Crystal closed her eyes and, seeking inspiration from within, tried to get into a character. Any character. After a moment of soul searching, she imagined the aroma of coffee not as bitter and heavy, but the sweet nectar she needed for her stressful job.
Suddenly, she was a reporter, taking a break from her desperate search for answers to questions nopony had thought to ask. Perhaps she was there to scope out a suspect and had just made eye contact with him. He knew who she was and why she was there, so he walked over and asked, all suave and debonair, "Excuse me, is this seat taken?"
"Hmm," she purred under her breath. The hairs on her neck stood up as goosebumps tickled her forelegs. Her imagination was so vivid sometimes that she could actually hear a stallion's voice saying—
Her eyes fluttered open, then she gave a startled squeak. Standing beside the table was an unfamiliar brown stallion. His blonde mane was fluffy in the front, reminding her of some kind of plumed quail. He smiled dashingly down at her and gestured toward the empty seat.
"Huh? Oh." She smiled. "I don't mind company."
He nodded and sat down. "Thank you. You're just the pony I wanted to talk to." He flashed that practiced, dashing smile again. "I'm Trenderhoof."
The way in which he said his name implied that it should have meaning to her, but her face must have given away that it didn't because his smile wavered.
"But you can call me Trend." The smile resumed its brilliance.
He had the same tall, lanky build as Midnight Poem, but his demeanor was much different and, in her opinion, not for the better. His voice had a forced smooth tone to it that most stallions had in Canterlot. At least when Midnight spoke, he was earnest. However, she smiled as best she could.
"—stal Wishes, I know." He chuckled. "I said you were the pony I wanted to talk to, did I not? Hmm?" He tossed his bangs out of his eyes with a flick of his head. "I do hope you can help me out."
"With what?" She fidgeted somewhat uncomfortably.
"You see, I'm a struggling artist. A struggling author, if you will." He sighed and gestured at the window with a dramatic sweep of one hoof. "Canterlot is my home, but my heart belongs on the road, traveling from city to city, documenting the most interesting things in Equestria before they become interesting! It is my calling, but I simply can't catch a break."
Crystal furrowed her brow and said slowly, "O—kay?"
Trenderhoof's sweeping hoof returned to him, pressed to his chest while he raised his eyes to the ceiling. "If I could only rub elbows with the elite of Canterlot, surely my name would make its way to a very important pony! Thus, Miss Wishes, I must request your kind assistance." He looked back down at her. "I've heard that your parents are hosting the Canterlot garden party again this year. An invitation is all I ask. I can handle the rest."
There was that plastic smile again. She tried not to roll her eyes and instead smile sweetly. "Oh, but of course. I would be delighted to help. Trenderhoof, correct?" She rose from her seat. "I will be sure to pass your name their way."
"You truly are a crystal among mere pebbles in this city, my dear!" He clapped his hooves together. "I am forever in your debt!"
"Certainly." She bowed her head and turned to leave. "Have a nice day."
Once she was outside, she allowed her eyes to finally roll and groaned under her breath. Canterlot ponies really knew how to get on her nerves! Just when she was feeling calm and relaxed, he had to come along and utterly spoil her mood.
"I'm home!" Crystal called as she closed the door behind her, then sniffed the air. "Oh! That smells delicious!"
"Doesn't it?" Upper Crust replied from the couch. "Your father was cooking when I got home, which is so very nice because I am so very exhausted from today."
Crystal muttered, "Tell me about it." She trotted into the kitchen. "What are you making?"
Jet Set didn't look up from the stove. He jostled the pan to keep the noodles from sticking to it. "Broccoli pesto fettuccine." He briefly glanced at her out of the corner of one eye.
"That's my favorite!" She beamed, then quickly looked somber and walked closer to him, lowering her voice. "You're making that on purpose, aren't you?"
Her father cleared his throat. "We have not had it in a while, and I knew your mother would be in no mood for cooking."
Crystal took a deep inhale of the smell and sighed happily. "I accept your apology." She placed a quick peck on his cheek. "Thanks, Dad!" She returned to the living room. "Mom, do you know of a pony named Trenderhoof?"
Upper Crust raised her brow. "Do I? Darling, I know everypony in town. Of course I know who Trenderhoof is." Her upper lip curled as she said in a cautiously disapproving tone, "Please don't tell me you're—"
"No!" she quickly interrupted, waving her hooves. "Celestia, no! I just ran into him. Or, rather, he ran into me." She paused. "Or maybe he was stalking me."
"Darling, you're rambling. Please do get to the point." Her attention started to return to the magazine, though one ear was still facing her.
"Right." She sighed. "So, this Trenderhoof fellow asked me to ask you to get him an invitation to the Canterlot garden party this year."
Upper Crust flinched. Her head slowly turned in a jerky motion like a poorly oiled joint. "He—wants—what?"
"An invitation," Crystal replied flatly and braced herself.
"He wants an invitation?" Her voice raised and her eyes narrowed. "To our prestigious, elite event for the prestigious and elite? Does he believe that just because it is not the Gala and our tickets are not gold that he can just waltz his way in?! What a pompous, self-involved as—"
"Dear!" Jet Set interrupted from the kitchen doorway. "Your manners are slipping."
Just like that, Upper Crust's calm expression snapped back into place. "Oh, my." She coughed. "Well, I suppose if he went to the trouble to ask you, then I can consider it."
A small smile crept onto Crystal's lips. She did her best to not break out into laughter. Instead, she just shook her head and allowed a small chuckle.
She jumped a few inches off the ground when a series of quick knocks rapped against the front door. "Oh!" She turned. "I'll get it!" Her magic pulled the door open to reveal a stallion, wearing the traditional frock of a mailpony, standing on their doorstep.
"He—Hello!" the stallion said cheerfully despite his light stutter.
She blinked a few times before she smiled. "Good evening."
He held out an envelope. "I have a letter here for a Miss Crystal Wishes."
"That would be me!" She took it from him, then paused. Curiosity nagged her to say, "The mail isn't usually delivered this late."
"Well, we mailponies can't make every delivery during the day, can we?" He grinned and lowered his head. "Actually, I'm just filling in for a friend, and I prefer the night."
Crystal's gaze flickered to the envelope her magic held and she gasped. "Wait, this is from Ponyville?! I bet it's from Horsey!" She flashed a brief smile at the mailpony. "Thanks, but I have to read this right away!"
"Oh, that's fi—" The door slammed shut.
Crystal bounced around in a small circle as she tore the envelope open. "It's Horsey! It's Horsey!"
"Dinner is ready, darling. The letter will still be here, but your food will get cold without you." Upper Crust and Jet Set were already at the table and waiting patiently. "Your father made this just for you, after all."
"But—" She interrupted herself with a whine, trotting in place before she set the letter on the coffee table. "Okay, okay, I'm coming." She hurried into her seat, then took a moment to collect herself. Prim and proper, just as her mother wanted it, or else she'd just have to hear another lecture.
Although she calmly twirled the noodles around her fork and ate with grace, her gaze was fixated on the corner of the folded parchment peeking out from where she had torn its envelope. She didn't even hear the words her parents spoke in their casual conversation.
It had been a few days since Horsey left and this was the first letter. The letter which would determine if she and Velvet had to storm Ponyville to rescue their friend or celebrate her liberation. The letter which was sitting in the other room, its contents unread, Horsey's fate unknown.
Jet Set cleared his throat, bringing her attention to him. "I do say, it might be nice to hear a little Ponyville news over dinner, don't you think, dear?"
Upper Crust sighed. "As long as it doesn't turn into mere country drivel."
Crystal lit up so brightly that she barely even heard her mother as Jet Set's magic carried the letter to her. She tossed aside the envelope and held its contents in her hooves, which trembled in anticipation.
"Dear Crystal and Velvet," she read aloud. "I'm sorry it's taken me this long to write to you. Oh, she better be sorry!" She giggled. "I've started working at Savoir Fare's restaurant already. He's letting me stay with him until the Mayor finds a place for me to live. Mayor Mare is awfully nice."
"How scandalous," Upper Crust said with an indignant huff. "Staying with a stallion not of blood or marriage!"
"Mom, I'm sure there's nothing going on." She shot her mother a quick glare, then smiled. "I think it's cool that she knows the mayor!"
"I'm sure everypony knows the mayor in such small-town living, darling."
Crystal groaned before she continued, "When I arrived in town, a pony named Pinkie Pie threw me a welcoming party. Everypony in town came! I've never felt so welcomed in my life. No offense." This elicited another giggle. "I hope you two can come visit soon. I've already made friends that I want to meet my best friends. Always yours, Horsey."
Jet Set clapped his hooves together. "Wonderful news, then! Your little friend is enjoying her new little home."
"Yeah." Crystal rubbed at her eyes and set the letter down, resuming her meal with a bright smile she couldn't calm. "She deserves it. I'll have to talk to Velvet tomorrow and figure out when we can go see her."
"Tomorrow?" Upper Crust nearly choked on a piece of broccoli. "Darling, tomorrow you're supposed to start finishing school."
"Oh. About that." Crystal twirled her fork, then winced as she braced for the impact that was sure to follow what she said next. "I don't think I'm going to go to finishing school this summer."
At first, there was no response. The only sound that broke the tense silence was the clink of Upper Crust's fork falling onto her plate. Her mother stared at her with wide eyes.
Crystal tried not to look directly at her. "I know all the material, Mom. You've been training me my whole life on proper manners for living in Canterlot. And I'm sort of going to start writing for a magazine, maybe, if I'm lucky, so I'll need all the time I can get to focus on that."
Jet Set continued to quietly eat, leaving the matter to the mares. Upper Crust kept staring before she stuttered, "But, you, I—I—"
Crystal couldn't resist. She fought every urge not to grin. "Stammering, mother."
"Darling, you cannot simply drop out of social graces!"
"It's not dropping out if I don't go at all, though, is it?" She swallowed and finally met her mother's piercing gaze. "Mom, writing is really important to me."
Upper Crust went quiet again. Her expression was one of desperation before she made a small, frightening sound. It was a quick, short chuckle. Crystal's heart sank when she heard it.
"All right, darling." Her mother lifted the fork back up and looked down at her plate with a self-satisfied smile. "But only if you agree to attend the garden party with us." She smiled wider. "After all, your manners are surely refined enough for such an event, aren't they?"
Crystal bristled at the mere idea of attending the garden party. Spending time with the snobbiest of snobs, enduring their pointless conversations, having to smile for hours on end—just thinking about it made finishing school suddenly seem like a much more likable option.
She relented, however, with a hesitant nod. "Of course, Mother."
This seemed to please Upper Crust far more than Crystal wanted. She even lightly tilted her head from side to side in a subtle victory dance. Nothing good ever came from her mother doing such a dance, and she was certain that this one was no exception.