A second letter awaited Coco when she padded out of her bedroom for her morning tea.
She stopped in the middle of her sitting room, clad in her fuzzy, cream robe with blue trim. Blinking in confusion, she stared at the slender envelop resting on the carpet before her door. Just like the one from the day before.
Her ears perked up as the proverbial lightning bolt hit, jolting away any remnants of sleep. Coco hurried forward, pausing to mutter a curse when she banged her knee against the edge of the coffee table. Stupid thing was always getting in her way at the worst times.
Coco snatched the letter off the floor and gave it a sniff. Lilacs, the same as before. Her heart did a backflip. She trotted into the kitchen, merrily swishing her tail as she reached into the drawer for a butter knife, sliced the envelope open, and retrieved the latest letter.
My dear Coco Pommel,
I hope you had a restful night’s sleep and that the morning finds you well. While today is indeed all about your enjoyment, I daresay my itinerary may have you moving around quite a bit. I do apologize in advance for packing your schedule, but I think you’ll find it all quite refreshing.
What’s more, it may give you a little time to reflect and see if you can figure out who I am. An element of mystery is a delightful way to spice things up in the best romance stories, wouldn’t you agree? In any case, on to business. Or, rather, on to leisure, as it were. Everything is, of course, already arranged with a few names I believe you’re quite familiar with.
At ten-thirty, you have a spa appointment at the Blue Pearl. I’ve arranged for you to receive the works: a hooficure with Tender Touch, a mud bath, a dip in the mineral water, access to the steam room, and, of course, a full massage. I have it on good authority that the mares at Blue Pearl pride themselves in ensuring that everypony who comes into their spa leaves feeling like a whole new pony.
The session should end in time for you to enjoy a nice, quiet lunch at noon. There’s a lovely little Mexicolt restaurant a block north from the Blue Pearl. I believe it’s called El Madre del Sol. I’ve gone ahead and reserved a table for you, and instructed them to forward me the bill.
Moving right along, I’ve arranged for you to have your mane washed and cut at two. There’s a wonderful hair salon on the corner of Sixth and Mane that works magic with a brush and a good pair of clippers.
Speaking of which, our reservation is set for six-thirty. I do hope you enjoy Neighponese food. If not, well, we can always change venues once we meet up.
Enjoy your day, my dear. And please don’t fret the cost. It’s my treat.
An imprint of scarlet lips had been left beneath the message again. Another sealed kiss. And from a pony who liked the same sort of romance stories Coco did, if that bit about mystery was any indication.
Coco felt she could’ve done backflips. The hoof which held the letter trembled, she let a goofy smile spread across her face as she brought the letter close and sniffed.
Lilacs and pony coat. But who was it?
A mystery she’d have to solve for herself. She let her gaze flit to the small clock mounted above her reading cushion. Seven-thirty in the morning. That left her plenty of time to shower, eat breakfast, and a quick chat with Lace Trim and Bobby Pin before heading over to to spa.
Perfect. Coco clutched the letter to her chest. Today promised to be quite a delight.
After she took care of that little piece of business with Lace and Bobby Pin.
“What do you mean you have to cancel?” Lace Trim goggled, her ears pinned back and those eggshell white cheeks flushed a deep, angry red. Her creamy mane seemed to bristle as though live with electricity. “We had this meeting planned for two weeks and there’s already been a reschedule!”
The old Coco would’ve backed away and looked down at her hooves, afraid to talk back for fear of losing her job. But no more. She was her own boss these days. There was no designer in Manehattan willing to put up with Lace Trim’s attitude to begin with, let alone her requests.
Or her habit of rescheduling at the last minute. A fact Coco was about to throw back in her face. Well, maybe not. Only if she had to.
Coco took a deep breath. “We rescheduled last time because you weren’t feeling up to it,” she said.
Lace Trim sucked in her lips. “I—I was under a lot of stress at the time! I needed a day to recoup, and—”
Making excuses and trying to turn things around, all to avoid fault or guilt. So much like Suri. “So I heard. After I rearranged my entire day plan to accommodate you and Bobby Pin. And I had to hear about it from Bobby Pin when I arrived at your office, rather than you telling me in advance yourself.”
It was the right button to press. Lace looked down and away, sheepishly rubbing a hoof against her shin.
Bobby Pin, a mare of peach coat and dusty blue mane, took it as cue to step forward and offer her piece. “I fully understand feeling as though you need to step away, and I do appreciate you approaching us in person rather than the, ah … less than agreeable manner you were informed,” she said diplomatically, pausing to adjust her square rimmed glasses. Her face was schooled into a small frown and eyes shining with rapt attention. The very picture of a mare about her business. “But this comes at a rather crucial time, don’t you think? We need those costumes for rehearsal—next Friday is the absolute latest.”
Coco nodded once. “And they’ll be done by Friday. You’ve seen the finished products hanging on the rack in the theater, and I’m just putting the finishing touches on yours, Trim,” she said with a nod to the other mare. “It’ll be finished by Wednesday. Plenty of time for rehearsal.”
Lace Trim let out a low note of discontent as she pawed at the ground. “I’d hoped to see it beforehoof,” she muttered. “In case changes needed to be made.”
Changes? This late in the project? A mere week before rehearsal?
It took every fiber of her self-control not to lose her temper. If not for her want to maintain her reputation, Coco would so love to educate the mare on how long assembling such a piece actually took!
Instead, she simply pasted a smile upon her face. “If you’d like to come by Monday morning, I’d be happy to let you look it over. But it’ll have to be early, or I really won’t be able to do much for you. And, at this point, with the costume almost done, any considerable change is going to mean I won’t finish until opening night. Assuming all goes according to plan.”
With another discontented grumble, Lace Trim nodded stiffly. The battle, at last, had been conceded. The rest of the day belonged to Coco and her mystery mare.
A quick glance to the office clock nearly made Coco’s heart skip a beat. Ten? Where had the time gone?
She let out a squeak and bid her farewells in a rush, then dashed out the door and down the sidewalk, cursing her inattentiveness. As her hooves pounded against the concrete and she weaved through the crowd, stumbling and jostling into bystanders and vendors alike, Coco did a bit of quick figuring in her head.
Twelve blocks. The Blue Pearl was twelve blocks away.
Well, at least she would get her Saturday exercise in.
Coco burst through the front door so fast she almost slipped on the rug. “I’m here!” she said, gasping for breath as she approached the desk. “I’m not late, am I?”
A young mare wearing a teal smock over her sherbet orange coat blinked a few times, an amused smile played upon her lips. “Well after that entrance, I certainly hope not!” Lighting up her horn, she levitated a clipboard off a wall-mount and searched the list. “Could I get your name, miss?”
The mare’s ears flicked, she glanced up at the clock, giggling. “Made it with a minute to spare!” She rose from her seat and trotted around the counter. “My name is Sweet Caress. I normally handle the massage therapy, and sometimes receptionist duties when ours is running an errand.” Pausing a moment, Sweet Caress checked the appointment list again. “Ah, I see you’re scheduled for the full treatment. Well, well, somepony really set you up!”
“Yes. She did.” Coco rubbed her shin. “I don’t suppose you could tell me who I have to thank for all this? I seem to have a mystery friend who … likes surprises.”
Sweet Caress shook her head. “I’m afraid your guess is as good as mine. Our receptionist just wrote down ‘Coat and Hat Mare’ as the appointment setter.” Furrowing her brows, she aimed a glare at the name. “I may have to have a word with her about that, actually.”
A frown tugged at Coco’s lips. Her benefactor was eager to keep up the mystery after all. Still, that didn’t mean she couldn’t look for clues. “Did she mention anything about appearance? Coat or tail color?”
Another negative shake. “Sorry. That’s all I have.” Sweet Caress fixed a smile on her face. “But, as you said, your friend seems to like surprising you, so maybe this is all part of some big thing?”
Coco gave an amused snort. “Oh,” she said, “you have no idea. My mystery mare has planned out my day from start to finish.”
“Yes. She’s even planned a dinner date for us.”
“Well, then,” Sweet Caress said brightly, “let’s get a move on! No sense dawdling if there’s a schedule to keep!” Floating the clipboard over to reset on its hook, she gestured for Coco to follow her through a set of white double doors. “If you’ll follow me back this way, we can begin. What would you like to start with?”
“I’ve died,” Coco moaned. A dopey smile spread across her face as she lay on the massage table, lost to the gentle touch of Sweet Caress’s hooves. “I’ve died and gone to the Plains in the Great Beyond.”
Sweet Caress gave a bell like laugh that made Coco’s ear flick. “I should hope not,” the mare teased, “or I’ll have to explain to the Manehattan Police Department why I’m trying to bury a pony who died on my massage table in the park.”
Snorting in amusement, Coco nuzzled her cheek against the soft cushion. Whomever her mystery mare, this admirer, turned out to be, she was absolutely right—this was otherworldly. A wondrous experience that seemed to coax every last bit of stress, anxiety, ache, and pain from Coco’s beleaguered body like a janitor strip cleaning a hospital floor and reapplying the coatings.
From the bottom up, she’d been torn down and rebuilt. A brand new mare free of care. If only she could find some way to feel this amazing every day.
Perhaps, she mused, if my mysterious mare is inclined to stick around for a while. Though, depending on who it was, that might be a bit difficult. Coco couldn’t quite be sure, but she was leaning toward those last three names on her list.
She felt no shame in hoping with all her heart it wasn’t Suri. Dear Celestia, that would be awkward. And as nice as Sassy Saddles had been, they only knew one another through their mutual association with Rarity’s Canterlot and Manehattan boutiques. Not to say anything bad about her, but … well, there was such a thing as too thin in Coco’s opinion. Slim or svelte was fine, but Coco preferred her mares not to look like they’d just gone on a fast. A mare who cared for her body and maintained a more natural, pony feel to her curves.
A mare exactly like Rarity, for instance.
As Sweet Caress’s hooves pressed and rolled along her left thigh, Coco let her mind wander. Rarity had always been generous with her time and assistance whenever their paths crossed, especially that near fumble with the community theater.
Dear Celestia, that would’ve been such a disaster if not for Rarity and her friend showing up. How long had it even been since then? She could hardly count the Manehattan boutique’s opening since she’d been indisposed at the time.
Stupid hay fever ruining her plans.
Still, meeting Rarity put a smile on her face. Whether it was the initial lunch meetings where they discussed working together, scrambling to put a community theater on, or that last fashion competition she worked under Suri Polomare, Rarity could brighten her day like no other.
I’m getting my hopes up, she thought with a sigh as she felt Sweet Caress’s hooves leave her. Mom would scold me something fierce for even going along with this, and she’d be waiting at home, ready to tell me how she knew things would fall apart, and how I should’ve kept my appointments rather than cancel for some flight of fancy.
Of course, her mother held some rather negative feelings about relationships after divorcing her father, so there was just a bit of bias in her sentiment. Coco was happy—well, not really happy—to tune out whenever she started in on her spiel.
“All done!” Sweet Caress chimed. “How are you feeling, Miss Pommel?”
Coco tilted her head just enough that she could peer at the mare through a single bleary eye. “If this mystery mare doesn’t turn out to be the mare I’m hoping she is, can I come back and marry you?” she asked with utmost severity.
To her credit, Sweet Caress laughed. “I’m afraid my husband might be a little perturbed, unless you’re looking to join a group.” She cast a wink. “We’d have to ask him, though. And he’s one who likes the traditional courtship time length, so marriage would be a ways off.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t care for stallions that way, so I’ll pass.” Coco sighed as she rolled off the massage table, landing nimbly on her hooves. By Celestia’s crown! She didn’t feel so much as an ache on the landing! “Tell him I said he’s a lucky stallion and if tonight doesn’t work out, I hate him forever.”
“I’m sure he’ll enjoy that.”
Rolling her shoulders a couple times, Coco gave her tail a happy swish. So far, so good. Cancelling that meeting was working out quite nicely for her. “So, how much do I owe you for all this?”
Coco turned so fast her neck muscles strained. “Excuse me?” she asked.
Sweet Caress shook her head. “Your mystery mare paid in advance. With gratuity and a note that she’d leave more if you were sufficiently satisfied.” She shrugged. “It’s not my place to say, but I think you might be the lucky one, Miss Pommel. Somepony likes you well enough to spend quite a lot of bits.”
Was that a string quartet playing? Coco could’ve almost sworn this was the part of the play they’d start up. She blinked a few times. “Call me Coco. And I’ll let her know that I’m more than sufficiently satisfied.”