and shouted for someone to help, but to no avail. “The band tryouts are in just a little while! I can’t miss that!”
“Maybe you should have thought of that before making fun of our volcano,” Macarius smirked.
“I was just making a helpful suggestion, you dork!” Sapphire shouted. “You guys take things way too personally!”
“Anyway, you’re just missing one band practice. I don’t see what the big deal is, really,” Macarius shrugged.
“What the big deal is?” Sapphire echoed. “Well, for your information, this is a tryout session! A play producer is going to be here and he’s going to pick the most talented students to perform the music for a play he’s putting on in Wild Oaks!”
“Well, he’d never pick you, that’s for sure, so I don’t see why you’re so hysterical,” Macarius said in a bored tone.
“Not pick me?” Sapphire shrieked. “I’m a great flutist! I know I’d have a chance... if I could just get there!”
“It’s not like I can do anything... even if I wanted to,” Macarius said.
“And if I got in that play, it could be just the beginning for me,” Sapphire ranted on. “Who knows what options I’d have open for me after that! And if I don’t get out of here in time, then...”
“Scream all you want; nobody’s gonna hear you down here.”
Sapphire ignored his warning and for the next hour or so proceeded to scream and shout and pound and cry. It was all futile. Eventually Sapphire heard in the distance various footfalls and chatter. Her heart sunk. Were those all the band ponies getting out of the tryout? She screamed louder. After what seemed an eternity, the one pony that confirmed Sapphire’s worst fears finally came. The music teacher.
“Is someone trapped in there? I don’t have the key for this door; I’ll have to go get the janitor. Hang tight.”
“Oh, Sapphire, it’s you! We wondered where you were. How did you-”
“Miss Astilbe, the tryout,” Sapphire gasped out. “Is it-“
”I’m sorry,” Miss Astilbe said, looking at her sympathetically. “It’s over. I’m afraid it’s too late for you.”
“But, it wasn’t my fault!” Sapphire pleaded. “He- that jerk- he locked me in! Isn’t there anything I can do- there must be a way! I have to have a chance! Please!”
Miss Astilbe looked truly apologetic. “If I could do anything for you, Sapphire, I would; but the choices have already been made. I really am sorry. But there are always other opportunities-“
Sapphire blindly turned away and faced Macarius with tear-filled eyes. There was never going to be another opportunity like this. “I hate you,” she whispered in a blind rage.
Macarius remained unmoved, his composure never wavering through his entire ordeal with Sapphire. “Tough luck, Sapph,” he waved carelessly as he wandered down the hallway. Sapphire turned and ran down the hallway in the opposite direction before she completely broke down. Her family was right; the Monks were a terrible bunch of ponies.
And what was possibly the most painful part of it all was that Macarius’ group’s project won first place at the science fair the next week.
* * *
Coming out of her reverie, Sapphire found herself staring out the glass doors at a late summer thunderstorm. The sky was black, thunder boomed, lightning flashed, rain poured down, and the wind was lashing mercilessly. Not really relishing the idea of walking home in a storm like that, Sapphire sighed and made her way to the employee’s lounge where she could wait until it had blown over.
She had just helped herself to a cookie from the tray and sat down with a magazine to flip through when the room was cast into darkness. “Oh great, a power outage,” Sapphire grumbled, impatiently waiting for the lights to come back on. They didn’t. Sighing, the stumbled out of the room and into the hallway, groping her way towards the front desk where she might find an emergency flashlight.
Hugging the wall, Sapphire had only gone a few feet before bumping into a small table and sending a vase of flowers crashing to the ground. She blindly picked her way around the mess and winced as she stepped in the sharp edge of a piece of the shattered vase. This really wasn’t turning out to be her day. Too bad everyone else had gone home already, and she was the only one here unless Ma-
“Oof!” Suddenly Sapphire bumped into something much taller than a table, but fortunately much softer as well.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the unknown pony apologized. “Are you okay?” He held her away from him and tried to get a feel for her face.
“Macarius?” Sapphire croaked. Wow, the day kept getting better and better. What could beat bumping, quite literally, into one’s nemesis in a dark hallway?
“Oh, it’s you.” Macarius abruptly thrust her away. “I thought you’d have gone home by now.”
“I was just waiting out the storm,” Sapphire snapped, resenting the lowering tone he had switched to when he had realized it was her and not some other mare.
“I was just going to the main desk,” Macarius continued calmly, “to attempt to locate a flashlight. You may come with me or continue to stumble around in the dark.”
“Jerk,” Sapphire hissed, but nonetheless trailed behind him... as well as she could trail someone she could barely make out in the darkness.
Upon reaching the desk, Sapphire listened to him opening drawers and rustling through them. She smirked with pleasure as she head a can of pens falls over onto the floor. “Real graceful, Macarius,” she said mockingly.
“Well, at least I found something,” Macarius countered, and suddenly a low beam was coming out of the flashlight he had unearthed.
“Great, so now we can see. A lot of good that does to calm the storm down,” Sapphire said snappishly, forgetting that she, too, had set out in search of the device.
“No, but with it we can find... ah-hah!” Macarius got his hooves on a small portable radio situated on the desk. “This should be on battery power... let’s see.” He turned the dial and a staticky transmission came out.
“...Dream Valley and the surrounding area is under a severe thunderstorm warning until eight o’ clock P.M... residents are advised to stay indoors and seek appropriate cover... be prepared for heavy rain, hail, and strong winds... the power company has reported a massive power outage throughout much of the city; please be patient while the problem is resolved... as always, stay tuned to WPNY for the latest weather developments... repeat, Dream Valley and the-“
Sapphire sighed and turned away. “Well, I guess we’re stuck here for awhile then.”
Macarius ignored her. “It looks like the wind’s getting worse,” he commented, looking out the window.
“I’m not afraid or anything, you know,” Sapphire retorted, feeling the need to retaliate even from a simple statement.
“I didn’t think you would be. Or at least that you’d admit it to me if you were,” Macarius smirked. “We can either wait it out here or in the basement. Do you want to flirt with danger or play it safe?”
Sapphire didn’t want to appear a sissy, but as a particularly strong gust of wind rocked the building she wavered. Nevertheless... “It’ll be over soon,” she predicted, putting on a brave front. “No need to hide in the corner like a...” Suddenly a tremendous burst of lightning lit up the outside and shook the ground. Shrieking, Sapphire jumped at the shock and found herself in Macarius’ forelegs, who looked like he was trying hard not to laugh.
Sapphire glared at him and backed away. “I’m going to the basement,” she said, mustering as much dignity as possible. “At least then I’m away from you.” Sniffing, she stalked off.
“Sure. Just don’t get lost,” Macarius called after her in a snide tone.
“I know my way around- oof!”
“Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go with you. After all, I wouldn’t want all the Fairfaxes after my blood if anything happened to their precious Sapphire. Why, it might open up the feud all over again,” Macarius said in a bored tone, stepping past her and leading the way with his flashlight. Sapphire remained silent, and just glowered at him behind his back.
They made their way down into the basement of the plant in which all excess materials- paper, ink, and the like- were stored on shelves lining the walls.
Sapphire perched on a large cardboard box in the corner, tapping her hoof impatiently. Macarius leaned against the wall opposite her, looking bored. Neither of them spoke for a long while.
“Do you still play the flute?” Macarius’ question was so unexpected and irrelevant to the matters at hoof that Sapphire was caught off guard.
“What?” she said.
“The flute. You know, a musical instrument. You played it once.”
“Oh,” Sapphire said. “No, I haven’t played that for ages.”
“Oh.” Macarius lapsed into silence again.
Sapphire laughed bitterly. “This is a lot like that day back in sixth grade, isn’t it?”
“You’re not locked in,” Macarius said matter-of-factly.
“I might as well be. It’s not like I can go outside.”
“You know, I didn’t think it was really going to mean that much to you when we locked you in the storage room that time.”
“You never did stop to think about the consequences of your actions,” she glared at him.
“It didn’t seem like that big of a deal.”
“Not that big of a deal!” Sapphire cried out. “That tryout was my lifeblood for months! I practiced harder than I ever had before in my life. I was so counting on getting a part in playing music for that play. I knew I could do it. Then I didn’t even have a chance.” Her voice was rising steadily. “You killed a dream that day, you know! And you don’t even care! Then or now!” She squeezed her eyes shut but some tears trickled down her cheek anyway. “I thought, if I made it through that tryout, I’d have my ticket to stardom. But thanks to you- thanks to you-“
”Why did you stop?” he asked abruptly.
“Playing the flute.”
“Some memories are just too painful to face again, I guess.”
“I hadn’t thought you’d let something like that deter you.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I’m not as strong as you thought I was.”
“Yeah.” Macarius peered up the stairwell. “I think the storm might have passed. I’ll go check.” So saying, he excused himself from the room.
Sapphire scowled after him. Why had he brought up that incident, anyway? It was obvious that he still wasn’t sorry about it. He must have done it just to resurrect painful memories for her. He was always going to be the same arrogant uncaring Macarius.
Even when he held the door open for her when it was deemed safe to go home, Sapphire didn’t say a word.
* * *
It was a few days later that Sapphire let herself into her office at the beginning of the day and found a neatly wrapped box sitting on her desk. Curiously, Sapphire picked it up. The package was long and slim in shape, but there was no card on the outside. Who would have left a present for her? Carefully she untied the silver ribbon and lifted the lid. She gasped at what was inside. It was a beautifully crafted silver flute.
Sapphire shook her head in wonderment. Why would anyone leave a present for her, let alone that it should turn out to be this particular musical instrument? No one here in Dream Valley would have known about her old hobby from her younger days... no one except Macarius. And it couldn’t have been him.
She picked up the flute gently and tried it out for sound. Though she hadn’t played it since sixth grade, her memories of how it worked soon came back to her. She played a simple but lovely melody before noticing there was a small card in the bottom of the box. She picked it up but it was simply signed, “An Admirer.”
Sapphire stepped across the room and opened the door, peering out into the hallway with the flute still in her hooves. Macarius was at the end of the hallway, talking with Silverdust. Upon seeing her gaze resting on him, he looked at her coolly and then turned his attention back to Silverdust.
Sapphire backed into her office and closed the door slowly, her attention centered on the lovely flute. If not Macarius, then who?