Just before the grand opening of Sunbeam and Pepper's bakery, Crystal was invited to a small pre-opening party at the brand new shop. It was perfectly located off the main street next to Chapeau! and Upper Regalia. The sign hanging outside proudly said in a fancy script: Sunridge Sweets — Serving Fresh, Perfectly Portioned Pastries.
When she walked in, she was greeted by an excited Velvet, who threw her forelegs around her. "Crystal! Isn't it great?! Doesn't it look awesome?!"
Crystal looked around with a bright smile. "It's really nice!"
It had taken all of the summer break to get up and running, with Crystal coming over after her finishing school classes to help with the painting and decorating. Now it was complete, and totally magnifique, as her mother would say.
The walls were a soft, dappled pink from how they had been painted with sponges. Chair railing went all along them, with white and reddish-pink stripes going down from the molding to the floor.
The counter and display case stood against the back wall to give plenty of room for what Crystal knew would be an ever-busy line of hungry ponies. The rest of the floor space was occupied by round tables and tall chairs like a fancy Prench cafe, with one corner dedicated to tiny and colorful foals' furniture. Cupcakes were adored by ponies of all ages, after all.
Fancy Pants stood at the counter, conversing with Sunbeam and Pepper. After her parents' party, he had approached the two with an offer to sponsor them so they could get on their hooves. Despite being one of the most influential ponies in Canterlot, Crystal realized he was one of the nicest, too. It gave her some hope that she might be able to be like him when she was older.
"Ah, little Crystal!" Fancy Pants smiled at her when he noticed her in the room. "Excuse me, Mrs. Sunbeam, Mr. Ridge." He nodded at them before walking over to Crystal. "I have to say, sticking your neck out there for your friends like that is quite admirable. I do wish you and my daughter could be better friends. I believe she would benefit from your good influence."
Crystal rubbed her hoof against the other leg and forced the words despite the bitter feeling in her chest. "I'll try my best, Mr. Pants."
"Very good, then!" He patted her on the head. "Well, I must be off. Best of luck to you, Sunridge Sweets! I look forward to your success."
He gave a small bow of his head before he left the bakery. Velvet squealed and hopped in a circle around Crystal, her legs kicking as she frolicked about.
"I can't believe this is really happening!" She tackled Crystal to the ground. "You're the best friend I could ever have! Thank you so much!"
Crystal laughed and squirmed out from underneath her. "You're welcome!" They stood up and she affectionately nuzzled Velvet's cheek before trotting to the counter. "I'm so glad for you all, Mrs. Sunbeam, Mr. Ridge."
"It's odd to say as an adult to a filly, but—" Sunbeam smiled. "We are in your debt, Crystal."
"Huh? Oh, no! No way!" She sat on her hindlegs to wave her forehooves. "It was just a favor for a friend!"
Pepper pushed a small box across the counter toward her. "Please, at least let us give you this. It's a vanilla and rose cupcake that we're calling Rosy Wishes."
Crystal giggled as the box raised up off the counter and lowered to her eye level. The lid opened to reveal an off-white cupcake topped with light pink frosting, piped and arranged to look like a blooming rose. She had to tap one of the petals to ensure it was indeed frosting and not a real blossom on top, then licked the frosting off her hoof. It was velvety smooth with a delicate flavor, the taste and texture exactly like a rose petal gliding over her tongue.
"It's perfect!" She trotted the box over to the nearest table and hopped up onto a chair. "Which of you knew that I like roses?"
Velvet giggled and hopped onto the stool next to her. "I told them! I mean, it's kinda obvious, since you always smell like them."
Crystal pulled some of her hair to her nose and sniffed. She did take a bath with rose petals every other night, but she hadn't really noticed that the scent had soaked into her coat and mane. "Huh, you're right."
As they enjoyed the rose cupcake, Crystal allowed her gaze to wander the bakery. It was perfectly neat and tidy—thanks to Sunbeam, she was sure—with the gentle aroma of baking cupcakes and sugary frosting in the air. She couldn't wait to see it full of ponies enjoying the sweet treats Sunbeam and Pepper would make. She just knew it was going to be a success.
Crystal smiled and looked back at Velvet. "So, have you ever heard of Nightmare Night?"
Velvet shook her head. "Uh-uh. What is it?"
"Ponyville has this really interesting festival every year called Nightmare Night where everypony dresses up in costumes and goes around getting candy from all the houses in town! It's being held next month. We should take the train to Ponyville and sneak in!"
"Huh? Won't we get in trouble?" Velvet's ears folded back with uncertainty. "We don't live in Ponyville."
Crystal grinned. "We'll be in costume, so nopony will know where we live or don't live!"
Velvet tapped her chin as she thought on it for a moment, then turned her head to look at her parents. "Mom, Dad? Is it okay if Crystal and I go to Ponyville next month?"
"I don't see why not!" Sunbeam poked her head out from the kitchen and smiled. "As long as it's fine with her parents."
Velvet looked to Crystal, who shrugged and said, "I'm sure I can convince them, one way or another!" Crystal rested her muzzle on her hooves, a grin on her face. "Ooh, I'll bet you a cupcake I know what you're gonna dress up as!"
They sat in silence, Velvet tapping her chin and Crystal continuing to grin. Velvet mulled over her options, then gasped and both fillies exclaimed at the same time, "Prima Donna!"
"I can be Prima Donna?" Velvet bounced in her seat. "Really?!"
Crystal nodded. "Yeah! You can be anything you want on Nightmare Night!"
Velvet squealed, throwing her hooves into the air. "I can't wait! It's going to be the best night ever!"
Crystal giggled and reached across the space between them to hug Velvet, then hopped down from her seat. "All right, I gotta go, but I'll see you tomorrow at school!" She turned her head to address the mare and stallion behind the counter. "Good luck with your grand opening, Mrs. Sunbeam and Mr. Ridge! I know it'll be great!"
"Thank you, Crystal!" they called, waving as she left the bakery.
The buzz generated from the event and Fancy Pants's sponsorship brought in more customers than they could count. Bits were piling up and conversation was filing in the air as ponies had two or three cupcakes each.
Each pony who stood in line said the same thing: "Well, they're just so little that one more couldn't hurt!"
Eventually, Sunridge Sweets became the Canterlot destination for sweet treats; however, there was always room for Crystal and Velvet to hang out after school, which they did frequently.
Velvet Step sighed happily as she looked around the busy bakery. "I still can't believe it. It's like straight out of a movie."
"Isn't it?" Crystal mused, a shy smile on her lips that she tried to smother.
She had already started writing a short story based on Sunridge Sweets and its rise to fame. Though, of course, she had changed the whole cast to instead consist of a poor stallion struggling to get his bakery off the ground and a wealthy mare that helped him out of the kindness of her heart—and a secret love for the stallion.
It was her first time not writing a typical prince and princess tale, and she hadn't gotten sleep some nights because she was too busy writing. Something about it just sang in her heart and the words flowed effortlessly.
"Hey, what's that goofy look on your face for?" Velvet leaned in with a curious smile.
"Nothing! Just, um—" She glanced around, then pointed at a suspicious figure. "That!"
The figure, no larger in size than them, wore a cloak with the hood drawn up and kept glancing about nervously. The attempt to go unnoticed just made them stand out all the more.
Velvet lowered her voice to a whisper. "Who do you think it is?"
"Gotta be somepony from our class," Crystal offered. "Probably too embarrassed to admit they're here."
Velvet nodded in agreement. "But I wonder who?"
Before they could wonder for too long, the figure had ordered their cupcake and was in the middle of running away dramatically until they stepped on the hem of the cloak and fell flat on their face. The pastry box tumbled to the ground and the cloak flopped forward, revealing the tell-tale cutie mark of two interlinked horseshoes, one bronze and one silver.
"High Horse?" Crystal hopped down from the stool and trotted over, but the filly hurried back up to her hooves. "Are you okay?"
"I think you have me confused for some other pony!" came High Horse's unmistakable voice from under the hood.
Crystal tilted her head. "It's okay. You don't have to hide it or be embarrassed. Velvet's parents' cupcakes are really, really good!"
The poorly disguised High Horse shook her head frantically. "Golden said we couldn't be friends anymore if I got caught buying sweets from Velvet's parents!"
Velvet frowned from where she still sat. "Huh? But I thought Golden said she liked them at the party."
Crystal frowned as well. "Now that I think about it, I've never seen Golden with Fancy Pants when he comes to visit."
High Horse was trembling where she stood. "That's why she sends me to come get them." The sound of a hiccup came from the shadows under the hood. "Oh, I've said too much! She's going to be mad at me for sure!"
Crystal's expression lightened. She shook her head, then said with a wink, "She'd only be mad if she found out! And I certainly didn't see you here. Did you, Velvet?"
Velvet was already looking in the other direction, humming playfully. "Huh? See what?"
High Horse lifted her head, allowing the light to pour in and show her face. She stared at Crystal with a muddled look of confusion and suspicion. "But—I don't understand?" She took a small step back, levitated the cupcake box off the ground, and ran for the door.
Crystal sighed as she climbed back into her seat. "Poor High Horse."
"What do you mean?" Velvet glanced at her.
"I think Golden is her only friend, and I don't think she's a very good friend to her." She sighed again. "I'm trying to be nice to them, but I don't think it's getting anywhere."
Velvet's ears folded back. "It's okay! You just have to keep trying," she tried to say as reassuringly as she could. "Nightmare Night is in a few days, right? Let's talk about that instead!"
"Yeah." She smiled. "So, how is your costume coming along?"
"Great! The pin you gave me for my birthday really helps bring it all together." She clapped her hooves together. "Have you thought about your costume?"
"Oh, yes." Crystal's smile turned playfully evil. "I have it all prepared. But it's a surprise!"
Velvet tilted her head but smiled nonetheless. "Okay?"
"Anyway, I should head home." Crystal started to slide out of her chair when she saw Velvet's face. Her brow was furrowed and she wasn't looking her directly in the eyes. "What's wrong?"
"I was just wondering, um—" Velvet rubbed her hoof against the back of her neck. "You've never, ever invited me over. We either hang out here or at my house." Her gaze darted everywhere but at Crystal. "Why is that?"
Crystal stared at her much like a deer facing an oncoming carriage. "Oh, um, well, you see—"
"Aren't we friends?" Velvet asked softly.
"Of course! Best friends!" Crystal shrunk back under the weight of Velvet's gaze when it finally turned on her. "It's just, if you came over, we'd have to go into my room, and—and you'll laugh at me." Her heart pounded in her chest.
Velvet blinked a few times. "Why? What's wrong with it?"
Crystal took a breath in and slowly released it. "I guess, if you really want to, you can come over today."
This didn't seem to be the answer Velvet wanted, but she nodded. "I dunno what you're afraid of, but I think I have to come over just so you can see you're being silly." She smiled as she trotted toward the door. "I'm going home with Crystal, Mom!"
"Oh, all right!" Sunbeam looked past the customer she had been helping. "Have fun, sweetums!"
Crystal walked nervously alongside Velvet as they made their way to her house. Velvet had never really talked about foal's tales, princesses, princes, or anything that Crystal loved. She was downright terrified of what Velvet would think of her lovey-dovey room.
Upper Crust was the only one home when they arrived. Magazines of all different kinds were spread out on the couch in front of her. "Hello, darling." She smiled, albeit only lightly. "Hello, Velvet Step."
"Velvet's just fine, ma'am," Velvet said with a polite nod.
"As is Upper Crust." She returned her gaze to her magazines. "I presume you two are here to play?"
"We'll be quiet, Mom," Crystal chimed.
"That's a good girl." Upper Crust flipped the page, though her ears were still facing them.
As they walked up the stairs, Velvet whispered, "I thought you said you two were getting along lately?"
"We are!" Crystal whispered back, grinning. "That was great! I think she finally likes you!"
Velvet rolled her eyes and giggled, then put on a serious face when they stopped just outside Crystal's bedroom door. Crystal hesitated, rubbed her hoof against the other leg, then opened the door.
Velvet gingerly stepped into the room with as much care as she could manage. Her eyes widened. "Oh, wow!" She bounced forward a few steps in the direction of the bookshelves lining one of the walls. "Look at all these books!"
Crystal remained where she was. She blinked a few times. "Huh? Well, yeah. What about, um, the posters?"
Velvet stopped and inclined her head. She hummed thoughtfully, swaying from side to side, before she finally said, "They're from princess stories, right?"
Crystal couldn't help a small smile at the choice of words, which fell into an embarrassed frown. "You mean foal's tales."
"Pfft!" Velvet hopped onto the pink beanbag chair and settled in, much like a cat. "They're all from the ones about princesses and princes, right? I mean, if you had something like Foal in Boots or The Stallion's New Clothes, it'd be foal's tales, but these are all the princess ones." She batted her eyelashes. "Do you wanna be a princess?" She giggled.
Crystal sighed and walked into the room, shutting the door behind her. She flopped onto her back in the middle of the plush rug to stare at the ceiling with her legs stretching all in different directions. "I just really like them, even if it's foalish."
"Well, we are still kinda foals, you know. I mean, compared to our parents, anyway."
Crystal tilted her head to peer at Velvet. This seemed to be going much better than she had expected.
You still like these silly foal's tales? You're way more of a nerd than I thought you were! How lame!
Crystal rolled her eyes. How could she even think Velvet, the nicest pony she knew, would say something like that? She finally smiled. "So it's okay?"
"Of course it's okay! I mean, if that's all you talked about ever, then maybe it'd be annoying? But you don't, so it's totally okay." Velvet made a weird face, scrunching up her nose. "Why would you think it wouldn't be okay?"
"I dunno. I've never had anypony besides my parents in here, so—" Crystal rolled over onto her stomach. "So, how far are you in Prima Donna and the Dastardly Desperado?"
"I really like it! Though, honestly, I feel like Rose Quartz is trying to put Prima Donna and Dastardly together as a couple, which I think is kinda weird."
"Oh—yeah? Why's that?" Crystal winced, one ear folded back, the other staying strong and upright.
Velvet stuck out her tongue and scrunched up her nose. "I just don't wanna read Prima Donna turning all dumb because of a stallion. She's supposed to be a super cool, super awesome, super independent mare! Why does she need to fall in love?"
Crystal's gaze briefly flickered to her bed as the other ear fell, where her notebook lay hidden between the cushions. Even though she knew in her mind that Velvet was too nice to outright hurt her feelings, she couldn't stop her heart from feeling even more guarded now. She sighed and turned her attention back to Velvet, trying to keep her smile from faltering.
Well, at least she found out the easy way that Velvet wasn't interested in the same kind of story as her. It saved them both from an awkward moment, even though it was hard to let her in this far and still have to keep secrets.