In Caramel’s defence he almost made it halfway home before the panic set in again. This was going to happen. He’d practically made sure it would happen, and now there would be no stopping it.
He stopped dead in the middle of the road back to his farm, staring into space. A bird may have landed on his head, but he really didn’t care. She was going to be in his house, with his family, for hours.
Take a deepbreath, he thought to himself. You talked to her about this, it’s all going to be fine.
He thought back to breakfast, pancakes with Twilight. He could get used to that, it sounded nice, sitting their, talking in the morning, her sweet smile across the table, the smell of books filling the air. She’d invited him back, he’d get to do it all again tomorrow. If everything went well.
“And I’m going to make sure it does...” he promised himself.
He took up a gallop the rest of the way home. Leaving a startled bird in his wake.
The farm came into view shortly afterwards. Although it was still early, he could hear Toffee bustling around the kitchen already. Apparently everything had been put on hold for this ‘Event’. He hoped that was a good thing. Her silhouette shifted about the kitchen picking spices, mixing bowls, getting the house ready for their visitor.
He walked up to the door and stepped inside, the smell of apples cooking a hundred different ways flooded into his nose with the force of a psychical blow. It was warm and comforting in some ways and frankly alarming in others.
Toffee peeked her head around the doorway, a bit of chocolate staining the side of her cheek. Her face lit up at the sight of her brother.
“Well if it isn’t our little Romeo!” she teased. “Out getting ready for your date?”
Caramel attempted not to blush. “I had some business to take care of...”
“Oh yes, ‘Business’, I’m sure.” she waggled her eyebrows, laughing at the expression this drew from Caramel. Then her face softened. “Oh don’t worry, Mel, I’m sure you’ll be fine. I won’t embarrass you I promise. Now tell me, does Twilight like apple brownies or apple celery stew?”
Caramel’s stomach churned. Sometimes Apples were a bit too efficient at using apples. “Um...why no-”
“Make both! You’re right, Mel!” she disappeared back into the kitchen in a vaguely Toffee shaped cloud of flour.
“Oh, by the way, Grampa’s lookin’ for you.” Toffee’s voice echoed back.
He turned and walked down the hall towards the living room, where his Grandfather could normally be found sitting in a large easy chair.
What now? he wondered as he progressed.
The old pony was exactly where Caramel thought he would be, though his eyes were closed.
The old pony snored loudly.
Caramel rolled his eyes and shook Grampa Jonagold gently. “Grampa? You wanted to see me?”
“Huh!? Whazat?” he stuttered. He looked around wildly for a moment before his eyes focused on Caramel. “Oh! There you are, must’a nodded off waitin’ on ya. You weren’t in your room this morning.”
“Oh,” Caramel wondered for a moment if he ought to lie about his whereabouts earlier, but quickly decided against it; he wasn’t a liar. “I...well...went to see Twilight.”
“Ah!” A sly smile spread accross Grampa Jonagold’s wrinkled face. “Goin’ to see your girl eh? Toffee has told me about this filly, from what I hear she’s quite the catch.” he clicked his teeth together in a way that made Caramel horribly uncomfortable. “Very lucky my boy!”
“...Thanks?” said Caramel.
“You’re welcome Caramel. You know, I was quite the stallion in my day. I swear the fillies were lining up for your old grampa! I reckon you must’ve gotten some of the Apple magic. Good genes, that’s what it is!”
Caramel figured it was safer to just nod.
Grampa Jonagold laughed heartily. “Ah yes, I have such memories of them days.” He stared of into space for a moment.
Caramel used this time to think. He and his grandfather had never really hit it off. They’d spoken a lot more in the last few days than they ever had before. He let himself smile inwardly about this. Though he did hope if they eventually grew to talk more, it would be about less..... sensitive topics.
The old pony came back from wherever he had gone, smiling oddly. Then he seemed to realize where he was. “Oh! Sorry about that Caramel, got a bit lost for a second there. In anycase, the reason I wanted you is, that applecart ain’t gonna wheel itself to Ponyville!”
His grandfather hefted himself from the old chair and pushed Caramel towards the door. “Go on now, the rest of us may get a break to prepare for your little date, but we still need bits Caramel! Get out there and sell, sell, sell! Don’t worry, we got things here. Besides while you’re out you might pick up a few more to bring home. Filly killer.” he clicked his teeth again. It didn’t make Caramel any less uncomfortable the second time around.
“But I want to help!” he protested.
“Nonsense! We need those sales boy! Like I said we’ve got it!” He shoved Caramel outside. “The cart is in the barn all stocked up for ya, just push it and you’re ready to go!”
The door slammed.
Caramel sighed. It looked like he was going to have to leave it up to them and hope it would turn out for the best.
What’s the worst that could happen?
He thought for a moment.
You know, I really don’t want the answer to that...
Caramel pushed the heavy cart all the way back to ponyville, once again cursing his lack of stamina. He slumped to the ground, exhausted, and stared ruefully at the bushels of apples he had to unload.
Well, they’re not gonna display themselves.
As he set about moving the heavy baskets, Caramel spotted his sign lying on it’s side among the breaburns. He smiled a bit in spite of himself as he picked it up and stuck it into the soft ground in front of the cart. The paint still looked fresh. He eyed the purple mare painted onto the wood, smiling a bit more at the sight.
Perhaps things won’t be so bad.
He felt a bit more optimistic as he set about making an alluring display out of apples. He decided to organize them by color, darkest at the front and lightest at the back. He thought it looked rather nice. He knew he probably wouldn’t get any customers until the lunch rush, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t try.
Finishing his work he plopped down behind the cart and waited. The ponies of ponyville milled about as usual. He did notice that they didn’t give him as wide a berth as the last two days, that was a good sign. Maybe his reputation was changing.
Still this didn’t get him any customers durring the morning. Caramel sat there for hours, waiting for the sun to reach the midday point. He decided that if he sold enough apples during the lunch rush he’d pack up early and see if he could help with dinner preparations. He wanted it to be really special, he’d never brought anypony home before, it needed to be something to remember.
He thought about that for a moment.
Okay, something good to remember. He mentally corrected.
“So, how’d it go?”
Caramel jumped, tripping over a bushel of apples and falling head first onto the ground.
“Land sakes!” said Applejack, looking down at him worriedly, “I’m sorry, sugarcube, didn’t mean to go sneakin’ up on you. You alright?”
Caramel made a mental note to start paying more attention to his surroundings, his day dreaming was starting to become dangerous to his health.
“Yeah,” he said as she helped him up. “I’m fine, about used to it by now really.”
Applejack laughed. “Well, I just thought you might like somethin’ to eat.” She looked off to the left. “ And....while I was at it figure out how that date’a yours went.” she reached into her saddlebag and returned with a slice of apple pie.
The look in her eyes told him that the pie was more or less a bribe for information.
Oh well, I am hungry.
Caramel accepted the pie, but as he placed it on the cart top something occurred to him. “You haven’t asked Twilight?”
“Tried, she got all red at the mention’a the word date, said she had to put Spike to bed and ran off.” she paused. “It was 9 in the mornin’”
“Oh.” said Caramel, remembering his reaction toToffee asking about it. Applejack's eyebrows arched, waiting for his reply. “Well....”
“Well....things went wonderfully!” he said finally, a grin breaking out on his face. “We didn’t even have to do anything. No plan, no set up, just the two of us walking through ponyville ‘til we had to turn back. It was so.....” he looked for a word.
“Wonderful?” Applejack supplied.
“Yes! I’d hardly believe it if I weren’t there.”
Applejack smiled. “Well shucks, I’m happy for the both’a you. I swear you two are cuter than a pair of peaches.” She playfully hoofed Caramel in the back. Right over the bruise that was just starting to heal.
Caramel winced, blushing at the complement. “Thanks...We’ve actually got something planned for tonight...I’m kinda worried honestly.”
“What is it?”
“Well, Toffee invited her over for dinner...tonight.”
“Oh!” she laughed. “Well shoot I thought it was somethin’ bad. You got nothin’ to worry about Caramel. Toffee’s got a good head on her shoulders. You won’t have too much to worry about.”
“It’s not Toffee I’m worried about...well... a little. It’s my grandfather.” Caramel admitted. “He’s...not the most socially....sensitive.”
Applejack’s was silent for a moment. “Your granpa’s my uncle Jonagold right?”
“That’s the one.”
Applejack thought for a moment. “The one who does that weird thing when he eats corn?”
Caramel nodded grimly.
“Ah...” Applejack looked uncomfortable for a moment. “Well I still say you’ll be fine sugarcube...just watch what you cook, alright?” She let a smile slip back onto her face. “Really, I’m sure it’ll go wonderfully. With you two together, I can’t see it goin any other way. Now you enjoy that pie. I gotta get back to my own cart...I left Applebloom in charge...”
There was a crash from the opposite end of the market place. Applejack looked panicked and dashed off into the commotion.
Wonderfully. Thought Caramel. Wonderful.
How many times had he used that word? He thought back through his life, and found a distinct lack of it.
When he'd first met Twilight, it'd been wonderful and the second time he’d seen her in the marketplace, that’d been wonderful too. When he’d plucked up the courage to ask her on a date, when she’d said yes, their walk through the town, pancakes this morning...
Since he’d met her, suddenly he had a reason to use that word.
‘It’ll go wonderfully’, Applejack had said.
“It’ll go wonderfully.” he whispered under his breath. He remembered the promise earlier that morning. He smiled and took a bite out of the pie sitting on the cart.
It really will.
The sun was almost in the middle of the sky when Caramel saw the first of the lunch customers arriving. It was the same unicorn mare from yesterday. Today she was done up in a dress layered with multi-colored feathers. The general impression landed somewhere between a peacock and a fireworks display.
She marched up to Caramel’s cart, nose upturned. Caramel briefly wondered if her neck was simply built that way.
“Hello, Apple Pony,” she said stiffly. “I require two granny smiths for lunch. Make sure they are as green as possible, no blemishes.”
“Coming right up.” Caramel grabbed the apples in question, making sure they were unbruised.
“Have you reconsidered?”
The unicorn gestured to the sign stuck in the ground next to the cart. “Reconsidered my offer to make a sign for my boutique.” She looked Caramel in the eye. “Though your apples are good I really must say your talent is wasted here.”
Caramel was unsure how to respond “W-well I wouldn’t say wasted...”
The mare raised an eyebrow. “Do you enjoy working here?”
Caramel thought for a moment. “Well...I wouldn’t say ‘enjoy’ but it’s not ba-”
“That’s what I thought. Now, young stallion, my offer still stands, and will stand. Whether or not you will take it is yet to be seen. I hope you will make the right decision.” She placed some bits on the cart turned curtly and walked into town.
Caramel stood dumbfounded for a moment.
What just happened?
Caramel didn’t have long to ponder this. The lunch rush hit like a wave in a hurricane, stuffy ponies of all types bombarding him with orders for every kind of apple he had in stock, their impatient jabs ringing in his ears.
Maybe she’s right...he thought passing a pair of gallas to a stallion in a top hat. This job isn’t what I enjoy... he tossed a fuji to the mare yelling at the top of her extremely fancy lungs. Is it? I mean...Do I enjoy painting? I never did it until the sign....
An old couple with a parakeet on their shoulder asked if he sold slices. He explained that he didn’t have a knife. The bird tried to nip his ear as he moved to the next customer. But....It worked didn’t it? I did it well, could I do it again? Caramel announced he was out of braeburns to a few disapointed groans. I mean...I don’t particularly enjoy this job....but it makes money right? It’s stable...that’s whats important.
“This isn’t a jonagold you lummox!” screamed a prissy mare in a large hat. “I asked for a jonagold!” she tossed the apple back over the cart. Caramel barely managed to duck out of the way.
“Sorry! I’m sorry, I’ll get you that apple right away!” He turned to a quickly emptying bucket of jonagold apples.
But would I be happy with this...
“You’d better, and get it right you hick!”
If I tried something else...I might fail....
“Apple Pony! Apple Pony! I’ve been waiting for ten minutes! Get over here this instant!”
I’ve failed before....
Who’s to say it won’t happen again?
“Have you got corn in your ears? Or is your brain not working?”
But....I didn’t fail this time...
I succeeded....My sign is what brought these ponies here.
“I have never been kept waiting this long! If I do not get my apples this minute I shall be personally insulted!”
“I shall have service, and I shall have it n-” The screaming pony was silenced by granny smith apple shoved in his mouth.
“We’re closed.” said Caramel shortly.
Murmuring broke out among the crowd.
“We’re closed.” he repeated.
“B-but what is the meaning of this? We’re hungry”
“And I’m closed.” Caramel started packing up.
“You can’t do this!”
Caramel put on a plastic smile. “You know what I can’t do?”
The ponies looked apprehensive.
“I cannot....put up with....this.” he gestured to the crowd. “Any of this!” he felt a pit of rage bubbling in his stomach. “You pompous, stuck up bunch of....of....I don’t know what!”
The crowd took a step back.
“I’m tired!” Caramel continued. “I’m tired of the insults, of the yelling, of this! I’m tired of being told what to do. I’m tired of trying to impress everyone, and failing again and again! Tired of being looked over!! I’m tired of it! All of it!”
Caramel stood their, hyperventilating. The ponies stared at him for a movement, unsure what to do.
“We....are...closed.” he said again.
With some resentful whisperers they dispersed.
Caramel slumped to the ground, whatever was propelling him through his outburst had been spent.
What now? he asked himself.
I’ve chased off my main customers....
No going back now....
He got up and began loading the apples back on to the cart.
I’ll take her up on that offer.
He’d managed to sell a good amount of apples before his impromptu closing. Grampa Jonagold would be very happy about that.
But I’ll have to tell him. Caramel thought.
His grandfather had always been a traditionalist, every pony in the apple family had an apple job. Painting signs didn’t fit into that. He wouldn’t like it.
Caramel made his way back home.
I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Caramel decided. For now...I just want to get through dinner.
To Be Continued.