8 Months, 1 Day
"What would you like for your birthday?"
"You cannot just simply ask a lady such a question!"
Rarity was pouting. She wanted a gift for her birthday but she was giving me no clues as to what she desired. I knew that something fashion-orientated would be a good start, but she was the fussiest pony when it came to what to wear. Personally, I never had a problem finding things to wear; I just slipped on what felt most comfortable or practical on a given day. Take today, for instance. The last of the leaves were falling from the trees in golden and brown gusts, and the chill in the air required suitable measures to be taken. So I had vowed to wear a big, thick outfit. What it lacked in aesthetic appeal it more than made up for in warmth. But Rarity refused to wear something like that, and instead made it her mission to represent fashion at every turn. I just wished that every now and then she would take a break from fashion, although I was partly responsible for her recent eccentricities. The article in the Rococo Report a couple of weeks ago had made a huge difference to both Rarity's career and her behaviour.
At first she had been swamped by ponies who were eager to swipe interviews with her and take samples of her dresses away with them for evaluation. It wasn't long after that the invitations had started arriving. In the past four days she had received four letters. Because I was working the shop both with her and for her when she was away on these new and exciting business ventures, I had become something of a messenger, collecting together any sort of note, letter or package that arrived for Rarity, and then revealing them when she arrived home. Next week she had a few business meetings lined up, but today she was, as far as I knew, remaining at the shop to work on new designs that had been requested of her. Particularly, one designer from Manehattan had been especially interested in anything incorporating baby-blue sapphires. Rarity had always been a large admirer of these small, milky gemstones, but they were difficult to get one's hooves on. Luckily, Rarity had a swarm of ponies at her command who had gone out to fetch her as many as they could from the surrounding mountains. And although she now had enough to make her dresses, she required time and great concentration in order to actually piece together her works of art.
Her birthday was coming up in a couple of days. It was at the start of the month and I wanted to do something special for it. The last few years for my own birthdays I had celebrated them alone, or perhaps with a few choice friends sitting around twiddling hooves in boredom. I didn't want Rarity's birthday to be the same sort of situation. I had already contacted Pinkie Pie to bake a cake for the occasion, but had explicitly demanded that the cake not display Rarity's age, for she was conscious of getting older and hated to acknowledge this. For such a young mare, she certainly had a lot of insecurities about her own mortality. No amount of objection from me could change her opinion, sadly, even when I stated that I was noticeably older than she.
It was one of those surprise party things. I had never really liked the concept myself, and, had a pony ever chosen to throw me a surprise party, I can imagine that I would despise the entire ordeal. I hoped that Rarity wouldn't feel the same way: she had said several times that she did not wish for a party and would prefer to just concentrate on getting her orders finished in time for her upcoming meetings, and so I was understandably dubious. The party wasn't even my greatest immediate concern I needed to find a present for the delightful unicorn, and with only a couple of days left to spare, time was running out. Because Rarity was busy with snipping and sewing and stitching and cross-stitching, I felt that I would be something of a burden to her for the next few hours if I hung about. Under the clever ruse that I was simply going to be getting out of her mane to let her concentrate, I left Carousel Boutique with the intention of finding her the perfect gift.
I took the train to Manehattan. I hadn't been back there for years. I had grown up with my mother and father in Old Manehattan; the poorer district that hid behind the surface of the urbanised tourist spots. I wasn't actually as poor as I am perhaps making out; our home was one of the nicest in the area, and, as I have stated previously, my own poverty was relieved when my rich Aunt passed away, leaving me with a lot of her wealth and inheritance. I had escaped from Manehattan to move into her home in Trottingham for six months after her passing, enjoying the lifestyle of an aristocratic pony until it grew stale. From there I moved on, travelling just about everywhere imaginable outside of Manehattan. That Rarity was now dealing with ponies in my home-city concerned me a little, but thankfully she would not be visiting the slums; these fancy business ponies and fashion designers occupied the rich metropolis rather than the residential back-alleys.
The train was a slow ride, although the trip was not as long as some. I sat behind a moustached pony and his wife. The stallion was complaining about the state of the rail system in Equestria and how, under a previous mayor, the route from Ponyville to Manehattan, and, in fact, all public transport including wagons and balloons in the region, had been far superior. He was no supporter of the current authority in Ponyville, but by his accent I established that he wasn't a local to either of the destinations that this route touched upon. His wife was the silent-looking type, hiding behind waves of purple hair and mane and nodding and tutting whenever her husband required a degree of confirmation of her involvement as the recipient of his rant. She occasionally let out a sigh, tilting her head further away from her partner and glancing out of the window on the other side of the carriage. When her husband lifted himself and left the carriage for whatever reason, I was glad that my ears could finally recover.
"Excuse me?" a husky voice asked. The mare had turned and poked her head over the seat to stare down at me. At first I expected her to be speaking with somepony else, but I soon realised that the carriage was empty except for the two of us and an elderly couple a fair few seats in front.
"Can I help you?" I asked, clearing my throat. I hadn't expected to be taken by surprise. The pony shook her head. "I am sorry about my husband. He...can get carried away," she said delicately. "He really is good pony, though. You just have to see through his stony exterior."
"That is quite all right," I smiled back at her. She didn't turn back into her seat, instead rising from her chair to sit beside me. I moved closer to the window, trying my best to keep my distance. This was a rather unusual situation. "Are you heading to Manehattan?" she asked quizzically. I rolled my tongue, exhaling under my breath. "Yes, Manehattan. Yourself?"
"The plaza district," she nodded, holding a hoof out to me. "I am Clemency. It is nice to meet you." I hesitated for a moment, looking up to see if her husband was around. I couldn't see him, and so shook her by the hoof. "-In Manehattan, one kisses the hoof of a lady," she stated, her dark eyes fixing on my own. I laughed nervously, struggling to keep eye contact with her. Although I would like to say that I didn't engage her then, I thought that it would be easier just to play along. And so I introduced myself and kissed her hoof and she smiled sweetly, fluttering black eyelashes that were longer than any that I had before seen. I looked up once again to the doors of the carriage, biting my bottom lip a little too hard.
"Is your husband coming back?" I asked. "I mean, where did he go?"
"Don't worry about him," she said bluntly. "He'll probably be on the back carriage with his pipe. That is usually what, 'I need some fresh air' means in his tongue."
I sensed a degree of resentment from this Clemency pony towards her partner. It was a conflict that I did not wish to be a part of. Whatever her reason was for attaching herself to me on this trip boredom, playfulness, lust it was a game that I wanted no involvement in. "I think that you should return to your seat," I said shakily. "Your husband might get the wrong idea."
The female scowled. "Oh, is Clemency no longer allowed to speak to kind strangers on her travels?" she worded, her choice of syntax unusual to my ears. "Is she to be forever bound by the shackles of her oppressive husband?"
Her sudden revelation was the absolute embodiment of why I had wanted to avoid any interaction with this mare. In my experience I have found that when a couple are in a hateful relationship, remaining together for reasons beyond your own comprehension, it is absolutely imperative that you avoid either commenting on their situation or involving yourself in their domestic dispute.
"He beats me, you know?"
Well that didn't help. What kind of pony throws their greatest emotional bugbears at a complete stranger? Whilst it tweaked the interests of my compassionate side to hear her troubles, I had made this journey in order to purchase a gift for Rarity, not to play personal psychiatrist to an insecure mess-of-a-mare. The couple sitting at the front of the carriage had turned back to see why she had raised her voice. I waved a little hoof at them awkwardly, which proved enough to make them return to their own business. My eyes fixed on Clemency for a moment. "I am sorry to hear that," I said.
"To hear what?" Clemency asked blankly. I was about to ask her what in Equestria she was doing when I noticed that her husband had entered the carriage once more. He was towering above the both of us, staring down through rounded spectacles at his wife, only giving me a secondary glance.
"Get back into your seat," he growled to his wife. Clemency nodded. "Darling, this kind pony was just asking for directions. I was just going to point out on a map where he needs to go."
"Where are you going?" he asked me sternly, his eyes narrowing. Clemency lifted herself from the seat and trotted back to her own, curling up on it. This gave her moustache-wearing husband the chance to perform his own interrogation. He repeated his question. It was louder this time.
"I'm looking for a particular shop. A nice shop where I can buy something pretty for a lovely mare back in Ponyville." I thought that I'd slip in the fact that I was only making this trip for Rarity; perhaps he wouldn't think there was something going on between me and his mare if he believed that I was already in some form of a relationship. He withdrew a pocket watch from his suit and checked the time. "You should pay a visit to the Glass House," he said. "If you're looking to buy a gift for a special lady, that is the place to go...providing you have the bits to afford a nice gift."
I recognised the name. "Is that the little thatched store on Cleveland Street?"
The pony laughed. "It hasn't been a little thatched store in years! They restored the place and made it extra-modern. It is extremely with-the-times."
"Thank you for the information," I insisted. Although I hadn't expected the pony to give me any form of useful feedback, he had actually given me a rather good idea. I saw him place a hoof on the shoulder of his purple-maned mare, staring into her soul. "Yes, yes; the Glass House. I bought my precious Clemency here the largest diamond bracelet that money can buy from that place when I proposed to her. It is a pity that the bracelet brings her up in a rash now it is the nickel in the bonding, do you know? - and as a result she can no longer wear it, isn't it, my dear?" Clemency nodded, putting on the most convincing sad-face that I had ever seen. Her husband smiled, drifting out of his world momentarily to look at me once again.
"Oh yes, the Glass House on Cleveland Street. Don't you forget it."
"It's okay. I think I've got it. The Glass House...Cleveland Street. Yeah."
"Good," he said, "and one other thing."
I moved closer to him.
"Talk to my wife again and I will have you punished most brutally."
He sat back in his seat, returning to his conversation with his wife as if our exchange had never happened. As far as I could make out, his anger had moved onto the weather this time of the year, and how Manehattan often had too much snow as Winter approached. I blinked to myself a few times, rather unsure as to what I had just witnessed, and now remembering why I so actively avoided returning to the land of my roots.
4 Months, 12 Days
"How does it look?"
"What about mine?"
I had handed out the gifts that Rarity had made for the others for Winter Wrap-Up: scarves in different colours that suited them perfectly. Rarity had such a keen eye for design; I could tell that the others admired her work as much as I did. Pinkie Pie was snuggling into her pink-and-white-striped scarf, her boots crunching in the snow with every bouncy step that she took. Rainbow Dash had taken her scarf and zoomed off, having to get ready to direct the Pegasus Sky Patrol, although from what I had gathered she loved the design and fabric. Fluttershy had insisted that some of the cute little bunnies that she would be waking would benefit more than her from a nice warm scarf, but for now she had happily wrapped it around her neck. I would give Twilight her scarf later, as, after last year's Winter Wrap-Up, she had become the head of the organisation behind the event, and thus I had not yet seen her. Applejack, not the most fashion-conscious pony, had made less of a fuss over the scarf itself, and was instead grateful that Rarity had found the time to make a present for them at all. What the present was didn't matter that much to her.
"Any chance that Rarity'll be coming along today?" she asked. I shook my head, shrugging. "She's seeing some ponies in uh...Canterlot, I think. Or maybe Manehattan." I honestly couldn't remember. "Either way, she won't be around to help today, but she sent her best regards. I'll let her know that you all like the scarves when she gets back this evening."
The ponies set to work. I did a little bit of everything helping them out. They all had different roles. The only major issue this year was that Rarity, who usually made the nests for the birds, wasn't present, and thus somepony else needed to thread the little homely designs together. I don't know who did it, but the entire thing went without a hitch, as I am led to believe, and so I can only assume that whoever filled in for Rarity did a good job. It was the things that we got up to after the event itself that I remember the most. The ponies all finished roughly around the same time and I, who usually hurried home to see Rarity, decided on that one occasion to stay out with the others. I doubted that Rarity would mind; she would probably be out so late again that she wouldn't even know that I would be returning late myself.
Rarity hadn't been herself recently. I was doing my best to justify her absence to the others. So far I was doing a pretty good job. Rarity had been staying out rather late the past few weeks. She said that she was meeting with ponies to discuss business, which was not necessarily difficult to believe; but on several occasions now I had been given reason to grow suspicious of her actions. It was small things, like her saying that she was going to meetings to discuss new designs, and then finding that she hadn't taken any concept sketches with her. Six nights ago she had arrived back at the boutique incredibly late sometime after midnight and had given me very little explanation as to why. It wasn't necessarily my duty to force such answers out of her, but I did want to know why she was depriving herself of food and sleep. She had spent hours recently sketching away furiously in her inspiration room, barely letting me see her. She only came out occasionally to eat or to use the rest room. And although this morning she had seemed a little chirpier she had insisted that tonight I tell her about my day whilst giving me the scarves to pass on to her friends I couldn't help but worry that she would be pulling another late-night.
I tried to get my mind off of things by spending the evening with the others. We met up with Twilight and hung around Ponyville. As the moon set upon the velveteen sky Ponyville ignited in festive lights for the last time; they would soon be taken down until next year. Pinkie Pie insisted that if one squinted their eyes together, the lights would look like dancing angels. I did as she requested, and found that Pinkie Pie told no lie in her observation. I remember that we all ate supper together on the outskirts of Ponyville, on top of a hill that had now been cleared of snow. There may have even been a meteor shower that night; I remember that it was a particularly picturesque time, and one of my fondest memories in Ponyville. I was saddened when the bunch began to yawn in unison, their busy day having caught up with them. We parted ways sometime in the late evening and I took a slow walk back to Carousel Boutique.
I was now staying with Rarity it made sense in the grand scheme of things, as spending money on a room at the tavern seemed wasteful, especially as Rarity could just dock rent money from my wages made working in the boutique. I had a key and everything now, and so let myself in upon my return. The boutique was quiet and dark, and I assumed that Rarity had not yet returned. I lit a few candles here and there to shed some light into the room. It was odd, but I noticed muddy hoofprints on the floor. I followed them to the stairs. "Hello?" I called up the stairwell. "Rarity? Are you home?"
A few seconds of silence passed.
"Yes. I am in my room!" a voice upstairs called out of the ether, and I started making my way up. At least she sounded somewhat happy. Her door was half-open, so I slipped into her room and approached her. She was lying down on her bed with her head against the pillow. She rolled over to face me, her big, blue orbs focusing on my own. "Sorry, I didn't hear you at first. I was sleeping."
I looked her up and down and smiled, moving a hoof to rest on her side, which I set about rubbing softly back and forth. She closed her eyes again, smiling. "How was Winter Wrap-up?" she asked in a gentle voice. "Did you enjoy helping? I bet you made yourself incredibly useful. You are a very selfless pony."
"It was fun," I said quietly, moving away from her for a moment to close the door, and then returning to my soft stroking of her relaxed body. "Everypony loved their scarves. The personalised designs were fantastic."
"I am so glad of that..." Rarity simpered. "I worked hard on them."
"How did your meeting go today?"
"It was tiring," she explained. "I came home afterwards and just sort of collapsed on the bed."
"You are pushing yourself, Rarity," I said.
Her body tensed a little. I frowned, stopping my hand from rubbing against her delicate body. "Is everything okay?" I questioned.
"Everything is fine," she mewed. "Just...keep doing that. Please."
So I continued to stroke her side gently. She rolled onto her front so that I could move my hoof up and down the arch of her back, pressing slightly on her spine to relieve the tension. She hadn't expected a massage, but she was getting one anyway, free of charge. I maintained my motions for a little while, slowing down as her body started to relax once again. Her head was buried in the pillow, her horn just peeking out through her mane. I moved closer to her, wrapping her mane around my free hoof, the rich curls coiling perfectly. I had lulled her into a delicate state where she was almost snoozing, her hypnotic position directly created by my own two hooves. It was a tender moment, and one that I will never forget.
"You really must have been sleepy," I said a little while later, looking down to her muddy hooves. It was so unlike her to allow any form of dirt to touch her elegant body. She made a little sleepy noise, and I almost explained to her that she had walked mud into the boutique, although I decided it best to avoid such a revelation; I did not wish to disturb her current position by making her worry about something as peripheral as dirt. "Oh, nothing..." I said contentedly, brushing her back and upper-body with my hooves until she fell into a restful slumber. I stayed the night as a peaceful insider, stroking her gentle form until I fell asleep beside her.
1 Month, 1 Day
"Open your eyes."
"What will I see?"
"You'll be free."
Her retinas burned from the sunlight of a typical morning of early Summer. She loved it. She collapsed, but not due to pain. She tumbled into the grass where she remained, lying in the mounds of earthly caress. I fell beside her, lying there with the clouds overhead. She coughed and I worried, but she smiled and shook her head: this wasn't a day for worrying. We didn't get much of a chance to leave that place now; Rarity was weaker by the day, and found it harder to walk long distances. She would need my help to get back onto her hooves, but she didn't want to move any time soon. For the first time in a long while, she was exactly where she wanted to be. The gentle breeze felt good on her pale face; she had recently been deprived of this natural embrace. I turned to face her, the beautiful unicorn who had curled her mane just as I always remembered. She looked every bit the artistic mare that had, in the past half a year, taken the fashion world by storm.
"I am free," she mouthed to me slowly, turning to catch my gaze. "As free as I need to be."
We stayed in that field for the entire day. When the sun retreated behind cloud I threw a blanket over the two of us. We were staying out longer than was generally permitted, but neither of us cared. We had thrown caution to the wind which today had chosen to keep at bay and made our way down to the beautiful little glade that became our own. And whilst there, although the statement often seemed foolish to me, time really did seem to wait for us. She loved the closeness and the nature, and seeing the sun without a blind dividing its holy rays. And I was consumed by her happiness, even though she struggled to express it as she once would have. Smiles replaced words, as lying out on her back strained her too much to speak at length. Would you believe it if I said that we were both incredibly happy on that day?
When it came time to return to the alabaster walls I lifted her, supporting her weight which had significantly decreased this past month, I must say and guided her like a faithful hound back to where she had to rest. On the way her head nuzzled against my own, not just because she was too weak to lift it herself. Upon stepping through the sliding doors she was taken from me, and I had the usual suspects approach me with warnings and concern. This was the first day that I had not shared their concern for Rarity; for how could the experience that we shared alone in that field be harmful to her? I wandered into Rarity's room where she was waiting, her hooves stretched out towards me.
"Thank you..." she uttered in the softest of voices as I took my seat beside her. "Everything that you have done for me today...it has been wonderful." I moved my white hoof across her own, linking us together. When she fell asleep perhaps because of the drugs or frailty- I felt her hoof let go, but only for a minute or less: she jolted awake and gripped tightly once more.
"If I ever let go, please force me to wake."
"I will..." I promised, and felt her whole form shake.