• Published 29th Nov 2011
  • 5,975 Views, 147 Comments

An Apple Alone - Blue Thrush

With her siblings out of town, Apple Bloom has to run Sweet Apple Acres all by herself. Is she up to the task of managing the farm?

  • ...

To Market, to Market

Sweet Apple Acres was dark and silent. The moonlight and starlight did little to affect the darkness that lay over the sprawling orchards. Complete silence hung over the land, blanketing all who slumbered with a peaceful comfort. Apple Bloom dozed quietly within the Apple Home. Her body was curled up into a ball nestled under a large blanket, head resting comfortably on the large pillow. With a deep breath, the young pony took in the cool morning air flowing in from the open window. She unconsciously tossed over to her other side and let a hind leg escape the blanket. It dangled over the side of the bed, swinging to a slow stop. Apple Bloom was wrapped up in a deep, content state of rest.

The peace and quiet of her early morning was shattered in an instant.

A shrill holler snapped Apple Bloom out of her deep sleep. Her eyes squeezed tightly as she attempted to block out the offending noise by throwing hooves over her ears. Her actions did little to stem the sound pounding against the sides of her head. The pony gritted her teeth and flung a foreleg out towards the source of the disturbance. Hoof met nightstand as she was unable to connect with her intended target. After several futile attempts, the frustrated mare grabbed her pillow and sent it flying across the table. The makeshift projectile struck the item jostling about the surface, sending both careening to the floor. The diligent device kept barraging the farmpony’s ears, shaking about the wooden planks. Resigned to her fate, Apple Bloom crawled out of her bed, eyes still shut tightly, and blindly maneuvered to the dancing object. She reached out and depressed the top lever of the alarm clock, finally putting an end to the cacophony.

The mare slumped to the floor, lavishing in her victory. Apple Bloom’s head still pounded despite the cessation of the alarm clock’s roar. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been up this early. The yellow pony had stayed up whole nights before, but never after a hard day’s work on the farm. With Granny Smith indisposed, she had to get up in time to fix breakfast and take care of the sick mare all before getting started on the farm. With a groan, Apple Bloom staggered to her hooves and slowly made her way out into the hall. She was able to open her eyes, but just barely. They continued to droop as she slogged into the bathroom.

The tired mare trotted through the dark lavatory and climbed into the tub. She closed the curtain, got the water running and grasped the shower cord in her mouth. Grimacing in anticipation, she gave the cord a quick yank, redirecting the water’s flow through the showerhead. Icy water engulfed the young mare, immediately causing her fur to stand up on end. She let out a surprised yelp and snapped her eyes open as the sudden change in temperature chased away her sleepiness. She shut off the water and shook her head to displace some of the water, shivering from head to tail. “That d-d-did the trick,” she stammered, teeth chattering.

Now alert and attentive, Apple Bloom finished up in the bathroom and went back to her bedroom. Wincing against a sudden breeze, she hurried over to her window and closed it. She made her bed and put her alarm clock back on the nightstand, resetting the alarm for the following morning. Stifling a large yawn, she ambled over to the dresser and slipped on her bow. The impromptu shower had made her mane lie straight and wet, so she didn’t see the need to brush. Ready to take on the day, the farmpony headed downstairs. Her wet tail slapped lightly against the stairs on the way down.

Y’know, if Ah had ta go ta school today, Ah’d actually have more time ta sleep, Apple Bloom mused as she padded across the living room into the kitchen. She lit up the dark room and trotted over to the stove. Now what ta rustle up fer breakfast? The farmer mare looked around the cupboards, stove, and shelves, seeking inspiration. Ultimately deciding on something simple and warm, she quickly gathered the necessary ingredients: a moderate amount of oats, four tablespoons of cinnamon, some milk, and a couple Baldwin apples. Soon the aroma of apple cinnamon oatmeal filled the room, eliciting a loud rumble from Apple Bloom’s stomach. Resisting temptation, the young mare scooped out some of the pot’s contents into an awaiting bowl and filled a glass with milk. She placed the meal on a tray and grasped it with her mouth, carefully making her way to her grandmother’s bedroom.

The redhead reached the bedroom only to find the door closed. She about-faced and reached the door handle with her uninjured hoof. With a practiced motion she got her hoof around the handle, pushed down, and pulled the door open. With the door ajar and out of her way, she backed quietly into the bedroom and crept up to Granny Smith. The seemingly-soporose mare lay perfectly still, the only signs of movement coming from her silent, rhythmic breathing. Setting the tray down on the vacant nightstand, Apple Bloom whispered, “Mornin’, Granny.”

The green farmpony stirred. Eyes remaining shut, she sniffed the air. “Added too much cinnamon. Ya know the recipe only calls fer two tablespoons.”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “Ah figured it needed jus’ a dash more fer an extra kick a’ sweetness,” she defended. “But if yer gonna be so persnickety ‘bout it, Ah’ll just eat this yummy oatmeal mahself.” Smirking, the yellow mare took the tray in mouth and turned to leave.

“Now, no need ta get upset,” Granny spoke softly, blinking her eyes open and scooting up into a sitting position. Apple Bloom, not having any intention of depriving her grandma from breakfast, immediately turned around and set the tray across the old mare’s lap. “Thank ya kindly, dear,” she smiled as she planted a kiss on her granddaughter’s forehead. “Ah was about ta come get ya up until Ah heard ya clamberin' down the stairs. Almost thought ya overslept.”

Apple Bloom broke apart from the embrace, concerned. “Ya mean you’ve been up all this time? Yer suppose ta be restin’, Granny!”

“Ah’m s’posed ta stay in bed, remember?” the sick mare reminded. “Ain’t budged one bit since las’ night. Ah’ve gotten up ‘fore sunrise fer years, an’ no cough’s gonna change that. Doubt anypony could stay sleepin’ when yer makin’ all that racket upstairs anyway.”

The yellow pony felt a pang of guilt until she saw humor in her grandma’s eyes. The two shared a giggle. “Well, ya know how tricky those clocks can be sometimes,” Apple Bloom offered. She moved to the opposite nightstand to fetch Granny her medicine. She measured out the appropriate dose and nosed the cup closer to the bed. “Here, Granny. Take this ‘fore chowin’ down.”

“Ya spoil me, dear,” Granny replied, taking the cup in hoof and downing its contents. “Go on, then. Yer own food’s gettin’ cold out there, an’ there’s plenty enough fer ya ta do without tendin’ ta me all mornin’.”

The smile on Apple Bloom’s face became fixed. “Uh, right.” She took a couple of steps towards the door.

“Jus’ leave the door open so the kitchen light can make its way in,” Granny suggested. “No need ta brighten things up too much. Now off ta breakfast with you,” she shooed the younger pony away.

“Alright, jus’ give a shout if ya need anythin’,” Apple Bloom responded, leaving the old mare to her food.

Satisfied, Granny turned her attention to her meal, spooning some oatmeal and taking a bite. Her eyes widened. Mmmm, Apple Bloom might be on ta somethin’.

Apple Bloom hurried back to the kitchen to quell the sudden onset of hunger she felt. Her stomach had become quite vocal on the matter. The hungry mare set herself up with some milk and oatmeal of her own and began to enjoy a warm, filling breakfast. She ate in silence, staring blankly out the window deep in thought. There wasn’t much to see with the sun having not risen quite yet; the farm was still mostly blanketed in darkness. The pounding in the groggy mare’s head had softened to an occasional twinge, but it still distracted the young mare from her thoughts. Taking a swig of milk, she stirred over her current dilemma once again. Now if Ah run the cart today, Ah’ll fall behind on the farm. She considered. If Ah don’t, that leaves us with a day’s worth of crops lyin’ around and nothin’ ta show fer it.

After dinner the previous night, when Scootaloo and Gale had left for home, Granny had reminded Apple Bloom that she would need to run the market stand. The younger farmpony hadn’t yet realized what the infirm pony’s illness meant for her: Granny being bedridden now made Apple Bloom responsible for both the chores on the farm and the work in Ponyville. The yellow pony had bemoaned the idea of having to be in two places at once for the next few days, still undecided on what she was going to do.

Missin’ market can’t be made up, no matter how hard Ah work, Apple Bloom reasoned. Farmin’ can be done no matter what time a’ day. Ah’ll jus’ do what has ta be done before an’ after sellin’ some apples. She grinned, happy to have worked out a viable plan of action and to put her issue to rest. She took her dishes and placed them in the sink, turning on the faucet. She tossed the empty pot of oatmeal under the running water, letting it fill up while she made her way back to Granny Smith’s bedroom to collect her tray. She arrived to find Granny climbing out of bed, shakily clutching her tray and rattling the empty dishes sitting atop it.

“Hang on, Granny, Ah got it!” Apple Bloom hurried over to her grandmother’s aid. The older mare released her grip. She began to thank the young mare, but was interrupted by a sudden fit of coughing. She sat down and raised a hoof to cover her mouth, but the hacking continued. “Granny, you okay?” Apple Bloom asked worriedly, setting the tray aside and growing antsy. Granny couldn’t answer, but instead made a drinking motion with her other forehoof. “Oh! Water!” The young mare rushed out of the room and returned a moment later with a full glass. The coughing had lessened in severity, but still rendered Granny unable to catch her breath. “Here ya go,” Apple Bloom offered, holding the water up to her grandma’s mouth. After draining the glass, Granny was finally able to settle down.

“Thank ya’ kindly, Apple Bloom,” She wheezed. “It jus’ started an’ Ah couldn’t stop. Guess Ah’m not quite ready ta be out an’ about yet....”

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Apple Bloom cooed, gently rubbing her grandmother’s back. The young mare’s concern grew for her ailing relative when she caught the depressed look in her eyes. Ah hate seein’ her like this, she sighed inwardly. Ah gotta find a way ta cheer her up, but all she wants ta do is help, not rest! But what can she do while in this condition? She mulled over this as she helped Granny back into her bed, covering her back up. Somethin’ where she could help, but stay in bed at the same time... After a moment, inspiration struck. “Say Granny, wanna go over the farm’s records an’ stuff? Ah could sure use some help when Ah get back from market tonight.”

The tired mare blinked, and then settled down into a relaxed, upraised position. “Ah’d love to. Mind fetchin’ ‘em fer me? An’ get me somethin’ ta write on too while yer at it!”

That’s more like it. Back ta dishin’ out orders like her old self again, Apple Bloom thought happily. “Right away, Granny!” She dashed out of the room, but popped her head back in before getting too far. “Uh, where do ya keep ‘em?”

“Livin’ room closet. Big box next to the Hearth’s Warmin’ decorations.” Granny instructed. “Try not ta upset ‘em. Jus’ bring ‘em all in. Ah’ll find what Ah need.”

“Livin’ room. Got it,” Apple Bloom said before ducking out. She returned a few minutes later dragging a box about her size across the floor. After getting the box next to the bed, she left and returned, this time pushing along a small table. As she was finished pulling some parchment out of the box at Granny’s directive, she heard the rooster crow. She drew the curtains open to be greeted with the sunrise. Just how early did Ah get up again? she wondered, setting out a few pencils and some scrap paper. “Anythin’ else?”

“Naw, this oughta do it,” Granny replied, sitting herself up so that she could reach her materials with ease. “Now git outside and git yer flank in gear. Gotta lot ta do what with the farmin’ an’ market.”

“On mah way out, Granny. Jus’ gotta do one more thing first.” The yellow pony moved to the side of the bed and gave her grandmother a tight hug. “Don’t push yerself too hard, ya hear? Get some rest.”

“Ah will, now quit fussin’,” she replied, returning the hug. “Off ya go now.”

With one final affectionate squeeze and a smile, Apple Bloom left Granny Smith and made her way outside. She quickly made her way through the morning work. Some chores had to be done each and every morning. With an early start to her day, Apple Bloom had ample time to get the required morning work done. She collected eggs, then fed and exercised the animals. Finished with the mandatory farm work, the yellow pony went inside the barn and began loading one of the market carts up. The majority of the cart’s cargo space was taken up with apples - Red Delicious, Scarlet Croften, Gala, and Hampshire made up the day’s stock - which left only a little more room. Apple Bloom filled the remaining space up with some different crops: She tossed in a basket of carrots that she’d harvested yesterday, having separated out the freshest, tastiest looking ones from the others the night before. A small amount of corn cobs followed in a basket of their own.

With the cart now fully-laden, the young mare harnessed up and, with a grunt of effort, hauled the cart outside and onto the main path. Just before she crossed under the trellis arch indicating the end of the property line, Winona bounded onto the cart. “Howdy, Winona! Ready ta sell some apples?” The farmpony called back. She barked proudly as she stood atop the many crops, jumping in anticipation. Apple Bloom was about to leave when she glanced back at the Apple house. A thought crossed her mind. Granny’ll be here all by her lonesome all day... With that in mind, she made a decision. “On second thought, Winona, Ah think you’d oughta stay here today.” The dog’s happy grin turned into a sad frown. “Don’t gimme that look! It’d be best if ya keep Granny company.” She disengaged from the harness and trotted behind the cart. “C’mon now, off you go.” Reluctantly, the collie hopped off the cart. “Ah also want you ta come get me if her health takes a turn fer the worse, ya here?” The pony ordered. “Ya know where ta find me.” She gave the disappointed dog a rough pet across the head. “Got all that?”

Now feeling like she was contributing again, Winona’s doggy-style grin returned. She slopped a doggy kiss on Apple Bloom’s cheek before darting towards the house. Wiping the drool off her grinning face, the young mare re-attached herself to the cart and set off at a brisk pace for Ponyville.

* * *

Apple Bloom heard the chiming of the school bell in the distance. She fought off a sudden urge to sprint for the classroom to prevent being tardy, reminding herself that she was not beholden to that sound today. If she did take off she’d just spill the contents of her cart, which would only make her tardy for her actual destination. The young mare calmed herself down and turned her attention to her pleasant surroundings. She revelled in the idea of not being stuck inside school on what was shaping up to be a really nice day. The streets of Ponyville were already bustling with activity, contrasting the more laid-back attitudes of the weekend. Some ponies, along with Apple Bloom, were on their way to the market place to begin their day of selling their goods to the community. Others were either off to do other work or were simply ambling along the road, engaging in idle chatter as they bumped into friends and acquaintances.

The yellow farmpony didn’t stop for conversation, but did pause to smile and wave at some passers-by as she trotted along. She was one of the youngest ponies milling about, as most other youths were in school. Nopony questioned Apple Bloom’s presence, though: They saw she was pulling along the Apple family’s market cart and figured she was getting more involved in the family business. Apple Bloom did wonder why a few ponies seemed to be feigning politeness as she passed, though. A couple had to stifle a giggle as she walked by, catching themselves and shouting a quick greeting to cover themselves. Apple Bloom shrugged off the thought and kept up a steady pace to market.

The crowd of ponies thinned out as Apple Bloom entered the market place. The street broadened as Ponyville’s homes, sheds, stores and pavilions yielded to a less dense area. The road widened by a considerable amount, leaving room for plenty of ponies to occupy its vast space. A colorful array of tents, carts, and stands streaked along either side of the street. More tents and carts dotted the street itself, giving the market place a carnival-like feel. One could find a wide assortment of items at market: Some ponies were selling hoof-crafted decorations or jewelry. Others had assortments of knick-knacks and haphazardly-collected junk that they were hoping appealed to somepony. The majority of the market ponies were selling edible goods, though, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to a wide variety of delectable flowers and plants. The afterthoughts of previous days’ business could be found strewn about, with the occasional bit of trash littering the roadway. In the center sat one of the village’s larger fountains, the water within sprinkling and bubbling away, contributing to the ambient noise of the market place.

Apple Bloom trotted to the Apples’ usual spot on the side of the road, coming to a stop and quickly relieving herself of the cart’s harness. The farmpony stretched to get a crick out of her back, a small pop relieving her of the discomfort. She put the brakes in place and rearranged the crops in order to make them look more presentable. Unlike the simpler cart Granny had been using, this one required some additional setup. It took a little more work and was tougher to haul around, but was far more eye-catching and appealing. The young mare yanked out a blanket from the cart and unfurled it, revealing a banner proudly displaying several colorful varieties of apples. She tucked it under some baskets on the cart and let the rest flow to the ground, shielding the wheels from view. She then propped up a green-and-white striped overhang, giving shade to both the crops and the ponies standing nearby. With these transformations, Apple Bloom had turned her cargo cart into a fashionable market stand.

She took a seat behind her stand and yawned, lazily looking at other ponies preparing their own stands and carts. The market place wasn’t officially open yet, but many ponies still stood poised and ready to sell. Ponyville had enacted official start and end times for market, but they were more guidelines than rules. Vendors were welcome to open up earlier and stay out later, and they were more than happy to squeeze out some extra sales in the process. Consumers could always depend on everything being available during the appointed time, but could also count on most sellers hanging around if they couldn’t make the deadline or needed to arrive early.

Apple Bloom’s pony-watching was interrupted by bell chimes emanating from the town clock. The farmpony stood up rigidly as the bell rang over the air. Nerves combined with anxiety to make her perspire a little. Alright, Apple Bloom, you can do this, she encouraged herself. Jus’ put on yer game face and sell some food to some hungry ponies. Granny’s been able ta clear out her load by day’s end, even on the weekend. This oughta be a piece a’ cake. She gulped nervously, put on a bright smile, and eagerly awaited to do her family proud. The bell chimes from the clock ceased, indicating the top of the hour.

Ponyville Market Place was officially open for business.

Potential pony patrons trickled into the market place with empty saddle bags in tow and bits burning holes in their pouches. Apple Bloom didn’t have to bargain or haggle with anypony to make her first sales of the day, as regulars soon approached to partake in some of their prized crop. The young mare simply greeted them as they arrived, apples and bits exchanging hooves without fuss. After the first hour Apple Bloom had managed to sell around a bushel’s worth of apples. The other crops, however, remained untouched. There was no question that the Apples would dominate sales when it came to their namesake fruit. Conversely, the carrots and corn the young farmpony also brought along would be a much harder sell.

Once the initial flow of customers thinned, Apple Bloom took a moment to check the front of the stand. She had again noticed quiet laughter coming from some passing ponies as they glanced her way. She examined the front of the stand to make sure nothing was askew and everything looked alright. Ah don’t get it, she puzzled, again taking position behind the stand, just what is everypony snickerin’ at? Her train of thought was interrupted to serve a pair of ponies approaching. “Howdy, folks!” she beamed, “what can Ah do ya’ for?”

The female pony, a light green unicorn with a long lighter green mane to match, stopped conversing with her companion and turned her attention to Apple Bloom. Her face blossomed into a humorous smile on doing so. “Oh, just our usual batch will do, sweetums,” she answered, raising a hoof to stifle a giggle. The male pony beside her, an orange earth pony, nodded in agreement, remaining silent.

“Sure thing!” The farmpony replied eagerly, missing the snicker. She hesitated a moment. “Er, what is yer usual again? Ah’m not usually the one runnin’ things here. Miss...?”

“Evergreen, dear, and this is Sunshine,” the unicorn supplied as she and her spouse exchanged endearing looks. “We’d like six of your sweetest apples, please!”

“Comin’ right up! Hmm...” Apple Bloom pondered, looking over her inventory. “These Gala apples oughta be just the thing,” she declared, showcasing the faded red fruit with a hoof.

“Those’ll do nicely,” she agreed, picking out six Gala apples and shifting them to her saddle bag.

Apple Bloom swayed nervously behind the stand, glancing sideways at her untouched vegetables. “Uh, could Ah interest you in some carrots, Ma’am? Or some corn maybe?” She offered halfheartedly.

“Er, thank you, no, sweetie,” Evergreen declined. “That’ll be all.”

“But...” Apple Bloom started before catching herself, covering disappointment with another smile. Sunshine deposited money into a small chest sitting beside the farmpony. “No problem. Thanks y’all fer yer patronage!” The couple thanked Apple Bloom and continued on down the street, turning their attention to other stands and carrying on their previous conversation.

The young mare was slightly disappointed at her first attempt. She had plenty of experience at running the stand, but that had only entailed pointing out what kind of apples they had and making sure customers ponied up the correct number of bits. She’d always left the bargaining and sale pitching to her older kin. The young mare hadn’t been on market duty for over a year now: Going to school and learning to buck apples had dominated her time during the spring and summer.

As the morning wore on, Apple Bloom tried out a few improvised ideas to sell something other than apples. Her tactics varied from the overbearingly aggressive, which tended to frighten ponies away, to the incredibly subtle, which failed to convince prospective buyers to purchase anything beyond their usual fare. As the apple supplies continued to dwindle, the small amounts of vegetables remained stagnant.

Apple Bloom’s fortune did not improve as mid-day approached, still making conventional sales but not garnering anything beyond that. As lunchtime grew nearer, hoof traffic began to increase at a rapid rate. The chirping birds and the water fountain’s bubbling were soon drowned out by the sea of ponies flooding into the market place. Vendors, who usually struck up friendly chats with their customers, were forced to instead focus on serving ponies as fast as possible. Apple Bloom was no exception: She kept herself busy tending to hungry customers and didn’t bother to try and push the less-popular goods. She soon found herself lost in the rhythm, going from one pony to the next without slowing down. “Next, please!” She called out.

“Hey, Apple Bl--”

“Yep, we got apples,” the farmpony interrupted, “Red Delicious, Hampshire, Scarlet Cr--”

“Apple Bloom!” Sweetie Belle spoke louder, snapping the earth pony out of her speech. She saw her fellow crusaders were there in front of the cart, grinning at her.

“Oh, hey, gals! How’s school goin’?” The yellow pony asked.

“Well, we have a test coming up later this week, so it’s just been review really,” Sweetie Belle replied. “Anyway, Scootaloo said you would be in town today, so we decided to drop by and...” She trailed off, squinting at the earth pony’s head. “Uh, Apple Bloom....”

“What?” The confused farmpony asked.

“Well... Um...” the unicorn hemmed and hawed.

Scootaloo, who had stayed quiet to contain herself, lost control. She burst out laughing, pointing a forehoof at the farmpony. “Wow, A.B., that’s one mean mane you’ve got going there!” She sputtered between fits.

“Yeah,” Sweetie Belle chimed in, giggling, “it looks really, uh, good!”

“Mah mane?” Apple Bloom asked, reaching a hoof up. To her horror, she didn’t have to reach far: Her hair had puffed out to an impressive size, sticking out every which way. The only part that lay flat was the hair held down by her bow. She blushed furiously, ducking down behind the cart to where her eyes barely peeked over the top. “No wonder everypony’s been laughin’ around me all day.”

“You mean you...” Scootaloo choked out, “you’ve been out here all day and nopony... Nopony said...” She couldn’t finish her thought, cackling even louder than before.

Apple Bloom gritted her teeth, rising up to her full height to glare at Scootaloo. She had a few inches on the pegasus, managing to look down on the snickering mare. “Haw haw, very funny,” she mocked, glaring at the two. “Are y’all gonna gawk at me all day or are ya’ gonna buy somethin’? If not, jus’ clear out!”

“Hey, easy, Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo said, containing herself and reeling from the harsh words, “you just caught us a bit off guard with your new hairstyle is all.” Letting a few snickers escape, the orange crusader reached under her wing and dropped a bit onto the cart. “We’re here for lunch!”

“Yeah, but um... I’ll be right back!” Sweetie Belle shouted as she suddenly galloped off.

“Hey, where are you going?” The pegasus called out. “We don’t have all day you know!”

“You’ll see when I get back!” The white mare yelled over her shoulder.

“Hey!” an impatient pony in line interjected, “hurry it up, will ya?” A pony who had up until this point been patient waiting for the mares to finish their conversation.

“Sorry, sir!” Apple Bloom spouted quickly. “Mind waitin’ fer a minute, Scootaloo? Ah’ll break fer lunch after Ah git through some of this line.”

“No sweat,” Scootaloo promptly replied, stepping aside to let the other ponies get to Apple Bloom. The farmpony quickly turned her attention towards processing the line, who were waiting to get some lunch of their own. Ten minutes later, she’d manage to go through all of her customers. Before any more got in line, she placed a sign reading “Be Back in a Bit, Y’all!” on the stand, took a few Red Delicious apples from a basket, and trotted over to a nearby picnic table where Scootaloo awaited her. The young pegasus was watching the skies as other winged ponies soared about. The earth pony sat opposite Scootaloo and dropped the bit she was carrying from her mouth onto the table’s surface, which drew the pegasus’ gaze back to earth.

“On the house today, Scoot,” she nosed the coin over to her friend. “Sorry fer snappin’ at ya’ like that earlier. Just been a bit frustrated today is all.”

Scootaloo looked down at the coin and then to her friend. “Thanks, Apple Bloom! And don’t worry about it. I probably should’ve had a bit more tact than that.” She held out a foreleg and the two shared a hoofbump. Another giggle escaped the pegasus before she caught herself. “You do look funny though.”

“Yeah, Ah reckon Ah do,” the puffy-maned pony replied, grinning back and tossing Scootaloo an apple. The quick pegasus caught it in her mouth and began munching on it hungrily.

“Oh wow, that sure hit the spot!” The hungry pegasus proclaimed. “I hope Sweetie Belle gets back soon, though. Lunch break’s almost over and she won’t have time to--”

“I’m back!” Sweetie Belle sang from behind Apple Bloom. Scootaloo glanced behind the farmpony, recognition lighting up in her eyes. Apple Bloom gave her friend a puzzled look when she heard a gasp. She turned around to find Sweetie Belle accompanied by her older sister. The elder unicorn’s horn was aglow, with a large brush and a mirror floating along in her wake.

“Oh, hey Rarity,” Apple Bloom greeted her older sister’s friend. “Uh, care fer an apple?”

Rarity looked dumbfounded at the sight of Apple Bloom’s confounding coiffure. “Oh my stars, Darling, what in all of Equestria did you do to your mane?” the fashionista balked. “Sweetie Belle told me it was bad, but, er, ahem,” she cleared her throat. “Let’s get that tangle all straightened out, shall we?”

“I figured you didn’t want your mane looking like a plate of spaghetti,” Sweetie Belle said, taking a seat at the table next to Apple Bloom, “so I asked Rarity to lend a hoof!”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo encouraged, “I bet she could get you all prettied up and stuff!”

“Oh,” Apple Bloom said quietly, a grin slowly appearing upon realization. “Thanks, Sweetie Belle!” She hugged the younger unicorn, happy that she wouldn’t have to go through the rest of the day explaining away her bad hair day. Sweetie Belle squeezed back in return. “And Ah’d like that very much, Rarity. Thanks fer offerin’!”

Scootaloo made a face at the sight of her friends hugging. “Oh, for crying out loud,” she took an apple and rolled it over to Sweetie Belle. “Here, we don’t have much time left before lunch break’s over. Better eat quick.”

“Thanks, Scootaloo,” the hungry unicorn replied, daintily levitating the apple up to her mouth before digging into it ravenously.

“Sweetie Belle, mind your table manners!” Rarity scoffed as she got to work on Apple Bloom’s mane with the brush.

“Sorry, sis,” Sweetie Belle said through a mouth full of apple. She gulped and looked down at the table, gesturing exaggeratedly. “Thank you, picnic table, for providing us with a place to set our food and seats to sit on!” she declared in her best Rarity impersonation before stuffing the rest of her apple into her mouth. It was just as well, as the school bell chimed off in the distance. Sweetie Belle nearly choked on her last bite.

“Oh ponyfeathers! We’re gonna be late again!” Scootaloo panicked. “See you later Apple Bloom!”

“Right, see you later,” Sweetie Belle followed up, having managed to survive her last bite of apple. “Bye sis! Wait for me, Scootaloo!” she called out, but the anxious pegasus had already taken wing and sped off. Sweetie Belle followed suit, taking off at a fast gallop.

Rarity rolled her eyes, shaking her head. My sister, so uncivilized, she commented silently. I’ll have to have a talk with Mother and Father about those bad habits of hers. She continued working on the Apple Bloom’s mane, removing the bow to give herself more room. “And why did you decide to show up in Ponyville with such an... interesting... hairstyle, deary?” She inquired, brow furrowed in concentration. What an absolute mess.

“Ah didn’t exactly plan fer it to poof out like this,” Apple Bloom defended, “Ah jus’ had a lot on mah mind this mornin’. Also doesn’t help that Ah can’t think straight when get up before the crack a’ dawn.” She toyed with the half-eaten apple in her hooves. “Ah put my bow on, and Ah guess Ah thought it was already brushed since it was wet an’ straight. Never crossed mah mind.”

Going outdoors with a wet mane? What a ludicrous notion! Rarity thought to herself, then spoke to the earth pony in a condescending tone, “Apple Bloom, one shouldn’t leave one’s home without a cursory glance in the mirror to gauge one’s appearance! Why, it’s almost as if you were raised in a... er...” Apple Bloom’s scowl made Rarity’s jovial smile falter. The unicorn giggled nervously, desperately thinking of a way to change the subject. “Nevermind that, Darling. How is life over on Sweet Apple Acres? I hear you’ve taken on quite a lot of responsibility, what with your brother and sister being out of town and all. I also heard that your grandmother had fallen ill! Is she doing alright?”

“Ah’m hangin’ in there,” Apple Bloom spoke after a moment, wincing as the brush forced its way through a stubborn split end. “Granny’s recoverin’ well enough. As long as she stays in bed, that is.” She took another bite from her apple.

“Oh, that’s most wonderful to hear!” Rarity exclaimed. “When I heard the news yesterday I feared the worst. It’s good to hear that she’s recuperating.”

Apple Bloom finished her lunch and began rocking in her seat anxiously. “You about done? Ah gotta git back to it.”

“Just finishing up!” The unicorn answered in a singsong voice, tying Apple Bloom’s bow up daintily with her magic. “And... done! What do you think, Apple Bloom? Don’t hold anything back now!” She hovered a mirror in front of the younger mare.

As her reflection came into view, Apple Bloom did a double take: Instead of her mane going off to one side, it was evenly split, flowing down either side of her head. She wasn’t aware she had that much going on up there, as most of it was tied up in her bow. She then realized that something was missing. “Hey,” she asked, “where’s mah bow?”

Rarity chuckled. “I guess I do have a delicate touch. Did you not feel the tug on your tail?”

Apple Bloom turned her gaze downward and flicked her tail forward. Her bow was neatly tied around near the edge of her tail, with only a few inches protruding past the accessory. Apple Bloom noticed something familiar about that particular detail. “Hey, this is just like--”

“Just like Applejack’s tail, quite,” Rarity glowed. “I admit I drew some inspiration from your sister’s look. While her hair is a bit... rough around the edges, the look definitely suits her. And I think it looks lovely on you as well, Apple Bloom.”

The farmpony swished her tail and bow around. “It looks swell, Rarity,” the farmpony grinned. “Thank ya’ kindly fer fixin’ me up. Ah’m glad ta not look like a clown no more.”

“Oh, it was nothing, Darling. It would be improper for me to let such a fashion disaster continue to exist if I could do something about it.” the unicorn declared. “Just don’t leave that mane of yours unattended so soon after a wash!”

Well, Ah didn’t wash it so much as get it soaked, Apple Bloom thought to herself. “Sure thing! Ah gotta git back to it now. Thanks again!”

“You’re quite welcome, Apple Bloom! Good luck!” she called as she trotted back to her boutique. Apple Bloom sped back to the cart and removed the sign, ready to wrap up the day.

* * *

“Sixty-four, sixty-five, sixty-six...” Granny counted off as she shuffled through a small pile of parchment. Other neatly-piled stacks were strewn about the rest of the table beside the old mare’s bed. Granny Smith lay perpendicular with her forehooves up on the table, mumbling to herself as she went over the meticulously-kept records of Sweet Apple Acres. While she worked, Winona dozed over by the window, curled up on the floor beneath the warm glow of the afternoon sunlight. Granny scanned through facts and figures as she reached the bottom of the final parchment of the stack. “Seventy-eight, seventy-nine... 80 bushels!” She chuckled softly, “We sure are doin’ alright fer ourselves this year. Gettin’ more bulk orders than ever before fer our apples, an’ the other crops ain’t doin’ too shabby neither.”

Granny set aside the parchment she’d been mulling over and picked up the next set in the sequence: Projections and estimations for Sweet Apple Acres. The old farmpony groaned. “All these numbers are makin’ mah head spin,” she muttered. Glancing over the sizable chunk of data she’d already processed, Granny decided it was time for a break. She edged off the foot of the bed and stretched. Winona, disturbed by the noise, perked her ears up and lifted her head groggily, stretching her mouth into a wide yawn. “Bein’ stuck in bed all day ain’t helping matters much neither. Ah’m startin’ ta get stir crazy,” Granny remarked. “Time ta stretch these legs out. Shouldn’t hurt ta take a trot around the farm fer a little while.” She beckoned Winona. “C’mon, girl, let’s go fer a walk.” The collie was happy to oblige, bounding in circles around her slower companion as she slowly made her way through the house and outside.

Granny’s stroll didn’t last long. The worst of the pneumonia was past her, but her energy was still sapped. After just a few minutes, Granny found herself starting to breathe heavily. Knowing better than to push herself too hard, she retreated back into the house. Winona stuck close to her side, nuzzling at her foreleg occasionally. “Who knew... a little cough... could zap a pony’s strength... so readily,” the ailing pony wheezed, inching her way into her bedroom. She crawled up on the bed and lay still, catching her breath. Winona hopped up onto the bed and lay next to the sick pony. After a few moments, Granny’s breathing steadied, and she sat back up to the table to resume her work. She couldn’t find the energy to concentrate on her number crunching task, instead just staring blankly at the parchment. The old mare lay there silently, thinking. She didn’t want to squander the afternoon away by resting, but she couldn’t focus either. Hmm... There is another thing Ah’ve been wantin’ ta do fer a bit now, she mused. Yeah, this oughta get mah noggin in gear. She grabbed a blank sheet of parchment and a pencil, pondered a moment, then started writing. Ah’d like ta know just how things are goin’ down there anyway....

* * *

The market was packed. The Monday afternoon rush had arrived in full force, with ponies standing in long lines that weaved throughout the streets. The noise levels had swelled to a point where one had to almost yell in order to be heard. This last detail was beginning to strain against Apple Bloom’s vocal cords.

“Thanks fer stoppin’ by!” she called out to her latest pair of customers, clearing her throat shortly thereafter. A second later she had to jump right back in, greeting the next pony to approach her stand. She’d been serving ponies nonstop for the last 30 minutes, and by this point had again lost herself in the rhythm of serving a customer, saying goodbye, and moving on to the next. “Howdy!” she greeted the next pony. “What can Ah do fer ya’, mister?” the yellow pony quickly learned that there wasn’t time to learn ponies’ names when there were long lines to tend to.

The customer, a brown pegasus, tapped a hoof on his chin. “Hmm... I was looking for some carrots, actually,” he responded. “Heard you had something to offer other than apples.”

“Sure do!” Apple Bloom quickly gestured to the untouched stock of carrots on the cart. “Picked ‘em mahself only yesterday. Freshest carrots yer gonna find!”

The stallion gave one of the carrots a cautious poke with a hoof and sniffed it a few times. Satisfied, he dropped a few coins onto the cart and said, “I’ll take whatever these’ll buy me.”

As Apple Bloom tallied up the money, the pegasus began counting carrots. It turned out he had enough for a baker’s dozen. The stallion was pleasantly surprised how far a few bits went as he filled a saddlebag with the purchased vegetables. He said goodbye and trotted off, leaving Apple Bloom with a proud look on her face. About time Ah made a non-apple sale, she thought as she scooped the bits into a nearby chest. Now if only Ah could get some of this corn sold. Her thoughts were interrupted by the next customer in line, and fell back into the rhythm.

The market’s rapid pace kept Apple Bloom’s mind and body occupied. Apples continued to disappear from the stand while the vegetables lay dormant. The busy young mare lost track of time as the day progressed. It wasn’t until much later that the crowd began dissipating that Apple Bloom noticed fillies and colts milling about. Wow, school’s over already? she surmised. Wish the school day went that quick when Ah was there. Wonder if Scootaloo an’ Sweetie Belle’ll show up again. The thought made her smile, Maybe Ah can sell ‘em or some of these other fillies an afternoon snack!

Ah’d better be quick, though, she reminded herself, market’s only open fer another hour. Ah could stay fer the stragglers, but Ah got enough work waitin’ fer me back home. Determined to sell every last piece of food resting on her cart, Apple Bloom stood up straight and flashed a welcoming grin at the next pony to come her way. The farmpony recognized the young filly as one of her newest classmates, one who’d just started school. “Well howdy there, Honeydew. Hankerin’ fer somethin’ tasty?”

The lime green filly looked up shyly at the older mare. “Oh, hey Apple Bloom. I was wondering why you weren’t at school,” she spoke softly. “I didn’t know you could get excused for running your family’s stand.”

The yellow pony’s smile widened. “Oh, it’s not that simple,” she giggled. “Just coverin’ the bases until Big Macintosh and Applejack get back from helpin’ out our folks down south is all. No time fer schoolin’ right now.” The farmpony yanked the carrot basket into Honeydew’s line of sight. “Would’ja like a carrot? They’re freshly-picked an’ hoof-lickin’ good!”

“Oh, yes please.” the orange-maned filly squeaked. “I’ve got...” she rustled in her schoolbag for a moment and reared up to put some coins on the stand, “...this much!”

Apple Bloom frowned at the money, only a few cents in total. “Sorry, but that’s not quite... er...” she began, but the wide-eyed stare on Honeydew’s face stopped her in her tracks. So this is what it’s like ta be on the receivin’ end of that look, the farmpony humbled. “...I mean, that’ll do!” She grabbed a carrot and tossed it down to the young filly, who leaped and caught it gleefully.

“Thanks!” Honeydew beamed before taking off for home, munching on her snack on the way.

On the one hoof, that was one less carrot Apple Bloom had to take home. On the other, she’d practically given it away for free. The young mare sighed inwardly. Jus’ how do the others do this so well? Nine times outta 10 they sell out completely, she looked at her half-laden cart sullenly. She shook her head and put on a determined expression. Ah just gotta push a bit harder, that’s all!

Apple Bloom served the next few ponies while thinking about how she could push carrots and corn over apples. During a lull in customer activity, she put her plan into action. The young mare removed the remaining baskets of apples from the stand so that the vegetables had sole viewership. She arranged the still-tabled baskets to make the food look as appetizing as possible and returned to her spot behind the counter. Perfect! the farmpony grinned, everypony knows we have apples, so Ah don’t need ta have ‘em out on display or nothin’. Now ponies’ll see our veggies an’ be enticed ta buy ‘em!

Apple Bloom’s fantasy continued to play in her head as time ticked by. Her foreleg rested on the counter with her head resting on the accompanying hoof. A random giggle from a pair of ponies snapped her out of her daze. About 45 minutes had elapsed since she had enacted her vegetable initiative, and not one pony had stopped by the cart. Hey, what’s the deal? Apple Bloom puzzled, there are plenty a’ ponies around. Why ain’t nopony stoppin’ by? Just as the thought crossed her mind, an older stallion approached the Apple’s cart. “Excuse me Miss,” he asked, “but you don’t happen to have any apples left for sale, do you?”

“Why a’ course we do!” Apple Bloom exclaimed a bit more loudly than intended, startling the older pony. “We got plenty!” She picked a variety out from the baskets about the ground and showed them to the patron. “What’ll ya have?”

“Oh, I’m not picky. Any one will do,” the stallion offered. Apple Bloom nosed over a Gala apple, depositing the rest back into baskets. “Thanks a lot! I thought I was too late and that you’d already sold out. Have a good day, Miss!”

“Thanks! And nope, got plenty more where that came from!” Apple Bloom called out as the stallion left with his fresh produce. Her relieved look quickly dropped into one of surprise. Wait, he thought we were out? The yellow pony smacked a hoof on her forehead. Ugh! No wonder nopony’s been linin’ up! She hastily threw the baskets of apples up haphazardly and shouted out to the square. “Don’t y’all worry everypony! We got plenty a’ apples, as well as some delicious carrots an’ corn! Get ‘em while they’re fresh!” She turned several heads, but drew no new customers. Miffed at the lack of a turnout, Apple Bloom hauled the basket of carrots onto her back, wobbling a bit to keep her balance. She trotted up to the first pony she saw and stepped in front of her path, forcing her to come to a halt. “Afternoon! Would ya’ like a carrot? Only 50 cents!” She smiled up at the peach pegasus.

“Oh!” The pony started, wings flaring in surprise. “Well, I suppose I could--”

“Or how ‘bout two?” Apple Bloom interrupted, “Or better yet four! Four carrots fer 2 bits!”

“Erm...” The pegasus started again.

“Okay, fine, a bit 50 fer four, an’ that’s mah final offer!” The young mare’s eyes quivered in anticipation.

The panicked pegasus took a step back. “Er, sorry, but I have to go!” Without another word, she took off into the sky away from the earth pony, glancing back over her shoulder occasionally as she flew away.

Apple Bloom glared at the retreating pegasus. The nerve of some ponies, she glowered. She marched around, looking for another pony until she saw one standing in front of her stand with a puzzled expression. She dashed for the cart as the unicorn turned to walk away. “Wait, don’t go!” she yelled, “Ah’m here, Ah’m here!” The rushed pony skidded to a halt behind the cart, sending the carrots atop her back toppling and throwing dirt up into some of the apple baskets on the ground

“Well hey there, Miss,” the red mare replied, smiling. “Glad you caught me, I was just about to move on!”

Phew, Apple Bloom thought. “Ah’m glad too!” She grinned, panting from her impromptu sprint. “So what would ya’ like?”

“Two apples, please!” The older mare answered.

“Well,” the farmpony began, “Ah could get ya some apples, but wouldn’t ya rather have some carrots or corn instead? They’re fresh!”

The unicorn glanced over Apple Bloom to the carrots lying askew across the ground and the dirt-covered apples. “Fresh, eh?” she asked doubtfully. “...On second thought, I’ll look elsewhere. Thanks, though!” Keeping the smile on her face, she walked away without another word.

“But ma’am! Ma’am!” Apple Bloom tried to reconcile, but the unicorn wasn’t turning back. She gave an exasperated sigh, letting her head fall onto the counter with a loud thump. That plan was a dud, she thought, rubbing her forehead gingerly. Just gotta try a bit harder....

Apple Bloom stubbornly marched onward with her marketing scheme, determined to get the rest of her goods sold by the time market ended. She again tried approaching ponies with a fervor and upselling the vegetables in lieu of guaranteed apple sales. The tactics failed as spectacularly as they had before, yielding nothing but frustration for the young mare. After attempting to catch up on the sales, monotonous chimes rang throughout ponyville four times.

Market was officially over, and Apple Bloom was still left with half a cart of goods.

It wasn’t uncommon for the Apple cart to return with some cargo leftover, and the occasional slow day was to be expected. Apple Bloom couldn’t help but feel that she was at fault for having to leave the market place with so much food in tow. The young farmpony gawked at all the remaining crops. ...That’s it? That’s all I managed to sell in an entire day? she thought. She rolled her eyes and sighed. Well, Ah can’t much hang around here with all the work waitin’ fer me at home. The depressed pony reached a hoof up to scratch the back of her head, suddenly being reminded that her bow no longer rested there. She looked back at her tail, the bow hanging lazily near the ground. If it hadn’t been me runnin’ things Ah’m sure we woulda’ sold out....

Apple Bloom slowly took down the stand and set it up for travel, squeezing herself back into the harness once it was ready. With her head hanging low, she gloomily trudged back to the farm.

* * *

“An’ then she just flew away!” Apple Bloom complained between slurps of vegetable soup. “Ah tried ta stop her but she musta’ flown outta earshot or somethin’.”

Granny Smith sat opposite Apple Bloom and sipped a bit of her own soup as she listened. She nodded as the troubled mare rambled on about her day, encouraging her to continue.

“Ah tried pushin’ our goods, Granny, Ah really did! But despite everything Ah still came home practically empty-hooved.” Apple Bloom looked down at her dinner, disappointment apparent in her features. “I failed...” she muttered into the bowl.

“Oh Apple Bloom, it ain’t the end o’ the world,” Granny spoke for the first time since the yellow pony started her story. “It ain’t like we depend on sellin’ out every day of the year. Shoot, sometimes we don’t sell nuthin’!” The sick mare interrupted her lecture with a loud cough, covering her mouth with a napkin. Apple Bloom shot her a worried look, but Granny calmed her down. “Ah’m fine, just gotta remember not ta raise my voice so,” the old mare reassured.

“I told you Ah’d bring ya’ soup in bed, Granny. Ya didn’t have ta get up,” Apple Bloom reminded.

“Suppers happen at the supper table, young filly,” Granny said matter-of-factly. “And Ah’ve been in bed practically all day. Ah can make it from there ta here an’ back easy enough.” The duo sat in silence for a moment, getting through more of their dinner. The broke the silence with a sigh. “Darlin’, Ah’m’a share a secret with ya’.” She leaned forward. “Ya’ ain’t perfect.”

Apple Bloom blinked at the statement, unsure of what to say.

“Ya gotta stop beatin’ yerself up over every little thing that doesn’t go yer way,” Granny chided. “You’re takin’ on an awful lot a’ responsibility in a real short time. We ain’t expectin’ perfection or nuthin’ like that.” She sipped some water to relieve her sore throat. “Ya’ keep diggin’ yerself into a hole a’ misery every time you mess up, an’ it’s not doin’ you any favors.”

Apple Bloom still bore a worried look. “But... If Ah don’t sell nuthin’ at market then--”

“Then you don’t sell nuthin’, and that’s that,” Granny interrupted gently. “We’ve made it through far worse things than this, youngin’.” She smirked. “‘Sides, tomorrow both yer head an’ hair’ll be on straight.”

The young farmpony giggled. “But still, Ah was thinkin’ if you could give me some tips on the sellin’ game, Ah’d at least stand a chance of bringin’ in a bit more,” Apple Bloom requested, a hint of embarrassment in her voice. “Guess Ah shoulda asked sooner, but Ah thought Ah knew what Ah was doin’!”

Granny chuckled, “And Ah thought you knew better than that by now, dear.” She took a final bite of her meal and polished off the glass of water. “Finish yer supper an’ yer chores, then Ah’ll teach ya’ some a’ my tricks of the trade.”

“Yes’m!” Apple Bloom said quickly, appetite returning in full force. She gobbled up the rest of her vegetable soup, and then cleared the table of dishes, carrying them to the sink.

Granny got up and gave Apple Bloom a once-over. Now when did she change her mane and tie her bow up like that? Looks like she’s takin’ after Applejack. She smiled at that thought, slowly walking back to her bedroom while the younger mare started washing. Now ta finish up that letter....

* * *

Tuesday started off much like yesterday had, with Apple Bloom’s peaceful sleep coming to a crashing halt with the sound of her alarm clock. The irritated mare decided to look for the sonorous device instead of blindly trying to disable it. Peeking her eyes open slightly, she pounded the lever to silence the alarm. Apple Bloom groaned as she reluctantly pulled herself out of bed. She could barely see anything, stumbling awkwardly out her bedroom and into the bathroom to once again wake herself up with a quick shower.

After her rude awakening, Apple Bloom stepped back into her bedroom, still shivering from the water. Not wanting to experience another bad hair day, she brushed her mane instead of letting it go unattended. She was about to thread her pink bow through her mane when she recalled what Rarity had done the day before. Ah suppose Ah can stick with this new look fer a few more days, she reasoned. The earth pony wasn’t used to strapping the bow to her tail, but from its position compared to that of her mane, she could tie the bow on instead of having to thread it up. Swishing her bow-adorned tail to make sure the knot was secure, she re-brushed her mane to match yesterday’s new look. Guess Rarity’s in fashion fer a reason, Apple Bloom admired as she looked herself in the mirror. Satisfied, she trotted downstairs to take care of Granny and get her morning chores done.

The morning flowed smoothly. Granny didn’t object to Apple Bloom’s care this time around, accepting breakfast in bed and continuing her work on the farm’s records. Apple Bloom ran through the morning work outside. After finishing her chores and restocking the market cart, she led Winona inside to Granny’s room again, saying goodbye to the old mare and the family pet as she left.

With the sun beaming down on her back, Apple Bloom set off once again for Ponyville, towing the cart behind her. She began running through some of the tips that Granny had given her as she marched onward. Now remember what Granny told ya’, she reminded herself, greet customers with questions that make ‘em think instead of just yes er no. That’ll make it easier ta talk about things ta sell. Also always take a guaranteed sale when it presents itself. Don’t push other things their way unless they ask. An’ never--

The cart suddenly buckled under its own weight and slammed down to one side. The sudden collapse yanked the harness, lurching Apple Bloom to the ground flat on her stomach, her breath escaping with an “oomph!” Her rear legs kicked out against the cart, causing one to reciprocate with a spark of pain. “Ow!” she winced, looking back at her rear hooves. The wound near the cracked hoof had reopened on impact, scar tissue tearing away from the skin. A small stream of blood began to trickle out. “Consarnit!” she cursed at the sight. Apple Bloom struggled out of the harness and hobbled over to the sunken side of the cart to investigate, favoring her uninjured rear hoof.

The front right wheel had found its way into a pothole in the road, sinking several inches downward and making the cart sit lopsided. Ugh, Ah usually remember ta avoid that dumb hole, the young mare berated. Some of the crops had tumbled out the side, laying strewn about the road. That didn’t matter to Apple Bloom, though: To the farmpony’s dismay, the sunken wheel had nearly snapped in two; it was only hanging by a thread. Splinters of wood jutted out every which way. “Oh fer pony’s sake!” she yelled in pure frustration. “Now Ah gotta fix this ‘fore Ah can get movin’ again,” she moaned, starting the journey back to the farm to fetch the tools she needed for the repairs. “Oh, Ah’m gonna be so late.”

The worried pony half-limped all the way back to fetch the tools and supplies she needed to fix the broken wheel. She returned minutes later carrying a large toolbox in her mouth and balancing a fresh wheel on her back. Huffing, she plopped the tools on the ground with a thud and let the wheel slide off. The sweaty pony retrieved a few wooden blocks out of the toolbox and stacked them beside the cart. Her plan was simple: Lift the cart up and prop it up with the blocks so that she could replace the broken wheel.

Bracing her back against the sunken end of the cart, Apple Bloom heaved, gritting her teeth. She pushed and shoved until the cart rose a couple inches, but gave out before making any more progress, the cart slumping back over. She tried again to no avail, grunting in pain as her cracked hoof stung from the weight. “Looks like Ah gotta... lighten the load,” Apple Bloom breathed heavily. She quickly unloaded all of the crops and other burdens from the cart and set them aside, growing more anxious about the time. She threw herself against the cart again, pressing upwards against the side.

With the cart weighing considerably less, she was able to lift the cart sufficiently high. The wheel popped out of the pothole, hovering an inch or two off the ground. With her back under the weight of the cart, Apple Bloom reached for the wooden blocks with her forehooves. She gritted her teeth and grunted in pain as the agony in her wounded hoof skyrocketed from sharing all the weight with only one other leg. Her face contorted in pain as she shoved the blocks under the cart and gratefully stepped out, holding her injured hoof aloft. The blocks did their job, holding the cart off the ground so the broken wheel could be replaced. “Owie...” Apple Bloom grimaced, biting her lower lip as pain pulsated up her leg. Oh, it hurts!, she agonized. ...Focus, Apple Bloom. Jus’... jus’ focus an’ git the job done, she coached herself as she picked up the spare wheel. The determined farmpony furrowed her brow and snorted, hopping over to the broken wheel with the replacement rolling alongside her.

Minutes ticked by as Apple Bloom worked, not missing a beat in the repair process: Pin out, old wheel out, new wheel in, pin back in. She gave the six-spoked object a test spin on the axle, and it performed admirably. Satisfied, the yellow pony once again took position under the cart, ducking under with her head to put the weight down on her forehooves instead. With her good rear leg, she kicked the wooden blocks out and gently set the cart down, inching it forward slightly so that the new wheel wouldn’t sink into the pothole. She backed out from under the cart once it rested on the ground again. Not wasting any time, Apple Bloom rushed about the path, scooping up falling crops and depositing them in their respective baskets. She wasted no time getting the baskets back onto the cart, and was just putting the toolbox up to sit alongside the crops when she heard the town clock off in the distance. Market’s startin’! she panicked, three-leg-hopping up to the harness and quickly squeezing herself in. She started to tug away but stopped herself from taking off at a dead sprint.

“Now jus’ hold on, Apple Bloom,” she reminded herself, “there ain’t no reason ta rush. The crops’ll just spill an’ there’s hardly anypony at market this early anyway.” She started again, pulling the cart at a normal pace. She gingerly hopped off her injured hoof every time it touched the ground. Panting from the unexpected repair job and cracked hoof still trickling out a little blood, the young farmpony made her way into Ponyville for her second day of market.

Apple Bloom cut a swath through the street crowded with ponies as she made her way through town. She didn’t stop to wave at anypony she came across, instead flashing a quick smile as she hustled to the market place. At last, she pulled into the usual spot, and wasted no time in prepping the cart for the coming day’s work. Her panic evaporated as she was getting set up, as there were hardly any ponies in market yet. As she stepped behind her now-prepared stand, she breathed a sigh of relief. Guess Ah was worryin’ fer nothin’, she mused. Don’t think Ah missed a single customer! She grinned at the thought, but winced when a twinge of pain reminded her of another cosmetic issue ahoof. She glanced down and grimaced at the sight.

That don’t look too good, Apple Bloom cringed, her injury traced with dried blood. Better take care a’ that. Don’t want nopony givin’ me funny looks again. The young mare grabbed an empty bucket from her cart and limped over to the water fountain. She returned with it full of water and set it down beside her by the stand, sticking her hoof in shaking it around to wash the stains away. Her hoof cleansed, Apple Bloom shook off the excess water with a few kicks and turned her attention back to the market place, still holding her hindleg aloft.

The first hours of the day crawled by for the bored farmpony. There just didn’t seem to be many ponies interested in shopping that morning, window or otherwise. She’d gotten sales from a few regulars, but nopony else stepped up. When a pony happened across her field of vision, she would put on a welcoming smile and hoped that this would be the one to break her streak of boredom. After passing by without giving notice, Apple Bloom would slump back onto the counter, her chin resting lightly on its wooden surface. Ah almost wish Ah was in school right now. At least then there’d be a chance of somethin’ interesting happenin’, she thought. Realizing what had just transpired in her mind, she made a face and shook her head. She was bored, not desperate.

A series of metal clangs brought the yellow pony out of her stupor, her ears involuntarily flattening against her head. Apple Bloom and several other ponies turned to the source to see a pink mare sitting in the road, looking frantically about a scattered set of saucepans that had spilt off a slanted table. Recognizing the earth pony, Apple Bloom quickly trotted over to see if she could lend a hoof, limping along quickly. “Hi Daisy!” she said. “Need some help?”

Daisy, preoccupied with what was clearly a disaster, didn’t notice the farmpony approaching and jumped when she heard her name called. “Yah!” she startled. “Oh, hi Apple Bloom! Yes, I could definitely use some help!” She gestured at the broken table, whose turquoise cloth had since slid off much like the saucepans prior. “One of the table legs snapped! Customers are gonna see this disaster! Oh, what am I going to do about this?” the pink earth pony shook in panic.

Apple Bloom put up a hoof to Daisy’s mouth to quiet her. “Now no need ta fret, Miss Daisy. It can’t be all that bad,” she reassured. She went up to the broken table and examined the broken leg thoroughly. “This won’t take long at all ta fix up. Lucky fer you Ah jus’ so happen ta have exactly what Ah need!” She hurried back to her cart where the toolbox still rested, tucked away behind some baskets. She found a stallion milling about her cart, idly browsing the fruit and vegetables for sale. “Howdy, sir!” She greeted. “Be with ya’ in a moment. Gotta help Miss Daisy out with a bit of emergency repairin’. Be back in a few!”

Before the other pony could get a word in, Apple Bloom dashed back to Daisy with her toolbox in tow. Daisy’s panic had subsided somewhat as she busied herself with picking up saucepans off the road, stacking them by the table. Apple Bloom set the toolbox down next to the stack and got to work. “Just gotta straighten the leg back out an’ put in some extra bracin’ ta keep it from tumblin’ over again!” She informed. “It looks like ya’ stacked a little bit too much weight on it. Ah didn’t realize yer pans were so heavy.”

“...It wasn’t the pans,” the green-maned pony admitted. “I just saw the ugliest spider on the ground and leapt onto the table to get away from the horrid thing!” She shuddered again as she recalled the event. “Oh, it was dreadful!”

Apple Bloom stopped what she was doing and blinked at Daisy. “...Oh. Well, try ta jus’... run away next time? Don’t think this table’s designed ta hold ponies!” She smiled up at Daisy, who returned the smile abashedly, before getting back to work. A few minutes later Apple Bloom packed up her tools and proclaimed, “All done! Should be good ta go now Miss D!”

Daisy inspected the repaired table leg. “Remarkable work, Apple Bloom!” she exclaimed.

“Tain’t nothin’, ma’am!” the farmpony happily replied as she picked up her toolbox and started back to her cart.

“Oh, just one moment!” Daisy called out, catching up to the young mare. “Here, this is for you!” She tossed a small coin purse at Apple Bloom’s feet. “If you hadn’t been here I don’t know what I would’ve done!”

The younger mare looked down at the coin purse at her hooves. “Miss Daisy, Ah can’t accept this!” she said. “Ah did it fer you, not fer money.”

“Oh, don’t go worrying yourself over such little things!” Daisy chided lightly, “you’ve earned it! Now go help the nice young stallion at your cart. It looks like he’s been waiting for a while now.”

“Well, in that case, thank ya’ kindly!” Apple Bloom shouted before starting back to her cart, only to halt again when Daisy called out for her once more.

“Why are you limping like that?” Daisy got a closer look at the farmpony’s cracked hoof. “Oh my goodness, Apple Bloom! What happened?”

Apple Bloom glanced at her hind leg. A small pinprick of blood had begun to seep out again. The recent crack still bisected the hoof from top to bottom, although it looked a lot worse than it hurt at this point. “Oh, nothin’, just somethin’ that happens when ya’ buck apples all the time, ya’ know,” she offered, smiling. “Well, don’t wanna keep mah customer waitin’! Thanks again!”

Daisy seemed to accept the explanation, but shouted, “Well make sure you take good care of it! Don’t want to see it get worse!”

“Ah will, Miss Daisy!” Apple Bloom answered. An’ Ah gotta not smack it again ta do that, she thought. The farmpony got back to her cart, plopped the toolbox and purse on the ground, then flashed a smile up at the stallion who’d been waiting. “Terribly sorry about yer wait, sir. What can Ah do ya’ for?”

* * *

As morning gave way to afternoon, the crowd steadily grew. Hoofbeats were drowned out by vendors clamoring for ponies to browse their goods in lieu of visiting a competing merchant. Advertisements and pitches were slung around the street, while salesponies issuing friendly but competitive glances at one-another as consumers went about their shopping. Not wanting to make her throat sore from shouting, Apple Bloom opted to venture beyond her stand once again. Greeting ponies and trotting along with them, leading the potential customers back to her stand. One of the tips Granny had given Apple Bloom was to give the customers the widest selection available, and the best way to do that was to get them in front of her stand. The farmpony’s foray beyond her stand had netted her a few extra customers. Additionally, her supply of vegetables had started to find their way into other ponies’ hooves: Once she had brought them to the stand, Apple Bloom stood a better chance to establish a rapport with the pony, which made talking them into buying more than apples considerably easier.

Apple Bloom was not the only pony trying to sell her goods out from beyond her stand. Other vendors were also milling about the crowd, attempting to entice ponies to buy their goods. Lines seldom formed as most stands were unstaffed, save for the moment when a salespony returned with a potential consumer. Of course, there was little to distinguish a market pony from a patron. On more than one occasion one vendor would try to invite another to his stand only to realize who he was talking to. With a shared chuckle the two would part ways, each intent on finding a new pony. Apple Bloom had just finished another transaction and was walking out onto the road with her most recent customer, a brown unicorn adorned with a trio of potatoes on her flanks.

“Thank ya kindly, Tater Tot!” Apple Bloom said, “Ah’m sure that corn’ll go great with yer famous mashed taters.” She waved as the mare trotted off, who smiled back at Apple Bloom in gratitude. Once she was gone, Apple Bloom was once again on the prowl. She stalked along until she found a pony on his own, who was idly looking about the crowd. “Howdy! Nice day we’re havin’ ain’t it?” She shouted in greeting. “Feelin’ hungry, mister? Ah got some plump, delicious apples just waitin ta’... Oh.” She stopped her sales pitch when she realized who it was. The cream-colored stallion’s flank was decorated with two sets of green grapes.

Sir Colton Vines III turned to Apple Bloom when he heard her beckon. “Oh hi, Apple Bloom,” he greeted, a smirk on his face. “I think I’m well taken care of in the food department, thank you.”

“Heheh, didn’t realize it was you,” the young mare conceded, blushing slightly.

“No worries. I’ve bumped into three other salesponies today myself,” he admitted. “So how’re things down on the farm? I hear you’re on your own for a while.”

Apple Bloom sighed inwardly. Just about everypony in Ponyville seemed to know about her current plight, and she was starting to feel like a broken record answering the same question repeatedly. “Jus’ dandy, Sir,” she replied coolly, still grinning, “and Ah’m still gettin’ used ta all this,” she gestured about the market place. “Personally Ah’d stick ta apple buckin’, but this ain’t so bad.”

The two carried on idle chatter for a moment, both still looking about for a pony to sell something to. After a moment their eyes happened upon a pegasus who’d just fluttered down from the sky. Apple Bloom was quicker on the uptake. She quickly zoomed ahead of Colton and greeting the lavender gray mare, recognizing as a weatherpony who’d spoken in one of her classes at one point. “Well hi there, Miss Cloud Kicker! Fine day today. Ah see ya’ got all that white outta the sky!”

“Hey there, kiddo,” Cloud Kicker replied. “Wasn’t much to it actually, what with the cloud machines being down for repairs and all. We just had to clear out a few wisps and such. Got something for me to chow down on?”

Apple Bloom beamed. She wouldn’t have to work hard at all to sell something to the hungry pegasus. “Well Ah got some mighty fine apples jus’ over here in--”

“Apples are good,” Colton interjected, moseying his way up to the pair, “but grapes are better. They’re far softer on the teeth, cheaper and sweeter than apples, and lighter by the pound!”

“Wait a minute,” Apple Bloom began, “that last bit don’t make no sen--”

“So what do you say, Miss?” Colton added with a hint of a swagger from his eyebrows, “Can I tempt you into purchasing some luscious gooseberries?”

Cloud Kicker looked from Colton to Apple Bloom, indecisive. After a moment’s hesitation she stated, “Well, the grapes sound good enough for me, I guess,” she responded. “Lead the way, mister.”

The two older ponies headed for Colton’s stand, leaving a flustered farmpony fuming in their wake. “That fibbin’ grape peddlin’ phony hasn’t won yet. Two can play at this game!” she growled, stomping after the duo. Apple Bloom knew that telling lies never panned out in the long run, even if it didn’t seem that way at first. Her sister was especially firm on this point, leading by example whenever she could. The younger farmpony admired Applejack for sticking to the truth and turning the other cheek when faced with the chance to lie, even if it would mean righting a wrong.

However, Apple Bloom wasn’t her sister.

She approached Cloud Kicker, who was in the midst of shuffling through a saddle back to fetch a few bits, and tapped her on the shoulder. “Ya know those grapes have been fermentin’ in the sun fer weeks now, right?”

“Say what?” The pegasus balked, turning to Colton. “You said these were fresh!”

“They are!” the stallion defended. “Besides, even if they weren’t at least they don’t have worms living in them.” He leered at the farmpony.

“That ain’t true! You take that back!”

“You know what, I’ll just go to that field over there and munch on some grass...” Cloud Kicker muttered. “Uh, catch you both later!” She took off, heading back into the sky and forgetting about her meal entirely. Crazy salesponies.

“Now look what you did, Apple Bloom,” the cream colored pony scolded, “she didn’t buy anything!”

“What Ah did?” Apple Bloom retorted angrily. “She would have bought somethin’ if ya’ didn’t swipe her from me. She was about ta buy somethin’ from me too!”

“She made her own choice. I just gave her some options, young filly.”

The farmpony’s eye twitched. “Ah could outsell yer goods any day of the week, Sir Grapes-a-plenty.”

“Oh, is that a fact?” The stallion mocked. “Didn’t appear to be the case yesterday.”

Apple Bloom’s blushed. “Least Ah don’t gotta lie ta get ponies over ta mah stand.”

Colton scowled, but his anger started to drain away, “I wasn’t lying, technically...” he looked down at the ground, “...although I probably got a little carried away--”

The stallion’s admittance of guilt fell on deaf ears. “And ya’ got no right insultin’ our apples. They’re so good Ah’d bet they’d outsell yer crummy grapes in a day.”

Colton looked up at Apple Bloom, a glint of challenge twinkling in his eyes. “I’ll take that bet,” he answered.

She quirked an eyebrow. “Whaddaya mean?”

“Tomorrow we’ll see who brings in more bits and see who actually ends up selling more than the other,” he explained. “What do you say to that?”

“Ah say that if Ah win you’ll have ta do some work on the farm fer a day! An honest day’s work, fer a change,” Apple Bloom spouted. “If Ah lose then Ah’ll work in yer fields.” She held up her chin in defiance.

The grape harvester considered the stakes a moment, and then nodded. “Miss Apple Bloom, you’ve got yourself a wager,” Colton agreed, sticking out a forehoof expectantly.

“Yer on.” She hocked a load of spit into her hoof and held it out to the stallion. “Tomorrow we’ll see who the better salespony is.” Colton grimaced at the sight of the saliva-drenched hoof. “If ya don’t bump there’s no deal,” Apple Bloom warned.

Colton hesitantly bumped Apple Bloom’s hoof, quickly jerking back and wiping his own on the ground. “May the best salespony win,” he offered.

“See you tomorrow, Sir,” the fuming farmpony shot back mockingly, stomping away and leaving a bemused Colton behind. She plucked a Gala apple out of a basket from her cart as she settled back behind her stand and bit into it harshly. By the time she finished the apple, reason had caught up with her: If Apple Bloom lost tomorrow she’d lose a whole day of farming, which would set her back a considerable amount. And what if she had fill in for Granny at market again? Apple Bloom and Granny Smith had figured that the elder farmpony would be in good-enough health by that day, but they were only guessing. The young mare slumped onto the counter and sighed.

What have Ah just gotten msyelf into?

* * *

Apple Bloom wearily padded up to her bedroom, thankful that it was finally time for some rest. She was greeted by the cool night air as it breathed through the open bedroom window. Untying her bow and setting it on her dresser, the tired mare let out a loud yawn. She gratefully crawled into bed and sank into the mattress, the warmth of the blanket contrasting with the chilly room’s temperature. It felt quite soothing to the pony’s aches and pains. The only sounds came from the occasional breeze from the window and the soft ticking of the alarm clock. Apple Bloom felt sore and tired, and figured she’d have no troubles at all going right to sleep.

An hour later Apple Bloom continued to toss and turn, unable to get comfortable. Her mind raced along at a mile a minute, her thoughts churning over her wager with Colton. Her confidence in outselling the more experienced salespony had waned significantly as the day had worn on. Now, alone with her musings, it had all but dissipated. Nuts, what am Ah gonna do? she fretted, flipping over to her other side for the dozenth time. Ah’m gonna lose, Ah just know it! First Ah’ll have ta explain ta Granny about how I ain’t gonna be around fer a whole day. Then Ah’ll exhaust myself doin’ chores Ah’m not used to, an’ work’ll fall behind here on the farm, an’... Apple Bloom’s thoughts continued in this vein for a while, hyperbolizing all the negative outcomes of the next day’s competition.

Apple Bloom continued squirming around in her bed, blindly readjusting the blanket and pillow as her thoughts chugged away endlessly. Finally, mentally exhausted by repeatedly venting her frustrations, Apple Bloom calmed down. She kicked one of her legs to untangle it from her tail and turned to rest on her back and stare up at the ceiling. Well, there’s no use cryin’ over tumbled bushels, she concluded wearily. Just gotta try my hardest an’ accept what comes my way. That’s what Granny kept sayin’ after all... Just gotta keep on buckin’.... Her thoughts slowed and her eyes drifted shut as she was finally able to fall into a peaceful sleep, the alarm clock still diligently ticking away.

* * *

The brakes creaked as Apple Bloom locked them into position, going through the motions to prepare for market for the third day in a row. She moved mechanically, worries and concerns on the forefront of her mind. The farmpony paid no attention to any of the other ponies passing by, keeping her eyes down to the ground. She wasn’t even sure if Colton had arrived yet, and at that moment she didn’t care: Her goal for now was to get everything ready so she could then focus on what she needed to do to win.

Apple Bloom finished her preparations and glanced at the town clock. “Ten minutes left,” she gulped, “then this rodeo’ll be in full swing.” She nervously danced in place behind her stand, fidgeting with what she had on display. She moved some apples from one end of the counter to the other. A minute later she moved them back. After four round trips she stopped herself. Now calm down, Apple Bloom, she reassured, jus’ focus an’ do your best. That’s all anypony’ll ask of ya’. Her gaze jumped around frantically to other market ponies. They all had normal, simple days ahead of them. For Apple Bloom, though, there was much more at stake. She looked around the market place to see if she could catch sight of--

“Morning, Miss Apple Bloom!” Colton greeted the yellow pony as he ambled on over to her stand. “Ready for an exciting contest? Sure beats another run-of-the-mill day at the market place, don’t you think?” He chuckled, poking an Orenco apple idly. “Wow, what a bright red sheen this little guy has....”

“You touch it, you buy it,” Apple Bloom said as a way of greeting, shooing the stallion’s hoof away. “An’ ‘excitin’ is hardly the word Ah’d choose. ‘Day off’ sounds more right ta me,” she pridefully stood up tall, doing her best to hide her anxiety.

The blue-maned pony retracted his hoof and chortled. “That’s two words, you know.”

“Ah know it’s two words! It was a joke! You sayin’ Ah can’t count?” Apple Bloom raged, breathing deeply and scowling at her rival.

“Whoa, easy there!” Colton exclaimed, taking a step back. “That was a joke too! I didn’t mean anything by it,” he offered the seething mare a meek smile. “Listen, I didn’t mean to part on such hostile terms yesterday. I admit I got a little hotheaded and said some things I shouldn’t’ve. I just want to make sure that there aren’t any sour grapes between us, if you’ll pardon the pun” He held up a hoof for Apple Bloom.

The farmpony sighed heavily, rolling her eyes at the pony’s remark. “...Yeah, pretty sure Ah went a little overboard too,” she finally murmured, taking the stallion’s hoof in her own and shaking. “It wasn’t just you, though. Ah’ve been stressin’ out over this whole market thing, what with all the work Ah have pilin’ up at home and all.” Apple Bloom shrugged. “And Ah’m glad ta say that this is mah last day here fer a while. Granny’ll be ready ta run the stand again come tomorrow,” the farmpony smiled to herself.

“Hey, that’s great to hear!” Colton enthused. “Let’s just have ourselves a good honest competition, and may the best pony win.”

Apple Bloom grinned in challenge. “Got it, Sir!”

Colton nodded and trotted briskly back to his stand. Just as he returned, the town clock sounded the top of the hour. The mid-week rush promised to hit as hard as it usually did, with a steady stream of shoppers pouring in. The two competing market ponies didn’t have to pilfer from each other that morning, as both had sizable lines to contend with. At this point how much each pony bought from them determined who would strike an early lead. Neither pony would know who was winning, however, until they compared bits: Apple Bloom and Colton agreed to take a tally around the lunch hour. Until then, the fog of war blocked out any knowledge the two ponies’ progress from each other.

Apple Bloom started the day off well, making her usual batch of sales and then some. Apples were still her big seller, naturally, but corn and carrots alike were finding their way into ponies’ saddlebags as well. It seemed as if everypony in town was hungry and would buy whatever the farmpony offered, be it the tangy taste of an Idared apple or the crisp texture of a Nantes carrot. Apple Bloom’s customer-endearing smile grew from fixed to genuine as the morning progressed. This is amazin’! she prided herself. Ah’m sure ta be kickin’ Colton’s grape flank already! Dunno what Ah was so worried about. Every now and then she would steal a glance over at Colton, who also appeared to be doing quite well. From what the young mare could tell, his line was just as long as hers; and like herself he was selling grapes left and right (and, for the occasional pegasus, up). At one point he shot a glance her way and gave a friendly wave. Apple Bloom hesitated for only a second, then waved back in kind.

* * *

“Well, er, how about that?” Colton started, sweating nervously. “I guess I’m in the lead then, huh?” The market place had quieted down a bit. With a lull occurring before the inevitable lunch rush, he and Apple Bloom had decided to exchange figures while they had the break.

Apple Bloom was flabbergasted by the current standings. Colton had managed to earn twice as much as her. The grape farmer was proud that he was doing so well, but he didn’t want to boast in front of the distressed young mare before him. “Still got half the day left,” he reminded, offering encouragement.

The young farmpony’s face fell into neutrality, hiding her growing fear of losing. “Of course it is. Ah’m just warmin’ up!” she assured him, shooing him away with a hoof. “Now git on back. The lunch rush is a' comin’!”

The stallion agreed. “Sure. Best of luck!” he called as he retreated back to his stand. When he turned away, Apple Bloom visibly panicked. Okay okay okay, don’t fret now, she worried. He has a tiny lead, that’s all! Lotsa ponies’ll be here before the day’s over. There’s still time. She took a moment to tidy up the stand, replacing empty baskets with full ones and straightening out the banner draped across the front. Electing to work through her normal lunch break, she munched away at a carrot between customers. After finishing that off she started working on an ear of corn, nibbling away at the kernels. She got caught mid-bite as a new customer walked up.

“Hiya!” greeted the unicorn mare. “What’s that you’re working on there? Looks pretty tasty.”

“Oh, this is just mah...” Apple Bloom paused, gulping down her bite as an idea flashed in her mind. “...mah demonstration of just how scrumptious this corn is!” she finished. “Every bit of golden delicious kernels our corn boasts is just burstin’ with flavor,” she snapped a part of her midday meal off and offered it to the purple patron. “Wanna try some?”

“Oh, sure!” the unicorn floated the offered crop over to her mouth and happily took a bite. “Mmm... This is quite good!” she commented. “I was in the mood for apples, but I think I’ll go for some of this instead!”

“Great! How many can Ah get fer you?” Apple Bloom excitedly offered, nudging the corn-filled basket closer to the other mare.

“Oh just a few. I think four ought to do it!” the unicorn replied, picking four ears out of the basket before levitating money Apple Bloom’s way. “Take care!”

“You too, ma’am!” The farmpony waved, happy to have stumbled on a strategy that would possibly give her the edge she was looking for: Free samples. During the course of the lunch rush Apple Bloom had sacrificed over a dozen pieces of food, but turned a tidy profit in the process. The farmpony was kept very busy just like before, stopping only a moment between customers. Also like before, her rhythm was suddenly interrupted by two of her friends.

“Hey Apple Bloom!”

“Howdy!” She greeted, busy slicing up an apple for sampling and focusing on her task. “Y’all can have a sample if you like. Jus’ take a nibble an’-”

Sweetie Belle sighed. “Apple Bloom!” she yelled, having to snap the hardworking pony out of her spiel for the second time in a week. “How’s it going?”

The earth pony looked up from her work and saw Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle standing impatiently. “Oh, sorry girls. Very busy today, can’t stop fer nothin’!”

“But--” Scootaloo started.

“Can’t stop!” she repeated, “Ah made a wager with Sir Colton over there to see who could sell more food in one day a’ market,” she gestured over at the stallion’s stand, plopping apple slices down on the stand. “If Ah lose Ah’m gonna have to work in his fields fer a day, an’ I can’t afford that! ...So what would y’all like?” she added as an afterthought.

The two asked for some carrots, to which Apple Bloom happily hoofed over. The other two mares dropped their coins into the mostly-full chest of bits on Apple Bloom’s stand. Scootaloo whistled, “Wow, Apple Bloom, you’ve sure made a killing today!” she beamed at her friend. “Do you know if you’re winning or not?”

“Well, Ah’m not exactly ahead,” she said as she scooped the coins into the chest. “...Actually, Ah’m pretty far behind. But don’t you worry none, Ah’m sure I’ll...” she sighed, “...catch up. Anyway, thanks fer comin’ by again. See y’all later!” Apple Bloom put her smile back on her face and turned to the next customer in line as her fellow crusaders headed back towards the school, Scootaloo hovering alongside Sweetie Belle as they ate their lunch. The pair glanced over at Colton’s stand and noted that he was having just as much success as Apple Bloom, both lines snaking about the street.

“Was it just me or did Apple Bloom seem a little stressed?” Scootaloo remarked.

“A little?” Sweetie replied. “Try a ton. I don’t know if she’s going to have any luck if she’s so far behind already. I mean, look.” She gestured to the two lines. “I wish there was something we could do to help....”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo agreed, finishing off her lunch. She hopped off her hooves and glided alongside Sweetie Belle, thinking. “We could just give her some more money! That’ll help, right?”

“Maybe, but I don’t think that would be enough,” Sweetie Belle sighed. “Besides, what she need is sales, not just money. It wouldn’t be fair to that other pony if we just gave her some bits to buff up her profits.”

“Then what we’ll get,” Scootaloo landed in front of Sweetie Belle with a determined grin on her face, “is more customers.”

From behind the baskets of crops she was still trying to sell, Apple Bloom watched her two friends continue to chatter about what she presumed was something school-related. She longed to join them, boring classes notwithstanding, but knew she couldn’t just up and abandon her post. She pulled her gaze away from the two mares and returned to serving the long line of ponies standing before her stand. Her rhythm was interrupted when a familiar mare approached her.

“Good afternoon Apple Bloom,” Daisy greeted in a chipper voice.

“Oh, hey Daisy!” She greeted. “What’s up? Table need reparin’ again?”

“Oh no, it’s been quite sturdy!” she answered. “I actually needed to get some food.”

“Well Ah’ll gladly assist with that as well, ma’am,” Apple Bloom giggled. “Lookin’ fer somethin’ sweet, or perhaps some tasty car--”

Daisy dropped three bags of coins onto the counter. “I’ll take one bushel of these yellow apples here,” she said, indicating the full bushel sitting in front of the stand. “What are they called again? Loopy?”

Apple Bloom stared at the bags. “L-L-Lodi, actually,” she stammered. “Wh-what are ya’ gonna do with all them apples, Daisy?”

The pink earth pony giggled. “Oh, they’re not all for me! Rose, Lily, and I are having a bit of a picnic this evening, and these apples are simply great for use in all kinds of delicious recipes!” She gave the bags a nudge across the counter. “Besides, if you weren’t around I wouldn’t have quite so much disposable income!”

“Huh?” was all Apple Bloom could think to say.

“All that ruckus I caused yesterday ended up doing a lot of good!” Daisy explained. “Everypony must've heard my little tumble, because they stopped by in droves! Why by the end of the day I’d completely sold out, and thanks to your quick assistance, I was able to serve them!”

The younger mare blushed furiously at the compliments. “Really, it was nothin’,” she said quietly. She eyed the bags hungrily. “...Are you sure?”

“Now dear, you aren’t going to sell much if you keep questioning a customer’s insistence on making a large purchase,” she grinned, hauling the bushel onto her back with a grunt of effort. “Have a good day now!”

Apple Bloom remained stunned for a moment. “Thanks! Thanks a lot!” she practically shouted, beside herself with excitement. “Yes!” she said quietly, pumping a forehoof in the air. “Ah’m still in this!”

* * *

Time flew by for the young mare as she worked rapidly to catch up to Colton’s monetary lead. Daisy’s large purchase had given her a solid boost, but that alone wasn’t enough. Her thoughts dwelled on the wager as she moved from one pony to the next, hardly pausing for a breath and prompting the line to pick up its pace. Her spirits rose as the day wore on: She nearly forgot about the bet entirely and was full of pride in doing so well. When the large group of ponies trickled down to a sparse few, though, reality settled back into her mind. With no more customers to tend to currently, panic set in. Apple Bloom tried to distract herself by fussing with the stand’s baskets, deliberately averting her eyes from Colton’s stand. Ah’ve been goin’ as fast as ever, Ah’ve had to have caught up to him by now, she reasoned, replacing a nearly-empty bushel of carrots with a fresh one. But what if it wasn’t enough? What if Ah end up losing? She shook her head. Ah can’t give up now, just gotta keep focused. Her determined grin scanned the market place, which had started to become populated with younger fillies and colts. School must’ve let out already. How much time does that mean Ah have left? she wondered, looking about the young ponies. Huh, must’ve been a slow day at school. Sure are a lot millin’ abo-- Without warning, Scootaloo landed right in front of her field of vision, startling the farmpony. “Whoa!” she yelped, stumbling back onto her haunches. “Scootaloo! Ah told you not ta do that!”

The pegasus giggled. “Sorry, but it was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” she said. “How’s market going?”

“Oh, just dandy,” Apple Bloom remarked with a bit of sarcasm, standing back up. “Still quite a ways behind Colton Ah reckon.”

“Don’t worry about that, I’m here to help!” the orange mare assured, dropping a bit between the two. “I’ll take a couple carrots please!” she said, already reaching for a pair.

“Well, your business is always appreciated a’ course,” the farmpony thanked, “but one more bit ain’t exactly gonna turn the tides, ya’ know?”

Scootaloo nodded. “Yeah, I know,” she agreed. “But there’s more where that came from!” With a carrot tucked beneath each wing and a smirk on her face, the pegasus turned to the mingling crowed of young ponies and hollered, “Soup’s on, everypony!”

It was only then that Apple Bloom realized that the market place was crowded not with mares and stallions, but fillies and colts. At Scootaloo’s beckoning, every young pony in the street, from the kindergartners to those Apple Bloom’s age, trotted over and formed a line in front of the Apple family cart. Her eyes drifted across good friends old and new. Honeydew caught her eye and waved gaily in her direction, smiling brightly. The astonished farmpony was stunned as each and every one of her classmates obediently lined up and smiled at her. Scootaloo rounded the cart and stood beside Apple Bloom, who gave the pegasus an awestruck stare. “How...?” was all she could get out.

“Oh, it was easy!” Scootaloo said, standing proudly. “Sweetie Belle and I let the word out that you needed a helping hoof. We may have also gone on about how awesome your grub is.” She munched into a carrot. “I’ll help you out here so you can blast through the line no sweat. We got a test tomorrow anyway, so we can’t dawdle or any-- ack!”

The pegasus chocked on her bite as Apple Bloom squeezed her tightly in an affectionate hug. “Wow, Scoots, thanks!” the farmpony exclaimed.

Scootaloo managed to start breathing again and groaned. When several of her classmates began giggling, her cheeks turned rosy. “Alright, alright, you’re welcome,” she said, pretending to not care too much about the whole ordeal. “It wasn’t all me you know.”

“But you came up with the idea,” Sweetie Belle chimed in, trotting behind the stand and taking position opposite Scootaloo. “All I did was follow your lead. And we couldn’t just go home without helping out, could we?”

Apple Bloom gave the unicorn a similar hug, crushing the white mare with gratitude. More giggles followed, making Scootaloo roll her eyes. “Let’s just get to serving some hungry ponies, shall we?”

“Let’s get to it!” Apple Bloom agreed.

“Hey, maybe our special talent is being salesponies!” Sweetie Belle suggested.

"But you already found your special talent, Sweetie Belle," Scootaloo pointed out.

The unicorn blushed. "Oh... well, you know what I mean!"

Apple Bloom doubted this was where her special talent lay, but simply grinned in response. “Only one way to find out,” she said.

“Cutie Mark Crusaders Market Place Salesponies, YAY!”

* * *

Apple Bloom was shaking in her horseshoes as she tallied up her earnings for the day. Empty baskets surrounded the farmpony. Her third and final day at market had proven to be her greatest success. All of the vegetables had sold out and only a couple dozen apples remained, lining the countertop. A combination of nerves and exhaustion was making the young mare sweat profusely as she counted the bits and cents that comprised the day’s profits. Apple Bloom pondered her fate, trying to look at the bright side of things. Look at it this way, no matter which way the apple falls you’ll be back to doing good ol’ fashioned farmin’ as of tonight, she reasoned. But no matter what the outcome, Ah’ve given mah word. Ah gotta hold up our family honor, even if it means fallin’ behind.

The young farmpony counted her bits as Colton approached the stand with a spring in his step. “So how did your day go, Miss Apple Bloom?” the stallion wondered, eyeing the small inventory. “Looks like you’ve managed a wonderful turnaround. You must really appeal to your age group, what with all those young ponies walking around with your food. You should’ve seen some of the other market ponies’ faces!” Apple Bloom grunted in response, concentrating on her counting. Colton laughed nervously, but waited patiently for the young mare to finish counting before asking, “So what are you at?” he asked. Apple Bloom relayed her total to the stallion. She was certain she’d overtaken the older earth pony in sales. With Daisy’s large order and the support of her entire class behind her, she made a hefty comeback. And with such little supply remaining--

Colton grimaced and solemnly relayed his total.

Apple Bloom had lost by two bits.

She had prepared for this potential outcome, emotionally readying herself for this situation. She held her head up high, chin quivering only a little, and gave Colton a determined look. “Well alright, Sir Colton, you win. Congratulations,” she spoke softly, her voice cracking. “Ah’ll finish up what Ah’ve gotta do tonight and meet’cha at your place tomorrow mornin’. Gotta few things ta do before comin’ over.”

Colton forced out a smile as Apple Bloom turned around to start packing up for the trip home. His ear twitched as the young mare let out a whimper. He looked down at the ground, biting his lip. He was sure that Apple Bloom would pull ahead of him after all of those schoolmates of hers cleaned house. Other ponies ended up ignoring most of the other vendors because of Apple Bloom’s crowd. And the speed! he reminded himself. Those three mares worked seamlessly together. They moved through so many customers so quickly... But it wasn’t enough. His stomach growled, and the apples staring at him suddenly looked a lot more tantalizing than they had a moment ago. Colton grinned.

“So... I see you still have a few of those shining red apples left,” the stallion commented slowly.

Apple Bloom nodded glumly, unable to face Colton as she continued stacking empty baskets up. “Yep....”

“Well, I’m famished after that long day, and they look mighty tasty,” he lavished. “I’ll have one. I know the day’s at an end, but hey, help a starving pony out would ya?”

The young mare looked up for a moment, and then shrugged. “Sure, whatever. Just go ahead an’ take one.”

The stallion dropped some bits noisily on the stand and picked out one of the few remaining Orenco apples. “Oh, and you can keep the change.”

Apple Bloom raised her head and blinked at the three bits glinting in the evening sunlight. “But... but that means....”

Colton winked as he took a large bite out of the Orenco apple.

Apple Bloom did not prepare herself for this eventuality. Her vision blurred as she turned up to the blue-maned pony. “...Guess that means Ah won then, huh?” she smiled, blinking rapidly to clear her vision.

Colton finished the apple and grinned down at Apple Bloom. “See you tomorrow then?”

Looking back with an ever-growing smile, Apple Bloom replied, “At the crack a’ dawn, Sir.”

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