"You did this on purpose." Velvet stared at Crystal, both pairs of legs crossed over each other, ears pinned back. One of her hindlegs swung up and down to tap on the floor in rhythmic irritation.
"What? No!" Crystal beamed innocently at her as she fumbled with picking up a bowling ball. Hooves only. Why did it have to be hooves only?
Velvet rolled her eyes, though she started to grin. "Well, congratulations, you're in third place." She turned her head to look at Horsey, who was staring at the ground with her ears folded over. "You're in fifth, so that's still good, considering there's nine of us!"
Horsey raised her head and gestured with both hooves at the gaggle of mares surrounding Midnight Poem. "I'm behind Azure Dance, and she's not even paying attention when she bowls!" she exclaimed, exasperation clear in her voice.
"What? Huh?" The mare in question turned to look in Horsey's direction. "Did somepony say my name?" When Velvet shook her head, the mare returned her attention to Midnight. "Recite another poem, Midny!"
Midnight smiled lopsidedly. He cleared his throat and said, a little nervously, "Well, ah. When the white hooves of dancers beat across the stage, the sound is like the wings of birds at dawn, fluttering."
Horsey dropped her head back down with a groan when a chorus of feminine sighs filled the air.
Crystal walked carefully on her hindlegs, balancing the ball on her forehooves before she shifted its weight to just one. She pulled her hoof back, then started to sling it forward to send the ball down the lane.
"By the way, why didn't you like 'Midny' again?" Velvet called.
Crystal winced and tossed the ball straight into the gutter. "Oh, come on!" She whirled around to face the snickering mare, nearly stumbling over her own tail when it wrapped around her legs from the sudden motion. She dropped down onto her forelegs, kicked her back legs to untangle them, then trotted back to the seating area. "Seriously?"
Velvet blinked with utmost innocence. "What? No!" She laughed briefly, then put a serious face back on. "Really, I don't get it." She looked over at the stallion as he tried to pay attention to each of the fawning mares around him. "He's cute, he's nice, and he writes really good poetry. What's wrong with him?"
Crystal sighed and sat down between her two friends. "Midnight! It's your turn!"
"Huh?" He smiled. "Oh, right! Excuse me, pardon me—yes." He picked up his ball and tried to focus while several pairs of eyes bore into the back of his head, eagerly watching his every move.
"So—?" Velvet pressed.
Crystal shrugged. "You're right, he is all those things. But I just don't feel that way about him, all right?"
"I think that's fine," Horsey said quietly. "I mean, Crystal is pretty, nice, and writes really good stories, but I don't want to date her." Her eyes glimmered with mischief as she leaned forward to peer at Velvet. "What about you?"
"Huh? Oh, Horsey!" Velvet laughed and waved a hoof. "That's totally different!"
"I'm just saying—"
"All right, your turn, Velvet," Midnight said, walking back to his spot.
Velvet looked over at the pins just as they were being brushed away. "You got a strike? Oh, curse you, Midny!" She laughed and stood up. "You're only in first place because you're trying to show off."
When Velvet was about to throw her bowling ball, Horsey called out, "Don't forget that she has a nice plot, too!"
"What?!" Velvet and Crystal cried, both turning to look at the laughing mare. The bowling ball went sailing across the floor, narrowly avoiding crashing into the ponies in the next lane over.
"Sorry!" Velvet winced before she hurried over and gave Horsey a furrowed, confused stare. "Horsey, you don't normally talk like that! What's up with you?"
Horsey's laughter faded and she rubbed her cheek with a hoof. "Yeah? Oh. Sorry."
"Is this because Velvet's mom talked about eclairs and cake?" Crystal asked. Her cheeks were still red and her tail had curled around herself to hide her rump from sight, but she grinned nonetheless. "Have you been corrupted?"
Velvet gave a loud groan. "I do not want to talk about my mom and what she said, okay?"
"Okay." Crystal held up her hoof. "No more messing each other up, okay? Morning Grace just got a spare and now Horsey's in sixth place."
"What?!" Horsey looked up at the scoreboard and whined, "Oh, horseshoes!"
They took a breath of air and, simultaneously, drew their hooves across their chests, reciting together, "Cross my heart and hope to cry, else I'll live in a pig's sty."
Nearly an hour later, the game finally ended with Velvet close behind Midnight to achieve second place, Crystal in fourth, and Horsey scrambling just barely ahead of one of the ballet mares for fifth. The trio stood together, pausing so that Crystal could turn and address Midnight.
"I guess you'll have to walk a couple mares home, huh, stud?" She winked.
Midnight tried to smile. The attention seemed to be a little overwhelming for the shy stallion, but, judging by the blush on his cheeks, not entirely unwelcome. "It—uh, it seems so." He looked at the three mares standing beside him, the rest having already left. "Ladies first."
"Oh, give us another poem for the walk home, Midny," Azure Dance cooed, her eyelashes fluttering. "Please?"
Crystal watched while he departed with his small group of fanmares. "It's going to be Azure," she predicted aloud. "She really likes him."
Velvet nodded in agreement as the three of them started to walk for the door. "I'm not surprised. Azure's on the cheerleading team and all she talks about is how tired she is of jocks."
"Really?" A tingle ran down Crystal's spine and she shuddered, a coy smile on her lips. "I can't wait for the game next week. I think I like a stallion with a bit of muscle."
"Is that why you didn't hit it off with Midnight?" Horsey asked with a playful tease in her tone. "Too much brain, not enough brawn?"
"Maybe," Crystal commented wistfully, already elsewhere in a daydream with muscular stallions.
Velvet laughed and bumped her flank against Crystal's. "Well, maybe when you're in the color guard next year, you'll have the chance to get up close and personal with the hoofball players!"
Crystal said nothing, merely giggling in excitement, her gaze focused on nothing at all.
Horsey rolled her eyes, but smiled softly. "I'm just glad she's drooling over stallions again. It was weird having her be mopey about it."
"Agreed. Now let's just make sure she gets home safely without—"
Lost in her thoughts, Crystal stumbled over her own hooves on a bit of uneven cobblestone, prompting Horsey and Velvet into laughter.
"Let me see your game face!" Velvet cried excitedly from the other side of the Crystal's bedroom door. "Come on, Crystal!"
"I'm almost ready!" Crystal applied the last stroke of makeup before she walked to the door and opened it. Seeing Velvet, she gasped. "Wow! You went all-out!"
Velvet stood with her head held high, decked out in full school spirit regalia: her face was painted in the school's colors, a large foam hoof with '#1' painted on it was over one of her hooves, and colorful streamers were woven into her mane.
"It's the last game the boys will be playing here in Canterlot. They need our support!" She paused to look Crystal over.
Crystal wore makeup in the school's colors but hadn't gone above and beyond like Velvet had. That said, she had dyed blue streaks into her mane, most of the natural pink locks hidden underneath the vibrant blue color.
"Hmm." Velvet walked in a circle around Crystal, examining her from head to hoof. "You'll do. Let's go pick up Horsey and head to the stadium!"
Crystal levitated a small flag behind her and they made their way together to the house of Horsey's parents, Fine Line and Hoity Toity. A few moments after they knocked on the door, Fine Line opened it and peered at them before offering a cordial smile.
"Oh, hello there." She paused, glancing Velvet over, staring at Crystal, then turning to shout, "High Horse, your friends are here, and they're dressed in school spirit! Do you need time to get ready?"
"What?" Horsey's voice squeaked from somewhere in the house. She galloped into view, pushing her head past her mother to gape at Crystal and Velvet. "I didn't know we were supposed to dress up!"
"Don't worry," Crystal said, smiling. "You're kind of blue, so you're already in school spirit."
Fine Line looked down at Horsey, then sighed. "Crystal, be a dear, would you?" Before Crystal could respond, Fine Line's magic tugged the flag out of the pink magic and levitated it over to tuck behind Horsey's ear.
"Mom," Horsey whined softly.
"Now you're ready." Fine Line patted her on the head. "Just be sure you're home in time for dinner. You three have fun, all right?"
Velvet clapped her hooves. "Let's go, girls! We don't want Crystal to miss the pre-game stretching!" She laughed and took the lead in an excited gallop down the street.
Crystal's cheeks flushed and she started running as she yelled, "Hey!"
"Bye, Mom!" Horsey called over her shoulder, trotting after the two of them.
When they arrived at the outdoor stadium—which was really more of a field with tiered benches all around it—they were pleasantly surprised to find space in the second row from the sidelines. The home team's players were already on the field, stretching and preparing their bodies for the exercise ahead.
"Perfect," Crystal cheered as they sat down. "This day is going to be perfect!"
Velvet grinned and nudged her side with an elbow. "Calm down, frisky britches. You don't want to scare the stallions before they've even started!"
"Oh, you," Crystal mumbled with a playful pout. "Can't you just let me be happy?"
Horsey smiled. "You two are really good friends, you know that?"
They paused to stare at her for a quiet moment.
"Huh?" Velvet blinked a few times.
Horsey laughed softly and shook her head. "Sorry, I just mean, it's really funny to watch you two."
"I see what you mean." Crystal scooted closer to Horsey and nuzzled their sides together. "Are you jealous of our PDA?"
"What? No!" Horsey shook her head again. "I'm just glad, is all. I mean, the year is coming to a close, but we're still friends."
"Of course," Velvet started cautiously. "Why wouldn't we be?"
Horsey shrugged. She turned her attention forward when the opposing team walked onto the field. "There's no reason. I'm just feeling sentimental, I guess."
Crystal tilted her head to rest it against Horsey's neck. "It's okay," she cooed in a quiet voice. "I know you're really just jealous. I'll give you extra attention to make up for it." She inclined her head in such a way to keep the physical contact and peered at Velvet, sticking out her tongue. "Don't you get jealous, too, now."
Velvet grinned. "Why should I be? Now I've got me all to myself, just as I planned!" She placed her hoof on her giant foam hoof and sighed in a playfully dreamy way. "Oh, me!"
They all laughed, then their laughter changed into cheers when a pony wearing a black-and-white-striped shirt came onto the field and started the game.
The first quarter was intense—the Wondercolts came out in full force. An announcer with a megaphone exclaimed that the starting lineup consisted of Indigo Steel as the quarterback with Silent Knight and Defender Bronzewing as his left and right guards. They were a fearsome trio: nopony on the defending team was able to get near Indigo Steel until both Silent Knight and Defender Bronzewing were tackled to the ground.
"Silent Knight, huh?" Velvet mused, turning to look at Crystal, who was almost too engrossed in the game to hear her. A flick of an ear acknowledged that at least some of her attention was diverted to listening. "Isn't he the stallion always causing trouble 'cause he refuses to participate in the Julimare and Romehorse play?"
"He participates," Crystal responded idly. She tore her gaze away for a moment to look at Velvet and shrug. "I mean, he builds sets. I think that's enough." She winced when Silent Knight slammed his shoulder into an opposing player's chest, knocking the latter to the ground. "I don't think stallions like him can act very well."
"What about that Defender Bronzewing, though?" Horsey giggled. "He seems like your type."
Crystal made a sound reminiscent of a purr. The stallion in question was noticeably larger than the others, with a well-defined build that made him perfect for defending the quarterback.
"Yeah," she said simply. "He's nice."
Though the away team was able to score a few touchdowns, the score was dramatically in favor of the Wondercolts. At half time, the color guard came out followed by the marching band. At one end of the field, cheerleaders bounced around with enthusiastic cartwheels and flips while choreographed flags were twirled in the air, all set in time with the small but equally enthusiastic band in the center.
"Look, look!" Velvet pointed excitedly. "There's Azure Dance!"
"And?" Crystal tilted her head. "What about her?"
At that moment, they watched the mare pause and blow a kiss in one direction. They followed her gaze and saw Midnight Poem sitting in the crowd. His cheeks turned a bright red when several other eyes turned on him, but raised a hoof to catch the invisible kiss.
"Aww!" Crystal squealed, pressing her hooves to her cheeks and smooshing her own face. "Tha's shoo cyute!" She pulled her hooves away and turned back to Velvet, a menacing force behind her lowered voice as she asked, "And you promise that Azure Dance will be a good mare to him, right?"
Velvet dismissed her with a wave of her hoof. "Don't worry! I mean, she's not perfect, but she's not bad, either. As long as he's happy, who cares?" She pointed at the field, teasing in a tone that one would use with a puppy, "Look, girl, look! Stallions! Does the pretty pony want to watch the stallions? Huh?"
Crystal paused, considering a snarky response, but admittedly, she did want to watch the stallions. She played along by lolling her tongue out the side of her mouth and giving a resounding, "Woof!"
Horsey and Velvet laughed, nearly falling off the benches into the row below while nearby ponies gave them concerned, wary glances.
Crystal hooked her hooves together in a begging posture and panted, wiggling her rump to wag her tail back and forth. "Woof, woof!"
This sent all three of them into hysterical laughter that they could barely rescue themselves out of when a horn sounded, signaling the start of the third quarter.
Velvet wiped a tear from her eyes. "We'll have to make sure to get together and not have a repeat of last summer."
"Yeah," Crystal agreed with a firm nod. "I won't let my mom send me to summer finishing school this time."
There was a pause before Horsey simply said, "Yeah."
After the game, by sheer coincidence, both the trio of mares and the entire hoofball team were at Sunridge Sweets for post-game treats. The stallions were loud, forgivably so after such an overwhelming victory over the visiting team. They cheered and egged each other on in contests of hot cocoa drinking and cupcake eating—both very stallion-like activities when paired with deep-voiced cheers of "chug chug chug" and "chow chow chow", of course.
From their usual table off in the corner, Velvet gave the stallions' antics an amused snort, Crystal openly checked them out, and Horsey stared down at the oat-and-daisy milkshake the three of them were sharing.
"They really are all brawn, huh?" Velvet commented as one stallion cried out in surprise at how hot his hot cocoa was while the other stallions laughed.
Pepper Ridge hurried over to deliver a tall glass of cold milk to the scalded stallion, an even smile on his otherwise worried face.
"You can say that again," Crystal murmured, resting her muzzle on her hoof, her eyes wandering across the buffet of muscular males.
"I'm—I'm moving to Ponyville," Horsey said in a quiet voice hardly above a whisper, her gaze firmly fixated on the table.
Suddenly, the noise from the excited stallions faded away as Crystal and Velvet stared at Horsey with wide eyes, both shocked into silence.