The silvery sound of the bell hanging over the Carousel Boutique's front door rang merrily as its owner hurried out into the crisp morning air, the sun gleaming on her pristine white coat and sending subtle shimmers of purple through the slightly frayed curls of her luxurious violet mane.
A "Back in Five Minutes" sign was hung in the window in a cloud of sparkling unicorn magic, as Rarity strode past a large boulder that sat by the path, pointedly ignoring it with the slightest upward turn of her muzzle.
A horn painted sign was posted next to the huge stone, with delicate calligraphy stating "The Management of Carousel Boutique humbly requests that customers not bring this object up in conversation. Ever." followed by a flowery "Thank you!" and signed with a cursive R with stylized eyes gazing out from the loop.
She stopped a few steps beyond it, turning back with an annoyed toss of her mane and calling toward the still open door. "Please do come along, Sweetie Belle, I'm far enough behind schedule without you dawdling."
At her call, a young unicorn filly with soft green eyes and a powder purple and pink mane came out, dragging her hooves with a slightly petulant look on her primrose colored face. When her sister caught up, Rarity closed the door with a flick of her horn and they set out across the town square.
Sweetie Belle was pouting. "I don't know why I can't just stay back at the boutique."
Rarity paused for a moment while she suppressed the real answer, then gently chided her sister. "Why Sweetie, don't you want to go shopping with your big sister anymore? If I believed it for even a moment I'd be crushed."
The younger unicorn looked up at her sister with wide eyes, not quite realizing she was teasing. "Oh NO! I love shopping with you, Rarity."
She pursed her lips as her innocent brow furrowed. "It's just that I get so bored when we go to the notions shop. Sure there's all this neat stuff there, but I can't touch anything or even look at anything and Miss Stitch always watches me with this mean look on her face." She let out a little sigh. "I... I don't think she likes me very much."
Rarity let out a slightly strained chuckle. "Oh, that's not true, Sweetie. Miss Stitch just..." She cocked her head as she grasped for the proper phrase. "... well... she just likes for everything to be just so."
Sweetie Belle looked pensive. "Scootaloo says her mom says that Miss Stitch has oppressive convulsive disorder."
Her sister gently corrected her. "That's obsessive compulsive disorder, dear, and I'm not sure I'd go that far in describing her."
The younger unicorn smiled earnestly up at her. "Well, she says her mom says you have it too."
The alabaster mare twitched her tail and cleared her throat, then favored her little sister with a forced grin as her sapphire blue eyes flashed. "Oh, she says that she says that, does she?"
Sweetie shrugged, totally missing her sister's change in demeanor. "Yeah, so I guess it can't really be bad if you have it."
At this, Rarity's expression softened to a fond smile. "I tell you what, darling. If you're patient and behave yourself while I get what I need from the notions shop, I'll take you over to Sugar Cube Corner for a cookie, all right?"
The little unicorn grinned a wide grin and gave a small hop. "Oh yeah! Sugar Cube Corner is like the opposite of the notions shop! I promise I'll be as still and quiet as Tom... uh..."
She caught herself as her sister stiffened and drew in a sharp breath, her hackles rising. Sweetie glanced at the boulder receding behind them as they walked, and hastily amended her statement. "I... I mean, I'll be like a little mouse. You won't even know I'm there."
The elder sister's demeanor relaxed again as she looked down into her sibling's open little face. She chuckled as she shook her head. "I'm always happy to know you're there, Sweetie. All right. It's a deal!" She gave the younger unicorn a playful bat on the flank with her tail as the filly started skipping beside her.
Rarity peered across town at the school's distant clock tower, then back at the locked door of the notions shop. A "Closed" sign hung in the window, its edges perfectly parallel to the windowpane. Sweetie Belle sat solemnly at her side, a determined expression on her little face. She was going to earn that cookie no matter what devious challenges this place threw at her.
The alabaster mare looked down at her sister. "This is certainly odd, darling. Button Stitch opens her shop like clockwork at the same time every morning. I hope the poor thing hasn't fallen ill." She looked back at the closed sign with a wistful expression. "Oh, this is going to set my schedule back even further."
Both unicorns turned as a harried voice called out to them. "I'm sorry! Oh, I'm s-sorry! Miss Rarity! I'm sorry!"
A beige earth pony mare came galloping up, panting raggedly for breath as she came to a stop beside them. Her cutie mark was a large white button with a silver needle connected to it by a dark length of thread. Her light brown mane was bound back in a tight bun, and similarly her tail was pleated into a long braid, but both had strands of wild hair sticking out, indicating that they'd been done in a much hastier fashion than usual and further disheveled by her running.
Rarity greeted her, noting to herself the mare's haphazardly brushed coat and the dark bags under her amber eyes. "Why Button Stitch, you seem... out of sorts. Are you all right?"
The flustered mare caught her breath, shaking her head and nodding at the same time as she tried to compose herself. "I'm fine! J-just fine. I'm sorry. I had some... difficulties at home this morning that threw my schedule off. I'm so sorry I'm late."
The white unicorn gave her an appraising look. "My dear, I don't mean to tell you how to run your business, but your customers will understand if you need to take some time off to deal with something unforeseen, whatever it may be."
Button gave another small shake of her head as she used her teeth to grasp a key hanging from a chain around her neck and raised it to unlock the shop's front door. She spat the key out and pushed the door open, giving Rarity a bow and gesturing for her to enter. "I won't hear of it. Especially not from my very best customer. P-please, do come in, and if there's anything you need, just ask. I'll be at my usual spot by the register in a moment."
She cast a look at Sweetie Belle, as if just noticing the filly sitting there for the first time. A mildly panicked expression washed over the beige mare's features that was quickly suppressed.
The little unicorn stood without a word, raised her snout in the air, hiked her tail, and followed her big sister inside, sitting down with elaborate poise next to a display of pattern books while Rarity stepped up to browse among the shelves.
The interior of Button Stitch's notions shop had an almost daunting air of tidiness and organization. Be it by size, gauge, sharpness, length, color, or what letter in the alphabet it started with, if the merchandise could be placed in any sort of order it was. Anything necessary for the craft of sewing could be found, neatly stacked in banks of clearly labeled drawers or set out on perfectly aligned shelves. Even the remainders bin looked more like a precisely arranged museum display than a random collection of odds and ends.
In fact, the only thing that seemed a bit out of place today was the shop's proprietress, as she shakily turned the "closed" sign around to "open", taking a moment to line it's edges up parallel to the windowsill, before crossing to her seat next to the cash register and unlocking it. Her eyes had a haunted look to them, with the faintest twitch visible in her right cheek.
Rarity made her way through the displays, gathering what she needed in a small basket that she'd taken up from an orderly stack by the doorway and casting an occasional wary glance at the unsettled earth pony shopkeeper. She almost felt guilty removing this spool of thread or that packet of needles from their tidy lineups on the shelves and leaving gaps and asymmetry. She took extra care to arrange things as she could to diminish the small irregularities her patronage was leaving.
There had been times in the past when Button Stitch would follow her around the shop and do this herself, but today she seemed content, as far as that term could be applied to the frazzled mare, to stay by the register and stare into space.
A small, suppressed sigh could be heard at the front of the otherwise smotheringly quiet shop, and the alabaster unicorn looked over to see her little sister stoically holding steady in her seat, her green eyes glazing over with nearly unbearable boredom. Sweat was beginning to bead on Sweetie Belle's brow, and her studiously held neutral expression was gradually becoming a rictus grimace betraying a massive internal struggle to keep still.
Rarity hurried herself along, fairly certain that her younger sister exploding in the neatly ordered shop would probably have a less than salutary effect on Button Stitch's seemingly delicate mental state.
Sweetie Belle was capering and prancing in erratic circles around her big sister as they entered Sugar Cube Corner to the jingling of more shop bells. Rarity balanced a neat little bag stapled shut with a receipt on her alabaster shoulders.
As the elegant unicorn made her stately way across the sweet shop's tiled floor she couldn't help but smile at her younger sibling's antics. After that particular visit to the notions shop she was just as thrilled to be someplace less stiflingly dull and orderly. She was just too much of a lady to show it in such a boisterous fashion.
Boisterous displays were the stock and trade of the pink earth pony who was stationed behind the counter waiting to greet them. Pinkie Pie reared up and waved a hoof in the air as the unicorn sisters approached. "Hi Rarity! Hiya, Sweetie Belle. Hiya hiya hiya! How can I reveal the truth to your sweet tooth today?"
The elder sister smiled warmly as she nodded in greeting. "Hello, Pinkie darling. Well, I'm proud to say that Sweetie Belle here has been VERY good this morning and has earned herself not just one, but TWO cookies."
At this the little unicorn's eyes lit up, and she smiled up at Rarity in wonder and excitement. "Really?"
Pinkie leaned on the counter with her chin propped up on her fore hooves, her frizzy tail waving behind her as she assumed an exaggerated look of awe. "Whoa! You must have saved Equestria from Space Godzilla or something for that!"
Sweetie dug her hoof on the tiled floor, the pink mare's facetiousness sailing high over her head. "Oh, no. I just sat quietly while Rarity shopped for supplies at the notions shop."
Pinkie Pie's eyes went wide. "Double woah!" She reached down and gently poked the little filly's forehead as if examining it for cracks. "And you look just fine after such a horrible ordeal! I would have totally gone loco in the coco spending even a half second in that place!"
The pink mare sat back and tapped her chin in thought as Rarity suppressed a wry smile. "Y'know, it's easy to lose track of an extra cookie. We'd better stick 'em together with a scoop of ice cream just to make sure."
Sweetie Belle turned to Rarity with an even brighter look of joy that she fought to rein in as she saw the thoughtful expression on her big sister's face. Rarity arched an eyebrow as she looked between her sibling's pleading green eyes and Pinkie's merry blue ones.
She let out a chuckle and nodded her assent. "I'll agree to that on two conditions." She bobbed her horn at Pinkie. "You have to make me one too." Then she gave Sweetie a wink. "And YOU, don't breathe a word about this to Mother. Understood?"
Her little sister grinned a wide grin and nodded enthusiastically as Pinkie giggled and set to rummaging behind the counter for an ice cream scoop. Sweetie Belle turned her full concentration to the display case with an eye toward choosing the best possible combination of cookies for herself.
The shop bell rang out behind them, and the elder unicorn turned to see Applejack enter, a slightly perturbed expression on the blonde farm mare's face. The orange earth pony walked up to her and gave her a curt nod. "Mornin', Rarity. You seen Pinkie Pie around?"
At this, the pink mare popped up from behind the counter with an ice cream scoop clenched in her teeth. She set it down and gave a little hop. "Hi, Applejack! How can I buck some deliciousness straight into your taste buds today?"
Applejack met her perkiness with a furrowed brow as she reared up and leaned on the countertop, planting her hoof on her hip. "I ain't here fer confections, Pink. I'm here for confessions."
Confusion washed over Pinkie's face as the blond mare fixed her with a stern look. "I'm here to find out just why you thought it'd be funny to pick a bunch o' my apples before they was ripe and use 'em to spell out th' word "wombat" in the north orchard."
Pinkie cocked an eyebrow at her. "That doesn't sound funny at all, just weird."
The apple farmer met her gaze with a deadpan expression. "Yeah, I reckon it is. So what's the deal?"
The pink mare shrugged. "How should I know? I didn't do it. I've never even been to Hosstralia."
This threw Applejack for a slight loop. "Wait, what? That don't make no kinda sense at all. Who else COULD it a' been?"
A slightly miffed expression crossed Pinkies features. "Hey. I'll have you know that everything I do makes absolutely perfect sense."
At this, Rarity and Applejack shared a long, disbelieving look with one another while Pinkie tsked and rolled her eyes. "Okay, listen. Everything I do is aimed toward one thing: making ponies happy. Element of Laughter, remember?"
She fixed the farm mare with a level gaze. "Are you happy that a bunch of apples got ruined to spell out the name of a burrowing marsupial?"
Applejack could only answer honestly. "Uh, no. I'm more annoyed than anythin'."
Pinkie nodded. "And can either of you think of anypony in town who would be made happy by a bout of impromptu zoological fruit writing?"
The unicorn dressmaker and earth pony farmer could only trade an uncertain glance and shrug. The pink pony baker nodded in satisfaction. "Exactly. Therefore, it's totally obvious that I didn't do it. Q. E. D."
Applejack blinked at her. "Q.E.D.?"
Pinkie looked smug. "Quit Expecting that I Did it. Anyway, even if I had a motive, last night was jazzercise night with Gummy, so it couldn't have been me."
At this, Rarity and Applejack looked over to Mr. Cake, who rolled his eyes wearily and nodded in confirmation before going back to setting out plates of eclairs in a nearby display case.
The blonde farm mare looked back at her fellow earth pony with a look of contrition on her face. "Well shucks, I reckon I owe y'all an apology then, Pinkie Pie."
The pink pony tossed her head with exaggerated magnanimity. "Spoken like a gentlemare! Now if you'll excuse me, this young lady would like a triple chocolate chipple macadamia delight and a coconut macaroonapalooza crisp separated by a generous scoop of strawberry caramel pistachio ice cream, if her hoof signals are any indication. I'll be back to find out what cookies and ice cream the two of you want in a moment."
With a wink to her friends, she plucked up a sheet of wax paper in her teeth from the dispenser on the countertop and ducked down to grab Sweetie Belle's selections.
Soon, the three mares and a little filly were all sitting at one of the small tables out front of the bakery, enjoying their ice cream cookie sandwiches and chatting.
Rarity clucked her tongue in concern as she nibbled on a pair of mint chocolate dipped shortbread cookies encompassing a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream. "The poor dear seemed terribly agitated. I mean, I know she's hardly what you'd call easygoing even on a good day, but today she seemed on the edge of hysterics just counting out my change. One would almost believe she was upset the amount didn't end in a five or a zero."
Pinkie shook her head as she polished off a tottering stack of assorted baked goods held together by a veritable rainbow of different ice cream flavors and doused in hot sauce. "If anypony needs to unwind and laugh a little, it's that one. She never comes to any of my parties. I always get the invitations back with "return to sender" typed on 'em. If I wasn't me I'd have stopped sending 'em a long time ago."
Applejack furrowed her brow as she swallowed a large bite of two oatmeal walnut apple craisin cookies surrounding a scoop of vanilla cinnamon swirl. "I ain't really ever talked to th' gal much besides buyin' crochet supplies fer Granny Smith, but she always did strike me as a might high strung."
Rarity dabbed at her muzzle with a napkin as she floated her ice cream sandwich a polite distance from her face. She cast Applejack a wicked grin. "Well, I'd hardly blame her with you crashing about her little shop, darling."
The blonde farm mare cast a mild scowl at the unicorn as she chomped another bite off of her sandwich and chewed it deliberately to hold back the retort that was sitting on the tip of her tongue. She perked up as she spotted a cyan blue pegasus trailing a streak of rainbow colors while flying purposefully overhead.
Applejack raised a hoof and gave her a wave. "Yo! Howdy there, Dash!"
The flying mare wheeled and dove in their direction, coming to a hovering stop over their heads. She wore an irritated expression on her face. "Hey guys. Have you seen Ditzy Doo anywhere?"
The farm pony looked thoughtful before giving her friend a wry smile. "She was droppin' off the mail at Sweet Apple Acres 'fore I came over here. S'matter? She crumple up the cover on one o' yer "Wonder Beat" magazines again?"
Rainbow Dash crossed her fore hooves and huffed. "If she did then she's in even MORE trouble."
Rarity arched an eyebrow. "Whatever DID she do, darling?"
The chromatic pegasus threw her hooves in the air in exasperation. "Well, SOMEPONY put butt prints all over the bottom of my house, and she's the only pegasus I know who's goofy enough to pull something like that."
The three mares on the ground all exchanged glances. Pinkie cocked her head as she called up to her. "That doesn't really sound like something Ditzy would, uh... do, Dashie." She covered her mouth with a hoof and suppressed a giggle and snort.
Applejack nodded sagely. "Yeah, she ain't exactly the shiniest apple in the bushel basket, but prankin' ain't rightly her style. She don't got a mean or mischievous bone in her body."
Rarity spoke up in agreement. "Indeed. She's a dear heart, and I know for a fact that she thinks the world of you, Rainbow Dash. Why ever would she do something so vulgar?"
The cyan pegasus gave an uncertain shrug and looked puzzled, rubbing her chin with a hoof in thought. "I dunno. I guess now that I think about it, the ol' inverse moon doesn't sound like Ditzy's kinda thing at all."
Applejack nodded ruefully. "Yeah, she tends t' leave more impressions of her face in stuff than anythin' else, and it generally ain't on purpose neither."
Rarity shook her head. "It's a good thing we stopped you, darling. The poor thing would have been terribly upset if you'd gone and accused her of such behavior."
The rainbow maned mare furrowed her brow and planted her fore hooves on her hips. "Yeah, I guess so. That wouldn't have been very cool at all."
She tsked in irritation. "Well geez. Now I have no idea who did it. I might have thought it was a couple young colts out on a joyflight, but the impressions were definitely left by a full grown mare. I know that much."
Pinkie Pie snickered into her hoof with a twinkle in her eye. "I didn't know you were such an expert on the subject of pony patooties, Dashie..."
Rainbow Dash blinked, and her cyan face started to redden at the cheeks as she crossed her fore legs in front of her chest defensively. "Hey! I'm just trying to get to the bottom of this."
She caught herself, her face going redder as a long, strangled snort escaped from one of the mares seated at the little table below. Like a fast burning fuse to a keg of powder, the sound led to an explosion of uproarious laughter from all three of them, accompanied by the slapping of hooves and rattling of plates on the tabletop. Only Sweetie Belle sat blinking in mild confusion as the adult mares around her nearly fell off their chairs in mirth.
Dash tossed her head and rolled her eyes. "Yeah yeah, real mature, you guys. I'm outta here." With a huffy flap of her wings, she wheeled and shot off over Ponyville, leaving her trademark rainbow contrail in her wake.
Applejack wiped a tear from her freckled cheek. "Whoosh... Thunderation if'n that gal ain't the queen o' unintentional comedy."
Rarity dabbed at her eyes with her napkin and caught her breath. "Indeed. Although all kidding aside, there's something strange going on around Ponyville. That's two utterly random, nonsensical pranks in one night."
Pinky was still giggling slightly as she nodded. "Yeah, and to top it all off, I was having a totally new combo twitch yesterday, and I have no idea what it might mean."
Applejack's expression became pensive. "Oh yeah?"
The pink mare nodded, her frizzy mane bobbing lightly. "Yeah. Right eye flutter, left ear flop, then vice versa." She crossed her forelegs in front of her and spoke in a spooky voice that somehow had a little reverb behind it. "I call it "X the Unknown, a.k.a. the Mystery Cross Twitch"."
A thought arose in Rarity's mind and manifested itself as a darkening of her alabaster brow. "You... you girls don't suppose that... that he somehow got loose again, do you?"
Pinkie Pie and Applejack both caught their breath and looked at each other with alarm. A moment later, the blonde earth pony shook her head with an air of finality. "Nope. I reckon if it were Discord there'd be a lot more stuff goin' haywire than just apple wombats n' kiester prints, if'n y'all will pardon my language. He didn't strike me as th' sort t' do anything small."
Pinkie nodded in grave agreement. "Yeah, those sound more like the work of a pegasus who's a couple jellybeans short of a sandwich than an ancient cosmic entity of ultimate meaniehood."
She stroked her chin pensively. "Actually, it sounds a little like my great auntie Surprise, but she's in a home down in Neightona Beach and they're really good about making sure she takes her medication."
They fell into a thoughtful silence, that was broken a few moments later by a silvery giggle coming from Sweetie Belle. The three mares turned to face the little unicorn filly, who gave them an impish look with her hooves to her mouth. "Get to the bottom..." She murmured with glee.
Rarity let out a fond sigh and smoothed down her younger sister's bicolored mane with a gentle hoof. "Finish your ice cream, dear..."
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.