Life in the Donut Hole

by Revenant Wings

Episode 1: Blueblood the Food Critic

I grabbed the gaudy red and paper hat from my head almost as soon as I entered the door of my apartment, crumpling it in one hand while I slammed the door shut with the other. The paper apron came off next, grabbing it with both hands and throwing it off my head.

“Fuck yes!” I shouted with glee, kicking over an imaginary hay burger stall. “I am DONE with that bitch!”

Down a short hallway, from the bathroom, my roommate peeked his head around the corner. The square snout of the stallion pointed at me and the green, slitted eyes that reminded me of my parents’ cat peered at me curiously from under the greyish-blue mane. “Done with what again?” the voice replied, soft yet intrigued.

“I got the job!” I exclaimed. I threw the crumpled remains of the paper hat towards the garbage can, hit the rim and missed. “No more working at that hay burger stand! Wait until I tell my guardian that I have a decent paying job for once!”

The stallion’s expression changed, and he gained a warm smile. “Fantastic, Matthew. I won’t be alone in paying the rent anymore.”

I picked up the trash and put my hands up defensively. “Hey, just because you get paid more doesn’t mean you need to throw that out. I’ve got two degrees; I should be at least two-thirds what you get, Mister Masters.”

“I know.” The head disappeared back around the corner, voice changing to a more soothing tone. “I am genuinely happy for you. It’s one step closer, after all.”

I walked over to the entrance of the bathroom and leaned on the doorway, watching my roommate as he grabbed the contact lens with one hoof and gently pulled down his lower eyelid. “I still don’t like it,” I said as I watched him. “I mean, that little dump?”

“Donut Joe’s isn’t a dump,” the stallion said as he put his hoof down and blinked rapidly a few times. “It’s an Equestrian institution. Rather popular around here.”

“Yeah,” I said with a chuckle as he pulled down the other eyelid on the side closest to me. “That’s why the only donut shtick wasn’t working and now he’s upgraded to a casual dining restaurant.”

“It’ll get you points,” he said. “It is a thing around here. One or two of the high-level ones close to the castle started at Joe’s.”

“Doubt it,” I said. “Donuts to ricotta gnocchi and Florentine lasagna sounds like a bit of a jump.”

“They work their way up,” the stallion said, blinking rapidly again. “They always do. So will you if you work at it.”

I sighed as the stallion washed his face. “Midnight, both you and I know that place is a dump. That’s why they had to renovate.”

Midnight Glow looked at me, now with a non-slitted but still abnormally large-sized pair of green eyes. “Sweetie,” he said, adding a little extra tenderness to his soft voice, “you’ll never get very far if you keep up with that attitude.”

I glared at him. “It doesn’t do much to patronize me,” I said as hard as I could to counter it. “And don’t call me ‘Sweetie’. You know, just because we’re roommates doesn’t mean you have to treat me like your boyfriend.”

“A true boyfriend would pay his portion of the rent on time,” Midnight said, smiling almost seductively at me as he turned to me so that his nose was right in front of mine. “Which, with the increase in pay at this new restaurant, means you might finally step up to that level.”

I gently pushed his nose away as Midnight giggled. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be sure to pay my half of the rent and utilities now. Working at that hay burger stand was a bitch. I mean, 7 bits an hour to stand in the sun? Seriously? Hated it. Fourteen is a lot better.”

I walked to the kitchen and opened up a dark brown bottle of Canterlot stout; caramel with coffee hints in the beer. I heard Midnight walking up behind me. “Excuse me, why do you say ‘bitch’ all the time?”

I took another sip of the beer and looked at him. “What do you mean?”

The two leathery bat wings at either side of him flapped a few times, stretching luxuriously. “You said ‘bitch’. Now, I’m pretty sure you don’t mean that a female dog was working with you at the stand, so why do you say it?”

“A female dog,” I mused as I took another sip. “Then I’d have seen everything. Anyway, it’s Earth slang. It either means I hated it or I thought really low of something.”

Midnight went into the fridge himself, grabbing another bottle of the Canterlot stout and opening it with one of his fangs. “Then why didn’t you say that at the start?”

“Because I like saying ‘bitch’,” I said, sitting on the living room couch and turning on our TV. Some old, black-and-white movie was playing. “Ever try that with your patients at the guard, mister psychiatrist? Really helps at relieving stress. Swear therapy.”

“That’s ‘psychologist’.” Midnight sat down on the couch beside me. “And I’d guarantee none of them would have heard it in that context before.”

I took another sip of my beer and shook my head. “Fucking magical multi-colored ponies…”

Midnight chuckled. “You would like to, wouldn’t you?”

I sighed and looked over to him, leaning back with me on the couch and fixing a smirk at me. “Dude… really?”

“Just teasing.” He held his bottle towards me; I never got how he could hold it with one hoof. “Cheers at a new job?”

I smiled at him and clinked our bottles together. “New job, better pay, and one step closer to owning my own restaurant.”

And we drank deeply from our bottles.

* * *

One week later…

I get up from my bed at seven o’clock, rub the sleep from my eyes, and head for the bathroom. My face is an absolute mess; hair a complete fuzzball, eyes red and bleary, and my body aching. That one last beer before bed with Midnight was a bad idea. I only take a moment of thinking how he would be for today before stepping in the shower.

Should have explained something. My name’s Matthew Rock. I’m 24 years old, and I’ve got two degrees: bachelors in Culinary Arts and Business Finance. Thought it wouldn’t be too bad, but when it became a piece of shit to find a job back home on Earth, I took the free dimensional leap to Equestria to see about something there.

After making sure to clean every orifice on me, I dry myself off and step out to change into work clothes. Work clothes are a pair of blue slacks, a nice pair of shoes (just have to be clean), and a collared shirt. Sometimes I think it’s weird that I’m the only one I’ve ever seen wearing clothes even though I’m told other humans have been here before. But then, with the things I’ve seen on the ponies, who don’t ever wear clothes, I think I look pretty decent by comparison.

I manage to grab an energy bar and chomp down on it as I made my way to Midnight’s bedroom. He’s passed out on his bed, one wing folded up and another spread out. I'm still surprised that, being a bat pony, he doesn't sleep hanging from the ceiling.

“Yo!” I call out to him. “I’m off to work.”

Midnight groans. Apparently, he didn’t take it too well, either.

“I should be off at 4 or so,” I tell him. “I’ll probably be back before you.”

Another groan and Midnight opens and turns a sleepy eye to me. “Fine. I’ll see you later, honey.”

I sigh. “I thought I told you to drop that shit.”

He smiles. “I can call you ‘honey’ all I want. You actually are sweet if you’re taking the time to say ‘goodbye’.”

He… has a point. “Fine. Goodbye, moonhorse.”

I’m satisfied when I hear a more irritated groan out of him as he rolls over. He hates the nickname ‘moonhorse’, which I gave him when I couldn’t remember his name when I first moved in but remembered his cutie mark was a giant glowing moon.

I leave the apartment at seven thirty, chomping down on the energy bar as I made my way through the early morning Canterlot streets. I’m not that far away but I like to make it to Donut Joe’s early. Sure, I sound like I might not care sometimes, but about work I do totally get serious. It’s what I want to do. I’m not so keen on dropping the ball on it now.

It’s been a week now since I’ve started at Donut Joe’s, but I don’t think it’s a dump anymore. It’s a little stone building on the corner of a rather large intersection. Two glass doors enter the place, and many large windows surround the two walls facing the streets. The wall opposite the large window is filled with local art pieces. The side opposite the door is the main kitchen and pastry counter.

I walk in about seven forty. It’s still early and not too many ponies are inside. I head up to the pastry counter and take a seat at the sort of bar counter Donut Joe’s had and see the stallion himself come out; tan coat, brown mane already in a mess, and wearing an apron with a large sprinkled donut on it same as his cutie mark. He’s also got a bit of brown stubble around the chin, which made me think he’s trying to grow a beard.

It doesn’t look good on him, but I don’t tell him that.

“Hey,” he says. “Want somethin’ before you start?”

“Cinnamon roll and a cup of the… caramel coffee. Black.”

“Comin’ up.” He pulls out a clean, white, ceramic mug and fills it with coffee before setting down a lightly iced cinnamon roll in front of me.

“Thanks,” I say. I sip the hot mug of coffee and already feel it perk me up, light hints of caramel among the otherwise bitter flavor.

Not having to deal with anyone for a time, Joe leans on the counter. “Rough night last night?”

“Drinking with my roommate,” I say. “Had one too many. Finished early, still hit me hard this morning.”

He nods. “Yeah, I remember those days. Never was much for beer lately.”

I nod. “I shouldn’t. But I like the taste.”

“Which one?”

“Canterlot cream stout.”

“Ooh… that is a good one. Thought about selling beer here, but the liquor license is a pain.”


“Fees, tests, background checks, you name it. Got to be as clean as someone going for the Guard.”

The cinnamon roll is light and fluffy and perfectly iced. Donut Joe many not exactly know how to make a fine three-course meal, but he certainly knows how to do dessert. Then again, I got hired because I could do the former and not necessarily the latter.

Another customer comes in and Joe readies himself to help out as I finish up the last of my own donut and coffee. I pay four bits – one over what I’m supposed to pay – and head back behind the counter to the little break room next to the kitchens to put on my apron, similar to the one Donut Joe wears.

I’m the lead in the kitchens right now, along with two other part-timers. In three hours, Cast Iron comes in, and she’ll finish up work three hours after I leave and she’s the lead in the kitchens with two more part-timers. Donut Joe’s trying to get another chef full-time, but, apart from being the only two who applied for the position, he hasn’t had much luck finding a chef, though we’re supposed to get a waiter at the end of the week.

I am technically a chef de partie – that is, I actually cook – but I have some elements of a sous chef – I manage how the plates look and make sure they’re clear. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Wrong. Donut Joe’s is a dump in that it doesn’t have many customers. I can cook 20 plates on my own easily with the help of the part-timers with me. Donut Joe has more work than I do, waiting tables and managing the front end all on his own. I can take the counter, but I have to be on call for any plate or dish whether to cook or inspect.

At 11 o’clock, Cast Iron comes in. She’s a yellow unicorn with a mane and tail like fire and a pan for a cutie mark. We exchange nods and she takes over my spot in the kitchen while I go out front. Eleven o’clock is the second main donut rush, when some businesses offer an early lunch and they come in for a quick break.

About eleven fifteen, a special guest and my guardian comes in: a stallion with a greyish purple coat and an almost silvery mane that is puffed up at the top. A pair of purple glasses hide his eyes and his front is covered in an elaborate coat. Even so, the ponies in the shop certainly know Hoity Toity when they see him.

Hoity Toity comes up to the counter and sits on one of the stools. “Afternoon, HT,” I say politely. “Looking for something?”

Hoity Toity examines the pastries for a second. “One English muffin with jam, a pair of scrambled eggs, and a few slices of hay bacon, plus an orange juice,” he says in a rather posh accent. “I’ve got an afternoon of dress designs I have to look over.”

I nod, write the order down, and send it through to Cast Iron, along with a note that says “Special”. She looks it over quickly, nods, and immediately sets off to work, yelling at the part-timers to get moving. I’m about to join her when Hoity Toity speaks up.

“A word, Matthew.”

I walk over to where Hoity Toity is sitting. He smiles at me and pulls down his shades. With them, he’s stern and almost unforgiving, but under them the blue eyes are smiling at me as well and his gaze is a fair amount warmer. “I see you have an upgrade,” he says. “Finally able to pay your rent?”

“Well, Midnight’s helped me with that,” I tell him. “He paid the majority when I was working at that shit hayburger stand.”

“Language, Matthew,” Hoity Toity calmly reprimands me with a faint scowl. “You can do it in private, but never in front of me.”

“Yes, sir,” I say. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Hoity Toity smiles again. “Good boy. So, how are you doing here?”

“Good,” I say. “Work has been smooth. Not much, but yeah. I’m finally able to pay my half of the rent this month.”

“Does he cover your insurance?”

“No. I meant to write you about that, but it slipped my mind.”

Hoity Toity nods thoughtfully. “Don’t worry. I’ve got you on mine until the end of the year and can reapply for you if necessary.”

Yep, he’s my guardian. Ponies apply to become “guardians” for humans making the dimensional leap. They manage their affairs for the first year and have to stay in contact for two more after that. Currently, my apartment and my insurance are under Hoity Toity’s name, and he helped me find both the hayburger stand job and the spot at Donut Joe’s.

When Hoity Toity finishes speaking, his meal is ready. I set it in front of him and he begins to eat when I notice a furrow in his brow.

“I imagine this is more than just a social call,” I say, hoping to pry for information.

“Indeed.” Hoity Toity takes a bite of his hay bacon. “Hm… on par with one of my favorite diners… Anyways, I came to give you a heads up. I’m just here because I want to. But later, Celestia’s sending down a food critic.”

“Um… mind if I get Donut Joe for this? He’ll want to hear about it, too.”

“Matthew,” Cast Iron calls, “we’ve run out of hay bacon.”

I turn around and look at the mare staring at me through the window. “Do you need it now?”

“No, but Hoity’s was the last one. We had just enough to make his. We’ll need to grab some more, but for now we just have pig bacon.”

“I’ll tell Joe about that, too,” I say. “In the meantime, keep working. Hopefully, with breakfast over, we won’t get so many orders.”

“I worry about the club sandwich,” Cast Iron says. “But yes, let Joe know.”

I nod to her and to Hoity Toity before leaving behind the counter and walking over to Donut Joe, who’s talking and laughing with a couple at one of the tables. He notices me and gives me an approving smile as I approach.

“Ah, and there’s the head chef now!” he says jovially. He laughs for a moment and reaches up slightly to put a hoof around my shoulders. “How’s everything going back there?”

I stumble from the weight for a second before Donut Joe takes the hint and removes his hoof. “We have a guest,” I say as politely as I can manage while straightening out. I motion over to Hoity Toity at the counter. “And he wishes to speak with you.”

Donut Joe nods and turns back to the table. “I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you all later, okay?” The couple waves him off and he follows me.

“We’ve also run out of hay bacon, Joe,” I tell him as we walk back to the counter.

“Ugh, I thought that might happen,” the tan unicorn spits out. “I’ve got a shipment coming in tomorrow, but until then I guess we might have to do regular bacon.”

“We can manage so long as no one orders a club sandwich.”

“Here’s hoping no one does,” Donut Joe says as we head behind the counter. “I’m just hoping lunch doesn’t go to Tartarus.”

I follow Joe over to where Hoity Toity is waiting. “Liking your service and meal, sir?” Joe asks.

“Quite good,” Hoity Toity says. “Now, I have a little piece of information for you: Celestia’s sending down a food critic.”

“Ah, yes!” Joe says. “I talked to her about that. Said she could get someone around here to hopefully get us a popularity boost. Who they writing for, huh? ‘Canterlot Quarterly’? ‘Better Stables and Gardens’?”

Hoity Toity shakes his head. “It’s Prince Blueblood.”

Joe mumbles angrily under his breath. “Son of a… well, great. That’s just great. Of all the critics she could have sent us, she gives us the prince.”

“There a problem with that?” I ask. “Royalty itself. That could prove useful.”

“Every single review that so-called ‘prince’ gives out is trash,” Donut Joe growls, pacing back and forth. “He’s got three places around here he likes. All high-class, all ridiculously expensive, best reviewed restaurants in the entirety of Equestria, and he’ll give them five stars. Every place else he smashes to bits. They’re lucky to get a one.”

“Yes, but look at his previous reviews,” Hoity Toity speaks up. “He finds one thing – just one thing – that he likes, and suddenly the place gets a boost. Service is speedy? Good. Plates are clean? Fine. Just so long as one noticeable thing gets done right.”

Joe looks around the restaurant. He doesn’t have much help out front, so the place isn’t exactly sparkling. I turn to him. “I can send one of the assistants to help clean up and help manage things in back.”

“If he can get the counter looking presentable,” Donut Joe says, “I can get out front fine. But we have to have things perfect, almost spotless if we want to survive this thing. What time is he coming?”

“One o’clock today,” Hoity Toity says. “After the main lunch hour. He doesn’t like the large crowds, so it might even be one fifteen.”

“Okay, we have time. Anything else?”

“His favorite food is a hay bacon club with asiago cheese, garlic sourdough bread, and a lemon vinaigrette and a slice of kale.”

Joe bites his bottom lip and I can see his face turning red with anger. “Matthew, is the break room empty?”

He’s speaking calmly despite the look on his face. I look in the kitchens and answer quickly. “I think so. I see Cast Iron and the other two currently at the stove.”

Joe nods then silently trots back. The place goes silent for a little bit before I hear him scream, muffled but still audible. “GO TO TARTARUS, YOU TIREK-BORN PRICK!” He walks out and adjusts his apron with magic before coughing slightly. “Thank you, Hoity. At least… at least we have forewarning.”

“Figured I could,” Hoity Toity said. “He came by to get his suit repaired. Least I could do was pass the information along.”

“Thank you again.”

Hoity Toity paid for his food before leaving. Once he’s left, Joe starts pacing around the back of the counter.

“This is bad…” he says. “I’m sure we could make everything else. Asiago cheese? Fine. Garlic sourdough? I make those every once in a while. Lemon vinaigrette? Do you know how to make it?”

“One ounce lemon juice per cup of vinaigrette made,” I tell him. “Easily done.”

Joe nods. “Good. And kale is a staple. Which leaves the fact that we’re out of hay bacon and he might want hay bacon.”

“Do you want me to go to the store?” I ask. “I could pick up the hay bacon and asiago cheese.”

“Yes, I think that would be best. Go now; there’s a cooking store five blocks down. Go, get the hay bacon, and return here.”

* * *

I ran, breathless, back to Joe’s nearly an hour later during the lunch rush.

Donut Joe turns to me, almost as though he hasn’t moved an inch. “Well, where in Tartarus have you been!? I’ve got a garlic sourdough in the oven and it should be finished in fifteen minutes.”

“Checked five stores,” I say between pants. “Started with the close one. Didn’t have jack shit. Checked four others, and only found asiago cheese at the last of them.” I produce the block of cheese to him. “But no hay bacon.”

Donut Joe growls. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“No, sir,” I say. “Apparently the Summer Sun Celebration is in two days. Ponies have been stocking up for their own celebratory feasts.”

Donut Joe growls again. “UGH! What am I going to do!? If that Prince Blueblood orders a hay bacon sandwich and doesn’t get one, he’s gonna be pissed. Might even order the club and not even say it specifically.”

“In short?”

“We’re doomed if he orders that sandwich. ‘One thing right’ goes out the window, and viciously. Oh, Celestia, why? Why did you have to do that?”

“Suppose he doesn’t order the sandwich…” I start to venture.

Donut Joe is suddenly right in my face. “Are you kidding me!?” he nearly shrieks. “It’s like his requirement or something! He’s called to review a restaurant, he orders the club, the restaurant suddenly is in disaster because they can’t get his thing right!”

“Sounds like he’s just a jerk and an asshole,” I say, backing up a little bit. “If he’s really so dang picky and everyone knows it, why don’t they ignore the review?”

“Because it’s the prince,” Donut Joe says. “You can’t just ignore the prince, no matter who he is.”

“…he still sounds like an asshole. I’m just calling it like it is.”

Donut Joe huffs. “Fine. Well, we got one more option. It’s 12:05 now. See if we have the ingredients and if we can make hay bacon ourselves.”

I nod and go off to find Cast Iron in the kitchen. She looks towards me.

“What’s the deal?” she asks. “How come Joe comes in the back room and starts swearing his head off, and how does that tie in to you running off to the store for a block of asiago?”

“Prince Blueblood’s coming in for lunch,” I say, “and he’s going to give us a review.”

Cast Iron slams her hoof on the floor. “Today of all days…! I swear things were just starting to look good for this place then he comes around.”

“What is the big deal?” I ask, shoving my hands in the air. “Why does no one just dismiss him as a pompous prick?”

“You can’t just dismiss the prince!” Cast Iron almost screams. “Look, Joe must have a plan. What is it?”

“Do we have the ingredients for hay bacon?” I ask.

Cast Iron, who already has every single amount of every single ingredient memorized for some damn reason, shakes her head. “There’s no way. Even if we do have the ingredients, a regular batch of 20 strips of hay bacon will take two hours to cook from scratch. Why?”

“Favorite food item is a hay bacon club.”

Cast Iron stamps her hoof again and curses. “Well… we have the ingredient list and the asiago now. If necessary, we make the sandwich and explain we don’t have hay bacon.”

“We can make the lemon vinaigrette easily, and will just have to take the kale into stock when creating salads, and Donut Joe says he can make a garlic sourdough. The rest of the sandwich is fine.”

“It’s not fine…” Cast Iron says, now seeming almost on the verge of panic. “Oh, what are we going to do? One bad review from the prince could mean disaster!”

“What is it with you people and one bad review from a guy who plainly sounds like a jerk!? The problem isn’t the review, the problem is that you look at it like a death sentence!”

“It may as well be!” Cast Iron nearly shrieks.

One of the young attendants looks over. “What’s going on?”

“Get back to work,” I say. “A minor upset.”

But Cast Iron can’t hold it in. “Prince Blueblood’s coming, and we don’t have any hay bacon!”

I swear these ponies are damn flighty. One attendant’s trembling in fear and the other looks like he could faint at any moment. “No…” he says, shaking. “We… we can’t have that on our record!”

“Get back to work!” I shout. “We need to get the other orders out. We’ll worry about Prince Blueblood when it comes to us. He can’t slight us for an item we don’t have that’s in popular demand. And if he does, I’m sure there’s someone I could talk to about this whole thing.”

That seems to have shaken some reason into them. The attendants get back to work and Cast Iron is back to dressing and checking plates. I join her for a while until things seem to settle down and Donut Joe comes back into the kitchen and calls me out.

“I need you out front tending the counter,” he says. “It’s one o’clock, and Prince Blueblood will be arriving any minute. Also, someone looking for you out there.”

I’m wondering who it could be. I head out and don’t see anyone for the time being, and even Donut Joe looks momentarily stumped. He asks for a cup of coffee for one of the tables remaining from the lunch rush and I go to make a new batch in the coffee pot.

When I turn around to face the counter, I’m touching nose-to-nose with a large bluish-grey snout and a large pair of green eyes looking at me upside down.

“Boop,” Midnight Glow says, smiling at me. At least, I think he is. “Thought I’d check in.”

I push him away and look up; he’s hanging by his tail from one of the light fixtures. “What happened to being Guard psychologist and nineteen bits per hour?”

“Spar training,” Midnight replies. “I’m off the rest of the day. Decided to come and see about the train wreck that is a food critic.”

“So you heard about Prince Blueblood coming down?”

“Course. Word got across the guard barracks pretty quick. Some are nervous because they like coming here early for a donut before training some mornings.”

I cross my arms and give off a “hmph.” “You’re worried over nothing,” I tell Midnight. “It’s a bunch of overreacting. It’s not like one bad thing from the Prince could ruin us.”

“I think you’re right.” Midnight makes a pose I remember being called “criss-cross apple sauce” with his hind legs, effectively doing it upside down. “While it is the Prince, it’s no fault of your own if you’re missing an item.”

I sigh. “Finally, someone with reason. Back on Earth, one food critic says something’s wrong, but a bunch of other’s say it’s fine, you’re good. Besides, we just started up. Blueblood is nothing.”

Midnight nods, and even upside down I can tell he’s got a smirk on his face. “I’ve got something that I think might help you out.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me… you’re going to use…?”

Midnight nods.

I stare at him in disbelief. “You’re going to hypnotize the prince!?”

“Just enough to make him not care about the lack of hay bacon.”

“Midnight, are you crazy? What if someone finds out about it?”

“You forget that I could do so easily. Conversational looks completely innocent.”

I want to grab him by the throat. “You’re not going to do it.”

“Oh, yes I am.” Midnight starts talking in his soothing tone again and I could swear his eyes got brighter. “Just relax, Matthew. I’ve got this taken care of.”

I’m lucky he’s hanging from a light fixture. I can’t tear my eyes away, and if I stayed still much longer he’d have had me good. But I manage to get one hand up and push him by a wing, which makes him start spinning around just enough to disorient him and break our eye contact. He spreads his wings and gracefully flips over to sit on the counter. “Just be quiet and don’t do anything, moonhorse,” I tell him.

“You’re no fun,” he says playfully as I walk off to get the cup of coffee, grumbling.

The restaurant pretty much empties with the exception of an old stallion drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper in one corner. One ten rolls around and there’s still no sign of the prince. I’m beginning to think we may get a reprieve. Midnight orders a hot daffodil, daisy, and alfalfa sandwich with chips and provolone cheese just so he’s not taking up counter space.

I’ve just finished taking the order when up comes a white unicorn with blue eyes and blonde hair with a lock that looks tangled and out of place. He’s wearing a blue bow-tie and the very top of a black suit and white collared shirt, a rose sticking out from the pocket of the suit. Midnight and I both turn to look at him and Donut Joe suddenly is straightening himself out as much as possible.

“Prince Blueblood,” Midnight says quietly. “Take a good look; here’s the dreaded one.”

He certainly looks haughty and like he doesn’t want to be here. He’s inspecting everything as though he’s waiting for a bug to come crawling from the crack in the wall – and honestly, I wouldn’t blame him. He seems to regard Midnight only long enough to take a seat a few away from him, and hardly notices me at all.

Donut Joe is fumbling over his words. “P-P-Prince Blueblood! I… I heard you were c-c-coming to lunch today. Bit of a short notice, I-I’m sorry for the delay…”

Prince Blueblood waves a hoof and cuts him off. “Enough, commoner,” he says with a more disdainful affect than I’ve ever heard out of Hoity Toity. "I’d rather not be here tasting carnival fare, but my dear aunt says otherwise or I’m not allowed to host a gala again.”

“O-Of course,” Donut Joe says. “Here… let me get you a menu…”

“Oh, fine,” Prince Blueblood says with a huff. “I was thinking about a particular favorite of mine, but I guess I’ll see what you have.”

Donut Joe gulps, but pulls out a menu without even looking away and sets it on the counter in front of Prince Blueblood’s chosen seat. Blueblood sighs as though it’s taking away his precious time and I tell Joe about Midnight’s order.

“Then go do it!” he hisses. “One of the part-timers left already, and I can’t have that kitchen unstaffed!”

I head back into the kitchen, but I’m close enough to the door to hear what’s going on outside.

“Is there anything I can get you, my prince?” Donut Joe asks. He seems to at least have gotten over the initial shock, but from the shaking in his voice, he’s still not entirely comfortable with it.

Prince Blueblood is silent for a while. “Hmm… not exactly high-class fare, is it?”

“It’s… not intended to be. I… I just wanted to augment my restaurant a little so I wasn’t just serving donuts all the time.”

“One can make a donut high-class if one knows what they’re doing.”

“Have you ever cooked a donut, my prince?”

“No, but I know better bakers than yourself.”

Donut Joe makes a grunt like he’s been hit in the chest. “Very well. I have to go check on the staff, but call me if you need anything.”

Prince Blueblood gives no acknowledgement.

Joe comes back looking exhausted. He simply walks back through the kitchen and shuts the door to the staff break room. Best not to disturb him, so I just continue cooking Midnight’s order.

I come out with the sandwich looking nicely dressed, and find that Midnight is striking up a conversation with Blueblood.

“So it seems there is another eminent member of the Guard here,” Prince Blueblood says. “I was not aware it was a staple.”

“It is, somewhat,” Midnight replies with extra enunciation on every ‘s’ sound. “Sometimes it’s nice to come on down for a spell and relax during my break times.”

“I would figure it is,” Blueblood says, a touch less disdainful than before. “Having to deal with all those new recruits must be a pain.”

“At times. But it’s not that difficult. They simply need a reminder to calm down and relax a little bit.”

I set down Midnight’s food and he looks up at me with a wink. I already know what he’s doing and can manage no more than a disapproving frown before turning to Prince Blueblood.

Prince Blueblood turns to face me. “And who are you?” he asks, the disdain back in his voice.

“I am the head chef here,” I tell him. “Matthew Rock, sir.”

Prince Blueblood nods. “Alright. Here for anything else?”

“Just your order, my prince.”

I imagine the high-class demeanor and affect I’m giving him are getting to him, because he smiles at me. “Oh, good. I’ll start with an appetizer for now. I’ll try the three mozzarella balls with tomato sauce.”

I nod, and head back into the kitchen. “Alright, Cast Iron. Appetizer plate: three mozzarella balls with tomato sauce. Know how to do fancy?”

Cast Iron smiles at me. “I think you mean haute cuisine,” she says. “And yes, I can do fancy.”

“Good. Because we just had ourselves some time bought.”

I pull out a pan and get to work on a small serving of tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes and basil, while Cast Iron uses magic and a few tools to get three decent-sized mozzarella balls formed almost perfectly and cooking. As we work, I can hear Midnight working his own magic on Prince Blueblood.

“As I was saying, the recruits are not difficult. They simply need focus and attention. With the right focus and a relaxed demeanor, things become much easier.”

“I agree. I don’t know much, but I’m sure you do, being a psychologist and all. I only wish my servants were that good.”

“Even servants need time to relax. They are as in need of rest as anyone else is. A little rest, that’s all, and their focus is restored.”

“Yes, well, uh, I… I guess that’s true. A little break never hurt anyone.”

“No, indeed. A little rest and wounds are restored. Time to relax, and one’s mind becomes refreshed. Even yourself, my dear prince; I dare say you’re cooped up too long, too much stress and not enough rest in your routine.”

I have to stifle a yawn almost as much as Prince Blueblood does, and Cast Iron has put two balls of dough in her ears as makeshift plugs. “Yes, you’re right,” I hear Prince Blueblood’s voice become calmer and slower. “I… I have needed a break.”

I struggle for a moment before letting my curiosity get the better of myself and peek through the window. Blueblood and Midnight are now merely a seat apart from each other. Midnight’s eyes are glowing brighter and brighter and he’s gently caressing Prince Blueblood’s cheek, surprisingly without the other stallion even caring. Blueblood, meanwhile, seems lost and I can see his pupils growing wider and wider.

“Of course you do, my dear prince,” Midnight says slowly, almost seductively. “Everyone, even you, needs a rest. Needs relaxation. Needs to retrain their focus. Focus, my prince, and see how desperately in need you are…”

I’m frozen watching the scene as Prince Blueblood’s eyes droop further down. “Yes… I… I need a rest…”

“Good… good… relax, my prince… relax and close your eyes.”

I’m shaking where I stand. I can’t tell if it’s out of fear or from Cast Iron shaking me.

“Forget that! Get the sauce!” she hisses.

I’m back in the kitchen, and my sauce is bubbling nicely. I watch as Cast Iron fits the mozzarella balls, browned and lightly fried to where there’s no grease on them, into a triangle and ladle the sauce over them. I top it with a fresh sprig of basil and lemongrass and take the plate out to the counter.

“Listen to me, my prince,” Midnight is crooning as I walk out. “You will be fine with whatever sandwich you order. You will not complain if they lack an item. You will be complacent and willing to give whatever you order a chance. And you will forget this conversation when you awaken. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.” Prince Blueblood’s reply is almost lazy.

“Right. Now, when your head taps the counter, you will awaken. Three…” Blueblood is spun around to face the counter. “Two…” Midnight gently removes his hoof from Blueblood’s chin. “One…” Midnight’s hoof goes to the back of Blueblood’s head. “Awaken!”

In one swift move, Blueblood is launched forwards and Midnight is spun around so that he’s facing his sandwich. He picks up the sandwich and casually takes a bite out of it, while Blueblood slams his head into the counter and groans, a hoof rubbing the spot on his head.

“Oof…” he groans again. “Shouldn’t have done that…”

Midnight winks at me. I come out of the kitchen and place the mozzarella balls in front of Prince Blueblood, who looks at them and gives a slight nod of approval.

“Anything else, my prince?” I ask.

Prince Blueblood is silent for a long while. He takes another look at the menu, and says four words that tell me I’m safe.

“Soup and salad, please.”

Every single bit of tension I’d been feeling – Prince Blueblood’s surprise visit, Donut Joe’s breakdown, the lack of hay bacon, Midnight’s interruption – comes out in the single sigh that follows that sentence. I nod. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Um, which salad and which soup?”

“A garden salad with lemon vinaigrette dressing, a cup of the cream of vegetable soup, and an English muffin with butter and strawberry jam,” Prince Blueblood says. “I have a soiree to go to tonight and I don’t want to spoil myself.”

I nod, and head back into the kitchen and heave a relieved sigh. Midnight speaks up again.

“You okay, sir?”

“That’s ‘Prince Blueblood’ to you, commoner! I expect proper respect even in a dump like this!”

“Of course, my prince.” I can almost hear the smirk in Midnight’s voice. “My apologies.”

Cast Iron comes up to me. “…yes?”

I repeat the order and the same sigh comes out of her mouth. Donut Joe busts out from the break room and launches himself into the kitchen.

“No hay bacon club!?” he says. “We have a chance! Places, ponies! We’ve got an order to serve!”

I get on the vegetables as Cast Iron starts the soup. Once the vegetables are cut, Cast Iron tends the cup of soup and I get the salad prepped with fresh lettuce, kale, diced tomatoes, and the like and make a fresh lemon vinaigrette in the cleanest and nicest serving dish we have. Donut Joe also seems revitalized and gets together the English muffin, butters it, and places a small thing of strawberry jam with it.

Once it’s all done, I examine the contents of the order. Not too bad for a simple restaurant; the cream of vegetable soup is lightly steaming and perfect consistency, the salad is filled with fresh ingredients and bright colors, and the English muffin looks soft and fluffy.

Perhaps this place isn’t such a dump after all.

Donut Joe gets the honor of bringing the tray out to Prince Blueblood, who looks over it critically but says nothing. Donut Joe takes the finished plate of mozzarella balls away and sends it back to us to clean while he serves Prince Blueblood a lightly sweetened iced tea.

The prince takes his sweet damned time in finishing the food. When he’s done, he pays and hardly leaves any tip and gives no comment. I come out from the kitchen and stand next to Donut Joe.

“I think we did it,” I say. “If he’s as much of an asshole as you say he is, silence is the best reward we could have gotten.”

Donut Joe gulps and pulls his collar away like it’s choking him. “I hope you’re right.”

I look over to Midnight, who has a rather self-satisfied look on his face.

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to do that to him?” he asks.

* * *

One week later…

I’m sitting on the couch with a beer and a color variety show when I hear the mail slot rattle and a bunch of papers shuffle in.

“Midnight!” I call. “Mail call!”

“You get it!”

“I’m not expecting anything.”

Midnight heaves a sigh and I hear him get up from the counter behind me. He’s been paying bills for the last hour, and I expect he thinks there’s one more in there. So do I, so I leave it to him.

His expression changes after he throws a few pieces aside. “Huh… a copy of ‘Better Stables and Gardens’… featuring Prince Blueblood.”

I turn around and look at him. Sure enough, there’s Prince Blueblood on the cover, standing there with a smug look on his face and the advertisement ‘Prince Gives a Review: Canterlot’s 18 Newest Restaurants’.

“Give me that,” I say. “I want to see.”

Midnight tosses it so it lands in my face. I grab it before it can fall to the ground and flip to the page where Prince Blueblood is featured. At the bottom of the second page is a Starred Review.

“Hey, it’s us!” I say. “Starred Review: Donut Joe’s Restaurant.”

“Well,” Midnight says expectantly. “Let’s hear it.”

The review is short.

Well, the place is still a dump and still stuck at the worst of Canterlot’s intersections. Not much has changed to the places design, although they finally serve more than donuts now. The salad was passable and the soup at least had the right consistency. Donut Joe manages to prove himself worthy of his name with pastry and English muffins made in-house. Service was lacking and the place is still a dump – can’t stress that enough – but somehow manages to make up for it in the quality of it’s food.

Also, the sandwiches there are okay.

Two and a half out of five stars.

“Two and a half!?” I nearly shriek. “We did better than that!”

“Looks like you’ll survive another year,” Midnight says. “Oh, look, he even likes the sandwiches.”

Midnight gives me a shit-eating grin so big I want to punch him and knock a few of his teeth out. But for some reason that’s not what happens. I just give him a hug.

“We’re still in business.”