4w, 1dEQD on FIM
Gold Standard didn’t sleep well around this time of year. The coming Autumn Apple Fair always filled her with a sense of apprehension – how to compete with the Apple family? It seemed nearly impossible. Cider… like that’d do any good.
In any case, she often went downstairs for a cup of coffee when she couldn’t sleep. It always helped her to calm her nerves, or at least to have a clear head while she was awake.
She wasn’t going to get any coffee, however, because as soon as she stepped into the kitchen, she forgot all about it. The place was a mess – flour, eggs, sugar, and bowls were strewn everywhere, like somepony had been playing mad scientist, except with cooking.
The source of the mess was blatantly obvious – Ritardando, asleep at the table, and covered with flour (made from flowers) and what appeared to be batter for pie crust.
Pies. That’s what he had been making, it seemed, judging by all the pie tins filled with… attempts.
Gold Standard was irritated – it’d take forever to clean up, but then she saw how he had fallen asleep at the table. He must’ve been exhausted, she thought.
Well, she thought, covering him with a kitchen towel like a blanket, he can clean it up in the morning.
She went back upstairs, deciding she’d stay up in a place that wasn’t covered in sticky stuff.
The next morning, she returned downstairs to find Ritardando frantically trying to get everything put away.
“What were you doing last night?” she asked, “were you trying to bake?”
“Uh-huh,” Ritardando said. He stopped. “I wasn’t very good at it.”
“Well, nopony can be good at everything.”
“Well, I knew you wanted that thing with the apple fair, so I thought if I could make some apple pie, well…” Ritardando said, “I can’t make apple pie yet.”
The word ‘yet’ implied future attempts. That wasn’t something Gold Standard was eager to see happen.
“It’s okay,” Gold Standard said, “just… get it all cleaned up and then-”
“I’ve got something,” Ritardando said, shoving the bowls into the dishwasher, “that I want to show you after I clean up.”
“What is it?”
“I’m gonna show it,” he said, hastily dragging a wet cloth over the counter. “But first I’ll make you breakfast and-”
“I think I can handle breakfast by myself, thank you,” she said, going to the fridge, “just… continue doing what you’re doing.”
Ritardando finished his cleaning and went upstairs, while Goldie enjoyed her usual bland breakfast of cereal.
After breakfast, she walked back into the shop and, with a spark of her horn, opened the doors and turned the “open” sign around.
It was the start of the new day. Same old customers, though. Including Phoenix.
“Good morning,” Gold Standard said.
“Shut up, I just want my medicine,” said Phoenix, walking into the store.
“And heeeeere I am!” bellowed Ritardando as he careened down the stairs.
Gold Standard stared at him. He was wearing some flashy white suit, and his normally messy hair had been slicked back with copious amounts of styling gel.
“I’m gonna wear this for the concert tomorrow!” he said excitedly.
Phoenix stood there, staring at him with equal parts confusion and shock. “Concert?”
“Yeah!” Ritardando said excitedly.
“I’m going to be holding a sale tomorrow,” said Gold Standard, “come for the concert, stay for the savings. Or come for the savings, stay for the concert. Either one works.”
Phoenix didn’t say anything. He took a box of medicine, slapped down the requisite amount of money, and left.
“Hmm…” said Ritardando, “should ‘xonx’ be a word?”
“You’re planning on wearing that?”
“Uh-huh. I think we need to get more hair gel, though…”
Not eager to just wash it all off, Ritardando spent the rest of the day with that hairdo. Customers viewed it with confusion, but it didn’t bother Gold Standard. As long as the purchases continued and she continued to make money, she was fine. Ritardando had thankfully become less… enthusiastic about helping customers since his first day on the job. Despite his best intentions, if they wanted the product enough to buy it after his ‘help,’ they didn’t need it.
The next day seemed to be completely silent at first. The sun still hadn’t burnt away all of the mist, and all the doors and windows in the town were shut.
This silent picture was completely shattered when one second-story window opened and a booming voice shouted “GOOOOOOD MORNING HOOFSTON!”
“Ritardando, not yet!”
“The concert will start shortly after I open shop,” Goldie said, reminding him of what the plan was. “Did you seriously get up early?”
“Uh-huh,” Ritardando said. His stomach growled. “I think you’re right…” he conceded, “I should have breakfast first.”
And he did. Cereal. Again. Always cereal.
“Y’know what we should have for breakfast sometime?” Ritardando suggested, “waffles. I love waffles. Haven’t had them in a while.”
“Well, we don’t have a waffle iron,” Gold Standard said, shrugging.
Actually, they did. Several, in fact, except they were on the store shelves and not in the kitchen. Gold Standard never liked to dip into inventory for personal use, even if she could. It just always looked ugly on the books – there’s a piece of inventory, gone, and no cash or credit in its place.
Ritardando looked up at the clock, and then sprang up out of his seat.
“What-” Goldie started.
“Time!” Ritardando chimed, rushing up the stairs, “it’s time! Time for our show to begin! Open the doors and stuff!”
He ran into his room, threw the guitar strap around his neck, and flung open the window. He looked down, eagerly. There were other ponies, looking at him the way you’d probably look at the village idiot, if he were a story above you and grinning down expectantly.
“Hi!” he said, “thank you all for coming here. And there’s not just a concert today, there’s also a big sale – discounts on stuff. So go inside and buy something, because Gold Standard’s been really nice to me and… well, maybe you’re just here for the sale, but there’s not just a big sale today, there’s also a concert!”
Some of the ponies had expressions of boredom. Some had expressions of curiosity. Kite was there, with an expression of anticipation. Raincloud was there, with an expression of annoyance. Lastly, Phoenix was there, with an expression of horror. Raincloud sympathized with Phoenix.
“And now, to blow your minds!” Ritardando raised his hoof, and brought it down on the strings-
Oh wow, that thing was out of tune. Several audience members cringed.
“Excuse me…” Ritardando said, shutting the windows.
“Oh no, on no…” Ritardando said, frantically fiddling with the nobs. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, check the tuning every time…”
Five minutes later, he opened the window again. “Sorry about that,” he said, “just gotta, um, y’know.”
He strummed a chord. It was in tune. Then he started playing again, but as he played, the notes seemed to slip out of tune, but not consistently – the low E string went flat, the G string went sharp… it didn’t make any sense at all. But he couldn’t stop the concert again. His free hoof went to the knobs again, trying to tune on-the-fly (which was always a bad idea), but that didn’t work. His brow wrinkled in frustration, and he just took it out in the playing, working out some kind of frantic melody line. His playing was furious.
And it sounded awful. Most of the audience members either cringed or walked away. Some of them just stared at him, including Phoenix.
Then, suddenly, the guitar broke. It shattered into pieces, leaving Ritardando sitting there, his hooves where they should be for playing, the end of the fretboard in one hoof and the rest falling from the window into the street below.
It was almost completely silent – Ritardando, sitting at the window, and the crowd, staring at him. Then, he backed away and shut the window. Gradually, the crowd trickled away, not even considering Gold Standard’s marvelous low prices.
Phoenix and Raincloud were the last ones to leave.
“I didn’t expect that,” said Raincloud. Phoenix didn’t respond. He just walked on off to his lonely little house. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, his house was rather large.
Gold Standard looked out the window. Looked like the day had been a complete failure on both fronts. She was disappointed. Not one sale.
After she was done being disappointed with that (and it took a while, maybe twenty minutes), she went upstairs. Ritardando was sitting on the bed, the fret fragment next to him. He wasn’t moving or saying anything, just staring into space. He looked like he was on the verge of tears.
“Ritardando?” asked Goldie, “are you alright?”
“Yeah,” he responded flatly, “I guess.”
He wasn’t. Goldie sat down next to him.
“I don’t know what happened,” Ritardando, “I mean, I thought I had it tuned, but then it wasn’t, so I tuned it, and then it still wasn’t, and, and…”
“I’m sorry,” said Gold Standard, “but y’know, sometimes things just happen. And they aren’t always good things.”
“Yeah, I guess…”
“It’ll get better,” she said, “you’re still a very good musician.”
Ritardando smiled, “thanks.”
The bell downstairs rang. “Ah! Customer came after all!” said Goldie as she merrily went back downstairs. But it wasn’t a customer – it was Constable Brownie.
“Hi,” said Brownie. She plainly wasn’t in the mood to shop, “is Ritardando here?”
“Yes…” Gold Standard asked, looking at the stairs. Ritardando was cautiously walking down.
“Ritardando,” said Brownie, spotting him, “you didn’t get permission, did you?”
Ritardando cringed a little. “No…”
“You were supposed to,” said Brownie, “that’s the rules – if you want a public performance, you need to fill out the forms and get permission from the city.”
“I couldn’t…” said Ritardando weakly, “the forms were confusing and, and…”
“Well, I…” it had sounded a lot better in his head, “I didn’t see why I needed one.”
“Ritardando, you said you had everything taken care of!” said Gold Standard, as she’d been under the impression that everything was completely legal.
“It’s not your concern, Goldie,” said Brownie, “he did it himself. Ritardando, you’ll have to come to a hearing tomorrow morning.” She saw that he looked very scared, and felt a little sorry for him. “You’ll probably be asked to pay a fine or do community service,” she said, trying to calm him, “that’s all.” She left.
Ritardando didn’t look at Gold Standard.
“Ritardando, you need to tell me about these things – I could have helped you get permission.”
“Yeah…” said Ritardando, “you probably could have… I’m sorry.”
Gold Standard sighed. “It’ll be alright…” she said, “like she said, it’ll just be some small charge. I’ll come with you and help.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“You’re my employee. You’re my responsibility,” she smiled, “besides, if they have you doing community service, that means you’ll have less time to work for me.”
Ritardando smiled. “Thanks,” he said, “I guess it could be worse. Like that time with the sponges.”