A Taste of the Good Life

Main Course is a successful chef and restaurant owner. Or he was, anyway, until a fire tore up his life's work and left him adrift. When he visits his sister in the rural backwater town of Ponyville, he discovers an abandoned building that's perfect for a quick fix-up so he can flip it for a profit. But the building comes with an unforeseen tenant, and when he lets her stick around he discovers that maybe, just maybe, there's something out there more important than wealth and fame.

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3. Buy One Get One

BUY ONE GET ONE

Main Course looked up at the wreck of a building he’d just purchased, and for the first time regretted it.

He closed his eyes, and remembered his conversation with Grace a few days before when he'd returned to Manehatten for supplies:

“Were you high? Or were you just being stupid?”

“Grace, come on. This is all on me, I swear. The mayor told me she’s received the funds I sent. She sold me the entire building for less than what I pay in rent for one month. Even if this flops, I’ll still have spent less than if I lounged around my apartment until the insurance check comes.”

“I’m not worried about you failing. But what if the insurance money comes through next month, huh? I need to know that you’d be willing to walk away from this Ponyville side project of yours.”

“Of course I will. I mean, five thousand bits plus whatever I have to put into it to get it up to snuff? That’s chump change compared to what we’ll earn once we get back on track. This isn’t my top priority. You don’t think I actually care about it, right? But look at the potential upside. If I can get six months to work on it I can get it into decent enough shape that we can convince somepony with more money than sense to buy it out from under me. There’s always somepony who thinks that owning a restaurant is just a fun hobby, and we can price it to move while still making a huge return.”

“Yeah, and then it’ll take about three months for them to run the place into the ground.”

“So? I’ll make sure they change the name when they buy it, and then we can put the money they give us into making the real Knoll even better. This is a good investment, Grace, I’m sure of it.”

It was a great plan on paper, but then again on paper the stupefying amount of work that needed to be done was just a list of bullet points. He’d spent the first few days puttering around in the yard, pulling the weeds and dead plants. Slowly but surely a clear path to the front door emerged, but he’d hardly set hoof inside since ‘winning’ his prize.

“Just realizing that this was a terrible idea?”

There was only one pony that could be. “Silver, this isn’t a great time.”

“Oh, shush. I’m here to help you,” she said. He turned around just in time to see her unhitch herself from the cart she’d dragged here with several other ponies.

“Who are these?” asked Main Course.

“Friends. Thought you might need a helping hoof,” she replied. “This is Applejack and her brother Big Macintosh.” Main Course looked up at the stallion who was even larger than he was.

“Hi there, my name’s Main Course,” he said, extending his hoof.

“Eeyup,” was all the stallion said.

Instead, his hoof was snatched up and shaken vigorously by the orange mare in front of him. “Howdy! Welcome to Ponyville. Mighty brave of you to buy this place up and try to make a go of it. Y’er either a lot smarter or a lot dumber than you look.”

“Uh, thanks?” he said hesitantly.

“It’s great of ya to try to bring some Manehattan cookin’ here to Ponyville. Used to live there myself, in fact.” She finally released his hoof, which had gone numb. “Still, you know what helps a place like this stand out? A unique menu, and more importantly fresh, local ingredients.”

“Stand out from what?” asked Main Course. “There are only a few other places to eat here in town.”

“Just... stand out in ponies’ minds, generally,” said Applejack. “Ah mentioned fresh, local ingredients, didn’t ah?”

“Wait, you two are the apple farmers Silver Scroll told me about, aren’t you?” The mare’s eagerness to volunteer suddenly made a great deal more sense.

“Sure as sugar, we are. And not just any apples. The sweetest, ripest, juiciest apples in all of Equestria. Ah think this here is the beginnin’ of a beautiful partnership.”

Silver Scroll left for her own job and the trio went to work hauling out broken furniture and rubble. Applejack was an endless source of interesting information about the many virtues of her crop, and after an hour or so Main Course learned to tune it out. He resigned himself to purchasing at least a couple bushels. It would be a small price to pay for their help, and he could toss a waldorf salad or something onto his planned menu without too much trouble.

“...and did you know that, technically, apples are members of the rose family? So in a way, they’re kinda romantic too.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah sure,” said Main Course. He’d been distracted by the dark clouds that the weather team were pushing into position. “Is there a storm scheduled for tonight?”

“Eeyup,” said Big Mac, one of only a hoof full of words he’d managed to get in edgewise throughout the afternoon. “Starts in about an hour. Gonna be snowed under pretty good for the next couple days.”

Main Course frowned. He’d just started making progress, the last thing he needed was to lose a couple days of work to a storm. “I guess I’ll stay here tonight, then. If I’m going to be stuck I’d rather be stuck somewhere I can get some work done.”

“Hard worker! Ah like that about’cha,” said Applejack. The siblings hung around a little longer, until they’d managed to extract a promise from Main Course to serve at least two apple dishes once he opened. The first snowflakes had started to fall by the time they left, and Main Course hurried back to Silver’s house to fill up a small sack of necessary supplies for the night and following day. He scribbled down a quick note letting her know what his plans were. A few days before, he’d managed to to drag a mattress and a few blankets up to the living area above the restaurant, and there was clean running water in the upstairs bathroom though the taps in the kitchen were undrinkable until he found where the rust was coming from. It wouldn’t necessarily be a pleasant night, but it would be tolerable.

The snowfall was getting heavier and even though it was the middle of the afternoon the sky was dark by the time he reached the future Knoll and got himself situated upstairs. He took advantage of the remaining daylight to start sketching out ideas of dishes to prepare. If the cafe he and Silver had eaten at earlier really was the best the town had to offer, there was definitely a niche for better lunch fare like soups and salads. Dinners he could get a little fancier with, but nothing too complicated. It would only be him back in the kitchen, after all, and whether Silver thought it was insulting or not, his patrons’ tastes would be a bit more simplistic out here.

Main Course yawned and realized just how hard he’d actually worked today. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was certainly right around nightfall if not a little later. It was dark outside, which was as good a reason as any to turn in for the night.

The howling winds outside rattled the loose shutters and sent a cold draft through the room, making Main Course glad that he’d brought an extra blanket. Checking one last time to make sure that everything was in order, he shut off his flashlight and laid his head down for the night.

------------------

He woke up in darkness. Outside the storm was still raging, and based on the absence of the banging he’d heard earlier he suspected that the shutter had finally been torn off for good. But there was a new sound, too, and it was close.

Main Course stayed as still as he could and listened. There it was again, a rustling sound coming from the foot of the mattress where he’d left his little cache of food. Maybe the building was infested with rats. Applejack had mentioned something about a pegasus who lived near town and was an expert on the local animals, maybe she could suggest something to deal with that.

The rustling turned into a quiet crunching. The rats must have found his crackers. He slowly stretched out a foreleg, silently reaching for his flashlight. Then in one quick motion he snatched it up and flicked it on, pointing it at the source of the noise.

For a moment, what he uncovered left him too shocked to react. It wasn’t rats at all. Instead, a guilty-looking orange pegasus filly with cracker crumbs littering her coat gasped and covered her face. She stumbled back, blinded, as Main Course recovered his wits and threw off his blankets.

“What? Who are you?”

Instead of answering, the filly tried to turn and run. She miscalculated the position of the door, and cried out as she struck the side of the doorframe. That slowed her down enough that Main Course managed to catch up and press a hoof against her back, pinning her to the floor. Her wings buzzed furiously as she tried to escape, but as she realized she wasn’t getting anywhere she started to cry. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I took your food! Please don’t hurt me, just let me go and I won’t come back, I swear.”

As the jolt of adrenaline he’d felt a moment ago started to fade, Main Course’s impulse to catch her was replaced with confusion. “What are you doing here in the middle of the night, kid?”

“I live here,” she said. “But I get it, it’s yours now. Please let me go, please.” Her words devolved into choking sobs.

“I’m not going to hurt you, kid, relax. Where are your parents?”

She started to scream, really scream in earnest now. “No! Don’t make me go back! Noooooo!”

“Okay, okay, I won’t. Just calm down.” He noticed how badly she was trembling, and realized it wasn’t just from fear. “Geez, you’re freezing. I’m going to let you up, but don’t try to run away again, alright? It’s not like you have anywhere to go, anyway. You wouldn’t last five minutes out in this storm.” He lifted his hoof up, and the filly immediately bolted to the corner of the room and huddled there, staring back at him with sunken, bloodshot eyes. Main Course bundled up one of the blankets, still warm from his own body heat, and tossed it over to her. She eyed it warily for a moment, then grabbed it and wrapped herself up. They sat there watching one another until the warmth slowly brought a bit of rosy color back to her cheeks.

“...Thanks,” she said.

“No problem,” said Main Course. “Why did you freak out when I mentioned your parents? Where are they?” She glared at him for a long minute, until it became abundantly clear she wasn’t going to answer him. “Okay, fine. Let’s try something easier. What’s your name? I can’t just keep calling you ‘kid.’”

“It’s Scootaloo,” she replied.

“Okay, Scootaloo. I’m Main Course. You aren’t in trouble or anything, I was just surprised when you woke me up.” He yawned. “I’m going back to sleep. Why don’t we talk more in the morning? Do you want to share the mattress?”

“No. I’m fine here,” said Scootaloo, nestling herself deeper into the blanket and glaring back.

“I’ll see you when I wake up. Please don’t run away again, or I’m going to have to tell the Guard that you broke in. I think it’s better if they don’t know, right?” She thought it over, then nodded. “It’s a deal then. Good night, Scootaloo.” Main Course turned off his flashlight and pulled his remaining blanket back over him. He closed his eyes, but somehow he knew the filly was still watching him from the darkness.

-----------------------

Main Course didn’t bother to set an alarm, so by the time he woke up it was already mid-morning. Looking out the window, he discovered that the storm had been cleared away, but left a heavy blanket of snow over the entire town in its wake. He grinned. The ponies in Manehattan would never tolerate the whole city being shut down for an entire day. The only signs of life was the smoke rising from several chimneys, otherwise it was utterly tranquil.

He turned to look at his unexpected guest, passed out in the same corner as she’d been in the night before. She was still seated, her sleeping head pressed against a wall for support. She must have stayed up watching him until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer. “Who are you, Scootaloo?” he asked nopony in particular.

He grabbed his sack and carried it down to the kitchen where he unloaded the contents into a high-up pantry, out of the reach of sneaky little hooves. He still couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t snatch up everything she could and run off again, even if the snow outside was as deep as she was tall. He put out a few slices of toast and a glass of juice for her, though.

It was about an hour later when the creaking of the steps let him know she was awake. Her purple-maned head poked into the kitchen and she resumed watching him, but she didn’t come any closer. “Good morning, Scootaloo. I made you some breakfast, if you’d like it.”

“You’re giving me food? Why? What’s wrong with it?” she asked.

“Nothing’s wrong with it, I just thought you might be hungry.”

“...I’m not,” she replied.

Even though it was an obvious lie he decided it was best to just change the subject. “You said last night that you lived here. How long has that been going on?”

“About two years. Nopony cared about this place until you showed up. Why’re you so interested in it anyway?”

“I’m fixing it up and reopening it.”

Scootaloo’s ears drooped. “Oh. So I guess ponies are going to start coming here again, then?”

“That’s the idea, yes,” said Main Course. “But probably not until spring. Until then it’ll just be me here. And you, if you want to stay. I don’t mind.”

“I don’t think so. I’ll find somewhere new as soon as the snow’s cleared.”

Main Course sighed. He’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this. “Well if that’s your decision, I’m going to let the Guard know that you ran away from home, and let them decide what to do with you.”

“What‽ But you said you wouldn’t tell!”

He shrugged and leaned on the counter. “As long as I know that you’re safe, I won’t. But if you disappear then I won’t have a choice. All I’m asking is that you let me know where you are, say, once a day or so? Other than that you’re free to come and go as you please.”

Scootaloo groaned and kicked at the floor with her hoof. “Fine. Not like I have much choice. She looked around the kitchen. “So now what, if we’re stuck inside all day?”

Main Course turned back to the pantry so Scootaloo couldn’t see him grin. “Well, there’s a new recipe I learned about last week. I was going to make it and see if it tasted good enough to sell to other ponies. Want to help me with it?” Scootaloo hesitated. “Or you can just watch and I’ll show you how to make it.”

“I’ll watch,” she said. She still hadn’t left her spot in the doorway, but she didn’t look like she was about to bolt if he so much as looked at her funny either.

Main Course rummaged through the pantry pulling out the ingredients he would need. This recipe would be a bit tricky with only one working stovetop, but he’d made it so many times that he knew it like the back of his hoof. First he pulled out the onions, big yellow ones. “Okay, I need to chop these up.”

Scootaloo made a face. “Doesn’t that make ponies cry when you do that?”

“Want to see a trick?” he asked.

Scootaloo’s ears perked up. “What kind of trick?”

“A way to chop onions without crying. It’s really neat.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Here, do me a favor. Take these and go stick them in the snow outside. Then wait about ten minutes, dig them out and bring them back here,” he said and held the onions out towards her.

“In the snow? Why?”

“You’ll see. Here, come take them.”

Ever so slowly, she crept towards him. Her eyes darted from the onions to his carefully-neutral face and back again. The only sound was the quiet clop of her hooves on the tile floor. When she was close enough, she grabbed at the onions and backed away again. Then, with a final glance back to make sure he hadn’t moved towards her she trotted towards the front door. Main Course let out a long breath. A little progress, just a bit, but there it was. By the time Scootaloo returned with the chilled onions, he had pulled out the rest of the ingredients and started preheating the broiler. “Is this good?”

“Perfect. Thank you, Scootaloo.” This time she trotted right up to give him the onions, though she still backed away afterwards. Not quite as far, though; now she was watching from inside the kitchen proper. Main Course picked up his chef’s knife and began chopping. “If you make the onions cold enough first, the stuff inside of them that squirts into the air and makes you cry freezes instead. See? No tears. Just a useful trick, since a lot of recipes use onions.”

He made quick work of the onions and began to melt some butter in a pot. He turned to look at Scootaloo and saw that she had advanced a bit, though she backed away again when she saw him noticing her. Into the pot went the onions to caramelize, along with the garlic and herbs. He poked and stirred to keep everything from burning, but when he uncorked the bottle of red wine he heard a whimper from behind him. “Don’t put that in,” said Scootaloo. Main Course looked over at her and saw her ears pinned back to her head.

“Don’t worry, the alcohol all burns away as it cooks. It’s like the onions, just a neat trick.”

“I said don’t put it in!” she yelled, then she covered her mouth with her hoof and backed all the way back to where she’d started, half in and half out of the kitchen.

Main Course very cautiously lowered the bottle and recorked it. “Okay, I’ll make it without the wine.” When he judged the onions to be ready, he poured in the beet stock and left the pot to simmer. Cutting a loaf of bread into thick slices, he moved on to grating a block of cheese over it.

“Wait, I thought you were just making soup. What’s the bread for?” asked Scootaloo, recovering a bit of confidence after her earlier outburst.

“It actually goes in the soup. You’ll see.”

“What kind of crazy soup is this?” she asked.

“It’s called french onion. It just needs a few more minutes to cook. Is there anything you want to talk about while we wait?”

Scootaloo looked away. “No,” she muttered.

Main Course wracked his brain trying to think of a neutral topic. “How about school? Do you like school?” No answer. “Do you, um, even go to school?”

“Yeah. I’m not stupid,” said Scootaloo.

“I didn’t say you were. You seem like a very clever filly.” Scootaloo didn’t say anything to that, so silence descended over them again. Main Course stirred the soup, and tasted a bit of the broth. “I think it’s ready.”

“So now we... you can eat it?” asked Scootaloo. The aromas wafting up from the pot were clearly getting to her, and she licked her lips in anticipation.

“Almost. One more step.” He ladled the soup into two bowls and dropped the bread in, cheese-side-up. Then he opened the oven and slid both bowls inside. The cheese began to shimmer and melt. “Oops, I forgot to get a pot holder. Scootaloo, will you watch this and tell me when the cheese on top turns a golden brown color? It shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes.” She trotted over to watch, while Main Course took out two spoons which he set on opposite ends of the counter.

“Is this the right color?” asked Scootaloo.

“That looks perfect. I’ll take them out now.” He reached in with his gloved forelegs and pulled out the bowls one by one, setting them next to the two spoons before shutting the oven down. He leaned over and blew across the surface of the soup to cool it, and suppressed a chuckle at seeing Scootaloo imitate him with hers. She was still watching him, and though she kept glancing at the bowl in front of her she didn’t begin eating. Only after Main Course took a big spoonful of his own soup and swallowed it did she move to pick up her own spoon. Privately, Main Course didn’t think it was his best work, but it was still tasty. “What do you think, Scootaloo? I’d really like to have your opinion.”

Scootaloo was too busy chewing on the soggy bread to answer, but she gave him a vigorous nod. She’d barely swallowed the first bite before she leaned her face down over the bowl and began scooping it into her mouth as quickly as she could. Broth spattered all over her and the countertop, but she didn’t care. Before Main Course was even five mouthfuls in, her bowl was empty and her tongue darted out to lick up the last few bits. Without comment, Main Course pushed his own bowl over to her. As soon as it was within reach she yanked it towards herself and resumed devouring it, as if she were afraid that if she didn’t finish in time somepony was going to take it away from her. In minutes, the entire pot of soup was gone. Scootaloo sat back on her stool with a dreamy look on her face and let out a loud belch. “Um. Excuse me,” she said with a blush. “That was really good.”

“I’m glad you liked it,” said Main Course. He wished his paying customers had that kind of appetite. “Scootaloo, I know I said I wouldn’t tell anypony that you’re here, and I won’t if you don’t want me to, but would you mind if I told my sister? I like to ask her for advice about things sometimes, and I don’t like keeping secrets from her.”

Scootaloo frowned. “I don’t know. Is she cool?”

“Yeah, she’s pretty cool,” said Main Course with a chuckle. “Don’t tell her I said that, though.”

“Only if she promises not to tell anypony either, but sure. I guess that’s fine.” She yawned and rubbed her eyes as the combined effects of a sleepless night and a full belly began to catch up with her. “I’m gonna go upstairs for a while.”

“Okay. I’ll be down here if you need anything.”

Scootaloo sluggishly trotted out of the kitchen and Main Course heard the stairs creak as she ascended to the second floor. He waited until he heard the door shut, then groaned and rubbed his temples with his hooves. Everything had just become a great deal more complicated.

 

 

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