Crystal eventually caught on to Velvet's mischievous plan. Every time she looked over at Silent, a new magazine or cloth sample had mysteriously appeared draped somewhere over him. Velvet hummed with utmost innocence once a layer of wedding paraphernalia had been accomplished and she was working on a second.
After flipping through yet another magazine, Crystal sighed and slumped forward. "Oh, I just know I saw it in one of these. It was when I was looking for Horsey in Bridal Bridle..." She stuck out her bottom lip. "I saw it and knew it was the one for me."
"Yeah, yeah." Velvet shrugged. Silent closed his eyes after looking over at the sound of Crystal's voice, at which point Velvet carefully placed a flyer on his left hind leg. "I told you to mark the things you liked."
Crystal's ears shot up. "What? No, actually, you didn't! You teased me about planning my own wedding when Silent and I weren't even dating yet."
Velvet blinked, then grinned. "You're right, that does sound a lot more like me. But you still should have marked them!"
Crystal glared at her. "Yes, yes." She huffed and flipped to the next page with irritated vigor.
Silent stirred on the couch and Velvet held her breath. Only one of the pieces of paper fell to the ground; the rest of his burial tomb was still in place. Crystal shot her a stern look, which Velvet returned with an innocent smile.
"What? He looked cold. I'm just helping," she whispered, sticking out her tongue.
Crystal just waggled a warning hoof before returning to her searching. Her ears twitched and swiveled at the sound of knocking. "Huh?" Her head followed her ears to look at the door. "Who could that be?" She looked over at Silent. "Would you mind getting that for me, please?"
"Sure." Silent rose from the couch, pausing to watch as everything that Velvet had stacked on him dropped to the floor. His brow raised briefly, but he shrugged it off and started toward the door.
Crystal tossed the magazine in front of her in Velvet's direction. "I give up. Just pick a dress and that'll be the one. At this point I don't even know if the dress I saw existed or if I simply dreamt it up!"
Velvet laughed, batting the projectile out of the air. "Well, then just pick one of the ones Silent liked."
"But I don't remember which magazines those were in." Crystal sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Oh, this is a waste of time."
"What is all of this about, Crystal?" a familiar voice asked, smooth but playful.
Crystal's ears shot straight up and she took a sharp, gasping intake of air. "What?" She jerked her head to stare at Painted Wave standing a few paces away. "Painted Wave?!" Her eyes widened. "Right! We're supposed to meet about the cover! I forgot all about it!" Her gaze darted to the nearest clock and she groaned. "I completely missed it."
The condo was a total disaster. At least Silent had been by enough times to know that the condo was ordinarily organized; Painted Wave had only visited once. Crystal felt embarrassed heat rise to the tips of her ears.
"Please have a seat... after I find one." Crystal stood, her magic reaching out to clear the couch. "Here. I'm so sorry."
Painted chuckled. "It's all right." As she walked past Crystal to sit on the couch, she added with a wink, "Cute door stallion, by the way."
"Door stallion?" Crystal looked over at Silent, blinked, then giggled. "Oh, no. That's just Silent Knight, my fiancé."
"He looks like a keeper," Painted said, laughing softly as she sat down and crossed her forehooves. "Good help is so hard to find these days, you know."
When Crystal started to hurriedly put things away on of the bookcases, pushing the knickknacks and books aside to make room. Velvet graciously walked over to make more room on the shelves. Silent stayed true to his name and just remained quiet, though he did lend a hoof in grouping like objects into semi-orderly piles.
Painted leaned over to look at the nearest magazine and eyed the cover. "Getting married, are we?"
Crystal winced. "Eventually. Certainly not as soon as the mess might belie; he only just proposed a short while ago. Velvet got me all spun up searching for a dress I found." She shot Velvet a light glare, and Velvet returned it twofold. Crystal sighed and returned her gaze to Painted. "I really am sorry you had to come all the way over just because I was playing princess and forgot about our lunch."
"It's nothing to worry about." Painted waved a hoof. "We'll just say you're caught up in research for your next book and leave it at that."
Crystal moved with a nervous fervor, her tail and ears twitching. "Yes, that would be one way to look at it." She glanced over at Painted, who sat calmly on the couch. "Can we still have the meeting? Reindom House has been understandably persistent about getting the cover done as soon as possible. I've been dragging my hooves until recently. Again, I'm so sorry about this!" Her attention flickered over to the kitchen. "Would you care for some tea?"
Painted raised a hoof and tapped it in a circle along the other as she answered, "That's why I dropped in, so yes. I've had a lot of ideas since reading the manuscript you sent me. I want to get your thoughts on them, so I came over when you didn't show up. It's fine, we all have our moments. And, yes. Tea would be lovely." She smiled brightly.
"Great! Then I'll make some." Crystal, in her mind, offered the stack of idea books to Velvet.
In reality, she just shoved them in Velvet's face and her magic let them go. Velvet grunted but managed to catch them all, though the stack of books was almost taller than her.
"You remember Velvet, of course?" Crystal asked, looking over at Painted.
"I do." Painted nodded. "It's nice to see that you have a friend that is behind your books, and that she supports them."
Crystal blinked a few times before she looked to Velvet for help, at which point she realized Velvet couldn't be seen around the stack. Crystal laughed, shook her head, and waved a hoof. "Oh, you." She trotted over to the kitchen and started to fill the kettle with water.
Playing wedding princess was fun—if spending hours looking at magazines and making a mess in the process could really be called fun—but she needed to get her priorities straight. Finish her remaining responsibility for Her Silent Love. Work on some rough drafts to give Sunset. Go to Manehattan.
She paused after the last thought crossed her mind and tapped her chin. Before she left, however, she should go pick up some gifts for Sunset and his family to show her appreciation for their time. Something inexpensive, given her current budget strictly imposed by Velvet, but still meaningful.
Before she could ponder too long on a gift idea, Velvet came trotting over. "Hey, Painted says you should have three weddings."
Crystal's ears shot up. "She said what?"
"Okay, she may have just been joking, but it was a good excuse to head over here." She kept her voice low. "Do you want me to ask Silent to leave, or are you mare enough to do it yourself?"
Crystal blinked, tilting her head. "What do you mean?"
Velvet glanced behind them to see Silent and Painted laughing. "Her Silent Love. Silent doesn't know it's about him yet, right?"
Crystal's ears folded back while her face turned pink. "Oh, no, no, no, I haven't told him yet. I just, well, that's so terribly awkward to admit! But I'm sure I can discuss the cover without treading near that territory."
Velvet shrugged. "Stoutheart is a knight with a grey coat and a short, dark indigo mane. I guess that doesn't sound exactly like Silent."
"It doesn't, right?" Crystal started to shift from hoof to hoof, her nerves alleviating momentarily when the kettle whistled. She poured the hot water over the tea strainer and into a cup. "It doesn't. He won't have any clue." She swallowed. "But—"
"Crystal?" Silent called from the living room, rising to his hooves. "I'm going to head out. If you don't mind, that is. I just figured you would like some space to talk to Painted about your book."
"One moment!" Crystal levitated the cup over to Painted while she walked toward Silent. "You don't have to leave if you want to stay," she whispered.
Silent smiled and shook his head. "It's fine. I have some things to attend to before I leave."
Crystal inclined her own head to gaze up at him. "Leave?" Her brow furrowed.
"To retrieve and escort Princess Luna back home," he explained simply.
"Oh. Yes, she has been gone for some few weeks, hasn't she?" She raised a hoof and patted his chest both playfully and affectionately. "Bring her and yourself back safely, all right? I have missed having my little lunch dates with the princess."
Silent chuckled. "Yes, ma'am." He glanced around to scope out the attention on them and, satisfied with the lack of any, leaned down to kiss her softly. "I'll see you in three weeks."
Crystal sputtered, "You'll be—what—three weeks?" A light frown tugged at her lips, then lifted back up. "I suppose that sounds familiar. Well, I'll drop by once I'm done here to give you a proper-send off."
"If you want to." He shrugged. "It's only three weeks."
"Only three weeks?" She huffed and tossed her mane. "In that period of time, I might end up booking three or four different weddings because you're not around to force me to just pick one."
"You can book as many weddings as you can afford, dear." He grinned and before she could react, he kissed her again, then ducked out the front door.
There was a moment of silence before Painted piped up, "So, he's nice."
A fire seared across her face and she whirled around to look at the grinning mares sitting on the couch. "Ah! Right! Meeting!" She hurried over. "Yes, let's talk about Her Silent Love!"
"Isn't that what I was talking about?" Painted grinned wider.
"Sh-shush!" She waved her hooves and sat across from them on a pillow. "Honestly, I've wasted enough of your time already by forgetting about you. Let's stay focused now, all right?"
Painted chuckled and shrugged. "Okay, all right. So, I read your love story to your fiancé—"
"Ah-ha!" Velvet pointed at Crystal. "I told you it was obvious!"
Crystal buried her face in her hooves. "Oh, somepony please save me..."
Thunk-thwack-wump. Runic's "door bell" rocks resounded against the doorframe, and Crystal giggled. It had been a while since she heard it, long enough that she had almost forgotten it was there.
The Phial and Filly was busy as always with mares looking through the wares and the occasional stallion either being dragged along or shopping right alongside them. Crystal made her way over to the selection of foal-safe bubble baths, picked out two, then continued on to find a nice cologne, a delicate perfume, and a scented lotion. Satisfied with her finds, she headed to the counter to spot Rossby behind the register.
"Hello, Rossby!" she chirped.
Rossby jolted at the sound of her voice, slamming a book he had been reading shut and slipping it out of view under the counter. "What?" He squinted at her. "What do you want?"
Crystal stuck out her bottom lip. "Is that any way to greet a friend?"
"No. That's why I greeted you that way." He glanced at the bottles levitating in her magic. "Twenty-five bits."
"Well, fine, if you don't want to have a friendly chat, then you could at least point me in Runic's direction."
Rossby peered at her over his glasses. "Twenty-five bits."
"For the information, or are you still on about the bottles?" She stuck her nose in the air. "Well, I'm not ready to check out yet."
Rossby groaned and gestured vaguely toward the door. "Whatever. He's in the back, like always. D'uh."
Crystal smiled. Each bottle lowered to sit off to one side on the counter. "Be a dear and hold onto those for me, would you? I'll come back for them once I'm done checking in with Runic."
Rossby stared at the bottles with the look of a cornered snake. "I'm not going to be responsible if I sell these to another customer."
"Thanks!" she called as she trotted into the back room. "Runic?"
Runic's head popped up from behind a stack of corn. "Hey?" He blinked, then smiled wide. "Hey! Crystal, hello! Don't come near me!"
Crystal froze in place, her gaze darting about. "Okay. Why?"
"You're not wearing goggles."
"Okay..." She swallowed. "And where are some goggles I can borrow?"
"Oh, uh." His ears swiveled different directions but his eyes remained fixed on her. "Somewhere on the wall, maybe?"
After a quick scan of the walls, Crystal spotted a couple pairs of goggles hanging on tacks. She quickly levitated one over and slipped it on, then released the breath she had been holding. "All right, goggles are on."
"Great!" Runic disappeared behind the pile. A very brief moment later, he walked back around it. "Okay, you can take it off now!"
Crystal blinked. "Huh?"
"The experiment's over, so it's safe to take off your goggles." He slipped his own up to rest on his hat. "See?"
Behind him, one of the ears of corn rolled off the stack and, when it hit the ground, sent kernels of suddenly popped popcorn in all different directions. Crystal yelped and ducked under the table, which was likely the worst choice of cover, as that put her in direct line of fire of flying pieces of popcorn.
Runic just stared at the ear of corn until all its kernels had popped. "Huh. I wasn't expecting that."
Crystal rubbed the sore spots where she had been pelted. "And what were you expecting, exactly?"
"It was supposed to explode."
"Explode?!" she shrieked. She jumped to her hooves—another bad choice, as she hit her head against the underside of the table.
He hurried over and leaned down while she rubbed her head and muttered to herself. "Hey! You okay?"
She shot him a light glare. "You were trying to explode corn?"
"Yeah." He shrugged. "I was curious if I could take the popping nature of the kernels and apply that to the whole cob. My theory was that it would either explode, or turn into one giant, epic piece of popcorn. I was kind of hoping for the giant piece of popcorn. I wasn't expecting it to just... do what it normally does."
Climbing out from under the table, she sighed. "Okay. Fine. I'll overlook this near-death experience just this once, because I owe you for helping make such a beautiful ring."
Runic blinked. "A ring? No, I just made popcorn. Or so I thought." His head jerked to the side as he scanned the mess. "Did one of the kernels turn into a ring?! That's completely outside of the realm of what I expected! I—"
She clamped a hoof over his mouth. "Shh, shh." She smiled and her magic raised the goggles over her head, returning them to the tack on the wall. "No, but you and Silent made me a gorgeous engagement ring."
His gaze flickered to her horn and he smiled. "Mm! Mmmph, mmphmm"—she pulled her hoof away from his mouth—"at all. I like finding a use for my failed experiments."
She slowly nodded her head. "Uh-huh. Well, thank you." The smile returned to her face and she looped her forelegs around his neck. "You're a good friend to us both, and I really appreciate it."
He chuckled as he returned the hug twice as hard as hers. "That's what friends are for! And soon we'll be family, which means I'll be even more obligated to do things for you! Obligated in a nice way, of course." He pulled back to beam at her. "Say, do you want to help me with my next experiment?"
Crystal cleared her throat and took a step toward the door. "Oh, no, I have, well, things to do. I have to buy some things and then wrap the things. But maybe next time!"
"Okay! Drop by any time!" He waved. "And congratulations, by the way!"
"Thank you!" She walked back out into the main room, took a breath, and rubbed her still throbbing head. "Crazy pony," she grumbled, then laughed softly.
"Are you okay?" Rossby asked, staring at her from the counter. "It sounded like murder in there."
Crystal blinked at him. "Murder? Oh, no. Just exploding corn."
Rossby stared for a moment, then nodded. "Sounds like you got off easy. Last time I went back there while he was experimenting I had to buy new glasses. And then sit through a lecture about goggle safety." He rolled his eyes. "And yet even with all of his insanity, this is one of my easiest jobs."
"He's not insane," Crystal chided as she walked over. "He's just, well, eccentric."
Rossby squinted. "What's the difference?"
Crystal returned the squint. He squinted harder. She squinted until she could no longer see and, finally, she shrugged. "It sounds nicer?"
"Uh-huh. I see. Well, you had your chat." He tapped a hoof on the counter. "Thirty bits."
"Thir—What happened to twenty-five?" She frowned.
He raised one brow. "Five bit fee for watching unattended merchandise."
She gawked, then huffed and puffed her cheeks. She circled the counter to stick her face in his. For being so much younger than her, he was fairly tall and, given that he didn't flinch an inch at her approach, had a really strong composure. "Twenty-five bits and I won't ask you what you were reading."
His gaze darted away for a moment before returning to hers. There it was: the chink in his armor. She grinned and her horn lit up as she sought out the book. He had put it somewhere under the counter, but she couldn't see it in her peripheral vision. When her magic found it, she jerked it out from its spot and held it just behind her head.
"Hey!" One of his hooves reached for it. "That's mine!"
"I know it is. Let's see what we have here!" She turned her head, then blinked. "The Great Gaitsby?" She looked back at him, noting a faint but visible flush of his cheeks. "I honestly wasn't expecting that."
Rossby scowled at her and snatched the book from her magic, then clutched it to his chest. "I'm reading it for school."
She tilted her head. "For school? But it's summer!"
"I—well—" The flush grew more noticeable. "Yeah! Well, my teacher only assigned the first few chapters, and I couldn't just stop reading there, could I?" He looked down at the book he held protectively to him. "That's just stupid. You don't just read a few chapters of a book and quit there. I have to know what happens to Gaitsby."
She gazed at him a while, allowing him to fidget and squirm before she smiled. "Why would I judge you for that? You already know I'm a writer."
Rossby lifted his head to shoot her a glare. "Why would I care if you judged me or not?"
"Because you're blushing," she teased.
"I am not!" He tossed the book back on the shelf under the counter and jabbed a hoof at the bottles. "Are you going to pay for your stuff or not? Twenty-five bits!"
Crystal laughed. "All right, all right. Here you go." She set the bits on the counter, then levitated the bottles into her satchel. "I'll see you somewhere soon enough, I'm sure." Just as she turned and started to walk away, she paused to look over her shoulder and say, "If you finish that and need something else to read, perhaps you might like Mrs. Dallohay. I think you'd like that if you like Gaitsby."
"Whatever," Rossby muttered, not meeting her gaze. "Have a nice day. Or not."
Crystal smiled and left the store to set off toward home. She was making good progress on her to-do list: Painted had already started on the cover, a good selection of different drafts were ready for Sunset, and gifts for him and his family sat in her satchel Now all that was left was to actually get herself to Manehattan.