Fate Stalks On
written by Sugarberry

Spring was slowly spreading its blush over Woodlawn, but Chiffon barely noticed. Having agreed to proofread Nelly’s textbook pages before they went to the publisher, the mare had found herself short on time but yet pleasurably satisfied. She had so enjoyed the concept of producing educational materials, in fact, that after she had finished with Nelly’s manuscript and offered a number of good suggestions on how to improve the book, she had offered to put together a workbook to companion the text. The Monk/Fairfax publishing firm in Dream Valley had approved the idea and urged her to complete the project post haste.

If Chiffon had honestly examined the reasons behind this submersion into publication, she would have realized that she was trying to wipe away the memory of a certain handsome but arrogant stallion from Grayton who had caused her more uncertainty than she was willing to face. She was content with her life as a single mare in her hometown dedicating her life to forming the precious young lives of the foals she taught, but that contentment had been ruffled when Tribute had stepped into her life. Chiffon did not trust the unfamiliar emotions that the stallion could elicit in her with his very presence... let alone his devastating touch. Those emotions frightened her, and her only defense was to back away and distance herself from him.

The crux of the matter was that Chiffon was afraid of falling in love. Deeply aware that her response to Tribute must mean something, she was not yet ready to give up her independence to anyone. She was blatantly aware that if she let Tribute get too close, he would win her heart very easily. By the same measure, he could break her heart with the same facility. Without realizing it, she had made the decision to avoid that appalling possibility without even giving it a chance. Therefore, her current relationship with the newest doctor in town was one of simple acquaintance; when she came across him in the normal course of life lived in the same small town, she was polite but cool.

This did not mean that Chiffon knew nothing of the activities of Tribute, both professional and private. Woodlawn’s grapevine was alive and thriving, and Tribute’s proficiency as a physician with the local hospital and clinic was a favorite topic. Anyone under his care seemed to come away with a healthy respect for the doctor even if their physical woes remained. Dr. Tribute and Dr. Blake were both practically idolized by the citizens of Woodlawn for their efforts to improve the local health scene.

Tribute’s social life blossomed as well, especially after Arabella wiped her hooves of Chiffon in the romance department (she had felt sorry for Tribute after his failed attempt to gain Chiffon’s regard) and actively set out to match the admired doctor with likely prospects. He had dated several different mares about town through Arabella’s engineering, and Chiffon had listened- albeit discreetly- to their opinions of the stallion. She smugly remembered, however, the cold, tormenting, insolent stallion that she had faced when she had first come across Tribute in Dream Valley and Grayton and satisfyingly determined that she was the only one who knew his true colors, no matter what facade he had now donned for his new life in Woodlawn.

Word filtered down that Tribute had seemed to concentrate his attentions in the last couple of weeks on the capable and attractive hospital administrator; not only was it noted that Tribute was becoming more interested and involved in the management of the clinic and hospital’s internal functions, but was seen with frequent regularity in the administrator’s company after hours as well. He and Heart Blossom were becoming quite the couple to watch.

The new construction on the medical center was proceeding smoothly, much to Dr. Blake’s relief. His scouting-out Tribute for a position in Woodlawn had proved to be a double blessing, for not only had he obtained an excellent doctor but he had unknowingly garnered the support of the highly influential Dr. Andrew in New Pony and the attention of Tribute’s philanthropical mother. Doors that had remained firmly closed before Tribute’s connection to Woodlawn now magically opened and largess flowed forth. Dr. Blake was a happy stallion having learned that the old maxim- not what you know, but whom you know- was correct.

Life in Woodlawn in the springtime was good.

* * *

“Blake!” Tribute called out to his fellow doctor as he caught sight of the stallion leaving the clinic. “Got a minute?”

Blake glanced at his watch. “No, but I’ll give you forty-five seconds.”

Tribute grinned. “Prissy will be in town this weekend; how’d you like to join us for dinner Friday night?”

“Prissy?” queried Blake, his left eyebrow arching. “I thought she was a thing of the past.”

“She’s curious about conditions in such a primitive place as Woodlawn,” Tribute explained.

“Where are you eating?”

“At Fernwood.”

“Nothing but the best for Prissy, huh? Okay, let me know the time and I’ll be there.”

“You’re welcome to bring someone,” Tribute offered.

Snorting, Blake shook his head. “I don’t have a clue as to whom that might be.”

“Well, if you think of someone before Friday, bring her along.”

* * *

Friday morning found Dr. Blake in his office going over some paperwork, his disorderly desk sporting an accumulation of letters, files, reports, books, pharmaceutical samples, and an assorted x-ray or two. Energetic and roguish, this physician made a perfect foil to Dr. Tribute’s poised and perfect demeanor although he was no less dedicated to his patients and his responsibilities; he just had more fun in the effort.

Having hailed from a small town himself, Dr. Blake had been happy to escape the cold and pretentious city of Grayton and had jumped at the chance to cater to the ailments of the family-knit community of Woodlawn. Once established, it had become his legation to expand the offerings of medical service to the area; and he had thrown himself into the effort with his usual enthusiasm but had not neglected his main duty of ministering to the physical needs of the ponies under his care. His days had been very full, and he appreciated the arrival of Dr. Tribute to share the load.

Slouched in his chair wondering where to start on the mound of responsibilities facing him on the cluttered desk, Dr. Blake was relieved to hear a gentle rap on his office door. This beautiful morning was ripe for procrastination.

“Come!” he called out.

The door opened to reveal a blue mare with spring green mane who stood hesitantly in the doorway; her orchid eyes sparkled as she asked, “I’m not disturbing you, I hope?”

“Chiffon! Come on in. I’m buried under this...” His hoof swept across his desk. “... but you’re a welcome interruption.” He did not stand as the mare came in, but stretched out comfortably and grinned at the mare as if set to enjoy this encounter.

“I won’t keep you long. I’m simply delivering a thank you note from my class that the foals designed to express their appreciation for your edifying lecture last week.”

Each year, Chiffon’s third graders were honored with a physician’s visit to their classroom during their unit on health concerns. In the years that Dr. Blake had been in town, he had cheerfully undertaken this agreeable task, presenting things like organ functions, proper diet, and exercise in a manner that enthused the foals to respect their bodies and take good care of them.
Dr. Blake accepted the “note” which was actually a hoof-designed, oversized card decorated with rather gruesome renderings of internal body parts, colorful representations of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and the distorted images of ponies exercising. Laughing, he said, “I’m saving each and every one of these, Chiffon. Someday, I’ll have them all published.”

“That’s not such a bad idea. They’d make a wonderful fund-raiser.”

“I’ll bring it before the board,” Blake grinned.

Chiffon, her eyes sweeping over the heavily piled desk, made her farewell. “I don’t want to keep you from your work any longer than necessary. Thanks once more for your interest in my students.”

“No problem. I learn as much from the foals as they learn from me.”

Smiling, Chiffon turned to go; but Dr. Blake was suddenly on his hooves. It had struck him that Tribute’s offer of a free meal should not be wasted on just himself. “Chiffon?” As the mare looked questioningly back at the stallion, Blake asked, “Would you be free for dinner tonight?”

The invitation caught Chiffon off guard, but Blake had such an engaging personality that she did not have to think twice. “As a matter of fact, I would be.”

“Great! It’s to be high style- Fernwood- and...”

Blake got no further as a nurse hurried into his office. “Dr. Blake, you’re needed in delivery, stat.”

As the doctor rushed by Chiffon, he called over his shoulder. “Eight o’clock! Meet me there!”

* * *

Feeling somewhat unsettled to be approaching Fernwood alone, Chiffon had the foreboding that something would be amiss... like Dr. Blake being unavoidably detained at the hospital; but as she had received no message from the good doctor, she had primped and fussed in preparation for an evening of vivifying conversation, finding herself looking forward to a carefree period of time away from her books and writings in the company of the good-natured yet sensible stallion. As she entered the eating establishment, she was disappointed to find that there was no sign of Blake; waiting off to the side, she watched as several other diners came into the establishment; but before she could become too nervous, the door opened once more and the stallion himself appeared.

“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long,” Blake smiled. “I should have warned you that I’m always late.”

“Not when it comes to medical emergencies, I hope,” Chiffon chided.

“I’m johnny-on-the-spot for those,” grinned the stallion. “Just ask Amelia; I arrived a good five minutes before her foal was delivered this morning.”

“And all went well?”

“Mother and daughter are doing great.”

Chiffon was impressed when the head waiter- Blackstone by name- bowed a welcome to Blake and immediately escorted the two of them to a waiting table; Chiffon was dismayed when she saw who was ensconced at that table, however. Her eyes, unbidden, flew to meet Tribute’s gaze; and she saw with some compensation of her distress that he appeared to be as surprised to see her there as she was to see him. Tribute stood, never taking his eyes from hers, and welcomed her, then Blake, as though he had not been caught off-stride. “And you both know Prissy,” he said as he settled a hoof lightly on the pink pegasus’ shoulder before reclaiming his chair.

Helping Chiffon to be seated, Blake nodded toward several empty glasses on the table. “You’ve been waiting awhile.”

“We ran into a slight problem,” Tribute said, a wry smile twisting his mouth.

“Slight problem?” Prissy retorted. “I would say that not having a motel room at my disposal is slightly more serious than that.”

“What’s this all about?” Blake asked, a cocked brow raised in Tribute’s direction.

“What it’s about,” hissed Prissy, “is that this poor excuse of a town can’t even keep its plumbing in line.”

“Plumbing?” voiced Chiffon, a twinkle in her eyes defying the consternation that she had first felt on her arrival. This evening might not be a total loss after all.

“The motel is having some problems with its plumbing,” explained Tribute. “The room reserved for Prissy, along with several others, are uninhabitable; and as that has created a shortage of rooms, there’s nothing else available.”

“How terrible,” sympathized Chiffon, sending a compassionate look Prissy’s way but unable to stifle a hint of a grin.

Blake, however, laughed outright. “I’m sure the plumber can solve the problem, Prissy.”

“That’s just it!” snapped the pegasus. “There’s only one plumber, and he’s out of town.”

“There are three plumbers in town,” Tribute corrected. “However, as they are all from the same family, they’ve gone to Frostmont for a wedding and won’t be home until Monday.”

The conversation was interrupted as the ponies gave their orders and Prissy pouted. When an opening came again, however, Blake brought the subject back to the front. “How are you going to solve the dilemma? Prissy has to stay somewhere.”

“That’s what we were discussing when you arrived. I was wondering, Blake, if I could bunk with you for a few days, leaving my apartment free for Prissy.”

“Hey, what are friends for? Sure, you can crash at my place, if you don’t mind sleeping on the couch.”

Chiffon, always the organizer- she had to be to control the planned and unplanned activities of a roomful of lively colts and fillies- had thought of a better plan. “It would be simpler and more convenient for everyone concerned if Prissy were to be a guest at my parents’ house for the weekend,” she offered. “The guest room is always prepared for just such an emergency.”

Tribute seemed amenable to the suggestion, but Prissy vetoed the idea. “I wouldn’t want to put you and your family out, Chiffon. It’s an unnecessary inconvenience.”

“Not at all,” Chiffon countered. “Tribute and Blake are the ones who will be inconvenienced if you don’t stay with us.” Remembering the unkept condition of Blake’s office, she envisioned a similar amount of disarray in his private lodging. “I’m sure Blake’s apartment is in no condition to harbor an unexpected guest.” She followed that statement with a wink in Blake’s direction.

Tribute saw the wink and came to the unwarranted conclusion that Chiffon must have been to Blake’s apartment already if she was privy to that information- he knew well enough that Blake’s housekeeping left something to be desired- and found himself frowning deeply across the table at both ponies. How long had Blake been keeping company with Chiffon, he moodily wondered.

Prissy, coming to the realization that a bedroom in a private home would undoubtedly be much more comfortable and amenable than Tribute’s spartan living quarters, grudgingly accepted Chiffon’s offer. With that business out of the way, Chiffon made a quick call home to forewarn her mother to expect a weekend guest; and the diners then settled down to enjoy their meal.

* * *

As Blake walked with Chiffon to her house- Tribute and Prissy having gone to fetch her luggage from Tribute’s apartment- Chiffon asked questions about Blake’s early life and learned some of his history, summarizing it for him as they reached the front porch of the home she still shared with her parents.

“From what I’ve been hearing, you’d be the colt in my classroom who is constantly instigating trouble of one sort or the other.”

“Correct,” Blake grinned. He looked at the porch swing longingly. “My grandparents have one of those, and I used to like nothing better than to sit in it while Grandpa told me stories in the gathering dusk. Shall we?” His hoof swept toward the swing.

When they were both seated and were gently swayed by the motion of the swing in the glow of the porch light, Chiffon turned their conversation to the growth of the clinic and the improvements that would be forthcoming as the physical layout expanded. Tribute’s and Heart Blossom’s names were mentioned in tandem with several projects being considered and Chiffon felt unexplainedly empty.

The evening was mild as Blake and Chiffon chatted and a caressing breeze brought the fragrance of early flowering hyacinths and nodding yellow daffodils to the ponies. The peace was disturbed, however, when a small but precipitous flying body swooped low over the porch coming directly toward Chiffon and Blake on the swing. Chiffon, recognizing the brown blur for what it was would not have been stricken under normal conditions, but the bat seemed to be coming straight toward her with no intention of using its ability to swerve out of the way. Following her instinct to avoid a confrontation with the flying mammal, she ducked sideways just as the bat swooped safely up over the ponies’ heads, literally thrusting herself into Blake’s forelegs.

“Why, Chiffon,” Blake drawled, “this couldn’t have turned out better if I’d planned it.” The stallion did not immediately release her.

Chiffon’s giggle was cut short when, from the porch steps, Tribute’s glacial voice asked, “Are we interrupting?”

Chuckling, Blake only slowly allowed Chiffon to extract herself from what must have appeared to be an embrace. Her cheeks, Chiffon knew for a fact, would be flaming; so she did not immediately look up at Prissy and Tribute but stalled for time so that the rosy glow could recede; she busied herself in retrieving the hair decoration that had dropped from her mane when she had flung herself onto Blake’s protection. As she picked it up and absently fiddled with it, she found that she was still unable to look into Tribute’s face; so she continued to concentrate her attention on the barrette as she listened to Blake merrily explain the startling appearance of the bat.

Tribute noted Chiffon’s every move and found his attention riveted on the barrette that Chiffon was besetting. It was not the loss of a hair clip that was bothering him, but the acute recollection of Chiffon’s resolute injunction to him to not touch her on the night he had walked her home from the hospital. Don’t touch me. Those words still haunted the stallion. Yet here tonight she had obviously allowed Blake to encircle her with his forelegs and had not found it distasteful. Why did she harbor this extreme dislike of him?

Tribute’s eyes raised from the hair ornament in Chiffon’s hooves to her face at the same time that Chiffon finally found the resolve to look at him; the mare was dismayed to note the glowering demeanor that Tribute presented. Realizing that the dislodged barrette seemed to indicate more than a simple recoil from the surprise at confronting an unexpected bat, Chiffon felt her cheeks flare red again and cursed her decision to wear an ornament that was known from past experience to have a defective clasp.

Chiffon stood up suddenly as Blake had finished his humorous and highly embroidered rendition of the bat and Prissy had giggled appreciatively, although sending cautious glances around her as if expecting another attack by the beast.

“Would you like to see your room, Prissy? I’m sure you must be exhausted after your journey today.”

The pink pegasus concurred and soon the two mares were alone on the porch, Tribute’s promise to come by early to show Prissy the sights of Woodlawn causing one mare to smile in anticipation and the other to frown in envy.

* * *

Arising early the next morning as was her habit, Chiffon was about to make her way downstairs when the guest room door opened.

“I thought I heard hoofsteps,” yawned Prissy, then sniffed the air, catching the aroma of something baking. “I’m starved; does breakfast come with the room?” She smiled at Chiffon, the first time that had ever happened.

“Good morning, Prissy; and yes, it does. Mom appreciates the opportunity to show off her culinary skills.”

“I’d better hurry then.” Prissy took off down the hall for the bathroom.

Chiffon watched as the pegasus withdrew and recalled their talk from the evening before as Chiffon had shown Prissy her room and the location of the amenities. Prissy had prattled on in apparent harmony with the situation, and Chiffon had been amazed that the two of them had actually exchanged words that were not barbed or venomous. She had found Prissy to be charming and even a bit witty, not at all unctuous as she had expected. They might even have been friends under different circumstances.

Breakfast proved to be lively affair with Prissy falling easily into friendly parley with Charger and with ready compliments for Velvet’s excellent morning repast. The conversation never lagged as Prissy shared the story of her life while also learning more about her hosts’ background. As Prissy’s own parents rarely entered her realm, too caught up in their own careers and socializing to bother with their daughter, she found the homey attention of Charger and Velvet a welcome indulgence.

When the doorbell rang while the foursome was laughing over tales shared, Charger went to admit Tribute, escorting him to the kitchen and offering him a cup of coffee. Uncomfortable being in Chiffon’s home with another mare caused Tribute to turn down the offer and instead turn his gaze to Prissy, asking if she was ready to begin her jaunt through Woodlawn. In no time at all, he had possessively guided the pegasus out of the house, leaving Chiffon to wonder if Heart Blossom might be in for a struggle to retain Tribute’s attention. She found herself favoring Prissy only because that mare would soon be back in Grayton, far removed from the supercilious regard of the stallion that was never far from Chiffon’s errant thoughts.

* * *

The evening brought a concert in celebration of spring to be presented in the high school auditorium. Chiffon and her parents attended in the company of their elderly neighbor, Painted Petals. Prissy, having returned to the house very late in the afternoon to freshen up, had departed again with Tribute, the two of them heading for Betty’s Buffet to experience a less sophisticated dining atmosphere with cuisine that may not have rivaled Fernwood’s gourmet menu but managed to entice a steady flow of satisfied customers. After enjoying a binge of foodstuffs with a local flavor, those two also headed to the high school for the musical extravaganza.

“Everyone’s staring,” complained Prissy as she and Tribute found seats in the already crowded gallery. Many eyes had indeed followed her entrance, the pink pegasus presenting a pleasing picture of poise and perfection. As she settled her wings becomingly over her back and sat down, she felt exceedingly uncomfortable with the attention paid her; even though she was used to such adulation back in Grayton, she felt out-of-place in Woodlawn, questioning just what these ponies saw in her.

Tribute gave Prissy a warm smile. “You are the most beautiful mare in the place, Prissy; who can blame them for staring?”

“Why, thank you, Tribute.” Prissy looked at the stallion in some surprise, her heart experiencing an unexpected flutter. She began to prattle in an uncharacteristic manner about a performance of the symphony orchestra she had heard at the concert hall in Grayton since his absence from that busting city.

Tribute, however, was not attending to her words; he was too occupied in scanning the other seats searching out a particular blue mare with spring green mane and orchid eyes, and he eventually found her off to his right and several rows ahead.

It was some minutes before Prissy realized that she had lost Tribute’s attention; it did not take her long to locate the source of his present preoccupation. The pegasus slumped more deeply back into her seat and sulked.

While overtly watching Chiffon, Tribute was treated with the sight of Blake approaching the mare with a smile upon his face; the stallion exchanged friendly greetings with Charger and Velvet and even Painted Petals. Tribute could not hear what was being said, but he could see that everyone in that select group was enjoying the conversation, if the laughter burbling from that direction was any indication.

All too clearly, Tribute noted that Chiffon extended her hoof to Blake- in quite a coquettish manner, he thought- and his eyes narrowed as he watched Blake help her from her seat, observing with barely disguised rancor that Blake did not release his hold on the smiling Chiffon even after the mare was steadily on her hooves.

Once again, Chiffon’s admonishing words, Don’t touch me, came back to haunt Tribute. He was at a loss to understand why she resented him so much, yet seemed perfectly comfortable with Blake. Tribute watched the two ponies disappear into the entry hall, then sank back sulkily into his seat as Prissy had done earlier.

* * *

To fathom Chiffon and Blake’s errand which had pulled them out of the auditorium so close to the starting of the concert, it is necessary to know that on the previous evening as the two ponies conversed on the porch swing, Chiffon had teased Blake that she knew everyone in Woodlawn and could name and give the background of any pony that he might point out to her.

As it turned out, Blake had spotted a mare working at the concession stand as he came into the high school this evening that he would like to get to know better. Feeling uncomfortable in simply introducing himself to the mare in question- and with Chiffon’s boast still fresh in his memory- Blake had sought Chiffon out, daring her to make good her rodomontade. Chiffon had been delighted to accept his challenge.

Giggling with unsuppressed glee, Chiffon smiled at Blake as he pointed out his target. “She’s my cousin.” Pertly taking the lead now, Chiffon led Blake to the counter where she greeted her relative. “Hi, Silver Frost; how’d you end up behind the counter?”

“All the student workers are involved in the concert, so they asked for volunteers from the staff. What could I say?” Silver Frost grinned at her cousin and looked curiously at Chiffon’s companion.

“Silver Frost, have you met Dr. Blake?”

“Dr. Blake.” Silver Frost flicked her gaze over the stallion; then, as if approving of what she saw, she extended her hoof. “I’m happy to say I’ve not needed your services at the clinic, but I’ve heard many glowing reports of your skill as a physician. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Be assured, the pleasure is all mine,” Blake drawled gallantly, a certain sparkle lighting his eye. “And just how are you and Chiffon related?”

“Chiffon’s mother, Velvet, and my father, Tribute, are brother and sister,” explained Silver Frost.

“So you have an uncle named Tribute?” queried a fascinated Blake of Chiffon.

“Yes, I do.”

“Did the two of you come out here to buy something?” prodded Silver Frost with a glance at the clock. “I’m allowed to close the stand once the concert starts.”

“Three sodas, please,” Blake stated smoothly.

Silver Frost delivered the order, then took off the jaunty white cap with the high school logo on it that she was wearing. “The refreshment stand is officially closed,” she remarked, coming around to join Chiffon and Blake.

Having offered one of the sodas to Chiffon, Blake now extended the other to Silver Frost and took the third for himself. “Chiffon has a seat with her parents, but I wasn’t so fortunate and the place seems to be packed. Do you have any helpful suggestions, Silver Frost?”

Chiffon rolled her eyes and left the two ponies to their own devices.

* * *

Regaining a certain amount of his good humor when he spotted Chiffon returning to her parents without Blake in tow and realizing with relief that she was not planning on spending the entire evening with that stallion, Tribute was able to submit a soothing smile in Prissy’s direction and even went so far as to pat her hoof where it rested on the support between them. As the concert began, Prissy, too, regained her pleasure in the evening as the colts and fillies presented a sometimes poignant, sometimes frolicsome, assortment of medleys that spoke of spring.

Tribute lost track of Chiffon as the auditorium emptied at the close of the performance. He escorted Prissy to Hood’s Place where they could have a snack before ending their day, and observed Blake’s entrance with a mare that Tribute was unacquainted with. Blake was so caught up in his conversation with the mare that he did not note Tribute and Prissy’s presence and sat himself and his companion at a corner table far removed from the spot occupied by that couple, but Tribute was pleased to see that the pending threat of Blake for Chiffon’s affections seemed to be less dangerous than he had been beginning to think.

After he had walked Prissy back to Chiffon’s house, and they had said their goodnights, and Tribute was again alone on his way back to his apartment, his spirits fell once more. Assuredly, it was a relief to know that Blake was not with Chiffon, but that did not help the loneliness that washed over the stallion over the brutal reality that neither was Chiffon with him.

* * *

Sunday was the day that Prissy was to return to Grayton, and business of his own in that city that needed his personal attention would have Tribute at her side for the journey. When the congregation left the church, Prissy fondly hugged Velvet and Charger, thanking them for their kind hospitality; and she and Chiffon made a quite amiable parting as well. Tribute was amazed at the friendship that now seemed to unite the two females who had begun their acquaintance with daggers drawn. He hung on to that scene in his mind; if Chiffon could overcome her dislike for the proud and priggish Prissy, then- presumably- she could eventually overcome her dislike for him as well. At least it offered a glimmer of hope.

* * *

Arriving in Grayton, Tribute first took Prissy straight to her apartment where they were met by a stallion with a rather censoring look upon his face. His angry eyes took in Tribute’s presence, but he did not seem to be subdued by the commanding demeanor of the stallion. Rather, the brunt of his indignation was delivered squarely to Prissy herself.

“And just where did you run off to without telling me?” the stallion demanded.

Prissy, at first shocked by the appearance before her, adapted an air of equanimity, shaking off the protective hoof Tribute placed on her shoulder.

“I didn’t realize that I needed to report my every move to you, Jason.”

Jason. Now Tribute remembered where he had seen the stallion. He was the conductor for the local orchestra. Come to think of it, hadn’t Prissy been enthusing over a recent performance by that group? Tribute tried to remember the details, but found them fuzzy in his mind.

Walking to her door, Prissy did not note the angry tensing of Jason. The flaxen-haired stallion glared, his cerise coloring deepening. “I had expected to accompany you to the theater Friday evening, but you weren’t at home. Nor were you home on Saturday... and only now do you come trailing in.”

Prissy turned round, innocent eyes on Jason. Tribute could only grin; if he was a betting stallion, he would put all his jangles on Prissy.

“Friday evening, Jason? Are you sure? I don’t remember... oh, yes! You did say something about a new play coming to town; but for the life of me, I don’t recall that you invited me.”

“Of course I invited you! I specifically remember mentioning it to you when you caught our symphony rehearsal last week.”

“In that one brief moment when you noticed my presence?” Prissy asked silkily, her eyes registering cold contempt. She had waited for Jason after the rehearsal, but he had been too busy to give her his attention. No one brushed off Prissy that presumptuously without a certain amount of pay-back.

Suddenly realizing that he was fast losing his control of this confrontation, Jason shot a glance at Tribute as if for backup, then approached Prissy with a more composed stature than before. “I thought you understood that by mentioned the play, I was inferring that we would attend together.”

“You assumed too much, Jason,” the pegasus cooly informed him. “Now, as I’m tired after my long trip, I’d like some peace and quiet.”

The stallion accepted his dismissal with as much honor as he could regroup under the circumstances. “Very well, Prissy... if that’s what you want.”

“It is.”

Bidding her a hasty good evening, Jason beat his retreat to the elevator. Tribute shook his head. “You’re playing with the fellow, Prissy.”

“He is amusing.”

“Someday, you’re going to get caught in your own web.”

Prissy shrugged. “But I’ll have had fun in the meantime. Which reminds me, thank you for a lovely weekend. I enjoyed my stay in Woodlawn much more than I thought I would.”

“Why, Prissy, you never cease to amaze me.”

“That doesn’t mean I’d ever want to live there.”

“But you will come to visit again?”

“If life in Grayton ever gets boring...”

“Goodnight, Prissy.”

* * *

Making his way now to a former colleague’s apartment, Tribute found Putter entrenched before his wide-screen television with a bowl of popcorn.

“Hey, your timing’s perfect. The credits just came on.” Putter clicked off the electronics and pounded his friend on the back. “How’d Prissy manage her stay in Woodlawn?”

“Surprisingly well, considering her motel reservation was cancelled.”

“So her impression of the hinterland proved correct. Did she convince you to return to your place here?”

“She didn’t even try.”

Putter looked surprised, but did not press the point. “How are things going for you in Woodlawn?”

“Quite well. The new construction is underway; the hospital has a competent administrator who isn’t afraid to plan for the future; and Blake, you will remember, is quite a go-getter in his own right.”

“And what of the social life?”

“There’s no time to be bored.”

“I find that hard to believe, after the life you lived here.”

“I enjoy my work, Putter, and I believe I’ve reached the point in my life where I want to settle down a bit.”

“Any potential leads on someone to settle down with?”

“I’ve met a number of talented and attractive mares, equal to what Grayton has to offer.”

Laughing, Putter observed, “It’s a good thing for you that they’re not all like that Satin, or Silk, or whatever her name was.”

“Chiffon,” corrected Tribute. He grew thoughtful. “Yes, it’s a good thing they aren’t all like her.”

* * *

His business in Grayton complete, Tribute made a side-trip to New Pony to spend some time with his parents before heading west once more. Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace were delighted to see their son, even if for such a short duration. Both listened avidly to the recital of his life and times in Woodlawn, but Andrew noted with some concern that not a word was mentioned concerning Chiffon. Only when they had a moment alone did Tribute admit to his father that he had made no headway in securing Chiffon’s affection. Worried to note the depression this admission seemed to cause his son, Andrew watched him set out on the road to Woodlawn with a heavy heart. Only later, after some careful discernment, did Andrew approach his wife. “My dear, it’s time that we go to Woodlawn ourselves to see what our son is up to.”

Ribbons n’ Lace looked at her husband curiously, then sat back to hear his explanation.

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