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“Now, tell me, darling ... what are the rules again?”
A be-aproned Pinkie Pie huffed and rolled her eyes. “Rule numero uno! Don’t leave the kitchen.”
“Good, good.” Rarity gave a clipped nod, before turning and running her eyes along the gleaming steel kitchen counters that held trays upon trays of delicate pastries. “And rule number two?”
“Don’t leave the kitchen.”
The icing on the cherry tarts was a touch crooked, but otherwise, everything was in excellent order. Rarity allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction. “And rule number three?”
“Check with you before I do anything.”
A beleaguered sigh. “Such as leaving the kitchen.”
“Correct! I’m very proud of you.” Rarity finally turned back around to beam at her caterer.
In reply, the other mare pouted. “I’m not a little filly, Rarity! I’ve planned and catered a bunch of fancy pants parties, and I totally know what I’m doing.”
“Oh, I know, darling, I know.” Rarity reached out and patted her friend’s shoulder in what she hoped was a placating manner. “But this is a very important event, you must understand. All of the most important names in fashion will be here--Hoity Toity, Photo Finish, Fleur de Lis, on and on and on.”
“And it’s gonna go great! I Pinkie promise!” Pinkie bounced over to the kitchen’s entrance and peeked out at the banquet hall beyond the doors. “Are you sure you don’t need my help with the decorations, too?”
A spike of icy terror went through Rarity’s heart at the mere thought of her beautiful and tastefully-decorated hall done up in tacky paper streamers and garish balloons. “Oh, no! Er, I mean … please don’t feel as though you have to bother yourself with that. You have more than enough to handle here in the kitchen, after all.”
Pinkie glanced over her shoulder with a deeply suspicious frown. For a long, tense moment, she stared right at Rarity--seemingly right through Rarity--before her entire face broke into a blinding smile. “Okie dokie lokie!” she chirped, bounding back over to the ovens.
The fashionista let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in. “Well! As you have everything well in hoof here, I think I’ll pop out into the main room to check on the ice sculptures and string quartet.” But when she reached the kitchen door, she hesitated and bit her lip. “You do still remember the rules, don’t you?”
Pinkie Pie blew a raspberry at her.
“Right! Right. Just checking.”
Everything went fine, at first. For the first two hours or so, everything went rather swimmingly, in fact.
All of the ponies she’d been hoping would attend had shown up, and Fleur de Lis had even brought along Fancy Pants as her companion for the evening--and dear old Fancy Pants was always a sight for sore eyes. Even better, as she worked her way through the crowds, mingling and playing hostess, Rarity could overhear different groups of ponies discussing her winter fashion line with excited and complimentary words. Hoity Toity himself pronounced her designs “simply divine.”
She’d also heard numerous high praises for the food at the reception, in particular the desserts, and Rarity silently promised herself that she would relay all of these compliments back to Pinkie as soon as the party was over. Then, she made the fatal mistake of mentally patting herself on the back for a job well done with the evening’s festivities.
The fates must have heard her thoughts and been angered, for no sooner had she congratulated herself did she hear a completely unfamiliar voice call out, “Lady Rarity! Oh, Lady Rarity!”
Quickly slapping a smile on her face, Rarity turned around and saw two pegasi fluttering towards her. The stallion was sleek and gray, with a dark mane, while the mare was a soft salmon color. Rarity had not the faintest clue who either of them were.
“Lady Rarity,” greeted the stallion, once he was in range. “I just wanted to personally thank you for inviting us to your little soiree. We’ve had the most delightful time.”
Rarity just kept smiling at the pegasi as her mind raced, desperately trying to recall the names of the two ponies who stood before her and coming up completely empty.
The female pegasus gave her a penetrating look. “You do remember us, don’t you?”
“Why, of course! Of course I do, darling!” The unicorn could feel a trickle of cold sweat snake its way down her back. “How could I ever forget--”
“Hi, guys!” Pinkie Pie had somehow materialized right by Rarity’s side, as if by magic. She was no longer wearing her apron but now in an elegant dress--the same gown she’d worn to her very first Grand Galloping Gala, actually. “Oh, look, Rarity--it’s Sir Feathermane! And he’s brought along his husband’s favorite cousin, Lady Ginger Snaps!”
Sir Feathermane looked a bit confused as he turned to stare at the intruding pink pony. “I beg your pardon, madam, but I don’t believe we’ve yet to make an acquaintance.”
“Oh, no, we haven’t met yet, but I’m sure we’re gonna be really great friends!” Pinkie grinned hugely, then thrust out a forehoof. “Hi! My name’s Pinkie--”
“Sir Feathermane, Lady Ginger,” Rarity quickly interrupted, nudging Pinkie to the side, “please allow me to present to you Lady Pinkamena Diane Pie. She is a good, dear friend of mine from Ponyville.” She turned slightly and nodded to Pinkie. “Lady Pinkamena, this is Sir Feathermane and Lady Ginger Snaps of Cloudsdale.”
It was a bit of a gamble, adding that they were from Cloudsdale, as Rarity still hadn’t the foggiest notion just who these two ponies were. But the vast majority of the pegasus aristocracy hailed from that particular metropolis, so she’d decided it wasn’t too risky a gamble. Fortunately, the smiles that graced the faces of both Lady Ginger and Sir Feathermane told Rarity that her shot in the dark had paid off.
In addition, Feathermane had obviously taken note of Pinkie’s title, as he was now gazing at the riotous pony with a bit more respect. “Indeed? It is a pleasure, Lady Pinkamena.”
Pinkie began shaking hooves with both the pegasi at the same time. “Nice to meetcha!”
“Yes. Well.” Lady Ginger, for her own part, seemed completely flustered. She subtly extracted her hoof from the earth pony’s grasp. “I’m charmed to meet you, as well, Lady Pinkamena. I am afraid we can’t tarry too long, however. We really just wanted to thank Lady Rarity for a wonderful evening before we left for Cloudsdale.”
“Of course, of course,” replied Rarity, as smooth as silk. “I do hope you both have a safe journey home. And please give my regards to your wonderful husband, Sir Feathermane.”
After another round or five of pleasantries and good-byes were exchanged, the two pegasus headed out the door at last. The moment they’d left, Rarity whirled around to gape at Pinkie with a combination of bafflement and awe. “How in Equestria did you know who those ponies were?”
“It’s like I keep telling you girls,” explained Pinkie, her eyes laughing. “I know everypony.”
Suddenly, Rarity felt a tad bit guilty about the little lecture she’d given in the kitchen earlier that day. “But … but why? Why did you ...”
Pinkie smiled, but it wasn’t one of her usual, face-splitting smiles. It was small and gentle, strangely intimate, almost secretive. “Because I owed ya one, Rarity.”
Utterly nonplussed by that answer, Rarity simply glanced back towards the front door of the banquet hall, through which the two pegasi from Cloudsdale had just left, to give herself some time to compose her thoughts and try to process what had just occurred. She shook her head. Even after all these years, Pinkie Pie was still surprising her, still as unpredictable as always. It was … oddly comforting, really.
When Rarity turned back around, she saw that Pinkie now had a frown on her face. “Pinkie? What’s wrong, dear?”
“You’re … you’re not mad that I left the kitchen, are you?”
“Goodness, no. Of course not! Why, you saved me from a terrible faux pas just now. How could I be mad about that?” Rarity smiled warmly. “No, no, no. I’m grateful, not angry. Thank you.”
The frown evaporated instantly, only to be replaced with a beaming smile. “No problemo!” Then Pinkie tilted her head and curiously sniffed at the air. “Ooh, smells like the mini chocolate quiches are starting to burn! Gotta go!”
With bewildered amusement Rarity watched as the pink pony bounded across the banquet hall, nimbly threading her way through the clusters of mingling ponies, and then disappeared behind the kitchen doors. She allowed her gaze to linger on the kitchen for a few additional moments, as she tried to work up the energy to dive back into the crowds and execute her hostessing duties to her usual standard of perfection.
But just as she was about to do so, she was interrupted by a gentle cough that came from somewhere rather close by. Turning her head, the unicorn caught sight of Fancy Pants and Fleur de Lis, both standing just a few feet away and dressed to the nines.
She smiled at the two unicorns, and it was almost as wide and as warm a smile as the one she’d just given Pinkie. “Fancy Pants! Fleur de Lis! It’s so good of you to attend, and I’m honored to have your presence.”
“Rarity, darling!” The stallion leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “A splendid party, as always!”
Meanwhile, Fleur de Lis cut her eyes towards the kitchen, while a lightly teasing smile curled her lips. “She’s unique, isn’t she?”
“Hmm? Pinkie, you mean?” Rarity giggled a bit. “Well, I can’t disagree with that. Pinkie is … she’s in an entire class of her own, let’s say.”
The other mare looked thoughtful for a moment or two before giving a small, approving nod. “You make for quite the handsome couple, Lady Rarity. She’s very beautiful.”
Rarity suddenly forgot anything and everything she might have been about to say. She may, in fact, have forgotten her own name, as well. She simply blinked at the two unicorns before her, completely mute.
“Indeed, indeed.” Fancy Pants chuckled gaily. “She’s such a charming pony and a true breath of fresh air in a town as old as this one. I trust this means we’ll be seeing her more often here in Canterlot?”
Finally, Rarity found her voice, as she spluttered in a distressingly unladylike fashion. “B-but she isn’t … we aren’t …”
“Oh, no need to try to hide it from us,” interrupted Fancy Pants, with a sly wink. “I assure you that mum shall be the word with both of us regarding your new romance until you’re ready to go public with it. And, my dear friend, if I may be so bold as to say--well done! You’ve chosen very wisely.”
“I … I have?”
The stallion smiled. “Most certainly. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with Sir Feathermane and Lady Ginger just a few moments ago, and I was duly impressed with Lady Pinkamena’s excellent sense of timing. Very gallant of her.”
“Quite,” agreed Fleur de Lis, with one of her Mona Lisa smiles.
Slowly and thoughtfully, Rarity nodded her agreement. “Yes. Yes, I suppose it was.”
“She’s very beautiful.”
Those words, so casual, so nonchalant, replayed over and over in Rarity’s mind as she watched her old friend dance around the guest bedroom. It was one of two guest bedrooms that existed in Rarity’s clean, spacious apartment, which sat directly above her fashion studio much as Rarity’s old home had sat within the old Carousel Boutique. But of course both Rarity’s work space and her personal space were much larger and much grander nowadays. Carousel Boutique, in comparison, had been a complete hovel.
The unicorn watched with a mixture of annoyance and affection as Pinkie Pie bounded around the room, opening up all of the chest drawers, each and every window, plus the closet. Fortunately, Rarity kept almost nothing in the guest rooms except towels and linens, so there wasn’t too terribly much that Pinkie could disturb or put out of place. Then, after checking under the rug--for what, Rarity couldn’t even begin to guess--the rambunctious pink mare flopped onto the bed and gave a happy little bounce.
“This is the squishiest, comfiest bed I’ve ever been on!”
Rarity smiled and felt a rush of warmth spring from somewhere deep in her chest, the way she always did when she’d managed to please a friend. “I’m glad it’s to your liking, dear.”
Giggling a bit, Pinkie returned Rarity’s smile. “Thanks again for letting me stay the night, Rarity.”
“Think nothing of it. I wouldn’t dream of having you make the trek all the way back to Ponyville at this time of night.”
Almost impossibly, Pinkie’s smile grew even wider. “You’re always so nice,” she said, her face open and almost painfully sincere. “I’m really glad we’re friends.”
“She’s very beautiful.”
It was odd. How one could fail to see something, something that was right there in front of one’s very own eyes, until it was pointed out by someone else. Very odd indeed. Because Fleur de Lis had been right. Pinkie Pie was, in fact, not only beautiful but absolutely radiant.
The earth pony sat on the guest bed with her thick mane hanging loose, almost wavy, around her shoulders, and her large eyes twinkled joyfully. Perhaps that was what made Pinkie beautiful. That perpetual joy, which couldn’t help but shine through Pinkie’s every pore, as Pinkie positively lived for the opportunity to share that joy with others.
Rarity should have seen it. She shouldn’t have needed for someone else to point it out to her. She was a fashion designer, after all, an artist whose media were all visual. Her entire life’s purpose was about seeking beauty, appreciating beauty, creating beauty. She should have seen. She should have realized.
But there was no sense in regretting what was past. Especially when one could be planning for the future, instead.
If she could somehow tame Pinkie … teach her … mold her just a little … well, Pinkie Pie could blossom into something really rather wonderful. She could even, perhaps, become a force to be reckoned with in the Canterlot social world. And she could also become a very valuable asset to Rarity, as well--but, of course, that would merely be a pleasant little bonus and not the main goal.
The other mare had resumed bouncing on the bed but, at the sound of Rarity’s voice, she immediately stopped and glanced over. “What’s up?”
“I was wondering if you might be interested in staying in Canterlot for a few extra days.” Rarity made sure to keep her tone even and calm, to not betray the slightest hint of excitement. “There are a few more upcoming events on my social calendar, and I do so regret that you had to spend most of your time tonight in the kitchen.”
Pinkie tilted her head, seemingly curious. “You mean, I’d be a party guest? Not a caterer?”
“Precisely! And it would all be my treat, of course. The preparations, the dresses, everything. You wouldn’t have to spend a single bit.”
“I dunno …” Pinkie frowned, very slightly, and her eyebrows knit together. “These big fancy Canterlot parties aren’t really like Ponyville parties. They’re not as much fun.”
“Well, that’s exactly why you should come, darling, to show everypony here how to have a proper good time!” She paused and considered the implications of what she’d just said. “Within the boundaries of tastefulness and decorum, of course.”
Still Pinkie looked uncertain.
The unicorn put on her most winning and persuasive smile. “And I’m sure your lovely assistant at the bakery--Twist was her name, yes?--I’m sure Miss Twist would love the opportunity to look after Sugarcube Corner for a while longer and prove to you how responsible she is.” And … time for the coup de grace. “After all, didn’t you yourself relish the chance to prove your responsibility back when the bakery was still run by Mr. and Mrs. Cake?”
Biting her lip, Pinkie Pie appeared to be thinking over the matter very carefully, very deliberately. Then her face broke into one of her trademarked, blinding grins. “Okie dokie lokie!”
Rarity couldn’t resist the urge to clop her hooves together in glee, much as she used to as a filly on Hearth’s Warming morning. “Oh, excellent! We’ll have such a good time, darling. I can hardly wait.”
After exchanging good nights, Rarity trotted off towards her own bedroom with a light step and happy heart. She thought over all of her newly-hatched plans and schemes as she prepared for bed, brushing out her mane, applying her nightly face mask, filing her hooves. There was a lot to be done in the morning, if she was to have Pinkie prepared enough to serve as her escort to tomorrow evening’s art museum reception. She’d have to ask Snips to clear her calendar for the entire day, most likely, but one had to do what one had to do.
With a contented sigh, Rarity slipped under the silky sheets of her bed. Losing a day’s worth of work wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world by any means. And if the potential Pinkie had shown earlier tonight came to even partial fruition, the lost day of work would be nothing compared to what Rarity--and Pinkie herself--would gain in exchange.
She drifted into the warm embrace of sleep with one final, lazy, hazy thought: She really is quite beautiful.
Author’s Notes: Future updates will almost certainly come at a much slower pace, but this chapter was almost ready to go by the time the first chapter was approved to be published. So I figured, what the heck, why not polish it up and post it.