• Published 13th Sep 2018
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Alternate Beginnings: Year Six - Doug Graves

Herd Apple continues to grow, both out and up, as Doug meets a few more colorful characters.

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15 Gilded Within

August 1st, 998

"Hey, Doug," Pinkie Pie says, pronking into the kitchen at the Apple farmhouse, smiling at the aroma of breakfast cooking on the stove. "Can you watch over Lemon and Meringue for me today? I've got a big order to deliver and I need somepony to keep an eye on them."

"Sure thing, Pinkie," Doug says, preparing a small plate of hay, "I assume you're eating breakfast here, too?" At the pony's vigorous nod he whips up the batter for two more stacks of pancakes. The earth pony mare pronks over, looks at the various ingredients he has scattered over the counter, and pulls out a hooffull of gummies, chocolate chips, and acorns. She makes three carefully piled piles on the counter; Doug looks over, "Those for your pancakes?"

"Yep! Well, I was hoping you could split them among each of ours. Lemon and Meringue need lots of energy, just like me!"

"Mhmm; I don't suppose they are going to need all that energy hanging around here? I kind of like the peace and quiet; maybe they'll play outside." Doug nonetheless takes the offered candies, splitting them between the pancakes he is cooking.

"Oh, don't be silly, just look at me! I eat sweets all the time and I'm always super duper fantabulously excited in the morning!" Pinkie Pie holds a hoof to her chin, "But, then sometimes I take an early nap after the breakfast rush, just like Rainbow. But then it's back to work for the lunch rush!"

Doug slides a plate of pancakes over to Pinkie Pie, pieces of candy studding out of the top and sides. She takes a deep breath, relishing the saccharine scent before dumping half a bottle of syrup and messily devouring the entire thing, her face now covered with the sticky substance. Doug smirks, "You've got a little, something," Pinkie Pie stands still as he reaches over, dabbing his finger in the corner of her mouth and coming away with a tiny drop of syrup.

He licks his finger off as Pinkie Pie says, "Did you get it?"

"Nope," comes the quick reply, Doug reaching over and wiping another small section of Pinkie's muzzle clean, or at least slightly less syrupy. Pinkie Pie slowly bounces up and down, Doug saying, "Almost got it, hold on."

"You know, you should just use your tongue, rather than your finger!" Pinkie Pie says, her own tongue teasing out of her mouth and lapping up a bit of the syrup. "Much faster that way!"

"Well, sometimes I like to savor the moment," Doug says as Pinkie Pie stands up, moving her head closer to his. She kisses him as he leans forward, leaving a small amount of syrup on his nose.

"Oh, silly! Now you have a little you need to clean up!" Pinkie Pie reaches up, her tongue straining to lick Doug's nose as her chin touches his, depositing a little syrup as she finds the syrup on his nose. "Oops! There's a little more!" Pinkie Pie smirks.

Lemon says, "Um, is breakfast going to be ready soon?" from the doorway, her younger sister sitting in her diaper next to her.

"Oh, your dam is just helping me clean up a little," Doug says, Pinkie Pie desperately clutching at him as he backs away. He grabs two plates, one heaping with hay and one full of pancakes, turning off the stove and walking to the kitchen.

Pinkie Pie reluctantly drops to four hooves, her tongue stretching out and licking the rest of her face clean. She nuzzles Lemon and Meringue before saying, "Love you two, but mama's gotta head off to work! Thanks again, Dougie!" Pinkie Pie says, her normally exuberant personality a trifle subdued.

Doug reaches down, taking the six month foal from Pinkie Pie. He sighs as the mare pronks out of the room, saying to the youngest Pie, "Now, this isn't going to be like every other time, is it?" The foal smiles up at him as if she has no idea what he's talking about. "We're almost there, right? Just a couple more tries and we'll get you potty trained!" He places their plates at the low table, the two quickly taking their seats and starting their breakfast while he returns to the kitchen for his own plate and to finish the rest of the herd's breakfast.

Doug sniffs as he returns to the dining room, a heavy sigh as the tell-tale stench of a full diaper hits him. He picks up Meringue, the foal protesting the food disappearing as Doug carries her to the bathroom. "I knew it," he says, quickly changing the squirming mess of limbs, "As soon as your dam is gone, boom. There it is." He sets her down, shaking his head as the foal darts back to the kitchen to finish her breakfast. "I think she's managed to change just as many diapers with you as with your sister. Goose egg."

Doug cleans up the bathroom before heading back to the dining room. Applejack is going in and out of the kitchen, bringing plates of hay and apples for the remaining fillies and foals. The youngest quickly polish off their food, scampering off outside to start playing in the cool autumn air. The trio remain in their seats, slowly picking at their plates of hay.

"Daddy?" Apple Bloom hesitantly asks, the three fillies looking up at their sire. "Are we poor?"

Doug glances to Applejack, a confused look on both of their faces. "What brought on that question?" he asks, Applejack only returning a slight shrug.

Apple Bloom pushes her plate, only hay remaining on it. "Well, at Silver Spoon's cute-ceañera they had lots of really good food. And we don't have that around here."

Sweetie Belle adds, "Or at Rarity's."

Scootaloo says, "And all we have around here is hay and apples."

Applejack says, "Well, we have other things, too. Like pancakes."

Scootaloo rolls her eyes, "Made of hay or wheat."

"Well, we also have carrots. Doug gets orange juice for us, sometimes. And, um," she glances at Doug, trying to not list off any of the items that he primarily eats, such as nuts or the meats. "We sometimes get cupcakes and donuts from Sugarcube."

"Well, that's 'cause Carrot Top rents the land near us for her carrot farming, and gives us a good deal," Apple Bloom says, a glance towards the carrot fields.

"And Pinkie Pie brings home the old stuff they couldn't sell that day," Sweetie Belle says.

"And we don't ever eat out as a herd," says Scootaloo, looking around the room at the plates for all the foals, "So, are we poor?"

"That's not something you three need to worry about," Applejack says, moving over and running a hoof through Apple Bloom's mane, then Scootaloo's.

"I think that's a yes," Sweetie Belle says, a heavy sigh as she stares at her plate.

"Well, I know it may not seem like we have a lot around here," Doug says, moving over to Applejack. He wraps an arm around the earth pony, smiling as he hugs her. She smiles, returning the hug, a slight eye roll as he turns her head, sharing a kiss. "But I would say we are plenty rich. Maybe not in how many bits we have, but in the other things that count. Things like family, and values like hard work." Doug sits back a little, "I don't know how everypony else defines poor, but I always saw it as lacking necessities, like not having enough food, or a roof over your head." He looks at the fillies, "Do you feel like you are lacking anything?"

The three fillies glance to each other, Apple Bloom saying, "Well, Ah like it around here, but sometimes Ah'd like some bits to spend on, um, things. Like a new ball."

He leans over, the three fillies gathering around. "Now, what I hear you all saying is that you'd like to help out more around the farm. Doing jobs, not just chores."

The trio excitedly nod, looking between Applejack and Doug. Apple Bloom says, "Ah know that Ah'd like to help out more where Ah can. Ah'm a big filly!" Her sisters' smiles grow larger, beaming up at Applejack with wide eyes.

Applejack nods, "Well, Apple Bloom, we can rig up a cart for you to haul around. Help save us from making to make as many trips from the orchard to the barn. Maybe even help sort and crate the apples. And, if you prove that you can hoof that, you can help me with hauling apples to the train, or with selling apples in town." Apple Bloom smiles, giving her dam a nod.

Sweetie Belle tries to meet Applejack's gaze but ends up shying away. The filly says, "Um, I don't know if I really want to help out around the farm."

Applejack smiles at the unicorn, "That's fine, Sweetie Belle, working on a farm ain't for everypony. Ah bet Rarity likes it when you help out around the Boutique, right?"

Sweetie Belle slowly nods, "Well, she's been having me help with small things around the store. Mostly cleaning up, because she doesn't like how I organize things."

Applejack sighs, "Yes, well, your dam can be very particular when it comes to her stuff. Gets all funny-eyed when things are out of place, or at least different than what she wants." Sweetie Belle gives a sad smile; Applejack rubs her mane a little, "But don't take that too hard. Doug had to learn too, and he's been helping over there, well, since before you were around." Doug smiles down at Sweetie Belle, the filly moving over to nuzzle him.

Applejack turns to Scootaloo, "So, Ah think we could use some sort of delivery pony. Ah've seen you on that scooter of yours, mighty quick. If'n you can hoof a bag of apples on that, we could use somepony to make deliveries to houses."

"Um, I suppose I can try that," Scootaloo says. "I was also thinking about asking Rainbow about delivering the weather schedules and updates."

"Ain't no reason you can't do both," Applejack says with a smile. "Just make sure it doesn't interfere with your schoolwork. You don't want to be delivering things your whole life, do you?"

"But, isn't that what the mailponies do?" Scootaloo says, a light coming on in her head. "Hey! Maybe I could be a mailpony!"

Sweetie Belle pushes forward a little, "Does this mean that we can have some bits? We could get a new ball!"

"Yeah!" Scootaloo adds, "Especially since we'll be working and all!"

Applejack's mouth purses back, a quick glance at her stallion, her eyes saying everything that he already knows. He leans back a little, his hand going to his mouth as he considers the fillies' request.

"Please, Daddy?" they chorus, looking up at him with wide eyes. Applejack stifles her snort; Doug always gives in to that, the big softy. "Pretty please?" they continue, Apple Bloom tentatively putting a hoof on his knee, the other two quickly following along.

"Well, I don't suppose it would be that bad an idea," Doug says, an apologetic glance at Applejack. The mare cautiously smiles back, her expression clear that she hopes he isn't giving away the farm. "You all do need to learn basic money management." He gets up, heading to the office and coming back with a pencil, a few sheets of paper, a small bag, and the folder the herd keeps their finances in. He sits down, cross legged as he glances to Applejack before focusing on Scootaloo, saying, "So, what do you think a courier gets paid?"

"What's a courier?" asks Scootaloo, glancing to her sisters.

"A deliverypony," says Sweetie Belle, "Like, if you got that job with Rainbow hoofing out the weather schedule. Or delivering packages."

"Oh." Scootaloo puts a hoof to her chin as she thinks, "Um, maybe ten bits an hour, and it only is about three hours of work a week if I took the job with Rainbow."

Applejack's eyes bug out a little at the thought of losing nearly one hundred bits a week to the fillies. She stammers, shaking her head a little; fortunately for her Doug intervenes, saying, "Well, if you got a job paying that much that would be great, but unfortunately we can't give you that much of an allowance unless you are spending it on essentials." The bag jingles as he pulls out twenty bits, spreading them on the ground between him and the fillies. They look at the bits, more than they generally see around the farmhouse.

"What's essentials?" Apple Bloom asks, a quick glance at the table before her gaze returns to the bits in front of her. "Hay and stuff?"

Doug nods, "Yup. Major things like food," he pulls away three bits, making a small stack next to his leg, "Lodging, which is where you are sleeping, renting a room, that kind of thing," five bits disappear, a slightly larger stack, "Taxes are another big one," eight of the bits slide away, "Medical bills or insurance," as two more bits join the rest, leaving a mere two bits remaining in front of the fillies. They gaze longingly at the bits stacked next to his leg, then back at the two bits in front of them, glancing back and forth between each other.

Applejack asks, "What's insurance?"

Doug knocks the side of his head with the heel of his hand, "Oh, right, you don't have that. Actually, you do, it's just more like single payer." At the ponies' blank stares he continues, "You pay for minor treatments and checkups, while the government helps pay for the big things, like Rainbow's hospitalization, and a portion of your foaling costs."

"Oh, right," Applejack says. "Continue."

"Then there would be utilities, paying for the weather, though I think that we consider that taxes. Then, you want to save for the future, in case something happens." Doug slides one bit away, the last bit sitting all alone. "Leaving not a lot of money for whatever else we would like to buy." As the fillies' continue staring at the bits he sighs, "Anyway, there are a lot of expenses that we need to keep track of." Doug pulls out the folder, opening it up to the third page. "This is a list of all our expenses." He flips back to the second page, "And this is a list of all the money that we have coming into the herd. The fourth page is a copy of Rarity's Boutique expenditures and income." He pulls the bits out, making stacks of five in front of him, "Each of those bits represents about five percent of what we spend. As you can see, the money coming in and the money coming out are pretty close to each other, though we are saving a little bit each month."

Sweetie Belle looks at the numbers closely, Apple Bloom right next to her. Scootaloo holds a hoof to her head, the numbers all starting to swim next to each other, the cramped writing on the tightly spaced page. Scootaloo says, "So, you're saying we aren't going to get anything?"

Doug shakes his head, "No, I'm trying to give you an idea of what it's like being an adult. A lot of it isn't very fun, but necessary. So, we can let you each make a few of those choices. If you prove you are up to the task, and can manage your money responsibly, then we can let you take more and more control over the decisions you make as far as finances go. For instance, let's say you get your thirty bits a week." Doug puts his hand into the bag, withdrawing ten more bits.

Scootaloo interrupts, "I'd make more than that, 'cause I can work more than just the one route."

"Sure, but let's keep our example small, for the moment." Doug slides the thirty bits in front of the pegasus, "What do you want to eat for breakfast?"

Sweetie Belle exclaims, "Ooh! Donuts from Sugarcube Corner!"

"Hey!" Scootaloo says, crossing her hooves over her chest, "I'm answering here!" At Sweetie Belle's shy nod Scootaloo thinks for a few seconds, saying, "Um, muffins at Sugarcube Corner. And an orange juice!"

Doug smiles, "Okay, that sounds delicious. How much is that?"

Scootaloo pauses, tapping her hoof several times against the floor. "Four bits?"

Doug nods, taking four of the bits back, "Sounds about right, especially if you got the big muffins. So, how much per week?"

Scootaloo stares blankly at Doug, the gears slowly turning as Apple Bloom sighs, answering for her sister, "Twenty eight bits."

Scootaloo glares, "Hey, I was getting there!"

Sweetie Belle taunts, "You know, for a-"

"Finish that sentence," Scootaloo glares, spinning and pointing a hoof at Sweetie Belle. "I dare you."

Sweetie Belle gulps as Applejack says, "Now, Scootaloo, no need to threaten your sister. And, Sweetie Belle, Ah don't know what you were about to say, but if it weren't nice then you shouldn't be saying it at all."

The two sigh, saying together, "Yes, Applejack."

Doug smiles, "Okay, so Scootaloo, how many bits does that leave you with."

"Um... two bits?" Scootaloo counts out two bits, then counts out the other twenty four bits, sliding them back to Doug with a heavy sigh.

"Good! So, working your three hour job gets you buying breakfast at Sugarcube Corner instead of eating hay and drinking apple juice here." He glances to Applejack, "What's our cost of breakfast here, wholesale?"

Applejack motions to the folder, "You have it there, but Ah'd say less'n two bits a week for hay'n juice."

"Mostly because we have an abundance of hay, but that sounds about right." Doug turns to each filly in turn, "And, if you three want to start making those decisions, we can let you. But, and this is the hard part, you will have to live with the consequences of your choices. Your dams and I won't bail you out if you need money for something and you've frittered it away eating at Sugarcube, or wherever the money went."

Scootaloo says, "Okay, so I don't eat at Sugarcube Corner every day. You saying I would get to keep the, um, twenty eight bits a week then?"

Doug nods, "If that's the scenario, then yes; you would essentially be saving those twenty eight bits a week, in order to spend on something else." As the filly's eyes grow wide Doug leans over, "Just remember, however, that you won't be getting thirty bits a week to spend on breakfast." A sigh from the three fillies, disappointed at the news. Doug tries to give them a reassuring smile, "I know we don't have the numbers here broken down, showing exactly what we spend on you three, but if you would like we can come up with some of them, especially in areas that you might have some leeway as to what you spend your bits on. Such as food, or entertainment, though you'll have a hard time beating your dam's prices."

"Oh," comes Scootaloo's tepid reply. "But, if we were working, we could spend that money?"

"Most of it," says Applejack, "At least, whatever we pay you is yours to spend. If'n you get a job somewhere else, we might need to pull out some for taxes."

"And that's because we file as a herd," Doug adds, "But you really don't need to worry about taxes just yet."

"Okay!" the three chorus, trading happy looks as they scamper away, discussing what sort of 'help needed' signs they had seen around town.