((Takes place early in their friendship))
Tomato took a deep breath. Standing in the hallway, staring at the door, and holding a picnic basket with his tail, he was wondering why he was even doing this.
The answer should be simple, he thought. He just wanted to get to know his new friend better. It had miraculously been more than a month and a half, a new record for keeping a friend besides Bluejinx. Not that he didn’t like his childhood friend, but Bluejinx often working for school papers meant that he was busy, and that led to Tomato having to push through loneliness and boredom because he didn’t really have anyone else–he could only find solace in a book. All the others he had befriended turned on him because they were either persuaded by others that didn’t like him, got turned off from his grumpiness, or, in one case, the bookstore they had worked at had gone out of business and he just lost contact with them.
He supposed that being out of his usual neighborhood bettered his chances of making a new friend, but letting the shield down was hard. There was no telling when he’d face another backstab. But now, here he was, risking himself in asking Flora Peace to go on a picnic with him.
He was just tutoring her in math, he had told himself. He had meant it to be just a professional relationship, that he was only doing it because he pitied her. Still, the more tutoring sessions they had, the more he was looking forward to them. He had to resist the urge to cheer every time she finally got a concept. And he was quite pleased that she and Bluejinx had gotten along.
It was a nice thing to consider her a friend.
After his contemplation, he knocked on the door. He was hoping that her roommate, Cirrus, wouldn’t answer. Celestia knows that if she learned about his plans, she’d poke fun at him and accuse him of being in love with Flora.
He was quite relieved when Flora was the one who opened the door. She smiled at him. “Well, well, what brings you here, Tomato?”
Tomato cleared his throat. “Well, Flora, I decided that today’s a good day for a picnic.”
Flora blinked. “A picnic?”
Tomato nodded. “Yep. We could take a cab to Central Park, since I figure it’d be the only spot in this city that you actually like. Yanno, nature, plants, little critters, all that jazz.” He pursed his lips. “Unless you’re busy with some schoolwork or anything like that.”
Flora giggled. “Today’s your lucky day! I’m free right now, and I’d love to see that big park of yours.”
“Okay.” Tomato turned and showed her the basket his tail held. “I’ve got the basket right here, with sandwiches, chips, leftover pasta, and a couple of bottles of water.”
Flora strolled out of her dorm room and shut the door behind her. “What kind of sandwiches have you got, you cannibal?”
The pair walked down the hallway as Tomato answered, “I’m not a big fan of the cannibal joke. Anyway, how do you feel about peanut butter and jelly? It’s one of the two sandwiches I made.”
After their cab ride through the noisy streets of Manehattan, the pair ventured into the park, where they were greeted by the oranges and reds of the trees. Flora’s first instinct was to look up and gasp in awe at the various shades of warm colors. Even as they walked through what could be considered a tunnel of wood and nearly dead leaves, Flora’s blue eyes sparkled as she continued to gaze all around.
Tomato wondered if she was imagining the autumn leaves as fire, given that the day was a little cool. He shook away that thought, since it wasn’t that cold, and just watched as she took in all the colors. He couldn’t help but be drawn to her eyes, which were so full of life and so full of awe, sparkling like a crystal lake. Perhaps it was just the blue color implying some sort of innocence, but he couldn’t help but think that they were beautiful.
“Ponies weren’t kidding when they said this corner of Equestria is beautiful in autumn,” Flora breathed.
“Oh, you like it?” Tomato replied. “Yeah, I’ve always liked going here in the fall. Whether it’s playing in leaf piles as a colt or just walking on a path these days, it never fails to be nice. Good thing we came here before Manehattan’s Running of the Leaves.“
“And here I thought the mountains back home turning red was beautiful… I’m seeing so many vibrant colors all at once!”
“Well, vibrant colors are what fall does well–one of the reasons that it’s my favorite season.”
“Spring’s my favorite season, thanks to seeing so much renewed life…” Flora sighed. “Watching things come alive again is one of the most beautiful things. But I like summer and fall too.” She formed a expression of disgust. “But not winter–I can’t stand the cold. I mean, Hearth’s Warming is fine, but after that, I just want Winter-Wrap Up to happen already.”
Tomato rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, I’m sure you’ve liked it as a filly. I’ve built a snow fort and had snowball fights with my friends when I was little. My grandparents would also take us to one of the ice rinks here.”
“Ice rink? Sounds like you had a good time as a little colt!”
Tomato glanced away, his mind wandering to memories of the past. With a mildly mournful sigh, he muttered, “Yeah… those were the days…” He shook his head and asked, “Give me a good winter memory of yours–winter is not all bad, you know.”
Flora groaned and then tapped her chin. Her face brightened as she answered, “Well… my Grandpa Blue Raspberry ran a ski resort, so my mom and her sisters would bring their families and we’d all have a big Hearth’s Warming Eve party. A lot of my cousins and my sister Olive learned how to ski thanks to Grandpa.” She looked up wistfully and sighed. “Sometimes I think of those parties and remember how much I miss Grandpa.”
Tomato pursed his lips and glanced away from her. “He passed on?”
Flora looked down at the path as well. “Yeah.”
“I see. I miss my grandparents too. I’m still sad about not being there to say goodbye.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s hard when a beloved family member leaves. The most we can do is think of the good memories of them that we’ll cherish for years to come.”
Tomato’s ears drooped slightly as he sighed, and he grinded his teeth behind his closed mouth. “Yeah… cherish.”
The pair didn’t quite know what to say next, especially since Tomato’s mind started to wander, possibly to memories of a loved one. Flora wondered if he was going to tell a story about his colthood, but the silence was prolonged, and she could hear him grinding his teeth, even though his mouth was closed. And she could see that his eyes were glistening, almost ready to cry, but he managed to keep a mostly stoic face. She felt a little sick seeing that; he was clearly revisiting a bad memory.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
Tomato sighed. “I’m fine. Let’s just get to the Great Lawn.”
They kept on walking down the path, passing joggers and lovey-dovey couples and some foals on scooters. Some leaves had drifted down due to the foals, and one leaf landed on Tomato’s face. He merely blew it off his face, and looked straight forward. Unfortunately, he noticed passersby who suddenly decided that his tail holding the picnic basket was the weirdest thing on the planet and stared at it. He didn’t quite get it when ponies thought him holding things with his tail was freaky; he’d seen other ponies do it around town, so what made him so special?
He inwardly groaned. Keep your eyes off me, I don’t want your attention, and I’m as normal as the rest of you. Save it for mutant reptiles crawling out of the sewers.
When they made it to the Great Lawn, the first thing that Flora did was stop and stare at it. Even as Tomato passed her and searched for a spot, she still beheld the field before her, with some picnic blankets speckling it, families eating together. With a grin, she took off in a gallop and sped past Tomato.
She belly flopped onto the grass and began to roll in it, laughing as she did so. She stop, spread her mane out on the grass, and took a whiff of the air. She sighed happily. “This grass feels so nice. And the sun is so warm!”
Tomato approached her, and then set the picnic basket down. As he opened it and pulled out the blanket with his tail, he asked, “Do you absorb sunlight, you plant?”
Flora’s eyes snapped open, and she looked up to stare at him. Tomato immediately regretted saying that, and he thought of the last time he made that joke. He expected a lecture about chlorophyll and how ponies didn’t have it, just like the last pony he had told that joke to. He pursed his lips, cursing himself for not being able to tell a joke to save his life. He mumbled “Sorry,” and spread the blanket out on the grass.
However, he was surprised when Flora started to laugh, and looked at her green coat. He blinked, and he felt quite relieved that she didn’t take it seriously. He sat down on the blanket, and just watched her roll in the grass some more.
She rolled onto the blanket and sat up. “Well, I guess since I’m a plant, I’ll practice my photosynthesis now.” She put her hooves together across her chest, and took a deep breath. She let out a slow exhale, her body visibly relaxing.
As she continued her “photosynthesis”, Tomato started pulling out the food items and placed them on the blanket. As he pulled out the sandwiches, he slid the peanut butter and jelly to her, and then unwrapped the second one from its bag. He wondered why he had even made this one; he had been trying for years to swear off one of the ingredients. However, his favorite food just didn’t taste the same without its companion.
He put the bag in the basket, and looked at his cheese and tomato sandwich.
He took a bite out of it, the gooey cheese oozing onto his tongue, and the firmness of the tomatoes giving way between his teeth. His mouth was filled with warmth as he chewed his bite, savoring the flavors mixing together in a whimsical and carefree dance. It brought him back to his colthood, where the smell of pizza was a common thing, laughter was his favorite sound, and he was inseparable with a pony he considered his very best friend. He squeezed his eyes shut as he swallowed the bite, which hurt more than he cared to admit.
He glanced at Flora, who had stopped her meditating and was unwrapping her sandwich. With a look of concern, she asked, “Is something wrong? You look kind of sad.”
Tomato furrowed his brow and huffed, taking another bite of his sandwich, munching on it more aggressively and swallowing it yet again, which still hurt. “I am not sad. Just look at the trees and see how they contrast the Manehattan skyline.”
“Don’t you what to talk about what’s bothering you?”
“I said I’m fine. Look at the stupid trees already!”
Flora nearly jumped at the volume of his voice, and then glowered at him. “Gee, you don’t have to call something I like stupid. You’ve got something against trees?”
Tomato snorted. “They all look the same to me, what else is there to see?”
“They’re more visually interesting than the skyscrapers.”
Tomato laughed in derision. “Oh, please. There’s a lot of bright and colorful signs in Times Square, there is a lot of variety in the building shapes, and we have a freakin’ giant horse head on top of one of them!”
Flora scowled at him. “So? They’re not even alive. They didn’t even build themselves. And how the hay did the builders even put that thing on top of the building, anyway?”
Tomato rolled his eyes. “Do I look like an an architect or an engineer? Besides… it took years for this city to be built, you know.”
“It takes years for a forest to grow, too.”
“The buildings have to be maintained, or they’ll suffer from erosion and corrosion and stuff like that.”
“The plants in gardens have to be tended, or they’ll die from weeds or drying up in sunlight.”
“Pfft, are you kidding? Abandoned cities are overrun with plants all the time, to the point where it’s inhospitable without some major cleaning up!” Tomato blinked. “Wait a minute…”
Flora smirked and giggled. “Just so you know… there’s different kinds of trees. And there’s flowers. And different kinds of grass. And–”
“All right, all right, you’ve made your point–your silly plants are prettier and more self-sustaining than this city. Admittedly… they’re quieter too.”
Flora shrugged. “Still, cities and gardens have something in common. If you don’t take care of them properly, they’ll fall into ruin and be overrun by weeds. It would take a lot of work to get them back in tip top shape.”
Tomato looked at his sandwich once again. “Can’t argue with that. But nature’s really dirty, just so you know.”
Flora still held a smug look on her face, and then took a bite out of her sandwich. “I don’t mind dirt.”
Tomato raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re not a hippie?”
Flora swallowed her bite and sighed. “I told you, I’m not interested in that ‘free love’ stuff or getting any trippy hallucinations from whatever they inhale. I’m more interested in finding the right stallion, marrying him, and then raising a big family with him. And the trippy stuff… eh, that’s not healthy. I also want a good job–something to do with physical therapy or psychology, or something.”
“I wish you luck in your endeavors, and hope you get a job in one of those areas.” Tomato wrinkled his nose. “A big family? Sounds like a lot of pain for you to go through. Not to mention that’d be one heck of a financial burden on you and this future husband of yours.”
“My family manages.”
“With like… four?”
Tomato dropped his sandwich. “…eight?” He waited a bit as Flora nodded in affirmation, and then rubbed his temples. “…eight. Eight! So you mean to tell me that you have seven siblings?”
“Is your mother still alive?”
“Yes, and she’s just fine, Tomato. If she’s slowing down, it’s because she’s getting older, not because she was pregnant eight times. Holy cow… you’re overreacting.”
Tomato picked his sandwich back up. “I don’t think my mom could handle having that many foals. Heck, she didn’t want that many. She hated it whenever my friends were over–bunch of rambunctious colts that could possibly break her stuff.” He took a deep breath, and took another bite of his sandwich. “How do your parents even remember all of their names?”
“Mom and Dad get us mixed up sometimes. You won’t believe how many times I’ve been called Olive or Willow.” She frowned. “Amber Waves was lucky because she’s the only yellow filly in the family.”
Tomato nodded. “You have any brothers?”
Flora had taken another bite of her sandwich and nodded back. When she swallowed, she said, “My brothers are Bananas, Ash Tree, Alfalfa, and Kernel Grin.”
Tomato scoffed. “What, that last one couldn’t be Kernel Smiles? Furthermore, why aren’t you Flower Power?”
“Flower Power is my grandma, and she demanded that she be the only one. We’re not allowed to name anypony after her until she’s dead. So far, she’s still alive and kicking.”
Tomato laid back and looked at the sky. “Well then. But please, tell me more about your siblings.”
“…and I was 17 when Kernel was born, so he’s a little toddler right now.” Flora patted her belly, full of the food that Tomato had brought. “I sure hope he doesn’t forget me.”
Tomato rubbed his own belly, feeling a little glum. “I sure wouldn’t like being forgotten by a sibling. But you can forgive a toddler, right?”
“They’re still learning, so, yeah.” She rolled on her side and smiled at him. “So… what’s your family like?”
Tomato snorted. “Boring. Just me, Mom, and Dad living in a boring little house in a boring little neighborhood not too far from these big buildings.” He sighed and idly counted the clouds. “I was happy to get away from there when I started college.”
Flora raised an eyebrow, and thought back to a time when Bluejinx had told her about how Tomato used to be a happy colt, and that he currently had issues that he didn’t want anypony knowing about. She knew that the two had friends that weren’t exactly true friends, having failed to be proper emotional support for Tomato when he needed it. Aside from the fact that she didn’t know what the moment of distress was that called for emotional support, she wondered what his parents were like.
By “boring”, did he mean neglectful? She shook her head. Maybe she was just overthinking it.
She rubbed her hooves together. “So, any plans for the future?”
Tomato still stared at the sky. “Move out of this city and start using my special talent in whatever job I get and climb to a suitable position from there. Or maybe I’ll start my own business. Hopefully I don’t become some kind of greedy corporate villain–ponies like me are always the villain according to some folks.”
“Does that mean I should run away now?”
“I don’t have that many minions yet, so you’re safe. For now.” He rolled onto his belly and stood up. “Well, I hope you enjoyed the picnic. It’s nice getting to know you better.”
Flora stood up as well. “Uh, yeah, same here.”
Tomato started picking things up with his hooves and his tail, dropping them into the basket. “Mind helping me clean up?”
Flora smiled. “It’s only fair that I do.”