Two slim ponies walked briskly down the path, but not so quickly that they couldn't
carry on an animated
"So how are you going to fill-in your time once you're home?" the brown filly asked of
the dark lemon stallion.
He shook his light green mane to catch the gentle spring zephyr that laced the March air
and laughed. "Certainly
nothing educational. I might try some hiking and fishing, but mostly I'll just be goofin' off. How
The monotone colored pony lowered her head as if in sorrow. "I guess it all depends on
if Mom and Dad are glad to see
me or not."
"How could they not be glad to see you?" The stallion looked at his friend in
amazement. "They'll spoil you
"Is that how your folks will treat you over semester break, Prime?" she asked, lifting her
head to face him.
"Well, Mom always bakes all my favorite foods, and Dad has me help him with some
project around the house so we
have plenty of time to talk, and relatives and friends will be dropping in to visit," Prime shared.
"The only problem is that the time goes by
way too quickly."
Both ponies fell silent as Prime thought ahead to a busy week at home away from Pony
Pride University while
Chocolate Chip looked ahead with dread to an uncertain homecoming. Her brother had
convinced her to try to patch things up with her
parents during her spring break from college. But the closer to Neighberry she got, the tighter the
knots in her stomach contracted.
If she hadn't been feeling so low, Chocolate Chip would have been enjoying the passing
landscape that she and Prime,
her classmate at Pony Pride in Dream Valley, traveled through. The weather had been mild so the
hills were already tinged with green,
although the trees were still barren. An occasional squirrel raucously scolding from the branch of
a tree and the sudden hopping of a
frightened rabbit escaped Chocolate Chip completely as she lost herself in painful memories and
"Chocolate Chip? Are you there?" Prime asked teasingly.
His words slipped into her thoughts and she turned a startled face to her companion.
"Did you say something?"
Laughing, Prime enlightened her. "I asked, ‘Have you made a decision on your major
"Actually, I think I'm leaning toward teaching," she responded, trying to shake her
apprehensions. "But at what level, I
"Great! Maybe someday we'll be teaching at the same school." Prime, in his sophomore
year, was planning on getting
a master's degree and teaching college mathematics.
"Teaching elementary might be fun, but I haven't had much experience with baby
ponies," Chocolate Chip mused.
"Maybe I'll teach high school."
"You'll be great at whatever you do," Prime complimented her.
They had just crested the top of a hill, and both of them stopped to take in the view of
Neighberry spread out over the
gently rolling countryside. Chocolate Chip swallowed hard. "I guess we're almost there."
She suddenly felt weak in the knees like she couldn't go on, but Prime took off down the
sloping path. "Beat you to the
bottom," he called. Chocolate Chip mustered all the courage she could, and ran down the hill
behind him. She was panting when she
finally reached him at the edge of town where a wayside was laid out with picnic tables and
Slumping onto a wooden bench, she glowered at Prime, but his attention was focused
across the park-like rest-stop.
"Is this someone you know?" he asked.
Chocolate Chip followed his gaze, and settled on a rose-red stallion crossing the early
spring grass. "Wishbone!" she
squealed, and found renewed energy to race to meet him. "You were watching for me!"
The colorful golden-maned stallion embraced the drab filly and swung her in a circle
around him. "You made it,
"Thanks to Prime," Chocolate Chip pulled the stallion to where her companion stood.
"Prime, this is my baby brother,
Wishbone. He's a senior in high school." She grinned at the two ponies before her. "And
Wishbone, this is a classmate from Pony
"Nice to meet you," both said, and shook hooves.
"Prime's on his way to White Pine," Chocolate Chip continued, referring to the next
town to the south.
"White Pine," Wishbone snickered. "We just beat them at the basketball tournament
"What can you expect when their best player graduated two years ago?" Prime
"Spare me, please!" Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes expressively. "If you two start
talking sports, Prime won't get home
Prime flashed a grin at Chocolate Chip. "Thanks for reminding me. You know how
moms are-- they worry themselves
sick if a pony isn't home when he's supposed to be."
"You won't forget to stop and pick me up on Saturday, will you?" she asked.
"Of course not. I'll leave White Pine after breakfast. Shall we meet here or at your
Wishbone interjected an idea. "Why don't you come by the house now so you'll know
where it is. By Saturday, we
could be getting more snow dumped on us... spring can be unpredictable, you know."
"Oh, isn't my little brother getting responsible!" Chocolate Chip teased, and punched his
shoulder. "You sound just like
The trio set out for the far side of town where a solid square two-story house sat
gleaming white in the midday sun.
"Well, there it is!" Chocolate Chip gulped and added glumly, "Home, sweet home."
"I guess this is goodbye until Saturday. I'll swing by here on my way through." And
with a wave of his hoof, Prime was
gone on his way.
Chocolate Chip looked after him in dismay. It was as if her only link to Dream Valley
was deserting her, and she was
afraid she'd somehow be lost to it forever.
Wishbone took her hoof and tugged her toward the house. "Lollipop took over your
old room because it's bigger, so
your stuff is in her old room," he enlightened her to the reorganization that had occurred.
Still holding on to her as if he feared her sprinting away, Wishbone led her up the front
steps and opened the door.
"Welcome home, Chocolate Chip," he bowed regally.
"Thanks, Wishbone," she smiled and tosseled his mane as she walked through the door.
Her eyes roved across the
foyer and through the doorways to the other rooms, and she found that outwardly things were
basically the same as when she left. Was
that a good sign, or a bad one? she wondered silently.
Wishbone let the door slam behind him, and Chocolate Chip jumped. "Where's Mom?"
"She's at work yet," he replied. "Let's go to the kitchen and get something to
Chocolate Chip set her knapsack at the foot of the stairs, and followed her brother to
the kitchen. "The house hasn't
changed since I left," she stated.
"No. I guess not." Wishbone looked around as if seeing his home for the first time.
"Mom and Dad had been saving
their jangles, so they never looked at new furniture."
"Had been?" Chocolate Chip asked as she took the glass of milk Wishbone offered.
"You make it sound like they don't
Wishbone poured another glass of milk, and opened a box of pre-made brownies.
"They kinda went off the deep end,
and put all their savings into buying a restaurant."
Chocolate Chip choked on her bite of brownie. "They what?"
"Yep," Wishbone appeared smug as he conveyed the news. "Mom quit her job at
Pony-Mart, and Dad quit his job at
the cart factory, and they became business owners." He waved his hoof through the air for
"Where is this restaurant?" Chocolate Chip asked curiously.
"It used to be that old pizza place on Main. Now it's The Right Place. Don't ask.
Lollipop came up with the name, and
Mom thought it was perfect."
"Don't fuss, Chocolate Chip. She may have all the pastel colors Mom and Dad always
wanted in a daughter, but she
hasn't got a brain in her head!"
"Wishbone!" Chocolate Chip warned. "Don't talk about your sister that way."
"What way?" asked a voice behind them. They turned to see Lollipop coming in the
back way, her flushed pink face
framed in brilliant blue curls.
"Lollipop?" Chocolate Chip questioningly said the name. "Is that you, little
"Certainly is," the vibrant filly giggled, and twirled in front of her siblings. "I'm nearly
grown up," she bragged as she
came to a stop, and readjusted her curls.
"You were just a kid when I left a year ago," Chocolate Chip stared in amazement.
"Now you're a young lady. How can
that happen so fast?" She reached out to her sister and drew her in close, but Lollipop stiffened
and pulled away.
"I've got to get ready to go over to the restaurant," she tossed her curls. "I keep the
salad bar stocked." She left to go
upstairs, but turned back again. "I have the big bedroom now; your stuff's in the cave."
Lollipop had always despised her room for its small size, aggravated by the slant of the
ceiling which closed it in even
worse. She told visitors to the house that she lived in a cave.
"All your things are in boxes in there," Wishbone informed her as Lollipop disappeared
upstairs. "Mom said you could
go through the stuff, and get rid of what you don't want."
"That was nice of her."
Wishbone changed the subject. "I really enjoyed spending Christmas with you."
"That was the neatest," agreed Chocolate Chip. "It was the best surprise I ever
"Did Barnacle ever get a new ship?"
While they discussed the lives of the ponies Wishbone had met on his visit to Dream
Valley, they finished their snack
and cleaned up the crumbs.
Lollipop passed through on her way to The Right Place. She had adorned her mane
with pink ribbons and tied a big
bow around her tail. Having accented her eyes with eye liner and shadow, she appeared older
than her fifteen years.
"You look lovely," Chocolate Chip complimented her.
"Naturally," Lollipop said with a disapproving glance in her sister's direction. "Maybe
you could fix up a bit before you
come to eat." With that said, she bolted out the door.
Chocolate Chip stood open-mouthed, staring at her sister's exit as if she'd been slapped
in the face.
"Why that little brat!" she fumed.
Wishbone laughed. "Temper, temper! You'll get used to it. Mom and Dad both treat
her like a princess... she's spoiled
Thinking back to her days at home, Chocolate Chip remembered well that Lollipop was
spoiled; but she had been close
to her sister, and it didn't seem to bother Lollipop then that Chocolate Chip was a little less
colorful than the rest of the ponies she knew.
Now, however, there seemed to be a certain reserve in Lollipop's attitude toward her.
"Go on up to your room now, and get settled," Wishbone suggested. "You will have
time to rest a bit before we go to
Grabbing her satchel and climbing the stairs to the second floor, Chocolate Chip passed
by the door to what had once
been her bedroom. Backtracking to the closed door, she felt an irresistible urge to take a peak
into her former sanctuary. Taking a quick
look down the hall, she turned the knob and opened the door.
The scene before her took her breath away. The room had been redecorated to the hilt:
new wallpaper, new furniture,
new carpeting on the floor, even new curtains at the window. Where her old battered bed had
stood now reigned a four-poster canopy
bed; her mismatched dressers and chairs had been replaced with coordinated pieces to accent the
bed itself. A floral motif wrapped
around the room in the wallpaper and the same pattern repeated on the bedding; the curtains were
sheer, the carpeting plush. Chocolate
Chip fought down her resentment, and closed the door.
She continued down the hall and opened the door into the little room at the end. Her
old single bed with a worn chenille
bedspread was butted into a corner, and cardboard boxes were stacked in disarray on either side
of her dresser; a mirror and a chair
completed the furnishings.
Throwing her knapsack on the bed, Chocolate Chip opened the dresser drawers and
found them empty. She opened
one of the boxes and found it packed with the books she had left behind. She had traveled lightly
when she had left home, not knowing
where she was going or what she'd do-- only knowing that she had to escape the stifling
atmosphere that her parents surrounded her
She lifted a battered foal's book out of the box, and was overcome with unhappy
memories. The title of the book was
Cinderella; when she was little and felt unloved, she would turn to this book for comfort.
It gave her hope for a happy ending in her
Her thoughts were interrupted as Wishbone stuck his head through the open doorway.
"Do you need anything?"
"Wishbone, are Mom and Dad looking forward to seeing me?"
"They've been awfully busy with the new restaurant and all," he stated lamely, "but,
yeah, they were glad to hear you
were coming home." He took the book out of her hoof. "Cinderella. You must have
read this story to me a million times when we
"I thought that if I read it enough, it would come true."
"And I always thought that it was the dumbest story I ever heard."
Chocolate Chip took the book from his grasp and scowled menacingly at him.
"Hey! I'm only telling it like it is!" he defended himself, forelegs up to prevent a rap on
"I thought you, at least, were my friend," she muttered.
Wishbone laughed. "You were always the best big sister a colt could ask for. I missed
you terribly after you left."
"If I remember correctly, you had such a crush on Honey Blossom that I doubt you
missed me at all."
"Ah, yes. Honey Blossom. Her family moved away last summer." Wishbone pulled up
the chair and sat down. "Now
I'm dating Snowdrift."
"Her brother was in my grade."
"He works at the newspaper now. Snowdrift is going to go to Pony Pride after
"And how about you, Wishbone?"
He kicked back the chair to balance on its back legs. "I dunno. School's not for
"Your grades are still good, I hope."
"Yeah, but where's the fun in studying all the time?"
Chocolate Chip emptied the contents of her backpack into the dresser, and used a comb
to straighten her windblown
hair. "College is a lot of fun in addition to studying."
"Spoken like a true dweeb!" he teased as he grabbed the pillow off her bed and threw it
at her. "And if you've primped
enough, we could go cruise Main Street before going to The Right Place. My treat, you
Frowning at her image in the mirror, Chocolate Chip worried, "How am I going to
‘fix-up' to please Lollipop?"
"It's just a family restaurant; you don't have to do anything special. Put the blue ribbon
on, and you'll look stunning,"
Wishbone grinned. "If Little Miss Prissy doesn't like it, it's her tough luck."
"Well, I guess I'm ready then," Chocolate Chip sighed as she fluffed out the bow and
wished her fairy godmother would
materialize to transform her into a ravishing beauty.
* * *
In the course of the year, Neighberry hadn't changed much either, except for a few new
names on some of the
businesses. The ice cream shop seemed drab and dreary after the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe,
and the dance hall was closed for
repairs. There was, however, a new book store to check out, and Chocolate Chip left with some
ideas for Bushwoolie Bargain Books
where she worked part-time.
When they were approaching the restaurant now owned and operated by her parents,
Chocolate Chip questioned
Wishbone on why he wasn't working there, too.
"I do, normally. But I got a substitute to work tonight so I could be with you your first
"Aren't you a dear brother!" Chocolate Chip cooed. "But don't tell me the folks are
actually going to make you pay the
Wishbone adopted an authoritative voice that could have passed for her father, Drifter.
"A business doesn't make a
profit by handing out free merchandise, does it, Son?"
Chocolate Chip giggled. "You are too funny!"
By the time they walked into the restaurant, however, Chocolate Chip was no longer
smiling. This was what her trip
was all about-- to face her mom and dad again.
The place was rather crowded with ponies-- Chocolate Chip was happy to see that her
parents' venture seemed to be
doing well. She caught sight of Lollipop hovering around the salad bar, and then saw the deep
purple body of her mother, Twilight Jewel,
coming from the kitchen. For a brief second, Chocolate Chip thought of turning and leaving
before her mother caught sight of her; but in
that instant her mother's eyes met hers, and she hastened over to greet her daughter.
"Chocolate Chip! It's so good to see you!" she communicated in an artificial tone used
for paying customers. She
touched her hoof briefly, and then led her and Wishbone to a table in an out-of-the-way
She doesn't want anyone to see me, Chocolate Chip griped to herself.
Presenting each of them with a menu, her mother apologized. "We'll have to talk later
as the place is quite busy tonight,
and we're a little short on help." She frowned accusingly at Wishbone. "But enjoy your meal."
And she bustled off again.
Chocolate Chip watched as her mom worked her way among the tables, her pink mane
braided attractively. "It's nice to
see you again too, Mom," she whispered. She turned to Wishbone for support, but found him
staring dreamily at a pure white pegasus
with aqua mane and tail who was waiting on the table next to them.
"Snowdrift?" she asked him.
"Snowdrift!" he verified.
When the waitress finally got to their table, Wishbone made the introductions and
Snowdrift responded pleasantly.
"You attend Pony Pride, don't you?" she asked.
"Yes, I do. And it's a great school."
"Oh, I know I'm going to love it there!" Snowdrift agreed. "I only wish that your
brother would consider attending,
"We'll have to work on him, won't we?" Chocolate Chip winked.
When the food arrived, it was well presented and tasted delicious. "Mom was never this
good a cook!" Chocolate Chip
was amazed. "How does she do it?"
"Dad does most of the cooking here," Wishbone grinned. "He had that hidden talent all
"Wait until you see him in his tall white hat, and his apron. You won't recognize
The two ponies lingered over dessert and coffee, and talked more about their
"What's the real reason you don't want to continue your education?" Chocolate Chip
asked her brother.
He took his eyes off Snowdrift long enough to glance at his sister and answer. "Mom
and Dad want me to work here
full-time when I graduate. And they pay good, believe it or not."
"You could always come back here once you had your degree."
Wishbone shrugged his shoulders. "I can learn the restaurant business first-hoof here.
And I'll be earning wages right
away. I think college is a waste of time."
"You sound like Dad again."
"Speaking of which," Wishbone said, "it's thinned out in here, so let's go back to the
kitchen and face the cook."
Chocolate Chip watched as Wishbone left a generous tip for Snowdrift; then they
walked through the swinging doors
into the kitchen. Drifter was standing over the stove, and he didn't notice his daughter until she
laid her brown hoof over his yellow one.
"Hi, Dad," she smiled, feeling like a gangly adolescent again.
He turned and looked at his daughter for several seconds, then turned back to his work.
"We'll talk later," was all he
said. "For now, grab a spoon and stir that sauce."
It was late when the work was finished and the restaurant was finally locked behind
them. Chocolate Chip was
exhausted, but the fact that she was again a part of this family now walking home together
revitalized her, causing her misapprehensions
to slip away into the night. She skipped ahead of her siblings to nudge her way between her
folks. "Thanks for letting me stay this week.
It's good to see you all again." Chocolate Chip surprised herself that she could say those words,
and really mean them.
"Tell us about your life in Dream Valley," her father suggested.
Chocolate Chip happily recounted her various experiences, and shared stories about her
new friends and her college
life. By the time they reached home, she had given them a fairly detailed account of the last
Later at home after Lollipop and Wishbone had gone to their rooms for the night,
Chocolate Chip was left alone with her
parents. An awkward silence came over them until Drifter cleared his throat.
"You did a good job at the restaurant tonight."
Chocolate Chip smiled. "I've learned a little about cooking from Sugarberry."
Her mother took a quick glance at Drifter, then presented an idea. "Would you be
willing to help out at the restaurant all
week? We really do need the extra hooves."
Chocolate Chip looked from one to the other, and a sinking feeling enveloped her. Was
this why they had allowed her
to visit... to get free labor?
Her thoughts must have been visible on her face as Drifter hurriedly assured her that she
would be paid for her work.
"Minimum wage, you know."
Was minimum wage what Wishbone was willing to sacrifice a college education for? she
wondered. A sneaking
suspicion that Lollipop and Wishbone were probably making more than that was pushed down,
and she forced a pleasant smile from
years of practice. "Of course I'll help out, Dad... Mom. What are families for?" The
facetiousness of her statement went
Her mother looked like a load had been lifted from her shoulders and her dad breathed a
visible sigh of relief. "That's
great, Chocolate Chip! We had no idea that we'd be so busy, and the want-ads aren't bringing in
any more applicants. Things will get
better when school's off for the summer." He patted her shoulder as he went off to bed. "Good
"I'm turning in, too," Twilight Jewel said. "Don't forget to put out the lights."
Chocolate Chip was left alone in the middle of the living room and she steeled herself
not to cry. She could hear every
word her parents had said playing back in her mind, and not once did either of them call her
sweetie or honey or even daughter. Not once
had they hugged her. Their only happiness at seeing her was in connection with working at The
Sugarberry, this isn't working out! her soul cried forlornly, but she refused to be
defeated. I'll prove to them that
I'm worth more than just hired help," she whispered to herself. "I'll make them love me!"
In reaching for the light switch, she noticed the graduation picture of Wishbone already
hanging on the wall, a goofy
smile lighting his face. "Snowdrift was probably behind the photographer," she surmised. Next to
the stallion's picture hung an
eight-by-ten of Lollipop when she'd finished middle school, decked out with pearl ear rings and
enough makeup to make her look like a
Stuck in the wedding picture of her mom and dad was a black and white snapshot of
herself when she had graduated--
the only sign of the couple's firstborn offspring. Chocolate Chip flicked the light off before the
tears started to fall.
* * *
A gentle rapping at her door told her when morning had come. She sat up in bed and
looked at herself in the mirror.
Her eyes told the story of her weepy, sleepless night. When the rap sounded again, she called out,
"Just me, sleepyhead," Wishbone's voice answered. "It's time for breakfast."
"Okay. I'll be there in a few minutes. You go ahead and start without me."
When she heard her brother's hoofsteps going down the stairs, Chocolate Chip scurried
down the hall to the bathroom
for a shower. Standing in the flow of water, she forced herself to think happy thoughts to banish
the misery of her sleepless night.
She pictured Tabby and Sugarberry sharing a breakfast of muffins or coffee cake. And
Prime being engulfed in a
pancake breakfast with all the trimmings. She realized she was hungry, and wondered what
awaited her in the kitchen. "Maybe Dad has
prepared the perfect homecoming meal."
With renewed spirit, she combed her mane and put a new pink ribbon in her tail. After
one last glance in the mirror,
she went downstairs.
Entering the kitchen, Chocolate Chip found Wishbone sitting at the table by himself with
a jug of milk and yesterday's
box of brownies.
"This is breakfast?" she asked in disbelief.
"You wouldn't expect Mom and Dad to waste their talents on us, would you?" he
"No," she fibbed, "but I'd have expected you to have learned a little bit about cooking by
now." Opening the refrigerator,
she found a partial carton of eggs; and a loaf of bread sat on the counter. "I can make some
scrambled eggs and toast, at least. Do you
have any orange juice?"
Wishbone pushed his chair back and got a can of concentrate out of the freezer and
proceeded to mix it up while
Chocolate Chip scrambled the eggs and toasted the bread.
When they sat down, Wishbone ate with gusto. "Brownies are good, but a steady diet
of them gets kind of boring," he
"Aren't Mom and Dad ever home?"
"Not much," Wishbone shrugged. "They're at that restaurant all the time." He took a
drink of orange juice. "Speaking
of which, we are supposed to be to work at eleven o'clock for the lunch crowd."
Chocolate Chip questioned her brother, "How do you feel about working through your
"It's not that bad. I need the money."
Taking seconds, Wishbone admitted, "I got a raise after six weeks of work. I'm saving my
jangles for..." He looked at
his sister warily.
"You and Snowdrift aren't getting that serious, are you?"
"Well, a guy can't start planning too soon," he reasoned.
"You should get out and see the world, and get an education," Chocolate Chip
"Whoa! Now you're getting subversive," he joked. "Mom and Dad want me to learn the
restaurant business from the
Lollipop pranced into the kitchen at that moment sporting a new hair-do; her curls were
piled high on her head, and
ebony earrings dangled from her ears.
"I can fix you some eggs quick," Chocolate Chip offered, but Lollipop turned her
"No, thanks. Mom will save something for me at work," she replied. "She says if I eat a
well-balanced diet now, I'll be
even more beautiful when I'm older. See ya." With that, she was out the door.
"Are her looks all she ever thinks about?" Chocolate Chip complained to her brother. "I
haven't heard her say one thing
of any substance."
"Tsk, tsk, sister dear. We don't want the little princess to hear anything upsetting, now,
do we?" he mocked in his
mother's voice. "I've heard that line more than I'd ever care to." Switching to a lighter mood, he
reminded Chocolate Chip, "It's time we
took off, too, if we don't want to be late."
* * *
It was Thursday before Chocolate Chip and Wishbone were allowed a day off. That
morning when Chocolate Chip met
Wishbone in the kitchen, he got the milk out of the refrigerator, and she got the box of brownies
out of the cupboard.
"I'm sick of preparing and cooking food," Chocolate Chip grumbled. "I'm so glad Dad
finally put his hoof down on
Mom's single-minded effort to keep us forever in that restaurant." It had not escaped Chocolate
Chip's notice that her work in the
restaurant was entirely confined to the kitchen; she'd never been given duties that would take her
in front of the public. Her mother was
making sure she wasn't seen or heard.
But the up-side to the kitchen confinement was that she and her dad had plenty of time to
talk; and if they hadn't drawn
closer, they at least got to know each other better. Seeing her dad with a career that brought him
such happiness made her wonder if her
early life would have been different if he had been more satisfied with his vocation as he was
The highlight for Chocolate Chip had been on Wednesday morning when her dad had
introduced her to a delivery pony
as "my daughter". And even if the pony had responded with a disbelieving look and said, "You're
Lollipop's sister?" the moment lived on in
her memory, for her dad had claimed their relationship.
"So what shall we do with our free time?" Wishbone asked. His attitude was lethargic
after the long days at the
restaurant, and Chocolate Chip was afraid he would just want to crash for the day. She, on the
other hoof, wanted to accomplish
"Let's go visit Grandma," she suggested with enthusiasm. Their dad's mother and father
lived on a farm outside of
Neighberry, and it was the one place where Chocolate Chip had felt welcome as a child, although
she was not allowed to visit as often as
she would have liked as her mother didn't like the "smelly, dirty" farm.
Chocolate Chip, however, loved the quiet, peaceful acreage in the valley with
tree-covered hillsides forming a natural
barrier to all the hurts and fears of her lonely life as a dull brown pony in a world of radiant shades
of the rainbow. She and Wishbone and
Lollipop had wandered the banks of the creek that meandered through the pastureland, and they
had pretended to be the early
homesteaders who had built a home in an isolated meadow once accessible only by a swinging
bridge over the river. The few remnants
of that old-time farm were the collapsing basement walls of stone, the pump from which the early
ponies had drawn water, and the
scraps of rope and rotten boards of the bridge.
But for Chocolate Chip, this was where true freedom originated. At the sight of the old
farmstead, she could feel
completely happy, as if she became some other pony. She liked to imagine that she took on the
characteristics of the mare that had once
crossed that bridge, who had pumped water from the well, and who had planted crops in the soil.
For those periods of time, her
imagination had given her a release from the drudgery of her commonness.
Wishbone jumped at the chance to get out of town, so the two set off for their
grandparents home to the northeast. The
mild weather was holding, and the twittering of the returning birds gave the day a festive
"I wonder what everyone back in Dream Valley is doing today?" Chocolate Chip couldn't
help asking. "I think I'm getting
"You're happy there, aren't you?" Wishbone queried of his sister as he picked up a pebble
from the path and threw it
across the still bleak countryside. "Happier than you ever were here."
"Sugarberry and her friends have been kinder to me than I'd ever known possible," she
admitted. "And the other
students don't even seem to notice I'm not a soft pastel or vibrant hue. They accept me the way I
They stopped to watch a woodchuck scurry across their path; when the round, lumbering
animal felt he was at a safe
distance from the ponies, he sat up on his hind feet and watched them in turn.
Resuming their journey, Wishbone picked up where their conversation had left off. "I'm
glad that you've found a real
home where you can blossom. I almost envy you." He pointed off in the distance. "See the tree
at the top of the hill? That's our marker
tree-- Grandma's house is in the next valley."
The majestic oak tree with wide-spreading branches had always brought a gladdening of
heart to Chocolate Chip for
she knew her haven from hurt was near. She quickened her steps; she couldn't wait to see
Grandma and Grandpa again.
Arriving at the farm, Wishbone listened to the noises coming from the direction of the
barn. "Sounds like Gramps is out
and about, so I'll hunt him up while you go on in to surprise Gram." He briskly took off for the
red barn that reigned over the collection of
smaller buildings which sat randomly about the farmyard.
Chocolate Chip knocked on the door, but didn't wait for an answer. She opened the door
and went inside, calling as
she did, "Grandma! It's me!" She found Gram in the kitchen, drying off her hooves on a
threadbare towel that Chocolate Chip recognized
as a gift she had given her for her birthday some years back.
"Chocolate Chip! Is it really you?" Gram's eyes twinkled with joy at the sight of her
oldest granddaughter. The two
embraced and held each other tightly. "Chocolate Chip," Gram murmured, stroking her mane.
"I've missed you."
Pushing back to get a better look at the slim filly before her, Grandma shook her head.
"You're a sight for sore eyes. I
can't believe you are here." She gave her another hug, and Chocolate Chip laughed.
"Well, Gram, I am here, and so is Wishbone. He went out to hunt up Gramps."
"We'll have to have something special for lunch," Gram began bustling about the kitchen,
checking the refrigerator and
cupboards to see what was available. Only after she had organized her menu plans, led Chocolate
Chip to the living room, and enthroned
her in the most comfortable chair did she herself drop into her rocking chair.
She grinned at Chocolate Chip, and said, "Tell me all about your life now." She settled
back in her rocker and listened
as her granddaughter animately related her experiences in Dream Valley, and her most recent
situation back at home in Neighberry.
"But Mom and Dad finally hired a chef and will have a little more free time," Chocolate
Chip ended her narration.
The back door was heard to open, and Chocolate Chip scampered out to see her
grandfather. "Gramps!" she squealed
as she flung her forelegs around his neck and gave him a big kiss.
"It's been a long time since I've been welcomed back in the house with that much spirit,"
he joked as he held her at
foreleg's length. "Let me get a good look at you!"
After a thorough inspection, he grinned. "Prettier than ever, Chocolate Chip. You're a
sight for sore eyes!" he echoed
"Oh, Gramps! You always were a flirt," Chocolate Chip retorted.
While Grandma and Chocolate Chip threw together a hearty lunch, Wishbone set the
table. Gramps pulled up a chair,
telling tales of his youth and of the children he and Grandma had raised. "I'll never forget the time
we were crossing the bridge across
Silver River when a runaway cart hit the abutment, plunging the bridge and its occupants into the
cold swirling waters below."
Wishbone and Chocolate Chip had heard the story many times, but they never tired of it.
They re-lived the horror of
Gramps as the bridge collapsed around him and the foals, and the agony of Grandma as she
rushed to the scene not knowing what she'd
find, and the relief upon discovering that no serious injuries had been sustained. The incident had
been woven into the tapestry of their
life, a point in time that had become a major adventure.
As they sat down to eat, Grandma shared accounts from her life, too; how she'd served as
a mother's helper in the city
when she was a young filly, and had to sleep in the hot, airless attic in the height of summer's heat.
Chocolate Chip's insight into her
Grandma's experience helped her to come to terms with her own hardships. Life wasn't always
going to be easy, but one had to learn to
overcome the obstacles and move on.
When the dishes were washed and put away, and the floor swept, Wishbone and Gramps
went outside to do the
After showing Chocolate Chip the quilt she was currently working on, Grandma
suggested that they, too, go out to enjoy
the early spring weather.
"Yes, Grandma, and do you feel up to a walk to the river?" Chocolate Chip asked
"Of course, child," she laughed. "I'm not ready for the old-ponies home yet!"
The two first stopped by the barn where several ewes had recently given birth to lambs
who now were sprinting about
their enclosure with all the exuberance of new life and innocence. Chocolate Chip squealed in
delight at the antics of the spindly-legged
little creatures. When Grandma reached over the fence and held out a hoof, the white, woolly
critters romped to her in excitement,
expecting-- and receiving-- a treat.
Chocolate Chip, however, was drawn to the far corner of the pen where a little black lamb
lay by himself; he looked up
at the brown pony with sad, mournful eyes that tore at her heart. Climbing over the fence, she
dropped to her knees by the baby sheep,
and slowly reached out to touch his nose. The lamb sniffed at her and obviously liked what he
found, for he raised himself on his wobbly
legs and took a tentative step in her direction.
At that moment, Chocolate Chip became aware of a presence beside her, and she looked
up to find herself staring into
the eyes of the mother sheep, who was nervously investigating this possible threat to her newborn
babe. Chocolate Chip gulped and
slowly rose to her hooves, uneasily talking the entire time.
"There, there, Momma Sheep. Good girl. You've got a nice little one there. Take good
care of him." By this time she'd
backed up to the fence, and hoisted herself to the outside.
Grandma laughed, as did Grampa and Wishbone. "That ewe wouldn't hurt a fly," Gramps
informed Chocolate Chip.
"She's the gentlest one in the flock."
"Is that a ‘sheepish' look I see on your face?" taunted Wishbone, his eyes sparkling with
"Shush, Wishbone," Grandma reprimanded him. She took Chocolate Chip's hoof in her
own. "Come. Say hello to
Ebony's mom." Together they reached over the fence, and the docile ewe nuzzled first Grandma's
hoof, then Chocolate Chip's. The
warm, moist touch of the ewe caused Chocolate Chip to giggle.
"I guess I was a bit neurotic," she admitted. When she was just a little foal, Chocolate
Chip had been in a pen of lambs
and ewes, totally caught up in the joy of petting a newborn lamb, when the ewes had curiously
clustered around her and inadvertently
knocked her down. Her grandpa had rescued her almost immediately, but the experience had left
her with a fear of ewes.
"We're going down by the river," Grandpa said, holding up enough fishing equipment for
everyone. "Do you gals want
to join us?"
"Exactly our plan," confirmed Chocolate Chip as she sprinted out of the barnyard with
Wishbone following suit.
Grandma and Grandpa brought up the tail-end.
The filly and stallion didn't stop running until they got to the river's edge. The banks were
still mucky from the snow and
ice runoff after the blustery winter, but the water was babbling along clear and cold.
Wishbone lost no time in getting his hook baited and in the water; Chocolate Chip
hesitated. She didn't mind handling
the worm, but she did find it cruel to put it on the hook. She left her pole lying on the
Tossing a glance in her direction, Wishbone scoffed. "Do you think it's any less painful
for the worm when a robin eats
it?" He handed her his pole, and baited the other for himself.
Chocolate Chip looked back to watch her grandparents leisurely approaching them,
walking hoof-in-hoof, still as much
in love with each other as the day they married, only strengthened by the hurdles they had met and
Soon, all four ponies were standing along the bank, watching the red and white bobbers
on the fishing line, waiting for
the weight of a hooked fish to pull it under.
"The most you can expect from this old creek is sunfish," Grandpa explained, and whistled
as Chocolate Chip's bobber
disappeared below the surface. "Pull it in!"
She had caught a good-sized fish; its flat, scaled body flapping on the ground horrified
Chocolate Chip, but Wishbone
deftly removed it from the hook, and attached more bait.
"Beginner's luck," he grinned at her. Soon Wishbone had added the second fish to the
pail, and Grandma began to
make plans for supper.
"Nothing better than fresh fish," Grandpa agreed.
When they'd caught enough fish for a meal, they gathered-up their supplies. "Why don't
the two of you go walk to the
rapids?" suggested Grandma. "I want to get back and start cleaning these fish."
"I can help," Wishbone volunteered.
"No. We can handle this," Grandpa shooed him away. "Take your sister up river; she
always did like scouting around
As they took off along the riverbank, Chocolate Chip cast a withering glance at her
brother. "You'd better not push me
Wishbone held up his hooves in fake surprise. "Would I do anything like that?"
"Every chance you ever got," his sister reminded him.
The curvature of the river led them to a shallower area where the water cascaded
boisterously over the large rocks that
semi-barricaded this section of the stream. Chocolate Chip enjoyed this narrowing of the waters;
it was as if she absorbed some of the
power of the fluid, dashing river as it tumbled and tossed itself over the rocks, defeating the
barriers that stood in its path. The water was
too cold to enter into, but she stood as closely to the edge as possible, balancing on a boulder that
Wishbone joined her on the flat-topped rock, and the two became mesmerized by the
ever-flowing water, their thoughts
bounding wildly like the liquid before them, from past memories to future hopes.
Shaking her head, Chocolate Chip murmured, "I'm glad we came here. I feel I can face
anything the world has to throw
at me now."
Offering her a hoof, Wishbone helped her down from the rock, and they headed
cross-country to get back to the
Coming across a bubbling spring that fed a very small rivulet into the main stream,
Chocolate Chip stopped her brother.
"Let's take a detour along the ridge where the fossils always showed up."
"Only if we hurry," Wishbone said. "Can't be late for supper!"
They diverted from the direction they'd been traveling, and climbed up the hillside to a
point where an old, weathered
farm road had once crossed the pasture. It was no longer used, but the land was permanently
scarred with its presence. The ensuing
erosion of the rocky slope never ceased to uncover fossil remains of the prehistoric underwater
life that had lived and died eons
In addition, on rare occasions, an arrowhead or spear point of a later age was uncovered,
bridging the early ponies who had
once traversed this land with their current ancestors.
Walking across the area peering closely at the ground, they sporadically stooped to pick
up rocks that had crinoids,
brachiopods, or cephalopods fossilized in them. It wasn't until they'd collected their findings into
a heap and loaded them into Wishbone's
backpack and were leaving for the farmhouse that Chocolate Chip stumbled over a rock and
landed in an ungraceful heap on the
"Nice move," Wishbone commented, but he rushed to her side to see if she was
"I scraped my knee just like when I was a foal," she giggled. "Some things never change!"
She dabbed at her bloodied
wound, then offered a hoof for Wishbone to pull her up. But just then she caught sight of an
unusual-looking shard mixed in with the
scattering of rocks in the pasture.
"Look, Wishbone!" she exclaimed. "It's an arrowhead!" She retrieved the treasure from
its resting place, and held it up
for him to see.
"Wow! That's a beauty," he looked at it closely, admiring the precision work that had
been done to chip a rock into a
usable weapon. "Wish I'd have found it."
"I'm the one with the wound, so I deserve it," she countered. "I bet Clever Clover would
love to see this!"
"Yeah. Maybe he can document it and get it put into a museum somewhere."
Hearing the dinner bell pealing in the distance, the two siblings added the find to their
collection of artifacts, then
hastened on their way. The bell meant suppertime was close, and they better get back to the
Supper was a pleasant time as the grandparents and children sat down to fresh fish, last
summer's canned green
beans, and fresh homemade biscuits. They ate leisurely and talked of many things. When dessert
had been polished off, however,
Wishbone broke the magic with the announcement, "We've got to start for home, Chockie."
Midnight had struck, even if it was only six
o'clock; the princess had to return to her rags.
"Tell your dad to come visit some day soon," Grandpa ordered Wishbone. "Haven't seen
him since he and Twilight
Jewel bought that eatin' place."
"Things are getting better," Chocolate Chip informed Gramps. "They've hired a new cook
and an assistant manager, so
Mom and Dad will have some time off. That's how we got away today."
They all walked outside together, and both sides procrastinated over parting. Chocolate
Chip invited them to visit her in
Dream Valley, offering them Wishbone to look after the farm if they did so. Grandma sent a
dozen cookies for their parents and Lollipop.
After a lingering chorus of goodbyes, Chocolate Chip and Wishbone started on their way.
Turning to wave one final farewell, Chocolate Chip complained, "We didn't have time to
visit the hanging bridge or to go
up by the stone grotto."
"Next time," Wishbone assured her. "For now, we'd better walk fast or it will be pitch
black before we get home." He
vocalized a monstrously ghoulish laugh that sent shivers through his sister and she quickened her
pace only to hear an eerie croaking
sound coming from the sky above. Looking upward, they saw a trio of large, long-legged birds
sailing with outstretched wings in the sky
"It's the sandhill cranes returning from their winter migration!" excitedly called Wishbone.
"They roost and nest down in
the swamp along the river."