“Now hold still; this will only take a moment.”
The measuring tape coiled and twisted around Graves like a flying snake as Rarity recorded the various numbers on a small clipboard. Placed upon a pedestal in the back of her shop, the young marshal stood stiff as a stone as he warily eyed the darting ribbon. He wasn’t exactly comfortable with this kind of attention.
“I’m so glad that you’re able to help me out like this,”Rarity smiled as she scribbled away. “Recently, I’ve been branching out more into men’s clothes, but I need a suitable model for my latest creations.”
“A model,” Graves intoned, a sinking feeling of dread appearing in the pit of his stomach.
“Right. And of course, since you’re particularly lacking in the fashion department, I came up with a brilliant idea. I make you a whole new wardrobe of my newest designs, and you wear the prototypes and help me advertise. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“…as long as it’s not too frou-frou,” the marshal slowly agreed, causing the violet-haired designer to squeal in delight.
“Excellent! Ooh, this is going to be so exciting!” Rarity gushed as she dashed to a nearby wardrobe and dove in. “Now, I’ll be making the rest of the designs in your size, but I’ve just had so many ideas as of late, I had to start working right away. It’s not perfect, but I believe we can get you started with this.”
Graves recoiled in horror as Rarity turned and showed him her ‘creation’. He had no idea what to call it except a long coat in the oddest shade of magenta that had melded with a pile of belts. Never before had he seen so many buckles and straps before, and yet here he saw a single garment with no less than thirty hanging off in all directions like a mass of mutated, tentacular tendrils. It was unnatural, and in many ways, a little frightening.
“I have to wear that?” he asked, unable to keep a shudder out of his voice.
“But of course,” the young lady replied with slight surprise. “Is something wrong?”
“Uh… no,” he said, not quite able to meet those sapphire blue eyes. “I’ll go change.”
“Wonderful,” Rarity smiled as she handed over the coat. “While you do that, I’ll get to work on my next design. Just call me if you need anything!” By then, she was already gliding off to her workroom in the back, leaving Graves by himself with the unholy fusion of clothing and waist-wear.
“Might as well get it over with,” he muttered, heading behind the silk screen to get changed.
Or at least try to. Getting into the contraption was easy enough, but getting it done up was another thing entirely. The unfortunate part of having so many belts was that he had to fasten each one, but with so many, he had no idea which strap went where. After ten minutes of pulling and fastening, then undoing and pulling apart, he was even more confused than when he started.
“Miss Rarity?” he called out, looking down at himself in bewilderment, “I think I broke it.”
“Try hitting it,” a girly, almost squeaky voice called out. “That usually works for me.”
Sticking his head out from behind the screen, Graves was surprised to find himself looking at a little girl with pink and purple cotton candy hair. She looked back up at him, idly rocking back and forth on her sandaled feet.
“…You’re not Miss Rarity,” the marshal said dumbly.
“Why would I be?” the child asked, giving him a funny look, ”I’m Sweetie Belle.”
“Oh.” Graves glanced around the otherwise empty store. “Do you know where Miss Rarity is?”
“I was gonna ask you the same question. Is she back there?” Without so much as a by your leave, Sweetie Belle ducked around and peered behind the screen, oblivious to the fact that it was designed specifically to provide privacy away from such prying eyes.
“Er… no, she’s not,” the marshal replied, watching the… airheaded girl warily as he stepped out from behind the screen. He was just glad he was still fully dressed.
“Graves? Is something the matter?” Rarity’s voice preceded her as she came back into the front of the store.
“Can’t figure this out,” he said, the mess of belts and buckles speaking volumes in his stead.
“Goodness, what was I thinking?” the pretty seamstress sighed with a disdainful sniff. “Honestly, that’s the last time I draw inspirations from Rainbow Dash’s comic books.”
“RARITY!” Peeking her fluffy head out from behind the screen, the little girl spotted the violet-haired beauty and flung herself forward like a fluffy cannonball, latching herself around the fashionista’s waist in a rib-crushing hug. Considering the older girl’s pained expression, that might actually have been a literal description.
“Uh, Sweetie Belle?” Rarity gasped as the little girl squeezed the breath out of her. “What are you doing here?”
“Mom and dad dropped me off before they went on that big safari they’ve been planning. Isn’t it great? Now we can spend the whole week together, just like two sisters should!”
“Oh, you’re related,” Graves nodded as illumination dawned. The marshal hadn't noticed it before, but now that they stood together, he could definitely see the resemblance in their looks, if not exactly in their mannerisms.
“Yes, you haven’t been properly introduced yet,” Rarity replied in a still strained voice. “Sweetie Belle, why don’t you go and greet the marshal?”
“Oh, right.” Releasing her big sister, who took a grateful breath of air, the little girl dropped a neat little curtsey and elegantly bowed her little head. “Pleased to meet you, mister. My name’s Sweetie Belle.”
Yup. Definitely sisters alright.
“Graves. Pleasure.” He extended his arm and took the girl’s small hand for a formal shake. Kind of weird to be formally shaking hands with a kid, but hey, when in Roam…
“So anyway, Rarity,” the perky girl said, immediately turning back to her big sister with big, sparkling eyes, “I’ve already thought about all the stuff we could do together this week; it’s going to be so much fun! First, we can have a picnic in the park, and then we’ll have a sleepover and do makeovers, and then we can visit the Canterlot Fashion Expo, and then…”
The little girl was so excited that she was literally bouncing around the store, and despite the somewhat painful reunion, Rarity couldn’t help but smile fondly.
“Yes, Sweetie Belle, I’m sure it’s going to be most enjoyable. Now, why don’t you go and unpack your things and…”
“Did… did you say… Canterlot Fashion Expo?”
“Yup!” the little girl beamed.
It was quite a sight. Though fair skinned already, Graves watched in morbid fascination as color visibly drained from Rarity’s face to leave her white as the sundress Sweetie Belle wore. Dashing over to her work station, Rarity grabbed up a tabletop calendar and quickly flipped through the pages. What she saw couldn’t have been good because her eyes grew larger than teacups in horror.
“No,” she breathed, her voice heavy with dread and dismay. “Of all the worst possible things to happen, this is THE. WORST. POSSIBLE. THING!!”
A few stray hairs actually popped up at her cry.
“Rarity? What’s wrong?” her little sister asked, concern quickly replacing the previous jubilation.
“It’s the Fashion Expo!” Rarity exclaimed. “I was invited by Hoity Toity himself to put on a display, and in all the excitement of the last week, I completely forgot to finish it!”
“Well, that’s okay isn’t it?” Sweetie Belle asked. “I mean, you have a lot of pretty dresses you’ve already made. Can’t you just bring those?”
“Out of the question!” the young lady started with gemstone-like firmness. “An opportunity of this magnitude can’t just have any old garment thrown in. It must be... bold. Unique. Magnificent. And perfect. Absolutely, positively perfect!”
Rarity turned to her little sister and knelt to look her in the eye with a most pained expression on her lovely face.
“I’m sorry, Sweetie Belle. I know you’ve been looking forward to this week for a while, but I simply must get to work and finish this display.”
“But… but what about…” the little girl whimpered, eyes growing into the saddest pair of pleading pony eyes you’ve ever seen. Her big sister smiled softly as she reached out to stroke her sister's cheek.
“It’ll only be for today. Once I’m done with it, then we can take it up tomorrow and have fun at the Expo together. Okay?”
“... Okay.” The dejection on Sweetie’s face could have made a stone weep.
“Marshal,” Rarity called, standing up and looking him in the eye. “I hate to be a bother, but would you mind taking Sweetie Belle into town? I need to concentrate, and I’m sure she’d have more fun whilst not trying to keep quiet here.”
Graves tugged his hat with a small nod.
“Reckon I can do that.”
“Thank you. Now, Sweetie Belle, I’ll be busy for today, so would you mind running along with the marshal? For me?”
“Alright, Rarity. But you promise we’ll go to the Expo together tomorrow?”
“Pinkie promise. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” Sweetie Belle giggled as she watched her big sister pretend to stick a frosting-covered pastry into her face. And at least she knew Rarity would keep this promise. After all, nobody breaks a Pinkie promise.
“Okay Mister Graves, let’s go,” the little girl said as she marched to the door, her cheeks puffed out with a resolute determination to not look sad. Call her what you will, but the kid had guts, you had to give her that.
“Right behind you,” the marshal called, walking after her until a soft clearing of the throat made him turn around.
“Something wrong, Miss Rarity?” he asked.
“Are you sure you want to go into town wearing that?” she asked. Looking down at where her slender finger pointed, Graves realized that he was still wearing the monstrous belt contraption.