Clever Clover and Belle Star found themselves working on an archaeological dig at an ancient cliff dwelling in the Crystal Desert south of Dream Valley. Because of the isolation of the site, the crew was camping out at the base of the cliff. Every day they would climb the narrow ledges cris-crossing the cliff face to reach the site. Some parts of the site were so hard to reach, they had to build rope bridges to provide safe access. But it was all worth it. This was the type of site that archaeologists dreamed of. Its isolation and arid climate had resulted in excellent preservation, and the artifacts that they were finding were the most magnificent most of the crew-ponies had ever seen.
But after over two months without a break, even the most wonderful site begins to lose its appeal. That is why Kiva, the native pony head of the excavation, decided to give the crew an extended weekend so they could get away from the camp and enjoy the benefits of civilization again. It was their last night at the digsite and then they would be away for four days, though one of those days would be spent traveling to and from Port Cactus, the nearest town to the camp. Port Cactus was a resort town on the coast and most of the crew looked forward to the change of scenery.
“I can’t wait to get to PC,” said Tumbleweed, one of the younger crew-ponies. “I’m gonna party all night and sleep all day!”
Coyote, who lived in Port Cactus, laughed. “You too? Sounds like the whole crew is gonna be there! The only ones we haven’t heard from are Kiva, Clever Clover, and Belle Star.”
Kiva shook his head. “You can count me out. I’ve got to spend some time with my wife.”
“Well, why don’t you bring her along! The more the merrier!” Coyote howled.
“Maybe next time. How about you two?” Kiva looked at Clever Clover and Belle Star, who always sat next to each other at the campfire.
Clever Clover shrugged. “I don’t really have any plans. But I’ve heard PC has a nice little museum. I’d like to check that out while I have the chance. Other than that, I guess I’ll just play it by ear, maybe check out the beach.”
“And you, Belle Star?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Do you think there would be a karaoke place in PC?”
Coyote shook his head. “I’m pretty sure they don’t.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll probably just hang out at the beach!”
“After two months of nothing by sand you want to hang out at the beach?”
“There is a difference,” Clever Clover said, “between sand and sand with water.”
* * *
The next morning the crew filed onto Kiva’s rusty old bus. The engine roared and the tires kicked up a cloud of dust as they set off for Port Cactus. There was no air conditioning on the bus. The hot sun and dry dust made the trip less than pleasant. But when they reached the paved road and caught a hint of sea breeze, their spirits rose. By noon they had reached the outskirts of Port Cactus. Kiva parked the bus at a small cantina on the edge of town. “Well, let’s get some lunch. Then I’ll drop you all at the motel.”
After their lunch, the best lunch they’d had in the last two months, Kiva took them to the motel where he had made reservations for the crew, except for himself and Coyote who were able to get home. Once they were checked in, most of the crew made for one of the many clubs in town. Belle Star went right to bed while Clever Clover took a walk.
It didn’t take the purple prince long to find the museum, and almost as long to get through it. It was a single room with displays of artifacts around the walls and a diorama of a native pony village in the center. It was all nicely done, what little there was of it. Clever Clover bought a book at the museum gift shop (a bookshelf next to the exit) and headed back to the motel. Even though he had taken his time, it was not nearly time for supper when he reached the motel. He could check out the clubs to kill some time and see what the rest of the crew was up to, but he didn’t feel up to that. He laid down on his bed and yawned. “Maybe I should take a clue from Belle Star and get some sleep.” Just then his phone rang. “Allo,” he answered.
“Hi, Clever Clover, it’s Belle Star.”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I just woke up and thought I’d go check out some of the shops. Would you like to come along? It’s always more fun shopping with a friend.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll meet you in the lobby in a couple of minutes.”
“Okay, see you there.”
Shortly the two ponies were making their way down the main business street of Port Cactus. Most of the shops were geared toward tourists with a wide selection of Port Cactus postcards, t-shirts, hats, and novelties. Occasionally there would be a shop that had authentic local arts and crafts, but they were mostly too expensive for a couple of archaeologists. Before they knew it, both the ponies’ stomachs were grumbling.
Clever Clover checked his watch. “It’s almost 6:00 already. We should probably find someplace to eat.”
“Yeah. But I was really hoping to find something nice at one of the shops. It’s so disappointing to go shopping and not buy anything. Why don’t we buy some hats, then get supper?”
“All right. I like hats.”
They went into the first touristy shop they came to and found a rack of hats. Belle Star picked out a hot pink baseball cap embroidered with a beach scene and the words “Port Cactus”. “Here’s a good one for you, Clever Clover. What do you think?”
“I think I like this one better.” The purple pony held up a beige cap with “Port Cactus” in black and gold letters.
But another hat had caught Belle Star’s eye, a wide brimmed straw hat with two bright pink flowers on the band. She put on the hat and struck a pose. “What do you think, Clever Clover?”
“I like it. It’s you.”
The two ponies paid for their new hats and set out to find a restaurant. It didn’t take long to find a little cafe just off the main street. After supper they returned to the motel. “Well, Belle Star, I’m just about ready to call it a night.”
“Yeah. The drive this morning took a lot out of me. Clever Clover, what do you say we go to the beach together tomorrow?”
“Sounds good. Well, see you tomorrow.”
* * *
The next morning Clever Clover slept in, feeling confident that Belle Star would do the same. It was mid morning by the time he managed to crawl out of bed. He went to the motel lobby to get some breakfast. The motel provided a spread of tropical fruits and fresh donuts every morning. After eating a mango, the purple pony decided to call on Belle Star. When he got to her room, he found the door was ajar. He rapped lightly on the door. “Allo, Belle Star, are you there?”
“Oh, good morning, Clever Clover!” she replied.
A gentle breeze blew the door halfway open. Clever Clover poked his head into Belle Star’s room. “Uh, can I come in?”
Belle Star shrieked in terror. “AH! I’m not dressed!” The tan pony darted behind a dressing screen.
Clever Clover blushed as he withdrew from the room. “Sorry. Hey, wait a minute. Since when do ponies wear clothes?”
“Okay, you can come in now.”
Clever Clover entered the room. Belle Star stepped out from behind the screen wearing a green and yellow bikini and her new straw hat. “So, what do you think?”
“It’s nice. So it looks like you’re ready for a day at the beach.”
“Well then, let’s go.”
* * *
The beach was not overly crowded, but there were a number of tourists about, mostly baby ponies and their parents. The baby ponies made quite a commotion, splashing and squealing with glee in the shallow water. The two archaeologists strolled down the beach, hoping to find a spot that was less noisy. The further they got from the motels, the quieter the beach got. It was getting close to noon by the time they found a spot they liked. There were a number of palm trees to provide shade, and most of the ponies appeared to be locals and were less exuberant than the tourists.
“Let’s take a quick dip, then get something to eat,” suggested Clever Clover.
Belle Star shook her head enthusiastically. “Yeah!”
Despite her clumsy tendencies, Belle Star was a rather graceful swimmer. Clever Clover had never quite gotten the graceful aspect, but he had been swimming since he was young. He enjoyed swimming, but this was the first time he had swam in the ocean. He took a deep breath and dove underwater. A school of brightly colored fish flitted along just above the white sand bottom. It seemed almost surreal. He was so transfixed by the beauty of the underwater world that he forgot to watch where he was going. Then he ran into something. The unexpected impact, light as it was, caused him to open his mouth, losing his air. He shot to the surface, gasping for air. Once he regained his breath, he realized what he had bumped into, Belle Star’s backside! His friend stood looking over her shoulder with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Uh, sorry ‘bout that. I kinda got distracted by some fish.”
Belle Star gigged and splashed some water in Clever Clover’s face. “That’s okay, no harm done. I’m hungry, lets get something to eat!”
“Right. Food sounds good right now.”
There were all sorts of food vendors just off the beach. Just about every type of food imaginable was available on the beach-side street. Clever Clover and Belle Star decided on corn-dogs, the local variety with jalapenos in the batter. As they sat and ate their corn-dogs, Belle Star noticed a commotion up the beach a way.
“Hm, I wonder what’s going on up there?”
Clever Clover looked up the beach, but couldn’t make out what was going on. As a couple of ponies ran past toward the commotion, Clever Clover flagged one of them down. “What’s up?” the purple pony asked the stranger.
“Dude! The local radio station is sponsoring a beach karaoke contest! It’s been going on all week! They’re just about to start that last qualifier before the big final round tomorrow!” And with that he rushed off.
Belle Star’s eyes sparkled with delight. “Oh, I just love karaoke! Come on, let’s go sing something together!” She grabbed Clever Clover and began to drag him across the beach.
“I don’t know, Belle Star,” he said between bites of his corn-dog. “I’m not that much of a singer.”
“What about those songs you sing at work?”
“That’s different. I just make them up as I go; it’s totally different from karaoke!”
“Oh, it’ll be fun, please!” By this time they were nearly at the registration table.
“Maybe if I had some time to prepare…”
But they had reached the table. “We’d like to enter the karaoke contest!” she announced.
“Cool!” the official replied. “You, like, singin’ as a duet or, like, separately?”
Clever Clover tried to get a word in edgewise. “Actually she’s the only one…”
“We’re going to sing a duet!”
“All right! Here’s, like, a list of duets we’ve got. Like, fill it out and give it to the director dude over there.”
Belle Star wrote both their names on the entry form and began to read the list of song titles while still clinging to Clever Clover. “Belle Star! Don’t I get any say in this?”
“Oh, that’s my favorite song! We’ll have to sing that one!”
“What, let me see that. Hey! That’s a love song!”
“Uh huh, it’s so romantic. I cry every time I hear it!” She rushed over to the director and handed him the entry form.
“Great, another entry! Let’s see now, that’s a great song. Can’t wait to hear it. Here are the lyric sheets. You’ll be number 17 in the lineup, you should report backstage to get ready when number 16 is announced on stage. Good luck!”
The voice of the official from the registration table blared over a loudspeaker. “Okay! It’s, like, nearing the deadline for registration! You’ve got, like, five minutes to get your registration to the director dude! And, like, the show starts in ten!”
Clever Clover and Bells Star sat on the bleachers that had been set up for the event. Belle Star was humming the tune to the song as she read the lyric sheet. Clever Clover’s face twisted into a painful grimace as he read his lines. “You really expect me to sing this sappy stuff?”
“Just try it, please! I’m sure you’ll like it if you just give it a chance.”
“All right. I’ll do my best.” The purple pony resumed his studies. He was somewhat familiar with the song. Belle Star had a tape that she liked to listen to on Coyote’s boombox at the dig; and whenever this song came on, she started to dance and sing into her trowel like it was a microphone. He had never paid too much attention to the lyrics before, though. Before he knew it, they were announcing the first contestant.
Clever Clover was too stressed out over the impending duet to really pay attention to the competition. He vaguely noticed that the crowd’s reaction was typically mixed. Between the music, the cheers, and the jeers, he was having problems focusing on the words he was trying to study. Eventually, he decided to give up on it; he knew the lines as well as he was going to in the time he had. Just as he lifted his eyes from the paper, the DJ on stage announced contestant number 15. It was almost time for him and Belle Star to get ready for their performance. He suddenly got all hot and sweaty as the 15th song went by. It was the first song he had really listened to and he was not too impressed. When the DJ announced the 16th contestant, Belle Star and Clever Clover got up from their seats and made their way backstage. From what he could hear, Clever Clover thought number 16 had some real talent.
They were greeted backstage by the director. “Hey, there you are! Come over here, and put on these headphones. You’ve got one chance to rehearse your song before you go on. Okay, get to it!” Clever Clover and Belle Star put on the headphones and watched the TV screen that showed the lyrics in time with the music playing on the phones. Belle Star had the first line, fortunately, and she executed it perfectly. Clever Clover choked a little and had to struggle to keep up with the music. Belle Star’s second line came and went. Clever Clover didn’t choke this time; he was able to keep up with the music, but he was sure he was singing way off key. By the time they finished their first run-through, Clever Clover was starting to get the hang of it, but he still didn’t feel ready to go before the crowd. But there was no time to worry; the DJ was announcing contestant number 17.
The pair of archaeologists walked onto the stage. Clever Clover was glad he had his sunglasses on; if the audience couldn’t see his eyes, they might not know how nervous he was. The music started playing and the crowd started swaying to the beat. Clever Clover was glad that there was a long lead-in to the song; it gave him a little more time to prepare. To his surprise, when Belle Star started to sing her lines, she reached up, took off his glasses, and gazed into his eyes. At first he felt hot with nerves but when it was his turn to sing, her deep blue eyes had mesmerized him. He sang his lines as if they were a part of him. Before he knew it, the song was over and the audience roared with applause.
“Wasn’t that great!” the DJ declared. “You two must really be in love to give it soooo much feeling!”
Belle Star giggled.
As Clever Clover’s senses returned to him, he shook his head. “We’re not in love! We’re just…friends.”
“Yeah, right!” the DJ laughed. “All right! Now, why don’t we let the lovebirds have a little time to themselves while we bring out our 18th contestant!”
Belle Star and Clever Clover hurried from the stage as the next contestant took the stage. “See, wasn’t that fun?” Belle Star asked.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe with a smaller crowd it might be fun.”
“Oh, you liked it! Don’t deny it.”
“Yeah, maybe I liked it a little. But all the same, I’m glad it’s over.”
Backstage, the director was waiting for them. “Hey, you two! I told you that was a great song, didn’t I! And you two did a great job with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see you back here tomorrow night!”
“Hu? What happens tomorrow night?”
“Duh! It’s the finals! Every day’s winner from the past week will compete for the grand prize! A home entertainment system with a value of more than 5,000 jangles!”
“Oh wow! We get to sing again!”
“Don’t get your hopes up, Belle Star. We haven’t won yet.”
The director shook his head. “Don’t be such a downer. I’ve directed a lot of these contests and I can tell you, you’ve got an easy seventy-five percent chance of winning.”
“That’s nice of you to say, but shouldn’t you be warming up the next contestant?”
“No. Eighteen’s all we got today. Why don’t you two just hang around back here till it’s over? It’ll just be a couple of minutes before we get the judges’ decision. Then, if you win, you’ll need to pick your song for tomorrow. It’ll have to be something different from what you sang today.”
Belle Star hung her head. “Oh, but that was my favorite song in the whole world!”
“Don’t worry, sweetie, there’s lots of other songs out their. I’m sure you’ll find something you like. Or maybe you can let your guy pick the song this time.”
“What do you say, Clever Clover? Would you like to pick our next song?”
“Yeah, I guess. If we win, I’ll have a look at the songs.”
The official from the registration table came up and handed the director a slip of paper. “Oh, good. The results are in!”
Clever Clover was surprised. “What? This guy isn’t even finished yet!”
“Listen to him for a minute, if you can stand it. It doesn’t take long to realize, he ain’t all that good.”
Clever Clover cocked his head and listened. “I see what you’re saying. Why’d the worst contestant have to choose ‘Bye Bye Mrs. American Pie’?”
“That’s usually the way it is.” The director looked at the results. “Well, it looks like I will see you two tomorrow. Congratulations! Here’s the songs you have to choose from for the finals.”
Belle Star started to jump up and down. “Oh goody! We won! We won!”
Clever Clover looked over the list of songs. “Man, I’ve never even heard most of these. And I’ve only seen one so far that I’d even consider singing.”
When the last singer finished and was booed off the stage, the DJ tried to calm the crowd. “Come on, guys! I know that was awful, but just think ahead to tomorrow! The six best singers or duets from the past week will be performing on this stage one more time!” The crowd cheered. “But you probably want to know who is going to be the sixth contestant tomorrow! So without further ado, today’s winner…the Lovebirds, Belle Star and Clever Clover!”
* * *
Clever Clover didn’t have much of an appetite after the contest, but Belle Star insisted they go out for a celebratory supper in the nicest restaurant in town. Not having been able to spend any money in the last two months, they had enough money for a nice meal for a change. Unfortunately, that proved easier said than done. In a resort town, there were a lot of restaurants to choose from and everyone they asked for advice had a different opinion on which was the best. As the search wore on, Clever Clover’s appetite came back. “Hey, Belle Star, let’s just head back to the motel and stop at the first restaurant we come to.”
“Yeah, I am getting pretty hungry.”
So they started back toward the motel. The first restaurant they came to was a little hole-in-the-wall on a narrow side road. The dining room was small and dark, but the food actually the best they had had in Port Cactus. While they ate, they discussed what song they would sing the next day. Once they had come to a decision, they returned to the motel for the night.
The next morning, Clever Clover woke up unusually early. He took a walk on the beach, going north this time, away from the karaoke stage. By mid morning, he realized that he had lost track of time. Fortunately, the final karaoke contest wasn’t until later in the evening. He returned to the motel, arriving just before noon. On the way back to his room he knocked on Belle Star’s door, which was closed this time. At first there was no answer, but as he turned to leave there came a groggy “Who’s there?”
“It’s Clever Clover. Aren’t you up yet?”
A few moments later the door opened. Belle Star yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Good morning, Clever Clover. Do you want to get some breakfast?”
“Actually, I was thinking about lunch. It’s almost noon.”
“That late? Where do you want to go for lunch?”
“Actually, I was thinking we could order a pizza and practice our song.”
“Really! I knew you’d like karaoke if you gave it a chance!”
“Really, it’s just my competitive nature. So what do you want on the pizza?”
* * *
After lunch they went to the beach. They had all afternoon to enjoy themselves before they had to compete in the karaoke finals. On the way to the beach they stopped to buy snorkeling gear so they could explore the reefs that lay off-shore. The afternoon went quite quickly. It was difficult for them to leave the beauty of the reef behind, but hunger got the better of them. By the time they finished a quick meal from one of the beach-side vendors, it was almost time for the karaoke finals so they made their way down the beach to the stage.
There was already a large crowd assembled and more ponies were coming every minute. Clever Clover and Belle Star joined the other finalists, mostly ponies and one Bushwoolie, backstage where the director, with a bucket in hoof, was waiting to address the contestants.
“All right! You’re all here now. For the final round, your order will be determined by drawing numbers. For you duets, only one member needs to draw, so please figure out which it’s going to be. We don’t want to run out of numbers like we did last year.”
“Clever Clover, do you want to draw or can I?”
“Go right ahead, Belle Star.”
The tan pony stepped forward and drew a slip of paper from the bucket.
“So, what number did we get?”
Belle Star unfolded the paper, squinted at it, then turned it over. “We’re number two.”
Once all the contestants had drawn, the director tossed the bucket away. “All right, contestants, would number one report to the rehearsal area while our DJ warms up the crowd.”
The DJ played a recording of the first contestant’s qualifying performance along with a laser light show. When the show was over, the contestant took the stage and Clever Clover and Belle Star had a chance to rehearse their song. After the first contestant was finished, the crowd was treated to a replay of Clever Clover and Belle Star’s performance from the day before, then the two ponies took to the stage. Clever Clover was less nervous than last time and Belle Star was a bundle of energy, hopping up and down in anticipation. They sang their song and the crowd cheered. They waited backstage as the remainder of the contestants performed.
After the last contestant had finished, all the contestants were called out onto the stage. “Alright everybody!” the DJ bellowed. “It is the moment you’ve been waiting for all week! In a few moments we will know who is this year’s Karaoke Champion!” The crowd roared. “But first let’s hear it for our third place winner, Billy Bob Bushwoolie! His prize, 100 jangles worth of gift certificates from local merchants!”
The Bushwoolie bounded forward to accept his prize. “Me won! Me won! Yippie!”
“Isn’t he great, folks! Let’s hear it for Billy Bob Bushwoolie!” Once the crowd calmed down, the DJ continued. “Now, for number two, appropriately enough one of our two duets! Will our second prize winners please step forward, the Lovebirds! Belle Star and Clever Clover!”
Belle Star shrieked with joy. Clever Clover sighed with relief. “Aren’t they a cute couple?!” the DJ continued. “We’ve got a special prize just in case a duet won, a matching set of state of the art MP3 players complete with stereo headphones and pre-loaded with a 100 song music library!”
Clever Clover looked confused as the DJ presented him with the electronic device. “What the heck is a MP3?”
“You’re joking, right?” the DJ asked, covering his mic. Clever Clover shook his head. The DJ sighed. “I’ll explain it to you after the show.”
“All right! That’s two prizes down, one to go! Who will take the Grand Prize? Let’s hear it for Beach Bunny!”
The seafoam green pony with a surfboard symbol hopped forward. “Oh yeah! I won! All right!”
“Great work, Bunny! You won the Grand Prize, a home entertainment system worth more than 5,000 jangles!”
After the prizes were awarded, there was a beach party hosted by the radio station. Clever Clover and Belle Star didn’t stay too late. They had a bite to eat and a quick class in MP3s before returning to the motel. Tomorrow afternoon they would be bussed back into the isolation of the Crystal Desert and they didn’t want to sleep through the entire morning.