A Dinner and a Proposal
Nopony who saw Rarity passing through Ponyville at the twilight could have guessed at how tense and excited she was. Outwardly, the white unicorn was the very epitome of grace, poise and cool beauty, as always. Her ivory-white pelt shone with health and care, her violet mane and tail were immaculately coiffed, her hooves polished to perfection and decorated with pearly lacquer.
Beneath the confident exterior, however, she was as nervous as a filly going to her first barn dance. I do hope this silver-blue silk shawl was the right choice… Maybe I should have worn something more elaborate? No, no, he's an artist, he can appreciate simplicity... Oh Celestia, maybe the gold dust on my horn was too much? Nothing I can do about that now. But should I have put on my diamonds?
Before she quite realized it, Rarity found herself in front of the Golden Bough, the finest – and most expensive – restaurant in Ponyville. Oh, I must stop second-guessing myself and focus! Remember – grace, poise and charm! She drew a couple of deep breaths to calm herself, then with a wave of her horn pushed the doors open and entered.
The maître d', an older earth pony with an elegantly graying mane, a little mustache and a tuxedo, greeted her with almost excessive courtesy. "Madame Rarity? We are most pleased and honored to welcome you to the Golden Bough this evening! M'sieur Hoity Toity is expecting you; may I guide you to your table?"
Rarity nodded and followed him into the restaurant, both amused and flattered by this treatment. Although decidedly posh by Ponyville standards, the Golden Bough wasn't very large and she hardly needed to be shown the correct table.
"My dear Rarity, I'm so pleased to see you again," Hoity Toity said, leaning in to air-kiss the mare. "I have to say, you look exquisite tonight!"
"Why, thank you," Rarity replied, giving the designer pony a winning smile. "So do you!" That was no lie. With his pompadoured silver mane, fashionable mirrored glasses and ruffled silk dress collar, Hoity Toity radiated style and confidence. It was true that his style might be a bit too extravagant, even flamboyant, by Ponyville's standards, but Rarity found it a perfect fit for him.
As she settled on the divan, he poured her a glass of sparkling wine from a bottle held in cooler. It was one of the tall, fluted glasses that unicorns used, not a normal wide-rimmed one that the other ponies drank from. That was a nice touch; with so few unicorns in Ponyville, and not wanting to flaunt her magic, Rarity had gotten quite used to drinking from ordinary glasses.
"I do hope you don't mind me having taken the liberty of ordering for us both," he said, lowering his own glass.
"Oh, not at all," Rarity replied truthfully as the waiter appeared by the table, pushing a little cart with their dishes on it. Too many choices on the menu; I'd never be able to decide on a night like this!
The first course was artichokes in butter sauce, with sharp, almost bitter yellow-white wine from Hoofington for the drinks. It was delicious, if bit fiddly eating – a traditional unicorn dish, in fact. Rarity was equally impressed by the way Hoity Toity was paying attention to her breed without being obvious about it, and the way he managed to eat the dish without smearing himself with the butter!
As they waited for the main course, he kept up a light, sparkling conversation, shifting from personal anecdotes to the latest Canterlot gossip to incisive commentary on fashion. Rarity was soon quite at ease, laughing at the stallion's jokes and replying with her own wit. "Oh, listen to me talk," she giggled, draining the last drops of the wine in her glass. "If I were a suspicious sort of mare, I might begin to think you have nefarious plans for me!"
Hoity Toity chuckled. "My dear, as charming and elegant as you are, rest assured that the only designs I have for you or any other mare are purely fashion ones."
Oh. Oh! So the rumor's true, then. How awkward of me! Rarity blushed, not sure if she should apologize or just carry on with the conversation. The arrival of the main course was a welcome distraction: it was chestnut and wild mushroom pâté, with truffle bread and endives as side dishes. There was a lull in the conservation as both ponies focused their attentions on the delicious food and the ruby red claret.
"You were in fact correct, my dear. I do have designs for you," Hoity Toity said as they were finishing their dishes. "The gowns you made... exquisite! Expressive! Extraordinary! My customers are clamoring for more, and not just in Canterlot, but all across Equestria!"
Rarity's eyes widened. She knew she was good, but hearing the possibly most influential stallion of Equestria's fashion scene praising her so effusively was like balm for her soul. "Really?" she asked, trying not to sound as excited as she felt.
"Indeed. And that's why I've come here. You see, I have an offer to make you," he said, taking off his glasses for the first time. Seeing the small wrinkles that surrounded his crafty brown eyes made him look both older and more serious. Gone was the flamboyant fashion mogul; this was the extraordinarily successful businesspony. "I'm not going to be in this business for ever, Rarity; there's only one immortal in Canterlot – well, two of them, these days, but my point stands. I am looking for promising designers, artists and managers all over Equestria to discover a worthy successor, an heir to run my empire after I retire."
Oh Celestia, is he offering me that? Can he be serious? "That... that sounds intriguing," Rarity said, wishing she hadn't drunk that last glass of wine. "How... Have you been successful?"
Hoity Toity's smile broadened. "To an extent, yes. I started with a long list that has been narrowed to a very short one by now... and I have to say that you catapulted yourself near the top of that short list with your spectacular showing. The way you snatched victory from the very jaws of utter failure and humiliation... that speaks well of you, beyond your considerable talent as a designer. So here is my offer to you: Come to Canterlot with me. I will put you in charge of one of my boutiques there. You'll have free rein to run it, and you may contribute as many of your own designs to my fashion line as you like; in fact, I insist on it! I will observe your work, your vision and business acumen, competing against the other young prodigies I have discovered. Eventually, the best of you will become my successor; the rest may continue under him or her, or set out on their own."
Rarity was speechless. She had such careful plans for her career: first, building up her reputation and gathering a nest egg with her boutique here in Ponyville, then moving to a larger, more important city like Trottingham or Fillydelphia to open a store there. Finally, with enough capital and an established name, she'd be ready for Canterlot and the fierce competition of the world of high fashion there.
And now, Hoity Toity had offered her a way to bypass all that. Years of painstaking work and stress, making sure the ends meet, struggling to be noticed by the high society and big-name designers... None of that would be necessary! She could become the star almost overnight! She could display her finest work in the greatest city of Equestria; mingle among the nobles and celebrities of the capital city; leave behind the town where her talents weren't properly appreciated...
"I'm not expecting you to decide at once, of course," he was saying. "It would be a great change, and there would be considerable responsibility involved. But think about it, my dear. Consider it carefully. I'll be leaving for Canterlot tomorrow afternoon; just tell me your answer before that. Ah, here comes the dessert!"
The rest of the dinner passed in a haze for Rarity. The dessert – golden-crispy crepes with maple syrup and lemon sauce – was probably delicious, but she might as well have been eating plain hay for all the attention she gave to it. At the end of the dinner, she declined the coffee and brandy, thanked Hoity Toity fervently, if a bit distractedly, and hurried off as quickly as possible without seeming unduly rude. She felt like she was floating as she trotted through the town towards her home, visions of her glorious future danced through her mind. Of course she would accept! There was really no other possibility...
A whiff of something sweet and sugary on the cool night air brought her back to the present. Rarity realized she was just passing Sugar Cube Corner. There was a light in the kitchen window, and she thought she could hear snatches of singing; Pinkie Pie was still up, either cleaning up or – more likely – engaging in some weird confectionery project of her own.
That was something she hadn't considered in her initial excitement, Rarity thought. She would be leaving her friends behind in Ponyville. They'd visit her, of course, and write letters – well, Twilight would, at the very least, and Rainbow Dash might crash in for an impromptu visit if she had half a day free – but it wouldn't be quite the same.
It would be wrong to say that her mood was deflated by the time she reached home, but she was feeling a bit more sober and thoughtful. Stepping inside, Rarity paused to look around in the entrance lounge of her boutique. When she had bought the place from old Mrs. Buncomb, she had redecorated it entirely, inside and out. The cost of that had come to almost half of the price of the building itself, but Rarity had never regretted it. It was what made the place her own; the lounge and the store, the workshop and her personal rooms in the upstairs were all modeled after her own tastes. It would be a pity to leave this behind; whoever the new owner was couldn't possibly appreciate every tasteful little detail, the consideration that had gone into the choices of color and upholstery...
Giving one of the ponniquins a little nudge so that it was better in line with the others, Rarity levitated the lamp towards herself, ready to go to bed. She had barely taken a step when someone knocked on the door: two sharp hoof-knocks, showing neither hesitation nor any attempt to strike a rhythm. What in Equestria would Applejack want with me this time of the evening? Rarity wondered as she opened the door.
It was the farm pony, just as she had expected. "Howdy, Rarity," Applejack said, looking a little anxious. "Ah'm awfully sorry to be botherin' you so late, but Ah wanted to ask if Applebloom was here with Sweetie Belle?"
Rarity blinked. "No, I don't – no, she isn't. My sister should be back at home with our parents. What made you think that she might be here?"
"Well, we ain't sure where Applebloom's gotten to," Applejack said. "She was hangin' out with her friends at that there clubhouse of theirs all afternoon, an' when Ah went to see 'em at the sunset, they were nowhere to be seen! We looked all 'round the farm already, an' the lakeside an'- "
"Oh dear," Rarity said. "It's probably nothing, darling. They're just all at Scootaloo's house, and forgot to tell you," she tried to console her friend. As solid, dependable, honest (and occasionally pig-headed, stolid and downright rude) as Applejack was, everyone who knew her that she had one big weak spot: her little sister.
"Yah, we thought of that too; Ah sent Big Mac there while Ah came to look 'round your place," Applejack said, looking just as anxious as before. She raised her head as the ears of the two ponies picked up the heavy clop of hooves coming their way. "Oh, there he is!" she said, bolting towards her approaching brother.
Curious, but not really worried yet, Rarity hurried – with the occasional slight sway – after the farmpony. They met Macintosh on the town square, under one of the street lamps. The big, red stallion was looking rather somber, not at all his usual mellow self.
"Did ya find her? Was she there?" Applejack was asking her brother.
"Nope," he replied with a little head-shake. "Scoot's parents thought they were at Rarity's place."
Rarity was suddenly worried herself. By her own, Sweetie Belle was a... well, a sweet little filly, if a bit loud and clumsy. But together with Applebloom and Scootaloo, she could get quite reckless, as the girls' recent close shave with the cockatrice in Everfree forest had showed. "Let's not panic yet, darling," she said, catching Applejack's tail in her teeth and stopping the earth pony from running off. "We're not going to find anyone if we go off running around like headless horses!"
Applejack glowered at her, but seemed to agree. "All right, all right. So what're we goin' to do now?"
That's a very good question. Oh, why did I drink so much at the dinner?! "Ah... We're going to have to organize a search party," she hazarded. That immediately suggested the next step. Looking each other in the eye, Rarity and Applejack spoke in unison.
"Twilight!" If anypony could be trusted to put something like this in order on a short notice, it was her; the purple unicorn seemed to positively thrive on bossing people around.
At full gallop, the journey across the town center to Twilight Sparkle's library-cum-treehouse couldn't take more than a minute or two, but it was long enough for Applejack's worries to infect Rarity. Her imagination, always more vivid and prone to flights of fancy than most other ponies, presented her with a whole parade of nightmarish images where her sister and the other two fillies were falling into chasms, drowning in the lake, being chased by some monster from Everfree forest... Oh Celestia, let us find Sweetie Belle soon, and let her be all right! And her friends, too!
The library was dark except for the faint glimmer of a firefly lantern somewhere in the upper boughs. Rarity rang the bell and had to physically restrain Applejack from hoof-pounding on the door while they waited. To their surprise and relief, the door opened almost instantly, with Twilight looking at her friends with an expression of curiosity on her face.
"Oh, good evening, girls! And you too, Big Macintosh," she added, noticing the big red stallion looming over Rarity and Applejack. "What can I-"
Applejack pushed herself in past Twilight. "Applebloom's missin', and so are the other Cutie Mark Crusaders. We gotta start a search party, wake up Rainbow Dash an' some other pegasus ponies, an'..."
"But Applebloom is not missing," the unicorn said, looking confused. "She's right there on my balcony with her friends; they seem to have decided that their true calling is going to be astronomy. I have my doubts about that, but I have an old spare telescope and..."
"WHAT THE HAY?!" Applejack shouted, cutting Twilight off at mid-sentence again. "Why, when Ah get my hooves on that filly...!"
Applejack's shouting got everyone's attention: four heads, those of Spike and the three fillies, looked down from the top of the stairs. "Hey, sis, bro!" Applebloom said, sounding nonchalant. "Did you want to look at the stars with Twilight's 'scope, too?"
The apparent insolence left Applejack speechless, while Big Mac gave his little sister an unusually stern look. Rarity decided it was her duty to fill the hole in the conversation. "Sweetie Belle! What were you three thinking, haring off like that without telling anyone! We've been worried sick about you girls!"
The little unicorn blinked. "But... I wrote a note to Applejack, saying we were going to Twilight's place to look at the stars!" she said. The other fillies nodded. "Did you put it on the porch like I told you, Applebloom?" Another nod. "Okay, so Scootaloo, did you get that rock so that it wouldn't fly away if there was wind?"
The pegasus girl looked indignant. "Of course I did-" Her expression turned unsure. "Um... Wait. I might have forgotten that. Hee-hee!" She gave a little nervous laugh, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof, while her friends exchanged a long-suffering look.
"Well, it seems like the stargazing is over," Twilight said, breaking the awkward moment. "Get down here, girls, it's time for you to go home to your families, they're clearly worried about you. Spike, put the telescope away, will you?"
With a contrite look, the three Cutie Mark Crusaders trotted down the stairs, Scootaloo walking off with the Apple siblings. Even with the obvious relief on Applejack and Big Mac's faces, the girls were no doubt due to a good tongue-lashing!
"Sorry that we made you worried, Rarity," Sweetie Belle said in a low voice as she stopped before her sister. Rarity sighed and surprised them both by neck-hugging her sister; usually, she wasn't prone to such open shows of affection.
"Why, you ought to be sorry, Sweetie Belle," she scolded. "For a moment, I was truly afraid something dreadful had happened to you! And I just couldn't bear losing you!" The idea of not getting to see her little sister grow up, find her cutie mark and her place in the world was dreadful.
It's not just my friends and my boutique that I would have to leave behind... it would be my sister, as well.
When Rarity raised her head, there were little tears in her eyes. "Twilight, may I borrow Spike's services for a moment? I have an message to send that absolutely can't wait until the morning!" Because if I waited that long, I might talk myself into saying 'Yes'. He'll understand, I'm sure... and I will go to Canterlot, eventually, as my own pony.