Bon Bon glared at Lyra, who’d been incessantly tapping out a tune with her hooves for minutes now, and tried to focus. On a cutting board in front of her sat the last apple in the entire house. She steadied her grip on the knife and sliced the apple precisely down the center.
Lyra grabbed her half before Bon Bon could put down the knife. “Yay! I’m so—” she somehow fit the entire half-apple in her mouth “—so so hungry!”
Bon Bon nibbled on her half, despite her stomach begging her to follow Lyra’s lead. There was no point in scarfing the whole thing down in one bite, not when there wasn’t anything else to eat besides candy. Filling up on sugar alone made her irritable, and made Lyra even more annoying than normal. “You’ve got the bit bag, right?”
Lyra gave a nod and held up a small cloth sack bulging with coins. “Mmm hmm! This is gonna be so much f—”
Bon Bon pounded her hoof on the counter. “I’m so sick of hearing you say that! This is serious, Lyra! We’re out of food, and since you can’t cook, clean, count to ten, or—”
“Since you can’t be trusted with anything basic, you’re definitely not running the shop on its big opening day.” Bon Bon prodded the bag of bits. “Until the candy starts selling, this is all we have. This has to feed us, so make sure you buy everything on the shopping list. Apples, carrots, cheese, eggs, hay—”
Lyra lifted the bag out of reach with her magic and stuck out her tongue. “Settle down, Bons.”
“My name is Bon Bon!”
“Settle down, Bon Bons. I’ll buy us a bunch of food and stay out of your precious kitchen.”
“And the shop.”
Lyra rolled her eyes. “And the boring old shop.”
“It’s not boring! It’s clean, it’s organized, it’s—”
Bon Bon gritted her teeth and pointed at the door. “Get out. Don’t come back without food.”
Lyra saluted her. “Aye aye, captain. Have fun selling insta-cavities.”
Bon Bon stomped out of the kitchen, pausing only so she’d catch the sound of the door latching behind Lyra. At long last she was alone, free to bask in cleanliness, sensibility, and the lingering desire to lock all the doors and windows while Lyra was out. If only that air-headed mare wasn’t family. They were each a portion of Candy Heart. Did that make them sisters? She shivered at the thought. Arch Nemeses sounded more appropriate.
She approached the shop’s front door and took a deep breath. In the past week she’d cleaned every surface, stocked every display case, and pried off every window-covering board. Lyra’s only contribution, to use the term loosely, was repainting the sign outside. At least she’d spelled ‘Candy’ right.
All it took was a quick hoof movement to flip the sign on the front window from Closed to Open. At long last the family legacy was being carried out: the shop was open, and soon the candy would sell.
Two hours later, Bon Bon began doubting the second part. Nopony had so much as glanced her way. She’d seen plenty of ponies pass by the sparklingly clean shop windows. Didn’t they see the Open sign? Didn’t they like candy? What was wrong with them?
Annoyances aside, there was a certain pleasantness to the solitude. Simple pleasures like counting the candy in the display cases or polishing the countertops just wouldn’t feel the same with some other pony present. Still, she needed some customers. Without customers she wouldn’t sell any candy, and without sales she couldn’t buy ingredients to make more candy. The thought of starving was a distant second on her list of worries.
At long last, a silhouette slowed to a stop outside the shop window. Bon Bon gasped and made a mad grab for her pencil. She stood behind the counter, perched over the massive journal she’d dug out of the attic, and waited. Why had somepony given Candy Heart a journal for a birthday present anyway? She didn’t forget important things, so why write them down? Writing down all her ‘feelings’ and ‘deepest thoughts’ like the present’s accompanying card had suggested was just an invitation for some lesser pony to read them. That’s what started that annoying episode with the school counselor.
Bon Bon was of a different opinion. Writing things down made them more permanent, more real. Writing freed her from having to commit the day’s minutia to memory, such as the precise time when her first customer would walk through the door. She’d record it all: what time they arrived, what candies they stared at the longest, which ones they actually bought, and what price they paid. The old journal would be her ledger, her log book of all things pertaining to the sale of candy.
The door swung open, and Bon Bon set to work. The tip of her pencil flew across the first line of the ledger. Three of the nine columns in the first row were filled already! She couldn’t wait to jot down a sale price.
Bon Bon shivered. The pony was talking to her. Her eyes left the ledger and regarded her customer, a white mare with a overly styled, purple mane. “Hello.”
The mare smiled. “Good afternoon, I don’t believe we’ve met. I must say, it’s lovely to finally have this shop open again.”
Bon Bon replayed the mare’s words in her mind, confused at how none of them were related to the sale of candy.
The mare raised a hoof to her mouth and giggled. “I suppose I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I am Rarity, Ponyville’s resident up-and-coming fashionista, and the proprietor of the newly-opened Carousel Boutique just up the street. I thought it only proper to introduce myself to a fellow business owner.”
Rarity’s words reached Bon Bon’s ears but traveled no further. Bon Bon stared, unblinking, in hopes that this babbling apparition would either go away or morph into an actual customer.
Rarity’s smile faltered and she looked away. “Well, I assumed it would be proper at least… I-I’m sorry if I’ve been too bold, or come at a bad time…”
Bon Bon was quite sure that there would never be a right time for talking to this mare. “I sell candy.”
Rarity’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes, yes! I-I noticed. As it so happens, my little sister’s birthday is coming up, and she does have a bit of a sweet tooth…”
At last they were getting somewhere. Bon Bon silently counted the seconds that Rarity spent eyeing the merchandise: a mere ten with the taffy, fifteen with the gumballs, five with the licorice, and finally a full minute with the chocolates. Bon Bon had reserved the display case by the register, the shop’s centerpiece, for her namesake candy. Half of Mom and Dad’s recipes were devoted to variations on that one perfect theme: something delicious wrapped in chocolate.
Bon Bon left her hallowed position by the ledger and followed Rarity from the opposite side of the glass. Rarity’s silence, Bon Bon knew, said it all: she was in awe of the vast chocolate selection, not to mention its aroma. Any moment now, Rarity would buy no less than a dozen bonbons and be on her way. She’d tell all her friends, and half the candy stock would be sold before closing time.
Rarity lifted her gaze from the chocolates to meet Bon Bon’s stare. “Darling… Please don’t take this the wrong way… but my little sister would be terribly disappointed if she thought I’d given her a box of plain chocolates.”
Bon Bon reared back on her hind legs. “They’re not plain! Don’t you see the labels in front of each kind?”
Rarity gave a quick nod and attempted to smile. “Yes, of course, darling. The selection is indeed impressive, and I have to say that the mere thought of Caramel Oat Swirl has me sorely tempted to purchase a few for myself… but aside from the labels, these all look the same.”
She raised her hoof and, to Bon Bon’s horror, pressed it to the glass. “I do applaud the avant garde chic of identical bonbons, but I’m afraid my little sister is far too young to appreciate it. If I were to take a Caramel Oat Swirl and place it in a box with a Lemon Zest and a Daisy Double Mint, my poor little sister would only see three identical chocolates and assume they were plain. There’s a certain… lack of variety in the presentation that a great many residents of Ponyville might, shall we say, struggle to appreciate.”
Bon Bon held her hoof to her chest as she looked over her legion of little chocolate soldiers, her army for waging war against panic and starvation. The perfect uniformity of the bonbons, her crowning achievement, meant nothing. Worse still, her heart was still beating; she hadn’t spontaneously died prior to this awful moment. “But… I… I can’t…”
“Dear, are you all right?”
Bon Bon shook her head. Her death wish was about to be granted: she was going to die on the shop’s opening day, and without having sold a single bonbon.
And then Lyra burst through the shop’s front door.
Why did the shopping list have so many little numbers and checkboxes on it? Lyra had been standing in the middle of the market for ten agonizing minutes, missing out on untold amounts of fun because of the dumb shopping list and her dumb almost-empty stomach and dumb Bon Bon making her do this dumb chore.
At times she’d come so close to cracking Bon Bon’s nefarious code. She’d fix her eyes on one line and read “Apples. Two doz—” and then somepony nearby would laugh. She’d glance around in hopes of finding them and overhearing their joke, and then be stuck starting all over.
Her carefree walk from the house seemed like forever ago. What she wouldn’t give to be trotting down the quiet streets again, smelling all the flowers, looking in all the windows, and sticking her tongue out at the quickly vanishing candy shop.
The market was just too crowded. That had to be it. She couldn’t focus in a place like this; there were too many smells to smell, too many signs to read, and too many ponies lined up to buy things. How come all the ponies in line looked so content? Didn’t they realize how crushingly boring standing in a line was?
A bright red stallion, as big as he was muscular, brushed past her. The apples in the cart he was pulling looked delicious. Almost as delicious as he did. Lyra’s stomach rumbled, and she shut her eyes tight. “Shut up, brain, shut up! Gotta buy food, gotta buy food!”
Something tapped her side. “You okay, Sugarcube?”
Lyra shook her head. “No! I’m confused, I’m hungry, I… Who are you?”
Applejack tipped her hat just as Lyra opened her eyes. “The name’s Applejack. Can’t say I’ve seen you around before. You new in town?”
Lyra nodded. A hundred explanations flew through her head, each further from the truth than the last. “Y-yes. I’m Lyra… Me and another pony are running the candy shop now.”
Applejack smiled. “Do tell! ‘bout time somepony opened that place up again. I still remember goin’ down there with Big Mac for fudge when we were foals. That is until… well… I don’t suppose you knew the previous owner? She skipped town about a week back.”
Lyra shook her head and tried to hold back her giggling, not to mention her desire to imitate Applejack’s accent. “I definitely don’t know who that is.”
Applejack’s smile faded away as she looked down the street. “That shop used be a family business goin’ back generations, up until a mare by the name of Candy Heart inherited it. She was actually in my class at school, for a time.”
“Oh, did you know her?” This was getting fun. Candy Heart, and Lyra by proxy, had no memory of Applejack, for good or ill.
Applejack shook her head. “Not well. It’s for the best, truth be told.”
“Well… How do I put this… You ever try a kumquat?”
Applejack motioned her over to a nearby fruit stand. She pointed to a basket full of what looked like miniature oranges. “How much for just two, Berry?”
The purple mare behind the stand grinned. “You sure you don’t want a full dozen, AJ? Just fifteen bits!”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “I’m sure. I’ll give ya two bits for a pair.”
“Okay, okay. Just remember there’s other ponies that like ‘em too, so you’d better stock up before I run out.”
Applejack dropped two bits on the table. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll think about it.”
Applejack took two of the little fruits, rolled them between her front hooves, and held them up. “These ‘re kumquats. I picked up a taste for ‘em in Manehattan. Can’t say they’re cheapest fruit in the world, but I figure the explanation’s worth it.”
Lyra sniffed the nearest kumquat. “Ooh, that almost smells like candy!”
Applejack chuckled. “You’re in for a surprise, Sugarcube.”
Lyra took a kumquat in her magic and popped it in her mouth. The rind tasted just as good as it smelled. “Wow! These are amazi—urm!”
Applejack grinned. “The juice just hit ya, huh?”
Lyra gave a lip-puckered nod. Strikingly bitter juice had flooded her mouth as soon as her teeth pierced the sweet rind. “Not sure I like this…”
Applejack chewed on her own kumquat for a moment before continuing. “Candy Heart was kinda like that: nice and sweet on the outside, bitter and confusing on the inside. Even in school, there was somethin’ about her smile that just didn’t sit right. I tried to be friendly an’ all, but… let’s just say there’s plenty of ponies that get a taste for kumquats, but I’ve never met a pony that had a nice thing to say about Candy Heart.”
Lyra couldn’t decide if she wanted to swallow her mouthful or spit it out. Eating something felt too good to pass up. At least the extreme tanginess was mellowing out. “Maybe these things aren’t so bad after all.”
“Darn tootin’ ! My big brother swore off ‘em after one bite. So, what’s got you all worked up?”
Lyra frowned and held up her shopping list. “I’ve gotta buy a bunch of stuff, but…”
Applejack leaned in for a closer look. “The writing’s awful small. Sure is neat ‘n organized, though!”
Lyra rolled her eyes. Boring Bon Bon strikes again. “My… um… business partner wrote it. I-I guess I’m just too exhausted from all the moving-in and stuff.”
“Looks like the first thing on your list is apples! How about I help ya knock this list out?”
Lyra gasped. “Wow, you’d really do that for me?”
“Welcome to Ponyville, Lyra. Now let me show you where the tastiest apples in Equestria come from before Pinkie spots you.”
“You’ll find out soon enough, Sugarcube.”
Even with Applejack’s help, shopping took forever. Lyra trotted next to her, nodding whenever her new friend pointed out the next item on the list and wincing as it joined the others in her saddlebags. Food was so heavy! They shouldn’t have started with the apples; they were the heaviest food of all.
At long last, Applejack passed the grocery list back to Lyra. “Looks like you’re all set.”
Lyra took the list in her magic and crumpled it up. “Thanks a lot, Applejack! Come by the shop sometime. Bon Bon makes crazy-good candy, just like Mo—err, just like her mom used to!”
“Shucks, I can’t say no to that. Take it easy, Lyra.” Applejack leaned in to whisper. “And remember: if you see a pink, bouncing pony headed your way, run.”
Lyra nodded, even though this Pinkie pony sounded like a lot of fun. “Right!”
The walk home was uneventful, but not in the bad sort of way. Lyra didn’t feel much like sniffing flowers or making faces in the windows while she had a million pounds of groceries weighing her down. That just left talking to herself. “Hi, I’m Applejack. I say y’all and stuff and I like weird fruit, but I’m super-nice.”
She lowered her eyebrows and scowled. “I’m Bon Bon. I hate music. I can’t imagine anything besides candy and bits and grocery lists. I also hate fun.”
A gentle breeze brought a whiff of the fruit she’d bought to her nose. “At least you picked some nice food for us to eat.”
Her Bon Bon impression voiced a reply. “And I’m going to be so shocked that dumb-dumb Lyra bought it all by herself.”
Lyra held her head high. “But I did! I got all the groceries! And I did it all by… Okay, fine. Applejack helped a lot. Next time, you’ve gotta make the list easier for me, Bon Bon. No checkboxes! More pictures!” The taste of the kumquat came back to her: sweet enclosing bitter. “No wonder you hate me. I can’t even buy food by myself. I had to get help like a tiny foal! Ugh.”
The candy shop’s front window lay a few hoofsteps ahead. A little colt had his face pressed against the glass. “Daddy, can we go in and look at the candy?”
A stallion came up and led him away from the window. “You don’t want to mess with the pony that lives there, Truffle. I’m surprised the crazy mare even bothered opening the shop again.”
Lyra rushed forward and blocked as much of the street as her forelegs would allow. “Hi there!”
The colt waved. The stallion raised an eyebrow.
Lyra gave them her biggest smile. “You’re talking about Candy Heart, not Bon Bon, right?”
The stallion nodded. “Yeah… Who’s Bon Bon?”
It took all of Lyra’s will to maintain her smile. “Why, she’s only the friendliest, smartest, nicest, bestest candy-maker ever! I run the shop with her now. Candy Heart moved away.”
The stallion frowned. “That’s nice, I guess. That place still gives me a bad feel—”
Lyra leaned down, no small feat while lugging groceries, and winked at the colt. “Did I mention that every good little filly and colt gets a free sample today? The Daisy Double Mint is my favorite.”
The colt’s eyes lit up and he turned to his father. “Can we go, Daddy? Can we? Please?”
The stallion chuckled. “Well… all right. We’ll take a look and get you that free sample right after lunch. Thanks, Miss…”
Lyra stuck out her hoof. “I’m Lyra! Lyra Heartstrings! And you’re cute!”
She bolted for the shop door before the stallion could reply. The sweet scent of sugar did nothing for her blushing cheeks or her aching jaw. Smiling this much made her face hurt, but she couldn’t stop now. There was a customer in the shop, a mare with the most beautiful purple hair ever. How did she make it curl like that?
Bon Bon gasped. “Lyra! You’re back.”
The words “help me” were practically painted on Bon Bon’s panicky face. Or maybe it was “kill me.” Either way, it was an improvement over the “I’ll kill you” that Lyra was used to seeing in her eyes. “Hey, Bon Bon! How’s the big opening day going?”
Bon Bon was shaking like she’d just stepped out of the freezer. “N-not good. There’s… There’s something wrong with all my recipes. They don’t say anything about… decorating.”
Lyra trotted behind the counter and dropped her saddlebags on the floor. “Ooh, like drawing on the candy? I can do that!”
Bon Bon tried to smile, but skepticism wouldn’t let her. “I don’t know… A-and I’m with a customer right now.”
Rarity backed away. “Oh, that’s all right. I-I’m sure I’ve worn out my welcome already.”
Lyra managed to laugh, but only by thinking about pouring melted ice cream on Bon Bon’s head. “But you haven’t had your free sample!”
Bon Bon tensed up. “Free sample? Free?”
Lyra pulled a tray of bonbons out of the nearest display case and set it on the counter. “Right! I forgot to put that on the sign outside, didn’t I? We should put ‘Under New Management’ on there, too! Turns out some ponies still think Candy Heart runs this place.”
Bon Bon snorted. “She wouldn’t open the shop again. She didn’t even like candy.”
Lyra gave Bon Bon a shove towards the kitchen. “Candy Heart was a real kumquat, all right. Why don’t you go get the paints so I can fix the sign.”
Rarity let out what could only be called a flagrant overuse of the letter ‘m.’ “That’s the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted! Forget Caramel Oat Swirl, could I please have a dozen assorted bonbons? Actually, make that two dozen. I’m sure I can convince Sweetie Belle that not knowing which is which is just part of the fun.”
Lyra and Bon Bon let out simultaneous cheers, the first of many.