The seventh day was rainy, but Carrot Top didn’t even notice. She spent the whole day cooking and perfecting her dishes, and then when it came time to get ready for the party, she cut loose. By the time Berry Punch showed up with the liquor, and the others showed up to eat, there was plenty of food.
Trixie looked at her plate. “Should I be worried about all the liquor on the table?”
“Since when have you been worried by liquor?” asked Raindrops.
There were over fifty ponies waiting for food, but Carrot Top thought she had just enough for all of them. At least, she hoped she did. “Wish me luck,” she asked Berry Punch.
“Why? You don’t need it. But – alright. Good luck.”
Carrot Top grinned and then carefully brought out the first tray of dishes. “Alright, so here we have the carrot salad, carrot turnovers, carrot stew…” She put the tray on the big center table. “Sorry there’s not going to be a whole lot for any one pony, but since y’all have been so helpful this week, I did try to make as much as I could…”
“Representatives first!” said Trixie as quickly as she could, hurrying to the front of the line and putting some of each dish on her plate.
Lyra groaned, but there was amusement in it. “Come on, everypony. Just ignore her. Let’s get food!”
The group began filling up their plates.
Carrot Top returned to the kitchen, where Berry Punch helped her get the next tray set up. “Careful, it’s hot,” said Berry Punch.
“Thanks.” Carrot Top carefully balanced the tray on her back. “Alright, here we go.”
She opened the door again to go into the living room, only to realize that nopony was talking. They were all busily devouring the food.
Trixie finished her plate, licked it, and looked at the now-empty original tray. “You made more, right?”
Carrot Top grinned.
Everypony loved the food, and the party continued on for hours.
The dfshes vanished almost as quickly as Carrot Top cooked it, and an increasingly giggly Berry Punch kept telling Carrot Top how great that was and how good of a cook she’d become. She helped make sure that things stayed hot and were stirred appropriately while Carrot Top was hosting, at least until Carrot Top noticed that her words were getting slurred.
“Did you have a lot to drink?”
“Nah, no more than usual. It’s a party! You gotta live!” yelled Berry Punch.
“Okay, I think I’ll take over the stove.”
“I’m fine! I can cook with a little liquor in me! It helps!”
Carrot Top paused. “Didn’t you almost burn down your restaurant two months ago?”
“Hey, that stove had it in for me.”
Carrot Top ushered Berry Punch into the living room. “You host. I’ll cook. In insist”
“Kay. Everypony, let’s party and celebrate! Carrot Top’s gonna win everything! WOOO!”
Carrot Top cooked until all the food was gone, and yet the ponies ate it all. Trixie immediately pronounced it some of the best carrot-based food she’d ever eaten, though given Trixie’s notoriously eclectic tastes, that wasn’t necessarily saying very much. But the other ponies loved the food too, and as the food and liquor were consumed, the atmosphere got merrier and merrier.
“I just wanna say how great it’s been workin’ with Carroty here,” slurred Berry Punch. “She’s a great student an’ everythin’ an’ she’s just real awesome in general. She’s a great friend.” Berry approached Carrot Top. “Hug time!”
Carrot blushed, but Trixie – looking rather inebriated herself – pushed the two of them together, and Berry Punch gave Carrot Top a long hug. “See? An’ just a few days ago she was getting trashed at my bar!”
“You were drunk?” asked Raindrops, looking stunned. “Since when do you drink?”
“I was, uh, depressed,” managed Carrot Top.
Boxxy Brown roared with laughter. “Good answer!”
“TO CARROT TOP!” roared Trixie, and the party continued on.
Over an hour after all the food was gone, the party was only just winding down. But the guests did eventually leave, until it was just the Elements left.
“Seriously, amazing,” said Lyra. “This is really good. You’re going to do fine tomorrow.”
“Just remember what we all taught you,” said Cherilee. “And you’ll do fine.”
Carrot Top chuckled. “Right. You taught me the science… and Berry taught me to cook, and Lyra taught me the desserts, and Ditzy and Dinky, you showed me what tasted good. And Trixie…”
“Trixie just ate the food,” said Raindrops.
The others laughed, and Trixie blushed. “Hey, that’s not true. I’m helpful.”
“How?” asked Raindrops.
“Moral support. Or, more seriously, who was it that figured out that Flim and Flam were bad news? Who was it that got you to enter this thing in the first place?”
“You’ve been a great help,” said Carrot Top. “Seriously. Thank you – all of you – for your support.”
“Can we come with you tomorrow?” asked Ditzy.
“You can’t help me cook, but there’s no rule against you coming to watch. I’m allowed… I think two guests.”
“I need to be one of ‘em,” managed Berry Punch, from the couch. “Last minute tips ‘an stuff.”
“We’ll figure it out,” said Carrot Top. “Draw lots, or something.”
“Excellent,” said Trixie. “And on that note, I need to hit the hay. Let’s all meet at the train station tomorrow; we’ll figure out who’s going and we’ll see you off, okay?”
They all agreed, and that was that.
Carrot Top stepped out of her house and smiled. The rain had broken, and it was a beautifully cool night.
She would just trot over quickly to Sweet Apple Acres. Apple Bloom was probably tired of dealing with Applejack and needed a friend to say hi too. Besides, maybe a friendly face would be just what Applejack needed. She had to understand by now that Carrot Top wasn’t going to hurt her farm; now that she’d had time to process what had happened the other day –
“Where are you going?”
Carrot Top yelped and jumped almost a foot in the air. The voice had seemed to come from nowhere. “Trixie?”
“Yo.” Trixie dropped her invisibility spell. “Where are you going?”
“Uh. Just over to the Apples, and—“
“Why?” Trixie frowned. “Carrot Top. Come on.”
“Hey, Berry Punch told me I should keep being generous, and—“
“There’s generous, and then there’s being a doormat.” Trixie was silent for a few moments. “If you give everything away, Carrot Top, there’s not going to be anything left. You’re my friend. I don’t want that to happen.”
“It’s just a visit—“
“But it’s not just that. Berry told me what you did yesterday.”
“Saving the Apple farm?”
“Come on. We both know how strong the Trust is. Do you honestly think they’d have let Sweet Apple Acres fall? They’d have figured out an antidote. Probably before the competition.”
Carrot Top didn’t say anything. Trixie might well be right, after all.
“And now. You know that Applejack doesn’t want to see you. That she’ll probably think you’re trying to steal her recipes. You need to be sleeping, getting ready for tomorrow. Not visiting her.”
“Well… I mean, it’s just a little time, and—“
“You’re being like Applejack,” said Trixie, slowly, but with gravity.
“She’s putting everything she has into the orchard, and she’s going insane. I’m worried that you’re going to put everything you have into… into helping save her from herself… and you’ll crash with her.”
“Carrot Top. If Applejack flops during the competition tomorrow – if she forgets her apples, say, or she spills a dish – you’re going to be tempted to help her, aren’t you?”
Carrot Top opened her mouth to say that no, of course she wouldn’t be, but then she shut it. She knew she’d be tempted, no matter how stupid it was.
“I want you to promise me that, unless the Apples are in actual, physical danger, you aren’t going to do that. You won’t give them advice or ingredients or bits or anything.”
“But…” Carrot Top looked away. “This whole week, I’ve been learning that my generosity has helped so many ponies. If I become, I don’t know, miserly now--”
“Do you think that any of them would want you to ruin yourself for them? No. We’re helping you not just because we owe you – this isn’t some tab we’re paying off – but because we like you and we’re friends with you and we want you here. But if you neglect your cooking tomorrow to help the Apples, you’ll lose your farm. And nopony wants that, except Applejack. Do you understand that?” She hesitated. “You worry about other ponies all the time. Now – for us, if nopony else – worry about yourself, okay?”
Carrot Top nodded.
“Then promise me. Please?”
“I – I promise.” Carrot Top felt like a weight was lifting from her as she said it. “Unless the Apples are in physical danger, I won’t help them with the competition.”
Trixie smiled. “Great. Go on and win this thing, okay? You deserve the money.”
“Thanks.” Carrot Top blinked. “By the way, when you asked me to enter, how much of that was you wanting me to give you some of the prize money?”
“…if I said twenty, maybe twenty-five percent, will you tell Raindrops?”
Carrot Top laughed. “You’re a good friend, Trixie.”
The blue mare smiled. “Thanks. Now, seriously – go inside. Get sleep. Get ready. I’ll wake you up tomorrow.”
“You? When do you ever wake up before noon?”
“When it matters.”
The next day was a perfect day for travel – bright, sunny, just the right temperature. It was, Carrot Top thought, like Equestria itself was blessing her journey.
Trixie gave her a wake-up call, in that she showed up and shouted into Carrot Top’s ear to wake her. “You weren’t getting up when I was speaking more quietly,” she said, sheepishly, lying where Carrot Top had bucked her. “What?”
Carrot Top had laughed and helped her up, then picked up her non-carrot ingredients and packed them, grabbed her crate of carrots, ate a quick breakfast, and then headed over to the train station… only to find a huge crowd there to cheer her on. Even once the train came, they didn’t leave, and she ended up waving ‘goodbye’ from the train door. “Bye everypony!”
“Good luck!” roared the crowd.
Carrot Top smiled, touched by the sheer number of ponies that had arrived to see her off. All the other farmers were there, and the Elements, and a bunch of random ponies that Carrot Top knew – shopkeepers, weather ponies, everypony. They were all stamping their hooves and yelling goodbye.
“Win some money!” roared Lyra. “And then go on a vacation! You work too hard!”
Carrot Top chuckled. She could say that again.
The Elements had decided that Berry Punch and Trixie would accompany Carrot Top to the competition – Berry for advice, and Trixie to make sure she didn’t do anything foolish. They had both boarded the train, and now Trixie stuck her head out. “We’re gonna win! Kick the Trust’s flanks!” she roared. The crowd cheered in response.
Applejack poked her head out through another window. The cheering almost immediately died down. Applejack scowled, and Carrot Top winced. Ouch.
“Everypony,” the carrot farmer called out. “Just remember, if either of us places, we’ll be bringing fame and money back to Ponyville! Whether it goes to the irrigation system or something else, it’s important that we stand together and—“
“Aww, quit being nice, Carrot, and kick that Apple flank from here to Stalliongrad!” roared Boxxy Brown. “Go on, kick it!” There was general laughter.
Carrot Top rolled her eyes but quickly regained control of herself. “We are all from Ponyville, and a victory from either of us will benefit all Ponyville. I…” The train was beginning to move. “Wish us luck!” she finished, before ducking inside.
That could have gone better.
“Hey, Carrot Top!”
Carrot Top turned to see the other Elements, plus Dinky, racing along the platform.
“GOOD LUCK!” they all yelled at once.
Carrot Top grinned and waved, and then the train was pulling away towards Trottingham.
Yes, she thought, being as generous as she was… it was worth it after all.