Spring Break
written by Sugarberry

Two slim ponies walked briskly down the path, but not so quickly that they couldn't carry on an animated conversation.

"So how are you going to fill-in your time once you're home?" the brown filly asked of the dark lemon stallion.

He shook his light green mane to catch the gentle spring zephyr that laced the March air and laughed. "Certainly nothing educational. I might try some hiking and fishing, but mostly I'll just be goofin' off. How about you?"

The monotone colored pony lowered her head as if in sorrow. "I guess it all depends on if Mom and Dad are glad to see me or not."

"How could they not be glad to see you?" The stallion looked at his friend in amazement. "They'll spoil you rotten."

"Is that how your folks will treat you over semester break, Prime?" she asked, lifting her head to face him.

"Well, Mom always bakes all my favorite foods, and Dad has me help him with some project around the house so we have plenty of time to talk, and relatives and friends will be dropping in to visit," Prime shared. "The only problem is that the time goes by way too quickly."

Both ponies fell silent as Prime thought ahead to a busy week at home away from Pony Pride University while Chocolate Chip looked ahead with dread to an uncertain homecoming. Her brother had convinced her to try to patch things up with her parents during her spring break from college. But the closer to Neighberry she got, the tighter the knots in her stomach contracted.

If she hadn't been feeling so low, Chocolate Chip would have been enjoying the passing landscape that she and Prime, her classmate at Pony Pride in Dream Valley, traveled through. The weather had been mild so the hills were already tinged with green, although the trees were still barren. An occasional squirrel raucously scolding from the branch of a tree and the sudden hopping of a frightened rabbit escaped Chocolate Chip completely as she lost herself in painful memories and anxious expectations.

"Chocolate Chip? Are you there?" Prime asked teasingly.

His words slipped into her thoughts and she turned a startled face to her companion. "Did you say something?"

Laughing, Prime enlightened her. "I asked, ‘Have you made a decision on your major yet?' "

"Actually, I think I'm leaning toward teaching," she responded, trying to shake her apprehensions. "But at what level, I don't know."

"Great! Maybe someday we'll be teaching at the same school." Prime, in his sophomore year, was planning on getting a master's degree and teaching college mathematics.

"Teaching elementary might be fun, but I haven't had much experience with baby ponies," Chocolate Chip mused. "Maybe I'll teach high school."

"You'll be great at whatever you do," Prime complimented her.

They had just crested the top of a hill, and both of them stopped to take in the view of Neighberry spread out over the gently rolling countryside. Chocolate Chip swallowed hard. "I guess we're almost there."

She suddenly felt weak in the knees like she couldn't go on, but Prime took off down the sloping path. "Beat you to the bottom," he called. Chocolate Chip mustered all the courage she could, and ran down the hill behind him. She was panting when she finally reached him at the edge of town where a wayside was laid out with picnic tables and covered shelters.

Slumping onto a wooden bench, she glowered at Prime, but his attention was focused across the park-like rest-stop. "Is this someone you know?" he asked.

Chocolate Chip followed his gaze, and settled on a rose-red stallion crossing the early spring grass. "Wishbone!" she squealed, and found renewed energy to race to meet him. "You were watching for me!"

The colorful golden-maned stallion embraced the drab filly and swung her in a circle around him. "You made it, Chockie!"

"Thanks to Prime," Chocolate Chip pulled the stallion to where her companion stood. "Prime, this is my baby brother, Wishbone. He's a senior in high school." She grinned at the two ponies before her. "And Wishbone, this is a classmate from Pony Pride."

"Nice to meet you," both said, and shook hooves.

"Prime's on his way to White Pine," Chocolate Chip continued, referring to the next town to the south.

"White Pine," Wishbone snickered. "We just beat them at the basketball tournament last week."

"What can you expect when their best player graduated two years ago?" Prime countered.

"Spare me, please!" Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes expressively. "If you two start talking sports, Prime won't get home before nightfall."

Prime flashed a grin at Chocolate Chip. "Thanks for reminding me. You know how moms are-- they worry themselves sick if a pony isn't home when he's supposed to be."

"You won't forget to stop and pick me up on Saturday, will you?" she asked.

"Of course not. I'll leave White Pine after breakfast. Shall we meet here or at your house?"

Wishbone interjected an idea. "Why don't you come by the house now so you'll know where it is. By Saturday, we could be getting more snow dumped on us... spring can be unpredictable, you know."

"Oh, isn't my little brother getting responsible!" Chocolate Chip teased, and punched his shoulder. "You sound just like Sugarberry!"

The trio set out for the far side of town where a solid square two-story house sat gleaming white in the midday sun. "Well, there it is!" Chocolate Chip gulped and added glumly, "Home, sweet home."

"I guess this is goodbye until Saturday. I'll swing by here on my way through." And with a wave of his hoof, Prime was gone on his way.

Chocolate Chip looked after him in dismay. It was as if her only link to Dream Valley was deserting her, and she was afraid she'd somehow be lost to it forever.

Wishbone took her hoof and tugged her toward the house. "Lollipop took over your old room because it's bigger, so your stuff is in her old room," he enlightened her to the reorganization that had occurred.

Still holding on to her as if he feared her sprinting away, Wishbone led her up the front steps and opened the door. "Welcome home, Chocolate Chip," he bowed regally.

"Thanks, Wishbone," she smiled and tosseled his mane as she walked through the door. Her eyes roved across the foyer and through the doorways to the other rooms, and she found that outwardly things were basically the same as when she left. Was that a good sign, or a bad one? she wondered silently.

Wishbone let the door slam behind him, and Chocolate Chip jumped. "Where's Mom?" she asked.

"She's at work yet," he replied. "Let's go to the kitchen and get something to eat."

Chocolate Chip set her knapsack at the foot of the stairs, and followed her brother to the kitchen. "The house hasn't changed since I left," she stated.

"No. I guess not." Wishbone looked around as if seeing his home for the first time. "Mom and Dad had been saving their jangles, so they never looked at new furniture."

"Had been?" Chocolate Chip asked as she took the glass of milk Wishbone offered. "You make it sound like they don't anymore."

Wishbone poured another glass of milk, and opened a box of pre-made brownies. "They kinda went off the deep end, and put all their savings into buying a restaurant."

Chocolate Chip choked on her bite of brownie. "They what?"

"Yep," Wishbone appeared smug as he conveyed the news. "Mom quit her job at Pony-Mart, and Dad quit his job at the cart factory, and they became business owners." He waved his hoof through the air for emphasis.

"Where is this restaurant?" Chocolate Chip asked curiously.

"It used to be that old pizza place on Main. Now it's The Right Place. Don't ask. Lollipop came up with the name, and Mom thought it was perfect."


"Don't fuss, Chocolate Chip. She may have all the pastel colors Mom and Dad always wanted in a daughter, but she hasn't got a brain in her head!"

"Wishbone!" Chocolate Chip warned. "Don't talk about your sister that way."

"What way?" asked a voice behind them. They turned to see Lollipop coming in the back way, her flushed pink face framed in brilliant blue curls.

"Lollipop?" Chocolate Chip questioningly said the name. "Is that you, little sister?"

"Certainly is," the vibrant filly giggled, and twirled in front of her siblings. "I'm nearly grown up," she bragged as she came to a stop, and readjusted her curls.

"You were just a kid when I left a year ago," Chocolate Chip stared in amazement. "Now you're a young lady. How can that happen so fast?" She reached out to her sister and drew her in close, but Lollipop stiffened and pulled away.

"I've got to get ready to go over to the restaurant," she tossed her curls. "I keep the salad bar stocked." She left to go upstairs, but turned back again. "I have the big bedroom now; your stuff's in the cave."

Lollipop had always despised her room for its small size, aggravated by the slant of the ceiling which closed it in even worse. She told visitors to the house that she lived in a cave.

"All your things are in boxes in there," Wishbone informed her as Lollipop disappeared upstairs. "Mom said you could go through the stuff, and get rid of what you don't want."

"That was nice of her."

Wishbone changed the subject. "I really enjoyed spending Christmas with you."

"That was the neatest," agreed Chocolate Chip. "It was the best surprise I ever had."

"Did Barnacle ever get a new ship?"

While they discussed the lives of the ponies Wishbone had met on his visit to Dream Valley, they finished their snack and cleaned up the crumbs.

Lollipop passed through on her way to The Right Place. She had adorned her mane with pink ribbons and tied a big bow around her tail. Having accented her eyes with eye liner and shadow, she appeared older than her fifteen years.

"You look lovely," Chocolate Chip complimented her.

"Naturally," Lollipop said with a disapproving glance in her sister's direction. "Maybe you could fix up a bit before you come to eat." With that said, she bolted out the door.

Chocolate Chip stood open-mouthed, staring at her sister's exit as if she'd been slapped in the face.

"Why that little brat!" she fumed.

Wishbone laughed. "Temper, temper! You'll get used to it. Mom and Dad both treat her like a princess... she's spoiled rotten."

Thinking back to her days at home, Chocolate Chip remembered well that Lollipop was spoiled; but she had been close to her sister, and it didn't seem to bother Lollipop then that Chocolate Chip was a little less colorful than the rest of the ponies she knew. Now, however, there seemed to be a certain reserve in Lollipop's attitude toward her.

"Go on up to your room now, and get settled," Wishbone suggested. "You will have time to rest a bit before we go to eat."

Grabbing her satchel and climbing the stairs to the second floor, Chocolate Chip passed by the door to what had once been her bedroom. Backtracking to the closed door, she felt an irresistible urge to take a peak into her former sanctuary. Taking a quick look down the hall, she turned the knob and opened the door.

The scene before her took her breath away. The room had been redecorated to the hilt: new wallpaper, new furniture, new carpeting on the floor, even new curtains at the window. Where her old battered bed had stood now reigned a four-poster canopy bed; her mismatched dressers and chairs had been replaced with coordinated pieces to accent the bed itself. A floral motif wrapped around the room in the wallpaper and the same pattern repeated on the bedding; the curtains were sheer, the carpeting plush. Chocolate Chip fought down her resentment, and closed the door.

She continued down the hall and opened the door into the little room at the end. Her old single bed with a worn chenille bedspread was butted into a corner, and cardboard boxes were stacked in disarray on either side of her dresser; a mirror and a chair completed the furnishings.

Throwing her knapsack on the bed, Chocolate Chip opened the dresser drawers and found them empty. She opened one of the boxes and found it packed with the books she had left behind. She had traveled lightly when she had left home, not knowing where she was going or what she'd do-- only knowing that she had to escape the stifling atmosphere that her parents surrounded her with.

She lifted a battered foal's book out of the box, and was overcome with unhappy memories. The title of the book was Cinderella; when she was little and felt unloved, she would turn to this book for comfort. It gave her hope for a happy ending in her own life.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Wishbone stuck his head through the open doorway. "Do you need anything?"

"Wishbone, are Mom and Dad looking forward to seeing me?"

"They've been awfully busy with the new restaurant and all," he stated lamely, "but, yeah, they were glad to hear you were coming home." He took the book out of her hoof. "Cinderella. You must have read this story to me a million times when we were foals."

"I thought that if I read it enough, it would come true."

"And I always thought that it was the dumbest story I ever heard."

Chocolate Chip took the book from his grasp and scowled menacingly at him.

"Hey! I'm only telling it like it is!" he defended himself, forelegs up to prevent a rap on the head.

"I thought you, at least, were my friend," she muttered.

Wishbone laughed. "You were always the best big sister a colt could ask for. I missed you terribly after you left."

"If I remember correctly, you had such a crush on Honey Blossom that I doubt you missed me at all."

"Ah, yes. Honey Blossom. Her family moved away last summer." Wishbone pulled up the chair and sat down. "Now I'm dating Snowdrift."

"Her brother was in my grade."

"He works at the newspaper now. Snowdrift is going to go to Pony Pride after graduation."

"And how about you, Wishbone?"

He kicked back the chair to balance on its back legs. "I dunno. School's not for me."

"Your grades are still good, I hope."

"Yeah, but where's the fun in studying all the time?"

Chocolate Chip emptied the contents of her backpack into the dresser, and used a comb to straighten her windblown hair. "College is a lot of fun in addition to studying."

"Spoken like a true dweeb!" he teased as he grabbed the pillow off her bed and threw it at her. "And if you've primped enough, we could go cruise Main Street before going to The Right Place. My treat, you know."

Frowning at her image in the mirror, Chocolate Chip worried, "How am I going to ‘fix-up' to please Lollipop?"

"It's just a family restaurant; you don't have to do anything special. Put the blue ribbon on, and you'll look stunning," Wishbone grinned. "If Little Miss Prissy doesn't like it, it's her tough luck."

"Well, I guess I'm ready then," Chocolate Chip sighed as she fluffed out the bow and wished her fairy godmother would materialize to transform her into a ravishing beauty.

* * *

In the course of the year, Neighberry hadn't changed much either, except for a few new names on some of the businesses. The ice cream shop seemed drab and dreary after the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, and the dance hall was closed for repairs. There was, however, a new book store to check out, and Chocolate Chip left with some ideas for Bushwoolie Bargain Books where she worked part-time.

When they were approaching the restaurant now owned and operated by her parents, Chocolate Chip questioned Wishbone on why he wasn't working there, too.

"I do, normally. But I got a substitute to work tonight so I could be with you your first night home."

"Aren't you a dear brother!" Chocolate Chip cooed. "But don't tell me the folks are actually going to make you pay the bill tonight."

Wishbone adopted an authoritative voice that could have passed for her father, Drifter. "A business doesn't make a profit by handing out free merchandise, does it, Son?"

Chocolate Chip giggled. "You are too funny!"

By the time they walked into the restaurant, however, Chocolate Chip was no longer smiling. This was what her trip was all about-- to face her mom and dad again.

The place was rather crowded with ponies-- Chocolate Chip was happy to see that her parents' venture seemed to be doing well. She caught sight of Lollipop hovering around the salad bar, and then saw the deep purple body of her mother, Twilight Jewel, coming from the kitchen. For a brief second, Chocolate Chip thought of turning and leaving before her mother caught sight of her; but in that instant her mother's eyes met hers, and she hastened over to greet her daughter.

"Chocolate Chip! It's so good to see you!" she communicated in an artificial tone used for paying customers. She touched her hoof briefly, and then led her and Wishbone to a table in an out-of-the-way corner.

She doesn't want anyone to see me, Chocolate Chip griped to herself.

Presenting each of them with a menu, her mother apologized. "We'll have to talk later as the place is quite busy tonight, and we're a little short on help." She frowned accusingly at Wishbone. "But enjoy your meal." And she bustled off again.

Chocolate Chip watched as her mom worked her way among the tables, her pink mane braided attractively. "It's nice to see you again too, Mom," she whispered. She turned to Wishbone for support, but found him staring dreamily at a pure white pegasus with aqua mane and tail who was waiting on the table next to them.

"Snowdrift?" she asked him.

"Snowdrift!" he verified.

When the waitress finally got to their table, Wishbone made the introductions and Snowdrift responded pleasantly. "You attend Pony Pride, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes, I do. And it's a great school."

"Oh, I know I'm going to love it there!" Snowdrift agreed. "I only wish that your brother would consider attending, too."

"We'll have to work on him, won't we?" Chocolate Chip winked.

When the food arrived, it was well presented and tasted delicious. "Mom was never this good a cook!" Chocolate Chip was amazed. "How does she do it?"

"Dad does most of the cooking here," Wishbone grinned. "He had that hidden talent all these years."

"I'm impressed."

"Wait until you see him in his tall white hat, and his apron. You won't recognize him."

The two ponies lingered over dessert and coffee, and talked more about their plans.

"What's the real reason you don't want to continue your education?" Chocolate Chip asked her brother.

He took his eyes off Snowdrift long enough to glance at his sister and answer. "Mom and Dad want me to work here full-time when I graduate. And they pay good, believe it or not."

"You could always come back here once you had your degree."

Wishbone shrugged his shoulders. "I can learn the restaurant business first-hoof here. And I'll be earning wages right away. I think college is a waste of time."

"You sound like Dad again."

"Speaking of which," Wishbone said, "it's thinned out in here, so let's go back to the kitchen and face the cook."

Chocolate Chip watched as Wishbone left a generous tip for Snowdrift; then they walked through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Drifter was standing over the stove, and he didn't notice his daughter until she laid her brown hoof over his yellow one. "Hi, Dad," she smiled, feeling like a gangly adolescent again.

He turned and looked at his daughter for several seconds, then turned back to his work. "We'll talk later," was all he said. "For now, grab a spoon and stir that sauce."

It was late when the work was finished and the restaurant was finally locked behind them. Chocolate Chip was exhausted, but the fact that she was again a part of this family now walking home together revitalized her, causing her misapprehensions to slip away into the night. She skipped ahead of her siblings to nudge her way between her folks. "Thanks for letting me stay this week. It's good to see you all again." Chocolate Chip surprised herself that she could say those words, and really mean them.

"Tell us about your life in Dream Valley," her father suggested.

Chocolate Chip happily recounted her various experiences, and shared stories about her new friends and her college life. By the time they reached home, she had given them a fairly detailed account of the last year.

Later at home after Lollipop and Wishbone had gone to their rooms for the night, Chocolate Chip was left alone with her parents. An awkward silence came over them until Drifter cleared his throat.

"You did a good job at the restaurant tonight."

Chocolate Chip smiled. "I've learned a little about cooking from Sugarberry."

Her mother took a quick glance at Drifter, then presented an idea. "Would you be willing to help out at the restaurant all week? We really do need the extra hooves."

Chocolate Chip looked from one to the other, and a sinking feeling enveloped her. Was this why they had allowed her to visit... to get free labor?

Her thoughts must have been visible on her face as Drifter hurriedly assured her that she would be paid for her work. "Minimum wage, you know."

Was minimum wage what Wishbone was willing to sacrifice a college education for? she wondered. A sneaking suspicion that Lollipop and Wishbone were probably making more than that was pushed down, and she forced a pleasant smile from years of practice. "Of course I'll help out, Dad... Mom. What are families for?" The facetiousness of her statement went unnoticed.

Her mother looked like a load had been lifted from her shoulders and her dad breathed a visible sigh of relief. "That's great, Chocolate Chip! We had no idea that we'd be so busy, and the want-ads aren't bringing in any more applicants. Things will get better when school's off for the summer." He patted her shoulder as he went off to bed. "Good night."

"I'm turning in, too," Twilight Jewel said. "Don't forget to put out the lights."

Chocolate Chip was left alone in the middle of the living room and she steeled herself not to cry. She could hear every word her parents had said playing back in her mind, and not once did either of them call her sweetie or honey or even daughter. Not once had they hugged her. Their only happiness at seeing her was in connection with working at The Right Place.

Sugarberry, this isn't working out! her soul cried forlornly, but she refused to be defeated. I'll prove to them that I'm worth more than just hired help," she whispered to herself. "I'll make them love me!"

In reaching for the light switch, she noticed the graduation picture of Wishbone already hanging on the wall, a goofy smile lighting his face. "Snowdrift was probably behind the photographer," she surmised. Next to the stallion's picture hung an eight-by-ten of Lollipop when she'd finished middle school, decked out with pearl ear rings and enough makeup to make her look like a movie star.

Stuck in the wedding picture of her mom and dad was a black and white snapshot of herself when she had graduated-- the only sign of the couple's firstborn offspring. Chocolate Chip flicked the light off before the tears started to fall.

* * *

A gentle rapping at her door told her when morning had come. She sat up in bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes told the story of her weepy, sleepless night. When the rap sounded again, she called out, "Who's there?"

"Just me, sleepyhead," Wishbone's voice answered. "It's time for breakfast."

"Okay. I'll be there in a few minutes. You go ahead and start without me."

When she heard her brother's hoofsteps going down the stairs, Chocolate Chip scurried down the hall to the bathroom for a shower. Standing in the flow of water, she forced herself to think happy thoughts to banish the misery of her sleepless night.

She pictured Tabby and Sugarberry sharing a breakfast of muffins or coffee cake. And Prime being engulfed in a pancake breakfast with all the trimmings. She realized she was hungry, and wondered what awaited her in the kitchen. "Maybe Dad has prepared the perfect homecoming meal."

With renewed spirit, she combed her mane and put a new pink ribbon in her tail. After one last glance in the mirror, she went downstairs.

Entering the kitchen, Chocolate Chip found Wishbone sitting at the table by himself with a jug of milk and yesterday's box of brownies.

"This is breakfast?" she asked in disbelief.

"You wouldn't expect Mom and Dad to waste their talents on us, would you?" he grinned.

"No," she fibbed, "but I'd have expected you to have learned a little bit about cooking by now." Opening the refrigerator, she found a partial carton of eggs; and a loaf of bread sat on the counter. "I can make some scrambled eggs and toast, at least. Do you have any orange juice?"

Wishbone pushed his chair back and got a can of concentrate out of the freezer and proceeded to mix it up while Chocolate Chip scrambled the eggs and toasted the bread.

When they sat down, Wishbone ate with gusto. "Brownies are good, but a steady diet of them gets kind of boring," he admitted.

"Aren't Mom and Dad ever home?"

"Not much," Wishbone shrugged. "They're at that restaurant all the time." He took a drink of orange juice. "Speaking of which, we are supposed to be to work at eleven o'clock for the lunch crowd."

Chocolate Chip questioned her brother, "How do you feel about working through your vacation?"

"It's not that bad. I need the money."

"Minimum wage?"

Taking seconds, Wishbone admitted, "I got a raise after six weeks of work. I'm saving my jangles for..." He looked at his sister warily.

"You and Snowdrift aren't getting that serious, are you?"

"Well, a guy can't start planning too soon," he reasoned.

"You should get out and see the world, and get an education," Chocolate Chip lectured.

"Whoa! Now you're getting subversive," he joked. "Mom and Dad want me to learn the restaurant business from the ground up."

Lollipop pranced into the kitchen at that moment sporting a new hair-do; her curls were piled high on her head, and ebony earrings dangled from her ears.

"I can fix you some eggs quick," Chocolate Chip offered, but Lollipop turned her down.

"No, thanks. Mom will save something for me at work," she replied. "She says if I eat a well-balanced diet now, I'll be even more beautiful when I'm older. See ya." With that, she was out the door.

"Are her looks all she ever thinks about?" Chocolate Chip complained to her brother. "I haven't heard her say one thing of any substance."

"Tsk, tsk, sister dear. We don't want the little princess to hear anything upsetting, now, do we?" he mocked in his mother's voice. "I've heard that line more than I'd ever care to." Switching to a lighter mood, he reminded Chocolate Chip, "It's time we took off, too, if we don't want to be late."

* * *

It was Thursday before Chocolate Chip and Wishbone were allowed a day off. That morning when Chocolate Chip met Wishbone in the kitchen, he got the milk out of the refrigerator, and she got the box of brownies out of the cupboard.

"I'm sick of preparing and cooking food," Chocolate Chip grumbled. "I'm so glad Dad finally put his hoof down on Mom's single-minded effort to keep us forever in that restaurant." It had not escaped Chocolate Chip's notice that her work in the restaurant was entirely confined to the kitchen; she'd never been given duties that would take her in front of the public. Her mother was making sure she wasn't seen or heard.

But the up-side to the kitchen confinement was that she and her dad had plenty of time to talk; and if they hadn't drawn closer, they at least got to know each other better. Seeing her dad with a career that brought him such happiness made her wonder if her early life would have been different if he had been more satisfied with his vocation as he was now.

The highlight for Chocolate Chip had been on Wednesday morning when her dad had introduced her to a delivery pony as "my daughter". And even if the pony had responded with a disbelieving look and said, "You're Lollipop's sister?" the moment lived on in her memory, for her dad had claimed their relationship.

"So what shall we do with our free time?" Wishbone asked. His attitude was lethargic after the long days at the restaurant, and Chocolate Chip was afraid he would just want to crash for the day. She, on the other hoof, wanted to accomplish something.

"Let's go visit Grandma," she suggested with enthusiasm. Their dad's mother and father lived on a farm outside of Neighberry, and it was the one place where Chocolate Chip had felt welcome as a child, although she was not allowed to visit as often as she would have liked as her mother didn't like the "smelly, dirty" farm.

Chocolate Chip, however, loved the quiet, peaceful acreage in the valley with tree-covered hillsides forming a natural barrier to all the hurts and fears of her lonely life as a dull brown pony in a world of radiant shades of the rainbow. She and Wishbone and Lollipop had wandered the banks of the creek that meandered through the pastureland, and they had pretended to be the early homesteaders who had built a home in an isolated meadow once accessible only by a swinging bridge over the river. The few remnants of that old-time farm were the collapsing basement walls of stone, the pump from which the early ponies had drawn water, and the scraps of rope and rotten boards of the bridge.

But for Chocolate Chip, this was where true freedom originated. At the sight of the old farmstead, she could feel completely happy, as if she became some other pony. She liked to imagine that she took on the characteristics of the mare that had once crossed that bridge, who had pumped water from the well, and who had planted crops in the soil. For those periods of time, her imagination had given her a release from the drudgery of her commonness.

Wishbone jumped at the chance to get out of town, so the two set off for their grandparents home to the northeast. The mild weather was holding, and the twittering of the returning birds gave the day a festive feel.

"I wonder what everyone back in Dream Valley is doing today?" Chocolate Chip couldn't help asking. "I think I'm getting homesick."

"You're happy there, aren't you?" Wishbone queried of his sister as he picked up a pebble from the path and threw it across the still bleak countryside. "Happier than you ever were here."

"Sugarberry and her friends have been kinder to me than I'd ever known possible," she admitted. "And the other students don't even seem to notice I'm not a soft pastel or vibrant hue. They accept me the way I am."

They stopped to watch a woodchuck scurry across their path; when the round, lumbering animal felt he was at a safe distance from the ponies, he sat up on his hind feet and watched them in turn.

Resuming their journey, Wishbone picked up where their conversation had left off. "I'm glad that you've found a real home where you can blossom. I almost envy you." He pointed off in the distance. "See the tree at the top of the hill? That's our marker tree-- Grandma's house is in the next valley."

The majestic oak tree with wide-spreading branches had always brought a gladdening of heart to Chocolate Chip for she knew her haven from hurt was near. She quickened her steps; she couldn't wait to see Grandma and Grandpa again.

Arriving at the farm, Wishbone listened to the noises coming from the direction of the barn. "Sounds like Gramps is out and about, so I'll hunt him up while you go on in to surprise Gram." He briskly took off for the red barn that reigned over the collection of smaller buildings which sat randomly about the farmyard.

Chocolate Chip knocked on the door, but didn't wait for an answer. She opened the door and went inside, calling as she did, "Grandma! It's me!" She found Gram in the kitchen, drying off her hooves on a threadbare towel that Chocolate Chip recognized as a gift she had given her for her birthday some years back.

"Chocolate Chip! Is it really you?" Gram's eyes twinkled with joy at the sight of her oldest granddaughter. The two embraced and held each other tightly. "Chocolate Chip," Gram murmured, stroking her mane. "I've missed you."

Pushing back to get a better look at the slim filly before her, Grandma shook her head. "You're a sight for sore eyes. I can't believe you are here." She gave her another hug, and Chocolate Chip laughed.

"Well, Gram, I am here, and so is Wishbone. He went out to hunt up Gramps."

"We'll have to have something special for lunch," Gram began bustling about the kitchen, checking the refrigerator and cupboards to see what was available. Only after she had organized her menu plans, led Chocolate Chip to the living room, and enthroned her in the most comfortable chair did she herself drop into her rocking chair.

She grinned at Chocolate Chip, and said, "Tell me all about your life now." She settled back in her rocker and listened as her granddaughter animately related her experiences in Dream Valley, and her most recent situation back at home in Neighberry.

"But Mom and Dad finally hired a chef and will have a little more free time," Chocolate Chip ended her narration.

The back door was heard to open, and Chocolate Chip scampered out to see her grandfather. "Gramps!" she squealed as she flung her forelegs around his neck and gave him a big kiss.

"It's been a long time since I've been welcomed back in the house with that much spirit," he joked as he held her at foreleg's length. "Let me get a good look at you!"

After a thorough inspection, he grinned. "Prettier than ever, Chocolate Chip. You're a sight for sore eyes!" he echoed Grandma's sentiment.

"Oh, Gramps! You always were a flirt," Chocolate Chip retorted.

While Grandma and Chocolate Chip threw together a hearty lunch, Wishbone set the table. Gramps pulled up a chair, telling tales of his youth and of the children he and Grandma had raised. "I'll never forget the time we were crossing the bridge across Silver River when a runaway cart hit the abutment, plunging the bridge and its occupants into the cold swirling waters below."

Wishbone and Chocolate Chip had heard the story many times, but they never tired of it. They re-lived the horror of Gramps as the bridge collapsed around him and the foals, and the agony of Grandma as she rushed to the scene not knowing what she'd find, and the relief upon discovering that no serious injuries had been sustained. The incident had been woven into the tapestry of their life, a point in time that had become a major adventure.

As they sat down to eat, Grandma shared accounts from her life, too; how she'd served as a mother's helper in the city when she was a young filly, and had to sleep in the hot, airless attic in the height of summer's heat. Chocolate Chip's insight into her Grandma's experience helped her to come to terms with her own hardships. Life wasn't always going to be easy, but one had to learn to overcome the obstacles and move on.

When the dishes were washed and put away, and the floor swept, Wishbone and Gramps went outside to do the chores.

After showing Chocolate Chip the quilt she was currently working on, Grandma suggested that they, too, go out to enjoy the early spring weather.

"Yes, Grandma, and do you feel up to a walk to the river?" Chocolate Chip asked hopefully.

"Of course, child," she laughed. "I'm not ready for the old-ponies home yet!"

The two first stopped by the barn where several ewes had recently given birth to lambs who now were sprinting about their enclosure with all the exuberance of new life and innocence. Chocolate Chip squealed in delight at the antics of the spindly-legged little creatures. When Grandma reached over the fence and held out a hoof, the white, woolly critters romped to her in excitement, expecting-- and receiving-- a treat.

Chocolate Chip, however, was drawn to the far corner of the pen where a little black lamb lay by himself; he looked up at the brown pony with sad, mournful eyes that tore at her heart. Climbing over the fence, she dropped to her knees by the baby sheep, and slowly reached out to touch his nose. The lamb sniffed at her and obviously liked what he found, for he raised himself on his wobbly legs and took a tentative step in her direction.

At that moment, Chocolate Chip became aware of a presence beside her, and she looked up to find herself staring into the eyes of the mother sheep, who was nervously investigating this possible threat to her newborn babe. Chocolate Chip gulped and slowly rose to her hooves, uneasily talking the entire time.

"There, there, Momma Sheep. Good girl. You've got a nice little one there. Take good care of him." By this time she'd backed up to the fence, and hoisted herself to the outside.

Grandma laughed, as did Grampa and Wishbone. "That ewe wouldn't hurt a fly," Gramps informed Chocolate Chip. "She's the gentlest one in the flock."

"Is that a ‘sheepish' look I see on your face?" taunted Wishbone, his eyes sparkling with merriment.

"Shush, Wishbone," Grandma reprimanded him. She took Chocolate Chip's hoof in her own. "Come. Say hello to Ebony's mom." Together they reached over the fence, and the docile ewe nuzzled first Grandma's hoof, then Chocolate Chip's. The warm, moist touch of the ewe caused Chocolate Chip to giggle.

"I guess I was a bit neurotic," she admitted. When she was just a little foal, Chocolate Chip had been in a pen of lambs and ewes, totally caught up in the joy of petting a newborn lamb, when the ewes had curiously clustered around her and inadvertently knocked her down. Her grandpa had rescued her almost immediately, but the experience had left her with a fear of ewes.

"We're going down by the river," Grandpa said, holding up enough fishing equipment for everyone. "Do you gals want to join us?"

"Exactly our plan," confirmed Chocolate Chip as she sprinted out of the barnyard with Wishbone following suit. Grandma and Grandpa brought up the tail-end.

The filly and stallion didn't stop running until they got to the river's edge. The banks were still mucky from the snow and ice runoff after the blustery winter, but the water was babbling along clear and cold.

Wishbone lost no time in getting his hook baited and in the water; Chocolate Chip hesitated. She didn't mind handling the worm, but she did find it cruel to put it on the hook. She left her pole lying on the ground.

Tossing a glance in her direction, Wishbone scoffed. "Do you think it's any less painful for the worm when a robin eats it?" He handed her his pole, and baited the other for himself.

Chocolate Chip looked back to watch her grandparents leisurely approaching them, walking hoof-in-hoof, still as much in love with each other as the day they married, only strengthened by the hurdles they had met and overcome.

Soon, all four ponies were standing along the bank, watching the red and white bobbers on the fishing line, waiting for the weight of a hooked fish to pull it under.

"The most you can expect from this old creek is sunfish," Grandpa explained, and whistled as Chocolate Chip's bobber disappeared below the surface. "Pull it in!"

She had caught a good-sized fish; its flat, scaled body flapping on the ground horrified Chocolate Chip, but Wishbone deftly removed it from the hook, and attached more bait.

"Beginner's luck," he grinned at her. Soon Wishbone had added the second fish to the pail, and Grandma began to make plans for supper.

"Nothing better than fresh fish," Grandpa agreed.

When they'd caught enough fish for a meal, they gathered-up their supplies. "Why don't the two of you go walk to the rapids?" suggested Grandma. "I want to get back and start cleaning these fish."

"I can help," Wishbone volunteered.

"No. We can handle this," Grandpa shooed him away. "Take your sister up river; she always did like scouting around up there."

As they took off along the riverbank, Chocolate Chip cast a withering glance at her brother. "You'd better not push me in."

Wishbone held up his hooves in fake surprise. "Would I do anything like that?"

"Every chance you ever got," his sister reminded him.

The curvature of the river led them to a shallower area where the water cascaded boisterously over the large rocks that semi-barricaded this section of the stream. Chocolate Chip enjoyed this narrowing of the waters; it was as if she absorbed some of the power of the fluid, dashing river as it tumbled and tossed itself over the rocks, defeating the barriers that stood in its path. The water was too cold to enter into, but she stood as closely to the edge as possible, balancing on a boulder that stood sentinel.

Wishbone joined her on the flat-topped rock, and the two became mesmerized by the ever-flowing water, their thoughts bounding wildly like the liquid before them, from past memories to future hopes.

Shaking her head, Chocolate Chip murmured, "I'm glad we came here. I feel I can face anything the world has to throw at me now."

Offering her a hoof, Wishbone helped her down from the rock, and they headed cross-country to get back to the farmhouse.

Coming across a bubbling spring that fed a very small rivulet into the main stream, Chocolate Chip stopped her brother. "Let's take a detour along the ridge where the fossils always showed up."

"Only if we hurry," Wishbone said. "Can't be late for supper!"

They diverted from the direction they'd been traveling, and climbed up the hillside to a point where an old, weathered farm road had once crossed the pasture. It was no longer used, but the land was permanently scarred with its presence. The ensuing erosion of the rocky slope never ceased to uncover fossil remains of the prehistoric underwater life that had lived and died eons ago.

In addition, on rare occasions, an arrowhead or spear point of a later age was uncovered, bridging the early ponies who had once traversed this land with their current ancestors.

Walking across the area peering closely at the ground, they sporadically stooped to pick up rocks that had crinoids, brachiopods, or cephalopods fossilized in them. It wasn't until they'd collected their findings into a heap and loaded them into Wishbone's backpack and were leaving for the farmhouse that Chocolate Chip stumbled over a rock and landed in an ungraceful heap on the ground.

"Nice move," Wishbone commented, but he rushed to her side to see if she was hurt.

"I scraped my knee just like when I was a foal," she giggled. "Some things never change!" She dabbed at her bloodied wound, then offered a hoof for Wishbone to pull her up. But just then she caught sight of an unusual-looking shard mixed in with the scattering of rocks in the pasture.

"Look, Wishbone!" she exclaimed. "It's an arrowhead!" She retrieved the treasure from its resting place, and held it up for him to see.

"Wow! That's a beauty," he looked at it closely, admiring the precision work that had been done to chip a rock into a usable weapon. "Wish I'd have found it."

"I'm the one with the wound, so I deserve it," she countered. "I bet Clever Clover would love to see this!"

"Yeah. Maybe he can document it and get it put into a museum somewhere."

Hearing the dinner bell pealing in the distance, the two siblings added the find to their collection of artifacts, then hastened on their way. The bell meant suppertime was close, and they better get back to the house soon.

Supper was a pleasant time as the grandparents and children sat down to fresh fish, last summer's canned green beans, and fresh homemade biscuits. They ate leisurely and talked of many things. When dessert had been polished off, however, Wishbone broke the magic with the announcement, "We've got to start for home, Chockie." Midnight had struck, even if it was only six o'clock; the princess had to return to her rags.

"Tell your dad to come visit some day soon," Grandpa ordered Wishbone. "Haven't seen him since he and Twilight Jewel bought that eatin' place."

"Things are getting better," Chocolate Chip informed Gramps. "They've hired a new cook and an assistant manager, so Mom and Dad will have some time off. That's how we got away today."

They all walked outside together, and both sides procrastinated over parting. Chocolate Chip invited them to visit her in Dream Valley, offering them Wishbone to look after the farm if they did so. Grandma sent a dozen cookies for their parents and Lollipop. After a lingering chorus of goodbyes, Chocolate Chip and Wishbone started on their way.

Turning to wave one final farewell, Chocolate Chip complained, "We didn't have time to visit the hanging bridge or to go up by the stone grotto."

"Next time," Wishbone assured her. "For now, we'd better walk fast or it will be pitch black before we get home." He vocalized a monstrously ghoulish laugh that sent shivers through his sister and she quickened her pace only to hear an eerie croaking sound coming from the sky above. Looking upward, they saw a trio of large, long-legged birds sailing with outstretched wings in the sky above them.

"It's the sandhill cranes returning from their winter migration!" excitedly called Wishbone. "They roost and nest down in the swamp along the river."

He and Chocolate Chip stood in awe as the ancient-appearing cranes effortlessly propelled themselves to their home grounds. Their strange calls evoked images of dimorphodons and pteranodans, and left the ponies with a feeling of magic as if they'd just been included in a private ritual handed down through the millennia.

It was dark by the time the ponies reached Neighberry, and the cold night air was settling in after the sun-filled daylight hours. When they reached the house, Wishbone and Chocolate Chip were both startled to see their parents sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee.

"Business must be slow," Wishbone quipped as he pulled the jug of milk out of the refrigerator. Chocolate Chip set the homebaked peanut butter cookies on the table and slipped onto a chair as her brother filled glasses for the two of them.

Drifter, on seeing the cookies, lit up like a little foal. "These were always my favorite," he said as he helped himself to a generous hoofful. Even Twilight Jewel took one, although she made no comment on how tasty it was.

"Is Lollipop home?" Chocolate Chip questioned. "I don't want her to miss out on Gram's cookies."

It was her dad who answered. "She's at a movie tonight."

"With her friends," her mother added significantly. Chocolate Chip had never succeeded in cultivating any lasting friendships while growing up; she had always felt somehow insignificant because of her peculiar color, and had shied away from schoolmates thinking they would never accept her anyway.

Twilight Jewel and Drifter exchanged a meaningful glance, whereupon Drifter cleared his throat and directed his conversation at Chocolate Chip.

"You've been a big help at the restaurant this week, Chocolate Chip. A big help." He looked to his wife for guidance. She frowned at him, but turned a false smile on her daughter.

"Yes. We were pleased to have you pitch in and get us through these hectic days. Now with more help, the hours can be cut to a more reasonable eight-hour-a-day shift." She glanced speculatively back at Drifter.

Chocolate Chip was beginning to smell a rat, and it didn't take long to find it.

"What we're trying to get at here is that we'd like to see you stay on at the restaurant," Drifter finally put into words what was on his mind. "Even with Graezzle and Columbine to help out, we need conscientious help to back them up. You've got the ability to do well in this business, Chocolate Chip."

"But, Dad, I have to get back to classes by Monday. Prime's picking me up Saturday! You know that!" She looked to Wishbone for support, but he only shrugged.

Her mother, fast losing her patience, challenged her. "What guarantee have you got with all this college stuff you're always talking about? We can provide you a good living starting right now, not some iffy chance three years down the road."

"I'm going to be a teacher someday, Mom. And I really don't think minimum wage is a ‘good living.' "

Twilight Jewel took a sharp intake of breath. "Why you ungrateful..." she began, but Drifter interrupted.

"We would certainly raise your pay if you joined us full-time. You'd be doing us a big favor, and helping yourself, too," he justified.

"You'd be making enough to get your own place to live," her mother added. "Snowdrift's parents have a room they're willing to rent."

Chocolate Chip turned a scowl on Wishbone, who was saved by the ringing of the telephone. He fled the kitchen to answer it in the living room.

"Think about it," Drifter persisted. "You'd be working with people you know instead of a bunch of strangers, and have a good income, too."

Wishbone stuck his head through the doorway long enough to say that he was going over to Snowdrift's for awhile, and he was out the door. Chocolate Chip made a quick mental note to blast him at her first opportunity.

"And Chocolate Chip," her mom threw out her best effort, "you'd be closer to your grandparents again."

Sitting in silence, Chocolate Chip could think of nothing to say that would convince her folks that she had her own plans, and they didn't include moving back to Neighberry... not before she had a college degree, anyway. But it was true that living closer to her grandparents was an appealing idea.

"Don't make up your mind tonight," her dad said, rising from his chair. "Think about it, and we can talk again tomorrow."

Her mom waited until her dad had left the room before she made her final bid. "You've been a disappointment to me since the day you were born. Now's your chance to make it up to me."

It took all Chocolate Chip's resolve not to run from the room in tears, but she wouldn't give her mother the satisfaction. After Twilight Jewel had exited, she got up off the chair and carried the milk to the refrigerator, and repackaged the two cookies left for Lollipop. She rinsed the dirty dishes and straightened the kitchen chairs. Then she walked upstairs to her dreary bedroom, closed the door softly, laid down on the bed, and only then let the tears fall.

* * *

It was well past daybreak when Chocolate Chip opened her eyes to the new day... Friday. One more day until Prime would come for her. One more day to decide her destiny.

When she got downstairs, the house appeared to be empty. She saw the cookies still on the table, and was tempted to eat them herself when she heard hoofsteps coming down the stairs and through the hallway to the kitchen. It was Lollipop who came through the doorway.

"Morning," she yawned, then caught sight of the cookies. "Oh, Grams' peanut butter cookies! I love those."

Chocolate Chip sighed and proceeded to fix herself a bowl of cereal. The flakes were stale, but she was too depressed to notice. For once, Lollipop led the conversation.

"It's back to school next week. I'm going to miss the restaurant, but Mom says I can still work evenings if I get my homework done." She sat down across from Chocolate Chip, and nibbled on a cookie. "Mom says you'll be staying on. You can't have your room back, you know."

"Mom and Dad asked me to hire on, but I haven't given them my answer yet."

"Oh, it's really fun at the restaurant!" Lollipop reflected. "I meet so many interesting ponies!" She paused. "Of course, you wouldn't know that, being in the kitchen all the time."

Chocolate Chip refrained from commenting, but Lollipop didn't notice. "Well, I'm out of here. I'm going over to Star Cluster's house until time for work." She skipped out of the house, a flurry of pink and blue.

As if he'd been waiting for her to leave, Wishbone came into the room just as the back door slammed behind Lollipop. Chocolate Chip was ready for him.

"If I ever doubted in the existence of a Prince Charming, you proved it to me last night, you scoundrel! You knew about this plan to get me hired on all along, didn't you? But not a warning to me. And no help last night to ward off their battering attack! You're despicable, Wishbone, utterly despicable!"

She carried her used dishes to the sink and turned back to face her brother with another volley. "What's this about renting a room at Snowdrift's? Mom can't stand to have me here, so she bribed your sweet little darling's parents' to take me in? You could have let me know what was going on so I could have been prepared, at least." She stopped only because she had to take a breath.

Wishbone took advantage of the break to say, "I'm sorry, Ch..."

"Sorry? Sorry? Is that going to fix everything? Do you know what Mom said to me last night? That I'm the biggest disappointment in her life! She thinks I owe it to her to be her employee. Tell me, Wishbone, do you see that as fair?"

Crossing the room to Chocolate Chip, Wishbone put a hoof on either of her shoulders. "Just calm down, Sis," he said.

Suddenly she felt completely deflated, like a balloon that had been pricked with a needle. All the fight drained out of her and she allowed Wishbone to steer her to a kitchen chair. She sat down, and covered her face with her hooves. "What am I going to do, Wishbone? What am I going to do?"

Sitting next to her, Wishbone drew a deep breath. "You'll do what you've been planning on all along. You'll finish college and be someone important."

Chocolate Chip lowered her hooves to the table. "Is that what you think I want? To be someone important?"

"Okay. Maybe that's the wrong word. How about useful? Accomplished? Knowledgeable?" He grinned at her.

"You think I want too much," she lamented. "You think I should stay here."

"I didn't say that."

"Then what do you think?"

He stood up, pulling her with him. "I think we better get to work or we'll be in big trouble."

The day was endless for Chocolate Chip. She worked hard, yet her mind was constantly weighing the pros and cons of her decision. She could stay and help make her parent's venture a success with the added benefit of being near her grandparents; or she could return to Dream Valley, continue her education, and embrace an uncertain future.

Life in Neighberry would be predictable; she'd always be the odd pony, but would have stability. Back in Dream Valley, she had friends and fit into the scheme of things—but how long would that last? If she ever had to move out of Sugarberry's house, she'd face a financial crunch and might not be able to swing her college tuition. Then what would become of her?

She and her dad walked home together when their shift was done. Chocolate Chip hoped to avoid a decision, but her dad asked, "Well, what's it going to be, Chocolate Chip? Are you going to help me out here?"

He was watching her face, and for the first time in her life, she thought she saw some actual concern for her in his eyes. She felt her resolve weakening; family should come first. Before she could say anything, however, a voice called to them from across the street, and a blue stallion crossed over to them.

"Hi there, Chocolate Chip, Drifter." It was Juggler, the delivery stallion that Chocolate Chip had met earlier in the week. "I was wondering if you'd like to go to a movie tonight." He had directed these words to Chocolate Chip. "It's Mission to Mars."

Chocolate Chip smiled, and glanced at her dad before answering. He nodded his head, so she accepted. "Sure. I've been wanting to see that one."

"Great," he grinned. "I'll pick you up at eight-thirty." And with that, they parted ways.

"He's a good fellow, hard-working and dependable," her dad informed her. "He moved to town a couple years ago and has an apartment over by the park."

Chocolate Chip didn't respond. She was wondering if life in her hometown might be the right choice for her after all.

* * *

It was late that evening when Chocolate Chip got in the house from her date with Juggler. They'd seen the movie and gone to the ice cream shop with another couple he knew. Although no one had said or done anything to make her feel that she didn't fit in, she had been uncomfortable all evening. Juggler had been a charming companion, but she kept thinking of Prime, and Chip, and Current, and her other friends at Pony Pride. The ice cream sundaes were good and the conversation stimulating, but she kept expecting to see Tiffany or Friendly or Vanguard come through the door. By the time she said goodnight to Juggler at the back door, she was only too glad to be alone with her thoughts.

The light in the kitchen had been left on low power, and she felt the need for a cup of instant decaf coffee before going up to bed. She had to think things through; Prime would be here tomorrow morning, expecting her to be packed and ready to go. Her head was pounding from the confusion her mind was in.

As she sat down at the table with her coffee, she noticed an envelope lying there. Looking more closely, she saw a message written on a post-it note attached to it: Chocolate Chip, found this stuck in the pages of my newspaper. Dad.

It was a letter mailed from Dream Valley the day before and Chocolate Chip recognized it as Sugarberry's handwriting before she looked at the return address. She tore it open and read eagerly:

Dear Chocolate Chip,

Just a note to let you know that Fluff and Raptor spend

all their time outside your bedroom door, waiting for you. They

miss you terribly, and so do I. We look forward to seeing you

home again.



And underneath her signature were two inked paw prints-- Fluff's large one and Raptor's small one.

Reading the note again, Chocolate Chip suddenly realized in a blinding flash of clarity why she had been agonizing over this decision, why she was so uncertain. She looked at the closing-- love-- and knew where her heart would lead her. No one in Neighberry had used the word once in connection with feelings for her. Yet back in Dream Valley she had been smothered with love from all the ponies and beings she had met. And wasn't that what Cinderella had been searching for all along?

Dumping the coffee down the drain, she turned out the light and quietly went to her room. For the first night since her arrival, she fell asleep with a smile on her face and joy in her heart.

* * *

The leave-taking in the morning was tense until her mother and Lollipop left for the restaurant. Taking her aside, her dad astonished her by wishing her well, and reminding her that she was free to come back at any time; if she needed a job, he'd find a place for her at The Right Place. He further astounded her by confiding that her mother was hard to please, but he thought she'd mellow out as she became more confident with the success of their enterprise. And he topped it off by kissing her softly, almost shyly, on the cheek before he left.

And so it was as at her arrival-- just Wishbone and herself.

"I'm sorry I screamed at you yesterday," she apologized.

He grinned. "Oh, I got something for you!" He ran out of the room, and returned with a child's book-- a new copy of Cinderella. "Your old one was so ragged, I thought you should have a better copy."

"Thanks, Wishbone," she giggled.

The two of them walked outside to wait for Prime, and Chocolate Chip used the time to promote Pony Pride. "You'd really do well there; you wouldn't be sorry."

"Will you shut up if I promise to send my application in?" he parleyed.

"For a second or two."

Which she did until Prime appeared from around the corner. "Walk us to the edge of town," she invited her brother.

The three ponies laughed and talked as they crossed the town to the point where they had met six days before.

"I'm glad I came," Chocolate Chip informed Wishbone. "And I'll look forward to another visit from you in Dream Valley." She hugged her brother close, then turned and followed her chosen path.

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