Vanguard and Sugarberry were about to be seated when a voice called out, “You two are a long way from home!” The couple turned their heads to the source of the greeting and found themselves staring into the smiling faces of Clare and Giorgio.
“Clare! Giorgio! What a pleasant surprise!” Sugarberry trilled as she and her husband abandoned their waiting table to approach the pair from Vulcanopolis. Giorgio stood to meet them, and Sugarberry beamed at the stallion as he took her hoof and kissed it just as he had the first time they had ever met.
“You two are by far the greater distance from home,” Vanguard shook the stallion’s hoof while Sugarberry and Clare exchanged a warm hug. “What brings you to New Pony?”
“Clare had some business meetings, and I tagged along,” the stallion grinned. “And you?”
“A math conference for me and a book endorsement for Sugarberry.”
“You will join us, won’t you?” Clare offered, casting a glance at the maitre d’ who was hovering in the background.
Chairs were provided, and the group was soon comfortably situated. Small talk centered around activities in New Pony until their orders had been placed, and the four sat back to contemplate one another as if some impending piece of information was to be soon forthcoming.
“We have some news for you,” Sugarberry started.
“Us, too,” Giorgio admitted. “But you go first.”
“If you insist,” the mare flushed. She looked from one to the other with sparkling eyes, then said, “There’s a foal on the way!”
“That’s right,” interjected Clare, somewhat surprised, “but how did you know?”
“Sugarberry giggled. “Well, there are some fairly obvious indications, plus Toby verified the fact.”
Giorgio frowned at Sugarberry. “What does Toby know about our foal?”
“Our foal?” Sugarberry said faintly, glancing bewilderingly at Giorgio, then at Vanguard.
“The one that’s due in November,” Clare offered, smiling contentedly.
“Of course,” Sugarberry agreed. “November twentieth, to be exact.”
“There’s where your information is wrong,” Giorgio spoke up. “It’s the twelfth.”
Vanguard, who until now had been silently listening to this exchange of information, cleared his throat. Looking from Clare to Giorgio, he asked, “Are you two expecting a foal?”
Clare looked at him strangely. “Where have you been, Vanguard? Isn’t that what we’ve been talking...” Her eyes suddenly opened expansively, upon which her husband also saw the light.
“You and Sugarberry, too?” he asked as if awestruck.
“Can you believe it?” Sugarberry breathed, her eyes as brilliant as a many-faceted gemstone. “And both are due in the same month.”
Congratulations were extended between the two couples with much laughter, and the talk soon settled upon dreams and expectations for the foals that the mares carried. Their dinner was long and leisurely; and by the time they parted, plans had been made for Giorgio and Sugarberry to have lunch together the following day, as Clare and Vanguard would both be occupied with their respective activities.
* * *
“This is lovely,” Sugarberry sighed as Giorgio helped her with her chair at an exclusive and charming little restaurant in an out-of-the way location. “The decor is worth coming to see even if the food turns out to be horrid.”
“Toby recommended the place to Clare and I; he assured me that the food and the atmosphere are both excellent.”
The two ponies were seated at a small table in a corner of the room with a myriad of potted plants, both greenery and floral, creating an alfresco effect that made one think ahead to the warm and lush days of summer that were now not so very far away. Cool, sky blue carpeting and white tablecloths lent a peaceful, comforting aura that was very relaxing.
Once their lunch had been served and adequately enjoyed, Giorgio insisted that they both order a piece of pie from the dessert tray; and with fresh cups of coffee, they were settled in for a cozy tete-a-tete.
“Last evening at dinner when we exchanged our good news, I couldn’t help thinking about all those years ago when your... parents... and my father met at a hotel when they were both expecting the arrival of their foals.”
“Yes. Some twenty-seven years ago, to be exact. And those foals were you and me. I talked to Vanguard about the same thing when we were back in our room.” She smiled at the stallion. “It’s still a marvel that you and I met as we did, with no idea that our parents were acquainted.”
Giorgio chuckled. “I don’t think you thought it a marvel when I first walked into your life.”
Sugarberry blushed slightly under his intense gaze. “I was terribly upset with you when you came to Dream Valley, but only because your arrival necessitated Vanguard’s leaving.”
“You had a lot more than that to be upset with me about, Sugarberry.”
“You know you did; I cringe when I think what I was willing to do to get my revenge on my father, regardless of what damage it caused you and your family.”
“Well, the heart of the matter is that you did not do it in the end.”
“I was afraid when it was all over that you would never want to see me again, but I’m very happy that we can be friends.” The stallion reached out to cover her hoof in his.
“The best of friends. And our foals can grow up knowing one another; I like that idea.” She smiled responsively.
Their friendly chat was interrupted at that moment by the sudden approach of a mare to their table; Sugarberry looked up in surprise and vaguely recognized in the mint green pony a school friend whom she had not seen since high school graduation, as the mare had left Dream Valley to continue her education elsewhere.
“Tara?” she questioned unbelievingly.
“Sugarberry! You’ll never guess my surprise at seeing you in New Pony! I wouldn’t have thought you’d search out the big city; you always seemed so perfectly comfortable with small town living.”
“Oh! Your Aunt Blueberry Baskets told me all about your marriage!” The mare swivelled her head in Giorgio’s direction and at the same time extended her hoof to the stallion. “Van, I believe?” Sugarberry was aghast at Tara’s misconception while Giorgio smiled his politest smile and took her waiting hoof in his... but without a word of disavowal.
“Oh, no!” Sugarberry herself exclaimed. “I mean my husband’s name is Vanguard, but this is not my husband.” Tara’s left eyebrow arched as she turned her gaze back to Sugarberry, her hoof still in Giorgio’s possession. “Giorgio and I met when Vanguard was gone on an exchange program...” She tried to explain.
“Why, Sugarberry!” Tara exclaimed as her right brow now raised its height to match the other. This timorous mare must have changed over the years to attempt anything so rash, she thought to herself in scandalized disbelief.
Giorgio, having finally released Tara’s hoof, sat smiling with a twinkle in his eyes that infuriated Sugarberry as she glanced at him for help. But Tara gave neither of them a chance to explain as she was ready to leave as quickly as she came.
“Tah-tah, dear Sugarberry... Giorgio...” She brushed a glance at both of them. “This has been lovely, but I’m sure you must feel that three’s a crowd!” She disappeared to where her companions waited by the door.
“You could have helped me out there!” Sugarberry was quick to upbraid her escort.
“You were doing fine,” Giorgio grinned. “I assume your reputation in high school would not have credited you with such... brash... undertakings as to be seen in New Pony with anyone other than a husband?”
“Good grief!” Her eyes shot sparks until the humor of the situation suddenly dawned on her. “No, it wouldn’t,” she admitted with a coy smile. “I just hope Tara doesn’t share any acquaintances with Vanguard.”
“Ah... but you forget. She knows your aunt... Blueberry Baskets was it?” Giorgio shook his head. “You haven’t heard the end of this, I’m afraid.” His eyes showed nothing like fear, however.
“You can be sure I’ll inform Vanguard of this... this on-dit... at the first opportunity,” she said with laughing eyes.
“Would that I could be there!”
* * *
Tara, once out of the restaurant with her friends, fished for help. “Does anyone know that dashing forest green stallion named Giorgio?” she asked.
“You mean to tell me that you don’t?”
“I just met him. What’s the story behind him?”
“He’s from Vulcanopolis... from quite a good family.”
“Well, I’ve heard stories... rather an unsavory background for this one, I believe.”
“Hmm... very interesting.” Tara stood tapping her hoof for a moment, then she lifted a smile to meet her friend. “Tell me more.”
* * *
Being the guest speaker at a luncheon presided over by Ribbons n’ Lace, Toby’s mother, who was the organizer of a group of volunteer workers for charitable endeavors in and around New Pony, had put Sugarberry into a worried mood that amused her spouse.
“Could you explain to me exactly why you’re nervous?” he coaxed, knowing that she had prepared an entertaining speech.
“I wish Fern would never have told her future mother-in-law that we were going to be in New Pony over the semester break.”
“I remember how delighted you were when Ribbons n’ Lace called you to ask you to speak to her group; you weren’t nervous then.”
“I have never been comfortable addressing a crowd,” the mare admitted, frowning at her husband. “I invariably say something utterly humiliating before I’m through.”
“If that should happen, just smile it off as if it was intended and no one will be the wiser,” he suggested, pulling her into his embrace. “But I predict that you will be a sensation.”
“I wish you could be there; I always feel braver when I can see your face.”
“I will be caught up in boring lectures, you know... not that I wouldn’t prefer to accompany you,” he said, kissing her to make his point.
* * *
At the appropriate time, Sugarberry was met by Ribbons n’ Lace and together the two mares walked to the luncheon where they found that many of the ponies who were involved with the benevolent efforts of the group were already assembled, gathered into small cliques busily discussing current projects as well as discussing personal interests.
Ribbons n’ Lace was quick to introduce Sugarberry to friends before excusing herself to make sure that all was in readiness for the luncheon to begin; Sugarberry was made to feel welcome and lost some of her nervous jitters due to the accommodating friendliness of the ponies involved with Ribbons n’ Lace’s organization; and by the time she was to deliver her address, she was perfectly at ease.
When the luncheon had wound to a close and as Ribbons n’ Lace was accompanying Sugarberry to the lobby of the restaurant, they unexpectedly came upon Giorgio who had just arrived. “Hi, Ribbons n’ Lace... Sugarberry,” he grinned.
“ Giorgio!” Ribbons n’ Lace purred. “I didn’t expect to see you until my dinner party on Saturday.” She allowed the gallant stallion to take her hoof and present that appendage with a kiss.
Only after conferring a kiss on Sugarberry’s hoof did he explain. “I visited Andrew at his office and realized how close I was to your engagement here, so I stopped in to see how things were progressing.”
“Sugarberry entertained us wonderfully,” Ribbons n’ Lace stated. “I’m sure sales will now soar for Silent Are the Bells, and her new book will be eagerly anticipated.”
“Naturally,” agreed Giorgio, his eyes showing the pride he felt for the authoress.
“We’ll see,” Sugarberry demurred, a blush adding a pretty pink tone to her face.
Ribbons n’ Lace continued to speak. “You two must know how happy Andrew and I are concerning the news of your foals. Enrica called with the announcement last week, and Sugarberry was quick to share her good news with me personally. Nothing brings me more delight than to hear of an impending birth.”
“And Sugarberry and I are determined that our foals will grow up being the best of friends,” Giorgio said.
“Yes,” agreed Sugarberry. “Even separated by an ocean, they’ll be bosom buddies.”
“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be,” granted Ribbons n’ Lace. Then with a look at Giorgio, she asked, “I’m going to walk Sugarberry back to her hotel; would you care to join us?”
“Well, as she and I are at the same hotel, I can certainly take her off your hooves,” Giorgio asserted.
“Does that meet with your approval, Sugarberry?”
A friend of Ribbons n’ Lace came up at that time to command her attention concerning a problem that needed study, and Giorgio and Sugarberry were left alone. “When do you expect Van to be back at the hotel?” Giorgio asked, glancing at his watch as they began to move toward the door.
“Not until six.”
“Great! That gives the two of us plenty of time.”
“What did you have in mind?”
Giorgio only laughed. “You’ll see.”
* * *
Unbeknownst to those who had now left the establishment, several late diners just beyond the divider by which Giorgio, Sugarberry, and Ribbons n’ Lace had been conversing had been all ears throughout the exchange. One, a mint green mare, hissed to the other, a pale mauve mare, “Did you hear that?”
“Yes, Tara, I did,” the mauve mare replied. “I never would have believed it of Sugarberry, but I must say that you had warned me.”
“Next time you’ll listen to me!” Tara observed, casting an I-told-you-so glance at her sister.
“I feel so sorry for her husband,” Sally commented. “And I’ll bet he doesn’t even know that that stallion is staying at the very same hotel.”
“And foals, Sally! Twins, and you can pretty well guess who the... well, anyway, what are they going to do... each get one? Can you imagine? One will be raised in Dream Valley and the other in Vulcanopolis.”
“Sugarberry’s changed a lot since we were in school,” Sally sighed.
“I wonder what Blueberry Baskets knows about all of this,” Tara wondered. “Maybe it’s high time I visited her; it’s been awhile, and she always says I should feel free to stop in for coffee sometime.”
“Well, as much as I’d like to know what the family thinks, I’d be careful about what I say if I were you,” Sally advised.
“I’ll be discreet,” Tara smiled. “Blueberry Baskets won’t hear anything from me; but, hopefully, I’ll hear a lot from her.”
* * *
It was five minutes to six when Giorgio escorted Sugarberry to the door of her hotel room. “My aunt is fixing dinner for Vanguard and me this evening, so we’ll have to rush to get ready for that.”
“From what I saw of Blueberry Baskets at your wedding, I would imagine that she will have an entertaining evening planned for you.”
“Yes. She sells real estate in New Pony and has grown extraordinarily urbane in her thinking.”
“Does that imply that you are countrified in yours?”
Opening the door, Sugarberry giggled. “I would most certainly hope so.”
“I guess your father’s occupation would make you the farmer’s daughter,” he laughed. “Tara implied as much yesterday.”
Their smiling faces met one that was not so happy.
“Vanguard! You must have gotten home earlier than you planned,” greeted Sugarberry, meeting her husband with a hug.
“Actually, several hours earlier,” Vanguard said, his gaze traveling from her face to Giorgio’s and back again. “I walked over to Filbert’s, but you weren’t there.” His expression was tense and just a little forbidding.
“A meeting I had a block away from the restaurant finished up just about the time Sugarberry’s did, so I took her on a tour of the park.”
“The tulips are blooming already!” Sugarberry disclosed. “All the flowers are way ahead of ours back in Dream Valley.”
“And,” Giorgio grinned, handing a package to Sugarberry, “we stopped at Wallington’s and bought each other a baby gift; our foals will have matching bibs from New Pony.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourselves,” Vanguard said, but his voice conveyed no enthusiasm; rather, it implied that he had not been enjoying his time for obvious reasons.
Sugarberry shot a meaningful glance at Giorgio, and the stallion read her meaning clearly. “Well, I hate to run, but Clare expects me to escort her to some fashion gathering this evening. Give my regards to Blueberry Baskets.” He winked at Sugarberry and threw a careless salute in Vanguard’s direction, then left them alone.
“You’re angry with me, aren’t you?” Sugarberry said immediately, searching her husband’s face with worried eyes. “I had no idea you would come looking for me, and Ribbons n’ Lace had things to take care of; Giorgio’s stopping by seemed providential.”
“You don’t have to explain.”
“I feel I do! I want you to understand.” She looked at him so beseechingly that his annoyance lessened by a few degrees.
“I though we’d have some time to ourselves this afternoon when the workshop got done ahead of schedule. This place was awfully lonely without you. But it was obvious that you and Giorgio had a good time.” He smiled, but not too convincingly.
“We did have a good time; but if I had it to do over again, I would have come straight back to you.” She looked into his eyes. “You do know that I love you without limits, don’t you?”
Unable to resist the emotion in her eyes, Vanguard hugged her to him. “Yes, I do know that.”
Sugarberry rested her head on his shoulder. “There is no need to be jealous, you know. But I understand. If you had been out sight-seeing with Clare while I was pacing the floor here, I’m sure I’d be slightly out of humor myself.”
Vanguard lifted her head to face his. “Love without limits,” he said and kissed her long and lovingly.
* * *
Their arrival at Blueberry Baskets’ chic apartment was greeted with fond welcome as the effervescent mare hugged them both and showered them with her unending volley of words. “I have been looking forward to seeing you since I got your call that you would be in New Pony! You don’t know how I’ve been wondering about things in Dream Valley. I would be especially interested in learning how Gauntlet is doing! We had such a lovely time at your wedding! And guess what, Sugarberry; I have a visitor that you will remember from your high school days-- Tara stopped by to say hello, and when she learned that you and your darling husband were going to be my dinner guests, she begged me to let her stay long enough to at least make Vanguard’s acquaintance.”
“Tara... how nice,” Sugarberry said, rolling her eyes for Vanguard’s benefit; the stallion had not found her recital of her meeting with Tara to be nearly as entertaining as she and Giorgio had found it- nor did it do anything to assuage his jealousy- and Sugarberry could not now think of anyone whom she would most like not to see than Tara.
Blueberry Baskets led her company into the living room where Tara awaited their arrival, standing nonchalantly by a table, a slick fashion magazine in her hooves. Upon seeing Sugarberry, however, she dropped the magazine and came forward in ready friendliness.
“Sugarberry! How nice to have this chance to chat with you. Our time together yesterday was way too brief, don’t you think? And what with all the years... but where are my manners? Who is this delightful stallion?” She turned to Vanguard with what amounted to a condescending attitude.
“Tara, this is my husband, Vanguard; Vanguard, Tara was one of my high school classmates.” She was not about to call her “friend” because the two as fillies had shared no common interests.
“Vanguard, indeed,” Tara smiled. “How very nice to meet you!”
“Come, sit down, all of you,” Blueberry Baskets said, attempting to gain some control over her guests. “Dinner will be ready shortly,” she assured Sugarberry. “I’ve got Tyrol working in the kitchen, and he has assured me that there will be no delay in his preparations.”
“Tyrol?” Sugarberry squeaked.
“Yes. A very good chef that caters to private parties. I have always detested kitchen work, Sugarberry; never could understand how my sister... your mother... could enslave herself to those dastardly appliances that have a mind of their own when it comes to putting together anything that is at all palatable.”
Hoping to steer the conversation into a more interesting avenue, Tara spoke up. “So how long have you and Vanguard been married, Sugarberry?” She cast a withering glance at Blueberry Baskets, knowing full well that the garrulous mare had told her every detail of the wedding in Dream Valley when it had occurred.
“We celebrated our first anniversary in June,” Sugarberry smiled. “Are you married, Tara?”
“Oh, no,” Tara hastily answered. “Never met a stallion yet with who I’d want to trust the rest of my life.”
She cast such a disparaging glance at Vanguard that he felt guilty for no reason, but he managed to find his voice. “A very wise choice,” he said, glancing over the mare with a cool look that implied that he was sure there was no stallion who would be willing to trust himself to her, either. Tara inadvertently shivered.
Blueberry Baskets made another attempt to regain control of the conversation. “I’m disappointed that I haven’t heard any news concerning a grand-niece or nephew yet from you two; the way you always doted on foals, Sugarberry, I’d have thought you’d want a large family.” This mare, too, settled an accusing glance on Vanguard.
“Well, Aunt Blueberry Baskets,” Sugarberry lowered her eyes and blushed shyly, “that’s something that we wanted to share with you this evening.” She glanced at Vanguard and flashed him a wink. “Vanguard and I are expecting a foal in November.”
“How delightful!” her aunt crowed. “I’d heard that Raspberry and her fella were preparing a nursery and that Gooseberry and Grapevine are adding to theirs; I can’t imagine what your father must be going through, anticipating three grandfoals before the end of the year. My brother could not abide foals before he was married.”
“He dotes on them now,” Vanguard stated, remembering the patience with which Strawberry Baskets entertained and instructed Gooseberry’s three youngsters.
“Just think how exciting if you were to have twins, Sugarberry!” Tara interjected. “My cousin, Minerva, had two sets of twins, and Geoffrey’s wife had twins just last month.”
“Our doctor assures us that there is just one foal, Tara, although I must admit that two would be... exciting.”
“There have been very few sets of twins in our family,” Blueberry Baskets admitted. “How about yours, Vanguard?”
“None in recent history that I can think of.”
Tara decided that if she was going to glean any useful information, she would have to come on a little more forcefully. “This Giorgio that you introduced me to, Sugarberry; does he have any children?” She maintained a blank, innocent look that caused Vanguard to choke, necessitating a rather abrupt coughing fit.
“N... no... not that I’m... aware of,” Sugarberry said tremulously, trying not to break down in giggling hysteria. “Well, not counting...”
“He looked rather devious, if you ask me,” Tara interrupted, assuming a sophisticated expression to lend credit to her reading of his character.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Sugarberry argued. “Why, his father is the administrator of Vulcanopolis and very well thought of.”
“Not to mention that his wife is a successful business mare herself,” Vanguard added.
“He’s married, too?” Tara was terribly disappointed.
“And he and his wife are expecting a foal about the same time that ours is due.”
“Fascinating!” breathed Tara.
“Yes, rather,” agreed Sugarberry.
A bell sounding from the kitchen caught Blueberry Basket’s attention. “That means that Tyrol is ready to serve,” she confided with a telling glance at Tara.
“Oh, I really must be going; my sister- you remember my sister, Sally, don’t you, Sugarberry- is expecting me at her place, and I can’t keep her waiting.” She jumped up and the others stood as well. “This has been so much fun, Sugarberry... Vanguard. I’m so glad that I was visiting your aunt and therefore had the chance to renew our friendship.” The mare hastened to the door and Blueberry Baskets saw her out.
“Well, dear,” Blueberry Baskets smiled at Sugarberry when she was again free, “I didn’t plan on her interruption, but it was rather refreshing, wasn’t it?” She led her niece and nephew-by-marriage into supper.
* * *
Later, in another part of New Pony, Tara was sitting at her sister’s kitchen table. “I couldn’t wait to tell you about Sugarberry and her husband,” she said between bites.
“You met him, then?”
“Yes. He seems like an okay stallion, but I’m not convinced that something strange isn’t going on there.”
“Are they having twins?”
“Well, no. It seems that Giorgio and his wife are expecting, too.”
“So everything is as it should be.”
“You didn’t see her husband’s face every time Giorgio was mentioned; he looked very anxious whenever Giorgio’s name came up. I tell you, something havey-cavey is going on.”
“You are jumping to conclusions, sis; I’d keep my thoughts to myself if I were you.”
“But, Sally, there’s something else. I’ve read Sugarberry’s book, Silent Are the Bells, and the heroine was in love with two handsome stallions.”
“Don’t you think she was writing from experience?”
“Did anything else in her story parallel her life?”
Tara gave her sister’s question some thought. “Hmm... well... no... I don’t think there was anything else.”
“I rest my case.”
“But what if...”
“Not another word, Tara. Not now, not ever.”
* * *
The day of Ribbons n’ Lace’s dinner party came, and Sugarberry prepared carefully for the evening. Ribbons n’ Lace, a benefactress of all who needed help, led a life with her husband, Andrew, that rivaled opulence. Fern had told Sugarberry of the magnificent home that crowned one of the ritziest neighborhoods in New Pony and of the grand furnishings that graced the interior. And even though Ribbons n’ Lace was as friendly and compassionate as Sugarberry’s own mother, Sugarberry felt some trepidation.
Another thing that made her slightly uneasy about the evening was that it would be the first time that she and Giorgio would be together since Vanguard’s bout with jealousy, and she did not know how she could handle an evening of conversation without inadvertently rekindling her husband’s quiet monster.
One asset, however, was that Tendril, Toby’s sister, would be at the gathering with her husband and two foals, as well as Toby’s older brother, Tribute, who was coming into New Pony from his place of residence in Grayton. With a crowd of ponies, it would be easier to avoid a situation that might become uncomfortable.
“You are looking especially beautiful,” Vanguard said as he watched her primping. “Your hair looks... fuller.”
“Clare shared some of her company’s new hair care products; she’s really branching out,” Sugarberry admitted. “And they really work, obviously.” Her eyes twinkled as she looked at her husband’s reflection in the mirror.
“Are you insinuating that you’re surprised I noticed?”
“Not surprised... simply flattered.”
Vanguard grew serious. “It’s not just a new shampoo, you know. You’ve had a special glow about you since we’ve known about our foal.”
Sugarberry turned a softly radiating face to him. “I remember seeing that on Tabby when she and Thomas were expecting Faline. It’s just too wonderful not to blossom... our baby, Vanguard!”
She looked so enraptured that Vanguard’s heart skipped a beat. “Sometimes I can’t believe that it’s true.” His hoof followed the contour of her face. “A new life growing in you; and, come November, we’ll have him in our forelegs.”
“And what a sweetie he will be.”
* * *
Having entered the halls of luxury, Sugarberry relished the grandeur that pervaded the home of Ribbons n’ Lace and Andrew. As Clare and Giorgio had another commitment earlier in the evening, Sugarberry and Vanguard had arrived earlier than the other couple and Sugarberry did not have to watch her conduct; she found Tendril to be as friendly and caring as her mother, while her husband, Copper, was quiet and somewhat reserved. Their offspring, one fourteen-month old and the other recently turned four, were full of spirit which kept the well-ordered home in a state of constant activity. Tribute, a doctor like his father and his brother, favored his father’s more stately demeanor and seemed to prefer to remain offset from the more exuberant mischief that the foals were constantly instigating.
By the time that Giorgio and Clare arrived, Sugarberry was contentedly involved with reading a story to the two youngsters to settle them down before dinner was served, and was well able to keep a respectable distance from Giorgio. And when they were seated at the table, she found her position conveniently spaced away from the stallion so that any personal dinner conversation with him was unnecessary.
After dinner, Andrew lured the stallions off to his study, and Ribbons n’ Lace entertained the mares with a tour of her home after which Tendril put the foals to bed in one of the lavishly furnished guest rooms with Sugarberry’s willing assistance. When the youngest foal refused to settle down, however, Tendril would not hear of Sugarberry’s staying with the baby, but sent her off to rejoin the others.
Sugarberry had stopped to admire a particularly moving sculpture that graced a corner of the hall when Giorgio came from one of the adjoining rooms, and, seeing her, checked only an instant before coming to join her. “I get the distinct impression that you are trying to avoid me.”
“History repeats itself,” she said softly; she dropped her eyes to the sculpture for a moment before lifting her gaze once more to meet Giorgio’s. “Vanguard is as jealous of you as my father was of your father.”
“I guessed as much; he wasn’t too happy to see you in my company the other day.”
“He wasn’t angry,” she quickly pointed out, “just disappointed.”
“And what about you?”
“I’m caught in the middle; your friendship is important to me, but Vanguard is my husband; I can’t enjoy our friendship if it hurts him to see it.”
“So we are to act like mere acquaintances when our lives have been linked since we were unborn foals?”
“I won’t knowingly hurt him.”
“At our expense?” He saw the tears wet Sugarberry’s eyes and quickly set it right. “I’m sorry; if that’s what you think is best, I’ll go along with it. But I don’t like it.” He smiled at her. “You’d better get back in company, or Van will be ready to wring my neck regardless of your efforts to please him.”
Later, as the ponies enjoyed a last cup of coffee, Sugarberry felt Vanguard’s look hard upon her from across the room where he stood in conversation with Giorgio, Tribute, and Copper and met his eyes with a sad little smile which successfully wrung his heart. He immediately excused himself from the others, although towing Giorgio along with him to Sugarberry’s side.
“Listen, you two, I’m very sorry that I acted like a jealous idiot. I’m not going to allow you, Sugarberry, to estrange yourself from this stallion simply because... well... because of his unholy persona that seems to attract every female who comes in sight of him,” Vanguard uttered before he could lose his nerve. He cast a sideways glance at Giorgio. “I value your friendship and Clare’s- as I told you last summer- and will not be responsible for ruining it.”
“Very well said,” approved Giorgio, grinning at Vanguard. Then he claimed Sugarberry’s hoof, murmured, “Your slave,” and kissed her. Sugarberry sought her husband’s eyes for his understanding.
“But I never promised that I would enjoy it,” Vanguard said, causing a bark of laughter from Giorgio and an unrepressed giggle from Sugarberry.
“What is so highly diverting over here?” asked Clare, coming to join them and slipping her foreleg into Vanguard’s grasp in that familiar way that was so natural for her.
For a brief moment, Sugarberry saw a flashback to those days when Vanguard had been so far away in Vulcanopolis with Clare his closest confidant, and she felt a pang of the jealousy that haunted Vanguard. She swallowed her pride, however, and panned the ponies around her with loving eyes and grinned. “We were just discussing the special friendship that we four share.”
“Make that six,” Clare quipped. “Our little foals are a part of this circle now, you know.”
“Which reminds me,” Sugarberry grinned. “Our visit to Aunt Blueberry Baskets was quite enlightening on several counts.”
“Such as?” Giorgio queried, looking somewhat doubtful as to whether he wanted to hear it or not.
“Tara was there.”
“I heard about your school-days’ chum,” Clare giggled.
“She thinks you are devious, Giorgio,” Vanguard offered, not ready yet to entirely disagree with this interpretation of the stallion’s character.
Giorgio raised an eyebrow. “Indeed!” A chuckle escaped him. “Obviously, my unholy persona failed in this case, at least, Van.”