My Little Pony Monthly Issue 80 (November 1, 2003)
My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages
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To Contact Authors: http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
3. Ghost Stories (by Clever Clover)
4. Sugarberry's Magic Berry Pie (by Steamer)
5. The Ring (by Clever Clover)
6. The Time is Now (by Sugarberry)
7. Silent are the Bells Chapters 13-15 (by Sugarberry)
Hoorah! Check out our list of winners from last month!
Sweet Tooth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Violet Star Shine (email@example.com)
Catrina’s original slaves were the Bushwoolies. At least as far as we know. Maybe she had other slaves before them...? But anyway. The Bushwoolies were liberated when Friendly– or at least a lavender Bushwoolie whose color matches Friendly’s in The Quest of the Princess Ponies, so I like to say it’s Friendly– stood up for the rights of his fellow Bushwoolies and initiated their revolt. Friendly is quite the revolutionary! Of course, as Sweet Tooth observed, now the Bushwoolies are “enslaved by the Princess Ponies”... heh-heh. Rumor has it Friendly might have another uprising in the works. Watch out, ponies! You don’t want to tick off Friendly. In fact, he might tell us more about his revolutionary escapades if he fails to find an employer after graduating this year. Hmm, very interesting...
Anyway, moving onto other matters... as usual, all ponies listed above received their webpage graphic prize for participating. But, last month we initiated something new. My Little Pony Monthly is getting high-class and offering real, physical prizes! So, all of those names were thrown into a hat– only figuratively speaking; it was actually just my hand– and one lucky pony was chosen to receive a bottle of Nailwear Nail Enamel in the shade of Cherry Jubilee. Now, WHO WAS OUR LUCKY WINNER?!?! DRUMROLL PLEASE!
BJ! BJ is our winner!! Let’s hear it for her!!!
Now, let me dip into my mystic box of pony-named AVON products again and see what you have a chance at this month... ah, it looks like we have another nail enamel up next. Not only does it have a pony namesake, it also works very well with the winter month of December! Our lucky winner for this month (if the winner should be a girl; guys, read below for your prize!) will receive a bottle of AVON Speed Dry nail enamel named “Snowflake”. It’s all white and shimmery and pretty! Don’t miss your opportunity to have a chance at this!
Alas, we weren’t able to secure a bottle of the Wild Country talc we promised for you guys last month. Sugarberry and I were both justly outraged that AVON had discontinued such a staple item. So instead we have this lovely soap-on-a-rope in the Wild Country scent. That’s a fun word. Wheeeee....
All right, here’s the question you have to answer for a chance at one of these lovely prizes! (By the way, you can look up the answer in outside sources. I don’t mind.)
What is the name of Miss Hackney’s old beau (he appeared in the My Little Pony Tales episode “Up, Up, and Away”)?
Tell me the answer by e-mailing TabbyMLP@aol.com or entering through the form at
THE RULES! *ANYONE* can enter. That means anyone as in anyone. Even if you’ve already participated in the past you can enter; in fact, I encourage you to do so. You don’t even have to be a subscriber of MLP Monthly in order to enter. But if you’re not a subscriber you’re probably not even reading this. ^.~
However, now that we’ve introduced *real* prizes, we will be putting a limit on how many times you can be entered in the drawing for that. If you’ve already been selected to win one of our prizes in the past you can’t be entered again– BUT, you can still participate and get your webpage graphic! So just because you’ve won something in the past doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun at all with our contests anymore. And, of course, if eventually all contest participants are ones that have won a prize, it’s fair game for everybody again!
On the contest form at http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm, you will be able to select your gender so we’ll be able to determine which prize you get. Or, if you’d prefer to be opted out of the prize drawing, you can select that on the form as well. You’ll still get your webpage graphic, however.
Four survey entries, pretty good! We can do better, but... pretty good! You told us if you wanted the ads section back in MLP Monthly...
Baby Dibbles (Amsofct@aol.com) says...
YES YES YES!!! i used to love browsing the ads until they were no longer there!!!! : P
Jaye (firstname.lastname@example.org) says...
Sure, why not? It might be another great way to connect with other MLP lovers. :-)
Pika-Chan (email@example.com) says...
The newsletter did that before, didn't it? If I remember correctly, it got pretty long, too! I wouldn't mind seeing the want ads again, but I would suggest that it should be put together as a separate email from the Newsletter and perhaps sent out only to those who want it. Something like that might cut down on time and space, I hope!
Violet Star Shine (firstname.lastname@example.org) says...
So that means... yeah, let’s try it again! Send in your My Little Pony want/sale/trade ads for inclusion in the next issue. I’ll send the ads section as an e-mail separate from the rest of the newsletter so you can ignore it if you want. ^.~ Everyone’s welcome to submit an ad, even non-subscribers, so tell your friends about it, too!
And now we have another survey question to answer!
What does your family think of your pony-collecting hobby?
The URL is:
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)
Nightshade, the dark swordpony, carried a bowl of hot soup to her brother. Since Zotikos, the ghost from Atlantis, had left him, Hemlock had been bedridden. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with him and Jack O Lantern’s magic had done nothing for him. Nightshade knocked on her brother’s door and slowly opened it. “Are you awake, brother?”
“Of course, sister. Though the ghost has left me, his memories still haunt me.”
“I brought some soup.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Nightshade sat down next to her brother’s bed. “You need to eat, to keep your strength up.”
Hemlock forced a weak smile. “It is nice to know someone still cares about me.”
“I’m sorry I let Zotikos posses you like that.”
“You couldn’t have known, sister. Not even Jack O Lantern was aware of him. Sister, has the Night Clan lost its path? Our father’s vision was an independent Night Clan; then Jack O Lantern came and led us into a war with the Isle, and now Zotikos seeks to make us subjects of Atlantis again.”
“Our people will never be free as long as the king of the Isle claims to rule all seven clans. As for Zotikos, he used us; so for now, I will use him. Do not worry, brother; though Zotikos’ path is not ours, our path for the Night Clan is our own.”
“I hope you are right, sister.”
“Now, brother, you should eat and sleep.”
“Very well, I will eat. But I still cannot sleep.”
Hemlock finished his soup and Nightshade took the bowl. Outside his room, Lady Sea- Snake was waiting. “How is your brother doing?”
“What business is it of yours?”
“We are a team, now. Is it wrong to be concerned for a teammate?”
“Who are you? Of all the prisoners I released, you are the only one who has done nothing to prove their worth and yet you are the only one who is eager to serve. What are you up to?”
“You fear me, don’t you? Because I don’t use magic, you have no special advantage over me.”
Nightshade dropped the bowl, which shattered on the stone floor, and drew her sword. “I fear no one!”
“We shall have to spar some time. I look forward to brushing up on my fencing.” Lady Sea-Snake turned and walked away.
Nightshade sheathed her sword and gathered up the pieces of the bowl. Shortly, she encountered Jack O Lantern. “What do you want?”
“Has your brother’s condition improved?”
“You are the second to ask me that, though it still puzzles me why it would interest anyone but me.”
“We have recently become the minority in this castle. Though I am not of the Night Clan, I am a clan-pony. With these outsiders about, it will be important for us to stick together. Besides, he was a good apprentice.”
Nightshade grinned. “Zotikos’ alliance is crumbling already.”
“Zotikos never had an alliance. He has brought together a group of self-serving individuals and pressured them into serving him. Unless he has something up his sleeve, his house of cards will tumble when we encounter our first hurdle.” Jack O Lantern handed Nightshade a talisman carved from black stone. “Give this to your brother and Zotikos will not be able to posses with him again.”
“I…I don’t know what to say. But how can you protect my brother if you yourself were unknowingly possessed by Zotikos once?”
“I was unaware because he remained hidden. Now that I know of him, I can protect myself, and others I deem worthy, from his influence. You, however, do not require such protection. Your gift is adequate. Though I wonder what would happen if Zotikos would try. Hm, that might be interesting.” Jack O Lantern wandered off, mumbling to himself.
* * *
After Nightshade had left his bedside, Hemlock lay silently in his bed. Before long, though, he became aware of another presence in the room. He sat up. “Who’s there?”
There was no answer. He laid back down but shortly, a strong wind blew through the room. Hemlock shot bolt upright. “Who is there!?” The wind died down and Hemlock once again sensed the presence. He looked around the room. “Zotikos, is that you? Go away! Go away, vile shade!”
A soft whisper reached Hemlock’s ears. “You have grown into quite the young stallion, my son.”
A tear came to Hemlock’s eye as he recognized the voice. “F…Father? Could it really be you, Father?”
A ghostly image of a noble, dark red pony appeared before Hemlock. “Yes, it is me, son.”
“Why have you come to me now?”
“Because, my son, I did not want to see you suffer any longer. I have come to guide you back.”
“Back? Back to where?”
“To who you were before. I wish I could have stopped Zotikos from doing what he did, but I can help you now that he is gone.”
“Zotikos. He still haunts my dreams. That’s why I don’t sleep. I’m afraid of him.”
“You shouldn’t be. Your strength drove him to find a new host.”
“Strength? He controlled me so easily. I let him. After Enchantment came here, I realized that I wasn’t strong enough to lead our people. I could sense Zotikos lurking in the back of my mind, and I let him take control.”
“Enchantment. A fine filly. Ah, if I was a young stallion again... ahem, I was the same way with your mother, well, most fillies actually, but your mother was special. And in the same way, Enchantment is special. Your feelings for her are not weakness, it is strength.”
“Enchantment? Strength? But I cannot act when I am near her.”
“You can act, if your action is guided by your heart, not your mind. When Zotikos threatened her, you were able to stop him, even though you had surrendered yourself to him. That is your strength.”
“But, she is not one of us. She is from the Spirit Clan, not the Night.”
“Then maybe strength is not in the Night Clan alone. Maybe true strength comes from all the clans together.”
“But the clan was strong under you. You taught us to be independent.”
The shade shook his head. “Zotikos threatens our independence now. The time has come to stand alongside the other clans rather than against them.”
“But Zotikos now rules the Night Clan. How can we stand alongside the others when he leads us into battle against them?”
The shade smiled. “You will find a way.” And with that he faded away. “Farewell, my son…”
“Father! Don’t leave me! Father…”
* * *
Far away, on the Isle of the Emerald Lake, Enchantment sleeplessly wandered the halls of Malachite Castle. She had often had trouble sleeping since her last encounter with Hemlock. She climbed the stairs to the castle’s tallest tower. She climbed onto the parapet and sat gazing at the stars, as if they held the answers to the questions that kept her awake. Like, what had happened to Hemlock to make him act like he did? Could he be returned to the way he used to be? And where was he now?
The stars didn’t have anything to say tonight, but still, it made her feel better to ask. She heard the sound of hoofsteps behind her. “Hey, Enchantment, what are you doing up here at this time of night?”
“Hi, Ironwood. I couldn’t sleep.”
Ironwood, the captain of the castle guard, sat down next to Enchantment. “Is something wrong?”
“I’m worried about Hemlock.”
“I know you think something’s wrong with Hemlock, but he is Jack O Lantern’s apprentice. Do you really think he’s worth losing sleep over?”
Enchantment shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what I think. It’s what I feel that keeps me up. I feel that his actions are inconsistent with his spirit.”
“I don’t know what to say. If you have faith in his spirit, you have to trust that his spirit will guide him through. Now, I’ve got to get back to my patrol.”
“Thank you, Ironwood.”
Enchantment sat on the parapet still gazing at the stars as Ironwood returned to his duties.
* * *
Back at the Dark Isle, Nightshade returned to her brother’s room to give him the talisman Jack O Lantern had prepared for him. She opened the door to find her brother fast asleep. She set the talisman on the night-stand and kissed her brother on the cheek. “Sleep well, my brother.”
Sugarberry’s Magic Berry Pie
by Steamer (email@example.com)
One day Sugarberry decided to make one of her famous pies. She went into the kitchen at the Paradise Estate to get together her ingredients. She always made her pies from scratch, the way her mama used to do. She first of all got the ingredients she’d need to make the crust.
As she was doing that, she thought to herself, I think I’ll make this pie extra special, by putting some cinnamon in as well. I’ll mix it in with the berry filling. Yeah! Everyone will love it.
She put the berries into a mixing bowl, and then went to look for some cinnamon. She found an unlabeled jar with what looked like cinnamon in it, so she put that in. What she didn’t realize was that it was Magical Fairy Dust that Powder had got from one of the fairies.
Sugarberry put the berry mixture into the pie, and then proceeded to make the top crust and put the pie into the oven.
That evening after dinner, Sugarberry brought out the pie for dessert. The other ponies licked their lips, as they all loved Sugarberry’s pies. After they had taken a couple of bites, though, all their best dreams started to come true, and alive.
Baby Tiddly Winks all of a sudden had all the games and toys she could want. Baby Lofty had an instant flight instructor, specializing in Baby Pegasus flight of course. Even Baby Ribbon had an instant winking instructor, so she could wink like the best of them.
Powder then asked Sugarberry what she put in her pie. “Just berries, and cinnamon, or at least I thought it was cinnamon.” Sugarberry responded.
“Please show me what you put in,” said Powder. So Sugarberry showed her the unlabeled jar. Powder laughed when she saw it. “Sugarberry, that’s Magic Fairy Dust that I got from the fairies.”
“It is?” asked Sugarberry.
Powder nodded. “It doesn’t have a lasting effect; though I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.”
“Next time I think I’ll ask before I use an unlabeled item” said Sugarberry. And that she did.
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)
After a long day at the flower shop, Morning Glory had to run some errands. As she exited one shop, she caught sight of Clever Clover slipping out of a jewelry shop across the street. “Hm, that’s odd. Clever Clover isn’t into jewelry. I wonder what he was doing in there.” She trotted across the street but Clever Clover had already disappeared around the corner. “Well, I suppose I could ask the jeweler what he was up to.”
Just as Morning Glory was about to open the door, the jeweler, Pearl, began to lock up for the night. Morning Glory tapped on the glass. “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”
Pearl opened the door. “Um, could you make it quick? I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can go home, and I’m already dead tired.”
“Oh, of course! I was just wondering what that purple stallion who just left was doing here.”
“Clever Clover? He helps me authenticate antique pieces I acquire from time to time. But today he asked about some prices before he left.”
“And what was he pricing?”
“Engagement rings. I think they just caught his eye, though, on his way out. He laughed when I told him the prices.”
“Thank you, and good night.”
As Morning Glory walked home, she contemplated what Pearl had told her. “There can only be one reason he would be pricing engagement rings! But I wonder who he plans to give it to?” She hadn’t planned to stop by Clever Clover’s house that evening, but now she just had to talk to him. She stopped by her own home first to drop off some things, then went on to Clever Clover’s. She was greeted at the door by Minoko.
“What do you want?” the pirate grumbled.
“I had hoped to talk to Clever Clover.”
“Well, he’s out. Said he might be late, had some important business to take care of. So you can be going now.” Minoko began to close the door, but Morning Glory blocked it with her hoof.
“Maybe I could have a word with you then?”
“Wha? You want to talk to me? What makes you think I’d want to hear anything you have to say?”
“Just give me five minutes and if you’re not interested by then, I’ll leave.”
“Okay, I guess I can waste five minutes. Come on in.” Minoko opened the door and led Morning Glory to the living room where Belle Star was drinking tea.
“Aren’t you supposed to be Clever Clover’s bodyguard? Why are you here and not guarding him?”
“Oh, I overslept this morning and by the time I woke up he had already left. And he told Minoko that he wanted to be alone today.”
“He wanted to be alone? Oh my! This supports my theory.”
Minoko scratched her head. “What are you talking about?”
Morning Glory sat down. “Well, I saw Clever Clover coming out of the jewelry store. I asked the jeweler and she said that he had been pricing engagement rings!”
“Uh-huh, pricing rings. Really interesting. You’ve got four more minutes.”
Belle Star poured another cup of tea and offered it to Morning Glory. “Would you like some tea?”
“Thank you, Belle Star. Now, Minoko, a stallion doesn’t even think about buying a ring until he is absolutely sure who he wants to wear it!”
Minoko laughed. “Oh? You’re quite the authority on stallions; you must have quite a bit of experience.”
“It doesn’t take that much to figure it out. I’m sensitive and observant. And that is why I’m sure he’ll ask me to be his wife.”
“Oh really?” said Minoko. “Well, once I’m his wife I can have all the locks changed so you can’t get in.”
“Humph! Once I’m his wife, I’ll be able to evict you! Or at least start charging rent.”
Belle Star giggled. “Wouldn’t it be silly if he asked me to marry him?”
Minoko and Morning Glory stared at her in disbelief. “Why would you ever say that?” asked Minoko.
“Well, first I thought of Clever Clover asking me to marry him; then I thought ‘that’s silly’, so I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be silly if he asked me to marry him?’ ”
Minoko and Morning Glory glared at Belle Star for a moment longer, trying to decide weather or not to take her seriously before returning to their bickering.
“I’m sure he’ll take me on a romantic honeymoon to some exotic, isolated spot where the two of us can be alone together for as long as we want,” mused Minoko.
“As a royal couple, I’m sure our honeymoon would be at the finest grand hotel in Ponyland, where we would be waited on hoof and hoof.”
“But if he did marry me, I’d be a princess, wouldn’t I? Princess Belle Star. Tee-hee-hee. And we would live in a big castle.”
“And after the honeymoon we could blow this dump and live on my ship. We’d travel the world, living wherever our hearts led us.”
“I’m sure Clever Clover and I will live here, though we’ll need to do some renovations to make it worthy of a royal couple,” responded Morning Glory.
Belle Star sighed. “And I’d bet we’d have lots and lots of kids. Oh, I’d love to have a big family!”
The conversation ended abruptly as Clever Clover came in. Belle Star rushed over to him. “Oh! Who are you going to marry? I’m so excited! I can’t wait to find out!”
“Uh, what are you talking about?”
“Morning Glory says she saw you pricing for engagement rings,” said Minoko.
“I was at a jewelry store, but I wasn’t pricing rings. I was authenticating antiques.”
“But Pearl said you asked about the engagement rings!”
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business, but I did ask about some rings. But I didn’t know they were engagement rings. They just caught my eye.”
“Just caught your eye? That’s exactly what Pearl said. I think you two are working together to cover your tracks.”
Clever Clover scratched his head. “Uhm, I think you’re paranoid.”
Minoko laughed. “Oh yeah, ‘sensitive and observant’ or ‘paranoid’? Do you know what I think?”
“Uh, sensitive and observant?” guessed Belle Star.
“What!? I am not paranoid! It’s simple deduction!”
“I’m sorry, but your deduction is a little off.”
“I don’t think so. You can deny it all you want, but that doesn’t change the facts.”
Clever Clover shrugged. “Whatever. Will you be staying for supper? I picked up some pizza on the way home.”
Belle Star jumped for joy. “Oh goody! I love pizza!”
“Well, I suppose, since I’m here…” said Morning Glory.
“Lousy freeloader,” mumbled Minoko.
The Time is Now
by Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)
“Ribbons n’ Lace, thanks so much for this wonderful meal!” Chocolate Chip warmly smiled at her hostess after finishing off a detectible dinner better than any she had yet encountered in New Pony. “I can almost imagine myself back in Sugarberry’s kitchen.”
“I take that as a splendid compliment,” Ribbons n’ Lace smiled in return. “But whereas Sugarberry is blessed with culinary skills, I am sadly lacking.”
“What she means,” winked Andrew, “is that without Fricassee in her kitchen, we’d be having boiled water and toast right now.”
“Whoever was responsible, the food was great,” said Xavier. “I’m very grateful that Chocolate Chip chose me to accompany her tonight; I haven’t eaten so well in weeks.” The two young ponies were dinner guests of Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace at their lovely home in one of New Pony’s elegant, upscale districts.
“Well, we’re not done yet,” remarked Ribbons n’ Lace. “Fricassee found a new dessert recipe which she’s trying out for the first time. But we’ll withdraw to the living room where we can be comfortable with our coffee and cobbler.” The mare rose to issue a request of a hovering servant, then led her guests to the adjacent room.
“I believe, Xavier, that you mentioned your hometown as being Happy Hollow. Do your parents still live there?” Andrew queried.
“Oh, yes. They and my siblings are all still back in that sleepy little town.”
“Tell us about your family,” prodded Ribbons n’ Lace.
“Well, I’m the youngest of us kids. My sister, Yolanda, is married and has a two-year old foal who is the delight of Mom and Dad; Zachary is the oldest and is a teacher at the local high school.”
“Xavier, Yolanda, Zachary... X, Y, Z,” mused Ribbons n’ Lace. “Was there a reason for alphabetical names?”
“My aunt and uncle started at the beginning of the alphabet,” admitted Xavier, “so Dad thought it would be cool to start from the end. Then Dad’s other two sisters took off from the middle in opposite directions.”
“An interesting arrangement,” grinned Andrew.
“Toby and Fern will be picking out a name soon enough,” noted Ribbons n’ Lace. “Our son and his wife have a foal due this month,” she smilingly apprized Xavier, then turned her attention to Chocolate Chip, her smile fading. “Fern has had a troublesome time of it, I’m afraid.”
“She’s feeling much better, though, as her due date draws near,” Chocolate Chip assured the worried mare. “When I last talked with her, she was fully caught up in organizing the nursery; she’s impatient to have the foal in her forelegs.”
“The same can be said of Toby,” added Andrew. “We’re going to visit them over the Thanksgiving holiday, with Tribute and Chiffon meeting us there.”
“And what do you think of the wedding plans being made in Woodlawn?” queried Ribbons n’ Lace, her eyes twinkling.
“That will be quite an event,” acknowledged Chocolate Chip, who then turned to explain the situation to Xavier. “Vanguard’s very favorite cousin, Chiffon, is marrying Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace’s son, Tribute, who is also a doctor like his father and brother; and Vanguard’s brother, Icon, who is also very close to Chiffon, is marrying Splotch, a legal assistant. As Chiffon’s and Icon’s families are so close, they’ve decided to combine the wedding into one big celebration next June.”
“Splotch?” Xavier, who had been bravely trying to follow the convoluted explanation that Chocolate Chip put forth, suddenly became very attentive at the mention of that name. “I grew up with a Splotch back in Happy Hollow, and the name isn’t that common. She was working for Macrohard the last I heard.”
“I believe she did work for Macrohard before coming to Woodlawn,” Chocolate Chip revealed.
“Well, well. So Splotch has done okay for herself,” Xavier grinned.
“You say that as if you wouldn’t have expected it of her,” noted Ribbons n’ Lace. She herself had found Splotch to be a charming and intelligent mare from her brief acquaintance with her on visits to Woodlawn.
“Oh, no, don’t get me wrong. Splotch was always confident of her abilities. It’s just that she lacked the polish of her older sister and sometimes allowed her temper to get the best of her. I’m delighted to hear that she’s doing so well.” A private wink to Chocolate Chip promised that further enlightenment on the topic of Splotch would be forthcoming when they were alone.
* * *
On the walk back to the apartment building that housed both Chocolate Chip and Xavier, Xavier apprized the mare of some of the exploits that he and Splotch had been involved in back in Happy Hollow. The stories caused much laughter and gentle teasing; but in the end, Chocolate Chip seemed rather glum.
“What did I say to spoil the good spirits we were sharing?” Xavier finally asked.
“What? Oh. All the talk about your friends made me rather homesick for mine, I guess.”
“You’re going home for Thanksgiving, aren’t you?”
“Smile when you say that.”
Chocolate Chip tried to smile, but the action appeared more as a grimace, causing Xavier’s brow to wrinkle in worry. “What gives?” he asked the mare.
“It’s just... well, Fabia is really getting on my nerves since I discovered that she is taking credit for my work. Everything I do has to be documented in precise detail so that she can study the data and present it as her own. I’m tempted to give her false information once just to see her make a complete fool or herself, but she’d only dump the responsibility on me and get me fired anyway.”
“Hey, now, what happened to that ‘I can conquer anything or anyone’ attitude you came to New Pony with?”
Chocolate Chip sighed long and deep. “I’m having second thoughts, Xavier. Maybe I made the wrong decision to leave Dream Valley.”
“That’s just your weariness talking. By tomorrow morning, you’ll be ready to take on Fabia and all of Worth Hydroshed Firkins again without blinking an eye.”
“But what’s the point? I was so caught up in proving myself that I lost track of some rather important things... like family and friends.”
“I’m your friend.”
Chocolate Chip grinned at the goldenrod-yellow stallion. “And a dear one, at that. But you know what I mean.”
Xavier smiled crookedly, well aware of what Chocolate Chip was getting at. He would not have understood if it had not been for his introduction to Chocolate Chip’s younger sister, Lollipop, when he had accompanied Chocolate Chip to Dream Valley for her brother’s wedding. He had met any number of mare’s in his hometown, at college, and finally at New Pony; but none had ever touched his heart quite as Lollipop had. He knew what it was like to begin each day with a thought of someone precious who was far away; and he grasped the blatant reality that notes, phone calls, and e-mails did not quite fill the longing that a more personal encounter would have appeased.
“Yeah, I think I know, all right,” Xavier mused, then lapsed into a moody silence himself.
Chocolate Chip did not notice, for she, too, was introspective as well, wondering what
Wigwam was doing at this minute. Was he thinking about her as she was him?
* * *
“Chocolate Chip!” Fabia rushed into the office the following morning where Tarn and the chocolate brown mare were bent over some facts and figures concerning their current project. “We’ve just been given the Sutter account to analyze, and its been labeled a top priority. I’m putting you in charge, so come to my office now for a briefing.” She left as quickly as she had come.
Throwing down her pencil, Chocolate Chip let out an exasperated huff. “This was top priority a week ago,” she said, gesturing to the papers on the desk with her hoof. “Am I supposed to just drop it now?”
“We’ve got a good grasp of this problem,” soothed Tarn. “I can handle it from now on. But what I know of Sutter and Associates, I think you’ll find that you’ll be keeping later hours than even you’re used to for the next few weeks.” He smiled wryly. “You’d better not keep the boss waiting.”
With a grunt and a toss of her mane, Chocolate Chip got up out of her chair to obey Fabia’s summons.
* * *
“It’s impossible!” Chocolate Chip reiterated, scanning the documentation that Fabia had presented to her. “There is too much material here to sort through and come up with a viable solution on such short notice. Sutter is a Ponyland conglomerate, not some small business down the street.”
“That’s why I’ve put you in charge. Of all the consultants, you’re the one most capable of sifting through the numbers and putting them into a workable order to answer Sutter’s needs. I realize the enormity of this project, but I honestly think you’re the one best qualified to handle it. And, besides, everyone else is caught up in deadlines right now as it is. I’ll help Tarn finish up on Cramco’s account”– She dismissed that project with a careless wave of her hoof– “which will give you uninterrupted time to concentrate on Sutter. I know you can do this, Chocolate Chip.” The mare looked at her expectantly.
Every fiber of Chocolate Chip’s being wanted to shove the mess of papers across the desk into Fabia’s lap before stalking out of the office, out of the building, out of New Pony... but she could not. This is what she had studied for through four years of college, what she had given up her home and friends for, what she had turned down Wigwam’s proposal of marriage for. She was living her dream... wasn’t she? She had no right to complain if Fabia deemed her more competent than any of the other consultants in the company; she could be proud of her achievements.
Shoving her piquet to the background, Chocolate Chip merely stood and gathered the files neatly together. “I’ll get right on it, Fabia,” she said in clipped tones. Under her breath, she added, “Who needs a Thanksgiving holiday, anyway?”
“That’s the spirit,” Fabia said in obvious relief. “I assured Uncle Wil... ah, Mr. Bates, that we’d meet the challenge. He’ll appreciate your efforts.”
Scooping up the pile of paperwork, Chocolate Chip couldn’t bring herself to respond. She cocked a disparaging brow and left the office.
* * *
“Uncle Wilfred will never know who did the work,” Chocolate Chip grumbled under her breath as she set the files on her desk none too gently. “I’ll slave night and day, and Fabia will hand in my report with her name affixed to it. She’ll get the raise, and I’ll continue to be a doormat for her to walk on.” The mare procured a glass of water and walked to the window to stare out across the hustle and bustle of New Pony, but she saw none of it.
Her thoughts were far away to the west across the hills and valleys of Ponyland, back in Dream Valley, back where she was valued more for who she was as a pony rather than how much benefit she was to the financial assets of a company, back where she could encounter a friendly face no matter where she went, back where a certain stallion would greet her with the most heart-melting smile regardless of how busy he was, back where she was loved. Chocolate Chip sighed and forced herself to return to her desk. Why was she feeling so melancholy when this was the life she had chosen? She slumped in her chair and opened the top file.
* * *
Arriving at her apartment that evening, Chocolate Chip saw the familiar slim, white box waiting for her outside her door. The sight of it caused a smile to spread over her face and her eyes to sparkle. She scooped up the parcel, unlocked her door, and quickly confined herself to the privacy of her home, going to the sofa and sitting, pulling her legs up under her, then grinning at the box as if she expected it to reveal a special treat. She ran her hoof along the length of the familiar package, anticipating the gift inside. Only after several long minutes of a dream-like trance did Chocolate Chip lift the lid.
Inside the box, nestled in white tissue, were six crimson roses.
Lifting each delicate blossom carefully one at a time and breathing in the sensual fragrance, Chocolate Chip lined up the fiery flowers in a row on the beige couch. She did not have to look for a card... she knew there would be none.
Six roses meant that she was entering her sixth month as a resident of New Pony. Her first day in her apartment in the city had been met with the delivery of a single red rose; one month later, two roses had mysteriously appeared. The third anniversary of her arrival brought three roses. As the fourth anticipated delivery came on a Saturday, Chocolate Chip was able to intercept the delivery pony and bribe her to reveal what information she could about the pony behind these floral gifts. As she had expected, the request for the roses originated in Dream Valley, specifically from a pony named Wigwam. Five months away from the stallion brought five roses, now the sixth.
Gazing down at the row of flowers stiffly laid out like the pickets in a fence-row, Chocolate Chip was reminded of life. Day by day, week by week, month by month, life went on; and if one was fortunate, time well spent would result in something beautiful like the full-blown rose... regardless of the thorns that pricked and prodded. Her time in New Pony had been like that, Chocolate Chip had to admit. She was well on her way of accomplishing her goal to face life head-on, independently, and make a success of herself, someone who could hold her head high in the face of all the doubts that had tormented her since she was a toddler becoming aware of her mother’s dissatisfaction with a common little filly who appeared at first glance to be nothing special. She had succeeded in carving a bright future for herself, following a regimen of hard work and a total commitment to success, day by day just like the marching row of roses.
She had come a long way from that determined yet frightened pony who had wandered into Dream Valley in a valiant effort to escape the confines of parents who looked down upon her as some sort of oddity incapable of being accepted. She had been accepted by Sugarberry and Tabby and Friendly, Dainty and her group, Prime and his friends, and so many others who had no preconceived notions that a plain-looking pony signified a plain character.
Picking up the first rose in the line-up, Chocolate Chip brought it to her nose and sniffed the fragrance, smiling as she remembered her budding acquaintance with Wigwam and how she had found herself attracted to him and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he reciprocated her feelings. She picked up the second rose, combining it with the first, smiling over those early days of their friendship that had grown and flourished as she learned to trust and rely on the stallion’s solid presence in her life; she had never been so happy as she was then, to know that he was there for her.
A frown marred her look of happiness as she picked up the third rose, pricking herself with a thorn and sucking the rose-hued blood off her hoof. There had come a time when her trust in Wigwam had been broken; she had accused him of betraying her and her brother when Wishbone had become involved with a cheating ring at Pony Pride with Wigwam assisting in bringing it to a sudden and searing end, leaving her brother answerable for his misguided actions. She had held Wigwam accountable for hiding the truth from her during his investigation of the cheating ring rather than warning her that Wishbone was headed for trouble. Putting up a wall between them, she had spurned his efforts at reconciliation, accusing him of betraying her trust.
The fourth rose was added to those already in her hoof as her smile returned to her face. Appropriately, it had been at the celebration of Sugarberry and Vanguard’s wedding that she and Wigwam had mended their differences, both admitting that they had been equally responsible in letting things get out of hoof to the point that they had allowed their friendship to stagnate; but Chocolate Chip had known the truth, that it was her irrevocable anger that had come between them, and that Wigwam would have never left her to her own devices of his own choosing. She had made it impossible for him to approach her until Enrica had stepped in to force the issue. Closing her eyes, Chocolate Chip recalled just how satisfied she had been when Wigwam was once more her confidant, her anchor, her best friend.
Following their natural progression, her thoughts next brought a tear to her eye as she leaned to claim the fifth rose. With graduation approaching, she had been so caught up with her plans for her future that Wigwam’s proposal of marriage had been met with a stubborn disclaimer on her part that she had better things to do with her life than to settle down at the first opportunity presented to her and live out a dreary existence where she had already proven her worth. No, she would not marry, not with a bright future ahead of her with a prominent business in New Pony that could only lead to bigger and better opportunities to make her mark upon the world and prove to everyone– namely, her mother– that even a drab little filly with no great beauty could succeed if she tried hard enough. So caught up in this grab for success, she had spurned the love that Wigwam offered her.
And here she was in New Pony, single, successful, financially independent... and lonely. It was not because of a lack of friends: she had found an ideal companion in Xavier; Tarn was an intelligent and considerate workmate, Prime occasionally checked in on her, Ribbons n’ Lace included her in society’s embrace, Sassy and Blackcap had begun looking out for her since their return to the city, and Tilly had adopted her as a surrogate granddaughter. She was on easy speaking terms with a number of the other tenants in the apartment building and fostered some growing friendships with co-workers. Why, now, did it seem so empty?
Adding the last rose to her bouquet, Chocolate Chip was faced with a startling reality. The flowers singly had made a marching row of drudgery; but together they formed a beautiful bouquet that tantalized all the senses. It was a cataclysmic discovery: Her successful days in New Pony stretched out behind her and before her like an endless march of monotonous duties while her sometimes rocky, sometimes heavenly days in Dream Valley came together in a woven pattern of radiant petals and soothing fragrance that lifted her, sustained her, and enlivened her. She had traded paradise for mediocrity... and for what purpose? To appease her early years of insecurity? To prove to herself that she could stand alone? To show her mother that even a plain Jane could be worthwhile?
Chocolate Chip jumped up off the sofa to pace the room. Why hadn’t she accepted Wigwam’s proposal when he had renewed it in August when she had been home for Wishbone and Garnet’s wedding?
“Wigwam!” the mare groaned. “I’ve changed my mind! I want to come home! I want to marry you!”
* * *
“Fabia, I’ve got to talk to you.”
“You’re not having a problem with the Sutter account, are you?” the business mare asked apprehensively. She had given her promise to her uncle, the company president, that there would be no glitches in meeting the deadline. Yet, Chocolate Chip did not seem harassed. Come to think of it, she appeared absolutely glowing.
“This doesn’t involve Sutter. It involves...” the young mare blushed a deeper brown, “a decision I’ve made.”
“You don’t make decisions,” Fabia reminded her underling. “You suggest ideas.”
“This is something that affects me personally as well as the company,” Chocolate Chip hurried to say. “I’ve decided to resign my position here.”
Fabia’s eyes widened in shock. “You can’t mean that. What will I do...”
“I’ll stay long enough to finish the Sutter project; you don’t have to worry about that,” assured Chocolate Chip. “But once that’s out of the way, I’m going back to Dream Valley.”
“Who could have offered you a better position than you have here? Dream Valley has no companies that compare to Worth Hydroshed Firkins.”
“From a business point-of-view, you’re right, of course. But from a personal stand-point, I feel compelled to return to my... home.” So what if she did not have a home of her own; Sugarberry had said she would always be welcome, and had not Vanguard urged her to keep the key to the house, just in case?
The wheels were turning in Fabia’s head as she considered the effect of Chocolate Chip’s defection. She had found the mare to be a biddable and efficient consultant who had succeeded in greatly improving her– Fabia’s– standing with Uncle Wilfred; so much so, in fact, that he was now considering putting her in charge of the entire department. She was sure she could handle the added responsibility... if Chocolate Chip was there to back her up. Even Fabia realized that her acclaimed success was due more to the chocolate brown mare’s expertise than to her own knowledge of the business. But it was so important to her to prove herself with Uncle Wilfred; he had been hesitant in hiring her, doubting her ability, but she had held up her end of the bargain they had made and he now found her capable of added trust. She could not back down now.
“Chocolate Chip, has something upset you to cause you to want to leave the company? If there is, we can surely talk it over and set things right.”
“Nothing you can say will entice me to change my plans, Fabia; but since you ask, I have found it rather disconcerting to have my work turned in under your name.”
“Well, certainly you understand that, as your manager, I have to be in control of all the information submitted to the board.” Fabia’s eyes refused to meet Chocolate Chip’s.
“But you aren’t the one that sifts through the piles of data and performs the analysis. If the truth be told, I doubt that you have the education to do the mathematical end of the job– let alone the simulation required, especially with the complexity of a corporation like Sutter.”
Leaning forward over her desk, Fabia quickly defended herself. “You forget that I’m the one that takes your boring statistics and turns them into a viable presentation that will pass the scrutiny of the corporate heads. That’s where your recommendations either pass the test or fail.”
“Well, I promise you that I’ll do my best to see that Sutter passes. I definitely want to leave on a positive note.”
That remark brought Fabia back to the reason for this conversation. “But you don’t have to leave! Is it a raise you want? I can talk...”
“No, Fabia. It’s not about the jangles. I want a home and a husband and a family... things I thought I didn’t need when I accepted this job, but now seem eminently more valuable than climbing the ranks of corporate New Pony.” There was a certainty in her voice that could not be denied.
Fabia gulped. “But you’ll stay long enough to handle the Sutter account?” Her voice was pleading.
“I said I would, didn’t I?” Chocolate Chip grinned. “We’ll dazzle ‘em before I leave, Fabia. You can count on it!”
* * *
Never had Dream Valley looked so good to her!
Chocolate Chip had arrived at the airport unannounced, anxious to surprise Wigwam with her unexpected return. Now, as she walked to Sugarberry’s house, she could not contain the sappy grin that split her face. Behind her followed the delivery pony she had hired to cart her luggage; she hoped Sugarberry would not be in the middle of something when she walked in.
Once the brown mare had made up her mind to return to Dream Valley, she had worked like a demon possessed to fulfill her promise to Fabia and had completed the Sutter project on time. Fabia had become resigned to the mare’s imminent departure and had used the opportunity to screen replacements, looking for someone who could assume Chocolate Chip’s responsibilities without disrupting Fabia’s peace of mind.
When Chocolate Chip had finished her report and was ready to turn it over to Fabia, she made one final request of her manager. She asked if, just this once, Fabia would allow her to make the presentation to Sutter herself rather than turning her hard work over to Fabia for all the credit. At first, Fabia had refused to even consider the idea; but in the end, after much wheedling from both Chocolate Chip and Tarn, she had reluctantly given her consent.
Chocolate Chip experienced the thrill of having the corporate officers of Sutter listening to her every word as she laid out the results of her study and the proposals that would benefit both the company and the consumers. She had answered their questions clearly and concisely, backing up her conclusions with irrefutable evidence. Watching the ponies’ faces around the boardroom table, she had seen them turn from obvious skepticism to grudging admiration– and, finally, to open respect.
It had been icing on the cake when Wilfred Bates had stepped into her office amidst the farewells of her coworkers to draw her aside and offer her a managerial position and a raise in salary if she would only stay on. She had thanked him kindly, but had turned down the offer without one regret. She had proven something to herself– that she, plain little Chocolate Chip, had the intelligence and the poise to dazzle the cream of the corporate world. That was what she had set out to do. Now, she was ready to go home.
Home! What a lovely sounding word! When Sugarberry and Vanguard’s house came in sight, Chocolate Chip hurried her steps, leaving the cart driver behind. She ran up the sidewalk, nearly tripping on the risers, and scurried across the porch to knock on the door. After an impatient wait of all of three seconds, she pounded again, then attempted to turn the knob only to find that the door was locked. That meant that Sugarberry was gone for more than a quick run to the grocery store or to meet Tabby for ice cream at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.
Frowning as the cart driver gained the porch steps, the mare suddenly remembered the key in her possession that Vanguard had refused to accept when she had left for New Pony. If you ever need a place for whatever reason, you still have a home here, he had said. Surely her acceptance of Wigwam’s proposal was reason enough. Unlocking the door, she directed the delivery pony to set her suitcases inside the door, then paid him and sent him on his way.
Taking a cursory inspection of the house, Chocolate Chip spied Fluff, the orange and white long-haired cat, watching her with some uncertainty from the back of the sofa. “Fluff,” she cooed softly, “surely you remember me? Do you still sleep at the foot of my bed?” The heavy cat looked at her with wide, round eyes, then slunk over the edge of the sofa and disappeared beneath it.
“Well, so much for a welcome home,” muttered the mare. She turned to go upstairs, nearly tripping on the other feline occupant of the house, Raptor. Long and lean as Fluff was round and plump, the dark short hair sat looking up at her with a contented expression on his face.
“You’re glad to see me back!” purred Chocolate Chip, patting the cat on his head. Raptor brushed against her legs happily. “No one’s home but you and Fluff, obviously... not even Licorice in Wishbone’s old room downstairs.” She scooped up the cat and carried him with her up to her old room and found it seemingly awaiting her return. She set Raptor on the bed, and eyed the furnishings with pleasure. Opening the drawers, she found that Sugarberry had left them empty as if fully expecting her to move back in.
“I suppose I should unpack my suitcases,” Chocolate Chip confided to the cat, “but I’m ever so anxious to see Wigwam’s face when he finds out that I’m ready to wear his ring.” She picked up the cat once more and twirled him around the room. “I’m going to rush over to the casino right now, Raptor. I can’t wait another minute.”
With that said, the mare dumped the feline unceremoniously back on the bed and hurried down the stairs and out the door toward Wigwam’s workplace.
* * *
It was a quiet day in Dream Valley, Chocolate Chip noted as she made her way from Sugarberry’s house to the outskirts of the town where the casino stood, now graced on one side by Native Dreams and on the other by the art center. She had not met any ponies out and about on this cold but clear day, which pleased her as she was not delayed but idle chatter. A notion to stop by Dreamcatcher’s shop to say hello was quickly discarded; rather, the chocolate brown mare scurried around to the back of the casino to make a quiet entrance. It was Wigwam she most wanted to see.
As she walked down the carpeted hallway, Chocolate Chip ran a hoof through her mane, grimacing as she realized that she should have taken the time to comb her hair and freshen up a bit. But, this way, Wigwam will know just how anxious I was to get here, she rationalized. Seeing the office door standing open, Chocolate Chip knew that Wigwam was at least in the building, if not seated behind his desk. She had almost gained the doorway when she heard a feminine giggle, and abruptly halted.
“I haven’t let you down yet, have I?” a musical voice asked.
Chocolate Chip immediately recognized the voice as Bittersweet’s and groaned inwardly; she did not want an audience for her and Wigwam’s reunion, especially not a mare Chocolate Chip did not quite trust. Chocolate Chip held back, hoping Bittersweet would soon leave.
“No, you certainly haven’t.”
The treasured sound of Wigwam’s voice caused a shiver to run through Chocolate Chip’s body, not only because of the masculine timber that made her heart flutter, but also because of the sensual softness with which he said the words. What could he and Bittersweet be discussing to bring out that emotional tone?
“So, my talents are justified?” Bittersweet asked coyly.
Wigwam chuckled, a rich, caressing sound. “This is not the time or the place to discuss your talents, Sweetie.”