By the time the pre-determined hour had rolled around, Ponyville was once again in default Saturday night mode. The shopping crowds that mobbed the high street in the daytime had thinned out to be replaced by stallions and mares ready for an evening on the tiles. The nightlife in the town left a lot to be desired when compared to that of Canterlot, Fillydelphia or even Cloudsdale. A few bars of varying popularity and target crowds, the odd pub and two nightclubs – hardly a pinnacle of the Equestrian party scene. Nonetheless on Fridays and Saturdays most of these establishments would be packed to the rafters.
For once Rarity was not one of the ponies on the hunt for a place to drink. Instead, she stood on Old Town Hall Bridge, anxiously pacing back and forth and regularly glancing in all directions for a hint of a stetson. When it came to social occasions Rarity tended to show up fashionably late – not by much but late enough to make her entrance noticeable. This time, however, she was more than punctual. She had made a rapid dash from the shop to the meeting place at around five past seven lest Applejack show up early to no avail.
Ever since her receipt of the letter from Applejack that morning Rarity had fretted over its instructions and its implications. If she were to wear her finest, that surely indicated a degree of sophistication to the proceedings – maybe a romantic dinner in one of Ponyville's fine bistros or perhaps a show (the Ponyville Symphony was to play the works of Beethoofen that night, and she'd already mentioned in passing how much she enjoyed classical music). On the other hoof this was Applejack. Rarity believed that sophistication seemed as alien to her love as humility was to Rainbow Dash, or emotional stability to Twilight Sparkle (she cringed at this dreadful thought, remembering all too well the conversation of the previous day). Not to mention the not-inconsiderable expense invoked by both of those activities. AJ wasn't poor, but such frivolous spending seemed highly unlike her.
Nevertheless she had spent an equal amount of her day worrying about what exactly constituted 'her finest'. There was her casual finest, smart-casual finest, businesslike finest, cocktail party finest, royal visit finest, gala finest, more finery in one walk-in wardrobe than most boutiques carried in stock at any one time. She didn't want to seem too showy on the pretext that it could intimidate Applejack and potentially show her up, but she didn't wish to dress down to the extent that even a humble cowpony could complain about her lack of effort in dressing for the occasion. This distraction didn't diminish when burdened with the presence of Sweetie Belle, a state that did not go unnoticed by the increasingly impatient filly.
“Rarity! When are we gonna do something fun?” the younger sibling whined as Rarity deliberated between a little black dress and one of her experimental gowns from a Hoity Toity assignment.
“Soon, Sweetie Belle. I just have to look out an outfit...”
“But that's so boring!” Sweetie interrupted, “And I really hoped you'd help me try to do something so I can finally get my Cutie Mark!”
“Like I said, dear, soon...”
“But Rarity!” came another interjection. Rarity's temper was slowly beginning to rise – all this moaning was making her already arduous task infinitely more difficult, “I'm your only sister and I don't get to see you often!”
“I am all too aware of that fact, Sweetie...” Rarity began through gritted teeth.
“And it's a beautiful day. I wanna be outside!”
“Well that can be...”
“And you're supposed to be looking after me! Not looking through boring old dresses!”
“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity yelled, the last wire holding her already fragile mood together having been cut so mercilessly, “If you don't let me find a dress for my date with Applejack then I will have mother and father come and collect you once again!"
It took a second for the full nature of her outburst to sink in, but upon realising what she had blurted out to her sister Rarity turned a violent shade of vermilion and buried her face in her hooves.
“Oh my Celestia, I should not have said that,” the fashionista muttered quietly enough that her sister would be unable to hear.
“You're going on a date with... Applejack?” Sweetie Belle asked. Rarity couldn't look at her as she nodded.
“That is so awesome!”
Rarity lowered her hooves to see Sweetie Belle beaming back at her.
“That means me and Applebloom could be as close as sisters! Even sisters-in-law if everything goes right. Then we'd never have to stop crusading! Oh please let me help you out with your dress hunt and everything Rarity. Please?!”
Rarity was still puzzled as she gave her tacit approval. In the end Sweetie Belle proved an adequate assistant of sorts. Her eye for fashion still needed some refinement and her suggestion that Rarity turn up for her date in a wedding dress was swiftly shot down in a fit of coughing and several loud rejections, but when the idea struck Rarity to modify a pre-existing dress the filly followed orders exactly when Rarity needed her to as well as providing valuable company and entertainment with occasional demonstrations of her angelic singing voice.
“Well, what do you think?” Rarity asked Sweetie Belle as she modelled her latest creation. She had taken an old and plain sky blue summer dress she had purchased on a whim during a trip to Las Pegasus years before and added a few frills in a deeper blue along with some intricate detailing elsewhere, including a small, almost apple-shaped gem and sapphire sewn side-by-side just below the collar. She was rather proud of such a quick job, even if it were a mere rejuvenation of something she had owned before.
“It looks amazing! AJ will love it!”
“I'm so glad you think so, Sweetie. I couldn't have done it without you,” Rarity said as she hugged her sister.
“We should really show it to mom and dad. They'll be really proud of us!”
Rarity was shaken a little by this request. She had no idea whether Applejack had informed her family – in fact all previous contact with her marefriend had made her believe the contrary. That was a bridge she would rather cross together with AJ.
“Sweetie, you can't tell mother and father about why I made the dress.”
“Because...” Rarity struggled to word her objection delicately, “Because Applejack and I are keeping it somewhat secret for now. No other pony can know. You think you can keep it secret?”
“Can I tell the girls?”
“I suppose that would be okay...”
“Cutie Mark Crusader secret-keepers! Yay!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed as Rarity let out a titter at her sister.
The familiar cry from the distance shook Rarity from her reminiscence. She shook herself out of her daydreaming state, looking around through the small crowds of ponies passing through for the voice she was so certain she had heard.
Trotting toward the bridge was Applejack, except in a state Rarity had seldom seen her before. For a start she was without the old, beaten-up stetson that seemed almost like it was cemented to her head. In its place sat the finer version Rarity had specially crafted for their ill-fated night at the Grand Galloping Gala, with a manestyle not far off what it had been on that night. She was also clad in a dress that fit her muscular form almost as perfectly as the gown from the same evening, yet was so very different. It was much more plain, without the personal touches Rarity had put so much work into. It was a deep shade of scarlet like the apples that graced her toned flank. In the dimming twin light of the setting sun and waxing moon it seemed to twinkle slightly, as if covered in glitter. As the pony of her dreams drew closer, she could tell that it was not so tacky as that – the dress was covered in tiny gemstones. A feature only familiar to one designer that she was aware of.
“Hey there Mallow,” Applejack said as she greeted her marefriend with an affectionate kiss on the cheek. Such a simple greeting failed to completely extract Rarity from her flabbergasted state.
“Applejack. Where... how... what?”
Applejack stood confused at the almost-catatonic mare she loved. “Huh? Oh, the dress! It ain't nothin'. Just somethin' ah picked up in Canterlot...”
“This afternoon. Me an' Twi' went and picked it up from Hoity Toity's place. Can't be lettin' the team down after all.”
“That's one of my creations!”
“Ya think ah'd really dress in anythin' created by any ol' pony? Only the finest from mah finest fer me.”
“But I know how expensive that particular dress was! Surely you didn't?”
“Rare,” Applejack said reassuringly, “Ah bought the dang thing, so of course ah know how pricey it was. And if it means ah look good for the pony who deserves someone dressed as finely as as some ol' duchess, ah ain't carin'.”
Rarity was touched by this display of extravagance all for her. “You would really do that for me, Applejack?”
“Course I would, Rarity.”
Rarity nuzzled up to her beloved and gave her a quick yet passionate kiss on the lips which caught AJ by surprise. The perfume that tickled Rarity's nose – another unusual development in that AJ was actually wearing any – was pleasant, but only the vaguest hints of her own apple-tinged aroma could stir the deeper and more powerful emotional response to which she had grown hopelessly addicted.
“So what is the plan for this evening my dearest?”
Applejack proffered a foreleg to Rarity as a gentlecolt would in requesting a dance at some ball.
“If ya'll would be so kind?”
Rarity chuckled as she locked her leg with Applejack's as they sauntered off the bridge for the first time as a couple.
Horsia's was arguably one of the finest restaurants in much of Equestria. Their deserved reputation as one of the best eateries in the land was well established – it wasn't unusual to see many a celebrity booking several booths when in Ponyville so as to dine there. Upper crust Canterlotians who wouldn't dream of otherwise setting hoof in the town could be seen disembarking for the train and heading straight for a carriage to take them to the place they'd heard so much about. Rumour had it that even Princess Celestia was a regular patron. Such overwhelming popularity usually meant that reservations were harder to come by than a ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala.
Yet on this cool Saturday evening, Applejack and Rarity found themselves sat in a corner booth of one of the most exclusive restaurants Equestria could offer. Both ponies were over-awed by their surroundings – they were stunned by the magnificent décor with its' mahogany panelling and gold gilded detailing, the small fountain that sat at the centre of the grand dining room, the hoof-carved yet unimaginably comfortable artisan furniture. For Rarity it was a million dreams come true at once. Here she was sat in a place she could only ever wish of frequenting, dressed in an exquisite gown and accompanied by a beautiful pony whom she loved deeply.
Applejack snapped her eyes from one of the multitude of mirrors that decorated the walls to see her marefriend every bit as shocked as when she showed up at the bridge earlier. “Impressed much, Rare?”
“I can't believe you got us in here!” Rarity stammered, “How in Equestria did you manage it dear?”
“Twi' owed me after that disaster yesterday.”
“She's not paying, is she?”
“Nuh-uh,” Applejack answered, a tad hurt by the intimation that she could not afford to dine in such a fine establishment, “She just called in a couple a' favours and got us on the reservation list. Benefits of bein' a somepony, ya know.”
“We're all someponies, Applejack. None of us have ever dined here before.”
“Ain't none of ya ever tried though. Besides, ya know ah ain't one fer fancy dinin'.”
“Then why tonight of all nights?”
“'Cause ya deserve the best.”
Rarity blushed a little as she suppressed a squeal of delight and leaned over to give Applejack a kiss on the cheek, when they were interrupted by a beige waiter wearing a red bow tie and a look of disdain.
“Are mesdames ready to order?” Horte Cuisine asked in a slightly nasal voice. Applejack and Rarity looked baffled. They hadn't even glanced at the menu, being so enraptured by the setting for their date.
“Ah ain't the foggiest idea!” Applejack exclaimed. From the corner of her eye Rarity could see Horte cringe and gaze on AJ with barely-disguised contempt. No pony looked at her marefriend like that.
“If you would allow me?” Rarity piped up, to the relief of AJ, “To start I shall have the fava bean salad in a chianti vinaigrette and my companion shall have the alfalfa sprouts with mashed yeast. For drinks we shall have a bottle of your best vintage Cheval Blanc.”
Rarity could see the vaguest hint of surprise on Horte Cuisine's face as he digested this order. She smiled sweetly, suppressing the urge to laugh at how quickly the waiter realised he wasn't dealing with two ponies from the sticks who seemed to get lucky.
“Excellent choices. I shall return with your wine shortly,” the waiter said before beating a brisk retreat. Applejack looked at her marefriend and laughed.
“Where in the hay did that come from?” Applejack inquired through chuckles.
“I am a lady who knows what she likes. I'm sure you shall find your dish rather agreeable.”
“Ah sure hope so. Ain't payin' the prices they do in here to have somethin' ah hate.”
Horte Cuisine did indeed swiftly return with their bottle of wine, but also carried a bucket of ice alongside him.
“Your Cheval Blanc, ladies, and a bottle of Heidsieck Mane-opole,” Horte stated manner-of-factly as he placed the red wine and champagne on the table.
“We didn't order that one,” Applejack blurted out.
Horte waved his hoof in the direction of the bar in the corner that served as an unofficial waiting area, “Compliments of Madame Philharmonica and Madame Scratch.” From the bar AJ and Rarity were surprised to see their old friends Octavia and Vinyl Scratch waving back at them.
“Well ah'll be damned. How very kind of 'em,” Applejack said beckoning them over. From what she could see Rarity had assumed that they wore beautiful matching dresses. Not her own creations though, she ruefully thought. Vinyl Scratch greeted both ponies heartily whilst clutching a pre-dinner Martini.
“Evening lovebirds. And how are we tonight?” she said as she hugged the cowpony to the embarrassment of Octavia and Rarity.
“We're peachy over here, gals. What ya'll doin' here? I thought ya would've been playin' in that Beethoofen concert?” Applejack replied, looking towards Octavia who greeted Rarity with an altogether more classy greeting of a kiss on the cheek. To Applejack and Vinyl such an acknowledgement looked odd.
“Tonight is a special exception. I informed Hoofz Zimmer that I would be unable to attend and perform my customary solo piece so Lyra was drafted in at short notice. I can't believe she'd be too happy with it.”
“Why on earth would you do such a thing?” Rarity queried, “You simply adore the concertos of Beethoofen.”
“Because if I had missed my anniversary Vinyl would give me hell for it,” Octavia stated with a wry smile, “One can only stand so much dubstep before wishing for the sweet relief of deafness.”
Vinyl moved closer to her partner. “Says you, Octy,” she murmured before kissing her lady on the neck in a surprising manouevre.
“Well, shucks, it's been a year already? Congratulations!” Applejack said loudly, oblivious to the presence of Horte Cuisine who had ghosted towards the table once more.
“I'm sorry to break up the reunion ladies, but I believe your table shan't be available for another hour Miss Philharmonica and it is restaurant policy for those not dining to stay clear of the dining area,” Horte stated coolly. Vinyl Scratch was taken aback by this surprise development.
“Another hour?! The reservations were for 8.30!” the DJ cried out.
“I am sorry Miss Scratch, but it seems someone overbooked for this evening. Such popularity can breed logistical problems such as this,” Horte responded to Vinyl with a hint of scorn, “If you and Miss Philharmonica would accompany me to the bar area once more?”
Applejack and Rarity shared a look on hearing Horte Cuisine speaking down to their friends. They were beginning to develop a distinct dislike for the snooty waiter.
“Actually,” Rarity quietly interjected, “Applejack and I would be honoured to have Octavia and Vinyl accompany us here.”
“You don't have to do that,” Octavia declared.
“But we insist, dear Octavia! It is the least we could do for you after sending over this magnificent champagne.”
“Are you quite certain?”
“Of course. Your company would be more than welcome.”
“Once again I hate to intrude,” said Horte, “But such a blatant disregard for a prior reservation would be quite unorthodox.”
Applejack decided to wade into the argument, “The booth seats four ponies. Ah ain't got no issue with they two joinin' us here. And if there's some charge because of the cancellation ah'm certain we can cover it.”
“Very well then,” Horte declared with bitter resignation.
“That's more like it!” Vinyl said, swiftly sitting down across from Applejack and beside her lover, “And you can send over another of these in the meantime.”
Horte glared as he departed with a snort of derision to the amusement of all now sat together in the comfortable surrounds of their own private booth.