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My Little Pony Monthly Issue 82 (January 1, 2004)


My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages


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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Issue 82
January 2004
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Contest!

Yay! Look at all of our entries for last month’s contest!

*garej* (garej@mylittlepony.fsnet.co.uk)
BabyDibbles (Amsofct@aol.com)
Berry Brite (swanson@swnebr.net)
Carrie (Kynny@aol.com)
cheial@nbnet.nb.ca
Cherie (travkru1859@aol.com)
Jaye (eightiestoyboy@yahoo.ca)
Katie/Gusty (STLBlues29@aol.com)
Melody (markp@gil.com.au)
Nibbles666 (kakyuuouhi@yahoo.com)
Pika-Chan (mnjiricek@earthlink.net)
Scribbles (makuba@lionking.org)
Violet Star Shine (violet-star-shine@yahoo.com)

The Baby Christmas Pony was offered through the Rice Krispies cereal. My family must have consumed about two million boxes of the stuff considering all the millions of Baby Christmas Ponies that invaded the house!
And now, to announce the winner of the Avon prize:

Scribbles! The Gingerbread lip balm is yours! E-mail me your address and I’ll send out your prize ASAP.

Peachy helped me choose the Avon prize for January. It’s a metallic lip gloss in a shade called, of course, Peachy Sheen. It’s .27 ounces of peachy and metallicy goodness! Or, if you’re a guy, you’ll have a chance at a favorite toiletry item of the Big Brother Ponies: Wild Country soap-on-a-rope! To enter the contest, answer the following question correctly:

Who did Megan get the Rainbow of Light from?

Tell me the answer by e-mailing TabbyMLP@aol.com or entering through the form at

http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm

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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Survey!

We had a great turn-out for the best pony Christmas present ever!

Melody (markp@gil.com.au) says...
The best (and only!) MLP-related Christmas present I have ever received was the My Little Pony wedding chapel that came with Dainty Dove. I had been admiring it on eBay, wishing I could own it and my dad came up to me and said, "You really want that, don't you?" Of course I said "yes!" and he said that he would pay for it and it could be my Christmas present. I thought it was so sweet of him - usually he grumbles about my ponies taking up too much space!

Pika-Chan (mnjiricek@earthlink.net) says...
When I was about 7 years old, Santa was kind enough to bring me the original pink castle *and* Sprinkle's Waterfall! That was a great Christmas for me!

Nibbles666 (kakyuuouhi@yahoo.com) says...
Paradise Estate from my Dad! :D He couldn't understand why a 15 year old would want such a contraption but he got it for me, asking if that was what I really wanted. Because that would be the only item I would be getting for a xmas present. It was $100 and back in those days, that was alot of money for a family that was going through hard times to have to spend on a toy. That was the best, most wonderful MLP present I have received and I will never forget. :) To this day, that same Estate sits in my room happily occupied by pony residents. :P Best wishes to all for this holiday season!

Jaye (eightiestoyboy@yahoo.ca) says...
That would have to be Moonstone, the very first pony I ever got. She is still one of my very favourites, even though her tail is frizzy now. I even still have the card she came on, which shows a lot of wear and has the points clipped out. ;-)

And now we have another survey question to answer!

What is your favorite pony name– not the pony itself, but just the name?

The URL to enter at is:

http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
New Year, New Start
December 31, 2003
by Tabby (TabbyMLP@aol.com)

Tiffany fluttered her wings in agitation as she finally reached the high-class hotel where she was expected. She had been in such a rush to make it on time that she had flown part of the way. Of course, she would not have been so pressed for time had she not run across that sad little baby pony on the street.

But she truly didn’t want to be late for this occasion, a celebrity auction of which she had been invited to be co-host. The proceeds would go to Helping Hoof, Tiffany’s favorite charity that benefitted needy baby ponies. Tiffany was determined to urge the bidding as high as she could to ensure the foundation received a sizable sum.

Tiffany rushed past all the glamorous ponies gathered in the hotel to make her way to the staging area. In the past, she would have been sure to stop and take careful note of all the styles being displayed and determine how to incorporate the newest fads into her own look. But since last Christmas, her life of frivolities had changed to a life of service, aiding those less fortunate than herself, particularly baby ponies. Now she lived solely for the purpose of raising more and more funds to donate to charitable organizations. There was no end to Tiffany’s abundant desire to make life pleasant for all baby ponies the world over.

Backstage of the huge auditorium in which the auction would be held, Tiffany impatiently waited for the stagehands to finish powdering her face. Looking good on camera simply had no appeal to her any longer, not when there were baby ponies in need.

Before she knew it, the signal for Tiffany to go on stage came. She looked around for Clare, who was co-hosting the event, but she didn’t notice the Italian mare anywhere. There was no time to worry about that, though, as it was time for the show to begin. Tiffany stepped out from behind the curtain, blinking in the intense lights focused on her. Then she looked towards the spot where Clare was supposed to be. She hastily suppressed a gasp as she saw who was there instead. Why, what was he doing here? It was none other than her alienated ex-fiancé, Guido Casale!

If Guido was a little taken aback himself, he didn’t let it show for long. He proceeded to stroll forward and take Tiffany’s hoof in his as the opening strains of music began.

Tiffany smiled tentatively at him before turning her attention back to prospective bidders. “Welcome to the first ever celebrity auction, sponsored by Clare’s Creations in Vulcanopolis,” she started off a bit tremulously as the presence of Guido still had her unnerved. “We have a lot of lovely items here tonight from the households of famous stars. And all proceeds will benefit Helping Hoof. And now Guido... Mr. Casale... will explain to you in detail the bidding process.” Tiffany flashed a dazzling smile at the glamorous ponies before stepping aside to give Guido center stage. She tried to control the rapid beating of her heart while Guido went on to elaborate on how to bid, forms of payment, and the like.

Then the auction began. An attendant rolled out a cart with the first item on it. Guido pulled back the sheet that covered it and announced the treasure: “Up first we have this lovely shawl worn by Golden Sundrop for her starring role in Grangewood. The beaded fringe is composed of genuine amethysts and garnets. Bidding starts at five hundred jangles!”

Tiffany was a little disappointed that the shawl went for only one thousand two hundred jangles. Why, she could have given the foundation more out of her weekly allowance! Well, there were still many more items...

For the second item, Tiffany was given the honor of showcasing it. Agitated by Guido’s presence at her side, the princess wasn’t quite as detailed in her description as she would have been otherwise. “This is the thing... from that movie... with the guy...” she stammered nervously. “You know the one I’m talking about...”

But jewels spoke louder than words anyway, so the diamond ring brought five thousand jangles. Tiffany was more pleased with that amount.

More often than not, Guido had to help Tiffany out with the announcements; the white pegasus made an admirable but flustered assistant, describing items with lines like “The hoof... I mean the nail... the hoofnail... no, the hoofnail clipper, of Havershaw!” and “The horseshoe, from the guy, with the hooves!”

After many long hours Tiffany felt like her big smile had been permanently plastered on her face. But finally the last treasure was unveiled for bidding. It was a stylin’ cart that had been featured extensively in the popular film, Helter-Skelter.

“Wow! What an amazing machine!” Guido marveled for the benefit of the audience. “This is the chance of a lifetime, ladies and gentlemen, to own a cart driven by Whirl Wind! Bidding starts at ten thousand!!”

Tension was in the air as bidders fought over the piece de resistence. The price soared from one hundred thousand, to eight hundred thousand, to one million.

Guido banged down the decorative gavel at his disposal. “SOLD! For five million jangles!”

Groans broke out from the audience as their chance of owning the incomparable cart was extinguished, but almost everyone remained for Tiffany’s next announcement: “Thank you so much for taking part!!! Because of you, the Helping Hoof Foundation will be given nearly three billion jangles. This will be a tremendous aid to countless baby ponies all over the world!! What a truly special Christmas present this will be!! Thank you from the bottom of my... our... hearts!”

Clapping and cheers broke out for ths incredible accomplishment. Guido then went on to invite all participants to attend a formal ball being held in the adjoining room, and everyone gravitated there to join in the festivities.

Due to the nature of the auction, Tiffany and Guido had not had the time to say anything personal to each other. But, as host and hostess of the event, they were obliged to start the first dance.

Tiffany was nervous; Guido seemed very personable and charming towards her, but was that just a facade for the benefit of the participants? She knew he didn’t think very highly of her because of her former frivolous lifestyle. Tiffany sighed wistfully as he led her out onto the dance floor. This was so much like the old days, when she was his guest in Vulcanopolis. They had attended countless parties and balls together; and he had always held her so close, and looked at her so adoringly...

Lost in her thoughts, Tiffany missed a step and almost trampled Guido’s hoof. Oh dear, that was no way to make a good impression on him! But blushing, she met his gaze, and he only smiled at her discomfiture.

Soon enough the dance ended, and Tiffany was half-grateful, half-disappointed, when Guido released his hold on her. The rest of the night was spent primarily at his side, chatting with various guests; but there was no time for private conversation, so Tiffany could only guess what Guido was thinking. It probably disgusted him to be in her company like this, Tiffany thought despondently. He was a very good actor, though...

In the small hours of the morning, the party finally began to break up and the ballroom became sparsely populated. Inevitably, Guido shook hooves with– and Tiffany smiled at– the last guest. And then the two were alone with each other.

“It was a lovely night,” Tiffany said a little breathlessly, articulating the first inane comment that came into her head. “It was such a– such a surprise to see you here.”

“And was it a pleasant surprise?” Guido prodded.

“Oh, yes, of course!” Tiffany burst out without thinking. “I mean... naturally. You were an excellent host. But, just out of curiosity, why was there a change of plans? The last I had heard Clare would be co-hosting with me.”

“Calla came down with a bad cold, so she didn’t want to leave Vulcanopolis,” Guido explained. “She came to me for help and of course I offered to take her place.”

“That was very kind of you,” Tiffany stated.

“Not at all... actually, it was pure selfishness on my part.”

Tiffany looked at him inquiringly. “Selfishness? I don’t understand.”

“Why, I wanted to chance to see you again. Not your photo in the newspaper or on television, but in person.”

“But... why?”

Guido chuckled and took her hoof in his. “Do you think your company is that undesirable, Tiffany?”

“I thought you wouldn’t even want to see me again, after...” Tiffany looked down at the floor and trailed off into silence. It didn’t need to be said what occasion Tiffany was referring to. They both knew it was the night before their intended wedding, two years ago, when they had had their big falling out. Tiffany had told Guido that she was only marrying him for his money, and Guido had suddenly realized that fame and wealth weren’t everything. The next day, neither of them had shown up at church for the wedding.

“You’ve changed a lot since then, Tiffany. We both have.” Guido lapsed into contemplative silence. “When I first started hearing about all the volunteer work you were undertaking, I couldn’t believe it. I’m really impressed by your ambition.”

Tiffany blushed. “It’s nothing, really... it’s the least I could do for all the years I spent concentrating on myself. I was surprised by your contributions to charity, too. Though at first I thought you were quite mad to be giving all that money away.” She smiled a bit regretfully. “But I understand now. There’s more to life than parties and looking beautiful... much more. I’ve finally found my true purpose in life... and I have you to thank for it, though it took me awhile to change. There are so many ponies that need help, and I mean to help as many as I can. Tomorrow I’m speaking to the board of Master Mark Corporation to convince them to supply funding to the new Health Works charity, and on Saturday I’m helping with a fund-raiser for Food for Foals.” She smiled wryly. “Would you believe I passed up an invitation to a ball at Golden City so I could give some of my time at the orphanage?”

“Those are all very honorable causes, indeed,” Guido said gravely. “But sometimes I wonder if you miss the kind of life you had before.”

A tiny bit of regret flashed across Tiffany’s face, but she quickly suppressed it. “Oh no of course not! I’m so much happier helping others,” she declared bravely. Guido actually respected her now! Of course she wouldn’t admit that she wouldn’t mind attending a party once in awhile... and keeping on top of the latest styles... and spending the nights gossiping with her friends. If she let on to any of this he’d surely hate her again for being so shallow!

“I see,” said Guido. “I must say I’m a bit sorry, though, to see that the old Tiffany is so completely gone. Your fun-loving spirit was one of your most endearing qualities. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt your standing as a ponitarian if you took a little bit of time for yourself.”

“You... you think so?” Tiffany said incredulously.

“Of course I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing, but you still have your own life to live,” Guido went on. “Maybe you took all this work to an extreme... I’d hate to think I had inadvertently caused such an engaging personality to lose herself so entirely to the world.”

“Oh,” said Tiffany, still not really believing her ears. “But– does this mean– oh, what are you trying to say!”

“I’m saying, Tiffany, that the love of my life doesn’t have to be so perfect... and though she’s a devoted helper of ponykind, she can still indulge in her own whims once in awhile... and yes, even allow herself to have fun!”

“Guido!”

“Tiffany!”

Sappy music keyed-up in the background as the two estranged lovers embraced and kissed.

“What! I thought all the musicians had gone!” Tiffany exclaimed, breaking away from Guido momentarily. “Do leave us in peace!” The lone musician skulked out of the ballroom and went on his way.

“But you musn’t make me wait through another tedious two-year engagement, darling,” Guido said, quickly slipping back into the familiarity they had previously enjoyed.

“Oh, no,” said Tiffany dreamily. “Another two years is much too long to wait. At the earliest possible convenience, naturally. But then there’s the old question, Dream Valley or Vulcanopolis?”

“How does an elopement sound?”

“Exceedingly convenient! But I’m afraid it will have to wait until next week. Previous engagements, you know.”

“My dear Tiffany, the point of an elopement is the spontaneity! When is your appointment tomorrow? Afternoon? Then that’s fine! We’ll leave for Vulcanopolis immediately, get married by special licence, and be back just in time. I’d even be willing to take a raincheck on the honeymoon for the sake of your work. What do you say?”

“I have always so admired your efficiency,” Tiffany sighed dreamily. “Very well, let’s do it!”



The End - or rather, The Beginning!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Holiday Hyjinx
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)


Clever Clover, Belle Star, Minoko, and Morning Glory walked through the hills outside of Friendship Garden one afternoon. Ryo, the lop-eared bunny, rode on Belle Star’s back. As they crested a rise, a stand of evergreens came into view. Clever Clover pointed toward the trees with his axe. “That’s the spot.” The group made their way to the trees and spread out through the stand.

Minoko stood gazing at a tree. “How’s this one?”

“I think it’s a little too big. My ceilings aren’t that high.”

“Oh! Oh! How about this one?” Belle Star pointed to a smaller, but slightly lopsided tree.

“Couldn’t you find a less lopsided one?” asked Morning Glory.

Minoko glared at Morning Glory. “Do you see any that aren’t a little lopsided?”

“Well then, I guess this one will do.” Clever Clover hefted his axe and with a single blow felled the tree. “Next year I think I’m going to bring a normal axe. This one makes it too easy.”

“All right Ryo, you’re on,” said Minoko. The grayish brown bunny jumped down from Belle Star’s back onto the fallen tree. In a flash of light, Ryo transported the tree and the four ponies back to Clever Clover’s home. Before long the tree was standing in the living room. The four ponies worked long into the night decorating the tree with lights, tinsel, and ornaments of every color.

“It’s awfully late; I don’t suppose I could spend the night?” Morning Glory asked once the tree was finished.

“Uh, I don’t know where you’d sleep. I’ve only got two beds, mine and Minoko’s, and Belle Star sleeps on the couch. I suppose you could have my bed and I could sleep in my chair.”

“Oh, I don’t want to be a bother.”

“No, it is late. You can have my bed for the night.”

“Oh, thank you!”

* * *
Clever Clover went into his bedroom and took a small box out of the night stand drawer and rejoined the others in the living room.

Minoko held up a steaming mug. “Hey Clever Clover! Why don’t you sit down and have some hot chocolate?”

“Sounds good.” Clever Clover sat down and picked up a mug. “Morning Glory, everything’s ready. You can turn in whenever you want.”

Morning Glory yawned. “Yes, I suppose it is that time. Goodnight all.”

“Goodnight,” replied Clever Clover.

Minoko slurped her hot chocolate; Belle Star was already asleep.

Once Morning Glory had left the room, Minoko walked over to Clever Clover’s chair and sat on the arm. “So, now that we’re, relatively, alone, what do you say we have a little fun?”

Clever Clover emptied his mug. “It’s late. We should be getting to sleep.”

“You’re no fun.” Minoko turned up her nose in a huff and stomped off to her room.

“That was easier that I expected,” Clever Clover mumbled as he gathered up the hot chocolate mugs and took them to the kitchen. After rinsing the mugs, he returned to the living room, sat down, put up his hooves, and pulled a blanket over himself. He took out the small box and started turning it in his hoof.

As he contemplated the box, he was startled as Minoko stuck her head through the wall. Clever Clover, panicking, hid the box under his blanket. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Oh, just checking up. You and Belle Star aren’t up to anything, are you?”

“What do you think we’d be up to, anyway? Besides, once Belle Star falls asleep, she won’t wake up till noon.”

“I guess you’re right. It wouldn’t do any good to propose to someone while they’re asleep.”

“Propose!? I can’t believe Morning Glory has got you caught up in her delusions. But you’ve never been that jealous of Belle Star before. What’s up?”

“Uh hu. Well, you left her behind when you went ring shopping even though she’s supposed to be your bodyguard. Now why might you want to leave her in the dark?”

Clever Clover yawned. “Maybe I was shopping for Christmas presents. Did you ever think of that?”

“Presents? Oh! What did you get me?”

“Not a ring,” Clever Clover mumbled as he drifted off to sleep.

“Hm, presents. Maybe I should get him something. Oh well, there’ll be plenty of time to think of something. I might as well get some sleep.”

* * *
The weeks before Christmas passed quickly. A few days before the holiday, Clever Clover made the rounds to his friends’ houses delivering the presents he had bought them. At Thomas and Tabby’s mansion, Thomas answered the door.

“Hey Tom. Is Tabitha in?”

“No. She’s doing some last minute Christmas shopping. She shouldn’t be too long. Would you like to come in and wait?”

“Oh no. I actually would like to ask you a question.”

“So, ask away.”

“Right. Uh, when you decided to marry Tabby, I mean, um, how did you know that she was… Oh never mind. Here are some presents.” Clever Clover handed Thomas the gifts, bowed, and hastily strolled away.

* * *
When Christmas Eve arrived, Clever Clover’s friends once again gathered at his home. In addition to Minoko, Belle Star, and Morning Glory, Key and Yuki had come up from Port Scurvy for the holiday. All but Minoko were gathered in the dining room playing cards. Minoko was in her room hastily wrapping the gifts she had bought the day before.

“Hm, I wonder if young Lucas made it back from the Isle yet?” Morning Glory mussed. “I feel sort of guilty sending him off with all those gifts at the last minute like that.”

“Well, he is a delivery boy,” said Key. “It’s his job. Besides, I’m sure he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he couldn’t get back by Christmas.”

“Oh, I hope you’re right. I’d hate to think he’d miss Christmas with his family because of me.”

“You shouldn’t worry,” said Belle Star.

“That’s right,” said Clever Clover. “He wasn’t just carrying your presents; we all sent gifts with him back to Malachite Castle.”

“But I was the one who hired him.”

Belle Star nodded. “You do have a point.”

“Oh! Maybe I should call his parents.”

“If it will make you feel better.”

Just then there was a knock at the door.

“I wonder who that could be at this hour?” asked Clever Clover.

Belle Star jumped up. “I’ll go see!” She pranced off to the front door.

“Clever Clover, you wouldn’t happen to know Lucas’ parent’s phone number by any chance?”

“I don’t even know his last name.”

Belle Star came prancing back with a large parcel. “That was Lucas back from the Isle. They sent presents!”

“You mean Lucas is here?”

“Uh-hu. I promised him a mug of hot chocolate.”

“I’ll take it to him,” offered Morning Glory. “It will give me a chance to thank him for his hard work in person.”

As Morning Glory took Lucas his hot chocolate, Minoko came out from her room carrying an armload of presents, all wrapped with the same paper and ribbon.

“Did I miss anything exciting?”

Key shook her head. “Not really.”

Belle Star’s face brightened when she saw the gifts. “Oh-Oh! More presents! Did you get one for me?”

“Yeah, yeah. There’s one for everybody. Even Morning Glory.” The pirate pony dropped the presents onto the table, except for one. The last present she handed to Clever Clover. “Here. Why don’t you open it right away?”

“I’d rather wait until tomorrow. Besides, it’s almost time for church.”

“Oh, it’s that late already?” Morning Glory returned from the front door.

* * *
After a lovely midnight mass, the party returned to Clever Clover’s house. This time, Clever Clover was ready for his guests. Morning Glory, Minoko, and Key would sleep in Clever Clover’s bedroom while he would sleep in Minoko’s smaller room. Belle Star insisted on sleeping on the couch as usual, since she would be closer to Clever Clover. And he didn’t mind having her between him and Minoko... not that it would do any good considering how soundly Belle Star could sleep. Luckily, Minoko was almost as heavy a sleeper as Belle Star. Yuki slept with the pets.

Christmas morning came quickly. Clever Clover awoke and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He stumbled out of bed and headed to the door. “I hope I didn’t sleep too late. I’d hate to miss any of the fun.”

He stepped out of the bedroom and found Minoko waiting for him. “Merry Christmas!” she said. Clever Clover noticed her gaze was directed toward the ceiling. Clever Clover looked up.

“Oh, mistletoe. How did that get there?”

Minoko leaned close. “How’s not important. But you know the rules.”

Clever Clover’s face turned red. “Heh, yeah.”

Minoko closed her eyes and puckered up. Clever Clover touched his lips to hers momentarily, then turned away.

“What! That’s it?” cried Minoko.

“I just got up and I need to use the bathroom!” he shot back over his shoulder.

When Clever Clover finished in the bathroom, he found Minoko waiting for him once again, grinning ear to ear. He didn’t even have to look up to know he was standing under the mistletoe again. But Belle Star had just gotten up and was eager to use the bathroom. She ran into Clever Clover, knocking him over. As she landed on top of him, her lips touched his. After a moment that seemed like an eternity, Belle Star jumped up off of Clever Clover and turned bright red.

“I am so sorry! I was just in such a hurry I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“That’s all right…” Clever Clover began, but was cut off as Minoko grabbed Belle Star by the shoulders and began to shake her.

“You’d better be sorry! I had Clever Clover right where I wanted him and you had to mess it up!”

Belle Star began to cry. “Oh! I am so sorry!”

Clever Clover, back on his hooves again, broke up the fighting mares. “Calm down Minoko! It’s Christmas morning; can’t you try to be nice just this once? Besides, it’s not like Belle Star tried to kiss me or anything. It was just an accident.”

Minoko let go of Belle Star, who rushed into the bathroom and slammed the door. The fiery pirate hung her head in shame. “I’m sorry if I ruined your Christmas. I just wanted this to be a special day.”

“You haven’t ruined Christmas. And it can still be a special day. Now, why don’t we get some breakfast?”

Before Minoko could collect her prize, Clever Clover was leading her by the hoof away from the mistletoe into the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Morning Glory and Key were already hard at work preparing breakfast. They already had a large stack of hot and golden Belgian waffles ready and were preparing a tray of jams and jellies to go with them.

“Merry Christmas Clever Clover!” Morning Glory beamed.

“Merry Christmas,” Key chimed in. “To thank you for your hospitality, we thought we’d fix a special breakfast for you.”

“Well, thank you; and Merry Christmas to both of you. Come on Minoko, we can carry the food to the table. Then when Belle Star gets here, we can eat!”

Before long all five ponies and Yuki were gathered around the table enjoying a most excellent homemade breakfast. Key couldn’t help but notice that Belle Star was still a little flushed and that she kept glancing embarrassedly at Clever Clover.

“By the way, what was that commotion earlier?” the sea patrol pony asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Minoko replied and continued eating.

Belle Star remained silent, but her blush deepened.

“Just your typical early morning traffic jam,” explained Clever Clover.

By this time, Morning Glory had noticed how Belle Star was acting. “Are you sure you three aren’t plotting something?”

Belle Star stood up. “Oh my, is it getting warm in here. I think I’ll step out for some fresh air.”

“I wonder what that was about?” asked Morning Glory.

Clever Clover shrugged. “I don’t know. But if you’re all finished, we could move into the living room and start opening presents. Yuki, why don’t you go tell Bell Star.”

The snow-white bushwoolie jumped up. “Yeah-yeah! Presents!” He hurried off after Belle Star. “Belle-Belle! Presents!”

The rest of the ponies took a minute to clear the table before moving into the living room. Minoko rushed ahead of the others. As soon as Clever Clover came into the room, Minoko shoved the present she had wrapped for him the night before into his arms.

“Here! Open mine first!”

Morning Glory turned her nose up. “Couldn’t you try to show a little self control for the holiday?”

Clever Clover took the package and sat down while Minoko stuck out her tongue at Morning Glory.

“I’ll open it as soon as Belle Star and Yuki get back.”

It wasn’t long before they returned. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I don’t know why I felt so warm all of a sudden.”

“That’s all right. I was about to open Minoko’s present.” As Clever Clover tore off the ribbon and paper, Minoko leaned close as if to catch every detail of the opening. As soon as the top of the box was cleared of paper, it sprang open and out shot a plush Ryo on a spring with a sprig of mistletoe clenched in its paws.

Minoko smiled. “Well, well, look at that! You and me under the mistletoe again. It must be fate!”

“I should have expected this sort of stunt from you,” Morning Glory huffed.

Clever Clover grinned nervously. “Oh well, I guess if it’s fate.” As Clever Clover and Minoko kissed, Key glanced at Belle Star, who was giggling.

Afterwards, Minoko grinned. “There, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t. But in all fairness, I should give everybody a chance.”

“What? But it was my present! After all the thought and effort I put into it, you can’t just go around kissing everybody.”

“Come on Minoko, in the spirit of the holiday, don’t make trouble.”

“Oh, all right.”

Clever Clover stood up. “So, Morning Glory, how ‘bout it?”

Morning Glory grinned and shot a satisfied glance at Minoko. “I must say, Minoko, your gift is quite touching.”

Minoko fumed as her rival kissed Clever Clover, but did her best to control her temper.

Then Clever Clover turned to Key. “In all fairness I guess I should at least offer you a chance.”

“That’s all right, I’ll pass. I’m not much of the kissing type.”

Clever Clover shrugged and turned to Belle Star. “Then I guess it’s your turn.”

Belle Star turned bright red. “Oh! I don’t know, I mean, I am you’re bodyguard. It might not be…appropriate.”

“She does have a point…” mussed Minoko.

“I can’t think of any regulation against it,” interjected Key, as she gently nudged Belle Star toward Clever Clover.

Clever Clover smiled gently. “I won’t report it to your superiors if you don’t”

“Well…in that case…” Belle Star gave Clever Clover a quick kiss, turned even brighter red, and started giggling lightheadedly and collapsed onto the couch.

“What’s her problem?” asked Minoko.

Morning Glory shook her head. “I don’t know. You don’t suppose…”

“Hu? You think she… But she hasn’t even been trying!”

“Maybe she’s playing hard to get. But then who knows what she does when they’re off on those digs together.”

The two mares glared suspiciously at Belle Star, who was gradually regaining her composure.

“What are you two up to now?” Clever Clover asked.

“Oh, nothing!” they replied in unison. “Why do you think we’re up to anything?”

Now that the kissy-kissy stuff is over (for now), let’s get on with the presents!

* * *
From the ponies at Malachite Castle, they each got a fine, monogrammed, silk scarf. Minoko gave Key and Belle Star matching antique swords, Yuki an antique dagger, and Morning Glory a velvet cape, all booty from her pirating days. (And of course Clever Clover got a plush Ryo, with mistletoe!) From Clever Clover, Minoko got a pirate ship in a bottle, Belle Star got a deep blue hair ribbon, Morning Glory received a flint-knapped flower pendant… Well, everyone (even the pets) got fine presents and no one was disappointed. (Although Clever Clover would have really loved an antique sword.)

The Yuletide celebration continued long into the night, and into the wee hours of the next morning. There was food and drink, song and dance, games, mistletoe, and the occasional fencing match (Key and Belle Star just had to try out their new swords).

Early the next afternoon (after a party like that, you just don’t worry about the next morning) Key and Yuki had to return to Port Scurvy to tend the ships and all the official chores that came with being officers of the Sea Patrol. Morning Glory returned home, Minoko returned to her normal routine, while Clever Clover and Belle Star started cleaning up after the festivities of the past days (and if Morning Glory or Key had hung around, the cleaning might have gotten somewhere; Clever Clover and Belle Star are the worst cleaners, after Minoko).

* * *
The week after Christmas passed quickly; and before they knew it, the whole gang was back together to ring in the new year together. Clever Clover’s dining room table was dominated by a large punch bowl. A spread of chips, dips, crackers, spreads, and other edibles covered his kitchen counters. It all would have been overkill if not for the combined appetites of Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Minoko, each of whom could easily eat twice as much as the average pony.

Shortly before the party began in earnest, Clever Clover stood in front of the bathroom mirror, composing himself. He held the small box he had been carrying for weeks now, turning it over and over in his hoof. So caught up in whatever ponders he occupied himself with was he, that a knock at the door came as quite a shock.

“Hey Clever Clover! You gettin’ sick or something?”

The purple prince tucked away the little box, took a moment to regain his composure, and replied. “I’m fine, Minoko.”

When he opened the door, Minoko regarded him quizzically. “Are you sure? You’ve been acting awfully strange lately.”

“Yeah, I’ve just got a lot on my mind.” He poked his head through the door and looked around for any mistletoe.

“Don’t worry; I learned my lesson after that spring-loaded Ryo fiasco. Come on, your guests are waiting!”

But before they could go anywhere, the doorbell rang.

“I wonder who that could be?” Clever Clover mused as he went to answer the door. Opening the door, he found Lady Moonshine, with a bottle of her special “tea”.

Without waiting for an invite, Lady Moonshine stepped past Clever Clover into the house. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your Christmas party. Morning Glory told me it was quite a blast. But at least I made it for New Year’s Eve! I’ll just throw some of my ‘tea’ into your punch bowl and then we’ll be all set.”

Clever Clover still stood by the open door. “Hi Lady Moonshine. Come in and make yourself at home.” He closed the door and returned to the increasingly crowded living room.

Everyone had a glass of punch in hoof. As soon as Clever Clover stepped into the room, Lady Moonshine handed him a glass.

“Here, drink up! We’ve only got three more hours left to this stingy old year! We might as well make them count!”

Clever Clover sheepishly took the punch. “That’s what I was planning to do.”

* * *
The next morning, Clever Clover woke up with a throbbing headache. He was laying on the kitchen floor. As he stood up and surveyed his surroundings, he grimaced in pain at the sight of the squalor. “What happened?” he mumbled.

Key poked her head up from behind the punch bowl. “Don’t ask me.”

As Clever Clover wandered about the house, the rest of the gang gradually started to come to.

“That was a great party,” said Minoko. “I think. How late did it go?”

Belle Star yawned. “Last thing I remember it was 1:30.”

Clever Clover shook his head. “You remember 1:30? I can’t even remember making it to midnight.”

“Oh yeah. You were standing on the sofa reciting ‘Beowulf’ until midnight. Then you started acting really strange. At 1:00 you went to the kitchen to get some ice. Uh, that was the last time I saw you.”

Minoko stared in disbelief. “You actually remember all that?”

“Well…I think so.”

Clever Clover went into the bathroom to wash up. After washing his face, Clever Clover reached for the small box, but it wasn’t there. “Oh no. I hope I didn’t do anything rash.”

Clever Clover rushed out of the bathroom. “Belle Star! You said I was acting strange last night. What exactly did I do?”

“Well, you kept asking me if you could ask me a question, but you never did. Well, I guess you did ask a question, but it was only the question about if you could ask another question; and I’m all confused. I need some green tea. I don’t know what you were talking to the others about.”

“Do you know if I gave anyone a…present?”

“Uh, I don’t remember.”

While Belle Star got her tea (real tea), Clever Clover began frantically searching through the clutter from the night before.

“What are you looking for?” asked Morning Glory. “Would you like a hand?”

“Ah, nothing important. I can take care of it myself. You get yourself some breakfast.”

And so the new year began with as much chaos and confusion as Clever Clover had come to expect in his life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Agatha vs. Caprice, Part One!!!
by Tabby (TabbyMLP@aol.com)


The evening promised to be entertaining, Tabby thought. She had invited Spike, Friendly, and Clever Clover over to her house so they could watch a certain Godzilla movie in Spike’s collection. Tabby had been quite distraught to learn that she had somehow missed the initial viewing of this particular movie, in which Godzilla fought a giant crustacean monster!

Godzilla movies were always so funny! All four of them laughed hysterically as Godzilla and the giant lobster tossed rocks back and forth at each other. It was so ridiculous and corny! Tabby loved it, even if she thought she was going to die laughing.

Suddenly, a voice intruded on the foursome’s raucous laughter. “Oh, Tabby, am I interrupting?”

And then the spell was broken. Tabby automatically clapped her mouth shut, even as Godzilla made a particularly ridiculous move, scrambled up from her seat, and turned her back on the television screen. “Why, of course not, Caprice! How are you tonight? Did you need me for something?”

“Oh, it’s nothing important,” Tabby’s mother-in-law shook her head. “I’m sorry I barged in like this. It’s just that I found one of Faline’s dolls she had left behind at our house and I thought she might miss it.” So saying, Caprice held out the sparkly-haired princess My Little Person which was on of Faline’s favorites.

“How kind and thoughtful of you!” Tabby enthused, steering Caprice out of the room. “Faline will be exceedingly grateful. Is there anything I can get you while you’re here? Something to drink, at least?”

“Oh, no, that’s fine,” Caprice said, embarrassed to be made so much of. “I really just dropped in quick to return it. You don’t have to leave your friends. Really, I’ll just let myself out again– ”

“That’s fine,” Tabby brushed it off. “I was about to get away from all the noise anyway. It’s a very vulgar display, actually. I fail to see what those friends of mine see in movies like that.” Tabby shook her head in exasperation. “But anyway. Can I get you a glass of water or anything? A slice of cake? Just sit down here and I’ll be right back.”

Caprice sighed and acquiesced, seeing as there was little else she could do as Tabby hurried off.

* * *
“Thomas, do you have a minute?” Caprice tentatively peered into the study where her son was to be found.

“Well, of course, Mom,” Thomas said, setting a book aside. “What’s on your mind?”

“It’s Tabby,” Caprice confessed. “I’m concerned– ”

“Why?! What’s wrong?”

“It’s just that she– oh, she acts so differently for me and Dietrich than when she’s with her friends,” Caprice sighed. “She’s so dutiful, and kind, and thoughtful; but I feel that she’s going out of her way to impress us. She’s not quite normal with us, is she?”

“No, she’s not,” Thomas shook his head. “So you’ve noticed, too.”

“She never talks about her hobbies, or interests, or anything,” Caprice continued to fret. “In fact, I’m given the impression she’s going out of her way to hide them because she’s embarrassed of what we’d think. Why does she think she has to be so perfect for us?”

“She’s in awe of you and Dad. She just doesn’t realize it.”

“In awe of us? But why?” Caprice said, puzzled.

“My own fault, I suppose,” Thomas said ruefully. “In her eyes, at least, I made the two of you out to be larger-than-life characters.”

“Oh, dear! I don’t want her to feel like that!” Caprice fretted. “There must be something we can do. I know she’s a lovely pony, but I want to get to know her better for herself, not for what she thinks I’d be pleased with!”

“Give her time,” Thomas said inanely. Even to his own ears, it sounded lame. Tabby was a difficult one to figure out...

* * *
Agatha was quite comfortably ensconced on the sofa with Faline on her lap, showing her granddaughter pictures from the latest fashion magazine. “See, you’ll notice that hairstyles like this are very in this season.” She pointed to the model on the cover. “And this issue unveils the new designs by Tremane! Just wait until Grandma shows you those! He is an absolute artist when it comes to fashion. Why, I was lucky enough to secure one of his designer originals, which I had to pay quite a premium for; but I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth it...”

“Is it sparkwy, Gramma?” asked Faline, getting to the crux of the matter.

“Well, no, but its somewhat muted appearance only accentuates its true inner beauty of design.”

“Oh.” Faline quickly lost interest and flipped to the next page. “Ooh! That’s sparkwy.”

Agatha looked at the photo and frowned. “Well, yes, it is; but that’s one of Simen’s designs, and I’ve never cared very much for his work. His quality has always been very inferior, in my opinion. Here, maybe you’ll think more of Mirabella’s new collection.”

Just then a draft of cold air blew in which signified more visitors to the mansion. A beige unicorn swept into the living room and announced her presence. “Faline, sweetie! Come and see what Grandma got you!”

Faline scrambled off Agatha’s lap in record time, in the process crumpling the magazine, and ran to meet her much-more-recently-acquired grandmother. “Gramma!” she squealed. “You’re visitin’, twoo?”

“Yes, we’ve been invited to dinner,” Caprice said, hugging Faline. “And look what I have for you!” She held out a cuddly plush kitty with a red bow around its neck.

Faline’s appetite for plush cats to add to her steadily growing collection never abated, so she accepted the latest offering with glee. “Thank ‘ou,” she said sweetly.

Caprice patted her head affectionately. “And what have you been busy with, little Faline?”

“Yes,” Agatha spoke-up crisply from the sofa, trying to straighten the magazine pages. “Faline and I were just going over the latest fashions together.” A tiny bit more emphasis was placed on the last word, together.

Caprice noticed Agatha’s presence in the room. “Sister!” she said effusively, throwing her forelegs around Agatha in a welcoming hug. “How are you?”

“Just fine, Caprice,” Agatha said through gritted teeth. Sister, indeed! Just because they were distantly related through marriage, that hussy thought she could refer to her in such a familiar term– and steal so much time away spent with her one and only granddaughter!

“I’m so glad!” Caprice beamed. “This family dinner was such a nice idea. By the way, where is Tabby? I want to thank her again for that lovely dessert she sent over yesterday.”

“I believe she’s in the kitchen preparing the meal,” Agatha said crisply.

“Wonderful! I’ll see if she needs any help. Faline, do you want to come with me?”

“Okway,” Faline said agreeably, trotting along with Caprice. Agatha was left fuming in their wake.

* * *
“Oh dear! It’s burned!” Tabby looked with dismay at the mushroom sauce boiling on the stove. “It was so luxurious, too! I wonder...” But hearing approaching hoofsteps, she quickly slammed a cover down on top of the offending food item. “Oh... oh! You’re here already, Caprice?”

“Yes, we just arrived,” Caprice beamed. “Dinner smells lovely! Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Oh, no!” Tabby said emphatically, shaking her head. “I have everything under control. Why don’t you sit down and relax?”

“Are you sure? I could set the table– ”

Tabby looked scandalized at the mere suggestion. “Of course not! No, you don’t have to do anything. Believe me.”

Caprice frowned slightly. “I wish you’d let me do something sometimes, Tabby! I feel so guilty taking advantage of your hospitality and giving nothing back in return. Why, you won’t even accept rent payments from us for use of your old house–“

”Think nothing of it,” Tabby assured her, pushing her back into the living room. “I don’t mind at all. As long as you’re happy...”

“Of course, Dietrich and I have been very happy since we came here, and you’ve made us so very welcome! But we’re not incapable of pulling our own weight. If you’d just let us...”

Faline, growing impatient with the conversation, started tugging on Caprice’s hoof herself. “Come on, Gwamma! Me show you the Furbys!”

“Yes, that’s a good idea, Faline,” Tabby said in a tone that brooked no arguments. She was off again back to the kitchen before Caprice could protest further. Caprice sighed and let herself be led off by Faline.

* * *
Catering hoof-and-hoof to other ponies was not Tabby’s usual way; but where Thomas’ parents were involved, she was all solicitude. If she had stopped to analyze her feelings, she would have seen that it was as Thomas had theorized, that they were the object of a sort of hero worship to her. Before they had been recovered, Thomas had spoken so often of them, and in such glowing terms, that it seemed wrong to not treat them with the utmost best she could offer. So of course her in-laws could reside rent free in her old house next to Sugarberry’s which she hadn’t gotten around to selling yet. Of course she had to personally see to anything they might require while in her presence. She was to be at their service, not the other way around.

At first Dietrich and Caprice had been flattered by their daughter-in-law’s devotion, but they quickly came to realize that such an obsession on Tabby’s part was not a desirable trait. Tabby put so much energy into being perfect when she was around them that they really couldn’t get to know her true self. For some time now they had been trying to prod her out of this mind-set, but to no avail. Tabby was entirely steadfast in her convictions, and it didn’t seem that there was anything anyone could do to change it.

* * *
If there was suppressed tension in the air during dinner, no one mentioned it. But afterwards, after they had removed to the living room for some light conversation, tempers started flaring out of control.

On one side of the room, Dietrich and Hubert had involved themselves in another quarrel, this time over the reasonableness of the hypothesis that the Loch Ness Monster was a prehistoric beast and not a simple sea otter. The rivalry between the two stallions had sparked quite early on in their acquaintance, when Hubert had remarked on the mystic jewel of the Yetis which Dietrich had been fortunate to see during his and Caprice’s captivity on the South Pacific Island.

“Imagine, having seen the Tlawma Jewel of the Yetis!” Tabby’s father had innocently commented upon meeting Dietrich for the first time and learning of his escapades. “Legends of its magic powers abound, but no pony has ever seen it– besides you, of course.”

Dietrich had laughed. “Oh, it’s flashy, all right; but I wouldn’t attribute any ‘magic powers’ to it. It’s just the object of some primates’ primitive tribal ceremony.”

Hubert was shocked. “Surely you can’t speak so lightly of it! And besides, the Yetis are not a ‘primitive’ people! Why, they have one of the most advanced cultures in the world. Their temples in the Himalayas are at the height of achievement, and their meditation techniques are unparalleled anywhere.”

“Over-romanticized monkeys is all they are,” Dietrich had countered.

Hubert was shocked. “ Yetis, ‘over-romanticized monkeys’? That’s like saying the flying saucer men are simply– simply– men!”

“Oh, you believe in flying saucer men, too?”

Hubert had bristled. “Of course! Who doesn’t?”

“Myself, for one,” Dietrich had maintained stubbornly. “I don’t hold with supermarket tabloid material.”

“Supermarket tabloid material, is that what you call my studies! Why, if you had seen half the things I have–“

Needless to say, the two hadn’t been on very friendly terms with each other ever since, even though their relations brought them together frequently enough. Invariably, whenever they were in each other’s company, a disagreement broke out. Thomas’ truth-seeking reporter father and Tabby’s eccentric myth and mystery researcher father did not mix.

And then there was Caprice and Agatha. Caprice had embraced all members of her daughter-in-law’s family with open hooves, thrilled to have family again after so many years of isolation. And Agatha, who had been quite content being one of the main fixtures in dear little Faline’s life, resented having to suddenly share her granddaughter with an encroaching newcomer. But whatever derogatory remarks Agatha might make to the beige unicorn rolled right off of her; Caprice was oblivious to any insult. That made it perhaps even more frustrating to Agatha than if her subtle barbs were returned.

This evening, Agatha thought to rub it in a bit that Faline was hers first and foremost– after Tabby, at least. And even that was questionable. “I’m so looking forward to taking Faline to the New Year fashion show on Thursday. Such a precocious thing, she already has quite an eye for fashion!”

Caprice blinked. “This Thursday? New Year’s Day? Oh, but Tabby told me she and Faline were both free that day. I was going to have them over and show them my old photo albums. And we were going to bake cookies and– ”

“Oh,” said Agatha smoothly. “That’s unfortunate that you’ll have to change your plans. Another day, perhaps.”

Caprice looked confused. “But I’m sure Tabby said– ”

“Just when did my daughter give you this permission?” Agatha said, somewhat haughtily.

“Why, it was just yesterday when we planned it.”

Agatha looked smug. ”Well, then, that settles it. Whatever my daughter may have said to you is beside the point, since I made my bid for Faline’s time much earlier than that.”

“Oh well, it’s no problem,” Caprice said cheerily. “I’ll just come with you! We can both watch Faline.”

“I really don’t need the help. She’s such a well-behaved little darling. But if you need help controlling her–”

“Oh, that’s not a problem, but I like having as much time with her as possible. I’ve already missed three years with her, you know,” Caprice smiled. “Surely you understand that.”

“Well, I’m afraid you will just have to wait for another time, since the fashion show is booked solid and I couldn’t possibly fit you in on my ticket,” Agatha continued.

“Oh dear, you’re sure?”

“Positive. It’s quite a popular event, you know. The tickets sell out quickly.”

“Then I suppose I will have to wait,” Caprice conceded.

“Yes,” smiled Agatha.

“Of course,” Caprice perked up, “Tabby did say, too, she’d need my help watching Faline when she went shopping on Friday.”

“What?! She asked you?!” Agatha gasped.

“That doesn’t conflict with your plans, does it?”

“We-e-e-ell...” Agatha drew the word out as long as she could while trying to determine a feasible sounding excuse. How dare Tabby overlook her own mother and turn the care of her daughter over to this– this– interloper! “Tabitha!” she raised her voice irritably. “Come over here.”

Tabby trotted over obediently. “Yes, Mother?”

“Tell me, dear, what your plans for this Friday are.”

“Oh, shopping, of course!”

“And what will you do with Faline?”

“Faline adores shopping. She’ll come with me.”

“And won’t you need someone to help keep an eye on her?”

“Well, that’s why I invited Caprice to come along,” Tabby beamed. “You can come too, y’know.”

“Well!” Agatha huffed, crossing her forelegs. “I suppose I’d better do that, then, just to make sure nothing untoward happens.”

“Oh...” said Tabby vaguely, picking up on undertones of hostility. “Okay... I think.”

“Perhaps Elaine will come also, and we’ll all have a lovely girls’ day out!” Caprice said exuberantly.

Agatha sniffed. “Really, Caprice, must you try to turn everything into a large party? There is such a thing as one-on-one bonding, you know. Like between me and Faline.”

Caprice immediately looked abashed. “I’m sorry, Agatha. I didn’t mean to encroach–“

”Encroach!” Agatha repeated in haughty tones. “Encroach! Caprice, dear, you’ve done nothing but encroach since I’ve known you!”

“I didn’t know–“ Caprice looked close to tears.

“Mom,” Tabby interjected warningly.

“Well, now you do,” Agatha snapped. “Faline is my granddaughter first and foremost, and I’ll thank you to remember that. You’ll never hold as important a place in her heart as I do.”

“I’m sorry– I never realized– I thought– oh, Agatha, I never meant to hurt you!” Now Caprice really was crying. “I didn’t think it was hurting anyone to spend time with Faline–“

Mom!” Tabby said with more authority this time, stomping her hoof and rounding on Agatha. “That was uncalled for! What is the matter with you?! Apologize this instant!” Tabby was as shocked as Caprice and also very, very angry.

“Tabitha!” Agatha gasped. “You are taking Caprice’s side?”

“Well, of course I am! You’re being ridiculous. Caprice has as much right to Faline as you do.”

“I never thought I would hear such words from my very own daughter,” Agatha said angrily. “Caprice has taken you away from me too, I see!”

“Oh, please don’t fight because of me,” Caprice pleaded with them, wringing her hooves in dismay.

“Caprice has nothing to do with this. It’s your own attitude! You don’t have exclusive rights to Faline, you know, even if you’ve been used to it for the past three years,” Tabby continued, heedless of Caprice. “I can’t believe you’re acting like this!”

“And I can’t believe my daughter is such a traitor to her own family! You switched your alliances over quickly enough. I have never felt so ill-used in my life!”

Hello! I’m only being fair. You may have been spoiled since she was born, but the fact of the matter is that Dietrich and Caprice have exactly the same measure of right to Faline as do you and Dad!”

The family get-together was quickly getting out of hoof. While the three mares were thus occupied, Dietrich and Hubert’s debate had developed into a similarly unpleasant exchange of words. Thomas’ attempts to placate them fell on deaf ears. The mares were so absorbed in their own spat that they didn’t realize what the stallions were up to until Faline’s name was brought up.

“...and I’m really not happy with you filling my granddaughter’s head with this sort of trash all the time!”

“It is not trash! And I’ll have you remember that she’s my granddaughter, too; and if I think it’s important that she learn about these lost civilizations, I darn well won’t stop!”

“I agree,” Agatha said frigidly from opposite them, not knowing the exact terms of the argument but wanted to side against Dietrich nonetheless. “You have no right to dictate our hold over Faline!”

“Oh, please, let’s all stop fighting!” Caprice continued to insist. “Can’t we all just get along?”

“I will not stop fighting, Caprice, when the well-being of our granddaughter’s mind is at stake,” Dietrich said vehemently, glaring pointedly at Hubert.

“Mom is right,” Thomas interjected, the only rational one left. “This has got to stop. We’re all overwrought and we’ll end up saying things we regret–“

”Well, it’s too late for that!” Tabby snapped, making wide, sweeping gestures with her forelegs to indicate her displeasure at this disastrous ending to her perfectly planned party. All the negative vibes in the air were really getting to her and she rounded on all of them stormily. “Oh, everyone is being so– so– unreasonable! You’re not making any sense at all! Why are you all being so difficult!” So saying, she turned around and stomped out of the room.

Then Caprice started wailing. Then Faline, who had been awakened from her nap by the shouting, wandered into the room and started wailing, too. Then Hubert, Agatha, and Dietrich started– or rather, continued– to yell at each other. And Thomas tried valiantly not to lose his temper.

“Caprice, would you please cease your wailing!” Dietrich addressed his wife irritably. “It’s not helping matters any.”

“I– can’t– help it!” Caprice sobbed. “It’s all so– sad!”

“Yes, it is very unfortunate that poor Tabitha had to be subjected to such stress, especially in her condition,” Agatha said crisply, the path of her gaze leaving no doubt as to who she held to be the guilty party. “In fact, I really should go to her–“

Thomas doubted that Agatha’s presence would help calm Tabby any. “I think it would be best if you all went home now,” he said in a carefully maintained level voice. “This ‘conversation’ has continued long enough. So good night.”

“Perhaps we should take Faline with us for the night,” Agatha offered quickly.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Thomas said in a voice that brooked no argument as he escorted them all to the door.

* * *
“I feel badly for Tabby that the evening ended on so sour a note,” Hubert shook his head on their way home.

“Yes, well, it’s all the Fairfaxes’ fault,” Agatha pronounced viciously. “Thomas is a nice boy, but his parents–!”

“I agree,” Hubert said sagely. “I find them to be remarkably arrogant in their opinions. I must say I’m surprised, after knowing Thomas for so long.”

“And Tabitha is being entirely too friendly with them,” Agatha said pensively. “She’s given them too many liberties. Staying in her house, eating her food, taking her daughter away from her–!”

“And– we really shouldn’t be out this late at night, Agatha,” Hubert interrupted as he darted furtive glances around them. “I have suspicions– but no, I won’t worry you– ”

“Yes, Hubert, you may entertain your conspiracy notions,” Agatha sniffed. “But most importantly, I’m concerned about Faline. Why, we hardly ever get to see the little darling anymore! Caprice always snatches her away.”

“Wait!” Hubert suddenly halted. “There’s something in the shadows up ahead. I think it may be– ”

“Do stop being ridiculous, Hubert,” Agatha said snappishly. “However unpleasant he and his wife may be, I doubt Dietrich has hired assassins to take you out.”

“You haven’t heard him trying to de-bunk my theory on the flying saucer men,” Hubert said in hushed tones. “There’s no telling what that stallion is capable of.”

“Well, Faline is the more pressing concern, anyway. We must keep Caprice from exerting her influence over the little darling...”

* * *
“I never thought,” Caprice started to say as she and her husband left in the opposite direction of the Fershunds, pausing often to sniffle, “that I was being such a nuisance to them.”

“Don’t take to heart what Agatha said to you,” Dietrich said pensively. “She had no right to speak to you like that, and Tabby is absolutely right. We have as much right to Faline as they do.”

“I know, but...” Caprice trailed off. “I thought we were getting along so well! It was so nice to have... family... again.”

“Tabby is a nice enough girl, but I’m not sure about her parents,” Dietrich shook his head. “Hubert is quite an eccentric, and I must say I’m not too pleased with the ideas he’s been filling Faline’s head with. And Agatha... well, you know what Agatha is like after tonight.”

“Oh, don’t say such things about them,” Caprice pleaded. “I know they have good intentions. There must be a way to work things out...”

Dietrich sighed. “As pleasant as your idealism is, Caprice, I fear that’s not a very viable option. One thing is for certain, though. They can’t keep us from seeing our very own granddaughter.”

* * *
By the next day, Agatha was concerned with the impression she had left her daughter with. When Tabby still seemed chilly towards at church that morning, she thought she had better mend the fences between them. So that afternoon she dropped in at the mansion for an unexpected visit.

“Hello, Tabitha,” she started off affably. “You’re still feeling all right, I hope, after last night? It must have been very strenuous for you. You have been getting a lot of rest, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Mother,” said Tabby dutifully. Mentally, she wondered what her and Thomas’ parents would do with a second grandchild. Would it lessen or increase the rivalry?

“Where is Faline?” Agatha asked innocently.

“Napping...” said Tabby warily.

Agatha saw her expression and patted her understandingly on the hoof. “I really am sorry for the scene I caused last night, Tabitha.” Well, if nothing else, she was sorry for upsetting Tabby. How was she to have known Tabby would have taken Caprice’s side so readily? “I never meant to distress you.”

“Oh!” said Tabby, brightening. “So you won’t complain when Faline spends time with her other grandparents?”

”Of course not, dear.” Well, she didn’t have to like it. And she could do whatever was in her means to make sure she remained the dominant grandmother in Faline’s life.

“Okay!” said Tabby. “That’s great.” Suddenly, her face lit up with inspiration. “Oooh! Mom, I just had a fabulous idea!”

“What’s that, dear?”

But Tabby had already headed off to the phone.

* * *
“This,” Tabby announced proudly a little while later, with both Agatha and Caprice clustered around, “will solve all our problems.” She presented, of all things, a calendar.

“Tabitha, it’s for last year,” Agatha pointed out.

“Ooh! So it is!” Tabby scurried off to obtain a calendar for the current year.

Caprice looked at Agatha cautiously. “Do you know what this is about?”

“No,” Agatha said, equally as cautious in speaking to her enemy. “But knowing my daughter– ”

“Here we go!” Tabby enthusiastically reentered the room with a 2004 calendar. “Now,” she set it down on the table and whipped out a pen, “we’ll be able to fix your rivalry between Faline with no hard feelings! Won’t that be a great way to start the new year?”

“Ah!” Agatha’s face lit up with understanding. “I see. You’re going to begin keeping better track of the time each of us spends with her.”

“Yes,” Tabby said cheerfully. “And it’s going to be exactly even for each of you so there will be nothing to fight about!” She directed the last part of this statement towards her mother.

“It’s a lovely idea!” Caprice agreed. “Now we won’t have to quarrel with each other, Agatha! Isn’t that great?”

“Er... yes,” Agatha said shiftily.

“Now,” Tabby continued, scribbling down some items, “we know Mom will be taking Faline to the fashion show on January first, and Caprice will be shopping with us on the second. Agreed?”

“Yes!” Caprice said. “And then perhaps we could have our meet at my house on the fourth?”

“Very well,” said Agatha, “but then I need another spot. On Monday the fifth, I think.”

“Okay!” said Tabby. “See how simple this is? Now, what other days will each of you want her?”

The three mares puzzled over the month of January for a good half hour, divvying up Faline’s time. Agatha, by snaring as much time with Faline as she could so that Caprice would not have the chance to sneak in a visit, filled up nearly half the calendar, which caused the other half to be filled by Caprice. At the end, Tabby stared at the following month with mixed feelings. Yes, Faline’s time had been divided up quite evenly between her grandmothers, but it seemed to leave very little time at home... perhaps one day each week. Oh well, it was a small price to pay for cooperation.

Tabby hung up the calendar in a conspicuous spot in the main hall and beamed at the other two. “There! Wasn’t that fun? And now all our problems are solved!”

Poor, naive Tabby.

* * *
The remaining three days of December passed quickly, which inevitably led to January first. Faline spent a pleasant time with Grandma Agatha reviewing fashions for the upcoming year. Agatha determined she had to begin teaching Faline more about looking for quality and expertise rather than just sparkliness.

And the next day Caprice accompanied Tabby and Faline on a shopping expedition to all the stores. Tabby was excited to find the latest assortment of My Little People on the shelves, and was about to start grabbing at them frantically before she realized how that would look to Caprice. Was a daughter-in-law who collected toys so openly very decorous? It was with terrible determination that Tabby turned her back on the rack and just allowed Faline to pick out several of her own. She would come back another day without Caprice and hope the new people were still there. Oh, it was a terrible sacrifice! And the new Fashion Daisys, too– these little plastic ponies with rubber clothing and accessories had captured Tabby’s interest as well and she loved them nearly as much as her My Little People collection! But not for anything would she disappoint her parents-in-law with embarrassing hobbies.

“Are you sure you don’t want any for yourself?” Caprice asked as they headed to the check-out lane with Faline’s My Little People and a variety of household items, a pretext Tabby used when shopping with Caprice. “Thomas said you collected...”

“Oh, no!” Tabby shook her head violently. “I have so many as it is... it’s quite a silly collection, anyway.” Oh, what hateful words! Tabby hoped her My Little People would understand and forgive her. “I really ought to give them all over to Faline, anyway,” she barged onwards, trying to make it as clear as possible that she was not obsessed with a filly’s toyline. “I really don’t know why I’ve held on to them for so long as it is. Quite stupid of me, actually.”

“Of course it’s not stupid!” Caprice protested. “I think it would be a very nice collection to have. They’re very cute dolls, aren’t they?”

“For baby ponies,” Tabby said with determination. Caprice let it go even though she strongly suspected Tabby was lying through her teeth.

On Saturday Agatha appeared again on Tabby’s doorstep to take Faline off her hooves for the day, and on Sunday Tabby and Faline went to Caprice’s house to see some of the mare’s mementoes recently shipped to Dream Valley from their storage facility in New Pony.

The rest of the week Faline was consistently taken by one or the other of her grandmothers, which at first was rather fun, but after awhile the little baby pony began to miss her own parents and home...

* * *
“Faline, are you all ready to go?” Agatha said enthusiastically as she found Faline perched on a couch in the mansion living room. The baby pony looked a little forlorn, if truth be told.

“Nwo,” Faline shook her head sadly.

“Ah, I see. You don’t have your new scarf and mittens on. Don’t worry, I’ll get you bundled up in no time!” Agatha headed for the coat closet just when Tabby emerged holding the necessary items.

“There you go, Faline!” Tabby said brightly, putting on the scarf and mittens for her. “Won’t you have a fun time with Grandma!”

Faline remained sulky. “Don’t wanna go,” she said succinctly, not moving an inch.

“You don’t want to play makeover with Grandma?” Agatha was aghast. “Well, why ever not?”

“Me tired of going places,” Faline shook her head violently. “Me wanna stay with Mommy.” She looked beseechingly at Tabby.

“Aww, that’s so sweet,” Tabby cooed. “Sorry, Faline. Off you go. We can’t start going around the schedule now, sweetie. You’ll be back before you know it!” With these encouraging words, off Agatha went carting an unwilling Faline behind.

* * *
“She seems a bit unhappy...” Caprice said tentatively as she found Faline petulantly pouting when she came to collect her granddaughter the next day. “Perhaps it would be best if she stayed home today.”

“Oh, no, she’ll be fine once she gets out,” Tabby assured Caprice. If she broke the schedule once it would soon be in ruins and they would be back to where they started from in regards to Faline.

Caprice wasn’t so sure. “How about we stay home today and play with My Little People instead of going to the playground?” she suggested.

Faline brightened a little. “You, too, Mommy?”

“Oh!” said Tabby. “That would be fun... I mean, fine!”

So they went off to Faline’s room to play with the baby pony’s personal My Little People collection. The scenarios invariably turned into soap opera situations, with jiltings and feuds rampant. Tabby sighed a bit wistfully. It had been a long time since she had been able to play with Faline like this, and she rather missed it.

* * *
“And where is Faline this evening?”

“It’s Mom’s turn with her today,” Tabby nodded with authority. “But don’t worry; she usually returns her in time for bedtime.”

“It would seem that we have only a very limited time with our own daughter anymore.”

“Weeeeell,” Tabby said slowly, “I suppose it isn’t exactly what I had in mind... but still, it’s worth it to keep our moms at peace with each other, isn’t it?”

Thomas had his doubts as to how long this peace would last, but kept quiet.

* * *
Tabby was definitely incorrect in thinking that the situation had been resolved. Agatha on the surface had agreed to the equal-time schedule, but she was still determined to set herself up as the dominant grandmother in Faline’s life.

It would be difficult to turn Faline against Caprice, but Agatha was determined. And one day when Faline was at her house she put her plan into action. When Faline was relating to Agatha what she had done with Caprice the other day, Agatha began shaking her head slowly.

“What’s the mwatter?” Faline asked, cocking her head curiously.

“Oh, Faline, I’m just concerned about the influence your grandmother Caprice is having on you,” Agatha said sadly. “If it were up to me– but no, your mother doesn’t even see what’s happening...”

“I do not understwand,” said Faline succinctly.

“It’s a lamentable state of affairs, Faline, but I’m afraid you must be told,” Agatha sighed. “You see, Caprice disapproves highly of your mother and is trying to push her out of your life. Each minute you spend with your other grandmother, Faline, the further your mind is poisoned. It would break your mother’s heart, and mine as well, were Caprice to achieve her nefarious end.”

Faline narrowed her eyes skeptically. “You sure?”

“Yes, unfortunately I am,” Agatha said mournfully. “It is a dreadful occurrence, but I can only hope it’s not too late to reverse. You must stop seeing your grandmother Caprice, Faline.”

“This does not make swense,” Faline insisted. “Grandmwa Capwice likes Mommy. She says so! She does not have ‘nefawious ends’.” She glared stonily at Agatha.

“Of course that’s what she says,” Agatha explained patiently. “But that’s only so that no one will suspect that she is in reality driving a wedge between your family! You must rid yourself of this foreign influence, Faline!”

“You are being very mewodwamatic, Gramma,” Faline said, carefully considering the situation. “I do not think I bewieve you. Why would Grandmwa Caprice want to get rid of Mommy?”

Darn! If only Faline were as gullible as her mother. “Because, naturally, she does not approve of your father’s choice in a bride,” Agatha elaborated. “If it had been up to Caprice, your mother would have been someone very different.”

“No, no, no,” Faline shook her head. “If my mommy had been different, I wouldn’t be me at all. So it would be very swilly of Grandmwa Caprice to take me away from Mommy. If she doesn’t like Mommy, she should get rid of both of us.”

“Well, she assumes you’re still young enough that away from your mother’s influence, you could be brought up without the undesirable traits of your mother, as Caprice sees them,” Agatha went on, getting frustrated.

“Maybe,” admitted Faline. “But I do not think it is very wikely.”

“Well... I think it is!” Agatha ended lamely. Really, Faline was too precocious for her own good. “Please, Faline, you must believe me. For the good of your family!”

“I will conswider it, and do wesearch,” Faline condescended to agree to.

“That’s a good girl.” Agatha patted her on the head warmly.

* * *
Later that night, after Faline had been brought back home and put to bed, she wandered instead the hallways of the mansion. She had been trying to sleep; but there were voices coming from the floor below her, and they disrupted her into wakefulness. So she jumped out of bed and decided to join the party.

She neared the door of the library and identified the voices of her father and grandmother Caprice. Faline was about to nudge the door open and barge in on them, but then she made out part of the conversation and she paused.

“Now Moonbeam, she was a pretty filly,” Caprice’s lilting voice rang out. “She would have been a much better choice for you, I think...”

Faline stood stock-still, horrified by the innuendos of her grandmother’s comment. So Grandma Agatha had been correct after all... Caprice didn’t like Mommy! She wanted some stupid Moonbeam in her place...

Eyes welling up with tears, Faline took off down the hallway.

* * *
“And look, I just uncovered these and had to share them with you,” Caprice bubbled enthusiastically. “Pictures from your senior prom!”

“Oh... wow,” said Thomas, trying to sound enthused as well. His senior year... when he’d made a fool of himself over that drop dead gorgeous Dezaray, who had had more hair than wit. He couldn’t believe he’d been so taken in by a pretty face...

“Yes, here’s you with your date– Dezaray, was it? That foreign filly, wasn’t she? I remember you were so proud when you got her as your date!” Caprice said, smiling fondly at the memory. “There was that other girl you knew– ah, yes. Now Moonbeam, she was a pretty filly! She would have been a much better choice for you, I think.”

“In retrospect, yes,” Thomas said drily. “But I learned my lesson from Dezaray soon enough, when she dumped me as soon as another guy caught her eye.”

“Dumped you? I thought you told us you mutually agreed... oh, but that’s neither here nor there,” Caprice laughed. “Everything has turned out for the best, and you have a most lovely wife. I couldn’t have chosen better for you myself. Oooh, and look, here’s Stevie...”

* * *
Alas, Faline, not having heard the full conversation, went crying into the computer room where she found her mother idly typing some notes on Furbish behavior she had been cataloging. “Mommy!” she sobbed, throwing herself at her, “I will never, never let Grandma Caprice turn me against you!”

“Oh,” said Tabby, arranging Faline in a more comfortable position on her lap. “Faline, what are you talking about?”

Faline proceeded to rather incoherently relate the tale of Agatha’s “suspicions”, and Tabby saw the falsity for what it was– an extremely underhooved attempt of Agatha’s to shove Caprice out of Faline’s affections. Before giving over to rage at her mother’s behavior, Tabby did her best to soothe Faline and convince her that Grandma Agatha had been grossly mistaken and that Faline had nothing to fear from Grandma Caprice splitting her family up.

By the time Faline’s sobs had subsided into an occasional sniffle, Caprice had taken her leave of the house and Thomas came in search of Tabby and found her consoling Faline. “What happened?” he asked. “A bad dream?”

“Worse... a Living Nightmare!” Tabby pronounced in horrified overtures. “Ooooooooooh, that mother of mine!” she fumed, starting to pace the floor after handing Faline over to Thomas. “She has gone too far this time. Oh yes, doting grandmother indeed! Just look what she’s done to her darling granddaughter!” Seething, Tabby made wild, sweeping gestures with her forelegs; and then Thomas heard the incoherent story from her. “It is the outside of enough!” she finished. “Something must be done!” Before Thomas could stop her from doing or saying anything rash, Tabby was dialing her mother’s number on the telephone.

* * *
“So if you continue to act in this childishly possessive manner, I’m going to make sure you don’t see Faline at all! At least Caprice acts in a civilized manner, which is more than I can say for you! So shape up your act or it’s going to be just Caprice who gets to see Faline! Goodnight!” And Tabby slammed down the phone on her end after an impassioned speech.

Agatha set the phone down with a determined click and a gleam in her eyes. “It would seem,” she said to herself, “that I’m going to have to take drastic measures.”



TO BE CONTINUED >>>>>>
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Wedding in White
– January 31, 2004 –
by Sugarberry


“Will the snow never stop?” complained Sugarberry as she and Chocolate Chip returned from the grocery store. The white stuff had been beautiful at Christmas, but its frequent appearance in the days since then had turned it into more of a drudgery. The mounds of snow at the side of the paths had grown higher with each passing snowfall until now it felt as if a pony was walking through a tunnel, especially when it was cloudy and dropping yet more snow. “We haven’t seen the sun in ages!”

“It’s not all that bad,” laughed Chocolate Chip, turning her face upward to let the white, fluffy flakes caress her face. “The sun peeked out from behind the clouds yesterday afternoon.”

“I must have blinked.”

“You were locked in the study composing,” Chocolate Chip clarified. “And by your mood today, I’d say that you’ve hit a snag in your story.”

“More of a rock wall, actually,” the mare admitted, shifting the groceries she carried. “My current project is set in the summertime, but this winter is so confining that I can’t think.”

“Well, the way I look at it is that the more snow that falls now, the less chance of it falling on my wedding day,” stated Chocolate Chip.

“There’s still so much to get done!” Sugarberry groaned, finding this new topic no less comforting than the weather.

“First things first,” rationalized Chocolate Chip as the two mares approached the back door of Sugarberry’s house. “We’ve got groceries to put away and Banderol to fetch. What do you want me to do?”

“Help me with the groceries, then we can both go over to Caprice’s; maybe she’ll have a snack ready for us,” brightened Sugarberry.

Chocolate Chip’s eyes lighted at the thought. “Yes. Let’s hurry. Maybe she’ll have those spice bars I like so well.”

With renewed energy, both mares hurried to get the milk put in the refrigerator, the nonperishable items in the pantry, and the main course in the oven before taking off once more through the backyard to what had once been Tabby’s home when she had been a single career pony.

Coming back to civilization and renewing ties with their families, Caprice and Dietrich had decided to resettle in Dream Valley to be near their son, Thomas, and their daughter, Elaine, both of whom had found their marriage partners in the years that Dietrich and Caprice had been marooned with the Yetis. Having a granddaughter was a wonderful delight, especially for Caprice, who looked forward as well to the month of May when a new grandchild was expected.

Tabby benevolently gifted her parents-in-law with her former home next door to Sugarberry’s, never having found a buyer who suited her specifications. Once more, the house was inhabited; and the path between the two homes was nearly as well-worn as when Tabby herself had lived there.

“Oh, you’re just in time!” Caprice smiled as she admitted Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip to the house. “I just tried out a new recipe, and I’d like your impressions.”

Chocolate Chip and Sugarberry exchanged a gleeful glance. “We’d love to... if you’re sure we wouldn’t be an imposition,” Sugarberry said. “Has Banderol been behaving himself?” She walked to the table where the little colt was so busy coloring in the coloring book Caprice had given him that he barely looked up to acknowledge his mother’s presence. Watching over his efforts sat the ever-present companion, Kitty-Kitty, the Puffalump. Across the table sat Faline, her picture developing prodigiously more neatly than the colt’s.

“He’s been no trouble at all. He and Faline have been busy ever since you dropped him off.” She smiled indulgently at the two foals. “You don’t know how nice it is to have little ones around again, although I did my share of caring for the Yeti youngsters when I was on the island. It just wasn’t the same as having my own granddaughter and little Banderol to look after.”

“Well, thanks to your help, Chocolate Chip and I were able to get our shopping done. As far as we can determine, we have enough groceries stockpiled now to handle all the wedding guests who will be staying at the house or dropping in... which means we’ve probably forgotten something crucial like... oh my gosh, Chocolate Chip, we did forget the celery, didn’t we?”

Chocolate Chip groaned. “You’re right. We were trying to decide on how much to get when Fern and Frond came by, and we got so caught up in admiring the baby that we went on without the celery.” She thought for a moment. “I’ll call Wigwam; he’s coming by anyway, so he can stop by Oakley’s and pick us up some.”

While Chocolate Chip took care of that detail, Sugarberry cut the bars as Caprice set out plates, glasses, cold milk, and coffee. As soon as Chocolate Chip was finished with her call, the mares sat down with Banderol and Faline to critique the new recipe.

Half an hour later, it was unanimously decided that the bars were a success. Dietrich, coming into the room from his home office, laughingly took note of the half-empty pan on the counter and the crumbs on the plates in front of the mares. “Lucky I came in when I did, or I’d have missed out on this... whatever it is. It sure smells good.”

The girls stayed to chat while Dietrich polished off a plate of bars himself, concurring with the majority opinion that the new recipe was a keeper; they were having such a good time that no one noticed the hour.

“Is it getting that late already?” queried Sugarberry, looking at the clock and jumping quickly to her hooves. “I’ve got to get supper started. Banderol, you’ll have to put the colors away.”

A dissatisfied scowl settled on the foal’s face. “Me stay,” he informed his mother.

“Daddy will be home soon,” Sugarberry coaxed. “You can show him your beautiful artwork.”

“Me not done.” The foal hunkered down to the task at hoof, applying red crayon to a tall, graceful pine.

Chocolate Chip giggled. “You can’t mess with inspiration, Sugarberry. I’ll get supper started while the young Rembrandt finishes his picture.”

“You shouldn’t have to...” began Sugarberry, but Chocolate Chip was already heading for the door.

“It’s the least I can do,” she called back as she disappeared.

* * *
If truth be told, the young mare was grateful for a chance to see her fiancé alone for a change. With all the wedding preparations, Wigwam and Chocolate Chip had found themselves with little opportunity for the long walks and cozy chats that sustained them. With the wedding only two days away, Chocolate Chip hoped for a few private moments with her sweetheart.

Knowing the evening’s menu, Chocolate Chip began peeling potatoes and had just put them on the stove to cook when a rap on the back door was followed by a robust, “Oakley’s delivery!” as the door opened, admitting an orange stallion with a grocery bag.

Grinning her welcome, Chocolate Chip met him half-way across the kitchen. “I’ll have to commend Oakley on his prompt service.”

“Oakley has nothing to do with it,” Wigwam stated, setting the purchase on the table and drawing the mare into his forelegs. “I was hoping for just such a scenario as this... you and me alone...” His lips met hers, negating the need for words.

The door opened again, but the country blue stallion that materialized, taking in the scene before him, stopped his forward progress and quietly retreated. Having already noted that the house was in darkness except for the kitchen, Vanguard surmised that Sugarberry was not yet home; he directed his steps to the house next door.

“I suspect that my wife and son are here,” Vanguard greeted Dietrich as that stallion opened the door.

“Sugarberry is even now trying to convince Banderol that Caprice will undoubtedly have more pictures for him to color the next time he visits,” Dietrich grinned. “Come on in.”

Sugarberry’s eyes had no sooner met her husband’s when Banderol clambered off his chair, his picture in one hoof and Kitty-Kitty in the other, and ran to his father. “Me color,” he said, holding up his work.

Scooping the foal into his forelegs, Vanguard admired his son’s effort. “Your trees are certainly... colorful.”

“Pretty,” agreed the foal. Then, his absorption in the art waning, he commanded, “Home!” and pointed to the door.

Sugarberry rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think you should say goodbye to Faline?” she suggested.

“Bye, F’line,” he waved merrily.

The little filly, still intent upon her own masterpiece– which was truly well-executed, the colors neatly within the lines– looked up to say goodbye, then slipped off her chair to stand by her grandfather.

“How about a kiss and a thank you for Caprice?” indicated Vanguard.

The colt leaned toward the mare, delivering a dutiful kiss. “Tank ‘ou, ‘Preec,” he said, then hid his face in his father’s mane.

“You’ll have to promise to come another day,” Caprice smiled on the foal. She then bustled to the counter, packaging the remaining few bars in plastic wrap. “For you,” she said, giving the dessert to Vanguard. “You’re the only one who hasn’t sampled them yet.”

“Thanks, Caprice. I’ve been wondering what smelled so good. But you’re not cutting yourself short, are you?” He sent a questioning glance to Dietrich.

“Another pan of some sumptuous offering will magically appear before bedtime,” assured the stallion. He patted his tummy. “And for now, I’m quite replete. You’ll be doing my waistline a favor.”

* * *
As Sugarberry and Vanguard and Banderol made their way back home, they encountered Licorice and Snapper just returning from their part-time jobs at Regal Ridges, Dream Valley’s premier hotel. “It’s okay if Snapper stays for supper, isn’t it?” queried Licorice by way of greeting.

“Of course, Snapper’s always welcome,” Sugarberry smiled at the young stallion who had struck up a friendship with Licorice when the two began classes at Pony Pride in the fall. “How are your parents?”

“Mom’s busy rehearsing the music for the wedding,” Snapper supplied, shaking snowflakes out of his mane, “and Dad’s the same as ever.” Turtledove, Snapper’s mother, was the organist for the wedding; and Remuda was a dealer at the casino. Snapper’s eyes came to rest on the bars in Vanguard’s hoof. “Caprice was baking today?” he asked hopefully.

“Be grateful she was, because I didn’t have time to make a dessert,” Sugarberry admitted, moving to open the door.

“Um,” Vanguard cleared his throat. “You might want to knock first.”

“At my own back door?” questioned Sugarberry, her hoof on the knob.

“At the least, stamp the snow off your hooves... noisily.” Vanguard proceeded to follow his own suggestion and was joined by Licorice and Snapper, causing Banderol to laugh at these silly antics. Sugarberry more daintily cleaned her hooves of the fresh snow before opening the door and walking into the room, and she grinned at what she saw.

As one would expect after such a blatantly enacted arrival of intruders, Chocolate Chip was by the stove tending to the pot of potatoes; but the high color in her cheeks, Sugarberry suspected, was not due to the heat from the stove if the guilty glance Chocolate Chip sent her way was any indication. Also, the white frothy streaks running down the side of the pan and pooling around the burner were definite signs of an unwatched pot.

Wigwam, for his part, stood at the refrigerator, two bunches of celery in his hooves. The stallion was not one to blush, but he certainly looked... distracted. Small wonder why, Sugarberry smirked.

“Everything under control?” she sang out as Vanguard, Banderol, Licorice, and Snapper filed in behind her.

“Oh, Sugarberry, I’ve made a mess of everything,” Chocolate Chip wailed.

“It wasn’t her fault,” Wigwam quickly clarified. “I... I took her attention away from what she was doing.” He offered the celery as proof, then frowned at Licorice and Snapper as they snickered and exchanged knowing glances.

“You two get out of the kitchen,” Sugarberry said, then stopped Licorice and Snapper with a warning hoof. “Not you two. Those two.” She nodded toward Chocolate Chip and Wigwam. “The bridal couple has some last minute... seating arrangements to discuss. We left the lists in the turret room, I believe,” she advised the brown mare. “The rest of us will get supper ready.”

Neither Chocolate Chip nor Wigwam needed further incentive, and they beat a hasty retreat. Sugarberry began the job of cleaning up the stove before moving on with the rest of the meal preparations, giving orders to her team of assistants as she went. Banderol plopped himself and Kitty-Kitty down on the kitchen floor to play with the real felines, Fluff and Raptor.

“So who all’s goin’ to be stayin’ here again?” Licorice wanted to know as he got the plates out of the cupboard.

“Chocolate Chip’s grandparents, Forester and Camomile, will be arriving tomorrow morning. My parents, too.”

“What about Chocolate Chip’s parents?”

“Drifter and Twilight Jewel prefer staying at the hotel so they can have ready access to all the local restaurants to see what the competition is doing, and Lollipop has been invited to spend the weekend with Garnet and Wishbone.”

“Doesn’t sound too bad,” acknowledged Licorice, who had helped his parents at their bed-and-breakfast long enough to be accustomed to a wide variety of strangers in the house.

Snapper, whose college experience was far from ideal, began muttering. “You realize the wedding is going to be like going to classes at Pony Pride; Chocolate Chip invited nearly the entire faculty, as if we need to see them on our day off.” Without Licorice’s patient tutoring, the young stallion would have been completely lost. “I’ll feel like they’re about to test me on the names of the wedding party or what historical significance the wedding ceremony has or the ratio of out-of-towners to locals...” When Snapper realized the company he was in, he looked at Vanguard, his current math professor, sheepishly. “Sorry, sir.”

Saved by the bell, Snapper was relieved to see Vanguard leave the room to answer the summons at the front door, although his whispered, “I’m doomed,” to Licorice bore testimony to his mistrust of teachers.

* * *
“Prime!” Chocolate Chip squealed, jumping up from the window seat and scattering unemployed lists in all directions. “Oh, this is like old times!” She hugged the newcomer, a dark lemon-colored stallion with light green hair, who had been her classmate at Pony Pride and a trusted adviser while in New Pony.

“You’re lookin’ good,” Prime grinned as he pulled away to hold her at foreleg’s length. “Coming back to Dream Valley must have been the right choice.” He turned his attention to Wigwam. “Nice to see you again.”

“We’re both pleased that you consented to be one of our attendants. Chocolate Chip’s told me you kept an eye out for her while she was in New Pony. I appreciate that.”

“I wish I could have done more, but our schedules seldom clicked. Now, as its been a year since I was back in Dream Valley, I managed to finagle a few days off to catch up on friends at Pony Pride as well as to take in your wedding. And I have to admit that it’s great to be back.”

“We do have chairs in the living room,” Vanguard interjected, “in case any of you would like to sit down to do your visiting. I’ll go tell Sugarberry you’re here, Prime.”

* * *
“Another guest for supper?” Sugarberry said, looking worriedly from her husband to the stove and trying to calculate just how far the dishes would stretch.

“I can go home,” offered Snapper while looking longingly at Caprice’s bars.

“That won’t be necessary,” Sugarberry assured the young stallion. “Licorice, get out a can of salsa and a bag of chips; that’ll help stretch things.”

“Mom always adds water and a bouillon cube to the soup when more guests show up than she expected,” Licorice volunteered.

“But I’m not serving any soup,” Sugarberry pointed out.

“Ramen noodles!” Snapper said enthusiastically. “They’re quick and easy.”

“That just might work, Snapper,” smiled Sugarberry. “Thanks for the suggestion.”

“And Banderol loves them,” added Vanguard, going to the cupboard to grab several packages.

“I can handle this,” Snapper said proudly, taking the pan from Sugarberry and the noodles from Vanguard. “I practically live on these things,” he added, seeing the mare’s look of doubt.

“If you’re sure, I would like to say hello to Prime,” Sugarberry responded, taking off her apron and accompanying Vanguard to the living room, convincing Prime that it would be no trouble at all if he joined them for supper. After sharing the usual small talk, she excused herself to return to the meal preparation.

“Is everything going okay?” she queried.

“I’m just finishing up the noodles,” Snapper verified.

“And I added soup bowls to the table,” said Licorice.

“All right. Let’s serve up this meal.”

* * *
By the time the ponies were finished eating, Licorice and Snapper, who were both in their freshman year of college, felt comfortable enough with Prime to consider him their friend; and stories abounded of college life, teachers’ foibles, and the changes that had occurred at Pony Pride since Prime had left for the big city nearly three years earlier. Vanguard took the ribbing of the students good-naturedly and filed away some points that bore checking into to determine if some policies might need revamping.

Chocolate Chip and Wigwam got their fair share of teasing as well, with the three single stallions scoffing at the idea of wedded bliss– an oxymoron, they maintained– while Sugarberry kept her eyes on the availability of foodstuffs, and Banderol took advantage of the party atmosphere to feed Fluff and Raptor under the table.

Caprice’s bars had just been served with a generous dollop of ice cream when a familiar knock on the backdoor produced Wishbone and Garnet.

“If you’re having a party, why weren’t we invited?” asked Wishbone accusingly as he scanned the assembled ponies, his eyes sparkling.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” drawled Wigwam, standing to offer his chair to Garnet.

“I was just too tired to fix anything tonight,” the red mare sighed dramatically, dropping into the chair heavily. “It’s all those extra hours of work I have to do since we’ve been so short-hooved at the casino,” she added, casting a none-to-subtle glance at Wigwam.

“Hey! I had to do double duty while you and Wishbone were off on your honeymoon, didn’t I?”

The mare tossed her mane. “That may be; but before the wedding, I had to burn the midnight oil.”

“Well,” Wigwam grinned, “I plan to be burning the midnight oil after the wedding, but not at the casino.” His gaze settled on his bride-to-be who blushed charmingly.

Feeling that the conversation was getting out-of-hoof, Sugarberry pointed out to Garnet and Wishbone that they had a guest from New Pony.

“It’s good to see you again, Prime,” Wishbone said, shaking the stallion’s hoof.

“It’s a pleasure to be back,” Prime admitted, “and I’m glad to see that things haven’t changed too drastically. Some of my best memories are of the times we spent here in Sugarberry’s kitchen. Who of the old gang are still in Dream Valley?”

“Snowdrift and Troy...”

“They’re still a couple?” queried Prime, surprised.

“Snowdrift remains on the lookout for the perfect stallion; but until she finds him, Troy seems to be her best bet,” grinned Wishbone. Snowdrift and Wishbone, both from Neighberry, had started classes at Pony Pride at the same time; but their exclusive friendship had broadened as they met new ponies from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. Snowdrift had soon earned the reputation of a heartbreaker, but she seemed to have met her match in Troy.

“She’ll graduate with Wishbone in May,” Garnet added, “but Troy has to hang around for another semester to get some credits that didn’t fit his schedule earlier.”

“Chip is working in Hayton at Software Solutions,” Chocolate Chip contributed. “And Frilly Flower decided to stay in town with Glenvale Insurance.”

“What about Current?”

“The last we heard he was on some oceanography project at Calimadad Island and having a ball.”

By this time, Sugarberry had rounded-up enough food to set a healthy offering in front of Wishbone and Garnet; and noticing that Banderol was nodding in his father’s lap, she indicated to Vanguard that now was a good time to put the foal to bed. Vanguard excused himself and accompanied his wife to Banderol’s bedroom. After tucking the blankets around the sleeping child, both parents kissed his silken cheeks goodnight and left him to his slumber.

Reaching the top of the stairs, the ponies heard the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen. Sugarberry stopped, a bemused look on her face. “Things are changing again, with Chocolate Chip soon to be Wigwam’s wife. It’s been so nice having her back with us; now I’m going to miss her all over again.”

“Yes, but you’ll be able to see her as often as you like; she’s not moving to the ends of the earth, you know... only across town. It’s just like when Tabby moved to the mansion; you accommodated the change and progressed from there.”

Sugarberry grinned. “Yes, and now we have Caprice next door. It’s a welcome change, but she’s going to spoil Banderol, you know.”

“More than he’s been spoiled by the two of us?” Vanguard chuckled, drawing his wife to him for a kiss. “I love you, my darling. That’ll never change.”

* * *
Thankfully, the snow had stopped around midnight, and the weather seemed to smile down on the forthcoming wedding to be held the following day. The white landscape lent well with the anticipation of the bridal ceremony, and the absence of snowfall made the last minute tasks easier to accomplish. It also ensured the arrival of wedding guests from out-of-town.

Drifter, Twilight Jewel, and Lollipop, along with Forester and Camomile, arrived mid-morning, having left Neighberry early in the day; the grandparents were satisfied to settle down in the warmth and comfort of Sugarberry’s cosy home, but Drifter and Twilight Jewel preferred to continue on immediately to their hotel while Lollipop headed for Pony Pride to intercept her brother after his Friday classes.

Sugarberry’s parents, Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Baskets, arrived in time for lunch; Banderol knew a good thing when he saw it and made the most of having his doting grandparents in the house. He soon found that Forester and Camomile were remarkably accommodating to the whims and wishes of a little foal as well, and he reveled in the attention.

It was early evening when Xavier arrived on the doorstep from New Pony. Having accompanied Chocolate Chip to Dream Valley for Garnet and Wishbone’s wedding in August, he had made the acquaintance of many of the ponies who would again come together to celebrate this latest pairing of ponies. He had eagerly accepted Chocolate Chip’s invitation to come to the house early so that the two of them could catch up on one anothers activities since Chocolate Chip had left her job at New Pony.

After sharing civilities with Sugarberry and her house guests, Xavier was drawn by Chocolate Chip off to a quiet corner to chat. One piece of news that Xavier relayed truly surprised the mare. “Blackcap and Sassy were on the same flight as I was, and guess who’s with them.”

The brown mare wrinkled her forehead in serious thought, going over in her mind their mutual acquaintances in New Pony. “I have no idea.”

“Tilly.” Xavier grinned, awaiting Chocolate Chip’s reaction.

“Tilly’s here, in Dream Valley?” the mare exclaimed. “She replied to her invitation with a blunt refusal, saying an old mare like herself couldn’t be gallivanting about the countryside, especially in the winter. She’s here?”

“You’d definitely know she’s here if you shared the journey with her,” Xavier chuckled. “If she wasn’t exclaiming over the sight out the window, she was complaining about her leg hurting or fussing to get the blanket wrapped more securely around her or...”

“I get the picture,” laughed Chocolate Chip. “But she can barely walk; how’d she manage to get to the airport?”

“Well, I don’t know the details; but Blackcap and Sassy must be living saints to have arranged it.”

Chocolate Chip’s eyes twinkled. “Now, that’s a label that Blackcap and Sassy have rarely been given ; but I know that Sassy has a heart of gold. Did you help them to the motel?” Blackcap and Sassy had wisely chosen different accommodations than Drifter and Twilight Jewel, as Twilight Jewel was still working through some misgivings she had about her son’s mother-in-law.

Xavier rolled his eyes. “I had to. It looks like Tilly plans to stay awhile, or else she brought her entire apartment with her so she doesn’t get homesick.”

“I hope she didn’t pack that cat of hers in one of her suitcases,” giggled Chocolate Chip. “I can see her doing that.”

“I wouldn’t be all that surprised if she had,” agreed Xavier. “Oh, Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace were on the same flight, too. I understand that Fern and Toby have a daughter.”

“You’ll meet the little darling tomorrow.”

Their tete-a-tete was interrupted as Vanguard arrived home with Licorice in his company. Wigwam was not far behind. He had eyes only for Chocolate Chip, but he could not resist tormenting Sugarberry.

“You’ve been worrying for weeks that the wedding might be jeopardized by a snowstorm. Have you heard the weather report for tomorrow?”

“And you would believe the weather pony?” shot back Sugarberry.

“In this instance, yes. Who’s going to turn down clear skies and sunshine?”

“I can’t argue with you,” Sugarberry relented. “I’m happy about the forecast myself.”

“By the way,” said Licorice, “While I was on duty, your friends from Vulcanopolis checked in at the hotel... Giorgio and Enrica Guardini.”

“Wonderful!” bubbled Chocolate Chip. The prospective bride held Enrica in high esteem because of that mare’s successful effort to smooth over some ruffled waters between a disillusioned– some might have said, stubborn– Chocolate Chip and a woebegone Wigwam two years earlier. “It will be great to see them again.”

“My, my,” smiled Camomile. “Guests all the way from Vulcanopolis! I’m impressed.”

“Did Falda arrive from New Pony?” Chocolate Chip asked Licorice.

“Not that I noticed,” the young stallion admitted.

“Isn’t it time for the bride and groom to report to the church for the rehearsal?” Sugarberry broke in.

“Oh, dear! Where did the time go?” Chocolate Chip darted to Wigwam’s side and pulled him toward the door. “Xavier, come on!” she called over her shoulder.

“Impatient, isn’t she?” chuckled Forester.

“Tomorrow is her wedding day, Forester,” Camomile chided. “It’s a big day in a young mare’s life.”

“I know, I know.” Forester leaned over to buss his wife’s cheek. “And I’m not so old that I can’t remember that it was a pretty important day in this stallion’s life, too... the day we got married.”

“Oh, Forester!” Camomile blushed like a filly.

* * *
“Wigwam,” Fr. Isaac shook his head. “Several sedate steps to meet the bride with her parents is all that’s necessary; loping halfway down the aisle is entirely gauche.”

The snickers from his attendants caused Wigwam to cast them a warning glance which did little to stop their mirth. “You said to come forward to meet the bride and escort her to you. That’s what I did.”

“Your enthusiasm is to be commended,” Fr. Isaac stated drolly, “but I think Drifter can safely get his daughter to the front of church without your assistance.” The bridesmaids giggled.

Under his breath, Wishbone said to his fellow groomsmen who consisted of Teepee, Xavier, Prime and Sprinter, “This is the guy who said he’d wait for Chocky for as long as it took.”

“Just you wait, stripling,” Wigwam growled, overhearing the remark.

“Drifter... Twilight Jewel... Chocolate Chip... why don’t you try the walk down the aisle again? Garnet, you precede them.” Fr. Isaac resumed control of the practice session. “And, Wigwam, hold your position until they’ve reached this first row of pews.” He motioned to Turtledove at the organ to begin the processional once more.

This second attempt went much better, although Chocolate Chip was hard pressed not to hurry forward when Wigwam winked and smiled endearingly at her, his eyes inviting... perhaps too inviting for Drifter, who refused to turn Chocolate Chip’s hoof over to the stallion in this practice session. “Tomorrow... and not a moment sooner,” he warned Wigwam with an understanding grin.

Garnet and Wishbone were admonished to take good care of the rings while the two golden bands were in their possession before and during the ceremony; and, when Fr. Isaac was sure that everyone was aware of their cues and would not embarrass themselves on the morrow, he released them, promising that he would make a showing at their rehearsal party at some point in the evening.

It was an exuberant bunch of ponies that made their way from the church to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe where family and friends were gathering to make the most of this last day of single life for Chocolate Chip and Wigwam.

* * *
The Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe had never looked so festive. In preparation for the evening, a group of ponies had decorated this favorite gathering place with streamers and bells and a collage of pictures of Chocolate Chip and Wigwam that followed them through the days of their foalhood, adolescence, school days, and careers. Many familiar faces appeared at their sides in these photographic glimpses of the past, and the majority of those faces also presented themselves in the living flesh this evening to share in the celebration of the anticipated uniting of two well-liked and respected ponies.

The counter was open and ice cream treats flowed freely even though the winter air was brisk outside; the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe was warmed by more than the establishment’s furnace as the local inhabitants mingled with the out-of-towners and renewed acquaintances with old friends or shared the local gossip with the pony next door. Behind the counter, Scoops was assisted by Licorice and Snapper and Parsley.

By the time the wedding party reached the ice cream parlor, a sizeable number of ponies had already congregated, surprising Wigwam and Chocolate Chip with an enthusiastic huzzah as the couple entered the shop.

“Are all these ponies here because of us?” Chocolate Chip whispered to Wigwam.

“I’m sure the free ice cream was an overwhelming enticement,” the stallion responded, grinning.

Teepee overheard. “As much as it hurts me to admit it, brother, you’ve actually proven yourself to be quite well-liked in this town. Everyone is happy to see you and Chocolate Chip make a match of it; this gathering is an expression of their approval.”

“In a few months, you and Bittersweet will be in the same boat,” Wigwam noted. “And let me tell you, it’s a great place to be.” He looked at Chocolate Chip, his love obvious in the light in his eyes.

Hawkley came forward to greet his boss and Chocolate Chip. “Before this party gets out-of-hoof,” he smirked, “we’d like you to introduce your wedding party to those who aren’t acquainted with all those involved.” Waving his hoof in the air and bellowing out an order for quiet, Hawkley then proceeded to make known the bride and groom as a few of the guests had not yet met one or the other. Wigwam and Chocolate Chip, taken by surprise at this formal beginning to what had been arranged as a very informal gathering, whispered together a moment before deciding to present their attendants in the order in which they would process into church the next day, beginning with White Dove and Sprinter.

Wigwam grinned at the Native Pony mare of white as she stepped forward, her creamy yellow hair a silken braid. “White Dove and I were not only classmates for what seemed like a lifetime by the time we graduated but also next-door neighbors who shared many exciting adventures exploring our parents’ farms; we both learned at the same time that one never taunts an irate mother goose, although I was the one who discovered just how hard a pinch those orange, rounded beaks can inflict.” Wigwam rubbed his rump, causing everyone to laugh at the mental picture of the two little foals being chased– and conquered- by a protective feathered fowl. (Tabby especially empathized, as she had experienced vindictive wrath from Quackers, the insolent green-headed duck.) Wigwam continued, “White Dove has since pursued a nursing career, currently in Stableton.” He did not go on to explain that the gentle mare had recently suffered a sudden and unexpected end of her own engagement.

“All of you from Dream Valley are familiar with Sprinter, who was also a classmate with White Dove and me. We won’t go into any of the exploits in which he and I were involved; but suffice it to say that we were frequently on the black list of our older siblings who thought our sense of humor was in poor taste, to say the least. In spite of– or because of– those humble beginnings, Sprinter in now in charge of drama productions at The Tableau here in Dream Valley.”

The gathered ponies politely applauded this first attendant couple before Whispering Birch and Prime stepped forward. Whispering Birch, as Wigwam’s sister, received a fair amount of affectionate razzing from her brother while Chocolate Chip introduced Prime with a proud assessment of his accomplishments since they had met as students at Pony Pride. She followed with a touching presentation of her sister, Lollipop, and the stallion in New Pony who had befriended Chocolate Chip when she was new to the city, Xavier. The budding romance that had since sprung up between Xavier and Lollipop was obvious.

With no holds barred, Wigwam did the honors for Teepee and Bittersweet, recounting several instances of sibling rivalry between himself and Teepee (which Teepee was quick to repudiate) and the demanding association between himself and Bittersweet that had indirectly thrown Teepee and that mare together and had led to their pending commitment in May.

Chocolate Chip, who over the last several months had worked through her feelings of jealousy concerning the vibrant mare who had monopolized Wigwam’s time over the construction of Native Dreams, could sincerely smile over Wigwam’s tongue-in-cheek presentation of Bittersweet as a no-holds-barred manipulator who knew how to get what she wanted. Fortunately for Chocolate Chip, Bittersweet had wanted Teepee, not Wigwam.

The last attendants to be presented were Wishbone and Garnet, newly married themselves in August. Chocolate Chip hugged her younger brother, the only friend she had for support when she had been growing up in a less than ideal home-life. Wigwam admitted that he, too, had come to consider Wishbone as his own flesh-and-blood younger brother... albeit an irritating one at times; and Garnet had become a sister to both Wigwam and Chocolate Chip not only through her marriage to Wishbone but also through her unfailing friendship and her valuable expertise at the casino.

With the introductions taken care of, the party began in earnest; Scoops and her helpers were kept busy providing ice cream goodies for everyone while the jukebox played a variety of songs, all of which had been specially provided with the upcoming wedding in mind. Love songs, wedding songs, and love-gone-awry songs provided a background to the noisy chatting and laughing that took place between the ponies.

“Van, Sug, this is just like old times!” exclaimed Tabby as she and Thomas joined their friends at a corner table. “Ah, the good ol’ days.” Settling her chin on her hoof, Tabby sighed in dreamy delight as she watched the activity around her. “Except for all the different characters, and relationships, and everything else. Actually, it’s nothing like the old times...”

“Yes, the two of you are married ladies now,” Vanguard warned, not remembering those uncertain days with quite as much enthusiasm as Tabby did. Toby, Tex, Driftwood, Quarterback, Wigwam, and others had played too big a part in Sugarberry’s life for his comfort before she had consented to be his wife.

“Foof!” Tabby countered. “Just because we’re married doesn’t mean we can’t have any fun.”

Vanguard and Thomas exchanged a comic glance. “So marriage just drains life of all its fun?” queried Thomas.

“Well, it does limit a pony,” Tabby admitted. Looking at Sugarberry, she reminisced. “Remember what good times we had whenever a new stallion came to town? What with a surplus of mares and so few stallions, everyone wanted to be noticed. It was so funny! Especially Tiffany.”

“I don’t remember anyone running after me,” Vanguard noted.

“Well, yeah. You’re a math teacher,” Tabby said, as if that explained everything. “And besides, Sugarberry would’ve scratched out the eyes of any mare that looked at you,” she informed the stallion. “There’s no accounting for taste,” she added mischievously.

“I seem to remember that the one mare I wanted to look at me turned her back on me every chance she got,” mused Thomas, pinning his wife with a telling gaze.

“You were a veterinarian!” Tabby said the word as if it were some terrible disease. “I couldn’t handle the competition. Besides, I got over it.”

“If you think she was cool toward you, imagine how Tex felt,” Sugarberry placated Thomas.

I never put worms in her lunch box,” Thomas reminded the mare.

“But you did put me out of business,” Tabby nodded authoritatively. “Tex was a creep, though.”

“I wonder where he is now.”

“Butch hasn’t seen him since he went south to marry Bolivia, and no one else ever hears from him.”

“Oooh... mysterious. Who’s that over there?” asked Tabby, focusing on a mare and stallion off to the side of the room who seemed out of place.

Following her friend’s gaze to the late arrivals, Sugarberry made a guess. “The mare could be Fabia, Chocolate Chip’s boss from New Pony. She does look lost. I’ll invite her to sit with us.” So saying, Sugarberry stood up and moved away to approach the visitors, neither of whom had ever been to Dream Valley.

“Excuse me,” she said to the mare. “I’m Sugarberry, and Chocolate Chip asked me to be on the lookout for her friends from New Pony. I suspect you’re Fabia?”

“Yes. Nice to meet you, Sugarberry. And this is Tarn, once a coworker of Chocolate Chip.” Fabia indicated the stallion next to her. “Someone’s having fun,” she added with a grimace as a burst of loud laughter erupted from the area in which Wigwam and Chocolate Chip were currently talking with their siblings.

“Chocolate Chip looks happier than I ever saw her in New Pony,” commented Tarn. “Which stallion is her fiancé?”

“Wigwam is the orange stallion; his brother is next to him, the pale blue. The rose-red stallion is Chocolate Chip’s brother, Wishbone.”

“And we’ve met Xavier,” Fabia said, “and the dark yellow... but I can’t place his name.”

“Prime. So you’re not a complete stranger to all the faces here tonight.”

Fabia’s eyes twinkled. “However, there are several faces I’d like to get to know better,” she admitted.

Sugarberry grinned. Tabby was right. Even Fabia wanted a chance at the local stallions.

“Head me in the right direction and I’ll make the introduction,” Sugarberry promised.

“For starters, who’s the aqua stallion with yellow hair?”

“His name is Sprinter; he’s a close friend of Wigwam’s and directs the acting talent in town.”

“And the blue stallion... the one with violet hair? He’s single?”

“Yes; that’s Hawkley,” Sugarberry stated; and as if he heard his name mentioned, that stallion swung his head up and met her eyes directly. He grinned and separated himself from a conversation with the mothers and grandmothers of the bride and groom who were still expressing some concern over the reception details at the casino.

“Good evening, Sugarberry,” he greeted. “Where’s Banderol?”

“Home with my mom and dad,” Sugarberry informed him. “He’ll get a good night’s sleep that way and will enjoy the wedding more.” She then turned the stallion’s attention to Fabia. “Fabia, I’d like you to meet Hawkley, the one who keeps Wigwam’s casino running smoothly... depending on who you believe. Hawkley, Fabia was Chocolate Chip’s manager at her job in New Pony.”

“Hawkley...” Fabia extended a hoof.

“This is indeed a pleasure,” Hawkley drawled, taking the pastel mint-colored mare’s hoof in his for a long moment. “You could surely teach me a thing or two... about operating the casino even better.”

A soft blush tinted Fabia’s cheeks. “I hope to get a chance to see you at work,” she replied.

“Would you like a sundae?” Hawkley asked, extending a foreleg for the mare to claim. With a wink at Sugarberry over the top of Fabia’s head, he led the mare toward Scoops and the counter.

Sugarberry looked ruefully at Tarn. “I’m sorry; I didn’t get a chance to introduce you to Hawkley.”

“Never mind that, Sugarberry,” laughed the stallion. “If you don’t mind, I’ll hang out at your side until I spot a single mare to whom I’d like an introduction.”

“Come sit at my table; you can scan the field from there. And maybe Tabby can advise you.”

“Tabby?” queried Tarn, turning his attention to the table Sugarberry indicated. His eyes lighted as he spotted the red-haired pink unicorn who sat there.

“She’s married,” Sugarberry quickly noted. “But she enjoys matchmaking.”

“Does she have a sister?” Tarn asked playfully.

“No, but she does have a cousin that is almost identical to her. She’s married, too, however. But the groom has a sister, Whispering Birch.” She nodded toward that mare. “And Chocolate Chip’s sister, Lollipop, is over there.”

Tarn’s gaze swept over the cool, composed Whispering Birch, then settled on the vivacious Lollipop whose blue curls glinted under the lights. “Lollipop,” he said, savoring the feel and sound of the name. “She’s a beauty.”

“Yes, Xavier certainly thinks so,” Sugarberry remonstrated with a frown.

Taking the hint, Tarn turned his attention elsewhere, just in time to see a pale blue pegasus with rainbow hair walk into the shop. “Now, there’s someone who could light-up my life.”

“Falda,” Sugarberry sighed. The mare was too pretty for her own good. But as Rubicon was not on the premises and Hawkley seemed to be occupied with Fabia, Sugarberry made the introduction, then excused herself so that she could compare notes with Tabby on this unexpected matchmaking venture.

* * *
As Sugarberry, Vanguard, Licorice, Wigwam, Chocolate Chip, and her grandparents walked home, Licorice peered skyward. “There’s Orion,” he noted, pointing in the direction of that constellation.

“Oh,” said Sugarberry. “That’s one of the few I can pick out; Orion’s belt is easy to spot.”

“Where’s Pegasus?” queried Wigwam, scanning the sky overhead that was a deep, dark expanse dotted with stars.

“More to the west,” advised Licorice.

Everyone’s gaze panned to the indicated spot. “There aren’t any stars there at all,’ Sugarberry observed.

“That’s because a cloud bank is moving in,” Vanguard said. “Wasn’t it supposed to be clear tomorrow?”

“The cloud will pass,” Wigwam said in an assured voice. “There’s nothing but sunshine and clear skies in the forecast.” He grinned at Chocolate Chip.

“‘Beautiful snow, from the heavens above, pure as an angel and fickle as love!’” quoted Forester.

“Grandpa!” Chocolate Chip scolded. “Our love is not fickle; if it was, I’d still be in New Pony.”

“I was only reciting poetry,” Forester soothed his granddaughter. “Had to get up in front of an audience at a school program once when I was a little guy and relate it from memory; I’ve never forgotten that poem.”

“And what would a little more snow hurt, anyway,” reasoned Camomile. “In fact, it would make the day all fresh and clean like the new beginning you two are about to make.”

“As long as it’s only a light dusting,” amended Sugarberry, thinking of the hassle of clearing all the paths again.

Arriving at the house, Licorice bid everyone goodnight and disappeared into his basement room. Wigwam stayed long enough to take some teasing from Strawberry Baskets about his last night of freedom. Then Chocolate Chip escorted Wigwam to the front door while the rest of the family retired for the night.

The stallion drew Chocolate Chip into his forelegs and gave her a gentle kiss. “Tomorrow,” he whispered, a wealth of promise succinctly stated.

“Tomorrow,” Chocolate Chip repeated softly, caught in Wigwam’s tender gaze. “Thank you for waiting for me.”

“I love you so much, Chocolate Chip. What else was I to do?”

Chocolate Chip narrowed her eyes. “If you aren’t aware of all the beautiful mares in Dream Valley by now, I’m not about to point you in their direction.”

Wigwam grinned. “But there’s only one beautiful mare for me, and that’s you.” He brushed her forehead with another kiss, then turned and opened the door– and groaned. A white, feathery snowflake danced inside, settling on Chocolate Chip’s nose where it quickly melted. “It’s snowing!” Wigwam said quite needlessly.

“But not that hard,” Chocolate Chip pointed out. The powdery flakes sprinkled down under the porch light like an assembly of fluttering angels. “It’s probably nothing more than a flurry.”

“We’re getting married tomorrow, even if this turns into a blizzard,” Wigwam stated. “Whatever it takes, you and I and a couple of witnesses will show-up on Fr. Isaac’s doorstep, if that’s the best we can do.”

Chocolate Chip giggled. “That suits me just fine.”

“And once we’re married, it can snow until June for all I care.” Wigwam caught his almost-bride in his forelegs and delivered a resounding kiss that left her breathless. “Until tomorrow,” he murmured; then he left.

* * *
“Manitou, you knew I’d want you to be here, didn’t you?” Wigwam hugged the great furry wolf that met him on his arrival home. Wigwam sat down on the porch steps next to the beast in the increasingly heavy snowfall, and Manitou whimpered.

“You were part of my dream quest just as Chocolate Chip was... only I found you much sooner than I found her.” Wigwam chuckled. “The wait was worth it, though, knowing that she loves me heart and soul as I love her.”

Wigwam had seen his chocolate brown mare in his dreams long before he met Chocolate Chip, and he had found the real flesh and blood pony delightfully more entrancing than the elusive image that had haunted his thoughts. It may have been a rough road to arrive at this point, the eve of his wedding, and he had tread carefully; but now, with the goal in sight, he had no complaints.

The stallion stroked the wolf’s heavily furred neck. “I’m glad you showed up to share in my good fortune,” he said, then laughed as a wet tongue licked his cheek from the other side. “Halona! You, too! This in indeed an honor!” Not having been under Wigwam’s care as a pup, Manitou’s mate was rather shy of this doting pony. The she-wolf, however, allowed Wigwam to scratch behind her ears before she settled herself in front of Wigwam and Manitou, her yellow eyes alert and her ears twitching to every muted sound.

“Are your young ones nearby?” Wigwam asked, peering into the darkness beyond his lighted front porch.

In answer, Halona whined softly, and several dark shapes pulled away from the evergreen shadows off to the right. “So this is a family affair,” Wigwam said. “That’s appropriate, as Chocolate Chip and I will form our own family unit tomorrow. And some day we’ll have our own little ones to love and care for, too.” The stallion smiled, looking ahead to a bevy of fillies and colts enlivening his and Chocolate Chip’s days.

The cold nose of the wolf brought Wigwam from his pleasant fantasy. With a nudge, Manitou let him know it was time for him to call it a night. With one parting glance skyward at the falling snowflakes and a final pat for each of the wolves, Wigwam bid them goodnight.

* * *
Slowly coming out of sleep, Sugarberry became aware of a strange noise that rose and fell. It did not worry her tired mind at first, but each successive battering of sound pulled her closer to wakefulness until her eyes popped open and her brain began functioning clearly. The first thing she realized was that Vanguard was not at her side. That, along with the continuing rustling outside the window, unnerved her.

“Vanguard!” she whispered hoarsely.

“I’m here.” The stallion’s voice came from near the window. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“What’s that noise?” Sugarberry slipped out of the covers.

“It’s snowing like crazy and the wind is blasting it against the house,” Vanguard explained as she crossed to him.

“This can’t be happening!” Sugarberry groaned. “We’ll all be snowed-in by morning, and it’s Wigwam’s and Chocolate Chip’s wedding day!”

“It could stop snowing as quickly as it began,” Vanguard tried to assure his wife; but a particularly heavy gust of wind hit the house, making his words sound unbelievable even to his own ears.

“What about all the wedding preparations? We won’t even be able to get to church!”

“Sugarberry, your worrying won’t stop the storm. We’ll have to wait until morning before we know what’s going on for sure.”

“You’re right. I won’t worry.” Sugarberry allowed Vanguard to guide her back to the bed. “It’s just that...”

“Sugarberry!”

“I’m not worried. I’m merely... concerned,” the mare pouted.

“There’s nothing you can do except get some sleep. When it’s daylight, you can worry.”

With that, Sugarberry had to be satisfied.

* * *
Taking one look out the window, Wigwam closed his eyes, wishing the scene to change. But when he opened them again, the view was the same. The world was nothing but a snow-globe that had been roiled by a giant hoof. Unable to see beyond a few feet because of the windblown snow and the dismal morning light, Wigwam ran a hoof through his mane to express his dismay, then began pacing the floor, considering his options. Finally, he stopped his agitated steps and headed toward the back door. One thing he knew for sure– he would go crazy if he could not see Chocolate Chip.

Arriving at Sugarberry’s door after a difficult walk on snowshoes over the packed drifts that were still growing– and fighting the wind at every step– Wigwam unceremoniously let himself in through the back entrance and found himself facing a kitchen full of faces that reflected his own aggravation over the weather. Chocolate Chip’s face lightened perceptively, however, at the appearance of her groom, and she quickly tugged him into the warmth of the room.

“This is a bit extreme for a light dusting.” Wigwam purposely used Sugarberry’s words from the evening before as he sent her a bereft grin while hugging Chocolate Chip to him, claiming her warmth.

“I’m no more pleased over it than you are,” Sugarberry retorted.

“Everything will work out for the best,” soothed Camomile. She pulled out a chair. “Come and sit down, Wigwam. You’ll feel more the thing once you’ve had something warm and nutritious to eat.”

“Do I smell muffins?” sniffed Wigwam, putting his personal worries behind him to appease Camomile’s fostering nature. He did, however, retain a grip on Chocolate Chip’s hoof as he sat down, drawing her into the chair next to his.

“Yes, and it’s my own personal multi-berry recipe with homegrown ingredients,” relayed Strawberry Shortcake as she bustled around the kitchen.

“And I’ve made oatmeal,” added Camomile. “There’s nothing better to warm you on a cold morning like this.”

Wigwam cast a provocative glance at Chocolate Chip, but he kept his retort to himself.

“The weather pony just announced that everyone should be on the lookout for high winds and heavy snow this morning,” proclaimed Licorice, emerging from his below-ground room. “Something about a freak high altitude occurrence that precipitated an unusual weather pattern that’s holding right over Dream Valley.”

“Well, fancy that,” quipped Strawberry Baskets as his gaze shifted from Licorice to the window. Licorice’s eyes automatically followed.

“Hey, look! The weather pony was right!”

Wigwam scoffed. “Right? He called for sunshine today. He didn’t expect any snow until he looked out his window this morning.”

“Well, it is an uncommon occurrence.” defended Licorice. “It’s a deviation of norms, kind of like the lucky customer who wins the jackpot at the casino,” he grinned.

There was a rap at the door, and Vanguard admitted the two ponies from next door, Caprice and Dietrich. Caprice had a pan of biscuits in her hoof while Dietrich carried a breakfast casserole.

“Would you believe the path between our two houses has been kept clear by the wind? It almost makes a pony think twice about some of Hubert’s theories. Flying saucer men...”

“I thought you might be in need of some comfort food, “ bubbled Caprice as she set her offerings on the table. “It’ll also help you pass the time until this storm blows over.”

“Finally, an optimist.” Chocolate Chip got up to hug the mare. “This wedding is going to take place today, regardless of the weather.”

“Why, of course it will,” smiled Caprice. “Your family is all in town, and your parents spent the night, too, didn’t they Wigwam?”

“Yes. Mom and Dad bunked at Teepee’s; a neighbor was going to take care of the farm chores for them. Whispering Birch, however, stayed with Bittersweet at Dreamcatcher’s cabin in the Dark Forest. If the snow lets up, they’ll make in on snowshoes; but if the snow blocks visibility like it’s doing now, they wouldn’t chance it.”

“So if the snow lets up by noon, there’ll be no problem,” Caprice determined.

“It will take an army of ponies with snow shovels to clear all the paths just here in town,” countered Sugarberry.

“Then round up an army,” smiled Caprice. She and Dietrich had faced an insurmountable obstacle to their marriage– both families had forbidden the union– which necessitated a secret flight from their homes to accomplish the feat which brought down censure that had endured for years. What was a little snow compared to that? Any number of ponies in Dream Valley would be happy to help Chocolate Chip and Wigwam tie the knot.

“I can be in charge of that,” offered Licorice without hesitation. “Snapper and I’ll scout out Pony Pride students; they’ll think it’s a lark.”

“It just might work,” said Wigwam, getting into the swing of things. “Have them concentrate on the major paths first, like from here to church and from the hotels so the out-of-town guests can get there. From the church to the casino is important, too, for the dinner and reception. Hawkley can work with you on lining up a contingent to start from there.” He got up to make a call to his assistant, but the phone rang before he picked up the receiver.

“Answer it,” said Vanguard. “It’s undoubtedly something concerning the wedding.”

“Hello?”

“I suppose there’s no chance you’ll call the wedding off due to the weather.”

“You’ve got that right, whippersnapper. And your sister agrees with me, so keep your naysaying to yourself.”

“You’ll get no dissent out of me. I called to see if there’s anything I can do to make sure this wedding goes off as planned.”

“I was just going to start making calls; Licorice is going to get together a gang to clear the paths starting about noon. Maybe you could call the rest of the wedding party and any of your friends who might help and then coordinate with Licorice on where to shovel.”

“You’ve got it! Oh, Garnet and Lollipop want to talk with Chocolate Chip.”

While the bride engaged in some frivolous banter with her sister and sister-in-law, Wigwam organized a list of potential comrades in the battle against the drifts so that by the time the phone was free, he was ready to enlist volunteers. Outside the windows, the snow still whirled and the wind still blew; but inside, hearts lightened with hope as surely as spring follows winter.

* * *
“I haven’t noticed the wind since I got out of the shower,” commented Chocolate Chip as she sat in front of her vanity mirror to comb out her hair.

Sugarberry, occupied with fluffing out the white feathers that Chocolate Chip would wear in her hair, lifted her head and cocked an ear. “It isn’t gusting as badly as before.” She walked to the window. “The snow isn’t nearly as heavy, either. Chocolate Chip, things are lookin’ up!”

The chocolate brown pony joined Sugarberry at the window and pulled back the curtains. “Oh, my. Look at all that snow.”

Now that it was possible to see beyond the windowsill, the ponies were able to determine just how much snow had piled up during the previous hours. It filled them with both apprehension and awe; for it was beautiful, but it was also so entirely overwhelming. Wherever the eye looked, it was met with unyielding whiteness.

“Your berry patch is completely covered,” noted Chocolate Chip, who then giggled. “And look at Vanguard’s trellis; it’s much shorter than before.” Only the top of the summer rose support was perceptible as a drift angled up to nearly cover it.

“What a sight! It’s as if everything has been subtly altered– like we’ve been transported to a new landscape.”

“Oh! Look! The guys are heading out!”

Below them, a colorful contingent poured out the back door as the stallions ventured forth to explore the tundra. Vanguard and Strawberry Baskets each had a snow shovel from the house, and Dietrich’s made a third. Forester had obviously been assigned the task of feeding the birds; he trudged as far as he could through the drift that nearly swamped the feeders, then broadcast the seeds over the firmly-packed snow.

The hungry birds had been awaiting this moment. Sugarberry giggled as the chickadees and juncos descended on the offering almost before it had landed. Blue jays screeched from the nearby trees... raucous, but not so trusting as the smaller birds. A pair of cardinals, the male a vibrant red, hovered cautiously, then abandoned all trepidation, swooping down to glean the harvest. The downy and hairy woodpeckers darted in, fetching sunflower seeds which they then carted off to the nearest post or tree trunk to hammer with their beaks. More birds showed up at the perimeter, drawn by the bird-voiced hubbub which announced sustenance: yellow-cast grosbeaks, purple finches, earth-tone doves, red-headed woodpeckers, and blue-gray nuthatches all created a living kaleidoscope against the pristine whiteness of the snow.

Wigwam had earlier ventured out to join Hawkley at the casino to warm and prepare the outdoor shelter near the pond to accommodate the army units of shovelers once they had completed their details. When the volunteers had accomplished their mission, they would have the chance to warm themselves with hot chocolate and renew their energy with the best food that Wigwam could commission on such short notice.

Licorice had been deployed to muster Snapper and outfit the various squads of helpers with snow shovels commandeered from every store in town. Now, with the snow subsiding, this army of recruits would be commissioned to clear the paths necessary to allow wedding participants and guests to make it to the church on time.

Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip turned their attention from the beehive of activity outside and looked at one another lightheartedly. “Sugarberry, this is the happiest day of my life!” Chocolate Chip hugged the mare who had helped her attain this momentous juncture in her life by offering her a home when she had none and by being her amiable mentor in the ensuing years.

A joyful tear slid down the bride’s cheek and mingled with an equally cheerful one from Sugarberry.

* * *
By the time of the wedding, enough of the paths in Dream Valley had been cleared to allow all the guests to make it to the church along with a fair number of unexpected ponies who had received spontaneous invitations from Wigwam for their back-breaking labor with the snow shovels. The entire town was caught up in a merry mood brought on in part by the novel storm and in part by the much talked-of wedding and the last-minute rush to pull it off.

When Wigwam and his attendants took their places along with Fr. Isaac, the organ keys, under Turtledove’s deft hooves, signaled the mares to begin their walk down the aisle. First came White Dove, her pale yellow hair braided and caught with a beaded and quilled amulet; the braid was repeated in her tail. She met Sprinter whose sole ornamentation was a feather at the end of one slim braided lock of hair that brushed his neck.

The lavender-maned Whispering Birch followed, adorned as White Dove with a thick braid and beaded amulet; her escort, Prime, also sported a slender braided lock and feather in his light green hair. Next came Lollipop, her bouncy blue curls now subdued in an unyielding braid, but her eyes irrepressibly sparkling as she met Xavier.

White-haired like his brother but of a soft blue body color, Teepee awaited his partner with obvious anticipation as if envisioning his own wedding day in May. That event was not far from Bittersweet’s mind, either, as she accepted Teepee’s escort, her long tangerine braided tresses accenting her mocha coloring.

Garnet, a vibrant scarlet mare from head to hoof, was marked as the matron of honor with a cluster of three white feathers attached to her beaded and braided hair; the three feathers were mirrored in the single snaking braid that nestled amid Wishbone’s golden hair. Married all of six months, Garnet and Wishbone were the most relaxed and confident of the wedding party members.

The attendants all in place, Wigwam’s eyes searched the shadows at the back of church for the first glimpse of his bride. Protected by Drifter and Twilight Jewel, the mare remained invisible until she took several steps forward as if she could wait no longer to begin her bridal walk up the aisle to meet her groom. Wigwam caught his breath. He had never seen her look so lovely; and as their eyes met, he was lost in the love-light that shone there.

Like her attendants, Chocolate Chip’s mane and tail had been braided; and the rich, brown plaits were decorated with intricately-worked pearlized beaded bands with clusters of white feathers drifting from them. She carried a simple bouquet of white daisies and lily of the valley, the types of flowers that Wigwam had chosen for her corsage on their first date.

Mesmerized by the approach of the mare whom he had first envisioned in a dream, he was hardly conscious of covering the short distance to meet his bride as she and her parents reached the designated spot; but the touch of her hoof as Drifter placed it into his care brought him back to the stunning reality of the moment. Never in his life had he embraced a responsibility given to him as wholeheartedly as he did this one. Unaware of any other pony in the church, he escorted his bride to stand before Fr. Isaac.

* * *
Never, thought Chocolate Chip as she turned to face Wigwam for the exchange of rings, have I felt so utterly sure of the course of my life. It’s as if every day prior to this was meant to bring me to this moment... and now I am content. As she looked into the stallion’s light blue eyes, Chocolate Chip was assured that Wigwam felt the same way. For all his serious demeanor, his eyes radiated a love that would never fade. If she had any regrets, it was that she had not accepted his proposal when he had first asked her to marry him; but, she smiled, We would have had a June wedding and missed all the fun of this hectic and memorable wedding in white.

Returning the smile his bride had just given him– and grateful that he had remembered the words to the vows that he and Chocolate Chip had just exchanged– Wigwam accepted the ring that Fr. Isaac had blessed and, taking his bride’s foreleg in his, stated in a strong but gentle voice, “Chocolate Chip, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.” The Native Pony band of gold slipped onto her foreleg as if it had truly found a permanent home.

In her turn, Chocolate Chip repeated the vow breathlessly, “Wigwam, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity,” as she placed the second ring on her groom’s foreleg, then met his beaming gaze.

“Wigwam, you may now kiss your bride,” Fr. Isaac prodded.

As Wigwam fulfilled this charge, the sun– finally– broke through the clouds, and God smiled down on the married couple. As the sunbeam came through the colored-glass window of the church, it lit on Wigwam and Chocolate Chip, bathing them in a rainbow of light as if affirming their commitment and pronouncing it good.

Wigwam read it as an auspicious sign... and kissed his bride again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Silent Are the Bells
by Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)


Chapter 19
111 Maple Street, Denton


“I can’t stand this!” Brietta snapped as she bided her time in the emergency waiting room for the doctors to assess Dorian’s wounds. What their prognosis would be was anyone’s guess. Pacing back and forth and jumping every time the door moved, Brietta was a bundle of nerves.

“Sit down, honey,” Lena begged. “You’re going to wear yourself out.”

“How can I wear myself out?” spat Brietta. “I’m not doing anything!” The feeling of helplessness that had engulfed her from the moment that she had spotted Dorian’s body at the base of the ledge still rankled.

“But you’re going to be putting in some long days until Dorian... until Dorian starts to mend. I know you’ll want to stay by his side.”

“I want to be with him now!” complained Brietta as she dropped into the chair next to her mother.

“From what you told me about his condition, he’s in for a long convalescence. You’ll have plenty of chances to play nursemaid to him.”

“Mother, if you could have seen him...” Brietta dropped her head on her hooves and tried to block the memory of the awful injuries that the fall over the ledge had inflicted on Dorian. Lena patted her shoulder.

“The main thing is that he’s alive, Brietta,” Conrad said from his corner of the waiting room. He and Aiden had been sightlessly perusing magazines; but they both now threw them down on the table, finding the passage of time to be an ordeal as well.

“He’s alive and he’s strong,” Sloan added. “He’ll fight to get back on his hooves.” The tenderness in his eyes as he looked at Brietta told Lena that this particular stallion might be willing to fight for another goal.

Brietta, however, only got to her hooves once more. “What time is it?” she asked of no one in particular.

“It’s nearly noon,” Aiden said. “Would you like to get some lunch?”

“No... no,” Brietta said. “I don’t want to miss any news. But you,” she indicated the rest of the ponies in the waiting room, “might as well go on now.”

Shayla urged the others as well. “Lena, you go; I’ll stay with Brietta.” She waggled her foreleg in the air, indicating that everyone else was expendable.

When the two mares were alone, Shayla directed Brietta to a chair and sat next to her. “Would it help to talk about Dorian?”

“Oh, Shayla, thanks for understanding!” She ran a hoof over her suddenly damp cheeks. “I can’t imagine losing him.”

“You’re not going to lose him, Brietta. Sloan was right to say he’ll fight with all he’s got; Dorian’s too much in love with you to let this get the best of him.”

“He was so battered; it looked as if someone had beaten him. Shayla, I can’t get it out of my head, how he looked lying there. And I felt so utterly helpless.”

“Try to let those memories go; concentrate on his recovery. Your mother was right; he’s going to need a lot of attention.”

Brietta finally smiled. “I’ll give him that willingly.”

“You’re very fortunate to have found such a true love, Brietta. I was worried about you those years you were away at school, and Sloan was here. But Dorian was smitten with you from the moment he met you; it was very romantic.”

“So much has happened since then; it’s been such a short while that Dorian and I have known one another, yet I can’t imagine a time without him. He’s so kind and gentle, yet he loves to have fun and laugh. I’ll spend the rest of my life making him happy.”

Shayla rolled her eyes. “A marriage made in heaven, right?”

“I’d like to think so.” Brietta said. “You and Derry are proof that it’s possible.”

“Granted, we get along very well, and I have no regrets; but every day isn’t perfect, let me tell you.”

“Well, It’s very considerate of Derry to watch the foals so you can be here with me; you’ll have to tell him that I’ll make it up to you both by foal-sitting some time soon to give the two of you a night out on the town.”

“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it; we’ll both be willing to take you up on that deal anytime.”

Hearing the sound of hoofsteps, both mares looked toward the doorway through which appeared the doctor who was in charge when Dorian was admitted to the hospital. Brietta was on her hooves instantly. “Dr. Delaney, how is Dorian?”

“For what he’s been through, he’s doing reasonably well.”

“R... reasonably well?” echoed Brietta.

“He’s suffered a great number of lacerations, abrasions, and a concussion, not to mention the fractured foreleg. All that, along with the psychological trauma of the accident, has taken its toll. We’ll have to keep a close eye on him for any complications.”

“He has regained consciousness, hasn’t he?”

“We were able to talk with him; but because of the pain, he wasn’t too coherent; he’s sedated now and is under close observation. His body will take care of the healing process, but we’ll help it along.”

“May I see him?” Brietta whispered.

“As I said, he’s sedated; you won’t be able to talk to him, so I think it would be best for you to go home and get some rest for yourself. That’s the best thing you can do for Dorian now.”

“Please... I’ve got to see him!” insisted Brietta.

“Just for a minute,” Shayla modified.

Dr. Delaney considered the request for a moment, then nodded. “It won’t do him any harm for you to check on him, but I suggest that you stay only briefly to reassure yourself that he’s in good hooves, then hurry home to take care of your own needs.”

“At the moment, he’s my only need,” Brietta admitted.

With a wink at Shayla, Dr. Delaney patted Brietta on the shoulder and led her away to the intensive care unit where Dorian’s progress was being monitored. He explained briefly the purposes of the tubes and monitors that were hooked up to the stallion, then left her alone.

“Oh, Dorian. My poor, sweet love.” She dropped a tender kiss on his pale face and stroked her hoof through his violet mane, watching the rhythm of his heartbeat as if her will alone could make it grow stronger. His foreleg was confined, his head and neck were bandaged, and his lesions were glossy with ointment. There appeared to be no part of him that was without some sign of the horrible ordeal he had been through. “How did it happen?” Brietta asked the sleeping stallion softly. “How could you have misjudged the edge of the cliff so badly that you fell? It doesn’t make sense.”

As Brietta stood by his bedside with his hoof cradled in both of hers, she sensed that someone had come to stand beside her. A quick glance revealed Sloan’s presence. The stallion’s gaze was centered first on Dorian’s face, then moved over his body taking in all the signs of injury. After some time, he looked at Brietta; her eyes held his.

“Some of those blows are so regular,” she voiced shakily. “They don’t look like something a fall on rough rocks would make.”

Sloan cleared his throat. “Dr. Delaney talked to Aiden, Brietta. He suspects there was more to Dorian’s mishap than a fall over the cliff.”

“Some of those wounds were imparted by another pony,” Brietta said, comprehending fully what Sloan’s words implied. “Who would do such a thing?” Her eyes were angry now.

“Hopefully, Dorian will be able to tell us that when he wakes up.”

Staring at Dorian’s bruised face, Brietta was silent for a while, thinking over the events of the previous evening. Had someone come to the apartment after she and Sloan had left? That thought made her groan in agony; it had been her suggestion that Dorian sleep the night at his own home rather than coming with her to Whitehall Place. If he had been under her parent’s roof, this might never have happened.

But before she could voice her misery to Sloan, another thought crept in. “Sloan, Dorian called me early this morning to set up our meeting at the ledge, and I met him in the designated twenty minutes. How could anyone have... beat him... and sent him down the cliff in that length of time? Dorian couldn’t have gotten there much more quickly than I did, and I saw no one else around as I approached.”

“That’s something else that Dr. Delaney confided to your father. He said he was confused at your statement that Dorian had been in touch with you this morning; he said that the wounds would indicate that they had occurred during the night.”

“But that’s not pos...” Brietta broke off. “The voice on the phone... it was Dorian’s!” But a dawning horror took her color away. “Yet it wasn’t. I just thought he was excited about something, which accounted for the difference.” She stared at Sloan as understanding broke over her. “It wasn’t Dorian at all! The caller said Brietta, and you know Dorian never addresses me as anything but Brie. I meant to ask him about it when I got to the ledge. Sloan, whoever called me this morning is the pony that did this to Dorian!”

“It very well could be the pony that Dorian went to Capital City to talk with yesterday.”

“His name was Hazard. Sloan, you’ve got to talk to the police. They’ve got to...”

Setting a restraining hoof on Brietta’s foreleg, Sloan silenced her. “Dr. Delaney has already notified the police that there is something irregular about this incident. They’ll be checking things out. What’s important now is that we tell Aiden and Conrad about the ruse this Hazard intended to pull on them to get possession of Whitehall Place before the police talk to us all.”

“How can I worry about Whitehall Place when Dorian is lying here in this condition?” worried Brietta. “I can’t leave him!”

“There’s nothing you can do here, Brietta,” Sloan quietly compelled her. “Dorian won’t be awake for hours yet, and your family needs to be informed of everything we know before the police start asking questions.” His voice softened as he pushed back a stray tendril of mane. “And you haven’t had breakfast or lunch yet; you know Anna will be displeased with you if you don’t take care of yourself.”

Brietta looked as if she was going to contradict Sloan’s good intentions, but the arrival of a nurse stopped her arguments.

“Dr. Delaney’s orders were for no visitors for Dorian at least until tomorrow morning,” the nurse stated with authority.

“But I can’t just leave him here alone!” Brietta countered.

The nurse, an aqua and purple pony named Alana, had to do a considerable amount of talking, but was finally able to assure Brietta that the patient would be in good hooves; and Brietta, whispering words of encouragement and planting a gentle kiss on Dorian’s bruised countenance, accepted Sloan’s guidance to where her parents waited, Shayla having gone home to be with her own family.

There was so much to share with Aiden, Lena, and Conrad, some of which would hurt them deeply; but Brietta knew the telling could not be delayed. If only Dorian were with her to explain his part in the dealings with this Hazard! If only... Brietta shook her head. There was no use wishing what might have been.

* * *
The session with Aiden, Lena, and Conrad went better than Brietta had anticipated. As Dorian was already considered a part of the family, Aiden and Conrad said nothing to reprove the stallion’s actions which was a great comfort to Brietta’s peace of mind. Sloan would work with them to close the gaps that made Whitehall Place vulnerable to Hazard’s anticipated ploy to force a change in ownership of the stately and gracious property. Conrad was confident that everything would work out as the Manning family had been paying all the necessary taxes on the property for as far back as records were maintained. He was anxious, however, to go to the courthouse and check the records for himself.

Sending Brietta to her room to rest proved futile for Lena; the mare did take a quick shower to refresh her sagging energy and ate a bowl of soup that Anna set before her, but she then set off for the hospital to continue her vigil at Dorian’s bedside. It proved fruitless as the stallion slept on, rousing only slightly when the nurses had to administer care to him; but Brietta could not be persuaded to abandon her watch. She took great comfort in simply watching him breathe, that regular flow of life giving her the strength to fight the hovering demons that preyed on her mind; for if Hazard had done this to Dorian, what further damage would he be willing to inflict to get what he wanted?

The rhythm of the hospital schedule pulsed regularly throughout the night just as it did during the day; it was late before Brietta would consent to lie down for a rest. She had resisted the nurses’ efforts to convince her to sleep, but she was finding it difficult to hold her eyes open and her head up. Stopping first at the chapel to whisper her heartfelt prayers for Dorian’s benefit, she made her way to the assigned room and had no sooner pulled a blanket over her tired body when she was asleep.

She and Dorian were walking along the top of the ledge, hoof in hoof. Brietta felt shy under Dorian’s steady gaze as he professed his love for her. Then, he asked her to marry him. She said yes. The stallion leaned toward her to seal their betrothal with a kiss, but their lips never met. Instead, Dorian was slipping away from her... falling... falling... falling...

With an anguished scream, Brietta sat up, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Her hooves hit the floor before she could fully separate fantasy from reality; she raced to Dorian’s bedside, coming to a standstill only when she could see the steady rise and fall of the blanket that covered him.

She dropped into a chair, cradling her head on her hooves, trying to regain her composure; but if she closed her eyes, she experienced anew that sensation of his falling... falling... never-ending plummeting to the ground below... and she could not get him back.

She slept no more that night.

* * *
The police had been busy but were stymied. Using information provided by Sloan, they had searched Dorian’s apartment for the file on the development of Whitehall Place but had come up empty. Neither had they found any apparent signs of a scuffle– they noted specifically that the furniture was neatly in place. Brietta glanced at Sloan as they heard that information from Officer Neil, for Dorian’s housekeeping skills would argue that properly arranged furniture was a definite sign that someone had taken pains to cover whatever had gone on there after Sloan and Brietta’s departure. The neighbors had heard nothing out of the ordinary nor had they noticed any of the comings and goings of any visitors, not even Sloan and Brietta’s arrival or leaving.

The ledge itself was as barren of clues as the apartment; the rescue operation and the curious onlookers had managed to obliterate any hoofprints that might have pointed to how many ponies were involved in the events that had ended with Dorian’s battered body at the foot of the cliff.

This shortage of facts disappointed Brietta, but it was the questioning that Officer Neil directed at her after conveying that information that riled the mare the most. It seemed that Colly had been more than willing to put forth her interpretation of the previous day’s events, informing the police that Brietta was unduly agitated earlier in the day and hinting that Dorian was the cause of her perturbation.

“Why were you at the ledge yesterday morning, Miss Manning?” asked Officer Neil with his usual wearied manner.

“Dorian called me at six and asked me to meet him at the ledge in twenty minutes... or at least I thought it was Dorian at the time.”

“Did you quarrel with Dorian at the cliff?”

“No. He wasn’t there when I arrived... or that’s what I thought. He didn’t show up, so I was just waiting when I happened to see...when I saw him lying at the bottom of the incline.”

“Did you see anyone else there or in the vicinity?”

“Just young Glyn further down the path toward Whitehall Place... the colt I sent to get help.”

“The voice on the phone... you say you thought at the time that it was Dorian.”

“Yes. He... the voice was excited and talking fast, but I didn’t suspect then that it wasn’t Dorian. He had used my full name though– Brietta– while Dorian only ever calls me Brie, but I attributed that to the hurry he was in.”

“You and Dorian are still planning on getting married?”

Sloan began to object to that question, but Brietta answered anyway. “Yes, of course.”

“And you’re sure there hasn’t been any major problems between you?”

“No, there weren’t.”

“Did learning of Dorian’s involvement with a land speculator concerning Whitehall Place set well with you?”

“Of course it didn’t!” Brietta snapped before Sloan could stop her. “But as Dorian was able to explain that he was an unwilling participant in the scheme, I only wanted to help him.”

“Did Dorian want your help?”

“He knew that my father and grandfather would know how to handle the problem.”

“Maybe after he thought about it, he decided to throw his cards in with Hazard. Would that have angered you, Miss Manning, enough to push your fiancé over the ledge?”

“You are despicable!” Brietta spat, once more ignoring Sloan’s attempt to silence her.

Officer Neil only grinned... or was it a leer? “Okay. That’ll be all for now.”

* * *
As fate would have it– some would say providence– Dorian came to his senses while Brietta was occupied with Officer Neil’s questions. Dr. Delaney, accompanied by Dr. Finella, was checking on the patient when his bloodshot eyes opened for longer than the usual couple of seconds since the accident; he looked warily at the white- coated ponies staring down at him. “You’re at the hospital,” Dr. Finella rushed to reassure the bewildered-looking stallion. “You’ve had a bad accident, but you’re going to be all right.”

The stallion moved his head to take in more of his surroundings, but winced at the pain it caused. His eyes closed as he fought the nausea welling up within him. “Going to be...” he moaned, just in time for Finella to grab a basin for the purpose. As Dorian relaxed after the ordeal and Nurse Alana fussed over him, Dr. Delaney quizzed him. “What’s your name?”

The response was slow, but it was correct. “Dor... ian.”

“How old are you, Dorian.”

“Twenty... nine.”

“Your birth...”

The doctor discontinued the questioning as Dorian was overwhelmed once more by a wave of nausea. After this experience, he closed his eyes and settled into the deep sleep that had claimed most of the last thirty hours for him.

“Well,” Dr. Delaney mused, “it’s a good sign that he was able to recall those facts about himself; with a severe blow to the head like he took, we have to be alert for head injuries.” He jotted some notes on the chart.

“The MRI came back negative,” Dr. Finella reminded him.

“Regardless of that, it still comes down to what the patient is capable of,” Dr. Delaney said, looking over his glasses at the mare. “He isn’t out of the woods yet, not by a long stretch.”

* * *
Over the ensuing hours, Brietta had the opportunity to encounter Dorian’s open eyes several times. Her spoken sentiments, however, seemed not to enter the stallion’s consciousness as he stared at her without full comprehension and without uttering a single word to fortify her wavering confidence in his well-being. She found herself weakening in her bedside vigil as time went by with no real connection made with the stallion. When Shayla made an appearance, Brietta was more than willing to take a break.

“He looks so vulnerable,” Shayla sympathized as she and Brietta walked to the cafeteria after another visit to the chapel. “But his body does need to rest so that it can begin healing.”

“I know,” Brietta concurred, “but I wish I could hear him speak my name. He looks at me with such empty eyes.”

“He’s been through a lot, Brietta. You can’t expect him to bounce back too quickly.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Sighing, Brietta tried to smile.

* * *
While Brietta ate a light repast with Shayla, Dr. Delaney made a final check at the end of the day on Dorian and was pleased to see that the stallion was awake and more interested in the events going on around him. Checking his vital signs, Dr. Delaney once more assured the stallion of his care.

“You’re at Whitehall Hospital, Dorian. You’ve taken some rough hits, but we’re going to get you back on your hooves in no time.” The doctor looked up to acknowledge Dr. Finella’s entrance.

“White... hall,” Dorian croaked. “What am I... doing... here?”

Dr. Finella leaned close to the stallion. “You were involved in an accident at the ledge outside of town. You’ve received enough injuries to insure a few days spent under our protection.”

“An... accident?”

“You took a fall, Dorian, among other things,” Dr. Delaney said, checking the various injures. “Now, can you tell me again how old you are?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“And your birth date?”

This took some thought. “November twentieth.”

“What’s your address?”

“111 Maple Street, Denton.”

Dr. Delaney glanced at Dr. Finella, then back to the patient.

“And your occupation?”

“Lawyer... with... Rawlings, Scott, and Simpson... in Denton.”

Offering Dorian a sip of water, Finella asked, “What day is it?”

Dorian closed his eyes as if in deep thought. When he opened his eyes, he admitted, “I have no idea.”

“This law firm you’re with...” Dr. Delaney began, “how long have you worked there?”

“Since... I got... my law degree.”

“And the town you live in again?”

“Denton.”

Dr. Finella frowned. “Do you have a special mare in your life?”

Mirroring the frown, Dorian replied emphatically, “No!”

“Who’s your best friend?”

“Sloan... McClere.”

Exchanging a puzzled glance, the two doctors assured Dorian that his body was beginning to heal and advised him to take advantage of his predicament and get some more sleep; as they moved from the room, Dr. Finella trailed behind Dr. Delaney until it was safe for them to talk.

“What do you make of that? He answered some of the questions correctly, but not others. Is this a typical reaction?”

“No, it’s not typical; but I want to repeat the questions tomorrow to see if there is any change; the problem may correct itself yet.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“The memory is a complicated thing; we’ll do the best we can to remedy the situation... that’s all I can say for now.”

As Dr. Delaney started down the hall, Finella hurried to ask him one more thing. “Could I invite Sloan to participate in tomorrow’s questioning? Other than Brietta, he knows the most about Dorian’s past.”

“Brietta... I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to her just yet. She’s worried enough now, and this may be just a false alarm. But it might be a good idea to include Sloan; thanks for the suggestion.”

“I’ll get in touch with him,” Finella said, turning to look back toward Dorian’s room once more. She puzzled for a moment, then walked briskly to her office.



Chapter 20


“Good morning, Dorian,” Sloan greeted his friend with Dr. Delaney and Dr. Finella looking on. “I’d say you’re looking good, but it’d be a lie.”

Dorian’s grin was more of a grimace, but it was obvious that his spirits were improving. “All they’re telling me is that there was an accident and I’m at Whitehall; the last time I was in Whitehall was when I interviewed with the law firm. What am I doing here now?”

Having been briefed by Finella on what to expect, Sloan took this unsettling question in stride. “You’ve been hired by Manning and Associates.”

Dorian’s face broke into a haggard grin. “This is great! We’ll be working together! I’ll never forget your help in landing me this job.”

“They need to know your date of birth for some of the paperwork.”

“November twentieth. I told the doctors that yesterday. Where am I going to live when they let me out of here?”

“You have an apartment.”

“It’s a long commute from Denton.”

“Dorian, the Mannings want to know where you grew up.”

“All over the place,” Dorian chuckled. “A variety of foster homes.”

“Where did you go to college?”

“Lansford.”

“And law school?”

“Pembroke. And I’m sure I put all this information on my resume.”

“Your current employment is where?”

“Rawlings, Scott, and Simpson.”

“Aiden and Conrad are anxious to see you in the office.”

“I can’t believe I’ll be working with those two; it’s a dream come true, Sloan.”

“Brietta asked about you.”

“Who?”

“Brietta.”

“It’s a pretty name, but I can’t place a face with it.”

“How about Shayla?”

“What have I been missing?”

“And Colly?”

“She’s the secretary at the law office; I met her when I interviewed.”

“Any recollection of Brie yet?”

Dorian’s expression had become cautious with this barrage of questions; now a mulish look settled over his face. “I don’t know any Brie... or Brietta either. What’s going on here?”

Sloan looked to Dr. Delaney for help. The doctor recorded some notes, then met Dorian’s gaze.

“You seem to have some memory lapse which is not totally unexpected considering the blow you took to your head.”

“Memory lapse...you mean like amnesia?” Dorian queried.

“Retrograde amnesia,” Dr. Delaney clarified. “You seem to have lost part of the recent past. Whether this is permanent or temporary, only time will tell.”

Dorian’s eyes met Sloan’s. “You’ll have to fill me in. What don’t I remember?”

* * *
“So I’ve been working here for months now, you say?” Dorian had been listening to his professional life unfold since he had left Denton for Whitehall. “This is so weird.” He closed his eyes, trying to assimilate all the facts that Sloan had drilled into him. Suddenly his eyes popped open. “I vaguely remember a pretty mare sitting by my bedside... lavender with purple mane and green eyes. Do you have any idea who that might be?”

“Umm... she’s another lawyer at the Manning firm; she’s also the daughter/granddaughter of the owners,” Sloan imparted warily.

Dorian looked relieved. “Thank goodness; for a moment there I was afraid that I might have gotten myself committed to someone.”

“There’s that too,” Sloan admitted guardedly, but it would do no good to stall. “Brietta Manning is your fiancee.”

Dorian looked aghast. “How did that happen, Sloan? Was I in love with her?”

“She thought you were... you are, Dorian! This will kill her if you don’t remember who she is!”

The two stallions stared at each other for a long moment before Dorian could reply. “Brietta Manning,” he repeated slowly. “Well, she’s pretty enough. What do you think, buddy? Did I make a good choice or not?”

“A very good choice, Dorian. Now, I think you’d better get some sleep so you can remember her when you wake up.”

* * *
Pacing the hospital hallway outside the intensive care unit where Dorian was still being held, Brietta was becoming more testy by the minute. How long would it take for Dr. Delaney to finish the exam this morning? Having been denied admission to the room by Nurse Alana– she was sent to the cafeteria instead– Brietta had plenty of time to fidget. She had eaten breakfast and had drunk more cups of coffee than was good for a pony while waiting for the time to pass. All the while, she had been berating the hospital. She was Dorian’s fiancee– wasn’t she?– and should be included in anything that had to do with his recuperation.

Hearing voices, Brietta spun around to see Sloan coming from the direction of Dorian’s bedside, accompanied by Nurse Alana. Sloan smiled when he saw her, but Brietta was in no mood to be polite. “I was told that I wouldn’t be able to see Dorian until ten o’clock, but you were allowed in?” She scowled at Sloan and virtually glowered at Alana.

“Brietta, Dr. Delaney wants to talk with you in his office,” Nurse Alana relayed.

“Well, he can just wait; I’d like a chance to see Dorian.”

“Brietta,” Sloan said, taking her foreleg and edging her away down the hallway toward Dr. Delaney’s office, “Dorian’s exhausted from this morning’s lab work and the regimen Dr. Delaney put him through; he was asleep before I left his side.”

“Figures,” Brietta muttered under her breath. Was she never to have a chance to have a private conversation with Dorian?

When they arrived at the office, Sloan accompanied Brietta and saw her seated before taking a chair next to her. Dr. Delaney took off his glasses and stared at Brietta from across his desk.

“How is Dorian doing?” Brietta asked, leaning forward in her chair. A sinking feeling caused her stomach to churn. Why was the doctor looking so somber? A quick glance at Sloan did nothing to alleviate the fear she felt.

“Physically, Dorian is doing very well. He’s young and healthy and will heal without any troubles. However, he did take a severe hit on the head, and that is a more elusive problem to delineate.”

“So there is a problem?” Brietta felt the blood drain from her face and took a firm grip on the arm of the chair.

“It appears that Dorian has amnesia, Miss Manning. As I said, the strike to the head was brutal.”

“So he doesn’t remember what happened to him that night?” queried Brietta, finding comfort in the fact that it was probably for the best that Dorian did not remember the horrible experience he had been through; she could not imagine the nightmares he would be subject to for having lived through it; hers were bad enough just having seen the results of Hazard’s actions.

“No, he doesn’t. But it goes beyond that... he doesn’t seem to remember any of the time he has spent in Whitehall.”

Brietta opened her mouth to speak, but no words came as her mind raced with that tidbit of information. The time he spent in Whitehall would involve all his clients at the law firm plus all his friendships. A stricken look crossed her face as understanding settled in and her voice was barely audible when she asked, “Does he remember me?”

The glance Dr. Delaney sent Sloan was answer enough even before he replied. “At this time, he does not.”

“At this time? Does that mean this is a temporary thing?” Brietta’s face perked up slightly.

“Amnesia is a touchy thing. With any physical trauma like Dorian experienced, amnesia may result from bilateral damage to parts of the brain vital for memory storage, processing, and recall. Dorian has lost some of his past memory– specifically that time period associated with his life in Whitehall. As to its duration, we have no way of knowing that.”

“So he may or may not recover that knowledge?”

“Only time will tell. In the meantime, we will subject Dorian to some psychological testing to determine the extent of the amnesia and the memory system affected and repeat the MRI to see if there is any brain damage that we’ve missed; of course, we’ll also run blood work to exclude metabolic causes or chemical imbalances.”

“So what you find would determine what treatment you would give him?”

“Essentially. However, bear in mind that this may be a permanent condition; Dorian may never recover those lost months.”

“How does this affect his recovery?”

“As I said, his physical recovery should progress quite satisfactorily. And as to the amnesia, he will appear normal in all aspects of his life, except for not remembering events from the recent past. His motor skills and previous conditioning will be retained due to the fact that the brain has multiple systems for processing, storing, and drawing on memory. It’s quite a complex thing, actually, and we still have a lot to learn.”

“So for now, all we can do is wait?”

“Yes. We’ll go ahead with our tests and lab work, but the final outcome is beyond our control.”

Laying her hoof on the engagement ring that solidified the relationship that had grown and prospered between herself and Dorian, Brietta looked at Dr. Delaney and smiled. “Well, then, I guess I have some praying to do.” With that, she stood and allowed Sloan to escort her from the office.

“I’d like to sit by Dorian even if he is asleep,” she informed the stallion. Swiftly she cast a sideways glance at Sloan. “He knows who you are, obviously.”

“He remembers our days at school and right up to his interview with Aiden and Conrad, but he hasn’t a clue as to any of the work he’s done at the office.”

“So he’ll be more comfortable seeing my father or grandfather than he will seeing me.”

“Would you like me to wait with you until he wakes up again? Your father said I could take as much time as was necessary.”

“Sloan,” Brietta groaned, “I’m neglecting my responsibilities! But I couldn’t concentrate on anything at the office anyway until I’m sure that Dorian is going to be okay.”

“Don’t let it bother you, Brietta. Our workload is so befuddled due to Dorian’s absence that at this point it looks like it’ll take forever to get things straightened out anyway.”

“I’ll be at the office as soon as I talk to Dorian.”

“Don’t rush; we really are making do... our clients are very understanding. And it’s important for you to be here; that’s unmistakable.” He flashed her a grin. “Now, do you want me to referee your meeting with Dorian or not?”

“Thanks for the offer; and I’m sure that Dorian would be more comfortable in your presence, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t. What will I say to this stallion that I’m going to marry if he doesn’t even know who I am?”

“He can fall in love with you all over again,” Sloan softly stated, brushing a hoof through her purple mane. He dropped it suddenly as if just then realizing what he was doing. “Just be yourself, and he’ll take it from there.”

Looking at him with more than a little doubt in her eyes, Brietta forced a tremulous smile. “Well, I’ll do my best.”

She marched toward Dorian’s bedside with Sloan watching her from hooded eyes. How could Dorian help but fall in love with her? he asked himself... and jumped as Finella materialized before him.

“Are you still here?” she queried.

“I was just about to leave,” he countered. “Work is piling up.”

“How about a late supper at my place later, then? I won’t even expect any brilliant conversation,” Finella said, a winning smile on her face.

Sloan’s face broke into a grin. “Sounds like an offer too good to resist. Shall we say nine o’clock?”

“I’ll be waiting.”

* * *
Sitting by Dorian’s bedside, Brietta relived every pertinent detail of their friendship from the first moment she had seen him in the dining room at Whitehall Place. The instant rapport between them had been unmistakable, and that affinity had soon grown to affection. Dorian had softened the anguish she had suffered in seeing Sloan become more firmly entrenched in Finella’s web; and his kindness had been a salve that had healed her, allowing her trust to unfold and grow into something permanent and beautiful.

Gazing at the face of the stallion who had won her heart, Brietta yearned for the moment when he would gaze at her once more with his eyes softened with the love he felt for her; how she ached for the feel of his lips on hers and the security of his embrace. She drifted back to some of those kisses they had shared...

“A jangle for your thoughts.”

Dorian’s voice cut through her daydreaming like a sword, and a delicate blush darkened her cheeks.

“Dorian...” She saw by the look in his eyes that he felt constrained, and she realized that she was hanging over him, ready to kiss that face that had such an allure for her. She forced herself to back off and simply smiled instead. “It’s good to see you awake.”

“I understand that I owe you a debt of gratitude; if you hadn’t found me when you did, I’d... well.. things could have turned out differently.”

“Do you remember... anything?”

Reaching up with his one good hoof, Dorian caressed her cheek lightly. “Do I remember you? No.” He saw the pain in her eyes and continued. “Nor do I remember my accident or anything leading up to it.” Not liking the anguish he was causing her, he added, “I’m sorry, Brietta.”

The use of her given name was like a blow to the mare, and she left Dorian’s bedside to hide her distress from him. Blinking back ready tears, she managed to say, “Dr. Delaney says there’s a chance that your memory... will come back in time.”

Hearing the crack in her voice, Dorian flinched. What must it be like for this mare who was expecting something more from him than he was capable of giving? If he had been willing to take her for his wife, he must have been captivated by her; but now, he could not evoke an iota of personal feeling toward her beyond that which he would experience for any pretty mare who might cross his path– for indeed, she was beautiful with her lavender coloring accented by the purple mane curling around her face. But were not all the mares he had seen easy on the eyes? He randomly thought back over those he had encountered in the last few days– Nurse Alana with her saucy emerald eyes; Dr. Finella, an angel in white; Sara, the night nurse; the lab assistant who was always after his blood. He smirked.

Quickly realizing that Brietta was now watching him closely, Dorian looked contrite. “I keep trying to piece together the hole in my memory, but it’s not working. I promise you, Brietta, that I’m doing my best.”

Coming to take his hoof in hers, Brietta smiled. “Of course you are. This isn’t something you have any control over, however.” She looked down at her ring, then up to his face. Dorian was staring at the ring as if it were an evil serpent.

“I gave you that?”

“Yes, you did. We were under the willow tree along the lake at my home, and you told me that you’d never loved anyone but me.” A gentle smile softened the worry lines in Brietta’s face as she gazed down at the diamond as if reliving within its sparkling depths every nuance of that special moment with Dorian. Looking up to catch his embarrassed expression, she shook the romantic thoughts away and added, “You picked it out yourself.”

“I have good taste in diamonds; it’s beautiful.”

“I think so myself.”

“We had set a wedding date?”

“October.”

“I must have loved you very much,” he said softly, instantly regretting the choice of the past tense as he saw tears slip down Brietta’s face.

Brushing away the tell-tale signs of the despondency his words had triggered, Brietta forced a smile. “And you will again, once your memory returns. In the meantime, Sloan suggested that we begin filling you in on some of the cases you were working on... if you feel up to it.”

Glad to turn the conversation to something less personal, Dorian agreed. “That’s a good idea; maybe something that we touch on will set me recollecting the past.”

Setting aside her own feelings that yearned to regain her fiancé, Brietta began a discussion on several of the cases that Dorian was handling that she was also familiar with, which filled the course of the afternoon. It was the arrival of Shayla, accompanied by Lena, that moved the topic to talk of family and friends and events around Whitehall, with Dorian seemingly enjoying the chatter of the three mares, often offering his comments concerning tidbits of gossip and information that were bandied about. Brietta was relieved to see him enjoying the company, but she was disconcerted to note that he did not seem to favor her over the others, treating all three of his visitors with the same polite cordiality.

The arrival of Dr. Finella induced Shayla and Lena to end their visit; once they were gone, Dr. Finella went through the motions of checking Dorian’s bandages and assessing the injuries. “Your lab work is normal; no problems there.” She grinned at him, and Brietta’s heart shrank a little as she observed Dorian’s reaction; he seemed infinitely more comfortable in Finella’s presence than he was in hers. She shook off the despondency that knowledge caused her by telling herself that his ease in addressing her was warranted because the two of them had very little association in the past, whereas Dorian was very aware of the expectations that Brietta had of him. Finishing her ministrations, Dr. Finella revealed one piece of good news. “You’ll be moved to a private room tomorrow morning,” she informed Dorian. “You’ll feel right at home.”

“Sloan was wondering when you’d kick me out of intensive care. I guess it’s a move in the right direction.”

“I’ll be seeing Sloan this evening, so I’ll let him know to ask for your room number when he stops by tomorrow,” Dr. Finella offered. Then, with a wicked glance at Brietta, she added, “I’m fixing all his favorite dishes to make up for the extra work he’s handling now.” Her job done, she slipped off to continue her rounds.

Dorian looked amused. “So Sloan and Dr. Finella are...”

“Dating,” a bristling Brietta stated brusquely.

“I see...” the stallion said, his eyes drifting to the doorway through which the attractive doctor had just passed.

Brietta snorted.

* * *
Forcing herself to put in a morning’s work, Brietta did not arrive at the hospital until nearly lunchtime the next day; and once she had located Dorian’s new room, she was startled to find several visitors with Dorian– one being Officer Neil and the other the chief of police, Roberts. Dr. Delaney was also in their midst as well as a mare with whom Brietta was not familiar.

Checking her pace as she saw the crowd, Brietta was reassured by a motion from Dr. Delaney calling her forward. It was Officer Neil, however, who spoke.

“Miss Manning, your timing is perfect.” He closed the notebook in his hoof in a idle manner and crossed the room, saying in a low voice as he passed her by, “Dorian has had a revelation which has proved helpful; quite convenient for you both, I might add.” His raised brow accorded him a satanic look.

Brietta looked questioningly at the stallion in the bed, but he only shrugged. It was Chief Roberts who filled her in on the latest development.

“Dorian has regained a window of recollection, Miss Manning; he awoke this morning with a clear impression of the stallion who was responsible for his predicament. It verifies what you and McClere suspected... Hazard was the malefactor.”

“Was there anything else?” Brietta directed at Dorian, but the stallion shook his head in the negative.

“Nothing, other than the moment of impact of that metal rod.” He leaned back against the pillow and closed his eyes at the traumatic memory. The blow that night had caught him unawares, his entire attention being focused on his main antagonist, Hazard. The resultant jolt had exploded his mind like a star-burst that had faded into welcome oblivion. Now, with the return of that bitter experience, Dorian felt exhausted.

Brietta came to his bedside and draped her hoof over his. She longed to kiss his cheek, to comfort him, but not in front of an audience. She directed a question at Dr. Delaney instead. “Is this a positive sign that the rest of his memory will return?”

“There’s no way of knowing.” He glanced at the mare that Brietta did not recognize, then back at Brietta. “I’d like you to meet Dr. Kearn; as a psychiatrist, she’s better able to explain to you the workings of the equine brain. I think it would be a good idea for you and her to sit down and discuss any questions you might have. Dr. Kearn, Brietta Manning.”

Before Brietta could acknowledge the introduction, Chief Roberts interrupted. “Miss Manning, have you recalled any further information that may prove helpful to our investigation? I’m especially interested in the phone call you received before you went rushing to the ledge. Was there anything about that call that made you suspicious?”

“There’s nothing I can add to what I’ve already told you– the voice was close enough to Dorian’s that I truly believed it was him on the line; I assumed that he’d had a restless night and had come up with something he wanted to impart to me before we sat down to discuss Hazard’s threats with my father and grandfather. As I told you before, he seemed excited and spoke very quickly; I didn’t have time to question him before he hung up the receiver on his end.”

“There was no background noise to pinpoint where the call came from?”

“Nothing.”

“Was Hazard brazen enough to return to Dorian’s apartment to make that call?” Roberts was silent while he contemplated that idea, then turned his attention back to Brietta. “You had certainly heard Dorian’s voice on the phone before. Was there no indication that this particular caller was not who he claimed to be?”

“The call came while I was fast asleep; once I answered, the words came fast; when I tried to question... him... he’d already hung up. I was curious as to what was so important that it couldn’t wait until the breakfast meeting Sloan, Dorian, and I had scheduled for that morning at Whitehall Place. And his switching to calling me Brietta instead of Brie nagged at me. But the call was so short, there was really nothing to do but honor the commitment he had asked for; I headed for the ledge. In hindsight, it appears I acted impulsively; but at the time, it was perfectly natural to respond to Dorian’s request.”

“It seems strange that Hazard stayed so near the scene of the crime up until the time he knew it would be discovered; it seems a brazen thing to do; I’d have expected him to high-tail it for Capital City to establish an alibi.”

“Then you don’t know Hazard,” Dorian remarked.

“I hope to have that dubious pleasure before this is through,” Roberts replied. “If what you’ve told us is true, Dorian, it looks like Hazard was willing to go to any lengths to insure your silence about his plans for Whitehall Place.” Nodding a courteous goodbye, Roberts ended his interview and left; Dr. Delaney accompanied him, leaving Brietta and Dorian with Dr. Kearn.

“Dorian,” the psychiatrist said, “I think it would be wise for you to get some rest; I’ll make a point of visiting you this afternoon when you’ve had a chance to recover from your morning.” She turned to Brietta. “Dorian’s move into his own quarters here plus the recovery of a very painful episode has taken its toll of him; maybe you and I could discuss some things while he collects himself.” She adjured Dorian once again to get some sleep, then guided Brietta from the room.

* * *
Dr. Kearn sat at her desk, her hooves steepled in front of her as she stared at Brietta. “How are you taking this turn of events in your life, Brietta?”

Brietta returned the doctor’s steady gaze. “I’m devastated that such a horrible thing had to happen; I also resent the fact that Dorian no longer knows who I am or how important we are to one another.”

“That sounds like an honest answer.” She dropped her hooves to the desk and leaned forward. “You’ve lost something very valuable to you.”

“It’s as if the Dorian I knew is dead,” Brietta acknowledged bluntly.

“You were truly in love with him?”

“Yes, and I still am; I can’t change my feelings... even though it seems Dorian can’t return them. That’s why it hurts so much to see him look at me as if I’m merely an acquaintance, someone he met at a party and then dismissed.” She dropped her gaze. “Before, he’d look at me as if I was the one thing in the entire world that meant anything to him; how I miss that!”

“Do you blame Dorian for what happened?”

“Blame him? How could I? He didn’t expect this Hazard to resort to violence. Dorian is the victim here.”

“It was Dorian’s involvement with Hazard that led to this situation.”

“Dorian had gotten mixed up with a bad element when he was young; but he had put that behind him and built himself a new life. He didn’t seek out Hazard; Hazard came looking for him!”

Rubbing a hoof against her chin, Dr. Kearn grew thoughtful. “By refusing to cooperate, however, Dorian brought Hazard’s anger down on him.”

“That is all too apparent, doctor. Dorian is not a violent stallion; I don’t think it even occurred to him that another pony would take such a brutal revenge.”

“I wonder... did it occur to Dorian that night as Hazard’s intentions became clearer to him that you also might be in danger?”

“Hazard couldn’t have suspected that I knew; it was only by chance that I learned what was going on as it was.”

“I was just thinking... if Dorian did fear for your safety, it might have been paramount to him to keep your involvement from Hazard. That might explain why the memory that was affected by the blow from Hazard’s minions was that which directly involved you, Brietta. Under duress as he was and with you as the one pony he would most want to protect– and then receiving such a traumatic blow to the head– Dorian’s defense might have been to obliterate those memories, to put you out of Hazard’s reach, so to speak.”

“If that were true, Dorian put me out of his reach, too,” Brietta murmured, absently cradling the engagement ring on her foreleg. She dropped her head to gaze at the diamond; an unbidden tear traced down her cheek and dropped on the brilliant stone, breaking into a prism of color. Was this a sign of vibrant hope... or a cataclysmic ending?



Chapter 21


“You were right when you said I was better off not remembering the confrontation with Hazard,” Dorian said to Brietta that evening. “All I recall is that point in time just before I was knocked senseless– just an infinitesimal slice of what must have happened that night; talk about seeing stars... it was quite a kaleidoscope.”

Brietta, remembering the sparkle of the tear-splattered diamond, thought she could visualize that moment. She patted Dorian’s hoof. “At least it verifies for the police the pony for whom they are searching.” She moved her hoof to his cheek and caressed his face.

Dorian, looking into her eyes, felt like a complete blockhead. Why can’t I respond to this mare? he asked himself. It’s as if... as if I can’t love her. He knew that she expected more from him than he could give, and why could he not give it? Maybe if...

He reached up and slipped his hoof into her mane and drew her head down to meet his, delivering an experienced kiss; but he knew as well as the mare that his heart was not in it. Brietta drew back.

“Dr. Keane said you might have buried your memories of me to protect me from Hazard.”

“Yes. She shared that with me as well.”

There was silence for a moment before Brietta spoke. “Maybe when you’re able to leave the hospital and are back... well, I was thinking... we have plenty of room at Whitehall Place; and my mother and Anna would both be able to see to your needs during the day, so you’d have someone looking out for you until you’re able to manage on your own...” She broke off, realizing that she was pushing too hard.

Dorian, however, took it in stride. “That’s a very thoughtful idea,” he agreed. “But let’s wait and see how much care I need when I’m released; I can’t help but think that it’d be better for me to settle in my own apartment– the physical surroundings might jostle my memory.”

“There is that,” Brietta conceded. “It’s just that I’d like to see you well taken care of.”

“Tell me about Whitehall Place,” Dorian suggested.

“It’s big and old, very grand and gracious. It was one of the first homes built around here and has endured generations of Mannings.”

Dorian closed his eyes, trying to visualize the edifice. “Stone or brick?” he queried.

“Pale stone; it’s three stories high and has a bell tower.”

“A bell tower? That’s unusual for a house.”

“Whitehall Place was the center of activity until the town began to take shape; the bells called the ponies to meetings, let them know of important news, and alerted them to any urgent problems.” She grimaced. “Of course, Grandfather hasn’t allowed the bells to ring of late.”

“And why not?”

“In his lifetime, the bells had taken on the function of heralding the happy occurrences of the Manning family. They rang at his birth, at his marriage, and at the birth of his son. But when his beloved wife died when Father was still a foal, Conrad put an end to the ringing of the bells. He said that with Grandmother’s death, there could be no more room for joyful celebration.”

“Not even at your birth?”

“Nope; and he refused to consider ringing them for our wedding.”

Dorian studied her face. “Our wedding...” he echoed. “Are plans going ahead for that?”

“As Mother says, we have to be ready for any contingency,” Brietta smiled but her eyes clouded. “I have to hang on to the hope that you will remember.”

“I’m trying; honestly, I am.”

“I know.” She had to stifle a great desire to weep. “It’s all so unfair. We were so happy about our life together, so full of plans. I miss you, Dorian.” Unbidden tears finally escaped and trickled down her cheeks.

“What were our plans?” he asked softly, drying the tears with his hoof.

“Immediate plans encompassed our honeymoon, of course; we have reservations at a seaside resort– you were set on teaching me to fish big-time.” A grin surfaced momentarily.

“Sounds like fun. What else?”

“The third floor of Whitehall Place is continuing to be remodeled in anticipation of our living there.”

Dorian arched an eyebrow. “Explain.”

“We decided– after Grandfather expressed a desire that the house should be properly utilized again– that we make our home there.” Seeing the frown that settled on Dorian’s face, Brietta hurried to reassure him. “You were leery of such an arrangement at first, but soon saw the advantage of honoring the family heritage. The rooms that needed converting from guest rooms to more functional purposes like kitchen and dining room are coming along splendidly. In fact, the carpenters have noted several times that your absence and my less frequent appraisals of their work are actually speeding up the process as they don’t have to listen to our excess of suggestions. Everything is shaping up beautifully.” She looked at Dorian hopefully.

“Well, well,” the stallion murmured. “I’ve obviously allowed you to influence my once solitary life.”

“You’d come to realize that being part of a family wasn’t such a bad thing; the decision wasn’t forced on you.”

Dorian’s gaze dropped to the engagement ring and he reached out to touch it. “This is all so real for you; for me, it’s like a... an illusion. How do you cope?”

She met his hoof on the gold-banded diamond. “This ring binds us, Dorian, even if you don’t remember.”

“Ain’t I a lucky fella?” Dorian teased, but Brietta’s confidence withered as she noted the cold depths of his dark blue eyes.

You will remember, she silently bid him. You have to remember!

* * *
“Brietta, got a minute?” Sloan asked as he peaked into Brietta’s office several weeks later.

Having gotten back in the schedule of her workdays again, Brietta had to be satisfied with visiting Dorian in the evenings to check on his recuperation and help him with any of the chores around his apartment that were difficult with his one foreleg remaining in the cast. It still rankled a bit that he had not chosen the option of spending his recovery period at Whitehall Place where he could have been attended to by Lena and Anna during the day. It rankled even more to know that Dr. Finella had become his physician of choice, and that she made house calls. Concerning his amnesia, there was no change.

“Sure,” Brietta smiled, tossing a file down on the desk as if grateful for the interruption; she gestured toward a nearby chair. “Is this about the Brindle case?”

“No, I was just hoping we could chat for awhile; I don’t get much of a chance to see you anymore, other than catering to Dorian.”

“Things have been hectic, haven’t they?” Brietta concurred as she looked over the disorganized array of papers and folders on her desk.

“It goes to show that Dorian was carrying his fair share around here, although he always gave the impression that he was under no particularly heavy obligations.”

“The office isn’t the same without his high spirits,” Brietta sighed. Missing the shadow that crossed the stallion’s handsome face, she continued. “But his recovery’s coming along quite well, so we should have him back in the ranks before too long.”

“The fact that the police have apprehended one of his abductors is promising; and once they check out the leads from that loser, they should have his accomplice as well.”

“Yes, but they were only minor players. And if the one in custody hadn’t been drunkenly bragging about his part in the affair, he’d still be walking free.”

“He was willing to spill the name of his colleague and verify Hazard’s orchestrating of the night’s work; that’s something.”

“I won’t rest easy until Hazard himself is confined.” Restless, she left her desk to stare out the window, wishing she could go back in time to change the course of events that had taken Dorian away from her in thought if not in body. To be so strongly in love with him while he could garner no more than a casual gratitude for the help she was extending to him distressed her terribly. To stand by and watch as his affection transferred itself to Finella was even worse.

Coming to stand beside her, Sloan watched the mare intently; she was far away, lost in her own thoughts... thoughts that undoubtedly were tied up in her relationship with Dorian and the unexpected complications that Hazard’s involvement had spurred. Sloan hated to see her suffering so deeply, yet he was selfish enough to realize that if things did not work out between Brietta and Dorian, there might still be a chance for him to regain her affection.

It was a severe force of will that restrained the stallion from reaching out and gathering the mare in his forelegs to offer her his comfort as should now be his privilege. How many problems had they discussed with one another in their earlier days, how many capricious incidents had he helped her resolve? But that was before the chasm had opened between them which negated any of the previous closeness they had enjoyed. And whose fault was that? the stallion reminded himself bitterly.

Without thinking, Sloan reached out and touched Brietta on the shoulder. She started as if she had forgotten his presence– much the opposite of Sloan’s acute awareness of her. As she turned her head to look at him questioningly, her mane covered his hoof– its soft tendrils caressing him– and her soft fragrance engulfed him. Sloan felt himself unraveling.

“When Hazard is apprehended and you can put all of this behind you, how will you proceed?” he asked softly.

There was a pain in Brietta’s eyes that transferred itself to the stallion. “That all depends on Dorian, now, doesn’t it?”

“And if he doesn’t come to love you?”

“He does love me!” Brietta snapped, her eyes blazing. She shrugged off Sloan’s hoof where it had still lingered in her hair.

“Does he, Brietta?”

“This ring is a sign of that love!” she argued, holding the adorned foreleg between them. The ring was all she had left to speak for the love that she and Dorian had shared.

“His feelings have been obliterated by the amnesia; and, for whatever reason, he doesn’t respond to you the way he did before. The ring means nothing.”

“He’s been through a lot, Sloan; even you can acknowledge that. He needs time to come to grips with this formidable episode in his life.”

“So all the doctors say.”

“Even Dr. Finella?” Brietta asked mockingly.

“Would you leave Finella out of this?” Sloan rumbled, his emotions catching up to him. “And leave Dorian out of it, too, for all I care!”

Losing control of the calm demeanor that was his trademark, Sloan let his feelings rule. Drawing Brietta to him more roughly than he would have ever allowed himself to do under normal circumstances, he kissed her soundly.

Brietta, caught for only a brief moment in her surprise at this unexpected motion, quickly struggled out of his unwelcome embrace. “It’s always been easy for you to toss away friendship, hasn’t it, Sloan? Are you ready to move on from Finella now?” Her words did nothing to reveal the conflict of emotion that Sloan’s kiss had awakened in her.

Brietta’s charge cut the stallion deeply. How his disavowal of her affection must have smote her at that long ago dance! Sloan, however, showed no sympathy. He glared at the mare in an effort to maintain his self-preservation; but he made no comment, annoyed at himself for letting things get out of hoof. It appeared that his unwarranted desire, rather than lay a stepping stone toward reconciliation, had simply driven another wedge between them. The look in Brietta’s eyes now was one of pure loathing.

Sloan gathered his tarnished composure about him like a shield, turned, and walked out the door, leaving a stricken Brietta to sort through her scarred feelings as best she could.

* * *
“I told Dorian to expect visitors, but I didn’t tell him who,” Brietta admitted, smiling at the stallion and mare who accompanied her. The three of them were approaching Dorian’s apartment where the recuperating stallion was ensconced.

She rang the doorbell but did not wait for an answer, using her own key to unlock the door. She and her two companions walked into the room to find Dorian sitting on the sofa with a pile of files at his side.

Dorian looked up to welcome Brietta; and as his gaze went past her to the other ponies who stood waiting in the background, he gave an exclamation of surprise. “Clara! Edward!” he choked, struggling to rise out of the couch. Brietta grinned as she helped him to his hooves.

“Dorian!” Clara cooed, hugging the stallion to her, then leaning back to study his face. “We were so sorry to hear of your problems.”

“You’re all in one piece, though, and that’s what counts,” joked Edward, patting the stallion affectionately.

“I never expected to see the two of you grace my doorstep,” the astonished stallion admitted, “but I’m so glad you’re here. Please, find yourselves a seat.” He began scooping up papers with his useable foreleg, and Brietta joined in to clear the furniture of his work.

“When Sloan said he had delivered some files to you, I had no idea that he expected you to take on a full workload already.”

“It makes the time pass faster,” Dorian said. “By next week, I’ll be back in the office– gotta start all over again.”

“Don’t rush things,” admonished Clara. “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.”

Dorian flashed a grin in Brietta’s direction. “I’m not so sure about that.”

Clara caught the look. “Brietta’s an angel; she kept us informed of your progress every step of the way; that’s how we knew that you were back home and ready to receive visitors.”

Looking confused, Dorian sharply asked, “Brietta contacted you? How in the world did she know of you two?”

“You and I made a trip to Capital City for the express purpose of calling on Clara and Edward,” Brietta enlightened the stallion, patting his hoof to assure him that his former foster parents were aware of his amnesia and the extent of it. “We had a delightful time... except for the trip home.”

“Your trip home?” Clara questioned, but Dorian interrupted her.

“I never told anyone about my past.”

“You told my mother and me about your parents and the foster homes you were in; and you admitted that Edward and Clara were the most understanding of the lot.”

Dorian stared at Brietta, wondering at the closeness that must have existed between the two of them– a friendship that had allowed him to be open with her about a past that he had never had the desire to share with anyone else. Had he really loved her and trusted her so much that he would have lowered the shield that he had kept so carefully in place since making the decision to turn his life in a new direction? Even with Sloan, he had made an effort to keep his past from haunting his future.

“You were very anxious to show off this gal of yours,” winked Edward. “And she certainly won our approval. Clara has been talking of nothing but the wedding for weeks now, ever since the engagement party; now, that was some shindig.”

Glancing nervously at Brietta, Dorian chose his words carefully. “I understand that all the preparations for the wedding are moving smoothly ahead.”

Sensing his reticence over the fast-approaching marriage, Brietta quickly moved the conversation to another topic.

“You questioned our trip home from Capital City, Clara. When you were with us for the engagement party, Dorian and I didn’t want to upset you with the particulars of our journey home after we left you, but what happened with Dorian since then has overshadowed the previous experience.” She took a deep breath, then continued. “Dorian and I were jumped by thieves when we were between cities.”

“What?” exclaimed Clara. “You can’t be serious!”

Brietta grimaced. “It was a frightening experience, but Dorian held them off; and, fortunately, several other travelers happened on us at just the right time, scaring the two ruffians away.”

As Clara and Edward expressed their dismay, Dorian looked disbelieving. “Why didn’t you mention this to me before?”

“It was an upsetting circumstance; I’m afraid I didn’t want to dwell on it,” admitted Brietta. “I was glad to put it behind me.”

“Were you hurt?”

“No... well, just barely. You received a cut and some bruises... you gave worse than you got,” Brietta assured him.

Dorian grew thoughtful. “Was that incident somehow related to the event that put me in this predicament?” he asked, gesturing to his assorted bodily wounds.

“I never thought about it as such,” pondered Brietta. “You never indicated that you suspected anything beyond an attempted robbery.”

“It was reported to the cops, I assume.”

“Yes, of course. They weren’t able to pick up the trail at that time, nor did they find any suspects matching our descriptions of the stallions; of course, by the body paint we picked up from them, it was apparent that they had disguised their true colors.”

“We?” queried Dorian. “Do you mean to tell me that you came in contact with these two thugs yourself?”

“Well, I did manage to thwart one of the attackers momentarily until you could come to my rescue; you were very gallant.”

“You mentioned that other ponies assisted you,” Edward pressed. “Who were they?”

“Senator Gable and his son.”

“Ahh. The senator is a good individual, and I believe his son will follow in his hoofsteps,” imparted Edward.

“I’ll certainly vote for him in the next election simply because he was able to help the two of you,” Clara vowed.

Giggling, Brietta concurred. “I think that’s a good enough reason.”

After more earnest conversation, Brietta finally excused herself to begin lunch preparations, leaving Clara and Edward to reminisce about the time that Dorian had shared their home and their lives. Listening to the snatches of talk that carried to her, Brietta could not help but feel isolated in that there was no past for her and Dorian to discuss, yet he could remember the more distant past with ease. The night of their engagement party was a high spot in Brietta’s life; but for Dorian, it might as well never have happened. She shook off those melancholy thoughts when Clara came to the kitchenette to offer her help in the meal preparations.

The two mares had been working companionably for some time when the doorbell rang; Brietta had her hooves full, so Clara went to the door to answer the summons. Busy with the salad, Brietta was unaware of the identity of the visitors until she heard a familiar– and unwelcome– laugh.

Looking up from her work, Brietta had to repress a scowl as she noted the all-white Dr. Finella making her entrance into the apartment in company with one of the nurses who had tended Dorian. After a brief greeting exchanged between the mares, Finella made her way straight to Dorian; and Alana followed in her wake. Clara accompanied the two mares, happy to see more of Dorian’s friends responding to his confinement.

“This is a pleasant surprise,” Dorian commented after Alana had been introduced properly to Clara and Edward. “No sick ponies in Whitehall today?”

“We were leaving the hospital at the same time,” Finella explained, “and Alana and I were discussing how much we miss you at the hospital since you’ve left, Dorian.” She turned her smile upon Clara and Edward. “Dorian was a model patient.”

“When he wasn’t tormenting anyone within hearing range,” Alana scoffed.

“Hey! Nothing against your medical care, but the time hangs heavy on a fella’s hooves when he has nothing better to do than critique the performance of the personnel,” retorted Dorian.

“Ha!” snorted Alana. “What you call critiquing, the rest of us call complaining.”

“Constructive criticism, maybe,” conceded the stallion.

“You’ll be happy to know that all your ‘criticisms’ have been duly noted... and filed away.”

“Figures,” grunted the stallion, his eyes sparkling. “Although I did think my suggestion to improve meals had merit.”

“Speaking of which, I’m going to be late for a luncheon date if I don’t get out of here,” Alana realized. “It’s good to see you looking so well, Dorian.” She giggled as Dorian’s skeptical gaze swept his one encased foreleg, and his useable hoof brushed across the encrusted mass that marked the point of impact. “Your wounds give you a special quality of derring-do... rather romantic, actually. Make sure you follow doctor’s orders.” She grinned at Dr. Finella and went her way, seeing herself out.

“Oh!” Clara said, reaching for her purse. “I came across another picture of you, Dorian; and as Brietta so enjoyed the others, I brought this one along today.” She presented the stallion with a group shot which included a much younger Dorian.

“That was taken...” began Edward.

“I remember,” Dorian interrupted. “It was a class trip to the museum.”

Finella peered over his shoulder to get a glimpse of the photo in which five school-aged ponies congregated on the museum steps. Four of the ponies had linked their forelegs in fond comradery, while the fifth stood back in brooding isolation. The look of discontent on the young Dorian’s face mirrored the look of the current moment as the stallion gave the photo back to Clara.

“There are some memories that I wish could be lost,” he commented. He abruptly closed any further discussion by asking, “You can stay for lunch, Finella, can’t you? Brietta assures me that she’s an excellent cook.”

“The offer is indeed tempting, but I have an appointment in half an hour across town.”

“What could be more important than breaking bread with friends?” the stallion queried.

Finella patted his hoof. “The next time you’re having a luncheon, be sure to invite me; and I’ll be sure to set aside the time.”

“I look forward to it,” Dorian murmured, clasping Finella’s hoof in his.

Meanwhile, Brietta, busily organizing a pleasing lunch, had become more dispirited by the minute as she listened to the bits of conversation that floated her way; the comfortable bantering tone with which Dorian had once teased her had been missing from their interchange since the misadventure at the ledge, and Brietta missed it. Hearing it now– directed at Finella– was a bitter pill to swallow.

It was fortunate that Brietta did not see the affectionate regard which passed between Finella and Dorian at parting.
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