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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5. Stories From the Past, Promises For the Future

STORIES FROM THE PAST, PROMISES FOR THE FUTURE

“Main Course? I’m home!” called out Scootaloo’s voice. From the kitchen, he heard the door slam shut behind her. He glanced back down at the pan in front of him where two patties were sizzling away.

“Perfect timing! Dinner’s almost ready,” he replied as she trotted into the kitchen and dropped her saddlebags on the floor. “Ahem.”

Scootaloo sighed and rolled her eyes, but dutifully picked up the bags and carried them back to the door to hang in their proper place. When she returned, she hopped up onto a stool beside him and studied the ingredients laid out on the counter. “Hey, how come you always cut up everything first? Why don’t you do it while you’re waiting for stuff to cook instead?”

“It’s called mise en place. They beat it into our heads pretty good at culinary school that you do all of your prep work before you start. That way you don’t find out in the middle of making something that you don’t have what you need, or run out of time and end up burning or overcooking something. There are exceptions though,” he said and pointed to the avocado that was sitting off to one side. “For example, I’m not going to dice that avocado until I’m almost ready to put it on our wildflower burgers. That way it’ll be as fresh as possible when we eat them.”

Scootaloo made a face. “You put avocado on your burgers? That’s gross.”

“Ever try it?”

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Well, no. But it sounds gross.”

Main Course allowed himself a little smile. “Give it a chance, then. You might be surprised.” He glanced over at the clock. Six thirty. With any luck, Rarity would arrive right as they were finishing their meal. “So what sort of tricks did Rainbow Dash do today?” he asked. Silver Scroll had been right about one thing; the filly’s admiration of that mare bordered on fanatical.

“She was so cool!” said Scootaloo as her little wings began to buzz. “She did a double-immelmare into a dive that she pulled up out of so late she actually brushed against some of the grass! And she only crashed eight times before she got it right!”

“Have you thought about talking to her? About your living situation, I mean?”

Her earlier exuberance disappeared in an instant. “I... I don’t want her to know that I ran away. She’d think that was really, really lame.”

“Ran away from what?” he asked, but Scootaloo had clammed up completely and wouldn’t answer, so he didn’t press it. “How was school? Learn anything interesting?”

She shrugged. “Not really. We mostly did social studies, and what the different kinds of nobles are and stuff. It wasn’t anything I didn’t already know.” Scootaloo watched the burgers cooking as Main Course flipped them over, and didn’t notice the quizzical look he was giving her. “What else are we having with the burgers?”

“There are some sweet potatoes baking in the oven. Why don’t you go check on them?”

Scootaloo obediently jumped down and walked over to the oven. She grabbed a nearby dish towel in her mouth and carefully pulled the oven door open, wincing as a blast of hot air struck her face. “I think maybe a couple more minutes?”

Main Course looked over her shoulder. The orange flesh of the sweet potatoes was just beginning to bubble up through the slits he’d cut in the top. “Sounds about right. Come on, let’s slice the rolls before the burgers finish cooking.” He pulled a cutting board with two kaiser rolls resting on it to a spot where Scootaloo could reach it and passed her a serrated knife. Scootaloo took it and began to slice into them. “You’re gonna want to cut a little higher up... there. Perfect.”

The two worked side by side, the only sound in the kitchen their knives striking the cutting boards as Main Course cut up the avocado. He pulled the burgers off the heat and deposited one each onto each roll, with a healthy portion of avocado chunks on top. Then he carried the plates over to a small rack, where a dozen different colored plastic squeeze bottle rested. Scootaloo studied them for a brief moment. “Which one’s the ketchup, again?”

Main Course reached to the back row and pulled out the red bottle, while he grabbed a white bottle full of an aioli sauce he was particularly fond of. He shook it and deposited a neat little spiral over the top of his burger.

Scootaloo, on the other hoof, was having more difficulty. She squeezed the plastic sides of the bottle, but no ketchup emerged. Grumbling, she tried squeezing harder but to no avail. “Dumb ketchup bottle. Come on, work.”

“Sometimes it helps if you—” began Main Course, but that was as far as he got. With a final grunt, Scootaloo shoved her hooves together. The middle of the bottle warped and bent as the cap exploded off of it, spraying ketchup all over the counter, both plates, and Main Course’s face and chest. Scootaloo looked up in shock and dropped the bottle as she began to tremble.

“I’m sorry Main Course, it was an accident. I’ll clean it all up and I’ll be more careful next time, please don’t p-punish me.” She began to shake even harder as her eyes darted around the room and back to Main Course’s face. He reached for the bottle of aioli, and as he picked it up Scootaloo’s eyes locked onto it and she started to cower. He examined the bottle for a moment, turned it on its side, and squirted a dollop of it onto Scootaloo’s cheek.

She flinched as it hit her, but then a second later she blinked in confusion and her trembling ceased. She wiped the pale yellow goop off and stared at it for a second, then looked up at Main’s smiling, ketchup-slathered face. A matching grin slowly spread across hers.

The two regarded each other for a second longer. Then Scootaloo’s hoof went for the barbeque sauce, Main’s went for the mustard, and the Great Condiment Battle of the Grassy Knoll began.

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

Ten minutes later, the kitchen was in shambles but neither combatant especially cared. Scootaloo, her coat now a complete mess and matted with mayonnaise, egg yolk, and dijon mustard, rounded a corner as a glob of relish went flying past, just barely missing her tail.

“Surrender, Scootaloo,” said Main Course, his own coat and mane not faring much better, “I know you’re out of pickle juice.”

“Never!” Came the defiant cry from around the corner, followed by a giggle.

“Then I’m afraid you leave me no choice.” He leaned around the corner and threw the tomato he’d readied, flushing Scootaloo out of cover and sending her racing away. She only got a few steps before she slipped on a puddle of vinegar and fell to the floor. “Scootaloo! Are you alright?” He ran over to her quickly but carefully.

“Yeah, I’m alright,” she said.

Main Course let out a sigh of relief, but then reached out a foreleg and flipped her onto her back. “That’s what you think, for you see you’ve just fallen into my clever trap!”

“Huh?”

“Now that I’ve got you all covered in sauces, I’m... gonna... eat you up!” He plunged his muzzle into her belly and blew a big raspberry. Scootaloo squealed with glee as her legs flailed in the air against the ruthless assault.

“Is, uh, is this a bad time?” asked Rarity’s voice from the kitchen entrance.

Main Course froze, and his eyes went wide. He glanced up at the clock on the far wall. Sure enough, it was two minutes to seven. He stood up and cleared his throat. Scootaloo hadn’t moved, but her laughter slowed to a stop. “Rarity?” she asked hesitantly.

“Scootaloo, my goodness whatever are you doing here?” she asked, a bemused look across her face. Her horn was glowing, her magic wrapped around a bouquet of pink peonies. She laid them down in a clean spot on the counter top, next to the two forgotten plates where the sauce fight had started. “I just came by to give Mister Course a small gift to welcome him to Ponyville and see what progress he was making on his renovations.” She looked around at the state of the kitchen. A globule of peanut butter that had been stuck up on the ceiling chose that moment to detach itself and fall to the floor, narrowly missing her hooves. “I have a few critiques about the choice of decor.”

“I was just... I was going to... I just needed to...” Scootaloo stammered. She looked up to Main Course, a pleading look in her eyes.

Main Course leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Isn’t that your friend Sweetie Belle’s sister?” he asked. Scootaloo nodded. “Do you trust her?” Scootaloo paused, but nodded again. “Then I think we have to tell her the truth.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face into Main Course’s side. “...You do it,” she muttered.

He draped a protective foreleg over her and looked back to Rarity. “Scootaloo is homeless, Rarity. But I found her here and now she’s staying with me.”

Rarity’s fake gasp was quite convincing, he had to admit. “But Scootaloo, what about your parents?”

Main Course felt more than heard the choked-off sob from the pony pressed up against him. “My parents... I don’t want to talk about them. They didn’t want me, so I ran away.”

“Well, I can’t imagine that’s true. Who wouldn’t want a wonderful little filly like you? Why don’t you tell me a little bit about them and we’ll see if we can’t clear this whole misunderstanding right up, hmm?” When Scootaloo didn’t answer, she went on. “Has Sweetie Belle ever told you about the time she ran away from home?”

Scootaloo looked up at her and sniffled. “Nuh uh. Why’d she do that?”

“Well, she’d knocked over a very nice vase that our mother loved very much and she was scared of what would happen when our parents found out. So she ran away, and they were worried sick when they couldn’t find her by nightfall. That was the scariest night of their lives, and mine too. Even scarier than when Nightmare Moon came back, because we didn’t know what had happened to her.”

“So what happened when you found her?” asked Scootaloo.

“Well, we all cried and hugged her a great deal when she came back home the next morning. She’d spent a miserable night in a little cave by the river and she was a mess, but thank Celestia she was unhurt.”

“I know the cave. I stayed there some nights when the weather was warm. It’s nice and hidden,” said Scootaloo.

“Well, my point is that in the end we were all so happy just to have her back that she wasn’t even punished. I bet your parents would do the same, if you saw them again. They must be worried sick too if you’ve been out on your own for so long,” said Rarity. She gave Scootaloo a gentle smile.

Scootaloo just scoffed. “Yeah, right. Dad would probably want to punish me for ‘embarrassing’ him, and Mom would be too drunk to care.”

The room fell very, very still. “Scootaloo,” said Main Course, “I want you to tell me about your family, and why you ran away. Nopony here is going to judge you for what you did. If they’re bad ponies, we’re going to do everything you can to protect you from them. After all, Rarity here is one of the Elements of Harmony, and one of her best friends is an honest-to-goodness Princess! But we can’t help unless you’ll tell us what’s wrong.”

Scootaloo laid herself down on the floor, not noticing or caring as one of her wings stuck to a patch of maple syrup. Covering her closed eyes with a messy foreleg, she took a few deep breaths before she began to speak. “Things used to be okay. My mom and dad are both big, important unicorns, and my dad even used to go to the noble court for his job and stuff. They were always going to parties and official events so I didn’t always see a lot of them. I mostly hung out with my Uncle Snare Drum while they were gone. I don’t think he was really my uncle, just one of my mom’s friends, but he was a pegasus like me and I really liked him.”

“When your parents were around, what were they like?” asked Rarity.

“Dad was... he didn’t really like spending time with me. I don’t know what I was doing wrong, but the only time I ever really saw him was when I had to dress up to go to some public appearance or ceremony. I hated those. Dad always made me wear these big froo-froo dresses that covered up my wings. All the other foals got to wear stuff with holes for their wings, but Dad said he didn’t want mine to show.”

“That’s odd. Did he ever say why?”

“I think he just really didn’t like that I was a pegasus for some reason. I begged every summer to go to Junior Flight Camp, but he always said no. Even when Mom tried to convince him to let me he still wouldn’t, and it would always blow up into this huge fight. Mom was nice, though. She always told me that I was perfect just the way I was, but whenever I asked her why Dad didn’t think that she’d get really quiet and tell me that it wasn’t important. Still, when she had time she would try to play with me and read to me.”

“She sounds nice,” said Main Course. “What happened?”

“One summer, Mom decided that if I couldn’t go to flight camp, she and I would do the next best thing, just the two of us. We spent the whole summer taking an airship cruise all over Equestria. It’s my very favorite memory, sitting out on the deck of the ship watching the sunset with her. No interruptions, no big parties we had to go to, just us. I think that’s the last time I can remember her being happy, because when we got home...” Scootaloo trailed off and rolled over, laying on her side and staring at the cabinet doors. Main Course rubbed a hoof along her back and looked over to Rarity, who was biting her lip. She wrinkled up her nose and stepped into the messy kitchen, trotting over to take a seat next to Scootaloo there on the dirty floor.

“It sounds like you loved her very much,” she said quietly.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” said Scootaloo. “Then we came home after being away for three months, and Uncle Snare Drum was gone. Mom just started screaming, and Dad told me that he’d done something bad and been put in a prison somewhere overseas. I didn’t understand, but Dad said he was a bad pony and not to think about him anymore. He was gone, but the important thing was that our family would stay together now. He actually started to get a little bit nicer to me, at least for a while. Mom, though, Mom wasn’t the same anymore. That’s when she started to drink. First it would just be an extra glass in the evening, she said she needed it to help her sleep. But after a couple months I’d come home from school and there would already be an empty wine bottle on the counter, then she’d start on another one with dinner. We stopped going out to plays or dinners in the evening, so every night I’d just have to sit at home with them. Or if Dad had somewhere to go he’d just leave me with her. I... I didn’t like the way she acted when she was drunk.”

“Of course you didn’t,” said Main Course. “Scootaloo, this is important. I know it might be hard for you to think about, but did she ever hurt you?”

“She didn’t hit me or anything. But sometimes she threw stuff against the wall. Once I came home and found her standing in the kitchen pulling the plates out of the pantry one by one and smashing them on the counter until the floor was covered in broken glass. The only thing I could do was stay out on my own later and later so she’d already be passed out when I did get home. Even then I had to lock my bedroom door, because sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night to her pounding on it and screaming for me to open it. She’d scream things about how if she hadn’t gone on that cruise with me or I hadn’t been born with wings none of this would have happened. I’d just hide under the covers until she stopped, wishing that she would go away and never come back. Then in the morning she’d say she was sorry and promise that she wasn’t going to drink anymore. Sometimes she’d stop for a couple days, but then she always started right back up again. Another time she and Dad got into a fight that was so bad that the guards came and asked me some questions. But Dad talked to them and they went away and didn’t come back. He told me I shouldn’t tell anypony all of this, because that would only make things worse. What if he finds out that I told you?”

“He won’t. How did you finally run away?” asked Rarity.

Scootaloo shrugged. “After a few years of that, I just decided to leave. I was already spending most of my time out on my own after school and on weekends so that I didn’t have to be around Mom, so the idea of living that way forever didn’t sound so bad. So... I guess it was about three summers ago I stole all the money I could find in the house, hopped on my scooter, and went down to the train station. Eventually, I ended up here.” Scootaloo looked up at Rarity and Main. “Why did she change? Why didn’t she just stop, after she kept promising over and over that she would? Why didn’t Dad make her stop? Please don’t make me go home.”

Main Course lifted her up off the ground and pulled her against his chest. “I don’t know why, Scootaloo. But we aren’t going to let them take you back. As far as I’m concerned, you are home. You stay here as long as you want to.”

“Thank you for telling us this, Scootaloo,” added Rarity. “You were so brave to finally talk about it. Come by the Boutique after school tomorrow, I’d love to make you something. Is there anything else you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, I can’t... I’m having a hard time thinking of anything right now.” Scootaloo’s stomach gurgled, and Main realized they’d forgotten to eat.

“Tell you what, why don’t you go wash up and I’ll see if I can salvage these burgers and potatoes. Does that sound good?” he asked.

“Yeah, okay,” said Scootaloo listlessly. She slid off his lap and trotted away as Main Course and Rarity watched her go.

When she was out of earshot, Rarity turned back to Main. “The poor thing. No wonder she never told anypony. She’s still terrified, and I hardly blame her.”

“We should try to find out who her parents are before we go to the Guard with anything. If they can’t prove child abuse and her father is really as influential as she claims, she could end up right back where she started. I am not going to let that happen,” said Main Course.

Rarity grinned. “You two have really taken quite the shine to one another, I think it’s very sweet of you. I’ll speak to Twilight, and some of my other contacts in Canterlot to see if we can’t track down a name from this ‘Uncle Snare Drum’ pony, as well as missing filly reports.”

“I’ll see what my sister can tell me about our legal options. Thanks for coming tonight, Rarity, and sorry about the mess in your coat.”

Rarity looked down at the sticky grunge clinging to her hind legs and winced. “A small price to pay. Besides, it looks like I now have an excellent excuse to soak myself in a bubble bath for an hour or so. Heaven knows I need it after the last few days.” Then she looked back up at him, a knowing smile on her face. “Don’t you forget to take care of yourself, as well. Nopony should have to be strong all the time. My door is always open to either of you should you need to talk.” She leaned over and nuzzled his cheek, then wiped the ketchup off her muzzle and rose up to leave. “Goodnight, Main Course.”

“Goodnight, Rarity,” said Main Course as he watched her walk away. He sighed, rinsed his hooves off in the sink, and began to clean up.

The potatoes were overcooked, and the burgers were room temperature by the time Scootaloo came back downstairs, her mane still dripping wet from the shower. They’d eaten together in silence, then dropped the dirty dishes in the sink and by unspoken agreement left the rest of the mess to be dealt with in the morning. Main Course showered afterwards, scrubbing multicolored blobs of half-dried condiments from his coat and watching them flow down the drain. He’d only had a few minutes to enjoy the feeling before the hot water ran out, and he hurried through the rest under an icy-cold stream that left him shivering as he toweled himself off. He walked out into the common area of the living quarters on the second floor, still drafty and cold despite the work he’d put into fixing the roof and windows, and found Scootaloo sitting in a chair and staring off into space.

“How about a fire?” he asked, rousing her from her thoughts. Now that the chimney was in better shape, he’d been meaning to try out the fireplace anyway. When Scootaloo didn’t answer, he wadded up some spare papers and stuck them under the stacked logs in the fireplace. He struck a match and lit the paper in a few different spots, and soon the light and warmth of a crackling bonfire filled the room, pushing back the darkness. Main Course laid down on the rug in front of it, and the chilly feeling slowly left his body.

Without warning, he felt Scootaloo’s scrambling hooves as she climbed over his back and curled herself up against his side. “Tell me a story.”

“A story? Um, okay,” said Main Course. “What kind of story?”

“I don’t care. As long as it’s a happy one.”

Main Course cast his mind about, trying to remember one that he’d heard before. He was a chef, not a storyteller. “Well, it’s not a very exciting story, but do you want to hear about how I got my cutie mark?”

Scootaloo perked up a bit at the offer. “Yeah! That’d be great!”

Main Course looked back over his shoulder, past the filly snuggled up against his body, to the little white chef’s hat on his flank. “Well, I always liked to cook. I can’t tell you how many times my mother would come into the kitchen after leaving me alone for ten minutes only find me covered in flour proudly showing her the ‘batter’ I’d made in a mixing bowl. It was usually sugar, water, eggs complete with shell, whatever I could reach on the lowest shelves of the pantry or refrigerator. Watching somepony who really knew what they were doing in the kitchen always seemed like magic. They just took a bunch of random things, put them together, and transformed them into something different and delicious. It blew my little mind every time. So, one year when my sister’s birthday was coming up, I decided I would make her some cookies. I wouldn’t let my mother or father help me, either, I wanted them to be my cookies. So I studied the recipe as hard as I could for a week, then an hour before her party I started making them. I worked harder on those cookies than anything I ever had before.”

“So you got your cutie mark when you mastered a cookie recipe?” asked Scootaloo.

Main Course threw back his head and laughed. “Mastered? Oh, no. Those cookies were terrible. They tasted like burned salt. I was horrified, and I was about to throw them away when Silver Scroll came in and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I’d tried to make her a birthday present, but that I’d screwed it up. Do you know what she did?”

“What?”

“She took the plate from me and ate each and every one of them right there in our kitchen. Then when she’d finished all twelve she told me they were the best cookies she’d ever had because I made them for her. And then, poof. There was a flash of light, and I had my cutie mark.”

“Because she liked the cookies?”

“Not exactly,” said Main Course. “I think it was because I realized that it wasn’t the finished product that made cooking matter so much to me. It was being able to bring happiness to ponies that I cared about.” Main Course smiled, reveling in the memory for a moment before continuing. “Of course, she puked up the cookies about an hour later, but I got to keep the cutie mark anyway.”

Scootaloo giggled. “I like that story,” she said, and then the room fell quiet. Main Course thought she had drifted off until she spoke again, her voice faint and heavy with exhaustion. “Thank you for cooking for me tonight.”

“Any night you need me to, Scootaloo. I promise,” he answered, but she was already asleep. Main Course closed his own eyes, and soon the two were asleep together as the glowing embers in the fireplace slowly faded to nothing.

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

Rarity’s fashion presentation was going even better than she’d hoped.

Main Course wiped down the surface of the bar with a damp cloth, looking out over the three mares who were clearing dinner plates away from tables. Most of the plates looked to be coming back empty, which was an encouraging sign. A lot of half-eaten meals usually meant a lot of unhappy diners. Pinkie Pie was on her best behavior, and though he’d heard her distinctive laughter ring out through the room a number of times none of the patrons seemed upset by anything she was doing. The other mares seemed to be holding their own. French Press, the little blonde unicorn with an easy smile, had been hired on the spot when she mentioned she knew how to operate a cappuccino machine, which he’d been planning to install for diners who wanted an after-dinner drink to go with their desserts. He’s also brought on one Lyra Heartstrings, a musician like so many others looking to earn a few extra bits while she waited for her big break. With six more interviews lined up for the coming week and another twenty resumes he hadn’t yet had time to review, he was certain that they’d have a full staff by the time they opened next week.

Rarity’s guests began to make their way from the dinner tables back towards his part of the room, where the dresses Rarity had crafted were set up for closer inspection. Rarity herself moved effortlessly from guest to guest, occasionally pulling out a pad to jot down some figures or take an order. Right now she was talking to an exceptionally pretty orange unicorn mare with a long black mane and an understated blue dress that stood out among the garish outfits most of the others wore. All she wore for jewelry was a simple pendant. Privately, he thought it suited her.

His first customer, a large white stallion in a tuxedo, stepped up to the bar. “Vodka and cranberry juice, please. And be quick about it; I need a drink if I’m going to continue to tolerate this dreadful affair.”

Main Course’s pleasant smile didn’t fade for an instant. He’d grown used to this sort of treatment from the richer class. Even the finest things in life were never good enough. “I hope you’re finding everything to your liking, sir?”

“The meal was adequate,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hoof. “Honestly, though, my wife has plenty of dresses already. I’m a Baron, you know. I don’t have time to muck around in a dreadful little nothing town like this.”

“I don’t know, sir,” said Main Course as the cranberry juice he added to the glass slowly turned the liquid pink, “I’m finding it’s not so bad once you get used to it.”

“Hmmph. I wasn’t asking for your opinion. Just pour the drink.”

“Here you are, sir, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.” He passed the glass across the bar and the unicorn lifted it up in his magic and walked away, pointedly ignoring the tip jar. It was going to be a long night.

He served a few other ponies, none of whom were much better than the Baron had been. Still, a few loose bits managed to find their way into his tip jar, so at least the night wouldn’t be a total loss. When he felt the urge rise up to reach across the bar and strangle somepony, he just remembered how happy Scootaloo had been when Rarity presented her with a purple parka as well as the hat, boots, and scarf to go with it.

An hour later, the mingling had reached full swing. After the initial rush had died down and ponies had their drinks, Main Course felt himself relax. Then he noticed the orange mare he’d spotted earlier approaching him and stood up straighter, reaching up to adjust his black bow tie.

“Good evening, ma’am, can I get you something? Perhaps a glass of wine?” he asked.

For an instant, the mare’s smile grew brittle and strained as her eyes darted to the bottles behind him, but then whatever discomfort had been there was gone as quickly as it appeared. “Just a ginger ale, please. I don’t drink.”

Main Course reached under the bar for a fresh bottle and opened it with a hiss. “How are you liking everything tonight?”

“Oh, everything has been simply wonderful, thanks for asking. I’ll admit I was a bit wary when my friend asked me to come to a fashion show, these things are so often over-the-top and ridiculous. But this designer’s work is really excellent, and the food was simply divine. Please pass my compliments along to the chef,” she said.

“I won’t need to, actually. I am the chef,” he said, and felt a bit of heat start to rise in his face, decided to take a bit of a chance. As he placed her drink on the counter he held out his hoof as well. “My name is Main Course.”

“Charmed!” she replied, taking his hoof with hers. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on his part, but Main thought she held on for maybe just a tiny bit longer than she really needed to. “I am Lady Ebony Glimmer.” She leaned in over the bar and lowered her voice. “But ponies who call me that make me feel like a pretentious twit, so for goodness sake call me Ebby instead.”

He laughed aloud and immediately covered his mouth to stifle the sound. “Ebby it is, then. Are you sure you’re from Canterlot?”

She grinned. “Let’s just say a few years ago, some higher power decided to beat a little bit of humility into me. I’ve been trying to simplify my life ever since, and strip away the things that weren’t making me happy. All those obligations to social clubs, possessions I didn’t need, my ex-husband, all out the window.”

The conversation had taken an awkward turn somewhere, and Main Course shifted his weight back and forth on his hooves. “Oh. I’m, uh, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. He was a bastard.” Her eyes flitted over to the bottles again. “But enough about that. It seems I’m doing all the talking. Any special ponies in your life?”

“Just one little filly, right now,” he replied.

“Your daughter?” she asked.

“Not exactly. It’s kind of a long story.”

“The ones worth telling usually are. I’d love to hear it sometime. What’s her name?”

“Scootaloo,” he said with a grin.

“What a cute name! I... had a daughter. One I haven’t seen in some time.” She looked over at him with sad eyes. “Cherish her, Main. Treat her right and love her, or you’ll regret the things you can’t take back.”

“What was her name? Your daughter, I mean.”

Ebby brought a hoof up and fondled the orange jewel that hung on her pendant. “Citrine. Her name was Citrine. I used to call her my favorite present after she was born on my birthday. Although having your water break in the middle of thanking your guests for coming to your party is a touch humiliating.” She gulped. “I’m sorry, but I’d really rather change the subject. Do you cater parties like this often?” she asked as she sipped her ginger ale.

“This was something of a special favor for a friend. I’m opening up a restaurant here in Ponyville, The Grassy Knoll. Hopefully as soon as next week.”

“Well, then I suppose now I’ll have to order a dress so I have an excuse to come back and eat there,” she said, and winked. “Maybe you can tell me the rest of that story when I do.”

“Lady Ebony? Lady Ebony, do come look at the ruffles on this one,” called another mare from across the room, waving to them.

With a sigh and a grimace, Ebby tossed a few bits into the tip jar. “Duty calls. It was wonderful speaking with you, Main. I hope we’ll see one another again soon.”

“I’d like that.”

Main Course watched her walk away with a little more focus than was strictly professional. Either she didn’t notice, or she didn’t mind. It wasn’t much longer before the first guests began to leave, and Main Course closed down the bar and started to clean up. He managed to wave goodbye to Ebby as she left, and his heart beat a bit faster when she smiled back.

Rarity bid a personal farewell to everypony, and when she shut the door behind the last one she erupted into giddy laughter and began rambling to nopony in particular as she went over her notes and found she’d sold twice as many dresses as she’d expected to. Within a few minutes, her joy turned into concern and then a panic attack as she realize she now had to make twice as many dresses as she’d expected to. Main tuned it out. He dismissed Pinkie, French Press, and Lyra with a thank you and assurances that they’d done a fantastic job and would be receiving information about shifts at the Knoll soon.

It was well after dark by the time he loaded up all the dirty trays and dishes into his cart and hauled them back to the Knoll. Scootaloo was fast asleep upstairs when he checked on her, and Main Course began the long process of cleaning everything up. He hummed a little tune to himself as he worked, smiling as he reflected on just how smoothly everything seemed to be coming together.

 
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