Her sister was being fussy again. This was nothing new, but today Rarity's picky ways seemed more frustrating than usual, because today was a magic day.
There were all kinds of days, Sweetie Belle thought, as she carefully unrolled yards and yards of silk out over the wide floors of the boutique. There were sleep-in days, though never enough of them. There were good school days, when Cheerilee had stories to tell or when she showed off things from her past, and great school days when Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were away with their father in some big city. And there were bad school days, when the Sugar Rumps were not away and being their usual selves.
But the best days weren't school days at all. The best days were summer days, when there was time to wander through the flowers in the green behind Sofas and Quills, or stand on the bridge near the City Hall and listen to the water sing of how much it wanted to make it to the sea. And bestest of all were special days. Special summer days.
And this was a special summer day, only Rarity had to use it all up airing out her silk.
"Silk has to breath, little sister, it simply MUST!" She always went on about stuff like that. "If silk doesn't get a chance to breath, why, it positively suffocates! Nopony would want suffocated silk! Why I'd become the laughing stock of the Textile Society! It would just be the WORST! They'd all be going 'Rarity, darling, what DID you do to that silk, strangle it?' Can you imagine?"
Actually, Sweetie Belle could imagine that scene quite well, and every time she did it made her laugh. In her version fabric guards show up from Canterlot Castle and haul her sister away in irons, where she is put in a curiously muddy cell and forced to iron cheap linen to atone for strangling the silk. While Sweetie Belle got a chuckle out of the thought when she was feeling particularly annoyed, it also made her sad. She wouldn't want anything bad to happen to her sister, not really.
She just wanted to... go.
It was summer. Right out there. Outside, beyond the delicate arches of the windows, beyond the spotless floor of the Carousel Boutique, and it was green and yellow and warm and filled with wonders.
But it might as well have been on the moon. Sweetie Belle imagined herself as princess Luna, stuck on the moon, looking back at the wide, flat world, her love of the diamonds of the night replaced by a yearning even for the warm glories of her sister. Sweetie Belle was trapped in the Moon Boutique.
It even looked like the moon, all white floored and empty. Empty except for the silk.
The floors and ponnequins were being increasingly draped with rainbows of silk, silk everywhere. Hanging from the carousel itself, covering the shelves, unrolled over every polished, meticulously clean surface.
Rarity handled the stuff up high, she wouldn't let Sweetie Belle levitate her silk that way. It was Sweetie's job to roll out the silk on the floor, and over the ponnequins and even up the stairs and into the bedrooms. Opal had been sent to stay with Fluttershy; there was no trusting the cat around unrolled silk. The result would be, as her sister would put it, "A DISASTER of UNPARALLELED dimensions of HORROR!"
There was no question that there would be a lot of ruined silk. Sweetie Belle found it hard to consider that a disaster, exactly, compared to what happened with those parasprites, or what sort-of happened with the Ursa. It was clear that her big sister had a wider, looser definition of what constituted a disaster than she did. Or anypony did.
Now Sweetie Belle was working with white silk. She probably wasn't supposed to be unrolling it, she couldn't remember. There was some silk that Rarity had told her not to do, to just let her deal with it, but who could remember all of that stuff? Silk was silk, and fussing over what color it was just seemed silly. Why should some colors be more special than other colors?
Cheerilee always told them that every color was special, and that all the colors needed each other to make the world beautiful. Cheerilee was the best teacher ever.
Sweetie Belle had to be really careful, and there were rules to follow. If she used her teeth, she had to be careful not to get the silk wet; front teeth only, and always a dainty bite. If she needed to use her hooves, she had to wear the hoofcovers, so that nothing might dirty the silk. This was silly, Sweetie Belle thought, because the hoofcovers were slippery on the floor, which was polished so shiny that it could be used as a mirror when the sunlight hit it just so. And on top of that, she had to take a bath and wash her hooves extra-special, with the hoof brush and everything, before any of this started in the first place.
If the boutique, or Sweetie Belle herself could be any cleaner, why, something in the world would just explode from the sheer cleanliness somehow. Everything was cleaner than clean. Sometimes her sister was really weird.
Sweetie Belle still wasn't good at using her horn. She kept practicing, but it was just really hard. Sometimes she wondered if she was broken somehow, like Scootaloo. They'd talk about that and end up sighing at the stuff they couldn't do right. She was missing Scootaloo right now. They were supposed to have fun together, because it was a special day.
"Special Day? What could be more special than SILK! Look at it Sweetie Belle! Glorious, fabulous silk! The creamy texture, the divine shades and hues! What could ever compare out there in that dirty old world of grass-stains and dirty, filthy DIRT with spending the day in here with the Creme de la Creme of fabrics?"
Sweetie Belle had thought of twelve things before her sister had finished. It wasn't fair.
The white silk billowed out after a careful push from Sweetie Belle's covered hooves. The shimmering bolt rippled and fluttered as it rolled across the carousel floor all the way to the opposite wall. It looked like snow, or clouds. It was so shiny that Sweetie Belle could see the hues of summer reflected in the silk from the view outside the wide windows.
Greens and blues and the soft earth-tones of the cottages. A touch of red from the shop across the way. The silk was like a river, shining in the light from outside. The sight made Sweetie Belle wistful. She should be out there, out in the warm air, out chasing butterflies, out crusading for her cutie mark, out with her friends. The silk was almost special.
But it wasn't special day special.
"SIS!!!! Please! I wanna go play before the sun goes down! I was gonna meet Scoot and Apple Bloom! They're expecting me!"
Rarity had entered the room from upstairs, where she had been laying out the golden silk to catch the summer air. Her little sister's eyes were so wide and so pleading. Her little lip was quivering like a leaf in the wind. How could she not love the beauty of such lovely....
The white silk was spread all over the floor. Not on the floor. Never white silk on the floor, the top of the carousel, maybe, draped over the ponnequins, surely, but NOT ON THE FLOOR!
The quivering became a lip-quake, the eyes pools of ready-to-cry tears. Tears that would drip right on the white silk.
"Sweetie, you've been of such help to me today. I think... I think you've earned this." Her little sister looked up in surprise, her expectation of a scolding disrupted. A single, golden bit floated over to her and hovered in front of her muzzle, encompassed in Rarity's glowing magic.
"I think you've been cooped up in her for far too long. You should go get ice cream with your friends..." Rarity looked outside the big windows "... while there is still some day left. Here..." She floated two more coins over to her little sister, and held them until Sweetie Belle had all three gripped safely in her teeth.
"Now run along, and have some fun, alrighty?" Rarity opened the door with her magic, carefully, in case there was any wind that might affect the silk.
"Mmm Hmmm. Hmmmk Hmuuu!" Sweetie dashed for the doorway.
"You're welcome, dear sister. Ta Ta! Say hello to your little friends from me..." But Sweetie Belle was gone now, out into the silkless, grass-stained world.
Sweetie Belle galloped out into the late afternoon, the candied scents of flowers flooding her mind. Birdsong tickled her ears beside the wind from her own running, and the soft warm earth beneath her hooves softened the drumming beat as her gallop turned into a canter.
It felt so good to be free, to be out in the bright day. The warm fragrant air made her feel like she was floating in some sweetwater sea of expectant joy. Today truly was a special day after all.
The taste of metal in her mouth reminded her that she carried treasure, bits enough for herself and her friends to savor the proper ending to a summer afternoon. Her sister's generosity had made her lost day into a bountiful afternoon at least, and Sweetie Belle was already imagining the cool ice cream melting in her mouth, the sweetness drizzling down her throat like some icy stream of pure summer bliss.
She had to find her friends, her sister crusaders, a new quest was at hand. There was no cutie mark in this new quest. They had already tried to get Ice Cream Crusader Cutie Marks and that had ended in upset tummies and somehow, inexplicably, tree sap in their coats. Not one of them could remember how that had happened, or why.
Rather, this was a quest for something almost as grand as getting a cutie mark, something precious and good just the same. There was no realm like the Empire Of Summer, and only one way to rear up triumphant within it, as conqueror. To succeed at summer took neither cape nor badge nor mark, instead it took the right moment, just before Celestia's sun dropped below the horizon, and just the right treat.
The sun was low, racing for the tops of the trees, chasing the remaining day to see who might win before night took all. Where could her friends be? Sweetie Belle galloped again, her wind returned, searching the streets, her teeth clamped with terrible ferocity on the precious coins. Stirrup Street held neither Apple Bloom nor Scootaloo, she had been so sure one of them might be there. Scootaloo at least should be racing down that grand road, she loved to ramp off the slight unevenness of it, catching what air she could, while avoiding what ponies she could.
Sweetie Belle briefly looked over the costume shop, less to seek her friends than to stare at what appeared to be a chicken costume. She wondered if it was the one that Pinkie Pie had worn on Nighmare Night. Briefly she giggled imagining Scootaloo in one sized to fit the little pegasus. Scoot-Scoot-Scootalooooo! She called, as she ran on.
They might have gone bowling, so Sweetie Belle nosed a peek inside the alley; the smell of lane wax and corkleather shoes greeted her, but there was no sign of Apple Bloom or Scootaloo. Certainly not Scootaloo - Mr. Kingpin had made that clear after the Incident. She wondered if the old stallion would ever relent and let Scoots bowl again.
For a moment Sweetie Belle considered the library, but that was just silly. No self-respecting filly would be caught hiding out inside such a dark place on such a bright day. This was summer, and it was obviously a special day, surely everypony could see that much. Definitely not the library then.
By now Sweetie Belle was feeling winded again, and her gallop had become an amble. She was breathing around her coins, sweat making her coat feel damp. It was drying in the warm, bright air, and the coolness of that felt good, but it also felt uncomfortable too. Sweetie Belle didn't like her coat to be damp. She felt the little hairs standing up all over her back and flanks, the better to catch the drying breeze.
There were no sign of her sister crusaders amidst the market stalls, sadly. But there were the delightful smells and sights of the many things on offer. Sweetie Belle paused to sniff the scented soaps in their wooden cart, the strange and familiar mixing in her nose, making a banquet of curious sensations.
A fruit cart held bananas, a treat raised on a special plantation just behind Castle Mountain where Canterlot had been built into the living rock. There, it was said, the pegasai kept the weather always warm, and always hot, a tiny land of forever summer, tropical and shining. It must be wonderful to live there, Sweetie Belle thought. Summer that never ended, it was such a beautiful dream.
Finally she came to the greensward by the bridge, not far from her ultimate goal: Sugarcube Corner. Perhaps, perhaps the Call Of Summer would be profound enough, on this special day, to gather those who had hearts young and pure enough to heed it. The Call that brought all who truly loved summer to the same conclusion, that no proper summer day should end without the promise of ice cream.
Ahead of her, Sweetie Belle saw an orange blur shooting like a meteor across the grass. It could only be one pony, Scootaloo. She was already too far ahead to call, but Sweetie Belle tried just the same "Scootaloo! Scootalooo!!!" but there was no point. She knew that Scootaloo had only one thing on her mind, and there was only one place she could possibly be going. Scootaloo understood summer, and obeyed its loving command. She was probably the best subject of summer of the three of them, even above Apple Bloom, always busy on her farm.
Sometimes Sweetie Belle envied Scootaloo, which is why she teased her. Scootaloo reveled fearlessly in her dreams and her swiftness and her love of the seasons. And of all the seasons, none crowned the splendid and royal wonderland of summer.
Sugarcube Corner, where the ice cream was. Sweetie Belle galloped again, her three golden treasures still in her teeth, her hooves pounding the ground. Soon they would be together, soon there would be sweetness and laughter and sticky drops of confection in their coats which no amount of licking would entirely remove. Sweetie Belle smiled at the thought, as she ran, of the inevitable scolding she would get from her sister, and the bath she would need to take later to get the ice cream out. But for all the scolding, she knew her sister would give her coins for ice cream again.
The door jingled as she entered, a happy sound. That jingle was unique, and it sang of candy and cakes, of sweets and pastries and cookies and cupcakes. But mostly it sang the song of bright smiles, of laughing friends, and of the specialness of the most special of days.
The days of sunshine and ice cream.