The hustle and bustle of Manehattan was something that Rarity had missed, although she would never admit to such a thing. She knew by this point that Ponyville was where she belonged; it was where her heart truly rested, despite the fact that ponies like her were often assumed to be more inclined to the big city life. It had been made fairly evident on Rarity's last trip to the city that its many splendors did not quite make up for the difference in mindset between herself and its general populace. As she stepped off of the train, though, setting hoof on the Manehattan streets for the first time since her humbling experience, she couldn't help but feel the allure of the big city sneaking up on her once again.
It was unfortunate that her friends were unable to accompany her. She had been very close with the girls for a long time already, but since the previous incident in the city, Rarity was making extra-certain to always treat them with the level of care and respect that she felt they deserved. As such, she'd nearly declined the invite that brought her here today when she'd received it. The idea of only one ticket being sent to her was practically an insult, all things considered. Her friends, however, were oddly insistent that she accept. As Twilight had so kindly pointed out, an opportunity like this did not come along every day, and it would have been foolish to pass it up simply because the others could not join her.
Rarity had kept regular correspondence with Coco Pommel ever since that day. She seemed like a nice, friendly sort, friendly enough to allow Rarity to overlook the fact that she had lied for that dreadful Suri Polomare at first. It wasn't the kindest thing to do, but it paled in comparison to Suri's actions, and with the general "anything to get ahead" attitude prevalent in the city, she could understand the poor mare's reasoning. Besides, she had apologized and made up for it; far more than what her former employer had done, which was a whopping nothing.
Rarity had been quite happy to hear that Coco had been doing wonderfully in her new position as a costume designer. The dresses that she'd made for Suri to present as her own, while marred by the fact that they were produced with pilfered provisions, were quite lovely, and it was no surprise that she was finding success with that level of talent. What was a surprise, though, was receiving a complimentary ticket to the latest show she'd designed for. Not just any complimentary ticket, either; this was a VIP ticket for a special performance of her newest show, entitled "Out Of Her Shadow." The show had not even opened on Bridleway yet; Rarity (and presumably anypony else who had been specially invited) would be seeing the show before anypony else. The idea tickled her greatly, and in the end, she had to admit that Twilight was right in insisting that she go without them. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; missing out on it would be foolish.
The fashionista thanked her lucky stars that the theater was only a short distance from the train station. She had already lost so much time making sure that she was dressed properly for the occasion that she was worried she might be late. This was definitely not the type of event that she could be late for; even if they were to delay the performance until she arrived, it would look just awful to be tardy for it. She could almost hear Twilight voicing her approval of this sudden need for punctuality as she closed the distance between herself and the theater.
Rarity checked her ensemble one final time in front of the theater doors. As usual, every aspect of her wardrobe had to be utterly perfect, and as usual, they were. A thought briefly formed itself in her mind, one which she had to chuckle at. Perhaps her lovely dress and chapeau would be breathtaking enough to even detract attention from the stage to herself. She giggled lightly, imagining the idea of the actors on stage welcoming her to join them, insisting that she take the stage since her outfit had proven itself worthy of the attention it garnered. She smiled as she let that idea fade. It was preposterous, but it was still a fun visual to entertain.
"Rarity! I'm so glad you could make it!"
Rarity cleared her throat and smiled warmly as she saw Coco approach. The first thing she noticed about Coco was her wardrobe, as was to be expected of a fashion-minded pony such as herself. The mare had decked herself out luxuriously, her silken gown cascading and flowing as if to challenge the ocean's waves. It took a moment for Rarity to catch her breath; it looked for all anypony knew as if Coco had stepped out of the show she was about to watch. As lovely as the dress was, though, Rarity couldn't help but notice that the slightly-stressed look that Coco had often displayed while working for Suri had not vanished. In fact, it looked to be even more evident than before. She figured that such a thing was natural, though. Designing costumes for major Bridleway productions had to take its toll, after all.
"I would not miss this for the world, darling," Rarity responded, offering her compatriot a hug. Coco hugged back eagerly, and Rarity could swear that she smelled the tiniest bit of sweat attempting to permeate the thick scent of Coco's perfume.
The two ponies exchanged pleasantries, most of which weren't entirely necessary. They had been corresponding rather frequently, so neither of them had much to say that the other hadn't already heard. Rarity was quite interested to hear, however, about what had happened with Suri since their run-in.
"She hit a real low point after the judges found out the truth about her ploy," Coco informed Rarity. "She was practically laughed out of Manehattan."
"Is that so?" Rarity asked, her face showing a smidgeon of concern. As cathartic as it was deep down to hear that the mare who had wronged her had received her comeuppance, she was never one for schadenfreude and had difficulty truly taking joy in somepony else's pain.
"It is," Coco answered. "She ended up issuing a public apology, though, and she's been doing alright for herself ever since. I've been considering hiring her as my assistant."
The two shared a laugh over the idea, and Rarity took note of some of the stress in Coco's face beginning to fade. It relieved her; Coco was such a sweet thing, and didn't deserve to be so nervous. She figured Coco could use a bit of training on how to behave in the public eye, and told herself that she would offer to help with this once today's show was over. Such help might have been coming a bit late, though, seeing as she was already dealing with the public at the moment...wasn't she? It was just then that Rarity noticed the startling lack of other ponies in the theater. Stagehands were milling around, actors were talking and rehearsing lines, and one especially-bedraggled stage manager was running left and right, but as far as theatergoers were concerned, Rarity could not spot a single one.
"Coco?" Rarity asked. "Who else have you invited to this showing? I assumed there would be a number of notable ponies in attendance for such a prestigious event."
Rarity watched as the stress returned in full force to Coco's face. Had she said something wrong? Rarity kept an awkward smile up as she wondered what could have happened. Perhaps she had been the only one to accept Coco's invitation? She felt a wave of sympathy for the poor mare wash over her. Coco was a newcomer to the field, after all, and the elites in any field like this had a tendency to judge on past credentials. Perhaps they had seen the name of an unknown and simply assumed that it wasn't worth the effort? The thought infuriated her. Who were they to decline such a kind, sweet mare's invitation? What right did they have to not even give her a chance?
"Well...." Coco began, but she was quickly silenced by Rarity.
"Say no more, darling," the fashionista said. "I believe I understand."
"Y-you do?" Coco asked, bewildered.
"I do," Rarity replied. "And I want you to know that I fully support you, no matter what."
As if she'd flipped a switch in her brain, Rarity watched the worry and stress melt from the mare's face, replaced by a warm, genuine smile,
"I'm so glad to hear that, Rarity," Coco said softly. "I was worried, but..."
The lights in the theater dimmed, then returned to normal. Rarity and Coco looked up, recognizing the gesture as a call for the cast and crew to get in place.
"I suppose we'll continue our conversation later," Coco said, the smile still displayed on her face. "I promise, you're going to enjoy this a lot. I'll talk to you during the final number, alright?"
Rarity raised a brow. She was positive of what she'd heard, but perhaps with how busy Coco was, she'd misspoken and said "during" instead of "after." She knew that type of situation rather well; she was still certain that she'd never live down the time when she'd meant to tell Applejack that she'd performed a fine jump during her rodeo training, but had instead complimented her rump by mistake.
"Alright, darling," Rarity answered. She felt Coco take her in a quick, yet firm hug, one which she was happy to reciprocate. The hug lasted only a moment before the busy mare was rushed off backstage. Rarity smiled to herself, then made her way towards her seat.
The fashionista was disheartened to find that her earlier assumption had seemed to be correct. Not a single other seat in the theater was filled. She sighed lightly to herself as the usher led her to her seat, hoping that neither Coco nor the rest of the cast and crew would be too disappointed. Even with this feeling, though, she couldn't deny the excitement of not only having a seat right up front and center for a limited premiere, but to have the entire theater to herself as well. A selfish little bit of her liked it this way, playfully toying around with the idea that the entire performance was for her and her alone.
Rarity found herself rapt with excitement as the first chord of the opening number struck and the first pony stepped onstage. She clapped enthusiastically, partially for the performance and partially for the costumes, all of which were made to the exact level of quality that she had come to expect from Coco. She also couldn't help but notice the fact that every single actor to walk on stage seemed completely nonplussed by the lack of non-Rarity audience. She took this as a credit to their dedication; had she put on a fashion show and seen such an empty crowd, she would have had difficulty hiding her disappointment, but if it bothered the actors, they certainly were not showing it.
The first half of the show lasted for a good hour and a half, and Rarity was enraptured for every moment of it. As she trotted into the lobby for intermission, she tried to find Coco; compliments had to be paid for the marvelous work she'd done on the costumes. Unfortunately, her search came up short; Coco was nowhere to be found, or at least nowhere that Rarity had permission to be. She'd tried knocking on the backstage door, figuring her VIP status could grant her access, but she was informed by the stage manager that he could not permit her backstage, due to orders from Coco herself. Rarity was disappointed, but not as much as she was worried. Coco must not have wanted Rarity to see her despair at the lack of turnout. The fashionista felt terribly for her friend, and resolved to do something to improve her mood upon the performance's consummation. The lobby lights dimmed once again, and Rarity made her way back to her seat.
The second act was just as fantastic as the first. Rarity found herself quickly rallying behind the plight of Star Bright, the ingenue, an up-and-coming seamstress. Star had worked so hard under the oppressive rule of her employer, Needlepoint, an embittered mare of dubious morals. All the while, Rarity found herself eagerly anticipating the final number of the show. The rest of the music had been outstanding, but the final number was the one that Coco had specifically told her to watch out for. If this final number was to be so good that it deserved mention above the rest of the brilliant songs, then it truly had to be something to watch for.
The fashionista watched with bated breath as things looked bleak for the plucky young ingenue. Forced to be a pawn in her employer's chicanery, her future in her field was looking to be nothing more than a pipe dream. The harsh situation made the eventual turnaround all the better, as an unsuspecting character who had been introduced quietly in the previous act stepped up to challenge Needlepoint. This character, Glitter Gem, was a lovely and affable seamstress from out of town, and gave Star the courage to finally stand up to her employer and punish her for all the wrongdoings she'd committed along the path of the story. Rarity felt the urge to leap out of her seat and cheer as Star finally won out in the end, all with Glitter by her side. She did not do so, however; such an outburst would have been quite improper.
Rarity took a deep breath, watching as Star took her heroine's hoof, staring deep into her eyes. She had picked up on the somewhat-subtle idea of a budding romance between the two, and was proud of herself for spotting such an element, thinking that a less astute viewer might have been taken by surprise. She smiled, ready to listen to the final number which she had been waiting so anxiously for. Suddenly, the stage manager walked onstage, telling the actors to stop. Rarity was baffled by this development; what in the world was going on? She had never seen a performance stopped in such a way at any point, let alone just before the final song.
"May I have your attention, please," the stage manager spoke. "For our final number, there will be a slight casting change."
"A casting change? On the final number?" Rarity thought. Such an idea was improbable, and she figured that the a actors would think the same way. On the contrary, though, she watched as the actors smiled and stepped off stage. This was a peculiar performance indeed.
"Playing the part of Star Bright," the manager said, "will be Miss Coco Pommel."
Rarity could hardly believe her ears, and her eyes' account of the situation was equally unreliable as she watched a clearly-nervous Coco walk onstage. Her gown billowed and flowed along the ground as she took a seat right where the mare who'd been playing the role of Star had been. Rarity gave her an eager smile, but Coco seemed far too focused to notice it.
"And playing the part of Glitter Gem," the stage manager continued, "will be Miss Rarity."
Rarity rose a brow. She had never met another pony who shared her name, and looked towards the backstage door in anticipation. Only when a crew member reached out for her hoof did Rarity realize that she was meant to come up on stage.
"...Me...?" the startled seamstress asked. She looked to Coco, who was now staring straight at her. Sweat was pouring down the poor mare's forehead, but she smiled regardless. Rarity, stunned, followed the stagehand onto the stage and took a seat in Glitter's intended chair. She turned to Coco, intending to question her, but was silenced when the mare reached forward and took her hoof. The music swelled up, and Coco took a deep breath before beginning her song.
A mare with ambitions
A mare with dreams
Found her work sedated
And torn at the seams
I thought I was halted
Till you helped me start
I stepped out of her shadow
You stepped into my heart
Caught under oppression
I was gasping for air
Her unscrupulous methods
Left me cold with despair
Till you came along
Pulled my bindings apart
I stepped out of her shadow
You stepped into my heart
I never could give
As much thanks as you're due
I had no way to show
My feelings to you
I know it seems sudden
A surprise on this day
So I hope you'll indulge me
And allow me to say
That I owe you my freedom
I owe you my mirth
I owe you for showing me
Just what I am worth
I hope that you'll join me
When I depart
I've stepped out of her shadow
Please step into my heart
I've stepped out of her shadow
Please step into my heart
The music died down, and the rest of the cast and crew clapped around the two mares. Tears were now flowing freely down the unicorn's cheeks, and she bit her lip as she gazed into Coco's eyes. Coco, for her part, still held her now-confident smile, despite the tear-streaked mascara on her cheeks.
"You...you did this all for..." Rarity began to ask, although she already knew the answer. "How..."
"I took a page from your book," Coco said quietly. "A touch of random generosity here and there, and the friends I've made were more than happy to help me set this up for you. Your friends were eager to help, too. Didn't you wonder why I only sent you one ticket when I knew how close you were with your friends? Once I wrote to them to explain my plan, they were glad to help."
Rarity sniffled lightly, unable to express what she was thinking in words. She felt Coco take her other hoof as well.
"I learned a lot from you, Rarity," the emotional mare said. "And you've been on my mind ever since. A big display like this to tell you how I feel only covers a fraction of what you deserve. Now, how would you feel about a nice post-show lunch?"
Rarity was practically glowing with joy and pride. She didn't need words to express her answer. A gentle hug and a nuzzle for good measure were the only responses necessary.