It was the day after Thanksgiving. Tabby and Sugarberry had taken advantage of the holiday atmosphere to leave their spouses behind and embark on a shopping expedition of their own; this found the two mares at Hayton where existed the largest shopping center in the land: The Mall of Ponyland.
Bedazzled by the sheer number of shops, Sugarberry stood inside the extravaganza open-mouthed. Beside her, Tabby, with Faline in her forelegs, took stock of their position. "There's a map, Sug; let's check it out!"
Soon, the mares and foal had verified their location and found the direction in which they needed to go to get to the book store Sugarberry was searching for. "It should be down the aisle to our right," Sugarberry noted, "unless it's on the second level."
"Oh. Okay," said Tabby. "But look at that display of sparkly things," she gasped in delight, changing her direction to make a beeline for the kiosk. Sugarberry had no recourse except to follow.
"Interesting," said Sugarberry, surveying the merchandise with a critical eye.
"What was the name of that book store that Chocolate Chip told us about?" Tabby suddenly asked, remembering that the purpose for this trip was to find gifts for the two mates involved: Thomas and Vanguard.
"Do you remember seeing it on the map?"
"Oh! Look! A toy store!" Tabby went directly to the brightly stocked business, with Sugarberry following behind.
"Faline doesn't need any more toys," the strawberry-patterned mare remarked to her friend.
"I didn't say anything about Faline," Tabby winked. "I was talking about me. Besides, Spike also told me to look for the latest Star Wars, and..." Tabby prattled on while Faline stared in wonder at the sights and sounds around her.
Soon all three of the girls were looking over the dolls, and Tabby squealed in delight. "The short-packed Katerina doll! I haven't seen it in Dream Valley yet at all!" She grabbed the My Little People doll and literally danced in the aisle, causing her little daughter to giggle in delight.
"What about the Ben doll?" Sugarberry questioned. "Do they have him?" She hunted through the rows of boxes. Coming back to reality, Tabby joined in the hunt; yet it was Faline who reached out a hoof and knocked the Ben doll to the floor.
"It's him!" Sugarberry squealed almost as exuberantly as Tabby had. "Isn't he so cute?"
Tabby rolled her eyes. "Sure, Sugarberry."
The mares continued their way throughout the store, finding a plush white kitten for Faline. Even Sugarberry thought that the foal could never have too many soft and cuddly animal friends; but she also realized they had gotten off track. "We have something for ourselves but nothing for our husbands," she mentioned to Tabby.
"Oh, right. But I still have no idea what to get Thomas. What do you think he would like?"
"How about a book on the history of Dream Valley; he seems to be really hung up on that-- like you and Atlantis."
"No. He's already got books. I want something... special. And interesting."
"Get him a bamboo shoot; they're hot this year."
"Hmm..." Tabby considered this. "Maybe, but it would freeze before we got home. Besides, it's not... interesting enough."
"Well, you should see something here before we're through," sighed Sugarberry, staring down the row of shops. The girls continued on their way until they hit an interesting looking outlet.
"It's got guy stuff," Tabby remarked, peering down the rows of electrical gadgets and fishing gear, cart supplies and repair kits. "How boring." Faline yawned as well.
"Oh, my. This stuff is boring," Sugarberry agreed after browsing through the first aisle. "Let's get out of here." The ponies continued their quest from store to store, finding nothing promising; the mall was crowded with shoppers, and even walking was difficult.
"I'm thirsty," complained Tabby as the hour neared lunchtime. "Where can we get something to drink?"
"And eat; I'm starving."
The mares finally located a food court and were fortunate enough to find a table at which to sit. Faline, who had fallen asleep with all the walking, opened her eyes and let her mom know that she, too, was hungry. A bottle of milk was quickly supplied for the foal who settled down in contented pleasure. Tabby and Sugarberry fell upon their food as if they had not eaten in days.
All too soon, the shoppers had finished their lunch and set out once more on their expedition; Faline was satisfied to watch the bright lights and motion around her as she moved along in her mother's or Sugarberry's forelegs, while the mares kept a sharp watch for anything of interest.
"Oh, Tabby, look at the winter hats and mufflers in the window; don't they look warm and snug?"
"Whatever." The unicorn followed Sugarberry without excitement.
"Feel how soft they are! And look at all the colors!"
"They're too bright."
Sugarberry wrinkled her brow. "I think you're right." She did not notice the sigh of relief that Tabby took; the unicorn was one of the few ponies who knew that Vanguard had commissioned Clare to design a special ensemble for his wife as a Christmas gift.
"Let's go." Tabby turned and was on her way out, but Sugarberry could not tear herself away from the display.
"The white one would do," she stated, holding the softly knit fabric to her cheek.
"You're too white already," Tabby pointed out, knowing full well that Vanguard had specifically requested a white set with tiny strawberries woven into the design.
Sugarberry placed the soft, warm scarf back on the display and started to walk away, but it seemed to call to her. She went back and picked up both the hat and the muffler.
"You're making a bad decision," warned Tabby. "You just bought a new set last year, didn't you?"
"Put it back, Sug. I have to find something for Thomas, remember?"
"Come on." Tabby grabbed Sugarberry's foreleg and dragged her out of the store. "We'll run out of time if we spend all day looking at dumb old scarves."
Sugarberry scowled and pouted. "I don't see that looking at my stuff took any longer than looking at your sparkly things."
"Because Thomas doesn't already have a sparkly thing for me for Christmas like Va... I mean, not really because sparkly things are cooler than scarves and all that... " she trailed off miserably.
"Are you saying that Vanguard has already gotten me a muffler and hat set?"
"I didn't say that!"
"You insinuated it."
"I was babbling; let's just get moving so I can find Thomas something cool."
Sugarberry had no recourse except to follow Tabby and Faline; her thoughts were busy trying to recall Tabby's exact words; did she really know what Vanguard had gotten her for Christmas or was she just bluffing? With Tabby, it was sometimes hard to tell.
"There's the book store!" Sugarberry visibly brightened. "Now, once I find the book, I'll have had a successful day."
"Don't rub it in; I still haven't seen anything for Thomas."
"I still think you should have gotten him that bronze dragon door knocker; it would have gone well with your front door."
"Since when has Thomas been into bronze dragon door knockers?"
"Here, you take Faline while I check on the book I want." Sugarberry transferred the tiny pink bundle to Tabby and disappeared in the direction of the counter. Tabby began perusing a My Little People price guide that happened to be prominently featured on a display stand.
"Yes, we do still have a copy of that book left," the pony at the counter informed Sugarberry. "I'll show you where you can find it." Sugarberry followed the employee toward the center of the store and watched with a frown as the pony searched the shelves. "It was right here this morning..."
"Do you think someone else bought it?" questioned Sugarberry worriedly. The book in question was a large leather bound volume on the history of mathematics.
"I don't remember seeing it come through, but we have been awfully busy." She continued to search among the books while Sugarberry fretted; and looking at a pony just passing her by, she caught sight of the book she wanted for Vanguard... in the pony's hooves.
"That's mine!" she stated without thinking. "I... I... mean I was going to buy that book," she stuttered as the stallion holding the book looked at her as if she was insane.
As the stallion stared at Sugarberry, however, recognition slowly eased the look of displeasure on his face. "You're her!"
"W... who?" Sugarberry stammered as the salespony looked on in amusement.
Lifting a second book from beneath the tome that Sugarberry wanted, the stallion held a smaller book that Sugarberry instantly recognized, as it was a copy of her latest novel, Silent Are the Bells. "You wrote this book; see, here's your picture on the dust jacket." He turned it so it mirrored Sugarberry. "Will you autograph it for me?"
"I'd love to," Sugarberry smiled, temporarily forgetting what she was after. "Is this for yourself or a gift?"
"It's a gift for my fiancee; we're getting married next spring. I read the book from the library and knew Tina would like it."
"And your name...?"
As Sugarberry finished recording a note to the young couple, she again eyed the heavy leather volume still in Cadet's grasp. She gave him the signed book back and asked, "What are your plans for The History of Mathematics?"
"Oh, this? Are you interested in it? You can have it. I was just getting it as a gift for my uncle because it looks like something he'd like on his shelf, but any other leather bound will do as well. Here."
"Are you sure?" Sugarberry asked, but she took the book quickly. "I did so want to give this to my husband."
"No problem. Besides, it was worth it to get your autograph."
"Thanks, Cadet. Give me your address, and I'll send you a complimentary copy of my next book."
By the time Sugarberry had taken care of her purchase (several of the clerks wanted signed copies of her book as well), Tabby was getting impatient. "It took you long enough," she snapped, tapping her hoof menacingly. But Faline reached out her forelegs to Sugarberry, accompanied with a "Ga-ga" and a smile.
"Thanks for waiting, Tabby," Sugarberry said as she settled Faline comfortably in her forelegs, her purchase safely stashed in her backpack. "Where to next?"
"Let's try a gift shop." The pink unicorn made a dash across the center court.
Sugarberry with Faline followed as best as she could through the tangled mass of ponies in the crowded space; she was becoming concerned because Tabby had already disappeared into the store and was out of sight. If we get separated, we'll never find one another! the mare groaned, hugging Faline more tightly to her. Just then, she bumped into another mare going in the opposite direction; and as the two looked at one another to apologize, their faces broke out in huge grins.
"What are you doing here?"
"Shopping... what else?"
"And this must be Tabby and Thomas' little darling. Hi, sweetie."
"Isn't she the prettiest little thing you've ever seen?" Sugarberry smiled down at the precious pink unicorn.
"She's a beauty, all right," Chiffon agreed. "Where's her mother?"
Sugarberry winced. "She disappeared into that shop over there; I hope we catch her before she takes off looking for us. Can you come with us?"
"Sure. I'm with a group of teachers from Woodlawn; we're to meet at the coffee shop in..." she glanced at her watch, "two hours. Am I to assume that this shopping trip is a girls day out?"
"We're searching for gifts for our husbands; actually I've already found what I wanted for Vanguard, but Tabby is still looking for something for Thomas."
"You look happy enough; I guess marriage to my cousin agrees with you."
"Definitely. We've even been through our first sickness together. Have you had the flu yet?"
"Not personally, but many of the students have been out sick."
"It doesn't seem to have slowed down the shoppers."
"Yeah. I think it is even worse this year than usual."
"Are you looking for anything special?" queried Sugarberry as they slowly worked their way through the crowd.
"I know what I like when I see it," Chiffon grinned. "So far I'm empty-hooved."
They had finally made it to the shop where Sugarberry had last seen Tabby; and it was with a sigh of relief that Sugarberry saw her friend just coming from the rear of the store. "Did you find anything?"
"No. Not a thing. Hi, Chiffon."
"Hi, Tabby. Sugarberry tells me you are having a hard time shopping for your husband."
"You'd think a place this big would have something special, wouldn't you," the unicorn complained.
"We've still got lots of the mall to cover yet," Sugarberry reasoned. "You'll find something."
"Can I tag along?" asked Chiffon.
"That would be great!" Sugarberry grinned. "For starters, why don't you carry Faline; she gets heavy after awhile." The transfer having satisfactorily been made, the mares went off together.
They had not gone far when they came across a photographer's studio where ponies could have their images portrayed in the costumes of a different era. "Ooh," squealed Chiffon, "I've seen these places before, and they always looked like so much fun!"
"What is it?" Tabby asked.
Chiffon made her way into the shop with Tabby and Sugarberry trailing behind; they were greeted by the photographer, and he immediately went into his sales pitch. "Good day, ladies. Interested in having your picture taken? We've got lots of choices in time-periods."
"What? Is this a time machine or something?" queried Tabby.
The photographer looked at her suspiciously. "You've never been to one of our shops before? You have the choice to attire yourself in any of a wide variety of fashions that were popular at different times in history."
"Oh, I get it," said Tabby. "We get to dress up and have our picture taken like it is an old antique or something?"
"Let's do it!" said Sugarberry excitedly.
"What era?" asked Chiffon.
The girls began browsing through a book of costume and backdrop options, but it took awhile for all three to decide on which to use. "I want the Victorian," Sugarberry stated.
"I think a Western would be fun," Chiffon replied.
"Like Tex? No thanks!" Tabby said. "Hmm... how about ancient Greece?"
"But the Victorian is so romantic, Tabby!" Sugarberry argued.
"But check out some of the gowns they have in the Greek section. Don't they rock?"
"I want a cowboy hat!" Chiffon added.
"Well, we can't all be something different," Tabby complained. "That would clash so badly."
"Well, we have to pick something nobody wants, then," Sugarberry suggested.
"No way," Chiffon stated.
"We could take three different pictures," Tabby said. "How much do they cost, anyway?"
The salespony cut in, "We're having a special today! Two sittings, and get one free!"
"Hey, perfect!" said Tabby brightly. "Okay, girls, let's do it."
"Which one first?" asked Chiffon.
"Let's get the Western out of the way," Tabby replied. "How little do your hat sizes go?" she asked, recalling Faline.
In the dressing room, the girls wreaked havoc as they picked out their costume pieces. In the end, Chiffon settled on a traditional cowboy hat and bandana, whereas Sugarberry was attracted to the Native Pony headdress and beaded shawl. Faline ended up with a baby pony-sized cowboy hat and a bolo tie; her mother finally decided on a dance hall girl ensemble, unimpressed by her other options.
"If only Thomas could see you now!" laughed Sugarberry.
"Wait till he sees the photo!" Chiffon giggled.
The first sitting went well, and next they went with Sugarberry's Victorian setting. They each chose a matching pastel organdy hat and shawl, but each set in a different color: Sugarberry was lavender; Chiffon was yellow; Tabby was blue; and even little Faline was decked out in white. Of course, they all chose purses, parasols, and pearls to go along with their outfits.
"It's all too frilly," complained Tabby.
"Stop complaining and smile," advised Sugarberry.
For the Grecian scene, Tabby chose a shimmering purple chiton with glittering gold Greek key edging. Faline went with a similar design, but in blue. Sugarberry picked out a magenta cape trimmed with golden tassels, and a beaded headdress accented with gold laurel leaves. Chiffon wore a white pleated peplos with gold embellishments.
"That was fun," Chiffon stated.
When the sittings were over, the four left the shop with their prints; they felt very fulfilled and were very quiet over some personal daydreams: Tabby was reigning over her subjects in Grecian elegance, a scepter in hoof; Chiffon was racing across the open prairie, her mane flying in the breeze; Sugarberry was enveloped in ruffles and lace, dancing across a ballroom; and Faline was... fast asleep already.
No one said a word until they came to an art shop with paintings that rivaled reality. "Isn't this beautiful?" Sugarberry asked, honing in on a pair of cardinals on an evergreen branch on a snowy day.
Chiffon was entranced with a circle of foals dancing in a flowered meadow. "Look at the innocence on their faces!"
Moving to a wild and stormy ocean scene, Tabby shivered. "I'll bet there are giant squid in there!"
"Maybe you could get Thomas a picture for his office," Sugarberry suggested to the unicorn. "Here's a good one." She stopped in front of a cat curled up asleep on a cushion.
"No, no, no," Tabby said firmly.
"Why not?" asked Chiffon. "It's all happy and healthy looking."
"It's just not what I want."
Sugarberry shrugged her shoulders. "Whatever you say, Tabby."
The afternoon wore on with Chiffon making the only purchase since the photo shop. She found a tea pot for her mother who collected such things. Now it was time for her to meet up with her group, so Tabby, Sugarberry, and Faline accompanied her to the coffee shop.
Several of the troupe from Woodlawn had arrived already and at Chiffon's insistence, the Dream Valley ponies joined them for a cup of hot chocolate while waiting for the stragglers. "This was just great that I ran into you two," Chiffon noted. "Faline is an absolute angel." She was holding the sleeping foal.
"She is, isn't she?" Tabby agreed.
"You're parents must be delighted with her."
"That's an understatement," Sugarberry smiled. "With Tabby being an only child and Faline being the first grandchild, she's got it made. But look, she's not spoiled at all." The foal nestled closer to Chiffon and smiled in her sleep over her own dream.
"What am I going to get Thomas?" asked Tabby suddenly. "There's got to be something!"
"Get him some snowshoes," suggested Robin, one of Chiffon's bunch.
"I don't know..."
"Get two sets, one for you and one for him. You'll love it!" Robin assured her.
"You might, Tabby!" urged Sugarberry. "Vanguard went snowshoeing with Wigwam last year, remember? I'll babysit Faline while you and Thomas trek out over the hills and vales."
"I'll bet that Native Pony shop you have in Dream Valley would carry one of those cradleboards so that Faline could go right along with her parents," proposed Chiffon.
"You're right!" Sugarberry agreed. "And if she doesn't have one in stock, she'd know where to get her hooves on one!"
Tabby looked horrified. "Imagine! No, that would be completely wrong!"
* * *
"I hate it when a fun day has to come to an end," Tabby sighed as Sugarberry waved one last farewell to the departing Chiffon.
"That's for sure; it's hard to just say goodbye and walk away when there is so much to talk about."
"You'll probably see her when you and Vanguard go to Woodlawn for Christmas."
"There won't be enough time to see everyone," fretted the mare. "We'll only be with Vanguard's parents overnight before setting off for Mom and Dad's to spend Christmas Eve and Day with them."
"It'll be quite an adventure spending the holidays with Thomas' family," Tabby chattered. "It ought to be interesting, don't you think?"
"That will be a new experience even for Thomas and Elaine, won't it?"
"Yes, now that the whole feud thing was called off. It doesn't seem like a feud lasting for so many centuries could be entirely cleared up so quickly, though, does it?" Tabby considered. "Sugarberry! I still didn't find anything for Thomas!"
"Well, we've covered the whole mall now," Sugarberry pointed out.
"I didn't think it would be this hard! How will I ever find anything if we've been to the largest mall in the world?"
"Just the country," Sugarberry reminded her.
"Well, whatever. The point is that obviously there's nothing to give him!" Tabby said forcefully.
"I think you're being too picky," Sugarberry stated. "But there's still time before Christmas. You'll see something before then."
"But what if I can't find anything? What'll I do then?"
"Well," Sugarberry sighed, "it's getting late. We ought to be heading out if we're to get home at a reasonable time."
"Do you think I'll find something, Sugarberry?" Tabby persisted.
"Yes, Tabby, of course you'll find something."
"Okay." This opinion turned back her anxiety for the moment, and the mares, along with Faline, continued on to the exit.
"It was a nice day, wasn't it?" sighed Sugarberry as they went on the path toward Dream Valley and home; for this stretch of the journey, she had Faline snuggled against her.
"You can say that," Tabby observed. "You got what you wanted."
"When you get right down to it, Tabby, Thomas has everything he wants, too: you and Baby Faline. The gift you give him isn't going to change that."
"You're going to get sentimental, aren't you?"
"I can't help it; I miss Vanguard already; this is the longest we've been apart since we were married."
"Yeah. It will be good to get home again. How far do we have to go yet, do you think?"
"Farther than my hooves are ready for."
"I can carry Faline again."
"No. She's fine. You and Thomas are so fortunate to have this darling little girl."
"Any developments in that area for you and Vanguard?" Tabby asked, shooting an inquisitive glance in her friend's direction.
"When that time comes, you'll be the first to know." Both mares fell silent as they mulled over their dreams and their blessings.
Tabby finally surfaced back to the present, literally and figuratively. "Sugarberry! I still need a present for Thomas! What am I going..."