Applejack wouldn't stop laughing. She'd try, maybe pause to take a breath and venture a word or two but it kept ending with her rolling on the floor, holding her sides with tears streaming from her eyes. "It ain't that funny," Apple Bloom insisted with impatience.
"Oh, Apple Bloom..." Applejack rolled to her stomach and wiped her eyes. She looked at her little sister and shook her head, still snickering. "You have no idea how funny it is. An' what makes it better is that Big Macintosh has no idea you're doin' this. Does Rainbow know?"
"Nope. Scootaloo is bringing Rainbow Dash her invitation and Sweetie Belle went off to give Big Mac his. All it says is, 'Meet me at the bowling alley at six for a string,' and it's not signed or nothin'. We figured Rainbow Dash likes games and stuff like that, plus she's kinda sporty an' bowlin' is a sport. I think."
Applejack raised a brow. "An' when was the last time you saw our big brother set hoof in a bowlin' alley?"
"Well...never. But there's a first time for everythin', right?"
"Well we better get movin' if we want to make it there in time."
Applejack got to her hooves and started for the door but her little sister quickly blocked her way. "Just where do you think you're goin'?"
"I thought we were goin' to the bowlin' alley."
"I am. And Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are but you're not."
"And why not?"
"Because." Apple Bloom looked up at her with a frown. "How would you feel if you were bein' spied on while you were on a date?" Her last word threatened to throw Applejack back into a fit of laughter but Apple Bloom glared with extra intensity. The giggles didn't come back but it was clear Applejack was fighting to keep herself composed. "Come on, Applejack. It's not like she won't tell you all about it after anyway, right? I mean, she is your best friend an' all."
"It ain't the same as bein' there to see it all fall apart myself. Besides, if you three are gonna be there then they already have ponies spyin' on 'em. What's one more gonna hurt?"
Apple Bloom stamped a hoof. "We have to be there in case bringin' them together gets us our cutie marks! An' why do you think it's all gonna fall apart? I think Rainbow Dash an' Big Mac make a good...well...you just stay here. Please, Applejack? If you bust out laughin' an' they see you..."
"Okay, okay. Don't get your tail in a twist. I'll stay here."
"Great. I'll see you later!"
She ran out the door to head into town but Applejack's voice was clear as it called after her, "But I want details!"
"Here, put this on!" Scootaloo shoved a purple helmet over Apple Bloom's head. She herself wore a long white wig while Sweetie Belle had her hooves in boots that made her about a foot taller and big red sunglasses over her eyes. They were at a booth in the food court at the back of the bowling alley, watching and waiting. "Okay," Scootaloo said quietly, "I told Dash that she was playing with a pro tonight so she's totally gonna be here."
"Why would you say that?" Apple Bloom hissed. "I don't know if Big Macintosh has even picked up a bowling ball before!"
"Then why would you set them up on a date in a bowling alley?" Scootaoo demanded.
"Because I thought they would have a good time just playin' a game together."
"Have you even met Rainbow Dash?"
"Um, you guys?" Sweetie Belle peered over the top of her sunglasses toward the entrance. "I think they're here." The other two followed her gaze and saw she was in fact correct. Dash was at the counter and Big Macintosh was in line right behind her. "Come on," Sweetie Belle whispered. "Let's get closer."
"I'm supposed to be playing some pro tonight," Rainbow Dash told the pony behind the counter. "Whoever they are, they haven't learned the true definition of pro until they've gone up against me. Chec this baby out." She put the card Scootaloo had given her earlier on the counter and smirked. "Personal invitation right there" She glanced over her shoulder to the various open lanes, looking for whoever her opponent might be. With Big Macintosh standing right behind her he was impossible to miss. "Oh, hey Big Mac! How's it going?"
"Howdy, Rainbow. Goin' just fine, thanks. Didn't peg you as a bowler."
She shrugged. "I'm not, really. But I got an invitation to be here and challenge a pro. How can I turn that down? Check out my personal invitation."
Big Macintosh blinked slowly and stepped up to look at the card on the counter. "An invitation, huh? On a card just like this." He craned his neck to pull a white card out from under his harness.
Rainbow Dash took a step closer to read, then looked up at Big Macintosh with question. "You sent it? You're the pro?"
He slid the card back out of sight and shook his head. "Nope."
"I don't get it."
With a deep breath in and a slow exhale, Big Macintosh wasn't quite sure what to say. He had some ideas, most of them involving his youngest sister and her friends. He may not have been be a pony who said much, but he wasn't stupid or slow by any means. And if the Crusaders were somehow involved in this, that could only mean they were there somewhere. While Rainbow Dash tried to figure things out on her own he gave the bowling alley a careful once over. When he found them all at a lane down a ways he looked away quickly. It was hard to pinpoint which one of them looked more ridiculous and he had to cough to disguise a laugh.
"Tell you what," he said after a minute. "Since we're both here, why don't we play a string?"
Dash narrowed one eye. "Seriously?"
Bowling was not his idea of fun. Neither was spending a lot of time with Rainbow Dash if he was being honest, but something inside of him wanted to at least humor Apple Bloom. He'd just have to talk to her later at home and find out what she was up to. After all, what harm could one game do?
"That's not how you throw the ball! No, you don't actually <i>throw</i> the ball! That's not our lane! You're supposed to aim for the pins, not the gutter! That's too slow! That's too fast! <i>Way</i> too fast! Oh, for the love of Celestia, is it my turn yet?"
Big Macintosh grunted when it was Dash's turn. So much for just one simple game.
"Let's get out of here," Apple Bloom whispered fervently. Rainbow Dash was busy schooling her brother on the proper way to grab the ball and spin techniques when she realized this was not going to end well.. "I knew we shouldn't have started with Rainbow Dash." They were outside shedding their disguises and Apple Bloom hung her head. "Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all."
"It would have been fine if your brother had just listened to the awesome instructions Rainbow Dash was giving him!"
Apple Bloom glowered at Scootaloo. "Maybe if Rainbow Dash wasn't so full of herself she might have stopped talkiin' about how cool she is long enough for Big Mac to get a word or two in!"
"A word or two is all he'd say all night!"
"I have an idea!" Once again Sweetie Belle spoke up in time to stop the other two from jumping at each other. They looked at her now with heated gazes but if she noticed it didn't effect her. "We should try Twilight next!"
"Twilight?" Scootaloo made a face. "What kind of a date could anypony have with a pony who just reads books all the time?"
"A quiet one."
Apple Bloom thought about it and nodded slowly, the idea becoming more and more appealing. "A quiet one! Sweetie Belle, that's a great idea!"
Suddenly Scootaloo's eyes went wide and she looked up. "Um...I just remembered I have to...um...feed the dog." With nothing else to offer she took off in a run.
"But you don't have a dog," said Sweetie Belle. But she looked up as well and gulped. "Oh yeah! And I have to...uh...clean the rain gutters!"
Apple Bloom looked after the retreating forms of her friends in utter confusion. "Clean the rain gutters?"
"Maybe that's what I outta have you doin' when we get home."
Apple Bloom sucked in a breath. She knew that voice. As she slowly turned around, she looked up to see Big Macintosh looming over her. "Oh. H-hi big brother. Fancy meetin' you here. Uh...I was just about to head home so I guess I'll see you later!"
She made to make a dash for it but her brother stepped easily in front of her. "Not so fast. You wanna tell me somethin'?"
She thought fast. "Yes! I think it's gonna be real hot tonight. Bye!"
She'd only gotten a few feet when he rumbled her name. It made her stop and look down at her hooves. "I'm in a lot of trouble, ain't I?"
"If I hadn't'a gotten out of there when I did you probably would be. What in the hay was that all about?"
Apple Bloom thought about coming up with another lie but knew she needed to tell the truth. So, with a big breath in she explained. "We've tried everythin' we can think of to get our cutie marks an' none of us knows what our special talent is after snowboardin' an' blacksmithi'g and stamp lickin' and I saw two ponies kanoodling in town yesterday an' remembered how much I love love an' thought maybe my special talent was to help ponies find that special somepony an' when we thought of you I realized you'd be perfect because you're always stuck on the farm with us an' I want you to be happy an' since you already know Applejack's friends we figured we would start with them an' it was all Scootaloo's idea to start with Rainbow Dash a'd I'm sorry!" She sank to the ground in tears, burying her face in her hooves.
"Apple Bloom..." Big Macintosh lowered his great head and gave his baby sister a gentle nuzzle. "You think I'm not happy on the farm?"
"All you have to talk to is me an' Applejack and Granny. I've got my friends, Applejack's got her friends, Granny Smith has lots of naps. What do you have?"
He nudged her with his nose. "I've got my family. All I need."
Apple Bloom sniffled and looked up. "But don't you get lonely when we're all so busy an' it's just you?"
He thought a minute and shrugged. "Sometimes. But that don't mean you gotta go settin' me up with anypony."
"I'm sorry, Big Mac. I just thought it would help both of us out. A'd now I'll never know if I'm meant to be a matchmaker."
With a small smile he crouched down to let Apple Bloom climb on his back. As they started for home he let go of a quiet sigh. "This is really important to you, huh?"
With her rear on his harness, she wrapped her hooves as tightly around his neck as she could. "It's all right. I don't wanna make you go through anythin' like that again."
Big Macintosh laughed. "I think that was probably the worst of it." They were quiet for a few minutes as Big Macintosh walked along. Finally his curiosity got the better of him. "Who would you try next?"
"Sweetie Belle thought Twilight. She talks a lot less than Dash does."
"At least less about herself, anyway." They both laughed. "Tell you what. I get a say on what we do an' I'll let you girls keep on with it."
Apple Bloom sat up, incredulous. "Really? You mean it, Big Macintosh?"
"Eeeyup. But only with AJ's friends. It'll be less embarrisin' that way."
"Okay! An' if none of them work out I'll move on to maybe getting Caramel a fillyfriend!"
"If it comes to that..." He grinned in the failing light, "...I've got a few ideas of my own."