Unemployable Cutie Marks Anonymous

by TheDriderPony

Chapter 1: For Hire: Will Work for Employment

For Hire: Will Work for Employment

A lone mare trotted up the streets of Canterlot to a very plain and boring-looking building. Against the majesty of the rest of the city, this building stuck out like an unsalted cracker on Celestia's cake trolley. She slipped a piece of paper from her pocket and checked the writing against the numbers dispassionately stenciled on the wall.

Yep, this was the place. Canterlot Civil Community Center.

Within its double doors, the inside was just as dull and utilitarian as the outside promised. A meager lobby with uninspiring furniture and a receptionist's booth manned by a hastily scribbled sign. She sighed in relief. No receptionist meant one less pony to talk to. Thankfully there was at least a signboard with directions so she wouldn't have to hunt one down. According to it, down the right hallway were rooms numbered 100 through 199, while down the left hallway were rooms numbered 1 through 99 and eventually was a flight of stairs going up to the second floor. She turned right.

The young mare's hoofsteps echoed along the empty hallway. She fished out her directions again and kept them in hoof, checking against every door as she passed. Most were silent and dark, but a few seemed to be occupied.

"125... 127... 129..." she counted off the door numbers as she went, "Ah, 131. Here it is." Behind this door lied either the answer to her problems or one more stop on the train of embarrassment that was the life of Melody Memory.

"Excuse me?" she interrupted, poking her head in through the door.

"Yes?" A matronly mare asked from the head of a group of ponies.

"Is this the meeting place for..." she checked the slip of paper, "Special Talent Support?"

The mare frowned. "No. You're looking for room 181 down the hall. This is 131, the Anxiety Awareness support group. We have this space reserved for Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"Wait, are we sure this is the right room?" a stallion among the group nervously asked. "Who was in charge of the booking? It wasn't my week was it?"

"Oh dear," a mare added, "what if it is, but we're just here at the wrong time?" She scrambled for her saddlebag. "Is it actually 5:00? Where's my clock, I need to check my clock!"

"Are we even sure it's the right day?" Yet another stallion exclaimed, "I had the lunch shift at work today. Do I have that on Tuesdays or Wednesdays? Oh sweet Celestia, I'm not sure!"

"What year is it?!"

Melody closed the door as quietly and discreetly as she could as the room continued to descend into utter pandemonium despite the counselor's best efforts. That was certainly not an encouraging way to kick off her first visit.

She continued down the undecorated hallway until she reached door number 181. She checked the address on her paper one last time and grunted in irritation as she noticed that a part of the 8 had actually been smudged away. So the mistake wasn't her fault. Essentially.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts, the action allowing a sprig of muted chartreuse mane to escape her ponytail. Was this really a good idea? Anything further from this point would involve admitting her... problem to more ponies than just her therapist. Did she really want to take that step? On the other hoof, if this group was everything Dr. Slip had said, then she might finally be able to meet ponies who could relate to her peculiar circumstances.

Well, she'd already embarrassed herself once today. How much worse could things get?

"Excuse me?" She nosed the door open slightly. "Is this the-"

"Ah! You must be Melodious!" the voice of an older mare suddenly interrupted her. "Come in, come in. I've been expecting you."

The room was just about as bland as one could design a room to be. A few plain, unadorned cinder block walls, thickly painted white. A general-purpose storage cabinet in the back alongside a few stacks of collapsible chairs and tables. A few of the chairs were set up in a loose ring in the center of the room in which sat five ponies, with an extra three chairs unoccupied.

The one who had spoken was an older earth pony with her greying mane tied up in a bun. She smiled warmly at Melody, clearly the leader of the group. "I'm Dr. Guiding Light. My friend Dr. Slip said you might be joining us this evening. Please, take any seat you'd like."

Ah. So that was how the mare knew who she was. Dr, Slip had told her already. Which meant he'd probably already told the new doctor about her case as well. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality.

But there was nothing to be done about it now, so she could only make the best of the situation. She smiled, as best she could overtop her bundle of nerves, and took the vacant seat between Dr. Light and a young stallion in a very fancy red and gold jacket.

An awkward silence filled the room, poured a cup of tea, and made itself thoroughly comfortable. Judging by the looks on everypony's faces, she'd walked right into the middle of a conversation and no one was comfortable picking the topic back up with a new and unfamiliar face present. Melody took the time to take a good look at the other ponies.

To her immediate left sat Guiding Light. From what Slip had told her, she was a retired psychologist who still helped out ponies with peculiar problems in her free time. Such as starting and leading this support group.

To her right was a pegasus youth barely old enough to be called an adult. His blueberry coat was almost fully covered by his jacket; a fine red thing covered in golden tassels and cords. He was tall and wiry with more leg than he really knew what to do with. Beyond him was the first empty seat.

An older pegasus sat across from Guiding Light. He seemed about her age, maybe a little younger, with only a few streaks of grey in his mane. He wore a brown tweed jacket, which pleasantly offset his grey eyes and distracted from his receding mane. He had the kind of face that reminded ponies of a somber uncle, probably one on their mother's side.

Next to him sat the kind of stallion that teen mares doodled pictures of in the margins of their highschool notebooks. He was broad and muscular and wouldn't have looked out of place in the royal guard, especially with his three-shades-of-cream-away-from-pure-white coat. His mane was long, so navy it was almost black, and moved like a living advertisement for conditioner. Oddly, he seemed the most nervous about her and refused to meet her gaze.

Beyond him was the second empty chair.

The final seat (to Guiding Light's left) was occupied by an earth pony who looked like she'd woken up on the wrong side of the bed three years ago and never fully recovered. Going by expression alone, if "irritability" or "peevishness" were Elements of Harmony, then she would have been a first draft pick. Seeing as how they were not, however, this left the golden-coated mare seeming somewhat perpetually disgruntled. From her glare, Melody assumed she had been the one talking before she'd had entered the room.

Guiding Light clapped her hooves suddenly, shattering the silence. "Well then, let me be the first to welcome you to our little group: Special Talent Support."

"Pfft. Are you still calling it that?" The grumpy mare asked with a roll of her eyes. "I thought we changed the name ages ago."

Guiding glanced at Melody while chuckling awkwardly. "Yes, while we do call it that other name in private and in jest, I still believe that our group's official registered name shines a somewhat more positive light on the subject matter, and our group as a whole. This is a positive place, remember?"

That earned her another eye roll. "Yeah, yeah. Hey," she turned her attention to the newcomer. "What'd you say your name was again?"

"I, ah, didn't yet, actually," Melody replied, a little unsteady from having been put in the spotlight so suddenly. "But it's Melodious. Melodious Memory. But most ponies just call me Melody."

"Well Melody," she spread her hooves in a grand sweeping gesture, "Welcome to the 'Unemployable Cutie Marks Society'."

A groan chorused through the room. "I thought we'd put that name to bed for good," someone groused.

Melody, however, took interest in it. Was that right? Could there really be this many ponies in the same boat as her? Bolstered by a hint of courage, there was only one way to find out.

"So, you all have special talents that no one will hire?"

"That would be the general gist of it, yes." The older stallion answered. "There's some case-by-case variation, of course, but the end result of not having a job is, effectively, the same between us all."

"On that note," Guiding Light redirected, "Now would be a perfect time for a round of introductions. Melody, as our guest, would you prefer to go first or last?"

"Ah, fir-" A sudden wave of nerves overtook her. Even if these other ponies had similar circumstances, she still had no idea to what degree they were similar. What if they were all so terribly unfortunate and downtrodden that her own problems sounded whiny and inconsequential by comparison? No, better to get a clearer picture of the room first. "Last. Please."

Guiding Light smiled understandingly. "That's perfectly alright. You can take your time to get ready. I know it's hard to open up about your problems to a group of strangers." She turned to the mare on her left. "Night? Would you care to start us off?"

"Not really," she huffed.

"You don't have to go into detail if you don't want to," Guiding coaxed. "Just your name and a little about your special talent."

"...Fine. Name's Silent Night and I can sleep anywhere," the mare fired off quickly and curtly. "There. I did my bit. Let's move on."

"Night," Guiding said slowly, "what have we said about being dismissive towards things you don't like to talk about?"

"That's it's not productive, yeah I know," she grumbled. "Fine then. My special talent is sleeping. I'm very good at it. Close my eyes for a few minutes and I'm guaranteed a good night's rest." She crossed her forelegs and glared at Melody. "And we've got a tradition here with newbies. Now it's your turn to tell me how I'm supposed to make a career out of that."

Melody froze, not prepared to have the tables turned on her and be suddenly put on the spot like that. Nervous, she blurted the first thing that came to her mind.

"Pillow tester?"

Night rolled her eyes, clearly a favorite habit of hers. "Oh wow, that's totally the first time anypony's ever suggested that. Even better than mattress tester. Great feedback I could give: 'Yes, I slept on it and it was fine.'" She snorted. "Featherbed, cheap foam mattress, a slab of rock on a moving cart; they're all the same to me."

Despite her initial reluctance, Silent Night apparently had quite a bit to say on the topic. "I've tried promoting insomnia pills and energy drinks. I've tried participating in scientific studies that need you to sleep for long periods with wires attached. The only thing I've really had much success in has been renting myself out to hold ponies' places in line, and that's a seasonal gig at best."

Melody's eyes widened as she took in Night's long litany of ways she had failed to utilize her talent to make a career. "I never realized having such a simple sounding special talent could cause so much trouble."

Night narrowed her eyes. "You calling my talent simple?"

"What? No, I-"

"Oh, you bet she is!" A new voice called from outside the circle. "Both it and you! You're only so good at sleeping because you don't have any complex thoughts to keep you up!"

Melody's ears flicked this way and that as she tried to pinpoint the source of the voice. After a moment she discovered the easier route of following everypony else's gaze toward a small table she hadn't noticed at the back of the room. Behind it, standing on a chair, was a small foal failing to suppress a mischevious smirk.

"...who left this sassy foal here?"

Guiding Light coughed. "Ah, that would be Berry Pinch. She's, well, her father's an old friend and there are special circumstances involved-"

"Pops has custody Wednesdays," the pinkish foal interrupted, "but he also has his AA meeting down the hall, so I hang out here. Plus I got just as much reason to fit in here as the rest of you. You want a drink?"

"I- Sure?" Melody offered lamely. "What do you have?"

"Don't worry about it. I know what you need."

This seemed a little odd, but then she noticed that everypony else already had a small disposable cup and was nodding that she should agree. "O-kay then."

The foal turned back to her table, which Melody now realized was more like a very crude bar. There were several brands and flavors of cola as well as a couple of different fruits, ice, and makeshift tools. As the filly got to work, Melody launched into the question that had been sitting in her mind.

"So, Berry-"

"Call me Pinch. Berry's my Mom's name."

"Okay, Pinch then. What did you mean by saying that you have as much reason to fit in here as anyone?"

Pinch turned on a small hotplate and placed a can of orange soda over it. "Oh, guess it's time for my sad sob story then? No objections? Alright."

"Like all these other unemployed bums, I can't get a job based on my cutie mark. And no, I am not too young for a job. I got my cutie mark last year."

She edged around the table and poked her flank out. Amidst the lavender fur was a silver tube surrounded by various sliced fruits and ice cubes. "Mixology," she explained. "Mom owns the tavern and brewery down the mountain in Ponyville. I've been helping her mix, brew, distill, and ferment every kind of drink under the sun since I was big enough to walk. She let me help at the bar, and I picked up a knack for knowing what kind of drink a certain pony's gonna like."

She cracked another type of cola open and squeezed something into it. "Once I got my cutie mark, I got even better. I can take one look at a pony and know exactly what the best drink for them would be based on what ingredients I have. I've been voted the tavern's favorite barkeep seven months in a row now."

Pinch sighed. "But it's not a real job, not when you're just helping at the place your mom owns. I wanted to go big, so I tried to get a part-time job here in Canterlot for when it's my dad's days." She slammed a hoof on the table, making all the bottles jump and wobble. "That's when I found out that some noble, way back three hundred years ago, made a law that you have to be at least twenty-one to even work with alcohol! Twenty-one!"

Her hoof slammed the tabletop again. "I have a cutie mark. That makes me an adult! But the most anypony here'll even let me touch is cider, the stuff that couldn't get a baby tipsy. No one cares how talented I am, or how I have more practical experience than their current bartenders, or how I can make a passable Cloudsdale Shooter with only vodka, liquid rainbow, and a coffee filter! All they see is my age."

She slammed a cup on the counter, poured two other cups into it, and sent it sailing forward into Melody's startled grip with her magic. "Now drink this and tell me it's not the best thing you've ever had."

Melody took the drink with a small note of reluctance. True, the filly had just gone on, at length, about her extensive skills. Also true that everypony else seemed to be enjoying her concoctions. But still, she couldn't quite shake the idea that this was a bunch of random and unknowable liquids boiled, shaken, and stirred by a filly she only met only minutes ago. She took the smallest possible sip, ready to discreetly spit it back out if it was terrible.

Instead, her eyes lit up as smooth and tangy flavors caressed her senses. "This... this is fantastic!"

Pinch smiled knowingly. "Orange screwdriver. Or as close as I could get with no vodka and reduced orange cola for CuraƧao. You're welcome."

"Alright, with Pinch done I suppose the next for introductions would be-"

"Me." The large and handsome stallion said suddenly.

Guiding Light looked concerned. "Lucky... One of us can summarize your situation if you want. I know it's still a recent wound for you."

He shook his head, making his mane wave like a banner. "No. I will tell. Will be helpful to me to tell it more."

Lucky, as Guiding Light had called him, had a curious accent. His thick vowels seemed oddly enunciated and the sounds of a few letters seemed swapped or exaggerated. Melody had never met a Yak, but she'd heard one in passing once. Lucky sounded like a Yak who knew proper grammar. He cleared his throat with a sip of his drink and started.

"Nice to be meeting you. I am Lucky Die. Before I tell you why I cannot get job, you should be knowing something. I am... not from here." A sadness entered his voice as he continued. "Home is... gone now, but telling you may help understand. When I was colt, I lived in what you call 'Old Stalliongrad'. But to us, was just Stalliongrad. It was cold and we were small, but we got by. My papa, he traded goods with Yak settlements over mountain, and I was village prognosticator. One day, Papa fell ill, so I made his delivery for him. To Crystal Empire."

"To what?" Melody accidentally blurted in surprise, before she blushed in embarrassment. "Sorry."

He waved off her worry. "Is fine. I am being used to such reaction. But yes, even under tyrant ponies need to buy goods from outside. While I was in city, Sombra cast curse that sealed whole city, including me, away."

His shoulders sagged as he continued. "The next thing I was knowing, I am in time where no pony needs prognosticator anymore. No need to predict weather when pegasi make plans weeks ahead. There is unicorn-magic spell to predict foals. And food is so plentiful that nopony worry for planting in poor land. I am... what is modern word? Obsolete."

Melody nodded in sympathy. It was a far cry from her own situation, but despite some lingering questions, she could see parallels. It reminded her of her grandfather. Forty years of experience hauling cargo carts hadn't meant much to ponies hiring young stallions to pull their trains. That aside, these were some things that needed clearing up. "I don't mean to interrupt, but what's a prognosticator?"

Lucky Die turned to the group leader for direction. "Should I stop? Explain talent?"

Guiding Light nodded. "It's your story, Lucky. Deliver it however you feel most comfortable."

He turned back to Melody and continued. "My talent is letting me know the outcome of something if I know everything about it's... it's... what is modern word... it's initial conditions."

"I... don't think I follow," Melody apologized.

"Back home, we would say I could predict future."

"Do the die thing!" Pinch interrupted suddenly. "Everypony gets that."

Lucky paused, but nodded and retrieved a die from within his mane. He offered it to Melody. "Roll and you will see."

Curious, she took the die and gave it a casual toss. The instant it left her hoof, Lucky spoke. "Five." Sure enough, after bouncing off a chair leg and spinning on point, the die came up five.

"Again," he instructed.

And so she did. A second roll. A third. A fourth, fifth, and sixth roll. Each one Lucky predicted perfectly the instant the die became airborne. Practicality aside, it was an impressive display.

"Once it leaves your hoof," he explained, "I know speed, spin, everything, and know how it will end up."

"That's amazing!" Melody exclaimed, her imagination running wild with childish ideas of the applications of such a skill. How could a stallion with a talent, no, a gift like this need to be in a support group? "Why haven't you taken this to Las Pegasus?"

Somepony swore under their breath and another chuckled. Bits discreetly changed hooves out of the corner of her eye.

"You are not first to suggest this," he replied with a small smile, "and I tried, but it is seeming like games were made with my kind in mind. I can tell I have lost slot machine before spinning stops, and you cannot bet on roulette after ball has been dropped. Ponies lie and bluff with cards, so I know nothing."

"Oh..." Melody didn't have a proper response to that. She mentally chastised herself. Of course somepony would have suggested that before, gambling would be the most obvious suggestion to somepony who can apparently predict the future. She was just as bad as the ponies who kept suggesting the same career to her over and over again. In fact, it seemed that every time she had opened her mouth thus far, she'd said something unhelpfully obvious.

"I suppose I would be next then," The older stallion's voice filled the empty air as he cleared his throat.

"Oh boy, here he goes again," muttered Night, which earned her a sharp look from Guiding Light.

"Thirty years," he began in a tone that sounded practiced. "Thirty years of my life I spent studying the stars. Recording their size and luminosity. Mapping their paths and trajectories. Theorizing about their composition based on color and spin. Thirty years of careful, painstaking, devoted effort."

He scowled. "And then that infernal Princess Luna showed up."

He spat her name like it was poison, with the vitriol usually reserved for well-known criminals who got off scot-free thanks to a clerical error.

"My life was perfect until she showed up." The aged stallion adopted a mocking falsetto. "This star, which thou dost calleth Lapin-4, one of middling brightness in the southern sky? Nay, the stars be-eth my domain, yon knave. We decree its name hence to be Archer and it shall be the brightest of lights in the east for this fortnight."

His ears flattened against his scalp as the mocking energy left him. "What is the point in charting the heavens if they can be changed on a single pony's whims? You might as well hire somepony to chart the location of fireflies or water skimmers for all the lasting good it will do you."

Lucky Die leaned over and gave the distraught stallion a tender pat on the back. He sniffed back his overflowing emotions and regained his composure. "I apologize for my behavior. It is a... rather difficult subject for me."

"It's alright Cosmic Dust," Guiding eased. "You're in a safe space. Everypony here can relate in one way or another, right?"

There were nods and murmurs of general agreement.

"Yes, I know we are not alone in this situation. Myself especially; nearly half the staff at my old observatory has been let go since the princess returned."

There was a moment of somber silence.

"On a brighter note, I have some good news, actually," the stallion dressed in red and gold finery announced. "As you can probably tell from my uniform, I finally got a job!"

Congratulations and light applause poured from the collected group. Once it died down, Guiding Light cleared her throat. "That's wonderful, Drizzle! I knew you could do it!"

Drizzle smiled. "Thanks! Since our last meeting, I got hired as a bellcolt at the Waldorf Horstoria. They even gave me this fancy uniform."

Melody clapped along with them, though not without a note of regret. In the place she'd hoped to find camaraderie with others who couldn't get a job, someone there had already found one. But it wasn't going to do her any good to dwell on it. "So what is your special talent then? Something to do with bags or maybe speedy deliveries?"

"Well, actually no, my special talent is for umbrella repair." He lifted one of the tasseled tails of his uniform, revealing a cutie mark of an umbrella with the canopy inverted. "And the hotel does have a number of umbrellas in storage that they keep in case a guest needs one, so sometimes I repair those during the slower shifts." He smiled proudly. "By my estimations, I can save the hotel almost thirty bits a year by repairing them myself instead of replacing them."

Melody forced the smile to stay fixed on her face. "That's... good," she said, not wanting to dampen the chipper young stallion's mood. Considering the Waldorf was one of the most high-class hotels in Canterlot, thirty bits was probably about enough for the cheapest item in their minibars. But, a job was a job, and he was getting to use his talent, if a bit ineffectively.

She was snapped out of her thoughts by a subtle touch on the shoulder from Guiding Light. "Well my dear, I believe that brings us to you if you would give us the pleasure of getting to know you."

Here it was. Melody was glad she was sitting down, otherwise she feared her nerves might just shut down her legs.

"Ah, okay. Right." She took a deep breath. They'd all told their stories so it was too late for her to back out now. She just needed to imagine she was somewhere else. Like a session with Dr. Slip. He was easy to talk to. She could do it if she pretended it was just him. "My name is Melodious Memory, and I have a talent for remembering music."

There was a pause as she collected her thoughts, before she was suddenly interrupted. "Is that it?"

"Night!" Guiding Light scolded.

"What?" the mare rebuked. "She's good with music? That's not an unemployable skill. Like, ten percent of ponies have a music talent. Just go be a singer or something."

Melody took a deep breath. She couldn't falter here. She just had to remember; she'd heard it all before. Every possible snide comment or insistent suggestion that she just wasn't applying herself. Now was the time to address the excuses that others heaped on her. "Yes. You're right. It is a common talent. And that's exactly my problem. There are a lot of ponies with a talent for music and because of that, only the best of the best get to make a career out of it. Other ponies have a knack for singing or one instrument in particular, but my talent is different. I'm only good at remembering music. Play it for me once, and I can recite it back to you, word for word, note for note. But ask me to sing it or play it?" She shook her head. "I'm no better than anypony else."

Silent Night's expression gave Melody a strange sense of satisfaction. It landed somewhere between shock and sudden realization that she'd just done to Melody exactly what everypony had always done to her. "Well," she started as a blush crept across her cheeks, "I sure put my hoof in my mouth there."

"No more than usual," Pinch snapped back.

"I agree with Pinch," Cosmic added solemnly. "That was harsh, even for you."

Lucky Die and Drizzle nodded in agreement.

"Ugh, fine, I get it." Silent Night turned back to Melody and turned her expression down a few notches. "I'm sorry. You're here for the same reason we are and have probably been through the same kind of treatment as the rest of us. Ponies telling you what you should do, not listening to why that doesn't work, and blaming you for not being proactive enough in looking for a job. So... sorry."

It was poorly delivered, but Melody could tell she was being sincere in her own way.

"No, it's alright. I get it." She smiled. It was... odd, but what was undeniably true was that this mare, no, all of the ponies here had been through the same things she had. Maybe not in quite the same way or under the exact same circumstances, but that didn't matter. Besides, it was time to turn the tables on the mare. "So then. Now that I've done my part, do you also have to try and suggest jobs for me?"

"Shoot, we forgot to keep up with that after she did Lucky," Pinch quietly cursed. "I missed so many potential snappy comebacks."

"I... uh..." Silent Night looked around the room for support. Much to her dismay, she found only grim smiles.

"Sorry Night," Cosmic Dust chuckled. "You did bring up that old tradition."

Eventually, Night laughed a little as well. "Yeah, alright. You got me. Let's see..." She leaned back in her chair, balancing it on two legs. "So you're only good at memorizing music, right?"


"Nothing special with singing or playing."

Melody nodded.

"Hm. Yeah, that is a toughie. I guess you could make copies of music for like, sheet music publishers or something."

Nice try, but too late. "They have a spell for that. Makes hundreds of perfect copies in a second."

"Really? Huh, who knew?" Night leaned back a little too far and nearly fell out of her chair, saved only by a few sudden flaps of her forelegs.

"You could transcribe music for composers," Cosmic Dust offered. "Listen as they riff and freestyle, then note it down for them."

"Not really a position ponies hire for," Melody corrected. Not that she hadn't tried almost exactly that. Her musical family had pulled every contact they had in the industry to try and find something that would fit. If they couldn't do it in three years, she doubted this group would in three minutes. "Besides, most composers that good can remember their own music, and even then there are audio recording spells."

"Well, I'm stumped!" Silent Night finally abandoned her balancing act and let the chair topple over as she used the momentum to launch herself forward. She landed right in front of Melody, hoof outstretched. "Looks like you're one of us after all: completely unemployable." Melody returned the shake with a small smile.

"Hey uh... I do have a job now, just... so you know." Drizzle cut in awkwardly.

"And I don't think any less of you for it," Night smirked back, completely straightfaced. "Hey, c'mere." Melody found herself suddenly pulled into a one-legged embrace. What was this new side of Silent Night? Where had the grumpiness gone?

"A toast!" she declared, "to our newest member. We may not have jobs, but at least we made a friend along the way!"

"Here, here!" the rest chorused out, each raising their plastic cups high before drinking as one.

"Strange," Cosmic Dust murmured under his breath, "Night doesn't usually get this supportive unless..." He sniffed subtly in the direction of her cup. "Night, do you have alcohol?"

The mare grinned and took a long pull. "It's medicinal."

Suddenly Pinch was at the center of their group, inhaling deeply. "It's bourbon! Gimmie! I can make us Old Fashioneds!" She kicked Night in the shin. "Also, don't mess with my recipes by adding extra ingredients."

Guiding Light glared across the room with the intensity of an incensed librarian. "Silent Night don't you dare give that filly alcohol. This is a government-owned building. And you remember what happened last time."

"But Dr. Guiding Light," Pinch's usually sarcastic tone took a sharp turn for sweet and innocent. "Didn't you say that I should keep practicing my special talent, so when the opportunity comes for a job I'll be ready?"

The doctor faltered. "Well, yes, but..."

"Yeah," Night joined in. She was unable to pull off sweet and innocent, but she tried anyway. "You wouldn't want to stunt a filly's chances at success in life. What if she grows up and turns out like the rest of us?"

"I feel I should take offense to that," Cosmic Dust commented, "But I suppose I could be placated with one of those aforementioned Old Fashioneds."

"Cosmic, not you too," Guiding Light moaned. "You're supposed to be on my side here. Help me keep these rebellious young ponies in check."

"Technically," Lucky's rumbling voice cut in, "I am oldest of all of you. And I, for one, would like proper drink. No offense, Pinch."

She waved it off. "Oh none taken, I'm with you on this. Now lemme have it, Night, or I'm going on strike."

"You need a job to go on strike," Light pointed out.

"Then I'm already one step ahead of the game!"

Amid the laughter that followed, Melody considered the strange, strange ponies before her.

They were an unusual and rowdy group. Sometimes quiet and reflective, other times loud and energetic. A group to discuss her troubles with, but also to help her forget them for a while. Certainly nothing like her dry discussions with Dr. Slip, and even less like the more traditional younger-pony-oriented job-hunting groups she had joined before. She smiled as Pinch cracked another wisecrack at Night's expense, and Lucky told Drizzle the exact odds of Guiding Light caving to the group's opinion. Despite her earlier misgivings, this place held a unique charm that she hadn't seen before. Maybe, just maybe, this group was just what she'd been looking for after all.

And for once, no one had asked her to prove that she couldn't sing.

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