written by Sugarberry
“Of course, we’ll help you in the orchards!” Sugarberry enthused as her father, Strawberry Baskets, hesitantly set forth his plans for the day. Sugarberry and Vanguard had spent Friday night with her folks near Berryville and would be staying for the day before heading on to Woodlawn and a celebration in honor of Vanguard’s birthday on the morrow, Mother’s Day.
Strawberry Shortcake shook her head at her daughter. “I think you should rest, Sugarberry, what with the trip here and the coming one to Woodlawn.”
“Gooseberry is helping, so why shouldn’t I?” the strawberry-patterned mare asked, grinning at her sister across the room. “And Dad said that he’s got to get the new plants in while the weather holds. With Vanguard and I helping, the job will get done faster.”
Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake, knowing how imperative it was that they get the new strawberry bed planted immediately, acquiesced.
“Let’s get started then!” Strawberry Baskets said.
The ponies were soon out in the mild spring weather busily working in the soil that had been prepared for the strawberry plot; the tilled earth seemed to stretch on interminably, but everyone had buckled down with enthusiasm to get the green plants into their new home. Gooseberry’s two older foals, Wineberry and Huckleberry, were among those hard at work while Baby Gooseberry had been relegated to stay under Grandma’s care at the house.
Vanguard looked back over the row he was planting and grinned as his gaze fell on Sugarberry, busily grubbing her way down the row next to his. The mare had clipped her mane back to keep it out of her way and had adorned her head with a floppy straw hat, its ribbons tied under her chin, that shaded her eyes; she looked right at home with her hooves in the crumbling dirt. She and Gooseberry kept pace with each other, finding this chore to be an excellent time to chatter about family matters and personal ideals and to get caught up on the details of life, many of these involved with the impending births affecting both mares plus their sister, Raspberry.
“Just think! Mom and Dad will double their grandfoals by Christmas,” Sugarberry commented as she anchored a strawberry plant in its niche, thereby missing a mischievous glance from Gooseberry as that mare opened her mouth as if to say something, then quickly closed it without uttering a word.
“Lemon Treats and Poeticus had a foal on April sixteenth,” Sugarberry continued. “That was the first grandfoal on either side of their family. Dreamcatcher and Fetish’s came last weekend with the late snowfall. And who would think it had snowed just a week ago and now we’re out planting things on this warm day!”
“Give me all the details on the foals.”
Lemon Treats and Poeticus have a little girl; they named her Limelight; she looks just like her mother, only pale green instead of yellow. Poeticus has already written a book’s worth of pretty poems about her! Dreamcatcher and Fetish named their little boy Tamarack; he’s a peach color with soft green hair. He wore his mother out during birthing, but she’s doing great now.”
“You and Vanguard must be very excited about your own foal, Sugarberry; I know how you’ve always dreamed of a family of your own.”
Sugarberry stopped her work long enough to look down the field to where Vanguard was at work in the company of Huckleberry and Wineberry; the mare’s face was diffused with a warm glow not entirely due to her gardening efforts and the warm day. “It’s a dream come true,” she said simply before going back to the planting, her thoughts centering on the precious life growing within her.
Meanwhile, Huckleberry was informing his uncle about a summertime business venture he was planning with his best friend, Scottie. “Dad’s lettin’ us have a plot of our own where we can plant corn and tomatoes and watermelons and some other stuff,” Huckleberry scratched his head, “and we’ll sell it at a roadside stand and we get to keep the money.”
“Very enterprising of you, Huckleberry,” Vanguard replied, noting that the colt found it impossible to talk and plant strawberries at the same time, so Vanguard filled the vacant spot in Huckleberry’s row before moving on. He also gave some aid to Wineberry who was also falling behind. “Are you going to help the colts with their garden, Wineberry?”
“They won’t let me,” she said with a scowl in her brother’s direction.
“Scottie and me are going to split our profits between us,” Huckleberry revealed. “We don’t need no girl taking our jangles away from us.”
“I’m sure Wineberry would be a big help at caring for your garden, though,” Vanguard said, noting that Wineberry could talk and plant at the same time.
“Nope. Just me and Scottie. Fifty-fifty.”
“You’re supplying the land, so maybe you should get a bigger percentage.”
“Dad said the same thing, but Scottie said he wouldn’t help at all unless it was even.”
“Hmm. And what happens if Scottie doesn’t show up to help you when weeds need pulling and corn needs picking?”
“He’ll help; he told me he would.”
Vanguard thought back to last summer’s crisis when Scottie had pulled Huckleberry from his chores in the garden to go fishing, and Huckleberry ended up running away from home when his father had meted out an appropriate punishment for his neglect of his duties. He refrained from mentioning the incident, however, and once more secured a plant in each of the foals’ rows before moving on.
“Scottie will make Huckleberry do all the work and only show up when there’s money to be made,” Wineberry placidly stated, wise beyond her years-- or alert to what she had overheard her parents say.
“That’s not true!” Huckleberry defended.
“Wineberry has a point,” Vanguard allowed. “Maybe you should change your agreement so that Scottie gets paid by how many hours he works.”
“Too much trouble,” shrugged Huckleberry.
The three worked in silence for some minutes, and Vanguard took a moment to check on the progress of Sugarberry and Gooseberry; their pace was far behind his and the foals, but Vanguard noted that Sugarberry was obviously enjoying the time with her sister as the two of them were at the moment giggling hysterically over some shared tidbit of information. Her hat had slipped down to her back and wisps of red hair were twining around her warm face and Vanguard realized fully just how beautiful his wife was.
“If Scottie doesn’t help me, he’ll still want his money,” Huckleberry said, bringing Vanguard out of his reverie.
“You’ll have to set the rules up front; and if he doesn’t fulfill his share of the work, he won’t get his full fifty percent. And if you need Wineberry to help you because Scottie doesn’t show up, she should get his percentage.”
Huckleberry gave this some thought while Vanguard filled three spaces in Huckleberry’s row with strawberry plants.
It was Wineberry who next had an idea. “I can grow some flowers to sell!”
“Who’d want to buy flowers?” grumbled Huckleberry.
“Anyone who buys your fruits and vegetables would also want to buy some flowers to decorate their table,” suggested Vanguard.
“And I’ll get to keep all my profits for myself,” observed Wineberry smugly, causing Vanguard to chuckle and Huckleberry to look downcast.
Huckleberry knew his sister to be a perfectionist, and anything she attempted would be a success. She was already in charge of keeping her mother’s flowerbeds weed free and cultivated in the summertime; and she did an excellent job of it, never shirking her responsibility as Huckleberry himself sometimes did. Huckleberry had a foreboding that by the end of the summer, Wineberry would have a small fortune; and he would be bereft of funds. He frowned as he firmed the soil around a strawberry plant.
The sound of masculine voices caused Vanguard and his two young companions to turn their heads; Grapevine and Driftwood had arrived to inspect the mares’ work, it would appear, as they stopped to impart their views on the planting that had so far occurred. Sugarberry abandoned her work to hug her brothers-in-law, successfully tainting them with her dirty hooves. Wineberry and Huckleberry took the opportunity to desert their work as well, rushing to their father’s side as if they had not seen him for weeks when in reality they had breakfasted with him normally earlier in the day.
Shaking the loose dirt from his hooves, Vanguard ambled over to join the crowd of ponies, greeting each of the stallions with a brisk hoofshake.
“You’re a little out of your league,” tormented Driftwood, brushing the transferred dirt from his hooves.
“Actually, that’s not true. Sugarberry has taught me a lot about gardening; and although this is on a much larger scale, the basics are the same. How’s the restaurant coming?”
“The grounds cleared and the foundation is dug; it’ll be up in no time,” the optimistic Driftwood replied. “Maybe you’d like to walk in to Berryville later and look at it; you wouldn’t recognize the place since you last saw it.”
Sugarberry shuddered. The last time they had seen Driftwood and Raspberry’s restaurant was Christmas Eve, and it had been collapsing in flame with Driftwood and Vanguard caught in the buckling walls as a fire destroyed the newly opened enterprise. The memory was a frightening one for all the family.
Driftwood and Vanguard were staring at each other as if reliving the events of that December evening when Driftwood, caught in the fire because of trying to save his dream, had been pulled to safety- well, almost- by Vanguard, both stallions suffering burns and injuries and Driftwood a broken leg. “You’ve made sure that you’ve resolved the problem, I presume,” stated Vanguard with a raised brow.”
“I’ve been assured that the cause of the fire was a one-in-a-million chance,” Driftwood drolly responded. “The manufacturer of that particular apparatus has assured me that I will never have a fire from his equipment again.”
“One would hope not,” frowned Sugarberry.
“The new restaurant will have a model from the competitor’s line at any rate,” the stallion confided.
“How are your vineyards looking this year?” Vanguard queried of Grapevine, whose land bordered Strawberry Baskets’ orchards.
“So far, so good,” Grapevine grinned. “However, as anything can happen with the weather...”
“We know! We know!” Driftwood interrupted, laughing. “That’s all you farmers talk about is the weather.”
“And the weather is the reason I want these strawberry plants in the ground,” said Strawberry Baskets, coming up behind the ponies from his errands around the orchard; he eyed them as if they were errant school ponies and he the irate principal, although anyone who was familiar with the good-natured stallion was quick to notice the twinkle in his eye.
“As to that,” said Grapevine, “Strawberry Shortcake sent us to tell Gooseberry and Sugarberry to go to the house to help her with the food.”
“And we are to take your place,” added Driftwood.
“I think I’d rather stay out here,” admitted Sugarberry, looking regretfully at the interrupted row of green plants, her sister shaking her head in agreement.
“I volunteered to take your place in the kitchen,” Driftwood revealed, “but your mother thinks you both are working too hard out here.”
“No backtalk,” Driftwood said severely, but a smile immediately belied his somber tone. “Besides, Raspberry is anxious to see you, Sugarberry.”
Sugarberry made note of the smug look on Driftwood’s face and acceded.
* * *
“Twins!” Sugarberry squealed and dropped the pan she was holding as Raspberry imparted her updated news as the three sisters helped their mother in the kitchen. “You and Driftwood are having twins?”
“That’s what the doctor tells us,” Raspberry laughed, enjoying her sister’s complete astonishment. “Isn’t it exciting?”
“I should say it is!” agreed Sugarberry, her eyes alight. “And it would explain why Driftwood looked like the cat that swallowed the canary,” she added.
“Wait until he’s been up nights for weeks on end caring for two foals and see how cocky he is then,” Gooseberry grinned.
* * *
The family had come together for a hearty repast giving Sugarberry’s family a chance to celebrate Vanguard’s birthday and Mother’s Day together, and Strawberry Baskets was pleased to report that they had made such progress on the strawberry planting that he would not need to appropriate his willing workers any more that day, leaving them free to enjoy each others company while they could. The stallions ended up spending the rest of the afternoon viewing Grapevine’s vineyards while the mares and foals enjoyed looking over Strawberry Shortcake’s riotous flower beds that surrounded the house and attached bakery which dominated the orchard property.
Huckleberry received an unexpected visit from his friend, Scottie, and the two colts disappeared in the direction of the vineyards to locate the stallions, both full of enthusiasm for the mild days that enticed them to spend every possible waking hour out of doors. It was somewhat unexpected, therefore, to find that Huckleberry was quiet and downcast when the stallions returned.
Scottie made his departure, and Huckleberry slipped away around the corner of the house. Vanguard, noting the gloomy demeanor of his nephew, followed him. He found the colt staring at the rich dark soil of the garden, waiting for the planting of seeds, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “You’re anxious to get started on planting, I suppose,” Vanguard stated.
“Scotty was supposed to help me tomorrow,” a dejected Huckleberry said. “But now he says he is going to a movie with Piper instead.”
Picking up a twig that had blown from a nearby willow, Vanguard absently snapped it to pieces as he considered what to say that did not sound like “I told you so.” Nonchalantly, he observed, “Is there anyone else you could get to help you? You have other friends besides Scotty.”
“No one else is interested.”
“What about Randy? I heard your dad mention how you and he were working on a science project together.”
Huckleberry crinkled his nose. “Randy likes books, not dirt.”
“Well, then, you can plant your garden by yourself the pocket all the profit.”
“That wouldn’t be no fun!”
“Winey!” Huckleberry interrupted.
“Whiney?” questioned a startled Vanguard.
“My sister, Wineberry,” Huckleberry explained, looking at his uncle as if the stallion was daft. “She’ll help me.”
“Oh.” Vanguard wondered what the prim filly thought about that nickname. “What about her flowers?”
“We can do both! And with Winey involved, I won’t be given a chance to sluff-off,” the colt observed wisely.
“You’ve got a point there; and all I ask is that you let me know when the watermelons are ripe; you can save me a big one.”
Huckleberry grinned, his eyes sparkling. “I’ll take special care of one to make sure you get a monstrous one.” He grabbed Vanguard’s hoof to lead him back to the others so that he could reveal his great scheme to his sister. Vanguard only hoped that Wineberry would be willing to go into partnership with a colt who was long on plans but short on perseverance. Her own plan to sell flowers would probably be a success all on its own.
Pulling Wineberry from a cluster of gabbing ponies, Huckleberry set his plans before his sister who, her head slightly canted to one side, considered the proposal. “Sixty-forty,” she finally said.
“Yes. I get sixty percent of the profits and you get forty.”
“It was my idea! And Scottie was only going to get fifty.”
“I, however, will make sure that our garden makes a profit; therefore, I get the bigger cut.”
Grumbling, Huckleberry went back to Vanguard and explained the predicament he was in with his new partner. “What do I do now?” he griped.
“Well, if Wineberry wants to be the boss, let her; that way she will be responsible for the majority of the decisions and leave you with more time to go off fishing with Scottie.”
The obvious advantage to that was quickly absorbed by the colt, and he grinned. “Yeah! So Winey will have to do most of the work, but I’ll get some of the money!”
“That’s not...” Vanguard tried to say, but Huckleberry was already on his way to accept his sister’s plan.
* * *
“You and your sisters had a good visit,” Vanguard observed late that day as he and Sugarberry walked the path to Woodlawn. He was remembering the avid conversations between Sugarberry, Gooseberry, and Raspberry that had delayed their departure.
“We certainly did,” sighed Sugarberry. “We had a lot of catching up to do. It was good to talk with family about foals and things.” She grew thoughtful.
“Do you have regrets about living away from your family?” Vanguard asked, casting a sideways glance at his companion.
“You and our foal are my family,” smiled Sugarberry.
“Yes, but you certainly enjoyed having your sisters and your mother to share all the details of your life with. You looked very happy, at any rate.”
A somber note came through Vanguard’s voice as he said those last words, and Sugarberry looked at him quickly. “Of course I was happy to be with them again.”
“I can’t help but wonder if you ever regret not having followed your parents to Berryville when they left Dream Valley as Raspberry and Gooseberry did.”
“More to the point, Mom and Dad followed Gooseberry there when she married Grapevine and there just happened to be an orchard for sale next to Grapevine’s property. Dad saw a chance to fulfill a dream and took it. Raspberry went along to help with the work. I’ve never regretted my decision to stay behind.”
“I rather thought you were reveling in all that sisterly and motherly advice so readily at your disposal.”
“I have Tabby and Dreamcatcher and Lemon Treats, among others, back in Dream Valley.” She looked at her husband questioningly. “Why this concern?”
“It’s just that... well... I wonder if you’ve ever wished we could live closer to Berryville so you could spend more time with your family.”
“I’ll admit that it is always a joy to be with them, but I’m perfectly content with my life in Dream Valley, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything... unless, of course, you’ve become dissatisfied?”
Vanguard laughed. “No, my love. My life with you is perfect.”
“I had my reasons for staying behind when Mom and Dad left Dream Valley.” She didn’t immediately reveal what those reasons were, and Vanguard waited in silence until she continued. “There were my friends, of course, even though Tabby did leave for college. But beyond that...” She cast a sheepish look at the stallion. “I guess I’d always felt I was overshadowed by my sisters. Gooseberry has always been admired for her gentle nature and her compassion and Raspberry for her take-charge ability to handle any situation, but me-- I was just the shy tagalong that no one ever really saw. I needed to get away from that shadow to find out who I was.”
“I always imagined you and your sisters had a faultless relationship.”
“We did, as much as can be reasonably expected,” grinned Sugarberry. “It was never anything tangible; I just seemed lost beside their personalities.”
“If you want my opinion, I think you were too critical of yourself to realize that all three of you were equally personable; however,” he lifted a hoof to indicate he wanted no interruption, “I am of the opinion that you...” and he took her into his forelegs, “are the ideal.” He kissed her as they stood on the path and only broke off when an amused giggle was heard as another pair of travelers had come around the tree-lined curve, the appearance of which suffused Sugarberry in a becoming blush that did not fade until civil greetings had been exchanged; and she and Vanguard had continued on their way.
The remainder of the journey to Woodlawn was filled with pleasurable banter between Sugarberry and Vanguard until the town came into sight. The sun had set and dusk was lowering over the gentle greens of the land as the two ponies crossed the park, stopping as was their habit at the stone bridge that arched over the flowing stream where they stood hoof-in-hoof, Sugarberry resting her head against Vanguard’s strong shoulder.
“Your parent’s house looks so lovely,” Sugarberry murmured, noting how the grey structure blended into the surrounding maples, the white trim accenting its turreted outline, and the glow of light from the windows beckoning in welcome.
Vanguard was in the process of agreeing when he tensed and released Sugarberry’s hoof. Catching an orange flutter out of the corner of his eye, he had focused his attention on what proved to be a row of orange plastic flags marching parallel to the stone bridge. He leaned over the stone railing to mark their journey and groaned. “I don’t like the looks of this,” he said despondently.
“What?” asked Sugarberry, following his gaze but perceiving nothing to upset her other than the unnatural row of waving plastic flags.
“What follows once those flags are placed anywhere?” he asked.
Sugarberry puzzled for a bit. “Well, there were plenty of them around our house when we were getting ready to add the turret, so it means some construction of some kind, I suppose.”
An irritated look crossed Vanguard’s face. “I certainly hope that they aren’t thinking about replacing this bridge,” he said adamantly.
Turning round eyes to him, Sugarberry sputtered, “They wouldn’t do that... would they? It’s such a romantic bridge.”
“It’s been here for as long as I can remember, and Dad remembers it being here when he was a foal as well,” Vanguard said, a scowl marking his face. “Let’s go.” He took Sugarberry’s hoof and the two hurried in the direction of Whirlpool and Floral Breeze’s home.
* * *
Greeted with hugs all around, Vanguard and Sugarberry were soon ensconced around the kitchen table with hot mugs of coffee and chocolate chip cookies as they conversed with Vanguard’s parents.
“Are there plans for the bridge in the park?” asked Vanguard when the daily affairs of both couples had been thoroughly discussed.
Whirlpool ran a hoof through his mane. “The city council sees fit to modernize it,” he admitted.
“Modernize it?!” Vanguard growled. “Exactly what are they going to do?”
Whirlpool shook his head as if he could not say the words, so Floral Freeze took over. “They’ve okayed plans to clear it out and replace it with a steel bridge.” She winced as she saw the crushed look that settled on her son’s countenance; it was one she had seen on each of her family’s face in the last weeks.
“When did they decide this?”
“At their last meeting, and Windmill is pushing it through at top speed,” admitted Whirlpool.
“It was due for some upkeep, and he said it would be more economical to replace it with a steel structure than to pay for the maintenance work on the stone,” added Floral Breeze.
“I can’t believe the council went along with him.”
“Well, if truth be told, they didn’t. But he swept it through anyway along with some other road improvements that were legitimate.”
“Is anything being done to change his mind?”
“Anchor is doing everything in his power to stop any action while he investigates all the legal angles.”
Their conversation was interrupted as the back door opened and Icon came into the house. “Hello, Sugarberry,” he grinned, crossing to her and kissing her cheek. “Are you taking care of yourself?”
Receiving the assurance that she was, he turned to Vanguard. “I’ll wish you a happy birthday a day early, big brother.”
“I was happy to hear that H.C.I. won out over Macrohard in court; that must have been a load off your mind,” smiled Vanguard.
“It was, but have you heard what we’re up against now with Windmill’s crazy idea to get rid of the old stone bridge?” Icon’s eyes were angry as he sat down at the table, and Sugarberry noted that the young stallion seemed thinner than she had remembered. When his mother served him some cookies and milk, he barely looked at the offering.
“Dad tells me that Anchor is doing what he can; has there been any grassroots pressure put on the council?” queried Vanguard.
“Everyone is making his or her voice heard, but Windmill won’t listen. I think every pony in Woodlawn has signed a petition to retain the old bridge, and donations have been collected to cover the repair work from private funds; I don’t know what else we can do.”
“Chiffon had all the foals in the schools send letters as well,” revealed Floral Breeze. “Mail coming through to the mayor’s office is swamping the post office, and still that stallion sticks to his decision.”
The ponies continued to discuss the problem for several more minutes before Icon stood up and announced that he was going to his own home now; he said a quick goodnight, and was out the door. Sugarberry looked wonderingly at Floral Breeze. “Icon is really letting this get to him, isn’t he?”
“All the boys have fond memories of that old bridge, but that’s not entirely what is eating at Icon.”
“If his problem with Macrohard is settled, he should be doing great,” observed Vanguard.
“He came back from Golden City in a worse state than he left,” worried Floral Breeze, “and he refused to talk about what happened. Hodgepodge and Cachet were quite elated over their defeat of Guido Casale, but Icon has been depressed about something.”
“He didn’t seem quite himself,” admitted Sugarberry. “I wonder what could be bothering him.”
“Maybe Icon had words with Guido that he regrets,” pondered Vanguard. “I saw Guido on the news after the court decision, and he was gruff as a bear. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had lashed out verbally against Icon and the others.”
“Has Guido said anything to you since he lost his case? You were quite good friends when you were in Vulcanopolis, I remember,” wondered Floral Breeze.
“Haven’t heard a word from him, but we have our wedding invitation to his and Tiffany’s wedding next month,” revealed Vanguard.
“That’s right!” trilled Floral Breeze. “The wedding will be in Dream Valley; I imagine the princess has been busy with the planning.”
“I’m not sure how busy she had been, but she has an army of underlings making sure that everything will be as grandiose as possible,” giggled Sugarberry.
So while the mares discussed the upcoming weddings in Dream Valley (besides Guido and Tiffany’s there would be Toby and Fern’s) and in Birdsong where Buck and Columbine were tying the knot, the stallions continued their discussion of Icon’s troubles and the problem of the park’s time-honored bridge.
Sunday dawned mild and sunny with the sound of robin songs in the air and the sweet smell of lilacs wafting in the open window. As it was Vanguard’s birthday on this Mother’s Day, that stallion was being coddled and made over by his mother and his wife while his father rolled his eyes at such attention and disappeared behind the newspaper. When the mares were sure that Vanguard had partaken of a sufficient breakfast and Floral Breeze had unwrapped her gift from the two, they released the stallions to their own pursuits while Floral Breeze with Sugarberry’s help lined up the preparations for the family luncheon that would celebrate the joint festivities of Mother’s Day and Vanguard’s birthday.
The walk to church was the perfect time to enjoy the wealth of flowers that bloomed in the myriad flower beds that graced the lawns of Woodlawn, putting everyone in a reverential frame of mind. On the return to the house, the group of ponies in transit had swelled to include Vanguard’s brother and family-- Stillwater, Morning Dew, and Droplet-- as well as Chiffon, a cousin who was of an age with Vanguard (although she was quick to point out that for the next few months, Vanguard was the older of the two) and Icon, whose normal light spirit seemed permanently dampened as he stayed on the fringe of the otherwise lively group.
Many hooves made light work; and by the time further guests began arriving, an impressive spread of food was set out buffet style for those who came to share the festivities. The house was full of ponies in a merry humor as family and friends regaled one another with all the happenings of their lives, with Sugarberry and Vanguard receiving a full share of good wishes on the pending birth of their foal in November.
Sugarberry sought out Icon’s company when she was able to catch him apart from the others, and she patted his shoulder comfortingly. “What’s bothering you, Icon?” she asked, her worried eyes piercing her brother-in-law’s somber ones.
“And what makes you think something is bothering me?” he said with a weak smile.
“You are normally the life of the party, yet you have spoken hardly a word today... besides which,” she assumed a pout, “you have not even attempted to disconcert me with your teasing.”
He grinned more convincingly now. “I’d think that would please you.”
“Not a bit, seeing how melancholy you appear.”
“I think it’s just a case of spring fever.”
“And spring is when a young stallion’s heart is filled with love,” Sugarberry teased and was surprised to see the look of anguish that crossed Icon’s face. “Icon!” she breathed. “You’ve fallen in love!”
“Stupid of me, wasn’t it?” he remarked grimly, his eyes refusing to meet hers.
“Who is it?” Sugarberry bluntly asked. “She’s obviously not here or you would be more fittingly occupied.”
As Icon had not shared his thoughts with anyone other than Cachet when he had met the green-eyed beauty, Splotch, in Golden City, he had no intention to do so now; but the concerned eyes of his sister-in-law softened his resolve, and he found himself pouring his story out to her. “So I gave my heart to a power-grabbing beauty who had no regard for me except that she had hoped to win another successful case for Guido at my expense,” he ended his story. He looked at her sheepishly. “But for all that, I can’t get her our of my mind.”
“You poor thing,” Sugarberry sympathized, shaking her head. “I think this mare needs to reorder her priorities.”
“Her career is her priority.”
“You haven’t tried to contact her again? With the court case behind her, she may see you in a different light.”
“From what I’ve gathered from Anchor, she’s back in Vulcanopolis championing Macrohard’s iron grip on the computer industry; even I am not naive enough to attack that stronghold on a personal agenda that has already been declared forfeit.” He grinned again to lighten his heavy words. “Don’t worry about me, Sugarberry; don’t they say that time heals all wounds?”
“Yes, they do.” But Sugarberry knew that the road to healing could be long and painful when a broken heart was concerned, leaving her helpless to give any worthwhile advice to Icon.
Their private chat was interrupted by Petal; she grabbed her cousin’s hoof in her own and tugged him toward the outside door. “We’re going to play volleyball, and you and I are in charge of the teams.” The filly turned to Sugarberry and winked as she walked away with the stallion; it was obvious that everyone was concerned about Icon’s disconsolate spirit. It would do him good to be surrounded by the rowdy group of foals and young ponies that trooped outdoors to enjoy the pleasant weather.
No sooner had Icon and Petal left Sugarberry’s side than Vanguard filled in the gap. “Were you able to settle Icon’s problem?” he queried, knowing his wife’s penchant for seeing everyone happy.
Sugarberry frowned. “No.”
“Did he at least confide in you?”
“Yes, he did.” Sugarberry hesitated, but not having been asked to keep Icon’s revelation a secret, she went on. “He met someone in Golden City who did not share his feelings.”
Grinning, Vanguard said, “You mean my little brother has finally been hit by Cupid?”
“Unfortunately, Cupid didn’t bother to shoot his arrow at the mare as well.”
“Then I can very well understand how he feels, because I would have been devastated if you did not return my love.” He kissed her lightly.
“That was never an option, you know,” she smiled.
* * *
The day was winding down; the Mother’s Day and birthday presents had been opened and the cake had been devoured. Only the immediate family was left to clean up the kitchen and straighten the other rooms. When a knock sounded at the front door, Stillwater went to answer it, and came back with Anchor, the likable lawyer who had set up his practice in Woodlawn some three years earlier. He was introduced to Sugarberry and Vanguard and then allowed to tell his reason for dropping by; it was obvious that he was fairly bursting to share his news.
“I was out of town on a lead to the bridge controversy... got home very late last night and called the town council together this morning; I felt it couldn’t wait another day.”
“So, tell us!” barked Icon as Anchor sat with a huge grin on his face.
“I traced down the company that Windmill had contracted to do the bridge work and found out something very interesting.” Amazingly, the lawyer merely sat and surveyed the faces of the ponies whose attention he had garnered and now held.
“And are you going to enlighten us now or wait for us to read it in the paper?” growled Whirlpool.
“Well, of course I mean to tell you!” said Anchor. “It’s my reason for being here!” He grinned round at the expectant faces. “My investigation led me to Vulcanopolis.”
This fact served to stun Anchor’s listeners as Vulcanopolis had been on their minds since Guido Casale’s attempt to take over the company that Icon, Hodgepodge, and Cachet owned; Vulcanopolis was the home of Guido’s giant, Macrohard.
“Casale?” Icon asked, his face set in rigid anger.
“Right to his doorstep,” Anchor verified.
“Simple retaliation on Guido’s part,” Anchor said. “He may be a colossus of the computer business, but he did not take H.C.I.’s defeat of Macrohard well; and with Queen Majesty watching, his hooves were tied as far as your business goes; so he planned to aggravate you in more personal ways.”
“This seems out of his league,” Stillwater said, finding it difficult to believe that Guido would be involved with such petty shenanigans.
“His goal was to quietly upset your lives in subtle ways... to be the thorn in your side, so to speak.”
“You talked with Guido face-to-face?” asked Icon, almost dreading to hear the answer.
“Oh, no; he was conveniently off somewhere. I talked to his lawyers.”
“His lawyers...” Icon had a vivid impression of a magenta mare with flashing emerald eyes backing up Justin in any discussion concerning H.C.I.
“Splotch did her homework well,” Anchor continued, his gaze resting on Icon’s face which so unsettled that stallion that he jumped to his hooves and began pacing the floor. Sugarberry had the distinct impression that this Splotch, although Icon had not mentioned her by name, was the root cause of Icon’s personal distress.
Icon himself was reliving his brief acquaintance with the mare; they had talked of many things at the cafe in Golden City, none of which had seemed unnecessarily revealing to Icon at the time; but now, knowing of Guido’s reprisal, Icon could see that insignificant facts about his life and Woodlawn itself had been retained by the ever-plotting Splotch to be used as she saw fit in her determined attempt to guarantee Macrohard’s dominance. For this, he could never forgive her; yet it wrenched his heart to know the extent of her use of him as simply a means to strengthen her case while he had fallen hopelessly in love.
“So what’s the bottom line?” questioned Whirlpool. “What were you able to accomplish concerning the bridge?”
“Justin was well prepared to explain, in a roundabout way, how Macrohard has interest in many endeavors, not all related to the computer industry. He would have me believe that as a philanthropist, Guido was offering his money to better a small town that needed modernization. My talk with Windmill, however, was much more divulging.”
“Windmill sold us out,” Stillwater stated.
“He was to receive a hefty gift for his cooperation,” confirmed Anchor. “As of this morning, the council severely chastised Windmill; his resignation will be made public tomorrow.” The stallion got to his hooves. “The bridge is safe now, and I have a few other ponies I need to talk with, so if you’ll excuse me...”
Floral Breeze moved to accompany Anchor to the door; but Icon intercepted her and, with a glance, edged her away. The two stallions went alone to the entry.
“One question, Anchor,” Icon said, his hoof on the doorknob. “Did Splotch say anything specifically concerning me?”
“You can not have met Splotch without knowing that she would have something to say about anyone and everyone,” hedged Anchor. Icon did not release his hoof from the door, however, and his eyes continued to bore into Anchor so that the lawyer had no alternative but to comply. “She said to tell you that revenge would be sweet.”
* * *
“Oh, I’m glad to be home!” sighed Sugarberry as they finally arrived at Fifth Street in Dream Valley. “And by the lights, it looks like Wishbone and Chocolate Chip are back from Neighberry.” The two young ponies who roomed at the house had visited their hometown to spend Mother’s Day with their parents.
When Sugarberry and Vanguard walked through the door, they found not only Wishbone and Chocolate Chip but also their complements, Garnet and Wigwam. “Did you have a good time in Neighberry?” Sugarberry queried, looking over the four ponies with a benevolent eye. “I thought you’d be on the road yet.” She dropped into a chair as Raptor and Fluff came to rub against her legs and purr their warm welcome.
“Mom and Dad were busy at their restaurant-- lots of ponies eat out on Mother’s Day-- but they did break off long enough to eat with us; as Lollipop was helping them, too, we figured we might as well come home.”
“You were home in Neighberry,” Vanguard pointed out.
“Dream Valley seems more like a real home,” Chocolate Chip said, “and that’s because of you two.” She grinned at Sugarberry and Vanguard.
“She’s buttering us up for something,” Vanguard responded dryly. Looking at Wigwam, he asked, “Any idea what it is?”
As if in answer, there was a rap at the door, and Wishbone rushed to answer it, returning with several boxes from the local pizza parlor. “Mom,” he directed at Sugarberry with a cocky grin, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
Chocolate Chip echoed the sentiment and hugged Sugarberry who beamed at both of her resident students. “Thank you, my children; I’m very proud to have the two of you in the family,” she said formally.
“What about me?” grinned Wigwam, coming to claim a hug of his own.
“You will be incorporated into the family once you’ve married Chocolate Chip,” responded Vanguard, causing Chocolate Chip’s face to deepen in color.
“She’s a stubborn little thing when she wants to be,” Wigwam drawled as all heads in the room turned to the chocolate brown mare.
“Intelligent, too,” Vanguard agreed. “That could explain her hesitance to align herself with the likes of you.”
“Maybe she’s waiting for a better option,” Wishbone added, enjoying his sister’s discomfiture.
“The pizza is getting cold,” reminded Garnet, anxious to relieve Chocolate Chip’s embarrassment; Chocolate Chip cast her a grateful glance as she grabbed the boxes from Wishbone’s hooves and led the way to the kitchen-- which Sugarberry and Vanguard were pleasantly surprised to see was decorated with balloons and streamers and a scrumptious-looking birthday cake.
“As this day is a day of reveling, we have arranged this fete to celebrate both Mother’s Day and Van’s birthday,” said Wishbone. “Happy Birthday, Van!”
“Garnet baked the cake,” Chocolate Chip quickly stated, “and we all went together for some gifts.”
Sugarberry was presented with a tissue-wrapped bouquet of blooms and Vanguard with a book, “The Comprehensive Guide to Snowshoeing”. Wigwam grinned wickedly. “I figure you will have all summer to read up on it so that you will know how it’s done right by the time snow flies again.”
“If I don’t have it right by now, it is only because my mentor was deficient,” retorted Vanguard.
Ignoring the insult, Wigwam went on. “In addition, Chocolate Chip can read it, too, so she can join us on our outings and make use of the snowshoes I bought her.”
They went on to enjoy their pizza and the cake after which the majority of the ponies moved into the home office to access the internet and check on a snowshoe auction Wishbone had his eye on; Sugarberry and Garnet were left alone in the kitchen with the admonition to leave the mess for later as Sugarberry was not to lift a hoof on cleanup.
“So how did you spend your weekend?” Garnet asked of Sugarberry.
“We spent most of Saturday planting strawberries.”
“Appropriate,” laughed Garnet, admiring once again the twice-as-fancy pattern of the mare.
“How about you?” queried Sugarberry. “Did you enjoy your time with Wishbone’s family?”
“We went out to visit Wishbone’s grandparents on Saturday; I felt right at home there; it was so like being with Pepper and Rainbow Star on their farm. We picked violets that were growing in the pasture near the river. It was very peaceful.” Garnet grew thoughtful as she pondered the many happy reunions of Mother’s Day that she had been involved with this year, yet it reminded her painfully of her own relationship with her mother and father. She had no idea where her parents were currently living as their “occupation” made secrecy imperative.
Garnet paced to the window and looked out on the nighttime that was swathed in a golden glow from the porch light. Fluff came to join her by sitting on the windowsill and Raptor sat at her hooves in a statuesque pose with his tail curled forward around his paws. Both felines sensed a sadness about the usually vivacious Garnet.
Slowly, the young mare began to talk. “I don’t even know where my mother is, Sugarberry. I haven’t seen her in years.”
Sugarberry, who had been apprized briefly by Wishbone and Chocolate Chip of Garnet’s past, came to stand closer to the pensive mare. Perceiving her need to talk, she asked, “What is your mother like, Garnet?”
“Very pretty. She was always very pretty. Her name is Sassy, and Dad-- Blackcap-- always said she had enough sass for four mares. But he loved her dearly; that’s one thing I can remember with happiness.”
“Were they good to you?”
“They did the best they could, I’m sure, looking back. We always had food and a roof over our heads. We moved a lot, though... changed schools often. It made us all street-smart,” Garnet grimaced, “and we needed that.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“One sister and two brothers, all older than me.”
“So you are the baby of the family, too.”
“Yes, and I was very lonely. You see, my first two siblings are much older than I am so they didn’t have much time for me; and Sable... well, Sable didn’t want a little sister tagging along after him.” She looked at Sugarberry with pained eyes. “You met Sable, I’m told. He was involved...”
“I’m aware that Sable is your brother.” Sugarberry had no desire to rake up the past incident in which Sable was involved, an incident that had caused anguish to her and her family.
“Sugarberry, my entire family-- myself included-- was cut from the same cloth. Mom and Dad made sure we could take care of ourselves from an early age by conning ponies of their jangles or gaining an advantage with some slight of hoof. I was good at it, too.” She dropped her head, unable to meet Sugarberry’s eyes.
“And look where you are today, Garnet. You’re indispensable to Wigwam’s casino and are surrounded by ponies who love you; you’ve made your own life for yourself.” Sugarberry took the now weeping Garnet in her forelegs as if she was a foal and patted her shoulder. “And you know, your mother might have changed, too. I’m sure you must be on her mind, especially today, wondering where her daughter is, how she’s doing.”
“She wouldn’t be pleased,” Garnet gulped. “In her eyes, I’ve failed miserably.”
“I wonder...” Sugarberry mused as Garnet pulled away to wipe the tears from her face. “... you can’t contact your parents because you don’t know where they are; but by the same token they can’t contact you, either, not knowing where you’ve settled. They might be anxious about you.”
“I don’t want them to know.” Garnet dabbed at a last tear. “I want my life here to work.”
“Have you talked to Wigwam about this? He has training in police work; if he could trace your parents, you’d at least know for sure what is happening with them. And they would never need to know your whereabouts.”
“Maybe someday,” Garnet sighed. “Right now, I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want anything to get between... Wishbone... and me.” She smiled self-consciously, not having intended to be so frank as to where her chief interest lay.
“Well, you can be sure Wishbone agrees with you on that point,” Sugarberry acknowledged, hugging the young mare once more. “You are his world these days.”
Garnet’s natural red coloring defied blushing, but she would have flushed if capable of it as Wishbone returned at that moment, and the look in her eyes as she beheld him revealed enough tenderness to cause the stallion to shudder imperceptibly.
Chocolate Chip and the other two stallions trailed into the kitchen, and Vanguard came across to his wife. “Chocolate Chip assures me that she and her cronies will clean up the kitchen; and as you’ve had a full weekend and Dr. Toby admonished me to take good care of you, I think you had better come upstairs with me.”
“I am tired,” she admitted. Turning to the others, she smiled. “Thanks for the flowers and the supper; I am truly blessed to have the four of you as family.”
“The same goes for me,” stated Vanguard. “The cake was delicious-- thanks, Garnet-- and the book will benefit me immensely, I’m sure. Good night.” He dropped a wink in the direction of the ponies and drew his wife with him as he made his escape, ignoring the repressed laughter left behind him in his blatant haste to secure Sugarberry’s undivided attention.
“You set the stage well?” Wigwam asked of Chocolate Chip and Garnet. Receiving their affirmation, he chuckled. “Good. Now, who’s going to wash and who’s going to dry?”
* * *
Sugarberry no sooner stepped into the upstairs sitting room that joined the master bedroom and which included the circular turret that had been added to the house after she and Vanguard had gotten married when she exclaimed, “I smell roses!” Sniffing the air, she moved unerringly to the turret space and found a bouquet of red roses prominently displayed. “Vanguard, you sweetie!” she bubbled, throwing her forelegs around his neck. “They are beautiful!”
“Not as beautiful as you, my love,” Vanguard softly said. “Happy Mother’s Day, Sugarberry.”
“It could not be happier, what with our little foal growing every day; soon we’ll have him in our forelegs, a tangible creation of our love. Nothing could be more thrilling.”
“I agree; but for the time being, see what you think of this,” Vanguard smiled. He reached for a wrapped box on the table by the roses.
“You are spoiling me,” Sugarberry grimaced, but her eyes shimmered in delight. She opened the package, lifted the lid on the box inside, and caught her breath. “It’s lovely!” she said, lifting a delicate gold chain with two hearts swinging from it. A colored stone rivaled the sparkle in the mare’s eyes. “They’re our birthstones,” she noted, dangling the necklace to watch the light play off the emerald and ruby at the center of the two outside filigree hearts. Nestled between them twinkled a topaz heart for the foal to be born in November.
“And we can add as many hearts as necessary, one for each foal. Sparkler assures me that she will be delighted to handle any number. And if the foal comes early, we can exchange the topaz for another.”
“You’ve thought of everything. Thank you, my darling husband.” She gave him a kiss, then noted, “I imagine that Chocolate Chip aided and abetted you in arranging this surprise.” She carefully pulled a single rose from the bouquet and held it to her nose to enjoy the fragrance while her eyes settled mischievously on the stallion.
“Yes, she did.” Vanguard noted with some apprehension the unsettling sparkle that lit those blue eyes, and he invariably glanced around the room to see if he was missing something. His gaze came to rest on the nightstand next to the bed. “Sugarberry, what’s that?!” he exclaimed.