Princess Iridescence’s eyes fluttered open as the morning sun warmed her cheeks. She yawned, and her mandibles extended outside of her mouth, clicking softly. Eerie leaned over the cocoa-colored stallion whose messy bed they shared.
“Hey you,” she purred, rubbing his shoulder with her hoof. Cuppa Joe opened his eyes and smiled at his best friend. He squinted into the sunlight, and his smile quickly turned to confusion. Sunlight? No, that wasn’t right. He was always awake before sunrise. He turned to his nightstand quickly.
“What happened to my alarm clo-“
The cord to his digital clock had been cleanly severed into two pieces. Joe rolled over and glared at the mare in his bed, who was stretching and smiling wickedly. Her pointed teeth glinted in the sun.
Cuppa Joe groaned and brought a hoof to his muzzle.
“I’ve completely missed the morning rush! What are all of my regulars going to think? This is just great.” He flopped back onto his pillow and sighed. Seconds later his emerald eyes opened just enough to glare at the sultry alicorn.
“You know, I would have opened on time if a certain bug-butt princess hadn’t come knocking on my door late last night, just begging me to-“
“Oh, Joeeeey.” Iridescence drew out the last syllable of his name and nuzzled his ear playfully. “Your princess was in need. Denying me your company is practically treason.” She drew her long tongue up the length of his neck and leaned in to kiss him, but he turned away at the last moment. His eyebrows knit together and he looked out the window, mumbling to himself. Irie knew that expression. It was how he looked late at night when pouring over the day’s paperwork, budgeting, and allocating funds. He was calculating.
Iridescence felt a pang of guilt. It occurred to her that her actions may not have been as harmless as she’d thought. After all, Joe wasn’t royalty. Where her work was more of a forced responsibility, his was how he made ends meet. Her expression hardened and she stood. She did not like to see her closest friend suffering, especially when it was her fault.
“Well, the shop isn’t going to open itself. Come on, you’ve just hired your first employee. For the day at least.” Joe rolled over and eyed her up and down.
“You sure about that? You’re gonna help me run the shop?”
She exhaled sharply and raised her chin, “It’s the least I can do.”
Joe rose out of bed. “Well alright then.” He checked the clock on the mantelpiece. “8 am. I can still catch some of the late risers if we move quickly.”
His horn glowed and his messy caramel hair was pulled back into a tight bun. Eerie did the same to her own tangled mane and followed the stallion downstairs to the restaurant. Suddenly, everything in the coffee shop was flying. Joe’s magic glowed and chairs spun off tables and slid neatly into their spots. Water flowing from the faucet was wrapped in his emerald magic, transported through the air and distributed into the tanks of the barista machines on the counter. He tied his own apron swiftly around himself and levitated a couple of burlap sacks.
“Get dressed. There’s an extra apron on my chair in the back. I’ll need you to make the pastries.”
Eerie galloped through the kitchen’s double doors, narrowly avoiding the different varieties of coffee beans that paraded by her head. She found the apron and put it on, then exited the kitchen just in time to see the first customers come through the door. And so, the day began.
Three hours later the rush died down. Eerie flopped against the counter, flour in her hair and jam smeared in her fur. Cuppa Joe leaned on the counter next to her and offered her a coffee. Eerie gratefully dipped her tongue into it, drawing some of the robust liquid into her mouth. Joe took a sip as well. It had been a strange day, Joe had said. Usually, the flow of customers was strong from 5 to 9 and tapered off until afternoon. However, today customers had come in at a normal pace and hadn't stopped.
Another pony entered the shop, and Eerie went to fetch the latest batch of cherry danishes from the oven. She was just bringing them out to the display case when she locked eyes with the earth pony ordering coffee at the cash register. He gasped. She chuckled as she poured his coffee; it was common for ponies to be shocked when they saw a princess out and about. As she floated his coffee to him, the earth pony leaned forward, bracing himself against the counter.
His anxiety tasted metallic in her mouth. Concerned, she met his gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he spoke in a hushed tone and looked down at the floor, then gently raised a hoof to touch her own. “I had no idea the kingdom had fallen on such hard times.”
Eerie’s brow furrowed. What in Tartarus was he talking about? Suddenly it made sense. She was merely helping out a friend, but other ponies saw their princess being forced to work a commoner’s job in a dowdy apron. Why was she here? Was the princess in such dire straits she was forced to take on a barista job? The stream of customers hadn’t stopped because they had to come see it for themselves. Eerie found it amusing.
She looked at the floor and spoke softly, avoiding the earth pony’s eyes.
“Well, we must all do our part. Your patronage is sincerely appreciated, sir.” The earth pony nodded solemnly and picked up his coffee. As she turned her back she heard a couple of bits clink into the ‘TIPS’ jar and he exited the store. Cuppa Joe snorted and levitated a freshly washed coffee cup and dish rag.
“As much as I appreciate the added business and your… aptitude at getting me tips, I’m going to have to request that you don’t willfully let my customers think the Equestrian government is crumbling.”
Iridescence had just stuck her tongue out at Joe when a familiar feathery family member entered the shop with a scowl on their face. Eerie’s big cousin sighed.
“How did we know we’d find you here?”
“Hey, Artemis. How’ve you been? Want some coffee?”
Artemis shook their head and narrowed their eyes accusingly.
“Auntie Tia has had us searching high and low for thou! Thou were supposed to preside over court this morning.” He spoke sternly, punctuating his statement with a stamp of his hoof.
The ponies in the shop were sipping their coffee with fascinated delight. Two royal heirs in the same day? Regal drama? This was scandalous! Artemis leaned forward and hissed,
"Ponies are talking, and you’re concerning the citizens and lowering morale.”
Eeire untied her apron and trotted around the counter. Artemis, looking uneasy with the eyes of so many ponies upon them, wrapped their wing around their cousin and ushered her toward the door.
“Well I gotta go, my royal babysitter’s here.”
“Thou NEEDS a royal babysitter.”
“Bye Joey! See you tonight!”
Artemis squawked in indignation and scooted the bug princess out the door with a swoop of their wing. The ponies in the shop tittered and stared at both the royal cousins and the coffee shop owner. As the pair departed, he caught one more sentence before their arguing became muffled by the glass.
“We swear, thou art becoming worse than Pandora by the day!”
Cuppa Joe smiled and shook his head as he finished drying a coffee cup. You never knew what was going to happen with Miss Iridescence. She certainly was an extraordinary mare. Then he remembered his alarm clock, whose life had been cut short by the sharp teeth of the cruel mistress. He sighed. She'd better fix that.