"Oh, Caramel, those look lovely!" Mrs. Cake beamed as she looked over the stallion's cart, loaded to the brim with all sorts of supplies. At the back of it, Mr. Cake busily unloaded the barrels and bags of sugar, molasses and the various sundries that went into the making of the Cakes' delicious treats.
As Mr. Cake made another trip into the shop, Caramel remained hooked to the front of his cart, bashfully ducking his head when she complimented him. "Nothing special, ma'am, just making my deliveries for farmer Sugarhoof. I have three more stops to make after this, he's had a bumper crop of sugarcane this season."
The deep voice was immediately familiar to Caramel, and despite the way he stiffened in his pulling harness, he turned to smile at Big Mac, hoping it didn't look too tense. "Hi, Big McIntosh! How've you been?"
"Been fine. Wanted to ask if you'd pass a message along to that sister of yours. Applejack's throwin' a big hoedown for the new barn-raisin', wanted to invite Lulu along."
Caramel smiled, some of the tightness vanishing. "Sure, I'll pass the message along."
"Thank ya kindly." Big Mac nodded to him, then took off at a peaceful walk. Big Mac did just about everything at his own pace; he walked slow, talked slow, probably even thought slow - in a good way, of course. He was always the voice of reason, even back in school, Caramel mused a little dreamily. He watched him disappear into the bustle of the center square, his attention diverted from Mrs. Cake.
Caramel had a problem. Well, not a serious problem, like a kraken in the well, or a fire in the orchard. Nope, Caramel had a boy problem. It wouldn't have been a problem at all if he wasn't so gosh-darned shy. Lots of foals and fillies got whatever ponies they set their hearts on; in some cases, they even got the fillies they only had their eyes set on. Some ponies, like the tennis champ Love Doubles, had fillies fainting at his hooves almost every day. Even though "love" was a tennis term for "big fat nothing," all of the fillies swooned over him like he was the best thing since sugar cookies.
And in this instance, Caramel had picked the worst possible pony to have a crush on. Big Mac, aside from being the tallest, strongest, and kindest stallion around, was alsoincredibly popular with the fillies. If Love Doubles was the most popular stallion in the town (mostly because he was such a schmoozer with the fillies), Big Mac was second. His strong, silent presence could reduce fillies to hysterical tears within moments, and the fact that he hadn't dated any of them only made him seem like even more of a catch.
That was a problem, too. Although Big Mac hadn't officially dated anyone, he hadn't paid any stallions any particular attention, either. He had plenty of friends, filly and colt alike, but general consensus was that he liked fillies. ("No, he was looking at ME!" was a near-constant cry when he was around, so the veracity of this claim could never be properly concluded.)
And so that left Caramel, standing in front of the cake shop, staring after him foalishly as he trotted away. Caramel wondered what kind of errand he'd been sent on, what business he had in town, who he might see, what he might say to others he'd passed. Did he even wonder about how Caramel was? Or was he just being polite, running an errand for his little sister?
"Afternoon, Caramel!" Came a soft, lilting voice, and Caramel glanced down sharply, realizing how long he'd been staring at nothing.
"Oh! Hello, Twilight Sparkle. How are you?"
"I'm doing very well, thank you Caramel!" She smiled, and the little dragon on her back folded his arms, staring up at him. He almost seemed to be frowning, but Caramel supposed that must be how dragons' faces typically looked. He didn't want to be speciest, if slitted eyes and downturned mouths were just how all dragons looked. He hadn't met enough dragons to tell. "Have you heard about the hoedown at the Sweet Apple Acres tomorrow night? Applejack wanted me to ask you to-"
"Ask Lulu to go? Yep, I just saw Big Mac, he told me to tell her. I'll pass the message along!" Caramel smiled, and even as the unicorn smiled at him, the little dragon seemed to look angrier. Maybe that was how dragons showed pleasure? Caramel didn't want to offend him, so he just smiled even brighter down at him.
"Excellent! See you at the party!" Twilight Sparkle said briskly, and turned, surveying the large town square ahead of them before taking off at a trot.
Caramel had turned back to ask Mrs. Cake something when he felt a sharp, sudden pain in his flank. He couldn't help the immediate reaction, whinnying in distress and surprise as he kicked his hind legs out, trying to push away the offender. But his hind legs crashed into his cart, and sent its contents spilling out, crashing into Mr. Cake where he had been unloading it.
"Oh, Caramel!" Mrs. Cake gasped, running back to her husband. A bag of flour had been torn open, somehow, and so when it spilled, it covered Mr. Cake from head to hoof, leaving the stallion blinking and confused.
"I'm sorry! Something - something bit me, I think." Caramel fumbled his way out of the harness, trying to get a good look at his hip. A small, angry welt marred his yellow flank, and a small bead of blood made its way down his leg as he trotted to Mr. Cake's aid. "Are you okay?" Caramel asked, glancing between him and his wife.
"He's fine." Mrs. Cake said, a little shortly, as she gently dusted off his husband's face. "C'mon, let's get you inside and cleaned up." She gave Caramel a polite wave of farewell, but as she moved back towards the shop, he couldn't help but hear her exasperated sighs. "Good Celestia, I don't know why that farmer insists on hiring such a clumsy delivery boy, there's always a disaster of some kind with him around."
As if Caramel didn't have enough difficulties blocking his path to Big Mac, this was yet another one. Even if Big Mac did like colts, and even if he did happen to notice Caramel existed, it wouldn't matter; Caramel was just as clumsy and unfortunate as his little sister was graceful and lucky. Lulu Luck, after all, didn't earn her name and cutie mark for being a stick-in-the-mud failure. She was brilliant, gregarious, and graceful; lucky things happened to her almost constantly. Not a day went by when she didn't find money on the ground; she was also the lead ballerina in her troupe, she always just happened to study extra-hard the night before a pop quiz, and he was pretty sure that she woke up every morning with a perfectly-styled mane.
Caramel, on the other hand, had broken six bones by the age of eight (and many more since then), always got picked last in sports, found it difficult to make friends, had to have extra tutoring after nearly failing out of Equestrian History, and was constantly losing or dropping things. Not to mention, of course, his own lack of coordination, which would have earned him the name 'Unlucky Lou' if his parents hadn't been so kind. His cutie mark seemed to reflect this cruelty of fate, as well; both he and his sister had a pair of interlocking horseshoes as their cuties, but while his sisters seemed to attract only good luck, Caramel's only seemed to attract bad.
There was that voice again, deep and resonant. Caramel looked up from where he'd been re-packing his cart, trying not to let Big Mac see how upset he was. "Oh! Hey, Big Mac, what's up?" He asked, trying to inject some good cheer into his voice as he pushed the last barrel into place, grunting softly in exertion.
Big Mac's brows furrowed for a moment, but he spoke the same as usual, so if he'd noticed his distress (or the massive pile of flour on the ground), he didn't mention either. "Just realized I forgot to ask how you were doin'. Been distracted with the hoedown." He offered, just as Caramel set the pin that held the back of the cart closed.
Caramel's smile became a little less forced, but a little more nervous, in turns. "Oh, I'm, uh, I'm fine, doing fine." He stumbled over himself, trying to pull himself together as Twilight Sparkle appeared on Big Mac's other side, the angry little dragon still on her back.
"Good. We were headin' out to get the barn swept up, forgot to mention you're welcome to come too, if'n you like."
"Come? Oh, yeah, to the hoedown! Yeah, sure, I'll - I'll be there." Caramel stammered, smiling brightly at Twilight Sparkle and Big Mac as they turned to go, trotting back to Sweet Apple Acres.
As they passed, Caramel moved to the other side of the cart to begin hooking himself back up when a crash from behind drew his attention. The back of his cart had somehow popped open, sending all of his repacked supplies spilling back into the street, several new barrels popping open that had remained closed the first time.
As the molasses and sugar spilled out into ever-widening puddles of glucosic delight, Big Mac and Twilight Sparkle turned back to look, brows rising at the destruction.
"I've got it, I'm fine!" Caramel called, beginning to right the barrels and draw the bags closed.
As they left, Caramel heard Twilight Sparkle say, "He's awfully clumsy, isn't he? Isn't he the colt who lost all the grass seeds at the last Winter Wrap Up?"
"Eeyup. Lost 'em last year, too." Big Mac replied, voice fading as they trotted away from town.
On the long-awaited day that Big Mac finally took notice of Caramel, Caramel had thought he'd be overjoyed, instead of feeling so close to tears.