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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12. Change of Heart

CHANGE OF HEART

“So obviously you told her you weren’t going to sell, right?” asked Ebby from across the table, stabbing her fork into the plate of steaming hot french toast.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure she really believed me,” said Main Course, listlessly pushing the southwestern omelet around his plate. It smelled pretty good, but he found himself without much of an appetite. “Level with me, Ebby. How badly do you think I screwed up? Scootaloo wouldn’t talk to me at all this morning. I just hope Briggs is having better luck with her.”

“Hmm...” she said, ruminating as she chewed a mouthful of french toast, sending a light dusting of powdered sugar falling onto her coat. “I’d say four out of ten. She’s probably going to be mad at you for not telling her about Manehattan sooner, but if you convince her you aren’t going to take her away she’ll get over it.” She shrugged. “Then again I’m probably the last pony who should be giving out parenting advice where Scootaloo is concerned, so take it for what it’s worth.”

“I just figured I’d listen to what you said, then do the exact opposite and it would all work out fine,” said Main Course with a grin as she swatted at him from across the table. “If I did have to move to Manehattan, though, what would you do?”

“I guess I’d pick up and move after you. I’d follow you and Scootaloo to the ends of Equestria if I had to.” She paused. “I swear that sounded less creepy in my head. But I like it here too. It feels like...”

“...a fresh start?” asked Main Course.

Ebby smiled. “Something like that. Canterlot had a lot of bad memories, and I feel more like the pony I want to be when I’m here. Plus I’m starting to make a few new friends. Pinkie Pie even offered to throw me a party for my birthday in a couple weeks.”

“You asked for a Pinkie Party? You’re braver than I thought,” said Main Course.

“Well, it’s more like she popped out of a rain barrel and informed me that she’d be throwing it for me. Maybe that’s what you need to convince Grace to let you stay here; spring Pinkie on her.”

“I want her to come around, not go mad.” He finally took a bite of his omelet. It was a bit bland for his taste and he reached for the salt shaker. Ebby, distracted by the clatter of falling silverware at another table, reached for it at the same time. Their hooves met in the middle of the table, and they both stared at one another for a second before yanking them apart again.

“Sorry,” said Ebby. Her voice cracked a bit and she coughed to clear her throat. “You go ahead and take it first. I can be patient.”

Main Course tipped the shaker over his plate and jostled out a few of the tasty crystals before passing it back. A field of Ebby’s magic wrapped around it and began to pour out a steady stream onto her hash browns. When she kept pouring for more than a second, Main looked up at her with concern. He found her staring at something behind him.

“Hi Dad. Hi... Ebby,” said Scootaloo.

Main Course spun around to see her standing a few lengths away from the table, with Briggs by her side. “Scootaloo? Was I supposed to pick you up already?”

Briggs shook his head. “No, no, you aren’t late. Scootaloo and I just thought we’d end this session with a little field trip.” He took a seat beside Ebby, while Scootaloo slid into the booth next to Main, her hoof clutching to his under the table.

“It’s nice to see you again, Scootaloo,” said Ebby, choosing each word slowly and cautiously. “I really enjoyed seeing you in the play. You were very good.”

“Thanks, I guess,” said Scootaloo. She reached out and took a piece of Main Course’s toast from his plate and began to munch on it, eyes darting up from the surface of the table to the unmoving Ebby and back down every few moments. “Um, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Anything,” replied Ebby. “Just name it.”

“Can you convince Dad not to sell the Knoll? His friend from last night is trying to take us away, but I don’t want to go.”

“We were just talking about that,” said Main Course. “It’s like I told you, I’m not going to.”

“I guess,” said Scootaloo, not sounding convinced, “but you were talking like you’d told her that you would. How come?”

Main Course bit his lip. “When I moved here from Manehattan, I didn’t think I’d be living here permanently. I always meant to, well, to leave.” He winced as Scootaloo whimpered, and he caught Briggs regarding him flatly from the other side of the table. “Then I found you, though. You changed my mind, Scootaloo. I promise I’m not going to take you anywhere, okay?”

Scootaloo looked up at him for several seconds, but then smiled a little and nodded. “Okay. Thanks Dad. Oh, one other thing?”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Why did she say that you had a marefriend?”

Across the table, Ebby nearly snorted up a sip of her coffee, and she began to let out a hacking cough. “Sorry,” she croaked as the coughing fit died down, “went down the wrong pipe.”

Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed as she looked over at Ebby, and Main Course jumped in before she could come to any conclusions. “Scoots, I can honestly say that I’m not seeing anypony romantically. You and the Knoll are my biggest priorities.”

“And there’s nopony who you want to be your very special somepony?” asked Scootaloo.

Main Course didn’t dare allow himself to look over at Ebby. “I promise that when I find her, I’ll make sure she’s somepony you’re okay with, how about that?”

Scootaloo frowned, but nodded her head. “Well, I should get back to my office for my next appointment,” said Briggs, standing up from his seat. “Ebby, I’ll see you tomorrow. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your day. This was a very good suggestion, Scootaloo. I’ll have to try these little field trips with some of my other patients.” With that he got up and left the diner.

Scootaloo took a deep breath, and looked over at Ebby. “Can we all walk back to the Knoll?”

“Sure,” said Main Course. Ebby nodded silently as well, and once the three of them had paid their check they began the long walk back home, Scootaloo leading the way.

They had just stopped on a street corner to let a cart go by in the street when Scootaloo broke the silence they’d been walking in. “Hey, Ebby? Is it... is it hard for you not to drink? Now, I mean.”

“Sometimes,” Ebby admitted. “Even now, there are times when I want to more than anything else in the world. But I promised you, and that’s more important. It... wasn’t always, but it is now.” Ebby turned her gaze and looked straight at Main Course, avoiding Scootaloo’s eyes. “If getting what I want would hurt you, then I just have to accept that I can’t have it no matter how painful that is.”

“Oh,” replied Scootaloo, and stepped out to cross the street without saying anything else.

When the three of them reached the Knoll, they all froze when they saw the pony waiting for them on the front stoop. “Hey Main,” said Grace, a sheepish smile on her face.

“Look Grace, I—” began Main Course, but Grace raised a hoof and cut him off.

“Hang on, I want to go first,” she said. “I’m sorry about how I blew up at you last night. I was really, really upset with the way you sprung that on me, and a little scared too.”

“Scared? Why?” asked Main Course.

“Because it felt like you’d just spontaneously decided that you didn’t want to be a part of my life anymore. I mean, you promised me when you left that you were going to come back to Manehattan, then four months of barely any contact while I made plans around the assumption that you’d been telling the truth. Suddenly I show up to meet this filly of yours and you announce you’re staying without even asking me for my input. I think it’s fair to say we both could have handled it better.”

“Agreed,” said Main Course. “Of course I don’t want to cut you out of my life, Grace. The whole reason I didn’t tell you was I was trying to think of some kind of compromise, but I should have given you more of a warning. So you’re alright with me staying here?”

Grace frowned. “I didn’t say that. I’m still going to try to talk you into changing your mind and selling.”

Scootaloo huddled up against Main Course. “Daddy, you promised.”

Main Course opened his mouth to speak, but Ebby beat him to the punch. “Grace, I know it’s none of my business but could I give you some unsolicited advice?”

“Sure,” said Grace with a shrug.

“I know exactly how badly you want Main Course to come back and for things to go back to the way they were before. I really do. But trust me when I say the harder you try to force somepony you care about to do something they don’t want to do, the harder they’ll pull away from you.” She looked down at Scootaloo with a sad smile, and the filly stared back up at her with an unreadable expression on her face. “The hardest thing in the world is to let somepony you love go.”

Grace slowly nodded her head. “The best I can do is promise to keep an open mind to the possibility, alright?”

“You should come around town with us and meet all our friends,” volunteered Scootaloo. “We’re going to see them anyway, so I can give them the invitations.”

Grace frowned. “What invitations?”

Main Course draped a foreleg over Scootaloo. “Scootaloo asked me if she could throw a little dinner party for some of her friends on her birthday in a couple of weeks.”

“Dad’s showed me all kinds of things I can make. I’m gonna cook for everypony all by myself, just like he does! We need to go hoof out the invitations, though.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” said Ebby. “I’m sure everything you make for them will be delicious.” She stood there in awkward silence for a few seconds longer before she cleared her throat. “Well, it sounds like you have a busy day planned, so I’ll let you get to it. It was wonderful to see you again, Scootaloo.” She leaned down and opened a foreleg for a hug, but Scootaloo just stared at her. The half-smile on Ebby’s face slowly vanished as she brought it back down to the ground. “Goodbye, I guess.” She turned and trotted away while Scootaloo’s eyes followed her retreating form.

She was just about to turn the corner when Scootaloo darted after her. “Mom! Wait!” Ebby froze, and Scootaloo skidded to a halt a little ways away from her as Main Course chased after them. Once she’d stopped, her earlier surge of courage disappeared as quickly as it had come on. “Um...” said Scootaloo, looking down at the dusty road, “do you maybe want to come over that night?”

Slowly turning around, Ebby’s smile returned in full force. “Of course. I would love to.”

“You have to promise me that you won’t embarass me in front of my friends, though,” insisted Scootaloo.

Ebby chuckled. “Well, I’m not going to make a promise I can’t be sure I’ll be able to keep, but I’ll try my hardest to restrain myself.” Her expression softened. “Thank you, sweetie. You won’t regret this.”

“I better not,” she muttered, crossing her forelegs over her chest. She retreated to Main Course, and Ebby waved goodbye as she continued down the little side street.

Grace trotted up to where they were standing. “So that was your mother?”

Scootaloo stared at the mouth of the alleyway where Ebby had been standing a moment ago, and didn’t answer for a few seconds. “Yeah,” she finally said. “Yeah. She’s my mother.”

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

Grace, Main Course, and Scootaloo got back to the Knoll later that afternoon, after they’d made the rounds through Ponyville hunting down Scootaloo’s dinner guests. “Are you sure you’ll be able to handle making food for all of them yourself, Scootaloo? Your friends, their sisters, Rainbow Dash, your mom and dad, and don’t forget yourself. That’s a tall order for one filly to handle.”

“She’s gonna do great,” said Main Course, ruffling Scootaloo’s mane. “Although if you want help doing any of the prep work—”

“No. This is my dinner and I’m gonna cook it,” interrupted Scootaloo.

“Go on in, Scootaloo, I need to talk to your dad for a minute,” said Grace. When she hesitated, Grace rolled her eyes. “Relax, I’m not going to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart and smuggle him back to Manehattan. We’ll be right behind you.” Once Scootaloo had shut the front door behind her, Grace looked over at Main Course. “Quite a group of friends you’ve assembled here. I thought Rainbow Dash was going to clobber me when Scootaloo told her I was trying to get you to come back with me.”

“Trust me, I’m the one she would clobber,” said Main Course. An awkward silence fell over them for a few seconds.

“You know, it’s irrational but when I got to my hotel room last night I was actually madder at Scootaloo for screwing up our plans than I was at you. Hard to stay mad at somepony so adorable though.”

Main Course grinned. “She’s something special, all right.” Another awkward pause. “I haven’t changed my mind about staying. If it was your daughter you’d do the exact same thing.”

“You’re right, I would. I wish I’d locked you in a basement back in Manehattan instead of letting you come here and fall in love with this place, but I do understand why you did.” She sniffled and looked away as she wiped something off her cheek.

“Grace, are you crying?” asked Main Course.

“I’m just really gonna miss you, Main,” she replied. “Still, this is what’s best for both of you and I’m not going to get in the way of that. I’ll find a way to make the Manehattan Knoll work without you.”

“Thanks, Grace.”

“You better come back and visit, though. I burned one Knoll down, the second one won’t be an accident if you don’t,” she said with a grin.

Main Course matched the grin with one of his own. “Better make sure my insurance policy is up to date. The rates around here are all really high for some reason.”

“Weird. Now come on, lets get inside before Scootaloo starts to think I really have abducted you. I’ll give her some quick lessons on sauces before we start on dinner. That way she won’t boil ‘em down too thick like you always do and embarrass you in front of your marefriend.”

She started to advance towards the door, but stopped when Main Course grabbed her tail. “That’s another thing. For the love of Celestia, do not call Ebby my marefriend in front of Scootaloo.”

“Why not? They looked like they were getting along okay this morning.”

“If they were, then it’s a new development. Finding out what I told you about the night at her apartment would be a very bad thing. Please, Grace, I’m begging you.”

“Fine, fine,” said Grace with an exasperated shake of her head. “You never could do things the easy way. I swear, sometimes I think you like making your life more complicated. Don’t worry though, your secret’s safe with me.”

Main Course breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks. I owe you one.”

“Oh, when I get home tomorrow I’m going to do a full tally of how many you owe me, and I promise you it’s going to be a lot more than one,” said Grace. She tilted her head towards the door. “Right now though, I want to see what you’re teaching your daughter.”

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Scootaloo and Main Course saw Grace off on the train together the following morning, Main Course kept waving until it had almost disappeared from sight, then they started the return trip to the Knoll. “I have to admit, Scoots, I was surprised that you invited Ebby to your birthday dinner,” said Main Course.

“Do you think that was a bad idea?” she asked.

“No. No, no, no, nothing like that,” he answered, waving her off the idea. “I was just wondering what made you change your mind. It isn’t going to be like the play where you can’t tell she’s there.”

Scootaloo went quiet for another block. “A couple things, I guess. I want her to really be the way she says she is, Dad. I want to believe she’s actually better, but I see her and I just... I can’t quite wrap my head around it yet. But that wasn’t what got me to make up my mind.”

“What was?”

“You broke your promise, too,” said Scootaloo quietly. “You promised Grace that you’d move back with her, but then you changed your mind and she forgave you anyway.”

Main Course winced at the perfectly fair accusation. He should have known that Scootaloo would look at it from that angle. “My promise to you was more important. That’s why I had to.”

“I know, and I’m glad you did. But it was still a bad thing to do, just like what I did back in the woods that night. Doctor Inkblot said everypony does bad stuff sometimes, and if even you do...” she trailed off.

“Well, I think it was a very nice thing you did. I’m sure she appreciates the chance.”

“It’s her last one,” said Scootaloo. “Dad, stop for a second?” Main Course did, and turned to look at her. “I know she’s your friend, but I mean it. If she messes this up, I’m done with her. Forever. And I want you to promise me that you’ll be done with her too. That means that I don’t see her anymore, and neither do you.”

Main Course opened his mouth to protest, but then saw the look of barely-suppressed anger in her eyes. “Fine,” he said, “if she hurts you in any way, I’ll cut her out of our lives completely. You have my word.”

“Thanks, Dad,” said Scootaloo. She started walking again, and Main Course trotted alongside her lost in his own thoughts.

Dear Celestia, he prayed fervently to the heavens above, please don’t let Ebby screw this up.

 
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