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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9. Day 485 and Counting

DAY 485 AND COUNTING

Four ponies rendezvoused in front of Town Hall late the following afternoon.

By the time Main Course and Scootaloo arrived, Silver Scroll was already waiting for them carrying saddlebags that were bulging with all sorts of forms. “So, you’re Dad’s sister? Hi,” said Scootaloo.

Silver Scroll chuckled. “It’s gonna take me a little while to get used to hearing him being called ‘Dad,’ but it’s nice to finally meet you, Scootaloo.”

“It’s going to be even weirder when she starts calling you Aunt Silver,” said Main Course with a grin of his own.

Silver Scroll’s jaw dropped. “Omigosh, I didn’t even think about that! An aunt! I’m gonna be an aunt!” She scooped Scootaloo up off the ground and hugged her. “Oh, I am going to spoil you rotten when Main isn’t paying attention. I have so many embarrassing stories about him from when he was your age.”

Main Course rolled his eyes as Scootaloo giggled at the attention. “Could we maybe hold off on undermining my authority until I actually have some authority to undermine?”

“Nope!” declared Silver Scroll. “Scootaloo, when’s your birthday? What sort of present do you want? How about a set of drums? Very loud drums. Or a gong. Oh! And we have to go flying together sometime. Rainbow Dash told me how good you’re getting, and I’d love to take you up one afternoon after school, doesn’t that sound like fun?”

“Her birthday is late next month. Same day as mine.” The three of them turned and saw Ebby standing a little ways away in a dress that matched the color of her coat, watching the scene with a pained smile on her face. “Hi Main Course. Hi... Scootaloo. And you must be Silver Scroll.”

Scootaloo tightened her grip on Silver Scroll. “Lady Ebony. It’s nice to meet you as well.”

“Please, it’s just Ebby,” she said, waving off the formality with her foreleg. She gave Scootaloo a meaningful look. “That goes for you too. You can call me whatever you want to.”

Scootaloo was silent for a second, but then let go of Silver and to Main’s surprise took a few cautious steps towards Ebby. “Dad says that after today, you aren’t going to try to take me away any more,” she said.

“No, I won’t,” said Ebby. “I’ll still be here in town a lot of the time, and I may come over to talk to Main Course occasionally, but only when you aren’t there.”

“I don’t understand, though,” said Scootaloo. She kicked at the ground with her hoof. “Last night...”

“What about it, Scootaloo?” asked Main Course as she trailed off. He saw Scootaloo shudder a bit, but she didn’t answer him.

Ebby trotted over to her. She paused for just a second, then knelt down and wrapped Scootaloo in a hug of her own. Scootaloo stiffened, but she didn’t try to pull away. “It’s okay. I don’t blame you.”

“But I—”

Ebby cut her off with a hoof placed gently over Scootaloo’s mouth. “Let’s not dwell on that right now. There’ll be time for that later. You can tell... your dad when it’s just the two of you.” She sighed. “Scootaloo, I’ve been falling for a very long time. And when I saw you again, I thought that if I just... if I just clung to you as hard as I could you could save me and everything would be right again. But all I was doing was dragging you down with me. I’m not going to hold you back anymore, okay?” She sniffled and wiped away a tear as her pendant jangled against her chest. “I don’t want you to be afraid all the time. That’s more important to me than anything. Because I know that once you aren’t afraid, you’re going to soar.” Ebby planted a gentle kiss on Scootaloo’s forehead. “I love you always, Scootaloo. That won’t ever change.” With that, she released Scootaloo and walked past Main and Silver Scroll into Town Hall.

Main Course walked over to where Scootaloo was still sitting frozen in the middle of the street. “Scoots, if you don’t want to do this right now, you can sign the papers later on.”

“No,” said Scootaloo. She turned to follow Ebby inside. “Let’s get this over with.”

Mayor Mare was waiting for them in a conference room off the main lobby. “Silver, you’ve brought the necessary paperwork, I presume?” she asked as the other four settled around the table. Scootaloo scootched her chair over to get closer to Main’s.

“I have, Mayor,” said Silver Scroll. She opened up her bags and pulled out three distinct sheafs of paper. “This first one is the emancipation forms, that goes to Ebby.” She slid the papers across the table along with a quill. Ebby stared down at the papers without moving.

“If you’re having second thoughts now’s the time to say so, Lady Glimmer,” said the mayor. “Once these are filed, all of your legal rights towards Scootaloo will be terminated irrevocably.”

“I know. I just... I need a minute,” said Ebby.

“Take your time,” said Main Course, pulling Scootaloo closer to his side. Scootaloo’s eyes never left the papers.

Ebby took a deep breath, and lifted the quill in her magic. She squeezed her eyes shut as she signed at the bottom of the forms, then pushed them back to Silver. When she opened her eyes again, a little bit of the life that had been in them before was gone.

“Moving on then,” said Silver, her voice was steady but her hooves trembled slightly as she looked over the signed form and slipped it back into the stack. “Scootaloo, you and Main Course both need to sign this second one. It’s a change of name form. The emancipation paperwork was under the name ‘Citrine,’ but I drew the adoption forms up under the name Scootaloo. Time to make the switch official and legal.”

“Okay,” said Scootaloo. She grabbed the quill, but then paused. "Uh, which name am I supposed to write?"

“Write Citrine,” said Ebby before Silver Scroll could respond. She looked up at Scootaloo. “Please?”

Scootaloo frowned. “No,” she replied and scribbled her real name across the bottom of the form. Ebby slumped down a bit lower in her seat.

As Silver Scroll took the papers back, the door opened to reveal a panting, disheveled Agent Palomino standing there.

“You are late,” said Mayor Mare, not bothering to glance up from the papers she was reviewing.

“Ran... from the train...” he wheezed. “Would have been nice... to have a bit more notice.”

“Yes, that would have been a nice courtesy, had I chosen to extend it,” said the mayor. “Then again, it would have been nice to be informed before agents from Canterlot showed up at our schoolhouse rather than being blindsided by concerned parents wondering why their foals’ classmate was being abducted. So I suppose we’re even.”

“Thank you for coming so quickly, though,” said Main Course. Antagonizing an agent from Foal Protective Services right at the moment seemed ill-advised to him.

Judging by the glare he got in return, it wasn’t working as intended. “My boss’ boss’ boss got a letter directly from Princess Sparkle, which ‘politely suggested’ that we sign off on the little arrangement you two seem to have reached. Your case became something of a priority.”

Main Course grinned despite his best efforts to remain stoic. Rarity’s and Rainbow Dash’s connection to Twilight Sparkle had ended up coming in handy after all. “Well, here’s the guardian appointment paperwork. I assume you know where to sign,” said Silver Scroll.

“Just pass me the quill,” said Palomino. He glanced over at Main Course and Scootaloo. “Don’t think that just because you’re friends with a princess we’re giving you carte blanche. We’re still going to be following up and making sure you’re providing her with a good home.”

“Drop by any time. I’ll even feed your inspector.”

“Rat poison sandwich with a cyanide dipping sauce, I bet,” he said, but he smiled as he did. He finished signing the last line with a little flourish and then passed the papers back to Scootaloo and Main Course. “Seriously, though, congratulations you two. I’m glad it worked out for everypony. It usually doesn’t.”

Main Course looked over at Ebby, still slouched in her seat gazing at the wall. He couldn’t agree that it had worked out for everypony. “Thanks. I’ll take good care of her.”

Agent Palomino dug into his vest pocket and pulled out a small card. He slid it across the table to Main Course, who took it and examined it. The only information on it was a name, Briggs Inkblot, and an address. “What’s this?”

“He’s a local specialist our department has worked with before. A psychologist. We’d like you to talk to him,” said Palomino.

Scootaloo bristled. “I’m not crazy.”

“Nopony’s saying you’re crazy, Scootaloo. But you’ve been through a lot these last couple of years. It wouldn’t hurt,” said Main Course.

“Consider it a condition of our releasing you into Main Course’s custody,” said Palomino. “Oh, and that ‘you’ was plural, by the way.”

“Wait, you want me to talk to him too?” asked Main. “Why?”

“Because my department is not in the habit of releasing orphans into the custody of the psychologically unhinged, royal friends or no. You need evaluation,” said Palomino.

“I’ll show you psychologically unhinged,” muttered Main Course under his breath.

Silver Scroll leaned over and smacked him upside the head. “Main! Not helping! How about setting a good example, hmm?”

Trapped between the collective authority of the Equestrian government and, even worse, his younger sister, Main Course knew when he’d been beaten.

By the time Scootaloo and Main Course finished signing everywhere Silver Scroll indicated on the pile of forms, both of their jaws were cramping up. Ebby hadn’t said a single word, or even managed to bring herself to look at them. Agent Palomino had left a while back, mumbling something about a total waste of a day. “All done. That wasn’t too painful, was it?” asked Silver Scroll. “Technically these won’t kick in for a couple of days since they haven’t been processed yet, but let me be the first to congratulate you on becoming a new family.”

“Silver?” asked Ebby. It came out raspy and she coughed to clear her throat before repeating herself. “Silver, could you stick around for a couple minutes? I have a few quick questions about finding an apartment nearby.”

“Sure thing,” she replied. “Main, it’s getting kinda late...”

Main Course glanced up at the clock. Sure enough, it was already after six. “Come on Scootaloo, let’s get back to the Knoll.”

The newly minted father-daughter pair trotted back towards their restaurant. “Do you have enough time to get ready for dinner?” asked Scootaloo as they approached the Knoll. “I could, um, I could help...”

“It’s sweet of you to offer, Scoots. Somepony actually reserved the whole restaurant for a party tonight,” said Main Course as he opened the front door.

“SURPRISE!”

Scootaloo shrieked and scampered underneath Main Course as the lights came up. She peeked out just in time to see the ‘WELCOME HOME SCOOTALOO’ banner unfurl from the ceiling. Main Course grinned. “And here they are now.”

“Were you scared? Were you surprised? Were you both? Were you neither?” asked Pinkie as she bounced over to them. The other ponies gathered in the dining room all began laughing and chatting with one another around the buffet table that was stacked with cakes and pastries.

Once Scootaloo had stopped hyperventilating, she smiled and gave Pinkie a hug. “Wow! This is awesome! Thank you, Pinkie.”

“You’re welcome!” replied Pinkie. “Come on, everypony wants to say hi to the guest of honor.” Pinkie led Scootaloo off towards the approaching Apple Bloom and Rainbow Dash, and Main Course smiled as she jumped up and gave Rainbow Dash a big hug.

“It must feel nice,” said Rarity’s voice from behind him. Main Course turned to face her, stepping nimbly aside as Sweetie Belle rushed past him to join the others.

“It does. After everything that’s happened this last week it’s a huge weight off my mind. A part of me still can’t believe it’s really happening. I just hope I’m cut out for what comes next.”

“From what I’ve seen, I can’t imagine a better father for her,” said Rarity as she took a sip from her glass of punch. “How did Ebony take it?”

Main’s grin slipped a bit. “As well as can be expected, I guess. I think she’s looking for a permanent place to stay here in Ponyville.”

“Do you trust her to keep her word and not try to contact her daughter?” she asked.

Main Course thought about that for a minute. “I think she knows that backing off is her best chance of ever getting Scootaloo to forgive her. And honestly, I hope she’s right. Am I stupid for thinking Ebby isn’t really such a bad pony despite everything she’s done?”

“Maybe,” said Rarity, “If she is planning to stick around I really must invite her over for tea sometime, I’ll make up my mind after I’ve spoken to her again. One way or another, the poor dear needs a friend right now. But you need to put Scootaloo’s welfare first. You’re her father now, and that means making certain sacrifices in regards to your personal life. If you have to choose one over the other, well, that’s a choice you’ve already made, isn’t it?” She smiled. “Come on now, this is a happy day for you two. No need to spoil it.” She took his hoof and led him over to where Scootaloo was talking to the assembled ponies around her.

“Dad! Look at what Rainbow Dash gave me!” She proudly held up a signed Wonderbolts poster for him to see. “Can we hang it in my room?”

“Well, we still need to paint it first now that you’ll be there permanently, but sure.”

“Ooh! We could help paint,” said Sweetie Belle.

No,” said Rarity and Main Course in unison. Main Course cleared his throat. “I mean, uh, we’ll find some other way for you to help, how’s that sound?”

"Aww, but painting the sets for the school play was so much fun," moaned Sweetie Belle.

"What school play?" asked Main Course.

Scootaloo glared at Sweetie Belle. "Just a stupid play about vegetables that we weren't going to talk about because it's lame and I didn't want to be in it anyway."

"But Miss Cheerilee said there were still parts you could play when you came back. It'll be fun."

"I think Sweetie is right, Scoots," said Main Course. "You should at least consider it."

Scootaloo looked up at him, then back at the pleading looks her friends were giving her. She sighed. "Fine."

"Cutie Mark Crusader thespians, yay!" shouted Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, hugging Scootaloo from either side.

"What are those?" asked Scootaloo.

"Ah guess all the really good actors come from somewhere called Thespia," explained Apple Bloom.

The party carried on into the night, with a whole procession of ponies coming over to Scootaloo and Main Course to congratulate them. When Main Course tried to slip away into the kitchen to catch a breather, he was promptly busted by Pinkie Pie who exiled him right back out into the crowd with an order to enjoy himself. Eventually he saw Silver Scroll arrive and went to greet her.

“Silver, you made it! Clear everything up for Ebby?” he asked.

Silver Scroll gave him a funny look. “Main, she didn’t have questions about an apartment. Once you, Scootaloo, and Mayor Mare left, she pretty much broke down. She wanted a shoulder to cry on. I’m surprised she held herself together in there as long as she did.” The good time Main Course had been having slipped away. Of course she did, the mare had just signed away her daughter. He felt a wave of guilt wash over him. Here he was among friends laughing and celebrating while she was alone. Silver Scroll patting him on the back banished those thoughts, or at least pushed them back beneath the surface for the moment. “You can’t always make everypony happy, you know. Scootaloo’s happy, that’s what matters right now. You should write Mom and Dad to come meet her. Grace, Cherry, and their foals too. That lucky little filly is about to discover that she’s just gained more family than she knows what to do with.”

“Grace is gonna kill me when she finds out. She wasn’t crazy about me coming to Ponyville at all,” said Main Course.

“Eh, you two have been friends for a long time. I’m sure she’ll get over it. Just make sure she isn’t holding a frying pan or anything when you mention it,” said Silver Scroll. “Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go give my niece a hug and a kiss.” She did a happy little dance and her wings fluttered. “I still can’t get over that I’m an aunt now!”

She trotted over to Scootaloo, and lifted her up in a surprise hug from behind while Applejack laughed. Family. It was only now really starting to sink in for him that that’s just what Scootaloo was to him now. Just then, Pinkie wheeled out a cart covered in a big, pink-frosted sheet cake, lit up with a dozen candles. “Who wants adoption cake?” she called out to the room, and the stampede was on.

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

As the party wound down and the last guests left, Main Course sat back on the stairs that led up to their living space. Pinkie’s cleanup had been pretty thorough, and everything looked ready to open again tomorrow. Across the room, Scootaloo let out a big yawn. “Sounds like somepony’s about ready for bed,” said Main Course.

She turned her head and covered her mouth, trying futilely to hide the gesture. “Nuh uh! Can’t I stay up a little longer?” she asked.

“Sure, but on one condition. What were you and Ebby talking about earlier? About what happened last night?” he asked.

Scootaloo winced. “I... I don’t want to talk about that. I did something really bad.”

“Scootaloo, come here,” said Main Course. She obediently trotted over to him, and he lifted her up into his lap. When she tried to avoid looking up at him he slipped a hoof under her chin and gently pulled her head up. “I know last night must have been kind of scary seeing her almost slip off the cliff, but everything turned out fine, didn’t it? What are you worried about?”

“You... you promise you won’t change your mind if I tell you? About wanting to keep me?” asked Scootaloo.

“Of course I won’t. Don’t be silly. What could you possibly have done that you think I wouldn’t want you anymore?”

She sniffled and buried her face in Main’s chest for a bit before looking back up at him. “I was near the edge of the cliff when Mom fell. I almost fell too, but she saved me. Then...” she trailed off.

“Then what, Scootaloo?”

“Then she held out her hoof and asked me to help her up. And I... I ran away. I could have saved her, but I didn’t want to. I wanted her to fall into the water and just get swept away forever so she couldn’t hurt me anymore. I wanted her to die, Dad. And she almost did.” Main Course sat there in stunned silence, looking down at her. “Please say something.”

“I...” he began. What was there to say to that?

“I knew it. You don’t want me anymore. I’m just as bad as Mom was,” said Scootaloo.

“It’s okay, Scootaloo. Just because you did a bad thing, and yeah, that is pretty bad, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t forgive you. You’re still a good pony,” said Main Course.

“Good ponies aren’t supposed to hurt other ponies. Or want to hurt them. I don’t want to be like her. She didn’t mean to hurt me, or want to, but she did anyway. How can I be a good pony if I turn out like my mom? Nopony would care about me anymore.”

“Hey, Scootaloo, come on. I’ll always care about you. So will your Aunt Silver and all of your friends. That’s not going to change.”

Scootaloo broke down sobbing, huddling into a tight little ball against him. “You promise that I won’t have to be alone again?”

“Never. You’ll always have a place here, okay?”

She looked up at him and smiled through her tears. “I’m glad you’re my dad now.”

“Me too,” said Main Course as he leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She yawned again, more deeply this time. “Why don’t we talk about this more tomorrow? It’s been a long day.”

“Tuck me in?” she asked hopefully, wrapping her forelegs around his neck.

“Absolutely,” he said, supporting her with his foreleg as he carried her upstairs. He spontaneously decided that, from that night on, tucking his daughter into bed would be a tradition he would never break.

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

Main Course tapped out a little staccato rhythm on the table next to him as he waited in the empty office. The gurgling of the little water feature hanging on the far wall provided a bit of background noise without rising to the level of becoming actively distracting.

The doors opened and a pudgy yellow earth pony stallion stepped inside. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Main Course. How have you been?"

He rose up from his seat and bumped the psychologist’s hoof. “I’ve been well, Doctor Inkblot, yourself?”

“Hmm,” he replied with a frown, “well that’s interesting.”

Main Course felt a surge of panic well up. “Why is that interesting?”

“Let me make some notes here,” he replied. He scribbled something onto a notepad.

“Did I say something wrong? What are you writing? Are you writing notes about me?”

“Paranoid tendencies. Very interesting indeed,” he muttered to himself.

Main Course was completely dumbfounded. The doctor kept writing for another fifteen seconds while he stood their growing increasingly concerned. Finally, Doctor Inkblot looked up. “Would you like to see what I’ve written?”

Main Course nearly snatched the pad out of his hooves. He expected to see nearly a paragraph of notes declaring that he was crazy, or somehow an unfit parent based on some miniscule tremor in his voice, but all that was written there was a single word: Relax! When Main Course looked back up, he saw that the doctor was smiling. “Very funny.”

“I thought so. And please, call me Briggs,” said Briggs as he took back the pad. “There was a point to that, though. Have a seat and I’ll explain.” Main Course sat back down on the sofa while Briggs claimed an easy chair in the far corner of the office. “A lot of patients come in here, especially in cases where Foal Protective Services have gotten involved, assuming that I’m trying to trip them up with ‘gotcha’ questions or find a reason to declare them to be unfit parents. Nothing could be further from the truth. From what Scootaloo said in our discussion the other day it’s already quite clear to me that you’re invested in her well being.”

“What did she say?” asked Main Course.

“I’m not going to disclose the specifics of what was said between myself and a patient,” said Briggs, a hint of disapproval on his face. “I will say that she thinks highly of you, though. I’m here to help both of you with the transition. It’s a big adjustment for you both.”

Main Course smiled. The doctor hadn’t turned out anything like he’d expected from the reports Scootaloo had brought back about the professionals in Canterlot. “Well, I’m glad. For a second there I was worried you thought I was crazy.”

“Oh, I do think you’re crazy,” replied Briggs. “At least a little bit. Haven’t met a pony yet who wasn’t in some way or another. The fact that you fit in here in Ponyville is proof enough of that by itself.”

“Everypony? Really? Even your psychologist friends?” asked Main.

Briggs winked at him. “Especially the psychologists. You know what they say, it takes one to know one. Let me give you an example. From what I’ve heard, about a week ago you shut down your restaurant on the spur of the moment and charged out into the woods, in the middle of a downpour, on the suspicion that Scootaloo might be there despite little evidence that she was. Now, how rational does that decision sound?”

“A pony I loved was in trouble. I wasn’t just going to sit around,” said Main Course.

“Ah, love,” said Briggs with a wistful lilt in his voice, “that most socially acceptable form of insanity. But that’s my point. We’re all a little crazy, especially where the ponies we care about are concerned. And we all have our own quirks and hangups. Which is a good thing, I think, or life would be a great deal more boring. My job is to make sure ponies have a handle on theirs, rather than the other way around.”

“Alright, let’s say I agree with you,” said Main Course. “Why don’t you tell me what my quirks are? Or do you want to ask me a bunch of questions about my mother first?”

Briggs chuckled. “If only it were that easy. I have a better idea, though. Tell me all about how you ended up running a restaurant here in Ponyville instead.”

Main Course shrugged. It seemed like a harmless enough question. He ran through the highlights of the last couple of months, from his frustration over losing the old Knoll in Manehattan to his discovery of the abandoned restaurant and Scootaloo. Then all the drama and back and forth between Scootaloo and Ebby. Throughout it all, Briggs was mostly quiet, occasionally asking a clarifying question but mostly just letting the story pour out. Main Course found that once he’d gotten started it was difficult to stop before he finally caught up to the night after the final paperwork had been signed.

“Yes, I heard the full version of what really happened at that cliffside,” said Briggs, “I imagine it’s something she’ll be having nightmares about for a while, but it’s good that you two were able to talk about it.” He looked up at the clock. “And now I think we should wrap things up since we’re about out of time.”

Main Course looked over at the clock in surprise. Sure enough, nearly the entire hour had already slipped away. “So that’s it? I’m done?”

“FPS usually requires at least four sessions before I can officially sign off on you, so I wouldn’t say we’re done. Still, I’m glad we had this chance to get to know one another.”

“Any special parenting advice I should be aware of?” asked Main Course.

Briggs put a hoof under his chin. “Well, there were a few things I did notice. It seems it’s very important to you to be the good guy when you interact with other ponies, isn’t it?”

“I’d say so. Thanks.”

“It was an observation, not a compliment,” said Briggs. “You work very hard to make sure everypony comes away from their dealings with you in a better situation than they were in before, which I’ll admit is admirable. Most of the time.”

“So what, being the good guy is suddenly a bad thing?”

“I didn’t say that either. I don’t have easy answers or a bunch of obvious platitudes for you, Main, I’m just here to help you be aware of the decisions you might otherwise make without much thought or reflection.” Briggs placed the pad down next to the table and stood up to walk Main Course out. “I asked Scootaloo to journal her thoughts and feelings at least once a day. Please encourage her to do so. I find that writing our feelings down and reviewing them later can often bring clarity. Lets us step out of the moment a bit and get a new perspective on our thoughts. Do you keep a journal, Main?”

“I, uh, I find I don’t really have time,” said Main Course. For some reason he couldn’t quite put his hoof on, he felt guilty about confessing that fact.

“Well, that’s too bad. Just something to consider. Stop and speak to my assistant on the way out, we’ll get your next few sessions set up and I’ll see you sometime next week.”

Main Course stepped out into the lobby, but was surprised when Briggs closed the door behind him without following. “Anything I can help you with before you leave?” asked a cheerful purple pegasus mare seated behind the office’s front desk.

“Uh...” said Main Course, momentarily disoriented. “I guess I need to make an appointment for next week.”

He haggled with the receptionist over available times, and finally pledged one of his few, precious free hours to the second session. On the way out he wondered if, perhaps, it wouldn’t be wise to stop by Ledgers and Lampshades to pick up a journal of his own.

 

 

 

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