By the time Crystal awoke again, her parents were already gone—which was no surprise. After all, the weekend was prime time for social events, and that suited her just fine on that particular morning. She didn't want to deal with explaining to them what had happened or face whatever consequences her actions would bring.
She lifted her copy of the next volume in the Ballerina of Crime series, Prima Donna and the Lost Lagoon, and ran out of her room with it trailing behind her, enveloped in her light pink magic. It was still early, but sitting and waiting would drive her crazy. She arrived at the condo door in record time, pausing to pant and gasp for air, before she raised a hoof to knock. The door opened slowly, hesitantly.
"Hello? Oh…" Sunbeam looked down at Crystal with a mixed expression. "Good morning, Crystal." She glanced over her shoulder. "Perhaps now isn't the best time."
Crystal couldn't help but look through Sunbeam's legs. Pepper Ridge and Velvet were sitting at the coffee table, which had the cake from the party sitting on it between them. Never in her life had she seen such sad faces on ponies eating cake. For breakfast.
"Please, Mrs. Sunbeam," she pleaded, looking back up at Sunbeam. "I need to talk to Velvet!"
Velvet's ears twitched at the sound of Crystal's voice. "Crystal?" She ran over to the door and Sunbeam stepped out of the way. "Yeah, I need to talk to you, too." The stern look on her face was unnerving, especially the puffy, tell-tale eyes of a night spent crying.
"No, I wanna talk first." Velvet sniffed. "I don't know who you are. Are you a mean pony like last night or are you a nice pony like I thought you were?"
Crystal's ears fell. "I—I want to be the nice pony."
"Then why were you so mean? You're so nice to me, so why did you have to act like that?"
"Because that's how you have to be to survive in Canterlot!"
The answer didn't seem to satisfy the filly, who just stared at her.
Crystal sat down and hung her head. "I don't like being mean, but if you're not mean, you'll be walked all over. And I couldn't just stand back and let Golden talk about you that way!"
Finally, Velvet uttered one word that Crystal didn't expect. "Why?"
She paused to think it over. "Because you're my friend, and—"
"No, I mean, why do you have to be mean?"
"Becau—" She stopped mid-word when she realized she had no good answer. "Because, that's just the way it's always been."
Crystal looked up at her with a furrowed brow. "I dunno why."
Velvet stepped closer. Her voice was softer, more pleading than interrogating. "So then why be mean?"
Velvet raised a hoof and shook her head. "'Because' isn't an answer, Crystal."
Crystal sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. "Well, then, I guess, maybe—I mean, I don't want to, so, if you really make me think about it, then I don't have a good answer."
"So why not stop?"
There was a heavy moment of silence between them before Velvet wrapped her forelegs around Crystal in a tight hug. The sudden embrace startled Crystal out of all thought and sense of self, so much so that she lost her concentration and the book she had brought hit the ground with a loud thud.
"You're my only friend, Crystal! But I can't be friends with you if you're going to be mean. I can't stand it, 'cause I know that's not what you're really like! If you'd just be nice to everypony like you are to me, then we could all be friends!"
Crystal said nothing. She doubted that it would be that simple, but—why wouldn't it? After all, she responded to mean words with more mean words. She had never tried responding with nice words. Perhaps—
"I'll try." Crystal finally returned the hug. "I won't be mean anymore to anypony. I promise. Cross my heart and hope to cry, else I'll live in a pig's sty."
Velvet squeezed her tight, then pulled away and looked at her with a small smile. "Then I forgive you. Do you wanna have some cake?"
Crystal giggled. "You mean the cake with the evil butter in it?"
Pepper Ridge looked up from his plate with a downtrodden expression. "Butter isn't evil," he muttered.
"Oh!" Crystal's smile fell and she gave a serious nod. "I know, Mr. Ridge. At least, I think I know. They don't make a lot of things with butter here. Not since butter went out of style."
"How does butter go out of style?!" He buried his face in his hooves. "It's—It's butter!" He sighed heavily. "I'm beginning to think moving here was a mistake."
Crystal had no idea how to respond to that. She quietly, tentatively lifted a forkful of cake to her mouth. Her eyes widened when the moist, spongy chocolate and soft, smooth buttercream graced her tongue.
"Oh. My. Celestia!" She hopped up on her hindlegs to rest her forelegs on the table so that she could be that much closer to the cake. The fork flew back to a slice and retrieved another bite for her. "This is the best cake I've ever had in my life!"
"Thanks," Pepper Ridge said, though his voice held no joy.
"You made this?" Crystal looked up at him with sparkling eyes. "Really?"
"He bakes, I decorate," Sunbeam said, sitting at the table. "We had a small bakery in Manehattan. Things weren't great, but they were good enough. We were going to try to open one here, but nopony will let us rent a storefront to even try."
Crystal rolled her eyes. "Ugh, Canterlot is kinda dumb that way. It's 'cause nopony knows who you are. You've got to get your name out there first."
"And how are we supposed to do that without a store, not to mention the fact that everypony hates butter?" Pepper Ridge poked his slice of cake with a fork. "I can't bake without it. It's not the same."
Crystal was silent for a moment as she thought on the matter over a few more bites of cake. Canterlot elites were such a paradox. They loved to be the first doing or wearing something, but they hated to try new things. Her brow furrowed and she grumbled, "You know, if you could just get ponies to try it, I know they'd love it."
Sunbeam shook her head. "I'm sorry, sugarbeet, but we won't lie about using butter, so—"
"Wait! Mrs. Sunbeam." Crystal looked up at her. "It's like you said last night: butter in moderation is okay. So…" She dropped her gaze to the small bit of cake remaining on her plate. "What if you made cupcakes?"
They all stared at the cake with varying degrees of enthusiasm: Crystal and Velvet were the most excited, Sunbeam looked hopeful, and Pepper Ridge seemed uncertain. All eyes turned on Pepper, waiting for him to decide.
Crystal bit her lower lip in anticipation and asked quietly, "Please, Mr. Ridge?"
"Please, Dad?" Velvet's ears drooped.
Sunbeam clasped her hooves under her chin. "Please, dear?"
"All right," he finally said with soft chuckle. He turned his cautious yet gentle gaze on Crystal. "I'm listening."
Crystal threw her hooves in the air. "Yay! So, my parents are sponsoring an event next week. I'll convince them to let you cater the desserts! And if they eat some, then other ponies will try it, and they'll all love it!"
Sunbeam put her hoof on her husband's foreleg. "It's worth a shot, dear. It's better than giving up, right?"
He looked at his wife with uncertain eyes that lightened as he smiled. "Cupcakes, huh? I can do that." He looked back at Crystal. "Are you sure you want to do this? What if the ponies don't like them and it ruins your parents' event?"
"Pfft!" Crystal laughed. "I promise it'll be fine. No, it'll be perfect! Now,"—she nudged her plate forward—"may I have another slice?"
Velvet smiled from where she sat across the table, ears wiggling. Crystal started to smile back, then jumped up with sudden realization.
"Oh! I forgot!" Crystal pivoted on her hindlegs and ran for the front door. Sitting outside on the ground was the book she had brought with her, sitting and waiting patiently despite its abrupt abandonment. She levitated it up and trotted back into the living area. "I brought you the next Prima Donna book, Velvet."
Velvet gasped and nearly jumped over the table, but contained her excitement just enough to run around it. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She grabbed the book out of the air and hugged it to her chest. "I'm gonna start reading it right now!" She smiled a little sheepishly at Crystal. "Um, do you wanna read it with me?"
Crystal nodded. "Sure!" As they scurried into Velvet's bedroom, she called over her shoulder, "Thanks for the cake, Mr. Ridge!"
For how cute and sweet Velvet was, her room was even cuter and sweeter. The walls were covered in Prima Donna posters, feathery pillows adorned her light pink bed, and even the stand of her lamp was shaped like a ballet slipper.
And yet, it felt so different from Crystal's own room. Velvet was obsessed over Prima Donna, an icon for preteen fillies. It was appropriate for their age. Foal's tales weren't.
Especially not foal's tales about princesses and true love.
Swallowing her bubbling insecurities, Crystal focused on the book that Velvet set down on the floor and had spread open to the first chapter. "Ready?"
"Totally!" Velvet squeaked, splayed on her stomach and kicking her hindlegs in excitement.
Crystal plopped down beside her. One well-trained ear twitched at the sound of Sunbeam and Pepper's voices out in the living room.
"Maybe we shouldn't think about moving to Ponyville just yet," Sunbeam said softly, but not softly enough.
Ponyville? No, no, no! If they moved to Ponyville, then—
"I don't know." Pepper Ridge sighed. "The way the girls acted last night? That's not a healthy environment for Velvet. I've heard Ponyville is a nice, simple town."
Completely oblivious to Crystal's world potentially coming to an end, Velvet read aloud, "The wind howled. The shutters creaked. Prima Donna had to tune these sounds out, however, for there was one hiding underneath them—hoofsteps, and not her own."
Crystal wanted to focus on her friend, she really did, but her pounding heart and alert ears were much more interested in the conversation outside. They couldn't move. They just couldn't!
"I think Crystal is good for her," Sunbeam replied, "and I think Crystal needs Velvet, too. Let's just see how things go at her parents' event before we make any decisions."
Their silence was filled by Velvet's excited voice. "Oh my gosh! Page two and she's already in a fight?"
Crystal feigned a smile. Forget the book. For the first time in forever, a stupid social event was the most important thing in her life. Her friendship was on the line! What would she do without Velvet? The very idea sent Crystal into a cold sweat.
"I just want her to be happy," Pepper mumbled, his voice only audible from Crystal's intense focus.
"I knew she was going to do that!" Velvet exclaimed. "Prima Donna is so cool!"
Sunbeam chuckled. "She sounds happy to me, dear."
"She does, doesn't she?" Pepper sighed, but this time with more levity. "All right. Well, let's put away the rest of this cake and start thinking on some flavors for the cupcakes!"
Cupcakes. Crystal knew next to nothing about them. When she left, she'd have to go to the library and research as much as she could.
She also needed to get the guest list from her parents. No matter what, she had to make sure the cupcakes were perfect. Knowing her audience would be paramount to achieving that goal.
For now, however, her best friend was looking at her expectantly. Maybe the cupcakes could wait a little while longer.
"What? Don't stop reading!" Crystal batted a hoof at the open book. "Keep going!"
Velvet beamed and looked back down at the words. "Sweat glistened on her hooves, but she continued on. Nothing would get in her way."
Crystal sat quietly at dinner with her parents, listening to them talk about the various events they had been to that day while they ate in the smallest of bites. She hoped to go unnoticed for the evening until the time was right, but when she felt her father's gaze on her, she knew she wouldn't be so lucky.
"So, dear," Jet Set started. "I heard you had quite the evening at Velvet Step's party. Would you care to explain?"
Crystal swallowed and didn't look up. "Well, um—"
Upper Crust sighed. "Darling, don't stammer. It's unbecoming. And please, do look at your father when you're speaking to him."
Crystal raised her head and tried not to look him directly in the eyes. Instead, she stared at his forehead. It was much less intimidating.
"I got in a fight with Golden Pants," she said as clearly as she could, burying the fear.
Both of her parents made sounds of varying disapproval.
Upper Crust shook her head. "A lady does not fight."
Jet Set lowered his fork and pushed his plate away. He did not acknowledge his wife, instead keeping his gaze and focus firmly on Crystal. "From what Fancy Pants informed me, Golden Pants was the one misbehaving that night."
Crystal blinked, mouth agape until her mother chided her about it. "Um, yeah?"
"Mind your stammering."
Jet Set continued to stare at Crystal. "Yes. According to him, she came home crying, saying that you had verbally attacked her and humiliated her in front of everypony.
"As he and I know, my daughter would never misbehave of her own accord." His gaze hardened. "She is far too well-trained for such things."
Crystal swallowed. Her throat was dry.
Surprisingly, his face lightened and he smiled. "Golden Pants admitted her fault and that she provoked you." He tapped his hoof on the table. "Never start a fight, but never turn tail. That's my girl!"
Upper Crust rolled her eyes. "I fail to see how fighting of any nature is lady-like at all."
Jet Set finally looked at his wife. "Would you have our daughter be a doormat and walked upon?"
Upper Crust huffed. "Certainly not!"
"Then you should be glad for our strong little girl."
Crystal stared at the food on her plate as the conversation returned to normal, though her heart was still pounding in her chest. It was commonplace for her mother to scold her, so much so that it held little meaning or fear for her.
However, her father rarely involved himself in punishment. Sure, he would correct her behavior from time to time, but to receive an actual lecture from him was terrifying. The fact that the lecture she was expecting suddenly turned into praise did not calm her already frightened heart.
Meanwhile, her parents discussed the guest list for the upcoming event, which Crystal had been waiting for to have a chance to interject on behalf of Velvet's parents. She just had to play her cards exactly right.
It was to be a formal-attire photo gallery of Photo Finish's latest work. All the big names were mentioned, including Photo Finish herself. Crystal glanced up a few times as the conversation meandered topics. She needed an opening, some kind of way in.
"—and Donut Joe offered to cater the desserts."
And there it was.
"Donuts!" Upper Crust scoffed. "At our event? Can you imagine? I told him to promptly reconsider his offer, for his own sake."
Crystal cleared her throat. "Well, I did hear about this brand new bakery. Actually, it's so new, they haven't even opened their doors yet!"
"Brand new?" her parents asked in unison, their eyes on her.
Crystal nodded. "Nopony's heard of them, even!"
Upper Crust leaned in closer. "You must tell me their name, darling. Our event could use something new to help draw more interest."
"It's called Sunridge Sweets. They make cupcakes!"
"Cupcakes?" Jet Set raised a hoof to straighten his glasses. "How quaint! You can't find decent cupcakes in Canterlot these days. Are they any good?"
She beamed up at him. "The best cupcakes I've ever had!"
"Well, you must get us in touch with them so we can book them immediately, assuming they haven't already been snatched up."
"I already had them pencil us in," Crystal said, smiling as sweetly and innocently as she could. "I'll let them know to ink the date!"
Upper Crust reached over and patted her on the head. "What a good, thoughtful daughter you are. Now if you could just curb your fighting, you would be a perfect little filly."
"Yes, Mom." She fought the urge to roll her eyes and returned to her dinner while her parents resumed their event planning discussion.
The following Monday, Crystal could hardly keep still in her seat as she waited for Velvet to arrive at school, a grin plastered on her face.
"What are you so happy about, Crystal Wishes?" Golden Pants sneered as she walked past Crystal's desk. "You ruined my weekend."
The grin fell into a somber, straight line. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, I bet you are." Golden rolled her eyes and stepped up into her seat.
"No, Golden, I'm really sorry." Crystal shook her head. "I shouldn't have said what I said. I know how hard it is to be the daughter of a Canterlot father."
Golden stared at her with irritated confusion. "What? My daddy is the best. I don't know what you're talking about!" She turned up her nose and faced the front of the classroom.
Crystal opened her mouth to respond, but closed it instead. It would take time. She'd just have to be patient.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the familiar colors of light pink and mauve. "Velvet!" She waved her hooves to urge Velvet over faster, who obliged with a gallop across the classroom. "Great news!"
Velvet jumped into her seat. "What?"
"My parents agreed to it!" She smiled. "Your parents get to cater the desserts!"
Golden's attention was snapped back to them. "What? They're going to let some noponies ruin their event?"
Crystal shook her head. "It's going to be awesome, just wait!" She drummed her hooves against the top of her desk. "Just wait 'til you try one, Golden."
"Like I'm going to ruin myself with her parents' fat cakes." Golden rolled her eyes and turned away.
Velvet and Crystal both sighed, looked at each other, and giggled.
"Don't worry," Crystal assured her. "It'll be perfect."
Velvet rested her chin on her hooves. "I know. I mean, I'm nervous, but I know it'll work out."
Crystal hesitated, then scooted in her chair to be a little closer. "Um, so, if it's okay, I'd like to come over Wednesday."
"Sure, but why?" She tilted her head.
"I'd like to help with the flavors and decorations." She raised her hooves. "Not that I don't trust your parents' judgment or anything! I just, well, I mean, I know the kind of ponies that are gonna show up, and, so—"
"That'd be great!" Velvet nodded with enthusiasm. "Mom was just talking last night about how she had no idea what they were going to do! I think she'd really like the help making decisions."
Crystal lowered her hooves back to her desk, folding them neatly. "Then it's settled! I'll go home with you and we can have a baking party."