On the Saturday afternoon before New Year's, most of the females of the family ended up congregating together to gossip at the Fairfax residence, while the guys took Thomas off to the bowling alley. Helga served her guests her scrumptious coconut kiss cookies, which caused a great deal of compliments around the table.
"Ooh! You haven't made these for ages, Grandmother!" Sapphire squealed, diving in.
"Helga, these are delicious," Laraine commented between bites. "Why haven't you made them sooner?"
"I must have the recipe," begged Flora.
"Maybe it's a secret," Helga said mischievously.
"Hmm," Tabby said cautiously, eyeing hers skeptically. It obviously contained coconut, which she didn't like, but she managed to scarf it down anyway as to not appear ungracious.
"I'll trade you the recipe for my special fluffy mustard sauce," bargained Delia.
Devonne winked at Helga. "Sorry, girls, but my mother would never give that information out."
"I have a brilliant idea!" Cecilia burst out. "We all must have a secret recipe of some sort. We could all trade them today with each other. Wouldn't it be an ideal way to break down the barriers caused by the old feud?"
"Oh, that would be fun!" Elaine exclaimed brightly.
Some of the mares were reluctant to give out such classified information, but they hardly wanted to appear stingy in front of the special guest. Slowly, everyone agreed that it was an interesting idea to bring their families closer together, after they had all promised that the information discussed would still be kept a secret to all beyond the table. With their pact agreed upon, the girls set to work writing out their special recipes on a stack of blank recipe cards Helga supplied.
Tabby glanced over at Elaine, who was busily scribbling away, and then down at her own blank card. What was she supposed to do? She never cooked! Idly, she jotted down under ingredients, One can cherry pie filling. After pondering this for a moment, she continued with Open can; dish servings into individual bowls; eat with spoon. That was as secret as any of Tabby's recipes came. Actually, that was Tabby's only recipe.
After all the ponies were finished, the recipe cards were divided into piles and then handed out to each of the mares there. Eagerly, they delved into their newfound treasure chests, anxious to find the key to some of the marvelous dishes they had sampled over the years in the kitchens of relatives.
Priscilla began laughing softly as she read Tabby's secret recipe. "Oh, Tabby, don't think you can get out of this so easily," she challenged.
"Is there something wrong with it?" Tabby asked innocently.
Some of the others began to turn to Tabby's recipe in order to see what was wrong with it, and soon there were many amused faces around the table. "Surely your family must have something more interesting than a can of cherry pie filling," Rosetta prodded.
"Maybe, but that's the only thing I can fix."
"You mean..." Cecilia looked aghast at this bold pronouncement. "But of course you must cook certain things."
"No, nothing ever turns out," Tabby explained. "It's too much of a hassle; I don't bother with it."
"That is to say, you've even been married for more than a year and you don't cook?" Helga demanded in disbelief.
"Yes, but it's okay. Elaine takes care of all that just fine."
"Elaine, is this true?" Cecilia swung her gaze around to the white unicorn.
"Well, yes, I do," Elaine acknowledged. "But really it's no problem. I enjoy helping out."
"But didn't your mother teach you anything about the kitchen?" Helga continued in horror.
"Oh, she tried," Tabby said cheerfully. "But I never really picked up on it."
The problem Tabby had was not in understanding how to cook, but rather on how to keep concentrated on it. Usually she was so flighty and scatterbrained that she either forgot to put a certain ingredient in, or added something that shouldn't be included, or simply forgot she was baking anything and let it burn to a crisp or boil over.
"Well, this is obviously a problem we should rectify," Helga stated, rising to the challenge. "Tabby, why don't you let us help you?"
Tabby looked at her piteously. "Oh, no! Really, it doesn't work. Not for me. I truly wouldn't want to spend the rest of the vacation–"
"Just this afternoon," Cecilia put in coaxingly. "We'll help you make something for dessert tonight, how's that? Who knows, maybe it'll inspire you to do more in the kitchen."
"Hmm," Tabby pondered. "Well, okay. Just this once." Helga and Cecilia promptly whisked her off, determined now to make something of a cook out of this mare.
In the span of time that followed, Tabby proved herself to be a rather inefficient cook, and Helga and Cecilia were constantly reminding her of an ingredient to add or what a foreign term meant. Tabby found the whole ordeal to be rather boring and was glad when the two older mares excused her to go back to the others. The fruit tart did turn out in the end, but its success was probably due to Helga and Cecilia's interference.
Once again, Tabby's culinary abilities were deemed hopeless.
* * *
Spending one of his afternoons off at home, Alan found himself dragged into yet another lecture instigated by his mother. "Alan, I've been meaning to ask you, have you invited Lydia to the sledding party yet?" she cornered him.
"Actually, Mother, I don't think I'll be going with her," Alan said patiently. He had had this conversation with his parents already countless times in the past.
"Oh, Alan!" She pursed her lips in disappointment. "But why not?"
"Mom, we don't like each other! I wish you and Dad would understand that."
"I understand, but... her parents and your father and I have been counting all these years that you and Lydia–"
"I know you'd be happy if Lydia and I were married and lived happily ever after, but unfortunately neither of us would be happy with it," Alan broke in.
"I just wish..." the mare trailed off, caving in. "Well, do what you like, Alan. But... don't give up on Lydia yet, would you?"
* * *
"Ooh, Espeon," Tabby breathed, surveying her next opponent in her Pokemon battle against Mandy; Tabby had forgotten what sort of a relation the young filly was, but she was apparently a decent Pokemon trainer. "How cool is that!" The pink unicorn was quite fond of the Eevee evolutions. "Okay, so, Hitmonlee, do one of your kicks or whatever. It's a pity you're weak against psychic types, though," she mused aloud.
Tabby's suspicions turned out to be correct; Hitmonlee was soon knocked out by clever moves on Mandy's Espeon's part. Next Tabby called out her Vaporeon who, after a hard-fought battle, managed to come out the winner. The pair ran over to the defeated Espeon, though, and Tabby was able to admire up close the beautiful purple psychic Eevee evolution.
"How lovely!" she said in awe, helping the Pokemon back up on its feet where she eagerly accepted the praise bestowed upon her. "How did you acquire her, Mandy?"
"Well, I caught her as an Eevee, and we've done a lot of training since then," the pink filly said modestly. "I'm really proud of her."
Their conversation was cut short as an impatient green colt ran forward and begged Tabby for a battle. To have an adult Pokemon trainer in their midst was a new experience for the youngsters of this community, and all wanted to test their skills against her. Tabby prepared for a long day of battling ahead of her.
Meanwhile, out of range of the battlefield, the sledding party was in progress. Ponies of all ages gathered at the hill near the Monks' house to take advantage of the fine sledding conditions, and a warm fire and hot chocolate awaited them indoors when they tired of the recreation.
"Come on, Elaine, let's go down again!" Alan prodded, pulling her along behind him.
"Not again!" Elaine protested, reluctantly going along. "Once was enough!" The first fast-paced descent down the hill had already shaken her wits; she didn't want to undertake the trip again!
"Too late," Alan said good-naturedly, plunking her down into the seat of the toboggan and getting on behind her. "Here we go-o-o-o!" Elaine's shrieks filled the air all the way to the bottom of the hill.
Numbly, she tried to extricate herself from the snowdrift she had ended up in. "Am I still alive?" she wondered dazedly, wiping the snow off her face and trying to get her bearings. She became aware that another sled was careening downhill towards her general region, and shielded her face as it whipped past her, splashing snow up all around her, before it skidded out not much further along.
Elaine once again dug herself out, and found herself face-to-face with one of the passengers of the second sled. "Lydia!" she gasped without thinking.
"Oh, it's you, isn't it?" the other mare said snobbishly, also recognizing Elaine.
"Nice party, isn't it?" Elaine said weakly, remembering the resentment Lydia must still harbor for her from when Elaine had questioned the price of something Lydia sold in her parent's gift shop.
"I see you're getting on along quite splendidly with Alan," Lydia continued factitiously. "How sweet."
"Well, yes, we're friends..."
"Friends," Lydia said mockingly. "Isn't that nice. Hey, Alan," she shouted over her shoulder, "your girlfriend's over here."
Elaine, naturally, blushed an intense red at this insinuation; and Alan, who had been having difficulty locating his white-bodied partner among the white snowbanks, hurried over. His gaze darkened as he caught sight of Lydia as well. "Lydia, what are you doing here?"
"Merely chatting with your new friend," Lydia winked, taking the incentive to start back towards her group. "Bye-bye now. I must say you make a lovely couple." Laughing hysterically, she dashed off.
"Why, that little–" Alan was ready to go after her if Elaine didn't hold him back. "If she was hassling you, Elaine, I'll–"
"Oh, just forget about it, Alan," Elaine begged. "Words or violence don't do anything to stop someone like her. It's okay, really. Leave it alone."
Alan let go of his initial anger and turned to apologizing profusely to Elaine. "I'm so sorry I let that happen, Elaine; I should have been watching her more carefully. Usually she's happy to leave me alone, but I should have realized that you really rankled her nerves at the gift shop; it injured her pride and she hates that more than anything. It's still no excuse, though. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Oh, don't blame yourself; it wasn't your fault! Let's just forget the whole silly incident, okay?"
Nonetheless, Alan insisted on taking her back up to the house; and though she professed to be fine, Elaine was visibly shaken from her encounter with Lydia. Thomas picked up on this change in her as well upon admitting them inside and, still wary of this stallion his sister had taken a liking to, began drilling Alan for answers, while Tabby sat back with Faline sighing over what a lovely romance it was: a dashing young stallion, a spiteful enemy (not a rival, exactly), and a protective older brother. It was all too wonderful; Elaine didn't know how well she had it. Tabby did love a good romance.
* * *
The Monks and Fairfaxes were not going to end the year without an exceptional celebration and had done no less than reserve the grand ballroom at the premier hotel for a fabulous New Year's Ball.
The occasion was a little saddening to Elaine, though; for as well as marking the end of the year, it also meant the end of her vacation... and the end of her time with Alan. However, even with this in mind, she was determined to enjoy herself– plus, she was relieved to hear that Lydia was attending a different celebration that evening, so she wouldn't have to worry running into her again.
Elaine's cousin Lucerna had offered to help style her hair, and Elaine looked quite glamorous in the end result. Her mass of bright blue mane was tied up on her head in a high ponytail (Author's note: No pun was intended....) tied with a bright pink ribbon. Her tail was also adorned with ribbons of the same color; and in light of the occasion, Helga had loaned her some heirloom jewelry pieces to wear that night. The blue jeweled necklace and bracelet were quite flattering to the finished look.
Arriving at the ballroom with her hosts, Elaine was quite breathlessly in awe of the fabulously decorated room. Beautiful lights and banners were hung everywhere; it was like a fairyland. She was only jolted back into reality when Tabby, arrayed in diamond earrings and necklace, came rushing over and grabbed her by the hoof. "We were just wondering where you were, and Alan's here too and was asking for you. Come on, come on!"
"Elaine! I didn't know it was possible for you to look any more beautiful!" Alan exclaimed upon seeing her. "I must say you look stunning tonight." He bowed before her and kissed her hoof. "May I have this dance?"
Elaine blushed and murmured her thanks and consent and was whisked out onto the dance floor. What exactly the two said to each other during that time no one could say for sure, but it was evident that Elaine was possessed with a certain glow about her that had never been seen before.
Tabby watched them, one part of her jubilating over this blossoming romance, the other part slightly disappointed, knowing that Elaine would never be quite the same again. Part of Elaine's heart obviously belonged to Alan now, and there would always be a void in her whenever she was with anyone else. Elaine's shyness had always caused her closest friends to act as her protectors against the outside world, and Tabby had to admit that she had come to rely on Elaine's doting dependance on her. But now... she could see that Elaine was beginning to emerge from her shell a whole new pony.
"They look happy together, don't they?" Thomas mused quietly, laying a hoof on Tabby's shoulder. "I know I teased her a lot in the past, but I guess I wasn't really prepared for the time when she did find the right stallion."
"I'm afraid we've lost her for good," Tabby lamented melodramatically.
"Not really," Thomas contradicted. "She'll still be her sweet, gentle self, but maybe a little bit more independent."
"Do you... do you think she'll leave Dream Valley, because of Alan?" Tabby gasped as the possibility first occurred to her.
"I really can't say what they'll do, but this trip has been good for her," Thomas continued. "I've really kept her too sheltered... it's about time she started to form her own life and make her own friends."
"But what do you think of Alan's character?" Tabby prodded anxiously. "Is he... good, do you think?"
"You really are concerned, aren't you? I thought you were thoroughly enjoying their relationship." He looked at her in amusement. "Don't worry about it, Tabby. From all the reports I've heard, there's nothing against his integrity. He'll be good for Elaine, whatever they decide to do."
"I just hate to have things change!" Tabby said in despair, clinging to him tightly. "I didn't think about the consequences until now. I wish we had just stayed in Dream Valley; then we wouldn't have to worry about any of this!"
"I know what you're going through; it is hard to give her up. But this had to come eventually, and she'll be better for it in the end. You'll come to be happy for her, too."
"I'm tired of being philosophical," Tabby sniffled. "I don't want to think about it anymore."
Thomas kissed her reassuringly. "Well then, how about a dance? That is what we're here for, after all."
Getting into the party, Tabby was able to shake off her concern and enjoy herself, while the clock sped rapidly towards the new year. It was around this time that Alan pulled Elaine away from the crowd and requested a private meeting with her.
"Well, I..." Elaine glanced around her, and saw her brother and sister-in-law in the sidelines, chatting with a group of ponies; she could make out Tabby laughing her high-pitched laugh over something. She hated to disappear without a word to anyone. "Maybe..."
"Don't worry; it won't take long," Alan assured her, leading her off to a secluded corner, and proceeded to spend several moments in silence, pondering how to phrase what he was going to say.
"And what do you want to discuss?" Elaine prodded, staring into his eyes.
Alan began by awkwardly stating the obvious. "Well, you'll be leaving tomorrow morning to go back to Dream Valley."
"Yes, and I am going to miss it here," Elaine sighed wistfully. "Especially..." She glanced up at him, but couldn't continue.
"Anyway, after you leave, we won't be able to see each other again for quite some time... and, well, I'm really going to miss you. I really do care for you, Elaine."
"And me for you," Elaine assured him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I hate to have you go so soon when we were just getting close. And I was thinking..."
"Yes?" Elaine's heart suddenly began pounding with alarm; he wasn't about to go and suggest something crazy, was he?
"The new publishing house that will be opening in Dream Valley later next year-- or this year, what time is it?-- well, there's a chance that I might be transferred there when it's open."
Elaine gasped with delight; what a lovely solution that would be if he came to live in Dream Valley. "That would be perfect!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I'd love that! Do you really think it'll happen?"
"The talk of the new branch has just started, so I don't know too much; but, yes, I think it's a good possibility."
"And I'll put in a good word for you, too," Elaine promised.
"I think your guardians are looking for you," Alan said as he looked up, and nudged her to go forward. "You'd better go to them."
"Ah, Elaine, there you are!" Helga greeted her. "The party's beginning to die down, and I figured we should think about heading home, especially since you have to get up and leave so early in the morning."
"Umm, well..." Elaine glanced at Alan before formulating her reply.
"They're right, of course; you will have an early start," Alan agreed. "Besides, it's already been a splendid night spent with you."
Elaine smiled at him and turned to her grandparents. "It has been a long night, and it is probably time to head back. Just let me say goodbye to everyone in case I don't see them before tomorrow, okay?"
They had nothing against this, and let her go to say her farewells to everyone with Alan tagging along behind her. Satisfied that she had fulfilled her obligation, Elaine at last turned her attentions fully to Alan. "I saved the best for last," she said regretfully. "Goodbye, Alan. You'll keep in touch, won't you? And please promise me you'll get that transfer to Dream Valley!"
"Anything for you," Alan said cheerfully, but with an underlying current of sadness as he held her close. "If all goes as planned, we'll be together this time next year... if you'll promise to wait for me, Elaine?"