Stallions, listen up! No matter what you hear from others, the friend zone is your friend!
Becoming friends with your mare is probably the most important thing you can do on your road to winning her heart. This cannot be stressed enough. It is a complete myth that you can become "too good" of friends, and be excluded from her romantic interests forever. In fact, in over 90% of pony marriages, the mare reports "already being good friends" as one of the reasons she agreed to the gentlecolt's proposal!
This being said, there are some ground rules to follow in befriending your mare. You will want to start the friendship slowly. Hanging around her all the time will likely make her suspicious of your intentions, and may even scare her off. Read on for recommended time intervals to spend in your mare's company while you work on completing Step Three. Things will of course change in later steps, so be prepared!
"Spike, wake up! It's Sweeping Day!"
Spike felt Twilight nudge his side, and he buried his head deeper under his blankets. "Twilight, every day is sweeping day," Spike said. He knew his voice was muffled, but he didn't care. "Don't you remember, that's one of my daily chores? So if you wouldn't mind, I'd rather it be sleeping day for at least another hour here. Thanks and goodbye."
"Spike!" Twilight nudged him harder. Spike glared out of the corner of his eyes, though Twilight of course couldn't see him do it. "I'm not talking about sweeping the library. I'm talking about Sweeping Day! Remember, we volunteered this month to sweep the streets of Ponyville?"
Oh. Right. That.
"Oh. Right. That," Spike spoke his thoughts out loud. Then he bolted up straight, his blanket flying backwards off him. "Wait! No! Today can't be Sweeping Day! Oh, no, no no no no no – "
"What's wrong, Spike?" Twilight asked, tilting her head in concern from her seat by his bedside. Judging by all the candles she had lit, it wasn't yet dawn.
"Today I need to - !" Spike's face flushed. He'd been hoping to start Step Three today. Sure, he wasn't quite done with Step Two, but after rereading the chapter on Step Three, he'd had a panic attack that he'd already screwed up things in it, and wanted to fix them A.S.A.P. For one thing, he'd been completely messing up how he was spending his time with Rarity. He'd have to combine Steps Two and Three, and get to know her friends and Sweetie Belle at the same time he fixed his friendship with Rarity herself. His future with his gorgeous unicorn depended on it!
But now he'd have to waste an entire day sweeping Ponyville? Could the world be any more cruel?
Twilight sighed. "I'm sure whatever step of that silly book you're on can wait."
"No, it can't!" Spike exclaimed, not even bothering to ask how Twilight knew what he'd been thinking. "I might have already screwed up, Twilight!" Spike leapt up and grabbed Twilight by her shoulders, shaking her. "I need to start Step Three right away!"
Twilight backed up, and Spike fell to the floor. "Whoa, there! Calm down. Would it help at all if I reminded you that we all signed up? Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and yes, Rarity?"
Spike blinked up at Twilight from the floor. "Oh. Right. I guess I could kind of make Step Three work then…" He thought through it some more. "Yeah…maybe things will be okay after all…"
"Good. Because you're coming to Sweeping Day, regardless," Twilight pulled Spike to his feet. "The Mayor is counting on us, and I don't want to let her down."
Spike yawned and stretched. Okay. Maybe today wouldn't be a total waste. Gotta think positive, Spike! Just like Smooth Fox says! Remember, you're worth her! You are worth her!
Spike chanted the mantra in his head and went to prepare a very early breakfast for himself and Twilight.
Sweeping Day. Rarity frowned in the mirror. "Opalescence, just what does one wear to Sweeping Day?"
The fluffy white cat meowed a very bored response.
"Hrm, you're right." Rarity nodded firmly. "Definitely something I don't mind getting dirty." Rarity turned, and began flipping through one of her closets.
"No…no…oh, most certainly not…aha!" Rarity paused at a vest and hat combo. Both articles of clothing had black pinstripes, and were otherwise dark brown in color with just a hint of maroon – though not so much that it would clash with her mane, of course. The vest was sturdy, yet sleek. The hat had a small brim just on the front, which Rarity planned to tip slightly askew behind her horn. It was the perfect Sweeping Day outfit.
Rarity smiled to herself. Every day had its perfect outfit, if you just knew how to look for it. She slipped on the vest, and set the hat atop her head, tipping it just as planned. She glanced back at the mirror.
"Oh, Rarity, you've done it again." She let out a girlish giggle. "Fabulous!"
She inhaled deeply, breathing in the confidence wearing a perfect outfit gave her. She wasn't above admitting that clothes could act like a suit of armor when the occasion called for it. She looked good today. The vest and hat accentuated that.
Taking one last look in the mirror, she banished Sweetie Belle's words from her mind. What did dragons know about beauty, anyway?
Spike spun his broom in his hands, waiting for the others to arrive at the town square. He and Twilight were the first on the scene, of course. As they waited, Twilight used her magic to hold six brooms upright in a line formation.
"Twilight, I think it'll be okay if you just set the brooms down for now," Spike suggested.
"Nope," Twilight replied, standing firm. "This will save us precious time. Imagine if everypony had to waste seconds bending over to pick up their brooms when they arrived!"
Spike sighed, and continued to twirl his own broom around. The Sweeping Day brooms had handles similar to hefty shovels – the end of each handle was looped with a flat edge so Earth ponies and pegasi could use their mouths to push the broom along quickly. That way they didn't have to strain themselves by trying to manipulate the broom with their front legs. Spike smacked his mouth open and closed a few times, imagining what it would be like to push a broom clenched in his teeth. He shuddered, and in that moment was extremely grateful for his hands.
"Applejack, you're here!" Twilight smiled as an orange pony trotted towards them. "Always so reliable." She pushed one broom forward with magic.
"G'mornin', Twah'light," Applejack caught the broom with one hoof, and leaned it up against her shoulder for the time being. "And g'mornin', Spike."
Spike was about to respond, when a squeal got his attention. He turned, and was not surprised at all to see that the squeal had come from Pinkie Pie.
"Oh, Sweeping Day is here! Sweeping Day is here! Sweeping Day iiiis the most sweepiest day of the year!" The pink pony bounced along the road, singing to herself. Each time she landed, a cloud of dust kicked up.
Maybe Sweeping Day IS an important thing to have every now and again around here, Spike thought to himself.
Behind Pinkie's dirt clouds, a familiar cough sounded.
"Really, Pinkie, as if we weren't going to be filthy enough by the end of the day," Rarity intoned, walking up to join them.
Pinkie Pie giggled. "Just getting everypony in the mood!" she said, brightly.
Spike couldn't stop staring at Rarity. She looked amazing, as usual, and the way she was wearing that hat…He shook his head quickly. Spike, come on now! Remember, Step Three! Step Three!
"Hello, Rarity. Hello, Pinkie Pie," Spike nodded at each of them in turn, pulling himself together. "And how are the two of you today?" Spike winced a bit – that had come out awfully formal. But he had to be careful not to show preference for Rarity. Today, she was an equal to all the others. Just one more pony he needed to become friends with.
"I'm great!" Pinkie Pie answered, jumping over and snatching up one of the brooms Twilight held out.
"Here's your broom, Rarity," Twilight said, sending a broom to the other unicorn.
Rarity took it gently with her own magic. "Thank you, Twilight." She nodded. "And I'm doing very well, thank you for asking," Rarity said to Spike, returning his formal tone. Then she trotted over to Applejack, holding her nose up higher than usual.
Spike frowned. Something about Rarity seemed…different. He watched her for another moment, and noticed she kept glancing sideways at Applejack in a strange manner, and then back in Spike's direction. He flushed, quickly concentrating his own gaze on the ground.
"Now we just need Fluttershy and Dashie!" Pinkie said, balancing her broom on the tip of her nose, bristles straight up in the air.
"Yeah…" Twilight's voice trailed off slightly, and she narrowed her eyes at Rarity. Rarity looked at Twilight abruptly, turning away from Applejack and blinking innocently.
Spike usually wasn't good at picking up on subtle nonverbal communications, but even he could tell something was going on. He just wished he knew what.
"Incoming!" Rainbow Dash yelled, exploding onto the scene from the sky above, and sending everypony flying backwards. Brooms clattered all over the ground.
"Oh – oh my!" Fluttershy said, trotting over quickly. "Is everypony okay?"
"Totally fine here!" Rainbow Dash sat up from the middle of the pony pile. "Meant to do that!"
"My hat!" Rarity frowned, picking up her fallen cap and using magic to dust it off.
"Oooof…" Twilight staggered back to her feet. "Well, we're all here now at least. No time to waste!"
They all climbed back upright, and Twilight magicked a broom over to each of them. As soon as everypony had one, Twilight ran through the day's plan.
"We start in the town square, and end here, too. Everypony will sweep in teams of two, and one pony will be the runner, taking around the rollable dust bin to collect the sweepings. Pinkie, you're teamed with Rainbow Dash for the day. Fluttershy, you're with Applejack. Rarity, you'll be with Spike – "
"No!" Spike shouted. I can't be with Rarity! Not for a whole day! Smooth Fox gave specific amounts of time to spend together in Step Three, and an entire day was definitely not on the time list!
Spike froze, realizing everypony was staring at him. "I…I mean…"
He glanced at Rarity, and his heart nearly exploded. The look she had on her face… "Not that I don't want to work with Rarity! I just…I…wouldn't I be better for the rolly dust bin thing?" he ended lamely, glancing back at Twilight.
Twilight gave him an odd look. "I suppose? I was going to do that job, but we could trade if that's what you really want…"
"It is! I'll be the best rolly dust bin dragon, ever, I swear!" Spike saluted his sister, and darted over to where Twilight had stashed the dust bin earlier that day.
Being the dust bin dragon was not very exciting. Not that excitement had been Spike's motivator for choosing the job. He was hoping to spend his time more equally amongst Rarity's friends this way, and in a way, he was achieving that, at least. He'd gotten to goof around with Pinkie and Rainbow Dash, discuss the best ways to keep squirrels from stealing apples with Applejack and Fluttershy, and was now on his way to collect the dust piles from the streets Rarity and Twilight were cleaning.
As he approached them, his ears picked up their voices and he froze as soon as he heard their topic of conversation.
"So…want to talk about why you were scrutinizing Applejack so closely this morning?" Spike heard Twilight ask.
"Scrutinizing?" Rarity asked in return. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You know what I mean," Twilight answered. "You were looking at her like you looked at the store displays in Canterlot. I know that look. That's my look. That's a studying look."
"Is it?" Rarity laughed nervously. Spike's heart hammered in his chest, and he flattened himself up against the wall around the corner from the ponies.
"Does this have anything to do with Spike's visit to your sister's clubhouse yesterday?"
No, Twilight! Spike could feel his face pull back in panic. Don't bring that up! I mean, I know I didn't make you promise not to tell or anything, but I didn't think I had to!
Ugh, why couldn't Twilight actually read his mind?
"Spike told me about how the fillies were making him choose who the prettiest mare in Ponyville was."
Twilight no!!! Spike wasn't sure how much more of this he could take.
"He said they basically forced him into saying that it was a tie between you and Applejack, so your sisters wouldn't get upset with him."
Spike gripped the side of the wall, digging his claws in. Great, Twilight! Now she's going to think I only said she's pretty because Sweetie Belle made me! Spike's claws dug into the wall even deeper.
"I see…" Rarity said. Hearing her voice finally made Spike snap.
"Hey guys!" Spike practically screamed, jumping around the corner. The two unicorns blinked at him, startled.
"Uh…hi, Spike," Twilight said. She didn't even have the good grace to look ashamed, Spike noticed. He glared at her for a brief moment, then coughed.
"So. Yeah. Hi. I'm here now. With the dust bin." He yanked the bin around the corner with him. "Sorry to interrupt whatever fascinating conversation I'm sure you two were having,"
To his surprise, it was Rarity, and not Twilight, whose face went red.
"No problem!" Twilight said pleasantly. "You'll find we've swept our piles into one big one just at the end of the block down there."
"Just one pile?" Spike asked. The others had all made smaller piles in various locations.
"Yep, just one," Twilight responded. "But if you're getting tired of doing this dust bin stuff, you're welcome to trade back with me and work with Rarity here."
Twilight was giving him an in. Was it her way of apologizing? Spike just wasn't sure. But he was sure that he didn't want to leave Twilight alone with Rarity for another minute. Who knows which of his secrets she'd be spilling next?
"Actually, you know what?" Spike said. "Trading sounds good. Here you go, Twilight." He handed off the dust bin, and took Twilight's broom.
Twilight gave him a giant wink, and Spike was sure Rarity saw her do it. The dragon groaned. He'd really need to give Twilight a talking-to later about what was appropriate behavior around a certain white unicorn.
But then Twilight left. And Spike was alone with Rarity.
Alone. With Rarity.
Spike scrambled for his pocket watch. Smooth Fox said to start slow. Two hours maximum of alone time together.
The clock was ticking.
Rarity considered what Twilight had been in the middle of explaining. So…Spike had been forced into saying that both she and Applejack were pretty?
Interesting. She glanced over at the dragon, who was busy juggling a large gold pocket watch that he'd gotten from who-knows-where.
Of course, what Twilight said could have several different implications. Some made more sense than others. Spike might still think you're the prettiest. Maybe he was just being polite for Applebloom's sake yesterday…so then why didn't he want to work with me this morning? And why is he okay with it now?
Rarity shook her head. Rarity, I thought you decided it didn't matter?
Her front legs danced slightly where she stood, indecision overtaking her. But then Spike looked over at her, and her resolve fell. She had to know.
But of course, she couldn't just ask.
"So, looks like you two were basically done with this street," Spike said, glancing around. "Where do we head next?"
"Market Row," Rarity answered. Time to test things out. She smiled at Spike and fluttered her eyelashes, leaning in. "And I have to say, Spike, I am glad you're here. It's always nice working with you."
Spike's whole body melted in front of her, and Rarity trotted forward, feeling more than a little pleased with herself. He still liked her. Spike never was good at hiding such things. She allowed herself the tiniest of smug smiles, as Spike trailed after her towards Market Row.
But then she stumbled. Then wait…what was this morning all about? When he didn't want to be with me?
Was he…was he hoping to be paired with somepony else? No, that didn't add up. He'd voted to act alone, as the dust bin worker. And it wasn't like he didn't like her…he seemed perfectly content to be with her now, Rarity observed, glancing over her shoulder. Spike skipped along behind her, humming to himself.
It didn't make any sense. Something was going on.
Rarity monitored Spike as they swept Market Row together. He was acting close to normal, though perhaps a bit more formal than usual. And she noticed he always kept a goodly distance away from her. Sometimes she'd catch him looking at his pocket watch, which she found odd. Once she even heard him mumble, "Forty five minutes, okay…"
They moved onto Dawn Street, then Park Lane, then East Forest. Over time, Rarity put the confusing questions behind her. She was enjoying the afternoon. Spike was easy to talk to, and quick to compliment her, which she had to admit was boosting her self-esteem. But then, completely out of the blue…
"Rarity! I…I have to go!" Spike announced a couple hours into their afternoon.
Rarity's eyebrows furrowed. "Go? But…we're not done sweeping yet…You're just leaving me here?" Way to sound like some silly whimpering filly, Rarity! She mentally chided herself as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
"Uh…" Spike rocked back and forth on his feet, and he bit his lower lip. "No…I'm…I'm trading with somepony again. Yeah. Because…because…yeah. Trading with somepony."
It was a terrible lie, but Rarity naturally had the good graces not to say anything about it. Inwardly, though, the confusing questions returned, and new ones started piling on. Why, Spike? Why are you leaving? What's going on?
A horrible thought struck her. Had he been watching that pocket watch all this time counting down the minutes to when he could get away from her?
She raised her front leg to her mouth and bit down on it, stubbornly refusing to leak out emotion.
"So yeah…" Spike began backing away slowly. "I'll send over somepony soon to take my place, okay?"
Rarity nodded, hating that she didn't trust herself to speak.
Spike ran off before he could change his mind. He had to find a pony to trade places with him. Phew! That was close! I almost missed my two hour mark! Rarity was just so easy to get distracted by. But he'd kept his cool. He did it. Smooth Fox would be proud. Two hours maximum. No more.
Though…Rarity had seemed a little upset…That's okay, Spike! Remember, Smooth Fox said that was the whole goal! If you spend short amounts of time together, you'll leave her wanting more!
But still…Spike slowed to a walk, his shoulders drooping. He had kind of run out on her. Without a very good explanation. He really felt he should do something to make up to her for it.
Spike snapped his fingers. "Oh! I know! I'll get Fluttershy!" he said out loud. "She's great friends with Rarity. I'm sure she'd love to spend the rest of the afternoon with her!" He dashed off to find where Fluttershy was working.
Nice thinking, Spike! At least this way, Rarity will get to hang out with one of her best friends!
Sweeping Day came to an end. Rarity was exhausted, but she daren't let it show in front of the others. Especially not Applejack. She already thought Rarity was soft.
The afternoon had turned out surprisingly well after Spike had left. Fluttershy had joined her, and she was, as always, great company. They'd had a lovely time, and now that they'd finished sweeping, they walked back towards town square together.
Applejack wasn't at the square yet, so when they reached the center of town, Rarity allowed herself to stop walking and let out a big exhale. "What a day."
"I'm a little tired myself," Fluttershy admitted, stopping with Rarity.
"Tired? I'm not tired, I'm…"
Fluttershy looked at her.
"Okay, fine," Rarity said. "But don't tell anypony. I have a certain image to keep up, you understand."
"Oh, of course." Fluttershy nodded seriously. But then both of them broke out into laughter.
After the giggles died down, Rarity looked around the square. Twilight was with Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, clustered near the middle of the road. Spike wasn't anywhere to be seen.
Twilight looked up, catching sight of them. "Hi! How did your days go?" she called, heading over.
"Very nice, thanks," Fluttershy said as Twilight reached their side.
Rarity nodded. "Yes, everything was…" But then Rarity's eyes narrowed.
Behind Twilight, Spike walked into the square. With Applejack. That's who he'd run off to join that afternoon. That's who he'd left her to go see.
Rarity felt her lower lip tremble ever so slightly.
She blamed it on being tired.