Life in the Donut Hole

by Revenant Wings

First published

My name is Matthew Rock. I made the dimension leap hoping to find a better life in Equestria and a decent job, but instead I'm stuck at some hole in the wall. Guess I gotta make the best of it for now.

My name is Matthew Rock. When things took a turn for the worst and my degrees couldn't get me the job of high-class chef back home, I made the free dimensional leap to Equestria looking for better chances.

Fat lot of good that did me. I'm now stuck at the lower end of the restaurants, a re-vamped donut shop trying to act like the big leagues. The place is a dump as far as I'm concerned, but I guess I need the experience if I'm ever gonna get the attention or save enough money to make it big myself or open my own restaurant sometime.

Gotta spend a little time in hell before moving on up.

Rated Teen for language and some suggestive content. Comedy tag is there for some comedy and jokes, but otherwise it's a dramedy.

Why'd they take Donut Joe out of the character tags?

Episode 1: Blueblood the Food Critic

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I grabbed the gaudy red and paper hat from my head almost as soon as I entered the door of my apartment, crumpling it in one hand while I slammed the door shut with the other. The paper apron came off next, grabbing it with both hands and throwing it off my head.

“Fuck yes!” I shouted with glee, kicking over an imaginary hay burger stall. “I am DONE with that bitch!”

Down a short hallway, from the bathroom, my roommate peeked his head around the corner. The square snout of the stallion pointed at me and the green, slitted eyes that reminded me of my parents’ cat peered at me curiously from under the greyish-blue mane. “Done with what again?” the voice replied, soft yet intrigued.

“I got the job!” I exclaimed. I threw the crumpled remains of the paper hat towards the garbage can, hit the rim and missed. “No more working at that hay burger stand! Wait until I tell my guardian that I have a decent paying job for once!”

The stallion’s expression changed, and he gained a warm smile. “Fantastic, Matthew. I won’t be alone in paying the rent anymore.”

I picked up the trash and put my hands up defensively. “Hey, just because you get paid more doesn’t mean you need to throw that out. I’ve got two degrees; I should be at least two-thirds what you get, Mister Masters.”

“I know.” The head disappeared back around the corner, voice changing to a more soothing tone. “I am genuinely happy for you. It’s one step closer, after all.”

I walked over to the entrance of the bathroom and leaned on the doorway, watching my roommate as he grabbed the contact lens with one hoof and gently pulled down his lower eyelid. “I still don’t like it,” I said as I watched him. “I mean, that little dump?”

“Donut Joe’s isn’t a dump,” the stallion said as he put his hoof down and blinked rapidly a few times. “It’s an Equestrian institution. Rather popular around here.”

“Yeah,” I said with a chuckle as he pulled down the other eyelid on the side closest to me. “That’s why the only donut shtick wasn’t working and now he’s upgraded to a casual dining restaurant.”

“It’ll get you points,” he said. “It is a thing around here. One or two of the high-level ones close to the castle started at Joe’s.”

“Doubt it,” I said. “Donuts to ricotta gnocchi and Florentine lasagna sounds like a bit of a jump.”

“They work their way up,” the stallion said, blinking rapidly again. “They always do. So will you if you work at it.”

I sighed as the stallion washed his face. “Midnight, both you and I know that place is a dump. That’s why they had to renovate.”

Midnight Glow looked at me, now with a non-slitted but still abnormally large-sized pair of green eyes. “Sweetie,” he said, adding a little extra tenderness to his soft voice, “you’ll never get very far if you keep up with that attitude.”

I glared at him. “It doesn’t do much to patronize me,” I said as hard as I could to counter it. “And don’t call me ‘Sweetie’. You know, just because we’re roommates doesn’t mean you have to treat me like your boyfriend.”

“A true boyfriend would pay his portion of the rent on time,” Midnight said, smiling almost seductively at me as he turned to me so that his nose was right in front of mine. “Which, with the increase in pay at this new restaurant, means you might finally step up to that level.”

I gently pushed his nose away as Midnight giggled. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be sure to pay my half of the rent and utilities now. Working at that hay burger stand was a bitch. I mean, 7 bits an hour to stand in the sun? Seriously? Hated it. Fourteen is a lot better.”

I walked to the kitchen and opened up a dark brown bottle of Canterlot stout; caramel with coffee hints in the beer. I heard Midnight walking up behind me. “Excuse me, why do you say ‘bitch’ all the time?”

I took another sip of the beer and looked at him. “What do you mean?”

The two leathery bat wings at either side of him flapped a few times, stretching luxuriously. “You said ‘bitch’. Now, I’m pretty sure you don’t mean that a female dog was working with you at the stand, so why do you say it?”

“A female dog,” I mused as I took another sip. “Then I’d have seen everything. Anyway, it’s Earth slang. It either means I hated it or I thought really low of something.”

Midnight went into the fridge himself, grabbing another bottle of the Canterlot stout and opening it with one of his fangs. “Then why didn’t you say that at the start?”

“Because I like saying ‘bitch’,” I said, sitting on the living room couch and turning on our TV. Some old, black-and-white movie was playing. “Ever try that with your patients at the guard, mister psychiatrist? Really helps at relieving stress. Swear therapy.”

“That’s ‘psychologist’.” Midnight sat down on the couch beside me. “And I’d guarantee none of them would have heard it in that context before.”

I took another sip of my beer and shook my head. “Fucking magical multi-colored ponies…”

Midnight chuckled. “You would like to, wouldn’t you?”

I sighed and looked over to him, leaning back with me on the couch and fixing a smirk at me. “Dude… really?”

“Just teasing.” He held his bottle towards me; I never got how he could hold it with one hoof. “Cheers at a new job?”

I smiled at him and clinked our bottles together. “New job, better pay, and one step closer to owning my own restaurant.”

And we drank deeply from our bottles.

* * *

One week later…

I get up from my bed at seven o’clock, rub the sleep from my eyes, and head for the bathroom. My face is an absolute mess; hair a complete fuzzball, eyes red and bleary, and my body aching. That one last beer before bed with Midnight was a bad idea. I only take a moment of thinking how he would be for today before stepping in the shower.

Should have explained something. My name’s Matthew Rock. I’m 24 years old, and I’ve got two degrees: bachelors in Culinary Arts and Business Finance. Thought it wouldn’t be too bad, but when it became a piece of shit to find a job back home on Earth, I took the free dimensional leap to Equestria to see about something there.

After making sure to clean every orifice on me, I dry myself off and step out to change into work clothes. Work clothes are a pair of blue slacks, a nice pair of shoes (just have to be clean), and a collared shirt. Sometimes I think it’s weird that I’m the only one I’ve ever seen wearing clothes even though I’m told other humans have been here before. But then, with the things I’ve seen on the ponies, who don’t ever wear clothes, I think I look pretty decent by comparison.

I manage to grab an energy bar and chomp down on it as I made my way to Midnight’s bedroom. He’s passed out on his bed, one wing folded up and another spread out. I'm still surprised that, being a bat pony, he doesn't sleep hanging from the ceiling.

“Yo!” I call out to him. “I’m off to work.”

Midnight groans. Apparently, he didn’t take it too well, either.

“I should be off at 4 or so,” I tell him. “I’ll probably be back before you.”

Another groan and Midnight opens and turns a sleepy eye to me. “Fine. I’ll see you later, honey.”

I sigh. “I thought I told you to drop that shit.”

He smiles. “I can call you ‘honey’ all I want. You actually are sweet if you’re taking the time to say ‘goodbye’.”

He… has a point. “Fine. Goodbye, moonhorse.”

I’m satisfied when I hear a more irritated groan out of him as he rolls over. He hates the nickname ‘moonhorse’, which I gave him when I couldn’t remember his name when I first moved in but remembered his cutie mark was a giant glowing moon.

I leave the apartment at seven thirty, chomping down on the energy bar as I made my way through the early morning Canterlot streets. I’m not that far away but I like to make it to Donut Joe’s early. Sure, I sound like I might not care sometimes, but about work I do totally get serious. It’s what I want to do. I’m not so keen on dropping the ball on it now.

It’s been a week now since I’ve started at Donut Joe’s, but I don’t think it’s a dump anymore. It’s a little stone building on the corner of a rather large intersection. Two glass doors enter the place, and many large windows surround the two walls facing the streets. The wall opposite the large window is filled with local art pieces. The side opposite the door is the main kitchen and pastry counter.

I walk in about seven forty. It’s still early and not too many ponies are inside. I head up to the pastry counter and take a seat at the sort of bar counter Donut Joe’s had and see the stallion himself come out; tan coat, brown mane already in a mess, and wearing an apron with a large sprinkled donut on it same as his cutie mark. He’s also got a bit of brown stubble around the chin, which made me think he’s trying to grow a beard.

It doesn’t look good on him, but I don’t tell him that.

“Hey,” he says. “Want somethin’ before you start?”

“Cinnamon roll and a cup of the… caramel coffee. Black.”

“Comin’ up.” He pulls out a clean, white, ceramic mug and fills it with coffee before setting down a lightly iced cinnamon roll in front of me.

“Thanks,” I say. I sip the hot mug of coffee and already feel it perk me up, light hints of caramel among the otherwise bitter flavor.

Not having to deal with anyone for a time, Joe leans on the counter. “Rough night last night?”

“Drinking with my roommate,” I say. “Had one too many. Finished early, still hit me hard this morning.”

He nods. “Yeah, I remember those days. Never was much for beer lately.”

I nod. “I shouldn’t. But I like the taste.”

“Which one?”

“Canterlot cream stout.”

“Ooh… that is a good one. Thought about selling beer here, but the liquor license is a pain.”


“Fees, tests, background checks, you name it. Got to be as clean as someone going for the Guard.”

The cinnamon roll is light and fluffy and perfectly iced. Donut Joe many not exactly know how to make a fine three-course meal, but he certainly knows how to do dessert. Then again, I got hired because I could do the former and not necessarily the latter.

Another customer comes in and Joe readies himself to help out as I finish up the last of my own donut and coffee. I pay four bits – one over what I’m supposed to pay – and head back behind the counter to the little break room next to the kitchens to put on my apron, similar to the one Donut Joe wears.

I’m the lead in the kitchens right now, along with two other part-timers. In three hours, Cast Iron comes in, and she’ll finish up work three hours after I leave and she’s the lead in the kitchens with two more part-timers. Donut Joe’s trying to get another chef full-time, but, apart from being the only two who applied for the position, he hasn’t had much luck finding a chef, though we’re supposed to get a waiter at the end of the week.

I am technically a chef de partie – that is, I actually cook – but I have some elements of a sous chef – I manage how the plates look and make sure they’re clear. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Wrong. Donut Joe’s is a dump in that it doesn’t have many customers. I can cook 20 plates on my own easily with the help of the part-timers with me. Donut Joe has more work than I do, waiting tables and managing the front end all on his own. I can take the counter, but I have to be on call for any plate or dish whether to cook or inspect.

At 11 o’clock, Cast Iron comes in. She’s a yellow unicorn with a mane and tail like fire and a pan for a cutie mark. We exchange nods and she takes over my spot in the kitchen while I go out front. Eleven o’clock is the second main donut rush, when some businesses offer an early lunch and they come in for a quick break.

About eleven fifteen, a special guest and my guardian comes in: a stallion with a greyish purple coat and an almost silvery mane that is puffed up at the top. A pair of purple glasses hide his eyes and his front is covered in an elaborate coat. Even so, the ponies in the shop certainly know Hoity Toity when they see him.

Hoity Toity comes up to the counter and sits on one of the stools. “Afternoon, HT,” I say politely. “Looking for something?”

Hoity Toity examines the pastries for a second. “One English muffin with jam, a pair of scrambled eggs, and a few slices of hay bacon, plus an orange juice,” he says in a rather posh accent. “I’ve got an afternoon of dress designs I have to look over.”

I nod, write the order down, and send it through to Cast Iron, along with a note that says “Special”. She looks it over quickly, nods, and immediately sets off to work, yelling at the part-timers to get moving. I’m about to join her when Hoity Toity speaks up.

“A word, Matthew.”

I walk over to where Hoity Toity is sitting. He smiles at me and pulls down his shades. With them, he’s stern and almost unforgiving, but under them the blue eyes are smiling at me as well and his gaze is a fair amount warmer. “I see you have an upgrade,” he says. “Finally able to pay your rent?”

“Well, Midnight’s helped me with that,” I tell him. “He paid the majority when I was working at that shit hayburger stand.”

“Language, Matthew,” Hoity Toity calmly reprimands me with a faint scowl. “You can do it in private, but never in front of me.”

“Yes, sir,” I say. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Hoity Toity smiles again. “Good boy. So, how are you doing here?”

“Good,” I say. “Work has been smooth. Not much, but yeah. I’m finally able to pay my half of the rent this month.”

“Does he cover your insurance?”

“No. I meant to write you about that, but it slipped my mind.”

Hoity Toity nods thoughtfully. “Don’t worry. I’ve got you on mine until the end of the year and can reapply for you if necessary.”

Yep, he’s my guardian. Ponies apply to become “guardians” for humans making the dimensional leap. They manage their affairs for the first year and have to stay in contact for two more after that. Currently, my apartment and my insurance are under Hoity Toity’s name, and he helped me find both the hayburger stand job and the spot at Donut Joe’s.

When Hoity Toity finishes speaking, his meal is ready. I set it in front of him and he begins to eat when I notice a furrow in his brow.

“I imagine this is more than just a social call,” I say, hoping to pry for information.

“Indeed.” Hoity Toity takes a bite of his hay bacon. “Hm… on par with one of my favorite diners… Anyways, I came to give you a heads up. I’m just here because I want to. But later, Celestia’s sending down a food critic.”

“Um… mind if I get Donut Joe for this? He’ll want to hear about it, too.”

“Matthew,” Cast Iron calls, “we’ve run out of hay bacon.”

I turn around and look at the mare staring at me through the window. “Do you need it now?”

“No, but Hoity’s was the last one. We had just enough to make his. We’ll need to grab some more, but for now we just have pig bacon.”

“I’ll tell Joe about that, too,” I say. “In the meantime, keep working. Hopefully, with breakfast over, we won’t get so many orders.”

“I worry about the club sandwich,” Cast Iron says. “But yes, let Joe know.”

I nod to her and to Hoity Toity before leaving behind the counter and walking over to Donut Joe, who’s talking and laughing with a couple at one of the tables. He notices me and gives me an approving smile as I approach.

“Ah, and there’s the head chef now!” he says jovially. He laughs for a moment and reaches up slightly to put a hoof around my shoulders. “How’s everything going back there?”

I stumble from the weight for a second before Donut Joe takes the hint and removes his hoof. “We have a guest,” I say as politely as I can manage while straightening out. I motion over to Hoity Toity at the counter. “And he wishes to speak with you.”

Donut Joe nods and turns back to the table. “I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you all later, okay?” The couple waves him off and he follows me.

“We’ve also run out of hay bacon, Joe,” I tell him as we walk back to the counter.

“Ugh, I thought that might happen,” the tan unicorn spits out. “I’ve got a shipment coming in tomorrow, but until then I guess we might have to do regular bacon.”

“We can manage so long as no one orders a club sandwich.”

“Here’s hoping no one does,” Donut Joe says as we head behind the counter. “I’m just hoping lunch doesn’t go to Tartarus.”

I follow Joe over to where Hoity Toity is waiting. “Liking your service and meal, sir?” Joe asks.

“Quite good,” Hoity Toity says. “Now, I have a little piece of information for you: Celestia’s sending down a food critic.”

“Ah, yes!” Joe says. “I talked to her about that. Said she could get someone around here to hopefully get us a popularity boost. Who they writing for, huh? ‘Canterlot Quarterly’? ‘Better Stables and Gardens’?”

Hoity Toity shakes his head. “It’s Prince Blueblood.”

Joe mumbles angrily under his breath. “Son of a… well, great. That’s just great. Of all the critics she could have sent us, she gives us the prince.”

“There a problem with that?” I ask. “Royalty itself. That could prove useful.”

“Every single review that so-called ‘prince’ gives out is trash,” Donut Joe growls, pacing back and forth. “He’s got three places around here he likes. All high-class, all ridiculously expensive, best reviewed restaurants in the entirety of Equestria, and he’ll give them five stars. Every place else he smashes to bits. They’re lucky to get a one.”

“Yes, but look at his previous reviews,” Hoity Toity speaks up. “He finds one thing – just one thing – that he likes, and suddenly the place gets a boost. Service is speedy? Good. Plates are clean? Fine. Just so long as one noticeable thing gets done right.”

Joe looks around the restaurant. He doesn’t have much help out front, so the place isn’t exactly sparkling. I turn to him. “I can send one of the assistants to help clean up and help manage things in back.”

“If he can get the counter looking presentable,” Donut Joe says, “I can get out front fine. But we have to have things perfect, almost spotless if we want to survive this thing. What time is he coming?”

“One o’clock today,” Hoity Toity says. “After the main lunch hour. He doesn’t like the large crowds, so it might even be one fifteen.”

“Okay, we have time. Anything else?”

“His favorite food is a hay bacon club with asiago cheese, garlic sourdough bread, and a lemon vinaigrette and a slice of kale.”

Joe bites his bottom lip and I can see his face turning red with anger. “Matthew, is the break room empty?”

He’s speaking calmly despite the look on his face. I look in the kitchens and answer quickly. “I think so. I see Cast Iron and the other two currently at the stove.”

Joe nods then silently trots back. The place goes silent for a little bit before I hear him scream, muffled but still audible. “GO TO TARTARUS, YOU TIREK-BORN PRICK!” He walks out and adjusts his apron with magic before coughing slightly. “Thank you, Hoity. At least… at least we have forewarning.”

“Figured I could,” Hoity Toity said. “He came by to get his suit repaired. Least I could do was pass the information along.”

“Thank you again.”

Hoity Toity paid for his food before leaving. Once he’s left, Joe starts pacing around the back of the counter.

“This is bad…” he says. “I’m sure we could make everything else. Asiago cheese? Fine. Garlic sourdough? I make those every once in a while. Lemon vinaigrette? Do you know how to make it?”

“One ounce lemon juice per cup of vinaigrette made,” I tell him. “Easily done.”

Joe nods. “Good. And kale is a staple. Which leaves the fact that we’re out of hay bacon and he might want hay bacon.”

“Do you want me to go to the store?” I ask. “I could pick up the hay bacon and asiago cheese.”

“Yes, I think that would be best. Go now; there’s a cooking store five blocks down. Go, get the hay bacon, and return here.”

* * *

I ran, breathless, back to Joe’s nearly an hour later during the lunch rush.

Donut Joe turns to me, almost as though he hasn’t moved an inch. “Well, where in Tartarus have you been!? I’ve got a garlic sourdough in the oven and it should be finished in fifteen minutes.”

“Checked five stores,” I say between pants. “Started with the close one. Didn’t have jack shit. Checked four others, and only found asiago cheese at the last of them.” I produce the block of cheese to him. “But no hay bacon.”

Donut Joe growls. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“No, sir,” I say. “Apparently the Summer Sun Celebration is in two days. Ponies have been stocking up for their own celebratory feasts.”

Donut Joe growls again. “UGH! What am I going to do!? If that Prince Blueblood orders a hay bacon sandwich and doesn’t get one, he’s gonna be pissed. Might even order the club and not even say it specifically.”

“In short?”

“We’re doomed if he orders that sandwich. ‘One thing right’ goes out the window, and viciously. Oh, Celestia, why? Why did you have to do that?”

“Suppose he doesn’t order the sandwich…” I start to venture.

Donut Joe is suddenly right in my face. “Are you kidding me!?” he nearly shrieks. “It’s like his requirement or something! He’s called to review a restaurant, he orders the club, the restaurant suddenly is in disaster because they can’t get his thing right!”

“Sounds like he’s just a jerk and an asshole,” I say, backing up a little bit. “If he’s really so dang picky and everyone knows it, why don’t they ignore the review?”

“Because it’s the prince,” Donut Joe says. “You can’t just ignore the prince, no matter who he is.”

“…he still sounds like an asshole. I’m just calling it like it is.”

Donut Joe huffs. “Fine. Well, we got one more option. It’s 12:05 now. See if we have the ingredients and if we can make hay bacon ourselves.”

I nod and go off to find Cast Iron in the kitchen. She looks towards me.

“What’s the deal?” she asks. “How come Joe comes in the back room and starts swearing his head off, and how does that tie in to you running off to the store for a block of asiago?”

“Prince Blueblood’s coming in for lunch,” I say, “and he’s going to give us a review.”

Cast Iron slams her hoof on the floor. “Today of all days…! I swear things were just starting to look good for this place then he comes around.”

“What is the big deal?” I ask, shoving my hands in the air. “Why does no one just dismiss him as a pompous prick?”

“You can’t just dismiss the prince!” Cast Iron almost screams. “Look, Joe must have a plan. What is it?”

“Do we have the ingredients for hay bacon?” I ask.

Cast Iron, who already has every single amount of every single ingredient memorized for some damn reason, shakes her head. “There’s no way. Even if we do have the ingredients, a regular batch of 20 strips of hay bacon will take two hours to cook from scratch. Why?”

“Favorite food item is a hay bacon club.”

Cast Iron stamps her hoof again and curses. “Well… we have the ingredient list and the asiago now. If necessary, we make the sandwich and explain we don’t have hay bacon.”

“We can make the lemon vinaigrette easily, and will just have to take the kale into stock when creating salads, and Donut Joe says he can make a garlic sourdough. The rest of the sandwich is fine.”

“It’s not fine…” Cast Iron says, now seeming almost on the verge of panic. “Oh, what are we going to do? One bad review from the prince could mean disaster!”

“What is it with you people and one bad review from a guy who plainly sounds like a jerk!? The problem isn’t the review, the problem is that you look at it like a death sentence!”

“It may as well be!” Cast Iron nearly shrieks.

One of the young attendants looks over. “What’s going on?”

“Get back to work,” I say. “A minor upset.”

But Cast Iron can’t hold it in. “Prince Blueblood’s coming, and we don’t have any hay bacon!”

I swear these ponies are damn flighty. One attendant’s trembling in fear and the other looks like he could faint at any moment. “No…” he says, shaking. “We… we can’t have that on our record!”

“Get back to work!” I shout. “We need to get the other orders out. We’ll worry about Prince Blueblood when it comes to us. He can’t slight us for an item we don’t have that’s in popular demand. And if he does, I’m sure there’s someone I could talk to about this whole thing.”

That seems to have shaken some reason into them. The attendants get back to work and Cast Iron is back to dressing and checking plates. I join her for a while until things seem to settle down and Donut Joe comes back into the kitchen and calls me out.

“I need you out front tending the counter,” he says. “It’s one o’clock, and Prince Blueblood will be arriving any minute. Also, someone looking for you out there.”

I’m wondering who it could be. I head out and don’t see anyone for the time being, and even Donut Joe looks momentarily stumped. He asks for a cup of coffee for one of the tables remaining from the lunch rush and I go to make a new batch in the coffee pot.

When I turn around to face the counter, I’m touching nose-to-nose with a large bluish-grey snout and a large pair of green eyes looking at me upside down.

“Boop,” Midnight Glow says, smiling at me. At least, I think he is. “Thought I’d check in.”

I push him away and look up; he’s hanging by his tail from one of the light fixtures. “What happened to being Guard psychologist and nineteen bits per hour?”

“Spar training,” Midnight replies. “I’m off the rest of the day. Decided to come and see about the train wreck that is a food critic.”

“So you heard about Prince Blueblood coming down?”

“Course. Word got across the guard barracks pretty quick. Some are nervous because they like coming here early for a donut before training some mornings.”

I cross my arms and give off a “hmph.” “You’re worried over nothing,” I tell Midnight. “It’s a bunch of overreacting. It’s not like one bad thing from the Prince could ruin us.”

“I think you’re right.” Midnight makes a pose I remember being called “criss-cross apple sauce” with his hind legs, effectively doing it upside down. “While it is the Prince, it’s no fault of your own if you’re missing an item.”

I sigh. “Finally, someone with reason. Back on Earth, one food critic says something’s wrong, but a bunch of other’s say it’s fine, you’re good. Besides, we just started up. Blueblood is nothing.”

Midnight nods, and even upside down I can tell he’s got a smirk on his face. “I’ve got something that I think might help you out.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me… you’re going to use…?”

Midnight nods.

I stare at him in disbelief. “You’re going to hypnotize the prince!?”

“Just enough to make him not care about the lack of hay bacon.”

“Midnight, are you crazy? What if someone finds out about it?”

“You forget that I could do so easily. Conversational looks completely innocent.”

I want to grab him by the throat. “You’re not going to do it.”

“Oh, yes I am.” Midnight starts talking in his soothing tone again and I could swear his eyes got brighter. “Just relax, Matthew. I’ve got this taken care of.”

I’m lucky he’s hanging from a light fixture. I can’t tear my eyes away, and if I stayed still much longer he’d have had me good. But I manage to get one hand up and push him by a wing, which makes him start spinning around just enough to disorient him and break our eye contact. He spreads his wings and gracefully flips over to sit on the counter. “Just be quiet and don’t do anything, moonhorse,” I tell him.

“You’re no fun,” he says playfully as I walk off to get the cup of coffee, grumbling.

The restaurant pretty much empties with the exception of an old stallion drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper in one corner. One ten rolls around and there’s still no sign of the prince. I’m beginning to think we may get a reprieve. Midnight orders a hot daffodil, daisy, and alfalfa sandwich with chips and provolone cheese just so he’s not taking up counter space.

I’ve just finished taking the order when up comes a white unicorn with blue eyes and blonde hair with a lock that looks tangled and out of place. He’s wearing a blue bow-tie and the very top of a black suit and white collared shirt, a rose sticking out from the pocket of the suit. Midnight and I both turn to look at him and Donut Joe suddenly is straightening himself out as much as possible.

“Prince Blueblood,” Midnight says quietly. “Take a good look; here’s the dreaded one.”

He certainly looks haughty and like he doesn’t want to be here. He’s inspecting everything as though he’s waiting for a bug to come crawling from the crack in the wall – and honestly, I wouldn’t blame him. He seems to regard Midnight only long enough to take a seat a few away from him, and hardly notices me at all.

Donut Joe is fumbling over his words. “P-P-Prince Blueblood! I… I heard you were c-c-coming to lunch today. Bit of a short notice, I-I’m sorry for the delay…”

Prince Blueblood waves a hoof and cuts him off. “Enough, commoner,” he says with a more disdainful affect than I’ve ever heard out of Hoity Toity. "I’d rather not be here tasting carnival fare, but my dear aunt says otherwise or I’m not allowed to host a gala again.”

“O-Of course,” Donut Joe says. “Here… let me get you a menu…”

“Oh, fine,” Prince Blueblood says with a huff. “I was thinking about a particular favorite of mine, but I guess I’ll see what you have.”

Donut Joe gulps, but pulls out a menu without even looking away and sets it on the counter in front of Prince Blueblood’s chosen seat. Blueblood sighs as though it’s taking away his precious time and I tell Joe about Midnight’s order.

“Then go do it!” he hisses. “One of the part-timers left already, and I can’t have that kitchen unstaffed!”

I head back into the kitchen, but I’m close enough to the door to hear what’s going on outside.

“Is there anything I can get you, my prince?” Donut Joe asks. He seems to at least have gotten over the initial shock, but from the shaking in his voice, he’s still not entirely comfortable with it.

Prince Blueblood is silent for a while. “Hmm… not exactly high-class fare, is it?”

“It’s… not intended to be. I… I just wanted to augment my restaurant a little so I wasn’t just serving donuts all the time.”

“One can make a donut high-class if one knows what they’re doing.”

“Have you ever cooked a donut, my prince?”

“No, but I know better bakers than yourself.”

Donut Joe makes a grunt like he’s been hit in the chest. “Very well. I have to go check on the staff, but call me if you need anything.”

Prince Blueblood gives no acknowledgement.

Joe comes back looking exhausted. He simply walks back through the kitchen and shuts the door to the staff break room. Best not to disturb him, so I just continue cooking Midnight’s order.

I come out with the sandwich looking nicely dressed, and find that Midnight is striking up a conversation with Blueblood.

“So it seems there is another eminent member of the Guard here,” Prince Blueblood says. “I was not aware it was a staple.”

“It is, somewhat,” Midnight replies with extra enunciation on every ‘s’ sound. “Sometimes it’s nice to come on down for a spell and relax during my break times.”

“I would figure it is,” Blueblood says, a touch less disdainful than before. “Having to deal with all those new recruits must be a pain.”

“At times. But it’s not that difficult. They simply need a reminder to calm down and relax a little bit.”

I set down Midnight’s food and he looks up at me with a wink. I already know what he’s doing and can manage no more than a disapproving frown before turning to Prince Blueblood.

Prince Blueblood turns to face me. “And who are you?” he asks, the disdain back in his voice.

“I am the head chef here,” I tell him. “Matthew Rock, sir.”

Prince Blueblood nods. “Alright. Here for anything else?”

“Just your order, my prince.”

I imagine the high-class demeanor and affect I’m giving him are getting to him, because he smiles at me. “Oh, good. I’ll start with an appetizer for now. I’ll try the three mozzarella balls with tomato sauce.”

I nod, and head back into the kitchen. “Alright, Cast Iron. Appetizer plate: three mozzarella balls with tomato sauce. Know how to do fancy?”

Cast Iron smiles at me. “I think you mean haute cuisine,” she says. “And yes, I can do fancy.”

“Good. Because we just had ourselves some time bought.”

I pull out a pan and get to work on a small serving of tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes and basil, while Cast Iron uses magic and a few tools to get three decent-sized mozzarella balls formed almost perfectly and cooking. As we work, I can hear Midnight working his own magic on Prince Blueblood.

“As I was saying, the recruits are not difficult. They simply need focus and attention. With the right focus and a relaxed demeanor, things become much easier.”

“I agree. I don’t know much, but I’m sure you do, being a psychologist and all. I only wish my servants were that good.”

“Even servants need time to relax. They are as in need of rest as anyone else is. A little rest, that’s all, and their focus is restored.”

“Yes, well, uh, I… I guess that’s true. A little break never hurt anyone.”

“No, indeed. A little rest and wounds are restored. Time to relax, and one’s mind becomes refreshed. Even yourself, my dear prince; I dare say you’re cooped up too long, too much stress and not enough rest in your routine.”

I have to stifle a yawn almost as much as Prince Blueblood does, and Cast Iron has put two balls of dough in her ears as makeshift plugs. “Yes, you’re right,” I hear Prince Blueblood’s voice become calmer and slower. “I… I have needed a break.”

I struggle for a moment before letting my curiosity get the better of myself and peek through the window. Blueblood and Midnight are now merely a seat apart from each other. Midnight’s eyes are glowing brighter and brighter and he’s gently caressing Prince Blueblood’s cheek, surprisingly without the other stallion even caring. Blueblood, meanwhile, seems lost and I can see his pupils growing wider and wider.

“Of course you do, my dear prince,” Midnight says slowly, almost seductively. “Everyone, even you, needs a rest. Needs relaxation. Needs to retrain their focus. Focus, my prince, and see how desperately in need you are…”

I’m frozen watching the scene as Prince Blueblood’s eyes droop further down. “Yes… I… I need a rest…”

“Good… good… relax, my prince… relax and close your eyes.”

I’m shaking where I stand. I can’t tell if it’s out of fear or from Cast Iron shaking me.

“Forget that! Get the sauce!” she hisses.

I’m back in the kitchen, and my sauce is bubbling nicely. I watch as Cast Iron fits the mozzarella balls, browned and lightly fried to where there’s no grease on them, into a triangle and ladle the sauce over them. I top it with a fresh sprig of basil and lemongrass and take the plate out to the counter.

“Listen to me, my prince,” Midnight is crooning as I walk out. “You will be fine with whatever sandwich you order. You will not complain if they lack an item. You will be complacent and willing to give whatever you order a chance. And you will forget this conversation when you awaken. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.” Prince Blueblood’s reply is almost lazy.

“Right. Now, when your head taps the counter, you will awaken. Three…” Blueblood is spun around to face the counter. “Two…” Midnight gently removes his hoof from Blueblood’s chin. “One…” Midnight’s hoof goes to the back of Blueblood’s head. “Awaken!”

In one swift move, Blueblood is launched forwards and Midnight is spun around so that he’s facing his sandwich. He picks up the sandwich and casually takes a bite out of it, while Blueblood slams his head into the counter and groans, a hoof rubbing the spot on his head.

“Oof…” he groans again. “Shouldn’t have done that…”

Midnight winks at me. I come out of the kitchen and place the mozzarella balls in front of Prince Blueblood, who looks at them and gives a slight nod of approval.

“Anything else, my prince?” I ask.

Prince Blueblood is silent for a long while. He takes another look at the menu, and says four words that tell me I’m safe.

“Soup and salad, please.”

Every single bit of tension I’d been feeling – Prince Blueblood’s surprise visit, Donut Joe’s breakdown, the lack of hay bacon, Midnight’s interruption – comes out in the single sigh that follows that sentence. I nod. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Um, which salad and which soup?”

“A garden salad with lemon vinaigrette dressing, a cup of the cream of vegetable soup, and an English muffin with butter and strawberry jam,” Prince Blueblood says. “I have a soiree to go to tonight and I don’t want to spoil myself.”

I nod, and head back into the kitchen and heave a relieved sigh. Midnight speaks up again.

“You okay, sir?”

“That’s ‘Prince Blueblood’ to you, commoner! I expect proper respect even in a dump like this!”

“Of course, my prince.” I can almost hear the smirk in Midnight’s voice. “My apologies.”

Cast Iron comes up to me. “…yes?”

I repeat the order and the same sigh comes out of her mouth. Donut Joe busts out from the break room and launches himself into the kitchen.

“No hay bacon club!?” he says. “We have a chance! Places, ponies! We’ve got an order to serve!”

I get on the vegetables as Cast Iron starts the soup. Once the vegetables are cut, Cast Iron tends the cup of soup and I get the salad prepped with fresh lettuce, kale, diced tomatoes, and the like and make a fresh lemon vinaigrette in the cleanest and nicest serving dish we have. Donut Joe also seems revitalized and gets together the English muffin, butters it, and places a small thing of strawberry jam with it.

Once it’s all done, I examine the contents of the order. Not too bad for a simple restaurant; the cream of vegetable soup is lightly steaming and perfect consistency, the salad is filled with fresh ingredients and bright colors, and the English muffin looks soft and fluffy.

Perhaps this place isn’t such a dump after all.

Donut Joe gets the honor of bringing the tray out to Prince Blueblood, who looks over it critically but says nothing. Donut Joe takes the finished plate of mozzarella balls away and sends it back to us to clean while he serves Prince Blueblood a lightly sweetened iced tea.

The prince takes his sweet damned time in finishing the food. When he’s done, he pays and hardly leaves any tip and gives no comment. I come out from the kitchen and stand next to Donut Joe.

“I think we did it,” I say. “If he’s as much of an asshole as you say he is, silence is the best reward we could have gotten.”

Donut Joe gulps and pulls his collar away like it’s choking him. “I hope you’re right.”

I look over to Midnight, who has a rather self-satisfied look on his face.

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to do that to him?” he asks.

* * *

One week later…

I’m sitting on the couch with a beer and a color variety show when I hear the mail slot rattle and a bunch of papers shuffle in.

“Midnight!” I call. “Mail call!”

“You get it!”

“I’m not expecting anything.”

Midnight heaves a sigh and I hear him get up from the counter behind me. He’s been paying bills for the last hour, and I expect he thinks there’s one more in there. So do I, so I leave it to him.

His expression changes after he throws a few pieces aside. “Huh… a copy of ‘Better Stables and Gardens’… featuring Prince Blueblood.”

I turn around and look at him. Sure enough, there’s Prince Blueblood on the cover, standing there with a smug look on his face and the advertisement ‘Prince Gives a Review: Canterlot’s 18 Newest Restaurants’.

“Give me that,” I say. “I want to see.”

Midnight tosses it so it lands in my face. I grab it before it can fall to the ground and flip to the page where Prince Blueblood is featured. At the bottom of the second page is a Starred Review.

“Hey, it’s us!” I say. “Starred Review: Donut Joe’s Restaurant.”

“Well,” Midnight says expectantly. “Let’s hear it.”

The review is short.

Well, the place is still a dump and still stuck at the worst of Canterlot’s intersections. Not much has changed to the places design, although they finally serve more than donuts now. The salad was passable and the soup at least had the right consistency. Donut Joe manages to prove himself worthy of his name with pastry and English muffins made in-house. Service was lacking and the place is still a dump – can’t stress that enough – but somehow manages to make up for it in the quality of it’s food.

Also, the sandwiches there are okay.

Two and a half out of five stars.

“Two and a half!?” I nearly shriek. “We did better than that!”

“Looks like you’ll survive another year,” Midnight says. “Oh, look, he even likes the sandwiches.”

Midnight gives me a shit-eating grin so big I want to punch him and knock a few of his teeth out. But for some reason that’s not what happens. I just give him a hug.

“We’re still in business.”

Episode 2: The Hypnotist's Roommate Can't Sleep

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My name is Matthew Rock. I’m 24 years old with two bachelor’s degrees, and I’ve just fallen asleep on the job.

“Wake up, Matthew!” Donut Joe shouts in my ear. “I don’t get how you can fall asleep standing up.”

Indeed, I did somehow manage to find a way to sleep standing up. I manage to jolt myself awake from Joe’s shouting, almost tap him on the head like an alarm clock, and go back to tending the pastry counter. I just thought I’d get a few moments with my eyes closed when there were no customers. Instead, I dozed off by the donuts.

Probably because they look as soft as a pillow, and the sheet paper they’re on would be a decent enough blanket if one layered it.

Donut Joe gives an exasperated sigh as I check the coffee and hot chocolate supplies. “Honestly… That’s the second time this week you’ve fallen asleep on the job. Are you not getting enough sleep? What is it?”

I’m pretty sure I have been, as I tend not to see my alarm clock between the hours of 12 and 7 am. “Seven hours a night. Normal for my age, at least.”

“If you were getting enough sleep, you wouldn’t have found a way to do so at work,” Donut Joe reprimands. “Look, you need a vacation? At least work until 11am when Cast Iron comes in and she can finish out the day for you.”

I’m not wide awake, but I certainly don’t want that. “Hell no. I’ll finish my service and try going to bed a bit earlier.” I try to say it with more conviction, but a yawn breaks through. “I’ll just set aside a cup of coffee for now.”

Donut Joe’s still irritated, but his voice is softer and not so angry anymore. “Look. You’re a good chef. You’ve done a fantastic job and I’m glad I’ve hired you. But you’ve got to find a way to stay awake at least while you’re here. Look, you’ve got today and tomorrow. Manage to make it through that and you’ll have a break, alright?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I’ll try to stay awake for the rest of the time.”

“Good man. We need two cups of coffee and a hot chocolate for table six. Can you get that for me?”

I nod and pull out two cups of coffee and a cup of hot chocolate, get some packets of creamer and sugar, and send them off with Donut Joe for a small family that just came in and start musing how I got myself into this situation.

I have two degrees: bachelor’s in Culinary Arts and Business Finance. I came here six months ago when job prospects looked slim back on Earth. Might be surprising, but despite the situation I’ve found myself in – working at a hayburger stand for 5 months, barely making payments and taxes, only about a month ago finding a decent job at Donut Joe’s – I haven’t looked back.

Until now.

It might be surprising – might not, too – but I haven’t really thought about my family that much. I’ve been so busy establishing myself here that I kinda forgot about them. If it makes me sound like a prick, I’ve had too many other things going on. I started with a work visa, became nationalized with a dual citizenship not long ago, and finally got a decent-paying job that’s allowed me to pay off some of my debts. Only now with a little free time do I really have time to think, and it started by thinking about home.

A few more customers come in for a breakfast run and I have to supervise and help out two young attendants in the kitchen. Eggs, hay bacon, toast, potatoes, vegetables. Simple stuff, most can be done in a quick fry. But as a sous chef I take my job seriously, and plates don’t go out until I’m sure they’re of the best quality they can for a casual dining restaurant.

I work the back for a couple of plates until the customers lighten up and head back to the pastry counter out front. Out front is a familiar face: Midnight Glow, a rare grey bat-pony pegasus with slitted green eyes and my roommate. Also, he’s gay, but he hardly tells anyone that.

“Anything you want?” I ask him.

“Eggs, croissant, potatoes, coffee and a glass of water before I go in to work.”

I repeat the order to the attendants and Midnight’s own meal is ready in ten minutes. I bring out the plate to him and get him a glass of water and a coffee. I can’t help it when another yawn escapes me as I set down his food.

“Tired again, honey?” he asks.

“No, moonhorse, I’ve had my breath taken away by your stunning good looks.”

The desired effect is obtained: Midnight is torn between being irritated at my nickname for him of ‘moonhorse’ after his cutie mark, and being pleased at the compliment about his looks. He settles for the middle road. “Well, your sarcasm is still working fine on low energy.”

I sigh, but smile at him. “Course I’m tired. I get sleep lately, but keep rolling around in the middle of the night. I get it, but it doesn’t feel like it.”

Midnight nods in sympathy. “A lot of the guard gets that way, too. It’s stress, due to something. How about I take you out to dinner tonight? I know a nice little café down the road from our apartment. I’ll pay.”

“Sounds like you’re asking me out on a date.”

“What? No.” Midnight chuckles. “If I was, I’d be adding on a ‘Hey baby’, or ‘Honey, you look like a dream’.”

“You already do that sometimes.”

“I swear it’s not a date. We’re just going out somewhere that you can de-stress for a little while. Sound good?”

He might be a bat pegasus and I might be a human, but already Midnight sometimes treats me like blood. I already went over to his family’s house for the Summer Sun Celebration and they all liked me. Surprisingly, no mistakes were made about our relationship and no one bothered me about it, them saying they were glad I was his roommate.

That, combined with the fact that he’s currently got as much of puppy dog eyes as you can get with eyes slitted like a cat, does not help my argument against it any.

“Fine,” I say. “I give in. You treat me tonight. We’ll head out. But I’ll want to try and head to bed earlier tonight, so we’ll have to be back reasonably and not drunk.”

“You know what they say around here,” Midnight says with a wink. “Wherever the night takes us.”

I try to ignore the flirt. “Sort of like ‘let the chips fall where they may’? Probably the closest thing to an Earth equivalent.”

“Sure, assuming you mean ‘chips’ as in poker chips and not actual potato chips, though I could go with some of the latter about now.”

All I can do is put a palm to my forehead, groan, and try not to yawn again. “So, why are you here? You’re not exactly the type to shirk work.”

“Morning break. Plus, I’m meeting someone here.”

I smile at him slightly. “A date? If you’ve found someone, why are you still teasing me?”

“Sadly, no. It’s a work thing, as they’re not allowed inside the guard compound.”

I don’t question it. Instead, I leave him alone for a little while and help cook a few more orders. I’m back outside at the pastry counter and have just served a few drinks when a new face comes in.

She’s a pinkish unicorn with a purple mane and three gems for a cutie mark. Honestly, of all of the ponies I’ve seen around here, I admit she’s one of the cutest I’ve seen, bright and happy and with a spring in her step. She trots right up to the counter and sits herself down. A small bag is around her neck.

“Hey, Midnight!” she calls over. “Whoo! Sorry for keeping you waiting. I only just got it finished.”

“Hello, Amethyst,” he says. “How much is it going to cost me?”

“Um… let’s see… I think it was seventy five for the particular crystal and cut you wanted and another one hundred and fifty for the white gold setting and chain. So… adding in taxes… I think it’s about two hundred and thirty. I’ll contact you if that’s overpaying.”

Midnight takes out a bag himself, likely hidden behind the counter, and counts out the bits. Amethyst orders a coffee and holds out a hoof to me.

“It’s alright,” she says. “You can shake it. Amethyst Star, jeweler.”

I shake her hoof with my hand. “Matthew Rock. Sous chef.”

“Oh! Where’d you get the degree from?”

“I made a dimension leap from Earth. I got it at a university there then came looking for a job here.”

“Oh. I know a lot who came from Canterlot University. Want good training on vegan or vegetarian diets? They’ve got it.”

I nod.

Amethyst turns back to Midnight and pushes him the bag. “Here you are! I made sure it was cleaned and polished before I sent it off. I personally have been watching every phase of it’s creation to make sure it’s to your specifications.”

To me, it sounds like Amethyst is touting good customer service. Like a big blinking advertisement going ‘Look at me! I do a damn good job!’ But there’s something in her tone and posture that says more. She’s relaxed around Midnight, looking him square in the eye, and has an extra little lilt in her voice that says it’s not customer service but personal.

I’m not sure if the rules are different here, but it certainly looks like she’s flirting with him.

Midnight is trying his best to be polite but not actually acknowledge her. He takes the bag and opens the drawstring. Inside is a fine crystal, almost perfectly round and smooth. It has a rainbow of colors where the light hits it, but otherwise is almost like the moon on his flank. It’s attached to a bright chain, almost like silver but shinier.

The craftsmanship is surprisingly nice for such a simple pendant. What strikes me even more is that the chain doesn’t even look long enough to hook around a neck. My wrist, maybe, but then I notice there’s no clasp.

Midnight, however, is rather delighted. “Thank you,” he says. “It’s excellent work. Exactly what I needed.”

“Good to hear!” Amethyst said. “I know not too many ponies will do it, but you can come around to me any time you need another one.”

“I might be fine for now, but if I need any replacement chains or jewels, I’ll be sure to come around.”

“We also have a fine variety of watches, necklaces, and earrings, too, if you just want something aesthetic. You know… you’d look really cute with an earring right at the top of your ear. Maybe a single gold one to bring out your already pretty eyes.”

Yep, she’s definitely flirting with him. It’s surprisingly professional overtones, but it’s still flirting.

Too bad Midnight isn’t interested. He places the pendant back in the bag and closes the drawstring, putting it around his own neck. “Thanks, but I’m fine. I’m not much for piercings.”

Amethyst shrugs. “Well, I’ve got to go to work. Thanks a lot. See you again sometime!” And she trots out as happily as she came in.

I take Midnight’s empty cup, wash it in the sink behind the counter, and come over with a towel as I dry it. “Seems like she’s got a thing for you, buddy.”

“Certainly does,” Midnight replies. “Not into her myself. I get the feeling I’m missing something, but she’s not my type.”

“No mare is your type. Quit being an asshole and let the poor girl know.”

“I don’t want to. I have the feeling I’d be rude. Especially when she does as much as she has for me.” He pulls out the pendant again and shows it to me. “White gold? Should have been two fifteen. Fine cut on the crystal? That’s a hundred. And tax? I swear I should have been closer to three hundred bits. Either the jewelers are having a boom or she gave me the employee discount.”

I put the cup away. “What is that thing, exactly?”

“This? Looks like a pendant, doesn’t it?” Midnight gently swings it back and forth. “It is, but it’s a special one.” Back and forth. “It’s a pendulum.”

It takes a minute to figure it out. “Put it away, moonhorse. I’m on a job.”

Midnight smirks and puts it back in the drawstring bag. “You look like you could use a hypnotherapy session. The bags under your eyes are way more noticeable today than they were last week.”

“Thanks, but no thanks. Sleep isn’t my problem.” And yet I yawn. “Fuck me, I’m tired today.”

“Would love to, but you don’t allow it.”

I shoot Midnight a dirty look, but he’s already left his bits on the counter – including tip – and is marching his way out the door.

* * *

After we’re both home, Midnight does eventually take me to his little café. It’s right in the middle of summer so it’s still light and warm when we go, but already the mountain air of Canterlot is keeping us cooler than just about anywhere else. I pull on a set of clean clothes and follow Midnight, gently flapping alongside, to the place.

It’s rather nice; the building itself is an appealing mix of grey cobblestone and dark polished wood. The outside is lit by fires in metal bowls on top of stone pedestals, and the inside has a stone firepit and small modern-style light structures, with dark oak and glass tables on a fine, wine red carpet. Tinted windows make the inside appear darker, and the dim lighting gives a more intimate and personal atmosphere.

“This,” I say to Midnight as we wait for the maître-d to lead us to a table. “This is the kind of restaurant I want to work at.”

“One day, perhaps,” Midnight says. “One day.”

We’re led to a table on the patio that has a candle in the middle of it. We’re set down with a couple of menus and the promise that a waiter will be right over.

“I am already impressed by this place,” I say. “I mean, the service is nice, the atmosphere is perfect, and the food looks appetizing.”

“I come here to spoil myself every once in a while,” Midnight says. “Order whatever you want. I’m paying.”

A waiter comes around and takes our orders. I take a glazed chicken with wild rice and fresh vegetables, while Midnight goes for a stuffed potato also with wild rice but does braised asparagus instead of the vegetables. We get no appetizer, but order a noodle soup (mine with chicken) that comes with the meal. The menus are taken away and me and Midnight are left alone.

“I’m surprised there’s as much meat on the menu as there is,” I say.

“Iron and animal nutrients,” Midnight replies. “Can’t get them all ourselves. Just one serving a week is enough. Probably half of what you normally have.”

Two glasses of ice water are set down in front of us, and a pitcher of iced tea comes to the table with two glasses. I pour myself a glass and give one to Midnight and we sip.

“Well, so far, I can’t complain,” I say. “This really is a nice experience. Perfect for relaxing after the long day I had today.”

“Bad lunch rush?”

“Yeah. And since I’m tired, everything moved so damn slow. God, all I want to do is head home, watch an old movie or two, then go to bed.”

“What about a little gaming on that system you bought a few weeks ago?”

“Shit, that requires too much thinking. I thought about reading a book, but that would almost make my head hurt at this point.”

Midnight looks at me with concern. “How long has this been going on?”

“How long has what been going on?”

“You being unable to sleep.”

“I told you already, moron. Sleep isn’t the problem.”

Despite my attitude, Midnight is being absurdly patient with me. “You’re irritable. If it’s not you falling asleep, it’s you having trouble while sleeping. Maybe you’re restless. Maybe you keep waking up in the middle of the night but can’t remember because you’re back asleep fast. It could be any number of things.”

“Look, I didn’t come here to get psychoanalyzed. I came here for a nice dinner, so could we drop the subject, please?”

For the first time in any of our conversations, Midnight’s smile falters. “I’m sorry. I… I’m just trying to help. I… I care for you. Seriously.” He reaches a hoof across the table towards my hand. “I love you like a—”

I don’t say anything. I just pull my hand back before he can touch it. Midnight never finishes his sentence and gives me an almost pitiful frown.

“Please. Sweetie, please tell me.”

I slam my hand on his hoof, which bangs against the table. “Don’t. Call. Me. ‘Sweetie’.”

Midnight doesn’t say a thing. He is, however, frozen in a combination of fear and hurt; his eyes are shimmering and he sniffs a few times, his hoof slowly shrinking away from me, his ears down and wings pulled in to make him look small. I realize I’ve gone too far and try to lighten up, but it doesn’t help.

The meals come and we start eating, but it’s lackluster. I get through a few bites of chicken and rice before I realize that Midnight has hardly touched anything. He’s got a fork in his hoof – still don’t see how he can hold it – and is mostly picking at his meal.

I sigh. “Do you want me to tell you what’s wrong? Or would you rather tell me what’s wrong with you?”

Midnight motions with his hoof for me to go on.

“Alright. I’m homesick. That’s the best explanation I got for you. I don’t remember dreams that often, but I had a dream about being at home with my family again. And maybe it upsets me enough that I’m rolling around at night.”

Midnight shrugs. “It’s a possibility,” he says without real emotion. “I mean, you’ve gone six months without going back. It’s natural one eventually has problems with leaving home for the first time.”

I sigh again. “Come on, man; now you’re the one turning pissy! What did I do?”

“Nothing,” Midnight chokes out. “You did nothing. I just… I just keep forgetting you aren’t…”

I look at him curiously. “Aren’t what?”

Midnight shakes his head. “It’s nothing. Seriously. I… I’m fine.”

No, he’s not.

But through the rest of dinner, the walk back to our place, and the evening at our apartment, Midnight says nothing more. He pays like he said he would, but when we get back he picks up a book and says nothing. I find an old black and white comedy that I like and try to get him interested, but he kind of ignores me.

At 11 o’clock, I decide I’m going to try going to bed. I get up from our couch and stretch. “Well, I’m hitting the sack. Good night, and make sure to lock the door tonight.”

Midnight doesn’t respond.

I go to the bathroom, take a final leak, and wash my face before heading over to my bedroom. I turn on the small TV and DVD player and put in an old comedy show. I get down to nothing but a pair of shorts and get in bed without a single blanket on me when I notice I’m not alone.

He’s keeping his distance, but Midnight is at the door. I can’t see him clearly – he must be shutting down the house for the night, but his green eyes are in the dark hallway.

“What is it?” I ask.

Midnight steps into the light of my TV screen and I find myself reaching for the sheet. “If you need to talk with me,” Midnight says tenderly, “let me know. Whether it’s about home, your family, your job… anything. I’d rather you speak to me about it if you have a problem than go around mad.”

I nod. “Alright. I’ll… I’ll make sure to let you know.”

Midnight nods and turns away to go out the door, but looks back at me once more. He sighs before walking away, and I’m left wondering what the hell is going on.

* * *

I woke up the next morning actually remembering what happened in my dreams. Which made me flip out momentarily because I thought it was some magic shit, then realized that no, it happens every once in a while. The second thing was actually thinking over the dream, which had a new twist to it.

I saw my family back at home having dinner with a seat empty, sitting on the couch with an empty seat open as though waiting for me to come back home. I stepped in the door and they were glad and happy that I was home and safe, and they asked me a bunch of stuff about how I was doing. I went to go hang out with a friend of mine when the dream ended.

But I never had a friend with black hair and green eyes. Sounds weird, but I do have something of a photographic memory. Or, at least, I don’t remember hanging out with someone like that.

I yawn as I get out of my bed again and head for the shower. The pounding cold water feels good and helps wake me up as I resolve to just get through one day – one day – before I get the chance to sleep in tomorrow.

That’s the nice thing about Donut Joe’s. He’s open on weekends, but only for donuts and coffee, which he can handle himself. I don’t have to go in since he’s not cooking any actual meals. Probably nets him a little extra income, but gives me and Cast Iron a break.

I get out and get dressed for work when I hear Midnight up and walking around. He doesn’t even have to get up for another half an hour, so I’m curious. I step out once I’m dressed and go to the kitchen, where he’s fussing with a coffee pot. His eyes are bloodshot.

“Hey,” I say to him. “How’d last night go? Trouble sleeping?”

Midnight shrugs. “It was… alright. How about you?”

“I… had a dream about home again. I feel better today, but I don’t know. I don’t want this shit interfering with work like it did yesterday.”

Midnight nods. “When do you get home?”

“Around four or so. Why?”

Midnight shakes his head. “No reason. I was going to ask if you wanted to go somewhere again tonight, but you probably wouldn’t like it.”

I look at him weird. His tone is accusing, which is rare. “What do you mean? I mean, if you’ve got something in mind, I’m down since I’m off work tomorrow.”

“I’d rather not. You’ll probably just get mad at me again since I’ll eventually say something wrong.”

I sigh. “Fuck, man. What is wrong with you today?”

“Oh, so you can say ‘fuck’ but I can’t call you names or invite you places?”

“I’m not using it in the sense of something dirty. I’m saying it as an exclamation. I mean I’ll stop if you want, but I don’t see what’s wrong with saying ‘fu’—”

“THEN STOP!” Midnight isn’t looking at me, but his back tenses up and his wings flare open as though he’s excited. His tone is anything but. “Stop saying that word. I don’t care whatever other profane words you use, just not that.”

“Look, I don’t get what’s wrong still. I’ll reduce my swearing if you want, but what is going on? You’re a psychologist; why don’t you talk it out?”

“Fine.” Midnight turns around and I can see his eyes are now shimmering. “If you have a problem with me, sweetie, just come out and say it.”

I am stunned. I sit there for a moment trying to think it through, but the only thing that comes to mind is What's his problem? “The worst problem I have is that you leave the toilet seat down.”

“Oh, really, honey? You’ve got zero problems with me? None at all?”

I have a feeling there’s something I’m supposed to get here, but either I’m tired or oblivious and I can’t get it at all. “Seriously. Dude, I have no problems with you. Like, at all.”

Midnight manages not only to stand himself upright, but lean on the kitchen counter. His tail swishes over the area between his legs and he looks at me with almost half-lidded eyes. “If you’ve really got no problems with me, then come over here and let me kiss you like the stallion you are.”

“What? No! You know I’m not into that. I don’t mind you being that way, but I’m not interested.”

Midnight rolls his eyes and growls, stamping his hooves on the counter and glaring at the ceiling. “No, you dolt! That’s not what I meant at all!”

“Then what is!? Quit dicking about and get to the answer!”

Midnight damn near produces an evil laugh in response. “Oh, wow, you really are dense. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed it.” He walks almost sultrily over to me. “But you have to go now, so I suppose that’s for me to know and you to find out.”

Midnight comes close enough so that our noses touch for a moment. But before I can say a thing in response, he turns away, walks down the hallway, and slams the door to his room while the coffee percolates.

I can do nothing more but leave. It’s seven forty five, and I have a job to do.

I am awake for the rest of the day, if only to try and figure out what the hell is going on with Midnight. I push it out of the way whenever an order comes through, but whenever there’s any downtime, I immediately go back to my main two problems: who is the friend I don’t remember in my dream? And what was going in in Midnight’s head?

The best thing I can come up with for the latter was that Midnight was as sleep-deprived as I’ve been lately. He probably spent one night rolling around and went loopy. It at least explained his eyes going red, being unable to sleep. Combine that with being awake for nearly twenty-four hours and he might have started going a little weird on me.

As for the friend, I try and think back as far as I can. I had a friend named Jeffery who had green eyes, but he had blonde hair and was on the football team and moved away to take up a football scholarship. I had another friend named Mark, who had really dark hair but had brown eyes. I probed around for a few more names but found nothing, and eventually decided to leave it be.

When I get home, things have changed. Midnight is home early, as it’s four fifteen and he doesn’t get home usually until five thirty. I walk up to him in the kitchen making a sandwich from leftovers and take out a soda.

“Hey,” I asked. “You alright? You normally aren’t home this early.”

Midnight sighs and turns to me. “Matthew, I’m sorry. I was… I was acting like a jerk this morning.”

“Look, if you have a problem with me, fine. Let me know.” I crack the can of soda – store-brand vanilla cola – and take a sip. “If there’s something you don’t like me doing, I’ll stop. I mean, I’m a dick about some things, but since we’re living together I’ll quit if it bothers you.”

Midnight turns back to his sandwich. “While I do have a problem, it is something I think you need to figure out on your own.”

“Can’t even give me a hint? Oh, oh! Can we do it like a game of ’20 Questions’?”

Midnight shakes his head, but gives me a little smile as he takes his sandwich to the couch. “Not exactly an animal, vegetable, or mineral, I’ll tell you that.”

“Alright, that narrows it down a lot. But did it really necessitate you coming home from work early?”

I follow Midnight over to the couch as he replies. “Well, since I figured these last few nights might have been troublesome and I probably aggravated it a bit – I mean, I heard you rolling around all last night – I figured it was due an apology.”

“Alright, eighteen left to go.”

Midnight rolls his eyes. “It’s not a game of ’20 Questions’. I’m really not telling you. I will say it’s based on a reaction to something that I do that happens frequently between us.”

I think about it a little bit. “Does it have to do with those times you’ve tried to hypnotize me?”

Midnight facehoofs. “No.”

I nod. “Although, on that note, do you think you could hypnotize me to sleep tonight? I mean, as a friend and as something of a therapist?”

Midnight smiles. “I could do that for you. Perfect chance to try out the new pendant I got yesterday.”

“Cool. Oh, and, uh, I promise I won’t explode on you for anything.”

Midnight grins. “Thank you, sweetie.”

All I can do is groan.

* * *

That night we have dinner, dessert, and each have a bottle of Canterlot cream stout before settling in with a few games of chess over an old movie and a variety show. I have never played chess before, but Midnight is something of a decent player and taught me all the moves and even claims he’s won a few guard tournaments.

That being said, I whoop his ass at the first game, which he jokingly deems beginner’s luck, and manage to make it down to him with three pawns and me with two in the second game before one of his turns into a queen and moves in for the final checkmate.

By the time our second game is over, it’s 11 at night. I don’t know if it’s the subdued nature of our evening or my lack of sleep is catching up with me, but I’m already tired. Which is a good thing, as Midnight is still wide awake and claims he wants to go for a late-night fly to stretch his wings before bed. But, as he reminds me, not before I undergo hypnosis for sleep as an experiment.

As I prepare myself, we talk of our game.

“It’s not uncommon for one who has played so long to be stumped and beaten by a beginner,” Midnight muses as I wash my face with a cloth. “The beginner is unpredictable, unforeseeable in his tactics. The expert has go-to strategies and becomes predictable, but the beginner knows no strategy.”

“Yeah, but the expert knows how to play. Certainly you could at least read possibilities.”

“Quite a few discoveries have been made by beginners simply because they do not know the limitations.”

“Quit being all philosophical, man! Shit, why can’t the expert be the expert who knows these things and the beginner be the beginner who doesn’t know jack shit?”

“That’s just how it goes sometimes,” Midnight says with a shrug. He waits outside the door while I change into a pair of shorts. “Besides, I might be an expert on psychology, but I still can’t understand how you can’t sleep in the nude.”

“It’s indecent.” I sniff the pair of shorts I’ve worn for a few nights now, decide they smell like ass, and throw them in a hamper with the dirty underwear and pull on clean shorts. Thankfully, laundromats do exist here and one of them is right next door to the apartment complex. “You don’t go around on display twenty-four seven.”

“Do females of your species do the same thing? Certainly they’re more covered up.”

“Yes, because it’s still indecent. Let’s see what you think when others are staring at you because there’s two lumps sticking out of your chest.”

“Same effect as my pendant, I’ve heard.”

I open the door. “Honestly… you’re probably not that far off.”

Midnight smirks at me. “So the only problem is they can’t put theirs away.”

“That’s why they have clothes. And even with them, God knows men around the world are enslaved to their whims.”

Midnight smirks again as I get in bed and he sits down next to the bed. “Makes me feel lucky. I’m one of the rare few who happen to be immune.”

“Yeah, good luck with that. They’re few and far between.”

“Fair enough. Well, let’s start. Prop your pillow up slightly; I’ll need it for your attention.”

I lean my pillow up against the back of the bed and lay down on it. My head is up at just enough of an angle to see Midnight clearly as he produces the drawstring bag but comfortable enough I don’t mind it. Midnight pulls out the pendant and hooks part of the chain onto his hoof; I now see he has something of an insert that goes into the bottom of his hoof like a slot and he holds it about a foot away from my face.

“Tell me this: where is the moon-shaped crystal located? Is it in the center of your vision, in front of your nose?”

“In front of my nose.”

Midnight nods and reaches another hoof over and taps the pendant. It starts swinging back and forth and almost immediately… “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on one minute! I just want to know a couple of things.”

Midnight pulls away the pendant and nods, attentive.

“No mind control?” “Not without unicorn magic.” “No making me cluck like a chicken?” “That’s not what we’re here for.” “Not going to make me kill anyone?” “Carries a stiffer penalty than I’d like to deal with.” “Not going to make me do anything indecent?” “Ooh, kinky… but no.” “Not going to brainwash me?” “As much as I’d like to, not effective this way.” “How many of these are jokes?” “Depends on how you read them.” “Not going to keep me under?” “Just enough to get you through the night.”

“Well,” Midnight says. “I think that about covers the big ones. Anything else?”

There’s a question left, I know it, but it’s stuck in my throat. So I shake my head.

“Right.” Midnight places the moon pendant right in front of my field of vision again, taps it, and it starts swinging back and forth. “Now, listen to me and just relax. Take a few deep breaths to see if that calms you.”

I take a few breaths. I’m reminded of a magic show I went to on Earth back in Las Vegas where someone hypnotized a person’s belt to be a snake around them, or how he hypnotized two people so that one felt what the other had touched and the first felt nothing. I didn’t think it would work, and he used a different pendant than this guy did.

“Just keep your steady breathing,” Midnight said, his tone soft but only just louder than a whisper. “Try to time it with the swinging of the pendant. Each time it makes a full swing back and forth, breathe in. Each time it makes another swing back and forth, breathe out. Try to keep an easy, steady pattern.”

I’m wondering how this is supposed to work. Sure, I saw him hypnotize Blueblood at the shop, but he’s not using eye contact. So… is this really going to work or am I going to get screwed over?

“Just relax and focus, Matthew. Focus on your breathing. Let all your senses be focused on maintaining your breathing carefully, quietly. Feel yourself relax as your slow breathing slows your heart rate and gently soothes your mind.”

Okay, so now there’s a familiar way of going about it; he’s enunciating the ‘s’ sound again. I don’t get why he does it, but at least it’s a fami—

…is that pendant glowing? Why the hell is it glowing?

“Relax, Matthew… Feel your eyes begin to close; the relaxation washing over you in slow, calming waves. Your whole body is focused on keeping calm and relaxed, your attention kept on following the pendant and keeping your breathing slow and steady.”

Oh, God, what the hell is going on!? No, no, no, no, no!

“Yes, feel your eyes close more and more with every breath, the relaxation and my voice making you feel sleepier and sleepier. Let the glowing pendant remind you of the glowing moon, and how it’s time to sleep.”

Somebody! Anybody! Get me the hell out of here!

“Good, good… let yourself relax, let your eyes close. When I tap your forehead, you will fall into a deep sleep. Three… two… one…”

I can see the hoof coming towards my head, but I can’t move. It’s like my body is paralyzed. I want to thrash about, but I can’t do a damned thing about it. Whatever Midnight’s done, I can’t move. It’s like ropes are bound around me and I’m wondering what he’s going to do to me…


A trap door opens up in the bed and suddenly I’m falling down, down, down, away from the light that is Midnight and his glowing pendant and down into the blackness. My body isn’t locked anymore, but now I’m flailing around and screaming as I plummet further and further. The blackness is all around me, but I’m going faster and faster and there’s no sign of stopping.

I flip myself around and suddenly I’m going towards a series of lights down below me. As I fall closer they gain shape and color, triangles and squares in blues and greens. I fall closer and find myself plummeting down into them, still screaming my head off, but above me is only blackness.

I’m falling closer and the lights are getting bigger and stronger when suddenly the colors shatter like glass and out comes Midnight’s head roaring at me like Godzilla. But before he can swallow me hole he closes his mouth and one of his eyes suddenly pops out of his head and I fall through the slit like a coin in a soda machine.

I’m launched through the eyeball and onto a soft surface, my head face down in an all-encompasing whiteness. I look up and spit a few times to get the taste of cloth out of my mouth and look around where I’ve ended up.

My god, I’m in my bed at home. Like, at home on Earth exactly the way I left it before I made the leap.

“…what the hell?”

A sharp rapping comes at my door. “Matthew, wake up! Aren’t you supposed to be at your friend’s house today?”

…mom calling me? What the hell?

I get up from the bed and notice I’m in a casual short-sleeved shirt and pants. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon on June 31, and I’m apparently about to be late for a game day at a friend’s house.

…wait a minute. That wasn’t there before. I just fell through an eyeball and landed in my bed at home after falling through a trap door in my apartment in Equestria where it was 11 o’clock at night. What the heck is going on!?

“Alright, alright! I’m coming!” Well, might as well follow through. I find a pair of my shoes and socks, put them on, and head out the bedroom door.

Only I’m not in the hallway leading to the living room. I just stepped out the front door of my house. And my bedroom door just shut closed behind me.

“Mom!” I call. “I, uh… I think I left my keys on the kitchen counter.”

No movement from the windows. “They’re in the back pocket of your pants, Matthew.”

I feel the pocket of my pants and, sure enough, they’re there. Just the truck keys, though, and not the ones to my house. I walk to where my old truck is parked at the curb of my house even though I have no clue where I’m going and get inside.

I turn on the truck and the odometer reads ‘696969’ miles. But why’d that have to get so specific? I put the truck in gear and leave the curb, driving off to who knows where.

I don’t remember the route I took, and even think I looped around once that theoretically should have gotten me back home but instead takes me to the other side of town. And suddenly the freeway suddenly stops and I’m driving down an old dirt road with three sets of tire tracks. I look in the rearview mirror to see that nothing is behind me but dust.

I pull up to an old house out in the middle of farmland. I don’t recognize the place, and yet I do. The outside is vaguely familiar, but I’ve never been here before in my life.

“…what is going on?”

I pull up a driveway and my friend comes out of the gates. He’s wearing a greyish shirt and has bright green eyes, and greyish-blue hair. “Hey, man!” he calls me as I come out of the car. “Where have you been?”

I don’t even know his name. I don’t think I do, but it’s sitting there at the tip of my tongue and I’m unable to reach it. “Doing… things. What about you?”

“Oh, doing things. Hey, you want to come inside?”

I follow him back through the cast-iron gates and go inside the house. I’m almost dumbstruck.

It’s the living room of my apartment.

“…what the fuck!?”

“Yo, dude, I thought I told you never to say that. But, yeah, the color scheme’s a little weird. It’s my first house; I thought the painters would be coming around this week.”

“No, dude. Your eyes. They’re… slitted.”

They are. His green eyes are slitted, bright, and abnormally large. Like my parent’s cat. Like… like…

“Contacts!” he replies cheerfully. “Like them?”

I’m staring at him, dumbfounded. “…it’s not your usual.”

“Yeah, neither is my boyfriend. Come on inside. He should be getting here shortly. You’d like him; he has the same copy of…”

My friend trails off into a rant, and I’m still dumbfounded that I don’t even have a name for him. And yet… it feels like I’ve known him. How long? I don’t know. But I do. But I don’t. But I do but I don’t but I do but I don’t but—

“…and we were watching TV last night and that British comedy show you liked came on and he said he was totally into that.”

I’m half glad my friend came in because otherwise I would have given myself a migraine from all the weird shit that’s happened to me this afternoon. No, it’s night! No, it’s afternoon. It’s definitely afternoon. Because the sun is high in the sky. I can see it through the living room window.

And then the sun blinks at me, revealing a green slitted iris. A cloud forms another iris and the hills form a smile and I swear the sky had somehow smiled at me.

“You should… come join us sometime.”

I look over to my friend. I had no idea he was that close to me, close enough to be standing and almost touching me with his nose. “Come… join you in what?”

“On one of our dates,” he says. “You’d like him, and he’d like you. And… you could come back to his place afterwards…”

“…no. This… this can’t be happening. I don’t even know you. I don’t know who you are. You are a familiar face but I have no name. I have never seen you before. Who the hell are you!?”

My ‘friend’ gives me a smirk. “That’s for me to know… and you to find out. No 20 Questions this time.”

And then his shirt explodes and two leathery wings come out his back. His teeth grow fangs and his hands grow claws, his feet change into hard-bottomed things that I can’t describe and he opens his mouth and hisses at me with a snake-like forked tongue.

“Come, Matthew… join us… join me… we’ll have so much fun together.”

I feel the wind knocked out of me and crash backwards through the door, feeling splinters flying everywhere as I fall onto the pavement outside. I’m now somewhere in the middle of Canterlot in bright daylight and the monster that was my ‘friend’ is still inside. He pulls a sword out of nowhere and points it at me, aiming at me right from his crotch.

I need no second guessing. I jump up as quick as I can and start running down the street, the monster running behind me still pointing the sword at me and covering as much ground as I am running easily with his large leathery wings.

“No no no! This isn’t real! This can’t be real! Fuck me!”

The monster says nothing, but gives a low growl and smiles hungry at me.

“I don’t want to know what that’s supposed to mean!”

I have to find somewhere familiar. But… where? I’m in the middle of downtown Canterlot? What’s supposed to hide me from what pretty much to me looks like a demon?

“Wait a minute!” I say aloud, still running. “I remember being hypnotized by Midnight right before this whole thing happened. I’m not awake. I can’t be awake. I was hypnotized by Midnight at 11 o’clock at night. That means this… this whole thing…”

The idea hits me before the realization does.

“Donut Joe’s! It should be open at this time! If this is how I think it is, I’ve got to go to hell first.”

I run down an alleyway and throw myself to the ground; the monster tries to get through but slams into two brick walls, busting up the walls and sending bricks flying at me. It’s only when the coast is clear do I stand up and cut through the alleyway to Canterlot’s worst intersection, and my salvation is right in front of me.

The monster is nowhere in sight, but I waste no time. I fling open the double doors and hop over the counter to bust into the kitchen into the back. I turn on the stove without worrying about the overhead fan and grab the pan off Cast Iron’s cutie mark from the picture on the wall. It’s not long before a mild flame is going and the pan is heating nicely. I check the spice drawer and immediately mince a few cloves of garlic.

“This better work.”

There’s a crash of glass just as I finish mincing the garlic. I get the garlic into a mixing bowl and get a paper plate before heading out of the kitchen to face my adversary.

“I think you’re hungry, aren’t you.”

The monster looks at me with it’s green, slitted eyes, growls, and licks it’s lips.

“Well, I think I can cook something up for you that’d be perfect for your picky tastes.” And I threw the garlic at the monster.

Cheesy, but it always seems to work in the movies.

I don’t even think I threw it at the eyes, but suddenly it’s clawing at it’s own eyes and shredding itself apart and growing smaller by the minute. As soon as it gets small enough, I launch myself at it and clamp the mixing bowl down on it hard. The monster gives another shriek as the bowl surrounds it and it hits the side, getting even more garlic oil and residue on it. I take the paper plate, scoop it up, and trap it in the mixing bowl.

The pan is red hot by now except for the handle, so I put oil in it and drop the monster in the pan. It shrieks and howls painfully as I grab the pan by the handle and begin to shake. The monster howls and hisses and growls, but the oil is slippery enough to keep it from leaving the pan. I wait until the hissing dies down before taking out a large butcher knife and slam it in the middle of the monster.

I’m pretty sure the thing’s dead now, so I lift the knife out and turn off the oven. Taking the knife out, I realize the inside of the creature is hollow. I take the knife and carefully, carefully, slit open the top of the monster, only for a nice clean cut to be made all the way down from head to toe without me doing anything. The sautéed corpse folds apart and reveals something now sitting inside the blackness of the pan.

A pony. A bat pony. A bat pony with greyish fur and leathery wings and a greyish-blue mane and tail. I go to poke it when it suddenly reveals one slitted, bright green eye and the blackness consumes me.

* * *


It takes me a while to realize I’m back at my apartment in Canterlot again and it’s nighttime like it should be. I turn over to the clock as I hear a thumping noise coming from nearby and see it’s 4:17 am. The light of the moon is the only light coming through the windows of my apartment and a cool breeze is blowing through.

The knob opens and I see two slitted green eyes at the door, but they’re soon joined by the rest of the stallion as he turns on the light and looks at me, worried. “What’s going on!? Is everything alright, are you okay?”

I want to say everything’s not okay, that I thought I just murdered him not too long ago by fry cooking him in the kitchen of Donut Joe’s, but I manage to condense that. “Sorry. Bad dream.”

Midnight nods. “Do you… do you want to talk about it at all?”

I shake my head. “No. I… I think I’ll be alright.”

Midnight nods again. “If you need to, wake me up. I can talk about anything you need to.”

He’s just about to leave the room when I remember the odometer, the monster, the sword, and I call to him. “Midnight, wait. There is something I want to talk with you about.”

He stops and turns around in the door. He takes a few paces towards me and makes a motion with his head if he can jump on the bed. I let him and he sits down almost like a cat facing me, sitting up and reclining against the backboard. I sigh.

“Midnight… I want to ask you a few things.”

Midnight nods and a small smile comes to his face, like he’s been expecting this for a while. “Alright. Where do you want to start?”

“You’re gay. You… you like stallions. You have… no interest in mares whatsoever.”

Midnight nods. “Yes. I can think certain women are beautiful, but… I’ll never fall in love with one.”

“Right… um, have you… have you ever had an attraction to me?”

Midnight has to think about it. “Maybe a little. Soon after we met. I flirted with you before, when you moved in, but you were unresponsive.”

I nod my head. “I have never found you attractive,” I say with a single shake of my head. “I don’t get how a male can find another male attractive.”

Midnight looks around awkwardly for a moment. “And I will never understand how you could find a female attractive. But I figured out that’s where your preference lay, so I stopped flirting.”

I nod. “Whenever you call me ‘sweetie’, or ‘honey’, how much of it is flirting and how much is teasing?”

“It’s all teasing. Has been for three months, when I figured out you weren’t going to be interested in me.” He chokes and sniffs. “Ever.”

I have to avoid looking at him. Pony eyes look worse when they’re crying because they remind me of puppies who look at you leaving the house for fifteen minutes like you’re leaving forever. “Can I tell you something?”

Midnight nods. “Sure. Whatever you want.”

I sigh. “I… haven’t been homesick. In my dreams, there’s been a friend of mine I never met on Earth. Turns out I think he was based on you. And… and my fear of you at one point making passes and advances on me and, eventually, taking advantage of me.”

Midnight looks at me with shock. “Matthew! What… I would never do that to you!”

“I know!” I growl. “I know you won’t. But that’s what goes through my head. Every time you say ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey’ or call me pet names, I think that’s what you’re going to do. It’s… it’s stupid and irrational, but that’s how I think.”

Midnight looks at me like he’s about to cry.

“I’ve considered going to Hoity Toity and asking him if he could find me another roommate somewhere,” I continue. “Not because of you. Because of me. Because I know you won’t, but I can’t help but think that you will.”

“Matthew…” Midnight crawls up to me and takes my head in both of his front hooves. “Listen to me, Matthew. I will never do that to you. Never. I won’t try to seduce you. I won’t try and get you to bed with me. Because I know. I know you’re not interested.”

Midnight releases my face and steps back towards the edge of the bed and sits down again. He stares at me for a while and sniffs again and I realize he’s crying. “Are you… are you going to move out?”

I shake my head. “No. All I want to do is ask if you could stop calling me those pet names in public. You’re the first friend I really ever made here, Midnight. And, given my attitude, I’m not sure how many others I can make. I don’t want to lose the one I have over some shitty reason that’s all in my head.”

Midnight looks at me strangely. “…that’s all?”

I nod. “And your assurance that you won’t ever try and seduce me.”

Midnight smiles. “Can I… can I at least get a hug?”

I smile back at him. “Sure. I’ll give you a hug.”

And he gently comes up to me and wraps his front hooves around my neck. I wrap my arms around him and feel his soft coat and leathery wings. It’s actually nice and feels good. “Can you forgive me?” I ask. “For being so rude?”

Midnight nuzzles my neck. “Of course.”

“Can you… can you hypnotize me back to sleep? So that, maybe, I can have a peaceful night tonight?”

Midnight lets go of me and nods. “Yes.”

* * *

I feel like I’m watching it through a camera.

The camera flies through the nighttime sky in Canterlot. It goes through the streets before appearing at our apartment window. It flies through the glass like it’s not even there, and settles itself where the ceiling fan is.

I am sleeping with only a sheet, my head and shoulders propped up against the pillow and reclining against the backboard of the bed. My eyes are closed and my breathing is easy, probably for the first time in weeks if not months. Midnight isn’t under the sheets, but he’s right there next to me, one hoof wrapped around me and his head leaning on my chest. The moon pendant is still in his hoof, draped over my heart and with the chain scattered haphazardly by it.

I will find him there in the morning. I don’t know how, but I know that. I will wake up in a few hours and he will still be there next to me. He will wake up, we will apologize, and we will go on with our lives. But it will be a new start. A new life. One where there isn’t any sort of misunderstanding, but somehow we’ll be closer than we were before because it’s out there, it’s resolved.

And, strangely enough, I am okay with this. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I am not afraid anymore. We might only be friends, but at least I have someone here who tolerates me. Who loves me.

And I suppose that is enough.

Episode 3: And Then There Were None

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You know, for a princess, Celestia isn’t much.

I mean, all she’s got is an over-glorified gold necklace and horseshoes. Her wings seem to barely carry her more than a glide, and the only real bit of magic I’ve ever seen is her lift an éclair to her mouth. I imagine there’s a sort of checks-and-balances in play, so she’s supposed to have abilities from all three races but she’s probably not as powerful as any of them solo.

Even so, I’m supposed to be on my best behavior as she lifts the éclair to her mouth. Why we’ve been graced with the Princess’ presence, I have no idea. But she’s here and there’s little I can do about it.

It’s late at night, later than I’m normally at Donut Joe’s. Donut Joe is there, himself, talking up a storm about his éclairs. Cast Iron is also here, keeping the part-timers in line. Midnight’s come down to watch the show, and him and Amethyst are talking about another supposed deal. Finally, we have a rather tall and slender pale pink unicorn mare with a bright pink mane who’s supposed to be a model whose name I didn’t catch and whom the Princess is escorting this evening.

I walk over to Cast Iron, who is cleaning up in the kitchen. “So, mind telling me why royalty has suddenly decided to come down?”

“Despite the restaurant, Donut Joe’s one of the best bakers in the city,” Cast Iron says. “He rates among some of the highest-rated bakers, and ranks high in cross-Equestria baking competitions.”

“And what does that have to do with royalty and éclairs?”

“Celestia’s ordered a batch for a small party she’s having for some of the nobles tomorrow night. Donut Joe finally finished those after receiving the order at noon today, so he’s probably letting her taste one to see if it’s up to her specifications.”

I give a thoughtful hum and head back outside. I still haven’t figured out why I’m here. I should be at home by now, but Donut Joe gave me a call and told me to get down here as fast as I could. I did, but he didn’t put me to work. He just wants me there.

I could be doing better things. Midnight gave me a book on hypnotism and an epic fantasy novel that I wanted to start, and a shipment finally arrived from back home on Earth with three games for one of my systems. You’d be surprised how many protocols there are to cross the dimensions; I ordered those things two months ago on expedited and they’ve just passed inspection. Worth the money.

But no. I’m stuck looking at the Princess shove éclair after éclair into her mouth – seriously, I’m surprised she isn’t a fat ass if she eats like this normally – and drinking hot chocolate with Midnight. And since he’s talking business, I’m alone here.

The pink unicorn comes over to me. Poor bitch is probably as bored as I am. “…didn’t I see you at Hoity Toity’s studio not long ago?” she asks. On Earth, her accent is similar to French. Unlike the French, she doesn’t sound as haughty as I thought she would be, considering she is upper-class.

I have nothing better to do. “He’s my guardian,” I say. “I have to check in with him once a month.”

The unicorn nods. She extends a hoof to me. “Fleur-de-Lis. I work under Hoity Toity as a model.”

I look at the hoof for a moment. “You don’t think me a dirty commoner?”

“I trust Hoity Toity,” she says. “He’s rather picky about everything. He must have allowed you for a reason.”

I shrug. She actually has decent logic, though I don’t know why Hoity Toity could have picked me. I shake the hoof. “Matthew Rock.”

“And what do you do, Mister Rock? Are you a geologist?”

Oh, these ponies and their naiveté. “It’s a last name. I don’t have a cutie mark. I actually went to college to become a chef, and work here as a sous chef.”

“Oh, forgive me. I’ve seen humans before, but I’ve never talked to one.”

I fold my arms and rest my head on them on the table. “If you’re going to oogle me like a carnival attraction, I’d appreciate it if you fuck off.”

Fleur raises an eyebrow. “I’m not making fun of you.” And now it sounds like French haughtiness. “Do you always react to ponies trying to talk to you like this?”

“No,” I say dryly. “Just those who look at me like I’m a ruffian or like I should be on display behind a glass window.”

Fleur snorts. Like a regular horse snort, which makes me chuckle a little since horse behaviors are somewhat unusual here. “I’m surprised you keep your job with that sharp tongue.” She turns around. “I wonder how Hoity Toity manages you.” She walks away from me… somewhat gracefully, though obviously with disdain.

“Way to go.”

The voice is right next to my ear, but I hardly react to it. I don’t move but look over to see Midnight speaking next to me. “You think you would have handled it better?”

“Honey, a mare comes up and talks to you like that, you ought to be happy.” He turns around in his chair so that his back is leaning against the table. “Not my fault if you blow your load.”

“Uh-huh. And how does the gay stallion know so much about mares?”

“I assume it’s the same. Probably even a bit more touchy from colt-to-colt; some are rather sensitive upon bringing up the subject.”

“Alright, but what makes you figure I was interested in her in the first place?”

“Not to demean either of us since we’re in the same boat and apartment, but she’s a step up from most others around here. Comes from money.”

“And I’m not interested in going from human to horse. Might as well drop it now.”

Midnight smirks. “Wrong place for you, then. Too bad the adjustment time between here and Earth is one month.”

Should clarify that. In order for the body to normalize itself crossing the dimensions, it’s best not to go back and forth too fast. So when one steps across the barrier from Earth to Equestria or vice versa, they’ve found it takes about one month for the body to readjust. No terrible side effects from crossing initially, but crossing too many times in too short a period. Mice tested in rapid dimensional crossings got cancer or deep infections, atrophying, or osteoporosis. One month is the point where the body has stabilized itself to cross back over without anything major happening.

Or, what Midnight is insinuating, I can’t really date girls back on Earth. One month of constantly seeing each other then one month relying on extremely slow mail or extended Internet conversations in emails – PMs don’t go through – does not exactly make a relationship. Some people can. I would probably forget them after about a week or two.

Thankfully, Fleur does not tell Celestia that she’s been insulted. The Princess is too occupied with getting an éclair to go. When they finally leave, it’s 10:30 at night. Donut Joe takes the tray of éclairs and sets them in the large freezer under a glass tray.

“Alright, everyone,” he calls as he sets them down. “I’ll want you here at six o’clock tomorrow morning. All of you.”

“How come?” Cast Iron asks. “You said I don’t have to be in until eleven.”

“And I’m not supposed to be in for another hour,” I respond.

“Yes, but Princess Celestia has a gathering tomorrow. Now, not only did the princess ask me to make all these éclairs for her party” – he gestures to the giant stack in the fridge – “but she wants me to bring them there tomorrow. I’ll be making other donuts in the morning then heading out in the afternoon to personally deliver them.”

“That doesn’t explain much,” I say.

“Well, quit talking and I’ll get to it,” Donut Joe shoots back. “Matthew, I want you on the counter and as sous chef the whole day; no line cooking for you like normal. Cast Iron, since Matthew isn’t going to be in the kitchen, I want you in early. Same for you, part-timers. Orderly Service will have the front and wait tables.”

So a relatively easy day. No big parties, no special guests, just Donut Joe heading out for a while. “I think we can handle it,” I say. “Does OS know?”

“Already explained things to her. She’s coming in at six as well.”

With that, Donut Joe lets us leave.

“Fuck me, tomorrow’s gonna suck,” I say, walking along with Midnight.

“You just need to go to sleep, earlier,” Midnight replies. “Then you’ll be well-rested for an early morning.”

“It’s not that,” I say. “I just think Donut Joe’s going to be a huge pain in the ass with this special order.”

“Can’t be too bad. He’s leaving around one.”

“Well, let’s hope. God, I wish we had some whiskey. One shot of that and I might be able to relax enough to sleep early.”

“No Canterlot cream stout?”

“Not strong enough.”

“You could let me hypnotize you again.”

“Alright. But no kinky stuff this time; I know what goes through that head of yours. Damn ponies; thinking you’re all innocent and whatnot when you’re as fucked up as everyone else.”

“I wait for the day, and shall relish it when it comes.”

* * *

I wake up at four-forty five in the morning mostly refreshed after six hours even though it’s still dark outside. Surprisingly, I’m not ravaged and just feel a little tired as though I went straight from deep sleep to awake; Midnight must have placed some sort of trigger for me to wake.

I can also smell something cooking, which is unusual. I’m normally the cook in the house, making anything from chicken to lasagna to spaghetti with marinara to whatever we feel like. So waking up to something cooking is strange.

I get my clothes on and walk into the kitchen. Midnight has cooked us breakfast; scrambled eggs, leftover potatoes, toast and jam, and three links of sausage for me. There’s also coffee and chocolate milk.

“If I didn’t know better,” I tell Midnight, sitting at the counter looking pleased with himself, “I’d say you’re still flirting with me.”

“You’ll need it today if you’re there at six,” he says. “Now hurry up and eat; you stink of sweat and need a shower before you go.”

I smile at him, though, and eat. It’s actually really good. “You ever take any cooking classes?”

“Nope,” Midnight says as he passes me a bottle of ketchup and the butter. “I cooked for myself before you came along.”

“Not bad. A few classes to hone your skills and you could almost pass for a line chef.”

“I’d do mediocre. It’s not my cutie mark talent.” He raises his glass of chocolate milk at me and winks. “Besides, with you, it’s not like I need to much lately.”

I smile at him. “You’re not getting breakfast in bed no matter what you do.”

Midnight and I leave at about five forty, once breakfast is over and I’ve showered. Morning in Canterlot is surprisingly sedate as Midnight and I walk to Donut Joe’s. One or two guards roam the streets and check entryways of all the businesses to make sure nothing’s wrong. A few early risers do early morning jogs or open businesses. The sun is barely rising and a cool breeze comes through courtesy of a few pegasi.

Donut Joe’s is open, but unlike the peaceful scene outside, the place looks like a wreck; chairs are strewn all over, the kitchen and counter look like an absolute mess. Three ponies are standing inside the doorway and staring at the scene in surprise: Cast Iron, Fleur-de-Lis, and Amethyst Star.

I head inside ahead of Midnight and look at the carnage in front of me. I ask the first question that comes to mind: “Did we have a break-in?”

Cast Iron shakes her head. “No. Donut Joe came in not too long ago and checked on the éclair tray in the fridge, only to find them almost gone. Fifty éclairs taken down to five when he went to check on them this morning.”

“Sounds like a break-in,” I asked.

“That’s the thing,” Cast Iron continues. “Donut Joe’s torn the place apart. Nothing’s gone except those forty five éclairs.”

I look to Fleur-de-Lis and Amethyst. “How come you two are here?”

“I thought about getting an early breakfast before a photo shoot this morning,” Fleur-de-Lis replies. She scans me over. “Though I might choose otherwise.”

“I was going to see about getting some breakfast myself before calling Midnight to see if he could talk some more about his pendant,” Amethyst said.

Donut Joe comes out from the kitchens looking extremely harried. His mane is more ruffled than normal and his apron matches it. “…what could have happened to forty five pastries?” he asks. “There’s nothing around here to show evidence of them leaving.”

“Joe, no one enters a donut shop to steal éclairs,” I say. “They come in for money, or something expensive.”

“Those weren’t just any éclairs,” Donut Joe replies. “They’re for Princess Celestia. Heck, they might be the most valuable éclairs anywhere at the moment. Someone might have taken them to sabotage me.”

“Joe… you’re a one-star restaurant. Hardly among the elite. Who would suspect you’re going to be asked by the princess to do some shit like this?”

Donut Joe paces back and forth outside of the counter. “There’s only one thing that I can surmise.” He points a hoof at us rather dramatically. “One of you all took them!”

I just look at him in disbelief. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Really?” Fleur-de-Lis says. “You think one of us took them? No one’s been here since last night.”

“But let’s think about this logically,” Donut Joe says, resuming his pacing. “You all were here last night. You all saw me put away the éclairs. You all know why I had all those éclairs. One of you must have taken them.”

“You don’t know that!” Amethyst said. “Really, what reason do we all have to be here when the shop’s closed?”

“Especially when some of us don’t have access to it,” Midnight pipes up.

Donut Joe takes a moment to think things over. “Amethyst, leave.”

“What? Why?”

“You have the least reason to be here,” Donut Joe says. “I know you didn’t do it. I’ll just kick out anyone I think doesn’t have anything to do with the missing éclairs and that will leave the one remaining as the perpetrator. Amethyst; you’re only here for Midnight. Please leave and come back in a little bit.”

Amethyst seems dejected. “Wait, can’t I help you?”

“Wait outside and see if someone else tries coming in,” Donut Joe says. “Until then, we’ve got to see about who might try and do it.”

Amethyst nods and leaves the restaurant through the doors. Donut Joe goes back in and leaves me, Midnight, Fleur-de-Lis, and Cast Iron outside in the main restaurant.

“Well,” I turn to Cast Iron. “We might as well fix the front.”

Cast Iron nods. Midnight comes to help while Fleur-de-Lis sits off to the side, but soon relents and uses her magic to help us all out. Within a few minutes the tables and chairs are back in their positions.

When we’re done, Donut Joe comes back out and looks at us. “I’ve checked the fridge and we’re all stocked up for today. There are still five éclairs left. We’re all good.”

“You have a bathroom I can use?” Midnight says. “I’ve really got to take a leak.”

Donut Joe nods. “Go through the kitchens, to your left.”

Midnight nods and leave me, Fleur-de-Lis, and Cast Iron in the main kitchen. Donut Joe heads back to his room and starts making some more donuts. Cast Iron heads inside to the kitchens and I head behind the counter. Fleur-de-Lis is left to sit around aimlessly for a while before she comes over to the counter and sits on a stool.

“You want something while we’re waiting?” I ask.

Fleur nods. “I guess I’ll take a cup of coffee and a croissant with butter and honey.”

I turn on the coffee maker and the pot immediately starts brewing. I warm up a croissant and get a small block of butter and a cup of honey and present it to Fleur and give her the coffee, creamer, and a small glass of milk. She accepts it and pulls out a few bits.

“Sorry about last night,” she says. “It was a long day.”

“No,” I tell her. “I just am that much of a prick sometimes.”

Fleur-de-Lis shoots me a dirty look. “Really, where do you learn that awful language?”

“Earth.” I’m sarcastic right now. “We’re all assholes in one way or another.”

Fleur looks at me scornfully. “I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m surprised there’s still more of you around.”

“We’re actually not all that way,” I tell her seriously. “Depends on where you go. I’m probably worse than most.”

Fleur sips her coffee thoughtfully. “Why are you that way?”

“Hell if I know. I’m just that way because I like swearing and being sarcastic. Helps when you ponies all overcomplicate issues that honestly could be solved rather simply.”

Fleur-de-Lis looks up from her coffee. “You mean like the whole éclair business?”

I smile at her. “Yeah. Just bake a new batch and realize it wasn’t someone here.”

For once, Fleur offers up a small smile. “I’m surprised I wasn’t entirely alone on that one.”

“Really?” I say, leaning over the counter. “So you’re more cynical than you let on yourself. Imagine the pot calling the kettle black.”

Fleur goes back to her disapproving look and just sips her coffee in silence.

Midnight comes out from the kitchen doors with a relieved sigh. “Been holding that one in for a while,” he says. “You take so long in the bathroom I hardly got a chance.”

“At least I’m not styling my hair. I just took a shower and a shit; what’s to get mad at?”

Fleur-de-Lis scoffs. “And your partner is almost the same. Perhaps he’s the source of your problem.”

Midnight comes over to her and gently takes her hoof. “Madame, if I may, I am a guard psychologist. It is I who takes care of him. Yet habits gained on Earth for twenty-four years aren’t so easy to break.”

Fleur seems astonished by the gesture and blushes.

“Don’t get too flattered,” I tell her. “He’s not what you think. Not of the normal persuasion.”

Fleur’s look changes to shock, though she doesn’t take her hoof away. “You mean you’re…!?”

“One hundred percent. I’ll take your hoof and lead you across the crowded street, but don’t expect me to get in bed with you.”

Fleur takes her hoof away in disgust. “Oh! Well, you might be a coltcuddler, but at least I can expect some decent behavior from you.”

Donut Joe walks past us and heads into the kitchens. Likely to check and make sure the éclairs are still in the fridge, whatever happens to be left of them.

Fleur-de-Lis looks at me. “And are you his companion?”

“No. We just share an apartment together. Figured it’d be easier on the cost, and I didn’t mind if he was gay.”

Fleur rolls her eyes. “You are as crazy as he is, then.”

I turn to Midnight. “‘Coltcuddler’?” I ask him.

“Derogatory slang,” Midnight says. “We’re few and far between. Since we’re matriarchal, it’s a bit grating on the females. There are worse.”

Donut Joe suddenly screams. “Another’s gone!”

We walk into the kitchens. Sure enough, only four éclairs sit inside the glass case that supposedly protect the pastries from being stolen. There’s crumbs from where it once sat, but the total count remains minus one from last time.

“Someone must have eaten it!” Joe says. “And it must have been one of you! Who passed this area in the last ten minutes?”

Midnight raises a hoof. “I went to the bathroom. But, if you don’t mind, that tray doesn’t look moved.”

“Come again?” Donut Joe asks.

“The glass case appears undisturbed. And I can’t lift it with a hoof.”

“Prove it.”

Midnight nods and steps into the freezer. He places a hoof on the glass case, tugs… and nothing happens. He tries again, and the heavy, thick glass barely moves. He tries again and once more nothing happens. Exhausted, he pulls his hoof away and shrugs at Donut Joe.

“Alright. I believe you didn’t do it. Go ahead and leave; you can come back later when this is all sorted out.”

Midnight looks to me, Fleur-de-Lis, and Cast Iron. “Have fun…” he says ominously. Then he turns to me. “See you back home, honey.” Only then does he leave.

Fleur-de-Lis looks at me, and I’m dreading what she might say because I’m pretty sure my face is bright red. She says nothing, however, and simply goes back outside after a few seconds, where I hear her take her position at the counter again.

Cast Iron goes back to making sure the kitchen is ready and I head back out to the counter. It’s six-thirty now, and the shop has been opened for half-an-hour. A few white pegasus guards come in as the first customers of the day and I serve them a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll each. They’re a rather joyful bunch while on break, and talk and laugh with each other heartily.

Then, one turns to me. “Hey,” he responds in a gruff voice. “Aren’t you Matthew Rock? The chef that actually managed to impress Blueblood?”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “But he’s kind of an asshole about it anyways.”

“Take what ya can, bud,” the other guard says. “Very few come to Blueblood’s expectations. Be proud about it.”

“I’d come here more often for that cooking if guard practice wasn’t such a pain in the butt,” the first guard says.

“Tell me about it,” his companion replies. “Place is worth more than two and a half stars, I’ll tell you that.” They finish their cinnamon rolls and coffee and leave, leaving me to wash their cups in the front sink.

When I turn back around, Fleur-de-Lis is looking at me interestingly. “I remember seeing that review in ‘Better Stables and Gardens’ last month.”

“Sure. Nearly lost it, though. He almost ordered his favorite sandwich and we didn’t have hay bacon.”

Fleur looks around, seemingly astonished. “Can I… can I have a menu?”

I pull one out for her and give it to her. “Take your time. I’m running counter all of today; I won’t be cooking it.”

“I don’t care.” She looks over it rather quickly. “Scrambled eggs, potatoes with onion and pepper, and two pieces of wheat toast with a side of fruit.”

I grab a notepad, write down the order, and send it back to Cast Iron. She reads the template and heads off about her business. I turn back to Fleur-de-Lis and the counter and refill her cup of coffee. She manages a small smile and sips it a little more graciously.

“How come you came here, instead of staying on Earth?” Fleur asks me.

“Not enough jobs,” I say simply. “Chefs aren’t in high demand. I got lucky here; I only barely got this job after working a stupid hayburger cart for five months. It was better with my finance degree, but still couldn’t find anything.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to work at a high-class, five star restaurant. Even better, I want to manage or own one. Maybe I’d start with something small, like a fancy steakhouse, then head on up to more food and better service.”

Fleur laughs, but it’s not demeaning. “You’d be better off in Griffonstone,” she says. “They eat meat there.”

“Well, I don’t have the money and this is where my job is. I can cook vegan, but that was the closest thing I could think of at the time.”

Fleur laughs again. “I get what you mean. But you still might want to watch your tongue; the higher-end restaurants and citizens don’t normally care for it.”

“You’re one to talk. You’ve been returning it as much as I’ve been given it.”

The smile disappears. “One learns to return it after dealing with it time and again.”

It takes a minute for that to sink in. I’ve washed another few cups and served a few more donuts and Fleur’s eggs and potatoes before it finally hits me. I thought this place was all cutesy but apparently I’m not the first to deal such sarcasm.

It almost makes me feel insignificant. So few humans with biting commentary and I’m already not the first.

But Donut Joe is suddenly yelling at Cast Iron. “Another éclair has gone!”

“I swear to you I didn’t take it!” Cast Iron is almost pleading to Donut Joe. “I just went into the fridge to get the eggs and fruit for a customer’s meal! I swear I didn’t do anything!”

I go to look in the fridge. Sure enough, three éclairs are in there and another one’s gone, and once more the crumbs remained. I check the tray. “Joe, she’s innocent,” I say. “The tray still hasn’t moved from twenty minutes ago.”

Cast Iron looks to me in relief. “Yeah! And besides, I have more important things to do than to grab an éclair in my free time!”

Donut Joe looks at us both disapprovingly and huffs. “Alright. You two switch places. Cast Iron, you take the counter. Matthew, you take the kitchen.”

“Why don’t you start cooking another batch of éclairs?” Cast Iron asks. “It’s almost seven. You can get another one done in four hours, can’t you?”

Donut Joe seems snapped into awareness. “Alright. But we still need to find out who is sabotaging the éclairs because it’s not supposed to be there until four o’clock this afternoon. There’s still the need to keep whoever is stealing them out of that tray until that time.”

I nod. “Let me finish up with Fleur-de-Lis, then I’ll come back here.”

Donut Joe nods. “Make it quick.”

I nod and head outside again.

“You’ve been ejected?” Fleur asks.

“No. Cast Iron and I are switching places. I’m in the kitchen.”

Fleur sighs and bonks her head on the counter. “Are you kidding me? This is kind of stupid.”

“Don’t you have a modelling session to go to or something?”

“Admittedly, not until nine. But yes. All I wanted was an early breakfast before I got there a little early. I hope we’re done with this sooner rather than later; my boss will be so angry with me…”

I pick up Fleur’s used plates, wash them, and return to the kitchens without really responding to her and leaving her ranting.

Half an hour passes. I cook a few plates, enter the fridge for ingredients, and periodically give Donut Joe updates on the éclairs. There’s only three left now, and I try picking up the glass cover of the tray myself, wondering why unicorns would put a ball-shaped handle on the top of a tray when they have magic. It barely budges under my weight, and I tell Donut Joe I tried picking it up to no avail.

“Probably better that you weren’t able to,” he said. “Makes me feel a little more secure.”

“So how’s anyone supposed to open it?” I motion to it. “You have the handle on top, but it’s so heavy. How could anyone lift it up?”

Donut Joe’s horn glows tan and lifts up the glass cover with ease. “Magic,” he says. “Anyone can pick it up so long as they’ve mastered the basic levitation spells. It’s how I’m able to handle those bread and donut trays with ease.”

“Well, that limits who could be taking them. If pegasi or earth ponies can’t get a grip and someone like me can’t lift it, that means a unicorn ought to be taking it.”

“Yes, indeed.” Donut Joe ponders that for a little bit. “…do you think it’s possible that someone could have taken them from outside?”

“No. I’d think you’d have to know where they are, wouldn’t you? So who’d know you put them in the freezer.”

“Cast Iron did, but her hooves are off. That means there’s really only one other unicorn who might have known…” Donut Joe turned around to look at the glass case. “AIEEEE!”

As Donut Joe galloped out of the freezer, I saw what he saw: only two éclairs remained. Without us noticing, one of the remainders had vanished. I followed Donut Joe to the counter, where he was standing in front of Fleur-de-Lis.

“This is absurd!” the mare was saying. “How dare you accuse me like such!”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Donut Joe replies. “But Cast Iron has been out there and I don’t think she’s been able to use her magic to make one disappear like that at all.”

“And what makes you think that I was the one who stole the éclair? I have nothing to carry them out with and haven’t left this building for the past hour or so.”

“You have chocolate and cream marks around your mouth!”

Sure enough, she did. But I saw the remainder of a cream-filled donut, fat and round instead of long and thin, sitting on a napkin in front of her.

“I gave her a cream donut!” Cast Iron argued. “How come you’re so quick to accuse us, huh? I get they’re a special order, but you’re making another batch! And who else would know? You’re being paranoid!”

“All the same, I would like to ask that you leave my restaurant, Miss Fleur.”

“And you think that would prevent a unicorn like myself from being unable to?”

“Better chance of you not being it.”

Fleur picked up her donut in her magic and got up from the counter with a huff. “I swear, your employees are smarter than you!” And she stormed out of the restaurant.

Thankfully it’s still only seven-thirty. The only pony in here, a regular who comes by for a cup of coffee and to read the paper, didn’t pay much attention and the breakfast rush doesn’t normally start until eight. Donut Joe returns to the kitchen and I follow him.

There’s only one éclair left.

“Are you kidding me?” I say. “How’d it disappear so dang quick!?”

Donut Joe looks over to me. “You! You’re the one who stole them!”

“What!?” I am completely dumbfounded. “Are you fucking kidding me!? I was out there with you!”

“You’ve been an accomplice! You helped them all!”

“I can’t get the case open!”

“No, but you’ve distracted me and others long enough for Fleur-de-Lis to lift up the case and take them, one for each!”

“You are absolutely insane!”

Donut Joe crouches down. “I don’t want to fire you, Matthew. In all respects, you are the best chef I have. But you have got to pay for this somehow…”

I don’t know why I’m not running away. “…Joe, what the hell are you doing?”

“I’m gonna get the truth out of you!”

And he pounces on me. God damn, he is heavy. I fall backwards and feel all the air rush out of me and I’m stuck there for a second just trying to catch my breath while Donut Joe stands over me.

“Who did it!?” Donut Joe yells at me. “Who did you use as your accomplice!”

“Get off of me!” I yell when I get my breath back. “I haven’t done shit!”

“Yeah, that’s what you want me to think, isn’t it?” He grabs me by the collar.

I give him a full, open-handed slap to the face. “Pull yourself together! You’re getting worse!”

“AAAAARGH!” Donut Joe lifts me up and slaps me a few times. I hit him back, and soon we’re rolling around the floor between the kitchen and the fridge hitting each other. He’s strong but blinded by rage and uncoordinated, and I find myself able to defend his blows and hit him enough to keep him off me.

“Matthew!” I hear Cast Iron enter and come across us. “Joe! Both of you, please!”

“No time, Cast Iron!” “He’s gone crazy!” “I’m teaching him a lesson!” “Get him off of me!”

“No! Both of you need to look at the éclair!”

That makes Donut Joe stop and we both look at the tray. I’m facing it upside down and Joe’s facing right-side up. I see the éclair become surrounded by a sparkling white aura. The éclair gets lifted down off the tray from my view and hits the glass cover a few times. It just sits there for a while before it suddenly gets sucked through an invisible portal and disappears.

Donut Joe is flabbergasted.

“That aura doesn’t look like anyone’s been here,” I say from my spot on the floor. “Fleur-de-Lis had a pink one when picking up her food.”

“And I’ve got a yellow one,” Cast Iron said. “That belongs to no one here.”

Donut Joe gets up with a sigh. “Wow… all this time and it isn’t even anyone we know here today.”

“Yeah, good. You’ve finally figured it out. Whoopee. Mind helping me up here?”

Dount Joe gets up off me and lifts me up with his own aura. I brush myself off and sigh. “So, what are you going to do now, Joe?”

“I guess we resume our original positions,” Donut Joe says, defeated. “I’ll keep working on the next batch. Cast Iron, you take over the kitchen. Matthew, you get the counter. And no, I’m not punishing you this time.”

And so I head back outside to the front. I wash my hands in the sink and clean off the counters like nothing happened. I’m working for a little while when a beige pegasus with a shock of a red mane comes in wearing the blue uniform of Equestria’s postal service. He’s a regular, and someone I’ve met through Midnight. No, I don’t know if he’s gay, and I don’t think so.

“Hey, Care Package,” I say to the pegasus as he takes a seat at the counter. “Coffee and a chocolate bar?”

“Yep, I’ll take it.” He hands me the bits and I give him a cup of coffee and a chocolate donut. He takes a bite, relishing it a bit before swallowing to speak. “How are you?”

“Good. Just had a bit of a problem with a tray of éclairs that kept disappearing.”

He’s just about to put the chocolate donut in his mouth when suddenly his eyes grow wide. “Oh, that’s right!” He puts the donut down and shuffles through his mail bag. When he finds what he’s looking for, his whole head goes inside the bag and he delicately pulls a piece of mail out with his teeth. “Dis is for you.”

I take the letter from the pegasus’ mouth – I will never get used to that – and open it up right then and there, reading the contents of the letter.

“I meant for Donut Joe and the restaurant,” Care Package says. “Sorry; should have clarified that.”

“No problem. Let me go and read this; they’ll want to know anyways.”

I went to the back and get Cast Iron and Donut Joe together and read them the letter.

Donut Joe:

I would like to apologize. I thought the éclairs you made last night were so good I just wanted more. I’m afraid I might have been pilfering from the supply you’ve made as a result, snacking on them through the night with my sister, who also rather enjoys them. I will pay you for another batch when you get here.

Princess Celestia.

Donut Joe’s mouth drops and his eyes go almost blank. I’m afraid he’s frozen with shock like Cast Iron before he finally manages to sputter out something. “…eh, wha…?”

“Princess Celestia has been eating the éclairs from the castle and teleporting them there to eat.”

I am almost proud when Donut Joe drops to his back hooves, looks up at the ceiling, and screams out as loud as he possibly can.

Are you fucking kidding me!?

Episode 4: The Photo Shoot

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I’m at a photo shoot. Whee…

It’s a lot more work than I imagined it would be. I mean, it’s a weekend, and the donut shop is completely overrun with ponies at a time that we would normally be closed. Most of us are busy doing random things, and I’m here actually cooking.

No, I’m not standing around for a random purpose tonight.

I’m the only one of the cooks here, too. Cast Iron wasn’t called in, and neither were the three part-timers. Of the staff, Donut Joe’s the only one here, and he’s mainly out front. Which is nice. It leaves the back completely empty and at least quieter than outside.

Donut Joe is now featuring a new dish, which is the reason I’m here. I’ve been trained on how to cook this dish and caught on the quickest. And so I’m here tonight to create a version of this dish for an advertisement. I’ve got five plates of it to make, one for each of the main ponies here tonight. It’s easy work compared to the hustle I’ve seen outside; Joe himself is red in the face from all the running back and forth I’ve seen through the window.

The dish is a special one, evocative of a more country or small town-style dinner. It consists of a pile of potatoes, a pile of baked beans with Donut Joe’s special ingredient (cinnamon. Don’t worry; he’s not been too worried about hiding it), a pile of spring vegetables, and bratwurst.

Bratwurst, you say? Do ponies eat meat?

No. At least, not as often as you might be thinking. This version is brought from some old Germaneic ponies and is made of portabella mushrooms, broccoli, eggplant, and tofu. No blood, no guts, no meat, and thoroughly disgusting.

For me, anyways.

I can’t do vegetables. Sure, I get odd looks occasionally – they’ve heard how some places eat horse, and it tends to make a few wary. Never mind the fact that the idea is already starting to feel like cannibalism to me. But I can’t fully make the switch. I like my meat too much.

That doesn’t bother the ponies here in the shop too much so long as I can cook what I need to cook. And I can. Five plates are reading go out, each with a helping of the potatoes, beans, one piece of bratwurst in between each, and a helping of vegetables drizzled with ranch dressing.

…why every single one of them wanted ranch dressing is beyond me.

The four others are sitting around a table waiting for me. A large backdrop with a photo of the outside of the shop in the daytime hangs on one wall with all the tables cleared away. Two giant lights shine on a much nicer table where the plate will go, and a chair is set up next to it for the model to sit. A large camera sits there facing the scene, though at the moment it’s unattended to.

I open the door from the back and motion to Donut Joe, who gets up and comes over.

“They’re all ready?”

I nod. “Five plates. That’s what you wanted, yes?”

“Yes. Five to eat, one to photo. We’ll have to see which has the best prep job first. Let me get them all on trays.”

It’s easier for Joe to carry the trays out, so he arranges the plates on two trays and carries them out for the others to see. In a moment, they will make a decision, they will perform the shoot, and they will be the first ponies outside the restaurant to actually taste the dish.

Sitting outside in the main dining room are Hoity Toity, who has taken it upon himself to do the advertising for the store almost free of cost; Fleur de Lis, the model who will be taking the photo shoot with the food; and Photo Finish, expert photographer who Hoity Toity called over to actually run the photo shoot.

Donut Joe sets the plates down in front of the group and sits down. I stand between him and Hoity Toity; I will not sit down until the job is done and these ponies are satisfied.

“Oh, they look excellent!” Fleur says. “Any one of these would do nicely for a photo!”

“I am inclined to agree,” Hoity Toity responds. I feel a hoof wrap around my back. “Excellent work, Matthew.”

“Mister Rock?” Photo Finish says. At least, I think she says it; her accent is a little thick. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen food that has the magics!” It’s a fine compliment, and yet all I can think of is how much she looks like Lady Gaga.

“I feel lucky to have Matthew here working for me,” Donut Joe says. “His work is fantastic and I feel honored to have him.”

Hoity Toity’s hoof trails down my back until it hits the end of my apron. He pulls down on it with a sharp jerk, which makes me stand up straight and have the feeling of getting choked by my shirt. I cough a bit as Hoity Toity smiles slyly in my direction. “He needs a bit of work, but he’s definitely a touch above the rest.”

Fleur de Lis pulls forward one of the plates with her magic. “This one looks excellent!” she says. She brings it closer to her nose. “It smells so good. Is there a sauce on this?”

“Modified brown gravy,” I say. “It’s just a bit thinner than the regular gravy. There is some on the potatoes, as well. Mashed red potatoes, as Joe specified for this shoot.”

Photo Finish is examining the plates. “The presentation of this is of the highest caliber,” she says. “The last time I had such a subject was back in Ponyville. It is hard to believe food could be so appetizing at a place like this.”

Hoity Toity examines the plates. “This one looks rather well presented.” He points to one in the center of the table.

Photo Finish looks at it thoughtfully. “Bring it over to the light.”

I’m expecting this to go on for a while, so I finally sit in the chair and watch the presentation get ready. Hoity Toity and Fleur de Lis follow Photo Finish up to the set and Fleur goes to sit in the chair. The plate of food is placed in front of Fleur de Lis, who holds it in her magic at a slight tilt such that every part of the food can be shown in the camera. Photo Finish tilts the camera slightly down so that the food doesn’t go sliding off the plate.

I’m blinded by eight quick flashes. I swear the entire process takes place in less than fifteen seconds. By the time I’ve blinked out the glare from the flashes, the ponies are all sitting down at the table and Donut Joe is passing trays and utensils around.

“…what about the other plates?” I ask.

“That’s it,” Photo Finish says. “I don’t need to see any more. That plate is the one!”

“…fucking hell…”

“Language, Matthew,” Hoity Toity reprimands gently.

I stay quiet instead of apologizing as I normally do. But I open my napkin and place it in my lap as Hoity Toity taught me, then use the fork and knife as he taught me. We eat our way through the plates, each one delicious and quite flavorful.

“Did you make this yourself, Joe?” Fleur de Lis asks.

“Well, I’ve had a little help,” Joe says. “Matthew provided input on some of the spices, and I went to a few towns to see how it was prepared and with what sides. The end result is sort of a mixture.”

“Matthew seems to have brought some of his skills to the table,” Hoity Toity says.

“It’s been my dream to work in a restaurant,” I say. “I love to cook and I like working with these dishes. Beats working the hayburger stand I started at here.”

Hoity Toity nods approvingly. He knows of my desire to work in a high end restaurant, but also thinks it good PR that I keep that to myself as much as possible. “I must say I am impressed with you, Matthew. You seem to be working rather well here.”

I shrug. “It’s taken getting used to. But I rather like it here.”

Fleur de Lis giggles as she looks at me. I don’t know why and look over to see why, but she says nothing and goes back to eating as though she did nothing.

The meal is finished and Photo Finish packs up her camera and heads off. Fleur de Lis and I walk out with Hoity Toity as the meal is finished.

“How are things going with Midnight?” he asks. “You sent me a letter saying you were thinking of moving?”

“Not anymore,” I reply. “It was a minor dispute. It’s been resolved peacefully and we’re good now.”

Hoity Toity nods. “Know if you need anything, you can come to me, okay? I realize it’s above and beyond my duty as guardian, but if you need to I am willing for you to stay with me if you wish to find somewhere else.”

“I said it was fine,” I say. “Midnight and I are on better terms than before, even. But thank you.”

We drop Fleur de Lis off at home first. Home for her is a nice little cottage in one of Canterlot’s nicer and quieter neighborhoods, filled with a mixture of Baroque and Victorian designs. Fleur de Lis’ home is rather simple by comparison, looking like a country cottage and rather small.

“So, ten o’clock tomorrow for the Vitton shoot?”

“Ten o’clock will work fine,” Hoity Toity says. “Make sure you are fully washed, but we’ll do the final styling at the photo shoot.”

“Alright. Good night. And good night, Matthew.”

I nod politely in return.

We leave and Hoity Toity walks with me. He’s taken off his glasses and once more puts on a kinder look than most have seen. He smiles easily and even nudges my hand once as we walk, allowing me to scratch his ear and gently stroke the top of his head underneath the giant pouf of a white mane.

It’s surprising how big a softie he is out of the public eye. I remember my first few months living with him before I found Midnight and the apartment I lived with him in his house; I had a guest suite with my own bathroom that seemed to be nothing less than he would give himself. I also remember, in between etiquette lessons, hayburger stand, and a quick course in vegetarian cooking, that we used to listen to music, talk about books, watch old movies and TV shows, and listen to radio programs. And he loved ear scratches; when I had a few bouts of depression and anxiety after crossing for the first time, we pretty much spent an evening on the couch watching ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and he allowed me to pet him.

I won’t deny that it did help in two ways. Firstly, it calmed me down. Secondly, I now trust him completely; if he’s able to let his guard down that much and be that silly around me, I can afford to be that way around him. I can tell him anything or ask him anything and he responds as best as he can. Of all the ponies, he’s pretty much the only one I’ve felt that with; Midnight only obtained that status with me in the past few weeks.

I’m reminded of something that Fleur de Lis told me. “Do you mind if I ask you something?” I start.

“Go ahead.” Hoity Toity’s tone is reserved but calm and polite.

“What the hell inspired you to be my guardian? Do you pick? Is it a lottery system? What is it?”

“We were allowed to pick.” His tone is warmer and gentler now, and it’s lost most of the high-class affect. “I picked you because of your dream of running or working in a high-end restaurant. I could teach you the proper manners.”

“Oh, really? Is there anything else? I mean, that seems like a rather arbitrary reason for picking some shmuck like me.”

“Do you remember our interview? When we sat down at either side of the barrier and talked?”

“Vaguely. It’s been… I don’t know, seven months? I came at the end of winter; it’s been pretty hectic since then, if you can imagine.”

“I can. But the gist of it was we shared more than a few common interests. I picked you not only because I could work with you, but because I could relate to you. Speaking of which, I have that copy of ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ if you ever wanted to borrow it.”

“I’ll be coming to your place in a few days for the photo shoot results. Why don’t you bring it then?”

“That works perfectly. And you have the Depeche Mode mix CD I asked you about?”

“Hang on a second. I can get it before you leave. And thanks for letting me scratch your ear; I was feeling a little anxious about the shoot.”

“Figured you’d need it.”

* * *

On Tuesday, I didn’t even go to work. I wake up a little later and allow myself a shower before getting into a collared shirt and my nicest pair of black pants. I leave home and go through the streets of Canterlot to a much nicer section of town. Here the windows are covered in fine muslin drapes, each house has at least one marble accessory, and I’m treated like a piece of shit.

Which is amusing as this is one of the few neighborhoods that I haven’t acted like one.

Hoity Toity’s studio is a little off the beaten path. It’s not in the main plaza of the section like the other high-end places are. His is a few blocks away by a decent-sized garden that’s close to the middle-class area of Canterlot. Supposedly it’s because he wants his fashion to be more accessible, but I’ve never asked about it. The price tags in his shop say otherwise, though.

I walk in to find a smattering of ponies. I walk through the back door of the main show room after saying a polite ‘good morning’ to his secretary and go into a large drawing room that’s loaded with easels and drawings of dresses and vests. At the far side is a catwalk and a more permanent camera than Photo Finish had with her, likely for modeling previews or special private shows. At one end next to a wide window looking over the gardens is a table, at which Fleur de Lis is seated with a glass bottle full of water.

“Oh, I forgot you were coming today,” Fleur says. “Are you here for the poster, too?”

“Came down on behalf of Donut Joe,” I reply. “And it is my cooking, and the first time I’ve seen it in print.”

“It’s a rare achievement. I’d toast, but I don’t think he has any wine.”

“He always has a personal stash somewhere. Dom Perwingnon ’02 is his favorite year, I believe. But I’m not much for champagne.”

I sit in the open chair across from Fleur and cross my legs. I’d been in this room before, many times before, and yet every time I have to drink it in, from the dozens of papers scattered everywhere to the many easels to the graphite and colored pencils worn down to nubs. I forget how much he works sometimes.

“So, where is Hoity Toity?” I ask.

“He’s picking up the final copies from Photo Finish’s studio. He’s been there almost the whole process; had to quit yesterday’s shoot because he was there to go over the thing again.”

“He certainly is putting a lot into it. Then again,” I motion to the room, “the same detail is given to anything he does.”

Fleur takes a few sips of water from her glass. “I forget you know him as well as you do. You know, you do take after him in some respects.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re not that bad. As a matter of fact, it’s almost a surprise from that other night with the éclair business, especially to see you using the utensils and placing your napkin properly during the photo shoot.”

“I swear. I like to swear. It’s not like it comes out of my mouth every fucking sentence, but it comes easy to me. But I have to suppress it around Hoity Toity and high class in general.”

“Then take my apology for the other night. It’s just the last time someone used that sort of language around me, I came out on the losing end.”

Yet again Fleur drops a bombshell. It’s not what she says but how casually she says it. Like it’s something she’s already gotten over. I want to ask her, but I have a feeling I don’t know her well enough yet, either for me to be asking or for her to tell me.

Hoity Toity finally opens the door a little later and comes in with full saddlebags. “Well, that should do it. One hundred business cards for the shop, twenty flyers to come around town, and three ads in the local papers with more of the way.”

Hoity Toity trots into the room and sets the saddlebag down on the table. He shuffles through and pulls out the cards with his mouth and presents them to me. I take them and he shuffles around with the flyers, of which he pulls out three. As a final surprise, he pulls out one on a large scale for us to put in the restaurant.

The lighting is excellent. The shop in the daytime is perfectly timed; it’s during our lunch hour when the shop is at its busiest. Fleur de Lis’ colors are soft in the light of the photo and her half-lidded expression is gentle and inviting, but the dish itself is brightly lit and the colors pop vividly out at the viewer managing to overpower Fleur’s expression.

I want to barf.

They’ve picked the worst plate.

The potatoes are at the top of the plate and look fine. But then comes the bratwurst, a dull brown with occasional speckles, gently curving downwards. The beans are underneath the bratwurst, and the vegetables with ranch are positioned just at the end of the bratwurst.

It’s vulgar.

“…what the hell is this!?”

I scream loud enough that Hoity Toity’s saddlebag may as well have exploded. Papers are everywhere and the flyers become scattered amongst the various artist’s proofs surrounding the drawing room. Fleur spits the sip she took of water in Hoity Toity’s face and the glasses on the otherwise dignified face are askew and leaning off.

“…you can’t mean to say you ran THIS one!?”

“What do you mean?” Hoity Toity asks, visibly confused and surprised. “I think it looks alright.”

“Are you kidding me!?” I point at the beans first. “It looks like a pile of horse shit! And I’m talking in the literal sense here!”

Hoity Toity looks at it for a minute. He squints. “…I don’t see anything.”

“You… how can you not see it? The potatoes and bratwurst might as well be the ass.”

Fleur finally looks at it. She examines it minutely before she wrinkles her nose.

“You see it, right?” I ask her. “Tell me you see it.”

“Yeah, I see it. I hate the pose you chose! Hoity, please tell me there were better shots!”

Hoity looks rapidly between me and Fleur, partially panicking and partially stunned. “…wha-what do you mean?” he asks, afraid of another outburst despite finally settling on Fleur.

“Isn’t there one where my eyes were opened a little wider?” she asks, for the first time since the éclair incident fixing a death glare on someone.

“Yes, but the pose here was the prime expression and feel Photo Finish and I thought was necessary.”

“Are you kidding me!? I look like a sex object! Isn’t there one where you got the just my bust and maybe I had wider eyes?”

“I’m sure there was one available, but that wasn’t what we thought would…”

“These are ‘bedroom eyes’, Hoity! And the pose… I look like I’m posing for a brothel.”

I look at Fleur de Lis in the photo. She’s reclined slightly, with one hoof gracefully pointing at the food and another gently resting on the back of the chair. Her eyes are half-lidded, making her look inviting as though she wants the viewer to come enjoy the meal with her. True, it does look like she could model a bra back on Earth, but…

“It’ll get customers in,” I say. “It’s still relatively chaste. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you get a couple of comments, but the main focus is the food.”

“Not you too!”

“Well, the food is the problem here! I’m more concerned with the fact that the food looks like a horse ass than the fact that you think you’re advertising your ass. Which you aren’t.”

“What is the matter with you? Have you ever seen high-society ponies look at each other? A mare and a stallion so much as stand next to each other for a certain length of time and they think they’re dating. And so the implications will come to me here for this pose.”

I see drops of sweat coming from Hoity Toity’s brow, but he says nothing.

“Need I remind you I’ve only been here for about eight months? And this is not going in a high class neighborhood – Joe’s is on the borderline between middle and low – so ponies won’t have the assumptions they do here.”

Fleur does not respond to this, but her face scrunches in disgust.

“If there is a problem with those advertisements,” she says, pointing a hoof at me, “I’m blaming it on you.”

“Guilt by association?” I shrug. “I can take it.”

“N-Now, now,” Hoity Toity steps in. He places a hoof on both of our chests and slightly pushes us away from each other. “I can’t have you two arguing. What I can do is see if Photo Finish can do another shoot. In the meantime, Matthew, take these out. Wouldn’t do to keep Donut Joe waiting.”

I nod. “Alright. For the time being, we’ll make do with these. But as soon as we get the chance for a new one, tell me, alright?”

“Ahem,” Fleur coughs. “I want to be notified, as well.”

“Of course,” Hoity Toity responds. “I will send a message by express to the both of you.”

I gather up the signs and business cards and place them in a bag I’ve brought with me to pick them up. Once they are in position, I take out a thing of thumbtacks – or hooftacks, as they call them here – and begin to place the signs in various positions. It’s nearly eleven and I’m not expected back until four; Donut Joe has given me a map of various community notice boards and shop windows that have agreed to let us post our signs. And so I’m out the rest of the day.

My last one is towards Canterlot’s nicer section, near what I remember as being Fleur de Lis’ neighborhood. I post it on a small jewelry store window, get a signature saying the store owner approved, and leave, only to be met with a familiar face.

“Matthew.” Fleur de Lis waves at me and trots over. She likely had been walking back home after work. “I thought you would be working.”

“I am. Donut Joe gave me a list of places to post the signs. I only have one more left, and it’s for our shop window.”

Fleur de Lis nodded. “Well, then. Um, I would like to apologize for my behavior earlier today at Hoity Toity’s.”

“No, no. I don’t see it myself, but I do understand your concern. We just both had things to be mad at.”

“I suppose so. Still, thank you for the understanding. I do have another question: what time is your lunch hour?”

“My lunch hour? Why do you want to know that?”

“I want to talk with you about how you met Hoity Toity. I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking, since you seem to get along rather well with him and he’s a bit of a recluse.”

“Well, sure. I mean, we’ll probably be seeing each other more often considering you work for him. Uh, my lunch hour is usually around twelve thirty and I’m only actually on break for half-hour. Does that work?”

“Fine by me. I might go to Joe’s around twelve-fifteen so I can order before you sit down. It’ll probably be a week from today.”

“Uh… okay.”

“Alright. See you around.” And without waiting for further response, Fleur de Lis walks off.

When I get home, Midnight is already there. “What happened to you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Like a ghost? Fuck if I know. I had an argument with Hoity Toity and have a meeting with Fleur de Lis, but that wouldn’t cause me to go pale.”

Midnight gives a knowing smile. “Ah, so that’s it.”

I’m not sure what to think of it, only to realize he thinks I’m going on a date with Fleur de Lis. But it’s not. It’s a business meeting and it was done before I could really give any response otherwise. Besides, it’s good to have connections; Fleur might know someone in one of the nice restaurants when I’m ready to get out of Joe’s.

* * *

I’m working at Joe’s still when Fleur de Lis arrives at twelve ten. She’s five minutes early. I half hope she doesn’t expect me to get off five minutes early to meet her, but do my shift and finish out my final plates before Joe tells me at twelve-thirty that I can take a lunch.

Fleur had ordered; iced tea, roasted eggplant with wild rice, side of broccoli, vinaigrette dressing. I designed that one for Joe, and it’s been a hit. Joe does it kind of cheap and I have to skimp just a bit to make it the right price for the shop, but it’s become something of my signature dish; Joe’s even put my name on the menu for it. Whether or not she ordered it for that reason is beyond me, and she doesn’t say anything to suggest it.

I sit down across from her. I have a slightly simpler lunch; two scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, two pieces of regular bacon, and toast with marmalade, and a cup of black coffee with cream and sugar. Joe doesn’t mind me using the kitchen so long as I clean up afterwards.

As I sit, I notice that Fleur has a copy of the poster sitting on the table between us. She sits and eats, contemplating it more than me and seeming not to take notice of me as I sit down. I take a bite of egg and potato and chew it thoughtfully, taking time myself to look at the poster. It still looks like a poor plate of food, but it’s not too bad, and Fleur herself is fantastic.

“How has the restaurant been doing?” she asks me without looking.

“Average of ten more customers a day,” I tell her. “Say what you will, the advertisements work.”

“Still don’t like it,” she says. She takes a sip of her iced tea. “At least I haven’t heard any talk about it.”

I nod. “Hoity Toity ever tell you if he’s supposed to schedule another date?”

“Photo Finish’s first available time slot is two weeks from now,” Fleur responds. She sighs, clearly irritated as she rolls her eyes for a moment before landing on me. “Something about a shoot in Manehattan and Los Pegasus first.”

“Brilliant,” I say as she looks back to the poster. “So, you said you wanted to talk about how I knew Hoity Toity.”

She looks at me, her face momentarily pouting before the edges turn up slightly. “I wouldn’t mind a little small talk, either. But yes, I am interested in Hoity Toity.”

“Well, apparently he applied for the guardian program. I lived with him for two months before finally moving into an apartment.”

“Two months?” She raises an eyebrow. “God, you’re there longer than some of his mistresses.”

“Whoa whoa whoa. I don’t want to go there. I already know too much.”

Fleur laughs. “So, what did you do?”

“Not much. He got me a job, helped with my work visa and dual citizenship papers, and helped me find an apartment. Remember Midnight Glow?”

“The colt-cuddler bat pony who was there with us during the éclair incident? Yes.”

“Well, he’s my roommate now. Guard psychologist, makes triple what I do. HT did a background check on him and once he checked out fine, we got into an apartment together and have been that way for five months now.”

“So how long have you been here?”

“Let’s see… five months at a hayburger stand, two months now here… about seven months.”

“Do you ever wish you could go back?”

I look at Fleur. She seems genuinely interested. But I don’t say anything; I merely raise my own eyebrow at her.

“Like, back home?” she adds, seeing that I’m not talking. “Isn’t it kind of lonely for you here? I mean, with so little other humans here.”

I shrug and poke at what remains of my food. “A bit. I’ve… actually started taking hypnotherapy sessions from Midnight. He puts me to sleep two nights a week and we have anti-depression sessions once a week. He’s been helpful, though.”

Fleur nods. “Do you think he could do it for me, too?” she asks innocently.

I’m taken aback by the remark and for a moment shoot her a worried glance, but before I can say anything more she laughs a little. “I’m just kidding,” she says. But then the laugh turns harsh and she doesn’t say any more for a long while.

I go back to the poster. “You do look rather beautiful in this, you know.”

She’s gone moody. She looks at the poster, furrows her eyebrows, and frowns. “You’re just saying that. My eyes are too closed.”

“No, really, you are.” I sit there, contemplate it for a while, and come to a conclusion. “Hell, might even be one of the prettiest mares I’ve seen.”

She looks back at me and the furrow and frown are gone. “I wouldn’t have expected you to say that.”

“Pretty things are pretty. Doesn’t matter what the fuck it is.”

Much to my own surprise, Fleur de Lis laughs. Laughs. At me. Like I just told a joke. After a while, she brings a hoof up to her eye and wipes something away.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had such a compliment,” she says. She looks back at the poster. “You know, I agree. The dish could have been a better choice.”

I nod. “Looks like an actual pile of shit, doesn’t it?”

“No…” The chuckling grows louder, and louder, until finally the dam bursts and Fleur is slamming her head down on the table (how the horn doesn’t break is beyond me) and muffling something that I can’t hear.


“It looks like… the brat… the ranch… it looks like…” But she’s unable to say any more. She’s laughing so hard she’s almost bawling.

And then, I see it. The brat pointed towards the vegetables, the ranch dressing over the vegetables…

“Oh… oh, god, why!? Why did you have to mention that!? Oh, fuck…! No no no no no no no no…”

The laughing attracts the attention of another pony. He looks at the poster inquisitively. “What’s so funny about it?” he says. “I kind of like it.”

“NO! Don’t look at it! Oh, god, why… why did they have to pick it. The bratwurst and the dressing and the…” But I descend into indecipherable gibberish.

He looks at it for a minute. The ends of his mouth curl upwards. Even before the words have exited from his mouth I already know what he’s about to say.

“Hah, hey. It kind of does look like a—”


Too late. He’s said the word and others are now oogling over the posters and the business cards, pointing out the now quite obvious innuendo that has graced the cover of what otherwise was a fine ad. I feel myself sinking down in my chair and contemplating if Joe won’t give me the rest of the day off to recover from the humiliation.

Fleur laughs a bit, but I see a sympathetic look on her face. “Heh, kind of thinking the call-girl thing isn’t too bad.”

The entire restaurant goes dead silent. There is the sight of dozens of patrons looking at the poster, looking at Fleur de Lis, and back to the poster.

There is the sound of someone growling lewdly.

“Oh, dear…”

I take no chances. I’m not letting Fleur take the same humiliation. I grab a front hoof and we make for the back door.

“But I haven’t paid!” she protests as the laughter begins anew.

“I’ll do it! Come on; I’m not staying in there any longer, but if you want to, be my guest.”

We race through the kitchens and head out the back door into an alley. Fleur sits on the ground panting for a minute, laughs as though trying to relieve the tension, then sighs and looks at me.

“Thanks. You got a cigarette?”

“No. Try to stay away from them if I can.” I sigh. “Well… nothing to say but I guess it’s probably a good thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“They won’t stop talking about it. It’ll be good for business.”

Fleur laughs a bit. “Wow… you still manage to joke about it.”

“It’s not the strategy I had in mind.” I mean to stay serious, but I end up chuckling. “It just happened that way.”

Fleur looks at me and smiles. This time, it’s big. “You know, you’re not too bad. Really. I know you have to go back to work, but I would like to meet up again sometime. You know, if you’re ever up for it.”

“Really? I mean, I thought you hated me.”

“I did. You reminded me of my exes. But… you know, actually talking to you, you aren’t so bad.” She gives me a smile that manages to give me the feel of embracing me without actually ever touching me. It’s one of those smiles that is so rare in life; the one of truly genuine appreciation and favor. “You should lighten up a bit more. I like you better when you’re not so cynical.”

With that, she turns around and wanders off, back to whatever she needs to do.

For the first time, I feel like I’ve found something I’ve been missing ever since I’ve arrived.