• Published 21st Feb 2014
  • 5,759 Views, 68 Comments

Dulcet - shortskirtsandexplosions



Not long after Fluttershy sat in for me with the Ponytones, Rarity asks me out to a fancy dinner. How do I learn to speak up and tell her that I'm only interested in Cheerilee?

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Bass

Darn, if this shiny suit ain't the tightest thang in Equestria. I can barely trot straight in it. Just when was the last time I wore this thang? It has to have been at Golden Delicious' wedding three summers ago. Shucks, I've gotten big since then. I feel sorry for Granny havin' to scramble overnight to get these threads to fit me. I frankly don't see what all the fuss was about. I was just gonna show up at the restaurant tonight in my work duds, but then Granny and Applejack blanched somethin' fierce when I said so. Ya see, it's things like this that make me keep my mouth shut all the dang time.

In all honesty, I wouldn't be so darn nervous if it weren't for Granny and Applejack freakin' out like a barrel full of rattlers. It ain't like I wasn't sweatin' up a storm already; now I'm bound to ruin this suit they fixed up all nice for me. And why'd they have to give me this here box with the flower in it? The next thing I know, I'll be asked to get down on bended knee and propose to her or somethin'.

Land's sakes, I better quit thinkin' such crazy thangs. I've plowed two dozen fields in an hour and still sweated less than I'm fixin' to do now. What's gotten into me? She's just a mare. I've seen dozens of them givin' me puppy dog eyes on the way to and from the center of Ponyville everyday. So what if she's the most elegant, most beautiful, most talented, best smellin' lady out of the whole bunch?

I dun get it. I just... dun get it at all. Why would Rarity ask me out to dinner? And at a fancy place such as Mane Refuge of all dinin' stops? I know so little about the restaurant. Supposedly ponies sit outside on a patio with lights flickerin' around 'em and try to munch on pasta with silverware. Who ever heard of somethin' so stupid? That's just askin' for flies to nip at yer plates. Unless, of course, they've got some of them fancy bug zappers that the unicorns be importin' from Canterlot...

Jumpin' timberwolves, this really is a fancy place, ain't it? Gosh, I don't think I even have enough gold in my bit bag to handle the bill! What was she thinkin' askin' a stallion like me to a place this sparkly-like? I'll be broke before I even have a chance to make a fool of myself. Does she fancy me the King of Apples or such hogwash?

I'm really confused. I'm gonna lose my bearings at this rate and walk right into a lake. Heh, might as well do just that. She can't date a drowned stallion. Really, how did this even come about? Applejack says I'm a lady-killer just from the way I look. I've only ever rolled my eyes at her. Little sisters fancy teasin', after all. But there are times when I wonder if there's honest truth even in her leg-pullin'. As soon as I joined the Ponytones, I knew somethin' stupid was gonna rear its head. In the first three weeks of rehearsing, I could already see Torch Song lookin' me over with her eyes. It stopped shortly after, of course. Almost all of mares give up the idea of flirtin' with me before long. But Rarity?

Sure, she's a pretty little thang. But I've heard one too many a tale from Sis to ever possibly be interested in her. I mean, I reckon it's nice how she always pulls through for her friends in the end n'all. But from the butterfly wingin' in Cloudsdale to the big fuss she put on just recently in Manehattan, I can't rightly say she's a mare I'd wanna hold hooves with. Drama and elegance are excitin' and all, but I'm not too fond of either. Just give me a creek and a fishin' pole, and I'm set for life. Too bad I can't be datin' a trout.

Aw shucks, this is a date, isn't it? I can't rightly say I've ever been on one of them thangs before. Even that crazy calamity that Apple Bloom and her two friends set up hardly counted. Still, it did put the idea into my head. Ain't a bad thang, really, at least if I'm spendin' it with a mare that I would take a fancy to. A mare like... like...

Celestia help me. She'd be angry at me if she knew about this. If she knew about tonight. What am I gonna do? How would I ever explain...

I flinch, for a whole heap'o'lights are stabbin' my eyes somethin' fierce. I've stumbled upon the front entrance to Mane Refuge, and the patio's light bulbs are positively flamin'. That's how I know just how dark it's become. Evenin' has fallen. Overhead, the stars are startin' to peak out, and I think I hear... violin music in the distance?

This is downright romantic. I am so doomed.

"Bonjour, monsieur," a pale-coated unicorn bows before a podium. He's dressed in a tuxedo, and I can't help but spot two tiny black mosquitoes parked beneath his nose. It's only when he talks again that I realize they're actually two halves of a paper thin mustache. "Welcome to Mane Refuge. Do you have a reservation?"

Awww dang it! This place is fancy as all get out. Why didn't I think ahead of time and order us a table? Poor Rarity's likely sittin' outside on a curb somewhere, gettin' ready to spread all sorts of angry gossip about me. Never mind the fact that she asked me to dinner herself. And it was just yesterday mornin'!

"Uhhh..." I fumble in place, stuck between dropping the boxed flower and reaching into my suit's pocket for my bit bag. "Uhmmm... erm..."

Suddenly, the host's eyes light up. "Oui! But of course! Table for two, Rareté et Grosse Pomme!" He smiles, stabbing me with a fragrant gaze. "You must be the latter, non?"

Wait... Rarity already reserved a table for us? She's here already? I'm a... "Grosse Pomme?"

"Ermm..." I fidget and fidget again. "Eh... e-eeyup?"

"Magnifique!" He levitates a menu with his horn and gestures towards the warmly lit patio. "Right this way, monsieur. Madame vous attend."

"Uhhh... eeyup." I grimace slightly as I follow him past several chairs seated with richly dressed patrons. Everypony around me is dressed for a royal coronation, and their muzzles shine in candlelight like porcelain ornaments. And here I am stumblin' about like a plum fool with tree trunks for legs. There's no possible way this won't end up in Tartarus.

But just as my mind feels at its muddiest, I hear her soprano voice ripplin' through like a songbird on a spring morning.

"Oh! Big Macintosssssh! There you arrrrrre!"

A four-legged cloud with a silk scarf and a bejeweled purple mane stands up and does a phantom curtsey from behind a tiny table in the corner of the dining area. Awwww shucks. She's even dressed to kill a duke. This is about as real as real gets, I reckon. Celestia help me...

"Oh, now don't you look dashing tonight?" She says with fluttering eyelashes. The compliment stabs me in the heart and leaves it out to dry beneath a circle of vultures. She's smiling the whole time, not a blush to be seen. "Quite ravishing, if I do say so myself." She gives a little laugh, almost like a drunken relative at a hootenanny. Kind of silly, if you ask me. Ain't this supposed to be a romantic dinner? My awkward relief gets stomped on as soon as she says, "For a moment there, I was afraid you wouldn't come. Well, live long and be surprised, I suppose. Hmmm?"

"Uh..." I stand before the table. What do I say to her? She's only the Ponytones' founding member, not to mention a great soprano and a loyal yet goofy friend to Applejack. I've sang with her, done fundraisers with her, and even sat on the same bleachers as her during the Iron Pony Competition. And now I'm supposed to sweet talk this mare? I mean, that is what I'm supposed to do on a date, right? No sense in makin' a lady feel anything but fine and dandy at a shindig like this, especially a mare as elegant and delicate-like as Rarity. Shoot, how long have I been standin' here like a dag-blame'd fool? I'd better say somethin' smart, somethin' complimentary, and yet somethin' that isn't gross or rude. "Eeeyup." Celestia alive, I hate myself sometimes.

"Here is your menu, monsieur," the host says, unfolding the item in question and planting it like a tombstone on the edge of the table. "Your waiter for ze evening is Mademoiselle Slate LeBlanc. All you need to do is ring ze bell, and she will be at your service." With that, he bows and makes his way back towards the front of the restaurant.

"Do sit down, Big Macintosh," Rarity says with a wave of her beautiful rippling mane. The jewels in her hair glitter from the multicolored bulbs flanking the patio. "You are going to love the baked bread they serve here, though I'm quite certain they can't compete with Granny Smith's home cookin'." The last few words are forced out with a countrified accent—I suppose—and she punctuates it with one of her squeaky little giggles.

Wait... was that a compliment? To my family, that is? Well, darn it, I reckon I gotsta reciprocate.

"Yer... uh..." I fumble in my stool as I shuffle into place across the table from her. "Yer lookin' mighty shiny tonight." Land's sakes. Might as well dig my own grave.

I can already see her blinking, as if an invisible chicken done made a mess in her mane. She hums another chuckle and sing-songs forth, "Well, a girl like me certainly tries to shine the best that she can." She flounces her mane, but gasps in the middle of the gesture, her eyes locked on the box balanced on my flank. "What, pray tell, have you brought with you, darling?"

"Oh... uhm..." I bite my lip and present the box to her. I fumble with the thing, my enormous hooves almost squashing the plastic container to dust. At last, I realize that I have the darn thang backwards, and I pop it open with a labored breath.

"Did..." Rarity's eyes are too shocked to sparkle. "Did you bring me a corsage?" I'm flabbergasted at how her dainty breath decides to turn that last syllable into a gunshot.

Still, that must be a good thing, cuz the word sounds just like how the host pronounced this restaurant's name. "Erm... eeyup?"

"Ooh! And it's an apple blossom!" She instantly levitates the white petals out of the container and holds them up to her appreciating gaze. "Oh, how divine! Just like a little piece of home!" She blinks, then smiles my way with what can only be described as the mother of all slyness. "Do you mind...?"

I've no clue what she's asking. I'm almost surprised how often this happens to me, only right now it's not making my heart beat any slower.

"Eenope?"

"Hmmmm..." She smiles to herself as she bends forward and pins the apple blossom to her mane, so that it's delicately encircled by the gems already fixed to her purple threads. "Exquisite! Absolutely exquisite, and yet humble in its beauty! Frankly, I'm flattered, Big Macintosh." She leans back in her stool and curls both forelimbs, batting her eyelashes in what I now realize is some sort of glamorous pose. "How do I look, darling?"

"Uhhhm..." Now this is a question most mares don't get far enough in askin' me. It's something I've always dreaded. If Applejack was here, she'd just tell me "to be honest," but that mare has less sensitive spots on her that can be bucked to high hell. Come to think of it, this is the type of silly question that Apple Bloom is always askin' me. Maybe if I say to Rarity what I always say to her. "Ahem. Like a princess," I reply.

"Awwww. Well aren't you sweet?" Rarity waves a hoof. "Though, to be honest, I've always wanted to aim for being a 'duchess' someday. It's a lot like Twilight's position, with all of the glamor but considerably less trivial responsibilities." She plants a hoof over her snow white muzzle for the duration of a dainty laugh. "I am being jocular, of course." Does she even pause for breath in between these sentences? Her voice rolls like a melodic wagon up and down my earlobes, and suddenly she's gesturin' towards the menu on my side of the table. "Do have a look at what they're serving tonight. The soup for the evening is Bostrot Clam Chowder. I'm sure you'll find it to die for."

I must say, the somber invitation is darn near temptin' right about now. I try lookin' at the menu, but I'm distracted by twirlin' bodies to my left. I glance out my peripheral, and I see well-dressed ponies sashayin' in pairs across a dance floor. Oh Celestia, spare me.

With a gulp and tremblin' hooves, I hold the menu before me and glance down line after line of... letters. 'Cuz that's all they are to me, a bunch of dang'd letters. What language is this? I can't make heads or tails out of these thangs. All I see are the numbers on the end—which I'm guessin' are in bits—and not a single dayum one of 'em falls under the number thirty. Sweet puppies, I'm in it deep.

Then it hits me like lightning. "Mane Refuge." "Monsieur" this and "Monsieur" that. This is a Prance restaurant, ain't it? Goddess, I can't stand anythin' to do with Prance. I have a hard enough time digestin' Bitalian pasta as it is. I've no clue what's on this here menu, but odds are if I chose somethin' at random, it'd end up bein' a bunch of snails n'cheese. This is already shapin' up to be somethin' awful. What in Equestria am I gonna do?

"And don't hesitate to order what your stomach most desires, Big Mac," Rarity suddenly says, her voice like the bridge to a slowly rising song. I glance over the menu to see her warm, warm eyes. "This is my treat, remember? I assure you, the sky's the limit, darling." A little laugh.

And at the end of that giggle, it is me who's gaspin'. "Yer... tr-treat?"

She blinks. "Why, yes! Just like I told you yesterday morning."

All of my insides turn to cardboard. If I'm still sweating under my suit, it's turned to frozen ice in under a second. Did she tell me that she was gonna be payin' for this? To be honest, I was too dang flabbergasted last mornin' to hear half the stuff comin' out of her mouth since the initial invitation. Wait, if she's payin' for all of this, then what does that mean? Is that the way it's done these days? Do mares pay for stallions when it's a date? Land's sakes, I sure am behind the times. I wish Granny would have given me a talk or somethin', though the poor pony's probably too busy tryin' to find her horseshoes when she wakes up at dawn each mornin'.

"Big Mac?" Rarity's voice is squeaky—the tender kind of squeaky.

I glance at her.

She's staring back at me. She's folded her menu and is now resting her hooves in her lap. Her eyes are soft, imploring, friendly. "You look dreadfully confused. Is there something the matter?"

Shoot. There it goes a'breakin', whatever dam I've been tryin' to keep in one piece all day, not to mention all last night when I couldn't get a wink of sleep for fear of this evenin', this moment, this pair of sky-blue eyes scrapin' against the core of my soul like a rusty pitchfork.

"Miss Rarity, I..."

A part of me shudders, then shudders again. All my life, I've been a dag blame'd idiot. It's true, and everypony knows it, though they do their darnedest to put on polite airs and all that nonsense, in hopes of not offendin' me or somethin'. They should know by now that I'm perfectly capable of being strong on the inside as I am on the outside. Shucks, I'm the one who should know that, so why am I walkin' on a sea of eggshells? This ain't Rarity's first rodeo. If there's anypony I should be scared of hurtin', it's myself, not her. She knows this. I can tell from her eyes. If I have the confidence to believe somethin' like that, then I should have the confidence for... for telling her...

"Rarity, yer mighty beautiful, and I'm plum thankful that you would go through all this length to have us a fine dinner n'all, but... but..." Already, I feel myself stumbling. Horseapples, if only words were like plows and sentences like apple fields. "Consarnit... I ain't all that good with words..."

"Big Mac, it's quite alright," she says in a soft voice that surprises me, lulls me to look at her. I find a graceful, patient smile on the far side of the gap, and it solaces me with the same grace as her pretty, pale smile. "Do go on, dear."

And so I do. "Yer a fine lady, full of talent and smarts. I've no doubt that yer fixin' to be that duchess you aim to be someday. Any... uh... any stallion would be lucky as nails to win a date with you. But... but I..."

This is it. The crest of the hill. There's nothin' but broken bones and splitting headaches waiting at the bottom. Here's hopin' she's got a degree in nursing.

"I'm afraid that as lovely as you are, there's... there's..." I gulp a lump the size of a watermelon down my throat. "...there's another mare whom I fancy. You gotsta understand—I came here because yer so graceful and refined. But... but I'm afraid I'm too much like my sister to let this carry on without sayin' something. And that somethin' is that I've always secretly hoped... always secretly d-dreamed that I would be treatin' this particular mare to my first date instead, and it wouldn't be fair to my feelings to her if... well... if I continued with—"

"Oh, Big Macintosh, I seriously doubt Cheerilee would be offended in the least."

If this stool I'm sittin' on was made of somethin' less sturdy than oak, I would have collapsed straight though it and fallen to the core of the earth. By the time I've finished rattlin', I summon the breath to squeak, "Cheerilee?"

"It's not that terribly huge of a secret, Big Macintosh," Rarity says with downright envious confidence. She plants her smiling chin against her hoof and coos, "I've seen the way she looks at you, the walks you take with one another, the way she fainted both times that the Ponytones performed in her presence."

"Wait..." I squint. "She fainted on the second time?"

"Mmmm... Yes." Rarity murmurs with a nod. "After our 'performance' at the schoolhouse." She takes a sip from a glass of water in complete nonchalance, making me wait breathlessly for her next utterance. Finally: "Ahem. We had an awful long talk at the culmination of the event. She's rather fond of you, if I do say so myself."

"She..." My throbbing heart chokes my lungs as I try to respond. "She... is...?"

"Mmmm... Yes. How did she put it?" Rarity brushes her bangs back and smiles into the starlight. "'Handsome, strong, yet pensive—but in an adorable way.' And if I do say so, I whole heartily agree—" Just then, her gaze locks on me, and her dreamy smile dissolves, givin' way to the mother of all gasps. "Good heavens! You poor thing! You thought that this... That you and me... That tonight...?!"

"Uhhhh..."

And then she explodes—with giggles, much to my chagrin. She leans back in her stool, hugging herself as the laughter makes her whole body shake, giving a flounce to the pale flower petals donning her purple mane.

"Oh, how terribly silly of me!" She wipes a tear from her eye and gazes my way. It's impossible for her to hide her blush with a coat that pale. I suppose there's one thang a mare like her can envy me for. "I assumed I made myself perfectly clear yesterday morning. Big Macintosh, I must give you my sincerest apologies. This was simply meant to be a casual engagement between two good friends, nothing more, I assure you."

"Two... good friends...?" I blink. "But... but..."

"Hmm? Now now, don't tell me you're disappointed." She says with a coy squint that makes me want to hug her and strangle her all at once. "Let us not forget Miss Cheerilee, hmm?"

"You... you offered to treat me," I say, gesturing towards the menu. "And everythang's so gosh-darn expensive..."

"Well of course I wished to treat you!" she exclaims, then leans forward. "Big Macintosh, the whole reason for this dinner in the first place was for me to show you how much I appreciate your loyalty and commitment to the Ponytones." She lets out a sigh and places a hoof over her chest while she gazes apologetically my way. "And to show you that I'm dreadfully sorry for the ordeal you recently went through."

"Ordeal...?"

"With Fluttershy, I mean." She smiles as she fiddles cutely with the tablecloth on her end. "Though, I wouldn't go so far as to say that there's any fault to be had in her whatsoever, the poor dear, it still didn't change the fact that you were sorely inconvenienced throughout that whole affair—what, with you having to stand on stage and fake singing for performance after performance! While I was mostly concerned with Fluttershy's well-being behind the curtain at the time, now I can't help but look back and realize..." Rarity sniffles, biting her lip as her eyes turn moist. "... just... j-just how neglectful I had been of your feelings. Why, the Ponytones were extremely fortunate with the ensuing course of events! If things had revealed themselves slightly differently, then the public might have misunderstood the nature of the whole situation and have branded you a common charlatan! And who would have been responsible for that?! Hmm? Why, nopony else than moi!"

"So... um..." I squint at her. "The dinner...?"

"...was my attempt to make amends for how unfairly you were treated, nothing more." She smiles tenderly, her eyes still glossy. "You're a fine, gentle stallion, Big Macintosh, and you deserve nothing more than utter respect and generosity. I know that I cannot make up for the shenanigans that you were put through, but I hoped to show that I enjoy being your fellow Ponytone and—more importantly—your dear friend."

"Oh..." I nod, gazing down at the table as I exhale with hurricane force relief. "That... that is a good thing to know..."

"Again, I assumed I had made the whole thing clear yesterday morning." She giggles lightly. "But, now that I look back at it, I do suppose that a certain somepony was too busy listening to the blood rushing through his ears. Hmmm?"

I bite my lip.

Is there really no end to my stupidity? I swear, sometimes I feel so plum foolish, it'd be just as well if I never trotted out of the orchards in the first place. Applejack and Granny are always bendin' my ear, tryin' to coax me out of the shadows. But what do they know? They've never been in my horseshoes... never worn my yoke. They don't know how cold and downright pathetic it feels to have the whole confusin' world collapse around you day after day and—

"Big Macintosh."

I look up at her.

She ain't smilin' nor frownin'. Her face if soft and her voice is even softer. "Whatever you're thinking, dear, I do terribly wish you are not being hard on yourself. There's no reason for it." She gently shakes her head. "What happened tonight was supposed to be a simple, joyous occasion. Any confusion on your part is entirely my fault."

I wince, avoiding her gaze. "It ain't that simple—"

"Yes." She says, her eyes hard, yet warm all the same. "It is. It's my fault, Big Macintosh, and I'm sorry. Quite tragically, it is... a terrible habit of mine to sow drama, even when I do not mean to." She pauses, then chuckles with a slightly bitter sound.

Something about it lifts me up. I lean forward with a squinting expression. "Just tell me one thang. Why did you wear yer mane all pretty-like if this ain't more than it is?"

"Oh, you mean this ensemble?" She flounces the jewels in her hair while smiling. "Why, I strive to look gorgeous in everything I do. It's just like you said, darling." She smiles. "I feel best when I'm... shiny."

"Ohhhhhh..." I nod, then exhale again. "Well, shucks."

She giggles airily. "I must admit, you are at your most adorable when you are nervous like this. I suppose it's one of life's odd little ironies, that a stallion so large, dashing, and debonair would fidget like a little colt over bequeathing a lady like me a corsage. Allow me to guess... it was Applejack's and Granny Smith's idea?"

I sigh long and hard. "Eeeeeeyup."

"Well, I'm certainly going to have a talk with Applejack when I see her again," Rarity states, pulling the apple blossom out of her hair and lovingly stroking its white petals. "Your sister means well, dear, but she has the social grace of a cactus at times."

"Hmmm..." I smirk. "Eeyup."

"I do wish to make one thing perfectly clear, Big Mac." She looks up at me, those eyes as tender as ever. "I may not have been seeking a romantic occasion out of this dinner, but I'd be lying if I said that the idea doesn't bedazzle me."

I gulp. "Bedazzle...?"

"You are nothing less than an absolute stud, if I may be so bold." She blushes after saying that, but collects herself. "But, you must see, I am seeking a stallion of... erm—how should I put it—a certain degree of refinement. In tastes, I mean, not in etiquette—for there is absolutely nothing wrong with the manner in which you and the whole Apple Family carry yourselves at Sweet Apple Acres. It all comes down to the fact that I'd appreciate a significant other well-versed in city life and the fashion square, and I'm sure we both can agree that neither of those are quite your forte."

We both share a merry chuckle at that.

"And I also want to say that I find it touching... not to mention downright heartwarming, Big Macintosh, that you would be so bold as to tell me to my face that there's another mare in your life," Rarity says, smiling gracefully. "A mare who means so much to you that you'd break your own bashfulness and quiet-spokenness to pronounce your affections for her."

I wince. "But I-I didn't even say her name." I wince again. "You did."

"But you felt it," Rarity retorts. "And you expressed it through the very breath of your words. Don't let the fact that I knew the truth ahead of time lessen the passion of your proclamation!"

"But what does it matter?" I loosen my bow-tie slightly while I gaze weak daggers into the tablecloth. "I can't even spit it out in front of a pony like you. What hope do I have of tellin' her?"

"You will, Big Mac," she says with a wink. "With enough time and opportunity, you'll be as sincere with Miss Cheerilee as you're being with me right now. Why, for all we know—thanks to tonight—you may just up and tell her tomorrow!"

I shudder from head to tail. "I... I-I just can't..."

"Why not?"

"She's... she's so sweet n'pretty..."

"Well, those sound like two absolutely marvelous reasons to tell her!"

"But what if she doesn't want a thang to do with me?" I shudder, for it occurs to me how swiftly all of this is pouring out. Maybe Rarity done lunged across the table and popped a hole in my chest with her horn. Who's to know? Who's to care? The restaurant and the table and the lights—they're all spinnin', and the only thing keepin' me anchored is my stupid, twitchin' tongue. "What if all I am to her is the same ol' stumblin' oaf? What if she can't see what yer seein'?"

"I've spoken to Cheerilee on several occasions, Big Mac." She sits up like a straight statue, her expression tight and proud. "You have my full assurance that she sees far more in you, more—I daresay—than even you see. Things would only go swimmingly if you were just to talk to her, darling."

"I... I wouldn't even know what to say..." I sigh, and the silence that follows afterwards seals this night bleakly.

Or at least that's what I thought. Suddenly, Rarity is smiling out the corner of my eye. She gets right up from her end of the table and extends a hoof my way.

"Here, Big Mac..."

I blink at her hoof, then at her. "Here what?"

"I want you to offer me a dance," she says.

It takes a great deal of strength not to vomit up my stomach at that. "A... d-dance...?"

"Oh, puh-lease..." She rolls her eyes. "I don't have leprosy and there's enough room on the dance floor for three of you. It will certainly not be the death of us."

"But... but..." I point at the menus on the table. "We haven't even eaten anything—"

"You've got a lot to learn about the true purpose of a dinner, darling." She lunges the last few inches forward and swoops my gangly hairy fetlock with her feather-soft hoof. "Come. We'll be a strange sight so long as we're not moving."

"Whoah nelly!" I sputter as I find myself flailing after her. The frigid seconds melt by, and suddenly we're in the center of the courtyard of Mane Refuge, surrounded by violin music, lights, and eyes, eyes, eyes. "Miss Rarity, I—"

"Shhh! Not another word of protest!" She sashays a bit closer to me. "Put your hoof on my waist, darling."

"Uhhhh..." I do so, awkwardly. "Like so?"

"Hmmm. But not quite so firm."

"S-sorry..."

"Don't be." She smiles up at me. "Do you know how to lead?"

I'm depressed that she even has to ask that. I glance over my shoulder, feeling the sweat pouring on. "I don't suppose this is gonna be like square dancin' at all..."

She giggles breathily. "There isn't much to it, actually. Just hold me close and... drift with the music..."

I take a shuddering breath, swaying back and forth with as much subtlety as I can muster. I resemble a big red refrigerator being rocked by a tornado. At least she's makin' it look like somethin' graceful on her end. I suppose it'll have to do.

"Good... good!" her voice squeaks on the vowel, something only Rarity can do. It's so silly and melodic that it puts me to ease. Maybe that's why the next few words don't scare me quite so stupid. "Now, go on and tell me dear," she says. "What is it that you adore about Miss Cheerilee?"

I gulp. "I... I gotta say, it's mighty hard to concentrate like this..."

"Then how about this?" She brushes her hoof up and caresses my freckled cheek. "Close your eyes."

"But..."

"Shhhh... just trust me, Big Macintosh."

I take a deep breath. My eyes shut, and soon I'm swaying all liquid-like in darkness, with only her warm dulcet tones as the wind to my sails.

"I won't speak," she says in a cooing tone. "Only you. Drift with me. Pretend that I'm her."

I feel my teeth gritting at that idea, but I'm surprised at how quickly my body relaxes. Is it just the notion of that? Of being so close to her? Of spendin' a day with Cheerilee, doin' more than settin' up some school pageant or wrappin' up winter or carryin' on like we're nothin' more than neighbors?

Perhaps it's the fact that she's slightly older than me. I've always been wow'd by how mature and smart she is, and yet she's not like wise ponies from Canterlot. She doesn't look down on simple ponyfolk such as me. Instead, she's all about spreadin' her knowledge like candlelight. She sees this world as a dark place that we can all make bright and warm, just like her grinning muzzle warms me to the heart.

"She... she has a great smile..."

Like a sunrise, really. I look forward to it every mornin' that I walk Apple Bloom to school. I gotta admit, the only reason I've chaperoned at the last two field trips with the school is just so I could be around her when she talks.

"With a voice... like bells over pondwater..."

She breathes joy into everythang she does. When she's talkin' to foals, when she's speakin' to adults her age. When she's gardenin' or grocery shoppin' or just havin' idle gossip...

"The world feels... so much happier with you around, I reckon..."

We've been through one awkward adventure after another, and yet she's always had somethin' sweet to say to me. After parasprites demolished our barn... or beavers flooded our orchards... or two peddlin' fools almost bought out our farm... she's always been the first to say somethin' sweet and encouragin' to me. There were so many times when I wanted to hug her, just to feel her voice lullin' through my heart just as it does through my ears.

"Ponies think I'm strong and quiet. Truth is, I'm... I'm downright scared by a lot of thangs in this world. But you make it alright to be simple, 'cuz all we're tryin' to do is get through the day together, learnin' lessons one after another, and I think... I-I know it would be all the sweeter if we could do it together..."

I wish I could explain it—the way my heart jumps whenever I so much as see the colors of her mane and coat... and how her eyes light up in the middle of it all. Like comets streakin' through a painterly night sky. I'm the only child in the family who remembers what my parents sounded like, looked like, and...

"I know my folks loved each other somethin' fierce, for I feel that same love whenever you're nearby. It's like I'm a little colt all over again, and it's okay to share that love. I... I reckon I'd share it everyday with you, Miss Cheerilee, if you were of a mind."

I gulp.

"Or of a heart, cuz I certainly use that a heap bit more than my mind. If that's... okay with you..."

Silence.

The drifting sways slower and slower.

My eyes flutter open, squinting from the blazingly bright light bulbs around the courtyard. I tilt my head down.

Rarity's eyes are reflecting the lights in a million places all at once. She sniffles, wipes her cheek dry, and says with a fluttering breath: "I've no doubt that you'll absolutely win her, Big Macintosh." She gulps. "As a matter of fact, I sincerely hope you do."

I exhale heavily. "You mean... you m-mean none of that sounded goofy?"

"Oh, not in the least!" She tightens her squeezing grip on my shoulder. "I swear, if you do not go and share those things with her tomorrow, I will find a way to have you locked in a dungeon!"

"A... d-dungeon?" I stammer.

Her voice takes on a hissing tone. "I'm best friends with a princess! I have connections!"

"I... uh... uhhhh..."

She giggles, leaning forward to nuzzle me. "Oh, you are so terribly shy! I swear, those freckles are most becoming."

I take a long, deep breath. "Well... uhm... r-reckon tomorrow I will buck that shyness into next year!" I gnash my teeth, but nevertheless reinforce them words with a stomping hoof against the dance floor. "Right as rain!"

"Now there's a stallion who'll make Miss Cheerilee swoon." Rarity smiles coyly in mid-dance. "See? It isn't so terribly hard to open up, now is it?"

"But... b-but I can't tell her everything."

She blinks. "Why not?"

I glance over at the table that we've long abandoned. "Then I'd have to tell her that you and I went on my first date, and it'd hurt her feelings somethin' awful."

"Wellllll..." She hums to herself, then smiles. "Did we take a bite out of any food?"

"Uhhhhh..."

"Or kiss... or hug... or proclaim our undying affections for one another?"

I scrunch my face up.

"Well, then!" She chirps, her head piping up. "It isn't proper to call it much of a date, now is it? Hmmm?"

I blink. I feel a warmth bubblin' up inside. It tickles my lungs and forces a breathy chuckle to fly out of my mouth. "Heheheheh-Eeeenope!"

She giggles merrily, her voice and her mane carrying on the twinkle of the starlight. The dance ends abruptly as we lean into each other's friendly embrace. Ponies start lookin' at us. For all I know, they're gawkin' at the two silly patrons in the middle of Ponyville.

And in the first time that I can remember, it doesn't bother me in the least.