Chapter 4: All Roads Lead to Pony-mart

“I do like Belen,” Thomas said slowly, looking at the application on the desk in front of him, “but her visa’s only good for the next three months, and there are no guarantees she’ll be able to stay in the country.”

“And she’s taking care of that,” Tabby insisted. “Look, it’s between her and Trudy; and Trudy is convinced I practice the dark arts. I will have you know that I very rarely summon demons, and it’s never intentional.” She drew herself up indignantly.

“Trudy has great experience, and she’s not in danger of deportation,” Thomas argued, knowing he would never hear the end of it if he went against his fiancee’s wishes–but not wanting to give in too easily.


“Yes?” he prodded.

“Let me talk to my mom,” Tabby said with great reluctance. “She might… know someone.”

Agatha Fershund did seem to know just about everyone worth knowing, Thomas mused. “Fine,” he allowed, setting the applications aside for the moment. “See what she says. Now, about lunch–”

“Oh, I can’t do lunch today,” said Tabby with a very patronizing yet endearing look. “I have to make a run to Pony-mart–my source on the inside said they were stocking some new people this morning.”

“Oh. Right,” said Thomas, knowing that he could never compete with the allure of new My Little People.

* * *

Springtime returned to the front end of Pony-mart, and was disappointed to see the lines of ponies waiting to checkout extended for far too long. She looked around for her colleague, Liv, and found her standing at the service desk, in close consultation with Tara and Whispering Winds–but Springtime doubted that the conversation was work-related.

“So I said I wasn’t going out with him until he showed some initiative and got a job,” Whispering Winds was relating with emphasis.

“Whispering Winds,” Springtime said sweetly as she neared the group, “do you think you could head back to your register?”

“I was just dropping off unwants!” the pale blue pegasus said petulantly before scurrying off.

“Relax, chica!” said Liv to Springtime, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement.

Springtime and Liv were Front End Managers, FEMs for short, which was a fancy way of saying they babysat the cashiers. Though her family’s financial means–aided by the town’s funding for the royal twins–would have allowed for Springtime to stay home with her offspring, she felt that her job was part of her identity and maintained part-time employment. 

“You need to keep an eye on the lines!” said a chagrined Springtime, resenting the familiarity–not to mention that she had at least ten years on the mare.

“You’re too uptight,” laughed Liv, unconcerned, as she turned back to Tara.

Well, at least the lines were settling down, and Springtime idly studied the break schedule as she considered her co-worker. She and Liv had started working at the store around the same time–but Springtime was a transfer from the Hayton branch, and Liv was a new hire. Why Liv had been promoted directly to a supervisory position was beyond Springtime, as the mare seemed to have no abilities other than standing around gossiping. Actually, if Springtime were being honest, she knew all too well how Liv had gotten promoted–she used her innate charm to dazzle anyone to do her bidding. The managers here were no exception.

“The change fund hasn’t been balanced,” Springtime noted, a bit curtly as Liv sauntered over to the supervisor’s stand. “While I’m doing that, why don’t you do some spot checks?”

Liv pouted, but took the proffered list from Springtime. No one really knew why the accounting office kept issuing these lists of registers to be counted, and nothing seemed to happen if the requests were ignored, but it was something to keep Liv doing work instead of wasting time.

“Springtime, is it lunch time?” asked a rather whiny voice belonging to a nearby cashier named Primrose.

“Not until Maple gets back,” Springtime reported after consulting the break schedule. There were days where it seemed that behaviors at work were no better than what she experienced with her three-month-old twins, whose primary concern was filling their bellies.

“Ugh! She takes two hour lunches,” pouted Primrose, leaning against her register counter.

“It shouldn’t be too much longer,” said Springtime in a pacifying manner. “Now, remember to stand out in front and invite shoppers to your lane.”

“My hoof hurts,” Primrose said, “and Liv said it was okay to stay here.”

“Springtime, I need an override!” This request came from Tara over at the service desk.

Not this guy again, Springtime groaned inwardly as she approached the desk, recognizing the stallion waiting there. “Hello, how can I help?” she asked, mustering cheer as she arrived on the scene.

“These shoes are worn out. I’d like to return them,” the stallion said, gesturing at a quad of muddy horseshoes on the counter. “I have the receipt.”

“It’s from five years ago,” Tara piped-up.

“We do have a ninety day return policy,” Springtime said, kindly but firmly.

“But I have the receipt,” he repeated.

Springtime stifled a sigh. In the past month, this same stallion had returned a used-up roll of tape, a belt worn to shreds, and a microwave that inexplicably reeked of cat urine. She could call up a manager and have them ultimately refund the customer, or she could make the call herself. No one would care. “We’ll make an exception this time.” She nodded at Tara to process the return, and put her initials on the slip that printed. By the time Springtime finished with that, she noticed that the light on lane 3 was blinking, so she headed over.

“The register says these dolls can’t be sold until the ninth,” said Whispering Winds, holding up a pink box and looking at Springtime expectantly, waiting for her to make the problem disappear.

“Come on! They’re on the shelf, and don’t you want the sale?” said the customer, a pink unicorn, in a wheedling tone.

Well, hadn’t management just been harping on everyone at the morning meeting about sales quotas? Springtime shrugged. “Hey… it’s you,” she realized as she inserted her key into the keyhole on the register to override the restriction. “You’re one of the girls from the vet clinic, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” the unicorn–Tabby, wasn’t it–said, looking at her inquisitively.

“We met in the hospital,” Springtime explained. “You were avoiding your ex, that dreamy doctor.”

“Oh… oh!” Realization dawned on her face. “You’re the twins’ mom! How’s that going?”

“Just fine. They’re keeping us very busy,” Springtime said, keeping it simple. No one really wanted to hear about sleepless nights and diaper blowouts.

“Right, right.” Tabby took her bag of purchases and shifted uncomfortably on her hooves. “Well, uh, see you later. Bye,” she said in a rush, then darted off.

With a bemused smile, Springtime watched her go.

* * *

As Liv was counting the contents of the till in the sporting goods department, a dark red mare came up to the counter.

“Excuse me,” the mare said smoothly. “I was wondering if I could get change for a fifty.” She slid a bill across to Liv.

“Sure,” Liv agreed.

“A twenty and three tens, if you don’t mind,” the red mare said with a winning smile. “It’s really nice weather–must be tough to be cooped up in here,” she chattered cheerfully as Liv counted out the bills. “Oh, you know what–could you make that all tens?”

Liv’s guard went up. She recognized a fellow con artist when she met one. She dropped the bills back in the till and “accidentally” bumped the cash drawer closed.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, but it closed and I can’t open it myself,” Liv said sweetly. She had no great loyalty to the job, but she wouldn’t let a fellow swindler pull one over her eyes.

Just the briefest glint of disappointment passed across the red mare’s face. “No problem. I understand,” she said–likely understanding that she had been uncovered and not wishing to press her luck.

Liv kept a surreptitious eye on the mare as she strode off.

“Hey, Liv.” A blue stallion sidled up to Liv as the red mare disappeared around the corner. “How’s it going?”

“Oh… Butch.” Liv schooled her expression into a smile. “Hello.”

“You put on quite a show the other night at Tex’s,” Butch said. “The record companies will be knocking on your door any day now.”

“Indeed,” Liv said with a slight incline of her head. Since Butch had seen to the sisters’ first introduction to local society, she didn’t have a great deal of use for him… still, experience had taught her not to write him off completely.

“Hey,” he added, inching a bit closer, “maybe I could treat you to dinner sometime.”

Well, it was a free meal. “Sure–that would be nice,” Liv agreed.

“Nice seeing you. I’ll let you get back to work.” And with a tip of his hat, he strode off to look at fishing poles.

As Liv was heading back to the front of the store, she caught sight of her sister. “Hey, Liv. Is it time for your lunch break?” Belen asked.

“I’m sure Springtime has things handled,” Liv said, not caring to check, and fell in step with her sister. “How was the interview at the vet clinic?”

“Oh, it was fine; the doctor and his assistant are very nice. I’m sure I’m not what they’re looking for, though,” Belen said honestly.

“I don’t see why not,” Liv said, absentmindedly running a hoof through her mane. “You love animals.”

“So does everypony else. It’s not a job qualification,” Belen pointed out. “For now, waitressing at the SSSS will suffice.”

* * *

Garnet meandered away from the sporting goods counter, not greatly concerned that the con hadn’t gone through. The world was full of opportunities, after all, and this had just been an exercise in entertainment more than anything. Her real goal was elsewhere.

She found her way back to her shopping companion, Fern. The two mares were supply shopping for that evening’s movie night with a select group of friends at Fern’s apartment.

“I got the popcorn and cookies,” said Fern, approaching Garnet with a shopping basket in hoof. “Can you think of anything else we’ll need?”

“Do you have napkins?” Garnet said the first thing that popped into her head.

“Oh–good idea!” Fern said enthusiastically. “Now, I wonder what aisle they’re in…” she meandered off, looking up at the aisle identification signs, and Garnet joined her.

* * *

“Tabitha, dear, how lovely to hear from you!” Agatha’s effusive voice came over the line. Toning down, she added, “How are things with Dr. Fairfax?”

“Fine… look, I know you don’t approve for whatever reasons, but I don’t really care,” said Tabby bluntly.

“Why, Guido was just asking about you the other day,” Agatha continued, unabated.

“Mom, I didn’t call to talk about boys!” Tabby sighed impatiently. “Your old sorority friend, the one with the poofy hair, is she still with Immigration Services?”

“Oh, you mean Linda?” Agatha said with some surprise. “Yes, why do you ask?”

“Well…” Tabby paused, hating to ask for help from her mother, but not having any other recourse. “Do you think she might be able to expedite some paperwork?”

“I’m sure she could take a look. What do you need?” Agatha asked. Tabby briefly explained. “I’m so pleased you came to me,” her mother beamed. “I’ve always wanted you to avail yourself of your connections!”

“You mean, use personal relationships to cheat the system?” Tabby said dryly.

“Oh, I wouldn’t put it quite like that, dear,” said Agatha complacently.

“Right. Well, um, thanks.”