Although she hadn't meant for it to be so soon—nor for it to be with the cost of an injury—Velvet had to admit she couldn't have planned it better. She had plenty of time to feign deciding on a book from one of the many bookshelves while she searched for Crystal's secret. Somewhere in that bedroom had to be the clue to Crystal's passion.
Her gaze drifted over everything as she took it all in. The bookshelves would have to be her last resort, as trying to scan and process all of the titles would take too much time. She had to be quick. She walked over to the dresser and pulled out the bottom drawer as quietly as she could. There wasn't much out of the ordinary among the assorted clothing except for some long, thin boxes stacked to one side.
Velvet carefully pushed one of the boxes' lids aside to spy a fresh quill resting on satin. It was perfectly pristine and unused. Just to make sure, she opened another box and found another quill.
She frowned as she closed the boxes and shut the drawer. Quills? That meant—writing! She smiled as she turned to face the rest of the room. Which meant Crystal had a diary somewhere. But where?
Excited, she checked first around the bedside table, but found nothing incriminating. Then, when she looked under the bed, she spied a box pushed against the far wall, almost out of hoof's reach. Thankfully, her small size allowed her to squeeze into the space between the bed and the floor, and she batted at the corner of the box until it was close enough to pull out.
Velvet took a brief moment to breathe in. She was violating her best friend's privacy, but it was for a good cause! Surely Crystal would forgive her in that case. Right?
As she exhaled, she lifted the lid to the box. Inside, there were six notebooks of different colors. The covers were adorned with a number, the highest at the top and, as she dug down, the lowest at the bottom.
Velvet paused in awe of how much writing the notebooks contained, then pulled out the one labeled '1' and closed the lid.
After returning the box to its spot under the bed, she slid the notebook under the dresser so she could retrieve it more easily the next morning
"Everything okay up there?" Crystal called, some concern in her voice.
"Yup! Just having trouble deciding!" Velvet responded before she quickly grabbed a random book from the shelf and hurried out of the room.
When Velvet climbed onto the couch and held out the book, Crystal blinked a few times.
"Velvet?" Crystal glanced between the book and Velvet. "This is a guidebook on societal etiquette."
Velvet smiled, not skipping a beat, though her heart did. "I know! I thought it might be a nice change of pace!"
Crystal laughed and opened the book, titled Proper Form. Much to Velvet's dismay, it was a how-to on the most boring of high society rules: how to be a host, how to be a guest, how to be a customer, how to be anything but normal, apparently.
Velvet would never understand how Crystal seemed to know all of the rules by heart even before they turned to the appropriate page. Memorizing mathematics and grammar was hard enough, but pointless and silly rules on when to eat which part of a meal? However, she smiled and feigned as much interest as she could to avoid giving away her mistake.
The next day, before Velvet left for school, she managed to sneak the journal into her saddlebags without getting caught. Crystal still wasn't feeling up to walking just yet, so Upper Crust gave Velvet a note to take to school that explained the absence.
All Velvet could think about the whole morning was the diary. She was so excited to finally return all the favors and kindness Crystal had given her! Once she figured out her friend's passion, it would be her sole mission to help Crystal realize it for herself. Throughout the teacher's lessons, her gaze wandered to her saddlebags, where the simple pink notebook was hiding.
"Since Crystal Wishes isn't here to steal your time, why don't you hang out with us for a change?" Golden offered, interrupting Velvet's thoughts. She gave a smile that was too innocent to believe.
Velvet blinked at her. She looked around the room, then back at the two fillies in front of her. "Huh? Is it lunch already?"
"It is!" High Horse said with excitement that died down when Golden glared at her. "I mean, yes. It is."
"Ugh." Golden rolled her eyes before she smiled again. "Why don't you tell us what happened yesterday? I heard Crystal hurt her ankle, the poor thing. So sad." Her voice dripped with venomous sarcasm.
Velvet frowned. "Why are you so mean, Golden?"
"What are you talking about? I was just asking what happened!" Golden put a hoof to her chest. "There's no need for unjust accusation! But if that's how you're going to be, then fine. Come on, High Horse." She turned and started to walk away, but stopped when she realized she wasn't being followed. "High Horse, I said come on."
There was a moment of silence before High Horse's voice said in a near-broken whisper, "No."
"What?" Golden turned her head, eyes wide in surprise.
High Horse raised her chin and stared at Golden straight on. "I said no."
Golden stormed back over to her to shove her face in High Horse's. "What do you mean, 'no'?! We're going! What part of that don't you get?"
High Horse's ears started to fall back, but she forced them straight and held Golden's gaze. "I'm tired of having lunch with you. All you do is complain or pick on me and my lunches, or—or both." She bit her lip before she said in a louder, more forceful voice, "I'm done being friends with you, Golden, if we even were friends to begin with!"
Golden's expression was at first confused, then infuriated. She made an unintelligible sound of frustration before she turned away. "Fine!" she yelled over her shoulder. "I'll just find myself a new friend! You're not irreplaceable!"
Velvet sat there in shock, not sure if she should try to console High Horse. Was she even supposed to have seen all of that? She just stared, her mouth hanging open.
High Horse broke the silence with a sniffling sob. "We—We've been friends forever," she whispered.
Velvet quietly listened, her panic falling into a somber lull of pity.
"Everything used to be fun and happy, but then her mother sent her to a summer camp to learn how to be a 'power pony'." High Horse hiccupped. "She's never been the same since then. I don't know what a power pony is supposed to be, but I don't like who she's become. She's always mean to me, and I thought it was okay, as long as we were friends, but—"
High Horse turned her head to look at Velvet and continued, "She had me follow you and Crystal to your ballet lessons and spy on you two, and when Crystal hurt her ankle, you rushed right to her and never left her side."
Tears were welling up into big drops before they fell down High Horse's cheeks. "I'm just tired of not having what you and Crystal have."
Velvet slid out of her seat and went over to High Horse. She said nothing and simply wrapped both forelegs around her in a tight hug, one hoof stroking her mane.
They remained like that for a while until High Horse's tears subsided and she pulled away, rubbing at her puffy eyes. "Anyway," she whimpered. "I'll leave you alone."
"Wait!" Velvet smiled. "Why don't you have lunch with me?" She retrieved her lunch bag and waggled it. "Crystal's mom made it for me. It was really funny to see her face. I guess Crystal packs her own lunches, 'cause Upper Crust had no idea what I was talking about."
High Horse returned the smile, though hers was much weaker. "You don't have to have lunch with me just because you feel bad for me. I'll be okay by myself."
Velvet shook her head. "No! Well—I mean, yeah, I do feel bad about what happened, but I really would like to have lunch with you. If Crystal were here, she would, too."
There was a long pause before, slowly, High Horse nodded. "Okay. If you're sure."
"Absolutely!" Velvet trotted for the door. "C'mon, it's more fun to eat out in the sun!"
Once they had found a spot and settled down, Velvet opened her bag and burst into giggles. When High Horse glanced at her, she tilted the bag to show its contents.
Inside the bag was a single, lone apple wrapped in plastic wrap.
"Really?" Velvet lifted the apple and started to peel the wrap away. "I mean, really?"
High Horse smothered a giggle. "Maybe Jet Set is the one who does the cooking?"
"You know, I never actually paid attention. I asked the wrong pony to make my lunch!" Velvet gave a dramatic sigh before taking a bite.
High Horse pulled out her sandwich, which was already cut in half, and offered one of the halves to Velvet. "Here. I'm supposed to be on a diet, anyway."
Velvet blinked. She opened her mouth, blinked again, closed it, then frowned. "What? A diet?"
High Horse averted her gaze, biting her lip, and nodded.
"Nuh-uh." Velvet rolled her eyes. "I dunno who's telling you that, but diets are for our parents. We've got years before we need to worry!"
"You really think so?" High Horse stared at her sandwich, then looked down at herself.
"I do." She smiled. "I've learned a lot since I came to Canterlot, but mostly I've learned that all the fillies and colts in our class keep trying to act like adults. What happened to having fun? I thought that's what being young was about. And anyway, I'll just go by my parents' bakery after school and have a late lunch there."
Slowly, High Horse started to smile, brighter and brighter until she was practically beaming. "Then, I'll eat all of my sandwich!" She nodded triumphantly. "And I'll go to Sunridge Sweets and get a cupcake, too!"
"Yay!" Velvet cheered, giggling. "Don't you feel happier now?"
High Horse nodded again. "Uh-huh."
"Good." Velvet smiled and took another bite of apple, saying around it with a hoof over her mouth, "I'm glad."
High Horse had never smiled so earnestly before, and Velvet was happy to see it.
Once she was home that evening, Velvet went straight to her room and tossed her saddlebags on her bed. She jumped up to land next to them and opened one of the flaps, pulling out the journal.
"At last!" She rubbed her hooves together, then traced the '1' on the cover. "Hmm." She tilted her head.
When she and Crystal were still only tentative friends, now that she thought about it, Crystal was always carrying a notebook like the one in front of her, though she was pretty sure it was a different color.
However, the more they had spent time together, the less she brought it around. In fact, when was the last time she had seen Crystal clutching it protectively to her chest?
Velvet's eyes widened. That must mean, somewhere in one of them, was a secret that Crystal was guarding! Her ears folded back. "Is this really okay?" she wondered aloud. Her hoof started to tremble as she opened the journal. "I mean, my intentions are good, so it must be okay, right?"
Her gaze landed on the first page and it was too late to turn back now.
"Once upon a time," she read, then stopped. "Once upon a time? That's a funny way to address a diary." She shook her head and continued, "there once was a beautiful unicorn princess." She giggled. "I knew it! Crystal wants to be a princess! Oh, Velvet, focus!" She cleared her throat. "She was a lonely princess, locked away in a tall tower in the far reaches of Equestria's wild."
Velvet's smile fell. "Wait, this isn't a diary." She flipped a few pages and gasped. "It's a story?!"