The Great Apple Festival
"Yeah! Yeah! Parade!" Friendly verified as Elaine, Thomas, and Sugarberry listened to the Bushwoolie's tirade. The autumn weather had obviously gotten to the Bushwoolies' spirit of celebration, and they were planning a grand parade for Dream Valley involving all the businesses and organizations of the city. Friendly was delivering the news to the vet clinic.
"You mean with floats and bands and things?" Sugarberry questioned hesitantly, remembering with some misgivings the clinic's experience with the ice sculpture contest.
"Yeah! Yeah! Lots of floats and music and fun!" The blue Bushwoolie nearly danced with excitement.
"Is there a theme to this parade?" questioned Thomas.
"Theme? Yeah!... What's that?" queried Friendly in turn.
Elaine giggled. "It's like a unifying idea that will guide everyone's plans," she explained.
Looking slightly confused for a moment, Friendly finally broke out in a grin. "Apples! Apples! We have an apple festival, yeah, yeah!"
"Well, that sounds safe enough," Sugarberry offered. "Apple-related food and games and floats... we can handle that."
Thomas looked to Elaine for her input. "Sure! It sounds like fun!"
"Count us in then, Friendly," the white unicorn stallion informed the Bushwoolie. Then, realizing a shortage of information, he asked, "When is this apple festival going to take place, anyway?"
Friendly scratched his head. "September... Saturday... thirty," he relayed.
"September thirtieth is on a Saturday," Sugarberry supplied, checking her desk calendar.
"Okay, is there anything else we need to know?" asked Thomas of Friendly.
A light bulb seemed to form over Friendly's head. "Poster! Yeah! Yeah!" He reached into the backpack he carried and pulled out a brightly-colored poster, hand decorated by the Bushwoolies, and handed it to Sugarberry.
"This certainly clarifies things," she frowned, scanning the eclectic jumble of numbers and letters that cluttered the placard. "Maybe you should have this professionally printed," she suggested.
"We can help you organize it," Elaine offered.
"Yes, Friendly," Sugarberry agreed. "Would you like us to go with you to the printing office? Maybe Woosie will donate some of her expertise on this project."
Checking the time, Thomas approved the idea. "Why don't you two take care of that now? It's close enough to quitting time that I should be able to handle things. I'll even close up for you, Sugarberry."
The two mares took off with Friendly to Woosie's shop down the street and after some confusing discussion, they had all their questions answered sufficiently that Woosie was prepared to design the poster. She promised that they would be ready by the weekend.
"So, what's next?" Sugarberry asked of Elaine and Friendly as they exited the print shop.
"Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe!" declared Friendly. The mares laughed.
"I like the way that Bushwoolie thinks," Elaine said as they took off for the ice cream parlor. Arriving there, they found that Tabby and Thomas had reached the shop ahead of them; they swooped down on the table where the newlyweds sat.
"Hi, Tabby," Sugarberry greeted her friend. "What's for supper?" She winked at Thomas.
Scowling at the strawberry-patterned earth pony, Tabby shrugged. "A strawberry sundae, I guess." She took a bite of the dessert before her.
"We could have pizza delivered to my house, and we could discuss our plans for the apple festival float," Sugarberry suggested.
"What apple festival?" Tabby asked.
"You haven't told her about it yet?" queried Sugarberry of Thomas.
"There might be more important things I would want to discuss with my wife," Thomas responded. Then to Tabby, he explained, "The Bushwoolies are sponsoring a day of celebration centering around the apple."
"Fun, yeah, food."
"And we get to make floats for the parade," Elaine added.
"Won't this be fun?" squealed Sugarberry. "It will be the biggest thing to hit Dream Valley since your wedding," she directed to the couple across the table.
The two unicorns exchanged a tender smile, and Tabby leaned her head against Thomas' shoulder. "The wedding was fun, wasn't it?"
"It was great!" Elaine grinned. "Who would have such an exciting wedding but you two?"
"And Merry Moments did a wonderful job photographing the entire day, didn't she?" Sugarberry commented. "You have beautiful memories, I'm sure."
"That cake was scrumptious." Tabby thought back to the heavily-frosted piece of art which had tasted divine.
"And the bride was beautiful," Thomas added.
Elaine rolled her eyes. "Oh, aren't you the sweetie," she teased.
"Speaking of which," Thomas replied, "Toby just came in."
Groaning, Elaine tried to make herself invisible, but the purple stallion caught sight of her immediately and came to join the group.
"Hi, everyone," he said, but his eyes rested on Elaine. "What's up?" He pulled up a chair from a neighboring table.
So the Bushwoolie event was revealed once more, and Toby thought it sounded like a good idea. "We should have enough interest in it at the hospital that we can come up with a float, too."
"That would be great!" Sugarberry agreed, but then frowned. "But sick apples wouldn't look too appealing."
"A-peel-ing apples, Sugarberry?" tittered Tabby. Everyone laughed.
"So, what does everyone think about coming over to my place for supper and Apple Festival planning?" asked Sugarberry.
"I'm in," Elaine said, preferring company to being alone with Toby.
"Food, yeah," said Friendly.
"Tabby, what do you think?" Thomas looked to his wife for her input.
"Sure," she decided. "It'll be like old times-- supper at Sugarberry's."
Sugarberry looked at Toby. "Well, Toby. How about you?"
"I'd love to," he grinned, draping his foreleg across the back of Elaine's chair. Elaine responded by standing up. "I'll call for the pizzas right now, and they they'll be delivered faster," she said, heading off for the telephone in the corner.
"Reminds me a little of Tabby when you first came to town," Sugarberry observed to Toby, watching Elaine cross the room. "Skittish."
"What do you mean by that?" snapped Tabby, her eyes flashing.
Toby chuckled. "I liked your spirit when I first met you, Tabby; I didn't know that Thomas had his sights set on you. A lot has happened since then, hasn't it?" He fell silent, thinking back to the friendship that had developed between him and Tiffany, and its eventual demise.
Elaine returned to the table with the news that the pizza was taken care of, so the crew moved out of the shop and on to Sugarberry's house. There they found Wigwam, Chocolate Chip and her brother, Wishbone, who was now attending Pony Pride University and living at Sugarberry's, too.
A casual remark from Chocolate Chip over the summer about how nice it would be to have her brother nearby had gotten Sugarberry thinking about the possibility of him staying in one of the finished rooms in the basement that she used for storage. That plan had been readily embraced by Chocolate Chip, and with a little help from Wigwam and Butch, they have cleaned and painted and prepared the room. Chocolate Chip added some decorative touches, and the room became a cozy bedroom and study for Wishbone who was happy to get a place away from campus. So Wishbone, when not at classes, playing sports, working in the stockroom at Pony-Mart, or on a date with Snowdrift, was a new face in Sugarberry's household.
Chocolate Chip was just removing a cherry dessert from the oven when the rest of the ponies walked in. "Oh!" exclaimed Tabby happily. "It's one of those disgustingly sweet cake-and-cherry things, isn't it? I love those!"
"I must have known you were coming," laughed Chocolate Chip.
As the plates and sodas were set out on the counter, the news of the apple festival was shared with the new additions to the party; and everyone began offering ideas for the floats.
"Wigwam," suggested Wishbone, "all you have to do is set up a slot machine that rings up three apples to spill the prize."
"Cool!" squealed Chocolate Chip. "And when the three apples come up, the 'prize' will be candy tossed to the foals watching the parade!'
"It just might work," agreed Wigwam.
"And I still think the hospital should have sick apples that somehow plump up and get all healthy again," stated Sugarberry.
"That would work for the vet clinic, too, you know," Toby responded.
"No," Elaine contradicted. "Our float needs animals on it."
"You're all missing the obvious choice for the hospital," Thomas interjected. "I'd go with 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away'."
"This is supposed to drum up business," complained Toby with a grin, "not drive it away."
"I wonder if there are any apple Pokèmon," mused Tabby.
A knock on the door alerted the ponies to the arrival of the pizzas, and parade talk was abandoned momentarily as they all loaded their plates with the aromatic food. Fluff and Raptor waited patiently for some kind soul to share a ration of food with them.
"What float are the Bushwoolies going to make?" Elaine asked of Friendly.
After finishing a bite of pizza, Friendly replied, "Secret, yeah, yeah."
"No fair," complained Tabby. "You've got to tell us, Friendly."
But the blue furry creature just continued devouring his food.
"Will Pony Pride be allowed to enter a float?" questioned Chocolate Chip.
"Yeah. Sure. Good," Friendly mumbled with a mouthful of pizza.
"Oh, yeah, this will be fun," Wishbone's eyes lit up with an idea. "We'll have to get Prime and Chip involved as soon as possible."
"What's your big plan?" queried Wigwam. But Wishbone followed suit from the Bushwoolie, and refused to give any details.
Talk moved on to starting point of the parade on the big day and the course it would follow through town. The Bushwoolies had already planned on carnival rides and food booths to be set up at the park, and once the posters were available on Saturday, the preparations would swing into full gear. By the time the meeting dispersed, the ponies were as excited as the Bushwoolie over the upcoming apple festival.
* * *
There was a run on crepe paper, glue, poster board, and duct tape in the days following the release of the Bushwoolie's posters announcing the Great Apple Festival. Most of the organizations in Dream Valley thought it was an excellent idea to build community spirit and generate new business in the area. Spirits were high as ponies worked on their floats, and a great number of secret projects were guarded zealously.
Sugarberry, Elaine, and Thomas spent any free time working on their entry for the parade. Due to a lack of creativity, they had gotten a late start on their float and had to play catch-up. "And I thought this was going to be fun," complained Sugarberry as they spent another late night constructing paper-mache animals.
"Toby says that the hospital's entry is finished already," Elaine supplied with a sigh.
"Well, if it's any consolation, Tabby's Pokèmon float is coming along as slowly as ours,"
Thomas offered. "I wish she was still a vet here; then we'd be spending this time together instead of apart." He looked wistfully in the direction of the Pokèmon Center.
Sugarberry seized the opportunity to suggest calling it quits for the night. "Let's go over to see how she's doing!"
"Yes," agreed Elaine with a yawn. "I need a rest."
Thomas didn't argue, and soon the three of them were on their way. They had just rounded the corner when they saw Tabby coming toward them. Thomas greeted her with a hug. "Ready for a strawberry sundae?" he queried.
"You have to ask?" she responded with a grin. "I'm famished!"
Entering the shop, they found it crowded with ponies and Bushwoolies all discussing the coming apple festival. Toby was sitting with Snuzzle, but he quickly came to Elaine and guided her back to an empty seat at their table. Elaine threw a helpless look at her friends, but she received only an array of heartless grins in return.
Most of the other tables were filled; only Driftwood was sitting alone as if waiting for someone. He waved a hoof in their direction. "Come sit over here if you'd like," he offered. Tabby, Sugarberry, and Thomas accepted the offer, and were soon comfortably seated with their ice cream treats before them.
"You were working late on the apple festival projects, I presume?" he asked, glancing at each of the ponies in turn.
"What else?" replied Sugarberry. "I had no idea it would involve this much effort."
"Things are going better with my float," Tabby confided, "now that Chansey and Mr. Mime have taken over most of the work."
"No fair!" accused Sugarberry. "At the rate Mr. Mime works, they'll have it finished in no time!"
"I've told you any number of times that you should catch a Pokèmon, Sug," Tabby responded.
"Maybe you could lend us a few of yours, Tabby," Thomas suggested.
Just then, Hydrangea joined them, sitting next to Driftwood who acknowledged her arrival with a happy smile. "I was getting worried about you," he said.
"Flower Bouquet and I were just finishing up the float," the charming blue mare reported.
"Finishing?" groaned Sugarberry. "And I suppose it's perfect."
"Well, we are rather proud of it," Hydrangea admitted. "The Café Carousel has high standards, you know; Flower Bouquet would have it no other way."
"My standards are dropping by the minute," admitted Sugarberry as she rubbed her tired hooves. Catching sight of Wigwam and Chocolate Chip, she pushed her chair back. "I'm going to call it a night, you guys."
"Us too," Thomas agreed, helping Tabby to her feet. As an afterthought, he added, "I wonder if Elaine will mind if we leave her in Toby's care?" He looked undecided.
"She's fine," Tabby commented, drawing her husband to the door. "She's old enough to find her own way home."
"You're cruel, Tabby," Sugarberry reprimanded her as Chocolate Chip came up.
"Am not," Tabby shot back as she and Thomas disappeared out the door.
"What's up?" Chocolate Chip asked.
"Nothing," Sugarberry smiled as she noticed that Elaine did seem to be enjoying herself. "May I walk home with you and Wigwam?"
"Ah, the company of two beautiful mares!" Wigwam beamed as he approached. "What more could a stallion ask for?"
But the ratio was brought back in line as Wishbone ran up to his sister once they were out on the path toward Sugarberry's house. "Hey, Sis, can you work with me on some of these math problems tonight?" He held up the textbook for her to see.
Chocolate Chip sighed, but agreed to help her brother. "What kind of problems are they?"
So as those two discussed math, Wigwam and Sugarberry dropped back to talk about other subjects.
"What have you heard from Vanguard?" Wigwam asked.
Now it was Sugarberry's time to sigh. "Same old."
"Lighten up. He'll be home before you know it."
"The mind can grasp that, but not the heart," Sugarberry responded. "I'm glad for this apple festival of the Bushwoolies to keep me occupied."
"What about your writing? Aren't you working on a new book?"
"Sporadically," Sugarberry confessed. "I thought it would be a good time to get a lot done while Vanguard was out of town, but moping isn't conducive to story ideas."
"So, stop moping," suggested Wigwam.
"Bottle a cure, and you'll make millions," she retorted.
Once home, Chocolate Chip and Wigwam sat at the kitchen table tutoring Wishbone while Sugarberry straightened up the house. She ended up staring out the living room window at the shadowy darkness, dreaming of the country blue stallion that had captured her heart.
"A jangle for your thoughts," softly voiced Wigwam as he came into the room.
Sugarberry turned, stating, "They're worth a lot more than that." She smiled at the stallion, then turned serious. "What do you think of Giorgio now that you've had a chance to see him around campus?"
"Well, I don't have him for my calculus class, but I hear he's good. Chocolate Chip thinks he's a genius."
"So he's a good teacher, but what kind of pony is he?"
Wigwam evaded the question. "The students seem to think he's a neat guy."
Chocolate Chip and Wishbone dragged through the doorway. "I'm beat," Chocolate Chip said. "I can't face another mathematical problem tonight."
"And what about you, Wishbone? Are you ready for the test tomorrow?" Sugarberry asked sympathetically.
Wishbone grimaced. "If I can retain everything that Chocky explained tonight, I'll do okay. But something tells me it's hopeless."
Sugarberry felt so sorry for him that she gave him a gentle hug. "Just get a good night's sleep, and it will all make sense in the morning." She silently hoped she was right.
"Thanks, Mom." Wishbone's playful character surfaced for a moment. "I appreciate your confidence in me." With a wave of his hoof to all present, he wished them goodnight and went of to his room. Wigwam, too, soon departed homeward.
When alone with Sugarberry, Chocolate Chip expressed her concern over her brother's tribulation. "I wish Giorgio would never have okayed Wishbone for the higher level math course," she ranted. "His grades have always been good, but he has to work hard to stay on top of any new concepts."
"But surely Giorgio wouldn't have approved it if Wishbone's test scores didn't indicate sufficient understanding."
"I'd like to see those test scores," Chocolate Chip fretted. "He basically allowed my brother to skip a semester, and that's why he's so lost now."
"But why would Giorgio permit it unless he thought Wishbone could handle it?" Sugarberry argued.
"Vanguard never would have approved it if he were in charge!" Chocolate Chip countered.
"Maybe because Vanguard would have had your wise counsel to steer him in the right direction," Sugarberry smiled, hoping to dispel the worry that furrowed Chocolate Chip's brow.
"Well, maybe that would have helped." Chocolate Chip softened a bit. "But I still think that Wishbone should drop the course, and he won't even consider it." After a pause, she added, "I think he's trying to keep up to me, but he won't admit that he can't do it in math."
"Let's see how the test goes tomorrow," Sugarberry advised. "Maybe Wishbone will surprise you; and if not, then maybe he'll be more open to dropping it."
Giving Sugarberry a quick hug, Chocolate Chip smiled. "Thanks for seeing it rationally. Maybe now I can get some sleep. G'night, Sugarberry."
Left alone, Sugarberry herself got ready for bed. Before crawling under the covers which were already occupied by Fluff and Raptor, she stood in the dark room and shivered. The mention of Giorgio in tonight's conversation with Chocolate Chip had renewed that feeling of dread which surrounded Sugarberry whenever she was faced with this unwelcome stallion. What if Chocolate Chip is right, and Giorgio isn't doing a good job at Pony Pride? she wondered to herself. What kind of a mess will Vanguard find when he gets back?
Climbing into bed, she inadvertently caused both Fluff and Raptor to fall unceremoniously to the floor. Coaxing them back over their wounded pride, she was finally able to fall asleep to the gentle rhythm of their soothing purrs. Once the mare was asleep, Raptor sat up suddenly as if he had to take over Sugarberry's worry for her where she had left off, his ears and eyes alert, while Fluff only stretched out to claim more of the available space. Many minutes passed before the feline once more deemed the nighttime safe, and curling himself into a tight ball, fell into a motionless sleep.
* * *
Several days later, Chocolate Chip, coming home in the early evening and letting herself in the front door, heard the sound of laughter and voices in the kitchen. Wondering who would be in such good humor, she stepped into the doorway of the kitchen to find Sugarberry and Driftwood surrounded by dirty pots and pans and bowls, and an aromatic smell coming from the oven. "What's going on here?" she asked in surprise.
The two bakers looked in her direction, and grinned. "Just what we need... a guinea pig!" quipped Driftwood, sending Sugarberry into another spontaneous giggle.
"Driftwood is trying out some new apple-based recipes to introduce at the Estate Manor for the apple festival; and if they turn out, they'll be included in his book, too," Sugarberry explained.
Chocolate Chip crossed the room, and looked closely at the two ponies; both had flour splotches not only on their aprons but also on their faces and in their manes. "It looks like you had a flour fight," she commented, rubbing the worst of it off Sugarberry's nose. Exchanging a telling glance with Driftwood, Sugarberry giggled yet again. "I guess that means yes," Chocolate Chip surmised.
The buzzer on the stove rang, and Driftwood hurried to remove the latest culinary masterpiece from the oven, placing in on the counter next to several other contestants. "Now, Chocolate Chip, we have here an assortment of pastries that have never before been enjoyed by any pony," Driftwood announced. "Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to impartially partake of a small piece of each and then share with us your opinions, whether good or bad." He proceeded to cut a portion of the first item and put in on a plate, repeating with each of the other desserts. Sugarberry handed her a fork.
"Aren't you guys going to eat, too?" Chocolate Chip asked suspiciously, poking the fork through the crumbly topping and spicy filling as if expecting something disgusting to come popping out at her. Driftwood appeared a mite too cocky, and Sugarberry seemed a bit too giddy for Chocolate Chip's comfort.
"Actually, I've been snitching too much to want to try any right now," Sugarberry admitted. "Maybe later."
Driftwood pulled a chair out from the table, inviting Chocolate Chip to have a seat. "You must make yourself comfortable while you savor the subtle blends of fruit, pastry, and spices; let the flavors speak to your taste buds; listen to the distinctive essence of each individual ingredient, and make a wise choice as to your favorite combination of enhancements."
Slipping into the pro-offered chair, Chocolate Chip took a tentative nibble of the first dessert and found it very good. "Yummy," she affirmed.
"Yummy?" Driftwood queried. "Yummy isn't in my vocabulary. Can you be more specific?"
Chocolate Chip took another bite and chewed it thoughtfully. "It's quite good," she finally offered, "but nothing out of the ordinary-- it's too much like plain old apple pie."
In mock irritation, Driftwood countered. "You dare criticize my concoction?"
Getting on the defensive, Chocolate Chip retorted, "You said to..."
"He's just trying to aggravate you. Don't let him succeed," Sugarberry advised. "Try the next piece."
Chocolate Chip's reaction to the second entry was more thoughtful. "This is different," she stated, trying to identify the unique flavor. "It's an unusual blend of flavors, but very tasty." She took a second bite, and closed her eyes. "I can almost catch what it is, but... " She finally gave up. "Other than apples, what's in it?"
"Can't tell," Driftwood maintained. "It's a secret ingredient known only to me and to my assistant here." Sugarberry giggled and shrugged her shoulders.
Going through the remaining items, Chocolate Chip came back to the second sample she had tried. "This one was the best," she verified.
"Well, it was the most unusual," Sugarberry grinned at Driftwood.
"So tell me what was in it," Chocolate Chip requested.
"And have my invention copied and imitated in every eating establishment in Dream Valley by the day of the festival? I think not!" declared Driftwood.
"But I wouldn't tell anyone!" begged the chocolate brown pony. "Sugarberry, what was it?" She turned to the mare, who only shook her head.
"Sorry, Chocolate Chip, but Driftwood put me under oath to not reveal any of his confidences."
The back door opened now as Wishbone arrived home. "Smells good in here!" he exclaimed, coming into the kitchen with a rapt expression on his face.
Driftwood immediately commandeered the young stallion for another taste test. Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip started washing the towering stacks of dirty dishes while listening to the comments made by Wishbone as he tasted generous helpings of the entire array of products.
"The second one," was his final decision.
"Why?" Driftwood wasn't going to let him get by that easily.
"Why?" Wishbone echoed. "Because it tasted the best."
"Aren't you the one that hopes to join his family's restaurant business some day?" Driftwood interrogated with a serious expression on his face.
"Well, yes... "
"And yet you can't identify the particular essence that makes one food item stand out from another?"
"What can you expect... he'll eat anything!" Chocolate Chip quipped from the background.
Wishbone frowned at his sister, and to Driftwood stated, "It was unique, whatever it was."
Driftwood sighed and shook his head. "Amateurs, all of you!" He then grabbed a dish towel, and went to work helping the girls while Wishbone retired to his room to study.
"So are you going to go with the unanimous choice?" Sugarberry asked of the stallion.
He grinned. "I'll run it by a few more ponies before I make a final decision, but it looks like it will be the winner. Now I have to come up with a main course that features apples. A salad isn't that difficult, nor is a bread product, but I want an all-apple menu choice."
"The Bushwoolies might have some old family recipes," suggested Sugarberry.
"You know, you might be on to something there," Driftwood replied. "I'll have to go visit the Bushwoolie holes. Want to come along, Sugarberry?"
"I haven't been out that way in ages," the mare responded. "Sure, if nothing else is going on when you decide to go."
"How about tomorrow evening then?" asked Driftwood. "We can't put it off as the festival is almost here."
"It works for me," confirmed Sugarberry with a smile, grateful that the vet clinic float was nearly completed due to the artistic talents of several of the Xtreme Ponies who had volunteered to help.
It took what seemed like forever to get through the dirty dishes; and once the last pan had been put away, the leftover food was divided between the two cooks; and Driftwood left with his share neatly packaged. He had no sooner quitted the house when Chocolate Chip came down on Sugarberry.
"Since when are you and Driftwood so buddy-buddy?"
"He started coming to the writers' meeting during the summer," Sugarberry illuminated.
"And now he's part of the family?" Chocolate Chip interrogated.
"Well, I did know him years ago. He used to date Raspberry when she was in high school."
"He dated your sister?"
Chocolate Chip looked closely at Sugarberry. "There's more." The mare ignored the remark, but the filly was obstinate. "What happened? Did he drop her for you?"
"No, he did not. Raspberry dropped him, if anything. But later, he and I were both in vocational school at the same time. He was older, of course, but had just gotten interested in the restaurant business, so had gone back to school. I was in secretarial training myself."
"Rather snoopy you are, Chocolate Chip!"
"I'm curious, that's all."
Sugarberry though for awhile before continuing. "We kind-of... sort-of... dated." She found it difficult to say the words.
"Kind-of, sort-of? That's real definitive."
"I always considered him Raspberry's friend," Sugarberry explained. "When he'd be at our house with Raspberry, he'd torment Tabby and me something fierce. He'd have me giggling all the time at his antics, but Tabby would get upset with him... the situations he'd have our My Little People dolls get into!"
"So he was a lot of fun."
"Yes. Always the jokester. I think that's why Raspberry gave up on him."
"But he was older when you got re-acquainted at school. What was he like by then?"
Sugarberry grinned. "Not much better. He was still hung-up on tormenting me mercilessly or making me laugh-- the characteristic big brother type. He had lots of other friends, so his attention was sporadic; but he was always amusing when he was around."
"What about the years between vocational school and now?"
"We went our separate ways, and were busy with our own lives. Our paths didn't cross much, even after he took over the Estate Manor. But his interest in publishing a cookbook brought him to a writers' meeting, and he asked my advice on a few things, so I'm helping him out. He wants to include humorous anecdotes about cooking in the book as well as recipes."
"Does Vanguard know about him?"
"Of course he does," immediately answered Sugarberry. "We all talked at the wedding reception."
"Uh-huh," nodded Chocolate Chip. "But does he know you dated the guy?"
"I told you I didn't really date Driftwood, and besides, what difference does it make? I'm sure Vanguard dated any number of fillies before I met him."
"That reminds me," Chocolate Chip reflected. "Who did Wigwam date when you were all in high school?"
"Not me, if that's what you're getting at."
"I didn't keep tabs on him, but I think at one time he was hung up on Ribbon."
"What did he do after high school?"
"I don't really recall. He obviously went to school for a time, but I don't know where. He just seemed to disappear there for a few years."
"That's odd," speculated Chocolate Chip. Then, as if remembering something, she exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! I forgot I have to write an outline for an English paper!" And she scampered out of the room.
Left on her own, Sugarberry did some more straightening of the kitchen as she recollected her time attending Greener Pastures Technical School. She had stayed behind in Dream Valley when her parents had left for Berryville, and she had juggled a part-time job with classes. Driftwood's enthusiastic outlook on life had helped soften Sugarberry's serious attitude which had become even more pronounced with Tabby away at college in Italy.
Raptor came to the reminiscing pony and stood up against her foreleg, begging for a snack. Sugarberry responded by feeding both Raptor and Fluff, and then she spent some time brushing them both after which she devoted several hours to the computer and the story line that was beginning to fall into place before calling it a day.
* * *
The Great Apple Festival finally arrived, and the towns ponies were exhilarated. The weather cooperated by providing a clear, sunny day with summer-like temperatures and just a hint of a breeze. The town adopted a party atmosphere amidst the bustling activity of last minute details and changes. Main Street was decorated with the Ponyland flag flying from every available vantage point; and in the park stood the glittering carnival rides. Food booths were already busy preparing tempting treats featuring apples: apple donuts, apple fritters, apple pudding, apple cider... apple everything.
The parade was scheduled to begin at ten-thirty, but many had already been moved into position. Sugarberry and Elaine stole some moments to get a preliminary view of the competition. Some of the floats were simply done while others were extravagantly decorated; all of them were paying homage in one way or another to the apple. Tex's giant red pepper made entirely from brilliant red apples showed up like a guiding beacon; Lemon Treats Boutique was tastefully done with a display of apparel and accessories all with the apple theme and interlaced with delicate garlands of apple blossoms-- these due to the magical power of Flower Belle.
Driftwood's Estate Manor float had a lavish medieval banquet in progress-- complete with a paper-mache pig with a vibrant red apple in its mouth. A horde of college students including many of the Sweetheart Sisters and the Brilliant Brothers were dressed in appropriate costumes in vibrant colors; at the back of the float was attached a placard-- No pigs were injured in the construction of this float. Sugarberry giggled as she saw Driftwood's sense of humor at work. Wigwam's Casino was as Wishbone had originally suggested-- a giant slot machine with Tiny the Bigfoot at the handle. Even Spike was there with an entry for the eighties museum that he and Tabby shared.
There was so much going on and so much to see, but Elaine and Sugarberry had to return to the vet clinic where Thomas, Cliff, Jet, and Luge were preparing the float for moving. They had encountered some unforeseen problems with the cart base that carried the float, but these had finally been resolved; the float was now taken to its position between Driftwood's and Brightblade's.
"It looks great," Sugarberry commented. "Cliff... Luge... Jet... we are truly grateful for all the help you and the rest of the Xtreme Ponies gave us on this!" They all stood back to survey their work.
The float consisted of a large paper-mache apple tree, laden with green leaves and luscious fruit hanging from the branches. On the ground surrounding the tree rested hoof-sculpted representatives of the animal kingdom including a collie, a family of rabbits, and several small mice. And at first glance, that seemed to be all. But after closer scrutiny, one would notice a serious Siamese sitting alertly on one of the lower branches and a fat angora curled up asleep in a fork of the tree; other branches contained a playful Maine coon, and an elegant Bombay. The tree was literally crawling with lifelike cats, thanks to the expertise of the Xtreme Ponies.
"Yes," Elaine added. "We wouldn't have been able to do it without you!"
"Dude!" Cliff responded with the typical answer. Luge only smiled and Jet gave a thumbs-up signal.
The school bands were practicing in an open field behind the staging area, presenting a cacophony that grated the auditory sense. Foals dressed in apple costumes, obviously from the School of Dance, were accompanied by their parents to the point of assembly.
"Did you hear yet what entry the Bushwoolies came up with?" Thomas asked.
"No, not a word," admitted Sugarberry. "Which reminds me, I could certainly go for an apple-flavored woolie cake right now!"
"There's time before the parade starts," suggested Thomas. "Let's go find their stand and get one for each of us. Besides, I'd like to run by Tabby's float to see how it's holding up."
Going off again, the three ponies soon came across the Pokèmon Center's unique production: an apple blossom petal-formed figure of Chansey, the pink egg-shaped Pokèmon, with a brilliant rose-petal apple just peaking out of the pocket on her tummy. Flower Belle, with her magical power of conjuring up flowers, had been one of the most sought after ponies in Dream Valley during the course of the preceding weeks as every business and organization in the city had designed and crafted a float that not only conveyed its advertising but also applauded the beauty and versatility of apples.
The large, fragrant image of Chansey was zealously guarded by the Chanseys that worked with Tabby at the Pokèmon Center. Tabby herself was standing in relative awe of the impressive figure. "It's gorgeous!" Sugarberry complimented her friend. "I knew Mr. Mime would do a good job with it! And it's neat that you used rose petals to make the apple since apples are members of the rose family."
"They are?" said Tabby.
"It's all so delicate," Elaine observed. "And yet so real."
"I'm just glad that the wind isn't blowing too hard," stated Tabby. "But right now, I'm hungry!"
"Our sentiments exactly," laughed Thomas. "We're heading for the Bushwoolies' food booth for some woolie cakes."
Arriving at the site of the food alley, the ponies found the area busy serving all the mouth-watering apple edibles imaginable. "Which one is the Bushwoolies'?" asked Elaine, peering through the mass of creatures milling about the place.
"They were supposed to be next to Tex's apple salsa booth which is under the big elm tree," Sugarberry replied, leading the way. When they got to the wooden station set up for the Bushwoolies, however, they found the place vacant.
"Where is everybody?" queried Tabby. "I want my woolie cake!"
"There's not a Bushwoolie in sight," commented Elaine.
"Come to think of it," Thomas said, "I haven't seen a Bushwoolie all morning."
"That's odd," murmured Sugarberry. "They were more excited about this festival than anyone. You don't think something's happened to them, do you?" A worried expression appeared on Sugarberry's face as she imagined the worst.
"Maybe they didn't get their float finished on time," speculated Tabby, searching for a suitable substitute for a woolie cake.
"There's Princess Dawn and Perry; maybe they'll know something about them," suggested Elaine. The princess ponies were to act as judges for the entrants in the parade. But when asked, Princess Dawn was not able to shed much light on the situation, either. All she knew was that the Bushwoolies had delivered a list of the floats and the sequence in which they would appear to the Paradise Estate late the evening before, and all seemed to be in good order at that time.
"Maybe we should check the Bushwoolie holes," proposed Sugarberry. "If something is wrong, they might need help."
"Perry, why don't you and Thomas check them out?" Dawn took charge of the situation. "The rest of us will keep looking here in town, and meet you back at the staging ground."
Looking at his watch, Perry added, "The parade is scheduled to start in twenty minutes! We'd better move fast, Thomas!"
As the two stallions took off in the direction of the Bushwoolie holes, Sugarberry, Tabby, Elaine, and Princess Dawn split up to cover as much area as possible in their search for the missing Bushwoolies. Around every corner, Sugarberry expected to see one of the exuberant furballs, but none came in sight. Oh, to hear a "Yeah, yeah," she thought sadly.
Coming across Driftwood as she neared the parade line-up, she fell into step beside him. "Where could they be?" she worried.
"Some ponies think that they just worked so hard getting ready for the big day that they overslept!" offered Driftwood. "Can't you just see it now... all those bright furry bodies nestled together in a big heap, sleeping so soundly that they don't know it's time for the parade!"
The thought did make Sugarberry smile, and she admitted that it was a possible explanation; but at that moment, Thomas and Perry returned from the holes and reported that there was no sign of any of the Bushwoolies, big or small, inside of or outside of the burrowed homes.
By this time, even Chief Tawny was becoming concerned. "We'll have to organize a search party..." But his words were cut off as shouts of "Here they come!" and "There they are now!" echoed through the crowd.
Sure enough, if one listened closely, one could hear the excited and jubilant chatter of many, many Bushwoolies off in the distance. As they came closer, a path opened before them; the woolie creatures moved in a giant company of all ages and sizes, and each of them was holding... a frothy root beer float! The congregation of colored fur advanced to take their place at the head of the parade among cheers from those watching.
"Hey! And they are right on time!" Driftwood observed. "But I wonder how they worked their own self-declared apple theme into this 'float'?"
"Look!" exclaimed Sugarberry as the last of the Bushwoolies passed by, and the back sides of the last row were visible marching down the street. On each Bushwoolie was a sign: Apple Juice Floats, Yeah, Yeah!
The other floats fell into line behind the tumultuous cavalcade that led the parade. Tabby, Elaine, and Thomas joined up with Sugarberry and Driftwood as the kaleidoscopic creations moved one after the other in blithe procession. The floats maneuvered under the power of the Grundles who had kindly agreed for the duty, so those who had worked on building the odd variety of entries now had the pleasure of standing back to see their handiwork pass by.
The Corral, an upscale motel on the edge of town, was in line immediately following the Bushwoolies. The colossal apple that was the center of the float was obviously a worm lodging; in random fashion, the doors that were scattered over the surface of the apple would open, and a cutsie little worm with a big grin would stick his head out.
Tabby shuddered. "I hate worms!" And as Driftwood had never heard the story of Tex's ill-fated prank on Tabby back in fourth grade, he was enlightened as the marching band from Dream Valley High School pranced by.
"Ohh..." groaned Sugarberry. "Those big drums booming away always make me feel all queasy inside."