• Published 29th Mar 2019
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A Hearth's Warming Story; Limestone Daphne Pie Saves Hearth's Warming - Jay Watson



Twilight has invited her all her close friends and families to her castle for a big Hearth's Warming celebration

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Crash Course in Family Surgery

Click-Clack! Click-Clack! Sunburst listened to the rhythmic noise of the train wheels on the tracks as he traveled back home to Sire’s Hollow from his flat in the Crystal Empire. He was on his way to visit his mom and little sister.

In his pocket was the gilded invitation from Princess Twilight, still undelivered to his mother due to his procrastination. Sunburst knew he should have visited sooner, but, as his mother had always taught him, not without a plan.

Confidence, Sunburst, Confidence! The plan’s in hoof and it is going to work for sure! He was determined to attend the party; he wanted to demonstrate his appreciation to the princess and show he was a loyal friend.

He could arrange the meeting but could not foretell the outcome of it. All he felt he had going for him was the confidence that both his parents would be reasonable enough to accommodate this one thing. Then, suddenly, that confidence dissipated.

“Fat chance of that happening,” he mumbled, looking out the window at the passing countryside. But this year it was going to be different. This year, he was going to give them all the best Hearth’s Warming present possible, that was sure to bring them all together. He was going to present it in person to his mom, certain she would be thrilled. But Sunburst had one stop to do before seeing his mom and that was visiting his dad at his residence in Cypress Estates on the other side of town.

“Next stop, Sire’s Hollow! All out for Sire’s Hollow next!” The conductor called out as he walked up the aisle of the car. Sunburst sighed, preparing himself mentally to tackle this difficult task. The train began to slow down, entering the station and finally stopping at the platform with a shudder. With his overnight bag slung over his back and the gilded invitation handy in the secret pocket of his cape, Sunburst followed the other ponies out the car and onto the platform. First step of the plan, get to his father’s house across town and set things in motion.

The walk gave him time to think more about his family’s situation and how fractured it now seemed to be. Sunburst didn’t know if his dad had made holiday plans for himself and was even going to be available.

“He’ll attend; seeing it’s an invitation from the princess, he’d change his plans.” Sunburst told himself. “He’d do it just to help me out. But how would mom feel about all of us being together. Nova probably wouldn’t care either way. She’d just fall over in shock at knowing she was getting to visit the princess.”

Sunburst reached the intersection of Dartmoor Street and Wensleydale Avenue, crossing the street and heading up further the avenue and away from the down town area. The green spaces between the residences quickly grew as the houses became more and more upscale. He reached the stately grounds of his father’s current residence, on loan to him from a business partner. This was the first time Sunburst was seeing this place. His father had been staying in an apartment in Sire’s Hollow when he last visited.

“This is it; number four hundred seventy-four. The Chateau-Sur-Mare.” Sunburst checked the house number on small placard on the stone marker by the walkway, confirming he had the right place. He was in awe of its appearance. He headed up the walkway to the main entrance of the palatial residence, the structure being a sterling example of High Celestian architecture. The nearly two hundred year old stone structure was once the most expensive and opulent in the area. Now the super mansions and sprawling villas that have cropped up in the past decade or so had made the once regal and majestic home seem antiquated and out of step with the modern Equestrian world.

Using his magic, Sunburst pulled on the door bell rope, hearing the chimes jangling from the other side of the door. The front door opened and Sunburst was surprised to find a familiar pony there.

“Oh, Master Sunburst, please come in.” His family’s long-serving butler opened the door for him, pleased to see Sunburst and bidding him entry.

“Hello Bosley. Happy Hearth’s Warming to you.” Sunburst handed him his coat and hat, looking around the grand foyer and its majestic old-world hand carved wood features. Bosley hung the hat and coat up in the coat closet.

“Thank you, sir. Your father is in the office down the hallway; it’s the last door on the right. Shall I get something for you, sir? Some hot tea?”

“No, thank you, I won’t be staying long.” Sunburst headed down the hallway, hearing his father’s voice from the other side of the door. He gave the door a quick knock before entering.

“Dad, you busy right now?” He stepped in, finding his dad finishing up some paperwork with another business associate. “Oh, sorry, I can come back later.” He tried to back out of the room but his dad waved him in, grinning at the sight of his son.

“No no, my boy! We’re finishing up here.” Sunspot finished signing the contracts and passed them to his business partner who sat across from him, filing his set of copies away in the desk drawer.

“Make sure the construction company has the release forms to break ground on the new site and add that they’d best have a full pony crew there from day one. We’re on a tight schedule and can’t afford delays.” Sunspot’s associate nodded.

“Anything else?” The pony in the blue blazer signed the contracts before slipping them into a briefcase.

“Nope. We’ve got things underway so let’s call it quits early and get on with the holiday fun.” Sunspot looked over at his son, seeing Sunburst smiling back at him, eager to spend time together.

“Thank you, sir. I’ll get the message sent out today before everypony leaves for the day. First thing Wednesday morning, I’ll make sure the crew will be at the site.”

The two entrepreneurs shook hooves. “You have yourself a happy Hearth’s Warming, Jonesy.”

“You too, sir.” Not wanting to waste time and eager to end the day before lunch, Jonesy gathered up the site plans and his briefcase, heading for the door. He gave Sunburst a quick nod of greeting as he left the room in a hurry.

Sunspot gave his only son a huge hug. He hadn’t seen him for almost six months. He’d missed Sunburst. “How are you, son?”

“I’m doing fine, dad. I’m surviving.” Sunburst put his plan into motion. “I’m sorry for not stopping by earlier, I got caught up in a few emergencies back in the Crystal Empire so I was unable to get away.”

“Well, I’m just glad you visited, son. I’m sure you’re aware that things have been a little tense between your mother and myself lately. I could use some good company for the holiday.” Using his magic, Sunspot retrieved the brochure from off his desk to show what he had planned for his holiday.
“Hey, how about the two of us hit Manehattan for the holiday celebration? We can catch a train this evening and spend Hearth’s Warming in the big city. There’s always great things to see and do together there, right?” His dad was obviously eager to show him a good time, like always, wanting to make lasting memories together.

“Well,” Sunburst began slowly as he withdrew the invitation from the hidden pocket in his cape. “I think I have something you’d might want to change your plans for.” Using his magic, he passed it to his dad.

Sunspot opened the envelope and took out the invitation, his eyes going momentarily wider at the sight of the elaborate gilded inscription. Sunburst watched his dad’s eyes silently read the invitation and how his dad’s mouth fell open when reading the return address.

“Son,” Sunspot gasped in surprise and delight. “You’re friends with the Princess of Friendship?” He hadn’t known his son’s circle of friends was this impressive.

“Well, more like acquaintances. We’ve only hung out a few times. Did you know that my friend Starlight Glimmer is the princess’ protégée? She’s going to be there too, along with her father.” Sunburst knew his dad had no gripe with Firelight Glimmer like his mom did. He got on well with Starlight’s dad and was probably glad to know somepony who was going to be there.

“Really now? Anypony else I might know going?” Sunspot looked over the impressive invitation once again.

“Probably not. It’s going to be Princess Twilight and her family along with her friends and their families as well. We’re all supposed to stay in the Castle of Friendship with them.” Sunburst pointed out the line in the invitation to his father. “See?”

“Staying? Overnight in the castle? With the princess?” Sunspot reread the invitation, double-checking. Sure enough, his son was right. This was quite something.

“Yes. Hearth’s Warming Eve and the morning thereof. We’re having dinner and breakfast with all the guests.” Sunburst could tell his dad wasn’t going to need convincing. This was easy.

“Son, this is one of those once-in-a-pony’s lifetime opportunities to have. If I’m going with you, we have to put on the best presentation possible. What’d I always tell you about making good impressions?” Sunburst sighed a bit, being asked to reiterate a lesson his dad had taught him long ago.

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”

Sunspot nodded. “That’s right. And something like this could lead to big things for you, my boy. You never know what pony you may run into at these social gatherings. The next ‘big thing’ of your life may be initiated at a function like this and could lead to a whole slew of new opportunities for you.”

His dad was the master of the ‘shake the hoof and hand a business card over’ kind of self-promoting, he’d never miss any chance to increase his circle of connections. Being outgoing and approachable was how his dad met his mom; at a company party when they worked together at the same office.

“Dad, I’ve only met her friends a few times. It’s not like I’m super-tight with her group of friends. I only know them through my friendship with Starlight,” Sunburst tried to explain. “It’s just going to be a first time meeting with their families.”

“Nonetheless, my boy, we’ll still make the utmost effort to look good and make the right impression.” Sunspot patted his son on the back, glad to be spending time with his son and helping him show the best possible side of himself among his peers and others.

“Well, here’s the catch.” Sunburst was going to take a bit of wind out of his dad’s sails. “If we attend, then we have to bring something to the party that we would serve for our family’s Hearth’s Warming Eve dinner.”

Sunspot was not fazed by the request. “No problem. I’ll hit up that gourmet shop in town while taking care of a few loose ends today and be back here a little after lunch time.”

“I still have a little shopping to do and I was planning to visit mom and Nova back at the house today as well.” Sunburst returned the invitation to its envelope and slipped it back into the small hidden pocket in his cape. He congratulated himself for completing phase one of his plan; getting his dad to attend the party.

“How about we meet back here for dinner and you spend the night. We’ll go together tomorrow afternoon to the Princess’ castle.” Sunspot collected up some mail from off his desk that had to go out as well as the list of gifts he had not yet gotten for his son and daughter.

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll meet you back here in a few hours.” Sunburst was already heading for the door, eager to get the second phase of his plan into motion. “Save me some wrapping paper to use when I get back!” he called to his dad as he hurried down the hall.

Bosley already had Sunburst’s hat and coat in hoof, standing by the door ready for him. Sunburst got the coat on as fast as possible and got out the door.

“Your father dines at six sharp, Master Sunburst. Please do be back in time,” Bosley reminded his employer’s son.

Sunburst paused only for a second to turn and answer before galloping off to his mother’s house. “I remember, Bosley. I’ll be back later. I have to get to my mom’s place right now.”

The pony-servant watched his young master run headlong down the street and right into the carriage and taxi traffic, nearly getting hit twice as he charged across the street against the cross-walk light. He shook his head, wondering about the haste with which Sunburst was carrying on.

Sunburst had a schedule to keep and he had to stay on time. He was cutting it close, catching a glance at the clock tower in town as he paused briefly at one stop light at the crossing of both Mane Street and Gallop Way. Down four streets and over three more to reach the shortcut on Mullholland Drive and then the left fork onto Sire’s Hollow Lane.

His foalhood home was just up ahead, the fifth house on the left, just as he remembered. It was noticeably bigger than the other homes on the street; a third anniversary present from his dad to his mom after he became a partner at the firm he worked at. The holiday decorations were up, adorning the home with green garland and a wreath on the front door. A string of glowing multicolored crystal lights hung along the fascia of the house. Sunburst sighed to himself, seeing the familiar sight once more.
Home again, number two-three-seven Sire’s Hollow Lane. Nostalgic pangs swept through his heart about his foalhood neighborhood, only to be shuttered by reminding himself why he was here. Phase two of his plan for attending Princess Twilight’s party.

“Mom, are you here? I’m home,” Sunburst called out, opening the front door a bit more, hearing the holiday music playing on the phonograph and the lights on in living room. He stepped inside the house, looking around at the decor. His mom and sister had done a great job decorating the inside with garland and red ribbons. His mom always made sure the dining room table had a unique centerpiece for the candles and miniature flagpole. He couldn’t help but catch that warm, fuzzy feeling of home holiday joy.

“Sunburst? Is that you?” Stellar Flare called back from down the hallway. She hurried back up and spotted her son standing on the front door landing, home early. He smiled upon seeing her and she hurried down the hoof-ful of steps to embrace her first born.

“Welcome home, Sunburst! Happy Hearth’s Warming!” Stellar Flare gave him a kiss on his cheek. She hadn’t heard from him in months, and had missed him. She was decked out in her favorite holiday sweater, her present from him two years go. “How are you?” She stepped back to look at him. “Are you eating enough? You’re as thin as a rail.”

“That’s because I don’t have your good cooking to eat anymore,” he said, cleverly sidestepping a potential argument. Maybe he was living off of hay-cakes, cheese logs and donuts, but at least he wasn’t starving to death.

“You really ought to visit more often, dear. How can you ever get ahead in this world on an empty stomach? We’ll get you something to eat.” Stellar Flare was leading him by a foreleg to the kitchen, getting him to sit down in his old seat at the table.

“I’m doing fine, mom. It’s nothing to worry yourself about.” Sunburst was willing to let his mom ‘mother’ him a little; she was always wanting to keep him fed and worrying about his health. He watched his mom whip up a quick sandwich for him, going on about the meal plan she had for the three of them for tomorrow night. Sunburst didn’t tell her yet, wanting to get the right words together in his head first. She passed the plate with his lunch on it over to him, adding a hoof-ful of potato chips to the side as well as a glass of milk. Sunburst chowed down as his mom told him about her plans as of late for the Sire’s Hollow Development Committee and about her latest tiff with his father.

“Of course, your father,” she muttered in a sour voice, “is undoubtedly going out on the town for the holidays. Probably heading off to Manehattan with a bunch of his rowdy business friends.” Stellar Flare was using her magic to stir the tomato sauce that was simmering in a pot on the stove. Her stirring become more vigorous and agitated when speaking about Sunburst’s dad.

“Actually, mom,” Sunburst had consumed the sandwich in only five bites, his stomach having had only a tiny bowl of oatmeal this morning to go on. “There’s something I think that might brighten everypony’s holiday plan.” His comment caught Stellar Flare’s curiosity.

“Oh really? Like what?” She saw the rather sly look to her son’s expression, as if he scheming something.

“First, where’s ‘princess’ Nova? In her room?” Sunburst’s comment about his little sister made Stellar Flare frown a little.

“Please don’t tease her about that; you know she’s a big fan of the princess.” Sunburst bit his lip, trying not to smile. He knew his mom did not appreciate his sense of humor.

“I won’t, I won’t.” Sunburst took it back. “I should go see her and say hi. I think she’ll want to hear this too.”

Down the bedroom hallway he quietly crept, hearing his sister’s voice coming from her room. With silent hoof-steps, Sunburst slid right up to her ajar bedroom door, listening. He could see through the small opening of the doorway his sister standing on her bed, adorned with those plastic pegasus wings and a faux gold plated plastic crown on her head that looked conspicuously like a copy of Princess Twilight’s Element of Magic crown. He listened to her speak to her ‘subjects’; the collection of stuffed animals arranged in a semicircle on the area rug in front of her bed.

“I, Princess Twilight Sparkle, do hereby decree that hence forth all schools shall be closed early for Hearth’s Warming celebrations and not reopen for two weeks after.”

Sunburst slapped a forehoof over his mouth, trying not to laugh at his sister’s ‘royal proclamation’ over her subjects and how she imitated the cheering crowd noise of her enraptured audience.

“Thank you, thank you my faithful subjects. No need to cheer so much, I know I’m the greatest princess in all Equestria.” She continued her roleplaying, much to Sunburst’s secret amusement. He had heard enough. As quietly as he could, Sunburst slipped back down the hallway to the end, intent on letting his sister hear him coming. He clomped his hooves noisily on the wood floor of the hallway, heading down towards her room again.

“Hey, Nova, you in there?” Sunburst called to her. He heard a loud commotion coming from her room, which sounded like Nova trying to hide what she’d been doing from him. He knocked on her door, hearing the last bit of her getting things put away before he entered.

“Can I come in?”

“You can come in now,” Nova announced. Sunburst pushed open the door to her room, seeing her now seated at her desk, schoolbooks open and appearing to be hard at work on her homework. Sunburst wasn’t fooled but he played along.

“Ah! Keeping up with your schoolwork, very good. Mom and dad will be glad to see that.” Sunburst looked around her room, seeing that her stuffed animals were once more on her bed and she no longer wore her pegasus wings. But he did spot one thing a little bit off about her appearance, and so he decided to have some fun with her.

“Of course I’m doing my homework. What else should I be doing? I’ve got to keep my grades up, don’t I?” Nova put on a false air of studiousness and diligence.

“Oh, I’m sure you’re doing fine in school.” He sat down on her bed, watching her keep at her homework. “But maybe you should take some time out to enjoy the holiday time off. You only get one Hearth’s Warming celebration vacation from school a year and I know you enjoy the roleplaying you do so much.”

Nova could tell he was trying to get to her by mentioning one of her favorite secret pastimes.

“I don’t do that. Only little foals do that kind of stuff. I’m too big to play ‘dress up’ and act all silly.” Sunburst used his magic to pick up a small mirror off her dresser and brought it in front of her face as she sat at her desk.

“Oh, really now. Then what do you call that on your head, ‘Princess Twilight’?” he teased, as she looked up at her reflection. Sunburst snickered a little, seeing her face redden with embarrassment of being caught. Fuming, Nova tore the plastic crown off her head.

“How long were you going to sit there and let me go on like that?” She growled at him.

“Long enough for you to embarrass yourself and look silly. Mission accomplished!” Sunburst couldn’t stop laughing. Nova had had enough of him being in her room already.

“Mom! Sunburst is bothering me!” She hollered at the top of her lungs to their mother in the kitchen.

“Sunburst, stop bothering your sister!” Stellar Flare yelled back.

“Why don’t you get out of my room? I’m busy right now.” Nova turned back to her books, annoyed at her brother for his intrusion.

“You’ll want to join me in the kitchen with mom. You might want to hear what I’m about to say. It may be of interest to you,” he said, with just enough allure in his voice to catch Nova’s interest. She slowly turned her head to face him again.

“Like what?” She raised a suspicious eyebrow at him, wondering what kind of trick or dumb joke was trying to pull on her and their mom. He smiled a little more.

“Trust me, you’ll want to hear.” Sunburst got up from her bed, heading for the door to return to the kitchen. He looked back at Nova as he exited her bedroom. “Well, what are you waiting for? A personal invitation?”

Nova, half-suspecting her brother was playing some sort of trick on her, slowly rose up from her chair to follow after him.
“This better be good,” she groused, simmering in resentment from his teasing. Down the hallway and into the kitchen, Nova took her seat at the kitchen table, only really half-interested in anything her brother had to say.

“I thought you were not going to tease Nova?” Stellar Flare saw her daughter’s unhappy expression from Sunburst’s antagonizing. She gave her son a most disapproving look.

“Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I’m sorry.” Sunburst felt a little bad about his teasing but he knew himself well enough to know he’d probably do it again another time. He tried to look remorseful but was having trouble hiding his smirk.
“Anyway, I have something to show you both. I think this will certainly bring about a happier holiday mood.” Using his magic, Sunburst produced from the same hidden pocket of his cape the gilded invitation he’d shown his dad only an hour or so ago. He passed it to his mom to read.

Stellar Flare was impressed by the ornate appearance of the invitation but was astonished by who had sent it. Sunburst watched with a bit of delight as his mom silently read the invitation. Her reaction was much the same as his dad’s, her mouth falling open in surprise.
“Sunburst!” She gasped. “You’ve been invited to spend the holiday with Princess Twilight and her family?”

“No, I and my family have been invited by Princess Twilight to her castle to spend Hearth’s Warming Eve and the following day with her and her family,” he corrected. “Check again.” Stellar Flare did and her surprise grew.

Nova practically leapt out of the chair to look at the invitation her mom held aloft.

“No way! It’s gotta be a fake!” Nova was sure this was the prank Sunburst was trying to pull on them. She scrutinized the signature at the bottom of the invitation intensely. The signature looked absolutely identical to that on the title page of her beloved copy of Princess Twilight’s friendship journal and she could see the signature had been made with an impression from an ink quill on the card. This was no fake. Nova actually flinched in shock at the realization.

“It’s… it’s not a fake!” Nova yelped, her young mind blown away. “But, how… who… when?” she stammered, first looking at her mom, then at her brother, then back at her mom again. She was unable to understand how this was at all possible. How did her big brother know Princess Twilight? Not only that, how could he never tell his own sister, a huge fan of the princess, that he knew her personally?

“This is incredible!” Stellar Flare practically rejoiced at the news. This was the greatest stroke of luck, that her son was close friends with the Princess of Friendship. Her son’s success with his friendship quest had undoubtedly elevated her son among his peers.

Nova couldn’t believe it. Her brother really was friends with the Princess of Friendship and this actually was from the princess. She suddenly decided her brother might be worth bothering with after all.

“Oh, dearest brother Sunburst, how I would be ever so grateful if you would allow me to-” Nova’s syrupy-sweet voice could’ve given a pony cavities just by hearing it. Sunburst saw right through her.

“Oh cut it with the schmoozing act, Nova, we’re all invited to Princess Twilight’s castle.”

“Wait, what’s this?” Stellar Flare read on further, finding an unexpected condition in the invitation. “I would ask everypony to share with my family and I one item traditionally served at each family’s Hearth’s Warming Eve dinner.”

“Really?” Nova thought that it was an interesting request.

“But, how many guests has the princess invited?” Stellar Flare suddenly realized the sheer volume that was going to be necessary.

“If my guess is right and I’m remembering what her friends told me about their families, I’d say somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-five to forty-five guests will be there.” Sunburst’s rough estimate left his mom and sister stunned.

“That’s a lot of guests.” Nova wondered just who was going to be there besides her favorite heroines. Who would she meet?

“By Celestia, that’s an awful lot of cooking to do!” Stellar Flare slapped a forehoof to her head, momentarily overwhelmed by what she would have do to feed forty or so guests.

“That’s the reason I came home early this year; to help out with our contribution.” Sunburst didn’t understand why his mom seemed upset with him all of a sudden.

“Why didn’t you bring this to me sooner? If I had known in advance, I could have made a plan of what to make. Now what am I supposed to do on such short notice?” Stellar Flare felt this golden opportunity to impress the princess was now in jeopardy from her son’s lackadaisical thinking.

“That was a pretty bone-headed move, bro.” Nova got in a bit of retaliation for his teasing earlier, her mom’s chastising of Sunburst giving her cover.

“I know I should’ve visited sooner, but… I wasn’t sure what to do about, you know…” Sunburst tried to dance around the horribly big elephant in the room. “Our… situation now.” Everypony in the room seemed momentarily uncomfortable
.
“Besides, it’s not just you, mom. Everypony’s family attending has to do the same thing. It’s so we can all share something about our family’s traditions.”

Stellar Flare sighed, upset at being put so on-the-spot by her son and yet still understanding why he was so hesitant. She would not hold it against him.

“Alright, Sunburst. I suppose you had your reasons to stay away. I guess the real issue now is what to decide to make.” Stellar Flare did want her son to look good in front of his peers and being there with him with the best possible offering made sense. She paced back and forth on the kitchen floor, trying to think of what she could come up with to feed so many ponies.

“I’ve got it!” She clicked her front hooves loudly together as the idea struck. Her children turned to look at her.

“What?” Sunburst wondered about the grin his mom suddenly had.

“I know what I’ll make. You two went crazy for my vegetable parmigiana I made a few holidays ago, right? Both of you raved about it for a week after.” Stellar Flare remembered the glowing accolades they had given her for the awesome meal. She quickly went to the refrigerator, checking if she had what she needed to make her signature dish. She did not.

“Mom, that’s perfect! You make the best parmigiana, hooves down!” Nova cheered, sure her mom’s cooking would wow those at the dinner party.

“Can you do it, Mom? You think you can make enough for everypony?” Sunburst was hoping she could. From a kitchen cabinet drawer, Stellar Flare whipped out a small notepad and a quill, quickly making her list.

“Alright team, here’s the plan!” She took command of the situation, shifting into crisis mode. Her children snapped to attention, aware that when it came to the making of a holiday meal, mom was all business.

“You,” She pointed the quill at Sunburst. “You’re going to the market to get these ingredients for me and another bottle of olive oil. Get the fresh mozzarella cheese from behind the counter, not the cheap stuff in the plastic package off the shelf. This has to taste the best. And be back here in under an hour; there’s lots of tomatoes to peel and we need time to have the sauce cook.”

Her son took the list, slipping it into the secret pocket of his cape. “Got it! Anything else to get while I’m out?” Sunburst felt he was almost in the home stretch, his mom now on board and ready to take on the challenge.

“A fresh baguette; we’ll need to taste test the sauce as we go. We’re going to make the best dish anypony will have for Hearth’s Warming Eve dinner.” Her confidence was infectious and now both Nova and Sunburst were feeling inspired to pitch in and outshine.

“I’m on my way!” Sunburst took off, trying to get his coat on and get out the door at the same time. He had to get to the market quick, wanting to initiate the third part of his plan; having something to bring to the party. He had all afternoon to help out before heading back to his dad’s place for supper with him. Things were moving in the right direction.

Sunburst took less than forty-five minutes to get what his mom needed from the market and get back to the house. His family was already hard at work in the kitchen as the aroma of the oil, fried garlic and fresh tomatoes cooking away on the stove perfumed the space.

“I got everything you wanted on the list but I had to get two smaller bottles of the oil you wanted; they were out of the regular size.” He plopped the two bags of groceries on the counter next to the sink, watching Nova peel the tomatoes and cut them into chunks.

“Good. You can start by getting the cheese in the refrigerator and helping your sister get the tomatoes ready. We’re going to have to use both big stewing pots to make enough sauce.” Stellar Flare continued to chop up the ingredients as her son got the rest of the vegetables out of the bags and into the sink for washing.

Sunburst got right to it, getting the produce ready and lined up on the counter next to the cutting board his mom was chopping on. The blade of his mom’s knife moved up and down with steady repeated strokes through the line of vegetables, each ingredient cut to practiced and precise sizes. She would make this her culinary masterstroke. The siblings worked away like a well-oiled machine; cleaning the tomatoes, peeling them and cutting them up.

With the holiday music playing on the phonograph in the background and the three of them chattering away, the bustling work helped bring them closer together. The more they worked, the more Sunburst felt his plan was succeeding. He got to tell them about what Princess Twilight’s castle looked like and who was going to be there.

“Now, I’ve never met their families, mom. I only met the princess a few times as well as her friends. I’m not really part of their inner circle. I only know them because Starlight is the princess’ protégée.”

“Is Firelight Glimmer going to be there?” She paused only for a moment in her work.
“Of course he is. Starlight was invited too.” Sunburst could see his mom’s expression take a somewhat sour look at the thought at spending the holiday with the Glimmers.

“So, the moms and dads and brothers and sisters will be there too?’ Nova wanted to get the story right as something tucked away in the back of her mind was now suddenly made very relevant.

“Well, I suppose so. I know Princess Twilight’s brother is going to be there, and that means Princess Cadence will be there too.”

Stellar Flare was thrilled to know her family was going to spend the holiday with the royalty of Equestria. The bragging rights to her friends were going to be most satisfying.

“Why, is there a problem?” Sunburst wondered about Nova’s sudden interest in who else was going to be there. She tried not to let on.

“Oh, no, I was just curious.” Nova quickly returned to crushing the tomato chunks in the pot into puree. She remembered something rumored around her school; about a small group fillies from the Ponyville area. A friend of a friend of a friend of Nova’s had told her about three supposed sisters of the princess’ friends who were helping young ponies find their Cutie Marks.

What an unbelievable opportunity this could be for her. Not only could she meet the Princess of Friendship and her fellow Equestrian heroines whom she idolized. But there was also the chance to meet these so-called ‘Crusader’ fillies and find out if the rumor was true. If it was, then, all the better. Perhaps in one night alone, they could help Nova acquire her Cutie Mark. How awesome of a Hearth’s Warming gift would that be!

“Nova? Are you even listening?” Sunburst waved a hoof in front of her face. Nova snapped out of her daze.

“Wha…? You say something?”

“I asked if you were done crushing those tomatoes yet. Mom needs to add them to the rest on the stove.” Sunburst wondered about her sudden absentmindedness.

“Oh, yeah, I’m done with these.” Using her magic, Nova passed the pot over to her mom as Sunburst placed another pot of tomato chunks in front of her. She only half listened to what her brother was talking about as she crushed the next batch, lost in her thoughts again.

“I was planning on having dinner at dad’s place and spending the night there. I know he’s all alone and thought it would cheer him up some. I hope that’s okay with you.” Sunburst hoped his mom would be understanding about his not wanting his dad to feel left out or ignored.

“That’s very considerate of you, Sunburst. I’m sure he’d like the company.” His mom still spoke dispassionately whenever the subject of his dad came up. Sunburst wished they would just talk their problems out. He didn’t know why it had gotten to such a state between them.

“It’s only fair, mom. It’s the holiday after all. I love dad just as much as I love you.” Sunburst saw how her stirring of the tomato sauce on the stove slowed when the subject of his parent’s trial separation came up. It hurt him to see them so angry at one another. Even Nova tried to look like she wasn’t listening, humming to herself and clearly not wanting to get in between her mom and her brother should this conversation escalate out of control.

“I just don’t know why you two are so mad at eachother all the time.” Sunburst wished it could be like it used to be, the four of them together as a family. Stellar Flare sighed at his confusion.

“One day, when you’re married and have a family, you’ll understand why. For now, let’s get the sauce done and simmering on the stove. There’s still more to do.” She returned to her steady stirring of the sauce, making sure it didn’t stick to the pot.

Sunburst knew his mom was avoiding the subject but would not press her more. The day was moving forward and the next twelve hours were going to make or break his plan of creating the best Hearth’s Warming celebration his family had ever experienced.

Author's Note:

Chapter 2 of this story: I wanted to include Sunburst in this story as well as his family too. I liked the idea of Sunburst having a little sister, Nova is somewhere between 9 to 12 years old, to add some depth to his family life. His dad, Sunspot, is shown in briefly in 'The Cutie-Remark Pt.2' episode but no information was given. So, for fun I decided to fill out some personality background for him and put him in the story too.

Additionally, I wanted to present a difference in the kind of homes and up-bringing between Starlight and Sunburst. Whereas I wanted Starlight to have a working/middle-class type background, I wanted Sunburst to come from, if not upper-class, then certainly upper middle-class wherein his parents could afford hired help. As well, I wanted to have his family situation to be strained and he and his sister are caught in the middle between two parents. Starlight only having her dad and Sunburst parent's at a point of not living together was something I thought might be a nice contrast.