Lyra’s tail flicked back and forth as she gazed through her bedroom window at the streets below. There wasn’t much traffic this morning, just a few ponies running errands. Or maybe they were going to the train station, or on a secret mission for the Princess. She fixed her eyes on a stallion trotting by a leisurely pace. What kind of music did he like? What color would he want to paint their dining room? How many kids did he want? What would he give her for their tenth wedding anniversary?
“What’s your name, handsome?”
She’d probably heard his name before; remembering details like that wasn’t her strong suit. “Blue coat… Dark blue mane. What’s his cutie mark… music notes? Awesome! You’re not some classical snob, are you?”
The stallion glanced at the clock tower and quickened his pace. Lyra gave him one last look before abandoning her game. Nopony else out there looked all that interesting. She retreated to her bed, treading on old sheets of half-written music, and collapsed on the pile of blankets. Her lyre floated off the dresser in the corner, the one clean spot in the room, and made its way to her waiting hooves. She lay on her back with the lyre cradled in her forelegs, idly playing it with her magic.
Her ears perked up. Whatever she was playing right now wasn’t half bad. The rise and fall of the high notes bordered on catchy. She plucked the strings with slightly more force, repeating the melody over and over. Maybe this was it; the first song she’d actually finish! Her excitement usually waned about halfway through, but maybe that wouldn’t happen this time. “I’m gonna finish this one! I’ll frame it, and think up an awesome title, and play it all the t—”
Bon Bon’s shouting echoed up the stairs. “It’s eight thirty, Lyra! Get down here and help me!”
And with that, the melody was gone, out of Lyra’s head before the lyre strings had even stopped humming. “Argh, I’m busy!”
“So am I, and there’s a dozen trays down here that need decorating before the shop opens!”
She shut her eyes tight. Arguing would just make Bon Bon sad, and that would make Lyra sad. That just left grudging acceptance, something both of them were quite familiar with. “I’ll be right there.”
Once her lyre was safe on the dresser, Lyra rolled off her bed and opened the door. Directly across the hall was Bon Bon’s room. Why did she keep her bedroom door open all the time? Was her perfectly clean room, so clean that it looked more like a museum exhibit, supposed to be inspiring or something? It wasn’t. It looked like nopony lived in there at all. Lyra made her own bed once in a while, largely against her will, but it never looked like Bon Bon’s, like it’d just been delivered from a bed factory fully made and never before used.
Lyra gave the immaculate display an eye-roll and continued on. Mom and Dad’s master bedroom, unused and untouched, came next. Candy Heart’s room was by the stairs. The door was shut, but when it came to Lyra’s imagination that hardly mattered. Beyond that door wasn’t the immaculate husk that Bon Bon had turned it into; beyond that door she saw shelves lined with old spell books, boxes filled with smelly potion ingredients, and one not-quite-right filly staring at a wall that was both blank and not blank. At least the details were fading now. Lyra had brand new happy memories to replace the old scary ones. Maybe someday the bad memories would be gone completely, and her head would be filled with nothing but gawking at stallions, making music, and decorating candy. She couldn’t wait.
She skipped sliding down the banister, once again to avoid an argument, and made her way to the kitchen. Her stomach growled as soon as she inhaled. It always smelled delicious in here. Bon Bon could probably stew up a rusty horseshoe and make it smell good. Not that she’d ever allow something that dirty to enter her inner sanctum; even with pots simmering on the stove, countertops covered in mixing bowls, and tray after tray of nearly finished candies, the kitchen still felt clean somehow. Bon Bon kept everything that way, right down to the neat line of decorating supplies that she’d set out for Lyra.
Bon Bon walked over and nodded to the trays. “Here’s the candy to decorate.”
Lyra saluted. “Right! What flavor is it?”
“That’s what’s what we’re out of. Ponies keep buying it.”
“So where’s breakfast?”
Bon Bon paused. Bringing up anything other than candy during prep hours tended to do that. At least it didn’t make her angry anymore. “I made pancakes. Yours are in the oven.”
“Just please don’t—”
“Eat them in the kitchen. I won’t.” Lyra winked.
Bon Bon smiled, at least until she dropped back into business mode. “I’ll be in the shop.”
Bon Bon settled into her spot behind the counter, double checked the time, and opened her ledger. She had exactly half an hour before the shop needed to open, time enough to review her notes and hopefully wipe down the display cases one last time. Sweeping the floor again would be nice too, but she just couldn’t squeeze that in. If only she could bring herself to change the setting on her alarm clock.
Her two favorite smells, chocolate and graphite, swept her troubles away. The ledger before her was a grid of numbers, a dense jungle of information that she’d often get lost in. She’d sold ten pounds of fudge yesterday, but only eight the day before. Lollipop sales had alternated between eighteen and six for three weeks in a row. There had been six more ponies in the shop yesterday than the same day last month. If only she knew what it all meant. There had to be some sort of pattern there, something useful that could be divined from her near-perfect bookkeeping.
Lyra could probably find that pattern. She was good with patterns. If only she could focus on a sheet of paper for more than ten seconds, or be trusted to not smear chocolate on the edges. That thought prompted Bon Bon to recheck the time and glance at the kitchen. “Stop taste-testing, Lyra!”
Lyra responded through a mouthful of stolen chocolate. “Thowy, Bon Bon!”
Bon Bon sighed and turned back to her ledger. Patterns or no, there was a certain comfort to her numbers: all the logic and precision of a recipe distilled down to an essence so fine that she herself couldn’t fathom it. The most comforting number of all was the date that began each row, the steady march of time carrying her away from her near-disastrous first day running the shop and from her own horrid creation at Candy Heart’s hooves.
Time marched ever onward, and she needed to do the same. That was the only solution. That was the only thing that kept the panic-attacks at bay. She just needed to keep the shop running. She just needed to keep getting up every morning at the same exact time, cook and sell candy, clean every inch of the house, and go back to bed. That was the recipe for life, the logical set of steps that carried her safely through time without incident.
She closed the ledger, grabbed a cloth, and started polishing. Hoof and nose smudges on the display cases were to be expected. She had to accept that. She fought with herself every day to accept that. At least all the grime that the customers dragged in washed off quickly. Just a few quick wipes with a wet cloth brought back the mirror-like shine that she expected. Nothing less would do for her signature candy, although it wasn’t just hers anymore. Thanks to Lyra, each metal tray was a canvas, and each bonbon was a portion of an edible painting.
This was another sight that could rob Bon Bon of untold hours. She understood the process perfectly: Lyra spread colorful frostings and sprinkles on the bonbons, often in lines that marched over candy and metal alike. Most of her ‘straight’ lines weren’t very straight, and her circles were far from perfect. What was perfect was the effect, a pattern that Bon Bon and the rest of Ponyville could clearly discern. What had once been a six dozen Caramel Oat Swirl bonbons laid out in a grid was now a picture of ponies in the park. Colts and fillies would all-but drag their parents here as early as they could just to see the pictures before the daily tide of sales decimated it. She’d been a witness to three minor squabbles over who was going to get to buy the last bonbon with a pony’s face or cutie mark on it.
Bon Bon fixed her eyes on a single bonbon, one with a tiny pegasus on it, and scowled. “They all taste good. Why do they need pictures?”
“So they sell” wasn’t a good enough answer. How did Lyra come up with all these images on the spot? They must have been things she saw outside. Bon Bon shivered at the thought. The world outside the shop was equal parts confusing and revolting. The limited and highly sanitized view she got through the shop windows and Lyra’s decorating was more than enough.
Bon Bon let out a gasp and turned to the clock. She’d wasted too much time thinking again; the shop was due to open in under two minutes. The display cases, and Bon Bon, would have to get through the day with only one pass of polishing.
“Lyra, I need to open the shop! Where’s the candy?”
Lyra hurried through the door with the missing trays in her magic grasp. “I’m coming, I’m coming! Where’s the shopping list?”
Bon Bon watched the display case’s back panel glow and slide open, a smooth and sterile feat she would forever envy. Lyra’s latest creation depicted ponies flying orange kites in front of town hall. One tray never made it out of the kitchen, as expected. Lyra’s taste testing had prompted Bon Bon to start preparing one extra tray with every batch.
Lyra tapped her hooves. “So, shopping list?”
Bon Bon blinked. “It’s Tuesday, Lyra. Wednesday is shopping day.”
Lyra smiled and clapped her front hooves together. “Awesome! I’m off to Sugarcube Corner!”
Bon Bon counted the tap-tap of Lyra’s hooves and the latching of the door. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The shop didn’t open for another fifteen seconds. She could take five leisurely, annoyance-free breaths in that time. Nopony was demanding volume discounts, asking if she remembered their ‘usual order,’ or smearing their dirty hooves across the glass. Best of all, nopony was humming annoying music. A double boiler to the face was probably the only thing that could cure Lyra of that habit.
A pounding sound interrupted Bon Bon in the middle of her third breath. She eyes flew open and she faced the shop door. Some pony in a hooded jacket was standing at the doorway. They knocked again, making the ‘Closed’ sign on the inside of the door bounce and sway.
Bon Bon checked the time. Opening the shop a few seconds early would be far less painful than listening to that cacophony. “I’m coming, I’m coming!”
She flipped the sign to Open, unlocked the door, and stepped aside so her first customer could enter. “Welcome to my candy sh—”
The pony stepped through the door and lowered her hood. A shock of white hair, burned black in places, flowed down around her face and over her hornless forehead. She smiled a wide, eerie smile, and spoke in a voice made raspy by the potion fumes she’d breathed in her youth. “Hello again.”