Christmas in Dream Valley 2002
written by Sugarberry, Tabby, and Clever Clover
Tabby stared, enraptured, through the glass of the aquarium. After Furbys and Shelbys, crayfish were her latest obsession and she doted endlessly on her new pet, Riv. Ah-Loh the Furby sat on the counter next to her head, peering at the crustacean as well. “Woah, no fun,” he said. Once, Ah-Loh had decided to take a swim in the aquarium; and Riv had pinched him with one of his big, intimidating claws. Ah-Loh was careful to stay out of the aquarium after that incident.
“I need more crayfish,” Tabby said wistfully. “You’d like some friends, wouldn’t you, Rivvy?” Riv stood up against the side of the aquarium and wielded his claw menacingly.
“Aw, I love you, too,” Tabby cooed.
“Where the grub? Gimme grub!” a Shelby shouted angrily, alighting on the counter in a way only a Shelby could. Then all the other Furbys and Shelbys in the room decided they were hungry, too, and Tabby had to appease them all.
Before exiting the room, she turned and surveyed it proudly. This room was set aside as a sanctuary for all wild and abandoned Furbys and Shelbys to come to. Tabby loved them all and refused to admit that a pony could have too many. The aquarium set up in the center of the room was a sign of more pets to come. Blowing a kiss to all its inhabitants, Tabby exited the room.
* * *
Tamara tugged the brush angrily through her mane. She thought she could get away from that mare during her and Philippe’s Christmas holiday, but there Philippe was again in the next room talking on the phone with her. Just how much input did his new publicity agent need from him, anyway?
She and her husband Philippe, the famous rock star, had already spent the preceding week with Tamara’s parents and sisters in Garrison. They had just arrived in Dream Valley the previous night to spend the rest of the holiday season there among a smaller group of family and friends. Tamara had only moved into this city four years ago, but it still seemed like home to her even though Philippe’s glamorous lifestyle kept them in the bigger cities most of the time. Tamara had had to put her dream of running a cattery specializing in the finest quality of show cats on hold after her marriage to this celebrity, but she hadn’t minded that. Until now.
It was a few months ago that Philippe’s recording company had given him a new publicity agent. This agent was a young, trendy, hip, and very attractive mare by the name of Fiala. So far Tamara hadn’t had any problems brushing shoulders with all the glamorous ponies her husband hung out with, but Fiala was a different story. Though she had tried to look at this from an objective point of view, Tamara simply could not rectify the excessive amounts of time Philippe was spending with Fiala- supposedly discussing business matters- but Tamara couldn’t believe that any longer.
Finally Tamara heard Philippe say his goodbyes on the phone. Taking a final swipe with her hairbrush, she set it on the counter and trotted into the living room. “What was that about?” she tried to ask as casually as she could as Philippe put his cell phone away.
Philippe smiled as she entered. “Oh, Fiala just wanted to-“
”Fiala! Of course it was Fiala!” Tamara snapped. “Who else would require that much of your time?”
A pained look crossed Philippe’s face. He sensed his wife’s impending wrath. “Tamara, I thought you understood... it’s just business matters,” he pleaded. “I’m not doing anything behind your back.”
“Oh? And just how do I know that?” Tamara retaliated. “Did you have to take her out to intimate dinners... several times over? Without me? Plus the countless hours she needs to spend talking to you on the simplest question- just what do you do with the rest of that time? And what about that impromptu visit to New Pony for a photo shoot that I didn’t hear about until I listened to the messages on my machine, and the autograph party at Hayton that just slipped your mind...”
“I know you’re not happy with the arrangement, but she’s truly only helping to boost my career. Tamara...” Philippe looked at her tenderly. “You know you’re the only mare in my life.” He reached out towards her, but Tamara pushed away.
“Don’t!” she hissed. “I know it’s your career, but this is the outside of enough and I’m getting sick of your single-mindedness on your accursed career! I’ve heard all your excuses already... you promised that you’d be completely uninterrupted during the holiday. But now it’s back to Fiala! How can you stand there and tell me anymore that nothing’s changed between us?! I-“ Here Tamara choked up and she turned away. She had to go out, get away from him for awhile before her temper made her say something she’d really regret. “I’m going out for awhile. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Goodbye, Philippe!”
* * *
“Tamara? Is that you?” Elaine peered carefully at the pink unicorn who came into her path at the busy mall just two days before Christmas.
“Oh... Elaine!” Tamara looked up and recognized her cousin’s sister-in-law. “What a pleasant surprise!”
“It’s good to see you again,” Elaine said warmly. “Is Philippe around here, too?”
“Uh... no,” Tamara stammered. “I came out alone... Christmas shopping, you know,” she fibbed.
Elaine nodded understandably. “I’m still searching for some presents, too. Hey... if you’re not too busy, how about sitting down in that café over there and chatting for awhile?”
Tamara smiled, thinking about how much Elaine had changed since last year. Now a self-assured, confident businessmare stood in place of the shy, timid pony of years past. “I’d like that,” she agreed. “You need to catch me up on all the latest gossip!” And get my mind off Philippe, she added mentally.
Sipping their drinks, the two mares chatted amicably for some time. They discovered that they shared a lot of common ground, both being involved in animal-related businesses. There were plenty of ideas and plans to offer on Elaine’s vet clinic in Friendship Gardens and Tamara’s experience in the breeding and showing of felines.
“When do you think you’ll be able to start up your cattery again?” Elaine was curious to know.
“Oh...” Tamara stared into the depths of her cup. “It’s really hard to say; I put my plans on an indefinite hold after meeting Philippe, and I don’t see any signs of life quieting down any what with his concerts and interviews and recordings and all.” She let an involuntary sigh escape.
Elaine patted her hoof sympathetically. “I’m sure you’ll be able to find the time eventually. What does Philippe think? Surely he wouldn’t object if you wanted to spend some time at your own business.”
“No... he’s way too caught up in his future concert dates and all that,” Tamara said forlornly. “I’m surprised he even took this much of a vacation. And... I couldn’t leave him to his own devices for any amount of time.” Tamara shuddered at the thought of not being with him and giving Fiala free reign over his time.
“Tamara, is something wrong?” Elaine asked in concern.
Tamara, looking into those gentle and compassionate green eyes, found herself pouring out the whole story of her woes to Elaine- how much Fiala’s interference was worrying her, how Philippe seemed to be completely devoted to his work and not to her, and how frustrated with herself she was for not being able to talk rationally about any of this to her husband. “When we first met he was afraid that no one really cared about him, just his music,” Tamara finished. “And that’s what attracted him to me so much, because I hadn’t known anything about his celebrity status and still fell in love with him. But now- now it’s all about his career, like that’s all that matters!”
Though it didn’t erase the initial problem, Tamara felt much better after having confided in a fellow mare. Elaine was a sympathetic listener even if she didn’t offer a miraculous and easy way out of Tamara’s coil. “Oh, Tamara, I know he loves you very much, even if you can’t see it right now. It is Christmas, after all, and I’m sure you two will be able to sort things out between you.” Trying to lift her mood, Elaine added, “Now, why don’t you come with me to Tabby’s for lunch? You haven’t seen her yet, have you? I know she’s looking forward to your visit.”
Tamara smiled weakly and wiped her eyes. “Yes, I’d like that very much.”
* * *
After his latest argument with Tamara, Philippe had gone out himself to get his mind off his problems. Currently he was at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe drowning his sorrows with yet another ice cream sundae. With a cloak and sunglasses on, he was able to escape the notice of his fans. Scoops wondered about the mysterious stranger in the back corner of her shop; he was beginning to appear rather sinister to her. She hoped it was just her imagination.
But in any case, Philippe was only a depressed celebrity and not the romantic criminal Scoops was imagining. How had things gone so wrong with Tamara? His wife had anticipated and embraced enthusiastically the life he led, until several months ago when tension had started building between them. It was apparent that Tamara was jealous of Fiala, but how could Philippe convince her that it wasn’t what she was imagining? He still loved Tamara more than anything in the world, and Fiala was nothing more than another agent. He had tried asking Fiala to lay off some, but if that didn’t work, what else was he supposed to do?
But then... maybe he was too centered on his career if he was thinking like that. Tamara willingly went along wherever Philippe’s career took them, but he had never considered what her hidden feelings were. Did she want to do something with her own life? But all he had been concentrating on lately was boosting his own career. He really hadn’t had much time for Tamara herself of late, all for the sake of his “career,” but was that more important than Tamara?
No, he realized, it wasn’t. He hadn’t been taking into account the new responsibilities he had with a wife to think of. No wonder Tamara was getting fed-up with him. He’d been going about this all wrong; it wasn’t just Fiala that was irritating Tamara, but Fiala had helped to speed their marriage to this inevitable point. He had been only worrying about his own dreams, not Tamara’s. He was holding her back from doing what she wanted. It was time to make it up to her. He was going to make this Christmas the best one she had ever had!
Philippe exited the shop in a hurry, leaving Scoops to further speculate about what he was doing- had he found out that the police were on to him? Shrugging, she got back to work.
* * *
Later that afternoon, Tabby and Agatha had gotten together to do some last minute present-wrapping... and gossip, of course.
“Tamara came over for lunch earlier,” Tabby said by way of introducing the topic. “Have you seen her yet?”
“No, but how are she and Philippe doing?” her mother queried. “I haven’t heard much from them lately.”
“Well, from what Tammy let fall it sounds like she’s having troubles with Philippe,” Tabby said emphatically.
“Really?” Agatha’s attention was caught. “What kind of troubles?”
“She mentioned some mare by the name of Fiala several times; I think she’s some sort of new agent or something for Philippe that he’s been spending a lot of time with.”
“Indeed!” Agatha said curiously. “Did Philippe say anything?”
“He wasn’t with her,” Tabby shrugged. “That was another tip-off. They’ve always been together the other times they’ve been in town. I tried to tell her she shouldn’t have married a famous celebrity- it’s only asking for trouble!”
* * *
Philippe had spent the rest of the day scouring the city for the perfect gift he could give Tamara to show her what she meant to him. Sure, he already had something for her, but his earlier realization made him want something more meaningful to give than just another jewel or bauble. Unfortunately, he wasn’t inspired by anything he saw; but there was still one more day until Christmas!
Once back home, Philippe was relieved to find that Tamara had gotten back but had retired to bed early. Well, at least there was something he could do. Pulling out his cell phone, he put in a call to Fiala and told her in no uncertain terms that he didn’t require all the publicity she was giving him and to lay off a bit. Fiala was remarkably agreeable after hearing his authoritative tone. This only made Philippe feel more guilty; if it was that easy to get rid of her, he obviously hadn’t been trying very hard before.
In any case, what else could he do for Tamara for Christmas- and beyond?
* * *
“This will be such fun!” Chiffon said, hugging Sugarberry. “Thanks for inviting me to spend Christmas with you!”
“The invitation was entirely selfish on our parts,” countered Sugarberry. “We see so little of you.”
“You always were my favorite cousin,” added Vanguard, getting in his own hug.
“We did have fun growing up, didn’t we?” grinned Chiffon. “But let’s not start reminiscing now; I want to see that foal of yours.”
“Come on upstairs; he should be waking from his nap.”
Vanguard, Sugarberry, and Chiffon had no sooner gone upstairs when the back door opened to admit Wishbone and Caravel who immediately disappeared into Wishbone’s basement apartment. The rose-red stallion withdrew a parcel from his backpack and stared at it in suppressed awe before finally looking at Caravel. “Well, this is it; do you think she’ll like it?” So saying, he opened the box to expose a glittering diamond ring.
Shrugging his shoulders, Caravel grinned. “You’re asking me what Garnet will think?”
“She seemed to like this one more than any of the others we looked at, but she wanted me to make the final decision; I think she thought this one cost too much.”
“Could you cover it?”
“Barely; no one else is getting much for Christmas, however.”
“They’ll understand; everyone seemed to approve of your engagement.”
“What are you getting Petal?”
“Not an engagement ring!” Caravel was quick to assure his friend.
“And why not? The two of you...”
“We’re content to remain friends until we’re both closer to finishing college.”
“Once Garnet and I are married next summer, I’ll have only one more year to go. I envy my sister; she graduates in May.”
“Petal was wondering if you guys would all have a double wedding or something.”
Wishbone chuckled. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chocolate Chip wearing a diamond before Christmas is over; Wigwam’s kept his peace only because my sister was mulish in that she wouldn’t marry before she had her degree.”
Caravel looked at the clock. “Oh, gosh! I said I’d meet Petal at two o’clock to start our trek to Woodlawn.”
“Well, you’re late.”
* * *
Tamara woke up the morning of Christmas Eve feeling ill and queasy again. She had avoided mentioning it to anyone, but maybe it was time to see a doctor and make sure it wasn’t worse than a mild flu or something of that nature.
Then she remembered the party she was hosting for her family that evening and the supplies she still needed to buy. Groaning at why she hadn’t thought to do that yesterday, Tamara jumped out of bed and made herself ready for a quick- as quick as it could be on Christmas Eve, anyway- shopping trip.
Then it occurred to Tamara to think where Philippe was. Had he even come home last night? Horrors, she hoped she hadn’t scared him off that thoroughly! But reassured to find him still asleep on the living room couch, she hurried on her way.
Luckily there wasn’t a whole lot she had to buy for the party, but there were many other ponies out doing the same last-minute shopping as herself and so it took awhile for Tamara to get out of the stores. She had forgotten her resolve to see a doctor; but as she noticed the hospital looming ahead, she decided on a whim to go in and, if nothing else, schedule an appointment.
* * *
As it was, Tamara had been lucky. Dr. Toby had been on duty with a cancelled appointment, and he agreed to examine Tamara. His findings had come as a shock to her; surely it was exciting, but she was apprehensive to tell Philippe when they were so at outs with each other. How could she tell him she’d be giving birth to their first child in eight months?
Shivering at the cold wind that blew, Tamara pulled her scarf tighter around her and headed towards Tabby’s mansion. She needed someone to talk to. Her cousin would only have useless suggestions, Tamara was sure, but it might cheer her up at least.
* * *
“So you’re mad at Philippe because you’re jealous of Fiala and the attention Philippe pays to his career and not you,” Tabby summed up her cousin’s tirade. “Plus you’re pregnant and are wondering how to tell him when you’re quarreling with each other.”
“Well, tell him and get it over with,” Tabby said cheerfully. “Maybe it would make him start thinking about you again, hmm?”
“You make it sound so easy,” Tamara sighed. “But- I guess you’re right. I’ll just have to- ”
But right then they were interrupted by a squealing little pink unicorn. “Auntie Twamawa!” Faline exclaimed gleefully, bounding over to her aunt.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Tamara said, pulling the baby pony onto her lap. “Are you looking forward to Christmas?”
“Ywes!” Faline replied in the affirmative. “My Wittew Pweople.”
“Oh, is Santa going to bring you lots this year?”
Faline stared up at her aunt disdainfully. “Swilly, no Swanta. Mommy!” She thrust a hoof confidently towards Tabby.
Tabby beamed proudly and laughed at Tamara’s expression. “There is no Santa Claus, y’know, Tamara. She’s learning quite well, don’t you think?”
“You are incorrigible,” Tamara groaned. “You won’t even let her hold on to one childish fantasy?”
Tabby looked indignant. “Why, I think it’s terrible to mislead any pony like that! I shudder to think of the propaganda you’ll be feeding your kid.”
Tamara couldn’t help but burst into laughter. She had been right that a visit to Tabby’s would cheer her up. Only Tabby would equate tales of Santa Claus with propaganda!
* * *
“Whisk has gone all out in decorating this place,” Wigwam noted as he guided Chocolate Chip to their table at the Estate Manor. Green garlands swathed in blue lights cascaded along the dark wooden panels and beams, giving the establishment a warm, harmonious atmosphere. In the corner, a natural tree decorated with a mixture of blue and white lights and a myriad of blue blown glass ornaments in a variety of shapes plus white ribbons and bows caught the eye and held it. Christmas melodies provided a peaceful backdrop.
“It’s beautiful,” agreed Chocolate Chip, slipping into the chair that Wigwam held for her, “and relaxing.”
“You’ve been keeping awfully busy with your classwork; the semester break will give you a chance to catch your breath.”
“I want to do some research for my honors thesis,” Chocolate Chip admitted, taking a sip of freshly poured water. “That and my work at the book store will take up most of my time.”
“I hope you allow some time for leisure; Wishbone and Garnet are getting up a skating party sponsored by the casino; and at the rate their plans are snowballing- no pun intended- I foresee that you will be commandeered into helping.”
“It sounds like fun.”
Their orders having been placed, Wigwam settled back in his chair; but his right hoof remained in action, nervously fidgeting with the utensils and his napkin. When his eyes lifted to meet the mare’s, he said, “Graduation will be here before you know it.”
Chocolate Chip grinned. “Can you believe it? Come May, I’ll be able to really start living.”
“So what is it you’ve been doing these past years?”
“It’s been great fun, but I’m anxious to make a life for myself.”
Wigwam leaned forward and took Chocolate Chip’s hoof in his. “I was hoping you’d want to make a life with me.”
“You’ll always be a part of my life, Wigwam,” Chocolate Chip responded. “You’ve been the best friend a mare could ask for.”
“Friend?” Wigwam queried, his left eyebrow lifting. He would have said more, but Caper, their waiter, appeared with their salads. It was only after he had gone on his way that Wigwam, ignoring the food before him, took up the conversation again.
“You’ve always said that you didn’t want to make any commitment as to your personal life until you had your degree in hoof, but I’d like you to be wearing this ring...” he brought forth a simple gold band with a fiery diamond winking from it, “... to signify your consent to be my wife.”
“Oh, Wigwam, it’s beautiful!” Chocolate Chip reached out to touch it, then quickly drew her hooves back and hid them beneath the table. “But I can’t accept it. Not now with my last semester at Pony Pride looming over me and all the running for interviewing that I’ll be doing and all the decisions that will have to be made.” Her eyes pleaded with his across the table for understanding.
“What about the actuary position with Glenvale Insurance? It’s right here in Dream Valley.”
“I’ll be the first to admit that it seems perfect, but it’s too easy... too convenient. I want to see more of Ponyland than just Neighberry and Dream Valley; I want to find out what it’s like to get out in the world and make my own contribution in my own way.”
“And what’s wrong with Dream Valley? I thought you were happy here; you have friends and you’re constantly busy.”
“I am happy here, and I couldn’t ask for better friends.” She patted Wigwam’s hoof. “You have been everything wonderful... and maybe that’s part of my reason to move on. I’ve been looked after and pampered by you and Sugarberry and Vanguard and Wishbone and everybody; I need to find out what value I have on my own. I need to see what life is like away from the confines of all that is familiar.” She felt Wigwam tense and pull away from her momentarily, but he recovered and cupped her hoof in his.
“I have loved you since I met you, Chocolate Chip. You were the answer to my dream quest all those years ago. You are the only one who can make my life complete.”
“I love you, too; you know I do. But I’m not ready to settle down yet. I want to put my education to use...”
“You can do that here in Dream Valley being married to me.”
“If I said yes now, I’d never know what I might have accomplished on my own. I want to experience a city like New Pony or Hayton where a pony has to make it on his or her own merits rather than slipping into niches simply because it’s the easiest thing to do. You do understand, don’t you?”
“My independent one...” Wigwam sighed. “Of course, I understand.” He was silent as if studying a new plan, and Chocolate Chip waited quietly. “Once you know where your job will take you, I’ll leave the casino in Garnet’s capable hooves and find employment wherever you go. There’ll be no reason for us not to be married as soon as possible after graduation.”
“That wouldn’t solve anything!” Chocolate Chip responded. “Then I’d be your wife first and my job would be relegated to second place and I’d be making my decisions for us rather than for me.”
Wigwam sat back in his chair and rubbed his hoof across his chin; he was at a complete loss for words.
Chocolate Chip was immediately stricken. “That sounded so selfish, didn’t it? But I look at my mother and remember how cold she was to me when I was growing up and then see how happy she is now with her restaurant; she’s a whole different pony now because she’s doing what she wants to do. And maybe she’d have been able to love me if she’d have had a chance to be someone more important than a stay-at-home mom.”
“You’ll be a wonderful mother.”
“You can’t know that, and neither can I! What if I couldn’t feel a mother’s love? I will not put any foal through the unhappiness I went through, Wigwam. I need to discover what I might be missing before I make a decision to tie myself to the responsibilities of marriage. It wouldn’t be fair to you or to me or to any foal we might have.”
Wigwam picked up the ring and watched the diamond sparkle. “You won’t marry me now but you might at some time in the future... is that right?”
“I don’t expect you to wait for me until I resolve my uncertainties; I want both of us to go on with our lives in the best way we can.”
“I’ve waited this long, Chocolate Chip; I can wait a little longer. Just promise me that if at any time you decide that you’re ready and willing to marry me, you’ll not hesitate to let me know; I’ll keep the ring near at hoof... it’s yours once you say the word.”
“By the same token, you have to promise me that if you meet someone else in the meantime, that you’ll feel free to set a new path for yourself.”
“There can never be anyone else... my dream quest ended with you, remember.”
“Just keep an open mind about this, please!” Chocolate Chip pressed.
Wigwam did not want to end it here, but he realized he had no choice. “Okay. Friends?”
“Friends!” Chocolate Chip smiled.
* * *
Arriving at Elaine’s house to escort her to Tamara’s Christmas Eve party, Alan stalled their departure for a moment.
“I know we’ve been talking about it for awhile, but it’s about time to make it official, don’t you think, Elaine?” Alan presented her with a velvet-colored jewel case and Elaine flipped it open with trembling hooves.
“Oh, Alan, it’s beautiful!” Elaine squealed. “Why, it’s the one I pointed out because I liked it so well! You remembered!”
“So now, Elaine, the question,” Alan said, melodramatically dropping down on one knee before her. “Will you marry me?”
“Oh, silly, of course I will!” She flew into his forelegs and it was some minutes before they actually left for the party.
* * *
The Christmas Eve party at Tamara’s was a relatively quiet affair with just Hubert, Agatha, Thomas, Tabby, Faline, Alan, Elaine, and the host and hostess present. Alan and Elaine were quite wrapped up in each other; but after everyone had offered their congratulations, there was still one pony unhappy with the situation. Tabby sat sulking and glowering in her chair with forelegs crossed over her chest.
“Why, Tabitha, whatever is the matter!” Agatha exclaimed, noticing her daughter’s dark look directed at the newly betrothed couple.
“Him,” Tabby said defiantly. She had a curious knack of alternating between moods of acceptance and dislike for Alan. Since she had first met Elaine, Tabby had grown to be highly protective of her sister-in-law and wasn’t completely satisfied with this new arrangement. “He’s changed Elaine so much, don’t you see? She’s not at all who she was a year ago.”
“Maybe this is who she’s supposed to be, and the previous Elaine wasn’t what had been intended at all,” Hubert suggested, jumping into the conversation.
“Ooh... that’s deep,” Tabby considered. “Oh, I know it’s unreasonable and selfish of me, but I cannot completely reconcile him for taking the old Elaine from us.”
Agatha patted her hoof. “It’ll just take time to get used to, dear. I know you do truly wish them well even if you don’t show it.”
Tabby scowled. “But everything was just fine before he came along! Elaine isn’t Elaine anymore! It’s all his fault she ran off to Friendship Gardens to open her own clinic. Oh, why did he ever have to take an interest in her!”
After ranting and getting it out of her system, Tabby felt much better. Sighing, she finally concurred. “Oh, I guess this is only fair. We were sheltering her a lot, you know. She never really had the chance to try out her wings, did she? Now she’s finally found her own niche in life out of the shadow of her family. Yes,” Tabby said firmly, “it’s for the best.” Standing up purposefully, she walked to the other side of the room to ingratiate herself into their good graces.
* * *
“Are you sure that Banderol is warm enough?” worried Chiffon as she, Sugarberry, and Vanguard walked to view the living nativity scene outside of church. The air was made colder by a forceful wind.
Vanguard chuckled. “Sugarberry’s got him wrapped in enough blankets to keep him toasty through a blizzard.” But he carefully checked the bundle in his forelegs just to make sure. “He’s warm and sound asleep.”
“The quilt he’s wrapped in was a gift from Garnet’s aunts,” Sugarberry informed Chiffon. “It’s perfect for this blustery weather.”
“They did a beautiful job; I was admiring the stitches earlier.”
“I’m getting a vague recollection that you tried your hoof at quilting one time, Chiffon,” Vanguard teased.
“Don’t mention it! I think Mom still has that horrid project stashed away somewhere, harboring the hope that someday I’ll become domestic enough to finish it.”
“What were you making?” queried an interested Sugarberry.
“It was a home economics enterprise... a table runner; simple enough, but my stitches weren’t neat enough, so the pieces never matched up right. It was a very frustrating experience.”
Vanguard laughed. “She tried to get her neighbor’s dog to pack it off so she’d have a reason for not finishing it, but the dog wouldn’t go near it. Icon even tried to tie it around the dog’s neck for a scarf, but he wouldn’t stand still.”
“Good ol’ Barky,” Chiffon smiled in remembrance. “That was one of the few times he let me down.”
“We were told that Icon is spending the holiday with Splotch’s family,” prompted Sugarberry, curious to know how her brother-in-law’s life was proceeding now that the mare he had taken a fancy to was living in Woodlawn.
“Have you met Splotch?” Chiffon asked.
“Yes, when we were in Woodlawn for the autumn festival.”
“Oh, yes; I was out of town then. Well, she’s settling into local life quite readily; she has such a vivacious personality that she seems to know everyone already, almost as if she’s lived there all her life. Floral Breeze is finding out what its like to have a daughter.” Chiffon realized that her statement could be construed to mean that something was lacking in Floral Breeze’s son’s wives so hurried to add, “Not that you and Morning Dew aren’t exceptional daughters-in-law, Sugarberry; but Splotch is in and out of the house as much as Icon, and she’s so unreserved and enthusiastic...” Catching an amused glance shared between Sugarberry and Vanguard, Chiffon stopped. “You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”
“That Morning Dew and I are too timid and spiritless?” giggled Sugarberry.
“You know I didn’t mean it that way; it’s just that Splotch is such a go-getter that she always seems to be the center of attention, yet she draws everyone else into the thick of things, too.”
“My self-esteem is suffering here,” teased Sugarberry.
“I still love you,” Vanguard assured his wife.
“You two are purposely misunderstanding me!” Chiffon remonstrated.
“We found Splotch to be a delightful pony, Chiffon, and agree with your assessment of her character whole-heartedly,” Sugarberry finally relented.
“And we highly approve of her for Icon if the two of them decide to make a life together,” added Vanguard.
“He was always so sure that he’d never find a mare he’d want to share his life with,” Chiffon mused. “Then he met Splotch, and it was like love at first sight for him.”
“Who can figure?” Vanguard grinned at Sugarberry. What would Chiffon say if she knew that Sugarberry had been bemoaning just the other day the fact that Chiffon seemed to have no special interest in any particular stallion?
The ponies were nearing the church by now and met up with Poeticus and Lemon Treats with their daughter, Limelight; so they continued together to the site of the manger scene that a number of younger ponies portrayed for the benefit of all. Garnet and Wishbone joined the onlookers, and their smiling faces conveyed more than the joy of the season. Sugarberry soon found out why as Garnet proudly displayed the engagement ring on her foreleg; congratulations were happily forthcoming.
It was somewhat later before Wigwam and Chocolate Chip slipped into the circle of friends, and one look at Wigwam’s face told Sugarberry all she needed to know. She had expected better news from that quarter, and she had to squelch an overriding desire to take Chocolate Chip aside and try to talk some sense into her. As it was, both ponies seemed to avoid her, neither of them wanting to face her motherly solicitude just yet. Sugarberry shrugged. They were both old enough to live with their own mistakes.
Turning her attention to center stage where the angels and the shepherds were congregating to pay homage to the newborn king, Sugarberry’s spirits soared. The birth of the baby at Bethlehem had brought joy to the world two thousand years ago and still did so today. She looked at her husband who brushed her cheek with a light kiss. “Merry Christmas, my love,” he said.
Her eyes shining, she returned his endearment, then settled a hoof over Banderol where he snuggled safe and secure in his father’s clasp, their own newborn baby, a precious gift of God’s love that vivified the Christmas miracle in a very personal way. This was truly Christmas present.
* * *
The Christmas lights of Royal Paradise were still twinkling through the snow that had begun to fall, but the windows were dark from within, signaling the fact that the inhabitants had retired for the remainder of this holy night. Only at the back of the royal dwelling did activity still shine forth as the Bushwoolies cleaned up after the Christmas Eve festivities.
In the main room, however, near the Christmas tree, sat one of the royal princesses, her white body showing up as a ghostly presence as she sat, unmoving, staring at the white lights glittering from the evergreen branches in an otherwise unlit room. The evening had been a bustle of celebration and friendship, but Tiffany had needed some time to herself, returning to the scene of the earlier merriment when everyone else had snuggled into their warm beds to seek a few hours of sleep before the eclipse of the blessed Christmas day.
The green tree with white ornaments and lights and the added color of glittering blue garlands disappeared to the princess’s unseeing eyes, and instead she visualized the grand pine that had graced Guido’s villa the previous Christmas in Vulcanopolis; the towering tree had been decorated entirely in gold, radiating a richness and a majesty that had delighted the princess. She had reigned supreme over the festivities that she and Guido’s mother had organized, Guido simply providing the largess needed to entertain on such a lavish scale; he had beamed at her loveliness and at her ability to converse genteelly with all of his guests. They had been surrounded by music, too, the best musicians having been hired to provide a backdrop of classical melodies for the gathering. Food had been available in abundance with servants constantly refilling the trays and plates and glasses of the guests.
But, best of all- Tiffany smiled to herself as she remembered how special she had felt that year before- had been the knowledge that she- Princess Tiffany of Dream Valley- had snared one of Ponyland’s most eligible bachelors, the rich and famous Guido Casale, who would soon be her husband. That dream had shattered with an awful abruptness half a year later. Tiffany shook her head as she remembered their argument and the ensuing termination of their betrothal; at the time, Tiffany believed it had been the right thing to do; but now, with the loneliness of this Christmas night settling over her like an inescapable web, she was not so sure.
Had her and Guido’s relationship been guided only by wealth, wondered Tiffany now as she tried to bring her eyes back to the reality of the tree before her. She closed her eyes tightly to prevent a tear from escaping as she remembered some of the good times they had shared; she had tried so hard to bury these glimpses, but Guido’s presence in Dream Valley a month ago had released a torrent of memories that ate away at her belief that she could be happy without Guido. She was rather afraid that she had loved him more than she had thought possible... had really loved the stallion, not just the money and power he represented.
Lost to her thoughts, the princess literally jumped out of her chair when Friendly, the Bushwoolie, toddled into the room with some startling news. “Two ponies here, yeah, need shelter,” he informed the princess.
“The Royal Paradise is not a motel!” Princess Tiffany retorted.
Friendly paused and scratched his head over that statement. “Uh... already told them to come in. Sorry.”
Tiffany, finding her Bushwoolie to be insubordinate, stalked out to take care of these ruffians herself but stopped short to see a young mare and a stallion standing just inside the back door, the mare looking as if she was in great distress and the stallion wearing a worried look. The new fallen snow clinging to their manes had begun to drip on the floor.
Before Tiffany could form a curt dismissal, however, the stallion spoke his appeal. “Please, you’ve got to help us; my wife is near her delivery time and the motel we were just at doesn’t have any vacancies,” the stallion explained. “They thought we might find a room at the Painted Pony, but my wife can’t go any further; we saw your lights and hoped...”
“Room off kitchen, clean, warm,” Friendly volunteered. “Yup, yup.” He looked up at Tiffany to see what she thought.
“But...” Tiffany paused while considering the problem, “we don’t know anything about them!”
Friendly had already gotten tired of waiting for a response. “Come with me, yeah, yeah!” The wooly blue creature headed off, waving the young couple to follow him. The couple followed Friendly, the stallion supporting his wife.
Tiffany trailed behind. “Wait for me!” I will have to have a talk with that Bushwoolie later, she told herself sternly.
Friendly showed the ponies to one of the overnight rooms where the Bushwoolies slept when their duties kept them at Royal Paradise for an extended period. The room he opened was furnished with plain and simple decor, but it provided the necessities of the moment. The stallion helped his wife onto the bed where she collapsed in relief to be off her hooves. Tiffany looked on disapprovingly.
“I’m not sure...” she began, but stopped when the mare cried out. The stallion looked at the princess.
“I think it’s time,” he said.
“Time?” Tiffany questioned. “Time for what?”
“For the foal to come!” the stallion stated. “We’re going to need your help.”
“My help? But...”
“I believe I may be able to assist you,” Rosie, the intelligent Bushwoolie, said as she came into the room at Friendly’s request. “Please phone the hospital and inform them of the situation,” she directed Tiffany. “Tell them I believe it may be a breech birth, so they can prepare accordingly. In the meantime, I shall see what I can do myself.”
“Dr. Toby...” Tiffany whispered. “Of course; I’ll call Toby.” She gladly left the room to access the phone in the kitchen.
“Toby,” she shouted when she heard the doctor’s voice over the line. “There’s a mare here about to have a foal and we need your help!”
“Who is this?” Toby asked.
“It’s Tiffany, of course!”
There was a stunned silence as Toby tried to gather his thoughts. “Tiffany? Who at the Royal Paradise is having a foal?”
“I don’t know who she is. She’s obviously new to Dream Valley and didn’t know where to go for such an emergency. But her husband says that she’s having a baby!”
“Okay, Tiffany; I’ll be right there; do what you can to make her comfortable in the meantime.”
“But, Toby!” wailed the princess.
All Tiffany heard was the click of the receiver.
By the time Tiffany got back to the improvised delivery room, events had escalated. The young stallion, whom Rosie was referring to as Pampas, cast a quick glance at Tiffany. “You help Rosie; I’ll help Sunny.”
“I can’t,” trembled Tiffany.
“You can and you will!” Pampas contradicted her.
“The foal has been delivered successfully,” Rosie beamed before Tiffany had a chance to do anything. “I was prepared for exactly this situation in my medical studies.”
Tiffany gasped, her eyes moving to the struggling little body in Rosie’s hands. “Oh, my,” she breathed.
Friendly, coming into the room with a supply of towels, handed one to the princess. Chumster followed with a basin of warm water. “Dirty baby, clean, yeah,” he said.
Tiffany stood open-mouthed and found that she could not move.
A knocking at the back of the house sounded and Friendly left to answer the summons. When Toby came in the room, his mane sparkling with snowflakes, he was greeted with the sight of Rosie cradling the newborn in her arms; one quick glance assured him that the newborn was holding his own, so he went straight to the new mother to administer to her needs.
When Rosie had the foal presentable, she carried the little colt to his father and nestled it into his forelegs; the stallion stared in awe at the little creation that rested so naturally there; turning, he transferred his son to his wife.
“Merry Christmas, Sunny,” he said tenderly as he ran a hoof over his wife’s sweating brow.
“Merry Christmas, Pampas,” she smiled back, cradling the infant protectively against her.
Toby grinned at the princess who hovered at the edge of the room. “It looks like you and the Bushwoolies handled things well enough.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Tiffany moaned.
“No, you’re not. You have to help Rosie here.”
“Help Rosie...” the princess murmured as if in a trance. She, a princess, should not be involved with such goings on. Rosie could handle it by herself. She stood her ground.
When mother and foal had been ascertained healthy, Toby gestured to Tiffany to follow him from the room. In the tranquil confines of the kitchen, Toby faced the princess.
“Sunny will be fine, but she’s weak from the journey she and Pampas have been on; it will take some time before she can be moved.”
“You mean... they have to stay here at Royal Paradise? They certainly aren’t royalty.”
“It’s Christmas, Tiffany; where’s your spirit?” Toby snapped, then regretted his short temper. Running a hoof through his mane, he added, “I’m sure Queen Serena won’t have a problem with it. Where is she, by the way?”
“Sleeping,” Tiffany said. “I was the only one up when Friendly admitted our... visitors.”
“Well, I guess there’s no need to interrupt her now; it will be morning soon enough.”
Pampas came into the room carrying the foal. “Sunny fell asleep,” he said by way of explanation. “The Bushwoolies went to find something for the baby to sleep in.”
The colt, as exhausted as his mother, was asleep, too. Tiffany moved closer to him, transfixed now by his calm and peaceful countenance as he relaxed in sleep, smoothing the wrinkles that had accompanied his earlier wailing. “Why, he’s precious,” she murmured, stroking his silky hair.
“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” Pampas shared her wonder.
“Are you hungry, Pampas?” Toby broke the amiable mood. “I doubt you had the opportunity to eat too well of late.”
Pampas looked up, disconcerted. “It’s been awhile. But I’ve made sure that Sunny has been eating at regular intervals,” he finished defensively.
“I’m sure of that,” Toby assured him. “The Bushwoolies might be able to find you something to snack on, however, if you’d like.”
Another Bushwoolie crew was already busy at the stove; and as Pampas, Tiffany, and Toby continued to admire the newborn, they prepared a warm and nourishing meal for the stallion. Tiffany accepted a mug of hot chocolate for herself, but Toby excused himself to return home.
“I’ll come by later,” he assured both the princess and the new father. “The best thing for Sunny right now is to sleep as long as she can.” He smiled as a troupe of Bushwoolies returned carrying the cat bed from Princess Tiffany’s room.
“Baby bed, yeah, yeah!” they chorused, haphazardly setting the temporary cradle on one end of the table. “Cat hair, soft,” he added, referring to the black hair from Theodora that littered the base of the basket.
Pampas moved to lay the foal in its first bed, but Princess Tiffany stopped him. “May I hold him?” she asked the father.
“Sure,” he said, his own eyes wandering to the tempting food the Bushwoolies were setting on the empty end of the table. He gave over custody to the princess willingly and went to satisfy his hunger.
“It would be nice if someone could keep at eye on Sunny and the foal,” Toby said quietly to the princess. “Pampas is exhausted and won’t be much help once he’s eaten.”
“I’ll... well, I could sit with them for awhile. The Bushwoolies will have to get home themselves.” She looked down on the sleeping foal still in her forelegs. “This little guy won’t be much trouble at all.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you, Tiffany,” Toby grinned at her with such obvious admiration that’s Tiffany’s white cheeks glowed pink. It seemed that all the memories of an earlier time when the two of them had been the talk of the town flashed between them in that moment. “Merry Christmas.” He brushed her cheek with a kiss.
“Merry Christmas, Toby.”
When Pampas had been fed and directed to his bed and all the Bushwoolies except Rosie had finally finished their chores, Tiffany still sat with the foal in her forelegs. The Bushwoolies had retrieved a rocking chair from somewhere, and Tiffany sat in the quiet kitchen, the lights turned low, and watched the sleeping babe as if she could not get her fill. Rosie had taken it upon herself to monitor the mother throughout the rest of the night and had offered to put the foal in his bed; but Tiffany had refused, saying that she would take care of the foal herself. Somehow, she felt protective of him.
As she watched the gentle rhythm of the colt’s breathing and smiled at the occasional tossing of a tiny hoof through the air, she thought back to Toby’s gentle words of favor to her. She had not been very noble when the young couple had appeared at her doorstep nor had she been brave throughout the delivery, but Toby had seemed to sense some goodness deep within her.
Guido had not.
Guido Casale had found her cold and uncharitable, in love more with his money and the position he held than with the pony himself. Strange, thought Tiffany as she took the tender little hoof of the foal into her own, that she had given up Toby for Guido, only to have Guido give her up... for what? The stallion certainly seemed satisfied to remain unattached to any mare; and surprisingly, had turned his interests to helping others. Tiffany found that change unsettling, especially when he had intimated that she was missing out on something by refusing to meet the demands of the living world around them.
Well, this little foal in her forelegs was a living creature, Tiffany mused; and the princess was discovering that she enjoyed meeting his needs. She felt a tender glow in the area of her heart as she smiled down into his tranquil face. Maybe, just maybe, she could understand what Guido had been hinting at after all. She visibly relaxed; this was her Christmas future.
* * *
Tamara was still anxious over telling Philippe her news. Somehow she just couldn’t force herself to bring it up and tried to avoid him as much as possible during Christmas Eve. All the guests of the previous night had noticed the strained atmosphere between their host and hostess.
But on Christmas morning, it was impossible to avoid her husband as he eagerly led her downstairs to see what he had gotten for her.
It was a stunning attache case with a logo brilliantly emblazoned in gold: Tamara’s Cattery. Tamara’s eyes started filling with tears at the thoughtfulness of the gift. In itself an attache case wasn’t so extraordinary, but what it indicated was. Philippe hadn’t forgotten her or her dreams! “Oh, Philippe, thank you... you’re so wonderful. I know I don’t really deserve anything like that after the way I’ve been acting, and... oh, Philippe, I’m so sorry!” Sniffling, she continued, “I’ve been so selfish... here I was thinking you didn’t care any more, but that’s not true at all and I wouldn’t believe you when you told me. Oh, can you ever forgive me?”
“Oh, Tamara, love,” he murmured, caressing her mane, “don’t think about it. I have been treating you shabbily. You’ve been putting up with my whims for long enough; from now on we can indulge in some of your own.”
“I can’t wait,” Tamara smiled through her tears, but then remembered the other thing lurking at the back of her mind. “But, Philippe, there is something I have to tell you...” Tamara hesitated only a moment before continuing. “You see, you’re going to be a father!”
As Tamara was engulfed in another warm embrace, she knew everything was going to be just perfect.
* * *
The arrival of the ponies from Berryville was a riotous occasion. Sugarberry’s parents, Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Baskets, headed the entourage, greeting their daughter and her husband with all their love and best wishes for a happy Christmas, showering a fair share of affection and gifts on Wishbone and Chocolate Chip, and scooping Banderol from his bassinet with all the propriety of proud grandparents. Their one visit shortly after his birth had already endeared the foal to them, but this Christmas reunion was as special as the season.
Gooseberry and Grapevine were surrounded by their offspring, with Wineberry holding close to her father until her shyness abated and Huckleberry talking a mile a minute about the sights they had seen on the journey to Dream Valley on this crisp holiday morning. Baby Gooseberry, swept up by Chocolate Chip to view the Christmas tree heavy with symbols of the season, was immediately entranced. The newest addition to that family, Loganberry, used to the activity of siblings, slept through it all while Raspberry and Driftwood’s baby twins, Custard and Cream, opened wide eyes to the sounds and sights moving in a kaleidoscope of images around them.
Having grown up as an only child, Chiffon looked on in wonder at the commotion and disorder that ruled the household until all the greetings had been given and received, and the ponies had settled down with steaming cups of hot chocolate and sugar cookies. Taking a mug of chocolate to Vanguard, she confided, “I always thought the holidays were wild when I was allowed to share them with you and your brothers; that was halcyon compared to this.”
Vanguard grinned. “This is nothing; wait until the afternoon rolls around.”
* * *
If he could have thought of a reasonable excuse, Wigwam would have taken his leave of the Christmas festivities at Sugarberry’s. When he had accepted her invitation to celebrate with her household, Wigwam had thought that he and Chocolate Chip would have been officially engaged; and he could think of no better surroundings than amidst all their friends.
Although nothing had changed on the outside, Chocolate Chip’s refusal to accept his proposal had sent Wigwam into the doldrums; and he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep a cheerful outlook, especially in the face of Wishbone and Garnet’s giddy happiness and the vivid reminder of their future that glittered on Garnet’s left foreleg.
At least, they had left the confines of the house for awhile. The youngsters had begun to feel penned-up and it had been decided that Garnet and Wishbone along with Chocolate Chip and Wigwam would accompany the foals to the park to enjoy the sledding hill. As the sun had peaked out from between the dark gray clouds for the moment, the excursion seemed like it would be an enjoyable one. Amidst the delighted chatter of the younger ponies, Wigwam was able to keep a low profile and turn his thoughts inward where he could mull over his private heartache, especially since Chocolate Chip seemed determined to keep an emotional distance from him.
The chocolate brown mare was at the present time swamped with Gooseberry’s three foals, her laughter coming to him in direct contrast to his own depression, which nettled the stallion even more. Was she so unmindful of the anguish her refusal had caused him?
Heedless of the activity around him, Wigwam allowed his thoughts to carry him back to the time of his dream quest when he had stood alone against the elements, leaving his emotions susceptible to images that would come to haunt him and to take up life within him. He had been left with two impressions: one, that his life would be in harmony with the patronage of the wolves; and secondly, that a brown mare would be his helpmate. His first dream was realized in the instant that he awoke and found the pup, Manitou, at his side; the second had come in the form of Chocolate Chip, or so he thought when he had first become acquainted with the filly who had settled into Sugarberry’s home.
And hadn’t she returned his affection? Surely, there had been some rough spots; but they had overcome all obstacles... only to reach this point. Just when he had thought that the joining of their lives into one was in sight, Chocolate Chip had said no to his proposal, leaving him to face an unidentified amount of time on his own with no clear indication of what was in store for him. The stallion had reason to be discomfited.
If Wigwam could have seen the inner turmoil of Chocolate Chip’s thoughts, he might have felt some relief from his worries. The mare, too, was undergoing a play of emotions that ran the gauntlet of a surety that she had made the right decision to regret that she had possibly pushed Wigwam away from her forever. To cover these waffling emotions, she assumed a cheerful disposition that belied her tumbling thoughts as she gave herself entirely to the present outing.
“The three of you can all share the sled,” Garnet said as they arrived at the crest of the hill at the center of the park, directing Huckleberry to sit farthest back with Wineberry ahead of him and Baby Gooseberry safely wrapped in her big sister’s forelegs. “That way you all get the first ride.”
With Wishbone providing the starting boost, the sled slowly began its descent of the hill; then, as it gained speed, the sled seemed to fly. The accompanying squeals of the foals rent the cold, crisp air until the sled bottomed out and came to a gradual stop. Baby Gooseberry clapped her hooves together, totally thrilled with the ride; Wineberry stood, brushing the snow off her body like the perfectionist she was, but her eyes twinkling merrily; and Huckleberry urging both his siblings to hurry so that they could repeat their run.
Garnet, catching sight of more ponies headed in their direction, turned everyone’s attention to the approaching group. Toby and Fern were coming with their house guests to enjoy some of the wintry weather. Toby’s mother, Ribbons n’ Lace, his sister and family, and visitors from Fern’s hometown of Bushley were included. Everyone but the foals having met previously at Fern and Toby’s wedding in June, there was a boisterous reunion that even brought a smile to Wigwam’s face, Ribbons n’ Lace being able to set anyone at ease with her cheerful involvement. Tendril and Copper’s two foals and the oldest of Raven and Flower Drift were soon sharing sleds with the Berryville foals.