"Do ah have to say it again?"
Rarity shook her head rapidly to clear it, and nodded mutely, staring back in disbelief at Applejack. The ginger farm-pony sighed heavily and took a deep breath, preparing to plunge into monologue once more.
"Ole Princess Celestia has gone an' sent me a hole bunch'ah tickets which go an' let me take mah family with me to the Gala this year. So what ah'm sayin' is, we need a hole lotta them fancy outfits like what yer made fer us las' year. For mah family. For the Gala. This year."
Although this was now the third time Rarity had heard this lengthy explanation, she still reacted in much the same way: with a fairly gob smacked expression. Applejack kneaded the floor apprehensively with her hooves, and fixed an expectant expression on her unicorn friend.
Eventually, Rarity gathered her composure enough to say weakly, "And how many outfits will that be, exactly?"
Beaming, Applejack began reeling off a list of names. "Well we'll be needin' one fer Apple Cider, Apple Fritter, Apple Brioche, Braeburn, Red Gala, Golden Delicious, Baked Apple and Big Macintosh of course."
Head still spinning from the onslaught of ponies, Rarity turned and trotted over to her desk in search of a pencil and paper. "Is that all, Applejack?"
"Mm hm," nodded Applejack. "Y'see, ole Granny Smith caint go on account o' her bad leg, and so Apple Bumpkin and Caramel Apple are gunna stay behind to take care o' her, and li'l Apple Bloom of course. Oh, an' Apple Tart has got a bad stomach, and so Apple Strudel and Apple Cinnamon Crisp are gunna stay behind t'look after her. An' Red Delicious caint go either. An' I guess ah don't need a new outfit either, what with the purty number y'all made me last year an' all," she added as an afterthought.
Slowly Rarity turned and trotted towards Applejack, a large diary floating in front of her. She frowned to herself as the pages turned themselves over with a lazy air. "So that's Apple Cider and Fritter…Apple Brioche, Braeburn, Red Delicious – "
"Golden," interrupted Applejack. "Red Delicious caint go on account of – "
"Yes, yes," huffed Rarity, drawing a line through the offending name. "Golden Delicious and Baked Apple?"
"An' Big Macintosh," Applejack reminded her. "He's mighty excited 'bout the Gala, but you'd never think it t'look at the big fella. But just the other day, why I caught him – "
"Applejack, please," pouted Rarity, turning away and laying the diary on her desk once more, frowning over the list of neatly inscribed names. "So that's seven dresses and one gentlemen's suit for Big Macintosh?"
"Oh Rarity, ain't you the joker," scoffed Applejack. "Why, can you imagine Braeburn in a dress?"
"Well I'm sure I don't know – " objected Rarity, adopting a look of utter confusion.
"Or li'l Golden Delicious?"
"Well I only assumed – "
"Ah'm almost tempted ter say yes, jes' t'see the look on his face!" crowed Applejack, giggling madly at the thought.
"Applejack!" snapped Rarity, bringing the country pony back down the earth.
Haughtily, Rarity drew herself up, readying her pencil. "Would you please tell me which of your many relatives are stallions, and which are mares!"
Applejack looked somewhat offended. "Y'mean…y'all don't know – "
"No, Applejack, I don't!" said Rarity shrilly.
Blowing out her cheeks, Applejack huffed, "well I jes' thought yah might have done me the simple decency of getting' t'know mah family an' all…"
"Apple Cider an' Apple Fritter an' Red Gala an' Baked Apple are all li'l fillies, which leaves Apple Brioche an' Golden Delicious an' Braeburn an' Big Macintosh needin' themselves some fine young stallion outfits, if yer please."
"Thank you," said Rarity primly, snapping the book shut. She tapped the pencil against her bottom lip thoughtfully for a second, and then sprung into action, dashing around the room with a vigour that would have made Rainbow Dash envious. Opalescence miaowed indignantly as the unicorn wrenched reams of opulent materials out from under her fluffy white bottom.
Throwing the material so that it unrolled across the entire floor, Rarity began furiously scribbling designs as only she could. Briefly, she glanced up at Applejack, and her eyes flashed. "Well get out, then! How do you expect me to work with you in the way?"
Tipping her hat respectfully, Applejack backed out the door. "Much obliged, Rarity. Ah'm sure we all gon' look fabulous, thanks to you."
"Of course you are, darling," snapped Rarity, not looking up from her latest design.
"And send them all along this afternoon!" she shouted through the closed door. "I need to take measurements!"
"Hm, yes, that will do," sniffed Rarity, snapping the tape measure closed. The young colt stepped down nervously from the stool, clearly uncertain about where to put his hooves.
"Watch the silk!" snapped Rarity, causing him to jump. "Stand there, no, there. Thank you. Now…"
Apple Brioche trembled where he stood, caught like a rabbit in the furious gaze of the mad-looking white unicorn. She narrowed her eyes at him, spread them wide, and tilted her head to the most bizarre angles, before turning back to the many sheets of paper spread before her and tossing a sheaf of them to the side with a wave of her horn. "Yes, I think glen plaid for you, my dear. Or perhaps a herringbone weave? Cashmere? Goodness me, what am I thinking? Absolutely not! But then I suppose I must provide a tie…but are cravats not supposed to be in this year? What do you think?" she demanded suddenly, turning on the poor young pony.
He shied away, flattening his ears nervously. "Well, um…ah'm sure ah don't know, Miss Rarity."
But she had already turned away and was pulling drawers open with feverish excitement. "No, I know, a bow tie, it will suit your physique most beautifully! Yes, a bow tie with notched lapel, and that way you will match Golden Delicious splendidly…oh, but his suit was to be pinstriped…" Rarity paused, a flustered and slightly distressed expression crossing her beautiful features. Then she shook herself and a smile plastered itself across her lips once more. "Never mind, never mind! I've always said variety is the spice of life, don't you think?"
"Yes indeed, ma'am," said Apple Brioche meekly.
"Hmm, on second thoughts…" Rarity paused, staring hard at the design floating before her. "Yes…yes! A bow tie for you, and a cravat for Golden Delicious! Oh, simply wonderful." She began drifting around the room in a giddy joy until she slid alongside one of the many mannequins, most of which were already adorned with outfits.
Curiously, Apple Brioche watched as she slid a few more pins into the seams of his outfit, and then added the bowtie with a flourish. He had to admit, it looked marvellous.
"Thank you kindly, darling," Rarity added over her shoulder. "You may go now, and please would you let Macintosh in on your way out? There's a dear."
She stood back and admired the finished suit. Yes, a few stitches here, a bit of tucking in there…perhaps a brooch, or a handkerchief tucked stylishly into the pocket…
Sighing happily, she moved onto the nearest dress, a delicate floaty number with a gauzy train, designed to fit little Apple Fritter's slight frame. The shoulders had given Rarity no end of trouble; the filly was so petite in size that anything too heavy just looked cumbersome, while the simpler styles tended to just slip off. Eventually she had solved the problem with an elegant halterneck.
"Ah'm sorry Ma'am, am ah interruptin' yer work?"
"Oh!" Rarity was dragged out of her reverie by the slow, sonorous tones of Big Macintosh. "I'm terribly sorry, I didn't hear you come in. Please, step this way."
Big Macintosh inclined his large blunt head respectfully and slowly trotted into the middle of the room. The tape measure leapt into life once more, and Rarity began sizing the enormous stallion up.
"Hm, let me see," she muttered to herself, squinting at the numbers and scribbling furiously as she did so. "I'm already envisioning something for you, darling…double-breasted, almost certainly. But then should it have a peaked lapel, or a notched? What do you think?"
Big Macintosh looked very taken aback; he had just spent the last few minutes lapsing into a lazy daydream while Rarity took his measurements. "Ah'm sure ah don't know, Miss Rarity."
"Not to worry, not to worry!" trilled Rarity, snapping the tape measure shut and skipping over to the cupboards. "Just hop up onto that stool there would you? There's a dear."
She rifled through her cupboard, humming happily. With a flourish she extracted the pattern for a Gladstone collar and spun around, only to see Big Macintosh balancing precariously by his hoof-tips on the far-too-small stool.
"Oh dear," she sighed, prancing over. "Down you get, if you please. I can see this is not going to work…"
"Ah'm mighty sorry, Miss Rarity," said Big Macintosh, looking down at his hooves.
"Oh no, dear," laughed Rarity. "It's not a problem…I'll just clear a space…" With a sweep of her horn, she shifted the array of spare mannequins off the nearby stage. "Just hop up there, please."
Big Macintosh obligingly stepped up onto the raised platform and turned to face her. To his surprise, she began thrusting pieces of paper into his face, and fixing them around his neck. "A Gladstone collar, oh my, it will look simply divine! Yes, I can see it now! Or perhaps – oh dear…"
He looked down at her anxiously, as her face fell and she stepped back once more. "Is there a problem, Miss Rarity? Should ah get down again?"
"No, no!" she said. "I'm afraid this pattern doesn't fit you…not to worry, I have a larger one!" And before Big Macintosh could even draw breath, the paper was whipped away and replaced with yet another pattern.
"I'm not accustomed to catering to customers of such a powerful build," drawled Rarity flatteringly, sliding a few pins into place.
"Well thank ye kindly, Miss Rarity. Ah've bin told ah'm a mighty big help down on the farm," he admitted.
"Well I'm not surprised," she beamed, stepping back to admire her handiwork. "I've never seen such a fine bone structure."
"Thank ye…ah think…"
"Oh!" squealed Rarity, with a suddenness that made him jump. "I've just had a brainwave!" she sang, dancing over and tearing the paper away from his neck with frightening fervour. "Not a Gladstone collar, not at all! An ascot collar! Oh my, yes! It will look so dashing!"
"Am ah gunna have to do some dashin'?" asked Big Macintosh uneasily.
"No, that's quite alright…just stay where you are!"
Half an hour later, and Big Macintosh's knees were starting to ache. But he never complained once, and stared resolutely ahead while Rarity continued to pin expensive cuts of material about his chest. All the while she talked, and he tried his best to keep up with her conversation. He felt certain that he had never talked so much in his life.
"Of course, it is the cravat that is in this year, but I've always said that the ascot tie is timeless, wouldn't you agree? And it looks so stunning on stallions of your build…I am of the opinion that an ascot collar just simply doesn't belong on a colt, no no. You most certainly need a big strong figure to pull it off."
"But I must admit, the colour is an issue…a black suit would look rather dashing, I must admit, but oh! It will do nothing for your splendid mane colour…I think white? Or would that be too bold? What do you think, Macintosh darling?"
"Hm? Oh, er…" Big Macintosh tore his gaze away from the ceiling to stare down at the excited unicorn mare. He shuffled his hooves nervously. "W-well…Ah would say that white is a tad too bold…mebbe."
"You are absolutely right," said Rarity stoically. "And pinstripe just would not do you justice…Oh! I have some beautiful chocolate brown material! Oh Macintosh, it is simply divine, and it will compliment your coat so well!"
Patiently, Big Macintosh let her arrange yet another array of material shapes about his body, and kept as still as a statue as she pinned them into place.
"Perfect!" she squealed, standing back.
"Can ah get down yet?" he asked hopefully.
"Oh dear, no!" she cried. "I haven't even begun to consider the tie yet."
"Very well, ma'am," he replied.
Rarity paused, and considered her charge for a few seconds. Although he had withstood the ordeal with a surprising amount of patience and poise, the powerful stallion was beginning to flag, and the way in which he hung his head was not unlike the resignation seen in a workhorse nearing the end of a long hard day.
She trotted over and began sliding the material off him once more. "Would you like a drink?"
"That would be most wun'erful, Miss Rarity," said Big Macintosh appreciatively, watching as she began draping the beginnings of his suit around a large mannequin.
Flicking her horn, Rarity summoned a tray laden with two glasses and a pitcher of lemonade from the nearby table, and began pouring out a cold glass.
Big Macintosh settled himself heavily on the floor and began drinking gratefully. Within seconds his glass was empty.
He looked up and watched Rarity prance around the mannequin, frowning deeply to herself. Occasionally she would dart forward and adjust a piece of material, or add another pin, muttering all the time.
His deep voice dragged her out of her thoughts once more. "Yer work is mighty fine, Miss Rarity."
She flushed happily, and fluttered her eyelashes, as she was prone to do when flattered. "I do try."
"Ah can see that."
Delighted to be complimented in such a manner, Rarity spun on one hoof and danced over to a large, velvety dress. "This is to be Red Gala's outfit – I've nearly finished! Isn't it lovely?"
"Oh, yes," said Big Macintosh honestly. "It's very purty indeed."
"Ah, yes," sighed Rarity happily, sinking into the thick ruffles of the puffed skirt. "She is going to look fantastic! Like a princess!"
"Indeed, like a princess," agreed Big Macintosh. "Red Gala always wanted ter be a princess."
"Do you like Apple Cider's dress?" squealed Rarity, pushing it forward and watching excitedly for his reaction. "It is an inspired piece of design, if I do say so myself. I thought it was a little daring, with the asymmetric neckline, but do you think it works?"
Big Macintosh looked from her enormous violet eyes to the cream and white dress. "Why Miss Rarity, it is simply stunnin'."
"And do you know the best part?" giggled Rarity, hopping down once more and helping herself to lemonade.
"Ahm sure ah don't."
"I shall dress you all! Oh, it will be such fun! I am going to do all of your hair! Oh, can't you see Baked Apple now, she is going to look fantastic in the coiffure I have designed for her…"
Coiffure…Big Macintosh had never heard that word before. It was a very pretty word; he liked the way it rolled deliciously off Rarity's tongue.
"And you!" she shouted suddenly, jumping up once more. "Oh, I must consider your hair! It's going to have to look fantastic."
"But ah like mah mane the way it is," he told her nervously.
"No, no…" she scolded, brushing it off his face with her glowing horn. "I definitely think you should have it back…your suit will bring out your green eyes so splendidly."
"Mah eyes are green?"
"Oh, darling!" Rarity stepped back and stared at him in horror. "You don't know the colour of your own eyes?"
Big Macintosh shrugged. "Ah've never needed to."
"But…but don't you have mirrors at your farm?"
"None that ah use," he admitted. "Ah always thought they might be sorta orangey-lookin', like li'l Apple Bloom's."
"Well, I – "
"Your eyes are a mighty fine purple, Miss Rarity," he added.
"It's quite all right, Macintosh, I have a mirror," she trilled. "But…thank you very much," she added, smiling.
They sat in comfortable silence, Big Macintosh staring curiously at each outfit in turn, trying to envision each of his siblings in them. Rarity, for her part, sat quietly sipping her lemonade, staring surreptitiously at the stallion with curiosity in her large eyes.
After a while, Big Macintosh turned to look at her once more. "Miss Rarity, would it be quite all right if – "
Immediately Rarity's often rather overactive imagination sprang into action. If she were to go with him to the Gala? Accompany him on a walk around the fields? Go back to the farm for some apple cider? Oh my! It was all quite too much! She fanned herself with one hoof. "Oh, Macintosh, I am sorry. Maybe another time, it's – "
He blinked. "Oh. Well tha's all right, Miss Rarity. Them apples can wait, ah guess."
"After all, we barely know – what?"
"Ah don't have to leave right now, if yer still need me here," he explained patiently. "It's jes' that Applejack was wantin' me home early today, on account of the red apples bein' in need of some prunin'."
"Oh! Oh my, I see!" Rarity hastily composed herself, and swept the glasses of lemonade away. "No, Macintosh, of course! You may go, I have all your measurements, and will start work on the sewing forthwith."
He scrambled to his feet and bowed gratefully. "Ah thank ye kindly, Miss Rarity. 'Tis most ahpreciated."
She giggled girlishly behind one hoof. So gallant! "Why, Big Macintosh, I do believe you will fit in just perfectly with the ponies at the Gala!"
He paused with one hoof on the door. "Do yer really think so?"
"I know so," she said firmly, pulling a spool of thread from a box. "Your manners are impeccable."
"Well ah do try," he said humbly. "Granny Smith always said that a li'l manners takes a pony far."
"Granny Smith would be quite right," ascertained Rarity. "They are going to love you at the Gala."
After a pause, Big Macintosh replied, "and ahm sure they'd all jes love you down at the farm."
Again, Rarity giggled in that way he found so fascinating. Why didn't Applejack ever giggle like that? "Well, I'll be sure to make a visit sometime."
"We'd like that verrae much, Miss Rarity. Y'all take care now."
"See you in a few days." Rarity allowed herself to be distracted by sewing up the first seam on Apple Brioche's waistcoat.
"Miaow." Opalescent settled herself on the stool, and fixed her owner with an almost knowing look.