Christmas in Dream Valley 2001
written by Tabby and Sugarberry
"Hello?" Elaine answered the phone one November evening as she was relaxing in her home.
"Umm... Elaine?" a timid voice came back.
"Yes, this is she. Who's calling, please?"
"Oh, umm, this is Thaddeus. From college. Remember me?"
"Oh! Thaddeus!" Elaine slowly began to recall the pony that went with this voice; he had been one of her classmates in vet school, and had made a reputation of being one of the shyest, klutziest-- but well-meaning-- students there. She wondered what he was calling her about; she hadn't heard from him since he graduated. "How pleasant to hear from you!"
"Uh, yeah. Thanks."
"So what are you up to nowadays?"
"Well, between jobs, actually. You see..."
"Yes?" Elaine prodded.
"Well I heard you and your brother were going out of town over the holidays and that you needed someone to run your clinic while you're gone and I'm free if you still need someone," Thaddeus replied in a rush.
"Oh! Well, that's really... but I'm not really sure..."
"You found someone else already?"
"No, no! Not really, I mean," Elaine said quickly. "It's just that we've been in touch with some of our friends and..."
"I understand," said Thaddeus feebly.
"I mean, not to say that you're not a friend!" Elaine corrected herself. "No, I didn't mean it that way. Actually if you'd be interested, it might still work out. The substitute we had lined up backed out just a little while ago, and it might be difficult to find someone else this late. If you're serious, I could talk to my brother..."
"Yes! Yes! That would be great!" Thaddeus replied energetically.
"Okay... well, thanks for calling. I'll try to get back to you tomorrow and let you know."
"Thanks, Elaine! I really appreciate it. Um, good night."
Elaine slowly set down the receiver and let out a sigh. It had been quite a surprise to hear from Thaddeus again, and she was happy to have gotten his call; but she wasn't sure of how capable he would be of handling the clinic all by himself. He had been very good at caring for animals, but did not do so well at talking to other ponies; plus his klutziness could create havoc. Elaine remember the time in the lab when... she shuddered to think of it. Still... Thaddeus had sounded so excited at the prospect, Elaine hated to let him down. Besides, maybe he had improved. He had to have improved. Well, I'll tell Thomas about him and see what he thinks, she finally decided.
* * *
Several weeks before Christmas, a strange and bizarre event occurred in Dream Valley. Tex vanished in the night with all his belongings without leaving any indication of why or where he had gone. Everyone was in the dark and no one knew what to think, least of all his current girlfriend, Locket.
The fate of Tex's Salsa Shop also had to be decided. Interestingly, Butch stepped forward with an offer to buy it, after which he renamed it Butch's Salsa Shop, becoming owner and submitting his resignation at the casino, effective January 1. Local gossip abounded about Butch's old rivalry with Tex and many wondered if the dark blue stallion of the Dark Forest had anything to do with the cowboy's disappearance, but Butch knew as much (or as little) as any of them.
* * *
"Where did these numbers come from?" asked Wigwam, scratching his head.
Butch looked across the desk. "Those numbers? Umm, let me think..."
Wigwam threw his pen down on the desk and pushed his chair back. "Why doesn't this stuff balance out the way it should?" He stomped across the room to the water cooler.
"Am I interrupting anything?" a familiar voice asked from the doorway.
Both stallions swirled around to verify what their ears indicated. "Well, ain't you a sight for sore eyes!" Butch declared, getting up from his chair and offering it to the red mare.
"Welcome back," Wigwam grinned. "Tawny said you would be showing up one of these days."
"Well, here I am; I've come to make good on your offer that I could have my old job back whenever I wanted it." She sat down in the chair Butch held.
Wigwam cleared his throat. "Well, about that..."
"You've changed your mind?"
Garnet half rose out of the chair; but Butch put forth a restraining hoof, and she sat down again. "Sort of," he said with a wink.
"So what gives?" Garnet asked, looking from one to the other of the stallions and noting that both of them looked rather cocky at the moment.
Wigwam sat himself behind the desk, and Butch moved to the side. "You left here as office manager, I believe."
"You had promoted me shortly before I left."
"Would you be willing to take a different title?"
"At this point, I'd wash dishes."
Butch looked at Wigwam. "Maybe we should reconsider..."
Pondering that for a moment, Wigwam shook his head. "It's too late for that now." He fixed his gaze on Garnet. "Would you come back as general manager of the entire casino?"
Garnet looked aghast. "That's Butch's job!"
"Not once the first of the new year rolls around."
"I had a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream... I bought out the salsa shop."
She looked at him suspiciously. "You never mentioned this dream before."
Wigwam laughed. "Trust me. The dream is more to fulfill a vendetta against Tex than it is to sell salsa."
"I'll be my own boss and won't have to put up with this tyrant anymore," Butch corrected.
"This is serious?" Garnet was having a hard time grasping the situation.
"Very serious. Here's the contract to prove it." Wigwam dropped an official looking legal document on the desk in front of the red mare. "I don't expect you to make a decision on the spur of the moment; just give it some thought and ask any questions that you can think of."
"I can't think," the dazed mare said.
Butch helped her out. "Ask him how much the job pays."
"A lot better than your old one," noted Wigwam with a grin. "I want to make sure you stay around longer than the last time."
"But this means you won't need me until the first."
Wigwam pushed the papers that he and Butch had been struggling with across the desk. "You can have your old job back until then."
"Things have been a mess since you left," confided Butch. "We're really glad to see you back, Garnet."
"Thanks, guys," Garnet said, her eyes growing misty. "You don't know how happy I am to be here myself." She stood up and began gathering the papers together. "I better get to work on these right away."
* * *
Chocolate Chip walked across the campus of Pony Pride University in search of her brother; she had received a call from Wigwam inviting her to lunch at the casino, the reason being that Garnet had returned. The chocolate brown pony smiled to herself; she was very happy to know that Garnet had straightened out her life and would once again be involved in the daily happenings in Dream Valley. Chocolate Chip had been lonely with both Garnet and Fern gone from her life.
Students were beginning to filter out of the building where Wishbone was in class by the time Chocolate Chip arrived, and she waited impatiently for the rose red stallion to come through the door. When he did, he was in the company of Petal.
"Hi, sis. What's up?" asked Wishbone. "Aren't you supposed to be in class?"
"Hi, Petal." Chocolate Chip acknowledged the filly before responding to Wishbone. "My geology class was canceled for today, remember?"
"Lucky you," Petal grinned. "I've got to get to my next class pronto." With that, the pink filly was gone.
Chocolate Chip looked after her. "Have you resigned yourself to losing Petal to another stallion?" she teased as the two set off together.
"We're still great friends; that's enough for me right now."
"No one you've got your eye on... someone special?"
"Nope. I'm keeping my nose to the grindstone until I graduate."
"My, my. That's a long time yet."
"Think how good my grade point average will be."
Chocolate Chip cast a sidelong glance at the stallion. "Garnet's back."
Wishbone stopped in his tracks. "What did you say?"
"You heard me, little brother. Garnet's back in town. She's at the casino, and Wigwam called to have me come over for lunch with them. I thought maybe you'd like to join us."
The stallion stood with a look of surprise on his face. "You're serious?"
"Would I lead you on over something like this? Of course, I'm serious. Garnet came in this morning, and Wigwam and Butch put her to work right away. Like I said, I thought you would be interested in knowing; but if you don't want lunch with Garnet, just say so." She set off without her brother.
Wishbone hesitated only a second. "Wait up, sis. I'm coming! I'm coming!"
* * *
Lunch was a bright spot in the day for all concerned; conversation had been upbeat with no mention of past secrets; only the optimistic plans for the future were dwelt upon. Garnet's first necessity was a new apartment; fortunately, Wigwam's advance notice through the police chief of her arrival had allowed him time to scout out a vacant apartment that only needed her approval to verify its lease. Fern's current life in Bushley and Toby's unending work at the hospital had been discussed in detail; Garnet could not hear enough about the goings on in Dream Valley.
When the meal was finished, Wigwam invited Chocolate Chip to view a new gaming table that had been delivered, leaving Wishbone and Garnet to themselves. The two sat sizing up one another before Garnet asked, "How's Petal?"
"She's great; she's fine."
"Good. I'm glad to hear that."
"She dumped me for another stallion."
"Nope. It was someone she knew as a foal; they met accidentally; and it was love at, well, second sight."
"Don't be; I met someone else, too."
Garnet could not help but show a look of disappointment, but she recovered quickly. "I see. And how is that going?"
"Well, I haven't actually asked her out yet. Maybe you could help me."
"If a guy asked you out for the first time, what would you want to do-- dinner, a movie, a sports event... what?"
"Where? Casual like the Café Carousel or formal like the Estate Manor."
Whoever this mare was, Garnet was going to make sure the evening cost Wishbone plenty. "Definitely the Estate Manor."
"Would a gift be appropriate... flowers, candy..."
Becoming exasperated, Garnet replied with a hint of irritation in her voice. "Red roses, if you're serious."
Shaking her head, Garnet answered, "I think you'd better ask her that one, Wishbone." She pushed back her chair to leave.
"I just did," Wishbone said. He grinned at the bewildered look on her face. "I'm asking you to dinner, Garnet. Please say yes."
* * *
A courtly setting, excellent service, and delectable food at the Estate Manor provided the perfect accompaniment for Wishbone and Garnet's first date; but all of it was lost on the two ponies as they talked of their hopes and dreams, stumbles and falls, accomplishments and successes. By the time they left the dining establishment, they knew pretty much everything about one another– but not quite all.
Walking down the lane towards her new abode, Garnet felt the need to clear one more fact from her past with Wishbone. "I told you I have a sister and two brothers, but I didn't tell you that the brother closest to my age makes his way by dishonest means like my mom and dad taught us." She cast a guarded look at her companion.
"Sable, you mean."
Garnet stopped and turned to face Wishbone. "How do you know my brother's name?"
"We've met," Wishbone dryly admitted.
"How could you have ever been near my brother?"
"Do you keep in contact with him?
"No; even Mom and Dad are difficult to catch, so to speak."
"Sable was here, at Pony Pride, last fall."
With a questioning look in her eyes, Garnet hesitantly asked, "For what purpose?"
Wishbone took Garnet's hoof in his, and they proceeded on their way before he answered. He explained how a teacher from Vulcanopolis had utilized Sable in engineering a cheating scam that had encompassed Wishbone himself before he was extricated from the mess. "Your brother skipped town before the authorities moved in on the ringleaders, however, and he hasn't been back since."
"That's how Wigwam knew about Sable! I often wondered, but thought he had done a background check on me."
"Yeah. He was helping Chief Tawny get evidence against the cheating ring."
"You know I'm Sable's sister, and you're still willing to be friends?"
"Yes; why do you ask?"
"Why would you trust me?"
Wishbone laughed. "Sable I would never trust again; you're not like him, even if you are siblings."
"You can be so sure?"
"You came back, didn't you? I prayed that you would."
They had reached her apartment when Wishbone turned to Garnet. "Welcome home, Garnet."
"If this is what a homecoming is like, I'll have to leave more often."
"Don't even think it, girl... not now, not ever."
* * *
Poor Tabby was beside herself when Faline came down with the flu on Friday; this was the first time her daughter had been sick. And, to make matters worse, Faline had gotten a very bad case of the illness. Both her parents worked tirelessly to alleviate her sufferings, but by Sunday morning her condition had only grew steadily worse. By this point Thomas declared that a hospital stay was probably in order; at this Tabby became quite hysterical with anxiety. A hospital stay certainly meant something serious was wrong.
Dr. Toby, after an examination of the baby, tried to assure her that Faline was simply dehydrated, and she would be fine if she was kept under the hospital's care until she was over it. Tabby was not easy to convince that everything would be okay, and it took quite some time for Thomas to calm her down.
On Monday, Tabby was once again with Faline at the hospital, hovering near her anxiously as Dr. Toby checked her again. "So how much longer will she have to stay here?" she asked anxiously. "She's going to be okay, isn't she?" (She had already asked this same question several million times already over the past few days and always received a positive answer, but it seemed needful to ask it over and over again.)
"Her fever still has to break before she'll start improving, but I'm sure by the end of the week..." At this, Toby abruptly stopped talking, and after a moment collapsed onto the floor.
Tabby, who was distraught already as it was, naturally began to panic at the doctor's fall. "Toby's dead! Toby's dead!!" she began to shriek hysterically without thinking.
Her outburst did, quite naturally, cause quite a stir; but shortly Dr. Aurora assured everyone that Toby was very much alive. However, he had come down with a bad case of the flu and would be down for the count.
Tabby managed to settle down again after that incident-- well, as much as she could considering she still had to worry about her poor, sick Faline-- and waited rather impatiently for the substitute doctor to come to finish Faline's examination.
"Hi, Mrs. Fairfax," greeted the young doctor that entered the room. "Sorry about the wait." Tabby nodded numbly. His name was Dr. Neil, a recent graduate from New Pony and transplant to Dream Valley, and this was Tabby's first exposure to him.
"She's going to be okay, isn't she?" the unicorn repeated.
"Yeah, yeah, fine," he waved it off; and, after his brief diagnosis of the baby pony, turned to the nurse with his instructions. "Just stick three IVS in her; she'll be fine."
"Three IVS?" Tabby's eyes widened. "Are you sure that's wise?"
"Don't worry about a thing, Mrs. Fairfax," Dr. Neil brushed it off, already heading out of the room. "I know what I'm doing; she'll be out of here in no time."
Somehow those words didn't ease Tabby's mind at all, and, as stressed out as she already was, she promptly burst into a fresh flood of tears. Three IVS couldn't be good! What was going to happen to poor Faline? Tabby ran to the bank of phones to put a rather frenzied call through to the vet clinic.
* * *
Some days later, with hurrying hoofsteps, Fern headed for the hospital after seeing her great-aunt comfortably settled in the apartment that had sat unused for the last month and a half. She had not received a letter from Toby since her announcement to him of bringing Maisie home to Dream Valley.
"Home!" Fern said aloud. Her excited thoughts flip-flopped. "Toby must have been too busy to write, but he certainly won't mind that I've solved Aunt Maisie's loneliness by inviting her to live here with me. Of course, maybe he resents that I made the decision without asking his advice, in which case he might be angry with me. But, no, if he didn't like the idea, he surely would have written to say so before we physically packed up everything to come here. He must have been too busy at the hospital with all the sick ponies. He will be so happy to see me, just as I am to think of seeing him."
She broke into a smile, imagining his face light-up when she came through the door. She could picture it now-- she would walk into the main hallway just as he was coming out of a patient's room, and their eyes would meet; and the look of surprise would be replaced with a pleased smile as he would say, "Fern, how I've missed you!" And he would take her into his forelegs and...
"Excuse me!" Fern came suddenly to the present as she plowed into a stallion coming through the entrance door. The gruff stallion frowned at her and went his way. "His wife is probably sick," Fern rationalized and went into the hospital.
The first pony Fern recognized was Snuzzle. "Where's Toby?" she asked, peering past the mare in the hopes of catching sight of him.
"He finally decided to let you know what's happening, did he?"
"What do you mean?"
Snuzzle saw the blank look on Fern's face and realized that she did not know the current situation; she set a sturdying hoof on the young mare's foreleg before replying. "Fern, dear, Toby has been very sick."
Fern visibly shrank. "Sick? What's wrong?"
"The flu he didn't want you to catch-- he was so busy running himself ragged taking care of sick ponies that he finally caught it himself; and, because he was so run-down, he got it worse than anyone else."
"Where is he?"
"Come. I'll take you..."
"Where is he!"
"In room 101..."
Fern was off at a run; she was familiar enough with the hospital to find her own way to the room. She stopped just short of the door and took a deep breath before pushing it open. She quietly entered the room, her eyes fixed on the wan face and closed eyes of the purple stallion. "Toby," she whispered as she came to him. There was no response. "Toby?" she asked in a louder voice. An eyelid fluttered, but beyond that there was no response.
"Oh, Toby," Fern sobbed, picking up a limp hoof and pressing it to her lips. "What has happened while I've been away?" She had never seen Toby when he was not helping someone, always strong and virile. She could not bear to see him so helpless.
Snuzzle slipped into the room and came to stand by Fern. Fern looked at her with tear-stained eyes. "How long has he been this way?"
"He collapsed several days ago..."
"He wouldn't stop to sleep or eat... he drove himself incessantly. When the flu finally caught up with him, there was nothing left for him to fight it with."
Fern's eyes grew frightened. "He's going to be okay, isn't he?"
"Oh, yes. He's out of any real danger. He passed the peak yesterday; he's just so worn out that it will take some time to get his energy back."
"He's sleeping so deeply."
"It's the best thing for him." She patted Fern's shoulder.
The door to the room opened once again as Nurse Nightingale came in. "Fern! It's good to see you back; you'll be the best medicine for Toby that he could have!" She came to the bedside and looked down at the sleeping stallion. "I've got some things to take care of here, Fern; if you and Snuzzle would wait in the hall, I'll have him awake for you by the time I'm through."
Fern unwillingly released her hold on Toby's hoof and followed Snuzzle out of the room. "Why didn't someone let me know?" Fern asked.
"Toby didn't want you to worry, Fern; and he didn't want you rushing back to Dream Valley and exposing yourself to the same illness." Her words failed to comfort Fern, so Snuzzle added, "You know how macho these stallions can be; he probably didn't want you to see him down and out."
"Aunt Maisie and I had the flu already anyway," Fern said solemnly. "We could have come back. Neither of us had it very badly."
"Consider yourself fortunate; it has been zapping ponies really hard here."
"I wish I had known. Nothing would have kept me away."
Nurse Nightingale finished her duties, and Fern was allowed back in the room. "I told him he had a visitor waiting, but I didn't tell him who." She smiled at Fern.
Snuzzle asked before leaving the mare, "Is there anything I can get for you, Fern?"
"No... no, wait, Snuzzle. My Aunt Maisie... I left her at my apartment thinking I wouldn't be too long in getting back to her; could you call her for me and explain where I am?"
"Sure thing. Now you go on in and bring a smile to Toby's face; I don't think I've seen one on him since he came back from Bushley alone."
The stallion's eyes were closed again when Fern entered the room; she stepped to his side and gently touched his hoof. "Toby, it's me."
Toby's eyes opened and a smile crossed his face, but it disappeared as his tortured thoughts returned. "What... are you... doing here?" he whispered weakly.
"Where else would I be?" Fern replied, brushing his yellow mane back from his forehead. "Why didn't you have Snuzzle write to me?"
"You were... busy."
"Not too busy to come to you, Toby. But I'm here now, and you have to get better fast. Christmas is almost here."
Toby looked at her strangely. "What about your... friends... in Bushley"
"What about them?" Fern replied hesitantly; she sensed something amiss, but she blamed it on the illness. "Aunt Maisie and I didn't want to miss Christmas in Dream Valley."
"Everyone's sick." Toby closed his eyes and turned his head away from Fern. "You shouldn't have come."
"How can you say that, Toby?" Fern was heart-broken. "Why shouldn't I be here with you..." Sudden realization hit her, the one thing she had not previously considered in her ponderings of why Toby had not replied to her last letter. "Unless you don't love me anymore." She took a step backwards as if she had been slapped.
"What about Raven?"
Fern was thoroughly confused. "What about Raven?" she echoed.
"Your letters... the two of you were spending a lot of time together; if he's any stallion at all, he couldn't help but... have feelings for you."
Fern stood with her mouth open. "What are you talking about?" she gasped.
Toby finally turned to face her again. "Your late night meetings and his constant dependence on your help."
"Our meetings were for the charity dance and of course he needed my experience; they all did. That doesn't mean there was anything else going on!"
"Does Raven know that?"
The words hung on the air, and Fern was at a loss to understand why Toby was pushing for what... an admission? She went from confusion to anger. "You think I rented the house to him to keep some sort of hold on him?"
Now it was Toby's turn to look confused. "You rented the house?"
Fern could not believe her ears. "Didn't you read my letter?"
"The only letters I got were full of how much fun you were having with your friends-- specifically Raven-- and how busy they-- he-- kept you."
"Then... then you never got the letter about.... the plans I'd made because I missed you so much that I couldn't be anyplace but here with you?"
For the first time in weeks, Toby's eyes held something like hope. "Tell me your plans."
"I realized that Aunt Maisie would never be confident enough to stay in that big house by herself, and Raven and Flower Drift wanted a bigger house what with the foal on the way..."
"Raven is married?" Toby found the energy to push himself up into a sitting position.
"Of course he is. Certainly I wrote that in an earlier letter. He and Flower Drift have a little girl and are expecting another foal in the early spring; they were delighted to have the chance to live in Granny's house."
"You never mentioned that detail," Toby said, dropping back down on the bed and draping a foreleg over his face. "I've been a fool," he said when he could finally look Fern in the eye.
"Oh, Toby, how could you think that I would ever love anyone but you?"
"I thought that I'd lost you."
"Toby, I've loved you with every beat of my heart since you left me in Bushley. You couldn't lose me if you tried!"
Toby lifted a hoof and gently caressed her face. "Not even now when you've seen me at my worst?"
"Now more than ever," she blissfully assured him.
* * *
It was later that day when Dr. Aurora came in to see her patient. Toby was alone as Fern had stepped out with Snuzzle to grab a bite to eat.
"Well, Toby, you're looking much better this evening. My medication finally kicked in..." She raised a brow. "Or did someone sneak something else to you?"
At that moment, Fern returned to the room. Dr. Aurora looked up in pleasant surprise. "Hi, Fern; so you're back. I should have known." The doctor jotted a few notes on the chart. "You're wasting needed space, Toby. I want you out of here and back in your office by tomorrow morning." So saying, she winked at Fern and left the room.
* * *
"Ah, it's good to be back in Dream Valley!" Tamara said joyously, stepping off the plane. "Doesn't it feel just like Christmas? I just wish Tiffany was throwing her big Christmas Eve bash here instead of in Vulcanopolis this year." She twirled around lightheartedly on the airport pavement.
" 'ey, Tamara, don't worry about that!" admonished her husband, Phillipe, disembarking after her. "From what you've told me your aunt and uncle's new place is at least as big as the Royal Paradise."
"Tiffany had a lot of glamorous friends, but I guess Aunt Agatha knows some interesting ponies, too," considered Tamara, coming to a standstill.
"What's that, you don't meet enough glamorous ponies on my job?" quizzed Phillipe.
Tamara laughed. "Oh, you're right, of course. Being married to a rock star does have its advantages." She gave him a quick kiss. "Besides, all the family will be here, and that's really the best part of the holidays anyway!"
* * *
Sugarberry's house had emptied out that Saturday morning before Christmas; Wigwam had come to pick up Chocolate Chip for his first journey to her parent's home in Neighberry; they, along with Wishbone, were next going to stop to add Garnet to their cavalcade. When Vanguard and Sugarberry finally closed the door and set out for Woodlawn, the two cats, Fluff and Raptor, were sitting morosely in the front window, already unspeakable lonely.
That piteous sight stayed with Sugarberry for the duration of the trip. "I hope Dreamcatcher remembers the cats," Sugarberry worried as she and her husband neared Woodlawn.
"She'll remember," Vanguard assured her. "No one is more dependable than Dreamcatcher."
"I shouldn't have looked back; seeing those sad eyes staring out the window broke my heart."
"They were impatiently waiting for us to get out of sight so they could do all those things we reprimand them for."
Sugarberry smiled. "I suppose you're right. Climbing the Christmas tree is probably number one on Raptor's list."
"Fluff will spend most of his time sleeping on the couch."
"You've adjusted to living with housecats very well for someone who never had that privilege before."
"Living with you makes it all worthwhile."
"Tomorrow will be our six-month anniversary; half a year we've been married already. It doesn't seem possible."
"It's just the beginning, my love."
The two ponies had entered Woodlawn and were cutting through the park when Vanguard noted with some surprise two other ponies standing on the arched bridge that marked the center of the sprawling, tree-covered acreage. "Look who is up ahead," he warned his wife.
Sugarberry took her gaze off the natural setting and focused on the ponies. "Why, it's Mooncurl and Nello!" she gasped. "I would have thought Mooncurl would prefer spending the holidays in Vulcanopolis; I would have preferred it if she had, anyway." Sugarberry grimaced and steeled herself for the inevitable meeting, knowing that Mooncurl, the white model, had once had designs on Vanguard's affection.
Mooncurl and Nello were leaning against the bridge railing watching the flow of icy water below and did not see the approach of Vanguard and Sugarberry. "Looking for the troll that lives under the bridge?" Vanguard asked.
Both ponies turned around at the sound of a voice they recognized. "Vanguard! Sugarberry!" they said in unison, and Mooncurl stepped forward to embrace the country blue stallion. "Oh, I was hoping we would get to see you while we were here!"
"We just got into town to spend a couple days with my folks; I would assume the same is true of your being here."
"Half and half," Nello replied as Mooncurl kept her hold on Vanguard. "Clare wants us to check out some possible sites for photo shoots while we are here."
"Get a blanket of snow on this bridge, and you would have the perfect spot," Sugarberry observed as she kept a close eye on Mooncurl.
"Do you think the weather will cooperate?" laughed Nello, the photographer for Clare's Creations in Vulcanopolis, looking upward at the blue sky.
"I'd love a white Christmas!" cooed Mooncurl, releasing Vanguard's hoof and clapping her own together like a foal; she tossed her blue curls, sending a current loaded with the fragrance of Ambrosia in Sugarberry's direction. "It makes everything so pure and white and... Christmasy."
"Is this your first visit to Woodlawn?" asked Sugarberry of Nello.
"Yes, it is..."
Mooncurl interrupted. "This town is even smaller than last time I was here," she complained.
"But it's a wonderful town," Nello remarked. "The ponies are friendly and the houses are picturesque; it's the ideal spot to spend the holidays."
"No one remembers me," pouted the model.
"I'm sure that's not true," pointed out Vanguard.
"We saw your picture in All the Rage just last week," volunteered Sugarberry; Chocolate Chip had pointed it out when they had been shopping at Bushwoolie Bargain Books.
"You did?" The mare's gaze settled on Vanguard.
"Everyone was talking about it," Vanguard admitted, although the actual circumstance was that Chocolate Chip liked to torment Sugarberry about the attractive model, knowing of the past history of Mooncurl's obsession with Vanguard when she had moved to Woodlawn in her senior year; Vanguard had not reciprocated that interest.
Sugarberry brought the conversation back to the reason for their visit to Woodlawn. "Your parents will be expecting us, Vanguard." She looked longingly at the haven which was visible from their vantage point, a grey Victorian house with a square turret.
"Maybe we could get together later," Nello suggested, noting that Mooncurl had become melancholy again.
Vanguard looked at Sugarberry, who knew when she was defeated. "We're going to be at the ice cream parlor this evening; we could meet there."
"That would be great!" Mooncurl came to life once more. "They changed the name of it, you know." Sugarberry looked surprised; it was only last spring that they had given it the name of ice cream shop in her book, a cozy place called Hood's Place; had they abandoned that name already? But Mooncurl went on. "They call it Hood's Place; where they got that, I don't know."
"I think I do," Nello winked at Sugarberry.
"What did I miss?" asked Mooncurl.
"We'll see you later," Vanguard said, taking leave while he could. He took Sugarberry's hoof in his, and the two made their getaway.
* * *
Whirlpool and Floral Breeze extended a warm welcome to Sugarberry and Vanguard, and they were soon situated around the kitchen table with hot coffee and homemade cookies to refresh the travelers. "You made good time," observed Vanguard's father.
"Our entire house emptied out early," Sugarberry noted. "Chocolate Chip and Wishbone are spending the holidays in Neighberry."
"It's great weather to travel," Floral Breeze said as she began preparations for lunch. "It's supposed to cloud up later, though, and possibly snow."
"Mooncurl will be happy," Sugarberry patted her husband's hoof with a grin and continued when she saw Floral Breeze and Whirlpool's questioning glance. "We ran into the model on our way here; she and a friend of hers from Vulcanopolis are in town for Christmas."
"We're to meet them at Hood's Place tonight," Vanguard added.
The back door opened, and Icon appeared to greet his brother and sister-in-law. "Hi, guys. Merry Christmas!" He grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at the table with them. "What's the news from Dream Valley?"
"Well, the good thing with everyone having the flu so early in the season, it's pretty much spent by now," Sugarberry stated. "How did you fare here in Woodlawn?"
The conversation covered all the day-to-day topics before Icon revealed a source of trouble for him. "My company is being sued by Macrohard."
"Guido's conglomerate is suing a little software company like yours?" Vanguard asked in disbelief.
"With a vengeance," Whirlpool stated with a frown.
"For what reason?" queried Sugarberry.
"To show that they control the computer world," suggested Icon glumly, but he brightened quickly. "We need your lawyer from Silent Are the Bells."
"You've read my book?"
"The book cover, at least."