8 Months, 23 Days
"It is you! I thought I recognised that face!"
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice."
This pony was an old friend of mine from my Manehattan days. I was fortunate to still be in contact with several of my childhood associates, many of whom were now employed in rather high-profile positions. This particular pony, who I failed to avoid calling by his first name even now that we were old and formal, had chosen to pursue a career in journalism. Although he had always had an interest in writing as a colt, his dreams had initially been to leave the Manehattan area. And although he did report in various places around Equestria, he was still living in Manehattan to this very day. He was a good fellow; the kind that one could rely on in a difficult position, and the sort of companion that one did not need to speak with on a regular basis in order to know of the unspoken but ever-prevalent friendship that existed. He was beaming from ear-to-ear as he pulled up a chair in front of me; it was amusing that he still had a small pencil behind his left ear and an almost impractically tiny notepad in his breast pocket just in case a particularly newsworthy story jumped out at him during his travels. In spite of this, to me he would always be Gazette; the goofy, go-lucky pony who was never afraid to help out a friend in need.
"What have you been doing with yourself?" he questioned with a prod to my cheek. "You're looking good. A bit on the portly side, but good! You actually look at bit like that fat colt that we used to have a good laugh with. Or at. What was his name now?"
"Hold it right there, Gazette," I said, shaking my head. "You're getting carried away. Didn't my letter tell you that I wanted to discuss business?"
"Business is overrated," Gazette laughed, raising a hoof. A small waitress-mare approached, looking remarkably petite in her apron. Gazette pointed to a particular drink on the menu and the young waitress, who clearly had some mastery over her magic, used her levitating pencil to jot the order down. "-And for you, sir?" she queried, but I wasn't particularly thirsty. She smiled pleasantly and skipped on to the next table to pick up some left-over mugs. As she bounced away, Gazette couldn't help but turn and watch her go. When he looked back to me, his eyes were sparkling. "She is bloody gorgeous!" he beamed. "That mane! Those eyelashes! That flan-"
"-I get the picture," I said, cutting him off. He seemed rather disappointed, crossing his hooves and sulking. I sighed and looked down to a bag resting at the side of my chair. "Can we get onto business now? You can flirt with waitress-ponies after."
"That's just like you," he said mockingly. "But okay, then. If you insist that we should discuss serious comings and goings, then I am all ears. Well, not entirely made up of ears, but you get my point."
"I'm staying in Ponyville," I said, and Gazette looked ready to chip in with another amusing anecdote or question. I silenced him with a rather callous wave of my hoof. "I have met a lovely young mare there."
"Say no more!" Gazette exclaimed, once more jumping back into his fantasy land of dreamboats and petticoats. "Your secret is safe with me! You have a mystery lover in Ponyville! How quaint!"
"She is not a lover, and by the end of today I hope that the mystery aspect to this pony will be removed as well."
"Explain your demands," Gazette said, narrowing his eyes and slipping his pencil into his mouth, ready to jot things down the old-fashioned way. I cleared my throat.
"I have been staying in Ponyville for just over a month. I initially remained for a day or two because I bumped into Twilight Sparkle. I'm not sure if you and her ever met, but that's neither here nor there. The important factor is that I was introduced to a wonderful fashion designer, and I've been keeping a close eye on her for the past month, assessing her work and coming to some form of conclusion about whether or not it is good enough for mainstream, wide-scale distribution."
Gazette allowed the pencil to fall from his mouth. He tapped against it with his hoof, appearing deep in thought. "You realise that fashion is an incredibly difficult area to get into?" he questioned. "I mean, there are fashion designers all over Equestria who think that they have what it takes. Most are just giddy students who think they have some artistic ability but are actually no more talented than the next common-place artist."
"I understand that, but this particular pony is special."
"There is a beauty...no, an art to her dresses."
"Well, I would have to see them before I could make any reasonable judgement over that," Gazette replied, and that was when I lifted the bag by my chair onto the table, allowing him to peer inside. He looked over the three samples that I had brought with me: I had tried to vary the colours and styles as much as possible, although admittedly I knew very little about fashion. I had based my choices simply on what I could sneak out of her boutique without her realising - I wanted her to have no knowledge of this entire situation, just in case things did not go the way that I had planned. However, judging by the comical raising of Gazette's brow, I could tell that he was interested.
"What is her name?" he questioned after inspecting each dress. Although he wasn't a fashion designer, he had spent a lot of time reporting on that particular culture, and, perhaps most importantly, he knew what looked good in front of a camera. "Rarity," I responded, and he smiled.
"Good name. Short and snappy. People will remember it. Also brings in the possibility of alliterative exaggeration."
"Rarity's Radiant Rambunctiousness."
"Is that a word?"
He returned the pencil to his mouth and scribbled it down. "It is now."
He observed the dresses once more, getting a feel for each of them. He took his time, appearing surprisingly focused his drink arrived for him and he barely acknowledged the cute waitress and it was only when he glanced back towards me that I knew he had come to some form of decision. "So what you're requesting of me," he began, "is that I feature this Rarity in the Rococo Report and give her some positive write-up. Really lay on the praise to some of the more influential members of the publication?"
"Do you have the power to do that?"
He slipped the dresses back into the bag in one great movement of his hoof, keeping it on his side of the table this time. "Do I have the power to do that? My dear friend, you give me so little credit. After publishing Princess Luna: The True Inside Story, the Rococo bunch owe me. Sure, I can do this for you."
I smiled. "What will it cost me?"
"Payment will not be necessary," Gazette replied, winking at me. "If this Rarity girl gets popular then I'll be riding a wave of success as the first journalist to seriously document her." He rustled the bag. "Mind if I hang onto these and show them to my co-workers? They might need some convincing of just how good this girl's work is."
"So now, the real question remains..." Gazette said, leaning back in his chair and folding his hooves once more. "If I'm to do this, I want you to be honest with me: is this really just some genuine act of kindness - some altruistic vision of selfless compassion - or are you expecting some form of return yourself?"
I paused for a moment, closing my eyes and letting out a deep exhale. "Sometimes, just being there for somepony giving without the necessity of getting something back is worth more than money and fame."
"A shame," he said, slipping his novelty notepad back into his outfit. "I will run this by the office tomorrow. If they like what they see, we can probably run the article in the next five days or so. I'd say a week, to be safe."
I owed Gazette once again for his friendship. Although not the easiest pony to approach, he was a genuinely decent pony, and perhaps the only friend that I could always truly rely on. "One last thing, before you go," Gazette spoke up as I rose from my seat. "Do you have any requests for the article itself?"
"Remain suitably objective," I responded resolutely, "and mention her name a lot. She loves it when ponies say it. I imagine she will experience the same elation when ponies write it."
Gazette nodded, making a mental note of my words. He left his seat, rubbing his hooves together, perhaps excited about the prospect of writing the article about Rarity. I watched as he proceeded to approach the waitress, leaning across the counter like some sort of suave Romantic. Although I did not hear their words exchanged, her gracious smile spoke volumes to the content of their discussion. By raising a hoof in the air minutes later, I could infer that he would come to date her; and although his motives were driven by appearance, this shallow behaviour seemed a common-place adherence. I left the café and departed to the train; this would hopefully be the last time that I would visit Manehattan again.
7 Months, 30 Days
"Now you need to open your presents!"
"There's no need to rush."
There we all were, gathered around the fireplace in Twilight's library, opening presents. Rarity hadn't expected the surprise birthday party, but she seemed to appreciate having her friends around her. She had been incredibly busy recently travelling around and meeting important ponies. It had become somewhat difficult to find a suitable slot wherein one could actually spend a prolonged period of time with her. And yet, today, on the most celebratory day of the year for her, she wasn't stuck in Manehattan or Canterlot with busy-body ponies; she was here in Ponyville with us, and that was something that I cherished. She was sitting on her rump, her forelegs between her hind, as gifts were handed around the circle. I had decided to save mine until the last, as it was undoubtedly the most expensive and impressive present that she would be receiving. Applejack had gotten her some boots for when out in rainy weather I predicted that they would be gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere by next month and Twilight had provided a book. It was a fashion-orientated book, but merely a mass of paper stuck together with words scribbled on it nonetheless. It wasn't something that Rarity could wear, and so I predicted that her appreciation of it would be somewhat diminished.
Pinkie Pie had brought the cake from Sugarcube Corner; no number had been frosted onto the top out of sickly icing, and all that the cake displayed was Rarity's name nestled between two edible confectionery balloons. Pinkie had pulled them off and gulped them down before Rarity could even blow out her candles. "Make a wish, Rarity," Twilight instructed, and Rarity, having spent a fleeting second thinking upon it, extinguished the flames in one great gasp of air. She seemed ready to remove herself from the circle, and so I cleared my throat and pulled out the small parcel that had been resting behind my back the entire time. She took one look at the ornate golden bow and began to squeal in excitement.
"This is from me," I said. "It's not much..."
Well, that was a blatant lie. Had I been living back in Old-Manehattan, the price of that one parcel would be enough to purchase a small property. Still, I wanted to appear as modest as possible, as I personally hated ponies who overtly projected their wealth and expenditure, and did not wish to become a hypocrite unto myself. I nudged the parcel closer to her and she looked at it curiously, moving a hoof to the ribbon. She untangled the golden web and opened the parcel with such grace; the paper was ripped neatly, so that she could dispose of it with as minimal difficulty as possible. Her eyes were now met by a black box with 'The Glass House' written upon it. She flicked the hinge open, and all of the ponies around the circle leaned in, rather interested in the gift that I had purchased for Rarity.
"I hope you like it..." I gulped.
I wasn't entirely sure what to make of her reaction, in all honesty. She stared at the baby-blue tiara for quite some time, allowing it to rest in the box. Perhaps she did not wish to touch it for fear of getting hoofprints on the finish, but she must have sat there for a good minute staring into the milky gemstones as if lost in a different world. When she eventually snapped back to reality, she looked up at me and mouthed a small compliment. The box was closed moments later and pushed back behind her, to make way for her own revelation.
"A good friend of mine from outside Ponyville has sent me a birthday card," she said, grinning happily and using her magic to lift the envelope from the table, allowing it to rest on the floor in front of her. "It actually arrived a day or two ago, but, seeing as it's a birthday card, it would be simply unheard of to open it early." She seemed rather elated to witness whatever the card said. It was quite surprising to see her tear through the envelope, paper flying off in all directions. She took a deep breath and opened the card, two small little snippets of paper falling between her legs as she did. She gazed at them, and then back to the card, and then finally back towards the items. The card was passed around the circle, and I did my best to get my hooves on it as quickly as possible. I glanced it over several times, absorbing the words to the best of my ability.
"To my dearest Rarity,
I know that you told me not to concern myself, but I simply could not live with myself without providing you with a gift on your birthday. I remember that in passing you mentioned during a discussion recently that you wished to see the upcoming performance of the Symphony of Seven Paladins at the Royal Canterlot Hall, but that acquiring tickets was especially difficult. It just so happens that I have come into the possession of two tickets myself, and I was wondering if you would be kind enough to go with me? It would be a frightful bore without you.
Have a wonderful birthday~"
No name was provided, although there was some form of insignia; perhaps a Canterlot signature of some kind. I did not know what the icon denoted. I had seen the icon several times before, but only when receiving letters at my Aunt's Manor in my younger days. When I had been living there for my brief six-month stay after her untimely death, many ponies had sent letters to the home. Most of them were concerning matters of finance and land. Perhaps it was the fault of my youth, but after the letters began to flood through the door in mass, I began to allow them to pile up. One of the reasons why I left that place was because so many ponies had seemingly wished to make contact with my Aunt. It was quite saddening, really couldn't her deceased memory be allowed peace and freedom from external inquiry?
Of the few letters that I did open, some were branded with the same seal that had been printed at the bottom of Rarity's card. I could only assume that it was something to do with some form of administrative power. It hadn't really been my concern until now. What did these ponies want with Rarity? I looked across to her; she was observing the tickets with absolute delight. "You're so lucky, Rarity!" Twilight announced. "I've always wanted to see the Symphony. They put it on at some smaller studios, but the card seems to suggest that you'll be watching it at the Royal Canterlot Hall!"
The Royal Canterlot Hall was the biggest and grandest theatre in Equestria. All of the greatest performances and pony-actors and actresses attended, making any production there an exclusive event reserved for the highest-profile ponies. I had not realised that Rarity had already made such influential contacts. It was quite scary how fast things had advanced for Rarity in less than a month. She certainly had not mentioned to me meeting any enormously powerful ponies since the printing of the article in the Rococo Report; the most that I had known of were business meetings with designers. I suppose Rarity was entitled to her privacy.
"Who are the tickets from?" I asked against my better judgement. She looked up at me, nonchalantly waving a hoof. "-Oh, just a friend."
"A rather wealthy friend," I commented, although she seemed to be more interested in the tickets than in my words.
The rest of the party went on as usual, although there was a noticeable absence of Rarity. She had retreated to her bedroom after thanking everyone, taking her gifts up with her. The tiara was included, so at least she hadn't entirely written it off. We deduced from her that the performance of the play would be in week's time, giving her plenty of time to prepare, as well as, she informed us, to focus on a meeting that she had arranged with a distributor in Canterlot a day before the play. Once again her schedule was filling up, it seemed. We would have to make the most of having her around for the next few days. I wanted to know who had sent her that card; which pretentious pony that only half-knew Rarity was doing his best to shut me out. I committed the insignia to memory and did my best to enjoy the remainder of Rarity's special day, but with her head in the clouds she appeared to be a thousand miles away.
1 Month, 23 Days
"Dear Miss Rarity,
We have not seen you of late. We were informed that you have been taken ill. This is most unfortunate and our hooves reach out to you. Please, write us a letter of response when it is appropriate.
"Dear Miss Rarity,
Your absence has become a source of great sadness to us all. We have not yet received a response from our previous letter. Please, reply as soon as possible. We are all missing you terribly. Get well soon.
"Dear Miss Rarity,
I personally visited your boutique to see how you are, but I must have missed you. The door was open, but I assume the pony within was one of your workers. He said that he would pass the message onto you that he would let you know that we desperately seek your immediate response. Unfortunately, one week has passed since this event, and we have still not received a letter of response from you. Please, should you read this, make it your top priority to provide some form of explanation for your absence.
Where are you? Is it something that I've done? If you are fearful of engaging me on the subject, then I apologise profusely. I thought that our little situation had been put in the past and that we were ready to return to normal, but your behaviour of late has proven otherwise. I ask you with utter sincerity: please, respond to me. I miss you."
I sat reading over the latest letter once again. There was no name printed this time, but the handwriting appeared similar, as far as I could remember, to the previous letters. This 'situation' that the author spoke of seemed like something that I should shelter Rarity from. She didn't need that kind of stress from this Mr. Orange guy. I scanned the letter once more, my hooves fumbling over the paper, shaking slightly. He missed her. The big, corporate-loving, global-enterprising, married-with-children pony missed Rarity.
I missed her. I missed the Rarity that I had once known: the Rarity who spoke to me without hatred in her voice; the Rarity who didn't pretend to sleep just to avoid looking at me; the Rarity that had once welcomed me inside. My eyes lifted to the clock; it was time to get going. I'd been sitting in the dark far too long as it was. I placed my hooves down on the latest letter and applied weight, pulling both sides and tearing it down the middle. I then tore these two strands of paper in half once again, leaving four neat sections that were mostly indecipherable by themselves. One by one I dropped them into the bin, allowing them to drift into the identical mass within. My eyes caught on the final strand to be disposed of a few words that hadn't been ripped through. I felt nauseated and hurried from the boutique, ready to perform my routine inspection. And as I walked, my mind took to reflecting on Rarity's recent insipid behaviour.
"Is it something that I've done?"