Mrs. Cake looked up, her attention having been focused on making the front counter spotless. "Oh, hello, dearie! Back from your trip so soon?"
"Only you could consider it 'so soon,'" laughed Whooves as he trotted to the front counter, "I'm sorry, were you doing something?"
"Oh, don't worry about it," she assured, "We usually don't get customers this early. What can I getcha?"
"You wouldn't happen to have any banana-chocolate-chip muffins, would you?"
"Well..." Mrs. Cake checked behind the counter and the display. "Not right now, but I can have some ready in a jiff!"
"I would really appreciate it if you did, thanks."
Mrs. Cake turned and poked her head into the kitchen. "Honey bunches? I need a batch of banana-chocolate-chip muffins, please!"
"Sure thing, sugar plum!" replied Mr. Cake, already reaching for the necessary ingredients.
Mrs. Cake turned back to Whooves, her omnipresent motherly smile stretching on her face. "It'll be a little while, dearie. You need a seat?"
"No, thank you."
"Are you sure?"
Whooves nodded. "How's business been for you two?"
"Fantastic, thanks for asking!"
"No problem." Whooves took a look around the bakery. "Say, isn't Pinkie Pie usually up around now?"
"Oh, she's on vacation."
"Well, looks like you're managing without her."
Mrs. Cake chuckled. "Only barely. She does a lot around here: cleaning, cooking, selling...I can't think of anything she doesn't do."
"Well, you pay her for something, right?"
Mrs. Cake nodded, smiling. There were a few minutes of quiet. "How are things with Ditzy?"
"They couldn't be better, to be honest."
"That's wonderful." Another bout of silence. "How long have you two been together, again?"
"Three and a half years," he replied proudly.
"That long already? I remember the first time you two came here together."
Our first date, thought Whooves dreamily. "How are those muffins coming along?"
Mrs. Cake turned to the kitchen. "Dear?"
"Just a few more minutes, honey!"
Whooves nodded, looking around the bakery. Finally, Mr. Cake came out with a closed paper bag, setting it on the counter.
"There you are. Will four be good?"
"Four is perfect," assured Whooves, "How much do I owe you?"
"Eight bits, please."
Whooves set the coins on the counter.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Cake as she put them in the register, "Come again!"
"I will, thanks!" Whooves grabbed the paper bag, trotting out into the street.
The sun had barely begun to rise over Ponyville, the newborn daylight painting the sky a deep amber color. It was a sight to behold, even with only four ponies awake to see it. That fourth, currently, was sadly looking at the beautiful skyline through her bedroom window.
If one thing could be said of the Apple Clan, it's that they have a magnificent taste in headgear. If two, it's that they have buck-ass hats and that every single pony to bear the Apple Clan name has routinely gotten up at sunrise, even the colts and fillies.
Currently, it was Applebloom's only solace, and it was fading fast. She'd progressed beyond mere boredom, and tread into the badly-lit ground that was loneliness. Her only friends and sister were out of town, and the one other pony that she could play with was too busy to do anything but tell her a bedtime story and bring her breakfast treats from Sugarcube Corner, as if that -
Speak of the devil.
Big Macintosh trotted into the room, setting a paper bag down on the bed.
"Morning sis," he said, "Ah got yer favorite." Applebloom was silent. She didn't even turn around. "Apple fritters," he added, as if she would have forgotten her favorite pastry in all of Equestria.
He sighed. "Look, Applebloom, ah..." Big Mac stopped as he found Applebloom hanging on his shoulders, her hooves around his neck.
"Please, big brother?" she pleaded, "Just today? Can we play some more?"
Big Mac sighed again. "You asked that yesterday..." He gently pushed her down. "And the answer is still, no."
"Puh-leeeeze?" Her eyes widened into that damned cute stare that would make a Manticore's heart melt. "Can't ya just make Caramel do all the work again?"
Big Mac smiled slightly, suppressing a chuckle. "As much as ah'd like to, ah can't. It ain't fair to make him do everything twice in the same week."
"But...but..." Applebloom looked as if she was seconds away from crying.
"Ah'm sorry, Applebloom." Big Mac uncomfortably shifted his hooves for a second, then smiled again. "Tell ya what: when ah get back tonight, ah'll tell you two stories."
Applebloom cocked her head to one side with one eyebrow raised, considering her brother's offer.
"And," he continued, deciding that it couldn't hurt to sweeten the deal a bit, "Ah'll get you some more apple fritters as a bedtime snack."
Applebloom stayed silent for a second. "Yah promise?"
Applebloom jumped and hugged her brother again, squeezing him like an extra-stuffed teddy bear. "Thanks, Big Mac."
He smiled lovingly. "Anytime, sis. Ah'll seeya tonight."
"Seeya." She dropped down from Big Mac's shoulders. "Don't ferget!"
"Ah won't," he assured.
He trotted from the room, through the house, and all the way to the orchards. He'd been applebucking for close to an hour and a half before a familiar mullet-maned earth pony arrived.
"Morning, Big Mac."
Caramel began his applebucking when he took a second look at Big Macintosh. "You okay, Mac? You look like you slept on a bed of nails with a chain-link blanket."
As if to punctuate Caramel's point, Big Mac gave a long and deep yawn. It's true that he hadn't slept as well as he'd have liked to last night - he'd been thinking too much about Petal and the flowers (forty grannybuckin' bits...).
"Don't worry about it."
"You sure? I could go on a coffee run, if you need it."
"Naw, I'll be fine." A moment passed as he reconsidered. "Actually..." He pulled a few bits out of his yoke, tossing them to Caramel. "Cream, no sugar."
Caramel nodded, galloping back towards Ponyville. On his way to Sugarcube Corner, he bumped into a familiar light-eyed earth pony.
"Oh, sorry," he said quickly.
"Huh, wha? Oh, no, it's...zzzZZZ..." Bon-Bon, still standing, had put her head down and begun to snore.
"Uh, Bon-Bon?" Caramel nudged her, taking note of the rings around her eyes.
"zzzZZZZzzzz..." Boy, she really was out of it.
"Bon-Bon," he said a little more sharply, nudging her a little harder.
"SNRK-huh, hoobastank!" she exclaimed, her head bolting up.
"Oh, nothing." Bon-Bon rapidly shook her head as she felt herself drifting off again. "Sorry, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night."
"You, too, huh?" asked Caramel, smirking slightly.
"Mac's pretty wiped, too. I'm actually on a coffee run for him right now.
"Because I'm that generous."
Bon-Bon gave a quiet, tired hiccup of a laugh. "No, I mean, why's he tired?"
"I didn't ask. What about you, what kept you up?"
Bon-Bon considered her answer carefully. "Something happened with me and Lyra last night."
"What? You two have a fight?"
"Not really, just...something happened."
Caramel raised an eyebrow. He had an instinct as to what nature this 'something' pertained to, which is exactly why he decided to end this conversation.
"Well, I've gotta get going. Seeya, Bon-Bon."
"Seeya." She trotted past Caramel, yawning as she fought off another bout of fatigue.
She wasn't exactly sure what had driven her to get out of bed this morning. Come to think of it, she didn't remember getting up at all. What she did remember, with the utmost clarity, was Lyra. Goddess, the look in her eyes...
Bon-Bon still wasn't sure how she was able to shrug Lyra off like that, or why she then agreed to lunch today. If I wanted to do something painful, I'd prefer to just stick myself with a scalpel.
Bon-Bon violently shook her head again, even lightly clopping herself in the face. Goddess, I need to get some sleep. I'd rather not pass out in the middle of...
Bon-Bon lay undisturbed in the middle of the street for a few minutes before she felt somepony's hoof lightly digging into her side.
"Hey, you alright?"
"SNRK!" Bon-Bon's eyes broke open and she jumped to her hooves. "Fine, fine, just fine!"
Lightning Bolt took a tentative step back. "Um..."
Bon-Bon shook her head again. "Sorry, Bolt." She shifted her hooves uncomfortably. "So, uh...how's weather control been?"
"Good, I guess."
"Yeah..." There was a distinct and unmistakeably awkward silence. "Later." Without waiting for a response, she trotted off and away from the blue-maned pegasus.
That was...interesting, she thought. Shrugging, she jumped back into the air and flew onto her intended destination.
Lightning Bolt knocked on Cloudkicker's door. "Hello?" Nothing. She knocked again, harder. "Hel-lo!" A second helping of nothing. Rolling her eyes, she turned around. "Hey, Cloudkicker!" She bucked the door as hard as she could without putting her hooves straight through it. Inside, she heard a yelp accompanied by heavy thumping and the crash of something that sounded fairly expensive. A minute later, a sheepish Cloudkicker opened the door.
"What's up, Bolt?"
"Just got word in from the Mayor," said Lightning Bolt, her voice cleanly soaked through with exasperation, "She wants a storm set up for tomorrow."
"Seriously?" asked Cloudkicker incredulously, "And she tells us this the day before?"
"Hey, I don't like it any more than you do. But, then again, we don't get paid to like it."
"Well, what's the plan?"
"Considering the short notice, we're all meeting up at the east end of Ponyville at about noon to start setting up."
"Yeah. Why, you got plans?"
"Actually, I do."
Lightning Bolt nickered in frustration.
"I can make it, though," added Cloudkicker quickly, "I just might be a little late. Is that okay?"
"I guess," replied Lightning Bolt with a tinge of reluctant resignation, "Just be there as soon as you're done with...whatever it is you're doing."
"I will," she assured, "Take care."
Cloudkicker shut the door, galloping back to her room. Picking the now-cracked clock off the floor, she checked the time.
Crap. If she was going to spend any time with Caramel, she would have to leave now. She dropped the clock, cringing as she heard it crack again. I'll deal with it later.
She bolted into her kitchen, pulling the bag of cookies out of the fridge. Immediately regaining her momentum, she turned and galloped out of the house, hastily closing the door behind her before taking off and flying full-speed to Sweet Apple Acres. Below, a certain pink-maned earth pony trotting in the same direction witnessed the lavender-colored streak in the sky.
Wonder what her rush is. Forgetting about it, Lotus Petal kept on her way, her heart beating a speed metal drum solo from a thorough mixture of nerves and excitement.
She'd thoroughly thought through (say that five times fast) what she'd say to Big Macintosh. She'd start by thanking him for the flowers, then stick around for a little chit-chat. From there, she'd innocently mention how interested she was in going to that little restaurant that just opened near the square. With that, she'd ask Big Mac if he might like to join her there sometime? Maybe this weekend? Around six-ish?
It was, overall, a good plan. A good one, not a great one, but you can't expect much from a pony who threw up on the first colt to ever confess his love for her (a story for another time, sadly. It's quite a tale).
Lotus Petal approached the front door of the Apple family homestead, knocking. She stood patiently for a few moments before it opened, a rose-maned filly on the other side looking a trifle confused.
"Uh, can ah help you?"
"Hi, erm..." Lotus Petal found herself having to resist an oddly strong urge to squeal and give this filly an Ursa hug (a temptation anypony who can appreciate cuteness would be forced to combat). "Is Big Macintosh here?"
Applebloom shook her head.
"Oh...well, where is he?"
"Where is he working?"
Applebloom stretched a hoof out in the general direction of the Sweet Apple Acres orchards. "Somewhere out there."
Petal's jaw loosened a bit. "Uh, thanks..."
"Ayup. Have a nice day."
Applebloom closed the door, leaving Petal in awe at the sheer distance before her. She then smiled weakly, laughing.
"No biggie," she assured herself as she began trotting into the orchard, "Just a detail..."
Half an hour later, Lotus Petal was wondering how in a thousand burning hay bales she could have let this 'detail' slip her mind. She was beginning to get why this place was called Sweet Apple Acres.
A place this big, I'll be lucky to find him by...hey, a hill!
She started up the closest side, figuring that this halfway-decent vantage point might help find Big Mac. Reaching the top, she looked around. Nothing obvious. She trotted to the opposite edge, stretching out her neck and squinting to make sure that she hadn't missed him among the foliage.
That, as if turned out, may have been a bad idea. A really bad idea. An idea of Pinkie Pie-grade bad ideas.
The ground beneath Lotus Petal's front hooves suddenly crumbled to bits. Considering her lack of pegasus DNA, she could do nothing to stop herself as she felt gravity take over and pull her down the hill. She scraped over rocks and smacked against trees as she tumbled head over hooves down an absurdly long and painful fall. The entire time, amidst her exclamations of pain, one thought ran though her mind:
How long is this damn hill?!
Reaching the bottom, she spat out a mouthful of what she hoped to be mud, and looked at her coat. It was a mess, with masses of twigs, weeds, and mosses stuck in her fur. Through the fine layer of dirt that could be seen (and felt) all throughout, there was a multitude of stinging nicks in her skin, some of which had smeared an unseemly crimson in her coat.
Goddess, please don't let this get any worse...
Already making plans to get home and take a long, steaming hot bath, she turned back towards Ponyville.
Standing before her were two wide-eyed earth ponies and one even-wider-eyed pegasus around an open bag of cookies.
"I, uh, I'm, eh..." stammered Petal, quivering slightly. She felt her eyes getting watery. Oh, no, don't do this...
Suddenly, one of the earth ponies began laughing, like this was one of the funniest things he'd ever seen in his life.
Caramel kept up a steady stream of guffaws, stomping his hoof on the ground from pure elation. Cloudkicker reluctantly joined in, giving a few stifled giggles.
Petal drooped her head, softly whimpering as tears began to escape her closed eyelids.
Big Mac trotted over, his usual bored expression belying his concern. "Hey, are you-" He was cut off by a sharp wail as Lotus Petal pushed past him and the other two ponies, vanishing through the legions of apple trees.
She carried on like this all the way out of Sweet Apple Acres and to Luxury Lotus Health and Beauty Spa. On her way, she passed by the Sunflower Sammich Delicatessen, where, outside, two old friends were having lunch.
"Hey, wasn't that Lotus Petal?" Lyra pointed out.
"Huh? Uh, yeah, I think it was." Bon-Bon, still running off of a bare amount of sleep, hadn't even noticed anypony going by.
Lyra bit her lip, looking at the table. It had been close to a half hour their sandwiches were almost completely finished, and they'd said no more than ten sentences to each other the entire time. Last night had cut a wound that seemed to be bleeding silence.
Lyra still hadn't forgiven herself for watering down her confession. I like you? That weak, tired old line? The silence was becoming as bearable as a burlap sack filled with dark matter. Just start talking about something. Anything. It's not like you could make it worse...
"Y'wanna hear a joke?"
"Hrm? Sure, go ahead..." Bon-Bon was having to force her glassy eyes open; it was the least she could do for Lyra.
"Well, there are these two colts talking during school - or was it after? No, during. Anyways, they're talking during school, and he says - I mean, the one colt says to his friend, 'Hey, if you want to make some cash off your folks, just say...' What was it?" You suck at this. "Oh, right, 'Just tell one of them that you know the whole truth'...um, Bon-Bon?"
"ZZZzzz - Huh, what? I'm sorry, what was that?" Keep awake, Bon-Bon.
"Nothing," replied Lyra, blushing as she sunk a little further into her seat. "Hey, are you alright? You seem out of it."
"Huh? No - I mean, yeah, I'm alright." Bon-Bon attempted a reassuring smile. It came off more as an unconvincing smirk.
"Are you sure? I mean, if you need to go home-"
"No, no," interrupted Bon-Bon, "I'll survive. So, you write any more music lately?"
"A little," replied Lyra, shrugging, "But you know me; I've never been the fastest composer."
Bon-Bon nodded, her eyelids feeling heavier by the second. "I guess. So how's...zzZZZZzz..."
Lyra cocked her head to one side. "Eh, Bon-Bon?"
Lyra looked around, then gave Bon-Bon a soft kick.
"SNRK! I didn't - oh..." It was Bon-Bon's turn to blush and sink into her chair. "S-sorry..."
"It's fine." A moment of silence passed between them. "Bon-Bon?"
"Well...I think we should call it a day and get you home. You need some rest."
"What? No, I told you, I feel..." Her head began to droop. Lyra clopped her hooves on the table, snapping Bon-Bon back awake.
"It's not up for debate. Come on." Lyra set some bits on the table, getting up and pulling Bon-Bon out of her seat.
Bon-Bon seemed to remember resisting, but when she'd re-focused, she was trotting alongside Lyra, on what seemed like the path home. In her state, though, a walk through a dragon's lair would have seemed like the path home. Arriving, they saw a familiar gray pegasus slipping some letters under the door.
"Oh, hey, Ditzy!" said Lyra, waving.
Ditzy turned, a wall-eyed smile on her face. "Hi, you troop! How have you binged?"
"Bon-Bon's a little under the weather, here..."
"I told you, I'm...zzzzZZZZ..."
"I thought so." Lyra laughed, turning back to Ditzy. "Have you already delivered my mail?"
"Alright, thanks. Take care, Ditzy. Say 'hi' to Dinky for me!"
For the first time in two days, the mention of her daughter didn't make Ditzy flinch, or even dampen her spirits. In fact, her smile seemed to grow even broader at her little muffin's name.
"I will!" she assured, "Have a sensual day!" She flew past the two ponies (of whom one's face had turned a sharp magenta), even more eager to finish her deliveries today than she was yesterday, or any other day.
Arriving at the first of her last stops, she stepped inside.
"Welcome to Floral Fantasies, how may I - oh, hello, Ditzy!"
"Special derogatory!" Ditzy trotted up to the front counter, setting down a large box of seed packets.
"Oh, finally!" Roseluck practically snatched the box up. "Thanks, Ditzy. Say, a little birdie tells me that beau of yours is back in town?"
Ditzy nodded exuberantly.
"Well, send him my regards! And to that filly of yours, too!"
Ditzy's smile grew as she nodded again. She trotted from the flower shop, checking her list. The end was tantalizingly close, but not there just yet. There was one stop left: Ace's Workout Center and Sporting Goods.
Trotting inside, she was immediately hit the the scent of sweat and old gym clothes. Not too far away, she could see Ace leaning over a barbell set, flirting with three giggling mares. He spotted Ditzy out of the corner of his eye.
"Excuse me, ladies," he said smoothly, "I have to get my mail." Winking, he added, "Don't you go anywhere."
They giggled some more, their eyes following Ace as he trotted over to the mailpony. "Good afternoon, Ditzy." He took his letters and set them to the side. "Anything for me at the ol' post office?"
"Excellent. Say, you haven't my racket anywhere around Ponyville, have you?"
"I don't shrink so."
"Cobalt blue? Specially contoured grip? Silver-engraved nameplate on the bottom?"
Ditzy shook her head.
"Well, I don't think anypony would have taken it..."
On the other side of Ponyville, a blank-flanked filly sneezed.
"...So let me know if you find it."
"I will. Take pear!"
She trotted back out, glad to be breathing clean, perspiration-free air. Without wasting another second, she bolted back home.
Ditzy busted through the front door, not bothering to close it. She then galloped into the dining room, turning the mailbag up over the table.
"Well," said a chuckling Whooves as he trotted in, "Looks like somepony came home happy!"
He couldn't tell if she just didn't hear him or was too engrossed in whatever she was doing to stop and respond. The bag fell to the side as a hoof-ful of letters fell on the table, and Ditzy began sifting through them.
"What are you looking for, love?"
She didn't respond. Instead, she stopped, then looked through the letters again.
"I-it's not h-here," she said, her voice wavering.
"What isn't?" he asked with an unmistakable air of concern.
"Dinky's l-letter," replied Ditzy, her eyes becoming watery, "She said t-that she'd wr-write..."
Whooves wanted to say, Is that it? He almost did. But he had to remind himself, She's just being Ditzy. And Ditzy's a worried mum who's protective of Dinky. Bloody hell, she has a right to be; she had to raise the filly by herself for the longest time.
"Hey," he said quietly, softly nuzzling her cheek, "Cheer up, love."
Ditzy sniffed back some tears.
"Maybe it's stuck in the post," continued Whooves with a reassuring tone, putting a hoof around her shoulders, "Or maybe it just slipped her mind..."
Ditzy sniffed again, a few tears spilling down her cheeks. Whooves winced as he realized his verbal blunder.
"I didn't mean it like that. You know her, Ditzy; she wouldn't tell you she'd write and then just forget it completely."
Ditzy smiled tearfully, looking up at Whooves. "Th-thank you."
"No problem, love." He gave her a soft nuzzle on the nose.
Ditzy returned the nuzzle, then yawned. "I th-think I'll go t-take a nap."
"Alright. Is it okay if I go for a walk?"
Ditzy nodded, standing up and trotting with Whooves into the hallway as they each went an opposite direction. Halfway up the stairs, she stopped and turned. "I l-love you."
Whooves froze in the front doorway, then turned and smiled at Ditzy. "I love you, too."
They stayed like that for a second, each one lovingly smiling at the other. Finally, Whooves turned and trotted out, shutting the front door behind him. Stepping outside, he had to brace himself against a very sudden and very lavender gust of wind.
Cloudkicker was silently berating herself. How could I have lost track of time like that?! Goddess, Lightning Bolt is going to be pissed...
She could see the gathering of pegasi not too far away; maybe she could slip in unnoticed?
Yeah, and maybe I'll spurt a unicorn's horn...
She flew up and landed at the side, pretending not to hear a few light giggles among the others.
"...And thank you for volunteering, Cloudkicker."
Cloudkicker's head snapped to Lightning Bolt. "Um, what, now?"
"Well, I just got finished telling everypony else how we still need one more storm manager for tomorrow..."
"...And there you are. Okay, everypony, get to it."
Cloudkicker grumbled, stamping her hoof. She considered asking Lightning Bolt if there was anything, anything else for her to do besides flying around in the rain and lightning.
She decided against it; neither kvetching about her current task nor begging for another was going to change Lightning Bolt's mind. And nothing short of all the gold in Canterlot or a death threat would get any other pegasus to trade jobs with her.
She nickered in frustration. On the bright side, she'd have the rest of the day to herself. Maybe cram in a little more time with Caramel?
At that last thought, her stomach rumbled. Less from hunger, more from a lack of anything not crunchy and chocolatey. If she wanted to make it to tomorrow, she'd need something a bit more substantial than those cookies.
She once again took to flight, making a beeline for the Sunflower Sammich Delicatessen. Trotting inside, she failed to notice the three earth ponies sitting outside, almost the exact same position they were a little more than two days ago.
Lotus Petal sat there with her two sisters, solemnly looking at her still-untouched sandwich. She'd cleaned up considerably from earlier, but if one looked closely, you could notice two lines of dark, flattened fur on her face, right below her eyes.
"...It couldn't have been that bad," said Flower, shoving a verbal combat knife through the cumbersome silence.
"Trust me. It was awful." Petal put her face in her hooves. "I never felt like such a foal..."
"Not even when you-" began Flower. A sharp glare from Blossom cut her off. "Nevermind."
"What Flower was trying to say," said Blossom, glowering at her once again before turning to Petal, "Is that it's not the end of the world. There's always next time."
"What next time?" asked Petal hopelessly, "Like I'm going back there again..."
"Why wouldn't you?"
"Why do you think?!" she snapped. She felt a sting of guilt as Blossom retreated into her chair slightly. "I'm sorry...but really, why would I go back? Just to make myself look like an idiot, again?" She slumped into her seat, giving a defeated sigh. "Forget about it."
"Are you sure about that?" asked Flower.
Petal laughed feebly. "Not really. Still, I'm not going back there anytime soon."
Blossom shrugged. "I suppose there's nothing we can do to talk you into it?"
Petal shook her head.
"Alright." Silence. "Are you even going to eat that sandwich?"
Petal looked at it. "Not right now. I'll take it home." She signaled to a waiter. "You two go on ahead, I'll catch up."
They nodded, each one dropping some bits on the table before trotting off back to the spa. Outside, they could see a sea-green unicorn waiting.
"Oh, hello, Lyra!" Blossom unlocked the door, letting her and Flower in first. "Sorry if you've been waiting a while, we were taking lunch."
"It's fine," assured Lyra, "I'm here for my massage?"
"Certainly. This way, please!" Blossom led Lyra to the massage tables. "Pick a table, I'll be with you in a moment."
Lyra set herself on the nearest one. Not a minute later, Blossom returned and began the massage.
"So, how's your week been?" asked the spa pony conversationally.
"Well..." Lyra chose her words carefully. "Not terrible, I suppose."
"Hrm? Did something happen to you?"
"No, no. Just...me and Bon-Bon hit a...an awkward patch."
"Oh." Blossom was well aware of how Lyra felt of Bon-Bon; they'd talked about it almost every time she came in. In fact, she'd been the only pony in Ponyville that Lyra felt comfortable telling, and her faith was well-placed. What was said between the two ponies stayed between the two ponies. "What happened? Did you two fight? I mean, I don't mean to pry..."
"No, no, you're fine." Lyra stayed quiet for a moment, pondering how she was to put this. "Well, two days ago, we were in the park together...and, um..."
"And, well, I'm not sure why, exactly, but I...erm..."
Blossom patiently waited for Lyra to finish.
"I...I kissed her."
Blossom froze. "And then?" she asked eagerly, putting her hooves back in motion.
"Well, what could I do? I ran."
Blossom smirked, barely containing a laugh. Celestia, that sounds like something Petal would do. She and Lyra stayed quiet for a few minutes before she asked, "Have you two talked since then?"
"What? Oh, oh, yeah, we did."
"How did it go?"
"Awkwardly." She was silent for a moment. "You want to know what we said, don't you?"
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." But it'd be more fun if you did.
"Well, we met at her house. We tried some chit-chat, but she cut to the chase and asked me what the hay happened."
"So what'd you say?"
"I lied, at first, but she didn't buy it."
"And so I told her that I liked her."
Blossom inhaled through her bit lip. "Her response?"
"Well, we agreed to let things go back to normal." Blossom could hear the disappointment in Lyra's voice.
"How's that working out?"
"Not too well; she was so tired today at lunch, I could barely talk to her."
"What got her so worn-down?"
"Can't say, seeing as I didn't ask."
They were quiet for a few minutes. "I'm sorry," said Blossom consolingly.
"Don't be," replied Lyra, "I made my own stupid mistake."
Luna, now she's sounding like Petal. "I wouldn't call it stupid..."
"I would. But at least I tried, right?"
"Right," agreed Blossom, "Anything else interesting?"
An hour later, Lyra trotted from Luxury Lotus Health and Beauty Spa feeling infinitely better than she did trotting in. Getting home, she opted to take a shortcut through the park. Along the way, she encountered a pegasus and an earth pony sitting together on one of the benches.
She almost said 'hi' before noticing the depressed look Cloudkicker was bearing. She kept quiet, leaving the two to focus on each other.
Caramel put a hoof around Cloudkicker's shoulders. "So she just shoved the job on you?"
Cloudkicker nodded. "It sucks. Being a storm manager is like...what's the worst job Big Mac ever gives you on Sweet Apple Acres?"
"Applebucking," he said with a straight face.
She looked at him, then laughed. "I guess it was a pretty stupid question. But you get my point."
"Yeah." He was quiet for a moment. "What do you have to do as a storm manager, anyways?"
"Basically? I have to fly around for most of tomorrow, with nothing but a pair of goggles, just watching the storm to make sure it's going as planned."
"You don't get to wear a raincoat?"
"No, they tend to mess with our flight patterns; they can slow us down, or get caught on something, or..."
"I think I get it," he interrupted, "When do you get to rest?"
"Not until the job's done, and that's usually not 'till late afternoon. At earliest." She looked at the sun. "I think I should get home and start getting ready. Seeya, Caramel." She nuzzled his cheek, then flew off.
Dumbly, he sat there for a few minutes. Then, out of nowhere, a smile broke out on his face, a smile absolutely dripping with smugness. He got up, making note of a few stops he'd have to make before getting back to the farm...
Bic Mac yawned, looking up at the sound of approaching hooves. "Was that break long enough for ya?"
"As a matter of fact, it was. How'd you hold up without me?"
"Well enough," he lied. He was wearing out. "What were ya doin'?"
Caramel smirked as he began bucking again. "A little something I like to call my business."
Big Mac chuckled. "Turnabout's fair play, ah s'pose."
"That's what I believe. Anyways, is there anything else that needs to get done before tomorrow? What, with the storm and all..."
"Naw," replied Big Mac, "Lightnin' Bolt told me it ain't gon' be too windy, so we don't needta worry about trees fallin' over."
"I guess so." A few minutes passed. "I'm not quite sure how, but that reminds me: what was that with...oh, what's her name?"
"Lotus Petal, an' what about her?"
"You act like that's not an obvious question, Mac. What was with her being here earlier?"
"Ah don't know." Big Mac hoped that he wasn't blushing.
Caramel stopped his bucking, smiling with one eyebrow raised. "Oh, I see..."
"She came around hoping for a bite of Big Macintosh, didn't she?" he continued mockingly.
Big Mac raised an eyebrow in return. "That don't even make sense."
"Eh, maybe not. But what's important is..." Caramel continued bucking. "You must've done something to get her interested."
"Ah don't know what yer talkin' about."
"So you decided to take my advice yesterday? Bring her some flowers? Maybe lay down the charm a little?"
"Y'know what?" Big Macintosh bucked one more basketful of apples. "Let's call it a day." He quickly trotted past Caramel.
"Let me know if I'm in the wedding party! I don't look half bad in a tux."
Big Macintosh pretended to not hear Caramel's last remark, and that he didn't just have that conversation. He kept trying to pretend this the entire way home. He wasn't having much luck.
Big Mac groaned as he hit his mattress. Today was draining, to say the least. And everything from his lack of sleep yesterday to Lotus Petal's embarrassing spectacle to that last conversation with Caramel certainly didn't serve to better his mood. All he wanted to do now was stay still, close his eyes, and...
"Big brother?" came a small, sweet voice from his doorway.
"Aren't ya gonna read me those stories? And where are the apple fritters?"
"Applebloom, ah'm tired, ah'll do that for ya tomorrah." He kept his gaze on the opposite wall, a perfect 180 degrees from his sister.
"B-but..." The voice began to quiver slightly. "You said you wouldn't ferget..."
"Ah'm sorry." He wasn't actually that sorry, but by the goddess, he just wanted to sleep.
"B-but..." Applebloom's voice became shakier. "You promised...you promised that you'd read me two stories, an'-an' that you'd bring me some-"
She yelped in fright.
At first glance, all you'd probably notice of Big Mac was his change of position to look directly at Applebloom. If one were to take a second look, however, you might see slight differences in his general appearance: his muscles were tensed slightly, his wheat sprig seemed set even more concretely between his teeth, and his half-drooped eyes had angled slightly.
"Today's not been mah best day; ah'm tired, an' ah feel like dirt." His voice was hardly raised, but each syllable carried a blatant tone of furious irritation. "The last thing ah feel like doin' right now is reading stories or gettin' apple fritters. So, please, go to bed, and just shut. Up."
Applebloom's eyes began to stung. "B-but..."
"Now." Without another word, Big Macintosh turned back towards the opposite wall.
Applebloom stood there for several moments, crushed. Finally, silent tears streaking down her face, she turned and sullenly trotted to her room. She climbed into her bed, tucking herself in.
"G-good night," she murmured tearfully.
When Luna brought her moon and stars in their fully glory above Ponyville, some ponies were already sleeping peacefully. Two had once again fallen asleep in the blissful peace of each others' company, though one still had one worry hanging at the back of her mind. Another pony had gone to bed with a simple feeling of contentment at having a well laid-out plan for tomorrow. Another still had passed out several hours ago from pure exhaustion.
Others were asleep, but far from peacefully. One pony had gone to bed still feeling unbearably embarrassed. Another had unhappily gone to bed, grumbling as she set her cracked alarm clock for early the next morning. And one small filly had smeared her pillow with tears as she tried to fall asleep without her promised stories and treats.
Meanwhile, a few rooms over, her brother was tossing and turning as his conscience forcefully invaded his dreams.