written by Sugarberry
The strawberry-patterned mare was juggling a bag of groceries, her purse, and several books while trying to open the back door of her home when the sound of her name drew her attention to the backyard. No one was in sight, but she was sure she was not imagining things. Someone had called her name.
This time the mare not only heard her name but also saw a movement in the arbor-- a do-it-yourself project that Vanguard had finished quite admirably-- that graced her flower garden. Sugarberry grinned at the sight of the rose-red stallion who sat there amidst the roses that trailed up the arbor, the flowers the same deep pink as the stallion.
Sugarberry set her groceries and other items on the picnic table and crossed the lawn. “You’re perfectly camouflaged, Wishbone, amidst the roses.” She plucked a fragrant blossom and lightly touched his hoof before releasing the flower into his care.
Wishbone raised the blossom to his nose and inhaled the sweetness while Sugarberry perched across from him. “Garnet got you to your appointment okay, I take it?”
“Yes, she did; she had to go to work early, though, to fill in for Sammy. She thought I’d be safe enough here alone.”
“What did Dr. Thornby have to say?”
“Same as always-- I’m blind by choice.”
“That’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? All the doctors can tell me is that there is no physical reason for my sightlessness, so I infer they think it’s of my own doing. As if I want to be blind!” he ranted.
“Oh, Wishbone,” Sugarberry commiserated. “This is a difficult time for you, but things will get better... you’ll see,” she ended lamely, her hoof flying to her mouth as the dual meaning of her words hung between them.
To see was what Wishbone wished for.
It had been over a month since the accident had occurred as he rescued Garnet from a falling tree, during which he had incurred a blow to his head that had taken his sight. None of the doctors, however, could find a reason for his lack of vision and advised Wishbone that there must be a psychological reason that needed to be addressed before healing could occur. The stallion was not ready yet to face what that meant.
The young stallion had no desire to share with anyone what Dr. Thornby had surmised after talking with him in private. It was outlandish to consider, Wishbone felt, that his emotional state at the time of the accident could have left him sightless, avowing that if it was in his power to see-- right now!-- he would.
But Dr. Thornby explained patiently that due to guilt over losing Garnet and his hope to win her back, compounded by the stress of the tree falling to endanger her life, had, with the accompanying hit on the head, caused Wishbone to block out the impending doom of losing Garnet by refusing to acknowledge the possibility; he had shut off the sight of what was too horrible to see.
“I would not be sitting here in darkness if I had a choice,” Wishbone murmured, clenching his hoof around the rose stem so intensely that the blossom snapped off and fell to the ground.
Sugarberry reached down to pick it up. “Toby has every hope that your sight will return someday as quickly as you lost it.”
“I’m still waiting.”
“Excuse me, but is this an open meeting?” Vanguard’s voice brought a smile to Sugarberry’s face as she turned her head to watch her husband’s arrival from work; he bestowed a kiss on her cheek and rested a hoof on Wishbone’s shoulder.
“I’m poor company, but this is your arbor,” Wishbone sulked.
“And not too shoddily done, if I do say so myself,” Vanguard grinned as he sat by Sugarberry. “See? The bench only sags a little bit when we’re both sitting on it.”
Sugarberry scowled at him for using the word “see” as she had earlier; how many times did one use that word unconsciously?
But Vanguard went on. “Wishbone, Caravel and Petal are stopping by this evening; they want your input on a group project that you have some experience in from last semester. The summer session is almost over, you know.” He looked now at Sugarberry. “And Petal wants your recipe for those cookies you served on Sunday.”
“Oh, my! Speaking of food, we’d better get supper started!”
“Are you going to stay out here, Wishbone?” Vanguard asked. “It’s a beautiful day to enjoy the potpourri of flower fragrances.”
“Pleasant as this is, I think I’d better do something constructive; my table-setting ability is becoming my crowning achievement.”
Sugarberry giggled. “And all at the expense of only three broken plates and two nicked glasses... to date.”
“I haven’t broken anything in the past two days, have I?”
“Not if we don’t count the fork you dropped and then stepped on.”
“Oh. That.” Wishbone rubbed his still tender hoof. “I wouldn’t have stepped on it if Fluff hadn’t tripped me.”
Vanguard laughed as he guided Wishbone toward the house. “We’ll limit the cats to the basement while you’re about your work; you’re too valuable an asset to endanger.”
“You only say that because you don’t like washing the dishes, and I can do it blindfolded... and you don’t even need the blindfold.”
* * *
Several days later, Garnet arrived at the front door after admiring the display of Sugarberry’s flowers blooming along the porch; she waited impatiently for Wishbone to answer her knock on the door. When the door finally opened, she grinned. “Hi, Wishbone; it’s me.”
“Hi.” Wishbone squeezed the hoof that was presented to him. “You’re just in time to help me find the remote; I dropped it and can’t seem to find where it went.”
Looking puzzled for a moment, Garnet suddenly understood. “Ahh, the music channel,” she grinned. “So that’s how you wiled away your afternoon.” She stooped and reached under the rocking chair to rescue the remote. “Where do you set it?”
“Give it to me,” Wishbone admonished and, taking it from her hoof, pointed it at the television and clicked the appropriate button to silence the music, then calculated the distance to the end table and set the remote down.
“Very well done,” Garnet smiled. “Now, come into the kitchen with me and I’ll fix you a snack.” She entwined a foreleg around one of Wishbone’s, and the two set off together. “Uh-oh,” Garnet said, braking him. “Hairball.”
Wishbone did not move another hoof until Garnet had obtained a paper towel and cleaned up the offending offering of one of the feline occupants of the house. “Is it safe now?” he asked as he felt Garnet’s touch once more.
“The coast is clear,” she giggled. “And Fluff is hiding under the sofa, so I think he’s the guilty party. Raptor is sitting smugly in the window sill.”
“I can well imagine the look on his face,” Wishbone chuckled, “... pure innocence.”
Garnet was pleased to see that Wishbone was feeling more cheerful than he had been; it had been a tough time for him since the lightning strike had sent the tall tree plummeting toward them; and Wishbone had exposed himself to the brunt of the danger, subsequently incurring such a bump on his head that he had awoken without sight.
Robbing the cookie jar on the counter that always contained a ready supply of treats, Garnet thought back to that evening when she had been hurrying to Dream Valley, anxious to make amends with Wishbone yet unsure of what his reception would be. When she had caught sight of him coming to meet her on the path, her heart had soared; he would not have been there if he had not realized that he had been unfair in his conviction of her deeds. But the lightning strike had occurred almost immediately after they had spotted one another, and there had been no time for words, only action... action that had resulted in Wishbone’s injury.
It had been a number of days after the accident before Garnet and Wishbone had a chance to talk to one another about the quarrel that had separated them, and both ponies took the responsibility of the accident upon themselves, almost precipitating another quarrel. Garnet maintained that it had been her fault since she was the one who had left Dream Valley to think things over rather than facing Wishbone; Wishbone clearly condemned himself as totally at fault for doubting Garnet’s integrity when he knew she was the dearest pony he had ever met. In the end, they had wisely decided to share the blame and put the entire episode behind them.
But that was not so easy to do with Wishbone’s blindness a constant reminder of their mistake. Wishbone had gone through stages of hope, anger, resignation, and frustration before he would begin to accept his sightlessness even on a temporary basis. Garnet was thankful, however, that he had not shut her out and had allowed her to help him acclimate himself to his new dark world. She had stood by him and would continue to do so, no matter what the ultimate outcome would be.
“Do you want some ice cream with the cookies?” she asked, stopping by the stallion to smooth an errant curl back into place on his forehead.
“Milk will be fine,” he said, not wanting to admit that he was still too self-conscious about his eating methods to want to chase a slippery scoop of ice cream around a bowl with someone looking on.
As Garnet poured the milk, she made a suggestion. “You have hardly been out of the house except to go to church and to the doctor; I think it’s time that you start socializing again.”
“I’m satisfied with my limited excursions.”
“But wouldn’t you like to spend an evening at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe and have some fun with our friends?” she cajoled. She slipped into the chair next to him and took his hoof in hers. “I was thinking that Thursday night would be a good time for you to get out on the town a bit; I don’t have to work and even Wigwam is going to be free, so we could get together with all the old gang; and you could enjoy a change of pace for once.”
“It isn’t as if I haven’t seen anyone, Garnet. Every weekend brings someone-- my folks and Lollipop, Pepper and family, your two aunts, even Grandma and Grandpa, not to mention Sugarberry and Vanguard’s friends and relatives who always seem to be stopping in. Tabby and Thomas were here last evening with Faline.”
The back door opened as Chocolate Chip came in, her day at Bushwoolie Bargain Books completed. She grinned as she saw her brother and her friend sitting companionably at the table. “I hope you saved some cookies for me.”
“Have you ever known Sugarberry to run out?” returned Garnet.
“Good point,” said Chocolate Chip as she sat down and grabbed a cookie. “And how are things going for the two of you?”
“I’m trying to convince your brother to spend an evening with us at the ice cream shop rather than hiding out here at home; I think it’s time he got out and had some fun.”
“Sounds like a good idea!” concurred Chocolate Chip. “Wigwam and I were planning to be there, and Fern and Toby might be able to come as well.”
“Whoa!” exclaimed Wishbone. “I’m beginning to feel out of my league already. I won’t be able to keep track of where everyone is.”
“We’ll help you out as needed,” Garnet assured the stallion. “It will be good for you to get out for once. Please say you’ll agree to come.”
The pleading in Garnet’s voice tugged at his heart and Wishbone realized that the mare had been denied any enjoyment of her own as she was constantly hovering over him when she wasn’t at work. He doubted that he would enjoy the evening as much as Garnet and Chocolate Chip thought he would, but he did not have the heart to ruin Garnet’s plans.
“I’ll go,” he finally said, accepting a hug from Garnet and then one from his sister. “I’m grateful you two don’t use the same cologne,” he chuckled. “I’d never know who was who.”
* * *
It was a cheerful company that gathered at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe Thursday evening, all of them happy to see Wishbone in their midst although the stallion himself seemed a bit tense in the bustling atmosphere that surrounded his dark and isolated world. Sugarberry and Vanguard’s home was the one place where he felt safe and at ease; here at the ice cream shop, he pictured himself afloat on a choppy sea... and it raked his nerves.
Yet Wishbone knew that Garnet was sitting to his right and Chocolate Chip and Wigwam were to his left. Fern and Toby were across from him and Petal and Caravel were next to them. Wishbone listened to their voices and responded when spoken to; that was not the problem. It was the constant motion around him as customers came and went, and ponies stopped to wish him well, coming up behind him or speaking from across the table that unsettled him as the movement and voices made a confusing kaleidoscope of changing scenes. He became more quiet and withdrawn as time went on, finding comfort only in Garnet’s touch as she occasionally rested her hoof on his foreleg amidst the animated chatter she was engaged in with the other ponies.
If Wishbone could have seen the faces of the ponies around him, he would have noticed that the mares were entirely absorbed in the conversation while Toby seemed to be watching Wishbone with concern; and Wigwam, although joining in the general chatter, was taking worried glances in Wishbone’s direction as if sensing the young stallion’s building distress; even Caravel withdrew from the mare’s conversation as if waiting for something to happen.
The catalyst came in the form of a dapper stallion, denim blue in color with violet hair, who breezed in behind Garnet’s chair and whispered in her ear, “Hello, beautiful!”
The words were spoken discreetly, but Wishbone heard them; and from their direction, he knew they were intended for Garnet. His suspicion was proved correct as an answering giggle came forth from the red mare. “You cad!” she grinned at the blue stallion. “I’ve heard that line from you enough to know it’s an empty sentiment.”
Realizing that Wishbone had not made the acquaintance of this new arrival, Garnet set about introducing the two stallions. “Hawkley is fast becoming indispensable at the casino,” she ended.
“No doubt,” Wishbone muttered under his breath as he acknowledged the introduction with a nod of his head and a frown.
Coming up to join in the revelry, Becca and Roland caught the tail end of the presentation. “I’ve heard talk of you,” Becca grinned at Hawkley. “Something to the effect that Graymare Corporation offered you an incentive to stay with them, but you turned them down to come to Dream Valley.” As head of the Dream Valley Chamber of Commerce, Becca was pleased to have learned that Hawkley was a valuable addition to the business community.
“I’m just a small-town pony at heart, and the chance to come here was irresistible,” the stallion replied.
Hawkley returned Becca’s grin; but Wishbone, sitting in his darkened world, imagined Hawkley casting a wink in Garnet’s direction as he said irresistible; and his face became taut as jealousy fought with his growing tension. But Garnet’s hoof rested on his foreleg, and Wishbone controlled his resentment.
“Where did you grow up?” queried Fern.
“I was born in Hayton, but my family moved to Frostmont when I was five.”
Wishbone felt Garnet’s hoof jerk away from him and knew that her head turned to stare up at Hawkley who still stood behind them. “Frostmont? Did you by any chance have a teacher in elementary school by the name of Burgundy Lace Lamplight?”
“Miss Lamplight...” Hawkley mused, rubbing a hoof thoughtfully across his chin. “Third or fourth grade it was. I cringe to think of that mare even yet; she was rather formidable. How are you connected to the redoubtable Miss Lamplight?”
“She’s my aunt,” sniffed Garnet. “And she’s a kindhearted, genial soul. You must have been a particularly scandalous colt.”
Hawkley’s eyes twinkled as he responded. “And still so as a stallion, or so I’ve been told.”
There was a tone in Hawkley’s voice that put Wishbone on the defensive, but before he could say anything, he heard the laughter of the others around him; realizing that he had missed some action lost to his sightless eyes, he kept quiet; but he ached to be able to see what was happening.
“I can hardly wait to hear what my aunt has to say about you,” Garnet teased Hawkley. “I think I’ll call her as soon as I get home.”
“Ah, but if she is as kindhearted as you implied, she will certainly let the passage of years soften any negative remembrances... I hope.”
There was laughter again as the ponies enjoyed Hawkley’s discomfort over the possibility of his foalhood antics becoming common knowledge among his new friends, then the conversation took on a more general tone as several acquaintances approached Caravel and Petal concerning school-related problems that held their attention while Becca good-naturedly regaled the others about her latest embarrassment; for while Becca was an intelligent and capable mare, she had the peculiar ability to land herself in the most awkward situations.
As the voices continued around him, Wishbone became aware of one voice between him and Garnet. “I’m going to the counter to get a soft drink; can I get either of you anything?” asked Hawkley.
It was a perfectly courteous proposal, but the fact that it was made by Hawkley-- whom Wishbone had come to imagine as competition for Garnet’s attention-- irked the rose-red stallion; “No thanks; I’m fine,” he said, reaching toward his soda which had sat neglected for some time; misjudging the placement of the drink, he bumped his hoof into it, knocking it over and spilling its contents across the table in the direction of Fern and Petal, both of whom jumped up to avoid a dousing of the cold, brown liquid.
Realizing from the commotion around him what had occurred, Wishbone attempted to right the soda, but it was a belated effort and his haphazard motion only succeeded in overturning Garnet’s soda which cascaded over the table and onto both him and Garnet. Garnet was on her hooves in a second; and Wishbone, too, attempted to escape a serious drenching, his chair careening backward as he stood and uncertainly faced a muddle that he could not see.
“I was not responsible,” Becca giggled, attempting to lighten the moment as Scoops distributed paper towels to sop up the mess.
“It was my fault,” Wishbone murmured. He wrenched away from Garnet as she began sponging off the soda that marred his coat. “I just want to get out of this place.”
Wigwam was immediately at Wishbone’s side and Toby came around the table to offer his assistance as well, but Wishbone did not want to be escorted out of the shop like a complete invalid; his sense of direction was correct as he took several long strides to distance himself from the melee, but he did not foresee the presence of Baby Noddins inquisitively standing in his path; and it was only when he collided with the young filly, sending her resoundingly into the back of a neighboring chair, that he stopped to consider his actions.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked of the young filly; his voice was trembling and the hoof he held out was shaking.
“Only a little bit,” Baby Noddins bravely responded, rubbing her side where a bruise was already forming.
“That’s okay.” Baby Noddins shrugged her shoulders. “You can’t see, can you?”
Wishbone took a quick breath. “Wigwam? Take me home.” It was humiliating to ask for help as if he was a foal, but he felt so utterly inept that he could do nothing else.
Her face lined with worry, Garnet offered her assistance. “I’m here, Wishbone.”
Shaking off the hoof that she had placed on his, Wishbone barked, “No!” then added in a softer tone, “I need some time to think.” He paused momentarily. “I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding someone else to walk you home.”
Opening her mouth to respond, Garnet was silenced by a telling look from Toby. “Fern and I will make sure that Garnet gets home safely,” Toby assured Wishbone.
“Thanks,” Wishbone whispered; then to Wigwam, he said, “Let’s go.”
Garnet watched as Wishbone and Wigwam left the ice cream shop with Chocolate Chip trailing behind; she wanted to go with them and listened to Toby’s reasoning with fire in her eyes.
“He’s distraught, Garnet; and in his present humor, anything you say to him is only going to get twisted and thrown back in your face. Let him work out his demons himself. He’ll be ready to talk with you soon enough,” Toby ended.
“He’s going to blame me for bringing him here tonight.”
“Maybe at first, but he’ll soon come around when he realizes that he has some good memories of this evening to keep him company along with the bad.” Toby smiled at the red mare. “This is hard for both of you, but things will get better... trust me.”
Garnet wanted to believe Toby, but her past experience with Wishbone caused her to doubt that the friendship between her and the stallion would not be beset by rough waters still ahead.
* * *
“I made a fool of myself.” Wishbone sat on the edge of his bed. “I felt like I was five years old again and about to throw a tantrum.”
Sugarberry patted the young stallion’s shoulder. She had been distraught when Wigwam and Chocolate Chip had returned with a withdrawn and despondent Wishbone who had immediately removed himself to his basement dwelling. Sugarberry had ignored Wigwam’s suggestion to allow Wishbone his privacy to mull over the events of the evening on his own. Once Wigwam had gone home and Chocolate Chip had retired to her room, Sugarberry had announced to Vanguard that she had to make sure Wishbone was okay before she could settle down for the night. Vanguard had only smiled and remarked that he had never thought otherwise.
Having found Wishbone’s room in darkness, Sugarberry had hesitated, then shook herself as she realized that he would have no need of a light under his present circumstances. His world was darkness day and night. Still, she refrained from saying anything, wondering if Wishbone had already fallen asleep and would resent her motherly meddling in his affairs. Her uncertainty was for naught, however, as Wishbone’s voice came to her. “Come in, Sugarberry.” Flipping the switch that bathed the room in light, Sugarberry was met with Wishbone’s statement declaring himself a fool who was close to throwing a tantrum.
“That’s strange; neither your sister nor Wigwam used those words in describing the goings-on at the ice cream shop.”
“Their way of protecting me, I assure you.” The young stallion stared sightlessly to a point across the room.
Pulling up a chair, Sugarberry sat close to Wishbone. “Is it possible that you over-reacted to the situation? I’m sure sodas get spilled quite often.”
“Worse than that, I crashed into Baby Noddins. I felt so helpless... so stupid.” Wishbone dropped his head onto his hooves. “Garnet must have been mortified.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“She expected better of me; I let her down.”
“How? You are still learning how to cope with your blindness; we all admire the way you have handled yourself-- I, for one, would have been much less tenable in the same situation.”
“I thought I’d be able to see again by now,” Wishbone whispered, rubbing a hoof over his eyes. “I can’t accept this, Sugarberry. How long can I continue to hope that the doctors are right, and my problem will correct itself? What if I can never see again?”
Wishbone’s anguish tore at Sugarberry’s heart, but she could think of no words of comfort. She settled for hugging the grieving pony. When Wishbone pulled back, he admitted his worst fear. “Garnet deserves better than a blind pony.”
“Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you are not the same pony that Garnet looks upon as her dearest friend. She’s not one to desert you.”
“That’s just the point; she’ll sacrifice herself for me. She should move on with her life.”
Sugarberry shook her head. “I don’t think Garnet feels like she’s sacrificing herself, Wishbone. Her eyes light up in the same way now as they always have when she comes into your presence. It’s not misplaced sympathy; her feelings run much deeper than that.”
“Sugarberry, I love her; but isn’t it said that I should let her go?”
* * *
As the days piled one on the other, Wishbone put on a brave front for Garnet when they were together; but when he was alone with his tormented thoughts, he found himself losing ground. All of his hopes were sliding away, and he became obsessed with the idea that Garnet should not be drawn down into his darkness. He had to release her, and she had to accept her freedom.
The showdown finally came when Garnet and Chocolate Chip began talking about the upcoming Rainbow Festival dance that was to be held at the community center. Both mares were positive that this would be a good opportunity for Wishbone to meet with all his friends in a festive atmosphere. Wishbone saw it only as a repeat of the fiasco at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, only in front of more ponies. To his tangled way of thinking it was time for him to make his move.
Having decided to cast his fate to the winds, Wishbone still hesitated in facing Garnet with his plan to set her free; so he took the coward’s way out by confronting his sister with his scheme first.
“Sis, I want to talk with you if you have some time.” Wishbone looked so forlorn that Chocolate Chip would have found time for him regardless of her schedule. As it was, she wasn’t due to be at class quite yet, so she locked forelegs with her brother and drew him along to the turret room and sat companionably beside him, retaining his hoof in her possession. “So, what’s on your mind?”
“We’re alone?” Wishbone had learned early that it was best to verify that before speaking, to save himself and others embarrassment.
“Yes, just the two of us. Sugarberry and Vanguard have both left for work.”
“Good.” The stallion, however, was hesitant to say what he felt he needed to impress on her.
“Is something troubling you?” Chocolate Chip finally asked.
“I’m no closer to seeing again than I was when the accident happened.”
“That’s not true. Any day now...”
Chocolate Chip was cut off. “If I’m meant to spend the rest of my life this way, I don’t want Garnet to put herself out for me under some sort of misplaced pity.”
Wishbone put up a warning hoof, and Chocolate Chip closed her mouth.
“She’s been spending way too much of her time seeing to my comfort rather than doing what she should be doing for herself.”
“That being...?” Chocolate Chip goaded with undisguised loathing.
“She should be out having fun and meeting new ponies... especially some... st... st... stallion that can show her a better time than I can. Surely you know some guys at Pony Pride... and what about Hawkley at the casino? There’s any number of eligible ponies out there, and I’d like you to make it possible for Garnet to spend some time with them.”
“And if Garnet isn’t interested?”
“She can’t want to spend her time with someone like me; she’s too full of life, too beautiful, to waste her time on a blind stallion who can’t even dance with her or appreciate how pretty she is.” Wishbone’s voice faded to a whisper.
“Are you quite finished?” Chocolate Chip queried, a menacing edge to her voice. Wishbone nodded.
“Okay, little brother. Garnet, being the smarter of the two of you, anticipated the direction your deluded thoughts were headed; and she told me, when this time came, just what to tell you. It’s quite an itemized list, so I suggest you make yourself comfortable.” The brown mare drew a piece of paper out of her backpack while Wishbone scowled in his sister’s general direction.
Opening the paper with an ominous rustle, Chocolate Chip began reading.
“Dear Wishbone: The following points are for your consideration.” Chocolate Chip glanced at her brother’s face and was delighted to see a look of complete dismay hovering there. She continued.
“Number one: As I have already made plans to attend Friday’s dance with you, I will do so regardless of how you feel about it. I will arrive at seven-thirty and expect you to be ready to party.
“Number two: As you will not be good company in the interim in that you will do nothing but try to persuade me to throw your friendship to the wind, I will refrain from visiting you until Friday evening. I suggest you use the time wisely.”
Wishbone tried to get a word in. “You can tell...” But Chocolate Chip’s hoof came up to rest on Wishbone’s lips, and it was the stallion’s turn to swallow his words.
“Number three: If you expect other mutual friends to aid you in putting single stallions in my way, I will be polite but will tell them in no uncertain terms that I am committed to your well-being and will not be available in the foreseeable future, if ever.
“Number four: I want to be there when your eyesight returns; and if you can look me in the eye then and tell me that you don’t want to see me again, I will accept your decision and step out of your life.
“Number five: I love you.”
Chocolate Chip’s voice broke but she managed to add, “Signed, Garnet,” as she brushed a tear from her cheek. “I’ve got to leave for class now; I hope you think long and hard, Wishbone.” Sliding the letter under his hoof, the brown mare turned and left him with his head leaning dejectedly on his hooves.
* * *
Garnet was true to her word and avoided Wishbone’s company which gave him plenty of time to think, but not wisely as she and Chocolate Chip had advised. The stallion stuck to his original strategy to sent Garnet on her way, maintaining in his frequent arguments with himself that she would be better off without him.
When Friday rolled around, Wishbone spent the day contemplating what his future would be like without his sight and without Garnet; he would not allow his thoughts to consider any other options. After all, no one could force him to attend the dance; the very reflection of attending such a social function overwhelmed him. Garnet would have to be satisfied with his ultimatum that their relationship was over, no matter how cruel and harsh he might have to be to get her to come around to his way of thinking.
He waited with a certain amount of trepidation for the hour of seven-thirty to approach; he sat in the relative safety of the turret room while Sugarberry and Vanguard and Chocolate Chip prepared themselves for the dance amidst a discordant amount of chatter. Wishbone stiffened when a knock sounded on the door, but it was only Wigwam; Wishbone breathed a sigh of relief, considering himself fortunate to have his trial delayed even for a few minutes.
Wigwam presented Chocolate Chip with a corsage of flowers; Wishbone could smell their delicate fragrance wafting into the room. Vanguard had earlier affixed a nosegay on his wife’s foreleg and Sugarberry had held it up to Wishbone’s nose so that he could inhale the heady scent of lily of the valley and miniature roses; for a brief moment, he had lost his resolve in terminating Garnet’s interest in him as he remembered other flower bouquets that had commemorated special occasions for the two of them, but he had strengthened his resolve by concentrating on the benefits Garnet would receive by being freed from his constraining presence.
Wishbone was lost in his own memories and was, therefore, unaware of Garnet’s arrival until she was standing in front of him; now it was the smell of her cologne that turned his resolve into jelly and his good sense into a whirlpool of emotion. He tried to collect his thoughts. “This is all a waste of time, you know; I can’t dance.”
Garnet dismissed his words with a wave of her hoof which only caused her fragrance to waft over him causing more debilitation than ever. “Oh,” she purred, “but you can hear the music,” and she leaned into him and kissed each of his ears, “and you can smell the flowers Fern has blanketed the hall with.” She planted a kiss on his nose. “And you can talk to your friends.” This time she kissed him full on the mouth... a long, lingering kiss.
“You’re not playing fair,” Wishbone finally managed to say in a ragged whisper.
“All’s fair in love and war,” Garnet smiled, and Wishbone could imagine the twinkle in her violet eyes.
But he was not about to be turned from his goal. “That doesn’t...”
Garnet interrupted him. “In case you can’t see it, this is love.” She kissed him again.
Wishbone tried to hang onto all the reasons why Garnet would be better off without him, but his resolve took wing and flew out the turret window along with all his plans to set Garnet free. If she was this sure of her love for him even in his present condition, it was he who would have to change. He would have to face the fact that his blindness could very well be permanent and prepare himself to lead a productive life under its limitations. For himself, he did not have the courage; but for Garnet, he would swallow his pride and make the most of the situation.
Wishbone returned Garnet’s kiss and, as she nestled her head against his shoulder, he hugged her to him and murmured, “I love you.”
Garnet’s head came up abruptly as she stared at him wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “Do you know what you just said?” she queried.
“Yes.” Wishbone’s hoof found her face and he traced along her cheek. “I love you, Garnet.”
“You’ve made me the happiest mare alive,” she sighed, snuggling against his shoulder once more.
Wigwam came upon them at that moment, and he chuckled. “I see you’ve made some progress, Garnet. Does this mean you’re coming to the dance?”
Sitting up and claiming Wishbone’s hoof, she conceded, “I guess that’s up to Wishbone.” She looked into his face, and all of the ponies gathered to hear his response.
“That was point number one in your ultimatum, I believe,” he smirked. “I only wish I had a corsage for you.”
Beaming from the sidelines, Sugarberry offered a suggestion. “We’ve got plenty of roses in the garden; it would only take a few minutes for Chocolate Chip and me to fashion a fetching arrangement.” She grinned and winked at Garnet, “And the roses match Wishbone perfectly.”
* * *
“There’s a dip in the path,” Garnet warned.
“More like three dips,” Wishbone grinned smugly in the general direction of the two mares accompanying him.
“Tsk, tsk, baby brother,” Chocolate Chip reproved while Garnet giggled. “Leave Garnet and me out of your snide remarks.”
“Well,” Wishbone argued, “the three of us are making a journey following three days of rain, and I specifically heard the forecaster predict more storms today and tomorrow. But you two would have it that it’s a perfect time to visit Pepper and Rainbow Star, and I let you convince me to go along with your plan.” He groaned as his hooves sunk into the moist ground in the low spot in the path.
“You’re the one who said we owed you a sojourn in the country after you survived the evening of the dance,” Garnet reminded him. “And we have these days that worked out for all of us.”
The dance had proved to be a pivotal event for Wishbone in that he was finely able to face the fact that his unique circumstances might set him apart from the rest of his friends, but it did not need to isolate him from them. Accepting the reality that some of the things he used to do on his own could now only be accomplished with help had been hard for the stallion; but once he refused to become agitated over the necessity to accept assistance, he was able to relax and enjoy the evening out.
Little by little, his friends had learned to put into words what otherwise might have been lost to Wishbone in a facial expression or an action. And in the course of the evening, Garnet had convinced him to dance with her in a quiet corner where they would not be unduly crowded, her gentle pressure on his hoof letting him know when to alter his course to avoid some pony or object in his path. The evening had ended with Wishbone being more confident concerning his abilities under his loss of vision.
“I really do appreciate that you both were willing to grant my wish by coming out to Pepper’s place,” acknowledged Wishbone.
“I’ve been looking forward to it,” Chocolate Chip cheerily admitted. “And I’m glad you needed an extra guide. I’ve been curious to see Pepper and Rainbow Star’s homestead. I picture it like Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.”
“It is similar in a way, but much livelier with the foals running around,” mused Wishbone.
“Your grandparent’s farm was probably that lively when you two and Lollipop were younger and visiting them,” observed Garnet.
“Our visits were all too infrequent,” sighed Chocolate Chip. “I was always much happier with them.” She reflected for a moment, then shook off the hint of melancholy. “Wigwam and I... ah... I’d like to find a quiet country home some day, and Wigwam has a similar dream.”
Grinning broadly, Garnet quizzed the brown mare. “And just what plans do you and Wigwam have?”
“Nothing definite,” Chocolate Chip hedged. “I don’t want to get side-tracked until I have my degree.”
“That won’t be much longer, will it?”
“One more year .”
“Shh... listen!” Wishbone silenced the mares as a vibrant whistle trilled through the trees. “That’s a cardinal!” The three ponies stopped while Garnet and Chocolate Chip scanned the branches edging the path.
“There he is!” Garnet said softly, watching the brilliant scarlet bird. “It’s sitting in the lacy foliage of a cedar tree to the left of the path.” She voiced the scene for Wishbone’s benefit.
“Oh, and there’s his mate,” pointed Chocolate Chip, observing the more drab but still striking female. “She has something in her mouth; it must be feeding time for their brood.”
“And that,” said Wishbone as another cheerful song broke from the overhead canopy, “is an oriole.”
Both mares swung their heads around until they spotted the splendid orange and black bird in the height of an elm tree. “You’re getting good at this, Wishbone,” Garnet complimented the stallion.
“Sugarberry’s an avid teacher when we sit in the flower garden while she keeps an eye on the bird feeder. I’ve done more bird watching blind than I ever did when I could see.”
As Wishbone finished speaking, another sound rumbled from the sky to the west. “There’s a storm coming.”
“There are some grey clouds gathering beyond the treetops,” Chocolate Chip admitted.
“We’ll be at Pepper and Rainbow Star’s before it reaches us, though,” Garnet assured Wishbone, but she picked up her pace, forcing Wishbone, who walked between the two mares, to quicken his steps as well. “We’ll be at the old barn in a couple of minutes, and then the homestead isn’t far at all,” she informed Chocolate Chip, sending her a speaking glance that carried a message of trepidation; Garnet did not want to relive a storm like the one that had taken Wishbone’s sight from him.
“The storm is miles away yet,” assured Chocolate Chip. “The sun is still shining.”
“The sun, however, was engulfed by dark, threatening clouds by the time the rambling house came into view and large, heavy drops of rain were pelting the ponies when they finally reached the welcoming doorway where Freckles, Tasha, and Palette awaited the visitors in anxious expectation.
“Hurry up!” urged Freckles as he held the door, allowing the trio to gain shelter quickly.
Rainbow Star came into the room with towels in her hooves. “You three better towel down,” she grinned. “Welcome to our home, Chocolate Chip. I hope you enjoy your stay.”
“I’m sure I will,” smiled the brown mare, “rain and all.”
“I’m sorry that Wigwam couldn’t have joined us, too.”
“The roof of the casino started to leak, and he felt he had to supervise its repair personally.”
“And Garnet,” Rainbow Star hugged the red mare, “the foals can’t wait to show you their latest acquisition.” To prove those words, all three foals grabbed onto Garnet’s hoof and dragged her into the next room.
Rainbow Star next eyed Wishbone speculatively; and, taking the damp towel from his hooves, she patted his cheek. “I’m so happy that you came. These rainy days have been hard on the foals; they’ve been looking forward to your company.”
“And I will enjoy theirs.”
Pepper came into the house, his coat dripping on the carpet. “It’s raining.” He stated the obvious. “I hope you city folks are prepared to help construct the ark.” He thumped Wishbone on the shoulder and grinned at Chocolate Chip.
“The river looked swollen, but still within its banks,” Chocolate Chip smiled back teasingly. “Do you really think an ark is necessary.”
“Just to be on the safe side,” Pepper winked.
“Are your crops going to be okay?” asked Wishbone.
“I was just out checking the lowest fields along the river; they are beginning to look like lakes. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Garnet returned with the foals to exchange pleasantries with Pepper while Chocolate Chip and Rainbow Star disappeared to the kitchen to prepare a light lunch. Chocolate Chip squealed as she spotted a cage at the edge of the room with an unusual occupant. A prickly-looking creature, huffing softly and jerking with a clicking sound, caught Chocolate Chip’s fascinated attention. “What is that?” she asked.
Rainbow Star laughed. “Meet our newest family member; his name is Hedgie... he’s a hedgehog.”
“Where’s his face?” Chocolate Chip queried, peering at the small animal quizzically.
“Right now he’s upset because he doesn’t know you, so he’s showing off how ferocious he is. Once he realizes you’re not a threat, he’ll relax his spines and give you a look at his adorable little face.”
The kitchen was soon filled with ponies, and the family’s cats joined the fun as Freckles removed Hedgie from the cage and set the seemingly artificial life form on the floor. As the preparations for lunch went forward and the foals described the creature in detail to Wishbone, the shy little animal became less of a prickly ball and more of a personable entity. At first, his compact face appeared only for a brief moment before dropping quickly out of sight in a spine forest. As he became more comfortable, his face appeared for longer periods, and soon he smoothed his bristly appearance and stood on delicate fur-covered beige legs, his nose busily sniffing the surroundings.
“He’s a cutie,” Garnet noted.
Chocolate Chip agreed. “That tiny soft face is at such odds to his rough exterior. What a sweetheart.”
Freckles guided Wishbone’s hoof over the intimidating prickles and Hedgie responded with a quick jump that drove the stiff, needlelike spines into Wishbone’s hoof. “Ouch!” the stallion yelped. “That hurt.”
“Sorry,” Freckles apologized. “Hedgie didn’t mean anything by it; he was just nervous.” The colt soothed the hedgehog’s literally ruffled feelings while Garnet smoothed her hoof over Wishbone’s needled appendage.
The rain continued to fall after lunch, so the ponies spent a comfortable afternoon indoors amidst board games and read-aloud sessions. Baby Palette commandeered Garnet’s lap as the mare read a story about a pirate, lacing it with several anecdotes that she had heard about Barnacle’s real-life experiences, causing Freckles’ and Tasha’s eyes to widen in awe. Palette simply snuggled into a comfortable nap with one small hoof resting safely in Wishbone’s larger one. The stallion was on the sofa next to Garnet while Chocolate Chip sat on the floor ensconced between the older foals.
Pepper paced the room, alternately staring out the window at the ever falling rain. The scowl on his face left no doubt that his thoughts were on the precious crops that were threatened with too much of a good thing, especially if the river crested and escaped its banks, spilling over and washing through the cropland.
Rainbow Star came to claim her husband’s attention. “It’ll be okay,” she assured him, kissing his cheek. “Things always work out.”
Pepper managed a weak smile. “I’d hoped we’d come out ahead this year.”
“And we still might,” Rainbow Star replied. Her gaze left her husband to rest on Wishbone. How could they worry about financial problems when Wishbone confronted a much more serious difficulty? She watched his youthful face as he laughed along with the others over some comment Tasha had made, and the mare sighed deeply.
* * *
A let-up of the rain allowed the ponies to explore the soggy world outside the house after supper; Garnet, Wishbone, and Chocolate Chip accompanied Freckles, Tasha, and Palette on a tour of the homestead so that Chocolate Chip could become familiarized with the barn and its inhabitants and could try her hoof at milking one of the goats. Garnet’s experience with that chore when she had stayed with the family the previous autumn won her the dubious honor of teaching Chocolate Chip the finer points of the art, and both mares were well pleased with their results. Wishbone regretted his inability to witness the scene, but found himself occupied with cuddling a litter of barn kittens that came scampering to play with the foals.
After leaving the barn, the foals led their company up the hillside that rose above the house and outbuildings along a path that curved through the trees and shrubs that dripped trapped raindrops on them until they were soaked and quite ready to return to the dry comfort of the house.
Garnet was impressed with the manner in which the three foals guided Wishbone in the course of their walk and the corresponding ease with which Wishbone responded to their every spoken word or gentle tug. With the complete candor of their youth, the foals extended their help with no accompanying guilt; there was no embarrassment on either side for help offered or received, and the foals seemed to know intuitively when and where Wishbone would need their supervision and the sort of aid that would work most effectively. She smiled as little Palette scampered ahead to tug at a rock that could trip the stallion and the foal’s ready acceptance of Freckles’ help to accomplish his goal. Tasha proved a competent narrator to point out those things that she thought were essential to Wishbone’s enjoyment of the walk.
Were the foals just closer to the time when they had been helpless and had relied on their parents to lead them; and, therefore, were less self-conscious about the need to lean on someone for direction? In their innocence, did they intuitively sense the needs of others and respond from the heart rather than looking the other way to avoid uncomfortable feelings about imperfection? Whatever the case, Garnet could see that Wishbone was more comfortable here at the farmstead than he was when thrust into the social situations back at Dream Valley such as the fiasco at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe and the bittersweet night of the dance-- even though, Garnet smiled to herself, that evening ranked high in her memory because Wishbone had accepted the fact that her feelings for him were based on love, not pity.
* * *
Waking in the night-- which was actually closer to morning for those who could see the pale dawn light through the windows-- Wishbone momentarily wondered where he was. He felt cramped and uncomfortable and could not move his left foreleg; he had the horrifying thought that something terrible had happened to him while he slept and now he was not only blind but unable to move as well. He took a deep breath to calm himself and thought back to the previous evening; he had gone to bed in Freckles and Palette’s room with the two foals roughing it on the floor; he had felt fine then, and the bed had been comfortable when he drifted off to sleep; but now he felt as if he were trapped within himself.
Wishbone concentrated on his right hoof and found he was able to lift it; he searched out his left appendage, wondering about the numbness; his hoof met a mass of fine mane and a diminutive ear.
Wishbone grinned. That was it. He had a vague recollection of a peal of thunder that had propelled Palette from the blankets on the floor into the bed with Wishbone, and the young stallion had drawn the foal into the protective comfort of his foreleg which over the hours in sleep had cut off the circulation. Gently removing his foreleg from under the foal’s head, Wishbone waggled it in the air to return blood flow. He shifted his position as best he could and realized that he was hemmed in on the other side by one of the large cats that had the run of the house; over his back legs, he was able to determine the form of Freckles who had obviously deserted his makeshift bed and tucked himself into the only available space left.
Sending the cat on its way, Wishbone carefully untangled himself and sat up on the edge of the bed, stretching and rubbing his stiff legs, wondering what time it was. The house was quiet, as if none of the other occupants were up yet; unobtrusively, he stood, leaving the young colts to their sleep. He himself did not feel tired, so he assumed that it must be morning. After maneuvering himself through the room and down the hallway, he washed up and began his slow progress to the kitchen. He had no sooner found himself a chair at the table when he heard the back door open as Rainbow Star came into the house.
“Good morning, Wishbone,” Rainbow Star’s cheery voice greeted him. “Did Palette wake you in the night? He’s afraid of thunder and lightning when it’s dark.”
“He crawled into bed with me, but he went right back to sleep.”
“I hope he didn’t crowd you out.”
“No, no... not at all.” Wishbone unconsciously flexed his foreleg, and Rainbow Star grinned.
“You’re not fooling me, but thanks for watching out for him. And now, you can help me get breakfast on.”
“I’m afraid that Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip have been spoiling me when it comes to breakfast, although I’m willing to give it a try.”
“I have just the thing,” the mare said, setting something ahead of the stallion.
“It’s still raining,” Wishbone said as Rainbow Star’s wet foreleg touched him.
“But it’s letting up. I picked some strawberries out of our patch.”
“In the rain?”
“They were ripe,” Rainbow Star shrugged. “You can pick the tops off of them.” She took Wishbone’s hoof and moved it to the rim of a basket that was full to overflowing with the fresh, red fruit. “I’ll get you a bowl to put them in.”
Busy with his chore, Wishbone listened to the comforting sounds of Rainbow Star’s breakfast preparations until he heard the sound of other voices coming through the house; soon the room was filled with commotion as Garnet and Chocolate Chip came into the room with the three foals.
The two mares, in synchronized motion, came to Wishbone and each leaned over a shoulder to kiss him on the cheek. “Mmm, the strawberries look good!” Garnet said, helping herself to one of the juicy morsels. “Good work, Wishbone.”
“Rainbow Star did the hard part.”
“How can I help?” queried Chocolate Chip, donning an apron to validate her intent.
“Turn the pancakes,” said Rainbow Star. “And you foals can set the table.”
By the time the food was ready, Pepper had finished his chores and came into the house with fresh milk and some eggs from the chicken coop, a frown on his face. “There’s another storm moving in; will this rain never stop?”
“It will, and next week you’ll be complaining that it is too dry,” Rainbow Star teased.
“Feast or famine,” said Garnet.
“Well, we have a feast,” Chocolate Chip noted. “Breakfast is served.”
The ponies had no sooner finished eating when the thunder storm broke over them, dumping heavy rain amidst the sharp streaks of lightning and the harsh claps of thunder. Wind drove the rain against the windows in a pelter of noisy droplets. Pepper sat at the table, his head resting on his hooves.
And then the storm was over.
As quickly as it had begun, the rain ended and the rolling thunder moved to the east and the clouds overhead broke, revealing traces of blue sky.
“Let’s go see the river!” begged Freckles.
“Please, Daddy?” Tasha joined in with Palette backing her up.
Reaching to tousle the foal’s manes, Pepper sighed but managed a smile. “Sure. With this last onslaught, it should be rampaging.”
Deciding that everyone should go, the crew set off in the direction of the river that in normal circumstances was a leisurely stream with occasional rapids over rocky terrain; now, having been saturated with days of rain and topped with the latest downpour, the river growled and rumbled along its route, spilling over its confines in careless abandon. Where the banks were high and able to restrain the turbulence, the water raged in angry submission; where the banks dropped level with the river, the water left the courseway and followed its own path.