Life in the Donut Hole

by Revenant Wings

Episode 4: The Photo Shoot

I’m at a photo shoot. Whee…

It’s a lot more work than I imagined it would be. I mean, it’s a weekend, and the donut shop is completely overrun with ponies at a time that we would normally be closed. Most of us are busy doing random things, and I’m here actually cooking.

No, I’m not standing around for a random purpose tonight.

I’m the only one of the cooks here, too. Cast Iron wasn’t called in, and neither were the three part-timers. Of the staff, Donut Joe’s the only one here, and he’s mainly out front. Which is nice. It leaves the back completely empty and at least quieter than outside.

Donut Joe is now featuring a new dish, which is the reason I’m here. I’ve been trained on how to cook this dish and caught on the quickest. And so I’m here tonight to create a version of this dish for an advertisement. I’ve got five plates of it to make, one for each of the main ponies here tonight. It’s easy work compared to the hustle I’ve seen outside; Joe himself is red in the face from all the running back and forth I’ve seen through the window.

The dish is a special one, evocative of a more country or small town-style dinner. It consists of a pile of potatoes, a pile of baked beans with Donut Joe’s special ingredient (cinnamon. Don’t worry; he’s not been too worried about hiding it), a pile of spring vegetables, and bratwurst.

Bratwurst, you say? Do ponies eat meat?

No. At least, not as often as you might be thinking. This version is brought from some old Germaneic ponies and is made of portabella mushrooms, broccoli, eggplant, and tofu. No blood, no guts, no meat, and thoroughly disgusting.

For me, anyways.

I can’t do vegetables. Sure, I get odd looks occasionally – they’ve heard how some places eat horse, and it tends to make a few wary. Never mind the fact that the idea is already starting to feel like cannibalism to me. But I can’t fully make the switch. I like my meat too much.

That doesn’t bother the ponies here in the shop too much so long as I can cook what I need to cook. And I can. Five plates are reading go out, each with a helping of the potatoes, beans, one piece of bratwurst in between each, and a helping of vegetables drizzled with ranch dressing.

…why every single one of them wanted ranch dressing is beyond me.

The four others are sitting around a table waiting for me. A large backdrop with a photo of the outside of the shop in the daytime hangs on one wall with all the tables cleared away. Two giant lights shine on a much nicer table where the plate will go, and a chair is set up next to it for the model to sit. A large camera sits there facing the scene, though at the moment it’s unattended to.

I open the door from the back and motion to Donut Joe, who gets up and comes over.

“They’re all ready?”

I nod. “Five plates. That’s what you wanted, yes?”

“Yes. Five to eat, one to photo. We’ll have to see which has the best prep job first. Let me get them all on trays.”

It’s easier for Joe to carry the trays out, so he arranges the plates on two trays and carries them out for the others to see. In a moment, they will make a decision, they will perform the shoot, and they will be the first ponies outside the restaurant to actually taste the dish.

Sitting outside in the main dining room are Hoity Toity, who has taken it upon himself to do the advertising for the store almost free of cost; Fleur de Lis, the model who will be taking the photo shoot with the food; and Photo Finish, expert photographer who Hoity Toity called over to actually run the photo shoot.

Donut Joe sets the plates down in front of the group and sits down. I stand between him and Hoity Toity; I will not sit down until the job is done and these ponies are satisfied.

“Oh, they look excellent!” Fleur says. “Any one of these would do nicely for a photo!”

“I am inclined to agree,” Hoity Toity responds. I feel a hoof wrap around my back. “Excellent work, Matthew.”

“Mister Rock?” Photo Finish says. At least, I think she says it; her accent is a little thick. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen food that has the magics!” It’s a fine compliment, and yet all I can think of is how much she looks like Lady Gaga.

“I feel lucky to have Matthew here working for me,” Donut Joe says. “His work is fantastic and I feel honored to have him.”

Hoity Toity’s hoof trails down my back until it hits the end of my apron. He pulls down on it with a sharp jerk, which makes me stand up straight and have the feeling of getting choked by my shirt. I cough a bit as Hoity Toity smiles slyly in my direction. “He needs a bit of work, but he’s definitely a touch above the rest.”

Fleur de Lis pulls forward one of the plates with her magic. “This one looks excellent!” she says. She brings it closer to her nose. “It smells so good. Is there a sauce on this?”

“Modified brown gravy,” I say. “It’s just a bit thinner than the regular gravy. There is some on the potatoes, as well. Mashed red potatoes, as Joe specified for this shoot.”

Photo Finish is examining the plates. “The presentation of this is of the highest caliber,” she says. “The last time I had such a subject was back in Ponyville. It is hard to believe food could be so appetizing at a place like this.”

Hoity Toity examines the plates. “This one looks rather well presented.” He points to one in the center of the table.

Photo Finish looks at it thoughtfully. “Bring it over to the light.”

I’m expecting this to go on for a while, so I finally sit in the chair and watch the presentation get ready. Hoity Toity and Fleur de Lis follow Photo Finish up to the set and Fleur goes to sit in the chair. The plate of food is placed in front of Fleur de Lis, who holds it in her magic at a slight tilt such that every part of the food can be shown in the camera. Photo Finish tilts the camera slightly down so that the food doesn’t go sliding off the plate.

I’m blinded by eight quick flashes. I swear the entire process takes place in less than fifteen seconds. By the time I’ve blinked out the glare from the flashes, the ponies are all sitting down at the table and Donut Joe is passing trays and utensils around.

“…what about the other plates?” I ask.

“That’s it,” Photo Finish says. “I don’t need to see any more. That plate is the one!”

“…fucking hell…”

“Language, Matthew,” Hoity Toity reprimands gently.

I stay quiet instead of apologizing as I normally do. But I open my napkin and place it in my lap as Hoity Toity taught me, then use the fork and knife as he taught me. We eat our way through the plates, each one delicious and quite flavorful.

“Did you make this yourself, Joe?” Fleur de Lis asks.

“Well, I’ve had a little help,” Joe says. “Matthew provided input on some of the spices, and I went to a few towns to see how it was prepared and with what sides. The end result is sort of a mixture.”

“Matthew seems to have brought some of his skills to the table,” Hoity Toity says.

“It’s been my dream to work in a restaurant,” I say. “I love to cook and I like working with these dishes. Beats working the hayburger stand I started at here.”

Hoity Toity nods approvingly. He knows of my desire to work in a high end restaurant, but also thinks it good PR that I keep that to myself as much as possible. “I must say I am impressed with you, Matthew. You seem to be working rather well here.”

I shrug. “It’s taken getting used to. But I rather like it here.”

Fleur de Lis giggles as she looks at me. I don’t know why and look over to see why, but she says nothing and goes back to eating as though she did nothing.

The meal is finished and Photo Finish packs up her camera and heads off. Fleur de Lis and I walk out with Hoity Toity as the meal is finished.

“How are things going with Midnight?” he asks. “You sent me a letter saying you were thinking of moving?”

“Not anymore,” I reply. “It was a minor dispute. It’s been resolved peacefully and we’re good now.”

Hoity Toity nods. “Know if you need anything, you can come to me, okay? I realize it’s above and beyond my duty as guardian, but if you need to I am willing for you to stay with me if you wish to find somewhere else.”

“I said it was fine,” I say. “Midnight and I are on better terms than before, even. But thank you.”

We drop Fleur de Lis off at home first. Home for her is a nice little cottage in one of Canterlot’s nicer and quieter neighborhoods, filled with a mixture of Baroque and Victorian designs. Fleur de Lis’ home is rather simple by comparison, looking like a country cottage and rather small.

“So, ten o’clock tomorrow for the Vitton shoot?”

“Ten o’clock will work fine,” Hoity Toity says. “Make sure you are fully washed, but we’ll do the final styling at the photo shoot.”

“Alright. Good night. And good night, Matthew.”

I nod politely in return.

We leave and Hoity Toity walks with me. He’s taken off his glasses and once more puts on a kinder look than most have seen. He smiles easily and even nudges my hand once as we walk, allowing me to scratch his ear and gently stroke the top of his head underneath the giant pouf of a white mane.

It’s surprising how big a softie he is out of the public eye. I remember my first few months living with him before I found Midnight and the apartment I lived with him in his house; I had a guest suite with my own bathroom that seemed to be nothing less than he would give himself. I also remember, in between etiquette lessons, hayburger stand, and a quick course in vegetarian cooking, that we used to listen to music, talk about books, watch old movies and TV shows, and listen to radio programs. And he loved ear scratches; when I had a few bouts of depression and anxiety after crossing for the first time, we pretty much spent an evening on the couch watching ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and he allowed me to pet him.

I won’t deny that it did help in two ways. Firstly, it calmed me down. Secondly, I now trust him completely; if he’s able to let his guard down that much and be that silly around me, I can afford to be that way around him. I can tell him anything or ask him anything and he responds as best as he can. Of all the ponies, he’s pretty much the only one I’ve felt that with; Midnight only obtained that status with me in the past few weeks.

I’m reminded of something that Fleur de Lis told me. “Do you mind if I ask you something?” I start.

“Go ahead.” Hoity Toity’s tone is reserved but calm and polite.

“What the hell inspired you to be my guardian? Do you pick? Is it a lottery system? What is it?”

“We were allowed to pick.” His tone is warmer and gentler now, and it’s lost most of the high-class affect. “I picked you because of your dream of running or working in a high-end restaurant. I could teach you the proper manners.”

“Oh, really? Is there anything else? I mean, that seems like a rather arbitrary reason for picking some shmuck like me.”

“Do you remember our interview? When we sat down at either side of the barrier and talked?”

“Vaguely. It’s been… I don’t know, seven months? I came at the end of winter; it’s been pretty hectic since then, if you can imagine.”

“I can. But the gist of it was we shared more than a few common interests. I picked you not only because I could work with you, but because I could relate to you. Speaking of which, I have that copy of ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ if you ever wanted to borrow it.”

“I’ll be coming to your place in a few days for the photo shoot results. Why don’t you bring it then?”

“That works perfectly. And you have the Depeche Mode mix CD I asked you about?”

“Hang on a second. I can get it before you leave. And thanks for letting me scratch your ear; I was feeling a little anxious about the shoot.”

“Figured you’d need it.”

* * *

On Tuesday, I didn’t even go to work. I wake up a little later and allow myself a shower before getting into a collared shirt and my nicest pair of black pants. I leave home and go through the streets of Canterlot to a much nicer section of town. Here the windows are covered in fine muslin drapes, each house has at least one marble accessory, and I’m treated like a piece of shit.

Which is amusing as this is one of the few neighborhoods that I haven’t acted like one.

Hoity Toity’s studio is a little off the beaten path. It’s not in the main plaza of the section like the other high-end places are. His is a few blocks away by a decent-sized garden that’s close to the middle-class area of Canterlot. Supposedly it’s because he wants his fashion to be more accessible, but I’ve never asked about it. The price tags in his shop say otherwise, though.

I walk in to find a smattering of ponies. I walk through the back door of the main show room after saying a polite ‘good morning’ to his secretary and go into a large drawing room that’s loaded with easels and drawings of dresses and vests. At the far side is a catwalk and a more permanent camera than Photo Finish had with her, likely for modeling previews or special private shows. At one end next to a wide window looking over the gardens is a table, at which Fleur de Lis is seated with a glass bottle full of water.

“Oh, I forgot you were coming today,” Fleur says. “Are you here for the poster, too?”

“Came down on behalf of Donut Joe,” I reply. “And it is my cooking, and the first time I’ve seen it in print.”

“It’s a rare achievement. I’d toast, but I don’t think he has any wine.”

“He always has a personal stash somewhere. Dom Perwingnon ’02 is his favorite year, I believe. But I’m not much for champagne.”

I sit in the open chair across from Fleur and cross my legs. I’d been in this room before, many times before, and yet every time I have to drink it in, from the dozens of papers scattered everywhere to the many easels to the graphite and colored pencils worn down to nubs. I forget how much he works sometimes.

“So, where is Hoity Toity?” I ask.

“He’s picking up the final copies from Photo Finish’s studio. He’s been there almost the whole process; had to quit yesterday’s shoot because he was there to go over the thing again.”

“He certainly is putting a lot into it. Then again,” I motion to the room, “the same detail is given to anything he does.”

Fleur takes a few sips of water from her glass. “I forget you know him as well as you do. You know, you do take after him in some respects.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re not that bad. As a matter of fact, it’s almost a surprise from that other night with the éclair business, especially to see you using the utensils and placing your napkin properly during the photo shoot.”

“I swear. I like to swear. It’s not like it comes out of my mouth every fucking sentence, but it comes easy to me. But I have to suppress it around Hoity Toity and high class in general.”

“Then take my apology for the other night. It’s just the last time someone used that sort of language around me, I came out on the losing end.”

Yet again Fleur drops a bombshell. It’s not what she says but how casually she says it. Like it’s something she’s already gotten over. I want to ask her, but I have a feeling I don’t know her well enough yet, either for me to be asking or for her to tell me.

Hoity Toity finally opens the door a little later and comes in with full saddlebags. “Well, that should do it. One hundred business cards for the shop, twenty flyers to come around town, and three ads in the local papers with more of the way.”

Hoity Toity trots into the room and sets the saddlebag down on the table. He shuffles through and pulls out the cards with his mouth and presents them to me. I take them and he shuffles around with the flyers, of which he pulls out three. As a final surprise, he pulls out one on a large scale for us to put in the restaurant.

The lighting is excellent. The shop in the daytime is perfectly timed; it’s during our lunch hour when the shop is at its busiest. Fleur de Lis’ colors are soft in the light of the photo and her half-lidded expression is gentle and inviting, but the dish itself is brightly lit and the colors pop vividly out at the viewer managing to overpower Fleur’s expression.

I want to barf.

They’ve picked the worst plate.

The potatoes are at the top of the plate and look fine. But then comes the bratwurst, a dull brown with occasional speckles, gently curving downwards. The beans are underneath the bratwurst, and the vegetables with ranch are positioned just at the end of the bratwurst.

It’s vulgar.

“…what the hell is this!?”

I scream loud enough that Hoity Toity’s saddlebag may as well have exploded. Papers are everywhere and the flyers become scattered amongst the various artist’s proofs surrounding the drawing room. Fleur spits the sip she took of water in Hoity Toity’s face and the glasses on the otherwise dignified face are askew and leaning off.

“…you can’t mean to say you ran THIS one!?”

“What do you mean?” Hoity Toity asks, visibly confused and surprised. “I think it looks alright.”

“Are you kidding me!?” I point at the beans first. “It looks like a pile of horse shit! And I’m talking in the literal sense here!”

Hoity Toity looks at it for a minute. He squints. “…I don’t see anything.”

“You… how can you not see it? The potatoes and bratwurst might as well be the ass.”

Fleur finally looks at it. She examines it minutely before she wrinkles her nose.

“You see it, right?” I ask her. “Tell me you see it.”

“Yeah, I see it. I hate the pose you chose! Hoity, please tell me there were better shots!”

Hoity looks rapidly between me and Fleur, partially panicking and partially stunned. “…wha-what do you mean?” he asks, afraid of another outburst despite finally settling on Fleur.

“Isn’t there one where my eyes were opened a little wider?” she asks, for the first time since the éclair incident fixing a death glare on someone.

“Yes, but the pose here was the prime expression and feel Photo Finish and I thought was necessary.”

“Are you kidding me!? I look like a sex object! Isn’t there one where you got the just my bust and maybe I had wider eyes?”

“I’m sure there was one available, but that wasn’t what we thought would…”

“These are ‘bedroom eyes’, Hoity! And the pose… I look like I’m posing for a brothel.”

I look at Fleur de Lis in the photo. She’s reclined slightly, with one hoof gracefully pointing at the food and another gently resting on the back of the chair. Her eyes are half-lidded, making her look inviting as though she wants the viewer to come enjoy the meal with her. True, it does look like she could model a bra back on Earth, but…

“It’ll get customers in,” I say. “It’s still relatively chaste. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you get a couple of comments, but the main focus is the food.”

“Not you too!”

“Well, the food is the problem here! I’m more concerned with the fact that the food looks like a horse ass than the fact that you think you’re advertising your ass. Which you aren’t.”

“What is the matter with you? Have you ever seen high-society ponies look at each other? A mare and a stallion so much as stand next to each other for a certain length of time and they think they’re dating. And so the implications will come to me here for this pose.”

I see drops of sweat coming from Hoity Toity’s brow, but he says nothing.

“Need I remind you I’ve only been here for about eight months? And this is not going in a high class neighborhood – Joe’s is on the borderline between middle and low – so ponies won’t have the assumptions they do here.”

Fleur does not respond to this, but her face scrunches in disgust.

“If there is a problem with those advertisements,” she says, pointing a hoof at me, “I’m blaming it on you.”

“Guilt by association?” I shrug. “I can take it.”

“N-Now, now,” Hoity Toity steps in. He places a hoof on both of our chests and slightly pushes us away from each other. “I can’t have you two arguing. What I can do is see if Photo Finish can do another shoot. In the meantime, Matthew, take these out. Wouldn’t do to keep Donut Joe waiting.”

I nod. “Alright. For the time being, we’ll make do with these. But as soon as we get the chance for a new one, tell me, alright?”

“Ahem,” Fleur coughs. “I want to be notified, as well.”

“Of course,” Hoity Toity responds. “I will send a message by express to the both of you.”

I gather up the signs and business cards and place them in a bag I’ve brought with me to pick them up. Once they are in position, I take out a thing of thumbtacks – or hooftacks, as they call them here – and begin to place the signs in various positions. It’s nearly eleven and I’m not expected back until four; Donut Joe has given me a map of various community notice boards and shop windows that have agreed to let us post our signs. And so I’m out the rest of the day.

My last one is towards Canterlot’s nicer section, near what I remember as being Fleur de Lis’ neighborhood. I post it on a small jewelry store window, get a signature saying the store owner approved, and leave, only to be met with a familiar face.

“Matthew.” Fleur de Lis waves at me and trots over. She likely had been walking back home after work. “I thought you would be working.”

“I am. Donut Joe gave me a list of places to post the signs. I only have one more left, and it’s for our shop window.”

Fleur de Lis nodded. “Well, then. Um, I would like to apologize for my behavior earlier today at Hoity Toity’s.”

“No, no. I don’t see it myself, but I do understand your concern. We just both had things to be mad at.”

“I suppose so. Still, thank you for the understanding. I do have another question: what time is your lunch hour?”

“My lunch hour? Why do you want to know that?”

“I want to talk with you about how you met Hoity Toity. I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking, since you seem to get along rather well with him and he’s a bit of a recluse.”

“Well, sure. I mean, we’ll probably be seeing each other more often considering you work for him. Uh, my lunch hour is usually around twelve thirty and I’m only actually on break for half-hour. Does that work?”

“Fine by me. I might go to Joe’s around twelve-fifteen so I can order before you sit down. It’ll probably be a week from today.”

“Uh… okay.”

“Alright. See you around.” And without waiting for further response, Fleur de Lis walks off.

When I get home, Midnight is already there. “What happened to you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Like a ghost? Fuck if I know. I had an argument with Hoity Toity and have a meeting with Fleur de Lis, but that wouldn’t cause me to go pale.”

Midnight gives a knowing smile. “Ah, so that’s it.”

I’m not sure what to think of it, only to realize he thinks I’m going on a date with Fleur de Lis. But it’s not. It’s a business meeting and it was done before I could really give any response otherwise. Besides, it’s good to have connections; Fleur might know someone in one of the nice restaurants when I’m ready to get out of Joe’s.

* * *

I’m working at Joe’s still when Fleur de Lis arrives at twelve ten. She’s five minutes early. I half hope she doesn’t expect me to get off five minutes early to meet her, but do my shift and finish out my final plates before Joe tells me at twelve-thirty that I can take a lunch.

Fleur had ordered; iced tea, roasted eggplant with wild rice, side of broccoli, vinaigrette dressing. I designed that one for Joe, and it’s been a hit. Joe does it kind of cheap and I have to skimp just a bit to make it the right price for the shop, but it’s become something of my signature dish; Joe’s even put my name on the menu for it. Whether or not she ordered it for that reason is beyond me, and she doesn’t say anything to suggest it.

I sit down across from her. I have a slightly simpler lunch; two scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, two pieces of regular bacon, and toast with marmalade, and a cup of black coffee with cream and sugar. Joe doesn’t mind me using the kitchen so long as I clean up afterwards.

As I sit, I notice that Fleur has a copy of the poster sitting on the table between us. She sits and eats, contemplating it more than me and seeming not to take notice of me as I sit down. I take a bite of egg and potato and chew it thoughtfully, taking time myself to look at the poster. It still looks like a poor plate of food, but it’s not too bad, and Fleur herself is fantastic.

“How has the restaurant been doing?” she asks me without looking.

“Average of ten more customers a day,” I tell her. “Say what you will, the advertisements work.”

“Still don’t like it,” she says. She takes a sip of her iced tea. “At least I haven’t heard any talk about it.”

I nod. “Hoity Toity ever tell you if he’s supposed to schedule another date?”

“Photo Finish’s first available time slot is two weeks from now,” Fleur responds. She sighs, clearly irritated as she rolls her eyes for a moment before landing on me. “Something about a shoot in Manehattan and Los Pegasus first.”

“Brilliant,” I say as she looks back to the poster. “So, you said you wanted to talk about how I knew Hoity Toity.”

She looks at me, her face momentarily pouting before the edges turn up slightly. “I wouldn’t mind a little small talk, either. But yes, I am interested in Hoity Toity.”

“Well, apparently he applied for the guardian program. I lived with him for two months before finally moving into an apartment.”

“Two months?” She raises an eyebrow. “God, you’re there longer than some of his mistresses.”

“Whoa whoa whoa. I don’t want to go there. I already know too much.”

Fleur laughs. “So, what did you do?”

“Not much. He got me a job, helped with my work visa and dual citizenship papers, and helped me find an apartment. Remember Midnight Glow?”

“The colt-cuddler bat pony who was there with us during the éclair incident? Yes.”

“Well, he’s my roommate now. Guard psychologist, makes triple what I do. HT did a background check on him and once he checked out fine, we got into an apartment together and have been that way for five months now.”

“So how long have you been here?”

“Let’s see… five months at a hayburger stand, two months now here… about seven months.”

“Do you ever wish you could go back?”

I look at Fleur. She seems genuinely interested. But I don’t say anything; I merely raise my own eyebrow at her.

“Like, back home?” she adds, seeing that I’m not talking. “Isn’t it kind of lonely for you here? I mean, with so little other humans here.”

I shrug and poke at what remains of my food. “A bit. I’ve… actually started taking hypnotherapy sessions from Midnight. He puts me to sleep two nights a week and we have anti-depression sessions once a week. He’s been helpful, though.”

Fleur nods. “Do you think he could do it for me, too?” she asks innocently.

I’m taken aback by the remark and for a moment shoot her a worried glance, but before I can say anything more she laughs a little. “I’m just kidding,” she says. But then the laugh turns harsh and she doesn’t say any more for a long while.

I go back to the poster. “You do look rather beautiful in this, you know.”

She’s gone moody. She looks at the poster, furrows her eyebrows, and frowns. “You’re just saying that. My eyes are too closed.”

“No, really, you are.” I sit there, contemplate it for a while, and come to a conclusion. “Hell, might even be one of the prettiest mares I’ve seen.”

She looks back at me and the furrow and frown are gone. “I wouldn’t have expected you to say that.”

“Pretty things are pretty. Doesn’t matter what the fuck it is.”

Much to my own surprise, Fleur de Lis laughs. Laughs. At me. Like I just told a joke. After a while, she brings a hoof up to her eye and wipes something away.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had such a compliment,” she says. She looks back at the poster. “You know, I agree. The dish could have been a better choice.”

I nod. “Looks like an actual pile of shit, doesn’t it?”

“No…” The chuckling grows louder, and louder, until finally the dam bursts and Fleur is slamming her head down on the table (how the horn doesn’t break is beyond me) and muffling something that I can’t hear.


“It looks like… the brat… the ranch… it looks like…” But she’s unable to say any more. She’s laughing so hard she’s almost bawling.

And then, I see it. The brat pointed towards the vegetables, the ranch dressing over the vegetables…

“Oh… oh, god, why!? Why did you have to mention that!? Oh, fuck…! No no no no no no no no…”

The laughing attracts the attention of another pony. He looks at the poster inquisitively. “What’s so funny about it?” he says. “I kind of like it.”

“NO! Don’t look at it! Oh, god, why… why did they have to pick it. The bratwurst and the dressing and the…” But I descend into indecipherable gibberish.

He looks at it for a minute. The ends of his mouth curl upwards. Even before the words have exited from his mouth I already know what he’s about to say.

“Hah, hey. It kind of does look like a—”


Too late. He’s said the word and others are now oogling over the posters and the business cards, pointing out the now quite obvious innuendo that has graced the cover of what otherwise was a fine ad. I feel myself sinking down in my chair and contemplating if Joe won’t give me the rest of the day off to recover from the humiliation.

Fleur laughs a bit, but I see a sympathetic look on her face. “Heh, kind of thinking the call-girl thing isn’t too bad.”

The entire restaurant goes dead silent. There is the sight of dozens of patrons looking at the poster, looking at Fleur de Lis, and back to the poster.

There is the sound of someone growling lewdly.

“Oh, dear…”

I take no chances. I’m not letting Fleur take the same humiliation. I grab a front hoof and we make for the back door.

“But I haven’t paid!” she protests as the laughter begins anew.

“I’ll do it! Come on; I’m not staying in there any longer, but if you want to, be my guest.”

We race through the kitchens and head out the back door into an alley. Fleur sits on the ground panting for a minute, laughs as though trying to relieve the tension, then sighs and looks at me.

“Thanks. You got a cigarette?”

“No. Try to stay away from them if I can.” I sigh. “Well… nothing to say but I guess it’s probably a good thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“They won’t stop talking about it. It’ll be good for business.”

Fleur laughs a bit. “Wow… you still manage to joke about it.”

“It’s not the strategy I had in mind.” I mean to stay serious, but I end up chuckling. “It just happened that way.”

Fleur looks at me and smiles. This time, it’s big. “You know, you’re not too bad. Really. I know you have to go back to work, but I would like to meet up again sometime. You know, if you’re ever up for it.”

“Really? I mean, I thought you hated me.”

“I did. You reminded me of my exes. But… you know, actually talking to you, you aren’t so bad.” She gives me a smile that manages to give me the feel of embracing me without actually ever touching me. It’s one of those smiles that is so rare in life; the one of truly genuine appreciation and favor. “You should lighten up a bit more. I like you better when you’re not so cynical.”

With that, she turns around and wanders off, back to whatever she needs to do.

For the first time, I feel like I’ve found something I’ve been missing ever since I’ve arrived.